Personal Thoughts on the Ethical Implications of Thelema #1/13
The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate “apparently ordinary” people to unusual effort. The tough problem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people.1 — K. Patricia Cross
It was hard to do this work. I haven’t been compelled to sit on the sidelines to castigate others for their views on Thelema since I was a teen, and I decided I wouldn’t do it now. Instead, I would simply show an opposing point of view collected from various writings which first appeared in The Templar Cross. [The official communiqué for members of The Order of Thelemic Knights.] This alternative point of view is, in my opinion, every bit as valid as the so-called accepted wisdom. I have always made my opinions known, regardless of how unpopular they might be within my own peer group, always keeping in mind that for Thelema to become a living tradition it must be lived like it matters to me. Eventually, one is going to have to put those beautiful leather-bound, first edition tomes down and get up from that comfy armchair and apply what they have learned in the real world. Test all things; hold fast to that which is good.
Many of today’s magicians appear to have forgotten that they can use magick to change the world in which they live. This takes a lot of physical work, and so they many have learned to hide behind a lot of theory, philosophical argument, and critique of those very few magicians that have the vision and gumption to see the world they can have as opposed to settling for the world they have today.
Crowley may have unintentionally done the art of magick a great disservice by painting it with such a wide brush. In many ways the word “magick” has lost all meaning, it has been reduced to make people happy about the tedious mundane activities they feel imprisoned by as they live out a miserably boring lives. It makes cowards feel at home in their self-made prisons, when magick should be the very thing that liberates people from their going-nowhere existences.
One could make an equally valid argument that magick, as Crowley defined it, is actually really a good thing because it makes people feel good about doing some very unwholesome things, but this isn’t how I see it, and it isn’t why I have dedicated my entire life to its study. I do agree with Crowley’s basic premise, however: “Magick is the Art and Science of causing change to occur in conformity with Will.2” What I disagree with is the idea that any “willed act” can be a magical act. If this were true, then any trivial predetermined action (such as blowing ones nose) is classifiable as “magical act.” One hardly needs to study magick, Qabalah, and much less Crowley to do those things.
My pseudo-intellectual critics say my writings are “simple,” or that I have “ghettoized Thelema” for having the audacity of writing in a plain English, but they think nothing of Crowley’s painting magick with such a wide brush that the sheer act of wiping ones bottom after a bowel movement can be an act just as magical as Knowledge and Conversation with one’s Holy Guardian Angel. While this might have helped him increase the market for the sales of his books, it also helped to devalue the Art of Magick by perpetuating the idea that it requires anything less than a lifetime of study.
My choice to write in plain English is a source of great pride for me for many reasons, one of which is the fact that English is for me a second language. When I decided to write about Thelema, I wanted to do so in a way that I could reach the largest number of people — not to sell books, but because of the potential Thelema possesses to change the course of humanity. If one loves something, they share it with others. Evidently, my books don’t serve to keep Thelema confined to a few delusional individuals that actually believe they are the only worthy recipients of this paradigm. In response, I just have to restate Crowley’s sentiments: “The Law is for ALL!3”
Even Crowley wasn’t able to make money selling his books to such a limited audience. He had to die before his material became valuable, not because his message is any more important today than it was during his own time, but because of the book collectors who believe that the magick is in the text itself. It is as if they believe that owning a first edition signed copy exempts them from doing the recommended work. What a sad commentary of Thelemic culture.
Furthermore, many of the folks that criticize my work appear to lack the courage to publish their own ideas, putting their own necks to the block for the unkind scrutiny that has become so popular with many Thelemites. I was surprised to find that much of the criticism has come from people who have not even read my books. They simply adopt the various assumptions made by someone else who thinks the message is more meaningful if one needs an encyclopedia and an eight-year college degree to understand it. And yet these superior minds often question my sincerity. I have been asked if “that little red book” will be at my side on my dying bed. This seems a rather strange question coming from a group of people that want Thelema to only be understood by a class of their own making. Wouldn’t you expect a person to actually have some understanding of Thelema in order for The Book of the Law to be so meaningful to them that they’d want it with them when they died? I am more interested in living as a Thelemite. The dying part will take care of itself. But for what it is worth, that book has been my constant companion for more than half of my life. I sincerely hope it will be well within reach when I come to the end.
It is necessary to make some things perfectly clear from the very beginning. I will begin by making my standard disclaimer: The thoughts penned for this paper (yes, a pen and a paper were used) are my opinions. I am a Thelemite, and therefore my opinions will be colored by my understanding of Thelema. Just like anyone else, this understanding comes from my personal interpretation of various Thelemic holy books, comparative religion, and mythology, and from trying to live my life accordingly. Are these ideas biased in any way? Yes, of course they are. And for this reason, what you read here should not be misconstrued as an attempt to force my opinion on the masses. This should only serve as an example.
I have been very critical about many popular ideas. It is inevitable that my writing will once again be subject to much speculation and assumption, and therefore some clarification becomes a necessity. Generally speaking, in the pop-Thelemic culture there are three simplified categories of Thelemites: conservative, liberal (sounds like Liber Al!), and fundamental.
I find myself to be conservative with regard to policy. To me, accountability equals credibility, and I like it when people walk the talk. I wasn’t always this way, but serving on various boards of Thelemic bodies has shaped my feelings about responsibility, devotion, and personal sacrifice.
When it comes to people’s lives outside of their organizational duties and responsibilities I tend to be very liberal. “Do what thou wilt,” and “Man has the right to live by his own law.”
How I feel about fundamentalism will become apparent as you read this series. But suffice it to say that I believe fundamentalism has no place in enlightened societies.
So there you have it: organizationally conservative, individually liberal, with a violent distaste for any form of fundamentalism. This doesn’t mean that I will not approach some subject with unwavering determination and conviction. It is hard to get result without that discipline. I believe that one should approach organizational duties professionally, and conduct business within the organization like a soldier. Oaths, regardless of where they are made, are important because how one maintains them speaks volumes of that person’s integrity. But more important than the oath one makes to an organization is the integrity with which the organization requires those oaths from its members. If the leaders of an organization do not appear to take their roles and responsibilities seriously, then how can they expect their members to stick to their oaths? Remember this, because it is important.
These are my observations, and they are offered here as an example of my struggle to live my life as a Thelemite in the world. This is what Indian philosophy refers to as Karma Yoga. Karma implies movement and action. I abhor people who call themselves Thelemites but shrug the awesome responsibility that is implied by that statement. In my opinion, there are entirely too many soldiers that play and won’t fight, and many of them have infiltrated organizations devoted to the Liberty of Man. To make matters worse, the people that run these organizations don’t seem to mind since a toy soldier and a real one each pays the same dues.
When it comes to my criticism of democracy, patriotism, and capitalism, you might feel compelled to think of me a communist, socialist, or anti-American. American politics is something I am most familiar with, because, well… I live here. I am aware of many, many other countries whose governments lack any form of ethical conduct at all, torturing and killing their own people because no one strong enough will stand against them. So, yes… I am aware of the atrocities committed in other countries, but I do not have first hand experience of being a citizen there, and for this, I am eternally grateful. I am an American by choice. I don’t have to stay here, and yet I do. I believe that should speak volumes about my feelings for this country.
I have been called a lot of unkind things for holding these views. My motives are always questioned, and I have heard my share of “love it or leave it.” As easy as that would be, I won’t. I can’t. If I complain about something, it is because I love it. Why try to change something you don’t care about? I am neither a coward nor a blind man. If you’d like to believe that Thelema has nothing to do with politics, you probably won’t care for many of the things in this series.
Having said all of this, it might surprise you to learn that I do not believe that all men are created equal. But I believe that all men, not just the privileged, should start with the same opportunities to exceed, for that is the only way that true valor, intelligence, virtue, and greatness can ever manifest on a national level. The people of this country have a lot to offer. They just need the opportunity to show what they are made of. As it is, only the privileged can afford health care and a good education. This from a government claiming to be the “richest country in the world.” It may be naïve to think that these issues can be addressed today when capitalism has become the modern god. But I feel compelled to try, because in my heart I believe ethical people must speak out against injustice everywhere. If ever there was a need for ethical conduct, it is today.
These are dangerous times for lovers of freedom and liberty, and anyone that speaks against oppression and tyranny does so at great personal risk. I imagine the Gnostics must have felt very much like lovers of freedom do today, and I reckon that if the oppression does not stop, then organizations dedicated to the preservation of democracy and freedom will be compelled to operate in secrecy, just as they have historically.
The basic premise of ethics is universal. It is the method — the art of distinguishing, the differences between noble and dishonorable, good and bad, commendable and appalling, just and unfair. We can see the application of ethics everywhere.
Ethics are important because they can provide a method to discovering a higher road, a path of honor and justice without having to resort to religious or superstitious justification. They are important because they help us learn to recognize why we do the things we do and how we justify them. After all, right action must by necessity begin with right thought. So let us shed the stinking thinking, the false pretenses, excuses, and justifications that serve us so well to pull us further and further away from our own Truth. Let us instead turn our attention to those things we already know to be in accordance with our own True Will and act accordingly to become agents of the Divine, and since we are destined to be remembered by our actions, then let us be remembered for being ethical soldiers in the battle against illusion. Since we are destined to make our mark, then let us collectively make that mark a testament of devotion to the Beloved whom we adore and serve. Let’s begin setting the bar for those that will come after us.
Aleister Crowley briefly touches on the subject of ethics in Duty, and in his letters to students. While I am afraid that this series of writings fall short for the reason that it is limited to one person’s experience, it is my sincerest hope that it will cause you, the reader, to examine your own thoughts in light of the material contained in all metaphysical, philosophical, and religious material, whether they be explicitly Thelemic or not. It is my wish that others will be inspired to write about how Thelemic Gnosticism has influenced their own ethics and then share this information with others. This might in turn lead to a greater understanding of Thelema as a personal human experience rather than something that happened exclusively to Crowley… which will hopefully help to put Thelema into the lives of those people that The Prophet wanted to reach, as opposed to keeping it confined to the bookshelves of those individuals that wish to control the tremendous industry that Crowley’s work has become.
If you are the sort of Thelemite who considers “going with the program” the proper course when the waters become choppy, or prefers to believe the lies we are told by our leaders, then you might want to reconsider going any further, as what you read may do little more than insult you. I hope that you will keep reading, and if perchance the words you read here inspire you to take a different philosophical look at what Thelema might be, or makes you question your own beliefs and motives, then making these thoughts available to you has been worth it.
Once upon a time, all of us thought of Truth as indisputable. Our society and parents, seeking security, used those truths to justify the oppression of rules and regulations. When those rules restricted our passion, or attempted to extinguish our curiosity, we made the same mistake that humans have made since time immemorial — we rebelled against the Truth which appeared to be the source of restriction. In our youth we lacked the experience and skill to realize that rules and Truth are not one in the same thing, and so we veiled the source of our oppression instead of approaching the problem with the rules. By way of peer pressure we learned about the dangers of uncensored truth, and so we created socially acceptable loopholes to insulate ourselves against our own helplessness or the shortcomings of our loved ones, such as Oscar Wilde’s concept of the “casual lie” (the so-called “white lie” of politeness and tact). The “noble lie” in Plato’s Republic — a way of keeping people in their place by making them believe that their true nature has been crafted by some god or gods.
Convenience and financial advantage make it easy for us to adopt the idea that ethics were situational or subject to economics, or that truth might depend on status, social position, income, or degree; or that some are beyond secular law while others less fortunate are subject to it. Once upon the time, the Law was for ALL. The following thoughts are little more than my attempt to return to that time, and come to terms with my own hypocrisy.
The greatest human shame is that we hold the keys to greatness, the means to manifest our destiny and change the world, but instead choose a path less honorable for the sake of the same distractions that keep us from manifesting our own true purpose.
- Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers (Jossey Bass Higher and Adult Education Series), 2nd Edition — February 1993, Jossey-Bass Inc Pub.
- Magick: Book 4, Liber Aba, 2nd Rev edition — January 1998, Weiser Books.
- The Book of the Law: Liber Al Vel Legis I:34
©2006-2013 Gerald del Campo. Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Gerald del Campo has authored three books on the subject of Thelema: A Heretic’s Guide to Thelema, New Aeon Magick: Thelema Without Tears, and New Aeon English Qabalah Revealed. He is a photographer, musician and CEO for the Order of Thelemic Knights, the first Thelemic charitable organization. You can visit his blog at http://solis93.livejournal.com and his websites at http://thelemicknights.org and http://egoandtheids.com. Gerald formerly served as Senior Managing Editor of Rending the Veil.