Aeons Beyond the Three
by T Polyphilus
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
In order to historically situate his revelation The Book of the Law, Crowley proposed a progression of Aeons, or periods of differing spiritual economies or “formulae.” Despite the gnostic appellation of “Aeon,” Crowley's basic idea was almost certainly influenced by the Christian doctrine of Dispensationalism which was championed by the Plymouth Brethren fundamentalist movement to which Crowley's family belonged. Dispensationalism has since become very popular among American evangelicals in particular. Certainly, both Crowley's Aeons and the Dispensationalism of Plymouth Brethren founder John Nelson Darby share a basic intellectual infrastructure with the metal-identified ages of Western antiquity, the Yugas of Hinduism, and even the various Manvantares and Kalpas of Theosophical meta-history.
Crowley sets forth in various texts an outline of the three principal Aeons. In “The Historical Conception on which The Book of the Law is Based” (part V of “On the Reception of the Book of the Law” in his Confessions, and currently reprinted as an appendix to Magick), he presents the following summary:
To recapitulate the historical basis of The Book of the Law, let me say that evolution (within human memory) shows three great steps: (1) the worship of the Mother, continually breeding by her own virtue; (2) the worship of the Son, reproducing himself by virtue of voluntary death and resurrection; (3) the worship of the Crowned and Conquering Child (the Aeon announced by Aiwass and implied in His Word, Thelema). (Magick, p. 703)
By characterizing the second or Osirian Aeon as that of “the Son,” this exposition differs somewhat from the one approved by Crowley in W.B. Crow's “Manifesto of the E.G.C.”:
The world has entered (March, 1904) the New Aeon, the Age of the Crowned and Conquering Child. The predominance of the Mother (Aeon of Isis) and of the Father (Aeon of Osiris) are of the past. Many people have not completely fulfilled those formulae, and they are still valid in their limited spheres; but the Masters have decided that the time has come for the administration of the Sacraments of the Aeon of Horus to those capable of comprehension.
The Father-Son ambivalence of the Aeon of Osiris is interesting in itself, but not critical to the current discussion. The later and better-known representation is that of the Father, as reflected in the introduction to the 1938 e.v. O.T.O. edition of The Book of the Law, which reads in part as follows:
[The Book of the Law] explains that certain vast 'stars' (or aggregates of experience) may be described as Gods. One of these is in charge of the destinies of this planet for periods of 2,000 years. In the history of the world, as far as we know accurately, are three such Gods: Isis, the mother, when the Universe was conceived as simple nourishment drawn directly from her; this period is marked by matriarchal government.
Next, beginning 500 B.C., Osiris, the father, when the Universe was imagined as catastrophic, love, death, resurrection, as the method by which experience was built up; this corresponds to patriarchal systems.
Now, Horus, the child, in which we come to perceive events as a continual growth partaking in its elements of both these methods, and not to be overcome by circumstance. This present period involves the recognition of the individual as the unit of society.
And that outline, however absurd in terms of empirical history, is the “orthodox” presentation of the subject in Thelemic text. It is followed closely by such expositions as Jack Parsons' “Basic Magick” (published in Freedom is a Two-edged Sword), the chapter “Evolution of Magical Formulae” in Lon DuQuette's Magick of Thelema, and “The Angel and the Aeon” in Kenneth Grant's Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God.
In Crowley's 1920 Extenuation of the Book of the Law (published as the “New Comment” in Israel Regardie's edition of The Law is for All), he intimates a fourth Aeon, based on the prophetic phrasing of Liber Legis III:34. Crowley writes:
Hrumachis is the Dawning Sun; he therefore symbolizes any new course of events. The “double-wanded one” is “Thmaist of dual form as Thmais and Thmait,” from whom the Greeks derived their Themis, goddess of Justice. The student may refer to The Equinox, Vol. I., No. 2, pp. 244-261. Thmaist is the Hegemon, who bears a mitre-headed scepter, like Joshua in the Royal Arch degree of Freemasonry. He is the third officer in rank in the neophyte ritual of the G\D\ following Horus as Horus follows Osiris. He can then assume the “throne and place” of the Ruler of the Temple when the “Equinox of Horus” comes to an end. (p. 289)
The familiar Egyptian form of the goddess of Justice who is the characterization of the fourth Aeon is Maat. And it was the Aeon of Maat or “MA-ION” that Crowley's student Frater Achad (Charles Stansfeld Jones) later came to advocate as prematurely succeeding that of Horus. Kenneth Grant and his school later confused the issue further by suggesting that Maat was the “daughter” complement of Horus the son, and promoting the idea of a “double current” in which those two godforms were coeval. Probably the most interesting and consequential outgrowth of this premise has been the Maatian magick of Nema, with its own inspired scripture Liber Pennae Penumbra and its independent body of magical technique.
Kenneth Grant also proposed three prehistorical Aeons, of the Void, of Chaos, and of the Earth, which would have preceded that of Isis. Nema, writing in The Cincinnati Journal of Ceremonial Magick (No. VII) telescoped these three into the “Nameless Aeon,” characterized by the Egyptian god Bes. In addition, she added a “Wordless Aeon” to succeed the double Aeon of Horus and Maat, so that Harpocrates as silence would complete the cycle. Thus, the full sequence proposed by Nema is Bes – Isis – Osiris – Horus – Maat – Harpocrates.
But the advance of such proposals into the unnamed or unspoken lacunae before Isis and after Maat seems to ignore the original basis of Aeonic succession as defined by Crowley, what he called an Equinox of the Gods. The text reference to The Equinox in the quote about Thmaist above is to the exposure of the Golden Dawn Neophyte ritual. And it is clear from various of his writings that Crowley saw the precession of the Aeons as paralleling the advancement of the officers among the ritual stations of the Neophyte temple, as staged in the Golden Dawn Ceremony of the Equinox. Crowley included the full rubric of that Equinox ritual in “Genesis Libri AL” in his book The Equinox of the Gods.
The Ceremony of the Equinox had three principal functions, which were parallelled in the macrocosmic Equinox of the Gods:
- A set of elemental invocations, recalling the mystic eucharist of four elements from the closing ritual of the Neophyte grade initiation. The purpose of those invocations was to assert and demonstrate the constancy of a basic magick formula (i.e. Tetragrammaton) from one semester to the next, despite the change of password and the change of officers. The analogous recontextualization of the constant formula IAO from one Great Equinox to another is illustrated in Chapter V of Magick in Theory and Practice.
- The abrogation of the old password, and the issuance of a new one for the next six-month period. This custom was descended from Continental Freemasonry, in which the feasts of the Saints John (roughly the solstices) would have been the occasion for issuing a new password. Crowley writes in various places regarding “the Word of the Aeon,” diversely represented as ABRAHADABRA in “Liber Samekh” and elsewhere, MAKHASHANAH in 27th Aethyr of The Vision and the Voice, or even as the entire text of The Book of the Law. (For this last, see Magick, p. 218: “That Angel wrote on the Lamen the Word of the Aeon. The Book of the Law is this writing.”)
- The rotation or advancement of the temple officers, according to their rank. The corresponding aspect of the Great Equinox is the succession of godforms.
The personnel of the Golden Dawn Neophyte temple are listed by rank in the following table:
Anubis of the East
Anubis of the West
In addition to the godforms associated with actual human officers, there were “invisible stations,” such as the elemental kerubs (sons of Horus), the evil triad (Apophrasz, Satan-Typhon, and Besz), and Harpocrates. These do not participate in the officer rotation. According to Crowley, they are already composite in Horus, since he wrote in The Equinox of the Gods:
This child Horus is a twin, two in one. Horus and Harpocrates are one, and they are also one with Set or Apophis, the destroyer of Osiris. It is by destruction of the principle of death that they are born. (p. 134)
The first three of the “visible stations” were also not part of the officer rotation. They were instead chiefs, representatives of the Inner Order to the Neophyte temple. Thus their relative positions in the sequence are ambivalent. While Isis must be moved to the third position in order to directly precede Osiris, the order of the remaining two can be inferred from the esoteric record of the third operation in “The Paris Working.” Having invoked “Hermes as Force,” Crowley had a vision in which he declared of Hermes or Thoth that, “He is the first of the Aeons.”
The result of correlating the officer progression from the Golden Dawn Neophyte temple to the Equinoctial precession in the greater temple of Earth is illustrated in the following table:
|Godform||Vernal Equinox||Autumnal Equinox||Approximate Dates|
|Thoth||Gemini||Sagittarius||6840 - 4320 b.c.e.|
|Nephthys||Taurus||Scorpio||4476 - 2306 b.c.e.|
|Isis||Aries||Libra||2306 - 156 b.c.e.|
|Osiris||Pisces||Virgo||156 b.c.e. - 1904 e.v. (0 e.n.)|
|Horus||Aquarius||Leo||1904 - 4064 e.v. (2160 e.n.)|
|Maat||Capricorn||Cancer||4064 - 6224 e.v. (4320 e.n.)|
|Anubis||Sagittarius||Gemini||6224 - 8384 e.v. (6480 e.n.)|
Using the precession of the Equinoxes as delimiters of the Aeons has the advantage of hewing to the original symbolism of the Golden Dawn ritual. It throws into question (if not outright ridicule) many of Crowley's assertions regarding the characteristics of the Aeons; one would be hard pressed to make a case for matriarchy as the default organizing principal of human societies circa 1000 b.c.e. A certain amount of flexibility can certainly be brought to bear, since the “orb” of the motion of the Equinox into a given sign is large.
In any case, it should be kept in mind that the formula of the old Aeon is only the special case of the new. While the newer design has wider and more general application, the old patterns will still apply in their limited original conditions, and may provide a more convenient “handle” for certain now-routine sorts of work. By analogy, we may see the supercession of an old Aeonic formula by a new one as being similar to the supercession of the classical mechanics of Newton by relativistic physics of Einstein.
Aeon of Thoth. This Aeon inuagurates the idea of deity. The principle of the sacred is characterized by Gemini, the Twins. The act of representation, whether through speech or image, is basis of holiness. Man creates god in his own image, and/or vice versa. Idolatry is the codification of this impulse. The Sagittarian complement reflects the magick of the archer, action at a distance made possible by the development of writing and symbolization.
Aeon of Nephthys. The Taurean concept of the sacred is phallic in the most general sense. Sanctity is maintained through the generative power in humanity, and in the subordinate species we have domesticated. Thus there are frank cults of fertility and sexuality. The autumn equinox in Scorpio alludes to the magick of the vegetable psychopharmocopeia.
Aeon of Isis. During this period of the birth of the Law, flesh and blood are the medium of the sacred, which is implemented chiefly through animal sacrifice. Magick exerts itself under the sign of Libra through the formulation of scripture and popular history.
Aeon of Osiris. The fishy doctrine of “vicarious atonement” is preeminent in this Aeon of the death of the Law. Magick is held to inhere in purity and in retreat from the phenomena of the world.
Aeon of Horus. The Law is resurrected in a form centered on the incommensurability of the individual. “Every man and every woman is a star.” The lion-serpent spermatazoon is an emblem of the new magick exerted on the human genetic code.
This essay halts on the brink of speculating about the content of future Aeons. Surely, we have “danger and trouble” enough in our current spiritual circumstance! May humanity (or whatever succeeds us) someday win through to Truth and Justice.
Love is the law, love under will.
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