Should we kill or fulfil the Will to Love? There has been some consternation over an editorial ‘correction’ issued by the OTO on the work of Crowley, specifically, the Song of the Stele. The evidence for the change, which some seem to have taken as an imperative, owes to a pencilled note on a proof copy of a work by Crowley created at a later date.
The work in question was not a publication of the (Egyptian) 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 Crowley regard certain documents of his that were categorised (by him) as ‘Class A’ to be ‘holy words of truth’ that must not be changed in one letter. Naturally, following out such a command from a person that died 70 years ago carries certain difficulties in execution. Nearly all publications, no matter what their category, inevitably contain some ‘typos’ or errata, whether the source was the writer’s own hand, the proofreaders, editors, typesetters and so forth. Needless to say, such difficulties would not arise unless some persons are regarded as sole authorities, or otherwise very important in the matter of how we should think and conduct ourselves.
It is not our intention here to examine the question of authority in spiritual matters, let alone of those who happen to work in an editorial capacity. Neither are we concerned with so-called historical evidence for the purpose of editorial correctness—a notion so absurd in itself as to be scarcely worth wasting time over. None of that is required to understand the import of either the Book of the Law or ancient Egyptian sacred texts.
Song of the Stele vs Dogs of Reason
The Song of the Stele, though added to the Liber CCXX transcript by Crowley after the transmission of the book, is nonetheless a key component in the book’s import. The first draft that Crowley made used the words, “Aum! let it fill me”, in the last line of the third verse. There are some who think this ought to be changed, especially in ritualised invocations, to ‘kill me’. Crowley’s joke, ‘die daily’, was based on the Latin word dies, ‘day’, which is traditionally used for a daily diary record entry. We can take that as accepted. As with anything from ancient Egypt, even if it is a poetised version of a translation, we need to look at the whole context if we are to understand any line, word or detail. The context of the Song of the Stele, in its practical application, is ritual magick. It is likewise with ancient Egyptian sacred texts. For example, the ‘spells’ from what has come to be known as The Egyptian Book of the Dead, are the words of a ritual—they are not merely prose. In saying these verses that Crowley penned from a translation, the aspirant enters the magical scene depicted on the obverse side of the Stele.
I am the Lord of Thebes, and I
The inspired forth-speaker of Mentu;
For me unveils the veilèd sky,
The self-slain Ankh-af-na-khonsu~
Whose words are truth. I invoke, I greet
Thy presence, O Ra-Hoor-Khuit!
The first words of the Song of the Stele are not the words of the priest: “I am the Lord of Thebes”. That is Mentu, the god that is speaking. After that, the priest continues, “And I, the inspired forth-speaker of Mentu”. The theurgist begins a declaration of their magical identity, as the oracular prophet of the god. This is why the priest assumes the magical name of Ankh-af-na-khonsu, ‘Living soul (body) of Khonsu (sky-rider, the moon)’. To be the oracle, to speak true words issued from a god or divine principle, we must reflect the radiating current, as the moon reflects the light of the sun. The nature of the psyche is to reflect.
We can summarise the last four lines of the first verse. The particular priest who made (or commissioned) this stele had the official duty of opening the doors to the roof of the temple at Thebes. At particular times of the year, such as the heliacal rising of Sirius, the image of a god (often a goddess such as Hathoor) was carried in a shrine up to the roof so the light of the star was reflected in the gemstones of the eyes or body of the figure. Of particular relevance to this discussion is the fourth line, “self-slain Ankh-af-na-khonsu”. We declare that we are self-slain, that is to say, we have killed that desire which is in us that would ultimately turn against our soul in the afterlife. Until the dual function of Set (the slayer of ego-identity) is properly understood, there is risk of annihilation of the soul through the dispersive forces of the underworld.
Song of the Stele: Mentu
Unity uttermost showed!
I adore the might of Thy breath,
Supreme and terrible God,
Who makest the gods and death
To tremble before Thee:—
I, I adore thee!
The second verse is to invoke the god, Mentu, as first before all gods (which also is Set). This verse ends with the hieroglyphic gesture of ‘adoration’, which is the worshipping of a five-rayed star (figuratively).
Appear on the throne of Ra!
Open the ways of the Khu!
Lighten the ways of the Ka!
The ways of the Khabs run through
To stir me or still me!
Aum! let it fill me!
The third verse (above) is the main subject of this enquiry. Mentu (Set) is affirmed in his identity with Ra, the Sun, which is the source of all life to the earth. He opens the path for the spiritualised body, the Khu or Phoenix—the vehicle of the soul’s resurrection. In order to achieve this, the Ka, which includes earthly appetites and desires, must be relieved of the burden of yearning and regret for the earthly existence, now passed. Thus the Ka is ‘lightened’ of this burden or load. Another term would be ‘purified’. In the fourth line, the soul is irradiated by the emanations of the Khabs, the spiritual ‘star’.
It is only through reflection that transmission or irradiation takes place. The emanations called by the Egyptians ‘fragrance’ (incense of Nuit-Isis) simultaneously stir (evoke) in the soul the magical power required for the resurrection, and still (silence) any thoughts that would oppose this. “Aum” expresses the continuity of existence, including both ‘stirring’ or evocation and ‘stilling’, which is the silence of yoga, with increased concentration tending towards samadhi.
Song of the Stele: Let it fill me!
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’.
The ‘killing’ is expressed in ‘still me’. The purpose of the stilling is so the secret (or latent) resurrection powers of the soul are evoked, released, brought forth. Thus, “let it fill me” is absolutely necessary so the rite is worked correctly. The verses are not merely expressive of poetry, or a technical instruction or advice; they are the words of a theurgic operation. The words themselves are the function, the operative mode. It is all about word and symbol. We cannot ignore the two verses that follow in III: 38.
The light is mine; its rays consume
Me: I have made a secret door
Into the House of Ra and Tum,
Of Khephra and of Ahathoor.
I am thy Theban, O Mentu,
The prophet Ankh-af-na-khonsu!
By Bes-na-Maut my breast I beat;
By wise Ta-Nech I weave my spell.
Show thy star-splendour, O Nuit!
Bid me within thine House to dwell,
O wingèd snake of light Hadit!
Abide with me, Ra-Hoor-Khuit!
“The light is mine; its rays consume me” is descriptive of the transformation in the soul taking place. When we speak these words in the ritual we should wholly experience what is being described. If not, we have some way yet to go in learning this art. In the utterance, the person for whom this stele was made is already dead, quite literally, in the flesh. So far as any theurgic working goes, the adept has already declared that they have ‘died to their self’ (is self-slain) at the beginning of the opus—although in fact ‘arisen’ would be the better translationt for it is an ‘adept’ we are speaking of here. To reintroduce this past accomplishment at a critical stage, when the full powers of the soul are released for the purpose of a greater mystery, is to thwart the operation. According to II: 76:
There cometh one to follow thee: he shall expound it. But remember, o chosen one, to be me; to follow the love of Nu in the star-lit heaven; to look forth upon men, to tell them this glad word.
Insistence on dogmatic adherence as a matter of belief or blind faith is termed in the Book of the Law as the “word of Sin” that is “Restriction”. It is the destiny of the magi to follow the star. It is not the destiny of stars to follow a fool. What if we should abandon the love of Nuit and choose instead to follow the advice of fools and madmen? It is written, “wisdom giveth life to them that have it”. The Greek word used in the scripture is zoe, ‘life’, not thanatos, ‘death’. Also, “There is death for the dogs” (AL, II: 45), which is to say, there is death for the dogs of reason. The mysteries will not be apprehended by the human reason—Love is the law, love under will.
1. For the interest of those persons who may wish to examine all of the available ‘evidence’ in this curious matter of the Song of the Stele—and the evidence is substantial, involving painstaking detail—there is an article posted here. That is, if anyone really wants to. Matters of writing, editing and publishing correspond to the 17th path of Gemini. The Qliphoth, or evil inversion of the path, is traditionally termed, ‘The Changers’. Amusingly, the entry for this in Crowley’s book of tables in his Liber 777 is given as ‘The Clangers’, which was an ordinary ‘typo’, never corrected.
2. The holograph manuscript copy itself is titled ‘L’, XXX, on the cover. Crowley referred to typescripts of the book as Liber CCXX, as there are 220 verses. To add to the confusion, he later changed the title to ‘AL’, XXXI.
3. Book of the Law, I: 41.
4. Ecclesiastes, 7: 12: “The excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.” In the Greek, the word used for ‘wisdom’ is sophias (σοφιας); the word used for ‘life’ is zoe (ξοη).
5. Love is a law of relationship. It cannot therefore be followed out, practiced or understood in isolation.
© Oliver St. John 2018, revised 2022.
This essay is part of the collection, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs.