Comments on July 4, 2020

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law!

On this occasion when the United States celebrates independence, I wanted to make a few remarks to The Thelemic Order. It is true that we are not all from the United States, nor do we desire to be a strictly US order. However, the significance of the role of the United States both in influence and as a bellwether of political health cannot be ignored and this occasion is, by definition, of importance to everyone who is concerned with the fate of democratic nations.

244 years ago, the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, ratified the final text of the Declaration of Independence, which had been adopted on July 2, 1776. The movement for American Independence was one of the most progressive and forward-looking movements of its time. Only a minority of signers were Freemasons, but it is a fact that Masonic thought had great influence on the tone of the document, and on the Constitution and Bill of Rights which followed from the same intellectual ferment in 1789, thirteen years later.

Much ink has been spilled over who, exactly, among the authors and signers was a Freemason. What is often missed is that the very confusion regarding evidence, e.g. Jefferson marched in a Masonic procession but probably never joined a lodge, indicates the degree to which Masonic thought pervaded the debates of the day. Progressive Freemasonry was about the Enlightenment idea that the rights of humankind are natural, and that law is a device to force others to recognize rights that already exist and cannot be “granted” or “taken away.”

The legacy of those early moves towards freedom was mixed. Freemasons and Founding Fathers often espoused ideas they did not live up to in practice. White colonists and their descendants continued to commit genocide against Native Americans. These documents were signed by slaveholders committed to upholding the institution of the enslavement of Africans and people of African descent. Women and other minorities were oppressed and denied basic rights. These things are true and we must never deny them. But where the Founding Fathers failed it was never from an excess of freedom, but from failure to extend it to all humankind. Failure to make fair laws and live in a way that supported their ideals. It is not democracy or freedom that caused suffering, but the lack of it.

Thelemites uphold the Rights of Man, Liber Oz, originally titled the Book of the Goat, based on a lecture from 1916. Unlike Liber AL there has never been any suggestion that it is the result of any supernatural intervention. It is signed by Aleister Crowley. It is intended as a manifesto for Thelemites. These Rights are not a coincidental document. The Declaration and Constitution came out of a long line of Western thought descending from the Magna Carta through the Enlightenment. They reflect the same ideas as Jefferson’s Bill of Rights because they were influenced by Masonic thought and the body of thought that gave rise to it. Crowley’s poetry and writing show that he was heavily emotionally and intellectually invested in the American Republic and its ideals of freedom. It is not coincidental that the original source for Liber Oz comes from his period of travel in America.

Finalizing these ideas six years before the end of his life, in 1941 Crowley understood in principle, even if he had not always managed to exemplify, the concept that these rights must be extended to all humankind. He understood that the failure to interpret the Rights of Humankind as absolute, to extend them to some people but not others was the core to tragedy and disaster. He concludes with a badly understood quote “the slaves shall serve.” Crowley was never a simple author, and this sole inclusion has created the opportunity for white supremacists and other fascists to lay claim to Thelema. While books could be written on this phrase alone, it suffices to say that Crowley spoke explicitly of who “the slaves” were: those “Herd Men” of restrictive morality, and tolerate oppression. Elsewhere he spoke of “those parasites of society who feed upon the troubles caused by Restriction: officials, lawyers, financiers, and the like. Ill disposed people—that is, those whose failure to understand their own true Will of Freedom leads them to seek to interfere with others—are not to be tolerated.” He understood that oppression is rooted in an unchanging system in which spoils serve to enrich those already rich while stripping from others the means to do their Will.

Our time is not Crowley’s and we must get beyond his often Victorianate language and understandings. By viewing Liber Oz not as some alien document, but rather as the outgrowth of an Enlightenment and Masonic thought which Crowley intended as a short declaration read in the context of those wider ideals it becomes apparent that it is our duty as Thelemites to help ensure that every human has the means to exercise these Rights which we cannot grant or deny them, because they are not ours to give or to withhold.

This is one of the darkest Fourth of July celebrations in the recent history of the American Republic. We have leadership that has upheld as a core value the Orwellian ideas that “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength.” We have seen a President who has upheld the memory of slaveholders who, when free people, finally and belatedly, began to constrain their right to enslave others, rebelled for their right to oppress, sending a certain message that, to him and many of his followers, “Black Lives do not Matter.”

We have seen people forced to fight for their right to risk death from disease by working for unfair wages because the idea of helping them directly is anathemic to a system where profits must be funneled to the few.

• We see a Republic which has the highest incarceration rate in the world, six or seven times higher than most of the European democracies, which further still allows slavery as a condition of imprisonment in many of its states.

• Even those who are normally bastions of freedom engage in panicked calls for censorship out of fear that hatred and injustice are on the verge of triumphing over freedom and good.

• We see a national leader who has bragged on camera about violating women’s consent, blocks funding for basic reproductive health internationally, and has worked to repeal Executive Orders that force large companies to at least report, if not remedy, the gender inequality in their employee wages.

• While we have had gains in the recognition of the rights of sexual and gender minorities, many still face higher rates of suicide, unemployment as well as three years of sharply rising and unprecedentedly high hate crime.

In the coming year, we will be faced with many choices. Every day we will be asked to choose whether the Rights of Man were conceived in a vacuum as an abstract, selfish, nihilistic code, or whether they were conceived with the same understanding and presumption of commonweal as the Constitution of the United States. We will be asked to remember that every action that we take which restricts the freedom of others, whether it is directly or through maintaining structures of social or financial oppression is an action against the Rights of Man. We will be asked to remember that we, as Thelemites, must struggle each day not only to secure these rights for ourselves but to deliver to others the resources and freedom from bondage so that they may claim the Rights of Man.

It is time for Thelema to shake off a long and comfortable torpor, right itself, and stand up to take its place beside Wicca and those other religions which are defining a more relevant and just future, in which all humans are respected and the imminent destruction of the environment in which we live reversed.

With a pandemic our leaders had declared victory against raging worse than ever, there are limited ways in which we can affect the public sphere. In the coming months, I challenge each of you to:

• Donate;
• Speak out;
• Vote thoughtfully;

for those causes which support the Rights of Man by furthering social justice and human rights, and to stand up against fascism and racism wherever it is found both inside and outside the Thelemic and broader esoteric communities.

93, 93/93.
Sib. James Gordon
Secretary General
The Thelemic Order

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