qabalah

Thelemic Mysticism

Thelemic Mysticism – part 2: Mysticism in Theory

Thelemic Mysticism

← Part 1: Introduction ← | → Part 3: Mysticism in Practice → ]

PART 2: MYSTICISM IN THEORY

Conceived as a Goal, Mysticism is the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual goal/truth.

The Essential Nature of the Mystic Goal

What is the basic, essential nature of this spiritual “Truth” or spiritual “Goal”? The Mystic Goal involves transcending our normal consciousness of multiplicity and duality to attain the Mystic Consciousness of Unity. 

Our normal consciousness is called “Many” or “Two.”

“This Abyss is also called ‘Hell,’ and ‘The Many.’ Its name is ‘Consciousness,’ and ‘The Universe,’ among men.”
The Book of Lies, chapter 10

  • Many: We are usually aware of many “things” in the world, including the multiplicity of objects of our awareness. Trees are different from tables which are different from birds which are different from clouds, et cetera. 
  • Two: Our normal awareness or consciousness is sometimes called “Two” or “duality” because there is a fundamental split in our awareness between (a) our self and (b) the world. This is sometimes expressed as the opposition between subject and object or the opposition between ego and non-ego.

“Understand now that in yourselves is a certain discontent. Analyse well its nature: at the end is in every case one conclusion. The ill springs from the belief in two things, the Self and the Not-Self, and the conflict between them. This also is a restriction of the Will… Ultimately, therefore, the problem is how to destroy this perception of duality, to attain to the apprehension of unity.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum

The Mystic Goal involves transcending our normal consciousness of Many/Two and achieving the consciousness of Unity/One.

  • The Goal is called Unity because it refers to unification of consciousness: this is the unification of the multiplicity of objects of awareness as well as the more fundamental unification between the subject and object(s) of awareness.
  • Since the awareness of a “self” or “ego” requires some kind of distinction between it and something else, the self/ego is said to “die” or “dissolve” or “merge” in this Unity.
  • Since there is no distinction between anything, including self and other, this Unity is sometimes called “Non-duality.” In defining the Mystic Goal by what it is not (i.e. not duality), the name “non-duality” avoids defining the Mystic Goal by what it is. Defining things “negatively” in this way is a common method for Mystics. This is often useful because asserting something “positive” about the Mystic Experience (e.g. “it is One”) allows for the introduction of various metaphysical propositions (e.g. “The One is Kether” or “The One is God” or “The One is separate from the Many”), theories, and beliefs, yet these theories and beliefs are forms of rational-intellectual mind that the Mystic attempts to transcend in directly penetrating to the Mystic Goal that is beyond rational-intellectual thinking. Also, asserting something “positive” about the Mystic Goal allows for distinctions to begin to be made – (e.g. “If the One is infinite, it does not include the finite”; “If the One is Good, it does not include the bad”; “If the Goal is powerful, it does not include weakness,” et cetera) – yet the Mystic Goal is beyond distinctions. Nonetheless, defining the Mystic Experience negatively or positively is still defining it, and – as will be seen repeatedly – the Mystic Experience is ultimately ineffable. 

“The Quintessence [of Life] is pure Light, an ecstacy formless, and without bound or mark. In this Light naught exists, for It is homogeneous: and therefore have men called it Silence, and Darkness, and Nothing. But in this, as in all other effort to name it, is the root of every falsity and misapprehension, since all words imply some duality.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum

In Thelema, this Unity is often said to be “None” instead of “One.” This “None” is also called “Naught,” “Zero,” or “0.” This has its basis in The Book of the Law (I:27) where it is written, “O Nuit, continuous one of Heaven, 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!”

  • It is understood that even this term “None” is not ideal. Ideally, we should “speak not of thee at all” because of the ineffability of the Mystic Goal as mentioned previously.
  • One reason the idea of “None” is used instead of “One” is because the number 1 implies a “deviation” insofar as it is a positive number (in opposition to and balanced by negative numbers). Therefore, the “union of opposites” (one term for the Mystic Goal) can be seen to be between the “X” of ego and the “-X” of non-ego; when they combine, X+(-X), we get Zero or None.
  • This “None” is not a lack of something, it is That which contains all things and That which all things – if they united – would cancel out into. Further symbolism of this None/Naught/0 can be studied in The Book of Thoth regarding Atu 0: The Fool.
  • In the end, we must remember that “None” – just like every other name, title, or description – is ultimately inadequate to describe the ineffable nature of the Mystic Goal.

Characteristics of the Mystic Goal

The primary characteristic of the Mystic Goal is its undifferentiated Unity. There are also a few other characteristics of the Mystic Experience that are universal among all Mystics from across different times and different cultures. The characteristics of the Mystic Goal are:

1. Undifferentiated UnityThis is the fact that the Mystic Experience confers this direct experience of the Unity of all things, and one’s ultimate identity therewith. Whether this Unity is called “Non-duality,” “One,” “None,” “All,” “Infinity,” “God,” “The Absolute,” “Krishna,” “Brahman,” “Emptiness,” “Buddha-nature,” “Silence,” “Darkness,” or “Light,” it is the same fundamental idea of an undifferentiated, undivided It. There are two types of Unity that are actually two sides of the same coin, so to speak: Introvertive Unity and Extrovertive Unity. 

Introvertive Unity:
• “All is dissolved in formless Light of Unity.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum
• “They beheld not God; they beheld not the Image of God; therefore were they arisen to the Palace of the Splendour Ineffable.” Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, V:35

Extrovertive Unity:
• “All is One.”Liber Aleph, chapter 187
• “No two faces are identical, still less are two individuals. Unspeakable is the variety of form and immeasurable the diversity of beauty, but in all is the seal of unity.”New Comment to Liber AL, I:52

a) Introvertive Unity – The undifferentiated unity beyond all sense, thinking, forms, and images. There are no “things” or differentiation; there is simply undifferentiated unity. It is called “introvertive” because the mystic “looks within,” beyond all sensuous and intellectual contents of consciousness to penetrate to the undifferentiated Unity at the ground of all things. It is often spoken of as being “beyond senses,” “beyond images,” “beyond space,” “beyond time,” and “beyond causality.”

b) Extrovertive Unity – The undifferentiated unity as seen within the world, typically phrased as “All things are One.” The Extrovertive Unity “looks outward” into the world of senses and sees Unity permeating the apparent diversity and multiplicity. The sensuous world (the world as experienced through the senses) is transformed or transfigured, not in that anything has changed in the sensory world, but one’s very way of perceiving the sensuous world is altered so that Unity is perceived rather than multiplicity.

“Samadhi [has] an authenticity, and confer[s] an interior certainty, which is to the experience of waking life as that is to a dream.”
Eight Lectures on Yoga, “Yoga for Yellowbellies,” Fourth Lecture

2. Sense of Objectivity/Reality – The Mystic Goal, the undifferentiated unity, is sensed or intuited to be objective and real. It is often said to be “more real” than our normal “dualistic” awareness which is therefore labeled as “illusion.” It is the intuitive insight that is normally said to be “gnosis,” the direct experiential “knowledge” that the undifferentiated unity is true; this is the non-rational “certainty” that is given by the Mystic Experience.

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

3. Deeply felt Positive Mood – This is the “peace” and “bliss” spoken of by virtually every Mystic throughout history (called “ananda” in Sanskrit). It is sometimes referred to as “love” or “joy” or virtually any other positive emotion raised to an exponential degree, e.g. “Perfect Happiness” as is stated in “Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass.”

4. Sense of Sacredness – This is an intuitive, direct sense of the sacredness or divine nature of this Mystic Experience. Its characteristic reactions involve awe, humility, and reverence. It is called “numinous” by Rudolf Otto, which he describes as referring to a sense of a tremendous mystery that is simultaneously both (a) awful/terrible (causes trembling and reverence; the “fear of God” of Judaism) and (b) fascinating/entrancing. This is sense of sacredness is generally related to various Mystics interpreting their experience as relating to God or the Divine. Also, this is somewhat related to the ‘deeply felt positive mood’ but not necessarily identical with it; one can feel blissful without the sense of sacredness and vice versa.

“Little by little, as your eyes grow stronger, will we unveil to you the ineffable glory of the Path of the Adepts, and its nameless goal.”
Liber Porta Lucis, line 14

“I believe in one secret and ineffable LORD.”
Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass

5. Ineffability – This refers to the fact that the Mystic Experience is universally said to be “ineffable.” This means the Mystic Experience is ultimately beyond words; it is impossible to describe. One of the most classic formulations of this idea comes from the Tao Teh Ching, “The Tao that is spoken of is not the Tao.” Although the Mystic Goal is ineffable, Mystics tend to write endlessly about it. For example, the previously mentioned line from the Tao Teh Ching is followed by 80 more chapters about the nature of the Tao. Although silence would most accurately portray the ineffable nature of the Mystic Goal, Mystics often feel the need to communicate about the Truth they experience and so they must resort to words, metaphors, and symbols regardless of their inadequacy. The ineffability of the Mystic Experience is why Mystics universally assert that the Mystic Goal is “beyond words,” “beyond reason” or “supra-rational,” or “beyond definition.”

“And this is the great Mystery of the Supernals that are beyond the Abyss. For below the Abyss, contradiction is division; but above the Abyss, contradiction is Unity. And there could be nothing true except by virtue of the contradiction that is contained in itself.”
The Vision and the Voice, 5th Aethyr

6. Paradoxicality – This refers to the logical contradictions that appear if the various definitions and descriptions of the Mystic Experience are analyzed rationally. Paradoxicality is the natural result of the identity of opposites that occurs in the Mystic Experience by virtue of the fact that it transcends the normal duality of perception and speech. Mystics use many terms to refer to the Mystic Experience that appear to be blatant contradictions. There are innumerable examples of this throughout Mystical literature:

  • “It stirs and It stirs not” (Isa Upanishad)
  • “dazzling darkness” (Henry Suso)
  • “dark brightness” (Tao Teh Ching)
  • “The One is everything and not everything” (Plotinus)
  • “I am the first and the last; I am the honored one and the scorned one; I am the whore and the holy one” (“Thunder: Perfect Mind”)
  • “I am light, and I am night, and I am that which is beyond them; I am speech, and I am silence, and I am that which is beyond them; I am life, and I am death, and I am that which is beyond them” (The Vision and the Voice, 1st Aethyr)
  • there is no subject, and there is no predicate; nor is there the contradictory of either of these things” (The Book of Lies)
  • “a light undesired, most desirable” (Liber AL, II:61), et cetera. 

Therefore, there are several characteristics that can be seen to be true of the Mystic Experience regardless of time period or culture. The primary characteristic is the experience of an undifferentiated unity – this is the defining characteristic of the Mystic Goal and it is always present in some form. The other characteristics include an intuitive sense of objectivity or reality (the Mystic Experience is understood as true and with supra-rational certainty), deeply felt positive mood (joy, bliss, peace), a sense of sacredness (holy, sublime, numinous, divine), ineffability (beyond words and description), and paradoxicality (descriptions are logically contradictory).

It should be noted that expressions of the Mystic Experience do not necessarily – or even usually – include all 6 of these characteristics at once. Sometimes the ineffability is emphasized, sometimes the bliss of positive emotion is emphasized, sometimes paradoxicality is emphasized, et cetera. Certain cultures emphasize different qualities – for example, Sufism tends to stress the positive emotion of bliss and love while Buddhism tends to stress ineffability. Some Mystics write with much more clarity while others write with much more romantic poeticism; some try to speak rationally while some speak in parable or metaphor. Nonetheless, they all refer to the same Mystic Experience. When the various utterances of a Mystic are brought together, they usually encompass most or all of these characteristics. Thelema in particular is a system that has instances of all of these characteristics of the Mystic Experience.

The Various Symbols of the Mystic Goal

“If we are in any way to shadow forth the Ineffable, it must be by a degradation. Every symbol is a blasphemy against the Truth that it indicates.”
“The Big Stick” in Equinox I:4

For as many Mystics have existed, there are at least as many different symbols, names, titles, and metaphors to describe the Mystic Goal. Each of these symbols implies a view about the world or various metaphysical propositions, which is one of their shortcomings. Every symbol is an image and, since the Mystic Goal is ultimately beyond all images, names, forms, and all other partial phenomena, there is no symbol that can be “true” as opposed to all others; they are all ultimately “degradations” of the Truth. They can only be signposts – fingers pointing to the moon, so to speak – and they must be taken as such. Nonetheless, symbols are also helpful in that they can aid us in understanding the nature of the Mystic Goal, or at least the language and ideas surrounding this within a particular system.

It will be seen very quickly that these symbols overlap. Sometimes an individual will use many of these metaphors/symbols at once. In the end, these all refer to the same Mystic Goal. In general, the West tends to explain the Mystic Goal as some kind of ultimate Being whereas the East tends to explain the Mystic Goal as some kind of ultimate State of being (although there are examples where the opposites are true). 

“THE AUGOEIDES.
Lytton calls him Adonai in ‘Zanoni,’ and I often use this name in the note-books. Abramelin calls him Holy Guardian Angel. I adopt this:
   1. Because Abramelin’s system is so simple and effective.
   2. Because since all theories of the universe are absurd it is better to talk in the language of one which is patently absurd, so as to mortify the metaphysical man.
   3. Because a child can understand it.

* Theosophists call him the Higher Self, Silent Watcher, or Great Master.
* The Golden Dawn calls him the Genius.
* Gnostics say the Logos.
* Zoroaster talks about uniting all these symbols into the form of a Lion — see Chaldean Oracles.
* Anna Kingsford calls him Adonai (Clothed with the Sun).
* Buddhists call him Adi-Buddha — (says H. P. [Blavatsky])
* The Bhagavad-Gita calls him Vishnu (chapter xi).
* The Yi King calls him “The Great Person.”
* The Qabalah calls him Jechidah.

We also get metaphysical analysis of His nature, deeper and deeper according to the subtlety of the writer; for this vision — it is all one same phenomenon, variously coloured by our varying Ruachs [minds] — is, I believe, the first and the last of all Spiritual Experience. For though He is attributed to Malkuth [the tenth Sephirah], and the Door of the Path of His overshadowing, He is also in Kether [the first Sephirah] (Kether is in Malkuth and Malkuth in Kether — “as above, so beneath”), and the End of the “Path of the Wise” is identity with Him. So that while he is the Holy Guardian Angel, He is also Hua [the secret title of Kether, literally ‘He’] and the Tao [The great extreme of the Yi King].


For since Intra Nobis Regnum deI [I.N.R.I., ‘The Kingdom of God is within/inside’] all things are in Ourself, and all Spiritual Experience is a more of less complete Revelation of Him. Yet it is only in the Middle Pillar that His manifestation is in any way perfect.

The Augoeides invocation is the whole thing. Only it is so difficult; one goes along through all the fifty gates of Binah [i.e. ‘crossing the Abyss’] at once, more or less illuminated, more or less deluded. But the First and the Last is this Augoeides Invocation.”
“The Temple of Solomon the King” in Equinox I:1

The One – The Goal is sometimes explained numerically as “the One.” “One” implies something that is single, undivided, and complete.

  • In the Qabalah, this “One” is Kether, the 1st Sephirah on the Tree of Life, which literally means “Crown.” In Qabalistic terms, “All numbers [are] Veils of the One, emanations of and therefore corruptions of the One” (Crowley in 777)
  • The same term is often used by Neoplatonists such as Plotinus who says, “It is the simple unbroken Unity” (EnneadsI:1:9).
  • This “One” is – in the West – identified with God as in one of the central prayers of Judaism, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4), in Christ’s statement that, “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30), and in the Quran, “Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him” (Surah 112). 

None – The Goal is sometimes, as mentioned previously, explained as “None” (or “Naught,” “Zero,” or “0”). “None” implies no division, no distinction, no opposition, no separation, and other similar negatives. 

  • In the Qabalah, this “None” is the Negative Veils of Existence that “pre-exist” Kether. The three Negative Veils are “Ain,” “Ain Soph,” and “Ain Soph Aur,” which can be translated as “Nothing,” “No Limit,” and “Limitless Light,” respectively.
  • Numerically, “None” can be expressed as 0 = X + (-X), which implies that it contains opposites as well as that it is the “result” of uniting opposites.
  • The same idea also appears in Zen, as when Shunryu Suzuki writes, “True being comes out of nothingness, moment after moment. Nothingness is always there, and from it everything appears.” Similarly, Joshu Sasaki Roshi says, “The whole universe is one: equality holds difference and discrimination within it. The activity of equality includes plus and minus. Therefore, it is zero… Inevitably, the state in which you no longer claim yourself will be manifested. Buddhism concludes that this is the true self, true love, and the ultimate truth. Zen’s view is that words cannot point out the ultimate truth. It is utterly, completely zero.”

God – In the West, God is the ultimate goal of union. God is conceived as the ultimate Being who is omnipotent (contains all forces), omnipresent (contains all forms), and omniscient (contains all knowledge or all relations); God is therefore said to be “infinite.” The examples from every single Western Mystic are too innumerable to even begin to list.

  • Because of the Western notion that each individual has or “is” a soul that is separate from God, the Mystic Goal is seen as “union with God” (called “henosis” in Neoplatonism which literally means “oneness”).
  • God is the ultimate Good, the ultimate Truth, and philosophers equate their notion of the Absolute with that of God.
  • Alternate ways to refer to this same idea include “the Divine,” “the Lord,” and “Godhead” as well as the innumerable names of God from various systems (“YHVH,” “Adonai,” “Christ,” “Allah,” “Tetragrammaton,” “Elohim,” “El,” et cetera).

“The main idea is that the Infinite, the Absolute, God, the Over-soul, or whatever you may prefer to call it, is always present; but veiled or masked by the thoughts of the mind, just as one cannot hear a heart-beat in a noisy city.”
Liber ABA: Book Four, Part I

The Absolute – In Western philosophy, the concept of the Absolute is the unconditional, infinite, ultimate Reality.

  • While it is a way that Westerners have pointed to the same Mystic Goal, religious people inevitably equate this philosophical concept of the Absolute with God.
  • The Absolute is equivalent to the “Ain Soph” of Qabalah, the “Pleroma” of Gnosticism, the “Tao” or the “Wu Ji” of Chinese philosophy, the “Brahman” of Hinduism, et cetera.

“Thou that art One, our Lord in the Universe, the Sun, our Lord in ourselves whose name is Mystery of Mystery, uttermost being whose radiance, enlightening the worlds, is also the breath that maketh every God even and Death to tremble before Thee.”
Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass

The Sun – The Sun is one of the most ancient symbols of the Mystic Goal. In the West, it is endlessly associated with God in various ways.

  • The Sun is the source of light in the world, and therefore makes us able to “see” reality. Light is constantly associated with knowledge or awareness (as in “enlightenment”) whereas darkness is constantly associated with ignorance or delusion.
  • The Sun is the source of life in the world, so it is understood as a symbol of being the source of creative power/force of this Absolute/God, i.e. omnipotence.
  • The Sun is the “eye of the world,” so it is understood as seeing or being aware of all things, i.e. omniscience.
  • The Sun rules the ordering of days, seasons, and years, so it is understood as a symbol of order, harmony, law, and the “Architect” (source of all rules/laws and all forms) of the Cosmos.
  • In the New Aeon, we know (a) the Sun is the center of our system, and (b) the Sun never ‘dies.’ Therefore, it is a symbol of being (a) the central, ordering principle of the universe and therefore the center or “soul” of ourselves, and (b) eternal, immortal, infinite, deathless, et cetera.
  • Horus in His various forms – Ra-Hoor-Khuit, Ra-Hoor, Hoor-Apep, Hoori, Heru-Ra-Ha, et cetera – is a symbol of this “Sun.” 

The common symbol of the Sun, the point in the circle, is itself a symbol of the union of opposites: in this context, the Sun represents the Whole, the One, the All, et cetera. Sometimes the Sun (Sol) is seen as a complement to the Moon (Luna): in this context, the Sun is represented as one half of the whole, the Bridegroom as opposed to the Bride, the Male as opposed to the Female, the God as opposed to the Soul, et cetera.

“The true Magick of Horus requires the passionate Union of opposites.”
Little Essays Toward Truth, “Glossary”

Union of Opposites  – Since the Mystic Goal involves transcending duality, all symbols that involve the union of opposites in some way are symbolic of the Mystic Goal. These are innumerable as well but some examples include the Union of:

  • Soul and God (virtually all Western Mystics)
  • Bride and Bridegroom (many Christian and Sufi Mystics)
  • Male and Female
  • The Child as the union of Father and Mother (Horus as Crowned and Conquering Child)
  • Sun and Moon (Planetary)
  • Microcosm and Macrocosm; Pentagram and Hexagram; 5 and 6 (Hermetic)
  • Lingam and Yoni (and virtually all sexual symbolism; Hindu)
  • Lance and Cup/Chalice/Grail (Parsival; the Gnostic Mass)
  • Cross and Rose (Rosicrucian)
  • Lion and Eagle (Alchemical)
  • Cross and Circle; Point and Circle; Square and Circle (Geometric)
  • Square and Compass (Masonic)
  • Heart and Serpent (Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV)
  • Egg and Serpent (Orphic Mysteries)

“The Ultimate Reality… the Unthinkable Reality.”
The Book of Lies

Reality – The Mystic Goal is sometimes equated with “Reality.” This implies that normal understanding or awareness is “illusion,” i.e. the “Fall” of Western religion or the “illusion” (“Maya”) of Eastern philosophies. Virtually all Mystics equate the Mystic Goal to the ultimate Reality in some way or another. It is also called “Truth.” This emphasizes the “Sense of Objectivity/Reality” aspect of the Mystic Goal mentioned previously.

“…The knowledge of his infinite Will, his destiny to perform the Great Work, the realization of his True Self.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum

True Self – The “True Self” is sometimes used to distinguish from the “false self” of the dualistic and limited ego-self. This emphasizes that the Mystic Goal is not something separate from oneself.

  • The True Self is sometimes called “True Nature,” the “pure soul,” or the “Oversoul.”
  • In Hinduism, it is the “Atman” in Hinduism that is understood to be identical with “Brahman,” the infinite, boundless Reality, i.e. the “Absolute” of Hindu philosophy.
  • In Buddhism, the “True Self” is sometimes called the “Adi-Buddha” (“primordial Buddha”) in Mahayana/Vajrayana Buddhism, and the “True Nature” is sometimes called the “Buddha-dhatu” (“Buddha-nature”).
  • In the Qabalistic system, this is the “Yechidah” (or “Jechidah”), the primal individuality attributed to Kether on the Tree of Life.
  • The Golden Dawn and others call this the “Genius” or “Daimon” or “Augoeides.” It can, in certain ways, be identified with the Holy Guardian Angel of Thelemic mysticism.

Enlightenment – In Eastern systems there are various terms that are essentially equivalent to our English term “enlightenment.” The term implies insight into one’s True Self or True Nature or into the true nature of Reality. Various scholars and philosophers have introduced distinctions between these terms and various other sub-sets of these terms, but they all ultimately refer to the same Mystic Goal. There are various terms for this in different systems:

  • Samadhi – In the Hindu system, the term “Samadhi” is used to refer to the union of subject and object of perception in meditation. This brings “liberation” (“moksha”) from the Wheel of Samsara, i.e. of birth, death, and rebirth.
  • Nirvana – In the Buddhist system, the term “Nirvana” is used to refer to the cessation of the sense of self or of “desire” that frees one from the First Noble Truth of suffering (“dukkha”). It is equivalent to the Muslim “fana” (“to pass away/cease”).
  • Kensho/satori  – “Kensho” and “satori” are words used in Zen Buddhism that essentially mean “seeing into one’s true nature.” 

The Various Symbols of the Mystic Goal

“We shall bring you to Absolute Truth, Absolute Light, Absolute Bliss.
Many adepts throughout the ages have sought to do this; but their words have been perverted by their successors, and again and again the Veil has fallen upon the Holy of Holies.
To you who yet wander in the Court of the Profane we cannot yet reveal all; but you will easily understand that the religions of the world are but symbols and veils of the Absolute Truth. So also are the philosophies. To the adept, seeing all these things from above, there seems nothing to choose between Buddha and Mohammed, between Atheism and Theism.”
“Liber Porta Lucis”, lines 17-19

As we can see, there are more ways to symbolically express the Mystic Goal than can possibly be listed in this short essay. There are two main points to remember:

1. All of these symbols refer to the same Mystic Goal of transcending our normal consciousness of Many/Two and achieving the consciousness of Unity/One. The diversity of the symbolism veils its ultimate Unity.

2. The difference of these symbols enables us to not get dogmatically “stuck” in any one of them to the exclusion of others. One of the virtues of Thelemic Mysticism is the explicit awareness of these many different names and forms of expressing the same Mystic Goal, so we are particularly on guard against asserting one to be “more true” than another.

The question still remains: “How do I achieve the Mystic Goal?” or “What is the Mystic Path?” This will be explained in the next section, Mysticism in Practice.

← Part 1: Introduction ← | → Part 3: Mysticism in Practice → ] 

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Visions and Trances on the Path of Initiation (pt.1)

Qabalistic Map of Initiation

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

0) Introduction

In the Western tradition, the path of initiation (also known as “the Great Work”) is often laid out symbolically as “climbing” the Tree of Life from the bottom back to the top. While the map is not (nor can ever be) the territory, this map of the Tree of Life can be very useful to help elucidate the stages of the Path. The different “grades” of the Path are attributed to the different spheres or “Sephiroth” of the Tree of Life and can be characterized, to a certain extent, by the Qabalistic attributions of that Sephirah.

The Importance of Trances

If one is truly walking on the Path, one will not simply be able to pass simple tests of physical ability and mental knowledge. While these things are assuredly part of the Path and necessary thereto, real progress on this Path can be seen in changes of consciousness or the acquisition of new perspectives. Therefore, one of the indicators of having “achieved” a grade in an informal sense (i.e. outside of the rules of attaining a grade in any particular formal organization such as Golden Dawn or A∴A∴) is the attainment of a Vision and/or Trance characteristic of that grade. The importance of these Trances is stated clearly by Aleister Crowley:

“The word Trance implies a passing beyond: scil., the conditions which oppress. The whole and sole object of all true Magical and Mystical training is to become free from every kind of limitation… every Magical Operation soever is only complete when it is characterised (in one sense or another) by the occurrence of Trance.”
—Aleister Crowley, Little Essays Toward Truth, “Trance”

Definitions of Trance and Vision

Trance: A Trance is therefore an event within consciousness where one transcends the normal state of awareness, often in a “quasispasmodic” manner – that is, Trances are often (though not always) entered somewhat suddenly and the entering into Trance often comes at an unknown time. Samadhi can be seen as a special form or type of Trance characterized by “the supersession of dualistic human consciousness by the impersonal and monistic state” (Little Essays Toward Truth, “Trance”). A Trance is not necessarily in line with – and often in contradiction to – rational thinking: Samadhi is a characteristic example where whenever someone speaks about its nature they speak in paradox and contradiction. Trances are also characterized by their noetic nature – that is, they grant a felt sense of interior certainty regarding the truth of its content.

Vision: A Vision might be defined as a lesser form of Trance, where the acquisition of a new point-of-view or perspective does not necessarily require entering into a different state of consciousness, but it is still characterized by being noetic (i.e. granting a sense of interior certitude). Therefore, this distinguishes this definition of Vision from “astral visions,” which are not necessarily noetic in nature but may contain instances of Trance or Vision within them. It must also be stated that, although the term “Vision” implies sight, it really refers more to a particular type of experience or insight rather than being a series of visual sights, whether physical or mental (or astral). It is similar to the term “visualization” in occultism, which is often taken to mean focusing on visual images in the imagination but actually, in practice, refers to imagining things pertaining to all senses. Trances and Visions can therefore be distinguished from mere intellectual apprehension, for something can be intellectually grasped but not truly understood and felt as a certainty. To move beyond intellectual apprehension, one usually needs to have an experience for oneself that confirms the original idea but grants it a subject sense of truly “grasping” the idea or truly understanding it. As an illustration: a child might be told “you need to listen more carefully to others!” and grasp the idea intellectually, but not truly understand it. It requires the child having an experience – e.g., missing something important because of not listening carefully – to move from intellectual comprehension to real, certain understanding.

These definitions are not absolute, and there are blurry areas. People – including Crowley – often use these terms interchangeably. The main point is that Trance and Vision are states of consciousness that differ from normal, waking awareness and are characterized by (a) being noetic (felt sense of interior certitude) and (b) attaining a new point-of-view or perspective. This distinguishes them from both “astral visions” (both waking and dreaming) as well as from mere intellectual comprehension. The very fact of having attained a Trance or Vision inherently shows progress upon the Path insofar as they, by definition, imply a change within the individual – a shift of perspective or consciousness – whereas having an astral vision or intellectually grasping something do not necessarily imply any kind of real change in the individual at all.

We can now start to look at the various Trances or Visions in the context of the Tree of Life. Although the metaphor of “climbing the Tree of Life” implies that these steps are sequential, I believe that most of these Trances or Visions may happen at any time (depending on the right circumstances and intent), some may happen before others, some may even at the same time as others, and some may occur multiple times. There is no real test as to whether another person has attained any of these Trances or Visions, as tests must inherently be physical or intellectual, and I believe we all know that anyone can enter into a Yogic asana (physical) or say they are a Master (intellectual) but not actually be a Master at all. Therefore, this essay is intended to serve as a map for oneself – a kind of periodic table of Visions and Trances – both to show the possibilities of these Trances or Visions as well as to help understand various experiences that one may have had in the past or will have in the future (or perhaps presently if the reading of this essay somehow sends one spasmodically into a Trance – I wouldn’t exclude the possibility a priori!)

1) Malkuth (1°=10: Earth)

The Trance of Sorrow

The first Sephirah we encounter when “climbing the Tree of Life” is the 10th Sephirah that is called “Malkuth” (literally, “Kingdom”). We may attribute the Trance of Sorrow to Malkuth. The Trance of Sorrow may be defined as the Trance wherein one perceives that any and every endeavor, accomplishment, joy, connection, et cetera are ultimately insubstantial and will therefore eventually dissolve or end; essentially the Trance of Sorrow is where one realizes that nothing whatsoever lasts.

We may understand “Sorrow” as being a translation the Buddhist term dukkha, which is often translated as “suffering” (or “sorrow,” “misery,” “discontent,” “stress,” “dissatisfaction,” “anxiety,” etc.). In this way, the Trance of Sorrow represents an experiential understanding and appreciation of the First Noble Truth, which can be stated in many ways but ultimately means that “All things contain or are subject to suffering.”

The Trance of Sorrow helps to illustrate two points mentioned previously. Firstly, the “Trance of Sorrow” is called such by Crowley throughout his works, yet it is called the “Vision of Sorrow” in 777 and the “Vision of Universal Sorrow” elsewhere. This illustrates the point that “Trance” and “Vision” are terms that are often used interchangeably: one should not get too caught up in the words. Secondly, the Trance of Sorrow is a good example of how Trance is different from mere intellectual comprehension. One may intellectually grasp what has been said above – one may have previously encountered the First Noble Truth of Buddhism and grasped the idea being conveyed – yet the Trance of Sorrow goes beyond mere comprehension to a felt sense at the core of one’s being. The Trance involves an encompassing and even overwhelming sense of sorrow, dread, and even hopelessness. Although one can reach the Trance through intellectual contemplation, the Trance itself shows when this felt sense of certitude kicks in and one truly experiences the idea not merely as an idea but as an inescapable truth. A certain poetic explanation of this state can be found in Crowley’s “One Star in Sight” which begins with the lines, “Thy feet in mire, thine head in murk, / O man, how piteous thy plight, / The doubts that daunt, the ills that irk, / Thou hast nor wit nor will to fight— / How hope in heart, or worth in work? / No star in sight!”

To go further into the nature of the Trance of Sorrow: Nothing whatsoever lasts. You will inevitably die. Your family will die, your loved ones will die, your friends will die, your enemies will die, and all the people you’ve never known will all die: everyone will die. Every place you have been will change and pass away. The cycle of Life never stops; the Wheel of Samsara will never stop turning. Everything you know will eventually transform and perish.  The greatest joy and happiness you ever will achieve will eventually pass. No food, drink, idea, love, or anything else will ever truly satisfy you. Everything that you are striving for – all of your hopes, goals, and ambitions – will either remain unaccomplished or will be accomplished but will not last for long. No job lasts forever, no art piece lasts forever, no political change lasts forever, et cetera. Even if you were to become the most powerful and famous person on Earth, your memory will be distorted throughout time and eventually forgotten. If not within a few years, then it will happen in a few centuries; if not in a few centuries, it will happen when the human race no longer exists. While we may already know this to some extent and while one may grasp this idea while reading this essay, the Trance of Sorrow begins when it is truly felt and understood on a deep level that shakes the core of one’s very being.

In a sense, this Trance is one of the most crucial of all, for it is the Trance that leads one to tread the Path of the Great Work in the first place. Striving to attain the Light requires the acknowledgment that one is in Darkness. If one is completely content with oneself and one’s surroundings, there is no need to change anything or attain anything: this is the inertia of ignorance. Thus it has been said by Aleister Crowley that, “The Aspiration to become a Master is rooted in the Trance of Sorrow” (Little Essays Toward Truth, “Sorrow”) and also, “It is the Trance of sorrow that has determined one to undertake the task of emancipation. This is the energising force of Law; it is the rigidity of the fact that everything is sorrow which moves one to the task, and keeps one on the Path” (Eight Lectures on Yoga, “Niyama”). It is when one enters into this Trance that one determines to find a way to transcend it: one seeks to be liberated from the Wheel of Samsara in terms of Eastern phraseology; one seeks to find one’s immortal soul that is not subject to change, death, and sorrow in terms of Western phraseology. As Crowley once put it, one determines to enter upon the Path of “the Great Work, understanding thereby the Work of becoming a Spiritual Being, free from the constraints, accidents, and deceptions of material existence” (Magick in Theory & Practice, “Introduction and Theorems”).

As somewhat of a sidenote: In 777, the “Vision of Sorrow” is attributed to the 3rd Sephirah, Binah, and not the 10th, Malkuth. There is, in many ways, a resonance or harmony between Binah and Malkuth: they are both attributed to Heh’s in YHVH (the first Heh is attributed to Binah, the Mother, and the second or final Heh is attributed to Malkuth), and Malkuth is called the Daughter that is uplifted to the throne of Binah, the Mother (As in the 4th Aethyr of The Vision and the Voice, “And this is that which is written: Malkuth shall be uplifted and set upon the throne of Binah”). This shows that, although they are not the same, the Trance of Sorrow of Malkuth is related or harmonious with a Trance or Vision that is characteristic of Binah. In a sense, it is the Trance of Sorrow in Malkuth that gives one the impetus or motive to tread the Path of the Great Work that leads eventually to “crossing the Abyss” and landing in Binah as a Master of the Temple. To make the distinction clear, the Trance of Sorrow in Malkuth involves perceiving the insubstantiality or unsatisfactoriness of all phenomena and is therefore within the realm of duality; Binah is above the Abyss and therefore beyond duality and so not subject to “facts” or “rules” of the realm of duality. To distinguish between the two, the Trance related to Malkuth is called the “Trance of Sorrow” whereas that related to Binah is the “Trance of Compassion.” We should not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. The Path is tread step by step, and one should always seek to take the Next Step: first things first.

The Vision of Adonai / The Vision of the Holy Guardian Angel

The other Trance or Vision is called “The Vision of Adonai” or “The Vision of the Holy Guardian Angel.” Adonai is a name for God or the Lord that comes from Hebrew, and The Holy Guardian Angel is often called Adonai (for example, it is repeatedly named “Adonai” in Liber LXV, a Holy Book of Thelema). Again, it is not useful to get caught up in names: the point is that “The Vision of Adonai” and “The Vision of the Holy Guardian Angel” are two names for the same Vision.

Malkuth: The Trance of Sorrow & The Vision of Adonai

Malkuth: The Trance of Sorrow & The Vision of Adonai

The Vision of the Holy Guardian Angel is characterized by a certain awareness or perception of the Goal of the Path of the Great Work. One may get a glimpse of a certain state of consciousness that transcends the sorrow of duality, or one may even meet an aspect or form of Adonai in an astral vision or dream. Within the world of Darkness and sorrow, one catches sight of a Star that gives direction and hope: there is now “one star in sight.” In a way, the Vision of Adonai is a sort of answer to the Trance of Sorrow. Although one does not transcend the Trance of Sorrow, this Vision gives one the hope or notion of the possibility of transcending it. The Trance of Sorrow is the gravity that pulls one onto the Path that starts at Malkuth and the Vision of Adonai is the force that propels one forward to begin the climb upwards (so to speak).

To be clear: The Vision of the Holy Guardian Angel that is attributed to Malkuth is different from Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, which is attributed to Tiphareth (the 6th Sephirah). An analogy from the Golden Dawn may be useful to help explain. In the first initiation of the Hermetic Order of Golden Dawn, the “Neophyte” ritual, one is blindfolded to symbolize the darkness of ignorance. Eventually, the blindfold is removed and one is met with the sight of the Hierophant who symbolizes the Higher or True Self of the candidate. Crowley wrote:

“[The Adept] acclaims his Angel as ‘Himself Made Perfect’; adding that this Individuality is inscrutable and inviolable. In the Neophyte Ritual of G[olden] D[awn] the Hierophant is the perfected Osiris, who brings the candidate, the natural Osiris, to identity with himself. But in the new Aeon the Hierophant is Horus, therefore the Candidate will be Horus too.”
—Aleister Crowley, Liber Samekh, Point II, Part A, line 5

That is, one is given a glimpse of the goal – the True Self with whom one must become united and identified – but one has not yet attained thereto. As it is said, “the End of the ‘Path of the Wise’ is identity with Him” (“Temple of Solomon the King” in Equinox I:1). This shows how Malkuth reflects Kether in a sense (just as the grade 1°=10 has both the number of Kether,1, and Malkuth, 10), for the Goal can be grasped at the beginning of the Path, although one’s understanding of it is inherently limited by ignorance and misconception. One therefore sets upon the path to reach the Sun (the Sun or Sol is attributed to Tiphareth, the sphere where Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel is attained, which is Kether “on a lower scale,” so to speak): the star is in sight and one is determined to reach it. When one has experienced the Trance of Sorrow and been granted the Vision of Adonai, one may truly be called a “neophyte,” a newly planted seed that may one day, if cultivated carefully and consistently, grow into a Flower of Truth.

→ Part 2 → ]

Love is the law, love under will.

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The Qabalistic Keys to Thelemic Mysticism

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

Rose-Cross

NOTE: Written originally on December 28, 2009

i) The Human Soul is divided among the Tree of Life as the Neschamah, Ruach, and Nephesh.

ii) Neschamah corresponds to the Supernal Triangle which is the 3-in-1 of Jechidah, Chiah, and Neschamah; Ruach is the mind and the Nephesh includes both the body & physical world. [1]

iii) The Soul encompasses the whole Tree. [2]

iv) In the elemental schema, Spirit is assigned to the Supernal Triangle, the elements of Air/Fire/Water to the Mental Triangle, and Earth to the Physical pendant, i.e. Malkuth. Further, it is useful to consider Neschamah as inside rather than ‘above’ c.f. Kether as “center & secret of the sun”/Tiphareth, with Ruach & Nephesh about the core.

v) ‘Understanding’ is for the Neschamah, ‘Knowledge’ for the Ruach.

vi) ‘Knowledge’ is ‘lower knowledge’ of relations, facts, etc. and is subject to logic.

vii) Understanding is ‘higher knowledge’ or ‘gnosis’ which is supra-logical. This is the reason why Truth is expressed in paradox and said to be beyond Reason by virtually all mystics. [3]

viiii) Nephesh & Ruach (body & mind) block perception of Neschamah, but they are also the means of Manifestation of the Neschamah.

ix) The Ruach can only reach up to Da’ath which is a “false sephira.” This re-iterates the fact that truth is supra-rational/logical. [4]

x) The goal of Yoga is expressed Qabalistically with the number ‘0.’  [5]

xi) 0 or ‘Nothing’ is used instead of 1 or ‘Unity’ because 1 is opposed to & canceled out by -1. 0 therefore expresses the result of the union of opposites, and “Yoga means Union.” [6]

xii) Other numbers (and images) also express this same idea, yet “every number is infinite, there is no difference” in that they all “shadow forth the Ineffable” and Infinite. [7]

xiii) The unity is between seer and seen, subject and object, perceiver and perceived in consciousness. The ‘evil’ in this case (being relative to our particular task) is separation of any kind, primarily between self and environment/ego and the world/Me and thee. [8]

xiv) This is expressed symbolically as 0, as stated in (ix), as well as the Rose-Cross, cross in the circle, point in the circle, the hexagram, mother and father, and essentially any other symbol that is Two-in-One. This is sometimes called Three-in-One because the ‘Third’ is concealed in the Entire Image in one sense. [9]


[1] See Little Essays Toward Truth, “Man.” Neschamah encompasses Kether, Chokmah, and Binah; Ruach encompasses Chesed, Geburah, Tiphareth, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod; Nephesh encompasses Malkuth.

[2] Further: The glyph of Venus encompasses the Tree of Life like the Human Soul cf. (iii). Venus is the glyph of Love which, in its most abstract form, is unity between any two things. Qabalistically ‘Love’/Venus refers to the uniting principle between Chokmah & Binah or Father & Mother of the Supernal Triangle which is yet another Two-in-One symbol c.f. (xiii)

[3] See the “Mundaka Upanishad” on this idea of higher knowledge pertaining to Self-knowledge and lower knowledge pertaining to all things we think of knowledge like science, history, math, philosophy, logic, facts in general, etc.

[4] “Briefly, Truth is an idea of a supra-rational order, pertaining to Neschamah, not to Ruach.” See Little Essays Toward Truth, “Truth”

[5] See Crowley’s “Berashith”, 777, and Book of Thoth (Atu 0: Fool) on this point.

[6] See Eight Lectures on Yoga, Lecture 1.

[7] See Liber AL I:4 and see footnote 9 below.

[8] “There was the Door to which I found no Key; / There was the Veil through which I might not see: / Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee / There was–and then no more of Thee and Me.” –Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat.

[9] “If we in any way shadow forth the Ineffable, it must be by a degradation. Every symbol is a blasphemy against the Truth that it indicates. A painter to remind us of the sunset has no better material than dull ochre. So we need not be surprised if the Unity of Subject and Object in Consciousness which is Samadhi, the uniting of the Bride and the Lamb which is Heaven, the uniting of the Magus and the God which is Evocation, the uniting of the Man and his Holy Guardian Angel which is the seal upon the work of the Adeptus Minor, is symbolized by the geometrical unity of the circle and the square, the arithmetical unity of the 5 and the 6, and (for more universality of comprehension) the uniting of the Lingam and Yoni, the Cross and the Rose. For as in earth-life the sexual ecstasy is the loss of self in the Beloved, the creation of a third consciousness transcending its parents, which is again reflected into matter as a child; so, immeasurably higher, upon the Plane of Spirit, Subject and Object join to disappear, leaving a transcendent unity. This third is ecstasy and death; as above, so below.” -Aleister Crowley,  “The Big Stick” in The Equinox I(04)

Love is the law, love under will.