Ritual magick was my doorway to Thelema. Goetia to be exact. There was something about that experience that utterly hooked me, and I instantly became ravenous for information on the entire subject. This was before the days of Internet and at that time very few of Crowley’s books were in print (although I did get my hands on Magick in Theory and Practice). Soon my small circle of fellow magicians were brewing all kinds of rituals, mostly of the evocatory kind—other than demons, we chatted with Babalon on several occasions. It didn’t take long before I discovered O.T.O. and added the Gnostic Mass and ritual theater to my repertoire (both being major activities at Scarlet Woman Lodge in Austin, Texas). In those early days I also got into the A.’.A.’. rituals, and diligently worked with the LBRP and the Star Ruby, along with various other original rituals based on the Holy Books and my handy copy of 777. For many years it was all about magick for me, and boy was I into it.
As I began to integrate the philosophical aspects of Thelema, it started to become a vehicle for my counter-cultural sentiments. I enjoyed the idea of putting Thelema in people’s face, not unlike a scandalous t-shirt of the average rebellious teen. It allowed me to adopt a spiritual path while not “giving in” to the mainstream notions of religion which had kept me away from any spirituality for my whole life. However, when I wasn’t using Thelema to give voice to my disgust of normative Christian culture or GOP-style political oppression, I was using it as a context for ritual. I was thirsty for Big Answers and seduced by the Aleisterian style of writing, where Profound Insight is always just behind the next veil—if only I could just do the right combination of rituals long enough, hard enough, and with enough conviction.
Now that nearly a decade has passed since that time in my life, I can look back with a bit more clarity and catch a glimpse at my actual motivations. What I really wanted was to escape from loneliness, chronic depression, and my sense of personal inadequacy. Magick and Thelema were perfectly suited to this. On the one hand, ritual has the ability to provide intense experiences (what some call “spiritual fireworks”) which helped me to add color and vibrancy to my otherwise blue-gray emotional life. On the other, much of Crowley’s Thelemic writings are filled with language that is music to the ears of those with low self-esteem. Not only am I GOD, but all those other maroons out there are mere troglodytes, beggars, and weaklings, ready to be trampled upon. What bliss! Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the sex. Thanks to Thelema (and O.T.O.), I found myself making whoopee with some amazing women who would not have otherwise given my skinny butt a second glance.
Alas, Thelema and Magick are not designed to eliminate depression or build healthy self-esteem. Ritual fireworks did not linger. Egoism was hollow and unfulfilling. Sex with multiple partners eventually led to confusion and hurt feelings all around.
Somewhere in there I started psychotherapy with a talented therapist, largely to kick my depression. After about two years of hard work, I found myself greatly strengthened as an individual. Even after my time with him was over, I continued to improve and build upon the foundations that had been built in therapy. I no longer needed ritual fireworks to experience vitality, soothing pronouncements of my superiority to assuage my insecurity, or…well, okay, I still craved sex, but more for its own sake, not to prove my own self worth. I was learning to be happy with who I was, and the more I grew, the less I needed to rebel. I found myself starting to fight for things rather than against them.
After this profound personal transformation, I found that my own views of Thelema had changed radically. I no longer felt the drive to find Big Answers—largely because I started to realize that there simply weren’t any (at least none that are “out there”). I was still into ritual, but for very different reasons—the two biggest being transformation and celebration.
For me, this has become what Thelema and all its methods and expressions are ultimately about—the inherent ability and freedom to explore, celebrate, express, and transform ourselves for the purpose of manifesting our deepest, most sacred nature. While other religions hold somewhat similar concepts, Thelema is unique in that it abandons the one-size-fits-all model of morality and faith. It recognizes that everyone is unique, and that although we are all more or less based upon the same biopsychological substrate, Nature has granted us the ability to express our potential in a virtually infinite number of ways. Put simply, Thelema is the conjunction of the concepts of evolution and sacredness set within the context of liberty, individuality, and joy.
This is why I am a Thelemite…I have a deep drive for genuineness, which I firmly believe is the key to all wisdom. To be the most “me” that I can be, which is both discovered and created—as Crowley wrote, “this understanding that Stability is Change, and Change Stability, that Being is Becoming, and Becoming Being, is the Key to the Golden Palace of this Law.” This is my calling, to not only do this for myself, but to aid anyone else I can in doing the same. I do this in O.T.O. as initiator and priest, I do this as a clinical psychologist in training, and I do this as a fellow human being every chance I get.
Since my motivations are no longer driven by depression and low self esteem, the question I’ve been asking myself is “what inspires me now to be a Thelemite?” …what is my new guiding principle?
I could write about some lofty, noble goals (like manifesting Universal Brotherhood) or something opaque and mystical (such as something about accomplishing Will being the new paradigm of the Æon). But those answers would all beg the question. The fact is, when I really get down to it, I am dedicated to the path of Thelema because I think it offers me the best opportunity to live a meaningful and fulfilling life—I want my life to be rich, joyous, and inspired. To me, that is the very definition of Success.
I always do my Will. Most of the time, of course, I do not do it efficiently or with clarity—my conscious mind and existing psychological issues continue to muddy the stream. But then, this is why I’ve chosen a mystical path designed to both quiet the cognitive chatter while also finding ways to bypass it altogether and make the Hermetic connection directly.
This connection is Love. Crowley described it (and perhaps experienced it) as a cataclysmic mystical explosion. But I no longer believe that his experience is necessary to make this Loving connection with the Universal All. Rather, I recognize that my Winged Soul is already in a state of Blissful Union with Nuit, and that any sense of division is but an illusion. My personal task, therefore, is to wake myself up to that Reality. By learning greater self-awareness on one hand and letting go of things like fear, anger, and contempt on the other, I open myself up to riding the stream of my own True Will, which is experienced, of course, as Love.
Oh, Love! To find myself connected to all things in the dynamic, chaotic flow of life. To dive in head first into that Ocean of Being—what a rich, what a joyous, what an inspired life that is! That is my Will, and I do my Work to accomplish it every day.
J. Ash Bowie is a graduate student in clinical psychology at CIIS in San Francisco. He has been a Thelemite since 1994 and in recent years has devoted attention to the critical exploration of Thelema. Many of his writings can be found at http://www.ashami.com/eidolons/ and in his blog, http://ash93.livejournal.com … J. Ash Bowie describes “Transformations of Inspiration” as “a brief personal essay on my path of transformation within Thelema.”