On the Powers of the Sphinx

Part 2: Aleister Crowley

By Michael Osiris Snuffin (2002)


    In Part 1 of this series we discussed the Four Powers of the Sphinx as understood by Eliphas Lèvi. We shall now look at the works of Aleister Crowley, who developed the Powers of the Sphinx as a part of his own Thelemic paradigm, even incorporating them into the instruction of both the A.’.A.’. and the OTO.
    Crowley identifies himself with Lèvi in his first major discussion of the Four Powers in Chapter 151 of Liber Aleph:

“It is now expedient that I instruct thee concerning the Four Powers of the Sphinx, the Strangler, and firstly, that this most arcane of the Mysteries of Antiquity was never at any Period the Tool of the Slave-Gods, but a Witness of Horus through the dark Aeon of Osiris to His Light and Truth, His Force and Fire. Thou canst by no means interpret the Sphinx in Terms of the Formula of the Slain God. This I did comprehend even when as Eliphaz Lèvi Zahed I walked up and down the Earth, seeking a Reconciliation of these Antagonists, which was a Task impossible, for in that Plane they have Antipathy. (Even so may no Man form a Square Magical of Four Units.) But the Light of the New Aeon revealeth this Sphinx as the True Symbol of this our Holy Art of Magick under the Law of Thelema. In Her is the Equal Development and Disposition of the Forces of Nature, each in its Balanced Strength.”

    The last sentence refers to the Elemental perfection of the Sphinx. The Four Elements are the “Forces of Nature, each in its Balanced Strength” represented by the four Kerubic beasts that compose the Sphinx. Like Lèvi, Crowley identifies the Sphinx with the Adept or Magus, who employs the Four Powers to become “whole, Himself, containing all Things in true Proportion.”
    Crowley’s definition of the Sphinx continues in Chapter 152:

“This then is the Adept, who doth Will with solid Energy as the Bull, doth Dare with fierce Courage as the Lion, doth Know with swift Intelligence as the Man, and doth Keep Silence with soaring Subtlety as the Eagle or Dragon. Moreover, this Sphinx is an Eidolon of the Law, for the Bull is Life, the Lion is Light, the Man is Liberty, the Serpent is Love.”

    The first sentence gives the traditional attributions of the Powers to the Kerubic Signs. Here Crowley has identified two beasts with the Kerubic Eagle: the Serpent and the Dragon. This symbolism has its roots in the Golden Dawn tradition, which divided Scorpio into three forms to represent various aspects of the sign:

“The Scorpion is the emblem of ruthless destruction; the Snake is the mixed and deceptive nature, serving alike for good and evil; the Eagle is the higher and Divine Nature, yet to be found herein, the Alchemical Eagle of distillation, the Renewer of life.”

    The Dragon is a winged Serpent, a combination of the two highest aspects of Scorpio.
    Crowley also connects the Kerubic Signs to the Four Emanations of Law: Light, Life, Liberty and Love. These are discussed in Liber 150, De Lege Libellum, which is “a further explanation of The Book of the Law, with special reference to the Powers and Privileges conferred by its acceptance.” The Four Emanations of Law are connected with the Gnostic Catholic Church (EGC) in the creed of the Gnostic Mass.
    A few years after he wrote Liber Aleph, Crowley introduced a Fifth Power of the Sphinx. This concept is fully explained in Magick Without Tears:

“You are familiar with the Four Powers of the Sphinx, attributed by the Adepts of old time to their Four Elements. Air is to Know, Scire; Fire is to Will, Velle; Water is to Dare, Audere; and Earth is to Keep Silence, Tacere. But now that a fifth Element, Spirit, is generally recognized in the Qabalah, I have deemed it proper to add a Fifth Power corresponding: to Go, Ire.
Then, as Spirit is the Origin, the Essence, and the Sum of the other four, so is to Go in relation to those powers. And to Go is the very meaning of the name God, as elsewhere shewn in these letters; hence the Egyptian Gods were signalized as such by their bearing the Ankh, which is a Sandal-strap, and in its form the Crux Ansata, the Rosy Cross, the means whereby we demonstrate the Godhead of our Nature.”

    The Fifth Power of the Sphinx is to Go, corresponding with the Element of Spirit. The astrological counterpart of the power to Go is the Sun, that which links the Kerubic Signs in the same manner as Spirit binds the Four Elements. The symbol of the Fifth Power is the Ankh, “which is a sandalstrap, implying the power to go” and was also considered by Crowley to be the “characteristic of a god.”
    Note that Crowley has switched the attributions of two of the Kerubic signs. In Liber Aleph and also in Lèvi’s works, Taurus (Earth) represents the Power to Dare and Scorpio (Water) represents the Power to Keep Silence; but in later works such as Magick Without Tears and The Book of Thoth, Scorpio (Water) is to Dare and Taurus (Earth) is to Keep Silence. Crowley’s final attributions to the Powers of the Sphinx are summarized in Table 1.

    The special relationship between the Four Powers and the Fifth Power is revealed in The Book of Thoth:

“The Kerubic sign in any Element exhibits the most powerful and balanced form of that Element. Attached to these are the names of the four Virtues of the Adept, those which enable him to overcome the resistance of the elements; they are: to Will, to Dare, to Know and to Keep Silence. By the harmonious exercise of these, the fifth Element of Spirit is formulated in the being of the Adept. It is the god within, the sun, which is the centre of the Universe from the human point of view, with its own particular virtue, which is to Go.”

    By the exercise of the Four Powers of the Sphinx, the Adept attains the Fifth Power, the indwelling of Spirit and the realization of the god within. Eliphas Lèvi came to a similar conclusion in The Great Secret:

“The great secret of magic, the unique and incommunicable Arcana, has for its purpose the placing of supernatural power at the service of the human will in some way.
To attain such an achievement it is necessary to KNOW what has to be done, to WILL what is required, to DARE what must be attempted and to KEEP SILENT with discernment.”

    To summarize, the Four Powers of the Sphinx are the means by which Man becomes God. It is for this reason that Crowley refers to the Sphinx as “the True Symbol of this our Holy Art of Magick under the Law of Thelema” and “a Glyph of the Satisfaction and Perfection of the Will and of the Work, the Completion of the True Man as the Reconciler of the Highest with the Lowest.”
    Thus ends our discussion on the Powers of the Sphinx.

Sign Symbol ElementVirtue Latin Emanation
Leo Lion Fire Will Velle Light
Scorpio Eagle/DragonWater Dare AudireLove
AquariusMan Air Know Scire Liberty
Taurus Bull Earth Keep SilenceTacereLife
[Sun] Ankh Spirit Go Ire Law


Copyright © 2010 Michael Osiris Snuffin

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