Tag: qabalah

Why I Love the Ogdoadic Tradition

‘From the Gates of Night I have come to the sill of day,
I have passed the Brazen Door. She has grasped my hand–
The Goddess, my Queen–
and has bidden me still seek truth on the inward road 
of knowledge, while opinion roams the world.’

–– opening invocation of ‘The Magician’, after Parmenides.

A friend asks about what first attracted me to the Ogdoadic tradition, what moves me in it, and what I find sacred in it. It is a difficult question to answer, because it has come to shape everything I think about the world. With the opening of the Citadel of the Caduceus here in London, I thought it might be helpful to attempt an answer.

Choosing – or being chosen?

One of the guilty secrets of western magic is that it doesn’t matter all that much where you get your basic training – as long as it’s good training. Mine, at what now seems a ludicrously young age, was in the general common magical framework of post-Golden Dawn ritual. It was with this background that I happened across a reprint of the first volume of The Magical Philosophy while browsing at Watkins. I can recall the sense of thunder dropping down my spine. I saw the kind of magical techniques I already knew, mixed with something else: love for the history of western magic, an immersion in ancient and renaissance Hermetic thought, clarity and ambition about magic’s purpose, a strong presence of the divine feminine, and a seriousness matched by emphasis on practical experiment. I loved its sense of literacy and love of culture. I sensed a living tradition radiating off the page. I soon picked up their Planetary Magick, too, and started to put it to work.

Much of what I love most in the tradition I sensed right at the beginning. Other things I came to grasp only later. It answered a need I had only half-understood. I loved the magicians and theurgists of late antiquity, their sense of a living cosmos knotted and crossed with desire and life; I loved the magi of the renaissance too, Ficino above all. I found the Masonic style of working cumbersome, yet valued the grace and power of ritual magic at its best. I found the tendency of many ‘respectable’ occultists to eschew proper magic altogether irritating; I also longed for the Gods. The tradition found fertile soil in me because I was longing for it. It was already at work in me.

A full magical autobiography would be tedious to recount. But I mention the above because, in retrospect, it’s sometimes hard to separate personal choice and being pulled towards a tradition by something deep inside. Causation seems circular. Synchronicities abound. Many practitioners have similar stories.

The Goddess

Behold, Lucius, I am come, moved by your prayer, I, mother of all Nature and mistress of the elements, first-born of the ages and greatest of powers divine, queen of the dead, and queen of the immortals, all gods and goddesses in a single form…

I love the tradition for the strong presence of the divine feminine. In the twentieth century a powerful impulse visible in mainstream and esoteric spirituality (as well as in art and literature) produced a turn to the divine feminine, usually in a creative synthesis of ancient tradition with personal revelation. Gerald Gardner’s devotional recreation of the witch-cult is only the most obvious example. Only our proximity to these movements prevents us seeing the wide sweep of divine influence in this remarkable change. Our tradition is no exception, and especially bears many traces of Melita Denning’s devotion to the Great Mother; its insistence on the sanctity of the body and nature come from the same impulse. (It is notable, and personally important to me, that the Aurum Solis and its successor orders were never prone to the homophobia and other bigotries common among old-school lodge magicians in the mid-to-late 20th century.)

Although much of our individual magical work centres around the Agathodaimon – the solar, theurgic initiator – Leukothea (lit. ‘White Goddess’) is of profound, even mystical, importance. It is She who brings forth the rays of the sun. She is called on as the ‘mystic grail, virgin of light and mother of ecstasy’; in one of our most beautiful workings the magician invokes her concluding: ‘Myrrha am I, and Marah am I, and Mem the Great Ocean. / Within me mingle Time and Eternity: / I am the Mother of all living, and I am the Womb of rebirth.’ Devotional praise ‘as her love­-inspired and dedicated child’ and the total dedication of the work to her tutelary power are central to The Gnostic, one of the tradition’s core rites of spiritual elevation.

The Shape of the Sacred

I love the tradition’s sense of order and coherence. One of its key patterns, called ‘The House of Sacrifice’, is at once a way of understanding the interplay of divine forces, the dynamics of the individual magician’s psyche, and of structuring ritual work. As with the tradition’s approach to Qabalah, this sense of pattern is not flattening or artificially restrictive but generative. The House of Sacrifice is a pattern of great simplicity but infinite modulation, depth and refinement.

This sense of the shape of the sacred is tangible in its ritual work, which involves the creation of such a shape through the deliberate action of body and mind. Ritual actions always have meaning and purpose, nothing is superfluous. Elegant and classical, it is far from sombre. A grasp of its principles is profoundly freeing. When the shape of ritual is clearly understood, a great variety of tones and actions can be achieved effectively – from stark simplicity to abundant festal joy, from wordless invocatory dance to high conjuration.

Living Tradition

I love the tradition’s deep rootedness in the wider current of western esotericism. A synthesis of that current is presented throughout The Magical Philosophy, but it is most apparent in the ritual work. A broad framework inherited from the Victorian occult revival is streamlined and modified by Hermetic and Gnostic material, its Qabalah enriched and deepened, suffused with planetary and spirit magic of the grimoires. Twentieth century advances in understanding the mind – as well as the history of magic – are brought to bear on the work. It is, however, decidedly not eclectic: it is not buffeted by the winds of esoteric fashion, precisely because it knows the rewards of deep practice. At its heart burns a living flame; as a living tradition, its research and evolution continues.

It is a mystery tradition. That is, it prepares candidates for, imparts, and empowers them to transmit particular and profound spiritual experiences. Such experiences transform us in ways both hoped-for and unanticipated. The central theme of our mysteries is the Regeneration. As Denning and Phillips describe the Third Hall initiation: “He is gathered to the dim blue stillness of the vault; he hears the voice which placidly utters imperishable words, in even tones declaring changeless Truth as if no such thing as he had ever been; he is dissolved as if to naught; then, after silence, amid light and Memnon-cry of light’s triumph, he is drawn to his feet and forth.”

The Regeneration is a spiritual principle with many expressions and aspects. Our times – ecologically and socially, as much as spiritually – cry out for it. But if the phenomenon is in some measure universal, its form of transmission and manner of integration is particular – the wise fruit of long practice. 

I love that I stand before my altar every day and place myself in a great chain of magicians ‘who were, and are, and are to come’. It is in their legacy and with the aid of those magical ancestors and discarnate powers that we work.

Hands-on Magic

I love that the tradition retains a strong place for practical magical work alongside works of spiritual development. This rectifies a disproportionate ‘spiritual’ emphasis in some traditions, which treats practical magic as grubby or vulgar. From relatively simple planetary rites to high-octane talismanic and Enochian spirit conjurations, the tradition provides many eminently practical methods for making change. It is not simperingly pious: it sees no contradiction between spiritual transformation and magic directed to concrete ends. Indeed, the one requires the other.

The Beloved

I love that the system centres on the encounter of the magician with The Beloved. Holy Daimon, Divine Friend, Higher Genius, Holy Guardian Angel: the name is various but the experience one. Tiphareth is the heart of all the worlds. All the magical training – from the alchemy of the Body of Light to the invocation of divine powers – prepares and empowers the magician to seek The Beloved, the primary quest of the new Adept. I love, here, the tradition’s emphasis on divine love, stressing that vision of the cosmos alive with love shared by ancient and renaissance magi before us. But I love, also, its emphasis on freedom, the recognition that the attainment of the Angel is unique for each magician and could not be otherwise. The point of our mysteries is not to churn out magical carbon copies, but to bring each individual into their own unique fullness and flourishing. 

It follows from this that the tradition is a unity in diversity: it shares fundamental techniques, a corpus of ritual, and is centred around specific divine powers – and yet its realisation differs in emphasis for each magician. Just so, while the training ensures a broad familiarity with western magic and its practice, special concentrations call to the blossoming soul. One might feel the call to perfect the meditative subtle body work, or devotional god-form identification; another the formulae of spirit evocation or scrying the Olympic planetary powers. This diversity, managed well, is a great gift.

The Greatest Gift

Marble votive of Demeter and Persephone. 5th century BCE. Eleusis.

Scholarship on ancient mystery cults stresses, these days, that they were specialised adjuncts to mainstream religion, not straight competitors or replacements. And yet the Mysteries they revealed were central to their initiates’ sense of the world and their purpose in it. Modern mystery traditions tend to articulate somewhat more complete worldviews and ethical frameworks than their ancient predecessors, though too much contemporary work on magic still adverts to basic technical discussion. I love the tradition’s integration of Jungian insight into its account of spiritual change, and the risks such change carries – as much as its high possibilities. (This is important: rapid spiritual change, and intense magical work, always carries a risk of psychic fracture and ego inflation . The art of integration is difficult and essential.) More, I love that it avoids the ‘psychologising’ trap that plagued so much of mid-century occultism while retaining its deep wisdom.

I love, and am thankful for, the gifts that the tradition has given me: a thorough grounding in magic, practical and spiritual; skill in meditation, and the wholeness of mind which arrives with it; powerful psychic, evocatory and magical experiences which filled-out, and altered, my view of the world; a healing rediscovery of inner joy, and joy in the natural world; ecstatic and mystical experience of divine powers; the experience of the world as a great theophany. The deepest, and most profound, gift the tradition has given me is a kind of metanoia – an inward turning of the soul towards the light. That sounds simple, and yet it is so far-reaching there is no area of my life it has not affected. I relish that there are more and deeper mysteries to discover.

Above all, then: the gradual sense of the dawning inner sun, even the first rays of which work a deep, inner, alchemical transformation. This is no claim to perfection, nor even ‘advancement’, so much as a humble thanksgiving for a spiritual practice which has allowed me to become, in every sense, fully human.

Arbor Crystallina

Most students of the Ogdoadic tradition know that our primary texts – Denning & Phillips’ The Magical Philosophy – were initially published in five volumes, then republished in a combined and updated three volume edition. The differences between these editions are rarely explored, and are not, in themselves, important. But part of my training is in critical bibliography – the study of publication histories, textual differences, the physical qualities of books and manuscripts, and what they might tell us about the world in which they were made, and what their authors and publishers might have intended by them. So, naturally, I’m curious about the differences between these versions.

A caveat: those attracted to ritual magic, high magic and western occultism in general tend to be mildly bookish; as a specific body of learning, correspondences and spiritual technologies, magic falls under the sephirah Hod, the pre-eminent sphere of intellectual knowledge. But sometimes – and the internet does not really help with this – that book knowledge can turn arid, substituting the abstract and formal learning into a substitute for the living knowledge of magical practice. The qliphotic cohort attributed to Hod is the teraphim (תרפים), the idols: perhaps this suggests that this kind of book knowledge can all too easily become a paralysing substitute for real practice. Better the most tentative and humble honest attempt at magic than false wisdom derived only from books!

That said, there is plenty interesting in a comparison: while, for instance, the vast majority of material between the two editions is the same, the chapter on the initiatory structure of Aurum Solis is absent in the earlier volume. Were I taking a book historian’s approach, this new chapter between editions might be the most interesting: does it tell us that the authors just felt more comfortable talking openly about initiation rites, or does it suggest there had been some internal development and change to those rituals between editions?

For the most part, the changes matter little, but I think it a little sad that the rather lovely illustration of the Arbor Crystallina didn’t make it to the second edition. Though definitely very 1970s in its execution, I think it rather better than some of the other illustrations mid-70s occult books had.

The image is accompanied by a Latin hymn-like invocation, which runs as follows:

Consistit columna in barathris
unde res occultæ donec prima ultima fiet non ostenderentur.
Sedem regiam qui ibi tenet ubi pendent inter ramos stellæ?
Silentes eæ gressus omnia invisæ decorant.
Ibi asylum, ibi umbrifera nox.
Ut in silvis immortalibus ibi innumera folia.
Ibi numen: ibi mortalitatis nihil unquam intus incolet.
Unus autem intus manit:
exornans matrem flamma.

With its translation given thus:

Established is the column in the depths,
whence secrets shall not be shown forth until the first becomes the last.
Who here holds the royal seat, where stars hang amid the branches?
She is not seen, but all things adorn her silent steps.
Here is sanctuary, here is shadowy night.
As in immortal forests, here are numberless leaves.
Here is divine presence: that which is mortal shall never dwell within.
But one is within:
Adorning the Mother is a Flame.

The context given suggests this evocative and mysterious invocation concerns the mystery of adepthood explored in The Triumph of Light, the relationship between the supernal powers and rational mind – and we might consider it an invocation of the primeval mother. Though quite sufficient on its own, the text is (I think) inspired by an ancient Akkadian hymn, CT 16 46. The hymn was translated by the 19th century philologist A.H. Sayce as part of a speculative essay on primordial Eden, the world-tree and the cult of Tammuz. The translation he gives is as follows:

1. (In) Eridu a stalk grew over-shadowing; in a holy place did it become green;
2. Its root ([sur]sum) was of white crystal which stretched toward the deep;
3. (Before) Ea was its course in Eridu, teeming with fertility;
4. Its seat was the (central) place of the earth;
5. its foliage (?) was the couch of Zikum (the primeval) mother.
6. Into the heart of its holy house which spread its shade like a forest hath no man entered.
7. (There is the home) of the mighty mother who passes across the sky.
8. (In) the midst of it was Tammuz.
9. (There is the shrine?) of the two gods.

(A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the origin and growth of religion as illustrated by the religion of the ancient Babylonians, (London, 1888) p.238)

There is much of interest here, but most striking is the image of the living Tammuz, burning like a flame in the crystal tree, the roots of which stretch to the primordial waters of Apsu, and whose branches cover the heavens. It is easy to see how this mytheme resonates with the account of magical development given in The Triumph of Light, with the dying and resurrected Tammuz, the living power of the sun, suspended in the primordial tree – the ruach united with the neshamah, the power especially attributed to the primordial mother. The A∴S∴ version of the hymn unites the symbol of the tree with the column, perhaps gesturing toward some of the foundational magical practices of the Ogdoadic tradition, many of which concern the activation (through meditation and ritual practice) of the central column within the body of the magician.

As an interesting addendum, Sayce gestures to a story told in an Arabic text, purporting to be a record of Babylonian practices, concerning Tammuz. It concerns the centrality of the dying-resurrected sun to the ancient mysteries. The same story is mentioned by Maimonides, in whose version it runs (with ‘images’ evidently referring to the pagan gods):

In that book the following story is also related: One of the idolatrous prophets, named Tammuz, called upon the king to worship the seven planets and the twelve constellations of the Zodiac: whereupon the king killed him in a dreadful manner. The night of his death the images from all parts of the land came together in the temple of Babylon which was devoted to the image of the Sun, the great golden image. This image, which was suspended between heaven and earth, came down into the midst of the temple, and surrounded by all other images commenced to mourn for Tammuz, and to relate what had befallen him. All other images cried and mourned the whole night; at dawn they flew away and returned to their temples in every corner of the earth. Hence the regular custom arose for the women to weep, lament, mourn, and cry for Tammuz on the first day of the month of Tammuz.
(Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, cap. XXIX)

Katabasis: 32nd Path

Bruno Perramant, Trois chevaux, Apocalypse noire n°2 (les dieux obscurs), (2006)

Some reflections on the 32nd path of the Tree of Life, occasioned by recent work and meditation.

Pathworking is a technique much abused: sometimes it seems to mean any kind of dreamy reverie or confused guided meditation. In the Ogdoadic tradition – and in ritual magical traditions generally – it has a specific technique and referent: the meditative exploration of the paths of the Tree of Life, with specific transformative intent. The A∴S∴ published their sequence of guided pathworkings in Magical States of Consciousness, a rich resource and worth exploring. Notably, guided meditations are given for the paths from Malkut to Tiferet, as part of a full, sequential work on the way of return.  I understand that there were once even cassette tapes available – I’d love to hear those – but other have self-recorded. A meditative, ritualised solitary reading also works well.

These reflections arise not as a direct consequence of full ritual pathworking, but out of study and meditation on the 32nd path. Magicians who spend much time meditating and working with sefirotic energies – that clear and shining decad of light – can miss out on the paths as subtler and specific gradations, concerned with mutability and transformation, often speaking closely to the rhythm of life outside the temple room. Having recently moved house as well as embarked on a new phase of my magical life, it’s natural I’ve found myself drawn heavily to the 32nd path in particular – a path of new beginnings, under Saturn with all its ambiguities.


One of the prime texts used in study and meditation on the paths of the Tree of Life is the ’32 Paths of Wisdom’, a collection of short texts published as a preface to a 1642 edition of the Sefer Yetzirah by Johann Stephan Rittangel (Latin: Rittangelius), a convert from Judaism to Christianity, and professor of Oriental languages at Königsberg. Far from a small addition to the Yetzirah, Rittangelius’ text takes up a good 140 pages of his edition, with texts given in Hebrew and Latin, along with extensive cullings from Kabbalistic authorities and his own commentary. This text made its way into the Hermetic tradition by way of William Wynn Westcott, who published a translation of the Latin texts without commentary – to my knowledge no translation of the commentary exists. There is much worth study and reflection in there.

The translation given by Denning and Phillips for this path adjusts Westcott’s translation thus:

‘The 32nd Path is the Governing Intelligence, so named because it governs and co-ordinates the seven planets singly and collectively, each and all in their proper orbits.’

Substituting ‘governing’ for Westcott’s ‘administrative’ (from the Latin adminicularis) makes sense – thinking of the path as a vehicle of transmission and ordering for all the powers made manifest in Malkut. But it is also worth going deeper: adminiculum means a prop or support, a stake hammered into the ground – an appropriate image for this path, as one might think of the ancient stakes used to measure out boundaries and borders, or by which the tents of nomad peoples are pitched. But the Hebrew gives us another aspect too: נֶעֱבַד, navad, which carries the sense of cultivation, as in tilling the land – thus the 32nd path governs the powers made manifest in the world around us, and the Hebrew gives us a sense of the material, earthy and intimate nature of that power, the matrix from which the sensible world springs.


The traditional attributions to this path are the letter Tau and the planet Saturn, both speaking of finality and transformation, of death and terror. Yet the Talmud (Shabbat 104a) says Tau stands for truth, אֱמֶת, emet – with its last letter rather than its first, for truth is found not at the beginning but at the end of the journey; setting foot on the path, its thread can be hard to trace except in momentary glimpses. But Tau also means ‘a sign’, the cross (the ancient form of the letter) painted over the doors of the elect so that the angel of death might pass them by; it reminds me of a remark made by Denning and Phillips, that to step one foot on the way of return is to commit entirely, though its fruition may not be in this life, it marks a decisive moment in the life of the soul.

The stanza attributed to this path in the A∴S∴ ‘Song of Praises’ captures this power well:

‘Thine is the Sign of the End,
Sum of existences:
Thine is the ultimate Door opened on
Night’s unuttered mystery:
Thine, the first hesitant step into the dark of those but latterly
Born to the Labyrinth!’


The mystery of this path is reflected in the winnowing sickle of Saturn: it is the path of initiation, calling the candidate forth into the darkness. The journey is an ancient one, yet utterly individual. Like all true magical secrets, it is secret not because it is bound by an oath, but because it cannot be divulged – only experienced.

At the threshold of the mysteries, why do we descend rather than ascend? (The way up and the way down are the same way, said Herakleitos.) The heroes of ancient myth so often underwent katabasis, the descent into the underworld – Orpheus for Eurydike, Odysseus seeking Teiresias’ wisdom in the land of the dead, Aeneas crossing the Styx in Charon’s boat. They have sent me in search of the dazzling dead, the heroes who lived before us, against whose measure we fear to be revealed as their lesser children.

Nekyia: the name for our whisperings with the dead. Western magicians too rarely think of the spirits of the underworld, the dead who have gone before us: our ancestors, and our ancestors not only of blood but spirit. Those who shaped us, who gave us our first taste of the world; either the nameless number who shaped the world out of the wild earth, those who did magnificent things, those who did terrible things – or those individuals who shine in memory, having gone before us under Saturn’s scythe. The magician, too, can think of her lineage among the dead, the great chain of adepts gone before her, whose words, written and otherwise, shape the path before her.

What is our reckoning with the dead? With the ancestors? The questions this path puts before us take bravery to ask and answer. The first of the magician’s powers: to know. Not the dry knowledge of books, but the living knowledge of the self, austere, with no corner for hiding. Who are you? How were you formed? Where do you come from? What do you believe? There is a pitiless aspect to Saturn in the katabasis: as Inanna descending to the underworld, each piece of finery given up, winnowed away until only the essential remains. That winnowing is also part of speech with the dead: what have you given me that I will carry no more? What parts of my heritage will I carry with me, no longer as an imposition or reflex, but embraced with conscious joy – and which do I need no longer, to be thrown off like the crutches of the miraculously healed?


The esoteric schools talk, on this first path of the initiatory sequence, of the Watcher on the Threshold, sometimes with only little explanation. What is the Watcher? Some in magical orders speak of it as if it were the specific guardian of their current and particular mysteries, but its guardianship is more general. One might think of it as a kind of filter, rebuffing dilettantes and the unready. Its manifestation will be familiar to many: the lassitude that sets in after a burst of enthusiasm in magical work, a dryness, perhaps an accompanying worry that something is wrong, or frustration that you cannot yet call spirits from the vasty deep.

The advice given on confronting the Watcher is generally simple (and, at first, frustrating to hear): persist. Persist in your daily practice. It is no accident that life will often throw up sudden obstacles after the first few steps on the path: did you expect to churn up the deep seas and feel no turbulence? But what of the lassitude that seems to come from within, the truculence and resistance within the self, the bridling at the discipline? Confronting this aspect of the Watcher – its microcosmic aspect, which seems to come from within us – is part of the mystery of the 32nd path.

The descent into hell, the reckoning with the dead, the bridling at the path: who are you? One of the secrets that this path uncovers for us is fear, and the fear, especially, that comes from that question. To answer it fully, we must offer up our illusions and their comfort, all the lazy habits we acquire from our culture, the reflexes which short-circuit our perception and ability to think for ourselves. Yet fear is not a useless emotion: it can teach us what we cherish, what really matters. And we might therefore call fear the secret name of the Watcher. For all the ambivalence and riddling doubt of the rational mind, levels both below and above the conscious self know the profound transformation promised on the path, the burning up of the dross and transformation of the prima materia. Hesitation and fear at the gate might be an instinctive response: but to know this truth is to possess the ability to move beyond it.

This path, from Malkut to Yesod, governs the waking of the psychic, magical senses, the world of shadow and half-light in which the creative faculty of the magician plays. Thus the perhaps surprising austere government of Saturn over this path: to avoid the madnesses and kaleidoscopic self-aggrandisement that the astral light can bring, the ability to tell truth from falsehood, to pass through the underworld unflinching, is essential. No-one emerges from the katabasis unchanged; not even the gods of myth. But the magician should emerge with the sign of Tau on her brow, a mark of the willingness to transform – and with the heavens shining before her eyes.

Thus the ancient Orphic initiates said, in their descent to the underworld, demanding not lulling oblivion, but the cool water from the fount of memory:

Γῆς παῖς εἰμι καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος,
αὐτὰρ ἐμοὶ γένος οὐράνιον!

I am a child of Earth and starry Heaven – but my race is of the heavens alone!


Bruno Perramant, Notre Dame #2 (2014)

The sefirah Binah, the third emanation on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, is a focus for numerous magical traditions. As the ‘nearest’ of the supernal triad, it represents  and transmits the highest and most abstract powers down to the mental and physical world. In the great compilation of Kabbalistic wisdom, the sefer ha-ZoharBinah is often referred to as a fountain or an ocean from which run seven watercourses, the seven lower sefirot. She is also frequently called the supernal mother; Moses Cordovero refers her to the heart, the organ of understanding and intuition. In the words used in the AS’s consecration of the grail, she is ‘the mother of all living, and the womb of rebirth.’

As Sophia, and as the supernal aspect of Saturn, Binah is of special interest to the Ogdoadic tradition – especially in the resonance between Saturn and Earth, Binah and Malkut, the Heavenly Mother and the Veiled Maiden. The Reiya Mehemna, a late stratum of the Zohar says of her, ‘if she were to distance herself from the world for a moment, all that exists would be destroyed and void’. In magical traditions, the attribution of Saturn to Binah divides into two distinct forms: one, the limiter, bringer of death, and the other the great teacher of wisdom. Marsilio Ficino says of Saturn:

‘Saturn is also neighbour to the innumerable (i.e. fixed) stars; and indeed, he is very similar to the Primum Mobile because he travels a lengthy circuit. He is the highest of planets; hence they call that man fortunate whom Saturn fortunately favours. And although most people are terrified of him as alien from the ordinary life of man, nevertheless the Arabs consider he is agreeable even to the common life whenever he has very great power and dignity as he ascends, or his Jupiter (who tempers Saturn – ed.) aspects him favorably or receives him well in his terms. Otherwise, unseasonably received in matter, particularly gross matter, his influence is like a poison, just as by putrefaction or adustion an egg may become poisonous. From such influence, certain people are born or become impure, lazy, sad, envious, and exposed to impure daemons. Flee far from the company of these. For in other places the poison of Saturn lies hidden and dormant like sulphur far from flame; but in living bodies it often blazes up and, like kindled sulphur, not only burns but fills everything around with noxious vapour and infects the bystanders. Against this influence of his, generally alien to, and in a way unsuitable for, human beings, Jupiter arms us by means of the following: with his natural quality, with certain foods and medicines of his, with images (as they think), and with behavior, business dealings, studies, and affairs properly pertaining to himself. But it is not only those who flee to Jupiter who escape the noxious influence of Saturn and undergo his propitious influence; it is also those who give themselves over with their whole mind to the divine contemplation signified by Saturn himself.

(De Vita Libri Tres, Book III, Ch. 22, emphasis mine)

There’s a lot going on in this passage, and I only want to dwell on it briefly. The two faces of Saturn I mentioned above are present – predominantly as the classic astrological malefic, but also as the remotest power from human experience, and guardian of the transcendent realms. This doubleness preoccupies Ficino, who was born with one foot in and one out of the world, who suffered terrible melancholia (Saturn’s ailment), and fixed his eyes on the stars in search of truth. Here and elsewhere it is Saturn’s remoteness from human affairs which Ficino understands as inimical to a settled and conventional life. But to mystics, magicians, those given over to contemplation and artists, Saturn might show quite another face. Ficino warns elsewhere in this chapter that the advantages Saturn bestows cannot be won by whiting a sepulchre: fraud, hypocrisy and deceit, a pretence at the contemplative life, will cry out for the sickle.

Saturn and Binah for the modern magician are deeply linked. But we might multiply the ways we think about the sefirah of the great mother: as reflected and refracted in the lower sefirot traditionally assigned feminine deities, the green fuse of life in Netzah, the lady of mirrors in Yesod, or the great earth mother of Malkut. All have their root in her. Rittangelius says of Malkut that it will be uplifted on the throne of Binah, in one of the deepest and most concise images of spiritual integration. (It is why, in a shared ritual meal, we might dip bread into salt: bread made of the bounty of the earth, dipped in the salt of the great ocean from which all things come.)

Too often in twentieth century writing on magic there is a lot of bravado about the ordeal of Binah, the ‘crossing of the abyss’ and the various high grades it entitles one to blather about. All that has its place. But too often the deep intimacy between heaven and body, Saturn and earth, is missed. The poem below, by Kathleen Raine – herself an initiate – is one of my favourite ways of redressing that. It contains beautiful images of anamnesis, a kind of intuitive spiritual ‘unforgetting’ which is sometimes a gift of Binah.


Kathleen Raine

Lifelong the way —
I never thought to reach her throne
In darkness hidden, starless night
Her never-lifted veil;
Too far from what I am
That source, sacred, secret from day;
But, suddenly weeping, remembered
Myself in her embrace,
In her embrace who was my own
Mother, my own mother, in whose womb
Human I became.
Not far, I found, but near and simple as life,
Loved in the beginning, beyond praise
Your mothering of me in flesh and blood.
Deep her night, but never strange
Who bore me out of the kind animal dark
Where safe I lay, heart to heartbeat, as myself
Your stream of life carrying me to the world.
Remote your being as the milky way,
Yet fragrance not of temple incense nor symbolic rose
Comforted me, but your own,
Whose soft breasts, nipples of earth, sustained me,
Mortal, in your everlasting arms.
Known to the unborn, to live is to forget
You, our all,
Whose unseen sorrowing face is a farewell,
Forgotten forgiver of forgetfulness.
Lifelong we seek that longed-for unremembered place.

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