When I first encountered Crowley and Thelema, I had very little appreciation for the Comment to Liber AL vel Legis. My background was in pragmatic dharma, where exalted experiences and even spiritual awakenings are more commonplace and are discussed more openly than in other forms of spirituality. As far as I was concerned, Aleister Crowley was a person who happened to have a particularly exalted experience which produced a book, but having known many people by that point who had had many exalted experiences, there seemed nothing inherently special to me about that.
The main lesson to take away from the fruit of Crowley’s inspiration was that we could have spiritual experiences of our own if we applied ourselves in the same way. For me, it was that experimental attitude which formed the proper core of Thelema, and there was plenty in Crowley’s writings on scientific illuminism to back that up. To say that every other book on Earth could be discussed, studied, and criticized except just this one struck me as a dogmatic, even infantile attitude which I had no interest in.
A year or two after my introduction to Crowley and Thelema, I read Frater Hymenaeus Beta’s Introduction to the Weiser Second Edition of Magick. There in a footnote and without further elaboration he says:
The parallels between the Comment and the concluding remarks of a contemporary work, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), are striking.Magick, p. lxxxiii, fn.
The Tractatus is a difficult, easily misunderstood work. It is ostensibly an a priori argument about the limits of language and thought. Wittgenstein was faced with the same difficulty Immanuel Kant had been faced with a century and a half earlier when he attempted to set limits to pure reason. While Kant availed himself of an immanent critique of reason—in other words reflecting reason upon itself and its own nature to establish its capabilities and operative domain—Wittgenstein approached the problem quite differently.
Rather than attempting to say what the limit of language or thought is—which apparently involves language transcending its own limit—he instead attempted to show it. The Tractatus is only ostensibly an argument about language. It is actually a kind of performance—what you might call an incantation—in which propositions successively destroy or devour themselves. When the whole of the book is comprehended, language itself is transcended, and the mind opens on to what Wittgenstein calls das Mystische, the Mystical. Thus Wittgenstein concludes the Tractatus:
My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.
What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.54 – 7
It is this declaration that Hymenaeus Beta compares favorably with The Comment.
The next turn in my story took place for me on January 2, 2015. It was at that time that I experienced something which I can only describe as satori, an instantaneous awakening. I will not even attempt to describe what was involved in this experience other than that, among other things, it seemed to entail something about thinking and about language similar to what Wittgenstein was attempting to demonstrate in the Tractatus. This did not immediately stop me from attempting to describe what it was I had awakened to, but I found all I could manage were self-destroying, oracular pronouncements.
I would say more, but the god has wrapped himself around my tongue.
I am fond of and often practice Lectio Divina with our Holy Texts. One of the stages of Lectio Divina, the oratio, is likened to savoring the flavors of a particular food. For example when you bite into a piece of fruit or take a sip of wine, different aspects of the flavor or “notes” are gradually experienced. An awakening is also like this. It’s not a one-time event. One appreciates different notes of its bouquet as one moves it around in the mouth. In particular I began to get a sense of a different function of language, one which apparently mimics its ordinary function but which indicates a ground beyond it and which has been forgotten.
We have evidence of this other use of language going back some 2,800 years, though its antecedents are much earlier. This form of speech comes out of a new understanding of the world which arrives in the wake of the collapse of the great Bronze Age empires. Contrary to the older, Bronze Age view of the world in which we inhabit a cyclical, stationary cosmos, according to this new “Axial Age” view, we inhabit an everyday world of delusion in which we are fundamentally mistaken about self, world, and others. The problem then becomes transcending this every day world of illusion and arriving at reality. This movement of transcendence is the acquisition of wisdom.
The Jewish people had a particular version of this structure of transcendence which was embodied in their mythology. They started in the everyday false world symbolized by Egypt, the last of the great Bronze Age kingdoms to fall, and they moved forward in time and across space to the Promised Land.
According to this post-Bronze Age, Axial perspective, divine reality is no longer something which can be taken for granted. It cannot be read immediately off the stones and the trees, and it cannot reliably be said to be embodied in the King. Overcoming this problem of our disconnect from reality requires time and space. It requires trial and error. It requires history and the creation of new narrative structures.
This is not a one-time event. Even after making their way to the Promised Land, the Jews do not remain in the presence of divine reality but periodically fall away from it. Being in alignment with reality is understood as the accord between heaven and earth. When this alignment is broken, time becomes cyclical again and the Jews are forced to repeat their previous experiences of enslavement but now with new conquerors.
When the state of Israel falls out of alignment with heaven and slips back into circular time, there is a renewed need for wisdom. Into this space between the everyday, illusory world and reality steps the נָבִיא (nāvî) or “forth-speaker”. The purpose of the nāvî was to let the people know they have gotten off course and to show them the way back to divine reality.
When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, this word nāvî was translated as προφήτης (prophétés). This word prophétés comes from pro (in advance) and the verb phesein (to tell). Thus the prophet eventually became understood as the person who tells in advance—in other words, the person who predicts the future.
The only problem is, this is not at all what a nāvî was.
Yes, the speech of the nāvî was meant to draw the people toward a particular future state of affairs and warn them of what would happen if they did not make their way back to divine reality, but that was not the most essential characteristic of their speech. The primary function of the nāvî’s speech was not to speak on behalf of what was to be. It was to speak on behalf of what is. It was to speak on behalf of reality.
This is not the sort of speech one gets to quibble with.
We believe we have the right to question everything. It’s so deeply ingrained into our democratic, egalitarian way of life. We’re told repeatedly that there is no such thing as a stupid question. We’re told that being open to questioning—especially answering questions without defensiveness—is a sign of a mature mind. The expectation that we’ll be given reasons for things and not just told to do them is a sign of our participation in a language game in which everyone is essentially on an equal footing, and there are no individuals who are inherently superior or inferior to others.
Everything, without exception, is open for discussion, questioning, pondering, imagining. To suggest otherwise is to set arbitrary bounds to the creativity and expression of the individual human spirit.
There’s only one problem with this: there is no democracy when someone brings speech to this world from another world. That is not the sort of speech you get to add things to, take things away from, play with in the way we enjoy endlessly playing with words.
You do so at your own risk and peril.
Crowley wrestled most of his life with his role as nāvî or “forth-speaker”. He also fussed endlessly with the meaning behind the Book of the Law, attempting more than once to write an adequate commentary on it. While he would eventually dismiss these attempts, in one of his commentaries to the first chapter, he shows an awareness of the nature of the book which foreshadows his future opinion.
Aiwass is called the minister of Hoor-paar-Kraat, the God of Silence; for his word is the Speech of the Silence.Old Comment on AL I.7
The Book of the Law is not speech in any ordinary sense. It is the speech of silence—in other words, speech that expresses divine reality. It is “prophetic” in almost exactly the sense that the speech of the Nevi’im or prophets of the Old Testament was.
I say “almost” because the view of the world embodied in the Old Testament is not the view of the world we hold now. Given what we know of the universe, it is no longer possible to view it as a cosmos. We no longer have the same understanding of time. Given our political realities, it is no longer possible to view ourselves as on or off a path that leads to embodying God in a state. Our view of reality is different, and therefore the demands of wisdom are different. But Crowley did seem eventually to come to the view that the Book of the Law was prophetic in the sense of expressing silence.
But how can words, speech—noise—express silence? And what is the use of such words?
Speech can express silence only so long as that speech is non-representational. Such speech tells us how things really are, but this is not the same way in which a newspaper article tells us how things are on the other side of the world. It reports how things are in the way a wolf reports how things are when it howls. The thing indicated and the way of indicating it are one and the same. The speech is inherently expressive. It is evocative and incantatory.
It is magical.
Of course you are free to quibble with it. You are free to analyze it. You are even free to disagree with it. But again, you do so at your own risk and peril.
These are most dire.
Such speech can only have one function. That’s to lead us home. It’s to lead us back to where all speech comes from. It’s also where the Moon comes from. And the Sun. And all the stars in the sky. And all the things that have ever existed and ever will exist.
For from the Silence of the Wand
Unto the Speaking of the Sword,
And back again to the Beyond,
This is the toil & the Reward.
This is the Path of HVA—Ho!
This is the Path of IAO.
This excerpt from Liber Pyramidos describes the path taken by the Holy Guardian Angel. It describes a macrocosmic process. We are told again and again that the accomplishment of the Great Work entails mirroring the structure of the macrocosm in the microcosm. One way we can do this is by how we treat the Book of the Law. Instead of reading it to analyze or question it, we can use the method of Lectio Divina.
We begin by pausing for a moment before turning to it. We can sit in silence.
When we read, we read through the heart. We read from the place of silence within us—the place of eternity within you which you can feel at any time when you feel into the dark center of your own physical body.
When speech comes, let it be a song of love to your Holy Guardian Angel, the teacher sent to you by the silence. Speech which loves does not study, dissect, analyze, discuss, or question the beloved.
And then end where one began: with silence.
Other articles by Entelecheia:
- Large, Strong & Diverse: Why Culture Is Key
- Individual Why Discovery: A Method For Discovering Finite True Will
- Why Beauty Is Essential To Magick And Life
- Occultism And Mental Illness: Returning Magic To Its Healing Roots
- Strength, Virtue, And The Man Of Earth
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