Masque of the Red Death

Masque of the Red Death: Is truth fact or is it fiction? In the technological age, truth has come to be seen as relative, so that effectively, for the great majority of the people, there is no truth, only necessity. The natural consequence of the philosophy, that by now holds the world in the grip of its claw, is that truth is destroyed. Human beings are turned into unthinking automatons, obedient slaves of faceless and frequently masked corporations.

Some writers of fiction and fantasy, for example Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft and Robert W Chambers have, whether they knew it or not, touched on profound truth through the reach of their imagining. They did not think they were prophets or that their purpose was in any way to produce prophecy, yet they intuited future events that were unimaginable to others. Some inspired thinkers, such as Huxley, Guénon and Lubicz, knowingly set down their vision based on what they saw as already latent and perhaps, inevitable, in their own time. They usually warned the world, blind and deaf to their vision, that they hoped it would not be so, but that it might very well come about unless some radical intervention should be wrought.

The matter of identity is a recurring theme in prophetic fiction. It has become pivotal in an abrupt technological coup d’état across the whole of a civilisation. The chaotic technological new world order matches and even surpasses the worst scenarios described by the visionaries. It is therefore necessary to examine the greatest fiction of all, which is called personal identity.

The Masque of the Red Death, by Edgar Allan Poe, was first published in 1842. The story takes place at the castellated, fortified and sealed abbey of Prince Prospero. It has been a great influence on writers of the bizarre and macabre. For example, Robert W Chambers, The King in Yellow, Act I, Scene 2.

CAMILLA: You, sir, should unmask.
CASSILDA: Indeed it’s time. We all have laid aside disguise but you.
STRANGER: I wear no mask.
CAMILLA: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!

Identity is a curious thing. In Poe’s story the ‘Red Death’ is a real plague, that devastates an entire kingdom. What we see in the world today, however, is the covert implementation, through technological surveillance and mass hypnosis, of a merger between virtual reality and ‘real’ reality for the purpose of mass control and behavioural modification. The people are the new financial base for the benefit of a wealthy elite—plutocractic, totalitarian governance perpetuated through staged ‘democracy’.

The masque has lately focussed on a dominance and submission theme, replete with the fetishes and strict rules of conduct of sadomasochism. Doubtless there will be other games to play before another masked stranger enters the palace, this time called Oblivion. The decoy plays an important rôle in the fictional narrative as well as the ‘real’ one. Nothing remains when the mask (or masque) is torn off—the illusion seen for what it is.

The Masque of the Red Death, by Edgar Allan Poe

The red death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the madness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress, and termination of the disease, were incidents of half an hour.

Masque of the Red Death, illustration by Harry ClarkeBut Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his crenellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts.

They resolved to leave means neither of ingress nor egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the ‘Red Death’.

The Masque

It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. There were seven—an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extant is scarcely impeded. Here the case was very different; as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the ‘bizarre’. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor of which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue—and vividly blue were its windows.

The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange—the fifth with white—the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes were scarlet—a deep blood color. Now in no one of any of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro and depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire, that projected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly lit the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances. But in the western or back chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.

It was within this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. It pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and while the chimes of the clock yet rang. it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused revery or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of Time that flies), there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for color and effects. He disregarded the ‘decora’ of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure he was not.

Fashionable Madmen at the Masque

He had directed, in great part, the movable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fete; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm—much of what has been seen in ‘Hernani’. There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There were much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these the dreams—writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of the velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away—they have endured but an instant—and a light half-subdued laughter floats after them as they depart. And now the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many-tinted windows through which stream the rays of the tripods. But to the chamber which lies most westwardly of the seven there are now none of the maskers who venture, for the night is waning away; and there flows a ruddier light through the blood-colored panes; and the blackness of the sable drapery appalls; and to him whose foot falls on the sable carpet, there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly emphatic than any which reaches their ears who indulge in the more remote gaieties of the other apartments.

A Stranger at the Masque

But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps that more of thought crept, with more of time into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who revelled. And thus too, it happened, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, of horror, and of disgust.

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made.

The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have difficulty in detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood—and his broad brow, with all the features of his face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

When the eyes of Prince Prospero fell on this spectral image (which, with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the waltzers) he was seen to be convulsed, in the first moment with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste; but in the next, his brow reddened with rage.

“Who dares”—he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him—“who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him—that we may know whom we have to hang, at sunrise, from the battlements!”

It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood Prince Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout the seven rooms loudly and clearly, for the prince was a bold and robust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving of his hand.

It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight rushing movement of this group in the direction of the intruder, who, at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to the speaker. But from a certain nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole party, there were found none who put forth a hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the prince’s person; and while the vast assembly, as with one impulse, shrank from the centers of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple—to the purple to the green—through the green to the orange—through this again to the white—and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddened with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry —and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which most instantly afterward, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero.

Then summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and seizing the mummer whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave cerements and corpse-like mask, which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.


The Masque of the Red Death, by Edgar Allen Poe was first published in 1842. The subheadings are ours, not the author’s.

What is a masque? It is a form of amateur dramatic entertainment, popular among the nobility in 16th and 17th-century England, which consisted of dancing and acting performed by masked players. Masque is also a variant spelling of mask. For example, “The victim or submissive frequently wears a masque in the perverted sex amusements of sadomasochists”.

A masque can be a manner or expression that hides one’s true character or feelings: “I let my masque (or mask) of respectability slip”.

A masque (or mask) may be a covering for all or part of the face, worn as a disguise, or to amuse or frighten others. A masque may also be a likeness of a person’s face moulded or sculpted in clay or wax. A masque may be a person’s face regarded as having set into a particular expression: “His face was a masque of rage.”

A masque is also a hollow model of a human head worn by ancient Greek and Roman actors.

Origin: Early 16th century, in the sense ‘masquerade or masked ball’. Probably a back-formation (influenced by French masque, ‘mask’) from masker, from Italian mascar ‘person wearing a mask’.

At the end of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, when the masque of the stranger is forcibly removed, there is absolutely nothing beneath it, or the costume.

© Oliver St. John 2020

Subscribe to The 93 Current monthly Journal
Temple of Babalon YouTube Channel (podcast)

Visit Ordo Astri: Thelemic Esoteric Collegium

Tantrika Home

Crisis of the Modern World

René Guénon had a far-reaching vision. His life covered a critical turning point in history, encompassing great changes. With the book, Crisis of the Modern World (1927) Guénon was seeing what he called the Kali Yuga, the ending of a Great Aeon or Mahayuga, and the sinking into dissolution of all real knowledge.

René Guenon Crisis: Ten of Swords AGMuller

Ten of Swords from pop art Neuzeit Tarot, Walter Wegmüller, AG Muller 1982: The card depicts ten swords, bearing nonsensical motifs and depending from a crazy carousel. The masses look on, enthralled by the illusion or otherwise self-absorbed. Grasping hands vainly reach upwards. Reason has become indistinguishable from the absurd and irrational.

René Guénon died in 1951 and could not have foreseen exactly how things would turn out half a century later. Yet much of what he wrote concerning the distortion of symbol, language and the meaning of things, the loss of tradition, everywhere prevails.

Read Crisis of the Modern World Revisited (2020) here at Ordo Astri.

The Kali Yuga, according to Hindu scriptures, is the Age of the Demon. The ‘demon’ is the force that opposes all spiritual knowledge, bringing on a long Dark Age of materiality. With the culmination of Kali Yuga comes the final dissolution, preparing the way for the birth of a new Mahayuga cycle. Lasting for more than 6000 years, Kali Yuga comes as the fourth and final phase in a Great Aeon. The working out of these ages of time by Eastern philosophers seems to have incorporated full knowledge of the astronomical precession of the equinoxes. According to the astronomer and sage, Aryabhatta, writing fifteen centuries ago, Kali Yuga began around 3000 BCE. We have more than a thousand years of Kali Yuga before a new Golden Age dawns; by that time there will be nothing left of our present civilisation.

Guénon vs Crowley

Aleister Crowley’s theory of three Great Aeons is very unsatisfactory, as evidenced by his garbled account of it in The Book of Thoth. Crowley tried, unconvincingly, to equate his aeonic theory with the precession of the equinoxes, though he did note that we are now entering the precessional Age of Aquarius—a mere 2000 years in the great precessional cycle of 26,000 years. The Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, has very little to say about aeons or ages of time; there is no account in the book of any New Aeon. The passage that refers to Crowley as “the prophet”, Liber AL I: 26, was expressing his own thoughts and questions on the book—he gave himself that appointment. In the same verse Crowley appealed to Nuit for “a sign”. That is, he sought a sign or token of his own supreme authority. It becomes clear that while receiving and recording the transmission, Crowley’s meditation was constantly disturbed by his desire to resurrect the fragmented Order of the Golden Dawn with himself as leader. He thus misconstrued the book’s true import.

However, if we study the (Egyptian) Book of the Law in the light of the precessional ages, of which the last is the apocalyptic Kali Yuga, it becomes clear that, so far as the book is concerned with time at all, it describes the present time as the final phase of the dissolution of a Great Aeon, a Mahayuga. The book then provides the keys for an Initiate to survive the dissolution in spiritual terms. We must exercise careful discernment when studying this book: while the revelation concealed in the text did not spring from the mind of Crowley, there is much other content that did, or that was influenced by his insistent thoughts and demands.

The talisman that unlocked the 93 Thelemic Current, unleashed on Aleister and Rose Crowley in a hotel room in Cairo in 1904, was the Stele of Revealing, discovered in the Museum of Cairo by Rose. It was the funeral stele of an Egyptian high priest that served in the Temple of Karnak in Thebes, around 700 BCE, and named Ankh af-na-khonsu, ‘Life and Soul of Khonsu’.[1] Khonsu is the Egyptian deity or Neter revered at Thebes, and particularly associated with the Moon. The Moon was in turn associated with the counting of time. There is no need to go further into the historical details here. What is important is that the spiritual law encrypted in the funeral stele of Ankh af-na-khonsu came near the end of the long ages of ancient Egyptian civilisation. In another thousand years the language would be completely forgotten. Even by Hellenistic times, the old Gods of Egypt would only be studied academically by Egyptian priests. Crowley’s reception of the Book of the Law in 1904 coincided simultaneously with the death of the Romantic era in Europe and the unmitigated onslaught of a Dark Age more terrible than any other—a time in which countless numbers of human beings on earth would be crushed by mechanised industrial warfare on a vast scale. When nations are not directly concerned with industrial subjugation or mass extermination of their own species the war becomes one where the weapons are either psychological or clandestine. We have arrived at the present time.

One idea unique to the Western Mystery Tradition is that one can live an ordinary life, or a ‘normal existence’, and do ritual and meditation for an hour or so a day over a prolonged period of time. One ought to be able to engage with the world and worldly concerns, work for a living and even maintain a family. One need not become an effete spiritual recluse incapable of taking a bus or managing ordinary things. The methods of training have been in use for about a century, where the person keeps a daily diary Record of their spiritual and magical work. Crowley, writing seventy years ago, said:

There are very few people today who have heard of Plato and Aristotle. Not one in a thousand, perhaps ten thousand, of those few have ever read either of them, even in translations. But there are also very few people whose thinking, such as it is, is not conditioned by the ideas of those two men.[2]

The emphasis, “such as it is”, is ours, not that of the author. Crowley was observing a decline in the ability of people to think coherently. In the twenty-first century there are now very few persons capable of concentrating their minds on one thing to the exclusion of all else. People now spend more time at work in a job, or two or three jobs, than at any other time in history. A few decades ago there was a lot of talk about how things would be in the future. Everyone imagined there would be more leisure time. Machines would take care of mundane tasks, or accelerate tasks so people had more time to themselves.

Guénon and the Future

That future has arrived now, and the opposite has occurred. With the sovereign role now played by Information Technology, many people spend hours a day looking at virtual displays on a phone, tablet or computer. They listen to digital ‘music’ in headphones while they are performing various tasks—a degradation of both music and listener. Their consciousness is buried beneath multiple layers of wallpaper distractions. Whereas at one time a person undergoing Hermetic training had to learn how to control their own thought, the information addict is already the slave of everyone else’s thoughts, however banal. Literature is being replaced by digital images and icons. No matter how high the resolution, a digital image can never be more than dots creating an illusion of form and space. Virtual reality is a lie; the software illusion is not ‘near’ reality, it has nothing to do with it. The same applies to digital music, film and television.

We are told by business professionals that very few people will actually read the present article. Though it might score millions of website ‘hits’, we understand that most people do not actually read the information on websites or other forms of digital media. What they do is scan the information—the person runs their eye quickly down the content, searching for something appealing.

Businesses make large amounts of money from mouse clicks. There is no need to think. No precious time in which to calculate the loss of a thing that cannot be bought or sold, a thing that once lost is lost forever. It is no longer about thought or imagination, which takes far too much effort. It is about comfortable self-identification. Corporations do not make profit from moral and intellectual strength; they make profit from moral and intellectual weakness.

Absorption in the digital delusion kills the intellectual and imaginative faculty that is needed in magical or spiritual practice. Although the pursuit of magick and mysticism was always for a small minority of persons, it has become more difficult in the technological age. However, it has always taken great moral courage to get anywhere with real magick. The courage to stand against the flow of fashion, to resist the mundane world and the pressures it places, the tendency towards the economically driven distraction and diversion in things alternately banal or horrifying. To paraphrase Crowley, one must earn the right to do Yoga by managing one’s time and life to make room for it in the first place.[3]

Guénon and the Present

When René Guénon commented on the modern age he used the term, ‘anti-initiation’. If initiation can be the transmission of knowledge, then there has to be an equal and opposite idea. Guénon observed a powerful movement against initiation in the modern world. He denounced many of the occult traditions from which we have taken influence. That clearing away, the denunciation of all that was not harmonious in his universe, was part of the personal initiation of René Guenon, and yet what he wrote has universal implications. Guénon could have little idea, at that time, of the massive rise of popular culture that took place in the 60s and 70s and that has continued onward to the present day. Pop culture, with all its genres and fashion cults, is a powerful force against initiation, real knowledge and meaningful tradition. Advertising, television and social media are all forces against initiation, whether blindly or no.

Guénon was seeing the emergence of what we may now term as the New Age movement. The New Age is a general term that includes many quasi-spiritual ‘paths’ that lead nowhere but to dispersion of mind and the wasting of the soul. Yet they all claim to confer magical powers, ‘healing’, self-mastery and even spiritual enlightenment.

More insidiously—though it is openly supported by pop culture and New Age spirituality—there is now a very disturbing movement of anti-intellectualism in the West. Anti-intellectualism and totalitarianism have always gone hand in hand. The blinding of words by the confusion of language has always served the authoritarian anti-intellectual movement. That service is done in the name of freedom, in the name of equality and in the name of individualism—even where there is no real individuality, no freedom and no social justice.

The Real is eternally true. Human reason and ego does not touch it, for these have no ground in the Real. Every mystic tradition for thousands of years has told us that. Civilisations rise and fall—history tells us that. The present technological age will certainly come to an end—everything does. None of that makes any difference to the Real, and what is eternally true. One must not fall into despair. That is a false trail, for despair is itself a force of anti-initiation.

There is still plenty of the natural world left, although it is fast declining under the advance of human technological and industrial totalitarianism. If we switch off our digital devices, phones, computers and other gadgets, leave our urban environments and go to the woods, the sea—if we learn to understand the language of birds and wild creatures, come to understand the subtle vibrations of plants and trees, of the sun, the moon and the stars—then we will be closer at least to the Real, to something truly authentic. No man, not even the greatest thinker, philosopher, guru or mage, can prevent the sun from rising and setting or command the moon to change her course. No one can start or stop the revolution of the Great Wheel of the Aeons. What we can do is prepare ourselves spiritually so that, like the Egyptian high priest Ankh-af-na-khonsu, we may “open the doors of Nuit”.


1. Part of the inscription on the funeral stele of Ankh-af-na-khonsu, reads, “Lord of Thebes, the Opener of the Doors of Nuit in Karnak, Ankh-af-na-khonsu, the Justified.”
2. The Book of Thoth, pp. 33.
3. Aleister Crowley, Eight Lectures on Yoga.
© Oliver St. John 2015, 2018

Related Articles:
Revival of Magick

Temple of Babalon YouTube Channel (podcast)

Visit Ordo Astri: Thelemic Esoteric Collegium
Subscribe to The 93 Current monthly Journal

Top of page

Aleister Crowley and Thelema—Equinox of the Gods

Aleister Crowley preferred to cast himself in the mould of the Eliatic Greek school, going so far as to adopt the argumentative methods and intellectual idealism of Socrates.

Crowley Equinox: Bulaq Stele of RevealingThe (Egyptian) Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, rails against such reasoning and argument. The rationalist science of today has its roots firmly immersed in the clay of classical Greek dogma. Thus scientism is not only against nature but has also tricked mankind with its stream of inventions. Consequently, all life on the planet is now under threat of imminent extinction.

Natural law (or Thelema) is in fact esoteric. Esotericism is at the core of Liber AL vel Legis, but it is precisely the logic-defying nature of this doctrine that leads Thelemites to embrace what is an essentially isolationist interpretation of the path.[1]

The aim of magick is to make direct contact with occult intelligences. Historically, such contact refutes mainstream dogma. Religion is about belief. The value of belief is in the telling of a good story but that is ultimately a bar to Gnosis. The ancient Egyptians had no word in their language for ‘religion’; the concept did not exist for them. The Book of the Law is a transmission from an ancient Egyptian source. As such, it is a knowledge stream that vastly predates both science and religion. According to Liber AL, III: 2,

There is division hither homeward; there is a word not known. Spelling is defunct; all is not aught. Beware! Hold! Raise the spell of Ra-Hoor-Khuit!

‘All is not aught’ is a succinct though subtle refutation of certain streams of the Eastern philosophy as construed by Western academic atheism. The circle of ‘all’ is the infinite expression of all possibility (Nuit), as defined by the point (Hadit), the esoteric factor. The absence of sense objects is not the same as ‘nothing at all’. In Qabalah, the source of all, AIN, is called ‘negativity’, as it is beyond description. Yet even AIN has a dual meaning, for it is the eye (A’ain) of the beholder. Postmodern or faux Non-Dualism declares that ‘everything is true and equally untrue’.

The statement declares a ‘truth’ (untruth) that is descriptive only of human reason, denying even the possibility of reality. As symbol, it admits only to relativism, and falls back ultimately on self-determinism and self-love as the solution to the dilemma it produces.[2]

Causal determinism originated with Socrates, who demanded there should be a naturalistic explanation for all sacred myths.[3] The prevailing dogma of scientism owes to this ancient Greek argument. In the 19th century, Schopenhauer put forward his doctrine of self-willed intellectual determinism in The World as Will and Representation (1818). This is the basis of Crowley’s rationalist interpretation of the Law of Thelema. It is the basis of today’s academic psychologisation of the mysteries. The postmodern school of the ‘Left Hand path’ also requires causal determinism as its philosophical basis.

The dogmatic assumption is that there is a natural order of the cosmos that is rationally comprehensible (and so limiting). Such a natural order is not even differentiated from, say, social order or convention. It then follows, if one accepts this, that one must isolate or separate one’s intelligence from this situation to resolve the paradox with free will and achieve meaningful individual expression.[4]

Taken to the logical extreme, the postmodern Left Hand path school of thought produces the self-confining, self-limiting doctrine of Isolate Intelligence.[5]

Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita, the Hindu sage and devotee of Kali, held a view that reconciled the inevitable nihilism and isolationism of rational Non-Dualism with the apparent emotionalism of devotional mysticism.

God has form and He is formless too. Further, He is beyond both form and formlessness. No one can limit Him.[6]

Crowley and the Equinox of the Gods

It is probable that Crowley received the writing of the Book of the Law on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd April 1904, not the 8th, 9th and 10th as he subsequently claimed. This was first noted by Kenneth Grant, who studied the diaries and holograph MSS of Crowley at first hand, while receiving personal tuition from him.[7] Crowley cared little for such trifles as historical times and dates. The time and date of his birth is a documented fact. By his own admission his recorded time of birth indicated that Cancer, ruled by the Moon, was rising on the hour.[8] Crowley much preferred the fiery solar-masculine sign of Leo the Lion over the watery, feminine-lunar Cancer the Crab. He therefore simply changed the time of his birth to suit.

Does it matter? If it matters at all, then it matters only for the purposes of understanding how practical magick works. The timing of things is vital in magick. To separate magick from nature is to separate man from truth with the divisive sword of intellectual reason. When a magical operation is performed on the Equinox of Aries (20th March, the initiation of the Cairo working), the fulmination of that work arrives with the full Moon. In 1904, the full Moon in Libra very nearly coincided with Easter (Friday 1st April), and there was a lunar eclipse so that any corresponding events would be marked ever more deeply.

None of this need be of any concern to historians or scholars of the life and times of Aleister Crowley. Let it be then, that Crowley wrote down the book on the 8th, 9th and 10th April 1904. Then we can all sleep safe in our beds. After all, some observe this ritually, by reading aloud from the three chapters of Liber AL vel Legis, one for each day. A magical (and poetic) approach is to read from the book on the full Moon immediately following the Equinox of Aries each year. Anciently it has always been the Moon, and not any arbitrary calendrical date that determined the times for rituals. Crowley, on the other hand, wisely suggested it might be best to burn the book after the first reading.

Crowley and Ouarda the Seer

Equinox of the Gods: Ouarda the Seer, Rose Edith KellyShould it bother us that Crowley suppressed the truth concerning the role of his wife, Rose or Ouarda the Seer, in the reception of the Book of the Law? As she was the mediumistic agent throughout the Cairo Working, Rose may very well have received and telepathically (or otherwise) transmitted the book to the scribe Crowley. This would account for the instructions on practice given him in the middle of the second chapter that he clearly refused to obey. It would account for the fact of Rose’s handwritten notes added to the manuscript, not to mention that even by his own account the ‘Beast’ had to consult with her concerning his anxiety over the neologism, ‘unfragmentary’ (Liber XXX, I: 26). After that, the tone of the book becomes increasingly cryptic and menacing—hence the second verse of the third chapter that we have quoted.

Wise Words and Foolish

Some have interpreted, “there is a word not known” (AL, III: 2), as meaning that Crowley somehow failed to utter a word to inaugurate the New Aeon. The Aeon that subsequently ensued was abortive, so it is said. This has deluded some (including perhaps Crowley) into thinking an actual word—a word that can be spelled or spoken—is a necessary part of the equipment of a Magus that is somehow in charge or governance of an entire epoch in the history of human civilisation. Some have posited that an Aeon of Ma’at swiftly superseded Crowley’s Aeon of Horus.[9] This was later qualified by Kenneth Grant as a dual Aeon of Horus-Maat. Grant also made much mention in his books and letters of a ‘Wordless Aeon’. Others would have it that all aeons in time are presided over by Horus and Ma’at in both ancient Egyptian and astrological terms. The balance of the year is Aries and Libra. There is nothing in the Book of the Law about any ‘New Aeon’. All of this has introduced some bewilderment in the minds of those students of the occult wishing to find truth in written words and historical facts, so called. According to Liber AL, III: 75,

The ending of the words is the Word Abrahadabra.

ABRAHADABRA adds Qabalistically to 418. It appears in the Key of Solomon as a spell for invisibility; one of the original forms of the spell was ABRAKALA.[9] Crowley’s favoured interpretation was typically solar-phallic, ‘Father-Sun-Satan’. However, the seven-lettered ABRAKALA expresses the power of the divine creatrix, summed up in 256 or 16 x 16, the shade of the full Moon. There are three colours or primary kalas for the face of the White Goddess, white, black and red. She is either visible, invisible or in eclipse. During eclipse, a shade appears ahead of time, so to speak, thanks to the intervention of the body of the earth. Thus the powers of a lunar eclipse include prophecy, divination and oracular utterance.

One thing we can be certain of is that Rose Edith Kelly (Rose Crowley) was the Pythoness and oracular seer that brought us the Book of the Law.


1. From ‘Lapis Philosophorum’, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs [Ordo Astri].
2. ‘Lapis Philosophorum’ [ibid].
3. See R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, Sacred Science (pp. 18, Inner Traditions International) and Plato’s Phaedrus for the naturalistic explanation that Socrates gives for all sacred myths. The interested reader is encouraged to read the Foreword by Robert Graves to his second edition of The White Goddess, as it is relevant in the present context [Faber and Faber].
4. ‘Lapis Philosophorum’ [ibid].
5. Isolate Intelligence is the core doctrine of some postmodern Left-hand path occult organisations. The Temple of Set, founded by Michael Aquino, is a notable example as Aquino coined the term. Zos Kia Cultus, ‘Self-Love’ and ‘As-If’ cults also posit the Isolate Intelligence or ‘single Self as supreme reality’.
6. Recorded by Sri Mandiram, March 11, 1883: Conversations with Sri Ramakrishna [Vedanta Press].
7. See Kenneth Grant, Beyond the Mauve Zone pp. 34 [Starfire Publishing].
8. Confessions of Aleister Crowley, by Aleister Crowley.
9. A disaffected disciple of Crowley, Charles Stansfeld Jones (Frater Achad) posited an Aeon of Ma’at as commencing from 1948 e.v. See The Incoming of the Aeon of Maat [Starfire Publishing].
10. See also ABRQRBA, another less corrupt form of ‘Abrahadabra’.

© Oliver St. John, 2018, 2019

Related articles
Babalon Unveiled!
Magick of the Aries Equinox
Crisis of the Modern Age
Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs [Ordo Astri].

Temple of Babalon YouTube Channel (podcast)

Visit Ordo Astri: Thelemic Esoteric Collegium
Subscribe to The 93 Current monthly Journal