Sunday, August 28, 2011

Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword and other essays

Book Review: Freedom is A Two-Edged Sword – and other essays by John Whiteside Parsons – The Oriflamme 1 – edited by Cameron and Hymenaeus Beta (Ordo Templi Orientis /Falcon Press 1989)

I found this book to be surprisingly awesome. Parsons showed great insight, elegance, and passion in his writing. His untimely death at age 38 struck down a great thinker, mage, and rocket scientist. His ideas in these essays are clear, concise, and often fascinating, showing great philosophical inquiry and insight into the human condition in terms of psychology, anthropology, mythology, politics, and sociology.

The first essay is called “Freedom is a Two-Edged sword” and this can be seen as a scathing yet profound foray into the nature and function of human society. This essay was first written in 1946 with the final version in 1950 so very early post WWII. Here he mentions the influence, problems, and manifestations of ideologies and policies of Communism, Fascism, undue persecution of dissent, anti-sexual society, and male-dominated society. His answer to such malfunctioning ideas is what he seems to declare as a ‘Philosophy of Liberalism.’ This is not at all liberalism as seen today in the weary politics of liberal vs. conservative, but a more general philosophy about the necessity of the freedom of the individual as the foundation of a sane and functional society.

Parsons gives a great many passionate and memorable (quotable) statements in these essays and I will share quite a few in this review. He refers to the principle of liberalism as a heresy to the previous ‘slavery’ to the Church and State that was required of the ordinary people. He refers to the U.S. Constitution for the key parts of this principle –“that all men were created equal, and endowed with inalienable rights.” He notes that those who seek authority, such as religious groups, often seek to suppress rights and censor things like art and freedom of speech.

“Freedom is a two-edged sword of which one edge is liberty and the other responsibility, on which both edges are exceedingly sharp;”

“Now since all tyrannies are based on dogmas, that is, on fundamental statements of absolute fact, and since all dogmas are based on lies, it behooves us first to seek for truth, and freedom will not be far away. And the truth is that we know nothing.”

He also points out the important distinction between belief and truth regarding the nature of reality. Based on observations of reality he deduced the following principles:

“1. Whatever the universe is, we are either all or part of it, by virtue of our consciousness. But we do not know which.

 2. No philosophy, theory, religion, or system of thought can be absolute and infallible. They are relative only. One man’s opinion is just as good as another’s.

 3. There is no absolute justification for emphasizing one individual theory or way of life over another.

4. Every man has the right to his own opinion and his own way of life. There is no system of human thought which can successfully refute this thesis.”

He notes that science is a tool but is ill-conceived as a means to portray absolute truths.

He examines the notions of freedom and slavery in terms of a basic code of human rights that goes farther than the American Bill of Rights. In his vision he includes “freedom from persecution on moral, political, economic, racial, social, or religious grounds.” One may perhaps object to the moral objection but it should be seen that ‘moral’ is more or less a dogmatic term and is very often attached to dogmatic ideologies. Parsons’ code echoes some of what is seen in Liber Oz, a Thelemic declaration of ‘magickal rights.’ Indeed Parsons’ essays do give the impression of being poignant commentaries on the philosophical and practical aspects of Aleister Crowley’s Law of Thelema – typically expressed as – Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will. –

Parsons makes it key that the rights of the individual are of utmost importance and that the foremost responsibility of the state is to protect those rights. Any situation that does not conform to that statement is likely one of oppression and irresponsibility. He notes the pseudo-liberalism and the persecution of so-called communist sympathizers at the time as examples.

“If we are to achieve a democracy, the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of states must be openly defined and ardently defended.”

“Tumultuous developments in science and society demand a new clarity of thought, a reexamination and a reenactment of principles. It is not sufficient that a principle is sacred because it is timeworn. It must be examined, tried, and tested in the fires of our new needs.”

He sums up the key point by saying that “the liberty of the individual is the foundation of civilization.” Liberty and responsibility in balance make stable a society. The main function of the state is to protect the rights of the individual. All other functions are subordinate. He shuns the extremism of the proletariat, the Church, the Reich, the positivist (who advocates submitting to authority), and the reactionary. There is much more here going into the rights and responsibilities of various factions of society such as labor, religion, the state, and various political groups. He notes that that the principles of Liberalism inspired the American Revolution but not the French Revolution or the rise of Fascism in Germany. He also makes an interesting comment about reifying the principles of Liberalism through time:

“Liberalism must be inspired with new life with each new generation. It must be reconstituted, restored and reaffirmed, lest in a moment of quiescence, the carrion eaters close in.”

In today’s world we see the promotion of Democracy as an ideal – recently in the revolutions in the Middle East. But really this is, or at least should be (according to Parsons and deeper common sense) the promotion of this form of Liberalism. When the rights of the individual are exalted and the state is sworn to protect them – we have state-guarded human rights and well-defined statutes against oppression and corruption. He also addresses indoctrination by Church and State as authoritarian and non-liberal.

Sex in the context of religion and society is examined. Parsons displays interest in the Gnostic forms of Christianity where he identifies the Holy Ghost with the feminine Sophia. Through the Hebrew formula of Tetragrammaton, or the name of God as Father, Mother, Son, Daughter, he notes the flexible gender and age position of God as it was perhaps originally intended to be in this system. He sees that as a good biological basis for religion rather than the patriarchal leanings of the Church as an institution.

“Sex worship and sex symbolism are the basis of all the world’s religions. Sex has been the source of the power of the organized Christian Church. Sex and sex neurosis are fundamental factors in the attitude of modern men. These three factors give a place of prime importance to the liberal examination of society.”

He makes note of the pretenses, shame, and hypocrisy that surround sex (and still do 60 years later) and makes the obvious observation that this is psychologically unhealthy. He traces the origin of the neurotic oppression of this biological urge to the deliberate control mechanisms of the Christian Church. (One may even see this in old songs of Celtic lore where women killed their illegitimate babies in order to avoid being shamed and to keep their maiden status – but really the examples are obvious and numerous and this oppression is the real shame). He notes other horrible effects of this – as denying contraception, sex education, education about sex hygiene and venereal diseases, and divorce. He notes that this increases suffering and aids in promoting secret abortions and the spread of these debilitating and fatal diseases. He calls this the “charity of the church.” Indeed around this time, though before I was born, I had a great aunt that was quite beautiful in the pictures. She died during the performance of a secret abortion. She had even planned to marry the father but at that time the shame of getting pregnant before the church sanctioned matrimony was very great. I wonder how many similar stories occurred through time. For this and many, many other reasons I think – freedom of sexual expression – is very important to the world of humans. The legacy of this attitude of control of sex is censorship, although this has been much relaxed in certain genres today. Parsons also notes some psychological aspects of the sex taboo such as the notion that parents can become jealous of the unrepressed sexual attitudes of their children.

“The concept that sex in art, religion, literature, and life is subject to criminal law is based on the superstitious religious-sexual taboo.” I read recently in a New York Times article that certain spokesmen for the Catholic Church were trying to blame the child-priest sex abuse scandals on the 60’s liberal attitude toward sex. That is probably the biggest crock of shit I have ever heard as it is well known among psychological professionals that pedophilia is based on control and has little to do with open experimentation. This behavior was simply abuse using one’s trusted position as leverage.

“Modern man must recognize the source and nature of his sexual taboos and destroy them at their source. Only thus can he achieve sanity in sex, and, through this, sanity in all living.”

“We must emphatically and positively deny that love is criminal and that the body is indecent. We must affirm the beauty, the dignity, the humor and the joyousness of sex.”

“The ancients, being simple and without original sin, saw God in the act of love. And therein they saw a great mystery, a sacrament revealing the bounty and the beauty of the force that made men and the stars. And thus they worshipped.”
     “Poor ignorant old pagans – how we have progressed. We see a dirty joke.
     “And from this horrible and sordid joke only woman herself can redeem us. She who has been its ignominious butt, the target of malice and arrogance, the target of masculine inferiority and guilt, she alone can redeem us from our crucifixion and castration.”
     “Only woman, of and by herself, can strike through the foolish frustration of the advertisers’ ideal, and rise, her strong, free splendid self, to take her place in the sun as an individual, a companion, a mate fit for and demanding no less than a true man.”
     “Let there be an end to inhibition and an end to pretense. Let us discover what we are, and be what we are, honestly and unashamedly.”

Parsons even suggests that sexual frustration may have a hand in things like ethnic hatreds and the proliferation of war.

“It is only in the unobstructed exercise of the sexual function, by a generation trained from youth in contraception and the techniques of love, that it will be possible to come to a mature social relation.”

He sees that purpose of religion as attaining an identity with a greater power in order to share the omnipotence and immortality. He seems to advocate the notion that the god- force is internal rather than external and separate and to this end he says that the highest form of wisdom is to know ourselves.

“Nothing is of its nature evil, and nothing is of its nature good. Evil is only excess, good is simply balance. All things are subject to abuse, all things are susceptible to beneficial use. And balance does not consist in denial, or excess of indulgence. Balance can only be obtained by exceeding. These are the powers in man’s nature so tremendous that they can only be balanced by an ultimate self-expression.”

“Science, which seeks to know, and art, which seeks to interpret, are two forms of love, which is the only available way of worship, and that these two greatest expressions of the human spirit should be subservient to religion, politics, nationalism, and war is the craziest blasphemy that has been perpetuated on the race.”

“The battle for freedom is not fought alone on the great fronts. It is fought in every home, in every community, in every state in the world. It is in the mind and heart of every man.”
     “Where there is an artist or scientists struggling to express his dream, to be true to himself, where there is an underprivileged man, an exploited worker, a bond slave of the military, a man bullied by unions or harried by dictators there is the battle for freedom. Where there is a child intimidated, a woman enslaved, where the ignorant and credulous are exploited by religion, there is the fight. And where a boy and a girl are hunted and hounded because they love, draw the sword there.” (From other statements about labor rights it is clear that Parsons is not against unions – only ‘bullying by unions). 

Parsons stands up openly for the complete rights of oppressed minorities and women. He mentions the right of women to fair wages. He also advocates openly here for the rights of homosexuals. All this should be seen as fairly radical for 1950.

A chapter is devoted to inspire a new form of uninhibited woman as our redeemer. He examines men’s relationship to woman as mother, as wife, and as lover. The Thelemic deity form of Babalon, based very loosely on the Whore of Babylon, Mother of Abominations, from biblical writings – yet altered significantly, indeed reversed to a supremely exalted position – There is a whole mysticism, mythology, and magickal formula based on Babalon as the necessary mother, wife, and lover of the mage who transcends into spiritual awakening. Parsons was said to have done a magickal rite called ‘the Babalon Working’ which sought to bring about a ‘magickal child’ likely through the techniques of sexual magick. He also wrote ‘The Book of Babalon’ of which only fragments remain – one produced here. Babalon is symbolic of the ideal of Understanding and so it is woman as Understanding that is to be the redeemer. As in most of these essays the passionate words often veer into the poetic:

“Woman, priestess of the irrational world! Irrational, but enormously important, and how deadly because it is unadmitted and denied.”

“Woman, put up unworthy weapons. Put up malice and poison, false frigidity and false stupidity. Draw the sword, the two-edged sword of freedom, and call for a man to meet you in fair combat, a man fit for your husband, fit father for your eagle brood.”
     “Call upon him, test him by the sword and he will be worthy of you. For you two are the archetypes of the new race.”

The next essay is called “On Magick” and suggests that science, religion, medicine, philosophy, and art all have their origin in magick and that magick is not only embedded in our collective psyche as the mythical realms but also in each one of us individually as our relationship to life and the world. In describing magick in modern scientific as well as thelemic philosophical terms he says that:

“The experimental animistic basis of magick is a general field theory which regards the individual as a network (field) of forces interacting in and directly related to a similar cosmic network (field) which includes the total universe. (From certain viewpoints these two fields are regarded as identical). It is therefore a postulate of magick that ever man and every woman is a star. {this statement comes from Crowley’s Liber Al – the Book of the Law}. In magical terminology certain aggregate categories or clusters of forces in a field are termed gods, angels, elementals, or demons. Such terminology may be reasonably applied to a partiality of consciousness (point of view or state of mind), a city, a culture, an era, a star cluster or nebula, providing that proper definition follows.”

Parsons elaborates on this in an essay about general field where he notes that the human intellect evolved enough so that it could regulate instinct, which itself regulates our  survival urges. He says that when a conflict occurs that cannot be regulated by instinct or intellect it is projected as a symbol and a sort of religion develops around this symbol of unresolved conflict – or what seems to me – mystery. He goes on to describe various mythic archetypal symbols such as dying god and other male and female archetypes and their psychological consequences. Perhaps he was influenced by Jung in this regard but in any case it is fascinating stuff.

He goes on to note the law of similars used alike in homeopathy as in sympathetic magic and the law of bipolarity which he compares to the Newtonian 2nd law of thermodynamics.

“Since each single individual is regarded as a potential total universe it is therefore essential that each achieve total consciousness in experience by the expression of his will in all the ways of love. This leads to the second postulate of magick which is “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”, “Love is the law, love under will.” It is therefore the function of magick to lead each individual to the realization and expression of his total self on all the planes of being and experience.”

“In its absolute basis magick is a passion and a discipline which relates to the mystery of love, and through which man is capable of attaining to any ultimate knowledge of love of himself, his fellow man, and the universe in all its aspects.”
     “In its relative and applied basis, which is the root of all secret traditions of mankind, magick relates to the sacrament of sex and the mystery of the creative will.”
     Magick has been defined as the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will. This is true if it is postulated that the ultimate object of this change is the attainment of harmony and balance in understanding and love.”

“It may be stated that magick is the method of training individuals towards total consciousness by the stimulation of various centers of the mind and by cultivation of field thinking. The object of this training is the manifestation of initiated leadership towards a more conscious, better integrated, and more interesting and significant social culture. In short the object of magick is the unfoldment of the individual in all the ways of love; and the enlightenment of society to accept all the commitments of this unfoldment as the necessary conditions of progress.”

He goes on to describe the notions of the aeons of the Mother (Isis), the Father (Osiris), and the Son (Horus) much as Crowley originally described them. He notes that our fear and hatred of the demon mother archetype promoted by the corrupt Osirian patriarchal religions has made in imbalance in our psyche.

His essay on the Laws of Ego is fascinating as well as he notes that the ego arises on the psychological need to be loved. He notes how the ego is formulated and developed by parents and society in its customs and conventions. The goal is to obtain love, approval, and security. Indeed the death of the ego and the rebirth of the more refined human is a key to several esoteric traditions including Thelema and Tantra. In the Thelemic scenario it is from the womb of Babalon that the refined mage emerges. He describes the nature of love in terms of the Thelemic formula -1+1 =0 or 2=0. In this sense Love is the union of separation. This union creates a third which is similar to the parents yet different. This is the creative formula in nature and is magickally termed IAO or Isis-Apophis(Horus)-Osiris.

His essay on the Origin of Religion is again fascinating. He notes ideas that religion may have developed as a child first relates to a parent as al all-powerful provider of necessities and comforts. But also he suggests it is our own potential to grow in understanding. Again he notes the formulas IAO and IHVH, and the surprising regularity of myth and styles of relating to mystery of various peoples as having similar unresolved psychological issues inherent in most humans.

He has two short essays on the Gnostic Creed and the Gnostic Doctrine which convey God as the union of the Son of God (Christ) and the Daughter of God as Sophia. Sophia is equated to the Holy Ghost. This should be considered a reformed version of Gnosticism since what I have examined of it keeps the Sophia with the notion of some ‘original sin’ in that she is integrated with the undesirable darkness that is to be removed to get to the purity of light.

In his essays about – The Witchcraft – he sees the hidden esoteric traditions of man as the keepers of a long persecuted nature cult that persists because it is in tune with the rhythms of nature and our natural functions, urges, and longings.

“We are on the side of freedom, of love, of joy and laughter and divine drunkeness. Therefore our name is Babalon.”

He also notes the rebellious, or Luciferian aspect. In several of his essays he hints at a delicate balance between the individual and society, or groups of humans. Being a part of organizations is good to a point until it becomes contaminated and one retreats back into individuality – and vice versa. It is Lucifer as symbol of rebellion that has the ability to withdraw from and weaken corrupt or otherwise tainted societies or organizations.

Parsons makes the important observation that the current ‘forms’ of western society are inadequate to deal with the forces of the human psyche and so we have psychological problems perpetrated and exacerbated by society itself. He expresses often the necessity of a less dogmatic approach, a more flexible paradigm – with framework dogma as non-absolute guiding principles. In fact, the idea of general and flexible principles subject to interpretation of each individual situation is not technically dogmatic at all.

He describes our desire to know ourselves, others, and God as some of our basic needs which our society is not well designed to fill.

Next is an essay on the magickal weapons: the Cup, the Sword, and the Crux Ansata (Ankh). Here he equates them to the IAO formula where the Cup is the woman Babalon, the Sword is the solar-phallic fire, and the ankh is the child of their union. The ankh represents going (as in the sandal which it resembles) and going may represent going through time as do children of parents. This also may be equated to the Gnostic Father, Son, and Holy Ghost formula. In the Thelemic Gnosticism it is Babalon that carries the Cup as Holy Graal which contains the blood of the saints. Parsons sees the Christian doctrine of immaculate conception as a blasphemy against nature and a denial and degradation of women and her awesome powers. So here the creative formula of natural conception is venerated as the creative formula of nature itself.

“ BABALON. It is she who reigns in the heart of every woman and who is the desire of every man. Therefore I say, Invoke Her!”

“Envision her, this mighty woman – this goddess- this “circle of stars of whom our Father is but the younger brother.”

“The transcendent and quixotic paradox that Hell is also paradise pertains only to the Heroic.”  He notes here that the hell of this form involves submission to convention and that it is the archetype as Hero that is often first rebellious in order to overcome the ordeals.

“The heroic ideal is the aspiration to transcend limitations – by love and understanding, by passion and violence, by will and discipline, by all and any means that will achieve the knowledge and liberation of the total self.”

There is a very short essay that outlines the magical symbolism of the Nordic/Germanic Nibelunglied in terms of Wagners Ring Cycle. Rhinemaidens are equated with passions. I think he is suggesting that love as unresolved ego conflicts are repressed so that the power can be gained (through an asceticism of sorts?) to attain the Rhinegold. But the gold is cursed so the quest is in vain. Perhaps if the love was not repressed there would have been way less tragedy and love would have been seen as the real Rhinegold. At leats that is what I think he is suggesting.

The last essay is called the Star of Babalon and her he notes that the adept must undertake the Hero’s Journey to the Underworld, to the unknown self , like Tammuz (Dumuzi), Moses, Arthur, and many others in order to arise transformed. The beautiful great and terrible mother as Babalon, as Kali, as Ereshkigal, as Lilith, as Venus, and many others must be met and experienced and one must offer all to her in an alchemy of love, the comfort of mother, the lust of Pan, and every conception of love. If one can give all of self to other then the ego will have been slain and the new Self can arise.

This is a stellar book with passionate, precise, and well contemplated philosophical ideas. It is book to be studied and pondered over for its accurate treatment of society, the human condition, and magickal symbolism. Read this instead of Nietzche. It is more profound and applicable. The only complaint I have is that the book binding was poorly done and this was corroborated by someone else who owns it.

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