On the Neophyte, Women,
and the Melusina
by Erica M Cornelius
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. - AL I:40
Aleister Crowley’s claim that an A.'.A.'. Neophyte is nearly always tempted by a woman can be taken as almost Christian-like in its apparent implication that women are evil by nature. Surely its format was influenced by old-fashioned attitudes toward women that Crowley had absorbed as a child within a fervently Christian household. Still, his statement contains incredibly important principles which need to be understood by anyone who is starting out on the spiritual path. These important principles are, yes, about women in a certain way. Even more broadly, though, they are about the feminine aspect of everything manifested, including men.
Here’s the real warning: when you first swear to engage the spiritual path seriously, that very affirmation will automatically invoke worldly distractions that will most likely knock you right off your path. These distractions won’t be monsters or demons—things you would notice. They will be everyday, ordinary things that you won’t even question. They will be things demanding your immediate attention. Soon you will convince yourself that you’re still really “doing” spirituality, when actually you are just busy saying to yourself you’ll do it “tomorrow.” The inner work somehow never finds it way to the top of your list of things-to-do. Imagine if you took that attitude toward physical exercise or toward the tasks of your day job.
This paper explores the nitty-gritty, occult causes of the inevitable shower of distracting events upon the newly-made Neophyte, male or female. It also goes into the connection of this type of happening with “a woman,” as well how to avoid being a victim of the phenomenon considered more broadly than Crowley does. To quote Grady Louis McMurtry, you’ve got to learn to recognize and get rid of “the lead weight on your ass” or you’ll never go further. It’s not too late.
What has all this got to do with women? To understand, you have to be willing to do a little digging into gender on the Tree of Life. You cannot achieve in Crowley’s system without studying Qabalah. In essence, only women embody the fundamental principle that makes things happen on Earth. A woman has a two-fold nature. On the higher level she rules Babalon. Babalon’s seat is in Binah-3 (בינה) on the Qabalistic Tree of Life. This is the divine sphere of form-in-pure-potential, which Hindus would call Divine Shakti, the cosmic creative power and energy that reverberates throughout the universe in myriad ways. Binah-3 is also known as the “first Heh” of the Tetragrammaton (יהוה), a magickal formula of the universal cycle of creation and destruction. Binah sits at the top of the left-hand Pillar of Manifestation. She creates the myriad forms that descend that pillar and eventually take substance on Earth.
Now, on the lower level, a woman rules the Earthly Mother Goddess. As Earth Mother Goddess, her seat is in Malkuth-10
(מלכות)—not coincidentally, the sphere into which the Neophyte focuses. Malkuth is the divine sphere of form-in-actuality, or Shakti (Energy) manifested. Malkuth-10 is the “second Heh” of the Tetragrammaton. These higher and lower natures of women are essentially present in all natural things, including in men’s physical bodies. In other words, energy is present in all things. The difference is that although the Cosmic Energy Goddess is embodied anthropomorphically in women, She is present only potentially, as an inner image, in men. As such, if we restrict our focus to the level of Earth, then while a woman embodies Energy, a man tends to find that principle in an active form only outside his manifested self—whether in actual women, in the feminine aspects of Nature, or (ideally) in his own inner Goddess. This concept of men being energized from the outside gives the kernel of truth behind the old phrase, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” By contrast, the manifested woman needs to link herself with the corresponding masculine principle of Direction in order to channel her innate energy. Ideally, she links successfully with her inner God, establishing holism within herself, rather than relying on an external male or cause to define her.
Once you understand the two-fold nature of women in relationship to the all-pervading cosmic energy, the kernel of truth in Crowley’s claim that the Neophyte is nearly always tempted by a woman becomes apparent: like attracts like—first and second Heh. A Neophyte focuses into Malkuth, the sphere of the Earth Mother. If the Neophyte is male, his sudden intentional focus on Malkuth via his Oath will draw down—unintentionally—a corresponding form from Binah. That invoked form will descend the left-hand pillar and take shape on Malkuth. As often as not, the form appears in his Universe as an actual woman. Needless to say, that woman existed before he took his Oath. But it wasn’t until now that she existed as the carrier of this particular form invoked by him from Binah. Suddenly she appears to him. Or, if the two people already knew each other, suddenly she appears to him in a new light. And because, unbeknownst to the unaware male Neophyte, this woman embodies his spiritual desires, it is very easy for him to find in her the culmination of all his wishes. Rather than continue on his path, at that point he is drawn to unite with this alluring embodiment of his intent in the form of a woman, and off he goes. Hence, Crowley’s claim.
It’s worth remembering at this point that just as Binah is Saturn, so also is Tav (ת), The Universe, which is the Qabalistic path connecting Malkuth with Yesod-9 (יסוד). Tav / Saturn symbolizes the beginning of the spiritual path, in which an aspirant begins to explore the true nature behind appearances—i.e. begins to go within. Saturn’s metal is Lead. Lead is not evil, but it has to be dealt with skillfully or it will pull you down. Hence, Grady’s warning about “the lead weight on your ass.” I have witnessed many times male Neophytes being distracted off the path by a sudden attraction to a woman, but it has nothing to do with women being evil. In fact, if anything, such a situation is more aptly described as a man not understanding his own act of invocation and basically trapping himself in a state of forgetfulness.
Now Crowley did not address the corresponding situation for unwary female Neophytes. What happens to them? In a sense, it is the same thing by an opposite mechanism. When a woman suddenly focuses on Malkuth with magickal intent, she too draws a feminine form down from Binah. But instead of that form manifesting as something outside of her—though in fact it could—as often as not it manifests as her. In other words, the unwary female Neophyte too often becomes possessed by the Goddess figure and ends up becoming a pawn in some drama usually involving a man who is swept off his feet by her, with the result that she forgets her original intent. I realize some women aren’t going to like what I am saying, with its implication that we are prone to losing control. But anyone who embarks on the magickal path has to admit that sometimes our egos would like to take credit for actions and situations that are more equivalent to slipping on a banana peel. Rather than getting angry and digging in when we lose control in magick, it is better to laugh, get up, and dust ourselves off. Yes, we can regain control, but only if we can first admit we made a mistake. To succeed, we also have to be willing to study and work with our current vehicle’s distinctive magickal features as either male or female. That kind of observation and study of the magickal traits of our current vehicle type is part of our work as we focus into the sphere of Malkuth.
Let’s take a step backward now and look even more closely at the more fundamental basis of Crowley’s observation, regardless of its sexist odor or of its literal truth or falsehood in a given situation. It is this: the minute we affirm our will to do the spiritual work, our own unconscious reality-synthesizing faculty manifests an equal and opposite force. The power deep within us that creates the appearances in our Universe “rights the wrong” that we created by awakening our intent to ascend the Tree of Life. “What goes up, must come down.” That’s just a fact of nature, one that we as aspirants have to contend with skillfully if we are to continue on our path and not just “fall by the wayside.”
In order to place this perennial problem in a different light, I’d like to bring in a different author, Paracelsus (1493–1541), along with his commentator Gerhard Dorn (1530–1584). On the positive side, in doing so I move away from Crowley’s apparent literalism. On the negative side, I introduce a murky and difficult-to-interpret text in comparison to Crowley’s clear one. Still, the effort is worth the gains. The basic point of the Paracelsus text is pretty simple. In a nutshell, the minute we engage a spiritual intent from our seat in Malkuth, the feminine force of our own nature will generate distractions that tend to prevent us from fulfilling our original intent. Again, like attracts like—first and second Heh. To quote Shakespeare’s Macbeth, we immediately find ourselves trapped by the demoness Time, where there’s always “[t]omorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,” grinding our earthly life to a meaningless pulp, unto death, while all our spiritual aspirations meanwhile come to naught. Paracelsus’ solution to this problem of our feminine nature is to wield yet another part of our feminine nature—one which Aleister Crowley rightly characterizes elsewhere as Love.
In Book V, Chapter V of his De Vita Longa, Paracelsus says some things that amount to this. Our psychic powers, as we partake of the Universal Human Being, are four-fold, also corresponding to the four Elements on Earth. The very act of engaging these powers with the intent to pursue the Great Work unleashes what he calls the Melusina, a feminine, watery spirit. If you have ever studied Tarot, you know that Water connotes both emotion and imagery. Qabalistic students know that the Root of Water is Binah-3 (בינה), which is also Saturn and the origin of all form. Paracelsus says that unless the aspirant exercises some careful maneuvers of a special kind, the Melusina will block our entrance into the immortal life. What kind of maneuvers? He says the aspirant must “appropriate the characteristics of Venus” (“arripimus characteres Veneris”). Students of Ordo Templi Orientis mysteries should reflect that in First Degree, occurring in Binah, the candidate receives a copper disk, where copper is the metal of Venus (Francis King, The Secret Rituals of the O.T.O., p. 63). Paracelsus’ description of the problem along with his advice is perhaps clear as mud right now, but we have Dorn’s commentary to help us.
Dorn says something very concrete and helpful when he comments on the problem of the Melusina. Dorn tells us that the Melusina is a vision appearing in the mind. He says that, if permitted to do so by the invisible, eternal Human, the Melusinian spirit will generate “distracting impediments” in the life of the aspirant. In that case, the result is that the fledgling operations don’t obtain their intended effect. In other words, the Melusina generates distracting events in the outer life, with the result that the operation, undertaken with such lofty intent, is immediately rendered a dud. Before I get to Dorn’s commentary on the solution to this problem, I’ll turn to Carl Jung’s thoughts on the problem itself.
Carl Jung (1875–1961), the great psychologist, treasures Paracelsus’ text despite its murkiness because he finds in it gems of surprisingly modern psychological insights. According to Carl Jung, the Melusina corresponds to the anima, an anthropomorphized image of the unconscious that is particularly associated with bodily and intuitive functions and that arises on the borderline of consciousness. Jung explicitly points out that Dorn thinks of the Melusina “not as a projection on a real woman” (“Paracelsus as a Spiritual Phenomenon,” Paragraph 215). He further notes that the idea of the Melusina appearing as a real woman “does not seem to have occurred to Paracelsus either” (Ibid). Obviously, this is in distinct contrast to Aleister Crowley, who seems to have thought of the Melusina’s manifestation only in a literal way. My point is, it doesn’t matter whether the Melusina appears as a real woman or not. Unless skillful maneuvers are undertaken in response, the Melusina will take the aspirant down, whether through manifesting outer distractions to a masculine aspirant or through possessing a feminine aspirant so that she become a pawn of Nature and find herself swept up into drama—often on the stage of some man.