The occult revival that occurred during the latter half of the Nineteenth Century has been responsible for the direction that the modern study of the Hermetic arts has taken for the past 150 years. This revival, fuelled by a conflation of a wave of discoveries in the sciences, a boom in interest in Egyptian antiquities and the popular publication of many of the traditional books of ceremonial magick of the preceding centuries, like the Goetia and The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, sought to reconcile ancient spiritual beliefs with the newly emerging sciences. In this environment, occult groups sprang up across the Western world like mushrooms and perhaps the most influential of these was the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
It was in this quasi-Masonic organization that the seeds of modern occultism were planted in the most fertile soil, where the works of modern occult philosophers like Eliphas Levi and SL MacGregor Mathers would be developed to their fullest potential. The need to extend the practices of this Hermetic school of occultism created the motivation that drove some of the most notable occultists of the era to seek for the ultimate sources of the hidden wisdom and to develop the practice of Hermetic magick into an all encompassing discipline designed to create the spiritual masters of the new Aquarian Age that was just dawning.
Arguably the most talented of this exceptional assembly of occultists that included luminaries of the likes of AE Waite, YB Yeats and Allan Bennett was Aleister Crowley. Self styled as the Great Beast, Crowley absorbed the zeitgeist of the Golden Dawn and patterned his thinking on its occult teachings. In spite of the relatively short time that Crowley spent as an official member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a short two years, the influence of its teachings on his magical practices, poetical works and his own spiritual teachings endured throughout his life. When the original Golden Dawn split up in 1900, Crowley made his first attempt to establish his own magical order based upon the methods that he had learned in the order. This effort would ultimately lead to his reception of The Book of the Law in Cairo in 1904 and later to the establishment of AΔAΔ.
During his world travels Crowley had made an eclectic study of the religions as well as the spiritual beliefs and practices wherever he went. From this hard won foundation he synthesized many practices which were new to Europe at the beginning of the Twentieth Century like yoga, Tantra and transcendental meditation with the very traditional Hermetic practices of ceremonial magick that he had learned in the Golden Dawn. The result was a body of work that evolved the concept of Western occultism from a collection of archaic grimiors and simplistic folk magick into an effective system of spiritual development.
While books like Liber O vel Manus et Sagittae and Liber E vel Exercitiorum outline a very comprehensive set of physical, intellectual and spiritual practices for building self awareness, the most dynamic aspect of his system of magick are the unique and carefully crafted ceremonies that he composed. At the core of these practical magical operations is the Pyramidos Ceremony, a fundamental magical operation which forms the pattern that Crowley based many more of the AΔAΔ’s magical practices on. The opening of the Pyramidos appears throughout his other ceremonies as a standard method for preparing the temple for magical ceremonies while various portions of the body of this rite of initiation, like the Exordium, recur throughout his voluminous works.
Crowley composed the Pyramidos Ritual in 1906 during the period in his life when he worked with his Golden Dawn colleague George Cecil Jones in rewriting their old order’s teachings into a new system of spiritual attainment. His new magical order, the AΔAΔ, combined the best of the practices and methods that Crowley had accumulated on his travels within the structural framework that he had inherited from the Golden Dawn. The original ceremony, called Liber Throa, meaning the Book of the Gates, was a significant step in Crowley’s personal magical progress and the ceremony that he derived from it became a central part of the elementary instructions of AΔAΔ.
From his remarks about Liber 671, most notably those in Magick in Theory and Practice, it is apparent that Crowley always intended for this to be the ceremony of first initiation that was to be used by all Probationers to mark their entry into the order proper as Neophytes in the Order of the Golden Dawn that forms the outer order of AΔAΔ. Because of this, deciphering Liber 671 is an obstacle which every novice that follows Crowley’s system of ceremonial magick must overcome. Even so, the details of this important ceremony are hardly discussed in his writings and the full ceremony never appeared anywhere in print. Even Crowley’s own intimates only ever received a rough outline of the operation, leaving them to flesh out the details for themselves before they could perform the ceremony of first initiation.
The Pyramidos Ritual has a rarely matched depth of symbolism which continues to give it relevance well beyond the elementary levels of magical attainment. It synthesizes all of the most potent aspects of the Golden Dawn neophyte Ceremony with Crowley’s natural talent for magick in such a way that it has created something that is more than either of those elements separately. As such it is a real evolution of the Golden Dawn use of the Neophyte symbolism into a dynamic conceptual performance that can take years to fully master. This means that it is vital that the study of this important magical ceremony should begin as early as is practicable in the development of the skills of Hermetic magick. It could be said that just the study that is required to understand the nature of the ceremony, and developing the practical skills that are necessary to successfully perform it, are an initiation into the magick arts in their own right.
To understand the meaning of the symbolism employed in the Pyramidos Ritual it is necessary to know its provenance. As is the case with much of Crowley’s magical writings, there is an implicit assumption that the Probationer that is preparing to perform the Pyramidos Ritual will be familiar with his voluminous writings. Crowley published the details of all of the concepts pertaining to the temple arrangement of the Golden Dawn, with which the magician must be acquainted in order to grasp the implicit meaning in the various movements with enough clarity for them to be efficacious, in his encyclopedic publication The Equinox. In order to grasp the symbolism of the stations that established during the operation of the Pyramidos Ritual, it is vital to have first read these detailed instructions and to have gained the thorough working knowledge of the Neophyte Ceremony, and the symbolism of the temple arrangement that is required for its performance. The Neophyte Ceremony and its temple arrangement are expansively detailed in the Golden Dawn ‘Z’ Documents, embedded in the serialized biography of the Beast, The Temple of Solomon the King (The Equinox, Volume 1, numbers 1-10), and studying these in conjunction with Liber 671 provides real insight into the motivation behind the successive portions of the Pyramidos Ceremony.
Another important point to consider in any complete examination of Liber 671 is the circumstances that led to its composition. Crowley had held an ambition to establish his own magical order from at least 1900, at which time he says Mathers instructed him to set up a splinter group of the Golden Dawn. The result was the somewhat abortive Order of the Lamp of the Invisible Light that he established in Mexico with Don Jesus Medina which was a conflation of the Golden Dawn outer order material, the Enochian system of John Dee and a liberal sprinkling of Eliphas Levi’s transcendental magical methods. Although it failed to gain much traction (there are still several groups attempting to revive the structure and methods of this experiment), the result of these early efforts are apparent throughout the AΔAΔ curriculum, most especially in the construction of the Pyramidos Ceremony.
A great deal of the understanding of this ceremony needed to grasp it as a whole rather than as a mere accumulation of parts comes through performing it. The complexity of the ceremony means that in order to be able to perform the operation with adequate competence for it to be efficacious there will naturally be a period of study, practice and rehearsal. Like performing the ceremony itself, this kind of repetition accumulates its influence and often enlightens the Neophyte to the hidden meanings and intentions in the stations and orisons as an adjunct to the more traditional methods he employs to study it. Ultimately the rule of thumb with the Pyramidos Ceremony, as it is with learning any type of magick, is solvitur ambulando.
To be able to perform this complex yet fundamental ceremony, the novice must have acquired, at least in part, many of the basic skills of ceremonial magick. Key among these is visualization, without which the ceremony is merely an empty performance. It is also necessary to assemble some of the basic tools of magick in order to perform the ceremony and these must have passed through at least a very simplistic consecration ceremony before they are ready for the Pyramidos operation. The gods that are employed as symbols throughout the ceremony need to be studied, and their spiritual significance grasped by the novice, in order for the various stations and the movements within the temple to have their complete impact. Similarly, the novice must have at least a basic understanding of Qabalah and Tarot to understand the words and signs employed throughout the performance of the ceremony.
He shall everywhere proclaim openly his connection with the AΔAΔ and speak of It and Its principles (even so little as he understandeth) for that mystery is the enemy of truth.1
Liber 671 is among the most obscure of Crowley’s magical writings and, because of the cryptic nature of the text of Liber 671 its importance to the Neophyte is often misunderstood. In the abbreviated form that Crowley presented the Pyramidos Ritual, the value of many of its portions outside of the performance of the initiation ceremony is not immediately clear, and the inexperienced novice at magick is not likely to find them without direction. Similarly, the average Probationer is not likely to have sufficient exposure to the literature of magick to be able to immediately recognize the sources, and so the original intentions of this complex ceremony are not very explicitly apparent to a novice at occultism. With so many people now taking up the AΔAΔ system of magick in isolation this sort of examination of the Pyramidos Ceremony is long overdue. It is hoped that this book will remedy that situation and provide a useful starting point for the understanding of this fundamental part of Crowley’s system of self initiatory magick.
1. Crowley, Aleister, Liber Collegii Sanct sub figura CLXXXV