I once had a debate with a friend about what is probably Aleister Crowley’s most famous statement:
Do what thou wilst shall be the whole of the law.
He brought it up as a piece of evidence demonstrating Crowley’s moral repugnance. Now, there is much evidence that could support that accusation regardless of your moral framework, but this is not amongst it. He’s misunderstood the phrase. Most people do, and it’s not surprising. It’s deliberately ambiguous. It has many levels of meaning, only one of which is related to anarchy. I’m going to talk about its most fundamental meaning, the one on which all the other interpretations are built.
The statement is not a command, nor advice. By “law,” it refers to a natural law, like the Law of Gravity. It is merely stating the plain fact that you are incapable of engaging in any action without the use of your will. Everything you do begins with a purely mental construct, a desire. You then apply an act of will to transform that insubstatial idea into concrete action. Your will is the Prime Mover, the source of all that you can ever do. This is why the Gardnerian variation (“An’ it harm none, do what ye will.”) is actually a completely different animal — a command rather than a thesis.
To understand this properly, you also have to look at it backwards: That your will is the cause of everything you do means that even the things you don’t “want” to do, or that you don’t “mean” to do are in fact your will. Nobody anywhere can truly force you to do anything.You are responsible for your own actions.
It sounds simplistic, but the implications are far-reaching. For instance, since everything stems from your will, you are irrevocably free. Sure, it looks like there are lots of outside entities forcing your hand every day. You obey laws, social mores, the rules of the workplace, the thug who has the loaded gun pointed at your head, etc. But in the end you do all those things because you choose to. It is your will. Sometimes you choose things because you want to avoid consequences, sometimes because you want to adhere to a moral code you believe in, sometimes because you want to please someone, and so forth. But in each case, it is your will.
Since your will is the ultimate source of all your power, you can make great personal gains and growth bringing it to the forefront. In every action you do, pay attention to why you’re doing it. What is your will?
This is actually quite hard. We like to lie to ourselves a lot about why we do things, because often our true purpose isn’t very nice or noble and doesn’t fit the ideal image we have of ourselves. You can’t know what your will is if you lie to yourself. There should always be at least one person with whom you are completely open and painfully honest, and that person should be you. Give yourself permission to be imperfect, and realize that if what you see when you look inside isn’t very pretty — well, that too is your will. Besides, nobody else has to know your ugly, secret truths if you don’t want them to — and everybody else has their horrid little secrets. It’s called being human. Cut yourself some slack. It goes good on crackers.
By determining what your will is, you bring it into the light where you can examine it. Perhaps you’ll find that what you are willing is not what you really want, and you are now in a position to change it. Or perhaps you’ll find that you don’t want to change it, but you can accomplish it in a better way. Sometimes you’ll realize that when you thought you were being good, your were actually being bad — or the other way around. Or that your action won’t actually accomplish your true will, but is a mistake no matter how you look at it. Even if you are about to do something nasty, by knowing what you’re really up to you can at least do it well and minimize the consequences for yourself and innocent bystanders. If you’re going to do something, whether saintly or despicable, do it right. Step one is to know what you’re trying to do.
“Do what thou wilst shall be the whole of the law” means to live on purpose, and doing that lets you live better than you can if you just stumble your way through.
(The song “Free Will” is by Phineas Narco and Ronald Redball and is part of the Droplift project.)