Chapter II Commentary

The previous chapter describes the effect wrought by the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel upon the outward appearances of things and the sensations caused thereby; it is the transmutation of the element of Earth, and the corresponding part of the soul, Nephesch.

We now turn to the element of Air, the faculties called Ruach, that is, the mind considered as an instrument of intellectual apprehension, a machine proper to the analysis of impressions and their interpenetration in terms of conscious thought. The Work of attaining to the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel being in Tiphareth, the centre of the Ruach, the result of success is to harmonize, concentrate and glorify the medley of loose ideas which are suggested by the meaningless multiplicity of mental concepts.

(Verse 1)    Describes the passage of the Divine Consciousness (the Hawk) coloured by love (green) into the world of starry space (lapis lazuli, which is blue with specks of gold) by a balanced path from earth to heaven (the pillars of turquoise). The East is the quarter attributed to Air, and the Hawk is there “seated.” i.e., stable, not to be distracted by whatever thoughts arise in the mind.  

(Verses 2)    Being now open to the whole Universe, the Soul hears whatever is spoken. (Air is the vehicle of sound.)

(Verse 3)    A “Veiled One” (Isis) explains that no individual consciousness can be more than the sphere of which it is born and which constitutes its environment. It is equally supreme and vile, these qualities being illusions produced by artificial relations, which may be chosen at will.

(Verse 4)    The Godhead, in order to realize itself, must involuntarily submit to undergo the experience of imperfection. It must take the Sacrament which unites it with the dark glamour of “Evil,” the counterpart of that which exalts the “Sinner” to Godhead.

(Verse 5)    It accepts the formulae of
    (a) Duality, i.e., life as vibration.
        (1) Death.
        (2) The Illusion of Knowledge.
    (b) Exile.
        (1) The Hunger of Lust
        (2) Labour.
     It acquiesces in the shame of being a God concealed in animal form. 

(Verse 6)     The object of this act is to realize the possibilities of one’s unity by representing its wholeness as an infinite number of particular cases, just as one might try to get an idea of the meaning of “poetry” by studying all available poems. None of these can be more than one imperfect illustration of the abstract idea; yet only through these concrete images can one get any understanding of what it means. 

(Verses 7 - 16)     The river is the stream of thought. The boat is the consciousness. The purple sails are the passions that direct its course, and the woman is the pure Ideal which one seeks to make the constant occupant and the guiding principle of one’s conscious live. This “woman,” though of gold, is only a lifeless image. The river is of blood; that is, the current of thought must be identified with the object of one’s life, not a mere medium for reflecting every casual impression. 

(Verse 7)     The boat is of steel; that is, the consciousness must be able to resist the intrusion of all undesired thoughts. 
    Loving this ideal, the Aspirant frees himself from all that binds him (shame, selfishness, etc. - “loosing my girdle”) and loses his ego in Thought itself (”cast myself into the stream”).

(Verse 8)     He identifies himself with pure consciousness - immune from, yet floating upon, the course of Thought - and devotes himself to this Ideal, with poetical and religious fervour. 

(Verse 9)     He consecrates his creative energy to the Ideal.

(Verse 10)     This process destroys the superficial beauty of the Ideal. Its purity is corrupted by the contact of mortality.

(Verse 11)     Despite the disappointment, the Aspirant persists in “love under will.” He gives himself up utterly to Truth, even now when it seems so dark and dreadful. 

(Verse 12)     The Ideal now breaks up into loathsome forms, no longer recognizable as the object of his love. He is tempted to abandon her, and to seek refuge from Consciousness by drowning himself in those distracting thoughts which surround him. 

(Verse 13)     This despair suddenly vanishes. His ideal appears in its true form, a living woman instead of a dead image of gold. Her substance is now purer than starlight itself; her lips - the instruments of her speech and her caresses - are full of life and warmth as the sunset - i.e. they promise repose, love and Beauty (Hathor, goddess of the West). She is alive with the pure energy of the centre of the system to which the Aspirant belongs; i.e., she is the realization of the creative idea of which he has till now been only one part. 

(Verse 14)     The darkness of the past disappears as his Ideal possesses the Aspirant; and his Ego dissolves in the ecstasy of union with her; he becomes the essence of all Joy. 

(Verse 15)     Now then do his thoughts themselves become immortal; his consciousness is understood to be the vehicle of his physical life - instead of vice versa, as the uninitiate supposes. His passions are no longer symptoms of discontent, but identical with his individual life itself. There is thus no conflict with Nature. The Will is itself the Self. 

(Verse 16)     My own conception of Nuit is the result of the Magical Operation which I performed to give life to the ideal which I originally had in my heart, adored, and resolved to realize. 
    The whole passage describes the process of dealing with any given idea so as to bring it to perfection. 

(Verse 17)     The swan is the ecstatic Consciousness of the Adept. It is poised in infinite space, supported by Air - i.e., the medium of thought. 

(Verse 18)     In Ecstasy time does not count. 

(Verse 19)     In Ecstasy moves from one sublimity of Joy to another; but there is no progress possible in perfection, therefore no aim to be attained by such movements. 

(Verse 20)     The boy is the human reason, which demands measurement as the first condition of intelligible consciousness. Aware of time, he cannot understand why all this motion has not brought the swan nearer to some fixed point, or how the relation of the point of origin to its present position is not an ever-present anxiety. He cannot conceive of motion without reference to fixed axes. 

(Verse 22)     I reply that, apprehending the continuum (Nuit) as such, no “space-marks” exist. 

(Verse 23)     The swan is of course silent: Ecstasy transcends expression. Reason asks the motive of motion, in the absence of all destination.

(Verse 24)     The Adept, bringing this thought closer to Ecstasy laughs, both for pure joy, and as amused by the incongruous absurdities of “rational” arguments from which he is now forever free, expresses his idea thus: The free exercise of one’s faculties is pure joy; if I felt the need of achieving some object thereby, it would implly the pain of desire, the strain of effort, and the fear of failure. 

(Verse 25)     Ecstasy remains undisturbed. But the dialogue has caused the Adept to reflect more deeply on his state of bliss, so that the Ecstasy becomes motionless, realizing its perfect relation to the Infinity of the continuum. 
     The Adept demands that ecstasy shall be constant. 

(Verse 26)     Silence ends the imperfection implied in speech - all words being evidence of duality, of a breach of Perfection. 
     Rapture: the end of the conflict between any two things, they are dissolved by Love; and, losing the sense of Ego which causes the pain of feeling its separateness from the All, its imperfection, the release from strain is expressed as rapture. 
    “O end of things visible and invisible!” This not only means that all things - being imperfect - are destroyed, but that this is their true end - τέλος - their perfection. 
     “This is all mine, who am Not.” The Adept is now possessed of all things, being come to the state called “Not” which contains them all, and of which they are merely images.
     So long as he was a positive Ego, he was one of them, and opposed to them; they were not his. To make them his he must become the continuum in which all things exist potentially as members of any series that may be selected to illustrate any desired properties of its Nature. 

(Verse 27)     The Adept is moved to manifest the Godhead which he has beheld by means of poetry. He foresees that the vulgar will be enraged, despise his books and stamp them under foot; but by their thus acting, their eyes will be opened to the glory of the God. This may mean that my work may reawaken real religious fervour in those who have lost all faith and vision; their wrath against me will arouse them to realize that at the bottom of their hearts there is the instinct that they are spiritual beings. 

(Verse 28)     My religious work will not result in my being acknowledged as the Redeemer: but men will admit that the Spirit of the Sun God Horus has breathed upon them and infused their clay with life. 

(Verse 29)     Horus, (The exact meaning of “Horus” in this passage must be drawn from Liber CCXX, Chapter III,) will be recognized as the explanation of all those energies of the Universe which we know must exist, although our senses cannot perceive them. Men shall perceive Horus when they explore the mysteries of Nature - e.g., the Unconscious of Man, or the structure of the Atom. He shall compel them to admit that He is the ultimate principle underlying all manifestation, against their old theories. 

(Verses 30-36)     The Boy is Ganymede, the eagle the bird of Jupiter. Here he is an image of the Adept. 

(Verse 30)     He is pale, as having given his blood to his Work. 
     He is Sad, as understanding the Sorrow of the Universe. (His Work has itself made him aware of this.)
     He is lying down, as weary and in doubt whether it be worth-while to work. 
     He is on the marble; that is, the hard bare facts of existence, despite all polish, hurt his flesh.     
     He is in the sunlight; he sees only too clearly into Nature. His Angel shines upon him, but from inaccessible heights. 
     He weeps: he whose duty it is to pour wine for the Gods, can but shed forth salt water upon the bare ground. 
     He has laid down and even forgotten his lute. He cannot make music; he has even lost the memory that he could do so of old. 

(Verse 31)     The Eagle symbolizes the influence of the Father of the Gods, also the highest form of Magical Life, and the Lordship of Air, i.e., power to rule the world of thoughts. This overshadows him so as to conceal his personality from sight. 

(Verse 32)     Thus inspired, he resumes his music joyfully. The Air itself becomes still; that is, no thoughts disturb him, and it is blue, being filled with the spirit of holiness, love, and purity. 

(Verse 33)     The Adept invokes the Word of his Angel to silence all personal thoughts. 

(Verse 34)     He will accept this in whatever form it may appear; whether death itself be necessary to end the annoyance of the Ego, or Disgrace to make it ashamed to assert itself, or Love to destroy its ambitions.

(Verse 35)     His “rational” prejudices will presumably ask - in such a case - “What of your magical ambitions? You are not the Master that you wanted to be; you are simply the slave of this Angel of yours - whatever that may mean - your personality smothered, your ambitions crushed, your sole occupation to echo his remarks, of which you do not even approve. 
     “You have destroyed your Self; you have earned the abuse of your friends; you have abandoned your career, and tied yourself to a woman’s whims.”

(Verse 36)     The Adepts admits that his body and mind, left to their fate, have met with those disasters. But the intimacy with his Angel, to attain which he deliberately dismissed all care of his personal affairs, justifies his conduct; and the reproaches of his intellectual ideas are not realized as such. They are, to him, a stirring of the hair of the Beloved One (radiant energies of the Individuality of the Angel); that is, they call his attention to one of His Glories.

(Verses 37-44)     This passage is a parable with several applications. 

     1. It describes the method of attaining Concentration by “the Ladders.” (See Liber Aleph, Chapters 179-182).
     2. It indicates how to deal with people whom one wishes to initiate.
     3. It gives a method for passing from one state of mind to another at Will. 

     The main idea, in all three matters, is that one must apply the appropriate remedy to whatever malady may actually exist, not some ideally perfect medicine. 
     The first matter must be brought step by step through each stage of the process; it is useless to try to obtain the Perfect Tincture from it by making the Final Projection. 

     4. It describes the whole course of Initiation.

     These four meanings demand detailed exposition, verse by verse. 

1. On Concentration

(Verse 37)     The Abyss is the Mind; the Dolphin the uneasy Consciousness.

(Verse 38)     The harper is the teacher whose praise of the Path of the Wise induces the profane to seek initiation; he is the guru who stills the mind by making it listen to harmonious sounds, instead of torturing itself by thinking of its pains and its passions. These sounds are produced by mechanical means; they refer to praices like āsana, etc.

(Verses 39-40)     Freed from its grossness and violence, the consciousness aspires to lofty ideals. It is, however, unable to keep quiet, and has little intelligence. It is trained by hearing the harmony of life - breath inspiring the reed, instead of muscle agitating metal. This refers to pranayama, but also to apprehending that inspiration is in itself mere fluttering; it must learn the art of using every breath to produce harmony. 

(Verse 41)     The consciousness now acquires divine and human completeness. The faun symbolizes firm aspiration, creative power, and human intelligence. The wings of ideal longing are laid down; the thought accepts the fact of its true nature, and aims only at possible perfections. 

(Verse 42)     It now hears the harmony of the Universe as expressed in the human voice; that is, as articulate and intelligible, so that every vibration, besides its power to delight the senses, appeals to the soul. This represents the stage of concentration when, being fixed in meditation upon any subject, one penetrates the superficial aspect and attempts to reach its reality, the true meaning of its relation with the observer. 

(Verse 43)     The final stage is reached. All possible positives are known to be errors from the Negative. There is Silence. Then the faun becomes the All. Gone is the limited forest of secondary ideas in which he once dwelt, and left in order to follow the Word that enchanted him. He is now in the world of Ideas whose nature is simple (primal) and are not determined by such conditions as Time.
     (A tree is an idea, being phallic and bearing branches.)

(Verse 44)     Practice Elementary Yoga until you are perfect; do not try to attain nibbana till you know how.

2. On Initiating

(Verse 37)     Men are ruled by pride and other passions.

(Verse 38)     They are best reached by praise of beauty, shown in its most glittering dress. 

(Verses 39-40)     When taught to aspire, and clean of the baser appetites, teach them the seven sciences.

(Verses 41-42)     Having instructed them till they are really complete and ready for true initiation, tell them Truth.

(Verse 43)     Once they are on the Path, be silent; they will naturally come to Attainment. 

(Verse 44)     Many of the virtues of Silence: but whoso is vowed to help men must teach them the Next Step. 

3. On Changing States of Mind

(Verse 37)     The dolphin signifies any state of mind that is uneasy, ill-content, and unable to escape from its surroundings.

(Verse 38)     Cure this by reflecting that it is the material of Beauty, just as Macbeth’s character, Timon’s misfortunes, etc., gave Shakespeare his chance. Make your own trouble serve your sense of your own life as a sublime drama. 

(Verse 39)     Your thought will thus become lyrical; but this will not satisfy your need. You will feel transitory nature of such a thought. 

(Verse 40)     Transform it by looking at it as a necessary and important fact in the framework of the Universe.

(Verse 41)     The lyrical exaltation will now pass into a deep realization of yourself and all that concerns you as an Inhabitant of Nature, containing in your own consciousness the elements of the Divine, and the Bestial, both equally necessary to the Wholeness of the Universe. Your original discomfort of mind will now appear as pleasant, since, lacking that experience, you would have been eternally the poorer.

(Verse 42)     Now interpret that experience “as a particular dealing of God with your soul.” Discover an articulate explanation of it: compel it to furnish an intelligible message. 

(Verse 43)     Follow up this train of thought until you enter into Rapture, caused by the recognition of the fact that you - and all else - are ecstatic expressions of a sublime Spiritual Spasm, elements of an omniform Eucharist. Truth, no matter how splendid, will now lose all meaning for you. It belongs to a world where discrimination between Subject and Predicate is possible, which implies imperfection; and you are risen above it. You thus become Pan, the All; no longer a part. You thrill with the joy of the lust of creation, become a virgin goddess for your sake. Also, you are insane, sanity being the state which holds things in proper proportion; while you have dissolved all in your own being, in ecstasy beyond all measure. 

(Verse 44)     Do not attempt to cure a fit of melancholy by lofty ideas: such will seem absurd, and you will only deepen your despair.
    by Aleister Crowley