“The way of writing is straight and crooked.” (Fragment 59)I. Heraclitus the Aeonless
“The Lord whose Oracle is in Delphi neither speaks nor conceals but gives a sign.” (Fragment 93)
When we look upon the fragments that remain of the writing of Heraclitus what we see is a wisdom from a time more than five centuries before the birth of Christ and a century or more before Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. In other words, we find a wisdom from before the two main sources of Western history which are Ancient Greek philosophy and Judeo-Christian religion. If, as Aleister Crowley hoped, the Aeon of Horus is a move beyond the dominant influences that represented the rule of the dying God it would be useful to seek guidance as well from a wisdom beyond the scope of the thinking that has dominated our history for millennia. But do we find such a wisdom in Heraclitus? In Ancient Greece we find a worldview straddling two Aeons. Early Greek religion and thought represents, for us, a transition from the Aeon of Isis to that of Osiris. But the transition to Osiris was, at best, partial. The legend of Delphi demonstrates the transition nicely. According to myth Delphi was originally the holy place of a massive female serpent who lived in a deep crevice in the earth from which intoxicating vapors rose. In order to have a temple built there for himself the masculine sun god Apollo slew the serpent, thus overthrowing the earth centered female religions at the foundation of early Greek civilization. In place of the female goddess Apollo set up a temple honoring vision and insight derived from intoxication in which masculine power dominated feminine. Delphi housed a group of priestesses and priests. The priestesses would become intoxicated by the fumes from the earth, maintaining a connection with the old chthonic goddess, and spew forth wild gibberish. The male priests would then translate the gibberish into ordered Greek poetry which predicted the future in a riddling manner.
Apollo is a sun god, and so fits the symbolic form of Osiris. He does not, however, undergo the necessary process of death and rebirth which is so central to the mythic structure of the Aeon of the sun. For that story the Greeks had Dionysus, who was born from Zeus, father of the Gods, but also destroyed and reborn as a god of fertility, life, intoxication and both theater and dance. But Dionysus was far from the central god of the Greeks who, indeed, had no single central figure in their pantheon. Zeus, who might best approximate that role, did not himself play out the story of Osiris’ death and rebirth and, while authoritarian, was far from all powerful or unquestionable. It would require the ingenuity of Plato to work into Greek thought an influential concept of a centralized universal order deriving from The Good, depicted as the Sun, from which all material existence had somehow fallen and towards which we seek to return through purification. But Heraclitus, predating Plato, plays with all the possibilities of the ill-defined transitional Greek pantheon. In doing so he offers us useful pre-cursors for the Aeon of Horus. Let us turn to his fragments and see how this is so.
II. Heraclitus the Obscure
Heraclitus is rightly called the obscure. His writing follows the model of riddles and engages heavily in word play which, considering our distance from the Ancient Greek language, can often seem impenetrable to us. Beyond this we have only fragments of his work and their content, even were we to have his complete work, is far from easy to grasp. Indeed much of his work seems purposefully focused on obscurity, as we should suspect considering his assertion that “A hidden harmony is stronger than an obvious one.” (Fragment 54). His writing is crocked and straight, like the letters and lines with which it is formed, and agrees with what we might take to be the classic Cabalist’s assertion that beneath the most obvious and common experiences are important hidden harmonies revealing the fundamental nature of a reality which “loves to conceal itself” (Fragment 123). For this reason Heraclitus offers us a seemingly contradictory bit of advice, “If one doesn’t expect the unexpected, one will not discover it…” (Fragment 18). Of course, expecting the unexpected is precisely impossible. The moment we expect what was previously unexpected, it becomes the expected and we must once again move on to a new unexpected. The point, then, is clearly that the beliefs and expectations with which we approach the world partially determine what we find there. The true seeker, then, must constantly orient herself towards what is missing in any given framework of meaning, listening for the silence and not the sound. Surely we can hear here an echo of “the fall of because” which is heralded in The Book of the Law. Dead, surely, are all respected and expected reasonings.
When we come to occupy this expectant openness to the hidden what do we find? The common suddenly shows up in a new way. Fording a river we find that “it is not possible to step twice into the same river, nor is it possible to touch a thing twice…” (Fragment 91). Even as the river is ever changing, so too are all things in states of flux like onto the flowing of water over time. We, just as much as the river, are constantly flowing away and being replaced by new structures and matter. On the other hand, we might find that something that seems unified and consistent has internally distinct natures. “The way up and the way down are one way.” (Fragment 60) even as “The name of the bow is life but its work is death.” (Fragment 48). In this second fragment we encounter the word play we had mentioned. The word for bow in Greek is the same as the word for life, bios, with the difference only captured in accentuation. In the similar experience that one stairway is clearly one stairway and one river is surely one river, we discover how very different the stairway up is from that down and how the fundamental nature of a river, and all being, is primarily not to be the same from one moment to the next. But what are we to make, in the case of the bow, of word play as the basis of an argument? Whatever answer we may offer the fact remains clear that there is something very right about the suggestion that the hunting bow is intimately connected with life, our ability to provide food or protect from harm, while its work is clearly that of sewing death. Perhaps there is something about life and death which connect, if in a concealed manner, more closely than we might think.
III. Death in Life and Life in Death
“I am Life, and the giver of Life, yet therefore is the knowledge of me the knowledge of death.” (Liber Al vel Legis 2:6)
“Think not, o king, upon that lie: That Thou Must Die: Verily though shalt not die, but live. Now let it be understood: If the body of the Kind dissolve, he shall remain in pure ecstasy for ever.” (Liber Al vel Legis 2:21)
“Aye! Feast! Rejoice! There is no dread hereafter. There is the dissolution, and eternal ecstasy in the kisses of Nu.” (Liber Al vel Legis 2:44).
There are few parts of Heraclitus or The Book of the Law which are more obscure than the discussions of life and death. If the Aeon of Horus offers us something other than a recap of the faith in immortality offered by the story of the dying god’s return then the answer to the lie of death must be different than the idea that there is something in us, our soul, which lives on in some otherworld following death. Rather, the Book of the Law presents us with the idea that the nature of death is already contained within, and is contiguous, with life. The nature of Hadit is much like that of Heraclitus’ bow. If the knowledge of Hadit is that of the essence of life and the secret of death then the interplay between Hadit and Nuit must contain the answer to the riddle of death. Nuit tells us the riddle and the answer herself, “None, breathed the light, faint & faery, of the stars, and two. 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.” (Liber Al vel Legis 1:28-30). Here we see that the birth of the duality between the vital point that is Hadit, the omnipresent central point of the universe, and the endless expanse that is Nuit, Queen of infinite space, is a play of nothingness with itself. Here we find Crowley’s equation 0 = 2 very useful. Out of the void comes the play of opposites which, in their opposition, are mutually constituting and destroying. All is Nothing and Hadit longs to dissolve into Nuit. This very interplay is, however, pure joy driven by the love which expresses the vital tension between the oppositions. To die, then, is not to live on in another state but rather for Hadit, or life, to achieve union finally with Nuit, or infinite space. But this union is already a concealed fact underlying reality that the initiate can experience by achieving the consciousness of Nuit. This is also the message of the True Will, which is not a personal atomistic will but rather a consciousness of one’s place as part of the totality of reality. Death, then, is a transformation into pure True Will.
Two of Heraclitus’ most enigmatic fragments touch upon this concept. First we can glance at my favorite Heraclitus fragment, “Immortal mortals, mortal immortals, living the other’s life and dying the other’s death.” (Fragment 62). Here is asserted the inter-constitution of mortality and immortality, suggesting both that gods are dependent upon mortals for their being and vice versa, and also that the process of living and dying are intimately connected. One is prompted to imagine that the life of mortals might be the dreamed deaths of slumbering immortals as the immortality of divinity is the dream towards which mortals yearn. “A person in the night kindles a light for himself, since his visions has been extinguished. In his sleep he kindles that which is dead, though alive, and when awake he kindles that which sleeps.” (Fragment 26). In this fragment we find that death is like a light amongst the shadow of sleep as a candle is light in the darkness, in the same sense the waking world of life carries and kindles the spark of sleep within it. The immortality of mortals and the mortality of the gods are, then, two sides of the same process. Each creates the other as its own inner truth and longing. But it is the reciprocity that is most striking here, and the fact that the relation and not either side of the relation is prioritized. When the mortal awakens through death to the immortality of a god the process is still incomplete, for even the god shall dream once more the mortality of humanity.
We find a similar, though more concrete, suggestion concerning life and death in Heraclitus’ most complex wordplay. In it Heraclitus discusses the tradition of celebrating the god Dionysus through phallic symbols and sexual indulgence, “If it were not in Dionysus’ honor that they make a procession and sing a hymn to the shameful parts, their deed would be a most shameful one. But Hades and Dionysus, for whom they rave and celebrate the festival of the Lenaea, are the same!” (Fragment 15). What we need to know to see the riddle of this fragment is that the term for shame, aidos, resembles the name of Hades which is spelt Aides but is accentuated with what is called a rough breathing which adds an H sound at the start of the word. In the fragment, then, we hear echoes of Hades’ name in the two words for shame, aidoioisin – shameful and anaidestata – most shameful. In the concealed harmony between the celebrations of the god of life, sex and drugs and the god of the underworld we find a many layered suggestion. First, intoxication and sexual self-loss lead to the experience of that consciousness of the whole, “the joy of dissolution”, which is death. Second, what is shameful in life is, perhaps, seen as shameful precisely because it directs our attention beyond the normal towards the secrets veiled by the expected. Shame, then, conceals our access to truth and also points out those areas where a passage to the truth is possible for the brave. Finally, as with the bow, the very nature of life is to serve death and death to serve life. The two are not, then, two distinct realms or states but rather like unto the way up and the way down which are one way.
IV. War, Change and Strife
“Now let it first be understood that I am a god of War and of Vengeance.” (Liber Al vel Legis 3:3)
“I am unique & conqueror. I am not of the slaves that perish.” (Liber Al vel Legis 2:49)
“War is the father and king of all. He makes some gods, others men; he makes some slaves, others free.” (Fragment 53)
The Aeon of Horus is the age of the crowned and conquering child, free and thoughtless in his play. “Life is a child playing, moving pieces in a game; kingly power is in the hands of a child.” (Fragment 52). Play, however, is primarily amusing because it is not serious. When, however, we take the changes through which the world goes seriously we discover that play can be terrifying, the awful spectacle and destruction of Ares god of war. Endless change can be as much like a terrible fire as like the flow of a river. The Heraclitean dictum, then, that “All is flux” is as double-edged as the path up and down. This also the case with the terrible freedom offered by Horus.
The Aeon of Osiris was the age of order during which all change was rejected. The center of Greek philosophy following Heraclitus was focused on a rejection of the illusion of change. Only the timeless, the eternal, the unchanging was seen as real and worthy of concern. Similarly, within Christianity, it is an eternal unchanging being, and the infinite state found in Heaven, which is the focus of the poor changing creatures on earth. The rejection of Osiris, then, can often come in the form of an embrace of change over stable Being. For this reason Nietzsche, in rejection Plato and Christ both, believed that he followed Heraclitus when he rejected any stable Being as an illusion and expressed the belief that all existence was a changing flow of creation, growth and force. For Nietzsche, then, insofar as the nature of life is change any rejection of change is an embrace of death. Heraclitus presents a similar idea when he suggests that “Even the barley-drink separates if it is not stirred.” (Fragment 125). Whether we are modeling our view of reality on the river, or beer, we see that there is something inherently unhealthy about stagnation and stability. Indeed, “Every animal is driven to pasture with a blow.” (Fragment 11). It is from this perspective that “One must realize that war is common, and justice strife, and that all things come to be through strife and are so ordained.” (Fragment 80). Concerning this I have had a personal mystical experience of which I would like to briefly speak.
Several years ago, during a particularly strife filled period in my life, I experienced an ecstatic mystical state while watching the sunrise from a deserted beach. The entire sky was ablaze as if on fire and then, from out of the fire, echoed the phrase “Ompehda Balatah!” Within The Book of the Law, during a particularly violent passage, Horus exclaims “Bahlasti! Ompehda!” and there have been few adequate discussions of what these curses are meant to signify. During my experience, with neither The Book of the Law nor Heraclitus in mind, I immediately felt that the phrase meant “strife is justice” and that this “was a love song”. It was later, as I attempted a more scholarly translation, that I discovered that the word Balatah is the pronunciation of the word for justice, Balt, in the angelic Enochian language. Ompehda, however, yielded less direct results. What one can note, however, is that the word is made of three elements. Om-peh-da. Om is the Hindu word representing the move from being in the world towards a centering into silence. It is the transition from manifestation to nirvana and is meant to capture the basic vibration of the universe. Peh is one of the Hebrew letters, representing the mouth and corresponding to Ares, War and the Tower card in the Tarot. Amongst several possible meanings, the explosive Da is clearly a reversal of the centering contracting Om. In this word, then, is captured the movement of calming centering contraction and explosive expansion revolving around the essence of War or the Lightening Struck Tower. War and Strife, then, are Justice and the basic movement of the universe.
“To god all things are fair and just, whereas humans have supposed that some thing are unjust, other things just.” (Fragment 102). It is at this point perhaps appropriate to say something about the nature of the Master of the Temple and Magus from Crowley’s perspective. The Master of the Temple and the Magus are two of the highest three ranks achievable by initiates. Both ranks are found “beyond the abyss” meaning, to be brief, that they represent a transcendence of those levels of reality constituted by dualisms such as right/wrong, true/false, and yes/no. These are the individuals who have most arrived at Nuit’s decree, “Bind nothing! Let there be no difference made among you between any one thing & any other thing; for thereby there cometh hurt.” (Liber Al vel Legis 1:22). From our reading of Heraclitus it becomes possible to suggest that this state is approximated by the achievement of non-expectation which is itself a form of “pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result” (Liber Al vel Legis 1:44). From this vantage place all things are fair and just. This state, we might also suggest, contains within it the consciousness of Nuit in which it becomes clear that “In the circle beginning and end are common.” (Fragment 103). It is also from here that we can embrace that “The Thunderbolt steers all.” (Fragment 64) while being reminded of Crowley’s own Dionysian description of the essence of magical force “0. Gnarled Oak of God! In thy branches is the lightning nested! Above thee hangs the Eyeless Hawk. 1. Thou art blasted and black! Supremely solitary in the heath of scrub. 2. Up! The ruby clouds hang over thee! It is the storm. There is the flaming gash in the sky.” (Liber A’Ash).
V. The Logos and the Will
“…all things happen in accordance with Logos…” (Fragment 1)
Heraclitus is perhaps most discussed for his doctrine that reality is structured according to the Logos. It is, however, far from clear what this could mean especially considering his teaching of universal flux and constitutive strife. The word “logos” in Ancient Greek can mean many things. Its most basic translation is “word”, as it is used by Crowley to mean the ordering word that starts and structures a new Aeon. Thelema, then, is the Logos of the Aeon of Horus. We might suggest that the Logos of Heraclitus is Strife, or Eris in Ancient Greek. But Logos can also mean “reason” or “account”. Now it seems clear enough that reality, for Heraclitus, is both in a state of constant flux but also in a state of hidden harmony. All may be change, but it is the change of an unstructured improvisational musical piece in which harmony naturally arises. Strife, then, is harmony insofar as strife is just as much an interplay and inter-constitution of relational entities. From a universal perspective dance and battle are one.
There is, however, more we can say about the concept of Logos and the related concept of the True Will. In fragment 119 Heraclitus states that, “A person’s Character is their Fate.” I would like to offer a straightforward and then a mystical interpretation of this fragment. Often this fragment has been read along fairly standard ethical lines. The way in which a person’s habits shape their character determines what will occur to them in life and how they will be able to respond to circumstance. However, the word for “character” here is ethos, from which we do get ethics but also from which we get the concept of an ethos understood as a cultural context. If we extend the concept of context we find the idea that a person’s place within the world is their fate, i.e. our characteristics arise as expressions of the totality of existence and determine our destiny. This is, indeed, Crowley’s concept of the True Will. But there is more to say here. The mystical interpretation revolves around the world for “fate” in this fragment. The word Heraclitus uses is daimon, from which we get our word “demon”, but which meant in Ancient Greece the ruling divinity which directs and guides our lives. In other words, what would become the Higher True Self or Holy Guardian Angel in Crowley’s work. What, then, this fragment can be seen to assert is that a person’s character, or perhaps place in the world, is one with that higher divine self which directs our actions. To become clear about one’s True Will is, similarly, to get in touch with one’s Higher Self, Daimon, or Holy Guardian Angel.
The final fragment we might want to look at extends this suggestion to relate it to the Logos in general. In Fragment 115 Heraclitus asserts that “The soul possesses a Logos which increases itself.” If all things happen according to a universal Logos but, according to the rule of flux, this Logos represents strife and change as well as the harmony arising from these then one would expect this Logos of the Soul to relate to the world Logos. The Logos within us that increases itself, then, is the interplay between what we are and the rest of the dance that is existence. It would not be too far a stretch to suggest that this Logos might as well be called our Daimon, our Fate, or our Will. We then have a Will that increases itself in the harmonic strife-play of existence in which is expressed the Will, or Logos, of Reality.