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? 

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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.

Enchant Long…

The maxim to ‘enchant long and divine short’ is one of the many bits of wisdom from the work of Pete Carroll. The suggestion is simply that if we want to create magical effects we’re generally better off casting our desires into the reasonably distant future, into situations where there are lots of variables that might be tweaked by our spells. Meanwhile divination is best done ‘short’. As with predicting the weather it can prove reasonably successful a few days ahead for a given region, but long range forecasts (especially over larger areas) are no more accurate than simple guesses. While flashes of insight can and do occur for the skilled diviner, divination tends to be primarily about allowing the querent to reflect on their own situation at the moment of the reading, and to empower them to understand their possible options in a given situation.

from a book of long enchantments

from a book of long enchantments

If we consider a Left-Hand Path style of magic the injunction to ‘enchant long and divine short’ can result in some interesting ethical effects. Let’s take the example of long-term enchantment. We know that our self changes and, whilst it’s true there is a ‘narrative centre of gravity’ (to use a term borrowed from phenomenology and hermeneutics) our needs, desires and our identities can and do change. With this in mind a long-term enchantment requires the magician to see the problem (their desire) not in terms of the (immediate) self but as part of a much bigger picture. This transforms what can initially arise as a grasping, outcomes-driven personal need, into something greater and more inclusive.

As an example; a couple of magician friends of mine, some years ago, were diagnosed with viral hepatitis. This is a blood borne infection for which, at the time they contracted the virus, there was no known cure. Obviously as magicians we wanted to address this problem; and while sometimes ‘miraculous’ healing does take place (in my experience this typically manifests itself as the patient discovering that they have been ‘misdiagnosed’ and that the illness that threatened has literally vanished), it’s best to take advice from Mr Carroll and learn to play the long game.

In this instance the work that we pursued was not limited to healing our friends but instead focused on finding a cure for hepatitis. As anti-viral technology developed it also became necessary to work on affecting the cultural and financial side of the pharmacological industry (there was, for example, one period when two firms were peddling rival drugs that actually worked best when taken in combination). The long-term result of this work is that both my friends are now thankfully clear of the hepatitis virus and all the health problems associated with that infection.

While it’s impossible to be certain that our muttering of spells, invocation of spirits or deployment of magical Clingfilm (really) helped these scientific developments (we can’t of course re-run the control experiment of this bit of medical history where we don’t do the magical work) the bottom line is my friends are now healthy and well. The bigger benefit is that tens of thousands of other people on the planet are well too, and it’s this process that lifts the ‘narrow’ desire-oriented LHP style magick into something that looks much closer to a Vajrayana path; we use our own personal desires (for specific outcomes or for illumination/enlightenment) and skilfully deploy these in order to achieve an outcome where all beings become liberated.

When you’re doing ‘results magic’ for yourself why not consider how to play the long game and if there is a way of getting not only what you want but helping many others into the bargain? The example above involving healing magic is ideal; rather than working simply for your own (or your clients) health, consider all those others who share the same problem. Conversely when doing divination, rather than trying to scry the actions of complex networks, focus your questions on what you (or the querent) can do in a given situation. Considered through the lens of a LHP  approach any divination will emphasise personal responsibility, empowerment and agency.

Perhaps this allows us to expand Pete’s dictum to: ‘Enchant long and global, divine short and personal’. In works of enchantment let go the individual desiring self, consider the bigger context of your magick and, by skilful means, get much more bang for your esoteric buck. In works of divination give up the illusion that you are without agency and discover the most empowering way to adapt to the situation in which you find yourself.