by selki girl
I’ve owed Thelemic Union this piece for over a year.
Technically speaking, I wouldn’t even qualify myself as a Thelemite proper. By definition, I’m a relative outsider to your world. As far as credentials go, I get along with a handful of Thelemites on twitter who appear to respect my opinions and that’s about it. A couple of them think my music is cool. I have yet to fuck with any aging, out-of-touch organizations traipsing into the past on a moth-eaten magick carpet of O’s and T’s. I don’t Resh four times daily, I’ve never initiated through ANY sort of lodge system, I don’t (often) ritualistically mouthwash my mucosa with newly felched cum, and you’re unlikely to find me celebrating the “mysteries” of heteronormative sex symbology by scarfing down period blood cookies.
What appeals to me about Thelemic philosophy is that it doesn’t matter if the thing is “real” or not — it still works. That’s a fascinating contradiction, one which has earned more of my trust by favoring my skepticism. On the level of personality, its weaponized absurdity is part of the appeal. As far as the earnest application of spiritual principles goes, there’s something about Thelema that strikes me as honest to the core despite (or more accurately, RESULTING from) its batshit aesthetic.
Kenneth Grant once referred to his writing style as “the time-tested method of symbolic metathesis” and (I think?) that’s my other favorite thing about Thelema, at least on paper. I’m a ravenous whore for feeling the click of footnotes against their proper pins in the necessary locks. Off the page, there is something inexplicably Thelemic about the aspiration toward scholarship, self-discipline, and persistent experience that challenges any potential attainment FAR beyond the capacity of most spiritual systems (although to a lesser degree of longevity and cultural completeness than those of which it attempts to subsume, at least in the current age).
Even so, there remains an inevitable urge to seize the vitality of Noumenal Ideaspace™ touched by the Thelemic approach and leash it back across the Void as a CONSUMABLE, in an act of craven, identity-seeking religious desperation. Thelema-as-institution can often appear no different. But again, this becomes part of its immense value. The architects of Thelema have left us clear and thorough documentation on the spectrum of possibility with regard to obsession and failure — beyond which opens the desolate expanse of truth unrestricted by the absurdity of form.
If only that were a more popular “take” among mainstream spiritual seekers. Perhaps better that it’s NOT. After all, I’m only writing this article after experiencing firsthand its troubling absence from branded online spiritual space. The trending rise of “witchcraft” and its obnoxious surface level take on reality bores me as deeply as any garden variety biblical literalism. I only got dragged into the algorithmic mess because I made the mistake of marketing an album to these clowns. If it were up to me I’d rather be left alone with my sensory headphones and a stack of books, but catch me in the right mood and I’ll argue at KNIFEPOINT that DC and Marvel’s corporate IP pantheons FAR exceed the pitiful death-rattle of whatever vaguely neopagan fantasy figures are trending in the marketplace this week.
Edgy, I know — and thoroughly unoriginal. In true autistic fashion, this article will probably end up too long. But I guess this is what y’all at Thelemic Union get for sliding into my DMs back in October of 2020. Better I be late than never, I hope.
So let’s talk about this article. Originally, my offer was to detail the (overall garbage) experience of traversing the pseudospiritual context collapse of witchtok. I thought it might be interesting to relate my struggle to uncover ANY trace of Thelema’s widespread occultural influence represented on the teen dancing app, and in the process maybe even encourage a few of you to join up and help correct it!
I’m glad I didn’t. It’s simply not worth it. Doubtless, your readership is aware of TikTok’s “witch” subculture and holds the phenomenon in about as high regard as I do.
Well-thought-out scholarship of ANY sort (the type of which most of you are used to) might as well disintegrate into so much useless paper pulp under the endless downpour of static emanating from the FYP. Sadly, I remember a time when I thought it possible to wield a small current of that unceasing torrent to both personal and collective benefit — naively convinced I might do some good making entertainment out of [what everyone HERE might call “the Western Esoteric Tradition”, a phrase largely absent from the terminally online witch space] and its centuries of impact on the wider spiritual marketplace.
Big emphasis here on the word “marketplace”. Perhaps there is nothing more poisonous than succeeding at selling something, hence the title of this article. The internal areas that once practically VIBRATED within me have slowly and methodically been replaced by shame, disappointment, burnout, and regret. If only it were so simple as representing a complete idea and leaving people to follow the trail to its natural conclusions — most can barely follow their own thumb swiping up the screen, again and again and again and again. The smart ones nibble on just a few of these ever-more-tailored hits of bite-sized Pavlovian dopamine programming before closing the app to get on with their lives. The rest of you likely have better things to do with your time.
For those of you looking to break in — understand that TikTok locks its “content creators” (excuse me while I vomit) to their respective lanes of production by design. Every success ultimately becomes a more binding pair of shackles to your market niche. Once assigned, the only way to continue marketing TO that niche is to hide your ad copy under Inception-like layers of anti-marketing. You get fooled into thinking that a lifeline reaches out to you from the algorithmic maw of Choronzon—perhaps if you work hard enough and act likable enough and make good enough “content” at a never-ending pace, you can eek out a living amongst the rapid-scroll pilgrimage toward boundless distraction.
As Thelemites, you are likely used to dissecting the “formula” of any given operation. TikTok promulgates the formula of anti-meditation — ever honing the operative functions of a catatonic mind-organism generating increasingly Self-specific patterns aimed at triggering laughter, outrage, trauma, horniness, new rabbit holes of interest, more horniness, more outrage, perhaps the fleeting sensation of activism while you foie-gras the empathic experience of someone else’s pain, horniness again, outrage outrage outrage… ever onward into the psycho-spiritual heat death of a satisfaction that never comes.
This algorithmic edging session will leave you an exhausted shell, spent from the effort of firing off every brain chemical you are capable of producing. But interact with the right niches (chained, of course, to their predestined lanes of unceasing production) and you might find yourself drunk on the blood of the digital lamprey-mouthed feeding frenzy armed and ready to CHANGE THE WORLD!!! …when from the perspective of your front-facing camera you’ve been blankly drooling for an hour or two while your thumb flicks absently upward. Stir in the hierarchical reinforcement of social norms hidden amongst consensus niche values and you can probably see why this is incompatible with the aims of occultism.
My own starry-eyed initiative was to open accessibility into the Western Esoteric mythos through the mediumship of an artistic conceit, inspired by my favorite ceremonial and chaos magickal predecessors in the comicbook industry. I joined up on TikTok to promote a handful of pop songs I’d built around the framework of Western Occult initiation. For those of you who’ve read Alan Moore’s Promethea, the concept was identical to the structure of Volumes 3 & 4.
As you recall, Moore and Williams stylishly devoted one issue of Promethea to each of the Sephiroth climbing the Serpent Path on the Tree of Life (including the false one, so) eleven in total. This emboldened me to construct a thirteen month operation resulting in one song for each sphere, also eleven in total. The first five formed up to the trajectory of the LVX formula as described by The Golden Dawn and friends — the second set of six, the progression toward NOX as established in the cult of Thelema and beyond.
The final track bit back firmly on the tail of the snake — an interpolation of track one splintered over samples of each previous song, culminating in a resounding hymn not unlike the mythical figure of N’aton reaching back to the present age through the future Ma’atian current.
For reference, here was the initial stylization of the QABALISTA tracklist
1) .:MALKUTH:. /// Slither
2) .:YESOD:. /// Coiled
3) .:HOD:. /// Mathematic(k)
4) .:NETZACH:. /// Venus (Out In The Roses)
5) .:TIPHARETH:. /// All My Scars
6) .:GEBURAH:. /// God of War
7) .:CHESED:. /// Sapphire
8) .:DAATH:. /// (choronzon)333
9) .:BINAH:. /// *BABALON (Every Drop)*
10) .:CHOKMAH:. /// *CHAOS (Godsex, What’s Next)*
11) .:KETHER:. /// *(You/Me/Us/We)*
…and for summary, here is the loose concept of the narrative which formed:
1) observation of the material world, banishing, and rising on the planes
2) stirring the snake
3) activating the formula of operative magick
4) devotion and singular pursuit of the goddess
5) transgender gnosis — knowledge and conversation united with a Self long-denied
6) flexing newfound muscles, demanding she be tested
7) rebuke of the Demiurge and leaping into the Abyss
8) a face-to-face confrontation with the neurotic chatter of Identity
9) the goddess unveiled, who offers up a deal
10) the driving action of the deal
11) Kingdom in Crown, adumbration of the Double Current (as understood by the HML)
After wrapping the final stages of mixing and mastering, I turned my attention back inward on the process. In true magickal form, I was left with several journals full of detailed notes documenting the full span of the operation. I used these to dictate a series of commentaries, the purpose of which was to piece together the full extent of what had occurred and link up any loose ends lingering in exhaustive awareness as a result of singular involvement in the process.
At this time, I had no social media presence. There were no watchful eyes other than my own. While the decision to release it transparently as an occultural artifact came once the record was fully formed, the initial stages were completed with no audience in mind. My undivided focus was fixed on exploring the mystical territories of my own self-conceptions and hearing them seek expression in whatever production choices arose. Privately speaking, this resulted in what Crowley might call “supreme success”. Thirteen months spanned the dutiful crafting of an object capable of unlocking the unimaginable within me. The idea of audience was immaterial.
I spent the last few months before its release alone with the object. In some ways, I look back and regret the decision to violate myself by exposing it for consumption. The result was too intimate, too precious. It was as much an initiatory pursuit as an artistic one — even now, that 45 minutes of music represents the apotheosis of nearly a decade of practical work and study. Despite its obvious butterfly effect on my identity and material circumstances, the thing is almost unrecognizable as something “I” did, because there is no method of returning to the “I” which saw to its completion. Every “I” arising in its wake becomes precisely chosen to suit a purpose by necessity.
Leaving that experience allowed a number of otherwise difficult decisions to unfold with ease. As anyone who has taken the initial step onto a path from which there is no backing down, the only available option is to continue. There was NO possible way to deny the inevitable. I immediately undertook the legal process of changing my name and transitioning my appearance and gender presentation in the direction of whatever the transfemme-of-center nonbinary data point ought be called. Assuredly, the fundamental urge which undertook its OWN expression outstrips the vulgar restriction of words. More on that in a second.
Thee Divine Theminine
I will likely die insisting that the major shortcoming of Western Occultism is its reinforcement of binary norms diluted (read as “deluded”) outward from base expressions of “self” and “other”. The fix for this is not a matter of “I” but of a potential and future “We” reaching back to inform the “I”. Hear me out before you close the browser window in a rage.
Our literature will often deem binary divisions necessary to unlocking the divine essence of truth, but from the vantage of some distant future Aeon, Conscious Awareness™ is probably cracking up over its past attempts to rend the fabric of the Noumenon with the blunt instruments of dualism. We simply have not yet pushed our conceptions of sexuality and gender far enough for them to match symbolically to even the natural world, much less the noumenal. As such, our insistence on the “gendered” nature of spiritual symbolism in the face of advancements in science and communication is myopic and absurd. Even a brief Google search on intersex biology and human chromosomal variation would INSTANTLY liquefy any characterization of masculine, feminine, or “blended” symbolic qualities under the blanket assumptions of genital functioning labels.
Until new symbols emerge, I suggest we accelerate the process of rubbing the oily mucosal crust of drowsy dead skin from our lids. Thelema contains the same polarity trap (albeit it with a decent cheat code to launch the identity atomics, but still). I won’t deny that the current binary-obsessed cosmology of occult theory is grandiose and rich with meaning as a result, but nothing changes the fact that it’s fundamentally incorrect. Even in “biological” terms. We only accept these symbols as standard because they represent consensus ideals. Normative human thinking at present may be incapable of seeing beyond its shared illusion without the obvious aid of spiritual pageantry, sexual syncretism, and hallucinogenic drugs, but even the mundane daily occurrences of transgender existence would beg to differ with such artificial restrictions. Autistic awareness held under lock and key of an allistic Archon complex would ALSO like a word.
We have the stories to make the necessary myths. We make them every day. The mistake here is to assume any of these modes under the auspices of identity. Bodies may be locked into a sense of self-ness with regard to their immediate observations, but stories transcend all bounds. Listen in on even a FEW of these stories, and the only logical conclusion is that whatever manner of perception is reinforced under the penis-in-hole obsessed “union of opposites” model is not only imprecise but willfully stupid. Ignorance in the sense of “not knowing” and ignorance in the sense of “ignoring” contain the nature of their own correction.
“Change the way to perceive and change all memory”.
Failure to Launch
Accuse me of whatever self-motivated, egoistic bullshit you want (I certainly have) but QABALISTA was my thesis statement on these and other truths. It was a complete occult work representing the initiatory urge toward the discovery, fulfillment, termination, and regeneration of a thought-identity hitching its star to the limitless.
Conceptually speaking, it spans the breadth of tradition leading from the roots of Western Esotericism up through the advent of Thelema and beyond — reaching back from the brimming potentiality of an us/we-organized future, riding the slipstream of the Double Current. Considered alongside its accompanying body of commentaries and the practical details of its creation process, I can state WITHOUT ego that it stands as a singular entry to the literary body of Western Occultism — for whatever that may be worth across 45 minutes of mystically transgender pop music.
Rebuke was inevitable upon releasing QABALISTA from the security of that private internal world (see the title of this article for a TLDR). Any sort of public identity I might have fashioned from the remains of the object was swept up in the maelstrom, and quickly. The downfall of the operation resulted from exponential pressures to keep up with the pace of the internet, with its ceaseless demands to market a Self under the auspices of the influencer model. It’s ironic to consider, given the actual message of the album.
For those of you who think going viral might be cute and/or serve your aspirations toward your OWN occult influencerhood, consider this your caution against its inexorable speed. The quick shortcut to an established market share as promised by of-the-moment apps like TikTok is a cunning lie, with ALL the worst contextual baggage of the platform attached to it. The app is tailored to generate engagement of ANY kind (no matter the cost) learning with every swipe how to excel. The people doing the swiping learn just as quickly to conform, although never fast enough to surmount algorithmic control. Trust me when I say, “spiritually” there is nothing more draining, demoralizing, or terrifying than being chased by a throng of eclectic fast fashion pagans programmed to consume anything that promises an easy shortcut to a heightened state of witchy identity or sensation.
As with all things that get rapidly chewed up and spit out by the Doomscroll Abyss, my record had the unfortunate and brief distinction of burning out its popularity as a witchy “astral” escapism fantasy for the quarantined and bored. To this day (and to my unfathomable trans-Yuggothian horror) the record STILL gets recommended more often next to ambient New Age 432Hz “miracle tone” playlists rather than grouped alongside similar artists that make actual, idk, MUSIC…
[for those of you who want to form a quick mental picture of the identity of its sound, imagine a Venn diagram overlap between vividly transgender hyperpop (100 gecs, SOPHIE), sample-heavy psychedelia (Animal Collective), and the otherworldly electronic gloss of mystical alt-pop (Purity Ring, Grimes). If you enjoy KMFDM or early NIN, maybe sprinkle a bit of industrial grit under the wheels. And if you’re saying “huh???” don’t worry yourself too much. The girls that get it, get it. The girls that don’t, don’t.]
ANYWAYS, what got me stuck on witchtok was the Sisyphean task of playing esoteric catch-up once the album’s concept got blown ASTRONOMICALLY out of proportion. This happens online at incredible speed. In my case, it started with a few people taking a joke made in an advertisement literally re: the cinematic/psychedelic nature of the album’s aesthetic. A few weeks later, two young teens or early twenty-somethings (who can tell which at this point) made videos about “tripping” while listening to the album, because the lyrics of each song contained (and this is a direct quote, btw) “witch spells to make you astral project”.
These videos reached about ten million views combined. More videos started popping up featuring WILD claims of psychedelic visions, demonic possessions, lingering malefic presences, forceful astral projections, and (my personal favorite) uncontrollable outbursts of cosmic anger hurled at young “witches” by their collection of altar deities for DARING to press play on a song called God Of War in front of the sacred altarspace. If you google “selki girl QABALISTA” you’ll find nothing about the album’s concept among the ample nonsense. Leftover from the wreckage are a few truly hilarious reddit threads detailing “insane” astral experiences and arguing with one another about if it’s “safe” to listen to or not. You’ll even find an annotated TruthOrFiction article about whether or not listening to my album REALLY triggers out-of-body liftoff. Perhaps my favorite comment of all time comes from u/mcmahond1923 who said, “This has to be the most brilliantly stupid marketing tool in the history of the world.”
To an extent, they were right. It fits perfectly with the “authenticity” misdirection model of non-advertising — a briefly profitable wet dream accelerated by the gods of online artifice. Consumer culture has learned to crave that shit. If only I were smart or rich enough to have pulled it off by design. Even with millions of dollars and the best PR team on the planet, you simply can’t BUY “organic” marketing like that. To this day, I’m not sure what I’d pick — the money I made off album sales and streaming or the opportunity to reclaim purity of concept. Probably the money. There is no online ecosystem in which QABALISTA could possibly thrive. Better to watch it die with a steady trickle of income than allow it to wither for free.
You Might As Well Worship Satan
As with my record, Thelema will never thrive on TikTok. You can barely convince the denizens of witchtok to Google it. Here is the part where I live up to my original premise.
You assume that people understand the basics of any fictions they choose to inhabit. When they buy a pack of tarot cards, for example — you imagine they at least flipped through the booklet. When they adhere to the Law Of Attraction, you assume that even a cursory Google search might point them in the direction of New Thought or Theosophy. Not so on TikTok. My own naive assumption was that people engaging with “alternative” forms of spirituality took even five seconds to investigate the origins of any newly selected beliefs. In the case of QABALISTA, it was my assumption that anyone with a Rider-Waite tarot deck had at least SOME idea of the Hermetic underpinnings of its imagery.
I could not have been more wrong. Not only is the consumer base SHOCKED at any mention of Qabalah, but are often openly hostile toward it. The theoretic basics required to approach Thelemic philosophy are essentially Satan to these idiots. Which is hilariously ironic, because they’ll scream at you about who owns which beliefs while posing in front of an Amazon-bought tapestry featuring The High Priestess card of the Tarot — an illustration drawn by a lauded Hermeticist depicting a Torah scroll held at waist height between the pillars of Boaz and Jachin at the Sanctuary of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Mind-numbing.
I found out the hard way that the witchtok monoculture regards ANY sort of symbolism resembling Kabbalah outside the bounds of Judaism as a “closed witchcraft practice”. Privileged self-proclaimed pagans with ZERO cultural competency in Judaism will scream the loudest on this subject, fired up on the algorithmic high of keyboard activism. Let that one sink in for a second. There is a CONSENSUS AGREEMENT surrounding the mystical nuance of scriptural Hebrew and the symbolic interpretation of the Tanakh/Talmud/Zohar/etc. as a vaguely forbidden WITCHCRAFT SUBGENRE.
Children (of all ages, I might add!) will go to great lengths to harass, threaten, and abuse anyone who dares question this fallacious absurdity — even while flashing tarot cards and other aesthetically pleasing “witch” accessories (with direct historical ties to the appropriation of Kabbalah…) in their own branded stream of self-promotional content. Never mind that ACTUAL Jewish creators end up screamed over and ignored. Dare to offer an in-depth explanation of your own culture’s mysticism and you’ll most likely reach an audience of no-one. Most of the witches will keep scrolling, adding to the already tangible algorithmic suppression burdening religious and cultural minorities on the app. A predictable outcome when the AI sorts every permutation of spirituality under generalized witchcraft tags and suddenly everything becomes “witchcraft!” to the caged herd of deluded thumbswipers.
Firebombing the Monad
I’ll preface this section by saying that I’ve stomached enough nontroversy on the subject of Kabbalah/Cabala/Qabalah for several lifetimes. Perhaps the Thelemic screamers will light the torches for me next, but at this point I’ve been called every name and accused of every sordid motivation imaginable. Save it. If you’re offended by the following, I suggest you take a deep internal dive as to why.
We ALL know (or at least we SHOULD know…) that the Qabalah of the Golden Dawn is a far cry from the parent tradition to which rabbinical scholarship demands the better part of a lifetime’s study. It should be obvious to even the most entry level armchair “occultist” that until you’ve spent a decent chunk of your life immersed in Jewish culture, scripture, law, and a few millennia’s worth of commentary (in the original Hebrew, of which you’d do well to be fluent) it’s unlikely that you’ll be capable of fully approaching Kabbalah in its original Jewish mystical context. If you DON’T meet the above qualifications, you simply need to accept that some Jewish folks will consider it deeply invasive and antisemitic if you try. Given the history of the thing, it’s completely fair for them to feel this way.
This is not difficult information to uncover. Even Wikipedia has a decent breakdown of the historical distinctions along which Cabala and Qabalah diverge. The Western Magickal “rolodex” approach to meta-textual annotation and the practical organization of symbolism has little to no backwards compatibility with Judaism whatsoever — especially since Hermeticism is often EXPLICITLY Christianized, either by syncretism, authorial agenda, or the cultural necessity of publication under domineering Christian regimes.
Those of you who still think that learning Hermetic Qabalah gives you any authority on Judaism need a stiff reality check. Like, come the fuck on. As if an entire culture would refuse to cosign on Jesus as the Messiah (for obvious fucking reasons) and then turn around and say, “BUT IF YOU COPY PASTE A SHIN INTO THE CENTER OF THE DIVINE FOURFOLD NAME IT CLEARLY POINTS TO YEHESHUA OUR HALLOWED LORD AND SAVIOR, MEDIATOR OF THE ANCIENT GNOSIS WHO IS ALSO THE OSIRIS OF THE EGYPTIANS”.
Eyeroll of the fucking century. No one should be caught dead thinking that’s an authentically Jewish invention. Hermetic Qabalah is of course FUNDAMENTAL to breaking past the surface level of Western Esotericism both on paper and in practice. The style of symbolic and linguistic analysis most prevalent in Western occultism is ABSOLUTELY imitating that of history’s most beloved Kabbalistic sages, but no amount of similarity will give the CONTENT of that analysis equivalence in a cultural/religious sense. Any claim made of Hermeticism to explicit fluency in Jewish mysticism becomes OBVIOUSLY dubious once most of the Hebrew has been transliterated into English and filtered through the ideological bubble of Theosophy. Even lifelong nerds for Western Esoteric mythology should find the conflation of ideas under a Theosophical Coexist Bumper Sticker model occasionally cringe.
As with many things, the obvious solution is education and exposure. One of my favorite recommendations to budding young online occultists is to grab a copy of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism by Geoffrey W. Dennis and cross-reference any transliterated Hebrew words they find while slogging through books on Golden Dawn era ceremonial magick. They learn to recognize the conventions of the order’s syncretic approach as a cultural phenomenon tied to the norms of an era, inhabiting the particulars of its own context. Firsthand, they discover that the Kabbalah of Judaism contains no such rolodex of pagan godforms, Tarot cards, solar-Jesus confabulations, or Victorian holdovers from Egyptomania. Likewise, to the more advanced, I’ll recommend keeping an eye out among turn of the 20th Century occult authors for references to Sefer Yetzirah (as translated by Golden Dawn patriarch William Wynn Westcott) for the sake of comparison to the extensive commentaries published in Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s version of the same text.
There might be an occasional bit of apparent crossover, but we can easily watch the assumed Monad dissolve in the face of data and precision. As well it should! In the case of Sefer Yetzirah, one of those translations was published in 1887 by a Theosophist and the other in 1997 by a Rabbi — in the latter case, with an emphasis on the nuance of language therein. They were put out to different markets with different expectations under fundamentally different sets of assumptions. This should not be cause for moralistic outrage — it is merely a fact that becomes clear upon analysis.
The aristocrats who gave us ceremonial magick and Theosophy did EXACTLY what they already did with what they had available. Understanding the ethics of the time period doesn’t leave you oathbound to re-enact them in the present. We have an abundance of resources dedicated to the content and context of their lives, so unquestioned allegiance to their written word is as silly as it is unnecessary. This runs entirely counter to the aims of occultism. If there are such things as hard and fast rules, a good candidate for that list of commandments might be that EVERY written account be evaluated in-context so precise apprehension and proper distinctions are the result. Once we’ve all done our homework, maybe we can leap across the Abyss into the infinite sea beyond all distinctions (as a treat).
Until then, there is no logical reason to assume that the Qabalistic footnotes to The Vision And The Voice are god-breathed and somehow equal, applicable, or even remotely backwards compatible to any claimed origins in Judaism — or any other religion for that matter (of which many are sampled therein). That book in particular offers a PRICELESS opportunity to witness an idiosyncratic system coming into being, rooted in the mythos of “occult” history but with its OWN apprehension of any previous or emergent religious frameworks on display. It need be nothing more, unless your own spiritual agenda dictates that you approach “received” texts on the lofty plane of inviolable knowledge, divinely inspired. But as Kaplan states in the introduction to Sefer Yetzirah, “the earliest commentators tried to interpret it [Sefer Yetzirah] as a philosophical treatise, but their efforts shed more light on their own systems than on the text.” I’ll cop to as much here.
This, actually, becomes part of the problem with representing Thelema in the online space. It is both too broad in scope and too narrow in detail. Too much reading is required to convey a precise perspective in short form. To do so would necessitate a cultural consensus that (regardless of perceived “authenticity”) ideas MUST be examined with clearly defined terms so that context forms one major facet of their observation. Take the centralized role of Crowley’s meditative practices, a focus of his writing often mandated to the student with direct participation being a glaring prerequisite to apprehension. It’s HIS system, and you’d do well to adhere to the rules if you’d like to understand HIS approach. So not to invalidate everything he ever wrote on the subject, but how foolish would you have to be to then assume that Crowley’s Thelemic take on the eight limbs of Yoga is somehow exact and equal to the teachings of Patanjali? Sure, right. A British trust fund baby initiated into demanding meditative practices by another British dude is gonna somehow faithfully communicate (in English) the delicate nuances of the original Sanskrit by default. His inclusion of puritanical self-flagellation in the process is SURELY authentic. /s
But when you get between 7 seconds and a minute to hold anyone’s attention, how are you supposed to communicate any sense of this without inspiring some sort of outrage response? That’s barely enough time to get across a decent sense of humor about it, much less any valid contextual data. And the culture on TikTok specifically can’t handle the notion of approaching a subject critically while leaving its merits intact (something, you’ll notice, I’ve deliberately undermined in the above example by turning it into a punchline). The only thing people would get from a statement like that is “CROWLEY BAD, VERY APPROPRIATION”. Any discussion of impact outside of what’s broadly vilified as “colonial” goes right in the dumpster.
Algorithmic sorting as it stands now becomes a breeding ground for black and white thinking. There simply isn’t time for anything else when 8 seconds is pushing the upper limits of collective attention. Worse still, a world-spanning plurality of social groups and subcultures are flattened on TikTok into a singular medium. In the context collapse, reactivity reigns supreme. Moralistic values that harvest the most engagement become dominant, and in turn, consensus behavior only trains the AI to do its job better. Authenticity and thoroughness are irrelevant — engagement is the main driving factor in this charge. The reach of one’s voice is actively determined by how many OTHER people comment, share, or react to the original thought. As long as the resulting hive stays glued to the app, the demand is met. By the time the algorithmic telephone game is done, the outrage machine may not even be parked in the same zip code before it starts setting fire to the surrounding buildings.
So don’t bother mentioning Aleister Crowley. Witchtok can’t handle it. Every time I’ve made even a VANILLA post about his basic contributions to Western Occultism, I get insipid comments claiming that he “stole” everything he ever wrote about and that he literally fucked babies.
Here’s the deal: not a single person on earth thought he was a good guy. None of you need me to type anything else on that subject. It’s been done to death.
But what’s INSANE about witchtok is they LITERALLY can’t comprehend that they might all be “prack-tiss”ing things that the Great Beast touched. Tables of magickal correspondence? No Crowley here. Definitely not a 777 reprint. Goetic Demon Sigils? Well I guess those are “closed” now, so it’s a non-issue. Please respectfully burn the Lesser Key of Solomon. Wicca? Not Gerald Gardner (another Satan of appropriation) getting initiated thru VII° OTO. Def too busy fooling AUTHENTIC witches into going skyclad. What a creep… Tarot? Well, we don’t use THOSE tarot decks. Only the pure, non-appropriative Etsy-bought Grand Fae Tarot of the Anubis-Poseiden Sea Hag. What?? It has all the same card titles as the Thoth?! No, no, no. My spirit guides said it was fine. No cultural appropriation here. Pure… pure… only pure.
For the Profane
If it’s not the witches, it’s the QAnon-addled New Agers. I don’t know what’s worse. The people who will scream at you for posting a diagram of the Tree of Life or the ones preaching to their 500K+ acolyte base that it’s ACK-tually a Jacob’s Ladder reaching up to the Pleiadian Council or whatever the fuck alien Root Race is popular this week. Sure, we make jokes about unsupervised fourteen year olds LARPing out their godspouse-themed Major Arcana fanfic and deeming themselves and their Discord mutuals appropriation-free, but this shit does REAL and tangible harm.
It’s largely why I removed the glyph of the Tree of Life from the cover of my record and changed all the song titles to generics. In the space of a few weeks, an entire social media platform repeatedly demonstrated en masse that they had no collective knowledge (and no interest in) the precise context of an EXPLICITLY researchable symbol. Instead, when that symbol got lassoed back into association with witchcraft, astral projection, demonic possession, New Age manifestation, reality shifting, starseed “light language”, Akashic download bullshit ad nauseam… there became a VERY real responsibility to consider if it was worth shitwashing the context of the original glyph any further in favor of my attachment to a concept. In my case, it was a hard “no”.
I was screaming into the Abyss trying to explain myself. A few thousand views on a post about the Qabalistic underpinnings of the Rider-Waite does little toward educating anyone when you’re met with a frenzy of newly proclaimed witches begging for quick answers about if they need to throw out their tarot decks in favor of oracle cards — presumably to avoid (the outward appearance of) complicity in appropriation. Does nothing to offset the 10-million-and-climbing neon promises of “witch spellz for instant a$tral acce$$” when at SOME point you’d like to be offered the freedom to discuss the actual content of your own lyrics.
Instead, I questioned if those lyrics should even have existed in the first place. I watched enterprising young New Age shills garner social capital off of misrepresenting my work to their six-figure followings — pinning the spiritually aesthetic record cover to the menu boards of their digital fast food franchises. Eventually, you grow weary of seeing your work advertised in the enlightenment drive-thru. I was exhausted on the fumes, dead tired of fielding moral panic, astral delusion, and insipid curiosity. Every correctional attempt that took off algorithmically just served to dilute my mission further once the telephone game came back around.
I’d seen more than enough. It was clear that allowing the record to continue on in association with this foolishness was doing actual harm. It wasn’t worth the fallout. I chose instead to strip the song titles of all their Sephirothic attributions, took the glyph off the cover, changed the album title, switched to a shitposting format on TikTok (bc a girl’s gotta eat), and tried to refocus my attention to appreciating the small niche of people who had understood the project’s original scope. Privately, and among those secret few who feel drawn to what the record is aimed at, very little has changed. You can still put the pieces back together should you so choose. The ones who seek it out on its own terms will find the same QABALISTA that existed before March of 2020. The ones who just like the tunes are free to log into whatever streaming service they prefer and hit play on [for the profane].
But what cuts truest to the heart is knowing I’ll never return to those sacred few months when it was just me and the record and no one else — a mutual sense of wonder at the emergence of two subject/objects formed in parallel across thirteen months by absolute necessity. Any ligature of identity between my “I” and its object was severed in the blink of a few months — flossed in the jagged teeth of Choronzon and shit out into dispersion for idealized mass consumption. I’m still working through the violence of that. In one sense, I suppose it was an inevitable aspect of what I’d asked for and committed to. But in the end, it was an easy decision to let go of the exterior image. I’ll point to Liber Yod, First Method, Section 11-13 for what puts my core at ease for rebuking my own efforts so starkly.
The Doomscroll Aeon
This is what bothers me about my choice. I’m all for veiling what needs to be veiled, I’d just rather inhabit a culture in which radical transparency is possible. Valued, even. Instead, I found myself shamebound and scrambling to throw a tarp over the thing before its trashfire spread any further. But what does forced ass-covering behavior really accomplish? Who ends up TRULY hurt under the tyranny of spiritual glamor or reactive online moralism? Certainly established traditions, regardless of their position on the graded spectrum of perceived “validity”. Definitely any scholars trying to represent the precise trajectory of past ideologies and their impact on the realities of the present. Absolutely even MORE so the cultures from which any misapprehended symbols have emerged.
Imagine being a rabbinical student on the app trying to share the nuanced application of Kabbalistic analysis in the pursuit of your own life’s work. How exhausting it must be to have to defend your own validity when the screamers arrive to “educate” you in the realm of your own expertise. How frustrating and demoralizing it must be to struggle upstream against the onslaught of a willfully ignorant culture, which both objectifies and outright REFUSES to recognize why the innermost secrets of your scholarship require thorough cultural, linguistic, and spiritual competency. I’ve watched creator after creator burn out, either because we can’t keep up with the algorithmic pace or we can’t deal with the pitchfork wielders.
In some ways, we can dismiss the mass acculturation of the witchtok thralldom as a silly fad for well-meaning consumers with earnest spiritual inclinations. The weirdly fascistic anti-intellectuals among them will (hopefully) get over it once they give reading a try or touch some fucking grass. More often than not, their looping theater of Olympian problematizing originates not from malice but from a DEEP desire to do good, or at least to do “better”. Like all humans, we crave certainty in a threatening and uncertain environment. It’s clear that young people are becoming increasingly aware that the market exists to exploit their spiritual inclinations, not satisfy them. What’s unclear is if we’ve yet reached the apex of the witchcraft retail therapy movement — especially living under prevailing technologies focused on matching people to what they (think) they want at an ever-increasing sense of speed.
So the question becomes what “doing better” looks like, and I can’t imagine that many will look back on this embarrassing period of collective behavior with pride. It certainly doesn’t excuse the fact that flagrant bullying has largely become accepted as normal, necessary even, when devoted followings are weaponized against perceived evils. Nor does it excuse the freshly devised blacklists that get circulated and gossiped about (alongside whoever’s being dragged as “problematic” THIS week) through a never ending telephone game of passive-aggressive, subtweet-esque outrage hinting. None of these people ever lose their platforms either — most of them GAIN followers from the wreckage of increased engagement, because “cancel culture” only exists in clickbait headlines.
It’s the ignorance in the sense of “ignoring” that gets to me. It’s fairly commonplace behavior to see people embody an attitude of “do Wicca, but don’t call it Wicca and don’t read anything written in the last century by the FOUNDERS of Wicca because White Cis Man Bad, Stole Everything”. That criticism doesn’t go far enough. Be more specific, don’t just throw out buzzwords like “colonizer mentality” and call it a day. Problematize the very nature of spiritual artifice. Go for the core. Ask your Self on what grounds it chooses its own differentiation, especially if you’re in the spiritual dressing room trying on new outfits. Ethical sourcing is a consumer value (and one to be encouraged, lest you think I’m arguing against its application). Observed priorities merely reveal the nature of the consumer.
Here’s an example — just the other week, I requested access to a “witchy” Discord server hoping to substantiate a rumor that a popular online witch was warning young seekers against DANGEROUS occult author Austin Osman Spare, who was deemed “problematic” for the unforgivable crime of being too difficult to read! Doubtless, many of the “practitioners” on the server have at one time or another fashioned a sigil by the method he popularized. Crowley was of course on the list, as was nearly every Wicca-adjacent name responsible for the current popularity of eclectic witchcraft. I would love to hear an explanation as to why the techniques should be accepted on faith but the writings rejected.
The answer is “profit”. It was practically a masterclass in charlatanism. The server had swelled to nearly three thousand active members on the wings of witchtok nontroversy. The foremost section of its text channels was devoted to booking PAID tarot readings from the server’s moderators. Yes, you read that right — the self-same hypocrites loudly decrying Kabbalistic appropriations across lengthy author blacklists are hocking lukewarm divination via the mediumship of everyone’s favorite pictorial guide to Golden Dawn Qabalah. It would almost be funny if it weren’t so consistently vomitworthy.
It’s not that an “initiated” understanding offers a blanket excuse to do whatever the fuck you want. If anything, it gives you a responsibility to internalize the DEEPLY human contradiction that lingers in the heart of every prospective spiritual belief. To quote fictional trans icon Nomi Marks, “I am not just a Me. I am also a We.” It’s not enough to criticize the gender norms inherent in a mystical framework. It’s not enough to point out the racism, the prejudice, the fill-in-the-blank-phobia of ANY given author or object of enlightenment.
To those of you who found this article because I promoted it on TikTok, here is my challenge: Accept it. Be it. Understand that atrocity is as much the god you chase after as the one that exists NOW, and even THEN it’s likely not a good enough excuse for complicity. Context matters. Era matters. Depth of scholarship reveals this. Tune in to a handful of dissenting viewpoints outside your algorithmic bubble and a sliver of cultural competency may result. Open the bandwidth too broadly and drown. Accept that too. If you are TRULY devoted to a subject, then you’ll stop at NOTHING to investigate every potential atom that makes up What It Is (or Appears To Be).
Broadly speaking, there is a practical function to the veiling of occult principles. These truths should be discovered by consistent and willed effort — not spoon-fed to a passive and perpetually unsatisfied herd. I regret my contribution to the latter. I hope that I stamped it all out in time by exemplifying the former.
But I didn’t act fast enough to salvage my own inner sanctity. I still feel torn open. Even writing this, the impression of it rises astringent in my awareness. The biggest risk of sharing openly your most precious and secret pursuits is that you’ll lose them utterly in doing so. I haven’t performed a formalized ritual in months. Only a few in the space of the last two years. Stopped writing down my dreams. Neglected my usually fastidious knack for personal record-keeping. Struggled to keep up with the demands of day-to-day life as an “essential” wage slave in a global pandemic. Languished under increasingly frequent autistic meltdowns. Started drinking to shut out the overload. Stopped meditating. Stopped caring. All of it was supplanted by burnout in the face of an unceasing demand for more content.
Beware the cost of pursuing branded spiritual capital on social media. The formula of “content creation” is the alchemy of transmuting gold back into base metal.
The corrosive nature of algorithmic spirituality is potent and vampiric. The demands of the terminally online will bite down en masse before you feel them, initiating you into a Qlipphothic, looping existence. You grow to resent the very idea of truth. Sith-like, the shame of it turns to anger, shrinks to bitterness, turns to shame, back to rage. I’m embarrassed to admit how long it’s taken to even BEGIN pulling myself out of its chokehold. Angry at the increased difficulty of simple and foundational acts, like exercise or meditation. Cursed the parts of myself that ever allowed strangers to make me feel worthless for pursuing something in earnest.
Let them go hoarse. The screamers can’t stop you. Even in the frigid depths of the worst internal shutdown there is a Will to continue. But now I know why they say to keep silent.
photo credit: Kinsey Manse
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