| up a level
from the Law-to-give dept.
The Open Source movement is rapidly changing the face of software development. Could Thelema -- with its emphasis on the Magical Record and the public availability of most of its founding documents -- be considered as an application of the principles of the Open Source movement to the domain of spirituality?
Update (3/6/00): As if in response to this article [grin], Salon has just dedicated a new section of their website to the topic of the Free Software Project.
The basic idea behind open source is very simple. When programmers on the Internet can read, redistribute, and modify the source for a piece of software, it evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing.
In 1997, Eric Raymond first presented his now-famous paper, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, in which he elaborated upon the principles of the Open Source movement:
In the cathedral-builder view of programming, bugs and development problems are tricky, insidious, deep phenomena. It takes months of scrutiny by a dedicated few to develop confidence that you've winkled them all out. Thus the long release intervals, and the inevitable disappointment when long-awaited releases are not perfect.
The Open Source model of software development had by that time already achieved notable success through the Linux operating system and the Apache web server. But in the spring of 1998, Netscape stunned the computer industry with its announcement that it would develop the next major version of its web browser as an open source project.
Since then, the movement has expanded tremendously, with many software vendors either establishing Open Source projects (IBM), watering down the Open Source model (Sun), or presenting arguments that the Open Source model isn't applicable to their market (Microsoft).
Underlying this enthusiasm is a shared commitment to the advancement of knowledge combined with the recognition that individuals do their best work when applying themselves to projects they're personally interested in. These principles are similar enough to the conjunction of the Hermetic quest for knowledge and the doctrine of True Will found in Thelema to suggest that Thelema could potentially be viewed as a platform for Open Source development, but of human development rather than software development.
"Mystery is the enemy of truth," Crowley once wrote, and although some of his work is shrouded in secrecy, he opened up the Western esoteric tradition to a degree never before seen in his time. The original publication of the initiation rituals of the Golden Dawn, along with much of their instructional material, occurred in The Equinox, in "The Temple of Solomon the King." This, along with Regardie's later -- somewhat more systematic -- publication, paved the way for the modern popularity of Ceremonial Magick. It is quite likely that without these works the Golden Dawn system would have vanished into obscurity, and all that has derived from it would never have existed.
Crowley also advanced the idea of the Magical Record, not just as a way for the individual to evaluate his or her progress, but also for the sake of other, later explorers. His publication of Frater Achad's journals as "A Master of the Temple," and Crowley's own "John St. John," provided examples of actual magical work that served as guideposts for those who came after them.
It could be argued that the presence of any "closed" material in his works disqualifies Crowley from any consideration as an early Open Source proponent. Kenneth Grant attempted to strip away the vestiges of occult secrecy in his "Typhonian OTO," and while his heavy-handed management approach triggered (at least in the U.S.) the waning of his organization in the mid-80s, his views regarding secrecy have proved enormously influential among independent Thelemites ever since.
There may be no necessary contradiction between the principles of Open Source and a certain amount of secrecy required by initiatory orders, however. If the purpose of keeping initiatory material secret is intended to be a method for the development of the initiate, and the material isn't held to be necessary for practitioners in general, then Open Source "mystery cults" are possible and not at all logically inconsistant. (Linux remains Open Source even though Linux-based systems possess secure passwords.)
Oscar Ichazo, referring to the Wheel of Fortune trump in a lecture series on the Tarot given in 1973, makes a point that could as easily apply to all esoterica in general:
We have Hermes (Mercury) over Aquarius, the symbol or the logos of the Open Path, meaning that the Tarot is to be revealed in the Aquarian Age. [...] The age of the development of the individual has culminated with technology and Humanity is now at the point where it must jump level in order to survive. But Humanity is ready for this jump.
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