Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Of Mormonism and Magickal Virtue

Editor's Introduction

Within this piece, of which the underlying premise is the uniting of humanity with divinity in will, author Race MoChridhe touches upon a few interesting points, including how Mormonism differs from other religions in how it regards "the Holy Trinity," Eliphas Lévi's "magickal virtues", and Crowley's improvement on said magickal virtues, and more.

a magician

Mormonism vs. Other Religions :: Rationalizing the Trinity

By Race MoChridhe

One of the most interesting (from a Pagan perspective) and troubling (from most other perspectives) aspects of religion is the extreme fungibility between heroes and gods. The Classical pantheon is well-stocked in apotheosed mortals, from Orpheus to Empedocles. The Celtic epics, with maddening inconsistency, often make the same figure an immortal god and a long-deceased noble. Even today, at the edges of the great Abrahamic religions, lurk shadowy sects and rogue mystics who find divinity in Ezra, Ali, or the Blessed Virgin. Pagans rarely feel a need to rationalize these apparent inconsistencies, and most Abrahamicists simply dismiss them as heresy, but there are some who keep an interest in the mechanics of such things. Two who would do well to talk to each other more are Mormons and ceremonial magicians.

Mormon theology is non-trinitarian, insofar as they do not believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are ontologically identical, as most Christian groups do. They rescue monotheism, however, in a fascinatingly magickal way—by claiming that, although the three are not united in their nature, they are united in their will, and because their wills are in perfect accord, they are functionally one God. To place one’s will in perfect accord with the Heavenly Father, of course, is a very difficult thing to do. Even the greatest of the medieval mystics regarded this more as a theoretical ideal than a thing achievable (in this lifetime, at any rate). The linking of mortality and divinity on Earth is therefore seen in Mormonism as something miraculous—outside the natural course of events and attributable solely to the grace of God.

book of mormon
The ceremonial magician Eliphas Lévi, on the other hand, saw the process as quite natural—a product not of divine grace, but of human initiative, which requires more than will alone (will suffices, of course, in all matters for God, but not always for men). In what is perhaps his most popular work, Transcendental Magic, Lévi enumerated four magickal virtues (sometimes called the “Powers of the Sphinx”) which make the link between humanity and divinity possible. Customarily named in Latin, they are scire (to know), audere (to dare), velle (to will), and tacere (to keep silence).

Though now only one of four components, will, remained the keystone of Lévi’s conception when he wrote in The Great Secret that “magic ... has for its purpose the placing of supernatural power at the service of the human will in some way. To attain such an achievement it is necessary to KNOW what has to be done, to WILL what is required, to DARE what must be attempted and to KEEP SILENT with discernment.” In essence, this was simply a reversal of the Mormon concept; while it speaks of man joined with God by the alignment of human will to the divine power, Lévi spoke of divinity yoked to man by the alignment of the divine power to human will. Using Odysseus as an example, Lévi spoke of how he used these virtues to “sway the gods”, and wrote to his students that “You are called to be king of air, water, earth and fire; but to reign over these four living creatures of symbolism, it is necessary to conquer and enchain them … be the heir and despoiler of the sphinx”.

Our old friend Aleister Crowley (of whom we have lately written so much), could no more leave this system unimproved than he could any other, especially since he claimed to be, himself, the reincarnation of Lévi. Feeling that the elements of spirit, which had come into common use among kabbalists since Lévi’s time, required a corresponding virtue, he added ire (to go). Where Lévi, steeped in Western occult tradition, thought in terms of spiritual domination and the harnessing of supernatural powers, Crowley, an avid student of Eastern spirituality as well as Western, dreamt of the transcendence of such dualities.

For him, the cultivation of the magickal virtues was not about wielding divine power as a tool, but about realizing one’s own identity with and in that power. “[A]s Spirit is the Origin, the Essence, and the Sum of the other four [elements],” he wrote in Magick Without Tears, “so is to Go in relation to those powers. And to Go is the very meaning of the name God … the means whereby we demonstrate the Godhead of our Nature.” For Crowley, one’s mastery over the elements arose not from “conquering” and “enchaining”, but from finding oneself in the heart of that from which the elements flow. It is not a matter of reducing them to an extension of one’s will, but of realizing them as emanations of one’s own nature, and hence of one’s True Will:
[T]he four Virtues of the Adept …  enable him to overcome the resistance of the elements; they are: to Will, to Dare, to Know and to Keep Silence. By the harmonious exercise of these, the fifth Element of Spirit is formulated in the being of the Adept. It is the god within, the sun, which is the centre of the Universe from the human point of view, with its own particular virtue, which is to Go." (Book of Thoth)

In effect, by proper application of the magickal virtues, one becomes actus purus (pure act), which is one of the defining traits of God in the Christian theological tradition. The sacred center is imagined as the perpetual activity of divinity, ceaselessly creating and recreating the cosmos, and the adept who wills, dares, knows, and keeps silence is returned to this stream of activity from which she or he was once birthed into manifestation. By thus returning in a willed and purposeful way, however, the adept retains a paradoxical measure of his or her independence. Like the Mormon Christ, the adept is both God and man—creator and creature. Like Lévi, the adept is in command, but like any good Thelemite, is also commanded by her or his True Will.

Concerning the above, we have an altogether fresh take on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying that the cup may be taken from Him, but that the Lord’s will be done in all matters. In traditional Christian thought, this text (Matthew 26:39; Luke 22:42) has been deeply troubling, with its suggestion of a rift between Jesus’ human desires and God’s immutable will. In Crowley’s concept, however, we find a possibility that these two wills can be identical not only by a gift of divine grace, such that Jesus’ prayer would be read as an interruption of that grace, but by the active effort of the one who prays, such that Jesus’ words in that moment become not a sign of wavering, but an affirmation of persistence. Human and divine initiative stand reconciled, in Crowley’s model, and the fusion of the human and the divine is seen to be both mundane (as in Lévi) and miraculous (as in Mormonism).

If we return, then, to Lévi’s example of Odysseus as a true magician in mastery of the four virtues, we are truthfully hard-pressed to decide if he is a man or a god. In Crowley’s terms, he is both, and we might well say the same of Empedocles, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, or Mary. For too much of the history of Christian thought, virtue has been a means by which one comes to God. Virtue is, though, as they say, its own reward, and in magick we find it not as a means, but as a recognition. The adept does not tread a narrow path of virtue to reach the Kingdom of God; the adept, by the practice of virtue, recognizes it within.

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