Monday, July 31, 2017

Living Thelema: A Practical Guide to Attainment in Aleister Crowley's System of Magick

Book Review: Living Thelema: A Practical Guide to Attainment in Aleister Crowley’s System of Magick – by David Shoemaker (Anima Solis Books, 2013, kindle ed)

This was a good overview of Thelema as a magickal system and as it can relate to psychology, philosophy, and religion. Shoemaker is a Jungian therapist and is also into Cognitive Behavioral therapy and so a psychological perspective adorns the book, which works OK for me but maybe not for others. However, for me, the idea of “attainment” in the context of a graded hierarchichal system, is not very useful as it is for others. Shoemaker is deeply involved with the O.T.O. and the A.A. and that is generally his perspective. One of his main teachers was Phyllis Seckler, aka Soror Meral. The book is a thorough example of working the system of Thelema and is quite useful in that context. He is a knowledgeable guide. In some ways the book seems like a modernized version of Crowley’s Magick in Theory and Practice.

Part One focuses on foundational magickal tools beginning with Qabalah. He emphasizes the psychological aspects of Qabalah. Creation/manifestation of the universe as the ‘mind of God,’ the structure and function of the human psyche, and the ‘way of return’ to the source of the creation are major features of the Qabalah. The Tree of Life is essentially a map of this universe and these scenarios. The ten spheres or sephiroth on the tree represent the multiplicity of forms and types of the mind of God. Creation/manifestation moves down the tree into grosser forms (lightning bolt path) and return moves back up the tree (serpent path). The sephiroth are sometimes seen as archetypal realities. In terms of the human psyche the Qabalah delineates five parts of the ‘soul.’ The highest aspect is yechidah, the essence of Spirit, which he equates to Jung’s Self. Yechidah resides at Kether on the top of the tree. Below that are chiah and neshamah, life-force/will and intuition, which reside as the next highest spheres, Chokmah and Binah, respectively. These are the links between the divine yechidah/Self and the ego-self below. Next the ruach encompasses several “energies” of the conscious mind. He also equates this with life force and compares it to pneuma, prana, and chi and considers it analogous to the Jungian ego. Its aspects are memory, will, imagination, desire/emotion, and intellect which correspond to the middle five sephiroth. Subconscious instinctual drives are attributed to the nephesh which corresponds to sephiroth Yesod and Jung’s ‘personal unconscious.’ Imagination and the astral plane are other possible correspondences. The nephesh is harnessed by the conscious mind, the ruach. Lastly there is the guph, the physical body, corresponding to sephira Malkuth. The way of return is the personal spiritual quest, or in Jung’s terms the integration of the four functions of personality: thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. There are also the four worlds of the Qabalah, described later.

Another aspect of Qabalah is the practice of gematria, a system of equating consonant letters and words to numbers in order to find hidden meanings and relationships. This aspect can be quite divinatory and perhaps arbitrary. 

On the whole the Qabalah is a metaphor for the human psyche and how to evolve it. Here Shoemaker presents it as analogous and complementary to Jungian metaphor/system of personality integration. For me I think the Qabalah is fine but one should realize that it is a theistic system and not strictly psychological – it is based on theistic assumptions. 

The Holy Guardian Angel is the next subject, a central tenet of Thelemic mysticism. He states it as Crowley’s term for the ‘higher self’ or ‘higher genius.’ Crowley’s use of the term varied, he notes, sometimes indicating some sort of external entity, or at least seemingly so. The HGA certainly seems to have a strong subjective component. Plato, Pythagoras, and others spoke of the importance of the inner ‘daimon.’ The Persians and others also had guardian angel concepts. The Thelemic goal is referred to as the ‘Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel’ and is sometimes referred to as ‘the mystical attainment.’ He suggests the attainment as more gradual than sudden, a developing rapport with the Higher Self. He sees it as developing from an unconscious connection to a conscious connection. Eventually it is said to be a willed connection. There are magickal methods for invoking the angel when one is deemed ready or deems oneself ready. Phyllis Seckler (Soror Meral) noted that contact with the angel may begin through intuition and become a regular ‘inner voice.’ OTO’s Karl Germer noted that once recognized as such the voice and guidance of the angel should be followed without exception (I question this) and that its influence will continue to grow. He also said we are all alone in the task.

True Will is another key idea in Thelema, which itself is the Greek word for will. He defines True Will as “the will of the deepest inmost Self – the core of who you really are as a spiritual being.” It is not the will of the ego, the ruach, the conscious mind, but a deeper/higher level of will. He suggests thinking of yourself as the prophet of your own angel, the priest of your own religion. He also suggests one’s True Will relates to one’s individual uniqueness and your personal mythology.
Having a regular magical regimen (he uses magical rather than magickal), a practice, is often emphasized in Thelema and Western esoteric orders. He suggests a series of goals: 1) magical ‘hygiene’ which fortifies the aura and charges the ‘body of light,’ 2) increase the ability to call forth and direct magical force, 3) utilization of yoga, particularly asana and dharana, posture and concentration, 4) internalization of symbol systems like Qabalistic Tree of Life as a model of the psyche, and memorization of correspondences, 5) develop the discipline to keep a magical record, and 6) establish a link to the HGA through ‘enflaming thyself with prayer,’ however defined, as Crowley recommended.

He gives four phases of developing a magical practice. Phase 1 involves developing self-control and learning to focus through relaxed meditation and a basic breathing practice such as the four-fold breath. As a magical practice he recommends memorization and working with Liber Resh vel Helios, Crowley’s Egyptian-based adorations to the daily path of the sun. Phase two involves adding the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram in both banishing and invoking forms as well as the rite of the Star Ruby. Banishing helps with hygiene while invoking helps with wielding magical force. The rites also aid in internalizing symbol systems. Deepening posture and concentration practices is also part of phase 2. Phase 3 involves regular meditation on the sephiroth and the paths below Tiphareth. For this phase he also recommends the Middle Pillar exercise described by Regardie. For phase 4 he recommends the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram after previously aligning with the sub-Tiphareth regions of the tree. The Star Sapphire rite is an alternate form – he sees it as more exalted yet more dangerous since there is no banishing.

Additional recommended practices include a Eucharistic practice of some sort – Crowley’s works give examples. The OTO public ritual of the Gnostic Mass is a Eucharistic rite. Mindfulness practices are also recommended. Liber Jugorum, Liber Resh, and study of the symbolism of the five elements of the pentagram in one’s life are recommended in this regard. Breath awareness and pranayama practices also aid mindfulness. Rhythm and regularity are emphasized in developing a magical regimen. He also suggests perusing the published magical records of other practitioners of the Thelemic tradition.

He says that the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram (LRP) should be the foundation of magical practice and that Crowley recommended it twice daily until one dies. The LRP is a clearing and a cleansing, he says. He gives a version of the practice here. The rite includes a magical gesturing known as the Qabalistic, vibrating divine names, and the invocation of archangels. 

The Lesser and Greater Rituals of the Hexagram are also recommended. The LBRH is recommended before invoking a planetary, sephirotic, or zodiacal force. He gives a version here. The rite includes the IAO formula of Isis-Apophis-Osiris, various magical gestures and the magical word ARARITA.
Next is Liber Resh vel Helios, the adoration to the sun. This is done four times throughout the day and night representing stages of the sun’s path. He gives descriptions of the four god-forms: RA, AHATHOOR, TUM, and KEPHRA. Also included here is the adoration from Liber AL used by the A.A. In the last lines of the adoration one visualizes oneself as Ankh-af-na-khonsu as in the Stele of Revealing. 

Ritual construction is based first on understanding magical theory, causing change to occur in conformity with will. Control of thought is key, according to Crowley who noted “Fixed thought is a means to an end.” Ritual is a means to focus attention, and intention, through the use of symbols, gestures, and other devices. Other types of ritual include dramatic ritual which presents mythic narrative and our culturally-embedded unconscious rituals of everyday life. Structured ceremonial magic has been systemized quite a bit by groups like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, from which Crowley sprung. 

Magical goals are formulated in the Qabalistic world of Yetzirah (the world thought and word) and then linked to the world of Assiah (the world of deeds). Deed is linked to goal. Shoemaker recommends one do a meditation to consecrate the aim. Purified intention and fixed thought are one. This is very good advice as one’s motivations and intentions should always be examined and reflected upon. After this one may work with symbol system correspondences to tweak things like timing.
Along the lines of Magick in Theory and Practice he goes through banishing, purification, consecration, general invocation, oath/proclamation, specific invocation, bringing down the magical force, establishing the magical link, closing, and conferring license to depart. He gives three sample sephirotic rituals showing each of the afore-mentioned stages. 

Asana and pranayama of raja yoga are the next subject. Posture and breath control are utilized in magical practice and the means may be borrowed from the yoga tradition. The A.A. grade tests (given in MiT&P) are to be able to remain very still in posture for an hour and to develop certain body trembling as a result of breath control. The goal of asana is simply to lessen the distraction of the body. Crowley gave some basic postures he preferred. The specific pranayama effects are described by Crowley as well as in the Shiva Samhita: 1) fine perspiration on the body, 2) automatic rigidity, which gives way to spasmodic trembling, 3) ‘jumping about like a frog,’ and 4) so-called ‘levitation.’ 

In exploring meditation and visualization he gives the texts studied for each A.A. grade including Liber HHH, Liber Turris, and Liber Jugorum. Raja yoga based on Patanjali’s eight limbs is encouraged as well as Buddhist techniques. Increasing self-discipline is one goal. Holding mental images, mantra, and breath awareness are emphasized. Another goal is ego-disidentification. This is initiated through a will to lose oneself, so-to-speak. Self-guided imagery is also practiced.
Astral projection or more specifically the development and control of the Body of Light is a key magical practice in the Western esoteric tradition. The etheric body, closer to the physical body, is distinguished from the astral body. Developing lucidity and consciously traversing the so-called astral plane is a goal. He gives tips and techniques.

Devotional practices like invocation are a key part of the work, the Great Work. Crowley encouraged: “Invoke often. Enflame thyself in prayer.” The central invocation is that of the Holy Guardian Angel. Liber Astarte is recommended, as are Liber Had and Liber NU. The last two he refers to as:

“essentially tantric instructions in the cultivation of worship of the inner energetic polarities symbolized by these two ‘deities’” {Had and Nu}.

Liber Resh can also be undertaken as a daily devotional invocation of the aspects of the solar principle. Liber Astarte gives ways to approach deity: slave to lord (awe), vassal to liege (fealty), child to parent (dependence), priest to god (adoration), brother to brother (confidence), friend to friend (comradeship), and lover to lover (passion). These approaches can be applied to ritual design.
He suggests that the invocation to the HGA should be individualized and customized. He recommends study of Liber Samekh as some of Crowley’s most lucid instructions about the HGA. Crowley seemed to suggest that initial encounters with the HGA were of an external presence but later that presence is revealed as the inmost Self. Knowledge and Conversation with the HGA and taking that experience to effect change in the world is the mark of an adept. He notes that the ritual identification with the HGA is best performed in the Body of Light after practicing and perfecting it in the physical body. Along with Liber Samekh, one should also study Liber VIII and the Abramelin works. These are months-long practices and conclude with a period of solitary confinement. Karl Germer notoriously practiced while in a concentration camp in Germany. Shoemaker goads that persistence will bring success.

Sexual magick (Chapter 14 he seems to add the k to magic) is an established part of Thelema. One aspect is the reversal of previous negative attitudes about sexuality and sin among Christians and in other societies. He sees Thelema as well suited to tantric work, with Liber AL and the deities Nuit, Hadit, and Ra-Hoor- Khuit being a big part. He compares Hadit and Nuit as well as the Beast and Babalon to Shiva and Shakti. Sexual ecstasy is encouraged to be identified with divinity. Seeing sex as sacred lends it more to mindful control. He recommends rooting out any residual guilt and shame about sex that is culturally-derived. This begins the sequence of purification, consecration then initiation. Ecstasy and orgasm can be devoted or offered to Nuit. In the initiation phase the combined sexual fluids become the eucharist for consumption or consecrating talismans. Being well-grounded in Thelemic mysticism is helpful as is consulting and studying the extensive work of Crowley and others. Internalization of symbol systems is a great aid. He gives a meditative technique from Liber HHH which involves seeing the spinal column as lingham and the ‘cavity’ of the brain as yoni and awakening kundalini. Liber NU offers more instruction via the development of the devotional and emotional connections. Most of the other practical advice he gives pertains to magical practice in general. 

The grades of the A.A. rise up the Tree of Life. Procession is along the various paths connecting the sephiroth. Below Tiphareth the paths are geared toward K&C of the HGA. Tiphareth is the place of connection with the HGA. He delineates five ‘tracks’ below Tiphareth: 1) development of magical skills, 2) training the mind for focus and receptivity, 3) activation of chakras and raising kundalini, 4) devotional practices, and 5) “balancing the psycho-magical constitution. He goes through each grade: Probationer does initial experimentation, Neophyte works on the astral, Practicus works with divination, Philosophus works with evocation and talismans. Working with goetic spirits can aid the ability to work with the HGA, he suggests. Practices for training the mind are included in texts like Liber Turris, Liber Yod (compressing mind into a singular point of focus), and Liber Jugorum. The Practicus attempts to control speech, the Philosophus action, and the Dominus Liminis thought. Section SSS of Liber HHH is a Thelema-ized version of kundalini arousal technique. He also says it can lead to acute awareness of the divine nature of our own ecstasy and such ‘divinized ecstasy’ is very helpful in inducing HGA connection. Devotion, or bhakti yoga, is another way to approach the HGA. Thus Liber Astarte is assigned to the Philosophus. In Thelema one may attempt to become the prophet of one’s own Angel. In track five one becomes a vessel, a grail, for the light of the Angel to dwell. Force follows form is the idea. The paths/grades below Tiphareth involve the four elements and he also connects them to Jung’s four functions of the psyche: sensation, intuition, thinking, and feeling. He touches on the various modern claimants to A.A. lineages and the relationship of the A.A. and the O.T.O. He says he can only vouch for his own group but does not condemn other groups, suggesting that proper function of the initiatory system is what is most important.

He notes that in the Western esoteric traditions the Tarot is seen to be a ‘complete symbolic map’ of the myriad transformational processes that make up ‘initiation.’ In addition to divination the Tarot is part of the symbolism of the paths between the spheres on the tree of life which represent the spiritual paths. The spheres are considered static and the paths dynamic, or transformational. The paths are also seen as mediators between the sephira. Grades and tasks are aligned in accordance with the symbolism, grades as sephira and tasks as paths. This “pathworking” is utilized in various ways in various orders organized qabalistically. The quests are in the cards. He gives details and symbolism of the paths and trumps below Tiphareth here. The paths are each assigned one of the Hebrew letters with accompanying symbolism. He also gives an interesting Tarot divination method adapted from Jungian psychology.

He considers that magically the candidate for initiation is the talisman. The vowels of the Tetragrammaton formula, Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh are aligned with the four worlds of the Qabala and each is a stage of the ritual. He goes through symbolism and gives a sample ritual.

As Crowley and other Golden Dawn members were students and practitioners of yoga it is no surprise that the subtle body characteristics of yoga, particularly the chakras or energy centers, have entered the correspondences of the Western esoteric traditions. The chakras have been aligned with the sephiroth as both systems involve a serpent path upward from less to more refined states of consciousness. The chakras have also found their way into alignment with other psycho-spiritual systems including Leary and Wilson’s Eight Neural Circuit system and Nema Andahadna’s system of the instinctual Forgotten Ones. Shoemaker’s chakra correspondence system given here has some aspects similar to Nema’s system.

The role of the ego in the Great Work is explored. Ego is defined in the Jungian sense as the ‘everyday self.’ Before Tiphareth and K&C of the HGA the ego is the center but as one progresses toward the goal the ego gradually gives way to the integrated Self as Jung would call it – the Higher Self which identifies with the HGA. He sees the Jungian model of the psyche as analogous to the Qabalistic model of the psyche. He also identifies the deepest self as the star within, the khabs in Egyptian terminology. The ego, he says, is the lens through which we view the everyday world. Jungians suggest that we look at the world through psychologically ‘projecting’ onto others. 
 Perception itself is seen as projection, perhaps not too unlike perception is seen as illusory as one of the five aggregates (skandas) mistaken for a self in Buddhist philosophy. When we project we identify with ego rather than with the integrated Self. (Of course, Buddhism contends that even the notion of an integrated Self (atman) is illusory and really there is no self (anatma) – which perhaps puts it at odds with both Upanisadic Indian thought and HGA-based indwelling spirit beliefs. Buddha taught that we should examine the aggregates that resemble a self and develop insight into their illusory nature. There are other Buddhist ideas that do resemble indwelling spirit-esque features such as the Tathagatagarbha or Buddha Nature as the indwelling capacity to become awakened. The Mahasiddhas later adapted the idea to that of innate spontaneity/effortless naturalness aka Sahaja). Projection (and obsession) often involves a strong dichotomy between self and other. We project jealousy, self-loathing, pride, etc. – all things that compare self and other. Even romantic love can be seen as a projection of self onto other. The Great Work involves aligning ego to Self (or what I have been calling integrated Self). They are also aligned to True Will (an aspect of that Self?). Identifying with the Higher Self (neshama) also involves dis-identifying with the ego (ruach). He and Crowley note that this can backfire into ego-inflation if done incorrectly. Like a true Jungian he suggests that each stage on the initate’s path, each grade, has a shadow side. Attaining K&C of the HGA does not wipe out neuroses in itself though it may, he suggests. It is the ego that is stripped of its sovereignty and offered to the cup of Babalon in Thelemic mysticism. 

The magickal formulas L.V.X. and N.O.X. are next considered. He considers the ‘attainment’ of ‘union with all’ or ‘union with God’:

“…one of the symbolic frameworks that most vibrantly and viscerally conveys the essence of this attainment is the dissolution of oneself into the grail of Babalon – the great holy grail of the sphere of Binah. This dissolution constitutes the adept’s attainment to the 8=3 grade of A.A., known as Magister Templi.”

The L.V.X. formula was utilized by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the context of the ‘myth of the dying god.’ Crowley changed its mythic focus toward accessing the ‘light’ of the angel, the HGA. The formula in alchemical terms is ‘solve et coagula,’ dissolving the different components of the self then reconstituting. The N.O.X. formula has to do with the ‘Night of Pan’ whereby all light and consciousness becomes inseparable from True Will so that all light and consciousness is offered to the grail. The HGA is also identified/associated with the divine spark within, the star, or khabs. Some Golden Dawn groups have updated their L.V.X. rites toward Thelema and the New Aeon.
He next discusses magical power and the ethical working of the ‘Mars force’ which is here compared to kundalini. The goal is to remain centered and balanced both magically and ethically. The Hanged Man (path of Mem) symbolizes the subordinated ego, suspended and receptive to the angel’s light.

Next is alchemy which he defines here as “the Science and Art of transforming consciousness” and “the extraction of meaning from mystery.” He also explores ‘collective human consciousness’ in light of psychological projection. Jung utilized alchemy extensively as a metaphor for his psychoanalysis. Projections are often mythic and can be explored through mythology. One’s personal mythology is akin to one’s quests for psychological integration. He mentions what he calls our ‘mystery projection’, or how we project to in attempting to deal with the unknown:

“…myths are the field onto which we project our quests for understanding, our strivings for spiritual insight, and our deepest fears of the unknown.” 

He explores scientific models as the collective projections as experienced in scientific unknowns in the fields of biology/genetics, physics, space exploration and the possibility of ETs, and computer science. This section is quite speculative but interesting.

Alchemy provides yet another symbolic system to work with and intertwine with Qabalah, yoga, Jungian psychology, etc. He explores the alchemical formula of ‘solve et coagula,’ of breaking things down into parts and then re-synthesizing into a whole. Analysis separates. Synthesis combines. He compares the alchemical operations of the Black Work, White Work, and Red Work to both Qabalah and raja yoga. It should perhaps be noted that Crowley’s system here is a great synthesis of many strands with varying levels of fit. The idea of magical correspondences is by nature comparative. Ideas are compared and categorized. 

In exploring patterns and cycles in magical practice he notes the IAO formula (Isis-Apophis-Osiris) as cyclic. The Isis stage involves initial wonderment, the Apophis stage strong inertia and disillusionment, and the Osiris stage involves overcoming the inertia via ‘rising from the dead’ – some say as Horus the Avenger. He offers various suggestions for getting “unstuck.”

Dreamwork is explored mostly from the Jungian perspective. He reminds that dreams are personal and involve our own personal symbol sets. He describes Jungian analyst Robert Johnson’s four-step approach: 1) recall, write-down, and make symbolic associations, 2) connect dream images to your own inner dynamics, 3) weave the inner dynamics together to arrive at an interpretation – try to discover the knowledge imparted by the dream, 4) do a ritual to honor the dream so the knowledge imparted remains a part of you. He sees this four-step process as mirroring the four Qabalistic worlds. Jung also prescribed active imagination such as re-engaging imaginatively with dream characters. Keeping a dream journal and striving to remember dreams are encouraged. 

Interpersonal relationships are explored in light of clinical psychology and Shoemaker’s own work in couples therapy. He mentions that the ideas of Dr. David Schnarsch in his book Passionate Marriage seem to be quite in line with Thelema. Individual responsibility is emphasized rather than one trying to change one’s partner. Relationships are agreements and explorations between individuals. Relationship problems can highlight areas needing work so they can be utilized diagnostically. Issues around doing magick with a relationship partner or being at different levels in a group are addressed. His main advice seems to be that we should just be as mindful as we can towards what comes up and why. He gives some excerpts from Crowley’s essay Duty – different points of view can be beneficial if approached skillfully, one should endeavor to not interfere with the will of another, and enlighten one another accordingly. 

He goes through some Qabalistic coping skills and Jungian means of conflict resolution. As a psychotherapist he of course recommends psychotherapy in conjunction with magickal practice as had Soror Meral and Israel Regardie before him. Crowley liked it too and even wrote essays on ways to improve it during his time when the field was young. Jung considered that we had an intrinsic drive or will to be healthy and whole and this impressed Crowley. Shoemaker recommends Jungian, transpersonal, or humanistic therapists for ‘deeper’ work. He recommends cognitive behavioral therapy for symptom reduction. He mentions psychiatrist David Burns’ book The Feeling Good Handbook as a great resource. The O.T.O. has a psychology guild where he and others sometime give psychology workshops. 

The Jungian model of the psyche, particularly anima and animus, is explored. The idea is that whatever gender is one’s conscious outward expression there will be a less expressed unconscious manifestation of the opposite gender. Anima and animus are considered archetypes of the collective unconscious. They might function as psychopomps, guides to the underworld. He compares the HGA to anima/animus and notes that psychopomp Hermes was often depicted as androgynous.

He explores cognitive therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy as a means to break free from destructive habits. It seeks to undistort or cognitive distortions – how we develop unnecessary negative emotions toward difficult events. He goes through David Burns’ ten common cognitive distortions from The Feeling Good Handbook: 1) all-or-nothing thinking, 2) jumping to conclusions, 3) magnification, 4) overgeneralization, 5) mental filter (tunnel vision), 6) discounting the positive, 7) emotional reasoning, 8) ‘should’ statements, 9) labeling, and 10) personalization and blaming. Recognizing and avoiding capitulation to these pitfalls leads to a less biased mind. 

He ends the book with a poem by Soror Meral about the rapture of the angel. Ways to contact the various magickal orders are also given.

Shoemaker offers a sane and thorough introduction and exploration of the philosophical and practical aspects of Thelema. I might say, however, that the focus on “attainment” is less to my personal taste but I do see its practical value for some and the attainments themselves are entwined with the symbolic systems and part of the mythology and the mysticism. Is there really something to be attained or are the stages along the evolutionary path toward knowledge and away from delusion actually able to be discerned? Often it is hard to say.

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