By Aleister Crowley

Chapter XXVIII: Need to Define "God", "Self", etc.

Cara Soror,

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

Artless remark!*  Oh you!

Well, I suppose it's a gift—to stir Hell to its most abysmal horror with one small remark slipped in at the end.  Scorpion!

"Higher self"—"God within us."

Dear Lady, you could never have picked five words from Iroquois, or Banti, or Basuto or the Jargon of Master François Villon, or Pictish, which severally and together convey less to my mind.

No, no, not Less: I mean More, so much more that it amounts to nothing at all.  Spencer Montmorency Bourbon Hohenstaufen sounds very exclusive and aristocratic, and even posh or Ritzy; but if you bestow these names upon every male child, the effect tends to diminish.  The "Southern Gentleman" Lee Davis recently hanged for rape and murder, was not a near relation either of the General or the President: he was a Nigger.1

* Refers to a pious phrase at the end of her letter.

Gimme the old spade, I've got to go digging again.

1. Higher.  Here we fall straight into the arms of Freud. Why "higher?" Because in a scrap it is easier to strangle him if you are on top. When very young children watch their parents in actu coitus, a circumstance exceedingly usual almost anywhere outside England, and even here where houseroom is restricted, the infant supposes that his mother, upon whom he depends entirely for nourishment, is being attacked by the intrusive stranger whom they want him to address as "Dad."  From this seed springs an "over-under complex," giving rise later on, in certain cases to whole legions of neuroses.

Now then make it a little clearer, please, just what you mean by "higher."

Skeat seems to connect it with hills, swellings, boils, the maternal breast; is that reason enough for us to connect it with the idea of advantage, or—"superiority" merely translates it into Latin!—worth, or—no, it's really too difficult.  Of course, sometimes it has a "bad" meaning, as of temperature in fever; but nearly always it implies a condition preferable to "low."

Applied to the "self," it becomes a sort of trade name; nobody tells me if he means Khu, or Ba, or Khabs, or Ut of the Upanishads or Augoeides of the Neo-Platonists, or Adonai of Bulwer-Lytton, or — — here we are with all those thrice-accurs't alternatives.  There is not, cannot be, any specific meaning unless we start with a sound skeleton of ontogenic theory, a well-mapped hierarchy of the Cosmos, and define the term anew.

Then why use it?  To do so can only cause confusion, unless the context helps us to clarify the image.  And that is surely rather a defeatist attitude, isn't it?

When I first set myself to put a name to my "mission"—the contemplation carried me half-way across South-West China—I considered these alternatives.  I thought to cut the Gordian Knot, and call it by Abramelin's title the "Holy Guardian Angel" because (I mused) that will be as intelligible to the villagers of Pu Peng as to the most learned Pundits; moreover, the implied theory was so crude that no one need be bound by it.

All this is rubbish, as you will see when we reach the discussion on "self:" To explain now would lead to too unwieldy a digression.

2. "Within."  If you don't mind, we'll tackle this now, while "higher" is fresh in our minds; for it is also a preposition.  First you want to go up; then you want to go in.  Why?

As "higher" gave the idea of aggression, of conquest, "within" usually implies safety.  Always we get back to that stage of history when the social unit, based on the family, was little less than condition No. 1 of survival.  The house, the castle, the fortified camp, the city wall; the "gens," the clan, the tribe, the "patrie," to be outside means danger from cold, hunger and thirst, raiding parties, highway robbers, bears, wolves, and tigers.  To go out was to take a risk; and, your labour and courage being assets to your kinsmen, you were also a bad man; in fact, a "bounder" or "outsider."  "Debauch" is simply "to go out of doors!"  St. John says: "without are dogs and sorcerers and whoremongers and adulterers and idolaters and..."—so on.2

We of Thelema challenge all this briskly.  "The word of Sin is Restriction." (AL I, 41).  Our formula, roughly speaking, is to go out and grab what we want.  We do this so thoroughly that we grow thereby, extending our conception of "I" by including each new accretion instead of remaining a closely delineated self, proud of possessing other things, as do the Black Brothers.

We are whole-hearted extroverts; the penalty of restricting oneself is anything from neurosis to down right lunacy; in particular, melancholia.

You ask whether these remarks do not conflict with my repeated definition of Initiation as the Way In.  Not at all; the Inmost is identical with the All.  As you travel inward, you become able to perceive all the layers which surround the "Self" from within, thus enlarging the scope of your vision of the Universe.  It is like moving from a skirmishing patrol to G.H.Q.; and the object of so doing is obviously to exercise constantly increasing control over the whole Army.  Every step in rank enables you both to see more and to do more; but one's attention is inevitably directed outward.

When the entire system of the Universe is conterminous with your comprehension, "inward" and "outward" become identical.

But it won't do at all to seek anything within but a point of view, for the simple reason that there is nothing else there!

It is just like all those symbols in The Book of Thoth; as soon as you get to the "end" of anything, you suddenly find it is the "beginning."

To formulate the idea of "self" at all, you must posit limitations; anything that is distinguishable is a mere temporary (and arbitrary) selection of the finite from the infinite; whatever you chose to think of, it changes, it grows, it disappears.

You have got to train your mind to canter through those leafy avenues of thought upon the good green turf of Indifference; when you can do it without conscious effort, so that up-down, in-out, far-near, black-white (and so on for everything) appears quite automatically, you are already as near an Initiate as makes no matter.

3. "Self."  For a full discussion of this see Letter XLII.

4. "God."  This is really too bad of you!

Of all the hopelessly mangled words in the language, you settle with unerring Sadism on the most brutally butchered.

Crippen* was an amateur.

Skeat hardly helps us at all, except by warning us that "good" has nothing whatever to do with it.3  Dieu comes from Deus, with all its Sol-Jupiter references, and Deos, which Plato thought meant a runner; hence, Sun, Moon, Planets.

The best I can do for you, honest Injun! is the Russian word for god Bog; connected probably, though the Lithuanian, with the Welsh Bwq a spectre or hobgoblin.  Bugge, too. Not very inspiring, is it, to replace the Old Hundredth by "Hush! Hush! Hush! here come the Bogey Man."  Or is it?

Enough of this fooling!  Out, trusty rapier, and home to the stone heart of the audacious woman that wrote "God within us."

I know you thought you knew more or less what you meant when you wrote it; but surely that was a mere slip.  An instant's thought would have warned you that the word wouldn't stand even the most superficial analysis. You meant "Something which seems to me the most perfect symbol of all that I love, worship, admire"—all that class of verb.

But nobody else will have the same set of qualities in his private museum; you have, as every one has always done, made another God in your own image.

Then the Vedantists define God as "having neither quality nor quantity;" and some Yogis have a practice of setting up images to knock them down at once with "Not that! Not that!"

And the Buddhists won't admit any God at all in anything at all like the sense in which you use the word.

What's worse, whatever you may mean by "God" conveys no idea to me: I can only guess by the light of my exceedingly small knowledge of you and your general habits of thought and action.  Then what sense was there in chucking it at my head?  Half a brick would have served you better.

You think you can explain to me viva voce, perhaps?  Don't you dare try!  Whatever you said, I should prove to be nonsense, philosophically and in a dozen other ways.  And the County Council Ambulance would bundle you off in your battered and bewildered débris to the Bug-house, as is so etymologically indicated.

Do see it simply; the word must in any event connote ideas of Neschamah, not of Ruach.

"But you use the word all the time."  Yes, I do, and rely on the context to crystallize this most fluid—or gaseous—of expressions.

* Crippen was a famous English poisoner who was caught and hung.

One of the most amusing passages of irony is to be found in The Questions of King Milinda where the Arhat Nagasena demolishes Maha Brahma.

5. "Us."  Why "Us"?

Is this a reference to the Old School Tie, or that Finishing School in Brussels, and the ticket to the Royal enclosure at Ascot?  I do not suppose for a moment that you meant it that way: but it's there.  And so—

Anecdote of Lao-Tze.

The Old One was surrounded as usual by a galaxy of adoring disciples, and they were trying to get him to show them where the Tao was to be found.

It was in the Sun and Moon, he admitted; it was in the Son of Heaven and in the Superior Man.  (Not George Nathaniel Curzon, however).  It was in the Blossoms of Springtide, and in the chilling winds that swept over from Siberia, and in the Wild Geese that it bore Southward when their instinct bade them.  In short, the catalogue began to look is if it were going to extend indefinitely; and an impatient disciple, pointing to certain traces left by a mule in its recent passage, asked: "And is the Tao also in that?"  The Master nodded, and echoed: "Also in that."

Then what becomes of this privileged "us"?  We are obliged to extend it to include everything.  Then, as we have just seen, "God" also is unfettered by definitions.

Net result: "God within us" means precisely nothing at all.

And so it does, By Bradman!

"Bind nothing!  Let there be no difference made among you between any one thing & any other thing; for thereby there cometh hurt.  But whoso availeth in this, let him be the chief of all!"  (AL I, 22 - 23)

I implore you not to point out that, this being the case, words like "hurt" and "chief" cannot possibly mean anything.  The fact is that if we are to get on peaceably in the Club, we have to know when to take any given expression in a Pickwickian sense.

In the Ruach all the laws of logic apply: they don't in Neschamah.

The real meaning of the passage is simple enough, if you understand that it refers to a specific result of Initiation.  You have to be able to reckon up the Universe, as a whole and in every part; and to get rid of all its false or partial realities by discarding everything but the One Reality which is the sole truth in, and of Illusion.

There is one set of equations which express the relation of the Perceiver and the Perceived, adjusted in accordance with the particular limitations on both sides; another cancels out all the finite terms, and leaves us with an ultimate x = o = 00.


I know I'm a disheartening kind of bloke, and it does seem so unfriendly to jump down a fellow's throat every minute or so when she tries to put it ever so nicely, and it is so easy—isn't it?—to play the game of Sanctimonious Grandiloquence, and surely what was said was perfectly harmless, and . . . .

No, N.O., no: not harmless at all. My whole object is it train you to silence every kind of hypothetical speculation, and formulae both resonant and satisfying.  I want you to—

abhor them
abominate them
despise them
detest them
escew them
hate them
loathe them
and da capo.

and to get on with your practice.  Then when you get the results, you can try, albeit uselessly, to fit your own words to the facts, if you should wish to communicate, for any good reason, your experiences to other people.

Then, despairing of your impotence, how glad you will be that you have been trained not to let anyone fob you off with phrases.

Love is the law, love under will.

Fraternally yours,


1: Crowley sometimes carries his despite for euphemism to a point that obscures his purpose.  The use of the term "nigger" here gives such offense to the modern reader that the point can be missed!  This was not so in Crowley's youth, when this term was used without regard for its effect.  For the record, "nigger" does not derive from "negro" = "black" but from "niggard" = "lazy."  Crowley uses it here for the stereotype; but he also uses it deliberately to shock, as a lazy way to make such an effect.  That makes Crowley a "nigger" at this point, as the word is properly defined! – WEH

2: Apocalpyse, XXII. 15.

3: Shipley's Dictionary of Word Originssneaks the following in under the word "goodbye":  "God, Goth. guth, may be traced to Aryan ghut, god, from ghuto, to implore: God is the one to whom we pray."  "God" might also be a contraction of "Odin", as "'Od"—have the English speaking Christians been praying to the Aesir all this time? – WEH.

© Ordo Templi Orientis.  Original key entry by W.E. Heidrick for O.T.O.  HTML coding by Frater T.S. for Nu Isis Working Group.

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