The Parable of the Dolphin and the Harper
“Behold! the Abyss of the Great Deep. Therein is a mighty dolphin, lashing his sides with the force of the waves. There is also an harper of gold, playing infinite tunes. Then the dolphin delighted therein, and put off his body, and became a bird. The harper also laid aside his harp, and played infinite tunes upon the Pan-pipe. Then the bird desired exceedingly this bliss, and laying down its wings became a faun of the forest. The harper also laid down his Pan-pipe, and with the human voice sang his infinite tunes. Then the faun was enraptured, and followed far; at last the harper was silent, and the faun became Pan in the midst of the primal forest of Eternity. Thou canst not charm the dolphin with silence, O my prophet!”
–Liber LXV, II:37-44
This Parable is the first of two that deal with the idea of the “Next Step.” The Master Therion was a Magus sent by the Secret Chiefs to teach humanity this Next Step of their spiritual evolution, which is to attain to Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Esoterically, this means achieving the consciousness symbolized by Tiphareth, the Sun, on the Qabalistic Tree of Life. This isn’t the End of the Path, but – for all practical purposes – it is the goal of all those who aspire to attain to spiritual illumination. This Next Step is described by Crowley when he writes of himself in third person, “In the Crossing of the Abyss by the Seer during his Burma-China journey, he accomplished the meditation called Sammasati. He became aware of his True Will, of the purpose for which he had undertaken Incarnation. And this was expressed thus: to aid Mankind to take the Next Step. And at the time he understood this as meaning: to lead them to aspire to the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.”1
Liber LXV is a Holy Book specifically dealing with the attainment of Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, often speaking in terms of union with Adonai or the symbol of the Heart girt with the Serpent. Since the Next Step deals with this very attainment, it should come as no surprise that this Holy Book gives counsel regarding it.
In this Parable, there are two basic “characters”: the aspirant/student and the initiator/teacher. This initiator can be seen both externally in an actual teacher and internally as a form of God as the “Lord of Initiation.”2 In this Parable, the aspirant goes through four stages: the dolphin, the bird, the faun, and Pan. The initiator remains the harper throughout but uses four different instruments to guide the aspirant: the harp, the Pan-pipe, a human voice, and silence. These four stages correspond to many things at once. Some examples are given in this table, although it is not exhaustive:
Crowley writes that this Parable has at least four distinct but interrelated meanings. As with most symbols, the same ideas or images can express multiple truths at once. Crowley writes, “This passage is a parable with several applications. (1) It describes the method of attaining Concentration by ‘the Ladders’ (See Liber Aleph). (2) It indicates how to deal with people whom one wishes to initiate. (3) It gives a method for passing from one state of mind to another at Will. The main idea in all three matters is that one must apply the appropriate remedy to whatever malady may actually exist, not some ideally perfect medicine. The first matter must be brought step by step through each stage of the process; it is useless to try to obtain the Perfect Tincture from it by making the Final Projection.”3 The two last sentences are especially crucial: we must take the Next Step rather than trying to take the Last Step. One would never think to teach Calculus before giving a thorough grounding in Arithmetic, yet this is exactly what many spiritual teachers do. The Master Therion, on the other hand, is a practical teacher and gives us the next phase of our spiritual evolution. The fourth meaning of this Parable is that “It describes the whole course of Initiation.”4 While it would be possible to systematically go through each of these meanings one by one, each of the meanings are harmonious enough with each other that it is possible to comment upon each of them at once, understanding that this is a complex but sublime Parable.
“Behold! the Abyss of the Great Deep. Therein is a mighty dolphin, lashing his sides with the force of the waves.”
The “ladder” of the concentration by the method of “the Ladders” mentioned by Crowley implies the idea of a Ladder to Heaven. It refers to the steady progress of meditation or Yoga to the goal at the top of the ladder, which is perfect concentration or “Samadhi.” In this first perspective, the “Abyss of the Great Deep” is the consciousness of the aspirant, and the “mighty dolphin” is the untrained mind. The typical, untrained mind is uncontrolled and “lashes” in all directions without purpose or concentration. The “waves” are thoughts that barrage the untrained mind in all directions. In line with this interpretation, Crowley comments, “The Abyss is the Mind; the Dolphin the uneasy Consciousness.”5
In another sense, Crowley comments, “Men are ruled by pride and other passions.”6 Therefore, the “Abyss of the Great Deep” also represents the normal, mundane world. The “mighty dolphin” represents the profane, i.e. those who have not yet been initiated. The “waves” represent the emotions that rule the uninitiate, whether of pride, greed, sloth, lust, or whatever else.
The “lashing” also represents uneasiness, sorrow, and discontent that are typical of those who have not yet begun to tread the Path of the Great Work. The “waves” represent circumstances that impinge upon and control the individual, since they have not yet learned to obtain control of the Will. Crowley comments, “The dolphin signifies any state of mind that is uneasy, ill-content, and unable to escape from its surroundings.”7 In general, as Crowley comments, “The dolphin is the profane.”8 We can see that all four perspectives or meanings of this Parable cohere insofar as they represent the state of being untrained, uninitiated, or “profane.”
“There is also an harper of gold, playing infinite tunes.”
The “harper” is the guru, teacher, or initiator. The guru plays the harp and makes harmonious “tunes” or sounds, which may entice the uninitiated to the Path of the Great Work. This is often practically seen when teachers or gurus expound the various benefits of accomplishing the Great Work – for example, when it is said to lead to “True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness.”9 The guru allows the uninitiated to begin to concentrate so that he or she is not simply “lashing” about with the typical untrained mind. The first “tune” is that of Asana, one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Crowley comments, “The harper is the teacher whose praise of the Path of the Wise induces the profane to seek initiation; he is the Guru who stills the mind by making it listen to harmonious sounds, instead of torturing itself by thinking of its pains and its passions. These sounds are produced by mechanical means; they refer to practices like Asana, etc.”10
This line also means that the sorrows, discomfort, and anguish of life are shown to actually be harmonious. The teacher or guru allows the aspirant to come to see sorrow as a necessary and even joyous part of life. One comes to see that things are more savory when complemented with spice, so to speak. Crowley comments, “Cure [sorrow and discomfort] by reflecting that it is the material of Beauty, just as Macbeth’s character, Timon’s misfortunes, etc. gave Shakespeare his chance. Make your own trouble serve your sense of your own life as a sublime drama. Transform it by looking at it as a necessary and important fact in the framework of the Universe.”11 The harper or guru can allow for the profane to a place of acceptance, specifically of the more painful and darker aspects of existence.
In general, the guru or initiator is one who calls to the uninitiated or profane and entices them with the “benefits” of treading the Path of spirituality. The guru or initiator leads the profane to recognize their state of being uninitiated and expounds the benefits of the Great Work.
“Then the dolphin delighted therein, and put off his body, and became a bird.”
The dolphin (the profane) is enticed into transforming into the bird (the aspirant) by the tunes of the harper (the God or initiator/guru). Crowley comments, “Realizing his evil state, and delighting in the prospects offered by initiation, [the profane] renounces all and becomes a pure Aspirant.”12 The “delight” of the aspirant in the tunes of the guru refers not only to the delight in the prospects of the Great Work of wisdom and peace but also the “delight” of finding harmony in all aspects of life, including suffering. Again, the profane are “taught to aspire”13 to the Path of the Great Work by the initiator or guru until they are “clean of the baser appetites.”14 The profane then transcend their normal, mundane baseness and aspire to the Great Work.
From another perspective, the dolphin or profane is enticed by the benefits of meditation/Yoga propounded by the teacher. The aspirant is becomes freed from his former uninitiated condition, i.e. that of the “dolphin,” and becomes thereby transformed into the “bird.” The bird represents a creature that has freedom to fly rather than being buffeted by the waves of unruly thoughts of an unconcentrated mind. The bird is an animal of air, and the second “tune” of the harper is that of Pranayama, the control of breath or air, which is the next of the Eight Limbs of Yoga after Asana. Crowley comments, “Freed from its grossness and violence [as the dolphin], the consciousness aspires to lofty ideals [as the bird]. It is, however, unable to keep quiet, and has little intelligence. It is trained by hearing the harmony of life – breath inspiring a reed, instead of muscle agitating metal. This refers to Pranayama, but also to apprehending that inspiration is in itself more fluttering; it must learn the art of using every breath to produce harmony.”15 This is therefore not merely the practice of Pranayama, but also the practice of mindfulness of each breath whereby we acknowledge every aspect of life – every breath – can be seen as part of a harmonious whole.
“The harper also laid aside his harp, and played infinite tunes upon the Pan-pipe.”
With the “dolphin” of the profane having become the “bird” of the aspirant, the “harper” or guru/initiator picks up a new instrument in order that the next phase of initiation may be completed. The “Pan-pipe” was a musical instrument used by the goat-god Pan; it often has seven notes, which represent the entirety of existence under the figure of the seven classical Planets or the octave of music. Practically, as an initiator, it represents teaching the “seven sciences”16 to the aspirants who have begun to tread the Path of the Great Work. These seven sciences are grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy; in general, they represent that aspirants should have a wide base of knowledge before moving further upon the Path. This is seen in the many works from different cultures that one must read as a Student of the A∴A∴ before one can even become a Probationer.
Further, “Pan” is a name that literally means “All.” The initiator is therefore telling the aspirant in symbol that the Goal is not simply to become the “Higher Self,” but a complete microcosm of the Universe. One must become united with both the “higher” and “lower” aspects of oneself to become complete. Crowley comments, “Having instructed them till they are really complete and ready for true initiation, tell them Truth. [The Aspirant] learns that the Adept is not a perfection of what he feels to be the noblest part of him, but a Microcosm.”17 This same idea is spoken of in Liber Tzaddi, a Holy Book of Thelema, where the idea that the Adept encompasses both good and evil, light and dark, height and depth, is explained:
“I reveal unto you a great mystery. Ye stand between the abyss of height and the abyss of depth. In either awaits you a Companion; and that Companion is Yourself. Ye can have no other Companion. Many have arisen, being wise. They have said ‘Seek out the glittering Image in the place ever golden, and unite yourselves with It.’ Many have arisen, being foolish. They have said, ‘Stoop down unto the darkly splendid world, and be wedded to that Blind Creature of the Slime.’ I who am beyond Wisdom and Folly, arise and say unto you: achieve both weddings! Unite yourselves with both! Beware, beware, I say, lest ye seek after the one and lose the other! My adepts stand upright; their head above the heavens, their feet below the hells.”18
In summary, the harper or initiator picks up a new musical instrument or means of instruction for the aspirant who is now transformed into a “bird.” The harper uses the sevenfold Pan-pipe, which represents the idea of accepting and integrating all aspects of oneself (as represented by the seven Planets or seven notes in a scale) as well as the idea that the initiator should teach the seven sciences to the beginning aspirant so that she may have a firm foundation for pursuing the Great Work.
“Then the bird desired exceedingly this bliss, and laying down its wings became a faun of the forest.”
The aspirant, upon hearing of this next lesson, enters into its second transformation to become “a faun of the forest.” This faun represents the completeness that the harper counseled the aspirant to attain. Crowley comments, “[The aspirant] completes the formation of himself as an image of the All. The consciousness now acquires divine and human completeness. The faun symbolized firm aspiration, creative power, and human intelligence. The wings of ideal longing are laid down; the thought accepts the fact of its true nature, and aims only at possible perfections.”19 The aspirant has come back “down to earth,” so to speak, insofar as he or she no longer strives after lofty ideals but strives to make the self as complete and whole as possible. Practically, considering even the discomfort and sorrow of life as part of the harmony and beauty of existence, one will come to accept all aspects of oneself and the World as necessary for wholeness. Crowley further comments, “The lyrical exaltation will now pass into a deep realization of yourself and all that concerns you as an Inhabitant of Nature, containing in your own consciousness the elements of the Divine, and the Bestial, both equally necessary to the Wholeness of the Universe. Your original discomfort of mind will now appear as pleasant, since, lacking that experience, you would have been eternally the poorer.”20 The airy bird of idealism has now become the faun who is both divine and “bestial” or earthly – both upright and averse – and who accepts all parts of the Universe as necessary, including experiences of suffering, sorrow, and distress.
“The harper also laid down his Pan-pipe, and with the human voice sang his infinite tunes.”
Now the harper lays down the Pan-pipe after having earlier laid down the harp. Now the harper or initiator sings with a “human voice,” which represents clarity of communication. The aspirant, having attained a sense of wholeness, is better able to understand the articulations of the initiator. Crowley comments, “[The aspirant] now hears the harmony of the Universe as expressed in the human voice; that is, as articulate and intelligible, so that every vibration, besides its power to delight the senses, appeals to the soul. This represents the stage of concentration when, being fixes in meditation upon any subject, one penetrates the superficial aspect and attempts to reach its reality, the true meaning of its relation with the observer.”21 Having transcended its normal, mundane dullness and lack of mental control through Asana and Pranayama, the aspirant strives to perfect Dharana – mental concentration – and is thereby able to see the clear, “true meaning” of that upon which he or she concentrates.
Also, in coming to regard all things – both positive and negative – as necessary parts of the Whole, the aspirant is able to see all experience “as a particular dealing of God with [the] soul.”22 The aspirant therefore comes one step closer to attaining unity or identity with the All.
“Then the faun was enraptured, and followed far; at last the harper was silent, and the faun became Pan in the midst of the primal forest of Eternity.”
The faun or aspirant becomes “enraptured,” which represents the last stages of illumination. Crowley comments, “The final stage is reached.”23 The aspirant, having regarded all experiences as dealings of God with the soul, is led from these considerations to rapture. Crowley comments, “Follow up this train of thought until you enter into Rapture, caused by the recognition of the fact that you – and all else – are ecstatic expressions of a sublime Spiritual spasm, elements of an omniform Eucharist.”24 One comes to see that all things or experiences – whether positive or negative – are necessary but only partial. In terms of the ontology of the New Aeon, both positive and negative experiences are always 2 (i.e. dualistic). In this line, the aspirant or faun comes to see that every instance of 2 is an expression of 0; every instance of multiplicity is actually a facet of the All. Crowley comments, “All possible positives are known to be errors from the Negative.”25 That is, the Original Harmony of 0 or “the Negative” is perfect, but it is only when we identify with one particular aspect, any “possible positive” as opposed to the Whole or “the Negative,” that we enter into error.
The harper or initiator becomes “silent,” no longer needing to give explicit lessons to the aspirant, for he or she has built up enough momentum on the Path of the Great Work to attain, i.e. to “follow far.” Crowley comments, “Once they are on the Path, be silent; they will naturally come to Attainment.”26
The faun comes to the final transformation into “Pan,” the All. As Crowley comments, “There is Silence. Then the faun becomes the All.”27 The faun is no more in the normal forest, but in that “primal forest of Eternity”28, which is beyond all multiplicity whether of space or time or causality. The aspirant has become an Adept, transcending all duality. Crowley comments, “Gone is the limited forest of secondary ideas in which he once dwelt, and left in order to follow the Word that enchanted him. He is now in the world of Ideas whose nature is simple (primal) and are not determined by such conditions as Time. Truth, no matter how splendid, will now lose all meaning for you. It belongs to a world where discrimination between Subject and Predicate is possible, which implies imperfection; and you are risen above it.”29 This discrimination between Subject and Predicate is the final duality that is overcome by the faun who has entered into Wholeness. Crowley continues, “You thus become Pan, the All; no longer a part. You thrill with the joy of the lust of creation, become a virgin goddess for your sake. Also, you are insane, sanity being the state which holds things in proper proportion; while you have dissolved all in your own being, in ecstasy beyond all measure.”30 That is, since knowledge implies some kind of relation between things, it is inherently dualistic, yet this direct experience or identity with Unity means that one has transcended knowledge along with all other expressions of duality. There are no limits or separations between things because this “ecstasy [is] beyond all measure.”31
“Thou canst not charm the dolphin with silence, O my prophet!”
The dolphin is, once again, the uninitiated individual or the profane. Crowley – as a teacher or initiator – is given a specific counsel that he cannot “charm the dolphin with silence.” While Silence may be the last phase for the guru or teacher, one has to teach the lesson that is appropriate to the level of the student. Crowley comments, “Practice Elementary Yoga until you are perfect: do not try to attain Nibbana till you know how.”32 That is, one does not strive at the beginning of the spiritual path to attain Nirvana or Samadhi, the Last Step (so to speak). One must begin at the beginning: practically, this means engaging in the “Elementary Yoga” of Asana, Pranayama, and Dharana. Crowley comments, “Many are the virtues of Silence: but who so is vowed to help men must teach them the Next Step.”33 This also means that the teacher has a responsibility to act and a duty to teach, not merely resting in stagnant enjoyment of his or her own attainment. There is an added responsibility for the teacher to teach the Path in a way that is practical and helpful for the student who is being taught: teach the Next Step for the student, not the Last Step.
In a very practical sense, “Do not attempt to cure a fit of melancholy by lofty ideas: such will seem absurd, and you will only deepen your despair.”34 By simply teaching – for example – about Nirvana to the aspirant who is just beginning on the Path, the goal will seem too lofty and too far away to be attainable. The lofty goals will “deepen your despair,” so one must start from the beginning and work one’s way up. If an Adept speaks to an aspirant, they must use the language and lessons that are practical for that aspirant. Crowley comments, “The profane cannot imagine what the Masters mean when they work with those nearest to them… Nobody can possibly form any idea soever of the Nature of the Task of any grade beyond his own.”35
SUMMARY: This Parable – although extremely complex in its intricacies – has a very simple and sublime message at the core of it. It provides a symbolism of a series of transformations by the aspirant in the course initiation; it also is a practical lesson to focus on what ever the Next Step for oneself is, rather than chasing after lofty ideals or goals.
The aspirant is represented by several images or metamorphoses. First, the aspirant is the dolphin, which represents the profane or uninitiated state of being, where one is full of discomfort, sorrow, and an uneasy mind. Second, the aspirant is led to the Path of the Great Work and becomes a bird, soaring after the lofty ideals expounded by his or her Master. Third, the aspirant sees all things – both pleasurable and painful, positive and negative – as necessary to the completion and wholeness of the Self, performing “love under will” in the expression and integration of all parts of the Self: therefore the bird becomes the faun. Finally, the faun becomes caught up and enraptured in this progress to become Pan, the Naught or Silence that contains All things in Itself. Esoterically, these different stages are represented by the Sephiroth along the Middle Pillar of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. The dolphin is in Malkuth, the profane who are entirely in the material, mundane world. The bird is in Yesod, where the profane have been called to become aspirants, beginning to climb the Tree of Life towards Godhead. The faun is in Tiphareth, as the Sun represents a balance of harmony and beauty. Finally, Pan is in Kether, being the secret and ineffable Unity that contains All.
The teacher, guru, or initiator is the harper who does not go through metamorphoses, but uses different musical instruments according to the stage of the aspirant. First, the harper plays upon the harp for the dolphin, which refers to the initiator preaching to the uninitiated of the benefits of initiation such as Light and Truth and Wisdom and Bliss. The harper then plays upon the sevenfold Pan-pipe for the bird, which refers to the initiator explaining to the aspirant regarding the necessity of building up the necessary foundation for attainment. The aspirant must have a thorough grounding in the basic knowledge of the world (the “seven sciences”), build a strong foundation in elementary Yoga (the first Seven Limbs of Yoga before being crowned in the Eighth Limb of Samadhi), and have balanced themselves by accepting and integrating all aspects (the seven classical Planets) of themselves and the World, both light and dark. The harper then sings with a human voice to the faun, which refers to aspirant becoming equilibrated as the Adept and being able to understand the initiator with further clarity. Through uniting in “love under will” with the opposite elements of the Self, the faun is eventually enraptured; this leads to the harper becoming silent. This Silence of rapture eventually leads to the faun becoming Pan, signaling the Adept attaining to absorption in the Infinite, identity with the All.
This parable lays out four basic stages of initiation in sublime symbolic language that can be of benefit to all aspirants as a map of the Path and it can also be of benefit to all teachers as a lesson to teach the Next Step to students rather than the final goal.
1The Vision and the Voice, 20th Aethyr.
2As in the Holy Book Liber Tzaddi vel Hamus Hermeticus.
3Commentary to Liber LXV, II:37-44.
4Commentary to Liber LXV, II:37-44.
5Commentary to Liber LXV, II:37.
6Commentary to Liber LXV, II:37.
7Commentary to Liber LXV, II:37.
8Commentary to Liber LXV, II:37.
9Mentioning both in The Gnostic Mass and in Liber Resh.
10Commentary to Liber LXV, II:38.
11Commentary to Liber LXV, II:38, 40.
12Commentary to Liber LXV, II:38-39.
13Commentary to Liber LXV, II:39-40.
14Commentary to Liber LXV, II:39-40.
15Commentary to Liber LXV, II:39.
16Commentary to Liber LXV, II:39-40.
17Commentary to Liber LXV, II:40.
18Liber Tzaddi, lines 33-40.
19Commentary to Liber LXV, II:40-42.
20Commentary to Liber LXV, II:40-42.
21Commentary to Liber LXV, II:42.
22Commentary to Liber LXV, II:42.
23Commentary to Liber LXV, II:43.
24Commentary to Liber LXV, II:43.
25Commentary to Liber LXV, II:43.
26Commentary to Liber LXV, II:43.
27Commentary to Liber LXV, II:43.
28From this particular line of Liber LXV.
29Commentary to Liber LXV, II:43.
30Commentary to Liber LXV, II:43.
31Commentary to Liber LXV, II:43.
32Commentary to Liber LXV, II:44.
33Commentary to Liber LXV, II:44.
34Commentary to Liber LXV, II:44.
35Commentary to Liber LXV, II:44 and V:51.
93! Thank you for leading me down this rabbit hole. I’m chasing an elegant thought that relates to the ways music is produced. I remember reading of a Neoplatonic classification of music into strings, winds, and voice, each being suited to a different mode of spiritual exploration, but I don’t remember where I encountered the idea. I’m off to dig through my bookshelf.