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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, 24 November 2017

Magick of Lord Dunsany Journey of the King

Time and the Gods was the second collection of short stories by Lord Dunsany (1858–1957), first published in 1906 (Heinemann).[1] Within five years the Irish baron was lauded as the greatest British writer and poet.

Magick of Lord Dunsany: Time, Sydney Sime

Curiously, his works—80 published books not including plays and unpublished short stories—are now relegated to the backwaters of the fantasy genre. However, Lord Dunsany constantly experimented with literary form. He invented the fantasy genre if he had anything to do with it at all. His influence with writers, poets and playwrights was and still is vast. HP Lovecraft and JRR Tolkien, to name but two of the most well known writers, have declared their respect. In 1923, Lovecraft wrote,
Dunsany has influenced me more than anyone else except Poe—his rich language, his cosmic point of view, his remote dream-world, and his exquisite sense of the fantastic all appeal to me more than anything else in modern literature. My first encounter with him—in the autumn of 1919—gave an immense impetus to my writing; perhaps the greatest it has ever had.[2]
Part One of Time and the Gods deals with the gods of Old, or gods of Pegana, and how they created the world.[3] All the while, a mysterious foe lurked, whom the gods took at first for their slave, while they sought to understand his riddle. The masked god is in fact Time, and in Part Two, Journey of the King, his role is more fully revealed.

The style of Journey of the King is at times evocative of an ancient Egyptian or Indian folk tale. Viewed philosophically, the story is an early and vibrant form of universalism or syncretism, for it harmonises elements of Taoism, Hinduism, ancient Egyptian pharaonic theocracy and Christian theology.[4]

At the beginning, the King sends the dancers and the wine-bearers out of the palace and demands of the prophets that they tell him of future things. He first tells the prophets that he will make a journey with many horses, yet riding upon none. The prophets then each give their own unique version of the King’s journey through the dream world or afterlife.
One of these, the prophet Samahn, reveals the fate of all the souls of all the worlds, to be imprisoned in “the body of a man with five small windows closely barred, and each one shackled with forgetfulness”. According to traditional Eastern wisdom, the five senses are five robbers, the slayers of the real. The King is mind or spirit that presides over them yet is often bound by their fascination. In the words of Swami Vivekananda,
My five oarsmen are foolish, and the helmsman is weak. My bearings are lost, my boat is sinking.[5]
Samahn also tells how the gods of Old, through man’s neglect of their altars, begin to fade and die. They subsequently vanish away, taking their dreams with them, though there is a hint that they will be replaced by a new god that is not of the gods of Old. We may speculate that the new god is man himself, the god that will bedazzle all with new inventions and wonders, all the while leading man to final destruction.

The prophet Monith of the Temple of Azure tells of the King’s journey among the stars, through space and outside of time. The prophecy is particularly resonant with ancient Egyptian lore. Monith also tells that King Ebalon once went out riding and when a beggar, Yeb, failed to get out of the way, the King rode over him with his horses. The King is reincarnated as Yeb, the beggar, in a future life. Yet in that future, the beggar meets King Ebalon, who has not the soul of Yeb. In this way, the destiny of the King—and of all Kings in all worlds, times and places—is unfolded.

Magick of Lord Dunsany: Shimono Kani, Sidney Sime

Time and the Gods is brimful of spiritual wisdom and arcane knowledge expressed through sensuous, subtly nuanced poetry and lyricism. We know that Dunsany became acquainted with WB Yeats of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and ‘Æ’ George William Russell, who was a confidente of the Order if not an actual member.[6] Time and the Gods was written around the same time that Aleister Crowley’s wife Rose mediumistically received the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis in Cairo, 1904. Lord Dunsany could not have known of the existence of the then unpublished manuscript. He might not have cared much for it if he had, yet there can be little doubt that Journey of the King provides a meaningful context against which the spiritual meaning of verse II: 58 becomes crystal clear.
Yet there are masked ones my servants: it may be that yonder beggar is a King.
The prose-poetry of the tale displays Qabalistic sense and imagery. Whether this was the working of powerful intuition or otherwise, we cannot say. Part of the prophecy of Monith of the Temple of Azure, where the King gives his final blessing on the land, is a conveyance of Tiphereth in its fullest spiritual sense. The imagery of the Qabalah is echoed in the prophecy of the Prophet of Journeys. The Initiation of the King is here mapped through time and space, passing through worlds of wonder. One may recognise the initiatic journey beyond Tiphereth to the threshold of Da’ath and beyond.
The journey of the King shall be an old journey pushed on apace. Many a year before the making of the moon thou camest down with dream camels from the City without a name that stands beyond all the stars. And then began thy journey over the Waste of Nought, and thy dream camel bore thee well when those of certain of thy fellow travellers fell down in the Waste and were covered over by the silence and were turned again to nought; and those travellers when their dream camels fell, having nothing to carry them further over the Waste, were lost beyond and never found the earth. These are those men that might have been but were not. And all about thee fluttered the myriad hours travelling in great swarms across the Waste of Nought.
Compare with Liber AL, I: 27 and III: 72.
O Nuit, continuous one of Heaven, let it be ever thus; that men speak not of Thee as One but as None; and let them speak not of thee at all, since thou art continuous!
I am the Lord of the Double Wand of Power; the wand of the Force of Coph Nia—but my left hand is empty, for I have crushed an Universe; and nought remains.
The narrative includes a journey on a dream camel to the end of space and time, where only Nought prevails. The prophecy of Samahn tells of the bones of thirty ancient Kings resting upon golden thrones in a white house, bearing their sceptres. The number 30 is that of ‘L’, the letter of the Egyptian goddess of the scales embodying the principle of natural law or karma.[7] The white house or palace is a well known symbol of Kether the Crown, the primal manifestation of the Tree of Life, while the golden throne is Tiphereth at the centre of all, which bears the light or lamp of Kether in the lower worlds. The prophets that foretell the journey are ten in number, which is that of the whole Tree of Life and of Malkuth the Kingdom. Time, the End of All, is the eleventh masked prophet. The number 11 is that of Da’ath, or Knowledge, as declared in Liber AL, 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.
Da’ath is not a place as such, but a mode of consciousness and a point of transition between the worlds of appearance and the indescribable worlds of pure spirit, where form is at best merely foreshadowed. Da’ath has sometimes been described, particularly in the writings of Kenneth Grant, as a place where infinite worlds may not only be accessed but also created. Of such post-abysmal dreams, the prophet Ynar of the Crystal Peak—perhaps the most powerful of them all for he is later condemned for his prophecy yet cannot be touched—tells thus:
And thou shalt find that dreams are real where there is nought as far as the Rim but only thy dreams and thee. With them thou shalt build palaces and cities resting upon nothing and having no place in time, not to be assailed by the hours or harmed by ivy or rust, not to be taken by conquerors, but destroyed by thy fancy if thou dost wish it so or by thy fancy rebuilded.
Through many worlds and dreams—which Lord Dunsany in his narrative insists are more real than the world of men—this beautiful and complex tale comes to a final resolution. Yet as one might expect, the resolution is achieved after a weird fashion. The journey begins where it ends, thus setting a keystone for all future writers in what was to become the fantasy genre.

The works of Dunsany are more than merely influential. He opened the ways of boundless, unfettered imagination to a degree that is incomparable with anything written before or since. At the same time much of his work, as exemplified in the eleven chapters of the Journey of the King, carries a real weight of spiritual, mystic and even prophetic insight.


1. Lord Dunsany’s full name was Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany.
2. Lovecraft—A Study in the Fantastic, Maurice Lévy, translated by ST Joshi, pp. 33 (Wayne State University Press 1988).
3. The Gods of Pegana is the title of Lord Dunsany’s first book, published on commission in 1905.
4. ‘Pharaonic theocracy’ is a term coined by RA Schwaller de Lubicz. See in particular, Sacred Science [Inner Traditions International]. Christian elements are sometimes conveyed with irony, as in ‘The Highwayman’ and ‘The Kith of the Elf-folk’ from The Sword of Welleran and other stories.
5. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 7 (talk given on Wednesday June 19th, 1895).
6. According to Ithell Colquhoun, Sword of Wisdom (pp. 136): “Maybe one should include [in the list of members of Isis-Urania] some of Yeats’s contacts in the Dublin Hermetic Society and the Dublin Branch of the TS [Theosophical Society], who were also connected … with this Temple through him. Yeats certainly wrote to Lady Gregory and to GW Russell (AE) too freely on Order-matters if they were not members.”
7. Ma’at, the Egyptian goddess of the scales and balance (Libra), is depicted on the Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot trump Adjustment VIII, which corresponds Qabalistically to Lamed (‘L’, 30) and the 22nd path of the Tree of Life.

© Oliver St. John 2017

This article is the subject of the Temple of Babalon podcast, Lord Dunsany Journey of the King Part One. The podcast is in two parts and features a dramatised audio broadcast of the short story, unabridged.

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