Thelema as Open Source?

General Thelema

Posted by <Xnoubis> on March 04, 2000 @ 08:03 PM
from the Law-to-give dept.

The Open Source movement is rapidly changing the face of software development. Could Thelema – with its emphasis on the Magical Record and the public availability of most of its founding documents – be considered as an application of the principles of the Open Source movement to the domain of spirituality?

Update (3/6/00): As if in response to this article [grin], Salon has just dedicated a new section of their website to the topic of the Free Software Project.

The basic idea behind open source is very simple. When programmers on the Internet can read, redistribute, and modify the source for a piece of software, it evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing.

Introduction to Open Source

In 1997, Eric Raymond first presented his now-famous paper, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, in which he elaborated upon the principles of the Open Source movement:

In the cathedral-builder view of programming, bugs and development problems are tricky, insidious, deep phenomena. It takes months of scrutiny by a dedicated few to develop confidence that you've winkled them all out. Thus the long release intervals, and the inevitable disappointment when long-awaited releases are not perfect.

In the bazaar view, on the other hand, you assume that bugs are generally shallow phenomena – or, at least, that they turn shallow pretty quick when exposed to a thousand eager co-developers pounding on every single new release. Accordingly you release often in order to get more corrections, and as a beneficial side effect you have less to lose if an occasional botch gets out the door.

The Open Source model of software development had by that time already achieved notable success through the Linux operating system and the Apache web server. But in the spring of 1998, Netscape stunned the computer industry with its announcement that it would develop the next major version of its web browser as an open source project.

Since then, the movement has expanded tremendously, with many software vendors either establishing Open Source projects (IBM), watering down the Open Source model (Sun), or presenting arguments that the Open Source model isn't applicable to their market (Microsoft).

Underlying this enthusiasm is a shared commitment to the advancement of knowledge combined with the recognition that individuals do their best work when applying themselves to projects they're personally interested in. These principles are similar enough to the conjunction of the Hermetic quest for knowledge and the doctrine of True Will found in Thelema to suggest that Thelema could potentially be viewed as a platform for Open Source development, but of human development rather than software development.

“Mystery is the enemy of truth,” Crowley once wrote, and although some of his work is shrouded in secrecy, he opened up the Western esoteric tradition to a degree never before seen in his time. The original publication of the initiation rituals of the Golden Dawn, along with much of their instructional material, occurred in The Equinox, in “The Temple of Solomon the King.” This, along with Regardie's later – somewhat more systematic – publication, paved the way for the modern popularity of Ceremonial Magick. It is quite likely that without these works the Golden Dawn system would have vanished into obscurity, and all that has derived from it would never have existed.

Crowley also advanced the idea of the Magical Record, not just as a way for the individual to evaluate his or her progress, but also for the sake of other, later explorers. His publication of Frater Achad's journals as “A Master of the Temple,” and Crowley's own “John St. John,” provided examples of actual magical work that served as guideposts for those who came after them.

It could be argued that the presence of any “closed” material in his works disqualifies Crowley from any consideration as an early Open Source proponent. Kenneth Grant attempted to strip away the vestiges of occult secrecy in his “Typhonian OTO,” and while his heavy-handed management approach triggered (at least in the U.S.) the waning of his organization in the mid-80s, his views regarding secrecy have proved enormously influential among independent Thelemites ever since.

There may be no necessary contradiction between the principles of Open Source and a certain amount of secrecy required by initiatory orders, however. If the purpose of keeping initiatory material secret is intended to be a method for the development of the initiate, and the material isn't held to be necessary for practitioners in general, then Open Source “mystery cults” are possible and not at all logically inconsistent. (Linux remains Open Source even though Linux-based systems possess secure passwords.)

Oscar Ichazo, referring to the Wheel of Fortune trump in a lecture series on the Tarot given in 1973, makes a point that could as easily apply to all esoterica in general:

We have Hermes (Mercury) over Aquarius, the symbol or the logos of the Open Path, meaning that the Tarot is to be revealed in the Aquarian Age. […] The age of the development of the individual has culminated with technology and Humanity is now at the point where it must jump level in order to survive. But Humanity is ready for this jump.

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

Re: Thelema as Open Source?]]
by AShub on Wednesday March 08, @12:52AM

You mean this is not a write once language?
Are you ready to give up your Class A's?
Where is it that we get to fork the tree?

What an odd pair of ideas to comingle.
It certainly would be nice to see a 777 server.
Maybe a text vault filled with Tools? Or seperate beasties buzzing
away behind the toolshed that you toss journal entries and \\ found objects?
I'm ready to play cut-n-paste …

Re: Thelema as Open Source?
by Michael Sanborn on Thursday March 09, @01:01PM

Good bunch of questions! You could imagine denominations popping up that had all kinds of differing answers to these.

You mean this is not a write once language?

I don't think it is, although different communities maintain “modules” at different scopes. People interested in Crowley keep his works canonical; Maatians write an add-on module, but Nema might be more inclined to keep Liber PP in a strict observance than would those who come after her, etc.

Are you ready to give up your Class A's?

Not me or my friends, though others might be. I'm just prepared for the possibility that I might receive one of my own some day.

Where is it that we get to fork the tree?

This is a question that would be good to explore further…

Enjoyed the links, but since magick's a different domain than software (usually, anyway), different sorts of tools would be required. Journal dumps are probably a step in the right direction, though. Maybe a working group could be assembled to recommend a standard for journal entries optimized for cross-individual interoperability. MRML (Magical Record Markup Language)?

Re: Thelema as Open Source?
by Michael Miller on Friday March 10, @09:05PM

Cybernetics really is an advance in human neuro-psychology, not just human technology. The brains which interface with these technologies mutate in unanticipated ways. Is compiler-language a more accurate map of the mind's view of itself than Thirty-Two Paths in Four Worlds? Sepher Yetzirah clearly states that, in the Timeless Aeons before God pressed Run Program, He created the Thirty-Two essential Alphanumerics, Belimah.

Okay, you all are laughing at me just because I'm the last one to get that. But the truth is, for the last twenty years, I have been able to accurately follow advances in digital technology for the last twenty years by an infallible method: I simply listened to my hooked-up friends rave about how some new technological development enabled the functioning of their organic minds and the functioning of their digital-electro-mechanical extensions thereof to come to resemble one-another more and more. Note that this is a two-way development. Learning to speak is not simply “learning to put thoughts into words.” It is creating a new order of thought in the bion. (Oh, you know, Wilson-Leary Third or Semantic Circuit. By the way, coming up with the Eight Circuits was to Leary by Lama Anagarika Govinda. It's in Flashbacks. Sorry, no Link, but you can find it in the T.L. library.)

Learning to read and write adds another layer to the program. In fact, there is a widely-held…well, I exaggerate. There is a theory that the Spoken Word is a late degradation of the earlier, more sophisticated Written Word. (Vide William Burroughs, The Job, “Language is a Virus from Outer Space.” That's not a Link either, it's a recommendation.)

You can see where I'm going with this. Circuit 5.0 , the On-Line Brain. However, Michael's Fifth Brain is only three weeks old as of this writing, producing the deplorable results obvious to see. Like any toddler, he grabs things, sometimes smashing them, uses ALL CAPS in chat rooms and on message boards, and won't go to sleep when he's told to.[Michael's Editor, who is also Michael, wishes it specifically to be known that he has deviated from the Established–he never said Canonical–Wilson-Leary Eight Circuits to wander into a Software-Update Metaphor. See footnote*. Michael's Editor is a sub-personality-routine who sometimes goes by the name of Hermeneutix Data. Hermeneutix Data is a proprietary ServiceJokeWareMarkSpace of BankMan Enterprises. All user applications of this registered ServiceJokeWareMark must be accompanied by an explicit attribution-of-origin of said ServiceJokeWare to Michael Miller Limited Liability Inc.]

Please bear with me. One's Magickal Universe is, and is intended to be, an increasingly accurate map of one's experience of the…I won't get into that one…of the Experienced Universe. If you are getting anywhere at all, this Experienced Universe should itself be expanding. But didn't Aleister say our conceptions of things should be growing progressively simpler? Yes, he did, and Yes, it does. We need to create Macros for handling increasingly more complicated tasks which become increasingly more common.

So. Sharing Magickal Protocols. Attitude towards our Long-Dead Commodore Sixtyfour Pong-playing Four-Color-Bitmap Wass-Backwards-Compatible Magickal Forebears. It's not really about “So do we just dump the whole idea of Class “A”?” (and that's not a Paste, it's a paraphrase.)Each (yech, I can't stand it, I was about to say “cyber-Magickian” )

Phew! Okay. Each World Wired Wizard, there I said it, has already, and will continue to make, their own Magickal-Aesthetic-Stylistic choices. Ye-Waaz, AShub,whaddayatryinta do, start a fight? The only difference is,that if it is the Will of the guy or gal magic-dude-person to communicate effectively with other like- or similarly-minded individuals, we now have an OPPORTUNITY to enclose fully-documented downloadable attachments which express our attitude towards our shared traditions, JUST SO EVERYBODY CAN BE SURE.

Some people have signed pieces of paper, taken Oaths, or simply thought it would be in good taste to give one's expressed Assent to “Change not so much as the Style of a letter” in Liber AL. Many have also accepted The Beast's Own attribution of other Inspired Works to this category. This is a convenient convention, and we all understand what it means.

And what it means is this: YOU DO NOT CHANGE THIS TEXT.

A strict textualist and a Programmer would probably both agree: You're not saying that you believe every word of what these documents say. Especially when Aleister has explicitly stated that he does not understand all of it…and so does the book itself…No, Acceptation of Textfile In Class “A” simply means that you acknowledge that this text is exactly this text and not some other text. If you fool with it or change it, you can't call it that same text. For different reasons (?)No typos in your Code, no slurring of your Holy Book.(Also–probably–that you think that it is meaningful and beautiful and possibly full of deep, oracular surprises–in short, that this text occupies an AEsthetic position similar, comparable though not identical to that occupied by the Sacred, Canonical, Revealed, Sruti or other Holy Texts in the other, Word-based, Non-Scientifically-Illuminist Religions of the World.)

Don't you see the beauty of this? Aleister categorized how he thought his varying materials should be used, and we should do the same. Also, it is specifically to be inferred that Not Every Word Uttered or Written by The Man Aleister Crowley is Canonical or Sacred. It's Not Just The Law, It's A Good Idea.

We have an opportunity to understand–for ourselves–how we navigate through terms like “Canonical”, “Traditional”, “Personal”, “Communal”, “I like it”, “I borrowed it”, “I changed it”, or “I made it up”. Not to mention, “I didn't like it, so I threw it out.” In reference to our favorite Magickal Tradition–and all the other Traditions we each individually pilfer, cherish, hold dear. It is beyond the scope of this little essay, but the subjects Brother AShub and Brother Xnoubis raised apply to all of our mixed and matched personal practices.

Some examples about Evolving Collective Protocol, or: Can We All Get Along? In the East Bay, Public Gnostic Mass tradition, certain “House Protocols” have evolved. The Children are not obligatory, don't add much, and we don't use them. The Saints List can be added to, with respect and discretion. What the priest wears in re: one robe, two robes, or at one point no robe is up to the priest. What a Participating Congregant says to the assembled People after communicating, is Soo up to the individual Congregant that no-one would even consider objecting on Doctrinal, or even possibly Magickal, grounds, but only on the grounds of extreme lack of good taste combined with extreme disregard for the most essential social graces and even then, only the Natural Law of Social Ostracization, and no other, would come into play.


(not that you are not entitled to your opinion.)

This has worked in reverse as well. On those occasions where I officiate as Priest, I prefer to begin with my own banishing. I have heard that this disturbs some people. That is, nobody told me that they didn't like it, but a few people said that they thought that someone else thought they heard someone think that they didn't like it. Me, I'm a Strict Textualist when it comes to Orthodox Heresy. I point out that Nowhere is it written that the deacon does a banishing before Liber XV! Nowhere. But if you like to do it that way, that's fine. I like to do it this way. (Okay, I give in. You can argue about this one.)

So you see, trying bravely to stick to the original metaphor–can't see the posts because I'm in Edit-Preview Mode–Xnoubis thinks that Magick and Computing are similar, but not alike. He does not understand that it is AShub's nefarious Master-Plan to ruthlessly Bend, Squeeze, and Mutate our Technology, our Morality, and our Reality until they BECOME the same thing. I had a great finish for this thing, but it got swallowed irretrievably in one of those mysterious Screen-Freeze glitches. Anyway, the Voodoo Witch Lady is telling me it's time to light the Shabbat candles. 30.

Love is the Law, Love Under Will.


(*Michael wanted me to point out to you that if the Wilson-Leary Eight Circuits were actually on a collision course with the well-known System Software Upgrades, then All of Humanity would achieve Non-Local Consciousness the moment that the Whole Earth installed their Mandatory Windows 8.0 Office-Home-School-Coin-op-Public-Lavatory-PCs. They would all dial up Aol 8.0 and click on “People”. The People at the other end would be from Sirius…he says it was funnier the first time. Exegesis of hermeneutix data.)

Re: Thelema as Open Source?
by <AShub> on Sunday March 12, @02:15PM

since magick's a different domain than software (usually, anyway), different sorts of tools would be required.

Screaming in laughter at mental picture of a Hermetic clutching the dusty tomb to chest whilst abjuring the computer in the triangle. That's no way to talk to a sourcerer!

My first thought was a browsable CVS tree that multiple people could work on. Unfortunately, that requires directory structure hierarchy … Having the text centralized allows grinding with something like Tinderbox. However, some wandering in the halls turned up Wiki … an grandly abusable tool with source control back ends. There's a new one where we can start playing now citing Memetic Drift and a Zope based one that you could run with.

I'm still more inclined to each person having their own text directories, mutation engines, and feeding schedule linked togthter with something like Hive. I'm not sure that enough people keep digital copies of their journals to make a go of it … much less having an added level of MRML complexity …

Re: Thelema as Open Source?]]
by Sidney F on Sunday March 12, @12:26AM

You mean you're going to print “Emblems and Modes of Use” now?

Re: Thelema as Open Source?
by Michael Sanborn on Wednesday March 15, @12:18PM

I think the argument would be: “Emblems” isn't an essential part of Thelema, but rather one example of the “secrecy method” applied to the development of one group's initiates.

If Liber AL were left unpublished, and shown only to initiates, then we could say with certainty that Thelema was irredeemably closed.

Re: Thelema as Open Source?
by the Reverend Rob on Thursday April 06, @03:49AM

The key, IMO, is that the basic techniques and practices and 'secrets' in “Emblems” and other documents are available in many of Crowley's other writings that are publicly and available without any controversy. If the core of the system wasn't available, albeit in less obvious form, I'd probably scream louder for the release of absolutely everything, but the fact remains that Crowley does live up to his word in MTP about writing the secret “somewhere” in his published works. All it takes is a bit of digging that is really required to understand the 'unobtainable' documents anyway.

This, of course, brings up the greater irony that nobody's reading them. A proliferation of “new” texts will likely be as rapidly ignored as anything that doesn't have the great forbidden secret and unobtainable reputation forever stamped upon its spine.