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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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.

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 conceived by the mind of man 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’ 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, which 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. 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 horror by the adepts of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. A mighty oath never to allow this was solemnly sworn by aspirants to the Order. 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 Crowley in adopting the spelling of magick with a ‘k’ so as to distinguish what we do from that which is done 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.

© Oliver St. John 2015, 2019
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. Click on the image to magnify.

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