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? There has been some consternation over an editorial ‘correction’ issued by the O.T.O. on the work of Aleister Crowley, specifically, the Song of the Stele. The evidence for the change, 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]

Song of the Stele Fill or Kill? Stele of Revealing, Bulaq Museuem CairoThe work in question was not a publication of the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, known as Liber AL vel Legis, otherwise Liber CCXX.[2] 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’ to be ‘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 ourselves.

It is not our intention here to examine the question of authority in spiritual and magical matters, though, let alone of those who happen to work in an editorial capacity. Neither are we concerned with so-called historical evidence for the purpose of editorial correctness—a notion so absurd in itself as to be scarcely worth wasting time over. None of that is required to understand the import of either the Book of the Law, poems penned by Crowley, or ancient Egyptian sacred texts.

Song of the Stele vs Dogs of Reason

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 first draft that Crowley made used the words, “Aum! let it fill me”, in the last line of the third verse. There are some who 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 context of the Song of the Stele, in its practical application, is ritual magick. It is likewise with ancient Egyptian sacred texts. 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 depicted on the obverse side of the Stele.

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 are not the words of the priest: “I am the Lord of Thebes”. That is Mentu, the god that is speaking. After that, the priest or priestess continues, “And I, the inspired forth-speaker of Mentu”. The theurgist begins a declaration of their magical identity, as 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. The nature of the psyche is to reflect.

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”. We declare that we are self-slain, that is to say, we have killed that desire which is in us that would ultimately turn against our 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 this 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’ or evocation and ‘stilling’, which is the 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 filledwith 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’. The original term used is necessarily dualistic, for the purpose of the stilling 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. We cannot ignore the two verses that follow in Liber AL, III: 38.

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!

“The light is mine; its rays consume me” is descriptive of the transformation in the soul that is actually taking place. 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 declared that they have ‘died to their self’ (is self-slain) at the beginning of the opus. To reintroduce this past accomplishment at a critical stage, when the full powers of the soul are released for the purpose of a greater mystery, is to thwart the operation. 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.

Insistence on dogmatic adherence as a matter of belief or blind faith is termed in the Book of the Law as the “word of Sin” that is “Restriction”.[3] 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 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” (AL, II: 45), which is to say, there is death for the dogs of reason. The mysteries will not be apprehended by the 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. 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. The holograph manuscript copy itself is titled ‘L’, XXX, on the cover. Crowley referred to typescripts of the book as Liber CCXX, as there are 220  verses. To add to the confusion, he later changed the title to ‘AL’, XXXI.
3. Liber AL vel Legis, I: 41.
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
This essay is part of the collection, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs.

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The Word Thelema

Qabalistic Examination of Thelema, the Word of the Law

0. The Word of the Law is revealed in Liber AL vel Legis, I: 39–40:

The word of the Law is Θελημα. Who calls us Thelemites will do no wrong, if he look but close into the word. For there are therein Three Grades, the Hermit, and the Lover, and the man of Earth. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The fulfilment of the spiritual and magical Law of Thelema is declared in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, I: 57:

Invoke me under my stars! Love is the law, love under will.

1. The Greek word Thelema, ‘Will’, has the Qabalistic value of 93, equal to Agape, which is spiritual or impersonal love. The word is frequently translated in scripture as ‘charity’, in the archaic not the modern sense of the word. Will (Thelema) and Love (Agape) are synonymous and so perfectly equal, one with the other. As the will of Thelema is not wish or want, so the love of Agape is not desire for human bonding.

2. We are instructed to “look but close into the word” Thelema, for it secretes the whole path of magical Initiation. The Greek word theletes means, ‘one who wills; a wizard’—a magical practitioner. The root of the word is thelu, which means, ‘female’. The word of the Law was transmitted in I: 39 of the Book by the ancient Egyptian cosmic Shakti, the Star Goddess Nuit, and yet the Thelemic True Will is often confused with the solar-masculine will of reason. The magical consciousness current is not concerned with the need of the human ego to make choices or decisions, to determine this or that. Thelema should not be confused with philosophical determinism—though it frequently is.

3. The first two letters ΘΕ are the root of Thea, the Goddess or divine creatrix, and Theos, God or deity. Thea also has the meaning of ‘a view’, the window of vision and creative imagining that is symbolised in the Tarot trump The Star XVII. The first two letters then refer to the grade of the Hermit or devotee that follows Nuit through the starry heavens.

4. The second two letters ΛΗ  form the root of lema, will, and also strength or courage. ‘Do what thou wilt’ is not ‘do whatever you want’; it is to follow the course of the True Will as a star in the body of Nuit. This is a discipline that requires special courage, strength and determination. ΛΗ is also the root of Leda; in the Greek myth Zeus begat Castor and Pollux upon Leda, the polar twins of the zodiacal sign of Gemini and Tarot Atu VI The Lovers. ΛΗ thus signifies the grade of the Lover.

5. The last two letters ΜΑ are the root of magia or magick, maia, the mother of illusion, and iama, remedy. To transcend the illusions of the Terrestrial Plane, the Man of Earth must practice and learn the magick arts. The motivation to start a Great Work stems from a realisation that something is not right in the world. It is the plight of the fisher-king in the Graal mysteries that is ‘wounded in the thigh’. The thigh is a common euphamism for the sexual and generative organs, associated with Scorpio—the crux of the whole matter of life and death. The wounded king sends his knights—his desire and imagination—out on the quest for the holy Graal. When the king is ailing, so is the whole land; the king is a symbol of the human ego in Tiphereth while the land (mother earth) is Malkuth the Kingdom, ‘As above, so below’.

6. ΜΑ has the value of 41 and so is Qabalistically equal to latha, ‘forgetfulness’. The awakening of the Man of Earth, if it comes, is tenuous; how easy it is for him or her to fall back into the sleep of forgetfulness symbolised by the ancient Greeks as the waters of Lethe in Hades (hell or the underworld). Hades is hidden among the roots of the Tree in Malkuth. The Lover that has attained the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel has remembered, and has the task of constantly renewing this remembrance by making every act an Act of Will. Lethe is a reminder that even the Lover can succumb once more to the sleep of forgetfulness.

7. The outer level of teaching for the grade of the Man of Earth is the Law, scripture or precepts governing conduct.

8. The second or inner level of teaching for the grade of the Lover is the ability to interpret symbol and allegory in various ways that lead to deeper knowledge, for example, the use of Qabalah.

9. The third or innermost level of teaching for the grade of Hermit is the radiance of pure knowledge that is obtained when each symbol is followed back to its source with the infinite.

10. Thelema is the Tele-Ma, the talisman, telesmata or stellar transmission of the Mother Mu or Maat. It is revealed and concealed in Liber AL (or L = 30) vel Legis, the Book of the Law of Maat. The Word of the Law is Thelema.


Notes

© Oliver St. John 2016, 2017

Word of the Law: Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth Volume OneUpdate: The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth Volume One was published at the winter solstice (Capricorn), Anno V-2.

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