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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.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Compassion is the Vice of Kings

Compassion is the vice of kings: stamp down the wretched and the weak: this is the law of the strong: this is our law and the joy of the world.

Liber AL vel Legis, II: 21
The Temptation of Saint Anthony (Félicien Rops)

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

The above passage from the Egyptian Book of the Law has probably offended and outraged more persons than anything else in the books and writings of Thelema. Even the scribe, Aleister Crowley, hated it at the time. Unfortunately for the legacy of Thelema, Crowley, at a later stage in his career, frequently applied a fundamentalist interpretation to this received work. His Liber OZ, for example, was an attempt to create a kind of Bill of Rights—completely against the spirit of the book, which rails against all “crapulous creeds” or codified commandments. It is necessary to separate the content and meaning of Liber AL vel Legis from the personal and political interpretation that Crowley and his followers subsequently imposed.

The word “compassion” appears twice in Liber AL, where it is treated—in direct contradiction to popular contemporary thought—as a spiritual obstacle, not a measure of worthiness. The word “pity” occurs several times in the second and third chapters of the book. In Liber AL II: 48, “Pity not the fallen! I never knew them”, there is an intimation that Crowley has been arguing against the flow of instruction, or otherwise quietly resisting it. At this stage, the Intelligence appears to be trying to force Crowley the scribe to submit, to surrender—to accept the wisdom he was privileged to receive direct from source, via the mediumship of Rose Crowley (Ouarda the Seer).

There is a possibility that it is Crowley himself who is being warned of dire consequences if he does not accept this knowledge; that he will “fall” unless he purges himself. The first mention of “pity” comes in II: 46-48, where it seems he is being interrogated and rebuked. We should remember the book was dictated to Crowley, and he did not like the way the book was going:
Dost thou fail? Art thou sorry? Is fear in thine heart? Where I am these are not. Pity not the fallen! I never knew them. I am not for them. I console not: I hate the consoled and the consoler.
The point is made with even greater ferocity the next day, in III: 18:
Mercy let be off: damn them who pity!
The word is mentioned once again in III: 42, in a paragraph concerning the ordeals of initiation:
Them that seek to entrap thee, to overthrow thee, them attack without pity or quarter; and destroy them utterly.
The Egyptian Book of the Law has a historical, an ancient Egyptian context. At the cult centre of Thebes, Ra Hoor Khuit was associated with Hadit (or Behedety) who was in turn associated with the historical battle chronicled by Ptolemy where the pharaonic Horus of Edfu defeated his enemies, ruthlessly routed them and followed them all over Egypt, finally killing every last one of the few survivors in Nubia. This can be understood as a spiritual battle where the “enemies of Ra” symbolise the forces of ignorance and dispersion that will ultimately amount to death as finality. In Liber AL, III: 42, “attack without pity” may therefore be taken as an instruction to be merciless with the enemy within. Ra Hoor Khuit offers his protection here, for the sun disk was not only a slayer of enemies but also a symbol to indicate the whole sky above, the heavens. It means protection, with infinite reach. How can one hide from the sky? But if there is pity for the aggregates that fuel the ego, including self-pity—thus allowing demonic forces to enslave the soul—then even the sky cannot protect the one that has consigned his or her self to the hell worlds where no sky can be seen.

In Liber AL, III: 43 the warning is carried to the Scarlet Woman, the soul, where Ra Hoor Khuit, the Lord of the Last Judgement says he will slay her child:
Let the Scarlet Woman beware! If pity and compassion and tenderness visit her heart; if she leave my work to toy with old sweetnesses; then shall my vengeance be known. I will slay me her child: I will alienate her heart: I will cast her out from men: as a shrinking and despised harlot shall she crawl through dusk wet streets, and die cold and an-hungered.
The soul is warned against loss of her immortal principle. Again, it is mostly self-pity that is the ill. The verb “to pity” is insidious, since it presupposes a kind of superior vantage point and bolsters the ego. “Compassion”, that has become a popular buzzword in recent times, also implies a superior vantage point. While saying, “I feel with you” (com-passion), it assumes superior understanding, superior virtue. Automatically one feels good about oneself and better than the others who are not compassionate.

The Egyptian Book of the Law may readily be understood as an imperative concerning spiritual life or death for those that would dare. The quest for the elixir of life, the immortal stone of the wise, is not to be confused with a quest for psychological self-improvement, as the legions of magical apologists, spiritual ‘healers’, professional therapists and the like would have it.
But she said: the ordeals I write not: the rituals shall be half known and half concealed: the Law is for all.

Liber AL, I: 34
The “rituals”, as with Egyptian hieroglyphs, are not known by the object of the symbol, but by the latency of the symbol. The symbol must be followed back to its source. The Law of Thelema need not be “for all” in the sense of “for everyone”. As in the context of other scriptures, “all” frequently means “of all types and manner of persons”. Once Thelema is understood as having nothing to do with religion—a concept completely unknown before the armies of new state monotheism trampled on the old pagan world and burned down its temples—then it can be fully appreciated as a spiritual, magical and alchemical treatise that is ruthlessly discerning and yet does not exclude any man or woman by race, religion or culture. “All” does not mean, “every single person in the world”. Yet as the governing principle of magical Initiation, the Law of Thelema nonetheless secretly informs, directs—and disrupts and destroys wherever necessary to Initiation—all human thought and activity.

Liber AL vel Legis came into the world at a time in which human reason had declared God dead. As Erich Fromm wrote in The Sane Society in 1955:
In the nineteenth century the problem was that God is dead; in the twentieth century the problem is that man is dead.
In killing the truth man destroys himself. However, the Thelemic transmission or 93 current does not allow human reason to prevail against love. The more modern antecedents of Thelema include some of the works of Nietzsche, especially Thus Spake Zarathustra. It does not seem altogether improbable that the “93” transmission spawned the Surrealist movement that produced its manifesto in 1924—twenty years after the reception of Liber AL. Nietzsche, the Book of the Law, and the Surrealists declared war on reason, the “word of Sin” (Liber AL, I: 41). This does not require that reason and intelligence be discarded altogether. It does require that the armour-plated dogs of reason must be silenced. As Aleister Crowley wisely put it, in The Book of Thoth:
Heed not the siren-voice of sense, or the phantom voice of reason: Rest in simplicity, and listen to the silence.
If the Law of Thelema is to abolish or supercede what went before it, then we first need to understand exactly what it is that did go before it. Liber AL dismisses the theology of redemption with an uncompromising treatise concerning the supremacy of infinite love over human reason, and the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit which “bloweth where it listeth” (John, 3: 8)—incarnating the Word in a new form in every age. Now the Word is to withdraw in Silence, as humanity has been informed that its own reason is a lying spirit. Mankind totters on the brink of extinction amidst unseen emanations that shape his destiny according to cosmic forces he is unaware of—since he does not see, hear or feel them. From the chaos of a new dark age Liber AL vel Legis shines a light that is invisible save to those enraptured by the love-song of Nuit. The latter will ultimately encounter Hadit as an initiatory trial or ordeal:
II: 6 I am the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star. I am Life, and the giver of Life, yet therefore is the knowledge of me the knowledge of death. 
For the soul who endures the ordeals of the path of knowledge, heaven may be known both during and after earthly existence:
I: 58 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 spiritual pulse of Thelema is love, while its wisdom is only known through discernment—which is the essential discipline of the path of knowledge:
I: 57 Love is the law, love under will. Nor let the fools mistake love; for there are love and love. There is the dove, and there is the serpent. Choose ye well!


© Oliver St. John 2014, 2018  
View The Law of Thelema—Quantum Yoga

Friday, 31 October 2014

Enochian Magick and Hermetic Initiation

Some ‘experts’ as well as the usual armchair occultists say the system of Thirty Aethyrs cannot be equated to the magical grades. It has been successfully used, however, in relation to the grade system, in theory and in practice. There follows a guide to the Thirty Aethyrs and initiation, a synopsis of the Hermetic path.

Table of the 30 Aethyrs: Ritual Magick, Rites and Ceremonies of Hermetic Light

The spiritual and practical work that needs to be mastered in the grades beyond Tiphereth was almost completely undefined until the system of Thirty Aethyrs was thoroughly explored and mapped. Thanks to the Enochian magical system, there is no longer any excuse for those that insist on parroting the shibboleths of old times, such as “Only Jesus Christ has really attained the grade of Tiphereth”, and that “No human being can cross the Abyss”, or that “An Ipsissimus would be taken up by God and disappear from the face of the earth”. In a certain sense, those three statements are completely true. The Initiate will understand precisely how they can be true or false. For all practical purposes we can regard such wisdom, at best, as an attempt to warn foolhardy magicians against claiming grades of initiation they are not entitled to. We deal with this by insisting that grades of initiation are relative to each person, and have no meaning whatsoever outside of the Order.

Although the Tree of Life is undoubtedly the best ever symbol devised for charting the universe and understanding all relations between things, it nonetheless has shortcomings with the higher magical grades. Once Tiphereth is reached it is no longer possible to attain further grades of Initiation simply by learning ordinary knowledge, acquiring technical expertise, and astrally exploring the Tree of Life and other symbolism through pathworking exercises. The situation becomes worse when we contemplate the crossing of the Abyss, for that threshold marks the limits of the human mind.

The system of skrying the Thirty Aethyrs of Enochian Magick supplies a more than adequate solution to this problem. However, the Thirty Aethyrs must be explored systematically. It is foolhardy to try and ‘jump’ to the higher Aethyrs before the lower ones have been thoroughly explored. Firstly, we shall examine how the magical planes work in relation to the Thirty Aethyrs. Then we will see how the entire course of Initiation, everything that is possible for the magician to know and understand, can be linked to the system of Thirty Aethyrs.

Thelemic Sigillum Dei Aemeth

Thelemic Sigillum Dei Aemeth, Ordo Astri

The Terrestrial Plane and the Watchtowers

The material plane is so-called objective reality, governed by the dual illusion of matter and time as perceived by the ordinary senses of man. For non-initiates, this world is absolutely true, and there is nothing beyond it. In the Enochian system, the terrestrial universe is bounded and gated by the Four Watchtowers of the Universe. Beyond these, in ever widening circles, are the Thirty Aethyrs, which are conveniently thought of as levels of consciousness.

The Etheric Plane: 30th Aethyr (TEX)

This, the lowest or most material of the Aethyrs, is a realm considered by occultists to be immediately behind that of physical matter. It extends into matter in a certain sense, while the upper reaches of the Etheric Plane touch the lower regions of the Astral Plane. This realm is the traditional abode of ghosts, ghouls, phantoms and vampires, and is the main reservoir for what is often called the supernatural. It is also the main field of operation for psychics, professional mediums and the like, who imagine they are working with ‘higher’ spiritual intelligences. In theory, a Neophyte should be able to enter and experience TEX, the 30th Aethyr, but not those beyond it.

The Astral Plane: 29th (RII) to the 24th (NIA) Aethyr

The lower regions of the Astral Plane are identical to the realms of heaven and hell that are the mainstay of the world’s religions. These Aethyrs are relatively dark, and are permeated with a heavy sense of judgement and sin, as well as currents or tides of intense desire and longing. Once NIA, the 24th Aethyr is reached, one has grown accustomed to travelling in a body of light. Contact has been gained with spiritual forces or intelligences that will assist further progress. The Threshold between the Astral Plane and the Hermetic Plane is between NIA and TOR, the 23rd Aethyr, and is identical to the Veil of Paroketh and the grade of Dominus Liminis.

The Hermetic Plane: 23rd (TOR) to the 14th (UTA) Aethyr

The Hermetic Plane consists of realms of pure consciousness that cannot be known by the astral body of light. In the 22nd Aethyr of LIN, the Holy Guardian Angel prepares the Adeptus Minor for the realisation of the formlessness that is behind all forms. By the time the 20th Aethyr of KHR has been explored, the Adeptus Major has become accustomed to the Hermetic Plane and has obtained a certain mastery of their own thought processes. In POP, the 19th Aethyr, the first intimations of the Abyss are received. In ZEN, the 18th Aethyr, the Adeptus Major is prepared for the initiation to the grade of Adeptus Exemptus. The highest level of the Hermetic Plane is encountered in the 14th Aethyr of UTA, which is the last Aethyr that can be explored before the Oath of the Abyss is taken.

The Spiritual Plane: 13th (ZIM) to the 1st Aethyr (LIL) 

The higher grades, more so than any others, involve the whole of life’s experience. The Magister Templi is gradually prepared for the crossing of the Abyss. It is extremely unwise to attempt to enter the higher Aethyrs without the corresponding degree or level of initiation and experience


A complete guide to Initiation and the Enochian system of Thirty Aethyrs is included in Ritual Magick—The Rites and Ceremonies of Hermetic Light.

© Oliver St. John 2014, 2018

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Thursday, 2 October 2014

First Steps in Ritual Magick

The method of projection in ritual magick, known as the sign of the Enterer, is based on the Egyptian god Horus. The method taught by Aleister Crowley is effective as a means of throwing out force, but it is an unbalanced movement. To do the mudra of Horus the Enterer as a balanced movement that will not place unnecessary strain on your physical or astral vehicles, follow the procedure taught to our students. This is based on authentic ancient Egyptian depictions of the god Horus.

The Egyptian God Horus

Ordo Astri Ritual of the Pentagram: The Egyptian God Horus

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.

(The third eye, or ajna chakra, is located between both eyes and above them in the centre of the forehead. It here symbolises the concentration and projection of consciousness. The root of the chakra is best understood as located in the centre of the brain, between the hemispheres.)

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.

There is no mantram, for this is a silent vibration, not a sonic utterance as such. Light and sound are both waveforms. The ancient Egyptians graphically symbolised the radiation of light or energy by a stream of golden ankhs.

Ritual Sonics

By names and images are all powers awakened and reawakened.

Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

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 Seated Posture or Asana

In the Hermetic tradition we do not sit cross-legged on the floor. Meditation is done seated, similar to the way Egyptian gods are depicted when enthroned. Your back and spine are kept straight but not tense. Your feet are kept flat on the floor; your knees and hips should be straight but comfortably aligned. Your head should be facing forward, looking straight ahead, even if your eyes are closed. The art is to keep perfectly still while remaining calm and relaxed.


It is helpful, though not essential at the outset, to keep the tip of your tongue pressed lightly against the roof of your mouth. There is no counting of breaths as in some yoga practices. The idea is to maintain deep, relaxed breathing throughout the meditation. The rhythm of the breathing should be something like the slow rising and falling of the tides of the sea.

Breath is the spirit of life, and in meditation the breath is used to circulate prana, the energy of life, in the astrosome or sphere of sensation. The astrosome is created imaginatively as an orb of light that surrounds the physical body. It is flexible and can be extended infinitely. One can travel in the body of light to anywhere in the universe and back. With regular practice, the astrosome becomes strong and malleable and can be transformed into any shape that one desires, including that of a deity or any symbol.

There are many systems of chakras, the power zones within the astrosome – some have five, some have six, some have seven or more. There are three points, though, that are vital for practical work. Here, Kundalini Shakti, the living spirit of the energy of life, penetrates the auric field. The North Pole of the universe is visualised as existing vertically above your head, as a great star or luminous orb. The South Pole is seen as the electromagnetic centre of the earth, vertically below. Between the poles the heart-centre (Tiphereth) flowers as a golden radiance. It is in Tiphereth, the shrine of the heart, that the deity is first invoked. First practice asana and pranayama, then the mudras that follow. Rehearse the mudras physically. Then imagine the form expanding from your heart-centre until it astrally envelops your body. Hold it for as long as you can, then withdraw the form into the heart shrine.


From the book, Magical Theurgy—Rituals of the Tarot.

If you found this article interesting, you may also find our Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram useful: Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram.

Our book for Probationers is The Enterer of the Threshold

© Oliver St. John 2015, 2018 

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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Devotional Magick or Bhakti

In the Philosophus 4=7 degree we continue the tradition of Bhakti Yoga, or devotional mysticism.

The ancient Egyptians understood the gods, as we know them, to be Neteru, divine Principles that are everywhere manifested and visible in nature. Since divinity is everywhere and at all times present, the Egyptians had no word for “religion” in their language. A Temple built in honour of a Neter is a special abode and dwelling place for the god. Only a priest or priestess was allowed to enter the shrine of the god or goddess in the Holy of Holies. The people could pray at the gate, or in the court to the Pharaoh—for the Pharaoh was a living incarnation of Horus on earth. However, it was common for every home to have a shrine to deity, usually the local one.

Sem Priest: Adoration

Ancient Egyptian Priesthood: Sem Priest: Adoration

The priest’s first role was to serve the Neter. The Egyptians understood that the priest played a vital role in serving the gods. If the duties of the priest were neglected, discord and strife would come about. An Egyptian name for a priest is therefore Sem Neter, Servant of the God. The word sem denotes vigilance and observance, and also has the meaning of “image” and of being united or joined with the deity. There were many ranks and classes of priests, involving different duties and levels of knowledge. Priests were often chosen by royal appointment, but could be chosen from any level of society.

The high priest was called Hem Neteru, “Prophet of the Gods”. The word hem denotes “voice” or “sound”, for the true meaning of prophecy is “first to give voice”. A high priest was not young in years, and was revered as very wise. He often acted as chief advisor to the Pharaoh in political and other matters, as well as being the Magister in charge of all ceremonies and rites in the various Temples that he belonged to. Women also fulfilled this role, and were often chosen from noble families by royal appointment.

Below the rank of high priest but nonetheless very important were priestly roles such as that of scribe. Scribes had a very high standing, which can be demonstrated by the fact that the pharaoh was sometimes depicted as a scribe. The work of the hieroglyphs took many years to perfect. The Keeper of the Hours had the important duty of accurately counting the hours through the day, as these were linked to ceremonial observances, civic rites and duties. Astrologers or astronomers (there was no difference) marked the times of year and cyclical motions of the stars and planets, also vital in ceremonial and civic functions as well as agriculture. The annual flooding of the Nile, for example, was linked to the rising of the star Sirius.

A lay priest served ceremonial roles only some of the time and would hold a mundane job, often serving in government or local council administration. Lay priests served a rota system between four equally staffed groups. Each group served for a month and then returned to their other occupation for the following three months.

Priests had certain requirements to meet while they were doing service. According to ancient sources, articles of clothing that were made from animals were not permitted. Priests were only allowed to wear linen or clothing made of plants. They were required to shave their heads and bodies daily, and take several cold-water baths for purification every day while serving their rota.

The duties of a priest involved tending the image of the god in the shrine, invoking the presence of the god, and in other ways uniting their self to the deity through love and devotion. The priests and priestesses had to practice sexual abstinence during the time they served in the Temple. This has an occult significance, for the control and direction of the vital force is essential in practical magick. The three planetary chakras of Venus, Mercury and the Moon, when placed on the Hermetic Tree of Life, correspond to the lower triad or astral triangle of Netzach, Hod and Yesod. Images are created in Hod, ensouled with vitality from Netzach, and are reflected and animated in the mirror of the Moon, or Yesod, which has its correspondence with the field of the human subconscious.

The Initiation of a priest required first baptism in a sacred pool, identified hieroglyphically and in other ways with the waters of Nu, the cosmic sea. The candidate was then sprinkled with lustral water for further purification, and anointed with holy oil before being led to the shrine of the Neter and instructed in the secret ways of working with the deity. The candidate then undertook a ten day fast, at the end of which the mysteries were revealed through direct experience of the deity.

The priest would care for the god in the following ways:

In the morning, after the requisite purifications, the high priest broke the seal and opened the bolts of the doors of the sanctuary.

The priest would light a torch to walk with the god, recite prayers and invocations and light the incense.

The priest would wash the statue of the god and dress it with fresh clothing and jewels.

The priest would place offerings of food and drink before the statue of the god.

Priestesses would offer songs, music and hymns of praise to the god.

At the end of the day, the priest would back out of the shrine, sweeping away his footprints as he went. He would then seal up the sacred area again.

For much of the long history of ancient Egypt, priestesses were equal to priests in status or importance. They were frequently associated with Hathoor and Isis, and were the leaders and creators of all music and dance in the Temples. Priestesses were considered the consorts of the gods, as were the priests. It should not be thought that specialisation in arts in any way relegated the role of the priestess as secondary to that of priest or scribe. The subjection of music, art and, of course, the magical arts, to the greater power and importance of science and the knowledge of material facts is a product of modern societal and governmental conventions. During some of the dynastic times the power of the priestesses was very great indeed, to the extent they were the governors of the priesthood and of society as a whole. This is almost inconceivable from the perspective of Western civilisation in developed industrial nations.


This article is taken from Ritual Magick—The Rites and Ceremonies of Hermetic Light.

© Oliver St. John 2014

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Magick of the Solstice: IAO!

The King is dead! Long live the King! So went the cry, if we are to believe Frazer in his seminal work, The Golden Bough. Ancient cults of the Sun would sacrifice their king at the Solstice and inaugurate a new one for a further year, until once again the time came for the ritual slaughter. It is not my purpose here, though, to refute the writings of Frazer—which were undoubtedly a powerful influence on 20th century occultists. My purpose is to shed a little sunlight on a few tired old shibboleths of the Western Mystery Tradition.

Let us suppose we were to travel back in time a few thousand years to, let’s say, southern Egypt. There we find an Egyptian who speaks excellent Greek, and who has been Initiated into one or two Gnostic cults. Now if we were to say, “Ah yes, the Gnostic IAO! Isis, Apophis and Osiris. You are celebrating the rites of the slain and dying god”, the chances are he would either fall about laughing or throw us out of the house. Firstly, to the ancient Egyptian, IAO had a wide variety of meanings. Depending on how it was spelled or pronounced, it could refer to the Great God, the Neter of Neters, or it could simply be a crude reference to the male or female genitalia. Secondly, the formulaic notion that IAO is something to do with Osiris and a “slain and dying god” is only as antique as the late 19th century. Likewise, the obviously false notion that the Trigrammaton IAO is merely a ‘secret’ form of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton was a scholarly guess that has become ‘fact’ by sheer repetition, simply because no one had a clue. Let us then dig a little more deeply in our quest to find the meaning of the Graeco-Egyptian Great Name of IAO.

The Crowley-Thoth Tarot Trump The Hanged Man XII

Magick of the Solstice: The Hanged Man XII

“The rituals of the old time are black”, says the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis II: 5. The trouble is, Aleister Crowley was not looking back any further than the late 19th century Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The identification of the Gnostic deity name IAO with Isis, Apophis and Osiris as a formula of a slain and dying god was purely an invention of the Golden Dawn. To add to the confusion, the knowledge and rituals of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn can lead one to think that Osiris is identical to Christ. However, both Christian and Gnostic theology is adamant that Christ is wholly transcendent and passes out of the world to enter an immortal realm or “heaven”. Osiris, on the other hand, dies and goes on to reign in the underworld as Lord of the Dead. There is no doubt that Osiris is counted among the dead, not the living. He was in fact the type of the mummy, a corpse embalmed, stuffed with talismans and swathed in linen wrappings.

The idea that IAO stands for “I am the Alpha and the Omega” is a good one, but is a comparatively modern invention. Nonetheless, it is better than the limiting notion that IAO has anything to do with a slain and dying god of corn and harvests that merely represents the seasonal cycle of the year—vegetation dying off and then reappearing in the spring. That kind of reductionism originated with Socrates, who was only privy to the outermost level of the Egyptian mysteries. It is very unlikely that the ancient Egyptians believed in reincarnation. If they did, why did they go to so much trouble to keep the Ka of the deceased alive in the underworld by providing continuous offerings? It is more likely that Western commentators with a vested interest in the New Age myth of personal reincarnation have simply transferred their belief. Hindu scholars agree that the popular Western idea of reincarnation is derived from a mistaken interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita. It is Atman (or Hadit in Thelemic terms) that reincarnates, not the individual human ego.

As for ‘old’ and ‘new’ aeons in time, does ancient wisdom change with the seasons that come and go? Does it bow to the rise and fall of human civilisations, or the turning of the wheel of the precession of the equinoxes? Do the laws of nature require that a man should utter a word so the stars and planets continue in their courses, before the sun will rise in the morning and go down in the evening?

So where then, is our wonder-word IAO placed? The ancient Egyptians had even more ways of spelling words than they had of pronouncing them. The root of the word and vibration of IAO was known to the Egyptians as AA, IA or OA. Typically, the root may be spelled with two flowering reeds, as in the name of the Goddess MAAT. The full vibration of IAO looks like this:

Egyptian IAO Hieroglyph from The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth

The flowering reed is “I” or “That”, while the kite hieroglyph, “A”, is used as an emphatic article and may indicate a cry of exaltation or a song of praise. The extended arm, “O”, similar to the Hebrew A’ain, signifies travelling or going forth. The word can thus be read, “I am He that Goes Forth”, or “The Ever Becoming One”. It can seen at once that IAO has more to do with Hadit, the “One that Goes Forth”, than any dead or dying god.

Considered as deity, then IAO is the “Neter of the Neters”, the Principle of the Principles. As such, the deity IAO has no qualities that can be ascribed. IAO is the source of all gods, all ideas, all natural functions and principles. As the Bornless Spirit, IAO was ideally suited to the Gnostics, for it is the vibration of the All-Begetter, the Ever Becoming One that is expressed in Form, yet is in its own essence Formless. The latter may also be expressed by the reversal, OAI.

Here are some of the meanings of the Egyptian IAO from The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth:
The Primordial; a vessel; here, to be present; cry of exaltation; to journey forth; the abode; the house or dwelling; the all-begetter; the generative principle or Neter (and so various phallic Gods); the hair (of Nuit); door or door-leaf; the lid of a sarcophagus; the Great God; the Primordial One; the Great Old One, or Great Old Ones; the Doorkeeper or Keeper of the Gates of the Duat; great, grand, lofty or noble; the chief; a Fire God; Ra the Sun when he appears as Set, the ass-headed God.
The formulaic notion of IAO as being something to do with Osiris, an ‘Old Aeon’, or a “slain and dying god”, is not only inadequate but also places a bar upon us ever knowing the spiritual and magical potency that awaits us when the word, the sacred symbol, is followed back to its source with the infinite.

© Oliver St. John 2014, 2018
Egyptian IAO hieroglyph drawing © Oliver St. John 2014

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Magick of Gemini the Twins

The Tarot trump for Gemini is The Lovers VI. The esoteric title of the trump is Children of the Voice: Oracle of the Mighty Gods. The “voice” is the expression of the Gods called Chokmah and Binah on the Tree of Life, also known as Chaos and Cosmos or the Beast and Babalon. The 17th path of Zain is the seventh from Aleph. The letter zain (or zayin) is the sword separating the waters of the Firmament of Nu into the twin streams of time and space. According to Kenneth Grant (Typhonian Trilogies), the sword of zain is the “S” word (s-word), the word of the serpent or fire snake. The 17th path of The Lovers expresses the resolution of duality through the uniting of all oppositions. It is the creation of the world and its magical recreation through the Great Work.

The Crowley-Thoth Tarot trump The Lovers VI

Crowley-Thoth Tarot: The Lovers VI

From The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth:

The 17th path of Zain connects Binah, the sphere of Saturn, with Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun, and is imaged forth by the Tarot key The Lovers VI. The path is called the Intelligence of Sensation or the Disposing Intelligence. It is also called the Foundation of Tiphereth in the plane of the Supernals—since its root is in Binah and its termination in the centre of the Ruach. The idea of “sensation” derives from agitation, stirring or seething (ha-regash)—the sword of intellect is much troubled by the dualism inherent in its own nature, yet it is this turbulent state of affairs that is necessary before any Great Work can begin. The agitation of the sword of zain is only calmed when the meaning of every phenomenon is understood. Ultimately, when every phenomenon is clearly perceived then, in the words of the Oracle ascribed to Zoroaster, “After all the phantoms have vanished, thou shalt see that holy and formless fire, that fire which darts and flashes through the hidden centre of the universe; hear thou the voice of fire”.

The duality of the 17th path is, in alchemical terms, expressed as Sol and Luna, depicted in the imagery of the Tarot trump as the Alchemical Wedding presided over by Hermes or Mercury. The instruction concerning the three forms of light, Aub, Aur and Aud, as posited by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, requires correction. The Order’s teaching identified the phallic light of Aur with rational consciousness, the “light of solar day”. In fact, the Sun’s power waxes and wanes through the year in the same way that the Moon waxes and wanes over the course of one month. It is the interweaving of the twin serpents, the dual light of Aub, that produces phenomena. The ‘fixing of the volatile’ is when the phallic pillar of the Aur light arises in the shushumna or middle pillar in the occult anatomy. The fluctuations of the twin serpents, Sol and Luna or Ida and Pingala, are stilled or ‘slain’ by the will to Silence; the Aur light then returns consciousness to its source, the Aud or Starlight of Nuit.

The magical power of the 17th path is the Power of being in two or more places at one time, and of Prophecy.

© Oliver St. John 2014, 2018 

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Friday, 9 May 2014

Magical Yoga for Beginners

Yoga means “union”, and traditionally that means union between the person and God, or a God. In broader terms it means the union of the subject with the object. When the subject and object are united to the exclusion of all else, then an illuminated stream of knowledge or dhyana is experienced. Dhyana is the first sign that we are getting somewhere with yoga.

Hermetic Tantra-Yoga is sometimes termed the “Yoga of the West”, as the philosophical basis and practical method owes to the magical system of the Qabalah and its close companion, ritual or ceremonial magick. The best-known method, based on the Tree of Life, is called the Middle Pillar Exercise. We have a specialised version of this, Hermetic Tantra-yoga, but the core principles are the same:

1. The asana or meditation posture is to be seated like an Egyptian God, not cross-legged on the floor or in a ‘lotus’ mudra.

Egyptian Goddess Sekhet: Magical Yoga

2. The Breathing or pranayama is a continuous cycle, a full breath in and a full breath out. The cycle does not necessarily involve counting in fours, or holding the breath. The object is to induce deep relaxation combined with a state of mental alertness, while hyperventilation is definitely to be avoided.

3. In Eastern laya or kundalini yoga, one begins with the base chakra and works upward. In Hermetic Tantra-Yoga, one begins at the crown and then works downward to the base. Only then does one work upwards. ‘Light’, or magnetism, is brought upwards to the crown on the in-breath, then downwards and around the outside of the body on the out-breath, in a continuous fountain. To assist the creation of the chakras or sephiroth, corresponding divine and angelic names are sonorously sounded or vibrated and the various centres are seen to glow and pulsate with colour, as according to the Hermetic tables of correspondence.

Correct Motivation

The purpose of yogic union is to ‘know God’, or know Reality directly for oneself. There are now many schools of thought that claim yoga is to improve your sense of wellbeing, help you relax, or even improve your bank balance or worldly status. New Age spirituality delights in self-indulgence—energy healing, special diets, special treatments, therapies, and courses in self-hypnotism. The focus is on the physical body, the emotions, and the endless quest to be psychologically better, healthier, wealthier and more powerful.

Let us assume that we are really serious about this. According to Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, we need correct motivation, study and intense aspiration. There is no use in doing the Middle Pillar Exercise without a philosophical basis, without knowledge of the Hermetic magical correspondences, and without appeal to the systematic use of ritual magick—which greatly accelerates progress. The beginner is often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of technical information associated with the Hermetic tradition. The knowledege serves a practical purpose: while the mind is engaged with understanding complex layers of symbolism it is at least focussing on the subject and has less time for egotistical preoccupation.

Broadly, there are two kinds of beginner, the one that studies and engages their mind intellectually with the matter of the work, and the one that does not afford the time for this. The lazy student will not get very far as the yoga practice needs to be supported by training of the mind. The structures of thought and reason require reorganisation to withstand the pressure that will be encountered when deeper levels of consciousness are plumbed. One must actively and energetically seek the Mysteries and dig deeper. It is not about getting ‘answers’ from a book or a guru that will satisfy a list of questions so it can all be put away in a box.

The four powers of the Sphinx need to be practiced and understood: To Know, to Dare, to Will and to keep Silence. The aspirant must overcome their natural inertia—the desire to watch television, develop their social life, listen to the random chatter of their own or other people’s thoughts, or simply go to sleep. They might also need to resist the temptation to foolishly broadcast their occult experiments on the Internet—the fourth power of the Sphinx does not only apply to the meditation itself. By managing to do all this, even the veriest beginner will very likely get some early results.

First Glimmering

We are instructed to keep a diary Record on a strict daily basis, and to note down any sensations experienced, whether physical or otherwise. One of the first things the persistent practitioner will experience will be a sensation of tingling in the hands, feet, head or other parts of the body. So long as one is sitting properly and the tingling sensation is not merely a symptom of poor blood circulation, it is a sign of progress.

With continued practice the tingling or ‘electric’ sensations will begin to feel like muscular rigidity. The rigidity is a non-physical phenomenon. The sensations reflect the stirring of the Occult Force, Serpent Power or Kundalini as it is variously termed. The mind will translate entirely new sensations received from the nervous system into something it can understand, that it already knows. Therefore it often seems as though physical sensations are being encountered whereas in fact the phenomena owe to a plane other than the physical.

A person can go on for some time experiencing these peculiar sensations in the body and yet think all the while that nothing at all is happening or changing in their consciousness. The sensations are, in reality, impressions received from the subtle electromagnetic body of light or astrosome. Quite often the person will note down in their Record, “nothing experienced” or “no change”. Yet it is more than likely a great deal is going on at deep levels of the psyche. As the Occult Force stirs and begins to awaken at the base level, there is a stirring at the subconscious levels of the mind. Aggregates of thought, along with the emotional power that has been invested in them, rise to the surface much in the way that dredging a river brings up old bicycles, prams and all kinds of unwanted junk that has been thrown in there. How does one get beyond that stage?
1. Persist in the practice. Don’t give up.
2. Increase the time and energy you put into this.
3. There must be a philosophical basis to the work. Studying the right materal supports the meditation and ritual practice.

When these conditions are satisfied, the Occult Force will eventually break down the aggregates that were causing the disturbance and release the energy held by them. If too much attention is paid to the aggregates, or they are mistakenly assumed to be something spiritual, meaningful or real, then there is a danger of obsession. This is one good reason why magical safeguards are used, such as the (Thelemic) Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram. The ritual will not, in itself, guarantee immunity from obsession. Published works often place far too much emphasis on the so-called ‘banishing’ form of the ritual. It is mistaken to assume the magician forms a circle about his or her self and then banishes away everything outside that circle, including elemental spirits. If anything, it is the magician that needs to be banished. There is a warning about the Occult Force in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis II: 26–27:
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. If I droop down mine head, and shoot forth venom, then is rapture of the earth, and I and the earth are one. There is great danger in me; for who doth not understand these runes shall make a great miss. He shall fall down into the pit called Because, and there he shall perish with the dogs of Reason.
Consciousness can do two things, it can contract and it can expand. Both modes are required in magick and yoga. Concentration is the power of Saturn, and that means holding and fixing the attention on the desired object. Expansion and release is the power of Uranus, and is characterised by various mystical trances and ecstatic states. When contraction comes about involuntarily and through fear, then the “rapture of the earth” manifests as uncontrolled obsession, the demonic aspect of Saturn. When expansion comes about through magnification of a particular thought-form or aggregate, then megalomania and paranoia are the result. These are demonic aspects of the expansive power of Uranus.

Yoga for peace of mind? In due measure, perhaps—but according to every spiritual tradition, yoga involves encountering all the darkness of the soul at every step of the way. We need to face up to the facts of nature before we can even begin to comprehend the greater mysteries beyond life and death, good and evil. As it is declared at the eremony for the Initiation of a Neophyte:
Inheritor of a dying world, arise and enter the darkness!
The Mother of Darkness hath blinded him with her hair.
The Father of Darkness hath hidden him under his wings.
His limbs are still weary from the wars that were in heaven.
Spiritual or magical work is work, and to earn the right to do that work the aspirant must first be prepared to fight a war or two. The first battlefield is getting the meditation done. The opposing armies on that battlefield are the countless distractions and other demands on time and attention that must be overcome before even one foot is placed on the path.

References: This article was not intended to be a “how to” on the Middle Pillar Exercise or Hermetic Tantra-yoga. We wrote it to address the many questions that arise whenever anyone makes a serious start with Hermetic ritual and meditation.


The book, Magical Theurgy—Rituals of the Tarot, includes an in-depth analysis of key magical methods. Those interested in working with the guidance of a contacted magical Order should read the book for Probationers, The Enterer of the Threshold.

© Oliver St. John 2014, 2018

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Taurus: The Magus of the Eternal

Venus, the Egyptian Hathoor, is the ruler of Taurus, while the Moon, Levanah, is exalted therein. The Tarot Atu for the 16th path of Taurus on the Tree of Life is The Hierophant V. The esoteric title of the 5th Tarot Key is The Magus of the Eternal.

Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot The Hierophant V

Thoth Tarot Atu The Hierophant V Taurus

Here is the entry from the Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth for the 16th path of Taurus, The Magus of the Eternal(1):

The 16th path of Vav connects Sophia or Chokmah, the sphere of the Zodiac, with Chesed the magnificent or glorious sphere of Jupiter, and is imaged forth by the 5th Tarot key, The Hierophant. The path is called the Triumphant or Eternal Intelligence, since it is the way of return to the Garden of Eden. The Hierophant or Way-shower veils the instruction that is received from the deepest levels of the subconscious, for to hear this ‘voice’ or Word is to commence the glorious return implicit in the path’s title from the Sepher Yetzirah.

The descent of the path is aptly figured in the letter vav, where the creative seed or essential fire is carried downwards towards manifestation. Looked at another way, the vav is the head and stem of the phallus (or spinal column), which, in the cosmic sense, is the pillar of the light or consciousness of Aur that stands in the void. The letter’s name means “a nail” or “pin”; it is the power of fixing an image in consciousness, an act of will on the level of pure mind. The power of imagining is an attribute of Venus, the planetary ruler of Taurus and the earthly form of Nuit, depicted on the previous 15th path. The Moon is exalted in Taurus and the lunar nature of this path is that it reflects the dark radiance that pours forth from the Ain Soph into the pool of cosmic memory in Chesed, the sphere of Jupiter.

As the Way-shower, inner teacher or higher intuition, the Hierophant reminds us that if we follow the Word-vibration back to its source in the infinite, all phenomena cease to exist. The oath of crossing or passing through the Abyss is therefore to interpret every phenomenon as “a particular dealing of God with my soul”. The Adept is then untroubled by the flow of events in space-time, since he or she instantly recollects that all phenomena are apparitions arising on the dreaming face of the deep. The magical power of the 16th path is the Secret of Physical Strength. The secret bears no relation to athleticism, for it is the knowledge of that which animates all things that live and move and have their being (the Word, Hadit)—it is no less than the secret of life itself.


(1) The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth

© Oliver St. John 2014, 2018  

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Scarlet Woman: Love is the Law of Magical Polarity

The Scarlet Woman Part Two: Love is the Law of Magical Polarity
Part One, The Scarlet Woman or Soul in the Underworld, can be read here.

Star and Snake Blogspot: The Lovers VI Tarot

Polarity magick was always the core of Dion Fortune’s work. As a self-declared Moon Priestess, Dion Fortune required solar priests to work with. The Fraternity of Inner Light developed the magick of polarity over the many years that Dion Fortune was the Director of Studies. We inherited the polarity magick methodology directly, through personal contact with Mary Long, a former student of Dion Fortune who wrote a novel based on her experiences, Our Son Moves Among You. Mary Long also succeeded in an evocation of Pan in the early 1950s, using polarity as the principal mode of operation. The part played by the syzygy is vital:
To work the magick of polarity or magical alchemy you must create an astral image of your contrasexual ‘other’ or opposite sex. Step towards the pillars and see the Magus of Power in the form of an Egyptian priest bearing a was sceptre, or the Priestess of the Silver Star in the form of an Egyptian priestess bearing a lotus wand. Send all the power that you can raise towards this figure, and then merge with the syzygy until the two have become one astrosome.
“Syzygy” is a Gnostic term that refers to male-female pairings of the Emanations or Aeons. The term was adapted by C.R.F. Seymour, a member of Dion Fortune’s Fraternity of the Inner Light. In a diary Record he wrote: “I knew that as an initiate of the Serpent Wisdom I had to share this power with my syzergy. And turning to the priestly adept who gave me this initiation I saw that he, as an adept, was his own syzergy. He had polarised the higher and lower natures, and so was a complete self-polarising entity.”(1)
The inner working of polarity does not necessarily involve any other human person. Polarity magick also works through direct personal contact or at a distance, through correspondence combined with theurgic practice. In his book, Hermetic Magic, Stephen Edred Flowers makes the point that, historically, Hermetic magical Orders never existed in the way that people imagine them and sometimes administrate them in the modern world. The real Hermetic work was always accomplished by correspondence (and meeting) between the adept and the aspirants—usually a very small group of people. This magical tradition of intimate contact goes back thousands of years.

The task of every Hermeticist is to study Hermetic philosophy and cosmology, and from that they form a Great Symbol of the Universe (Sri Yantra), which is built in to their astrosome and then activated for theurgic work. When a Hermeticist develops this and creates their own, unique symbol of the Universe, they begin to teach others. In teaching others, that symbol becomes perfected. So polarity is vital, without it there is no Great Work. Magical polarity take place not only from person to person, but from the inner plane Order to everyone else. Ultimately, the idea is to become fully self-polarised, as mentioned in the diary quotation from C.R.F. Seymour (above).

The law of Thelema, as “written and concealed” in the Egyptian Book of the Law, is a law of relationship, of love under will. The polarity between the person and the Holy Guardian Angel is vertical polarity, and in the ordinary case, human relationships are horizontal—on the same plane. When magical polarity is properly managed, either one, both, or all practitioners establish a degree of vertical polarity. Put in other terms, they have forged a link between three Circuits of Force: the magnetic core (Hadit), the astrosome (Khabs in the Khu) and the cosmic circuit (Nuit).

Polarity magick brings a great deal of energy, force or magnetism into a ritual or a daily practice. The power that is raised is carefully directed according to the nature of the magical operation. There is always a danger that a person that is ignorant of occult principles, or is simply unable to perceive the operations that take place on the subtle planes, may inadvertently seek vitality from their environment—from those around them—instead of acquiring it from the free elemental resources of nature and from the vertical polarity of inner plane contacts. An analogy with atomic bonding in physics can be made with this ‘lending and borrowing’ principle inherent in the universe.(2) There is a grave danger when the appetite of the Ka (or vital body) becomes dissociated from the intellectual and moral faculties. The risk is not only of obsession, but also of becoming a ghoul or vampire. Although vampirism is thought by most people not to exist outside of the realms of fiction, occultists have always known about the degradation that the human soul can suffer through wilfully or inadvertently seeking sustenance from horizontal polarity on the psychic planes. Although it has become popular for magical fantasists to glamourise the notion of the vampire, the reality is not glorious. The chance of immortality is lost forever and the fate of the soul is truly horrible. Eventually the soul will seek sustenance from anything on the lower astral plane that has a shred of etheric vitality left in it, without discrimination.

In the first part of this essay we quoted a verse from the Egyptian Book of the Law. It will be helpful now to go into further details regarding that verse, for it is among the key verses in Liber AL that are commonly interpreted on a superficial level. Placing the book in the context of the magical and alchemical Great Work is an alternative to the rational-materialist dogma that has grown up around the work over the last century. Here again is the warning given to the Scarlet Woman or soul in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis III: 43:
Let the Scarlet Woman beware! If pity and compassion and tenderness visit her heart; if she leave my work to toy with old sweetnesses; then shall my vengeance be known. I will slay me her child: I will alienate her heart: I will cast her out from men: as a shrinking and despised harlot shall she crawl through dusk wet streets, and die cold and an-hungered.
The biblical language in which Liber AL vel Legis was written should not blind us to the spiritual and physical facts that are outlined in many of the passages. The Scarlet Woman here is the human soul in the underworld. “Compassion” implies horizontal polarity, for it is not possible, in reality, to feel or to truly know the feelings of another. Such faux feelings mask self-indulgent emotions generated by the ego sphere and given majestic qualities by the cunning reasoning faculty. It is noble to honour the King, the spiritual core or star that is hidden in every man and every woman, while “pity” is an inversion of self-pride. The “vengeance” is an automatic function within nature, for the magical “child” of the soul, the immortal stone of the philosophers, will perish through neglect. The soul becomes alienated and “cast out” through clinging to the delusion of separate existence. The kind of “harlot” alluded to here is the degenerate soul that will seek nourishment from any source whatsoever, including the etheric substance that emanates from dead and putrifying flesh. In the twilight, at the borderland of consciousness, the lost soul eventually succumbs to the natural inertia of the universe and is annihilated.

Real magical polarity working can and does take place between one human person and another, creating a powerful circuit of force. If one person has forged a lasting link with the cosmic circuit of force, they can mediate this to others in their field—but it requires a certain amount of faith from the latter. There is a careful difference to be made between faith and belief, though the two words are often confused. Spiritually, faith is summed up in the Greek word pistis, the necessary precedent to gnosis or pure knowledge. As a proper noun, Pistis is the name of a Goddess that was later associated with Sophia, Wisdom. Pistis Sophia is comparable to the Egyptian Isis, whose faith means honesty, integrity and reliability. In magical Hermeticism this relates to the work, the practice itself, the following out of the discipline and the manner of conduct—for it is not enough to simply do what is required, one must maintain the right attitude, called mudra in the East. For example, most magical Orders will require that certain practices and observances be adopted. Such practices do not always appeal directly to the reason, or to the self-aggrandising ego. Trust and faith, as much as will and determination, allow the person to overcome self-absorption, to ignore the voice of reason that insists the work is pointless unless it has immediate material outcome. It then becomes possible to sacrifice time and effort towards a mystical objective that has no value in the eyes of the worldly. A contacted magical Order is conceived as a ‘star’, and by becoming a member in the body of an Order one enters a solar system grouped around that star. In that way, polarity becomes effective and is not exploited by the destructive hunger of the vampire latent in us all. The Scarlet Woman is free to arise with Hadit.

Let us take a deeper look at the notion of magical polarity. Nuit and Hadit express the ultimate cosmic principle of polarity that manifests on the earth as female and male, moon and sun, night and day, darkness and light. On the magical plane at the personal level, Nuit and Hadit are expressed as the Khu and the Khabs, the magical body and the star that burns at the core of every man and every woman. It is put thus in Liber AL vel Legis, I: 8–9:
The Khabs is in the Khu, not the Khu in the Khabs.
Worship then the Khabs, and behold my light shed over you!
In Chapter One of the book, it is Nuit that speaks to the seer and scribe—it is her light that is shed over the worshipper of the star or Khabs. Nuit is the Queen of Space, the personification of spaciousness and emptiness; she is the Non-Being alluded to in the Ain-Soph of the Qabalah. It is Hadit that alone causes her to appear, to manifest as a body of stars. Nuit’s ultimate revelation is her nakedness, for as the principle of containment itself (the circle of zero) how can she be contained? Thus, Nuit is never depicted as clothed. Only by the magick of Hadit—who is at once the Magician and the Exorcist—can Nuit manifest.

While Nuit can thereby be known, Hadit can never be known, as declared in Liber AL vel Legis II: 3–4:
In the sphere I am everywhere the centre, as she, the circumference, is nowhere found. Yet she shall be known and I never.
Hadit cannot be known, since he is the principle of knowing. Nuit is able to appear by virtue of her stars, her ‘children’ or followers (Egyptian shem-su). These somewhat abstract terms conceal the whole romance and mystery of life, death and love. The polarity magick of Nuit and Hadit is best put in poetic terms, as a dance, a love-play (or lila) that, through its motive affect upon space, whirls the worlds into life and being so that eternity is reflected in the continuity of existence.

Polarity magick, once seen in this way, can hardly be ignored or disposed of as a mere detail of the Hermetic tradition, or as an experiment that began and ended with Dion Fortune and her Fraternity of Inner Light in the 30s and 40s. Polarity is how the magick works, whether it is seen to be about the creation of worlds or their destruction. It is not a coincidence that the gospel narratives concerning Jesus tell of his having twelve disciples. There are twelve astrological signs in the Zodiac, and the circle of the ecliptic (the sun’s visible path) has for long ages been likened to a glittering girdle worn by the Goddess in all of her thousand and one names. The starry body of Nuit is her appearance, but hidden among the stars is the key of eternity’s doorway. There can be no intervention by a ‘redeemer’ on behalf of the soul; the Judaeo-Christian concept of redemption implies a debt paid off vicariously, a kind of salvation through knavery. Yet as we know, the Hermetic Great Work requires that the soul or Scarlet Woman must overcome her natural tendency towards vampirism. To conclude, the Egyptian Book of the Law tells of the soul’s redemption, not as a covenant between a God resembling a tax collector and his chosen race or religion, but as a covenant involving the seeking out of Nuit’s love by following the path of Knowledge:
Obey my prophet! follow out the ordeals of my knowledge! seek me only! Then the joys of my love will redeem ye from all pain. This is so: I swear it by the vault of my body; by my sacred heart and tongue; by all I can give, by all I desire of ye all.
Liber AL vel Legis, I: 32


(1) November 1940—extracts from the polarity work are reproduced in Dancers to the Gods, Alan Richardson [Aquarian Press 1985]. The syzygy is explained as practical method in Hermetic Qabalah Initiation Workbook, from which this quotation is taken.

(2) This is covered in depth in “Leviathan and the Beast”, The Law of Thelema—Quantum Yoga.

© Oliver St. John 2014, 2018

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Thursday, 6 March 2014

The Scarlet Woman or Soul in the Underworld

There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread … Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw—but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realise that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you are transported.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

We mythologise that which we know to be true, yet cannot explain rationally. Since Plato at least, reason has been placed above myth in our culture. The word “myth” is derived from the Greek mu, meaning “from the mouth”. To the materialist, this can only mean speech, a story or tale—something less than the rational explanation. To the Gnostic, the magician, the theurgist, it is the non-verbal utterance that silently conveys the secret buried deep in the heart of all things. Thus muo means “silent”, “a secret”, “to close the mouth”. To reveal an occult secret is to conceal it—for by declaring it in speech or writing, the myth is inevitably retold. Magick and myth are inseparable, and are equally hated by the rationalist—who does not wish to know, but to acquire that which is useful. The goal of the rationalist is to obtain a purchase on ‘truth’.

Mu, the root of all mythology, leads us to every consideration of knowledge and utterance. To muse on something is to remember, and the Greek myth of the Muses developed from the much older Moirai, called the Norns in Norse mythology. The Moirai are the three women or goddesses that spin the thread, that weave the thread, and that cut the thread of life. This mystery is accomplished by the power of ordinance, called Moira by the Greeks and known as Maat (or Mut) to the ancient Egyptians. When the immutable is known, reason becomes mute. No value is afforded to divine apostasia, however, in modern culture. For one thing, no purchase can be made upon it, and therefore no profit made. Music can at least entertain, and there again we have our muse and our mu, reminding us of something we have forgotten. Professional muses or musicians can be paid for their work, but they cannot be rewarded if they should fall silent.

Ishtar, the Scarlet Woman: Queen of Heaven, Earth, the Seas and the Underworld

Ishtar Queen of Heaven and Earth (Burney Relief)

New Evidence

Thanks to new archeological evidence and the uncovering of lost scriptures, a different picture is now emerging of history—and of mythology. Gods, pantheons, metaphysical ideas, were once shared all over the region of Egypt, Phoenicia, and Mesopotamia—indeed, the world. The expertise of the Phoenicians at making very fast ships means it is no longer in the realms of fantasy to suppose that people travelled as far as the Americas and back. Until the enforced establishment of monotheism, along with the creation of ‘unifying’ (and therefore divisive) religious cults that began to take place from about 500 BC, it was common to exchange gods, practices, rites and customs. Temples to Egyptian gods were built in Phoenicia, while the oldest of the Phoenician goddesses, Asherah, was worshipped in Egypt as Qudshu (or Qutesh), the “Holy One”. It took more than seven centuries of tyrannical oppression and genocide to finally persuade the reluctant people that monotheism—involving the centralised administration of culture and worship—was superior to the old pagan ways. The repression of knowledge and culture, accompanied by the rewriting of myths to support the new state religions, includes the outlawing of magical Hermeticism in all its colourful shapes and forms, from the so-called low magick of witchcraft to the high magick of theurgy.

Asherah—whose name was later merged with similar sounding goddesses such as Ashtaroth, Astarte and Ishtar—was the original “Scarlet Woman” as termed in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis. She is the woman of blood, the soul in her earthly and heavenly or divine aspects. We need to employ a kind of reversed psychology to understand much that has been framed in the terms of monotheistic cults. Our lady of heaven is a ‘harlot’ in so far as she is the giver and receiver of all life, and so the embodiment of the Holy Graal. Called “Babalon” in Thelemic literature as well as the Enochian Calls of Elizabethan mage John Dee, she is identified with the temples of the goddess that was adored in the ancient city of Babylon—itself a symbol of everything that was despised by the zealous scribes, priestly officials and bearded patriarchs of fanatical monotheism.

God is Polymorphic!

We can use the Qabalah to make ready correspondences between different systems of thought; indeed, this mutual recognition was in evidence at least six thousand years ago. However, we must be careful to maintain a separation between systems. In Egypt alone, each different locality or nome centre had its own metaphysics, its own creation myths, and its own pantheon. Polytheism is a misleading term, for it was always understood, at least by the wise, that the Absolute assumes many guises when it wishes to communicate with the human mind. ‘God’, as such, is polymorphic.

We have but one word for the soul in the English language whereas Egyptian and Eastern metaphysics has many terms for the different vehicles or subtle bodies. Fortunately, the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, has given us a simple and practical metaphysics. The Scarlet Woman of the book is the soul. Left to her natural course she is a vampire, seeking vital sustenance from her environment. It is only by undergoing resurrection through the agency of the mysterious serpent called Hadit that she can overcome the forces of time and death to become an immortal star (Khabs) in the body of Nuit (the Khu).

If we apply ourselves to the symbolic scheme of the Hermetic Tree of Life, we find there are five parts of the soul. Since Liber AL vel Legis was a transmission from the Theban cult centre of ancient Egypt, it will help to supply an Egyptian frame of reference along with the traditional names of the Qabalah.

Egyptian and Qabalistic Parts of the Soul

Egyptian and Qabalistic Parts of the Soul

These correspondences cannot be exact; there is some overlapping when different cultural traditions are aligned on a numerical basis. Fortunately, the very flexibility of the Qabalah has made it the most enduring system for the classification of all possible ideas. Hadit, the Serpent of Knowledge, is the ubiquitous metaphysical point of consciousness within the circle of the absolute, and is simultaneously ‘everywhere’. The Khabs star is the fivefold window or gateway of consciousness that projects the illusion of the material universe through the five senses in man. As the “star”, the Khabs could equally be placed in Kether, and would then be the principle of radiation while Hadit would be the invisible yet active light, the mysterious source behind it. Nuit, the polar complement of Hadit, the circle that encompasses all, can be conceived as the zero not listed in the table. When Hadit causes her manifestation or appearance there is a close analogy to be made between Nuit and the Khu, the magical spirit-body.

When the Khu is located at Binah, the seat of the Neschemic intuition, it is the matrix by which the conscious will of Chokmah is formulated; thought comes about through the polar force and form aspects of Chokmah and Binah, the Khabs and the Khu. The Master in the Pistis Sophia, said, “Zomah Zomah Ozza Rachama Ozayah!” This does not translate very easily, but an approximation that suits our present purpose is, “Thought, thought, the power of the matrix of IAO!” The word that translates as “thought” is zomah (ZMH), which has a wide range of meanings including thought, desire, meditation, imagination and sin. The word alone provides more than enough for a meditation subject.

In many ways the Ka in the natural state has a closer identification with the Nephesch or animal soul than it does with the Ruach, the mind-spirit. However, in Hermetic work the Ka must be divorced or liberated from the Khaibet or shadow with the assistance of the Ruach, the breath of spirit. The Khaibet can be imagined as existing on the threshold of matter—all that appears to the five senses of man—and the etheric web that, while being invisible to the ordinary senses, binds all together in a subtle field or network of threads or fibres. The relation between the Khu and the Khaibet can best be understood by the Hermetic axiom, “As above, so below”.

Qabalah of the Soul

The Nephesch of the Qabalah literally means any kind of living thing—that is the meaning of the word as it is used in the biblical book of Genesis.
The Nephesch may also be read as soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion; to take breath, to refresh oneself.(1)
In the Qabalah, the Nephesch represents one of the five parts of the human soul. On the Tree of Life it is attributed to the lunar sphere of Yesod and, in certain schemes, to the sphere of Malkuth. Nephesch is the Hebrew word for “to take breath”, and generally for “soul” too, even though it most particularly refers to the soul of nature. The breath taken in by the soul is the Ruach, the wind, scent, fragrance or spirit hidden in creation and giving it life. In the Eastern tradition, this breath animating the soul is called prana, which is manifested in time by the kalas.(2)
The Nephesch is the Scarlet Woman or soul in the underworld. She must overcome the hostile forces of the underworld if she is to survive physical mortality. It should not be supposed that the underworld is something that is only created through belief, that it is a myth that has no root in the so-called real world or even that it is a ‘place’ or location that is somehow removed, on another plane, from that upon which we seem to live and move and have our being. The demonic forces of the underworld dominate human nature; the human soul or Nephesch is the vehicle by which they seek expression in the world.

Magical and Theurgic practice requires working to develop the astrosome so the practitioner can operate fully on the subtle, non-material planes. The word astrosome combines two Greek words, astron, a star, indicating the starry or celestial field, and soma, meaning “a body”. There is a close correspondence between the astrosome and what is frequently referred to as a Body of Light, although the latter is used more specifically to refer to the mental construct that is projected by the will, desire and imagination in magical and yogic practice. The astrosome really describes everything other than the physical body or shell.

Through yoga, the Nephesch or animal soul in Yesod is given the breath of spirit via the higher intellectual faculty afforded by the Ruach. The Ruach encompasses the sephiroth of the Hermetic Tree of Life from Yesod to Daath. When Hermetic meditation is supported by the magical training of the mind, the Ruach is organised so that it becomes a better vehicle for the Neschemah or spiritual intuition in Binah, the sphere that is beyond the Abyss of the human mind.

Once the astrosome has been fully realised it encompasses the Nephesch and the Ruachit is everything except the gross physical body. The Ruach itself embodies all of the six sephiroth grouped around Tiphereth, yet it is subject to the solar and lunar forces of the Astral Plane. When the solar and lunar forces are stilled by meditation so they no longer pull the mind and emotions this way and that, then Hadit, who manifests in the human sphere as the Serpent Power or Occult Force, is able to affect a work of transformation upon the soul. The Egyptian Hadit, as termed in Liber AL vel Legis, corresponds to that which is called the Holy Spirit in Christian literature, and that which is called Atman in the Eastern scriptures (the Atman of Eastern philosophy was probably derived from the solar-cosmic Egyptian deity Atoum or Atem Ra).

The Holy Guardian Angel

Magick is aimed at the “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel”. Although everyone does not like the term, it is necessary to avoid subjecting the Holy Guardian Angel of the Hermetic tradition to metaphysical speculation. The mystery and the presence of the Holy Guardian Angel or Daemon must remain completely outside and beyond any conception of the self. Psychological terms such as ‘higher self’ place a limit on the absolute, and worse still, impose arbitrary moral values. Nonetheless, there is a reasonably practical notion put forward in the Qabalah of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn that the Holy Guardian Angel is encountered primarily as an Intelligence in Tiphereth of Yetzirah. In order to encounter the Daemon in Tiphereth of Yetzirah, we must first open the ways to the Kether of Assiah. And to that extent, we are bringing in Atman, Hadit or the Yechidah. The spiritually intuitive intelligence of the Neschemah sums up Kether and Chokmah in the third sephira called Binah, “Understanding”. Binah is the sphere of Nuit-Babalon or the Scarlet Woman above the Abyss—and therefore beyond the hellish regions of the underworld that dominate the human mind, body and spirit.

As the Bornless Spirit, the Holy Guardian Angel is beyond any realm that we can imagine or conceptualise. Atziluth, Briah, Yetzirah, the Khabs and Khu, the stars and the planets – all these are conceptions of the mind, however lofty. Once the Holy Guardian Angel is put away in a box, he is lost forever, so we must be very careful about saying, “The angel is this” or “The angel is that”.

Vampire of Compassion

The Ka shares many of the qualities of the Nephesch. Both the Ka and the Nephesch are principles of life, the creature, the appetite, the desire, the passions and the need for refreshment or sustenance. The Ka is the vitality, the life force itself. It has a natural hunger, an appetite, and this hunger must be redirected in magick to the spiritual purpose. If not, then the Ka becomes subject to fatal forces, as does the fallen Scarlet Woman in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis III: 43, when she seeks to appease her appetite on the plane of desire, and succumbs to compassion:
Let the Scarlet Woman beware! If pity and compassion and tenderness visit her heart; if she leave my work to toy with old sweetnesses; then shall my vengeance be known. I will slay me her child: I will alienate her heart: I will cast her out from men: as a shrinking and despised harlot shall she crawl through dusk wet streets, and die cold and an-hungered.
“Compassion” here describes the vampirical tendency of the human soul to seek nourishment from her environment, from those around her, and to disguise this tendency in worthiness, a deserved reward, or even pretended spirituality or wisdom. An appetite for spiritual knowledge can be encouraged and developed through the work. If the person has no real appetite for spiritual knowledge, they fail in the work. If they merely have a desire for the acquisition and use of knowledge, if they wish to gain a purchase on knowledge, then they may develop certain of the magical powers, so-called, but they will be barred from entry through the door of the Mysteries. This is not a moral punishment enacted by some jealous and vengeful God; it is natural law. A tree can adapt itself to changing conditions within certain parameters, but it cannot uproot itself and walk across to the next field if the one it is in happens to have flooded. In a reversal of the Jewish feast of Passover the person has painted blood—the blood of their victims—on the door of the house, and is now barred from entry to that house. The feast of the Passover, celebrated at the spring equinox—and which has its correspondence with the Christianised version of Easter—is relevant to the mysteries of the Scarlet Woman, the woman of blood. There are mysteries of blood involved with Easter and the Passover in the Judaeo-Christian tradition:
Curiously, according to Exodus 12: 5, the [Passover] sacrifice could be “taken out from the sheep, or from the goats”; the important thing seems to be that it is a male less than one year old and is essentially a spring-lamb, for the Jewish festival to commemorate their supposed departure from Egypt is celebrated at the spring equinox when the Sun enters Aries the Ram. The Passover celebrates the crossing of the Red Sea by Moses; the Jewish festivals are worked out according to a lunar calendar, and for this reason the Christian celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus (the sacrificial lamb of God) takes place on the first Sunday following the first full Moon after the spring equinox.

The sacred role of the female in the mysteries had long been usurped by male priests and other officials. The original source of the creative blood of the universe was the priestess of the Moon, through her menstrual cycle; once the role of the priestess was forgotten, or defiled, it became necessary to sacrifice animals in order to prolong the astral power of the God made exclusively in the male image. The esoteric significance of the spring equinox concerns the passing over or crossing of the Abyss to the scarlet sea of Binah through the dissolution of the king’s body—the ego and human personality. Hence there were three marks of sacrificial blood made on the doors of good citizens in the myth of Exodus, which was created to introduce new centralised cultic laws. Originally, the Passover was a private and domestic rite that involved a pilgrimage to the local shrine of the deity.(3)

The Khaibet is much more than the “shadow” of Jungian psychology; again, there is no exact match with other systems of thought, only correspondences. To a certain extent, the Khaibet can be extended to include the physical body itself—which is a shell, so far as the magician is concerned. To those who still believe in the illusion of the material world, only the physical body is real. To the magician, the physical body is the least real of all things as is evidenced by his or her study and observance of nature. There is a ‘tug of war’ that commences once the Occult Force begins its ascent. It is not confined to the Khaibet or the Ka, there may even be a spiritual war, the “war in heaven” described in the mystic literature of many cultural traditions. Ultimately, the Khaibet shell must be cracked apart and the fallen soul or Scarlet Woman ‘torn upon wheels’ (or chakras) so the dual principles of Sol and Luna can be released for the Hermetic Great Work upon the soul.

All astral forms are created by will, desire and imagining. The work of practical magick is largely concerned with the lower astral triad on the Hermetic Tree of life that is composed of Netzach, Hod and Yesod. The power of thought and the power of imagination are closely linked—as expressed in the single word, zomah. On the higher arc, Binah forms the matrix by which the intelligent will-force from Chokmah can build forms. The 12th path of Beth-Mercury is called the Intelligence of Transparency, and the “house” of Beth gives a clue to the clothing of the word in form that takes place at this level. Mercury has its lower plane correspondence in Hod, and there in Hod is all the mental construction work of ordinary magick. The desirous will-force in Netzach on the side of Force and the form-building power of Hod on the side of Form have the power to project images in the magical mirror of Yesod.

Occult Anatomy

Every person has an astrosome, even if they have not done any structured magical work—every person has a natal horoscope so long as they were born on the earth.(4) But until magical work is done, it is only a semblance, an amorphous shadow compared to the organised astrosome of a Hermetic magician. The magician has organised their thoughts around a Great Symbol (Eastern Sri Yantra), and trained their mind by the intelligent use of the associated correspondences.

The Ritual of the Pentagram creates a palace of 32 points—four pentagrams and two hexagrams, one above and one below. The Ritual of the Pentagram is therefore a geometric projection of the Tree of Life, which has 32 paths in all. There is also a 33rd point when we count the magician as the Hadit point in the circle that is in fact everywhere and anywhere. That 33rd point is equal to the non-sephira Daath on the Hermetic Tree of Life. There is an old time legend that Indian fakirs would demonstrate this fact by playing the snake charmer to a piece of rope, which would then rise up in the air. The fakir would then climb the rope, and as soon as he got to the top he would vanish into thin air.

Part Two of this essay is entitled Magical Polarity.


(1) From The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth.

(2) “The Initiation of the KA”, from The Law of Thelema—Quantum Yoga. A treatise on the parts of the soul as relevant to Initiation.

(3) The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth.

(4) The astrosome is a rarely used technical term that we have borrowed from the French occultist Mouni Sadhu, the author of a substantial tome called The Tarot—A Contemporary Course of the Quintessence of Hermetic Occultism. Sadhu invented his own terms, or adapted them, such as “elementar” for an active thought-form. The astrosome is a summation of all that has an autonomous function on what is called the Astral Plane in occultism.

© Oliver St. John 2016, 2017  

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