Lion of Light: “Starbride” and “The Great Beast: 0 – 10”
Finally sinking our teeth into the crux of the biscuit, Wilson on Crowley. Like all good initiations, we begin with an Invocation to the Highest. With “Starbride”, RAW presents a six-stanza poem, four lines per stanza, for a total of 24 stages or resonant nodes. From the date of publication 4/4/1974 it appears written somewhat contemporaneous with “Do What Thou Wilt” and The Starseed Signals.
From the point of view of Deleuze’s Logic of Sense, invocations intend to draw a specified force from the philosophical orientation of the heights down to the surface. The attempt to invoke, to get into an imaginative poetic frame of mind to receive “something” from Outside can lead to gnostic apprehension; meaning, we can learn things by invoking. I define gnosis as learning by experiencing; visceral knowledge given through an experience. Invoking seems about as hard to attempt as putting a Beethoven or a Beatles album on the stereo and drawing the music in.
“Starbride” seems the ideal invocation for Lion of Light. It begins with a verbatim quote from The Book of the Law (Liber Al) invoking Nuit. Notice the first two capital letters spell “ON” which represents an important magickal formula, the marriage of the male and female, yang and yin, also symbolized by the “One and “None” of the third line whose initials also spell ON.
We pause briefly for station identification and to bring you this word from our Celestial Sponsors: O + N = 120. Looking up 120 in “Sepher Sephiroth” (from 777 and other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley) we find English translations of other Hebrew words that also add to 120:
The time of the decree
Prophetic sayings or decrees: “His days shall be”
Crowley connects 120 to the 5th path on the Tree of Life, designated by the Hebrew letter “Heh.” He does this by adding 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 = 15. Then adding all the numbers from 1 – 15 to arrive at the sum of 120. The path of heh corresponds to The Star in the Tarot. Most apropos for a poem called “Starbride.” But that’s not all. Along with O + N. the third line has a capital T.
T + O + N = 129 = 43 x 3. Consulting the List of Primes in our Qabalistic dictionary (777 …) we find a clear allusion to sex magick. Samekh, from the list above, represents a Hebrew letter that corresponds with the English “S”; also, the Thoth Tarot card Art, which depicts the alchemical blending of male and female substances and energies. Remember, Wilson didn’t write this, he didn’t put the Qabalah there as it’s borrowed from Liber Al. But he did choose to take it from the middle of the 27th verse of the first chapter and place it front and center. Both Liber Al and “Starbride” begin with a “manifestation of Nuit,” pun on “manifestation” indicating the blending of male and female.
Wilson didn’t choose “Starbride” as the opening Invocation for Lion of Light. It was selected by a group with sympathetic resonance to Wilson’s vision and placed there by managing editor Mike Gathers. Mike has spent years rounding up, collecting, and digitally transcribing RAW’s less accessible offerings. All the potential material for Lion of Light was gathered by Mike with the final choices selected by the group.
According to Crowley, the complex qabalah in Liber Al provides proof that it ultimately came from a non-human source because he couldn’t possibly have deliberately put it there at the speed he wrote: one chapter per hour. I submit that the qabalah at the start of “Starbride” strongly implies this same kind of nonhuman source. I can guarantee that none of us who assembled the book saw this qabalah at the time. To wit, the first two letters of Wilson’s writing in Lion of Light, O + N add to 120. The list of corresponding words all relate to the beginning of an alchemical process that could produce a lion of light. For example, “strengthening” suggests the card Strength from the Golden Dawn Tarot. This card depicts a woman closing the jaws of a lion. In the Thoth Tarot, Crowley renamed it Lust.
“Lust implies not only strength, but the joy of strength exercised. It is vigour and the rapture of vigour.
‘Come forth, o children, under the stars, & take your fill of love! I am above you and in you. My ecstasy is in yours. My joy is to see your joy.’
‘Beauty and strength, leaping laughter and delicious languor, force and fire are of us.’
This Trump is assigned to the sign of Leo (the lion) in the Zodiac. It is the Kerub of Fire, and is ruled by the Sun” (The Book of Thoth, p. 92).
In the most recent Hilaritas podcast with Lon Milo Duquette, he connects lion of light with the path designated by the Hebrew letter “Teth,” the highest crosspath on the Tree of Life below the Abyss. The card Strength (Golden Dawn Tarot) or Lust (Thoth Tarot) corresponds with this path of teth. Please listen to the podcast for further elaboration. The first two letters by Wilson in the book, ON, prefigure Lion of Light. This reminds me of Joyce’s hologram prose in Finnegans Wake.
There’s more, always more, but we have the rest of “Starbride” to get through and the first eleven chapters of “The Great Beast.” Moving on, the next stanza invokes “the Tarot Fool,” said to manifest as an androgenous character. The Fool corresponds with Aleph (ALP = 111) recalling Joyce’s archetypal bride, Anna Livia Plurabelle. The German in this stanza, der reine Thor, translates as “the pure fool.” It seems to have nothing to do with the Norse god Thor though its capitalization and spelling initially made me think it did. It more commonly appears as: “der reine tor.” It seems likely RAW derived this iteration from the Grail legend, the alchemical allegory of Parisfal that Richard Wagner set to music. When Parsifal finally succeeds in his mission, he fulfils the prophecy of the Grail: Durch Mitleid wissen, der reine Thor, harre sein, den ich erkor (‘Through pity know, the pure fool; wait for him, whom I choose’).
The first and third lines of the third stanza quote phrases from the oeuvre of H.P. Lovecraft which he attributes to his fictional grimoire, Necronomicon: “That is not dead which can eternal lie”. . . “And with strange aeons even death shall die.” The second line, in between those two, references instruction from The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The imaginary Necronomicon book spawned its own cottage industry. It came out as an actualized book in the mid 1970s written by “Simon” (Peter Levenda) who claimed only to have written the Introduction with the rest of it allegedly containing information predating most known religions. This is widely considered a hoax. It’s interesting that Wilson included this on at least two levels. Firstly, in a recorded talk, he expresses not being entirely sure whether Crowley’s account of receiving Liber Al was a hoax or not. Secondly, it states the idea that consciousness can survive the death of the physical body alluded to in the first stanza invoking Nuit. This allusion comes from the word “continuous.” In the verse from Liber Al right before the one RAW quotes in “Starbride” Nuit says: “And the sign shall be my ecstasy ( from “ex stasis,” outside the body) the consciousness of the continuity of my existence, the omnipresence of my body.” (Al:1:26). The middle phrase of this quote gets widely interpreted as saying that consciousness continues beyond physical forms.
“Starbride” also conjures Timothy Leary’s portrayal of the next step in human civilization: leaving the womb of our planet to venture out to the stars. The final stanza most appropriately includes the title of Lion of Light’s featured essay, “Do What Thou Wilt.” The last line of the poem compares the starbride to: “A smiling sphinx with a velvet paw.” A sphinx has the head of a human and the body of a lion, therefore a lion’s paw.
“The Great Beast – Aleister Crowley” presents the first publication of Wilson writing about Crowley about a year after first learning of then digging in to him on the advice of Alan Watts. It was serialized in four parts in Paul Krassner’s Realist magazine to which RAW frequently contributed articles. The form of the piece follows Crowley’s Thoth Tarot Trumps in sequence. The quotes beginning each chapter are part of series of short poems composed for each Trump. They originally appeared in Crowley’s The Heart of the Master published in 1938 under the title “The Two and Twenty Secret Instructions of the Master.” Crowley included them in The Book of Thoth (1941) in the section “General Characters of the Trumps as they Appear in Use.” Wilson presents biographical material of Crowley, his outrageous reputation, and instructions for the disciplines Crowley applied. I suspect the chapters have some connection with the Tarot card they appear under, sometimes obvious, sometimes not. For instance, RAW illustrates some of the Beast’s trickster antics in “I – The Magician.” This card, aka The Magus, corresponds with the Hebrew letter Beth which corresponds with the Roman God Mercury known to play tricks. The first instruction for self-discipline, in this case yogic training, appears in “V – The Hierophant.” The Hierophant communicates the secrets of the Temple.
The game is afoot. RAW very much takes the approach O.T.O. Head Grady McMurtry told Duquette: “to have fun with Crowley.” He has a jovial, rollicking good time outlining the life and practices of our beloved Beastie with impish, tongue-in-cheek humor on full display; a delight to read. The reader should also be prepared for some major leg pulling as duly warned: “caveat lector; we enter the realm of Mystery, Vision, and Hallucination; the reader is the only judge of what can be believed from here on” (p. 56). Wilson informs us that he’s had some limited success making himself invisible while his cats seem to have no problem doing it constantly. My cat has the same ability, I suspect most do. “There is no need to look for mysteries when the truth is often right out in the light of day.”
Our intrepid reporter begins his account of Crowley’s life listing some of his multiple identities then goes straight to his death with the “Black Mass” held at his funeral apparently featuring a nude priestess. He imagines Crowley in his casket looking like Bela Lugosi, then flashes back to hilarious images of his life as seen in occult caricature before finally exclaiming, “this damnable and divine paradox of a Crowley!” (p. 50). Those hip to the phonetic punditry of James Joyce might see a correspondence with Lugosi and Wilson’s wonderful exclamation of incredulity, “God’s socks and spats.” The game is indeed afoot. Lugosi will later turn up in Schrodinger’s Cat. Writing like Joyce or Crowley, RAW playfully provides some succinct allusive alliteration in the trickster chapter.
Wilson presents the material not without hints of paradox himself referring to Uncle Al as “the infant Gargantua” which, of course, invokes the Thelemic precursor Francois Rabelais who wrote a novel called Gargantua in the 16th Century and brought the word into general usage as a synonym for Giant. In the Hierophant chapter, he mocks the short cut method of taking another acid trip, then couples it with a footnote that Crowley recommended hashish as an aid, but with a provision that it’s to give a taste of what’s to come but shouldn’t be resorted to in place of true attainment.
In the Magician chapter, Wilson uses an expression from Stranger in a Strange Land: “But grok in fullness this fact: he really did it” (p. 53). Grok is a word coined by Robert Heinlein for the Martian raised Valentine Michael Smith to indicate deeply understanding something. At one point the Earth raised humans ask Smith the meaning of grok and he simply says it means “to drink.” Then they elaborate. To drink appears as the Final Oracle in Rabelais’ Pantagruel series in its German iteration “Trinc,” a command to drink. Rabelais gets name checked in Stranger . . . Crowley adapted “Trinc” as a magical formula in the last chapter of Liber Aleph, The Book of Wisdom or Folly except he changed the spelling to “Trinu” to have it add to 666. 666 = 111 (Aleph or ALP) x 6 (Tiphareth, Lion, the Sun).
RAW appears half right when he writes of AC’s “subsequent antipathy to anything bearing the names or coming under the auspices of “Jesus” or “Christ” (p. 56) In “Postcards to Probationers” (Equinox Volume I Number 2) Crowley claims to be able to produce Christs with his methods. Christ denotes a station, position, or a function, not Jesus’ last name. The Great Beast identifies himself with “the new Christ” in chapter 60 from The Book of Lies.
Instructions for astral projection are given in “VII” – The Chariot” right after he suggests the reader consider whether she is an aspirant or a dupe. “The diary of such astral journeys, carefully transcribed, is the key to all progress once the student learns to decipher [their] own visions.” “. . . this process begins as an exercise of imagination and there is no reason to think it ever crosses the line to reality. Quite so: but that doesn’t diminish the value of the visions obtained” (p. 63).
I completely agree with this and would add that these visions don’t have to result exactly from the methods he describes. Such visions may occur in lucid or regular dreams. I practice what’s known as “remote viewing” in the floatation tank. Also, they can seem to cross over to reality in the case of precognitive visions.
This follows after basic yoga instructions given in “V – The Hierophant.” He begins with probably the hardest practice to master at first, dharana, the yoga of concentration with a brief excerpt of the technique. Crowley’s full version may be found in “Liber E vel Exercitiorum Sub Figura IX” section “V Dharana – Control of Thought.” This liber appears in the Equinox, as an Appendix in Magick and in the collection Regardie assembled, Gems from the Equinox. It can also probably be found online. Along with concentration, it contains basic experiments in yogic asana, pranayama, clairvoyance, physical limitations and a reading list. It’s numbered 9 because 9 = the key number of Yesod = Foundation. The first step: build a foundation. Wilson writes” “I, for one, would have much more respect for Aleister’s critics and slanderers if there were any shred of evidence that they ever attempted such self-discipline, and, attempting it, managed to stay with it until they achieved results.” He continues: “. . . anyone who thinks Acid or Jesus or Scientology has remade his or her life ought to attempt a few weeks of this; it is the clearest and most humiliating revelation of the compulsive neurosis of the ‘normal’ ego.” Well, dear reader, I’m happy to inform you that the revelation of the difficulty to concentrate can occur in much less than a few weeks assuming one has access to an analog clock or watch. Simply try to concentrate on the second hand for one full minute without thinking of anything else and see how that goes. What Crowley calls “concentration,” I call “attention.” There exist easier ways to go about strengthening attention than the traditional Hindu methods Crowley supplies. As for asana and pranayama, I recommend finding a teacher for this, at least in the beginning.
The next chapter, “VI – The Lovers” provides one of the most difficult and advanced keys in a quote from the Beast’s Confessions: “The problem is how to stop thinking. . .” This can take some time, even a lifetime to accomplish, but with regular practice, progress may be observed. In VII, after the astral projection method, Wilson quotes a warning from Liber O vel Manus et Saggitae Sub Figura VI to not get hooked on the visions. This warning also appears later in Lion of Light and again in Cosmic Trigger Volume 1. I have found the following brief instruction from Liber O very helpful in my praxis:
These rituals need not be slavishly imitated; on the contrary, the student should do nothing the object of which he (or she) does not understand; also if [they] have any capacity whatever, [s]he will find his [or her] own crude rituals more effective than the highly polished ones of other people.
“VIII – Adjustment” starts with events that will lead up to the reception of Liber Al, The Book of the Law. Wilson introduces the very important concept of synchronicity. The section I’m covering now ends with “X – Fortune.” It recounts Crowley becoming a “little child” following an alleged long (4 months) break down of rational thought and an emotional realization of the unreality of the ego. This mood of chaotic loss of rationality gets evoked through experimental prose. Coincidentally, Lion of Light ends discussing a child-like cover submission. Feel free to peek ahead and see if it relates. Wilson finishes with a quote from Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse which he calls a formula of initiation:
PRICE OF ADMISSION
Another Steppenwolf takes you on an astral voyage with music: