Left Hand Path of Magick and Thelema

There is wide interpretation of left hand path and right hand path even in India and Tibet, where the terms originated. The way of the left hand (vama marga) generally denotes a path of knowledge where ritual and yoga is rendered effective and meaningful through devotion to the shakti or feminine power. Devotion to the shakti, and any spiritual path inclusive of sensory pleasure, is most often associated with tantra, though tantra only denotes method or practice (literally, ‘to weave’). The right hand way (dakshina) aspires to truth and purity (of mind) and is often associated with asceticism. Nonetheless, tantra or the left hand path may well include practices considered by the average person to be ascetic, since nothing is achieved without discipline. And likewise, the way of the right hand path may sometimes include heterodox methodology.[1]

Left Hand Path of Magick and ThelemaIn the West, the misappropriation of these terms over the last century or so has resulted in confusion. Thus the left hand path is commonly thought to refer to black or ‘evil’ practices. The way of the right hand is associated with religious asceticism, repression and moral hypocrisy, especially by those for whom the term ‘left hand path’ is a means of self-identification. Aleister Crowley denounced the left hand path in his writings yet has frequently been accused of advocating the same.[2] Dion Fortune followed suit, yet would have been scandalised if she had not kept some of her sexual practices secret even among her adepts. The confusion deepens when it is considered that there are now many followers of Crowley that proclaim they practice the left hand path of the occult, while those who continue the legacy of Fortune would have us know they are chaste adherents of the right hand path.[3]

Thelema sprang directly from the ancient Egyptian starry wisdom cult of Thebes, from whence the oracular voices that sprang from the Stele of Revealing in Cairo, 1904. We shall therefore examine the left and right of the magick of old Egypt. The left hand path is frequently identified with heterodox practices that are sometimes condemned as ‘immoral’, so we shall begin with the Egyptian festival of the goddess Bastet, which took place in the Nile Delta region.

Left Hand Path: Way to Bubastis

According to E.A. Wallis Budge, April and May was the time of the festival of the cat goddess Bast or Bastet in ancient Egypt. The passing of the Sun from Taurus to Gemini is well figured where, in Gods of the Egyptians, Budge quotes a passage from the Greek traveller Herodotus, describing the festival of Bast.[4] Herodotus recounts how the city of Bubastis was artificially raised in height, yet the island temple of Bast, which had stood there long before the city was built, could be seen from every part of the city as a “lofty and stately tower.”[5]

Round about the tower is a wall, engraved with hieroglyphics and depictions of various beasts. The inner temple is enclosed by a high grove of cultivated trees, and in it is set up an image. The length of the temple is 220 yards each way. From the entrance of the temple Eastward, there is a fairly large causeway leading to the house of Hermes, 660 yards long and four acres broad, all of good stone. It is bordered on each side with tall trees.[6]

Here is described a processional route along which the shrine containing the image of the solar-venusian Bast would be taken to the temple of Tahuti (or Thoth), which Herodotus identifies with the Greek god Hermes.[7] A brief Qabalistic digression is necessary. Venus is the ruler of Taurus while Hermes-Mercury is Lord of the dual house of Gemini.

Mercury Glyph, threefold: Astrology, Alchemy, MagickThe glyph of Mercury is threefold, combining the symbols of both the Moon and Venus in one. Thus it is said of Hermes that he is ‘thrice greatest’, Trismegistus. The Moon, Mercury and Venus form the lowest triad on the Tree of Life, oft associated with the astral plane or Yetzirah. It is through this lower triad that the starry wisdom is communicated to the human mind. We shall see later how the spiritual fact concerning this function was told and retold in various myths, including the biblical one of how the Nephalim, a race of ‘giants’, were said to have been the progeny of angels who fell from the stars to mate with the daughters of earth and teach them magick and science.

The festivities on the Nile route to Bubastis took place on a grand scale. Celebrants were carried there in boats along the Nile. According to Herodotus they numbered 7000 men and women, for children were excluded. The reasons for the exclusion become apparent when it is described how Egyptian women would beat loudly upon drums, while others would shout ribald insults at the townsfolk that had gathered to watch from the river banks. Others among them would lift up their clothing, showing themselves naked. All of this was carried out in high spirits and in good humour. Once the celebrants arrived at Bubastis, the multitude set to the devotional rites with great solemnity. Lavish offerings were made, including costly grape wine, which was rather more than the average farm worker could afford in those times. In spite of the renowned Egyptian ribaldry and sense of fun, commentators have thought the ancient festivals to be ‘licentious’. In later times, when religion superseded the old ways, prurient zealots found such festivities so abominable that eventually they succeeded in getting them abolished altogether.

The Voice from the Deep

The feline Bast and lioness Sekhet were representative of Lower and Upper Egypt respectively. The ancient ways of such a bestial goddess, a sexually ambivalent creature of the night, exemplify the left hand path. Bast was frequently identified with Buto, the oracular cobra serpent. The famous Delphic oracle was undoubtedly a much later Greek edition of ancient Egyptian methods of obtaining an oracular ‘voice’ through the mediumship of priestesses, who possessed the secret knowledge of the snake, Hadit. In the context of the 17th path of Gemini, the Children of the Voice, the sacred vibration of the priestess is sent forth from Chokmah and Binah above the Abyss to inform the Intelligence of the Heart in Tiphereth.

In countless Egyptian hieroglyphics, cat or lion-headed deities are  twinned, most notably in the aker or ‘lion-gate’. The gate is variously representative of the two ends of the year (equinoxes) or the entrance to and from the Egyptian underworld or duat.

The Egyptian hieroglyph for the sky has two peaks or horizons pointing upwards to show the day. When the peaks are pointing downward, it is a depiction of the night sky. In the underworld, everything is mirrored and in some cases even shown upside down or averse.

Artefact depicting three regions of the Duat or Underworld

Three Worlds: Egyptian Artefact depicting regions of the duat[click on image to magnify]

a) The upper section of the artefact depicts souls travelling to the Great Neter who looks both ways (i.e., to the East and West horizons, yesterday and tomorrow).

b) The middle section portrays the four Apes who steer the sun boat of Ra. They are shown in their cosmic form, as star gods, and are generally associated with fire. They are paying homage to a dual figure of the ram-headed god of Mendes, otherwise Amen-Ra, who has four faces and an ornate crown. On each side Amen-Ra bears a threefold sceptre combining the Set-headed (was) sceptre of power, the Ankh of Life and Djed pillar of Mendes. The Djed is similar in meaning to the path of Samekh on the middle pillar of the Tree of Life and symbolises the spinal column as the passage for the inner fire of the soul. The cross ‘x’ is to show the threshold that must be passed by the Initiate.

c) The lower section is an inverse mirror for the constellations of heaven, as shown by the totem form of the sky-goddess Hathoor. This is the dreaming world or subconscious. Notably, the seated god with a bird’s tail feathers, and the serpent, are ithyphallic. Both male and female become tumescent when dreaming at night, as was well known to the ancients. Dreaming is the principle power of the gods. All power has been transferred to the underworld region (left hand, left eye).

Now ye shall know that the chosen priest and apostle of infinite space is the prince-priest the Beast; and in his woman called the Scarlet Woman is all power given.

The Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, I: 15

Orion: The Left and Right of it All

The left and right eyes of Ra are the moon and sun respectively. The moon is the mirror of the sun’s radiance, and the sinister jewel of the left hand path. According to the Emerald Tablet of Hermes:

That which is below is like unto that which is above, and that which is above corresponds to that which is below, to accomplish the miracle of the one essence … Its father is the sun, its mother the moon. The wind carried it in its womb, from the bosom of the earth it is nourished. It is the source of all works of wonder in the world. Its power is complete.

The flow of consciousness involves both projection and radiance (sun, the right eye) and absorption and reflection (moon, the left eye). The primary dual power of consciousness is objectivity and subjectivity. The goal of yoga is to achieve transcendence through uniting subject with object. Thus, the eye is made ‘single’. The way of knowledge (ynana yoga) is typified by the path of Gemini, to which is ascribed the letter zayin, the sword of division. Union, on the other hand, comes through the love of Nuit or Venus, which is the governance of Taurus, the Magus of the Eternal.

As we shall see, love under will or Thelema (Logos-Agape) is aptly imaged forth in nature and mythology by the constellation of Orion, which spans Taurus and Gemini, or Isis and the word of Thoth.

Stele of Revealing, Bulaq Museuem CairoOn the front side of the Stele of Revealing [click on image to magnify], the priest Ankh-af-na-khonsu mirrors the god Menthu, who embodies both Ra and Set-Typhon. The priest is called ‘Khonsu’ (sky-traveller) after the moon god. At Thebes, the home of the priest, Khonsu is the child of Mut and Amen-Ra. The priest makes the gesture of invocation and offering with his right hand, as he wishes to offer the god all that he is and can ever be, his whole self. The right hand is giving, as the sun gives light and life to the world. As the right hand is giving, the left hand receives. We cannot have one without the other. The act of giving contains receiving latent within it. The act of receiving has the seed of giving, latent. A true invocation is at the same time an offering, for only the whole self is a fit offering to the gods.

Egyptian gods and priests are frequently depicted with their left foot forward. The constellation of Orion the Hunter, known as Sah to the Egyptians, has his left foot forward in the sky. Orion is close to the constellations of Taurus and Gemini, and was known to the Babylonians as a herald or messenger as well as the guardian of land and boundaries. Orion is variously depicted as a god, giant, shepherd, walking bird or phoenix. The magical race of Nephalim mentioned in the biblical book of Genesis 6: 1–4 were in all probability children of Orion (Aramaic Niphelah). The mysterious genealogy is explained by Sumerian myths, which tell of wise Akkadians that survived the flood, or otherwise came ‘out of the sea’ (viz., the depths of inner space).[8] Whether gods, demigods or priests of the Mercurial deep-sea god Enki, they taught knowledge of science and magick to the terrestrials.

The star that marks the left foot of Orion is Rigel, positioned at 17 degrees Gemini. Rigel is the brightest star in Orion and one of the seven brightest stars in the night sky. Rigel was very important in the ancient Egyptian scheme of things as it rises before Sirius, the heliacal rising of which marked the solar year. Pharaohs and priest-kings were considered to take the form of Sah upon death (the sahu), so the constellation was associated with resurrection and immortality.

The Left Eye of the Moon.

Left Eye of the Moon, Egyptian IAHThe meaning of the left eye, left hand, left foot, left side or profile became distorted over long ages of time. All that was considered feminine and ‘left’ was identified with the night or the underworld and was eventually demonised. Interpretation therefore requires careful discernment.

The feminine power of the left side, which is personified as the Egyptian Sekhet (or Shakti) was always honoured in ancient Egypt, though in later dynasties it was hidden. When Sekhet acts as Initiatrix, she takes the form of a lioness and kicks the person (or demon) with her left foot, as recounted in the Pyramid Texts. This has the effect of burning up everything inside them that is concerned with the poisons of the body and ego, the false king and tyrant over the soul.

Once the person is empty of falsehood and the way is thus prepared for illumination, Sekhet may fill the Initiate with her fire and light. In this way, the Thelemite with both feet firmly on the path is capable of transformation into an eternally living star. As it is put by Nuit in the Egyptian Book of the Law, whose manifest star is Sirius:

Every man and every woman is a star.

Liber AL vel Legis, I: 3

By the Qabalistic method introduced by Kenneth Grant, where the chapter and verse numbers of the book may be compounded, the verse equals 13, the number of the Priestess of the Silver Star. The star in question doubles as both moon and star, for the path of Kether, the ‘height’, signifies the Supreme Attainment. It is a path that may only be approached through the reflecting mirror of Da’ath, the ‘higher moon’ at the outer threshold of the planetary system. Thus, at the summit all ways meet, and the left hand path and right hand path cease to have meaning, as do all other conventions.

The intimacy of lunar and stellar relationships may easily be demonstrated Qabalistically. By conventional numeric values. IA ChNSV (sky-traveller the moon) yields 375. Dividing 375 by its factor of 5 (number of the ‘star’) results in 75, the number of NVIT. Thus the priest of Thelema is as the moon or sky-traveller. His star is that of Nuit, to whom he is guided through reflecting the radiance of Ra the sun god.

Is the Left Hand Path the Right Way to Follow?

In India and Tibet there has ever been a guru tradition. Initiation, if it comes, is passed directly from master to pupil. Sometimes the right way is left and the left way is right—it all depends, for the meaning differs according to the school of thought and the individual. While there does not appear to have been a guru tradition as such in ancient Egypt, the schools of thought (and so practices) were as diverse and numerous as the nome or earth locations down the length of the Nile. Likewise, individual teachers and practitioners could be counted as reeds strewn upon the surface of that great river, or as stars in the night sky.

While it may be convenient to classify all magical and spiritual practices as either ‘left hand path’ or ‘right hand path’, we must consider whether such arbitrary divisions draw us nearer to truth or lead us further away from it. Or perhaps even that—as is now the case in the technological age—such simplistic devices might blind us to the possibility that truth can even exist.


Notes

1. Notably, the sage Ramakrishna never used the terms ‘left hand path’, ‘right hand path’. He practiced celibacy, through personal inclination, yet there is no evidence that he recommended this to his disciples as rule of thumb. While he wryly denounced those who merely desire sensual gratification, or that lust after ‘gold’ and temporal power, recorded anecdotes reveal that Ramakrishna was not at all orthodox and would consider almost anything that might lead to the goal of ultimate liberation.
2. See Magick Without  Tears, Aleister Crowley, for one example.
3. “High standards are expected of an initiate of the Right Hand Path”, Magical Images and the Magical Imagination by Gareth Knight, pp. 71. [Skylight Press, 2012.]
4. Gods of the Egyptians Volume 1, pp. 449.
5. The Greek name Bubastis is derived from the ancient Egyptian per-bastet, ‘House of Bast’.
6. We have rendered the archaic Latin translation into modern English.
7. The Histories of Herodotus were translated from Greek into Latin and from there to other tongues. Some versions therefore give the Roman god Mercury as the equivalent of the Greek Hermes and Egyptian Thoth. Likewise, Diana is mentioned as the equivalent of the Greek goddess Artemis and Egyptian Isis or Hathoor.
8. Akkadia (Mesopotamia, Sumeria, etc.) is formed from ak-ka-d-w, which is etymologically related to the Egyptian term for a magical body (aka) achieving resurrection by passing through the underworld or starry duat.

© Oliver St. John 2018. This essay appears in the book, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs [Ordo Astri].

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Enigmatic Magick of Set and Thelema

There is very little known, or at least recorded, concerning the nature of the god Set. Light research will reveal little other than the legendary battles between Set and Horus, which owe to middle and late dynastic times by which time Set had become thoroughly demonised. It was not always that way, since Set was originally the only begotten son (or star) of Nuit, by divine parthenogenesis. As such, Set is identical to Hadit, for he is the manifester of Nuit through her star.[1]

The God Set as drawn by Jeff Dahl

Set, as drawn by Jeff Dahl

Some of the mysteries of Set can be found in the Sethian Gnosis, which forms part of the collection of works attributed to Hermes Trismegistus.[2] There we find a unique non-dualistic cosmological trinity, where light and darkness are permeated by spirit or fragrance, forming the matrix for manifestation. The mystery deepens with the Gnostic scriptures of Set. In Pistis Sophia the name of Jesus is said to be ABERAMENTHO. While to most Christians the name is that of a historical personage, the Graeco-Egyptian name clearly means, ‘image (or likeness) of Ra-Menthu’. The Coptic name, which begins with alpha and ends with omega, adds Qabalistically to the number 1013. The name identifies the Gnostic Christ with Set-Typhon as the Initiator. The Qabalah indicates there is more to ‘likeness’ than mere similarity, for the number 1013 is that of syzygy, a word indicative of a method by which one knows ‘through another’.[3] The polar twin or double is central to the elemental magick of the ancient Egyptian priesthood of Set. The surviving fragments of this knowledge were attributed to the Greek god Hermes (Roman Mercury) to obscure the fact that it was derived from Egypt, the ‘black land’ of Khem-menthu.

Menthu is the name of the god that appears on the obverse of the Stele of Revealing. The fact that this god, the Lord of Thebes, is commonly held to be Ra Hoor Khuit, or Horakhty, serves as a convenient veil drawn over the identification with Set. This god Menthu or Set of the ancient Theban cult of Thelema, then, embodies the attributes of Ra, Horus, Set and Apophis (as serpent) in one image. Study of the hieroglyphics on the obverse and reverse of the Stele demonstrates that Kenneth Grant was not mistaken when he insisted that Thelema, or the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, veils the cult of Set-Typhon.[4]

Set and the Solstice

We tend to focus on the spiritual and magical import of the Capricorn solstice, since the industrial commercialisation of Christmas sweeps all else away. The hedonist revelry is all the more bizarre considering its principal icon, Santa, is derived from an obscure Roman Catholic anointed luminary, St Nicholas! Nonetheless, three days after the winter solstice the Light is most certainly born into the darkness of the world—whether the world cares or not.

[About Solstice Timing: See our post of 27-12-17]

Socrates and his modern day adorants prefer the naturalistic explanation of supernatural phenomena, which does not dare contradict the sacred shrine of science (astronomy in this case). While asceticism demands that visible nature is abhorrent, pre-religious spiritual doctrines assert that visible nature is the form of the formless, even a miraculous demonstration, to use latter day terms, of the existence of God. This cannot of course be proved by argument, persuasion, reason or fact, since the miracle is entirely in the eye of the beholder. While nature is the object here, our doctrine asserts there are no objects as such and that all worlds of existence arise from pure subjectivity. For that reason, the nature of Set is impossible to pin down, for he is both the pin and the thing pinned; he is the hook, the line and the sinker; the cross (way) and the one crucified; the stone of the wise, the stone for stumbling and the one that stumbles.

If we look to the Pyramid Texts, we find that the ancient Egyptians, shrewd in such matters, depicted the serpent (cognate with messiah) going forth on two legs—when everyone knows the serpent is uniquely identified by the fact of having no legs. Thus do we go forth, be it in darkness or light!

The Egyptian and Thelemic New Year

It is no accident that Saturn should be Lord of two signs and not one, though the harmony was not realised by modern astrologers who wished to align their particular form of black art with profane science. They thus wheeled in the outer planets as new rulers of Capricorn, Scorpio and Pisces, invoking the Lords of Unbalanced Force. Aleister Crowley had a much better idea of what to do with the outer planets in astrology but his idea was not taken up—it requires Qabalistic knowledge before it can be understood (Ref. The Book of Thoth).

The ancient Egyptians marked the New Year by the reappearance of Sirius or Set, ‘who came first before the gods’. The appearance of Sirius coincided with the Nile flood. Though it is a break from mainstream tradition, the Thelemic New Year begins with the Capricorn solstice. So far as nature is concerned, this is so obvious as not to require an explanation. We could also term this the Qabalistic or Platonic New Year, while bearing in mind that Plato learned it all from the Egyptian priesthood. So let us focus on Khem. Set was, and is, the Opener of the Year, and for that reason was always present at the coronation of a pharaoh. As the child of Nuit he is her manifesting star. Now if we follow the natural progression of that wondrous Decad, the Tree of Life, we will see how the year is mapped out in spiritual terms and follows the Sword and Serpent, evolution and involution:

Opening the year, Capricorn ruled by Saturn (Binah and the supernal wisdom). Next, Aquarius, also ruled by Saturn. The pair forms the ‘winter cup’ in which the light is born—the son (sun) of Nuit. After Aquarius comes Pisces, ruled by Jupiter (Chesed). Next, Aries ruled by Mars (Geburah) and the first equinox of the year. After Aries comes Taurus, ruled by Venus (Netzach). Next, Gemini ruled by Mercury (Hod), then, at summer solstice, Cancer ruled by the Moon (Yesod). With the sign of Leo, ruled by the Sun, Malkuth is brought to Tiphereth via the Alchemical Wedding of Sun and Moon. From here we begin the ascent via the Serpent: Virgo is ruled by Mercury (Hod), and next, at the second equinoctial gate of the year, comes Libra ruled by Venus (Netzach). Then comes Scorpio ruled by Mars (Geburah). Finally, Sagittarius ruled by Jupiter (Chesed). The end is with the beginning as we once more enter the Capricorn solstice.


Notes

1. In the writings of Kenneth Grant, “Saturn is the power behind Venus”. For a magical reappraisal of divine parthenogenesis, and its importance in theurgy, see The Phoenix and other Stellar Rites of Initiation.
2. See Thrice Greatest Hermes: Studies in Hellenistic Theosophy and Gnosis, G.R.S. Mead (Kessinger Books).
3. See The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth Volume Two.
4. For more information on the key role of Menthu, see the article, New Light on Stele 666.

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Astrum Draconis

Liber 373 Astrum Draconis was released at the solstice, 21st June 2017. There follows an introduction to Liber 373 Astrum Draconis with Qabalistic exegesis.

Ordo Astri Dragon Star: Liber 373 Astrum DraconisThe Tantra of the West is here fully revealed and made accessible to the practical Thelemic magician through seven rays of the Dragon Star. While the decad of the Qabalistic Tree of Life is not usually equated with the better known sevenfold chakra system, the sevenfold Way of the Dragon was always implicit. The number 373 is that of Logos, the divine word or primal utterance by which all things in existence are ordered and given life. The number 373 is also that of the Greek word ataxia, ‘confusion’—the confusion of many voices that make up the discordant noise of the human ego. The number 373 provides the antidote, ShKM AChD, ‘to be of one mind’. The mind and body must be calmed before meditation can be achieved. The Oath, which also corresponds to 373, invokes the soul as silent witness to the ritual act. “Hail! ye twin warriors about the pillars of the world! for your time is nigh at hand.” Who or what, then, are these twin warriors? They have arisen and are entwined about the axis of the universe; they manifest all phenomena. The division invoked by a magical Act of Will may arise as a dual force, symbolised on the Tree of Life by the two pillars or Moon and Sun of dreaming and waking consciousness. Liber 373 is suitable for the Thelemic aspirant of the grade of Philosophus, or anyone that dares to know, to will and to keep silence! It is also a course in magical Initiation that includes knowledge lectures, rituals, yoga, meditation, invocation, skrying and tasks to perform.

Liber 373: Resources

So this book is self-contained as far as possible, an extensive Appendices is included. Here we give the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram and Comment; the Gates of Babalon Ritual and Comment; Meditation and Preparations for Meditation; the Magician as Hierogyph; Purification and Consecration; Invoking Pentagrams of the Elements and Signatures of the Spirit.

Included here is also a newly revised version of the small book concerned with the Dedication of a Sanctuary or Temple. A magical Temple does not need to be an impressive structure made from stone, or a Masonic hall with tiled floor and pillars of Solomon. Buildings and specially equipped rooms are a fine thing and can be very beautiful, but the real shrine of deity is the heart of the devotee. Altars, wands, robes and lamps assist in linking magical forces with the physical plane of existence—and so the mind and body of the Initiate—but effective magical work can nonetheless be done without any special equipment. The dedication of a Sanctuary or Temple to its deity does not therefore depend on physical structures.


Notes

View  / order the book from the author’s website here.

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