A Question of Context

When studying Crowley specifically and Thelema generally, should one take context into account? In other words, I think there are two frames regarding context. Either….

(1) what Crowley produced in toto is a Truth unto itself, with all of his individual characteristics (race, gender, wealth, education, class, personality traits, language, talents, prejudices, childhood experiences, etc) and his environment (country, politics, scientific understanding, social/economic structures, cultural trends, etc.) being themselves factored into the structure of Thelema,


(2) Crowley received some kind of fundamental Truth, which was then filtered and interpreted through those characteristics and his environment.

In #1, context plays no role, since Crowley’s characteristics and circumstances were factored directly into Thelema (including his frame of mind, state of sobriety, amount of rest, etc.). In this frame, studying Crowley means taking everything he wrote at face value. All apparent contradictions are due to lack of insight on the reader’s part. All current contexts (whether personal, social, or scientific) are irrelevant, except insofar as they can be used to support Crowley’s ideas. The difficulty with this frame is not in challenging the validity of Crowley’s ideas (since they are beyond question) but to work towards a better understanding of them.

In #2, context plays a role as something that needs to be addressed and adjusted with both the individual student and modern circumstances in mind. It requires working towards understanding both Crowley’s contexts and current ones, and then finding ways to reconcile the two. The difficulty with this frame lies in the danger of losing any and all inherent principles of Thelema, since it is possible to explain away anything as a matter of context.

I myself lean towards frame #2. Every now and then I do glance over the precipice where Thelema no longer has any inherent meaning at all. However, I seem to find a way to step back a bit from that chasm of nihilism and realize that my core understanding of Thelema gets stronger every time. But hey, I guess I’m just an old-fashioned heretic. :)

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