The Theory of Magick
It is unnecessary to have a fully worked out theory of Magick in order to do Magick. This is the case with any skill or practice. A driver does not need a fully worked out intellectual theory of what a car is in order to drive one. Indeed, it can be argued that a really complete theory of anything is impossible. This is brought out in certain of the Platonic dialogs, where the character of Socrates deconstructs the preconceptions of his debating opponents, showing that radical intellectual inquiry will always destroy any merely intellectual position upon its own plane.
Plato understood real knowledge, therefore, to consist in noesis or direct apprehension of the Forms (as he called them), the divine, underlying principles of reality. Dianoia, or dialectic, the merely discursive reason, does not in itself reach the level of noesis, but it can be used to dissolve false knowledge to pave the way, so to speak, for noesis. Certain Hindu conceptions of Jnana Yoga are cognate with Plato's epistemology, likewise the idea of Gnosis in late Classical Gnosticism and its successors.
In the Greek Orthodox Church, Theory (Theoria) designates this kind of spiritual contemplation or experience which is itself the result of practice (Praxis), as opposed to the other way around.
It is this kind of spiritual understanding or Gnosis that is the ultimate source of knowledge behind any real theory of Magick. We will need to draw upon this source in outlining such a theory. There are two primary means of access: the experience of others, and one's own experience, both of which should be checked with each other. The first is the perennial philosophy - the tradition of those who have gone before us on the path, acquired this Gnosis and attempted its articulation. This tradition provides us a map for further magical exploration. This map cannot be taken on faith, but must be tested in practice. We will touch upon some of these methods of verification in the second half of this chapter. Our second source will be this personal verification itself. This theory of Magick is therefore based to a large extent upon the personal spiritual experience of its author, and necessarily reflects his perspective.
What is Magick? Magick is perhaps best understood as a form of what the Greeks called Theurgy. Theurgy, as defined by the 4th Century Neo-Platonic philosopher Iamblicus, is the practice of rites to achieve union with the "One". Or, as Gregory Shaw writes, "to awaken the soul to the presence of the One that it bore unknowingly."
What is the "One"? The One is none other than reality, but reality in its true aspect, not as seen through the lens of the ego-personality. As it is One, it is not something outside of ourselves, but is our own innate essential Self. Nevertheless, this One, though it is our Self, utterly transcends the ego-personality.
It is helpful to use a model to further understand the relationship of Magick to the One. The model we will be using describes the self-emanation of this One reality through the traditional 4 worlds of the Jewish Kabbalistic system. Analogues of this scheme can be found in the Christian, Islamic, and Buddhist systems.
The 4 worlds model divides reality into 4 planes or ontological levels. These are: Atziluth — the One itself, Briah — the celestial or archetypal level, Yetzirah — the "Imaginal" realm, and Assiah — the spatial material world. There is a hierarchy to this model. The higher levels are ontologically prior to and are "more real" than the lower levels. At the same time there is an integral component to the 4 worlds as well. The lower levels are not best seen as fallen or corrupted shells or fawed creations of the higher levels, but as places of completion of the work or activity of higher levels. Theurgy is fundamentally an embodied practice. It acts, not to separate the levels of reality, but to disclose the unity of their integration in, as and through the transcendence of the One.
The fourth world is called Assiah, the world of Action. Assiah is the world of the action of the manifestation of the divine spirit, through every conceivable multiplicity. Phenomena, seen from a certain mystic view, are eidolons of the infinite reality — expressions of divine attributes or aspects. In the Islamic tradition these aspects are called the Names of God. There are an infinity of such aspects, but these are subject to categorization into types. There are many valid systems for doing this, but the one used most often in the Thelemic tradition is the Jewish Kabbalistic tradition of 32 primary emanations of deity. These 32 'paths' signify the manifestation of divinity through sacred correspondence.
The Hermetic tradition posits that the divine reality shows itself in the physical world through correspondences or 'signatures' which are emanated archetypal symbols appearing in nature as well as in dreams and visions. "But none can read them unless he hath been in Thy School", reads a Rosicrucian prayer, meaning in its highest sense no physical school or occult order, but rather the invisible Inner Order or College of the Holy Spirit that all true outer vehicles attempt to make of themselves a clear channel. Working with correspondence through ritual, dream work, symbolism etc. is an exercise that follows its own rules of syntax and semantics. Correspondence is its own kind of language, a language of myth and symbol, very different then other kinds of discourse, but as rigorous, in its own way, as any form of logic or mathematics. It is able to very adequately describe matters of Spirit and Gnosis. It is less, or not at all, adequate for use in other domains of discourse such as physics, paying bills etc. Many errors in the use of correspondence arise from a misunderstanding of its context of use.
The Kabbalistic language of correspondence used in the Thelemic tradition is a powerful means of integrating mythical, intuitive and intellectual modes of thought and being into an experience of meaning. Kabbalistic analysis can appear at times fanciful, but good Kabbalah is never arbitrary or made up. It is rather a deep contemplation of spiritual archetypes, based upon traditional methods, to bring out, articulate and work with them in a manner responsive to the archetypes themselves. Kabbalah means "that which is received" and as a form of meditation it can be exactly that. It is a technology of prophecy that bridges all of the four worlds.
The 32 categories of emanation/correspondence used in Kabbalah are traditionally arranged in a diagram called the Tree of Life. The particular form of the diagram as used in the Thelemic tradition (there are other valid forms) has developed over several distinct stages of Reception, over a period of at least two thousand years. The Tree of Life is a profound and sacred eidolon of the entire universe. It is fundamental to the understanding that Thelemic spirituality has of itself, and Crowley's writings and work are not understandable without thorough prior familiarity with it. Likewise, this book assumes that its readers have a basic general understanding of its system.
This is Assiah. Assiah is not a meaningless collection of matter in motion in space. Assiah is the light shining in the darkness. On the Tree of Life Assiah corresponds to the Sephirah Malkuth - the divine Kingdom ruled and directed by Spirit. It is this relationship of sovereignty that gives the name "Lord" to the highest levels of reality, Briah and Atziluth.
At a subtler or less coarse level of reality is Yetzirah — the realm of formation. My preferred descriptive term is the Imaginal realm, a term created by scholar and esotericist Henry Corbin. Corbin writes:
"…Between the universe that can be apprehended by pure intellectual perception (the universe of the Cherubic Intelligences) [i.e. Briah] and the universe perceptible to the senses, there is an intermediate world, the world of Idea-Images, of archetypal figures, of subtle substances, of 'immaterial matter'. This world is as real and objective, as consistent and subsistent as the intelligible and sensible worlds; it is an intermediate universe 'where the spiritual takes body and the body becomes spiritual,' a world consisting of real matter and real extension, though by comparison to sensible, corruptible matter these are subtle and immaterial. The organ of this universe is the active Imagination; it is the place of theophantic visions, the scene on which visionary events and symbolic histories appear in their true reality."
Yetzirah is the in-between zone, where pure spirit takes on form, and where that which is physical takes on a subtle or spiritual aspect. Eliphaz Levi calls it the astral light. It exists as a kind of parallel creation, laid over and sustaining the physical realm of Assiah.
Yetzirah is not merely accessible to a rarified visionary consciousness. A simple exercise is to imagine a red rose in front of oneself. This rose has qualities. It has a sort of fugitive spatial location and it has duration, so it's a temporal phenomenon. Yet it doesn't exist in the way a table does. It's not a physical phenomenon. It doesn't exist in Assiah. It exists in Yetzirah. Understood in this way, Yetzirah includes the whole realm of the imagination, and so it is called the Imaginal, but not the imaginary, because it is much more than that. This is the place of visualization, thought, dreams as well as emotion, intuition and abstract thought. The subtle energies of the body and of nature also have their being in Yetzirah. Prana, chi, inner heat, kundalini, odic force, orgone etc. There are a variety of names. Though there is a subjective aspect to some manifestations of Yetzirah, this is by no means always the case. There are auras and energies which can be perceived by multiple individuals. Often these effects can be visual — but it is a peculiar, subtle visual experience, as if one's eyes were out of focus. Lowered ambient light can assist. This visual phenomenon is difficult to describe and is often associated with an equally difficult to describe shift or expansion in consciousness. It is seen, but not like a physical object.
Yetzirah has its own geography — a kind of orientation of sacred space. This can be experienced either in pure visionary space or in our experience of the world about us - through sacred architecture, in ritual space and in certain types of comportment to the natural environment. The most important type of orientation is up and down. Eliade calls this orientation the axis mundi. Located at the Imaginal center of the universe at the beginning of time is a mountain, world tree or lingam, which stretches from heaven to earth and to the underworld, linking all planes of existence. Emanating out from this spiritual axis or pole at the moment of creation are the four directions or quarters, which spread out into Assiah, and constitute the material world centered in this spiritual axis — which is found nowhere and everywhere. If one ascends the pole in the spirit vision one will find oneself at the source of its emanation. This is Briah, the next higher world of divinity as such.
Yetzirah corresponds on the tree of life to Sephirah 4-9. These Sephirah constitute 2 trinities — the reflection of the Supernals in the microcosmic and macrocosmic aspects of Yetzirah.
Briah is the second level of reality, as counted from the "top". It presents some difficulties to discuss due to its strictly deific character, for Briah is the divine realm as such. The various symbols and forms emerging in the astral light of Yetzirah, or the physical forms of Assiah derive the source of their sanctity from Briah. The sacred is Briah.
Traditionally, western mystics have described Briah in Platonic terms. To continue the same example used to understand Yetzirah — the rose we visualized exists in Yetzirah, but the roseness of the particular visualization, its meaningfulness itself as a rose, is Briatic. In Platonic terms, the form of the Rose. Roseness itself.
Atziluth is usually translated "archetype" in English. If, however, by archetype we mean something like Carl Jung does in speaking of the collective unconscious, then really Briah is the realm of the archetypes, and of the collective unconscious. Yetzirah then functions as the personal consciousness into which various symbols are projected by Briah and experienced.
On the tree of life, Briah corresponds to Binah and to Chokmah. It lies above the abyss, and so is unity, but there can still be a perception of duality, particularly in its manifestations to lower levels.
Beyond Briah is the One itself, the absolute unity of Atziluth. Atziluth is never separate from the other layers, as its unity heads all things. As such it is somewhat outside of, or transcendent to, the progression of the other 3 worlds. If separation ends so does progression. There is no phenomenon that does not possess the taste of this unity. In Meister Ekhart's system, if Briah is God, Atziluth is the Godhead. It is Kether upon the tree of life.
I would like not to write further concerning Atziluth, other than to note that all phenomenon of the other 3 worlds are always already presupposed by its existence.
"Listening to the Logos and not to me, it is best to say that all things are One." — Heraclitus
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Having completed our discussion of the 4 worlds, we should now turn to the personal application of this map of the magical universe. To be a proper theory of magick, this theory must address itself to practice, for theory and practice are two sides of the same coin, never fully separate. A similar, idea is expressed in the Mahayana system where wisdom and skillful means, prajna and upaya, must be conjoined and jointly realized to produce enlightenment. This is represented by the bell and dorje held in both hands during meditation by the vajrayana practitioner.
How then, do we realize the reality of the divine presence of these 4 worlds? For Thelemites, we have inherited the possibility of using the system Crowley designed for accomplishing this. It is known as the A∴A∴. The structure of A∴A∴ is divided into 3 colleges or sub-orders. The precise delineation of this division is modeled by creating a map of stages of mystical and magical progression based upon the Tree of Life. This tree represents simultaneously the constitution of the universe or macrocosm, as well as the complete human being or microcosm. There is no difference. As above, so below. Exploration of one entails exploration and gnosis of the other. Therefore an interior exploration of one's self based upon the sacred tree will involve an uncovering of the 4 worlds upon that tree.
There are any number of Thelemic groups adding using this model of attainment, or some version of it, including many lineages of the Order called A∴A∴ The system is universal in scope, however, and does not require membership in any organization to work, nor is it owned or controlled by any individual or group.
The three colleges or orders of A∴A∴ are the Golden Dawn, or initiates, the Rose Cross or adepts, and the Silver Star, or A∴A∴ proper, comprising the masters. There are many ways of understanding these 3 stages of spiritual development. Our way, in this chapter, will be to orient them against the background of an advancement in understanding or attainment of the 4 worlds. The initiate, therefore, is centered most strongly in Assiah, and works with Yetzirah in an attempt to get to Briah. The adept has mastered their control of Yetzirah, "reached" Briah, and works with Briatic levels of consciousness to realize Atziluth. The master is one who has realized Atziluth.
If we have an integral view of the 4 worlds, we must recognize that this ascent through the worlds does not eliminate or "free us" from the lower levels, but instead informs us with regard to them — informs us with regard to our True Will, our trajectory through all 4 of these planes.
The initiate works first then with Yetzirah. Not surprisingly, therefore, the first power systematically acquired by the A∴A∴ initiate is that of the path of Tav. This is astral projection, using various techniques of active imagination, contemplation, visualization, and meditation. All of the various ritual activities engaged upon are likewise intended to build up one's persona in the realm of fantasy and imagination. Robes, capes, incense, swords, and strange conjurations; these are the trappings of Magick. This either becomes a method solely of ego aggrandizement, and therefore ultimately of black magic, or else these techniques and tools are directed towards the attainment of Briah.
Briah can be looked at as the plane of the personal god, and the relationship to that personal God, which in Thelema is known as the Holy Guardian Angel. Developing this relationship to the Angel is the chief task of the initiate to become adept. The method is love, love directed to God. Therefore "love under will," which is the very essence of the Law of Thelema.
This attainment is symbolized by the Sephirah Tiphareth. Frater Achad declares in The Egyptian Revival concerning the adept in Tiphareth: "The Beast, or Man of the Sun, represents, as I understand it, the Soul of Humanity, or of Man, between Spirit and Matter, ashamed of neither since both are essential to his existence."
Symbolically, the absolute quality of pure love of the Angel is signified by the planetary symbol of Venus, which when laid over the tree of life covers all of the Sephirah. The exception is Daath, and so there is no falsity in true love.
This true love of the Angel must be cultivated. Phyllis Seckler likes to talk about 3 levels of love, through which one progresses to this refinement of rapture. The first type of love is the most immediately available and the least in quality of perfection. This is the love of another human being or some object on the basis of our psychological projection—on the basis of what we want them to be or see them as, rather then of how they actually are. The second, more developed type of love is to love another in such a way as to allow them to be who they are without interference. This is a more Thelemic type of love, as it expresses an acknowledgement of others freedom to follow their own True Will. Unless one can respect the freedom of others, it is impossible to fully respect one's own freedom. Also, this type of love is appropriate to develop the love of the Angel upon, as one must be passive and receptive in this relationship, giving up oneself to it. One does not make demands of the Angel. It is the Angel that makes demands of us. The third and highest kind of love is pure Bhakti yoga, union of the lover and the loved in Samadhi, the infinite reciprocal giving and receiving of love under will.
The attainment of Briah transcends language, and so we can't limit ourselves to the previous formulation. We could simply call it Samadhi and drop all this nonsense of talking about 'God', as the Buddhists do. On the other hand, insofar as what is meant by the use of the idea of attaining communion with God by the traditional metaphysics is Samadhi, we might as well keep the term, as the Hindus do. The distinction is largely semantical. The next step for the Adept of love under will is to achieve mastery of this Samadhi. The Adept has achieved the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, and now she must integrate all the levels of her being with this attainment. The initial experience of Samadhi must be expanded. The Master of the Temple is said to be a master of Samadhi, and so the Adept must master this possibility of consciousness.
The non-dual consciousness of Samadhi is called by the Tibetan tradition the mind of clear light. The clear light, according to that tradition, does not arise only through advanced meditation. It is mind in its natural state and therefore appears in normal everyday life. These moments include the moment of orgasm, the moment of slipping from dream to dreamless sleep, and the moment of death. It can also occur in moments of shock, when passing out for example. The mind untrained by meditation is not able to properly utilize these states of consciousness.
The Thelemic adept, experienced in meditation, and having experienced Samadhi during attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of their angel, can more effectively utilize these naturally occurring moments of non-dual consciousness to enhance their identification with Atziluth. The chief task of the adept is to actualize the attainment of Atziluth, thereby constituting themselves as a Master of the Temple of the universe. Various A∴A∴ techniques exist to accomplish this. Two of the most powerful are developed by the adept along the paths of Mem and Teth.
The traversing of the path of Mem involves the acquisition of the power of the Sleep of Siloam. In my understanding of the A∴A∴ system this is analogous to the practice of clear light dream yoga in the Vajrayana system known as the 6 Yogas of Naropa. Crowley describes the state achieved as follows:
"... to him whose physical Needs (of whatsoever kind) are not truly satisfied cometh a physical or lunar Sleep appointed to refresh and recreate by Cleansing and Repose; but on him that is bodily pure the Lord bestoweth a solar or lucid Sleep, wherein move Images of pure Light fashioned by the True Will. And this is called by the Qabalists the Sleep of Shiloam ...".
9. In the garden of immortal kisses, O thou brilliant One, shine forth! Make thy mouth an opium-poppy, that one kiss is the key to the infinite sleep and lucid, the sleep of Shi-loh-am.
10. In my sleep I beheld the Universe like a clear crystal without one speck.
In an interesting parallel, Tibetan Dzogchen practice often involves the contemplation of a clear crystal ball as representing the mind of enlightenment.
To continue our Vajrayana analogue, the path of Teth corresponds quite explicitly to the yoga known as Karmamudra, or 'action seal'. That is, sexual intercourse with a real or Imaginal consort. The mind of clear light then arises at orgasm. This is represented by the Tarot trump associated with this path, which is called 'Lust'. Various practical, symbolic and magical aspects of this technique are taught in OTO, particularly within its Hermetic triad.
The Vajrayana system's terminology also allows us to help make more clear a distinction between the work of the initiate and the work of the adept. In that system a distinction is made between yoga practiced at the stage of Generation, and yoga at the stage of Completion. The first is preparatory for the second. In the former one practices visualizing and imagining that one has achieved Samadhi and possesses the Imaginal attributes of an enlightened entity. In the latter, one actually begins to really achieve this state of being due to the strength of one's invocations. In the Thelemic system, the adept can be said to practice at the stage of Completion with regard to her Magick, whereas the initiate prior to Samadhi is still in the stage of Generation. The outward rituals practiced by both may be the same.
The attainment of mastery in the Thelemic tradition is a sacred mystery of the crossing of the Abyss between man and God, a subject upon which we shall, for the present, observe silence.
It is hoped that this chapter has served to provide maps for individual practitioners to articulate their spiritual practice to themselves and others. Every individuall will have a unique approach to spiritual practice, appropriate to their own True Will. Different practitioners will find different maps appropriate to their practice, different ways of discussing, describing, and articulating spirituality, different theories of Magick. This has been mine.
See for example Plato's Euthephro in Plato, Plato: The Collected Dialogues, Bollingen Foundation / Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1961, pp. 169-185.
See for example, Plato's The Republic, ibid. pp. 575-844. I am indebted to James Graeb for first pointing out to me the relevance of Plato's epistemology for the theory of Magick.
Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Monastic Wisdom, St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery, Florence, Arizona, 1998, pg. 406, 408-409.
Shaw, Gregory, Theurgy and the Soul, Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, Pennsylvania, 1995, pg. 110.
Regardie, Israel, The Golden Dawn, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1989, pg. 437.
Corbin, Henry, Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, Bollingen Foundation / Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1969, pg. 4.
Extensive discussions in Levi, Eliphas, Transcendental Magic, Samuel Weiser, New York, New York, 1972.
Articulated in several works, but especially see Eliade, Mircea, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Bollingen Foundation / Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1964, pp. 120-122.
McKirahan, Richard D., Jr., Philosophy Before Socrates, Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1994, pg. 120, Fragment 10:47.
Achad, The Egyptian Revival, Samuel Weiser, New York, New York, 1973, pg. 75.
Private class, Evalna on the Hill, 2000 e.v.
Cozort, Daniel, Highest Yoga Tantra, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, 1986, pp. 106-110.
The best description of this system is Mullin, Glenn, Tsongkhapa's Six Yogas of Naropa, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, 1986, pp. 69-72, 81-84.
Crowley, Aleister, Liber Aleph vel CXI, The Book of Wisdom or Folly, Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, 1991, pg. 18.
Crowley, Aleister, The Holy Books of Thelema, Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, 1983, pp. 70-71.
Cozort, Daniel, Highest Yoga Tantra, pp. 41-47, 65-67.