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The Magick of Aleister Crowley
A Handbook of the Rituals of Thelema
By Lon Milo DuQuette
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2003 Lon Milo DuQuette
All rights reserved.
The Magick of Will
Magick is the Science and Art of causing change to occur in conformity with Will.
—Magick in Theory and Practice
The above definition of Magick can be as misleading in its simplicity as it is in its complexity. The key word is of course Will, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Greek, and according to this definition, any willed action is an act of Magick: brushing your teeth, walking the dog, or even paying your taxes.
Conversely any unwilled action is an unmagical act: reaching for a cigarette; ordering that fourth Martini; or any habitual or reactive behavior that overrides the momentum of one's life focus could fall into the category of an unmagical act.
Try as we might there is no escaping this simple fact: We are all Magicians and we are either competent or incompetent practitioners of our craft.
The great majority of successful Magicians do not even realize (nor should they care) that they are Magicians, or that there is a name for what they do so well. They just go through life striving to cause change to occur in conformity with their Wills and that's that. They have made a science out of their lifestyle and they execute it with great art. They work hard, but for them the work is not a burden it is a labor of love and a continuing expression of the purpose of their existence.
Obviously most of us do not, without great effort, fall into this fortunate category of human being. Our Magick falls somewhere between competence and incompetence. Occasionally we become aware of what our Will is (or might be) and try to work the Magick. But more often than not, we find ourselves simply responding to an endless chain reaction of external events and circumstances over which we have little or no control.
Out of fear, frustration, or what might be called spiritual fatigue, many of us turn to religions whose champions are more than happy to tell us, in no uncertain terms, exactly where our place in the universe is.
The religions that Westerners most frequently are attracted to (Christianity, with its many sects, Judaism, and Islam) postulate a Supreme Being who personifies and manifests the order of the universe. The mechanism of this order is often termed the "Will of God." By surrendering the individual will to Will of God, the religious devotee can theoretically harmonize his or her life with that of the Deity's. Not my will, but Thine be done.
In order for us to know God's Will, these religions offer, for our great comfort (and often from ancient and "infallible" sources), rules, commandments, and assorted scriptural injunctions to guide the thoughts and behavior of the faithful. As an added safeguard that these scriptures be "correctly" interpreted, a priestcraft of some form or another invariably evolves and assumes the role of a visible mediator between the worshiper and the Deity. For those who dutifully comply with the dictated formulae and surrender their wills to the prescribed Will of God, a great burden is lifted from their shoulders. They no longer feel the need for direct spiritual experience, and faith in the infallibility of the dogmatists makes even intellectual investigation unnecessary. The reward for such spiritual collaborators is the smug comfort of knowing that those who haven't submitted to the formula will suffer after death, and that they who have, will not.
Magick also postulates a universal order—call it God, Nature, the Supreme Being, the Grand Architect of the Universe, the Tao, or just the-way-things-are. But the Magician knows that the pure Will of every man and every woman is already in perfect harmony with the divine Will; in fact they are one and the same. It is the Magician's Great Work to endeavor to remove the obstacles that hinder his or her perfect realization of that Will and then proceed to execute it.
We perceive in the world around us a vast cosmic orderliness (or at least a glorious systematized chaos). Galaxies, stars, planets, atoms, electrons, and other sub-atomic particles all seem to have found their niche in the grand scheme of things and behave themselves accordingly. By realizing our True Wills we find our place ... our orbit. By doing our True Will, we have the inertia of the entire universe to assist us.
The Magician does not necessarily want the burden of existence lifted from his shoulders; he wants to understand why he is carrying it and where.
The Evolution of Magical Formulae
In the Years of the Primal Course, in the dawn of terrestrial birth, Man mastered the mammoth and horse; and Man was the Lord of the Earth. He made him an hollow skin from the heart of an holy tree; He compassed the earth therein, and Man was the Lord of the Sea. He controlled the vigour of steam, he harnessed the lightning for hire; He drove the celestial team; and Man was the Lord of the Fire. Deep-mouthed from their thrones deep-seated, the choirs of the aeons declare The last of the demons defeated, for Man is the Lord of the Air. Arise, 0 man, in thy strength! the kingdom is thine to inherit, Till the high gods witness at length that Man is the Lord of his spirit.
A magical formula is a statement of perceived cosmological fact or theory It can be as simple as an axiom:
Love thy neighbor as thyself. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
It can be a statement or a set of symbols revealing the mechanism of a natural law:
As above, so below. All is sorrow. Love is the law, love under will.
E = MC2. YHVH. INRI. AUM.
It can even be a single word that initiates an entire age:
TAO; ANATTA; [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
Magical formulae evolve from older magical formulae as humanity's ability to perceive itself and the universe increases. A change in the consciousness of the race necessitates a change in magical formula. It's not that the old formula doesn't work anymore, it's just that the new one works so much better. Obsolete formulae of the past aren't necessarily discarded completely but are often amended or fine-tuned to better harmonize with a new, expanded understanding of natural or spiritual law.
To use an apparently unmagical example, an ancient carpenter or craftsman seeking to determine the area of a small circle might venerate the great Magician who revealed to him that the area could be determined by measuring the radius of the circle, then multiplying that figure by itself, then multiplying that figure by the sacred number 3. For the rough calculations required by our primitive ancestors, this crude formula served quite adequately. But for larger, more complex projects (such as temples, pyramids, etc.) requiring precise computations, the world had to wait for the "Magick" of π. Once this new bit of information became general knowledge the world was never the same.
While this is a very crude analogy, I am confident that the reader can see how it applies to our ever evolving perception of ourselves and our place in the universe.
The Formula of the New Age
Great spiritual periods (ages or aeons) are characterized by their magical formula. This is very important and fundamental to the understanding of Magick in general and Thelemic Magick in particular, for the planet has just recently (relatively speaking) entered a new period; a new age; a new aeon.
Yes, this is coincidental to what astrologers and songwriters call the Age of Aquarius and what millions of others refer to simply as the New Age. But it would be a mistake to view this new aeon as simply another tick on a great cosmic clock. The Age of Aquarius, profoundly significant as it is, is only one aspect of a far greater new spiritual age. (Such magical aeons do not necessarily coincide with the astrological periods and, according to Crowley, may be of any length.) A more intimate, more magical perspective may be had if, rather than considering the ages as merely astrological epochs, we instead view them as gods.
Crowley recognized in the three principal gods of Egypt Isis, Osiris, and Horus the characteristic formulae of the last three magical aeons.
The present aeon is that of Horus, which has followed the Aeon of Osiris, which followed the Aeon of Isis. Each aeon is characterized by the level of understanding of nature and of self contemporarily prevalent, and dictates the variety of magical and religious expression that dominate these periods.
Here it will be necessary to take a moment to review the myth of Isis, Osiris, and Horus, for it is vitally important to the understanding of the evolution of magical formulae and the Magick of Thelema. Please keep in mind that this is only the briefest sketch of a story that has undergone over four thousand years of revision.
THE MYTH OF OSIRIS
The Creator, Temu, first appeared (from out of a watery chaos) on a sacred mound. Upon this solid foundation of matter he masturbated, creating two children, brother and sister, Shu and Tefnet. These two in turn created Geb (the Earth-god) and Nut (the Sky-goddess) who united to give birth to Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys. These nine deities make up the ennead of Heliopolis, which appear continually throughout the sacred texts.
Osiris became king of Egypt, supported by his sister-wife Isis. Theirs was a golden reign that raised the Egyptian people from the sub-human depths of anarchy and cannibalism. They initiated the systematic cultivation of the land in harmony with the flooding cycle of the river Nile, and their administration brought prosperity and happiness.
Seth, the brother of Osiris, became increasingly envious of the success of his sibling, and conspired to have him assassinated. Secretly he had an ornate box constructed to the exact measurements of the body of Osiris. He then hosted a lavish party for his brother and announced that he would award the box to anyone who could fit perfectly inside. In what can only be described as an act of divine folly, Osiris volunteered to give it a try. As soon as he was comfortably snuggled inside the perfectly fitting box, the lid was immediately nailed shut by seventy-two of Seth's coconspirators and the coffin set adrift on the Nile.
Isis, hearing of the murder, immediately set out to find the body. She discovered it at Byblos where it had become imbedded in a tree which had been cut down and used, because of its wondrous aroma, as a column in the palace of the king. She pleaded with the local king for the return of her husband's body and was allowed to take it.
As she was returning with it by boat, she laid down upon the body and kissed it until its phallus became miraculously erect. She mounted her dead husband and conceived the child Horus. (Horus or Hoor also has a brother, Hoor-Paar-Kraat, whom the Greeks called Harpocrates. More on this later.)
Seth, discovering where Isis had hidden the body, stole it, dismembered it, and scattered the fourteen pieces throughout the entire country.
Isis set out again and successfully recovered all the pieces of Osiris, save one, and magically reassembled them, thereby bestowing upon Osiris immortality and rulership of the afterlife. Henceforth pious individuals who faithfully adhered to the complex magical formulae of the cult of Osiris, as outlined in The Book of the Dead, would be assured of the same continuity of existence after death.
Their son Horus, to avenge the murder of his father, initiated a mighty struggle against Seth, which according to some stories was successful after three days and according to others is perpetuated to this day.
* * *
The images of this simple passion play are imbedded deeply in the collective consciousness of the human race. We see it retold almost verbatim by the Greeks as the story of Demeter and Persephone, and Orpheus and Eurydice. IAO, the great God of the Gnostics, even announces the magical formula of life, death, and resurrection in the letters of its name: Isis (Nature) is ruined by Apophis (the forces of destruction and decay), but is cyclically resurrected in Osiris.
Most striking to the Western mind are the similarities between the story of Osiris and the central myth of Christianity: Through treachery a wise young savior is murdered ... nailed to His death; the tree whereon the body is affixed; the mourning devotee who begs the return of His body in order to give it proper burial; the resurrection of the God which also provides the formula for the eternal salvation of the world, etc. All very Osirian.
But I am getting ahead of myself. To understand where we are, we must first understand where we have been, so let us first examine the conditions that characterized the last two aeons.
The Aeon of Isis
The Formula of the Great Goddess: It is difficult to speculate precisely when the aeon of the formula of Isis began for its foundations were laid in the nebulousness of prehistory. However, we can with relative confidence venture to pinpoint its zenith as being approximately 2400 B.C.
This was the Age of the Great Goddess, and nowhere at this time was Her worship more conspicuous than in the Sumerian city of Uruk where the magnificent temple of Innana (Ishtar) dominated civilization's first great city. For us to focus exclusively upon Sumeria, however, would be a grave error for, indeed, the cult of the Great Goddess was truly universal. She was worshiped by countless cultures under myriad names and forms. It would also be a mistake for us to conclude that the magical formula of this period manifested exclusively through the worship of any particular anthropomorphic female deity. For, like every aeon, the magical formula of the Aeon of Isis was founded upon mankind's interpretation of the "perceived facts" of nature, and our Isian-age progenitors perceived nature as a continuous process of spontaneous growth.
In the dim beginnings of the aeon, humans were ignorant of the cause and effect mysteries of sex and birth. Life appeared to come from woman alone. Blood flowed inexplicably from her body with the same cycle as that of the moon. And when the cycle of bleeding was interrupted, her belly swelled for nine moons until she burst with new life. She then continued to nourish this life with her milk, the white blood of her breasts, and without this nourishment, drawn directly from her body, the new life would die.
Nothing could match the power of woman. From her all life proceeded and without her nourishment no life could survive. Like the moon itself, she lived a threefold life cycle of maid, mother, and crone; fertility, sustenance, and wisdom.
Once the child was weaned, the Earth itself became surrogate mother, directly providing the flesh and blood of animals and plants for sustenance. Mother was life. Earth was Mother. God was Woman. Death was a mystery that could not be solved nor overcome.
This fundamental perception of nature persisted long after the mystery of where babies came from had been solved. Matriarchies and cannibalism dominated much of this period, but even after the ascent of the male warrior gods, the essential formula of the Goddess lived on.
There exist to this day tribes of hunter-gatherers whose social and religious lives exemplify the formula of Isis, but the Aeon of Isis survived only as long as the spirit of humanity was dominated by the perception that life and its requisite nourishment came directly from the Earth and from the woman.
A clearer perception of the universe would evolve that would usurp the formula of Isis and initiate a new cultural and religious age. We are painfully familiar with this period for it lasted until the turn of the twentieth century. Its formula is still the consensus of the so-called "Great Religions" and continues to dominate the spiritual lives of the majority of the inhabitants of our planet.
In this age the focus was shifted from the Earth to the Sun as the source of all life, and from the mysteries of birth to the mysteries of death. We figured out where babies came from; now we were to ponder where we go when we die.
The Aeon of Osiris
The Formula of the Dying God: It could be said that the Aeon of Osiris began when men and women first became cognizant of the Sun, and recognized that the fertility of the Earth (and consequently their lives) depended directly upon the vitalizing power of sunlight. The secret of life was now perceived as a partnership of Sun and Earth, and our ancestors saw this partnership reflected in themselves: man and woman, phallus and kteis, father and mother.
When it became universally acknowledged that without the Sun, the Earth would perish, and without the semen of man, woman would remain barren, the great pendulum of racial consciousness and attitude took a radical swing. The formula of Isis was altered: woman brings forth life, but life comes from the Sun. God was now Father.
This new "illumination" resulted in unprecedented advances in civilization. Armed with the solar knowledge of the cycles of seasons, Osirian-age farmers began the organized cultivation of crops. Cities arose, and with them the economies and armies of great nation-states. Patriarchies supplanted matriarchies as the goddesses of countless cultures became "wives" to the new male deities.
Excerpted from The Magick of Aleister Crowley by Lon Milo DuQuette. Copyright © 2003 Lon Milo DuQuette. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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