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  Crowley and Spiral Dynamics
General Thelema Posted by Xnoubis on February 24, 2001 @ 06:40 PM
from the grave-mysteries dept.

I was introduced to Clare W. Graves' "Theory of the Levels of Existence" by one of his students in 1975. I was only 13 at the time, but it made a deep impression on me, and so we spent many hours going over the details and discussing its implications. But I hadn't thought of it for years, until I remembered to mention it in the article Theories of Aeons. Since then, I've come to realize how deeply it influenced the direction of my thought, so I'd like to describe it in more detail, and examine some of the questions it poses for Thelema.

Graves at one time said of his theory, "Briefly, what I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems as man's existential problems change." Beyond that, he described a specific sequence of such systems that could be observed within individuals, groups, or whole societies.

I'll attempt to give a brief summary of this sequence. I doubt that I'll be able to do it much justice, so I urge the interested reader to explore the material at the Spiral Dynamics website. (Spiral Dynamics is a book written by two of Graves' senior students, Don Beck and Chris Cowan, expanding on Graves' Theory. I haven't read the book, but I'm not encouraged by their unattractive and hard to read website, their use of colors to depict the levels, their clumsy attempts at marketing, or their introduction of memetics, which only serves to confuse the Theory, it seems to me. Still, if you can wade through the presentation, there's plenty of good information. Or else try "An Explanation of Spiral Dynamics".)

To begin with, Graves describes six levels of subsistence values.

  1. At the Automatic level, what is valued is physical survival. Historically, this corresponds to an early developmental phase when humans gathered in bands for the purpose of achieving their physical needs.
  2. At the Tribal level, tradition is valued as a means of achieving safety. The tribal age of humanity is sometimes theorized to have begun around 50,000 years ago, and is still a way of life for some people living today.
  3. The Egocentric level is the Age of Empire, when the strong and heroic are valued. We find humanity operating from this level at the beginnings of recorded history.
  4. The Sacrificial level occurs at the time of the founding of the great religions, and involves a sacrifice in the present for a greater reward to come, as well as the belief in an absolute and deeper truth.
  5. The Materialistic level comes into play in the Renaissance and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. It is concerned with personal independence, science, and the conquest of the physical world.
  6. The Sociocentric level is relatively recent. Aspects of it might be seen in the American Revolution, but most especially in the Humanism of the 20th century. It is the value of people, community, and friendship.

Within these six levels, Graves observed an oscillation between two modalities. The odd-numbered levels involve the self asserting power over its environment. The even-numbered levels involve the self adapting to its environment.

The system doesn't end there, in fact, it doesn't end at all. But Graves did observe that there was a more major transition after level 6 than occurs in any of the earlier transitions. He referred to this as the shift from "subsistence values" to "being values," and thought of level 1 being recapitulated on a higher plane as level 7.

  1. The Cognitive level is concerned with independence and functioning within a dynamic system.
  2. The Experiential level is holistic, interested in systems theory and global consciousness.

Graves also referred to higher levels, but admitted he had no knowledge of what they would be like.

The point that I wanted to make about Thelema is that it can be seen, from one angle, to be concerned with a shift between value-systems. If we attempt to map it onto Graves' Theory, one thing is clear at least: Thelema involves a transition from self-adapting values to self-asserting ones.

Now, this could be because the transition in question is the one from subsistence values to being values. And indeed, if I were to choose one of Graves' levels to characterize the Thelemic vision, it would be 7, the Cognitive level (with some level 8 features).

But Crowley's description of what we are moving away from matches level 4 very closely. We are leaving the age of self-sacrifice. What's always struck me about that, though, is that most of those living in the West had already left the age of self-sacrifice long ago. But this might not have been so apparent to Crowley, having been raised in a fundamentalist (that is, strict level 4) household.

One can in fact read Thelemic materials as a call to move beyond level 4 (the Aeon of Osiris), not only to level 7, but also to level 5, or even to level 3. The empire-building career of L. Ron Hubbard could be illustrative of the egocentric interpretation of Thelema.

It is a curious thing that the sociocentric level 6 barely enters the picture. (Though there is a bit of it in the wealth-redistribution facets of Crowley's design for the OTO.) But if we emphasize the holistic level 8 elements within Thelema, I think that some of the sociocentric issues can be resolved. I might even suggest that the emergence of the Maatian current within Thelema could be seen as an attempt to shore up the level 8 values within the tradition, and so also to make space for level 6 concerns.

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  • The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them.

    Re: Crowley and Spiral Dynamics
    by Virbius on Saturday February 24, @09:38PM
    I think an important thing to note here is that this topic is theoretical, and within that context, like all theories, it could possibly be of some use, either practical or in the very least: seeds for practical thought.

    It reminds me a lot of some very similar ideas presented by Tim Leary, Robert Anton Wilson and Antero Alli. (cf. "Angel Tech", Alli, "Cosmic Trigger", Wilson). Their ideas (all inspired by each other, if any it was Leary who originated the ideas) could be used to view the level of development of consciousness of individuals, groups or societies, and were very similar to this present topic except that they weren't focused on the concept of the progression of ages within history.

    I personally find this type of idea (the present topic included) as an exceptional and even necessary examination of human development. We all go through all of these stages. Some people, groups and societies NEVER progress beyond certain stages.

    This is my essential argument with this concept of Aeons as stages of history. Quite obviously some individuals, groups and societies are still very much in the Aeon of Osiris (as we near the first 100 years of the Aeon of Horus!). Other, more primitive societies still exist within the Aeon of Isis!

    I find that (in general) personally I am hovering somewhere near Graves' Level 5. I often find myself regressing into what I believe is equivalent to Level 3. I feel that I SHOULD be operating more in Level 6, but am not often in the mood or interested.

    I don't necessarily feel that Level 4 is a regression from Level 5. I am currently feeling drawn to a level of consciousness or approach to living that is a lot more like Level 4 than any other mode presented, Levels 5 an 6 included.

    Maybe it is the "Octave" of Level 4?

    • Re: Crowley and Spiral Dynamics
      by Xnoubis on Sunday February 25, @05:01PM
      > Maybe it is the "Octave" of Level 4?

      As the system describes the first six levels as the first tier, 4 would find an octave of a sort at level 10. But it does seem to me that there can be a connection between level 4 spirituality and level 8 holistic vision. Mystical Christianity -- as in for instance The Cloud of Unknowing, or the works of Meister Eckhardt, Hildegard of Bingen, and Nicolas of Cusa -- has a level 8 ring to my ears, as do many manifestations of Buddhism, although there are certainly many forms of both religions that appear strictly level 4.

      • Re: Crowley and Spiral Dynamics
        by Virbius on Sunday February 25, @11:11PM
        I'm not familiar with Nicolas of Cusa (I'll have to look him up), but the other three are right in there! The "Level 4" (or octave thereof) that I am referring to would have to do with a "healthy self-denial". It seems to me that a healthy self-denial brings power and clarity of purpose.

        Several other sources of quite valuable Christian Mysticism that I have encountered:

        Angelus Silesius
        Jacob Boehme
        The Philokalia (collected writings of Orthodox monks of Mount Athos in Greece, 4th to 19th Century a.d./e.v.)
        The Way of a Pilgrim (anonymous)

        The problem with a lot of this stuff, ESPECIALLY our precious Jacob Boehme (who's name appears in the EGC Mass) is what I would consider an unhealthy degree of self denial. I spent the early part of the 1990's convinced that I would become a Benedictine Monk, even though I have been very familiar with Crowley since the early 1980's. I have since learned the error of my ways! But just because self denial taken to extremes has little value to most people, I don't believe that the opposite is entirely valuable either: utter self-abandon and rejection in total of self-denial.

        Even Blake said "How can one know what is enough unless one first knows what is too much" in other words, the goal was not excess, but excess was and is a means to an end: Balance.

      • A Book for the Hours of Prayer
        by Virbius on Sunday March 18, @02:38PM
        "Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen,
        die sich ├╝ber die Dinge ziehn.
        Ich werde den letzten vielleicht night vollbringen,
        aber versuchen will ich ihn.

        Ich kreise um Gott, um den uralten Turm,
        und ich kreise jahrtausendelang;
        und ich weiss noch nicht: bin ich ein Falke, ein sturm oder ein grosser Gesang."

        "I live my life in growing orbits
        which move out over the things of the world.
        Perhaps I can never acheive the last,
        but that will be my attempt.

        I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
        and I have been circling for a thousand years,
        and I still don't know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song."

        Rainer Maria Rilke

    Let The Power Fall
    by Virbius on Saturday February 24, @10:43PM
    This topic reminds me of one of Robert Fripp's soapbox discourses, from the liner notes of his 1981 Frippertronics album "Let The Power Fall":

      1. 1. One can work within any structure.
      2. 2. Once one can work within any structure, some structures are more efficient than others.
      3. 3. There is no one structure which is universally appropriate.
      4. 4. Commitment to an aim within an inappropriate structure will give rise to the creation of an appropriate structure.
      5. 5. Apathy, i.e. passive comittment, within an appropriate structure will effect it's collapse.
      6. 6. Dogmatic attachment to the supposed merits of a particular structure hinders the search for an appropriate structure.
      7. 7. There will be difficulty defining the appropriate structure because it will always be mobile, i.e. in process

      1. 8. There should be no difficulty in defining aim
      2. 9. The appropriate structure will recognize structures outside itself
      3. 10. The appropriate structure can work within any large structure
      4. 11. Once the appropriate structure can work within any large structure, some larger structures are more efficient than others
      5. 12. There is no larger structure that is universally appropriate
      6. 13. Commitment to an aim by an appropriate structure within a larger, inappropriate structure will give rise to a large, appropriate structure
      7. 14. The quantitative structure is affected by qualitative action

      1. 15. Qualitative action is not bound by number
      2. 16. Any small unit committed to qualitative action can affect radical change on a scale outside it's quantitative measure
      3. 17. Quantitative action works by violence and breeds reaction
      4. 18. Qualitative action works by example and invites reciprocation
      5. 19. Reciprocation between independent structures is a framework of interacting units which itself is a structure
      6. 20. Any appropriate structure of interacting units can work within any other structure of interacting units.
      7. 21. Once this is so, some structures of interacting units are more efficient than others.

    • Re: Let The Power Fall
      by Xnoubis on Sunday February 25, @05:22PM
      I'm delighted to see these aphorisms here. I copied them into my first magical journal, and think of them often. I was most recently reminded of them when doing an Aleph pathworking at the recent Pantheacon. Aleph, it seemed to me at the time, is the ability to work within any structure. It is also the doorway into the structure of the Hebrew alphabet and the paths of the Tree. From there, one can examine the structure and move on, or one can work within it.

    • Re: Let The Power Fall
      by Alan nz on Monday April 09, @10:27PM
      Fripp was a student of JG Bennett, a student of Gurgieff.
      The link? See Bennetts "The Dramatic Universe" Volume III - Man and his Nature

    • Re: Let The Power Fall
      by Joshua Zintel on Tuesday April 10, @01:49PM
      Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

      Virbius, thank you for the quote -- I find these
      reminders useful in my work of the Dagger, that
      critical thought partitioner which measures all
      ideas as relative to the Aim at hand; Economy
      of Motion indeed!

      Love is the law, love under will.

      Zos Hua 999'.'
      Joshua Zintel


    • Re: Let The Power Fall
      by Antonio De Honestis on Thursday July 05, @03:36AM
      Dear people,
      it's something like 17 years that i like this writing, and i'm happy to find on the internet that, others, many others are attracted by this.
      I read your free reproduction of it, and, for perfection sake i found a little mistake in your reproduction, i'll show you now:
      Heading III, comma ii., point 16:
      Any small unit committed to qualitative action can affect radical change on a scale outside "it's" quantitative measure.
      I would suggest to change it in:
      Any small unit committed to qualitative action can affect radical change on a scale outside "its"
      quantitative measure.

      Then i would suggest to add full points at the end of every phrase.
      I hope this will help, and thank you


    Re: Crowley and Spiral Dynamics
    by Virbius on Tuesday February 27, @06:45AM
    After pondering this theory for a few days I have come to appreciate it's subtleties. I admit, it is very compelling. It has shades and depth of meaning beyond similar systems / models / metaphors.

    It is particularly the "dynamic" implied by the title that is the most compelling to me. I have always felt a similar sort of dynamic in spiritual growth, alomst like the swinging of a pendulum.

    I think that the systems promoted by Wilson and Alli (based on Tim Leary's) are a bit easier to understand and might be of value to those who find this topic a bit impenetrable, but those systems specifically lack a description of the "spiral dynamic" (the versions I've read anyway)...quite a bit of writing was done on those topics and a similar idea may be presented somewhere, they may even mention Graves at some point, but I am unfamiliar with it if they did.

    To those with any interest, I believe that several books by Wilson give extensive bibliographies of Tim Leary's work on this topic.

    Re: Crowley and Spiral Dynamics
    by Xnoubis on Tuesday April 10, @11:18AM
    On reflection, I see that I was a bit tired and cranky when I wrote this article, and that my critique of the Spiral Dynamics website is overly harsh. There is nothing wrong, after all, with being more concerned with substance than with style. Apologies for the growling.

    • Re: Crowley and Spiral Dynamics
      by Natasha Todorovic on Thursday April 12, @09:58AM
      Thanks for the critical feedback on the site. You will be pleased to know that we are finally doing something to address the aesthetic aspect of presenting the material in a more user friendly format. Our new look should be up in the next few weeks, please keep checking in. Actually we have more than one site and I encourage people to check out spiraldynamics.org and the new Graves site as well (clarewgraves.com) ... any feedback would be more than welcome as we work to improve all aspects of the site and the material - we also appreciate your patience. Digging into the site enough to find the substance is a feat in and of itself ;-)

      • Re: Crowley and Spiral Dynamics
        by Xnoubis on Thursday April 12, @10:16PM
        I appreciate your patience as well. ;-)

        I'll be interested to discover what the motivation was for blending Graves' work with meme theory. There was already plenty of complexity in its original form. Also, I've noticed that many people don't care for the meme idea, and such people will likely dismiss Spiral Dynamics on that basis alone. So there must have been some perceived gain. I'll probably understand better when I get around to reading the book.

        (My resistence, at root, might again be based on aesthetics. I find the use of all caps in words like vMEME to be visually distressing. Silly, I know.)

        • Re: Crowley and Spiral Dynamics
          by Natasha Todorovic on Thursday April 12, @11:43PM
          Yes, the typography in the current edition of the SD book is clumsy. My partner, Chris Cowan, thought the Word document he sent to the publisher would be edited and refined typographically, but they printed it almost as submitted! Chris, who is coauthor of the book, now tends to agree that the dovetail with memetics is forced and unnecessary. You are right about the concepts of meme and vMeme adding confusion to an already complex model. There is a connection since Graves' Levels of Existence lay the foundation on which memetic structures are built. The two are actually complementary; however, recent publications have confused that difference and left it unclear that a vMeme and a meme are two different things ... ok, call it a marketing effort that has proven regrettable. We are centering more around Dr. Graves' original approach.

          The color language was originally devised for title slides and nothing more. It has taken on a life of its own, but doesn't have half the symbolic meaning people try to attribute to it. Dr. Graves' original letter pairs serve better to illustrate the two components of the levels in his theory - some people still use numbers, others prefer colors and still others have named the levels. In our training we concentrate on the original Graves terminology but also use the color code as a short-hand ... just different symbols that take some getting used to ...

    Re: Crowley and Spiral Dynamics
    by Isabella on Thursday April 12, @06:46AM
    I am finding this model very interesting. It brings forth the idea of the "eternal rays" -- mentioned by both edgar cayce and alice bailey. The first is the ray of power or life force, the second: love and wisdom and onward up to the sixth: religious devotion. There is something of a miracle in corresponding information -- and I find descriptions of the sixth ray correspond very closely with the "forth level" of self sacrifice. Images of saints and madmen come to mind... It is also of interest to note that the sixth ray is on its way out of the earth's reception --very few people are born of this ray at this time, as crowley predicted we are leaving the age of self sacrifice. Thank you for stimulating my thoughts on this subject.

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