Colour systems and other systems of symbols vary immensely from culture to culture, and even in different regions with the same nominal culture. I found two primary colour-systems for Tibetan religion when I was doing some online research. Both white and green can represent water, depending on the teaching lineage. And White represents learning and knowledge, which in G.D.-derived systems would be assigned to Yellow.
Head to where I live in central Mexico, and you’ll find Aztec revivalists using the traditional Red in the East, Blue in the south, White in the West and Black in the North. Oddly there’s no Yellow, even though the colour was easily available to the old shamans from local fruits and flowers.
And so on.
The point is, colour and imagery are culture-specific, so I’m always skeptical about claims that our own system is universal. The G.D. methodology derives from Renaissance models for the elements, which in turn derive from Greek and other classical roots, though the G.D.’s colour scales are much more developed than any other system I’ve come across. Colour is a key indicator and prompt for us, and learning the colours of the Tree of Life is an important part of a Hermetic magician’s basic training.
Now, colour is far from the only thing involved with a god-form, but I mention it because it does make us aware that our system is integral – one symbol or set of symbols clicks with the others of our Tree. Tune into your own image in group ceremonial, and you enhance the whole ritual, not just your own role. Stay connected, by at least ‘surfing’ into and out of it through the course of your ceremony, and you will find it instructs you in your role.
Ideally, you’ll find it’s the image that’s making your ritual gestures, and even lowering or enlivening your voice to a more imposing pitch. Magick needs full participation from us to work, and that means we have to be open to energies and prompts, hints and direction from outside about what we conventionally think of as ourselves.
Now, we haven’t yet mentioned Liber Resh. Here we are using Egyptian god-forms, at least as they’ve been understood within our tradition for a century and longer. It’s a static exercise, since we’re using it to connect with the Sun and its character at four fixed stages throughout the day. Ra is the ruling authority that causes the Sun to rise, so we usually adopt a falcon-head for the first Resh of the day. The rest of His body is human. Hathor represented love and beauty in Egypt, hence Her use at solar noon. The name of Tum, short for Atum, appears to mean ‘completed or ‘finished,’ hence his association in ancient times with the end of the day. And Khephra, often written as Khepera or Khepri, is the scarab beetle-headed god that was actually associated with the rebirth of the Sun each day, because the scarab beetle pushes or pulls its ball of dung for the eggs it will lay. It’s Khephra who carries or pushes the Sun through the darkness, hence his role in Midnight Resh.
The Ancient Egyptians found animal heads on their gods to be quite sensible, and human heads, apparently, indicated deities embodying principles rather than emotional realities of a more familiarly human kind. Osiris represented regeneration, Ma’at represented cosmic order and justice, and so on. Isis often had the horns of Hathor, so she was a hybrid image. Tum, or Atum, on the other hand, was a somewhat abstract creator deity, and in museums you almost never see small devotional statues of Him the way you would of Ra or Hathor, or ibis-headed Thoth. He didn’t have that kind of fan-club, so he’s probably grateful to Thelema.
Each of the four Resh deities makes, through us, an emphatic and affirmative speech, to effect a quick ‘grab’ of the energy of the time of day. More subtly, of course, what we’re doing is stepping into four versions of one grand theurgic image that’s more a concept than an image per se.
Since the Egyptians had no deity for the night-time, various gods taking on the duty of fighting the forces of darkness as the sun passed through the underworld, Crowley re-invented the system, adding Ra for the morning adoration. The idea was, obviously, to round out the scheme to include what for the Egyptians had been the potentially threatening period of darkness. There is no single image that can represent the HGA in Thelema, as there is in Christianity, and magical use of four god-forms in practicing Liber Resh outlines both the complexity and the totality of what the HGA is.
For some practitioners, a specific form does come to represent the HGA consistently at advanced stages of the work. But that is the fruit of long-term work spent with weaving these different temporary or functional khus for the khabs to indwell.
A few practical points to close:
A. Visualisation skills vary. Some people can see dense detail, down to folds in an Archangel’s robe, or motions in the fabric as the being wearing it makes small movements. Others have to make do with simply getting the colour and approximate shape right. And we all build up these images at different rates. I find that the best method is to establish the theurgic image at a relatively quiet moment, and check back in with it during the ceremony. We can assume it’s ‘there’ in full even if I can only do a quick reconstruction or re-imagining.
Some suggest building the image before us, then ‘stepping into’ it, in the manner that the Body of Light is usually formed and used. If that works for you, do it, but I find this adds a wrinkle of complexity rather than simplifying the process. The Body of Light is the primary vehicle for rising on the planes, and its establishment is a central part of such working, requiring whatever patience is necessary. Ceremonial working itself doesn’t usually offer us that much time.
B. Don’t reject any impressions that come in. I’ve connected with images that have almost commanded me to relax and breathe slowly, just as some have immediately upped my energy level.
C. Various people get more than just visual impressions. Smell is a key secondary thing for me – incense, woods in autumn or some scent that carries a memory – with sounds, like sea-waves around the feet of Gabriel, coming occasionally as well. You might in certain cases feel a weight or heaviness, or a lightness, with the image. Allow it to play with you, since you invited it in and can lose it after. You’ve not done a full invocation, so you don’t need to banish it away.
D. Sometimes we can get overload. There are enough impressions coming in that they distract us from what we’re actually there to do. If I’m working solo, I might take a few seconds out to remember them for later, but intellectual activity like this doesn’t really help me do actual magick – it just make my diary entries look cool later on.
E. Don’t strain to hold onto the theurgic image. If you’re tracing pentagrams, or trying to visualise an angelic being, that’s what you need to focus on, not your own astral appearance. Spend more time on the image surrounding yourself when you have ceremonial downtime, and check in with it briefly at other moments during the ceremonial process. The theurgic image should be there for you peripherally at all times. But if you put all your attention on your own ‘appearance’, it’s harder to make your ritual actions or speeches effective.
F. Lastly, do remember in group workings that your image is an aspect of the group. Don’t try sensing other people’s theurgic images, because that will draw you away from your own ritual work, but do recognise that your image is a contributor to the group energy, and that keeping it in place is a contribution to the overall ceremony. You might notice the theurgic images around other people at times, but stay in your own role rather than checking out what others are up to.
Love is the law, love under will,