the sun

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. 

INTRODUCTION

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.

THE OFFICERS

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.

THE PRIEST

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 →]

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 → ] 

New Aeon Initiation: The True Self contains Good & Evil, Upright & Averse

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

New Aeon Initiation

NOTE: written originally on April 14, 2009

2) The True Self contains Good & Evil, Upright & Averse

“My adepts stand upright; their head above the heavens, their feet below the hells.”
– “Liber Tzaddi,” line 40

Initiation in the New Aeon is “the Child Growing to Maturity” by the slaying of the ego-self whose “death is life to come” for the True Self. But what is the nature of that True Self? Essentially, the True Self transcends dualities. Specifically, the True Self transcends the moral duality of Good and Evil.

People have a common tendency to imagine their goal as their “Higher Self” which they imagine as Absolute Good, caring, benevolent, etc. In short, many people construct an ideal or an abstraction of their highest ideals and believe that to be the goal. Crowley asserts in Magick Without Tears, “He is not, let me say with emphasis, a mere abstraction from yourself; and that is why I have insisted rather heavily that the term ‘Higher Self’ implies ‘a damnable heresy and a dangerous delusion.” The term “Higher Self” is a delusion because the aim of Initiation in the New Aeon is to bring the individual to identify with the “Total Self” or “All-Self,” not the “Higher Self” (or “Lower Self”). We must explore and conquer both the “good” and “evil” sides of ourselves: in terms of modern psychology, we cannot neglect our own Shadow. As Crowley advises, “every magician must firmly extend his empire to the depth of hell” (MIT&P, chapter 21). As Nietzsche says, “The great epochs of our life are the occasions when we gain the courage to rebaptize our evil qualities as our best qualities” (Beyond Good & Evil, Aphorism 116).

Much of Thelema’s imagery may be seen as “sinister.” Examples include the “Beast” and “Babalon” from the Book of Revelations (where they do not appear in a favorable light), the experience of divinity as “evil kisses corrupt[ing] the blood… as an acid eats into steel, as a cancer that utterly corrupts the body” (“Liber LXV” I:13, 16) and “poison” (“Liber LXV” III:39 IV: 24-25 V:52-53, 55-56), “the concealed” within oneself wherein “all things are in thine own Self” (Liber Aleph, “De Libidine Secreta”) is called Hell or Satan (who is identified with the Sun in “Liber Samekh”), etc. These could all be considered as attempts to bring the psyche of the individual to acceptance of both the upright and averse aspects of existence. One might even say it is the “darker” side of the self emerging because of its neglect in Old Aeon systems which focus on Good, Virtue, Grace, etc. and exclude their opposites. In the New Aeon we assert that the True Self contains (and thereby transcends) both Good and Evil. “Less than All cannot satisfy Man” (William Blake, “There is No Natural Religion”).

This idea of the True Self as containing both Heaven and Hell, Good and Evil, Upright and Averse, is captured succinctly in “Liber Tzaddi,” lines 33-42:

“I reveal unto you a great mystery. Ye stand between the abyss of height and the abyss of depth. In either awaits you a Companion; and that Companion is Yourself. Ye can have no other Companion. Many have arisen, being wise. They have said “Seek out the glittering Image in the place ever golden, and unite yourselves with It.” Many have arisen, being foolish. They have said, “Stoop down unto the darkly splendid world, and be wedded to that Blind Creature of the Slime.” I who am beyond Wisdom and Folly, arise and say unto you: achieve both weddings! Unite yourselves with both! Beware, beware, I say, lest ye seek after the one and lose the other! My adepts stand upright; their head above the heavens, their feet below the hells… Thus shall equilibrium become perfect.”

As mentioned in the last section, the True Self transcends the duality of Life and Death. In this section we see that the True Self transcends the duality of Upright and Averse, Good and Evil. The True Self is even “beyond Wisdom and Folly.” We must unite both with the Upright, “the glittering Image in the place ever golden,” and with the Averse, “that Blind Creature of the Slime.” Only thereby may man come to knowledge of his true Self: otherwise the individual will have a lopsided perspective of the self. One must remember that it is only because of its roots deep into the dark ground that a tree is able to produce fruit. As the psychologist Abraham Maslow noted, “Man’s higher nature rests upon man’s lower nature, needing it as a foundation and collapsing without this foundation” (Toward a Psychology of Being, 1968).

The method of Initiation in the New Aeon is therefore one of Union of Opposites and Equilibrium. The equilibrium is not that of moderation, the Middle Path of Buddha (or the Doctrine of the Mean of Aristotle), where we seek to avoid extremes and remain in the center. The equilibrium of New Aeon Initiation is understood as the balance attained by pushing to both extremes of any duality. “Go thou unto the outermost places and subdue all things” (“Liber LXV” I:45). We don’t take the upright (“white light”) or averse (“satanic”) of the Upright/Averse duality and aim for that alone, we aim for both the heavens and the hells. One might say, symbolically, the Old Aeon is like a pole or a tree, where the vertical section is straight and narrow, avoiding extremes. The New Aeon is then like a large building or a pyramid where the base is expanded horizontally. This symbolically shows that, by pushing towards the extremes (expanding the base horizontally in this metaphor), we enlarge our foundations which thereby allow us to withstand the “winds” of experience better. As it says in The Book of the Law, “Wisdom says: be strong! Then canst thou bear more joy. Be not animal; refine thy rapture! …But exceed! exceed! Strive ever to more!” (II:70-72). William Blake also enigmatically stated, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

Again, we can look again to Horus (with the Infinitely Contracted Core of Flame as His Heart and the Infinitely Expansive Space as His Body) as a symbol of That which transcends the dualities of Good and Evil, Upright and Averse. In uniting with both the “glittering Image” and the “Blind Creature of the Slime,” we come to know ourselves as the All which contains but transcends both: “For two things are done and a third thing is begun… Horus leaps up thrice armed from the womb of his mother” (“Liber A’ash,” line 8). As Horus says in The Vision and the Voice, “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.” We might add, “I am good, and I am evil, and I am that which is beyond them.” Fresh Fever From the Skies: The Collected Writings of IAO131Horus, the Sun, is a symbol of That which contains & transcends dualities, an image of our True Selves, identical in essence yet diverse in expression for each individual; other cognate symbols include the point in the circle (the Solar glyph), the Rose-Cross, semen and menstrual fluid combined (two live, generative fluids combined into a third which “is one substance and not two, not living and not dead, neither liquid nor solid, neither hot nor cold, neither male nor female” -MIT&P, chapter 20), the Heart Girt with the Serpent (see “Liber LXV”), the cross in the circle, the circle squared (Liber AL II:47), the Sun and the Moon conjoined (called “the Mark of the Beast” in “Liber Reguli” and “the secret sigil of the Beast” in the 1st Aethyr of The Vision and the Voice), the Lion and the Eagle, the word ABRAHADABRA, and infinite others. In a certain ritual where the individual comes to identify with Horus (“Liber XLIV: The Mass of the Phoenix”), we proclaim our transcendence of the moral duality: “There is no grace: there is no guilt: / This is the Law: DO WHAT THOU WILT!”

“For Perfection abideth not in the Pinnacles, or in the Foundations, but in the ordered Harmony of one with all.”
– “Liber Causae,” line 32

 

Love is the law, love under will.

Part 3: Embrace of the World 
← Part 1: Introduction & Death/Attainment as Non-Cataclysmic 

New Aeon Initiation: Introduction & Death/Attainment as Non-Cataclysmic

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

New Aeon Initiation

NOTE: written originally on April 12, 2009

0) Introduction

“In the name of the Lord of Initiation. Amen.”
-“Liber Tzaddi,” lines 0 & 44

A New Aeon was proclaimed and begun in April of 1904 with the reception of The Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis. A New Aeon implies a new paradigm or a new point-of-view with which to view the world. According to “Liber Causae,” “In all systems of religion is to be found a system of Initiation, which may be defined as the process by which a man comes to learn that unknown Crown.” If Initiation is common to “all systems of religion,” then how is Initiation to be understood in this Aeon of the Crowned & Conquering Child? What are the paradigm-shifts which characterize the point-of-view from this New Aeon?

I intend to outline the basic views of New Aeon Initiation in this essay. There will be as little recourse to esoteric jargon as possible; ideally, an individual who has never encountered Thelema should be able to grasp many of the ideas explained here. It should be noted that the various ideas & formulae which are still valid in this New Aeon, i.e. those ideas that are “superseded” and not “abrogated,” will not be mentioned (as nothing has changed in these cases from the Old Aeons).

The basic ideas surrounding New Aeon Initiation are: death/attainment as non-cataclysmic, the True Self contains both good and evil, an embracing of the world, the self as redeemer, and no perfection of the soul. All of these points will be treated in turn, and each will be exemplified by a central quotation from the corpus of Thelema.

1) Death/Attainment as Non-cataclysmic

“…There is that which remains.”
-Liber AL vel Legis II:9

The basic idea associated with the last, Old Aeon is an obsession with death. The symbolic proponents of the Old Aeon paradigms – Osiris, Dionysus, Jesus, Adonis, etc. – are all bound by the central motif of a (painful) death. Death is seen as catastrophic and a ritual act must be performed for the dead to be resurrected (or avenged). The cosmological parallel with this initiatory viewpoint is the idea that the Sun dies each night and the priesthood must perform a ritual for the Sun to rise again in the morning. Crowley often writes of the switch from the Old Aeon to the New Aeon view as paralleling the switch from a geocentric to a heliocentric view of our Solar System. Now we know that the Sun does not “die” each night, nor does any priest need to perform any kind of ritual for the Sun to rise in the morning. We know the Sun is constantly shining and it is only the turning of the earth which creates the succession of day and night: the apparent sight of the Sun “dying” and being “reborn” each night has changed to the understanding that the Sun is never born nor dies. Frater Achad, or Charles Stansfeld Jones, encapsulated this idea in his essay “Stepping Out of the Old Aeon Into the New,”

“You know how deeply we have always been impressed with the ideas of Sun-rise and Sun-set, and how our ancient brethren, seeing the Sun disappear at night and rise again in the morning, based all their religious ideas in this one conception of a Dying and Re-arisen God. This is the central idea of the religion of the Old Aeon but we have left it behind us because although it seemed to be based on Nature (and Nature’s symbols are always true), yet we have outgrown this idea which is only apparently true in Nature. Since this great Ritual of Sacrifice and Death was conceived and perpetuated, we, through the observation of our men of science, have come to know that it is not the Sun which rises and sets, but the earth on which we live which revolves so that its shadow cuts us off from the sunlight during what we call night. The Sun does not die, as the ancients thought; It is always shining, always radiating Light and Life.”

Crowley reiterates this view and explains the spiritual significance in The Heart of the Master where he writes,

“…When the time was ripe, appeared the Brethren of the Formula of Osiris, whose word is I A O; so that men worshipped Man, thinking him subject to Death, and his victory dependent upon Resurrection. Even so conceived they of the Sun as slain and reborn with every day, and every year. Now, this great Formula being fulfilled, and turned into abomination, this Lion came forth to proclaim the Aeon of Horus, the crowned and conquering child, who dieth not, nor is reborn, but goeth radiant ever upon His Way. Even so goeth the Sun: for as it is now known that night is but the shadow of the Earth, so Death is but the shadow of the Body, that veileth his Light from its bearer.”

Assimilating this idea of the Sun, in reality, never setting goes a long way to help the aspirant understand the spiritual truth of Thelema that this mirrors. In short, death (both of the ego and of the body) is no longer seen as cataclysmic in the New Aeon. This is because of two connected ideas: Death is complementary with Life, and Death is actually Change (“life to come”).

Let’s start with the first idea that Death is complementary with Life. “Death is the apex of one curve of the snake Life: behold all opposites as necessary complements, and rejoice” (The Heart of the Master). Life and death are the two complements that constitute existence, and all things are formed from the interplay of Life and Death. All things in the universe, including the mind and body of the aspirant, are subject to Life and Death. One might visualize existence as an undulating serpent, where the crest of a wave is Life and the trough is Death (which is the image Crowley uses above in The Heart of the Master).

This leads into the idea of Death as Change. We often think of Life as constituting change and Death as constituting stagnation: death implies a stop or an end. The New Aeon views Death not as an end but as the possibility for new Life. Just as the Winter brings “death” to plant life, it also gives nutrients to the soil to allow for the inevitable new Spring. (As a note, “Death” refers to the death of the physical body, but more importantly to the “death” or “dissolution” of the ego which can and does occur during an individual’s life). Chapter 18, “Dewdrops,” of The Book of Lies explains this idea that Death is Change very succinctly:

“Verily, love is death, and death is life to come. / Man returneth not again; the stream floweth not uphill; the old life is no more; there is a new life that is not his. / Yet that life is of his very essence; it is more He than all that he calls He.”

The succinct idea that “death is life to come” is expounded here along with the idea that in the life that arises from death, we become “more ourselves.” The Life which arises from Death “is more He than all that he calls He.” This is because “all that he calls He” is his ego and in the death of the ego, we come to identify with the True Self which contains both Life and Death (and is therefore Eternal and Infinite). This death is not cataclysmic, but even equated with “love.” In the Tarot, which symbolically mirrors the initiatory paradigm of its age, traditionally has “Atu XIII” (or the 13th Trump) as “Death.” In the New Aeon, we may understand this card not as “Death” but “Transformation” or “Change.” In The Heart of the Master, Crowley writes short, poetic stanzas to describe each Tarot card. For “Atu XIII: Death” he writes, “The Universe is Change; every Change is the effect of an Act of Love; all Acts of Love contain Pure Joy. Die daily. Death is the apex of one curve of the snake Life: behold all opposites as necessary complements, and rejoice.” This is the fundamental paradigm-shift of the New Aeon: not only is Death actually Change (and “life to come”), but it is a form of Love, and “all Acts of Love contain Pure Joy.” There is no trace of cataclysm, sorrow, or suffering in this conception of Death in the New Aeon.

Symbolically, this means Initiation (the myth-drama of each individual’s Path) is no longer portrayed as “The Man performing Self-Sacrifice” but as “The Child Growing to Maturity.” On this Crowley writes, “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” (“Liber Samekh”). The idea is one of coming to maturity, specifically of “obtaining the Wand” which represents the creative, generative power: this experience constitutes “spiritual puberty” for the individual, one might say. The process is not a cataclysm that needs rectifying (although puberty often seems cataclysmic!) but a natural process of growth and fulfillment of human potential.

Each person must destroy their ego self and come to identify with the True Self. Every man and woman must “break down the fortress of thine Individual Self, that thy Truth may spring free from the ruins” (The Heart of the Master). This necessarily involves the death or dissolution of the ego (“thine Individual Self”) to which many people are strongly attached. This is why death is seen as catastrophic: people view losses as catastrophic and the greatest loss to people is the loss of their personal ego-identity. In both the Old and New Aeons, the ego must experience death in process of Initiation. The difference is the view of this phenomenon: the Old Aeon views death as a cataclysmic event whereas the New Aeon views it as a necessary step in the progress of Growth. As Crowley explains, “The Ego fears to lose control of the course of the mind… The Ego is justly apprehensive, for this ecstasy will lead to a situation when its annhilation will be decreed… Remember that the Ego is not really the centre and crown of the individual; indeed the whole trouble arises from its false claim to be so” (Commentary to “Liber LXV” I:60). Before the individual personally experiences the dissolution of their own ego, they must assimilate this New Aeon idea that “there is that which remains” after this death. Each person then must come to directly experience and even embody this truth – that is, each individual must come to know this truth through their own experience. “Faith must be slain by certainty,” as Crowley wrote (The Book of Thoth). We might even say that each person is psychologically stuck in the Old Aeon paradigm until they have this experience of the death of the ego. Only then can they be “freed of the obsession of the doom of the Ego in Death” (Little Essays Toward Truth, “Mastery”). Only then can the individual identify with “that which remains,” which transcends but contains both Life and Death. In the New Aeon, each person “Let[s] the Illusion of the World pass over thee, unheeded, as thou goest from Midnight to the Morning. ” (The Heart of the Master). The New Aeon is the Aeon of the Crowned & Conquering Child: Horus, Heru-Ra-Ha, Ra-Hoor-Khuit, and many other names. Horus is a symbol of the True Self which transcends Life and Death just as the Sun is a symbol of that which constantly shines even though day (Life) and night (Death) pass on earth, and just as the Child is a symbol of that which contains but transcends both mother (Life) and father (Death). In the “1st Aethyr” of The Vision and the Voice, Horus himself says of his nature:

“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.
I am war, and I am peace, and I am that which is beyond them.
I am weakness, and I am strength, and I am that which is beyond them.
…And it shall be unto them a grace and a sacrament, and ye shall all sit down together at the supernal banquet, and ye shall feast upon the honey of the gods, and be drunk upon the dew of immortality — FOR I AM HORUS, THE CROWNED AND CONQUERING CHILD, WHOM THOU KNEWEST NOT!”

As mentioned in later sections, in the New Aeon we view each individual as God Him/Herself. Therefore the work of each person is the release of identification with the ego and the consequent identification with Horus, That which transcends Life and Death (and all dualities). This is expressed symbolically by Frater Achad (and Crowley) by the idea of switching one’s perspective from Earth (the geocentric viewpoint where we experience day/life and night/death; the perspective of the ego) to the perspective from the Sun (the heliocentric viewpoint where we experience perpetual shining through day and night; the perspective of the True Self).

This paradigmatic change from Old Aeon to New, in the sense of no longer seeing Death as cataclysmic, is captured symbolically in Crowley’s changes to old “formulae” to conform with the New Aeon point-of-view. Specifically, the change from IAO to VIAOV and the change from AUM to AUMGN that Crowley speaks about in Magick in Theory & Practice (chapters 5 and 7, respectively) exemplify the paradigm shift from Old Aeon to New Aeon.

On the formula of IAO, Crowley writes, “This formula is the principal and most characteristic formula of Osiris, of the Redemption of Mankind. “I” is Isis, Nature, ruined by “A”, Apophis the Destroyer, and restored to life by the Redeemer Osiris” (MIT&P, chapter 5 which should be consulted for a more full examination of VIAOV). The basic idea is that I = Life which is ruined by A = Death/Chaos which must then be redeemed by O. Existence is therefore a process of endless cataclysms which require redemption from this point-of-view. How is this view changed from the point-of-view of New Aeon Initiation? Crowley writes, “THE MASTER THERION, in the Seventeenth year of the Aeon, has reconstructed the Word I A O to satisfy the new conditions of Magick imposed by progress.” Now, no one would deny that all things change, that “all things must pass,” but from the point-of-view of physics, energy is never created nor destroyed. It is simply transformed into different forms. If we identify with any of these partial phenomena which inevitably must be transformed, we are subject to death. If we “die daily” to our ego-self, to our sense of division or separateness from the world, then we come to identify with the Whole Process. “The many change and pass; the one remains” (“Liber Porta Lucis,” line 20). The All contains all opposites within itself, it is the symbol of the Serpent itself whose undulations are Life and Death, and therefore is eternal. This True Self, the All which knows no division, is Horus and “that which remains.” It is with these ideas in mind we can understand why, in the New Aeon, IAO has become VIAOV. Basically, IAO has been surrounded by two “V”s (these refer to the Hebrew letter “Vav” or the Greek letter “Digamma” for various reasons which can be investigated in chapter 5 of MIT&P). What does this mean?

Essentially, the “V” represents “that which remains.” There may be processes of creation, destruction, and reconstruction (IAO) but there is always “that which remains.” The “V” remains unchanged through the various “IAO processes” one might say. Even though the phallus of the father must “die” in ejaculation, it is a necessary step for new Life – the Child – to emerge… And the Semen, the Quintessence, remains unchanged (“that which remains”) throughout the entire process. This symbolic process exemplifies the ideas of the New Aeon, especially because the “death” in this case is ecstatic: the death is literally orgasmic. Further, Crowley writes in The Book of Lies, “the snake is the hieroglyphic representation of semen” and so the semen which is “that which remains” is identified with the snake or serpent which, as explained above, represents That which contains the complements of Life and Death (being the crest and trough of His undulations).

There is another interesting idea which this symbolic formula, VIAOV, conceals: One might consider the original “V” as ignorant man, i.e. man as ignorant of his True Self/his identity with All Things, and the final “V” as man conscious of his own Divinity. It is through the process of IAO, or death of the ego, that each individual becomes consciously aware of him or herself as Horus, “that which remains,” for since all things are contained in the All-Self, it cannot be created or destroyed. Also, the “V” or the True Self was always there, except the individual was simply ignorant of this fact: “The series of transformations has not affected his identity; but it has explained him to himself” (MIT&P, chapter 5). Crowley explains, “…the ‘Stone’ or ‘Elixir’ which results from our labours will be the pure and perfect Individual originally inherent in the substance chosen, and nothing else… the effective element of the Product is of the essence of its own nature, and inherent therein; the Work [then] consists in isolating it from its accretions” (MIT&P, chapter 20). As Crowley writes in “Liber LXV,” “Thou wast with me from the beginning.”

Moving onto AUM becoming AUMGN, Crowley writes,

“The word AUM is the sacred Hindu mantra which was the supreme hieroglyph of Truth, a compendium of the Sacred Knowledge… Firstly, it represents the complete course of sound… Symbolically, this announces the course of Nature as proceeding from free and formless creation through controlled and formed preservation to the silence of destruction… We see accordingly how AUM is, on either system, the expression of a dogma which implies catastrophe in nature. It is cognate with the formula of the Slain God.”
(MIT&P, chapter 7 which should be consulted for a more full examination of AUMGN)

The formula of AUM therefore suffers from the same attitude problem as the formula of IAO: nature is catastrophic. Moving beyond this idea of existence as catastrophic is, as explained above, one facet of New Aeon Initiation. Crowley explains,

“The cardinal revelation of the Great Aeon of Horus is that this formula AUM does not represent the facts of nature. The point of view is based upon misapprehension of the character of existence. It soon became obvious to The Master Therion that AUM was an inadequate and misleading hieroglyph. It stated only part of the truth, and it implied a fundamental falsehood. He consequently determined to modify the word in such a manner as to fit it to represent the Arcana unveiled by the Aeon of which He had attained to be the Logos. The essential task was to emphasize the fact that nature is not catastrophic, but proceeds by means of undulations.”

The essential idea appears in the final sentence. As we have gone over above, the New Aeon point-of-view conceives existence as a Serpent whose undulations are Life and Death. The word AUM ends in “M” which symbolizes the fact that, “the formation of the individual from the absolute is closed by his death” (MIT&P, chapter 7). Again the idea is one of Death as a stop or an end instead of “life to come” or one instance of Change. Now, how would “GN” be added to the end of AUM “fix” the word? Crowley writes, “The undulatory formula of putrefaction is represented in the Qabalah by the letter N, which refers to Scorpio.” Both of these (the letter N and Scorpio) are traditionally attributed to “Atu XIII: Death” in the Tarot which was spoken of above (when it was suggested it might be more accurately titled “Change” or “Transformation”). Basically, “N” represents the idea that, “Death is life to come;” that is, Death is not an end but one apex of the curve of endless undulations. Crowley continues, “Now it so happens that the root GN signifies both knowledge [gnosis] and generation combined in a single idea, in an absolute form independent of personality.” The idea is basically that AUM does not accurately describe the course of nature because existence does not end in cataclysm. Therefore, by adding “GN” to AUM to form “AUMGN,” we assert that the process of nature is not cataclysmic. In fact, it does not end at all but instead “proceeds by means of undulations:” Death is not the end but simply one trough of the endless winding of the Serpent of the All-Self.

Fresh Fever From the Skies: The Collected Writings of IAO131Essentially, “all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains” (Liber AL vel Legis II:9). It is the work of each individual to dissolve and de-identify with the ego-self and identify with “that which remains,” the True Self which transcends all division (especially between Life and Death) in that it contains All. The death of the ego is not cataclysmic because we know the Sun of the True, All-Self which “is more He than all that he calls He” (The Book of Lies, chapter 18) is always shining regardless of our ignorance (our “darkness”). In short, in the New Aeon we give the advice, “If you are “walking in darkness”, do not try to make the sun rise by self-sacrifice, but wait in confidence for the dawn, and enjoy the pleasures of the night meanwhile” (The Law is For All).

“With courage conquering fear shall ye approach me: ye shall lay down your heads upon mine altar, expecting the sweep of the sword. But the first kiss of love shall be radiant on your lips; and all my darkness and terror shall turn to light and joy. Only those who fear shall fail.”
-“Liber Tzaddi,” lines 16-18

Love is the law, love under will.

→ Part 2: The True Self contains Good & Evil, Upright & Averse →