The LAM Workshop: A Dialogue

On March 10th, 2007, we attended a workshop given by Michael Staley of the Typhonian O.T.O. on how to work with the entity known as 'LAM'. Before you go any further (if you haven't already) now would be a good time to read Alan's previous article, 'The Origin of LAM'.

ALAN: I have a prejudice: I expect magicians who belong to the O.T.O. or other Crowley-based orders to talk a lot about magick, but do very little. This prejudice is based on experience. I've had a number of unfortunate encounters with Thelemites who are 'working with currents above the abyss' or 'destined to start a new order'.

DUNCAN: I was doubtful too… There we were, in a basement near Covent Garden, sitting cross-legged in a circle, evoking a snake that would travel up our spines, jettison out our heads, and sport among the stars – or, more specifically, the constellation Serpens. Have I really resigned my job to do this? I was thinking. I'm fucking insane. And then I started to think: What would my Dad say, if he saw me? But despite the usual doubt, I was enjoying myself.

ALAN: I could tell. You were hissing in my ear… My impetus for attending the workshop was simple curiosity; like you, I'd tried the method given of invoking LAM given in The LAM Statement, and was interested to see what other methods had been developed, if any, by the Typhonian O.T.O.

The portrait of LAMDUNCAN: Crowley never refers to LAM in any detail in any of his writings, so LAM obviously didn't mean much to him. Yet here was a roomful of people evoking and worshipping a dwarf with a planetoid for a head, because one person to whom LAM meant a lot was Kenneth Grant, founder of the Typhonian O.T.O. Apparently, in 1945, Crowley donated the portrait of LAM to Grant, after Grant obligingly popped out to fetch Crowley some heroin for a particularly nasty asthma attack. (So that's what they put in those blue inhalers…) Obviously, it's in Grant's interest to make as big a deal out of the portrait as possible. All this stuff about "an extraterrestrial drawn by Crowley from life" comes to us purely through Grant's report of what Crowley said. Grant had had his eye on that portrait for a while, supposedly, but Crowley didn't want to give it up. Reportedly, Crowley suggested to Grant both that the portrait was of (or connected with) Aiwass (Crowley's Holy Guardian Angel, which dictated The Book of the Law in 1904); and an extraterrestrial entity that had interfered with the progress of the so-called 'Amalantrah Working'. But the record of the Amalantrah Working that comes down to us is conspicuously incomplete. Nowhere in it is 'LAM' mentioned, so if LAM were a part of this working he must've appeared in the later, unrecorded portions.

ALAN: Yeah, and the first part of the workshop covered all that stuff in a very well-researched talk on the background. I was surprised that Michael Staley included Crowley's retreat on Esopus Island as part of the Amalantrah Working, and considered LAM to be a composite portrait of the motifs involved in Roddie Minor's visions during this working. He also recounted Crowley's past life as a disciple of Lao Tzu, and even mentioned the '49' in the corner of the portrait – although he believed it was some kind of script. (I bit my tongue.) I had arrived at the workshop nursing a hangover, and so struggled to maintain concentration throughout most of the talk; but a copy of the Tao Te Ching on the altar, and the mention of someone sharing my name in relation to an Austin Osman Spare original that adorned the wall, had piqued my interest.

DUNCAN: When the Amalantrah communications had ended, Crowley spent his time on Esopus re-writing the standard English translation of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching. This activity, plus some intense drug-fuelled yoga sessions, led to a devastating mystical experience that Crowley found too harrowing to describe in writing. Ahem, allow me to quote:

[A]n initiation so stupendous that I dare not hint at its Word. It is the supreme secret of a Magus, and it is so awful that I tremble even now… quoted in Richard Kaczynski, Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley (Tempe, Arizona: New Falcon, 2002), p.261.

It was around this time that the portrait of LAM was painted. Now, I did some work with LAM a while back, on the assumption he was an extraterrestrial agency. (I had an idea he was more like some Philip K. Dickian 'machine intelligence', beaming back messages from the future.) I used Grant's prescribed method of gazing at the portrait, meditating on the eyes, then entering into the head of LAM and gazing out again through his eyes. This hadn't yielded much, except for darkness. And deep silence. And the notion of a black sea that I was supposed to cross. Oh – and he told me to wear an ankh around my neck, which I did, but this didn't lead anywhere much, apart from helping overcome my inhibitions regarding male jewellery. 

ALAN: Staley didn't really get much either out of the standard LAM method, nor from working with LAM as an entity; and in light of this, his group have developed the LAM Serpent Sadhana. In other words, they've stuck LAM's massive noggin on the Kundalini snake. The Sadhana consists of raising the 'LAM Serpent' up the spine, one chakra at a time. So they see LAM as a process or a 'gateway' (as they were fond of saying) as opposed to a 'being'. I thought this was very interesting, considering I believe LAM to be a portrait of Lao Tzu. The fact that the Typhonian O.T.O. stress developing work with LAM, instead of simply rehashing the belief that LAM is a 'grey' alien, has gone a little to addressing my Thelemite prejudice. Granted, a few remarks seemed a little naïve, like the idea that a certain 'atmosphere' must be generated within a ritual or the magick will not work, but it wouldn't surprise me if in fifty years time the Typhonian O.T.O. were the only Thelemite organisation still going. Things became interesting when we first tried the Sadhana. I don't know if my hangover had anything to do with it, but I actually experienced physical sensations when activating my chakras using the respective bija (or 'seed') mantras.

DUNCAN: Overall, for me, it was perplexing. Equating LAM with a cosmic state of consciousness derived from the transition up the spinal column of an energy-force symbolised as a snake, robs LAM of his identity. In that case he's just another name for kundalini! The LAM Serpent Sadhana was pretty much like a kundalini yoga session, a lot more wordy, not as challenging, but with much better incense and a nice glass of wine afterwards.

ALAN: For me, the most remarkable ev
ent occurred when the snake reached the middle of my brow, or Ajna Chakra. Now, I know this is either going to sound like bullshit, or some kind of bad joke, but make of it what you will. I had a vision of a very old, thin Chinese man; looking quite pleased with himself, despite the fact his orange robes were far too big for him. Wherever he was, it was sunny, surrounded by trees, and with a monastery close by. The vision couldn't have lasted longer than a couple of seconds. In many cases, I've often been left uncertain as to whether or not what I've 'seen' is a genuine vision or the product of 'lust of result'. I can say, quite emphatically, this was the most certain vision I have ever had. It should be noted that I don't know for sure who the Chinese man was, and although I'm tempted to think it was Lao Tzu, this wasn't imparted in the vision. More importantly, by the end of the exercise, my hangover was greatly reduced.

DUNCAN: I'm more confused about LAM than ever. I evoked him preliminary to my HGA work, at a time when you had already started on the HGA path, and triggered that absolutely mad web of synchronicities that made LAM seem relevant to both of us. LAM, to me, was a 'token HGA' before I understood what an HGA was. Maybe the blackness indicated I wasn't ready at that time for what I was groping towards. Contacting LAM was like trying to tune into a channel that wasn't yet on the air… Or then again, maybe that 'black sea' is a message concerning something that will only make sense now I'm on the other side of the abyss; something that might occur now that I've attained contact with the HGA…?

ALAN: Like you, I couldn't help feeling at first as though LAM had become pretty pointless; why bother sticking his head on the kundalini snake, when you can get the same results without it? However, that night I had very strange dreams indeed: robots made out of buildings, something to do with galaxies and stars, visiting my old house in the future and examining the brick work, and a name or phrase that kept forcefully presenting itself until I woke up and realised it was 'Hadit'. I then spent the rest of the day experiencing déjà vu. In the past, I considered writing a 'Lao Tzu Statement', mostly just for a laugh. But it appears as though working with LAM has necessarily led the Typhonian O.T.O. LAM Lodge to a Taoist approach; indeed, Staley very much equates the HGA and the Aeon of MA'AT (let's not go there) with the Tao. For me, LAM has become the embodiment of the Tao from a particularly Thelemic perspective. Crowley's 'Taoist period' occurred during his grade as Magus, which relates to sphere 2 or Chokmah on the Tree of Life, as does the Tao and Hadit. As such, I've come to consider the LAM Serpent Sadhana as quite a profound magical practice; instead of the pointless mishmash of genuine eastern technique and ridiculous western myth it superficially appears to be.

DUNCAN: I'm still wondering, uneasily, about that devastating realisation that Crowley had in 1918, around the same time he painted that enigmatic portrait… Is that what LAM's got in store for us? I also find it interesting that Michael Staley connects the whole notion of 'extra-terrestrialism' with mystical states of non-duality. In other words, LAM represents 'cosmic consciousness' rather than an alien literally from outer-space.

ALAN: I've been thinking about joining the Typhonian O.T.O.

DUNCAN: Are you going to?

ALAN: Not after you told me they drink each other's man-batter, no.


POSTSCRIPT: Regarding my 'Hadit' dream, I discovered the following quotes in Chapter 2 of The Book of the Law. The speaker is Hadit:

22. I am the Snake that giveth Knowledge & Delight and bright glory, and stir the hearts of men with drunkenness…

26. I am the secret Serpent coiled about to spring: in my coiling there is joy. If I lift up my head, I and my Nuit are one.

In his confessions, Crowley claims the Tao or Way is the attainment of all magical traditions, and the Ankh is a symbol of this in the sense that it is a sandal strap. Indeed, under the LAM portrait in The Voice of Silence, Crowley states:

LAM is the Tibetan word for Way or Path, and LAMA is He who Goeth, the specific title of the Gods of Egypt, the Treader of the Path… 

Does LAM's apparent instruction to Duncan to wear an Ankh around his neck further indicate LAMs synonymity with the Tao, especially as this occured well before any Lao Tzu connection was made? I think maybe LAM was being metaphorical; you must become the Treader of the Path, rather than a gangsta.