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The Book of the LawCentral to Crowley's system is a curious and enigmatic book known as the Book of the Law, also called Liber AL, Liber Legis, Liber L, or CCXX (220). It is fairly short and has often been issued in pamphlet form. Crowley said it was revealed to him during his 1904 vacation with his wife Rose in the Boulaq neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt, by the audible dictation of a spiritual being called Aiwass, who was both the messenger of the new deities set over this æon and Crowley's own Holy Guardian Angel.
In a series of trance visions, Rose indicated a number of symbols related to the Egyptian god Horus, according to the system Crowley had gotten and augmented from the Golden Dawn. She pointed out Stele 666 in the Boulaq Museum, which has since come to have a meaning in Thelemic mythology as an alternate form of the Book of the Law. Following Rose's instructions, he went to one of their rented rooms at an arranged time and took an hour of dictation from an unseen voice on each of three successive days.
The phrase "Book of the Law" comes from Freemasonry, as an alternative form of "Volume of the Sacred Law" (VSL). In a Christian Lodge this would be the Bible open on the altar; in a Jewish Lodge it would be the Torah, which means the scroll of the Law; and in a religiously mixed Lodge there might be more than one open sacred book on the altar. In Lodges, Temples, and other ritual bodies in Thelema, Crowley's Book of the Law is used for swearing initiatory oaths and for ritual connection to tradition, like the VSL in Freemasonry or the Book of Shadows in Witchcraft. Of course many religions have a central scripture and in Thelema the role is filled by the Book of the Law.
The book has three chapters, one chapter for each member of a trinity of ruling deities. Its phrasing is often ambiguous and it employs an odd, unearthly prose-poetic style which many people find beautiful. Various interpretations of its meaning are possible and Crowley wrote several commentaries during his life, some of them interpreting its verses in very different ways from his other commentaries or in ways at odds with the surface meaning.
The trinity of the Book of the Law or Liber AL is composed of three reinterpreted Egyptian deities. First is Nuit (Nut), the goddess of the night sky, closely linked in Egyptian religion with Hathor, also known as the Egyptian Venus. Her message is of freedom, love and the mystical bliss of union, as expressed in the curious equation 0=2. Nuit reveals the Law of Thelema and declares that the æons have turned in the Equinox of the Gods. She is represented imagistically as space and the stars of space. Nuit has been interpreted as the space-time continuum, or as the infinite potential containing all things real and unreal.
Second is Hadit (Heru-Behdeti or Horus of Edfu), the winged solar globe, symbol of divine authority. This form of the Egyptian god Horus, originally local to Bedheti, had influence throughout ancient Egypt. Hadit symbolizes the secret individuality within each of us, the star that each person is, the invisible, ineffable and unmanifest divine spark which moves each of us on our self-appointed path of will. As such Hadit also represents the underworld, the infinitely small point, the capacity for knowledge, the partner of Nuit, and the fiery nature of underworld deities such as Blake's Los, the Greek Hekate and Hades, and the Christian Lucifer. Their aspect of wrathfulness is often interpreted as a form of great energy usable for many purposes. Themes of kingship are central to the message of Hadit.
Third in the trinity is the child produced by the union of Nuit and Hadit, the lord of the new æon, alternately expressed by two different forms of Horus. One form is Ra-Hoor-Khuit (Ra-Horakhty), a military aspect of Horus as conqueror and warrior. Ra-Hoor-Khuit extends the inwardly-turned energy of Hadit outwards into the world. Whether the urgings to war and violence found in the third chapter of the Book of the Law, and to a lesser extent in the second chapter, are meant as metaphorical magical formulae of fiery energy, or are actual exhortations to conquer on the plane of political and temporal power, or both, is a controversial issue. Many Thelemites find any literal interpretation of the warlike material repugnant, while others embrace it as a necessary part of the world's transition to the new æon.
The other form of Horus in the third chapter is Hoor-Paar-Kraat (Harpocrates), Horus the child, traditionally the child of Isis and Osiris. Starting with the English occult group known as the Golden Dawn, to which Crowley belonged early in his life, ceremonial magicians attached to Harpocrates an attribute he probably did not possess in ancient Egyptian religion -- his finger pressed to his lips seemed to be a hushing gesture, making him the god of silence, which is an important mystical principle. The finger at the lips is now considered by scholars to have been akin to a thumb-sucking gesture of childishness. When Crowley revised the Tarot trump Judgment in the last few years of his life he reflected this change in scholarly consensus, making the finger at the lips of Harpocrates a gesture of childlike wonder at new adventures and possibilities.
Throughout the book two other mythic figures stand out, the Great Beast and Scarlet Woman named Babalon. These characters are familiar in Western culture from the Biblical Apocalypse of John, where they appear as evil spirits in animal and human form whose coming marks the end times. Crowley said that the Apocalypse of John was an authentic prophecy but that it had been distorted by the point of view of the previous æon, so that the visionary author of the Apocalypse had misrepresented the benign and world-freeing nature of the Great Beast and Scarlet Woman who are the human officers of the Æon of Horus. They are avatars of solar power and sexual force. Crowley was himself the holder of the Beast office and Rose was his original Scarlet Woman.
Simply to list all the themes of the Book of the Law would be a lengthy and difficult task. The subject requires individual study. To Crowley the book is central and regardless of one's own relationship to it, Crowley's work and his curriculum of practices can only be understood with respect to his ongoing process of interpretation of Liber AL.
The Literalist might say this: Liber AL vel Legis numbered CCXX is a direct transmission from the new gods appointed to stand over the current Æon. The Æon of Osiris was cursed by the failings and horrors of Christianity, a religion that perverted the formula of the Dying and Reborn God first prophesied by the ruling Egyptian God Osiris. In 1904 the two-thousand-year cycle ended with the new Prophecy. Now Christianity and other remnants of Osiris have only the unholy clutch on continued existence that is the province of the undead, and like zombies they are crumbling away with the loss of their vital force. Soon they will be gone and the true era of Freedom will reach fruition. The two World Wars were caused by the publication of the Book of the Law with its superhumanly intelligent predictions of war.
The Chaotic might say this: The Book of the Law is a powerful spellbook and meditation focus. It engages many deep parts of the unconscious mind. So do A. O. Spare's works, though, and other systems for other people -- there is a lot more to occultism than Crowley. Alternative historical models may be better than Crowley's æons, like the Chaos Magic psychohistorical model, the Typhonian/Achadian Æon of Ma'at, or the personal Word of each Magus in the Temple of Set. Crowley's æons were valid for him and for his personal mythology but there are a lot of different stories you could tell about history. They are all myths and myths are important in magic but it would be a mistake to take any of them too literally.
The Skeptic might say this: One can take an approach to Thelemic myth like that of liberal Christianity toward Genesis, using it as mythic material for philosophy, ritual and worship without affirming its literal truth. The æonic model is a mistake if examined as history, but so are most cosmological myths. Cultural prejudices in the Christian West created a mistaken scholarly consensus that held that the Christ myth had been echoed and prefigured throughout pagandom as the myth of the Dying and Reborn God. They also gave Osiris a status as ruler of Egypt that he did not actually hold. While Osiris was important, the ruling deity of ancient Egypt throughout most of its history was Horus. Osiris and Christ are not similar, and they are not similar to other gods who were forced into the Christian mold, such as Dionysus, Orpheus, Attis and Tammuz. The Thelemic myth of æons is interesting as a new myth related to traditional Zodiacal myths involving the Gnostic deity Æon, such as the myth of Mithraism that celebrated the passing of the age of Taurus in favor of Pisces.
The Mystic might say this: The Æons bring with them characteristic Formulae of Initiation. In the Æon of Osiris the Formula was Crucifixion and Self-Sacrifice. This had an esoteric meaning related to but different from mundane Christianity. The meaning was preserved through the ancient Mysteries and the Secret Tradition of Occultism. In the Æon of Horus, Sacrifice is replaced by the natural and progressive Growth of the Child. The Attainment of mature powers and Solar glory assume the place previously held by a death-and-rebirth Ordeal. Accordingly Initiations are today to be seen not so much as Deaths but as Births or Conceptions.
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The Book of the Law
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