Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Maybe it was Devanagri that began it! This "sacred" character, used rightly for Sanskrit alone, is supposed (so Allan Bennett told me) to be constructed on—can one call them ideographic?—principles. The upright line is the soft palate; the horizontal the hard; and the line between them shows the position of the tongue when one pronounces the letter. He demonstrated this most elegantly for the letter T (ट ['ta' in Sanskrit]); but I was never able to follow this up with most of the other fifty- five (isn't it?) letters.
However, it did start me thinking (why?) about the possibility of a direct relation between the sound of a letter and its meaning in some primitive manner of speech.
So I used to alarm my fellow-citizens, usually passengers on a liner, by spending most of my time repeating some unhappy letter over and over, while I looked into my mind to see if the sound suggested any particular idea. (It was rather fun, you know; but it was most certainly one of the most delicate, subtle, and difficult experiments that I have ever undertaken.)
Bound to flop, obviously, from the word "gun", if only because the same- sounding word in different languages—sometimes even in the same!—has often not merely diverse, but diametrically opposed meanings. Think of Bog, or Bug, the Russian word for God (I do think "Bogey" comes from this, though!); think of the dam of a stream, and of a young thing, and damn. Think of all the different kinds of box and cock and rock. (G. K. Chesterton must have made tens of thousands of pounds out of it!) Think of "let", meaning both to prevent and to allow. Think of "check" to a chess-player, a banker, a draper, a waitress, a fox-hunter and a Slovak!
The importance of all this: I'm sure I've told you how Thoth, God of all Magick, the Wisdom and the Word, is usually shown with style and papyrus, as inventor of writing, which is the real Magical Art. Hence "grimoire" is nothing but grammar; to cast a "spell" explains itself; and the Angel (e.g. of a Church, see Revelations I, II) was merely the Secretary.1
Never mind! I was thinking of language in its (supposed) primal state, when grunts and groans and moans and yells and squeaks and the like were the nearest anybody ever got to:
"Sweet articulate words
Sweetly divided apart."
And yet I persisted. I wanted to go right back, before letters were put together to make words at all. This is, I believe, almost wholly original work, though I'm not sure that Fabre d'Olivet didn't skate round the edges.
I put to myself this question: when I pronounce the letter so-and-so, what thought or class of thought tends to arise in my mind? (If you practise this in public, people may wonder!)
With the vowels, one does seem to find a natural correspondence. (I wrote a ballet "The Blind Prophet" on these lines, long before it struck me to investigate on scientific lines). The Hindus knew this with their A-U-M: A is the open breath, U the controlled force, M no breath at all. (See Magick, pp. 45-49). To me I is a shrill feminine sound, as O is the roar of the male. U is pursed, E hardly significant.
As to Magick, the Gnostics were chili con carne plus molten platinum plus a few girls I have known on the vowels. Their incantations con- sist almost entirely of combinations of these.2 Seven at a time is very frequent; in fact it seems sometimes as if their theurgy depended on variations of these combinations. Their theology, too. Never mind that just now!
But the consonants? That is a harder nut to crack.
Students of language have been accustomed to group the consonants exactly as we now happen to require. Here, in brief, is the list:
Dentals, Labials, Gutturals.
Various modifications extend them to fifty-nine and there are twenty- seven vowels. I shall naturally concern myself only with those that matter to the subject: in practice, the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew Alphabet will serve for this preliminary study, especially as in that case, we have already the attributions. I will begin by classing them.3
|2.||Ch.||Cancer, house of Luna; Jupiter here exalted.|
|4.||Q.||Pisces, house of Jupiter. Atu XVII "The Moon."|
You will note that either Jupiter or Luna occurs in every case; in two, doubly. Guttur, moreover, is the Latin word for throat. Both planets emphasize the soft open expansive aspects of Nature; they both refer accordingly to the feminine throat, the tube either of present or of future Life. (Jupiter, when in Sagittarius, has an aggressive, masterful, male side; but his letter when there is Samekh.) Now pronounce these letters; observe the motions of opening and expulsion of the breath. Well, then, you will no longer wonder at that list we had in another letter of the words Cwm, coombe, quean, queen, and so on; also (?) quill, queer, quaintest, curious, (?) quick, (?) quince: especially with the U vowel, which sounds prehensile, ready to suck. Kupris (or Ctytto) the Greek or Syrian Aphrodite-Venus, is the outstanding example in Theogony.
But, you ask, what has all this to do with the Gods? Patience, child; this will develop as we proceed. Let us look at the dentals. These, for the profane scholar, include the "sibilants," and "liquids."
|2.||Z.||Gemini, house of Mercury.|
|3.||T.||Leo, house of Sol.|
|4.||L.||Libra, house of Venus; Saturn here exalted.|
|6.||N.||Scorpio, house of Mars.|
|7.||S.||Sagittarius, house of Jupiter.|
|10.||Th.||Saturn; the Earth.|
Here, we see at one glance, there is no such simple obvious relationship, as in the previous list. Nor indeed is there, to my ear, any close connection in the sounds.
Better luck, perhaps, with the last lot.
|2.||V.||(or F4) Taurus. House of Venus; Luna exalted therein.|
Not a bit of it; almost worse than before. Here, then, I say it, weeping, with agonized reluctance, the Holy Qabalah has let us down with a bump! (It did look, too, didn't it, as if it was all going to go so miraculously well!)
All is not lost—not even honour! Suppose you reflect that (after all) Hebrew is a late language, invented; far, far removed from the primitive grunts and groans (with their corresponding motions) that we set out to study. Let us take the high hand, and say that the Guttural Correspondence doesn't rime with anything, that it is just an amazing piece of sheer luck: nay, that it should serve us as a warning not to be led away like Macbeth—you remember how Banquo warned him that
"Oftentimes, to win us to our harms,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray us
in deepest consequence."
—and breaks off abruptly to speak with his cousins.
Never forget the abiding temptation of men of science, the hidden rocks on which so many have been wrecked, to generalize on insufficient data. May the gods keep us from that! I dread it more than all the other snags put together.
With all due caution, therefore, let us attack our puzzle from the other end; let us see what astral experiment tells us about the philology of it!
Good! We'll call it D-Day and drop our paratroops. D is a sharp, sudden, forceful explosive sound, cut off smartly. Now then I can't tell whether you will connect this with ejaculation, with the idea of paternity. Whether or no, a vast number of people did so in the dawn of speech. Even to-day children seem instinctively to say "Dad" for "Father," though no allowance can be made for cases of mistaken identity. And the most ancient Father-Gods of the oldest and simplest civilizations are thus named. In Sumer He was AD, or ADAD, whence the later Egyptian Hadit, and the Semitic Adonai. (There are also words like AVD, the creative Magick). So also the Greeks in Syria knew Adonis, and the Latin Deus is itself the general word for God. Again, Valhalla houses Odin, Woden; and there are others. When the dental is complicated to a sibilant, as we shall see later, another idea is introduced; while the lightening of the sound to T has yet another effect.
Sanskrit also helps us with such roots as DETH, to show, DAM, to tame, DEVK, to lead, DHEIGH, to knead, mould, DHER, to support, DO, to give, DHE, to put and a while group of words like Deva, a divine being.
But that comes later: meanwhile, practise pronouncing these names, as also English words such as Do, Deed, Dare, Drive, Doubt, Dig, Dog, Dive, Duck, Dub while exploring the Abyss of your mind, and see whether you do not soon associate the D-sound with a swift, hard, definite, fertile and completed act. For a fair test, take only the oldest and simplest words, words which might naturally be wanted in the Stone Age.
The next sound-group to be considered may conveniently be N. Here at once we have innumberable Gods and Goddesses flocking up: Nu, Nuit, Ann, Noah, John, Oannes, On, Jonah, et al. With the exception of On, a special case, all these divine or semi-divine Beings refer to the Night, the Starry Heavens, the Element of Water, the North, the Mother-Goddess, as appears when we consider their legends and rituals. N, Nun, means a fish and refers to the water sign of Scorpio. (Note, later when we reach Sh, that Joshua was the Son of Nun.) To me the sound gives the idea of a continuum, an eternal movement; and this is of course our Thelemic conception of the Universe, the "Star-sponge," of which I have elsewhere written at such length.
But at the moment I am especially desirous that you should compare and contrast this letter with the S Sound. (S or Sh combined with T is discussed rather fully in Magick, pp. 336-8)5 You should find it child's play to determine the significance of the sibilant. It is the one letter which necessitates the exposure of the skeleton! (I.e., the Subconscious). Hence "Hush!" it is the hiss of the snake, great Lord of Life and Death—(life? yes, the spermatozoon, child!) "Silence! Danger! There is a man somewhere about." The savage reaction. And, sure enough, Ish is the Hebrew for man (Mankind is ADM, Adam, Sanskrit Admi, the Father and Mother conjoined. "Male and Female created They Man.")
The S-gods are innumerable. Asar (Asi, Isis, is his female twin) Astarte, Ishtar or Ashtoreth, Set, Saturn, Shu, Zeus, (into whom the D intrudes, because S is the male as N the female, and D the father as M the mother) and the Jesus group. Here is the idea of the South, or East, both quarters referring, in ways very slightly divergent, to the element of Fire, the Sun, the Father-God in his aspect as the Holy Ghost. The ancient tradition appears in the Gospels: the Lesser Mysteries of John, beheaded with the Sword, and consumed on a Disk, and the Greater Mysteries of Jesus, pierced with a Wand, and consumed in a Cup. All same Tarot!
I am not at all sure how far it is wise to take this letter. To make it complete, we should need a Book about three times the size of The Book of Thoth, and I should want another half-century of research before I started to write it! As this seems for divers reasons a little awkward in practice, I am rather afraid that we must content ourselves with this very sketchy account: always, when one touches the subject, one "goes all woolly." One lacks not only completeness, but precision. Then there is the "over-lapping" nuisance, and the fact that the natures and the names of the Gods change slowly as time goes by. The confusion! The contradictions! I could wish to be the proverbial bargee. Oh! I could go on making excuses for another hour! I can't be helped; and I feel that I shall have rendered you quite a bit of service by calling your attention to the existence of the subject, by stimulating you to research, by suggesting certain potential lines on which to attack the same, and perhaps even by giving you a few tips which you may find useful in practical Magick.
The subject is closely bound up with Mantra-Yoga, and with Invocation. You will doubtless have noticed (for instance) that many chapters of the Q'uran have the letter L for a leit-motif. Islam attaches immense importance to this liquid L, as it appears in Allah (compare the Hebrew L-Gods, AL, Aloah, Elohim, A'alion, etc., and look up the L-idea in your Book of Thoth, and in Magick, pp. 331 sqq.6) and other peculiarly sacred names and words.
Before cursing my way to dinner—oh! how I hate the need of food unless I am practising the "Ninth Art" and disguise myself as a gourmet—I must mention the letter M. This is the only letter that can be pronounced with the lips firmly closed; it is the beginning of speech, and so the Mother of the Alphabet. (Distinguish from N, the letter of the Female). Look up Magick again; Chapter VII (pp. 45-49) gives a good account of M in discussing AUM. Note, too, the root MU "to be silent," form which we have the words Mystic, Mystery and others. As the letter of the Mother it appears to this day in nature everywhere, the first call of the child to "Mamma." In nearly every language, moreover, the word for Mother is based on M. Madar, Mere, Mutter, Umm, AMA or AIMA and the rest.
The vibrant R suggests light-rays: Ra, the Sun; the labials bring to mind the curves in Natureùyou will soon discover the words with a few little experiments; the T is a D, only lighter, quicker and younger—and so Good-night!
Love is the law, love under will.
1: Grk., αγγελλος, a messenger or envoy; one that announces (Liddell & Scott intermediate) – T.S.
2: For multiple examples of this kind of thing, see also The Greek Magical Papyri in Translaiton (Uni. of Chicago Press, 1986, 1992) – T.S.
3: In a note to Kabbalah Unveiled (I.Z.Q. cap. XIX. s. 694) Mathers gives the division thus:
- Gutterals: Aleph, Heh, Cheth, Ayin
- Palatals: Gimel, Yod, Kaph, Qoph
- Linguals: Daleth, Tau, Teth, Lamed, Nun
- Dentals: Zayin, Samekh, Shin, Tzaddi
- Labials: Beth, Vau, Mem, Pé
(Resh is said to be classed as a gutteral by some, a dental by others) – T.S.
4: Here represent the obsolete Greek letter digamma.
5: The reference is to the discussion of the formula of LAShTAL in the essay accompanying Liber V vel Reguli – T.S.
6: The reference is again to Liber V – T.S.
© Ordo Templi Orientis. Original key entry by W.E. Heidrick for O.T.O. HTML coding by Frater T.S. for Nu Isis Working Group.