holy books

Possible Principles of Thelemic Hermeneutics

Thelemic Hermeneutics

1st Principle

These interpretations are interpretations – not final pronouncements of truth. They should not be uttered as such nor should they be read and heard as such.

2nd Principle

Each text must be interpreted within its unique historical, linguistic, religious, social, and mystical context to be fully understood

3rd Principle

An apparently obvious historical or literal interpretation is not inherently primary.

4th Principle

Each text must be interpreted with honesty, clarity, and conciseness.

5th Principle

Views contrary to one’s own must be investigated indifferently.

6th Principle

Honest, clear, and concise criticism is encouraged and should be expected if one dares to publicly espouse one’s own particular interpretation.

7th Principle

The various “meeting-places” of the texts (i.e. where the same word is used in both, where similar concepts & motifs occur, etc.) will create three possible outcomes: synthesis, separation, or contradiction. Synthesis means that the two texts actually speak about the same subject. Separation means that the two texts appear to be similar but are actually speaking of separate topics or different contexts. Contradiction means that the two places in the texts cannot be reconciled by either synthesis or separation – one interpretation contradicts another.

8th Principle

Interpretations of texts are dynamic and must be understood and fostered as a continually changing processes, not as fixed pronouncements of unalterable truths.


There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt


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Liber LXV parables

The Parables and Lessons of Liber LXV (part 7)

Liber LXV: The Heart Girt with a Serpent

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 Liber LXV parable of the Watersrather 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.

Liber LXV parables

The Parables and Lessons of Liber LXV (part 6)

Liber LXV: The Heart Girt with a Serpent

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:

Liber LXV Parable of the Dolphin and the Harper

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.