Thelema Lodge Calendar for September 1998 e.v.
Thelema Lodge Calendar
for September 1998 e.v.
The viewpoints and opinions expressed herein are the responsibility of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of OTO or its officers.Copyright © O.T.O. and the Individual Authors, 1998 e.v.
Ordo Templi Orientis
Berkeley, CA 94702 USA
September 1998 e.v. at Thelema Lodge Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Lodge Members and Officers
Equinoctial Greetings of Autumn
The equinoxes mark points of equilibrium in the Thelemic calendar, and as
the seasons balance we gather by tradition to reconfirm our social bonds and
relations together. As a ritual community, and as a lodge of Ordo Templi
Orientis, we gather at these corners of the year to celebrate and redefine our
collective identity. We will be coming together in this way as we enter the
autumn of the year 94 of the aeon of Horus -- anno IV6 or 1998 by the calendar
of common consent -- on Tuesday evening 22nd September. Sol goes into Libra at
10:38 PM, and our ritual will be held in Horus Temple beginning promptly at
9:00 so that we can incorporate the exact moment as a culmination to the
event; to attend, please arrive by 8:30. Since this all occurs on the evening
before "The Rite of Mercury," we hope to make the ritual an efficient, easy,
and compact symbolic experience.
Members, friends, and guests gather at the lodge for rituals and other
events on a regular basis, with most of the activities on our calendar open to
interested guests (except initiations or meetings specific to one of the
O.T.O. degrees). To visit the lodge if you have not been here recently, call
the lodgemaster for directions and information at (510) 652-3171. It's best
to call in the evenings, and to leave a message if necessary, but to keep
calling back until someone is available to answer you. Sunday evenings are
the best times to visit Thelema Lodge, when the gnostic mass of Ecclesia
Gnostica Catholica is celebrated here in Horus Temple, with communion for all
who attend. Lodge members -- along with occasional guests -- take turns serving
the community as clerical officers in the mass, and all are encouraged to
learn the ritual in order to participate. When a mass team is ready to
schedule their performance, the lodgemaster can be consulted for a Sunday
evening date on the temple calendar.
Initiations in Ordo Templi Orientis are scheduled here to accommodate the
candidates who request them in advance. This month we will be initiating
several new members on Saturday evening 19th September, with all who are
interested in attending requested to make specific arrangements in advance
with the lodge officers. Spectators are welcome to contribute drinks and
dessert dishes to the feast at the close of the ritual. To schedule an
initiation at Thelema Lodge, fill out the requisite application for your
degree, return it to one of the lodge officers, and then keep in touch as your
initiation approaches. All dues and fees are collected on the day of the
Eleusis in medias res: Our ongoing nineteenth Rites of Eleusis cycle is
turning out one of the best ever, with an elegance of stagecraft, a musical
assurance, a complexity of delivery, and a surety and forcefulness of magical
intent to rival some of the best we have seen in years. Saturn at Grace's
Temple of Astrology late last July was a somber and sensuous backyard
discipline ritual, complete with a kid -- a stewed goat -- in the pot. Jupiter
at Sirius Oasis (where most of the rest of the Rites will be held) on 6th
August was a celebration of party and plenty, anxious to get to the point of
the fun, and with a giant salmon in the main dish. Mars on 18th August was a
sinister high council of divine war, serving chili con carne so richly
peppered that one's ears steamed and wilted simultaneously. As this issue
goes to press, Sol is putting the finishing touches on a barbecue luncheon
crucifixion rite on the final Sunday in August, to be followed by lustration for all in the Sirius tub. (Lamb ought to be the perfect meat for Sol, I
should think, but there may be a great variety of flesh on the grill.)
This month we continue the spiral downward, with Venus at Sirius Oasis on
Friday evening 11th September. You can trust this Venus to keep it sweet,
we're sure, and it probably ought to be oysters and shellfish on the platter.
The rite of Mercury is organizing as an indoor ceremony, most likely at an
alternate location which has not determined at press-time. The date is
Wednesday 23rd September, one day into autumn, so call the god Mercury for
venue information during the preceding week at (510) 601-9393. (What is the
meat of Mercury? Fish will do fine with the yellow wine!) Luna's rite, the
last of the classical cycle, will be held in the full light of the moon on
Monday evening 5th October at Sirius. (What if the virgin is a vegetarian? --
eat your fungus and tofu, and hush up!) After that we will be grounding our
whole cycle of Rites onto the firm foundation of Oz, with a newly written
"Rite of Earth" in the back yard at Oz House on Saturday afternoon 17th
October. Call (510) 654-3580 for the time, and directions to Earth. "Konx Om
Pax! Purple light off, white light on . . . The will of the Gods be
accomplished! All depart."
Last month's debate at the College of Hard N.O.X. over the questions, "Is a
hierarchical structure imperative for Thelemic orders? Is there anything in
the various Holy Books which might bear upon the issue? What would a
nonhierarchical order of Thelemites look like?", is continuing informally even
as I write. As if by coincidence a website has recently appeared which is
devoted almost entirely to the last of these questions. It's title is
"K.M.A.D.N.O.T. / Thelema for Congregationalists" (though the name of this
organization is apparently provisional), and the URL is http://home.earthlink.net/pandaimon/. The site facilitators are inviting
comments and participation from the Thelemic community in general.
This month's meetings of the College will take place in the lodge library
on Wednesday evenings 2nd and 30th September at 8 o'clock. The topic for the
2nd is a very special and unique one, quite unlike anything we have ever
discussed before. Therefore nothing can or should be said about it in advance.
The topic for the 30th is another matter entirely, practically calling for a
book on the subject, to be written in the form of long, almost endlessly
ramifying, questions. This tantalizingly tendentious topic is "Will the real
Baphomet please stand up?, or, Who's that lion snake?"
The identity of the supposed "idol" of the Knights Templar has been
persistently investigated and argued about since the latter half of the last
century. The image of Baphomet that has captured the modern imagination is
taken from an illustration in one of the works of the 19th century French
writer on magic, and later saint of the E.G.C., Eliphas Levi (1810-1875). But
this is far from the only image that may be identified with Baphomet; the
impressive sculptures of horned figures from Templar edifices in the Balkans
attest to this, as does Crowley's own identification of Baphomet with certain
Gnostic representations. Others have seen in Baphomet a prototypical portrait
of the human being who has awakened to consciousness of the Kundalini energy,
and now lives out of that consciousness spontaneously. In this he relates to
Mithraic Aion, the lion-headed serpent-wrapped god of Eternity, and
ultimately to Zurvan, the four-faced lion-headed god worshipped by a subset of
the early Zoroastrians, and described as "Boundless Time", who holds before
him a lightning bolt which may well symbolize the vital force (i.e., Kundalini
energy). And be prepared to hear about Chnoumis as well!
Previous NOX article Next NOX article
Fish Liver Smoke in the Marriage Bed
"And the devil shall smell it, and flee away, and never come again any more: but when thou shalt come to her, rise up both of you, and pray . . ."
Popular erotic, angelic, and demonic magic of the eastern diaspora of Israel
(circa 180 BCE) is depicted in the inter-testamental Book of Tobit, a favorite
text among medieval angelogists and magicians for the wealth of lore it offers
regarding practical interactions with spiritual beings. Found among the texts
designated as the biblical Apocrypha, Tobit's story will be the subject of our
Section Two reading group this month, meeting at Oz House with Caitlin on
Monday evening 14th September at 8:00. This brief biblical folktale begins as
a pious little romance of ordinary Jewish life in the exiled communities after
the subjugation of Jerusalem. Tobit, a successful businessman and a good Jew,
sends his son Tobias off to discharge a financial obligation in the land of
Media, and hires a guide for him called Azarias, who is a disguise for
"Raphael, one of the seven holy angels." Accompanied on the journey by his
trusty pet dog, Tobias is conducted by the angel to the wondrous utopian city
of Ecbatana, where he falls in love and marries a nice Jewish girl, and
returns home loaded down with wealth. To claim what he wants, he has to
defeat the demon Asmodeus, his rival for the affections of the maiden Sarah.
"This maid hath been given to seven men, who all died in the marriage chamber. . . . for a wicked spirit loveth her, which hurteth . . . those which come unto her." All this is to be accomplished with fish-liver smoke (among other
byproducts). The Book of Tobit is an ironic answer to the heroic tales of the
Torah, to the archaic wisdom of Job, and to the strident rhetoric of the old
prophets (with a special wink toward the comic prophet Jonah). Besides
containing the earliest "biblical" mention of the archangels Raphael and
Gabriel and of the demon Asmodeus, Tobit's story also features the only "nice
dog" anywhere in the whole biblical canon. (All other "bible dogs" are nasty,
viscous, and disgusting, just as in Moslem tradition -- or, for that matter, in
the Book of the Law!) The Book of Tobit is available in many editions of the
inter-testamental Apocrypha, and participants will find it well worth reading
ahead, in order to facilitate discussion. Give a glance as well to other
biblical accounts of angels, and we will widen our discussion to the whole
realm of preternatural creatures in the Hebrew tradition. "And now, O Lord, I take not this my sister for lust, but uprightly . . ."
Previous Section Two Next Section Two
Banishing Ritual Seminar in Marin
Bill Heidrick will offer a seminar on the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the
Pentagram, with attention to the structure, meaning, and history of this basic
personal exercise in ceremonial magick, meeting in San Anselmo this month.
Some remarks upon Crowley's Thelemic variations on this banishing ritual -- in
particular his ritual of the Star Ruby -- will also be included. Join the
group on Wednesday evening 16th September at 7:30, in the parlor of the
Treasurer General of O.T.O. International, who was also one of the founding
officers of Thelema Lodge. For directions, contact Bill well ahead of time by
e-mail to email@example.com, or telephone (415) 454-5176. Suggestions will
be welcome also for future class topics in Bill's monthly series of seminary
One of the basic practices in the personal ritual training of many
Thelemites, whether in beginning or advanced operations, is the little Hebrew
prayer which we know as the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. Taught
in its current form to members of the Golden Dawn, it is based upon formulae
for personal protection which can be found in medieval qabalistic rituals,
very likely representing established traditions of even greater antiquity.
Most of us are familiar with the "doxology" (prayer of praise) in the opening
"qabalistic cross," a version in Hebrew of the liturgical phrase interpolated
into Protestant translations of the "Lord's Prayer." This phrase (which is
not present in the oldest Greek gospel texts and has been excluded from Catholic translations), is a list of three of the sephirot on the Tree of
Life: "for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen."
The four archangels summoned in the corners of the circle were also associated
with the magic of personal protection in Renaissance qaballah, again very
likely giving us a record of practices established much earlier. A popular
allegorical figure of the "Palace of Health" representing the human body as a
castle, defended by four personal guardian angels at four gates from the
outside onslaught of harm and disease, can be found in various medieval
versions, often with the same angelic names which are "vibrated" in the LBR.
The phrase establishing a pillar of force between two stars is adapted from a
medieval Hebrew "night prayer," a blessing summoning the angelic guardians
upon retirement. Associations such as these can be made meaningful on several
levels, and Crowley once wrote of the LBR (in a footnote to one of his early
poetic volumes), "Those who regard this ritual as a mere device to invoke or banish spirits, are unworthy to possess it. Properly understood, it is the Medicine of Metals and the Stone of the Wise."
The Beast Takes a Ticket
Part One: Aleister Crowley at the Cinema
This month we collect two items from the New York magazine Vanity Fair during the First World War, concerning the early silent cinema. The first article, a light analysis of the film industry and its challenges in the era before the heyday of Hollywood, was published in the issue for July 1917 e.v. (pages 55 & 88). The other was published the previous year, and is a humorous experiment in scenario composition for a rip-roaring (silent) three-reeler film. It appeared in the June issue for 1916 e.v., on page 89, with the editorial billing of "the Worst Short Film Story" which Vanity Fair could find. Accompanying the scenario were five crude illustrations of the principal characters, with fanciful captions, most probably sketched by the author himself.
What's Wrong with the Movies?
The Industry Seems to Be in a Critical Condition
--- and Perhaps It Deserves to Be
by Aleister Crowley
It is bad taste -- and not the World War -- which is killing the movies. Bad
taste in every direction. In the first place, the wretches in power, when
they get a perfectly competent author -- will not trust him at all. The great
writer's story has always been a "movie" -- on the screen of the author's mind.
It was complete in every picture, before he ever put pen to paper. But the
producing wretches do not know that. They do not realize that he has done the
thing right. They do not even realize this in the case of a famous novel -- or
play -- where a long success has proved it. There preposterous people do not
understand that they insult the public and make themselves ridiculous into the
bargain when they offer to "improve" Victor Hugo; to bring Dumas "up-to-date";
to put "punch" into Ibsen; or to "alter" history a bit in order to give Joan
of Arc an earthly lover.
Some months back two wealthy gentlemen were lunching at the Knickerbocker
Hotel, in New York, where all movie magnates seem to make a habit of
foregathering. They were trying to think of a book to "film." A pause. One
suggested Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame. "A grand sweet story! Some
story! Some punch! Some pep!" A longer pause. "Say, why, in our film,
shouldn't that hunchback marry the beautiful gipsy chicken?" "But, say, we
can't have that little pippin tied up to a hunchback." "I got it, bo, we'll
get a Johns Hopkins guy to straighten him out on the operating table." "Say,
you're some artist, Al."
And so, alas, it all came about.
These two master minds could not foresee that everyone who had read Hugo's
great story would leave the theatre foaming at the mouth, raving for blood.
Similarly with Hedda Gabler. They had to improve on Ibsen's great curtain,
and bring in George Tesman to confront Brack, who faints on hearing the pistol
shot, and asks "Why should you faint at my wife's death?" with all the air of
one who proposes an amusing riddle!
One could go on for hours describing the fatuity of the movie men. It is
not that their ideas are necessarily wrong in themselves, but that they are
inappropriate -- and in bad taste. They forget that the author has thought out
all his contrasts and values, and even a better author could not alter them
without destroying them utterly.
Suppose that I make up my mind that one of Charles Condor's painted women
on a fan lacks distinctness? Do I call in Zuloaga to put a new head on her?
Zuloaga will paint me in a fine head, no doubt; but he is certain to throw out
the rest of Condor's picture. In the realm of painting I much prefer Gaugain
to John Lavery, but I should not ask the former to paint a Samoan head on the
shoulders of the portrait of "Lady Plantagenet-Tudor" by the latter. Consider
the diffident reverence with which a great artist like Sir A. Quiller-Couch
finished a novel by Stevenson -- and always from the master's notes.
It has often been said that the worst author knows his business better than
the best critic, just as the feeblest father will beget more children than the
biggest naval gun. But in the movies we have men who are such atrociously bad
critics that they permit the most shocking solecisms in almost every scene.
See the wealthy New York man of fashion, dressing for a dinner at Mrs De
Peyster Stuyvesant's! See how deftly he shoots on his detachable cuffs and
snaps on his elastic tie. See how charmingly he wears his derby hat with his
evening coat. He even retains it, possibly fearing that it may be stolen in
Mrs Stuyvesant's drawing-room, which is, of course, furnished in the manner of
the gentleman's lounge on a Fall River boat.
In this connection let us observe how the Russian Ballet gets its splendid
effect of art. There is a true and tried artist for the scenery, another for
the arrangement of the dances, another for the music, another for the
costumes, and so on. All conspire, all contribute, the one careful never to
impede the work of the others. The result is an artistic unity. Tinker with
the whole, bring in one inharmonious element, and the entire conception goes
by the board. A Zulu chief is a magnificent object -- but you must not
exchange his gum-ring for Charlie Chaplin's derby hat.
Modern opera is suffering in the same way. The only pains taken at the
Metropolitan, let us say, is with the hiring of the singers. The same old
scenic conventions must do, the same old wardrobe traditions, the same old
lighting arrangements, and the same antiquated ballets. The result is that an
"art impression" is never made. People go away, praising the orchestra and
the singers; but they are not stunned, carried out of themselves by the glory
of witnessing a really artistic operatic creation. There is everywhere
evident this same blind fatuity in the movies.
To return to the question of the author. Who invented modern musical
comedy? Gilbert and Sullivan. Gilbert insisted -- made it a point in every
contract or license -- that his libretto was to have no cuts, no modifications,
no gags; even his minutest stage directions were to be followed implicitly --
Take it or leave it. Most of his stuff is therefore as strong and sound and
playable today as it ever was.
But his successors have not his willpower. Today every inartistic man in a
movie production must needs have a finger in the artistic pie. Some of their
suggestions may possibly be good, some bad; but the unity and coherence of the
author's conceptions are lost, and the outcome is a muddle. Ne sutor ultra crepidam. Too many cooks spoil the broth.
In the movies this confusion is accentuated to the point of dementia. What
costumes! What furniture! What ladies! What ballrooms! What clubs! What
love scenes! What butlers and footmen! What dinner tables! What débutantes!
What boots and slippers! What coiffures! What jewelry! What manners!
Several times, of late, I have seen films where the tinkers had improved a
good novel out of existence. The beginning, end, and middle of the story had
been dexterously amputated or "arranged." We were not informed of the
relationship existing between the various characters; the motives for their
acts were utterly obscure. A "situation" would ultimately arise -- and then,
instead of a dénouement, the film stopped suddenly!
One felt as if one had somehow got into a lunatic asylum.
Another point is the question of "new stuff." One enterprising movie
manager did actually go so far as to engage a set of competent artists -- at
$150 per diem, all told -- to get out new ideas for him: original costumes,
lights, scenery, and all the rest of it. They produced the new ideas. "Fine!
Fine!" cried he. Then a horrid doubt seized him. "But this isn't a bit like
what we've been used to!" he stammered. "No," said they, "it's new. You said
'new,' you know!" "That's right, I did," he cried, "but, say, the public
wouldn't stand for this, it's too new."
O, purblind crew of miserable men, cannot you see that the only way to
succeed in the movies, or in any art, is to get the men who really know how,
to create new effects of art, and then to trust them implicitly? The worst
author is better, as an author, than the best "producer" or "director,"
however highly paid, unless he sticks to his business of visualizing, with
sympathy and fidelity, the author's conceptions and ideals.
The only good films, the only popular films, are those by living authors of
repute, who have somehow been able to insist upon having their conceptions
literally carried out, and not meddled with by a band of misguided and
Millions of dollars have already been lost in the movies by the many errors
indicated above; and it may be well to point out that the public recognizes
that the business is everywhere approaching a grave crisis. You, gentlemen,
who are still making money, take heed: you are going to lose it in another few
months unless you learn a little something about good taste in matters of art.
If only a man could found a "Famous Authors Film Producing Company" and
give the authors a fair chance and a free hand, and then employ real artists
for the costumes -- a real tailor for the men's clothes -- real decorators for
the indoor sets; real ladies to look after the manners of the actors, and real
architects to design the houses, he would be able to take up the whole of the
Liberty Loan out of his first year's profits.
Vanity Fair's Prize Movie Scenario
Winner of the Thousand-Dollar Reward
for the Worst Short Film Story
by Aleister Crowley
It is time to take the public into our confidence. From what wonder- working, from what throbbing convolutions of what palpitating gray matter came those filmy, shimmering reels that thrill us so? At enormous expense we have prevailed upon those household-word-named impressarioni -- or shall we say impressariacci? -- Mr Griffith, Mr Sennett and Mr Ince -- to allow us to publish the first draft of their forthcoming hyperpyrexia, with their matchless scenario and sketches and explanatory notes.
The Pearl Girl
or, The Whale, the Siren and the Shoestring
Scenario (probably) by Roy McCardell
REEL I: - The home of Senor Mañana, the Silver King of Mexico, his
daughter, Peseta, a willowy-brunett with saucer-like eyes. (Peseta Mañana --
Miss Mary Pickford.) (NOTE: Miss Pickford is a blonde. We will have to overcome this difficulty somehow.) Their wealth, elegance, and noble,
patriarchal manners. Arrival of Diego, the pearl-fisher, with the only pearl
in the world the size of an emu's egg. Sale of the pearl to the Senor. The
pearl taken to Tiffany's to be set in a necklace. Peseta is observed at the
necklace counter by a Sinister Stranger. (NOTE: Arnold Daly might play this part very well.) Peseta comes of age. Magnificent tango party, at which she
wears the pearl. Entry of Sinister Stranger, who demands an interview with
the Wicked Baron -- we mean the Silver King, or Senor Mañana.
(NOTE BY PRODUCER: During all these scenes, past, present, and future,
whether on the burning sands of Coney Island or the frozen steppes of the
Bronx, people should constantly snatch up telephones and talk into them
excitedly, without waiting to get any particular number. It all helps.
Silhouettes of mysterious people may also pass behind a window. They have
nothing to do with the story, but they excite curiosity and are soon forgotten
in the general turmoil.)
Ultimately, the Sinister Stranger and Mañana meet. "I demand your daughter
and her pearl." "You are mad." "If not ---" "I defy you." The Sinister Stranger produces a transfer on the Tenth Avenue Line, which the audience will
understand to be that used long ago by Mañana as a boy, illegally, for he had
started life on a shoestring. Mañana, in despair, and realizing that he can
never live down the dishonest episode of the transfer, pulls the shoestring
from his pocket and strangles himself with it. The Sinister Stranger snatched
up Peseta and bolts, but they stumble over the hacienda and fall from the
patio into the caramba, which is full of water. Peseta (pearl and all) is
swallowed by a whale. (The Whale -- Tom Wise or Miss Marie Dressler.)
REEL II: Limousine Lollipop, an exquisite blonde, is fishing on the Yukon.
Her mother has banished her from their Tenth Avenue mansion to the frozen
Alaskan wilds, as she is getting much too fond of the Great White Way, and
thinks it wise to let her daughter cool off a bit. Besides, Mamma has a
little affair of her own, and Limousine is in the way. By and by, after an
encounter with a polar bear, she meets a lovely Esquimau. They chat. The
Esquimau embraces Limousine. She kills the Esquimau for trying to flirt with
her, and then suddenly she feels a pull on her line. It slackens, but there
is still something there. She reels it in. She has false-hooked the whale by
the pearl necklace which his throat was too small to swallow. (See any
Natural History.) The great pearl is hers! She plots to return to Broadway
with her prize. But it is spring; the ice is breaking up; she finds herself
adrift upon the trackless ocean!
The spring advances rapidly. Limosine's iceberg drifts ever in a southerly
direction, melting as it goes. At last it is only just large enough to
support her. Still it grows smaller! What can she do? Standing on one toe
she pirouettes on the ever dissolving ice cake. An inspiration! She produces
a play she has written and reads it aloud. Like magic the ice cake expands.
The play is a frost! Suddenly a liner appears. No; it is a British man-of-
war. Gracious heavens! and Limousine's sole literary solace in these trying
months has been a copy of The Fatherland! Limousine is taken to London as an
exceedingly suspicious character, and enters the Tower of London by the gloomy
portals of the Traitor's Gate!
REEL III: Limousine is to be shot in the Tower as a spy. But, as the
command "Fire!" is given, a Zeppelin drops a bomb of high explosive, which
deflects the bullets. She herself is blown gently into the river, where she
is rescued by a waiting U-boat, which has popped up to see the Zeppelin raid.
It will doubtless have occurred to everyone that so far we have had no
motor-cars; and a film without a motor-car is like Macbeth without the Thane
of Cawdor. So we will have the submarine pursued by the whole British army --
in twelve-cylinder automobiles. Limousine, however, escapes on the submarine.
(This is rather tame, but it would be a bore to have her arrested a second
time. We must thrash out something new. Perhaps after lunch!) On arrival at
New York Limousine is met at the docks by . . .
Now we switch right back to the Mañana family. It's irritating, of course,
but all the movie concerns are doing it. Peseta, inconsolable at the loss of
her father and her pearl, though glad that she has escaped the Whale -- which
she did in the usual manner by diving down his throat (large enough for her,
if not for the pearl) and boring her way out with a hatpin -- finds herself
upon a desert island. Now, do you remember the play which Limousine produced
on the ice cake? You don't. All right, let's have a switchback then, showing
the play. Now you remember, don't you? Good. There isn't any reason why you
should recall the incident, but that switchback will add a few feet to the
film. Penniless and starving, Peseta decides to become a newspaper reporter
on the Coral Evening Headache. She gets a position as Society Editor and is
rapidly promoted, after various adventures (which I shall leave to my
subordinates to work out). She is finally transferred to Vanity Fair in New York and is made Lingerie Editor. In this capacity she goes down to the docks
Recognizes in Limousine Lollipop the Sinister Stranger who has thus
disguised himself in order to win back the pearl and the girl. They embrace,
of course! (Darkness.)
"Pass out on this side, please, and let those take their seats who have not seen the film."
Previous Crowley Classics Next Crowley Classics -- part two
from the Grady Project:
Atu XV, The Devil (Pan)
|-- Grady L. McMurtry
|-- Grady L. McMurtry
The Black Skies of Athanor
Atu XVII, The Star
|-- Grady L. McMurtry
|(Nov. 6, 1962)
Previous Grady Project Next Grady Project
Similarities in Difference:
A Key to Yeats's System
By Nick Serra
It is natural for any student of Aleister Crowley's writings to become
interested in their antecedents, particularly the curriculum of the Golden
Dawn and its many bend-sinister offspring. Most often this means studying the
later Golden Dawn papers of the Stella Matutina as rearranged by Dr. Felkin,
Moina Mathers's A O documents, and perhaps the Christianized versions of A.
E. Waite and Reverend Ayton's Fellowship of the Holy Cross (a.k.a. the Holy
Order of the Golden Dawn and the Reconstructed Rosicrucian Order). However,
one adaptation of the basic Golden Dawn system that has gotten virtually no
notice is that of W. B. Yeats, the most canonized member of the pre-schismatic
Order, who represented the English temples during the original 'Revolt of the
Adepti' of 1900-1901.
One reason for Yeats's esoteric obscurity is that his commentators have
persisted in treating every product of his pen as a literary achievement --
despite explicit statements to the contrary in his letters, essays, and
autobiography. His most openly esoteric document is the 1937 edition of A Vision, which is the distillation of three decades of magical experiments
performed after he was elevated to the Golden Dawn's Inner Order. The bulk of
these, published for scholars in three volumes as Yeats's Vision Papers, are
startlingly reminiscent of Crowley's Cairo Workings (if they had extended over
two decades rather than 25 days).
I began reconstructing Yeats's magical system early in 1990, after I had
read (and reread and reread) the majority of Crowley's works. It did not
surprise me that many of Yeats's poems and stories, sprinkled as they are with
veiled references to the Golden Dawn curriculum, hid complicated didactic
messages. It is evident from extant correspondence that other members of the
Order recognized the hidden magical significance of his poems and plays, even
though they often fail to go into detail. However, I was astounded to
discover that Crowley and Yeats spoke about the tasks and problems associated
with grades beyond those of the original cipher manuscript in almost identical
terms. That both men had been proteges of Macgreggor Mathers was one obvious
explanation, but not one that was easily extended to cover independent
experiments with differing agendas performed long after both men had broken
The genesis of A Vision can be traced to a series of magical ceremonies
Yeats devised in 1897, shortly after he published a series of three stories
centered around an adept named Michael Robartes (whose mystical order, the
Alchemical Rose, is blatantly similar to the Golden Dawn). In his
autobiography, Yeats relates how he decided to invoke the moon by repeating,
night after night, "the names associated with the moon in the cabbalistic tree
of life. The divine name, the name of the angelic order, the name of the
planetary sphere, and so on, and . . . to draw certain geometrical forms."
This series of rituals resulted in the vision of "a naked woman of incredible
beauty, standing upon a pedestal and shooting an arrow at a star" (248).
Yeats later used this image to connect three separate works: the essay "Anima
Mundi," with its discussion of the straight and winding paths on the Tree of
Life, the 1925 edition of A Vision, whose system connects the way of the soul
between the sun and moon with the 28 lunar phases, and "The Phases of the
Moon," the poem that serves as the introduction to both editions of A Vision,
in which Michael Robartes uses the image of "The burning bow that once could
shoot an arrow / Out of the up and down . . ." as a metaphor for "escape" from
the very system of phases that he expounds.
I followed any number of blind alleys while I attempted to discover the
pragmatic methodology behind the final version of A Vision. Before discussing what it is, it might be helpful if I mention a few things that it is not.
First and foremost, it is not a literary document at all, though it is true
that Yeats retroactively inserted metaphors gleaned from his research into
many earlier poems. As a purely poetic system it is, as Yeats judged it,
seemingly arbitrary, harsh, and difficult. Its symbolism owes very little to
the hexagram rituals, although Yeats's descriptions of the two interconnected
gyres are superficially similar. Likewise, it is not a tangent from Mathers's
essay "The Tree of Life as Projected in a Solid Sphere," but various
astrological concerns do recur throughout the Vision Papers. At its most
fundamental level, A Vision is Yeats's extended treatise on the Magical
Memory. In it, between the lines, he stresses the need for the structured
introspection that Crowley developed into the concept of the magical diary.
The 28 phases, or incarnations, that Yeats describes in A Vision represent
a closed system. A soul is required to learn the spiritual lessons of a given
phase during one lifetime or several, as the case may be. Once these lessons
are internalized, the soul progresses on to the next phase. However,
according to Yeats, when the soul learns the lessons set forth for all 28
phases, it does not proceed on to some other state of being. On the contrary,
those mundane souls whom "the last servile crescent has set free" are doomed
to repeat the cycle: "The first thin crescent is wheeled round once more."
True to his Neophyte oath, Yeats obscured every overt reference to his
studies as a member of the Golden Dawn when he included esoteric symbolism in
his works. In his essay "Magic," for example, he openly admits that when he
edited his poetry he frequently deleted any reference to "hidden things" -- no
matter how opaque it might have been for the average reader. Thus, A Vision
augments, but it does not explain. Specifically, Yeats does not explain the
pragmatic method by which he believed that an individual might escape from the
closed wheel of incarnations.
There is no doubt that Yeats codified the material from the Vision Papers
into A Vision for the edification of practicing magicians (for want of a
better term). His "schoolmates," to whom he consigns the text in Essays and Introductions, were not literary critics, but rather those Golden Dawn
initiates whom he invokes by name in A Vision's epilogue, "All Souls' Night" --
and, it might be argued, adepts of equivalent grade from parallel magical
traditions. As practicing adepts, they might be expected to grasp the
theoretical method of escape that Yeats mentions in Wheels and Butterflies:
"There is perhaps no final happy state except in so far as men may gradually
grow better; escape may be for individuals alone who know how to exhaust their
possible lives, to set, as it were, the hands of the clock racing." What is
the practical means of escape? This is precisely what he cannot reveal.
We cannot know specifically what Yeats thought about the uses to which A Vision might be put, but we can make a few informed guesses. In his pamphlet
"Is the Order of R. R. & A. C. to remain a Magical Order" he condenses the
tasks of adeptship into one concrete aim: to be united with God (like
Plotinus) while still in the body. All the rest of the details about which
there was endless argument among the adepti -- grades, examinations, individual
elitist groups -- were mere external trappings. The duty of the adept was to
attempt divine union. Further, Yeats seems to have stumbled upon the concept
of gilgul at some time during his early qabalistic studies. Developed fully
(I believe) in the school of Isaac the Blind, the theory of gilgul maintains
that since individual souls are created in the image of God, they are
preëxistent in the archetypal world of Atziluth. According to some
authorities, no mundane individual may rise above the Sephirotic world to
achieve union with the Absolute until every preëxistent soul has realized its
divine potential, thus necessitating the need for spiritual purification
through repeated incarnations. This seems to be the condition that Yeats
describes as the winding path of nature in Per Amica Silentia Lunae, and
elaborates in A Vision.
Still, if the recurrent and fixed pattern of phases was the single reality
of the universe, there would be little or no chance for divine union. Yeats's careful delineation of the characteristics of the various phases would then be
reduced to a mere academic exercise, and there would be no point to his
lifelong attempt to master the Golden Dawn's qabalistic system. However,
Yeats learned about the path of the Middle Pillar early in his studies. It
appears in his poetry from the very beginning, and recurs in his vision of "a
naked woman of incredible beauty, standing upon a pedestal and shooting an
arrow at a star." If the winding path of gradual purification was the course
of nature, then the straight path of the Middle Pillar was the path of Will,
the course of an adept who wished to circumvent nature, and it is precisely
for this reason that Yeats labored over the text of A Vision for twenty years.
During my first several readings of A Vision I was taken in by the apparent
complexity of Yeats's subject matter: interlocking gyres that chart the
progress of individual souls and whole historical epoches, the relationships
between the Mask and Will, Creative Mind and Body of Fate, as well as the cone
of the Faculties and the cone of the Principles. The next few readings
involved tracing his references to the Golden Dawn curriculum, "the six wings
of Daniel's angels, the Pythagorean numbers, a venerated book of the Cabala
where the beard of God winds in and out among the stars, . . . those
complicated mathematical tables Kelly saw in Dr. Dee's black scrying stone."
For a long time I considered abandoning any attempt to fix his meaning
regarding the thirteenth sphere, "which is in every man and called by every
man his freedom," simply because the author himself leaves readers with an
enigmatic "I have already said all that can be said," which I interpreted as
equivalent to Crowley's quote, "'Only an adept can understand the Qabalah,'
just as (in Buddhism) Sakyamuni said, 'Only an Arahat can understand the
Dhamma'" (Eq 1(5) 91).
Of course, as is usually the case, a complex equation tends to mask a
simple answer. I would hesitate to call all the details of A Vision "window
dressing," but the fact of the matter is that the complexities of Mask and
Will and all the rest tend to obscure the one obvious sine qua non for anyone
working in Yeats's system of gyres and phases. Before anything else can be
accomplished, a reader has to ask: "What phase am I in?" or, as Crowley puts
it in the very first letter in Magic Without Tears, "How did I come to be in
this place at this time, engaged in this particular work?"
The answer to this question, according to Crowley, can best be found
through the construction of a magical diary describing not only the main
events of this life, but on into family ancestry as well. It is a pragmatic
expansion of the Delphic Maxim, and it leads not only to the discovery of who
one really is (and thus one's True Will), but also to the memory of previous
incarnations. It seems logical to assume that the memory of past incarnations
would restore also the memory of past lessons learned, and thus set the hands
of the clock racing. Only by using this method to escape from the system of
phases can an adept attain union with the Absolute or, in Yeats's own words
from "A Dialogue of Self and Soul," be delivered "from the crime of death and
From the above we can see how two adepts of the Golden Dawn, with seemingly
antithetical agendas, have come to a startlingly similar conclusion. As
Crowley said in the Bagh-i-muattar and repeated in Magic Without Tears -- "Who
hath the How is careless of the Why." However, this discussion also allows us
to judge the merits of two very different teachers. For all of Crowley's
emphasis on the 'why' over the 'how,' the how is almost always there, needing
only to be pieced together from a multitude of cross references.
If one reads Yeats's poetry as a means of accessing the primary philosophy
of the Golden Dawn, it soon becomes apparent that the 'how' is almost entirely
absent, as is the 'why.' The reason for these omissions is fairly
straightforward. Crowley teaches magick as a fairly concrete subject,
capturing the aim of religion with the method of science. Theory aside, he
concerns himself with investigating the fact that by doing certain things,
certain other things follow. Yeats, on the other hand, seems to have believed
that merely by placing seemingly disconnected symbols into his works with sufficient forethought and intent, he could propel his readers into an altered
state of understanding, as Mathers had once provoked him into a vision of the
salamanders by simply showing him a symbol painted on a card.
Whether Yeats was correct in his evaluation of the blind power of symbols
to transport readers to new realms of understanding is something that I would
rather not judge. Certainly three generations of literary scholars have
missed the inner implications of much of his work completely. However, it is
clear that it helps to have a thorough background in the 'unwritten'
methodology of the pre-1900 Golden Dawn before one attempts to read Yeats
poetry and drama -- for whatever reason. Moreover, as many of my present
audience will recognize, only the didactic and technical discussions of
Aleister Crowley, the renegade adept of popular imagination, can fulfill this
Our regular columns will resume next issue.
Events Calendar for September 1998 e.v.
|College of Hard NOX 8 PM
with Mordecai in the library
|Gnostic Mass 8:00PM Horus Temple
|Ritual Study Workshop with Cynthia
|The Rite of Venus 8PM
Call to attend
|Lodge luncheon meeting 12:30
|Gnostic Mass 8:00PM Horus Temple
|Section II reading group with
Caitlin: The Book of Tobit and
Biblical angel lore, 8PM OZ House
|Seminar on Banishing Rituals with
Bill Heidrick at 5 Suffield Ave.
in San Anselmo, 7:30PM
|Ritual Study Workshop with Cynthia
|Inititions into OTO, call to attend
|Finnegans Wake reading 4:19 PM
|Gnostic Mass 8:00PM Horus Temple
|Autumnal Equinox Ritual 8PM
at Horus Temple
|The Rite of Mercury
8PMCall to for location
|Gnostic Mass 8:00PM Horus Temple
|Sirius Oasis meeting 8:00 PM
|College of Hard NOX 8 PM
with Mordecai in the library
The viewpoints and opinions expressed herein are the responsibility of the
contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of OTO or its
Ordo Templi Orientis
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