Magical Art of Surreal Romanticism

Magical Art: Throughout the long dark history of humanity there have been magi. While some are known for their works, be it art or literature, there must be countless men and women that have either failed to develop their innate gift or have succeeded in mastering it while keeping silence to the end. Of those that fail to develop the gift (or curse)—whether by refusing it, fleeing from it in horror or becoming insane, there is little to be said. Of those that master it, whether partially or fully, some are known and others will never be known since they did not utter a word.

The word of a magus is irrevocable, as we shall see, though it is said that failure to utter a word is equally irrevocable since it must beget an abortive child. The momentum of the immense forces that first push the soul onward and then draw the soul inexorably inward towards annihilation of ego identity is sufficient to split the atom or, in psychic terms, to fragment the soul until its very name is forgotten and it endures dispersion and ultimate oblivion. The magical child, however, of which it is the object of the art of magical alchemy or of the Great Work to produce, is not the result of any cause. The ancient chestnut of determinism has become a poisoned apple in the hands of modern philosophers and rationalists. The magical child of consciousness—otherwise termed the True Will—grows as a seed in the silence of the womb of the cosmic Matrix. The fruit and the flower, nonetheless, has preexisted the seed. For this reason, the magi have oft been reported as stricken with awe at the sight of a portentous star where no star previously was seen, or plunged into rapture at the sight of a wild orchid blooming in a desert where a single drop of rain would amount to a miracle.

Magical Art: The Magus of Power, Ithell Colquhoun

The Magus of Power, from Ithell Colquhun TARO

Magical Art: Surrealism and the Occult

Automatism in the arts is frequently confused with mere techniques. True automatism is an inexorable condition of mind and soul that to all intents and purposes is exercised outside and beyond the will of the person, whether they are destined to become a master, a magus, or merely another victim swallowed up by an incomprehensible universe. For ordinary purposes, we may define artistic automatism thus:

The avoidance of conscious intention in producing works of art so that subjectivity forms the primary basis of the work.

Automatism was not an invention of the Surrealists, or of Sigmund Freud, but has always existed in magick and alchemy. Among the finest examples are the sigils or magical signatures of the Qabalistic Intelligences and Spirits of the planets as given by Cornelius Agrippa in Three Books of Occult Philosophy (1531) and centuries later copied into The Magus, by Francis Barrett (1801). These beautiful designs, along with other more abstruse signatures that can be found in medieval grimoires, were written on virgin parchment by the hand of the spirit, not that of the scribe. We also have the evidence of the Enochian language received through the invocations and skrying of Elizabethan mage John Dee and his assistant seer, Edward Kelley.

Occult artist and writer Ithell Colquhoun—a friend of André Breton, Aleister Crowley and later, Kenneth Grant—was a member of the Surrealist School. Ithell Colquhoun defined her use of automatism as super-automatism, presumably to distinguish the method from the same term that is used in psychiatry and law. We shall from hereon adopt the term as used by Colquhoun, super-automatism, when we are referring to spiritual, magical or artistic method or even natural inclination.

Within the modern Hermetic magical tradition there are some notable examples of super-automatism. Aleister Crowley claimed that he magically received, through the mediumship of his wife Rose, the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, in Cairo 1904. When the book was first received, Crowley added a note to the manuscript saying:

This is a highly interesting example of genuine automatic writing.

Crowley later insisted the book was dictated by a praeterhuman intelligence named Aiwass, his Holy Guardian Angel. In fact, there need be no essential contradiction between magical super-automatism and contact with a praeterhuman agency. Crowley was very sensitive, however, as to how the book might be viewed by posterity. He did not want what he considered to be his most important work compared with drawing room séances and psychism.

Magical Art: Sabbath (1954), Austin Osman Spare (sketchbook)

Sabbath (1954), Austin Osman Spare (sketchbook)

Artist Austin Osman Spare (1886–1956), who was associated with both Crowley and occult writer Kenneth Grant, used super-automatism in drawing, painting, and in the creation of magical scripts and even textual narratives. As super-automatism has been used in magical and Hermetic disciplines since time immemorial it can readily be seen why Surrealist artists shared ideas in common with occultists. Automatism is sometimes compared to free association, a method used by Sigmund Freud to plunder the so-called unconscious mind of his clients. The French poet André Breton, who published the Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, became aware of automatism through the work of Freud. Breton here defined Surrealism as follows:

Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

The method used by Breton and others involved writing down as rapidly as possible anything that comes to mind. Thus modern automatism began as a literary method. Artist Max Ernst supplied the ‘first’ visual automatism by making collages from sections cut out from magazines, catalogues, advertisements or anything else that was available. Other painters enthusiastically took up automatism, from Joan Miro, André Masson and Ithell Colquhoun to Jackson Pollock, noted for his development of abstract expressionism. Although automatism is usually regarded as a separate method from that which Salvador Dali termed paranoiac critical, the end or object is really the same. Paranoiac critical can be defined as:

The artist invoking a paranoid state with the intention of deconstruction of the psychological concept of ego-identity.

Paranoia is taken to mean the fear that one is being manipulated or controlled by others. This may of course include the paranoid manipulation of others. Some of the tricks that Dali liked to play were very much inclusive of the ‘audience’, so the boundaries between who was doing what to whom were blurred, increasing the paranoia for all concerned! The aim of the method, however, is that subjectivity becomes the primary basis of the work. It is to defeat the rational mind, prohibitions and censorship that stem from ego.

Ithell Colquhoun (1906–1988) described her work as “mantic”. Mantic means, “pertaining to divination or prophecy”, and is derived from the Greek, mantikos, “divination”, mantis, “prophet”. Unlike other artists, Colquhoun deliberately wished to connect Surrealism with magick, both philosophically and in terms of method or technique. In her own writings she drew comparisons between visual art and the medieval art of alchemy. Colquhoun wanted to achieve a union of natural and spiritual forces as well as a union of the disciplines of art and the occult. The union of subject and object, the I-Self with all that is ‘other’, the Not-Self, is the goal of yoga or union, and is a prerequisite for magick and mysticism at advanced levels.

Magical Art: Phallus of Cosmic Recollection

Thomas De Quincey employed a type of super-automatism, comparable to Salvador Dali’s paranoiac critical; in so doing, De Quincey may have endured, and attempted to describe in his writing, the equivalent ordeal in a Rosicrucian Hermetic fraternity called the Curse of a Magus. Any attempt to describe the indicible is doomed to failure, hence the “curse”, for as cleverly suggested by Aleister Crowley in his The Book of Lies, there is a certain obligation to speak truth even while knowing full well it will be fatally misconstrued or otherwise perceived as alogia or simple incoherence.

Others will also see the utterer of the truth, the irrevocable word, as a liar, madman or fool. The magus must utter an irrevocable word yet must reverse consciousness to sail a vessel against the flow of time and return to the source of the fountain of all life. To meditate upon Wisdom herself is to behold divinity face to face, the magical power of Chokmah—it is also to court with madness. According to Thomas De Quincey (1856 Revision to Confessions):

If in this world there is one misery having no relief, it is the pressure on the heart from the Incommunicable. And if another Sphinx should arise to propose another enigma to man—saying, What burden is that which only is insupportable by human fortitude? I should answer at once—It is the burden of the Incommunicable.

© Oliver St. John 2016, 2018
Extracts from the book, The Magical Art of Surreal Romanticism.
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Revival of Magick

Magick includes astrology and religious mythology. The term is inclusive of metaphysics, philosophy, theology, theurgy, divination and prophecy.

There is no such thing as self-initiation. We can try to lift ourselves by our own bootstraps but the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Theurgy is the “practice of the divine”—solipsism is therefore a considerable bar to meaningful progress. A unity necessarily encompasses All and None.

Magick

It is impossible to convey any sense of what magick is all about to the mind of the person that lacks the ability or the will to perceive it for their self. To explain and rationalise magick in the hope that ‘men of science’ and other worthies might achieve illumination is a mission doomed to failure from the outset. Every idea the mind of man is able to conceive breaks down completely when subjected to analysis. The fact completely escapes those requiring proof of reality. Most persons today comfortably imagine magick to be no more than superstition and fantasy.

Magick: ROTA or Rose Cross Mandala with Crux Ansata from the book, Magical Theurgy

Magick includes astrology and religious mythology. The term is inclusive of metaphysics, philosophy, theology, theurgy, divination and prophecy. Magick embraces the life of the human soul, for the soul cannot be weighed, measured or otherwise accounted for. One can hardly overstate the fact that a considerable body of traditional knowledge collected over many thousands of years has been lost, forgotten or discarded as useless.

The revival of magick since the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in Britain (1951) owes a great deal to Aleister Crowley (1875–1947) and Violet Firth (better known as Dion Fortune, 1890–1946). Neither of these would have described themselves as witches, even if it had been lawful then to do so. If anything, they thought of themselves as practitioners of a Sacred Science. There is a dry, academic side to the occult, but to those that dare practice it, the romance and glamour surrounding the subject is indispensible to its effective operation. Both Crowley and Firth were aware of this, incorporating it in their writings. The part that romance plays is frequently misunderstood by historians and academics. ‘Factual’ accounts of the Western Magical Tradition are therefore suffused with allegations and counter-allegations of fraud and charlatanism. Crowley provided a rational explanation for magick that has been widely adopted:

Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.[1]

Crowley nonetheless insisted that magick should, even at the very outset, be directed towards a mystic goal, defined as the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.

It is necessary to deal with, and to dispose of, some myths. Firstly, we must deal with the notion of belief. There is much talk of beliefs and of ‘systems of belief’ whenever the subject of magick is discussed. The way of the magician or occultist is the Way of Knowledge, called Jnanayoga by Hindu philosophers. Belief is the enemy of knowledge, since the noun implies a static state of affairs, an end of the matter. In nature, there is nothing static; there is nothing that can truly be said to have an ending or a beginning. Why then should we have any need for belief? Belief is the weakness of clinging to an illusion in the vain hope that by doing so, an illusion can be turned into reality. To seek the real, we must eschew the folly of belief. Crowley had no intentions of making a religion out of magick or the Law of Thelema—this was done posthumously, in his name. The Egyptians, and other ancient races and cultures predating the introduction of compulsory state monotheism around 500 BCE, had no word in their language for “religion”.

Close on the tail of belief is hypnosis and hypnotism. Making oneself the passive subject of any hypnotic experiment was regarded with such horror by the adepts of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn that a mighty oath was sworn by its aspirants, who solemnly pledged never to allow this. It is not uncommon now to hear that hypnotism is not only useful in magick but is also an indispensible requirement. Altered states of consciousness are sometimes referred to as trances, but the need to discern the difference is not a matter of semantics. The idea that magick works by implanting suggestions in your mind—or worse, the minds of others—to enable something to become true that you previously thought to be false or unlikely is patently absurd. It may obtain ‘results’ for persons obsessed with the objects of their desire but such results are entirely in the realm of illusion. It is the art of the stage conjuror.

We are therefore happy to follow Aleister Crowley in adopting the spelling of magick with a “k” so as to distinguish what we do from that which is done purely to transfer cash from gullible and easily distracted persons to the pockets of the professional con artist.


Notes

[1] From the Introduction to Magick in Theory and Practice, Aleister Crowley.
This article is from the book, Magical Theurgy—Rituals of the Tarot.
The ROTA crux ansata Tarot illustration is from the cover art to the above book.

© Oliver St. John 2015, 2018
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Oracle of Babalon

A book collector, Sir Robert Cotton (1571–1631), purchased the field where John Dee had buried his diary records, and proceeded to dig them up. The Cotton Manuscripts were subsequently edited and published by Meric Casaubon in his A True and Faithful Relation (1659).

Babalon Oracle and Enochian

An operation recorded by John Dee on the 23rd May 1587 is commonly thought to have been the result of skrying the 7th Aethyr of the Enochian system. There is no evidence from John Dee’s diaries that Dee and Kelly ever skryed any of the 30 Aethyrs directly; the idea originated from comparison of the Daughter of Fortitude oracle with Aleister Crowley’s skrying of the 7th Aethyr, centuries later. The spirit invoked in the skrying crystal by John Dee was Madimi, the same spirit that was contacted at the beginning of the Enochian work. The mischievous spirit had sometimes appeared naked, causing some consternation to the two men.

Enochian Oracle of Babalon: Whore of Babylon, William Blake

More Oracular Myths

There is a popular myth that the vision so unnerved Kelly that it caused him to permanently part company with Dee and sever all relations. This story was elaborated and dramatised somewhat by Kenneth Grant in his book, The Magical Revival and has been oft repeated; the alleged criminal activities of Kelly that supposedly followed might owe more to Crowley’s past life fantasies than any historical evidence. In fact, according to Dee’s record, the reading over of the Oracle from the Daughter of Fortitude, described in the diary as the “Golden Woman”, caused the two men “great comfort”. The vision was received soon after Dee and Kelly, with some reluctance, obeyed an instruction to share their wives in common. This is all the more extraordinary on consideration that all four parties involved were devout, God-fearing Christians. On 3rd May, the four had signed a pledge, concerning what was termed as a strange and secret doctrine that “should unto no mortal man be disclosed”:

We four (whose heads appeared under one crystalline crown, and in one pillar united and enclosed) do most humbly and heartily thank thee (O Almighty God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier) for all thy mercies and benefits hitherto received in our own persons, and in them that appertain unto us; and at this present do faithfully and sincerely confess and acknowledge that thy profound wisdom in this most new and strange doctrine (among Christians) propounded, commended and enjoined unto us four only, is above our human reason, and our Catholic Christian profession to like of…

John Dee’s method of invocation appears to have been a simple prayer to be “instructed in the understanding and practice of wisdom”. The result was a beautiful and truly remarkable oracle received from Sophia or Babalon, whose mystery is that she is a harlot, loved by many, and yet remains a virgin. A Hermeticist may readily understand this to be Isis, Nuit-Babalon or the Shakti of the Eastern Tantras. As Shekinah or female holy presence her natural abode is Binah or Saturn, above the Abyss of the Hermetic Tree of Life. As the Graal or Graal cup holder, she is naturally the receiver of all and the refuser of none. The vision was, however, received by two men during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Kelly described Babalon in terms evocative of the Scarlet Woman (Babylon) of the book of Revelation or Apocalypse:

All her attire is like beaten gold; she hath on her forehead a cross crystalline, her neck and breast are bare unto under her dugs. She hath a girdle of beaten gold slackly buckled unto her with a pendant of gold down to the ground.

The Oracle of Babalon

I am the daughter of fortitude and ravished every hour, from my youth. For behold, I am understanding, and science dwelleth in me; and the heavens oppress me. They covet and desire me with infinite appetite; for none that are earthly have embraced me, for I am shadowed with the circle of the sun, and covered with the morning clouds. My feet are swifter than the winds, and my hands are sweeter than the morning dew. My garments are from the beginning, and my dwelling place is in my self. The lion knoweth not where I walk, neither do the beasts of the field understand me. I am deflowered, and yet a virgin; I sanctify, and am not sanctified. Happy is he that embraceth me: for in the night season I am sweet, and in the day full of pleasure. My company is a harmony of many symbols, and my lips sweeter than health itself. I am a harlot for such as ravish me, and a virgin with such as know me not: For lo, I am loved by many, and I am a lover to many; and as many as come unto me as they should do, have [my knowledge].

As yet, I walk in the clouds; as yet, I am carried by the winds, and cannot descend unto you for the multitude of your abominations, and the filthy loathsomeness of your dwelling places.

Purge your streets, o ye sons of men, and wash your houses clean; make yourselves holy, and put on [the garments of truth]. Cast out your old strumpets, and burn their clothes; [avoid the company of the profane, for they do not know me] and then will I come and dwell amongst you. I will open my garments, and stand naked before you, that your love may be more enflamed towards me. And behold, I will bring forth children unto you, and they shall be [as vessels of love and truth].

Babalon added repeated warnings not ever to disclose this knowledge to the profane. The vision describes the method of Enochian sexual magick best termed as Jnanamudra; when practiced by the adept, Jnanamudra leads automatically to Mahamudra. The Oracle bears comparison with the Sethian Gnostic text, Thunder Perfect Mind or Divine Barbelo, dated to the middle of the 2nd century CE. However, Dee and Kelly could not possibly have seen this, since the Nag Hammadi texts were buried in a cave in Egypt and not discovered until 1945 e.v. It is worth noting that John Dee began his Enochian magical operation to recover lost ancient books through the means of clairvoyance.


Notes

From the forthcoming book, Enochian Magick—Skrying the Aethyrs.
We have taken the liberty of revising some of the Oracle as it appears in the Cotton Ms. for the purpose of magical invocation: In Nomine Babalon. Any altered or moved text is placed in paranthesis.

1. The word “symbols” is sometimes given as “cymbals”; the English language of the time had no standard spelling, the word could be either, and either word fits the context.
2. The original text gives “entertainment” which we have rendered “knowledge”. Babalon is clearly not an entrepreneur.
3. The sentence, “As yet I walk in the clouds…” was originally the last, we have placed it here where it sits more comfortably in the overall flow of the passage.
4. The last line, originally “sons of love”, could be interpreted “sons of God”, since in the Enochian language “love”, BLIOR, is a name of the Holy Guardian Angel. One thinks also of the Nephalim, mentioned in the book of Genesis and Apocryphal book of Enoch—the lost book that John Dee was in fact hoping to recover by clairvoyant means.

A Note on Jack Parsons and the “Babalon Working”: It was most probably Jack Parsons, a rocket scientist and former disciple of Aleister Crowley, that initially made the comparison between the vision of Babalon and Crowley’s skrying of the 7th Aethyr. The “Babalon Working” of Jack Parsons and L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, is now widely documented. Through this, Parsons obtained his Liber 49, an Oracle from Babalon that Parsons imagined to be a fourth chapter of the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis.

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Aquarius and the Nightside

The Tarot trump for the 15th path of Aquarius is The Star XVII. The esoteric title of the path is Daughter of the Firmament: Dweller between the Waters.

Thoth Tarot The Star XVII Aquarius

Aquarius Invocation from Ritual Magick—The Rites and Ceremonies of Hermetic Light:

Thou art the Daughter of the Firmament, the Dweller between the Waters. Thou art eternity. Thou art the Star of Nuit. Thou art love, and the lamps of Venus! Thou art the window of heaven and the destiny of man to attain. Thou art the Holy Graal itself, and the amrita with which it is filled, thou art ambrosia of the Gods. Thou art the Waters of Space and thy cup is Binah on the Tree of Life. Thy veil is the Abyss betwixt the great sea and the fertile earth, the clouds that are broken up and drop down dew. Thou art the goddess of Infinite Space, and Babalon thy daughter. Thine are the Marks of Space, and thine art is Occult. Thy magical weapons are the Censer for the perfumes, as clouds carry the distillation of the water of earth and the Aspergillum for the sprinkling of the lustral water. For this is alike as to the shedding of the rain from the clouds. I invoke thee, whose number is eleven! I invoke thee, continuous one of Heaven!

The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth Volume One:

1. The placing of The Star XVII 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. The 15th path of Hé connects Chokmah, the sphere of the Zodiac, with Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun. The 15th path is called the Constituting Intelligence because it is the essence of creative force that arises in pure darkness; the word used for “essence” is etzem, which has the same root as OTz, “tree”, from whence the Tree of Life. The same word etzem can mean “bone”, “body”, “life”, “substance”.

2. The power of manifesting or begetting is the primal power of the Goddess, which is that of division into two; the path therefore corresponds to the Goddess of the Stars. As declared by Nuit in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, I: 59:

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

3. Chokmah is the chakra of the Zodiac, as separate and distinct from the fixed stars, which are the domain of Kether and the North Pole of the universe. The Zodiac is the belt or girdle of Venus, the planetary symbol of Nuit in her manifestation as visible nature. Incense and fragrance are ancient metaphors for pure spirit or essence—that essence of creative force that arises in pure darkness. The darkness itself is a metaphor, since it is more than merely an absence of light. Visible light is a veil, an appearance that clothes the nakedness of Nuit, whose essence is the ‘Not’ of space. 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 of Non-Being. ‘Blood’ is the self-replicating power or energy that moves through all incarnated creatures, yet the oracle of Nuit asserts that her creative essence has “no blood therein”. It is therefore necessary to counterchange the Tarot trumps on the 15th and 28th paths, for Aries, previously assigned to the 15th path, is the sign of the fire of blood, the blood of the Lamb as depicted 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.

4. Nuit is the Star Goddess particularly concerned with the occult or hidden side of nature; her mysteries are those of sex and generation—not the generation of physical progeny but the generation of the magical ‘child’ that is the true son or Sun-Star of Nuit.

5. The magical power of the 15th path is that of Astrology; the starry wisdom of the 15th path should not be confused with popular notions of astrology.

Aquarius and the Qabalah

Aquarius, the Waters of Space, is a fixed air sign ruled by Saturn, the principle of limitation and form. The letter hé of the fifteenth path of Aquarius on the Hermetic Tree of Life means “a window”, and has the value of 5. The window of ‘five’ is the image of the starry goddess Nuit, The Star, through which the seer perceives the primordial wisdom. The path begins in Chokmah, associated with the ajna chakra or third eye, and terminates in Tiphereth, the beauty of all the sephiroth in radiant harmony. While Chokmah manifests fully as Mazloth or the Zodiac, in visible nature Tiphereth appears as the Sun, the life-giving spirit that animates the 12 signs through the course of the year. The key to the Zodiac is the Sun acting through Spirit in governance of the four elements, Fire, Air, Water and Earth.

The Hebrew word for Zodiac, Mazloth, provides a key to understanding the transmission of consciousness that is veiled by the symbolism of the fifteenth path. In The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth, we find under the number 251 the Greek word imas, the thong, strap or girdle of the goddess Venus:

Esoterically the green line or girdle of Venus is the belt of the zodiac or ecliptic that encircles the earth; the planetary or mundane chakra name of Chokmah is Mazloth, the Zodiac.

Under ChKMVTh, 474 (equal to DOTh or Da’ath), we find:

Chokmah the second sephira is the sphere of the zodiac, Mazloth; the starry wisdom is the primordial gnosis, the secret kept by the Sethians or Typhonians, the builders of the oldest pyramids. The root of Mazloth is MZLA (78), a type of influx or influence from Kether or the North Pole of the universe.

The influx or Mazla is described thus, under the number 78:

MZLA has the meaning of flowing, to flow down in drops; it is a whirling or spiralic, radiant force. As MZLVTh is the name of the Zodiac, MZLA refers to the stars of Draco and Thuban at the North Pole. The Dragon constellation is named thus because at one time it coincided with the Nodes of the Moon, Caput Draconis and Cauda Draconis. It is therefore a cosmic symbol of the Kundalini or Serpent Power, embodying the polar electro-magnetic force of the universe. The idea of “flowing” and “drops” (as in dew drops) suggests that Kether is to be regarded as feminine or neutral—the sahasrara chakra of the Tantras is described as a Moon or moonflower, turned downwards.

As declared by the Goddess Nuit in Liber AL vel Legis, I: 9:

Worship then the Khabs, and behold my light shed over you!

Aquarius and the Nightside

Nuit is depicted in the Tarot trump numbered 17 not as cosmic space but as visible nature, her manifestation. The esoteric title of the trump is Daughter of the Firmament: Dweller between the Waters. The ‘waters’ are symbolised by the two cups that Nuit bears, gold for the blood or energy of the universe and silver for the dew of the stars, the elixir of life. The seven-pointed star in the Crowley-Harris image is that of Venus; esoterically the number seven also relates to Set or Sirius, the Sun-behind-the-Sun.

Kenneth Grant, who devoted his life to an exploration of the Nightside of the Tree, is the primary source for a study of the ‘dark’ aspects of the path that is both detailed and imaginative. In his book Nightside of Eden, concerning the fifteenth Tunnel of Set, he says that:

Seven, or Sevekh, was the primal goddess of the seven stars (Ursa Major) of the planisphere, and these stars or rays were the seven heads of the Dragon of the Deep that later appeared in the Christian myth as the Beast of the Apocalypse. The Star of the 15th kala is therefore the Star of Sothis or Shaitan, and is concealed in the feminine generative essence known as the soul or blood of Isis.

Grant then goes on to note, regarding the magical power of the fifteenth path:

The magical siddhi associated with this kala is Astrology which—on the other side of the Tree—has a very different connotation to that which it usually obtains, for it is there the genuine science of the stars, or kalas, and differs from the popular conception of astrology as does the Tarot from the vulgar playing-card game.

That which Kenneth Grant terms as “stars, or kalas” are not the visible gems of the night sky—though they have their correspondence with them. More often than not he is referring to the nodes and constellations of a matrix—perceptible to the seer as a shining gossamer web—that extrudes from the body of the consecrated Shakti. The Sri Yantra of the Eastern Tantras is a geometric symbol of this matrix. The same matrix was displayed in ancient Egyptian depictions of the Goddess, especially the polymorphic variations of Nuit and Hathoor, by networks of five-pointed or five-fingered stars. The Egyptian hieroglyph for the radiation of light or transmission of energy is identical to the astrological wave-glyph for the zodiacal sign of Aquarius.

Notes

For more on Draco and Thuban, the Pole Star of antiquity, see Ritual Magick—The Rites and Ceremonies of Hermetic Light (Ordo Astri). The Tarot image of The Star XVII is from the Crowley and Frieda Harris Thoth deck. Nightside of Eden by Kenneth Grant forms a part of his nine volume Typhonian Trilogies (Starfire Publishing) and deals with all the paths of the Nightside or Tree of Knowledge. Quotations are from Part Two, Chapter 5.

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Capricorn: Angel, Devil, Dweller on the Threshold

The 26th path of Capricorn is called the Renewing Intelligence. The Tarot trump assigned to the path is The Devil XV. The esoteric title is Lord of the Gates of Matter: Child of the Forces of Time. The Devil portrayed in most Tarot decks is a hybrid creature with bat-like wings, somewhat akin to Baphomet, the goat-foot God said to be worshipped by the Knights Templars.

Crowley-Thoth Tarot The Devil XV Capricorn

Capricorn the Devil

Aleister Crowley’s design identifies this Devil with Pan, the All-Begetter, and it is a brazenly phallic portrayal. The devilish goat has a third eye in the middle of his forehead. At the top of the Tarot trump is shown the rings of Saturn—for Capricorn is ruled by that planet in astrology. Saturn may also be identified with the ancient Egyptian Set, the ass-headed God of the desert. The desert is a symbol of the spiritual wilderness that seekers of truth and knowledge have entered into since time immemorial. The Hebrew name for the planet Saturn is Shabbathai—and from that word was derived the legendary Sabbath of the Witches. The image of Capricorn represents creative energy in its most material form. To quote from Crowley’s The Book of Thoth:

The card represents Pan Pangenetor, the All-Begetter. It is the Tree of Life as seen against a background of the exquisitely tenuous, complex, and fantastic forms of madness, the divine madness of spring, already foreseen in the meditative madness of winter; for the Sun turns northwards on entering this sign … In every symbol of this card there is the allusion to the highest things and most remote. Even the horns of the goat are spiral, to represent the movement of the all-pervading energy.

From Volume One of The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth:

The 26th path of Ayin connects Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun, with Hod, the sphere of Mercury, and is imaged forth by the 15th Tarot key, The Devil. The title of the path afforded by the Sepher Yetzirah is the Renewing Intelligence, referring to the renewal and perpetuity of all created forms. On the human level, the renewal refers to the adaptation that is required so the intellect does not atrophy—for the identification of the personal ego with the forms or constructs that appear in Hod increases the limiting or restricting power of Saturn, the ruler of the zodiacal sign of Capricorn. As it is written in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, I: 41:

The word of Sin is Restriction.

It is the desire to become free of material limitations that drives man to seek freedom, yet it is necessary to understand the principles of nature and their operation in the world before any limits can be transcended—the prime limitation being man himself, and his ignorance of natural laws. The magical powers of the 26th path are the Witches Sabbath (so-called) and the Evil Eye.

The Dweller on the Threshold

Saturn or Set has many forms and can be viewed from infinite perspectives. His nature is something of a paradox. The Tarot picture for the month of Sagittarius, Art XIV, depicts an Angel, while the Tarot Atu for the month of Capricorn commencing with the solstice, depicts a Devil. This Angel and Devil are two sides of one coin, a dual expression of the soul and of that very quaint appellation, the ‘Holy Guardian Angel’. The trickster, the shapeshifter, the adversary, the opposer, the shadow, the stranger, the ‘other’ are all names for Set, Saturn or the Devil, whose role in Initiation is so central that sometimes he is termed as simply, the Lord of Initiation. Another epithet is the Dweller on the Threshold. The following is an instructional piece on the Dweller on the Threshold, reproduced from our course in practical Qabalah:

While it is true that aspirants to any contacted magical Order are tested by what are poetically termed the Lords of Initiation, our students are not asked to take any oath or obligation that would incur a trial by fire. Nonetheless there is something that we call the Dweller on the Threshold. As soon as a foot is placed on the path, the Dweller on the Threshold will appear. The shape or form of this Devil is unique to each individual since it is a phantom produced by the person’s karma.[1] While this deters many from continuing the work they started with such enthusiasm and inner-conviction, it is in fact the first stirring of real Initiation.

Whether Initiation really takes hold or not is largely determined by the way the person responds to the Dweller on the Threshold. There will be help if that help is recognised for what it is. There will most certainly be hindrance, obstruction and even seduction—the powerfully compelling voices that urge us to give this up as it will do us no good, that we have made the wrong choice or there is a better, more authentic discipline further down the road. The Dweller on the Threshold may take the form of some perceived or genuine misfortune, or a general sense of unease or misgiving. It may take the form of a migraine, one of those ‘flu viruses that is hard to shake off, the incessant demands of a spouse, a difficult child, a manipulative mother, a bullying father or boss at work. Money can be a considerable ‘Dweller’—whether there is too little, or too much of it. An outbreak of supernatural phenomena quite often occurs with those that have awakening psychic sensitivity—the ‘things that go bump in the night’. The Initiates are those who persist, that possess the will and the resolve to keep on. Perhaps there is something else too, the “factor infinite and unknown” referred to in Liber AL vel Legis, II: 32. It is said that many are called but few are chosen (Matthew 22: 14). Paradoxically it is the aspirant that must use their free will to choose in the first place.

One must strive to understand the Dweller on the Threshold. There is a caveat: The Oath and Task of a Magister Templi is “to interpret every phenomenon as a direct dealing of God with my soul”. The New Age movement with its voracious appetite for assimilating and trivialising the threads from all wisdom traditions has tended to encourage its followers to adopt that particular jnanamudra without any training and preparation and without any supporting philosophical basis or structure. To apply such a method at the beginning of the study and work will bring that study and work to a swift conclusion.


Notes

[1] The Sanskrit word karma means “action”. It generally refers to the phenomenon of cause and effect that appears to govern the machinations of the material universe.

© Oliver St. John 2013, 2018
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Thoth Tarot Spread

Our Alchemy Thoth Tarot Spread is also presented below: jump to the Alchemy Tarot Spread.

The Fifteen-card Tarot spread is sometimes called the “Thoth” Tarot spread, as it seems to have been devised by the publisher of some early editions of the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck. The advantage of this spread is that cards are read in sets of three, so the elemental dignities of the Tarot can be applied. The method of laying out the cards is very attractive, since a widdershins spiral is formed, outward from the centre. Numerically, there is a strong relationship with the Pentagram. The number 15 is the grand number of the pentagram as 5 multiplied by the trinity. It is also the Mystic Number of the Pentagram a the sum of all the numbers from 1 to 5: ∑ (1–5) = 15.

Thoth Tarot Spread: 15-card Thoth Tarot Key

The three centre cards represent the question and the questioner. The upper left cards are a future development of the upper right cards, if the two sets agree (see the example below). If the upper left and upper right cards do not agree, then the upper right position represents the course of action the querent would naturally take, and the upper left cards an alternative course of action that changes the natural outcome. The lower left cards represent the attitude of the querent or psychological basis of the question. The lower right cards represent destiny, spiritual forces or karma that is beyond the control of the querent; as such, these three cards are to be regarded as advice.

The Fifteen-card Thoth spread has six cards (centre and lower left) that represent the questioner. This can produce surprising insights, since it is often not realised quite how much the question and its likely outcome is determined by the spiritual, mental and emotional state of the questioner. Here is an example of the cards on the top right and the top left in agreement, from the journal record of an actual divination:

Thoth Tarot Spread: Thoth Tarot Example (detail)

The cards Adjustment VIII and The Priestess II mirror each other; they are both feminine figures, represented by Libra and the Moon respectively. The Five of Disks mirrors the Prince of Disks; the Ten of Wands mirrors the Nine of Wands. Since the two sets of cards are clearly in agreement, there is a flow or natural development of the future, reading from right to left.

The three centre cards represent the question and the questioner. The upper left cards are a future development of the upper right cards, if the two sets agree (see the example below). If the upper left and upper right cards do not agree, then the upper right position represents the course of action the querent would naturally take, and the upper left cards an alternative course of action that changes the natural outcome. The lower left cards represent the attitude of the querent or psychological basis of the question. The lower right cards represent destiny, spiritual forces or karma that is beyond the control of the querent; as such, these three cards are to be regarded as advice.

Tarot Dignities

Traditionally, the cards on either side are used to evaluate the meaning of the centre card. The elemental qualities of classical Hermeticism are used.

Wands and Cups are inimicalFire and Water are contrary
Wands and Swords are mutualFire and Air are complementary
Wands and Disks are mutualFire and Earth are complementary
Cups and Swords are mutualWater and Air are complementary
Cups and Disks are mutualWater and Earth are complementary
Swords and Disks are inimicalAir and Earth are contrary

If (for example) a card of Wands has a Wand on either side, it is greatly strengthened for good or ill, according to the nature of the cards on either side. If a card of Wands has a Cup on either side, it is greatly weakened for good or ill, according to the nature of the cards on either side. If a card of Wands has a Sword or Disk card on either side, it is moderately strengthened by those cards, according to their nature.

If a card of Wands has a Cup (inimical) on one side, and a Sword (mutual) on the other side, it is said that the “Sword takes the Cup to the Wand” and the Wand is moderately strengthened according to the nature of the two cards on either side. But if the Wand has on one side a Sword and on the other side a Disk, it is said that the two cards on the outside cancel or neutralise each other, since Swords and Disks are opposite in nature. In that case the two cards on either side have little or no effect on the Wand in the centre.

Trump cards, as a rule, greatly outweigh the small cards; their operation is on a different plane and in a reading they tend to represent spiritual forces or destiny. One must be careful, therefore, when there is a mixture of trumps and small cards. The trump cards correspond to zodiacal, planetary and elemental forces. Fortune X (for example) corresponds to Jupiter, and so if this card appeared with The Hermit IX, which corresponds to Virgo, the effect would be similar to that of Jupiter in Virgo in an astrological chart. The Tower XVI corresponds to Mars and so if this card appeared with The Empress IV, the trump for Venus, the action would be similar to Mars aspecting Venus in an astrological chart.

The three elemental trumps can be problematical. The Fool 0 (for example) is the primary element of Air. What if this card appears with The Devil XV, corresponding to Capricorn, a cardinal Earth sign? Air and Earth are inimical, yet the trumps are more than elemental; they are composite glyphs that mirror the paths of the Tree of Life. Both cards, in fact, depict an aspect of Pan the All-Begetter. Fortunately the outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, can be assigned to the elemental trumps:

Tarot and Outer Planets

The effect of The Devil XV and The Fool 0 together can then be taken as similar to that of Uranus in Capricorn. In any reading one should look first to see if there is a predominance of any element or type. Many Wands in a reading, for example, would indicate much energy and activity. A majority of court cards would indicate that many persons were involved in the question, or there is much social activity. A large number of trumps in a reading indicate forces of destiny or karma involved with the question.

The Alchemy Thoth Tarot Spread

The Alchemy Thoth Tarot Spread appears, with hints and an example reading, in the “Divination” section of the book:

Stella Tenebrae—Journal of Hermetic Magick Volume One Number 2.

Thoth Alchemy Tarot Spread

We devised the Alchemy Thoth Tarot Spread primarily for the purpose of problem solving, though no doubt it has more subtle uses. The three-card groups allow the Tarot dignities to be used. One advantage of this layout is its simplicity; it is based on the idea that Rajas (Sulphur, action) acts upon Tamas (Salt, inertia) to bring about Sattwas (Mercury, wisdom).

Alchemical Salt (5 2 8): The inertia that must be overcome; the problem or any difficulties around the question.

Alchemical Sulphur (6 3 9): Activity; the action that is most likely to be taken by the Querent.

Alchemical Mercury (4 1 7): A synthesis of forces; the solution; that which will come to pass.

If desired, a card may be chosen and placed in the centre of the triad before shuffling and laying the other cards, to represent the Querent.

Notes

© Oliver St. John 2012, 2018
This article on the Thoth 15-card Tarot spread is part of the tutorial on Tarot divination in the book, Magical Theurgy—Rituals of the Tarot.

View Magical Theurgy—Rituals of the Tarot and all books by Oliver St. John
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