liber xv

Unus Deus: The Eightfold Key to Thelemic Magick

Unus Deus: The Eightfold Key to Thelemic Magick

Unus Deus: The Eightfold Key to Thelemic Magick

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

This essay is intended to serve as an explication for the symbols & ideas synthesized in the diagram which heads this article. This image combines the various ideas that are to be discussed and, by the end of reading this article, you should ideally be able to understand why everything in this image is there. The main thesis is that this “Eightfold Key” represents a way to unlock a certain understanding of certain rituals, symbols, and ideas in Thelemic magick.

Disclaimer: I do not pretend to believe that this Key is the “Key to all Thelemic Magick ever” or anything like that; it is only one perspective among potentially infinite. Its worth should ultimately be judged by whether it is seen to be a perspective that is useful, that simply “clicks,” that generates new ideas, that stimulates new thoughts and connections, and so on. That is, it should be judged by each individual as to whether it aids in the accomplishment of their Wills in some manner.


The Qabalah is undoubtedly a crucial branch of knowledge required to delve into the deeper layers of symbolism and meaning that are inherent in our rituals. While the Qabalah is an incredibly flexible and versatile system in theory, an unfortunate but all-too-common common tendency is to learn a certain “attribution scheme” and to stick with it. For example, it is common for individuals to interpret the Mass as an expression of the Tetragrammaton formula and nothing else.

This Eightfold Key represents a new way of understanding certain central symbols (such as Therion and Babalon) and certain of our rituals – specifically, Liber XXV (The Star Ruby), Liber XXXVI (The Star Sapphire), and Liber XV (The Gnostic Mass). This Eightfold Key does not follow the typical attribution schemes that one would be used to in virtually all material on Golden Dawn and Thelemic rituals. Nonetheless, the basis of this Eightfold Key is fundamentally in attributions and ideas related by Aleister Crowley himself: none of these attributions in themselves are my unique insights. I have not encountered this particular application of these symbols to understanding common Thelemic rituals, and my interpretation & synthesis of these symbolic applications have led to writing this essay.

On that note, it must be stated clearly and explicitly that nothing herein is “official doctrine”, neither of Thelema nor of OTO nor of any organization nor any individual other than myself. While I am confident that these ideas will be relevant and at least somewhat illuminating to many (otherwise I would not have bothered writing this explication), I am well-aware that this is not the end-all answer to all questions. Even further, believing this is the sole solution would fly in the face of my belief that symbolism is inherently multi-layered as well as inherently inexhaustible in terms of its potential meanings. This Eightfold Key is offered to hopefully allow another perspective to be taken, along with the many connections and insights that ideally follow therefrom.

Finally, it should be noted that the intended audience of this essay are those who are already somewhat experienced and/or knowledgeable practitioners of Thelemic magick. The point is not that this material is “secret” or “above your grade,” but that it assumes a fair degree of familiarity with certain terms and ideas in order to make the most of the concepts herein.

The Basis of the Eightfold Key

The fundamental symbolic basis of this Eightfold Key is the table “Appendix I” in 777 & other Qabalistic Writings by Aleister Crowley, where he discusses “The Trigrams of the Yi King.” In this table, he attributes the 8 Trigrams of the Yi King to various things, most importantly to the 4 directional quarters (North-South-East-West) and the 4 cross-quarters (Northeast-S.E.-N.W.-S.W.) and certain Hermetic ideas. All the attributions are taken from this table, so nothing in terms of attributions are original, only their interpretations.

Yi King Trigrams - 8 Directions

In this Eightfold Key, we do not require an extensive knowledge of the system of the Yi King along with its Trigrams, Hexagrams, and so on, nor do we need to know what their Chinese names mean. They form the fundamental basis of the Eightfold scheme, but their basic meanings can be understood by understanding the composition of Trigrams. Trigrams are all composed of 3 lines, hence the name “Trigram,” and each line is either “unbroken” or “broken.” Unbroken lines refer to yang, the masculine principle which corresponds with our Western notions of the Element of Fire, Yod of Tetragrammaton, Chokmah, and so on; the broken lines refer to yin, the feminine principle which corresponds with our Western notions of the Element of Water, Heh of Tetragrammaton, Binah, and so on.

Trigrams with more unbroken lines can be said to be “more yang” and, likewise, Trigrams with more broken lines can be said to be “more yin.” Since there are only two possibilities for each of the 3 lines, there are a total of 2(i.e. 8) possible permutations of yang and yin for a Trigram. We may start understanding these Trigrams and their attributions by focusing first on the 4 basic directions.

The 4 Quarters

To begin to explain this diagram, we may most effectively begin by looking at the 4 basic directions of the 4 quarters: North-South-East-West. This is the fundamental orientation of virtually every single Thelemic ritual, especially if we consider Boleskine to essentially be “spiritual East” (as opposed to literally East, as the direction toward it depends on where one is measuring from). Taking certain attributions from Crowley’s 777 table we get:

—East— —West— —South— —North—
Hindu Attribution Prana Akasha Lingam Yoni
Yetziratic Attribution + O

This helps us begin to see the basic attributions of the 4 quarters in the Eightfold Key: We can see that this forms essentially two Pairs of Opposites, or two dualities. Namely, there is the East-West duality of Sol (☉)-Luna (☾), and there is the South-North duality of Lingam (+)-Yoni (O).

Interestingly, Crowley does not use typical Elemental, Planetary, Zodiacal, or Alchemical symbols for South and North: He chooses to use a Cross (+) and a Circle (O). While crosses and circles are undoubtedly part of the Hermetic tradition, it is somewhat unorthodox to attribute them in this way (it does not occur anywhere else in 777 in nearly the same way). They are essentially equivalent to the Hindu notions of Lingam (+) and Yoni (O), of which the male penis and female womb represent the most physical symbols.

Also interesting is the attribution of Prana and Akasha to Sol and Luna, respectively. Prana is the Hindu word for “energy” or “power” or “force,” and it is understood to be the underlying energy that moves all things in the Universe including ourselves (hence, for example, the practice of pranayama, which literally means the control of energy). Akasha is the Hindu word for “Space,” and represents the underlying form or space that underlies all objects in the Universe. They are essentially the Verb (Prana) and Noun (Akasha) of Hindu cosmology, to make things patently simple. They correspond nicely to our modern notions of Energy and Matter.

In terms of dualities, for this particular context Lingam (+) and Yoni (O) are more “primary” or “primordial” or “abstract”: they are more fundamental or basic than that of Sol and Luna. This can be seen in their being simplistic or “pure” geometric figures, + & O.  Lingam and Yoni correspond to “The Lord” and “The Lady” in the Collects of Liber XV, and represent the ineffable infinities that underlie all things. Qabalistically, we express this notion of being “more fundamental” by the fact that Lingam and Yoni are attributed by Crowley (in this context) to Chokmah (the 2nd Sephirah) and Binah (the 3rd Sephirah), which lie above the Abyss. Sol and Luna (in this context) are attributed to spheres further down the Tree of Life, implying more complexity and concreteness to the ideas.

Interestingly, Sol and Luna in this context are attributed to Tiphareth (the 6th Sephirah) and Malkuth (the 10th Sephirah), corresponding traditionally to Sol and Earth (i.e. not Luna, which would be Yesod, the 9th Sephirah). This may not make sense initially, but when we take a look at the Gnostic Mass, we see that the fundamental duality expressed throughout the ritual is one of Sol and Earth, or simply Heaven and Earth (terms which correspond more closely to that of the Yi King’s cosmology). Our Creed testifies to the “One Star” of the Sun as well as to the “One Earth,” we partake in the Eucharist of the essence of “the life of the Sun” and the “joy of the Earth”: plentiful examples abound throughout the Gnostic Mass in many ways. For those who are interested, this essay goes into this particular idea of Sol and Earth in the Gnostic Mass in more depth.

This all comes together once we realize where the “deities” are placed in the quarters for the Star Ruby in particular. In the East we have Therion, and in the West we have Babalon. Therion corresponds to Sol and Prana/Energy, whereas Babalon corresponds to Luna and Akasha/Space: the Sun and the Earth, both of which are explicitly identified with their respective “deities” in the Creed of the Gnostic Mass.

For the other duality, that of Lingam and Yoni, we have Hadit in the South and Nuit in the North. Hadit in the South corresponds to the Lingam and the Cross (+), whereas Nuit in the North corresponds to the Yoni and the Circle (O). This corresponds exactly with what Crowley explains in his New Comment to Liber AL I:1, “Nu is connected with North, while Had is Sad, Set, Satan, Sat (equals ‘Being’ in Sanskrit), South…” They are both traditionally associated with 0/Naught based on Liber AL and Crowley’s attributions in 777 but, in this case, they correspond “on a lower plane” with Chokmah/yang/Lingam (Hadit) and Binah/yin/Yoni (Nuit). In terms of the Trigrams, they correspond with the only two Trigrams that are completely yang or yin. Hadit is all yang lines and Nuit is all yin lines, somewhat unsurprisingly. The Sol and Luna Trigrams are the only two Trigrams that contain both yang and yin lines yet remain vertically balanced in themselves (a yang on top is balanced by a yang on the bottom, etc).

—East— —West— —South— —North—
Hindu Attribution Prana Akasha Lingam Yoni
Yetziratic Attribution + O
Sephiroth 6 (Sol) 10 (Earth) 2 (Chokmah) 3 (Binah)
Trigrams Prana Akasha Lingam Yoni

In certain ways, this attribution scheme of two dualities (Lingam-Yoni, and Sol-Luna) is more satisfying than the traditional Elemental attributions. In terms of the 4 deities present in the Star Ruby (at least the later Magick in Theory & Practice version), the more traditional and typical Elemental attributions certainly fit as each of the 4 is attributed to a Kerub which together form the Sphinx. Hence, Therion “roars” (Fire/Lion) in the East, Nuit “says” (Air/Man) in the North, Babalon “whispers” (Water/Eagle) in the West, and Hadit “bellows” (Earth/Bull) in the South. Nonetheless, it seems there are aspects that do not seem to fit quite right in this typical Elemental attribution scheme.

Yi King - 4 QuartersWhen we take these new attributions, things seem to fall naturally into place: Lingam and Yoni, the universal or primordial duality, is attributed to Hadit and Nuit along the North-South axis (reflecting what Crowley writes about them in the aforementioned section of the New Comment). Sol and Luna, essentially the Lingam and Yoni “on a lower scale” are Sol and Luna, the macrocosmic duality. Although Luna here serves as a stand-in for Earth when contemplated in relation to the Tree of Life and other contexts (such as the Gnostic Mass), it is helpful to think of Sol and Luna in this case not as 2 planets among 7, but rather as a fundamental duality in itself, much how Alchemical symbolism often utilizes Sol and Luna to be the ultimate Masculine and Feminine symbols (respectively). This therefore means that, in this case, Sol includes other “masculine” ideas like Mars and Jupiter, and Luna includes the “feminine” ideas of Earth and Venus (as some examples).

The Hebrew letters used to designate these dualities is interesting as well: Hadit and Nuit somewhat unsurprisingly correspond to Yod and Heh, the first two letters of Tetragrammaton, representing Father/Fire/yang and Mother/Water/yin. Together, they create YH (“Jah”), a name of God, which enumerates to 15 – in a way, this simple combination of letters, Yod and Heh, to create 15 shows an underlying symbolic formula at work in the Gnostic Mass, which is designated “Liber 15.” We might then expect Sol to correspond to Vav and Luna to Heh Final, but they do not. Instead, Crowley attributes them to Resh and Gimel. The reason for these attributions is found in the Tarot Trump correspondences of the Planets: Sol corresponds to Atu XIX: The Sun to which is attributed the letter Resh, and Luna corresponds to Atu II: The Priestess to which is attributed the letter Gimel. In a way, this shows us that these attributions do not follow the typical “Tetragrammaton scheme” exactly. Perhaps a new and slightly different formula of Tetragrammaton might be derived from these letters.

Finally, we have Crowley’s traditional “Planetary Attribution” column in 777 which may initially be confusing, as it uses similar symbols to other previously mentioned attributions, but it is actually quite simple. We have considered the Lingam-Yoni, Sol-Luna dualities and it should be understood that this represents one way of slicing the pie, so to speak. The One can be divided in innumerable ways, and we might divide It into Lingam, Yoni, Sol, Luna. Another, more common way to divide It is with the 7 Planets. This means that Sol and Luna are no longer understood in the former context (similar to their Alchemical counterparts as representing the ultimate Masculine and Feminine ideas in the abstract), and now they will be understood in their context as being two of the 7 Planets. In short: Symbols can mean different things depending on their context. To further explain this idea: Consider the word “day.” How long is a day? Chances are your answer is “24 hours,” which is correct. Now how long is a night, then? 12 hours, or somewhere around there, is likely your answer. Then how long is a day? 12 hours, of course. How can “day” refer to both 12 hour periods as well as 24 hour periods? It is because of context: When “day” stands alone, it represents the entire cycle of 24 hours, but when “day” is juxtaposed with “night,” it represents half of the cycle of 12 hours. In this case, the new juxtaposition is with the other classical Planets, and therefore they take on slightly different meanings.

Crowley attributes Sol to Hadit and Luna to Nuit; he then attributes Jupiter to Therion and Saturn to Babalon. Sol and Luna, in the context of the 7 classical Planets, represent the primordial duality. They are essentially the equivalent of Lingam/+ and Yoni/O when reflected into this particular symbolic scheme. Therion and Babalon cannot then be attributed to Sol and Luna as they are in the previous formulation: They refer to Saturn and Jupiter. In a sense, Saturn and Jupiter are also the “primordial” duality insofar as they were considered the two most distant planets by the ancients. Traditionally, Saturn and Jupiter are opposites: they are the Great Malefic (Saturn) and the Great Benefic (Jupiter); they represent constriction (Saturn) and expansion (Jupiter); they represent severity and harshness (Saturn) and mercy and benevolence (Jupiter). Therefore, in terms of the 7 classical Planets, Hadit is Sol, Nuit is Luna, Therion is Jupiter, and Babalon is Saturn. Not to get too far ahead, but this leaves Mars for Elemental Fire, Venus for Elemental Water, Mercury for Elemental Air, and of course Earth for Elemental Earth.

To jump ahead slightly for a moment, we see that the 4 cross-quarters (those points halfway between the 4 quarters) are attributed to the 4 Elements, and that a general scheme is therefore formed by the Eightfold Key:

  • The Ineffable Duality: Hadit and Nuit, South and North, Lingam and Yoni
  • The Macrocosmic Duality: Therion and Babalon, East and West, Sol and Luna
  • The Microcosmic Quaternity: The 4 Elements (or the duality of “active” and “passive” Elements)

This mirrors the Officers of the Gnostic Mass: Priest & Priestess form the Ineffable Duality, the Deacon contains the Macrocosmic Duality in him/herself (note that the Deacon stands between the small altar and font, which symbolically represent Sol/Tiphareth & Luna/Yesod, respectively), and the Children form the Microcosmic Quaternity (the Positive Child holding the 2 “active” Elements while the Negative Child holds the 2 “passive” Elements).

For a final detour, consider briefly how the quarters are attributed in Resh: East is Sunrise, South is Noon, West is Sunset, and North is Midnight. In this sense, East-West is the horizontal plane, and South-North actually represents the vertical plane (Noon at the zenith, Midnight at the nadir). In this sense, we can see the Ineffable Duality in the top-down axis, the Macrocosmic Duality forming the forward-backward axis, and the 4 Elements fit into the diagonals. There are, of course, various permutations of these ideas (for example, Hadit-Nuit can be conceived as Inner-Outer, Therion-Babalon as Up-Down, and the 4 Elements covering the 4 directions, essentially covering all possible directions), but I will leave that up to your own imagination and ingenium.

The 4 Cross-Quarters

The 4 cross-quarters become clear once the previous attributions are understood. They pleasingly fit into their places in a fairly natural way. The cross-quarters are North-East, South-East, South-West, and North-West. They correspond respectively to Fire, Water, Air, and Earth according to Crowley’s attributions in 777. We might add the traditional Tetragrammaton correspondences to the Elements as well.

—N.E.— —S.E.— —S.W.— —N.W.—
Yetziratic Attribution Fire Water Air Earth
 Tetragrammaton Yod Heh Vav Heh final
Hindu Attribution Tejas Apas Vayu Prithivi

In this case, the Hindu attributions are exactly the same as our traditional, Western 4 Elements: Tejas means Fire, Apas means Water, Vayu means Air, and Prithivi means Earth.

In terms of Hebrew letters, the 3 primary Elements are attributed to the 3 Mother Letters: Fire is attributed to Shin (ש), Water to Mem (מ), Air to Aleph (א). Earth is attributed to the final letter in Hebrew, Tav (ת).

The Planetary attributions, as previously mentioned: Fire is attributed to Mars, Water to Venus, Air to Mercury, and Earth to Earth. Some of these attributions may seem somewhat strange, but if we keep the idea of 3 primary Elements with the additional (or “encompassing”) fourth Element of Earth it becomes clear. Mars & Venus are the same “primordial duality” as Sol & Luna (or Jupiter & Saturn) but “on a lower scale” – it is not an uncommon idea that masculine is “Mars-like” and feminine is “Venus-like.” Mercury performs the role of reconciler between these two complements/opposites, much like He often does in Alchemical imagery.  Planetary Earth unambiguously represents Elemental Earth.

Alchemical MercuryThese Planetary attributions to the Elements become especially illuminating in relation to their appearance in Liber XV, the Gnostic Mass. If we look at the creed, we see Chaos in the place of Yod/Fire, Babalon in that of Heh/Water, Baphomet in that of Vav/Air, and the Gnostic & Catholic Church in that of Heh Final/Earth. The duality of Chaos-Babalon as Mars-Venus is fairly straightforward, but the attribution of Mercury to Baphomet is especially appropriate. Mercury is the most common Alchemical symbol for the ultimate goal or result of the Great Work of Alchemy, the union of opposites. In Alchemical imagery, Mercury often stands between the dualities of Sol-Luna, Jupiter-Saturn, and Mars-Venus, reconciling the ineffable, macrocosmic, and microcosmic dualities into itself. In fact, there is a certain Mercury symbol which combines all the Planetary symbols into a single whole [see image to the right], and it looks remarkably like the traditional depiction Baphomet. Earth corresponds to the Church as the Church represents the physical manifestation of the Law. Interestingly, Baphomet therefore takes on the role that corresponds to the Old Aeon notion of Christ being the bridegroom of the Church: now we see Baphomet in the Christ-role of being bridegroom of our Church!

These attributions can be carried even farther if we look at the Collects as well. Consider the typical attribution of Tetragrammaton to the 4 Elements in this context. Sabazius X° attributes the Collects to Tetragrammaton as follows: “The Sun and The Lord = Yod; The Moon and The Lady = Heh; The Saints = Vav; The Earth and The Principles = Heh final”. With this in mind, we can see that Vav corresponds to the Element of Air, the Planet of Mercury, and the Collect of The Saints; Heh Final corresponds to the Element of Earth, the Planet of Earth, and the Collect of The Earth. These attributions from Crowley reinforce the attributions made by Sabazius to the Collects: Mercury/Saints & Earth form a duality of sorts, mirroring that of Baphomet and the Church from the Creed. The Saints are the transmitters of the Light of the Gnosis, and both knowledge and communication are traditional functions of Mercury. In this sense, the Saints may be understood as the Promethean light-bringers to Earth: they infuse the womb of Earth with the gnosis-fire of Wisdom.

These attributions to the Elements also elucidate the Officers of the Gnostic Mass: Fire/Mars corresponds to the Priest, Water/Venus to the Priestess, Air/Mercury to the Deacon, and Earth to the Children. Naturally, the Fire/Mars of the Priest is reflected in his scarlet robe, the Water of the Priestess in her wearing blue, and Air/Mercury in the Deacon wearing yellow; the Children represent Earth under the duality of black & white. Mercury is especially appropriate to be attributed to the Deacon as he is the leader of the People (Mercury as psychopomp) and bearer of the Book of the Law (Mercury as Logos/Word of God). Interestingly, the Trigrams attributed to the 4 Elements show that none of the Trigrams are entirely balanced in themselves: they are all somewhat lop-sided, and require each of the other three Trigrams in order to attain balance. In other words, it can be taken as a symbolic explanation of the necessity of Children in the Gnostic Mass: they are required for the balance of the Officers and the forces they represent.

Fire - Tejas - YodWater - Apas - HehEarth - Prithivi - Heh finalAir - Vayu - Vav

The Star Sapphire Detour

In order to further understand the depth of this Eightfold Key, especially in terms of the cross-quarters, it is necessary to look at Liber XXXVI, The Star Sapphire.

In the Star Sapphire ritual, we go through the 4 quarters and assert a unity between various aspects of Tetragrammaton. There is a unity of Y & H, of H & V, etc. This unity is represented by the phrase “unus deus Ararita” in the ritual, which is repeated in each of the 4 quarters. “Unus deus” is Latin for “one/single god”. The word “ARARITA” is actually a notariqon, or acronym, for a phrase which is translated in one of the Thelemic Holy Books as, “O my God! One is Thy Beginning! One is Thy Spirit, and Thy Permutation One!” (Liber ARARITA). It is essentially understood as a declaration of Unity of all things, especially between opposites. As it is written in another Holy Book, “Also he taught me the holy unutterable word Ararita, so that I melted the sixfold gold into a single invisible point, whereof naught may be spoken” (Liber LXV, V:15). ARARITA represents both the method (the uniting of opposites) and the result (the union thereof). Note that it is spelled “Ararita,” as if it were a word unto itself, in both the rubric of Liber XXXVI as well as in Liber LXV. Symbolically, this union is represented in each quarter by “mak[ing] the Holy Hexagram”. The Hexagram is, in this context, a symbol of the union of two opposites, represented by the two triangles which compose the Hexagram. Note that each of the quarters as one masculine aspect and one feminine aspect that unite with one another: each quarter has one upright triangle (masculine) and downward triangle (feminine) to form the Hexagram. When we proclaim “unus deus Ararita,” the Hexagram of two separate triangles symbolically becomes the unicursal Hexagram, where there is no separation between the two triangles anymore, i.e. there is “Unity uttermost showed” in 4 different permutations in the 4 different quarters. Note on the diagram at the beginning of this essay that “VNVS DEVS” forms a circle around the center. These 8 letters are to show that, ultimately, all these permutations are permutations of the One. And yet also remember “let it be ever thus; that men speak not of Thee as One but as None; and let them speak not of thee at all, since thou art continuous!” (Liber AL, I:27).

In the Star Sapphire itself, we do some ritual signs and then advance to the East and say “Pater et Mater unus deus Ararita.” This literally means “Father and Mother are one god Ararita.”  In terms of Tetragrammaton, Yod and Heh are One.

We go round to the South and say: “Mater et Filius unus deus Ararita.” This literally means “Mother and Son are one god Ararita.” In terms of Tetragrammaton, Heh and Vav are One.

We go round to the West, make the Holy Hexagram and then say: “Filius et Filia unus deus Ararita.” This literally means “Son and Daughter are one god Ararita.” In terms of Tetragrammaton, Vav and Heh final are One.

We go round to the North, make the Holy Hexagram and then say: “Filia et Pater unus deus Ararita.” This literally means “Daughter and Father are one god Ararita.” In terms of Tetragrammaton, Heh final and Yod are One. The cycle has restarted, and it perpetuates itself unto eternity. As Crowley wrote, “This mystery of the Daughter awakening the eld of the all-Father and thus perpetuating Tetragrammaton is of great importance” (Comment to 4th Aethyr).

Star Sapphire TetragrammatonNotice that the 4 quarters do not correspond to a single letter of Tetragrammaton. Each quarter corresponds to a union of two different letters.

  • East = YH (Father-Mother)
  • South = HV (Mother-Son)
  • West = VH (Son-Daughter)
  • North = HY (Daughter-Father)

This arrangement shows that each letter of Tetragrammaton is in one of the cross-quarters: Father/Pater (Yod) in the North-East, Mother/Mater (Heh) in the South-East, Son/Filius (Vav) in the South-West, and Daughter/Filia (Heh final) in the North-West. NOX FormulaBy going around the circle, one has therefore formed the sigil of N.O.X., the cross-in-the-circle when the cross is tilted like an “X.” This sigil secretly contains all 3 letters of N.O.X. within it, just as the normal upright cross “☩” contains the letters L.V.X..

If we now take the attributions of Tetragrammaton to the cross-quarters derived from the Star Sapphire, and we add back in the attributions of the Trigrams from 777, we see that they match up flawlessly.

—N.E.— —S.E.— —S.W.— —N.W.—
Yetziratic Attribution Fire Water Air Earth
Hindu Attribution Tejas Apas Vayu Prithivi
 Tetragrammaton Yod Heh Vav Heh final
Star Sapphire Pater Mater Filius Filia
Trigrams Fire - Tejas - Yod Water - Apas - Heh Air - Vayu - Vav Earth - Prithivi - Heh final

After all this in the ritual of the Star Sapphire, we then “return to the Centre, and so to The Centre of All.” We are symbolically returning to the center of the Eightfold Key, the Unity (unus deus) underlying the eightfold permutations. We then “mak[e] the Rosy Cross,” which symbolically is essentially the union of opposites (Rose and Cross, similar to Circle/Yoni and Cross/Lingam). Eventually, the rubric states “Also shall Set appear in the Circle.” Set is a complex symbol in Thelema, but the basic meanings can be seen in his identity with Horus and by the Qabalistic spelling of his name as given by Crowley.

In this Aeon of Horus, Ra-Hoor-Khuit, or technically Heru-Ra-Ha (both of which, along with others, are essentially forms or aspects of Horus), represents the supreme Unity, often identified with the Sun or solar nature in some way. Traditionally, Set is the enemy of Horus; they are the archetypal night and day. Yet, in this new Aeon, Horus is a symbol that contains its opposite in itself. Whether it is understood as Set, or Apophis (the Greek name for Apep, the Egyptian serpent of destruction and darkness and therefore enemy of the Sun/light/day), this “anti-Christ” or “anti-Horus” is contained within itself, similar to how Heru-Ra-Ha contains both Ra-Hoor-Khuit and Hoor-paar-kraat. Crowley writes, “This child Horus is a twin, two in one. Horus and Harpocrates are one, and they are also one with Set or Apophis, the destroyer of Osiris” (Equinox of the Gods, ch.8). Set is therefore ultimately an identical symbol to that of Horus.

There are further considerations of the name “Set” itself being related to similar terms like Sat (“Being” in Sanskrit), Satan, Saturn, and the like. Set is indeed a symbol of Satan, insofar as Satan represents the eternal enemy of Christ, the darkness against the light yet again. We can also say Satan is a symbol of Set in the same way – in fact, Set showed up in writings a few millenia before Satan did.  The point is really moot, for this Satan would necessarily need to contain its own opposite to be an adequate symbol: just as Christ needs Anti-Christ, Anti-Christ needs Christ. All opposites are codependent and intertwined: this is a fundamental understanding of the new Aeon, the Aeon of the Crowned and Conquering Child, which is itself the union of the past Aeons of Mother and Father into a new synthesis. Whether we see it as Set, or as Horus, or as Heru-Ra-Ha, or as Hoor-Set, or Hoor-Apep, or both or neither, they all are symbols pointing to the conjunction of opposites in a single Unity, unus deus. 

So Set appears in the Circle while we are at its Centre. We just saw how Set is identified with Horus, and now we can look at the name “Set” itself. Crowley spells Set in a particular way: the Greek letter Sigma and the Greek letter Theta. The trick is that he uses certain archaic forms of both of these letters.  For the Sigma, instead of the typical “Σ”, Crowley used an earlier script where Sigma looks essentially identical to our modern “C”. Note that this letter resembles a lunar crescent. For Theta, instead of the typical “Θ”, which looks like a Circle with a short horizontal line through the middle, Crowley used the older form which was a circle with a dot in the middle, essentially identical with the typical Solar glyph “☉”. Combining these, we have something like “C☉” which forms a sort-of sideways “Sol & Luna conjoined” glyph. “Set” is therefore a name for Sol & Luna conjoined, which is itself simply one archetypal expression of the union of opposites, whether Lingam & Yoni, Sol & Luna, Father & Mother, Subject & Object, Cross & Circle, etc.

Note that the final Sign of this portion of the Star Sapphire is that of “Baphomet.” BAPHOMET is a name that represents the union of all opposites. It is a fitting name to symbolize the union of the 8 permutations of this Eightfold Key into the single unity. Like “UNUS DEUS,” BAPHOMET is 8 letters, as seen in a Holy Book of Thelema where it is written, “I am Baphomet, that is the Eightfold Word…” (Liber A’ash). 


And with that, one should (theoretically) be able to decipher the various aspects of the Eightfold Key. If you’ve made it this far in the essay, I give you my congratulations, and I hope that the journey allowed for some new connections and/or insights to occur. Again, I see this mainly as an extrapolation of ideas already inherent in Crowley’s own attributions and writings, but since I have been and am still unaware of any further elucidation of this particular scheme, I felt that creating this Key may be useful and interesting to some Thelemic magicians who are grappling with similar concepts. Lege. Judica. Tace. 

Unus Deus: The Eightfold Key to Thelemic Magick

Love is the law, love under will.

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‘The Journal of Thelemic Studies: The Mysteries of the Gnostic Mass’ is now available

The Journal of Thelemic Studies: The Mysteries of the Gnostic MassThe Journal of Thelemic Studies: The Mysteries of the Gnostic Mass

2015 e.v. ••• 8.5″ x 11″ Perfect-bound Paperback, Full color ••• 112 pp. ••• $44.93

Description: ‘The Journal of Thelemic Studies: Volume III, Number 1 – The Mysteries of the Gnostic Mass’ is a special issue devoted exclusively to the central public and private rite of Ordo Templi Orientis, Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass. This issue has over 15 articles from a diverse group of Thelemites writing on a wide variety of topics from the Creed, to magical energy in the Mass, to preparation of Cakes of Light, to music in the Mass, and more.

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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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Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica - The Gnostic Mass

The Officers of the Gnostic Mass – pt.3: The Deacon, Children, & the Congregation

Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica - The Gnostic Mass

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions related herein are strictly my own. They do not represent any kind of official stance of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, Ordo Templi Orientis, or anyone else. 


1) The Master of Ceremonies: Leader of the People

The Deacon generally serves as the “master of ceremonies” in several ways. The Deacon acts as the leader of the People (i.e. the Congregation) right from the beginning. Before the Mass begins, the Deacon commonly is the individual who explains the participatory elements of the Mass to newcomers, he is the Officer that technically opens the door of the Temple to lead in the Congregation,  and the Deacon leads the People in the participatory elements (Step, Creed, Signs, Anthem, et cetera) within the Mass itself. This “role” of the Deacon is intertwined with several others:

2) The Mediator: Mercurial Psychopomp

Similar to being the leader of the People, the Deacon acts as the Mercurial “psychopomp.” The psychopomp was traditionally the spirit or god (or whatever else) that led someone through the afterlife like Mercury, Virgil to Dante, Valkyries to the Norse, et cetera. In this way, the Deacon symbolizes the mediator between several things. The Deacon is the mediator between the Supernal Triangle (represented by the High Altar) and the rest of the Tree of Life; the Deacon is able to go up to the High Altar and come back down in the beginning of the Mass, and he is also able to go up and receive the Eucharist for communion to bring it down for the Children to hold. The Deacon therefore also serves as mediator between the Priest/Priestess and the People, either leading the People to emulate the Priest/Priestess (as when the People are guided to strike their breasts like the Priest) or helping the Priest to communciate with the People (such as by holding the Lance).

3) Aid of Priest & Priestess

In a similar role as above, the Deacon acts as the aid for the Priest and Priestess. The Deacon brings the Priestess the Priest’s robe, cap and crown, he holds the Priest’s Lance, and he also aids the Priest and Priestess by generally taking care of and leading the People as previously mentioned.

4) The Faculties of the Conscious Self

Much like the Deacon literally aids the Priest in his endeavors, the Deacon can symbolize the faculties of the conscious self. If the Priest represents the Subject-hood of each individual, the Deacon symbolizes the various conscious faculties of memory, volition, imagination, desire, and reason. Qabalistically, this can be seen as the Priest being Tiphareth (Sol) and the Deacon represents the surrounding Sephiroth that aid and are coordinated by Tiphareth. This also shows several other ideas symbolically at play: Firstly, this symbolism shows the conscious mental faculties (the Deacon) as that which helps mediate between the Self (or “Individuality”; the Priest) and the physical world, including the body (the People/Congregation). Secondly, it shows the conscious mental faculties as guiding the Self and inflaming it to continue to union with the Not-Self (the Unconscious; the Priestess), as when the Deacon remains “below the Abyss” and intones the Collects while the Priest and Priestess commune in the Supernal Triangle (the High Altar).

5) The Vav of Tetragrammaton: The Hermetic Androgyne, Mercurius

In terms of the symbolism of Tetragrammaton, the Deacon is the Vav (YHVH). Reinforcing this, the Priest wears red (Fire/Yod), the Priestess wears blue (Water/Heh), and the Deacon wears yellow (Air/Vav). Further, the Deacon’s “stand” is “between the small altar and the font.” This often, for practical reasons, looks more like the Deacon is standing at the small altar (situated symbolically at Tiphareth in terms of the Temple layout), which is the place of Vav of Tetragrammaton. More subtly, the Deacon’s stand is specifically between the small altar (Sol/Tiphareth) and the font (Luna/Yesod). That is, the Deacon stands as the Hermetic-Mercurial Androgyne between Sol and Luna. The Tarot trump associated with the Path connecting Yesod and Tiphareth is Atu XIV: Art. This card shows the intermixing of Sol & Luna in the Alchemical Grail, and the Hermetic-Mercurial Androgyne can be seen presiding over the operation in the center. Further reinforcing this symbolism is that Atu XIV: Art is attributed to Sagittarius, the Archer, and as the Master Therion says, “The Arrow is, in fact, the simplest and purest glyph of Mercury, being the symbol of directed Will” (The Book of Thoth).

6) The Logos

Related to the Deacon’s function as Mercury is his role as bearing the Word of the Law, i.e. being the Logos. The description of the Deacon actually says “He bears The Book of the Law,” i.e. he bears the Logos (for the Qabalah-inclined, note that “Logos” = LGS = Legis, and LGS = 93). At the very beginning of the Gnostic Mass, the Deacon places The Book of the Law, symbolic of the Logos/Word of this particular Aeon, upon the High Altar. The Deacon then turns and proclaims the Law to the People, symbolically establishing a Divine Covenant between Heaven and Earth for this Aeon whose Law is “Do what thou wilt.” This reflects the previously mentioned role of being “mediator,” specifically between Heaven and Earth. Just as Prometheus brought the fire from the Heavens down to Mankind,  as Aiwass is the minister of Hoor-Paar-Kraat, as Christ the Son bears the Word of his Father, as Mercury is the messenger of Jupiter (et cetera), the Deacon acts as the Logos or Word of the Ineffable Lord. The Deacon therefore represents “Mercury [who] is pre-eminently the bearer of the Wand: Energy sent forth [and] therefore represents the Wisdom, the Will, the Word, the Logos by whom the worlds were created” (The Book of Thoth); also in this light, the Master Therion writes, “In the Beginning was the Word, the Logos, who is Mercury; and is therefore to be identified with Christ. Both are messengers; their birth mysteries are similar” (The Paris Working).


1) Final Heh of Tetragrammaton

The Children form a kind of Two-in-One (or One-in-Two) Officer. They are called the “negative child” and “positive child” because the negative child bears the “passive” elements of Earth (salt) and Water, while the positive child bears the “active” elements of Air (incense) and Fire (censer). In this sense, they represent the Final Heh (YHVH) that is associated with Malkuth, the 10th Sephirah. Just as they encompass all 4 Elements, Malkuth represents the material world that is composed of these 4 Elements (in fact, Malkuth is often shown divided into 4 sections on the Qabalistic Tree of Life). Their double-nature reflects itself into other aspects of their symbolism:

2) Duality of the World 

The two Children “are clothed in white and black,” which symbolizes the duality of the world below the Abyss. As Helena and Tau Apiryon note, “The black and white squares [of the dais] may be seen as symbolizing the interplay of primal opposites,” and the Children are dressed in colors reflecting this interplay of primal opposites. In general, the two Children travel up and down the Pillars of Mercy and Severity, acting as reflections thereof.

3) Aids of Priest & Priestess

The Children aid the Priest & Priestess in their roles in several ways including holding the active and passive Elements for the Priestess to purify and consecrate the Priest (and vice versa), they “attend the PRIEST and PRIESTESS, ready to hold any appropriate weapon as may be necessary” during the Consecration of the Elements, and they hold the two elements of the Eucharist during communication.

4) Future Priest & Priestess

The two Children act as the future Priest and Priestess. They are, after all, called “Children” which implies, in a way, they will mature into different roles in time. They bear active and passive Elements, reflecting the Lance and Grail on a “lower scale,” and they move and act complementarily much as the Priest and Priestess do.


1) The Gnostic and Catholic Church: Final Heh of Tetragrammaton

The Congregation – or “the People” – also act as the Final Heh of Tetragrammaton (YHVH) in their own way. In this way, the People act as the symbolic representation of humanity in general or the Earth itself. If we are using the symbolic map of Tetragrammaton, we can see in the Creed that Baphomet is in the place of Vav (YHVH) and the “one Gnostic and Catholic Church of Light, Life, Love and Liberty, the Word of whose Law is ΘΕΛΗΜΑ” as the Final Heh (YHVH). In this way, the Church is the “bride” of Baphomet much as the Christian Church saw itself as the “bride of Christ.” Consider in this light what is said in Revelation 21:1, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem [Gnostic Catholic Church, Final Heh], coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband [Baphomet, Vav].”

2) The Brethren: The Company of Heaven

The People are mentioned as “the Brethren” to whom the virtues are administered. As the famous saying goes, “As above, so below.” The order of the Stars in Heaven is reflects in the order of “every man and every woman” (ALI:3) on Earth, with Hadit burning at the core of stars and in the hearts of men (ALII:6). As it says in Matthew 5:14, “Ye are the light of the world.” This shows each individual as being part of “the company of heaven” (ALI:2), sources of Light & Life on Earth as the stars are in the Heavens. There is a deep symbolic connection between the company of stars in Heaven and the “communion of Saints,” with the many stars representing the many Saints “that transmitted the Light of the Gnosis.” Note that the Priest strikes his breast, showing his communion with the Saints, and all the People similarly strike their breasts. Jung discusses the medieval Alchemists’ understanding of this when he writes:

“Dorn, like Khunrath, owes much to Paracelsus with whom he concurs when he supposes an ‘invisibilem solem plurimis incognitum’ in man (an invisible sun unknown to many). [Also], ‘Sol est invisibilis in hominibus, in terra vero visibilis, tamen ex uno et eodem sole sunt ambo’ (The sun is invisible in men, but visible in the world, yet both are of one and the same sun)… Thus the one archetype emphasized by Khunrath is known also to Dorn as the sol invisibilis [invisible sun] or imago Dei [image of God]. In Paracelsus the lumen naturae comes primarily from the ‘astrum’ or ‘sydus,’ the ‘star’ in man… Indeed, man himself is an ‘Astrum’: not by himself alone, but for ever and ever with all apostles and saints; each and every one is an astrum, the heaven a star… therefore saith also the Scripture: ye are lights of the world [Matthew 5:14].”

3) Reflections of the Priest

As mentioned previously, the Priest represents each individual in the Congregation. At the culmination of the Gnostic Mass, “The PEOPLE communicate as did the PRIEST, uttering the same words in an attitude of Resurrection,” in effect imitating him and showing an identity therewith. Similarly, as mentioned previously, the People strike their breast as the Priest does, showing all of their connection to and communion with the eternal Priesthood of the Saints. Since “the PRIESTESS and other officers never partake of the Sacrament, they being as it were part of the PRIEST himself,” the various Officers of the Gnostic Mass can be seen as aspects of the Priest. By extension, the entire Gnostic Mass can therefore be seen as an enactment of a mythopoetic psychodrama within the consciousness or “soul” of each Congregant, showing-forth the internal process of the Great Work and allowing each individual present to partake thereof.

Again: This list is not exhaustive, nor is the symbolism of any of those meanings listed above completely fleshed out. The idea is to show there are many interconnected, intertwining, overlapping sets of symbolism by which one can more fully appreciate the mysterious depths of the central ceremony of Ordo Templi Orientis.

[← Part 2: The Priestess ←]

Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica - The Gnostic Mass

The Officers of the Gnostic Mass – pt.2: The Priestess

Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica - The Gnostic Mass

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions related herein are strictly my own. They do not represent any kind of official stance of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, Ordo Templi Orientis, or anyone else. 


1) The Unconscious Self

Just as the Priest symbolizes the conscious self, the Priestess symbolizes the unconscious self. The “unconscious self” constitutes all those parts of the psyche (which originally meant “soul”) that are not conscious, including both the “lower” instincts of the body and the “higher” impulses of the spirit. The unconscious encompasses both the Nephesh (“animal soul”; material impulses) and the Neshamah (divine intuition; spiritual impulses) in terms of the Qabalistic view of the soul. The Priestess is therefore the “greeting of Earth and Heaven” in herself. In terms of the unconscious self, the Priestess represents those impulses that appear to the Priest (or conscious self) to come from “outside.” This basic idea will be expanded in the different symbolic ideas that follow:

2) The Object of Desire

The Priestess represents the Object that complements the Subject-hood of the Priest. In terms of Yoga, the Priestess represents the Object of concentration with which the Subject of awareness unites in samadhi. 

The Priestess therefore represents the ultimate Object of Desire, which we understand as symbolized by “Nuit” in Thelema. In Liber AL it says, “At all my meetings with you shall the priestess say—and her eyes shall burn with desire as she stands bare and rejoicing in my secret temple—To me! To me! calling forth the flame of the hearts of all in her love-chant. Sing the rapturous love-song unto me! Burn to me perfumes! Wear to me jewels! Drink to me, for I love you! I love you!” (I:62-63). The Master Therion comments on this: “Nuit: Her public Cult. Now lastly she ordains her public cult. Her image, she being All-Desired, shall be a living Woman, calling to her that Spirit which shall make her perfect in Event. Of all this Rite I have written in another place” (The Comment Called D). The “Rite” referenced is an explicit reference to the Gnostic Mass where these lines from Liber AL are actually spoken by the Priestess.

The Priestess represents the object of desire but not simply the object of sexual desire; the idea is that sexual desire (and all other desires) are masks or veils upon the ultimate Desire to accomplish the Great Work, to unite Microcosm and Macrocosm, Subject and Object, Adept and Angel, Lance and Cup (et cetera), in the ecstatic union of Love. In fact, the Gnostic Mass can be seen as a ritualized way to harness the power of sexuality to accomplish the “spiritual” aim of the Great Work. As the Master Therion says, “We of Thelema are not the slaves of Love. ‘Love under will’ is the Law. We refuse to regard love as shameful and degrading, as a peril to body and soul. We refuse to accept it as the surrender of the divine to the animal; to us it is the means by which the animal may be made the Winged Sphinx which shall bear man aloft to the House of the Gods” (New Comment to AL I:51).

3) The Heh of Tetragrammaton: The Mother of Life

In the symbolism of Tetragrammaton, the Priestess can represent the “Heh” (YHVH). This Heh relates to the Mother, the Queen, the Element of Water, and the magical weapon of the Cup. The Priestess bears the Holy Graal, a form of the Cup, a receptive instrument of Universal Life. She is clothed in blue, the color of the Element of Water that is attributable to Heh of Tetragrammaton. On the Priest’s first step toward the Veil, the Priestess identifies with Nuit, the star-goddess of Infinite Space and the Infinite Stars thereof, which is the ultimate Maternal idea beyond even notions of gender. In the Creed, the “Mother of all” is called BABALON, who is “the Mother of Abominations” and the “mighty Mother” who bears “the cup of her whoredom” (12th Aethyr). All of these things are Mother-Form symbols attributable in the Qabalah to the 3rd Sephirah, Binah. All these things go to reinforce the fact that the Priestess can be identified as the Heh of Tetragrammaton, the Mother-Queen of Life.

4) The Final Heh of Tetragrammaton: The Virgin Daughter

To further complicate things (as is natural with symbolism), the Priestess can be identified with the Final Heh of Tetragrammaton (YHVH). On the Tree of Life, Yod can be attributed to Chokmah, Heh to Binah, Vav to Tiphareth (and the surrounding Sephiroth), and Final Heh to Malkuth. In this scheme, Final is attributed to the Earth, and the Priestess’ first words are “Greeting of Earth and Heaven” (showing her identity with both). She is also called “Virgin pure without spot” by the Priest, and she is explicitly named “The VIRGIN” in the beginning of the rubric of the Gnostic Mass (and she is said to be “Virgo Intacta”).

Further, in the incestuous Qabalistic drama of Tetragrammaton, the Son/Prince is said to marry the Daughter/Princess and set her upon the Throne of the Mother. This is explicitly seen when the Priest says, “I, PRIEST and KING, take thee, Virgin pure without spot; I upraise thee; I lead thee to the East; I set thee upon the summit of the Earth.” The Priest then literally sets the Priestess upon the Throne in the East. As it says in the 4th Aethyr, “And this is that which is written: Malkuth shall be uplifted and set upon the throne of Binah.” Also in the 9th Aethyr it says, “This is the daughter of BABALON the Beautiful, that she hath borne unto the Father of All. And unto all hath she borne her. This is the Daughter of the King [Final Heh of YHVH]. This is the Virgin of Eternity. This is she that the Holy One hath wrested from the Giant Time, and the prize of them that have overcome Space. This is she that is set upon the Throne of Understanding [Heh of YHVH]. Holy, Holy, Holy is her name, not to be spoken among men. For Kor they have called her, and Malkuth, and Betulah, and Persephone [all Earthly names attributable to Earth, the 10th Sephirah of Malkuth].” In this sense, the Priestess begins as the Princess/Daughter and, by virtue of her interaction with the Prince/Son, is uplifted to become Queen/Mother on the Throne of the East.

5) The Holy Guardian Angel: The Heavenly Virgin

The Priestess represents the Mother of Life (Atu III: The Empress/Binah), the Virgin-Earth Daughter (Atu XXI: The Universe/Malkuth), and she also represents the Heavenly Virgin or Initiatrix (Atu II: The High Priestess). In this way, she can be attributed to the Path of Gimel on the Tree of Life which descends from Kether across the Abyss to Tiphareth. Atu II is called “The High Priestess” and the role is called the “Priestess.” If we take the Gnostic Mass temple as being laid out according to the Tree of Life, when the Priestess is set upon the High Altar in the East she sits exactly in the place of the Path of Gimel/High Priestess in between Kether (represented by the Stele of Revealing raised up all the way in the East) and Tiphareth (represented by the small altar in the center of the Temple). As the Master Therion says, “She is the symbol of the Angel as represented by the Path of Gimel where is ‘The High Priestess.’ This Path connects Macroprosopus (Kether) and Microprosopus (Tiphereth), the supreme divinity and its human manifestation” (Commentary to Liber LXV).  The Master Therion also writes, “To the aspirant, that is, to the adept who is already in Tiphareth, to him who has attained to the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, this is the path which leads upwards; and this card, in one system entitled the Priestess of the Silver Star, is symbolic of the thought (or rather of the intelligible radiance) of that Angel. It is, in short, a symbol of the highest Initiation” (The Book of Thoth). In the beginning of the Mass, she descends as the spiritual impulse that draws the Priest out of the darkness of the Tomb to the Path of the Great Work represented by the rest of the Gnostic Mass.

6) The Woman of the New Aeon

In yet another sense, the Priestess represents the Woman of the New Aeon. As Liber AL says, “Let the woman be girt with a sword before me” (III:11), and “in his woman called the Scarlet Woman is all power given” (I:15). In the foreground of Atu V: The Hierophant, we see “the woman girt with a sword; she represents the Scarlet Woman in the hierarchy of the new Aeon… This woman represents Venus as she now is in this new aeon; no longer the mere vehicle of her male counterpart, but armed and militant” (The Book of Thoth). We can see in the rubric of the Gnostic Mass that the Priestess “bears the Sword from a red girdle.” This shows her “girt with a sword” and the “red girdle” identifies her with Nuit when She says her symbol is “The Five Pointed Star, with a Circle in the Middle, & the circle is Red” (Liber ALI:60). The Gnostic Mass therefore is, on one level, showing that the Feminine is now equal and complementary to the Masculine, for this is the Aeon of the Child who combines Mother and Father, feminine and masculine, as Two-in-One in each star.

7) The Feminine Operator in Sexual Magick

As if it is not already obvious from the previously mentioned symbolism (and the Mass itself), the Priestess represents the feminine operator in sexual magick. I say “feminine” because she represents one half of the equation, and each individual “soul” is androgynous, containing both male and female (and all other opposites) in itself. In this way, in Hindu symbolism, the Priestess represents Shakti and the Priest is Shiva. The Lance represents the lingam, the Cup represents the yoni, the particle of the Host represents the Seed of the lingam, and the wine of the Cup represents the menstruum of the yoni. They are combined in the Grail and then the Two-in-One Eucharist is ingested so that the partaker thereof becomes Godhead Itself.

6) Kundry

If the Priest represents Parsival, the Priestess represents Kundry. As the Master Therion says, “for every Parsifal there is a Kundry” (Liber Aleph). Kundry assumes multiple forms and roles in Wagner’s opera, reflecting the fact that the Priestess is Venus, Earth, and Luna all wrapped into one (as explained in the previous sections). She is even called the “nameless one” in Parsival, implying she has many identities and many forms.

In Act I, Kundry is the messenger of the Grail (Kundry is used by Wagner as a play on the German “Kunde” that implies a news-bringer or messenger), who comes into the scene and allows for the entire rest of the drama to unfold, for Parsival is a pure fool and does not even know his own name; it is Kundry who knows of Parsival’s true identity and past, allowing him to remember his heritage and his purpose. This is reflected in the Gnostic Mass when the Priest issues from the Tomb and says “I am a man among men, how should I be worthy to administer the virtues to the Brethren?” The Priestess then answers him the purification, consecration, robing, and “activation” of the power of the Sacred Lance.

In Act II, Kundry tempts Parsival which represents the necessity of the Priest’s purity of aspiration to the Highest, not being dragged down into more animalistic-materialistic forms of desire (i.e. what is mentioned previously about the Priestess as the Ultimate Object of Desire behind the veils of other desires). As the Master Therion says, “In order to live his own life, the child must leave the Mother, and overcome the temptation to return to her for refuge. Kundry, Armida, Jocasta, Circe, etc., are symbols of this force which tempts the Hero” (Magick in Theory and Practice) and “in the second act, it is the same quality [of innocent purity] that enables him [Parsival] to withstand the blandishments of the ladies in the garden of Kundry” (The Book of Thoth). In the end, as the Master Therion says, “Kundry is saved in Parsifal’s redemption” (Astrology) and also “[Parsival] redeems not only Kundry, but himself” (The Book of Thoth). This is reflected in the fact that “The PRIESTESS and other officers never partake of the Sacrament, they being as it were part of the PRIEST himself.” In fact, the entire Temple is transformed by the Sacrament, which is to say that the entire Tree of Life – or the entire Being of the individual – is transformed through the partaking thereof. The Master Therion notes that “the only words spoken by Kundry after her redemption were ‘Dienen! Dienen!’ [‘Serving! Serving!’]” (Moonchild). This shows that the retrieval of the Lance and its immersion in the Cup has “ordered Kundry to right Service” (Liber Aleph); that is, the Feminine is in “service” to the Highest and not animalistic impulses, being a pure vehicle of the “joy of the earth” as the Lance is a pure vehicle of “the life of the Sun.”

Again: This list is not exhaustive, nor is the symbolism of any of those meanings listed above completely fleshed out. The idea is to show there are many interconnected, intertwining, overlapping sets of symbolism by which one can more fully appreciate the mysterious depths of the central ceremony of Ordo Templi Orientis.

[← Part 1: Introduction & the Priest ← | → Part 3: The Deacon, Children, & the Congregation →]

The Officers of the Gnostic Mass – pt.1: Introduction & the Priest

Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica - The Gnostic Mass

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions related herein are strictly my own. They do not represent any kind of official stance of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, Ordo Templi Orientis, or anyone else. 


The Gnostic Mass is an incredibly deep, complex, multi-layered ceremony. It seems to be an inexhaustible source of meaning and illumination. This is because the Mass itself represents the Mysteries. These are not the secrets that are known by some and guarded from others, but the “Mystery of Mystery” Itself. It represents in dramatic form that which is “secret and ineffable,” “beyond speech and beyond sight,” and “beyond all term.” It celebrates “that most holy mystery.”

As The Master Therion says, “Since truth is supra-rational, it is incommunicable in the language of reason” (Postcards to Probationers), and “all real secrets are incommunicable” (Magick in Theory & Practice). The Gnostic Mass therefore “refers to a knowledge incommunicable—save by experience” (Temple of Solomon the King). This knowledge attained through experience is what is meant by gnosis, the direct experiential “knowledge” that is not (and can’t be) communicated with words – it can only be hinted at through symbol and allegory, like fingers pointing to the moon. And this is one reason our Church is the Gnostic Catholic Church. As the Master Therion says, “ye shall comprehend, when, rising above Reason, which is but a manipulation of the Mind, ye come to pure Knowledge by direct perception of the Truth” (De Lege Libellum).

One issue I see in some individuals’ writings and understanding of the Gnostic Mass is that they often get quickly “locked in” to a certain symbolic interpretation being “right.” For example, the most common I see is the understanding that the Creed or the Officers represent the formula of Tetragrammaton (YHVH) and nothing else. Since the nature of the Mysteries is that they are, by definition, not exhaustible or completely explainable through language, there is therefore a theoretically infinite amount about them that one can say or write. Because of this, what is expressed below is most certainly not exhaustive in its explanation of anything in the Gnostic Mass. What follows is neither official nor “Absolutely True,” but it is intended to offer different perspectives in the hopes of widening and deepening one’s understanding and appreciation of the Gnostic Mass.


There are technically 4 “roles” filled by 5 individuals in the Gnostic Mass: (1) The PRIEST, (2) The PRIESTESS, (3) The DEACON, and (4) The two CHILDREN. I am going to go through each one and briefly discuss different ways of understanding the Officers symbolically. This will not be an incredibly in-depth analysis because the intent is to make these different perspectives known in order to broaden and deepen one’s understanding, not to make an academic-intellectual case for one or the other. It is also intended to leave room open for one’s own scholarship, fantasy, and experience.

Before beginning, it is important to remember what is said in the 5th Aethyr, “there could be nothing true except by virtue of the contradiction that is contained in itself.” That is to say: Each symbol is not “X to the exclusion of not-X.” Something may very well symbolize something and its exact opposite. One example is the symbolism of “darkness” and “night”: It can symbolize the darkness of the uninitiate’s ignorance or it can symbolize the highest attainment of NOX, the dissolution of All into None. Remembering this, no explanation of symbolism can ever be “logically consistent” because logic insists on something being either X or not-X; symbolism works with something beyond logic – something “supra-rational” – where meanings combine, oppose, intertwine, and interrelate in many different ways.


1) John Everyman: A Man Among Men

The Priest, in many senses, represents every individual. In particular, the Priest is a representation or archetypal expression of each of the Congregants. This is reflected in the Priest’s words when he exits the Tomb: “I am a man among men.” It even says in the rubric of the Gnostic Mass that “The PRIESTESS and other officers never partake of the Sacrament, they being as it were part of the PRIEST himself” (emphasis added). He is the natural protagonist of the Gnostic Mass, although I very much agree with several people who mention that the Priest, Priestess, and Deacon are each the protagonist from their own point-of-view. Nonetheless, the Priest is the one who undergoes “the Hero’s Journey” in the mythopoetic drama of the Gnostic Mass, and individuals often naturally will identify with him. This relates to the next symbol:

2) The Conscious Self: The Subject

The Priest is the natural “protagonist” and symbol with which people identify most readily because he symbolizes the conscious self. One could say the Priest represents the “ego,” but he is deeper than that: He is the Self that expresses itself through the ego on a “lower level”. The Priest is the individuality of each individual. For comparison, one could say the Priest is the Self and the Deacon represents the ego with all of its mental-rational capabilities (memory, volition, imagination, desire, reason) that assists the Self. Qabalistically, one can think of the Priest as Tiphareth, the Sun, and the Deacon as representing the Sephiroth surrounding and aiding it. Again, since the Priest represents the conscious self, he naturally represents the Subject of awareness and represents each individual’s Subject-hood. In relation to this, the Priestess represents the Object. In terms of the language of Yoga, the Subject of awareness unites with the Object of awareness in samadhi, or non-dual awareness.

3) The Yod of Tetragrammaton: The Father of Life

In the symbolism of Tetragrammaton, the Priest can represent the “Yod” (YHVH). This Yod relates to the Father, the King, the Element of Fire, and the magical weapon of the Wand. The Priest is called “Lord” and calls himself “Priest and King,” identifying himself with the “Kingly” element of Yod. The Priest bears the Sacred Lance, which is a form of the Wand, a phallic instrument of force and power (but it is not the exact same thing as the Wand, as will be mentioned later). The Lance (Yod) combines with the Chalice (Heh), further emphasizing this connection. Further, he is clothed in scarlet, a shade of red which is attributable to Fire and therefore to Yod. Further: On his second step toward the Veil, the Priest identifies with Hadit, the heart of every man and the core of every star, which is the ultimate Paternal idea beyond even notions of gender. In the Creed, the “Father of Life” is called CHAOS, who is identifiable with “Therion” (The Great Beast 666), which are all Father-Force symbols attributable in the Qabalah to the 2nd Sephirah, Chokmah. All these things go to reinforce the fact that the Priest can be identified as the Yod of Tetragrammaton, the Father-King of Life.

4) The Vav of Tetragrammaton: The Sun/Son

To further complicate things (as is natural with symbolism), the Priest can be identified with the Vav of Tetragrammaton (YHVH). On the Tree of Life, Yod can be attributed to Chokmah, Heh to Binah, Vav to Tiphareth (and the surrounding Sephiroth), and Final Heh to Malkuth. In this scheme, Vav is attributed to the Sun, and the Priest is called the “Priest of the Sun” by the Priestess. Further, in the incestuous Qabalistic drama of Tetragrammaton, the Son/Prince is said to marry the Daughter/Princess and set her upon the Throne of the Mother. This is explicitly seen when the Priest says, “I, PRIEST and KING, take thee, Virgin pure without spot; I upraise thee; I lead thee to the East; I set thee upon the summit of the Earth.” The Priest then literally sets the Priestess upon the Throne in the East. As it says in the 4th Aethyr, “And this is that which is written: Malkuth shall be uplifted and set upon the throne of Binah.” In this sense, the Priest begins as the Prince/Son and, by virtue of his interaction with the Princess/Daughter, uplifts her to become Queen/Mother and he assumes the place of King/Father.

Again: the symbolism intertwines and overlaps in many ways. At the end of the Gnostic Mass, the Priest consumes the two-fold Eucharist and, in the attitude of Resurrection, proclaims that “There is no part of me that is not of the gods.” This is the traditional symbol of Osiris who died and was reborn, and the attitude of Resurrection was called “the Sign of Osiris Risen” in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was attributed to the Sephirah of Tiphareth (that was, in turn, attributed to the grade of 5=6, that of the formula of LVX, IAO, and INRI, i.e. Life-Death-Rebirth). In a certain way, the Gnostic Mass represents the “perpetuation of the Tetragrammaton,” which is to say that it represents evolution (One becoming Many, Creation) and involution (Many becoming One, Attainment) and evolution again, et cetera ad infinitum. In this light, Crowley comments on the quotation from the 4th Aethyr mentioned above, “This mystery of the Daughter awakening the eld of the all-Father and thus perpetuating Tetragrammaton is of great importance.”

5) The Masculine Operator in Sexual Magick

As if it is not already obvious from the previously mentioned symbolism (and the Mass itself), the Priest represents the masculine operator in sexual magick. I say “masculine” because he represents one half of the equation, and each individual “soul” is androgynous, containing both male and female (and all other opposites) in itself. In this way, in Hindu symbolism, the Priest represents Shiva and the Priestess is Shakti. This is reflected in Atu XI: Lust where Babalon (Shakti) is astride the Beast (Shiva). From this symbolism, one comes to wonder why the Priest is constantly identified as the “active” element in this duo when the symbolism repeatedly points to Babalon-Shakti as the more “active” participant – the masculine seems to often be “along for the ride,” so to speak. She’s the one who came down and pulled the Priest out of the Tomb, after all. In fact, Babalon is literally on top of the Beast in Atu XI, and – during the Collects – the Priestess can be seen above the Priest as they exchange their loving glances and breath.

Alchemically, the Priest is the Red Lion who interacts with the White Eagle, combining their essences in the hermetic vessel (or Grail) in order to produce the Elixir of Life, the Stone of the Philosophers, the Arcane Substance, the Two-in-One (et cetera). This alchemical symbolism is shown most explicitly in Atu VI: The Lovers where the Chymical Marriage takes place, and the result of their Consummation is shown in Atu XIV: Art.

6) Parsival: The Fool’s Journey

The Priest represents Parsival, specifically the character from Wagner’s opera. The Master Therion was obviously most fond of this allegory and he references it in many different works. In fact, he notes that “The dramatic setting of Wagner’s Parsifal was arranged by the then head of the O.T.O.” (i.e. Theodor Reuss). He explains that “Parsifal in his first phase is Der reine Thor, the Pure Fool” (The Book of Thoth), so the Gnostic Mass can be seen as the archetypal narrative of “the Fool’s Journey.”

Consider this: The Priest issues from the Tomb in white, symbolizing purity and innocence, just like that of Parsifal in the first Act of Wagner’s opera. Next, “Parsifal seizes [the sacred lance]; in other words, attains to puberty.” This is shown by the 11 strokes of the Lance by which the Lord is made present among us; further, going back to the symbolism of Tetragrammaton, this shows the Priest attaining “spiritual puberty” represented by the Lance (Vav) by which he may unite with the Daughter (Final Heh) and set her upon the Throne of the Mother (Heh). As the Master Therion explains, “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. Bacchus becomes Pan. The Holy Guardian Angel is the Unconscious Creature Self – the Spiritual Phallus. His knowledge and conversation contributes occult puberty” (Liber Samekh).

Next, Parsifal must seek Monsalvat, the Mountain of Salvation, that is the same as “Abiegnus” the sacred mountain of Rosicrucians (as well as Mount Sinai, Mount Meru, the world-ash wonder-tree, and all other symbols of the axis mundi) that is symbolically shown as the High Altar in the East. The Master Therion continues, “Where is Monsalvat, the mountain of salvation, which he has sought so long in vain? He worships the lance: immediately the way, so long closed to him, is open.” This is seen in the Priest’s three circumambulations of the Temple in darkness, led only by the Light of the Sacred Lance, which eventually brings him to the Veil of the Sanctuary. Then, “Accordingly, to redeem the whole situation, to destroy death, to reconsecrate the temple, he has only to plunge the lance into the Holy Grail; he redeems not only Kundry, but himself.” This is seen in the moment of the Lance plunging the particle into the Grail with the simultaneous orgasmic “HRILIU” from Priest and Priestess. It is from this “mixture,” the Eucharist infused with Godhead Itself, that the Priest (and the People) can partake and arise as that which may truthfully proclaim, “There is no part of me that is not of the gods.” This is one reason that the Sacred Lance is not just another name for the magical implement of the Wand. Without the Lance, the entire symbolism of Parsifal’s “Fool’s Journey” (the connections of which goes much deeper than the above) is almost completely lost.

Again: This list is not exhaustive, nor is the symbolism of any of those meanings listed above completely fleshed out. The idea is to show there are many interconnected, intertwining, overlapping sets of symbolism by which one can more fully appreciate the mysterious depths of the central ceremony of Ordo Templi Orientis.

[→ Part 2: The Priestess →]