New Aeon Initiation, Part One
“In the name of the Lord of Initiation. Amen.”
— Liber Tzaddi, lines 0 & 44
A New Aeon was proclaimed and begun in April of 1904 with the reception of The Book of the Law: Liber Al Vel Legis. A New Aeon implies a new paradigm or a new point of view with which to view the world. According to Liber Causae, “In all systems of religion is to be found a system of Initiation, which may be defined as the process by which a man comes to learn that unknown Crown.” If Initiation is common to “all systems of religion,” then how is Initiation to be understood in this Aeon of the Crowned and Conquering Child? What are the paradigm shifts which characterize the point of view from this New Aeon?
I intend to outline the basic views of New Aeon Initiation in this essay. There will be as little recourse to esoteric jargon as possible; ideally, an individual who has never encountered Thelema should be able to grasp many of the ideas explained here. It should be noted that the various ideas and formulae which are still valid in this New Aeon, i.e. those ideas that are “superseded” and not “abrogated,” will not be mentioned (as nothing has changed in these cases from the Old Aeons).
The basic ideas surrounding New Aeon Initiation are: death/ attainment as non-cataclysmic; the True Self contains both good and evil; an embracing of the world; the self as redeemer; and no perfection of the soul. All of these points will be treated in turn, and each will be exemplified by a central quotation from the corpus of Thelema.
1) Death / Attainment as Non-Cataclysmic
— Liber Al Vel Legis II:9
The basic idea associated with the last, Old Aeon is an obsession with death. The symbolic proponents of the Old Aeon paradigms — Osiris, Dionysus, Jesus, Adonis, etc. — are all bound by the central motif of a (painful) death. Death is seen as catastrophic, and a ritual act must be performed for the dead to be resurrected (or avenged). The cosmological parallel with this initiatory viewpoint is the idea that the Sun dies each night and the priesthood must perform a ritual for the Sun to rise again in the morning. Crowley often writes of the switch from the Old Aeon to the New Aeon view as paralleling the switch from a geocentric to a heliocentric view of our Solar System. Now we know that the Sun does not “die” each night, nor does any priest need to perform any kind of ritual for the Sun to rise in the morning. We know the Sun is constantly shining and it is only the turning of the earth which creates the succession of day and night: the apparent sight of the Sun “dying” each night and being “reborn” each morning has changed to the understanding that the Sun is never born nor dies. Frater Achad, or Charles Stansfeld Jones, encapsulated this idea in his essay, “Stepping Out of the Old Aeon Into the New”:
“You know how deeply we have always been impressed with the ideas of Sun-rise and Sun-set, and how our ancient brethren, seeing the Sun disappear at night and rise again in the morning, based all their religious ideas in this one conception of a Dying and Re-arisen God. This is the central idea of the religion of the Old Aeon but we have left it behind us because although it seemed to be based on Nature (and Nature’s symbols are always true), yet we have outgrown this idea which is only apparently true in Nature. Since this great Ritual of Sacrifice and Death was conceived and perpetuated, we, through the observation of our men of science, have come to know that it is not the Sun which rises and sets, but the earth on which we live which revolves so that its shadow cuts us off from the sunlight during what we call night. The Sun does not die, as the ancients thought; It is always shining, always radiating Light and Life.”
Crowley reiterates this view and explains the spiritual significance in The Heart of the Master where he writes,
“…When the time was ripe, appeared the Brethren of the Formula of Osiris, whose word is I A O; so that men worshipped Man, thinking him subject to Death, and his victory dependent upon Resurrection. Even so conceived they of the Sun as slain and reborn with every day, and every year. Now, this great Formula being fulfilled, and turned into abomination, this Lion came forth to proclaim the Aeon of Horus, the crowned and conquering child, who dieth not, nor is reborn, but goeth radiant ever upon His Way. Even so goeth the Sun: for as it is now known that night is but the shadow of the Earth, so Death is but the shadow of the Body, that veileth his Light from its bearer.”
Assimilating this idea of the Sun, in reality, never setting goes a long way to help the aspirant understand the spiritual truth of Thelema that this mirrors. In short, death (both of the ego and of the body) is no longer seen as cataclysmic in the New Aeon. This is because of two connected ideas: Death is complementary with Life, and Death is actually Change (“life to come”).
Let’s start with the first idea, that Death is complementary with Life. “Death is the apex of one curve of the snake Life: behold all opposites as necessary complements, and rejoice (Crowley, The Heart of the Master).” Life and death are the two complements that constitute existence, and all things are formed from the interplay of Life and Death. All things in the universe, including the mind and body of the aspirant, are subject to Life and Death. One might visualize existence as an undulating serpent, where the crest of a wave is Life and the trough is Death (which is the image Crowley uses above in The Heart of the Master).
This leads into the idea of Death as Change. We often think of Life as constituting change and Death as constituting stagnation: death implies a stop or an end. The New Aeon views Death not as an end but as the possibility for new Life. Just as the Winter brings “death” to plant life, it also gives nutrients to the soil to allow for the inevitable new Spring. (As a note, “Death” refers to the death of the physical body, but more importantly to the “death” or “dissolution” of the ego which can and does occur during an individual’s life.) Chapter 18, “Dewdrops,” of The Book of Lies explains this idea that Death is Change very succinctly:
“Verily, love is death, and death is life to come.
Man returneth not again; the stream floweth not uphill; the old life is no more; there is a new life that is not his.
Yet that life is of his very essence; it is more He than all that he calls He.”
The succinct idea that “death is life to come” is expounded here along with the idea that in the life that arises from death, we become “more ourselves.” The Life which arises from Death “is more He than all that he calls He.” This is because “all that he calls He” is his ego and in the death of the ego, we come to identify with the True Self which contains both Life and Death (and is therefore Eternal and Infinite). This death is not cataclysmic, but even equated with “love.” In the Tarot, which symbolically mirrors the initiatory paradigm of its age, traditionally has Atu XIII (or the 13th Trump) as “Death.” In the New Aeon, we may understand this card not as “Death” but “Transformation” or “Change.” In The Heart of the Master, Crowley writes short, poetic stanzas to describe each Tarot card. For “Atu XIII: Death” he writes, “The Universe is Change; every Change is the effect of an Act of Love; all Acts of Love contain Pure Joy. Die daily. Death is the apex of one curve of the snake Life: behold all opposites as necessary complements, and rejoice.” This is the fundamental paradigm shift of the New Aeon: not only is Death actually Change (and “life to come”), but it is a form of Love, and “all Acts of Love contain Pure Joy.” There is no trace of cataclysm, sorrow, or suffering in this conception of Death in the New Aeon.
Symbolically, this means Initiation (the myth-drama of each individual’s Path) is no longer portrayed as “The Man performing Self-Sacrifice” but as “The Child Growing to Maturity.” On this Crowley writes, “What then is the formula of the initiation of Horus? It will no longer be that of the Man, through Death. It will be the natural growth of the Child. His experiences will no more be regarded as catastrophic. Their hieroglyph is the Fool: the innocent and impotent Harpocrates Babe becomes the Horus Adult by obtaining the Wand (Crowley, Liber Samekh).” The idea is one of coming to maturity, specifically of “obtaining the Wand,” which represents the creative, generative power: this experience constitutes “spiritual puberty” for the individual, one might say. The process is not a cataclysm that needs rectifying (although puberty often seems cataclysmic!) but a natural process of growth and fulfillment of human potential.
Each person must destroy his or her ego self and come to identify with the True Self. Every man and woman must “break down the fortress of thine Individual Self, that thy Truth may spring free from the ruins (Crowley, The Heart of the Master). This necessarily involves the death or dissolution of the ego (“thine Individual Self”) to which many people are strongly attached. This is why death is seen as catastrophic: people view losses as catastrophic and the greatest lost to people is the loss of their ego. In both the Old and New Aeons, the ego must experience death in process of Initiation. The difference is the view of this phenomenon: the Old Aeon views death as a cataclysmic event whereas the New Aeon views it as a necessary step in the progress of Growth. As Crowley explains, “The Ego fears to lose control of the course of the mind… The Ego is justly apprehensive, for this ecstasy will lead to a situation when its annihilation will be decreed… Remember that the Ego is not really the centre and crown of the individual; indeed the whole trouble arises from its false claim to be so (Crowley, Commentary to Liber LXV I:60).”
Before the individual personally experiences the dissolution of his own ego, he must assimilate this New Aeon idea that “there is that which remains” after this death. Each person then must come to directly experience and even embody this truth — that is, each individual must come to know this truth through his or her own experience. “Faith must be slain by certainty,” as Crowley wrote (The Book of Thoth). We might even say that each person is psychologically stuck in the Old Aeon paradigm until he has this experience of the death of the ego. Only then can he be “freed of the obsession of the doom of the Ego in Death (Crowley, Little Essays Toward Truth, “Mastery”).” Only then can the individual identify with “that which remains,” which transcends but contains both Life and Death. In the New Aeon, each person “Let[s] the Illusion of the World pass over thee, unheeded, as thou goest from Midnight to the Morning. (Crowley, The Heart of the Master).”
The New Aeon is the Aeon of the Crowned and Conquering Child: Horus, Heru-Ra-Ha, Ra-Hoor-Khuit, and many other names. Horus is a symbol of the True Self that transcends Life and Death just as the Sun is a symbol of that which constantly shines even though day (Life) and night (Death) pass on earth, and just as the Child is a symbol of that which contains but transcends both mother (Life) and father (Death). In the “1st Aethyr” of The Vision and the Voice, Horus himself says of his nature:
“I am light, and I am night, and I am that which is beyond them.
I am speech, and I am silence, and I am that which is beyond them.
I am life, and I am death, and I am that which is beyond them.
I am war, and I am peace, and I am that which is beyond them.
I am weakness, and I am strength, and I am that which is beyond them.
…And it shall be unto them a grace and a sacrament, and ye shall all sit down together at the supernal banquet, and ye shall feast upon the honey of the gods, and be drunk upon the dew of immortality — FOR I AM HORUS, THE CROWNED AND CONQUERING CHILD, WHOM THOU KNEWEST NOT!”
As mentioned in later sections, in the New Aeon we view each individual as God Him/Herself. Therefore the work of each person is the release of identification with the ego and the consequent identification with Horus: That which transcends Life and Death (and all dualities). This is expressed symbolically by Frater Achad (and Crowley) in the idea of switching one’s perspective from Earth (the geocentric viewpoint where we experience day/ life and night/ death; the perspective of the ego) to the perspective from the Sun (the heliocentric viewpoint where experience perpetual shining through day and night; the perspective of the True Self).
This paradigmatic change from Old Aeon to New, in the sense of no longer seeing Death as cataclysmic, is captured symbolically in Crowley’s changes to old “formulae” to conform with the New Aeon point of view. Specifically, the change from IAO to VIAOV and the change from AUM to AUMGN that Crowley speaks about in Magick in Theory and Practice (Chapters 5 and 7, respectively) exemplify the paradigm shift from Old Aeon to New Aeon.
On the formula of IAO, Crowley writes, “This formula is the principal and most characteristic formula of Osiris, of the Redemption of Mankind. ‘I’ is Isis, Nature, ruined by ‘A’, Apophis the Destroyer, and restored to life by the Redeemer Osiris (Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice, Chapter 5 which should be consulted for a more full examination of VIAOV).” The basic idea is that I = Life which is ruined by A = Death/ Chaos which must then be redeemed by O. Existence is therefore a process of endless cataclysms which require redemption from this point of view.
How is this view changed from the point of view of New Aeon Initiation? Crowley writes, “THE MASTER THERION, in the Seventeenth year of the Aeon, has reconstructed the Word I A O to satisfy the new conditions of Magick imposed by progress.” Now, no one would deny that all things change, that “all things must pass,” but from the point of view of physics, energy is never created nor destroyed. It is simply transformed into different forms. If we identify with any of these partial phenomena which inevitably must be transformed, we are subject to death. If we “die daily” to our ego-self, to our sense of division or separateness from the world, then we come to identify with the Whole Process. “The many change and pass; the one remains (Liber Porta Lucis, line 20).”
The All contains all opposites within itself, it is the symbol of the Serpent itself whose undulations are Life and Death, and therefore is eternal. This True Self, the All which knows no division, is Horus and “that which remains.” It is with these ideas in mind we can understand why, in the New Aeon, IAO has become VIAOV. Basically, IAO has been surrounded by two Vs (these refer to the Hebrew letter “Vav” or the Greek letter “Digamma” for various reasons which can be investigated in Chapter 5 of Magick in Theory and Practice). What does this mean?
Essentially, the V represents “that which remains.” There may be processes of creation, destruction, and reconstruction (IAO) but there is always “that which remains.” The V remains unchanged through the various “IAO processes,” one might say. Even though the phallus of the father must “die” in ejaculation, it is a necessary step for new Life — the Child — to emerge… And the Semen, the Quintessence, remains unchanged (“that which remains”) throughout the entire process. This symbolic process exemplifies the ideas of the New Aeon, especially because the “death” in this case is ecstatic: the death is literally orgasmic. Further, Crowley writes in The Book of Lies, “the snake is the hieroglyphic representation of semen” and so the semen, which is “that which remains,” is identified with the snake or serpent which, as explained above, represents That which contains the complements of Life and Death (being the crest and trough of His undulations).
There is another interesting idea which this symbolic formula, VIAOV, conceals: One might consider the original V as ignorant man, i.e. man as ignorant of his True Self/ his identity with All Things, and the final V as man conscious of his own Divinity. It is through the process of IAO, or death of the ego, that each individual becomes consciously aware of him or herself as Horus, “that which remains,” for since all things are contained in the All-Self, it cannot be created or destroyed. Also, the V or the True Self was always there, except the individual was simply ignorant of this fact: “The series of transformations has not affected his identity; but it has explained him to himself (Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice, Chapter 5).” Crowley explains, “…the ‘Stone’ or ‘Elixir’ which results from our labours will be the pure and perfect Individual originally inherent in the substance chosen, and nothing else… the effective element of the Product is of the essence of its own nature, and inherent therein; the Work [then] consists in isolating it from its accretions (Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice, Chapter 20).” As Crowley writes in Liber LXV, “Thou wast with me from the beginning.”
Moving onto AUM becoming AUMGN, Crowley writes,
“The word AUM is the sacred Hindu mantra which was the supreme hieroglyph of Truth, a compendium of the Sacred Knowledge… Firstly, it represents the complete course of sound… Symbolically, this announces the course of Nature as proceeding from free and formless creation through controlled and formed preservation to the silence of destruction… We see accordingly how AUM is, on either system, the expression of a dogma which implies catastrophe in nature. It is cognate with the formula of the Slain God (Magick in Theory and Practice, Chapter 7, which should be consulted for a more complete examination of AUMGN).”
The formula of AUM therefore suffers from the same attitude problem as the formula of IAO: nature is catastrophic. Moving beyond this idea of existence as catastrophic is, as explained above, one facet of New Aeon Initiation. Crowley explains,
“The cardinal revelation of the Great Aeon of Horus is that this formula AUM does not represent the facts of nature. The point of view is based upon misapprehension of the character of existence. It soon became obvious to The Master Therion that AUM was an inadequate and misleading hieroglyph. It stated only part of the truth, and it implied a fundamental falsehood. He consequently determined to modify the word in such a manner as to fit it to represent the Arcana unveiled by the Aeon of which He had attained to be the Logos. The essential task was to emphasize the fact that nature is not catastrophic, but proceeds by means of undulations.”
The essential idea appears in the final sentence. As we have discussed above, the New Aeon point of view conceives existence as a Serpent whose undulations are Life and Death. The word AUM ends in M which symbolizes the fact that, “the formation of the individual from the absolute is closed by his death (Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice, Chapter 7).” Again the idea is one of Death as a stop or an end instead of “life to come” or one instance of Change. Now, how would GN added to the end of AUM “fix” the word? Crowley writes, “The undulatory formula of putrefaction is represented in the Qabalah by the letter N, which refers to Scorpio.” Both of these (the letter N and Scorpio) are traditionally attributed to “Atu XIII: Death” in the Tarot which was spoken of above (when it was suggested it might be more accurately titled “Change” or “Transformation”). Basically, “N” represents the idea that, “Death is life to come;” that is, Death is not an end but one apex of the curve of endless undulations. Crowley continues, “Now it so happens that the root GN signifies both knowledge [gnosis] and generation combined in a single idea, in an absolute form independent of personality.” The idea is basically that AUM does not accurately describe the course of nature because existence does not end in cataclysm. Therefore, by adding “GN” to AUM to form “AUMGN,” we assert that the process of nature is not cataclysmic. In fact, it does not end at all but instead “proceeds by means of undulations”: Death is not the end but simply one trough of the endless winding of the Serpent of the All-Self.
Essentially, “all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains (Crowley/ Aiwass, Liber Al Vel Legis II:9).” It is the work of each individual to dissolve and de-identify with the ego-self and identify with “that which remains,” the True Self which transcends all division (especially between Life and Death) in that it contains All. The death of the ego is not cataclysmic because we know the Sun of the True, All-Self which “is more He than all that he calls He (Crowley, Book of Lies, Chapter 18)” is always shining regardless of our ignorance (our “darkness”). In short, in the New Aeon we give the advice, “If you are “walking in darkness”, do not try to make the sun rise by self-sacrifice, but wait in confidence for the dawn, and enjoy the pleasures of the night meanwhile (Crowley, The Law Is For All).”
“With courage conquering fear shall ye approach me: ye shall lay down your heads upon mine altar, expecting the sweep of the sword. But the first kiss of love shall be radiant on your lips; and all my darkness and terror shall turn to light and joy. Only those who fear shall fail.”
— Liber Tzaddi, lines 16-18
Editor’s Note: While many titles of the libers of Thelema are typically presented in quotation marks rather than italics, we have used italics to make the references in this article easier to find while scanning quickly.