Book Club Post

The Doctrine of High Magic: Chapter 18

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 18: Potions and Spells” (Greer & Mikituk, pp. 159-167).


When people who don’t know anything about magic discuss magic, the title of this chapter sums up most of what they talk about—well, so long as they don’t go veering off into gossip about ritual orgies and devil worship, that is. There’s a reason for the fixation, of course.  For a good many centuries, if you lived in the European countryside, the wise woman in the little cottage at the far end of the village or the cunning man who had a little hut in the woods used herbal concoctions and verbal spells as the core elements of their stock in trade, and if you went to the equivalent figure in the older parts of the United States, the local hoodoo doctor or Pennsylvania Dutch braucher, you could expect to get much the same thing. A few strange leaves steeped in water, a few strange words murmured over the cup: that’s not all of folk magic, to be sure, but it accounts for quite a large fraction of the total.

In mid-19th century France, however, when Eliphas Lévi picked up his pen, a far more sinister use of herbal potions had a pervasive presence in the popular imagination, and that’s what our chapter starts with. Herbal poisons are of course a reality, and yes, practitioners of folk magic normally knew the nature, properties, and use of the vegetable poisons that grew in their area. Partly that’s because most folk magicians are also healers, providing what health care rural communities could expect back in the day, and most poisons are simply medicines given to the wrong person in too strong a dose; partly, if you’re an herbalist and you don’t know which local plants can hurt you, you really should turn in your certificate and get your box tops back.

But it’s also true that in the days before effective laboratory tests for poisons, poisoning was a very common and relatively safe means of murder, and if you wanted to do in some inconvenient person, finding an unscrupulous folk magician was one way to get the necessary substance. That was fairly common back then—a detail which authors of medieval mystery novels these days have noticed, and used to good effect—and it played a very large role in giving folk mages the reputation they had. Many medieval law codes punished convicted poisoners with death by burning, whether or not their nasty habits had any connection with magic at all.

There was also another, harsher reason why mages at all levels of society needed to know how to use poisons. Practitioners of magic routinely had to cope with monarchs and aristocrats who demanded the impossible and wouldn’t take no for an answer, and poison offered an effective counter. There’s a fine old Taoist recipe for the elixir of immortality, for example, which Taoist magicians and alchemists in China had ready to hand if they ended up imprisoned by an emperor or a powerful mandarin who wanted to live forever. It was a complex product including a great deal of mercury, and it was made into little pills to be taken one each day. It’s a curious detail of heavy metal poisoning that it makes you feel healthy and energetic—at first. It also guarantees that you body won’t decay, and any sufficiently fast-talking Taoist could explain to the family of the dear departed that this showed that the person in question had become an immortal spirit.

As Lévi points out, there are European magical and alchemical texts that have comparable recipes, concealed under various cover stories to fool the incautious . There were also more robust means to the same end. I have an alchemical recipe in my collection that claims to make the philosopher’s stone, which can turn lead into gold. What it actually makes is several ounces of highly unstable gold fulminate, which the would-be alchemist is instructed to pound up in a mortar. One tap with the pestle and the alchemist and his laboratory will be blown to smithereens.  I don’t recommend trying this, but it was doubtless a useful thing to hand to a greedy nobleman who threatened your life if you didn’t tell him how to manufacture gold.

Another factor, however, made Lévi give so much time to poisons in this chapter.  In his time, it was a common belief that sinister secret societies pervaded European society.  These societies weren’t thought to be all in cahoots with each other, the way today’s conspiracy theories tend to portray things today. In the popular culture of Lévi’s time, there were supposed to be liberal secret societies, conservative secret societies, radical secret societies, and reactionary secret societies, all fighting one another tooth and nail in an unending quest for power.  The dagger in the back and the poisoned cup were believed to be common weapons in this war—and so, among those who believed in the occult sciences, was magic.

Now it’s worth mentioning that there were in fact quite a few secret societies in Europe at that time, they occupied nearly every imaginable point on the political spectrum, and they fought each other from time to time.  The history of Italy in the 19th century is incomprehensible if you don’t pay attention to the massive role that the Carbonari and other Italian secret societies played  in the creation of Italian nationalism and the struggle to unite the Italian peninsula into a single nation; the history of Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries took the course it did in part because of the struggles between the Strict Observance and the Order of the Gold and Rosy Cross; and Russian secret societies were an ongoing challenge to the government of the Tsars until one of them seized power in 1917 and put an end to the Tsarist regime. Then there’s the immense role that Masonry and other secret societies played in launching the American revolution in 1775 or the Latin American revolutions of the early 19th century.

Lévi was’t simply shoveling smoke in this chapter, in other words. He was speaking to a widespread if somewhat exaggerated concern about the role of secret societies in European culture of the time, and linking his vision of magic with that concern.  His insights go deeper than today’s conspiracy culture, however, because he understood the supreme secret of the secret societies. Whisper this: people form secret societies to support their political causes only when they don’t have the numbers or the resources to pursue other methods.

The Italian Carbonari are as good an example as any. They were founded right after the French armies under Napoleon conquered Italy in 1801. None of the little nations into which Italy was divided in those days had the strength to rise up and throw the French out by sheer military force; all of them together couldn’t have managed it.  Subversion, espionage, and assassination? That they could do, and did.  Once Napoleon was defeated and the last French armies were driven out of Italy, they turned their attention to their own corrupt rulers, and finally succeeded in getting rid of them and creating a single Italian nation. Meanwhile people in other European countries organized Carbonaro chapters of their own, and used them to frighten monarchs across Europe into granting civil rights and constitutional governments to their subjects.

You’ll find the same trajectory at work in the American Revolution. It was organized by two secret societies, the Committees of Correspondence and the Sons of Liberty—the first, as my American readers might remember from history class, organized the legal resistance to abuses of power by the British government, while the second gathered armaments and prepared for war. As long as they were small, inadequately funded, and didn’t yet have an army in the field, they stayed strictly secret. Once the shooting started they dropped the mask of secrecy and turned into the Continental Congress and the Continental Army respectively.  Yes, Congress and the United States Army both started out as secret societies. (The United States Navy started out as a gaggle of pirates, but that’s another story entirely.)

All this history is part of the background for this chapter in our text. In 1854 France was under the autocratic rule of Napoleon III, the nephew of the Napoleon you’ve heard of, who’d gotten himself elected president of the French Republic and then staged a coup to put himself on his uncle’s throne. Inevitably, there were secret societies of half a dozen kinds hard at work trying to destabilize the new regime. Novels of the time were accordingly full of references to secret societies and their plots, and plenty of people in Lévi’s readership had firsthand knowledge of secret societies—a good many people belonged to at least one.

Lévi doesn’t seem to have been active in the political secret societies of the time, though he was a Freemason for a while.  He did do jail time for publishing a book, The Testament of Liberty, which was considered subversive by the official censors of the imperial regime. (The only reason he wasn’t banned from Twitter and Facebook is that those hadn’t been invented yet.) By the time he penned our text, however, he had moved away from politics to work with subtler and more personal forms of power. The lurid details of the first half of this chapter are meant to lead to that other realm of power, which the second half of the chapter explores.

There are poisons of the mind as well as poisons of the body.  The folk magicians of medieval Europe who went in for harmful magic, like their equivalents in every other place and time, knew that fear can be as lethal as any chemical poison. “Once the imagination is struck,” says our text, “once the nervous system is attacked, the victim perishes quickly, and the terror of his friends and family complete his perdition”—as neat a description of the nocebo effect, the placebo effect’s nasty twin sister, as one could hope for.

Vulnerability to this effect varies from person to person, and one of the things that makes it vary is the presence or absence of superstition. That word, by the way, doesn’t mean “a belief in which the officially approved authorities of mainstream culture don’t approve.” It has a much more precise meaning, as Lévi knew. In Latin statio, the root of words such as “station” and “static,” means “stand,” and super is a prefix meaning “over.”  Superstitio means something that stands over from a previous time. In Lévi’s sense, it is a practice or a symbol that remains behind when its meaning has been lost: “It is the sign which survives thought,” our text says; “it is the cadaver of religious practice”—and it is also a source of tremendous vulnerability.

Though Lévi doesn’t mention this, a useful hint is found in all those fairy tales where a spirit or an elf can control human destinies so long as nobody knows its name. Rumpelstiltskin is a classic example of the type. The girl who goes to the elf for help, having been commanded to spin straw into gold, ends up in the elf’s power. She can break its power once she knows its name. It’s a fine instructional tale for the budding mage:  know the inmost secret name of the power you have invoked, and you can use it; otherwise, it uses you. Nor is the name in question just a matter of letters or sounds. What is the inner meaning of the symbol?  That’s what Lévi is telling you to ask.

Most of the surviving lore of magic consists of superstitions in this precise sense: symbols whose meaning has been lost, forms waiting for their proper force, substance detached from essence. The talismans, pentacles, and emblematic diagrams of traditional occultism, which our text discusses in this chapter’s last paragraphs, are very often examples of this. Traditional occult symbols of all kinds have been designed to express entire constellations of meaning, and in that meaning is their power.

Understand even a small portion of that meaning and an equivalent portion of the power is yours to use, but what you don’t understand continues to have an effect on you whether you know it or not. Thus the importance of discursive and conceptual meditation in occult study, for it is by unpacking the meanings in occult diagrams, pentacles, and talismans that the leaden weight of superstition is transmuted into the pure solar gold of wisdom.

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 XVIII, “La Lune.”  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 צ (Tsaddi) or the Latin letter S. 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 through fifth sessions are devoted to the titles Lévi gives for the card: Justitia, Mysterium, and Canes. Sit down, get out the card, and study it. How does Justitia, “justice,” relate to the imagery on the card and the letter you’ve chosen?  That’s one session.  How about Mysterium, “mystery”?  How about Canes, “dogs”?   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 18 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 19:  The Stone of the Philosophers, Elagabalus,” on December 14, 2022. See you then!


  1. Is that a lobster, or a crawdad, like in the movie? (I just like this listing because of the interesting misspell, and the theatre logo).

    I assumed crawdad, because lobsters are only red after they’ve been cooked, but so many people don’t know that.

  2. Pixelated, iirc it’s generally considered to be a crayfish aka crawdad. Scholarly sources claim it was originally supposed to be a crab, because Cancer is the sign the Moon rules, but I’ve never seen an old deck that had anything approximating a crab — it’s always a crayfish or lobster, if it appears at all. (The oldest decks don’t have any shellfish on display.)

  3. “…was often forced to execute his own sentence.” This quickly brings Socrates to mind, especially when filtered through the interpretations of Leo Strauss. Of course Strauss was no stranger to the works of a certain Renaissance-era Italian.

  4. Yes. Medieval murder mysteries. Margaret Fraser’s Sister Frevisse series makes very good use of this knowledge in several ways. As far as I can tell, Fraser does her research, and is adamant about knocking down the Victorian superstitions about the period.

    One of her tales has the village herbwife, who has a violent and choleric husband, accused to killing him with a spell she flung at him at random when under severe attack. Enter the corrupt Crowner (coroner), who always grabs the easiest answer and will hear no other – who, even when the herbwife blurts out that her spell was one to loosen the bowels – insists on taking her to be hanged as a witch. But … if she’s a witch, she can vanish into thin air, can’t she? After casting a spell over her guards, and then the devil flies off with her…..every last villager will swear to this. Oops!

    Another, much earlier, has a woman poisoned by what could be an herb hard to come by…. except that henbane was also growing along the road.

  5. Huh, wow, the thought that “knowing the true name” of occult symbols/forces is understanding it deeply, and that if you don’t, it has power over you, is a further key to how powerful discursive meditation is. I’m gonna have to chew on that one awhile.

    Further, that leads me to assume that the lore around being able to bind demons by knowing their names is a corruption of the idea that if you truly understand them, they have no hold over you. I’m going to have to mull that one over as well for my homebrew D&D setting.


  6. A timely card to be discussing, given that we’ve just had a lunar eclipse in Scorpio, and on election day…Not a good omen IMO…

  7. Hi John Michael,

    Man, far freakin’ out. The poisons of the mind have been heavily utilised of late. And I mean that literally. Sadly, I agree with Lévi’s insights, in that the usage displays a really weak hand. It’s not good, but it is also in some ways a fine joke, where the elites have sown the seeds of their fall – the blow-back from this will be immense. It needn’t have been this way, and I do wonder if Lévi understood this dimension of the use of poison, thus his refocus on the more personal? Dunno.



  8. I’d like to ask about something that’s been bugging me for several months now. Levi will state that each number implies the next higher number. For example, the binary must lead to the ternary and the ternary must lead to the quaternary. But shouldn’t this process continue forever? Shouldn’t each number have a quality to it? This seems logical, but impossible at the same time.

    Is this why we reduce numbers to a single digit? Does, for example, the number 471 have the essence of the number 3?

  9. The medieval kings and queens didn’t have TV, but they had something better – the court Fool. The only one, sometimes, who could bring home unpleasant truths in a palatable package. Case in point: Edward IV’s jester, surrounded by in-laws caned Woodville and Rivers, came to court wearing hip-high waders. When asked what that meant, he answered “It’s because the rivers are so high now.”

  10. Phutatorius, that was quite common in classical times: condemned criminals were expected to kill themselves — and a great many of them did so. It shows a very different consciousness than ours!

    Patricia M, interesting. I wasn’t familiar with those, though of course I’ve read my share of Brother Cadfael mysteries.

    Jeff, good. Very good. Yes, exactly.

    Pyrrhus, no, not a good omen at all, though it could have been much worse. Given the other aspects at the time, we can expect six months or so of stasis and frustration, coupled with a whopping foreign policy crisis the US is hopelessly unprepared to solve.

    Chris, I’m pretty sure he did.

    Jon, keep in mind that all this number-stuff is symbolism: “meant to train the mind, not to inform it,” to quote a certain other occult author. Lévi’s system runs from 1 to 9 and then rolls over, with 10 becoming 1 and starting the cycle again. There are other ways to do it, with other number patterns.

    Martin, that is to say, they had court fools, not court drooling morons.

    Patricia M, thanks for this! Somebody ought to go through the annals of medieval kings and make a collection of the wit and wisdom of court fools…

  11. This gives a nice way to critique the modern education system. As proper (esoteric) instruction does not scale, all schools can do is teach abstractions. But those become, by default, superstition. The effect is worse in high school because primary school at least teaches (or should teach) real skills likes reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Thus, high schools and universities can’t help but become indoctrination (superstition) camps. I guess it’s lucky that most students quickly forget what they learn anyway.

  12. @JMG – extremely OT: and offlist. FYI re last week’s post – new data

    Jean Lamb emailed me “That’s out of date about SFWA. If you can prove you’ve made So Much $ publishing books independently, you can too join SFWA. My third qualifying sale was to a little known venue, but they paid a nickel a word and that was good enough for them.”

  13. Simon, yep. I’ll have quite a bit to say about that next week.

    Patricia M, they recently changed their requirements; I noted in my post that the last time I visited their website, they’d said they were going to do that, and I was dubious about whether it would amount to much. I’m pleased to see that at least in theory, the leopard has changed its spots — though since they spent so long with a much more restricted membership policy, I’m left wondering if they’re having trouble getting members or something. Still, I’ll give ’em a look.

  14. Wer here
    I am asking about these secret societies. I mean my only information on them are conspiracy theories that people keep regurgitating on ythe net and beetween themselfs. As for a symbol that had lost it all meaning and it is now like a zombie throting around, do you think a lot of the mess that is happening right now it is the result of poeple in high places keep insisting that something has meaning but the populace knows that it has lost all of it. (on a separate note from the main discusion of this post the Mid terms completely corrupte election ended in you know what I knew it would happen and now it seems chaos is underway)

  15. “It’s a curious detail of heavy metal poisoning that it makes you feel healthy and energetic—at first. It also guarantees that you body won’t decay, and any sufficiently fast-talking Taoist could explain to the family of the dear departed that this showed that the person in question had become an immortal spirit.”

    Very cunning, these Chinese Taoists. By the way, I’ve read somewhere I can’t remember that mercury was used before antibiotics…for “healing” syphilis. I supposse Syphilitics felt healthy and energetic too first…

  16. I have been reading some interpretations of the Zodiac and one of the themes was that chimeras (such as Centaurs) represent evolutions or transformations (such as, material body growing toward mind). The Crab, living on land and sea, also can represent that, since he can move from earth to water. The Crayfish (from what I’ve found online), though it can survive on land for short periods, can stay in the water all the time. (And I know that there are some crabs that do, too, but some don’t.) Perhaps they use the Crayfish because they usually aren’t on land, so having the Crayfish depicted as coming on land is a bigger deal than if they used a crab?

    The rest of the card, I still see in terms of Alchemy. Two paths (coming from the viewer, around the pond) meet where the dog and wolf are. The Mind (wolf) and Soul (dog) have escaped their Towers and are uniting on one path (and the Crayfish (spirit) is joining the party), toward the Light. Perhaps this card signifies that the Initiation is complete?

    This card also makes me wonder about the nocturnal Sun. Apollo is the god of the Diurnal Sun, which heats and dries the Earth. Dionysus is the god of the Nocturnal Sun, which moistens the Earth with exhalations (precipitation) (dew). So is the Moon the Nocturnal Sun? Or does the Moon reflect the Nocturnal Sun?

  17. The finding of a true name is rendered even more difficult by the limitations of language, which is already so referential. The use of metaphor is itself a way of being open about this referential quality of language, whereas the abstract and precise language used nowadays, if one isn’t careful, obscures this quality under an illusion of specificity. Would it be too neat to paraphrase the Daodejing and say “The True Name that can be spoken of is not the true True Name?”

    Which in turn reminds me: isn’t there a saying in occultism about a finger pointing at the moon that relates to this? I can’t remember the exact quote or where it’s from, but if I remember it correctly it’s certainly appropriate for this Tarot card.

  18. I can’t remember where I picked up the idea that “howling at the moon” was basically a self indulgent exercise when you don’t get your way, but that was what occurred to me after some thought about this mysterious card. It seems to relate to the futility of talismans (like face masks) when they become an object of superstition. People using such talismans are basically “howling at the moon” because all they got were drops of blood, not drops of life energy or water from the moon. They don’t understand the true meaning of the talisman and it in turn poisons them.

  19. @JMG – Kristine Kathryn Rusch has been having a series of posts on the state of the writing and publishing industry. Jean Lamb sent me a link to the latest. Ms. Rusch mentions the anti-trust suit the Department of Justice brought against Penguin Random House, and the enormous amount of dirty laundry that came out in that wash.

  20. Wer here
    JMG can you see an modern secret society not like the movie illuminati but something more nianced like the ones you described taking power in the Western world after this rubble stops bouncing? Because it seems that Us politics will be in a gridlock for some time now…
    I have a sincere question about recent events and how does it corelate with your predictions ” Waiting for the fall” do you still find this sound or something that is happening?
    I know that this is off topic compared to the current discusion but I want to talk more about the role of symbols in the political process “The king in Orange” prehaps/???

  21. jcbucks #18 There is a very old Zen phrase that goes ” Do not mistake the finger pointing at the Moon for the Moon itself”
    As far as the canines, one is a usually a hunting hound, the other a wolf. For people in the eastern US where there are virtually no wild wolves, I’d suggest a coyote, which are all over. I even saw a pair across the Potomac from Washington DC, in 1969. Here at the beach, they loll about on the sand.
    Ive felt for along time that so many of the fears we have of the moon is that it is so FEMALE!!! All aspects of a woman. One sign of this fear is how the powerful names Moon Dark, or Dark Of The Moon have become the powerless name of “New Moon” Try using “Moon Dark” in meditations, and talking about the phases. Interesting things may happen

  22. On the Rider-Waite deck I always thought the little creature at the bottom was a scorpion -and indeed had some visionary-magical experiences as such in the past.

    On the Knapp-Hall deck it does look much more like a lobster. So I’m thinking this must have been Gerard de Nerval’s favorite card in the tarot.

    As he wrote of having a pet lobster, “Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog? …or a cat, or a gazelle, or a lion, or any other animal that one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea, they don’t bark, and they don’t gnaw upon one’s monadic privacy like dogs do. And Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn’t mad.”

    Of course Nerval liked lobsters and had more than a touch of luna-sea.

    Otherwise, a fascinating chapter. Thanks for your commentary, and the information on the secret societies of the era, and what they were up to.

    The bit on superstition, likewise, is the stuff of fascination. Superstition as an over-station, something carried over… much food for meditation.

  23. As a native Louisianian, I feel compelled to weigh in on the strange creature emerging from the mire. The people who eat them use the term crawfish 😉 but like lobsters, they’re also brown before cooking. The red may be fire, or naivety from the original artist. So while I can’t tell which one they intended, I’ve always preferred it to be a crawfish.

  24. I see the phenomenon Levi is talking all around me. Not only people don’t know the true name they don’t know that they don’t know. The opposite is true. It looks to me that people go out of their way to misname the source of the problem and their unease about it. Just recently, the problem was named Trump with countless t-shirts NOT MY PRESIDENT for sale. Soon after the problem morphed into covid-19 with the corresponding baseless superstition SAFE AND EFFECTIVE. Now the problem is Putin and people who a couple of years ago couldn’t find Ukraine on the map to save their lives drive around with a bumper sticker F#$% PUTIN.

  25. Wer, if you can get a copy, my book The Conspiracy Book provides a helpful overview. As for the gap between the ruling classes and the rest of us, yes, exactly.

    Chuaquin, actually, you can cure syphilis with very carefully measured doses of certain mercury or arsenic compounds. The patient has to be under close medical supervision for two years, because the dose has to be low enough not to cause health problems, but the spirochetes that cause syphilis are very sensitive to heavy metals and will die of concentrations that won’t harm the host seriously. Since the alternative was horrible illness ending in death, plenty of people used that back before antibiotics — and it may be necessary to go back to it once antibiotic resistance spreads far enough.

    Random, you’re not the only one to see alchemy in this card. Many thanks for the meditation!

    Jbucks, the saying’s from Zen Buddhism. Scriptures and teachings, it suggests, are like fingers pointing at the moon. Too many people spend all their time staring at the finger and forget to look where it’s pointing.

    Kay, hmm! I like that.

    Patricia M, thanks for this.

    Wer, when a secret society takes power it stops being secret. I could see people organizing for the future using the secret society template. As for your other two questions, perhaps you could save those for the upcoming open post, because, yeah, they’re off topic for this one.

    Marlena, er, were you aware that in many mythologies, the Sun is female and the Moon is male? That’s true in Japanese mythology, for example, and in Germanic and Norse mythologies.

    Justin, somebody ought to do a French Decadent tarot, with de Nerval walking his lobster beneath a full moon on this card!

    Kyle, so noted. I’m not sure if that’s true of the European crayfish, however.

    Kirsten, excellent! Yes, exactly. It’s all superstition…

  26. JMG#26:
    I had no idea that syphilis spiroquetes were so sensitive to mercury! Thank you for your nuance to my comment…

  27. JMG, why yes I am. I do think that if those few that are that way would notice a change if they went back to Moon Dark, rather than “New Moon” if they use that term. And my Coyote will filch their Lobsta, too!

  28. A few thoughts…

    I once read that the crustacean on Trump 18 represents our primordial consciousness, our emotional sheath, or the ancient wisdom that we inherit through our evolution (it stands in for a sea ancestor, I think). Perhaps this offers some meditative fodder for those of you thusly interested.

    On superstition, does this mean that if one finds the source and meaning behind the dead symbol of a superstition, one could either revive it’s power (for themselves, at the very least) or re-present that with a new symbol? In other words, would this not, metaphorically, be a resurrection or raising from the dead?

    I see [at least] a double issue here: some superstitions have lost the connection between the thing they symbolize and the symbol, and thus die that way (staring at the finger and forgetting the moon is an example, or folkloric practices that have long lost any purposeful connection with their origin – such as knocking on wood). Others have been designed from the start to point to the wrong thing, de-fusing their power (Kirsten’s examples are indicative here). The former seem resurrectable in a sense (it could easily be that one knocks on wood as the action to confirm a magical act, for instance); the latter seem fully corrupted because they never really had a proper connection to begin with, and might even be used as a nose-ring to drag the unwary around by people who can manipulate the relationship between symbol and symbolized.

    On the Wirth deck, one of the towers has a lit window, the other does not. This reminds me of signalling across distances (and thus communicating via the moon, a la Weird of Hali series).

  29. Just a couple thoughts / questions on this chapter..

    In an earlier chapter, the toad was mentioned as a protective creature that absorbs malign influences. In this chapter, the toad is grotesquely tortured to manufacture a deadly poison. My interpretation is that the toad has limits to its ability to absorb the malign influences – at high concentration it becomes poisonous. When subsequently the sorcerer is compared to a bloated toad, does this imply that similarly one becomes corrupted not in spite of but through one’s nominally positive attributes?

    Regarding the fateful dinner (which I believe is also included in the novel Zononi) , there seems to be a hazy equation between profane initiates and revolution. Similarly, in Wirth’s chapter on Arcane XVIII, he mentions that the black hound “screams against the revolutionaries”. Is this just a French thing, or is there an occult dimension to revolution being referenced here?

  30. Hi John Michael,

    Spotted a toad last night. The frogs and co. are having a seriously fun time of it these past few years. It’s nice that nature is lending a hand, in more ways than one, but then that implies obligations on my part.


    And interestingly, the big long wet continues… Spring tracking to become the wettest on record for southeast Australia as wet weekend predicted

    Training the mind, huh? Mate, you’ve been busy this past decade and a half on that project. Thanks!



  31. Barnes & Noble has The Conspiracy Book. So does Books-A-Million, and of course the Evil Empire of Etailing. Kobo has it in Epub formt.

  32. Random Acts of Karma,

    Thanks for the alchemy symbolism! With regards to the initiation being complete, are you referring to JMG’s comment last month about the Star?

    “… one of the things that the Star can represent is the process of initiation, which follows the collapse of the conventional wisdom (the Tower) and is followed by the long process of occult training (the Moon), ending in illumination (the Sun). Pledges of silence are a core element of initiation rituals, for an assortment of good reasons.”

    JMG, your explanation of Levi’s chapter helps me understand the reason for using the Moon card. In divination it can mean illusion, among other things, but superstition is a form of illusion. As Jeff pointed out, discursive meditation penetrates the illusion, too.

    On another topic, is it possible that the two towers represent the Pillars of Mercy and Severity? The Moon is in between the towers, just like Yesod, which is represented by the Moon, and it is harmonizing the two sides. The Moon is said to harmonize all of the planets before they reach us here on Earth. There are 14 yods falling from the sky, I think, which can represent Temperance, or the harmonizing of opposites. (There might be a 15th yod on the road, but I’m not sure.)

    The Pillar of Mercy can be the North Node, which grows and expands, while the Pillar of Severity can be the South Node, which constricts. The Crab is leaving the unconscious and beginning its long, evolutionary journey along the road and learning the Middle Path between the two pillars.

    The Moon on the Knapp-Hall also looks like it’s eclipsing the sun. And the shield might mean the Lamp of Knowledge or the process of occult study.

    So much to think about.

  33. Oddly enough on the Marseille tarot I have the two buildings look like a castle keep on the left and a classical temple on the right, which makes me think of the temporal-spiritual divide and by association the boundary of perception.

  34. @Jon G,

    I wasn’t intentionally thinking of JMG’s comment re: initiation, but it fits. What I was thinking was the alchemy process a la the Eleusinian Mysteries. Based on what I’ve read, there are two ‘levels’ of the Mysteries, the Lesser and the Greater. The Lesser Mysteries were about turning lead to silver, silver being the perfect reflector. (And if someone purified themselves to silver, they could perfectly reflect (and perceive?) the Astral Light without distortion.) The Moon is symbolized with silver, because it reflects the light of the Sun. Once an Initiate has completed the Lesser Mysteries, they could be invited to learn the Greater Mysteries, which is transforming the silver to gold (ie, uniting with the Sun/Astral Light). So, on the card, walking on the single (united) path toward the Sun. (This is based on my readings so far. I still have lots more to read, so take my interpretation with a grain of salt. 🙂 )

    Re: the Moon eclipsing the Sun… another way of looking at it is showing the three main phases of the Moon (the ‘face’ being a quarter moon, the crescent being a crescent, and the full circle being the full moon). There are some aspects to seeing it as eclipsing that I like (you need the Moon to be able to see the Sun, but then you can only see the corona) (ha! the Crown! ok, another meditation to do…), but are all eclipses malefic? There has been much talk about the recent lunar eclipse and that it is malefic; I don’t know if solar eclipses are considered malefic as well.

    I like your idea of the shield being the Lamp of Knowledge. @Kyle had mentioned that maybe the crawfish is red to represent fire, so the fiery crawfish is in the water. Fire and water make steam (or breath… spirit), so the lamp (to me) looks like a yonic cup (Understanding) with a yod flame (Wisdom), which we can hold (the hand holding the lamp) as Knowledge.

    And thank you for your insights re: the Towers and the Pillars. More to ponder…

    @Lavender Ludicrous Pelican,

    For the crustacean as a primordial consciousness or ancient wisdom, would that mean the part of us that exists from incarnation to incarnation?

    @Justin Patrick Moore,

    I think there is value in seeing the crustacean as a scorpion. I have read that Scorpio has multiple symbols, the scorpion being the ‘lowest’ and as the Initiate progresses, the symbol changes to a snake (Knowledge, which ties in neatly with Jon G’s comments), and then an Eagle (to unite with the Sun). I think of scorpions as desert creatures, though. Hmm… that’s something to meditate on, too… (and LOL on ‘luna-sea’!)


    Levi says “Only the adepts, neutralized by one another, could not exercise its power to dominate others, or to deliver themselves” because the theory had been unmasked. Not being able to dominate others makes sense… just like if you know what marketing/advertisers are trying to do, it is less effective. But why would others knowing the theory keep adepts from improving themselves? (Or is that not what “deliver themselves” means?)

  35. Pg. 163 of the Greer / Mikituk translation of Levi’s Doctrine and Ritual pertains to this comment.

    @Paul Gunn

    My thought on your question “When subsequently the sorcerer is compared to a bloated toad, does this imply that similarly one becomes corrupted not in spite of but through one’s nominally positive attributes?”

    If I am interpreting our question properly I note that throughout the book Levi differentiates between mages / magicians and sorcerers / witches (see Chapter 1, last sentence on pg. 30). I think the bloated toad analogy pertains to sorcerers & witches and even though “too much of a good thing” is a thing, don’t think that one can become corrupted by too many positive attributes.

  36. Pg. 163 of the Greer / Mikituk translation of Levi’s Doctrine and Ritual pertains to this comment.

    I wonder why it is necessary or why the agenda behind Porta listing the torture of a toad, vipers and asps?

    Elsewhere in this book club series I discovered that the reason behind atrocities in evil rituals is that it is an effective method / shortcut in concentration of the mind when practicing magic. Maybe this torture is part of establishing an evil intent or it could be a trick played by Portia or whatever evil entity that inspired him, upon those trying to create this poison. That is, something unnecessary to the effectiveness of the potion but something guaranteed to help send the potion maker down a dark path.

    The aspect of evil I don’t want to dwell on too much but I would like to think about the equivalent for good, let’s say an elixir to cure someone with zero bad intent on part of the maker. I guess some act of charity or compassion in acquiring some ingredient?

    On Dreamwidth Ecosophia site I saw a discussion concerning someone that may be a bona fide saint who had always shown extreme compassion to animals and instead of the effective shortcuts provided by evil practices, a lifetime of good intent will make any potion created more effective.

  37. From my quick meditation on tzaddi:

    The hebrew word means fish hook and is related to hunter, lying in wait, etc. Made me think that what we are unconscious of lies in wait to hook us. But if we become conscious, we can lie in wait to hook those images and habits of the unconscious, and see them for what they are. The dog can ambush the wolf, or vice versa.

  38. @RandomActsOfKarma,

    I got the impression that it was more the evolutionary wisdom of the human ancestry (ancestry in the broadest sense possible here including non-human animal and plant and microbial predecessors) that we all inherit in each incarnation, not that it was necessarily *ours* uniquely, but more the shared heritage that incarnation as a human gives us and from which we can draw (and upon which we grow, build, and proceed). But of course, it works very nicely if you think of it as the animal “self” that we’ve evolved through/past/from as well, on an individual basis too!

    This goes nicely with the idea of the path as initiation.

    There’s a necessary will to grow, a will to evolve and learn and become, and maybe that’s why it’s red?

    – LLP

  39. @Scotty

    You could be right.. though presumably even sorcerers and witches were not born evil. Like yourself, I struggle to understand a constructive reason for sharing this grotesque recipe. I’m assuming it is not just lurid sensationalism, and that Levi had some real purpose in mind . So the analogy between this and the previous discussion of the toad as a benign force was the best theory I could come up with!

  40. Chuaquin, it’s not something a lot of people know about these days. Mercury and arsenic preparations saved a lot of lives back in the day; part of what gave Paracelsus his reputation as a healer by curing people of syphilis with a preparation of mercury. (Granted, he also knew about opium and used it as a local anesthetic for surgery.)

    Marlena, fair enough. I’ve noticed over the years that a lot of women, in particular, tend to assume that the common Western assignment of femininity to the Moon is a cultural universal — cf. Marge Piercy’s poem “The Moon is Always Female”…

    Pelican, excellent! Yes, indeed, one can revive a symbol from the dead by recovering its meaning; it’s a little like the way shamans go into the otherworld to find and retrieve someone’s soul which has become lost there.

    Paul, keep in mind that Lévi is very fond of speaking in symbolic terms when he seems to be most literal. As for the connection, it’s by way of the secret societies — there were plenty of occult secret societies and plenty of political ones, some overlap between them, and much more suspicion of an overlap between them.

    Chris, a noble toad! May it breed many of its kind and render your farm impervious to evil magic. As for training the mind, ahem. Why, yes…

    Patricia M, I’m not sure how accessible those are in rural Poland, where Wer lives.

    Jon G, you can certainly interpret the towers that way, yes.

    Kerry, hmm! Interesting.

    Random, my take on “deliver themselves” is that what he means is that the adepts couldn’t protect themselves from the violence of the French Revolution.

    Scotty, my note to Paul earlier applies very strongly to this.

    Kyle, nice. Thank you for this.

  41. When I first saw The Moon tarot I knew instantly it was to do with alchemy but couldn’t explain how.

  42. @Paul Gunn (post #40)

    – I was wondering less why Levi used the potion as an example and more why are specific evil acts required on the part of potion brewer. I believe my question is answered by Levi in a subsequent paragraph (top of pg. 164).

    – I note JMG’s response to our comments on Levi “speaking in symbolic terms when he seems to be most literal”. I was directing my thoughts to the “technical” aspects instead of treating Levi’s paragraph outlining the potion’s recipe as a symbol.

    – I also note that soon after the potion recipe, Levi then discusses pentacles & magical images. I will take the potion recipe paragraph on pg. 163 as a textual pentacle and meditate upon it in that way.

    – That being said, as part of my meditation on the pentacle Levi offers us, I will ponder the ingredients (in a larger sense, than the specific recipe given) when trying to do “good”.

    I’d say your original question “does this imply that similarly one becomes corrupted not in spite of but through one’s nominally positive attributes?” applies and should be meditated upon.

    Example: in JMG’s reply I received a strong hint to look at this in symbolic terms but in the pursuit of “good” let’s say I ignore this and attempt to reverse engineer an evil potion to a good one. Not my intent, just an example, but if I single-mindedly pursed that goal, this would be due to elements of pride, selfishness, conceit, etc., present, that could eventually corrupt. The vector for corruption being that original positive attribute of trying to do good.

    @ JMG #41,
    Thank you for the response.

  43. The sentence you quoted here – “Once the imagination is struck, once the nervous system is attacked, the victim perishes quickly, and the terror of his friends and family complete his perdition.” – was the one that jumped out at me on the first read. I felt that. It feels so descriptive of my personal struggle the past year, trying to keep myself clear and seeing some that I know descend into some sort of damnation, or at least suspended animation.

    Levi’s hypothetical wondering of a future time when our books would be burned certainly reminds me of the current desires to eliminate everything racist, homophobic, and sexist, which means everything that came before now.

    It feels like opening myself to the occult has made me more aware in a way that if I’m not careful could drift into despair. Or maybe my despair is just more our times now and the mood of people. I’ve never lived through a time when people were so universally negative about the present and the future. There’s no unifying or appealing vision coming from any institution. I feel like everyone is holding their breath still waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don’t see anyone really moving on, just circulating. Perhaps like crayfish are scavengers just cleaning up in flowing water.

  44. For what it‘s worth, in German the (grammatical) gender of the moon is male (der Mond), whereas the sun is female (die Sonne).

    I‘ve never realised just how this shapes perception, until I started to dive into renaissance planetary magic.

    It makes for nice meditation material, though, but also for very interesting internal conversations about certain topics (trying to think about the sun as male while thinking about him in female terms, without letting myself go down the mental rabbit hole of certain gender current issues and what I think about them, well, that is great training material for strengthening mental focus…) 😀

    Lots of lessons in there… 😉


  45. To build on earlier observations about the gender of the moon and the sun, in Russian the moon is a masculine noun (месяц) and the sun is a neuter noun (солнце).

  46. @JMG.
    An extremely enlightening chapter, this one. I have long pondered on some observation that used to make no sense to me: why Catholic/Christians mystics show a tendency to be tested and tormented by demons. It makes absolutely no sense, in the context of all else discussed here at Ecosophia, that the people closer to God are the same people that get kicked the hardest by beings that are supposed to be afraid of anything holy. However, if you understand that the exotheric teachings of the Church are choke-full with superstition, it all makes sense at once.

    Do you think what we observe from the outside (the misfortunes apparently experienced by said mystics) is some form of karmic culmination that gets mislabeled and turned into weapon of fear? Or do you think the unquestioning adoption of dogma does actually invite demonic entities into the lives of those that, under normal circumstances, should be sending those very entities running for the hills?

    @Chuaquin, #16.
    JMG beat me to it, but yes, Mercury (along other remedies) was sort of a premodern chemotherapy. It will wreck your body but it will also kill whatever is killing you; you won’t even suffer of long term effects, if you pick the dose carefully.
    Curiously enough in homeopathy, syphilitis (the infectious disease) is considered the poster child of the Syphilitic miasma: an underlying etheric condition that causes many physical and mental diseases, all characterized by either destruction of tissue or tendency for violence and self-harm.

  47. Well, Alastair Crooke has finally revealed the depth of his occult roots, in perfect synchrony with this week’s Lévi chapter. His latest post makes a morphological comparison between the symbolic, magical worldview preserved in the Hermetica and the multi-polar worldview that Putin has been so energetically stumping for in the global south. Crooke suggests that the “concert of polyvalent civilisational visions”, each with its own distinct spiritual values and ethics, now threatening Western hegemony, is similar to the unlocking of the constellations of lost meaning hidden in occult symbols for which the Hermetica provided a key. By encouraging each nation to embrace its “own spiritual storehouse on which to draw, and by which to differentiate itself”, Crooke asserts that parallels can be drawn between Putin’s Valdai speech and “Giulio Camillo’s memory theatre – intended as a memory-imprint system enabling the world again to be seen as a unitive whole.”

    He also delves into a bunch of conspiracies, literary assassinations, and cancellations aimed at suppressing the Hermetica along with all its useful methods for unpacking occult meaning. From John Dee’s fall from influence to Giordano Bruno’s ultimate barbecuing, Crooke lays out how the Enlightenment ruthlessly policed its “absolute insistence that there must be an unambiguous distinction between truth and falsehood, and [its] consequent inability to accept the implicit or metaphorical.” Think color revolutions, false flags, and deplatforming for equivalent modern attempts at suppressing alternate, more empowering worldviews.

    John Michael, do you and Alastair by any chance coordinate your writings? If not, some higher power has surely have taken an ongoing interest in the two of you doing workings in tandem. Occult knowledge – the real kind, not the neo-Pagan, Harry-Potter play-acting kind – is certainly surging up into public awareness at a faster rate than I ever remember it doing over the past fifty years. I guess the spectacularly messy implosion of the reigning mythology has left us with a bit of a vacuum to be filled.

  48. @Lavender Ludicrous Pelican,

    Your explanation goes very well with my understanding of swarms of Divine Sparks from the Cosmic Doctrine. Much to think about… thanks!


    In the book “Symbolical Language of Ancient Art and Mythology”, the author discusses double-sexed and double-attribute deities, double-attribute meaning that they sometimes expressed the active principle and sometimes the passive principle. (And Herakles, a solar deity, is considered double-attribute.) I have been pondering if all the Spheres (other than Kether) are really double-attribute, since they receive the Astral Light from the Sphere “above” them (which would be passive) and then radiate it to the Sphere “below” them (which makes them active). In Paths of Wisdom, JMG assigns the Elements of Fire and Water to the Spheres on the Pillars of Mercy and Severity (but both Pillars have at least one Fire and One Water). Kether, Tiphareth, and Yesod are Air and Malkuth is Earth. Air and Earth are both considered the resulting force of balance between Fire and Water, which (to me) seems to support the idea that they are double-attribute. And I’ve always been curious how gendered languages such as German decided what gender something was. (And do all gendered languages have the same genders for things?)

  49. One more on the sun and the moon: in Australian indigenous mythology, the moon is associated with the masculine and the sun with the feminine.

  50. Denis, I know. It’s a very harsh time to be alive, and practicing occultism makes it hard to hide from the harshness — but it also provides tools that can be used to deal with our conditions constructively. This sort of pervasive negativity is common in societies in decline, for what it’s worth, and spiritual teachings that focus on personal experience of the Higher are among the few things that make it possible to deal with that.

    Milkyway, and so they were in the old Germanic mythologies!

    Robert, interesting. Do you happen to know how the old Slavic mythologies characterized them?

    CR, that’s a fascinating and complex question. Part of it, certainly, is karmic culmination — if you take up intensive spiritual practices, you’re going to face some of that. Part of it is the familiar problems that come up when people who feel a strong call to spiritual practice are pressured into celibacy when they’re not ready for that, and sexual frustration comes boiling out in various not necessarily obvious ways. Part of it is the pervasive presence of superstition in Catholicism as in every spiritual tradition — and part of it, of course, is that the Catholic church (again, like every other faith) is not quite so holy as it thinks it is, and neglects quite a bit of spiritual hygiene under the mistaken belief that God and the saints will take care of things. Daily practice of a banishing ritual or the like would help a great deal.

    Christophe, not only do we not coordinate, I was only slightly aware of Crooke’s work before now. That’s fascinating — an extraordinary analysis and, I think, an insightful one. I wonder if Crooke has read my essay on the political roots of the mind-body problem.

    Simon, hmm! I didn’t know that. Interesting.

  51. @RandomActsofKarma #49 re: Grammatical Gender

    This is an interesting one that got covered a *bit* in my classics and linguistics classes in college, but certainly not from any esoteric point of view. Here’s a very rough view cobbled together from a) what I remember from those classes, b) what I have since learned about historical linguistics, and c) what few insights I’ve picked up from occult reading and practice more recently:

    The short answer is that in most current languages, and likely in the formal, documented versions of ancient languages that came down to us, that have grammatical gender, it was/is *mostly* arbitrary, but in many cases likely came from some less-arbitrary sources. Before I go much further let me state that most of what I’m saying applies to Indo-European languages, as those are what I know best. Arabic (and presumably the other Semitic languages) also has grammatical gender, but I don’t remember much from there.

    So, to answer your last question first, there is a lot of overlap in the grammatical gender of words with common roots in the Indo-European language family, because grammatical gender seems to go all the way back to Proto-Indo-European, and many (most?) words retained their gender through all of their various sound-change gymnastics. There are some obvious exceptions, like the words that brought this discussion up this post (“Luna” is feminine in Latin and all of the Romance languages, for example).

    As for how these things got determined, some things are obvious – “woman” is feminine and “man” is masculine and so forth. There are some classes of words that *usually* one or the other – for example, in Latin, nouns for abstract concepts are almost always feminine, with some funny results, like “patria”, which is feminine, but literally means “fatherland”. Perhaps not coincidentally, the 18th-19th century neo-classical vogue for personifying concepts as Goddesses (like “Liberty” and “Equality”) is linked to this, and in the actual classical sources, it is sometimes ambiguous when and to what degree such personification was intended, taken seriously, used poetically, and so forth. Lastly, I think any other words must have at some point just struck speakers of whichever stage of ancestral language as “just more masculine/feminine” for various hard-to-articulate and possibly symbolically significant reasons.

    The last thing I’d say as I likely go waaay too deep on this tangent is that it might be helpful to keep in mind that the Indo-European languages used to “inflect” (alter words due to what they’re doing grammatically) far more than even most modern inflected languages, and far, far more than modern English, which lost most of its inflections through the period between the Viking and Norman invasions and the time of Shakespeare. For example, from what we can tell, in Proto-Indo-European, any given noun would not only have a number, it would also be masculine, feminine, or neuter, and would have an ending telling you whether it was the subject, direct object, indirect object, possessive, or object of a preposition. Verbs would tell you not only the tense, but also number (including a separate form for “dual” rather than plural) and mood. All of this suggests that Proto-Indo-European speakers felt the need to specify things with sound changes that we either use word position or extra words for, or just plain leave ambiguous.

    These days, most historical linguists are loathe to wade into subjective judgments about ancient languages. Older philologists were much more interested in and willing to talk about aesthetic, poetic, and even philosophical implications of ancient languages, and so might have some more definite opinions on these things.


  52. Medieval Slavic (and a few Western) sources tell us very, very little about old Slavic mythologies [plural], and what they have to say seems to lack internal consistency from one region of the medieval Slavic world to the next. There may not ever have been an ancient self-consistent mythology inherited by all Slavs from their common ancestors.

    Interestingly, one 12th-century Russian chronicler mentions that the Sun, who is also named Dazhbog, was the son of a divine blacksmith named Svarog, and tells a story bout them.

    The Russian chronicler seems not to have written this on the basis of any personal knowledge of his ancestral mythology, but probably took it from an older Slavic translation of the Greek chronicle of John Malalas, where the same story is told about the Greek God Hephaestos, the divine Blacksmith, and his son Helios, the Sun. In that old Slavic translation, Hephaestos and Helios are glossed as Svarog and Dazhbog.

    The name Dazhbog seems to mean something like “Give-God.” (Dazh is the old irregular imperative from the verb dati, “to give.” Bog is “God.”) The name Svarog is usually understood to derive from a verb meaning “heat” or “fire.”

  53. A couple of further things. First thing:

    When I was looking through my Knapp-Hall deck, I looked ahead at the Sun tarot and noticed that, when you put the Stars, the Moon and the Sun next to each other, they form a series. The lady in the Stars tarot pours two flagons (potions) into a pool of water, one gold and the other silver. The circular openings to both match the circular shapes of the moon and the sun in the next two cards, and they both have drops of liquid falling from them, as if they were the two openings of each flagon.

    Next thing:

    Relating to what Levi writes of how the imagination affects one’s health, I am currently almost finished reading Karen Horney’s book The Neurotic Personality of our Times. She’s considered a neo-Freudian, that book was written in 1939. She proposes that neuroses come not from frustrated sexual issues as Freud thought, but from an underlying anxiety caused by problems in childhood including a lack of affection.

    Regardless of the validity of her model (it will be interesting to re-read Jung to see where their models overlap and differ), what struck me is how a low-lying psychological issue can in turn shape one’s behavior unconsciously, which in turn can shape one’s physical health. This is already a well-known thing.

    I wondered though about layers of deep-set psychological imbalances can form layers on top of each other, to the point where even the psychological models and techniques meant to heal supposed psychological imbalances are themselves shaped unconsciously by psychological imbalances.

    A lot of that hinges on the definition of psychological imbalances, which both Jung and Horney define (carefully) in the context of ‘normal’ behavior in the wider society. So your new method of psychological healing may itself, despite your best intentions, be shaped by societal assumptions about what health means.

    Indeed, a dirty trick is to define a condition, and then diagnose someone with that condition, to make them appear ‘abnormal’, and furthermore this could be done on a societal scale. All this reminds me of what Levi writes on page 163 about the toad poison, if you think of the toad as the sponge of psychological poisons. Levi notes that himself later when he discusses witches and how they are like ‘human toads’.

    It struck me that if there is something which is causing large numbers of people to be anxious, then this anxiety may be said to be creating accidentally a larger number of ‘witches’ (in metaphorical, not literal, terms).

    It’s perhaps telling that nowadays the term neuroses apparently isn’t really used anymore, and I wonder if that is because that model was no longer useful and there are now more useful models, or whether unconsciously at the societal level they have become normalized.

    Related to the layers of psychological imbalances becoming normal, another way this could come about is through pop culture. Let’s say you have a movie-writer who him/herself is ‘neurotic’, and they create a movie which becomes very popular, but the story they created, in a way which their subconscious shaped, either doesn’t deal with or even celebrates the traits of this neuroses. In that way, perhaps the baseline of what is normal in a society is shifted.

    No wonder, as someone somewhere said, it makes a lot of sense to deal with one’s own psychological issues before starting a magical practice.

  54. If you like the alchemical interpretation of the card (with the Moon representing the silver of the Lesser Mysteries, which is supposed to be the perfect reflector of the Astral Light), the “advanced” information on Tsade ( is quite interesting. Some highlights:

    “The Nun represents a humble and faithful servant (the crowned Vav) that is bent in submission. The Yod represents a hand lifted to heave, or the Spirit of God. The tzaddik—the righteous person—is there revealed in the letter form as a faithful servant with his arms raised before the LORD in humility. As such, some of the sages have said that the letter Tsade represents the tzaddikim (righteous ones) that are the yesod (foundation) of the earth… Since God alone is perfectly righteous and upright… and His righteousness is the only true foundation of the universe, the tzaddik is said to reflect the divine image… when he or she lives in humility and dependence upon Him for the ability to live in trusting obedience to His will.

    Tsade is the “mate” of the letter Aleph. This is seen somewhat in the letter forms themselves, and suggests that God and His redeemed creation (His tzaddikimo) would be joined together in love. Since Aleph represents the Creator, and Tsade represents the reflection of His image, an allusion to Kallat Mashiach—the Bride of Messiah—can be seen.”

  55. Thank you for the recognition of my experience. Once again you and this commentariat is a oasis in the desert.

    I’ve been negligent in using the tools consistently. Why that is, or was, is providing insightful journaling. One thing that surfaced was how habitual it is for me to think of things as “once and done” when in reality as long as I’m alive and life flows, then everything is malleable. The clean up in aisle 5 doesn’t occur once. A commitment can be made to a direction, but the path can fork and be variable.

    It’s amusing to me how hard it is for me to follow simple directions. The amusement comes after I’ve beaten myself up about it which my ego loves to do but it serves little purpose to keep me moving and doing to the daily practices.

    I fell off the reading of the Cosmic Doctrine. Is the commentary you wrote going to be put in a book or should I just work through the posts here?

  56. What‘s interesting about the genders of sun and moon is that they are, in most cases at least, polarities – one is male, one is female.

    (Russian being an interesting exception, noted further above, with the sun being neuter and the moon masculine. I wonder what or who is filling the female role?)

    I don‘t think I‘ve ever come across a language where sun and moon had the same gender. Anybody else, maybe?


    Interesting! I suppose the grammatical gender usually stems from mythology, although that raises the question how mythology decides on the respective genders… 😉

    Definitely nope to the last question, though – learning other languages would be a _lot_ easier if everything had the same gender in all languages!!

    My personal working assumption, after some reflection, is that sun and moon each encompass both principles, it‘s just that some languages/traditions stress one over the other.

    It‘s probably more obvious for the sun, which is both male (penetrating rays) and female (bringing fertility). But I think the same holds for the moon, just look at those renaissance astrology pictures of the moon which is sometimes pictured as a woman riding a crab, holding some kind of spear. There‘s more to the moon than just flow and passivity – and the image ties back right into the discussion about crustaceans and this week‘s card further above… 😉


  57. @Milkyway (#58):

    In Russian, the word for “star” (звезда) is feminine, and may supply the missing piece for the puzzle you propose.

  58. Robert, interesting. Thanks for this! So _dati_ is cognate with Latin _dare_, also “to give;” I’d noticed various parallels between the Russian I learned in high school and the Latin I studied in college, but I’d managed to miss that one.

    Jbucks, it’s highly amusing to find a Freudian named Horney, but her book sounds worth reading. Your point’s a good one; I forget who it was who pointed out that it’s not a good thing to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society!

    Random, thanks for this.

    Denis, learning how to stay consistent with practices takes most people a lot of work — it certainly did for me. As for the Cosmic Doctrine posts, I’ve just reviewed the copyedited manuscript; it’ll be in print as a book next year. I’ll keep everyone posted.

    Milkyway, in the mythology of the native peoples of Puget Sound, Moon and Sun are brothers, and Moon is the older brother — he’s strong enough to shine at night, while Sun is only strong enough to shine during the day, when it’s light anyway.

  59. Dear JMG,

    If I may, I believe it was Krishnamurti who came up with that quip about being well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society. On a different note, I have read the conversation of the genders of the Sun and Moon here with interest. Since I have not yet seen anyone mention the Hindu cosmology I will note that both Chandra and Surya are male, at least as I understand the matter. Relevantly, I’ll note, too, that in the Orphic Hymn to Selene we see an emphasis placed on androgyny, with fifth line line of the hymn reading: “Female and male, with borrow’d rays you shine…” sometimes ‘borrow’d’ is replaced with ‘silv’ry’ in the Taylor translation — at least online — and I’m not sure which is closer to the original.

  60. @JMG: #26 -I’d be absolutely delighted if anyone ever came out with a French Decadent themed tarot deck – I can see that card with Nerval now!

    @RandomActsOfKarma: #35: To my mind the landscape just beyond the water in Trump XVIII could be a desert, with two vast towers from ancient civs, on the path that goes through the dunes between, those civs mostly lost in the dusts of time.

  61. @Robert Mathiesen,

    Thanks for that. I suppose a certain druid might say that this would be a fine theme for meditation… 😉


    Hm. The moon as the stronger/brighter part of the duo? That is an intriguing concept.


  62. @JMG (#60):

    You’re very welcome. Also, Latin do, da-ri has the form ded-i as its 3rd principal part, and the irregular imperative of Slavic da-ti is formed from a variant stem dad-.

    (I expect you already know that both Latin (with all the Romance languages) and all the Slavic languages are descended from a much older common Indo-European language.)

  63. I heard the ‘well adjusted to a sick society’ quote in a Martin Luther King speech but don’t know if he came up with it.

  64. Milkyway, in Sumerian mythology, the moon is a male: Nanna. Nanna was considered the chief astral god (instead of the sun) He is the father of the sun god, Utu, who is also male.

    Inanna, Utu’s twin sister and daughter of Nanna in some myths, was the goddess of war and sex and was associated with Venus and stars.

    These three gods formed a triad of the heavenly bodies.


  65. @Milkyway, hmm… and now I’m wondering where “the man in the moon” phrase came from? 😉

    @jbucks, ooo… I like the imagery of the Moon and the Sun being the openings to the flagons!

    And slightly related to your comment on normalized neuroses, in public education (at least in my state), there are definite advantages to being ‘special ed’… students are not held to the same behavioral standards and the district gets more money per special ed pupil than they do regular ed pupil. All this encourages parents to seek diagnoses of some sort of disorder and there are physicians with the reputation of being more than willing to oblige. This results in the normalization of the disorders like you described.

    @Jeff Russell, fascinating! (To be honest, I’m glad English doesn’t do inflections… that seems like it would complicate things even more!)

  66. Hi John Michael,

    Just humour me for a second please. Has economic thought these days become a superstition? As in “a practice or a symbol that remains behind when its meaning has been lost”.

    Ooo, that’s seriously uncomfortable thinking.



  67. JMG, I don’t say often enough how I appreciate the time you put into these posts and how you help us out, so, thank you.

    Now that Levi has explained to us that the Devil is the Astral Light used by malicious people for purposes of evil by a perverse will, I can see how the Moon illustrates the illusory nature of the Astral Light if one has malicious intent.

    These practicing of evil acts are done by people caught up in the reflections of the Astral Light (the moon reflects.) So when Levi mentions Justicia, it might not be Divine Justice, but rather just a tit-for-tat between competing reflections in the Astral Light.

    On the Tree, the Moon is the path from Malkuth to Netzach and can represent the emotions. If our emotions are not tempered, we lash out at others in anger and seek vengeance. That is when we hurl the evil eye and concoct poisons. Most people wouldn’t say, I shouldn’t make a potion to kill this person. They say, They deserve it! They hurt me!

    But the Moon reflects, which means there is a source to the light, so the Moon can also guide us towards the source of the light.

  68. Thanks a lot JMG, it makes sense. I had managed to miss the sexual repression connection, but that has to fester and blow up in due time.

  69. Violet, I think “borrow’d” is the original, but I’ll gladly accept correction from those literate in ancient Greek.

    Justin, I’ll see if I can find an artist sometime. It would be fun.

    Milkyway, the old Puget Sound myths are fascinating stuff. I’m pretty sure that the story of Moon the Changer is a fusion of the general Transformer myth, which you find all over Native North America, with the monster-slaying twins myth, ditto.

    Robert, of course! What fascinates me is that the Slavic and Italic languages seem to have so much in common, even among Indo-European languages.

    Chris, ding! We have a winner. “Economic superstitions”… Hmm. When the current sequence of posts on writing is finished, I may want to address those.

    Jon, you’re most welcome. Thank you, and thanks to everyone here, for taking this work seriously enough to follow along and try to understand.

    CR, as I see it, the religions of the Piscean age all made the mistake of trying to get people to achieve states of spiritual perfection for which most human beings are not ready. Celibacy is of course a valid path, but most people aren’t able to take it in a healthy, balanced fashion until they reach late middle age.

  70. Regarding economic theory as superstition, it certainly became increasingly like a form of magic from about Alfred Marshall’s Principles of Economics (c1900) as the profession increasingly distanced itself from the study of history (most apparent in the demise of the German Historical School between the wars when it ‘lost’ the Methodenstreit with the Austrians), devoted itself to mathematical and diagrammatic abstractions (sigils!) and invented the economic statistic (from between the wars – most economic statistics prior to that are essentially more recent estimates derived from somewhat dubious source material) which is essentially a sophisticated tool for manipulating reality. But from about the late 80s/early 90s the connection of theorists to reality seemed to break completely (the failure to tame stagflation, followed by its end completely independent of their theories may have had an effect). This can be seen most clearly when you read articles from leading economic journals prior to WWII and compare them to articles from the 1960s, and then to articles from the 1990s. The early ones were quite readable and seeking to explain historical reality; in the 1960s they were focused on real problems of the world, but within an abstract framework; the 1990s they were more like pure maths. More recently there has been a push to ground theory in empirical reality, but this is has tended towards a focus on manipulating the statistics and taking the map to be the territory, so to speak.

  71. Thank you very much to everybody who contributed to the planetary gender discussion! There is so much food for thought (and for meditation) there. 🙂

    And thank you very much to you, JMG, for hosting this discussion and for offering your knowledge to us.


    Hm, with a bit of imagination…


    A goddess of war and sex as the third part of the triad? Now that‘s quite progressive! 😉

    @Violet and @JMG

    I‘ve been using both an English translation of the Orphic Hymns (from Christopher Warnock‘s site, no idea which translation that is) and a German one (David K.P. Dietsch: Die Hymnen des Orpheus, 1822.).

    I can attest to the fact that at least one of them is definitely not a literal translation! 😉

    (The overall gist is the same, of course, and also a lot of the elements. But some elements appear in other places, or are simply different. Without doing an in-depth comparison, the German one also seems to use more direct addressing with courtesy titles and „names“. Overall, I find the English version more accessible and its structure easier to understand on first glance – the German one is more convoluted imo. This might be a feature of the time in which it was translated, though. The English translation seems to be more modern.)


  72. @JMG, @Violet, @Darkest Yorkshire:
    Thank you for that quote, and for tracking down its sources!

    I actually should have put in my comment the example of Freudian psychology, which is a good example of a system of psychological healing that was itself affected by the social mores of the time (the Victorian era).

    That’s interesting! I know a few teachers where I am, I’ll be interested to know if the same thing that you describe exists here also.

  73. I have been reflecting on why, in the SOP, it draws upon Spirit Below, connected with the telluric current from the center of the Earth, but also corresponding to Annwn, which is a place of the dead and a kind of Hell but also a place of vibrancy and life. From the center of the earth exists a kind of ‘eternal fire’ at the core but also underground rivers which well up as springs with very fresh water.

    Over the weekend I was looking through some poetry books and in a collection of William Blake’s poems I found an extract from his work A Marriage of Heaven and Hell. It has a lot of passage written as if it was written in the ‘voice of the Devil’ and also contains ‘the proverbs of Hell’.

    My gosh, it’s interesting! It’s a very short book but I’m going to look for a collection that has the entirety of it.

    I can’t tell yet if it is Levi-style trickery meant to be questioned thoroughly, or a meditation on the value of bringing good and evil into balance, or both! It may be worthwhile meditation fodder in light of Levi’s chapters on the Devil in particular.

    In fact, it would have been written some 50-60 years or so before Levi wrote Doctrine and Ritual and although I don’t see a reference to Blake in that book’s index, there would have been a good chance he was aware of Blake’s work.

    A few extracts:

    “Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.
    From these contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil. Good is the passive that obeys reason; Evil is the active springing from Energy.
    Good is heaven. Evil is hell.”

    This makes me wonder: Is the Evil-as-energy spoken of here the same thing as the Astral Light?

    Just a few of the proverbs (each of which looks like a great theme for meditation!):

    – “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”
    – “He who desires, but acts not, breeds pestilence.”
    – “Shame is Pride’s cloak.”
    – “What is now proved was once only imagined.”
    – “The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.”
    – “Expect poison from the standing water.” (Great in light of this chapter!)
    – “The eyes of fire, the nostrils of air, the mouth of water, the beard of earth.”
    – “As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.”
    – “As the air to a bird, or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.”


    “The ancient poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged and numerous senses could perceive. And particularly they studied the Genius of each city and country, placing it under its mental deity. Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of and enslaved the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects. Thus began Priesthood. Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales. And at length they pronounced that the Gods had ordered such things. Thus men forgot that all deities reside in the human breast.”

    Is it written as if it were the Devil speaking? Is it written as if it were written by a cautioning priest? Is it just poetic mischievousness?

    Anyway, I’ve now become VERY interested in William Blake’s work!

    @Jon G: Thanks for your comment above on the topic, it’s another ingredient to the stew I’m brewing on with all this.

  74. re: JMG, Violet, Darkest Yorkshire, et al, on sick society…

    I just saw this quote at the top of Kunstler’s blog from Friday… it seems apropos in relation to the idea of it not being good to be well-adjusted in a sick society:

    “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” — Marcus Aurelius

  75. @jbucks: Gotta love Blake!

    Yes indeed, those are some great nuggets for discursive meditation!

    If you have time for another book, “Blake, Jung, and the Collective Unconscious: The Conflict Between Reason and Imagination” by June Singer is an excellent full length exploration of Blake’s The Marriage of Heave and Hell from a Jungian POV.

    Also if you get the chance, look up Blake’s illuminated works. He was an amazing visual artist as well, and as you may have learned already, he developed a unique method of printing. (He was an original DIY kind of guy and made his own books.) The printing method was actually shown to him in a dream by the spirit of his dead brother. It involved engraving the words of his poems in reverse on a copper plate. He then had some kind of special acid bath… anyway the plate also had images. He would use these to make his books, and then hand watercolor each one.

    He also drew and painted scenes from other works like Job in the old testament, and Dante’s Divne Comedy.

    He was most certainly an illuminated individual, a true bard of Albion. Maybe @JMG might have some things to say about Blake’s influence on the druid revival?

    Blake may very well be my favorite poet of the English language… though it is hard to choose just one (so I won’t!). Right now for poetry I’m reading the collected poems of H.D., Hilda Doolittle. It will keep me busy quite awhile…

  76. Violet (#61), I have been studying Ancient Greek. I just looked up the hymn you mentioned. I’m sorry to tell you the Taylor translation is very inaccurate. This might be because he translated the poem as a poem, and focused on meter and rhyme. I can not figure out which specific word or phrase matches “with borrow’d rays you shine” in the original at all. Most of the words and phrases appear in different lines in the poem than in the original. It certainly says “both female and male”, though.

    This is my attempt at translating it into prose. Mene and Electris are described by the dictionary I consulted only as “referring to the moon”.

    Hear, heavenly Selene, queen Goddess who brings light,
    Mene, who runs, pacing the air, at night, with bull’s horn,
    Mene, great girl of the stars, who carries the torch,
    who waxes and wanes, both female and male;
    when light increases, time’s mother, who loves horses and bears fruit,
    when light retreats, Electris of childbirth, with heavy soul;
    you who sees all and loves to stay awake, filled with beautiful stars,
    who rejoices in quiet and the blessed distribution of good intention.
    Give cheer, night’s shining glory, who brings to a conclusion,
    ruler of the stars, girl of all wisdom who runs a winding course with long garment.
    Come, great happy girl of the stars, with the shining with which you shine,
    who protects and well understands the young who seek her protection.

  77. jbucks #75, one day I really want to set the destination board of a bus to say:
    via Excess

    Justin Patrick Moore #76, that’s also basically the plot of Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People, including the idea that a ‘solid majority’ or ‘compact majority’ is one of the most despicable things in the world.

  78. CR Patiño/JMG

    Short meditation about Catholic mystics and demons.

    Franz Bardon remarked that every “true” religion has a viable model of holiness. Holiness could be assigned – if I have my cabala correct – to the reflection of Tiphareth in humanity as it is in Malkuth with all the problems of cultural and social context. Tiphareth brings to perfection and balance – redemption and rectification. And if there was a human life that reflected Tipareth, Jesus’ life probably would be on top of the list. Or maybe Christian cabalists say, Jesus is literally sefirot Tiphareth or aspect of it.

    Christ descended on Saturday to “Harrowing of Hell ” – one of the most mysterious phrases in Christianity. To give an example of saint dealing with hell – Saint Faustina prays rosary the whole night surrounded by swarms of unclean spirits. It would seem a rather good way to enter the mystery of Holy Saturday and add to the re balancing of Kingdom of Shells and cosmic Redemption of everything through Christ in small ways that human soul can. It would be more intense mystical work, but similiar in goal to what JMG says about binding and exorcisms.

    Also, apostle Paul: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.” Saint Paul had a mysterious “thorn” or “Satan” afflicting him. Being tormented by demons or visions of hellfire so that sinners may receive grace appears to be very Christian thing to do.

    Only problem is that the official line of Catholic Church is that hell is hell and damnation is final. Apokatastasis is heretical. Adrienne von Speyr (another semi-famous mystic) and close collaborator Hans Urs Von Balthasar were very controvesial in her teachings on Hell and the possibility of universal reconciliation.

    But then – what was Christ doing on Holy Saturday and – by the usual problem with timeless dimenions – does He harrow hell even now, beyond space and time?

  79. Hi John Michael,

    I’d most certainly be interested to hear what you have to say on the subject. This weeks essay has provided me with an uncomfortable and unfamiliar way to view the world. I for one am glad that this journey has been a slow journey! But my goodness, the lens puts a new perspective on say: ‘market sentiment’ and ‘animal spirits’, just for two superstitious beliefs which pop into my head.

    And the awful awfulness of it all, is that the view can be extended. Oh my! But it can. Renewable energy anyone?

    After much cogitation upon the subject it becomes clear that it’s a mildly alarming tool. For, it is one thing to confront someone’s belief systems. It is another thing altogether to confront a persons character by pointing out their beliefs are superstitions, especially in these so called enlightened days. It’s powerful, and a frankly dangerous spell breaker.

    On another slightly related issue, I note that a very young asperger’s northern European and rather outspoken lady upon environmental matters, is now apparently pro-nuclear. It’s hard to know what another person’s motivations are, but it is also equally challenging to stare into the abyss. That place never seemed that dark to me, but then I’m here to work, so work I shall, dunno about other peoples motivations and concerns.



  80. JMG and Robert Mathiesen,
    I would like to clarify about the moon in Russian language. There are two words for it, just like in English – crescent (месяц – male) and Moon (Луна – female). The main word is Луна as in “Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon.” (Луна). The mythology is largely similar to European La Lune to the best of my knowledge.

  81. I thought “well adjusted to a sick society” was from R.D. Liang.

    Milkyway (no. 73) “A goddess of war and sex as the third part of the triad? Now that‘s quite progressive!”

    You know who *else* has a goddess of war and sex as the third part of their triad?

    (Technically speaking, WW has served as the goddess of war, and of truth.)

    Before anyone suggests a DC superhero-themed tarot deck, the concept features in this very comics series. Plastic Man was the Fool, for instance. (Marvel did one more recently with the X-Men.)


    Kerry Nitz (no. 72)

    (crossing myself with the Laffer Curve)


    Chris at Fernglade Farm (no. 68): Possibly relevant:


    Man, woman, and the moon: meditation fodder:

  82. In modern Russian ‘месяц’, when referring to moon, means ‘crescent’ – it’s what we see in the first and the last lunar quarters. ‘Месяц’ also means ‘month’ and it was used to mean ‘moon’ in its all phases in the olden days. Now moon as a whole is referred as ‘луна’ (luna) and it’s of feminine gender and this word was also used in this sense for a long long time too.

    In Russian folklore, depending on the place and time, Sun and Moon could be seen as of either gender and they were in all sorts of relationships – two brothers, two sisters, parent and child, husband and wife, etc. There seems to be a lot of fluidity and variability here. One could say that Sun and Moon were non-binary in Russia long before it became popular in the West! :—}

    If anyone is interested, there is a short paper that looks into the usage of Sun and Moon in Russian and Bulgarian. There is an abstract in English on the second page of that PDF but the rest of it is, unfortunately, in Russian only.

  83. @Justin Patrick Moore, ah, so perhaps the Moon is creating an oasis? Something to ponder. 🙂

    @jbucks, you’ve made me very interested in Blake now, too!

    @Milkyway, my imagination sees him smiling! 🙂

  84. On the crawdad, I see a reference both to our ancient ancestors, most fundamental source of life the sea from which we all came, and then the shift towards vertebrates, even looking like a spinal column, which then marks the line from the malkuth mud towards the kether sky with the polarity, two towers with the middle way path, balanced on either side, the dark wolf and the light, the old ‘which wolf wins?’ tale, ‘the one you feed…’ The wolves (for my golden art nouveau cards show wolves no dogs) remind me of something I’ve been watching with my pair at home, the sheer delight in the senses of dogs running and tumbling, play, smell, fight, chase, wind, sun, speed. So somehow the card makes me think of living in an older brain. Less abstraction.

    The moon I have such a hard time thinking of the moon as other than feminine (tho I guess to add to that catalog of solar/lunar gendering, Thoth was associated with the moon right? and is masculine as was Re/Ra of the sun). The sun burns and radiates while the moon gathers energies from her own earth, air-atmosphere, pulls the waters, reflects the light waves… a whole complex choreography which my phone keyboard thought might be ‘chores’ which maybe is not a terrible way to think about the moon-lady, managing the earthy complexity of a terrestrial home while the sun-gent shoots life-bringing photon-seeds at our world… nice to know there are so many ways to think about the sun moon earth trio spinning through space with their planetary pals and all the stories seek the deepest root germ of that creative tension all are born of and then play at explaining all the complexity that becomes of it.

  85. @Violet regarding Hindu cosmology, you are correct that both Surya (Sun) and Chandra (Moon) are male. In fact, all the planets (even Shukra – Venus) are male. At the same time, Hindu astrology considers Moon and Venus as feminine “in nature” and Mercury (Buddh) as androgynous in nature.

  86. @jbucks I fell into delighted awe of William Blake after watching jim jarmusch’s Dead Man and then I got a book of the poetry

    @random thanks for sharing that site about the aleph-abet. tzaddik the righteous brought to me back to the book I’ve been reading ‘The Hiram Key’ which is all about returning substance to superstitions which have lost their meaning, in this case through a historical treasure hunt to explain certain bits of Masonic ritual which the two authors could find no sense for. It goes back into ancient Egypt and traces many symbols which we here concern ourselves with, including the two pillars which they find early on representing upper and lower Egypt, morphing into boaz and jachin when Moses takes the priestly knowledge of egypt on the run with him, where they come to align with the kingly (mishpat) and the priestly (tzaddik) messiahs (Jewish kings in waiting), always crowned with a lintel signifying rightness and stability: the Egyptian concept of Ma’at, later Jewish shalom, Jesus and James’ kingdom of the righteous essenes. Levi points out that Paul knew that ‘to destroy the originals is to lend a certain originality to the copies,’ and that he knew this when he wiped the knowledge held at Ephesus, another set of historical events which The Hiram Key really delves into: Paul’s hijacking of Christianity a la John the Baptist, Jesus, his brother James and their people, by destroying the knowledge of the meanings of the symbols and appropriating/reassigning new meanings, and especially literal readings, which were more suitable to his purposes and later those of the Roman and catholic hierarchies. Which in turn links back to

    @Christophe and the Alastair Crooke post on Putin at Valdai = hermetica support for openness and multipolarity … where that deep reverence for symbolic reaching to understand the Source, coupled with humility that we can’t understand, allows for coexistence via mutual respect rather than dominance and demanding conformity to one narrow acceptable worldview…

    So many knots in the great net of meaning we are all making. Thanks everyone!

  87. @JMG,

    Back in comment #51, you reference “my essay on the political roots of the mind-body problem.” Where is that essay available? If it is online, can I please ask for a link?

  88. Thank you to everyone who engaged regarding the quote and the Orphic Hymn!

    @ Justin, that’s such a great Aurelius quote!

    @ Chicory Omnibus, thank you so much for this! It doesn’t surprise me that Taylor changed so much. That said, his translations are very powerful for invoking the deities, far more so in my experience than some more literal translations.

    @ Ron, thank you so much for making that point about Vedic astrology clear. Synchronistically, yesterday I discovered Muttuswāmi Dīkshitar’s amazing Navagraha Kritis and compiled some information about them and the hymns and traditional images of the Navagraha on my blog:

    So, it’s interesting to see planetary devotional hymns in the Vedic context and very, very lovely to listen to them!

  89. @Justin Patrick Moore:

    Oh, that book looks right up my alley! I am going to bookmark it, or even order it. I may not be able to get to it right away, but I’m interested in it especially due to the Jungian connection. Thanks very much!

    I was aware that he was also an illustrator, and I may check to see if there’s a print collection that includes the illustrations.

    @Darkest Yorkshire:

    Nice! 🙂


    That’s great! Yet another interesting thread to follow.


    Hm, thanks for this!

  90. Kerry, that’s certainly been my view. Watching the economic profession hide from history and ignore its own massive mistakes has been one of the ongoing entertainments of my adult life.

    Jbucks, and that would have been a fine example. As for the SoP, yes, and there’s also a more practical aspect: the two main currents of magical energy in our world (a) ascend from within the planet (the telluric current) and (b) descend from the skies (the solar current). Blake — ah, there you’re dealing with a first-rate visionary with a solid grasp of the occultism of his time. Whether Lévi knew his work or not, he knew the same sources Blake used.

    Justin, Marcus at his best: concise, well-phrased, and lethal.

    Changeling, thanks for this. It’s always seemed to me that the eventual redemption of all souls and spirits is implicit in the logic of Christian faith. If God is omnipotent, why can’t he arrange things so that everyone will be saved at last? And if he’s a loving God, why wouldn’t he?

    Chris, it can indeed be extended, and yes, that’s alarming! As for the child protester, yes, she’s saying that nukes are better than freezing in the dark. Clearly whoever’s crafting her message for her has started to notice the little problems with renewable energy.

    Kirsten and Ganesh, thanks for this. It’s been a long time since my high school Russian classes!

    AliceEm, good — Thoth and Ra are another good example,

    Hosea, thanks for asking! It was originally published in a long-defunct occult journal, but it’s been reprinted in my anthology The City of Hermes.

    Marlena, hmm! I managed to miss that one.

  91. It just occurred to me that according to this standard:

    “a practice or a symbol that remains behind when its meaning has been lost”

    And following Alisdair McIntyre, most of contemporary morality is itself superstition.

    Sacramental Christianity as a whole reminds me of one of those “after the bomb” types of science fiction stories that McIntyre relied upon. In this particular story, a group of natives have a machine which does something useful– it’s a nuclear power plant, maybe because it always is– but they’ve lost all knowledge of the principles by which the machine operates, and have in fact forbidden themselves from discovering them. They have, however, preserved detailed instructions for the precise steps one must take to keep the machine running.

    Over time, the machine breaks down, and no one can fix it, because they’ve prohibited themselves from learning how it works in the first place. Perhaps scattered uranium deposits are owned by wealthy families who monopolize their distribution to the power plant, and in response a popular ideology insists that apples are every bit as good as uranium– it’s what’s in your heart that counts. Or, in another setting, it still functions if precisely the correct steps are followed, but no one is allowed to admit that it’s working, and a whole detailed series of unnecessarily complicated symbolic explanations are given about why exactly *this* set of steps must be followed in precisely *that* order while *these* types of personal protective gear are worn. Reports of other functional machines– a coal fired plant somewhere, perhaps, or hydroelectric dam, or a windmill– are hotly denied and dangerous for those who repeat them.

  92. Passing along that the University of South Carolina has launched a fully funded magic and occult sciences graduate degree. Contact for the program is Matt Melvin-Koushi in the history department and it starts in 2023.

  93. @AliceEm, the two pillars crowned with a lintel sounds a little bit like a trilithon. Hmm… The Hiram Key has been added to my to-read list! Thank you! (I agree, it is quite fun to see all the connections that we are making in our net!)

    @Marlene, OOOooooo. I don’t *need* a new deck. But, gee, it looks good. If anyone else is intrigued, I found this website which has the book available online

  94. Steve, ding! We have another winner. Yes, a great deal of morality these days is superstition in the strict sense of the word — and yes, Christianity is full of exactly that sort of legacy tech that some people know how to use but nobody knows why. It amazes me, for example, that so few people ask why Easter has the weird movable date it does — why the Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox? Why not a fixed date? Of course there’s a good reason, but it ties into astrological cycles and that’s not something most Christian theologians are willing or able to discuss.

    Denis, so Matt managed it after all! I’m delighted to hear this.

  95. Denis (no. 95), what subjects / languages will this program encompass? Melvin-Koushki specializes in Persian Islamic occultism. Presumably they’ll have other people to cover Renaissance Hermeticism, 19th / 20th century figures like Blavatsky and Crowley, etc.

  96. One of Levi’s more startling lines is “Superstition is the cadaver of religious practice.” He argues that the common countryside superstitions originated in earlier religious knowledge.

    That is also his argument with Tarot, that it was originally religious and occult knowledge encapsulated in symbols, but then the knowledge was lost and only the symbols remained. Charlatans then used these symbols, with their ghosts of occult knowledge, for everyday purposes of fortune-telling.

    But the history of Tarot that JMG sketched out in The Occult Book is the opposite, that Tarot started as playing cards without any occult knowledge implied. Then by a folk process, these meaningless symbols became filled with meaning, in which later occultists began to find systems of thought.

    Levi’s version makes more logical sense but the facts say that people are always filling everything they touch with meaning, until they overflow with it. Clever people can then turn the meaning into words and images, which increases the meaning even more.

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