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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, 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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