Obeah and Wanga: Service to the Great Work

Service given to the Great Work is a vital spiritual obligation. It is vital because giving and receiving are one and the same act. Therefore service has practical import to the art of magick. It is not merely a ‘moral’ requirement.

Service to the Great Work: Pilgrim's Progress, H. Melville, W. Floyd (engraver)

According to the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, Liber AL, I: 37,

Also the mantras and spells; the obeah and the wanga; the work of the wand and the work of the sword; these he shall learn and teach.

The seeking out of esoteric knowledge should firstly involve the question, ‘How can I serve?’ Even Aleister Crowley, frequently cast in the mould of black magician—a role that he evidently delighted in playing—was unequivocal regarding the supreme importance of service freely given. One must be prepared to give all that one is and all that one has to the Great Work.

A spiritual vocation is ‘a calling’, not a personal choice to make. If we take undigested portions from various disciplines and then stick together the bits that we like, leaving out the bits we disapprove of or that cause discomfort, then what we end up with is not a magical or spiritual path but a patchwork puppet that will dance to our tune.[1]

Tyros nonetheless regard a magical Order as a brand product like any other. The quest or inner searching that supposedly precedes application to a mystery school is reduced to trivial nonsense: ‘Does it match my personal preferences, my self-image? Will it enhance my profile? What can they do for me?’ They vainly consider whether the Order is suitable for them, not the other way round as it should be and is, in reality. Perhaps a sales manager can help with such a difficult choice?

Madam, perhaps you would care to look at our range of colours in this style? We have a delicious shade of violet that would perfectly match your highlights. Dislike Qabalah? I am sure we could find another game that will take your fancy. We have a range of mystic methods from diverse global sources. Let us see what we have on our shelves, we will surely find something to please you…

The majority of magical shoppers plan to give nothing in return apart from their complaints when the immortal stone of the wise has not dropped into their lap within the first month—we can rest assured that no work will have been done. In magick we get precisely what we are prepared to give.

Service to the Great Work

Eckhartshousen’s Cloud on the Sanctuary is the Rosicrucian template for a magical Order, used by Crowley and many others since—though most have sought to avoid its rigorous obligations. Few now have even heard of it, yet should they happen to read it, they would probably think it has nothing to do with them. Likewise, there are those who think that John Bunyon’s classic of English literature, Pilgrim’s Progress, is only relevant for pious Sunday School pupils. It does in fact apply to any spiritual path in any tradition.

Members of the O∴ A∴ Collegium are expected to manage their own contributions to the Order. Usually they make regular or occasional donations, as according to their means. Ideally, each practitioner also adds to the store of knowledge. A Neophyte is literally a ‘new flower’ (neo photon). The honeybee is the cognate symbol, for that miraculous creature gathers the raw material from flowers, cross-pollinating along the way. The hive, with its hexagonal cells, is the emblem of the primal Matrix. Flowers open to the sun, for which the relevant Qabalistic path is the 30th, called The Gathering Intelligence. The six-fold opened cube of the universe, Tiphereth, is naturally the flower of the Golden Dawn of any functional magical Order. As knowledge is freely given out, so individual aspirants give freely to the Order that sustains them spiritually.

Books Required for Probationer Study*

The Enterer of the Threshold
Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs
The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth
The Phoenix and other Stellar Rites of Initiation

* The first two books on the list are required reading for our Students. The second two books are required for a Probationership.


© Oliver St. John 2017, 2019

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Maat: Daughter of the Lords of Truth

The Daughter of the Lords of Truth is the esoteric title of the Tarot trump Justice VIII. The Tarot and path correspondences of the Tree of Life are ingenious. There is a special relation between Leo and Libra-Maat. Leo and Libra revolve about Virgo, while Aquarius and Aries revolve about Pisces.

Sekhet and Maat: Leo and LibraThe 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 Golden Dawn Isis-Urania founder member, Wynn Westcott,

“VIII Justice [corresponds to] Lamed and Libra, and Strength [to] Teth and Leo—which causeth a transposition for these are cognate symbols. But at one time the sword of Justice was the Egyptian knife symbol of the sickle of Leo whilst the Scales meant the Sun having quitted the balance point of highest declination. So the female and the lion gave the idea of Venus, Lady of Libra repressing the Fire of Vulcan (Saturn in Libra) exalted. But earliest was the lion goddess to Leo and Ma to Libra with her scales, and this is better. Also Libra was given to Horus at one time.”[1]

The Golden Dawn changed the order of trumps to fit on the Tree of Life. La Force or Fortitude was usually numbered 11 and Justice 8. MacGregor Mathers and Westcott elected to swap the numbers round so the order of paths and letters and signs is the same as the order of trumps. Leo then corresponds with teth the serpent, the letter of path 19, and Libra to lamed and path 22. What Westcott was driving at in his lecture was the interchangeable relation between the Lion (ma’a) and the Woman with the Sword (ma’at). This is comparable with mutual reception in astrology, where the attributes are held in common through ‘dignity’. If we place the Scales of Maat on the Tree of Life then inevitably the beam will fall across the 19th path. Maat has a natural affinity with Gedulah, and Sekhet with Geburah: THE LION OF TRUTH. Furthermore, the esoteric title of the Lion of the 19th path is Daughter of the Flaming Sword.

The next step in the perfection of the Tarot came a few years later in Cairo, 1904, when Aiwass, conveying the oracle of Nuit (Liber AL, I: 57), tells Aleister and Rose Crowley that,

All these old letters of my Book are aright; but Tzaddi is not the Star.

This greatly perplexed Aleister Crowley. It took him years to work out that the idea is to counterchange the positions of the Star and the Emperor. Presumably he got to this by meditating on the earlier counterchange of Justice and Fortitude by Mathers and Westcott. He next found that we can show the perfection of the arrangement with the diagram, ‘Double Loop of the Zodiac’.[2] He thought to revert the numbering of the Tarot to that which it had always been, Justice VIII and Fortitude XI. Otherwise he would have needed to number the Star as IV and the Emperor as XVII, which disrupts the integrity of the Tarot sequence. So the numbers of the Tarot, the ‘Book T’, are unchanged; only the locations of the two cards change on the paths.[3]

Maat and the Lion of Truth: Double Loop of the ZodiacIt happens, though Crowley never mentioned it, that this method of placement reconciles the Tropical Zodiac with the Sidereal Zodiac. By Alexandrian astrology, Aries is the sign of the spring equinox and Libra that of the autumn equinox.[4] This is so natural and right that it cannot be argued against sensibly. In the present precessional epoch, by Sidereal reckoning, the Sun aligns with Aquarius on 21st March, and with Leo on 21st September. So there, with our Tarot and Tree of Life schema, we have the perfect reconciliation—and the magical images, the Woman and Beast both in time and outside of time.

The original title given to the Cairo transmission, the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, was Liber L. By Qabalistic values, the letter ‘L’ corresponds to Libra and the Scales of Maat, ‘truth’, having the value of 30. The letter lamed is derived from the Egyptian ‘sickle’ or ‘scythe’.[5] It is literally ‘the Measure’ of Maat. The sickle hieroglyph means ‘truth, justified, true vision, true-speaking and true-seer’.[6] It also spells LION. Mau or Sekhmet 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 Book of the Law, which is the Book of L, might be better named, the Book of the Seer (Soror Ouarda, Rose Edith Kelly).

Sickle Maat Leo and Libra

Venus rules Libra, Saturn is exalted therein. The path of the Lion connects Jupiter (Maat) and Mars (Sekhet). Sekhet and Maat, Fortitude and Justice, are cognate symbols. 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. Lamed is the sickle of Saturn and Sekhet, and as we know, this means both ‘true-speaker’ and ‘true-seer’. To speak truth and to see the truth through the eye of beholding are one and the same. The sickle has a dual function. Firstly, it is needed to clear the field for ploughing the furrow in which we seek the flint or jewel of Maat. It is the Opener of the Ways. Secondly it is needed to reap the harvest, which is analogous with the emergence or ‘second birth’ of a justified soul.

Scales of Libra-Maat: Knowledge and Power

The twin pillars of Maat are sometimes named, ‘Knowledge and Power’.[7] It is also quite common to hear it said that ‘knowledge is power’, and that the whole purpose of the magical arts is to gain knowledge and thereby increase power. This rests on the assumption that power is something that 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 the 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. The exoteric concept of power then owes to causal determinism, where one thing or event is caused by another that preceded it, and 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 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. Rational thought stops short, reaching its ring-pass-not at causal determinism.

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. Warfare, the inevitable consequence of financial greed and lust for power, may depend on the weather, as evidenced by the 1588 defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Blind forces move modern economic systems, 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 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.


1. Westcott, ‘Tarot Lecture, Part 4’, The Complete Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscripts, Translated and Edited by Darcy Küntz [Holmes Publishing Group, Washington, 1996]. The transcript is in note form and we have taken the liberty here of inserting parantheses and punctuation marks to clarify the meaning.
2. See Crowley, The Book of Thoth pp. 9–10, ‘The Double Loop in the Zodiac’.

© Oliver St John 2018
This essay appears in the collection, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs.
The dual Sekhet-Maat illustration is from The Egyptian Tarot of Thelema, created and drawn by Oliver St. John. Sickle-Maat-Lion hieroglyph and ‘Double Loop of the Zodiac’ drawn by Oliver St. John.

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Why is the Pentagram upside-down?

The pentagram is a key part of the geometric extensions that are used in rituals. Anyone considering taking up practical work should have fulfilled the first two limbs of yoga, Abstentions and Observances, as set down by Patanjali.[1] Practical work is the third limb of yoga, not the first.

Averse PentagramIn broad terms, it is necessary for every Student to gain an intellectual understanding of the work. This involves getting a wide range of reading in the esoteric field. If the person wishes to take up a course with us, then we naturally expect them to make an in-depth study of our works. In ritual, the purifications come first, then the consecration. One must be prepared to spend long hours completely alone, reading, studying and thinking, away from all distractions. That is the greater part of purification. Only then is the person in any way prepared for the practical work. Theurgy requires utmost consecration, or dedication: the reserving of all energies for the special purpose.

To perform ritual we must at all times know what we are doing and why we are doing it. The magician must be prepared to study a little of astronomy, or at least, the geocentric framework that astrology is based on. The hermetic practitioner will want to know a great deal about the Qabalah, for that is the basis of ritual and ceremonial magick. Occult Science includes astrology, hermetic philosophy, religion, mysticism, meditation, ritual and divination. The aspirant is not required to speak fluently in classical Greek, or to know how to form Latin verbs. They will need to learn something of how these languages work. They will write the characters of the Greek and Hebrew alphabets and commit their numerical value to memory. Before all else they will begin by studying the diagram called the Tree of Life and the philosophical basis of the Hermetic Qabalah.[2]

The Pentagram: Averse and Aright

The question of the so-called averse pentagram has been frequently asked. It is all down to the mechanics of ritual, and has been explained in the Introduction to Ritual Magick—Initiation of the Star and Snake.[3] One must understand the cosmological basis of rituals.

Elevenfold Star of Initiation

Ten is the number of Malkuth and of  the sephiroth of the Tree of Life. The point in the centre is the seed of eleven, the number of magick and of change. In this symbol, all dualities are resolved.

It is not a question of geometry; it is a question of perspective. Imagine we were to enter a room, square in shape. Upon the floor is painted or tiled a large circle, and within that is a pentagram star with the five points touching the edges of the circle. One of the points of the pentagram is pointing at our feet. Which way up is the pentagram? Then imagine that we walk straight across the room to the other side and turn around, facing the door by which we entered. Look at the pentagram again. Which way up is it now, do we think? Has the pentagram changed, or is it our relative position that has changed?

There is another important consideration. Do we think it is possible for a geometric form to possess moral qualities, objectively speaking? If we think the answer is ‘yes’, then it is better if we steer well clear of occult practices. Such a person will get into one hell of a mess, and very quickly. The Devil never needs to be evoked by the incantations and gestures of any magician, as Goethe portrayed in his version of Faust. The Devil is at all times present—and more than willing to enter into a bargain.

The rites and ceremonies of the historical Golden Dawn were solar, and terrestrially based. The ritual circle was defined by the ‘four winds’, so that East represents Air, West represents Water, North represents Earth, and South represents Fire. However, the rites and ceremonies of the O∴ A∴ are stellar. Our ritual circle is zodiacal. We place Aquarius (Air) in the North, Leo (Fire) in the South, Taurus (Earth) in the East, and Scorpio (Water) in the West. The magician ‘standing on the sun’ is the simplest way of explaining the cosmic configuration of our ritual circle and pentagrams. From the solar perspective, the ‘averse’ pentagrams made on earth are ‘aright’. One may regard the Tarot trump, The Hanged Man XII: it is the magician, in fact, that is upside down. In the Thoth Tarot trump, the shape of the arms and crossed legs of the adept forms the symbol of the Golden Dawn Cross and Triangle. Yet the same attitude is simultaneously that of Typhon Inversus.

In many traditional systems the magician paces out the circle deosil, following the course of the sun as it appears from the earth. In our system the magician orbits the solar centre of the circle widdershins. The terrestrial point of view of the magician is raised to that of the sun in the midst of the solar system—the pentagrams of the zodiac and four elements are therefore turned upside down. We orient the Temple to the North, the place of the immortal or imperishable constellations. In the historical Golden Dawn, the North was regarded as the place of greatest darkness. The North is in fact the place of greatest power, and is a gateway for that power to enter into the ritual sphere of operation. Far from emphasising material or ‘evil’ forces, the North Star is the key to effective theurgic operations.

Attributions of the Pentagram

The symbolism of our reversed pentagram is identical to the symbolism of the pentagram that originated with the Golden Dawn. They in turn took the idea from Eliphas Levi, Transcendental Magic. That is to say, each point is attributed to Spirit, Air, Fire, Water and Earth respectively.

Elemental Attributions of the Pentagram

It was Eliphas Levi that first introduced the idea that the pentagram with point downwards was a symbol of the ‘Sabbatic Goat’, or ‘Baphomet’.[4] It is from there that some members of the Golden Dawn began to view the downwards-pointing star as something to be feared. Before Eliphas Levi published his formulation of the pentagram (1856), there was no particular rule about which way up a pentagram might be. Levi was a very subtle magician—infinitely more so than many who presume to know better.

Dual Pentagram StarEvery pentagram contains its reverse. In that sense, there is no such thing as an upright or averse pentagram, as all contain the inverse mirror. The pentagon symbolises whirling or spiralic force. The pentagram contains that force.

The pentagram also expresses the phi ratio (φ), the Golden Mean. The Greek letter phi sums up the mathematical and geometrical formula of the pentagram. The ratio between the shorter lines of the pentagram to the longer parts is called the Golden Proportion. From this is derived the Golden Mean. It is built into the architecture of mystery temples, churches and the pyramids of Egypt.

The Pentagram: Golden Mean Spiral of Phi Ratio

1 + √52 ≈ 1.61803399 (or φ)

When the phi ratio is expressed as a spiral, it can clearly be seen that the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for the throne or seat of a god, the iset, was drawn to express the perfectly irrational proportions of the Golden Mean.

The Holy Guardian Angel

For us, the averse pentagram, with the point of Spirit below the other four elemental points, is the descending grace of the Holy Guardian Angel. We can achieve nothing entirely alone. Love is the law, love under will. There are two currents, the descending lightning and the ascending serpent. The serpent is awakened through the descending stream. It is the polar attraction between Kether and Malkuth that works the miracle.

The Wars in Heaven

When a person is so heroic as to want to join us in the Great Work, we take it for granted they will want to inspect the armorum. They will want to know and understand how everything works. There are no directions in space other than those we posit by arbitrary appointments. Geometric forms do not possess moral qualities. However, life is packed to the brim with good and evil to the extent that all virtues contain latent evil, and all vices contain latent good. The world is now in universal agreement that smoking tobacco is harmful to the physical being. It took an Oscar Wilde to point out how even such an evil thing must, by the immutable law of nature, also contain something of the good in it. Thus he declared, through a character in the play, Lady Windermere’s Fan, that smoking has a thoroughly demoralising affect.

Baphomet as drawn by Eliphas Levi: Hermetic Light

Baphomet as drawn by by Eliphas Levi

The last word should be left to Eliphas Levi, who perhaps inadvertently started the uproar of moral indignation over geometric forms—something that Euclid and his ancient Egyptian tutors would no doubt have found quite bewildering. Levi’s attribution of the ‘Baphomet of Mendes’ was not a correct one, and probably owes to confusion between the ram-headed god of Mendes and the unidentifiable chimera of Khem.[5] However, Levi was never one to be dogmatic over attributions, much to the horror of scholastic pedants. Of the equation between the reversed pentagram and the ‘Sabbatic Goat’ or ‘Baphomet of Mendes’:

A pantheistic and magical figure of the Absolute … The goat’s head, which is synthetic, and unites some characteristics of the dog, bull and ass, represents the exclusive responsibility of matter and the expiation of bodily sins in the body. The hands are human, to exhibit the sanctity of labour; they make the sign of esotericism above and below, to impress mystery on initiates, and they point at two lunar crescents, the upper being white and the lower black, to explain the correspondences of good and evil, mercy and justice. The lower part of the body is veiled, portraying the mysteries of universal generation, which is expressed solely by the symbol of the caduceus.

Honi soit qui mal y pense. Lords, ladies, gentlemen and fellow asses! The road is clear for those who wish to travel. Now we can all get on with some real work.


1. Our comment, Yoga and the Dweller on the Threshold, may be read here at Ordo Astri.
2. The Hermetic Qabalah is explained in clear, simple terms in the book required for our practical course: Hermetic Qabalah Foundation—Complete Course.
3. The cosmological explanation of the pentagrams and our ritual basis is given in the Introduction to Ritual Magick—Initiation of the Star and Snake. The phi ratio and Golden Mean is discussed in the ‘Foundation’ section.
4. For Eliphas Levi’s full description of his drawing of the ‘Sabbatic Goat’, see the ‘Explanation of the Figures’, pp. xiv Transcendental Magic.
5. The confusion between the ram-headed god of Mendes (Ba-neb-djedet) with a goat owes to the Greek traveller Herodotus. In a rather complicated account in his Histories, Herodotus describes the god of Mendes as goat-headed. Much popular fiction associating the worship or sacrifice of goats with ‘devil worship’ arises from this account. If Herodotus did indeed travel to Mendes, then the local Egyptians were pulling his leg! The goat is a creature that did not inhabit the Delta region of northern Egypt. [Herodotus, History, Book II pp. 42, Robin Waterfield translation.]

© Oliver St. John, 2018
The Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram is presented in several of our publications. It is also posted at Ordo Astri here.
Related Articles: Left Hand Path of Magick and Thelema

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