Steve Dee crosses himself and plunges into the gnostic depths…
I was first struck by the Serpentine Cross when anxiously reading the Satanic Bible for the first time. While already familiar with other magical and Left-Hand Path traditions, I felt that in cracking open the cheap edition of LaVey’s work I was breaking some new taboo. The Christian software installed during my time as a believer struggled with its raw use of satanic language and imagery.
LaVey in his trickster role laughs in response to his use of this symbol. For him it was an alchemical symbol for sulphur but from the moment he deployed it as the header of the nine satanic statements it became synonymous with the wider sinister path. LaVey offers a wry smile at our all too human projection of meaning onto symbols. His use of symbol is masterful as the evocative whiff of hell-fire is left to permeate the consciousness of the reader.
I have a longstanding interest in weird crosses. The Gnostic use of the serpent climbing the Tau cross, the Cross of Lorraine with its two parallel cross-bars and the Psychick cross of thee Temple of Psychick Youth all hold a strange allure. They connect to the idea of heresy (Lit. “To choose”) and a form of spiritual freethinking that draws me in. This heretical bread crumb trail can be one of half-truths and misdirection. Part of my own attraction to the sulphur symbol was a mistaken association with the Cathars.
While I might reject orthodox notions of soteriology and the child-like obeisance of my past faith, these symbols still act as Gnostic door-ways and the myth of the dying god still poses powerful questions.
What risks are we willing to take in speaking our truth to a hostile world? Would I become a martyr to my own truth?
What happens in our body when our perception of God collapses and we have to confront cosmic silence?
What does it mean to forgive? How do I allow the space for both others and myself to change?
Psychick Cross, Serpent/Gnostic Tau Cross and the Cross of Lorraine
In my reading, the innovation of much “traditional” witchcraft involves the reintroduction of Abrahamic material to our reimagined paganisms. Dissatisfied with being flooded with the blunt pantheism of much Neo-Pagan theology, the dynamic tension between the transcendent and immanent seems more acute when traditions are allowed to generate a creative frisson.
This the realm of the Meso-Pagans who spans the domain between paganism past and its romantic rebirth. This form of Witchcraft seems more like a mood or a felt-sense rather than water tight systematics. We feel it in our gut and in our body as much as we understand it with our head. Hail the Messy Pagan!
When we walk the path of the Witch, we dance between tensions and apparent opposites. Light and darkness and the turning of the year are familiar within the canon of Neo-Pagan Wicca, but my hunch is that the true power of the Craft lies in the way in both induces and manages apparent conflict at an interior as well as external level.
To be accused on Witchcraft was to be faced with threat and an allegation of working malign magic. Our postmodern reimagining of the Witch as the beloved wise woman/cunning man fails to capture the perilous implications for those who were connected to the functions of the Witch. Even those who embraced the role of magical practitioner within their community were potentially vulnerable if their craft was deemed as ineffective or the cause of disaster. We know that in all likelihood the vast majority of those accused of witchcraft were unconnected to magical practice, but that is not to imply that the concept of the witch didn’t contain real power.
If the perceived harmony of the natural world is reliant on the sovereign rule of the godhead, then the pursuit of personal agency and a transformation of circumstance could be seen (ironically by those in control) as malign power and therefore as innately demonic.
The symbol for sulphur in its hot, dry male polarity is the counter balance to the feminine fluidity of Mercury. When the Red King and White Queen meet and balance each other the alchemical goal of integration is furthered.
My own subjective response to working with the serpentine cross is innately linked to the magical pursuit of daemonic integration. Connected to my longstanding interest in the 4th Way teachings, my reading of this glyph is to see it as the uniting of body, heart and mind. The way of the body (the fakir), the heart (the monk) and the mind (the yogi) are brought together so that the skilful practitioner/ “sly man” can awaken in the context of their everyday life.
The infinity-serpent at the base of the cross is our visceral body, the first cross-bar our horizontal connections to community and the top bar is our mind and cognition. These three working in concert together allows us to tune in to the voice of our deepest self and in listening, the pursuit of our unique Great Work becomes possible. To discover and walk this path is the true work of heresy.
There are few places left for Julian’s final Treadwell’s Books workshop of this year. A two hour immersive, participatory ritual for The Sun At Midnight. Hope you can join us in the magic circle for that one.
Meanwhile, Julian will also be presenting on the theme of his ban this year from speaking at the University of Oxford. More details of the story can be found here and here. To book for Julian’s lecture on this issue on 22nd of December follow this link. You can purchase your own copy of the incendiary Banned Lecture of Getting Higher here.