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∴

© Oliver St. John 2013, 2018

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Art of Sagittarius and the Holy Guardian Angel

The Tarot trump for the 25th path of Sagittarius, the Intelligence of Probation, is Art XIV, depicting the Holy Guardian Angel performing a work of transmutation on the soul. The full title of the trump is The Daughter of the Reconcilers: the Bringer-forth of Life.

Art of Sagittarius: Thoth Tarot Atu Art XIVThis trump was traditionally titled Temperance. It depicted an Angel pouring liquid between blue and red vases. In the Tarot of Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris, the card has been retitled Art. It is the art of alchemy that is portrayed here. The trump corresponds to Sagittarius, the mutable fire sign of the Zodiac.

The signs of the Zodiac are best understood as pairs; Gemini is opposite and complementary to Sagittarius the Archer or Centaur. In the Tarot trump for Gemini, the Lovers, pairs of opposites are shown: black and white, silver and gold, good and evil, male and female. The red and white tinctures of alchemy are symbolised by a lion and an eagle. In the trump for Sagittarius all these opposites have exchanged places; the red lion has become white, the white eagle has become red. The Holy Guardian Angel, clothed in green and wearing light and dark masks, pours fire and water into a golden cauldron. In the cauldron she mixes drops of blood from the paw of the lion and tears from the mouth of the eagle.

The link between Gemini and Sagittarius is the Arrow of Will. A stream of light, guided by an arrow, rises upwards from the cauldron until it reaches the heart of the Angel; from there, the light branches into a rainbow that falls over her shoulders like a cape. Whereas the card for Gemini depicted a mystic marriage, the card called Art symbolises the consummation of that mystical union. The spiritual idea as expressed by Crowley in the Book of Thoth (pp. 103) is that an incomplete element is spiritualised only through the assimilation of its equal and opposite. The means of accomplishment is written in gold lettering upon a large orb, shining like the Sun behind the Angel: Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidum. ‘Visit the interior parts of the earth: by rectification thou shalt find the hidden stone.’ Alchemists described the stone of the wise or universal medicine variously as a stone, a powder or a tincture. It may be divided into silver and gold or red and white, but its essence is always the same.

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.[1]

Sagittarius and the Flaming Sword

The 25th path of Samekh connects Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun, with Yesod, the sphere of the Moon. The title of the path (Sepher Yetzirah) is the Intelligence of Probation or Trial. It is only by test, experiment, trial and experience that the harmony and beauty of Tiphereth can become permanently fixed in Yesod, the Foundation in the natural soul or body for the Ruach, the intelligent mind. The operation of the Great Work can only proceed if the aspirant practices detachment, indifference to phenomena, and refuses to identify their self with the actions of the personality and the events that seem to be taking place around. The ‘indifference’ is not to be thought of as lack of attention; in fact, the level of observation is intensified through the meditation practice. The magical power of the 25th path is the Power of Transmutations.

The deity we invoke when the Sun enters Sagittarius is the Egyptian Nephthys, sister of Isis. Nephthys is the principle of dematerialisation (waning moon) and dissolution of the ego or ‘body of the king’—a process that must begin no sooner than a foot is placed on the path. For that reason, in traditional mysticism the Intelligence of Probation is often likened to a Dark Night of the Soul. The 25th path crosses the veil called Paroketh.

Sagittarius and the Holy Guardian Angel

Most, if not all religions, have sensibly avoided trying to define ‘God’. As soon as the Absolute is explained in dualistic terms, ambiguous limitations are imposed. No less the Holy Guardian Angel, a term long used in the Western Mystery Tradition. The Holy Guardian Angel is the Messenger or Communicant of the divine Absolute. As with God, it is wise to limit ourselves to negative terms—what the Holy Guardian Angel is not. Scriptures and magical grimoires use allegory to convey truth that cannot be put into words. Promises of unlimited treasure, of worldly and supernatural powers, have lured many fools while at the same time providing evidence for the sceptic that it is all superstitious nonsense.

There are some deities that closely fulfil the divine messenger role of the Holy Guardian Angel, of which a few are: Dionysus, Jesus, Krishna and Horus. These names are perhaps religious and cultural modifications of one type, a god that is able to appear (or incarnate) in human form.

The Vision of the Holy Guardian Angel is assigned to Malkuth, yet the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel is the exclusive task of an Adeptus Minor. It is impossible not to use mystical allegory: the ‘bride’ or soul in Malkuth, the daughter or princess of the Kingdom, must be wedded to the ‘prince’ or Holy Guardian Angel in Tiphereth. Experiencing the solar centre of the Hermetic Tree does not involve ordinary clairvoyance or magical powers, so-called. The ‘Heart Girt with a Serpent’ is a metaphor for the impersonal cosmic principle fully realised as the sole source of personal existence. It is that which the ancient Egyptians called ‘Intelligence of the Heart’. This cannot be arrived at through a process of reason or argument unless the sword of reason is turned against itself.

Where belief begins, knowledge ends. Faith and belief are quite different words in the language of mysticism. Faith in the spiritual sense has more to do with acceptance of the path than adherence to dogma or fixation on some particular class of vision. The Gnostics ascertained that faith (pistis) is necessary to open the heart so that knowledge (gnosis), if it should come, will find a place to dwell. In the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis I: 58, the cosmic principle Nuit informs her disciple that,

I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death; peace unutterable, rest, ecstasy; nor do I demand aught in sacrifice.

The Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel may come about through subtle changes of consciousness over a long period of time, or it may come as a shattering realisation—or a series of such explosive revelations. There is no architectural blueprint that can be applied to all. The attainment of this primary goal of magick will not confer omniscience—neither does any magical grade or degree—and unless discipline and vigilance is continued, there is still a risk of falling from the path. What does this mean, ‘falling from the path’? The ‘Black Brother’ is a term that can apply equally to the magician or mystic that has lost heart, or the devotee of material sciences that seeks to suppress spiritual knowledge through dogmatic denial of its existence. Either way, the person becomes shut up in their ego, and all energy is utilised towards reinforcing the delusion. In his book Nightside of Eden, Kenneth Grant likened this to obsession by the Qliphoth of the 12th path of the Hermetic Tree, the path of Tarot Atu I, The Magus.[2] All the force of the will is concentrated on the ego, and is utilised for the reinforcement of personal identity. On the other hand, the Queen of Space rewards the aspirant that stays the path, as declared in Liber, I: 53:

This shall regenerate the world, the little world my sister, my heart and my tongue, unto whom I send this kiss.

It is said that all paths end in Mystery. Surviving the ordeals of initiation defines the path in a way that only the individual can truly understand. When the knowledge is firmly embedded in the heart through prolonged meditation, aspiration and vigilance, and is carried through into the daily life and work, then Nuit’s ‘kiss’ may at last confer the gift of certainty to her chosen one.


Notes

1. From the ancient Egyptian Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus.
2. Kenneth Grant, Nightside of Eden, Part Two, Chapter 2 [Starfire Publishing].

© Oliver St. John 2012, 2018

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Virgo: Lamp and Staff of the Hermit

Virgo is the sign of the pure maiden, the inviolate sceptre—which is all a way of veiling with words and images an inexpressible truth. The yod, bindu, flame or seed-star that is the letter of the 20th path and Tarot trump The Hermit IX on the Hermetic Tree is, in the absolute sense, Hadit, the giver of Life, the animator of all things that live and move and have their being.

The Hermit IX Thoth Tarot Atu

The Tarot image for this path has the esoteric title, Prophet of the Eternal: Magus of the Voice of Power. The 20th path of Yod connects Chesed, the sphere of Jupiter, with Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun. The path is imaged forth by the Tarot key, The Hermit IX. The path is called The Intelligence of Will since it is the stream of light or intelligence forming the innermost structures of mind or intellect in man. The Intelligence of Will is called thus “because it forms all patterns, and to know this Intelligence is to know the whole reality of the Primordial Wisdom.” The knowledge of the spiritual will constitutes the full realisation of the cosmic purpose or meaning in all things; on this path arises the possibility of knowing and doing the True Will, as it is termed in the cults of Thelema.[1]

The Hermit as Mercury

The Thoth Tarot picture for this path depicts a hermit, for Hermes is the Greek deity that the Romans called Mercury. Hadit is Mercury in the highest—or most simple or abstract—form. Mercury is the planetary ruler of the astrological sign of Virgo, and Virgo is unique in the Zodiac in that Mercury rules her sign and is also exalted therein. The lamp of the hermit is a metaphor for the Hermetic Light, which he veils from the world. His staff is the energy, the Occult Force, which he applies with strict vigilance and economy of means towards the Great Work. Behind him is Cerberus the three-headed hound of hell. Cerberus, the son of Typhon, doubles as both scourge and Guardian of the Gate—for he prevents those that have become ensnared in the underworld from ever escaping.

It is to be noted that Aleister Crowley directed the artist Frieda Harris to depict the Hermit as according to his ‘phallic’ magical philosophy. The spermatozoon in the lower left corner is thus an unintentional ‘blind’. While Crowley felt he might be revealing too much of the mysteries, he was in fact not even revealing the half of it! Even in the Golden Dawn system of correspondences adopted by the ‘Beast’, Virgo is the sign of Isis. The will-seed is hers in a subtler sense. While Asar (Osiris) has this seed-star latent within him, if he limits or restricts Isis (the woman) through adoration of his personalised will then he dooms her (thusly, his soul) to the fate of the scarlet woman as described in the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, III: 43.

Fragmentation of the Atomic Age

The mundane character of Virgo, the mutable earth sign, is all about the particulars, the details of every-thing. The conceptual mind, driven forwards by the scourge of Hadit, yet thrown back into the abyss by the son of Typhon, breeds and begets more and more infernal children. Thus Conceptual Art is now the predominant doctrine in today’s academic institutions. It is a sign or omen that the analytical mind has attained its full immersion in the realm of matter at its lowest or most dense level. At this material extremity of the human mind, the situation depicted in the minor Tarot card called the Ten of Swords comes about. The human heart or soul is broken up into fragments that are blasted, blown and scattered through the echoing emptiness of space—torn apart by the divisive power of the sword of the reasoning mind.

As a race, we are still in the aftermath of the explosion of the first atom bomb. We live in an age that trembles before the terrifying shadow of the Ape of Thoth as it is depicted in the Tarot trump assigned to Hermes-Mercury. That is why we sometimes use the atom and particle physics as a metaphysical analogy.[2] The fragmented atom sweeps matter away in a lightning-fast cloud of fire and smoke. The trauma of that tremendous atom-smashing event, that has rended apart far more than even physical matter, now continues to reverberate on the plane of mind. The cell phones, computers and other digital devices that are now the plague-fetishes of our times are no more than ‘particular’ vehicles of expression for the lasting imprint of that hellish atomic atrocity upon the collective intelligence of humanity. That singular event demonstrated that the most clever and subtle scientific minds the race could produce were only, in the end, capable of producing senseless, barbaric mass-destruction on a scale never before imagined.

Kenneth Grant, in his Typhonian Trilogies, told how even the very first atom-splitting test tore open the fabric of space and time. A crack was then opened up in the delicate membrane that encircles the planet—the invisible egg of light that once served as a barrier or ring-pass-not against the intrusion of those from ‘Outside’. That is why The Fool 0 that Frieda Harris had painted for the highest path of Aleph on the Hermetic Tree wears a mask of madness and horror—for he has opened a veil that was once so tightly drawn to appear seamless, and therefore invisible to mortal eyes. What is the secret that the Fool beholds? It is himself that he sees, hurtling downwards towards the abyss.

The physical destruction unleashed by the atom is itself a metaphor for the intellectually destructive philosophical atomism, which was introduced through the arguments of the ancient Greeks. Causal determinism is still the dominant intellectual mode of our times. The tragic consequences of this are but dimly perceived by the legions of cerebrally and sensually anaesthetised hominids—those who dare not take their eyes and ears away from the beguiling artificial world of digital information. The configuration of stars and planets signifies that we have truly entered a new era. It is an era in which Initiates must conserve all of their energy and direct it towards the Great Work. Only then will they succeed in rising up above what is metaphorically termed, the waters of the Nile flood. While the water of the flood is not evil in itself, the dwellers that lurk within present a foe more formidable than mankind has ever imagined.


Notes

1. The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth [Ordo Astri] provides a commentary on the wisdom texts of the Sepher Yetzirah.
2. The Law of Thelema—Quantum Yoga [Ordo Astri].
© Oliver St. John 2013, 2018 (revised and extended)

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