The Revival of Tolerance

Have respect also to the Will of thy Fellow, not hindering him in his way save as he may overly jostle thee in thine. For by the Practice of this Tolerance thou shalt come sooner to the Understanding of this Equality of all Things in Our Lady Nuit, and so the high Attainment of universal Love.—Crowley, Liber Aleph, Eo—De Virtute Tolerantiæ

Toleration has gotten a bad reputation in the last few years. There are nasty whispers about how it means coddling the weak, indulging the undisciplined, dismissing responsibility, and denying accountability. Unfortunately, there certainly are initiates who lack discipline, who have a hard time accepting responsibility for their own actions, and who find it difficult to bring bad behavior to account (and make no mistake, this is seen regardless of where one looks on the political spectrum). However, those problems are distinct, and have far more to do with cultural habits, emotional immaturity, and a lack of certain skills than any adherence to a mythical ideology that celebrates mediocrity or ignores abuse. More importantly, these problems have nothing to do with Tolerance, which is, in fact, a cornerstone of our ancient fraternity.

Aleister Crowley himself recognized the importance of Tolerance within O.T.O. In “Concerning the Law of Thelema,” he mentions this virtue several times:

It is to be noted that wherever teamwork is necessary social tolerance is an essential… Tolerance also is taught in the higher grades; so that no man can be even an Inspector of the Order unless he be equally well disposed to all classes of opinion. […] With this provision, it is easy to see that intolerance and snobbery are impossible; for the example set by members of the universally respected higher grades is against this. I may add that members are bound together by participation in certain mysteries, which lead to a synthetic climax in which a single secret is communicated whose nature is such as to set at rest for ever all division on those fertile causes of quarrel, sex and religion…

A fortiori, then, it must be possible to train men to independence, to tolerance, to nobility of character, and to good manners, and this is done in the O.T.O. by certain very efficacious methods… Tolerance is not only a fundamental principle of O.T.O. specifically, it is equally true of Thelema in general. Crowley himself summed it up perfectly:

Every Star has its own Nature, which is “Right” for it. We are not to be missionaries, with ideal standards of dress and morals, and such hard ideas. We are to do what we Will, and leave others to do what they Will. We are infinitely tolerant, save of intolerance. —New Commentary, II:57

Tolerance is an absolute requirement within any Thelemic society because we recognize that every person has their own unique Will and path to it. By joining our Holy Order, certain Oaths are taken under Will, and all members should rightfully expect their fellows to maintain fidelity and good faith. At the same time, within the boundaries of our fraternal oaths and principles, the Order provides a sanctuary wherein initiates may explore, experiment, and celebrate in their own Great Work. For some, this Work will look like traditional A∴A∴ teachings—for others, the methodology of their Great Work might look quite different. Our duty is not to judge self-righteously the Way a sibling travels to her own Will—it is to help her along!—providing support, feedback, and inspiration. As Crowley explained clearly in Magick Without Tears, “We insist from the beginning on the individual character of the work,” and “I certainly have no intention of holding you down to a narrow path of work or any path.” Tolerance is all about embodying this statement, which implies a letting go of needing others to Work as you do.

Further, Tolerance isn’t about accepting bad behavior; it is about celebrating our sovereign individuality. Tolerance doesn’t mean we avoid conflict at all costs, it means we fight when necessary with respect and good faith. And Tolerance certainly doesn’t mean abandoning our principles, for they are outlined within our ceremonies of initiation, and to them we are all obligated and oath-bound. They compose the firm pole that supports our inclusive tent wherein all true brothers and sisters may dwell in Joy and Freedom.

Tolerance requires Strength and Courage, and is the key to Love—after all, “intolerance is evidence of impotence” (Confessions, ch. 69). Said another way, the need to impose rigid standards and narrow definitions on others is a symptom of fear and uncertainty, and works against our common aspirations of Liberty and Universal Brotherhood. Therefore, it is time to rehabilitate this lofty word, to give it its rightful respect and return it to a place of honor, a true virtue to which we should all aspire. With that, let this epistle end with our traditional salutation: Peace, Tolerance, Truth.