Monday, 14 February 2011

Seven Sermons & The Book of the Law: a Jung Crowley comparison

Here is an article by me recently published in the British Pentacle magazine. It is an abridged version of the Gnostic Revival section in my Crowley book. I have also posted it as a note on my Facebook Avalonian Aeon Publications Fan Page. I am able to make better use of imagery on this blog. It is also the basis of my Blog Talk Radio presentation on the same subject.

In 1904 Aleister Crowley took dictation, from what he believed to be a non-human intelligence named Aiwass, of The Book of the Law, a text that announced the dawning of a new “Aeon of Horus” that would be characterised by extremes of agony and ecstasy. If the work has any veracity one might expect other figures from that time would intuit the same forces at work.

One man who gave profound expression to undercurrents in the psyche of western humanity was Carl Gustav Jung. The popular concept of a collective unconscious derives from him. He played a significant role in inspiring interest and revival in a wide range of mystical topics drawn from the world’s traditions.

In Flying Saucers: a Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky, Jung expressed his belief that the UFO phenomenon was an example of ‘manifestations of psychic changes which always appear at the end of one Platonic month and at the beginning of another. Apparently they are changes in the constellations of psychic dominants, of the archetypes, or “gods” as they used to be called, which bring about, or accompany, long-lasting transformations of the collective psyche.’ Ideas that were below the psychic horizon were rising again into consciousness during the transition into the dawning of the new Platonic month or astrological epoch, the Age of Aquarius.

In the middle of the First World War, Jung was involved in an astonishing episode with a Gnostic deity. Abraxas is usually depicted as having a human body with a rooster’s head and legs like serpents. Sometimes he has a hawk or lion’s head. He tends to hold a whip and a shield. He is associated with one of the leading Gnostics, Basilides, who flourished in Alexandria around about 120-30AD. The letters of the name of Abraxas were linked with numbers and added up to 365, thus indicating his connection to the solar year and the laws of the heavens.

“Abraxas gems” came in the form of gems, plates, or tablets of metal. They were mainly inscribed with his name. Some had depictions of Egyptian god-forms with inscriptions such as Abraxas and IAO. Most interestingly of all from my point of view, some showed the infant Horus seated on a lotus flower, forefinger raised to his mouth in the magical gesture of silence. This is none other than the same Harpocrates who features in The Book of the Law and is shown on Crowley’s Aeon tarot trump. Others had Jewish words like Jehovah and Adonai. There are images of a cock, a lions head with the word Mithras, monstrous forms, sphinxes and apes, and many Egyptian deities. The phrase “solar-phallic,” which Crowley used to refer to the Thelemic current, sums up their general attributes.

Sometime between the summer of 1916 and February 1917 (there are variant dates in different accounts), over three consecutive evenings, Jung had a Book of the Law experience, writing Seven Sermons to the Dead. The episode was heralded by strangeness in the family home. Jung’s children saw and sensed ghosts. One had a serious dream featuring an angel and a devil. Jung himself felt a powerful atmosphere building. On a Sunday afternoon, the doorbell started ringing. No earthly visitor was responsible. The apparatus could be clearly seen moving on its own. The air in the whole house seemed so thick with spirits that it was difficult to breathe. Jung cried out, “For God’s sake, what in the world is this?” A chorus of voices replied, “We have come back from Jerusalem where we found not what we sought.”

With the barriers between the worlds broken, Jung settled down to write a stunning text. Its authorship was attributed to Basilides. We don’t have as many details on the process of composition as there are with Crowley. There is still conjecture over whether or not Jung was mediumistically dictating from a source he believed to be Basilides or expressing some part of his own psyche through the form of a Gnostic teaching.

From Jung's Red Book

Basilides sets out to instruct the dead, who seem to be crusading knights who failed to find fulfilment in Jerusalem, in other words, through conventional Christianity. Their god concept got a makeover through encountering Abraxas who, “is undefinable life itself, which is the mother of good and evil alike.” “He is the brightest light of day and the deepest night of madness.” “He is both the radiance and the dark shadow of man.” “Abraxas generates truth and falsehood, good and evil, light and darkness with the same word and in the same deed. Therefore Abraxas is truly the terrible one.” “He is the monster of the underworld, the octopus with a thousand tentacles, he is the twistings of winged serpents and of madness.” “To fear him is wisdom.” “Not to resist him means liberation.”


Abraxas did not exactly arrive unheralded. The figure of Aiwass was of central significance in Crowley’s Book of the Law experience. Jung had his own daemonic angel who helped open the portal for the Seven Sermons. In 1913 he had begun to deliberately cultivate visionary experiences through what is now known to Jungians as active imagination. A figure appeared who he knew as Philemon, an impressive white-bearded robed sage with multi-coloured kingfisher wings. Jung described him as having “an Egypto-Hellenistic atmosphere with a gnostic coloration.” Philemon became a guru to Jung, guiding him through times of visionary experiences that verged on psychosis. This wise old man aspect of his psyche, that some occultists might designate as an inner plane contact, later served as the conduit for the incoming Basilides-Abraxas transmission.

The 1913 visions were undoubtedly shaped by Jung’s extensive reading on the mystery cults of antiquity, in particular Mithraism, which had an enduring fascination for him. During the peak of the Alexandrian Hermetic era, Mithras had become tremendously successful in the Roman world. In the syncretistic manner of the time, his form mutated. A complex of kindred god-forms blurred and blended. Mithras, Abraxas, Aion. A variant spelling, Meithras, adds up to 365 like Abraxas. Crowley claimed that the correct name of the idol supposedly worshipped by the Templars was Baphometr which meant “Father Mithras.”

Solar barge from Jung's Red Book

The Golden Dawn had a technique known as the assumption of a god-form. It involved powerfully imagining oneself in the appearance of some deity. One might sit with a particular posture that the chosen form has been depicted in. If it was an Egyptian god for example, it might also mean imagining oneself to have an animal head of some kind. Various artefacts might be visualised as being held. Crowley had often taken on the form of Horus during his Golden Dawn days. He later felt that this had helped to predispose him towards the Cairo revelation that led to his proclamation of himself as Logos of the Aeon.

The climax of Jung’s visionary experiences has only recently become more widely known, primarily through The Aryan Christ of Richard Noll. One night in December 1913, in a state of active imagination, he started to experience a snake wrapping itself around his body. As it did so, he found himself taking on a crucifixion pose and his head changing shape into that of a lion. Jung had assumed the god-form of the Mithraic leontocephalic (meaning lion-headed) cosmocrator (ruler of the cosmos), Lord of Time, Aion. He achieved such intensity as to experience total identification, in his own words, “Deification.” “In this deification mystery you make yourself into the vessel, and are a vessel of creation in which the opposites reconcile.” “So Aion, the lion headed god with the snake round his body, again represents the union of opposites, light and dark, male and female, creation and destruction.” It was essentially an initiatory experience. The scene was set for Seven Sermons, where Jung was the vessel of the Mithriac Aion’s kindred Abraxas, unifier of opposites.

Mithraic Aion

Seven Sermons wasn’t published until after Jung’s death in 1961. Not many of his followers had even known of its existence. A small number of copies had been distributed amongst a select few. Crowley had no knowledge of it. Compare this passage however, from Liber VII, one of his later holy books from 1907, to Jung on Abraxas.

“O all ye toads and cats rejoice! Ye slimy things,
come hither!
Dance, dance to the Lord our God.”

“He is the lord of toads and frogs, who live in water and come out unto the land, and who sing together at high noon and at midnight.”Jung.

The two passages do rather seem to be drawing from a common source of inspiration.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn had roots as strongly in Alexandria as those of Basilides. Some of its members, including Crowley, were as enthusiastic students of mystery cults and Gnosticism as Jung. The most magically significant example of this is the mileage got from an obscure mid nineteenth-century academic work, Fragment of a Graeco-Egyptian Work upon Magic from a Papyrus in the British Museum by Charles Wycliffe Goodwin. It featured an Invocation of the Headless One.

Golden Dawn chief Samuel Liddell Macgregor Mathers had made use of it as a general preliminary invocation in a translation he made of the medieval grimoire, the Lesser Key of Solomon that became known in the order. It featured a sequence of what’s become known to magicians as “Barbarous names of Evocation,” weird, seemingly meaningless words that carry a feeling of archaic strata of humanities’ religious consciousness. Some would avow that amongst the medieval theatrics may be authentic fragments with a history that goes back to Alexandria and beyond.

As Kenneth Grant explains it in The Magical Revival, “The Headless One was a name given by the Gnostics to the Sun in Amenti, ie the Light in the Underworld. --- In other words, the headless one typified the hidden god submerged below the horizon: in terms of psychology, the subconsciousness, the subliminal Will.” Crowley adjusted the translation from Headless to Bornless, “to indicate the fact that the True Will is subject to neither birth nor death, its vehicles alone are subject to these twin phases of activity in the phenomenal world. The invocation of the Bornless One therefore forms the practical basis for contacting the most hidden of all gods or daemons – the Holy Guardian Angel.” It begins -

“Thee I invoke, the Bornless One.
Thee, that didst create the Earth and the Heavens.
Thee that didst create the Night and the Day.
Thee, that didst create the darkness and the light.”

Crowley’s adaptation found its final form as Liber Samekh. Theurgia Goetia Summa (Congressus Cum Daemone), a hefty section within the great masterwork, Magick. This included the barbarous names Qabalistically adjusted, elucidated, and translated into English. He considered it to be his definitive manual for the invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel.

Crowley advised in his explanatory notes for the ritual that it would involve a sequence of “assuming the form and the consciousness of the Elemental God of the quarter.” With fire in the south, this would be “a solar phallic lion.” Jung knew all about that. The barbarous name Abrasax (a variant spelling) is interpreted to mean, “of the Father, the Sun, of Hadit, of the spell of the Aeon of Horus!”

The most famous of all magical incantations, Abracadabra, derives from the name of Abraxas. The Book of the Law contains the important Thelemic variant Abrahadabra, a magical formula explaining the nature of the union of Nuit and Hadit. “In the sphere I am everywhere the centre as she, the circumference, is nowhere found”. It also refers, as Kenneth Grant explains in The Magical Revival, to “the two faces, or the dual aspect, of HAD, as the solar twins, - Set and Horus (Hoor-Paar- Kraat and Ra-Hoor-Khuit).” This calls to mind the duality of Jung’s Abraxas.

This consideration of the Jung Crowley connection opens up a fertile field for future investigation of the modern magical revival that I feel is important and will yield further fine fruit.

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Listen to my hour-long Blog Talk Radio presentation on Crowley and Jung based on this material.

From Jung's Red Book

Buy Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus here

Thursday, 10 February 2011

White Goddess and the Lady of Shalott Blog Talk Radio presentation

An examination of the numinous power of the Victorian painting featuring Robert Graves White Goddess, the Mabinogion Elen of the Shining Paths, the Web of Wyrd, and a personal story to bring them together, is available to hear as an hour-long presentation.

The material was originally intended for inclusion in my Avalonian Aeon but had to be excluded for reasons of space. The strange circumstances of Robert Graves writing of The White Goddess eventually featured in my Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Kenneth Grant

The official announcement has now been made that the most controversial occultist of the latter half of the twentieth century has attained peace unutterable in the body of Nuit from where his star fire will continue to shine. He was not insane or demon driven. He was a family man with a half century of happy marriage. Begone! ye mockers.