How it Works

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

The A∴A∴ is an organization whose heads have obtained by personal experience to the summit of this science. They have founded a system by which everyone can equally attain, and that with an ease and speed which was previously impossible. (Book 4, Part II)

In the A∴A∴, the blind do not lead the blind. Progress is measured by a series of grades. The theoretical and practical basis for these grades will be discussed later.

Each person is admitted by a teacher, a fellow seeker, who is at least one grade further along in the system. This person, in turn, is responsible to his or her own teacher, and so forth up the line.

 “Primarily, this Body exists for the purpose of conferring Initiation. Secondarily, it prepares people for initiation by means of courses of instruction.” 
(A∴A∴ Praemonstrance: A Manifesto of the Great White Brotherhood, in THE EQUINOX, Vol. III, No.1.)

The A∴A∴ is not a group system. It is a method of individual training and progress.

The aspirant learns the methods that are taught, applies them, observes the consequences of this practice, and keeps a journal of these results. In this way, each person is provided with all of the essential tools, or methods, and receives examination to ensure that he or she is proficient in their use. Each learns by experience which methods are most helpful and productive of results. Being thus prepared, the student gradually progresses in self-understanding, gradually matures in spiritual perception, and gradually awakens to THAT which first inspired the sacred quest.

 “In all thy wanderings through darkness, this lamp went before thee, though thou sawest it not. It is the symbol of the light of occult wisdom, which the profane see not, neither do they know.” 
(Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, 0=0 initiation ritual).

None of the instructional materials are secret, except for the actual ceremonies of initiation. All of the formal teachings are published openly. It may be that this published information is all that a given seeker needs in order to advance to the Next Step of his or her own inner development; in which case, the Order has served its purpose with respect to that individual. However, the usual method is for an aspirant to affiliate formally with the Order, gaining the benefit of personal instruction from those who have walked similar ground. One thereby becomes a new link in an unbroken chain that reaches back to the dawn of history.

In the remainder of this Introduction, we will discuss the modern history of the formation of the A∴A∴ system that we have today; the theoretical models, which frame the stages of measured progress; and how to employ this book to best effect. We encourage the reader to proceed patiently. For many in the West, it is a novel thought that spiritual awareness can be drilled and accelerated in the same fashion that a muscle can be strengthened or a golf game improved. Not many decades ago, the same would have been thought concerning mental and emotional health; yet the methods of psychotherapy, founded on increasing knowledge of human behavior, have shown otherwise. An ear trained to listen to music detects wondrous subtle­ties that the untrained ear misses; the same can be said of the palate trained to distinguish fine food and wine, the touch drilled to read Braille text, or the eye trained to discriminate nuance in any of a thousand areas. Perception can be refined and, as night the day, heightened awareness follows. You have to learn where to look, and to recognize what you see. The remainder is a continuous unfolding and maturation of appreciation. And, while this lengthy metaphor is not entirely descriptive of all the processes that lie before you, it does aim your attention in the right direction.

Let them that have eyes see.

Love is the law, love under will.

J.A. Eshelman


*Excerpted from  The Mystical & Magical System of the A∴A∴ by James A. Eshelman (All rights reserved)

For more of Jim’s writings, visit, and the message board at




Working the A∴A∴ System

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

Since the death of Frater O.M. in 1947 and Frater D.D.S. a few years later, there have been no universal Chiefs of the A∴A∴. Crowley’s appointed successor in the O.T.O., S∴H∴ Frater Saturnus (Karl Germer), 8°=3⸋, was also one of the senior living A∴A∴ members at Crowley’s death, and many turned to him for guidance. After Germer’s death, there clearly was no one who emerged visibly as a central guiding figure.

      This does not mean, however—as some have suggested— that the A∴A∴ ceased to exist or to function as a manifest Order. The central unit of the A∴A∴’s functioning is the work of a given teacher with a given student.

      It is written that an A∴A∴ member only officially knows his or her own teacher, and any students that the member may have admitted to the system. This instruction has given rise to a lot of silliness and paranoid secrecy by people who have overlooked or misunderstood the word “officially.” Let me, then, say plainly that this secrecy is not required. Nor does it accord with the published working descriptions of the A∴A∴ system.

      For example, in one grade, the Imperator and Praemonstrator of the Order specially evaluate the aspirant, even if neither of these officers is his or her Superior. In each grade, one’s Superior is instructed to file the record of one’s admission or advancement with the Cancellarius (see Liber 185). Also, responsibility for a student “floats uphill.” The senior member of a lineage” is ultimately responsible for the work not only of his or her own students, but of their students, and their students, and their students ….

      Finally, one’s membership in A∴A∴ simply is not secret; in fact, as explained more fully in Chapter 2, quite the opposite may be true, depending on circumstances.

      The real purpose of the rule not officially to know other members in general is that peers are not to work together. As Frater O.M. wrote in One Star in Sight:

“The real object of the rule was to prevent Members of the same Grade working together and so blurring each other’s individuality; also to prevent work developing into social intercourse.”

      A member may (in a limited way) work with those ahead of him or behind, but not those who are undergoing the same processes through which he also is passing.

      Also, even though there is no world governing authority of the A∴A∴., its continued governance on Earth is ensured by the responsibility borne by each member for his or her students, and the continuity of the lineal descent implied by membership. Although not of an episcopal character, this lineal succession and continuity is no less ‘apostolic'” than that on which the Church of Rome is built. A given lineage of the A∴A∴ may have its own Chiefs – Praemonstrator, Imperator, Cancellarius – who only bear authority with respect to those students for whom they are responsible.

      Occasionally I encounter a person who informs me that he (so far it always has been a “he”) is in the A∴A∴. On further discussion, it becomes evident that, by this, he means he has acquired the appropriate books and is doing his best, on his own to follow the Order’s curriculum. This effort is worthy of praise. Any such work stands an excellent chance of yielding some sort of profit (or even a prophet!). But it is not A∴A∴; nor has the Student any assurance, without supervision, that he is working correctly. Inherent in the very definition of the A∴A∴ system is the condition of direct transmission of a linkage from teacher to student; and the ceremony of admitting a Probationer is based on this reality.

      For those who have no teacher, and wish to undertake the work as best they can alone, this present book should provide more than a little help; but let the student not fool himself into thinking that an authentic linkage is irrelevant. On the other hand, since all of the essential instructions are openly published, a given aspirant may have all that he or she needs to take up the Great Work and bring it to conclusion. Having considered the matter, let each make his or her own decision accordingly.

      Something needs to be said concerning the adaptation of the formal A∴A∴ system to the individual needs of a particular aspirant. First, let it be clear that the system is inherently individual, even though the assignments are precise and the thresholds invariable. There is no contradiction between a firm curriculum and individual needs; for the formal curriculum is merely that, a defining form within which the personal development of each seeker occurs. Although the grade assignments (discussed in detail in the chapters to come) designate specific thresholds which must be confronted and surpassed, the real work is often behind the scenes, in the response of the student’s character, environment, and karma to the parameters of passage. There always must be the latitude or freedom to look behind the letter of an assignment and dis­cover its spirit; nor can any person, no matter how wise, know in advance exactly what is required by the soul of another. But these are the exceptions which confirm the basic pattern; and never must they be allowed to become excuses for bypassing or avoiding an honest assignment due to some inner resistance or inability to perform it.

      Although I have been careful to make this book descriptive of the A∴A∴ pattern per se, rather than of my own personal Path, a couple of personal anecdotes may be appropriate in this Introduction to emphasize these last points. Those with experience say that at least one of the Outer College grades is especially hard, and at least one especially easy, for each aspirant. In my own case, I spent seven years in one grade, and only one month in another; nor was either of these the outcome I would have guessed in advance. The grade that—based on my personality and prior experience—I thought would take the least time of all, actually took many times longer than I would ever have guessed.

      By hindsight, however, the reasons for all of this are now quite clear to me. At each stage, the Holy Guardian Angel has Its own ideas (if I may be forgiven for the anthropomorphization) of what transformations are to be accomplished, what work is to be done. During the grade that lasted for seven years, I needed every one of those years to accomplish much that was not listed in the formal assignments, but which my life made evident to me. Then, having put off for more than six and a half years an assignment that I was sure would take a couple of years to perfect, I took up the neglected task and mastered it in about two months. This is not boasting. It is profound humility. I had little to do with it. The Angel had Its own schedule and plans.

      On another occasion, I had completed every formal requirement of a certain grade but one, the memorization of 27 short sentences. Even though I had previously memorized ten times that much of similar material, I sat for nearly two years, seemingly going no place, entirely blocked on that one task. I now know that it simply took the extra time for me to be ripened inwardly on certain points; and that I still had more work to do in that stage, whether I knew it then or not.

      The main point here is that following the A:.A:. system cannot fail to be a most intimately personal journey, if it is pursued earnestly and wholeheartedly.

• • • •

      From the foregoing, we now turn to the secular. Perhaps money should not be an issue where purely spiritual matters are concerned; yet both the practical exigencies of books and other supplies on one hand, and the unstable thoughts and emotions routinely excited by considerations of cash on the other, require that we address the matter of money and the A∴A∴, if but to lay it to rest. Fortunately, we have a perfectly clear instruction in the essay One Star in Sight:

“There is however an absolute prohibition to accept money or other material reward, directly or indirectly, in respect to any service connected with the Order, for personal profit or advantage. The penalty is immediate expulsion, with no possibility of reinstatement on any terms soever.”

      Unfortunately, even the plainest statements are not likely to be understood if read superficially. For example, the above does not mean that there is no exchange of money. On the contrary, that most canonical of A∴A∴documents, Liber 185, instructs that the Neophyte and Zelator shall each pay a certain sum, prior to initiation, in exchange for certain documents.

     Additionally, we must consider the more subtle circumstances of the original A∴A∴ Student program. As is detailed in Chapter 1 of this book, Crowley eventually required that, before any person could be admitted as an A∴A∴ Probationer, they must possess approximately two dozen spe­cific books, 80% of which were written and/or published by Crowley. However, this apparent commerce did not violate the A∴A∴ rule stated above. Crowley made a habit of selling his books for a price barely above cost. He diverted any small surplus of funds back into the support of the Great Work—generally for more publishing.

      Nor did he hesitate to ask others for direct financial contributions to the Order, and especially toward its publishing program. According to the evidence, he was ruthlessly honest in using such donations strictly for the purposes designated, and not for personal ends.

      The relevant rule, it will be recalled, is that no A∴A∴ member is to receive, with respect to the Order, any money or other material reward for personal profit or advantage. At the same time, we are equally admonished in our most sacred text, The Book of the Law: “Establish at thy Kaaba a clerk-house: all must be done well and with business way.”

      It is a hallowed principle within all authentic initiatory schools that initiation is not for sale. Spirit may not be bought. Enlightenment is not a marketable commodity. The “Gold of the Wise” is an interior gold immeasurably more valuable than coin; or, more accurately, the two are incommensurable.


Love is the law, love under will.

J.A. Eshelman


*Excerpted from  The Mystical & Magical System of the A∴A∴ by James A. Eshelman (All rights reserved)

For more of Jim’s writings, visit, and the message board at

The Holy Seal of the A∴A∴

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

This Seal first appeared in Book 4, Part I (1911). It did not appear anywhere in the first volume (first ten numbers) of THE EQUINOX.

The central part—the seven-pointed star and its embellishing features—also appeared in Crowley’s The Book of Lies (1913), Cap. 49. By itself, it is called the Seal, or Star, of Babalon.

The heptagram is an ensign of the Great Order at every level. It is the pattern of the Seven ­Branched Candlestick, the Vault of the Adepti, and the seal upon the gates of the City of Pyramids—demarcating, respectively, admission to the First Order, the Second, and the Third.

 With two points uppermost and one point downward, the heptagram assumes a distinctly feminine quality. This is reinforced by the pre­dominance of the name BABALON, which is the basis of this entire seal. BABALON is a holy name associated with Binah. She is essentially equivalent to Shakti, or to the most ecstatic formulations of the Shekinah. BABALON can be studied deeply in The Vision & the Voice (Liber 418). For now, it is only important that you understand that she is the manifestation of that Reality which betokens admission to the Third Order; that Her name consists of seven letters; and that it enumerates to 156.

The seven-pointed star refers, among other things, to the seven letters of Her name, which are placed within the points of the Star. (The point of the heptagram at which the name begins is, by Hermetic tradition, attributed to the Moon, to the Hebrew letter Gimel, and to the Tarot Trump whose esoteric name is “The Priestess of the Silver Star.” This may or may not have been intended in the original design of this Seal.)

Before going further, I must digress to explain one of the entertainments and, simultaneously, an exercise in mental discipline with which Crowley and his friend Oscar Eckenstein occupied themselves on mountain climbing excursions (presumably not during the actual climbing). They would attempt to represent any number soever by employing the number 4 exactly four times, in combination with any mathematical symbols they chose. For example: 

Crowley recorded that, by this device, they had succeeded in generating every number (every positive integer) up to about 170 except 113; and from there to about 300 with very few gaps.

This is relevant to the present discussion because the Sigillum Sanctum of the A∴A∴ is formed on a similar principle, using the number 7 seven times.  Remembering that the name BABALON consists of seven letters and enumerates to 156, we find that:  

By taking slight artistic license with the size and distribution of the numerals and mathematical symbols, we obtain the following:

Virtually no imagination is required to bridge between this and the final design:

Therefore, in addition to the geometric symbolism of the heptagram, a divided Vesica Piscis, and the three crosses, we have important mathematical and artistic symbolism whereby the design represents the name BABALON itself, as ensign of the Third Order. This, then, is the heart of that image which has been adopted as the seal—the sigil—of the Great Order itself.

Love is the law, love under will.

J.A. Eshelman


*Excerpted from  The Mystical & Magical System of the A∴A∴ by James A. Eshelman (All rights reserved)

For more of Jim’s writings, visit, and the message board at