Monday, September 12, 2011

Celtic Thelema – You Don’t Have To Be Egyptian

I’ve always been enchanted by the images and ideas of the Book of the Law. As alleged spirit-transmissions go, I find it the most inspiring and poetic item that actually relates to the kind of ideas I want in my Paganism. Those who may not know the story of the ‘reception’ of this three-chapter prose poem by Aleister Crowley can read the orthodox account here.

1: Bare Bones Thelemic myth
Crowley’s imagination was trained in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the fashion of that organization followed its times, favoring the newly discovered (or newly translated, anyway) deities of ancient Egypt. Initiation rites were performed using the aid of the Egyptian deity powers and the entire magical system depended heavily on the Graeco-Egyptian complex of spiritual powers. As a result much of Crowley’s magic, and the magic surrounding Thelema has become filled with images from Khem.

However, the basic god-forms and symbols of the Book of the Law have little in particular to do with ancient Egypt. There are five primary figures in Liber AL (the esoteric name for the BotL):

Nuit: (the name is the French word for ‘night) is the goddess of Infinite Space and Infinite Stars, the cosmic body of all, in which all live and move and have their being.

Hadit: (the name of several Canaanite king-deities) The infinitesimal Point in the Center, the ever-present cosmic throne that allows the individual to appear out of Nuit’s starry sky.

Thus, Nuit is the Body of Space, and Hadit the Central Star. Liber AL says “Every man and every woman is a star.”

The primary triad of Thelemic deity is completed by the form most usually called “Ra-Hoor-Khuit” This the most directly Egyptian of the basic forms, derived from Crowley’s vision of the Stele of Revealing. Ra-Hoor-Khuit is a form of the Egyptian god Horus (Heru, Har or Hoor more accurately in Khemetic). The name means something like “Horus-Ra of the Horizon”, identifying the warrior-god Horus with the sunrise moment. The Book also describes Ra-Hoor-Khuit as the ‘Minister of Hoor-par-kraat’ and that latter form is the child-horus, also an important figure, sometimes called the God of Silence. Together these forms are called the Crowned and Conquering Child.

The Crowned and Conquering Child is a central image in Thelema, seen as the power of Initiation and wisdom for the New Aeon that it heralds. It is this symbol which takes Ra-Hoor-Khuit out of the realm of Egyptian polytheology into a wider potential for cultural expression. It will be a key to our location of Thelema in a Gaelic mythic context.

In addition to this primary triad there are two secondary god-forms, derived fairly directly from the Apocalypse of St John, at the end of the Christian New Testament.
Babalon: is the Scarlet Woman, who rides the back of the Great Beast, bearing in her hand the cup from which she is drunken on the blood of the saints. The spelling, incidentally, is from the Enochian-language material.
The Beast: is the male counterpart to Babalon – the Great Dragon, the beast of seven heads. He is the vehicle of the Goddess, her balance and counterpart.

These two figures are often described as the priestess and priest of Thelemic rites, or as the operative daemons that express the earthly will of Nuit and Hadit.

2: Gaelic Thelemic Forms
If we look for the kind of primal figures that we find in Nuit and Hadit among Indo-European sources, and especially among Celtic cultures, we run into the difficulty that no Celtic creation myth has been preserved. The Thelemic primal powers contain an unspoken creation model in which the pre-existing cosmic material is activated by the central kindled point, and manifestation thus occurs. Thelema is nothing if not phallo-kteic, and this should be interpreted sexually to get what they mean by it.

If we look for this sort of primal God and Goddess in Celtic lore we must begin on scholastically shaky ground (we’ll get to firmer territory by and by).
The primal mother goddess in Irish lore is named something like Ana, or Dana, or Danu, or Don. (It’s hard to render Irish words into English sentences because their spelling changes depending on grammar). This is most famously remembered in the name of the ‘tribe of gods’ from the Irish Book of Invasion, the Tuatha De Danann, which means ‘Nation of the Goddess Danu’.

Danu is the Mother of the Gods in the Irish tale. She is never depicted, has no tales or deeds. However the linguistic evidence is interesting. The word ‘dan’ survives in Irish as a complex term that can mean ‘art’ or ‘gift’ or ‘song’ or ‘fate’. I’ve personally been at this so long that I can’t remember whether there’s a good reason for me associating Danu with the Starry-Sky-As-Ocean, but I find her an acceptable parallel to the Thelemic Nuit.

The equally sketchily-drawn primal father in Celtic lore has names that include ‘Bel’. Sometimes that sound refers to warfare (cognate to the Latin bellus) and sometimes it means ‘beautiful’ (cognate to the Latin bella) Especially in the latter cases the male deity referred to seems to be related either to the sun or to fire. In either case we see the image of the light at the center, the point within the circle. This will do for our Gaelic Hadit.

To find the Beast in Gaelic lore we need look no further than the Bull, the Stallion and the Stag. Each of these are specific deities in British or Gaelic lore. The Stallion, especially, is the Mount of the Queen, and is present in the god called In Dagda. That title means “The Good God” in the sense of good at everything. He is multi-skilled, a Druid, a Warrior and a Man of the Plow, his phallus legendary and his harp magical. One of the Dagda’s ‘real’ names is Eochaid (roughly ‘yo-khee’) meaning ‘stallion’, and he has a famous meeting with the Red Goddess as described below. He is also called the Red Lord of Secret Wisdom (Ruadh Rofessa) and is a sorcerer and trickster.

The stag leads us toward the much-misunderstood figure of Cernunnos, the Antlered God. While his most famous depiction, on the Gundestrup Cauldron, might make him appear to be a ‘god of animals’, most of his depictions in Gaulish lands show him with symbols of wealth – bags of coins, fruits of the earth. Personally I am inclined to equate the Antlered God with the Underworld Father (Dis Pater) who is sometimes called the father of the tribes. Also, despite modern witchy inclinations, Cernunnos is never depicted naked or ithyphallic, though he bears that suggestive ram-headed serpent…

While bulls play an important role in Gaelic story and Gaulish imagery, the Bull-god is a little harder to find. In Britain bull-horned gods are gods of war and of the hunt, many with names based on that ‘bel’ particle. There is little sign of the Dionysus/Shiva bull-complex, many of the kingship and phallic functions perhaps transferred to the stallion.

The Thelemic Beast is, I think, best depicted in the Gaelic stallion-god. That is certainly the ‘beast whereon she rideth’. Some mileage might be gotten from composing some sort of chimera, some bull-horned horse or multi-headed mount, of course.

Gaelic lore plainly shows us powerful images of the Thelemic earthly feminine power, called Babalon. On the divine plane she is called Morrigan, the Red Woman. Morrigan means “Queen of Spirits” and she is a goddess of war, sexual power and sorcery. She is called a war-witch, associated with the choosing of the slain and the fate of heroes. In another tale the Red Woman arises from the Underworld bearing the Cauldron of Rebirth, in which the bones of heroes are boiled to restore them to life. It is quite fitting to say that her Cauldron is overflowing with the Blood of the Heroes.

One famous story takes place during the war between the Gods and the ‘Titans’ (Fomoire) of Gaelic lore. Dagda keeps an appointment to meet with the Morrigan, and the two couple, with the Goddess’ feet on either bank of the land. From their coupling a river was born. By making that alliance, Dagda secures the help of Morrigan and her army of sorcerers for the battle. Despite the inclination to the missionary in common imagination, we can surely envision this as the Red Goddess riding the Stallion.

On a more human plane, Irish tales show us the figure of Medb the mighty, queen of Connaught, who stands as the enemy of Ulster in the famous Cattle Raid of Cooley. She is described as a warrior queen and inspirer of men in battle. It was said of her that she never had a man without another waiting in his shadow. Medb’s name means ‘mead’ or more broadly ‘intoxication’. She is a memory of the place of the Celtic queen as binder of the war-band. The ancient custom was for the local Queen to bear a cup of mead to each man of the band, offering it in exchange for fealty to her and the leader. Celtic mythographers refer to this figure as ‘sovereignty’ and she is often a goddess unto herself. Medb, though distorted through a monkish lens, stands as a figure of Sovereignty, the Lady of the Cup of Intoxication.

Finally we come to the Crowned and Conquering Child. In classical Thelemic iconography we find the hawk-headed warrior Horus in this role. However in Gaelic lore we can see a powerful expression of it in the so-called Wonder Child. This figure has a number of specific expressions in Celtic story.

The Wonder Child is the Coming King, who rises from obscurity, through trials to sit enthroned. The most notable expression of that formula is in the Irish god called Lugh. Lugh is the child of a Titan mother and a father of the Gods, and is marked from the first to be the destroyer of the chaos-monster of the tales. He performs his first deeds when still a youth, and is called things like “Long-arm’ and ‘master of all skills’. Lugh bears a spear connected with the lightning-bolt, and becomes King of the Gods by the end of the tale.

The Wonder Child appears in other tales as well. Always born a bastard, always raised by a sorcerer, initiated by the Red Woman and crowned by her Sovereignty, his story repeats across Celtic cultures. Cuchullain partakes of his nature, doing his mighty feats before ever he has his first whiskers. Aengus Og is another inheritor of the Dagda’s house. Later, The Arthur tales and the tale of Taliesin continue the fame of the Wonder Child.

It would not be a complicated matter to assemble the Thelemic Cult in a Gaelic context. Primal Night and Sun are Danu and Bel. Their children, the Dagda and the Morrigan are Babalon and the Beast. Shining Lugh, the Conquering Child, completes the pentagram. Looking at the Thelemic powers through a new cultural lens provides many new opportunities for mysteries and understandings.

3: A Few Random Mysteries
• The Zelator Formula.
In the mystery rites of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, from which Thelema draws a great deal of ideological DNA, the very first initiatory rite admits the student to the degree of ‘Neophyte’. This rite is based on the admission rites of Masonic lodges, and has all the elements of later initiatory inventions such as those of Traditional British Wicca. At one key moment the candidate for initiation, who has been ‘hoodwinked’ (blindfolded) has the blindfold removed and hears the words “Child of Earth, long have you dwelt in darkness – quit now the darkness and seek the day.” The panoply of the temple is revealed, and the goal is to create a moment of imprinting for the initiate.

This formula becomes a central method of practical magic inside the GD system, as learned by Crowley prior to the creation of Thelema. In the consecration of talismans the material basis is wrapped in dark cloth and revealed at the moment of consecration, with the same words. Even in the evocation of spirits the Z formula, as it is called brings the spirit into manifestation.

There is a nearly direct parallel with a Gaelic poetic method of incubation. In that formula the poet undertakes to craft a poem, perhaps with an oracular intent. She chooses a dark place – a windowless hut, or a cave or even a mound, and makes her bed within. She places a heavy stone upon her chest which would both help prevent sleep and mandate regulation of the breath – great trance-induction device. The poet then spends the night in the darkness. When the time comes, the poet comes to the door of the hut at dawn, and beholds the sun through the traditionally eastern-facing door. In those first rays the poem is pronounced, fully-formed and magically potent.

It is surely possible that Scottish Freemasons knew this lore directly, and that it entered Masonic, and thus GD, ritual by an ordinary route. I do find the parallel interesting though. I have used the formula of Gaelic incubation as a basis for several types of practical magic working myself, including the Cauldron Rites included in my books.

• The Grail Hallows
It’s no secret that the Golden Dawn’s formulation of the Four Elemental Weapons, which became an immediate part of Crowley’s Thelemic symbolism and ritual, was related in part to the Gaelic tale of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha De Danann.

The Four Treasures are the Spear of Striking, which never misses its target and returns to its owner’s hand; the Sword of Victory, which can never be defeated; the Cauldron of Rebirth, which brings slain warriors back to life to fight again; and the Stone of Destiny, which determines who is fit to be King. These have no particular elemental correspondence in Gaelic lore. In the Celtic Twilight of Yeats and Mathers they became corresponded to the Four Tools of the GD brand of hermetic ritual.

Mathers began with the various sets of symbols applied to the four suits of playing cards in renaissance Europe, and formalized them as the set popularized by the generation of occultists just before him. However he ‘occult-ized’ them further by making them correspond to his ritual weapons. Thus the ‘Money’ suit became ritualized as ‘Pentacles’, ‘Staves’ or ‘Clubs’ became ‘Wands’, etc. However the final wave of influence on Thelema was in Crowley’s choice to use the Grail Hallows in his Gnostic Mass.

The stories of the Holy Grail begin in Celtic Wales, and seem to be directly descended from previous generations of tales concerning the Cauldron of Wonders, which the Hero-King must rescue from the Underworld. In later Grail romance tales, the holy vessel is accompanied by a bloody spear, a head on a platter (or just the platter), and the sword that severed the head. These were interpreted through a Christian lens in medieval tales, but Nineteenth-century scholars were already discussing them in relation to the Gaelic Treasures.

To look back at out Gaelic cultus of Thelema, to arm the Priest with the Spear is to make him stand for Lugh – the Crowned and Conquering Child. To arm the priestess with the Chalice is to make her stand for Morrigan, the Red Goddess. Cuchullain and Medb, Arthur and Morgana, the formula is as Celtic as can be. One might even have the priest performing incubation in his dark tomb before appearing to work the rite.

So, I don’t mean to propose anything very serious here. I haven’t the time, myself, to take up a cult of Celtic Thelema. Still, it wouldn’t be hard to do. Mix in a trifle of Wild Hunt or Fairy Rade, and the Witch’s Sabbath, and you might be getting somewhere…

1 comment:

Brian Breathnach said...

It has actuall been done - www.irishorderofthelema.com

A nmber of the parallels o have drawn are inbuilt