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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Oracle of Babalon

The Enochian Legacy: 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

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.

a) 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.
b) The original text gives ‘entertainment’ which we have rendered ‘knowledge’. Babalon is clearly not an entrepreneur.
c) 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.
d) 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.

© Oliver St. John 2013, 2018
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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.

Magick: ROTA or Rose Cross Mandala with Crux Ansata from the book, Magical TheurgyThere 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. There is no ‘unitarian intelligence’. Isolationism is the curse of the age.

It is impossible to convey any sense of what magick is to the mind of the person who lacks the will to perceive it. 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 when subjected to analysis. The fact completely escapes those requiring proof of reality. Most persons think magick to be no more than superstition and fantasy. ‘Magick’ includes astrology and religious mythology. It includes 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.

Magick

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.

It is necessary to dispose of some myths. The way of the magician or occultist is that of Knowledge, called Jnanayoga by Hindu philosophers. Belief is the enemy of knowledge; the noun implies a static state of affairs, an end of the matter. In nature, nothing is 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. The ancient Egyptians, and other cultures predating the introduction of compulsory state monotheism (from 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 historical (1888) Order of the Golden Dawn that all aspirants were made to swear a mighty oath never to allow this. In spite of that, it has become common lately to hear that hypnotism is an indispensible requirement for magick. 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.

In an age where the meaning of the word has been lost, there is some confusion over spelling. That is somewhat ironic, given the nature of magical spells and rituals. We spell magick with a ‘k’ so as to distinguish what we do from that of the stagecraft. ‘Magick’ is the noun and verb, ‘magical’ is the adjective.


Notes

© Oliver St. John 2015, 2019
This article is from the Preface to the book, Magical Theurgy—Rituals of the Tarot (Third Edition Revised 2019). The ROTA crux ansata Tarot illustration is from the cover art to the above book. Click on the image to magnify.

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