Brief Note on Pity and Compassion

By Frater 493

“Mercy let be off; damn them who pity! Kill and torture; spare not; be upon them!” – Liber AL vel Legis III; 18

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

In Magick in Theory and Practice, Τὸ Μεγα Θηρίον describes the nature of the magick Sword and its application to the work of the Initiate. Those familiar with the symbolism will understand that the Sword is the mind, the Ruach, the  spheres 9-4 of the Tree of Life, and the psyche itself. In the context of initiation, In the viewing of scenes of sorrow, misery, joy, and happiness, we are not to be moved by these emotions, but see only the facts of the situation. The Sword is our only weapon against that which attempts to disgust, allure, arouse, terrify, or shock, and it is with the attitude of an active observer that we encounter the phenomena of the universe.

Pity implies the feeling of sorrow for one in misery or distress. Aristotle gives a very clear picture of Pity. It is the excitement of a painful, negative emotion at the knowledge of something evil, destructive, or painful befalling ourselves or someone else who does not deserve it (Rhetoric 2.8). Popular examples of the perceptions that elicit pity are the homeless and the mentally or physically handicap, and even though we may not have a personal relationship, the close physical proximity seems to affect us more deeply. In contrast, we are not often moved to pity by the suffering of those whom are far removed from our perception, for one rarely feels emotional pain when there is no personal connection with the victim. Although there are many whose hearts bleed for every manifestation of suffering, whether distant or very near. What terrible lives these must be! Meanwhile, devout Christians are quite acutely affected by the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, as most believe themselves to have formed a personal relationship with him. (Moreover, that Jesus was so undeserving of his execution, but accepted it to absolve humankind of their terrible sins, weighs heavily on the devout. The guilt that this implies is a subject for another essay.)

Approaching someone in the midst of suffering (real or perceived), some are naturally moved to sympathy, which is the taking on of someone else’s emotion- suffering with that person. It is the experiencing of another’s sorrow as if it were one’s own. We can readily see that it is an invasion of our circle to be thus moved by phenomena. To illustrate, we may approach a friend who has recently lost a loved one, and we sit with them, cry, console, and actually feel within ourselves the same pain and suffering. This we mistakenly believe makes the other person “feel better.” It is a common condition of human weakness to feel our own suffering lessen when we know others are suffering as we are. This is the basis of the equally false aphorism of, “there’s always somebody worse off than you.” This is a crude attempt to console by invalidating a person’s suffering because there are other people in the world who are suffering more severely.

Compassion, on the other hand, is the vice of Kings (AL II; 21) and involves determining, under Will, to do what we may to help alleviate another’s suffering, without taking on the suffering ourselves, feeling sorry, or allowing disturbance of our equilibrium. Again, we do not take on the emotion of the sufferer we encounter (or of ourselves, but this is a deeper mystery), but rather we exhibit empathy. Empathy is the intellectual understanding of suffering either through reasoning or past experience, but without altering our own emotional state to feel similar. To illustrate, then, we may encounter the sick or injured during our travels and using our faculties of reason and intuition, determine whether we are in a position to help, and if we can and so choose, we administer first aid or summon medical personnel to assist. We may also offer food, water, or pain-medication, as the case may be. The point being that Compassion is the indifferent and detached attempt to relieve the suffering of another, if we will.

Whatever our decision, our inner emotional state is not affected. We are indifferent, which as Τὸ Μεγα Θηρίον writes, is the first step toward conquering our aversions on the path to Adeptship. The world is our laboratory and life our grand experiment. We can practice and prepare ourselves for these experiments, as we also learn from the Master Therion, by observing surgical procedures, dancing girls, reading emotional books, and watching emotional films. From the intricate relationships we no doubt have with our friends and families arise many opportunities to observe our own emotions and discern for ourselves how they are affected by phenomena outside our control.

To offer a personal example from my own life, I was raise by a man who was forever seeking out the pity of others. No matter the ailment, which was usually quite contrived, he unceasingly sought pity through passive means. My own emotional body was consistently manipulated into certain states of negative emotion by this man’s misery, suffering, and self-pity. These were veritable magickal attacks. Firsthand experience of the nature of pity led to an eventual lack of compassion for this man, for why would anyone help someone who is unwilling to help themselves? Why, also, would one waste magickal energy on such a person, notwithstanding that energy be of supernal source and thus infinite? Nevertheless, I admit my own vices and not veiling them in virtuous words (AL II; 52), find myself indifferent and detached, offering assistance to this old and miserable soul. I am empowered and uplifted thereby, showing myself as a King, unaffected by the misery of others, dunged about with enginery of war (AL III; 6), my circle filled and fortified throughout by the Holy One, the Angel that Guardeth me (LXV V; 41)

 Love is the law, love under will.

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