Maimonides, Crowley, and Esoteric Blinds
If you’ve spent any time around the occult, you’ve no doubt heard of the term “occult blind.” This is the idea that some writings are couched in terms that don’t immediately reveal their true meaning. The idea is to obfuscate the real message from “ordinary” eyes, lest the information fall into the wrong hands. On such famous blind is Aleister Crowley’s assertion that he sacrificed 150 male children in one year. Obviously, Crowley didn’t really sacrifice children; rather he was referring to a specific magickal technique in coded terms.
Crowley wasn’t the only one to use this “veiled” language, nor is it necessarily limited to occultists. In fact, I recently learned that none other than the vaunted Jewish philosopher Maimonides also used obfuscation to hide some of his ideas. In laying out the method in which to read his famous work The Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides suggests that there are times in his book where, rather than make things easier to understand, he will purposefully misdirect the reader.
“In speaking about very obscure matters, it is necessary to conceal some parts and to disclose others. Sometimes in the case of certain dicta this necessity requires that the discussion proceed on the basis of a certain premise, whereas in another place necessity requires that the discussion proceed on the basis of another premise contradicting the first one. In such cases the vulgar must in no way be aware of the contradiction; the author accordingly uses some device to conceal it be all means…” (emphasis mine)
According to one of my professors, this small paragraph has led to a bounty of scholarship, even creating its own sub-discipline, where by academics attempt to determine where Maimonides was “faking to the left” and where he was being sincere with the reader. Two main schools of interpretation exist which interpret Maimonides based on his plain sense, or exoteric, meanings, and another school, the esoteric, which reads a bit more into his works. It’s been over 800 years since Maimonides passed away, and the debate still rages over what he meant.
Maimonides’ statement reminded me of the Book of the Law’s aphorism that its rituals would be “half known and half concealed.” Setting aside the question of who wrote Liber Al, one of the biggest problems scholars have when assessing Crowley is his writing style, which is at times deeply serious and at other times strongly mocking in tone. Like Maimonides, how does one determine when Crowley is being straight with the reader and when he is pointing to a larger meaning? Personally, there have been many times where I think I “get” Crowley, only to realize that picking up on one concealment doesn’t mean I’ve cracked the code. Rather, I wonder how many misdirections escaped my notice.
Fascinating stuff and interesting when one thinks that even medieval Jewish philosophers engaged in such intentional obfuscation.
Crowley, Aleister. Liber Al Vel Legis.
Crowley, Aleister. Magick in Theory and Practice
Maimonides. The Guide of the Perplexed.
Owen, Alex. The Place of Enchantment.
Photo by edomingo.