Maat: Daughter of the Lords of Truth

There is a special relation between Leo and Libra-Maat, through the esoteric title of the Tarot trump Adjustment VIII, the Daughter of the Lords of Truth. Aleister Crowley used a clever design, the möbius strip, to show how this works in The Book of Thoth.

Sekhet and Maat: Leo and LibraThe Tarot and path correspondences of the Tree of Life are most ingenious. Leo and Libra revolve about Virgo, while Aquarius and Aries revolve about Pisces.[1] The original type of lamed, the letter ‘L’ of the Law of Thelema and 22nd path of Libra or Maat, was the ancient Egyptian ‘sickle’ hieroglyph. According to the Esoteric Doctrine of Thelema, Lapis Philosophorum:

“The original title given to the Cairo transmission was Liber L. By standard Qabalistic values, the letter ‘L’ corresponds to Libra and the Scales of Maat, ‘truth’, having the value of 30. The original form and meaning of the letter lamed is ‘sickle or scythe’. It is the Egyptian hieroglyph for ‘truth, justified, true vision and true-speaking’. It also spells LION. Before we can apprehend the Law of Thelema, stripped of accretions, we must invoke the scythe to clear the way.”[2]

Sickle Maat Leo and Libra

The sickle spells ma’a, ‘truth’. When the image of a lion is placed beneath, it spells the name of the lioness Mau or Sekhmet. She is the principle of love in the most powerful or dynamic aspect, the love of truth. Thus Sekhet (power) and Maat (truth) are inseparable to our way of thinking. The sickle hieroglyph is identical to the astrological glyph for Saturn, save for the tau cross-bar. Saturn is the ‘power behind Venus’, as Set-Hadit (the stellar Sirius) is the manifester of the seven stars of Ursa Major: Love is the law, love under will.

There is much talk of ‘power’, as though it were something than can be acquired, purchased, gained or lost—as though it were a thing in itself. There is much made of the term ‘empowerment’ in New Age literature and academic (or psychological) occultism. Yet, with all this careless use of jargon, one seldom if ever finds anyone taking the trouble to define the term, to say what they mean when they use this word, ‘power’. The first definition in the Oxford Dictionary is, ‘the ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way’. Very well then; so if we understand power as ‘the ability or capacity to do something’, then what is the source of such an ability or capacity? The emphasis with this common definition is on the verb ‘to do’; it is all about doing and acting. Yet all such doing, moving, going about the place, is merely the observed effect, the appearance.

Maat and Thelema

The exoteric concept of power owes to causal determinism, where one thing or event is caused by another that preceded it, so on for perpetuity. If we seek for the cause, the Will, we find that we know nothing whatsoever about it. All we know is effect or appearance, and we mistakenly judge this to be a cause. This whole idea of power then collapses in upon itself, revealing nothing. The solution is really quite simple. In the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, Liber AL, II: 3–4, Hadit (Will) declares his nature:

In the sphere I am everywhere the centre, as she, the circumference, is nowhere found. Yet she shall be known and I never.

To use a geometric analogy, the circle of all possibility (Nuit) is determined by the hypothetical point (Hadit). If we move the point, the curvature changes. Yet the point only exists by virtue of the circle. Neither comes first or second; every event is simultaneous and spontaneous. The ‘Will’ is esoteric. The ‘Effect’ is exoteric.  Hadit will not be known because he is the Knower, consciousness itself, which causes things to appear.

We can only approach the esoteric cause through the mode of analogous thought. Rational thought stops short, reaching its ring-pass-not, at causal determinism; thus far and no further. Let us return to the question of power. What then is true power? For example, do politicians really possess a thing called ‘power’? They may produce acts of governance, and those acts may be enforced by the power of the State via the police and military forces. But if politicians seemingly have the power to command forces, from whence does that power originate? In the case of the politician, it depends entirely on the bargains, the deals they have made with others behind closed doors. It depends on the confidence of their financial backers. Modern economic systems are moved by blind forces, which is called a ‘market economy’. That power owes much to the chance element of the roulette wheel. The gamblers feel powerful on winning, powerless when losing, especially if losing all, in which case they may be seen sky-diving from an apartment window twenty floors above the ground. What then is the real meaning of such power?

There is only one true power in the universe. That power is the power of attention, observance. Every creature on earth but one exercises that power continually and with utmost precision, not being deluded for one moment into thinking that it can be won, lost, acquired, given or received. The one creature that alone confuses power and will is the human creature. The isolating doctrine of scientism and psychological determinism has ensnared the modern esoteric movement, including mainstream Thelema, and thwarted its true purpose. Initiation, direct knowledge, is the remedy for the ill. The foundation of true initiation is not in learning what to think, but how to think differently—through the mode of analogous thought, which is the method of communication used by the ancient mystery schools.


Notes

1. See Crowley, The Book of Thoth pp. 9–10, ‘The Double Loop in the Zodiac’.
2. See Babalon Unveiled—Thelemic Monographs [Ordo Astri].

© Oliver St John 2018
Drawings of Sekhet and Maat by Jeff Dahl.
Sickle-Maat-Lion hieroglyph drawn by Oliver St. John, based on EA Wallis Budge, An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary.

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Serpent Tongue of Liber AL vel Legis

Some of the passages in the (Egyptian) Book of the Law seem to have been put there expressly to bamboozle Aleister Crowley, the scribe. The same passages have befuddled many other persons since. Not least of which, is the passage of III: 47, which includes a word concerning the translation of the book into “all other tongues”. If the book is regarded as an encrypted esoteric treatise, there is some chance that wisdom might send her kiss to soothe our troubled brows. If the book is approached in the same way that lay preachers sometimes choose to construe their ‘holy bibles’, as literal instruction to be blindly obeyed, then what is there to distinguish Thelemites from those who burned so-called witches at the stake on the advice of the biblical book of Exodus? Interestingly, perhaps, Crowley never authorised or produced a translation of Liber AL vel Legis in his lifetime, even though the book’s instruction of III: 47 is one that appears to have been delivered to him personally.

Serpent Tongue: Loki’s Brood, Emil Doepler 1905

The written word may be taken literally or metaphorically. The laws of state governance, for example, are literally intended. Even then it is not straightforward; the difficulties of literal interpretation are such that a large army of lawyers and judges are required. When the written word is taken as spiritual wisdom, a matter for the soul, then the use of poetic metaphor is taken for granted. There is an exception to that. When persons wish to use scripture as a means of exercising political power and control, then the written word becomes a matter of dogmatic doctrinal assertion.

Hissing Serpent of Exodus

The eight hissing serpent words in the King James Bible version of Exodus, 22: 18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”, can be understood esoterically. There is a caveat to be applied to the Old Testament when applying the Qabalah to make sense of it. Some of the books, and Exodus is no exception, are merely political diatribes. Some chapters consist of lengthy lists of social and moral prohibitions and, as a consequence, dire curses and punishments to be meted out on sinners. The primary intention of producing such scriptures was to force mass compliance with emerging nation states. These require, along with the flag and usual hereditary emblems of governance, centralised religious worship to reinforce national identity. Military plans for conquest require finance and so increased taxation; by appealing to ignorance and xenophobia, support may be garnered for what would otherwise be unpopular legislation (what else is new?). Nonetheless, Aramaic, the language of the scriptures, is a magical language. As with ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, the written word affords multiple levels of interpretation—for there is no vowel pointing to indicate precise meaning, as with Modern Hebrew.

The word that was translated as ‘witch’ in the King James edition (and most others) is KShP (400), a verb which means, ‘to use magick or sorcery’. The noun for a magician or sorcerer is AShP (381), and this same name is also used to describe astrologers, for example—who, in those times, were regarded no differently than astronomers and physicians. Ironically, the three magi that follow a star to witness the birth of the magical child Jesus of Nazareth, as recorded in the New Testament, were likewise astrologers or magicians. The Qabalistic Gematria for the numbers 381 and 400 yields rich treasure.[1] The association of keshef with the Egyptian word for the constellation we know as Ursa Major, ShPK, ‘foreleg (or thigh) of the Bull’, also bears much fruit. We can avoid digression, though, by simply looking into the name for ‘a person that does magick’. AShP is ashah, ‘woman’, or ‘fire’, with the letter of the ‘mouth’ or ‘utterance’ added (P). The old magick, persisting even centuries after the end of the precessional age of the Bull, always concerned oracular women or priestesses. From times of great antiquity, the serpent was the zoötype of the oracular word. Eve was named simply ‘the woman’ (ashah) in the first book of Genesis. Eve and the Serpent are one, as typified in Thelemic imagery by Babalon and the Beast. We may also think of the zodiacal Bull and its polar twin, glyphed by the serpent and eagle as well as the scorpion. Thus it is not uncommon to find ancient depictions of the magician as a woman, naked as the sky, with the wings of a bird and bearing two serpents, one in each hand, all set against a background of stars. The three letters of the verb ‘to do magick’ (KPSh) encompass all these ideas, along with their Yetziratic path and Tarot correspondences. The ‘hand’ (kaph) of the goddess Fortuna that turns the wheel or chakra of time; the word from the ‘mouth’ () of the fire snake (shin).

The biblical association with the tricky Old Serpent produces the time-honoured instruction, known by every hermit, that if we succumb wholly to the proud persuasion of the reasoning intellect then we pour our life’s blood into the Ark of Evil and mistake dead things (including all ‘holy books’) for the living word. And that is exactly the error of the witch-burners and fundamentalists—not to mention the self-righteous worthies that sign up with the lynch mob every time the popular press pruriently parades the latest victim of some outrage—whether the alleged perpetrator is an individual person or ecclesiastical institution.

This book shall be translated into all tongues: but always with the original in the writing of the Beast; for in the chance shape of the letters and their position to one another: in these are mysteries that no Beast shall divine.

Serpent Tongue of AL, III: 47

The instruction of Liber AL, III: 47 appears, on the face of it, to be a lighter matter than that of Exodus, 22: 18. Yet the consequences for slavish obedience to the literal interpretation of an arcane treatise are incalculable, certainly in spiritual terms. “This book shall be translated into all tongues” has been enthusiastically taken up, so that the book is by now translated into almost every European language, and quite a few others. Unfortunately, it is impossible to translate the book into any language other than the ‘barbaric’ English that was heard by Rose and Aleister Crowley in Cairo in 1904 without making nonsense of it. When the book is translated into other tongues, the meaning is changed and strictly limited. As with ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, it is intentional, nay essential, that the text carries multiple levels of meaning. This can easily be demonstrated. If we go through some of the key verses or tenets and translate them into modern English, it no longer works. The book was written down in a peculiar hybrid of archaic and modern prose. Add to that some Greek and Coptic words, plus the very curious ‘Coph Nia’ (III: 72). The grammar does not conform to any accepted standard. There are neologisms, specially created words that do not appear in any dictionary, namely ‘unfragmentary’ and ‘abstruction’.[2] Thus, to translate into any other language renders the book completely useless as esoteric treatise. In ordinary translation work—and this is no ordinary book and no ordinary writing—one must make a clear difference between translating a text and interpreting that text. With the enigmatic Liber AL vel Legis, it is not possible to translate without applying precise definition of meaning. All attempts to translate the book have therefore failed utterly, and will continue to do so.

The elevenfold spell, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”, for example, translates into modern English as “Do what you will shall be the whole of the Law”. The substitution of ‘you’ for the archaic ‘thou’ automatically places personal emphasis on the nature of the will in question, which has already been defined in the book, I: 39, by the Greek word Thelema (Θελημα). The meaningful context for the use of that word owes to sixteen centuries of cultural and linguistic tradition. Furthermore, the ambiguity of present and future tense in the phrase automatically invokes the curse of causal determinism. We are then stuck with something perhaps worse than the rationalist argument of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in his treatise, The World as Will and Representation (1818).

II: 21 Nuit! Hadit! Ra-Hoor-Khuit! The Sun, Strength and Sight, Light; these are for the servants of the Star and the Snake.

To take one further example—each of the 220 verses of the book presents unique translation problems, some of which are completely insoluble—the noun ‘snake’ is neutral in English. The word appears four times in the book.[3] In some tongues other than English the noun must be either masculine or feminine. While it has become traditional to speak of the snake Hadit as ‘he’ in English, in some languages the masculine gender form of ‘snake’ has rather amusing connotations. In the Eastern Tantras, the serpent as Occult Force is usually identified with the feminine (shakti) power and intelligence. However, in the Book of the Law, Hadit is the polar complement of the star goddess Nuit, who is unmistakably female in form. The poetic sense of the book becomes lost in translation, as does its real spiritual and magical import.

The (Egyptian) Book of the Law shall certainly be ‘translated into all tongues’ in the sense that individuals will uniquely understand it each according to their wisdom.


Notes

The painting used here as an illustration is titled, Lokis Gezücht (Loki’s Brood), and was painted by Emil Doepler in 1905 (photograph Wikimedia Commons). It depicts the Nordic gods Hel, Fenrir and Jörmungandr the world serpent. Angrboða, the mother of sorrows, is thought to be shown in the background and to the left. The body of the serpent arches to form the mouth of the entrance to hell or the underworld, guarded over by the serpent’s mother. Thus the serpent nahesh and the letter , ‘a mouth’, are combined. As explained above, the Aramaic noun for a magical practitioner or ‘witch’, as termed in the King James Bible, is AShP, combining ‘woman’, ‘mouth’ or ‘oracle’ with the hissing sound of the serpent or fire snake.

1. See The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth, numbers 381 and 400 [Ordo Astri].
2. ‘Unfragmentary’ was the original (received) word of the Book of the Law, I: 26, “And the sign shall be my ecstasy, the consciousness of the continuity of existence, the unfragmentary non-atomic fact of my universality.” Aleister Crowley later sought to change the wording. The neologism, ‘abstruction’, was not changed by Crowley and appears in III: 11, “I will make easy to you the abstruction from the ill-ordered house in the Victorious City.”
3. Liber AL vel Legis, II: 21; II: 22; III: 34; III: 38.

© Oliver St. John 2018

Related articles:
Fill or Kill, that is the question!
Liber AL vel Legis (all posts in this category)

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Fill or Kill, that is the Question!

Should we kill or fulfil the Will to Love? This article is for the assistance of anyone that has been perplexed by an editorial ‘correction’ issued by the O.T.O. on the work of Aleister Crowley, specifically, the Song of the Stele. The poetic verses are based on a translation, commissioned by Crowley, of some of the hieroglyphics inscribed on the aforesaid stele. The funeral stele of the priest and scribe Ankh-af-na-khonsu was created at some time during the 26th Dynasty of ancient Egypt.

Song of the Stele Fill or Kill? Stele of Revealing, Bulaq Museuem CairoThe evidence for the change to the Song of the Stele, which some seem to have taken as an imperative, owes to a pencilled note on a proof copy of a work by Crowley created at a later date.[1] The work in question was not a publication of the Book of the Law, known as Liber AL vel Legis, otherwise Liber CCXX. The Song of the Stele poem was not part of the transmission received in the Cairo Working, but was always intended to be inserted in the typescript, and this was duly done. No publication of the Book of the Law authorised by Crowley in his life included the change to one word, which is the subject of our enquiry.

The disciples of Aleister Crowley regard certain documents of his that were categorised (by him) as ‘Class A’ as ‘holy words of truth’ that must not be changed in one letter. Naturally, following out such a command from a person that died 70 years ago carries certain difficulties in execution. Nearly all publications, no matter what their category, inevitably contain some ‘typos’ or errata, whether the source was the writer’s own hand, the proofreaders, editors, typesetters and so forth. Needless to say, such difficulties would not arise unless some persons are regarded as sole authorities, or otherwise very important in the matter of how we should think and conduct and ourselves. It is not the purpose of this enquiry, though, to examine the whole question of authority in spiritual and magical matters, let alone of those who happen to work in an editorial capacity.

It is the destiny of the magi to follow the star. It is not the destiny of stars to follow a fool.

Song of the Stele vs Dogs of Reason

Our enquiry here has nothing to do with so-called historical evidence for the purpose of editorial correctness—a notion so absurd in itself as to be scarcely worth wasting our time. We do not need any of that to understand the import of either the Book of the Law, poems penned by Crowley, or ancient Egyptian sacred texts. What we will do here is look into the context and the meaning of the wording of the Song of the Stele. Our conclusions, nonetheless, will carry for some a grave warning. Whether they take notice of such a warning is, of course, entirely up to them. We do not wish to make a dogma of doctrine, and would prefer to leave that for the petty tyrants (i.e., unregenerate egos) of this world. The insistence on dogmatic adherence, as a matter of belief or blind faith, is termed in the (Egyptian) Book of the Law as the “word of Sin” that is “Restriction”.[2]

The Song of the Stele, though added to the Liber CCXX transcript by Aleister Crowley after the transmission of the book, is nonetheless a key component in the book’s import. The Stele of Revealing was the source of the activation of the transmission that took place in Cairo, 1904 e.v. The first draft that Crowley made for the Song of the Stele used the words “fill me”. There are some persons that now think this ought to be changed, especially in ritualised invocations, to “kill me”. Crowley’s joke, ‘die daily’, was based on the Latin word dies, ‘day’, which is traditionally used for a daily diary record entry. We can take that as accepted. As with anything from ancient Egypt, even if it is a poetised version of a translation, we need to look at the whole context if we are to understand any line, word or detail. The particular context of the Song of the Stele, in its practical application, is ritual magick. It is likewise with ancient Egyptian magick. For example, the ‘spells’ from what has come to be known as The Egyptian Book of the Dead, are the words of a ritual, they are not merely prose. In saying these verses that Crowley penned from a translation, the aspirant enters the magical scene that is depicted on the Stele of Revealing obverse side.

I am the Lord of Thebes, and I
The inspired forth-speaker of Mentu;
For me unveils the veilèd sky,
The self-slain Ankh-af-na-khonsu~
Whose words are truth. I invoke, I greet
Thy presence, O Ra-Hoor-Khuit!

The first words in the Song of the Stele are not the words of the priest: “I am the Lord of Thebes”. That is the god, Mentu, speaking to the priest. After that, the priest (or priestess) continues: “And I, the inspired forth-speaker of Mentu”. The priest or priestess begins a declaration of their magical identity. They are the oracular prophet of the god. This is why the priest assumes the magical name of Ankh-af-na-khonsu, ‘Living soul (body) of Khonsu (sky-rider, the moon)’. To be the oracle, to speak true words issued from a god or divine principle, we must reflect the radiating current, as the moon reflects the light of the sun. Furthermore, nothing originates with the human psyche (the error of modern psychology). The nature of the psyche is to reflect.[3]

We can summarise the last four lines of the first verse. The particular priest who made (or commissioned) this stele had the official duty of opening the doors to the roof of the temple at Thebes. At particular times of the year, such as the heliacal rising of Sirius, the image of a god (often a goddess such as Hathoor) was carried in a shrine up to the roof so the light of the star was reflected in the gemstones of the eyes or body of the figure. Of particular relevance to this discussion is the fourth line, “self-slain Ankh-af-na-khonsu”. He or she is self-slain, that is to say, they have killed that desire which is in them that would ultimately turn against their soul in the afterlife. Until the dual function of Set (the slayer of ego-identity) is properly understood, there is risk of annihilation of the soul through the dispersive forces of the underworld.

Unity uttermost showed!
I adore the might of Thy breath,
Supreme and terrible God,
Who makest the gods and death
To tremble before Thee:—
I, I adore thee!

The second verse is to invoke the god, Mentu, as first before all gods (which also is Set). This verse ends with the hieroglyphic gesture of ‘adoration’, which is the worshipping of a five-rayed star (figuratively).

Appear on the throne of Ra!
Open the ways of the Khu!
Lighten the ways of the Ka!
The ways of the Khabs run through
To stir me or still me!
Aum! let it fill me!

The third verse (above) is the main subject of our enquiry: Mentu (Set) is affirmed in his identity with Ra, the Sun, which is the source of all life to the earth. He opens the path for the spiritualised body, the Khu or Phoenix—the vehicle of the soul’s resurrection. In order to achieve this, the Ka, which includes earthly appetites and desires, must be relieved of the burden of yearning and regret for the earthly existence, now passed. Thus the Ka is ‘lightened’ of this burden or load. Another term would be ‘purified’. In the fourth line, the soul is irradiated by the emanations of the Khabs, the spiritual ‘star’. The star, like the human psyche, is also reflective. It is only through reflection that transmission or irradiation takes place. The emanations, called by the Egyptians ‘fragrance’ (incense of Nuit), simultaneously stir (evoke) in the soul the magical power required for the resurrection, and still (silence) the thoughts that would oppose this. “Aum” expresses the continuity of existence, and includes both ‘stirring’ (evocation) and ‘stilling’ (silence of yoga, with increased concentration tending towards samadhi).

Finally, “let it fill me!” That is to say, the soul, made empty through stillness and silence, is now filled with the necessary powers of resurrection evoked through power of the god or word. Such powers are not conferred by any god, priest or scribe; they are latent within the soul. The latency requires unlocking, by the words and spells, through the actions of magical ritual, and through reflection—as in the case of the technique called ‘Assumption of the Godform’.

We hope this might ‘still’ any further doubts (or ‘dogs of reason’) on the meaning and use of this verse. The ‘killing’ is expressed in ‘still me’. This is necessarily dualistic: the purpose of the stilling (or killing) is so the secret (or latent) resurrection powers of the soul are evoked, released, brought forth. Thus, “let it fill me” is absolutely necessary so this magick is worked correctly. The verses are not merely expressive of poetry, or a technical instruction or advice, they are the words of a magical operation. The words themselves are the function, the operative mode. It is all about word and symbol.

The light is mine; its rays consume
Me: I have made a secret door
Into the House of Ra and Tum,
Of Khephra and of Ahathoor.
I am thy Theban, O Mentu,
The prophet Ankh-af-na-khonsu!

By Bes-na-Maut my breast I beat;
By wise Ta-Nech I weave my spell.
Show thy star-splendour, O Nuit!
Bid me within thine House to dwell,
O wingèd snake of light Hadit!
Abide with me, Ra-Hoor-Khuit!

We cannot ignore the two verses of the Song of the Stele that follow in Liber AL, III: 38. “The light is mine; its rays consume me” is descriptive of the transformation in the soul that is actually taking place. There is an instruction given to aspirants that when we speak these words in the ritual we should wholly experience what is being described. If not, we have some way yet to go in learning this magical art. In the utterance, the person for whom this stele was made is already dead, quite literally, in the flesh. Furthermore so far as any magical working goes, the adept has already ‘died to their self’ (is self-slain) at the beginning of the opus. To reintroduce this past accomplishment at a critical stage of the operation, when the full powers of the soul are released for the purpose of a greater mystery, is ordinary stupidity. The first rule of magick is to know what we are doing and why we are doing it. According to Liber AL vel Legis, II: 76:

There cometh one to follow thee: he shall expound it. But remember, o chosen one, to be me; to follow the love of Nu in the star-lit heaven; to look forth upon men, to tell them this glad word.

It is the destiny of the magi to follow the star. It is not the destiny of stars to follow a fool. What if we should abandon the love of Nuit and choose instead to follow out the advice of fools and madmen? It is written, “wisdom giveth life to them that have it”.[4] The Greek word used in the scripture is zoe, ‘life’, not thanatos, ‘death’. Also, “There is death is for the dogs” (Liber AL, II: 45). That is to say, there is death for the dogs of reason. These mysteries cannot be apprehended by the ordinary human intellect alone.[5] For as we say:

Love is the law, love under will.


Notes

1. For the interest of those persons who may wish to examine all of the available ‘evidence’ in this curious matter—and the evidence is substantial, involving painstaking detail—there is an article posted here. That is, if anyone really wants to. We will only note here that matters of writing, editing and publishing correspond Qabalistically to the 17th path of Gemini. The Qliphoth, or evil inversion of the path, is traditionally termed, ‘The Changers’. Perhaps ironically, the entry for this in Crowley’s book of tables in his Liber 777 is given as ‘The Clangers’, which was an ordinary ‘typo’, never corrected.
2. Liber AL vel Legis, I: 41.
3. This is explained in ‘Lapis Philosophorum’, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs [Ordo Astri].
4. Ecclesiastes, 7: 12: “The excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.” In the Greek, the word used for ‘wisdom’ is sophias (σοφιας); the word used for ‘life’ is zoe (ξοη).
5. Love is a law of relationship. It cannot therefore be followed out, practiced or understood in isolation.

© Oliver St. John 2018

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