The Scarlet Letter
Note that when Crowley writes of “the Catholic Church,” he is indicating the Church of Rome in the early years of the first Thelemic century. He is therefore referencing the traditions maintained prior to the Second Vatican Council, which edited many of the ritual traditions supporting that church’s eucharist. In a footnote to the text above, Crowley also instructs the student to consult “the Roman Missal, the Canon of the Mass, and the chapter of ‘defects.’” The latter document specified appears to be the Roman Papal bull De Defectibus, which itemizes defects in the performance of the Roman Mass, along with their consequences and remedies, if any. So, with reference to those Roman sources, and to Crowley’s various writings, we should be able to get a fairly detailed idea of these three central prerequisites for eucharistic magick.
The first condition is chastity. We are immediately warned by a footnote in Magick in Theory & Practice that, “The Word Chastity is used by initiates to signify a certain state of soul and of mind determinant of a certain habit of body which is nowise identical with what is commonly understood. Chastity in the true magical sense of the word is inconceivable to those who are not wholly emancipated from the obsession of sex.” Since Crowley is emphasizing the special sense of the term in its use “by initiates,” we may safely disregard the Roman Church resources on this particular count.
In Chapter 112 “On Chastity” in Liber Aleph, Crowley advises that “Love is an Expression of the Will of the Body,” and that chastity consists in maintaining the purity of that expression, through fervency, firmness, and stability. Further, in Little Essays Toward Truth he writes that “Chastity may be defined as the strict observance of the Magical Oath; that is, in the Light of the Law of Thelema, absolute and perfected devotion to the Holy Guardian Angel, and exclusive pursuit of the Way of True Will.” (p. 71)
In our Gnostic and Catholic Church, clergy have taken magical oaths under the rubric of our holy orders, our ordination being an initiatory passage into the chastity of the Church’s eucharistic mystery. But members of the laity, and even skilled magicians who are not formally affiliated with the Church, can cultivate the required chastity in the context of the Gnostic Mass—by observing and applying their own obligations and consciousness of the Great Work as communicants.
Insofar as chastity “is connected only by obscure links with the sexual function” (Little Essays p. 69), it depends on the free erotic vitality of the individual. The libidinal condition of the eucharistic operator should not be weakened by either denial or satiety. In this respect, it is important to consider the preeminent idiosyncrasy of sexual appetite. Only the operator can judge what sexual situation best facilitates his or her own chastity. The idea of sublimating the erotic force into the ceremonies, as implicitly advanced by those sacramentary bodies that require celibacy of their priests, is actually incorrect by an angle of 90°. The strength of the sexual charge induces a eucharistic current perpendicular to the libidinal circulation.
Taken as a whole, the magical concept of chastity may be summarized by the opening of Psalm CXIX: Beati quorum via integra est: qui ambulant in lege domini. “Blessed are those who are whole in the Way, who walk in the law of the Lord.” The chaste magician has integrity, in the literal sense of “wholeness.” The magician’s entire being is dedicated to the work, and this commitment is a dynamic walking of the Way, not a static position of timid “purity.” The Lord is the personal genius or Holy Guardian Angel of the magician, and his law is Do what thou wilt.
On the topic of fasting, we have no guidance from Crowley, and perhaps too much from the Roman Church. Rules and standards for the eucharistic fast have been changed by the Roman Church over time, with some traditions and customs particular to certain countries or orders within the church. In De Defectibus the stipulations for fasting are classed under “Defects of the disposition of body”:
The “ancient and venerable form” dictates that fasting would commence on the midnight before the celebration of Mass. During the last century, the Roman Church has shown an inclination to lessen the severity of requirements for fasting, particularly with respect to evening Masses. Pope Paul VI is said to have reduced the fasting requirement for priests to a mere fifteen minutes under some circumstances.
In my own practice, I have found that a fast of about four waking hours is optimal. Such a rule should be adjusted for the health and metabolism of the individual magician, through trial and experience. The fast should permit a full digestion of prior meals, so that the eucharist is consumed on an empty stomach. A slight conscious hunger can be an asset in the execution of eucharistic magick, but the fast should not be taken to the point that weakness ensues, or that a deficiency of blood sugar creates irritability or loss of concentration.
For Christians the fast is colored by the notion of a penitential observance, which does not apply to the Thelemic magician. Moralistic arguments regarding the subjugation of concupiscence are also quite irrelevant to our eucharists. Instead, the essence of the fast is informed by the idea presented in the creed of Liber XV, which equates the Miracle of the Mass with the metabolic transformation of food and drink into human activity and experience, i.e. “spiritual substance.” By observing a eucharistic fast, the food and drink of the ceremony is distinguished as its own meal, a sacred feast set apart and specially devoted to conscious prosecution of the individual’s spiritual work. The fast promotes an awareness of both the sacramental substances and the magician’s own body as vehicles of the divine force.
The condition of earnest and continual aspiration is in some measure addressed by the section on “Defect of intention” in De Defectibus:
This passage is especially pertinent with respect to the issue of “earnestness.” A mere pretense of enacting the ritual, whether to impress others, to provide for their instruction, or as a deliberate deception, will not suffice to effect consecration. Note also that for clergy to reduce eucharistic ceremony to pretense is a violation of sacerdotal chastity as defined above.
Continuity of aspiration is closely related to its earnestness. Continuous aspiration must be an inherent development of the ongoing spiritual condition of the magician. It cannot be a provisional or experimental attitude. It cannot be feigned or temporarily posited. Many questions in a eucharistic ritual may be resolved on a provisional basis, but not the central aspiration of the magician.
The “Defect of intention” passage contains one additional point which merits discussion:
This loophole of “virtual intention” would certainly not apply to a solo eucharist like the Mass of the Phoenix. Nor would it apply to the priest’s own communion in the Gnostic Mass, since our magick does depend on the practitioner’s puissance, rather than an alleged transmission of god-given authority embodied in “what the Church does.” But this possibility of “virtual intention” suggests, and appropriately so, that the efficacy of the eucharist for a congregation may be somewhat independent of a failed (and thus “virtual”) intention of the priest. A magician communicating as a member of the congregation could receive a full eucharistic benefit as long as his or her own actual intention were fully formed and maintained. Thus, for the individual communicant, the communicant’s intention can be taken to “override” that of the Mass officers. This consideration becomes especially apt, when considering the need for aspiration appropriate to the individual’s state of attainment.
In his discussion of the Holy Oil in Liber ABA, Crowley distinguishes between aspiration on the one hand, and mere spiritual ambition on the other. Ambition may be directed to further attainment by development of the magician’s knowledge and abilities, but aspiration requires an orientation to something which is other than and beyond the aspirant. The first aspiration of the true magician is to the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. The aspiration of the adept who has attained to that Knowledge and Conversation will then be to the interior church, the illuminated brotherhood which Thelemic scriptures figure under the image of the City of the Pyramids. Those who have taken their places in the City of the Pyramids aspire to the magick progress and transformation of humanity as a whole. These stages are the aspirational sequence described in Crowley’s theories of magick, although precocious operators may aspire beyond their particular grade, and other aspirations may be the basis for the work of magicians laboring outside of the categories defined by those theories.
The fulfillment of the three foregoing conditions does not guarantee the efficacy of eucharistic ceremony, but they provide the magician with an essential foundation for that work. They can be figured under the formula of the masculine trinity of Father, Son, and Interior Spirit, where:
The Father is the Sun, the Egyptian Ra, the central
Ο ΠΑΤΗΡ ΕΣΤΙΝ Ο ‘ΥΙΟΣ ΔΙΑ ΤΟ ΠΝΕΥΜΑ ‘ΑΓΙΟΝ.
May the observance of these conditions inspire, fortify, and fructify our magicks, in the name of IAO.