Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. –AL I:40
Saladin: “Chafe not, therefore, at the apparent restrictions which your obligations place upon you.
They are designed solely to enable you to do your will.”
–Minerval Degree OTO
In our Ritual of the Pentagram we create The Universe daily. In the Center Stands the Six-Rayed Star, Above and Below come into being with the Qabalistic Cross, and the Four Directions are birthed with the Four Quarters of the Elements, where we place the Archangels as Protectors and Watchers of this our Sphere of Existence. This personal Universe centers around three Cartesian Planes which define three dimensional Space, the intersections of all three planes being the Point, the invisible origin of our Star. This may sound elementary and appear self evident, yet we often forget this most basic sense experience of Malkuth.
One of the three planes that defines Infinite Space (Our Goddess Nuit, may She be Blessed) is of course the one that delineates Above and Below, the vertical plane, therefore the notion of Verticality.* One most basic assumption in Magick is: As Above, So Below. Chapter 1, Verse 3 of our Holy Book of Thelema states: “Every man and every woman is a star.” Neither of these ideas makes any sense without the notion of Verticality. Spirit cannot soar and Soul cannot reach its depths without this notion. More commonly we say, “What goes up must come down.”
The experience of Verticality is inherent in the species homo sapiens. The infant inherently comes into Being with the notion of Verticality. If you place a toddler of the appropriate age onto a piece of transparent glass where below the glass are wooden steps, the toddler will crawl to the edge of the top step, but will refuse to go further perceiving that there is a drop that could harm it. An older child will of course perceive the transparent barrier and gladly walk across the glass surface unharmed.
The human being incorporates the notion of Verticality into the very structures of its culture: there is an Above and there is a Below and a tension or power differential between them. Our first experience of this tension is that between child and parent, our first experience of Authority. Whether this is justified or not, the human being translates Verticality to the notion of Authority, which means to have dominion or power over something or someone. There are only two responses to Authority, submission or defiance of the lower to the higher, of the inferior to the superior, of the weaker to the stronger. In other animal species this submission or defiance between sames happens with no judgments and usually without the loss of life. With human society elitism is born, with elitism envy, and with envy the justification for murder; refer to the story of Cain and Abel for a better understanding of this experience of Verticality.
Each of us carries within us these experiences of Verticality, of our experiences of Authority, and it cannot be helped nor denied.
Every culture imagines Verticality differently. If we accept for the moment that all culture is born from Religion, or worship of the Gods, then Verticality must have Divine origins as well, and we can look to the Gods of a culture to better understand that particular culture’s integration of Verticality.
The Ancient Greeks described Verticality as Father Uranus, the Sky and Mother Gaia, the Earth. Uranus hid his children within the Earth until the time that his son Saturn castrated him and freed his siblings. For his part, Saturn swallowed his own children born to his sister Rhea, until his son Zeus overthrew him and imprisoned him within the Earth. Mark well our particular culture’s imagining of Verticality.
No matter the variety of ways that Verticality comes into being, each of us must come to terms with it. We are all born helpless, and throughout our lives we find ourselves helpless and newborn again and again, if we are fortunate for change is stability. Every time we are new born, we must submit, for we are helpless and untried, inexperienced and callow, confused and confusing. If we are lucky we are given at least one nurturing parent who protects us, nurtures us and sees the Future of what this newborn is meant to become. Abuses happen, which is why every system of human culture finds ways to protect the most vulnerable. Issues of trust and submission belong in this landscape and we must all come to terms with these as well.
Religion comes into this discourse because Verticality is most distinctly articulated within the religious imagery of God and Human.
Thelema is a religion whether we wish to accept this or not. The pursuit of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel is a religious activity whether we wish to accept it or not.
In fact, an Atheist cannot and will not accept the idea of Verticality. It is impossible for that person to know Verticality outside of their very limited Ego. The best they can hope for is the admittance of the wholly material idea of verticality, of power and of control. The most an Atheist can hope for is existential angst! Epiphanies, the greatest turning points in our lives, cannot happen if you believe there is no God and all you have is Ego. Grace for certain cannot happen, because Grace is of the Gods.
How can you claim to seek your Angel and not believe in God? How can you come before your Elders if you do not believe in God? How can you be a Student and submit before a Teacher if you do not believe in God?
The only answer to right Submission without pride, guilt or shame — Reverence — comes from believing in God. We submit to the Teacher because he/she is a regent of God; we submit to our Parents because they are regents of God (as the Jewish Commandments tell us); we submit to the Priest or Priestess because they are regents of God.
I would like to share a story. In my graduate classes of three years every time our cohort met we built an altar with images we each brought to class. During our last week together, our instructor Aftab Omer gave us a challenge the very first afternoon: could we all build an altar with our individual images that we could all bow before and honor?
This threw the eighteen of us into complete upheaval; needless to say, that altar was never built, although many attempts were made.
“Every man and every woman is a star.” The reason we could not build that altar was so simple in hindsight: we forgot that behind every Star there is a God or Goddess. When we bow to another we bow not to their Ego, not to the very limited sense of who they may be, we bow because there is a God or Goddess within them, through them, beyond them. “And the Elohim created Ateh-ha-Adam: in the image of the Elohim created they them; female and male created they them.” It is instructive that this prayer from the Rituals of the Golden Dawn is recited before the Earth Quarter, Malkuth, Our Bodies, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This dust is sacred.
God is dead in our particular Western culture. All human beings are fallible, so why should we bow before anyone? Where there is no God there is no Authority beyond the Human so that abuses happen daily.
Thelema is very attractive to the Godless. “Do what thou wilt” becomes do what you want, because they forget that the “thou” in the sentence refers to God, to a person’s Angel.
In a way, the challenge of Thelema is precisely the task I was challenged to do in my graduate class: creating a world altar with individual images (Stars) that we can all bow before and honor. It is the ultimate challenge to humanity, which has not done a great job of it, although there have been periods and cultures that have come closer than others.
These are all complex ideas and careful meditation on the notion of Verticality is necessary.
This Epistle is really about the student/teacher relationship.
Crowley wrote that the relationship between student and teacher should be so strong that if the student takes an oath of obedience and the teacher tells the student to jump off a cliff, the student should most studiously jump forthwith without hesitation. This is of course, hyperbole. What I see in this idea of Crowley’s is that we should practice with our beloved Teacher all these complex layers of Verticality. We come before our Teacher with reverence and trust and submission, and our Teacher must never betray that trust; it is a sacred bond. No true Teacher would tell their Student to jump off a cliff. Beware, for there are False Teachers around every corner.
If you cannot and will not yield to your teacher, how can you yield before your Angel?
Dear Student, this Epistle is about what it means to be a student, and what it means to be a teacher. The A.’.A.’. is a system that requires we learn the roles and the tasks of both sides of this sacred relationship and the cornerstone of this relationship is the notion of Verticality. Come to terms with that!
Love is the law, love under will. –AL I:57
*I first heard the use of the word Verticality in this context from my graduate instructor Aftab Omer. All thoughts in this epistle are entirely my own.