Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 21, Vol. 3. Autumnal Equinox 2011

The Empress' Bouquet: An Analysis of the Floral Symbolism in Atu III

by R. Joseph Capet


Aleister Crowley warns the enquirer seeking to penetrate the mysteries of his Empress that, “In no other card is it so necessary to disregard the parts, to concentrate upon the whole.”[1] This kind of synthetic understanding is a lofty goal, but the aspiring student of Thoth Tarot may be forgiven if she first finds it necessary to concentrate upon the parts individually. Such a student would be well-advised to begin with the flower which Crowley identifies as the “lotus of Isis”;[2] practically all subsequent literature has taken him at his botanical word, and any book the student may care to select on Thoth Tarot will identify this flower as a lotus.[3] The trouble is that the blue flower associated with Isis by the Egyptians was not a lotus at all, but a water-lily, nymphaea caerulea, also known as 'Blue Egyptian water lily' or 'sacred blue lily'. This was certainly not lost upon an occultist of Crowley's calibre, and a close examination will reveal that he employs the polyvalence of this symbol as a powerful key, uniting the three great culture provinces of Egypt, India, and Europe in an intricate dialectic that reinforces the Empress' function as the bridge between the feminine principle of Binah and the masculine principle of Chokmah. In the process, Crowley offers a radical reinterpretation of the figure of the Whore of Babylon in Christian mythology, opening up profound new possibilities for comparative understanding with other spiritual systems, and offering a corrective to the symbolic deficiencies of Christianity.


Egyptian mythology was of paramount importance in Crowley's thought, and it is only natural that the symbolism of Thoth Tarot should reflect that heritage. Hence he tells us that the Empress holds the lotus of Isis, and Kenner has observed that “The lunar imagery is also a subtle nod to Isis...”[4] The Empress' crown—the crescent filled by a circle between its horns—is the ancient headdress of Hathor, which Isis took on after the two goddesses became identified.[5] DuQuette has pointed out that, while the lotus is held in her left hand, the right curves “as if she were holding an invisible baby to her breast. This is the magical gesture called Mater Triumphans (Isis suckling the infant Horus).”[6] We seem to be on secure ground associating the symbolism of the Empress with Isis, clutching her lotus, which “represents the feminine, or passive power.”[7] But if, as DuQuette has suggested, we find her in the position of Mater Triumphans, we may well ask where her child is. Crowley tells us he is in the flower.

Isis' son is Horus, who, in Thelema, is the twin of Harpocrates, a syncretic Ptolemaic god of silence who was considered an aspect of Horus. Crowley calls him “the Babe in the Lotus”[8] and “the Jewel in the Lotus”.[9] Just as Isis is a symbol of the passive feminine, as indicated by the lotus, “Harpocrates is, in fact, the passive side of his twin, Horus,”[10] whom Crowley calls “the Lord of Force”.[11] But if these twins together manifest the duality of passivity and activity, where is Isis' opposite? Although not depicted directly on the card, the mind is lead unavoidably to Osiris, who, as a symbol of the active masculine, balances Isis and thus preserves the symmetry which her dual-aspected son implies.

Osiris, however, creates a new pair of opposites with his son. It was the custom among the ancient Egyptians always to equate Horus, as the deity associated with the visible sun, with the living pharaoh while Osiris, as a lord of the underworld, was associated with the deceased pharaoh.[12] Like him, Osiris was obliged to remain in the netherworld, separated from the living on the Earth, upon whom Horus shone down daily. They can thus be read as an opposing pair in which Osiris represents the principle of transcendence, and Horus the principle of immanence. What is more, as with any good opposing pair, the two are often conflated in strange ways. The pharaoh unites them both within himself, by his dual association, and we can witness the gradual transformation of Horus in the history of Egyptian mythology from being purely the son of Isis to being also her consort (a consequence of the absorption of Hathor by Isis), thus occupying the same role as his nominal father.[13]

This leaves us lacking one obvious pair, the powers by which activity and passivity as well as transcendence and immanence are related—creation and destruction. Isis, as a divine mother, has always carried a connotation of creation,[14] which is only further reinforced by her patron flower. Snuffin writes, “The blue lotus is a symbol of Water and its powers of fertility and creativity. It also represents the yoni, the vehicle of manifestation...”[15] The search for a destructive counterpart need go no further than Isis' sister, Nephthys, a goddess associated with death and putrefaction. The intimate relationship between the two is expressed in a great number of Egyptian legends, perhaps most importantly in the fact that Nephthys, like her sister, conceives a child by Osiris, and even takes on the form of Isis in order to do so.[16] The complementarity is expressed beautifully in the Pyramid Texts, “Ascend and descend; descend with Nephthys, sink into darkness with the Night-bark. Ascend and descend; ascend with Isis, rise with the Day-bark.”[17] It is interesting to note, in connection with the imagery of ascent and descent, that while Crowley suggests that the pose of the Empress is the alchemical symbol of salt (which is a circle, here made by the arms, with an horizontal crossbar),[18] the symbol formed by the Empress is, in fact, that of nitre[19] more specifically (a circle with a vertical crossbar, here formed by her torso and reinforced by the flower). In the alchemy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, nitre and regular salt were conceived as a united pair of opposites brought into relationship by a pattern of ascent and descent, in which nitre fell from the sky to the earth, where it became salt, and was then absorbed back into the sky, where the energy of the sun restored its fiery qualities as nitre.[20] The reader still unconvinced of this association may reflect on the presence of triangles, the alchemical symbol for fire, under the Empress' armpits. As a last observation, nitre is extremely prone to what mineralogists call 'twinning', a phenomenon in which two crystals symmetrically share crystal lattice points. One cannot help but wonder if Crowley had this in mind when he wrote of “Isis as the Mother. Nephthys as the Mother in her dark aspect... Nephthys as the Lady of Severity balancing the mercy of Isis.”[21]

If the existence of a separate consort for Nephthys, Osiris' brother Set, seems to diminish the identification of the two goddesses, we need only recall that the Egyptians often viewed Osiris and Set as a mutually complementary pair, representing renewed life and death, creation and destruction. In the Sed festival, which secured the pharaoh's legitimacy in the inheritance of the throne, he staked his claim upon his receipt from his father, Osiris, of a will entitled The Secret of the Two Partners. Joseph Campbell gives us the meaning of this enigmatic name:

...the fourth pharaoh of this line [Dynasty II] is always represented by two cartouches and two names, over one of which, Sekhemab, there is shown the usual Horus falcon of the royal house, while over the other name, Perabsen, there appears the curiously characteristic quadruped somewhat resembling an okapi that always stands for the arch-enemy of both Horus and Osiris—namely, Seth. And on the seals of the seventh and last pharaoh of this line, Khasekhemui, the two antagonists, Horus the hero and Seth the villain of the piece, stand side by side, together and co-equal... while the monarch himself is termed “the appearing of the dual power in which the two gods are at peace.”[22]

Likewise Henri Frankfort, “The Two Lords [a title of the pharaoh] were the perennial antagonists, Horus and Set. The king was identified with both of these gods but not in the sense that he was considered the incarnation of the one and also an incarnation of the other. He embodied them as a pair, as opposites in equilibrium...”[23]

Thus we have a set of five figures, arranged in a series of complementary opposing pairs, bringing together in dialectical relationship: activity and passivity (Horus and Harpocrates), transcendence and immanence (Osiris and Horus/Harpocrates), and creation and destruction (Isis and Nephthys). While an accomplished numerologist could wile away many an afternoon on the significance of their being five, what is most germane to our present examination is that such a system effectively incorporates the acts of creation and destruction as necessary components of the kabbalistic feminine principle of Binah, which substantiates the creative potential of the masculine Chokmah, with which it is placed naturally in relationship through the symbol of the flower. The significance of this will become more apparent as we examine the repetition of this system in the remaining two culture provinces.


Although water-lilies and lotuses are botanically distinct, they are colloquially interchangeable, and the specific water-lily associated with Isis, nymphaea caerulea, is distantly related to the lotus sacred in India, nelumbo nucifera, with which it shares many psycho-active properties. The Indian lotus has much broader associations than the sacred blue lily of Egypt, but the field can be narrowed down very quickly by the number of its petals. The chakras of the body, in Indian esoteric anatomy, are symbolized by lotuses of varying numbers of petals. The four-petaled lotus is associated in kundalini yoga with the lowest of the chakras, the muladhara chakra, which is where the kundalini serpent power associated with the goddess Shakti resides before being awakened.[24] While Hinduism offers us a bewildering array of interpretations of Shakti's role, we may focus on those offered by the Tantric schools as Crowley wrote, “Paradoxical as it may sound the Tantrics are in reality the most advanced of the Hindus.”[25] He regarded them as a “primitive stage of the White tradition [of Magick]”[26] of which the purest exemplar was his own Thelema.[27] Interestingly, he also equated the fundamental propositions of Tantra with certain Isiac rites of the Egyptians, whose religion he regarded as “The only religion which corresponds to this School [the White] at all...”[28] He writes:

In other words, he [the Tantric adept] implicitly denies the fundamental proposition that existence is sorrow, and he formulates the essential postulate of the White School of Magick, that means exist by which the universal sorrow (apparent indeed to all ordinary observation) may be unmasked, even as at the initiatory rite of Isis in the ancient days of Kehm. There, a neophyte presenting his mouth, under compulsion, to the pouting buttocks of the Goat of Mendez, found himself caressed by the chaste lips of a virginal priestess of that Goddess at the base of whose shrine is written that No man has lifted her veil.[29]

We may thus be comfortable in equating Shakti, who represents, in Tantric thought, the power of creative manifestation of the latent potentialities of pure consciousness symbolized by her consort Shiva (and, in this way, mirrors the kabbalistic idea of Binah in relation to Chokmah, between which the Empress is the bridge), with Isis, whose creative powers bring forth Horus, the sun and the pharaoh, even from the dead body of her consort, Osiris.[30]

If the pattern established in Egypt holds true, we would expect Shakti to have a destructive aspect complementing her creative one, and that is exactly what we find in the goddess Kali. Just as one descends with Nephthys in the Night-bark, so Kali is called from her first appearance in Indian literature (Mahabharata, 10.8.64) Kalaratri, or 'black night'. Though not putrefied like Nephthys, she wears a skirt made of severed human arms and a garland of skulls, and her devotees attempt to encounter her in cremation grounds.[31] We also find her in the same iconographic positions as Isis. Isis is often depicted conceiving Horus by her dead brother Osiris; one of the more popular versions has her sprout wings to hover over the prostrate body.[32] In one of her most classic images (so classic, it has a special name, Daksinakali), Kali stands upon the body of her consort Shiva, who lies dead after a battle with the demon Raktabija, whom she has defeated.[33] And in reflection of the ambiguity of Isis' relationship to her son, Horus, who is partly identified with Osiris and comes to also be Isis' consort in later versions of the myths, we have the story of the Linga Purana in which Parvati (the goddess of power, the form of Shakti which is specifically the consort of Shiva) manifests as Kali to defeat the demon Daruka, which ends with Kali breast-feeding Shiva, who appeared on the battlefield as an infant.[34] Incidentally, Parvati, when shown with Shiva, generally carries a blue lotus in full bloom, and has a crescent tangled in her hair, suggestive both of the association with the lunar Isis, and also of the horned crown of the Empress.

As mentioned above, Shiva is a predominantly passive figure in much of Tantric thought, representing the pure consciousness which requires the active energies of Shakti to become manifested. Again following the Egyptian pattern, we would expect him to be twinned with an active counterpart, from whom he is only partially distinct. We find this figure in Vishnu. Vishnu is credited in Hindu mythology as 'the Sustainer', who upholds the created cosmos.[35] These gods are so close that the Vaishnavite and Shaivite sects of Hinduism each assert that one is simply a manifestation of the other, being divided over the question of which has priority. The two are sometimes depicted in a combined form called Harihara, a god split down the middle with his one half being Shiva and his other being Vishnu. Vishnu is also a consort of Shakti in her form of Lakhshmi, the goddess of prosperity.

All that remains, then, is a third male figure to serve as the form of transcendence over against the immanence represented by Shiva/Vishnu. In Hinduism, this figure is Brahma, the Creator, who makes up, with Shiva and Vishnu, the trimurti, or 'three forms'. Brahma is, in most versions of the tale, the creator of the cosmos which Vishnu preserves, and dwells outside of it. Tellingly, in contrast to Vishnu and Shiva, who both have recorded avatars (although, as befits their active versus passive roles, the avatars of Vishnu are both more numerous and better known), Brahma has none. His transcendence is so complete that numerous stories recount varying versions of the means by which he was cursed that no one should worship him upon the Earth, and indeed, even today, direct worship of Brahma is insignificantly small compared to the devotion heaped upon Shiva and Vishnu.[36] If our pattern holds, Brahma too must be a consort of Shakti and, in a strange way, he is, through her form as Saraswati, the goddess of music and learning. The story goes that Brahma created Saraswati and was so overpowered by her beauty that he was forced to incinerate his own body in order to cleanse himself of impure thoughts toward his daughter. He then formed for himself a new body, devoid of lust, and married Saraswati to Vishnu, the only one of the gods he believed to deserve her. Nonetheless, Saraswati lives with Brahma in his far-removed realm rather than Vishnu, in order both to continue to absorb his limitless knowledge and to maintain good relations with Vishnu's other wife, Lakhshmi.[37] Saraswati, in a Platonic sense, thus continues to be the consort of Brahma, and the story highlights the same ambiguously incestuous parent-child relationship that we find between Isis and Horus, but with the particular twist that the goddess here is the daughter, rather than the mother, and that her male consort is the deity of transcendence, rather than immanence.

The fivefold pattern once again holds true: activity and passivity (Vishnu and Shiva), transcendence and immanence (Brahma and Vishnu/Shiva), and creation and destruction (Shakti/Kali). What is more, it holds true in roughly the same pattern of relationships, creation and destruction again being dual aspects of a goddess who is the consort both of a deity representing transcendence and of a deity representing immanence (who are, in some sense, aspects of each other), with the immanent deity being twinned as an active and a passive god.


As a water-lily, the 'lotus of Isis' suggests the true lily of Europe as much as the lotus of India, and points us toward the Virgin Mary as much as toward Shakti. A connection between the Empress and Mary has been a staple of much occult tarot since the late 19th century. Oswald Wirth's Empress is depicted with a lily, along with a twelve-starred crown,[38] a clear reference to the Woman of the Apocalypse, who is traditionally identified in Catholic traditions with Mary.[39] P.D. Ouspensky's The Symbolism of the Tarot refers both to the crown and to lilies-of-the-valley.[40] Arthur Edward Waite, who was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn alongside Crowley, omits any flowers and denies that she is Regina coeli, but keeps the crown and covers the Empress' dress in pomegranates, adding that she is refugium peccatorum, and equates her specifically with “the woman clothed with the sun” (i.e. the Woman of the Apocalypse).[41] Crowley's Empress has changed her crown for one more reminiscent of the headdress of Isis, but has preserved an echo of the twelve star symbolism in her girdle, studded with the signs of the zodiac. The fleur-de-lis, which occurs in the tapestry at the feet of Crowley's Empress, is the quintessential emblem of the Virgin, and is referenced also in a kabbalistic context by Israel Regardie. In his A Garden of Pomegranates, he narrates the reader's journey through the sephiroth via the imagery of tarot. The reader approaches the doorway which leads to the feminine principle of Binah, and the angel Tzaphqiel is made to inquire, “You have entered the realm of Understanding. By what symbol doest thou enter herein?” To which the hypothetical reader responds, “By the symbol of the fleur-de-lis.” The reader than proceeds to an archway with a veil on which the Empress is painted. Tzaphqiel traces the sign of Venus and the veil disappears, revealing an emerald door. The reader holds up a fleur-de-lis and traces the sign of daleth (the Hebrew letter which Crowley assigned to the Empress), dissolving the door. Tzaphqiel then speaks, “I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys. As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.”[42] Tzaphqiel here, of course, is quoting the Song of Songs, which Christian exegesis often considers as an allegory of the Church, which itself is frequently represented by Mary.[43] This same connection with the Song of Songs is reflected in Crowley's early writing, where we find an alchemical allegory of the Fool's Journey, in which “...the Emperor (who is Solomon) told him of Sheba’s Land and of one fairest of women there enthroned. So he journeyed thither [to the Empress], and for four years and seven months abode with her as paramour and light-of-love...”[44] Crowley also confirms Regardie's door imagery when he writes of the Empress that, “This card, summed up, may be called the Gate of Heaven,”[45] just as Bonaventure writes, “Mary is called the gate of Heaven, because no one can enter heaven unless by Mary, as through a door.”[46]

The reader, her mind racing ahead of my explication, has doubtless already filled in the three masculine figures that relate to this goddess. It takes no great leap of the imagination to establish the Father as the transcendent principle, corresponding to Osiris and Brahma, and the Son as the immanent principle.[47] Christ would seem to be the best candidate for being the active twin, as against the Holy Spirit, by virtue of his incarnation and preaching among men. The association of Christ with Vishnu, who has for one of his avatars the suspiciously similarly named Krishna, who also comes among men to represent the deity and impart saving knowledge, seems too good to pass up. Crowley confirms the identification of the Son as the active twin when he identifies Harpocrates (the passive twin of Horus) with the Holy Spirit:

The Nature of this Silence is shewn also by the God Harpocrates, the Babe in the Lotus, who is also the Serpent and the Egg, that is, the Holy Ghost. This is the most secret of all Energies, the Seed of all being, and therefore must He be sealed up in an Ark from the Malice of the Devourers. … This Ark or Lotus is then the Body of Our Lady BABALON, without which thou weret the Prey of Nile and of the Crocodiles that are therein.[48]

It is here that the true genius of Crowley's symbolism becomes apparent. The familial relations of the Egyptian gods and goddesses made it possible to map them into a pentad which together encompassed the dialectical union of three pairs of opposites. The Hindu deities were easy to arrange in the same pattern, by virtue of their marriages and the convenient bundling of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva into a trinity of sorts by the Hindu sages. Armed with the idea of the trimurti, it is a small step to see in it an analogue of the Holy Trinity,[49] just as Mary appears a very clear counterpart to Shakti. The difficulty is to locate, within the Christian context, a destructive aspect of Mary which would be cognate to Kali and Nephthys. Crowley's insight is to recognize that Mary appears not once, but twice in the Book of Revelation—once in her creative aspect as the Virgin Mary (represented in Revelation in the figure of the Woman of Revelation), and once in her destructive aspect as the Whore of Babylon.

In the passage quoted above, Crowley cements the identification through the use of a typical Marian-style toponymical appellation, 'Our Lady [of] BABALON', which is ever his preferred title for this goddess. There are many other signs, however. In his description of the Empress, Crowley writes, “Its [the lotus'] roots are in the earth beneath the water, or in the water itself, but it opens its petals to the Sun, whose image is the belly of the chalice. It is, therefore, a living form of the Holy Grail, sanctified by the blood of the Sun.”[50] Having established the lotus as the Grail, we are ready to (partially) understand the words of Liber Aba:

  1. This is the secret of the Holy Graal, that is the sacred vessel of our Lady the Scarlet Woman, Babalon the Mother of Abominations, the bride of Chaos, that rideth upon our Lord the Beast.

  2. Thou shalt drain out thy blood that is thy life into the golden cup of her fornication.

  3. Thou shalt mingle thy life with the universal life. Thou shalt keep not back one drop.

  4. Then shall thy brain be dumb, and thy heart beat no more, and all thy life shall go from thee; and thou shalt be cast out upon the midden, and the birds of the air shall feed upon thy flesh, and thy bones shall whiten in the sun.

  5. Then shall the winds gather themselves together, and bear thee up as it were a little heap of dust in a sheet that hath four corners, and they shall give it unto the guardians of the abyss.

  6. And because there is no life therein, the guardians of the abyss shall bid the angels of the winds pass by. And the angels shall lay thy dust in the City of Pyramids, and the name thereof shall be no more.[51]

A full explication of this passage would be a treatise in itself, but we may focus upon a couple of key points. The first, of course, is that the Grail is the vessel of Our Lady BABALON, who rides upon the Beast (as clear an identification of Our Lady BABALON with the Whore of Babylon described in Revelation as anyone could desire). The second is that, like Nephthys, she is a goddess of death, and indeed, we cannot help but think of Nephthys when we learn that those who empty themselves into her cup are taken, dead, to a 'City of the Pyramids', which is in Binah (the feminine principle). Snuffin has the good sense, in his explication of Crowley's Chariot, to unite this passage with one found elsewhere in the same volume, which teaches us that the deceased adept, upon reaching this city, is “...received and reconstructed in the Third Order, as a Babe in the womb of our Lady BABALON, under the Night of PAN, to grow up to be Himself wholly and truly as He was not previously...”[52] One hears echoes, in the breaking down to dust and subsequent reconstruction, of the nitre cycle of the Empress which symbolized the ascent and descent with Isis and Nephthys, respectively. Thus we see the Whore not simply as a goddess of destruction, but as a goddess who, by virtue of her participation in a pair, is a goddess of creative destruction, like Kali. This connection is further reinforced when we consider Crowley's early implied identification of the Empress with the Queen of Sheba who, like Kali, was conspicuous for being black.

The traditional iconography is a clue as well. We have seen Isis hovering over the body of Osiris, and Kali standing atop the body of Shiva. Like this latter depiction, the image of Mary over the slain body of her divine son/consort is so essentially defining that it has its own name—the pietà, Mary holding the body of Christ in her arms after he has been taken down from the Cross, of which Michelangelo left us such a fine example. (If the idea of Mary as the consort of her son still seems strange to the reader, she need only reflect upon the identity in the Godhead of the Son with the Holy Ghost, which impregnates Mary,[53] and that favourite patristic metaphor of Mary as the new Eve, and Jesus as the new Adam.)[54] Unlike those other goddesses, however, Mary repeats this imagery in both aspects. Just as we find the creative Mary over the body of her consort Jesus, so too we find the Whore of Babylon over the body of her consort, the Beast, whom she rides. The Beast, being the first of the two beasts to emerge in Revelation, but emerging after the Dragon (Revelation 13:1) is traditionally named the second person of the Unholy Trinity,[55] thus corresponding to the second person of the Holy Trinity.[56]

Once again, we have a functioning pentad: activity and passivity (the Son and the Holy Spirit), transcendence and immanence (the Father and the Son/Holy Spirit), and creation and destruction (the Virgin Mary/the Whore of Babylon).


It stands established, then, that the following system of correspondences is possible and that Crowley appears to be leaving us an abundance of clues, starting with the 'lotus of Isis', that encourage us to establish such a system: Osiris/Brahma/the Father, Horus/Vishnu/the Son, Harpocrates/Shiva/the Holy Spirit, Isis/Shakti/Mary, and Nephthys/Kali/the Whore of Babylon. It remains only to ask what purpose such a correspondence serves. As has been mentioned, Crowley saw the doctrine of Thelema as the purest exposition of the White School of Magick, to which,

The Egyptian tradition of Osiris is not dissimilar. The central idea of the White School is that, admitted that “everything is sorrow” for the profane, the Initiate has the means of transforming it to “Everything is joy”. … It appears that the Levant, from Byzantium and Athens to Damascus, Jerusalem, Alexandria and Cairo, was preoccupied with the formulation of this School in a popular religion, beginning in the days of Augustus Caesar. For there are elements of this central idea in the works of the Gnostics, in certain rituals of what Frazer conveniently calls the Asiatic God, as in the remnants of the Ancient Egyptian cult. The doctrine became abominably corrupted in committee, so to speak and the result was Christianity, which may be regarded as a White ritual[57] overlaid by a mountainous mass of Black doctrine, like the baby of the mother that King Solomon non-suited.[58]

The reference to Solomon is well-placed. Crowley identified Ecclesiastes, a quintessential Solomonic work, with the Black School:

The documents of the Black School of Magick... are, for the most part, tedious to the last degree and repulsive to every wholesome-minded man; yet it can hardly be denied that such books as The Dhammapada and Ecclesiastes are masterpieces of literature. They represent the agony of human despair at its utmost degree of intensity, and the melancholy contemplation which is induced by their perusal is not favourable to the inception of that mood which should lead every truly courageous intelligence to the determination to escape from the ferule of the Black Schoolmaster to the outstretched arms of the White Mistress of Life.[59]

In the early alchemical allegory which has already been quoted, when the Emperor (Solomon) sends the Fool on to Sheba, the Empress “was gracious to him and showed him those things that the Emperor had hidden... that were his and unrevealed.”[61]

This Black School, epitomized in the Noble Truths of the Buddha, was for Crowley “debased by nature” and filled with “iniquity”[61] and “confusion of thought”.[62] “The poison [of the Black School] in its foulest and most virulent form only entered [Europe] with Christianity.”[63] In what way, then, was Christianity blackened? What filled its adherents with the “will-to-die”[64] which characterizes the adepts of the Black School? I would assert that, if the foregoing analysis of the Empress' floral symbolism is at all correct, it may be that Crowley saw one of Christianity's crucial failings in the lack of an effective symbolic system for relating creation and destruction as forces of existence. The Trinity serves as a sophisticated symbolic tool for relating immanence and transcendence, passivity and activity, but it does not handle destructive functions. In contrast to Eastern traditions, such as those of Egypt and India, it stigmatizes destruction as an 'evil', and so necessarily banishes 'creation' off to a mythological beginning. Whereas, in the other systems, creation is seen as a continuous act of the feminine principle, Christian mythology makes it a singular act of the male principle, which merely re-echoes that act through the female principle in time (in the creation of Christ, the new Adam). Just as the Buddha recognized that the elimination of suffering required the elimination of life itself, so the Christians realized that the elimination of destruction required the elimination of creation, any act of which implied destruction inherently. Even the omnipotent Jahweh, to effect his one act of renewed creation through Jesus, had to kill him. Crowley was not unaware of this antipathy toward change in Abrahamic thought:

The seers in the early days of the Aeon of Osiris [beginning around the time of Jesus] foresaw the Manifestation of this coming Aeon in which we now live, and they regarded it with intense horror and fear, not understanding the procession of the Aeons, and regarding every change as catastrophe. This is the real interpretation of, and the reason for, the diatribes against the Beast and the Scarlet Woman in the XIII, XVII and XVIII-th chapters of the Apocalypse...[65]

It would perhaps have been, in Crowley's view, this inability to make a positive account of destruction which caused the White School activity of the Levant to create a Black doctrine in which, as is typical for such doctrines, 'all life is suffering', and Mary goes from being a creative goddess to being a refuge for sinners from a vale of tears. It is only when joined with her destructive aspect that Mary can take on the mythological functions which are rightfully hers. The marriage of the Virgin and the Whore vindicated Crowley's belief that “No two ideas have any real meaning until they are harmonized in a third, and the operation is only perfect when these ideas are contradictory.”[66] As he writes, “Balance against each thought its exact opposite. For the Marriage of these is the Annihilation of Illusion.”[67] The emblematic flower of the goddess who had first borne the title 'the Queen of Heaven' is the perfect symbol to accomplish this, uniting by the middle way of Egypt the archetypes of Europe and India, the Mother and the Son, the Virgin and the Whore.



1. Aleister Crowley, The Book of Thoth: A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians, (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1995), 77.

2. Ibid., 76.

3. See, for example: Lon Milo DuQuette, Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot: An Authoritative Examination of the World's Most Fascinating and Magical Tarot Cards, (York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, 2003), 105; Gerd Ziegler, Tarot: Mirror of the Soul: Handbook for the Aleister Crowley Tarot, (York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, 1988), 20; Michael Osiris Snuffin, The Thoth Companion: The Key to the True Symbolic Meaning of the Thoth Tarot, (Woodbury MN: Llewwllyn Publications, 2007), 21; Corrine Kenner, Simple Fortunetelling with Tarot Cards: Corinne Kenner's Complete Guide, (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2007), 93.

4. Kenner, op cit.

5. Beatrice Teissier, Egyptian Iconography on Syro-Palestinian Cylinder Seals of the Middle Bronze Age, (Fribourg: University Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoek und Ruprecht, 1995), 185.

6. DuQuette, op cit..

7. Crowley, op. cit., 76.

8. Aleister Crowley, Liber Aleph vel CXI: The Book of Wisdom or Folly, (York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, 2003), 162.

9. Alesiter Crowley, Magick: Book 4, Liber Aba, (York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, 2004), 20f.

10. Crowley, The Book of Thoth, 62.

11. Aleister Crowley, 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley, ed. Israel Regardie, (York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, 1986), 81.

12. Campbell, 53.

13. Janet Parker, Alice Mills, and Julie Stanton, Mythology: Myths, Legends and Fantasies, (Cape Town: Struik Publishers, 2006), 296.

14. James Augustus St. John, Isis: An Egyptian Pilgrimage, Volume 2, (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1853), 309.

15. Snuffin, op. cit.

16. Plutarch, Moralia, trans. Frank Cole Babbitt, (Loeb Classical Library, No. 306, 1936), 39.

17. Pyramid text Utterance 222, Line 210, in R.O. Faullkner, Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, (Oxford University Press, 1969).

18. Crowley, The Book of Thoth, 75.

19. Nitre has a salt form as sodium nitrate.

20. John Michael Greer, The New Encyclopedia of the Occult, (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2004), 332.

21. Crowley, 777, 81.

22. Campbell, 81.

23. Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), 21-2.

24. It is worthwhile to pause here to observe that the Empress is pressing the four-petaled lotus to her heart chakra. This chakra, the anahata chakra, is also called the “wheel of the unstruck sound” because, when the yogin raises the kundalini power of Shakti from the muladhara chakra to this one, he is able to hear the inner sound nada, which is unstruck because it is not a sound in the conventional sense at all, but rather a fundamental vibration of the cosmos. The lotus representing both the kundalini's origin and Harpocrates, the god of silence, being held to the chakra at which it releases the unstruck sound, which cannot be heard by bodily ears, is too elegant a symbolic symmetry to be mere coincidence, and further reinforces the previous analysis.

25. Crowley, Magick Without Tears, ed. Karl Germer, (New York: Ordo Templi Orientis, 1954), 51.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid., 53.

28. Ibid., 54.

29. Ibid., 50-1.

30. This correspondence is also suggested by Richard and Iona Miller in The Diamond Body: A Solid State Mandala: A Modern Alchemical View of the Philosopher's Stone, (1981),, accessed: 9 March 2011. Furthermore, they suggest that Nuit/Isis/Shakti is alchemically known as the world soul, or anima mundi. If we look to the Empress' crown, we will find that the circle between the horns is surmounted by a cross, forming the alchemical symbol for antimony, which is classically associated with the soul (specifically the intellectual soul) and also served as the globe symbolizing imperial power over the world throughout the middle ages. [Oswald Wirth, Le Tarot: Des Imagiers du Moyen Age, ed. Claude Tchou, (1966), 95.]

Francis King, in Tantra for Westerners: A Practical Guide to the Way of Action, (Oxford: Mandrake, 1986), 74, discusses Crowley's direct association of Shakti with the Egyptian goddess Nuit, who plays such a large role in Thelemic cosmology. The two identifications are not mutually exclusive, however. Not only is Isis (along with Osiris, Nephthys, Set, and in some accounts Horus) a child of Nuit, but both were symbolized by the sycamore tree [Papyrus of Ani: Egyptian Book of the Dead, trans. and ed. Sir Wallis Budge, (NuVision Publications, 2007), 57.], leading to a certain degree of syncretization from very early on. In light of this, it is easy to partially equivalize Osiris and Geb (Nuit's consort), especially when we recall the boast of the pharaoh who has completed the Sed festival, “I have run, holding the Secret of the Two Partners, the Will that my father [Osiris] has given me before Geb.” [Frankfort, 86.]

31. David Kinsley, Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 124.

32. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005), 65.

33. Kinsley, 118-9.

34. Vans Kennedy, Researches Into the Nature and Affinity of Ancient and Hindu Mythology, (Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1831), 338.

35. In the thought of the Vaishnavite sect, he is also the ultimate ground of its creation, more closely reflecting the antagonism with Shiva's traditional title 'the Destroyer'. While Shiva's title may seem to put him in competition with Kali, and thus to confuse the tidy categorizations which I am employing here, it must be remembered that Shiva is an extraordinarily complex deity. Defining his exact relationship to the ground of being and to destruction, as well as to the creative and destructive powers of Shakti/Kali would require a whole volume, and is frequently contested among Hindus. Suffice it to say for our present purposes that Shiva has been generally over-simplified in Western treatments as a god of destruction, and that the Tantric literature, which is most applicable to Crowley's thought, tends to emphasize his role as consciousness and potentiality over his role in destruction, while emphasizing both the destructive and, interestingly, maternal aspects of Kali.

36. John Cameron Lowrie, A Manual of Missions: or, Sketches of the Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, (New York: A.D.F. Randolph, 1854), 85.

37. Catherine Ludvik, Sarasvati: Riverine Goddess of Knowledge: From the Manuscript-carrying Vina-player to the Weapon-wielding Defender of the Dharma, (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2007), 118-21.

38. Wirth, 129.

39. Bridget Heal, The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Early Modern Germany: Protestant and Catholic Piety, 1500-1648, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 31.

40. P.D. Ouspensky, The Symbolism of the Tarot, trans. A.L. Pogossky, (St. Peterburg: Trood Print. and Pub. Co., 1913), 29.

41. A.E. Waite, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, ill. Pamela Colman Smith, (London: W. Rider, 1911).

42. Israel Regardie, A Garden of Pomegranates: Skrying on the Tree of Life, (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2004), 450.

43. E. Ann Matter, The Voice of My Beloved: The Song of Songs in Western Medieval Christianity, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), 86; Heal, 31.

44. Crowley, The Works of Aleister Crowley, (Yogi Publication Society, 1974), 113.

45. Crowley, The Book of Thoth, 77.

46. St. Bonaventure, quoted in St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, The Glories of Mary, revised by Robert A. Coffin, (New York: P. O'Shea, Publisher, 1868), 623.

47. Crowley initially associated Christ with Osiris (which is to say, also with Horus), but came to connect him with Mercury. “As an example of actual intellectual illumination [I received], the very impressive identification of the Christ of the Gospels with Mercury. This came as a complete surprise, we having till then considered him as an entirely solar symbol connected especially with Dionysus, Mithras and Osiris.” [Crowley, Vision and the Voice, (Boston: Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, 1998), 348.] Note that Crowley's phrasing implies a continued association with the named solar figures, in addition to the association with Mercury. This is reinforced by Crowley's analysis of cross symbolism: “In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, who is Mercury, and is therefore to be identified with Christ. The Caduceus contains a complete symbol of the Gnosis; the winged Sun or phallus represents the joy of life on all planes from the lowest to the highest. The Serpents (besides being Active and Passive, Horus and Osiris, and all their other well-known attributions) are those qualities of Eagle and Lion respectively, of which we know, but do not speak.” [Ibid., 359-60.] We need not rely on this, however, in order to preserve the equation of Christ with Horus which the pattern that we have identified in Egypt and India would imply. For just as Crowley identifies “...Thoth as the Logos...” (Thoth being, of course, the Egyptian counterpart of Mercury, the two figures having been syncretized in Ptolemaic times as the legendary Hermes Trismegistus), so too does he name “Anubis, the lower form of Thoth, Mercury.” [Ibid., 359-60.] Anubis, like Horus, was the son of Osiris, but he was the son conceived by Nephthys in the aforementioned incident in which she disguised herself as Isis. He may then be seen as an aspect of Horus, in much the same way that Set is an aspect of Osiris, or Nephthys of Isis.

48. Crowley, Liber Aleph vel CXI: The Book of Wisdom or Folly, (York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, 2003), 162.

49. It is often observed that the two ideas are not truly cognate. While this is correct, theologically speaking, for the broad categories which we are here considering the two concepts are close enough to be meaningfully identified.

50. Crowley, The Book of Thoth, 76.

51. Crowley, Magick: Book 4, 661-3.

52. Ibid., 493.

53. Whether or not any given Christian divine would endorse the word 'impregnates' for this process is up for debate, but it is the word Crowley himself uses. [Crowley, The Book of Thoth, 93.]

54. Raymond L. Burke, et al, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, (Queenship Publishing Company, 2008), 613-4.

55. Brian Paige Bush, His Blueprint in the Bible: A Study of the Number Three in Scripture, (Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing Co., Inc., 2004), 12; Henry Madison Morris, The Revelation Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Prophetic Book of the End Times, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; San Diego, CA: Creation-Life Publishers, 1983), 233.

56. By way of checking our work once more, if the Father is truly a counterpart to Osiris as part of a cognate system, then the first person of the Unholy Trinity, the Dragon (commonly identified with the Devil), ought to be a reasonable counterpart to Set, and sure enough, “Satan is Saturn, Set...”. [Crowley, Magick: Book 4, 163.]

57. Crowley entertained a particular fondness for the Mass, which he saw as a “typical White ritual” which aimed to “transform crude matter directly into Godhead.” [Crowley, Magick Without Tears, 54.]

58. Ibid., 52.

59. Ibid., 51-2.

60. Crowley, The Works of Aleister Crowley, (Yogi Publication Society, 1974), 113.

61. Crowley, Magick Without Tears, 49.

62. Ibid., 50.

63. Ibid., 51.

64. Ibid., 50.

65. Crowley, The Book of Thoth, 93-4.

66. Crowley, Magick: Book 4, 75.

67. Crowley, The Book of Thoth, 256.