Eight Limbs of Yoga (Patanjali)

The Eight Limbs of Yoga is widely known and used in various ways and by diverse schools, some traditional and some even anti-traditional or anti-spiritual. The eight precepts consisting of abstentions, observances and yoga practice are concerned with the practices and requirements for any person that aspires to the yoga of knowledge. The Eight Limbs of Yoga forms a small portion of the whole body of works that make up the Yoga-Sutras. It is frequently made subject to erroneous interpretations and is used in ways that dilute and denature the intended meaning and use. We will therefore provide here a non-sectarian commentary based on the ancient texts and doctrine, without any ‘social’ or humanist distortions.

Vishvavajra or double vajra yoga powerThe yoga of Patanjali, based on the Shankhya cosmology, is by now the central hub of our methodology, a hub capable of analogous transposition with the true spiritual centre of the world even at a time when humanity is losing touch with the very essence to which it owes its existence. The Yoga-Sutras attributed to Patanjali express a timeless wisdom. Patanjali is a family name and does not indicate an individual author. The science of yoga already existed for thousands of years before the Patanjali school wrote down the Aphorisms. At that time, thought to be around two thousand years ago, our world was passing through considerable changes. According to tradition, humanity then entered the final phase of the Kali Yuga or Age of Darkness. There was a pressing need to write down knowledge that was once passed on orally to preserve it for posterity. As in the present times we now reach the end of the final phase of Kali Yuga, the Great Work of initiation and spiritual realisation requires a restoration of the traditional means of knowledge so that the seeds of the entire Manvantara or Cosmic Cycle can be carried through to the next and initiation, for those souls that still carry the possibility latent within them, is still possible.

Eight Limbs of Yoga

The yamas, though they are called ‘abstentions’, are practices in effect and when properly understood they are simply an expression of the truth of any individual being. The niyamas, called ‘observances’, are similarly what is ‘seen’, as an outward attitude to the beginner, while knowledge of these reveals them as the simplest, most natural state of the being.

1. Yamas: harmlessness; truthfulness; non-stealing; continence; non-covetousness
2. Niyamas: cleanliness; contentment; fiery aspiration; self-study; self-surrender (to the path, which is God)
3. Asana (seated posture)
4. Pranayama (control of breath)
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses)
6. Dharana (concentration, fixation)
7. Dhyana (true meditation with sustained concentration)
8. Samadhi (union with God—the goal, which is yoga)

The first two yamas and niyamas are commonly referred to, even by so-called experts, as moral requirements, and sometimes even as social ethics. However, although that is certainly how they appear to the uninitiated, they are really nothing of the kind. These are practical requirements so that the goal of yoga is achievable and as such they have no relation with society or any morality; all morality is arbitrary by definition. The timeless wisdom does not change with the expedient requirements of any social order.

The ancient commentaries of sages on the Yoga-Sutras are emphatic that ‘harmlessness’ is not to be interpreted as Jainists and others do. Jainists must walk very carefully lest they step on an ant and if they find a flea in their bed they might have to move to another bed. The sages insist that one must not harbour thoughts that involve harm to another being. Obviously that also includes deeds but extreme interpretations are heterodox and do not accord with the primordial and universal tradition.

Truthfulness can be taken as far as the level of understanding goes. With greater knowledge, greater exactitude is required. One must not speak falsehood merely because it will please someone.

Non-stealing includes not stealing the thoughts or words of other persons, and this is subtler than it appears because there can be thoughts of a ‘collectivity’, such as popular opinion, what one might read in a newspaper or some form of social media—if one would read such things, which would then contradict ‘truthfulness’. Stealing also includes thoughts of envy, resentment of others. One should not claim gifts or favours from others and even when they are freely offered one should not always accept something; for example if it is given by a person with an unclean or evil mind.

Continence is sometimes construed as sexual abstinence, which is sufficient for many persons. A more complete understanding involves the conservation of all energy for the Great Work. This includes speech, such as idle chatter, and thought.

Non-covetousness is self-explanatory once it is realised what misery and suffering is caused by attachment to objects of desire. To desire or yearn for objects that belong to someone else is also a subtle form of stealing.

Of the niyamas, cleanliness includes purity of mind, so that all thoughts that are harmful to the path are eliminated. Most especially, even if evil thoughts enter the mind, they must not be retained so they become afflictions.

Contentment is acceptance of the path, and the level of attainment. From discontentment is bred the untruth of imagining that one is much further along than one really is. That is an impediment to yoga. With contentment comes tranquility, which is necessary if the yoga practice is to advance beyond the veriest beginning.

The fiery aspiration brings forth virya, a special kind of faith, strength and endurance that is built up through continuance of right practice. Nothing can be achieved without fiery aspiration.

Self-study means constant vigilance and discrimination—which is an exact science. It also means developing a reflective attitude of mind. It must not be construed ‘psychologically’, which involves development of a mentality that is totally anti-yogic as it encourages tamas and tends towards the asuras or demonic nature.

Self-surrender to God (and so the path itself) cannot be done without faith (saradha) and as a consequence the virya that comes about through the practice of yoga and discrimination. The profane or uninitiated person does not comprehend this at all and imagines it to be a sort of passivity that he can only see as ‘negative’. Self-negation on the other hand does not require mortification, as that is in fact only an inverse form of conceit or flattery. The self, through the senses and mental impressions, is a superimposition upon the Real or True Self. Any sacrifice is only what appears from the point of view of ignorance. From the point of view of the Self, freedom is gained from the misery and suffering of countless afflictions.

The last six limbs of yoga are the practice itself, commencing with seated asana or posture, which does not involve, as some like to think, difficult or even impossible or unnatural contortions of the body.

Likewise with control of the breath, which when properly understood is the direction of prana or subtle vitality.

The withdrawal of the senses here refers to the physical senses of hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting and smelling, for at the beginning it is valid to concentrate the mind on the subtle (tattva) elements. When seated for meditation one closes the eyes so the sight is transferred within.

Concentration means to hold one object in the mind and no other. When this is sustained, then dhyana or true meditation is possible, and knowledge can be gained of any object.

Samadhi or union with God, sometimes called ‘transcendence’, is the goal of yoga. The word ‘yoga’ is inclusive of both the means and the goal.


This article, The Eight Limbs of Yoga, is from our book, Thunder Perfect Gnosis.

© Oliver St. John 2023

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Libra: Egyptian Tarot Maat VIII

The Egyptian Tarot trump for the twenty-second path of Libra is Maat VIII. Venus, the Glittering Splendour, is the ruler of the sign and Saturn is exalted therein.

Libra Equinox: Egyptian Tarot of Thelema Maat VIIIMaat is here depicted as a young woman clothed in green and blue, the colours of the key scale of the twenty-second path. She has little in the way of ornamentation and is crowned with the flowering reed, which declares ‘Truth’, her name. She bears the ankh of life and lotus sceptre. She stands between the two pillars of dual manifestation, or Form and Force. In ritual magick these are also called Knowledge and Wisdom. They are shown here as silver and gold, indicative of the Moon and Sun as the governance of spirit acting upon the Zodiac through the four classical elements of nature. Lotuses surmount the tetrahedronal caps of the pillars to show that all life pours forth from the power of dual manifestation.

The hieroglyphic name of Maat is shown at the top of the Tarot picture. The first letter is the sickle ma’a, ‘truth’. The two trumps for Leo and Libra are counterchanged on the Tree, as are the trumps for Aries and Aquarius. The straight edge hieroglyph confirms that Maat is the ‘Straight One’. The phonetic ‘t’ and goddess determinative complete the name.

The Neteru, which we call ‘gods’, are the personification of impersonal principles. Maat is the embodiment of truth and justice, natural law, balance or equilibrium. Hence Justice is the traditional title of the 8th Tarot Atu, while Daughter of the Lords of Truth: Ruler of the Balance is the esoteric title. Maat is the goddess of the scales of the balance. She is the mistress of creation and destruction and the balance of light and darkness. She is the regulator of the stars and the seasons, the ‘times’. She is immutable cosmic law and the law of nature. Thus Saturn is the (Shakti) power behind Venus, the principle of love or union.

The Rituals of Maat

The Sun enters Libra at the autumnal equinox and balance of the year, when days and nights are equal in length. It is the gate of winter. In the southern hemisphere of the globe this is reversed and the vernal equinox heralds the gate of summer. At the ceremony of the equinox, the officers sound four threefold knocks, twelve in all, as they declare in turn,

Black and White!
Day and Night!
North and South!
East and West!
The Equinox of the Gods is here![1]

All ritual magick comes under the auspices of Maat. Everything in a temple must be balanced and harmonious. Likewise, the mind itself is set straight, purified by study, the essential discipline of the path of knowledge. In Maat all things are made equal and harmonious. According to a papyrus dating from the Middle Kingdom, she declares,

I have given bread to the hungry and clothed the naked.
I was a husband to the widow and father to the orphan.[2]

Everything concerned with Maat is double and so it is with all of nature. There is no ‘one-alone’ in truth. The power of Egyptian magical spells is in the words. To know they are true, and to speak them truly, is the perfection of Maat. As the daughter of Ra, Maat makes order from chaos by overcoming her counterpart Isfet, literally ‘unbalance’. She thus makes it possible for Ra to come forth from the primordial mound. Maat presides over the Hall of Neophytes or Hall of Dual Manifestation. In the ritual of the initiation of a Neophyte it is declared of the pillars,

Knowledge and Wisdom, their two-fold Might,
Rolling asunder Darkness and Night.[3]

Maat is the absolute rule of cosmic law, as was clearly set forth in the Pyramid Texts dated to more than 4000 years ago.[4] At a later time, all goddesses were paired with male gods. Maat is most often paired with Tahuti, known by the Greeks as Hermes-Thoth and to the Romans as Mercury. Notably, the twenty-second path of Libra on the Tree of Life mirrors the twentieth path of Virgo ruled by Mercury. The addition of the paths gives 42, the number of the Assessors in the Hall of Maat. Tahuti himself is frequently described as the ‘One who reveals Maat’ or the ‘One who loves Maat’. To love Maat, to perform true actions and to speak true words, is to receive Maat. A word must be heard ere it can be uttered.

The Oracle of Maat

Behold! I am the Eye of my father, Ra. I am the one in whom the word is accomplished. I am the Bride of Tahuti and the Measure of the Universe. I am truth, and the feather is my symbol. To pass my door, you must justify every part of your soul, and you must visit the beautiful fields of the grasshoppers. You shall bathe in the pool where the Sailors of Ra in his sun-boat bathe. Purify yourself in my name, and come before me as Horus Triumphant. For I stand upon one side of Ra in the ark of the heavens and Tahuti stands upon the other. And unless you have found the flint that is hidden in my furrow, then you shall not pass my gates. But if you know all these things, and if you have found me that dwells in the heart of Ra, and if you are pure—then Tahuti shall call your name! And you shall be known in the palace of the starry ones, and shall live forever and forever.[5]

The ancient Egyptians loved puns, the play on words. In the Oracle, Maat says, “If you have found me that dwells in the heart of Ra, and if you are pure—then Tahuti shall call your name”. One of the epithets of Maat is ‘The Me’, the Measure of all things. The heart is the place of the measure, the ‘me’ that is Maat. Another epithet of Maat is ‘Pure One’. The role of Maat at the Weighing of the Heart ceremony is a key one, as is her role in initiation. In the underworld, the hearts of the dead are weighed against her single Feather in the Hall of Double Truth. The crocodile goddess Ammit devours an evil heart and the soul cannot leave the underworld.

The Twenty-second Path of Maat

The twenty-second path of the Tree of Life connects Geburah, the sphere of Mars, with Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun. The path is called the Faithful Intelligence, and it is said that this path increases the spiritual powers. Furthermore, it is said, “all dwellers on earth are under its shadow”.[6] The path conveys the spiritual strength and power to realise every thought, word and deed as the expression of the light of God (or Atma). This requires the practice of discrimination essential to yoga.

The practitioner must not confuse the personal will, prone as it is to conditions and modifications, with the True Will, which is perfectly free from all conditions since it is the unseen cause of all conditions.

The magical powers of the twenty-second path are Works of Justice and Equilibrium. The yoga practitioner must maintain constant vigil. The stilling of thought (dharana) is essential before true meditation (dhyana) can be achieved, let alone Samadhi.


1. From ‘Ritual for Sun entering Libra’, Ritual Magick—Initition of the Star and Snake [Ordo Astri].
2. James P. Allen, p. 116, Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs.
3. From ‘Liber 930’, The Phoenix and other Stellar Rites of Initiation [Ordo Astri].
4. The Pyramid Texts of Unas are currently dated to around 2375–2345. Their source is thought to be far more ancient even than that.
5. From Ritual Magick [ibid].
6. Sepher Yetzirah. For commentaries on these ancient texts on the thirty-two paths, see Thirty-two paths of Wisdom [Ordo Astri books].

Adapted from the book, Egyptian Tarot of Thelema.
© Oliver St. John 2020 (revised 2023)

The 12 zodiacal trumps of the Egyptian Tarot of Thelema can be viewed here. Preview and purchase the Tarot here. More information on our ‘Books’ page may be found here.

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