October 26th, 2005

AC Pensive

Thelema: Accidents & Essentials

[crossposted reply from a thread on Brother ashkosis's journal. :) ]

93, Bro!

With every respect, I've never run across anyone -- least of all Uncle Al himself -- who proposed to take each and every utterance (much less action!) of Aleister Crowley's long life as the Infallible Word of God in his or her own circumstances. Ditto (contrary to popular opinion) for anyone who actually proposed to treat Liber AL that way, without taking something like what you're calling "context" into account.* The real question here, IMO, is which elements of his writings are accidental, and which essential. (Thelema isn't particularly unusual in this, btw; humans face such choices all the time. Japanese culture traditionally frowns on women laughing without hiding their faces behind their hands; it also traditionally frowns on drinking sulfuric acid. The individual Japanese makes choices, each to her own.)

To my mind the signal danger of Thelema's second century is not a slavish obedience to each and every word from AC's pen; rather, the possibility of throwing out essentials because we mistake them for accidentals, of drowning the capacity for Thelemic attainment itself in a vast lukewarm bath of cultural pressure. That said, so long as the original writings remain available, I suspect people here and there will keep on attaining, and providing an example for others.**

Thanks for the excellent post! :)

93 93/93 -- AJ

* I won't debate the contents of that book here, but I will note in passing two factors sometimes slighted in such discussions: (a) the extent to which the Book describes the actual universe in all its godawful glory (i.e. the Book's role as description rather than prescription), and (b) the need to mediate intelligently with one's actual environment (making, say, a choice passage or five in chapter three more relevant in some circumstances than others). I won't debate Crowley's personal quirks here, either, but will assert in passing that some understanding of historical context -- and a sense of humor -- often (though not, alas, always) mitigate any superficially racist and sexist tendencies.
** Not to mention enshrining their own prejudices in print, to warp the minds of generations yet unborn. Heh. ;)