Astron Argon

Religious Experience & the Existential Crisis


Frater Apollonius

A person‟s early social environment from one‟s youngest age, contains factors that determine one‟s original response to the developing knowledge of the distinction between „self‟ and „not- self‟. Society presents the first response to the existential crisis created by this as it imposes a set of moralistic doctrines designed to impel the individual to acquiesce to its own ends.

Its role in this situation is to institute laws and behavioral patterns that are considered to be characteristic and expected of the individual. One‟s adherence to the moral structure is enforced by both brute force; jail, persecution and its religious institutions, giving us classical conditioning and crude forms of behavior, laying solid foundation for governmental and religious legislation. Indeed, the prison system doesn't rehabilitate, but punishes; and hell exists for the court of God. The idea is to change human behavior without appeal to reason. And in the absence of reason, there is rationalization.

The intellect can provide rational explanations for ideas and convictions that were internalized since childhood. These ideas are perceived so deeply and intensely that they seem as natural law providing strong conviction due to the unconscious or subconscious claims to authority that they hold. Yet our conscious minds provide much more elaborate explanations creating the illusion that one consciously and intelligently arrived at the beliefs one holds. Only a thoroughly deep philosophical introspection can address this issue.

This rationalization is all too common and explains why well-educated people can still accept the ridiculous notions of Christianity. This behavior also extends itself outside of religion; for example, a way to explain why we bought that expensive sports car. An example of this was an experiment where Freud had hypnotized a patient and gave the suggestion to carry an umbrella around on a sunny day. When asked why he was carrying the umbrella he provided a rational explanation and believed it was his 'choice'. The ideas impressed on our 'blank slate' minds from infancy forwards share an operative effect and function as a deep hypnosis that is our innate conditioning; a process not so easy to reverse as is hypnosis. Yet we may begin by questioning our thoughts and checking to see whether or not they are actually our own thoughts; by following knee-jerk reactions to thinking chain of thoughts that brought this automatic response.

Religious preaching, indoctrination, and moralizing serve to shift the direction of the individual‟s behavior away form personal, selfish goals toward those ends that are necessary to perpetuate society. Our religious beliefs and experiences are then initially determined by our social environment, which also continues to nurture, shape these into a system of values. The individual gets his or her religion through a graduated social process of reinforcement by means of reward and punishment. Hence, compliance becomes a means of securing reward and avoiding punishment and religion takes on a righteous moral tone.

The self induced manipulation of the thought processes and perceptions, through Magickal means, which includes the perception of all phenomena as a product of the position of the assemblage point as Carlos Cataneda might have said. As Thelemites we might say it is the coordinates that represent the intersection of NUIT and HADIT; the assemblage point representing the finite star with infinite space on the Aethyric Plane. This would seem to be the forced interruption of the naturally subjective nature of the mind that it might extend itself to the objective. Once obtained, the goal would be to return to the subjective and to find it better informed.

Mother speaks of this so eloquently in a lecture given May 2, 1956 ev:

“…first of all, the consciousness climbs in ascent, then you catch the Thing up above and re-descend with it. This is an INDIVIDUAL event. When this individual event has taken place sufficiently to allow a more general possibility to emerge, it is o long a „descent‟ but a „manifestation.‟

Interestingly enough, the approaching Age of Aquarius is about both; self and society–Uranus and Saturn. Liber AL shows the journey of the self; initially awakening to the objective (NUIT) and then discovering the subjective (HADIT) and then integrating both into the superior being (RA-HOOR-KHUIT); Nietzsche‟s Ubermensch.

Returning to our discussion on the conditioning process, compliance has no personal value beyond reinforcement and is initially and almost completely an unconscious development, which explains the nature of classical conditioning. The acceptance of an anthropomorphosized god or „Demiurge‟ has always been the tool by which society has produced taboos that effectively enforce its laws and conditioning. A collective, psychic force, or „egregore‟ (zeitgeist) initially installs in its creation that which would serve the interests of the ruling elite in society. But ultimately, the rebellion (I saw Satan falling from heaven) or pubescence manifests as the life force itself (Holy Spirit) has its own nature and its own objectives. The drive is to full expression and full manifestation as it originated from the unmanifest.

This means that the self-unconscious, whether or not it is originally, a blank slate, was fully absorbed in the spirit [from whence we came] and moves to an outer expression [whither we goeth] or “manifestation”; typified in the pose of the Egyptian gods with one hand pointing forward. The individual next encounters the second phase of the existential crisis as one seeks to assert the repressed individualistic energy. This lends itself to a rejection of the religious doctrine taught by society. It is then nurtured by an identification with another individual or icon as a role model that represents this kind of success to the individual. This „mentor‟ the individual chooses to follow is chosen on one whose work the individual finds a spontaneous resonance. Indeed, the mentor does not need to establish a formal relationship; though one may exist, such as a favorite school teacher. Rather, one may make a hero of an author or a musical idol. Even, there may be some combination of all of these. The behavior of the role model is imitated until the individual is in complete conformity with his or her chosen heroic icon. And at this point, the punishments of society will fail to produce compliance.

With the third phase of the existential crisis comes new ways of thinking that inaugurate a transformative process of internalization that leads the personality towards its own unique expression; not unlike the cathartic experience undergone by the mythic hero, who for one reason or another, has undertaken a journey into the unknown. The new behavior transcends reinforcement and identification; becoming an end unto itself. Religion is now a deeply internalized construct. The individual has matured to the point that he or she can hear one‟s own inner voice as an expression of this newfound individuation; preliminary contact with one‟s Holy Guardian Angel.

For the Zelator of the A.'.A.'. this is the finding of one's own voice. In terms of the initial conditioning and the rationalizing factor, this only comes about when the failure of this stage of the existential crisis occurs. One then keeps to the exoteric superstition; though one may fool oneself that this is not so as one may have converted to a religion outside the family; yet, this being a religion that still carries the same type of superstition.

The Zelator is told that he or she will attain success in the work and that if he or she abandons the work, it would have been better that one never started. If one chooses to return to the original unconsciousness one will find a depravity and insanity that one would not have had had one not started the work. Otherwise, one must pursue the struggle; and it is a hero's journey. The Black Lodge, those stationary forces that resist change, will oppose you to the level that you rebel…it is the reactive response…every action having an equal and opposite reaction.

The emerging unique voice is derided, which is why it is said that the greater thy trials, the greater thy victory. The psychic tension moves to overload and there is real psychic danger; the chance for the worst schizophrenia; producing conspiracy theories and the feeling that one is "under attack" from the Black Lodge. Moving through this, one must immerse oneself in the journey and listen in Silence for this voice, which is itself seemingly, an altogether separate personality from that formulated by the ego. I'm reminded of the great psychiatrist, R.D. Laing and his work on schizophrenia. He didn't see it as a disease, per se; but as a process of self discovery and a proof of spirituality.

From R.D. Laing's Self and Others:

Everyday speech gives us clues we would be wise to follow. It hints that there may be a general law or principal that a person will feel himself to be going forward when he puts himself into his actions, presuming this to be equivalent to self- disclosure (making patent his true self), but that if this is not so, he will be liable to feel that he is 'going back' or is stationary, or 'going round in circles,' or getting nowhere.' In 'putting myself into' what I do, I lose myself, and in so doing I seem to become myself. The act I do is felt to be me, and I become 'me' in and through such action. Also, there is a sense in which a person 'keeps himself alive' by his acts; each act can be a new beginning, a new birth, a re-creation of oneself, a self-fulfilling.

To be 'authentic' is to be true to oneself, to be what one is, to be 'genuine.' To be 'inauthentic' is to not be oneself, to be false to oneself: to be not as one appears to be, to be counterfeit. We tend to link the categories of truth and reality by saying that a genuine act is real, but that a person who habitually uses action as a masquerade is not real.

In everyday speech, and in more systematic theory which, to adapt a remark of William James, is but an unduly obstinate attempt to think clearly, 'authentic' action or 'inauthentic' action can be viewed from many angles: from each angle different features come to the fore.

The intensification of the being of the agent through self-disclosure, through making patent the latent self, is the meaning of Nietzsche's 'will to power.' It is the 'weak' man who, in lieu of potentiating himself genuinely, counterfeits his impotence by dominating and controlling others, by idealizing physical strength or sexual potency, in the restricted sense of the capacity to have erections and to ejaculate.

The act that is genuine, revealing, and potentiating is felt by me as fulfilling. This is the only actual fulfillment of which I can properly speak. It is an act that is me: in this action I am myself. I put myself 'in' it. In so far as I put myself 'into' what I do, I become myself through this doing. I know also that the converse is true, when I feel 'empty,' or am haunted by futility. In the light of such impressions of myself, I am compelled to see the other. I suspect 'frantic' activity in another. I sense that he senses in his actions a lack of intrinsic meaning: that in clinging to external formulas and dogmas he senses his emptiness. I expect that such a person will envy and resent others. If, from my impression of myself, I see him as not fulfilling himself by not putting himself into his own future, I am alert to various ways in which he will try to fill his emptiness. One fills oneself with others (introjective identification) or lives vicariously by living through the lives of others (projective identification). One's 'own' life comes to a stop. One goes round in a circle, in a whirl, going everywhere and getting nowhere.

The three phases moving from the socially instituted religion to the personal construct again, is initiated by a personal existential crisis involving a discrepancy between individual needs and desires that clash with social needs and desires. Within this process, religious experience involves a cognitive restructuring toward a superior level of personality integration and organization. This period of restructuring involves the individual opening oneself up to the non- logical aspects of experience. It might be said that the individual specifically learns how to willfully move the Assemblage Point away from its fixed position and the conditioning is overcome.

However, the danger here is that instead of such an wholistic integration of personality becoming the net result, the individual may respond by escaping into “otherworldly” fantasies as a way of avoiding the struggle. Many neo-Pagan groups have emerged in our society, and role-playing is the invocatory method for their ceremonies that are more a game of „Dungeons and Dragons‟ dramatically expressed. Also, there is the phenomenon of the „astral junkie‟ who is either an „LSD casualty‟ or a New Age astral traveler that becomes lost in these inner dimensions and ultimately victimized by them when losing track of consensus reality.

We also see this in various spin-offs of Thelemic Philosophy. Kenneth Grant‟s obsession with UFOs and those who follow the paganesque philosophy of Nema and hail her as a prophet. It's a part of the schizophrenia and to indulge in such fantasias is one of the traps along the path. For each of us, it will manifest in a way that we may not readily be able to see, as I have seen in my own life. Seeing it is not in itself the solution, but only opens one up to the process of individuation.

Another danger is in arresting the process at the first transference onto the hero or icon. In this case, the individual attaches oneself to a dependence on a religious leader or group; which explains the prevalence of the many cults in our society. The emotional development of the individual is completely arrested at this point and usually dominated by the whims of a megalomaniacal and charismatic leader who can sometimes also be quite psychotic.

One final mistake can be brought about when religion does become internalized. The new and resultant belief structure is seen as an absolute truth and the individual will rigidly adopt arbitrary and often incongruent beliefs and rules of conduct that he or she then expects society to recognize and adhere to. This can quickly degenerate into a strong psychosis that can become quite self-destructive. And if you add strong leadership qualities (megalomania) to the personality, you have the cult leader discussed in the previous paragraph.