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from the if-it-ain't-one-thing-it's-another dept.
There is a dichotomy of sorts that, in varying forms, runs throughout A. H. Almaas's book The Pearl Beyond Price (Berkeley: Diamond Books, 1998), that I believe has particular significance for Thelema. His opening chapter contrasts the views of the man of spirit and the man of the world. The man of the world values autonomy, his sense of being a separate person, whereas the man of spirit seeks to transcend this sense of separation in the realm of the impersonal.
Ordinarily, these two views are contradictory:
From the perspective of the man of spirit . . . the [man of the world's] accomplishment of ego autonomy is ultimately a prison . . . A similar limitation is seen sometimes on the side of the man of spirit. Some people actually seek out the impersonal levels of Being in order to avoid dealing with the issues of autonomy which must be faced in ordinary ego development as well as in the development of the Personal Essence. (pp. 42-43)
These two concerns are reflected later in the book, as Almaas describes two aspects of essence: the Merging Essence and Separation, or the essential aspect of Strength.
Concerning the Merging Essence he writes:
Its most characteristic property, which distinguishes it from all other aspects of Essence, is its feeling of melting. It feels melted and melting. It feels melted like melted butter, but clear as some king of very light and delicate honey. It has the effect of melting one's sensations, one's tensions, one's mind. When it emerges in consciousness, one feels melted by a sweet and delicious kind of love. The heart melts and flows, and the mind becomes rested and contented.
While descriptions of Separation include:
It has a sense of strength and power. The strength is not felt as characterizing one's body or sense of self, but is the presence itself. This state of Essence is the presence of Strength. One does not exactly feel strong, but feels more like, "I exist, as the very substance of Strength," or "I am Strength."
These distinctions came to mind recently while I was comparing the use of archetypes in Christianity and Thelema. Particularly, they helped to clarify the sense in which the meaning of the Beast and the Christ are nearly reversed in the two traditions.
In Thelema, the Beast is an archetype of the glory of autonomy:
Let the stars be burnt up in the fire of my nostrils! Let all the gods and the archangels and the angels and the spirits that are on the earth, and above the earth, and below the earth, that are in all the heavens and all the hells, let them be as motes dancing in the beam of mine eye!
In Christianity, Christ has come to mean different things to different people, but I would characterize as one of his key roles the realization of the Merging Essence.
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.
These figures possess, in each tradition, an ill-aspected opposite. It seems to me that Almaas's description of those who "avoid dealing with the issues of autonomy" comes very close to the heart of Crowley's argument against Christ and Christianity.
O Saviour of the World, bruise Thou my Head with Thy foot to save the world, that once again I touch Him whom I slew, that in my death I feel the radiance and the heat of the moving of Thy Robes!
While for Christian theology, the Beast is an embodiment of all that can go wrong with autonomy: selfishness, cruelty, and rebellion.
And [the beast] opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
Thelema also has archetypes for the Merging Essence, first and foremost Nuit.
There is, however, a universal solvent and harmonizer, a certain dew which is so pure that a single drop of it cast into the water of the Cup will for the time being bring all to perfection . . . And this is the dew of the stars of which it is spoken in the Holy Books, for Nuit the Lady of the Stars is called the "continuous one of Heaven," and it is that dew which bathes the body of the Adept "in a sweet-smelling perfume of sweat."
Thelemic usage of the archetype of Adonai, or God, is not that dissimilar to the Christian faith. "Thou hast burst me utterly in sunder," (Liber LXV, III:46) is surely an image of the Merging Essence, if a little cathartic as well.
And as central as autonomy is to Thelema, I would suggest that it includes an archetype of ill-aspected autonomy in the figure of Choronzon. In this case, however, each moment rebels against the moment before it, so that it is a movement towards autonomy that is corrosive of selfhood.
And, because [Choronzon] is himself, therefore he is no self; the terror of darkness, and the blindness of night, and the deafness of the adder, and the tastelessness of stale and stagnant water, and the black fire of hatred, and the udders of the Cat of slime; not one thing, but many things.
So in summary:
What stands out for me in this analysis is that Christianity (at least in its popular form) does not seem to possess distinct archetypes for ill-aspected merging or well-aspected autonomy. Of course, there are Bible stories that can be shoe-horned to illustrate these points. Baal-worship, for example, could be considered as an example of biblical "bad merging," but what makes it bad is that it is really a rebellion from the "true merging," and so more nearly an act of autonomy. Similarly, one might cite stories of the young David as exemplifying virtuous autonomy, but the virtue consists of surrender to the "true God" and combat against those who have rebelled against His plan.
Perhaps I'm suggesting that this could be a way of communicating with Christians about Thelema: yes, we've reversed your symbols, but we've done so for a reason. Those progressive Christians who understand that autonomy doesn't necessarily entail evil, and that self-effacement to the impersonal doesn't necessarily mean good, are using a map not so very different from Thelemites.
Or maybe this is just my descent into beastliness in order to declare, "nyah, nyah, we have two dimensions in this domain and you only have one!"
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