Karma Yoga and Three Ways of Thelemic Initiation

There are three ways of Thelemic initiation corresponding to Jnana Yoga (knowledge), Bhakti Yoga (devotion) and Karma Yoga (action). These are also called the sacerdotal way of the priesthood, the royal way of kings, and the way of the warrior. The Greek word ‘Thelema’ (Θελημα) is inclusive of all three.[1] It is put thus in the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, I: 40:

For there are therein Three Grades, the Hermit, and the Lover, and the man of Earth. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Karma Yoga and Three Ways: Artus Scheiner RomanceIn our time, the warrior path presents the greatest difficulties. The warrior path generally involves the Ideal expressed through exoteric religious (or other) dogma. Dogma literally means ‘what seems to be good or true’, ‘what one should think’. The shortcoming is obvious. However, religious dogma has now been replaced by universal belief in scientism. Scientism is far worse than religious dogma, for that at least had a basis in true principles, even if the basis was often lost in practice—a condition made worse in the confusion of modern times. The dogma of conventional science has no basis in any truth whatsoever. It could be said, and not without some justification, that all ways of initiation are closed in the present times—for we have reached the greatest darkness of the Kali Yuga that comes immediately before the final dissolution and regeneration of the world. However, even in times such as ours the way of initiation is open right until the last minute for the few that still have the innate possibilities.

This article is abridged from Nu Hermetica—Initiation and Metaphysical Reality [Ordo Astri books].

The practices are not separate, as though having nothing to do with each other. They overlap and in some ways run concurrently. One path can also support another. The way of Bhakti, ‘devotion’, is akin to Raja Yoga, which is the way of the king or noble, yet it is also the way of the warrior or man of Earth. Karma Yoga is ‘action’, which implies immersion in time and place, names, numbers and principalities—yet that impinges on the way of the Lover, who, unless he is wholly devoted to union with God or divinity, must always be tested by the ordeals configured by the very nature of the outer world.

The three paths, as with the practices, are comparable to the three Gunas in the same tradition: Sattwas, Rajas and Tamas. This is why they are never truly separate in nature, for each one flows seamlessly into the other, and they must all partake of each other’s nature in some way. For this reason the Gunas are sometimes used in alchemical analogies. They also correspond to the Wheel of Force, the 10th Atu of the Tarot, for like the wheel they are never fixed but are a mobile force. While each manifests according to its nature they all partake of the one essence or essential Esoteric Principle.

Thus no person or being consists wholly of one or the other of these three qualities, but one or the other will be the dominant force in them. Even that is not necessarily a permanent or fixed state of affairs, for initiation can change this, and as we have said, one path can act as a support for another. It can be readily seen then that the way of Jnana Yoga suits the Sattwic disposition, while the ways of Bhakti and Karma Yoga suit the Raja disposition. The Tamas disposition, ignorant by its very nature, naturally precludes any possibility of initiation and only allows for exoteric affiliation. René Guénon has said that Tamas nonetheless has a closer relation with Rajas than with Sattwas.[2]

Those who follow the ways of Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga are those who must develop individual qualities. These two paths pertain to the Lesser Mysteries and the psychic sphere of the individuality. Jnana Yoga, which is the path of pure knowledge, exists for those who will leave the corporeal order permanently, and is the way of the Greater Mysteries. Yet Karma and Bhakti can provide a support to the further and full realisation that only Jnana Yoga affords. Indeed, there is no way to the pinnacle without first entering the centre of all, the omphalos at the heart of Tiphereth in our tradition.

It should be noted in respect of the three ways that the Karma Yoga path in its fullest and original sense means that each must accomplish that which accords to its proper nature, called a ‘True Will’. Unfortunately, the conditions now prevailing in the world have made that rare, almost impossible. This owes to the confusion that is now considered to be the normal state of affairs, so that every kind of deviancy is also considered to be normal. In that, it does well to bear in mind that this is so because the whole of our civilisation is deviant, not merely some parts of it or particular kinds of behaviour.

In the West, Bhakti once had its counterpart in the Graal tradition, the chivalry typified by Arthur and his knights, or in some of the ancient orders such as the Knights Templar—though we must exclude from that all modern claimants to that tradition. Karma Yoga has its counterpart with crafts, and in that we would include poetry, music and all the arts, provided these express true principles and are not merely about ‘personal expression’. In the true and also the most technical sense, Karma Yoga is ‘ritual action’, which again, owing to the general conditions of our times, is nowhere to be found in our governmental, social or domestic conventions, unless in the most degraded and meaningless forms imaginable.

The principles hold true in all traditional actions. For example, there was a time not so long ago when at the Beltane cross-quarter of the year, on or around the 1st May, a pole was firmly erected in a field and coloured ribbons were tied to its mast. Young girls, dressed in white and decorated with flowers, would then each hold on to the end of a ribbon and all would go dancing merrily about the pole. One of these would be designated ‘Queen of the May’. The Queen of the May is the ‘one chosen’ to play the part of the Daughter or Bride of the Kingdom, called Malkah or Persephone, and known by many other names in equivalent traditions around the world.

The pole is the vertical axis of the universe and of the Great Yantra. This links heaven with earth, and the spiritual order with the corporeal world. In the axis is the possibility of initiatic transmission, like lightning to the ground. The circle is the circumference of the sphere, of which the interpenetrating axis is the extended point or Esoteric Principle. It is the visible appearance of things or Nature. The maidens are the whole range of possible expressions, as the multitudinous variety of flowers, yet each retaining the purity (white colour) of the Principle itself. The coloured ribbons that connect the maidens with the axis form the rainbow of Setian manifestation, the ‘coat of many colours’ of Joseph.[3] They are the seven rays, of which the seventh is the “light higher than eyesight”, or indigo, which is an analogous term for that which is beyond the reach of the sky, or otherwise at the head of the axial column.[4]

It remains to be said  that as ‘ritual action’, various kinds of magical practice such as the making and consecration of talismans are related to Karma Yoga, though these may also, if properly done, act as a support for spiritual realisation. When talismans are made for wholly negative purposes, such as worldly ambition, material gain, persuasion of the will of others, and so forth, then the ‘karma’ of wrath and retribution is automatically evoked. This is something that many now find difficult even to believe, since our world encourages such empty ambitions as a matter of course, and even heaps honours upon those with truly abhorrent or base motives. However, this action of retribution is inevitable. It does not arise from any moral consideration, since morals, by definition, are merely completely arbitrary human conventions. The retribution arises from natural action, which is another meaning of the Sanskrit karma. If the person has invoked either deity or devil, it matters not which, in complete ignorance of the principle or true knowledge underlying the symbol, then that principle will nonetheless be present at the ritual and in the operator, but only in wholly negative form.


Karma Yoga and Three Ways Notes

1. See Babalon Unveiled, ‘The Word Thelema’, pp. 156, for a detailed exegesis of the word.
2. René Guénon, Chapter 18, Initiation and Spiritual Realisation [Sophia Perennis].
3. Genesis 37: 3: “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.”
4. “Purple beyond purple: it is the light higher than eyesight” (Liber AL, I: 51).

From the book, Nu Hermetica—Initiation and Metaphysical Reality.

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The Great Work

Initiation, or to be more precise, initiatic transmission, is central to the Great Work and it is the aim, not the goal. The goal, as ever, is spiritual realisation to the fullest possible measure. The degeneracy of the modernist psychologisation of the mysteries, which by now is a considerable influence even on occultism, has placed personal improvement at its very centre or even as the goal itself. Even initiation has been reduced to the personal sphere, to such an extent that it has become common to hear of ‘self-initiation’, which is an oxymoron. If this is pointed out it can give rise to aggressive attacks, such is the vehemence of the anti-spiritual movement.

Great Work: Ordo Astri SymbolThis outright confusion of the spiritual with the personal is by now very deeply ingrained. If the Great Work is expressed in very different terms, most will see it at best as a ‘noble ideal’ or even an abstraction, and will pay it lip service only. In that case their real motives for doing what they call a Great Work are no more than the aspirations of ordinary men and women. They hope for magical powers that will help them gain advantage, get their own way and do what they imagine is their ‘True Will’. Or otherwise, if they do not even believe in magical powers as such, they will hope to develop latent powers of some other kind, psychological or otherwise as a means of acquiring knowledge and power that will help them effortlessly achieve what are in reality completely profane ambitions.

Whenever an ideal of the Great Work is expressed, it very often involves ‘service’. Primarily, such service, given freely without hope of reward, is the service to truth. Before truth can be served, the seeking of truth must be placed as central to our aims, over and above any personal considerations whatsoever. However, there is a personal as well as a cosmic and supra-cosmic aspect to the Great Work. On the personal or individual level, there is a need to know Reality, which is how the goal is put in Advaita Vedanta. This entirely evades the average person, for they will imagine they already know what ‘reality’ is. While no one can ever know Reality in its entirety, we can extend our knowledge so that whatever we knew before is revealed as merely contingent or incidental. When this reaches to the supra-human level then it is part of what initiation is in the true sense of the word. Before this is possible there must be development of the highest intellectual faculties—and it must be noted that ‘intellect’ here must not be thought of as involving the acquisition of ordinary knowledge, or of reason or logic as that is commonly understood. It is useless then to try and describe what Reality is, as no words can convey it, nor any symbol—though symbols, if we approach them in the right way can convey knowledge more directly than language, which is also symbolism of a kind, but more indirect.

Great Work: Immortal Stone

The immortal stone or stone of the wise is one such symbol. It is called a ‘stone’ for good reasons, though at other times it likened to a fluid or some other substance. The stone can be actual or physical, as incorporated into sacred architecture, or otherwise built into the rites of initiation and the sphere of the practitioner. The Sri Yantra is an example of such a ‘stone’ symbolised geometrically, and the omphalos symbolises the true world centre or heart of all. The stone is also considered to be ‘substance’, which is frequently confused with matter (materia) in the conventional sense of that word. Technically, substance is emanation from the principal, which corresponds to the true state of affairs. In the words of John, I: 1, in the Latin version:

In principio erat verbum.

This is translated in the King James and other English Bibles as, “In the beginning was the Word”. However, this is not really correct. The Word is the principle, or in the Greek version, arche. In other words, the translation has degraded the meaning so that it implies a causal ‘beginning’, whereas a beginning can at best be an analogous term for that which has neither beginning nor end, because it is with spirit. The verse continues to say that the Word (λογος) “was with God” and “the Word was God”. The Greek version gives Theos or ‘divine’, which is translated as the noun ‘God’. The translation also places this in the past tense, again implying a state of affairs that existed, whereas the true state of affairs always exists. Similarly, among the obfuscations of modern magick, the Greek word aeon is frequently misconstrued as a period of time, whereas its proper meaning is that of ‘eternity’. Thus all sacred texts in the old languages of Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Arabic and indeed to an even worse extent, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, have been reduced to the phantom of ‘matter’ and its related considerations of corporeal time and space—ideas that through their limitation are always subject to the confusion of numerical measures and assignments.[1]

In order to comprehend anything of the Great Work of initiation, the person must cleanse their mind of all materialistic and modernist preconceptions—and we have all been indoctrinated in these since the day we were born. They must be prepared to learn a new language that involves a contemplative approach to symbolism. This can have nothing to do with ‘information’ or knowledge in the conventional sense. It means learning to think in an entirely different way from what has been learned through the conditioning of cultural environment and so-called education. Such a development will not take place without considerable effort, least of all through the means of some vague ‘intuition’.

Great Work: Eternity

We obtain a better sense of the value of eternity or immortality when we grow older. If we have given enough time to contemplation then we will also certainly grow at least a little wiser. While in our youth we live in a kind of blissful ignorance concerning the true state of affairs. We cannot help having a delusionary sense that we are already immortal, or as immortal as we want to be. The question of soul survival is nonetheless quite simple. Do we want to be extinguished after mortal death, to suffer the dispersion and oblivion that is called the ‘second death’, or do we want to continue, perhaps forever? Curiously, if we believe that only oblivion awaits the end of our short-lived mortal existence then that negates any meaning or purpose to the life we are having; everything will be cancelled and be as nothing.[2] However, that is what most people now believe and so from the initiated point of view the thoughts, actions and aspirations of most human beings are useless and saddening, for they are only possible where there is more or less total ignorance of spiritual realities.

The cosmic aspect of the Great Work is that initiates of the present time, now very few in number, play a part in preparing what will come after the dissolution of our world, which is now well in progress. There are possibilities, however, that reach far beyond terrestrial concerns; such concerns are modified by the restrictive conditions of the human state at the present time, which is very degenerate. Time, in any case, only exists in the corporeal state. There are infinite modes of being and of existence in the supra-human realm.


Notes

1. This is explained in depth by René Guénon in Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, and other of the collected works [Sophia Perennis].
2. This is especially true of deeds or actions that have no substance, as we have defined that word.

For further study, see Nu Hermetica—Initiation and Metaphysical Reality [Ordo Astri books].

© Oliver St. John 2021

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