Many have ventured to answer this question in the title and there’s been about as many answers as there are practitioners. Crowley defined magick as “…the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” It is a similar statement to a statement attributed to Dion Fortune “The art of causing changes in consciousness to occur in accordance with the will.” Personally I find these definitions frustrating. In the case of Fortune it ignores the demonstrable external effects of magick. For Crowley, it makes basically anything you do magickal. I wouldn’t describe turning a doorknob to open a door as having performed magick and I think most don’t hold that idea either.
Scott Cunningham defines magick as “…the projection of natural energies to produce needed effects.” This is a fine enough definition but it assumes you define natural in the way Wiccans generally mean when they use the word. It’s also limiting things to just the energetic model. Not all things apply to that conceptualization of how it all works.
In Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Ceremonial Magick there’s a lengthy description but it cites the following as being how magick is often defined; “…the manipulation of spiritual forces for specific, usually material, ends.” By the book’s own admission this definition is insufficient and rather unsatisfactory.
In Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition the Ciceros describe magick as “…a spiritual science. It is a specialized system of discipline which has a spiritual rather than material goal.” That’s all well and good for a theurgic tradition like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn but it ignores thamaturgy altogether.
The free dictionary defines magick as “In Wicca and certain other belief systems, action or effort undertaken to effect personal transformation or external change.” This definition is closer but it doesn’t include divination which is something I would.
For myself, I define magick as doing rituals to make things happen. “Make things happen” is intentionally vague as is “doing rituals”. It could be thamaturgical and be done for some practical effect like getting more money. It could be theurgic and be done to get closer to the divine. It could be divinatory and done to obtain information through magickal means. In much the same way the rituals could be elaborate ceremonial exercises or as simple as shuffling and drawing cards out of a tarot deck. To me this definition gets at the very essence of the practice and is a much better definition than any other I’ve come across.
The Book of the Law (Liber CCXX) and Crowley’s extrapolations thereof predicted so many things accurately. Liber CCXX, written through occult ritual via angelic transmission, described in 1904 (and was then expanded upon in Liber CCCXXXIII published in 1912) what would only be later scientifically proven by the Schrödinger equation which wasn’t published until 1926; that of the superposition. This is something Crowley could not have known having been published after the fact and was so far outside his general milieu that there’s no chance he could have heard of it otherwise. The nature of the superposition was later expanded upon by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle; that the probabilistic division described by the superposition can only be determined at the time of measurement when the wave function collapses but in so doing that measurement changes the thing it measures rendering discovery of further information impossible and the value of the result of that measurement cannot be accurately predicted; only described in probability. Truth can only be measured in instances when their value is changed by the mere act of measuring it.
This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of disillusion all. -Liber Al vel Legis I:30
Truth only exists in relationship to other things; a measurement. The dissolution, i.e. collapse of the wave function, is as nothing, which is to say it’s undetermined, until the measurement, or disillusion, which is how all things that are can be determined to be “real” in material realty.
To beget is to die; to die is to beget. Cast the Seed into the Field of Night. Life and Death are two names of A. -Liber CCCXXXIII, The Sabbath of the Goat
Described poetically here, Life here refers to truth and death uncertainty. To measure and determine truth is to cause change in the system in response and destroy that truth. That which we call reality only exists in relation; devoid of that it is all but a measure of possibilities.
That Liber CCXX purports to describe reality and does so before it was known empirically is not at all insignificant.
The consequences of this are described finally in Liber CCCXXXIII in poem 39:
Vague and mysterious and all indefinite are the contents of this consciousness; yet they are somehow vital. by use they become luminous. Unreason becomes Experience. This lifts the leaden-footed soul to the Experience of THAT of which Reason is the blasphemy.
I expect this entry to be nigh impenetrable to the uninitiated.
Show thy star splendour o Nuit, bid me within thine house to dwell. –from Liber Al vel Legis III:38
This sphere on which we reside is submerged utterly within the body of Nuit who is not and who art continuous. The superposition is null and yet is. The ever receptive cup, for is she a moon, waiting in lust with the rapturous love song “To me! To me!” The joy of disillusion is in the unity; the annihilation of the schism; ever divided for love’s sake. Love and death are both names of birth. Seeking ever to locate his receptacle the will finds pliable the wave function. For there beith no division between any one thing and another thing; the duality excretes substance when joined and is killed instantly. The notice is taken and in so doing results in the demonstration of the cosmos yet hints too of its destruction; for to contact insofar as merely the slightest glance is to change. There are no spectators; all are participants. The nativity of will on the ever open arms of Nuit in her starry form is ever ready to manifest and destroy; to create and crush a universe where not remains. Therefore and only therefore chaos is king; all the stars emit light uncontrollably; radiation as pending interactions out into the vast zero searching for an eye or a shadow. In the intercourse is simultaneously the initiation of and obliteration of truth in one. And all this is the formula for the work of magick and of all things.
I would argue we’re not going against Christianity but rather moving beyond it and its superstitions. If we were to be defined by our opposition then we become bound to it. The object is defined by its opposite. To truly overcome something you must move past it. The old aeon religions are obsolete; burned up in the flames of geburah when the Law was established. Promulgation is the duty to see through that it is spread that the old law was abrogated in favor of the new when Ra-hoor-khuit took his seat in the east. The end of the word of the god previously occupying Ra’s throne.
This is also why we call it “promulgation” rather than “evangelism” or some other such thing; we’re letting them know the law has changed and there’s a new judge in town. The laws of the gods of the aeon of Osiris have ended. No more need for salvation through a dying and rising god. No more submission to a monolatrism. No more following arbitrary lists of rules. Only the law of Thelema remains in their place.
The law is for all.
it is the Law to give. Then they shall chance to abide in this bliss or no; it is no odds.
We’re instructed to give them the law and then let them do with that information however they will. If this were a civil law we would tell them the new law has been passed and signed but we don’t worry if they decide to break it and subsequently get arrested. We already did our due diligence. We already fulfilled our obligation to inform the public.
Success is thy proof: argue not; convert not; talk not overmuch!
We’re instructed not to go out seeking converts. We’re not Mormons. We’re just supposed to deliver the law and let it be. The success of this method is our proof that it is valid. I’ve seen that firsthand and I’ve been the subject thereof in my path towards Thelema.
Gardner’s Wicca descends unarguably from Crowley’s Thelema.
There are a great number of people who seem to be uncomfortable with the relationship of Wicca to Thelema. It is no secret that Gardner’s Wicca borrowed a significant amount of its material from Thelema inasmuch as it is no secret that Crowley’s Thelema borrowed as significant amount of his material from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Suffice to say Gerald Gardiner was a Thelemite to some degree first and it was only after Aleister Crowley’s death that he left Thelema to start Wicca. It therefore should be no great surprise that one can find the Thelemic influences and structure in Gardner’s Wicca if you know where to look. As much as many Wiccans (and some Thelements I’m sure) may not like it, Wicca is, in fact, a Thelemic offspring in the same way that Protestantism is the offspring of Catholicism. It would therefore not be incorrect to call Wicca “Protestant Thelema” if one felt like being particularly cheeky though Gardiner never nailed a 93 thesis to the door of an OTO. I have had it argued to me by particularly dishonest Wiccans that Aleister Crowley got it from Gardiner but the dates of publication and the simple fact that Crowley was Gardner’s senior can quickly debunk this baseless assertion. There is other evidence to this fact to be found elsewhere but I won’t dwell too long on this point. If one examines Wicca understanding the importance of Liber Al vel Legis and the Quabbalah, the structure and relation becomes readily apparent. While this is a topic that has been covered at length before by others I find it useful to reiterate in this form if only to satisfy my own frustrations as well as I hope that recognizing this Wiccans may view their Thelemic siblings with more respect and likewise in return. They are both New Aeon religions after all and many Thelemites cite having started on their magickal path with some form of Wicca.
On the Text of the Gardinarian Book of Shadows
Firstly and most easily established is the grade structure comes directly from Liber CCXX.
“Who calls us Thelemites will do no wrong, if he look but close into the word. For there are therein Three Grades, the Hermit, and the Lover, and the man of Earth. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” -Liber Al vel Legis I:40
Wicca possesses a threefold grade structure sometimes referred to as degree or admittance more or less matching that described in the above quote. Crowley broke these three grades up into smaller component degrees for each grade but nonetheless the structure remains in both the A∴A∴ and the M∴M∴M∴. Wicca also has a probationary period of a year and a day before one can take their first initiation. This directly mirrors the student phase of the A∴A∴, though the details differ.
Now, things start getting interesting is when we examine the texts and the teachings as described. I will go through the entire Gardinarian Book of Shadows and comment thereupon.
Firstly let’s examine Wiccan texts starting with Gardner’s own. The Gardnerian Book of Shadows is quite short and there may well be details in his personal copy not found in the publicly available one. As that book has not been published in any form I’ll have to go with what I can; the available publication. Let’s start with some direct textual parallels. For the sake of simplicity I shall henceforth identify The Gardnerian Book of Shadows as GBoS and Liber Al vel Legis as Liber CCXX with quotes in the usual format. As I imagine it will be for you, I find these a very clear case of simply rewording and paraphrasing parts of Liber CCXX and in many cases venturing into outright plagiarism. We shall skip the initial “Casting the Circle” for now.
The first block of examples are all pulled from the section in the GBoS entitled “THE CHARGE: ‘LIFT UP THE VEIL'”.
“…and her eyes shall burn with desire as she stands bare and rejoicing in my secret temple…” -Liber CCXX I:62
“…ye shall be naked in your rites, both men and women” -GBoS
“…if under the night-stars in the desert thou presently burnest mine incense before me, invoking me with a pure heart, and the Serpent flame therein, thou shalt come a little to lie in my bosom. For one kiss wilt thou then be willing to give all; but whoso gives one particle of dust shall lose all in that hour. Ye shall gather goods and store of women and spices; ye shall wear rich jewels; ye shall exceed the nations of the earth in splendour & pride; but always in the love of me…” -Liber CCXX I:61
“and ye shall dance, sing feast, make music and love, all in my praise.” -GBoS
“I am above you and in you. My ecstasy is in yours. My joy is to see your joy.” -Liber CCXX I:13
“To me! To me!” -Liber CCXX I:65
“Let ecstasy be mine, and joy on earth even unto me, To Me, ‘For I am a gracious Goddess.” -GBoS
“There is a secret door that I shall make to establish thy way in all the quarters,” -Liber CCXX III:38
“There is a Secret Door that I have made to establish the way to taste even on earth the elixer of immortality.” -GBoS
“I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death; peace unutterable, rest, ecstasy; nor do I demand aught in sacrifice.” -Liber CCXX I:58
“I give unimaginable joys on earth, certainty, not faith , while in life! And upon death, peace unutterable, rest, and ecstacy, nor do I demand aught in sacrifice.” -GBoS
“…I charge you earnestly to come before me in a single robe, and covered with a rich headdress. I love you! I yearn to you! Pale or purple, veiled or voluptuous, I who am all pleasure and purple, and drunkenness of the innermost sense, desire you. Put on the wings, and arouse the coiled splendour within you: come unto me!’ -Liber CCXX I:61
“I love you: I yearn for you: pale or purple, veiled or voluptuous. I who am all pleasure, and purple and drunkenness of the innermost senses, desire you. Put on the wings, arouse the coiled splendor within you. Come unto me…” -GBoS
“I am the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star.” -Liber CCXX II:6
“…for I am the flame that burns in the heart of every man, and the core of every Star.” -GBoS
“Let the rituals be rightly performed with joy & beauty!” -Liber CCXX II:35
“Let the rituals be rightly performed with joy and beauty.” -GBoS
“Beauty and strength, leaping laughter and delicious languor, force and fire, are of us.” -Liber CCXX II:20
“So let there be beauty and strength, leaping laughter, fore and fire by within you.” -GBoS
Again I would like to reiterate that the above examples are all pulled from a single entry in the GBoS. Just two pages and we have that much to compare. This is no accident.
The next section of the published GBoS are the three initiation rituals. It would be improper to comment on them. The published version of the GBoS includes them but I wish it did not. Even as I am not Wiccan, I have respect for oaths and the need for secrecy in any order and do not condone the propagation of such secrets to the uninitiated.
There’s a quick bit about the cakes and wine. It doesn’t go into detail but this of course parallels the Gnostic Mass’s Cakes of Light and Wine which in turn of course borrows the Eucharist from Christianity. The details and symbolism differs in all cases but such minutia has been covered by other writers much better than I can so I don’t have much to add.
After this, the next section covers the Sabbat rituals and there are yet more comparisons to make.
In the first such described, the November eve ritual, it opens with what it calls the witch chant or dance. This is the recitation of the passage called Eko Eko – named after its first line. it is of note that nobody seems to know what any of it is supposed to mean as far as I can find.
Not much further down is the instruction that the priestess should assume the goddess position. It’s not described in the text but one can easily find it elsewhere. This position is simply a renaming of the sign of Typhon
Not long after the instruction is made for the priest to assume the god position. Again we see a rename for a Thelemic sign; in this case the sign of Osiris risen
These signs are common enough in material of the profane that it’s not that important but it is worth noting since we’re describing all the ways Garder’s Wicca descends from Thelema. They may well come from upstream in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn but I am less informed on such matters.
We then have an invocation for the priestess. Immediately we see parallel text as before.
“…I am Life, and the giver of Life, yet therefore is the knowledge of me the knowledge of death.” – Liber CCXX II:6
“Dread Lord of the shadows, god of life and the giver of life. Yet is the knowledge of thee the knowledge of death.” -GBoS
The second Sabbat given is Febuary Eve.
Again many of the above notes apply including similar wording. here we have another spoken invocation. This text also borrows from Liber XV: the Gnostic Mass.
“…and in one Father of Life, Mystery of Mystery, in His name CHAOS, the sole viceregent of the Sun upon the Earth…” -Liber XV“
“Encourage our hearts. Let thy light crystallize itself in our blood, fulfilling us of Resurrection.” -Liber XV
“There is no part of me that is not of the Gods.” -Liber XV
“Dread Lord of death and Resurrection, life and the giver of life, Lord within ourselves, whose name is Mystery of Mysteries, encourage our hearts. Let the light crystalize in our blood, fulfilling us of resurrection, for there is no part of us that is not of the gods.” -GBoS
The final two sabbats given are May Eve and August Eve. In terms of connections to Thelema there’s not really anything of note beyond that which was already noted above. I am unsure of the origins of the invocations but they are seemingly not Thelemic. They appear very folksy. They may be wholly original.
The section on chants is short and I have only one note: The described “chant” of IAU and its other permutations is a phonetic example of the IAO formula used heavily in Thelemic texts. It was borrowed originally from the Christian Gnostics as far as I can tell. The rest of the “chants” appear similar to the barbarous names found in the Bornless Ritual and in turn from the Stele of Jeu found in the the Papyri Graecae Magicae.
The sections titled “To Help the Sick” and “The Scourge and the Kiss” are not of much interest sans the references it makes to the material already covered above. The section titled “The Priestess and the Sword” is rather sexist but otherwise wholly unremarkable in this context. “The Warning” and “Of The Ordeal of the Art Magical” are much the same.
Now we have “The Eightfold Way” which is immediately notable in that its title is almost certainly in reference to the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism though its contents are not particularly related. It is otherwise unremarkable.
Though the text continues, I don’t really have anything of note in this context and seem to either be wholly original or taken from non-Thelemic sources of which I have not read.
Wicca and the Qabbalah
The Qabbalah we will be discussing in this section comes from Thelemic and Thelemic-adjacent sources. I am not Jewish and I won’t pretend to have knowledge of the form of mystic Judaism the Kabbalah descends from. This is Hermetic Quabbalah as I understand it. Much could be said about the details of this distinction but that’s not relevant to the topic at hand beyond as here noted.
This is the point where I branch out into other Wiccan sources I have at my disposal. These do not necessarily reflect the beliefs and content of Gardinerian Wicca but in my experience such covens are few and far between. I know next to nothing about Alexandrian Wicca so I have nothing to say on that topic. In any case most people I meet claiming the religion Wicca practice “eclectic” or “American Traditionalist Wicca”. For this I will be focusing on the text of Cunninham’s Book of Shadows and Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. For the sake of simplicity I shall henceforth identify Cunningham’s Book of Shadows as CBoS and Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft as BCBoW.
Amusingly CBoS contains a short reference and name drop of Aleister Crowley on page 9 of the hardcover edition.
The GBoS as published contains little in the form of outright theology beyond that which is implied by the rituals and invocations but we do find some at the start of CBoS. We get a neat little creation myth called “Before Time Was”. This description of this creation myth is much more straightforward but essentially parallels the first and sixth poems from Liber CCCXXXIII.
The first entity mentioned is that of the Dryghtyn. It is described as being “all-knowing, all-pervading, all-powerful, changeless and eternal”. Then the Dryghtyn splits into twin forms; the Goddess and the God who are described as “alone, solitary save for the Dryghtyn”. There’s a direct parallel to this in Liber CCCXXXIII:
The Word is broken up.
There is Knowledge.
Knowledge is Relation.
These fragments are Creation.
The broken manifests Light.
The Second Triad which is GOD
GOD the Father and Mother is concealed in Genera-
GOD is concealed in the whirling energy of Nature.
GOD is manifest in gathering: harmony: considera-
tion: the Mirror of the Sun and of the Heart.
Then we have a description of the Goddess and the God forming the universe. Again we can look at Liber CCCXXXIII for parallels.
The Word was uttered: the One exploded into one
thousand million worlds.
Each world contained a thousand million spheres.
Each sphere contained a thousand million planes.
Each plane contained a thousand million stars.
Each star contained a many thousand million things
The parallels should be obvious. I will also amusingly note this line:
“The Goddess chose the Moon as her living symbol, and the God the Sun as his living symbol, to remind the inhabitants of Earth of their fashioners.” -CBoS
Parallels this line of Liber CCXX
“For he is ever a sun, and she a moon. But to him is the winged secret flame, and to her the stooping starlight.” -Liber CCXX I:16
Both of these come from further upstream in the Hermetic current to the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismagistus itself:
“Its father is the Sun and its mother the Moon.” -Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, Jabir Ibn Hayyan translation
So now down to the part where things get interesting. The Dryghten, the God and the Goddess all have direct corollaries on the Tree of Life; the supernal sephirot Keter, Chokma and Binah. Checkout the diagram above. These are the first 3 emanations of the godhead. The initial state of the Dryghten was without form but after the split two were formed from that one, and yet the one remained, but having split it was no longer the all and therefore was not unlike the other two. It split and its nature was changed but its essence remained. The sephirot of Keter is the primary source for the rest of the tree and ultimately creation just like the Dryghten is the primary source behind the God and the Goddess. Chokmah is astrologically associated with the planet Uranus and Binah with Saturn. Keter is associated with Neptune.
The God and Goddess are not limited to just those aspects though. They embody the entirety of the concept of the divine. So rather than just being limited to those particular sephirot, they would also fit the entirety of the pillars Jachin and Boaz
Boaz is the pillar of severity and represented as being black. Not only is Binah found there as Saturn but also is Geburah as Mars and Hod as Mercury.
Note: Indeed binah is generally associated with the divine feminine but comparing the attributes of the entire pillars alongside the typical depictions of each, this configuration is a better fit.
In much the same way the pillar Jachin is associated with the goddess. Jachin is the pillar of mercy. Not only does it include Chokmah as Uranus but also Chesed as Jupiter and Netzach as Venus.
The implications of this association is that should Wiccans come to grips with this concept then their magick can be expanded to include more aspects of the Qabbalah as well. If you associate the God and Goddess with Boaz and Jachin then any correspondences for any of their associated sephirot found in the tables of 777 could be used in ritual relating to them. Additionally it opens the door to gematria, as well as the Quabbalistic concept of the Tarot adding an entirely new layer to their reading. (Which may well be an article topic for the future.) Additionally it adds an extra layer to their pentagram ritual “casting circle” also called “calling quarters”. Understanding that this ritual is a blend of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and the Opening by Watchtower found in the Enochean material could add an entire new layer of meaning to this ritual and others.
Of course Wiccans can go ahead and ignore all this and keep the Quabbalistic correspondences as implied rather than stated but understanding it opens the gateway for Wiccans to see where they stand in the larger occult milieu.
In conclusion, Wicca is uniquely positioned in its relationships because it wears a pagan costume but dances the ceremonial magick dance. It’s a New Aeon religion focused on reimagined versions of Old Aeons practices, beliefs and rituals. (Some of these from the Aeon of Osiris and some from the Aeon of Isis.) It’s been said many times that Wiccans are seen as making it up as they go along and being not well read in the subject of Magick while Thelemites are characterized as being haughty, elitist and overly studious. Neither categorization serves either group well. There are pretentious Wiccans and well read ones just as there are kind welcoming Thelemites and self-righteous ones. In anhy case, it is my hope that the schism between the two paths can be mended and Wiccans grow to respect Thelema and especially the Quabbalah and Thelemic texts, and Thelemites in turn recognize the validity and pedigree of their practices and rituals.
The Emerald Tablets of Thoth was first published in 1931 by Maurice Doreal and claims to be from an “Atlantian” named Thoth. Right off the bat that’s sending up red flags. Atlantis didn’t ever exist, it was a myth written as an object lesson in a treatise. Doubly so given we see no mention of it before that. We do find examples of civilizations destroyed by floods in ancient literature but not one that matches the description given.
The earliest example I’m aware of is the Sumerian deluge myth. The first five Sumerian cities were said to have been washed away by a flood in a story that the myth of Noah was based on. (see ISBN 978-0-345-80439-6) They were then rebuilt and archaeological sites exist for at least some of them. Flooding was a common issue where they were located and if you look at the archaeological record you can see them moving their cities further and further from the rivers and sea as time goes on to mitigate the issue.
Best I can tell Maurice never produced any tablets as evidence he didn’t just make it all up himself. There are some images that are associated with them of a green tablet, the image attached to this blog post, but I can’t find any information on it. Either way he certainly hasn’t proven they were a legitimate translation of a legitimate text. It’s also an important note that Maurice started the Brotherhood of the White Temple around 1930 and the text essentially served as the holy book for their cult. In short, there’s no evidence to suggest it was in any way historical and therefore can be discarded.
There are writings of Thoth in Egyptian myth but they are texts of magick and seemingly purely mythical MacGuffins.
The doctrine of original sin; I always thought it was a fucked up idea. I’m just born, an innocent little baby, yet I deserve hell for eternity just because I had the misfortune of being born human? Because some dude I never knew way back when did something God didn’t like? That makes me a sinner? How is that fair? How is that ok? What a ridiculous arbitrary system. But no it’s ok because God went and had his son (who is somehow also him at the same time) murdered to appease his wrath? Why can’t he just practice mindfulness meditation and calm himself down? Maybe go see a psychiatrist to learn how to manage his anger problem?
And here’s the kicker; that’s not even what Paul was on about in that passage. It’s an artifact of a bad translation. (See ISBN 978-0300265705)
Paul was saying that because Adam and Eve ate of the fruit they became aware of the dichotomy of good and evil. The sin and evil was already there, they just became aware of it and since they were aware of it they now had to deal with it. The original sin wasn’t even the eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, it was when they became ashamed of themselves for being naked and hiding from God. They willfully separated from God out of shame for their bodies which were his creation in the first place. So therefore having separated themselves from God they had to deal with the consequences of leaving communion with the godhead.
So now going beyond Paul, now here’s where it gets quabbalistic and where my penchant for ceremonial magick comes in. They separated from God. Their hearts (tipareth) fell from union with the Trinity (the supernals) rending the tree and leaving the abyss, da’at, behind where tipareth should be, and falling to earth (malcuth). By sending down Jesus he sent down a lifeline, the axis mundi, a ladder for humanity to climb to reunite with the godhead. Reuniting with the Christ consciousness (reconnecting the spark of life with the supernals, see The Gospel of Thomas 22) opens up the path of the serpent back up the tree, winding along from sephorot to sephorot until you reach the crown (keter) and reunite with God. You start living life in direct contact with your higher purpose and can live life according to your true purpose, your True Will as it were.
This is what quabbalistic ceremonial magick is all about, which is a major component of Thelema. It’s couched in Egyptian religious content instead of Christian (except where it isn’t; Thelema is not ashamed of its roots) but that’s basically the nuts and bolts of it.
Thelema’s take on that stuff is different of course. In Thelema the separation wasn’t due to sin or eating a fruit, nor was it hiding from god, it was done for altogether different reason, one which is much more beautiful:
For I am divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union. -Liber Al Vel Legis I:29
The Ryder Wait Smith tarot deck was made by members of the former Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Their actual divinatory tarot deck was secret, and had to be copied by hand by initiates when they reached the required grade, so to make a publicly available deck and also protect secrets they changed things and made them wrong on purpose. If you take one of the Golden Dawn decks (which have been made available to the general public following the HOGD’s demise) and compare it to the RWS and the Marseilles you can see what all they changed. The Marseilles was the common playing card version of the tarot back then. Some stuff missing from the Golden Dawn deck but in the RWS was carried over from the Marseilles tarot like the scroll the high priestess holds being carried over from the book the papess holds, albeit changing it from an unidentified book to specifically a scroll of the Torah (first four books of the Jewish bible). Those differences aren’t a problem, it’s the other ones that matter.
As you can see from this example the hexagram table of practice being used by the magician in the Golden Dawn decks was changed to the pentagram in the RWS. Now you might think why does it matter? Well the hexagram represents the macrocosm and the pentagram the microcosm, which is to say heaven vs earth. By making that change they changed the magician from practicing theurgy (magic done to get closer to God) to thamaturgy (magic done for practical outcomes). That difference matters when you’re interpreting the card. In the case of the hexagram it means someone doing the lord’s work so to speak whereas with the pentagram it’s someone practicing common witchcraft.
Another example is the headdress of the high priestess. In the Golden Dawn decks it’s the lunar crescent. In hermetic thought the moon represents the transition point in the creative process where the ideas transition from purely conceptual to material. In the RWS the lunar crescent is broken in two with a circle in the middle. There is a full crescent to be found but it’s at her feet. That combined with the pillars jachin and boaz plus the fruity depiction of the tree of life behind her places her just above yesod on the tree of life. What that means isn’t really important other than knowing that’s not where the high priestess card goes on the tree of life, so that correspondence is broken. The cup is missing and the water motif is gone further disconnecting the card with its proper symbolism. (Though one could make the argument that the barely visible background color being blue is this, I disagree.) Then she wears an equal armed cross. The equal armed cross has a number of meanings but in this context it refers to the four elements. This only furthers her being in the wrong place on the tree. The place where she is then moved is the same place the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram is done, which is a ritual used to banish the element of earth and call down the element of spirit. Effectively this culminates in the same sort of stripping of power and connection to the divine in favor of being on earth, as far away from source as you can be, left to endlessly study a holy text in hopes of getting even a small taste of the divine from the words and pages.
So why does any of that matter that much? Why not just use a different deck? Unfortunately it’s not that simple. The RWS deck is incredibly popular and a lot of decks are made based on it implementing their own changes. Well if the deck is based on a deck that’s already wrong, and then the artist makes their own changes, even more can be wrong. This can serve as a compounding effect on wrong symbolism meaning the mismatch between what’s on the card and what it actually means is higher. The schism can mean the reading could get things wrong that it otherwise might not have.
(I also find the Golden Dawn decks frustrating as well but that’s because צ is not The Star but that’s a Thelema thing only tangentially relevant.)
There’s examples like this throughout the deck and I could spend a whole day discussing it but I feel I’ve been sufficiently verbose in what I have said up to this point. That being said I hope I managed to explain this complex occult topic in a way that’s able to be parsed by a layman.
A parable: Two men and two women with amnesia are admitted into a medical facility for an experiment. They are each given a pill and then placed in a room. The administrator then tells them, one of you has schizophrenia and was given an anti-psychotic medication, one of you has schizophrenia and was given a placebo, one of you is neurotypical and have been given datura and one of you is neurotypical and have been given a placebo. Your task is to determine which of you have been given what. You are not allowed to leave this room. Your first instinct may be to declare the ones who’s experiences seems to match up might be the pointer to a solution…that is unless it’s folie à deux.
I accept for the sake of this incarnation the presuppositions required to manage existence here. However, I recognize the constant possibility they could be wrong, or change at a moment’s notice and that I have no way of reliably distinguishing them from psychosis beyond their apparent consistency. As Philip K Dick once said “Reality is that which when you stop believing in it doesn’t go away.” Pychosis and reality are indistinguishable by the observer.
But that’s where modern medicine swoops in to save the day.
Antipsychotics are a modern marvel. The weight they lift can’t be properly expressed in words. If you’ve never experienced disordered thoughts you can’t truly comprehend just what they do for a person. It seems almost miraculous. Throughout human history psychosis was just a tragedy. Now it can be treated. That’s way more a big deal than it is recognized as. It’s a way more important invention than is ever appreciated except by those taking them.
For that matter, psych meds in general mean so much for the people who are on them because they can dramatically change one’s quality of life. Yet the general public will never be truly aware of what that means because it’s kinda a taboo topic given the social stigma. Beyond that also the relevant symptoms that they treat are largely invisible because they just seem “normal”. To those who have never experienced what it’s like to not do that it’s hard for them to fathom just what it means for a person and their state of mind.
Thought I would share this because I think it’s interesting.
Dreamed I was helping renovate this house which had a secret door down to the underworld in it and they needed to be kept shut to keep the goblins from sneaking out. I put a lot of spells on it to prevent them from getting out and to curse any that did. A couple tried it but went back when they realized they had gotten cursed. One though was apparently also a magician because he was able to negate my magick and escape. I grabbed two swords, one ornate ritualistic looking one, and one mundane looking one, and I ran outside. I hopped on my skateboard and started following the trail of mayhem to get to the goblin. When I caught up with him he tried to knock me off my skateboard but I saw it coming and managed to land on my feet and keep running after him out near a beach. When I caught up to him we grappled a bit and I dragged him out into the water and I kept dunking him under and then holding him in the full sunlight and calling on Utu to bind him. After about 4 times of this he went under and didn’t come back up. He had been bound and turned into a very shoddy looking metal ring on my finger covered in Solomonic symbols like those made with planetary kemas. I headed back to the house and to the entrance of the passage. I pointed to my finger and said to the other goblins that’s what happens when they try to escape. Then I went into the caves and when I felt I was sufficiently down I threw the ring down there. I went back up and out of the doorway. I saw one of the construction workers with his phone out. He told me he had filmed the whole thing. I had him email me a copy. Then I went outside and started trying to find a restaurant to eat at because I was hungry. I ran into my godmom who asked me what I’d been up to so I showed her the video. After she had watched it she recommended a hole in the wall restaurant and we went there. My sister was already there eating so we all joined to have dinner together. My sister wondered why I had been hanging out with my godmom and I explained I had just run into her on the street looking for a place to eat at. Woke up kinda hungry.