Normalizing the Holy Guardian Angel: Moving from Taboo to Dialogue
Updated: Sep 18, 2020
I decided to write this essay in response to a number of questions that I’ve seen posted online recently. One in particular stood out, and became the primary motivation for this essay. In a smaller A.A. discussion forum, a student asked why no one seems to talk about knowledge and Conversation (K&C) of the Holy Guardian Angel (HGA), and went on to question whether this could because no one ever actually achieves it. I found this to be a disturbing thought for a number of reasons. First, I know a number of members of that same forum who have acknowledged to me in private that they have in fact experienced K&C. Second, and perhaps more problematic, I also knew that none of them would speak up in response to the question. And, upon careful consideration, I also realized that I knew why. Before I explain what I think is happening to suppress discussion of this topic in Thelemic communities, I should provide some background, for those who may be unfamiliar, on both K&C and the HGA. This will by no means be a complete exploration of the topics as that would take volumes, but I will endeavor to lay out a basic understanding of each. A simple definition of what we mean by the HGA is not an easy task. The history of the HGA begins with a 17th century grimoire in which it features as a powerful being that gives the magician power to compel the obedience of hordes of demons. Leaders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (HOGD) would later conflate the HGA with their concept of the Higher Self of Neoplatonic Theurgy and the personal daemon of and Plato’s personal Daemon. Crowley would make the K&C of the HGA the central attainment associated with the 5=6 (Adeptus Minor) grade of his initiatory order, the A.A. Whatever it is, the HGA is often considered highly personal and unique to each aspirant, such that “none knoweth the Name of his brother's God, or the Rite that invokes Him.“ We should also acknowledge that there is ongoing debate as to whether the HGA is the higher self, the solar self, a personal god, or an independent objective prater-human intelligence. Crowley himself vacillated on this point over the course of his own lifetime. A contemporary definition is that the HGA is the solar angel of the sphere of Tiphereth on the qabalistic tree of life. There is also a fairly common idea that attaining K&C will provide greater insight into the True Will. This may or may not be the case. It has been successfully argued elsewhere that K&C is neither a requirement for knowing one’s will nor for having a meaningful life, but it is just one among many paths an individual may opt to embark upon. It confers no special status or authority over others, despite the hierarchical organization of occult orders. The HGA being addressed, we can move on to the question of what is meant by K&C. Like to the nature of the HGA itself, what constitutes K&C will likely vary from person to person. The term Knowledge implies awareness of the existence of the angel, perhaps knowing its name and some basic attributes. Conversation implies two-way communication, and may precede knowledge as we shall see. Conversation might take place by means of divination tools (tarot, geomancy, pendulum dowsing, etc.) or through direct visionary experience. If Crowley’s relationship to his own HGA, Aiwass is any example, onset of K&C may not always be recognized at first for what it is. When the Book of the Law was being dictated to Crowley by the being calling itself Aiwass, Crowley seems to have had no inkling that he was conversing with his HGA. Thus, it would seem that K&C can come in different forms that might not even be initially recognized as the HGA. But, why might those who have experienced K&C of their HGA be reluctant to discuss the matter? Returning to the internet forum post that initially prompted this essay, it appears that in contemporary Thelemic culture there exists a normative taboo against acknowledging that one has attained K&C and discussing how the experience played out. If anyone doubts this taboo, I challenge them to try acknowledging that they have experienced K&C, or sharing part of the record of communication (read: a revealed text) from one’s HGA in an online forum. My prediction is that the statement will either be completely ignored (as if it were invisible or cursed with the plague) or outright attacked. Appeals to silence and secrecy are often made in response to persistent inquiries, but I don’t believe this is the real reason people aren’t talking. If Crowley is any exemplar, discussing K&C of the HGA and its results should be considered boringly normal; he published writings on this topic ad nauseum. So why don’t more of us speak freely about the topic? I suspect this hesitancy and even hostility toward anyone acknowledging K&C stems from a historical power dynamic set up by the magical career of the founding father of Thelema. Because Crowley’s attainment is the most prominent example we have of what K&C looks like, our understanding of what K&C means is strongly colored by his experiences. For Crowley, K&C meant adept-hood, the 5=6 grade, the reception of revealed holy texts from his HGA, and ultimately prophet status. These experiences of Crowley’s unfortunately have gotten bound together in our collective understanding. Therefore, asserting that one has attained K&C has become tantamount to claiming spiritual superiority to others, equality to Crowley, or even the status of successor to the prophet. One can see how this might ruffle feathers in the context of order politics, fomenting anger, jealousy, and reprisals. The readily-available alternative is to assert that the claimant is a mere charlatan -a liar, seeking to assert spiritual authority over others. So long as this power dynamic exists, we will continue to see the absurd taboo against speaking openly of the experience of K&C, to the detriment of sincere students, because no one wants to be perceived as power-hungry or a con-artist. But the harms of restricting dialogue outweigh any benefits. Another power dynamic that prevents open dialogue about K&C is in part an artifact of the hierarchical grade system Thelema inherited from masonry and the HOGD, which in itself is a product of the 19th century’s run-away obsession with synthesizing all occult knowledge into a single qabalistic system. Besides appropriating, oversimplifying, and redefining, snippets of the religions of multiple cultures, this run-away synthesis gave rise to grades based on the spheres of the tree of life -as if all occult knowledge could be neatly fit into this one grade system. The resultant system of grades, secrets, mythical origins, and secret chiefs only serve to maintain authority in the hands of a few. The elect, the ascended masters attain K&C while we mere humans dare not think it possible. This system facilitates the kind of gatekeeping and clericalism that I described in my essay comparing the state of modern Thelema to Christianity, and it makes any description of the experience of K&C an assertion that one suffers from a messiah complex.
It saddens me to think that there are potential-students who actually question whether or not there is a reasonable expectation of attaining. To my thinking K&C is eminently attainable. In fact, it is (in my opinion) the birthright of all humanity. The very purpose for the existence of the A.A. is to facilitate the attainment of K&C. If K&C of the HGA is not realistically achievable given reasonable efforts, or if it is a special province reserved for the select few, why then would Crowley expend the time, energy, and resources to create a thorough system like the A.A.? Based on his own actions, Crowley would seem to have believed it was an entirely achievable goal, not some unreachable target exclusive to the elect. Simply put, “Every man and every woman is a star.” What then can we propose as a remedy to this taboo against admitting to experience with the HGA? The answer is simple: the taboo must be broken because it leads to the contemptable supposition that K&C is out of reach for most people, and because it severely limits the sharing of information. Those among us who have experienced K&C must openly talk about it. We must begin to share information, enter into dialogue, flesh out our heretofore vague definitions, compare notes on the nature and process of the experience, and begin to have a coherent exchange about this central topic. When we share examples of what worked and what didn’t -we encourage others, and collectively refine our understanding of the process and its common pitfalls. To set the example, I will start: I had an initial vision of my HGA in 1996 and begin to experience emerging K&C in earnest in 2004. I invite others to do the same. So let’s talk about the HGA without fear, taboo, power dynamics, or politics. What is it like? Emerging K&C may come in the form of a voice, a knowing, or a feeling; you may find that you require divination tools for conversation or you may experience visionary trance. The angel (like most spirits -yes I actually said spirits) can appear consistently as a single figure or it may take on many different forms over time. It may come in dreams or reveries, or make its presence known in the midst of seemingly mundane circumstances. You don’t need to belong to an order to experience it, but for some that may help. There are no hard and fast rules here. I realize that since I’m advocating for more open dialogue, I should put my money where my mouth is and open up. So, here goes. My HGA appeared in two ways: first as a woman in flowing white robes and a crown (below the abyss), and later as a man with a high collar and an intense glare. My personal experience is that the angel serves as a guide, a mentor, a teacher, a therapist, an empowering friend, a source of direction and orientation in times of confusion, a confidant, and a lover. In my own case, K&C did result in revelations about my own inner nature or True Will. It also provided specific guidance in relation to my vocation. Unsurprisingly, the two were connected. There is however no reason to suspect this will always be the case. Probably the single most important thing the experience of K&C has provided me is an opportunity to see my life, my self, from the perspective of an independent, outside observer. This last part has been of incalculable value. My experience isn’t universal, and others will experience K&C differently, but the HGA comports itself to me as a spirit or intelligence, and there is some historical support for that idea.
We know that the original source of the concept of K&G of the HGA (a 17th century grimoire treats the HGA as a spirit that is called through a prolonged magical retreat. What is more, the grimoire (available under the title: The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage) is a part of an entire genre that includes many other grimoiric texts that focus on communication with spirits (usually angels and demons). In the original Abramelin text, attainment of K&C of the HGA is explicitly for the purpose of gaining access to working with goetic-style spirit hierarchies. This origin in a genre focused on spirit-communication goes a long way toward explaining the presence of rituals for practicing communication with spirits in the A.A. curriculum leading up to K&C. These preliminary spirit communication rituals (Ritual of the Tattwas) provide the student hands-on experience in contacting and communicating with spirits, and thereby prepares them to make contact and communicate with their own HGA.
The process of learning to communicate with spirits is part of what is entailed in the idea of penetrating the Veil of Paroketh. A veil is something that divides one thing from another. On the near side of the veil lies the spheres that correspond to our normal experiences of: body, intellect, emotion, and imagination (the four lower spheres). Beyond this veil lies the experience of spirit, or we could even say experiences with spirits. The veil is what prevents us from allowing ourselves to enter into mythic experience and use mythic language. How then can we penetrate this veil? One initial step is to start to allow for the possibility of the existence of spirits and the experience of spirit communication. It is of course possible to define spirits as parts of the mind, but even if this is true, magic with spirits appears to work whether or not we recognize it -it worked for the grimoiric authors who had never heard of psychology. So, we might as well employ the more satisfying mythic language and say: spirits.
It may be that penetrating the veil that conceals the experience of spirits (or spiritual experience) can be assisted to some extent by a mentor. This is one purpose for the mentor in the A.A. system. How this is done can be illustrated in part by referring to the writings of Carlos Castaneda, who readily employed mythic language (his character Don Juan may not have even existed!). Castaneda discusses the role of the mentor in validating the spiritual experience of the apprentice. He calls this validation the formation of a special consensus, as opposed to normal consensus reality. Of course, there is no reason to suspect that K&C cannot also be accomplished by a solitary practitioner.
One curriculum adapted specifically to solitary practice and self-study is the Order of the Thelemic Golden Dawn, a side-degree system to the TTO. The TGD is non-hierarchical; there are no officers or gatekeepers -all but eliminating any power dynamics. It is completely open-source, with all order documents readily available to everyone online. There is no secrecy, special status or preferred students. The curriculum is entirely student-driven and self-paced. It is based on the AA/GD model but has been streamlined to remove unnecessary distractions, and the TGD believes you can achieve the K&C of your HGA without being a prophet of the aeon or a con-artist, and all without hours of balancing bowls of water on your head.