Chapter LXXX: Life a Gamble


By Aleister Crowley

Chapter LXXX: Life a Gamble

Cara Soror,

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

In one or two—no, I think more like three or four—letters of yours to hand in the last couple of months, you have put forward various excuses for slackness, the necessities of your economic situation. You say you must have “regular work,” and a “steady income” and all that sort of thing.  My innocent child, that species of Magick is quite simple.  Take the horns of a hare . . .  That's enough for the present: I'll tell you what to do with them when you've got them.

In Macbeth we read—

Is mortals' chiefest enemy.”

but this is another kind of security; it is the Hubris which “tempts Providence,” the insolence of thinking that nothing can go wrong.

Anyhow, there's no such thing as safety.  Life is a gamble.  From the moment of incarnation a million accidents are possible.  Miscarriage, still-birth, abortion; throughout life, until your heart beats for the last time, “you never can tell” – — — — and then you start all over again with your next incarnation!

(I wish I had a copy of a short story of mine called “Every Precaution.” The gallant young Uplift Expert, the one hundred per cent red-blooded, clean-living, heir of the Eternities, takes his young fiancée and female counterpart to the “Old Absinthe House” in New Orleans to show her the terrible results of Wrong-Doing.  They are going to avoid all that; their child is going to be the Quintessence of Americanism.

They marry and take a cottage by Lake Pasquaney.  Presently, he being (so she said) away on a business trip, the tradesmen complained that she seemed to need very little pabulum.  Somehow, people got suspicious, and sure enough, when they broke in, they found that she had pickled him!  This story is founded on fact; damn it, why did the MS have to get lost?)

Even suicide is not a “dead bird.”  I knew a creature once—careless observers often mistook him of a man—who tried three times, pistol, rope and poison.  Something always went wrong.  (Like the Babbacombe murderer, who went to the scaffold three times, and lived to a green old age!)  Finally he did poison himself, by accident, when he had no intention whatever of doing anything of the sort.

Where's the Book of Lies?  Ah, here we are.  “It is Pure Chance that rules the Universe; therefore, and only therefore, life is good.”1)

Then, is it mere fatuity and folly to make plans?  Was not the IXth Atu, the Hermit, also at one time called “Prudence?”2)  Of course.  Abstract philosophy rarely coincides with common-sense.  We should plan as carefully as we can; but we should always allow a margin for every conceivable accident.

Nor should we trust to luck, like England, when she goes to war.  Bret Harte has an admirable story “The Outcasts of Poker Flat  in which the “bad man,” the crooked gambler, gives his life for the safety of the rest of his party, and winds up all with the remark: “Life isn't in having the luck of the cards, but in playing a poor hand well.”

Yes, I daresay, all very fine; but what you wanted to know was about the propriety of taking risks in Magick.

So off we go.

Risks, we have agreed, are always unavoidable; but we can calculate them.  The best and wisest man I ever knew, the late Oscar Eckenstein, was once offered a job which gave him a fifty percent chance of survival.  He calmly sat down, worked out his “expectation of life,” his “expectation of income,” and the Lord alone knows what other factors.  It came out that the pay offered was a thousand pounds or so less than he might expect normally, so he turned down the offer.  Not a trace of sentiment of any kind!

Now let us consider an “A.B. case.”  John Jeremiah Jenkins sees a short cut to his performance of the Great work.  To seize this opportunity, he must give up a steady job with good prospects and as near safety as is possible in the nature of things, for a slim chance of a career in the most insecure of all the professions.

He can do it; that is at the mercy of his Will; but he risks something very close to the utter wreck and ruin of his future.  Only a miracle can bring him through.  Just so!  But is he not neglecting one factor in his problem?  Who put this romantically insane opportunity in his way?  The Gods: it must be, since he is performing the Great Work.  Very well then!  It is up to Them to watch: “he shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways: in their hands they shall bear thee up lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.”

What's more, he must leave it at that; he must not insult Them by constantly looking out for extra safeguards, or “hedging.”  (You remember the Major in The Suicide Club when Prince Florizel was picking seconds for a duel?  “In all my life I never so much as hedged a bet.”)  You must give Them plenty of opportunity to show Their approval by steering you miraculously through one crisis after another.

This course of conduct may seem to you a little like the "Act of Truth" but this is only superficially the case. The latter is usually an emergency measure, and either not particularly serious or as serious as anything can be.  But what I have said above amounts really to a regular Rule of Life.

Need I add that the prime and essential requisite in all this Work is that you so devote yourself to, and identify yourself with, the Gods, that there is never any doubt in your mind as to what They intend you to do?

Love is the law, love under will.



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Chapter 22 (KB), “The Despot.”  In the copy of MWT I was working from it was slightly misquoted; the quote is here conformed to the second edition of The Book of Lies – T.S.
Note that the three other “cardinal virtues” have traditionally been referred to Tarot Trumps: Justice, Fortitude (also known as Strength) and Temperance (though Waite, in a note to Levi's Dogme et Rituel, suggests the attribution of Prudence to Atu IX was an invention of Levi's to complete the scheme; an alternative but somewhat strained suggestion has Atu XX as 'prudential judgement').  It may or may not be significant that when reformulating the Tarot in The Book of Thoth Crowley changed the names of all three of these – T.S.


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