Dear Friend:

Si Vales, Valeo

What a great question. Clearly, you have read The Comment at the end of The Book of the Law and are confused by it. Join the club. No, really. This is something that many Thelemites struggle with. On the one hand, the comment warns us:

The study of this Book is forbidden. It is wise to destroy this copy after the first reading.
 Whosoever disregards this does so at his own risk and peril. These are most dire. 
Those who discuss the contents of this Book are to be shunned by all, as centres of pestilence. 
All questions of the Law are to be decided only by appeal to my writings, each for himself.

The idea is, in my opinion, that each of us should be free to come up with our own interpretation of the Book. That there is no right or wrong way to look it, and the only thing that matters is the readers personal interpretation without the possibility of being swayed in one direction or another by another person's views on the matter. Sounds reasonable until we get to the “All questions of the Law are to be decided only by appeal to my writings, each for himself” part, in which Crowley appears to say only his opinions matter when you are studying the Book.

But then we are taken back to the first line in The Comments which advice the reader that they should not study the Book at all. Not only is it not allowed, but you have to destroy it after you have read it.

The study of this Book is forbidden. It is wise to destroy this copy after the first reading.

Wow. How confusing is that? And to further add to this befuddlement, if we were to read Magick Without Tears, which is a compilation of letters from Crowley to his students, we find this little gem in the addressing a female student.

I think you should have a copy of The Equinox of the Gods and make The Book of the Law your constant study.  But I thought you said studying it was forbidden?

The matter has not yet been settled, but for what it is worth my opinion is that understanding and knowing what Thelema is and what Thelema is not is inextricably bound to the idea of manifesting a Thelemic culture. Even more so if we start thinking as Thelema as a world force, as Crowley did. So, speaking for myself, I don't even consider the question as something I have to concern myself with for these reasons:

  1. Nowhere does it say that being a “centre of pestilence” is a bad thing, unless you consider being shunned by others that don't share your opinion is a bad thing. I think it is good to have different opinions, and I am no stranger to being shunned.
  2. The Book of the Law was dictated in 1904. We should read The Prophet's commentary of ALL the Holy Books. But many things have changed in our world since 1904, and not taking those things into account, the things Crowley could never have imagined, will only serve to drive Thelema into irrelevance, and Thelemites will be groups with some anachronistic movement like the Society For Creative Anachronism, where people are gather to play make-believe in the so-called “good old days” of REAL pestilence, injustice and unnecessary suffering. Oh, what fun! In the immortal words of the most famous transvestites of them all, Frank N. Furter: “Don't dream it: BE IT!
  3. I find looking for mysteries to be mentally stimulating. Thelema is my chosen way of life, philosophy and religion. I refuse to mimic the oh-so-many-Christians who have turned us into a country supporting anti-intellectualism.

Lastly, if you stay tuned and come back next week, I will provide an example of what a Centre of Pestilence does, so you will have a better idea of whether or not you should be one, or avoid it like the plague. (See what I did there?)

Pax Profunda

I acknowledge that the progression of Aeons is little more than a convenient method by which we might be able to separate different stages in spiritual evolution based on the behavior of man, political circumstance and even events outside of our control, such as with geological and cosmic events. One could say that they are totally arbitrary, and they might be, but they do serve a purpose in our metaphysics.

In philosophy, an Aeon is also a power originating from eternity. In fact, we can choose to acknowledge that each Aeon is simply a small piece of a much bigger puzzle. Also, in Gnosticism, an Aeon is an aspect or phase of THE supreme deity. If you are an adherent of Thelema you will soon see that this concept applies to all of us as well, for “There is no god but man.” Or, “As Above, So Below.” We are a microcosm, a reflection made flesh of the macrocosm. A piece of the whole and yet the whole itself. For example, we could choose to view an Aeon as the lifetime of a God and compare it to the life of an average man to see if we can make any connections between what appears to be a Macrocosm and its Microcosm. Perhaps we are all mini-me’s in the grand scheme of things, and a poor facsimile of something much greater than ourselves.

We also tend to view existence as linear, which seems logical, but astrological age, or the procession of the Aeons is a circular matter. They are cyclic, and perhaps our metaphysical perception of ourselves should be as well.

So properly misunderstood is this concept that we tend to expect an Aeon suddenly coming to an end, and something completely different beginning at each cycle. When the Prophet proclaimed that we had entered a New Aeon, the Aeon of Horus, it came with a whimper. There were no signs of wailing coming from the skies as one Aeon suffered a terrible end as the other came into existence. That is because we are still in the age of Pisces and will be for another 600 years or so. This does not mean that the Aeon of Horus as not already began to effect it. As the Aeon of Pisces begins to face and lose steam, so shall the Aeon of Aquarius become stronger and more pronounced.

Fact is that if we are going to use astrological time in our metaphysics we should understand that the most likely possibility, if they exist at all, is that Aeons achieve their maximum purity/truth/purpose/meaning somewhere in the middle, after the influence of the previous Aeon has completely disappeared, and before the eventual birth of the next begins to show its influence. This is a sort of spiritual evolution.

All of this said, I wanted to postulate a possible working theory about that mysterious line from Liber AL vel Legis III: 73. Everything begins with a proposition. I will try to explain one of mine.

“Paste the sheets from right to left and from top to bottom: then behold!”

The Old and New Testament represent our concept and ideas in the dying and risen gods. It is aptly called “The Aeon of Osiris.” These books attempt to explain the beginning of an Aeon as a series of evens beginning with the creation of the world, all the way until the very end of time. In other words, it is not the beginning and ending of the world, as adherents of that Aeon believe, but the beginning and end of that Aeon. I am reminded of a song from REM about the end of the world as we know it.

It is therefore understandable that when reading these sorts of revelations, we tend to do so in a linear fashion. From beginning to end. This is how most of us approach the study of The Book of the Law. It is a habit. I accepted the Book of the Law in a very personal way. It spoke to me of beauty, and the inner dialogue was inspiring and uplifting even in those parts in Chapter III many Thelemites dare not to explain. I believe the Prophet when he says Thelema is the solution to the world’s problems. And yet when taken literally (NEVER take anything literally, especially a “received book.”) the linear fashion of Liber AL explaining the New Aeon does not in any way match the continuity one would expect between the ending in the New Testament and the beginning of The Book of the Law. As I have shown above, there is no sudden beginning or end, but a slow and gradual death with a simultaneous birth.

I decided that if Liber AL was really the holy book for the new Aeon it would have to have some sort of coherent method of picking up where revelations left off, and end when the Aeon of Maat were to begin. I thought that a person should be able to finish with Revelations and pick up the Book of the Law to continue learning about man’s journey through the ages. And the assigning of the three Grades to the chapters as they were made little sense to me as well.

I: 40. Who calls us Thelemites will do no wrong, if he look but close into the word. For there are therein Three Grades, the Hermit, and the Lover, and the man of Earth.

It just did not flow.

I began to look for clues. But I keep coming back to: “Paste the sheets from right to left and from top to bottom: then behold!

So, I did exactly that in so many different combinations that it resembled The Cut-up Method William Burroughs pioneered. He would have been proud. But no luck with that either. I gave up and began looking elsewhere.

I didn’t come back to it for many years. One night it occurred to me: “What if pasting the sheets from right to left meant the chapters, and not the pages?”

If we go from Revelation to the first chapter of Liber AL, we see an abrupt change. The world is ending in fire, people are tormented, etc… and suddenly Hadit announces Nuit, which is one of the most beautiful, uplifting chapters in the Book. As I have already explained above, does not seem to occur in our history if we subscribe to the ideas of Aeons, astrological time and the procession of the Equinoxes.

Chapter III appears self-evident: In fact, one only need to look around to see that we are living it now, and it works as a progression from Revelations. Furthermore, we are told that the Aeon of Maat (the age of Truth) comes after the Aeon of Horus, and it doesn’t make much sense that we would go from good to bad to good again as if man has not learned anything in 2000 years. In its current form, the progression leads us to another one of those abrupt endings and beginnings.

By reversing the order of The Book of the Law, we can see a transition from one Aeon to the next that makes sense.

Revelations: Gnashing of teeth, much screaming and suffering and torture. Chapter III, we are still fighting with our own true nature and struggling to acknowledge and express our own divinity is a creative and positive way. Chapter II, the individual begins to become self-aware of their own power, Chapter I, man becomes enlightened, aware of his place in the cosmos. Fully actuated and takes his place on the throne.

With regards to Chapter I:40, reading the chapters from right to left gives us a grade structure that better fits their meaning. Chapter III: The Man of Earth. Chapter II, The Lover. Chapter I, The Hermit.

Your mileage may vary, of course. This is only a postulate and an example of how one can approach the mysteries in our Holy Book. If nothing else, I have been a perfect example of what it is to be a Center of Pestilence.