Aquarius and the Nightside

The Thoth 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

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 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’, and ‘substance’.

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.

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, which is 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 interior radiance. According to the book of Genesis, there were two trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. Originally, there was one eternal Tree of Life embracing heaven, earth and the underworld.

‘Blood’ is the self-replicating power or energy that moves through all incarnated creatures, yet the oracle of Nuit in Liber AL, I: 59 asserts that her creative essence has “no blood therein”. It is therefore necessary to counterchange the Tarot trumps on the 15th and 28th paths. Aries, previously assigned to the 15th path, is the sign of the fire of blood, which is 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.

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.

The magical weapons are the Aspigillum for the sprinkling of the lustral water, and the Censor for the perfumes. 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 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.[1]

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

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” is 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

1. Quotations from Nightside of Eden by Kenneth Grant, Part Two, Chapter 5 [Starfire Publishing].

The Egyptian Tarot of Thelema trump for Aquarius is Nuit XVII. The card and its description may be viewed here at Ordo Astri.

All the zodiacal Thoth Tarot trumps and their descriptions may be viewed here.

© Oliver St. John 2013, 2019

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Mystery of Sokar

Sokar (or Seker) means ‘pure’. Depending on how the name is spelled, there is also a link with the principle of power itself (sekhem), for Sokar is Lord of Death and Resurrection. He is sometimes depicted as a mummified hawk and at other times as a white mound or shroud surmounted by a black hawk’s head.

Egyptian God SokarAccording to EA Wallis Budge, Sokar was “originally a power of darkness, or of the night”.[1] As such, his attributes are identical with those of Set. Sokar is called the ‘great god, who came into being in the beginning, he who resteth upon the darkness’. As such he was ancient even when the Pyramids were built, as are his rites. Among other of his titles are ‘He who raises up in the desert’ and ‘Dweller in the secret place, king of eternity, power of the everlasting’. The region of the underworld particularly associated with Sokar is Imhet (or Amhet), meaning ‘Abode of the Desert’. He is also ‘Lord of the gates of the tomb’ as the opener of the sealed entrances to the labyrinthine Necropolis. As lord of transformations in the underworld he is depicted as winged and standing on the back of a serpent. He is sometimes depicted as crowned with a disc and the twin plumes of Ma’at.

Sokar’s chief cult centre was at Memphis, which was also the principle cult centre of Ptah. Sokar was frequently merged with the attributes of Ptah, the self-created craftsman of the gods. Silver bowls and artefacts made from metal were frequently consecrated in his name. He was associated with agriculture as well as irrigation. His cult followers did rites of purification and embalming in his name.

The fiction writer Algernon Blackwood was able to convey some profound insights into the soul of Egypt, and of the vast expanse of the desert wilderness. In ‘Sand’, his writing was inspired by his experiences of the desert near Cairo.

Through this sand which was the wreck of countless geological ages, rushed life that was terrific and uplifting, too huge to include melancholy, too deep to betray itself in movement. Here was the stillness of eternity. Behind the spread grey masque of apparent death lay stores of accumulated life, ready to break forth at any point. In the Desert he felt himself absolutely royal.

And this contrast of Life, veiling itself in Death, was a contradiction that somehow intoxicated. The Desert exhilaration never left him. He was never alone. A companionship of millions went with him, and he felt the Desert close, as stars are close to one another, or grains of sand.

Hennu Boat of Sokar

Of all the rites of Sokar the procession of the hennu boat is perhaps the most striking and unique to him. The Sokar boat or hennu represents the sun’s journey by night through the underworld. The image of the hawk-headed Sokar was placed in a boat shaped like a sledge with runners. The boat was never intended to sail on water, it was built to be carried, and was said by some to be steered by the dead. If so, then the navigation took place among the stars, for the hennu was an astral vessel.

Depictions of Sokar in the hennu boat sometimes show his hawk’s head only, while his body is covered in a white, luminous shroud. According to Antoine Gigal, the shroud was made of special luminous cells.[2] The luminosity is the covering of ‘all that is created and all that can ever be created’. On the day of the festival of Sokar, the high priest raised up an ark or small wooden shrine at the moment of sunrise and placed it on the hennu boat. The shrine and hennu boat was then pulled along across the sands in a circular procession about the temple of the god, mirroring the revolution of the sun, planets or other celestial bodies.

The higher end of the sledge was fashioned in the shape of the head of an oryx, a species of desert antelope and the original type of the unicorn. The hennu boat was in the charge of the High Priest of Memphis, called Ur-kherp-hem, ‘Great One of the Hammer’, a reference to Ptah as cosmic creator god.

We associate Sokar with Scorpio and the month of October, which according to the alchemists is the only time when iron can be turned into gold.[3] The desert oryx, a gentle creature unless attacked, seems an unlikely association. However, Scorpio’s twin sign in the Zodiac is Taurus, denoting a horned beast, and October embraces the Sun’s entry into Sagittarius, the Centaur.

‘Oryx’ is an anglicisation of the Greek ορυξ, derived from the Libyan orus, ‘digger’. The white Arabic oryx is known to dig out a bed in the sand to keep cool. The desert beast can survive for long periods without water, like the camel. It can detect rainfall at a great distance and can travel thousands of miles in pursuit of the water.

Sokar Boat: Oryx maau-hetch hieroglyphsThe hieroglyphic determinative for ‘oryx’ is frequently mistaken for that of a goat. The Egyptian name is ma’au hetch, denoting the bright white colour of the Arabian species of oryx and the straightness (ma’at) of its horn. The ma’au is cognate with ‘truth’, ‘regularly and always’, ‘purity’ and ‘a gift’. According to Budge it is also the name of ‘a star’ and ‘a god’.[4] Taking all into consideration the star may be Regulus, heart of the Lion constellation. Ma’au is the name of Apep in the form of a lion-serpent, the most ancient astroglyph for Leo. The lion-serpent image combines Leo (lion) with Scorpio (snake). The eagle is a further symbol of Scorpio frequently paired with the lion in alchemy. Hetech means ‘white’, ‘shining’, and the name can be spelled with a stylised staff and shen loop for ‘eternity’. The name is etymologically linked with ‘elders’ and ‘nobility’. The Egyptian name of the oryx is usually spelled in hieroglyphics with the sickle ma’a, ‘Lion of Truth’. The same hieroglyph, in combination with the hetch mace, denotes any sharp instrument as well as the action of digging or piercing.

Sokar and the Unicorn

The oryx is mentioned six times in the King James Bible. The Aramaic re’em is mistranslated there as ‘unicorn’. The same word was translated into Greek as monokeros (μονoκερως) in the Septuagint. In Psalm 22: 21, the word karen, meaning ‘horn’, is written in the singular form. According to Jewish folklore, when King David was a shepherd he was carried up into the sky by an oryx after he mistook its horn for a mountain. He is then saved by the intervention of a passing lion, which causes the oryx to bow its head in respect. Another legend has it that Noah strapped the long, sharp horns of the oryx to the Ark so the animals inside could breathe.[5] The transposition of the tale of Noah’s Ark from that of the exceedingly ancient hennu boat is fairly obvious. There were long held associations between the oryx, the lion—with its connotations of nobility—and mountains, as ‘high’, ‘strong’.

The Aramaic re’em (RAM) has the value of 241 and is a metathesis of aramea (ARM), ‘mountain or mountainous place’. It is also equal to ‘speak forth, command or give a word’ (AMR) and is the root of Genesis I: 3, “And the Elohim said, Let there be light: and there was light”. The number 241 is that of Albarah, ‘wings of God’, which is a term used in alchemy for Mercury or Quicksilver. As with other species of antelope, the oryx is able to run at great speed.

The word ‘oryx’ is used as a name for a stonemason’s pickaxe, owing to the strength and sharpness of the creature’s horn, and possibly owing to the fact that the oryx sometimes uses it to excavate the desert sand. In Greek it has the value 630, equal to ‘Holy Spirit’ (RVChA QDIShA) and Seraphim (ShRPIM), ‘fiery serpents’.

The oryx carries the secret of the Lord of the Necropolis in its heart and its name, which is a reliquary for a vast tract of forgotten knowledge. The Golden Dawn named the initiate of Hod, the 8th sephira, Monokeros de Astris, ‘unicorn of the stars’. Hod is the Temple of Water on the Hermetic Tree of Life, and at the same time corresponds to Mercury. The unicorn is thus an apt cipher for the way of returning through the double gates of the underworld to the abode of the Gods.

Lord of the Necropolis

Sokar is and has always been Lord of the Saqqara Necropolis near Memphis and Giza. In predynastic times, a labyrinth was dug out of the desert sands beneath the Saqqara complex. Finely fashioned, highly polished granite arks weighing upwards of 50 tons were placed in cavities there. The arks or vessels are cathodic, for they are polished like glass on the inside. There are no historical records of the builders of these impossible artefacts but they are thought by some to be the ‘old ones’ or ‘elders’ referred to in sacred texts, or their descendants.

The Great Old Ones is a term used in scriptures referring to an elder race that pre-existed that of the human, indistinguishable from gods. Either they, or their descendants, are referred to in the book of Genesis as Nephilim or ‘giants’, ‘men of renown’. Between Memphis and the Saqqara Necropolis was once a sacred acacia tree. One of the Egyptian names for Memphis is Ankh-Tawy, ‘Life of the Two Lands’. Thus the Tree of Eternity spreads its roots and branches between the worlds of the living and the dead.


Notes

1. Budge, Gods of the Egyptians Vol. I, pp. 504–505.
2. The Mystery of the Sokar Hennu Boat, Antoine Gigal, 2013. From Gigal Research—Archaeological and historical researches.
3. The month of Scorpio (October–November) is the ‘death’ of the year in the northern hemisphere of the globe. Thus the Tarot card Death XIII, corresponding to Scorpio, is called Child of the Great Transformers: Lord of the Gate of Death.
4. Budge, An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary, Volume I, pp. 270 A.
5. Robert Graves, Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis, Chapter 7, ‘The Reem and the Ziz’.

The portrait of Sokar at the head of the article is from Egyptian Tarot of Thelema Sokar XIII. The Tarot card and its full description can be viewed here at Ordo Astri.

© Oliver St. John 2019

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Capricorn: Angel, Devil, Dweller on the Threshold

The Thoth Tarot trump assigned to Capricorn and the 26th 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, sometimes thought to be Baphomet, the goat-foot god allegedly worshipped by the Knights Templars.

Crowley-Thoth Tarot The Devil XV CapricornThe Crowley-Harris design depicts the Devil as the Greek Pan, All-Begetter. It is a crudely phallic portrayal. The devilish goat has a third eye in the middle of his forehead, for the letter of the path is A’ain, ‘an eye’. At the top of the Tarot trump is shown the rings of Saturn, planetary ruler of Capricorn. Saturn is identified, among other things, with the ancient Egyptian god Set. Set takes on many forms, but the one particularly relevant here is the ass-headed god of the desert. The desert symbolises the wilderness of the soul that must be entered before any spiritual truth is known. The Aramaic for the planet Saturn is Shabbathai—and from that word was derived the lurid medievel propoganda that so captured popular imagination as the ‘Sabbath of the Witches’.

The image of Capricorn represents creative energy in its most material form. According to Crowley, 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.”

Capricorn and the Flaming Sword

The 26th path of A’ain 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 Renewing Intelligence refers 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, ruler of Capricorn. According to the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, Liber AL, I: 41,

The word of Sin is Restriction.

It is the desire to become free of material limitations that drives man to seek freedom. It is necessary, though, to understand the principles of nature and their operation in the world before any limits can be transcended. The primary limitation is 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. His nature is something of a paradox. The 14th Tarot Atu for the month of Sagittarius depicts an Angel, while the Atu for Capricorn and the solstice depicts a Devil. This Angel and Devil are two sides of one coin, a dual expression of the soul and 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.

While it is true that aspirants are tested by what is poetically termed the Lord of Initiation, Probationers do not swear any oath or obligation that would incur a trial by fire. Nonetheless, 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 began with such enthusiasm, it is the first stirring of the Occult Force.

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 resolve to keep on. Perhaps there is something else too, the “factor infinite and unknown” referred to in Liber AL, II: 32. It is also written that “many are called but few are chosen”.[2] It is not enough merely to be enthusiastic at the outset; there must be inner conviction, which arises from innate knowledge.

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 training, preparation, or any supporting philosophical basis or structure. Applying such a method at the beginning of the work will bring that work to a swift conclusion.[3]


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.
2. Matthew, 22: 14.
3. The ‘Dweller on the Threshold’ is an instruction given to aspirants of the O∴A∴

The Egyptian Tarot of Thelema trump for Capricorn Solstice is Set XV. The card and its description may be viewed here at Ordo Astri.

© Oliver St. John 2013, 2018

All books by Oliver St. John
Temple of Babalon YouTube Channel (podcast)
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