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The rites being over, and their lesson learnt, I felt free to go back to my beloved Sahara. As before, I took Neuburg with me and motored down from Algiers to bou Saâda to economize time. We proposed to take a more extended itinerary. There were certain little-known parts of the desert within comparatively easy reach. It was part of the programme to obtain visions of the sixteen Sub-Elements, as a sort of pendant to the Aethyrs, but the time was not yet. We began, but the results were so unsatisfactory that we broke off. I have, of course, no doubt that success depends entirely upon working for it, but it is ultimately as impossible to perform a given Operation in Magick to order as it is to write a poem to order, however one's technical ability seems to promise success.
Experiences of this sort ultimately taught me that the will which is behind all magical working is not the conscious will but the true will. Success depends therefore, firstly, on making sure that one's powers are equal to any required demand; but, secondly, upon learning the kind of work for which they are really wanted. It is an excellent training, no doubt, to plug ahead perseveringly in the most discouraging conditions. Indeed the professional is better than the amateur mainly because he has had to struggle on day after day; but this is a question of early training. When one has come to the height of one's powers, one still has one's “days off”.
This second journey in the Sahara took us much deeper into desolation. We had two camels and a man to drive them and a boy to look after the camels. We picked up occasional wayfarers as we went, and dropped them again, in the most charmingly casual way. At our first halt we enjoyed the hospitality of a famous sheikh who had established a sort of mystical university in that obscure corner of the world. We found him a courteous host and a most enlightened scholar. One of the advantages of spiritual development is the confirmation of one's results which one obtains from similarly disposed people whom one meets. There is a real freemasonry among such men, which does not depend upon formula and dogma. The instinctive sympathy proves that one has done right to climb beyond conscious conclusions. In the kingdom of spirit is freedom.
Our course took us across a chain of mountains. It was a beautiful morning, with but a touch of north-west wind. We were feeling very fit; I had forgotten all about England and we began to congratulate ourselves on another pleasant journey. I suppose the north-west wind was eavesdropping.
We has some food in an unexpected and decayed hovel about noon; for the wind had got up sufficiently to make it too cold to sit about. An hour later we struck for the mountains. It was a really fine mountain pass; the descent a splendid gorge, precipice-walled. The camel driver wanted to pitch camp about three o'clock and we had trouble with him.
Camel drivers have no sense at all; in England they would get either the Embankment or the Home Office. This imbecile had been all his life in the desert and had not yet learnt that he and his camel needed food. He never took any with him, an having reached a suitable spot thirty miles from the nearest blade of grass, complained of hunger.
I had hoped he would have found some thistles.
This by parenthesis. We wandered on and presently emerging from the gorge came upon an Arab, who spoke of a Bedouin encampment downstream.
This we found a few minutes after nightfall. The wind was violent and bitter beyond belief, but no rain fell. “Rain never falls south of Sidi Aissa.”
So we fed and turned in. Our tent was an Arab lean-to, a mere blanket propped on sticks, some necessary to its support, others designed to interfere with the comfort of the people inside.
My disciple, fatigued by the day's march, fell asleep.
As it happened — pure luck, for he had no more sense than the camel driver; disciples never have! — he had chosen the one possible spot. As for me, I woke in about half an hour to feel the most devilish downpour. It was as bad as Darjeeling and the ridge that leads to Kangchenjunga. We had pitched the tent in a fairly sheltered spot under the walls of the river; but the rain ran down the props of the tent and through the tent itself, and soaked us.
In the morning, after a night spent in that condition when one is half asleep from exhaustion and half awake from misery, the storm still blew.
We waited till nearly nine. The Bedouins told us that four miles on there was a village. We thought of coffee and made tracks. So off we went over the sopping desert and reached the “village” in an hour. There were palms and gardens — and one deserted hovel, with no door. The roof, made of boughs weighted with big stones and made tight with mud, was half broken through. A giant stone hung imminent, half-way fallen. All day we waited for the rain to stop falling in the place “where it never fell”.
Night came and the blizzard redoubled its violence; but the shelter allowed us a little sleep until the mud dissolved and the roof became a sieve. The rest of the night was a shower-bath.
In the morning there was no great sign of improvement. I had to kick the camel driver into action and chase the camels with my own fair feet. He had a million excuses for not going on, all on a level. “The camels would
catch cold” — good from the man who had left them all night in the rain! “They would slip.” “They would die.” “They were too hungry.” — From the man who hadn't brought food for them! “They were tired” — and so on. But I got the party off at last and came in a couple of hours to a tomb with a coffin in it. There they sat down and refused to stir. I simply took no notice. My disciple took one camel and I took the other, and went off. We left them in the tomb, grousing.
Steering by map and compass, I judged a good pass through the next range of mountains, and made for it. The flat desert was standing in water; and the streams were difficult for the camels who hate water as much as disciples do.
It was better on the mountainside. Near the top of the pass we perceived our men following, as the lesser of two evils. I was sorry, in a way; it would have been a fine adventure to worry through to Sidi Khaaled with these two brutes and a daft Davie!
It was just as the top was reached that I said, without any apparent reason, “The storm's over.” My disciple did his Thomas act. There was no opening in the furious grey heaven; the wind raged and the rain poured. But I stuck to it; I had felt the first contention of the south wind in a momentary lull. I was right.
The descent of the pass was far from easy. The “road” crosses and recrosses the bed of the river as often as it can; sometimes even follows the course.
And this stream was a furious spate, slippery and dangerous for men, impassable for members of the Alpine Club, and almost impassable for camels. It was nearly night fall before we left the gorge and a barren plain confronted us.
It was useless to struggle on much further. The rain still poured; the desert stood six inches deep in water. The hills were a mass of snow.
(We heard later that many houses had been washed away at Ouled Djellal in this unprecedented storm. Traffic was interrupted by snow on the East Algerian Railway, and the Maréchal Bugeaud was forty hours late at Marseilles, having to beat up under the lee of the Spanish shore for shelter.)
So I picked out a good big tree by the stream and we pitched camp.
We had little hope of lighting a fire; but there is in the desert a certain impermeable grass, and by using this as a starter, we got it going. No sooner had the blaze sprung up, filling the night with golden showers of sparks, that the envious stars determined to rival the display. Every cloud disappeared as by magic. But the fire remained the popular favourite!
All night I toiled to dry myself and my clothes, refreshing the old Adam with coffee, potted pheasant and Garibaldi biscuits at not infrequent intervals.
The morning was ecstasy. The light came over the sand, wave upon wave
of grey. The desert was dry. There was no water in the stream, save in rare pools. We struck camp early.
We glanced up at the path which we had travelled; the ranges still glowed with unaccustomed snow; from the north-west the wind still struggled fitfully to assert its dominion, but we, with joy and praise in our hearts, turned our glad faces, singing to the assurgent sun.
The most interesting village on our route was Ouled Djellal. It was quite a tiny place, but there is a hovel which calls itself an European hotel, kept by a strayed Frenchman. The village boasts a barn where one can go every night and watch dancing girls. I need not describe their doings, but I may say that this is the only form of amusement that I have ever found of which I never get tired. I like to drop in pretty early and sit there all through the night, smoking tobacco, or kif, and drinking coffee, cup after cup.
The monotonous rhythm of sound and movement dulls the edge of one's intellectual activity in very much the same way as a mantra. The finest concerts and operas, or such spectacles as the Russian ballet, alleviate the pain of existence by putting a positive pleasure to work against the pale persistent pang; but, as the Buddha has shown, the remedy increases the disease. I have long since come to the point in which I could say that I had enjoyed all possible forms of delight to the utmost possible extent. I am not blasé; I can still enjoy everything as well as I ever could. More: I know how to extract infinite rapture from the most insignificant incidents, but this faculty depends on the refusal to accept such currency at its own valuation. This being so, it is on the whole easier to obtain pleasure from those things which soothe rather than from those things which excite.
It has just struck me that these remarks may seem very perverse. Average people associate Arab dances with animal excitement. Such an attitude enables me to diagnose their case. They are for the most part incapable of true passion, but their emotions are so disordered and uncontrolled that at the slightest touch they give a leap and a squeal. Puritanism in the conventional sense of the word is, in fact, a neurosis. One ought to possess one's physical powers in the greatest measure but they should be so collected and controlled that they cannot be excited by inadequate stimulation.
The puritan is always trying to make it impossible for those things which frighten him to exist. He does not understand that sensibility is not to be cured by protecting it from the obvious stimuli. The diseased tissue will merely begin to react to all sorts of contacts which have a merely symbolic relation with the original perils. This psychological fact is at the basis of such phenomena as fetishism. The saint hurries to the Thebaid to avoid the danger of Thais, only to find that the very stones rise up and take her place. Neuburg had a friend who had a friend who was an anarchist. He would not drink cocoa “because it excited his animal passions”.
Little as I have seen of the Sahara, I have reconstructed its story in outline to my own satisfaction. I am convinced that the earth is slowly losing its water and that this explains what one sees in the Mediterranean basin, without assuming catastrophic changes in the earth's crust. We know the glaciers are generally retreating. We know that in the time of Horace snow fell heavily and lay long in the Roman winter.
In Tunisia, the railway from Sousse to Sfax, which crosses the desert like a chord whose arc is the bulge of the coast between these towns, passes a village called El-Djemm. This is an isolated spot; there is no fertile country anywhere near it. It consists of a cluster of Arab huts in the gap of a coliseum. This structure was at one time the headquarters of a formidable gang of brigands and the gap was made by the artillery sent to smoke them out.
The point is that this coliseum is a tremendous affair. The old town must have sheltered at least five thousand people, more likely four times than number. How did these people live? One is bound to assume that in those days the country was fertile. In the absence of rivers, this means regular and plentiful rains. Again, the northern districts of the Sahara are full of large chott or lakes, many of which are below the present level of the sea. A French engineer, in fact, proposed to dig a canal from near Sfax so as to replenish a string of chott which extends inland for about two hundred and fifty miles. He thought, and I agree, that the existence of these vast shallow reservoirs would automatically change the climate, as the irrigation of Egypt by English enterprises has made a perceptible difference in that of Cairo within a decade. The trouble is, how to keep them from silting up.
The upshot of all this is that many of the travellers' tales of people like Pliny, Strabo and Plato need no longer be scouted as fantastic. I at least see no reason to doubt the existence of extensive civilizations in North Africa within the last five thousand years. Their decay and total disappearance is explained quite easily by the gradual failure of the water supply. To the eye of a god, mankind must appear as a species of bacteria which multiply and become progressively virulent whenever they find themselves in a congenial culture, and whose activity diminishes until they disappear completely as soon as proper measures are taken to sterilize them.
“Westward the Star of Empire takes its way” sounds splendid, but it is really very silly. Since I have understood that I am the Spirit of Solitude, Alastor, I have learnt to look at life from a standpoint beyond it. The affairs of the parasites of the planet, including Aleister Crowley, appear abject and absurd. I cannot pretend to take them seriously. The only object in attaching oneself to an individual is to have a standard suitable for symbolic representation of certain phenomena which happen to interest one, though they cannot possibly possess any importance for one, and the only reason
for interesting oneself in the welfare of any such individual is to increase the efficiency of one's instrument of perception. This, then, explains why the only intelligent course of action for a man is to obtain initiation. Even this is useless in itself. The highest attainment is insensate except in reference to the convenience of an intelligence who is not in any way involved in the individuality of its instrument.
The desert is a treasure house. One soon gets behind the superficial monotony. Each day is full of exquisite incidents for the man who understands how to extract the quintessence. It is impossible to describe such a journey as ours. The events of a single day would fill a fat folio. The more obvious adventures are really the least memorable, yet these are the only things which are capable of description. We were sometimes obliged, for example, to push on at a great pace in order to reach a place where we could renew our water supply. On one occasion we covered a hundred miles in two days and a half. The last stage was pretty bad. It taught me a useful lesson about physical endurance.
Most men who have practised athletics, even mildly, know the meaning of the phrase “second wind”. One's original enthusiasm being exhausted, one goes on quietly and steadily, almost unsusceptible to fatigue. A night's rest restores one completely; and, given proper food, one can go on day after day for an indefinite period before getting stale.
But few men, fortunately for themselves, know that there is such a thing as “third” wind. One's second wind wears off and one is overcome by such severe fatigue that one cannot struggle against it. One feels that one must rest or break down entirely, as one did at the end of one's first wind, only far more fiercely. If, however, when one's second wind fails one knows that life depends on going on, the third wind comes into court. In this state one is almost anesthetized. One has become an absolute machine, incapable of feeling or thinking; one's actions are automatic. The mind is just capable of making connections with such circumstances as bear on the physical problem, though men of weak will, and those in whom the habit of self-control is not established inexpugnably, are sometimes subject to hallucinations. The famous mirage is sometimes seen apart from optical hallucination. Delirium often occurs.
There seems no reason why one should ever stop once one has got on to this third wind. I take it that one does so exactly as a steam engine stops; when the physical conditions constrain one.
Once one has got one's third wind a single night's repose is no longer adequate; it seems as if one had outraged nature1. I have found that whether I walked on third wind one hour, or thirty-six, the reaction was pretty much the same. On this occasion we had to lie up for two days before we
- WEH Note: This is confirmed by my experience in a 30 mile hike on Mt. Tam. in Marin County, California. Second wind before attaining the peak, small heart stoppage of a second or so on attaining the height, second wind again on the way back after a rest, great exaustion, sudden cut into third wind and ran the last five miles — at a rate impossible at the start of the hike! It did take two days to recover. During third wind, no pain; but the forest seemed suffused with a spectral light at dusk and strange lights moved in the sky. Probably a consequence of opiate production in the brain as a result of extreme stress reaction.
could go on. The psychology of this stage was interesting. While we were walking across totally featureless desert, we were simply unconscious, entirely inaccessible to any impression; but the sight of an oasis, by arousing hope, awoke us to a consciousness of our physical agony. The last mile was an interminable atrocity. When we reached the palms the shade gave us no relief whatever; the improved physical conditions simply intensified our sufferings, for we could not rest before reaching the houses.
One of the effects of travel of this kind, as opposed to the regular expedition, with its definite objective and its consequent insulation from the current of ordinary life, is that every incident acquires an intense and absolute value of its own. One can, for example, love as it is utterly impossible to do in any other conditions. Every moment of one's life becomes charged with unimaginable intensity, since there is nothing to interfere with one's absorption. The multiplicity of incident in civilized life makes even the holiest honeymoon a medley; delight is dulled by distraction.
The secret of life is concentration, and I have attained this power despite every original disadvantage, not so much by virtue of my persistence in the practices which tend to improve one's technique, but by my determination to arrange my affairs on the large scale so as to minimize the possibilities of distraction. The resolve to read no newspapers, to see as few people as possible, to read or write during meals, to live so that the petty problems of every day are as few and easily dispatched as possible — all these measures have made me less a man than the Spirit of Solitude. Every impression I receive is interpreted more analytically and yields a more intense integration than a thousand such to most other men. My life has been calm, simple, free from unusual or exciting incidents, and yet I often feel that I have lived more fully than many men of affairs.
Another result has naturally been that I have learnt to assess experiences by a totally different scale from that of other people. Some points of view never strike me at all. For instance, a publisher once wrote to me, “We cannot publish such and such a book until” — various things happened, which had nothing to do with the contents of the book as such. I was literally aghast. To me a book is a message from the gods to mankind; or, if not, should never be published at all. Then what does it matter who writes it, what the circumstances may be commercially, socially or otherwise? A message from the gods should be delivered at once. It is damnably blasphemous to talk about the autumn season and so on. How dare the author or publisher demand a price for doing his duty, the highest and most honourable to which a man can be called? The only argument for surrounding publication with any conditions is that the message may be better understood in some circumstances than in others. I can imagine a series of syllogisms on which one might base an apology for many of the actual principles of publishing. The
point, however, is that (as I suppose) the author is the hierophant or oracle of some god, and the publisher his herald.
I left Neuburg in Biskra to recuperate and returned to England alone. No sooner had I settled in my compartment that I was seized by an irresistible impulse to write a play dealing with the Templars and the Crusades. I had had with me in the desert the rituals of freemasonry, those of the Scottish, Memphis and Mizraim Rites. A plan had already been mooted for me to reconstruct freemasonry, as will be later described. The ritual of the 30° had taken hold of my imagination. The idea of my proposed play, //The Scorpion//, sprang into life full-armed.
I have always found that unless I jump on such inspiration like a tiger, I am never able to “recapture the first fine careless rapture”. I accordingly jumped out of the train at El Kantara and wrote it that evening and next day. I had done little creative work during the walk. My Retirements, as a rule, especially when they involve physical hardship, keep me in intimate communion with the universe and rarely dispose me to write the result. I lie fallow and the expression of ecstasy follows my return to physical comfort and leisure.
My last important work had been done at Marseilles on the way out, where we had to wait two days for a boat to take us to Algiers. I spent the time in writing the essay on the Cabbala which appears in The Equinox Vol. I, No. v. I had no books of reference at hand and therefore put down only what was in my memory. This is a good plan. It prevents one from overburdening the subject with unimportant details. In one's library one is obsessed by the feeling that one should aim at completeness and this is a grievous error. One wants to include only those elements which have proved their vitality by making a clear permanent impression on the mind.
I am not sure and find no record of the writing of “The Blind Prophet”, but it may well have been during this wonderful week. It is an attempt at a new form of art, a combination of ballet and grand opera. The predominant vowels in any passage indicate an appropriate passion. Thus “i” goes with shrillness and the violin; “o” and “u” coo, like flutes. The Blind Prophet represents the deep broad a; the Queen of the Dancers the fluent e. With this sound scheme, goes a colour scheme.
The Prophet is high-priest of a temple, and it is understood that if he utters a certain word the building will be destroyed. He woos the Queen of the Dancers; she mocks and eludes him. He utters the word; the pillars fall and crush him, but nobody else is hurt. The chorus rises again in the identical melody of its original dance.
The idea of the play is this: that the senseless forces of nature are indestructible and obey no master. The scheme of the rhythm and rime is extremely complex and the execution extraordinarily fluent. For sheer verbal music
it was one of the best things that I had done. I found myself able to introduce internal rimes at very short intervals, without in any way interfering with the rhythm or the sense. There is no distortion of grammar, no difficulty in reading.
<blockquote> <HTML><blockquote> > Hush! hush! the young feet flush,\\ > The marble's ablush,\\ > The music moves trilling,\\ > Like wolves at the killing,\\ > Moaning and shrilling\\ > And clear as the throb in the throat\\ > ...........of a thrush. </blockquote>
</blockquote></HTML> During the journey I wrote “The Pilgrim”, “Return” and “On the Edge of the Desert”, lyrics inspired by the idea of getting back to my inamorata in London.
In Paris I wrote “The Ordeal of Ida Pendragon”. The hero, Edgar Rolles, meets a girl at the Taverne Panthéon (where I wrote the story) and takes her to a fight between a white man and a Negro, the latter suggested by Joe Jeannette, whom I had just seen and much admired for his physical beauty. He takes her to his studio and recognizes her as a member of the order. He proposes to put her through the ordeal of crossing the Abyss. She fails and they part. Ida meets the Negro, who loves her. Rolles and Ninon (Nina Olivier already mentioned) lunch with them. Ida takes pleasure in torturing the Negro and begs him to “respect her modesty” — which she has not got. The Negro suddenly understands that she is heartless and sinks his teeth in her throat. Rolles kills him with a kick. He then consults one of the Secret Chiefs, who advises him to take Ida away. He tells Rolles that she has passed through the Abyss after all. The formula is that perfect love is perfect understanding. He marries her and a year later she dies in childbirth, saying that she has given herself three times, once to the brute, once to the man and now to God. Her previous failure had been to surrender herself. She wanted to get everything and give nothing.
This story marks a stage in my own understanding of the formula of initiation. I began to see that one might become a Master of the Temple without necessarily knowing any technical Magick or mysticism at all. It is merely a matter of convenience to be able to represent any expression as x + Y = 0. The equation may be solved without words. Many people may go through the ordeals and attain the degrees of the A.'. A.'. without ever hearing that such an Order exists. The universe is, in fact, busy with nothing else, for the relation of the Order to it is that of the man of science to his subject. He writes CaCl2 + H2SO4 = CaSO4 + 2HCl for his own convenience and that of others, but the operation was always in progress independently.
Arrived in England, my Pegasus continued its tameless spurt. One after the other I wrote “The Electric Silence”, a fairy-story summary of my magical career; “The Earth”, a short essay on her, both as planet and as element, in which I express my filial and conjugal relation with her. It is an ecstatic dithyramb.
Finally I wrote “Snowstorm”. This is a play in three acts, but once again I have tried to introduce a new artistic form.
Leila Waddell was to play the part of the heroine, but as she was incapable of speaking on the stage, I had to write her part as a series of violin solos.
The current of creative ecstasy stopped as suddenly as it had begun and I went on from Eastbourne to London. I found everything in confusion. I did not realize that the esprit de corps which is the essence of such books as The Three Musketeers was as dead as duelling. The men who had clustered round me enthusiastically when I seemed successful had dispersed like the disciples when they found that the Pharisee meant business. They all knew perfectly well that the attacks on me were malicious nonsense, that Jones's fiasco was a mere accident due to over-confidence; but they were all, with very few exceptions, cowards to the bone. They were as afraid of nothing as so many babies in the dark, expecting to see the bogey man come down the chimney.
I suppose the proper thing would have been to have “rallied my desperate followers”, but the fact is that I am congenitally incapable of beating the big drum. Most leaders induce their followers to fight in haste and leave them to repent at leisure. I always feel that this sort of thing is somehow unfair and in the long run useless. I am content to wait until people back me up wholeheartedly without the press gang or the revival meeting. I carried on imperturbably, exactly as if nothing whatever had happened. My utmost condescension was to print “X-Rays on Ex-Probationers”, three short contemptuous epigrams.
MISTAKES OF MYSTICS
- Since truth is supra-rational, it is incommunicable in the language of reason.
- Hence all mystics have written nonsense, and what sense they have written is so far untrue.
- Yet as a still lake yields a truer reflection of the sun than a torrent, he whose mind is best balanced will, if he become a mystic, become the best mystic.
When a friend of mine, or an enemy either, gets into trouble, I go or write to him immediately and put myself entirely at his disposition. I don't so much as ask whether he is in the right or no, unless that knowledge is necessary to efficient help. I can hardly explain why I act in this extraordinary way, but I think the theory is somewhat as follows: I being in relation with
the man, he is a part of my individuality, and my duty to myself is to see that he is flourishing. If I sprain my ankle I must use all my resources to put it right, and even if my ankle has damaged me in the course of the accident, by allowing me to fall and bump my head, my interests are none the less bound up with it. I make no pretence of magnanimity; it is plain self-interest which determines my action. I am even simple enough to expect everybody else to be equally selfish, but I have found that even my best friends, with few exceptions, run away or cool off whenever I need their assistance.
I also find that I am not understood. I remember an incident in America. A man who purported to be an occult teacher, and was in reality an ignorant charlatan, had been the object of my onslaught. He had every reason to regard me as his bitterest enemy. In course of time, he was found out and arrested. I went at once to the police court. Only one of his hundreds of devoted followers — and they were extravagantly devoted, thought he was no less than Jesus Christ come back to earth, and allowed him to mock, bully and swindle them to the limit without losing faith in him — had stuck to him in his misfortune. I went to him and affirmed my belief in his innocence (he had been “framed up” on a false charge) and offered to go bail for him and help him in every possible way. He was acquitted and we resumed our enmity.
I am glad to say that, some time afterwards, when some would-be magicians sent spies round the country to get information about me from people who did not know me, he spoke up on my behalf. This could hardly have happened in England, where moral cowardice is in the marrow of every man's bones. However vile and venal a man's accusers may be, and however obviously absurd may be the charges brought against him, the very men who have been boasting of their friendship for the great man scuttle into obscurity — at the best; more often, they join in the hue and cry in the hope of escaping the suspicion of having once been in league with the offender. In England today a plain denial like Peter's must count as extravagant loyalty! To me the psychology is heartbreaking, not as it may affect me directly, but because I hate to think so badly of men. The standards of The Three Musketeers are mine, and the blackest blot in the book is the partial failure of Aramis. It is far worse than the conduct of Milady at its vilest.
I believed then, and believe now, that the probationer of A.'. A.'. is nearly always offered the opportunity to betray the Order, just as the neophyte is nearly always tempted by a woman. We read in The Book of the Law, cap. I, verse 34:
…the ordeals I write not: …
… he(the Beast) may make severe the ordeals. (V.38) There is a word to say about the Hierophantic task. Behold! there are three ordeals in one, and it may be
given in three ways. The gross must pass through fire; let the fine be tried in intellect, and the lofty chosen ones in the highest. … (V.50)
The ordeals thou shalt oversee thyself, save only the blind ones. Refuse none, but thou shalt know & destroy the traitors. I am Ra-Hoor-Khuit; and I am powerful to protect my servant. … (cap. III, v.42)
These “blind” ordeals presumably refer to such tests of fitness as that of which we have been telling. In the ancient mysteries it was possible to appoint formal ordeals. A young man would go into the Temple to be initiated and he would know perfectly well that his life might depend on his proving himself worthy. Nowadays he candidate knows that his initiators will not murder him, and any ordeal proposed by them obviously appears a pure formality. In Freemasons' Hall he can swear quite cheerfully to keep silence under the penalty of having his throat cut across, his tongue torn out, and all the rest of it; the oath becomes a farce.
In the A.'. A.'., which is a genuinely Magical Order, there are no extravagant oaths. The candidate is pledged quite simply to himself only, and his obligation binds him merely “to obtain the scientific knowledge of the nature and powers of my own being”. There is no penalty attached to the breach of this resolution; yet, just as this resolution is in contrast with the oaths of other orders in respect of simplicity and naturalness, so also with regard to the penalties. To break away from the A.'. A.'. does actually involve the most frightful dangers to life, liberty and reason. The slightest mistake is visited with the most inexorable justice.
What actually happens is this. When a man ceremonially affirms his connection with the A.'. A.'. he acquires the full powers of the whole Order. He is enabled from that moment to do his true will to the utmost without interference. He enters a sphere in which every disturbance is directly and instantly compensated. He reaps the reward of every action on the spot. This is because he has entered what I may call a fluid world, where every stress is adjusted automatically and at once.
Thus, normally, suppose a man like Sir Robert Chiltern (in An Ideal Husband) acts venally. His sin is visited upon him, not directly, but after many years and in a manner which has no evident logical connection with his offence. If Chiltern had been a probationer of A.'. A.'. his action would have been balanced at once. He had sold an official secret for money. He would have found within a few days that one of his own secrets had been betrayed, with disastrous consequence to himself. But furthermore, having switched on a current of disloyalty, so to speak, he would have found disloyalty damaging him again and again, until he had succeeded in destroying in himself the very possibility of ever again being disloyal. It would be superficial to regard this apparently exaggerated penalty as unjust. It is not sufficient
to pay and eye for an eye. If you have lost your sight, you do not stumble over something once; you keep on stumbling, again and again, until you recover your sight.
The penalties of wrong-doing are applied not by the deliberate act of the Chiefs of the order; they occur in the natural course of events. I should not even care to say that these events were arranged by the Secret Chiefs. The method, if I understand it correctly, may perhaps be illustrated by an analogy. Suppose that I had been warned by Eckenstein always to test the firmness of a rock before trusting my weight to it. I neglect this instruction. It is quite unnecessary for Eckenstein to go all over the world and put unreliable rocks in my way — they are there; and I shall come across them almost every time I go out climbing, and come to more or less grief whenever I meet them. In the same way, if I omit some magical precaution, or make some magical blunder, my own weakness will punish me whenever the circumstances determine the appropriate issue.
It may be said that this doctrine is not a matter of Magick by of common sense. True, but Magick “is” common sense. What, then, is the difference between the Magician and the ordinary man? This, that the Magician has demanded that nature shall be for him a phenomenal mode of expressing his spiritual reality. The circumstances, therefore, of his life are uniformly adapted to his work.
To take another analogy. The world appears to the lawyer quite otherwise than it does to the carpenter, and the same event occurring to the two men will suggest two quite different trains of thought and lead to two quite different results.
My own errors of judgment, due to the annihilation of my ego and the consequent lack of leadership felt by my body and mind, produced their own immediate effect. I did not yet understand the extent of my fault, or even its real cause and character, but I felt myself forced back into my proper orbit. I was the Spirit of solitude, the Wander in the Wilderness. I had no business to take part in the affairs of men by personal contact with them in their sheepfolds, monkey houses and pigstys. My sole link with them was to guide such as adventured themselves into the desert. I was cast out from the Abyss into “the heaven of Jupiter as a morning star or as an evening star. And the light thereof shineth even unto the earth and bringeth hope and help to them that dwell in the darkness of thought and drink of the poison of life.” It was therefore for me to attend strictly to the Great Work which had been appointed for me by the Secret Chiefs, to dwell in communion with mine Holy Guardian Angel and to write down the instructions by following which men might attain “to the Summum Bonum, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness”.
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