Pisces: Egyptian Tarot of Thelema Khonsu XVIII

The Egyptian Tarot of Thelema trump for the 29th path of Pisces is Khonsu XVIII. Khonsu is the ancient Egyptian god of the Moon, the ‘Sky Traveller’. The Moon is the traditional name of the 18th Tarot trump. The esoteric title of the trump is Ruler of Flux and Reflux: Child of the Sons of the Mighty.

Magick of Pisces: Egyptian Tarot of Thelema Khonsu XVIIIThe key-scale correspondences for Khonsu XVIII are of the 29th path of the Tree of Life, extending upwards from Malkuth (the Kingdom) to Netzach (Venus). Khonsu’s Egyptian hieroglyphic name is at the top of the picture. The hawk-headed god of the Moon is at the centre, going forth between two pillars. He bears the priestly was sceptre in his right hand and the Ankh of Life in his left. Khonsu was regarded as the son of Mut and  Amoun, and was closely identified with both Tahuti and Horus at Thebes (Egyptian Waset).

The three ‘faces’ of the Moon are white (or silver), black and red, for she is white at the full, invisible at the dark and scarlet at the eclipse. The globed capitals of the pillars and lunar crown of Khonsu are also suggestive of the supernal triad of the Tree of Life, where Kether is the ‘higher moon’.

The figures are skryed through the domed hieroglyphic Gate of the Moon. This is a stylised version of the Egyptian determinative for ‘foundation’. In the lower section is the telesmatic name of Shad Barshama’ath Shartathan, the Spirit of the Spirits of the Moon, as drawn on the Kamea of the Moon. The name adds to 3,321, the sum total of all the squares on the Kamea and can be translated, ‘Elemental Child born from the Oracle of Joy’.[1]

If the name is looked at Qabalistically, it yields some fascinating nuances. Shad Barshama’ath can be construed as ‘Spirit of clear-seeing’, viz., clairvoyance.[2] Shartathan denotes ‘Thoth, Chief of Scribes’. Thoth or Tahuti, as known to the Egyptians, was originally a god of the Moon, like Khonsu. The Moon is typically associated with magical mirrors, skrying and clairvoyance. The magick ‘writing’ of Tahuti is that which appears in the clear mirror of perception. Barshama’ath also has the meaning ‘pure name’, and Ma’at is the name of the Lion of Truth.[3] The title of Yesod, sphere of the Moon, is the Pure Intelligence.

The crown of Khonsu is the full disk and crescent of the Moon; it is not a coincidence that the shape formed from this composite glyph is identical to that of the hieroglyphic Eye of the Moon or Left Eye of Ra. The human psyche is reflective as the shade of the Moon; to see Ra (God) with clear or pure perception is to know God. To know God is to be known by God—thus it is to become God, the Ever-Becoming.

The astroglyphs for Pisces and Jupiter, the ruling planet, are at the lower edge of the card. Qoph, the letter of the path, is to the right. The shape of Qoph emphasises the back of the head where the spinal column joins with the medulla oblongata. It is here that the most ancient memories are stored, including those vital for biological functions. Thus, the 18th Tarot card corresponds to Pisces and the Moon as regulator of organic life.

The Moon of Pisces

The Sun’s entry into Pisces near the end of the cold months is a reminder of the darkest hour before the dawn. The springtime is not far away. In the southern hemisphere it is a reminder that the cooler air of autumn will soon drive out the burning heat of a long summer.

Pisces is traditionally ruled by the planet Jupiter, known to the Greeks as Zeus and to the ancient Egyptians as Amoun (or ‘Amen’). Khonsu, god of the Moon, was thus ordained as the child of Mut and Amoun at Thebes. Jupiter, Zeus and Amoun were originally gods of the mountain, and of the seas and rains that replenish the earth with new life and growth. Amoun is a mysterious god. He is self-created, and his location, unlike the sky-gods Horus, Hathoor and Nuit, is below the horizon. He is ‘The Hidden God’.

The Qabalah throws further light on the associations between Pisces, sign of the Fishes, and the mysteries of the Hidden God. Pisces is the 29th path connecting the material universe (Malkuth) with the animating power of Venus (Netzach), the morning and evening star. The magical power of the path of Pisces is the Twilight of the Place. As the days begin to lengthen in the northern hemisphere, the twilight is very noticeable. This is especially so with the lengthening of shadows near sunset, before Venus, the first and brightest star of the evening sky, appears in the west. The magical twilight is also the special light of a room prepared for ritual. Candles and the smoke of incense provide ideal conditions for the arising of spectral images. The Magical Mirror is the magical weapon of Pisces.

Pisces and The Flaming Sword

The 29th path of Qoph connects Netzach, the sphere of Venus, with Malkuth, the sphere of the visible universe. The title of the 29th path is the Corporeal Intelligence, so-called because it is concerned with the incarnation of all bodies according to the revolution of the Zodiac. The root of the word that is translated ‘Corporeal’ (gosham) implies a violent rainstorm or shower—the ‘shower of the life of earth’ that comes through the seed of the Unborn Spirit or Holy Guardian Angel in the ritual called the ‘Bornless’. The ‘seed’ is alchemical and refers to the fluidic or formless fire from which all forms receive their essence.

The “revolution of the Zodiac” is explained by the operation of Sol and Luna, Spirit working through the Sun upon the four elements of Fire, Air, Water and Earth. All bodies are composed of these elements. Each creature has a unique astrosome, the symbol of which is the natal horoscope, varying according to the time and place of birth. The twelve signs of the Zodiac are cosmic archetypes. Merely knowing the ‘sign’ of birth does not reveal a person’s nature. The sign alone symbolises a type, not an individual.

The descent of this path is the incarnation or embodiment of each creature, while the ascent of it implies knowledge of the Occult Intelligences. The magical powers of the 29th path are of Bewitchments and Casting Illusions. When the light of the Moon is shed upon the earth (as ego), then amidst the magical glamour the mind becomes absorbed in its own reflections, attributing objective reality to that which is no more than fleeting shadows. The shades (spirits, shadows) of the Moon may therefore deceive the foolish, even as they convey the gift of clairvoyance (‘clear sight’) to those who truly desire to seek out the hidden stone of the wise.


1. All Qabalistic references are from The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth.
2. ShThM, 740, means ‘to open the eyes; to see clearly’.
3. BR ShMATh, ‘pure name’, also ‘first created’, i.e., to see the whole world as new or freshly born.
© Oliver St. John 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-Ma’at. 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 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.
Sickle-Maat-Lion hieroglyph and ‘Double Loop of the Zodiac’ drawn by Oliver St. John.
Drawings of Sekhet and Maat by Jeff Dahl.

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Magical Theurgy Hardbound Edition

Hardbound Edition: Magical TheurgyMagical Theurgy Hardbound:

For any kind of magick to be truly effective it must be worked from within—from the inside out. The beginner becomes accomplished at magical ritual when the inner working proceeds automatically from the outer or physical working. With the adept this situation is reversed so that the outer proceeds from the inner. Ritual magick and meditation, therefore, go hand in hand. The time spent in meditation and study is the ‘sacrifice’ that is required in the search for the immortal Stone of the Wise. It is a sacrifice of time and effort. The most effective forms of Ritual Magick combine meditation, the inner work, with action—which is the use of the body as a hieroglyph so the body reflects what is being willed, desired and imagined. There are, broadly speaking, three kinds of magical ritual in the Hermetic tradition:

1. Dramatic Ritual is where a Mystery Play is enacted. A Dramatic Ritual is the exoteric or outer level of magical ritual, accessible to all through its powerful emotional impact. Unlike other forms of magical ritual that require silent concentration, Dramatic Ritual may utilise music and dance. There is a technical side to theatre in the way of costumes, sets and lighting. The success of Dramatic Ritual frequently depends on the skill of the actors involved and the level of their knowledge. The difficulty is that it requires good actors who are also trained occultists.

2. Ceremonial Magick involves the use of furniture such as an altar, a painted circle and triangle, and magical weapons such as the wand, cup, sword and disk. The best-known type of Ceremonial Magick is evocation, where a spirit is called before the magician and a dialogue takes place—traditionally, at the point of the sword. Ceremonial Magick may also refer to group rituals where the practitioners assume the roles of various gods or deities at different stages of the ritual.

3. Ritual Magick is sometimes no different than Ceremonial Magick, but it must be worked from within, with or without robes, altars, lamps, wands and swords, whether real or imaginary. No kind of ritual magick is effective unless it is worked on the inner planes. There are some kinds of magical operation where it is particularly desirable to work the physical and astral planes simultaneously, so the one reflects the other.

© Oliver St. John 2016

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View Magical Theurgy—Rituals of the Tarot (hardbound) here.

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