Majesty in nature

March 23rd, 2010

Over on, I’ve been involved in a thread dealing mainly with the question of “knowledge”. During that discussion, presumably objecting to the idea that “knowledge” – which requires effort and honesty to obtain – is helpful in any way, a flaky new-age whelp calling himself “sonofthestar” (whose immortal take on the veracity of Crowley’s account of the “reception” of The Book of the Law was “The Cairo Working – happened pretty much the way AC describes it – in spite of any so called confusion or discrepancies…If people really think about it, long and hard – How else could it have happened?” is rivaled only by that of another contributor to that thread that “If the document were a fraud, it would seem to be much more convincing to offer up a virtually flawless handwritten text, penned all at one sitting, with clear evidence of its origin in his diaries, that was then distributed to several acquaintances in a well-edited typescript. But none of that is the case here. If he were deliberately perpetrating a fraud, he doesn’t seem to have gone about it very sensibly” which boils down to “the lack of proof proves it!”) dribbled the following vapid and contemptible utterance:

It is their absolute Thelemic right to believe what they believe!
Why would/should—we believe it—should/would be otherwise,
or become upset over it—if we are doing our will?

which resulted in me having to school him that the actual “Thelemic right” – i.e. the only “Thelemic right”, since “Thou hast no right but to do thy will” – requires one to know what one’s will is, and therefore flatly prohibits one from having the “right to believe what [one] believe[s]”.

Clearly stricken by his obvious total and fundamental misunderstanding, the aforementioned flathead responded with this:

You have written voluminously,
elaborating your comprehension of Thelema,
with an above average, and technically adequate erudition:
and still, something lacks.
But it is far from a little something!
It lacks for what I can only describe as Vigorous Beauty!
It is un-dynamic, and lacks the Lustrous Light of illumination.

You present a dull and soul-less picture of Thelema,
by having stripped away all colours from it’s Starry Spectrum,
so that you, might paint some monochromatic parody,
using only a single hue from your palette of limited perspective.

The obvious observation that the response “you have written voluminously, elaborating your comprehension of Thelema, with an above average, and technically adequate erudition: and still, something lacks” translates to “No fair! No fair! You smarter than neanderthal man! Me want be right! Leave me ‘lone!” is not very interesting. What is interesting is this idea that what we may call a “materialistic” view of the universe – i.e. one in which gods, spirits, “præternatural beings”, demons, and the like neither exist nor take an interest in human affairs even if they did – is somehow “dull and soul-less”. Read the rest of this post »

A timely reminder

March 14th, 2010

In a recent email exchange, a correspondent asked me “whats your opinion on astrology?”, to which I replied, “superstitious nonsense”. A further question of “so, what do you think of astral projection or such? Is it all your mind playing tricks on you?” elicited a response which seems to have hit home. So, for all the folks out there who could use a gentle reminder, and for those sane souls swimming in a sea of insanity who just need a little encouragement to employ their own common sense, here’s the response in question.

It’s entirely in the mind, yes. People don’t reincarnate, the chance layout of the tarot cards is unrelated to the passage of future events, there are no real “demons” to evoke or real “Angels” to invoke, and you can’t bewitch your neighbour’s ox by sending vibrations across the astral plane. None of this supernatural stuff is true. None of it.

It’s not “your mind playing tricks on you”, either – if you actually pay attention to what you’re doing, none of this stuff even appears to be real. When you actually believe in this stuff, that’s when your mind plays “tricks” on you, because you’re drawing invalid conclusions based on what you merely think you are seeing, not on what you actually are seeing. It’s no accident that when this stuff is subjected to controlled testing it is found to be entirely imaginary, because what the controlled testing achieves is precisely that: taking the mind’s “tricks” out of the equation, and forcing conclusions to be drawn on the evidence that is actually there, as opposed to the evidence that is merely believed to be there by someone who is already predisposed to believe in it.

Some people want to give credence to this supernatural stuff because they think their “subjective experience” informs them that it’s real, and since everything is “subjective experience”, they might as well believe that it’s real. However, this logic is only ever applied partially, and it’s only ever applied to those things that one already wants to believe in. If “everything is subjective experience”, then it’s that exact same “subjective experience” which informs you that if you jump off a cliff you’re going to hit the bottom and come to a sticky end, no matter how strongly you believe something else will happen. This is always a good test – if you’re not prepared to conduct your “mundane” daily life on the basis of the same beliefs with which you interpret your “occult experiences”, then that’s an indicator that you should be highly, highly suspicious of those beliefs, because it indicates that you don’t actually subscribe to those beliefs in any practical sense at all. Occult, new-age and religious literature in general is jam-packed with trite-sounding philosophical platitudes designed precisely to conceal this simple fact from you.

The Holy Guardian Angel

March 7th, 2010

I have today uploaded to the “Writings” section of this web site a PDF version of my new essay, The Holy Guardian Angel.

The objective of the essay is to engage in a comprehensive and thorough review of the occasions where Aleister Crowley wrote about the Holy Guardian Angel in his published works of prose in an attempt to derive a definitive account of what he actually meant when he used that term. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the conclusions drawn, the essay is valuable for the comprehensive view it gives of what Aleister Crowley actually said on the subject, and will be particularly useful for those lacking an intimate familiarity with his works, and who must therefore rely on the few regularly repeated soundbites which are so often floated about in discussions on the subject, usually woefully out of context.

Since the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel forms the core of Crowley’s system of magical attainment and personal development, and represents the revelation of the “True Will”, the essay is also valuable as a delineation of the central concepts behind that system.

Since it is a 15,000 word essay it would be too long and unwieldy to read as a blog entry, and so is a “straight to PDF” work. A printed version will be made available in the near future.

Why do we exist

March 5th, 2010

I came across an article on today which is called “Why do we exist – A Thelemic Philosophy” and appears to be a thinly veiled retelling of The Khabs is in the Khu. To give the author a little credit, he/she did correctly identify it as “a re-hashing of an article [he/she] found online.” The author says – correctly, I suppose – that “it is told strictly from my interpretation with no copyright violations”, but even so, an attribution would have been nice. Even the bibliography has been lifted wholesale from my essay without alteration, despite the fact that most of the works listed are not referenced in the “re-hashed” version.

Each for himself

February 26th, 2010

Since it’s topical, another youtube video by “Frater Oz” entitled “In defence of the O.T.O.” contains an instance of another beginner’s mistake many Thelemites make that deserves correction.

In the video, “Oz” says:

Thelemites are a diverse group. Some do the work, some do not. Some simply live their lives as they see fit. Some interpret The Book of the Law in widely different ways than others. But that’s their right, and that’s the right that is given to them by The Book of the Law itself and by the Master Therion, and I think it’s very important for us to realize this.

“Oz” is, of course, referring to “the Comment” to The Book of the Law, specifically to the line:

All questions of the Law are to be decided only by appeal to my writings, each for himself.

Firstly, a minor point which is of ultimately little importance and should not distract, but is nevertheless relevant when we’re talking about someone who’s posting videos of themselves trying to teach people about Thelema. “The Comment” is not part of The Book of the Law. The Book of the Law consists of three chapters and only of three chapters. “The Comment” was written more than 20 years after the purported “reception” of The Book of the Law and while it is usually published along with it, it is not a part of the Book. So the “right” in question is categorically not “given to them by The Book of the Law itself”.

But more important is the assertion that the ability to “interpret The Book of the Law in widely different ways” is a “Thelemic right” granted by “the Comment”. It isn’t. Obviously, in the wider scheme of things, nobody is going to go to jail for interpreting The Book of the Law in whatever cack-handed manner they please, so in that sense it is their “right” to do so, but that is not the sense in which this assertion is being made. Read the rest of this post »


February 26th, 2010

A recent thread over on dealing with “promulgation” was recently locked and then deleted, and resulting in the closure of the accounts on that site of Joseph Thiebes and “Frater Oz“. While the goings-on over at, and the moderating decisions of the owner of, are not the concern of this blog, the ideas of “promulgation” that were raised in that thread – and the reaction to them which resulted in its closure – are, and this entry will deal with them.

Joseph Thiebes has posted a six-part youtube series of videos of a “Promulgation Lecture” he gave at the 2009 National OTO Conference. We’ll begin by examining that lecture, because the approach to “promulgation” embodied in it is directly relevant to the reaction that the aforementioned thread received, and directly relevant to the observations on that approach that we shall later make. Read the rest of this post »

Grandeur in this view of life

February 24th, 2010

The vice of kings recently discussed the attitude to “compassion” in The Book of the Law. Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Evidence for Evolution – which should be required reading for everyone – contains a passage I can’t resist quoting which – inadvertently – sheds a significant amount of light on the apparently callous and objectionable view which The Book of the Law takes.

Nature is neither kind nor unkind. She is neither against suffering, nor for it. Nature is not interested in suffering one way or the other unless it affects the survival of DNA. It is easy to imagine a gene that, say, tranquilises gazelles when they are about to suffer a killing bite. Would such a gene be favoured by natural selection? Not unless the act of tranquilising a gazelle improved that gene’s chances of being propagated into future generations. It is hard to see why this should be so and we may therefore guess that gazelles suffer horrible pain and fear when they are pursued to the death – as most of them eventually are. The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. It must be so. It there is ever a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored…

Futility? What nonsense. Sentimental human nonsense. Natural selection is all futile. It is all about the survival of self-replicating instructions for self-replication. If a variant of DNA survives through an anaconda swallowing me whole, or a variant of RNA survives by making me sneeze, then that is all we need by way of explanation. Viruses and tigers are both built by coded instructions whose ultimate message is, like a computer virus, “Duplicate me”…Suffering is a by-product of evolution by natural selection, an inevitable consequence that may worry us in our more sympathetic moments but cannot be expected to worry a tiger – even if a tiger can be said to worry about anything at all – and certainly cannot be expected to worry its genes.

Theologians worry about the problems of suffering and evil, to the extent that they have even invented a name, “theodicy” (literally, “justice of God”), for the enterprise of trying to reconcile it with the presumed benevolence of God. Evolutionary biologists see no problem, because evil and suffering don’t count for anything, one way or the other, in the calculus of gene survival…And, just as we should expect if the survival of the fittest, rather than design, underlies the world of nature, the world of nature seems to take no steps at all to reduce the sum total of suffering…

Darwin, you’ll remember, couldn’t persuade himself that a beneficent creator would conceive [the female ichneumon wasp’s habit of stinging its victim to paralyse but not kill it, thereby keeping the meat fresh for its larva as it eats the live prey from within]. But with natural selection in the driving seat, all becomes clear, understandable, and sensible. Natural selection cares naught for any comfort. Why should it? For something to happen in nature, the only requirement is that the same happening in ancestral times assisted the survival of the genes promoting it. Gene survival is a sufficient explanation for the cruelty of wasps and the callous indifference of all nature: sufficient – and satisfying to the intellect if not to human compassion.

Yes, there is grandeur in this view of life, and even a kind of grandeur in nature’s serene indifference to the suffering that inexorably follows in the wake of its guiding principle, survival of the fittest…If animals aren’t suffering, somebody isn’t working hard enough at the business of gene survival.

Scientists are human, and they are as entitled as anyone to revile cruelty and abhor suffering. But good scientists like Darwin recognise that truths about the real world, however distasteful, have to be faced.

Liber AL Study Guide

February 21st, 2010

As the volume of the writings on this website and blog grows, many of them extensive and dealing with multiple topics, it occurs to me that it would be useful to have some kind of index to enable new readers to have a fighting chance of finding the information they are looking for. In addition – since this site does concern itself with Thelema, after all – it would also be useful to have any easy way to go from the individual verses in The Book of the Law to the writings where those verses are discussed, to aid in the study and interpretation of that book.

With that in mind, I have created the Liber AL Study Guide. For each of the three chapters of the Book, a page is provided which lists out all the verses, contains links to the various essays and blog entries where they are discussed, along with a brief description of the contexts of those discussions.

Because, because, because, because…!

February 21st, 2010

We have touched on the much-abused “a curse upon Because” and “reason is a lie” phrases from the second chapter of The Book of the Law in a number of places, including The fallacy of “experiential knowledge” and Sun enters Cadent of Aquarius, but we’ve never given them a thorough treatment in one place, so this entry will serve that purpose.

AL II, 27-33, reads:

27. There is great danger in me; for who doth not understand these runes shall make a great miss. He shall fall down into the pit called Because, and there he shall perish with the dogs of Reason.

28. Now a curse upon Because and his kin!

29. May Because be accursèd for ever!

30. If Will stops and cries Why, invoking Because, then Will stops & does nought.

31. If Power asks why, then is Power weakness.

32. Also reason is a lie; for there is a factor infinite & unknown; & all their words are skew-wise.

33. Enough of Because! Be he damned for a dog!

Crowley’s commentaries on these verses are quite extensive, and we’ll begin with a critical examination of those.

He begins his new comment to AL II, 27 with:

Humanity errs terribly when it gets “education”, in the sense of ability to read newspapers. Reason is rubbish; race-instinct is the true guide. Experience is the great Teacher; and each one of us possesses millions of years of experience, the very quintessence of it, stored automatically in our subconscious minds. The Intellectuals are worse than the bourgeoisie themselves; a la lanterne! Give us Men!

Here, right at the beginning, we see a statement whose sentiment will be echoed throughout these commentaries. “Race-instinct” here has no Nazi connotations, but merely refers to the fact that the physical constitution of human beings already contain within them much instinctual information which can be relied upon as a guide to action. We don’t have to think “I am hungry” in order to motivate ourselves to get up and find food to survive; our bodies tell us this naturally. Our minds, we now know, are not the “tabula rasa” of Locke fame, but are hard-wired to tend us towards certain types of interpretation, the natural ability to perceive faces within disconnected stimuli being an obvious example. Living creatures other than humans of all kinds manage to survive and thrive perfectly well without any form of reasoning ability (so far as we can tell) and they do so because evolution has, in a sense, provided them with survival vehicles which come pre-loaded with a vast amount of information (incidentally, Crowley locates this information in the “subconscious mind”, since the existence of genes was not known in his time, and this is the same sense in which Carl Jung used the term “collective unconscious”, as opposed to the ridiculous idea some occultists seem to have of some vast telepathic collective subconscious mind dynamically shared by all humans). In the cases of the so-called “higher animals” this “information” is usually not a long list of explicit stimulus-response pairs, since in order to cope with the vast amount of different circumstances in the real world such a list would be impossibly long. Rather, such animals have developed a dynamic decision-making capability which partially relies on instinct, but which largely relies on the ability to perceive and make decisions based on interpretation and what we might call “rules of thumb”. A small number of such rules of thumb can be used to cope with a far greater variety of circumstances, and so although the creature still makes decisions predominantly based in the information contained in its genes, that information is brought down to a manageable level because it is possessed of a dynamic decision-making capability which can respond based on its application of those rules of thumb, as opposed responding purely automatically and mechanically. “Race instinct” refers to the fact that such rules of thumb will be largely common within a species (since the genetic commonalities which define such rules of thumb also serve to define “species”) but, in some cases, largely different between species (or “races”). Thus, a lion’s rule of thumb will tell it to run towards the antelope, but the antelope’s rule of thumb will tell it to run away from the lion.

The capacity for rational thought, on the other hand, provides human beings with a second avenue for making such adaptive decisions. Through the process of reasoning we can develop new rules of thumb all by ourselves, and base actions on those. There quite obviously can be no genetic rule of thumb which tells us to refrain from, say, engaging in insider securities trading, but experience shows we are quite capable of developing such a rule of thumb ourselves through the reasoning process. Read the rest of this post »

The vice of kings

February 20th, 2010

The phrase “Compassion is the vice of kings” from AL II, 21 is another in a long line of passages from The Book of the Law which modern-day Thelemites regularly attempt to pervert to their own moral and ideological ends. In particular, comments such as “we are told to indulge our vices” from Gerald del Campo in his essay “Ethics in Love” twist – in this case by referencing an unrelated verse in the form of “these vices are my service” in AL II, 52 – the meaning of the phrase into its exact opposite.

(Incidentally, in that essay, the quote is presented as “an email exchange which occurred between an unknown interested party and Tau Apollonius from The Thelemic Gnostic Church of Alexandria.” “Tau Apollonius” is, of course, Gerald del Campo himself. What it is with these whacked-out occultists giving themselves fancy names and then using them to quote themselves while pretending they are quoting someone else? “Aum418” AKA “IAO131” AKA “Isaac Aurelian” AKA “Victus” is probably the most egregious of modern examples, doing exactly the same thing on the legion of free websites, blogs, book reviews [“If you want to actually learn about Initiation in the New Aeon, read the essay ‘New Aeon Initiation’ (i.e. by “IAO131″)”]  and discussion boards [“Why not read the ‘Psychological Commetnary on Liber AL vel Legis’ by IAO131 that talks about the psychology of Thelema?” and “IAO131 writes about psychology of thelema all the time.”] he has set up to promote his own “work” to himself. Perhaps they think they are dutifully emulating Crowley.)

As ever, the source is the best place to begin looking for the actual meanings of terms, so let’s look at the wider context in which this phrase occurs. From AL II, 18-21:

18. These are dead, these fellows; they feel not. We are not for the poor and sad: the lords of the earth are our kinsfolk.

19. Is a God to live in a dog? No! but the highest are of us. They shall rejoice, our chosen: who sorroweth is not of us.

20. Beauty and strength, leaping laughter and delicious languor, force and fire, are of us.

21. We have nothing with the outcast and the unfit: let them die in their misery. For they feel not. Compassion is the vice of kings: stamp down the wretched & the weak: this is the law of the strong: this is our law and the joy of the world. Think not, o king, upon that lie: That Thou Must Die: verily thou shalt not die, but live. Now let it be understood: If the body of the King dissolve, he shall remain in pure ecstasy for ever.

Regardless of what may come later in the book, seeing this phrase in the context of others such as “We are not for the poor and sad”, “who sorroweth is not of us”, “We have nothing with the outcase and the unfit: let them die in their misery”, and “stamp down the wretched & the weak” should make it abundantly clear that this particular phrase – “Compassion is the vice of kings” – in this particular context, is not a code-word for “yay for compassion!” It is – obviously – an admonition against it. If the Book later says “these vices are my service” – which it does – then it could be that it’s talking about different vices, or it could be that such vices can sometimes be pressed into service, or it could be that the Book is completely contradicting itself, any of which could suggest that a broader study of the whole Book is necessary to get a full “Thelemic” view of “compassion” or “vices” in general, but it is beyond reasonable doubt that this phrase in this context is an admonition against compassion, and not a kind of nudge-nudge-wink-wink pæan in support of it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is fact. Read the rest of this post »