Aleister Crowley Himself Falsely Held Linguistic Signs To Be Arbitrary, A Horrific Error In Which Thelema and Magick Persist
Listen up, if you have just encountered The Integral Cauldron, then you think you know two things about it, both of which are significantly wrong.
The first thing you think you know it that it is grounded in Magick, perhaps the Thelema inspired by Aleister Crowley about which I have written positively. However, in fact, sadly I was forced to make a radical break from Crowley very early on in my magical education.
The second thing you think you know is that it is grounded in Integral Theory (IT), presumably the corpus of writings linked to Ken Wilber. However, in fact, Wilber’s Integral Semiotics fails to address the most significant facts which make possible Integral Magic™, though it does technically include them within the Lower-Left Quadrant (a point which I make in the Preface to The Black Stone).
What’s more, the crucial facts missed by both Magick and IT are the same, and these very facts have made it necessary to approach my work in the manner that I have, neither directly from Magick nor from IT. I don’t think I could have begun with an “integral theory” book or a “magick book”, but instead with The Kalendar Series have begun with literature and poetry of a peculiar sort.
The literature and poetry is intended as a sort of “proof” which will help me to make the case for Integral Magick. It is a proof in Science-Art, beauty mixed with utility, a technology of advanced consciousness. You will see what I am talking about when the books come out, but for now I need to tell you what to look for.
I have a regrettably narrow tradition of sound symbolism and phonosemantics to build upon, but I believe this foundation is solid. Margaret Magnus, the eminent MIT-trained linguist and author of Gods of the Consonants and a magnificent website http://www.trismegistos.com/ is the chief scholar whose work you ought to be following.
Let me state it plainly without exaggeration. In her dissertation, book, and website, Margaret Magnus has made the most important contribution to the philosophy of language since Plato himself, toppling towers of failed philosophies espoused by Crowley, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein along with all the structuralists and mainstream linguists. She did this, as she tells it, by analyzing computerized dictionaries down to the phoneme level and compiling detailed lists of correspondences across English dictionaries as well as some foreign language dictionaries. She has also stepped back from the micro-level to reflect on macro-level topics which are particularly difficult, requiring a less formal style than many academics.
Her achievement is verifiable, and I’ve done my own checking in detail. Magnus proved Socrates correct through empirically based research which a smart person can spot check in part with a handful of simple exercises and a dictionary or two. She unmasked the insidious wrongness of mainstream linguist’s dogma and showed conclusively that the meaning of a word is significantly linked to its pronunciation. This contravenes the prevailing view that the sign is arbitrary, a cherished doctrine of postmodernity and a pillar of cultural relativism.
One would think that Thelema founder Aleister Crowley would support such a finding as Magnus’s. After all, did he not say the following?:
“There is a certain natural connexion between certain letters, words, numbers, gestures, shapes, perfumes and so on, so that any idea or (as we might call it) ‘spirit’, may be composed or called forth by the use of those things which are harmonious with it, and express particular parts of its nature.” (from Crowley, Aleister: “Magick in Theory and Practice”)
Yes, he did. Unfortunately, as a glimpse at his master compilation of correspondences in 777 and his other writings makes clear, Crowley did not fully understand the point he was making. Logically he was bound to conclude that the pronunciation of a word is “called forth” by the “idea” or “spirit” of a word, but in fact he does not get it. His achievement, powerful as it is, is deeply linguistically cacophanous. Sometimes he takes inconsistent positions to revel in polarities; such is not the case here. He is just terribly wrong.
At its best Aleister’s poetry is magnificent, glorious, and beautiful. But even so, it is usually linguistically cacophanous, and not at all what one would expect from a master of the “spirit of the word” (or “Archetypes in the Consonants” to quote Magnus). He even states his erroneous view quite clearly in one of his letters to Cara Soror:
“But let me furthermore ask you to reflect on the formation of language itself. Except in the case of onomatopoeic words and a few others, there is no logical connection between a thing and the sound of our name for it. ‘Bow-wow’ is a more rational name than dog, which is a mere convention agreed on by the English, while other nations prefer chien, hund, cane, kalb, kutta, and so on. All symbols, you see, my dear child, and it’s no good your kicking!” (from Crowley, Aleister: “Magick Without Tears”)
Forgive Uncle Al, but only after you have understood how grievous was his error. The correct view is that all words for dog have a depth or dimension in which they reflect through their pronunciation something important about the dog, but they do so in different ways according to the universe of sound symbols enacted by the language in which the word harmonizes. If you want to know the magic of the dog, you may look to the sound symbolism of its name as a helpful starting point. Uncle Al bypasses the name, dismissing it as unrelated to the dog itself. In doing so, he joins a widespread modernist and postmodernist fallacy, hardly cutting a groove suitable for other Magicians to follow.
Margaret Magnus asks us also not to judge other linguists too harshly. She writes:
“Socrates himself admits this seems pretty strange: ‘That objects should be imitated in letters and syllables, and so find expression, may appear ridiculous, Hermogenes, but it cannot be avoided — there is no better principle to which we can look for the truth of first names.’ One encounters similar thoughts in the Upanishads as well as in Sufi, Cabalistic, Gnostic and Viking writings. However, these ideas have hardly found their way into formal linguistics at all … The main reason for this lack of interest on the part of linguistics is that Socrates’ idea seems to be in rather obvious conflict with almost everything we know about language…” (from Magnus, Margaret: “Gods of the Word”)
Magnus succeeds in her thesis by arguing that there is a distinction between meaning as reference and meaning as sound-meaning, where consonants “inhabit a deep and multi-faceted, but also a unique and very specific world with which it infuses every word which contains it” … and “we are indeed all speakers of one and the same Language.” Imagine the magnitude of Crowley’s mistake: not realizing that Language itself contains (a) a specific world of sound-meanings which infuse every word in every language, and (b) that there is a hidden Universal Language in which all the words in cross-cultural perspective participate and infuse with significance.
Can genuine Magick honestly do without such insights? Absolutely not. At this point in time it would be the height of folly to persist in magical theories which were generated in ignorance of this fundamental truth about language without a thorough reevaluation. Hence, in my own explorations I have not followed Crowley’s theories which seem to reflect his grounding in linguistic fallacies. Only after an alternative version of Magick is formulated which is free of these fallacies will it be possible to truly appraise Crowley’s legacy, and to advance Thelema from its position of being mired in a decrepit linguistic relativism. I hope through formulating Integral Magic to contribute to this project.
So now you know why my writings look so different from both Thelema and Wilberian thought: I have decided at the outset to base my thought, poetry, and fantasy stories in a Konstruct of a hidden Universal Language. I have called it Lingua-U, the seventh techno-magical interface in Integral Magic. With Lingua-U, I believe we can create a vision for Magick which becomes a force for the evolution of language itself operating as a magnet to pull every one of nearly 7,000 world languages into greater harmony with each other and with the telos of Evolution itself. Together we can evolve Language as a force for the Divine Will and Unique Will, and thus participate in God’s Logos manifesting in our time as the source of personal and collective enlightenment.