On the Neophyte, Women, and the Melusina

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

“I believe then, and believe now, that the probationer of A∴A∴ is nearly always offered the opportunity to betray the Order, just as the neophyte is nearly always tempted by a woman.”—Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley’s claim that an A∴A∴ Neophyte is nearly always tempted by a woman can be taken as almost Christian-like in its apparent implication that women are evil by nature. Surely its format was influenced by old-fashioned attitudes toward women that Crowley had absorbed as a child within a fervently Christian household. Still, his statement contains incredibly important principles which need to be understood by anyone who is starting out on the spiritual path. These important principles are, yes, about women in a certain way. Even more broadly, though, they are about the feminine aspect of everything manifested, including men.

The Problem

Here’s the real warning: when you first swear to engage the spiritual path seriously, that very affirmation will automatically invoke worldly distractions that will most likely knock you right off your path. These distractions won’t be monsters or demons—things you would notice. They will be everyday, ordinary things that you won’t even question. They will be things demanding your immediate attention. Soon you will convince yourself that you’re still really “doing” spirituality, when actually you are just busy saying to yourself you’ll do it “tomorrow.” The inner work somehow never finds it way to the top of your list of things-to-do. Imagine if you took that attitude toward physical exercise or toward the tasks of your day job.

This paper explores the nitty-gritty, occult causes of the inevitable shower of distracting events upon the newly-made Neophyte, male or female. It also goes into the connection of this type of happening with “a woman,” as well how to avoid being a victim of the phenomenon considered more broadly than Crowley does. To quote Grady Louis McMurtry, you’ve got to learn to recognize and get rid of “the lead weight on your ass” or you’ll never go further. It’s not too late.

What has all this got to do with women? To understand, you have to be willing to do a little digging into gender on the Tree of Life. You cannot achieve in Crowley’s system without studying Qabalah. In essence, only women embody the fundamental principle that makes things happen on Earth. A woman has a two-fold nature. On the higher level she rules Babalon. Babalon’s seat is in Binah-3 (בינה) on the Qabalistic Tree of Life. This is the divine sphere of form-in-pure-potential, which Hindus would call Divine Shakti, the cosmic creative power and energy that reverberates throughout the universe in myriad ways. Binah-3 is also known as the “first Heh” of the Tetragrammaton (יהוה), a magickal formula of the universal cycle of creation and destruction. Binah sits at the top of the left-hand Pillar of Manifestation. She creates the myriad forms that descend that pillar and eventually take substance on Earth.

Now, on the lower level, a woman rules the Earthly Mother Goddess. As Earth Mother Goddess, her seat is in Malkuth-10
(מלכות)—not coincidentally, the sphere into which the Neophyte focuses. Malkuth is the divine sphere of form-in-actuality, or Shakti (Energy) manifested. Malkuth-10 is the “second Heh” of the Tetragrammaton. These higher and lower natures of women are essentially present in all natural things, including in men’s physical bodies. In other words, energy is present in all things. The difference is that although the Cosmic Energy Goddess is embodied anthropomorphically in women, She is present only potentially, as an inner image, in men. As such, if we restrict our focus to the level of Earth, then while a woman embodies Energy, a man tends to find that principle in an active form only outside his manifested self—whether in actual women, in the feminine aspects of Nature, or (ideally) in his own inner Goddess. This concept of men being energized from the outside gives the kernel of truth behind the old phrase, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” By contrast, the manifested woman needs to link herself with the corresponding masculine principle of Direction in order to channel her innate energy. Ideally, she links successfully with her inner God, establishing holism within herself, rather than relying on an external male or cause to define her.

Once you understand the two-fold nature of women in relationship to the all-pervading cosmic energy, the kernel of truth in Crowley’s claim that the Neophyte is nearly always tempted by a woman becomes apparent: like attracts like—first and second Heh. A Neophyte focuses into Malkuth, the sphere of the Earth Mother. If the Neophyte is male, his sudden intentional focus on Malkuth via his Oath will draw down—unintentionally—a corresponding form from Binah. That invoked form will descend the left-hand pillar and take shape on Malkuth. As often as not, the form appears in his Universe as an actual woman. Needless to say, that woman existed before he took his Oath. But it wasn’t until now that she existed as the carrier of this particular form invoked by him from Binah. Suddenly she appears to him. Or, if the two people already knew each other, suddenly she appears to him in a new light. And because, unbeknownst to the unaware male Neophyte, this woman embodies his spiritual desires, it is very easy for him to find in her the culmination of all his wishes. Rather than continue on his path, at that point he is drawn to unite with this alluring embodiment of his intent in the form of a woman, and off he goes. Hence, Crowley’s claim.

It’s worth remembering at this point that just as Binah is Saturn, so also is Tav (ת), The Universe, which is the Qabalistic path connecting Malkuth with Yesod-9 (יסוד). Tav / Saturn symbolizes the beginning of the spiritual path, in which an aspirant begins to explore the true nature behind appearances—i.e. begins to go within. Saturn’s metal is Lead. Lead is not evil, but it has to be dealt with skillfully or it will pull you down. Hence, Grady’s warning about “the lead weight on your ass.” I have witnessed many times male Neophytes being distracted off the path by a sudden attraction to a woman, but it has nothing to do with women being evil. In fact, if anything, such a situation is more aptly described as a man not understanding his own act of invocation and basically trapping himself in a state of forgetfulness.

Now Crowley did not address the corresponding situation for unwary female Neophytes. What happens to them? In a sense, it is the same thing by an opposite mechanism. When a woman suddenly focuses on Malkuth with magickal intent, she too draws a feminine form down from Binah. But instead of that form manifesting as something outside of her—though in fact it could—as often as not it manifests as her. In other words, the unwary female Neophyte too often becomes possessed by the Goddess figure and ends up becoming a pawn in some drama usually involving a man who is swept off his feet by her, with the result that she forgets her original intent. I realize some women aren’t going to like what I am saying, with its implication that we are prone to losing control. But anyone who embarks on the magickal path has to admit that sometimes our egos would like to take credit for actions and situations that are more equivalent to slipping on a banana peel. Rather than getting angry and digging in when we lose control in magick, it is better to laugh, get up, and dust ourselves off. Yes, we can regain control, but only if we can first admit we made a mistake. To succeed, we also have to be willing to study and work with our current vehicle’s distinctive magickal features as either male or female. That kind of observation and study of the magickal traits of our current vehicle type is part of our work as we focus into the sphere of Malkuth.

Let’s take a step backward now and look even more closely at the more fundamental basis of Crowley’s observation, regardless of its sexist odor or of its literal truth or falsehood in a given situation. It is this: the minute we affirm our will to do the spiritual work, our own unconscious reality-synthesizing faculty manifests an equal and opposite force. The power deep within us that creates the appearances in our Universe “rights the wrong” that we created by awakening our intent to ascend the Tree of Life. “What goes up, must come down.” That’s just a fact of nature, one that we as aspirants have to contend with skillfully if we are to continue on our path and not just “fall by the wayside.”

In order to place this perennial problem in a different light, I’d like to bring in a different author, Paracelsus (1493–1541), along with his commentator Gerhard Dorn (1530–1584). On the positive side, in doing so I move away from Crowley’s apparent literalism. On the negative side, I introduce a murky and difficult-to-interpret text in comparison to Crowley’s clear one. Still, the effort is worth the gains. The basic point of the Paracelsus text is pretty simple. In a nutshell, the minute we engage a spiritual intent from our seat in Malkuth, the feminine force of our own nature will generate distractions that tend to prevent us from fulfilling our original intent. Again, like attracts like—first and second Heh. To quote Shakespeare’s Macbeth, we immediately find ourselves trapped by the demoness Time, where there’s always “[t]omorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,” grinding our earthly life to a meaningless pulp, unto death, while all our spiritual aspirations meanwhile come to naught. Paracelsus’ solution to this problem of our feminine nature is to wield yet another part of our feminine nature—one which Aleister Crowley rightly characterizes elsewhere as Love.

In Book V, Chapter V of his De Vita Longa, Paracelsus says some things that amount to this. Our psychic powers, as we partake of the Universal Human Being, are four-fold, also corresponding to the four Elements on Earth. The very act of engaging these powers with the intent to pursue the Great Work unleashes what he calls the Melusina, a feminine, watery spirit. If you have ever studied Tarot, you know that Water connotes both emotion and imagery. Qabalistic students know that the Root of Water is Binah-3 (בינה), which is also Saturn and the origin of all form. Paracelsus says that unless the aspirant exercises some careful maneuvers of a special kind, the Melusina will block our entrance into the immortal life. What kind of maneuvers? He says the aspirant must “appropriate the characteristics of Venus” (“arripimus characteres Veneris”). Students of Ordo Templi Orientis mysteries should reflect that in First Degree, occurring in Binah, the candidate receives a copper disk, where copper is the metal of Venus (Francis King, The Secret Rituals of the O.T.O., p. 63). Paracelsus’ description of the problem along with his advice is perhaps clear as mud right now, but we have Dorn’s commentary to help us.

Dorn says something very concrete and helpful when he comments on the problem of the Melusina. Dorn tells us that the Melusina is a vision appearing in the mind. He says that, if permitted to do so by the invisible, eternal Human, the Melusinian spirit will generate “distracting impediments” in the life of the aspirant. In that case, the result is that the fledgling operations don’t obtain their intended effect. In other words, the Melusina generates distracting events in the outer life, with the result that the operation, undertaken with such lofty intent, is immediately rendered a dud. Before I get to Dorn’s commentary on the solution to this problem, I’ll turn to Carl Jung’s thoughts on the problem itself.

Carl Jung (1875–1961), the great psychologist, treasures Paracelsus’ text despite its murkiness because he finds in it gems of surprisingly modern psychological insights. According to Carl Jung, the Melusina corresponds to the anima, an anthropomorphized image of the unconscious that is particularly associated with bodily and intuitive functions and that arises on the borderline of consciousness. Jung explicitly points out that Dorn thinks of the Melusina “not as a projection on a real woman” (“Paracelsus as a Spiritual Phenomenon,” Paragraph 215). He further notes that the idea of the Melusina appearing as a real woman “does not seem to have occurred to Paracelsus either” (Ibid). Obviously, this is in distinct contrast to Aleister Crowley, who seems to have thought of the Melusina’s manifestation only in a literal way. My point is, it doesn’t matter whether the Melusina appears as a real woman or not. Unless skillful maneuvers are undertaken in response, the Melusina will take the aspirant down, whether through manifesting outer distractions to a masculine aspirant or through possessing a feminine aspirant so that she become a pawn of Nature and find herself swept up into drama—often on the stage of some man.

The Solution

Dorn helps clarify Paracelsus’ suggestion that the aspirant “appropriate the characteristics of Venus.” Dorn says we have to dismiss the visions of Melusina as illusionary. That is, we have to recognize them for what they are. He says we have to send her back to her native nymphaditic realm (“[a]d naturam nymphididicam rediens”). This is the way, he says, that we assume the characteristics of Venus, or in other words, “the shield and armor of Love.” What in the world does this mean? Jung further clarifies. He points out that this advised dismissal of the Melusina back to her own realm is not, as it might seem, a rejection of the feminine, but rather a restoration of the feminine to her natural part in the adept’s wholeness. Hence Love or Agape (Venus) is recommended, with True Love being a union of the consciousness with the unconscious—Earth with Heaven—which marriage can never occur so long as the Melusina seems to be separate from the male aspirant, whether in the form of a real woman or in the form of distracting outer events.

This process of reintegrating the feminine into the masculine consciousness is known in old-Aeonic terms as redemption of the second Heh. Through redemption, the feminine principle on Malkuth-10 is elevated to Netzach-7 (נצח), where, as Crowley says in Liber Aleph, “the Daughter is set upon the Throne of her Mother” (“On the Four Lesser Operations of the Microcosmic Star”). A wonderful study of that process of redemption of the feminine by the male Adept is given in Frater Achad’s The Chalice of Ecstasy, which is itself a study of Wagner’s Parsifal.

Though Jung does not say so, since he dwells exclusively on the male mysteries in his article, the sacred marriage also cannot occur for a female aspirant if she becomes too closely identified with the Melusina, or in other words if she becomes unknowingly possessed by it. Luckily, there is an equivalent female operation for redemption through which a woman (Daughter) can place herself on the throne of her Mother in Binah. It involves working the Path of the Moon, which connects Malkuth and Netzach, as well as working the right-hand pillar as a whole.

In any case, Jung notes that the Melusina is closely connected with “Morgana, the ‘sea-born,’” through whom skillful aspirants, to quote Paracelsus, “know yourselves to be one with others.” Clearly Morgana, like Babalon, is in Binah—Saturn or Lead, which co-governs the astrological sign of our present age, Aquarius. In Liber AL vel Legis we similarly read, “Let there be no difference made among you between any one thing & another other thing; for thereby there cometh hurt” (I:22).

For my money, the most lucid literary portrayal of how an aspirant can skillfully send the Melusina back to her native realm by “appropriat[ing] the characteristics of Venus” occurs in the 14th-century chivalric romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, specifically in the scene in which Gawain has to repel the sexual advances of his host’s beautiful and attractive wife without ever being discourteous. Gawain and his host had previously agreed that whatever each one secures on that day’s hunt he is honor-bound to exchange with the other man. In the following scene, we see Gawain dancing mindfully with the Melusina in the form of his host’s wife, honoring her beauty and allure while still refusing to be seduced by her. (The “blow” that he must receive, mentioned in the scene, refers to a promise he had made earlier. It is not important for our purposes that we understand the subtleties of the plot.) Here is the scene, as translated by Jessie Weston:

So the lord roamed the woods, and Gawain, that good knight, lay ever a-bed, curtained about, under the costly coverlet, while the daylight gleamed on the walls. And as he lay half slumbering, he heard a little sound at the door, and he raised his head, and caught back a corner of the curtain, and waited to see what it might be. It was the lovely lady, the lord’s wife; she shut the door softly behind her, and turned towards the bed; and Gawain was shamed, laid him down softly and made as if he slept. And she came lightly to the bedside, within the curtain, and sat herself down beside him, to wait till he wakened.

The knight lay there awhile, and marvelled within himself what her coming might betoken; and he said to himself, “Twere more seemly if I asked her what hath brought her hither.” Then he made feint to waken, and turned towards her, and opened his eyes as one astonished, and crossed himself; and she looked on him laughing, with her cheeks red and white, lovely to behold, and small smiling lips.

“Good morrow, Sir Gawain,” said that fair lady; “ye are but a careless sleeper, since one can enter thus. Now are ye taken unawares, and lest ye escape me I shall bind you in your bed; of that be ye assured!” Laughing, she spake these words.

“Good morrow, fair lady,” quoth Gawain blithely. “I will do your will, as it likes me well. For I yield me readily, and pray your grace, and that is best, by my faith, since I needs must do so.” Thus he jested again, laughing. “But an ye would, fair lady, grant me this grace that ye pray your prisoner to rise. I would get me from bed, and array me better, then could I talk with ye in more comfort.”

“Nay, forsooth, fair sir,” quoth the lady, “ye shall not rise, I will rede ye better. I shall keep ye here, since ye can do no other, and talk with my knight whom I have captured. For I know well that ye are Sir Gawain, whom all the world worships, wheresoever ye may ride. Your honour and your courtesy are praised by lords and ladies, by all who live. Now ye are here and we are alone, my lord and his men are afield; the serving men in their beds, and my maidens also, and the door shut upon us. And since in this hour I have him that all men love, I shall use my time well with speech, while it lasts. Ye are welcome to my company, for it behoves me in sooth to be your servant.”

“In good faith,” quoth Gawain, “I think me that I am not him of whom ye speak, for unworthy am I of such service as ye here proffer. In sooth, I were glad if I might set myself by word or service to your pleasure; a pure joy would it be to me!”

“In good faith, Sir Gawain,” quoth the gay lady, “the praise and the prowess that pleases all ladies I lack them not, nor hold them light; yet are there ladies enough who would liever now have the knight in their hold, as I have ye here, to dally with your courteous words, to bring them comfort and to ease their cares, than much of the treasure and the gold that are theirs. And now, through the grace of Him who upholds the heavens, I have wholly in my power that which they all desire!”

Thus the lady, fair to look upon, made him great cheer, and Sir Gawain, with modest words, answered her again: “Madam,” he quoth, “may Mary requite ye, for in good faith I have found in ye a noble frankness. Much courtesy have other folk shown me, but the honour they have done me is naught to the worship of yourself, who knoweth but good.”

“By Mary,” quoth the lady, “I think otherwise; for were I worth all the women alive, and had I the wealth of the world in my hand, and might choose me a lord to my liking, then, for all that I have seen in ye, Sir Knight, of beauty and courtesy and blithe semblance, and for all that I have hearkened and hold for true, there should be no knight on earth to be chosen before ye!”

“Well I wot,” quoth Sir Gawain, “that ye have chosen a better; but I am proud that ye should so prize me, and as your servant do I hold ye my sovereign, and your knight am I, and may Christ reward ye.”

So they talked of many matters till mid-morn was past, and ever the lady made as though she loved him, and the knight turned her speech aside. For though she were the brightest of maidens, yet had he forborne to shew her love for the danger that awaited him, and the blow that must be given without delay.

Then the lady prayed her leave from him, and he granted it readily. And she gave him good-day, with laughing glance, but he must needs marvel at her words:

“Now He that speeds fair speech reward ye this disport; but that ye be Gawain my mind misdoubts me greatly.”

“Wherefore?” quoth the knight quickly, fearing lest he had lacked in some courtesy.

And the lady spake: “So true a knight as Gawain is holden, and one so perfect in courtesy, would never have tarried so long with a lady but he would of his courtesy have craved a kiss at parting.”

Then quoth Gawain, “I wot I will do even as it may please ye, and kiss at your commandment, as a true knight should who forbears to ask for fear of displeasure.”

At that she came near and bent down and kissed the knight, and each commended the other to Christ, and she went forth from the chamber softly.

Then Sir Gawain arose and called his chamberlain and chose his garments, and when he was ready he gat him forth to Mass, and then went to meat, and made merry all day till the rising of the moon, and never had a knight fairer lodging than had he with those two noble ladies, the elder and the younger.

And even the lord of the land chased the hinds through holt and heath till eventide, and then with much blowing of bugles and baying of hounds they bore the game homeward; and by the time daylight was done all the folk had returned to that fair castle. And when the lord and Sir Gawain met together, then were they both well pleased. The lord commanded them all to assemble in the great hall, and the ladies to descend with their maidens, and there, before them all, he bade the men fetch in the spoil of the day’s hunting, and he called unto Gawain, and counted the tale of the beasts, and showed them unto him, and said, “What think ye of this game, Sir Knight? Have I deserved of ye thanks for my woodcraft?”

“Yea, I wis,” quoth the other, “here is the fairest spoil I have seen this seven year in the winter season.”

“And all this do I give ye, Gawain,” quoth the host, “for by accord of covenant ye may claim it as your own.”

“That is sooth,” quoth the other, “I grant you that same; and I have fairly won this within walls, and with as good will do I yield it to ye.” With that he clasped his hands round the lord’s neck and kissed him as courteously as he might. “Take ye here my spoils, no more have I won; ye should have it freely, though it were greater than this.”

Gawain’s secret for success is that he, as a Christian, remains fervently devoted to the Virgin Mary. Mary corresponds on the Tree of Life to Binah-3 (בינה), The Great Sea, corresponding for a Thelemite to BABALON and also to the sea goddess Morgana. This male secret is known in the Ordo Templi Orientis as Chastity, and this text makes clear that it is compatible with, and even requires, sexual arousal. Though far from obvious, the brief reference to the beautiful, young wife being paired with an elder lady, as she had been when Gawain first saw her, refers to the sacred Woman as having a dual nature as Venus (Netzach-7; נצח) and Saturn (Binah-3; בינה). (If you are familiar with Wagner’s Parsifal, remember that its main female character, Kundry, also has a dual aspect as seductress and hag.)

The spoken references in the text to Mary, though made to seem casual and incidental, are not. Earlier in the tale than what I have quoted here, the reader learned that Gawain had ridden to this adventure bearing a shield with an image of the Virgin Mary on its inside surface, so that he could continually contemplate the image of the Queen of Heaven. This is wonderful advice for any A∴A∴ Neophyte—see only BABALON in the midst of all appearances. “For as thy blood is mingled in the cup of BABALON, so is thine heart the universal heart” (“Cry of the 5th Aethyr”).

Most tellingly of all, the reader will learn at the end of the tale that the Goddess Morgana is the real architect of the entire quest. Arguably, both the young noble lady and the elder are actually the Goddess Morgana in disguise. Unquestionably, though, Gawain invoked the Goddess and her tests when he volunteered for the quest at the beginning of the tale, the equivalent in the A∴A∴ of affirming that one has begun the magickal and spiritual journey by taking the Neophyte Oath. Like Gawain, a Neophyte must learn to recognize the Goddess in any disguise that She may don. A Neophyte must also learn to honor Her power without becoming either Her victim (male) or Her pawn (female). In Thelemic terms, Gawain is able to resist the seductions of the Melusina without rejecting her by keeping in mind that she is simply the outward form of his inner goddess, to whom he is ever-faithful. This text gives us an excellent allegory of how to take up “the shield and armor of Love.”

In summary, the Neophyte must remain alert at all times to the seductions and playful tricks of the Melusina, whether they be in the shape of a woman (oneself or another) or in the form of very-normal-seeming worldly distractions. The Neophyte is in constant danger of being pulled off the path, because he or she has invoked the formative power of the Goddess in Binah. The only defense against this terrible fate is to become like the central figure in the Tarot trump of The Universe, also corresponding to Saturn; he or she must take on the playful characteristics of Venus. The aspirant must learn to dance with those seductive appearances. He or she must learn to recognize in the center of all appearances the Queen of Heaven, who is after all his or her own feminine, formative nature, his or her own Goddess aspect. For women, the Goddess is her external aspect, and for men, She is his internal. Either way, regarding all appearances, the Adept loves and honors only Her, dedicating his or her whole self. Nuit adjures, “To me! To me!” (Liber AL vel Legis I:65). Through this wise recognition of the real nature of the Melusinian visions, the Neophyte becomes sure-footed on the road to marrying Heaven and Earth.

Love is the law, love under will.

Written this 29th Day of January, 2019 ev.
The Sun in Aquarius & the Moon in Sagittarius
In the Valley Of Berkeley, California
by Soror Absorbeo 410 5=6 A∴A∴