My recent discussion with Peregrin triggered a flood of thoughts that I've tried to sort into their discrete categories and do my best to present within a different sort of space (and with a slightly different format of speaking) than I have been.
It has been noted by many that any practitioner of magick is posed with certain threats that may or may not affect their progress. One of these, as I've mentioned in the past, is paranoia. Another is delusion, typified by delusions of grandeur. The most extreme of such examples would be those teenagers who become convinced that Neo-Paganism is somehow a fad and fandom, and mistake anime titles for “magickal reality” if such a discrete thing even exists. The most benign I can think of are those Neo-Pagans I've met who would – halfway through the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram – turn and begin to address and speak to the Angels and hope for channeled advice. And yes, I really have seen that.
In my more humorous moments of “dark inklings,” I call the dangers of the individual's psyche The Seven Voices of Choronzon. (Paranoia, Cognitive Bias/Delusion, and Cognitive Dissonance are but three.) I've seen a lot of silliness, and been a part of just as much. It wasn't so long ago I had a Starbucks cup with sigils scrawled all over it for a chalice and a plastic Spork with sigils all over that for some hysterical approximation of a wand. I had an actual knife for that weapon, though. In fact it became the basis for a more personalize “magickal weapon” later.
There are reasons I discuss delusions less than paranoia. The primary reason is that I have to be very careful – in my mind – with what I dismiss and what I take for granted at this point. This is a personal issue of mine, and mine alone to deal with. But the principle things I stress to myself are function and aesthetic. Some delusions aren't really delusions at all, in the long run of things. For example: every could be said to be God already. So believing you are a God isn't a very ignorant or childish thing to believe.
Austin Spare put it this way:
“I know too many gods… yet the greatest stranger to me is myself. And those who speak so glibly and knowingly of God (alleged Absolute), who know his ways, wills, desires, etc., are committed to their inferiority. The word 'God' once uttered seemingly proliferates into all ungodliness. Why they imagine that God needs the endowment of human attributes is a mystery as profound as their ignorance—unless this 'half-idiot God' desires to impersonate us and thereby, quid pro quo, permit us to impersonate him? And so we make an adaptable God, one to barter with… defraud. This stuff, this moon-wrack, well suits the human equation. If we are in God's image, we know the maker's hand—the old looking-glass self-nomination: so we ever create. Still, we must become designers and cast this strange coinage; whether spurious or of merit it has a value for sure. Whatever our designs, they are derivative and unbeknowningly follow some dicta of the gods: exchangeable by artistic merit?”
He also wrote: “Myself, I have not yet seen a man who is not God already.”
We are what we believe, in so many words. Spare's criticisms rely on assaulting the veritable exchange of sacred and profane that those who call themselves holy or just tend to center on. Most of these are moral concerns; and many of those moral concerns are particularly silly. Unless your sexual tastes revolve around children or raping someone, what they are is of no concern to society at large. Yet those same 'social' issues harped on by others tend to influence the writing of those magicians that came before us. Eliphas Levi is quick to condemn Martin Luther for very little real reason in his History of Magic, and yet he still devotes a few pages to Luther. What does Martin Luther have to do with Ceremonial Magick? Absolutely nothing, unless you count moral concerns.
Recently St. Justin rambled:
“See here is my main thing with Crowleyanity. He was a really horrible person, but then came the Book of the Law. And that was always the big rub from me, cause as you all know he just tortured and abused women. But the big thing was besides him what always made me a Thelemite was it wasn't about him, it was all about Babalon.
He didn't like that at all. So he kept torturing others cause I mean, receiving a message and from a woman he thought was dirt (his wife). He could not accept that, but still the message was still there. Still didn't make the message garbage, look at Jack Parsons. I dunno just pisses me off when people talk about Crowley and how he was a charlatan and he was many horrible things but I believe he was the first one to tap into the current before us. You get into the occultists now and it is easy to slam him, but alot of those people never really studied what he brought forth. It's so easy to talk about his fucking guys and other shit, and not the book of the law...”
Like Justin, I occasionally get asked: “How can you justify liking the works of a man like Aleister Crowley?”
As above, this is a moral concern. Where a few people have gotten me stuck is when they've asked how I could condemn Dion Fortune, while giving Crowley a pass. Technically speaking: it is a bias. I'm as aware as anyone who treats Liber AL as holy that Aleister Crowley was a special breed of fucked up. And I have certainly condemned Dion Fortune in the past. So where I draw the line, if I am to be an apologist, is what the individual specifically wrote, and who still treats it as the gospel today. In this case neither Dion nor Crowley get much leeway. On the other hand: Dion Fortune didn't hand us The Vision and the Voice, or Liber AL; both of which I consider occult treasures.
Aleister Crowley's private letters are filled with anti-Semitism (see Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley by Lawrence Sutin), he can easily be called sexist, he was sadistic and abusive, and when he died more people were probably relieved or happy than perplexed or saddened. These are all, however, judgments that I'd have to impose on the man himself and not his body of work which contains rational responses to ethical concerns; asserts that women are the equals of men, that we might find the divine in ourselves if we look hard enough, and a series of strategies for dealing with the rubrics of True Will, confrontation, and reconciling them in an age when we all might to aspire to such a state.
Then we have Dion Fortune, who while writing about those dreaded Black Lodges states:
“Several others sailed unpleasantly near the wind, and with the result that “crushes” and the subsequent nervous breakdowns were very prevalent. It ought hardly to be necessary to say that such methods form no part of the Right-hand Path.It is amazing to what an extend women of the highest ideals and of good family* and wide culture can be induced to accept such theories and practices. The danger of membership of such a group to young girls or unsophisticated women* can readily be imagined...It may not generally be realised, but there is just as much danger of corruption in a Black Lodge for boys and youths as there is for women.” (Psychic Self Defense, p. 118)
So far we know that: members of Black Lodges deceive young women for sex, and furthermore that the Black Brother may be gay. But wait, there's more!
“It has been said that the occult fraternities are controlled by the Jews in the interests of Zionism. This is quite untrue. There are very few Jews in the occult movement.” (ibid., p. 210)
This may be read as: don't worry, it's just us white folk.
“We must first take account of the use of drugs, of which the Black Fraternity in all ages have possessed a remarkable knowledge...” (ibid., p. 133)
And my favorite:
“One day, passing upstairs bearing a bunch of flowers, I was prompted to throw before him one of the traditional marigolds of Indian devotion. Immediately I was conscious that a link had been formed between myself and the little statue, and that it was sinister! A night or two afterwards I was returning home rather late, and as I passed the Budda I had a feeling that there was something behind me, and looking over my shoulder, saw a ball of pale golden light about the size of a football... I learnt subsequently that some of these statues are consecrated with the blood of a human sacrifice.I do not mean to imply by this that all Buddhist statues have been so treated; such consecrations are, I should imagine, comparatively rare; rather I think no one who has a knowledge of the facts will deny they occur, even as one might occasionally come across a Crucifix which had been used upside down at a Black Mass.” (ibid., p. 77. Italics and an exclamation point are mine and added for humor's sake and necessity.)
Not sinister and evil Buddhas! Oh, those tantric Black Brothers, consecrating debauched Buddha statues!
I mean, come on: the book pours out it's soul with tales of Inner Planes Adepts, White Brotherhood Hunting Lodges devoted to destroying the Black Brotherhood, ghosts, psychic vampires, and near constant social judgments. In fact whenever you've seen an asterisk it's represented a social judgment. About the only thing I haven't ever caught Dion doing is being openly racist, but then I tend to ignore everything she's written besides Psychic Self Defense. Some of her comments in Sane Occultism and even Mystical Qabalah are no less amusing.
So while Aleister Crowley might not have been a nice guy, his writing doesn't insult my intelligence. On the other hand, Dion Fortune's writings tend to do exactly that. But it seems odd that I'm justifying myself at all. All said and done: you like what you like. And the founders of your system of magick may have been just as deluded as the people you criticize today.
As such I turn to one last quote by Austin Spare:
“Know my purpose: To be a stranger unto myself, the enemy of truth...Cursed are they who supplicate. Gods are with ye yet. Therefore let ye who pray acquire this manner:-
O Self my God, foreign is thy name except in blasphemy, for I am thy iconoclast. I cast thy bread upon the waters, for I myself am meat enough. Hidden in the labyrinth of the Alphabet is my sacred name, the Sigil of all things unknown. On Earth my kingdom is Eternity of Desire. My wish incarnates in the belief and becomes flesh, for, I am the Living Truth. Heaven is ecstacy; my consciousness changing and acquiring association. May I have courage to take from my own superabundance. Let me forget righteousness. Free me of morals. Lead me into temptation of myself, for I am a tottering kingdom of good and evil.”
*A social judgment has occurred! Oooooh! Spooky!
(Credit goes to Eldritch for the title of this entry.)