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One of the most famous – yet least understood – manifestations of Thelemic thought has been the works of Kenneth Grant, the British occultist and one-time intimate of Aleister Crowley, who discovered a hidden world within the primary source materials of Crowley’s Aeon of Horus. Using complementary texts from such disparate authors as H.P. Lovecraft, Jack Parsons, Austin Osman Spare, and Charles Stansfeld Jones (“Frater Achad”), Grant formulated a system of magic that expanded upon that delineated in the rituals ...
One of the most famous – yet least understood – manifestations of Thelemic thought has been the works of Kenneth Grant, the British occultist and one-time intimate of Aleister Crowley, who discovered a hidden world within the primary source materials of Crowley’s Aeon of Horus. Using complementary texts from such disparate authors as H.P. Lovecraft, Jack Parsons, Austin Osman Spare, and Charles Stansfeld Jones (“Frater Achad”), Grant formulated a system of magic that expanded upon that delineated in the rituals of the OTO: a system that included elements of Tantra, of Voudon, and in particular that of the Schlangekraft recension of the Necronomicon, all woven together in a dark tapestry of power and illumination.
The Dark Lord follows the themes in the writings of Kenneth Grant, H.P. Lovecraft, and the Necronomicon, uncovering further meanings of the concepts of the famous writers of the Left Hand Path. It is for Thelemites, as well as lovers of the Lovecraft Mythos in all its forms, and for those who find the rituals of classical ceremonial magic inadequate for the New Aeon.
Traveling through the worlds of religion, literature, and the occult, Peter Levenda takes his readers on a deeply fascinating exploration on magic, evil, and The Dark Lord as he investigates of one of the most neglected theses in the history of modern occultism: the nature of the Typhonian Current and its relationship to Aleister Crowley’s Thelema and H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon.
That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.
This child Horus is a twin, two in one. Horus and Harpocrates are one, and they are also one with Set or Apophis, the destroyer of Osiris. It is by the destruction of the principle of death that they are born. The establishment of this new Aeon, this new fundamental principle, is the great work now to be accomplished in the world.
Let not the reverence for the God of thy self cause thee by a misconception to lose thy reverence for the Gods who live for ever—the Aeons of Infinite Years.
—The Golden Dawn, "The Symbolism of the Admission of the Candidate"
The concept of the Aeon may seem like an odd place to start this discussion, but the idea that humanity has entered a new phase of existence—of evolution, perhaps—is central to the belief-system called Thelema and to Crowley's theology in general. For if Crowley's new religion was of a piece with everything that had preceded it, there would be no point to it, or to discussing it at any great length except as a curiosity.
A contemporary of Crowley, the author of gothic horror stories H. P. Lovecraft, had his own idea about Aeons: that they represented enormous lengths of time, and that the contemplation of them (and what life-forms may have evolved during them) would drive a normal person insane, as would the contemplation of the vast distances of space between the Earth and the stars. Yet, as with Crowley, he wrote that in certain cases, and with certain Aeons, "even death may die," or will result, as Crowley wrote, in "the destruction of the principle of death." This conquering of death has been a focus of virtually every major religion in the last five or six millenia (probably beginning with the Egyptians). This represents hope for Crowley but absolute horror for Lovecraft; for if death is overcome for some, it would be overcome for all: mass murderers, serial killers, fiendish dictators ... and the anthropoid monsters of the writer's feverish imagination.
Thus we should begin with a look at the concept of the Aeon. It has been a fractious subject among Thelemites for one of Crowley's colleagues had proposed a different schema for the Aeons, one that would have reduced Crowley's own structure significantly. Also, the idea that the end of the world is near—vide the Mayan calendar, the Nostradamus prophecies, and other chiliastic concerns—lends more significance to any discussion of the Aeons, the New Age, and the astronomical ideas they represent.
Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) claimed to be the Prophet of the new age, the Aeon of Horus, and the Book of the Law its scripture. Received over the course of three afternoons in Cairo, Egypt in April of 1904, Crowley himself rejected it at first. Some of the language is offensive, particularly when it comes to describing the world's great religions. The vehemence with which Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc are denigrated seems far from what we have come to expect of spiritual literature. However, a re-read of the first few books of the Bible would be educational in this regard, for the God of the Jews was just as vehement in his attack on all other gods, all other religions. A re-read of the Book of Revelations (also known as the Apocalypse) would reinforce this impatience of the God of Christians and Jews with any and all other forms of religious expression. This vehemence was often backed up with military force, and the massacres of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children was the bloody result. Thus the anger and hatred for earlier faiths shown in the Book of the Law is consistent with Old and New Testament attitudes, if nothing else, and seems of a piece with the contemporary world's religious polarization.
The structure of the Book of the Law is that of three chapters, each devoted to a different Egyptian deity or deities and each represented as the speech of that deity via a praeterhuman intelligence or spiritual intermediary called Aiwass, a being that Crowley later claimed was his Holy Guardian Angel. This occurred as a series of inspired or channeled scriptures over the course of those three days from April 8 to 10, 1904. The readings began after Crowley's wife—Rose Kelly—alerted Crowley to the immediacy of the contact during a visit to the Boulaq Museum in Cairo on the vernal equinox that year, at which time she drew his attention to a stele numbered 666, now known to the faithful as the "Stele of Revealing." This particular stele was a burial plaque for a priest of the Egyptian god Mentu. The priest's name was Ankh-ef-en-khonsu. Each session took place in their apartment between the hours of 12 and 1 pm. (It is possible that the dictations occurred at the precise hour of the mid-day call to prayer, and that they would have heard the muezzin's cry outside their hotel room window right before, during or after the séance.)
It could be considered natural that the scripture would have an Egyptian coloration, considering all the external circumstances. However, the character of Crowley's own previous initiations into a British secret society known as the Golden Dawn would also have an impact on the terminology (if not the philosophy) of the text as we will see. So what we will look at first in this chapter is the nature of the "Egyptology" of the Book of the Law and its relation to the concept of the Aeons.
The three chapters are the utterances of the Egyptian gods Nuit, Hadit, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit (respectively). Structurally, this seems consistent with Egyptian practice. The Egyptian religion contains many such "trinities" of supreme gods at the head of the various pantheons. One of the oldest is that of Ptah, Sekhmet and Nefertum; another would be that of Amun, Mut and Khonsu. The most famous is perhaps that of Osiris, Isis and Horus. In each case, we are presented with a male god, a female goddess, and a child god. In other words, a nuclear family. We rarely, if ever, come across this type of configuration in the Tantric pantheons of Tibet and India, for instance, where the emphasis is usually on a male and a female deity; while there are offspring of these unions, they are rarely depicted as a family unit in the way of the Egyptian examples.
However, the trinity Nuit/Hadit/Ra-Hoor-Khuit is not a typical one in Egyptian texts. Nuit is a star goddess and the mother of Set and Nephthys. Hadit—according to the Book of the Law and to Crowley's subsequent writings—is either a star within that empyrean or a solar disk; as the sun is a star this is not as inconsistent as it might appear. The third god, Ra-Hoor-Khuit, has much more in common with forms of Horus—offspring of Isis and Osiris—rather than with any conceivable union of Nuit and the lesser-known Hadit (which is itself a form of Horus). We may venture to say that this combination is unique to Crowley and to the Book of the Law.
Yet, there is another deity specifically mentioned in the scripture, and that is Khonsu. Crowley, in his role as scribe of Aiwass and of the gods, is given the title Ankh af-n-Khonsu after the name of the priest whose burial plaque was the Stele of Revealing. The two terms ankh and Khonsu bear some further investigation.
Ankh, of course, is the iconic symbol of the Egyptian idea of immortality. The word ankh means "life" and is found on temples and tombs everywhere in Egypt with the associated idea of immortality and life after death. Egyptian pharaohs as well as deities are often depicted holding an ankh, sometimes also called the crux ansata or "cross with handle."
Khonsu, however, may not be as well known. It is the name of another child god, sacred to the moon. This god was usually depicted in mummified form, but with the lock of hair on the right side of his head typical of Egyptian children of ancient times. This is used to emphasize the youth of the god with the implication that he is pre-pubescent. His mother was Mut (not to be confused with Maat), a self-created mother goddess whose symbols were the vulture and the lion and whose name means "mother." In northern Egypt, she became identified with the lion goddess Sekhmet and, at various times, with the cat goddess Bast. Khonsu's father was Amun (sometimes Amen or Amoun), the mysterious self-created god of whom Ra was often considered to be the external image, hence the composite form Amun-Ra.
While Khonsu was a lunar deity, and often depicted as a child, he also had warrior tendencies in the Egyptian religion. He was believed to be a defender of the king, who destroyed his enemies by removing their internal organs and presenting them to the king for nourishment. This odd mythologem gave rise to one epithet of Khonsu as the "king's placenta" and, indeed, he later became identified with childbirth (just as Set would later be identified with miscarriage and abortion).
This idea of Khonsu as the king's defender shares some ideas in common with Horus, who avenged the murder of his father, Osiris. Often, Khonsu is depicted with a hawk's head—recalling Horus explicitly—with a lunar disk and crescent above it to identify him more carefully with the moon, as opposed to the more solar aspect of Horus. In addition, Khonsu was also depicted in a very suggestive way at his temple in Karnak: as "a ram-headed snake who fertilized the cosmic egg." This identification of Khonsu with the Cosmic Egg of creation will have resonance later, as the vision of the Egg comes to play in the Amalantrah Working of Crowley and associates, as well as with the "Blue Egg of Harpocrates" in the rituals of the Golden Dawn.
But it is the presentation of Khonsu as a child that has relevance for the Book of the Law. Khonsu is referred to in Egyptian mythology as the "Moon Child," which would become the title of one of Aleister Crowley's novels. This same image—of a child god—is found in the statues and bas-reliefs of Harpocrates, a form of Horus and, indeed, this form is mentioned in the Book of the Law several times. Crowley, as a "priest of Khonsu" deliberately makes the association with a child-god who is also a martial deity, a defender of the king. In the case of Khonsu's father—Amun—we have the archetype of the "Hidden God" that figures so prominently in the work of Kenneth Grant and to which we will return from time to time.
The first chapter of the Book of the Law consists of the words of Nuit, the goddess of the night sky, who is often depicted with her feet in the west, her hands in the east, and her body thus gracefully arched over the earth, and dotted with stars.
The second chapter reveals the words of Hadit, the Heru-Behdeti of the Egyptian pantheon, called Haidith in Greek. Hadit was recruited by Thoth (the Egyptian god of magic, writing, and wisdom) to assist Horus in the latter's famous battle with Set. Hadit represents a single point of light, a single star in the empyrean of Nuit. If Nuit is visualized as a circle, then Hadit would be the point in the center. In the Thelemic universe Nuit and Hadit also may represent different forms or ideas about infinity, perhaps infinite expansion and infinite contraction respectively.
The third chapter consists of the revelation of Ra-Hoor-Khuit, or Ra-Herakhty in Greek recension. This is a deity composed of two different ideas: Ra and Horus. The translation of Ra-Herakhty is "Ra, Horus on the Horizon." Thus there is the sense that Ra—the quintessential Sun god of the Egyptians—manifests as Horus when on the horizon, i.e., when the sun is rising or setting. Horus is the son of Osiris and Isis and is the god who battled Set (in one version of the story) to avenge his father's murder. Thus, there is the implication that the identity of Horus is inextricably linked to his parentage, and that Horus's purpose as the Avenging Son thus connects him eternally with Set: a union not of love, but of war. This "unity" of Horus with Set is an idea that Crowley embraced and which appears several times in his published work. Ra-Hoor-Khuit is mentioned frequently throughout all three chapters of the Book of the Law, and is obviously the focal point of the scripture.
It is thus Horus—and especially the form of Ra-Hoor-Khuit—who will occupy most of the attention of Thelema, for he is the symbol of the New Aeon that replaces the earlier Aeon of Osiris. However, there is a darker—more mysterious and to some an extraterrestrial—aspect to the New Aeon, and it concerns the intermediary between Crowley and the gods of the Book of the Law: the entity known variously as Aiwaz or Aiwass.
Crowley himself referred to this being as Set-Aiwass or Shaitan-Aiwass in some of his writings, thus linking it with both the Egyptian god of "Evil"—Set or Seth—and with the Middle Eastern name for God's (or humanity's) "Adversary": Shaitan, more popularly known as Satan (but "reclaimed" by the Mesopotamian sect of the Yezidis in a rehabilitated form, about which more later). This refers to a very early, predynastic (i.e., 3500-3000 BCE), form of Egyptian religion that identified Set as a god of the desert, of storms, and of rage. Much later, the Greeks at the time of the historian Herodotus (c. 484-425 BCE) identified Set with their own sea monster, Typhon. (It was this Typhon that gave its name to Kenneth Grant's new form of Thelema, the Typhonian Order, representing what he called the Typhonian/Stellar Current.) Set was also said to reside in the Great Bear constellation, and served to aid the souls of the dead to attain immortality by allowing them to climb Set's "stairway to heaven." Like most Egyptian deities, Set originally had both a positive and a negative nature but in the end the negative aspect of the god won out due to popular attribution. As the sworn enemy of Horus, Set was seen as the eternal Evil One and the murderer of Horus's father, Osiris. He was also said to have been born unnaturally, ripping himself through the belly of his mother, the sky goddess Nut or Nuit who figures so prominently in the Crowley scriptures. Thus, he could be seen as an initiatory force.
Indeed, Set's role in the New Aeon could be described as that of the Grand Initiator of humanity. However, this type of initiation will be violent and imposed from outside, rather than the relatively serene form experienced by Crowley himself during his sojourn with the considerably more sedate Golden Dawn. We can see this type of violent and involuntary initiation prefigured in the psychological experiments of the world's intelligence agencies beginning in the 1950s with the phenomenon of the "Manchurian Candidate" of the Korean War era that contributed to the creation of mind control, behavior control, and psychological warfare programs that sought to unpack the secrets of the human mind by using unsuspecting innocent men, women and children as test subjects and guinea pigs.
Thus we have a rather paradoxical relationship in which Set-Aiwass communicates the text of the Aeon of Horus (his sworn enemy) to Crowley in Cairo. Crowley elevated the status of Set far above that which obtained in dynastic Egypt, and saw in Set the type of force necessary to bring in the new Aeon. This may be considered an "initiated" view of traditional Egyptology which understands Set and Horus as implacable foes. If the myths concerning Set were little more than libels created by followers of the newer gods Osiris and Horus, what was the truth? What did Set really represent, and what is Set's relationship to the Aeon of Horus?
As Crowley's understanding of the Book of the Law matured, so did his understanding of Aiwaz, whom he declared to be none other than his Holy Guardian Angel: a concept developed by the Golden Dawn, the secret society that had initiated him into magic. The Holy Guardian Angel or HGA can be conceived of as one's "Higher Self" or as the apotheosis of one's own spiritual identity; conversely, one's self is seen as a manifestation (one among many) of the Angel. In Crowley's case, he viewed Aiwaz to be one of the gods of ancient Sumer, thus pre-existing the Egyptian civilization and their oldest known divinity, the desert god Set, who might then be considered an avatar or emanation of the original Sumerian archetype.
In addition, Crowley proposed a composite Set-Horus "current" that would represent the combined tension of the two antagonists as a single force emblematic of the New Aeon. This was typical of Crowley's tinkering with the known Egyptology of the day. It did not reflect any new discoveries in the field, but was rather informed by his occult insight into the play of spiritual forces represented by "god forms" and ideas associated with the Egyptian gods in the consciousness of the Western mind of the early twentieth century. As we have seen, he also combined Set, Shaitan and Aiwaz into a single concept representing not only his own HGA but also a deity or devil from the little-known civilization of Sumer. Thus, we have the Egyptian Set, the Semitic Shaitan, and a Sumerian god identified only by the word Aiwaz or Aiwass—which has no meaning in the Sumerian language—all lumped together without regard for individual religious or social contexts. From the point of view of mainstream religious studies or anthropology—especially postmodern anthropology—this is a car wreck of a proportion equivalent to a major highway pile-up.
Excerpted from THE DARK LORD by Peter Levenda. Copyright © 2013 Peter Levenda. Excerpted by permission of NICOLAS-HAYS, INC..
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Preface: Dancing with the Dark Lord
Introduction: The Beast in the Cave
Chapter One: Strange Aeons
Chapter Two: Gods, the Beast, and Men
Chapter Three: Unspeakable Cults
Chapter Four: The Necronomicon Gnosis
Chapter Five: Sons of God, Daughters of Men
Chapter Six: The Mauve Zone
Chapter Seven: The Dark Lord
Appendix: Kalas, Tithis, and Nityas
Glossary of Terms
Kabbalistic Tree of Life