Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
It’s Christmas, even for Thelemites. So, the topic of angels seems apposite. What are they, and how do magicians assume they function?
The Qabalistic World of Yetzirah – Formation – is about the activity that puts intent and form into motion. Briah, behind and beyond it, is the World of Creation; but to create is to bring an Idea into coherence. Not a thought, nor a concept, but an Idea in Plato’s sense of something profound that exists on its own plane, independently of human mental processes: and that idea in turn originates in the inconceivable world of Atziluth, or Origins. To bring coherence into a material form or activity, or at least into something detectable by a conscious mind, there is a need of forces that exist closer to our material World of Assiah. That’s where angels and the other beings of Yetzirah come in.
There’s a perpetual discussion in magick regarding the differences between mind, consciousness, Jungian archetypes, and what we can simply and generically call ‘spirits.’ A successful magician has to appreciate that while mind and (most) spirits are Yetziratic, to refer to spirits as psychological phenomena is to drain magick of its power before you start performing it. It leads to a dead end, through false understanding.
The fact that a magician’s subconscious mind and the realm of discarnate beings are equally Yetziratic in character is not to assert that they’re identical. Rather, the Yetziratic World can be thought of as a fast field of thought-energies (using ‘thought’ in a very loose sense); and because there are no solid barriers here, the different varieties, levels and flavours of such ‘thoughts’ can move around with minimal interference. This is just like in any of your weirder dreams, where time, space and identity can shrink, expand and shift around as needed. As a result, confining Yetziratic forces of any kind to the interior of your own mind, or the interior of a group mind, is a serious misrepresentation of reality. We’re dealing with more than that, even if pinning a firm description onto angels is a fool’s game.
Angels are, in a sense, connecting forces, or ligatures. They are imbued with the intelligence of the Archangels that direct them; and within the confines of the ‘definitions’ that lay out the limits and capabilities of their existence, they enjoy a certain freedom of action in order to get the results that they’re instructed to achieve. They can move, just as dream imagery does, through the dimensions, and ensure that circumstances set up at home on Tuesday will yield a particular result at work on Thursday, or in some other situation that’s legally allowed during a quarantine.
Angels do not have True Will, so much as a Precise Mandate, or set of directions. If they cannot make things change as directed, they are withdrawn from the situation. But the flexibility of their capabilities is still broad.
For example, when we attempt to attain something through magical means (“I need a good book on the ceremonial effects of colour”) angels can be despatched to connect us to the right text. We can be prompted to forget an umbrella, and duck for shelter into a bookstore or public library during a sudden storm. We can miss a bus and have to walk, cursing the transit system, only to pass a store selling colour books and charts, and other art supplies. Angels can, if you like, ‘knit’ connections behind the scenes of physical manifestation, which is why their effects truly appear magical. They can work around the cause-and-effect sequences of Assiah, the World of the manifest. And they like to have fun doing this.
[A side-comment: I decided while drafting this to check how I was doing, and did a word count. The tally was exactly 666 words, an angelic joke only a Thelemic magician would appreciate.].
There are Yetziratic beings throughout the Tree of Life, including on all the different paths. But only the sephiroth have proper ‘choirs’ of angels. From a Qabalistic perspective, the sephiroth are the most potent aspects of the Tree in shaping our appreciation of life (the nethiboth, or paths, provide more specific experiences) and so they have most to do in helping us fulfil our life-roles as we move towards embracing actual True Will.
Right at the top, the Chaioth ha-Qodesh, the Holy Living Ones (or Holy Living Creatures) help formulate our connection to the Highest, and encourage the eternity-seeking side of ourselves in its quest to reach beyond space and time. Their effects are mostly very subtle, pulling us homewards a little, all the time.
Next down are the Ophanim, the ‘Wheels’ of Chokmah, (the word also means surrounding or encircling), getting things to move like machinery at the most refined level of existence. They throw out the primary concepts and energies of existence, for further refinement via other sephiroth.
The Aralim of Binah have their name translated in multiple ways. The standard Golden Dawn-derived version is ‘Thrones,’ but in more traditional Hebrew, it appears to mean Strong or Mighty Ones. Binah is the Mother-sephirah par excellence, and as in the Queens of the Tarot, who are all enthroned, the seated posture implies not immobility but the great power of great Mothers.
Below the Abyss, in Chesed we encounter the Chasmalim, usually translated as Bright Shining Ones. They are brilliant blue ‘flares,’ usually spherical to the human inner eye, and they seem closer to our usual concept of angels than the previous three groups. They’re bright, and can be hard to look at, and leave an impression of the dizziness-causing nature of profoundly vast spaces. They encourage us to experience existence as limitless, conforming to Chesed’s Jupiterian vastness and generosity.
Various lists put the Seraphim in other sephiroth than Geburah, where their fiery nature is at home. Our system views them as the effects-delivery service of this sephirah: sharp, fierce, relentless and willing to destroy whatever has outlived its usefulness. They are the perfect counterpoint to the Chasmalim, and while they can be unwelcome as tough-love merchants, they clear out a lot of old baggage once they get going.
The Melekhim (sometimes Malachim) of Tiphereth have a name meaning ‘Kings,’ though it’s also a vowel-point away from a word meaning Messengers. The Book of the Law refers to ‘kings,’ meaning those crowned in Tiphereth, and rather like the Chaioth ha-Qodesh in Kether, these beings have a potent effect throughout the sephiroth of the Tree further down. They urge us on to whatever degree of Knowledge and Conversation we can grasp or perceive, including inspiring us to worship or prayerful devotion. Appreciating their role helps make more sense of the First Order processes of a mystery school to someone working through them.
The next four choirs of angels are about shaping our personal selves as opposed to our spiritual individuality. They are appear locked into sustaining patterns that we’ve deemed essential for survival, so the while personality is constantly invoking force to hold them in place, such consciousness activated by an initiatory current will begin to re-arrange the angelic patterns to which we’re attuned, and re-attune us.
Thus, the near god-like concepts and impressions that anchor our worldview are held in place under the jurisdiction of the Elohim in Netzach. We are, in this sephirah, virtually dealing with personal ‘gods,’ even (especially..?) if we outwardly acknowledge no such concept. We look up and through them, and feel we see divinity, or we can ask them to help us keep things in place. Alternatively, in an initiation process, they break down our ‘false faith’ and release trapped energies to formulate broader perspective on our lives and ourselves.
The Beni Elohim (Sons of the Gods) in Hod do something similar, but they do so with our Ideas (capital I, – again, not ‘thoughts’). They help us let go of fixed ideas that we believe are true or that we ‘need’ to be true for us to feel safe. And they lead us to a broader vision of existence.
There’s a dispute about whether the fiery Aishim or the Kerubim belong in Yesod, arising from conflicting documentation. Our tradition assigns the Kerubim to Yesod. In Tarot, they are shown on the Chariot (though counterchanged); on the Universe card; and on the Hierophant. They are vastly more numerous than four simple zoomorphic beings, however, so we can imagine those four as existing in hyper-multiple numbers. Yesod is intimately connected to sex and reproduction, so they are involved in that field of activity, though from the standpoint of its being vital, sacred force. They’ve had a busy century, reconfiguring perspectives on sex, and they’re not done yet.
The Aishim of Malkuth are brilliant sparks of Light that animate the material world. You might notice them at times in reflected glints and gleams, or in similar ways at moments of perceived beauty. The vision assigned to the sephirah Malkuth is the Vision of the Holy Guardian Angel, so their job is to produce moments of perception and realisation around that.
In most invocations, the angels can be overlooked, because we call on just the God-name and the relevant Archangel. That calls on the highest level for power and purpose, and on the Creative World to effect these things. Possibly, we’d only mess up if we tried to assign or instruct angels directly.
But there’s never any harm in appreciating that they’re on the job. Like people, they seem to be helped by positive reinforcement. And my personal impression is that they get a kick out of us appreciating their sly jokes (like the 666 words). In other words, they’re highly effective when their actions can be conformed to what the Universe wants to do at any particular point in time. And when we manage to acknowledge their efforts in this direction, it’s possible to feel a small kick of joy that they communicate.
Love is the law, love under will,