Deeper Mysteries of the Great Work: Golden Dawn, Buddhism, and Advaita Vedanta

By Frater S.C.F.V.

GoldenDawnlogoQ: I would like to ask you a question. I have been studying some great Golden Dawn based books and I have noticed there seems to be a lot of attention on the will. Personally, having studied the teachings of Buddhism and Advaita Vedants, I tend not to believe in “free will.”

To me, the world does not make much sense when I would accept the existence of a free will. The belief in free will also has a lot of troublesome consequences, concerning morality, a soul/mind seperate from the brain of the body which can result in many what I would call “ego based illusions” which hinder my spiritual life more then they do any good. What are your views on this subject?

A: This is a fantastic question. Your concerns resonate with some of the same ones I had when I began studying the Golden Dawn since, somewhat like you, I had trained in Zen Buddhism and was initiated into Advaita Vedanta.

The Buddhist approach and the Advaita approach both negate the personal I and deconstruct the sense of personal self that in the Qabalah, corresponds to the Ruach.


Advaita mainly proceeds by negating all aspects of our being and simply abiding as the so-called “Higher” Self, Atman-Brahman, or the Awareness of the Yechidah. When the Advaita sage Nisargadatta Maharaj talks about holding on to the pure and simple sense of being, which he calls the “sense I Am,” that is ultimately consonant with the G.D. system since the Divine Name of Keter (כתר) is Eheieh (אהיה – I Am).

Beyond Keter (כתר) is the limitless light of pure Awareness (אין סוף אור – Ain Soph Aur), beyond which is the Ain Soph (אֵין סוֹף – Limitlessness) and Ain (אֵין – No-thingness), which is beyond all concepts altogether — that is Nisargadatta’s Absolute.


It is also related to the Sunyata or emptiness of Buddhism, which is beyond even Oneness. When Zen masters say “all things return to the One, but to where does this One return?” They are pointing to the Absolute or Ground of Dzogchen or Christian mystical Godhead that is prior to both duality and nonduality, beyond phenomenological twoness and even Oneness itself.

The Qabalah’s approach as used in the G.D. is different from Advaita in the sense that it doesn’t proceed by fixating on the Yechidah or constantly negating the Ruach, although part of the 5=6 teachings concern the humbling of the personal I in surrender to the Divine.

That is, instead of fixating on constantly denying and deconstructing the personal I and clinging to the Higher Self, the Golden Dawn system simply places both in balanced context. In the Outer Order Grades, the aspirant works on building up the confidence, balance, and balance of elements within their being to train them for the magical and inner work to come.

In the Adeptus Minor, as the system is meant to be worked, one integrates what one has learned and yet humbles oneself in surrender to our Divine Nature, the Inner and the Outer, about which the Qur’an writes, “wheresoever you turn, there is the Face of God!”


“The Angel of the Birds” by Franz Dvorak, 1910.

In the following passage from his What You Should Know About the Golden Dawn/My Rosicrucian Adventure, Golden Dawn Adept Israel Regardie speaks to the Hermetic approach to seeing through the ego’s illusions and our more fundamental craving impulses and how magic works to bring them into balance rather than ignoring/negating them to fixate on the higher Self, which sets them up to unconsciously wreak havoc on our lives.

This tendency towards imbalance is unfortunately what I often sadly observed in the Advaita community — that many in the community talked all day about awareness and non-self, but their lives were a mess of narcissism, anxiety, depression, nihilism, solipsism, often abusing other people and rationalizing it and so on. This was not true for the majority of students, but certainly the case for many. I observed it among some of my Zen brothers and sisters as well. These are the pitfalls of a mystical Way without Balance, as Regardie points out:

“Let me quote a few especially appropriate lines from Jung in connection with this Fall, when the fundamental basis of the Ruach has been attracted to the kingdom of shells, and when Malkuth has been completely cut off from the other Sephirot:

“Consciousness thus torn from its roots and no longer able to appeal to the authority of the primordial images, [the archetypes], possesses a Promethean freedom, it is true, but it also partakes of the nature of a godless hubris or arrogance. It soars above the earth, even above mankind, but the danger of capsizing is there, not for every individual to be sure, but collectively for the weak members of such a society, who again Promethean-like, are bound by the unconscious to the Caucasus.”

It will not do, then, for the Adept to be cut off from his roots, but he must unite and integrate his entire Tree, and train and develop the titanic forces of the unconscious so that they become as a powerful but docile beast whereon he may ride



Israel Regardie and Chic Cicero.

Thus, as we work towards bringing the dimensions of our being into alignment and Qabalistic balance, we aim for harmonization between our body (G’uph), its basic sensory and impression-receptive functions (Nephesh), a human personality and astral energetic body (Ruach), but also a deeper Self, an Awareness-I, and a sense of Willing (Yechidah, Chiah, Neshamah).

None of these dimensions absolutely or separately exists, as Buddhism points out; they, and everything else in the Universe, inter-are. The sense of Will also interdependently arises like all other manifest phenomena in the universe.

However, while Absolutely, no Will exists, relatively, it does, and is a force of Mind with which we can work. This is how I understand the work we do in Magic and the Golden Dawn path of the Great Work; we’re operating, not as an isolated separate entity, but as the Whole working on and with itself as reflected through the prism of our human consciousness and unique body-mind conditions.

This is particularly true in the selfless magic in the 6=5 Grade and the work of mystical service as the All serving the All in the 7=4 Grade, which is akin to the Path of the Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism.


Relief image of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara from Mount Jiuhua, Anhui, China

The practical key to the work at all of these levels and layers is to bring all of the Qabalistic aspects of our being into alignment and work towards the Greater Good or Summum Bonum of the individual, family, community, society, and commonwealth of all beings.

In this way, we aim to avoid falling into either the imperious self-centeredness of a Ruach fallen into self-centered egotism or the trap of dissociated total disconnection from our humble humanness into which many Buddhists and Advaitins fall into by clinging to the Yechidah/Buddha Nature/Self.

In the Path of the Adept, we similarly aim to train ourselves to avoid living slavishly at the mercy of our basic desires and G’uph and Nephesh-based cravings, which as the Buddha points out, can serve us in the short term, but also give rise to suffering. As I see it, the Way of the Adept is in the final assessment, much like the Way of a Buddha, Arhant, Maharaj, or Bodhisattva, in that it is a Way of Balance.


The Pillars on the Qabalistic Tree of Life.

This teaching is evident in the Golden Dawn system from the role of the Hegemon in the Neophyte Grade Ceremony up through the Mysteries of Tipharet in the Adeptus Minor Grade and the Middle Pillar of Balanced Power between the Pillar of Severity/Strength and the Pillar of Mercy/Lovingkindness on the Qabalistic Tree of Life.

To quote the wise words of the Hiereus to this effect in the 0=0 Grade Initiation Ceremony, the task of the Initiate is to

“Study well that Great Arcanum, the proper equilibrium of mercy and severity, for either unbalanced is not good; unbalanced severity is cruelty and oppression; unbalanced mercy is but weakness and would permit evil to exist unchecked, thus making itself as it were the accomplice of that evil.”

Or, in short, the task of the Adept is to aim for balance, even in studying and working with the dynamics of polarity and the yin-yang of duality, the Mystery of nonduality, and the Absolute beyond both…


Light in Extension,
Frater S.C.F.V.,
Day of the Sun, February 25, 2018

Fundamental Principles of Magical Theory

By Frater S.C.F.V.


Introduction – Theoretical Underpinnings of Magical Practice

GoldenDawnlogoIt is a common observation within the magical community that  magicians tend to be pragmatists; we favour what works. The history of magic has also tended to be a history of experimentation that has stretched through the Egyptians, onwards through the Greeks, the Medieval grimoire magicians, the Elizabethan and Renaissance occultists, and on through the Victorian into the present day. As Dr. Stephen Skinner and others have suggested, the methods that have stood the test of time have tended to do so because they were thoroughly tried and found reliable in the crucible of practice, while less effectual practices were pruned like dying branches from a thriving tree.

For many, the question of how magic works is a moot point. For these practitioners, all that matters is that it does work. I sympathize with the view that it ultimately does not matter whether the spirits evoked in magical ceremonies are merely forces within human consciousness and psychology, as Ms. Dion Fortune and others contend, or whether they are objectively-existing entities, as Dr. Stephen Skinner and others suggest. Whether the final analysis reveals the truth to have been one way or the other, I will still have found the Way of magic to be a path worth walking that brims with mystery, insight, adventure, and avenues for development. As Jake Stratton-Kent once put the matter,

“I’ve found working with spirits as autonomous entities is the most straightforward and effective method. I remain largely agnostic as to the hows and whys.”

Having made these prefatory comments, it seems to me that humbly attempting to tease out and make sense of some of the fundamental principles that undergird the mechanics of our magical work can be a worthwhile exercise. I maintain this view regardless of where we happen to fall on the perennial continuum of positions between the extremes of “magic is entirely psychological and subjective” and “magic is entirely spiritual and objective.”

The truth, if the Golden Mean of Aristotle, the Middle Way of the Buddha, the Doctrine of the Mean of Kung fu’tze (“Confucius”) and other great sages are to be trusted, is likely to fall somewhere in the middle. Perhaps magic, like all other natural phenomena, has tetradimensional aspects that can be described as being at once subjective, intersubjective, objective, and interobjective, as Ken Wilber’s integral theory might suggest.

In this essay, I will attempt to lay out 16 of what I consider to be the fundamental principles in which Western ceremonial magic has tended to ground its magical theory. For the time being, I will have to humbly set aside the fine points of historical derivation and parallels within African Traditional Religions, Santeria, Shamanism, and so on that Dr. Stephen Skinner, Mr. Aaron Leitch, and Mr. Jake Stratton-Kent have so eloquently covered in their fine scholarly analyses. For more on these aspects, I can’t recommend their works highly enough.

My own magical background is primarily in the Golden Dawn tradition, and less so in Enochian, Solomonic, and Sufi practices, so I will have to confine my discussion to what I have learned from studying and working within these traditions. In this analysis, I will be drawing on the key works within these traditions, on some of the principles outlined in Real Magic (1971) and Authentic Thaumaturgy (1998) by Isaac Bonewits, as well as on additional sources to develop as coherent an account of the fundamental principles of magical theory as is currently in my power.


  1. The Principle of Understanding as Power

Definition:  “Understanding a thing gives power over it; the more intricate and multidimensional our understanding of a phenomenon, the easier it is to control it.”

This principle is a foundational principle of science; sciences have evolved through the progressively fine-tuned evolution of experimental, technological, and conceptual methods of studying and understanding natural phenomena, which have granted humanity progressively more control over phenomena that were previously taken to be chaotic and beyond our power. As Sir Francis Bacon pointed out in his Meditationes Sacrae (1597), “ipsa scientia potestas est” (‘knowledge itself is power’).

In Qabalistic magic, Understanding or Binah (בינה‬) is one of the Supernal Sephirot from which all of the more differentiated functions and forces of the Tree of Life emerge. Qabalistic magicians aim to understand the wisdom of the principles of the cosmos to facilitate our work as co-creators with the Divine in the Four Qabalistic Worlds. The principle of understanding as power is applied in Solomonic magic in the careful selection of specific astrological times to craft ritual implements, consecrate talismans, and perform evocations. Similarly, in Enochian magic, it is applied based on the suggestion that the understanding of the Watchtowers, Heptarchia Mystica, and Aethyrs enables the magician to work with the angels within each of these sub-systems.

Similarly, within the Golden Dawn system, as magicians proceed through the Grades, their understanding of the symbols and principles employed in the G.D. rituals deepens and becomes increasingly multilayered, which in turn, allows their magical operations to become increasingly finessed by the time they begin practical work in the Inner Order. In short, according to this foundational principle, applied magical understanding grants magical power.


2. The Principle of Self-Understanding

Definition: “The Way of Adepthood involves understanding and working with all aspects of one’s being, from strengths to weaknesses, the high to the low, and the above to the below.”

In Rosicrucian alchemy, central to the prima materia that the initiate aims to transmute through the Great Work are the various aspects of his or her being. These aspects must be understood–following on the principle of undertstanding as power–and equilibrated so that we do not sabotage ourselves as we are all too apt to do.

In the Golden Dawn system, for instance, Initiates spend the Outer Order Grades systematically studying and working with the various elemental forces and aspects  of their being from their Earthy physical aspects, to their Watery intuition and emotions, their Airy intellect, their Fiery Will, passion and desire, and the all-balancing force of Spirit, which crowns the elemental pentagram in the Portal Grade.

The importance of self-knowledge is an ancient teaching that was well-known to the Ancient Greek Magicians; indeed, Xenophon reports that above the entrance to the Temple of Delphi, the words γνῶθι σεαυτόν or “know thyself” were inscribed. Plato’s writings inform us that Socrates, in his work with his own daemon, took these words very much to heart.

In a similar fashion, Qabalistic magicians aim to bring the various parts of their being into alignment, from the physical body (Gu’ph) to the sensing energetic soul (Nephesh) through the sense of individual personhood and the personal I (Ruach) and unto the higher Self, Awareness, and Will of the Yechidah, Chiah and Neshamah.

In Franz Bardon’s Initiation Into Hermetics, the Psychic Training in Step I requires the aspirant to construct the “white and and black mirrors of the soul,” which are lists of his or her strengths, weaknesses, virtues and faults, so that they may be frankly examined and worked upon along the Path. Authentic development presupposes self-knowledge because we cannot transform aspects of ourselves of which we are not aware.

Indeed, the importance of self-knowledge on the magical Path cannot be overemphasized. The consequences of failing to do this work can be severe. The history of occultism is replete with examples of otherwise brilliant and proficient magicians who fell prey to their own unabated or unexamined arrogance, egotism, delusions of grandeur, paranoia, and unbridled abuse of power over their students.

Countless working groups and Orders have been ripped asunder by the failure of their members to do this all-important work. It is indeed essential to the Great Work and vital to harmonious human existence more generally.


3. The Principle of Equilibration

Definition: “Cultivate balance.”

The Neophyte Grade Ritual of the Golden Dawn enjoins the Initiate to  “study well that Great Arcanum, the proper equilibrium of mercy and severity, for either unbalanced is not good; unbalanced severity is cruelty and oppression; unbalanced mercy is but weakness and would permit evil to exist unchecked, thus making itself as it were the accomplice of that evil..” The ceremony later adds that “unbalanced force is evil, unbalanced mercy is but weakness, unbalanced severity is but oppression” and places the Throne of the Hegemon “between the Columns” in the “Place of Balanced Power, between the Ultimate Light and the Ultimate Darkness.”

The importance of balancing and equilibration is everywhere to be found in the methods and theories of magic. In the Golden Dawn, the magician equilibrates the elemental aspects of their being in the Outer Order Grades over the long term, but works at the short-term equilibration of energy within their Sphere of Sensation each time they perform the Qabalistic Cross.

The Solomonic magician stands in a balanced and elaborate circle of protection from within which he or she calls spirits into the Triangle. The Qabalist studies the balanced glyph of the Tree of Life with its Middle Pillar between the Pillars of Severity and Mercy. In the Great Table of Enochian magic, the Four Watchtowers of the East, West, North and South are balanced by the unifying and governing power of the Black Cross from which the G.D. derived the Tablet of Union. Franz Bardon’s Hermetic initiation path involves the balanced cultivation of the Mental, Physical, and Psychic aspects of one’s being and their four elemental dimensions in equilibrated unison. Similarly, the Tarot is balanced in its Four Suits, the Tetragrammaton in its Four Letters, the Zodiac in its 12 Signs, Triplicities, and Quadruplicities, and so on. The magical worldview is structured around balance within balance.

From another perspectice, in order to remain grounded, the magician must walk the tightope between faith and skepticism or risk toppling into delusion, imbalance, obsession, or self-destruction. Magical ceremonies, in the Western tradition, are frequently built around balanced frameworks, with openings, middle phases, and closings which mirror the openings. The Way of the Adept is the Way of Balanced Powers.


4. The Principle of Images 

Definition: “By Symbols and Images, magical forces can be mobilized and directed in accordance with Will.”

One of the most impactful phrases in the Neophyte Grade Ritual of the Golden Dawn is that “by Names and Images, all Powers are wakened and reawakened.” The entire Golden Dawn system is founded on this single line. The Principle of Images speaks to the first part of this key fornula. In magical practice, images and symbols are used to activate, awaken, direct, and mobilize the forces they represent in order to bring about the results for which we aim.

Interestingly enough, magic by means of images seems to have emerged first as the prinordial form of magical practice par excellence and magic by means of words, to have appeared later on with the development of more abstract aleph-bets and alphabets from pictograms. Egyptian magic is an interesting case that straddles this divide with its potent picture-words, the hieroglyphs.

Images are systematically applied in the Golden Dawn system’s use of ritual Diagrams, in the Hieroglyphics on the Black and White Pillars, in the Implements and Lamens of the Officers, and most spectacularly, in the massive meta-symbol that is the Vault of the Adepti. The Solomonic grimoires also make thorough use of images in the Seals, Sigils, and the complex symbols that are to be inscribed on the Circles and ritual tools of the magician.

Agrippa’s Magic Squares provise ways of generating pictorial sigils from names. Qabalistic pathworking, Tattwa work, and Tarot magic all employ symbols as means of evoking changes in the microcosm of the magician’s conscious and subconscious mind, and gateways to access the forces of the macrocosm.

The connection between images and power is not so foreign to us even today. Indeed, it is well-known to all users of social media, who invest countless hours in manipulating the images by which they represent themselves to shape their social standing in the eyes of others — essentially a form of picture magic.

It is a principle that is well-known to marketers, corporate branders, artists, designers, and countless other fields. It is no coincidence that scientists use imaging methodologies, graphic representations, and mathematical symbols to represent the forces they aim to understand and direct in accordance with their Will.

Of course, this principle as applied in magic works on more planes than just the physical, mental, or emotional; it operates from Eliphas Levi’s “astral light” up into the higher planetary, zodiacal, Enochian aetheyric, and other realms, but it represents an instance of the same general idea in practice.

It is worth noting that according to anthropologist Henri Breuil, some of the earliest images found in the caves of Altamira in Spain and Lascaux in France may have been drawn by prehistoric shamans in an attempt to ensure a successful hunt. The sympathic magical theory underlying these early cave rituals may have been that to possess the image of the animal was to possess power over the animal as well as the means of communing with the spirit of an animal to be hunted to reassure it that it would be treated with gratitude, respect, and killed as painlessly as possible.


5. The Principle of Names and Words of Power

Definition: “Names grant power over the things named.”

The link between names and magical power is a fundamental magical idea and a truly ancient one indeed. The Torah suggests that God spoke the world into being by means of the Word and ancient Babylonian mythology describes the creative acts of Marduk through his capacity to “speak magic words.” Words and Names of Power were so central to the magic of the Egyptians that kings and priests often erased the names of certain people and gods from all past monuments to magically and symbolically erasing them from the universe and from history.

As another example, Sufis who practice the Islamic form of prayer-based magic called Ruqya often carefully select God Names from the 99 Names of Allah that are suited to the matter at hand (e.g. in a prayer to have knowledge revealed, Al-Lateef (the Knower of Subtleties) or Al-Haadi (The Provider of Guidance) might be used, Al-Hafiz (the Guarding One) might be used in a protection ritual, and Al-Kareem (the Bountiful One) might be used in a ritual requesting financial blessings).

As previously mentioned, name and word-based magic is as old as written and spoken alphabets themselves. The Golden Dawn system makes thorough use of Divine Names in its rituals from the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagam up through its most complex ceremonies. Qabalistic magic is fundamentally grounded in meanings and numerical values given to the Hebrew letters. Similarly, the magicians of the Solomonic grimoires inscribe Names of God on their implements and Circles and evoke and invoke by means of these names. Spirits in the grimoires are evoked both by means of these Divine Names for authority and through Conjurations using the names of Spirits alongside their sigils and Seals. It is no coincidence one of the Enochian systems of magic largely functions by systematically conjuring angelic beings by means of Names extracted from the Watchtowers.

In short, the essential idea here, as Mr. Boneswit points out, is that “certain words are able to alter the internal and external realities of those uttering them, and their power may rest in the very sounds as much as in their meaning.” The former especially holds true when one is working with the so-called “barbarous words” whose names are unknown to the magician, but are nonetheless able to exert effects through the sheer force of their utterance. Indeed, in bhakti yoga and Sufi dhikr, Mantras and Names of God are said to contain the presence of Divinity within their very sound and letters. It is a principle worth thinking deeply about since it lies at the core of all we do.


6. The Principles of Correspondence and Sympathy

Definition: Drawing directly from Mr. Bonewits here, “if any two or more patterns have elements in common, the patterns interact “through” those common elements, and control of one pattern facilitates control over the other(s), depending among other factors upon the number, type and duration of common elements involved.”

Ceremonial magic is largely based on an elaborate system of correspondences. In Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy (1531), for instance, numerous stones, plants, perfumes, and other objects are attributed to various archetypal Planets and Zodiacal signs. Mr. Aleister Crowley’s Liber 777 (1909) and Dr. Stephen Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Tables (2006) present more elaborate systems of correspondences that associate countless elements, spirits, stones, herbs, godforms, angelic choirs, and so on with Qabalistic Sephirot, Planets, Zodiacal Signs, and many other archetypal forces. It is echoed in the careful selection of metals and herbs in the Solomonic grimoires, in the sympathetic magical work of the African Traditional Religions, and in the notion of the Vodoun Doll used in the Haiti Vodoun tradition.

In constructing a magical ceremony, once carefully selects items based on their correspondences. A working for a Venus talisman, for instance, may feature a rose, a green altar cloth, images of attractive nude men or women, the Empress Tarot card, and so on and be performed during the Planetary Hour of Venus on the Day of Venus (Friday). By concentrating sympathetic elements that are associated or share a symbolic affinity, and charging them with directed force in accordance with a Willed outcome, the magician attempts to create a kind of “harmonic resonance” that is in line with the object of their working.

This principle is based on the observation, noted by the Buddha in his doctrine of interdependent co-arising, by multiple Indigenous Wisdom traditions, and by the Qabalah among other systems, that all things are interdependent, interconnected, and inextricably interwoven with one another. When things have an infinity or association with one another, they tend to interact and influence one another. Nothing exists separately; everything exists in a great web of inter-being. In the Kybalion of the Three Initiates, this principle is echoed in the Principle of Correspondence, which it explains in these terms:

“This Principle embodies the truth that there is always a Correspondence between the laws and phenomena of the various planes of Being and Life. The old Hermetic axiom ran in these words: “As above, so below; as below, so above.” And the grasping of this Principle gives one the means of solving many a dark paradox, and hidden secret of Nature. There are planes beyond our knowing, but when we apply the Principle of Correspondence to them we are able to understand much that would otherwise be unknowable to us. This Principle is of universal application and manifestation, on the various planes of the material, mental, and spiritual universe–it is an Universal Law. The ancient Hermetists considered this Principle as one of the most important mental instruments by which man was able to pry aside the obstacles which hid from view the Unknown. Its use even tore aside the Veil of Isis to the extent that a glimpse of the face of the goddess might be caught. Just as a knowledge of the Principles of Geometry enables man to measure distant suns and their movements, while seated in his observatory, so a knowledge of the Principle of Correspondence enables Man to reason intelligently from the Known to the Unknown. Studying the monad, he understands the archangel.”

In the magical worldview, everything is interconnected; the seemingly many are really One. This One emerged from infinite nothingness and now appears as All. Is the universe, as perceived by the magician, ultimately nondualistic, dualistic, or grounded in nothing? All of the above, and neither. Or, differently stated, each of these models is partially true and can offer a useful framework within which to work magically.


7. The Principles of Contagion and Metonymy 

Definition: “Changes to the part can affect the whole; the part can represent the whole.”

A metonym is a way of naming a whole by one of its parts, or naming one object or person by means of something closely associated with it. For instance, a King may be referred to as “the Crown.” The principle of metonymy is one of the most ancient magical principles of all. Many Indigenous and Traditional religions contain applications of it. It is related to the principle of contagion, or the notion that two objects that were once in contact will continue to remain in contact regardless of their spatial distance from one another, like two quantum entangled particles on different sides of the universe that display state changes that are completely in harmony.

Ancient and Indigenous magical traditions may apply this idea to work magic on an individual by using a lock of their hair, a fingernail, a drop of blood, a piece of clothing, or an object that once belonged to them. The Vodoun doll creates an effigy of a person, often incorporating one of their hairs, which the magician manipulates to magically impact the targeted person. In the ceremonial magic tradition, this principle is one of the principles that underpin the charging of talismans and is closely related to the principle of correspondence and sympathy.


8. The Principles of Antipathy and Reversal

Definition: “Qualities, symbols, and energies can be used against their opposites.”

This principle is, in essence, the correlative opposite of the principle of sympathy. It suggests that anything contrary to the nature of a thing can be used to exorcise it, banish it, dispel it, or drive it out. This principle is central to the structure of banishing rituals such as the Golden Dawn’s Pentagram and Hexagram rituals. It’s also central to the functioning of Solomonic Conjurations, magic Circles, Exorcisms, and Banishings, particularly in work with the Goetia. In this tradition, for instance, Holy Water is used to constrain and control Goetic spirits. Similarly, protective amulets that are designed to ward off the influences of contrary forces represent applications of the principle of antipathy, such as the ‘evil eye’ amulets used in Greek magic or the protective amulets constructed for both the living and the dead in Ancient Egyptian magic.

Related to this is the principle of reversal, which can be stated as “what can be magically done can be magically undone.” There are limits to this notion, of course, due to the principle pointed out in the Second Law of Thermodynamics, namely, that Nature tends toward disorder. With that said, the principle can still be useful in magical operations. A Solomonic Exorcism is, in essence, a reversal of the notion of possession or a spirit inhabiting another living being or nonliving object, as in an Exorcism of Water or Fire. In the Golden Dawn’s Neophyte Grade Ritual, similarly, the Circumambulation of the Light, which is used to create a vortex of Light within the Temple, is followed by the Reverse-Circumambulation of the Light to reverse and undo the creation of this vortex.


9. The Principle of Probability-Shifting

Definition: “Because of the link between cause and effect, magical operations can make events more or less likely to occur.”

As every scientist notes and as the Buddha stated long ago, certain conditions are such that when they are present, they are more likely to bring about other related conditions. Certain effects tend to follow the occurrence of particular causes of contributory causal factors. Philosophy further analyzes the notion of causes into ‘sufficient conditions,’ which are enough to bring about particular outcomes on their own, and ‘necessary conditions’ which individually contribute to a particular outcome, but are not sufficient to bring them about by themselves.

In other words, the more contributory causal factors are present with the power to bring about that situation, the more probable it becomes. This is the basis of the principle of probability shifting as applied in magic. A magical operation is designed to shift the probability that something will or will not happen, to either increase it or decrease it, to promote its occurrence, or dissuade it. The greater the energy and Will invested into the working, the chain of sympathetic and corresponding forces involved in the ceremony, and the use of appropriate Names and Images, to name but a few forces, the more the probability can be shifted, this principle holds.


“Earth Balance – Yin and Yang Art” by Sharon Cummings

10. The Principle of Polarity

Definition: “Everything that exists has an opposite, a complementary pole, a quality with the power to balance it.”

This principle is related to the principle of balance or equilibration, and indeed, is the reason that the principle of equilibration is possible. As mathematics points out, all true equations are balanced. As Newton’s Third Law suggests, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Taoist magic is quick to remind us that Yin flows into Yang, and that one cannot work with one force without the other. In the Qabalistic Tree of Life, Sephirot attributed to opposite polarities balance one another, like Mercury balancing Venus, or the Greater Benefic of Jupiter and the greater Malefic of Saturn.


The practical application of this principle suggests that a ritual to gain money for the magician must involve someone else losing that money. To know light, darkness must also be known. Death presupposes life. A ceremony to attain a job deprives someone else of that same job. Growing into a new state implies growing out of an old one. When one person gains power, someone else loses it. Therefore, we must be careful about what we do magic to achieve; actions can have unintended consequences, often far more than we anticipate.

The Kybalion of the Three Initiates speaks of this principle in this way:

 “Everything is Dual; everything has poles; everything has its
pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are
identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet;
all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be

In the magical worldview, everything is dual AND it is nondual. It is One in its twoness and two in its Oneness. The seemingly Other is the Self in disguise; the Self contains the Other.


11. The Principle of Karmic Consequence

Definition: “As you reap, you shall sow.”

This principle is related to the principles of cause and effect and probability shifting. As we reap, we tend to sow. Wiccans combine this notion with a notion of exponential effects multiplying through interconnected networks of phenomena to develop their notion of the ‘threefold law,’ namely, that we receive in return three times what we sow in the long term. This may or not be true all of the time; some people invest tremendous amounts of money only to lose it, for instance, and sometimes a kindhearted action like helping another person can lead one to be killed, or an intentionally cruel action like attempting to harm someone by destroying their property can unintentionally benefit them by releasing them from having to worry about it. Very often, the selfish, petty and cruel prosper and the kind, compassionate, and wise are punished. The world is complex indeed as magicians and scientists alike both wholeheartedly agree.

What is certainly true is that it tends to be the case, as a general rule, that we tend to reap as we sow in one form or another. People who repeatedly do magic to harm others tend to be harmed by their own work in some way, even as basically and psychologically as feeding the aspects of themselves that are hostile, destructive, biased towards the negative, and so on. In this respect, like tends to attract like, as the principle of correspondence and sympathy points out. Harmful intent tends to attract harm in kind; generous and kind intent tends to attract like responses. It’s no surprise that coworkers quickly determine who is cooperative and aim to cooperate more with them and withdraw their cooperation from those who don’t cooperate with them. In Sanskrit, the word ‘karma’ literally means ‘action,’ for consequences are related to the notion of action, which brings them about as causes to their effects. And if we reap what we so,w then it seems prudent to sow carefully.


12. The Principle of Personification

Definition: “Anything can be treated as a person.”

This principle is an ancient one. It has its roots in shamanistic animism, the roots of many of the Indigenous Traditions that birthed the first magical practitioners, in which everything is seen to have some form of spirit or life to it. It is an idea that survived into the Medieval Solomonic Grimoires, such as the Key of Solomon, where we find magicians speaking to fire, for instance, as “oh thou Creature of Fire.” The Golden Dawn’s Inner Order Magic applied the same Solomonic formula to their Talismanic magical methods, in which the Magician may speak to a talisman as if it were a person, saying “Oh thou Creature of Talismans.”

Ancient Greek magicians personified the abstract principles of the Element of Wind as “the Four Winds” or Anemoi--Boreas, Zephyrus, Notus, and Eurus–and worked with them in their different aspects in this way. Donald Micheal Kraig, in his Modern Magick, applies this principle to exorcise unwanted personality traits, habits, thoughts, or emotions from the magician with what he calls the I.O.B. Technique (Identify, Objectify, Banish) by personifying them and banishing them. St. Francis of Assisi used this principle to commune with Nature and spoke of “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon;” the Haudenoshaunee Indigenous Nation similarly refers to the moon as ‘Grandmother Moon.” In short, the principle of personification makes magical use of the human tendency to detect agency and mobilizes it to open up lines of communication for the purposes of initiation, empowerment, and the achievement of magical goals.

“Spell Pierce Invocation” by Joseph Meehan

13. The Principle of Invocation

Definition: “Bring an entity or force into your consciousness to communicate with or experience it from within.”

Invocation is one of the most important and ancient principles and practices in the magician’s repertoire. It involves bringing an entity or force into your sphere of sensation to commune with it or communicate with it from within. The Solomonic grimoires are replete with invocations of God and the Archangels and the Grade Rituals and LRP of the Golden Dawn are no different in this respect. In the Rites of Eleusis in Ancient Greek, the goddess of agriculture, Demeter, and her daughter, Persephone, were invoked by the psychopomps during the celebration of the Lesser and Greater Mysteries.

Prayer is the most common form of invocation, but far more elaborate invocations are possible. A devotee surrendering themselves to the Deity of their devotion to the point of identifying with them through repeated invocation is a well-known practice within the tradition of Bhakti Yoga as discussed in the Bhagavad Gita. Invocations of the Holy Spirit are common in Rosicrucian magical traditions.


One of the most sophisticated forms of invocation was practiced by the Ancient Egyptian priests. This technique, later referred to by the Golden Dawn as godform assumption, involves formulating and cloaking oneself in the astral form of an entity and performing actions and experiencing thoughts, feelings, and visions from their perspective. As practiced by the Ancient Egyptians, this method was employed invoke and garb oneself in the form of the Egyptian neteru, the name they gave to the god/goddess forces with which they worked, which carries various meanings, such as “supreme,” “great,” “deity,” “renewal,” and “divine.” In the Golden Dawn system, Officers assume and hold various godforms astrally for the duration of the ceremony as they manipulate the flows of energies in the Temple and make changes to the Initiate’s Sphere of Sensation as lucidly explained in Pat Zalewksi’s Golden Dawn Rituals and Commentaries (2010).

Jake Stratton-Kent describes an alternative to godform assumption he calls the astral assumption of theriomorphs or ‘animal forms.’ As he explains this practice:

Warping myself or my ‘astral body’ into the appropriate animal or beast-headed deity to – say – consecrate a talisman, connects with deeply primal magical currents.


14. The Principle of Evocation

Definition: “Summon an entity or force to external appearance.

While invocation involves taking an entity or archetypal force into one’s Sphere of Sensation, evocation involves the corollary experience of causing the spirit to appear as experienced outside of the magician.  This is the primary method that is applied, for instance, in the Goetia of the Lemegeton, to cause spirits to appear to visual appearance in the Triangle of Art outside of the Magician’s Circle.

The grimoiric tradition abounds with methods of invocation. In the Solomonic tradition, spirits may be helped to appear to visible manifestation by manipulating the movements of candlefire, shifting the appearance of incense smoke, or appearing in a black mirror.

The Golden Dawn magicians developed their own methods of evocation based on the Z-formulae embedded in the Grade Rituals. In the Enochian system of John Dee, angelic forces may be evoked into a crystal ball and produce visions there-through. In short, invocation is bringing a being in, while invocation is bringing a being into being experienced as external to your human form.


15. The Principle of Scrying

Definition: “Gazing into a medium can enable one to see visions or receive messages one could otherwise not access.”

The principle of scrying embodies one of the key magical techniques that are used in practical magic. According to some anthropologists, the practice of scrying dates as far back as 3000 B.C.E. in China where cracked eggs were used as a form of scrying and divination. Scrying may be performed to obtain personal guidance, revelations, inspiration, as a tool for divination, or to communicate with a force or entity, as in the principle of evocation.


The most commonly-used media for scrying are reflective, refractive, clear, or luminescent surfaces such as a bowl of water, a crystal ball, a black or ordinary mirror, a stone like the topaz used by Aleister Crowley to scry the Enochian Aethyrs in the Vision and the Voice (1911).

The Ancient Egyptians reportedly scryed into a vessel filled with oil. Nostradamus scryed into a bowl of clear water to receive his prophecies. The Oracle of Delphi allegedly scryed into a special spring to obtain answers to the questions posed by Kings and peasants alike. The Aztec Yucatan shamans are said to have scryed into reflective crystals and gemstones. In all of these cases the principle is the same: by means of a carefully-selected medium, the magician can augment his or her powers of astral perception to receive messages or visions.


16. The Principle of Murphy

Definition: “If it can go wrong, it probably will.”

Last, but not least, in this brief attempt to survey the principles that underlie magical practice, I must not neglect to point out the principle of Murphy, otherwise more commonly known as Murphy’s Law. Despite all of our best efforts and most-carefully designed rituals, things can and often do go wrong. Lon Milo DuQuette reports in My Life With the Spirits (1999), for example, that he accidentally had cinnamon-infused Abramalin oil run into his eyes during an evocation and had to leave the Circle and run screaming into the bathroom!

I once neglected to properly take astrological influences into account when consecrating a Saturn talisman and ended up making one that gave an Adept friend of mine splitting headaches every time he looked at it. On another occasion, I failed to print out one of the key pages of my two-hour consecration ceremony and had to ad lib it on the fly. Other friends have run out of incense during evocations, leaving the spirit with nothing to manifest with and had the spirit tell them “you need more incense than this…”, or knocked over candle sand set the Temple on fire. Long story short: if it can go wrong, it probably will, and in the most annoying way possible, so be careful!



In this essay, I have attempted to provide a selection of fundamental magical principles that magicians have used throughout the history of magic to gain a sense of what they were doing in ritual, and which are still current to the understandings of contemporary practitioners myself. The way of magic is a way of experimentation, discovery, investigation, and experience. Like the sciences, in magic, theory and practice continue to emerge and be evolved as both persevering solitary individuals and the collective community of practitioners push its frontiers ever forward.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
~ Arthur C. Clarke, in Profiles of the Future (Revised edition, 1973)

Frater S.C.F.V.


Did I leave anything out or present any unintentional inaccuracies? Have you found any other principles to be worth including? Please feel free to share your feedback in the comments. I am an eternal beginner on this Way and benefit a great deal from what I learn from all of you who are wiser than I, thank you!

Traveling in the Spirit Vision Through the Air Sigil and the Esoteric Meaning of the Pelican and Olive Branch


Date: Monday, September 8, 2017
Time: 1:30 PM. to 2:00 P.M.
Sun Phase: Rising
Moon Phase: Waning Gibbous
Planetary Day: Day of the Moon

Planetary Hour: Hour of the Moon into the Hour of Saturn
Mood: Calm
Planetary Hour:
 Traveling in the Spirit Vision in the Alchemical Sigil of Air

air triangle.png

Entering a relaxed and fully-present state of mind, I sat upright in meditative posture, fixating on the image of the Alchemical Sigil of Air in the flashing colours of violet and yellow, following the method described in Flying Roll XXXVI – Skrying and Traveling in the Spirit Vision by V.H. Soror V.N.R.

Closing my eyes, I vividly envisioned the astral form of the sigil until it attained depth like a doorway. Then I projected my consciousness into and through the sigil. As I entered the triangle symbol, it turned into a winding triangular tunnel, through which I plummeted.

At last, I came out of the other side in a space within what V.H.. Sorry V.N.R. calls “the World of Air.” Here, I found myself, astrally garbed in my robe, floating in a sky tinged with blue and yellow.

Looking off to my left, I saw a form approaching. It was a bird, and as I looked at it more carefully, it became clear that it was not just any bird, but a pelican. The pelican seemed to take no real notice of me at first until I greeted it with great love and respect. Hearing my greeting, it swooped down to float near me and greeted me in return. We began to speak.


Me: “Great Pelican! Where are we at present?”

Pelican: “We are in the World of Air, where the wind carries me on its wings. What do you come here for?”

M: “I come here to obtain a deeper understanding of the Element of Air and how to equilibrate its presence within me alongside the other Elements.”

P: “If this is your will, then listen to me carefully. I shall give you a branch. Press it to your forehead and you will have a direct influx of the power of the Element.”

In his beak, he handed me an Olive branch.


I pressed it to my head and felt a flood of moist, warm energy enveloping me. The pelican began to speak:

P: “Air is the element of life. It is the Spirit that breathes into the lungs and animates you as a human being with the breath of life. Without it, there can be no Fire, for Air fuels Fire, and it was Fire that kept humanity alive for aeons. The Air carries evaporated Water in the Clouds of the Sky. I fly over the depths of Water, and a bird of the Air, I draw fish from the Water. Thus, in me, Water and Air are joined; my life is sustained through the union of both. The same is true for you, creature who breathes Air and subsists on Water.

If you would balance the Air within your nature, be not lost in the Fire of your passion and Will, the Water of your unconscious mind and emotions, or the Earth of your flesh. To walk the way of Air, you must walk on the edge of the sword. On one edge, wisdom, on the other, folly. The sword of Air is discerning; it cuts through illusion and ignorance and thereby, reveals Truth. Sharpen the intellect, but do not fixate on it, for the sword of intellect cuts both ways! If you cling to it, it will cut you too; your own thoughts will stir up the Water and Fire of suffering in the Earth of your body. Just as Air can sustain life, but when taken away, can erase it, so can the intellect both preserve and destroy life. Keep it then in balance. Ride its Winds, but be not blown astray.”

I thanked the great Pelican for its insights and bowed to it. It returned the bow, then flew off on its way. I remained a few moments, connecting with the Element. Then, I turned towards the triangular tunnel through which I had come. Flying back through the tunnel, I “landed” back in my upright-seating body. Equilibrating the Air energy with the Qabalistic Cross, I sat for a moment, breathing, before I returned to ordinary consciousness.

In the day that followed, my mind seemed clearer. Thoughts proceeded with ease and clarity, and my mood seemed calmly buoyant and airy. I could feel how the calming perfume of equilibrated air calms the emotions and passions and brings energy and balance into the flow of the body’s rhythms.


Rosicrucian and Alchemical Secrets of the Pelican

At the end of the day, I returned to reflecting on the symbolism of the Pelican and the Olive Branch.

Unknown to me at the time of my visionary meeting while traveling in the spirit vision, the Pelican has rich Rosicrucian and alchemical roots.


In the Rosicrucian symbolism, Fr. William Saunders reports that

“The symbolism of the mother pelican feeding her little baby pelicans is rooted in an ancient legend, which preceded Christianity. The legend was that in time of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with the beak to feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation. Another version of the legend was that the mother fed her dying young with her blood to revive them from death, but in turn lost her own life.”

To the Christian mystics, the Pelican took on the symbolism of self-sacrifice, compassion, resurrection, charity, and selfless giving for the redemption, healing, and nourishment of others; it thus became a symbol of the Christ-principle.

In support of t his view, Fr. Saunders notes that ”

This tradition and others is found in the Physiologus, an early Christian work which appeared in the second century in Alexandria, Egypt. Written by an anonymous author, the Physiologus recorded legends of animals and gave each an allegorical interpretation. (…) Here too the legend of the pelican feeding her young is described: “The little pelicans strike their parents, and the parents, striking back, kill them. But on the third day the mother pelican strikes and opens her side and pours blood over her dead young. In this way they are revivified and made well. (…) This work was noted by St. Epiphanius, St. Basil and St. Peter of Alexandria. It was also popular in the Middle Ages and was a source for the symbols used in the various stone carvings and other artwork of that period.

He adds that:

Clearly the pelican became a symbol of charity. Reference to the pelican and its Christian meaning are found in Renaissance literature: Dante (1321) in the “Paridiso” of his Divine Comedy refers to Christ as “our Pelican.” John Lyly in his Euphues (1606) wrote, “Pelicane who striketh blood out of its owne bodye to do others good.” Shakespeare (1616) in Hamlet wrote, “To his good friend thus wide, Ill ope my arms / And, like the kind, life-rendering pelican / Repast them with my blood.” John Skelton (1529) in his Armorie of Birds, wrote, “Then sayd the Pellycan: When my Byrdts be slayne / With my bloude I them revyve. Scripture doth record / The same dyd our Lord / And rose from deth to lyve.””

To the Rosicrucian alchemists, the Pelican retained these valences of meaning, but took on additional ones within the alchemical operations in pursuit of the Philosopher’s Stone. Here, it was seen as analogous to the vessel in which ‘circulatio’ or circular distillation was performed, as shown in this image:


As the image also points out, in Inner Alchemy, the pelican came to encapsulate the “circumambulation of a problem from different points of view and at different stages of life.” Fittingly, this is also what is involved in the intellectual manifestations of the Air element as pointed to by the Pelican in my vision.

The Pelican circumambulates in the sky, circles, and examines the scene from different angles, and then swoops in to catch its prey. In the same way, we use the Airy power of the intellect to examine, analyze, consider, survey, and envision the aspects of a problem before swooping in to deliver the solving power of a solution. In a sense, the right exercise of Reason, a power of Air, results in the “circular distillation” of a solution or a gem of insight, knowledge, or understanding from the confusing morass of an ambiguous situation or multidimensional problem.

The Olive Branch

The olive branch is also a symbol that is rich in meaning. In Greek Mythology, Athena planted an olive branch in Athens as a gift of sustenance and food to the Athenians. Olive wreaths were also worn by brides and awarded to victorious Olympians, in the Games. Thus, the symbol was connected to Athena and also to the notion of victory. In the Tree of Life, this links it in part to the Sephirah of Netzach on the Qabalistic Tree of Life, which means not only “eternity,” but also “victory.” To the Greeks, the Olympians were “victorious forever,” ever-hallowed for their victories, and crowned with the olive wreath as a celebration of their victory.

The Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BC) associated “the plump olive” with the goddess Pax (the Roman Eirene) and he used the olive branch as a symbol of peace in his Aeneid:

“High on the stern Aeneas his stand,
And held a branch of olive in his hand,
While thus he spoke: “The Phrygians’ arms you see,
Expelled from Troy, provoked in Italy
By Latian foes, with war unjustly made;
At first affianced, and at last betrayed.
This message bear: The Trojans and their chief
Bring holy peace, and beg the king’s relief.”

For the Romans, there was an intimate relationship between war and peace, and Mars/Ares, the god of war, had another aspect, Mars Pacifer, Mars the bringer of Peace, who, according to Ragnar Hedlund in “Coinage and authority in the Roman Empire c. C.E. 260- 295,” is shown on coins of the later Roman Empire bearing an olive branch. If Mars as bringing of War symbolizes the aggressive force of the Sephirah of Geburah on the Tree of Life, Mars Pacifer symbolizes the reverse of the same archetype, balancing it in the bringing of peace.

In addition, Appian describes the use of the olive-branch as a gesture of peace by the enemies of the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus in the Numantine War and by Hasdrubal the Boeotarch of Carthage. Although peace was associated with the olive branch during the time of the Greeks, the symbolism became even stronger under the Pax Romana when envoys used the olive branch as symbols of peace, the origin of our English expression “extend an olive branch” meaning to make a peace offering.

In the Christian tradition, Tertullian (c.160 – c.220) compared Noah’s dove in the Hebrew Bible, who “announced to the world the assuagement of divine wrath, when she had been sent out of the ark and returned with the olive branch” with the Holy Spirit in baptism “bringing us the peace of God, sent out from the heavens.” In his 4th century Latin translation of the story of Noah, St Jerome rendered “leaf of olive” (Hebrew alay zayit) in Genesis 8:11 as “branch of olive” (Latin ramum olivae).

In the 5th century, by which time a dove with an olive branch had become established as a Christian symbol of peace, St Augustine wrote in On Christian Doctrine that, “perpetual peace is indicated by the olive branch (oleae ramusculo) which the dove brought with it when it returned to the ark.” These Christian meanings were preserved in some of the Rosicrucian alchemical and spiritual emblems that were created in the 17th century.

All of these symbols are fascinating and interesting since just this morning, prior to doing the Traveling in the Spirit Vision session, I had been working on what I call my “Lesser Rose Cross Lamen,” a smaller, simpler alternative to the traditional Rose Cross Lamen of the R.R. et A.C., which I call the “Greater Rose Cross Lamen,” shown here:


I may reveal my “Lesser Rose Cross Lamen” in a future post. For now, let it suffice to say that given my recent work within the Rosicrucian current, it is interesting that these symbols with Rosicrucian import previously unknown to me, the Pelican and the Olive Branch, were both revealed in my visionary work for the day.

May we learn to extend olive branches in our interactions with one another to bring healing in the wings of peace, that we may crown ourselves with the olive wreath of victory, and soar with the Pelican through the Winds of reason which seeks solutions rather than dwelling on problems, the Sword (Zayin) of Air that cuts through confusion and shines Light where Clouds once swirled and all was draped in Darkness…

Frater S.C.F.V.