Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The last post wandered from my original intent, which was to write about the goddess Nephthys. Her sister Isis gets all the positive press, while Nephthys always seems to play a supporting role of dutiful sister, except when she sleeps with her sister’s husband, Osiris, to get pregnant. In the best-known version of the myth, her husband was Set who, you’ll recall, murdered Osiris in a theocratic coup. It’s been observed that the whole Golden Dawn mythos is founded on the misadventures of highly dysfunctional family; and through the lens of modern sensibilities, that’s quite true.
Older books tell you there are no temples of Nephthys in Egypt, but in reality a half-dozen have been found over the years. Still, she was never the average Egyptian’s concept of Miss Congeniality, and her devotees were never numerous.
The name Nephthys is the Greek version of Nebet-Het, usually translated as ‘Lady of the Enclosure.’ An alternative translation is ‘Lady of the House,’ but the word ‘house’ referred, variously, to a royal palace or the royalty who dwelled in it, or to a temple. The final syllable, het, is almost identical in meaning to the Hebrew letter Cheth, which also means a fence or enclosure. The symbol on her head, which looks like a bowl on a stand, is in fact a hieroglyph signifying ‘lady,’ with the hieroglyph for ‘temple enclosure’ under it. So, her name indicates she is a guardian of the sanctuary.
Nephthys’ significance in magick is that she represents the northern pillar of severity in the temple, as Isis represents the southern or merciful pillar. And when invoked, Nephthys is a forbidding presence. She is a relentless critic, and not for nothing does Liber LXV (IV, v. 31) refer to her as “the black lips of perfection” as opposed to Isis’ “red lips of nature.” On the Tree of Life, she is assigned to the path of Samekh, the path of the Art card, which is a path of patient perfection; and also to both Geburah, the sephirah of severity, and Binah, where she has the role of the dark, sterile mother or Ama (lacking the fructifying Yod in the name of the bright, fertile mother, Aima).
She is the corrective, the stern aspect of divinity, the summation of all that’s difficult and severe. She is, without doubt, one bad-ass sister.
Many people drawn to Thelema or quasi-Thelemic perspectives opt for the darker deities as a way of getting around the problem of facing the darker side of life. Identifying with Set, Smashan Kali or perhaps Cthulhu in some post-Kenneth Grant system, can look much more honest or realistic than going for the ‘white-light’ sides of things.
This always strikes me as a dangerously self-deceptive magical philosophy. Setting up something from ‘the Dark Side’ in place of ‘God’ is merely choosing a different God. It means the real shadow-side of our own nature, the concealed and disowned strength, is now projected onto the spurned, conventionally virtuous or merciful deity. Our deeper love, power and wisdom are even more cut-off than before.
Dark-siders can be initially fascinating, but eventually they become boring. Most dangerously, they become bored with themselves, and seem, in most cases I’ve encountered personally, to smirkingly look on finding their Light again as weakness. It never occurs to them that the bravado of entering the darkness, while maybe useful for a time, could well have been an escape from intimacy, affection and other things that actually make life – and initiation – complete.
It all goes against the famous advice in Liber Samekh:
“Many have arisen, being wise. They have said ‘Seek out the glittering Image in the place ever golden, and unite yourselves with It.’
Many have arisen, being foolish. They have said, ‘Stoop down unto the darkly splendid world, and be wedded to that Blind Creature of the Slime.
I who am beyond Wisdom and Folly, arise and say unto you: achieve both weddings! Unite yourselves with both!’
Beware, beware, I say, lest ye seek after the one and lose the other!
My adepts stand upright; their head above the heavens, their feet below the hells.”
The Mysteries train us to follow what seems like a ‘white-light’ path from outside. In reality, it’s a long, frustrating process of alternation between those two pillars that Isis and Nephthys represent. At least three-quarters of all the people I’ve known to set out on it stalled or turned away at some point, believing themselves stuck or defeated. The sense of transcendence and attainment that comes to everyone at times doesn’t last; and a Nephthys phase cuts in to replace one of Isis.
It can all seem a futile endeavour. It can look easier then to quit, in order to “toy with old sweetnesses.”
The Book of the Law offers a couple of comments on this. One is:
“For I am divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union. This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of dissolution all.” (I, vv 29 and 30).
The other is in Cap II, v. 2:
“There is division hither homeward; there is a word not known.”
For me personally, learning to handle this oscillation between the two aspects of the path has always been the toughest ordeal. I suspect I’m hardly alone in this. I breezed through the first three or four degrees of the First Order, but was completely stumped in the Portal process, where the path of Samekh, and thus the work of Nephthys, comes into acute prominence. Philosophical considerations, or proud assertions of our energised enthusiasm, become irrelevant here. The most intimate subtle and difficult parts of our own nature move forward insistently to be known and addressed, and personal effort, beyond continuing our daily routine, isn’t much help. It can even be a hindrance, intensifying the sense of frustration and thwarted aspiration. I ended up spending more time in Portal than I did in the whole of the rest of the First Order.
But the process of alternation between known and unknown, Isis and Nephthys, the ‘division hither homeward,” takes effect right at the start, after initiation. The new initiate is brought to light looking towards the two pillars in the temple, and in most cases, spends long seconds gazing at them, without perhaps consciously grasping their full significance.
Thereafter, the oscillations might appear to lie low for a while, but they don’t stop. The whole process, the entire trek through symbols and spheres, patterns and paths, Tarot and tedium, brilliance and blindness, is a personal enactment and exploration of “division hither homeward.” Only in this way do we begin, eventually, to “know” the “word not known.” It is, of course, our own word, or True Will formula. What that is, we each have to discover for ourselves.
To the Ancient Egyptians, Nephthys was allied with the unknown, to the Mediterranean and Red Seas to the north and east, and to the unknown lands south and west of the Nile Valley. In the mysteries now, as then, she is always the obscure or the apparently unknowable, the next horizon and the one after that, as Isis represents the known, even as what we know broadens and deepens. Neither one – neither pillar – describes the totality. Only in the slowly growing understanding of the middle pillar, where the secret self is discovered or heard, is there any kind of lasting resolution.
And only someone who learns, finally, to befriend the Nephthys of their own nature can come to that.
Love is the law, love under will.