Lineage of the Magi

Faith in ‘lineage’ or Apostolic Succession has cast a shadow over organised occult communities for centuries.

Lineage of Magi: 'Unofficial' Argenteum Astrum Richel No 1489Authenticity, validation and legitimisation are essential to the world of law, business, government, politics, publishing and finances. Legitimisation conveys certain rights and privileges. It conveys authority. The ‘real’, the authentic, is a signature of trust, so that, for example, a person may be guided in their investments. When such validation is transferred to the realm of the esoteric, then the whole subject becomes somewhat less than transparent.

For example, the Apostolic Succession of Bishops is fundamental to the Roman Catholic doctrine. An unbroken line of patriarchs can be traced, according to the Vatican, back to the apostles of Jesus Christ. This conveys sacramental authority. According to the Epistle of Clement, the apostles appointed bishops as successors and directed the bishops to appoint successors. Since the Church has for centuries been divided into factions, many of these refuse to acknowledge the validity of the others. Legitimacy then exists within each exclusive group, while it is denied to all others. The arguments have continued for millennia, and will continue to perpetuity.

The causal chain quickly breaks apart when it serves to yoke an esoteric principle. Thus in some of the older Tarot decks, the 15th Atu depicts the polar twins, Adam and Eve, bound to the altar of the Devil of material and temporal power. The chain only holds Adam and Eve while they remain enthralled by the power of the wealthy governors of the world and their armies of obedient priests, bureaucrats and militia. Looked at another way, the Devil is simply the human ego, where identity is the primary concern.

This situation is by no means exclusive to the Roman Church. Magical Orders have followed the phantom of Apostolic Succession even to the present day. Each magical ‘brand’ makes capital of the trust invested by the faithful, while denouncing the others as charlatans. And so the lurching dance of the official apostles of verified truth surges ever onward, all about the altar of the Devil of World Illusion, spurred on by the trumpets and drums of the slaves that serve mammon.

Faith in ‘lineage’ or Apostolic Succession has cast a shadow over organised occult communities for centuries. To seek external validation or legitimisation is magical failure. As declared in the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, II: 5,

Behold! the rituals of the old time are black.

Cloud Upon the Sanctuary

The Order of A∴A∴ or Astrum Argenteum is the term coined by Aleister Crowley for his continuation of the Rosicrucian system of degrees based on the Hermetic Tree of Life. That system was the legacy of the Golden Dawn of SL MacGregor and Moina Mathers, founded in the late 19th century. In the first number of The Equinox Journal, Crowley presented ‘One Star in Sight’. This was his rewritten version of an earlier work by German philosopher Karl von Eckartshousen, The Cloud Upon the Sanctuary. The work was originally one of Christian mysticism, expressing the inner spiritual tradition of the West in allegorical terms.

Lineage of the Magi: Vault of Christian Rosenkreutz

The use of such allegory already existed in the Rosicrucian tradition, for example, Fama Fraternitatis (1614). The Cloud Upon the Sanctuary refers to a mysterious Elect, which has existed since the beginning of time. Its vision of a future theocracy, embracing the world, contains echoes of systems of governance that have already existed historically but are swathed in the mist of legend—as for example, that of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs.

While the terms used are allegorical—indeed, extremely romantic—it has always been the work of esotericism to make contact with what are called ‘inner plane intelligences’. Some, such as Crowley, have even sought to prove Their existence, though all such attempts must end in failure. The stone of the wise is not a material substance and cannot be proved by the means of rational scientism, though it may be known. Karl von Eckartshousen resigned from the Bavarian Order of Illuminati when he learned of their insistence that enlightenment could only be obtained through rationalism. Crowley, on the other hand, in rewriting Eckartshousen’s work to suit his own designs, and to assume leadership of the Golden Dawn, declared ‘Scientific Illuminism’ as the true path.

Lineage of the Magi: Heart of the Rosy CrossThe passing of the torch or beacon of light from one person to another, veiled in secrecy and silence, was not meant to refer to Apostolic Succession after the manner of Roman Catholic bishops. Such a succession or ‘lineage’ nonetheless holds considerable power for those who believe in it. Consequently there will always be those who claim it, so as to wield power and authority over others. Lineage then becomes, as with any much sought after commodity, a contentious subject. Argument sometimes leads to litigation, though more often than not the protagonists give vent to their rage through vilification and slander—much in the way that tomb robbers may argue and fight over the booty.

The question of authentication by lineage will nonetheless continue to hold a power of allurement, or ‘magical glamour’. The idea is intensely magnetic; its charge comes not from history or facts, but from romance and allegory, which has always been the language of the mysteries. The analogous mode of thought is a means of approaching truth that cannot be explained or described in rational terms without veiling that truth. The veil then becomes, as it were, a false Graal or object of the quest for knowledge and wisdom. Men and women may spend their whole lives pursuing such an object, for it is made luminous in the silver rays of hope; it is exalted in the golden halo of imagining. No sooner is it grasped than it becomes a handful of dry leaves that turns to dust, to be blown in the wind.

Lineage and the Blood of Saints

The mystery of blood and lineage, or Apostolic Succession, is best explained through an examination of the 15th and 24th paths on the Hermetic Tree of Life. These correspond to the Tarot trumps The Star XVII (Aquarius) and Death XIII (Scorpio). The placing of the Star of Nuit, Aquarius, on the 15th path is to end the ages old confusion between the blood of material generation and the pure essence that is the substance of spiritual regeneration.

Lineage of Magi: Star XVII and Death XIII Thoth TarotThe 15th path of the Star of Aquarius is the intelligence linking Chokmah (Wisdom) with Tiphereth (Beauty) on the Tree of Life.  The path is called The Constituting Intelligence, of which it is said, “The essence of creative force arises in pure darkness”.[1] The ‘pure darkness’ is the thread of the infinite Ain Soph, the formless, limitless space that is the numinous source of all. The power of manifesting or begetting by division is the power of Nuit, the Goddess of the Stars. Thus, in the Tarot trump of the path, a woman, naked as truth herself, pours forth the waters of life from two vases. In Liber AL vel Legis, I: 59, Nuit declares:

My incense is of resinous woods and gums; and there is no blood therein: because of my hair the trees of Eternity.

Incense and fragrance are ancient metaphors for pure spirit or essence—that ‘creative force that arises in pure darkness’. The ‘darkness’ is more than merely an absence of light. There were two trees in the Garden of Eden: the Tree of Life or visible light, and the Tree of Death, Night or Nuit—the invisible light or pure essence. ‘Blood’ is the self-replicating power or energy that moves through all incarnated creatures. Nuit asserts, however, that her creative essence is not of blood—for her function is not to perpetuate life forms on the physical plane. For this reason it was necessary to counterchange the Tarot trumps on the 15th and 28th paths of the Hermetic Tree as according to the cryptic instruction of Liber AL vel Legis, I: 57.

All these old letters of my Book are aright; but Tzaddi is not the Star.

Lineage of the Magi: Aquarius Glyph

By the change to the order of trumps, the starry 15th path or ‘window of imagining’ corresponds to Aquarius and Nuit, our Lady of the Stars. Aries, previously assigned to the 15th path, is the sign of the fire of blood, the blood of the Lamb in Christian mysticism. Aquarius, on the other hand, is the sign of the Waters of Space typified by the Egyptian hieroglyph of two streams of water or radiation. Nuit is the Egyptian goddess concerned with the occult or hidden side of nature. Her mysteries are those of sex and generation—not the generation of physical progeny, but that of the magical ‘child’ that is the true son or Sun-Star of Nuit.

The root of the Hebrew word for ‘resemblance’ or ‘imagination’ (DMINVI) means, ‘blood’. It is the self-replicating formula of all created beings personified by the ancient Egyptian god Besz. The Imaginative Intelligence of the 24th path of Scorpio works from the centre of the self in Tiphereth towards the desire plane of Netzach in order to bring about new modes of expression, vehicles for the self. On the way of return to Nuit, such vehicles are transcended and broken down—thus the full title of the Tarot trump associated with the 24th path is Child of the Great Transformers: Lord of the Gates of Death. The activity of this path comes about through the power of projecting mental images or thought-forms. The self-replicating formula is related to the creation of a magical ‘child’. This takes place through emergence, the process by which a network of interactions between individuals becomes an entity in itself. Such a complex, adaptive system transmits a particular current, vibration or wave pattern. Thus, spiritual regeneration, the occult formation of a magical Khu as opposed to an egregore sustained by a blood line, is well illustrated by the principle of wave patterns in physics—or the astrological glyph of Aquarius, the ancient Egyptian determinative for Nuit or ‘heaven’.

The proper role and function of a magical Order is to serve others in the Great Work. The role of the members of such an organisation is to assist men and women with their initiation. The service, if freely given, does not require external validation from patriarchs or peers. True initiation cannot be given, bestowed or conferred by any man or woman to any other. What can be passed on, given or validated in that way is worthless in spiritual terms. In fact, it is worse than that, for it conveys self-importance and, ultimately, betrayal for the soul—a bitter cup indeed. Investment of power in lineage is therefore a misdirection of the will and a wasting of the energy of the self.

If we can free our minds from the archaic limitations of the rituals of ‘blood’ we may find that in the path of the Imaginative Intelligence, in the emergence of the Khabs and Khu, is hidden the stone of the wise and elixir of life. The stone or jewel is not a remedy for the inevitable afflictions of the mortal life. It is far more than that. It is the opening of the way that leads to ultimate transcendence of the earth-bound limitations of time and death.


Notes

1. See the entry for number 15, The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth [Ordo Astri].

© Oliver St. John 2018
This is an abridgment of the essay, complete with annotations, that forms part of the collection, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs.

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Serpent Tongue of Liber AL vel Legis

Some of the passages in the (Egyptian) Book of the Law seem to have been put there expressly to bamboozle Aleister Crowley, the scribe. The same passages have befuddled many other persons since. Not least of which, is the passage of III: 47, which includes a word concerning the translation of the book into “all other tongues”. If the book is regarded as an encrypted esoteric treatise, there is some chance that wisdom might send her kiss to soothe our troubled brows. If the book is approached in the same way that lay preachers sometimes choose to construe their ‘holy bibles’, as literal instruction to be blindly obeyed, then what is there to distinguish Thelemites from those who burned so-called witches at the stake on the advice of the biblical book of Exodus? Interestingly, perhaps, Crowley never authorised or produced a translation of Liber AL vel Legis in his lifetime, even though the book’s instruction of III: 47 is one that appears to have been delivered to him personally.

Serpent Tongue: Loki’s Brood, Emil Doepler 1905

The written word may be taken literally or metaphorically. The laws of state governance, for example, are literally intended. Even then it is not straightforward; the difficulties of literal interpretation are such that a large army of lawyers and judges are required. When the written word is taken as spiritual wisdom, a matter for the soul, then the use of poetic metaphor is taken for granted. There is an exception to that. When persons wish to use scripture as a means of exercising political power and control, then the written word becomes a matter of dogmatic doctrinal assertion.

Hissing Serpent of Exodus

The eight hissing serpent words in the King James Bible version of Exodus, 22: 18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”, can be understood esoterically. There is a caveat to be applied to the Old Testament when applying the Qabalah to make sense of it. Some of the books, and Exodus is no exception, are merely political diatribes. Some chapters consist of lengthy lists of social and moral prohibitions and, as a consequence, dire curses and punishments to be meted out on sinners. The primary intention of producing such scriptures was to force mass compliance with emerging nation states. These require, along with the flag and usual hereditary emblems of governance, centralised religious worship to reinforce national identity. Military plans for conquest require finance and so increased taxation; by appealing to ignorance and xenophobia, support may be garnered for what would otherwise be unpopular legislation (what else is new?). Nonetheless, Aramaic, the language of the scriptures, is a magical language. As with ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, the written word affords multiple levels of interpretation—for there is no vowel pointing to indicate precise meaning, as with Modern Hebrew.

The word that was translated as ‘witch’ in the King James edition (and most others) is KShP (400), a verb which means, ‘to use magick or sorcery’. The noun for a magician or sorcerer is AShP (381), and this same name is also used to describe astrologers, for example—who, in those times, were regarded no differently than astronomers and physicians. Ironically, the three magi that follow a star to witness the birth of the magical child Jesus of Nazareth, as recorded in the New Testament, were likewise astrologers or magicians. The Qabalistic Gematria for the numbers 381 and 400 yields rich treasure.[1] The association of keshef with the Egyptian word for the constellation we know as Ursa Major, ShPK, ‘foreleg (or thigh) of the Bull’, also bears much fruit. We can avoid digression, though, by simply looking into the name for ‘a person that does magick’. AShP is ashah, ‘woman’, or ‘fire’, with the letter of the ‘mouth’ or ‘utterance’ added (P). The old magick, persisting even centuries after the end of the precessional age of the Bull, always concerned oracular women or priestesses. From times of great antiquity, the serpent was the zoötype of the oracular word. Eve was named simply ‘the woman’ (ashah) in the first book of Genesis. Eve and the Serpent are one, as typified in Thelemic imagery by Babalon and the Beast. We may also think of the zodiacal Bull and its polar twin, glyphed by the serpent and eagle as well as the scorpion. Thus it is not uncommon to find ancient depictions of the magician as a woman, naked as the sky, with the wings of a bird and bearing two serpents, one in each hand, all set against a background of stars. The three letters of the verb ‘to do magick’ (KPSh) encompass all these ideas, along with their Yetziratic path and Tarot correspondences. The ‘hand’ (kaph) of the goddess Fortuna that turns the wheel or chakra of time; the word from the ‘mouth’ () of the fire snake (shin).

The biblical association with the tricky Old Serpent produces the time-honoured instruction, known by every hermit, that if we succumb wholly to the proud persuasion of the reasoning intellect then we pour our life’s blood into the Ark of Evil and mistake dead things (including all ‘holy books’) for the living word. And that is exactly the error of the witch-burners and fundamentalists—not to mention the self-righteous worthies that sign up with the lynch mob every time the popular press pruriently parades the latest victim of some outrage—whether the alleged perpetrator is an individual person or ecclesiastical institution.

This book shall be translated into all tongues: but always with the original in the writing of the Beast; for in the chance shape of the letters and their position to one another: in these are mysteries that no Beast shall divine.

Serpent Tongue of AL, III: 47

The instruction of Liber AL, III: 47 appears, on the face of it, to be a lighter matter than that of Exodus, 22: 18. Yet the consequences for slavish obedience to the literal interpretation of an arcane treatise are incalculable, certainly in spiritual terms. “This book shall be translated into all tongues” has been enthusiastically taken up, so that the book is by now translated into almost every European language, and quite a few others. Unfortunately, it is impossible to translate the book into any language other than the ‘barbaric’ English that was heard by Rose and Aleister Crowley in Cairo in 1904 without making nonsense of it. When the book is translated into other tongues, the meaning is changed and strictly limited. As with ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, it is intentional, nay essential, that the text carries multiple levels of meaning. This can easily be demonstrated. If we go through some of the key verses or tenets and translate them into modern English, it no longer works. The book was written down in a peculiar hybrid of archaic and modern prose. Add to that some Greek and Coptic words, plus the very curious ‘Coph Nia’ (III: 72). The grammar does not conform to any accepted standard. There are neologisms, specially created words that do not appear in any dictionary, namely ‘unfragmentary’ and ‘abstruction’.[2] Thus, to translate into any other language renders the book completely useless as esoteric treatise. In ordinary translation work—and this is no ordinary book and no ordinary writing—one must make a clear difference between translating a text and interpreting that text. With the enigmatic Liber AL vel Legis, it is not possible to translate without applying precise definition of meaning. All attempts to translate the book have therefore failed utterly, and will continue to do so.

The elevenfold spell, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”, for example, translates into modern English as “Do what you will shall be the whole of the Law”. The substitution of ‘you’ for the archaic ‘thou’ automatically places personal emphasis on the nature of the will in question, which has already been defined in the book, I: 39, by the Greek word Thelema (Θελημα). The meaningful context for the use of that word owes to sixteen centuries of cultural and linguistic tradition. Furthermore, the ambiguity of present and future tense in the phrase automatically invokes the curse of causal determinism. We are then stuck with something perhaps worse than the rationalist argument of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in his treatise, The World as Will and Representation (1818).

II: 21 Nuit! Hadit! Ra-Hoor-Khuit! The Sun, Strength and Sight, Light; these are for the servants of the Star and the Snake.

To take one further example—each of the 220 verses of the book presents unique translation problems, some of which are completely insoluble—the noun ‘snake’ is neutral in English. The word appears four times in the book.[3] In some tongues other than English the noun must be either masculine or feminine. While it has become traditional to speak of the snake Hadit as ‘he’ in English, in some languages the masculine gender form of ‘snake’ has rather amusing connotations. In the Eastern Tantras, the serpent as Occult Force is usually identified with the feminine (shakti) power and intelligence. However, in the Book of the Law, Hadit is the polar complement of the star goddess Nuit, who is unmistakably female in form. The poetic sense of the book becomes lost in translation, as does its real spiritual and magical import.

The (Egyptian) Book of the Law shall certainly be ‘translated into all tongues’ in the sense that individuals will uniquely understand it each according to their wisdom.


Notes

The painting used here as an illustration is titled, Lokis Gezücht (Loki’s Brood), and was painted by Emil Doepler in 1905 (photograph Wikimedia Commons). It depicts the Nordic gods Hel, Fenrir and Jörmungandr the world serpent. Angrboða, the mother of sorrows, is thought to be shown in the background and to the left. The body of the serpent arches to form the mouth of the entrance to hell or the underworld, guarded over by the serpent’s mother. Thus the serpent nahesh and the letter , ‘a mouth’, are combined. As explained above, the Aramaic noun for a magical practitioner or ‘witch’, as termed in the King James Bible, is AShP, combining ‘woman’, ‘mouth’ or ‘oracle’ with the hissing sound of the serpent or fire snake.

1. See The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth, numbers 381 and 400 [Ordo Astri].
2. ‘Unfragmentary’ was the original (received) word of the Book of the Law, I: 26, “And the sign shall be my ecstasy, the consciousness of the continuity of existence, the unfragmentary non-atomic fact of my universality.” Aleister Crowley later sought to change the wording. The neologism, ‘abstruction’, was not changed by Crowley and appears in III: 11, “I will make easy to you the abstruction from the ill-ordered house in the Victorious City.”
3. Liber AL vel Legis, II: 21; II: 22; III: 34; III: 38.

© Oliver St. John 2018

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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.

DevotioLeft Hand Path of Magick and Theleman 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.

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. Indeed, he saw any dogmatic approach to God or religion as the consequence of ignorance and egotism.[1]

In 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 rejected 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 practices secret even among her adepts. The confusion deepens when it is considered there are many followers of Crowley who proclaim they practice the left hand path, while those who continue the legacy of Fortune would have us know they are chaste adherents of the right hand path.[3] Whether left or right, tantrik or ascetic, it seems to be the case that while adepts are willing to undergo rigorous self-discipline, this is not so with the more vociferous outer court followers of traditions having the stated purpose of direct knowledge of the mysteries. The revival of popular interest in magick and the occult that gathered momentum in Europe and America from the 1950s through to the late 1980s emerged, after all, from a burgeoning beatnik subculture.

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. We shall begin, therefore, with the Egyptian festival of the goddess Bastet, which outsiders deemed lewd.

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 the Nile Delta region of 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 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 the 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. 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 Mentu, 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, the Akkadians 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 the use of 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 Liber AL, I: 3, whose manifest star is Sirius:

Every man and every woman is a star.

Liber AL vel Legis, I: 3

By the Qabalistic method of 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. Kether, the Crown of the Tree of Life, may only be approached through the reflecting mirror of Da’ath, the ‘higher moon’ at the outer threshold of the planetary system, glyphed by the lower sephiroth. Da’ath is best understood as the apex of a tetrahedronal pyramid, of which the first three numbers form the base.[9] Thus, at the summit all ways meet. 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. See The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, translated by Swami Nikhilananda [Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Centre, New York, 1942]. In relation to Tantra, which Ramakrishna mastered quite early in his life, see pp. 20–22.
2. See Magick Without  Tears, Aleister Crowley. He there defines the left hand path as that of the ‘Black Brothers’, who refuse to surrender their ego and must depend on the ‘blood of victims’ to cheat the second death. Ultimately they are torn apart by the dispersive forces of the Abyss.
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.
9. Aleister Crowley, The Equinox Volume 1, No. 5, pp. 89, ‘The Temple of Solomon the King’. The note on Da’ath is thought to have been written by Frater Achad (Stansfeld Jones).

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

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