Chapter XII: The Left-Hand Path—"The Black Brothers"

Chapter XII: The Left-Hand Path—“The Black Brothers”
Magick Without Tears
By Aleister Crowley

Cara Soror,

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

It is the introduction of the word “self” that has raised such prickly questions. It really is a little bewildering; the signpost “Right-hand Path”, “Left-hand Path”, seems rather indecipherable; and then, for such a long way, they look exactly alike. At what point do they diverge?

Actually, the answers are fairly simple.

As far as the achievement or attainment is concerned, the two Paths are in fact identical. In fact, one almost feels obliged to postulate some inmost falsity, completely impossible to detect, inherent at the very earliest stages.

For the decision which determines the catastrophe confronts only the Adeptus Exemptus 7 = 4. Until that grade is reached, and that very fully indeed, with all the buttons properly sewed on, one is not capable of understanding what is meant by the Abyss. Unless “all you have and all you are” is identical with the Universe, its annihilation would leave a surplus.

Mark well this first distinction: the “Black Magician” or Sorcerer is hardly even a distant cousin of the “Black Brother.” The difference between a sneak-thief and a Hitler is not too bad an analogy.

The Sorcerer may be—indeed he usually is—a thwarted disappointed man whose aims are perfectly natural. Often enough, his real trouble is ignorance; and by the time he has become fairly hot stuff as a Black Magician, he has learnt that he is getting nowhere, and finds himself, despite himself, on the True Path of the Wise.

“Invoking Zeus to swell the power of Pan,

The prayer discomfits the demented man;

      Lust lies as still as Love.”

Thereupon he casts away his warlock apparatus like a good little boy, finds the A∴A∴, and lives happily ever after.

The Left-hand Path is a totally different matter. Let us start at the beginning.

You remember my saying that only two operations were possible in Nature: addition and subtraction. Let us apply this to magical progress.

What happens when the Aspirant invokes Diana, or calls up Lilith? He increases the sum of his experiences in these particular ways. Sometimes he has a “liaison-experience,” which links two main lines of thought, and so is worth dozens of isolated gains.

Now, if there is any difference at all between the White and the Black Adept in similar case, it is that the one, working by “love under will” achieves a marriage with the new idea, while the other, merely grabbing, adds a concubine to his harem of slaves.

The about-to-be-Black Brother constantly restricts himself; he is satisfied with a very limited ideal; he is afraid of losing his individuality—reminds one of the “Nordic” twaddle about “race-pollution.”

Have you seen the sand-roses of the Sahara? Such is the violence of the Khamsin that it whips grains of sand together, presses them, finally builds them into great blocks, big enough and solid enough to be used for walls in the oasis. And beautiful! Whew! For all that, they are not real rocks. Leave hem in peace, with no possible interference—what happens? (I brought some home, and put them “in safety” as curiosities, and as useful psychometrical tests.) Alas! Time is enough. Go to the drawer which held them; nothing remains but little piles of dust.

“Now Master!” (What reproach in the tone of your voice!) All right, all right! Keep your hair on!—I know that is the precise term used in The Vision and the Voice, to describe the Great White Brother or the Babe of the Abyss; but to him it means victory; to the Left-Hander it would mean defeat, ruin devastating, irremediable, final. It is exactly that which he most dreads; and it is that to which he must in the end come, because there is no compensating element in his idea of structure.  Nations themselves never grow permanently by smash-and-grab methods; one merely acquires a sore spot, as in the case of Lorraine, perhaps even Eire. (Though Eire is using just that formula of Restriction, shutting herself up in her misery and poverty and idiot pride, when a real marriage with and dissolution in, a real live country would give her new life. The “melting-pot” idea is the great strength of America.)

Consider the Faubourg St. Germain aristocracy—now hardly even a sentimental memory. The guillotine did not kill them; it was their own refusal to adapt themselves to the new biological conditions of political life. It was indeed their restriction that rotted them in the first instance; had Lafayette or Mirabeau been trusted with full power, and supplied with adequate material, a younger generation of virtue, the monarchy might still be ruling France.

But then (you ask) how can a man go so far wrong after he has, as an Adeptus Minor, attained the “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel”?

Recall the passage in the 14th Aethyr “See where thine Angel hath led Thee”, and so on. Perhaps the Black Brother deserts his Angel when he realises the Programme.

Perhaps his error was so deeply rooted, from the very beginning, that it was his Evil Genius that he evoked.

In such cases the man's policy is of course to break off all relations with the Supernal Triad, and to replace it by inventing a false crown, Daäth. To them Knowledge will be everything, and what is Knowledge but the very soul of Illusion?

Refusing thus the true nourishment of all his faculties, they lose their structural unity, and must be fortified by continuous doses of dope in anguished self-preservation. Thus all its chemical equations become endothermic.

I do hope I am making myself clear; it is a dreadfully subtle line of thought. But I think you ought to be able to pick up the essential theorem; your own meditations, aided by the relevant passages in Liber 418 and elsewhere, should do the rest.

To describe the alternative attitude should clarify, by dint of contrast; at least the contemplation should be a pleasant change.

Every accretion must modify me. I want it to do so. I want to assimilate it absolutely. I want to make it a permanent feature of my Temple.  I am not afraid of losing myself to it, if only because it also is modified by myself in the act of union. I am not afraid of its being the “wrong” thing, because every experience is a “play of Nuit,” and the worst that can happen is a temporary loss of balance, which is instantly adjusted, as soon as it is noticed, by recalling and putting into action the formula of contradiction.

Remember the Fama Fraternitatis: when they opened the Vault which held the Pastos of our Father Christian Rosencreuz, “all these colours were brilliant and flashing.” That is, if one panel measured 10“ x 40”, the symbol (say, yellow) would occupy 200 square inches, and the background (in that case, violet) the other 200 square inches. Hence they dazzled; the limitation, restriction, demarcation, disappeared; and the result was an equable idea of form and colour which is beyond physical understanding. (At one time Picasso tried to work out this idea on canvas.) Destroy that equilibrium by one ten millionth of an inch, and the effect is lost. The unbalanced item stands out like a civilian in the middle of a regiment.

True, this faculty, this feeling for equilibrium must be acquired; but once you have done so, it is an unerring guide. Instant discomfort warns one; the impulse to scratch it (the analogy is too apt to reject!) is irresistible.

And oh! how imperative this is!

Unless your Universe is perfect—and perfection includes the idea of balance—how can you come even to Atmadarshana? Hindus may maintain that Atmadarshana, or at any rate Shivadarshana, is the equivalent of crossing the Abyss. Beware of any such conclusions! The Trances are simply isolated experiences, sharply cut off from normal thought-life.  To cross the Abyss is a permanent and fundamental revolution in the whole of one's being.

Much more, upon the brink of the Abyss. If there be missing or redundant even one atom, the entire monstrous, the portentous mass must tend to move with irresistible impact, in such direction as to restore the equilibrium.  To deflect it—well, think of a gyroscope! How then can you destroy it in one sole stupendous gesture? Ah! Listen to The Vision and the Voice.

Perhaps the best and simplest plan is for me to pick out the most important of the relevant passages and put them together as an appendix to this letter. Also, by contrast, those allusions to the “Black Brothers” and the “Left-hand Path.” This ought to give you a clear idea of what each is, and does; of what distinguishes their respective methods in some ways so confusingly alike. I hope indeed most sincerely that you will whet your Magical Dagger on the Stone of the Wise, and wield most deftly and determinedly both the White-handled and the Black-handled Burin. In trying to express these opinions, I am constantly haunted by the dread that I may be missing some crucial point, or even allowing a mere quibble to pass for argument. It makes it only all the worse when one has become so habituated by Neschamic ideas, to knowing, even before one says it, that what one is going to say is of necessity untrue, as untrue as it is contradictory. So what can it possibly matter what one says?

Such doubts are dampers!

“Enough of Because! Be he damned for a dog!”

Here follow the quotations from The Vision and the Voice.

The Angel re-appears

The blackness gathers about, so thick, so clinging, so penetrating, so oppressive, that all the other darkness that I have ever conceived would be like bright light beside it.

His voice comes in a whisper: O thou that art master of the fifty gates of Understanding, is not my mother a black woman? O thou that art master of the Pentagram, is not the egg of spirit a black egg? Here abideth terror, and the blind ache of the Soul, and lo! even I, who am the sole light, a spark shut up, stand in the sign of Apophis and Typhon.

I am the snake that devoureth the spirit of man with the lust of light.  I am the sightless storm in the night that wrappeth the world about with desolation. Chaos is my name, and thick darkness. Know thou that the darkness of the earth is ruddy, and the darkness of the air is grey, but the darkness of the soul is utter blackness.

The egg of the spirit is a basilisk egg, and the gates of the understanding are fifty, that is the sign of the Scorpion. The pillars about the Neophyte are crowned with flame, and the vault of the Adepts is lighted by the Rose. And in the abyss is the eye of the hawk. But upon the great sea shall the Master of the Temple find neither star nor moon.

And I was about to answer him: “The light is within me.” But before I could frame the words, he answered me with the great word that is the Key of the Abyss. And he said: Thou hast entered the night; dost thou yet lust for day? Sorrow is my name and affliction. I am girt about with tribulation. Here still hangs the Crucified One, and here the Mother weeps over the children that she hath not borne. Sterility is my name and desolation. Intolerable is thine ache, and incurable thy wound. I said, 'Let the darkness cover me;' and behold, I am compassed about with the blackness that hath no name. O thou, who hast cast down the light into the earth, so must thou do for ever. And the light of the sun shall not shine upon thee and the moon shall not lend thee of her luster, and the stars shall be hidden because thou art passed beyond these things, beyond the need of these things, beyond the desire of these things.

What I thought were shapes of rocks, rather felt than seen, now appear to be veiled Masters, sitting absolutely still and silent. Nor can any one be distinguished from the others.

And the Angel sayeth: Behold where thine Angel hath led thee! Thou didst ask fame, power and pleasure, health and wealth and love, and strength and length of days. Thou didst hold life with eight tentacles, like an octopus. Thou didst seek the four powers and the seven delights and the twelve emancipations, and the two and twenty Privileges and the nine and forty Manifestations, and lo! thou art become as one of These. Bowed are their backs, whereon resteth the Universe. Veiled are their faces, that have beheld the glory Ineffable.

These adepts seem like Pyramids—their hoods and robes are like Pyramids.

And the Angel sayeth: Verily is the Pyramid a Temple of Initiation.  Verily also is it a tomb. Thinkest thou that there is life within the Masters of the Temple that sit hooded, encamped upon the Sea? Verily, there is no life in them.

Their sandals were the pure light, and they have taken them from their feet and cast them down through the abyss; for this Aethyr is holy ground.

Herein no forms appear, and the vision of God face to face, that is transmuted in the Athanor called dissolution, or hammered into one in the forge of meditation, is in this place but a blasphemy and a mockery.

And the Beatific Vision is no more, and the glory of the Most High is no more. There is no more knowledge. There is no more bliss. There is no more power. There is no more beauty. For this is the Palace of Understanding; for thou art one with the Primeval things.

Drink in the myrrh of my speech, that is bruised with the gall of the roc, and dissolved in the ink of the cuttle-fish, and perfumed with the deadly nightshade.

This is thy wine, who wast drunk upon the wine of Iacchus. And for bread shalt thou eat salt, O thou on the corn of Ceres that didst wax fat! For as pure being is pure nothing, so is pure wisdom pure ——*, and so is pure understanding silence, and stillness, and darkness. The eye is called seventy, and the triple Aleph whereby thou perceivest it, divideth into the number of the terrible word that is the Key of the Abyss.

I am Hermes, that am sent from the Father to expound all things discreetly in these the last words that thou shalt hear before thou take thy seat among these, whose eyes are sealed up and whose ears are stopped, and whose mouths are clenched, who are folded in upon themselves, the liquor of whose bodies is dried up, so that nothing remains but a little pyramid of dust.

And that bright light of comfort, and that piercing sword of truth, and all the power and beauty that they have made of themselves, is cast from them, as it is written, “I saw Satan like lightning fall from heaven.”  And as a flaming sword is it dropt though the Abyss, where the four beasts keep watch and ward. And it appeareth in the heaven of Jupiter as a morning star, or as an evening star. And the light thereof shineth even unto the earth, and bringeth hope and help to them that dwell in the darkness of thought, and drink of the poison of life. Fifty are the gates of Understanding, and one hundred and six are the seasons thereof. And the name of every season is Death.

(The Vision and the Voice. 14th Æthyr.)

And for his Work thereafter?

So we enter the earth, and there is a veiled figure, in absolute darkness.  Yet it is perfectly possible to see in it, so that the minutest details do not escape us. And upon the root of one flower he pours acid so that the root writhes as if in torture. And another he cuts, and the shriek is like the shriek of a Mandrake, torn up by the roots. And another he sears with fire, and yet another he anoints with oil.

And I said: Heavy is the labour, but great indeed is the reward.

And the young man answered me: He shall not see the reward; he tendeth the garden.

And I said: What shall come unto him?

And he said: This thou canst not know, nor is it revealed by the letters that are the totems of the stars, but only by the stars.

And he says to me, quite disconnectedly: The man of earth is the adherent. The lover giveth his life unto the work among men. The hermit goeth solitary, and giveth only of his light unto men.

And I ask him: Why does he tell me that?

And he says: I tell thee not. Thou tellest thyself, for thou hast pondered thereupon for many days, and hast not found light. And now that thou art called NEMO, the answer to every riddle that thou hast not found shall spring up in thy mind, unsought. Who can tell upon what day a flower shall bloom?

And thou shalt give thy wisdom unto the world, and that shall be thy garden. And concerning time and death, thou hast naught to do with these things. For though a precious stone be hidden in the sand of the desert, it shall not heed for the wind of the desert, although it be but sand. For the worker of works hath worked thereupon; and because it is clear, it is invisible; and because it is hard, it moveth not.

All these words are heard by everyone that is called NEMO. And with that doth he apply himself to understanding. And he must understand the virtue of the waters of death, and he must understand the virtue of the sun and of the wind, and of the worm that turneth the earth, and of the stars that roof in the garden. And he must understand the separate nature and property of every flower, or how shall he tend his garden?

(Ibid. 13th Æthyr.)

Thus for the Masters of the Temple; for the Black Brothers, how?

For Choronzon is as it were the shell or excrement of these three paths, and therefore is his head raised unto Daäth, and therefore have the Black Brotherhood declared him to be the child of Wisdom and Understanding, who is but the bastard of the Svastika. And this is that which is written in the Holy Qabalah, concerning the Whirlpool and Leviathan, and the Great Stone.

(Ibid. 3rd Æthyr)

Moreover, there is Mary, a blasphemy against BABALON, for she hath shut herself up; and therefore is she the Queen of all those wicked devils that walk upon the earth, those that thou sawest even as little black specks that stained the Heaven of Urania. And all these are the excrement of Choronzon.

And for this is BABALON under the power of the Magician, that she hath submitted herself unto the work; and she guardeth the Abyss. And in her is a perfect purity of that which is above, yet she is sent as the Redeemer to them that are below. For there is no other way into the Supernal mystery but through her and the Beast on which she rideth; and the Magician is set beyond her to deceive the brothers of blackness, lest they should make unto themselves a crown; for it there were two crowns, then should Ygdrasil, that ancient tree, be cast out into the Abyss, uprooted and cast down into the Outermost Abyss, and the Arcanum which is in the Adytum should be profaned; and the Ark should be touched, and the Lodge spied upon by them that are not masters, and the bread of the Sacrament should be the dung of Choronzon; and the wine of the Sacrament should be the water of Choronzon; and the incense should be dispersion; and the fire upon the Altar should be hate. But lift up thyself; stand, play the man, for behold! there shall be revealed unto thee the Great Terror, the thing of awe that hath no name.

(Ibid. 3rd Æthyr)

And now She cometh forth again, riding upon a dolphin. Now again I see those wandering souls, that have sought restricted love, and have not understood that the “word of sin is restriction.”

It is very curious; they seem to be looking for one another, or for something, all the time, constantly hurrying about. But they knock up against one another and yet will not see one another, or cannot see one another, because they are so shut up in their cloaks.

And a voice sounds: It is most terrible for the one that hath shut himself up and made himself fast against the universe. For they that sit encamped upon the sea in the city of the Pyramids are indeed shut up. But they have given their blood, even to the last drop, to fill the cup of BABALON.

These that thou seest are indeed the Black Brothers, for it is written: He shall laugh at their calamity and mock when their fear cometh. And therefore hath he exalted them unto the plane of love.

And yet again it is written: He desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness. Now, if one of these were to cast off his cloak he should behold the brilliance of the lady of the Aethyr; but they will not.

And again:—

Oh, I see vast plains beneath her feet, enormous deserts studded with great rocks; and I see little lonely souls, running helplessly about, minute black creatures like men. And they keep up a very curious howling, that I can compare to nothing that I have ever heard; yet it is strangely human.

And the voice says: These are they that grasped love and clung thereto, praying ever at the knees of the great goddess. These are they that have shut themselves up in fortresses of Love.

(Ibid. 7th Æthyr.)

Moreover, this also:

And this is the meaning of the Supper of the Passover, the spilling of the blood of the Lamb being a ritual of the Dark Brothers, for they have sealed up the Pylon with blood, lest the Angel of Death should enter therein. Thus do they shut themselves off from the company of the saints. Thus do they keep themselves from compassion and from understanding. Accursed are they, for they shut up their blood in their heart.

They keep themselves from the kisses of my Mother Babylon, and in their lonely fortresses they pray to the false moon. And they bind themselves together with an oath, and with a great curse. And of their malice they conspire together, and they have power, and mastery, and in their cauldrons do they brew the harsh wine of delusion, mingled with the poison of their selfishness.

Thus they make war upon the Holy one, sending forth their delusion upon men, and upon everything that liveth. So that their false compassion is called compassion, and their false understanding is called understanding, for this is their most potent spell.

Yet of their own poison do they perish, and in their lonely fortresses shall they be eaten up by Time that hath cheated them to serve him, and by the mighty devil Choronzon, their master, whose name is the second Death, for the blood that they have sprinkled on their Pylon, that is a bar against the Angel Death, is the key by which he entereth in.

(Ibid. 12th Æthyr.)


Yet must he that understandeth go forth unto the outermost Abyss, and there must he speak with him that is set above the four-fold terror, the Prince of Evil, even with Choronzon, the mighty devil that inhabiteth the outermost Abyss. And none may speak with him, or understand him, but the servants of Babylon, that understand, and they that are without understanding, his servants.

Behold! it entereth not into the heart, nor into the mind of man to conceive this matter; for the sickness of the body is death, and the sickness of the heart is despair, and the sickness of the mind is madness. But in the outermost Abyss is sickness of the aspiration, and sickness of the will, and sickness of the essence of all, and there is neither word nor thought wherein the image of its image is reflected.

And whoso passeth into the outermost Abyss, except he be of them that understand, holdeth out his hands, and boweth his neck, unto the Chains of Choronzon. And as a devil he walketh about the earth, immortal, and be blasteth the flowers of the earth, and he corrupteth the fresh air, and he maketh poisonous the water; and the fire that is the friend of man, and the pledge of his aspiration, seeing that it mounteth ever up- ward as a Pyramid, and seeing that man stole it in a hollow tube from Heaven, even that fire he turneth into ruin, and madness, and fever, and destruction. And thou, that art an heap of dry dust in the city of the Pyramids, must understand these things.

Beware, therefore, O thou who art appointed to understand the secret of the Outermost Abyss, for in every Abyss thou must assume the mask and form of the Angel thereof. Hadst thou a name, thou wert irrevocably lost. Search, therefore, if there be yet one drop of blood that is not gathered into the cup of Babylon the Beautiful: for in that little pile of dust, if there could be one drop of blood, it should be utterly corrupt; it should breed scorpions, and vipers, and the cat of slime.

And I said unto the Angel: “Is there not one appointed as a warden?”

And he said:

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani.

Such an ecstasy of anguish racks me that I cannot give it voice, yet I know it is but as the anguish of Gethsemane.

(Ibid. 7th Æthyr.)

Love is the law, love under will.



* I suppose that only a Magus could have heard this word.

(I think the trouble with these people was, that they wanted to substitute the blood of someone else for their own blood, because they wanted to keep their personalities.)


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Magick Without Tears


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