Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Last week, my monthly lecture in Toronto was on the two sephiroth Geburah and Chesed. The following is an edited version of some of my notes from that.
Love is the law, love under will,
Geburah and Chesed
Individuality isn’t really a thing the way a table or a subway car or a sidewalk is a thing. Individuality is a constantly developing and unfolding relationship with life. It isn’t reactive the way personality might be, responding to situations more or less by the same set of criteria, the same reactions and fears and hopes, year after year. Individuality has a purpose, which is to get through life in the same way a hungry person eats dinner: with a will. It requires us to have certain educational experiences, such as suffering, joy, humiliation, success, disappointment, ecstasy, misery, bereavement, illness, uplift and so on, until we finally realise what we are is above and beyond all this. And that our perception of all this, via our participation, somehow expresses a vital truth that couldn’t otherwise be known. The sacred, the Divine, God, the Holy Guardian Angel, is found via what actually goes down.
The initiated Tiphereth experience leads to some aggrandisement, some ambition, some realisations and some cool magical stuff. The aim of it is to get to the essence of what each of us is, or we’re not really getting close to that sacred core, the lived Truth of Self, the Yechidah, the Ishvara, the Bodhi-nature … so you can truly get the bulk of your own being back in tune with the root of its actuality.
This is where Geburah helpfully comes in, to put us through a severe ordeal.
Geburah is usually translated as ‘Severity.’ Its other names are Pachad, or Fear, and Din, or Justice. It is the point on our Path of Return, our Tree climbing, where we eliminate the unnecessary, the false, the misleading the distracting. It’s like spiritual Weight Watchers – it reduces.
The planet associated with Geburah is Mars, and the magical image of the sephirah is that of a warrior in armour on a horse-drawn chariot, about to charge. The warrior spirit animates the sephirah, and it requires that kind of persistence and courage to take on the Geburic ordeal. Persistence, I would say, is more essential than the courage, though of course you can’t persist in a difficult task without courage.
The God-Name is Elohim Gibor, God of Strength (or maybe even, ‘God Almighty’), the choir of angels in our tradition is the Seraphim, zealously flaming spirits, and the Archangel is the scarlet-robed Burner of God, Kamael.
Geburah is a relentless business, all the time focusing the aspirant more on the essence of selfhood, the sacred core of individuality. One of the two paths leading into it is that of Lamed, Adjustment (or Justice, in old decks), because this is where and when karma is equilibrated or abreacted. The magician has to get right with him or herself, whatever that takes, and however helpless it makes him/her feel at times. But Lamed is Libra, ruled by Venus, and I was once taught: “the whole assumption of conscious responsibility for karma is a gift of love.”
That’s a phrase worth for meditating.
There’s another path leading into Geburah too, that of Mem, the Hanged Man. In the Old Aeon it was interpreted as a somewhat punitive experience, a waiting for redemptive stuff to happen. In this Aeon, it has come to mean rather more.
Mem is the card of meditation par excellence. It is a still point, a suspension of mental activity and conscious aspiration (note ‘conscious’). Time stops here. If all goes right, then the magician dealing with the Geburan experience becomes more deeply centred on the core of being, the Divine Essence from which individual existence arises.
Overall, Geburah, being the sephirah of volition, also leads to a far greater grasp of what the True Will is. Not, necessarily, a greater ability to exercise that True Will, but certainly less inhibition about dropping things that are in opposition to it.
Chesed is on the other side of the Tree. This sephirah is about building up. Geburah was about shaving the wood down to a smooth stick; in Chesed new, more virile shoots emerge to form green branches.
Magical grades and degrees aside, we can say that the person operating in Chesed is a realised adult. The personality has been explored in the lowest four sephiroth, and more or less equilibrated in Tiphereth, the final end of adolescence. Geburah represents the world-conquering stage of young adulthood, when we set out to slay the dragons and conquer the savage border-tribes, and establish ourselves in a profession or vocation of some kind. Some of us also end up with a (presumably mortgaged) castle at this point, having won the hand of the princess, or captivated the knightly heart.
In terms of the stages of life, Chesed is the onset of mature mid-life. In worldly terms it might not mean we’re executives or top-rated professionals, but we feel confident that we have mastered a few skills, and can use them to sustain ourselves and contribute something to the world, the continuum of which each of us is part. We are essentially in command of ourselves. As initiates of Chesed, we can live in the Will at this point since it’s established, known, accepted and appreciated.
Geburah is about volition, a word we use because Will in Thelemic understanding is something more all-encompassing. Volition is, we might say, Will’s mundane expression.
Chesed is associated with memory, and the pulling together of all the strands of our lives so we can grasp an over-arching theme or story-line, however at odds with our regular ideas of a life-purpose or mundane life-goals that might be.
Volition is about what we’re going to do: it’s forward-looking. Memory is retrospective: the re-collection of all the shards of the soul’s endeavours scattered through past time.
A few spiritual superheroes have always made it over the Abyss, but the general frontier of attainment in the Aeon of Osiris was Chesed, and more often Tiphereth. The understanding we have is that Tiphereth will become a much more widespread attainment in this Aeon, not just the province of monks or renunciates in ashrams. And the keeners will make it to Binah, if they’re disciplined enough from an early age.
While most of us won’t cross the Abyss in this lifetime, we still want to realise our spiritual – and everyday – potential. Thus, we’ll all have our Geburic and Chesedic phases, because these are the underpinnings of individuality: reducing extraneous baggage and focusing on what’s essential in our lives, and at other times expanding into full self-expression. This is the human heart in action, contracting and expanding. The two sephiroth are on the same level on the Tree because we oscillate between them.
And the Abyss-crossers are, so we’re told, people who have equilibrated both of them in their lives and souls.
So, if we’re the sort of people who are drawn to exploring our lives and our nature more completely, then we will at some point find ourselves in extensive explorations of Severity and Mercy. Our existence, our reactions to all things, including to our own passage through life, pivot around these two sephiroth.
Heed them well, and learn as far as you can to accept both of them. Your individuality, and thus your manner of expressing True Will, depend so much on their gradual equilibration.