The Nature of the A.’.A.’.

The A.’.A.’., as conceived by Aleister Crowley, is an anomaly amongst magical orders. It is not a lodge system; the order is formed solely on the basis of the teacher and student relationship. This has rendered the idea of a governing body impossible, and any claims to membership or genuine lineage questionable. Since Crowley’s death, there is only one source of bona fide A.’.A.’. teaching: Crowley’s writing.

Although it is possible to acquire the syllabus of A.’.A.’. material and work alone, many would argue this doesn’t constitute membership, writing off the A.’.A.’. as an over-ambitious attempt at a new kind of order, which is now nothing more than a curious footnote in twentieth century occult history.

However, this is to assume that the A.’.A.’. is supposed to be a magical order in the usual sense.

In One Star in Sight, Crowley outlined the A.’.A.’. thus:

The order consists of eleven grades or degrees, and is numbered as follows: these compose three groups, the Orders of the S. S., of the R. C., and of the G. D. respectively.

The Order of the S. S.

Ipsissimus ……………… 10 Degree = 1Square
Magus ………………….. 9 Degree = 2Square
Magister Templi …………. 8 Degree = 3Square

The Order of the R. C.

(Babe of the Abyss — the link)

Adeptus Exemptus ………… 7 Degree = 4Square
Adeptus Major …………… 6 Degree = 5Square
Adeptus Minor …………… 5 Degree = 6Square

The Order of the G. D.

(Dominus Liminis — the link)

Philosophus …………….. 4 Degree = 7Square
Practicus ………………. 3 Degree = 8Square
Zelator ………………… 2 Degree = 9Square
Neophyte ……………….. 1 Degree = 10Square
Probationer …………….. 0 Degree = 0Square

However, in An Account of A.’.A.’., Crowley identifies the A.’.A.’. solely with The Order of S.S., or the final three grades given in the above schema. Indeed, although what A.’.A.’. actually stands for is still a matter of debate, there are two widely accepted full titles for the order: the Argenteum Astrum (Latin, meaning ‘Silver Star’) and the Astron Argon (Greek for ‘Shining Star’).

Crowley had this to say about the S.S.:

It is necessary, my dear brothers, to give you a clear idea of the interior Order; of that illuminated community which is scattered throughout the world, but which is governed by one truth and united in one spirit.

This community possesses a School, in which all who thirst for knowledge are instructed by the Spirit of Wisdom itself; and all the mysteries of nature are preserved in this school for the children of light. Perfect knowledge of nature and of humanity is taught in this school. It is from her that all truths penetrate into the world; she is the school of all who search for wisdom, and it is in this community alone that truth and the explanation of all mystery are to be found. It is the most hidden of communities, yet it contains members from many circles; nor is there any Centre of Thought whose activity is not due to the presence of one of ourselves. From all time there has been an exterior school based on the interior one, of which it is but the outer expression. From all time, therefore, there has been a hidden assembly, a society of the Elect, of those who sought for and had capacity for light, and this interior society was the Axle of the R.O.T.A. All that any external order possesses in symbol, ceremony, or rite is the letter expressive outwardly of that spirit of truth which dwelleth in the interior Sanctuary. Nor is the contradiction of the exterior any bar to the harmony of the interior.

And furthermore:

We must not, however, imagine that this society resembles any secret society, meeting at certain times, choosing leaders and members, united by special objects. All societies, be what they may, can but come after this interior illuminated circle. This society knows none of the formalities which belong to the outer rings, the work of man. In this kingdom of power all outward forms cease.

L.V.X. is the Power always present. The greatest man of his times, the chief himself, does not always know all the members, but the moment when it is necessary that he should accomplish any object he finds them in the world with certainty ready to his hand.

This community has no outside barriers. He who may be chosen is as the first; he presents himself among the others without presumption, and he is received by the others without jealousy.

As you can see, it’s not like any order in existence, let alone a body of people founded upon a direct lineage from Crowley. The S.S. is NOT the order that Crowley founded, but simply a term he used to describe it; the grading system, exercises, and the A.’.A.’. as a conventional order, are simply token representations (or an exterior expression) to be used as a means of joining the S.S., just like any other system of achieving ‘enlightenment’, such as Buddhism, Sufism, Gnosticism, etc.

So what of the conventional A.’.A.’. schema, with its three orders and ten grades?

Referring to the schema in One Star in Sight, Crowley says:

It should be stated that these Grades are not necessarily attained fully, and in strict consecution, or manifested wholly on all planes.

And

The outline given of the several successive steps is exact; the two crises — the Angel and the Abyss — are necessary features in every career. The other tasks are not always accomplished in the order given here; one man, for example, may acquire many of the qualities peculiar to the Adeptus Major, and yet lack some of those proper to the Practicus.

(NOTE: In the following paragraph, the use of A.’.A.’. is in the conventional sense, as given in the schema).

The natural talents of individuals differ very widely. The late Sir Richard Jebb, one of the greatest classical scholars of modern times, was so inferior to the average mediocrity in mathematics, that despite repeated efforts he could not pass the "little go" at Cambridge — which the dullest minds can usually do. He was so deeply esteemed for his classics that a special "Grace" was placated so as to admit him to matriculation. Similarly a brilliant Exorcist might be an incompetent Diviner. In such a case the A.'. A.'. would refuse to swerve from Its system; the Aspirant would be compelled to remain at the Barrier until he succeeded in breaking it down, though a new incarnation were necessary to permit him to do so. But no technical failure of any kind soever could necessarily prevent him from accomplishing the Two Critical Tasks, since the fact of his incarnation itself proves that he has taken the Oath which entitled him to attain to the Knowledge and Conversation of his Holy Guardian Angel, and the annihilation of his Ego. One might therefore be an Adeptus Minor or even a Magister Templi, in essence, though refused official recognition by the A.'. A.'. as a Zelator owing to (say) a nervous defect which prevented him from acquiring a Posture which was "steady and easy" as required by the Task of that grade.

It is evident then that membership to the S.S. rests solely on the magician accomplishing two tasks: gaining the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, and Crossing the Abyss.

Once joining the S.S.:

Members of the Order are each entitled to found Orders dependent on themselves on the lines of the R. C. and G. D. orders, to cover types of emancipation and illumination not contemplat
ed by the original (or main) system. All such orders must, however, be constituted in harmony with the A.'. A.'. as regards the essential principles.

Crowley developed the A.’.A.’. with George Cecil Jones, once he had achieved the grade of Magister Templi and joined the S.S. (or A.’.A.’. proper). The above quote can be seen as Crowley stating his authority to found an order, based on the two tasks of the magician (which already existed prior to Crowley’s A.’.A.’. schema – see The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage for a 15th Century example of the first task).

In other words, the grading system, the tasks of the grades, the various techniques and exercises, the terms, names and symbolism used, are what Crowley thought would be useful to the aspirant to S.S. as a means of achieving the two tasks. This is further made explicit by Crowley when he states:

Any neophyte of the Order (or, as some say, any person soever) possesses the right to claim the Grade of Master of the Temple by taking the Oath of the Grade.

Although it is possible to accomplish the two tasks using Crowley’s teaching, membership of the S.S. is not dependent or exclusive to Crowley’s writings or any genuine lineage.

Any discussions regarding genuine lineage of the A.’.A.’., or whether you can be considered a member by just working from the written material on your own, or the correct interpretation of Crowley’s teachings, has nothing to do with the S.S. (or A.’.A.’. proper).

A Summary

1). The A.’.A.’. proper is the Order of S.S. in Crowley’s self-devised order;

2). Membership to the S.S. requires the completion of two tasks: contact with the Holy Guardian Angel and the Crossing of the Abyss;

3). All other tasks, exercises, writings, symbolisms and teachings were provided by Crowley as material useful for, but not necessary to, completing the two tasks.

The Two Tasks

It is imperative to understand that the two tasks are in fact part of one process; they are not simply a question of employing a specific method and obtaining the necessary result. Crowley describes the process, in the terms of his order, when discussing the use of his preparatory exercises in One Star in Sight:

He will thus prepare himself properly for the crisis of his career in the Order, the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of his Holy Guardian Angel.

His Angel shall lead him anon to the summit of the Order of the R. C. and make him ready to face the unspeakable terror of the Abyss which lies between Manhood and Godhead; teach him to Know that agony, to Dare that destiny, to Will that catastrophe, and to keep Silence for ever as he accomplishes the act of annihilation.

From the Abyss comes No Man forth, but a Star startles the Earth, and our Order rejoices above that Abyss that the Beast hath begotten one more Babe in the Womb of Our Lady, His concubine, the Scarlet Woman, BABALON.

There is not need to instruct a Babe thus born, for in the Abyss it was purified of every poison of personality; its ascent to the highest is assured, in its season, and it hath no need of seasons for it is conscious that all conditions are no more than forms of its fancy.

The moment the magician achieves the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel is the moment a process is set in motion that will eventually end with the magician joining the ranks of the S.S. (it must be remembered that the magician need not know it in such terms – we are here using Crowley’s arbitrary symbolism).

The angel will lead the magician to the abyss whether he wants to go or not; of course, the magician can refuse to make the crossing once faced with the task. However, it is here he or she shall remain, forever staring the loss of self in the face, for there is no way to reverse the process.

The A.’.A.’. as a Developmental Model

Crowley’s schema is therefore not just a representation of a body of work that must be completed in order to advance within an order; this is in fact secondary. The A.’.A.’. functions as a developmental map or a model that can be used to chart your progress as you undergo a process set in motion by achieving the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.

The A.’.A.’. schema can be considered as follows:

The Order of the S. S.

Ipsissimus ……………… 10 Degree = 1Square
Magus ………………….. 9 Degree = 2Square
Magister Templi …………. 8 Degree = 3Square           Completion of Task 2

The Order of the R. C.

(Babe of the Abyss — the link)                                Beginning of Task 2

Adeptus Exemptus ………… 7 Degree = 4Square
Adeptus Major …………… 6 Degree = 5Square
Adeptus Minor …………… 5 Degree = 6Square           Task 1

The Order of the G. D.

(Dominus Liminis — the link)

Philosophus …………….. 4 Degree = 7Square           Preparatory, but
Practicus ………………. 3 Degree = 8Square              not essential
Zelator ………………… 2 Degree = 9Square
Neophyte ……………….. 1 Degree = 10Square
Probationer …………….. 0 Degree = 0Square

The grades within the Order G.D. and R.C. also serve another function in terms of magical development. Once task two is completed, and the magician has joined the S.S., we are told:

Every active Member of the Order has destroyed all that He is and all that he has on crossing the Abyss; but a star is cast forth in the Heavens to enlighten the Earth, so that he may possess a vehicle wherein he may communicate with mankind. The quality and position of this star, and its functions, are determined by the nature of the incarnations transcended by him.

This is a heavily symbolic way of saying that the magician is now free to function unencumbered by the ego. If we consider the fact the Tree of Life (on which the A.’.A.’. schema is based) is a complete map of the universe, to which all phenomena can be attributed, then the magician can be ascribed to a sphere or number on the tree that best reflects his or her nature. For instance, once Crowley had completed task 2, he ‘was cast forth into the Sphere of Jupiter’; in other words, sphere 4 is the idea on the tree that best describes Aleister Crowley as a person. Similarly, a pupil of Crowley’s was cast into the Sphere of the Elements, or idea number 10, because this best described him as a person.

Once you’ve crossed the abyss, no idea below the abyss is deemed superior to any other; in other words, all spheres are equal when it comes to being ‘cast out’. The lower grades are only a hierarchy if you are working through Crowley’s exercises. 

It should be noted that the tasks of the grades above the abyss, much like the two tasks below the abyss, are descriptive of the magical process and should therefore n
ot be considered tasks in the usual sense of the word. For a description of these tasks, and what you can therefore expect once the abyss has been crossed, see One Star in Sight.

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