Law, in our culture, is often associated with police, prison, and other punitive concepts that begin with “P.” My first concept of Law came from Dragnet, which I would daresay many of you don’t remember. It was a TV show that involved two rather grim police detectives, Jack Webb and Harry Morgan (later to be the much more likable Col. Potter on MASH). They had little to say, and most of that was not good, consisting of phrases like, “I think we have a murder weapon and a motive,” and “You have the right to remain silent…” At the end of the show, a haggard lineup photo of the suspect would be shown, and Jack Webb would intone cheerful things over the picture like, “Joe Blow was convicted in Los Angeles County Court of marijuana possession with intent to distribute, and drug paraphernalia possession. He was sentenced to Sing Sing Prison for 75 to 80 years. ” (This was the 60s, remember.) Then the music would play: DUN DA DUN DUN! DUN DA DUN DUN DAAAAAAAAAAH! and Webb would say, “The story you have just seen is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
Which is not the best introduction to Law. It took me a while to look at Law as being something that wasn’t about police and jail.
One way I try to look at Law, in a spiritual context, is to look at the power of boundaries. Boundaries are limits, which no one likes to think about. Especially people who are into occultism, who generally like to talk about boundaries as mostly being something to be broken. But without limits and without boundaries, nothing can be defined or delineated. Everything is just a limitless One.
Well, what’s so wrong with that? asks any good Buddhist or mystic. The problem with that is that here, in this incarnate body, at this time, us humans don’t do so well just sitting around absorbed in the Limitless One. Sooner or later we have to go to the bathroom.
One is not comprehensible until it becomes two, three, and eventually maybe even 10 with 22 paths in between (nodding to Chicken and other types of Quabalists out there).
But returning to physicality. At this point in space/time, we’re incarnated, and being incarnated, as a necessary problem, includes limitations. We get the one body, and in spite of the best we can do, that body can only perform up to certain limits. Granted that we can stretch that limit pretty far, as achievers of all sorts have proven.
But as I get older, I notice those body boundaries and physical limits a little more than I used to. Sometimes a lot more, as evidenced by the presence of Tylenol in my medicine cabinet. Those physical limits define boundaries for me, whether I want them to or not. I have to obey that Law, the Law of time, as strong as the Law of Gravity.
I have a choice as to whether I want to experience that limitation, that boundary, as positive or negative. In order to protect, preserve, and prolong this life that I have, and in order to stick around so I can accomplish as much as I can with this incarnation, I have to respect those boundaries. That is tough and liberating at the same time. If I know where my borders are, then I know where my country is and what my territory is. You can’t be king of the world, but you can be the governor of Missouri.
Law is also protective in nature. Spiritually speaking, Law ensures balance. That seems to be the essence of the Law of Nature, to keep things in balance. Those things that are too strong become weakened, and those things which are not strong either increase in strength and adapt, or they disappear. It’s not a kindness, at least in our view of “kind” or “fair.” It is how it is. Which makes it a boundary, a limit, and a law.
Unbalanced things tend to self-destruct in nature. Things work or they don’t. If I’m out of balance, I either correct, or I live with the consequences, and being out of balance can wear me down bad.
The upside of this is that it shows us that we are part of a whole. If we go out of that whole – or, as Crowley might say, if we go against our True Will – then it doesn’t go well for us. We are part of a whole, which is what I think the Book of the Law is saying when it says, “Every man and every woman is a star.” We are Hadit, within Nuit, in a Thelemic sense. Respecting that whole is part of understanding what Law is.
Part of understanding Law is taking responsibility for our own actions, and our part in that whole. If we don’t take responsibility for our actions, that responsibility is going to be given us anyway. If we don’t accept our part in the whole, then we may end up being resentfully pushed into dealing with our part anyway, and that resentment won’t help us accept our part, our role, our place in the Universe. Or as Thelema might say, our orbit in the universe.
Law as restriction is a fact. But, if you’re a good parent and you’re raising a child, you establish boundaries in order to restrict the child from, say, sticking a fork in an electric socket or jumping off the top of the stairs. The child won’t like these limitations, but in the long run it makes the difference between the child surviving or not.
We may be gods ourselves – “God is Self and Self is God, and God is a person like myself,” as Victor Anderson was wont to say – but we are child gods, gods in training, gods learning ourselves. The laws of nature are there because we are who we are, at this place, at this time. If a child survives into adulthood by observing the rules that benefit his or her survival, then what may we evolve into?
Finally, laws are a form of focus. Setting boundaries helps us to focus on a bigger picture, strange as it seems. A telescope is a tube with lenses and mirrors arranged in a precise order. The telescope is a limited space that allows us to see unlimited space. The restrictions of optics, the defined boundaries of mathematics and the measurement of refractions of light, allows us to see infinity.