| up a level
from the claw-is-for-all dept.
I'd like to return to two frequently recurring Beast Bay themes: "Is Thelema a Religion?" and Clare W. Graves' "Theory of Emergent, Cyclical Levels of Existence" (a.k.a., "Spiral Dynamics").
Much of our earliest recorded history is set squarely within the value system of egocentric power. The mighty hero who crushes his foes is held as the ideal. Courage, mastery, and greatness are the highest virtues.
(I should make it clear that by "egocentric power," I mean something much more specific than "ego." One can be egocentric, or egotistical, in many different ways. But to hold egocentric power as one's central motivation is particular to ego at its most raw. Think children in the "terrible two's," gladiators, and professional wrestlers.)
The historical emergence of religion, in this view, can generally be understood as a solution to the problems accumulated through the egocentric power value system. What sort of problems are these? For the victor, the problem is that he can't take his victories with him after death; that there is no apparent meaning beyond his own life. For the vanquished, the problem is finding any meaning at all from within a life of deprivation. For society, the acceptance of "might makes right" does not provide sufficient stability for a social fabric of appreciable complexity.
So we sought solutions to these problems. First, we examined the strategies we had used so far in coping with earlier problems. Will acquiring food and avoiding danger help, as it did back in the caves? No. Will following the traditions of the tribe help? Up to a point, perhaps, but the traditions do not even grasp the nature of egocentric life, let alone offer up remedies to its crises. And egocentrism isn't solved through even more egocentrism, try as we might.
Eventually, we conceived of a truth that was greater than the wishes of any one person, a truth that oriented us, providing meaning to our lives and stability to society. In the West, we typically think of this truth as salvation: an acceptance of a loving God and an afterlife that will reward the just and punish the wicked. In the East, the more typical approach was to regard this life as an illusion, and to seek truth and goodness beyond this world. In each case, the general result was that people developed into more complex states of existence than that offered by egocentric power, and civilization advanced.
Of course, this view wasn't the end of the story. (There is no "end of the story" unless we make ourselves extinct.) New problems of existence accumulated around the "higher truth" value system, leading to entrenched dogma and suppression of alternative views, etc., ultimately resulting in the development of the competitive/achievist value system that has characterized much of our culture since the Industrial Revolution.
But I want to focus on the transition from egocentric power to higher truth. If we define religion as the institutionalization of solutions to the problems of egocentric power, it is clear that Thelema is not a religion.
Crowley, like many of us, was raised with altogether too much "higher truth" through his fundamentalist family. It's no surprise, then, that the system he created was as different from the salvific environment of his childhood as he could make it. However, he did present his system as the successor to Christianity. And so it has been held by many of his admirers since then.
I propose that many difficulties experienced by individual Thelemites and Thelemic groups have their origin in the fact that Crowley's system does not contain real solutions to the problems of egocentric power. These are not burning problems for every Thelemite. But those who are so inclined can use Thelema as a justification for egocentric power beyond all limits. Instead of finding a higher truth beyond egocentric power, egocentric power is enshrined as its own higher truth.
(For those familiar with Spiral Dynamics jargon, I'm saying that in the absence of healthy Blue vMemes, Thelemites with active Red traits tend to become arrested in Red, rather than progress to Blue.)
I am not saying here that Crowley fell victim to this error, although others might. Instead, I would characterize this as an unintended side-effect of Crowley's system. It helps to account for the volatility of social relations within Thelemic groups, and for the blackened reputation that Thelema often has among non-Thelemites.
I am familiar with at least two post-Crowleyan Thelemic systems that seem to address these concerns: the "Maat Magick" of Nema, and the "Pagan Dharma" of Sam Webster.
Maat Magick is based upon Liber Pennae Praenumbra, a text which Nema claims to have received in 1974. It's a complex and subtle work, but two points might illustrate the orientation that it provides in the face of egocentric power.
The first is the Word of the Aeon of Maat: IPSOS. This is taken to mean, "by the same mouth," as in the opening to Pennae Praenumbra:
2. By the same mouth, O Mother of the Sun, is the word breathed forth and the nectar received.
This conception succeeds in characterizing all experience as a co-emergence of being and consciousness, a kiss between two who are ultimately one.
Another passage that points to the transcendence of egocentric power involves a vision of a bee and its hive, as emblems of the Maatian Work:
47. The Hive now lives, immortal. With queen and workers, drones and builder-bees, soldiers, fostermothers -- all are one. In constant life-renewal the Hive breathes as One Being, for indeed it is. In the Will of the Hive is the Will of the Bee fulfilled.
It should be emphasized that this collectivist ethos is not positioned as a final answer: "Man is not a Bee," as Pennae Praenumbra says. But it is a facet of the answer, well-suited to the problems of the egocentric value system.
At a more basic level, simply placing Maat, the Egyptian Goddess of Truth and Justice, at the center of a magical system helps to draw awareness beyond the confines of the personality. It may even be that Maat was originally an ancient Egyptian response to exactly this problem.
I first became aware of Sam Webster's magical approach when I read his essay "Pagan Dharma" in Gnosis magazine. In it (and its sequel, published in PanGaia), he describes his methods and rationale for introducing elements of Tibetan Buddhist ritual technique into magical practice.
In a discussion of invocation in "Pagan Dharma 2," he writes:
Even if the energy has been discharged in such a way that extremes of self-absorbed emotional discharge are avoided, there yet remains the subtle after-effect on the ego for having been such a vast and powerful being as a deity. The sense of self importance brought about in our invocations dulls our compassionate acceptance of others and leads us into errors of judgment that can cause harm and dissension. In short, it makes flaming egoists out of us. We all know people who act this way. There are times when we do it ourselves. How many witch wars, magickal battles, foolish feuds or simple snits have we all witnessed? The ways in which we don't get along are some of our favorite topics of conversation. Our history and the history of the cultures we build our religion upon show many times when our internal strife has made us vulnerable, even to our destruction.
By "importing" the practices of Taking Refuge, Generating Bodhichitta, and the Distribution of Merit from Tibetan Buddhism, Pagan Dharma efficiently grounds the individual in a transpersonal context. In practice, I have found that these techniques are effective for newcomers and seasoned magicians alike.
In short, Maat Magick transcends the "predator" (for so we may call the individual anchored in egocentric power) by extending the scope of Thelema into the Aeon of Maat, while Pagan Dharma accomplishes something similar by adapting Tibetan ritual technology. I have no doubt that there are other such formulations out there, and that there will be more in the future, as Thelemic culture finds ways to cope with those who are drawn to the great beauty of Crowley's writings while still pre-occupied with the limitations of the power-driven self.
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