The Scarlet Letter
Volume II, Number 2 | October 1994
Corn on the Khabs
Being a Class PG-13 Comment on Liber AL vel Legis
By Center O' Pestilence
As everyone knows, the greeting above is the thesis of The Book of the Law (I:40) with its corollary "Love is the law, love under will." (I:57) The reason we know this is that Crowley said so. It is interesting that neither of those declarations receive a verse of their own in the first chapter, instead being sequestered in longer passages. Surely the more straight forward assertions are I:39 ("The word of the Law is Thelema.") and III:60 ("There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.")
In a certain sense, the Law of "Do what thou wilt" is kind of a disappointment, in that it's been said and (in rare instances) done before. Crowley freely admitted that Rabelais constructed his (literary) Abbey of Thelema centuries before the Cairo Working, let alone Cefalu. And he also seems to have recognised in some ancient Taoist philosophy the same prescriptions for attitude and behavior required by I:42. ("So with thy all; thou hast no right but to do thy will.")
It is my contention that the fourfold word of "Do what thou wilt" is merely a theorem or consequence of the central message of AL. Rather than relying on Crowley for the identification of the text's axis, we may attend to Aiwass, whose first and foremost revelation is contained in the eighth and ninth verses of the Book: >
The Khabs is in the Khu,
This early point in the Book is one at which many initial readers must quietly relinquish any hope of quickly understanding the text: "Nobody told me I had to know Egyptian!" Yet these two sentences utterly disrupt and abolish all religious and metaphysical concepts that have prevailed since those of the ancient Egyptians.
Crowley's own appraisal of these verses does not reach the same conclusion. The poor Beast was, after all, born in the Aeon of Osiris, and his interpretation departs little from tradition. He identifies the khabs as the "secret Light" and the khu as "our minds and bodies." His perplexity is evident in his commentaries published in The Law is for All. In the last paragraph of the "New Comment" on verse eight he catches himself:
Why are we told that the Khabs is in the Khu, not the Khu in the Khabs? Did we then suppose the converse? I think that we are warned against the idea... (p. 82)
He then goes on to draw a fairly obscure theological line against Manichaeism, which may go some way towards rationalizing verse eight, but in no way explains why Aiwass would then proceed to offer verse nine as a corollary.
If we are to come to any adequate understanding of this passage ourselves, we must obviously deal with the Egyptian terms.
Khu means "spirit" in Egyptian, according to E.A. Wallis Budge. Khabs is a little trickier. In this context, it does not indicate "inmost light" or "divine essence," but simply "star." (This translation as per Budge's dictionary.) Of course, "the star is in the spirit, not the spirit in the star," doesn't seem like a very relevant revelation, so clearly we are not quite home free. What is meant by "star" here? Actually, the postulates of I:8-9 have been preceded by some definitions, among which is "Every man and every woman is a star." (I:3) We can take this in its plainest and most exoteric sense. The star is the human being, considered as a willful, animate, fleshy individual. The Boulaq Museum translation for khab on the Stele is "body." (Khabs does not actually appear on the Stele). Egyptian puns, no less!
Now we are equipped to deal with these two momentous verses. Verse eight yields the ontology of the New Aeon, and verse nine pronounces its theology.
The Khabs is in the Khu... The living human body is a component of the human spirit. The divine spirit of man contains his conscious body, which is its finest flower...not the Khu in the Khabs. The spirit is the vehicle of the body-not vice versa. This is a flat contradiction of the entire Western tradition of mysticism. Therefore...
Worship the Khabs... Do not venerate some inscrutable essence or disincarnate ghost as has been done for the whole Osirian Aeon. Instead worship that human being who is present to your senses in its stellar glory. Deus est Homo. "There is no god but man," as Liber Oz clearly states it...and behold my light shed over you! Welcome to the New Aeon.
In the Old Aeon, the spirit was the internal essence of the body. Therefore, humans profaned the corporal and sacralized the spiritual. The result of this process was the exponential development of the devalued material aspects of society. In like measure, Thelema makes the body the internal essence of the spirit. By profaning the spiritual, we increase its fecundity. We cast it into the void of the social unconscious, where, like one of A.O. Spare's sigils, it is activated or enlivened. In this way, Aiwass and AL can redeem a spiritually bankrupt world. (qv. I:53)
This complementary exchange of the sacred and the profane is borne out by the Boulaq Museum analysis of the Stele of Revealing (as printed in the Equinox III:9). Khu translates as "the bright one," and khab can mean not only "body," but "shadow." "The shadow is in the light, not the light in the shadow," is a physical commonplace. But "Therefore worship the shadow, and behold my light shed over you." is a vital contradiction of the Western mystical tradition and a profound "transvaluation of values."
Obviously, horrible misapplications of either formula are possible. The Old Aeon saw an asceticism and hatred of the flesh that has become one of the chief legacies of Christianity. For the Thelemite, the danger lies in debauch and "Do as you like." Consequently AL contains a variety of cautions, such as "Be not animal, refine thy rapture!" (II:70), as well as I:42. (But II:22!)
The theology of verse nine has vast implications for every field of human activity, including politics, religion, and magick.
Liber Oz, while true in an absolute sense, fails to clarify the politic of Thelema. Yes indeed, "There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt." But there seem to be quite a number of them before it. After all, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law." In the meanwhile, there are many others, including "the law of the fortress" (I:57), "the Law of the Battle of Conquest" (III:9), and "it is the Law to give" the Book itself to [the Prophet's?] every acquaintance (III:39), but most importantly, "Love is the law, love under will."
This term is qualified of course. "Nor let the fools mistake love; for there are love and love" (I:57). Clearly this "love" is not the New Agers' "unconditional love." We are charged to "Love one another with burning hearts; on the low men trample in the fierce lust of your pride, in the day of your wrath" (II:24). Of course "love" is not just a social concept in AL. I suspect that I:57, with its introduction of "the dove and the serpent," has more magickal than political significance, though it probably has both. Politically, the dove is the acquiescence of the pacifist, while the serpent is the proud belligerence of those united in asserting their autonomy. Don't tread on the Thelemite!
For the politics of power and government, "the Law of the Battle of Conquest" seems to be key—and it is this law that I suspect is embroidered in Liber XLI ("Thien Tao," as published in Konx Om Pax), as the conquest of the pseudo-self or personality. Of course the Book flatly contradicts all Socialisms, Communisms, Nationalisms, and Democracies. "Ye are against the people, 0 my chosen!" (II:25).
The religious consequences of Thelema are most evident in the Gnostic Mass. Note that the credo (unsaid by priest or priestess) does not define any god or gods. CHAOS, BABALON, BAPHOMET, &c. are not gods, but names, and the creed assigns these names to various features of the world. The only "gods" present in the Mass are:
The PRIESTESS, who is goddess as another human. This role is the religious concept of Nuit, who is "nothing" as a goddess unto herself. (I:21)
The PRIEST, who is god as the human self. This role is the religious concept of Hadit, who is "not" as a god unto himself. (II:15)
The PEOPLE, who communicate in the fashion of the PRIEST.
Note that the DEACON is in the place of Ra-Hoor-Khuit, who is the action of burning this revelation into the world and the hearts of men. He therefore, in a fashion, embodies the whole of the Church. Ra-Hoor-Khuit explains, "Nu is your refuge as Hadit your light; and I am the strength, force, vigour, of your arms" (III: 17).
Along with the Bogeyman of the transcendent God, Thelema abolishes His post-mortuary kingdom. "There is no dread hereafter" (II:44). No afterlife of carrots and sticks is offered to the Thelemite. We are neither damned nor redeemed, our lives stand as we live them. "There is none that shall be cast down or lifted up, all is ever as it was." (II:58) Damnation takes place in this life, and it is reserved for the "slaves of because," (II:54) those who base their actions on principles ulterior to the will. "Be they damned and dead!" (II:49) in that order.
Additionally, despite Crowley's own devotion to the hypothesis of metempsychosis, AL belies reincarnation. "If the body of the king dissolve, he shall remain in pure ecstasy forever." (II:21) And "There is the dissolution, and eternal ecstasy in the kisses of Nu" (II:44; note that Nu = nothing). Ecstasy is from the Greek, meaning to "stand outside." The "inside," the khabs and its mode of understanding, is gone forever. As the creed of Liber XV has it, a human life is "one, individual, and eternal."
Magickally, Thelema has a single outstanding consequence. The means and processes of Magick are concealed by blinds indicating the metaphysical, but the actualities are physical, or more accurately physiological. (Kenneth Grant wrote this fact plainly in the introduction to his Magickal Revival, this despite Grant's perpetuation of Crowley's muddled understanding of the khabs and khu.) Liber AL is, among other things, a grimoire of bodily activities which exalt the mind and spirit.
"The mantras and spells; the obeah and the wanga; the work of the wand and the work of the sword;" (I:37) "fine apparel," (I:51) "incense," (I:59) "wine and strange drugs... things of sense and rapture," (II:22)—the Thelemic magician climbs these snakes & ladders to a moment which is fully saturated with its own color, where mountains are mountains & trees are trees, where the body becomes all time (Hadit), the beloved all space (Nuit).
To sum up then, when the light of Aiwass has been shed on the celebrant of the mysteries of the Khabs, the girders of the soul are lightened, and then Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Appear on the throne of Ra!