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How to appreciate Crowley?


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A perhaps slightly different perspective on Aleister (I freely admit I've only read 2/3 of the posts, so I might be just re-phrasing)

My view of Crowley has always been that he sought power and knowledge for himself exclusively, to gain personally from it only and use it to dominate others.

In my book that qualifies him as a #¤%"#¤.

In that light, I find tremendous pleasure using his "tool of power" for something positive, thus undermining his original intention for it and taking the negative aspect out of it.

To me, using the Thoth is like using military helmets as flower pots: they were made for war, but serve as a foundation for growing life.

(I'm overlooking Frida's very significant influence for simplification purposes)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TenOfSwords
A perhaps slightly different perspective on Aleister (I freely admit I've only read 2/3 of the posts, so I might be just re-phrasing)

My view of Crowley has always been that he sought power and knowledge for himself exclusively, to gain personally from it only and use it to dominate others.

In my book that qualifies him as a #¤%"#¤.

In that light, I find tremendous pleasure using his "tool of power" for something positive, thus undermining his original intention for it and taking the negative aspect out of it.

To me, using the Thoth is like using military helmets as flower pots: they were made for war, but serve as a foundation for growing life.

(I'm overlooking Frida's very significant influence for simplification purposes)

I have to disagree with your perspective on Crowley, but I am actually suprised that I haven't seen your viewpoint on using his deck more widely mentioned. I know that reclaiming something from evil (a word I like better than most of the new age words like negativity etc) and putting it to a good use is a great thrill.
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Originally Posted by Babylon_Jasmine
If you look at the laws of thelema out of context there are a thousand ways to interpret them. However they are quotes from the book of the law and taken in that context they are a bit cruel. Crowley is very specific about what the laws mean. They aren't a license to libertinage, but they are a call to cruelty to the weak.
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Originally Posted by Babylon_Jasmine
Then you have not read Crowley's notes on the Law. Want and Will are not the same. Do as Thou Will is not the same as do as thou want. Crowley believed very strongly in a personal higher nature and a true will of each person. Often you don't want to do what you are willed to do. And he also specifically says in the book of the law to be without mercy.
I'm no expert on Crowley; I'm only just beginning to study the Thoth deck and some of Crowley's esoteric ideas. However, as a practicioner of Zen, I am not "uninitiated" when it comes to mysticism and the study and development of the mind. Reading Crowley with a perspective shaped by daily zazen and continuous, close study of the nature of the mind, I am not struck, at least not in my initial encounters with his writings, that he was a cruel or amoral man, at least not when it comes to his understanding of true freedom.

I've been reading Magick Without Tears, and the impression of the man I get through these letters is that he was a person of wit (I have continuously laughed out loud reading MWT) and even of compassion. The letters have a fatherly and helpful tone--he seems to really want to help others find freedom and illumination, and to find delight in playfully mapping out the path to that realization for others, as would any kind-hearted sage and person of the Tao.

I think Crowley had a subtle understanding of morality, and I so far have not encountered an ideology that supports following the petty and selfish dictates of the ego at the expense of others. Actually, what draws me to Crowley is how much his thinking draws from Eastern traditions like yoga and Buddhism in its focus on liberation from the ego-driven mind.

I cannot help but quote Crowley at length here (from his letter on "Selfishness"):

Quote:
"...It is a lie, this folly against self...." (AL II, 22)

This is the central doctrine of Thelema in this matter. What are we to understand by it? That this imbecile and nauseating cult of weakness— democracy some call it—is utterly false and vile.

Let us look into the matter. (First consult AL II, 24, 25, 48, 49, 58, 59. and III, 18, 58, 59. It might be confusing to quote these texts in full; but they throw much further light on the subject.) The word "compassion" is its accepted sense—which is bad etymology—implies that you are a fine fellow, and the other so much dirt; that is, you insult him by pity for his misfortunes. But "Every man and every woman is a star."; so don't you do it! You should treat everybody as a King of the same order as yourself. Of course, nine people out of ten won't stand for it, not for a minute; the mere fact of your treating them decently frightens them; their sense of inferiority is exacerbated and intensified; they insist on grovelling. That places them. They force you to treat them as the mongrel curs they are; and so everybody is happy!

The Book of the Law is at pains to indicate the proper attitude of one "King" to another. When you fight him, "As brothers fight ye!" Here we have the old chivalrous type of warfare, which the introduction of reason into the business has made at the moment impossible. Reason and Emotion; these are the two great enemies of the Ethic of Thelema. They are the traditional obstacles to success in Yoga as well as in Magick.

Now in practice, in everyday life, this unselfishness is always cropping up. Not only do you insult your brother King by your "noble self-sacrifice," but you are almost bound to interfere with his True Will. "Charity" always means that the lofty soul who bestows it is really, deep down, trying to enslave the recipient of his beastly bounty!

In practice, I begin afresh, it is almost entirely a matter of the point of view. That poor chap looks as if a square meal wouldn't hurt him; and you chuck him a half-crown. You offend his pride, you pauperize him, you make a perfect cad of yourself, and you go off with a glow of having done your good deed for the day. It's all wrong. In such a case, you should make it the request for favour. Say you're "dying for someone to talk to, and would he care to join you in a spot of lunch" at the Ritz, or wherever you feel that he will be the happiest.

When you can do this sort of thing as it should be done, without embarrassment, false shame, with your whole heart in your words—do it simply, to sum up—you will find yourself way up on the road to that royal republic which is the ideal of human society.
It seems to me that Crowley is getting at the fine distinction between true compassion and what Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa (another fine and compassionate teacher with a life full of morally questionable behavior) called "idiot compassion." This "idiot compassion" occurs when a person actually impedes others or enables them to continue in destructive behavior by being gentle and permissive towards them and mistaking his or her timid, cowardly, and passive stance as "kindness."

Sometimes the most compassionate action is a slap in the face. Real love is fierce and uncompromising, and is not about feeling good or about making others feel good; it is about doing everything possible to help others realize their own innate freedom. It takes guts to be willing to risk confrontation and the stress of difficult conversations by refusing to play to the laziness of others' egos. Taking away people's illusions is the greatest act of kindness, yet often, they are not going to love you for it. They are only going to love you for making them feel better, even if feeling better about their delusions is not what they really need.

I think Crowley makes excellent points in this letter as a teacher of morality! When we are "kind" to another person by making them dependent on us in any way--dependent on our praise, our support, or whatever it may be--we are actually making that person less free and clear than they were before. The best gift we can give to another person is freedom, not ease. The old cliché: better to teach a person to fish than to give that person a fish, and thus make them dependent on us for our handouts.

Perhaps I'm being a bit generous in my reading of Crowley, but I do not see a man encouraging exploitation of the weak in favor of one's own misguided ends. What Crowley teaches is freedom. And understanding that true freedom is freedom from the self-imposed limitations of the ego sheds further light on the ultimate implications of what Crowley teaches. When one is not ruled by the dictates of the "small mind," one has no desire to harm others or to seek fame and fortune. There is no freedom there; only enslavement.

True moral precepts are not prudish "Thou shalt nots," but simple reflections of the way one must behave if one seeks to become truly free. Stealing, killing, and lying only arise from a deluded and entrapped mind, locked behind small-minded ideas of loss and gain. Ultimately, there is no loss and no gain. To the degree any teacher of mystical understanding falls into seeking after fame and profit, that teacher has fallen away from their realization and understanding of freedom.

One of the most fascinating questions for me as a spiritual practicioner is how it can be that brilliant teachers of the highest Way of human morality and realization can have lives full of scandalous and "immoral" behavior. There are brilliant Buddhist teachers with uncompromising teachings who yet had lives full of illicit affairs, drinking problems, and other issues. What is going on here?

My answer to this so far is that the reality of a spiritual life is very different from the ideal. Any kind of spiritual experience is temporary, and awakening is something which must be continually practiced and maintained. One never sheds the old layers of conditioning that give one a unique personality; years of spiritual practice can shift one's center of being away from the reactive ego, but that does not mean the ego has disappeared.

Sometimes the old habits reassert themselves, depending on the strength of the conditioning and the vigilance and clarity of the mind at the moment. The seventh century Zen master Hui-neng said, "As far as Buddha Nature is concerned, there is no difference between a sinner and a sage... One enlightened thought and one is a Buddha, one foolish thought and one is again an ordinary person."

So whatever Crowley may have done in his personal life (I cannot imagine him having become as corrupt as Osho), I don't think that it indicates he was not a moral thinker. If anything, it points to the difficulty it takes to maintain a life of freedom even after one has discovered what that freedom is. It is life-long work. There is no magic finish line after which one can simply coast down the hill of enlightened living. If one stops lifting weights, one's muscles will shrink, no matter how strong one was before; in the same way, if one stops practicing and maintaining the awakened mind, its presence will dwindle.

Personally, what bothers me most about Crowley morally is not his bizarre sexual exploits or unhealthy relationships, but his sexism. He seems too intelligent to have given in to that age-old stupidity! But sexism is unfortunately a certain type of ignorance which is par for the course in nearly all religions and esoteric systems. And I can overlook it in favor on focusing on his insights. And ultimately, as has been pointed out, what matters is what he taught, not what he did, and the only part of what he taught that matters is that which leads to freedom.

Be free!
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Excellent post noby !

Quote:
Originally Posted by noby
Personally, what bothers me most about Crowley morally is not his bizarre sexual exploits or unhealthy relationships, but his sexism. He seems too intelligent to have given in to that age-old stupidity! But sexism is unfortunately a certain type of ignorance which is par for the course in nearly all religions and esoteric systems.
Personally I feel uncomfortable saying that Crowley's sexual exploits were bizarre, whether I agree with them or not. Sexuality is the most basic expression of the True Will of any individual. I think that's why Crowley saw sexuality as a part of spirituality. Of course western society is still riddled with Christian notions of "spirituality" and it's rejection of nature and natural processes.

I agree with you about the sexism in Crowley's writtings, but only up to a point. Some of Crowley's writting is very pro-feminine in my opinion. See the commentaries on The Book of the Law in The Law is for All.
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Hello Noby, interesting post.
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Originally Posted by noby
Taking away people's illusions is the greatest act of kindness, yet often, they are not going to love you for it.
You ascribe yourself a great deal of power if you think that you can wave your hand and dismiss the illusions of others. This power is illusionary. People will come to realisations on their own accord. If one's influence/presence steers the course (slightly) of those around (and seemingly causes "awakenings") then that is because something that is already in that person is resonating in harmony. To designate this process as a power that one possesses is a very self-centred view. There is the same process at work when my bookcase vibrates and clicks away to itself when a train passes - it is no more a power of the train than it is a power of the bookcase.
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Originally Posted by noby
When one is not ruled by the dictates of the "small mind," one has no desire to harm others or to seek fame and fortune. There is no freedom there; only enslavement.
This is your interpretation, but you state it like universal fact. I think that it is a very limited view, and contradicts something you said earlier:
"Real love is fierce and uncompromising". It may be my enlightened view that person X needs a good kicking else my will be thwarted. It may be that my will dictates that I should amass a great fortune in order that it may continue it's work. It may be that my will is best served by being highly prominent in the public eye, thus able to address the greatest number of people. It's very easy to dismiss those acts or pursuits as having no worth, when really it is more likely that they simply have no worth for YOU.
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Originally Posted by noby
Personally, what bothers me most about Crowley morally is not his bizarre sexual exploits or unhealthy relationships, but his sexism.
I'm interested that you think that. I haven't read all of Crowley's work, admittedly, but I have yet to come across anything which has lead me to the conclusion that he was a mysogynist. Which passage(s) have lead you to this conclusion?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aeon418
Excellent post noby !


Personally I feel uncomfortable saying that Crowley's sexual exploits were bizarre, whether I agree with them or not. Sexuality is the most basic expression of the True Will of any individual. I think that's why Crowley saw sexuality as a part of spirituality. Of course western society is still riddled with Christian notions of "spirituality" and it's rejection of nature and natural processes.

I agree with you about the sexism in Crowley's writtings, but only up to a point. Some of Crowley's writting is very pro-feminine in my opinion. See the commentaries on The Book of the Law in The Law is for All.
Thanks Aeon, you make good points.

"Bizarre" is certainly a relative term. I'm a fan of Dan Savage's sex column, Savage Love, and what I've gotten out of reading it is that expressing one's true sexual self is very important for one's health and fullness of being, and yet, so difficult in a society where everything beyond a certain set of sexual experiences is considered "freaky."

I'm really open-minded about others' sexuality and fetishes. But there's a few areas where I draw the line, and mainly it has to do with not causing harm to others. And I'm not talking about BDSM, in which pain becomes pleasure, but rather, sexuality which is nonconsensual and/or psychologically harmful. That's a vague thing, and to be judged on a one-to-one basis. And it seems more than one person left sexual relationship with Crowley psychologically damaged. And scat play and bestiality are not high up on my list either... But of course, I have no idea to what extent reports of Crowley's life are accurate or pure invention, or somewhere in between those two extremes.

Quote:
Originally Posted by spiral
You ascribe yourself a great deal of power if you think that you can wave your hand and dismiss the illusions of others. This power is illusionary. People will come to realisations on their own accord. If one's influence/presence steers the course (slightly) of those around (and seemingly causes "awakenings") then that is because something that is already in that person is resonating in harmony.
Excellent, excellent point, spiral. Thank you for clarifying this. It would indeed be absurd if one thought that another's "awakening" was one's own "creation"! As you rightly point out, one can only help others, but one cannot do the work for them or create the result. There's the metaphor in Zen of the mother hen and the chick, the chick (the student) tapping at the eggshell from the inside, the mother hen (the teacher) pecking from outside at the right time and place. The only thing one really can do for another is to refuse to help build up their egotisms by playing up to them. And of course, this is not so straightforward, as one first has to be able to recognize that another is acting from crusty beliefs in the first place, which is a "power" I believe people can develop... but how do we judge whether our impression is delusive or not? How do we know whether we actually have that "power" yet? It is difficult!

People speak of a Zen teacher's function being to take away one's toys or to pull out the rug from under one with a quick and piercing response, either verbal or non-verbal. I've experienced this somewhat in working with teachers, and it's amazing how a good teacher can see through what you're saying to what you're really saying, and with just a handful of words, punch straight through to the heart or gut. In that way, they help, by clearing away all the junk and getting to what's real. But they certainly don't give the student anything or create the student's awakening!

Quote:
It may be that my will dictates that I should amass a great fortune in order that it may continue it's work. It may be that my will is best served by being highly prominent in the public eye, thus able to address the greatest number of people. It's very easy to dismiss those acts or pursuits as having no worth, when really it is more likely that they simply have no worth for YOU.
More good points--thank you. My point was not that wealth or fame have no worth or are never useful. Rather, what I was trying to get at is that the neurotic need to amass wealth or fame as a form of comfort or security fall away as one's view becomes more expansive. One might be an "awakened" individual and still enjoy nice cars and being the star of the show at the party, but one does not clutch after those things to secure the sense of self.

From my (admittedly limited) understanding, I'd say that the litmus test is the motivation for one's act, whether it arises from unconscious habit patterns that attempt to ease neurotic anxieties, or arises from something more direct and "plugged in." Another test would be whether one can let go of that desire if the situation changes and after one realizes pursuing that desire no longer reflects being "plugged in" to what's happening, but instead, rises out of some deluded craving or reaction of the small self. It's all so subtle, and I can't claim to fully understand it.

But I can say from what I do know from my practice that acting out of the petty desires of the small mind to confirm the solidity of its existence takes away one's natural freedom. If someone is straining after fame just because they want their "name in lights," not in order to give them a place of prominence from which to teach, or out of the natural play in the moment, but because they crave recognition, that is an act of the enslaved mind. And of course, this is a hard thing to judge from the outside, if not impossible, though there seem to be hints in how a person, say, handles fame, goes about getting it, deals with it when it passes away, etc.

Quote:
I'm interested that you think that. I haven't read all of Crowley's work, admittedly, but I have yet to come across anything which has lead me to the conclusion that he was a mysogynist. Which passage(s) have lead you to this conclusion?
This is a good starting place. See the "P.S." section which describes the different "classes" of women and which concludes that all women are subordinate to the True Will of the man. (For now, I'm ignoring the blatantly "sexist" bits at the beginning and end of the letter, because they seem intentionally satiric.)

And while I think he makes some good and interesting points in this letter about the sentimentalizing of instinct, he also goes on to define women's "essential" nature as that of the "vampire" and "devourer," while defining a man's innate nature as that of the "noble" hero. The problem here is that I can see where Crowley is coming from regarding archetypes, but his equation of archetypal qualities with the nature of individuals based on sex and gender is not only misogynist, but weak intellectually.

Also, he chooses to focus on a negative archetype of the woman, and a positive archetype of the man. He could just as easily draw the opposite conclusions of "nobility of soul" by focusing on the archetype of the man as a controlling and destructive force, and the woman as a nurturing and creative force. Any conclusion about the relative worth of a particular sex based on biased selection of archetypal qualities, whether favoring male or female, is not simply "non-PC," but also weak intellectually. Crowley isn't the first thinker whose genius seemed to falter when it came to gender.
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How To Appreciate Crowley


Your thoughts, noby, are appreciated. Crowley believed that everyone is a Star, that pity plays no place in equality between human beings, yet woman is vamp and man is noble hero. I think his latter characterizations have to do with sexual relations, not with essential human nature. Not that I agree with him, since he gives positive tone to the man and negative tone to the woman in their sexuality. Still,their sexual needs and responses are different, however he tries to express it.
But does any of this affect his and Freida Harris' Thoth Tarot, based as it is on Kabbalah, Astrology, Alchemy, etc? Doesn't his zen and magic and philosophical genius rule here? ( And doesn't his sexual intensity and ardor and search for tantric ecstasy make him more alive? More able to actualize his poetic nature? More able to free himself from intellectually fixed dogmas of science and religion? )
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F.H., I appreciate your eloquent thoughts on this. I agree that it seems Crowley was talking about man and woman in terms of universalized archetypes, particularly as they are extrapolated from sexuality and sexual roles. What I question is not only extending this to individual personality aside from sexuality, but also his picking and choosing sets of archetypal qualities in a way that makes the woman come across unrealistically poorly and the man come across as unrealistically heroic.

And in the end, as you point out, the core of his philosophy does transcend what seem to have been some of his own intellectual weak spots. It's interesting how similar this is to Buddhism. The original teachings of the Buddha, or at least what are said to be the original teachings (they were not written down until 500 years after Shakyamuni's death) are full of sexism, but at the same time, the Buddha ultimately says that the ultimate nature of the mind is beyond gender and that both men and women can become enlightened.

Personally, I don't think it's right or healthy to simply ignore or whitewash problems in spiritual traditions such as sexism, and think if we do try to avoid the issues, we will only perpetuate the suffering they create. But at the same time, I don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. If a beautiful, profound, and enlightening body of teaching has flaws, in my book, it's simply a matter of approaching the teachings with discriminating wisdom, and focusing on that which helps one become more awake, not dismissing them because the founding teacher had flaws, but also not accepting everything the teacher said as true or wise just because some of it is wise or true.

I'm fascinated by Crowley both as a thinker and as a human being. I'm not puritanical when it comes to individual behavior. I think people should be held responsible for their bad actions, but this is not the same thing as dismissing them or labelling them as "bad people." I believe that extremely gifted and "enlightened" teachers can also be flawed human beings. Actually, that's a weak way to put it. We're all flawed, and we're never not going to be. The only thing that can change is how we use and relate to those flaws.

One way I've seen others put this which I find helpful is the idea that the liquid which the vessel contains can be absolutely pure and clear, but the individual vessel may have some irreparable cracks. And so while I do not excuse or baby people when it comes to their mistakes, I actually find it easier to feel empathy and respect for those who obviously struggled with human foibles at the same time that they were bringing such light to the world.

And the impression I get is that while the man was no saint, he also was not nearly as "bad" as his reputation would make him out to be. I've seen many people distort what he taught into a selfish ideology about excusing the basest and most petty parts of our nature and doing whatever it takes to get our way... And this distortion kept me away from his teachings for quite some time. What foolishness these distortions are! Not only does Crowley clearly distinguish that it is necessary to throw away the selfish and limited ego to find one's True Will, but his tone is not at all dark and evil. I mean, this was a man who wrote things such as the following:

"The Universe is Change; every Change is the effect of an Act of Love; all Acts of Love contain Pure Joy. Die daily!"

That is an utterly selfless statement. And in my personal dictionary, a saint is someone who has realized total selflessness, who has totally thrown the self away. Now, no one can be a saint all the time; I personally believe it is impossible to reach some mystic state where the light still doesn't sometimes get hindered by the cracks in one's personal vessel.

Crowley was hungry for the truth and devoted his life to sharing his vision with other people. His perverse enjoyment of watching people squirm on their self-created hooks got him in trouble, as did his many personal flaws. But I don't at all see how anyone who studies what he wrote could come away with the opinion that he was an "evil" man.
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Reading through Crowley's diaries, I am struck by his self-effacing honesty. He did not engage in hypocritcal fictions and myth-making regarding some sanctimonious, special holiness, or chosen status conveyed on his person by his spiritual office as Prophet. In fact, he insisted on minutely describing his reveling, even wallowing, in his humanity. He openly and honestly shares his failings, weakness, poverty, confusion, despair, and cravings. His approach is completely unique among spiritual teachers. His promise seems to be that as a demonstrated, self-proclaimed, fellow human being, he attained. And our common humanity is the seal of the availability of attainment to us all.

Aleister Crowley and the Practice of the Magical Diary ~ James Wasserman
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How To Appreciate Crowley?


Quote:
Originally Posted by noby

And the impression I get is that while the man was no saint, he also was not nearly as "bad" as his reputation would make him out to be. I've seen many people distort what he taught into a selfish ideology about excusing the basest and most petty parts of our nature and doing whatever it takes to get our way... And this distortion kept me away from his teachings for quite some time. What foolishness these distortions are! Not only does Crowley clearly distinguish that it is necessary to throw away the selfish and limited ego to find one's True Will, but his tone is not at all dark and evil. I mean, this was a man who wrote things such as the following:

"The Universe is Change; every Change is the effect of an Act of Love; all Acts of Love contain Pure Joy. Die daily!"

That is an utterly selfless statement. And in my personal dictionary, a saint is someone who has realized total selflessness, who has totally thrown the self away. Now, no one can be a saint all the time; I personally believe it is impossible to reach some mystic state where the light still doesn't sometimes get hindered by the cracks in one's personal vessel.

Crowley was hungry for the truth and devoted his life to sharing his vision with other people. His perverse enjoyment of watching people squirm on their self-created hooks got him in trouble, as did his many personal flaws. But I don't at all see how anyone who studies what he wrote could come away with the opinion that he was an "evil" man.
Yes, when Crowley lived out of his joyful playfulness and witty wisdom and selfless truthfulness, he was an amazing HUMAN BEING. His true Will shone as a spiritual beacon. Sometimes clouds swept over his starlight for awhile. Still, he was an honest pioneer of human wholeness, beyond the fanatic narrowness of sterile science and fearful religion. That's why he once said that he was Blavatsky's successor. She, too, pioneered a path where spirit and matter co-evolve, as pictured by "Universe," firmament and snake togethering. Maybe he was the first zen kabbalist.
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