Why is the Pentagram upside-down?

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

Ordo Astri Symbol: Star and Snake Mandorla or Vesica PiscisThe Symbol of the Order: Is the star upside-down? The answer to that question all depends on where we are viewing it from. Aspirants should begin by thinking and meditating upon this symbol and its meaning.

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

Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram: Invoking Spirit

Averse Invoking Pentagram: Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram

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

The Pentagram: Averse and Aright

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

Dual Pentagram or Elevenfold Star of Union

Dual Pentagram: Star of Union, or Eleven

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

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

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

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

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

Attributions of the Pentagram

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

Attributions of the Pentagram

Attributions of the Pentagram (elemental)

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

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

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

The Pentagram: Golden Mean Spiral of Phi Ratio

1 + √52 ≈ 1.61803399 (or φ)

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

The Pentagram and Holy Guardian Angel

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

The Pentagram and the Wars in Heaven

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

Baphomet as drawn by Eliphas Levi: Hermetic Light

Baphomet as drawn by by Eliphas Levi

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

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

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


Notes

1. Our comment, Yoga and the Dweller on the Threshold, may be read here at Ordo Astri.
2. The Hermetic Qabalah is explained in clear, simple terms in the book required for our practical course: Hermetic Qabalah Foundation—Complete Course.
3. The cosmological explanation of the pentagrams and our ritual basis is given in the Introduction to Ritual Magick—The Rites and Ceremonies of Hermetic Light and is more fully revealed through the nine volumes that follow. The phi ratio and Golden Mean is discussed in the Dominus Liminis section.
4. For Eliphas Levi’s full description of his drawing of the ‘Sabbatic Goat’, see the ‘Explanation of the Figures’, pp. xiv Transcendental Magic.
5. The confusion between the ram-headed god of Mendes (Ba-neb-djedet) with a goat probably owes to the Greek traveller Herodotus. In a rather complicated account in his Histories, Herodotus describes the god of Mendes as goat-headed. Much popular fiction associating the worship or sacrifice of goats with ‘devil worship’ arises from this account. It is possible that, if Herodotus did indeed travel to Mendes, the local Egyptians were pulling his leg! [Herodotus, History, Book II pp. 42, Robin Waterfield translation.]

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

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Hermetic Qabalah Foundation

This article is about the Hermetic Qabalah Foundation course. The  course is presented in the book, Hermetic Qabalah Foundation—Complete Course.

Hermetic Qabalah Foundation: Tree of LifeThe Hermetic Qabalah Foundation is the best place to begin for those who desire a thorough grounding in magick. Here is the Qabalah in theory and practice. The mode of practical work in the Hermetic Qabalah Foundation course is to travel the Tree of Life from top to bottom instead of bottom to top. The method was first developed by the Helios Group in England in the late 1950s. The Helios Group was a project that was developed in association with the Fraternity of Inner Light. The author and Qabalist Gareth Knight (Basil Wilby) had much to do with what was then called the Helios Course in practical Qabalah, in consultation with Israel Regardie. The bulk of that course, fifty lessons and fifty months of study and work was penned by WE Butler, working on commission.

The modern Hermetic Qabalah Foundation bears little comparison with the Helios course; there is no Arthurian symbolism, no Graal castle and, with all due respect to our mentors, ‘Thelema’ is not a word used to clear the room after a party. The course takes one year to complete.

There is in reality no such thing as a beginner’s course in magick. The ancient Egyptians did not have one set of hieroglyphs for novices and another set for priest-kings; they are all the same hieroglyphs. The Hermetic Qabalah Foundation was written and structured in such a way as to teach the novice how to make their way through the labyrinth of symbolism that pervades the subject. The course also serves the purpose of enabling the student that is properly prepared a chance to forge the necessary inner-plane contacts. If a master of magick were to work their way through the same course, they would not be wasting one minute of their time, for they would work it to their own level of ability and knowledge.

Hermetic Qabalah Foundation: Holy Guardian Angel

The primary objective of the Great Work is the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. In many ways the Angel can be regarded as a divine lover, for the Knowledge and Conversation is the most complete form of consummation within human experience. Qabalistically, union between the ego and the non-ego takes place in Tiphereth, the heart and centre of the Tree of Life. This then becomes the seat of the True Will or True Self. In the normal state of affairs Tiphereth is merely the place of the lower ego, which has usurped the position of its true ruler, prince and king. The mundane chakra attributed to Tiphereth—its physical vehicle in the cosmos—is the Sun. The symbol used for this star is a circle with a point in the centre. The circle with a point in the centre is also the symbol of Kether concentrated from the Ain Soph Aur, the void from which emerges the point of consciousness. As Kether is in Malkuth and Malkuth is in Kether, the Vision of the Holy Guardian Angel is attributed to Malkuth on the Tree. The Holy Guardian Angel informs the person while they are incarnated in a body of flesh—the Great Work as understood by Hermeticists is not something that is postponed until an after-life.[1]


Notes

1. From Hermetic Qabalah Foundation—Complete Course, pp. 38.
© Oliver St. John, 2018

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Enigmatic Magick of Set and Thelema

There is very little in historical records concerning the nature of the god Set. Light research will reveal little other than the legendary battles between Set and Horus. The battles owe to middle and late dynastic times, by which time Set had become thoroughly demonised.

Egyptian Tarot of Thelema Set XVOriginally, Set was 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] As written in the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, Liber AL, II: 3–4,

In the sphere I am everywhere the centre, as she, the circumference, is nowhere found.
Yet she shall be known and I never.

The ‘Sethian Gnosis’ forms part of the collection of works attributed to Hermes Trismegistus.[2] There we find what is very likely a pre-dynastic ancient Egyptian cosmological trinity. The principles of light and darkness are permeated by spirit or fragrance, forming the matrix for manifestation. The trinity is the geometric expression of Set or Saturn, the basis of form as an idea on the spiritual plane. Qabalistically, the three veils of the limitless, Ain Soph Aur, are projected through Da’ath (Set-Hadit) to form the triangular basis of the Tree of Life, or of Eternity.

The mysteries of Set were resumed, in fragmentary form, in other Gnostic scriptures. In Pistis Sophia, the name of Jesus is said to be ABERAMENTHO. While Christian theology insists the name ‘Jesus’ to be that of a historical personage, the Graeco Egyptian name clearly means, ‘image (likeness) of Ra-Mentu’. The god Mentu combines the attributes of both the solar Ra and the lunar Set. ABERAMENTHOOO thus identifies the Gnostic Christ with Set-Typhon as the Initiator.

The Coptic name, which begins with alpha and ends with omega, adds Qabalistically to the number 1013. 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 oneself ‘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-mentu.

Mentu is the name of the god that appears on the obverse of the Stele of Revealing. He has various names, including Horakhty, the Sphinx who is ‘Horus in the Horizon’, and Ra Hoor Khuit, which is the longer form of the same. The fact that this god is commonly held to be the solar child of Isis and Osiris serves as a convenient veil drawn over the identification with Set. The cult of Osiris was not dominant throughout the two lands of Egypt until relatively late dynastic times. Ra-Mentu, on the other hand, is particular to the ancient Theban cult of Thelema, embodying 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 Liber AL vel Legis, the source book of Thelema, declares the secret doctrine of the cult of Set-Typhon and not the exoteric rites of Isis, Osiris and their child Horus. The birth of Set as the manifesting star of Nuit required no paternal intervention—and that is a key of primordial import.

Set and the Capricorn Solstice

The hedonist revelry of Christmas is all the more bizarre when we consider that 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—though profane humanity neither knows nor cares.

Socrates and his modern day adorants prefer the naturalistic explanation of supernatural phenomena, which does not dare contradict the sacred shrine of dogmatic material science. While asceticism demands that visible nature is abhorrent, pre-religious spiritual doctrines assert that visible nature is the form of the formless, a miraculous demonstration of the existence of God. This cannot 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, Esoteric Thelema 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; he is 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.[4] Thus do we go forth, be it in darkness or light!

It is no accident that Saturn is the planetary ruler of two Zodiac 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 the double signs, invoking the Lords of Unbalanced Force.[5]

The Egyptian and Thelemic New Year

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. Esoteric Thelema has the New Year beginning with the Capricorn solstice, not the Aries equinox. So far as nature is concerned, this is so obvious as not to require an explanation. We could also term this the commencement of the Qabalistic or Platonic New Year, while bearing in mind that Plato learned it all from the Egyptian priesthood.[6] In the land of 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. As declared in Liber AL, I: 1–2, the opening of the book,

Had! The manifestation of Nuit.
The unveiling of the company of heaven.

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 Magick of Light’, The Phoenix and other Stellar Rites of Initiation [Ordo Astri].
2. See Thrice Greatest Hermes: Studies in Hellenistic Theosophy and Gnosis, GRS Mead [Kessinger Books].
3. See The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth Volume Two [Ordo Astri].
4. Qabalistically, ‘serpent’ and ‘messiah’ are equal terms, for the Serpent  (NChSh) that initiated Eve and the Messiah  (MShICh), or ‘anointed one’, both add to the number 358. See The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth [ibid].
5. Crowley had a 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. See Hermetic Astrology [Ordo Astri].
6. For more on the god Set and the Qabalistic year, see Capricorn: Egyptian Tarot of Thelema Set XV.

© Oliver St. John 2017, 2019

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