A Discourse on the Eighth Article

T Polyphilus

In the eighth and final article of our Creed
we say together

And I confess my life
one, individual, and eternal
that was, and is and is to come.
So, after articles concerning CHAOS
and BABALON and BAPHOMET and the Church,
and the Saints and the Mass and the Baptism of Wisdom,
we come to life itself.

When we compare this statement
to the parallel portions of Christian creeds,
one difference stands out very strongly.
In our creed, we consider “my life,” that is,
the life of the speaking woman or man.
By contrast, Christian creeds address
a generic or collective life, in terms like
“the life everlasting” of the Old Roman Creed,
“life eternal” in the Gallican Creed,
and “the life of the age to come” in the Nicene Creed.

So that is a significant distinction, but still—
what is the meaning of life here?
The word recurs throughout the Gnostic Mass:
We call CHAOS the “Father of Life,”
the Priest on the Second Step before the Veil
recites “I am Life, and the giver of Life;”
we proclaim a “feast for life,”
the Earth is the “mother of life,”
the “Veil of Life” covers the face of the Spirit
and falls from the eyes of the deceased.
The host is identified with the “life of man” before consecration,
and with the “life of the Sun” afterwards.
But most importantly, the word life occurs seven times
as one of the Emanations of the Law,
that set of four principles
expounded in the epistle “On the Law of Liberty,”
where the Great Beast declares:

By Life therefore are you made yourselves,
eternal and incorruptible, flaming forth as suns,
self-created and self-supported,
each the sole centre of the Universe.
And in that same epistle, he outlines the chief methods
by which one may come to apprehend that Life.
The two greatest are the Magical Memory and Rising on the Planes.
The Magical Memory is the cultivation
of the experience of so-called “past lives.”
In Crowley’s principal paper on this technique,
he begins with the skeptical “May be,” and then notes:
It has not been possible to construct this book
on a basis of pure Scepticism.
Similarly, when he describes his perspective
on the doctrine of reincarnation in The Book of Wisdom or Folly,
he twice points out that it is
“mine Opinion, of which I say not: this is Truth.”

And in his Confessions he says bluntly of the topic:
“I refuse to assert any theory of what this really means.”

And while the Eleventh Collect of the Mass
allows for reincarnation as a possible fulfillment of the will,
it stands only as a single option among others,
neither guaranteed nor necessarily desired.

Still, Crowley certainly placed great importance
on the rewards of his own Magical Memory.
He believed himself to be the reincarnation
of Ankh-f-n-khonsu, the Priest of the Princes in ancient Khem,
of Ko Hsuen, a disciple of Lao Tzu,
of Marius de Aquila, a bygone Roman,
of Roderic Borgia, Pope Alexander the Sixth,
of Sir Edward Kelly, alchemist and seer,
of an upper-class Italian hermaphrodite,
of Father Ivan, a Russian monk and adept,
of Heinrich van Dorn, a minor black magician,
of Count Cagliostro, head of Egyptian Freemasonry,
and of the French occultist Alphonse Louis Constant.

Yet for all that the reincarnation idea
affirms that life continues beyond death,
is it fair to call such life one and individual?
Do the separate incarnations not divide life?
Do the failures of memory not diminish its unity?

Besides the Magical Memory, Crowley recommends
an easier but more treacherous practice
in order to perceive that
Life is indestructible and centered in the self.
By developing the subtle body or “body of light”
so that it can travel freely on every plane,
rising from the most common and material
to the most rarified and spiritual,
the practitioner should eventually transcend
the distinction between self and not-self.
The return from such a realization
will then provide the magician
with a firsthand awareness of the difference
between the true Life and the false.
And this practice points to the one life
in a spiritual sense.

And from the material angle as well,
we can appreciate the unity of life,
joined together as a single complex event
cascading through evolutionary diffusion
and linked through generative processes.
As Crowley writes in The Book of Lies:

Man returneth not again;
the stream floweth not uphill;
the old life is no more;
there is a new life than is not his.
Yet that life is of his very essence;
it is more He than all that he calls He.
Besides the unity of my life,
the Creed affirms its individuality.
Franz Hartmann, an early initiate of the Sovereign Sanctuary,
wrote in his Magick White and Black:
The individuality may belong either
to a class as a whole, or to separate isolated beings.
In the lower kingdoms no differentiation of character or soul exists;
there is only differentiation of form;
they have one common soul;
but in intelligent beings
a distinct individuality belongs to each form;
each self-conscious being has its own individual soul
as soon as it has attained an individual character,
and its individuality is independent of the existence of its personality.
Forms perish;
but the individuality remains unchanged after their death.
Seen from this standpoint, “death” is life,
because, during the time that death lasts,
that which is essential does not change;
life is death, because only during life in the form
the character is changed,
and old tendencies and inclinations die
and are replaced by others.
So that the individual is the medium of change
and the essential expression of conscious life.

The third attribute of life in this article
is that it is eternal.
The word “eternal” has an etymology
reaching back through the Latin aeternus and aevum
to the Greek aion or “age,” which is also our Aeon.
So, in one sense, the declaration that my life is eternal
can be taken to identify my present life with the present Aeon,
and my own holy guardian angel with the Lord of the Aeon,
the Crowned and Conquering Child.

Eternal can also mean unending or perpetual,
so that one who is reincarnated is eternal,
as is one who lives on forever outside of time.

But the idea of an individual life as eternal
can also be found in a very particular doctrine
first codified by a Saint of our Church.
Friedrich Nietzsche understood that it was impossible
to determine the fate of human consciousness after death.
He perceived the bankruptcy of the Christian myth:
neither the carrot of infinite bliss in heaven
nor the stick of infinite torment in hell
could induce true virtue and excellence in life.
As a classicist, he also knew the Platonic myth of Er:
in which those who died received a thousand years
of reward or punishment according to their past conduct,
and then they had to choose the essential character
of the new lives that they would live on earth.
Some would flee human existence
and become various animals.
Others would choose different human conditions,
wisely or rashly taking on
the particular “daimons” or guardian spirits
to govern their future lives.
Like the mythic Christian heaven and hell,
the purpose of the Myth of Er was
to provide motivation in the present life.
Where the Christian scenario prompted piety and obedience,
the Platonic one promoted justice and philosophy.

But Nietzsche saw both these myths as inadequate
for the individual whose will led “beyond good and evil,”
beyond a morality of convention and conformity.
In The Gay Science, he wrote his new myth:

How, if some day or night a demon were to sneak after you
into your loneliest loneliness and say to you,
“This life as you now live it and have lived it,
you will have to live innumerable times more;
and there will be nothing new in it,
but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh
and everything immeasurably small or great in your life
must return to you—all in the same succession and sequence....”
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth
and curse the demon who spoke thus?
Or did you once experience a tremendous moment
when you would have answered him, “You are a god,
and never have I heard anything more godly.”
If this thought were to gain possession of you,
it would change you, or perhaps crush you.
The question in each and every thing,
“Do you want this once more and innumerable times more?”
would weigh upon your actions as the greatest stress.
Or how well disposed would you have to become
to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently
than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?
And Nietzsche saw this “greatest stress,”
this pure responsibility for the value of our own actions,
as requiring a spiritual strength beyond any seen before.
Where men like Hartmann insisted on the need for
“a high and universal ideal” to bring the individual
to “the glory of universal existence,”
Nietsche rejected the primacy of ideals and abstractions,
in favor of the value of experience on all planes.

And this doctrine of “eternal recurrence”
persisted through Nietzsche’s later work.
He celebrates it in Thus Spake Zarathustra
in the song of the Seven Seals, with the chorus:

Oh, how should I not lust after eternity
and after the nuptial ring of rings, the ring of recurrence?
Never yet have I found the woman from whom I wanted children,
unless it be this woman whom I love:
for I love you, O eternity.
For I love you, O eternity!
And in his last writings, Nietzsche insists:
If we say Yes to a single moment,
this means we have said Yes not only to ourselves,
but to all existence.
For nothing stands alone,
either in ourselves or in things:
and if just once our soul has quivered
and resounded with happiness like a harpstring,
then all eternity was needed to condition that one event—
and in that one moment of our saying Yes,
all eternity was welcomed, redeemed, justified and affirmed.
And this embrace of eternal recurrence is essentially
what Crowley characterizes as the “White School” of Magick:
Existence is pure joy.
Sorrow is caused by failure to perceive this fact;
but this is not a misfortune.
We have invented sorrow,
which does not matter so much after all,
in order to have the pleasure of getting rid of it.
Existence is thus a sacrament.
And Crowley identifies our Mass
as a “typically White ritual,”
expressing this view of reality
that pervades the doctrines and ceremonies of Thelema.

The eternal character of my life
is finally expressed in a special formula:

that was, and is and is to come.
This formula occurs in the Bible in the salutation of the Apocalypse, where the Seer refers to the godhead as
“the Lord which is, and which was, and which is to come.”
James Pryse notes that in the Greek original,
the verb “was” is in the imperfect tense
(we might say “was being” in English),
and the word erchomenos (is coming) is present tense,
all to reflect the eternally unchanging aspect
of the enthroned and almighty God.

And the great ancient Gnostic Simon Magus too,
in the Simonian scripture of The Great Annunciation,
refers to “the infinite power” as

“he who stood, stands, and will stand.”
But in our Creed, this formula refers to each speaker,
so that as in the previous article,
we are referring the traditional attributes of God
to each individual human being.
There is no god but man.

Deus est homo.

“There is no part of me that is not of the gods.”

And it is in my own human life, and in yours,
that we find the riches of experience—
being anticipated,
being remembered,
and being lived right now—
the experiences that give us the strength
and the will to confess
I love you, O eternity!
In the name of CHAOS, Amen.

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