Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
AUTHOR: J. Daniel Gunther
BASIC INFO: Published by Ibis Press (2014); Hardcover version, 6.5×9.2, perfect-bound, 320 pp.
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WHAT’S IN IT?
The Angel & the Abyss is subtitled ‘The Inward Journey – Books II & II’ as it contains the second and third books of Gunther’s The Inward Journey trilogy that was started with Initiation in the Aeon of the Child (2009). In The Angel & the Abyss, Gunther continues the organization of his trilogy along Qabalistic lines, starting with the Path of Nun (Initiation in the Aeon of the Child covers the paths leading up thereto) and going through the Path of Heh in Book II, and he goes from the Path of Daleth to the Path of Aleph in Book III. There are therefore 9 chapters in Book II and 3 chapters in Book III (the Path of Peh refers to the entire “First Order” covered in Initiation in the Aeon of the Child, the Path of Yod refers to the entire “Second Order” covered in Book II of The Inward Journey, and the Path of Gimel refers to the entire “Third Order” covered in Book III of The Inward Journey). Book II is more formally called “The Angel and the Abyss” and Book III is more formally called “The Hierogylphic Triad” as its three chapters are composed of only a few words and are mostly symbols or “hieroglyphs,” presumably because they refer to truths above the Abyss wherein reason and language are inadequate for expression.
Since the book is arranged by Qabalistic paths, each chapter has various “sub-chapters” that all deal with subjects pertinent to that particular Qabalistic path and its corresponding Hebrew letter and Tarot trump. As anyone familiar with the Qabalah knows, the ideas and symbols connected with the various Paths are all interconnected in various ways, so Gunther naturally refers back (and forth) to various chapters that cover topics brought up in more depth. While some say the book is accessible as a beginner in the study of Thelema, I would strongly assert that the vast majority of concepts and references would go over the head of someone who has not already made at least a fairly extensive study into the literary corpus of Thelema and has integrated at least the basic concepts and symbols. At the very least, a more advanced aspirant has much more to gain from reading the book as Gunther does not often seek to fully explain as if to a layperson but, rather, reveals various aspects and connections of symbols, ideas, and truths that were hitherto unclear or not spoken to.
WHAT I ENJOY ABOUT THE BOOK
Anyone who reads Gunther’s Inward Journey trilogy cannot help but see that he is attempting to do something unabashedly new. Whether one sees him as the next Thelemic luminary or as just another occult author, his intent is clearly to explore and explain various topics in Thelema that have been rarely covered or left uncovered. Gunther’s earnestness, both in his aspiration to accomplish the Great Work as well as his desire to communicate the various principles of the A∴A∴, is unquestionably communicated through his writing. Also unquestionable is Gunther’s deep study of Thelemic literature, especially The Vision & the Voice and The Holy Books of Thelema which he references constantly, and often in novel or unexpected contexts.
While Gunther is explicating the system of the A∴A∴ as a whole in The Inward Journey, there are also ideas that do not come explicitly from the literary corpus of the A∴A∴ or Aleister Crowley’s writings. These ideas come from Gunther’s own scholarly erudition and personal initiatory experience, and they bring plenty of fresh insights and connections to the study and understanding of Thelema. Examples include his introduction of new terminology such as “Centroversion” and “Nulliversion”, the elaborations of the Aeons of Isis and Osiris, the “Thelemic Pentagrammaton”, and his incorporation of Liber Trigrammaton (just to name a few that come to mind). Most notable is Gunther’s incorporation of a great deal of Egyptology, and he attempts in various sections to shine further light on Thelemic symbols and ideas by exploring their historical roots and analogues in Ancient Egyptian papyri. While Thelema is not simply a re-hashing of Ancient Egyptian ideologies – Gunther himself admits “We are dealing with living symbols, living gods and spiritual Truths that are alive, that grow, and change” (p.323) – seeing where our symbols (and we certainly have many Egyptian symbols) came from can only deepen our appreciation of those symbols. In general, one of Gunther’s strengths is implicit acknowledgment that Thelema does not exist in a vacuum: he goes into detail on certain Egyptian, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and other systems and how they are both similar and different to the message of the New Aeon.
The great amount of images, symbols, and diagrams that accompany the book are incredibly helpful and suggestive – they help explicate the written material, show historical precedents, and indicate avenues of future research for aspirants that want to know more on a certain topic. Especially notable is the beautiful, almost Rosicrucian depiction of the “Hieros Gamos” in full color, just inside the front cover – it synthesizes the material in the book in a concise way that reveals itself progressively to the reader as they delve further into the material in the book. Gunther has also obviously gone to great pains to cite his claims with Books II & III having a total of something around 600 footnotes.
WHAT MIGHT IMPROVE?
I often felt that certain important ideas were not fully fleshed out. Many parts intrigued me and sometimes I felt that the the obscure parts took up space that could have been given to more interesting parts. This, of course, is personal preference based on my own knowledge base and aesthetic preferences. Nonetheless, there are certain times that quotations are offered without explanation, sometimes ending a chapter with no further commentary – the lack of explanation approaches something amounting to a tease.
Secondly, while I greatly appreciate the amount of referencing and citing that Gunther employs in discussing the various topics, the citations contain a great deal of material in their original language. There is at least one citation entirely in Coptic which spans almost half of the page (p.174), which is probably able to be understood by the two Thelemites who have happened to have studied Coptic enough to glean anything from such a citation, while obscuring his main point to those who have not.
Finally, I personally thought there was an overabundance of Carl Jung and neo-Jungian ideas and quotations (and I say this as someone who unapologetically loves Jung’s works). In general, the Jungian model has appeared to almost supplant that of the Hermetic Qabalah and I am uncertain as to the utility of doing so. Not unrelated to the overabundance of Jungianisms, there is a sense in the way the Aeonic scheme is spoken about in this book that might be taken by some readers as historically and anthropologically true; although Gunther himself cautions against this in Initiation in the Aeon of the Child, I have a somewhat aesthetic preference in terms of how it might be presented in a more qualified manner. Generally, I found the book engaging and enjoyable – I read all 320 pages in approximately 2 days – and I hope Gunther keeps on coming out with more material to continue the 93 Current.
WOULD I RECOMMEND IT?
9 out of 10 stars: The Angel & the Abyss is a tour-de-force of Thelemic ideology, symbolism, and practice. It is unequivocally one of the most unique and novel contributions to Thelemic literature in recent times, and it explores many topics within our tradition that have been left entirely unexplored. While the book suffers from certain editorial problems, the book is well worth any Thelemite’s time who seriously engages in the tradition and wants to go deeper into it.
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Love is the law, love under will.