Book Club Post

The Doctrine of High Magic: Chapter 12

With this post we continue a monthly chapter-by-chapter discussion of The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic by Eliphas Lévi, the book that launched the modern magical revival.  Here and in the months ahead we’re plunging into the white-hot fires of creation where modern magic was born. If you’re just joining us now, I recommend reading the earlier posts in this sequence first; you can find them here.  Either way, grab your tarot cards and hang on tight.

If you can read French, I strongly encourage you to get a copy of Lévi’s book in the original and follow along with that; it’s readily available for sale in Francophone countries, and can also be downloaded for free from If not, the English translation by me and Mark Mikituk is recommended; A.E. Waite’s translation, unhelpfully retitled Transcendental Magic, is second-rate at best—riddled with errors and burdened with Waite’s seething intellectual jealousy of Lévi—though you can use it after a fashion if it’s what you can get. Also recommended is a tarot deck using the French pattern:  the Knapp-Hall deck (unfortunately out of print at the moment), the Wirth deck (available in several versions), or any of the Marseilles decks are suitable.


“Chapter 12: The Great Work” (Greer & Mikituk, pp. 119-123).


The Great Work, magnum opus in Latin, was the alchemists’ term for the creation of the Stone of the Philosophers, the mysterious substance that could turn base metals into gold. There’s a long and by no means pointless tradition of redefining alchemy to mean something distinct from mere goldmaking, however. When Carl Jung set out to explain alchemy as a veiled system of depth psychology, he was following a well-blazed trail; half a century before his time, E.A. Hitchcock  interpreted the writings of the alchemists as an allegorical way of talking about proto-Protestant religious teachings in the days when the Catholic Church was busy burning heretics, and in Jung’s youth Hermann Silberer’s Problems of Mysticism and its Symbolism had introduced the idea that alchemical writings needed to be interpreted from a psychological perspective.

Go a little further back in history, however, and you’ll find a very different way of thinking about the varied dimensions of alchemy. Alchemists in the Renaissance and early modern periods very often claimed that the symbols and enigmatic texts of alchemy were about the spiritual side of human experience rather than the material work of the laboratory—but they then turned around and noted that mastering the spiritual dimensions of alchemy opens the door to its practical side, and to the literal creation of the philosophers’ stone and the transmutation of metals. “From the supernatural theory flows the natural practice,” says a classic Rosicrucian text, Physica Metaphysica et Hyperphysica D.O.M.A.—and this is the tradition on which Eliphas Lévi based his interpretation of alchemy.

The opening sentence of this month’s chapter sets out the core of what Lévi has to say about that tradition with typical clarity and conciseness. “The Great Work is, above all else, the creation of man by himself, that is to say the full and entire conquest of his faculties; it is above all the perfect emancipation of his will, which assures him the universal empire of Azoth and the domain of Magnesia, which means full control over the universal magical agent.” Azoth and magnesia, readers will recall, are both names for the astral light.  Lévi holds that the astral light is the power that “determines the forms of the modifiable substance,” and that changes in the astral light can therefore change matter from one form to another.

That was the basic concept behind classical alchemy:  the idea that material things are all made out of a single infinitely changeable substance.  If this is true, then anything can transform into anything else. All you have to do is find the key to the transformation, the thing that allows you to take away some qualities from the substance and put in other qualities in their places. If you can do that, it seems simple enough to take away the gray color and chemical reactivity from lead and replace those with the yellow color and chemical stability of gold. That’s what the alchemists set out to do.

Current scientific thought insists that they couldn’t have succeeded, because changing one element to another can only be done using fantastically high energies:  the kind of thing you get in a particle accelerator, for example. I’m by no means sure that they’re right about that, given how often current scientific thought has turned out to be dead wrong. Lévi had even better reason to doubt the scientists of his time, who were flailing about half-blindly in their attempts to make nature conform to the demands of a simplistic rationalism.  The reality or unreality of metallic transmutation doesn’t actually matter that much for our present purposes, however, because the Great Work in the primary sense Lévi gives it—the free self-creation of the unique individual, the mastery of all the faculties of the self by the self through the will—is a perennial possibility that stands open before every one of us.

Levi’s approach to alchemy is allegorical through and through. To separate the subtle from the coarse, as the Emerald Tablet instructs the alchemist to do, is for Lévi to free oneself from mental biases and self-defeating habits.  Salt, sulfur, and mercury, the three principles of the laboratory alchemist, for Lévi are wisdom learned from texts, vital energy directed by the will, and skillful efforts guided by relentless practice.  He subjects more complex alchemical narratives to the same process: interpret the emblems and the stories in terms of the thoughts, emotions, and habits of the individual, and then—and here is the crucial step—apply the patterns revealed by this process to other forms of practice. As above, so below: from the allegorical theory flows the magical practice.

The allegorical interpretations in question can be quite arbitrary. Lévi goes out of his way to demonstrate this by taking the word ART, reading it backwards, and turning it into an allegory for the process of alchemical transformation. Arbitrary or not, this provides a fine summary of the alchemical process in ots broadest sense. First  comes theory and travail, that is, studying the work in a theoretical sense and then putting in the necessary time and labor to develop the needed skills, always guided by the logic of the ternary to keep balance between the contending opposites. Second comes realization, that is, making the theory a reality through the practice, on whatever plane of human experience you have chosen for the work.  Third comes adaptation, that is, taking the same principles and applying them to other situations on other planes.

In the paragraph that follows this bit of allegory, Lévi indulges in one of his few ventures into the field of recommended reading lists. The Kore Kosmou, Minerva Mundi, or Virgin of the World—these are the names of this treatise in Greek, Latin, and English respectively—is an ancient text attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, the legendary founder of alchemy. Most of the Hermetic texts got to the modern world by way of a single ragged volume, the Corpus Hermeticum, that came from Greece to Florence in 1453 and basically kickstarted Renaissance occultism, but this is one of the exceptions.  It was included in an anthology compiled by Joannes Stobaeus in the fifth century, which survived in multiple copies. (You can download a copy of the English translation of The Virgin of the World for free here, in a collection with several other works assigned to Hermes.  Lévi is quite correct, by the way, that it’s well worth reading and studying.)

An athanor, in case the following paragraph leaves you baffled, is an alchemical furnace. (The word “athanor,” if I may interject a useless but interesting point, is one of the few English words that comes from Sumerian: udun was the Sumerian word for “kiln,” and gave rise to Babylonian utunu, Arabic al-tannur, and Latin athanor, as the centuries unfolded.) The great and unique athanor that anyone can use, everyone has, and is symbolized by the pentagram, is of course the human body, the alchemical furnace and vessel used in moral and philosophical alchemy and  in several other branches of the alchemical science as well.

(Two points probably need to be made here before we proceed. The first is that Lévi’s alchemy is a valid form of the Great Work; the second is that Lévi’s alchemy is not the only game in town. To make sense of the wild diversity of alchemical literature, it’s crucial to recognize that alchemy is not a single branch of study, like chemistry; it’s a general method, like modern science. The parallels are exact: just as there is a scientific method, there is an alchemical method, and just as applying the scientific method to any category of phenomena results in an individual science, applying the alchemical method to any category of phenomena results in an individual alchemy. That’s what Lévi has done here. He’s correct, too, that for many people in his time and in ours, moral and philosophical alchemy is a convenient place to start exploring alchemy, with an eye toward learning lessons that can be applied to other alchemies later on.)

At this point, having gotten much closer to the secrets of magic than Lévi likes to go, our text veers suddenly to a discussion of the card that corresponds to this chapter, the twelfth trump of the tarot deck, The Hanged Man. Lévi is quite correct that two of the early theorists on the tarot, Court de Gebelin and Etteilla, both thought that the card had accidentally been turned upside down by some clueless card maker in the Middle Ages, and proceeded to issue “corrected” images with the Hamged Man standing right side up. Lévi had more faith in the traditional image than that, and placed his own interpretation on the card. To him the Hanged Man is the adept with his feet solidly planted in heaven and his thought turned toward the earth; he is also, in a crude sense, anyone who imprudently reveals the Great Arcanum, the supreme secret of magic, to those who are not yet able to understand it or make use of it.

There follows a scurrilous and funny Jewish story that Lévi found in one of the commentaries to the Sefer Todelot Yeshu, a collection of Jewish anti-Christian polemics written in the tenth century. (I don’t know of a source for the commentary, but the Sefer Toledot Yeshu itself can be downloaded for free in Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould’s courtly Victorian translation here). There may be a better example of Lévi’s extreme ambivalence toward the Christian faith in which he was raised, but I can’t think of one off hand. Those of my readers who are Christian, and minded to take offense at the story, might reflect for a moment on how Christians have by and large treated Jews for the last two thousand years, and tolerate a little edged humor in response.

The story isn’t simply here as a joke, however, or a reflection of Lévi’s own deeply mixed feelings about the grand claims of the Christian faith.  It’s also a reminder that the powers and high hopes of the adept need to be balanced with a clear sense of the realities of life. Dreaming that you’re God Almighty may be comforting for your ego, but it’s no substitute for a good dinner when you’re hungry.

More generally, while material competence is no substitute for spiritual attainment, the reverse is also true.  The occult community has had no shortage of would-be adepts whose supposedly great powers don’t keep them from being impoverished, unhealthy, unable to maintain any sort of relationship, and generally inept at coping with the ordinary details of daily life.  Those of my readers who’ve had reasonably extensive contact with the Neopagan and New Age communities can probably call to mind any number of examples of the sort.  Of course it’s unreasonable to fly to the opposite extreme and insist that mages should have to prove themselves by being rich, buff, immune from sickness and ols age,well supplied with babes or beefcake depending on personal preference, and so on; the ternary’s a useful touchstone here as well.

That said, the successful student of magic should be able to lead a life that more or less conforms to his or her will, and those whose lives evidently don’t conform to their will—as judged, for example, by a habit of endlessly complaining about circumstances rather than doing something about them—should not be considered successful students of magic. Glorious dreams won’t do that; it requires systematic effort. You will very, very rarely catch me quoting Aleister Crowley about anything, but one comment of his from The Book of Lies seems apropos here:  “Learn first what is work, and the Great Work is not so far beyond!”

Notes for Study and Practice:

It’s quite possible to get a great deal out of The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic by the simple expedient of reading each chapter several times and thinking at length about the ideas and imagery that Lévi presents. For those who want to push things a little further, however, meditation is a classic tool for doing so.

The method of meditation I am teaching as we read Lévi is one that is implicit in his text, and was developed in various ways by later occultists following in his footsteps.  It is a simple and very safe method, suitable for complete beginners but not without benefits for more experienced practitioners.  It will take you five minutes a day.  Its requirements are a comfortable chair, your copy of Lévi’s book, and a tarot deck of one of the varieties discussed earlier.

For your work on this chapter, take Trump XII, Le Pendu, “The Hanged Man.”  Your first task is to study it and get familiar with the imagery. Sit down, get out the card, and study it.  Spend five minutes doing this on the first day you devote to this practice.

Your second task is to associate a letter with it. Lévi gives you two options, the Hebrew letter ל (Lamed) or the Latin letter M. As noted earlier, you should choose one alphabet and stick to it. The sound values aren’t of any importance here, nor is there a “right” choice. You’re assigning labels to a mental filing cabinet.  Most people can make the necessary association quite promptly, but spend a session exploring it. Sit down, get out the card, and study it.  Relate it to the letter in any way that comes to mind.

The third and fourth sessions are devoted to the titles Lévi gives for the card: Discite and Crux. Sit down, get out the card, and study it. How does Discite, “learn,” relate to the imagery on the card and the letter you’ve chosen?  That’s one session.  How about Crux, “cross”?  That’s the next one.  Then choose a third word that sums up, for you, the lessons of this chapter, and use it for the next meditation. Approach these in the same way as the concepts you explored in earlier meditations.

Don’t worry about getting the wrong answer.  There are no wrong answers in meditation.  Your goal is to learn how to work with certain capacities of will and imagination most people never develop.  Stray thoughts, strange fancies, and whimsical notions do this as well as anything.

Sessions six through the end of the month are done exactly the same way, except that you take the concepts from the chapter. Sit down, get out the card, and study it. Then open the book to Chapter 12 of the Doctrine and find something in it that interests you.  Spend five minutes figuring out how it relates to the imagery on the card, the letter, and the three titles. Do the same thing with a different passage the next day, and the day after, and so on. If you run out of material for meditation in this chapter, you can certainly go back to the previous chapters and review what they have to say.

Don’t worry about where this is going. Unless you’ve already done this kind of practice, the goal won’t make any kind of sense to you. Just do the practice.  You’ll find, if you stick with it, that over time the card you’re working on takes on a curious quality I can only call conceptual three-dimensionality:  a depth is present that was not there before, a depth of meaning and ideation.  It can be very subtle or very loud, or anything in between. Don’t sense it?  Don’t worry.  Sit down, get out the card, and study it. Do the practice and see where it takes you.

We’ll be going on to “Chapter 13:  Necromancy” on June 8, 2022. See you then!


  1. Thank you as always. I’m enjoying this course more than I can say!

    I pressed for time but wanted to mention:

    The links for the Virgin of the World and the Sefer Toledot Yeshu are missing.

  2. And out of the media-churned mire comes the Arctic-clear stream of the latest Levi book club post – and ensuing discussion!

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the last chapter, in particular Levi’s discussion of the great person of authority who leaves a position of power, gives away all wealth, and thus sends a ripple through the astral light to those paying attention to this act of retreat.

    Coincidentally, I was listening to the BBC podcast In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg on the topic of charisma, and Max Weber’s view of it. Apparently, Weber was interested in the question “what makes people obey?” and as a response outlined three types of obedience: people obey due to tradition, due to existing legal structures in society, and due to a person’s charisma.

    Particularly in a “disenchanted age” where the things around us are presumed to be lifeless materials, where the spiritual takes a back seat to rationality, the magnetic nature of the naturally charismatic individual seemed to be an exception to this rationalization of the world.

    Where the podcast connected to the last chapter is in the figure of George Washington, who, according to the historians in the podcast, was an intensely charismatic, well-dressed and well-spoken individual who people of the time wanted to follow. But when he stood down and resigned his post after the war of independence, King George III of Britain apparently said “if he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”

    This seems to be an example of what Levi is saying: there is power in walking away. Maybe it’s too neat to put it like this, but perhaps this act of walking away is represented by the Hanged Man, who, by a shift of perspective, turns the world on its head.

  3. Goldenhawk, thank you and I’ve just fixed the links.

    Jbucks, one of the reasons why I keep doing these book club posts through thick and thin is that the cold clear air of occult philosophy is such a relief after the fetid swamp of contemporary affairs! As for the charisma of walking away, Washington’s a great example, and of course there have been others. Knowing when to let go is a source of immense power; pity our current elites can’t begin to grasp that.

  4. Thank you for such a clarificatory post on alchemy. I really appreciated reading it.

    I thought I’d add the following to the list of those that preceded Jung on the subject, since the name of its author has come up more than once.

    “Some Swede or Norwegian has recently written a book in which he gives many quotations from the alchemists. In particular he cites a passage where all manner of things are mentioned — mercury, antimony, and so on. And now our author, whom his book shows to be an excellent modern chemist, says he can make nothing of a certain recipe which is indicated by some alchemist. He cannot do so for the simple reason that, when a present-day chemist speaks of mercury or quicksilver, he means the external metal. But in the book from which he is quoting the words mean something quite different. They do not refer to the external metal at all, but to certain processes within the human organism, and they indicate a knowledge of the inner being of Man. They carry the sense they had for the alchemist. Certainly it is quite possible to read them as if one were reading the description of a laboratory experiment, carried out with retorts and the like — but then one gets no meaning out of it! One is bound to regard it all as nonsense. It has meaning, however, as soon as we know what was meant by the words antimony, mercury, and so forth in those times. They have, it is true, a certain application to the external minerals, but they refer paramountly to inner processes of human nature, for which one had other means of approach than those we have today. The relevant writings from before the 15th century have accordingly to be read with an understanding quite different from the way in which we approach scientific writings of later date.”

    Rudolf Steiner, December 6, 1919

  5. Hi all!

    Is not another name for Atu XII, The Initiate? Did not Odin hang from Yggdrasil for nine days to gain his wisdom and access to the well of Mimir? Do not some images of the Tree of Life show the roots as being in Kether and the leaves and fruits in Malkuth? That image makes sense if we conceive of the tree as representing the process of manifestation (among many other things). It would make sense for the initiate also to have their world turned upside down following the path of the mysteries.

    The upside down image also recalls to my mind the idea of initation and the mysteries being in many respects a path of service. Following the path ourselves is one way of simple service, by the good that will flow out from that work, and by also treading it again, for others as they find the waymarks. Going down that path often requires some sacrifice. Odin gave an eye after all.

    “just as there is a scientific method, there is an alchemical method, and just as applying the scientific method to any category of phenomena results in an individual science, applying the alchemical method to any category of phenomena results in an individual alchemy.”

    So, if I take this and apply it to pataphysics I will get the following:

    “just as there is a scientific method, there is a pataphysical method, and just as applying the scientific method to any category of phenomena results in an individual science, applying the pataphysical method to any category of phenomena results in an individual pataphysics.”

    Anyway, I’ve just returned from attending a lecture with Dr. Jacques Cocteau at the Universal College of Spectral Analysis and so the science of imaginary solutions is much on the brain. Dr. Jacques Cocteau had to find intellectual refuge at UCSA after the College de ‘Pataphysique kicked him out for heresy, when he claimed that dada was dead, but the rubble of its bounce was still effecting the astral atmosphere.

    The point is Cocteau often brings up the truths to be found in the Book of Lies. Crowley can be worth quoting from time to time. F is for Fake by Orson Wells also comes a lot with him too.

    @Jbucks: great points! I’m reminded of the Society of Cincinnatus that was started after the Revolutionary War, in honor of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, who left his farm to become Roman Consul, but then, even though he could have remained in power indefinitely, after the war he was brought in to fight, set that position back down, and went back to his farm. The early revolutionaries of our country saw much of Cincinnatus in Washington.

    Omnia reliquit servare rempublicam “He relinquished everything to save the republic.”

    I too got much out of the last chapter, while also feeling, I was only beginning to scratch the surface of everything in there.

  6. Indeed, these posts are a welcome break from the goings-on!

    Something else struck me that I’d like to ask about. The sound of words like ‘Azoth’ and ‘athenor’ have a strong oomph to them, similarly to how names in the Lord of the Rings have presence and gravity. Such as Numenor, Balrog, or Morgoth. When such a word is uttered, I pay attention, they sound important to me.

    It’s been a while since the last time I read the LOTR, but I remember there being lots of words ending in ‘-or’, or ‘-oth’. Of course, those names aren’t as old as the words I’m talking about. Where does this come from? Is it that I remember the momentousness of the LOTR names from the context of the book, and when I hear athenor, I apply the same momentousness to it? Or do the syllables have some sort of powerful resonance that I don’t understand the mechanics of? All of the above?

  7. Asdf, thanks for this. Steiner was in the mainstream of the European occult tradition of his time, and the insight he’s passing on here is a useful one.

    Goldenhawk, now there’s a blast from the past! Glad to hear the work is proceeding.

    Justin, by all means quote Crowley if you like! As for the Society of the Cincinnati, did you know that they still exist? Membership is open to any adult male who is descended from an officer who served in the Revolutionary War.

    Jbucks, that’s a complex question to which there are various answers, none of them more convincing to me than any of the others. You’re right that many alchemical and magical terms have that verbal thunder to them; Tolkien, who was of course an expert linguist with a very keen ear for language, may have constructed his names on pure sound value and caught the same thunder that way, or there could be any of several other things going on.

  8. This chapter made me realise I’m still a little confused about terminology. I’ve been thinking of “the self” in abstract terms like the divine spark. But the word “self” also gets used generically to encompass all the parts of the being.

    If the self is the divine spark and the “soul” is the faculties relating to the astral plane including dreams, emotions etc. Where does the “will” fit into that? Is the will the same as the “self”? Does the will correspond to any of the planes i.e. mental, astral, etheric?

  9. Many thanks for a commentary that gives much food for meditation. Some time ago, after you spoke favorably on the other blog of Maria Szepes’s novel The Red Lion, I read it and enjoyed it tremendously. May I ask if you have ever put together a recommended reading list on alchemy (from the perspective suggested here, as an approach to human transformation)? I have read your essay in A Magical Education which mentions a number of people such a Jakob Böhme, Kirchweger, and Sendivogius. I am not familiar with any of them. Where would be a good place to start? And there would be much value in an annotated edition, since these writings are reputed often to be purposely obscure.

    Gray Hat

  10. Your Kittenship, thanks for this. Interesting that ADF is getting this kind of publicity now, after all those years when the mainstream studiously ignored it — and of course the rest of the Druid scene isn’t gettng much attention yet.

    Simon, a fine set of themes for meditation! “Self,” of course, is a vague word — most English non-technical terms are — which can be used in many different senses — and “will” is nearly as vague. The most straightforward description I know of for the will is that it’s the capacity for action on any plane; on the material plane the will takes the form of reflexes, on the etheric plane it takes the form of passions, and so on up the planes.

    Gray Hat, I’d have to know alchemy much better than I do in order to create a workable reading list! I recommend starting with a modern book or two — The Alchemists Handbook by Frater Albertus is a good example — and then plunging right into any classic text that catches your interest. You can find an astonishingly large collection of alchemical texts online here.

  11. “The Great Work is, above all else, the creation of man by himself, that is to say the full and entire conquest of his faculties”

    My instant though was of Odin and I now see #6 Justin Patrick Moore also thought of him. Though my thought was around the above words “the creation of man by himself” and the Odinic formula for learning – to sacrifice oneself to oneself. The different emphases are interesting. And then the words Discite and Crux – this chapter seems so Odinic to me. So much to think about … and I’m tempted to add a rune for each chapter while I’m at it …

  12. The most average of skills can be transformative. It’s really, really difficult for most people to see what they can become though, because TV, media, and a zillion other forces are always working to actively prevent people from tapping their true potential and sticking with it. It’s my opinion that our era is especially difficult for humans to be spiritual , so that adds another whammy when it comes to refining what you’ve got.

    Recently I have taken up breadmaking again after 35 years. I got interested in making sourdough bread when I was in junior high and then just didn’t make a whole lot of bread for years as I taught myself how to cook as a vegetarian and then re-learned once again as a vegan. I seemed to have a lucky streak making bread back then that went away. For the longest time, my bread has been heavy and dense. Cooking has helped me to understand the alchemical process. First I had to change, then the food got better and easier to make. Good cooking is part ingredients, part experience, part skill, and part etheric input. Tonight I made cinnamon rolls which is basically bread dough smeared with globs of cinnamon and sugar icing. Though I have yet to make light, fluffy bread, I think I may be on my way. I finally remembered the right texture and I could sense the bread it would become before it baked. They came out nice and fluffy.

    Every human on the planet has at least one special skill that he or she can use to alchemically transform himself or herself. I feel my best one probably isn’t bread, but it is a nice side skill to have. I am grateful to bread because it has helped me to see the alchemical process in action. In a roundabout way, understanding the subtlety of bread helps me to understand other things I’m trying to get better at, like music.

  13. Quote JMG:

    “The most straightforward description I know of for the will is that it’s the capacity for action on any plane.”

    Curiously, I have for a long time now basically defined “body” precisely as the capacity to function on a given plane.

    Gonna go meditate on the topic of body-as-will now…

  14. @JMG & all: I was aware that The Society of the Cincinnati is still a going concern. I don’t know offhand if I have any relatives who were in the Revolutionary War, whom I’d be descended from. What is interesting to me is a cemetery I discovered basically in my neighborhood that is mostly forgotten / not-well-known. My dad mentioned it to me as it was near one of the cities water holding tanks, and there was a ham shack on a property next to it. (He is a now retired welder who worked for the water works dpt.) He also mentioned the cemetery which we I visited with him, my sister and some others on a Memorial day about 5 years ago. There were a bunch of Revolutionary soldiers in there and I wondered if any had belonged to the society. Later researching the site I learned there is an unexcavated Indian Mound there. It was not that high and the place was overgrown with weeds but on my next visit I clearly spotted it.

    This has been a theme of visiting mounds that are next to various water works sites. I think part of it is the location on top of high hills. (Gravity for the water works, some other purposes for the Native American sites).

    As an American mut, I know two branches of my family came here in the 1800s. The German side came to Ohio and helped build the Miami-Erie Canal with mules and shovels, and then bought farms. The Italian side came to Frankfurt, Kentucky. Some of those Italians were stonemasons I think and helped build the capital and other buildings there and others bought farms. The rest is a mix of Scotch-Irish, with its drips of Cherokee, and English. Not sure who in that bunch might have descended from Revolutionary soldiers. My place of employment has a top notch genealogy department should I ever seek to do further digging.

    What I’m real curious about is the activity of early Society of the Cincinnati members in Cincinnati and in Ohio in general.

  15. jbucks:

    “Maybe it’s too neat to put it like this, but perhaps this act of walking away is represented by the Hanged Man, who, by a shift of perspective, turns the world on its head.”

    coooool….THIS is Papa G’s work that we’re all a part of here.


  16. @Goldenhawk: Well done on a musical selection for the chapter.

    @Kerry: I too thought of “to sacrifice oneself to oneself”. There are going to be some great themes of meditation here (as in the other chapters)…but I’m also loving the way it’s building from the previous chapters.

    @Kimberley: I totally agree that modern media kills a lot of peoples ambition to transform themselves and develop the base metal into something more.

  17. …shivers…

    I’m listening to one of my favorite Gothic gnostic groups, Current 93, and their awesome album, “The Light is Leaving Us All” [ ]. The lyricist and singer David Tibet describes himself as a “patripassianist”. I hadn’t looked up that word in awhile, and noted it has an interesting parallel to Odin.

    Here is a quote from Wikipedia that describes this view, which is to some Christians, heresy:

    “In Christian theology, historical patripassianism (as it is referred to in the Western church) is a version of Sabellianism in the Eastern church (and a version of modalism, modalistic monarchianism, or modal monarchism). Modalism is the belief that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are three different modes or aspects of one monadic God, as perceived by the believer, rather than three distinct persons within the Godhead – that there are no real or substantial differences between the three, such that the identity of the Spirit or the Son is that of the Father.

    In the West, a version of this belief was known pejoratively as patripassianism by its critics (from Latin patri- “father” and passio “suffering”), because the teaching required that since God the Father had become directly incarnate in Christ, the Father literally sacrificed Himself on the Cross.”

    So this heretical view I find interesting in terms of this chapter and the idea of him “sacrificing himself to himself” in a way. (Is it just me, or do some of the more interesting aspects of Christian theology seem to be heretical? Perhaps that’s my own ambivalence to the religion I was raised in.)


    Speaking of Goth, I just finished the excellent novel “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt. Fantastic. I’m almost through “The Castle of Otranto” by Walpole, and next up is Du Maurier’s “Rebecca”.

    Tartt’s books isn’t strict Goth, but has overtones of a Gothic aesthetic. So far, it’s been one of the best novels I’ve read this year.

    Over the course of the pandemic I also read most of Carlos Ruiz-Zafon’s book’s (he’s now deceased, for those of you who make a point of only/mostly reading dead people). His cycle “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books” is most wonderfuly Gothic, for others who also enjoy that aesthetic, and are looking for good reads.

  18. Kerry, by all means approach the book runically if that works for you! Your challenge would be figuring out which two of the Elder Futhark don’t get chapters of their own, since there are 22 chapters and 24 runes.

    Musictheory, excellent! Yes, emphatically. One of my teachers used to say that every single human being has the capacity for magnificence in at least one thing. It may not be obvious, it may be hidden deep under layers of social programming, but it’s there — and one of the many good reasons for getting rid of television and other brain-eating technological parasites is that they’re in the business of obscuring that fact.

    Sven, any chance you’ve heard of a guy named Arthur Schopenhauer? Section 19 of The World as Will and Representation talks about that very point… 😉

    Justin, fascinating. I wonder how much information the Cincinnati have in their own archives. As for Christian heresy being all the most interesting ideas, no argument there!

  19. “That was the basic concept behind classical alchemy: the idea that material things are all made out of a single infinitely changeable substance.”

    This description reminded me of the Greek god Proteus, a prophetic sea-god constantly changing his form.
    I looked it up, and yes, apparently, I’m not the only one who drew this connection.

    Carl Jung defined the mythological figure of Proteus as a personification of the unconscious, who, because of his gift of prophecy and shape-changing, has much in common with the central figure of alchemy, Mercurius.

    Also, John Milton was skeptical of alchemists of his time:

    In vain, though by their powerful Art they bind
    Volatile Hermes, and call up unbound
    In various shapes old Proteus from the Sea,
    Drain’d through a Limbec to his native form.

    – John Milton, Paradise Lost, III.603–06

    In his 1658 discourse The Garden of Cyrus, Sir Thomas Browne, pursuing the figure of the quincunx (five points arranged in a cross), queried: “Why Proteus in Homer the Symbole of the first matter, before he settled himself in the midst of his Sea-Monsters, doth place them out by fives?”

    Good themes for meditation, right? 😉

  20. @Justin Patrick Moore

    Wow, synchronicity! Earlier this morning I was meditating on the theme of sacrifice, self-creation and the idea that Christ said ” I and my Father are one,” which would suggest that God sacrificed himself on the cross. And now you bring up this Gnostic heresy which says exactly the same thing! Thank you.

    I am also a long-time fan of Donna Tartt’s Secret History, and du Maurier’s Rebecca as well.

  21. “The Hanged Man is the adept with his feet solidly planted in heaven” now makes a lot of sense. His legs make the number four and this corresponds to the Emperor, who also makes the number four with his legs. The Emperor is sitting on a cube, which I think represents the physical world, so the Hanged Man’s four can represent the heavens.

  22. Since Levi made a point of reading ART backwards, I pondered the alchemical symbol in the badge on the Knapp-Hall deck. I had originally thought it was sulfur upside down. In perusing alchemical sites on the Internet, I think the most accurate statement I found was that there really wasn’t a standardized alchemical ‘alphabet’.

    I found, which shows the triangle with a cross on top as a separate symbol, but representing rust.

    Then I found, which didn’t have a symbol in the same location, but if it did, the symbol would be for Manganese, not Magnesium (or Magnesia). (Wouldn’t it be cool if the symbol *was* for Magnesia…)

    But has a symbol representing both magnesia and manganese. Not the same symbol as the triangle with cross, but apparently some alchemists used the same symbol for both (so then the triangle with the cross on top might represent Magnesia…)

    The upside mage is mostly red (his jacket) and green (his leggings), so separating fire and earth. His jacket has some yellow (gold?) edging, so all the elements are represented, except water. But everything starts from the Azoth and returns to the Azoth, so everything is Azoth. So the mage is in toto Azoth.

    But if you look at the alchemical symbol in the badge as Sulfur upside down, Sulfur represents Will. The yellow of the badge represents Air… the Mind… Imagination? So what does it take to return to the Azoth? Will and Imagination.

  23. Just a note about the Society of the Cincinatti, whose membership eligibility is calculated according to the principle of primogeniture. That is, eligibility was originally limited to certain officers of the Continental (or French) Army or Navy, as well as the eldest sons of Continental officers who had died during the war. As members died, their eldest sons in turn became eligible, and so on until today. (It is also possible to qualify by showing patrilineal descent from someone who was eligible to join, but did not.) So not all descendants of Colonial officers (let alone ordinary soldiers, or milita members) would qualify; otherwise the pool of those eligible would multiply with every generation.

    Anyone disappointed may take comfort in the words of Franklin, who mocked the society for its aristocratic pretensions in a well-known letter poking fun at the eagle (which had become a symbol of the society, as well as the nascent USA), and comparing it unfavorably to the turkey:

  24. With the Knapp-Hall deck, the Hanged Man could also be an inversion of the High Priestess. Perhaps he has achieved the perfect balance between Heaven and Earth by also being perfectly balanced between the two pillars of Jachin and Boaz. His hair stands out to me as a crown.

    His crossed leg and arrangement of his arms to his head looks just like the cross and triangle in the shield. Perhaps we are being told that the quaternary rests on the ternary? The Magician had the four elements on the table with three legs. Here we have a crossed leg over a torso shaped like a triangle. This balance with the three and the four allows us to be suspended between Earth and Heaven. Since he is suspended from the wooden poles that make Tav, then this is connected to The World card, the final card of the tarot.

  25. Hi, Jon! In the Rider-Waite deck, the Hanged Man and the World Dancer are inversions of each other in their art, but not, oddly enough, in their (upright) meanings. That deck has several artistic parallels, the most well known probably being the Lovers and the Devil. I don’t know if they have some deep meaning or if the artist could only think of so many vertical designs, or both! 😊

  26. Hi John Michael,

    Curiously, why are coins falling from off the Hanged Man? Or are they coins?

    It is a pleasure to read about the perfect emancipation of will, and it would be a nice state. But then, I’m left wondering if balance is an important part of that story which limits free will, after all if we could exercise our will fully, would be capable of making a decision and then so acting? And could society even function if all had access to that power? I’d imagine that it would get a little bit overwhelming. Maybe?

    Do you reckon that rationalism might be a simplified model of one method of viewing the world?

    Ah, master, for Lévi are wisdom learned from texts, vital energy directed by the will, and skillful efforts guided by relentless practice. – is this not the path to mastery? 🙂

    As usual my brain hurts after reading another instalment in these series of essays.

    On the other hand it was a long work day today. Out in the drizzle we continued to construct the much larger greenhouse. After two years of no-summer (combined with the threat of a further La Nina year) a much larger greenhouse seems in order. Usually the weather Gods co-operate, but not today. With a month and a week out from the winter solstice, I am hoping to paint the structure – if the weather co-operates. So we work on regardless, and when the weather is just right – we paint (hopefully so anyway!)



  27. Hi John Michael,

    I too wonder why people don’t merely walk away, as it is a powerful act. One idea as to why this does not happen more often is that people are inevitably committed and trying to time to peak. But I don’t really know for sure. It’s a mystery to me that issue.



  28. @ilovemusictheory: Good points. Was watching an interview with Jean Dubuis where he expresses the same essential view: virtually anything can be used as part of an initiation.

    Humorously, the atheist writer Sam Harris makes a similar point when trying to debunk religion in his “End of Faith”: He walks into a random bookstore, grabs a random book (in his case, “A taste of Hawaii: New Cooking from the Crossroads of the Pacific”), and begins to interpret it in a mystical manner. Which, to my mind doesn’t necessarily debunk a mystical approach to the world, but rather suggests that indeed the path can be taken up nearly anyplace.

  29. Ecosophian, good! Yes, Proteus was used as a symbol by various alchemical writers back in the day, and yes, all this is great meditation fodder.

    Jon, it can indeed. Excellent!

    Random, thank you for this — a fine meditation backed by research.

    Bei, duly noted.

    Jon, and another good insight.

    Chris, yes, they’re coins. There are various accounts of why they’re falling out of his pockets; one common one is that the card represents Judas and the coins are the money he got for narking on Jesus. As for rationalism, sure — it’s one useful tool for simplifying the monstrous complexity of the world so that mere human brains can deal with it. There are others, of course.

  30. Princess Cutekitten,

    Thanks! I never noticed the crossed legs of the World dancer. Another connection to the Hanged Man. Wow. With her arms extended, she makes a triangle, so she is kind of the inversion of the hanged man. Why does he have his arms tied or hidden behind him? Hmmmm.

    To everyone:

    Our word pendulum comes from pendere, to hang. A pendulum uses simple harmonic motion and converts a fixed amount of energy from kinetic to potential, and vice versa. Without friction, this motion would be eternal. Does the Hanged Man know how to ride the two waves of kinetic and potential energy? Or, in Bob’s terminology, the two waves of Hustle and Slack?

  31. Fra’ Lupo, thank you. The primary reason I am no longer an atheist is that I always said “I could be wrong” and sincerely meant it, even as an atheist. I don’t think Sam Harris has ever honestly said “I could be wrong”. For the record, I could still be wrong about my current polytheist outlook, but I feel a lot closer to being correct than when I was atheist or monotheist, and I’m much happier and at peace with myself and my world, so there’s that.

  32. @Jon Goddard,

    I very much like your ideas of the tree trunks being Jachin and Boaz and the quaternary resting on the tertiary. I was researching something else and happened upon this article (; if you scroll about a third of the way down, there is a picture of a four-legged three-eared Ouroboros, with an explanation of the four elemental bodies and the three spirits (or principles) that I think align with (my understanding of) your ideas about the Hanged Man and manifestation.


    The article linked above is absolutely fascinating… an explanation of alchemy incorporating Lubicz, Paracelsus, Pythagoras, and more. If you have time, I highly recommend it. It has added many themes to my list-of-things-to-meditate-on.

    Sometimes I think I understand something (or have a decent metaphor, at least) and then I read something and realize how much I didn’t understand at all. Early on in this book study, the idea that earth came from the fiery water was presented. I didn’t have a good metaphor; the best I came up with is that the fiery water was silty and that the silt precipitated out and formed mud and eventually dried. Gosh, I was so so wrong.

    From the article, “The understanding of salt as a product of sun and sea, i.e. of fire and water, ouranos and oceanos, touches on its broader esoteric and cosmological implications, not all of which were peculiar to Pythagoras.”

  33. @Jon Goddard,

    Re: pendere

    This is so cool!

    I am reading “The Druid Revival Reader” (Hawkers’ “The Quest of the Sangraal”). One of his footnotes is about space and time and how ‘the tracery of its outline is a cone.’ The idea of a cone of creation (rather than a sphere of creation) gave me a completely different view of how the center becomes the circumference. I tried to find more references to a creation cone; the Internet Gods had a chuckle at my expense and only gave me links to the invention of the ice cream cone. I figured I would have to wait until the next Magic Monday to ask if anyone had ideas.

    But then the article I found today (mentioned in my other post) discusses Schwaller’s idea of cosmogony: “It is not the circle but the spherical spiral that provides the true image of its reality: a vision which encompasses a punctillar centre, a process of cyclic departure and return from this centre (oscillation), as well as linear “development”, all of which are merely partial descriptors of a more encompassing, and yet more mysterious, reality-process.”

    A spherical spiral that lengthens (stretches?) would make a shape like a cone. Schwaller says oscillating, you say harmonic motion. A ‘cone’ I had found months ago (and saved because it seemed important, though I didn’t know how):, which has integrate and disintegrate, which seems to relate to, which has volatile and fixed. So it all seems to fit together, but it will require much more meditation.

    But it is just so cool when all these gems drop in my lap within a few days of each other… Thank you for sharing!!!

  34. @ Chris at Fernglade & JMG #28: re coins falling from the bags on the Hanged Man.
    It came to me that perhaps the “coins” are not silver and gold, but rather lead and gold, symbolic of the alchemy he has learned, and for which he has given much of the material world. (On the Wirth deck, both bags have a crescent, perhaps the moon. If the crescent is the moon, representing silver, it could negate my theory, but I’m sticking with it regardless)
    When I turned the Wirth Hanged Man upside down, he looks like he’s dancing. Of course, dancing on the end of a rope is an age old reference to death by hanging, but I think he’s dancing for the joy of his knowledge.
    My interpretation of the hands behind his back is that he has voluntarily bound himself to the path of knowledge, the path he chose at the fork in the road in The Lovers. In the Wirth deck, the fork in the road is explicit, in the card shown in JMG’s post, it is implied by the positions of the 3.
    Even if I never become an initiate, this book club has given me much insight into the Tarot.
    Chop wood, draw water, question.

    @ Kimberly Steele: Amen to your post #34. I too have come to understand that I am a polytheist, after decades as an avowed atheist, saying “Gods” is pretty liberating.

  35. ilovemusictheory (no. 34), the whole debate of atheism vs. theism (whether mono- or poly-) seems strange to me. I mean, nobody ever agonizes over whether to be an a-Cthulhist.

    Imagine a world in which everybody wants to know your beliefs about monetary policy–whether you’re a monetarist or a Keynesian, or perhaps you follow the Austrian school? And if you confess that you haven’t given much thought to monetary policy, they’ll assume a concerned look and ask what you plan to raise your children as, or remind you of how important monetary policy is to a well-functioning economy.

    Since even many theists hold that “God” can neither be understood nor described, this makes me wonder whether there is any real difference between “theism” and “atheism,” since God could mean whatever one wanted (a cookie, perhaps). Of course none of this dissuades theists from describing God, any more than Buddhists refrain from describing our various notions of a nonconceptual absolute!

    A more salient distinction may be whether or not one believes in “woo.” Instead of theists and atheists, we should be distinguishing between magicists and amagicists (no-majs?). Of course all this assumes that belief is the most important feature of religion–cross-culturally, group identity is often more important.

  36. Hi John Michael,

    Ah, the explanation as to the coins makes sense, and I’m guessing it also serves as a warning?

    Hmm, well I had not considered that there may be other uses for rationalism, but now that you mention it. How could I have been so blind? The use of rationalism for the purposes of Professional Capture / Prestige / Power is another outcome which I hadn’t previously considered. Yes, I can see that. Now that I contemplate the matter further, the use of the tool is perhaps an act of magic. Or am I off the mark there? Fascinating, and it says much about the times in which the tool came to the fore.

    As some further exploration of the subject, I guess the tool can only prevail if the goodies are delivered? Hmm, and here we are today. They sure did set a rod to beat themselves with, because even Blind Freddy can see that there are diminishing returns and entropy. Yikes! Their fall will be great, sorry to say. It needn’t have been that way. And little wonder the signs of brittleness are there to see.

    Just as a random thought bubble, it is possible that with the health subject which dare not be named, they were given enough rope to hang themselves? That’s a strategy for sure – not that we understand the truth of the matter at this point in time.



  37. Kimberly and Fra’ Lupo, the thing with Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, et al. (celebrity atheists) is that they always resort to base, lame theatrics to throw shade on religion and spirituality, but I can’t see that much of it could be taken seriously by anyone outside of their already-committed fans. I’m actually quite disappointed in Harris. He has supposedly done a lot of traditional Buddhist training in SE Asia, but seems to have come out of it with far less self-awareness than he has any right to. The inability to consider the possibility that he might be wrong also extends to his take on the pandemic: anyone questioning any details of the official story is either misinformed or (his word) a rube, and needs to be straightened out. Utterly PMC in his outlook, but then he is heavily involved in producing the kind of mindfulness training that is being promoted as a panacea amongst them these days.

    I’ve had enough experiences to be satisfied that yes, there are phenomena that match up with what is said about gods; they can reliably be experienced by doing a range of well-known practices with a respectful and inquisitive spirit. Perhaps those types have never been honestly curious and persisted in seeking contact. As JMG has mentioned previously, it is relatively harder to make contact with spirit in this age of Aquarius as well, which may explain why people who try and engage half-heartedly or insincerely don’t get much of a response and conclude there’s nothing there.

  38. Great Khan of Lesser Potlucks, welcome to the Theist Club! We’re happy you joined us.

    My God’s been exceedingly gracious to me lately, hope everyone else’s is, or are, feeling equally benevolent.

  39. Chris, oh, rationalism has its uses! So does a left-handed spokeshaver’s grommet wrench. It’s just that the uses are more limited than some people like to think, and those who insist that they can do anything and everything with said piece of hardware — yeah, it’s an effective way to trip over your own tool. (So to speak.)

    As for the rest of the discussion, I’m going to quietly sit back and grin…

  40. Riffing on Peter Van Erp’s “dancing on the end of a rope”…

    Isn’t the Initiate being “born again”? But that rebirth comes after a death which is the death of the ego. The Hanged Man is upside down to reflect the paradoxes involved in the journey eg. that by “dying” you are reborn and that by realising you (the “I”) are nothing, you somehow become everything (“the self”).

  41. I know this is not the main point here. But as someone who is schooled in modern material science I will note that the standard model of particle physics is 100% on board with the idea that all different substances are fundamentaly made of from a common root, a root that has less in common with “matter” as we think of it in our everyday lives, and more in common with energy. Also the idea that this means that all substances can, in principle, be tranformed into one another.
    There is nothing in the standard model that necessitates a large energy expenditure to do this, it just so happens that this is the only way we know of doing it, and frankly I have a hard time imagining any other way it could be done. But that’s to be expected from the mind of a 21st century engineer.

  42. @ilovemusictheory and @Patrick McEvoy, not to derail the trajectory of this post but: I’ve never been an atheist, but I’m not generally a fan of organized (exoteric) religion, and have scrutinized some of the New Atheist books and arguments. I just cannot get past what I view as the logical impossibility of drawing a positive conclusion from an absence of (purely material) evidence (especially when there is an abundance of immaterial evidence by way of testimonials, scriptures, etc. (CF William James)). As you note, the irony that Harris (a huge fan of Alan Watts, it should be noted, who has some familiarity with Neoplatonism) is now peddling an atheist meditation course based strongly on (presumably) Eastern currents is rich. In the end, as Iamblichus says, our knowledge of the gods is not an assertion to be disputed, but an experience to be had, inherent in our nature and above reason and proof.

    Probably worth noting that while it’s likely possible to take up the path anyplace, not every method is equivalent or equally easy. I guess one could make the journey by way of “A taste of Hawaii: New Cooking from the Crossroads of the Pacific,” it would require some extraordinary diligence. As you say, Harris’s treatment of the possibility is derisive, and anybody with that attitude is unlikely to get far. There’s an interesting line in the Picatrix to the effect of not sharing the work with such folks, as this has a tendency to diminish or eliminate its effects. Seems about right.

  43. Wer here
    i am not here to start a flame war in the comments, I am a devout Catholic and i don’t want this to became a problem. Mainsteram is already so biased agains religious people as it is. But regarding the theme that JMG is discussing about long time. I am not an academic or anything, (ExPeRts in the academia had failed so many times that people are starting to mock them) but if I were a historian in the deindustrial future and looked back at the 1st half of the XX! century AD, I would pin the date 2020 when people openly started rejecting the conventional visdom, COVID and all the abuse ordinary folks like me suffered, experts running a medical experiment on the population etc. People here in Poland already were sceptical about the EU before but after that date people openly started rejecting Brussels and it’s bureaucrats (the recent anti Russian hysteria serves a purpose to desperately rekindle some form of pan euroepan unity were there is none).
    Me and my brother had to work abroad for 3 summers just to help our familly and we recived enough snide comments about “Polskich złodziejach” from our German liberal betters that we became disillusioned about the whole thing. never imagined that this is what the future will hold, i found this blog by chance and hearsay because what we were being told in MSM was simply not true.
    What the Mayans and the Romans must have felt I wonder sometimes.
    Stay safe Wer

  44. Re the Hanged Man: Is he voluntarily self-bound upon a spiritual path, or in the midst of being executed for a crime (perhaps karma or original sin)? Are the falling coins the falling away of something false he no longer values, or something precious he must sacrifice? Is his demeanor resigned with suffering or aglow with wisdom? I think these are false dichotomies, polarities in search of ternaries (which our inverted subject appears to have found). This is the nature of mortal life, as viewed from a position separated from momentary passions.

  45. Princess Cutekitten: egads, is it possible that the two batons that the dancer in The World are actually the two pillars of Jachin and Boaz? Once the Hanged Man voluntary submits to the way of the Middle Pillar, the two forces of Force and Form are now in its possession? I have to admit, that gave me a chill. To dance with someone means that there is always a give and take. A dance with another can never be selfish.

    RandomActsofKarma, thanks for the link! I had ashamedly forgotten about Aaron Cheak and I need to go back to his writings. Coincidentally, last night I found this video of Dan Winter talking about the Golden Mean spiral on a cone. Perhaps you might find it interesting.

    Thanks to everyone here for your comments. I get so much out of your insights.

  46. Wer (no. 48) “Polskich złodziejach” –Polish thieves. (You don’t want to know the *American* stereotype of Poles!)

    Fra’Lupo (no. 47) “especially when there is an abundance of immaterial evidence by way of testimonials, scriptures, etc.”

    It’s not enough to have *abundant* evidence; some of this evidence has to be *good*. Testimonials and scriptures are not good evidence–the Church of the SubGenius boasts both!

    I agree with you on Harris–he seems reluctant to view Buddhism as just another religion (which of course it is), with the usual supernatural traditions. This kind of sui generis rhetoric is associated with “Buddhist modernism” (cf. David McMahan’s “The Making of Buddhist Modernism,” 2008), and more particularly with the Mindfulness movement run by USA-centered lay networks of authors, life coaches, and workshop leaders. One of its principles, for instance, is that Buddhism is uniquely compatible with science, anticipates the findings of modern science, or is a sort of science in its own right! I wish these people would read Evan Thompson’s book “Why I Am Not a Buddhist” (2020) which, as a Buddhist, I thought was excellent, and kept nodding my head in agreement as I read it. On the subject of the New Atheists, my favorite is probably Pascal Boyer, the anthropologist author of “Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought” (2001), but we never see him on TV or anything.

    The whole discussion of “material” vs. “immaterial” reality seems strange to me, since the claims of physicists seem fundamentally different from those of magical / religious types. Nobody expects particle physics to have anything to do with an afterlife, for example. Parapsychology tried to blur that line, but failed to persuade the world at large, and I don’t think the skeptics were being particularly obdurate here.

    Speaking of which, I am following with interest the discussion of the “astral light” (especially in the previous chapter), and wonder whether it is possible to describe it without resorting to metaphor (such as the photic metaphor). I have recently discovered some parallel (Drikung Kagyu) Buddhist discussions along these lines about the mind, which is supremely fluid and proteal and tends to reflect whatever it encounters. One of the advantages of a human rebirth is the possibility of spiritual practice, since the mind is restrained (by karma) to some extent, rather than allowed to dart after, or create, whatever occurs to it (as happens in dreams).

  47. PS. As Jung points out, “matter” was originally as elevated a concept as “spirit,” even though it is now used more dismissively (e.g. by Baha’i authorities call their critics “dogmatic materialists”).

    Some commenters mentioned Jared Diamond. I can recommend “The World Until Yesterday” (2012), in which he generalizes on the basis of his fieldwork in Papua New Guinea. I remember liking the “religion” chapter, for showing how the concept of “religion” is multifaceted and problematic.

  48. @Falk: the “universal wavefunction”? Interesting…

    It seems as though this addresses the point where magic begins to pivot from a form of “interior exegesis” to impacting the material. On Mark Stavish’s blog, coincidentally, he recently reposted an older column dealing in particular with those physical phenomena…


  49. There’s a total eclipse of the moon tonight, visible from most of North America.

  50. A few questions on this chapter..

    Firstly, I’m wondering if it is useful to equate the three ‘chemicals’ to the three magical implements in an earlier chapter (nine I believe).


    Salt = lamp
    Mercury = rod
    Sulphuric = cloak (this doesn’t fit quite as nicely as the first two)

    Secondly, I’m trying to understand better the separation of subtle from dense.. is this similar to the practice of isolating oneself from the currents? I.e. separating what is truly of oneself from the accretions originating in societal and material conditioning?

  51. @ Justin – “That image makes sense if we conceive of the tree as representing the process of manifestation (among many other things). ” Your comment suddenly brought to mind the word of the so-called “plant neurobiologists” who hold that a tree’s roots are its neural network, using the soil as it’s substrate, and which is fully capable of mentation… its branches, on the other hand, bear its sexual parts high in the air… making a tree seem to be upside down to a human.

  52. “wisdom learned from texts, vital energy directed by the will, and skillful efforts guided by relentless practice”

    This is a pretty good description of my clinical life. The texts are always worth going returning to over and over, and reading, studying, learning and meditating on them. The energy directed by the will is the essence of every single needle inserted into a patient – “with intention” as we are instructed, by the classics, to do. And relentless practice is what guides, and increases, skill. And it is the only thing that does.

    And yet, mastery seems to always recede before you, like the horizon, on any journey. You never “master”, you serve.

  53. Hi John Michael,

    Oh! That’s good, and I counted four not usually associated concepts in a very short – and amusingly to the point – sentence. Thanks for the laughs. Any perspective taken to an extreme position, is extreme, and that school of thought denies basic human needs and motivations, always unwise to begin with the proposition: Now let’s assume that… Considering history though, the rationalists did begin their journey with good intentions. The journey unfortunately just hasn’t ended all that well. But no matter, history suggests possible outcomes from here.

    The longer I consider the current card, the more certain I believe that it serves as a warning. The serene face almost devoid of emotion and/or thought and without a care as to present circumstances, is not good. I would not want to pull that card.

    The Gods have decided my fate, and it is to work. Work was called for, work was done. With only five weeks out from the winter solstice, the timber on the new greenhouse needed painting, and the weather Gods threw us two unseasonably warm dry days. It’s raining now. What a crazy couple of years of weather. Hope Spring is more settled in your part of the world?



  54. Hello everybody. I’ve lost my tarot deck and Levi’s book in a recent move I did, but I think there are here in my actual home. JMG, could yo tell me some magical trick to find out them? A lot of anticipated thanks…

  55. Hello Chris at Fernglade,
    I am across the river from JMG, and Spring has been far from “more settled.” A week ago, the high was 15 degrees (F, 8 C.) below average. Saturday it was 15 degrees above average. We had 5 days of heavy gales from the East, whereas we usually get wind from that quadrant (a Nor’easter) for a day from a storm passing by.
    Wind is changing.
    @ Scotlyn:
    “And yet, mastery seems to always recede before you, like the horizon, on any journey. You never “master”, you serve.”
    That is worthy of being hung on the wall to remind me daily. I possess a US Coast Guard Master’s License, which gives me the right to drive a boat with paying passengers. Every time I am at the helm, I am reminded that it is only a piece of plastic, and that I serve the gods of wind and water, and with practice, and more practice, I make fewer and fewer errors.
    So too with the study of Levi.

  56. Hello JMG,
    I found this (rather old) paper that finds parallels from Druidry and Vedic religion; the idea being that Druidry is a descendant, or shares an ancestry w/ Vedic religion. Thought you may like

    Incidentally, I also found (what I thought) was a striking parallel in the book of Isaiah to a common turn of phrase in the Mahabharata.
    The strong man shall become dry like tinder,
    and his work a spark,
    both will burn together,
    with no one to quench the fire.
    – Isaiah 1:31
    Bhishma’s weapons became dry like kindling,
    and his arrows the sparks.
    His chariot became a fire that drenched the kshatriyas,
    that none could restrain.
    – Bishma Vadha Parva. Mahabharata

    Just given how knowledgeable you are I am curious if you have thoughts?

  57. Regarding the parallels between Le Pendu and Le Monde

    I came across this in my reading today:

    “The shaman’s experience of sickness, torture, and death, and regeneration implies, at a higher level, the idea of being made whole through sacrifice, of being changed by transubstantiation and exalted to the pneumatic man; in a word, of apotheosis.

    The Mass is the summation and quintessence of a development which began many thousands of years ago and, with the progressive broadening and deepening of consciousness, gradually made the isolated experience of specifically gifted individuals the common property of a larger group.

    The underlying psychic process remained, of course, hidden from view and was dramatized in the form of suitable “mysteries” and “sacraments,” these being reinforced by religious teachings, exercise, meditations, and acts of sacrifice which plunge the celebrant so deeply into the sphere of the mystery that he is able to become conscious of his intimate connection with the mythic happenings.

    Thus, in ancient Egypt, we see how the experience of “Osirification,” originally the prerogative of the Pharaohs, gradually passed to the aristocracy and finally, towards the end of the Old Kingdom, to the single individual as well.

    Similarly, the mystery religions of the Greeks, originally esoteric and not talked about, broadened out into collective experience, and at the time of the Caesars it was considered a regular sport for Roman tourists to get themselves initiated into foreign mysteries.

    Christianity, after some hesitation, went a step further and made celebration of the mysteries a public institution, for, as we know, it was especially concerned to introduce as many people as possible to the experience of the mystery.

    So, sooner or later, the individual could not fail to become conscious of his own transformation and of the necessary psychological conditions for this…..

    The ground was prepared for the realization that, in the mystery of transubstantiation, it was not so much a question of magical influence as the psychological processes, a realization for which the alchemists had already paved the way by putting their “opus operatum” at least on a level with the ecclesiastical mystery, and even attributing to it a cosmic significance since, by its means, the divine world-soul could be liberated from imprisonment in matter.” C.G. Jung, “Transformation Symbolism in the Mass,” Psychology and Religion.

    It’s interesting that Jung mentions “magical influence” and “psychological process” in the same breath, so to speak.

    To me it seems the Hanged Man represents the shamanic experience of torture and sacrifice, and The World represents the liberation of the World Soul.

    In the Mythic Tarot, The Hanged Man is represented by Prometheus, shown chained to a rock (matter). His torture and sacrifice were payment for bringing the gift of fire (divine spark, spirit) to man. Prometheus was eventually liberated (“Zeus concedente”) by the divine/human hero, Heracles.

  58. I’ve been swept up in the season and planting things, so I’m behind on replying, but I’m learning a lot from the discussion.

    @Justin Patrick Moore: Thank you, I didn’t know about the Society of Cincinnatus and its backstory! The phenomenon is particularly relevant to me at the moment, so I’ve also been thinking about it a lot.

    @erikalopez: It seems so! The art of walking away is certainly something I am currently trying to put into practice, and it could just be that soon I will be able to do so.

  59. #60 chauquin. Somethings lost that can’t be found. St Anthony st Anthony come around.

  60. Jastin (no. 62), I have to wonder about his sources. Other historians indicate that we know rather little about the druid, and even less about their beliefs, despite later interest by romantic nationalists and mystics:

    I tried googling various proper names mentioned in the article (such as the deity “Amarogenos”) and still can’t be sure where these are coming from–Celtic lore, presumably. There are no notes, and only eight books in the bibliography, several of them from Hare Krishna writers who are prone to their own romantic beliefs about (Vedic) antiquity. The most relevant sources seems to be the two books by Christian-Joseph Guyonvarc’h and Françoise Le Roux. Perhaps JMG can give us some idea about these. I searched in vain for reviews of either them or Boutet, and suspect that their audience may be confined to the popular or eccentric presses.

    Here is another, longer piece by Boutet, which gives a better idea of his reasoning:

    In one place, he finds traces of druid lore in a French Canadian folktale. (Boutet is French Canadian.) Again we find lots of Hare Krishna sources, which leads me to suspect that Boutet may be an ISKCON / Gaudiya Vaishnava devotee himself. Again there are books by Guyonvarc’h. Many of the sources are translations of Welsh or Irish lore.

  61. Finally read the chapter this morning and I appreciate your breakdown of the various forms of alchemy. I’ve been wanting to ask “what is alchemy?” for some time now. I do have one question though – is the view of alchemists that can everything be transformed? It would seem that if anything can be transformed into gold, then also there is one thing out there that can not be transformed at all. Or am I thinking there is balance in the universe where there is not?

    I look forward to each chapter and your breakdown of it. For the last 3 chapters I read the chapter first, then your post, and then back to the chapter again. I’m finding I’m “getting” Levi a bit more each month. In the beginning I had to read your post, then the chapter several times in order to make any sense of it. It seems like the chapters are getting easier with more stories and longer examples, less metaphor and allusions.

    Thank you for doing this!

  62. Celadon #65. Thank you, I will trust in St Anthony, as (un-orthodox) Christian I am.

  63. Falk, thanks for this. I suspect, for what it’s worth, that the alchemists had figured out some other way of turning certain metals into silver or gold — something slow and intricate involving steady heat and some other factor (the “secret fire”) which may have been electricity from simple metal-acid batteries. Interestingly, the traditional literature suggests that there are sharp limits of scale to the process — it’s much easier to do with small amounts than with large ones. I have no idea how that works, but it’s another data point.

    Wer, you’re far from the only Catholic who posts here, so no need to worry — your religion may not be mine but I don’t tolerate anybody bashing anybody else. (And anyone who tries to start a flamewar will get three barrels of cheap stale alcohol-free beer dumped onto their head.) You may well be right about 2020. As for “Polskich złodziejach,” it’s an odd detail of cultural history that you get exactly that rhetoric over and over again in countries that like to invade and conquer other countries, directed toward their victims. “Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief” was (for all I know, still is) a common children’s rhyme in England, which (in the usual English fashion) conquered Wales and stripped it of every scrap of wealth.

    Walt, that’s easily a week of good meditation fodder.

    Your Kittenship, did you have the chance to see it?

    Paul, (1) you could certainly make that equation. Symbols are flexible that way. (2) Hmm! That’s also a comparison that would work. More generally, though, I tend to think of this as learning the difference between material things (the dense) and the emotions and ideas we apply to them (the subtle).

    Scotlyn, nicely put.

    Chris, it was partly inspired by a bit in a Flanders and Swann musical-comedy routine, in which a Northumbrian spokeshaver’s coracle was painted in alternating stripes of telephone black and white white and hung on the wall as a guitar cozy for parties. “♪Oh, we’re terribly House and Garden, in Number Seventeen!♪” As for spring, it’s been pretty mixed, as the Great Khan says.

    Jastin, thanks for this. There was a fair amount of interest in parallels between Vedic and Celtic traditions in the Druid scene some years back, but I never heard what came of it. As for the parallel between Isaiah and the Mahabharata, that’s not hard to explain. Back in the days when all these traditions were transmitted orally, colorful metaphors, figures of speech, and story elements passed from one reciter to another, and sometimes ended up in very unexpected places. Not that far north and east of the Hebrew kingdoms was a much larger nation, the Mitanni, who worshipped the Vedic gods — that was documented from their writings a long time ago — so it’s quite possible that early versions of the Mahabharata were in circulation there, and some Hebrew reciter (or possibly Isaiah himself) heard the metaphor, liked it, and used it.

    Denis, delighted to hear it. As for the definition of alchemy, that’s a challenging one. Albert Reidel, who (as “Frater Albertus”) played a huge role in launching the contemporary revival of alchemy, defined it as “the raising of vibrations.” It’s a good question whether everything can be transformed by alchemy, and the only possible answer is “we don’t know yet;” what matters for now is that we can be so transformed.

  64. JMG, it was mostly cloudy but we did get a few glimpses. Here, the moon didn’t look particularly red but you could see the shadow of the earth like in any eclipse.

  65. We’ve had a lively discussion about the Hanged Man and his sort-of mirror image, the World Dancer. I just pulled her for tomorrow. Should I buy a Powerball ticket? ☺️❓

  66. JMG: I have been ignoring these posts. I imagined they didn’t offer anything for me. But I just found the audiobook version of this book and your introduction told me something I already knew. It will probably take me a while to catch up.

  67. #71

    I have the Knapp-Hall deck, and I find it better mirrors Le Bateleur.
    In this deck, Le Pendu looks like a younger Bateleur in a simpler shirt; an apprentice, perhaps.
    Also, the (bad) Lamed character looks like it could be turned into an Alef by turning it upside-down and
    stretching it out on a rack; that, again, reminded me of how Le Bateleur’s left leg and back look like they’ve been stretched out.

    It also brought to mind the Mercury-Neptune polarity JMG mentions in his new Pluto book. That would have never been thought of at the time the deck was created, but it shows the power of this collection of images.

  68. In chapter 11, I wrote about not being able to believe that the astral light could become physical and affect the material world. I suggested that the better metaphor was the permeability of minds.

    I think now that permeability is the right word, but that both our minds and hearts are permeable, so that we are both astrally and spiritually permeable. Both ideas and feelings flow so freely between us that it is as if the community thinks and feels as a whole.

    Which means that if we are to think new thoughts or feel new feelings, then we have to separate ourselves from others (Hermit and coagula). But new thought and feelings are meaningless unless shared, so that they can become part of the community. The community will not listen to a person by themselves, so they have to amplify their ideas and feelings by creating a counter-community (the magical chain and Hanged Man?) which begins broadcasting the new thoughts and feelings.

Comments are closed.