| up a level
from the beats-of-revelations dept.
Alan Watts wrote Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen in 1959, comparing and contrasting two manifestations of Zen Buddhism in western culture. On one hand, there was the spread of Japanese Zen Buddhism, with its formal practices and methods of transmission. But there was also the influence of Zen as popularized by Jack Kerouac and other influential figures of the Beat movement. These he characterized as "Square Zen" and "Beat Zen," respectively. Of course, to draw this distinction means ultimately to withdraw it, as there is finally only "Zen." Still, it was a thought provoking analysis.
This has come to mind since I've been noticing that many of the best experiences I've had recently in Thelemic culture seemed to have had two different flavors. One is polished, orderly, rehearsed, and well integrated into society. The other is more spontaneous, chaotic, antinomian, and on the fringe. In memory of Alan Watts, we could describe these as "Square Thelema" and "Beat Thelema," realizing that both labels sound about equally silly nowadays.
What can we say about these two directions? Often, but not always, they are associated with age groups. Many people first develop an interest in Thelema in their late teens or early twenties, and younger Thelemites often bring the "Beat" vitality to their magical expressions. Those of us who are involved with Thelema in their late thirties or beyond often take a more structured approach. Of course, exceptions abound. There are perfectly chaotic Thelemites in their sixties, and teenagers who seem to have been born formal.
Also, I've known times and places where the two directions were more blended and others where relations between the two showed a distinct strain. The Beats found the Squares to be restrictive and the Squares found the Beats to be dangerously destabilizing. And it is certainly true that Squares make less trouble for the administration of magical organizations.
Again, I'm aware that this is an arbitrary distinction. But I would be interested in hearing the thoughts of others on the subject, particularly whether others have noticed the dichotomy in their own experience of Thelema.
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