This morning I woke up to find my Internet connection down. I had a plan this morning. My plan was to continue working on my new business website. So much for plans. I seem to be learning that plans need to be somewhat loose and malleable. Fixed and rigid no longer work. The purpose of the plan is to point me in a general direction. Water provides an excellent analogy. Water flows down the river. When a huge boulder is dropped in the path of the water, the water adjusts and goes around the rock. It is a change in plans, but the direction, or flow, of the river continues. The objective remains the same; only the strategy changes. In the end, the water gets to where it is going.
This raises the question: Where are we going? Given the water analogy, that seems a very pertinent question to explore.
When I left my Sebastopol home for Boston, I brought only twenty books. I had amassed a collection of several hundred, but decided to sell all of them save the twenty. Among the books I was guided to keep, there was Book 4 by Aleister Crowley. I knew little of Aleister Crowley. One of the few things I knew of him when I bought the book at the Copperfield’s used book store was that Jimmy Page, guitarist for Led Zeppelin (and my teenage rock star god!), was obsessed with him, eventually buying Aleister Crowley’s home in England. My teacher some ten years ago, Stuart Wilde, told me to stay away from Aleister Crowley, for he was into black magic.
Magick, Liber ABA, Book 4 is widely considered to be the magnum opus of 20th century occultist Aleister Crowley, the founder of Thelema. It is a lengthy treatise on Magick, his system of Western occult practice, synthesized from many sources, including Eastern Yoga, Hermeticism, medieval grimoires, contemporary magical theories from writers like Eliphas Levi and Helena Blavatsky, and his own original contributions. It consists of four parts: Mysticism, Magick (Elementary Theory), Magick in Theory and Practice, and ΘΕΛΗΜΑ—the Law (The Equinox of The Gods). It also includes numerous appendices presenting many rituals and explicatory papers. In November 1911, Crowley carried out a ritual during which he reports being commanded to write Book 4 by a discarnate entity named “Abuldiz”. This was duly accomplished at a villa in Posilippo near Naples, and was published in the winter of 1912-3. (www.wikipedia.com)
Last week, on Sunday, I was drawn to pick up Book 4 and read it. Book 4, Parts 1 and 2, is an instructional book on the development and uses of magic tools such as altars, wands, swords, oils and pentagrams. However, sprinkled throughout the book are some very potent words that stirred my soul, so to speak. You see, I consider myself to be a very strange and most bizarre being. When I read “new age” type books, my predominant thoughts “that’s bullshit” or “that’s only part of the story” or “that’s now how it really is” etc. When I read a book that truly resonates with my experiences, I feel a warmth in my heart. I feel something like “Ahh, there you go, someone who gets it!”
The best vow, and that of most universal application, is the vow of Holy Obedience; for not only does it lead to perfect freedom, but it is training in that surrender which is the last task.
Lately, I have been writing and speaking quite a bit about getting into alignment with the universe. Here, Aleister Crowley refers to this as the Vow of Holy Obedience. In taking this vow, one must painstakingly go through the process of ego decimation. For if one takes this vow seriously, there will be many instances of battle between the universe (or life) and the ego. My experience of losing the Internet this morning is but a minor example. Losing a job, or losing your wife to another man, or watching a loved one die of cancer, are more serious examples. At what point in ones life does one realize that fighting against nature is pointless and needlessly painful? It is usually in times of great pain, inner conflict and strife. Surrendering to life, which Aleister Crowley refers to as the last task, doesn’t happen until I have delved into all my dark nooks and crannies and explored with a high powered search light every molecule of my own bullshit.
A most astounding phenomenon has happened to us; we have had an experience which makes Love, fame, rank, ambition, wealth, look like thirty cents; and we begin to wonder passionately, “What is truth?” The Universe has tumbled about our ears like a house of cards, and we have tumbled too. Yet this ruin is like the opening of the Gates of Heaven! Here is a tremendous problem, and there is something within us which ravins for its solution.
Have you been bitten yet? If you are reading this, you probably have been. If you have attended an intense men’s weekend, such as The Bridge or The Grail, you definitely have been. I see it like a snake bit. Imagine a rattlesnake, all coiled up and ready to strike. Then, suddenly and without warning, the snake bites hard and sticks it’s long venomous fangs into you. For some, the snake releases rather quickly. However for others, as was the case with me, the fangs don’t release, and in fact, feel broken off into my heart. For those of you, and you know who you are, the great search for truth has begun. Depending on the intensity of the bite, which at this point I feel is predominately determined by karma, absolutely nothing will stand in your way. Work and relationships may have to fall to the wayside. So be it! In fact, there will be times in which you will question your own sanity. Seriously, I can still remember doing some crazy ass shit, and thinking to myself, “I am losing it!” As Morpheus said to Neo in the movie The Matrix: “Try to relax, this is going to feel pretty weird.” It is not much about rainbows and light (a popular misconception). Rather, it is an intense battle of the highest order to discover and destroy everything that is false.
In Burma, there is only one animal which the people will kill, Russell’s Viper; because, as they say, ‘either you must kill it or it will kill you; and it is a question of which sees the other first. Now any one idea which is The Idea must be treated in this fashion. When you have killed the snake you can use its skin, but as long as it is alive and free, you are in danger. And unfortunately the ego-idea, which is the real snake, can throw itself into a multitude of forms, each clothed in the most brilliant dress. Thus the devil is said to be able to disguise himself as an angel of light.
Under the strain of the magical vow this is terribly the case. No normal human being understands or can understand the temptations of the saints. An ordinary person with ideas like those which obsessed St. Patrick and St. Anthony would only be fit for an asylum. The tighter you hold the snake (which was previously asleep in the sun, the harmless enough, to all appearance), the more it struggles; and it is important to remember that your hold must tighten correspondingly, or it will escape and bite you.
Just as if you tell a child not to do a thing – no matter what – it will immediately want to do it, though otherwise the idea might never have entered its head, so it is with the saint. We have all of us these tendencies latent in us; of most of them we might remain unconscious all our lives – unless they were awakened by our Magick. They lie in ambush. And every one must be awakened, and every one must be destroyed. Every one who signs the oath of a Probationer is stirring up a hornet’s nest.
A man has only to affirm his conscious aspiration; and the enemy is upon him.
The phrase that tunes me in to the truth of these words is “everyone must be awakened, and every one must be destroyed”. These words can easily be misinterpreted by the uninitiated. But taken in context, Aleister Crowley is speaking about the battle, the battle with one’s self. It is one’s self, one’s ego, one’s perception of the other, which is the enemy. Once bitten, “the enemy is upon him”. To have a pristine experience of the ingenuity of the enemy, watch the movie Revolver directed by Guy Ritchie. It is all there: strategy, tactics, deceptions, falsehoods and ultimate surrender.
The Magician must build all that he has into his pyramid; and if that pyramid is to touch the stars, how broad must be the base! There is no knowledge and no power which is useless to the Magician. One might almost say there is no scrap of material in the whole Universe with which he can dispense. His ultimate enemy is the great Magician, the Magician who created the whole illusion of the Universe; and to meet him in battle, so that nothing is left either of him or of yourself, you must be exactly equal to him.
The part of this excerpt that touches me is the deception of The Magician. The Magician is me and you. We magically convince ourselves that all of this world is real. We work as a magician against ourselves. This is hard to get your head around. That little voice inside your head is not really you. That little voice that reassures you, that comforts you, that seems to support you, it’s all a house of cards. And once bitten, the initiate begins the painstaking process of dismantling the house of cards, one card at a time. Each time a man unearths a falsehood, that clarity becomes a brick in the pyramid. As more cards fall to the wayside, a momentum begins to build. Soon, every single incident or thought, contributes to the demise of the self. There is nothing that will any longer support the falsehood of the illusion.
There is no power which cannot be pressed into the service of the Magical Will; it is only the temptation to value that power for itself which offends.
Aleister Crowley is here, I believe, referring to the ego’s desire to own. This, for me, is one of the most difficult aspects of the path, the willingness to accept one’s true and accurate place in this world. There is no power which can be owned. There is no gift which can be owned. There is no accomplishment that can be owned. If one is truly to accept the analogy of the hollow bone, how can one feel anything but gratitude for a display of power. Pride and prejudice have no place here. Holding the feeling of “master of the universe” is a sure recipe for a hard fall from grace. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Someone said something like… one won’t be blessed with power until one will be responsible with the power. However, as I look at the world, I don’t see this to be the case. Being granted power, as I see it, is a test of the universe to see just where you stand. Blow up and spread your feathers like a peacock, and the power will leave lickity split. Honor the power, be grateful for the power, share it only when called upon, and more power will be granted. It is that power, treated with respect and honor, which the initiate will need to build the pyramid. It is that power, not owned and claimed as one’s own, which will fortify the initiate in the battle with the Great Magician, with himself. It’s kind of funny isn’t it? It is all an internal battle.
Of the methods of destroying various deep-rooted ideas there are many. The best is perhaps the method of equilibrium. Get the mind into the habit of calling up the opposite to every thought that may arise. In conversation always disagree. See the other man’s arguments; but, however much your judgment approves them, find the answer. Let this be done dispassionately; the more convinced you are that a certain point of view is right, the more determined you should be to find proofs that it is wrong. If you have done this thoroughly, these points of view will cease to trouble you; you can then assert your own point of view with the calm of a master, which is more convincing than the enthusiasm of a learner.
I found this passage particularly affirming. Lately I have been monitoring my judgments. I have noticed the propensity of the human race to classify virtually every experience as good or bad. “How are you doing? Good!” “How was your day? Great.” It is very subtle, and when you start to really listen, it is everywhere, standing as a part of our human dialogue. How does one break through this falsehood, and begin to realize there can’t be good or bad experiences, but only experiences? How does one come to accept that this day is just like the last day, with only ones’ judgment determining the level of joy or contentment one feels? Waiting in lines is a great example. Seems no one likes to wait in lines, as if they have something so much more important or rewarding to do. I have seen many become so indignant because they had to wait 15 minutes to apply for a driver’s license. To exacerbate the point, why is waiting in line so deplorable, while making love so desirable? To take Aleister Crowley’s advice, try to argue that waiting in line is the highest of human ideals, while making love is akin to having one’s fingernails slowly peeled off from the skin. It’s all judgment and perception. Experience is experience. There is nothing better than anything else unless we say so.
From this one is tempted to break a lance on that most ancient battlefield, free-will and destiny. But even though every man is “determined” so that every action is merely the passive resultant of the sum-total of the forces which have acted upon him from eternity, so that his own Will is only the echo of the Will of the Universe, yet that consciousness of “free-will” is valuable; and if he really understands it as being the partial and individual expression of that internal motion in a Universe whose sum is rest, by so much will he feel that harmony, that totality.
And though the happiness which he experiences may be criticized as only one scale of a balance in whose other scale is an equal misery, there are those who hold that misery consists only in the feeling of separation from the Universe, and that consequently all may cancel out among the lesser feelings, leaving only that infinite bliss which is one phase of the infinite consciousness of the ALL. Such speculations are somewhat beyond the scope of the present remarks. It is of no particular moment to observe that the elephant and the flea can be no other than they are; but we do perceive that one is bigger than the other. That is the fact of practical importance.
As I wrap this up with the final two excerpts, this one addresses the illusion of free will. A friend of mine asked me a question recently about free will. My answer was this… If I am in a boat, floating down the river, and suddenly I see the big boulder in the water which I referred to earlier, what do I do? Well, it seems I have a choice, an opportunity to display my free will. I can either crash into the boulder, or I can row my boat off to the side, and avoid the boulder. Here in lies the illusion of free will, for with either choice, I am going to continue down the river.
There is one truth, and only one. All other thoughts are false.
The illusion of my heart, the falsehood of my belief in redemption, sing loudly, a siren song of clarity. There is no other. Undo the false. Shed the bullshit. Dig as deep as necessary till there isn’t anything left. The only way to the bottom is through the dark bottomless pit. How bad to you want it? Do you think you have a choice? Where is the universe leading you? Are you paying attention? Are you listening?
Knock Knock. The Great Magician is at the door! It’s not him…