By Aleister Crowley

Chapter LXXIV: Obstacles on the Path

Cara Soror,

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

Peccavi!  And how!  But my excuse is good, and I will try to make amends.

First, a little counter-attack—your letter is so rambling and diffuse that at first I couldn't make out what you were getting at, and at last decided that it is much too random to reproduce, or even to deal with in detail.  I shall simply formulate the case for the Prosecution, plead guilty, and appeal for clemency.

The gravamen is that the Path of the Wise is gay with flowers, gilded with kiosks, and beset with snares; that every step is the Abode of Terror and Rapture—and all that!  Yet I habitually write in the manner of a drunken dominie!  You "gaped for Aeschylus, and got Theognis."

I tempted you, it seems with The Chymical Marriage of Christian Rosencreutz, its incomparable mystery and glamour, its fugitive beauty, its ineffable romance, its chivalry and its adventure, pellucid gleams as of sunlight under the sea, vast brooding wings of horror overshadowing the firmament, yet with strong Starlight constant over- bead.  And then I let you down!

You did expect at least something of the atmosphere of the Arabian Nights; if not so high, of Apuleius and Petronius Arbiter; of Rabelais, Meinhold, de la Motte Fouqué; and the Morte d'Arthur in later times, of Balzac, Dumas, Lytton, Huysmans, Mabel Collins and Arthur Machen.

You look at me with strange sad eyes: "But you, too, Master, have not you too led a life as strange, as glamourous, as weird and as romantic, as the best of them?  Then why this cold detachment from that ambience?" Well, if you put it like that, I can only say that I feel at the same time more guilty and entirely innocent!

For, while the charge is true, the defence is not to be shaken.

The worst of all teachers are the Boloney Magnates, of whom I have already given some account.  But the next worst are just exactly those who try to create an atmosphere of romance, and succeed only in a crude theatricalism.  So, avoiding the swirling turmoil of Scylla, I have broken the ship on the barren rock Charybdis.1

Now let me hearten you, brave sister!  All the old tales are true! You can have as many dragons, princesses, vampires, knights-errant, glendowers, enchanted apes, Jinn, sorcerers and incubi as you like to fancy, and—whoa Emma! did I tell you about Cardinal Newman?  Well, I will.

The one passage in his snivelling Apologia which impressed me was a tale of his childhood—before the real poet, lover and mystic had been buried beneath the dung-heap of Theology.  He tells us that he read the Arabian Nights—in a heavily Bowdlerized edition, bet you a tosser!—and was enchanted, like the rest of us, so that he sighed "I wish these tales were true!"  The same thing happened to me; but I set my teeth, and muttered: "I will make these tales true!"

Well, I have, haven't I?  You said it yourself!

Let me be very frank about one point.  It has always puzzled me completely why one is forbidden to relate certain of one's adventures.  You remember, perhaps, in one of these letters I started out gaily to tell you some quite simple things—I couldn't, can't, see quite what harm could come of it—and I was pulled up sharp—yes, and actually punished, like a school-boy!  I had often done much more impudent things, and nobody seemed to give a hoot.  Oh somebody tell me why!

The only suggestion that occurs to me is that I might somehow be "giving occasion to the enemy to blaspheme."  Let it go at that! "Enough of Because!  Be he damned for a dog!"

Yes child, my deepest attitude is to be found in my life.  I have been to most of the holy inaccessible places, and talked with the most holy inaccessible men; I have dared all the most dangerous adventures, both of the flesh and of the spirit; and I challenge the world's literature to match for sublimity and terror such experiences as those in the latter half of The Vision and the Voice.

You understand, of course, that I say all this merely in indication; or rather, as I said before, as an appeal for clemency.

On the contrary (you will retort) you are a mean cat (Felis Leo, please!) not to let us all in on the ground floor of so imposing a Cathedral!

To atone?  Not a catalogue, which would be interminable; not a classification, which would be impossible, save in the roughest terms; nothing but a few short notes, possibly an anecdote or so.  Just a tickle or a dram of schnapps, to enliven the proceedings—ordeals—temptations—that sort of thing.  A general Khabardar karo!  With now and then a snappy Achtung!

Oh, curse this mind of mine! I just can't help running to hide under the broad skirts of the Qabalah! It's Disk, Sword, Cup and Wand again! Sorry, but c'est trop fort pour moi.

Disks.  To master Earth, remember that the Disk is always spinning; fix this idea, get rid of its solidity.

Commonly, the first tests of the young Aspirant refer to cash—"that's God's sol solid in this world."  The proper magical attitude is very hard to describe.  (I'm not talking of that black hen's egg any more; that is simple.)  Very sorry to have to say it, but it is not unlike that of the spendthrift.  Money must circulate, or it loses its true value.  A banker in New York once told me that the dollar circulated nine times as fast as the English equivalent, so that people seemed to themselves to be nine times as rich.  (I told you about the £100 note in a special letter on Money).  But here I am stressing the spiritual effect; what happens is that anxiety vanishes; one feel that as it goes out, so it comes in.  This view is not incompatible with thrift and prudence, and all that lot of virtues, far from it, it tucks in with them quite easily.  You must practise this; there's a knack in it.  Success in this leads to a very curious result indeed; not only does the refusal to count (Fourpen'north or Yoga, please miss, and Mum says can I have a penny if I bring back the bottle!), bring about the needlessness of counting, but also one acquires the power to command!

A century ago, very nearly, there lived in Bristol and "Open Brother" names Muller, who was a wizard at this; Grace before breakfast, the usual palaver about the Lord and His blessings and His bounty et cetera, da capo; to conclude "and, Blessed Lord, we would humbly venture to remind Thee that this morning Thou art £3 4s. 6 1/2d. short in the accounts; trusting that Thou wilt give this small matter Thine immediate attention, for Jesus' Christ's sake, Amen."  Sure enough, when he came to open his post, there would be just enough, sometimes exactly enough, to cover that amount.

This story was told me by an enemy, who thought quite seriously that he would go to Hell for being "Open."  ("Open" Brethren were lax about the Lord's Supper, let people partake who were not sound upon the Ramsgate Question; and other Theological Atrocities!)  It meant that the facts were so undeniable that the "advertisement for Answer to Prayer" outweighed the "miracle by a heretic."

I knew a poetess of great distinction who used to amuse herself by breaking off a conversation and saying, "Give me a franc" (or a shilling, or any small sum) and then going on with her previous remarks.  She told me that of over a hundred people I was the second who had passed the coin to her without remark of any kind.

This story—do you think?—is neither here no there.  No, my remarks are rarely asyntartete.  The Masters, at one stage or another of initiation—it is forbidden to indicate the conditions—arrange for some test of the Aspirant's attitude in some matter, not necessarily involving cash.  If he fails, goodnight!

Swords, now.  The snags connected with this type of test are probably the nastiest of any. Misunderstanding, confusion, logical error (and, worse, logical precision of the kind that distinguishes many lunatics), dispersion, indecision, failure to estimate values correctly—oh!—there is no end to the list.  So much so, indeed, that there is no specific critical test, it is all part of the routine, and goes on incessantly.

Well, there is just one.  Without warning a decision of critical importance has to be made by the candidate, and he is given so many minutes to say Yes or No.  He gets no second chance.

But I must warn you of one particular disgrace. You know that people of low mentality haunt fortune-tellers of equal calibre, but with more low cunning.  They do not really want to know the future, or to get advice; their real object is to persuade some supposed "authority" to flatter them and confirm them in their folly and stupidity.

It is the same thing with a terrifying percentage of the people that come for "teaching" and "initiation."  The moment they learn anything they didn't know before, off they fly in a temper!  No sooner does it become apparent that the Master is not a stupid middle-class prig and hypocrite—another edition of themselves, in short—they are frightened, they are horrified, they flee away on both their feet, like the man in the Bible!  I have seen people turn fish-belly pale in the face, and come near fainting outright, when it has dawned upon them suddenly that magick is a real thing!

It's all beyond me!

Cups: we are much more definite again.  The great test is so well known, and accounts have already been published, that it can be here plainly stated.  Early in his career, the Aspirant is exposed to the seductions of a Vampire, and warned in due form and due season.

"Sleep with A,B,C,D,E and F, my lad, and our hearty best wishes!  But not with G on any account, on peril of your work!"

So off he goes to G, without a second's hesitation. This test may be prolonged; the deadliness and subtlety of the danger has been recognized, and he may have half a dozen warnings, either direct or springing from his relations with her.  And the penalty is not so drastically final; often he gets off with a term of penal servitude.

On the other hand, the Aspirant who can spot at the first hint why the Masters think that particular woman a danger, and acts promptly and decisively as he should, is secretly marked down as a sword of very fine temper indeed!

The rest of the Cup Ordeals consists for the most part of progressive estimations of the quality of the Postulant's devotion to the work; there is not, as a rule, anything particularly spectacular or dramatic in it.  If you stick to your Greetings and Adorations and all such mnemonics, you are not likely to go very far wrong.

Wands: this obviously a pure question of Will.  You will find as you go on that obstacles of varying degrees of difficulty confront you; and the way in which you deal with them is most carefully watched.  The best advice that I can give is to remember that there is little need of the Bull-at-a-Gate method, though that must always be ready in reserve; no, the best analogy is rapier-play.  Elastic strength.  Warfare shows us.

That seems to cover your question more or less; but don't forget that it depends on yourself how much of the dramatic quality colours your Path.  I suppose I have been lucky to have had the use of all the traditional trappings; but it is always possible to make a "coat of many colours" out of a heap of rags.  To show you that you have had Chaucer and John Bunyan—yes, and Laurence Sterne: to bring up the rear, James Thomson (B.V.) to say nothing of Conrad and Hardy. Nor let me forget The Cream of the Jest and The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck of my friend, James Branch Cabell.

So now, fair damozel, bestride thy palfrey, and away to the Mountains of Magick!

Love is the law, love under will.



P.S. One danger I had purposely passed over, as it is not likely to come your way. But, since others may read these letters—

Some, and these the men of highest promise, often of great achievement, are tempted by Treason. The acquire a "Judas-complex," think how splendid it would be if they were to destroy the Order—or, at the very least, unhorse the Master.

This is, of course, absurd in itself, because if they had crossed the Abyss, they would understand why it is impossible.  It would be like "destroying Electricity," or "debunking" the Venus of Milo.  The maximum of success possible in such an operation would be to become a "Black-Brother;" but what happens in practice, so far as my own experience goes, is complete dispersion of the mental faculties amounting to suicide; I could quote no less than four cases in which actual physical self-murder was the direct result.

1: Editorial Q.—isn't this bas-akwards? WEH.  [dancingstar digs his copy of Brewer's out from under a stack of Equinox reprints & starts flicking...] Yes – 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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