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  Beat Thelema, Square Thelema, and Thelema

General Thelema Posted by <Xnoubis> on June 04, 2000 @ 01:48 PM
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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The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them.

**Re: Beat Thelema, Square Thelema, and Thelema**
by Mordecai Shapiro on Sunday June 11, @12:03AM


I too have noticed a dichotomy between rigidity and laxity in Thelemic practice (Anal Thelema and Infantile Thelema?) Though most Thelemites are not fixated in either of these extremes I'm sure that most of us have known coreligionists who childishly and lazily always insist that their spontaneous outbursts are “true will”, and likewise those who disdain anyone who fails to meet their own “high standards” of observance. But unlike Xnoubis I haven't seen any correlation, even a rough one, between these attitudes and the age of the person so afflicted. As Roy Harper has said, “Grownups are just silly children”, and it seems to me every bit as true that “Grownup children are just silly”.

93 93/93

**Re: Beat Thelema, Square Thelema, and Thelema**
by Tim Maroney on Monday June 12, @05:18PM

I wonder whether this apparent dichotomy is not reconcilable, and whether a socially integrated anti-structuralism is in fact key to Thelema.

Re: Beat Thelema, Square Thelema, and Thelema\\
by Michael Sanborn on Tuesday June 13, @10:55AM
With that in mind, it seems that there are two considerations. One is the relative emphasis that Thelemites put into spontaneity vs. structure, or the positive aspect of each side of the dichotomy. The other is the negative aspect of each side, i.e., lawlessness vs. restrictiveness. (“Lawlessness” isn't quite what I mean. “Rebelliousness,” “anti-nomianism,” “sociopathy,” somewhere in there: actively violating other people's expectations.) In other words, one could be integrated by not creating problems for either side of the dichotomy, but still prefer to operate towards one side or the other (or somewhere in the middle).\\
So a grid with four corners: 1) Tidy Beatnik, 2) Relaxed Square, 3) Messy Beatnik, 4) Uptight Square.\\

  • |Re: Beat Thelema, Square Thelema, and Thelema\\
    by <ChaosMonkey> on Tuesday June 13, @04:00PM

    Thelema is the law of Liberty. The Nuit-Hadit non-dualistic dualism implies a fractal relationship. Living is flowing, the rigid - dead. I don't think there are two camps, and from my (very little, but observant) experience. Age seems to have no relation to whether the Thelemite is “Beat” or “Square”. I know of few very anal young'nz and a few very flowing elders. It's really more a tapestry of different colours, than two camps. Each path of each star is unique to that star. 93/93\\
    (Damn, I wish this thing had a spell check)\\
    Alexander Azi Vajravai\\
    the ChaosMonkey\\

**Re: Beat Thelema, Square Thelema, and Thelema**
by Joe Eckert on Wednesday June 14, @08:50PM

93 all, I think that the parallels between the Alan Watt essay and the current state of Thelema are striking. It may be just my opinion, but I think that the “square” Thelemites and the “beat” Thelemites (which I happen to be a member of IMO)sometimes BOTH miss the point, and have a considerable deal to learn from one another.
As I see it, the way one lives her/his life as according to their Will's is the important point.
In it's nature, I think that “Thelema” and the “Great Work” are evolutionary processes, and the process from “beat” to “square” to just “Thelema” are all important stages upon the path. One should (IMO) walk the walk & talk the talk. We all should learn from each other, and bring these stages to completion.
p.s. hi, Tim, thanx for the pitcher of margaritas, hi alex, I will send the music stuff soon.
93 93/93
Joe Eckert

**Re: Beat Thelema, Square Thelema, and Thelema**
by Joe Eckert on Thursday June 15, @09:16AM

Michael, I do like the connotation of “tidy beatnik” ect. The classification of the groups as being four-fold rather than two-fold makes alot of sense to me. I belive that you are correct in stating that the ideal position within these “four grids” is in the middle.
I also agree with Alex in the fact that there are older people that are spontaneous and younger people that are more rigid.
I think that all of us need to, or should aspire to reaching that middle ground. Yes, freedom in action does have it's place within Thelema, and also, formality and ritual do also. I heard a qoute that seems to pertain to this subject, it goes “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly”
With that in mind, I bid you a hearty 93 93/93.

Re: Beat Thelema, Square Thelema, and Thelema
by Michael Sanborn on Thursday June 15, @10:20AM

Um, I didn't at all mean to give the impression that the ideal position was in the middle. In fact, my intention was to get away from that very idea! I was concerned that Tim's idea of integrating the two poles would lead to the conclusion that every Thelemite should ideally be in the middle. (Not that he was implying that, but that the idea could lead to that conclusion.) So by drawing a grid with Beat/Square on the horizontal axis and Integrated/Conflicted on the vertical axis, we have:

Tidy Beatnik Relaxed Square

Messy Beatnik Uptight Square

So I'd agree with Tim that it's ideal to get to the top of this grid, in the greatest degree of integration, but that at the top, one might be at the far left, far right, or anywhere in between, according to personal taste.

Wasn't there something in Revelation about, “I would that you were hot or cold, but because you're luke warm, I spew you out of my mouth”? Of course, that was Yahweh talking, but he had a point.

by Eric Swan on Sunday June 18, @10:11AM
I don't consider beats and squares as polar opposites. Rather the beats as an embryonic deviation from cultural monotony. If I were to assign a 2d shape to the beats, it would be a parallelogram with interior angles of 80 and 100 degrees.\\

  • |Re: Unbeaten\\
    by Mordecai Shapiro on Monday June 19, @05:00PM\\|

    Squares and diamonds?\\

Re: Beat Thelema, Square Thelema, and Thelema\\
by Mordecai Shapiro on Monday June 19, @05:16PM
93- We start out with the “beat/square” dichotomy among Thelemites and now we get to a place where there is no longer any real dichotomy of values between them. You can be anywhere along the spectrum, you can be just one or the other, or even balanced perfectly or imperfectly between the two, it doesn't matter. Ah, but now we have a new dichotomy, between the “Integrated” and the “Conflicted”, and here the choice is clear, no “Conflicted”-types, or even balances between “Conflicted” and “Integrated”-types should ever be considered “ideal”. The Beatnik must be tidy, the Square must be relaxed.\\
I don't think so! -93 93/93\\

  • |Re: Beat Thelema, Square Thelema, and Thelema\\
    by Mordecai Shapiro on Monday June 19, @05:21PM\\|

    Maybe we could discuss a new classificatory scheme: Integrated Thelema, Conflicted Thelema, and Thelema.\\

**Re: Beat Thelema, Square Thelema, and Thelema**
by <baabl> on Saturday August 05, @08:56PM

I agree wholeheartedly. The differences are based on dedication to either Hermetic magik, or Orpheic magic. Orpheic magik (a Orpheum) is quicker at first, but almost impossible after 8=3.

And then, there is Herphaeic Magik.

  • |Re: Beat Thelema, Square Thelema, and Thelema\\
    by Michael Sanborn on Saturday August 05, @09:09PM

    How would you distinguish between Hermetic vs. Orpheic on the one hand, and the more familiar Dionysian vs. Apollonian on the other?\\
    And what is Herphaeic Magik? Hermaphroditic?\\

**Re: Beat Thelema, Square Thelema, and Thelema**
by Shady Backflash on Sunday March 31, @11:59PM

I don't know if this discussion is still generating responses, but I read the essay “Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen” in high school, just after having read The Dharma Bums, and even wound up citing the essay when I applied to the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, saying that it was this essay that, in part, inspired me to study at Beat Zen U.

I got into Crowley via reading on the Kabbalah, and Thelema via Crowley, and while I've wrestled with all of the above for over a decade, I don't claim to have more than a rudimentary understanding of the intricacies of the system.

I think that part of the Beat / Square Thelemite discussion revolves around the fact that, in spite of Crowley's attempts to say that “all the secrets are now revealed” (not his quote, but The Law is For All, etc. etc.) his words are still obtuse as hell to the modern reader. So while we can probably safely assume he was a disciplined magickian, most reading his works lack the proper background to even approach his level of discipline. So a system like Chaos Magick winds up substituting, and that naturally augments the laziness of those who lack the discipline.

“I have created my own System,” the would be Chaos Magickian / Beat Thelemite proclaims. I can certainly relate! Dropping acid and dancing my brains out at Grateful Dead concerts certainly seemed as enlightening to me at different points in my life than sitting and trying to decipher Crowley's obfuscations. Nevertheless, I would not attempt to convince anyone that I believed that the one was the same as the other. (Nor would I deny that both have value. There is a time and a place for both Beat and Square endeavors.)

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