On Discerning the True Will
Updated: Apr 8
Much talk is devoted in Thelemic circles to what the True Will is and is not. We will typically warn new comers to Thelema that the True Will is not merely one's every fleeting whim, ie. the momentary inclinations of the hedonistic Id. But rather, it is the true, divine nature of the Self-Shining Star within, the great work for which one's soul incarnated, and one's highest potential. We often find ourselves explaining that the True Will is not often readily known, but it is to be discovered in the secret inner sanctum of the soul, not fully realized for most people until the culmination of the Tiphereth experience, Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. But what of the novice or intermediate student? Is the Neophyte or the Dominus Liminis to have no inkling at all of the True Will? Surely not!
What is so discouragingly absent from much of the dialogue on this topic is any offering of practical methodology for the beginner to embark on exploring the question for themselves. How does the Neophyte set about incrementally discovering their True Will? Herein, I will endeavor to provide some fruitful suggestions for practices that can be deployed by the dedicated aspirant who, while not yet in full possession of communion with their angel, may nevertheless begin the stepwise discernment of their true will. For this, I will draw unapologetically on a number of sources, from the Hermetic Qabalah, to the gamut of traditional divination techniques, to Ignatian prayer. I trust both the beginner and the advanced student will benefit from these suggestions.
St. Ignatius stressed that when engaged in discernment, we must first endeavor to cultivate a freedom of mind that steps back and detaches, allowing possibilities heretofore not considered. We must begin from a state of inner freedom, openness, and balance, not inclined toward one option or the other. Further, we must work to remain in this space throughout the process of discernment, and even after. For if the True Will is anything, it is dynamic. St. Ignatius further divides the process of discernment into the work of the head (lists of pros and cons, etc.) and the work of the heart. As students of the western mystery tradition, we can assign theses to the spheres of Hod and Netzach, respectively, though we should consider our natural tendencies in all four "elemental" spheres.
I will start with some suggestions for practices which fall under the category of the work of the head, or the sphere of Hod, but there is no need to complete any of the practices of either category in any particular order. One may just as easily skip ahead to the second list of more magickal practices that I will lay out toward the later half of this essay with good result. The first list of practices may appear to be mere dreary intellectual exercises, but they are nevertheless valuable for developing an understanding of one's true inner nature and should therefore not be disregarded.
1. Inventory of the nature and powers of one's own being. List your strengths, skills, proclivities, knacks, and interests. Do this both in the general sense and the particular. For example, list both that you can drive an M1 series Main Battle Tank and that you are skilled in the spatial visualization and control manipulation necessary for operating large pieces of equipment (no pun intended). Do this at length until you have utterly exhausted every possible avenue of thought. Then go back and look for patterns, common threads, or hints of an overall proficiency. Perform the same exercise but with all of your important life experiences. Ask yourself what these experiences have prepared you to be able to take on or accomplish.
2. Take Aptitude Tests. It may seem mundane, but even those silly commercial off the shelf aptitude and interest inventories can be surprisingly informative. These can be found online or through career or educational counselors if you are in school. Look over the results, what do they suggest? Do not limit yourself to only the obvious. If they say you have a strong aptitude for police or military work, this could be an indicator that you are also comfortable with any number of positions of public trust and responsibility.
2. Try it before you buy it. Internships and Career Shadowing experiences are critical. You don't really know if something is a good fit for you until you try it. I thought I would love laboratory bench research. I romanticized myself as a mad scientist discovering new formulas and principals of nature. At midnight one Sunday, while getting some microscopy images from some time sensitive samples for very little compensation, I decided it wasn't what I thought it would be. Oh, but you say, the True Will isn't just a vocation. You are not wrong, but they are often intertwined, and discovering your vocation gives important hints about your true nature.
3. The value of being concise cannot be overstated. While the True Will is no simplistic concept, it is of great value to distil its essence into a single operative word -to whatever extent possible. This Magical Motto can serve as a guide post and direction finder when one is faced with uncertainty and hardship. It is like a beacon or a lantern going before you, lighting the way. It is not necessary to slavishly adhere to a motto over time though. For you will in all likelihood grow and develop an ever-expanding understanding of your True Will, at which time it is entirely appropriate to take on a new Magickal Motto.
4. A word about contributing to the greater good of humanity. It is a worthwhile exercise to picture ourselves on our deathbed, and ask ourselves what we will have done that will carry on beyond our short lives. Will we look back on a life that was meaningful, and contributed to others in ways that continue after our life? Or, will we have lived only for ourselves? Whatever the True Will is, The Book of The Law informs us its nature is Love, or Agape. "Love is the law, love under Will." This understanding should inform our early formulations of our True Will, if they are to be of any real import. Like the A.A. itself, the True Will is in service to all humanity, even if we can not yet see in what ways this may be the case.
Now, let us turn to the practices that St. Ignatius would call the work of the Heart. We shall adapt these to the use of a Thelemite. We might describe these methods as belonging to the sphere of Netzach as devotional practices and liken them in some ways to Bahkti Yoga. Some of these methods also employ the intuition, and therefore we can say that they partake of the sphere of Yesode as well.
1. Prayers of invocation or oration to the Holy Guardian Angel followed by scrying in the spirit vision. Take some time and write a prayer or oration to your holy guardian angel. Call upon the angel by noting its many and awe-inspiring qualities (those you know about thus far), and beseech your angel to vouchsafe to you whatever knowledge of your True Will you are presently able to apprehend. The more inspiring, poetic, and powerful this invocation, the better it will embody your dedication and desire to come a little to know your True Will. Then select a time to use this prayer to invoke your angel daily. When you perform this practice, be certain that your intensity, purity of desire, and yearning are absolute. Throw you whole being into the act as if you would die a torturous death if the prayer were not answered. Afterward, silence yourself, and close your eyes, and observe, unattached, the wanderings of your imagination, or minds eye. Record any images, ideas, or words that pop into your mind.
2. Consulting an Astrological Birth Chart. A preliminary study of astrology is valuable, if only to acquaint the magickian with the symbols which will play an ever-expanding role in advanced magickal work. But, this practice goes beyond that. Give an online birth chart generator you birthdate and location. There is a fairly good one at alabe.com
It is of course better if you learn to set up a birth chart on your own. But that is not necessary for this exercize. Read the long interpretation of your birthchart. But, wait, you say, isn't that just superstition. I give you that. There is no convincing evidence that the positions of planets in relation to long-processed constellations of stars has any effect on your life. Then why do this? Good question. This is where methods of divination interacts with our use of our intuitive faculty. Divination results, like the interpretation of your birth chart, while not empirically supported, may nevertheless spark intuitive ideas about one's true nature or destiny )if I may be allowed a more romantic term). Look over the interpretation, what stands out as intrigueing? What sparks in you an excitement or sense of revelation? Make careful note of any such experiences.
3.Divination using Tarot. Obtain a tarot deck (Crowley's Thoth Tarot is a good example). Learn a simple Tarot divination spread. There are a number of suitable sets of instructions available online. Perform a short invocation of the HGA before doing the reading asking for the HGA to reveal some aspect of your true will in the divination. As you look at the spread clear your mind, what impressions and feelings do you percieve as you study it?
4. Keeping a dream journal interpreting it with Jungian Psychology. Hold on again, I hear you shout, Jung isn't supported by modern neuroscience. True, there may be no biologically inherent collective unconscious filled with archetypes that represent aspects of ourselves we repress. But there is substantial evidence for the existence of cognitive mechanisms that we are not conscious of, as well as some collective overlap in the content of these mechanisms, more likely due to shared cultural programming. And, again, even if this practice has no empirical grounding, it may be that considering the content of dreams as symbolic messages from our unconscious minds filled with characters that stand for aspects of ourselves triggers our intuition in ways otherwise unavailable to us. In short, it may be that the ruse sets off the real thing. Set the dream journal and a pen next to your bed and fill it out as soon as you awaken. Go back over the dream journal every few months and look for patterns, trends, and categories of dreams. Read a book about Jungian archetypes and see if you can find some in your dreams. What do your dreams tell you about yourself?
Let us say you have gone about these practices, and have even had a few Ah-ha! moments. How does one know when they are on to something? The path to adeptship is surely besought withal manner of dead ends and false paths. How does one know when one has really uncovered a gem, a splinter of light, a spark of the divine will? Once again we return to St. Ignatius who asserts that there are two conditions. First, the Head and the heart are not at odds, but rather they agree. And, second, there will be an unmistakable experience of divine Joy. He informs us that joy is the most unmistakable sign of the presence of the divine.