19th February 2010: On ‘Questions to Consider’ in Don Webb’s ‘Concerning Words’

Don Webb’s Edred.net essay ‘Concerning Words’ (publicly released 16th February 2010) synthesizes two decades of reflection on several initiatory, metaphysical and cosmological philosophies, drawing on Plato, Chaldean theurgy, Crowleyan Thelema and Setian metaphysics. His focus is on the core Words that encapsulate these philosophies, the equivalent in these traditions of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘paradigms’ used in philosophy of science to describe conceptual revolutions.


Such Words have two key aspects for Webb: (i) ‘they are a label for a group or constellation of ideas’ that can be grasped by individuals, groups and movements, and (ii) they are performative or a speech act–Webb uses the term ‘magical act’ for a Setian and Gild audience. Thus, apart from the religious and metaphysical systems he discusses, Webb observes that Words can also describe a way to think about religious and sociopolitical philosophies such as ‘Agape’, ‘Communism’, ‘Democracy’, ‘Racism’ or ‘Capitalism’–and perhaps by extension to comprehend the past decade’s debates about ‘Caliphate’ or ‘Jihad’. There are seeds here of what could be a rigorous evaluation framework.


The essay has specific meanings for Webb’s main audience. For instance, he uses the honorific ‘Prince of Darkness’ both to describe the Egyptian god Set as an independent metaphysical entity, and as a symbol of the human ability to conceptualize new horizons and then to bring them into being–with both positive and negative aspects. However, Webb makes observations that may have relevance to a broader audience and to scholars from different perspectives: ‘Words are not the property of the human who Utters them’ or ‘The Utterance of a Law does not bring any new thing into being, but brings an anticipatory Awareness of that thing.’ In doing so, he challenges the assumptions held by many adherents who would ascribe a Word solely to a specific guru or individual.


At the essay close, Webb poses nine ‘Questions to Consider’ as a teaching tool. Below is a personal analysis, which attempts to clarify the definitions and categories for non-Setian readers. To do so, I have slightly reworded Webb’s nine ‘Questions to Consider’, in some cases to broaden their scope, so compare with Webb’s original formulation.


1. Definitions of a Word


1a. Independent Existence and Well-formed Definition tests:

Does the Word exist–conceptually and ontologically–as an independent Idea that is differentiated from precursors and other metaphysical philosophies? (DW’s Q8). This raises various other questions: What ontological and cosmological assumptions does the Word suggest? What ‘boundary conditions’ arise? What are the criterion to differentiate a Word from its precursors? What happens when a competing metaphysical philosophy ‘interprets’ or ‘takes’ a Word?


1b. Descriptive and Meta-model tests:


How is the Word descriptive? Are there examples you can inductively infer from myth and history, or deduce observationally from people? (DW’s Q1). My rewording leaves open whether or not this leads to ‘individual success or failure’, whereas Webb’s original wording
would isolate ‘successful’ cases–I feel ‘double loop’ learning from cases of ‘failure’ or ‘mutation’ can be just as valuable. Abductive, inductive and deductive logics may all be used.


1c. Communicability test:

Can you communicate a Word’s metaphysical core in plain, everyday language? (DW’s Q6). This raises various other questions: Who are the intended and unintended audiences of the communication? How does a different medium affect the reception of a Word’s message? If there was no School as a (sustainable) organizational form, how would a Word be communicated? What happens when a Word fails to be communicated, and dies?


2. Knowledge Base


2a. Knowledge Base – Organisational Alignment test.


Does the Word resonate with and expand the Knowledge Base? (DQ’s Q4). Is it aligned with the host organization? Two reasons apart from personality conflicts are suggested here for the history of schisms in (so-called) initiatory organizations: (i) a change to the Knowledge Base core that differs from a periphery; and (ii) a Word that challenges the form, boundaries and the custodianship/governance functions of the host organization. This may be a failure of communicability (1c), a failure of apprehension or diffusion (1b), or the perceived Need for a new organizational form that triggers an institutional power conflict. (1a).


2b. Knowledge Base – Temporal Matrices test.


Can you Understand, broadly and deeply, how the Word relates to and compares with other metaphysical philosophies? (DW’s Q7). This Understanding may be both diachronic (evolving through time) and synchronic (the present). Aleister Crowley’s ‘Curse of the Magus’, like Kuhn’s ‘gestalt-switch’ between different paradigms, is in part because definition (1a) can dramatically change temporal awareness (2b), which leads to communicability and diffusion problems (1c and 1b). Herein lies the metaphysical justification usually posited for a School’s existence as a non-Hobbesian initiatory environment.


3. Personal Axiology

3a. Core Self and Personal Philosophy tests.


Does the Word bring metaphysical clarity and significance to your life? (DW’s Q5). Is it immediately graspable, but refine-able over a lifetime? (DW’s Q3). This is the apprehension and reception of the Word into the core self (1a, 1b, and 2b). In part, this is the goal, practice and life-orientation of ethics, axiology and metaphysical philosophy. For individuals, it may be a sign that apprehension (1a), induction (1b), and temporal reorientation (2b) have occurred. This is one function of ‘conversion’ in religious belief systems, and more subtly, one potential role the Daimon might play in Platonic, Jungian and Thelemic metaphysics. In psychology, it may be found in the work of Roberto Assagioli, Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, Viktor Frankl, and James Hillman, amongst others. For Teachers it may suggest successful transmission (1c), and organizational alignment (2a). This is the generative source of forms/kata in martial arts, personal conceptualizations of methodologies, and of Teacher-Student transmission in Zen and other traditions.


3b. Praxis test.


How is the Word prescriptive? Is it an injunctive that offers guidance and self-volition? Does it clarify actions you Need to take in your life? (DW Q2). This is the extension of the aligned, core self to the world (3a). This is perceived in George Gurdjieff’s ‘Way of Golgotha’ in revolutionary Russia, Aleister Crowley’s mountain climbing, and in Michael A. Aquino’s decision to recast the Order of the Trapezoid at Wewelsburg in terms of the Grail quest. It is also the focus of guidebooks like Julius Evola’s Ride the Tiger (1961), Robert Anton Wilson’s Prometheus Rising (1982) or manuals on Method acting, consciousness studies, hypnosis and
neuro-linguistic programming–provided you do the exercises. This is the observable manifestation of self-initiatory work over a career (1b and 1c). It is also perhaps the best defense against Stephen Edred Flowers’ ‘occultizoid nincompoop’.


3c. Resonance test.


Does the Word resonate deeply with your life, emotions, embodied cognition and actions? (DW Q9).This is the extension of the Word as a life-anchor, through time, despite Hazard and the Law of Accident. At an individual level, it is strengthened through clarity, focus, and aligned action (3a and 3b). It empowers the individual to communicate (1c), and via their deeds, for the School to survive as a viable organizational form (2a), through time (2b). In part, this is George Gurdjieff’s ‘three lines of work’: for individual, for group, and for School or tradition.