Convert Not

starfist

Image via MorgueFile.

by Hunter MacKenzie

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

One of the basic tenets of Thelema that distinguishes it from most other systems of spirituality is the absence of structured provisions for evangelism and conversion of others. Not only is there no push to convert nonbelievers but there are specific injunctions against doing so. Rather than amassing strength by increasing numbers, the philosophy is inherently geared toward the individual and personal freedom; some astute historians point out that this was probably influenced a great deal by Thelema’s chief prophet Aleister Crowley’s general tendency to flout tradition and societal mores, as well as his literary familiarity with French priest and occultist Rabelais. Others believe that ”Do what thou wilt” sprang strictly from Crowley’s transcript of the Book of the Law as dictated by the entity Aiwass. It is likely that any number of diverse sources influenced the development of Thelemic philosophy, so it’s not my intention to attempt to catalog them here. What I intend to do is explore the roots and effects of this curious non-conversion principle.

“Success is thy proof: argue not; convert not…” We may help others to “strike off their own fetters” but Thelema needs no apologists or evangelists. It speaks for itself.

Most religions – and many spiritual traditions which haven’t been considered formal religions – encourage the practice of converting non-believers. It may be called ”witnessing” or ”evangelism” or  “missions” or any of a host of other euphemisms. Recently, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt called it ”indoctrination” when he ruled against former Watergate conspirator Charles ”Tex” Colson’s Christian prison ministry which rewarded prisoners for participating in the program.

In many cases, what it amounts to is arm-twisting and coercion. Anyone who has seen Ticket to Heaven or has even a passing familiarity with the stages of brainwashing in a cult setting can recognize similarities to the process of bringing new converts into the fold in a church or mosque – or the process of socialization within the school system, for that matter. The principles are the same in each case: restrict the newcomer’s contact with the old familiar environment, replace the old beliefs and ways of behaving with those espoused by the group, and enforce the new beliefs with a system of rewards and punishments until the training takes sufficient hold on the convert’s mind to become self-perpetuating and resistant to outside influence. The power of the group mind cannot be underestimated; consider George Orwell’s 1984, in which constant scrutiny not only by the government but also by one’s peers is utilized to enforce certain behaviors and extirpate others.

To examine the Christian approach to conversion for a moment, consider this. Christ exhorts his followers to ”Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Most Christians are familiar with this passage, yet many have no qualms about harassing neighbors who decline invitations to attend their particular church. Why would a religion that aspires to treat one’s fellow man with kindness and respect be so doggedly determined to undermine that same fellow man’s own belief system? Christians point to biblical passages referred to as the ”Great Commission,” charging them with the duty to ”go and teach all nations.” For Christians, this may provide direction and (depending upon how zealously it is interpreted) also grant license to consider anyone not of the same faith to be an unwashed heathen whose soul is up for grabs. From a more secular interpersonal and diplomatic perspective, however, it’s just plain rude, intrusive, and disrespectful. It’s akin to knocking on someone’s door and criticizing them for reading science fiction because you prefer cozy armchair mysteries. It’s not too far from saying, ”You don’t know any better, so let me tell you what to think.” It’s the sort of slap in the face that’s kept holy wars going for well over the last 2,000 years.

Given how much harm has been done by the well-meaning concept of bringing enlightenment to the benighted savages of the world, why does one group after another continue to aggressively pursue new converts?

Of course, holy wars aren’t the only result of militant evangelism. There’s also the psychological damage, eradication of cultural heritage, and environmental and economic wreckage wrought when one group decides to invade another’s territory for the purpose of gaining new followers.

Given how much harm has been done by the well-meaning concept of bringing enlightenment to the benighted savages of the world, why does one group after another continue to aggressively pursue new converts?

One likely reason is very simple: to have an orderly society, it is necessary to impose rules which will be followed. Civil laws can (and are) frequently broken, disregarded, amended or subverted. But laws rooted in what the population perceives as morality – which is often simply religion cloaked in secular terminology – tend to be supported and obeyed more stringently. In other words, laws tend to be more effective when the State taps into the people’s religious tendencies. Statistically, the religion with the greater number of followers is more likely to wield greater influence on the State (even if the State is not officially a theocracy). Even in a nation which claims to support religious freedom, it’s more likely that the populist religions will be given greater leeway and tolerance. This means that it’s in the interest of each religion to have as many followers as possible, whether they’re gained by conversion, reproduction, or political maneuvers. To propagate one’s own religion, it is vital to have numbers. This is especially crucial in a democratic society where the majority is allowed to make the rules for everyone else.

Considering all this, one might begin to question the wisdom of not attempting to win new converts.

One reason for avoiding such action is spelled out very clearly in the Book of the Law: “Success is thy proof: argue not; convert not; talk not over much!” (AL III:42) You can’t get much clearer than that. However, doing or not doing something purely because of what one particular passage of the Book of the Law says is not much better than the evangelizing Christians who pick and choose parts of their own bible they prefer to live by, eschewing common sense or historical context. Aside from this, it should be clear that the principles of Thelema are inimical to the very idea of dogma.

Circumstances may arise where you are asked for assistance; otherwise, the working of your Will very likely does not involve interference with the Will of another. Make no mistake: assistance or advice, when it is not requested, is interference.

“Success is thy proof.” This suggests that Thelema needs no apologists, no evangelists; it speaks for itself. Its efficacy is clear enough for those possessed of the constitution and mental disposition suitable for practicing the Law. When a belief system works, coercion is unnecessary.

Crowley himself favored promulgating the Law of Thelema, which was one thing that angered his contemporaries among practitioners of ceremonial magick; they were in the habit of keeping all their secrets very closely guarded, and disapproved of his speaking and writing so openly. He generally greeted people in conversation and letters with ”Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” a custom still carried on among many Thelemites today in much the same spirit that many Wiccans use ”Blessed Be” to close their own correspondence.

Crowley once wrote to his magickal son that openly espousing the precepts of Thelema would naturally stimulate discussion. He anticipated (maybe even hoped) that it might also elicit animosity, thus providing an excellent opportunity to speak to people about the Law. He remained mindful of the injunction to ”convert not,” but added (in the same letter), ”This is not any bar to an explanation of the Law. We may aid men to strike off their own fetters.” However, he then went on to outline a number of detailed  suggestions for spreading the word of the Law, which is probably the closest anyone has come to a blueprint for Thelemic evangelism.

It must be borne in mind, however, that Crowley believed it was his personal duty to make the Law available to all; this was his Will, in the strictest Thelemic sense. It does not necessarily follow that everyone else’s Will (or even anyone else’s Will) might include that particular task. If you believe ”Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” and ”Every man and every woman is a star,” then your obligation – your only obligation – is to discover and carry out your own Will. You are not required to ”save” anyone, to win others over to the cause or to explain your beliefs. It is certainly true that circumstances may arise where you are asked for assistance, or where, upon due consideration of the situation, you may find that it is within your Will to share what you know. Otherwise, the working of your Will very likely does not involve interference with the Will of another. (And make no mistake: assistance or advice, when it is not requested, is interference.)

Logically, one might expect that a philosophy so neutral on the subject of attracting converts would not have a large following. The Book of the Law states, in fact, ”Let my servants be few and secret; they shall rule the many and the known.” (AL I:10) However, humans are driven to look after their own interests. And despite what some seem to think, pursuing one’s own Will does not necessarily prevent one from exploring other spiritual paths at the same time;  Will is intended to be discovered and worked out by each individual for themselves. A philosophy which has the Will of the individual as its cornerstone naturally would not prohibit the exploration of alternative methods any more than it would endorse the coercion of others into a rigidly-structured belief system. In a philosophy such as this, the freedom of the individual remains paramount against any temptation to hide behind the ”safety of numbers.”

That being the case, I imagine that people will be engaged in working out their own Wills long after many of today’s religions have begun to fade. Whether people join a particular order or even identify themselves as Thelemites is not especially relevant; what really matters is that each person is respected enough to be entrusted with their own Great Work. After all, that which is chosen of one’s own free will endures in the mind and soul far longer than the most strictly enforced dogma.

 For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect. (AL I:44)

 

© Copyright 2006 by Hunter MacKenzie. Republished 2007, 2011, 2015.

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7 To-Don’ts for Maintenance Dude’s Next Visit

wrenches and spanners

by Erin Abernethy

A list of things I need to tell the maintenance guy the next time he has to come to my apartment to fix something:

1. That look I gave you the first time you were here? It was not a look of smoldering desire. It was my “Do you have ANY idea what you’re doing?” look.

2. I wasn’t lingering to watch you work because I like the scenery. I was hanging around to see if you were going to read the instructions this time. I learned from my experience last summer when you installed my window-unit air conditioner upside-down.

3. Your demonstration of your ability to juggle rolls of duct tape was not all that impressive.

4. That time you were working on the bathroom plumbing and you bumped against the sink, causing my dental floss to fall into that gap between your pants and the crack of your butt… I really didn’t expect (or want) you to retrieve the floss and give it back.

5. No one believes that story about how you worked as an electrician on the set of Rain Man and met Tom Cruise. Even if it might be true, it still doesn’t make anyone think of you when they hear his name. (I do think of you whenever I hear the phrase “K-mart underwear,” however.)

6. I appreciated the fact that you fixed the washing machine. I did not appreciate the fact that (since I wasn’t home) you went ahead and loaded my laundry into it. I would appreciate an explanation for why a pair of my underwear was missing when I put the wet clothes into the dryer.

7. That is a pipe wrench in your pocket, and it’s not fooling anyone. I don’t care how glad you are to see me.

 

© Copyright 2003 by Erin Abernethy. Republished 2007, 2011, 2015.

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Emerald

Emerald by Zengael

“Emerald,” oil painting on canvas board, © Copyright 2015 by Zengael. Shown by permission of the artist.

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This Week at Gatewood: April 19-April 25, 2015

Spring Greens 2 by P.L. Miller

Photo © 2015 by P.L. Miller. Used by permission of the artist.

by Frasier MacKenzie

Hello all! We’ve had quite an interesting week here – in the Chinese proverb sense of “interesting”! We certainly celebrated Earth Day, Dr. Nicholas’ birthday, and Arbor Day in style.

There have been high winds for this area, with several days of warnings from the National Weather Service. One day earlier in the week, this resulted in the dish blowing off the roof of Gatewood HQ (depriving us of Internet service for a day and a half). Not a big deal – many other folks have problems far worse than that every day. Service was restored the next afternoon by a very friendly and efficient technician. Hats off to – well, I was told I’m not allowed to disclose the name of the company or the technician; I imagine it’s probably against some rule for a cable or satellite technician to provide excellent service. Still, it happens occasionally, and we certainly appreciated it!

Yesterday a neighbor who chose to disregard the wind warnings burned some brush in his field, and the flames got out of control. A chunk of burning stuff blew over our parking area and landed on a pallet of mulch bags, starting a small fire. Fortunately, the fire department was already on the way by the time Mazie started barking about the flames out back, so the neighbor’s fire was contained before it spread any further. Rob’s handy kitchen fire extinguisher took care of our fire here. The neighbor was cited for burning without a permit and given a stern talking-to by the fire chief, though I doubt he’ll have to pay a fine.

Here are our features for the week of April 19-25:

Monday:Full Moon Over Earth,” photography by NASA

Tuesday:Baby Buffalo,” poetry by Geoff Hauser

Wednesday:12 Things I’ve Learned in 12 Years of Being a Cat,” by Dr. Nicholas

Friday:What is Life?,” photography by P.L. Miller and quote from Crowfoot

Remember, our Friday photo can be downloaded for free as a meditation card for your phone, tablet or computer. Share, print, ponder… enjoy!

Here are some favorite memes posted by our Special Assistant Dr Nicholas this week:

If you liked these, you’ll want to follow @docnicholas on Twitter for silliness, cat photos, tidbits about writing, and of course, daily updates on Journal posts.

That’s it for the Gatewood Weekend Wrap-Up for April 19-25. Enjoy the weekend, and try not to set the world on fire. Visit us again soon, won’t you?

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What Is Life?

What Is Life

Photography from:: P.L. Miller’s Photoblog

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12 Things I’ve Learned in 12 Years of Being a Cat

Doc Nicholas

by DocNicholas

This week my family and I will celebrate my twelfth birthday. That doesn’t make me terribly old, but it gives me “senior” status (I’d probably be in my early to mid-sixties in human years). Humans have some peculiar idea about age bringing wisdom, and while I don’t think this is necessarily true, I do agree that I’ve learned a lot during these twelve years. Our editor asked me to share, so here are some of the highlights.

1. If you don’t like where you are, look for a place you like better.

It wasn’t that I disliked my first apartment, but the human disappeared for long stretches. I know a lot of cats have it much worse, but you do need more than just a handful of kibble once in awhile to be happy. When I discovered I could push open the bathroom window, I made it my business to slip out whenever the human wasn’t around so I could scout out better digs. Even if you decide to stay where you are, it’s good to have other options.

2. Big dogs make good friends, but they need big spaces.

I once had a big dog for a roommate. Brownie was a nice fellow with a deep booming voice. Unfortunately, it was a very small apartment. Even the most interesting conversationalist can get on your nerves when there’s no volume control. After a few hours, Brownie’s talking points were usually reduced to “When are we getting fed again?” “When are we going outside to run and pee and smell things?” and “OMG MOM IS NEVER COMING HOME!!!” If you want a big dog, have the decency to live in a place big enough for him, or at least walk him frequently.

3. The person who helps you when they don’t have to is a good person to have in your life.

The human I came to call Mom already had three cats when she brought me home. She had her hands full. She certainly didn’t need another cat. But she fed me, cleaned me up, drove me to the vet to be checked out, and took me in until a new home could be found for me. We see how that went, don’t we? :x)

4. Parasites are not good for you.

Cats sometimes get fleas, ticks, worms, and so on; they suck your blood and make you sick until you get rid of them. It’s OK to feel sorry for the bugs or worms, but you still have to get rid of them. They’re making you sick.

Humans get parasites too – sometimes ticks and worms and such, but more often it’s other people that suck the life out of them. This is not healthy.

5. A good nap can help pretty much anything.

I learned a lot about computers once I moved in with Mom. Rebooting is an important and necessary process to keeping your machine running smoothly. Sleep does essentially the same thing for humans and animals, and you don’t have to wait until a certain time to do it. Any time you can catch a nap, do so. It’s the best way to get that fresh-start feeling that can give you a new perspective on things.

6. Always be clear in your communications.

Sometimes cats don’t understand one another, but a good smack to the ears sorts it out. Sometimes humans don’t understand cats (or one another) but ear-boxing is frowned upon in today’s culture. Peeing is one way to get your point across. Just be as clear as you can. If you don’t like the new cat litter, pee just outside the box, not on the bed. If you don’t like the new boyfriend, pee on him. If you don’t like what’s on TV, don’t pee on the TV; change the channel to something you like and then pee on the remote. I know this sounds complicated, but when you’re the smarter one in the conversation, it’s your responsibility to anticipate and avoid misunderstandings.

7. Sometimes friends change, and that’s OK.

I hear from Brownie sometimes on Twitter. He has a cushy gig with a stay-at-home writer-mom now. He’s changed; he talks about eating raw and getting exercise, and I’m still all about gravy and naps. I’ve grown to love reading and watching TV, and he’d rather chase a ball or howl at fire trucks. But we’re still friends. Good friends allow room for adjustments.

8. Be inscrutable sometimes.

Cats have a face that’s naturally hard to read; humans call this a poker face. There are many, many occasions when it’s best (and kinder) if people don’t know exactly what you think of them. I’m sure you can think of plenty without my help.

9. Just because you don’t have something doesn’t mean you need it.

I don’t have thumbs, and I mention it from time to time. I used to think, “Boy, if I had thumbs, there’d be no stopping me!” Instant gratification is especially tempting these days when you can have Amazon send you bacon overnight. But over the past twelve years, I’ve learned that not having something doesn’t mean you’ve been shortchanged, or that you should let it keep you from getting what you want. I can’t open bottles or light a cigarette, but these aren’t things I need to be doing anyway. I can’t drive or open a can of tuna, but Mom makes sure I’m fed and she’ll take me wherever I want to go. I’m doing just fine without thumbs, thank you very much.

10. Clocks are rubbish.

In an ideal world, you would sleep when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, drink when you’re thirsty. Trying to make any of that fit into a clock schedule means tinkering with your natural biological rhythms. While this may be convenient for the world as a whole, it’s rarely healthy for the individual.

11. Read as much as you can.

When I’m not sleeping, I like to read, and e-readers (with their paw-responsive screens) have made this really easy. It’s amazing how much information is right there at the end of your paws. I don’t have to go outside and get into trouble nosing around, or pester people with strange questions at three o’clock in the morning – I can just look things up for myself in a book (one-click ordering: big paws-up!) or on the Internet. It’s grand! You should see Mom’s search history. I suppose I ought to clear that occasionally.

12. Always get as much sleep as you can.

Sleep is the one time when your brain takes over and shuts down the unnecessary systems and gives your mind a rest. Cats sleep about sixteen to twenty hours every day. Cats, you’ll notice, aren’t running around shouting or shooting people or trying to run the world by poking into things that are none of their business. It’s a pretty good system. You should try it sometime.

 

 

© 2015 by Dr. Nicholas.

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Baby Buffalo

buffalo

by Geoff Hauser

 

The Higgenbottom twins had a baby buffalo;

They asked me if I’d watch it while they practiced for their show.

We sat upon the stairs, baby buffalo and I.

(I was a bit surprised a buffalo could climb so high!)

 

The boy played piano and his sister played the flute;

They sang and danced around – it was really quite a hoot!

They played “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and some Gershwin tunes as well.

The buffalo and I agreed that it was pretty swell.

 

The baby buffalo suggested we could get an ice cream;

He said that riding in a car had always been his dream.

I wasn’t sure that he could fit into my car’s small seat,

So we contrived to get one from the Higgenbottom fleet.

 

We went to all the drive-throughs, ate ice cream ’til we were sick,

And then we ran around the park and played go-fetch-a-stick.

We ate a giant snow-cone and some cotton candy too,

Biscotti, nuts, and hot dogs from a food truck near the zoo.

 

The hour was late, I pointed out, we’d better get home now.

The twins would wonder where we’d been – their mom would have a cow!

We had a great adventure seeing sights and playing hookey,

And when we got home baby buffalo tossed up his cookies.

 

 

© Copyright 2015 by Geoff Hauser.

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