Magick of Voodoo: Ode to the Crossroads

Voodoo, or voudon as it was termed by Kenneth Grant, was brought to Haiti by African slaves. Naturally, as missionaries in turn took the Roman Catholic religion to Haiti, Christianity is part and parcel of voodoo. A curious admixture!

Voodoo Likeness

Medieval grimoires are sophisticated in their use of symbolism. They are also frequently obscure, whether through copying errors, intentional ‘blinds’ or perhaps sheer ignorance. One only has to look at the Keys of Solomon, usually rated as a better class of grimoire, to find complex systems of astronomical hours and days, Qabalistic powers, thrones and dominions. Add to that the hosts of angels, demons and spirits, each defined by quality, type and signature, and one can see why these rare books, usually written in Latin, were sought after by luminaries such as John Dee, astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I and a leading scientist and cartographer.

Voodoo AmuletIn the case of grimoires we can usually assume the ‘recipe’ ingredients are metaphorical. If the instruction is to use the “blood of a bat and eye of newt” we know that what we are really being told is to use black ink pigment for the vellum. The newt is neuter, ‘neither-not’, and is a salamander that has the combined characteristics of fish, serpent and frog. The field of magical transmutation is that part of the occult anatomy corresponding to the medulla oblongata.

Voodoo Chile

I stand up next to a mountain, and chop it down with the ledge of my hand … I pick up all the pieces and make an island, might even raise it to the sand.

James Marshall Hendrix, Voodoo Chile

The song lyric is not about commanding the forces of nature. It is about being the force of nature itself. Hendrix delighted in such esoteric themes as the precession of the equinoxes and magical birth, death and resurrection. There are tales of being abandoned in a deserted place, rescued by mountain lions and carried through the air on an eagle’s back. Self-identification with natural and cosmic forces as typified in the natal horoscope is a key magical practice. Some are born with a powerful sense of destiny, others seek it out. All must come to understand at last the impersonal source of such power, or else suffer the delusion of personal identification with Ishvara, the “great chief”. The relationship with the Holy Guardian Angel is more complex than that of any terrestrial daemon.

Black Cat Bone

What then are we to make of the “black cat bone”, as recounted by legendary blues singers? The instruction might well have been intended quite literally. Bones, whether human or animal, are frequently used to decorate the village shaman’s hut—or apartment, as it may be. It seems fairly unlikely that modern devotees of the hybrid cult will be devout (and practicing) Roman Catholics, which rules out any really authentic voodoo initiation. The faith is of course an absolute requirement, as it was for the European witches, so called. There is one thing we can know for certain. Once we begin to imagine that the mere procurement of the right ‘ingredients’ will confer supreme governance of nature then we are certainly on the short road to the lunatic asylum. Analysis is necessary, then synthesis. We need both solve and coagula to work magick.

Let us begin then with solve. We are told the creature must be “black”. Black is the one colour that is not a colour; it is defined by the absence of any colour. Very good. What of the feline? The cat is notable as combining the characteristics of lion and serpent—a fact that owes in some measure to the pronounced flexibility of the spine. In a certain sense the cat is also neuter, as was the case with the newt. Finally, the bone—the hardest, most indestructible part of the physical frame.

Having applied solve, we may proceed to coagula. The real import of the black cat bone has been readily revealed. All we had to do was to think of the principles involved, the neteru. We must now apply this knowledge to our great and noble purpose. We have an absence, an androgynous lion-serpent, and the most indestructible part of the anatomy. Magical operations do not begin with a word; they begin with silence. Before Kether is Ain Soph Aur, before that, Ain Soph, and before that we have Ain, beyond definition. While magick begins there, meditation ends there, if it ends at all. It is the goal of yoga to know as we are known, and to do that we first have to get ourselves out of the way. We now know something of the conditions needed for a magical operation, beyond any considerations of the timely orbits of the planets. We go to praxis. (In this, we are inspired to spontaneous utterance of prayer, of invocation. Yet we maintain silence, else no bone may be cast. By supreme effort of will, all images are forged in the one image.)

Crux Voudon

In the rolling abyss, a glowing spark—behold!
Flame-fire in the depth: Energy of the Universe unfold.
Thy serpent trunk, thy lion crown bedecked with stars.
My God, my God! Nameless thou art.

Thou lurking beast, to whom all flesh is prey,
Devourer on the threshold of Amenti,
Legion on the bank of Bayou,
Feast on judgement day!

Hastened by Odin’s eightfold steed,
Honed in the stalwart stream.
Raised up, the mount of bones gleaming white.
Then behold one king—crucified.

Groan Golgotha, cry aloud Carfax Voudon!
Now come the stainless seed, deep born perfection.
At the last, a fit offering: one dewdrop remain.
Behold, the diamond soul—thus named!

© Oliver St. John, 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.

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.


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.


[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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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.


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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