Here are some of my thoughts on Liber AL, with a particular focus on historical and cultural references found within. Crowley was writing within a certain time period and context in which certain things would have been known to his audience.
Religious diversity at the time was mostly about the differences between various Protestant sects, and a majority of people were familiar not only with the Bible, but with the Book of Common Prayer. Far fewer English speaking people at the time were Catholic, Jewish, or Mormon. Moreover, between 1850 and 1920, up to 50% of American and British men were part of initiatory orders such as the Freemasons, Odd Fellows and Knights of Columbus.
As such, I provide references for the copious Masonic and religious imagery found in Liber AL. Moreover, I also provide references for the Egyptian and HOGD references, which were Crowley’s special interest. I hope you find this to be enriching and to inspire your own commentaries on these works.
Historical and Cultural Commentary on Liber AL
What exactly is a “Book of the Law”?
The term “Book of the Law” refers to the Volume of Sacred Law found in Masonic lodges. This could be any religious or philosophical text for swearing oaths in a Masonic meeting. Although the Bible is seen as a default, many people use another another philosophical text such as the Quran or, for nonbelievers, the Jefferson Bible (Thomas Jefferson, a nonbeliever, removed all references to God in his Bible).
The VSL is seen as symbolic and what is important is not that you believe in everything written inside, but that you are taking your obligations seriously. This is the spirit in which I approach Crowley’s Book of the Law as well.
Since I am not a Mason, I will quote freely from published editions of their initiation rituals about the relationship between the aspirant and the Book of the Law within the initiatory tradition. Older Masonic monitors will substitute the term Bible freely, since this was the only VSL that they used. We will investigate the role of the VSL in this specific tradition, rather than the Bible’s use in religion.
What is the aspirant’s relationship to this BoTL?
Beginning in the Entered Apprentice (first) degree, the aspirant learns about:
“the three great lights of Masonry, by the help of the three lesser. The three great lights in Masonry are the Holy Bible (Book of the Law), square, and compasses… the (BoTL) is the rule and guide of our faith and practice; the square, to square our actions; the compasses, to circumscribe and keep us within bounds with all mankind, but more especially with a brother Mason.
The three lesser lights are the three burning tapers which you see presented in a triangular form about this altar. They represent the sun, moon, and Master… as the sun rules the day, and the moon governs the night, so ought the… Master to … govern his lodge, with equal regularity.” (Duncans)
This text says that the BoTL is the rule and guide of our faith and practice. This means it is here to guide the Masonic faith and initiatory practice of the individual, like a handbook for any other craft: car repair, for example, or playing the souzaphone. It is also a rulebook, as for a game such as poker or the various editions of Dungeons and Dragons.
Any good handbook, moreover, can be changed if it is proven incorrect or ineffective for the individual player using it within the context of a game or project, and if this is shown to be bad for the group as well and not for selfish gains. By calling the Bible or BoTL a handbook or guidebook, traditional Masonry may or may not imply that this is true.
The next degree in which we encounter a reference to the BoTL is that of Past Master, Fifth Degree, which is an advanced degree. Here, the aspirant learns that “within that sacred volume, I would find all that was necessary for my counsel and guidance”.
Again we are told that the BoTL is a handbook, and that it is a complete handbook. If the BoTL is short, and does not have rules for most things, should aspirants take this to mean that no other guidance is valid? This commentary hopes to help answer this question, but my uneducated guess is that like many other handbooks, this BoTL is not meant to be complete but only a starting point.
By saying it is a complete handbook, and by indicating that the fourth chapter is “silence”, it is as if to say: It is time for the aspirant to write his own fourth chapter, according to his own ingenium. Crowley’s “comment” is also to this effect.
- Had! The manifestation of Nuit.
In Thelemic thought, Nuit / Nu is based on Nut, who is an Egyptian sky goddess. She is also a mother goddess, with many sources stating that she is the mother of Osiris, Isis and Set, Nepthys, and Aroueris (Horus the Elder, who, in the Pyramid Texts, is said to be born as Horakhty – Ra Hoor Khuit – in the future). Nuit is Nut, but who is Hadit?
Nut is normally part of a trinity which includes Nut, the earth god Geb, and Shu, the god of air. Shu is familiar to Thelemites through the sign of air which is called “Shu upholding the sky”, which is used to call upon air in Thelemic rituals such as Liber Resh, Liber Samekh, and Opening by Watchtower, as well as to indicate the sign of the grade corresponding to Yesod in systems descending from the German Rosicrucian tradition: Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross, Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, and Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Geb is a very old god with the head of a snake. Hadit says that he is a snake, a serpent, as well as one with the earth. In Liber XV we learn that “Earth (is) the mother of us all, from where all men are begotten, and wherein they shall rest, mystery of mystery, in her name Babalon.” But Hadit also has other aspects. We will address this further in the commentary on the Hadit chapter.
Hadit (active name) or Had (passive name) is a de novo name and is based on not only Geb but also solar god, represented by a winged sun disk on the Stele of Revealing. This winged sun disk is associated with the legend of Horus of Behedet, who flew across the sky in this form in order to go after Ra’s enemies, the followers of Set – Scorpio, Apophis, great destroyer (Analysis of the Keyword INRI). Like Aroueris, Behedet is also some sort of spiritual ancestor of Horus, son of Isis, from the legend of Isis and Osiris.
Horus the younger.
This genealogy of Horus, son of Isis, who is also called Harpocrates, whom the Thelemic entity Hoor-paar-kraat is based on, remind me of the genealogies of figures from legends such as that of Christ and of Paul Atriedes from Dune. This is so, that when we think of the figure, we do not simply think of him but of all the ancestors mirrored in his heritage, “continuing knowledge from generation unto generation”. Whether or not these are literal ancestors is immaterial.
Crowley liked to use Hegelian dialectic in his thought and wanted to portray Had and Nu as similar to yin and yang. (Hadit and Nuit, which are active forms adding “IT” – a triple Tau – just take this further.) Dialectics was very en vogue during the occult revival since it is found in many belief systems that European explorers came into contact with in the far east.
Ideas like that of a cyclical universe bounded by milleniums such as the “Kali Yuga”, as well as that of good and evil both being necessary, were very exotic and appealing to Victorian era people raised with either secular materialist or pedestrian Christian beliefs that espoused a Whiggish historicity and a Great Chain of Being.
- The unveiling of the company of heaven.
This phrase is used in the Book of Common Prayer, among others as a reference to angels or entities that hang out with them: “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven“. This is said in the Great Thanksgiving portion of communion. What they do is that they “laud and magnify thy glorious name, evermore praising thee”. This indicates that they are not exactly independent actors. This phrase was very popular in Crowley’s time period. There is a radio music piece by Britten called by this name, and it is about angels.
This phrase implies that the manifestation of Nuit (and, the anticipation of Had) makes angels, which were once invisible to the naked eye, visible to the aspirant. They may or may not be praising Nuit, who knows what they are doing.
In his “New Comment”, Crowley says that this “company of heaven is mankind, and that its unveiling is the assertion of the independent godhead of every man and every woman”. This is facetious because the phrase “company of heaven” contextually implies a choir of celestial beings, in service to angels and archangels, who are praising some entity or another. I believe that Crowley is being facetious.
I believe the next phrase is more relevant – and flattering – regarding the role of aspirants.
- Every man and every woman is a star.
Every person is, or has, a “khabs”. Refer to verse 8.
- Every number is infinite; there is no difference.
This isn’t about math. Later on, we find out that Nuit is represented by a number, known as “her word”. Each (divinity) is infinite and there is no difference between them because they are facets of the same idea.
- Help me, o warrior lord of Thebes, in my unveiling before the Children of men!
Crowley says that this is a reference to either Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu, Crowley, Aiwass – or Hadit – (Horus of Behedet), but a quick search for “Lord of Thebes” reveals that this is name is more frequently used for Amun / Amun-Ra.
Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu was a priest of Mentu, but should he be identified with the Lord of Thebes if he lived as late as the 25th or 26th dynasty, as his stele indicates, when the Lord of Thebes in that time period almost certainly referred to Amun-Ra?
I do not think so. I think that this is an explicit reference to Amun-Ra – either as the energy that is moving through the scribe at this time, or as an actual request to Amun-Ra. I lean closer to feeling that it is the latter, as well as another ingredient in the identity and powers of Hadit.
Amun Ra was viewed as a form of Jupiter by the Greeks. However, he is not only the warrior lord of Thebes in their victory over the Hyskos raiders, but a god of social justice, a patron of the wretched, weak and poor.
From Wikipedia: “[Amun] who comes at the voice of the poor in distress, who gives breath to him who is wretched..You are Amun, the Lord of the silent, who comes at the voice of the poor; when I call to you in my distress You come and rescue me…Though the servant was disposed to do evil, the Lord is disposed to forgive. The Lord of Thebes spends not a whole day in anger; His wrath passes in a moment; none remains. His breath comes back to us in mercy..May your ka be kind; may you forgive; It shall not happen again.”
- Be thou Hadit, my secret centre, my heart & my tongue!
Hadit is a combination of Geb and Horus Behedet. In the story on Shabaka’s stone which was in Memphis, Ptah’s heart and tongue have power over all the members, and he was the creator god in this myth. First, he created the world and all the gods in his heart, and then he created them by his tongue.
“He who manifested himself as heart, he who manifested himself as tongue, in the likeness of Atum, is Ptah, the very ancient, who gave life to all the Neteru.” Nuit in this phrase tells Amun-Ra to be her Hadit, as in, to be her Geb (ground, snake) and her Behedet (solar disk and defender against evil), as well as to abide with her, and inspire her own concept of creation.
- Behold! it is revealed by Aiwass the minister of Hoor-paar-kraat.
Hoor-paar-kraat is Horus the Younger, or Horus the son of Isis. Since Hoor-paar-kraat is the ‘child’, who represents the reader or the initiate, Aiwass is the minister of every person. Aiwass represents the consciousness of the person reading this paper, as well as the consciousness of Crowley when he was writing it. Aiwass is a Crowleyana term with no Egyptian, Hebrew, or classical precedent.
- The Khabs is in the Khu, not the Khu in the Khabs.
“The light is in the soul, not the soul in the light” or
“The spirit is in the soul, not the soul in the spirit”.
“The Khu of Neterti are in the Field of Peace, (and) each Khu hath been judged by him that is in the cord.” Khu refers to spirits of the dead in heaven, Ament. They are discussed in the “Book of Gates” on the site, Ancient Egypt Online.
These are not typical Egyptian words for spirit and soul, which are terms like ka, ba and sheut. The correspondences between these and Judeo-Christian or modern terms are not direct.
The word Khabs comes from the phrase “Khabs Am Pekht”, meaning “light in extension” in Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn ritual. According to Mathers, khabs here means light.
The reason for my use of spirit as another description for khabs is that spirit, in the Bible, is the translation for the words ruach (OT) and pneuma (NT), while soul refers to nefesh (OT) and psuche (NT). Kabbalists among us would also use the word neshama for spirit and associate it with the Supernal Triangle of the Tree of Life, while the soul belongs to the psychic – psuche – or astral triangle, and the ethical or moral triangle.
People who have studied that other Book of the Law, the Bible in depth understand that the spirit is the key to our salvation, connected to eternity, while the soul may be immortal, but is prone to lower disturbances such as:
“fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (Peter 2:11)
“The Lord turneth back my soul.” (Psalm 23:3).
Not a lot of non-occultists look up the origin of “Khabs Am Pekht”, but writers of an occult magazine called Aletheia contacted the British Museum for help.
“Recent investigation, with the assistance of the British Museum, has revealed that the most probable Egyptian origin for this phrase is ‘hbs m pht’, pronounced ‘khebs m pekht’. The word khebs actually means star or lamp rather than light, and the word pekht is a noun from the verb pekh, meaning ‘to reach or attain’. The museum thought that extension was a possible but unlikely translation.”
Khabs am Pekht – reach for the stars.
- Worship then the Khabs, and behold my light shed over you!
Meaning of Khabs: Star
In western occultism, both the lamp and the star are significant symbols. The lamp in magick is the elemental tool of the spirit element, just like the disk, the wand, the sword and the cup represent the four elements. Before forming the AA and the OTO, Crowley founded an order called the Lamp of Invisible Light. AA also means Silver Star.
Stars are also important in another popular Book of the Law: the Bible.
” I, Jesus … I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.” (Rev 22:16)
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure … then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” (Philippians 2:15)
“How you have fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of the dawn!” (Isaiah 14:14) (The king of Babylon, in doing naughty things, lost his status as a star.)
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matt 2:2) The Magi follow the star to find baby Jesus.
“A day of the Lord is coming – a cruel day… The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light” (Isaiah 13:9-10) Stars losing their status as stars, or losing their light, represents a loss of goodness.
Here, we can see that khabs, the star, represents not only spirit, but also goodness, a higher power, redemption, and personal power. The star can be gained, or it can be lost, by doing mean and naughty things. But everyone has the potential to get a star by dint of existence, if they follow their khabs, which is righteous by nature, and not their khu. That is my personal take on the meaning of “every man and woman is (potentially) a star”.
Meaning of Khabs: lamp
The typical example of lamps is in the Parable of the Ten Virgins from the New Testament, where ten virgins took their lamps to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were wise, and took oil too, and five of them were not wise, so they did not take oil. The foolish ones realized their error and went to buy oil, but while they were doing so, the bridegroom arrived, and he would not let the foolish ones into the wedding banquet, for the door was shut.
By warning Thelemic aspirants that they ought to “worship the Khabs”, Crowley is also referring to the need to always be prepared to use personal power and to gain inspiration, not to expect it to come in the future but to expect it now.
Although the lamp is a symbol in the Bible, we will now turn to the use of light-giving items- in Masonry because they are part of the furniture in our actual lodges and a more apt concern than bits of miscellany inside one of many Books of the Law. We will also take the word light, to refer to an object, as another term for lamp.
Initiation in Masonry is described as being “brought to light”. As mentioned in the introduction, “What is a Book of the Law”, the Entered Apprentice ritual in Masonry teaches the aspirant that there are “three great lights… by the help of the three lesser”. The three great lights, once more, are the Book of the Law, the square, and the compasses. The three lesser lights are the candles (lamps): the sun, the moon and the Lodge Master.
Again, we see that the symbol of khabs as lamp represents righteousness, self-regulation, and authority. The square and the compasses represent “squaring our actions” and “keeping us within bounds of all mankind”, which again represent being nice and not naughty, especially to fellow aspirants.
In Crowley’s AA system as well as Mathers’ HOGD system, the degrees of initiation are called as number circle = number square, for example the grade of Neophyte being 1 circle = 10 square. The square represents the self, which acts, the microcosm: the circle represents all mankind, of which we are a part, or the macrocosm.
Taking khabs and khu into consideration, we can say that the khu is the square, as the soul or individual is potentially reactive and below the abyss, kabbalistically, while the khabs is the circle, since it is above the abyss, and also reminds us of Nuit our mother, that “circle of stars, whereof our father is but the younger brother, marvel beyond imagination, soul of infinite space, before whom time is ashamed, the mind bewildered, and the understanding dark” (Liber XV).