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  Thelema and Identity Politics
General Thelema Posted by Xnoubis on December 07, 2001 @ 08:02 PM
from the what-you-mean-"we"-white-man? dept.

I'm tossing around some ideas in my head. I think there's an issue buried in there somewhere, but it involves concepts I haven't thought about much before, so I'm having trouble sifting it out. Maybe if I share some of my inner threads, the subject will become clearer. (Of course, I also have to be open to the possibility that there really isn't anything there after all.)

It started with a conversation over the word "Pagan." In abstract conversation, I have no objection to the formula that "magician" is a subset of "Pagan." But do I consider myself a Pagan? Not really. And there are a number of reasons why I don't, that I've noticed so far.

  • I don't like appropriating a term that Christians have labelled us as.
  • I don't like a term with a connotation of "peasant."
  • Also, if I'm going to be labelled, I prefer it to be for something I do, not something I supposedly am. So "magician" or "occultist" works better for me than does "Pagan."

But then I noticed something else, something that draws me into a wider field than just the "Pagan vs. Magician" conflict. I think it's called "Identity Politics," but I'm not certain, as social theory has never been my field. What I mean is, I cringe slightly at the idea of declaring, "I'm a person of type so-and-so," particularly in the context of the so-and-so's needing to unite in order to pursue their agenda in the larger world. And of course, this applies to the label "Thelemite" every bit as much as it does the label "Pagan."

(And it's also true that I generally use the word "Thelemite" only in certain circumstances, as among other Thelemic practitioners as a synonym for "us," or when needing to answer a question on a form. I'll ignore for the moment the definition of Thelemite as one who is doing his or her will, whether a Thelemic practitioner or not.)

Do I have a problem with uniting towards a common cause? Not in general. But I would prefer to see action around a principle rather than to promote an "ism" for its own sake. Maybe that's why, in "Three Pillars of Thelema", I wrote of the three principles of Social Justice, Sex Worship, and Self Realization. If we promote Social Justice, we work with the socially conscientious. If we promote Sex Worship, we work with (say) the Neo-Tantra practitioners. If we promote Self Realization, we work with the Transpersonal and Integral communities, the shamans, and all the other Mystery Schools. (Oh -- and the Pagans!)

At the same time, I can appreciate the idea of the tribe. When people gather together because of shared convictions, values, or aesthetics, and bond together over time with caring and respect -- I can see a lot of value in there being an "us."

Maybe I'm just tired of formulating a "them"?



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    Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
    by Libanus on Friday December 07, @10:23PM
    Perhaps you are hesitant to use a label because labels are too limiting in scope. I have this situation because I too consider myself a Thelemite, but I also consider myself a pantheist, and there are many other influences and possible labels. If I say I'm one thing that often excludes the others.

    If this is the case with you, I see it more as an asset than a problem. It shows that you are willing to think long and hard about what you are and what you think. You see all your facets. I would be suspicious of a person that had only one label to give to their spiritual approach because this would imply monochromatic or even lazy thinking.

    Words are simple, but we're complicated. As for me, yes, I am a member of the Thelemic "tribe", but I'm also so much more and I don't know the word for that other than "me" (and that label isn't even perfect!)

    • Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
      by Anonymous on Monday December 10, @02:32PM
      "Was it Kierkegaard or Dick Van Patten who said, 'He who labels me, negates me.'"

      Wayne Campbell, in "Wayne's World"


      • Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
        by Mordecai on Monday December 10, @03:30PM
        Neither. It was Vince van Patten. Or was it George S. Patton?


    • Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
      by nexist on Monday December 10, @04:02PM
      A really fun excersize, is to make a list of all labels which apply to you. For example, I would start my list with Male, Father, Husband, Priest, Magician, Rivethead, Punk, Goth...

      Next add the 'Neo-' and 'Psuedo-'. Next in my list would be 'Neo-Tribalist', Psuedo-Anarchist, Neo-Collectivist...

      Use all labels that apply, even if they overlap (e.g., Neo-Tribalist & Neo-Collectivist are very similar, and Father includes the concept of Male).

      Odds are you will end up with a page or twenty. Examine this. Note each contradiction, recognize the various shades. Ultimately, the labels break, & they are no longer confining, but once again tools for communicating ideas -- just as they were meant to be -- rather than boxes defining the extent of what we can be.


      • Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
        by Mordecai on Monday December 10, @05:03PM
        >Rivethead, Punk, Goth

        The moshpit in your mind must be quite a scene :-)


        • Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
          by nexist on Tuesday December 11, @07:25AM
          Yeah, darkly beautiful. Though it looks more like the style from 1984 (the year not the book or movie).


    Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
    by jcat on Saturday December 08, @01:05AM
    ...i do not mind calling myself a 'surrealist'

    and because of my surrealist approach i also
    explored 'thelema'

    i have on occasion called myself a 'pagan'
    but only in a very lose general application

    what i know i am not, is 'them'

    i for a time kinda of thought of myself as a sort
    of buddhist. or wonderd if that indeed i was...

    now perhaps i am a chaos agent a kind of hermetic
    wanderer, like a nomad, or a gypsy, i was once
    a flower child, and when i was 12 i thought of myself as a beatnik, i had a pair of bongoes
    and i saw my self reciting poetry off the top
    of my head, and people in black snaping thier fingers and saying stuff like "cool daddyo"

    ...later i was a Hodad, thats a wannabe surfer
    or a guy that hangs out at the beach and looks
    like a surfer but does not have a board..

    then i took LSD and i became a hipster...
    and then i was revolutionary that protested
    the Vietnam war...

    for awhile i was a longhair space cadet, wandering
    from bookstore to bookstore...i saw Crowley
    on a book cover and was hooked...

    even later i was a Gnostic priest...

    and so forth.....so surrealist thelemite!

    Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
    by J. A. on Saturday December 08, @09:40AM
    Why not call it by a human's potential...the 5,000 bytes/sec club? ...In that case I'd rather be a supercomputer.

    • Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
      by jcat on Saturday December 08, @09:05PM
      i rather be a superstring


    Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
    by Mordecai on Saturday December 08, @12:20PM
    >I don't like a term with a connotation of "peasant."

    This seems like arrogant elitism to me. Is there something intrinsically wrong with being "a member of a class of persons tilling the soil as small landowners or as laborers"?

    • Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
      by Xnoubis on Saturday December 08, @12:50PM
      Not at all. But it doesn't describe me. I wouldn't like a term with a connotation of "banker," either.


      • Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
        by Mordecai on Saturday December 08, @03:04PM
        Perhaps "I don't identify with a term, etc." instead of "I don't like a term, etc." would convey your meaning more accurately.


    Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
    by Fra. T_H_A_M on Saturday December 08, @03:11PM
    Nice sentiments. I like the idea of the Three Pillars of Thelema (as a working principle). Perhaps promoting mutual understanding, and cooperation amongst these 'factions' could lend some real cohesion, instead of the bickering that seems all to prevalent.

    Studies in Ethnomethodology
    by Bankie on Saturday December 08, @10:19PM
    Dear Xnoubis and All Good Beasties:

    Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

    I understand the desire to communicate accurately your attitude towards Paganism, while at the same time, perhaps, wanting to avoid giving the listener an incorrect or unfair portrayal of Thelema, Paganism, or the Magickal Revival in general -- or of you in particular.

    If I am asked in conversation about my association with Paganism, the best answer I could give sounds something like this: "I share many of the ideas and sympathies of the Pagans. We are generally friendly towards each other. Many Thelemites are Pagans, and some Pagans are also Thelemites. I find myself to be somewhat in agreement with many things they say, and strongly in agreement with some of the things they say. In addition, the definition of "Paganism" can be so diffuse that it can probably be pulled and stretched to fit over my head.

    "The question of whether I am a Pagan or not is complicated, not unlike the questions, 'Is it possible to be a Thelemite and a Jew at the same time?' and, 'Is it possible to be a Pagan and a Jew at the same time?' Obviously, the only fair answer I can give to any of those questions is, 'It depends what you mean.'"


    Then, if the person hasn't run away or fallen suddenly and mysteriously to sleep, I might continue: "Personally, I have no problem accepting all of those terms, and several others besides. My parents brought me up to believe that all religions are true. Just as long as you understand that I'm not implying that anyone else accepts my definitions or terminology."

    This is all assuming that the person in question falls under the category of what Aleister calls, "Persons to whom I have given permission to speak to me." (Self-Pronouncing Edition, Words of the Beast in Bold.)

    Here follows a genuine transcript of a conversation I had with a Muslim inmate who worked in the library when I was . . . when I was Behind the Barbed Wire Curtain:

    Me: "I'm Half-Jewish."

    Him: "What does that mean, Half-Jewish?"

    Me: "It means I do half the things Jewish people do."

    Him: "Which half?"

    Me: "Well, since the other half of me is Thelemite, that means I get to do whatever half I want to."

    And, lastly, I would be remiss if I were to forebear from mentioning a piece of advice which I have repeated countless times when this and related subjects arise on the AOL Ceremonial And High Magick Message Boards (yes, it exists, and yes, it is almost impossible to find. You have to go to Lifestyles, Spirituality, Religions, Other, More (!) (close parentheses, full stop)).

    Which is: "A thelemite who is friendly and well-disposed towards Wicca and Paganism in general, is about a thousand times as likely to get laid as one who is not."

    ante post scriptum: By the way, I've been fasting for Ramadan this year, out of some obscure but deeply-felt spiritual impulse. It couldn't have anything to do with the fact that I'm reading Gershom Sholem's biography of Shabbatai Tzvi!

    This year, by an extreme but not un-heard-of coincidence, the end of Ramadan co-incides with the last night of Hannukah. I was planning on having a big party -- until I heard that Metaversal Lightcraft had, sadly, been forced to shut their doors!

    Oh, well. As the Druids say, "Next Year in Stonehenge!"

    Love is the Law, Love Under WIll.

    Blessed Be, Om Shalom, and,

    "You will not die today!"

    --bankjobman <{: )}>

    Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
    by nexist on Monday December 10, @04:08PM
    I prefer "Neo-Christist Pan-European Levant Pagan with strong Buddhist-Confucian-Taoist leanings"

    Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
    by Lionowl on Tuesday December 11, @01:43PM
    Labels are tricky. You'd think, maybe, that being able to take on a label would give you an avenue of approach to others who have taken on the same label. This may work for people who are willing to treat Anyone with that label as knowing more than they do. Occasionally, I find someone, (generally in person, so I'm sure), who really does know more, but when this isn't the case it becomes an issue of the label meaning entirely different things to different people and causing division rather than community. Also, the longer I study both magick and Paganism, the More labels I accumulate. So far I'm up to "Thelemite", "Asatru", "Druid", and a sort of "Witch", if not necessarily your typical neighborhood one! I find myself in the position pretty often lately of having to mention only some or one of these labels, depending on whom I am speaking to. This does not exactly create a sense of community for me, and it only seems to get worse. I have never been interested in finding one thing and sticking to it, and I don't understand the appeal of such; it would seem to be contrary to the spirit of magick to close your mind to other possibilities. So far, I mostly use the label "Magickal Pagan", or possibly "Eclectic Pagan". These create more confusion than they cause but at least they are neither a yard long nor a lie!

    When is a Pagan Not a Pagan?
    by Dionysos Thriambos on Wednesday December 12, @08:21AM
    93

    I wrote an essay on the relationship between "paganism" and Thelemic Gnosticism, which is on my Web site.

    From the perspective of a natural history of religions, Thelema is thus prior to neo-paganism, and the latter should be considered a development of the former, rather than the other way around, as many contemporary students of "alternative religions" presume.

    When is a Pagan Not a Pagan?

    93 93/93


    Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
    by Ulan Batar on Thursday December 20, @07:20AM
    perhaps the need to label one's self should be studied, rather than the labels themselves?

    • Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
      by Mordecai on Thursday December 20, @10:28AM
      Why not study both?


    • Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
      by Xnoubis on Thursday December 20, @04:31PM
      Interesting point. Labels are indeed a secondary consideration (at best!) for the individual practitioner. But the original context of the conversation had to do with community organizing (a point which I now see I failed to make clear).

      I think I detect the influence of a particular School in the way you phrased your comment. If I am correct: I suspect that there came a time at the beginnings of that School when decisions had to be made about what it was to be called, by whom, and why. I would place this label issue in a similar context.


      • Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
        by Ulan Batar on Monday December 24, @11:52AM
        No, I do not come from a particular School which, at it's beginning had to come up with a name for itself. But it is curious how people need to assume a label (i.e. put on a costume) before they can be effective. In a way it is like assuming the appropriate god forms for a particular task at hand. But a general, over-all label of one's being as "Pagan" or "Christian" or "Buddhist" is self-deluding. No one I know who labels themselves as one thing or another is ever that and ONLY that. If there is a label for "one who always changes" and if someone assumes that, there's no guarantee that he or she will not want to, one day, to cease all that and become a zombie.


        • Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
          by Mordecai on Monday December 24, @01:38PM
          >If there is a label for "one who always changes"

          Tbere is, "Taoist", and there's a label for "one who never changes", "Brahman".


    Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
    by Ataniell Rising on Sunday March 17, @09:36PM
    hmmmmmmmmmm...

    I have always conflated Thelema and Paganism, but today a friend of mine who does Anthropology of Religion pointed out that maybe that doesn't work. She said that she thinks of Thelemites as Left-hand traditions, and also not as a nature religion so much the way Wicca and neo-paganism are.

    I personally have found that hanging out with Pagans (I'm in CAW) has its bad points and its good points. I am not crazy about the wilderness, I am not a Green or a Socialist (I border on being a Libertarian), I am not a hippie type. I do not especially wish to sleep with hippie types either. I am not "committed to nonviolence". The whole Great Prehistoric Matriarchy paradigm *irritates* me.

    :/

    So maybe it occurs to me that there are reasons why I don't really fit in with the pagans.

    And I wouldn't want to be called a peasant either (and I'm not terribly ashamed to be thought elitist, lol).

    93! Ataniell

    Re: Thelema and Identity Politics
    by 00goddess on Thursday April 04, @09:06PM
    This is a hard one for me. For many years, "Pagan" was my 'religious identity.'

    Lately, I have been thinking again.

    I am pagan, in the sense that I worship pre-christian deities. Yet, I do not feel that I have very much in common with most people I know who describe themselves as 'pagan.' Our beliefs are very different.

    I am a Thelemite, in the sense that I have accepted the Law of Thelema. But at the same time, much of what I believe seems very different from the beliefs of the Thelemites around me.

    I am also a lot of other things: artist, writer, slut, queer, vegetarian, sleepy. All of these things describe me- none of them, alone defines me. Which is why I tend to roll my eyes at the people who say "I hate labels, man!"

    "Labels", or more properly "identifying terms" are tools of communication- they help us to connect with other people. I believe that each of us, in some bottom-brain, instinctively separate people that we meet into two categories: "like me" and "not like me." Once we make these categories, our thinking brain requires more; what exactly is me, and what is me "like"? So we classify ourselves.

    I currently use words like 'pagan', and 'vegetarian' to describe myself, because those are words that people can easily get a handle on. My spiritual practices are rather individual and occult, and my dietary needs and choices are complex, but they don't need to hear about that to shake my hand. People to whom I identify myself have the option of asking questions if they want to learn more about me.

    Words like pagan, thelemite, etc are places of common ground. I see no reason why you can't use all of them, or each of them interchangeably, as they describe you. In terms of community organizing, you could look at the word 'pagan' in terms of its modern connotations, instead of the old one, if it makes you feel better about the word.

    We're all 'them', really. I find value in making wes and thems this way: make an us and a them. Make another. And another and another. Then give them all a twist or two. By seeiing that we're all them, we see that we are all us as well, and that can bring us together.

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