Written by Frater Docet Umbra
(The title of this series is shamelessly stolen from the title of a previous work by Phil Hine. Credit where credit’s due.)
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law
The following is part of a series I wrote a few years ago whilst quite new to a thelemic order, and as I was forming a relationship to its central philosophy. How did I relate to this? Is the law really for all and if so what is the sexual ethic of a new day?
In the occult traditions we work with what can be considered hidden knowledge. This knowledge is not hidden because it is locked away in sealed epistles, but because it is written upon the earth and within the stars. Each person is uniquely positioned between these two to gain this hidden knowledge, a deep and fulfilling knowledge of their spiritual nature.
Of this experience of occult or hidden knowledge it must be said that the road to discovering it is deeply personal and unique to the individual. Although friends, working groups and family often accompany many on their path it is ultimately an initiation between the individual and the Gods.
The following work is written in the context of the individual and what this means in terms of the question of modern sexual ethic and gender and sexual variance in modern occultism. This work is further written in the context of the path of liberation, Thelema, as expressed through such vehicles as the Irish Order Of Thelema.
When originally writing this piece I decided to use the term ‘sexually variant’ to describe the nature of the individual this was aimed at. I suppose I am bad at political correctness, and could have chosen a term other than ‘variant’ to describe gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered sexual and gender identity. I was quickly put in my place and told I made it sound like I was emphasising difference. Truth be told I was and I am. I do, in a certain sense, mean sexual identity that is unconventional. We still live in a primarily heterosexist society and homosexual society is a counter cultural movement, even now.
This lack of convention is found in the esoteric stream also through the shaman, the berdache, the witch and the magician. The path of a homosexual or other person who identifies and ‘fronts’ differently is already on a path which is divergent and deeply individual. As such there are resonances with occultism on one hand as individual spirituality born out of experience, and more specifically the Left Hand Path which represents further streams of divergence and individualising. Something of this otherness is self evident in queer history, as well as in the journey towards integrated self identity in the light of a still predominant heterosexist cultural bias.
Take for example the ritual of coming out. This is a divergent ritual of the GLBT community. Your average teenage boy will not sit mammy and daddy down and tell them ‘mammy, daddy. I wanted you to know, and I hope you can accept this… I’m straight’. These kinds of conversations don’t happen because there is still a preeminence, and predominance of heterosexuality as a social norm.
Coming out of this comes the question “is ‘sexually variant’ just a differentiation of sexual behaviour, or a powerful magical identity based on the archetype of an ‘outsider’?” Even in the cultural expressions of homosexuality, there is the so called rainbow bubble in which one goes to gay bars, marches in gay pride parades, reads gay media and so on. This has questionable direct parallel in heterosexual identity and there is no overt heterosexual culture in the sense that a queer identification is a primary criteria for ‘membership’ of and identification with the counter cultural rainbow bubble.
Not only is there an identifiable otherness, but this identity is cultivated and enhanced. This is an observable phenomena through building a counter culture based on ones ‘queer’ identity. Some of the reclaimed language of GLBT culture also speaks to otherness and an identification with otherness, or belonging to the counter cultural movement, in other words, being, and enjoying being divergent or variant. Consider the content and origins of such words as faery, queer and even the use of the word fag in GLBT communities. These are outsider identifications.
But how are they related to the individual. Are they a description of mere behaviour or sexual acts (I’m not gay but my boyfriend is), or are they a mask, a magical persona, or even a self identification (ie I’m gay; I belong to the gay community)?
The whole question of gender stereotypes also enters into the equation, and I deliberately do not differentiate because part of the mask of the ‘otherness’ of self identity is connected to gender as much as sexuality. This forms a complex identity that forms a wholeness, and although not synonymous they are interrelated and integrated fields. There is also an exploration of otherness in gender amongst GLBT community because they already walk outside societal norms. This is often observable in people who first join the community and gradually develop more counter cultural behaviour. Before their sexuality was an activity, but being part of a community creates an identification with a culture and a persona built out of a symbiotic process of liberation. This does not mean all people who join the ‘community’ will become screaming queens, only that there are opportunities to explore self identity and gender identity outside of established ‘norms’, and a counter image is also often met. It also does not mean that one needs a counter cultural community to explore questions of sexual and gender ‘otherness’. Many brave people have shown me that it can also be an individual path to self identity in spite of cultural norms, even without a rainbow bubble for cultural protection.
The exploration of sexual and gender identity (who am I?) is part of a complex identity. Of some value to me was the work of Roberto Assagioli on sub personalities and their integration into a self image. It is not about the mask of homosexual identity, or gender identity being the same, but they form a whole identity which is arrived at through a conscious psychological alchemy rather than inheriting and adhering to a pre-existing standard.
But it does raise a question. I’m afraid I’m terrible at the most up to date and politically correct language to use in reference to people who vary in their sexual and gender identity. I remember a time when the term ‘sexual preference’ was in fashion, but (if I’m right) this has gone out of fashion. It inferred too much choice. Not all of our masks are put on consciously – sometimes we wake up to a mask we didn’t realize we wore or identify with. This is obviously a sticky topic, but more so in relation to people with a heterosexual orientation. Most gay people will have at least some heterosexual experience, whereas this is not so often true of heterosexuals. So here one can speak to a preference born out of experience. Either abject homosexuality or heterosexuality is often a closed self identity in which there is only one choice. I like vanilla ice cream, so I don’t need to try chocolate as I ‘know’ that I wont like the taste. And of course there are those who comply to societal norms (and are quite happy there) who never even thought that there might be other flavours. Unlike some, such at the author Frater U.’.D.’., I do not advocate sexual experiment for the sake of it if one has a secure and integrated sexual identification.
Later came the idea and label of sexual orientation. This is one that I can identify more easily with. As someone with quite extensive experience with heterosexuality and auto eroticism, my sexuality is by no means singular. I identify with all of my experiences and can identify not just preference, but orientation. Orientation is what is closest to who I am (at the moment) and the direction I am walking in. It forms my self identification or magical image, which informs my actions, in a way preference does not.
Still, as a person who has a different ‘sexual orientation’, this term also seems inadequate when dealing with the mysteries. We are not dealing with an ‘orientation’ but an identity which is integrative of so much. I have a magical name, a persona, a sexuality, a gender identity, a job, loved ones and I am the sum of these parts. I not only have an otherness, but I have cultivated and used it to live in the world on my terms. I am divergent, I am individual, and as much as it is true of any individual I am queer. As such I choose this label and identification, queer, to speak about myself and others who cultivate a magickal and divergent identity to actively work in the world.
Little work has been done to look specifically at the historical, cultural and spiritual background of the specific occult dynamics of queer individuals often considered under the broad term of GLBT (Gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered). Where it has been done, it has been done either with a negative bias or the supposition the dynamics are identical to those working as heterosexuals, within predominantly heterosexual symbolism and paradigms.
Where such a divergent work has been done, it has been done by queers, individuals who belong to a community with the common thread of queer mysteries. Within world history and occult traditions there is a parallel stream of queer mysteries, mysteries which break away from the orthodox heterosexual bias supposed in much magick, towards a model for the sexually variant person as a self willing being.
It is important at this point to state that the neither mysteries are not the antithesis of heterosexual models. When we look at the GBLT community we see a strongly introverted community based on such tendencies. Rather than splitting our efforts into streams, it is our work in the context of Thelema to be an impulse of commonality, a river of self willing individuals working towards knowledge and expression of their will. It is an expression of our queer identity as a recognition of the diversity of human experience. In this river are many rocks, fish, plants, and currents, all creating the river but unique in their individual place and purpose.
Within the thelemic current there are many individuals, and this work merely aims to give food for thought for free men and women who may wish to work with these dynamics in their own unique way.
A Prologue: An Experience Of Thelema
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law
The first time I heard this simple statement, the most fundamental base of Thelema, I felt liberated. This uttering is a liberating, yet also a most dangerous statement.
The definition and purpose of the thelemic path is at times hard to pin down. So much periphery esoteric jargon can be built around the Law, but to me the Law says “to thine own self be true”. It allows me to experience myself, become aware of the full extent of my being and work towards defining and refining my essential self.
It is my personal policy not to write anything I have not lived with, and one of the ideas I have lived with most is that life is a series of relationships. In life we have many different kinds of relationships with different people, different meetings and acts of union. All acts of union are acts of love and pleasure. This is not to say every person we meet is pleasant, but that the experience of living in the world is an act of reverie.
Human sexuality and its expression is bound only by the law of Thelema, Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, supplemented by Love is the law, love under will! This law supposes self willing adults expressing themselves, and is unrestricted by the hetero-monogamous expectation of Christian morality. Thelema is a path of liberation covering the spectrum of human experience including (but certainly not exclusive to) heterosexuality, homosexuality, BDSM, monogamy, polygamy, promiscuity, love making between two intimate partners and no strings f*@king between strangers. Thelema holds none of these expressions are right or more valid, only differing acts of union which when wilfully performed become rituals which may be raised in service of the great work.
All of this is indeed a wonderful idea, but we live in a society where we are raised on the morality of the Judeo Christian West, where media, moral pedalling religions and a general subversive cultural undertone shape our relationship to ourselves as sexual and as spiritual beings.
Thelema is in its early days as a movement, but we are reassured for the future that the law is for all! Every man and woman has the ability to learn and manifest their own unique will. We see the dawning of a new day with the crumbling visages of religious and state authority. What will arise in its place? For now there is not a definite answer, but a possibility. This is the possibility for a more sane, adult society based on individual liberty.
We are learning to leave behind the shackles of restriction, learning the ability to de-program and to finally establish independent thought and action.
But where does this leave the queer folk, those who follow their sexual will to all sorts of “perversions”. The use of this word to describe sexual tendencies and practices is for me quite interesting as this word has grown to mean that which differs from the established norm. It reminds me of left hand path tantra where the initiate is led through the performance of all kinds of taboo practices, perversions from the norm, in a process of individualisation. Certainly there is a strong possibility to explore LHP occultism in Thelema and this question is variously dealt with in the later parts of this work.
There is no moral of the new aeon because it holds its base in the ethic of the new age, which, like the Buddha so many years ago, says “be a light unto yourself”. Every person is individual and has an individual will to follow, the true nature of each person can span the spectrum of human experience. There is no other law than do what thou wilt.
Having grown up in the Roman Catholic tradition of Christianity I am only too aware of the previous doctrines which control thought and pass out dogma rather than promoting self knowledge and individual wills.
It is the purpose of my train of thought to reveal the actual esoteric core of both the sheep religions and our own selves, and our similar processes. It might be surmised from my words that I am anti Christian, but my problems with Christianity stem from its constant struggle between the externalised and dogma ridden tradition and the internal esotericism of Christianity, as is indeed the case with most paths.
This struggle is also evident in the dual being of the queer person. We have an external being plagued cultural taboos, by the shame of queer identity, difficulties in coming out, and ultimately in recognising, accepting and acting on their true nature and Will.
Thelema is not an institution, nor can any number of sheep minds make it so. It is the highest expression of our inner impulse brought up and projected outwards until our true being is realised, abolishing the illusion of separation and conflict. It has the potential to see rectified and rebuilt the temple of unity.
The resistance to this process is equally a part of our nature. We see the institutions resisting the dynamic force of the spirit and the shame dynamic impairing the nature of the queer person. This resistance can be expressed as sin.
Sin as a term and idea stems from fear. It is a formula that makes life safe- this is right, this is wrong. With sin there is no need to think or make decisions, and no need to directly experience life on any sort of deep level. But how is this fear? This new age is a scary thing! There is no one to “tell” you what to think, and there is a constant struggle between the old age programming of thought, belief and action and the autonomy of the dawning age. The nature of sin is restriction.
The institutions of the old law say “homosexuality is wrong”. Liber Al says not thinking for yourself is wrong. We are not spiritual children any more- we are able to think for ourselves if we recognise our blooming adulthood and our personal responsibility.
At the same time we must retain a certain quality of the child. I believe the world can be in a constant process of dreaming and recreation.The new Aeon builds on the old, but of what we have inherited the law of liberty would ask – how free a relationship is that? Do I have the possibility to reject or to imagine something completely new? I got a postcard many years ago which said ‘those who learn the world as it is will never create the world as it might be’. The formula of the child is full of wonder, learning the world as if for the first time and creating it each time in the full breadth of possibilities. These possibilities live in the imagination of even the most adult of children who do not exclusively identify themselves with what has come before as the inevitability of the future.
Yes, the world is scary when the safety nets are taken away, but we are not just moving away from safety, but towards real independence, autonomy and a real and integrated self. Conflict only exists when Will is not acted upon.
Thelema and the liberated person, regardless of sexuality or gender identity, willing to look at his or her true self and act on it hold only one phrase, one philosophy in common – do what thou wilt!
Love is the law, love under will