Working the A∴A∴ System

Posted by on March 23, 2019

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Since the death of Frater O.M. in 1947 and Frater D.D.S. a few years later, there have been no universal Chiefs of the A∴A∴. Crowley’s appointed successor in the O.T.O., S∴H∴ Frater Saturnus (Karl Germer), 8°=3⸋, was also one of the senior living A∴A∴ members at Crowley’s death, and many turned to him for guidance. After Germer’s death, there clearly was no one who emerged visibly as a central guiding figure.

This does not mean, however—as some have suggested— that the A∴A∴ ceased to exist or to function as a manifest Order. The central unit of the A∴A∴’s functioning is the work of a given teacher with a given student.

It is written that an A∴A∴ member only officially knows his or her own teacher, and any students that the member may have admitted to the system. This instruction has given rise to a lot of silliness and paranoid secrecy by people who have overlooked or misunderstood the word “officially.” Let me, then, say plainly that this secrecy is not required. Nor does it accord with the published working descriptions of the A∴A∴ system.

For example, in one grade, the Imperator and Praemonstrator of the Order specially evaluate the aspirant, even if neither of these officers is his or her Superior. In each grade, one’s Superior is instructed to file the record of one’s admission or advancement with the Cancellarius (see Liber 185). Also, responsibility for a student “floats uphill.” The senior member of a lineage” is ultimately responsible for the work not only of his or her own students, but of their students, and their students, and their students….

Finally, one’s membership in A∴A∴ simply is not secret; in fact, as explained more fully in Chapter 2, quite the opposite may be true, depending on circumstances.

The real purpose of the rule not officially to know other members in general is that peers are not to work together. As Frater O.M. wrote in One Star in Sight:

The real object of the rule was to prevent Members of the same Grade working together and so blurring each other’s individuality; also to prevent work developing into social intercourse.

A member may (in a limited way) work with those ahead of him or behind, but not those who are undergoing the same processes through which he also is passing.

Also, even though there is no world governing authority of the A∴A∴., its continued governance on Earth is ensured by the responsibility borne by each member for his or her students, and the continuity of the lineal descent implied by membership. Although not of an episcopal character, this lineal succession and continuity is no less ‘apostolic'” than that on which the Church of Rome is built. A given lineage of the A∴A∴ may have its own Chiefs – Praemonstrator, Imperator, Cancellarius – who only bear authority with respect to those students for whom they are responsible.

Occasionally I encounter a person who informs me that he (so far it always has been a “he”) is in the A∴A∴. On further discussion, it becomes evident that, by this, he means he has acquired the appropriate books and is doing his best, on his own to follow the Order’s curriculum. This effort is worthy of praise. Any such work stands an excellent chance of yielding some sort of profit (or even a prophet!). But it is not A∴A∴; nor has the Student any assurance, without supervision, that he is working correctly. Inherent in the very definition of the A∴A∴ system is the condition of direct transmission of a linkage from teacher to student; and the ceremony of admitting a Probationer is based on this reality.

For those who have no teacher, and wish to undertake the work as best they can alone, this present book should provide more than a little help; but let the student not fool himself into thinking that an authentic linkage is irrelevant. On the other hand, since all of the essential instructions are openly published, a given aspirant may have all that he or she needs to take up the Great Work and bring it to conclusion. Having considered the matter, let each make his or her own decision accordingly.

Something needs to be said concerning the adaptation of the formal A∴A∴ system to the individual needs of a particular aspirant. First, let it be clear that the system is inherently individual, even though the assignments are precise and the thresholds invariable. There is no contradiction between a firm curriculum and individual needs; for the formal curriculum is merely that, a defining form within which the personal development of each seeker occurs. Although the grade assignments (discussed in detail in the chapters to come) designate specific thresholds which must be confronted and surpassed, the real work is often behind the scenes, in the response of the student’s character, environment, and karma to the parameters of passage. There always must be the latitude or freedom to look behind the letter of an assignment and dis­cover its spirit; nor can any person, no matter how wise, know in advance exactly what is required by the soul of another. But these are the exceptions which confirm the basic pattern; and never must they be allowed to become excuses for bypassing or avoiding an honest assignment due to some inner resistance or inability to perform it.

Although I have been careful to make this book descriptive of the A∴A∴ pattern per se, rather than of my own personal Path, a couple of personal anecdotes may be appropriate in this Introduction to emphasize these last points. Those with experience say that at least one of the Outer College grades is especially hard, and at least one especially easy, for each aspirant. In my own case, I spent seven years in one grade, and only one month in another; nor was either of these the outcome I would have guessed in advance. The grade that—based on my personality and prior experience—I thought would take the least time of all, actually took many times longer than I would ever have guessed.

 By hindsight, however, the reasons for all of this are now quite clear to me. At each stage, the Holy Guardian Angel has Its own ideas (if I may be forgiven for the anthropomorphization) of what transformations are to be accomplished, what work is to be done. During the grade that lasted for seven years, I needed every one of those years to accomplish much that was not listed in the formal assignments, but which my life made evident to me. Then, having put off for more than six and a half years an assignment that I was sure would take a couple of years to perfect, I took up the neglected task and mastered it in about two months. This is not boasting. It is profound humility. I had little to do with it. The Angel had Its own schedule and plans.

On another occasion, I had completed every formal requirement of a certain grade but one, the memorization of 27 short sentences. Even though I had previously memorized ten times that much of similar material, I sat for nearly two years, seemingly going no place, entirely blocked on that one task. I now know that it simply took the extra time for me to be ripened inwardly on certain points; and that I still had more work to do in that stage, whether I knew it then or not.

The main point here is that following the A∴A∴ system cannot fail to be a most intimately personal journey, if it is pursued earnestly and wholeheartedly.

* * *

 From the foregoing, we now turn to the secular. Perhaps money should not be an issue where purely spiritual matters are concerned; yet both the practical exigencies of books and other supplies on one hand, and the unstable thoughts and emotions routinely excited by considerations of cash on the other, require that we address the matter of money and the A∴A∴, if but to lay it to rest. Fortunately, we have a perfectly clear instruction in the essay One Star in Sight:

There is however an absolute prohibition to accept money or other material reward, directly or indirectly, in respect to any service connected with the Order, for personal profit or advantage. The penalty is immediate expulsion, with no possibility of reinstatement on any terms soever.

Unfortunately, even the plainest statements are not likely to be understood if read superficially. For example, the above does not mean that there is no exchange of money. On the contrary, that most canonical of A∴A∴documents, Liber 185, instructs that the Neophyte and Zelator shall each pay a certain sum, prior to initiation, in exchange for certain documents.

Additionally, we must consider the more subtle circumstances of the original A∴A∴ Student program. As is detailed in Chapter 1 of this book, Crowley eventually required that, before any person could be admitted as an A∴A∴ Probationer, they must possess approximately two dozen spe­cific books, 80% of which were written and/or published by Crowley. However, this apparent commerce did not violate the A∴A∴ rule stated above. Crowley made a habit of selling his books for a price barely above cost. He diverted any small surplus of funds back into the support of the Great Work—generally for more publishing.

Nor did he hesitate to ask others for direct financial contributions to the Order, and especially toward its publishing program. According to the evidence, he was ruthlessly honest in using such donations strictly for the purposes designated, and not for personal ends.

The relevant rule, it will be recalled, is that no A∴A∴ member is to receive, with respect to the Order, any money or other material reward for personal profit or advantage. At the same time, we are equally admonished in our most sacred text, The Book of the Law: “Establish at thy Kaaba a clerk-house: all must be done well and with business way.”

It is a hallowed principle within all authentic initiatory schools that initiation is not for sale. Spirit may not be bought. Enlightenment is not a marketable commodity. The “Gold of the Wise” is an interior gold immeasurably more valuable than coin; or, more accurately, the two are incommensurable.


Love is the law, love under will.

—J.A. Eshelman

*Excerpted from  The Mystical & Magical System of the A∴A∴ by James A. Eshelman (All rights reserved)

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