It occurs to me that in order to begin a discussion on an evaluation of Thelemic practices, I ought to offer my own answers to these questions.
Once more, the questions are:
1) What is the practitioner trying to accomplish?
2) How do the practices work to achieve this goal?
3) How does the practitioner *know* that the practices *do* achieve this goal, and by what *specific criteria* does the practitioner determine that the goal has been reached?
Below are my answers to these questions, illustrating only a handful of practices I employ: What is the practitioner trying to accomplish?
: The discovery of the True Will, defined as the individual’s nature (authentic inclinations and preferences) in contrast to the false ideas the individual has about his nature (such false ideas frequently involve the distorting tendencies of the mind, including “self image,” morality, ideals, “should” statements [supported by “because” statements…see AL II:27, and this post: http://thelema-and-skepticism.blogspot.com/2011/09/profiles-in-ignorance-2-misinterpreting_10.html
], duty, and the expectations of others).
In short, Thelema defines the True Self (“Khabs”) as distinct from the mind/body complex (henceforth referred to as the “Khu”). This distinction is merely a model for labeling aspects of self that one can observe: the distinction is not
an assertion of the existence of metaphysical realities. According to Thelema, the Khabs can possess inclinations that can be thwarted
by the Khu, which has been produced by evolution to ensure survival, not necessarily happiness or “satisfaction” (the fulfillment of the individual’s true nature). Thus, the Khu tends to misperceive the universe (and the Khabs): these misperceptions are “distorting tendencies.” By distorting perceptions and thwarting the True Will, the Khu produces discomfort and suffering.
The goal of Thelema is to transfer the individual’s attention *away* from the Khu (and its thoughts of how the individual “should” act) and onto the Khabs (and the authentic inclinations of the individual).How do the practices work to achieve this goal?
The only way to accomplish this goal – by the definitions advanced above – is to train the mind to become aware of the ways that the Khu distorts impressions, particularly its impressions of the Khabs. After doing so, the individual can gradually become better at perceiving the Khabs/True Will in real time – free from the distorting tendencies of the mind – and adjust his or her behavior in real time.
“In real time” is an important phrase because, by definition, imagining one’s reactions to situations are part and parcel of the Khu, and the goal is to shift attention *away* from the Khu. One cannot, by definition, discover the True Will by thinking about it because the True Will comprises the natural inclinations of an individual in a given situation. An individual must, therefore, pay attention to his or her natural inclinations while in that given situation.How one can tell that it works
: The primary criteria for determining that one has discovered the True Will is that, over time, one’s sense of internal resistance and discomfort diminishes. This will necessarily be a subjective judgment, but one that most individuals are more than capable of making, particularly over long periods of time. People generally know when they are happy with their lives or not, and though they might make some mistake in the short term, an individual usually has a very good sense of whether he's overall satisfied on a day-to-day basis. It is often – though far from always – an unhappiness with their lives that prompts individuals to seek out “spiritual attainment” and such (though ironically, their unhappiness and their seeking for something outside of themselves is part and parcel of the Khu-illusion: as ever, the proper study of magick will teach them that their mind is playing them traitor).
To the end of discovering the True Will, a variety of practices are useful:Meditation
: The individual stills his or her mind and grows accustomed to perceiving reality without the influences of the conscious-mind overlay of the Khu.How it works
: This practice shows the individual “what it feels like” to perceive without the conscious-mind overlay of the Khu, which is useful to recall when attempting to pay attention to the will in real time. Persistence in the practice aids the individual in realizing, in daily life, the unreality of thoughts and assists him or her to better see through the thoughts (and their distorting influences) in real time.How one can tell that it works
: Success in meditation is judged by perceiving without thoughts, and – when recording the number of “breaks” (the return of thought) – discovering that the number increases in the short term but gradually decreases over time (even though it probably will never vanish entirely). Many practitioners report trance states achieved by this practice, but such trances are side effects, not goals or indications of success.
: The individual uses a completely random set of symbols – such as a tarot spread – to “read” events of his or her life.How it works
: By applying a randomly-generated set of symbols (with more or less objective meanings) to one’s life-situations, one can realize other ways of looking at one’s situation. Frequently, one tends to view situations in set ways, dictated by the mind’s thought patterns (overlays of the Khu). By exposing oneself to different ways of interpreting the situation – inspired by a random symbol-set – one can learn the limitations of one’s mind and begin to cultivate broader ways of thinking about situations.How one can tell that it works
: Success in divination yields, over time, a recognition of the mind’s limitations. One will find oneself saying, “Oh, there’s my mind thinking there’s a need to confront this person. My mind always thinks that’s the primary option. But like I learned in those four divinations I did last month, there are many other valid methods of response…this might be one of those times.”
: The individual acknowledges the sun’s cycles at various points in the day.How it works
: Resh forces the individual to become more aware of the real world that exists outside of his or her thoughts. By focusing on real things that move in regular cycles, the individual gradually impresses upon his or her mind the reality of the physical world and the relative unreality of the world of thoughts. Thus, the individual can become more adept at seeing through those thoughts. Further, the ritual impresses upon the individual the permanence of the sun beneath the illusions of the earth’s cycle (and thus impresses upon his mind the analogy of the permanence of the Self beneath the illusions of the mind’s cycles).How one can tell that it works
: One finds the thoughts turning with greater frequency toward the Sun – aware of where it is in the sky, how long until the next performance of Resh, of the permanence of this heavenly body. One should also find one’s thoughts getting broader, perceiving so-called “problems” from “The Point of View of the Sun” (i.e. recognizing that the mind has problems but that from the perspective of the Sun and the Universe – not to mention the True Self – these “problems” are really just instances of the mind labeling aspects of reality and getting fooled by attributing “reality” to its labels).
*The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram
: The individual performs a ritual that involves imagining expansion into the universe and balancing the “elements.”How it works
: The LBRP impresses upon the individual’s mind the goal of the Great Work – expansion past the limiting sphere of the mind and the cleansing and equilibration of the “elements” of one’s Self – and generates a mindset conducive to achieving this goal. By expanding outward into the Body of Nuit, the individual identifies with Her Cosmic Indifference to his or her relatively insignificant life on earth. By “banishing” the elements, the individual impresses upon the mind the necessity of removing the obstacles that prevent the perception of the True Will, and by “invoking” the archangels, the individual builds those elements back upon stronger: Air (the ability to perceive), Fire (the True Will), Water (the direction of that Will toward its proper objects), and Earth (the combination of all of the above, producing a trajectory through the world). The ritual acknowledges that these elements spring from a common source (The True Self, spirit, quintessence, the center of the circle) and that even this common source emerges from the forces of the universe (represented by the hexagram). Thus, 5 (the individual) equals 6 (the macrocosm).How one can tell that it works
: Successful performances of the LBRP are typically marked by a feeling of “cleanliness,” both in the area in which the ritual is performed and (more important) in the “aura” of the magician (i.e. one’s sense of self in daily life). This feeling is almost always relaxing and refreshing, and the ritual can be done simply for its own sake, to enjoy these feelings. One should find that routine performance causes the thoughts to drift back to the process of discovering and carrying out the True Will represented by the elements in the ritual. Keeping in mind the Great Work constantly reminds the individual of the task and can help “lift” the individual out of the prison of his or her mind during daily life.
Anyway, I can go on and on and on and on about various practices and specifically indicate how they work and how one can tell that they work.
The point of all of the above is, by the way, not that I think “everyone should use my criteria! Because I’m a big ol’ meanie non-believer, and I think there’s only one way to do things, and I want to impose “my reality” on everyone!”
Not at all.
The point is one that we all know from our daily lives: *anyone* who wants to achieve a goal of any sort has to have – at the minimum – an understanding of what his goal is, how his chosen practices are supposed to help him reach that goal, how he knows that his practices actually do what he believes that they do, and by what criteria he can tell that the practices have worked. This is true from the simplest tasks (exercising and losing weight, for example), to the most complicated tasks (obtaining a PhD in a chosen subject).
Now obviously, no one is under any kind of obligation to respond to me, but this is a discussion board, you know, and I think it would be a fruitful discussion to hear from other practitioners and to hear their answers to these same questions I’ve just spent this post answering.
As I've said, I don't think "communications" -- of the kind that began this thread -- are capable of revealing information about the True Self or True Will, and I'd be interested is someone could explain how such practice is supposed to work and how one can tell that it actually does, in fact, work.
Those of you playing at home, by the way, might just want to take a stab at answering the above questions for yourself, about your own practices. You [note: "you" is being used in a general sense here, meaning "those people who want to do this for themselves"] should, of course, get in the habit of training yourself to ruthlessly attack your own answers. If you are unable to come up with solid answers – answers that could stand up to rigorous scrutiny by any fair-minded observer – if you are unable to explain exactly what you are trying to do (and how you know you're successful) to any fair-minded person, then that is an indication that, in all likelihood, you don’t have a good grasp on what you are trying to do. As a result, your chances of success are somewhere approaching zero.