The Serpentine Cross

Steve Dee crosses himself and plunges into the gnostic depths…

Leviathan Cross Alchemy Sulfur Satanism Satan Symbol" Art Board Print by  h44k0n | Redbubble

Reflection I

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.

Reflection II

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? 

Band Logos - Brand Upon The Brain: Psychic TV: Logo #314
The Serpent Cross - Symbol of the Day #26 - YouTube
Cross Of Lorraine Icons - Download Free Vector Icons | Noun Project

Psychick Cross, Serpent/Gnostic Tau Cross and the Cross of Lorraine

Reflection III

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!

Reflection IV

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.

Reflection V

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.

Steve Dee


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.

Working in Dark Light: Magic on the Via Negativa

I have recently been going down a spiritual rabbit-hole regarding how we as magicians might use contemplative practice. Having spent a lot of years exploring the use of meditative states within yogic and Buddhist traditions, I have also (via that mighty Trappist Thomas Merton) started looking at the way in which deeper internal states were being articulated within Abrahamic mystical traditions. Via his exploration of St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Merton dives headlong into the mystical depths of spiritual practice.

Nightside Cistercian

The early stages of most spiritual journeys are often filled positive, affirmative statements aimed at locating meaning and exerting control. Those walking the paths of more orthodox religious expression might speak of Cataphatic theologies or the Via Positiva in which we aspire to affirm the promises of faith and the joys of our newfound purpose. I’m pretty sure we magical heretics also have our own version of this. While we may be sceptical about the big promises of father/mother gods, we may well experience the rebellious sugar high of our newfound antinomianism. Having gained our hard-won freedom from the conditioning of family and culture, we often get busy with the project on greater understanding, greater control and endless amounts of information. This of course very cool, knowledge is power and knowledge of the previously forbidden can be truly liberating! But is it enough? Is it enough to sustain the long haul of becoming through initiation and countless cycles of alchemical refinement? 

Many of us are drawn to magical or Pagan spiritual traditions because they offer a more balanced and integrated way of engaging with the dance between darkness and light. Whether via those deities that express the destructive aspects of life or the wheel of the year itself, we are forced to articulate and explore the aspects of life that many of us (if given the choice) would choose to ignore. While part of us might shy away from the challenge of such work, the deeper parts of our soul seems to recognize the need to engage with the dynamic tension present within life. The balancing of darkness and light is key to the alchemical work we are engaged in. I really like the quote below and the mention of the emerald vision brings to mind our own internal work with the darker aspects of reality: 

“The passing from the ‘black light’ from the ‘luminous night’, to the brilliance of the emerald vision will be a sign…of the completed growth of the subtle organism, the ‘resurrection body’ hidden in the physical body.” 
Henry Corbin
The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism 

So often it is our encounter with the world and the other that challenge any simplistic notion of control. For the freshly minted magician it’s an easy mistake to make, as much as we might place a high value on spiritual autonomy, it is not the same as an imagined utopia of hermetically sealed isolation. Yes our personal Great Work often leads to an increased sense of our separateness as part of our refined sense of self-awareness, but we still remain within the world with all the connections and context that this entails.  The complex mess of our world means that we eventually have to confront the dryness of our meditation, our emptied rituals and our unanswered prayers.

The way of the Via Negativa is one in which our words run dry and the work becomes truly gritty. We may to struggle to describe our work and it may feel easier to say what it is not. We are those who die before death so that we can fully become what the mundane world can’t handle.

Vastness Without, Vastness Within

The early visibility of the path dims and we feel that are operating as much by touch and instinct as we are with planned intentions. This may be the place where silence becomes our friend/enemy we may need to find those contemplative tools that allow us to sail its seas. Mystery may become our watchword as we feel the gravitational pull forwards into goodness knows what!

We may sense vast spaciousness within the self; the orthodox may describe this as ‘not self’ but we are the magicians who are often called to cross desert places in search of wisdom. This realm of dark light is where the unconscious bleeds in and our art and ecstasy often reveal more about who we really are than our well-devised narratives. In the desert our uncertainty can be treasured and when treasured these ‘WTF?’ moments become the fuel for our unfolding. 

In the desert the light pollution of our self-story gets turned down and in this silence we look upwards. It’s unsurprising that magicians spend so much time staring up at the stars. This is the realm in which we encounter distant sparks in a vast darkness. In looking we are filled with the dread and awe that reflect our internal world and the journey we must take.

Steve Dee