Monday, February 22, 2016

The Trouble With Tyson

The following post is an excerpt from my upcoming book Mastering the Thirty Aires. I have been critical of Donald Tyson's Enochian works in the first two books of the series, but I was shocked at one point to find myself attacked online by a handful of Enochian magicians who apparently think Tyson's apocalypse musings are awesome or something - just for saying that I thought the whole notion was ridiculous. Tyson's problem is not his scholarship or ability as a researcher, both of which are generally fine. Rather, he seems to be adept at taking bits and pieces of lore and combining them in ways that strike me as completely bizarre.

My new book will mostly consist of the system of the Aires as it appears in Dee's diaries, with some suggested modern practices thrown in where they make sense as optional components. I do, however, include a short chapter on Aleister Crowley's "Scrying the Aethyrs," as it is probably the most popular modern practice that uses the system of the Aires. Also, I'm a Thelemite, so a lot of my cosmology is drawn from Crowley's The Vision and the Voice. I figured that as part of that chapter I would comment on Tyson's own words, blogger-style, so that you can make up your own mind. Maybe he's right and I'm wrong. But I seriously doubt it.

There is one more point with respect to Crowley’s Aethyr workings that I need to address. It is completely ridiculous, but I keep running into people online who apparently believe it.

As I touched on in Mastering the Great Table, Donald Tyson has proposed the concept of an "Enochian Apocalypse" directly tied to Crowley’s Scrying the Aethyrs. Tyson starts by pointing out similarities between the imagery found in the Angelic Keys and certain passages from the Book of Revelation – all of which he describes accurately, as he is generally a competent researcher. But from there, he takes his argument in an utterly bizarre direction, asserting that working the Enochian system will basically lead to the end of the world as we know it.

In my opinion the apocalypse prepared by the Enochian angels must be primarily an internal, spiritual event, and only in a secondary way an external, physical catastrophe. The gates of the Watchtowers that stand guard at the four corners of our dimension of reality are mental constructions. When they are opened, they will admit the demons of Coronzon, not into the physical world, but into our subconscious minds.

Tyson’s argument rests upon the idea that “an apocalypse” fundamentally refers to some sort of catastrophe. But that’s not what the word originally meant. “Apocalypse” is a synonym for “revelation,” which is why the final book of the New Testament is named as it is. If the latter definition were what Tyson was talking about, that working with the Enochian system has the potential to lead the individual magician to a personal revelation – that is, a greater level of mystical realization – I would basically agree with him. I am of the opinion that this is in fact the point of the undeniably apocalyptic language of the Keys. Unfortunately, he keeps going.

Spirits are mental, not material. They dwell in the depths of mind and communicate with us through our dreams, unconscious impulses, and more rarely in waking visions. They affect our feelings and our thoughts beneath the level of our conscious awareness. Sometimes they are able to control our actions, either partially, as in the case of irrational and obsessive behavior patterns, or completely, as in the case of full possession. Through us, and only through us, are they able to influence physical things.

This is somewhat incorrect in my experience. Spirits do not have much of a physical presence, but they do seem to be able to affect the probability of particular outcomes in situations where no human agency is present – for example, causing particular lottery numbers to come up in drawings. They can also cause small physical effects when you summon them, like temperature shifts, occasional noises, candle flares, and so forth. But as the next few paragraphs reveal, this small misunderstanding is the least of Tyson’s problems.

The Enochian communications teach not only that humanity itself must initiate the apocalypse through the magical formula delivered to Dee and Kelly, but that humans must be the physical agents that bring about the plagues, wars, and famines described with such chilling eloquence in the vision of St. John. It is we who will let the demons of Coronzon into our minds by means of a specific ritual working. They will not find a welcome place there all at once, but will worm their way into our subconscious and make their homes there slowly over time. In the minds of individuals that resist this invasion they will find it difficult to gain a foothold, but in the more pliable minds of those who welcome their influence they will establish themselves readily.

This statement rests on the assumption that the vision of St. John describes a specific series of physical events. But there are a lot of ways to interpret that particular text. You could just as easily make the case that it describes a specific, individual magical working in allegorical terms. The literal interpretation of the apocalypse put forth by modern evangelicals did not even exist in Dee’s time – that comes from Millerism, which only dates back to the early nineteenth century. Miller’s methods have been taken up by a number of modern evangelists, but have produced little more than a long series of failed apocalypse predictions.

Once the demons have taken up residence, we will be powerless to prevent them from turning our thoughts and actions toward chaotic and destructive ends. These apocalyptic spirits will set person against person and nation against nation, gradually increasing the madness and chaos in human society until at last the full horror of Revelation has been realized upon the stage of the world. The corruption of human thoughts and feelings may require generations to bring to full fruition. Only after the wasting and burning of souls is well advanced will the full horror of the apocalypse achieve its final fulfillment in the material realm.

Here is where Tyson undeniably reveals that he has no idea how magick actually works. If we grant that (1) spirits are primarily mental, and (2) that “opening the gates” of the Enochian universe admits harmful spirits into my mind, it does not follow that (3) said spirits have now been admitted into everyone’s mind by definition. By Tyson’s logic I might be able to render myself insane, even though as I have noted throughout this series, stories of Enochian entities inducing insanity are wildly exaggerated. Nonetheless, aside from any actions I might personally take when in that state, how would said harmful spirits affect anyone else?

Let us suppose for the sake of argument that the signal for the initiation of this psychic invasion occurred in 1904 when Crowley received the Book of the Law, as he himself believed. Crowley’s Enochian evocations of 1909 then pried the doors of the Watchtowers open a crack enough to allow a foul wind to blow through the common mind of the human race. This would explain the senseless slaughter of the First World War and the unspeakable horror of the Nazi Holocaust during the Second World War. It would explain the decline of organized religions and why the soulless cult of science has gained supremacy. It would explain the moral and ethical bankruptcy of modern times and the increase in senseless violence.

In fact, Crowley didn’t believe that the reception of The Book of the Law represented a “psychic invasion.” He believed that it marked the turning of the Aeon, which Saint John foresaw as a calamity only because he was viewing the New Aeon from the perspective of the old. Tyson should make an effort to understand Thelema before he tries to characterize it or explain what Crowley believed. But once more, this misunderstanding is the least of Tyson’s problems here.

Let me be clear. Aleister Crowley’s Scrying of the Aethyrs did not initiate either of the two world wars, and did not lead to the Holocaust. I honestly can barely comprehend the mindset of anyone who would genuinely accept either of those assertions.

Now to be fair, I do not even know if Tyson does himself. He published the article I am quoting in 1996 and repeated the same claims in his next book, Tetragrammaton. But after that, he wrote Enochian Magic for Beginners! If you truly believe that practicing a particular school of magic will literally end the world, why would you ever publish a primer for beginning students? The apocalypse theory itself may be bizarre, but publishing what you honestly consider to be a guide on how to end the world is just plain stupid. I suspect that Tyson may simply have been playing this up the whole time in order to enhance the “scary reputation” of the Enochian system and sell more books. But if that is the case, what does that say about those who are still falling for it today, twenty years later?

At any rate, according to the history of the real world, the First World War was the inevitable result of military maneuvers and alliances by the powers of Europe dating back to the late nineteenth century. That was long before Crowley had ever heard of The Book of the Law, let alone performed his Enochian work. The “senseless slaughter” of that war stemmed from a strategic blunder by the Germans that stalled their army’s advance and forced both sides into trench warfare. The Second World War was a direct consequence of the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which destroyed the German economy. The Nazi party originally came to power in no small part because of Hitler’s pledge to defy the terms of that treaty and end the massive payments to France that it compelled.

With regard to Tyson’s statements about the “senseless violence” of the modern age, I will grant that as this article was published in 1996, it was probably written at least a year or two before that. Violent crime peaked in the United States peaked around 1991, but as of this writing in 2016 has been declining ever since. 1991 is around the time I began my own work with Enochian magick, so does that mean I personally am responsible for this decline? Of course not, but that is the sort of logic Tyson is employing here. As far as I can tell, his problems with the modern world are his own, and have nothing to do with malevolent Enochian spirits or anyone else’s magical workings.

We may not have long to wait before the individual known in the vision of St. John as the Antichrist, the one foretold in Crowley’s Book of the Law to follow after the Beast, will succeed in completing the Apocalypse Working. Then the gates of the Watchtowers will truly gape wide, and the children of Coronzon will sweep into our minds as crowned conquerors. If this chilling scenario ever comes to pass, the wars of the twentieth century will seem bucolic to those who survive the slaughter.

Just to be clear one more time, the “one to follow” mentioned in The Book of the Law is never referred to as “the Antichrist” in any Thelemic text. Crowley believed that the phrase was an allusion to Charles Stansfield Jones, Frater Achad, who Crowley recognized as his “magical son” before their eventual falling-out. Again, Tyson shows his ignorance and misunderstanding of Thelema and Crowley’s writings. But his idea that one individual person Scrying the Aethyrs will trigger "a slaughter" that will dwarf the deaths attributed to the two world wars of the twentieth century is flat-out delusional. Tyson should stick to writing about H. P. Lovecraft and the Necronomicon, and leave the Enochian system alone.

I hope to live to see the day that Tyson’s wild conjectures about the Enochian apocalypse are put to rest. But so far, while they are not accepted by the majority of Enochian magicians, there are apparently still a few out there who seem to believe in them. In my opinion, you should not allow such individuals to influence your attitude towards magical practice, since I see no way that a dialogue with them will accomplish anything but leading you astray or scaring you out of doing the work.

And doing the work is the entire point. As I see it, if you avoid practicing because you fear an “Enochian apocalypse” or any other sort of harmful outcome, you have most likely already done greater harm to yourself than you could possibly set in motion by performing any magical operation.

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