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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Welcoming the Stranger

I had dinner with my mother and my family Sunday night. While there my mother's church came up. As a boy my mother instilled a sense of the importance of formal religion and religious community for me which I value, and which has been of great benefit to me through life, even though my preference for religious communities and formal religion differs greatly from hers. In fact it differs so much so at this point that I prefer not to go to her current church, less because of the style and more because of the community. It's very small. So when they share a sign of peace, literally everyone in the church greets everyone else. Many of them coming up and hugging each other. They're very excited about guests, and therefore have few boundaries in terms of asking about where you go to church and if you'll be back with them and such things. Not to comfortable for someone looking to stop in casually.

But for people looking for the support of a caring community, they can be a pretty good place.

While at dinner my mom told me about a man, I don't recall his name, who she and her fellow church members believe to be homeless. He stopped into the church about a week ago, and stayed to share in after church refreshments with them. He humbly asked for food, and they provided it, almost surprised that he felt the need to ask. While talking with him, he talked about how much he liked it there with them and how he wanted to study with them but he didn't have a Bible. So one of the church members offered him a Bible and asked what kind he wanted, and agreed to go get it for him. The following week as they were preparing for service the woman who was supposed to get the Bible was quite upset that, while helping someone else in the community, she had not had the opportunity to go get the Bible. They looked through what bibles the church had but they were all used, and they felt a used Bible wasn't an appropriate gift for the new friend they were welcoming. Eventually when they found a moment, one of them went out to a store to pick up a Bible of the type the man had requested. The man was overjoyed, and was clearly surprised that someone would say they would do something for him and actually follow through.

The story was simple, but was nice. Although it was a little sad that a small act of kindness was a surprise for him. We, unfortunately, live in a world where goodness and caring for others can often be a surprise.

My preference is not to get particularly political in this blog. I'm not sure neutrality is still possible, but I'm going to still shoot for it. That said, the idea of helping others and questions of who should be doing it, what limits there are on our call to help others, and how it should be done are major issues at the moment.

I can't answer for us as a society what we should or shouldn't do. But these questions are such that they often bring us back to questions of religion and spirituality. The Pope has expressed the view that Christians must welcome the stranger. 550 Catholics organized a Mass in front of the White House to support this idea. We find other religions also reaching out to help others in places where our society has not been able to provide food, water, shelter, or safety. In a lot of mainstream religious structures it's easy to say what we're called to do or not do because they expressly state what to do or not do.

But for magicians we don't have that. We have a whole host of spiritual and religious ideologies we might ascribe to, or might draw pieces from. By in large though we approach them in very individualistic ways, directly relating to the powers, forces, intelligences, and divinities that inspire us. For many of us, that inspiration is often very tied to our own personal development or to our particular magical work, and less towards a social concept.

With that in mind, maybe we each should turn to whatever spirits, or whatever source we draw from, and find inspiration as to what our answers are for ourselves. But if we do that we need to commit to working with that inspiration to make manifest in the world whatever it is we're called towards.

Short of that, here are some thoughts I have on the matter. They're my thoughts, and so of course no one is obligated to share or agree with them. But I hope they might give you a jumping off point to explore your own thoughts.

First, magic isn't simply about ourselves. I have previously tried to get a magical group to do more charity work. New leadership in that group is fortunately excited about the idea of how we as a community can help the broader community. But in the past some leaders were not as fond of the idea of helping others, because, magicians, particularly Thelemic magicians, work in a system focused on the self, and not the community. It may be true that many magicians work in a manner focused on themselves, but Thelema is not just about the self. The Aeon of Isis was one focused on a communal ideal. The Aeon of Osiris was focused on the individual. You have the circle which encompasses the whole, and the point which resides solely as itself; you have the cosmos and the singular star. The Aeon of Horus is the Aeon of War, in the sense that the polarized qualities of Isis and Osiris must come together to destroy their separateness and unify into a new synthesis. The Age of the Child partakes of the individual and the community. Thus the Hermit shines light into the world to inspire others. The Master gathers a temple, the Magus ensnares souls with his word. On the way to this unity, the Man of Earth explores the forces of the cosmos, the Lover understands his angel and therefore himself, and the Hermit combines the self and the cosmos into a singular work. Knowing our Wills involves working our Wills within the world, which is where Love comes in, we bring the world together by individually contributing to a collective environment that allows and inspires people towards their Wills. It is ultimately communal.

So...that's a lot of words, but what does it mean? Magic is about action in the world, and that action impacts others. Ideally our actions should help us and those we care about, but in a way in which we also repair the world and foster “magic” in the sense of moving the world into a more initiated state. Even when we work for ourselves there is a social element, an element of service, in magic.

So, my first thought is again, that magic is not simply about ourselves, magic is about impact on the world, and therefore the community around us.

My second thought is that the strong are called to help those weaker than themselves. When I was a boy I was taller and stronger than most of my peers. Now as a man I'm pretty average height. But I was almost my full grown height in elementary school. My parents instilled in me the idea that if you were bigger and stronger than others you couldn't use that to take advantage of weaker people, and you were obligated to protect those who couldn't protect themselves from people who are stronger than them.

Maybe I don't have a good magical justification for accepting this ideal, but is seems like one which to me is sensible. Maybe we don't have to be superheroes, although this seems in line with Jonathan Kent's morality or Ben Parker's with power comes responsibility. There are things we can't do. We aren't invulnerable or all powerful. But we do have access to knowledge and power that others do not. Sometimes it can allow us to provide them the help that they need. We might not be obligated to help, but in cases where we can, we have to recognize that we make the decision not to.

So my second thought is that if magicians have power that others do not, and we can within reason use that power to alleviate suffering, we make an active choice either to do so or not to do so, and we are responsible for that choice.

My third and final thought for today on this matter is “Compassion is the vice of kings.” When I was starting out in Thelema and the Thelemic community this line was often quoted as a call to be an edgy bad ass. “Stamp down the wretched and the weak,” clearly, we're not called to be compassionate, it's a vice. We should be focused on our OWN wills as individuals. This was the kind of sentiment I saw a lot. Maybe it wasn't the prevailing sentiment at the time, maybe it was. I liked to interpret it differently, and I'm finding now a lot more people have also come to this conclusion and have become more comfortable vocalizing it...the line is a call towards compassion.

“Vice of kings” can be re-rendered as “kingly vice”. While the word vice is of primarily negative meaning, Liber AL seems to creatively flip language on it's head at times. Love is clearly something necessary in the context of Liber AL. Compassion is a form of Love, and it is a form of love which is dangerous when given over to it too easily, too often, and too completely. In fact the Fraternity of Saturn attempted to clarify Love in the context of the Law of Thelema by adding “compassionless love” as a descriptor. But stars move in a coalescence of the gravity of the various stars, planets, and bodies of space. The universe sings in a harmony. The cosmos is in and of itself a form of compassion, or a coming together of things which share in influence and impact. Perhaps then compassion is not the vice of kings in the sense that true kings reject compassion, but rather that a true king masters compassion, experiencing it and drawing on it as is suited to his will, but like any other dangerous influence, no further than those bounds which are suited to his will. Compassion is his burden, because it allows for his magical interaction with the world, but taken too far could also topple it.

A successful king understands his kingdom and the people in it. He recognizes that his success, his growth, the longevity of his kingship is tied to the way in which he cultivates his kingdom and the experiences of those therein. Jupiter and Sol are the icons of kingship in western magic. Jupiter is the source of beneficence and providence. Kings provide mercy and fecundity for their children, those within their kingdom who are dependent upon their reign. Sol provides justice, balance, and through those healing, but also illumination and inspiration. Sol is the beauty of ordered virtue made radiant upon those around it. The relationship of a virtuous reign to fecundity and growth is seen in the physical counterpart of the force of Sol, our Sun and its ability to support life.

True kingship is not about looking down upon the wretched and despising them. Kingship is about balance, about ordering the forces within a kingdom, and fostering the flow of growth and prosperity.

So my third and final thought is that a magician, in order to be kingly, and take part in the power of a king must shoulder the burden of compassion.

So maybe as magicians, we aren't called to welcome the stranger, feed the poor, clothe the naked, and heal the sick...although...some of that sounds like it's precisely in line with what Rosicrucians are required to do...we are, in any case, in a position to consider what is right for us, and what our roles in society and the world are. Ultimately we can't individually decide for our neighbor or our country what the one true course of action is. But we can decide for ourselves what is and what isn't right for us to do, and from there we can decide whether or not we're going to do that thing which is right or not. In the end we are left with our feelings to answer to as to whether or not we've lived up to our inspiration.  

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