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Oliver St. John is the author of books on Hermetic and Thelemic philosophy, Qabalah, operative magical Theurgy, Tarot and astrology. He is a founding member of Ordo Astri, Thelemic Magical Collegium and has been a member of the Typhonian Order since 2000 e.v. New articles and essays are posted at Tantrika Books.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Magick of the Capricorn Solstice

The 26th path is called the Renewing Intelligence. The Tarot trump assigned to the path is The Devil XV. The esoteric title is The Lord of the Gates of Matter: Child of the Forces of Time. The Devil portrayed in most Tarot decks is a hybrid creature with bat-like wings, somewhat akin to Baphomet, the goat-foot God said to be worshipped by the Knights Templars.

Crowley Thoth Tarot Atu XV, The Devil

Crowley-Thoth Tarot trump The Devil XV

Aleister Crowley's design identifies this Devil with Pan, the All-Begetter, and it is a brazenly phallic portrayal. The devilish goat has a third eye in the middle of his forehead. At the top of the Tarot trump is shown the rings of Saturn—for Capricorn is ruled by that planet in astrology. Saturn may also be identified with the ancient Egyptian Set, the ass-headed God of the desert. The desert is a symbol of the spiritual wilderness that seekers of truth and knowledge have entered into since time immemorial. The Hebrew name for the planet Saturn is Shabbathai—and from that word was derived the legendary Sabbath of the Witches. The image of Capricorn represents creative energy in its most material form. To quote from Crowley’s The Book of Thoth:

The card represents Pan Pangenetor, the All-Begetter. It is the Tree of Life as seen against a background of the exquisitely tenuous, complex, and fantastic forms of madness, the divine madness of spring, already foreseen in the meditative madness of winter; for the Sun turns northwards on entering this sign … In every symbol of this card there is the allusion to the highest things and most remote. Even the horns of the goat are spiral, to represent the movement of the all-pervading energy.

According to The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth:

The 26th path of Ayin connects Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun, with Hod, the sphere of Mercury, and is imaged forth by the 15th Tarot key, The Devil. The title of the path afforded by the Sepher Yetzirah is the Renewing Intelligence, referring to the renewal and perpetuity of all created forms. On the human level, the renewal refers to the adaptation that is required so the intellect does not atrophy—for the identification of the personal ego with the forms or constructs that appear in Hod increases the limiting or restricting power of Saturn, the ruler of the zodiacal sign of Capricorn. As it is written in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, I: 41:

The word of Sin is Restriction.

It is the desire to become free of material limitations that drives man to seek freedom, yet it is necessary to understand the principles of nature and their operation in the world before any limits can be transcended—the prime limitation being man himself, and his ignorance of natural laws. The magical powers of the 26th path are the Witches Sabbath (so-called) and the Evil Eye.

The Dweller on the Threshold

Saturn or Set has many forms and can be viewed from infinite perspectives. His nature is something of a paradox. The Tarot picture for the month of Sagittarius, Art XIV, depicts an Angel, while the Tarot Atu for the month of Capricorn commencing with the solstice, depicts a Devil. This Angel and Devil are two sides of one coin, a dual expression of the soul and of that very quaint appellation, the ‘Holy Guardian Angel’. The trickster, the shapeshifter, the adversary, the opposer, the shadow, the stranger, the ‘other’ are all names for Set, Saturn or the Devil, whose role in Initiation is so central that sometimes he is termed as simply, the Lord of Initiation. Another epithet is the Dweller on the Threshold. The following is an instructional piece on the Dweller on the Threshold, reproduced from our course in practical Qabalah:

While it is true that aspirants to any contacted magical Order are tested by what are poetically termed the Lords of Initiation, our students are not asked to take any oath or obligation that would incur a trial by fire. Nonetheless there is something that we call the Dweller on the Threshold. As soon as a foot is placed on the path, the Dweller on the Threshold will appear. The shape or form of this Devil is unique to each individual since it is a phantom produced by the person’s karma.(1) While this deters many from continuing the work they started with such enthusiasm and inner-conviction, it is in fact the first stirring of real Initiation.

Whether Initiation really takes hold or not is largely determined by the way the person responds to the Dweller on the Threshold. There will be help if that help is recognised for what it is. There will most certainly be hindrance, obstruction and even seduction—the powerfully compelling voices that urge us to give this up as it will do us no good, that we have made the wrong choice or there is a better, more authentic discipline further down the road. The Dweller on the Threshold may take the form of some perceived or genuine misfortune, or a general sense of unease or misgiving. It may take the form of a migraine, one of those ‘flu viruses that is hard to shake off, the incessant demands of a spouse, a difficult child, a manipulative mother, a bullying father or boss at work. Money can be a considerable ‘Dweller’—whether there is too little, or too much of it. An outbreak of supernatural phenomena quite often occurs with those that have awakening psychic sensitivity—the ‘things that go bump in the night’. The Initiates are those who persist, that possess the will and the resolve to keep on. Perhaps there is something else too, the “factor infinite and unknown” referred to in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis II: 32. It is said that many are called but few are chosen. Paradoxically it is the aspirant that must use their free will to choose in the first place.

One must strive to understand the Dweller on the Threshold. There is a caveat: The Oath and Task of a Magister Templi is “to interpret every phenomenon as a direct dealing of God with my soul”. The New Age movement with its voracious appetite for assimilating and trivialising the threads from all wisdom traditions has tended to encourage its followers to adopt that particular jnanamudra without any training and preparation and without any supporting philosophical basis or structure. To apply such a method at the beginning of the study and work will bring that study and work to a swift conclusion.


(1) The Sanskrit word karma means “action”. It generally refers to the phenomenon of cause and effect that appears to govern the machinations of the material universe.

© Oliver St. John 2013, 2017

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Sagittarius and the Holy Guardian Angel

The Tarot trump for the 25th path, the Intelligence of Probation, is Art XIV, depicting the Holy Guardian Angel performing a work of transmutation. The full title of the path is The Daughter of the Reconcilers: the Bringer-forth of Life

Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot Atu Art XIV


According to The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth:
The 25th path of Samekh connects Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun, with Yesod, the sphere of the Moon, and is imaged forth by the Tarot key, Art XIV. The title of the path (Sepher Yetzirah) is the Intelligence of Probation or Trial. It is only by test, experiment, trial and experience that the harmony and beauty of Tiphereth can become permanently fixed in Yesod, the Foundation in the natural soul or body for the Ruach, the intelligent mind. The Tarot trump for the path depicts the Holy Guardian Angel performing a work of alchemy on the soul. The operation of the Great Work can only proceed if the aspirant practices detachment, indifference to phenomena, and refuses to identify their self with the actions of the personality and the events that seem to be taking place around. The ‘indifference’ is not to be thought of as lack of attention; in fact, the level of observation is intensified through the meditation practice. The magical power of the 25th path is the Power of Transmutations.
The deity we invoke when the Sun enters Sagittarius is the Egyptian Nephthys, sister of Isis. Nephthys is the principle of dematerialisation (waning moon) and dissolution of the ego or ‘body of the king’—a process that must begin no sooner than a foot is placed on the path. For that reason, in traditional mysticism the Intelligence of Probation is often likened to a Dark Night of the Soul. The 25th path crosses the veil called Paroketh.

The Holy Guardian Angel

Most, if not all religions, have sensibly avoided trying to define ‘God’. As soon as the Absolute is explained in dualistic terms, ambiguous limitations are imposed. No less the Holy Guardian Angel, a term that has long been used in the Western Mystery Tradition. The Holy Guardian Angel is the name given to the Messenger or Communicant of the divine Absolute. As with God, it is wise to limit ourselves to negative terms—what the Holy Guardian Angel is not. All attempts to rationalise the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel are reductionist and misleading. Aleister Crowley coined the term deliberately, to send the rationalist scuttling for cover and to defeat the complex metaphysical arguments that might otherwise arise. Scriptures and magical grimoires use allegory to convey truth that cannot be put into words. The promises of unlimited treasure, of worldly and supernatural powers, have lured many fools while at the same time providing evidence for the sceptic that it is all superstitious nonsense.

There are some deities that closely fulfil the divine messenger role of the Holy Guardian Angel, of which a few are: Dionysus, Jesus, Krishna and Horus. These names are perhaps religious and cultural modifications of one type, a god that is able to appear (or to incarnate) in human form. The method of knowing God through devotion to a deity was put forward by Aleister Crowley in his Liber Ararita (The Equinox III: 1). Crowley was emphatic, however, that careful distinction be made between communion with a deity and the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, which is considered to take place on a different plane.

The Vision of the Holy Guardian Angel is assigned to Malkuth yet the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel is the exclusive task of an Adeptus Minor—one who has attained the grade or degree that corresponds to Tiphereth, the solar centre of the Hermetic Tree of Life. It is impossible not to use mystical allegory: the ‘bride’ or soul in Malkuth, the daughter or princess of the Kingdom, must be wedded to the ‘prince’ or Holy Guardian Angel in Tiphereth. Experiencing the solar centre of the Hermetic Tree does not involve ordinary clairvoyance or magical powers, so-called. The “Heart Girt with a Serpent” is a metaphor for the impersonal cosmic principle fully realised as the sole source of personal existence. The ancient Egyptians called this kind of knowledge the Intelligence of the Heart. Such knowledge is not located in the mind, the intellect. It cannot be arrived at through a process of reason or argument unless the sword of reason is turned against itself—a path that seemed to have dire consequences for the philosopher Nietzsche.

Where belief begins, knowledge ends. Faith and belief are quite different words in the language of mysticism. Faith in the spiritual sense has more to do with acceptance of the path than adherence to dogma or fixation on some particular class of vision. The Gnostics ascertained that faith (pistis) is necessary to open the heart so that knowledge (gnosis), if it should come, will find a place to dwell. In the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis I: 58, the cosmic principle Nuit informs her disciple that:
I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death; peace unutterable, rest, ecstasy; nor do I demand aught in sacrifice.
The Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel may come about through subtle changes of consciousness over a long period of time, or it may come as a shattering realisation—or a series of such explosive revelations. There is no architectural blueprint that can be applied to all. The attainment of this primary goal of magick will not confer omniscience—neither does any magical grade or degree—and unless the discipline and vigilance are continued, there is still a risk of falling from the path. What does this mean, “falling from the path”? There is what Crowley called the “Black Brother”, a term that can apply equally to the magician or mystic that has lost heart, or the devotee of material sciences that seeks to suppress spiritual knowledge through dogmatic denial of its existence. Either way, the person becomes shut up in their ego, and all the ‘magical powers’ are utilised towards reinforcing the delusion—whether knowingly or not. In his book Nightside of Eden, Kenneth Grant likened this to obsession by the Qliphoth of the 12th path of the Hermetic Tree, the path of Tarot Atu I, The Magician.(1) All the force of the will is concentrated on the ego, and is utilised for the reinforcement of the delusion of personal identity.

It is said that all paths end in Mystery. For the mystic or magician that stays the path, whatever their natural inclination may be, surviving the ordeals of Initiation defines that path in a way that only they can truly understand. When the knowledge is firmly embedded in the heart through prolonged meditation and continued aspiration and vigilance, and is carried through into the daily life and work, then Nuit’s ‘kiss’ may at last confer the gift of certainty to her chosen one.


(1) Kenneth Grant, Nightside of Eden, Part Two, Chapter 2 (Starfire Publishing).

© Oliver St. John 2013, 2017

Books by Oliver St. John

Monday, 4 November 2013

Tzaddi is not the Star

The placing of the Star of Nuit, Aquarius, on the 15th path is to end the ages old confusion between the blood of material generation and the pure essence that is the substance of spiritual regeneration.
The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth

Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot trump The Star XVII

The magical mysteries of blood and lineage, or succession, are best explained through an examination of the 15th and 24th paths on the Hermetic Tree of Life, traditionally corresponded to Aquarius and Scorpio. The essence of creative force arises in pure darkness, according to the Yetziratic text for the fifteenth path of The Star XVII. This path, the Constituting Intelligence, connects Chokmah (Wisdom) with Tiphereth (Beauty) on the Tree of Life. The “pure darkness” is the thread of Ain Soph, the formless, limitless space that is the numinous source of all. The power of manifesting or begetting by division is the primal power of the Goddess. The fifteenth path therefore corresponds to Nuit, the Goddess of the stars. In Liber AL vel Legis, I: 59, Nuit declares:
My incense is of resinous woods and gums; and there is no blood therein: because of my hair the trees of Eternity.
Incense and fragrance are ancient metaphors for pure spirit or essence—that “essence of creative force that arises in pure darkness”. The darkness itself is a metaphor, since it is more than merely an absence of light. There were two trees in the Garden of Eden: the Tree of Life or visible light, and the Tree of Death, Night or Nuit—the invisible light of Non-Being. ‘Blood’ is the self-replicating power or energy that moves through all incarnated creatures, yet the oracle of Nuit asserts that her creative essence has “no blood therein”. Her function is not to perpetuate life forms on the physical plane. For this reason it is necessary to counterchange the Tarot trumps on the 15th and 28th paths of the Hermetic Tree. The “window” letter of the fifteenth path is then associated with Aquarius and our Lady of the Stars, Nuit-Babalon. As it is cryptically revealed by Nuit in Liber AL vel Legis I: 57:
All these old letters of my Book are aright; but Tzaddi is not the Star.
Aries, previously assigned to the 15th path, is the sign of the fire of blood, the blood of the Lamb as depicted in Christian mysticism. Aquarius, on the other hand, is the sign of the Waters of Space, typified by the Egyptian hieroglyph of two streams of water or radiation. Nuit is the Egyptian Goddess that is particularly concerned with the occult or hidden side of nature. Her mysteries are those of sex and generation—not the generation of physical progeny, but the generation of the magical ‘child’ that is the true son or Sun-Star of Nuit.


The root of the Hebrew word for “resemblance” or “imagination” (DMINVI) means, “blood”. It is the self-replicating formula of all created beings personified by the ancient Egyptian God Besz. The Imaginative Intelligence of path 24 works from the centre of the self in Tiphereth towards the desire plane of Netzach in order to bring about new modes of expression, vehicles for the self. On the way of return to Nuit, such vehicles are transcended and broken down—thus the full title of the Tarot trump associated with the 24th path is Child of the Great Transformers: Lord of the Gates of Death. The activity of the 24th path comes through the power of projecting mental images. The self-replicating formula is related to the creation of a magical ‘child’(1):
This takes place through emergence, the process by which a network of interactions between individuals becomes an entity in itself, forming a complex adaptive system transmitting a particular current, vibration or wave pattern.
Therein is hidden the key to the immortal stone, the elixir of life. Not a remedy for the inevitable afflictions of the mortal life, but the opening of the way that leads to ultimate transcendence of the earth-bound limitations of time and death. When we relate this “network of interactions between individuals” to the work of a magical Order it becomes apparent why faith in Apostolic Succession has cast a shadow over organised occult communities for centuries. To seek external validation or legitimisation is magical failure. It is the inner plane contacts that are relevant and vital to the Great Work.
Behold! the rituals of the old time are black.
Liber AL vel Legis II: 5


(1) See The Law of Thelema—QuantumYoga

© Oliver St. John 2013, 2017

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Scorpio: Lord of Death and Resurrection

The Tarot trump for Scorpio is Death XIII, which is placed on the 24th path of Nun on the Hermetic Tree of Life. The esoteric title of the key is Child of the Great Transformers: Lord of the Gates of Death. The dual nature of Scorpio is depicted in the design of the Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot card: A skeletal figure is wielding a scythe. With the sweep of the scythe bubbles appear in which new forms are created.

Crowley Thoth Tarot Atu Death XIII

Crowley Thoth Tarot Trump Death XIII: Lord of Death and Resurrection

Death is shown as a dancing figure, destroying form and structure while simultaneously recreating it, for in nature life and death are two sides of one coin. The card is therefore a symbol of transformation and regeneration, very apt for the months of October and November in the northern hemisphere. In terms of magical alchemy, the figure sums up the chemical changes called putrefaction. It is said that the base metal iron can only be changed into gold during the month when the Sun traverses Scorpio. In astrology the fixed water sign Scorpio is ruled by fiery Mars, the energy that breaks down form into its elements so that new life can be created. Iron is the Hermetic correspondence of Mars, while gold is that of the Sun.

Scorpio has three symbols: the Scorpion, the Eagle and the Snake. The Hebrew letter nun, ascribed to the path of Scorpio, superseded the much older letter nahash—“a serpent”—that in later times became identified with evil. While the Scorpion symbolises the voluntary submission to inevitable change, the undulations of the Snake symbolise the dual dance of life and death. The Eagle is said to be the higher form of Scorpio, since it has always represented ascendancy over matter or material form. Putrefaction gives off gas or vapour, and this has its parallel in occultism with spirituous non-material substances that are nonetheless tangible to clairvoyance. Ectoplasm or etheric matter is known to act as a medium between the physical world and more tenuous planes of existence.

The head of the Eagle is used as a symbol for alchemical distillation—it therefore represents the sublimation of gross matter. Scorpio is the 8th house or area of influence in astrology. The 8th house governs matters of sex, death and legacies. It therefore sums up all of our memory and experience; at the same time the very nature of Scorpio urges us towards change and transformation.

Scorpio and The Flaming Sword

Here is the entry for path 24, Scorpio, from The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth:

The 24th path is The Child of the Great Transformers: the Lord of the Gate of Death
The 24th path of Nun connects Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun, with Netzach, the sphere of Venus, and is imaged forth by the Tarot key Death XIII; the 24th path is called (in the Sepher Yetzirah) the Intelligence of Resemblance or the Imaginative Intelligence; the root of the Hebrew word for “resemblance” or “imagination” (DMINVI) means “blood”; it is the self-replicating formula of all created beings personified by the ancient Egyptian God Besz; the Imaginative Intelligence of path 24 works from the centre of the self in Tiphereth towards the desire plane of Netzach in order to bring about new modes of expression, vehicles for the self; on the way of return such vehicles are transcended and broken down—thus the full title of the Tarot trump associated with the 24th path is Child of the Great Transformers: Lord of the Gates of Death; the activity of the 24th path comes through the power of projecting mental images; if in the attempt to fulfil desire on its own plane too much occult emphasis is placed on the action or ‘doing’ aspect of the human will then unwitting obsession is all too frequently the result; the magical power of the 24th path is that of Necromancy

The self-replicating formula is related to the creation of a magical ‘child’(1):
The Typhonian Mysteries related to the primordial vibration of the Mother lie at the root of the propagation of life and consciousness. This unfolds by means of self-replication. Self-replication, the very principle of wave patterns, is the core impulse of the Khabs represented by the dwarf god, Besz. The dwarf-self, Khabs or Ape of Thoth are symbols of the bindu seed placed within an organism for the purpose of self-replication. This takes place through emergence, the process by which a network of interactions between individuals becomes an entity in itself, forming a complex adaptive system transmitting a particular current, vibration or wave pattern.
The Khu is the environment, whether physical or non-physical, into which travels the Ophidian wave informing the self-replicating, self-evolving system. The complexity of an environment is related to the level of sentience or self-awareness of its individual components, as sentience allows the organism to define its status in relation to its environment. The formula of the conscious self-replication or ‘aping’ of the dwarf-self is that of the opening of the Eye of Set, the perineal chakra through which sentience extends backwards to the preconceptual energies of the star [Khabs]. It thus allows them to penetrate the self-replicating system in the form of a child from the belly of the individual organism, a child whom the Initiate may then follow to the end of time.
The creation of such a child is indicated in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, I: 55–56:
The child of thy bowels, he shall behold them. Expect him not from the East, nor from the West; for from no expected house cometh that child.
Aleister Crowley nonetheless sought after a physical human son that would continue his lineage.


(1) Text quoted from The Law of Thelema—Quantum Yoga.

© Oliver St. John 2013, revised 2017

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Equinox of Maat: the Balance of the Year

When the Sun enters Libra at the Equinox, the days and nights are equal in length. Soon the days will be shortening and the nights lengthening as we, in the northern hemisphere, journey towards the winter solstice. In the southern hemisphere the situation is reversed; the days will be lengthening and the nights shortening, as the journey begins towards the height of summer.

Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot Atu Adjustment VIII

Equinox of Maat: Thoth Tarot trump Adjustment VIII

The Tarot trump for Libra is Adjustment VIII, depicting the Egyptian goddess Ma’at. A young woman is masked and bearing on her forehead the uraeus serpent. She is crowned with the ostrich plumes of Ma’at, and is perfectly poised upon her toes. In her hands is a magical sword, with the point downwards. She is The Daughter of the Lords of Truth, the Ruler of the Balance. She represents the absorption and transmutation of all experience in the flowing forth of continuous manifestation. She is the mistress of creation and destruction, and the balance of light and darkness. She is cosmic law, and the law of nature: truth, twofold, and the immutable law of the universe. Her powers are the works of Justice and Equilibrium.

Black and White
Day and Night
North and South
East and West
Let us find Ma’at in all things!

There is a popular notion that any affliction suffered in this life must owe to some ‘karmic debt’ incurred in a previous life. Let us dispel this myth, for the rule of Ma’at is not in any way a moral or ethical law. The law of nature is exact; we must not confuse this with any notions of human justice based on morality—if we do then we confuse this idea of karma and make little tin gods of ourselves.

The Oracle of Maat

Behold! I am the Eye of my father, Ra. I am the one in whom the word is accomplished. I am the Bride of Tahuti and the Measure of the Universe. I am truth, and the feather is my symbol. To pass my door, you must justify every part of your soul, and you must visit the beautiful fields of the grasshoppers. You shall bathe in the pool where the Sailors of Ra in his sun-boat bathe. Purify yourself in my name, and come before me as Horus Triumphant. For I stand upon one side of Ra in the ark of the heavens and Tahuti stands upon the other. And unless you have found the secret that I have hidden in the earth, then you shall not pass my gates. But if you know all these things, and if you have found me that dwells in the heart of Ra, and if you are pure—then Tahuti shall call your name! And you shall be known in the palace of the starry ones, and shall live forever and forever. (1)

Ma’at is the goddess that presides over the weighing of the heart ceremony, and is the “Straight One”, the principle of Perfect Truth and the Balance of the Universe. She is clothed in emerald green and wears the crown of double plumes. The feather is her symbol, and the Ankh of Life. Ma’at is the Eye of Ra, the Sun, and is the bride and consort of Thoth or Tahuti, the Egyptian Hermes-Mercury, the god of magick and of magick words and writing—the Word or Logos. The Neters or Gods are the personification of impersonal principles. Ma’at, especially, is a cosmic principle. The ancient Egyptians loved puns, the play on words, and there is one here, where Ma’at says, “If you have found me that dwells in the heart of Ra…” One of the epithets of Ma’at was “The Me”, the Measure of all things. One must find the measure, the “me” that is Ma’at , in the heart, the centre of all.

Ma’at is the Eye of Ra, and the secret hidden in the heart of Ra—she is his daughter, after all, and the apple of his eye. As with students, a good pupil is one in the centre of the eye, one that beholds, yet is a void, an emptiness—therefore receptive, ‘one who beholds’, capable of true meditation. Also one who hears—the human ear was shaped by the sounds, not the other way round. The heart itself is the void place of spirit. An Egyptian hieroglyph for the heart (Ab) is a pot or vessel and the handles are the ‘ears’. The ‘eye’ is the emptiness inside. Nuit wears a pot on her head, her name, “Nu”; she is the Holy Graal. Everything about Ma’at is double, and the Egyptians usually had two of everything, male and female Gods, Neters, everything. Ma’at presides over the Hall of Dual Manifestation, and everything in nature is double, there is ‘no-one’ in truth. The whole power of Egyptian magical spells is in the words; to know they are true words and to speak them forth is the perfect Truth that is equal to Ma’at.

Equinox: The Egyptian Goddess Maat, Ruler of the Balance


The depiction of Ma’at with a single feather is from Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, Volume 1, pp. 418–419.

(1) The Oracle of Ma’at is from Ritual Magick—The Rites and Ceremonies of Hermetic Light, Volume VI.

© Oliver St John 2013; revised 2017 

Other Books by Oliver St John

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Virgo: Lamp and Staff of the Hermit

Virgo is the sign of the pure maiden, the inviolate sceptre—which is all a way of veiling with words and images an inexpressible truth. The yod, bindu, flame or seed-star that is the letter of the 20th path and Tarot trump The Hermit IX on the Hermetic Tree is Hadit, the giver of Life, the animator of all things that live and move and that have their being.

Thoth Tarot Atu The Hermit IX

Hermetic Light Magick of Thelema Blog: Tarot Atu The Hermit IX

The Tarot image for this path has the esoteric title, Prophet of the Eternal: Magus of the Voice of Power. According to The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth, in the commentary on the wisdom texts of the Sepher Yetzirah:

The 20th path of Yod connects Chesed, the sphere of Jupiter, with Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun, and is imaged forth by the Tarot key, The Hermit IX. The path is called the Intelligence of Will since it is the stream of light or intelligence that forms the innermost structures of the mind or intellect in man; the Intelligence of Will is called thus “because it forms all patterns, and to know this Intelligence is to know the whole reality of the Primordial Wisdom”. The knowledge of the spiritual will constitutes the full realisation of the cosmic purpose or meaning in all things; on this path arises the possibility of knowing and doing the True Will, as it is termed in the cults of Thelema.

The Tarot picture for this path depicts a hermit, for Hermes is the Greek deity that the Romans called Mercury. Hadit is Mercury in the highest—or most simple or abstract—form. Mercury is the planetary ruler of the astrological sign of Virgo, and Virgo is unique in the zodiac in that Mercury rules her sign and is also exalted therein. The lamp of the hermit is a metaphor for the Hermetic Light, which he veils from the world. His staff is the energy, the Occult Force, which he applies with strict vigilance and economy of means towards the Great Work. Behind him is Cerberus the three-headed hound of hell. Cerberus, the son of Typhon, doubles as both scourge and Guardian of the Gate—for he prevents those that have become ensnared in the underworld from ever escaping.

The mundane character of Virgo, the mutable earth sign, is all about the particulars, the details of every-thing. The conceptual mind, driven forwards by the scourge of Hadit, yet thrown back into the abyss by the son of Typhon, breeds and begets more and more infernal children. Thus Conceptual Art is now the predominant doctrine in today’s academic institutions. It is a sign or omen that the analytical mind has attained its full immersion in the realm of matter at its lowest or most dense level.

At this material extremity of the human mind, the situation depicted in the minor Tarot card called the Ten of Swords comes about. The human heart or soul is broken up into fragments that are blasted, blown and scattered through the echoing emptiness of space—torn apart by the divisive power of the sword of the reasoning mind.

As a race, we are still in the aftermath of the explosion of the first atom bomb—a point that was frequently made by Kenneth Grant in his Typhonian Trilogies. We live in an age that trembles before the terrifying shadow of the Ape of Thoth as it is depicted in the Tarot trump assigned to Hermes-Mercury. The trauma of that tremendous atom-smashing event, that has rended apart far more than even physical matter, now continues to reverberate on the plane of mind. The cell phones, the computers and other digital devices that are now the plague-fetishes of our times are no more than ‘particular’ vehicles of expression for the lasting imprint of that hellish atomic atrocity upon the collective intelligence of humanity. That singular event demonstrated that the most clever and subtle scientific minds the race could produce were only, in the end, capable of producing senseless, barbaric mass-destruction on a scale never before imagined.

The fragmented atom sweeps matter away in a titanic and lightning-fast cloud of fire and smoke, yet the very first test of its unleashed destructive power tore open the fabric of space and time. A crack was then opened up in the delicate membrane that encircles the planet—the invisible egg of light that once served as a barrier or ring-pass-not against the intrusion of those from ‘Outside’, as Kenneth Grant terms it. That is why The Fool 0 that Frieda Harris had painted for the highest path of Aleph on the Hermetic Tree wears a mask of madness and horror—for he has opened a veil that was once so tightly drawn to appear seamless, and therefore invisible to mortal eyes. What is the secret that the Fool beholds? It is himself that he sees, hurtling downwards towards the abyss.

The configuration of stars and planets signifies that we have truly entered a new era. It is an era in which every Initiate must conserve all of their energy and direct it towards the Great Work. Only then will they succeed in rising up above that which is metaphorically termed, the waters of the Nile flood.

© Oliver St. John 2013, 2018

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Friday, 26 July 2013

Lion-serpent of Summer

Here is the comment on the 19th path of the Hermetic Tree, Teth, from The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth:

Thoth Tarot Atu Lust XI

The Flaming Sword: Thoth Tarot Lust XI

Path 19, Teth: The Daughter of the Flaming Sword

The 19th path connects Chesed, the sphere of Jupiter, with Geburah, the sphere of Mars, and is imaged forth by the Tarot key Lust XI. The path is called the Intelligence of the Secret of all Spiritual Activities or the Occult Intelligence. The 19th path is the first that is wholly beneath the Abyss when descending, and the last before the Abyss when ascending the Tree; it is therefore the secret ruler and governor of all that is below, even as it receives the influence (mezla) from that which is above. The earlier versions of the 11th Tarot trump, such as the first printed Tarot of Marseilles, depict a curious form of what the ancient Egyptians termed as the “Opening of the Mouth”. The woman appeared to be forcing open the mouth of a lion or other beast. This is an image of the tearing open of the Gate of Knowledge, Da’ath—something that requires great spiritual strength and courage to do without suffering calamity, since there is a high risk of obsession by the flow of images on this high-powered path. The secret of the path is that material nature veils or conceals the numinous source of all. The magical power of the 19th path is the Power of Training Wild Beasts.

The “Training of Wild Beasts” is the art of deriving oracles from snakes and women. The power of hypnotism is also associated with the snake. The snake of light extends from the base of the spine to the medulla oblongata where the spinal column enters the brain at the back of the head. Occultly, the serpent then forms the third eye chakra. The secret of the 19th path is known to magi, and has been intuited by those that have travelled the intellectual path to its limits. To those seeking the realms beyond the Abyss, every bodhisattva is a lion in the road, an obstacle to the attainment of Gnosis. To be saved by Crowley is no better than being sent to hell by Jesus. Below the Abyss, “There is help and hope in other spells” (Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, II: 70).

© Oliver St. John 2013, 2017

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Chariot to the Stars

Cancer is the 18th path on the Hermetic Tree and is the intelligence that links Binah, seat of Understanding and Neschemah, with Geburah, Mars. The title of the path is Child of the Powers of Water: Lord of the Triumph of Light. The Thoth Tarot trump is The Chariot VII, a design that shows Binah as the Holy Graal and Geburah as the furnace of the Sun, the blood or energy that is poured into the Cup by the magician.

Thoth Tarot Atu The Chariot VII

Tarot of Thoth: The Chariot VII

The sixteen subquadrants of the elemental Watchtowers of the Universe are depicted as the composite Sphinxes that draw the Chariot forward. The letter of the Tarot Atu is cheth, “a fence or enclosure”. Cheth spelled in full (ChITh) equals 418, the number of Abrahadabra, which is emblazoned upon the Chariot’s canopy. Aleister Crowley’s solar interpretation of Abrahadabra as “Father-Sun-Hadit” conceals a lunar formula, that of the magical spirit-body called the Khu. In cosmic aspect the Khu is the company of heaven referred to in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis I: 1–4:
Had! The manifestation of Nuit. The unveiling of the company of heaven. Every man and every woman is a star. Every number is infinite; there is no difference.

Path 18 and The Flaming Sword

Here is the commentary on the 18th path of Cancer from The Flaming Sword:

The 18th path is The Child of the Powers of the Waters: the Lord of the Triumph of Light.

The 18th path is imaged forth by the Tarot key The Chariot VII. The path of Cheth is called the Intelligence of the House of Influence. Cheth means “a wall” or “enclosure”; from the interior, runes of secret knowledge flow from Binah via the Abyss. Secreted in these shades or stars are the keys of union with the queen of space. The power or intelligence of the 18th path is experienced as consciousness that flows like water from the innermost depths, symbolised as the walled City of the Pyramids (Vision and the Voice, Aleister Crowley). Much of the labour of the Great Work is to make the frail human personality a suitable vehicle for the influx of cosmic consciousness that would otherwise overwhelm it. The preliminary work is to train the mind and increase the power of concentration, to hold an image steady in the mind, like an unwavering flame. The mental powers are then applied to the building of a ‘Chariot’ or Merkebah, as depicted in the Tarot trump—a vehicle of will, called the resurrection body in mysticism, by which the secret paths of the Hermetic Tree may be negotiated. The Holy Ghost and the Holy Graal are cognate terms; the Cup of Babalon or Binah is the receptacle from which the feminine spirit, Khu or Shekinah, is imbibed, producing divine intoxication—not to be confused with ordinary drunkenness. The magical power of the 18th path is the Power of Casting Enchantments.

© Oliver St. John 2013, 2017

Friday, 24 May 2013

Magick of the Planetary Hours

In 777 we find ‘correspondences’ of many classes of being with the various types of operation, so that we know what weapons, jewels, figures, drugs, perfumes, names, etc. to employ in any particular work. But it has always been assumed that the invoked force is intelligent and competent, that it will direct itself as desired without further ado, by this method of sympathetic vibrations. The necessity of timing the force has been ignored; and so most operations, even when well performed as far as invocation goes, are as harmless as igniting loose gunpowder.
Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice, Chapter XIV
The Chaldean system of planetary hours is sometimes used for the timing of magical operations such as the consecration of talismans. The order of planets and ruling angels for the days of the week and the hours of each day are the same as the order of planets or chakras on the Hermetic Tree of Life. The hours and days follow the order of the Lightning Flash: Saturn (Binah), Jupiter (Chesed), Mars (Geburah), Sun (Tiphereth), Venus (Netzach), Mercury (Hod) and the Moon (Yesod). Once we arrive at the Moon, corresponding to the sephira of Yesod, the cycle begins again at Saturn or Binah. The order of the planets or mundane chakras on the Hermetic Tree is worked out according to the speed of the planets, relative to the earth. Saturn is the slowest moving while the Moon is the fastest.

The Hermetic Tree of Life
The Hermetic Tree of Life from Hermetic Qabalah by Oliver St. John

Apart from the timing of more or less significant magical operations, such as the consecration of a talisman, the planetary hours system is a means of reserving particular hours in the day for the preparations that are necessary for such workings. The ordering of time according to the sevenfold Hermetic principle also encourages spontaneous magical acts and observances at all times of day and night, without the need to plan weeks or months in advance.

The example I give below is that of the hours of Mercury. Taking the trouble to work out the hours arithmetically is a good place to begin a fruitful relationship with Tahuti, the god of Mercury.

To consecrate a talisman of Mercury we need to do this on Wednesday, the day of Mercury. The angel to invoke will be Raphael, the angel of Wednesday, Mercury, and the hour of Mercury. Next, we need to find the time of the planetary hours of Mercury and Raphael, so that we begin our ritual at the most auspicious time.

Table of the Planetary Hours of Mercury and Wednesday

A planetary day begins at sunrise—which is locationally sensitive—and ends at sunset, when the hours of night commence. The day hours and the night hours are simply divided into 12 sections each. Planetary hours are not, therefore, the same as ordinary clock-time hours. While a clock-time hour is always 60 minutes, a planetary hour varies in length according to the time of year, and is only 60 minutes long at the spring and autumn equinoxes. At the summer solstice, the planetary hours of day will be considerably longer than the planetary hours of night. At the winter solstice this is reversed, so the planetary hours of day will be shorter than the hours of night. Assuming we are wanting to find planetary hours for the day:

1. Find your local time of sunrise and sunset.

2. Count how many hours there are between sunrise and sunset.

3. Divide that number by 12 (convert the hours into minutes to make this easy).

4. The result of that division by 12 is the length of a planetary hour by day.

5. Now that you know the length of the planetary hour, all you have to do to get the 8th hour corresponding to Mercury on a Wednesday is to multiply the planetary hour by 8, convert that to clock-time and subtract one planetary hour to find the time that the hour of Mercury begins. Using this method, you may also construct a table of the hours for the day and night in question, including the time that each planetary hour begins.

Example: Calculating the Hours of Mercury

Let us say we want to do an operation of Mercury on Wednesday 22nd May 2013. The Sun is in Gemini, a good position, since Mercury rules Gemini. We are not going to look at other astrological factors, though, for reasons I shall explain later. We might want to take into consideration the phase of the Moon, however. If this is a constructive working, then we need the Moon to be waxing towards the full. We are in luck; the Moon is indeed waxing in Libra for most of the day. There is one other astrological factor we need to be aware of. If Mercury happens to be retrograde, then we need to wait until the little devil goes direct again—unless the ritual or talisman is an operation concerned with the past. Fortunately, Mercury is not retrograde at this time, so we can go ahead.

Following the five points above, I find that my local time of sunrise and sunset will be 5.30 am and 9.08 pm. The planetary day is therefore 15 hours and 38 minutes long. I convert this into 938 minutes and then divide by 12, which gives me a planetary hour of 78 minutes. The 1st hour on a Wednesday is always the hour of Mercury, but if I don’t want to be doing my ritual at 5.30 in the morning then I need to find the 8th hour of Mercury. I multiply: 78 x 8 = 624 minutes, which is 10 hours and 24 minutes after sunrise. Adding this to the time of sunrise (5.30 am) gives me a time of 3.54 pm. I remember to subtract one (planetary) hour of 78 minutes to find the time the 8th hour of Mercury begins. My ritual needs to begin at 2.36 pm.

There is a simple rule if we want to find the planetary hour by night. The planetary day hour added to the planetary night hour always results in 120 minutes, so in this case we simply subtract 78 minutes from 120 to find that the length of the planetary hours by night is 42 minutes.

So long as we are consistent, and work with and understand the rules of whatever system we are using, the tendency is that our magical operation will be successful. Of course, if the goal requires a material outcome, then we need to be careful what we ask for—because we might get it. And, as with a divination, the terms must be precisely worded, so there is no room for ambiguity.

Angels of the Planets and Days

Michael is the Angel of Sunday and the Hours of the Sun
Gabriel is the Angel of Monday and the Hours of the Moon
Zamael is the Angel of Tuesday and the Hours of Mars
Raphael is the Angel of Wednesday and the Hours of Mercury
Sachiel is the Angel of Thursday and the Hours of Jupiter
Anael is the Angel of Friday and the Hours of Venus
Cassiel is the Angel of Saturday and the Hours of Saturn

The first hour following sunrise on Sunday is ruled by the Angel of the Sun. The first hour following sunrise on Monday is ruled by the Angel of the Moon—and so on.

Objections to the use of Planetary Hours

It was expressed with utmost forcefulness in the book of The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage that tables of planetary hours—associated in those times with fortune tellers, necromancers, psychic mediums and the like—are abhorrent to the aspirant of the High and Sacred Magick. S. L. MacGregor Mathers, who translated Sacred Magic, is thought to have adopted this view. Aleister Crowley, who held Sacred Magick in high esteem—though never completed the magical operation—also adopted the view. The ‘real’ planetary hours are when the planet is actually visible in the heavens, preferably somewhere between the Ascendant and the MC or Midheaven in an astrological horoscope. The argument is that planetary hours are a purely arbitrary notion, and bear no relevance to the actual positions of the planets.

The principle objection of the 15th century mythical mage Abramelin was that people used tthe tables of hours superstitiously and did not know what they were doing. That applies to anything in magick. We need to know what we are doing and why we are doing it. The table of planetary hours then becomes a powerful and practical method of organising time; it is a discipline that consecrates particular days and hours to a sevenfold symbol of the universe.

Applying the rules of astrological dignity means that with some planets we may have to wait several years until the right conditions come about. And that is where those ‘abominable’ tables of planetary hours begin to be an attractive proposition. Our days of the week are seven, and we still name them after seven gods or “spirits before the throne”. We live our lives according to arbitrary parameters. There are many systems of astrology, all equally valid, yet each one brings forth different results. All conceptions of mind are an imposition upon the infinite. Dividing our time to reflect the Hermetic scheme of things is a work of magical creativity, of imposing a will to produce order from chaos, As above, so below. The tables of hours are based on the Pythagorean model of the Tree of Life, which continues to form the basis of Hermetic magical working. Moreover, the time-sensitive planetary hours—where the hours of day increase from spring equinox to summer solstice and diminish from autumn equinox to winter solstice—are a means of anchoring occult practice in nature.

The virtue of the system is its simplicity. It is never possible to get all the conditions of the universe to agree; an astrological horoscope will always include favourable and unfavourable factors, and we have to weigh and balance these before we can make a judgment. There are countless other factors in the universe besides astrological ones. The Chaldean system ensures that in an uncertain and ambiguous universe there will be one or two things at least that are absolutely reliable. The system of planetary hours is an excellent example of applying Hermetic principles to everyday life. We cannot take account of every factor in the universe each time we decide to act, we simply need to choose the parameters for our operation and stick by the principles involved.


This article is from The Art of Making and Charging Magical Talismans, Magical Theurgy—Rituals of the Tarot.

© Oliver St. John 2013, 2017

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Ritual of the Pentagram: Heart of Mystery

Man’s current delusion is an over valuation of the intellect. That which has given him so much and enabled him to transform the conditions of his being by technological wonders. Yet his inherent psychic unbalance is projected forth into his environment … in which he sees his own image … Whatever man does to lesser forms of life he does to himself. As he tips the balance more and more askew with his technological contrivance, so does the day approach more quickly when his own brain children, the chemical, mechanical, electronic, sub-atomic monsters, will destroy him.
 In the magic circle, what seems so little can mean so much!
Gareth Knight, The Rose Cross and the Goddess

Gareth Knight makes a compelling case for thinking and doing MAGICK. Magick is not a quest for psychological perfection, nor is it the art of collecting spells and making potions with the aim of making life easier and more comfortable for ourselves. In magick, the creative idea is both subject and object—what we see is what we are, and we are what we do and think also. Let us not forget that the elemental forces called to the magical circle are living creatures. When ritual is properly done, the practitioner does not merely produce a set of symbols, in the way of a conjuror pulling rabbits from a hat; the Hermetic magician and the symbol are one word, one deed, one act, one thought. The power of the symbol is to be reunited with its source in the infinite:
Thus the symbol is a material representation of immaterial qualities and functions. It is an objectification of things subjective in us and subliminal in nature, awakening us to a perception of the world which may make us aware of a knowledge contained in our soul.
Robert Lawlor, Translator’s Introduction to Symbol and the Symbolic, R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz

The Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram is the most enduring of all ritual methods for the preparation of the magician and place of working. To perform the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram properly you will need to master the mudra of the Ankh or Tau-cross and the dual mudra of Horus the Enterer and Keeping Silence. Together, the three primary mudras are called the Cube of Space. The Rituals of the Pentagram are rarely used to actually ‘banish’ anything per se. It is better to regard the two ways of drawing the pentagrams as firstly for invoking and opening, and secondly for closing or withdrawing. The primary use of the so-called banishing pentagrams is to return your psychic senses to the normal mode of consciousness. Both modes act as a defence for the magician, strengthening the astrosome and creating a balanced symbol through geometric extension.
  • Our Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram is appropriate for the Aeon—the times we are now in. It is Gnostic, Thelemic, and utilises the Enochian language.
  1. Beginning: Tau-cross mudra
  2. Horus the Enterer
  3. Evocation of Shakti-Babalon
  4. Ritual Sonics
  5. Complete Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram
Firstly, we need to understand how the Cube of Space is formulated in the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram. We need to practice and understand the magical mudras or Godforms. We have restored these to their natural and ancient form, so you will find they differ in some respects from what is given elsewhere, for example, in Aleister Crowley's Liber O, or in various publications presenting the historic rites and ceremonies of the Golden Dawn.

The Ankh or Tau-cross Mudra

Beginning the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram: Stand up, with your head facing forward, and place the heel of your left foot against the middle of the instep of your right foot, forming a right-angle. Extend both arms at right angles to your body, so that you form a “T” shape. The palms of your hands should be turned upwards.

This mudra typifies and embodies the unity of heaven and earth, spirit and matter, the eternal and the temporal. It is the mark or sign of “Life”, encompassing all worlds and creatures. The circle of the heavens or space is the full range of consciousness. The cross defines a nexus between the eternal and the temporal worlds of space, time and matter. Use this mudra for stability, strength and endurance. Use it to acknowledge that the whole universe is a living, moving field of conscious intelligence, a continuum in which no creature or thing can be truly separate.

The Dual Mudra of Horus, Entering and Keeping Silence

The Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram requires the technique known as the Assumption of the Godform. The mudra of Horus consists of Horus the Enterer and Harpocrates or Horus of Silence. In all cases, with the one exception of the mudra of Typhon, the second mudra always follows the first. Horus the Enterer is sometimes called the Projecting Sign.

Begin by standing with the heel of your left foot against the middle of the instep of your right foot, forming a right-angle. Your arms should be straight down by your sides. Inhale a full breath through both nostrils, at the same time bringing both hands up to the level of your ears, palms flat downward. While exhaling strongly, move your left foot a step forward, about twelve inches. At the same time extend both arms before you and turn the palms upward. The hands are brought together from the line of the little finger down to the edge of the palms, forming a “v” shape, like an opened book. The fingers and thumbs are straight and pointing forward. The line of eyesight travels straight ahead, through the “v” made with both hands.

The three-fold projection of vital force, prana or radiation, streams from the fingers of both hands and the third eye. Imagine that you send out much force, in rays of light. Then recover the step, stand upright with your feet in the starting position, and press one finger to your lips in the mudra of Keeping Silence characteristic of the god Harpocrates or Hoor-paar-kraat. Imagine the force condenses around you. The left foot is always used in the step forward, and the leg is kept quite straight though not tensed. The back is kept straight, the body is not “thrown” forwards and the arms are not “flung” as in the description given by Aleister Crowley in Liber O—it must be a balanced, graceful movement. The mudra we give here is identical to the way that the ancient Egyptians portrayed the god Horus.

With this dual mudra the magician identifies his or her self with the Word or Logos, issuing forth the primal utterance, streaming light from the mouth of the void of night at the beginning and the end of time. The Enterer may also refer to admission to a magical Temple, or admission to the circle of the eternal or Company of Heaven that confers Initiation in the real sense. The mudra of Keeping Silence may be assumed astrally or imaginatively as a form of psychic defence. The god is usually seen as standing on—or exuding from—a lotus flower. In the case of psychic defence and protection the god is seen as standing on two crocodiles. The mudra of placing the finger to the mouth is to enclose and seal the circuits of force in the occult anatomy.

The Evocation of Shakti-Babalon

The Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram requires the astral projection of Godforms. At the culmination of the ritual, four Neteru stand facing inwards when you are invoking and outwards (as Guardians) when you are banishing or closing: Ishtar, elemental deity of Air in the North; Babalon, elemental deity of Fire in the South; Ashtaroth, elemental deity of Earth in the East; Isa (or Isis), elemental deity of Water in the West. They may be imagined as winged, after the manner of Egyptian sarcophagus guardians, reflecting the qualities of their element. The Neteru that are seen standing in the quarters are best visualised as reflecting their respective element and station according to the magical correspondences. Thus elemental Air glows golden in the North, Fire flashes scarlet in the South, Earth shines emerald (or starlight on a night sky) in the East, and Water flows sapphire blue in the West. When invoking one should feel that the force and qualities of each element rush and pour into the circle and vivify the whole sphere of sensation of the magician. The elemental spirits—the sylphs, salamanders, gnomes and undines—are made much of in fantasy and fairy tale but the magician must know these are real living forces of nature that are perfectly visible to the trained clairvoyant.

The Neteru may be regarded as four faces of Shakti-Babalon, the feminine principle of divinity and power that manifests through nature. Each reflects and mediates her respective element and direction. The Neteru are most easily visualised in the Egyptian style, naked to the waist, with long diaphanous skirts, bracelets, anklets and other jewelled ornaments such as a beaded collar or necklace. They may be seen as having long wings that angle outwards and behind them rather like a bird’s plumage.

If it is wished to create more detail then the astrological or Kerubic emblems may be incorporated. In this case, Ishtar would stand upon her own feet in the North, with wings. Babalon would be seated upon a lion in the South, Ashtaroth would be seated on a Bull in the East, and Isa would be seated upon an Eagle in the West—rising in clouds of mist above the surging waves of the sea.

Ritual Sonics

By names and images are all powers awakened and reawakened.

Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

The Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram requires the skilled use of ritual sonics. The breath is used to utter the words and spells. In so doing, the magician becomes at one with the creation of the universe from the beginning of time—as symbolised and activated through the three primary mudras of the Ankh and the dual Horus. All things are expressions of the primal utterance, the Word. In Egyptian magick, the name of any thing is the key to its life, power and existence. Thus, the Golden Dawn cited the wisdom of the ancient Egyptians in the above quotation. Magick works when two things are brought together, the vibration of the names and the creation of images or thought-forms. These two are one, for both sound and light are waveforms. In the beginning was the word, the primal vibration. That word is the Logos, the spiritual phallus (“image”) of the Holy Guardian Angel. The Matrix of the Goddess is the thread of emanations or fragrant kalas that provide a means for the embodiment of the magical spell of Thoth, the Ibis or sacred word-bird. The void is then triangulated—thus the number 3 is that of Saturn and of the Great Mother of All. The vibratory technique applies to any ritual where words of power, divine names or ‘barbarous words of evocation’ are used. One must vibrate the words of power in order to make any ritual effective. To do this:

Take in a full breath through both nostrils. As the air is fully expelled the name or word is loudly and forcefully vibrated so as to physically resonate. It is not shouted, and should be sonorous. The vowels are greatly extended. For example, “IAO” is sounded until the breath is exhausted, “ee-aah-ooh!”

If it is not possible to vibrate the words loudly and physically then a technique called the Great Voice is used. Imagine that the name or word roars forth to infinity while feeling it strongly resonating within.

The Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram

0. Stand in the centre facing the North. Assume the Ankh or Tau-cross mudra.

1. Mark the Cube of Space: Raise your hands to your brow in a wide sweep, pressing them together as in a gesture of prayer. Lift your head slightly and raise your eyes upward to heaven. Send the power of your aspiration upwards. Vibrate as you do so: IAO!

2. Now lower both hands to your heart, while lowering your head and eyes to face forward again. Clench both hands together. Vibrate: SABAO! Send a current of force downwards to the centre of the earth.

3. With your hands still clenched at your breast, imaginatively raise the serpent or khuti to your brow, in silence.

4. Make the mudra called Horus the Enterer, sending a full exhalation of breath through both nostrils.

5. Recover the step, in the mudra of Keeping Silence.

6. Take up your wand and inscribe the pentagram in bright fire towards the North. Draw the point to the centre of the star. Vibrate: HO-LO-KO!

Ordo Astri Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram: Invoking Spirit

[For banishing or closing, begin the pentagram from the same point but proceed in an anti-clockwise direction.]

7. Spin about widdershins till you face the East, and create the pentagram as before. Vibrate: BI-KA-EL!

[One may also circumambulate the place, in which case go direct to the North to make the first pentagram. From thereon, pace the circle widdershins to each station.]

8. Spin about widdershins till you face the South and make the pentagram. Vibrate: IA MAL-PERAY-JI!

9. Spin about widdershins till you face the West and make the pentagram. Vibrate: BELIOR!

10. Spin about widdershins to face the North again.

11. Stand in the mudra of the Ankh or Tau-cross and say: Before me, ISHTAR, behind me, BABALON, on my right hand, ASHTAROTH, on my left hand, ISA! For about me flame the pentagrams, and in the column the six-rayed star.

12. Repeat the Cube of Space, steps 0–5. The four stars are seen flaming in the quarters when assuming the Tau cross. The hexagram appears above you and below you, as though it were engraved upon the ceiling and the floor, the heavens and the earth. In making the mudra of Horus the Enterer to the North, send forth the whole current generated by the ritual.

Ordo Astri Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram: Hexagram Above and Below


There is a more complete explanation of every point in this ritual, and precise instructions for how to perform it properly, along with photographic illustrations of the mudras, in the book Magical Theurgy—Rituals of the Tarot. However, what we give here is detailed enough for any student to get started with the ritual.

© Oliver St. John 2013, revised 2016

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.
Hermetic Qabalah Initiation Workbook

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.

Lightning Flash

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 traditional name of Kether in Atziluth is AHIH, “I Am”, the pure existence, undifferentiated. If we say “I Am” 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.

Form vs. Formless Reality

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. According to “The Rites and Ceremonies of Hormaku”, Ritual Magick:
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, has deadly serious intent. And that intent is 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 illustration 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”—see 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.

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.

© Oliver St. John 2013, 2018

Books by Oliver St John