One great Authority, however, while admitting that many of the ideas are brilliant, says that he cannot accept this Reformed Order in the face of several hundred years of the old tradition, and maintains that the previous arrangement is the correct one.
While I realize that great changes in the recognized Systems of Initiation in certain Orders might be necessary if the Reformed Order of the Paths were adopted, and while recognizing the importance of the Authority mentioned above, I still maintain that this New Arrangement is worthy of the most careful consideration and study.32
Thus, what Achad was doing was redesigning an entire occult system that had taken years to produce and fine-tune, and in which hundreds of people had already been initiated and trained. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, of course, for the Golden Dawn system itself was a novel approach towards uniting a great many occult ideas into one comprehensive methodology with a flexible and internally-consistent magical vocabulary. Even the idea of assigning the twenty-two Tarot Trumps to the twenty-two paths on the Tree of Life (corresponding to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet) was no older than the nineteenth century, a legacy of the French occultist Eliphas Levi (of whom Crowley believed himself to be the reincarnation). The power and sheer beauty of that system to anyone who previously had spent years poring over the grimoires and other medieval instruction books on magic is obvious. Achad’s ambition was to supplant that older framework: after all, it had been created decades before the Book of the Law revelation and thus could be considered inoperative in the Aeon of Horus.
This extended, evidently, even to the arrangement and chronology of the Aeons themselves. This type of creative interpretation of Crowley’s ouevre
—including various approaches to the Book of the Law—infuriated Crowley, and prompted him to issue a famous “Comment” on the Book of the Law in November, 1925 from his then-current base in Tunis in which he forbade completely any open discussion of the Book or its contents. He demanded that he and his writings be regarded as the sole authorities, and that each person should have recourse only to those two sources and to no other. (Of course, with Crowley’s death in 1947, one of those two sources was rendered unavailable.)
So how could Achad’s system be consistent in any way with that so painstakingly created by the Golden Dawn and developed further by Aleister Crowley, one of the Golden Dawn’s most famous initiates? This question becomes more important once one realizes that Crowley considered Achad his “magical son,” the one prophesied in the Book of the Law.33 There have been a number of possible solutions put forward by defenders of Achad, but defending Achad is a thankless task. Aside from Grant and his followers, there has been very little interest in Achad’s writings and theories from mainstream Thelemites. Achad is considered a heretic in the Crowley world, but before he went off the reservation he did make several important contributions to Thelema including an important “decoding” of a significant element of the Book of the Law, which is why he was anointed as Crowley’s magical son.
Obviously, the most glaring challenge to Crowley’s system was the inauguration of the Aeon of Maat in 1948, just five months after Crowley’s death and two years before Achad’s own demise. To a literal-minded observer, Achad’s insistence on a new Aeon so soon after the birth of the previous one seems insane. Yet, the nature of Aeons is such that there is a precedent for Aeons running concurrently and the proof of this is in the Gnostic, Hindu and Kabbalistic traditions so beloved of Crowley himself.
In the first place, according to Valentinian Gnostic belief, the Aeons were created in male/female pairs, called syzygies. Thus every male Aeon had a female counterpart, a consort or spouse. Again, we must be clear that we are speaking of Aeons as divine emanations and not necessarily as lengths of time. However, the Egyptian Aeons as understood by Crowley were also divine emanations. They were, in fact, gods. What Achad did was to include the Aeon of Maat as a kind of “sister” or “spouse” of the Aeon of Horus, according to some commentators. While this seems at odds with Crowley’s own writings on the subject it is nonetheless consistent
with the Gnostic Aeons. Why should this matter? Because the main vehicle for regular Thelemic worship is something Crowley created called the Gnostic Mass.
Gnosticism is understood by many to be a mystical form of Christianity, incorporating many pagan and Greco-Egyptian elements. It is an “initiated” form of the religion, and Valentinian Gnosticism in particular fits this description quite capably. Crowley’s development of the Gnostic Mass—based, he claimed, on a Divine Liturgy he witnessed in Moscow34
—and its regular celebration by his Gnostic Catholic Church would seem to imply that he approved of Gnosticism, at least in some forms. The theme of the Aeons is central to most Gnostic writings, and he would have been familiar with the condemnations of it by the early Church Fathers (which fact alone would have made it attractive to Crowley).
In fact, the Gnostic teachings include a creation of the world through the illegitimate sexual desires of the last and youngest of the thirty Aeons, Sophia. It is this same Sophia that is called in some Gnostic texts “the Whore.” In different versions of the myth, Sophia is either without a consort—that is, not a member of a syzygy—or abandons her consort in the search for God the Father. She learns that the Unbegotten One has Himself begotten the Pleroma (the rarified spiritual realm where all the Aeons reside), and she wishes to imitate him by producing an offspring herself, without benefit of intercourse. This she does, but it is a monster: in some texts described as an “abortion” or as a “miscarriage.” In others as simply “the Void of Knowledge” and “the Shadow of the Name.” It is her illicit desire to become a God that results in the creation of Anger, Fear, Despair and other negative impulses which in turn create the world as we know it.
In another version of the story—mentioned above—Sophia falls far and fast from grace and is nearly out of reach of the other Aeons until she comes up against the Limit (horos) and is saved. The Limit stands between the Pleroma—the fullness of God—and the outer darkness. She then becomes reunited with her Aeon and the Pleroma is right again. The problem is, however, that her unholy Intention caused a tremor in the Pleroma and it together with her Passion is cast into the outer darkness, i.e., the Pleroma rejects this new creature and it becomes the infamous “abortion” or “miscarriage” mentioned above, a “formless entity” that requires that the Limit be erected in order to keep it away from the
Pleroma, and to preserve the Pleroma from its polluting aspect. It is this entity that becomes the created world.
Eventually—according to the Valentinian Gnosis—the other Aeons become worried over their newly-perceived vulnerability. In order to quiet the Aeons and restore some sense of harmony and stability, two new Aeons are created: Christos (male) and the Holy Spirit (female). Christos has the advantage of being able to operate on both sides of the Limit, both in the Pleroma and in the outer darkness. Eventually, the Aeon of Jesus is formed and this Aeon functions solely outside of the Pleroma.
It is interesting that the two qualities that cause the Limit to be erected in the first place are precisely Intention and Passion, corollaries of Will and Love, the two determining qualities of the Thelemic system.35 Thus, as Kenneth Grant will later expound, there is an ontological link between the beliefs of Thelema concerning Will and Love on the one hand, and with the Outer Darkness on the other. And in the middle of them stand Sophia (the Whore) and the Limit (Horos, vide Horus).
These Aeons all run simultaneously, i.e., they are divine emanations and as such have no beginning or end save in the mind of God. There is a chronology which begins with an Ogdoad (an initial group of eight Aeons) and which is then augmented by ten Aeons and then twelve additional Aeons for the total of thirty original Aeons, thus suggesting a kind of sequential order but with no fixed length of time involved and, anyway, these Aeons exist in the Pleroma and are inaccessible by mere mortals. The Aeons of Christos and Jesus, however, do impact directly on the created world—the world formed from the monstrous stillbirth of Sophia. This world, composed of negative elements from Sophia’s reckless quest for equality with God, is in need of Aeonic assistance and that is why— according to the Valentinians—Christos, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus were formed in order to bring order into the realm beyond the Pleroma.
A complete discussion of the Gnostic Aeons is far beyond the scope of this book and interested readers are urged to consult any of the standard works on Gnosticism, perhaps starting with Hans Jonas and his The Gnostic Religion, which covers the Valentinian Gnosis in some detail. There has been much new work done on the Valentinians (and other Gnostic groups) since the Jonas book was first published but access to a good university library or database is usually required. There will be
further discussion of the Aeons in the chapters that follow, but they will be based on the information already given.
What we should take away from this chapter, however, is the fact that the Gnostics were the first to talk about Aeons in an esoteric sense, and to do so in a very detailed and complex manner reminiscent of the later books of the Jewish mystics and particularly of the Kabbalah. The Gnostics understood the Aeons in both senses of a length of time that may not be measurable in human terms, and as the emanation of a particular deity or divine characteristic. To apply this reasoning to the Crowleyan Aeon of Horus we may say—in the spirit of Gnosticism—that such an Aeon would have the characteristics of Horus (however they may be described) as well as a specific (but probably unknowable) length of time or chronology. And, most importantly, from the best available data on record we know that while the Gnostic Aeons were created in a kind of chronological order, in the end they all ran concurrently. They all existed at the same time and not in any kind of consecutive order with one ending as another began. This could be applied to the debate over the Aeon of Horus versus the Aeon of Maat; there does not need to be a “versus” at all.
But if that alone was not enough to allow an Aeon of Maat to run concurrently with the Aeon of Horus, there was yet another option.
In the Indian system of yugas or great ages we are told that they sometimes “overlapped” as in this citation from the Bhagavata-purana:
Suta Gosvami said: when the second yuga overlapped the third, the great sage [Vyasadeva] was born to Parasara in the womb of Satyavati, the daughter of Vasu.” (Bhagavata-purana, 1.4.14)
Thus there is a precedent, even in Hinduism, for overlapping yugas so why not for overlapping Aeons, their cognates? To be sure there are several different calculations for the lengths of the respective yugas; yet this implies (a) they are not based on the precession of the equinoxes through the astrological signs which most experts agree are of regular length and (b) that the yuga of one system will necessarily overlap the yuga of another, which is not a bad thing, but which gives rise to further calculations and refinements of the chronological system. And, according to the citation above, great things can happen when yugas (or Aeons) overlap.
The final approach that could be taken with respect to the Aeons is a purely Kabbalistic one, but one of which Crowley does not seem to have been aware. This system is elaborated in the Sefer ha-Temunah or the “Book of the Image,” a text that is usually dated to the thirteenth century. The “image” of the title refers to the shape of the Hebrew letters which were believed to contain certain secrets. For our purposes, however, the other value of the book is in its discussion of the shemittot (sing. shemitta) the “cosmic cycles” of the encoded Torah.
Years were counted in multiples of seven, which were themselves multiplied by seven, so that a cycle consisted of 7 x 7 years or 49 years in total. The next year—the fiftieth year—was a “jubilee” year, a year in which the sins and errors of the previous 49 years were erased and the slate cleaned and the cycle begun anew.36 This was one cycle, or shemitta.
Using this framework as a starting point, Bible and Kabbalah scholars have tried to ascertain the age of the universe. Each cycle of 7,000 (7 x 20 x 50) years is considered a Kabbalistic “age” and is related to one of the seven lower sefirot on the Tree of Life. The number 7,000 comes from a line in the Talmud37 that states the world will exist for 6,000 years and that for the 1,000 years thereafter it shall be “desolate.” According to some Kabbalists we are living in the second age, that of Gevurah or “Severity.”
Using the Jubilee formula, then, 7,000 years times 7 would equal 49,000 years which would be the age of the universe. If we are living in the second cycle, that would imply that Adam was created somewhere around 7,000 years ago (depending on where we are in the second cycle, the beginning, middle, or the end).
However, using a citation from the Midrash, “A thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday” it is indicated that a thousand human years equals only one Divine day, thus the ensuing calculations would reveal an age of the universe as something closer to 15 billion years (if we are living in the last Kabbalistic age) which—coincidentally—matches the latest scientific estimates of the age of the universe.
There are two implications pertinent to this study that can be found in the Sefer ha-Temunah. The first is that Kabbalistic ages can be identified by a series of sefirotic references. Thus, the very first year of the cycle is named after Chesed—the first of the seven sefirot below the Abyss on the Tree of Life and the only ones used for these calculations by the rabbis—
which also gives its name to the entire first cycle of 7,000 years, and that the second year would be Gevurah, then Tiferet, etc. Thus, year two is the year Gevurah of the greater cycle year Chesed. But, of course, the interlocking ages do not end there and can be continued indefinitely down to the smallest unit of time.