There is a strange dichotomy in the West between the value of reason and the value of the emotions, or a mind-body split. In my years of being among other Thelemites and occultists I have observed much talk deriding the importance of the emotions which are of the body and associated with “femininity” (and weakness) while reason is of the mind and associated with “masculinity” (and hence strength). Emotions are considered fearful and things to avoid if you don’t want to be pegged as crazy or hysterical. In fact, this extends to psychiatry and society in general. But they are not the exclusive focus of this post.
As Thelema is part of the Western Mystery Tradition, this is not very surprising. For those of us in the West, it is a unique challenge because Westerners like to look for quick fixes and rely on a lot of theory and abstractions, whether for magick or for psychology. For women, female-focused spirituality comes at the price of confronting male dogma.
Many therapists have commented on this phenomena. Here is one such example.
“There is a part of consciousness that allows you to monitor and help you to guide yourself that is called medial prefrontal cortex
Interoception, looking inward and noticing yourself noticing ins and outs of landscape of your body— this is things like mindfulness, yoga, body work.
20 years ago people were just explaining things, using rational brains.
The real advance in trauma treatment is that we know you cannot really change these irrational organic responses from the body, except by becoming deeply involved with the self and noticing your internal world. Listen to messages from your body and notice how your body is living.
This is not part of our Western psychological traditions. It is part of Asian traditions, a lot of interoceptive techniques to work with trauma.
Our solution has always been take a swig of alcohol or pop a pill to make it all go away. Slowly into our tradition comes mindfulness to learn to activate the watchtower, the only part of conscious brain that can control the primitive brain.”
This speaks to the practice of calming the body and hence, calming the emotions. It is physical and emotional peace. We store our emotions in our bodies, which can cause psychosomatic illnesses. And not being able to feel our emotions in our bodies is part of conditions such as dissociation.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk says that “…emotions tell us where to go or what to do, to orient ourselves…” He breaks down the word “emotion” as “e-motion.” I have my own association, which is “automobile,” as “auto-mobile.”
In the A.’.A.’., the Probationer is highly recommend to undergo at least one year of therapy in order to understand the psychological dialogue between the conscious and unconscious mind for him/herself. Yet, many Thelemites resort to calling criticizers “mentally ill” or “crazy” or saying “you need help,” guilt-tripping and manipulating them for disagreeing or feeling righteous anger. For women this involves being called “hysterical” and “frigid” per Freudian sexology – even by other women, emulating the men who began the practice, and usually their current romantic interest.
bell hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody
I take umbrage with other Thelemites pulling the “you need help” card. It’s not a matter of “no true Scotsman.” For one thing, they betray how convenient a label it is for them – anyone they don’t like is dismissed as crazy, anyone they do is apparently, perfectly sane. For another, people do not tend to go to therapy when they think they are fine, but when they feel something is wrong and need to work on it. Third, such selective and subjective armchair diagnosis from people who are not mental health professionals is patronizing and an insult to the practice of self-introspection. This demonization is the exact same reason why people refrain from therapy in the first place!
There is another way in which feeling one’s emotions are discouraged: the seeking by male Thelemites of empathic females, females who are said to be “easily entranced.” Some people say empaths are born, not made, while others concede that one can be conditioned to empathic sensitivity through emotional abuse via the practice of neuron mirroring, done in order to anticipate the desires of the abuser and avoid incurring their wrath. This results in someone who is able to feel everyone else’s emotions, but not their own. Empathy is a double-edged sword for them; boundaries are blurred. Abusive male Thelemites therefore seek out such women in order to capitulate on their capacity for empathy. With this too, do they perpetuate the belief that women need men to guide them with their reason, and give them a purpose as dictated by them. In a general or societal sense, women are expected to care about everyone else and coddle male feelings (including their sense of sexual entitlement).
Along with this in Thelema, women who are intellectual and strong are seen as “masculine” or (in Jungian terms) expressing their animus. The “woman girt with a sword” translates to the sword being a phallic symbol, “vagina” meaning “a sheath for a sword.” To put two and two together: a sword-sheath is nothing without a sword, a woman is nothing without a man. For the male magickian, the female helps him access his anima and becomes his sex object and talisman; she is auxiliary, without a will of her own.
It is curious that at one point in ancient Greece (the philosophy from which has greatly influenced Western thought), women were the ones considered to be sex-crazed. Then there was a flip-flop so that men were the ones considered sex-crazed. However, in either situation, men were still considered rational and superior to women.
In Christianity, there are an awful lot of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not”s. Similarly, mansplaining involves telling women what they should or shouldn’t have done, or how they simply need to change their point of view and be positive (“wishful thinking”).
The common theme here is being in control – being in control of women and being in control of our emotions. It’s hierarchical, a system of domination and submission. What does being “in control” of our emotions mean? Western thought says that our capacity for reason must rise above and constrain the emotions so that our emotions do not end up controlling us. This aspect is again, thanks to ancient Greek philosophers.
As anyone who has found this line of thought inadequate, emotional development has little to do with logic or the rational or conscious mind, and more to do with not being overwhelmed by the emotions which influence us greatly, being human. By association, we don’t control or own our bodies; we inhabit them. We bring our selves to everything we do, even if what we do does not consider every single aspect of our selves.
Critical thinking is a special skill. The cognitive parts of our brains stop developing around 25 for males and 21 for females. Such a fact fact shows that for the early part of our lives – until we are in our twenties – we are indeed emotionally motivated. Western thought therefore is lacking when it comes to children and teenagers, because in it, reason is the highest virtue. Our practice of raising children is based on punishment and reward, and masculinity is rewarded with approval and sexual access. These practices are inculcated at the emotional level, but the children who are conditioned by them grow into adults who often will rationalize away perpetuating the same practices upon their own children and other people with all sorts of excuses.
In spite of the fact that chronologically, females develop cognitive thinking sooner than males, women are still infantilized – both on a social (public) and sexual (private) level. We are not expected to have critical thinking skills. Males often present themselves in arguments as already “critical-thinking,” whether they actually are or not. In actuality, they are selective about using critical thinking when it comes to subjects in which they see critique of as a threat – critical thinking then devolves into rationalization, all the excuses people give themselves to justify unfair or bigoted things.
This derision is often a ploy at silencing emotions and voices in others in order to be abusive in the guise of “freedom of speech.” Calling opponents mentally ill is likewise a way of silencing them – i.e. they are crazy, so how could they possibly say anything meaningful? Those silly-headed women!
Throughout history, many rebellious, non-conforming women were considered mentally ill. The argument being that they were not “feminine” enough; they did not conform to gender or gender roles and heterosexist expectations. This for a long time included homosexuality (women who did not enjoy sex with men were either “sexually inverted” (Ellis’ theory of homosexuality) or “frigid” (per Freud). If a woman invented something, a man was likely to steal it and take credit; if she did things that would be praised in men, she was demonized for it. Female writers in Victorian times would often take on male pen-names so they could get their writings published. They were expected to be constantly in the company of and follow men, not to be independent of them.
“Femininity requires you to mark yourself as not default – which is why things like makeup and high heels are considered feminine. Your default, plain, bare face isn’t feminine until you put makeup on it. Your feet are flat by default but heels mark you as feminine. Your body hair grows out naturally and normally but you aren’t feminine until it’s shaved”
“I gave up a long, long time ago on the idea that a man would ever accept a woman in her wholeness. In her complete being. Not erased neither edited. That she wouldn’t have tip toe around the most fragile parts of her. That she could be herself sans apology. Doesn’t the thought ever hurt you. That you can’t be you with a man because he’s so saturated with images and sounds and ideals projected by media of the imaginary woman who doesn’t grow hair on her body, who is always ready for sex, who is an exceptional cook and a great gamer, who is ‘natural’ without being natural at all, who isn’t allowed an inch of imperfection. That your genitals constitute paper to be clipped according to the porn industry’s ideal size, that the darkness of your lips is repulsive, that the unfeminine about you is monstrous, that you are respected only because of your association with yet another man, that if you even let out a little squeak of protest he wouldn’t be able to tolerate you because he simply doesn’t want to know how to care for a real woman and the reality that makes her, her.”
Gender non-conforming women are not “masculine.” Such a label forgets shared girlhood: females are not raised to conform to masculinity, even if they were tomboys, because they don’t have male privilege. The label associates them with being “manly” or “wanting to be men,” which is not only false but misogynistic. Gender is a system of socially constructed practices and attributes assigned to sex: all females are raised to conform to femininity, whether by parents and/or society.
“Women do not decide at some time in adulthood that they would like other people to understand them to be women, because being a woman is not an ‘identity’. Women’s experience does not resemble that of men who adopt the ‘gender identity’ of being female or being women in any respect. The idea of ‘gender identity’ disappears biology and all the experiences that those with female biology have of being reared in a caste system based on sex.”
-Sheila Jeffreys, Gender Hurts
Relevant to this line of thought is the following comment from Facebook:
“I believe it was in the anthology edited by Charlene Spretnak called The Politics of Women’s Spirituality (one of the books I’ve read that influenced my own spiritual life the most),one of the authors was critiquing Jungian anima/animus DOGMA (much much needed) and pointed out that when she or any woman was being strong or intelligent etal,they weren’t accessing their animus or their masculine side,THEY WERE MERELY BEING <<<<STRONG WOMEN>>>> OR WERE MERELY BEING <<<<INTELLIGENT WOMEN>>>>(wish I could emphasize those phrases more). (that’s a paraphrase.I think she said it much better than I can remember) That’s always stuck with me.”
– Bob Doublin
Lesbian radical feminist and detransitioned FtM woman Nymeses has for some time adhered to a revamping of the word “feminine”: rather than meaning anything traditionally associated with women or so-called ‘girly’ behaviors and clothing, “feminine” in her case would mean something like “female” or “femaleness.” Hence, gender non-conforming women are feminine, in much the same way that feminism is by and for women, the female sex-class.
The problem with the mainstreaming of Thelema, or the way Thelema is commonly presented is that the emotions are still not valued as just as important as reason. This is due to the harms of the social construct we know as gender. Thelema is presented as “egalitarian” and non-feminist, too, and so its seeming valorization of women is not woman-identified; women are still not the main protagonists of their own mythos. Subcultures and alternative groups can and do reproduce or reflect harmful beliefs and practices from society on a micro level, and I know of no better way to critique than from within. We have yet to stop worshipping founders and remember that they were products of their time. And Thelema (as practiced) is very much explicitly Western, with Western values (not universal!), which is why many non-Westerners are not Thelemites.