The Parable of the Waters, the Priest, and the Pyramid
“Also I heard the voice of Adonai the Lord the desirable one concerning that which is beyond. Let not the dwellers in Thebai and the temples thereof prate ever of the Pillars of Hercules and the Ocean of the West. Is not the Nile a beautiful water?Let not the priest of Isis uncover the nakedness of Nuit, for every step is a death and a birth.The priest of Isis lifted the veil of Isis, and was slain by the kisses of her mouth. Then was he the priest of Nuit, and drank of the milk of the stars. Let not the failure and the pain turn aside the worshippers. The foundations of the pyramid were hewn in the living rock ere sunset; did the king weep at dawn that the crown of the pyramid was yet unquarried in the distant land?”
–Liber LXV, V:48-51
This is the second Parable dealing with the Next Step, which refers to the next step in humanity’s spiritual evolution. This should be read in conjunction with “The Parable of the Dolphin and the Harper” which deals with a similar subject but has a different lesson. This Parable actually contains three separate Parables all combined together, all relating similar and interconnected lessons regarding the Next Step.
“Also I heard the voice of Adonai the Lord the desirable one concerning that which is .”
This Parable begins with the Adept hearing the voice of God, i.e. “Adonai the Lord,” about attainment. “That which is beyond” refers to that which is beyond all images specifically, for the final attainment is beyond all names and forms and images. There is an explicit reference to this same idea earlier in Liber LXV when it is written, “Debate not of the image, saying Beyond! Beyond!”1 It is also referenced later in Liber LXV where it is written that Adepts “beheld not God; they beheld not the Image of God; therefore were they arisen to the Palace of the Splendour Ineffable.”2 Crowley comments on this line, “This passage is simple instruction. It should be read in connection with Cap: I, v. 9 [which has already been referenced] and similar texts where there is question of ‘that which is beyond.’”3
Crowley very explicitly comments about the relation of this line to the idea of the Next Step and it is worthwhile to quote in full:
“I am told here that my Mission to Mankind concerns the Next Step on Jacob’s Ladder of the Spiritual Ascent of the Race. They must progress in a sane and orderly manner, not soaring Icarus-like toward ill-defined perfections like Nibbana, but In my experience, I have found this error to be the most dangerous to which really promising young Magicians are liable; while making any progress at all.” 4
Crowley informs us that his Mission or True Will is to bring humanity to the Next Step in its spiritual evolution, “the Next Step on Jacob’s Ladder of the Spiritual Ascent of the Race”5 as he puts it. The main idea is that we are to take the Next Step – “progress[ing] in a sane and orderly manner”6 – rather than focusing on the end goal or the “Last Step” – “not soaring Icarus-like toward ill-defined perfections like Nibbana.”7 Icarus’ folly was to fly too high and too close to the Sun before his wings were adequately fashioned for such heights. This same idea is conveyed in “The Parable of the Dolphin and the Harper” where the “harper” or initiator must guide the initiate based on their level of spiritual progress, bringing them step by step to further progress rather than simply giving the end goal as the only worthy attainment (which Crowley often likens to trying to attain Nibbana/Nirvana or Samadhi without having been adequately instructed in the necessity of basic practices such as the steadying of the body, breath, and mind). Crowley comments that aspirants should progress “steadily and critically using their existing faculties to the best advantage, fulfilling each function adequately, accurately, with intelligent aspiration, not shirking the hard work of evolution, not trying to run before they can walk, making sure of every step as it is taken, and fortifying each position as it is won before proceeding to attach the next line of entrenchments… In my experience, I have found this error to be the most dangerous to which really promising young Magicians are liable; while making any progress at all.”8
The main point is that one should progress slowly, for if one tries to get to the end without taking the proper precautions there will be inevitable ruin. We can see that Crowley attempted to create such a step-by-step system in the Order known as the A∴A∴ where aspirants progress steadily through various grades, each with their own set of practices and goals.
“Let not the dwellers in Thebai and the temples thereof prate ever of the Pillars of Hercules and the Ocean of the West. Is not the Nile a beautiful water?”
God now gives the Adept the first parable that counsels to work towards practical goals rather than ones that are ambiguous, ideal, and far-off in the distance. Those who dwell in “Thebai” or Thebes are close to the Nile. The “Pillars of Hercules” refers to the Strait of Gibraltar that separates Europe and North Africa, and the “Ocean of the West” refers to the Atlantic Ocean. This is essentially saying that those who dwell in Thebes by the Nile shouldn’t “prate” or talk foolishly about distant waters, for the Nile is closeby and is “a beautiful water.” The general idea is that one should work with the real, the practical, and the immediate rather than what is ideal and distant. Crowley’s comment to this line begins with, “Cf. Cap: II, vv.37-44,”9 which is a direct reference to the Parable of the Dolphin and the Harper that gives a similar lesson.
Crowley goes on to give several ways of saying the same thing when he comments, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves. Those who despise detail are eventually destroyed by these vary things which they thought trivial; and their discomfiture and disgrace are all the more humiliating. Lord Nose-in-the-Air stumbled over his own door-stop.”10 Again, the idea is to focus on the immediate rather than the abstract goals such as Nirvana or Samadhi. Crowley makes this analogous to the steady, systematic progress through A∴A∴, as previously mentioned. Doing otherwise is symbolically attempting to form the capstone of the Pyramid of Initiation without having built its foundations for it to rest upon. Crowley further comments on this line, “Living in Thebes, seek your water in the Nile instead of wasting your time in vast vague vapourish vagaries about the Atlantic. In Plain English, follow out precisely and patiently the systematic course of Initiation prescribed by the A∴.A∴. Be THOROUGH.”11
“Let not the priest of Isis uncover the nakedness of Nuit, for every step is a death and a birth. The priest of Isis lifted the veil of Isis, and was slain by the kisses of her mouth. Then was he the priest of Nuit, and drank of the milk of the stars.”
The same idea is given in a related but distinct set of imagery; this is the second part of the parable that deals with similar and interconnected lessons regading the Next Step. The basic idea remains that one must experience the ordeals and do the work of one’s grade, not seeking to jump ahead. In regards to Isis and Nuit, “Isis” is the same thing as “Nuit” but on a “lower plane”; as Crowley comments, “Isis [is] a ‘Lower’ manifestation of the principle Yin than Nuit is”12 meaning they are both expressions of “Yin” or the feminine, passive, dark side of things (as opposed to “Yang”), but Nuit is a “higher” or more abstract expression thereof. Esoterically, Isis refers to the 3rd Sephirah of Binah on the Qabalistic Tree of Life while Nuit refers to the Negative Veils (often attributed to the number 0) on the Tree of Life.
Crowley comments, “Every incident in life is of combined importance. No man can afford to lose the experience proper to his actual stage of initiation.”13 That is, one must work within one’s current grade or stage of initiation; for example, one should not seek to do the work of a Zelator, the 2nd grade of A∴A∴, (or Magister Templi, one of the final grades of A∴A∴, etc.) when one is a Neophyte, the 1st grade of A∴A∴. If one is a Neophyte, every incident in your life is proper to your stage of initiation, and to do the work of another grade or aim at a goal beyond the immediate is to “lose the experience proper” to your current stage. If one “soars Icarus-like,” seeking to do the work of a Magister Templi when one is a Neophyte (to continue the example), there will be failure and ruin. An example of this is of Frater Achad (or Frater O.I.V.V.I.O.) took the Oath of the Abyss, which because of “his ignorance of the details of the intermediate Grades, led him constantly into the most deplorable errors, from the devastating penalties of which he was saved by the loving vigilance of his Superior in the Order, at least insofar as the more critical catastrophes were concerned.”14
Overall, the specific lesson of this second parable regarding the Next Step is that one must first work with the Lower (Isis) before the Higher (Nuit), and that by working with the Lower one will naturally come to the Higher.
“Let not the failure and the pain turn aside the worshippers. The foundations of the pyramid were hewn in the living rock ere sunset; did the king weep at dawn that the crown of the pyramid was yet unquarried in the distant land?”
This is the third part of the parable dealing with the Next Step. On the path of initiation, there is inevitably much failure and pain, but we are counseled to not let these things turn us aside from our work. Crowley comments, “The Parable of the Pyramid requires no commentary: it is as lucid as it is sublime.”15 While this may be so, it can’t hurt to give a brief commentary thereupon.
Firstly, the pyramid is a common symbol of initiation, both because it requires careful building and because the tomb inside is often related to the process whereby one’s ego is dissolved in love, which is often given under the figure of draining out one’s blood or individuality into the Cup of Babalon. Esoterically, the “City of the Pyramids” refers to the 3rd Sephirah on the Qabalistic Tree of Life, Binah, to which is attributed Babalon and the grade of Magister Templi. The parable explains that the stones used to build the base or “foundation” of the pyramid were fashioned by sunset. The foundation of the pyramid represents the basic practices required to “fashion” the mind and body into adequate tools and vessels for the Great Work; this “foundational” work cannot be ignored, which is the basic message permeating all three of these parables. “Sunset” implies the end of a period of work, and the next line is a rhetorical question implying that the king who oversees the construction of the pyramid does not weep because the top of the pyramid or the “crown” is still not fashioned. Again, the point is that one must work from the bottom up, starting from the beginning and working progressively and systematically toward the end, learning to walk before one runs. Even if one goes for a long period working only on the foundational, fundamental practices of Magick and Yoga (including things like the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram and Asana, respectively), one should not be turned aside by not having achieved the supreme attainments after all of this work. The “failure and pain” that are inevitable from these practices refers to the fact that, in working at these practices, we are going to fail and suffer physical and spiritual pain. We are going to not be able to sit in Asana for as long as we thought we could, our bodies may ache and be sore from meditating, we are going to have days where the pangs of hopelessness and fruitlessness plague our souls, we are going to have times when our rituals seem to be rote repetition, we are going to have times when the whole Path of the Great Work is called into question. The lesson is to acknowledge these things, learn from them, and not let them turn us from the Path. If we fail, we affirm that next time we will fail a little bit better. If we have pain, we affirm it as part of the Path, and use it to further our work with increased intensity.
Crowley comments, “There is yet a third consideration to be made in connection with this doctrine of The Next Step. It does in fact seem far easier to wander in the Wonderland of the Supernal Triad than to dig one’s way painfully through the Path of Tau, to make the Renunciation of a Dhamma-Buddha than to acquire Asana by dint of Anguished application and acutest agony…”16 The “Wonderland of the Supernal Triad” refers to the first three Sephiroth on the Tree of Life: Kether, Chokmah, and Binah. The “Path of Tau” is the path leading from the last Sephirah, Malkuth, to Yesod and is considered the first “Path” one has to take in climbing the Tree of Life, which is one symbolic metaphor for the path of initiation. “To make the Renunciation of a Dhamma-Buddha” refers to taking the Bodhisattva vow whereby one swears to obtain the virtues of a Buddha, and “acquir[ing] Asana by dint of Anguished application” refers to the practice of sitting in a meditative posture without moving for prolonged periods. The implication in both cases is that it is easier to speak about and pretend to be a High Initiate rather than doing the very basic, often arduous work of basic practices as represented by the Path of Tau, the first path that one must cross in the system of A∴A∴, and practicing Asana, the first practice one must begin to master in meditation.
Crowley continues, “But this is a ‘damnable heresy and a dangerous delusion’ arising from the simple fact that nobody can possibly form any idea soever of the Nature of the Task of any grade beyond his own – and I say this with every emphasis, despite by devotion and determination to describe the details of the Path of the Wise – even being at the pains of inventing what is practically a new language for this very purpose. Unless the Aspirant fully comprehend and freely acquiesce in this inherent incapacity, he is only too likely to try to sneak through the dim dreary dreadful discipline of his Grade – the more loathsome precisely because it represents his actual limitation of the moment – and have a perfectly lovely time fancying himself an Exempt Adept or an Arahat or even – I have known one such unhappy expert in self-delusion – an Ipsissimus!”17 The “damnable heresy and a dangerous delusion” refers in general to trying to understand or work at some kind of goal that is far beyond one’s current apprehension. This is because “nobody can possibly form any idea soever of the Nature of the Task of any grade beyond his own,” which is another reason that one should seek the water of the Nile rather than the Ocean of the West, i.e. do the work of one’s current grade rather than that which is above one’s grade. The “new language” refers to Crowley’s adaptation and use of Qabalistic language throughout his writings, including the Holy Books of Thelema. “Exempt Adept” and “Ipsissimus” are names for people who have achieved high grades of attainment in the A∴A∴ and “Arahat” is a name in the Buddhist system for one who has attained. The point is that even though the Path of initiation is laid out in every detail, one can still not understand the steps beyond one’s current stage. The basic overall message of this third part of the parable is that one should work at one’s current “grade” and not let the inevitable failure, pain, despair, distress, or distraction of the Work lead one away from the Path.
SUMMARY: This Parable of the Waters, the Priest, and the Pyramid is a threefold parable that describes the Next Step but gives three distinct but interrelated lessons. The lesson of the Parable of the Waters is that one should not seek distant, abstract, and ideal goals represented by the “Ocean of the West” but rather work with the real, the practical, and the immediate represented by the Nile. The lesson of the Parable of the Priest is that, by working on the task of one’s current stage or grade, one will inevitably come to the next stage or grade; by working with the “lower” as represented by Isis, one will inevitably come to the “higher” as represented by Nuit. The lesson of the Parable of the Pyramid is that one should not “weep,” be upset, nor be turned aside from one’s work at the inevitable “failure and the pain” involved in the path of initiation. All together, the Parable of the Waters, the Priest, and the Pyramid all counsel the same thing: focus on the basic work of one’s current level first, work systematically and thoroughly in a step-by-step manner, and don’t worry or even try to conceive of the tasks of the final stages or end of the Path.
1Liber LXV, I:9.
2Liber LXV, V:35.
3Commentary on Liber LXV, V:48-51.
4Commentary to Liber LXV, V:48-51.
5Commentary to Liber LXV, V:48-51.
6Commentary to Liber LXV, V:48-51.
7Commentary to Liber LXV, V:48-51.
8Commentary to Liber LXV, V:48-51.
9Commentary to Liber LXV, V:49.
10Commentary to Liber LXV, V:49.
11Commentary to Liber LXV, V:49.
12Commentary to Liber LXV, V:50.
13Commentary to Liber LXV, V:50.
14Commentary to Liber LXV, V:50.
15Commentary on Liber LXV, V:52.
16Commentary on Liber LXV, V:52.
17Commentary on Liber LXV, V:52.