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Oliver St. John is the author of fifteen books covering Hermetic and Thelemic philosophy, Qabalah, operative magical Theurgy, the Tarot and astrology. He is a founding member of the Thelemic Magical Collegium, Ordo Astri, and has been a member of the Typhonian Order since 2000 e.v.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Ain Soph Aur: LVX or NOX?

Aleister Crowley defined magick as the “Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”. However, all magical working concerns the manipulation of glamours, and none of these results or the desires that fuel them have any substance or reality in themselves. Hadit is the Magician and the Exorcist, and all phenomena appear spontaneously—there are no causes and no effects.
–From the Preface to Hermetic Qabalah Initiation Workbook (Ordo Astri)

Advaita or Non-Dual reality is often ascribed exclusively to Eastern mysticism, as though it had no part in the Western Hermetic Tradition. And yet, the Hermetic Tree of Life does not begin with Kether, the ‘One’, or Chokmah, the ‘Two’. The three veils of Negativity that precede Kether—Ain, Ain Soph and Ain Soph Aur—have a vital role in all practical working, whether the aim is mystical, magical or both. When we begin meditation on the Tree of Life with Kether, or the Rituals of the Pentagram with the word “IAO”, aspiring upwards, there is a momentary pause. In that pause, we clear our minds of all thought and sensation, and contemplate the Ain as no-thing, no object, no subject—pure emptiness and spaciousness. Then when we utter the first words, Kether is truly formulated from the three veils of the infinite.

Kether and Atziluth as a concentration of the three veils of Negative Existence

Ordo Astri Qabalah: AIN SOPH AUR

The Mexican sorcery or shamanism that is described in the writings of Carlos Castaneda is none too different from the magick of the Hermetic tradition. The trick of following a symbol back to its source with the infinite—analogous thought as opposed to analytical thought—is vital to both traditions. With the Mexican sorcerers, there is more emphasis on the natural world, whereas the urban magician is usually inclined towards more abstract ciphers. The hieroglyphs are ‘out there’ in nature, in rocks, plants, mountains, physical places and their genius loci. However, this is no different than the magick practiced by our ancient Egyptian forebears. Every bird, animal, creature, stone, plant, building or place is a cipher of the infinite. The word “cipher” itself is derived from the Arabic sifre, meaning “zero”, and there is a meaningful correspondence between sifre and sephira or “number”. In the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, Nuit says: “Every number is infinite; there is no difference.”

The teachings of Castaneda’s Don Juan insist that the nagual – the Mexican word for the formlessness and space that is the true nature of matter – is the only source of real power to the magician or shaman. The nagual – more or less equivalent to the thread of the Ain Soph of the Qabalah—is the timeless source of all magick and sorcery. It is said that if a sorcerer has enough power, then he or she can enter the nagual and leave it at any point in space or time. A shaman can thus disappear from one place and in an instant be transported to some other place a thousand miles away. The Mexican shaman gains knowledge of every thing, object, creature or plant, by entering into the formless reality that is veiled by the object. Likewise, the Kemetic and Hermetic magician follows every symbol back to its source with the infinite.

One unique thing about the Hermetic practice is that we start at the top and then draw down the force, before working upwards again. In other traditions, it is more common to begin from the ground and work your way up. So it appears from our practical work that we begin with Kether the Crown, the first emanation of the Tree of Life. Kether more or less approximates with the Atman of Eastern philosophy. The Egyptian god Atem or Atem Ra embodies much the same principle. However, numbers begin from zero, not one. The idea of negative existence or Non-Being is as integral to the Hermetic tradition as it is to Eastern Advaita. In the Qabalah we have three veils of the negative light, the Ain, the Ain Soph and the Ain Soph Aur—No-thing, Limitless Space, and Limitless Light. Kether is the first appearance, and is really a concentration or mirror reflection of those three veils of the infinite. The name of Kether in Atziluth is AHIH, “I Am”, the pure existence, undifferentiated. If we say that name backwards, we declare “Maya”—that the ‘One’ is the root of the delusion of appearances. The Ain, Ain Soph and Ain Soph Aur reflected in Kether is Light in Extension, the LVX formulation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. When this is reversed, we formulate NOX or Night, the threefold eye of Ain, Not-Self or Non-Being. The word Ain is closely related to the letter and word Ayin, the eye of the void.

The Qabalist bears in mind at all times that the sephiroth of the Hermetic Tree exist at four worlds or levels, and that there is a tree in every sphere. The divine world, Atziluth, is more or less the plane of the gods at the cosmic level. The Egyptian gods are Neters, “Principles”, that are the divine expressed in nature by natural laws. Nuit and Hadit, the primary gods of the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, are the most cosmic or absolute of all the gods. As such, their first place on the Hermetic Tree is with the Ain and the Ain Soph. There is some correspondence with Shiva and Shakti of the Eastern Tantras.

On the plane of time and space, the temporal world, all things, objects and creatures appear to be a result of causes. We therefore tend to perceive everything as a chain of cause of effect. Malkuth in Assiah is the world of action and elements, identical to the Sanskrit “karma”. In the cosmic world of Nuit and Hadit, there are no causes and no effects—there is no time. The notion of time where there seems to be a past that is no more, a present that is ‘here’, yet constantly moving forward, and a future that is as yet unborn, does not come about until the midpoint of the Tree, Tiphereth. Even then, time does not fully obtain until we reach Malkuth, the world of manifest appearances. The perception of cause and effect, although real enough on its own plane, is a trick of how we perceive things.

The argument between the advocates of a formless absolute and those that revere gods, divinities, is an exceedingly ancient one. The great Hindu sage Ramakrishna proposed a satisfying solution to that argument. The story goes that one day Ramakrishna encountered some ardent followers of Shiva, and they said to him, “Why are you worshipping this goddess? She is Maya, the great delusion. We are followers of Shiva, who is Formless and absolute, the only Reality.” Ramakrishna went away to think and meditate on this. When he returned, he found the Shivaites again and told them, “You are right! However, so am I! The goddess that I love is the Form of the Formless. Ultimately, the Form and Formless are perfectly equal and amount to an expression of the same Reality.”

The thread of the Ain Soph does not only exist ‘above Kether’, for it is the key to transformation at every conceivable level. How does Geburah, the 5th sephira, become Tiphereth, the 6th? How does the world of Yetzirah become the world of Assiah? It is through the thread of the Ain Soph that weaves throughout the worlds. In the numerical scheme of things, Malkuth is ‘below’ and Kether is ‘above’. And yet, Malkuth is Kether, but after another fashion. The Ain Soph is hidden in Malkuth—and so present at all times—as much as it is ‘above’ even Kether.

In the practice—whether it is a meditation on the Hermetic Tree, the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, or an operation to consecrate a talisman, we start at the ‘top’, the most absolute that we can conceive, then work towards manifestation. And that is the transformation or Great Work that is essential to magick and alchemy, the working upon the plane of matter. When this is reversed, so that each symbol is followed back to its source in the infinite, the Non-Dual reality may be realised. To use the Eastern terminology, which is more familiar to many than the symbolism of the Hermetic tradition, Jnanamudra leads naturally to Mahamudra. As described in “The Rites and Ceremonies of Hormaku”, Ritual Magick Volume II (Ordo Astri):

The adept embraces both heaven and hell, becoming at the last a flame—and then the fire itself. Enoch provides the primary example of magical invisibility since, after the translation of his Ka into spirit or Khu, he was never seen again on earth by mortals. When the adept knows that which he loves even as he is known and loved, a universe is crushed to nought (i.e. returned to Nuit). “That which remains” (Liber AL, II: 9) is not created from the substance of the earth—for it is not of created things. The adept—unless he falls back into time and space at the crossroads—is therefore invisible to all men, even while dwelling in the body of flesh.

The True Will in the tradition of Thelema is a wonderful conception, and can be truly liberating. It is inevitably confused, though, with the personal will that appears to drive choices and decisions that, in turn, seem to affect changes in the material life. If too much personal energy is applied to effecting change on its own plane, that energy becomes depleted and the Ka (vital body) becomes a vampirical force. Although vampires and ghouls are a glamorous concept, especially to those that have never experienced the psychic planes directly, the (relative) reality of such things is unpleasant, to put it mildly.

The Great Work of magick and alchemy is identical, and the work of transformation is effected downwards on the planes, “As above so below”. The world of Assiah is ‘negative’ to the ‘positive’ of the world of Yetzirah. Geburah is negative to Binah and Chesed, but positive to Tiphereth and Hod. To work upon Malkuth, the plane of material illusion, one does not begin with a wish or desire—though such a wish may have served as a lever to turn the magician towards the Great Work. With the Ain or non-conceptual reality there is no subject, no object and no will to do anything or to change anything. There are no things or objects with Ain, there is no-thing to desire or crave and no one to desire it. Yet it is from Ain that magick is worked and it is only by embracing Non-Being that the true Will is known. Magick and mysticism can easily be seen as two entirely different paths, one leading this way, the other leading that way. The magick of the true Will, however, works simultaneously from the Formless to Form, and from Form to the Formless. This mirroring or doubling of the worlds is described in the writings of Kenneth Grant as the “Aeon of Zain”, named after the 17th path of the Hermetic Tree to which the symbol of the sword is referred.

The downward striking action of the Flaming Sword or Lightning Flash—the word or utterance of Kether which is itself a mirror of the void of Ain Soph—automatically invokes a reflex, a current of return from Malkuth. This simultaneous, two-way relationship between the Formless void and its expression in matter and substance weaves the very fabric of anything we can perceive as existence. By travelling to and fro across the planes, a ‘substance’ is created that has an existence outside of the gates of matter and time. This is no different than the immortal stone or elixir of life that was described by medieval alchemists.

Referring once more to the writings of Carlos Castaneda, Don Juan was always insistent that the ‘tricks’ of the shamans, whether to travel over vast distances, to effect magical transmutations upon things, creatures or humans, or to play some humiliating practical joke upon an unwary acolyte, had deadly serious intent. And that intent was the ultimate liberation of the soul from all constraints of matter, time and death. This is no different in any way from the Great Work of the Hermetic tradition, or the goal of liberation of the Advaitans.

Notes, References and Links

1. The diagram of the Ain Soph Aur concentrating Kether depicts the Tree of Atziluth in the colours of the King Scale. The veils of Negative Existence are depicted as three triangles, reflecting the nine letters of Ain Soph Aur. Kether appears spontaneusly in the pupil, void or eye of the infinite as Malkuth of the Ain Soph Aur. The Malkuth of the Tree of Kether or Atziluth is here shown in the place usually alloted to Daath, the cosmic child of Wisdom and Understanding.

2. “Every number is infinite; there is no difference” appears in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, I: 4. Plato and Pythagoras knew the ‘terrible secret’ of Ain, Advaita or the Typhonian Gnosis—see the book, Dreaming Thelema of Kenneth Grant and H. P. Lovecraft.

3. The thread of the Ain Soph is fully described in “The Orbicular Tree”, Ritual Magick–The Rites and Ceremonies of Hermetic Light, Revised 2016 Edition (Ordo Astri).

4. The life and story of Ramakrishna as told by his disciple “M” is translated and introduced by Swami Nikhilananda and published by the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Centre.

5. Carlos Castaneda and Mexican Sorcery: See Journey to Ixtlan, The Eagle’s Gift and other teachings of Don Juan.

6. The Supernal Triad of Kether, Chokmah and Binah on the Hermetic Tree need not be numbered 1, 2 and 3. Kether may be numbered 'Zero' and Chokmah and Binah as 'Two', expressing the Thelemic 0 = 2 Gnosis. See The Law of Thelema—Quantum Yoga.

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© Oliver St. John 2013; revised and updated 2016