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

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Magical Pathworking the Tree of Life

The number 22 is that of the paths of the Serpent of Wisdom—the ascending current that is the foil to the downward striking celestial Mezla typified by the Lightning Flash. While there is a plethora of books dealing with pathworkings of the Tree of Life, much of it is quite dismal stuff. The guided visualisation technique has, to say the least, been somewhat over used since it gained popularity with the New Age boom of the 1980s and 1990s. Even some of the better known works spoon-feed the novice with an unwieldy hotchpotch of various mythologies spiced with pop psychology and, in one case at least, a lamentably crude, outdated anthropological view of human evolution. Worst of all, the guided visualisations do not only tell us what we should be seeing, but also tell us what we should be feeling and experiencing.

The popular mode of pathworking operation has little if anything to do with the original method based on ancient Egyptian magick. The hieroglyphs are not merely symbols, but are, or become, that which they represent. This is called “pathworking” because the ritual involves a clairvoyant exploration of the 22 paths, or modes of consciousness, of the Hermetic Tree of Life. There are no scripts, narratives or mythological storytelling scenarios. We shall describe here the real magical method of pathworking.

The beauty of this is in the simplicity: The symbolism to be employed is exactly as the Hermetic Tree of Life model looks on the printed page of a book. Take the 32nd path as an example. Malkuth is a circle, and the lines of the path run from there to Yesod, another circle:

Magical Pathworking: Correspondences on the Tree of Life

The image of the 32nd path is the Tarot trump, The Universe XXI:

Magical Pathworking: Crowley Thoth Tarot Atu The Universe XXI

From the beginning, when we are ascending the path, the ‘entrance’ is the Hebrew letter, Tav:

Magical Pathworking: The Hebrew letter TAV

Towards the end of the path is the astroglyph of Saturn:

Magical Pathworking: Symbol of Saturn

The primary symbols can be translated into a workable praxis. Firstly, though, it is no use approaching this as though we were attending the theatre, or sitting down to watch a movie. This is not passive entertainment, and if anything it is the exact reverse of that which many people in the world now spend an inordinate amount of time doing: gazing at virtual images and icons, whether static or mobile, and clicking them with a mouse or tapping them with a finger to prompt some kind of activity. Magick is an intensely active business, and one must engage the whole of one’s being and all the powers of concentration available. The magician must exalt his or her consciousness.

When the right conditions have been established, and consciousness transferred to the desire body or astrosome, we can send that shining body to the Temple of Malkuth. Like the diagrams of the Tree of Life, the Temple has three portals or doorways in the North, corresponding to the paths of Tav, Shin and Qoph. Between the two pillars is the doorway to the 32nd path of Tav. This illustration of the Temple of Malkuth is from the Neophyte grade knowledge.(1)

The Neophyte Temple of Malkuth from Ritual Magick, Rites and Ceremonies of Hermetic Light

There are various ways in which this can be done, but it is simple and effective to see a luminous veil covering the door, which has the image of the Tarot trump on it. Astrally tracing the flaming letter Tav then acts as a key to pass the threshold. Once on the other side of the door, the inner senses must fully replace their physical counterparts. Not only do we desire to see into the path, but also we want to hear it, touch it, feel it and smell it with our subtle or non-physical senses. Before projecting the body of light, we have prepared our physical senses by burning the appropriate incense, and by gathering together the various colours and other magical correspondences of the 32nd path.(2)

As with the kind of meditation practice where the mind is trained to orbit a symbol, key word or phrase, any thoughts or impressions that cannot strictly be related to the subject are sent back to the void from whence they have arisen. This is not an exercise in whimsical daydreaming, where the mind is allowed to go where it will. The experience of the path should correspond with the recognised symbolism, the keys of the path. This can be checked later when reviewing the diary Record. Towards the end of the path, a distant symbol or image that corresponds to Yesod, the Temple of the Moon, will be seen. This is always the point of return. The sephiroth are paths in themselves; one path at a time is enough.


(1) See Ritual Magick—The Rites and Ceremonies of Hermetic Light.

(2)Some intelligent adaptation is required for the tables of Aleister Crowley’s 777, which is the standard textbook for Qabalistic correspondences. Traditionally, the 32nd path corresponds, via its astroglyph, Saturn, to noxious odours. It would be pointless to poison oneself with sulphur or choke on the smoke of asafoetida! Any austere or dark smelling fragrance will do. Myrrh is bittersweet incense that will help evoke the higher aspects of Saturn without causing anyone to become asphyxiated. The 32nd path has an earthy association, and so the incense or oil of patchouli could also be used, for example. When in doubt, use grains of pure frankincense, the universal fragrance for ritual magick.

© Oliver St. John 2015

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Friday, 17 April 2015

The Dual Nature of the Soul

In Chapter Nineteen of Dion Fortune’s novel, The Sea Priestess, her central character reveals the Hermetic doctrine concerning the human soul. There follows here our development and magical expansion of that, and the Circuits of Force—two ideas that are central to magical work.

The Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris Thoth Tarot Atu XIV depicts the Holy Guardian Angel as a divine androgyne, performing a work of transmutation upon the soul.

Art XIV Thoth Tarot card

Male and female have specific functions in magick. The Egyptian story of creation always depicts male and female pairs of deities that are personifications of the original or primal pair—Nuit and Hadit, in Thelemic terms. If we reduce magical polarity to simple magnetism then there is only active and passive—power in action and power latent. The duality can be likened to a positive or negative magnetic charge. The female is negative on the plane of matter, while the male is positive. On the astral plane, she is positive while he is negative. On each subsequent plane, the polarity changes places, as consciousness ascends from matter to spirit. To put this in ceremonial terms, the priestess magnetically draws the power from the priest, who must direct that power towards the Shakti that is veiled by the actual human form of the priestess. A Circuit of Force is set up between male and female practitioners.

Magical Polarity

According to the ancients, everything that is visible belongs to the material world. Everything that is invisible belongs to the spiritual world.

In every being there are two aspects: positive and negative; dynamic and receptive; male and female. The dual aspects can be summarised and glyphed as Sol and Luna, the Sun and the Moon.

The duality is manifested in the physical body. The sex is determined according to which aspect is dominant and which aspect is recessive.

The soul is bisexual. As one or the other aspect manifests in the world of form, the alternative aspect is latent in the world of spirit (and so invisible).

Each person freely shows forth either the Sol or Luna nature. The aspect that is latent only comes forth when it is evoked (summoned, called forth). The greater part of the nature of every person is the side that is latent, unexpressed.

Generally, in the male it is the dynamic will (or solar nature) that is expressed, while the spiritual nature is latent, unexpressed, invisible and requiring evocation. In the female, it is the spiritual (or lunar) nature that is expressed freely, while the dynamic will is negative, and requires evocation.

Know Thyself

The nodes forming the framework of intelligence for human beings as they go about their daily lives are very close to the surface. In most cases they are little more than patterns of behaviour that mask purely automatic functions. The magician or theurgic practitioner, on the other hand, willingly and consciously ‘raises the voltage’, and in every way deepens the well from which knowledge is drawn. The transmission of the ‘93’ consciousness current in magical practice is a communication from one node of Deep Mind to another.

The astrological natal horoscope can be used to read or determine the soul of a person. The Sun in the natal horoscope symbolises the Dynamic Will; the Moon symbolises the Spiritual Nature. Although individual men and women will generally express one or the other side of the soul’s bisexual nature, we can all express one or the other side at different times. This means that one or the other side may require evocation before it appears or comes forth free-flowing.

The first task of the Great Work is to Know Thyself. The secret nature is that which is latent, invisible, spiritual. A psychological investigation of the self has its uses, but can be a blind, or a stumbling block in the Way. We are moved and shaped by impersonal and cosmic forces. Impersonal and cosmic forces work through us to shape destiny. The causes of things are relative phenomena. All causes and all effects or results are phenomenal, and as such, form only partial truth.

The human personality, with all its perceived virtues and vices, strengths and weaknesses, is not the key to the mysteries but is a veil that covers them. It is therefore best not to use astrology or self-study to track apparent causes for behavioural (or other) perceived weaknesses or defects. Do not use it either to track apparent causes for strength or virtue. Self-glorification is no better than self-abasement. All such endeavour is futile, and may even waste the life force—for paralogism is invested by the power of belief. It is an attempt to define the self by arbitrary and self-limiting values.

It is wise to examine the horoscope and reduce it to the principles that drive it, that form character. Extract the symbol from the symbolic, and follow it to its source with the absolute. Commercial astrologers, spiritual healers, professional card readers and the like do this in reverse. They take the latency of the symbol and attach concrete meaning as a form of trading currency.

The Circuits of Force

There is a footnote in Woodroffe’s seminal work, Serpent Power, describing three special points where Kundalini penetrates the aura: ajna, anahatha, muladhara. In Hermetic Tantra-Yoga, the three relevant chakras are Da’ath, Tiphereth and Yesod, corresponding to Saturn, the Sun and the Moon.

1. The Central Circuit or primary magnetic core can be symbolised by ‘93’ since the field of polarity is between Da'ath and Yesod, Saturn and the Moon. The Central Circuit is not changed or modified by any external influences. This conforms to the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis II: 58:
Yea! deem not of change: ye shall be as ye are, and not other.
2. The field of polarity between the primary magnetic core and the Cosmic Circuit (outermost) creates the Peripheral Circuit. The Peripheral Circuit is very sensitive to external influence; the imprint received from the Cosmos is symbolised by the astrological horoscope drawn up at the time of birth. The Peripheral Circuit equates to the six sephiroth that revolve around Tiphereth, the central Sun of the solar system—the wheels, chakras or power zones that act as nodes of communication within the electromagnetic field of the astrosome or Rainbow Aura.

3. The Cosmic Circuit is summed up in the polar field between Kether and Malkuth. These two chakras or zones are not within the astrosome, but are outside it. The incarnate magnetic core is formed by the discarnate Cosmic Circuit.

The astrosome or Rainbow Aura comes about within the field of polarity between the primary magnetic core and the Cosmic Circuit. The auric field is highly charged; it is somewhat plastic in nature and is conterminous with the astral plane. The natal horoscope is a mirror of the stellar environment at the time of birth, which was impressed by the Cosmos on to the highly sensitive Peripheral Circuit. The image of the Cosmos impressed upon the Peripheral Circuit determines how the Rainbow Aura is internally organised.

The Khabs star regulates the Central Circuit and mediates the cosmic influence (MZLA, 78) to the earth, via the Sun of our solar system. The Peripheral Circuit regulates the Rainbow Aura and the hexagram of planetary chakras grouped about Tiphereth; the Sun is the planetary Logos, the giver of life to the solar system.

The Cosmic Circuit is focused through the North Star, Kether, the head of the axis of the universe. The tail or south pole of the polar axis is symbolised by the star of Hormaku, hidden deep in the underworld or subconscious of man. Hormaku symbolises the true nature of Malkuth, the Kingdom, and is the completion of the Great Work on earth.

There is nothing more powerful than consciousness itself, which inspires such awe from human beings that they make it into a God upon which they hang their hopes and fears, their wishes and desires. That is why there are so many safeguards, preparations, purifications and consecrations, and why so much care is put into creating the magick circle—especially at the beginning of the work. It is only when the Hermetic Tree has been seeded in the astrosome of the magician, and with time, labour and care has rooted and flourished, that the rituals and practices may become a Gateway to true Knowledge.

There are three things required to engage with and align the Circuits of Force:

1. The True Will
–The power of the Inviolate Sceptre or Vajra

2. The Cosmos
–The magical environment of the magician; the Circle of the Place

3. The Chariot
–The astrosome for the magical exploration of the Cosmos

The active and dynamic aspect of the feminine True Will is initiated through the ‘93’ magnetic core or Double Wand of Power. The Tantrik Vajra is the totem of the double power, which is brought from latency to activity through the discipline of the work and development of the concentration of the mind in magical Tantra-Yoga practice.

The astrosome of the magician is the image of the solar system with Tiphereth at the centre, producing the rainbow spectrum of light from ultraviolet to infrared. The astrosome of the magician is the self in positive mode, the transmitter of the planetary logos. The formula of the astrosome is LVX, Konx Om Pax or Light In Extension.

The shade (or dark double) of the magician is symbolised by the circuit of force between Da'ath and Yesod, the ‘93’ source of occult knowledge. The shade of the magician is the self in negative mode, as transmitter of the Stellar Logos. The formula of the shade is the Ape of Thoth, NOX and the Night of Pan.

The positive and negative modes are not to be understood here as ‘good’ or ‘evil’. The positive mode is a centrifugal force; the negative mode is a centripetal force. The former projects outwardly, while the latter absorbs inwardly. The five radials of the Khabs star are the five senses in man, which are a window to the universe. The visible universe, however, can only act as a mirror of man and his five-fold perception.

The Circuits of Force schema reveals that human souls are imprisoned in a bubble of their own consciousness, a film projection that we take as reality. Even ordinary magical working does not penetrate beyond that bubble—the outer edge of which is referred to as the Peripheral Circuit. Journeys to explore inner space are inevitably journeys through the infinite maze of the Self, since the Self is a mirror image of the Cosmos. Astral vision, skrying or clairvoyance consists of such a journey. What is required, then, is the means to break through from the Peripheral to the Cosmic by linking all three Circuits of Force. To penetrate beyond this shell or cocoon—to escape from the mirror world generated by the Peripheral Circuit – a key is required. That key is expressed in the sevenfold spell, Love is the law, love under will. The ancient Egyptians figured it as the ankh or Key of Life. The knot or puzzle that must be solved by the key of the mysteries is the web of the worlds created by consciousness projection. The key is turned in the lock by the operation of the law of magical polarity.

The Temple of Hekate: Deep Mind

In exceedingly ancient times—aeons before even the priests of Aunnu or Heliopolis conceived nine gods in the sky-boat of Atem Ra—the company of heaven was an ogdoad. From Nu and Nuit came forth three divine couples, making eight in all: Hehu and Hehut, Kekui and Kekuit, Kerah and Kerahet.(1)

In the beginning, the heavens and the earth were raised up from the deep, boundless watery mass of the nun (Coptic νουν), the primordial abyss containing the germs of all life. The gods Nu and Nuit personify the abyss between heaven and earth and the vault of heaven respectively. Nu and Nuit were depicted in the sky-boat in familiar human form, Nu carrying a was sceptre and Nuit bearing the vessel of heaven upon her head that is both her name and her function.

The Egyptian gods are Neters, principles in nature that are real, observable, and functional. To the ancient Egyptians, physics and metaphysics expressed one truth. Nu was depicted variously as frog-headed and surmounted by a Khephra beetle, or snake-headed, while Nuit was shown as snake-headed with a scarlet sun disc, or with the head of a cat. The imagery of the swamp, on the borders of water and earth and inhabited by such creatures as the frog and snake, continued with the legend that Sebek, usually portrayed as a Nile crocodile, was the very soul of the abyss or nun.

The cat, on the other hand, typically associated with the goddess Sekhet or Bast, is not generally a creature of the swamp. While the frog and snake depict modes of consciousness going forth (i.e. in motion), the cat and the lion signify the principles of sexual heat, light and fire, and were understood to be made in the image of Ra, the Great Neter himself.

According to E.A. Wallis Budge, the rites and the elusive details of the elder gods were already long forgotten, or otherwise abolished, by the time the priests of Aunnu were at the height of their ministry.(2) An alternative explanation is that since the primal gods are less material, more abstract conceptions than the heroic deities that after long aeons superseded them, there is very little that needs to be said about them. They are better known, not described.

The scanty information that there is concerning pre-dynastic Egypt refutes any notion that ‘progress’ is a factor built in to civilisations that become larger and more complex over time. Pre-dynastic artefacts demonstrate that art, craftsmanship and technology attained a mastery of perfection that could not be reproduced in later times. We must be careful then, in observing that the frog and snake-headed deities of the abyss reflect earlier shamanistic traditions of magick and folklore. It is more accurate to assume that remnants of the science, magick and theology of a vastly antique civilisation have survived in the practices of the soothsayer, the village shaman, the snake charmer, the roller of bones.

The three pairs of gods that come forth from Nu and Nuit take on a similar if not identical appearance to that of Nu and Nuit in their animal-headed forms. Firstly come the snake or frog-headed Hehu and the cat-headed Hehut, male and female principles of air, breath or spirit. As spirit they are cognate with the Greek word pneuma. The name of Hehu is formed with the knotted hieroglyph (heh) that corresponds with an aeon, an eternity or millions of years. Hehu and Hehut are comparable to the god Shu, whom the Egyptians always depicted in an attitude with both arms raised up as though holding up the vault of heaven. The pair stands, as it were, between the heavens and the earth.

After Hehu and Hehut come the snake-headed Kekui and the frog or cat-headed Kekuit, male and female principles of the powers of light and abysmal darkness.(3) The two gods are closely identified with the Egyptian gods Ka and Kait, the dual personification of the Ka, hieroglyph of strength, vital force or power. While Kekui is the “raiser up of light”, Kekuit is the “raiser up of the night”. Kekui and Kekuit do not personify light and darkness; they are the power that calls forth light and darkness from the void. Kekui and Kekuit also mark time in a very particular sense. While Kekui represents the last hour of night before the first hour of the day, Kekuit represents the first hour of night after the last hour of the day. They are, therefore, gods of the twilight realm, the realm of neither here nor there, the gap that lies between the worlds.

After Kekui and Kekuit come the frog or snake-headed Kerah and the serpent-headed Kerahet, male and female principles of the night itself, which rules the abyss. The hieroglyphic determinative for the names Kerah and Kerahet is an extended arm with the palm of the hand facing downwards to show latent power or force contained. As with the crocodile god Sebek, who is sometimes seen as a personification of the primal Kekui, the pair is the soul of the abyss.

Material nature veils or conceals the numinous source of all. The dissolution signified by the chalice or wine cup is the tearing down of the veil of matter and form that marks the return of consciousness to the numinous source. It is this numinous source of all, of which light is but a veil, that we wish to make contact with through all the magical means at our disposal.

The Law and Operation of the Ogdoad

1. The Primary Magnetic Core is formed by the polarity between Da’ath or Saturn, the third eye chakra, and the Moon or base of the spine where the kundalini force is stored. We can give qualities to this magnetic core, but when we do we create phantoms, little devils in the light, that are only mirrors for aspects of ourselves. Such devils are neither good nor evil, but as they are derived from a partial knowledge of the self, their power to cause division in the self (and therefore harm) is strong. For that reason, it is a dangerous force for the average human being. For the Initiate, it is the beginning, the first threshold.

2. The Tree of Life necessarily depicts the material plane, and other planes above, as depending from Kether. In fact, Kether only comes about when the power of vision that resides with the Saturn or third eye chakra is seamlessly united in thought to the source, the river of life that wells upwards and is stored at the base of the spine.

3. A Circuit is formed, therefore, that passes through the base of the spine at the lower end, and through the mirror of vision at the upper—which has its physical analogy with the centre of the brain between the two hemispheres. This may be imagined as a circle of ultraviolet light.

4. The Saturn chakra is really a mirror that is turned inwards or backwards, towards the base of the spine. What is seen in the mirror of the imagination reflects the most primal upsurge from the earth, whose receptacle or chalice is at the base of the spine.

5. Every human being has an astrosome. The astrosome only attains its full power, as a vehicle of consciousness that can travel anywhere inside or outside of space and time, when the power arising from the base, which is experienced as sexual force, magnetic, is drawn into the Circuit of Force and united in vision to the Eye of the Beholder. A desire body, a body of light, then emerges.

6. The desire body is the class of phenomena that religious symbolism veils as the Holy Ghost.

7. When the mirror of vision is at one with the primal force, invisible in itself, the Primary Magnetic Core realises its identity with the absolute, the Cosmic Circuit.

8. Tiphereth is the meeting place between the magician and the priestess, a magical garden where all planes of existence converge. The convergence is as fully realised in the physical body, the flesh, as it is realised by the spirit—the indwelling presence in the astrosome or body of light. That is why the Vision of the Holy Guardian Angel corresponds to Malkuth.


(1) See “The Twilight Vigil”, Ritual Magick—The Rites and Ceremonies of Hermetic Light.

(2) See The Gods of the Egyptians, Vol. I, pp. 282, E.A. Wallis Budge (Dover).

(3) This is consistent with the Sethian Gnosis in which there are three primal principles forming the womb of life, the container for all latent forms: light, darkness and spirit or fragrance—see Thrice Greatest Hermes translated by G.R.S. Mead (Kessinger Books).

© Oliver St. John 2015