☉︎ in 0° Virgo : ☽︎ in 12° Pisces : Anno Vvii
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
To my Unknown Friend: Greeting and health.
Over a decade ago, I wrote a polemic toward a meme floating around that quoted Crowley out of context and presented Thelema as some kind of conflicted mess through which one had to wade blind, antagonistic to the elements therein, and helpless to all outcomes. It was nonsense then. It’s still nonsense as people continue to post this quote out of context and lead people to believe that Thelema is some kind of difficult task.
In theology, there are two different forms of argument: apologetics and polemics. The former is to “defend the faith” toward those on the outside. The latter is to “defend the faith” to those on the inside. While faith in Thelema is a difficult topic at best, the point of a polemic is clear: correct error on the inside of our community.
Originally written in 2007, this is one such polemic.
I want each man to cut his own way through the jungle.
—Aleister Crowley, from Confessions
Let’s cut our own way through the bullshit, shall we? We see this quote used by people who are intellectually dishonest—since it should not be assumed that individuals of noticeable academic merit cannot read or follow along in a passage of text—and applied to the Law of Thelema as if Crowley somehow thought that people would be blinded by the tenets of Thelema or that he was minimizing the importance of the Book of the Law and Thelema in general. But this is not the context of the quote and the Book of the Law is incidental as proof of something other than a jungle through which the individual should cut his own way.
The quote in question occurs in Chapter 66 of Confessions. This is the chapter that starts out with, “I had no special magical object in going to Algiers, which I reached on November 17th. As my chela, I took Frater Omnia Vincam, a neophyte of the A∴A∴ disguised as Victor Neuburg.” Immediately we find the context for the chapter as a whole; that is, his journey through Algiers and the magical workings and visions that resulted in the conclusion of The Vision and The Voice. Here after I have taken the liberty to just refer to this whole series of visions and the events surrounding them by the title of the book that resulted from them.
Crowley then launches into several different digressions to which he admits are “permissible because of its pertinence to [his] Algerian initiation.” He then continues on “with the narrative”. He goes into some detail as to the process of his workings and some significant details as to how he accomplished them. He provides observations and examples, even to the point of providing some detail into his “proving” of the experience with the Angel of the twenty-seventh Aethyr. He is at pains to make the point that such visions are capable of being misleading and deceptive. He’s already spent some time discussing the origin of the various “Calls” that were being used in these workings. He even discusses what constitutes proof or not. He has taken quite a liberty in discussing the pitfalls and problems that attend many magicians. He is quite blunt about the rocks in the path and the difficulties of the mountains he has had to climb.
He then stops to make a counterpoint by saying, “Now, The Book of the Law guarantees itself by so closely woven a web of internal evidence of every kind, from Cabbalistic and mathematical proofs, and those depending on future events and similar facts, undeniably beyond human power to predict or to produce, that it is unique.” It is in the middle of discussing proofs of workings that he contrasts the Book of the Law as a work that is self-evident, that is unique. Crowley here, like in so many different places in his corpus, continues to set the Book of the Law apart from his other works and magical triumphs.
He continues on from here with his original thesis by saying, “The thirty Aethyrs being, however, only second in importance, though very far away, to that Book, the Lords of Vision were at pains to supply internal evidence, more than amply sufficient that the revelations therein contained may be regarded as reliable. No doubt the proof appears stronger to me than to anyone else, because I alone know exactly what happened; also because many passages refer to matters personal to myself, so that only I can fully appreciate the dovetailings.”
Crowley is very clear in this part of his narrative that he feels The Vision and The Voice is “only second in importance” to the Book of the Law itself and “the Lords of Vision were at pains to supply internal evidence” of the reliability of the revelations contained within the former since the latter, as he has already stated, “guarantees itself” and is in no need of external validation. It is clear from his grammatical structure this is certainly the way he intended it to be read. Of course, others may disagree and I would refer them back to their grade school teachers for more instruction.
[Edit, 2021: I would add here that Crowley’s confession, no pun intended, about The Vision and The Voice being “personal to myself” is a huge marker toward understanding the difference between the Book of the Law and those additional Class A/AB texts which are indicative of his own personal attainments and experiences.]
At this point in Confessions, Crowley stops to say, “I admit that my visions can never mean to other men as much as they do to me. I do not regret this. All I ask is that my results should convince seekers after truth that there is beyond doubt something worth while seeking, attainable by methods more or less like mine.” In a clear continuity from his previous sentiment—”No doubt the proof [within The Vision and The Voice] appears stronger to me than to anyone else, because I alone know exactly what happened; also because many passages refer to matters personal to myself, so that only I can fully appreciate the dovetailings.”—he reiterates this value statement about his visions. What visions is he talking about here? What visions are the subject of the entire text of this chapter? The Vision and The Voice, of course. It is shocking to me that anyone would even suggest otherwise.
Crowley continues on in his pompous manner, “I do not want to father a flock, to be the fetish of fools and fanatics, or the founder of a faith whose followers are content to echo my opinions.” The alliteration here is unmistakable and completely Crowleyan hyperbole as we’ve come to recognize from other texts. He then adds the infamous sentence, “I want each man to cut his own way through the jungle.” But what is this jungle of which he writes? Through context, it is not Thelema or the Book of the Law. It is, however, a very direct statement concerning the Aethyrs and the processes of Enochian magick which he has been exploring through a series of visions (he even calls it “skrying in the spirit vision”) in the desert of Algiers.
In context, the subject of his meaning is clear: “I admit that my visions …” What visions? The Book of the Law was not a vision for Crowley. It was a transmission to [or through] Crowley. There is a clear separation between such texts. Even his “digression” to provide the contrast between the Book of the Law and The Vision and The Voice speaks volumes. One text has obvious and clear proofs, it “guarantees itself”, he says. The other needed “internal evidence” provided by the “Lords of Vision” in order to be considered “reliable”. And I want to reiterate such evidence, in a clear connection to his usual misquoted sentence, “appears stronger to [him] than to anyone else” for the obvious reasons. Crowley then continues on with his narrative of the working in Algiers toward the conclusion of The Vision and The Voice.
It should be clear at this point that in such quotes, even taking into consideration and dismissing Crowley’s egotistic claims of being a master of the English language, Crowley had no intention or meaning with this phrase in relation to the Law of Thelema or the Book of the Law. It is only through a deceptive practice of quoting such lines and then associating them implicitly or explicitly with Thelema, relying on others to not examine the evidence for themselves, that some individuals have become quite adept at misleading and causing doubt in others with this tripe. While it is obvious through other clues in the text that Crowley felt The Vision and The Voice was something of a vital piece to the thelemic puzzle, it is not within the context of the chapter, containing paragraph, or the surrounding paragraphs to assume that he felt that Thelema viz Liber AL was anything more than a revelation that needed no apologetics as did The Vision and The Voice and he took great pains to indicate this more than once in Confessions.
Thelema is not a jungle. The Book of the Law does not present a path through a dark, twisting, overgrown jungle of unidentifiable shapes and shadows. It is the Law of Light, Life, Love and Liberty. It is only through an application of intellectual dishonesty that anyone would suggest that Thelema resembles a jungle or that even Crowley thought so when he wrote, “I want each man to cut his own way through the jungle.” It is a dark mind and soul indeed that would want others to flounder within some confusion and meaningless tripe when Thelema is clear and understandable to even the mind of a child. “[Thelema] is so simple that it constantly approximates to truism”, Crowley says in his Commentary to Liber AL. The Law of Thelema is a light in the darkness, not a darkness through which the individual must wander around blindly until a door to understanding is discovered.
It is time to put an end to this intellectual and spiritual dishonesty and bring the Law to all as it was intended to be: a source of the transcendental truth expressed as Light, Life, Love and Liberty, and not a conflicted jungle of contradictions and assumptions projected upon it by those who would rather bind others in confusion and doubt than liberate through inspiration and beauty.
Love is the law, love under will.