Wilt or Want? That is the Question

“Do what thou wilt.” Arguably the four words in Aleister Crowley’s vast esoteric oeuvre that are at the heart of his repugnance to polite (that is to say, religiously – and now also politically – correct) company because they seem to fly in the face of the hallowed Golden Rule. Not, of course, that he didn’t give the appearance of trying to live up to that creed as the reputed “Most Evil Man in the World;” I think of him as a dedicated “pan-hedonist” hell-bent on experiencing every form of stimulation, but not an amoral ogre – his obvious erudition and stated purpose argue convincingly against that. If everyone does whatever they feel like doing all the time regardless of its effect on others, the world would be a decidedly more cynical and opportunistic – not to mention more dangerous – place than it already is. But does the statement really mean exactly that?

Crowley recorded his Book of the Law in Cairo in 1904, and it is a mystical masterpiece to rival The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, in exalted tone if not precisely in lyricism. By and large, though, as guidance for opening a window on broader self-awareness, it is in my opinion an interesting amalgam of euphoric faux-Egyptian window dressing punctuated by several flashes of pure metaphysical brilliance. Its central premise is that every enlightened individual is an embodiment of True Will that is untainted by more venal desires; therefore that Will is more an expression of incipient self-mastery than an excuse to seek instant gratification. Any act of True Will is a lawful act of Duty that unerringly serves to further one’s individual destiny.

The core principles are these:

“Every man and woman is a star” (in the ontological sense, not the cultural one, as a custodian of his or her own personal universe). Crowley goes on to say: “. . . each of us stars is to move on our true orbit, as marked out by the nature of our position, the law of our growth, the impulse of our past experiences.” Each of us is an “aggregate of experiences” supporting a “conviction of identity.”

“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Crowley elaborates: “All events are equally lawful – and every one necessary, in the long run – for all of us, in theory; but in practice, only one act is lawful to each one of us at any given moment. Therefore Duty consists in determining to experience the right event from one moment of consciousness to the next.” And furthermore: “Every event, including death, is only one more accretion to our experience, freely willed by ourselves from the beginning and therefore also predestined.”

“Thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that and no other shall say nay.” This speaks to the aforementioned duty to one’s personal destiny. It really isn’t open to socially-driven distinctions or the niceties of etiquette. The reverse of this tenet is that one has no right to do anything that isn’t aligned with the True Will, which could exclude riding roughshod over everyone else merely on a whim. Sounds about as far as one can get from “just do whatever you feel like at the moment, no matter how many toes you step on,” doesn’t it?

“There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.” This imperative is bound to the dictates of the True Will, not to the self-serving pleasures of the moment (although in the larger scheme of things it certainly could be, as stated in the Wiccan rede “an it hurt none, do what ye will”).

“Love is the law, love under will.” Crowley explains: “Each one of us has thus an universe of his own, but it is the same universe for each one as soon as it includes all possible experience. This implies the extension of consciousness to include all other consciousness.” When individual “stars” collide, each under the direction of its sovereign Will, there must be an act of accommodation that amounts to a willed extension of self-interest to encompass the “orbit” of the other in a mutual “dance of destiny.” Crowley said it more succinctly: “There is no bond that can unite the divided but love; all else is a curse.” In that sense, the law of gravity could be seen as an expression of love (or at least affinity), as could the self-destructive attraction of a moth to a flame. “Every event is the uniting of some one monad with one of the experiences possible to it.”

“For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.” The True Will has no sensitivity to, or vulgar appreciation for, the collateral benefits that might be derived from its exercise; it both follows and empowers its own “star” without anticipation of external reward or the sating of mundane appetites. There can be no taint of imperfection because the duality of desire is absent: “The Perfect and the Perfect are one Perfect and not two.”

And finally, “The Law is for all.” Despite the apparent nastiness of his unapologetic paean to god-like elitism in the third Chapter (which Crowley warned “may be very repugnant to many people”), there is no doubt that this level of self-mastery is available to all who seriously seek it and are prepared to make the necessary effort.

Or so it seems to me . . .

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