Considerations of this kind were constantly present to my mind at this period. Before my eyes was the sickening spectacle of humanity sinking ever deeper into the sticky slime of slavery. The tragedy of New Orleans illustrated one phase of the calamity. While as to the individual, his position might be gauged by the case of my own cousin in Florida, who quite seriously believed that God had sunk the Titanic to rebuke the presumption of the builders, of the pitifully comic worship of the weakly megalomaniac at the White House, and of the moral and mental level of such people as I met in the masonic lodges whose gambols I have described in a previous chapter.
Hope died in my heart. There was not one glimmer of light on the horizon anywhere. It seemed to me an obscene mockery to be called a Magus. I must have been afflicted by "lust of result"; at least it came to this, that I felt that I could not go on with my work. On every side the wizened witches of religion and morality were shrill in celebration of their obscene sabbath. I felt that I had not only failed, but that it was little short of lunacy to imagine that I could ever make the slightest impression upon the monstrous mass of misery which was soaking through the very spine of mankind. My faith failed me; I made a gesture of despair; I committed spiritual suicide, I closed my Magical Record and refused to write. "If the Masters want me to do their Work," said I, "let them come forward and call me."
This action is the only of my life of which I am really ashamed. I should not have surrendered while there was breath in my body. Well, perhaps it was not altogether a surrender; but it was at least a desperate appeal of anguish.
The penalty of my momentary lapse was frightful. Its effects are still observable today. The subject is really too painful to discuss at length. I need say no more than this: that my lack of confidence in the Secret Chiefs recoiled on myself. (In Magick, of course, the punishment always fits the crime.) At the same time, the Secret Chiefs themselves had made no mistake. They knew perfectly well what was my breaking strain and they deliberately pushed me beyond my limit for several excellent reasons. They wanted me to know the extent of my capacity to endure; and thereby, of course, to increase that capacity in the future by showing me that even when I thought I had broken the chain it held by invisible links as firmly as ever and was, in fact, unbreakable; for it is an essential element of my being to be pledged to the performance of the Great Work. They also taught me by this means the
consequences of any such error; and this has been very useful to me in dealing with those who may be in danger of making a similar blunder. The penalty itself was also the means of arranging events in such a way as to be of service to me in subsequent initiation.
I don't know whether I thought the world would come to an end, because I chose to turn nasty --- but I was certainly very much annoyed to find that, as in the case of the great Lord Cardinal, when he had finished cursing "nobody seemed one penny the worse". The Secret Chiefs were to all appearance entirely unconcerned at what I had done. Like my own Blind Prophet, I had pulled down the pillars on which I supposed the temple to be supported, but he at least succeeded in crushing himself, and I had not even done that!
What happened was in fact extremely curious. Stevenson observes that when a Magi is cashiered, he does not fall to be a rural dean or words to that effect. I found myself, like Othello, with my occupation gone. I might not be able to perform the task of a Magus, but there was certainly nothing else for me to do. I had no remorse, not so much as a qualm of conscience. The Secret Chiefs kept silent. And I found that after a fortnight or so I simply could not stand it any longer. I felt more than a little like a naughty dog, but there was simply nothing to be done but to crawl back with my tail between my legs, and I remember with somewhat shamefaced amusement, that I had a sort of hope that I had escaped notice.
The situation had not in any way changed; when I reopened my Magical Record I did so entirely without hope of any kind; in fact, perhaps the best way to express the situation is that my misdemeanour had served to purge me of the "lust of result". But as for having escaped notice, if I had really harboured any delusions on that point, my mind was completely disillusioned in the first eleven seconds.
I said to myself that the obvious first step was to invoke Mercury. I instantly found myself, with a little internal laugh simmering in my solar plexus, saying, "But I am Mercury." The suppressed chuckle was cut short suddenly by that feeling akin to alarm which a man often feels when he is sitting up late at night enjoying a book, and is suddenly reminded, perhaps by some slight noise, of some serious matter; an unexpected visitor, can it be, outside his door? For I was aware that there was something more in what I was saying to myself than its plain implication, and it came to me by some inscrutable instinct to couch the idea otherwise. "Mercurius sum," I murmured, and now the unheard voice, not so loud as a whisper yet more compelling than a burst of thunder, told me without the use of language, "No, that isn't it, say it in Greek." "Epsilon rho mu eta sigma epsilon iota mu iota ," I affirmed solemnly, and knew immediately that I had done what was required of me, yet wondering almost contemptuously what was the object of the translation, and then, far more rapidly than I could have discovered by conscious calculation, I knew that
"Epsilon rho mu eta sigma epsilon iota mu iota " had the numerical value of 418, the Magical Formula of the Aeon. At the very first moment of resuming communication with my soul, the Secret Chiefs had given me an indubitable token of their existence, of their vigilant guardianship, by communicating their password, so to speak, in this cipher. My spirit leapt with joy to be reassured once more by this superbly simple means, this exquisitely neat and convincing language; yet stark shame savaged me. How could even such a mule of a mind as mine have been so obstinate to resist such perfect control? How could I ever have been such a coward as to lose my courage even for a moment, seeing that year after year the Secret Chiefs had never failed me? I had never despised myself so deeply. But the very sharpness of my scorn had also its use. It guaranteed me forever against a repetition of any such collapse. I did not ask for any further token; I did not even form resolutions, or so much as ask for instruction. I simply became alive to the fact that I was a Magus, with every implication possible, and that I should infallibly perform whatever tasks might be given me. I even began to understand that the actual absence of any task was evidence that my present conditions were essential to the Great Work; that my apparent impotence was part of the plan of the Secret Chiefs. I had been childishly petulant in wanting to bathe in "Abana and Pharphar rivers of Damascus", and thinking myself insulted by being told that the petty trickle of Jordan, a stream that did not even lead to the ocean, would suffice to cleanse my limbs of leprosy. Somehow or other, the ghastly situation in which I found myself, the stagnation of my career and the paralysis of my powers were essential to my proper progress. I ceased to fret about the future, as to protest against the present. I took everything as it came almost without comment, confident that at the right moment I should find myself in the right position to do what was right.
Having witnessed the bedevilment of New Orleans, I was sent to Titusville, Florida, to complete my contemplation of the unspeakable degradation of humanity which is constantly being wrought by Christianity and commerce. I saw my cousin Lawrence, as decent a lad as one could wish to see, spiritually stunted and corrupted in every way by savage superstition; his wife, hardly turned thirty, a wrinkled hag of sixty, with no idea of life beyond the gnawing fear for the hereafter and the horrible pleasures of venting her spite on her neighbours and thwarting and persecuting her children; his son, deprived of every boyish amusement, driven to secret indulgence in the most wretched vices, and his sisters (one of them with a voice which would have made her a queen in any civilized capital) thwarted in every innocent aspiration, and their eyes wide open to the frightful knowledge that they could never be anything but drudges sold into the worse slavery of marriage at eighteen, and ruined old women, dead to every possibility, at twenty-five. Their constant cry was "I don't want to grow up to be like Mother!" Their
least actions were spied on, their every attempt to fit themselves by education to get out of the ghastly swamp where they sweated away their youth in conditions which made the fever and famine themselves, with which they were familiar, more bearable than the malignant tyranny of the people to whom the very crocodiles might have served as a reproach and an inspiration.
From this hell of ignorance and family life I was removed to a very different place of punishment. I was to have a view of New York as it must appear to the average stranger, to all such of its inhabitants (these must constitute a very considerable percentage) who have not established business and social connections. It is striking evidence of the ability of the Secret Chiefs to arrange the conditions of an initiation that such an experience was possible for me; for, by this time, I was pretty well-known in the city in very varied sets, and as it happened, I had under my hand as good a means of making myself not only prosperous but popular, as any man could possibly wish for.
During my retirement by Lake Pasquaney I had, according to my custom when in solitude and in need of relaxation, passed the time by dealing myself hands in such games as skat, piquet and bridge. I was led to invent a new game, a variation of auction bridge, which we subsequently called "pirate bridge". This appeared to me such an improvement on the ordinary game that I throught I would introduce it to the public. I convinced the editor of Vanity Fair of its merits and suggested that R. F. Foster should be called in to put the rules into definite shape.
It gave me a very curious feeling, by the way, to be in such relations with a man who, twenty years before, had been the inaccessible godhead of the universe of card games to my undergraduate enthusiasm! As a matter of fact, he misunderstood one of my rules; and I think the game was spoilt in consequence. However, even as it was, Vanity Fair was devoting a long article every month to the subject, and I had only to wander into the appropriate circles to make myself the darling of the community. But the Secret Chiefs had it in mind that so far from doing anything of the sort, I should spend months of absolutely sickening solitude, direst poverty and impotence to take any action whatever, so that I might realize how the world feels to the very vast majority of the inhabitants of its civilized sections, to people without resources, prospects, friends or exploitable abilities. I was also to be prepared to take up a public career for the first time in my life; my previous manifestations having been of a semi-private or amateur kind.
This period was inexpressibly distressing; apart from other unpleasantnesses, my health broke down in a quite inexplicable way. There was no satisfactory diagnosis; the symptoms were confined to a spiritual and physical malaise which deprived me alike of ambition and energy. (I have good reason to suspect that this was partly due to the reaction from my experiment in reviving youth.) And there were other trials. At one time I
was so poor that I had to lie on the sofa of a friend in the garret which he called his studio to have anywhere to sleep, and I really don't quite remember what I did about eating. I suppose I must have earned a few dollars now and again in one way or another.
The Chokmah day beginning in June saw the break-up of these conditions. A new officer appeared. The initiation had now entered upon an entirely different phase. The function of the officers was no longer to administer ordeals (I had passed the tests); they were sent as guides to lead me on a journey through the Desert to the appointed "House of the Juggler" in which a Magus symbolically lives.
The first part of the initiation had occupied thirteen Chokmah days counting from November 3rd, 1914 to June 9th, 1917. I was able to recognize my guide. During the past days I had done much work in analysing and interpreting the mysterious events which had characterized my sojourn in America. From this time on my progress was far less unintelligible than had hitherto been the case. I was therefore not surprised when an officer appeared at about the expected date, and her physical appearance told me at once where I had got to in my journey; for the god whose place is on the Threshold of the Temple, whose function is to guard the portal of the sanctuary and introduce approved candidates to the assembled deities, is Anubis. This god is always represented with the head of a jackal. (This has sometimes been interpreted as a dog; whence the dog-headed Hermes in the mythology which the Greeks borrowed from Egypt.)
Now this guide exactly resembled a dog; not only physically but morally. She had all the canine qualities, the best and the worst, in perfection, and she certainly served to start me on my new journey. The impending section of my initiation was easy to understand. In the former I had been prevented from establishing any regular relations as a teacher or prophet with humanity. I had been prepared in solitude to become such. I was now, little by little, to enter upon my life as the Prophet of the Law of Thelema.
In July I was made the editor of The International, a monthly which had the distinction of being the only publication in the United States with a genuine claim to represent the best literary tradition. The editor had made the fatal mistake of prostituting its columns to political propaganda. The paper was, therefore, on the rocks. Its literary merits had been entirely forgotten in the salient fact of its pro-German tendencies. I explained elsewhere how I came to be connected with anti-English sentiments, and part of my plan in taking over the paper was to restore it to political propriety, unknown by its backers, and also to keep close watch upon their activities, on behalf of the Department of Justice. But my main object was, of course, to obtain a medium for the proclamation of the Law.
For all practical purposes, I was in complete control of the policy of the
paper; but as far as pushing it was concerned I was obliged to rely on the broken reed of merit, for it was conducted financially with short-sighted meanness. I had no idea that cheese-paring could be reduced to such a fine art. My own salary was twenty dollars per week, which was, at that time, little more than the wage of an unskilled stenographer, and it was a Titan task to extract as much as ten dollars or the price of a lunch for a long article or story by a well-known writer. They expected me to get a cover design by a first-rate artist for five dollars and would try to cheat him or her out of it at that. I was horribly ashamed of having to cadge contributions in this way, but very proud to remember that many brilliant people seemed only too glad to give their work. They felt it an honour to support a magazine with such high standards as I introduced. One little fact illustrates the position with lurid light. Having got my article free, the least I could do was to have half a dozen copies of the number in which it appeared sent to the authors. The proprietor would countermand such instructions behind my back, not because of the cost of the paper, for there were always ample "returns", but to save the postage.
The upshot of all this was that I wrote the bulk of the paper myself, camouflaging the fact by the use of pseudonyms. After eight months I had so improved the reputation of the paper that it had become a valuable property, and it was accordingly sold to a man who was so stupid as not to know that its sole asset was myself, and so fat-headed that he thought he could run it himself. He would not even accept a contribution from me, though I offered him one out of pure kindness. He pretended to be a great friend of mine and I had not realized the dirtiness of the intrigues against me. Well, he had his way and got out just one number. As soon as people found my name absent they would not buy it. Its sudden destruction was the greatest compliment I had ever received.
During the three Chokmah days of my control of the paper I devoted every energy to proclaiming the Law of Thelma in its pages both directly and indirectly.
My first important step in this direction, the thin end of the wedge, was an article "The Revival of Magick" which ran serially, ending in November. The last paragraph, a mere coxcombical flourish, though written with the quite serious idea of indicating to some person of adequate intelligence, the direction in which to seek for a Master, provided an element in an incident of the utmost complexity. I propose to recount this in great detail, because it gives an idea of the extraordinary strength and subtlety of the proof that I am in communication with some intelligence possessing knowledge and power altogether superior to anything that we can reasonably ascribe to any human being.
This paragraph runs as follows:
Herein is wisdom; let him that hath understanding count the number of The Beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred and three score and six.
I must now return to the feature of my initiation: for the other conditions of the incident in question are connected therewith.
After only one Chokmah day I was obliged to get rid of my faithful Anubis. She had been a fine friend, but her manners were such that I could not really have her about the camp. Besides this, such a journey as I was now about to undertake required an animal of greater strength and size than the dog. To take me to the oasis I required a camel; and at the beginning of the next Chokmah day I found an admirable Mehari at the door of my tent. It is to be noticed that in this part of the initiation I was in no perplexity. I understood the proper function of the officer in charge of my progress and wasted no time in discussing right relations.
In January 1918, I published a revised version of the "Message of the Master Therion" and also of the "Law of Liberty", a pamphlet in which I uttered a panegyric upon the Law as the key to freedom and delight. (To get rid of the subject I had better mention here the other magical essays which appeared in The International: "Cocaine", "The Ouija Board", "Concerning Death", "Pax", "Hominibus Bonae Voluntatis", "Geomancy", "Absinthe", "De Thaumaturgia", "Ecclesiae Gnosticae Canon Missae". Of these, Liber XV, its scope and purpose, I have already described at length.) The point which I wish to bring out is that despite the constraint imposed upon me by the requirements of public taste, I succeeded in proclaiming the Law to a wide audience of selected readers, explaining its main principles and general import in straightforward language, and also in putting over a large amount of what was on the surface quite ordinary literature, but implying the Law of Thelema as the basis of right thought and conduct. In this way I managed to insinuate my message perhaps more effectively than could possibly have been done by any amount of visible argument and persuasion. The Scrutinies of Simon Iff are perfectly good detective stories, yet they not only show a master of the Law as competent to solve the subtlest problems by considerations based upon the Law, but the way in which crime and unhappiness of all sorts may be traced to a breach of the Law. I show that failure to comply with it involves an internal conflict. (Note that the fundamental principle of psychoanalysis is that neurosis is caused by failure to harmonize the elements of character.) The essence of the Law is the establishment of right relations between any two things which come into contact: the essence of such relations being "love under will". The only way to keep out of trouble is to understand and therefore to love every impression of which one becomes conscious.
Even in my political articles I make the Law of Thelema the sole basis of
my articles. I apply it, in short, to every circumstance of life, securing in this way a completely coherent point of view. Most men and practically all Anglo-Saxons have an elaborate system of mental watertight compartments. One of the most important elements of the panic fear of truth in every form, the distrust of any man who seems likely to investigate things seriously, is due to the consciousness that even a superficial analysis will reveal a state of spiritual civil war whose issue it is impossible to foresee. They all pretend to be Christians, yet the injunction "Love your enemies", which by the way is really the first corollary of the Law of Thelema, is universally regarded as infinitely objectionable. I am myself in all kinds of a mess simply because I insist upon putting this into practice. I refuse to consider my enemies as irreconcilable; I take the utmost pains to understand and love them. By this means I invariably succeed sooner or later in destroying them, that is, of incorporating them into my own idea of myself. (I am liable to express this operation by saying that having slain my foe in ambush, I devour his heart and liver raw in order to fortify myself with his courage, energy and other fine qualities, and then I become very sad when I am currently quoted as a cannibal. Picturesque metaphor is not always appreciated.) I cannot make the public understand that to treat a man as an enemy in the ordinary sense of the word, to damage him in every possible way, and otherwise to disintegrate him, is simply to cut off one's nose to spite one's face. There is nothing in the universe which is not indissolubly one with every other thing; and the greatest man is he who makes no difference between any one thing and any other thing. He becomes the "chief of all" as stated in The Book of the Law.
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