Book Club Post

The Doctrine of High Magic: Chapter 5

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 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 now out of print), the Wirth deck (available in several versions), or any of the Marseilles decks are suitable.


“Chapter 5:  The Pentagram” (Greer & Mikituk, pp. 67-74).


“Prepare to enter the immeasurable region,” one of the officers in a Golden Dawn ritual says to the candidate for initiation. Lévi begins this chapter in much the same way. The principal abstract concepts he uses to explicate the traditions of high magic in the Doctrine have all been introduced in the chapters already covered. Now Lévi proceeds a step further toward practice. In the chapters that follow, he will expect more from his readers.

One mark of that expectation is visible on the first page of the chapter. You will doubtless have noticed already that the text gives two titles for this chapter, instead of three:  Geburah and Ecce.  Why?  Because it’s your job to choose a third title. The pentagram, the theme of this chapter, is among other things the emblem of the human will, and therefore of human freedom.  Just as you freely chose an alphabet to provide labels for the mental filing cabinet you’re creating and filling, you can now choose one of the things to go in Drawer #5. How?  Read the chapter several times—you’re going to do that anyway, after all—and choose a word that sums up some part of what this chapter has to teach. Use that for your third title. There are no wrong answers, and so the only way to fail is not to do the work. (Get used to that. It’s standard in occult training.)

Another sign of the higher expectations Lévi places on his readers is the sly way he plays with clichés about magic in this chapter. In the second paragraph, he all but promises his readers to teach them how to command the spirits of the four elements; a little later on, he doubles down on the promise—and then, later on, he explains that when he speaks of commanding the spirits to appear he means that the mage in training learns to exalt his capacities of perception in order to perceive them, and that when he speaks of binding the spirits by the pentagram he means that spirits willingly serve those who have purified their minds and characters in the way that the pentagram symbolizes!

In the process of playing this joke on his readers, Lévi introduces a principle of crucial importance.  “There is no invisible world,” he explains, “there are only degrees of perfection in the different systems.”  Your visible world, in other words, is a function of how well your senses and your mind allow you to perceive what is around you.  To us, radio waves are invisible; if our world were to be visited by aliens sees in the radio-frequency end of the electromagnetic spectrum, our cell phones would light up a room and our radio station transmission towers would flood the landscape with a blinding glare.  Meanwhile the aliens might be unable to read our street signs because the different colors of paint don’t affect radio waves the way they affect light.

From Lévi’s perspective, the difference between mind and body, spirit and matter, is a difference of degree, not of kind. What later occult authors call “cosmic root substance” can take both these forms, and many others as well, depending on how rarefied and subtle it is, on the one hand, or how concentrated and dense it is on the other.  This is true of ordinary matter—the air between you and these words, concentrated to sufficient density by gravity and temperature, would become solid and opaque as a rock.  To Lévi, as to the entire tradition of modern magic that unfolds from him, this same distinction on a much greater scale is all that separates matter and spirit.

What makes this important from the point of view of magical practice is that human beings have an organ that is capable of perceiving the subtle realities we call “spiritual.”  That organ is not made of physical matter, but it is as real as a rock.  Lévi calls it the diaphane, and other occultists after his time called it the astral body, but it has another name:  the imagination. The forms and currents perceived by the imagination, according to occult teaching, are not subjective—that is, they are not walled up inside the individual’s skull, products solely of his own brain function.  They belong to what Henry Corbin usefully called the imaginal world, a realm of reflected sensory experiences and similitudes, which is as objectively real as the world of matter our ordinary senses show us.

The imaginal world is not the world of matter, and it does not follow the same laws as the world of matter. This has to be understood to make any sense of Lévi at all. Its substance is not matter but rather the astral light, the great magical agent, and it is not bound to the same rules of space and time as the material world.  The imaginal world is full of forms that are native to it, but it is also full of reflections from the diaphanes of human beings—for the diaphane is an organ of action as well as of perception; the images we hold in our minds are projected outward from our diaphanes. Used deliberately and with knowledge, this becomes one of the basic principles of magic, but in ordinary life how many people use it deliberately and with knowledge?

The astral light is therefore full of “lost reflections and misplaced images,” to use Lévi’s terminology. It takes a special kind of lucidity, a purification of the individual diaphane and a process of making it resonate with the direct rays of the astral light, to get past this astral static and clutter and see things there as they are.  “Untangling the direct ray and separating it from reflection,” our text says, “this is the work of the initiate.”

It is by means of this process that many of the works of magic function.  As our text also points out, there are no fixed barriers or unbridged gaps between one human soul and another.  In the astral light, “all is transition and nuance,” and what keeps us from experiencing this is the crude and cluttered nature of the individual diaphane.  Practices that cleanse and refine the diaphane—and a great many of the practices of occultism are designed specifically to do this—make it possible to experience that realm of transition and nuance, at first in faint fragmentary ways, but more and more clearly and effectively over time.

Dreams are among the few contexts in which most of us can perceive our own diaphanes without special training. Lévi points out correctly that dreaming sleep is a state equivalent to hypnotic trance (which he calls “magnetic somnambulism,” the standard term for trance in his time and place). In occult terms, both these are states in which the ordinary thinking mind is silenced and the individual becomes conscious of the diaphane.  If the diaphane is clear enough, images from the astral light become visible through it, and the dream includes true glimpses of the astral light. If the diaphane is still murky and cluttered with reflections from one’s own mind or those of others, then the clutter and murk are what surfaces in dream life.

The same issue arises in what is still the standard form of hypnotism in modern practice, in which one person goes into trance while another provides guidance into and out of trance, and asks questions once the trance state is achieved.  This approach dates from long before Franz Anton Mesmer discovered animal magnetism and started the process by which modern hypnotism came into being. Mages of the Middle Ages and Renaissance used it constantly—the spirit visions of Dr. John Dee and his scryer Edward Kelly, who went into trance while staring into a crystal and answered the questions Dee put to him, are still famous in occult circles, and they were only the most famous of a galaxy of occultists who used the same technique.

Lévi discusses this approach in some detail, but it’s not the method he favors. To him, the summit of the magical art is reached by those individuals who learn how to enter into conscious communion with the astral light all by themselves. That is the goal of his ritual work.  I’ll be returning to this point when we finish the Doctrine and proceed to the Ritual, but it’s worth keeping it in mind in the meantime, since many of his theoretical discussions in the chapters ahead will be clearer if it’s remembered.

Some theory covered in this chapter is relevant here, and it takes some unpacking, because it’s written in terms that every educated person knew in 1854 but not too many people recall today. The astral light, Lévi tells us, contains forms—“images” might be a clearer term for modern readers, though they include equivalents of all the senses. These forms are themselves reflections of ideas—Lévi means this latter term in the full Platonic sense of the word, the basic patterns of reality, the thoughts of God.  The forms projected into the astral light from the primal ideas are then reflected further in the diaphanes of individual souls, and those that receive attention and emotion are reflected back into the astral light, where they become part of the clutter of astral noise that deceives the inexperienced seer.

The forms in the astral light aren’t in some distant dimension, by the way. Lévi points out that they are always present to our souls and can be perceived whenever our attention is not fixed on either the world of the senses, on the one hand, or on our own thoughts, on the other. Learn the trick of letting images rise freely in the mind, and the forms of the astral light present themselves to us, as they do in dreaming sleep and in hypnotic trance. Learn to do this while retaining full conscious awareness, unlike the diminished awareness of sleep and trance, and the doors to high magic open before you.  The training Lévi discussed in the first chapter of the Doctrine?  That’s the preparation that makes it possible to open those doors.

This is the point at which Lévi’s sly sense of humor comes into play.  As he did earlier in this chapter, he again presents the old notion of magic as dominion and domination, the empire of the will over the four elements and their inhabitants. That empire, he states, is found in the pentagram, and this symbol can be used to command the elemental spirits—or can it?  “Those which are not weighed down with the chains of matter recognize with their first intuition if a sign is the expression of a real power or of an imprudent will.  The intelligence of the sage thus gives validity to his pentacle.

We circle back again, in other words, to one of the central themes of Lévi’s work, the training of character. If you have the character of a mage, if you are wise and strong and kind, the spirits will present themselves before your diaphane and assist you in your work.  If you do not have that character, if you are not these things, you can brandish around all the pentagrams you want, and the spirits will either ignore you or mess with you, because the symbol is only a symbol and means nothing unless it reflects the quality of the person who uses it.

When our text insists that the pentagram has power over spirits, in other words, it’s dangling a baited hook for the clueless. The pentagram is a symbol of the qualities that give the only kind of power that matters to spirits, the power of character and individuality, which attracts their willing assistance just as it attracts the equal enthusiasm and assistance of human beings. To make use of the powers of the pentagram, you have to become the pentagram:  that is, you have to understand the things that the pentagram symbolizes, and remake yourself in their image.

Sly Lévi unquestionably was, but he went out of his way to make that task of self-refashioning easier for the student by giving a detailed template.  That template is the pentagram he presents at the start of this chapter, which I have included here as well.  For all its apparent complexity, this is one of the less obscure diagrams Lévi offers, and I encourage readers to take the time to unpack it in meditation.

The pentagram is the symbol of the human individual.  Lévi’s has its eyes open; it is surrounded by the Tetragrammaton, divided up into groups of two, three, and four letters—where have we seen those numbers before?  😉  —and by the cup, sword, wand, and coin, the four suit markers of the Tarot, emblems of the four elements. The pentagram has Jupiter on its head, representing justice; Mars on its hands, representing strength; and Saturn on its feet, representing stability; Mercury and Venus, intellect and emotion, are combined at its heart, and the Sun and Moon are at its breasts. Alpha is at its throat and Omega at its genitals, two important energy centers, and the Hebrew words written on the pentagram are Adam, Eve, Chesed (Mercy), and Pachad (Fear).  If you can’t get at least a few meditations out of all that, you really aren’t trying hard enough.

The pentagram is one of the two primary geometrical symbols Lévi presents here. The other is the hexagram, or star of David. The pentagram represents the microcosm, the human individual; the hexagram represents the macrocosm, the universe as a whole. The version of the hexagram our text gives us is an image of the balance of opposites.  Alpha on its top point balances Omega on its bottom point, and the horizontal lines poise Aleph against Tau (the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet) and Yod against Heh (the symbolically masculine and feminine Hebrew letters). The Tau cross of the Gnostics, representing Generation on the lower planes, Geometry on the middle planes, and Gnosis on the higher planes, is in the middle. (Here again, you ought to be able to find something to meditate on in this pattern of images and ideas.)

The hexagram is a relatively simple diagram, and relates especially to the two principles of the astral light that were discussed in Chapter Two of the Doctrine and will be revisited in the chapters to come. The pentagram is more complex, and conceals a secret of quite some importance. Lévi offers much more than a hint in the last paragraph of this chapter.  The pentagram, he says, gives the proportions of “the great and only athanor” (alchemical furnace) needed for the completion of the Great Work of alchemy. What are the proportions of the pentagram?  They unfold from the golden proportion, one of the famous ratios of sacred geometry.

The golden proportion is also the ratio that governs many of the measures of the human body. (For example, the bones of your arms are in approximate golden proportion ratio to one another all the way from your shoulder to your fingertips.) There’s your clue.  The great and only athanor of alchemy, the most perfect alembic (alchemical vessel), is the human body.  If that suggests to you that alchemy may be something more subtle and strange than mucking around with chemicals in a lab, good—you’re paying attention.  What that subtle and strange reality is will concern us more than once in the chapters ahead.

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 will be 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 V, Le Pape, “The Pope” (in some decks, “The Hierophant”).   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 ה (Heh) or the Latin letter E. As noted earlier, you should choose one alphabet and stick to it. The sound values aren’t of any importance here, nor is there a “right” choice. You’re assigning labels to a mental filing cabinet.  Most people can make the necessary association quite promptly, but spend a session exploring it. Sit down, get out the card, and study it.  Relate it to the letter in any way that comes to mind.

The third and fourth sessions are devoted to the two titles Lévi gives for the card: Geburah and Ecce. Sit down, get out the card, and study it. How does Geburah, Severity, relate to the imagery on the card and the letter you’ve chosen?  That’s one session.  How about Ecce, “Behold”?  That’s the next one.  And the word you chose as the third title for this chapter?  That’s the theme of the fifth session.  Approach it in the same way.

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 5 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.

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 6:  Magical Equilibrium” on November 10, 2021. See you then!


  1. This explains why scrying is so important for the mage in training. I am over halfway through the runes now, doing 3 meditation sessions for each scrying session. There have been some surprising and powerful sessions yeilding much insight, but also more banal ones. It seems like at this point, scrying is a matter of surfing the waves of astral static. I understand now of course one reason why you don’t like TV and movies, and why its so important to meditate on mythology: what we take in feeds the diaphane. Yesterday I saw a meme of a bear, and a few days before contemplated hunting one, today I meet a bear in my scrying session.

  2. The first thing that jumps out about the card is the tonsures – suggesting authority over monasteries. Or did friars get tonsures as well – would that make much symbolic difference?

    I’d never looked up the meaning of hierophant before and the etymology is someone who reveals the sacred.

  3. I can definitely sense here a consolidation and transition from the first four cards.

    I have also noticed, as you put 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.” True for me!

    Since beginning this study. I’ve been immersed in sea of images. My head has been spinning with ideas about what this or that symbol might mean, and my understanding threatens to “lose itself in vapors and symbolism,” as Jung so eloquently put it.

    So I decided to “let the material speak its own mind.” I wanted to bring the material to life and feel its effect on me. I decided to create a ritual. I’m offering this as an idea for anyone who wants to do a little extra-curricular activity, independent study, what-have-you.

    This is loosely based on the ancient tradition of the Symposium, where 5th century BC Greek lovers of wisdom gathered, drank wine, and shared their understandings of life, the universe, and everything.
    It also incorporates a process I’ve been reading about in Jungian psychology: active imagination.

    Here’s what I came up with:

    1. Created a ritual space —
    • Candles, incense, music
    • Sphere of Protection to invoke helpful powers and banish harmful influences

    2. Placed the first four trumps in a circle on the table. Le Bateleur in the east (air), L’Empereur in the south (fire), La Papesse in the west (water), L’Imperatrice in the north (earth), Le Fou in the center.

    3. Poured libations for each participant including myself, and placed them around the circle.

    4. Starting with the Le Bateleur, sat in front of the card. Greeted Le Bateleur and asked, “Who are you? What message do you have for me?”

    5. Sat quietly and waited for an inner response. Allowed words, feelings and associations to arise spontaneously, speaking whatever came to mind (even nonsense, glossolalia, singing, etc.) and paying attention.

    6. Moved around the circle and spoke to each image in turn, allowing them to speak to me and within me. It didn’t have to make sense. If nothing came up, I accepted this too. Sometimes silence can be eloquent.

    7. After making my way around the circle, I sat quietly, sipped my libation, absorbed and recorded impressions in my journal.

    8. Thanked everyone for participating in the symposium, poured libations into a common vessel, and closed the circle. Poured the contents of the vessel outside on the ground.

  4. I think this post in particular was information dense and I really enjoyed reading it – thanks! I had an experience related to the diaphane and dreaming last night. When I am weak of will I lay down on the floor for my night time reading instead of sitting. I dozed off and felt my consciousness slip about a foot or two off my physical body into what I assume was my aura. A dream started to form there but awareness of what was going on yanked me back into my body. I used to have OOBE’s/astral projections all the time when I was into that and this was distinctly different as there was no sense of a body separating. Just a point of consciousness I think I observed the beginning stages of the dreaming process. Anyway this experience, for me, confirmed the occult theory that dreams take place in the astral body.

    Also, I noticed Lévi’s writing get much more concrete this chapter.

  5. Thinking of unusual states just reminded me the only time I’ve had an out of body experience was in a lucid dream. In the dream my spirit form was standing in the bathroom, with my body (in the dream) sprawled inert on the floor at my feet. At the same time I was vaguely aware of my real physical body still laying in bed in the next room. It felt very free and liberating. I haven’t heard any other accounts of someone having three bodies simultaneously. 🙂

  6. “Lévi points out correctly that dreaming sleep is a state equivalent to hypnotic trance (which he calls “magnetic somnambulism,” the standard term for trance in his time and place). In occult terms, both these are states in which the ordinary thinking mind is silenced and the individual becomes conscious of the diaphane. ”

    This makes me wonder: what property hinders the ordinary thinking mind from being conscious of the diaphane when it is awake? Is it just the habit of focusing on one’s thoughts or senses as hinted at later? Put this way, that implies that perceiving the astral light is a conscious choice, an act of will in which images are allowed to come unwilled from the astral light, if I understand this correctly.

  7. Wow, how could I have missed the pentagram? It’s so apparent on the Knapp-Hall deck. I use the Rider-Waite deck for divination and it’s on there, too, but not nearly as apparent. Since Waite was jealous of Levi, as you’ve mentioned, I’m not surprised about that.

    It’s interesting that in the Knapp-Hall version, there is a cross at the center and not Mercury/Venus as Levi shows.

  8. After so much time spent dabbling, not understanding what I was doing or trying to achieve, this chapter has cleared up really a lot for me. I bet I could have read that even just a couple of years ago and it wouldn’t have meant anything to me. Thanks!

  9. Dear John,

    There is a question that I hope you can entertain, which is, I confess is only tangentially related to the book at hand.

    I have spent a two-weeks time slowly letting the words of the Corpus Hermeticum settle on my awareness. Much of it is true and clear, one can see why so much care was taken to preserve it in the face of the sword and the cross of persecution.

    Yet there is more which is not quite so immediately clear, that I cannot quite put my finger on. There is this jarring rhythm of content at which I wonder… the order seems so, so contrived.

    Is there any numerology that you have found useful in your encounters with the works? I would not dare to request specifications and I already worry that the translation disfigures the original elegance, possibly some of the message.

    Thank you Kindly and Regards,

    P.S. After a student’s lifetime in the academy I am that I have more than a minor irritation that these works, the Upanishads and so many more were so conveniently omitted from the curriculum.

  10. Gullindagan, exactly. Scrying is for most people the easiest way to get in touch with the diaphane, and the more you work with it, the clearer it becomes.

    Yorkshire, that’s an interesting question to which I don’t know the answer. Anyone else?

    Goldenhawk, excellent! A good imaginative approach to the work.

    Youngelephant, good. Yes, Lévi is definitely buckling down to details at this point.

    Yorkshire, fascinating.

    Jbucks, that’s exactly it. Most people spend all their time either paying attention to the world around them or chasing their own thoughts and feelings. You have to stop, clear your mind, and attend to the diaphane — and children are actively discouraged from doing this. Think of all the criticism children face for “daydreaming”!

    Jon, it’s not just you. Every time I go over a good tarot deck I’m startled by the things I missed the last time through!

    Reloaded15, you’re welcome and thank you.

    Joseph, I haven’t studied the Corpus Hermeticum extensively — my focus when it comes to ancient literature is the Neoplatonists and, to a lesser extent, the Gnostics. Thus I can’t help you with their numerology. The advice that comes to mind is one of the classic alchemical maxims: lege, lege, lege, relege, ora, labora, ut invenies — that is, “read, read, read, read again, pray, work, and you will find it.”

  11. I admit I glossed over the pentagram on the first reading not knowing how to begin to parse it. But there’s obviously an enormous amount of symbolism built into it. Is there a reason Levi doesn’t discuss it in detail? Would he have assumed the reader knew what it meant already?

    Is “ecce” short for “ecce homo”? That would seem fitting given that the pentagram is the symbol of the individual.

  12. When you described the imaginal world I thought that all my long life “I have had no experience in the imaginal world”. But I have always enjoyed my dreams and certain creatures have visited me on a regular basis during my dreams for many decades. One of these is a large bear. I now know that that is fear. Not sure what it is I am afraid of, but I feel it. It always seems to hunt me and i have to escape by waking up. There are other creatures that I have felt a kinship with during my waking self, but have almost never visited me in my dreams, such as crows. I imagine how their world must be so different than ours, that we inhabit the bottom of an ocean so far below them and how clumsy and slow we must seem to them. I hear them talking and it seems like conversation, not birdsong. I sense they look out for and care for each other. Are they part of my imaginal world too? Am I dreaming about them while also being awake?

  13. Thank you for doing this most helpful commentary on Levi’s book.

    Speaking of the astral light – I am attempting to read through Al-Kindi’s book on the stellar rays, and the one thing that really strikes me is how ‘modern’ his understanding of magic is. The short version is that Al-Kindi postulates that everything is connected to everything else through the emittance and reception of “rays of light”, creating a cosmos constituted of a vast and dynamic interconnected web of photic radiance. The main and most influencing emitters are of course the stars and the divine, but because of how everything below is a mirror of the above, humans also have the power to create and emit rays, and by so doing, to interact with and alter the photic web that constitutes the cosmos we experience.

    The interesting thing with Al-Kindi (apart from his rather awesome stellar/photic cosmology built on what appears to be a somewhat original fusion of Aristotelian, Neoplatonist and Hermetic concepts) is that he identifies the “ray-creating” faculty in humans as none other than the power of imagination. It is this power, when properly executed, that is capable of making humans wield the divine power of the stars: that of creating and transmitting rays that interacts with and alters the cosmic web in specific willed ways. This happens when the divine imagination is coupled with words/sounds, figures/symbols, images, sacrifices etc.

  14. Hi John Michael,

    Still reading along. The alchemists set out to transform themselves, as I reckon does a lot of this work. Interestingly, I’ve mentioned to you before that I have no visual recall, it’s all blank in there, although other faculties more than make up for the lack. But the greater to me is experienced all the same, there is a certain sense of letting go, whilst being careful. I have an odd notion that guidance and suggestion does not all come from a place of consensus and felt that the day the 5.9 earthquake hit here a few weeks ago which was a seriously odd day in many ways. Alas, sometimes the forces at work can sweep you away. Oh well.



  15. The pentagram is often also found abundantly in nature – besides mans four limbs and head, five fingers and five toes… It is also out there in star fish, in leaves, just look around!

    Looking forward to this chapter. The Hierophant has been a major theme for me this year, so I’m excited to see what Levi has to say, I plan to read it the first time today. (Hierophant showing up in tarot readings and a series of Hierophant related dreams about lineages the first few months of the year -they were like an astral download.)

    I had a discursive walking meditation insight a few weeks ago that in the Druid tradition, the Bard in his/her higher development takes on some of the qualities of the Hierophant. The transmission of lineage through sacred memory of holding stories. In this way the Bard is like a Hierophant who keeps the stories. The Hierophant as Priest or Priestess also holds lineages through the various consecrated lines of power they hold. The Bard holds the lineage of storytelling and music (among other things).

    I’m looking forward to these meditations!

  16. Reading through Buddhist spectacles, I wonder to what extent this “diaphane” or “astral body” can be explained in terms of known mental phenomena, that is, how much woo is being claimed for it. The statement that dreams and hypnosis are “states in which the ordinary thinking mind is silenced and the individual becomes conscious of the diaphane” might be interpreted in terms acceptable to secular psychology, i.e. without placing the diaphane in another dimension or something. Even the photic metaphor of the next line (“If the diaphane is clear enough, images from the astral light become visible through it”) could be read as the perception of consciousness itself, which doesn’t necessarily require any woo assumptions, even though the practice is valorized by certain religious traditions.

    The statement that “there are no fixed barriers or unbridged gaps between one human soul and another” sounds very Buddhist (ignoring the “soul” language), and raises the question of whether and how thoughts might jump from one to another through paranormal means. Certainly Buddhism has traditions of this, just as Christianity has miracle tales. One possible metaphor might be that of mirrors which reflect one another (or Indra’s Net), another would be that of a “mind at large” which underlies individual minds. If karma exists, then that offers a certain mechanism for influence, but so does merely co-existing in the same physical universe. (One mind can influence others through normal conversation, e.g..)

    Imagination involves creating mental images (not necessarily visual), or to put it more passively, having such images appear to one. Visualizing Chenrezig, let us say, might be understood as a projection from one’s mind onto the universe (“the images we hold in our minds are projected outward from our diaphanes”), or else as an attempt to perceive and tap into what is assumed to be a larger reality. I’ve seen both explanations in Buddhist writing. On the other hand, I might just as easily visualize Bugs Bunny, and nobody valorizes that!

    JMG: “The forms and currents perceived by the imagination, according to occult teaching, are not subjective—that is, they are not walled up inside the individual’s skull, products solely of his own brain function. They belong to what Henry Corbin usefully called the imaginal world…”

    I assume that some of our visualizations (like Chenrezig) but not others (like Bugs Bunny) could be ascribed to Corbin’s mundus imaginalis, but what is the relevant difference? Acceptance by some religious tradition, like Corbin’s Shiites? Archetypal status? (Actually Bugs Bunny may well be an archetypal image. I’ve seen an article comparing drawings of Felix the Cat with ancient images of Pan, I think it was.) Plato’s theory of Forms raised a related set of demarcation problems.

    On a different subject, I see many people are intrigued by the idea of reading with “conceptual three-dimensionality.” I suppose it must be like Lectio Divina, or the rough Buddhist equivalent of “hearing, reflecting, and meditating.”

    A vulgar version would be bibliomancy–opening up the Bible and considering whatever one reads to be personal advice, even if (to quote an old Mutt and Jeff comic) the first verse says “And Judas hanged himself,” and the next reads “Go and do thou likewise”! And even more vulgar version is to assume that God speaks to you through the messages on other people’s tee-shirts. (Try it! The words of God are often hard to decipher or apply, but sometimes it works, sort of.) I suppose the key is to start with a text which is full of potentially useful advice, and also sufficiently vague. I-Ching divination, or reading newspaper horoscopes seem to work like this. Jung’s synchronicity doesn’t have to be interpreted as woo (Jung was certainly reluctant to do so), but we’ve all experienced “meaningful coincidences” like that.

  17. That makes sense – I was encouraged to daydream at home, but I see now that the constant call to ‘pay attention!’ at school diminished the habit.

    On another note, I’ve been waiting for this chapter to post some reflections about how the numbers discussed in each chapter so far relate to time signatures in music. Or rather, the ways one could subdivide a musical pulse, or group pulses, depending on how you look at it.

    I find it interesting how the feel of each of certain time signatures seems to reinforce strands in what we’ve been learning so far, especially in terms of the quality of each of the numbers.

    The One isn’t really a time signature, rather an undifferentiated drone.

    The Two, the first division of the unity, has a distinct, limited feel. Like a pendulum in a clock relentlessly going back and forth. There aren’t a whole lot of options for playing with this time signature, it is quite limited – indeed, it seems to musically reinforce being locked into a binary. But the feel of this time signature is distinct, and when you focus on it as a whole, then perhaps you are experiencing its unity (the same goes for the other time signatures).

    The Three-based time signature has a slightly incomplete feel, but a pleasurably incomplete feel. Counting 1-2-3, the next 1 ends up resolving the previous bar, but also reinforces its asymmetry. We seem to expect a fourth note but we go on to another group of 3 instead. Perhaps that relates to the ternary continuing to circle onwards without resolution, as discussed last time.

    The Four-based seems to give us this symmetry. It’s a compound of two, but the marriage of both lends a solidity to the feel of it. The Two is present twice, and it acts as a foundational element. Whereas the symmetry of the Two alone can almost be boring, the Four allows one to play with symmetrical permutations in very interesting and musical ways from the essential foundation of the Two. I’m looking forward to seeing how this relates to Sixteen when we get to it.

    A subdivision into Five is really interesting. It has a lopsided feel like the Three, but takes a bit more getting used to than the Three does. It seems to be the first time signature where the subdivision into its elements really adds something new: it works on its own as a unity of Five, but lends itself really well to accenting the Two and the Three within it (either 1-2-3-1-2 or 1-2-1-2-3) with accents on the ones in it. Five seems to allow you to play with both Two and Three against and with each other.

  18. First off, a sincere thank you for taking the time and effort to post this series. I am a beginner, and as such appreciate your deliberate step-by-step approach!
    As I have been putting in the work you suggest, I have noticed that while I meditate on the cards I feel a sense of having “been here before”. At first I couldn’t put a finger on it, but then it occurred to me that the experience I am having is much like “daydreaming” as a child. If I think back to my childhood, stuck in grade school and the teacher is droning on about something. I stare out the window and my mind starts to paint a picture – a “daydream” – that I am not directing nor have I put any intent into, it just occurrs and I am playing along it seems – until I am called on by said teacher to come “back to reality” with the rest of the class. The “magnetic somnambulism” Levi talks about seems to be like a daydreaming process, but one initiates it with intent? Am I thinking about this correctly? I am sure there is more to it.
    On a side note, as an adult I seldom daydream, nor do I have experiences of deja vu. However, as a child those experiences were very common for me. There seems to be a slightly thinner veil to the spiritual world for a child perhaps?

  19. This chapter has also provoked some thought about the spirit world, the astral plane, and the imagination. Appropriately enough, as Sammhuinn draws closer!

    I meant to ask in the discussion of Chapter 4 about the passage below, but it has new relevance now to me:

    “… because the atmosphere is the recipient of, and like a crucible for, the Sun’s rays, and through the great agent, with its continual outflows and currents, which are analogous to those of the Sun itself, is formed that living image of the Sun which entirely penetrates the Earth, enlivens it, fertilizes it, and determines all that is produced on its surface.” (page 59)

    Here Levi appears to be talking about the telluric current, and also indirectly the cycle of the seasons. I can’t parse just yet if he is referring to a kind of subtle body of the Earth, a mirror image of the Sun’s own subtle body.

    I arrived at this thought indirectly by starting to wonder about the limits of the astral plane. If the astral plane is beyond time and space, then perhaps we should be able to sense the astral bodies of beings on other worlds. As far as I know, we can’t. This may be because the great agent surrounds the Earth, and images within it may be beyond space and time within the limits of its extent around the Earth.

    This led me to thoughts about the spirit world, its connection to Celtic myth, and the telluric current. It starts to make sense: as someone dies, they leave their physical body, and their subtle bodies return to the astral plane, which is bounded around the Earth. So those who die literally do return to the Earth in more ways than one. I hope I haven’t misunderstood or oversimplified too badly anything here!

    There seems to be connection between the energy given off by the Earth’s core, the magnetic field around the Earth, the astral plane, and the spirit world in Celtic legend (and others) – and this connection is why these things are associated with the telluric current, or even, this is what the telluric current IS.

    It is useful then to speak of the imagination with a different term: the diaphane. It makes sense in terms of this chapter’s post: The term ‘imagination’ has, to modern ears, the association of being ‘just in one’s head’. Whereas your diaphane is in a very busy place – not only spirits, but other beings of a different sort, and all the images formed by the diaphanes of other people. In a way, that would seem to imply that the images you have ‘created’ in your diaphane have a life of their own? Hmmm… are they even your own images, or just conscious beings that interact with your diaphane? Lots to think about…

  20. About the diaphane: When I let my mind go quieter, what I find underneath is what psychoanalysts call “primary process” — a stream of images, feelings, desires, plots — that’s a lot like a dream in its lack of cohesion. I probably experience this because I was married to a shrink-in-training and had years of psychoanalysis.

    Another image is from dance training. One exercise is to simply stand, and feel how my body automatically makes adjustments to keep me standing upright. The next step is to exaggerate those automatic movements to make them into an improvised dance.

    The common thread is becoming aware of the automatic movements of body and mind.

  21. I have a question about the astral light, or the imagination. I live something of a solitary life. I don’t often work directly with others. But my sleeping dreams are often full with people, many more than I normally associate with, more often than not none of whom I recognize. We are often engaged in seeking something, or building something, or defending against something but I rarely remember what. I seem to remember reading somewhere, an occult teacher warning of the dream state so populated.

    I’m wondering too about art, fiction and the like. Would you say the act of imagining the story and writing it down to be something like opening up to the astral light? I know there have been times when I am writing fiction, or poetry, where I seem to go into a mesmeric like state. And then I wonder, is the measure of the clarity of the astral light seen through that work, actual enjoyment of the work by others?

  22. Since this reading group began, my journaling has grown more extensive, which has meant that my handwriting, imagination, and verbal facility have all gotten stronger. My reading has also grown even more eclectic, if also a bit more selective. I’m also not raging and smashing as much as I used to. If I get nothing more out of these readings and exercises than that, I’m ecstatic. Thanks again, JMG.

  23. Appropriate to equate the astral light spoken of here with the divine light spoken of by Iamblichus, or is there yet a subtler distinction that Levi is making?


  24. I’m wondering too, what you mean when you translate Geburah as “severity”. Elsewhere I see it translated as strength, or “the essence of judgement and limitation.” Severity is alternatively defined as serious, but also in a negative sense as “a condition of being very bad, serious, unpleasant or harsh,” according to Webster, which I would take in Levi’s sense to be a vulgar interpretation. I assume by “severity” you mean a kind of serious, intentional, uncompromising focus on the task of ritual and magic?

  25. Still reading along, just wanted to point out a small synchronicity – this week, I taught my oldest (9 years old) how to communicate with plants. I learned years ago through Stephen Harrod Buhner’s books, one of which is, “Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm”, which draws from Henry Corbin’s ideas. (Just for reference – I am the watch-killer who has been blasting out energy from my hands for the last three years during the SOP) How wonderful to find that that I’ve dipped my toes in “practicing” even before knowing about magic.

    Jbucks – thank you for sharing the time signature connections – those will inspire new meditations for me.

  26. @jbucks: Very cool about the time signatures! Yes, the drone, the dr-one!

    Are you familiar with the work of the drummer/ percussionist Z’ev (RIP). He was an industrial/noise musician, and often used stuff he found as his instruments. He was also a very interesting magical theorist and Kabbalist. In fact a scholar of the Kabbalah. (I’ve been listening to his “Metaphonic Meditations” on his album The Sapphire Nature -an audio commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah, some this week) . The CD comes enhanced with PDF’s of his commentaries on the Sefer Yetzirah.

    Anyway, he is an amazing percussionist. He also wrote a book called Rhythmajick about the Kabbalistic use of numbers in music. You might find it interesting. After the book went out of print, he used to give it away as a PDF to anyone who wanted it. Since he died, it is still online. You can find it here:

    I know you need more books to read, btw 😉

    Here is an interview done by Jon Whitney of Brainwashed alongside some bits of a performance:

    & if you don’t like noise or industrial music, don’t let his genre of choice turn you away from his writing, which is a profound exploration!

  27. The functions of the diaphane in this chapter sound a LOT like the descriptions of Remote Viewing (RV) given by Joseph McMoneagle, who did RV for the US Government for about 20 years. When he was being evaluated for RV ability, McMoneagle believed that he was just sitting in a dark room, imagining things. He was very surprised to find that his ‘imaginings’ and the pictures he drew of them turned out to be fairly accurate images of the double-blind RV targets he was assigned to view (although some of them were mirror-images).
    McMoneagle’s descriptions of the difficulty of discerning ‘signal’ (the images of one’s target) from ‘overlay’ (images from memory, surroundings, or biases of the viewer) are very much like Levi’s descriptions of the ‘light of truth’ vs ‘glazed mass full of dross and foreign objects.’

    McMoneagle always wrote that he had no idea how RV worked, just that it did work, while Levi is proposing mechanisms of action. Hmmm, another TSW moment.

    This is VERY interesting stuff– Certainly a lot to chew on!

    One additional footnote–
    On page 69, Levi quotes Napoleon speaking to his Uncle, Cardinal Fesch;

    “Do you see that star?
    “No sire.
    “Well I see that star…”

    Levi may have seen this in an 1831 play about the life of Napoleon;

    Napoléon Bonaparte ou Trente ans de l’histoire de France : drame en six actes, en vingt-trois tableaux : Odéon. – 10 janvier 1831

    Here’s a link:

    In the play, the exchange occurs at the end of the fifth act, between Napoleon and Armand Caulaincourt, a diplomat and advisor who accompanied Napoleon to Russia, not with Cardinal Fesch.

    In the play, the same message is conveyed, of Napoleon being a visionary who brought others along with him. I wonder if Levi (subconsciously?) substituted the Cardinal into this conversation to imply that not all visionaries are officials of organized religion, and not all of the clueless are laymen? Or perhaps I am reading too much into it…

  28. Simon, Lévi doesn’t discuss the pentagram in detail because he wants you to do the work of unpacking it. As for “ecce homo,” possibly, but the word “ecce” all by itself has a few things to teach.

    Daniel, the imaginal world is all around you all the time, waking and sleeping, and you perceive it just as constantly whether you let yourself notice it or not. Have you never daydreamed? Imagined something? Let images surface in your mind? Those all relate to the imaginal world.

    Clavicula, al-Kindi’s talking about exactly the same thing Lévi is. Are you reading al-Kindi in translation, btw, and if so, which one?

    Chris, visual imagination is only one kind of imagination. Some people — I’m one of them — have very limited visual imagination, for example, but can imagine sounds very clearly indeed. Others have different ways of relating to imaginal space. One size emphatically does not fit all…

    Justin, it is indeed — the golden section, the proportion that structures the pentagram, is among the most common proportions in nature.

    Bei Dawei, sure, you can find ways to fit what Lévi is saying into the Procrustean bed of modern materialist philosophy if you want to, but it seems unnecessarily limiting to me to let a craving for respectability (i.e., fear of “woo”) govern your entire take on human possibility.

    Jbucks, good! Reflections like these are closely tied to the Pythagorean symbolism of numbers, as the Pythagorean tradition was heavily involved in music from the very beginning. As for the fivefold beat, have you ever heard the Dave Brubeck jazz piece “Take Five”? It’s a fine bit of 5/4 music.

    Matthew, excellent. Yes, daydreaming of the kind you’ve described is a way of access to the imaginal realm. You can do it now just as well as you did then — it may take you a little practice to get back in the habit. What mages call “scrying” (or, more formally, “scrying in the spirit vision”) is that same practice, focused, directed, and put to good use.

    Jbucks, a fine meditation. Yes, Lévi is talking about the interplay of the solar and telluric currents.

    Tomriverwriter, yes, precisely. As long as you remember that your mind isn’t any more isolated from the rest of the world than your body, and “primary process” is a reflection of things that go beyond the merely personal, you’re talking about the same thing.

    Whd, it’s very common for the dream life to balance the waking life — a person who has a very crowded, busy waking life full of interactions with other people might well have lots of dreams of being in solitude. As for writing, I can’t speak for everyone, but my writing process involves plenty of hard work with the diaphane, and plenty of attention to astral images, so I think you’re on to something.

    Rage Monster, I’m delighted to hear it.

    Whd, I use the translation “severity” because that’s standard in Western esoteric writings, and since I’m not a Hebrew scholar I don’t try to correct the translations of technical terms.

    Shewhoholds, glad to hear it! The ability to communicate with plants is a skill worth having.

    Emmanuel, remote viewing is one of the many applications of work with the diaphane, so this doesn’t surprise me at all. As for the play, thanks for this! I hadn’t been able to track down the reference.

  29. Jbucks and JMG, regarding the five-fold beat: “Mars, the Bringer of War” from Holt’s “Planets” is also in 5/4, no doubt contributing to its disquieting effect.

  30. Re: daydreaming – that is the exact term for the state of mind I have been falling into for the past several months when, as a thought exercise after meditation, I was speculating on a possible reincarnation in a near-future world – which has now morphed into a long, rambling, character-driven novel-in-process about a town of about 20,000 people from 2025 through the late 2040s at least. I have about three such threads in my mindspace right now, one of which intertwines with the current one, and the other jumps ahead between the two times.

    Alas, it sometimes takes me over at night, when I fall into that half-awake half-asleep mode and finally get up. I can then either write it up and save it to the thumb drive and/or send it to my beta-reader (who lives in such a town); or, I have to break the spell by doing something rational and impersonal and getting a bite to eat and hot chocolate milk. Just for an odd data point here; magic-wise I have been Advised (at my altar) to remain on the bunny slope of magic in my present condition and advanced age, and am doing so. Though to cards certainly speak to me.

  31. Pentagram does intuitively seem as an obvious geometric expression of number five. In ideal world of Plato’s ideas there is only one idea of pentagram while in reality, of course, there are innumberable multitudes of pentagram shapes. In between, when an idea approaches reality, it diferentiates through orientation. Thus we get two pentagrams, a regular and inverted pentagram, and their meanings and influences differ accordingly.
    Similarly, square as an expression of number four, when differentiated through orientation, becomes a diamond, which is dynamic while regular square is static. Triangle, depending on whether it points up or down, becomes masculine or feminine. A straight line, as a binary oposition, is transcendental value defining if it is vertical (invoking heaven above and hell below or – prior to Christianity – gods in Olympus above and the land of dead in Hades below) and much more mundane if it is horizontal (like a choice between tea and coffee). Number one, however, expressed as a circle, does not change through orientation. And shapes expressing numbers six and further are too complex (at least for human perception and understanding) to change meanings dramatically through orientation.
    Thus, if a regular pentagram has all the nice meanings and values like wisdom, strength and kindness, an inverted one might have exact opposites, like a jungian shadow. In popular culture inverted pentagram is linked to Satanism and goat god (how much is that based on actual occult history and practice – I don’t know). So, whoever focuses on a regular pentagram should probably be prepared for it to occasionally and suddenly switch to an inverted pentagram, along with its magical baggage. Another point would then perhaps be that magic, when it becomes something more than a quaint hobby, can be dangerous.

  32. To clarify my perhaps poorly worded comment above, I didn’t mean to imply that JMG was making any such equivalence in the post. I meant rather to ask: would I be correct in equating the aforementioned astral light with the divine light mentioned by Iamblichus?

    Apologies for the phrasing, and axé

  33. Interesting about daydreaming. I have always been a daydreamer but have a good memory. The only couple of times I got the ruler at school were for daydreaming. One was a relief teacher who had just very specifically told us not to walk into class a particular way as there was a big puddle in the way. I missed all that and stepped into the puddle, what a trouble maker. The other time was when I was at a new school and the teacher was re-arranging our seating and I kept missing the call for my number. However all the rest of the time at school the teachers probably knew that I was no trouble and got my work done so they let me get on with it.

  34. @jbucks and @justin,

    I will enjoy contemplating time signatures and reading the book. Thank you both for sharing!


    Again, I thought I understood this chapter, but then I read your post and I realize how much I don’t. But I shall meditate some more before I start asking questions.


    One of the ideas I’ve been pondering is converting TE and TRA and TON (from the pentagram) to Hebrew letters to see if I can get JMG’s Tau references from the hexagon (generation on the lower planes, geometry on the middle planes, and gnosis on the higher planes) to fit. (Too early to tell… more meditations needed.)

    I don’t have a background in Gnostic geometry so I was doing research and happened upon this page The animated gif is uber cool and, yes, it has a merkaba in it! So if you’ve been going through merkaba-withdrawal… 😉

  35. shewhoholdstensions #25 – We started the day with a long hike in the woods. Stopped a few times to touch trees and talk:)

  36. Emmanuel Goldstein (no. 27), it seems relevant that remote viewing is not like telepathy–thoughts leaping from mind to mind, so to speak–but involves one mind perceiving objects and locations, without any other mind involved.

    JMG (no, 28), I’m not afraid of woo (Buddhism has lots of woo traditions), I’m just trying to figure out to what extent this model assumes woo, and what kind of woo is meant. Descriptions of the diaphane resemble those of ordinary human states–what tomriverwriter (no. 20) calls “primary process”–except for these elusive transpersonal aspects. (Photic imagery is common enough, cross-culturally, but may not shed much light on the cosmology!) The very word “magic” would seem to imply some level of woo, and yet we often find it glossed modernistically, in terms like “will” or “consciousness,” which are not usually thought of as woo.

    (If the word “woo” sounds too hostile, feel free to substitute “spiritual.”)

  37. @ Simon S: “Ecce” is Latin for “Behold.” As an undergrad, I volunteered to sing in Oratorio Chorus; it was a good place to see and be seen and encounter a few professors from both liberal arts and science as well. Mozart’s Requiem contains the line “Ecce Agnus Dei,” “Behold, the Lamb of God.” On the academic side of campus, one professor would walk into the classroom and announce, “Ecce Agnus Dei,” in jest; my recollection is he was a world-renowned lecturer in Shakespeare and perhaps a lapsed Catholic.

    For the Tarot Deck, one card (The Empress?) contains the letters “B” and “J.” Have the commentariat discussed the letters?

    From my nascent practice with Tarot, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the card spreads I’ve encountered so far.

  38. Whd/JMG,

    The correspondence with writing also occurred to me while reading this chapter. Sometimes a story is there but all the muck gets in the way and the writer has to work hard to clear it off. Sometimes, the light shines through clear as crystal and the story just writes itself. When that happens you have the experience that the story came “through” you which begs the question where did it come from and I guess Levi’s answer would be the astral light. This would also explain why some stories resonate so strongly with many people and become popular even once time has washed away the vagaries of fashion. They are the ones that best resonate in the astral light.

  39. @JMG @Bei Daiwa

    Primary process is seen as entirely internal and mostly unconscious. It’s roughly what the id is.

    When I learned that my mind was just as connected to the world as my body, my psychoanalyst really didn’t like it. He was afraid I thought I could use my mind to control the world, but that’s schizophrenic thinking. I stopped talking about mind connections to him, so that he wouldn’t worry, but I didn’t stop noticing it. It seems clear to me now that we are all always in flux, and our ego and self boundaries are rather hazy. Knowing this is much better than not knowing it, and being fooled by it.

  40. RPC, true enough. Holst knew his way around occultism and would have known to do that.

    Patricia M, well, that’s how I come up with my fiction, for what it’s worth!

    Goran, a good solid meditation. Thank you.

    Fra’ Lupo, I’d have to have a much clearer sense of what Iamblichus had in mind to answer that. I suspect they’re talking about the same thing, but I’m not as well versed in Iamblichus’ work as I’d like to be.

    Jill, you were fortunate!

    Karma, there are layers and layers and layers to this text.

    Bei Dawei, fair enough. Remember that the universe of magic is the same universe you inhabit; it’s not equipped with unicorns barfing rainbows, or what have you. When a mage speaks of will he means the same thing you do — but he might just know how to do things with will that you don’t know. As Lévi says, “There is no invisible world, there are only degrees of perfection in the different systems.”

    Jenxyz, those are the initials of Boaz and Jachin, the names of the two pillars of the temple of Solomon.

    Simon, that was certainly my take on The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth, which basically downloaded itself into my brain and demanded to be written. It came via the astral light — though it might not have originated there.

    Tom, I’m far from sure that the id is personal in nature. Like the superego, it may be a collective reality rather than an individual one.

  41. @JMG You area member of the order of bards, ovates, and druids, or a different group? The one I mentioned has orgasm, still finding out, group I might join.

  42. Morning John,
    Great post as usual. I’m wondering, is one of the key goals of alchemy, to transform the human consciousness or soul, by giving it form out with the material body?
    Regards Averagejoe

  43. It’s great to be back in the saddle after having a priest humiliate me for coming to him with my “daydream problem” as a child. Two weeks ago I was noticing things that I usually see in shadows, but it broad daylight. This past week the visions I got in the space between wake and sleep have been more focused. I’m starting to remember them and actually gained some control over certain aspects.

    Studying the cards every night does the opposite of watching movies and clips. The latter feeds me back the recycled vid for my next meditation (and I have to pick out what’s important) vs the former where I get something completely brand new, higher quality, and more relevant.

    Also I’m making some decent progress on being a better person, and although there is still plenty of room for improvement it definitely helps to have a desirable goal. “Goodness for goodness sake” is just a little too close to blind obedience for my taste thanks to all the negative experiences with authority figures.

  44. @JMG, thank you. I was tempted to draw that inference, as both employ the image of light, but you are right–sometimes the philosophers employ technical language and, especially given the distance of time, language, and culture, might be presumptuous on my part.


  45. @shewhoholdstension: You’re welcome! Glad to hear the time signature reflections were of interest to you.

    @Justin Patrick Moore: Ha! I’m definitely a sucker for books! 🙂 Thanks for the link to Rhythmajik, I’ve downloaded the book. I wasn’t aware of Z’ev before, so I spent some time yesterday listening to some samples of his albums. I listen to anything from noise and industrial through folk to classical music, so I appreciate finding out about new artists that I wasn’t previously aware of.

    @JMG: Yes, agreed, Take Five is a great piece of music! I’m going to have to delve into the Pythagorean symbolism of numbers, it seems.

    @RPC: Thanks for that! I was aware of Holst but I didn’t know that piece, I will give it a listen.

    @RandomActsOfKarma: You’re welcome! And thanks for the geometry link, I was indeed getting merkaba withdrawal. 🙂

  46. @JMG That’s the dispute between Jung and Freud. My psychoanalyst and my ex-wife were doctrinaire Freudians, and I’m only representing their point of view here. I started to see the permeability of minds when I first met Wiccans, and I’m still trying to understand it in this study group. I look forward to it.

  47. There’s a post on Brigg’s website this morning that I think might Interest you. Called ‘The Coming Unification of Science and Religion’ it’s lengthy enough that you might just want to skim through but he has some fascinating insights into our current plight.
    Of course it could all be nonsense too. I don’t know enough to tell so mostly I continue to say my prayers, thank the angels of nature, and try my best to treat people gently.
    Best wishes, JMG.

  48. James, I belong to the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD; and the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA; They’re both good orders with solid training programs.

    Averagejoe, alchemy has many different goals — it’s a very rich and complicated tradition. Yes, that’s one of the goals.

    Aloysius, delighted to hear it.

    Fra’ Lupo, it’s very challenging — not least because so many Western traditions tend to be very vague about the different levels of existence.

    Tomriverwriter, it is indeed. Like nearly all occultists, of course, I favor Jung.

    Susan, thanks for this. I’ve bookmarked it and will take a look at it when time permits.

  49. Tangential and trivial, but – in the latest Dune, the character of Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam – costume, pose, manner – was based on the queen cards of the Marseilles Tarot, with a dash of chess queen. Somebody know what they’re doing!

    Quite OT: these producers seem to know what they’re doing – everything looks like real people in a real collection of cultures, treated with respect, instead of the sci-fi weirdness of the last two attempts. It shows. And of course, Fremen culture is Magian to the core; hence, jihad (the producers changed it to “crusade.” In order not to get into modpol, I think.) would be inevitable and the Sisterhood should have foreseen it. For those who are into pixels on a screen.

    Amusing and on topic a bit – the reporter writing thing up said, about the institution of Mentats, “because they don’t have robotics or supercomputers.” I could almost hear the pity in his voice.

  50. JMG,

    Ha. There are layers and layers and layers to the images, too! For starters, I am working on the outside ring of the pentagram.

    First, the higher plane duality TE. This could be Tau-Heh. Tau is the cross (a representation of an aspect of the Divine); Heh is the window. So if this is the higher plane T of the Gnostics (T meaning gnosis), then TE would be seeing the Divine (or the Astral) through a window. Or it could be the Divine (or the Astral) passing through a window (to get to the TRA).

    But vowels are tricky and I don’t know Hebrew, so perhaps E isn’t Heh. I read that Aleph-Tau ( is an abbreviation for Aleph-Bet (so similar to ‘the Alpha and the Omega’), and then found this:

    “Bereshit Bara Elohim Et…” (Hebrew for “In the beginning God created Et…”) (‘Et’ being a Hebrew grammar thing to indicate a direct object follows). The significance of this being that Et was created before heaven and earth. Since Hebrew is right-to-left, Hebrew ET would be English TE, so TE could be Tau-Aleph and refer to that which was created first.

    Then, TRA. At first, I thought this would be the middle plane Tau (for Geometry), but I’ve since decided that since it is also labeled with a 1, that this Tau is also higher plane (and the middle plane is the center part of the diagram, and even though it doesn’t have a Tau, it does have an Aleph that looks like a compass, so it relates to Geometry…) TRA could be analyzed by letter (Tau-cross, Resh-resurrection, Aleph-creation), but since TE/ET meant something, I typed TRA (תרא) in Google Translate and it translates to ‘look’. Look… behold…ecce! So look through Heh to see Tau!

    Moving to the lower planes, we have GRAM-MA-TON, 4-2-3, the same sequence as the Sphinx riddle.

    Neither GRAM nor MARG translated into anything intelligible, so that leaves analyzing by letters.

    Gimel can be camel or (free) choice or (practicing) chesed (loving kindness) or the Descent of the Divine.
    Resh can be head or beginning or resurrect.
    Aleph can be creation.
    Mem can be water or death or inner wisdom expressed through speech.

    When the Divine descends, it begins ‘material’ creation with water (water because it relates to the grail in the TRA and because water and fire (represented by the wand over GRAM) makes fiery-water (from Eden creation story).

    Then, MA Mem-Aleph, with the sword representing air (because fire and water make air) (and air represents intellect, which (according to Resh) is related to speech). Mem as inner wisdom expressed through speech creates (Aleph).

    Then TON, the lower plane Tau for Generation. This Tau represent the end, the Omega. O can be represented several ways in Hebrew. Two of the common ways are with variations of Aleph (creation) or Vau (man). Online, I found that Nun can be ‘faithfulness and reward for faithfulness’. Levi’s title for the chapter associated with Nun is transmutations. So at the end, man’s reward for faithfulness is transmutation, which is fitting for the most perfect alembic.

    And that is my first round of meditation on the outer layer of the pentagram.

    More layers and more meditations to go!

  51. James R. (no 41): Come again?

    Susan C. (no. 47) I read that, and several other pieces by “Ianto Watt.” He is…a character. At least half-crazed, and outspoken to the point of raving, like a better-educated version of Fast Eddy from OFW. A Traditionalist Catholic and Trump supporter who finds apocalyptic significance in the clash between the USA and Russia, Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy, rabbinic Judaism and the Karaites (!), and thinks the modern world has literally gone to the devil.

  52. Patricia Matthew (no. 49), I saw the new “Dune” movie a few days ago and liked it very much, although I thought it would have benefited from cuts. (*)

    Planet Caladan seems to be named after Caledonia (Scotland), although filmed in Norway (close enough), and we even get bagpipes! Some classics-minded ancestor must have assumed the Atreides surname–surely Herbert can’t have intended for the family to be descended from a bunch of mythological characters in ancient Greece!

    Geidi Prime is just the Heavy Metal planet populated by Designated Villains.

    The Bene Gesserit are not-very-celibate space nuns.

    Arrakis is the Middle East, spice is oil, the “Fremen” (Free Men) are Space Bedouin, and the whole movie is basically “Lawrence of Arabia”–if we can imagine a T.E. Lawrence who was a scion of some European royal house, and who conquered Europe after declaring himself to be the Madhi. The life of the Prophet Muhammad also seems to be an inspiration (reading Muhammad’s polygamy as a moral compromise, like Paul’s eventual marriage to Irulan.) Frank Herbert was also apparently inspired by Leslie Blanche’s “The Sabres of Paradise” 1960), which is about Imam Shamyl and Dagestan, in the Russian Caucasus. A few of the exotic words come from Caucasian terms mentioned in this book.

    Based on this, a lot of people consider Dune to be a colonialist, Orientalist fantasy, wrapped in a boy-becomes-a-man story, and they’re not wrong, but (a) Paul himself comes from a partially Islamized culture, and (b) the later books make clear that his jihad was a humanitarian disaster.

    Dr. Yueh speaks Mandarin Chinese (as does Paul!), although his name (which is Chinese) was not pronounced as one would in Chinese. I suppose this means that Chinese people still survive as a group in that distant future. Yes, everyone speaks English, but I had assumed that this was a concession to the audience, and that we were meant to understand that it was really some other language (Galach, I think the books call it). So maybe Dr. Yueh was not meant to be speaking Chinese, any more than the Wakandans speak Khosa–rather, Chinese (like Khosa) is playing the role of some other, non-existent language.

    I really liked the future script(s), the glimpses of a writing system that we see from time to time. It seems to be alphabetic, and written from left to right. It reminds me of Armenian, although it’s not Armenian.

    On the other hand, I was disappointed at the emperor’s herald’s pronounciation of “padishah.”

    We did not see any guild navigators, or even get much of an explanation about the Spacing Guild, which is fine by me. (The 1986 movie was trying to be weird. This movie was trying to be more recognizable.) Nor did we see the emperor, Shaddam IV, who Khodorowsky wanted to be played by Salvador Dali.

    (*) “The Voice” was stupid, although I realize it’s from the books. If they cut that, they could have eliminated that scene at the beginning where Jessica teaches Paul to use The Voice over breakfast, as well as that whole rapey helicopter scene, and just had them escape on the helicopter by themselves. Then they should have just crashed near Zendaya’s Fremen group, rather than the first one with Liet Kynes and Duncan Idaho. Also, Kynes and Idaho should have died in the initial attack, rather than survive to die drawn-out heroic deaths that didn’t add anything to the story. If they had made all these cuts, they could have ended the story where Paul gets baptized in the Water of Life, has his vision of the future (a good preview for part II), and his eyes turn blue. After that there’s a time jump in the novel, which would have fit with the division of the movie into two parts.

  53. @WHD Back when I knew nothing about Kabballah, I knew that there was a pillar of severity and a pillar of mercy. That made sense to me. When raising a child, or when being raised, there is a fine, dynamic balance between being strict and being gentle.

    What I heard then was that it was better to be severe. Severity, taken to extreme, becomes cruelty, but gentleness, taken to extreme, also becomes cruelty. Because the world isn’t gentle, extreme gentleness will see the world as cruel, even if it isn’t. So when raising children, it’s better to be strict than to be gentle. If you are strict, you can become gentle, and it will mean something, but if you are gentle, its hard to become strict.

    Back then, I was a dance critic. I was invited to a meeting of judges of high school flag teams, groups of girls who do choreographed routines with flags. It was a wild mismatch, but also interesting. There was a black judge who always gave high marks to everyone. The other judges were used to him, in the manner of people who had tried to argue with him for years, but failed. The black judge said that the girls were going to face all sorts of problems when they grew up, and he wanted to help raise their self-esteem. (This was a novel argument back then.)

    I brought up the idea of balancing severity and mercy, and the problem of excessive mercy. I said, “As the Bible tells us…” I knew Kabballah wasn’t biblical, but it sounds the same, and it’s the only authority I thought the black judge would listen to.

    So… I like a translation of “strictness” rather than severity. It’s insisting that goals are met, that standards are upheld, that you do the job.

  54. In your commentary on the chapter, your assertion in your many recent podcast interviews on King in Orange came to mind – “modern advertising is a form of cheap magic.” Also you weekly essay years ago (can’t remember the title) working on the premise that what we were lacking most now was imagination. This chapter brings a whole new depth to both of those ideas.

    If all I am working with is what advertising or Hollywood gave me, then my diaphane is running on a very tiny bit of what’s possible. I’ve started cringing every time someone mentions a TV show, movie, or YouTube clip as an explanation for what is occurring in their own life or the world. The memes don’t seem to bother me as much, but when it comes from them in earnest as some sort of revelation of huge significance, my brow furrows. I have a new wrinkle now and probably could let this pass through me instead.

    The same cringing doesn’t happen though when books are used as examples. Maybe because with a book our minds must make their own images from the words?

    And then there is spoken music which I stopped listening to over a decade ago. I feel like the words are trying to put something over on me. And I don’t enjoy the way people repeat it, again, as a way to explain their emotions or state of being.

    This “seeing things as they are” was something said in est training. Specifically it was said “this is it and it’s perfect.” The idea was to not try to explain or judge what is, just see it. I find I need to just breathe deeply when looking and trying to see.

  55. While looking at The Hierophant in the Knapp-Hall deck, I kept getting drawn back to the High Priestess because there are so many similarities.

    The Hierophant, or Le Pape, also has a red curtain, but it is behind the two pillars. It is also a curtain, rather than being simply hung. I’m not sure what a curtain would indicate. They both wear white cloaks, and the Hierophant does seem to wear a blue garment below the cloak, just like the HP—High Priestess, not HP Blavatsky 🙂

    They both wear the triple crown, but the HP has the moon on top, rather than the cross. They both have an emblem on their chest: Mercury for HP and the cross for the Hierophant.

    Three steps to reach the chair of the HP and only one step for the Hierophant.

    I just noticed that the shield in the HP could be a ying/yang symbol, as a small part of each crown is on the side of the other crown. In other words, part of the gold crown is on the side of the black crown, and vice-versa.

    There is a lot of three symbolism in the Hierophant. His cross has three bars, there are three people, the pillars are segmented into three parts, the crown has three levels.

    On the HP, which is number three if you start with The Fool, there are five segments to the pillars.

    I think they are definitely connected in an esoteric/exoteric way.

  56. Hi John Michael,

    Perhaps I was unclear in my previous post, but in seeking guidance upon a path into the future, the guidance I’m learning has been startlingly contradictory. From my perspective it appears that the sheer noise in society is reflecting this reality. With this in mind, it is quite possible that not all entities out there have our species best interests at heart, but then this is also possibly a reflection of the care and attention we put into those. Dunno. Do you have any thoughts in relation to this?

    Oooo. Spotted this in the news today: Bill shock looms for households as global energy crisis fuels price surge. Heating is one thing, but fertiliser is entirely another, just saying…



  57. Jon Goddard, thanks for this. Your thoughts reflect some of my own observations about these two cards.

    Each of these figures is a spiritual teacher. La Papesse teaches the dark mysteries of the earth, Le Pape is the teacher of the upper, heavenly realms.

    Ecce mysterium vobis dico
    (Behold, I tell you a mystery)
    1 Corinthians 15:51-52

  58. The word “diaphane” seems to be derived from “diaphanous”:

    1: characterized by such fineness of texture as to permit seeing through (e.g. diaphanous fabrics, a diaphanous curtain)
    2: characterized by extreme delicacy of form : ETHEREAL (painted diaphanous landscapes)
    3: INSUBSTANTIAL, VAGUE (had only a diaphanous hope of success)

    So Levi is saying that the astral body is like a semi-transparent curtain around you, on which images can be projected, both from inside and outside. It looks like it to me – I see semi-transparent seemingly random images sometimes. Mostly when I’m drifting off to sleep, but sometimes during the day when I’m wide awake, with my eyes open.

    I’ve been trying to see the invisible world for a long time. Turns out I have always perceived it, I just haven’t been paying attention.

  59. I’ve been pondering on the relationship between this chapter and the Judson exercise (and related concepts in the Terrestrial magnetism book). It would seem that the practice of neutralizing secondary magnetic influences would be very relevant (in fact tailor made) to achieving the goals Levi mentions.

  60. I’m very much enjoying Eliphas Levi and your synopsis and following discussion every chapter, JMG! Also I bought the “Golden” Wirth Tarot and the Universal Tarot of Marseille, both of which seemed a little strange at first but now I really like them. Levi’s book is much easier for me than the Cosmic Doctrine! I fell out of that book club because by about chapter 4 I was lost! Similar to my attempt to read Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Everything.” Not to say that Levi is easy, but I resonate with it more quickly, and his slyness helps.

    Family needs are looming large in my personal life ~ my partner’s parents are 99 and 96, still at home and ambulatory but they need help around the house and sometimes a little diversion from each other, and my own dad is 94 and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to delight in his company as we’ve grown very close since my mom died. So I am mostly lurking here but very much enjoying the monthly dialogue. Many thanks, JMG. ~ Sidney

  61. Goldenhawk,

    Regarding Le Papesse and Le Pape, that’s a great way of expressing it. I also get a lot out of what you put up here, too.

    If La Papesse is the dark mysteries of the earth, then she could represent the Telluric current, and Le Pape is the Solar current?

  62. Random, a good solid meditation!

    Denis, excellent! Yes, exactly — one of the more destructive things that the cheap sorcery of advertising does (and there’s a fairly long list!) is that it impoverishes the imagination of those who let themselves attend to it. One of the good things about books, in turn, is that they give your imagination a workout — if I write about a winding road leading up into the mountains, and a lone traveler going up the road step by weary step, you fill in those bare bones of language with the muscle and flesh of your own imagination.

    Jon, they are indeed connected! Good for you for catching this. What relationship do you see between the Emperor and the Empress?

    Chris, something strange is unquestionably happening on the inner planes, and it’s affecting divination among other things. I’m still not sure what to make of it, though so far, at least, astrology seems to be unaffected. As for entities, well, of course — there are beings on the inner who regard us as their lawful prey, and there may also be beings on a very high level who have decided that enough is enough.

    Ecosophian, yes, exactly. Exactly.

    Siliconguy, interesting. So the decline of pop occultism in so many other areas is partly being balanced by an increase on that end of the internet.

    Paul, Judson was active right around the time that Lévi’s influence on the occult scene was at its height, so it’s by no means impossible that the connection is quite deliberate. One way or another, it’s a fine practice and I’m delighted that it’s been taken up so enthusiastically.

    Sidney, you’re welcome and thank you! I know the Cos.Doc. was tough sledding for a lot of people, and it’s good to hear that Lévi is proving to be slightly less formidable for many of them. I hope all goes well with your father and your partner’s parents.

  63. Jon,

    I’m adding the correspondences to the telluric and solar currents to my filing cabinet drawers for La Papesse and Le Pape. Thanks for that!

  64. @Jon Goddard and @Goldenhawk,

    One of the ‘almost similarities’ I noticed with the Papesse and the Pape is their right hand. The Papesse is holding her hand so one finger is separate and three fingers are together (so the Unity to Trinity). The Pape is holding his thumb separate from two fingers held together (so Unity to Duality).

    When we were studying the Papesse, someone (Marlena13?) noticed that the Papesse’s other hand looked like the Hebrew letter Shin. The Pape is holding his staff with his hand in what (to me) is an unnatural position, so I’m sure it means something. But so far, it doesn’t look like any Hebrew letter to me…

    I definitely think the Pape represents the solar current. For the Papesse, my initial thought was lunar current. I will have to ponder if she is really telluric.

    I think the red curtain represents the Abyss. I remember the Papesse’s veil was important. The Pape doesn’t have a veil, but his eyes are closed.

  65. Hi John Michael,

    Thanks, that figures too – there is always something wanting to make a meal of us, and unfortunately from an ecological perspective that’s generally what happens. It doesn’t surprise me at all that the same is true of the higher planes. Certainly there is something going on, but I’m not privy to any insights or knowledge, being seriously small fry myself. The confusion itself though suggests to me that a very weak hand is being put to the test.

    Did I read correctly that the Europeans are intending to use more diesel reserves to somehow boost ailing natural gas supplies for heating this winter? Petrol prices soar to record highs across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane There is an obscure reference to this in the very last sentence of the article where it states: “Diesel prices are expected to continue rising as European countries look to use it as a substitute to gas, which has been in short supply.” The winters are cold here, but things are far worse at higher latitudes. I use firewood which comes from the forest here (that is seriously hard work too). And diesel it should be noted, has some better uses than as heating fuel.

    I dunno, a lot of people seem to be in a highly emotive state of late, and I’m just trying to keep on engaging with the land here – with all that that entails – as a sort of anchor point. And also trying hard to avoid the clutter of astral noise that deceives the inexperienced seer. Do you wonder if the heightened sense of loss (or impending loss) felt by so many people nowadays is making them super receptive to noise they might have previously not heard or experienced?



  66. RandomActsofKarma,

    Is there a lunar current? I didn’t know that. I got a cold chill when you mentioned that the curtain was the abyss. But if so, why is one hung as a curtain and the other as a tapestry? The curtain rod was only invented in 1892. But what might be important is that Le Pape’s curtain has five segments, whereas La Papesse’s is one, undivided piece.

    I’ve also noticed that the two supplicants (for lack of a better word) are showing all four feet, but only three hands. Is that a clue that links the hands to the ternary? If so, then those hand gestures on both La Papesse and Le Pape are really important.


    I really need to study these currents!

  67. RandomActsOfKarma #66
    Yes it was me who mentioned the Shin. As to the Pepe. In the Knapp-Hall deck his right hand is making the sign of the “Lost Word” or secret of the Master Mason. The left hand is making the sign of blessing, while holding the Staff of Spiritual Sovereignty. Remember that there is also a Coptic Orthodox Pope
    While on the fours and fives, there is a set of five in each Tarot suit, the Ace and Court cards. Representing the Powers of Spirit, Fire, Water, Air, Earth. Example, Suit of Cups, which is Water.
    Ace Spirit of Water
    King Fire of Water
    Queen Water of Water
    Knight Air of Water
    Page/Princess Earth of Water
    It Is important to understand that the Page is female, and female energy.
    C.S. Lewis in “That Hideous Strength” goes into the complexities of male/female. As does Kabbalah. The Tarot is a visual way of understanding this.
    Hope this helps 🙂

  68. I woke up after two hours of sleep filled with foreboding about our collective current situation. Reading JMG’s thoughts on Chapter 5, the comments, and JMG’s replies have opened the door to calm and light, though it is dark outside. I’m new to this sort of material but have read each chapter a few times each, need to pick up the meditation focus somewhat more, and must say in this chapter I can relate to the content more personally. My inclination in my art practice is towards the imaginal fuelled by myth and metaphor, etc… but all of this is a new kettle of fish! Reading and dwelling upon this material seems to shift things around in the psyche. So, many thanks from here.

  69. PS I purchased the Oswald Wirth Tarot and hope that is fine. On the waiting list for the Revised New Art Tarot Cards by Manly P. Hall and J. Augustus Knapp.

Courteous, concise comments relevant to the topic of the current post are welcome, whether or not they agree with the views expressed here, and I try to respond to each comment as time permits. Long screeds proclaiming the infallibility of some ideology or other, however, will be deleted; so will repeated attempts to hammer on a point already addressed; so will comments containing profanity, abusive language, flamebaiting and the like -- I filled up my supply of Troll Bingo cards years ago and have no interest in adding any more to my collection; and so will sales spam and offers of "guest posts" pitching products. I'm quite aware that the concept of polite discourse is hopelessly dowdy and out of date, but then some people would say the same thing about the traditions this blog is meant to discuss. Thank you for reading Ecosophia! -- JMG

Leave a Reply