The Three Grades of Dean Knapp

by Frater P.I.

    The fortieth verse of the first chapter of the Book of the Law says in part, "Who calls us Thelemites will do no wrong, if he look but close into the word. For there are therein Three Grades, the Hermit and the Lover and the man of Earth." In the Vision and the Voice, in the 13th Aire, is written "The man of earth is the adherent. The lover giveth his life unto the work among men. The hermit goeth solitary, and giveth only of his light unto men", Crowley mentions this passage in his "New" Comment to the Book of the Law, and adds, "Thus we have in the Order, the Mystic, the Magician, and the Devotee". Clearly this implies that three different approaches to Thelema, to the very religious experience itself, are possible, perhaps even necessary in the unfolding of this experience. Then in chapter 49 of the Confessions he divides religious teachers into three classes: first, the Moses/Mohammed type, who receives a direct command from God to act as His spokesman, and who does miracles or at least receives miraculous aid; second, the William Blake/Jacob Boehme type, who is in direct communication with some sort of spiritual intelligence, and whose personal revelations may indeed be inspiring to many others, but who claim no universal spiritual authority for themselves; and third, the Lao-Tzu/Buddha type, who have attained some state of spiritual release, and who are able to teach others the method by which they have themselves realized. "The wiser they are, the less dogmatic", says Crowley, "They remain essentially sceptics". These are just the three kinds of teacher you'd expect for Devotees, Magicians, and Mystics, respectively.
    Of course if this triform nature of religious experience is truly archetypal then we should expect to find plentiful evidence of it in places quite far removed from Aleister Crowley and Thelema, and what better place than in the work of the late Canadian novelist, playwright, and journalist, Robertson Davies. In the last chapter of A Mixture of Frailties, the final novel of his Salterton Trilogy, there are reproduced several sections from a sermon, the Ida Bridgetower Memorial Sermon, in which the Reverend Jevon Knapp, Dean of St. Nicholas' Cathedral in Salterton, Ontario, broaches the subject of education. His remarks are interspersed with the descriptions of characters' thoughts and actions, almost as if they were the background of a motion picture soundtrack, the main body of them are given in three distinct sections, separated by passages of novelistic storytelling. Here I reproduce them without their fictional context in order to highlight the archetypes with which they deal:

"Education is learning; and learning is apprehension -- in the old sense of sympathetic perception. We cannot all perceive the facts of our experience in the same way. As we draw near to the sacred season of Christmas we may fitly turn our attention to the ways in which the birth of Our Lord was perceived by those who first knew of it. Much has been made of the splendour of the vision of the shepherds, as told by St. Luke. But so far as I know, little has been said of the fact that it needed an angel and a multitude of the heavenly host to call it to the attention of these good men that something out of the ordinary had happened. Nothing short of a convulsion of nature (if I may so call it without irreverence) could impress them, and the Gospel tells us that they praised God Śfor all the things that they had heard and seen'. There are many now, as then and always, who learn ­ who apprehend ­ only by what they can hear and see, and the range of what they can hear and see is not extensive. And, alas, instructive interruptions of the natural order are as few today as they were two thousand years ago . . ."

    In the Dean's "shepherds" can we not perceive our "man of Earth"? As verse I:50 of the Book of the Law says, "The gross must pass through fire". Just as the body sees only by the light of the eyes, the religion of the adherents of Thelema must be tangible, with its feasts, masses, and ritual weapons. These adherents must also serve as the essential social foundation of any long-lasting Thelemic movement, as they have served in the case of every other organized religion. By their loyalty, enthusiasm, and financial support they make possible the success of the educational and creative efforts of the Lovers. Unlike the obedient flocks of earlier religions they are no sheep to be led about by their pastors, but rather proud men and women who decide for themselves to whom they will award their allegiance.

"If the shepherds needed a prodigy to stir them, the Wise Men needed no more than a hint, a new star amid the host of heaven. In art, and especially the Christmas card art which will so soon be with us, that star is usually represented as a monstrous illumination which a mole might see. That is so that the shepherds among us may understand without a painful sense of insufficiency the legend of the Kings. For legend it is; the Gospel tells us but little of these men, but legend has set their number at three, and has given them melodious names. The legend calls them Kings, and Kings they were indeed in the realm of apprehension, of perception, for they were able to read a great message in a small portent. We dismiss great legends at our peril, for they are the riddling voices by means of which great truths buried deep in the spirit of man offer themselves to the world. Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar stand as models of those ­ few, but powerful at any time ­ who have prepared themselves by learning and dedication to know great mysteries when the time is ripe for them to be apprehended by man . . ."

    In Dean Knapp's "Wise Men" or "Kings" we can see delineated our Grade of "Lover"; they are "the fine", "tried in intellect". It is they who form the elite corps of the Thelemic "order", providing leadership and training for those who would follow after and even outpace them. One who "giveth his life unto the work among men" cannot expect a life of stability and ease. She may be called upon at any time to undertake long journeys bearing her most precious gifts to offer up in homage to Hoor-pa-kraat. Luckily she turns out to love traveling and be quite generous. This sort of "sacrifice of life and joy" on the part of the Lovers is necessary to the firm establishment of a Thelemic culture.

"A third figure, who perceived Our Lord in his own fashion, is particularly sympathetic, and presents in one of the most touching stories of the childhood of Christ another sort of apprehension, and that the rarest. He is the aged Simeon, who knew Our Lord intuitively (as we should say now) when He was brought to the Temple on the eighth day for His Circumcision. Not the forcible instruction of a band of angels, nor the hard-won knowledge of the scholars, but the readiness of one who was open to the promptings of the Holy Ghost was the grace which made Simeon peculiarly blessed. We see him still as one of those rare beings, not so much acting as acted upon, not so much living life as being lived by it, outwardly passive but inwardly illumined by active grace, through whom much that is noblest and of most worth has been vouchsafed to the world . . . Oh, trusting, patient Simeon, the first to know, of his own knowledge, the Holy Face of God!"

    St. Simeon, as the Dean describes him, is a portrait of our "Hermit". He is an example of "the lofty chosen ones" who are tried "in the highest". He instructs no one. He neither exhorts nor ponders. He merely recognizes, and blesses, and speaks the spontaneous prophecies of the Holy Spirit. Thus our Thelemic Hermit "giveth only of his light unto men", and her mystical attainment expresses itself in the silence of that inner "joy a million times greater" than any outer experience.
    At this point it may be appropriate to wonder if Davies came upon this understanding of the three different means of divine experience independently, or if he was actually influenced by the Book of the Law. Certainly he was aware of Crowley and his works; AC even figures in one of his ghost stories when a character follows his instructions in order to invoke, of all things, the spirit of Queen Victoria. In Tempest Tost, the first volume of the Salterton Trilogy, the assistant director of an amateur theatrical production is sent off to do some research.

"The Waverly Library, he discovered, was fairly well stocked with books about magic as anthropologists understand the word, and it could provide him with plenty of material about medieval sorcery; it also contained books by Aleister Crowley and the Rev. Montague Summers which assured him feverishly that there was plenty of magic in the world today."

    So it is therefore possible that Davies was consciously influenced in this by Thelema. Still, I think it unlikely. A more probable explanation for the "coincidence" is that both these observations are based upon the same simple fact: human beings do this religion "thing" in three different ways, as a social experience, as a personal creative experience, and as an impersonal spiritual experience. As if to confirm this fact that the truth is ever on display we also find that the final sentence in Crowley's "New" Comment to verse I:40 says, "'Three Grades'. There is a very curious parallel to this passage in Aldous Huxley's ŚChrome[sic] Yellow' Chap. XXII." And in fact the 22nd chapter of Huxley's novel Crome Yellow does indeed contain an unexpectedly similar metaphor.

"The three main species [of Mr. Scogan's utopia, the Rational State] will be these: the Directing Intelligences, The Men of Faith, and the Herd. Among the Intelligences will be found all those capable of thought, those who know how to attain to a certain degree of freedom ­ and, alas, how limited, even among the most intelligent, that freedom is! ­ from the mental bondage of their time. A select body of Intelligences, drawn from among those who have turned their attention to the problems of practical life, will be the governors of the Rational State. They will employ as their instruments of power the second great species of humanity ­ the men of Faith, the Madmen, as I have been calling them, who believe in things unreasonably, with passion, and are ready to die for their beliefs and their desires. These wild men, with their fearful potentialities for good or for mischief, will no longer be allowed to react casually to a casual environment. There will be no more Caesar Borgias, no more Luthers and Mohammeds, no more Joanna Southcotts, no more Comstocks. The old-fashioned Man of Faith and Desire, that haphazard creature of brute circumstance, who might drive men to tears and repentance, or who might equally well set them on to cutting one another's throats, will be replaced by a new sort of madman, still externally the same, still bubbling with a seemingly spontaneous enthusiasm, but, ah, how very different from the madmen of the past! For the new Man of Faith will be expending his passion, his desire, and his enthusiasm in the propagation of some reasonable idea. He will be, all unawares, the tool of some superior intelligence. From their earliest years, as soon, that is, as the examining psychologists have assigned them their place in the classified scheme, the Men of Faith, will have had their special education under the eye of the Intelligences. Moulded by a long process of suggestion, they will go out into the world, preaching and practising with a generous mania the coldly reasonable projects of the Directors from above. When these projects are accomplished, or when the ideas that were useful a decade ago have ceased to be useful, the Intelligences will inspire a new generation of madmen with a new eternal truth. The principle function of the Men of Faith will be to move and direct the Multitude, that third great species consisting of those countless millions who lack intelligence and are without valuable enthusiasm. When any particular effort is required of the Herd, when it is thought necessary, for the sake of solidarity, that humanity shall be kindled and united by some single enthusiastic desire or idea, The Men of Faith, primed with some simple and satisfying creed, will be sent out on a mission of evangelization. At ordinary times, when the high spiritual temperature of a Crusade would be unhealthy, the Men of Faith will be quietly and earnestly busy with the great work of education. In the upbringing of the Herd, humanity's almost boundless suggestibility will be scientifically exploited. Systematically, from earliest infancy, its members will be assured that there is no happiness to be found except in work and obedience; they will be made to believe that they are happy, that they are tremendously important beings, and that everything they do is noble and significant. For the lower species the earth will be restored to the centre of the universe and man to pre-eminence on the earth. Oh, I envy the lot of the commonalty in the Rational State! Working their eight hours a day, obeying their betters, convinced of their own grandeur and significance and immortality, they will be marvelously happy, happier than any race of men has ever been. They will go through life in a rosy state of intoxication, from which they will never awake. The Men of Faith will play the cup-bearers at this lifelong bacchanal, filling and ever filling again with the warm liquor that the Intelligences, in sad and sober privacy behind the scenes, will brew for the intoxication of their subjects."

    So here we see once more, projected upon humanity as a whole, the archetypes of the Devotee, whose watchwords are loyalty and adherence, the Magician, who causes change, and the Mystic, whose silence conceals understanding. Of course we need not see it as Huxley's character Mr. Scogan did. We need not insist upon these attitudes being the basis of a system of imposed castes; we might instead imagine them as psychological frameworks within which one may view life. The fact that the vast majority of contemporary humanity is content to see the world through the "man of Earth" window does not mean that specific individuals may not in the course of their lives also learn to see as "Lover" or as "Hermit", nor does it even mean that some rare ones may not appreciate all three perspectives simultaneously.
    Elitist social engineering fantasies, like Huxley's character's "Rational State" (a Platonic predecessor to the scientific dystopia of Brave New World) or Crowley's Blue Equinox papers, can be highly entertaining, and even instructive as cautionary tales, but the real message of such metaphors is that for any human society (or organization) to remain healthy it must continue to provide ample and constructive opportunities for all three types of experience. They are all necessary to the system; verse I:40 does not say "the Hermit or the Lover or the man of Earth". In the handwritten manuscript of the verse we can see that the commas in Liber CCXX were added by Crowley later; it's "the Hermit and the Lover and the man of Earth." without separation. Still, the word "Grade" comes from the Latin gradus, a step, a progression. This could imply that one's freedom to advance, as a Thelemite, as a human being, is inalienable. That most do not choose to exercise this freedom should not therefore be taken as an excuse to oppress them, nor should the fact that very few now manage to advance all the way necessarily be taken as the inevitable and eternal condition of humankind.