Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Interlude: Visions of the Three Orders
The Tree of Life is often split into three different portions that correspond loosely (although not exactly) with the three Orders of systems like Golden Dawn and A∴A∴, the Hebrew parts of the Soul, and Tetragrammaton (YHVH):
- The 3rd Order is in Malkuth (the 10th Sephirah). It corresponds with the Nephesh, or “Animal Soul,” in terms of the parts of the Soul, and it corresponds with the Final Heh of YHVH.
- The 2nd Order is centered in Tiphareth (the 6th Sephirah) and encompasses the surrounding Sephiroth (Chesed, Geburah, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod). It corresponds with the Ruach, or the mind with its many faculties (e.g. memory, volition, reason, etc.), and it also corresponds with the Vav of YHVH.
- The 1st Order includes the Supernal Triad of Kether, Chokmah, and Binah (the first three Sephiroth). It corresponds with the triad of the immortal Soul including Jechidah (the Individuality of Kether), the Chiah (the Life-Force of Chokmah), and the Neshamah (the Intuition of Binah). It also corresponds with the Yod and Heh of YHVH.
Each of the three Orders has a Trance that is characteristic of it: the 3rd Order has the Trance of Sorrow mentioned previously. The 2nd Order has Knowledge & Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel in Tiphareth. The 1st Order has the successful crossing of the Abyss.
One could say that each of these Orders and their characteristic Trances is distinguished by a certain view of life while upon the Path of initiation:
- 3rd Order: Man versus World. The world is seen as a force to be overcome, and it is full of sorrow, disappointment, stress, and failure. This is the Grade of Man of Earth, and it corresponds to the Trance of Sorrow.
- 2nd Order: Man and World. The world is seen as harmonious where one is united constantly with various elements thereof, and it is full of beauty and a constant source of joy. This is the Grade of Lover, and it corresponds to Knowledge & Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.
- 1st Order: Man is World. The duality or distinction between “self” & “not-self” or “ego” & “environment” or “subject” & “object” is completely dissolved: the union has become so full that there is no difference between self and other so all that is, is Unity. This is the Grade of Hermit, and it corresponds to the successful crossing of the Abyss.
Second Order Visions
There are Visions within each of the three Orders, but the Second Order has a series of Visions corresponding with each Sephirah that are all highly interrelated. These 2nd Order Visions are all centered around Tiphareth, and they all have to do with certain insights into the nature of the Cosmos. These Visions are:
- Yesod: The Vision of the Machinery of the Universe
- Hod: The Vision of Splendour
- Netzach: The Vision of Beauty Triumphant
- Tiphareth: The Vision of the Harmony of Things
- Geburah: The Vision of Power
- Chesed: The Vision of Love
We will go into each of these in more depth in the following sections.
2) Yesod (2°=9☐: Luna)
The Vision of the Machinery of the Universe
In 777, we can see that “The Vision of the Machinery of the Universe” is attributed to Yesod, the 9th Sephirah on the Tree of Life. It may also be called “The Vision of Change” or “The Vision of Stability in Change.” It is the first of several Visions that involves noetic insight into the nature of the Universe (the only previous Vision, the Vision of Adonai, deals with one’s personal pursuit of the Great Work rather than being an insight into the nature of the world).
First, some esoteric symbolism: The 9th Sephirah is called Yesod, which literally means “Foundation.” This term implies stability. Nonetheless, the Moon (also known as “Luna”) is attributed to Yesod and is characterized by its constant waxing and waning along with its effect on the constant ebb and flow of the tides: therefore, this implies constant flux or change. This Sephirah therefore contains both the ideas of stability and change. This is an esoteric way of pointing to the paradox which is often phrased as something like “Stability is Change and Change Stability” (Liber CL: De Lege Libellum). The final resolution of this antinomy or paradox is said to come in the 2nd Sephirah of Chokmah, which shows how Yesod is a reflection of Chokmah “on a lower scale,” so to speak. Esoterically, this can be seen in that the grade attributed to Yesod is 2°=9☐ and the grade attributed to Chokmah is 9°=2☐. This paradox has many levels of truth, but one of the most basic forms, appropriate to the “lower” sphere of Yesod, is the idea that “The Stability of the Universe is Change” (The Heart of the Master). Crowley writes further concerning this idea:
“Of all important doctrines concerning equilibrium, this is the easiest to understand, that change is stability; that stability is guaranteed by change; that if anything should stop changing for the fraction of a split second, it would go to pieces. It is the intense energy of the primal elements of Nature, call them electrons, atoms, anything you will, it makes no difference; change guarantees the order of Nature. This is why, in learning to ride a bicycle, one falls in an extremely awkward and ridiculous manner. Balance is made difficult by not going fast enough. So also, one cannot draw a straight line if one’s hand shakes.”
—Aleister Crowley, The Book of Thoth, “Small Cards”
With this in mind, the Vision of the Stability in Change is characterized by the perception that the Universe is a constant change or flux of all things. It is therefore equatable to understanding one of the Three Characteristics of Buddhism, that of anicca, the impermanence of everything. The self – considered as one’s mind and body – is an intertwined, constantly changing, and inseparable part of the whole. This is related to the Trance of Sorrow insofar as sorrow or dukkha stems from the fact that all things are subject to impermanence or anicca and therefore are ultimately insubstantial or unsatisfactory, yet this Vision differs from the Trance of Sorrow insofar as its focus is upon mutability, change, flux, and motion (anicca) rather than on sorrow and dissatisfaction (dukkha). As Crowley says above, this idea that everything is in flux is fairly easy to understand but, yet again, the intellectual comprehension of this idea is not the same as the Vision itself, where the fact of the impermanence of all things is known or felt or understood in the core of one’s being.
One meditation that resembles such a Vision is through the contemplation of the world as constituted by atoms: consider how everything you perceive, including your own body, is composed of atoms – the machinery of the universe, in a sense – that are swirling around at incomprehensible speeds. All the objects around you with their apparently motionless solidity are actually, when considered at the atomic level, in constant, unstoppable motion. Extend this idea to yourself, the objects around you, everything on earth, and everything in the universe. Consider how all of this perpetual flux interacts and intertwines with itself in such a perfect fashion as to create what we know as the Universe, from the most basic rock to the most elaborate technology, from the most basic amoeba to the most complex pattern of neuronal firings and structure of the human brain. In this way, we come to peer into the Machinery of the Universe, perceiving that “The Universe is Change” (The Heart of the Master) and that the structure of the Universe is a result of it.
3) Hod (3°=8☐: Mercury)
The Vision of Splendor
In 777, we can see that “The Vision of Splendour” is attributed to Hod, the 8th Sephirah on the Tree of Life. The planet Mercury is attributed to this sphere, and Mercury is generally associated with things like communication, language, knowledge, and intellect.
In a way, the Vision of the Machinery of the Universe in Yesod is the foundation (pun intended) of the next few visions that all developments or even reactions to it. In perceiving the Universe as constant flux, one is struct by the wonder and glory that things are constituted in this way. The mind boggles in amazement at the sheer complexity, intricacy, and even strangeness that the world works. It is, in a way, a Vision of intellectual awe. The Vision of Splendor is characterized by the mind becoming awe-stricken and enraptured by the sheer wonder and splendor of the Nature of the Universe.
Just as a scientific contemplation was used in the previous section to attempt to approximate the nature of the Vision, various scientists have spontaneously or naturally attained the Vision of Splendor – or some form thereof – through their understanding and contemplation of the Universe. A classic example is the well-known scientist Carl Sagan who was famous for instilling a sense of awe and wonder about the Universe. He wrote in Pale Blue Dot, “How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.” Other examples include the biologist Richard Dawkins who wrote in Unweaving the Rainbow, “The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable.” Another example is the astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson who has said, among other things, “I know that the molecules in my body are traceable to phenomena in the cosmos. That makes me want to grab people on the street and say: ‘Have you HEARD THIS?’” These are, in a way, all expressions of the Vision of Splendor.
In this, we can see that the Vision of Splendor is like what Crowley calls “The Trance of Wonder,” at least on a “lower scale.” In speaking about this Trance of Wonder, Crowley writes:
“In all Trances of importance, and most especially in this, the Postulant should have acquired the greatest possible knowledge and Understanding of the Universe properly so called. His rational mind should have been trained thoroughly in intellectual apprehension: that is, he should be familiar with all Science. This is evidently impossible on the face of it; but he should aspire to the closest approximation to perfect Adeptship in this matter. The method most possible is to make a detached study of some chosen branch of Science, and a general study of epistemology. Then by analogy, fortified by contemplation, a certain inner apprehension of the Unity of Nature may grow up in the mind, one which will not be unduly presumptuous and misleading.”
—Aleister Crowley, Little Essays Toward Truth, “Wonder”
Crowley himself therefore saw the importance of an understanding of Science and its relationship to aiding in the attainment of Trances or Visions. This Vision of Splendor corresponding to Hod – the sphere of intellect, science, communication, mathematics, et cetera - shows that this Vision corresponds to a somewhat intellectual nature insofar as the mind is stricken with wonder and awe at the composition, patterns, and flux of the Universe. It is, in a way, the intellectual complement to the Vision of Beauty in Netzach that is similar but of the nature of aesthetics or emotion.
4) Netzach (4°=7☐: Venus)
The Vision of Beauty
In 777, we can see that “The Vision of Beauty” or “The Vision of Beauty Triumphant” is attributed to Netzach, the 7th Sephirah on the Tree of Life. The planet Venus is attributed to this sphere, and Venus is generally associated with things like sensuality, physical beauty, aesthetics, love, and devotion.
This Vision of Beauty must be distinguished from the “Beatific Vision” that is attributed to Tiphareth, for “beatific” implies holy bliss rather than the aesthetic beauty that is characteristic of this Vision of Beauty in Netzach. Just as the Vision of Splendor mentioned previously is an appreciation of the Nature of the Universe in terms of intellectual awe and wonder, the Vision of Beauty is characterized by the aesthetic appreciation and emotional rapture that results from a contemplation of the Nature of the world.
Specifically, this Beauty is not limited to what we normally consider as “beautiful” as opposed to “ugly,” but – instead – this rapture or Vision of Beauty includes absolutely all things in the cosmos from the smallest to largest, the lowest to the highest, the most peaceful to the most turbulent, the ugliest to the most beautiful. Crowley writes of this very idea when writes, “The New Aeon proclaims Man as Immortal God, eternally active to do His Will. All’s Joy, all’s Beauty; this Will we celebrate” (New Comment to Liber AL, II:35). Or: “All is a never ending Play of Love wherein our Lady Nuit and Her Lord Hadit rejoice; and every Part of the Play is Play. All pain is but sharp Sauce to the Dish of Pleasure; for it is the Nature of the Universe that hath devised this everlasting Banquet of Joy” (Liber Aleph). Or when he writes:
“The artist is he who can discover Beauty in all things, for nothing is common or unclean; and by unvarying determination to discover beauty man comes to the heaven of the artist. By beauty, moreover, We mean not any conventional type of sensuous beauty: it lies in the dwarfs of Velasquez and the monsters of Rabelais as in the women of Titian and the heroes of Homer; nor shall one brother do otherwise than lament if he be so limited in vision that he cannot see beauty in that which enchants another.”
—Aleister Crowley, Liber CXXIV: Of Eden and the Sacred Oak
This Vision of Beauty is therefore where we enraptured with beauty, “perceiving Beauty in the Harmony of the Diverse” (Liber Aleph), which is the emotional-aesthetic complement to the mental-intellectual Vision of Splendor that is based on the mind being bewildered by awe and wonder from contemplating the Universe.
Love is the law, love under will.