by Harmony Pax
Societies around the world are made up of mixes of innocence-guilt, honor-shame, and power-fear cultures. These define average people’s worldviews and how they respond to different situations. They also define different possible approaches to Thelemic spirituality and philosophy.
Innocence-guilt cultures are individualistic societies, such as liberal areas in the US and other developed countries, where people who break laws feel guilt and seek to correct their behavior. Honor-shame cultures are collectivistic societies, like the ancient Norse, where people feel shame for breaking with group expectations and seek to restore honor within the group. Fear-power cultures are more agrarian societies where people who fear harm seek to gain personal power to prevent harm.
Neither of these cultures is more, or less, old aeon than any other. Thelema also has a lot to offer for all of them.
Three Perspectives on Thelema
The majority of cultures in the world are a mix of honor-shame and fear-power. However, a lot of Thelemic thought is written from the perspective of an innocence-guilt culture. But this is not the only way to approach the system. Indeed, Thelemites from any of these perspectives can find a lot to appreciate about the tradition.
For example, this quote: “There is no grace, there is no guilt – this is the law, do what thou wilt” is popular among Thelemites in innocence cultures because it resets the idea of law and innocence to doing your will, as opposed to following externally imposed laws. This speaks to the innocence culture thinker’s need to be a good person. Many other belief systems play to the same idea: “you can be good without God”, or by portraying polluters as bad people.
In honor-shame cultures, people seek to preserve relationships, rather than personal self image. This is not really about drama or nosy neighbors, but rather about preserving the relationship and the group above the individual. This is related to the Masonic idea of fraternity and pax templi, which is a strain in Thelemic thought. “As brothers fight ye!” and stories about the templars and the assassins are deeply rooted in Thelemic, and honor shame, cultures. Honor cultures also value hospitality, and often serve food in excess, like Thelemic lodges.
Thelemites from fear-power cultures may appreciate the imagery of powerful gods and the drama of ritual. The idea of the Star Ruby or words of power as a shield against the forces of chaos is very appealing to this mindset.
Although diversity of thought is very helpful in coming up with creative ideas, it can also lead to the occasional culture clash. For example, people in honor-shame cultures tend to use indirect communication, while innocence-guilt thinkers tend to be straight talkers. This can cause the honor-shame thinker to be cast as dishonest and the innocence-guilt thinker to be cast as rude or shameless.
One thing an innocence guilt thinker might do is call out the honor shame guy for attending a Christian church and being in the “broom closet”. But the honor shame guy is more focused on his relationship with his grandmother, than with focusing on Thelema alone.
Another thing is that honor-shame thinkers tend to be focused on the event at hand, rather than fulfilling specific landmarks. This can lead to “Pagan standard time”, which makes sense, because neo-Paganism is much more popular in rural America, which is more honor-shame. However this is annoying to the professional minded innocence-guilt thinker, who may want things to be done in the proverbial New York minute.
Some Thelemites from an innocence-guilt perspective also see the concerns of power-fear thinkers as less than. They use terms like low magic and macho attitudes to disparage power-fear thinking. But the term low magic was originally used by the upper class to disparage the concerns of serfs, and to characterize their magic as more intellectual. As critical thinkers we could do well to be mindful of these value judgments.
Bringing It All Together
Everybody approaches Thelema in a different way. Valuing different perspectives, and being cognizant of the different ways that people approach life, is important to a strong and open community. However many people think their Thelema is the only way to approach what is actually a very diverse system. Sometimes quotes are used out of context to bring people in line with either a guilt, shame or fear based mentality. But by not only valuing the surface level of the text, but also relationships, and the deeper emotions behind the text, we can learn from all three perspectives.
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