By Aleister Crowley

Chapter XXIX: What is Certainty?

Cara Soror,

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

Well, I suppose I ought to have expected you to cock that wise left eyebrow at me!  Right you are to wonder precisely what I mean by "certainty," in the light of:

        "On Soul's curtain
Is written this one certainty, that naught is certain."

Then there is that chapter in The Book of Lies (again!)1

The Chinese cannot help thinking that the Octave has five notes.

The more necessary anything appears to my mind, the more certain it is that I only assert a limitation.

I slept with Faith, and found a corpse in my arms on awaking; I drank and danced all night with Doubt, and found her a virgin in the morning.

I wouldn't start to argue with the Chinese, if I were you; they might remind you that you exude the stench peculiar to corpses.

Again, that other "Hymn to St. Thomas", as I ought perhaps to have called it:2

Doubt Thyself.
Doubt even if thou doubtest thyself.
Doubt all
Doubt even if thou doubtest all.

It seems sometimes as if beneath all conscious doubt there lay some deepest certainty.  O kill it! slay the snake!

The horn of the Doubt-Goat be exalted!

Dive deeper, ever deeper, into the Abyss of Mind, until thou unearth that fox THAT.  On, hounds!  Yoicks!  Tally-ho!  Bring THAT to bay!

Then, wind the Mort!

Once more—what a book that is: I never realized it until now! it says—see that double page at the onset, one with "?" and the other with "!" alone upon the blank.  Moreover you should read the long essay The Soldier and the Hunchback: ! and? in the first volume and number of The Equinox.

But every one of those—rather significant, nich wahr?—slides into a rhapsody of exaltation, a dithyramb, a Paean.*  No good here.  For what you want is a penny plain pedestrian prose Probability-Percentage.  You want to know what the Odds are when I say "certain."

A case for casuistry?  At least, for classification.  It depends rather on one's tone of voice?  Yes, of course, and as to the classification, off we jog to the Divine Pymander, who saw, and stated, the quiddity of our query with his accustomed lucidity.  He discerns three degrees of Truth; and he distinguishes accordingly:—

  1. True

  2. Certain without error

  3. Of all truth.3

Clear enough, the difference between 1 and 2: ask me the time, I say half-past two; and that's true enough.  But the Astronomer Royal is by no manner of means satisfied with any approximation of that kind.  He wants it accurate.  He must know the longitude to a second; he must have decided what method of measuring time is to be used; he must make corrections for this and for that; and he must have attached an (arbitrary) interpretation to the system; the whole question of Relativity pops up.  And, even so, he will enter a caveat about every single ganglion in the gossamer of his calculations.

* It seems natural to me—apodeictic after a fashion—to treat Doubt as positive, even aggressive.  There is none of the wavering, wobbling, woebegone wail of the weary and bewildered wage-slave; it is a triumphant challenge, disagreement for its own sake.  Irish!

Browing painted a quite perfect picture of my Doubt.

Up jumped Tokay on our table,
Like a pigmy castle-warder,
Dwarfish to see but stout and able,
Arms and accoutrement all in order;
And fierce he looked North, then wheeling South
Blew with his bugle a challenge to Drouth,
Cocked his flap-hat with the tosspot feather,
Twisted his thumb in his red moustache,
Jingled his huge brass spurs together,
Tightened his waist with its Buda Sash,
And then, with an impudence nought could abash
Shrugged his hump-shoulder, to tell the beholder,
For twenty such knaves he should laugh but the bolder;
And so, with his sword-hilt gallantly jutting,
And dexter hand on his haunch abutting,
Went the little man, Sir Ausbruch, strutting!

It's not the least bit like Tokay; rather the Bull's Blood its neighbor, or any rough strong red wine like Rioja.  Curious, though, his making him a hunchbacked dwarf; there must be something in this deep down.  I wonder what!  (Ask Jung!)

Well then, all this intricate differentiation and integration and verification and Lord knows what leads at last to a statement which may be called "Certain without Error."

Excuse me just a moment!  When I was staying at the Consulate of Tengyueh, just inside the S.W. frontier of China, our one link with England, Home, and Beauty was the Telegraph Service from Pekin.  One week it was silent, and we were anxious for news, our last bit of information having been that there was rioting in Shanghai, seventeen Sikh policemen killed.  For all we knew the whole country might rise en masse at any moment to expel the "Foreign Devils."  At last the welcome messenger trotted across from the city in the twilight with a whole sheaf of telegrams.  Alas, save for the date of dispatch, the wording in each one was identical: each told us that it was noon in Pekin!

They had to be relayed at Yung Chang, and both the operators had taken ten days off to smoke opium, sensible fellows!

But Hermes Trismegistus is not content with any such fugues as the Astronomer, however cunning and colossal his Organ; his Third Degree demands much more than this.  The Astronomer's estimate has puttied every tiniest crack, he concedes it, but then waves it brusquely away: all the time the door is standing wide open!

The Astronomer's exquisitely tailored figure stands in abashed isolation, like a gawky young man at his first Ball; he feels that he doesn't belong.  For this D.S.T., or Greenwich, or what not, however exact in itself, is so only in reference to some other set of measurements which themselves turn out to be arbitrary; it is not of any ultimate import; nobody can dispute it, but it simply doesn't matter to anybody, apart from the particular case.  It is not "Of all Truth."

What Hermes means by this it will be well to enquire.

May we call it "a truth of Religion?"  (Don't be shocked!  The original word implies a binding-together-again, as in a "Body of Doctrine:" compare the word "Ligature."  It was only later by corruption, that the word came to imply "piety;" re-ligens, attentive (to the gods) as opposed to neg-ligens, neglectful.)

I think that Hermes was contemplating a Ruach closely knitted together and anchored by incessant Aspiration to the Supernal Triad; just such an one, in short, as appears in those remarks on the Magical Memory, a God-man ready to discard his well-worn Instrument for a new one, bought up to date with all the latest improvements (the movement of the Zeitgeist during his past incarnation, in particular) well wrought and ready for his use.

This being so, a truth which is "of all Truth" should mean any proposition which forms an essential part of this Khu—this "Magical Identity" of a man.

How how curious it must appear at the first glance to note that the truths of this order should prove to be what we call Axioms—or even Platitudes—

. . . . . . What's that noise?

. . . . . . I think I hear Sir Ausbruch!

And in full eruption too!  And hasn't he the right?  For all this time we've bluffed our way breezily ahead over the sparkling seas, oblivious of that very Chinese Chinese-puzzle that we started with, the paradox (is it?) of the Chinese Gamut.

(We shan't get into doldrums; there's always the way out from "?" to "!" as with any and every intellectual problem whatsoever: it's the only way. Otherwise, of course, we get to A is A, A is not-A, not-A is not-A, not-A is A, as is inevitable).

"The more certain I am of anything, the more certain it is that I am only asserting a limitation of my own mind."

Very good, but what am I to do about it?  Some at least of such certainties must surely be "of all Truth."  The test of admission to this class ought to be that, of one were to accept the contradictory of the proposition, the entire structure of the Mind would be knocked to pieces, as is not at all the case with the Astronomer's determination, which may turn out to be wrong for a dozen different reasons without anybody getting seriously wounded in his tenderest feelings.

The Statesman knows instinctively, or at worst, by his training and experience, what sort of assertion, harmless enough on the surface, may be "dangerous thinking," a death-blow to his own idea of what is "of all Truth," and strikes out wildly in a panic entirely justifiable from his own point of view.  Exhibit No. 1: Galileo and that lot.  What could it possibly matter to the Gospel story that people should think that the Earth moves round the Sun?  (Riemann, and oh! such a lot of things, have shewn that it didn't and doesn't!  This sort of "Truth" is only a set of conventions.)

"Oh, don't gas away like this!  I want to know what to do about it.  Am I to accept this cauerwauling Gamut, and enlarge my Mind, and call it an Initiation?  Or am I to nail my own of-all-Truth Tonic Solfa to the Mast, and go down into the Maelstrom of Insanity with colours flying?  Do you really need Massed Bands to lull Baby to sleep?

The Master of the Temple deals very simply and efficiently with problems of this kind.  "The Mind" (says he) of this Party of the First Part, hereinafter referred to as Frater N (or whatever his 8° = 3° motto may be) is so constructed that the interval from C to C is most harmoniously divided into n notes; that of the Party of the Second Part hereinafter referred to as—not a Heretic, an Atheist, a Bolshie, ad Die-hard, a Schismatic, an Anarchist, a Black Magician, a Friend of Aleister Crowley, or whatever may be the current term of abuse—Mr. A, Lord B, the Duke of C, Mrs. X, or whatever he or she may chance to be called—into five.  The Structure called of-all-Truth in neither of us is affected in the least, any more than in the reading of a Thermometer with Fahrenheit on one side and Centigrade on the other.

You naturally object that this answer is little better than an evasion, that it automatically pushes the Gamut question outside the Charmed of-all-Truth Circle.

No, it doesn't really; for if you were able to put up a Projection of those two minds, there would be, firstly, some sort of compensation elsewhere than in the musical section; and secondly, some Truth of a yet higher order which is common to both.

Not unaware am I that these conceptions are at first exceedingly difficult to formulate clearly.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that one would have to be a Master of the Temple to understand them; but it is really very necessary to have grasped firmly the doctrine that "a thing is only true insofar as it contains its contradiction in itself."  (A good way to realize this is by keeping up a merry dance of paradoxes, such as infest Logic and Mathematics.  The repeated butting of the head against a brick wall is bound in the long run to shake up the little grey cells (as Poirot4 might say), teach you to distrust any train of argument, however apparently impeccable the syllogisms, and to seek ever more eagerly the dawn of that Neschamic consciousness where all these things are clearly understood, although impossible to express in rational language.)

The prime function of intellect is differentiation; it deals with marks, with limits, with the relations of what is not identical; in Neschamah all this work has been carried out so perfectly that the "rough working" has passed clean out of mind; just so, you say "I" as if it were an indivisible Unity, unconscious of the inconceivably intricate machinery of anatomical, physiological, psychological construction which issues in this idea of "I."

We may then with some confidence reaffirm that our certainties do assert our limitations; but this kind of limitation is not necessarily harmful, provided that we view the situation in its proper perspective, that we understand that membership of the of-all-Truth class does not (as one is apt to think at first sight) deepen the gulfs which separate mind from mind, but on the contrary put us in a position to ignore them. Our acts of "love under will," which express our devotion to Nuit, which multiply the fulfillments of our possibilities, become continually more efficacious, and more closely bound up with our Formula of Initiation; and we progressively become aware of deeper and vaster Images of the of-all-Truth class, which reconcile, by including within themselves, all apparent antinomies.

It is certain without error that I ought to go to bed.

Love is the law, love under will.



1: Chapter ME (45), "Chinese Music."

2: Chapter NA (51), "Terrier-Works."

3: This schema is, as far as I can tell, derived from a loose translation of the first line (or rather, preamble), of the "Emerald Tablet" a "Hermetic" writing believed to be of Alchemical significance (the earliest known copies are in Arabic).  It is more usually rendered along the lines of "True without error, certain and most true."  I do not know the origins of the "of All Truth" reading – T.S.

4: A detective in sensational fiction of the period – T.S.

© 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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