The Thelemic Tersanctus of the Gnostic Mass

T Polyphilus, Ep. Gn.

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.


The Tersanctus ("thrice holy") is a formula that occurs twice in the Gnostic Mass, as it also occurs twice in the Bible. In the Bible, it is found first in Isaiah VI:3.

kai ekekragon eteroV proV ton eteron kai elegon agioV agioV agioV kurioV sabawq plhrhV pasa h gh thV doxhV autou

And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, [is] the LORD of hosts: the whole earth [is] full of his glory.

The "crier" in the verse from Isaiah is one of the seraphim, angels supporting the divine throne or chariot, the merkabah. It is these who are again related as calling out the formula in Apocalypse IV:8.
kai ta tessara zwa en kaq en autwn ecwn ana pterugaV ex kukloqen kai eswqen gemousin ofqalmwn kai anapausin ouk ecousin hmeraV kai nuktoV legonteV agioV agioV agioV kurioV o qeoV o pantokratwr o hn kai o wn kai o ercomenoV

And the four beasts had each of them six wings about [him]; and [they were] full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.

Note that in the instance from the Apocalypse, the Tersanctus is juxtaposed with a related formula which occurs at the conclusion of the creed of the Gnostic Mass: "which was, and is, and is to come." The Greek gematria of the Tersanctus is suggestive of the relationship between the two formulae. The sum value of agioV agioV agioV is 852, which is also the value of o stiboV, meaning "the path." The symbol of the path leads naturally to the conception of transcending time, and to the threefold division of past, present and future. A good example of this line of thought is Crowley's "Pilgrim-Talk," chapter 13 of The Book of Lies. Thus the thrice-holiness of this formula can be read as "holy as it was, holy as it is, holy as it is to come," or "holy from the beginning, holy in the middle, holy unto the end."

In a liturgical context, the "Tersanctus" (or simply "Sanctus") is a term used with reference to the "holy, holy, holy" formula as it occurs in Latin and Roman-derived liturgies. In Greek liturgies, the verbally analogous term Trisagion does not refer to that prayer but rather to an entirely distinct one, which is more similar to the Kyrie Eleison. The Tersanctus formula in Greek liturgies forms a part of the Epinikion or "victory prayer." The Hebrew text from Isaiah has also been incorporated into Jewish ceremony, where Adonai is substituted for the Tetragrammaton in "Qadosh, Qadosh, Qadosh l'IHVH Tzabaoth."

In traditions of the Piscean era, interpretations are broadly consistent that the Tersanctus in ritual use is intended to express a chorus among the terrestrial speakers and an angelic choir--with the latter emblemized by the seraphim, and indicated by the "hosts" or armies of the Lord in the divine title from Isaiah. Interestingly for the purposes of the Thelemic Gnostic Mass, Liberal Catholic Bishop C.W. Leadbeater observed that "Though the Church now most appropriately interprets [the Hebrew word Sabaoth] as referring to the Angels, there is little doubt that the Jews originally took it as signifying the host of the stars." (The Science of the Sacraments, p. 179) In Thelemic terminology we might say, "the company of heaven." The Tersanctus' Greek numeric value of 852 is also that of panhguriV, meaning a "festive assembly," which emphasizes this dimension of the formula.

Christian explicators of the Tersanctus often insist that its presence in liturgy is an elliptical reference to the triune godhead: "Holy [Father], Holy [Son], Holy [Spirit]." There is no reason to consider that reading as obsolete in the Gnostic Mass, considering the presence of that "masculine trinity" in the prayer of the Fractio, as well as its explication in Chapter 87 of Liber Aleph. (Crowley does note elsewhere, however, that "Consderations of the Christian Trinity are of a nature suited only to initiates of the IX° of O.T.O., as they enclose the final secret of all practical Magick.")

Alternatively, or in addition to the Christian Trinity, we may note the trinities invoked through the "IAO" which crowns the Thelemic Tersanctus. The most common reading of Isis-Apophis-Osiris could be certainly considered in this case, even as Crowley affirms its identity with the Christian Trinity in the Rosicrucian formula:

Ex Deo nascimur.
In Jesu Morimur.
Per Spiritum Sanctum reviviscimus.
(Magick in Theory & Practice, p. 28)
Crowley also suggests analyses of IAO as Father-Child-Mother, Virgin-Babe-Beast, Hermes-Dionysos-Pan, and still others, any of which might inform the operation of the Tersanctus.

In the Mass of the Roman Church, the Tersanctus traditionally falls between the preface and the set of sacrificial prayers that precede the eucharistic consecration. This placement corresponds precisely to the first instance of AGIOS AGIOS AGIOS IAW in the Gnostic Mass, which is at the end of the Ceremony of the Introit, just before the eleven prayers or Collects. The Gnostic Mass does not have a bell for our first Tersanctus, but the Roman rite generally does.

The ringing of a bell at the Sanctus is a development from the Elevation bell; this began in the Middle Ages. ... It was rung to call people to church that they might see the Elevation. The Sanctus bell is an earlier warning that the Canon is about to begin. ... The hand-bell was only a warning to the ringers in the tower. (Adrian Fortescue, "Sanctus" in The Catholic Encyclopedia)
Our second Tersanctus occurs with the Elevation that concludes the Ceremony of the Consecration of the Elements. The Roman Mass does not have a Tersanctus at that juncture, but--as indicated in the above quote--it does have a bell. Without being reduced to this function, it is evident that the Tersanctus of the Gnostic Mass has taken on the previous role of the bell, as demarcating the point of the initial approach to the Consecration of the Elements on the one hand, and its accomplishment on the other. To illustrate this process, the priest may elevate the Lance during the first Tersanctus, to presage the elevation of the eucharistic elements, and to further illustrate the transfer of the divine force from the thrice-holy rod to the thrice-holy bread and wine.

Taking the word AGIOS on its own, a quick analysis reveals its pertinence to the Gnostic Mass. In fact, its five letters are a complete illustration of the ritual officers of the ceremony.

Alpha corresponds to the Hebrew aleph and The Fool trump of the Tarot. He is wand-waving Iacchus. This Pure Fool is Parsival, the bearer of the Holy Lance, and seeker of the Graal. He is the simplest and most direct depiction of the Priest among the Major Arcana of the Tarot.

Gamma is the Hebrew gimel and The High Priestess. There is no ambiguity about her identity with the Priestess of the Gnostic Mass. She is the Initiatrix Kundry in Parsival.

Iota is the Hebrew yod and The Hermit. As Crowley notes in The Book of Thoth, The Hermit is that form of Mercury (ruling Virgo, to which iota corresponds) known as Hermes Psychopompos, the guide of souls; and this reflects the Deacon's role as leader of the People. The Hermit is also an occulted form of The Magician (Mercury proper), another Trump suitable to represent the Deacon. In Parsival, The Hermit is Gurnemanz.

Omicron corresponds to the Hebrew ayin and The Devil. This letter is paired with sigma, which could be either shin or samekh in Hebrew. In either case, sigma would be The Angel. The letter shin is the Aeon, a card formerly known as Judgment, or The Angel. The letter samekh is Art, formerly Temperance, and the Rebis figure central to that card is evolved from simpler depictions of angels, usually reminiscent of the one described in Apocalypse X. This pair, the Devil and Angel, are the Negative and Positive Children, in the role of the kakodaimon and eudaimon, the evil genius and the good genius. These are the Demon and the Angel, of which "Liber Tzaddi" instructs "Unite yourself with both!":

My adepts stand upright; their head above the heavens, their feet below the hells. But since one is naturally attracted to the Angel, another to the Demon, let the first strengthen the lower link, the last attach more firmly to the higher. (vv. 40-41)
In terms of the paths of ayin and shin, the kakodaimon and eudaimon may be represented as the Egyptian gods Set and Horus, according to the early conception under which each ruled half of the divided Egypt.

This analysis is summed up in the following table:

Letter Trump SymbolismMass Officer
A 0: The Fool Parsival, IacchusPriest
GII: The High Priestess Kundry, HecatePriestess
IIX: The Hermit Gurnemanz, Hermes PsychopomposDeacon
O XV: The Devil kakodaimon, SetNegative Child
SXX: The Angel eudaimon, HorusPositive Child

Note how the letters of the word are all in alphabetical order; thus they fall on paths descending the Tree. The idea communicated is one of an unhindered influx of blessing from a higher source. The tripling of the word emphasizes this quality, as Crowley indicates that the number three is "the receptive as 2 is the assertive self." (Equinox I:5, p. 98)

In addition, the word agioV taken on its own has the sum value of 284, equating it with qeoV or "god," and with agaqoV, "good" in its purest sense.

In Hebrew, Qadosh (QDVSh) enumerates to 410, which is also the value of MTzRPh. Pronounced in one manner, the latter word means "crucible" or "melting pot." With another pronunciation, it means "joined" or "purified." The word HRHR, meaning "thought," and used in Daniel IV:2 to signify an oracular vision, also sums to 410, as does MShKN, the Tabernacle.

Qadosh Qadosh Qadosh

agioV agioV agioV

Holy, Holy, Holy are these Truths that I utter, knowing them to be but falsehoods, broken mirrors, troubled waters; hide me, O Lady, in Thy Womb! for I may not endure the rapture.


Love is the law, love under will.

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