Chapter XXIII: Improvising a Temple

Magick Without Tears

By Aleister Crowley

Chapter XXIII: Improvising a Temple

Cara Soror,

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

(This letter has been provoked by points discussed in your recent visit.)

As some of your daily practices are ceremonial, it should not come amiss to vouchsafe a few hints of practical service. For in ritual Magick, it will of course be the first care to get everything balanced and tidy.

If you propose to erect a regular Temple, the most precise instructions in every detail are given in Book 4, Part II. (But I haven't so much as seen a copy for years!) There is a good deal scattered about in Part III (Magick, which you have) especially about the four elemental weapons.

But if circumstances deny you for the moment the means of carrying out this Ædification as the Ideal would have it, you can certainly do your best to create a fairly satisfactory—above all, workable—substitute.

(By the way, note the moral aspect of a house, as displayed in our language. “Edification”—“house-making”: from Latin Aedes, “house”. “Economy”—“house-ruling”: from the Greek “ΟΙΚΟΣ”, “House” and “ΝΟΜΟΣ”, “law.”)

I was often reduced to such expedients when wandering in strange lands, camping on glaciers, and so on. I fixed it workably well. In Mexico, D.F. for instance, I took my bedroom itself for the Circle, my night-table for the Altar, my candle for the Lamp; and I made the Weapons compact. I had a Wand eight inches long, all precious stones and enamel, to represent the Tree of Life; within, an iron tube containing quicksilver—very correct, lordly, and damsilly. What a club! Also, bought, a silver-gilt Cup; for Air and Earth I made one sachet of rose-petals in yellow silk, and another in green silk packed with salt. In the wilds it was easy, agreeable and most efficacious to make a Circle, and build an altar, of stones; my Alpine Lantern served admirably for the Lamp. It did double duty when required: e.g. in partaking of the Sacrament of the Four Elements, it served for Fire. But your conditions are not so restricted as this.

Let us consider what one can do with an ordinary house, such as you are happy enough to possess.

First of all, it is of immense advantage to have a room specially consecrated to the Work, never used for any other purpose, and never entered by any other person than yourself, unless it were another Initiate, either for inspection or in case you were working together.

The aura accumulates with the regularity and frequency of Use.

The first point is the Banishing: Everything is to be removed from the room which is not absolutely necessary to the Work.

In this country, one must attend to the heating. An electric stove in the East or the South, is best: it must not need attention. One can usually buy stoves with excellent appropriate symbolism. (Last time I did this—13 e.v.—I got a perfect Ferranti at Harrods. The circular copper bowl, with the central Disk as the source of heat, is unsurpassable.) The walls should be “self-coloured,” a neutral tint—green, grey or blue-grey? and entirely bare, unless you put up, in the proper quarters, the proper designs, such as the “Watch Towers”—see The Equinox I, 7.1)

Remember that your “East,” your Kiblah, is Boleskine House, which is as near as possible due North from Plymouth. Find North by the shadow of a vertical rod and noon, or by the Pole-Star. Work out the angle as usual.

The Stélé of Revealing may be just on the N. Wall to make your “East.”

Next, your Circle. The floor ought to be “Earth” green; but white will serve, or black. (A Masonic carpet is not at all bad.) The Circle itself should be as shown in “Book 4”, Part II; but as this volume is probably unavailable, ask me to show you the large painted diagram in my portfolio when next you visit me, and we can arrange for it to be copied.

This should then be painted in the correct colours on the floor: the Kether Square to the North, your “East.”

The Altar must fit exactly the square of Tiphareth; it is best made as a cupboard; of oak or acacia, by preference. It can then be used to hold reserves of incense and other requisites.

Note that the height of the Altar has to suit your convenience. It is consequently in direct relation with your own stature; in proportion, it is a double cube. This then determines the size of your circle; in fact the entire apparatus and furniture is a geometrical function of yourself. Consider it all as a projection of yourself in terms of these conventional formulae. (A convention does really mean “that which is convenient.” How abject, then to obey a self-styled convention which is actually as inconvenient as possible!)2)

Next, the Lamp. This may be of silver, or silver-gilt, (to represent the Path of Gimel) and is to be hung from the ceiling exactly above the centre of the altar. There are plenty of old church lamps which serve very well. The light is to be from a wick in a floating cork in a glass of olive oil. (I hope you can get it!) It is really desirable to make this as near the “Ever-burning Lamp of the Rosicrucians” as possible; it is not a drawback that this implies frequent attention.

Now for the Weapons!

The Wand. Let this be simple, straight and slim! Have you an Almond or Witch Hazel in your garden—or do I call it park? If so, cut (with the magick knife—I would lend you mine) a bough, as nearly straight as possible, about two feet long. Peel it, rub it constantly with Oil of Abramelin (this, and his incense, from Wallis and Co., 26 New Cavendish Street, W.1) and keep wrapped in scarlet silk, constantly, I wrote, and meant it; rub it, when saying your mantra, to the rhythm of that same.  (Remember, “A ka dua” is the best; ask me to intone it to you when you next visit me.)

The Cup. There are plenty of chalices to be bought. It should be of silver. If ornamented, the best form is that of the apple. I have seen suitable cups in many shops.

The Sword. The ideal form is shown in the Ace of Swords in the Tarot.

At all events, let the blade be straight, and the hilt a simple cross. (The 32° Masonic Sword is not too bad; Kenning or Spencer in Great Queen Street, W.C.2 stock them—or used to do.)

The Disk. This ought to be of pure gold, with your own Pantacle, designed by yourself after prolonged study, graved thereupon. While getting ready for this any plain circle of gold will have to serve your turn. Quite flat, of course. If you want a good simple design to go on interim, try the Rosy Cross or the Unicursal Hexagram.

So much for the Weapons! Now, as to your personal accoutrements, Robe, Lamen, Sandals and the like, The Book of the Law has most thoughtfully simplified matters for us. “I charge you earnestly to come before me in a single robe, and covered with a rich headdress.” (AL I, 61) The Robe may well be in the form of the Tau Cross; i.e. expanding from axilla to ankle, and from shoulder to—whatever you call the place where your hands come out. (Shape well shown in the illustration Magick face p. 360). You being a Probationer, plain black is correct;3) and the Unicursal Hexagram might be embroidered, or “applique” (is it? I mean “stuck on”), upon the breast. The best head-dress is the Nemyss: I cannot trust myself to describe how to make one, but there are any number of models in the British Museum, on in any Illustrated Hieroglyphic text. The Sphinx wears one, and there is a photograph, showing the shape and structure very clearly, in the Equinox I, 1, frontispiece to Supplement. You can easily make one yourself out of silk; broad black-and-white stripes is a pleasing design.  Avoid “artistic” complexities.

Well, that ought to be enough to keep you out of mischief for a little while; but I feel moved to add a line of caution and encouragement.

Faites attention!
Khabardar karo!

Just as soon as you start seriously to prepare a place for magical Work, the world goes more cockeyed than it is already. Don't be surprised if you find that six weeks' intense shopping all over London fails to provide you with some simple requisite that normally you could buy in ten minutes.  Perhaps your fires simply refuse to burn, even when liberally dosed with petrol and phosphorus, with a handful of Chlorate of Potash thrown in just to show there is no ill feeling! When you have almost decided that you had better make up your mind to do without something that seems really quite unobtainable—say, a sixty-carat diamond which would look so well on the head-dress—a perfect stranger comes along and makes you a present of one. Or, a long series of quite unreasonable obstacles or silly accidents interfere with your plans: or, the worst difficulty in your way is incomprehensibly removed by some extraordinary “freak of chance.” Or, . . .

In a word, you seem to have strolled into a world where—well, it might be going too far to say that the Law of Cause and Effect is suspended; but at least the Law of Probability seems to be playing practical jokes on you.

This means that your manoeuvres have somehow attracted the notice of the Astral Plane: your new neighbours (May I call them?) are taking an interest in the latest Tenderfoot, some to welcome, to do all they can to help you to settle down, others indignant or apprehensive at this disturbance of routine. This is where your Banishings and Invocations come to the rescue. Of course, I am not here referring to the approach to Sanctuaries which of necessity are closely guarded, but merely to the recognition of a new-comer to that part of the world in general.

Of course all these miracles are very naughty of you; they mean that your magical power has sprung a few small leaks; at least, the water is oozing between some planks not sealed as Hermetically as they should be. But oh and this is naughtier still—it is a blessed, blessed comfort that they happen, that chance, coincidence and all the rest will simply not explain it all away, that your new vision of life is not a dream, but part and parcel of Experience for evermore, a real as any other manifestation of Reality through sense such as is common to all men.

And this brings us—it has been a long way round—from the suggestion of your visit to the question (hitherto unanswered) in your letter.

You raise so vast and razor-edged a question when you write of the supposed antinomy of “soul” and “sense” that it seemed better to withhold comment until this later letter; much meditation was most needful to compress the answer within reasonable limits; even to give it form at all is no easy matter. For this is probably the symptom of the earliest stirring of the mind of the cave-man to reflection, thereunto moved by other symptoms—those of the morning after following upon the night before. It is—have we not already dealt with that matter after a fashion?—evidence of disease when an organ become aware of its own modes of motion. Certainly the mere fact of questioning Life bears witness to some interruption of its flow, just as a ripple on an even stream tells of a rock submerged. The fiercer the torrent and the bigger the obstacle, the greater the disturbance to the surface—have I not seen them in the Bralduh eight feet high? Lethargic folk with no wild impulse of Will may get through Life in bovine apathy; we may well note that (in a sense) the rage of the water seems to our perturbed imagining actually to increase and multiply the obstructions; there is a critical point beyond which the ripples fight each other!

That, in short, is a picture of you!

You have mistaken the flurry of passing over some actual snag for a snag in itself! You put the blame on to your own quite rational attempts to overcome difficulties. The secret of the trick of getting past the rocks is elasticity; yet it is that very quality with which you reproach yourself!

We even, at the worst, reach the state for which Buddhism, in the East presents most ably the case: as in the West, does James Thomson (B.V.) in The City of Dreadful Night; we come to wish for—or, more truly to think that we wish for “blest Nirvana's sinless stainless Peace” (or some such twaddle—thank God I can't recall Arnold's mawkish and unmanly phrase!) and B.V.'s “Dateless oblivion and divine repose.”

I insist on the “think that you wish,” because, if the real You did really wish the real That, you could never have come to exist at all! (“But I don't exist.”—“I know—let's get on!”)

Note, please, how sophistically unconvincing are the Buddhist theories of how we ever got into this mess. First cause: Ignorance. Way out, then, knowledge. O.K., that implies a knower, a thing known—and so on and so forth, through all the Three Waste Paper Baskets of the Law; analysed, it turns out to be nonsense all dolled up to look like thinking. And there is no genuine explanation of the origin of the Will to be.

How different, how simple, how self-evident, is the doctrine of The Book of the Law!

There are any number of passages dealing with this matter in my writings: let's forget them, and keep to the Text!

Cap. I, v. 26 “. . my ecstasy, the consciousness of the continuity of existence, the omnipresence of my body.”

V. 30 “This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of dissolution all.” (There is a Qabalistic inner meaning in this text; “the pain,” for instance, Ο ΑΛΓΟΣ, may be read XVII × 22 “the expression of Star-love,” and so on: all too complicated for this time and place!)

V. 32. “Then the joys of my love” (i.e. the fulfillment of all possible experiences) “will redeem ye from all pain.”

V. 58. “I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death; peace4) unutterable, rest, ecstasy; . . .”

Cap. II, v. 9 “Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.”

(The continuation is amusing! vv. 10 and 11 read:

O prophet! thou hast ill will to learn this writing. I see thee hate the hand & the pen; but I am stronger.

At that time I was a hard-shell Buddhist, sent out a New Year's Card “wishing you a speedy termination of existence!” And this as a young man, with the world at my feet. It only goes to show . . . . .)

Vv. 19, 20. “Is a God to live in a dog? No! but the highest are of us. . . . Beauty and strength, leaping laughter and delicious languor, force and fire, are of us.”

This chapter returns over and over again to this theme in one form or another.

What is really more significant is the hidden, the unexpressed, soul of the Book; the way in which it leaps into wild spate of rhapsody on any excuse or no excuse.

This is surely more convincing than some dreary thesis plodding along doggedly with the “proof” (!) that “God is good,” every sentence creaking with your chalk-stones and squeaking with the twinges of your toe!

Yet just because I proclaim a doctrine of joy in the language of joy, people—dull camels—say I am not “serious.”

Yet I have found pleasure in harnessing the winged horses of the Sun to the ploughshare of Reason, in showing the validity of this doctrine in detail. It satisfies my sense of rhythm and of symmetry to explain that every experience, no matter what, must of necessity be a gain of grandeur, of grip, of comprehension and enjoyment ever growing as complexity and simplicity succeed each other in sublime systole and diastole, in strophe and antistrophe chanting against each other to the stars of the Night and of the Morning!

Of course it is easy as pie to knock all this to pieces by “lunatic logic,” saying: “Then toothache is really as pleasant as strawberry shortcake:“  You are hereby referred to Eight Lectures on Yoga. None of the terms I am using have been, or can be defined. All my propositions amount to no more than tautology: A. is A. You may even quote The Book of the Law itself: “Now a curse upon Because and his kin! . . . . Enough of Because! Be he damned for a dog!” (AL II, 28-33). These things stink of Ignoratio Elenchi, or something painfully like it: as sort of slipping up a cog, of “confusing the planes” of willfully misunderstanding the gist of an argument. (All magicians, by the way, ought to be grounded solidly in Formal Logic.)

Never forget, at the least, how simple it is to make a maniac's hell-broth of any proposition, however plain to common sense.

All the above, now:—Buddhism refuted. Yet it is a possibility and therefore one facet of Truth. “Rest” is an idea: so immobility is one of the moving states. A certain state of mind is (almost by definition) “eternal,” yet it most assuredly begins and ends.

And so on for ever—I fear it would be nugatory, pleonastic (and oh! several other lovely long adjectives!) to try to guard you from these hydra-headed and protean booby-traps; you must tackle them yourself as they arise, and deal with them as best you can: always remembering that often enough you cannot tell which is you and which is the Monkey Puzzle, or who has won. (“Everybody's won; so everybody must have a prize” applies beautifully). And none of it all matters a row of haricots verts sautés; for the conclusion must always be Doubt (see that beastly Book of Lies again—there's a gorgeous chapter about it5) ) and the practical moral is this: these contradictions don't occur (or don't matter) in Neschamah.

Also, it might help you quite a lot (by encouraging you when depressed, or amusing you when you want to relax) to read Sir Palamedes the Saracen; Supplement to The Equinox, Vol. I, No. 4. I expect quite a few of his tragi-comic misadventures will be already familiar to you in one disguise or another.

And if the above remarks should embolden you to exclaim: “Perhaps a little drink would do me no great harm” I shall feel that I have deserved well of my country!

For—see Liber Aleph, after Rabelais—the Word of the Last Oracle is TRINC.6)

. . . .. . . .

This plaint of yours tails off—and perks up in so doing—with confession of Ambition, and considerations of what you must leave over to your next life. Very right! but all that is covered by your general programme. It is proper to assimilate these ideas with the fundamental structure of your mind: “Perhaps I had better leave 'The Life and opinion of Battling Bill, the Ballarat Bruiser' till, shall we say, six incarnations ahead”—But perhaps you have acquired that already.

No, better still, concentrate on the Next Step! After all, it is the only one you can take, isn't it! Without lust of result, please!

And I shall leave anything else to the next letter.

Love is the law, love under will.

Yours fraternally,


P.S. “Next letter,” yes, they are running into one another more than somewhat; it is better so, for life is like that. And we have the bold bad editor to sort them out.

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The reference is to Liber LXXXIV vel Chanokh, otherwise known as “A brief abstract of the symbolic representation of the Universe as derived by Dr. John Dee from the skrying of Sir Edward Kelly.”
The Circle described in Book 4 part II has an overall diameter of about 17 times the side of each square comprising the Tau (this assumes the distance between the inner and outer circle is about the same as the side of each square). The double cube altar is traditionally 44 inches high (about navel height on a six foot person) which will make the circle over 30 feet in diameter. This might be possible if you have the use of a small sports hall; it will not fit in most peoples' living rooms – T.S.
The robe of a Probationer, as can be deduced from photographs of the Rites of Eleusis and references in The Vision and the Voice and other writings of the Equinox period, was originally conceived of as white with no hood, a pentagram on the breast and the “Hexagram of Nature” (red triangle ascending, blue triangle descending, golden Tau in the centre) on the back – T.S.
“Peace”: the glow of satisfaction at achievement. It is not “eternal,” rather, it whets the appetite for another adventure. (Peace, η εἰρήνη = 189 = 7 × 9 × 3, the Venusian plus Lunar form of Unity.)
The transcript gave the factorisation as 7 times 9 times 13; this is wrong, but the analysis (“unity” is qabalistically referred to 13) suggests it may have been a slip by Crowley rather than a transcription error) – T.S.
The text has 189 as the total and 7x9x3 as the math; Regardie has 180 as the total and 7x9x13 which is even worse. FWIW η ειρηνη does enumerate via standard Greek isopsephy to 189, which is 7×3^3 or 7×9. 189 x 13 = 819, interestingly. Perhaps Crowley meant to write 7x3x3 and slipped on the 9, but then where does the “unity” reference come from? – Pralixus
Chapter 51, “Terrier-Work.” See also Chapter 45, “Chinese Music.” Quoted in chapter 29 of MWT – T.S.
O.F., “drink.” vide François Rabelais, The Fifth and Last Book of the Heroic Acts and Sayings of the Good Pantagruel (in Gargantua and Pantagruel), cap. 45; Crowley, Liber Aleph vel CXI, cap. Ζω (208).


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