The Symbolic Dimensions of the Gnostic Mass

The Symbolic Dimensions of the Gnostic Mass

The Symbolic and Mythic Dimensions of the Gnostic Mass

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.


Liber XV, most commonly known as the Gnostic Mass, is a rich and multi-layered ritual. The Mass has many dimensions, and the more of these perspectives that one sees, the more one can have a deeper appreciation of the ritual.  Sometimes individuals seem to get stuck in a single dimension and see, for example, only the dimension that the Mass is a ritual enactment of sex magick and a veiled form of the IX° O.T.O. supreme secret. This is certainly one dimension, but to only see one dimension forecloses on the possibility of seeing the many perspectives that will enrich one’s knowledge, experience, and appreciation of the Mass. Therefore, the purpose of this essay is to discuss certain important dimensions of the Gnostic Mass, although it will not (nor can it be) a completely exhaustive list.

For example: From the dimension of the Hermetic Qabalah, the Priest is in Tiphareth, the Ruach or conscious self, with the surrounding faculties (Chesed/memory, Geburah/volition, Netzach/desire, Hod/reason) being represented by the Deacon. The Priestess is both the Nephesh, the animal soul, as well as the Neschamah, aspiration toward the divine and the influx of divine intelligence/intuition. Qabalistically, the Mass shows the Nephesh (Malkuth; the Virgin Priestess as Earthly) being elevated to the Neshamah (Binah; the High Priestess enthroned as an embodied form of Nuit), and the Ruach (Tiphareth; the Priest as a man among men) being elevated to Chiah (Chokmah; the Priest whose Rod is that which was, and is, and is to come). Their final union releases Yechidah, the supreme individuality of Kether, which communes with the entire Tree down to Malkuth (the Congregants).

This is just one dimension of the Gnostic Mass given as an example. I will now go through several important dimensions of the Mass in a bit more detail to show there are many different perspectives from which to view this ritual.

Celebration of the forces of Nature

If one reads the Mass fairly literally, one sees that it is a celebration of the forces of Nature. Crowley was a proponent of scientific religion that did not flaunt our current knowledge of the world. On this he wrote:

“Human nature demands (in the case of most people) the satisfaction of the religious instinct, and, to very many, this may best be done by ceremonial means. I wished therefore to construct a ritual through which people might enter into ecstasy as they have always done under the influence of appropriate ritual. In recent years, there has been an increasing failure to attain this object, because the established cults shock their intellectual convictions and outrage their common sense. Thus their minds criticize their enthusiasm; they are unable to consummate the union of their individual souls with the universal soul as a bridegroom would be to consummate his marriage if his love were constantly reminded that its assumptions were intellectually absurd.

I resolved that my ritual [the Gnostic Mass] should celebrate the sublimity of the operation of universal forces without introducing disputable metaphysical theories. I would neither make nor imply any statement about nature which would not be endorsed by the most materialistic man of science. On the surface this may sound difficult; but in practice I found it perfectly simple to combine the most rigidly rational conceptions of phenomena with the most exalted and enthusiastic celebration of their sublimity.” (Confessions)

There is a consistent Thelemic cosmology espoused in the Gnostic Mass that is fairly naturalistic. The cosmology is also reflected in many parts of The Book of Lies as they were written in the same year and show very similar views. The universe espoused in the Gnostic Mass is a series of dyads: one might call them “pairs of opposites” but they are not absolutely opposite in many ways, and their function is more to complement and work with one another. Crowley says “the universe [is] enclosed in the law of Lingam-Yoni,” which is another way to say “the law of yin-yang” or simply complementary dyads.

There is an ineffable Lord, Hadit, and an ineffable Lady, Nuit, who are consorts. This is mentioned in the Creed (“one secret and ineffable lord), the Collects (“The Lord” Collect and “The Lady” Collect), and elsewhere. Nuit is Space and Hadit is Motion. Another way to say “motion” is Time, as motion only takes place through the unfolding of time. Therefore, Nuit and Hadit are Space and Time, or simply Space-Time since it is an interwoven continuum. Nuit and Hadit are the foundations that give rise to the potential of a universe.

When manifested in the world, Hadit becomes “Chaos,” the “father of life.” Chaos is the masculine principle in all things, which on the grandest scale is Energy itself, the forces which constitute the universe. When manifested in the world, Nuit becomes “Babalon, “the mother of us all.” Babalon is the feminine principle in all things, which on the grandest scale is Matter itself. Therefore, Chaos and Babalon are the Energy and Matter which constitute the universe. “GOD is concealed in the whirling energy of Nature” (The Book of Lies). We also know that energy and matter are essentially the same thing, so Chaos and Babalon are consorts representing Matter-Energy. “[There is] a seeming duality of Chaos and Babalon; these are called Father and Mother, but it is not so. They are called Brother and Sister, but it is not so. They are called Husband and Wife, but it is not so” (The Book of Lies). As Crowley comments, “Chaos and Babalon… are really one” (The Book of Lies).

Chaos and Babalon are both reflected in the Macrocosm and the Microcosm.  In the Macrocosm, the Lord is the Sun and the Lady is the Earth. The Sun is “masculine” insofar as it gives life and light, and the Earth is “feminine” insofar as it conceives and nourishes life. The union of the life- and light-giving powers of the Sun with the conceptive powers of the Earth gives rise to all life.

Gnostic Mass CosmosChaos and Babalon reflected into the Microcosm are the Generative Powers in men and women. Hadit says of himself in The Book of the Law, “I am the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star. I am Life, and the giver of Life, yet therefore is the knowledge of me the knowledge of death” (AL II:6). “Generative Powers” refers to our life-energy and creative power in general, but especially the power to sexually reproduce. “GOD the Father and Mother is concealed in Generation” (The Book of Lies). The union of Man and Woman give rise to the perpetuation of new life. This is known as the “Phallus,” which is the creative-generative power within each individual regardless of sex. The name goes unspoken or is called Mystery of Mystery in the Gnostic Mass, although the Priest does say “Phalle” in the rending of the Veil. It is called “the essence of every true god that is upon the surface of the Earth” in the Collects.

The Generative Power of Man is reflected in the Sacred Lance and that of Woman in the Holy Graal or Chalice. These are the reproductive organs (and their powers) of the male and female, specifically the penis and the womb. The particle represents the Semen or Seed of the Man, and the wine represents the menstruum of the Woman. Therefore, one important dimension of the Gnostic Mass is the celebration of the the process of Generation, the union of complementary powers to perpetuate Life. The Lance and Chalice are used to create the Eucharist, the masculine reflected in the Cake of Light and the feminine reflected in the Wine. The Cake of Light is that which fortifies our bodies (“life”; “sustenance of endeavour”) and the Wine is that which vitalizes our minds (“joy”; “inspiration of endeavour”).

The Path of Initiation

Another dimension of the Gnostic Mass is that it is an enactment of the Path of Initiation. Initiation is the process of “spiritual advancement”; it is called “the process by which a man comes to learn that unknown Crown” (Liber Causae) as well as the path of enlightenment, the path of attainment, and many other names. In other words, the Mass depicts the unfolding of inner transformation.

The Priest represents every individual, the conscious self: he is the one who undergoes the “hero’s journey” in the narrative of the Mass. The other Officers (Priestess, Deacon, and Children) are “part of the PRIEST himself.” This shows that the interaction between the Officers shows an interaction within every individual, reinforcing that the Mass depicts an inner transformation.

The Priest begins asleep in the darkness of ignorance. The rest of the Mass involves his awakening to the Light of Truth. The Priestess represents both the spiritual forces of awakening as well as the object of attainment itself. She can be seen as the Holy Guardian Angel of the Priest. He is “directly inspired from Kether, the ultimate Self, through the Path of the High Priestess, or initiated intuition” (Liber Samekh).

The Priestess descends to the Tomb and rends the veil of darkness “by the power of Iron.” Iron represents Mars or destructive energy, and individuals are often called to the path in response to tragedy, crisis, or suffering in general. “The Aspiration to become a Master is rooted in the Trance of Sorrow” (Little Essays Toward Truth). The Priestess raises the Priest in order to “administer the virtues to the Brethren.” This shows the ultimate goal is to vitalize others, “the Way of Service” (Liber Causae), essentially identical with the bodhisattva vow to attain for the sake of all beings.

The Priest is purified and consecrated in body and soul, and he obtains the Lance, a symbol of spiritual maturity. Crowley wrote, “What then is the formula of the initiation of Horus? It will no longer be that of the Man, through Death. It will be the natural growth of the Child. His experiences will no more be regarded as catastrophic. Their hieroglyph is the Fool: the innocent and impotent Harpocrates Babe becomes the Horus Adult by obtaining the Wand. ‘Der reine Thor’ [the pure fool] seizes the Sacred Lance” (Liber Samekh).

The Priest’s spiritual fire is kindled by his aspiration toward Godhead. Through this, he has the Power to raise the Priestess to the High Altar in the East, which can be seen as the sacralization or spiritualization of the “lower self,” the transformation of the materialization of energy into its more subtle form of Spirit. After purifying and consecrating the now enthroned Priestess, the Priest is cast out into darkness in the dark night of the soul; having set upon the Path, he encounters trials and troubles. Through his aspiration, the Priest invokes Nuit in the Priestess, the ultimate object of desire and union. The Priest invokes Hadit in himself, identifying with the ultimate subject, Life and Motion itself. Finally he invokes Nuit and Hadit’s union, Ra-Hoor-Khuit, the God within who transcends space, time, and causality, who transcends all the gods and even death itself. The complete identification with Him essentially constitutes Attainment.

The veil of darkness is then thrown open, casting light from the High Altar upon the Priest and filling the whole Temple with brilliance. The Priestess is transformed and is now naked, holding the Chalice and Paten, the Godhead that is beyond particular forms with which we commune in Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. The Collects are then read, each element of the world being invoked, a perfect, complete, and balanced Microcosm of the Universe. The Priest then consecrates the Cake of Light and the wine with the power of the Lance, turning them into their Divine form, the body and blood of God. These are the elements of the Priest with which he will interact with the world: his body and his spirit. They are prepared as such through the “spiritual power” obtained through the Knowledge and Conversation of his Holy Guardian Angel.

Chamber of AnnihilationThe Priest then invokes the highest, ineffable Godhead through the Anthem, That which is “I beyond all I am who hast no nature and no name,” “male-female, quintessential, one.” This is the steady aspiration and devotion that propels the Priest to confront the Abyss, the dissolution of self whereby the True Self, that which is one with Godhead, arises. The Priest breaks off a particle, which represents “his Soul, a virgin offering to his Angel, pressed forth from his being by the intensity of this Aspiration” (Liber Samekh). It is the final offering of the self, the draining of one’s blood into the Cup of Babalon, whereby one becomes annihilated and crosses the Abyss. This occurs in the simultaneous “HRILIU,” the orgasm of the spirit wherein Two become One, the dissolution of All into None, and the Priest has thereby become a Master of the Temple.  

Then, Baphomet is invoked, the Two-in-One God who is “male-female, quintessential, one,” representing a state of consciousness where opposites are fused into a unity. The Priest turns around to utter his Word. He lowers the Lance, announcing the Law, and the Congregants respond in kind, signifying the descent of this Two-in-One into all parts of the self, the entire Tree of Life from Supernals to Malkuth. This includes the Brethren for whom the Priest has attained in order that he may administer the Virtues to them. The Brethren take part in his Wisdom and Understanding through the Eucharist, and through this they come to recognize the Godhead with themselves. “God manifest in flesh” is their name. After a final blessing, the Priest exhausts his purpose and dies, descending into the darkness of the Tomb that another Priest may arise and the cycle perpetuate through the generations.

Psychological Transformation

Another dimension of the Gnostic Mass is that it represents psychological transformation. The Jungian model of the psyche is especially conducive to being seen reflected in the Mass.

The Jungian Model of the PsycheThe Priest represents the conscious self, the sense of subjectivity. This is not confined merely to the ego, the sense of personal identity, but the conscious awareness itself (within which is the ego). The Deacon represents the faculties of the conscious self. The Priestess represents the Unconscious: she is both the earthly, animal, instinctual side as well as the heavenly, divine side. In particular, she seems to be identified at parts with the “anima,” an anthropomorphization of the unconscious mind, and an intermediary between the conscious self and the archetypal Self, the true center of one’s being.

The entire Gnostic Mass shows the psychological transformation of the Priest going from an identification with the persona to an identification with the archetypal Self, which encompasses the totality of the psyche, both conscious and unconscious. The entire process may be summarized as: the Priest identifying with Persona → Priest identifying with Ego → encounter with the Shadow → encounter with the Anima → union with the Anima to “release” or access the Self with which the Priest finally identifies. 

At the beginning of the Mass, the Priest is in the Tomb representing the darkness and confinement of being identified with the persona, one’s outer personality. The Priestess descends as an unconscious impulse, experienced by the Priest as an appearance or a welling-up of unconscious forces. The Priest is awakened to a self not confined merely to persona, and he becomes identified with the ego.

As the ego, he then exerts his power over his unconscious and habitual instincts, represented as the Priestess kneeling before being upraised. Then, the Priest and the Temple are plunged into darkness as he confronts his “shadow”, those aspects of the self that are denied, repressed, and feared. His aspiration carries him through the darkness, and eventually he rends the veil to be met with an image of his “anima,” the naked Priestess enthroned. The anima is the almost like a reflection in the unconscious of the conscious self, it is the “hidden opposite gender in each individual,” representing a layer of the psyche deeper than the shadow. As Jung wrote, “Every man carries within him the eternal image of woman, not the image of this or that particular woman, but a definite feminine image. This image is fundamentally unconscious, an hereditary factor of primordial origin engraved in the living organic system of the man” (Collected Works vol.17). The “anima” or Priestess acts as mediator between the unconscious (the High Altar and all within the Veil of the Supernals) and the conscious (the Priest).

The Priest and Priestess unite, representing the acceptance and integration of the contrasexual archetype into oneself, i.e. becoming Two-in-One, represented in imagery such as the Alchemical Androgyne or, more aptly, Baphomet. The final proclamation of “There is no part of me that is not of the gods” signifies the emergence of the archetype of the Self, that which contains all elements of the psyche in a unified totality. This is not the same as “mystical union” or samadhi, but a sense of complete unity within one’s own being, the integration of all the parts of oneself into a single whole. Jung defined individuation as:

“becoming an ‘in-dividual,’ and in so far as ‘individuality’ embraces our innermost, last, and incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one’s own self. We could therefore translate individuation as ‘coming to selfhood’ or ‘self-realization…’ Egotists are called ‘selfish,’ but this, naturally, has nothing to do with the concept of ‘Self’ as I am using it here… Individuation, therefore, can only mean a process of psychological development that fulfils the individual qualities given; in other words, it is a process by which a man becomes the definite, unique being he in fact is. In so doing he does not become ‘selfish’ in the ordinary sense of the word, but is merely fulfilling the peculiarity of his nature, and this… is vastly different from egotism or individualism.” (Collected Works vol.7)

In other words, the Priest has immersed himself in the unconscious self stage by stage. He has united by “love under will,” i.e. revealed, accepted, and integrated the various archetypal forces that emerge, and he has become wholly Himself.

The Union of Subject and Object

The Gnostic Mass also contains the dimension of it being a symbolic, ritual reflection of the process of meditation whereby the subject of awareness merges with the object in samadhi.

The Temple represents the field of consciousness itself. The Priest represents the subject of awareness, the sense of “I” or self. The Priestess represents the object of concentration or devotion. The Lance of the Priest represents the power of concentration itself.

Traditionally, the process of concentration culminating in samadhi is called, as a whole, samyama. Samyama has three stages: dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. To oversimplify, dharana is when the subject begins to concentrate on the chosen object: the focus has been narrowed down to that particular object of concentration so that no other object takes the subject’s focus away. Crowley writes, “In the course of our concentration we noticed that the contents of the mind at any moment consisted of two things, and no more: the Object, variable, and the Subject, invariable, or apparently so. By success in Dharana the object has been made as invariable as the subject” (Liber ABA, Part I).

Dhyana is when dharana has been intensified to the point where there is only an awareness of the object, even the awareness of oneself as a subject has faded away. Samadhi is the culmination of dhyana whereby both subject and object “merge” or disappear into a non-dual unity.

SamadhiIn the Gnostic Mass, the Priest’s Lance is stroked eleven times by the Priestess; this shows the awakening to dharana, the first stage of samyama. This dharana culminates in the Priest kissing the Book on the Priestess’ chest three times and kneeling in adoration. The Priest is then in darkness for three circumambulations of the Temple. This may represent the “darkness” or struggle that often comes when beginning in the practice of samyama. Crowley likens this aspect of the work of samyama (or simply “Yoga”) to the formula of IAO:

“In beginning a meditation practice, there is always a quiet pleasure, a gentle natural growth [dharana and the raising up to the High Altar]; one takes a lively interest in the work; it seems easy; one is quite pleased to have started. This stage represents Isis. Sooner or later it is succeeded by depression—the Dark Night of the Soul, an infinite weariness and detestation of the work [the three circumambulations of the darkened Temple]. The simplest and easiest acts become almost impossible to perform. Such impotence fills the mind with apprehension and despair. The intensity of this loathing can hardly be understood by any person who has not experienced it. This is the period of Apophis.” (Magick in Theory & Practice)

By continued concentration, the dharana breaks into dhyana in the piercing of the Veil and the influx of Light from the High Altar. This trance of dhyana continues throughout the Collects.

This dhyana builds slowly through the Consecration of the Elements and the Anthem, and it culminates in the only word spoken simultaneously by Priest and Priestess in the Gnostic Mass: HRILIU. At this moment, both Priest and Priestess hold both Lance and Cup and depress the “particle,” the last bit of separateness, into the Wine so that the two become One in samadhi. 

This “Eucharist” of samadhi may be understood as a subtler level of meaning to what Crowley says when he writes, “The highest form of the Eucharist is that in which the Element consecrated is One. It is one substance and not two, not living and not dead, neither liquid nor solid, neither hot nor cold, neither male nor female. This sacrament is secret in every respect” (Magick in Theory & Practice). It is “neither this nor that” because the samadhi is transcendent of dualities – it is non-dual – and it is “secret in every respect” because it is beyond the possibility of communication as all language is inherently dualistic.

Tantric Rite

The Gnostic Mass also contains the dimension of being an enactment of a Tantric rite. There are an immense amount of similarities between Tantra and Thelema, including but not limited to: seeing the body as “good” and useful for attainment, seeing the body as a microcosm of the Universe, seeing the world not as maya or illusion but as the play of the power of Godhead, the visualization of self as Deity, the transcendence of common morality and ethics, et cetera. 

In Tantra, there is something called the “Great Ritual” or the “Secret Ritual,” which involves the use of wine (madya) and sexual union (maithuna). Sound familiar? There are “left-hand” Tantrics who actually engage in sexual intercourse and “right-hand” Tantrics who only engage in sexual intercourse symbolically (with sexual union itself being symbolic as well as the visualization of sexual union).

Shiva is the formless, motionless Godhead that is beyond all forms and expression, and Shakti is the Power of that Godhead when expressed in form and motion; it is very similar to the concepts of Tao (Shiva) and of Teh (Shakti). Shakti is often identified with Kundalini, reinforced in the Mass by the Priestess’ 3 and a half circles around the Temple reflecting the Kundalini serpent coiled 3 and a half times around the base of each individual’s spine. Interestingly, Shakti’s symbol is that of a triangle with the apex downward, which is the symbol of Ra-Hoor-Khuit and the sign given by the Priestess when she is first raised to the High Altar. The Priestess becomes not merely a woman but the Absolute Woman when raised to the High Altar, and she becomes Shakti devoid of all particular forms in the stripping away all clothing.

Basically, the yogi identifies with Shiva and all his corresponding properties; the female identifies with Shakti, the primordial Power inherent in all motion. This is similar to the idea of the Scarlet Woman as an earthly avatar of Babalon. Their union is a hieros gamos or “holy marriage”: the union of male and female is seen as the union of Shiva and Shakti, which may be oversimplified as the ultimate Subject and the ultimate Object. This union creates the “androgynous Shiva,” known as Ardhanarishvara, which literally means “the Lord who is half woman.” Ardhanarishvara is essentially a Two-in-One form representing both elements fused into One: nearly identical images are found in that of Baphomet and of the Alchemical Hermaphrodite or “Rebis.”

Baphomet and Rebis

This suspension of duality occurs during the erotic rapture of union, liberating this “Force” of Ardhanarishvara or Baphomet. This Two-in-One figure transcends all, including space and time: it therefore is That which is the “breath that makest every God even and Death to tremble before Thee.” It is the Lion and Serpent that “destroys the destroyer” of Death, being That which transcends all manifestation, all motion, and all duality. This is the amrita or ambrosia, both words meaning “not mortal” or “beyond death”; this is the true Elixir of Immortality, the sacrament of which one may partake and truly proclaim “There is no part of me that is not of the gods.”

Concluding Remarks

It should be emphasized once more that this list is not exhaustive: there are potentially infinite other dimensions at work in the Gnostic Mass. Also, none of these dimensions that are mentioned are fully fleshed out: one could easily write a whole book on the Gnostic Mass as a Tantric rite, for example. The real point is to emphasize that there are, in fact, many dimensions to the Gnostic Mass. I believe that the more dimensions one can appreciate, the deeper one’s experience and appreciation of the Mass can be. Therefore, I hope that this essay will spark in the reader a desire to see the Gnostic Mass as something beyond merely a Qabalistic drama or a veiled sexual magick ritual. There is a vast reservoir of potential hidden within the central rite of O.T.O., merely waiting for the ingenium and courage of an earnest seeker to tap into it.

Love is the law, love under will.

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Thelemic Mysticism

Thelemic Mysticism – part 4: Mysticism in Practice – The Lover

Thelemic Mysticism

[ ← Part 3: Mysticism in Practice – Intro & The Man of Earth ← |
Part 5: Mysticism in Practice – Crossing the Abyss & The Hermit → ]


2) The Lover: Communion with the Holy Guardian Angel

• “O my Lord, my beloved! How shall I indite songs, when even the memory of the shadow of thy glory is a thing beyond all music of speech or of silence?”
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, II:48
• “And the Beloved shall abide with Thee.”
Liber Stellae Rubeae sub figura LXVI, line 32
• “He shall await the sword of the Beloved and bare his throat for the stroke.”
Liber Liberi vel Lapidus Lazuli sub figura VII, III:47

If one persists in the work of the first Stage, continuing one’s meditation/devotion with increasing fervor and dedication, one will inevitably come to this second Stage. The second Stage can be likened to the Grade of “Lover.” This is the middle of the Path where one communes with the Divine, the Absolute, the One, et cetera, as a Lover with the Beloved.

In Thelemic Mysticism, this Love or Communion is understood under the figure of “the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel,” and it is often symbolized by a heart encircled by a serpent or the Rose-Cross. This is appropriate to the Grade of “Lover” because this stage is often described as the meeting or union between Lover (the Mystic) and Beloved (the Object of aspiration); this is the “Spiritual Marriage” spoken of by many Mystics.

“Union”: It should be clearly understood that “union” has two related but distinct meanings that are often conflated.

1) Two united but distinct: At this second Stage of the Mystic Path, “union” refers to two things uniting but remaining distinct. In the language of Thelemic Mysticism, the Adept and the Holy Guardian Angel are united like lovers, they meet and interact and enjoy one another but they remain separate as Adept and Angel. “Love” requires the interaction and union of “Lover” and “Beloved,” though they are united. “Communion” may be a more accurate term. The persistence in this Love so that it becomes complete and perfect, so to speak, leads to the next stage.

2) Two united into One (or None) without distinction: In the third Stage of the Mystic Path (which we will explore later), “union” refers to these two things uniting so completely that there is a dissolution of separateness, leaving only One Thing (or “No-Thing”). “Absorption” or “annihilation” may be more accurate terms.

The distinction between these two notions of “union” is important because, as mentioned previously, they are often conflated by both readers and writers of Mysticism. For now, it should be understood that “union” in the second Stage of the Lover refers to the first definition, where two things are united that still remain distinct (soul & God, subject & object, ego & non-ego, et cetera).

The Nature of the Second Stage:

This second stage of the Mystic Path is often called Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel in Thelemic Mysticism. In Christian Mysticism, it is often called “Illumination.”

“And again I was caught up into the presence of my Lord Adonai, and the knowledge and Conversation of the Holy One, the Angel that Guardeth me.”
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, V:41

The primary characteristic of this Illumination is the distinct and immediate perception of the “presence” of the Divine (or God/Absolute/Lord/Truth, et cetera).

This “presence” is not a mere metaphor or artistic flourish: it is a distinct, direct, experiential certainty of the presence of the Absolute, though this is expressed in various ways by various Mystics. This distinct, direct, experiential certainty is one aspect of the “Sense of Objectivity/Reality” mentioned in the previous section on “Mysticism in Theory.

• “Even as evil kisses corrupt the blood, so do my words devour the spirit of man.
Liber LXV, I:14
• “I was stricken as a bird by the bolt of the thunderer; I was pierced as the thief by the Lord of the Garden.”
Liber LXV, IV:40
“All this while did Adonai pierce my being with his sword…”
Liber LXV, V:14

This “presence” is often felt as the Divine “intruding” into the consciousness, so metaphors often involve “piercing” and “penetrating.” The use of the metaphor of the Divine as the Bridegroom and the Mystic as the Bride consummating their Spiritual Marriage should therefore come as no surprise.

This “Spiritual Marriage” corresponds to the second step of concentration in the Hindu system of Yoga: dhyana. In the first step of Yoga, dharana, one concentrates all of one’s thought upon a single Object, and there is much difficulty; this corresponds with the first Stage of the Mystic Path, the Man of Earth. This second step of concentration is called dhyana. In this second Stage of the Mystic Path, the Lover, there come times where the “subject” appears to disappear and only the Object remains, often co-occurring with a sense of ananda  (bliss). Dhyana also can be felt as a union of subject and object but not a complete union where both are annihilated. Dhyana represents a powerful and distinct stage of meditation, that is often said to be a lesser form of Samadhi, the total union of subject and object that is the Goal of Mysticism, characteristic of the third Stage of the Mystic Path, the Hermit.

The are various secondary characteristics of this Illumination:

“Then the adept was rapt away in bliss, and the beyond of bliss, and exceeded the excess of excess. Also his body shook and staggered with the burden of that bliss and that excess and that ultimate nameless.”
Liber LXV, II:45-46

1) “Joy,” “bliss,” or “ecstasy”: Joy, bliss, and ecstasy are not the primary factors of Illumination, they are Illumination’s natural by-products. That is, they do not constitute Illumination itself, but they often accompany Illumination. Crowley often likens  Illumination to the union of chemical elements, which naturally gives off light and heat. The “union of chemical elements” is analogous to Illumination itself, while the “light and heat” refer to the joy, bliss, and ecstasy that are by-products of the union. This feeling is felt as a joy that transcends one’s normal likes and dislikes, one’s typical pleasures and pains. Conversely, many of the anxieties, worries, and fears that plague the Mystic will fall away or seem petty in contrast to this Mystic communion.

“Having attained the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel (by a male effort so to speak) the Adept becomes receptive, feminine, patient, surrendering his will wholly to that of his Angel… The aspiration towards Him is masculine. At the moment of achievement it is replaced by passivity…”
Commentaries to Liber LXV, II:45-46

2) Passivity: The Mystic will often feel a sense of “surrender” or “passivity.” The achievement of this Stage requires great will and endurance, but it culminates in a surrender of that will. This is the surrender of the “personal will,” the volition or will-power of the individual, which allows for the Divine Will to take its place; it is the difference between one’s personal wishes/whims and the True Will. This release of “personal will” is virtually universal across all Mystics, especially Christian Mystics. It is because of this “surrender” or “passivity” that the image of a virgin is often used to describe the Mystic at this point: the virgin is “pure” insofar as her desire is only for One Thing, the Object of the Mystic Goal. In Western terms, the “virgin” is chaste except for God, and she passively awaits the coming of the Lord, so to speak. In the New Aeon, we understand this Divine Will to be nothing other than our own True Will, a more perfect expression of ourselves, rather than being something from “outside” of the self. We might say, “Let Thy Will, which is mine, be done.”

• “Neschamah: This is the faculty of under-standing the Word of Chiah [True Will]. It is the intelligence or intuition of what Jechidah [True Self] wishes to discover about itself.”
Little Essays Towards Truth, “Man”
• “The intuitions of the Neschamah are guaranteed by interior certainty.”
Confessions, chapter 64

3) Increased intuition: The term “intuition” means many things, but it seems to be the best word to describe this sense. Upon achieving the Stage of Illumination, the Mystic may receive many intuitive glimpses, whether through dreams, fantasy, certain thoughts, visions, et cetera. These are distinct from the normal “conscience” that Freud describes as the “super-ego,” which is essentially that little voice in your head that tells you what is right or wrong based on what you have been taught by your family, peers, and society. These intuitions – sometimes heard as voices but not necessarily – are a “voice” that represents the promptings of one’s “deeper Self,” a truer, more holistic sense of Self represented by the Holy Guardian Angel in Thelema. One may also start to see the deeper, more symbolic meanings of things, perceiving “divine truths” in the most mundane affairs; psychologically, this relates to the fact that the Mystic has opened channels to her Unconscious mind, which innately perceives the various interconnections and relations between things just as the conscious mind sees their differences. In Qabalistic terms, this is the “Neschamah” (the “spiritual intuition” or “divine intelligence”) that is attributed to Binah on the Tree of Life.

“A Man who is doing his True Will has the inertia of the Universe to assist him.”
Magick in Theory and Practice, “Introduction and Theorems”, III:9

4) Flow: Related to passivity and increased intuition, there is often a sense that life “flows” much more freely and naturally. Things seems to fall into place without much or any effort. This is the result of “unifying the Will,” specifically the harmony between conscious mind and the Unconscious. The immense inertia that is felt in the first Stage, where one is fighting against the world and one’s lower nature, seems to temporarily give way to a sense that one is flowing with the momentum of the world.

“In this Light naught exists, for It is homogeneous: and therefore have men called it Silence, and Darkness, and Nothing. But in this, as in all other effort to name it, is the root of every falsity and misapprehension, since all words imply some duality. Therefore, though I call it Light, it is not Light, nor absence of Light. Many also have sought to describe it by contradictions, since through transcendent negation of all speech it may by some natures be attained. Also by images and symbols have men striven to express it: but always in vain.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum

5) Light: The metaphor of this stage is almost invariably one of Light, hence the name “Illumination.” This is sometimes literally perceived by the Mystic at the moment of Illumination. It sometimes involves blinding light or an increasing light like a “Golden Dawn.” The Light may also be used by some Mystics as a metaphor for their sudden sense of clarity, of seeing beyond the normal ego-self and perceiving a much greater “presence.” Sometimes the Light is used as metaphor for the joy/bliss/rapture itself. Sometimes the Light is a metaphor for the “Creative energy” with which one feels one is infused in this Illumination or Communion (or “Knowledge and Conversation”). Nonetheless, this Light – sometimes called LVX – is virtually always present in some form or another in this second Stage of “Illumination,” whether literal or metaphorical. This “Light” is one reason among many that this stage is typically related to Solar imagery; Qabalistically, this is Tiphareth on the Tree of Life.

“I was also granted what mystics describe as ‘the Beatific Vision’ which is the most characteristic of those attributed to Tiphereth, the archetypal idea of beauty and harmony. In this vision one retains one’s normal consciousness, but every impression of daily life is as enchanting and exquisite as an ode of Keats. The incidents of life become a harmonious unity; one is lost in a rosy dream of romantic happiness. One may compare it to the effect produced by wine on some people. There is, however, no unreality in the vision. One is not blinded to the facts of existence. It is simply that the normal incoherence and discrepancy between them has been harmonized.”
Confessions, chapter 78

6) Beauty: Typically, the Mystic will perceive a certain sense of beauty in all things. This is sometimes called the Beatific Vision by Crowley. The term “Beatific Vision” originally comes from Christianity, used by people like Thomas Aquinas, and it was used to refer to the immediate knowledge of God that souls enjoy in Heaven. The Mystic naturally and effortlessly sees the Divine permeating all things in the world. This is sometimes expressed as Unity-in-Diversity, where there are distinct things seen in the world but one intuitively grasps their underlying unity in the One/Absolute/God. This is often described by Christian Mystics as Earth being “transfigured” into a new Heaven, or Heaven (or “New Jerusalem”) descending to Earth, or realizing the Kingdom of Heaven is all around. As one example, Blake describes this Beatific Vision when he writes, “To see a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower, / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, / And eternity in an hour.” Similarly, Henry Vaughan wrote, “Each bush and oak doth know I AM.” One can see that Infinity is perceived, yet “Finity” or duality remains; there is still multiplicity but there is Unity perceived therein. Mystics who remain at this stage are typically pantheists, meaning they see all things as identical with God/Absolute and themselves as part thereof. If one persists to the third Stage, one comes to identity with the Absolute itself rather than being simply a part thereof.

Because many of these by-products of Illumination are overwhelming and enrapturing, the Mystic is liable think that this is the end of the Path. It is helpful to remember that this is only the middle pylon along the Path, and that the true Unitive Life has still not been achieved. This is why Crowley calls this stage “The Next Step” and not “The Last Step.”

“It is impossible to lay down precise rules by which a man may attain to the knowledge and conversation of His Holy Guardian Angel; for that is the particular secret of each one of us; a secret not to be told or even divined by any other, whatever his grade. It is the Holy of Holies, whereof each man is his own High Priest, and none knoweth the Name of his brother’s God, or the Rite that invokes Him.”
One Star in Sight

Uniqueness of this Experience: It should be noted that this particular Stage is often very personal and unique, regardless of the underlying unity of various Mystics’ descriptions.

The way in which one understands or perceives the Presence of this Mystic Object depends entirely on one’s own history, make-up, development, intelligence, and understanding. One may see this as becoming the Bride of Christ, and another may see this as being pierced by a Divine sword; one may see this as a blinding Light, and another as a joyful Darkness. One may see this as an obliteration of one’s reality, and another may see this as awakening to Reality.

To set up expectations as to what Illumination (or Knowledge and Conversation) may entail is, in a sense, an impediment to being open and surrendering to what truly is. The descriptions of these Mystic states are, therefore, simply to be used as guideposts along the Path, not as absolutes to construct an intellectual system around. The sole rule in all cases is “Invoke often.”

Perfection isn’t immediate: Even if one has experienced the most blindingly exalted and ultimate version of this Illumination, one is not suddenly purged of all “bad” qualities (meaning, in the New Aeon, all aspects of oneself that are detrimental to or inhibiting of the True Will).

Although some habits may be “blasted” out of one’s system by the Illumination, some habits remain or return shortly after the experience of Illumination. There is further work to align the various aspects of oneself – body, emotions, thoughts, desires, et cetera  – under the “guidance” of this Divine Presence, of the Holy Guardian Angel.

It is typical of a Mystic at this Stage to think that she will never again see herself as separate from the Divine, that she will always be one with her True Will, that she is perfected, but the time always comes where this Illumination slowly fades away. This is a “non-abiding” union, and one inevitably “comes down” from it. The “abiding union” comes if one persists to the third Stage of the Mystic Path.

One must therefore be always vigilant to bring oneself to live more and more in this Light of Illumination, continuing the work of Purification and Consecration until All is One.

The Work: To a Mystic that has achieved this second Stage of the Path and entered through the Middle Pylon of Illumination or the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, there is still the final “crisis” of the Path. This final Crisis is known as the Crossing of the Abyss, the dissolution of a sense of a separate self, and a successful “Crossing” means that one has attained the third Stage of the Path.

“The Self surrendered must not be less than the All-Self; one must not come before the altar of the Most High with an impure or an imperfect offering. As it is written in Liber LXV, ‘To await Thee is the end, not the beginning.'”
Liber ABA: Book 4, Part II, chapter 6: The Wand

To Cross the Abyss, one must surrender all that one has and all that one is.  In order to surrender all that one has and is, though, one must first build oneself into a Whole.

If one has not performed the Purification of all “adverse” elements from oneself and Consecrated all other elements of oneself to one’s Single Goal, the surrender will not be complete or total. The Work of the Lover, after having achieved Knowledge and Conversation, is therefore one of Equilibrium: one must build up all opposites (or “complements”) within oneself to become Whole, not being attached or obsessed by anything incomplete or partial.

• “The Adept is not a perfection of what he feels to be the noblest part of him, but a Microcosm. He [must] complete the formation of himself as an image of the All.”
Commentaries to Liber LXV, II:45-46
• “For Perfection abideth not in the Pinnacles, or in the Foundations, but in the ordered Harmony of one with all.”
Liber LXI vel Causae, line 32
• “The microcosm is an exact image of the Macrocosm; the Great Work is the raising of the whole man in perfect balance to the power of Infinity.”
Magick in Theory & Practice, chapter 0: The Magical Theory of the Universe
• “[There is] the Necessity of extending constantly thy Nature to new Mates upon every Plane of Being, so that thou mayst become the perfect Microcosm, an Image without Flaw of all that is.”
Liber Aleph, ch. 44, “De Sapientia in Re Sexuali”
• “Imagine listening to Beethoven with the prepossession that C is a good note and F a bad one; yet this is exactly the stand point from which all uninitiates contemplate the universe. Obviously, they miss the music.”
Confessions, chapter 86

This Work of achieving Equilibrium or Wholeness of the self is the idea in Magick that is understood as becoming a perfect Microcosm of the Universe (or “Macrocosm”). This means that all aspects of the self must be balanced, especially the moral and intellectual aspects of the self. If one clings to the light and ignores the darkness, one is not equilibrated; if one clings to virtues and ignores vices, one is not equilibrated; if one clings to one belief and ignores its opposite, one is not equilibrated.

This is the reason that the “Higher Self” is a misleading term: this is often taken to mean that one’s “Higher Self” includes all of one’s best and noblest qualities elevated to the highest degree. In fact, one is seeking the Whole, both upright and averse, and not simply the Highest. 

This is what is generally said by Mystics to be the necessity of having a Love of All. This “Love” is not a sentimental or romantic kind of attitude which most people mean by the term. In the broadest sense, this Love is acceptance. In the emotions, a lack of Love or acceptance shows itself in the feeling of disgust.  This is why Liber LXV instructs us to “Go thou unto the outermost places and subdue all things. Subdue thy fear and thy disgust. Then—yield!” One must fully embrace all aspects of Nature, both the Nature of the Universe and one’s own Nature. The way to destroy demons is through Love.

This is the basic work of Equilibrium so that one may become a perfect Microcosm, the “All-Self,” in order that one may fully surrender all that one has and is. This why St. Francis of Assisi visited lepers, the sight of which disgusted him. This is why Buddhists meditate in the presence of decaying corpses. This is why Aleister Crowley deliberately ate Leah Hirsig’s feces to show he was indifferent to all material differences (Yes, that really happened). In short, we must confront everything that makes us squeamish, all that brings us a sense of disgust, all that we consider Evil… and unite with it in “love under will” so that no element of the Universe is not also part of ourselves. As perfect and complete microcosms of the Cosmos, we can then truly proclaim what is said in the Gnostic Mass, “There is no part of me that is not of the gods.”

Crowley lays out the essence this practice in Liber V vel Reguli when he writes, “The Magician should devise for himself a definite technique for destroying ‘evil.’ The essence of such a practice will consist in training the mind and the body to confront things which case fear, pain, disgust, shame and the like. He must learn to endure them, then to become indifferent to them, then to analyze them until they give pleasure and instruction, and finally to appreciate them for their own sake, as aspects of Truth. When this has been done, he should abandon them, if they are really harmful in relation to health and comfort.”

The Ordeal: The Ordeal of this Grade is a crucial one, known as the Crossing of the Abyss, and it will be discussed in the next section as the prelude to the third and final Grade or Stage of the Mystic Path.

← Part 3: Mysticism in Practice – Intro & The Man of Earth ← |
Part 5: Mysticism in Practice – Crossing the Abyss & The Hermit → ]

Thelemic Mysticism

Thelemic Mysticism – part 3: Mysticism in Practice – Introduction & The Man of Earth

Thelemic Mysticism

[ ← Part 2: Mysticism in Theory ← | → Part 4: Mysticism in Practice – The Lover → ]


Conceived as a Path, Mysticism is the Science and Art of achieving the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual truth or goal. There are many ways of conceptualizing this Path and of treading this Path. These will be explored in turn.

The Conceptualizations of the Mystic Path

The Mystic Path refers to the process of achieving the direct experience of the Mystic Goal. There are two fundamental ways of conceiving  or conceptualizing this Path:

1) The Journey: The Goal is something we do not have but must attain, obtain, or achieve. We must therefore go on a “journey” (or “pilgrimage,” “quest,” “sojourn,” et cetera) to get what we do not yet have. 

2) The Transmutation: This Goal is something we already have but are not aware of it. We must therefore undergo a process of transmuting ourselves into one who is capable of perceiving this Goal, of  “uncovering” or “discovering” it.

The labels of “The Journey” and “The Transmutation” are for convenience, though the reasons for choosing these names will become apparent. Both of these conceptions of the Path are essentially identical, although using different metaphors. Sometimes both labels are intermingled with each other in a single metaphor. In a way, they are just reflections of one another: Transmutation may be considered as a Journey inwards until the Goal is perceived, and the Journey may be considered as a series of Transmutations until the Goal is reached. The use of one metaphor over another often implies or is the result of the particular metaphysical and/or theological views of whomever is speaking, but some Mystics – including Aleister Crowley – can operate within both the “Journey” and “Transmutation” metaphors.

“Little by little, as your eyes grow stronger, will we unveil to you the ineffable glory of the Path of the Adepts, and its nameless goal… The many change and pass; the one remains. Even as wood and coal and iron burn up together in one great flame, if only that furnace be of transcendent heat; so in the alembic of this spiritual alchemy, if only the zelator blow sufficiently upon his furnace all the systems of earth are consumed in the One Knowledge. Nevertheless, as a fire cannot be started with iron alone, in the beginning one system may be suited for one seeker, another for another. We therefore who are without the chains of ignorance, look closely into the heart of the seeker and lead him by the path which is best suited to his nature unto the ultimate end of all things, the supreme realization, the Life which abideth in Light, yea, the Life which abideth in Light.”
Liber Porta Lucis, lines 14, 20-22

We should always remember “the map is not the territory.” A certain type of map may be more useful to a certain type of person over another type – for example, a map using Buddhist terminology would probably be less useful to a Christian and a map using Jewish symbolism may obscure the Path more than reveal it for a Hindu. One of the natural outgrowths of Thelema’s syncretism of various traditions is its ability to fluidly move between different “maps” without getting caught in any one particular way of thinking about the “territory” of the Mystic Path. We must remember that the Mystic Goal always was and always will be, by its very nature, ultimately ineffable; it is truly incommunicable in the language of Reason and therefore the “secret of secrets.”

The Mystic Path, because it deals largely with the practicalities of the Work, is more amenable to language but still liable to confusion because it deals with the “inner life” of the individual of which we can only speak using symbols and metaphors. The Mystic Path also is highly variable depending on the constitution of the individual and their culture, yet there is a unity in the Mystic methods of attainment that certain individuals like Crowley were able to perceive beyond the variety of language used to describe the methods. Before looking into these methods, we will look further into the different conceptualizations of the Path: the Journey and the Transmutation.

The Journey

• “I shoot up vertically like an arrow, and become that Above. But it is death, and the flame of the pyre. Ascend in the flame of the pyre, O my soul!”
Liber Liberi vel Lapidis Lazuli sub figura VII, I:37-39
• “Verily and Amen! I passed through the deep sea, and by the rivers of running water that abound therein, and I came unto the Land of No Desire.”
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, III:1
• “…They abode in the Land that the far-off travellers call Naught.”
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, V:59
• “…the thread wherewith I guide you to the heart of the groves of Eleusis.”
Liber Tzaddi vel Hamus Hermeticus sub figura XC, line 23
• “At the end, be the end far distant as the stars that lie in the navel of Nuit…”
Liber A’ash vel Capricorni Pneumatici sub figura CCCLXX, line 38

Included in this category are all “Journeys” from a state that is “low” or “bad” to a state that is “high” or “good,” including:

  • The Journey from the Darkness of ignorance toward the Light of Truth.
  • The Journey from the lowest sphere of Malkuth toward the highest sphere of Kether, often called “climbing the Tree of Life.” Likewise, all “emanationist” theories that involve the emanation of the One into the Many, involve the “Journey” back to the Original One, sometimes called “The Path of Return.”
  • The Journey or Climbing of “Jacob’s Ladder” from Earth to Heaven, or upward through the various “hierarchies” of the Divine (e.g. through the hierarchies of Dionysius or the “Ten Heavens” of Dante).
  • The Journey from the realm of Samsara “across the stream” toward the realm of Nirvana. 
  • The Journey from home to some sacred place – for example, John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” where one travels from one’s home in the “City of Destruction” to the “Celestial City,” or – alternatively – the search for the Lost Paradise such as The Garden of Eden, El Dorado, Shangri-la, or Shambhala.
  • The Journey of the Lover to find and unite with the Beloved.

All “Quests” for holy, sacred, or rare objects fall under this category of the Journey including:

  • The Quest for the Holy Grail.
  • The Quest for the Elixir of Immortality / Potion of Eternal Life / Fountain of Youth.
  • The Search for the “buried treasure,” as in Matthew 13:44, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field.”
  • The Search for the “Lost Word.”

There are several characteristics of the Path that are implied by using the metaphor of “The Journey”:

  • One begins in an un-enlightened or “un-initiated” state. In the language of Magical Orders, one’s Path begins as one of the “profane.” This often involves understanding oneself as full of ignorance, dominated by the senses and instincts, and without any knowledge of one’s true Path. The “Journey” is from this state to the “perfected” state of achieving the Mystic Goal.
  • One is now on a difficult Journey, which will be full of hardships or obstacles (the “ordeals”), and there will be great uncertainty, even regardless of the fact that many “maps” have been made of the “Path” to guide one on one’s Journey.
  • There will be several “landmarks” along the Way (the “stages” or “grades”), both marking one’s progress as well as directing one further along the Path.

The Transmutation

• “There is none that shall be cast down or lifted up: all is ever as it was.”
-Liber AL vel Legis sub figura CCXX, II:58
• “We are not to regard ourselves as base beings, without whose sphere is Light or ‘God.’ Our minds and bodies are veils of the Light within. The uninitiate is a ‘Dark Star,’ and the Great Work for him is to make his veils transparent by ‘purifying’ them.”
New Comment to Liber AL, I:8
• “The prophet cried against the mountain; come thou hither, that I may speak with thee! The mountain stirred not. Therefore went the prophet unto the mountain, and spake unto it. But the feet of the prophet were weary, and the mountain heard not his voice. But I have called unto Thee, and I have journeyed unto Thee, and it availed me not. I waited patiently, and Thou wast with me from the beginning.”
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, II:57-60
• “Initiation means the Journey Inwards: nothing is changed or can be changed; but all is trulier understood with every step.”
Little Essays Towards Truth, “Mastery”

The “Transmutation” is a metaphor that essentially implies that we already are in possession of the “Goal” – we are already enlightened, already divine – but, because of our “imperfection” or “ignorance,” we are unaware of it. “Transmutation” therefore involves changing, perfecting, or “transmuting” the self in various ways in order that one may come to a clearer awareness thereof. All metaphors that involve altering, changing, or “perfecting” oneself are included in this category, including:

  • The Great Work of Alchemy, transmuting the “dross” of the self into “gold”
  • Progressively “seeing” one’s inherently “pure” or “perfect” nature, as when it is said in Mahayana Buddhism, “People should realize that the buddha-nature is something they have always had”
  • The process of “building the Temple of Solomon,” or – similarly – the process of working upon the crude “rough ashlar” in order to form it into the “perfect ashlar.”
  • The transmutation of the Kundalini serpent, bringing it from the lowest chakra at the base of the spine (Muladhara), all the way up the spine, to rest at the “third eye” (Ajna).
  • The “Journey to the Center” as seen in images of labyrinths and mandalas, which combines the ideas of the Journey and the Transmutation.

The metaphor of Transmutation implies several things. Primarily, Transmutation implies that we already “have” the Goal but our consciousness has not been “perfected” in order to become consciously aware of it. The “Path” is therefore a process of Transmutation that involves subjecting oneself to various processes – disciplines, purifications, et cetera – that enable this inherent Truth to become available to our conscious awareness.

Again, it should be remembered that both “The Journey” and “The Transmutation” are two sides of the same coin. As can be seen by the quotations above, both metaphors are used within Thelema even within the same text. The purpose of this section is to show the various manifestations of these two ways by which the Mystic Path is understood and to show that they are, in fact, two ways of understanding the same Path. 

The Stages or “Grades” of the Path

“Who calls us Thelemites will do no wrong, if he look but close into the word. For there are therein Three Grades, the Hermit, and the Lover, and the man of Earth. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
Liber AL vel Legis sub figura CCXX, I:40

There are as many ways to conceptualize the various stages of the Mystic Path as there are Mystics. Some Mystics even use several “maps.” In the end, the Path is infinitely varied but maintains a near-identical essence in all cases. There are three fundamental stages of the Mystic Path that correspond with the Three Grades mentioned in The Book of the Law. Each stage or “Grade” is characterized by a certain “ordeal” that leads one to enter the Grade, and a certain “work” characteristic of the Grade. This loosely correspond to the beginning (ordeal) and middle (work) of the particular “Grade.” 

1) The Man of Earth: The Beginning of the Path

The first stage can be likened to the Grade of “Man of Earth.” This is the beginning of the Path where one is a “neophyte,” which literally means “newly planted.” 

“The Aspiration to become a Master is rooted in the Trance of Sorrow.”
Little Essays Toward Truth, “Sorrow”

The OrdealEveryone is drawn to the Path for the same, basic reason: Discontent.

Without some form of discontent (or “dissatisfaction” or “dis-ease”), there would never be any reason to seek or to strive for anything. Everyone begins with a discontent in some degree. Some begin with the impetus that amounts to realizing “There must be something more than this.” At the extreme, this same discontent approaches what is called “The Trance of Sorrow,” which amounts to realizing that all material things are finite, temporal, and subject to death. In Buddhist language, the First Noble Truth that “Existence is suffering” becomes overwhelmingly evident. The Path is then understood as “transcending suffering,” “transcending the temporal/finite,” or even “mastering myself and my environment.”

“It is the Trance of sorrow that has determined one to undertake the task of emancipation. This is the energising force of Law; it is the rigidity of the fact that everything is sorrow which moves one to the task, and keeps one on the Path”
Eight Lectures on Yoga, “Niyama”

Conversely, one may be drawn to the Path by the opposite or complement of discontent, which amounts to being drawn to the Path by having some kind of perception of the possibility of one’s “higher development.” One may realize that there is “something more to this” in the sense that one comes to believe that there is a possibility of life that involves greater wisdom, understanding, power, truth, beauty, and/or peace. At the extreme, this same “hope” approaches what is called “The Vision of Adonai,” becoming aware of the Mystic Goal in some way, even – in some cases – catching an experiential “glance” of what the Goal is like (sometimes called “higher states of consciousness”).

The Trance of Sorrow and the Vision of Adonai are really two sides of the same coin. If one perceives the unsatisfactoriness of all temporal things in the Trance of Sorrow, one will therefore conversely seek the possibility of a type of life that transcends these sorrows. If one perceives the joy and beauty of catching a glimpse of “Truth” (or “the Divine,” or “Reality,” et cetera), one will therefore conversely look at one’s life and see – by contrast – its finiteness, sorrow, and imperfection. These things can happen suddenly (as in a “flash”) or they can dawn gradually – each individual’s Path is unique, but each one begins with this perception of discontent or the perception of the possibility of transcendence.

The Work: The Work at this stage or “Grade” is called many names but essentially involves severe self-discipline in order to transform one’s character from the old habits – both old “vices” and old “virtues” – to a new way that is conducive to the achieving the Goal. There are generally “negative” and “positive” aspects of this that amount to clearing away the old habits (“vices,” which used to be called “sins”) that are in the way of one’s Path and building up new habits that are conducive to the Path (“virtues”). It is a stripping-away or rooting-out of the bad and a cleansing of the good (“good” and “bad” being relative terms to each individual as well as to the particular Purpose of achieving the Mystic Goal). They correspond exactly to the process of Purification and Consecration in Magick, and they may also be understood as the process of “balancing the Elements.” This Work is based on severe and persistent discipline: it is an incredibly difficult part of the Path, but we may be assured that – as with all habits – the process begins in a difficult way, becomes easier, and then becomes almost natural and effortless.

“Now then let us suppose that you have come to the Master, and that He has declared to you the Way of this attainment. What hindereth you? Alas! there is yet much Freedom afar off. Understand clearly this: that if you are sure of your Will, and sure of your means, then any thoughts or actions which are contrary to those means are contrary also to that Will. If therefore the Master should enjoin upon you a Vow of Holy Obedience, compliance is not a surrender of the Will, but a fulfilment thereof. For see, what hindereth you? It is either from without or from within, or both. It may be easy for the strong-minded seeker to put his heel upon public opinion, or to tear from his heart the objects which he loves, in a sense: but there will always remain in himself many discordant affections, as also the bond of habit, and these also must he conquer. In our holiest Book it is written: ‘Thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay.’ Write it also in your heart and in your brain: for this is the key of the whole matter… Search yourselves cunningly, I pray you, analysing your inmost thoughts. And first you shall discard all those gross obvious hindrances to your Will: idleness, foolish friendships, waste employments or enjoyments, I will not enumerate the conspirators against the welfare of your State.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum

PurificationThe self must be purged of all those parts of the self – body, senses, thoughts, emotions, and desires – that stand in opposition to the attainment of the one object of the Mystic Goal. This process has been called many things by different Mystics including “asceticism,” “detachment,” “poverty,” and “purgation.” These practices can often be harsh, but they are always used as a means to an end. All the “purifications” are a means to strip away all forms of egoism – of the sense of separateness that is the root of our discontent – to allow for the Truth (or “God” or “Reality” or “the Absolute”) to dawn in our awareness.

Why do we need Purification? We are slaves to our desires, our cravings, and our habits. We run after things including wealth, fame, and pleasure, but we are always left dissatisfied. This is because the only true satisfaction comes from the achievement of the Mystic Goal: we are assured of this by the ordeal of the Trance of Sorrow, although it can even be appreciated intellectually. Purification, then, is the process whereby we break down the habits of striving after and resting in things that are less than the Mystic Goal: Purification is renunciation. This is why the basis of Buddhist training is to release attachments from all the aspects of oneself, right down to the attachment to the sense of “self.” This is why Christ said, “Blessed are they who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is why, in Thelema, it is repeatedly said that True Will is not one’s wishes, whims, likes, or desires – it is the strictest possible bond. This is why the process of “the stripping of self-will” of Christian mystics is virtually identical to the process of attainment in the New Aeon: we must strip away the false layers of ego-driven desires in order to perceive the True Will. 

“Thou then, who hast trials and troubles, rejoice because of them, for in them is Strength, and by their means is a pathway opened unto that Light. How should it be otherwise, O man, whose life is but a day in Eternity, a drop in the Ocean of time; how, were thy trials not many, couldst thou purge thy soul from the dross of earth? …Rejoice therefore, O Initiate, for the greater thy trial the greater thy Triumph.”
Liber Librae sub figura XXX

What are the things we are purifying? The subjects of our purifying amounts essentially to anything within oneself that says “I want” or “I have.” We must give up all those things which we claim as our own, and we must give up all those desires which are not the One Desire of achieving the Mystic Goal. Though there are many intense phrases and images used when describing this Purification, the essential fact is a change of attitude, not certain acts. That is, when we say one must renounce all one’s possessions, that means that one must release all attachment thereto, not literally give away everything that one possesses (although there may be many things that one might literally give away that are unnecessary, and the attitude in giving things away is exactly the one required for the release of attachment). Giving away things does not mean one has released attachment from them, just as putting on the robe of a Buddhist monk does not mean one is a Buddhist monk: again, it is the attitude or “way of being” that is altered. 

“Now therefore that thou mayest achieve this ritual of the Holy Graal, do thou divest thyself of all thy goods.”
Liber Cheth vel Vallum Abiegni sub figura CLVI, line 7

Therefore, the process of Purification is a process of detachment from all things. One must analyze every aspect of one’s being, searching for all attachments we have, and progressively and completely renounce them for the Quest of achieving the Mystic Goal and nothing else. Purification is, in a way, ruthless in its abandonment and it must reach all aspects of one’s being. All sensory pleasures must be renounced. All relationships must be renounced. All one’s cherished beliefs and preferences must be renounced. All one’s aspirations and desires must be renounced. The only pleasure for the Mystic is the achievement of the Mystic Goal, the only relationship is that with God, the only belief is the necessity to achieve Truth, the only aspiration is the ultimate Union with the Absolute. Each individual’s path must be different by necessity, but all bear this hallmark of Purification or “renunciation.” The study of the seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride), the yama of Yoga (non-violence, non-falsehood, non-stealing, non-lusting, non-possessiveness), the five precepts of Buddhism (abstaining from violence, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and intoxicants), and other similar systems will give any earnest aspirant a good idea of what is necessarily involved in this process of Purification. The end result is a profound humility and detachment, yet the process is obviously one of the most difficult tasks that can be conceived insofar as one is changing one’s character by fighting against and releasing attachment to virtually everything that pushed and guided oneself until now. Suffering is the steam released by the fire of Purification, but the result is a humble, purified self that is ready to strive toward the next step on the Path. 

“To obtain Magical Power, learn to control thought; admit only those ideas that are in harmony with the end desired, and not every stray and contradictory Idea that presents itself. Fixed thought is a means to an end. Therefore pay attention to the power of silent thought and meditation. The material act is but the outward expression of thy thought, and therefore hath it been said that ‘the thought of foolishness is sin.’ Thought is the commencement of action, and if a chance thought can produce much effect, what cannot fixed thought do?”
Liber Librae sub figura XXX

Consecration – If Purification involves removing the “bad,” then Consecration involves strengthening the “good.” Again, this “good” is relative to each individual and relative to the particular End of achieving the Mystic Goal; Consecration is, like Purification, a means to an end. Failing to see this and, instead, perceiving the disciplines of Purification and consecration as Absolutes, is the foundation for endless superstition and dogmatism.

Purification involves disentangling ourselves from all the things which impede the achievement of our sole Object and Goal on the Path, and Consecration involves gathering together the various threads of our life in order to devote them to the achievement of this Goal. This involves the strengthening of “virtues” that are conducive to achieving the Goal. A study of the seven virtuous complements to the seven deadly sins (chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, humility), the niyama of Yoga (purity, contentment, spiritual effort, study of holy texts, surrender to God), the paramitas of Buddhism (geneorsity, proper conduct, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, honesty, determination, kindness, calmness), or the Eightfold Path (right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration) will give the earnest aspirant an understanding of what this Consecration may entail for them. In Eight Lectures on Yoga, Crowley enumerates the qualities of niyama that he believes are useful including endurance, patience, selfless love, willfullness/strength, courage, energy, acceptance of all experience, equilibrium, indifference, and pure aspiration. We may also include the mysterious and terrible Four Powers of the Sphinx: to Know, to Will, to Dare, and to Keep Silence.

“Find the minimum of daily time which is in good sooth necessary to your natural life. The rest you shall devote to the True Means of your Attainment. And even these necessary hours you shall consecrate to the Great Work, saying consciously always while at these Tasks that you perform them only in order to preserve your body and mind in health for the right application to that sublime and single Object. It shall not be very long before you come to understand that such a life is the true Liberty. You will feel distractions from your Will as being what they are. They will no longer appear pleasant and attractive, but as bonds, as shames. And when you have attained this point, know that you have passed the Middle Gate of this Path. For you will have unified your Will.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum

In general, every aspect of one’s life must be closely and consistently knit together to have everything be devoted toward the accomplishment of the Great Work, the achievement of the Mystic Goal. All actions, words, and thoughts must be devoted to the end of this Mystic Goal.

This work of “transmuting” the various things in one’s life into the single Purpose of achieving the Mystic Goal is seen in the practice of “saying Will.” At meals we say, “What is thy Will? It is my Will to eat and drink. To what end? That I may fortify my body thereby. To what end? That I may accomplish the Great Work.” This same process of asking “To what end?” must be done for every single aspect of one’s life, and the answer must always terminate in “To accomplish the Great Work.” If you cannot see how it relates to the accomplishment of the Great Work, the achievement of the Mystic Goal, then it is probably something that must be “purified” from your life. The process of devoting all things, all actions, all speech, and all thoughts to this single End is the essence of Consecration.

Therefore, the primary virtue beyond all others and to which all others attend and aid is that of one-pointedness. The primary skill of one-pointedness is concentration. Concentration is developed through meditation.

“Thou must (1) Find out what is thy Will. (2) Do that Will with (a) one-pointedness, (b) detachment, (c) peace. Then, and then only, art thou in harmony with the Movement of Things, thy will part of, and therefore equal to, the Will of God. And since the will is but the dynamic aspect of the self, and since two different selves could not possess identical wills; then, if thy will be God’s will, Thou art That.”
Liber II: The Message of the Master Therion

Meditation involves holding a single object of concentration in mind, throwing all one’s force into being aware solely of that object, and discarding all distractions from this one object. This is the essence of the method of all Mystics, and the process of becoming more and more engrossed in the object of meditation is also the process of progressing through the stages, steps, or “Grades” of the Mystic Path. The difficulties of meditation reflect the work of one’s “Grade” and the successes reflect one’s progress on the Path. It can be seen that this particular practice of meditation is in the microcosm, so to speak, what one must do with one’s entire life in the macrocosm. At this “Grade,” one must simply strive to maintain the object of one’s meditation in mind, whether this is a mantra, an image, one’s breath, or whatever else. This corresponds to the first “stage” of meditation in Yoga known as dharana. The process is difficult: the mind will find every possible excuse to stray from the one purpose of the meditation, which is a reflection of one’s current stage of the Path as a whole. Remember why you are on this Path, the ordeal of the Trance of Sorrow. Be persistent. Be one-pointed. One will then inevitably come to the next stage of the Mystic Path.

← Part 2: Mysticism in Theory ← | → Part 4: Mysticism in Practice – The Lover → ]

Psychology of Liber AL – pt.7: Life and Death Instincts

Psychology of Liber AL

Life and Death Instincts

I am the secret Serpent coiled about to spring: in my coiling there is joy. If I lift up my head, I and my Nuit are one. If I droop down mine head, and shoot forth venom, then is rapture of the earth, and I and the earth are one.” –Liber AL vel Legis II:26

In this verse from Liber AL, we find Hadit comparing “himself” to “the secret Serpent coiled about to spring.” This symbol is obviously showing the vast potential stored within the Self, like that contained within a coiled serpent, analogous to the unknowable power hidden in the recesses of each person’s unconscious.1 From this position of coiling, Hadit either lifts up his head or droops down. These two actions are related to becoming one with Nuit and becoming one with the earth, respectively. Crowley writes in his commentary to this line, “The mystic Union is to be practised both with Spirit and with Matter,” which are “two main types of the Orgia of Magick [causing Change in conformity with Will].” This shows that there are two fundamental actions to be taken or courses of the Will: (1) return to the spirit, and (2) immersion in matter.

Crowley says elsewhere that “Magick = the Will to Live” and “Mysticism = the Will to Die.”2 This brings to mind the theories of the life drive (termed eros) and death drive (termed thanatos) expounded by Sigmund Freud, the famous psychologist. Freud’s definition of the death drive being “an urge inherent in all organic life to restore an earlier state of things”3 may be likened to the “union with Nuit” in which one’s consciousness “becomes one,” and his life instinct of eros may be seen to be analogous to the “rapture of the earth.”

Jung also posits two similar ideas in his pseudo-mystical treatise “Septem Sermones ad Mortuos.” He writes:

The world of the gods is made manifest in spirituality and in sexuality. The celestial ones appear in spirituality, the earthly in sexuality. Spirituality conceiveth and embraceth. It is womanlike and therefore we call it MATER COELESTIS, the celestial mother. Sexuality engendereth and createth. It is manlike, and therefore we call it PHALLOS, the earthly father. The sexuality of man is more of the earth, the sexuality of woman is more of the spirit.”4

Here are two seemingly autonomous psychic functions in relation to the individual identified as “the celestial mother” – very much like lifting up of Hadit’s head to union with Nuit (who is often pictured as a star goddess) – and “the earthly father” which is analogous to Hadit drooping his head to the earth. In Jungian psychology, it is understood that the individual’s psyche is bi-gendered in that it contains both masculine and feminine aspects, and in this case it should be understood that these two things – “celestial mother” and “earthly father” – relate to “every man and every woman.” Jung continues:

Man shall distinguish himself both from spirituality and sexuality. He shall call spirituality Mother, and set her between heaven and earth. He shall call sexuality Phallos, and set him between himself and earth. For the Mother and the Phallos are super-human daemons which reveal the world of the gods.”5

Here we have almost the same language being used as in Liber AL vel Legis. Once again we must remember that “Psychology accordingly treats all metaphysical claims and assertions as mental phenomena, and regards them as statements about the mind and its structure that derive ultimately from certain unconscious dispositions.”6 We can now understand that this line in Liber AL vel Legis that started this chapter refers to the two fundamental drives or two aspects of the Will.

Two potential courses of the Will

Liber AL II:26

Aleister Crowley

Sigmund Freud

Carl Jung

Hadit is “coiled,” prepared to Will a certain course of actions, either (1) return to spirit or (2) immersion in matter

1: “return to spirit”

I lift up my head, I and my Nuit are one.”

Mysticism = the Will to Death;” “Union… with Spirit”

Thanatos: the death drive

MATER COELESTIS, the celestial mother;” “spirituality”

2: “immersion in matter”

If I droop down mine head… I and the earth are one.”

Magick = the Will to Life;” “Union… with Matter”

Eros: the life drive

PHALLOS, the earthly father;” “sexuality”

[Figure 1. The two courses of Will once Hadit is “coiled about to spring”]

I referred to these two “drives” or “psychological contents” as seemingly autonomous psychic functions above, and Jung writes that “man shall distinguish himself” from both of them, for they are most practically understood as autonomous functions. He then proclaims these words:

Spirituality and sexuality are not your qualities, not things ye possess and contain. But they possess and contain you; for they are powerful daemons, manifestations of the gods, and are, therefore, things which reach beyond you, existing in themselves. No man hath a spirituality unto himself, or a sexuality unto himself. But he standeth under the law of spirituality and of sexuality. No man, therefore, escapeth these daemons.”7

This is a fundamentally important point. These actions or drives are not our qualities in the normal sense that we would normally think of something as part of ourselves, part of our personalities or mental structure. Rather, they are understood as forces influencing our psyches. Our normal, conscious sense of self is the ego, which is informed by these two influencing drives, these two aspects of the Will, and – as we explored earlier – the Will of the individual is the guiding Law of life (“There is no law beyond” doing it)8

It should be remarked that no matter what Hadit “does” – if there is coiling, lifting of the head, drooping of the head – there is joy and rapture. Once again it is shown that, in all aspects, “Existence is pure joy.”9

>>PART 8>>

1 The connections between this symbol and the Hindu kundalini are also plainly apparent, but elaboration on this point not appropriate for this essay.

2 Crowley, Aleister. “The Antecedents of Thelema.” Printed in The Revival of Magick.

3 Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

4 Jung, Carl. “Septem Sermones ad Mortuos,” Sermo V.

5 Jung, Carl. “Septem Sermones ad Mortuos,” Sermo V.

6 Jung, Carl. “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation,” par. 760.

7 Jung, Carl. “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation,” par. 760.

8 A reference to Liber AL, III:60, “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.”

9 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:9.

>>PART 8>>