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The man who writes books on a Thelema that no beast shall divine. Founding member of Ordo Astri, Thelemic Magical Collegium. Member of Ordo Typhonis since 2000 e.v. More articles and essays are posted at https://ordoastri.org/ and https://tantrika.co.uk/

Friday, 18 December 2015

The Priest-Kings of Thelema

On the 27th November 2015 the Cairo Post published the following item: “The sarcophagus of the priest Ankh-f-n-khonsu has been unearthed in Cairo.” The story spread like wildfire.

Priest-Kings of Thelema: Boulaq Museum Ankh-af-na-khonsu

Thelemites are well aware that the (Egyptian) Book of the Law transmission was activated by Aleister and Rose Crowley’s discovery of a funeral stele numbered ‘666’ in the Bulaq museum in Cairo. When the news story was released, thousands assumed the sarcophagus must have belonged to Ankh-af-na-khonsu of the Stele of Revealing. Not so, pointed out the experts, since the sarcophagus of the priest and scribe of the Stele is already known about and it is not this one. The rumour was thus quickly squashed. The newly unearthed sarcophagus was centuries earlier than that of the man named Ankh-af-na-khonsu that is associated with the Book of the Law.
[This essay is part of the collection, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs.]
However, the newly unearthed sarcophagus was that of a member of the same Theban cult. Initiates of the cult took the eponymous title, ‘Ankh-af-na-khonsu’. The name of the prophet Ankh-af-na-khonsu refers to all members of the initiatic cult—centuries before the 26th Dynasty of Egypt.

There is a distinction between Aleister Crowley as the scribe of Liber AL and the Ankh-af-na-khonsu that is referred to as “prophet and scribe” in the book. Crowley believed in reincarnation, a common belief with occultists of the 20th century. He assumed that Ankh-af-na-khonsu was himself in a ‘past life’. Those of us who wish to follow the teachings of Aiwass, the communicating intelligence of the book, need not accept this. We are thus free to understand Thelema as timeless wisdom, embedded in the land of Khem. Perhaps one more “secret that has not yet been revealed” (Liber AL, II: 2) has now been disclosed. Aleister and Rose Crowley succeeded in breaking open an inner-plane time capsule. 

The transmission from Aiwass reveals the secret knowledge of the Setian cult of Ankh-af-na-khonsu, whose name literally means, ‘Life of the Sky-rider’. The Rider of the Sky was an Egyptian name for the Moon, in particular, the god Khonsu, the child of Mut and Amoun. To the Theban cult, Khonsu assumed all the attributes of other gods such as Atem Ra, Horus and Amoun, and carried the Left-eye of the Moon as his totem hieroglyph. The Theban cult revered Khonsu as a type of the Holy Guardian Angel, the soul that has united with the Angel, whose word is truth. Such a soul is able to stand before Horus as the Lord of the Last Judgement on the day of be-with-us and say, while looking straight into his fearsome hawk’s eye,
I am the Lord of Thebes, and I
The inspired forth-speaker of Mentu;
For me unveils the veil├Ęd sky,
The self-slain Ankh-af-na-khonsu
Whose words are truth.
A prophetic revelation will always be open to interpretation, for prophecy is akin to divination and has nothing to do with prediction—though the two things are frequently confused. Crowley saw himself as the prophet of a New Aeon. Kenneth Grant, Crowley’s nearest lineal successor, also sought to form his own cult, woven from the fabric of his imagination and helped along by the works of Gerard Massey, Robert Temple and even the fantastical tales of Howard P. Lovecraft.[2] Grant, whom Crowley admonished for going off on a “pipe-dream”, focussed his work entirely on the Qliphoth, an intensely dualistic aspect of the Qabalah that classifies a world of demons inhabiting an inverse Tree of Knowledge in the shadow of the Tree of Life. Both men were successful, in various ways, in forming cults of Thelema based on their own highly sexualised, modernist variations on the Hermetic Magnum Opus. Both versions of Thelema bear little if any relation to the source work’s roots in an ancient Egyptian initiatory cult.

Liber AL vel Legis is in some ways an anti-scripture, in that the matter of the book insists that all religions are ‘crapulous creeds’ (AL, III: 54). That is to say, religious belief based on scriptural law is a condition of being intoxicated, as is the human ego in love with itself. It is ironic that a religion of Thelema was founded long after the death of Aleister Crowley in 1947 and somewhat against his wishes. Crowley made his position clear in Magick Without Tears, ‘Religion: Is Thelema a New Religion?’ After exploring what the term ‘religion’ means, he concludes the letter with the following statement.
Call it a new religion, then, if it so please your Gracious Majesty; but I confess that I fail to see what you will have gained by so doing, and I feel bound to add that you might easily cause a great deal of misunderstanding, and work a rather stupid kind of mischief. The word does not occur in The Book of the Law.
The Book of the Law goes further than merely eschewing all religious beliefs. By denouncing human rationality as an instrument of the personal ego, the book declares war on all dogma, including that of material science. It would not have been necessary, in the 26th dynasty of Egypt, to include such repudiation in any knowledge transmission. Only a small portion of the book’s content, though, is uninterrupted by thoughts and questions from Crowley. The spiritual and magical doctrine of the cult of Ankh-af-na-khonsu is clearly expounded in the first thirteen verses of the first chapter. Through the second and third chapters, the tone of Aiwass becomes increasingly hostile and the knowledge cryptic. In fact, a verdict seems to have been reached as early as I: 17, when it is flatly declared, “But ye are not so chosen.” In the context of the preceding verses, Crowley is warned not to make the error of personally identifying himself with the “prince-priest the Beast”, the “chosen apostle of infinite space” (I: 15). He sought a way out of this by later suggesting that ‘ye’ must refer to others, not him!
It is best if we do not confuse the symbol with its concrete meaning, or the metaphor with that which it alludes to. The true identity of the Beast and Scarlet Woman is poetically revealed in Liber AL, I: 16.
For he is ever a sun, and she a moon. But to him is the winged secret flame, and to her the stooping starlight.
This is clearly a description of cosmic principles. Even the soul that has attained supreme liberation cannot be Ishvara, supreme Lord of the Universe, as was explained by Swami Vivekananda.[2] The immortal stone or star can never be a new religion, doomed to merely rearrange the symbolism of previous religions and then insist the new image of Ishvara, or his man-god-prophet, is ‘The Truth’. It should be clear from the generic cult name, Ankh-af-na-khonsu, that to associate Thelema with any individual human personality is an error of a magnitude—indeed, it is a catastrophe for the soul, for such a belief confounds the whole matter of the work.


1. Liber AL, III: 37.
2. Robert Temple, The Sirius Mystery—New Scientific Evidence for Alien Contact 5000 Years Ago (1976) was a particularly powerful influence on the works of Kenneth Grant.
3. Various doctrinal views on Ishvara are discussed by Swami Vivekananda. See, ‘The Philosophy of Ishvara’, in his treatise on Bhakti Yoga.

© Oliver St. John, 2015, revised 2018
This essay is part of the collection, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs.

Related articles (Star and Snake):
Prophecy of Liber AL Fulfilled
Aleister Crowley Legacy: Boleskine Tribute
The Law of Thelema: Quantum Yoga

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