Monday, February 22, 2021

Church of the Black Sun, Part 2: Who Knows What's Good or Bad?

Follow the links to parts 134, and 5

In Part 1 of this series on spiritualism in dark times, I talked about my personal lifelong journey, which began with my need to question the Catholicism I was raised in. As I traveled other paths later in life, I only found more questions and few answers. It seemed that I was never going to be able to live according to the untested tenets of someone else’s truth. As Jiddu Krishnamurti expressed nearly a century ago, truth is a pathless land. No one can make the journey for you.

According to many, my parents included, questioning the dogma you were raised in is practically a sin. And yet it is often those who question established dogma, religious or otherwise, that end up advancing humanity for the better. In the words of Frank Zappa, progress is not possible without deviation. Although traditions and rituals are important to social stability, simply doing things because “that’s the way they’ve always been done” is a pretty lousy justification, when you get down to it.

Change for its own sake is no better, of course. But I think the bottom line is that we’re too often afraid of change and too comfortable in our set patterns and habits, and it’s good to challenge our own viewpoints once in a while. We may not like where our own challenges take us, but that shouldn’t stop us from facing change, if it turns out that change is for the best.

That’s the subject, more or less, of today’s post.

Church of the Black Sun Axiom No. 2: It’s OK to embrace the dark.

Most of us are conditioned from a young age to embrace the “good” and shun the “bad.” But who knows what’s good or bad, as an old Taoist tale reminds us?

“Good” and “bad” are ultimately just labels we place on things as a shorthand way of describing how events affect us from moment to moment. In one circumstance, breaking your leg is good if it means you’re passed over for compulsory military service. In another, breaking your leg is bad if it means you’re going to miss that concert you’ve been waiting for months to see.

See? It’s all relative, isn’t it? Even out of the most horrible events, “good” things can emerge; and out of the best things imaginable, “bad” results can manifest.

We live in a world that deals in binaries. Black and white, good and bad, no middle ground to speak of. You’re either with us or against us. But what if life isn’t really like that? What if the world is really made up of unending shades of gray? We like the idea of clear-cut black and white options because it gives us the illusion of control, certainty, and “rightness” in a chaotic universe.

But what if the idea of black and white is just a comforting myth? What if Jesus was not God incarnate, but just a guy with a really enlightened mind and a superb ethical system for people to follow? Likewise, delving deeper into biblical lore, what if Lucifer was just a poor schmuck of an angel who got tired of being told what to do and chose to assert his independence from tyrannical rule? What if he was just framed by the winners to look like the bad guy, the rabble-rouser who wanted to upturn the goodness of the divine order?

Puts everything in a different light, doesn’t it?

And this is where we return to Taoist thought, where the famous tai-chi symbol symbolizes the eternal dance of dark and light. Yin and yang are not just “good” and “bad,” but fluid states of being that complete each other, interpenetrate each other, and can never be independent of one another. There can be no dark without light, no male without female, and indeed no good without bad.

Another way of looking at yin and yang is the concept of right-hand and left-hand spirituality. Practitioners of one path tend to see the other as misguided and foolish, and most of society would tell you to gravitate toward the right-hand paths and shun the left-hand ones. But who knows what’s good or bad? So let’s dig a little deeper.

The right-hand paths are the ones most people follow. They’re the mainstream religions like Christianity and Buddhism, but also “new age” religions like Wicca. What they all hold in common is an attempt by the practitioners to open themselves up to something larger than themselves, to seek union with divinity, and to cultivate a certain type of mental discipline that often manifests either in self-improvement, selflessness for the betterment of all, or a combination of the two. By adhering to ritual, prayer, and other habitual rules, practices, and methods, you refine and purify yourself, making yourself smaller, to turn yourself outward from the primal desires of your own ego and aim your energies toward making the world a better place. In short, you direct your spiritual energies toward the light that dispels the darkness. This is the stuff that martyrs and saints are made of.

The left-hand paths, in contrast, would tell you that the darkness has an unfair reputation — that as emotional beings, we naturally have egoic desires, that it is healthy to have them, and that it is therefore foolish, even dangerous, to suppress those desires. We may claim to be altruistic to a fault, but when push comes to shove, it will always be in our nature to look after our own needs before anyone else’s. The left-hand path would tell you that there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s not selfish or cruel. It’s just the way we’re wired. More than that, our self-interest is an evolutionary trait that has allowed us to survive as a species. That doesn’t mean you can’t find it in your heart to love others. It just means there’s nothing wrong with prioritizing yourself — and that sensory indulgence toward that end isn’t a sin.

Right-hand culture tells us that left-hand paths lead to destruction. Remember the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, when kids were supposedly being told to kill themselves by hidden messages in metal music, and tales spread of rampant child abuse and human sacrifices taking place in secretive Satanic rituals? Well, just like the moral panic we find ourselves in currently, most of it was overblown bunk, a way for scared people to exert control in a time of social disruption by identifying a scapegoat to “other” their problems and anxieties onto.

Prominent left-hand practitioners have never done anything to dispel fearful people of these notions. Aleister Crowley, in fact, played them up, in part because he was a showman who loved the attention, but also to get a rise out of people and to challenge stultifying social norms and taboos.

Social norms, to people like Crowley, forced people into a false conformity that blocked them from achieving their full human potential. It should therefore be no surprise that the essence of Thelema, the philosophical occult school Crowley founded, was simply this:

“Do what thou wilt” shall be the whole of the Law.

To clarify, though, Crowley didn’t take this edict to simply mean “do whatever you want,” because doing whatever you want may not be in tune with your True Will, which is your inmost purpose and ultimate destiny in this life. And people can’t access their True Will until they’ve cut through the delusions of who they think they are, which means we first have to cast aside the masks and façades we create for ourselves, either for the sake of social propriety or because we’re afraid to confront who we really are, at a granular level.

Crowley and the symbol of Thelema (center, black, intermingled with others).

This observation is similar to the Buddhist concept of challenging ourselves to see what our “I” really is, once we confront the fact that everything we call “I” is in constant flux, with nothing permanent to cling to.

That’s a terrifying idea to come to grips with. I had a spontaneous flash of it at a very young age, and it’s haunted me ever since. But in Crowley’s view, once we put in the work to discover our True Will, we end up being completely free, no longer resisting but becoming part of the natural flow of life. According to Crowley, we suddenly find joy in living, because we’re no longer motivated by outside expectations but by what we were always destined to do. If your friends and family think you’ve become a wacko in the process of this self-discovery, that’s on them, not you. The important thing is that you’re now living according to your true self, whatever that might look like.

If you think this sounds similar to Krishnamurti’s idea that truth is a pathless land and no one can climb the mountain of truth for you, I’d say you’re right. (See Part 1 for more on that.) In both cases, you’re shedding yourself of your mental dependence on others and pursuing the only truth that can ever be authentic to you and your unique situation.

The left-hand path doesn’t seem so scary when you regard it from this angle, does it? Even when you look deeper into things like Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible and the modern Satanic Mass that he popularized, you find that it’s all essentially a parody of mainstream religion, built on a foundation of libertarian thought and intended to shock and outrage those in “polite” society, while encouraging adherents to indulge their sensual desires equally as much as mainstream religions tell their followers to resist. Sex, for one thing, is both pleasurable and a celebration of life in the eyes of the left-hand practitioner, not something dirty and shameful, as many right-hand practitioners have been conditioned to believe.

Thus, you really do have left-hand rituals that indulge in sexual acts, desecrate objects that most people would find holy, and include a communion-like feast featuring Crowley’s “Cakes of Light,” with semen and vaginal fluid baked into the dough to symbolize the life-giving union of male and female.

But no sacrifices of virgins, babies, or goats. Sorry.

And yes, because I’m sure someone is thinking it, I’m well aware that there have been sick and twisted people who have actually engaged in ritual abuses in the name of Satanism. But that’s as much of a perversion of so-called Satanism as clerical sexual abuse is a perversion of Catholicism. Inflicting involuntary pain and suffering on another being is not supposed to be a part of either the left-hand or right-hand path.

The funny thing is, most Satanists don’t even believe in a literal creature called Satan. They’re basically just trolling mainstream religion by flipping Christian imagery on its head to make a point about how you have to let go of your need to live by somebody else’s dogma, to liberate yourself, to be a free person in both body and mind. Their methods may be somewhat childish, but there you have it.

Besides, I can’t really think of any downsides to having a naked woman as the altar in your religious ceremony, with the option of having other naked women assisting at the service. 

Illustration from the Missa Nigra, or Black Mass.
Your mileage may vary. But more on that later.

And note well that I’m not even bringing up all the “black magic” crap that left-hand people like Crowley love to go on about. Whether it’s Wiccan “magick” or the devilish black arts, I think most of that stuff is either wishful thinking or just a bunch of scary incantations intended to spook the normies. “When you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance,” they say, “baffle them with your bullshit” — and I think that’s what a lot of all the hocus-pocus talk boils down to.

Consider, for example, that Crowley claimed to be possessed by an Egyptian deity when he dictated The Book of the Law to his wife. Sure, Al, if you think that gives the book more authority, or makes it sound more impressive, or whatever.

My focus is on tangible self-improvement in the here and now, or at least the ability to relax and enjoy life a little bit, rather than making everything a deathly earnest life-or-death spiritual battle.

The point that I want to get across is simply that it’s OK to embrace your left-hand side, as it were. You can’t be all goodness and light all the time, because sometimes you just had a shitty day and you don’t feel like smiling back at the person passing you on the street, or making small talk with your partner, or playing with your kids. And that’s OK.

Sometimes you might just be bitter toward life in general. I’d say that’s where I am these days. Achieving a balance that doesn’t swing too hard in either extreme is surely the healthiest place to be, but everyone knows that’s easier said than done. The stories we hear of the perseverance of the saints in the midst of great tribulation and suffering can be inspiring, but at the same time, most of us aren’t even close to being saints.

Besides, all the happy-clappy, bells-on-your-fingers, dancing-with-a-tree pagan-lite spiritual stuff that’s been in vogue for years now just kind of turns my stomach. It all seems so shallow and fake. Do a few potions, burn some incense, and leave an offering for your favorite Celtic nature deity, and your life will be all better. It trivializes the pantheons and caricatures the gods and goddesses that held deep meaning to the ancient peoples who worshipped them.

In practice, these pseudo-pagans treating the deities like personal wish-granting genies who will lead you to goodness and light are no different from Christians who pray to God or the saints for a favor, even as the pseudo-pagans criticize devout Christians for clinging to their superstitions.

But here’s the thing: What if they’re both wrong? What if the gods just don’t give a shit? What if they don’t care about your kid’s cancer or your impending foreclosure? What if we’re all here on our own, left to figure things out by ourselves?

That seems far more likely than wishing it were otherwise, and you don’t even have to contort your theology to explain how an all-knowing and all-loving deity could allow so much needless suffering in the world.

With all that in mind, we’ll talk next time about blue, red, and black pills, and the symbolism of the Black Sun itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment