Fill or Kill, that is the Question!

Should we kill or fulfil the Will to Love? This article is for the assistance of anyone that has been perplexed by an editorial ‘correction’ issued by the O.T.O. on the work of Aleister Crowley, specifically, the Song of the Stele. The poetic verses are based on a translation, commissioned by Crowley, of some of the hieroglyphics inscribed on the aforesaid stele. The funeral stele of the priest and scribe Ankh-af-na-khonsu was created at some time during the 26th Dynasty of ancient Egypt.

Song of the Stele Fill or Kill? Stele of Revealing, Bulaq Museuem CairoThe evidence for the change to the Song of the Stele, 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] The work in question was not a publication of the Book of the Law, known as Liber AL vel Legis, otherwise Liber CCXX. 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’ as ‘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 and ourselves. It is not the purpose of this enquiry, though, to examine the whole question of authority in spiritual and magical matters, let alone of those who happen to work in an editorial capacity.

It is the destiny of the magi to follow the star. It is not the destiny of stars to follow a fool.

Song of the Stele vs Dogs of Reason

Our enquiry here has nothing to do with so-called historical evidence for the purpose of editorial correctness—a notion so absurd in itself as to be scarcely worth wasting our time. We do not need any of that to understand the import of either the Book of the Law, poems penned by Crowley, or ancient Egyptian sacred texts. What we will do here is look into the context and the meaning of the wording of the Song of the Stele. Our conclusions, nonetheless, will carry for some a grave warning. Whether they take notice of such a warning is, of course, entirely up to them. We do not wish to make a dogma of doctrine, and would prefer to leave that for the petty tyrants (i.e., unregenerate egos) of this world. The insistence on dogmatic adherence, as a matter of belief or blind faith, is termed in the (Egyptian) Book of the Law as the “word of Sin” that is “Restriction”.[2]

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 Stele of Revealing was the source of the activation of the transmission that took place in Cairo, 1904 e.v. The first draft that Crowley made for the Song of the Stele used the words “fill me”. There are some persons that now 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 particular context of the Song of the Stele, in its practical application, is ritual magick. It is likewise with ancient Egyptian magick. 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 that is depicted on the Stele of Revealing obverse side.

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 in the Song of the Stele are not the words of the priest: “I am the Lord of Thebes”. That is the god, Mentu, speaking to the priest. After that, the priest (or priestess) continues: “And I, the inspired forth-speaker of Mentu”. The priest or priestess begins a declaration of their magical identity. They are 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. Furthermore, nothing originates with the human psyche (the error of modern psychology). The nature of the psyche is to reflect.[3]

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”. He or she is self-slain, that is to say, they have killed that desire which is in them that would ultimately turn against their 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 our 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’ (evocation) and ‘stilling’ (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 filled with 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’. This is necessarily dualistic: the purpose of the stilling (or killing) 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.

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!

We cannot ignore the two verses of the Song of the Stele that follow in Liber AL, III: 38. “The light is mine; its rays consume me” is descriptive of the transformation in the soul that is actually taking place. There is an instruction given to aspirants that 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 ‘died to their self’ (is self-slain) at the beginning of the opus. To reintroduce this past accomplishment at a critical stage of the operation, when the full powers of the soul are released for the purpose of a greater mystery, is ordinary stupidity. 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.

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 out 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” (Liber AL, II: 45). That is to say, there is death for the dogs of reason. These mysteries cannot be apprehended by the ordinary 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. We will only note here that 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. Liber AL vel Legis, I: 41.
3. This is explained in ‘Lapis Philosophorum’, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs [Ordo Astri].
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

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Liber 364 Spells from Egyptian Papyri

The practical use of these spells or magical invocations is more or less identical to that of the better-known Graeco Egyptian papyrus called the ‘Bornless Ritual’. That use is defined poetically as the ‘Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel’. This work is also to prepare us for the ultimate crossing or passing through the duat, which is the overcoming of physical death in the miracle of the soul’s resurrection and transcendence.

In our desire to understand the wisdom of Egypt, we tend to draw Egypt into the sphere of our modern mentality. But our effort will bear no fruit unless we pierce that sphere and try to draw nearer to Egypt.[1]

Weighing of the Heart from Papyrus of Ani

The Egyptian Book of the Dead is more correctly ‘The Book of Coming Forth into Light’. According to Bika Reed, ‘The Book of the Dead Man’ was a name coined by tomb robbers.[2] Egyptologists have used the term ever since, for reasons best known to themselves. They are entirely unable to translate Egyptian sacred texts but will not admit the fact, or if they do, they will deny that anyone else can do it either. Most commonly, they will say the confusion in their literal word-by-word translations is the fault of the ‘primitive’ ancient Egyptians, who did not know what they were doing. They assume that the language of hieroglyphics could only be used to convey simple ideas. On the contrary, the ancient Egyptian language includes poetry and prose. The meaning may be construed literally, when that is required, or metaphorically.

This article is taken from the Prologue to ‘Liber 364 vel Lux Occulta’, from the book, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs [Ordo Astri].

There are three levels of the mysteries.

1. The literal or simple sense, where concrete meaning is applied to the symbol.
2. The allegorical or symbolic sense, which requires study and learning to master.
3. The gnostic sense, which requires meditation. The symbol is followed back to its source with all other symbols, through reversal of the consciousness current.

Spells for Eternity

The E.A. Wallis Budge translation, famously The Egyptian Book of the Dead or Papyrus of Ani (1895), was first published seven years after the British Museum acquired the 18th Dynasty papyrus that makes up a large part of the text.[3] Early Egyptologists assumed the name ‘Ani’ to be that of an ecclesiastical dignitary of the priesthood of Aunnu (Heliopolis) that produced the funerary papyrus. The name actually means ‘anyone’—it is clearly in the plural form!

The idea, as with any oath or magical spell, is to insert our own name in the place of ‘N’ if we are going to use it for sacred or magical purposes. The great usefulness of the Budge presentation is that it is threefold. The top line is a transliteration into English with some phonetic keys. The middle line is a beautiful copy of the hieroglyphic text. The lower line renders Budge’s attempt to make some sense of it all through word-by-word translation. This enabled our prose translation and commentary on three selected spells. The difficulty in translation becomes apparent when we consider there are countless ways to spell one word in Egyptian; even the same spelling of a word may convey as many shades of meaning.

It may seem strange that some short sentences in the papyrus often have long explanations in the commentary. However, those ‘short sentences’ relate to definite mythological themes and yield sense only through them. To appreciate the development of the argument and therefore the depth of its conclusion, one must understand how these mythological themes relate to the papyrus. It is through such long explanations that we arrive at a consistent interpretation; they therefore prove themselves necessary.[4]

Bika Reed, in producing the only initiated translation of a complete Egyptian sacred text to date, has shed a great deal of light on what has previously been a very dark area. She has opened the ways for us. Her method is to take the literal Egyptological rendition and compare it side by side with all the variations of meaning given in the hieroglyphic dictionary. By applying her knowledge of the hieroglyphics and deep understanding of the mythological basis—without which, nothing can be achieved as these are profoundly sacred texts—Reed was able to produce the first meaningful translation of Egyptian prose. The text cannot be interpreted on a word by word or even a line-by-line basis. It is only when the context of the whole is taken into consideration that a small light begins to glow in the night of obscurity—a light that grows in intensity if the person is receptive to the initiatic ancient Egyptian current. Conditions being suitable, previously unknown faculties are awakened in the mind of the translator.

Spells 80, 78 and 84 Translated

We began this present work with the spell numbered 80 by Budge, ‘Making the transformation into the God who giveth Light in the Darkness’. It later transpired that Spell 80 was the correct place to begin such a work—which seems obvious now but it certainly was not when we made the first draft some fifteen years ago, not as a linguistic exercise but for practical use. We agree with Bika Reed that such texts had more than one use, and that originally at least—for they were edited and recopied over thousands of years—their use was initiatic. The Papyrus of Ani was produced, according to Budge, during the second half of the 18th Dynasty, a relatively late time in the long history of the ancient Egyptian civilisation.[5] Scribes and others entitled to full funeral rites would believe in the power of magical words and spells to secure a passage in the afterlife. Thus the papyrus was treated much in the way of a talisman. The use of such texts as initiatory devices involves memorising the words and images. Thus in saying the spells or invocations, the appropriate images are at the same time invoked. In fact, with much practice the visualisation technique is not required as such, for the words automatically summon the images and the powers associated with them.

Spells of the Papyrus of Ani

By the time the Papyrus of Ani was created, the popular cult of Osiris had become dominant over all of Egypt; the far more ancient Setian gnosis was preserved through secret orders of priests such as the cult of Menthu at Thebes, from whence the Stele of Revealing. The gnosis is preserved throughout the texts of the Papyrus of Ani, however, as with the Pyramid Texts. Most persons wished only to continue a dreaming life in the underworld. This was achieved through familial offerings and observances made to the Ka double at the mastaba tomb. This life in the underworld was seen as being much like the life lived on earth, though in an idealised form, consisting of rest, pleasure and recreation. Indeed, the underworld (Yetzirah) is a kind of mirror reflection or image of the terrestrial life (Assiah). In the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, I: 49, the duality is likened to Osiris and Isis who are “not of me” (i.e., Nuit-Hadit), existing in symbiotic relationship.

Abrogate are all rituals, all ordeals, all words and signs. Ra-Hoor-Khuit hath taken his seat in the East at the Equinox of the Gods; and let Asar be with Isa, who also are one. But they are not of me. Let Asar be the adorant, Isa the sufferer; Hoor in his secret name and splendour is the Lord initiating.

The spelling of the name of Horus, Hoor, occurs in this passage uniquely. Hoor has the numerical value of 217, equal to Set (Σηθ). This is the “secret name and splendour” of Horus in the form of Menthu or Set, the Lord of Initiation. The intelligences that communicated the Book of the Law would have it known that theirs is not the doctrine of the Osirians, but a secret doctrine known only to a few. Set and Horus are a dual form of the only begotten child of Nuit, who required no paternal intervention to manifest her star or ‘son’. Hadit is Nuit’s power of manifestation or self-realisation. The key to this secret doctrine is provided under the entry for Set, 217, in The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth.[6]

Set … embodies the principles of dividing, cleaving, breaking, slaying and reversing. Set is the means of ingress and egress between the worlds, and of passing backwards and forwards between time and eternity. Set is the ‘slayer of the real’ who breaks the circle of infinity to beget creation. Conversely, Set moves through creation as the destroyer perpetually annihilating the forms he created out of chaos. His dwelling place is the desert, the burning and transforming expanse of the Abyss in which knowledge and the contents of mind turn to dust. Set is the double; he is always where consciousness, embodied by his twin brother Horus, is not. Thus he drives consciousness forwards—which may mean backwards, depending on one’s point of view!

At Thebes in Upper Egypt, the dual form of Horus and Set was personified in one figure as Menthu. The principal cult of Thebes was that of Amoun, Mut and Khonsu—known as the Theban triad. The local deity Menthu, who appeared as a warrior god in the form of Horus, or as a lunar god, hawk-headed, at other times the serpent Apep, continued to be honoured. The ancient Egyptians never adopted monotheism save for the brief twenty-year reign of the profane ruler Akhenaten, who imposed his belief on them.

The Osirians hoped to cheat the second death by the ineffable power of the words and spells. This included animal sacrifices, expensive unguents, professional mourners and two or more officiating priests to perform the opening of the mouth ceremony at the door of the tomb. The ‘second death’, or dispersion of the astral body following physical death, could then be averted and the Ka of the deceased live on as Osiris, coming and going as he pleased. His domain, though, like that of Osiris, was strictly limited to the underworld. If the offerings of flowers, cakes, meat and beer were discontinued, the Ka became an astral vampire.

Egyptian Spells: Bennu bird drawn by Jeff-Dahl

Initiates, however, learn the secret power of rectification or VITRIOL. By reversion of the senses, there is a ‘turning back’ (to source) by which the desire of the body for objectification is stilled. They have overcome while in their life on earth the state of thraldom where the magnetic power of the underworld moves them in any given direction. The power is thereby made subject to the True Will. The Holy Guardian Angel works the magick of transmutation on the soul whereby the twin serpents of kundalini are woven into the eternal starlight of Nuit.[7]

The three spells we have translated, Spell 80, 78 and 84, are all located, mythically speaking at least, in the North of Egypt. The North was the region of the watery lakes and canals of the Delta. The Delta uniquely symbolises the place of birth of all things from the primordial abyss. At the same time it symbolises the second birth of Horus, as all-transcendent spiritualised soul, and his flight to the immeasurable regions. Thus, these spells are concerned with the ultimate resurrection of the soul to an immortal life in ‘heaven’ or eternity.

Egyptian Spells: Wings drawn by Jeff-Dahl


Notes

1. Rebel in the Soul, Bika Reed, pp. 89. The author’s initiated translation and commentary on the Berlin Papyrus 3024, assisted by Lucy Lamy [Inner Traditions International, 1978].
2. Rebel in the Soul, Bika Reed, pp. 89 [ibid].
3. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, E.A. Wallis Budge.
4. Rebel in the Soul, pp. 105 [ibid].
5. 1500–1400 BCE.
6. See The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth, Volume One [Ordo Astri].
7. Kundalini is a Sanskrit term for the dual operation of the life force that carries consciousness. It is also a name of the divine feminine power or Shakti. According to the Tantras, when Kundalini sleeps she weaves the dream of world appearance. When she awakens the illusion is destroyed and Reality obtains.

© Oliver St. John 2018
Bennu Bird and Egyptian Wings drawings by Jeff Dahl
Hall of Judgement from Book of the Dead, courtesy of British Museum

This article is taken from the Prologue to ‘Liber 364 vel Lux Occulta’ from the book, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs [Ordo Astri].

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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

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, 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.

There is a modern development of the left hand path that is a far cry from the festivities of ancient Bubastis. Rational scientism has exerted its influence on esotericism to the extent that some will, in all sincerity, assert that nothing exists beyond the self. All else, they will say, is ‘impermanence’, nothing but dream. Such atomistic cults—for they posit a unitary intelligence as sole reality—invert the principle of Buddhist impermanence and at the same time translate the ‘one God’ of monotheism into a ‘Dark Lord’. In that, they hope to find an amplification of personal power as a means of gaining unlimited self-gratification. There is nothing very new about that. The technological, industrially driven age we have entered is fuelled by greed and selfishness. As a consequence, despair, alienation or otherwise sheer indifference is now commonplace. Amidst such a spiritual vacuum it should come as no surprise that some will worship at the altar of a tyrannical overlord whose monstrous, mocking image reflects the wish of that which Freud termed, the ‘infantile ego’.


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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