Learning the structure of the Tree of Life can seem daunting when someone first starts looking at Occult material of the Western Esoteric Tradition. I know from my personal experience, it was straight off-putting for several years, so when I finally came around to love it and understand it (well, much better an understanding than before), I’ve wanted to help make it slightly more accessible and make learning things about it interesting. I’m hoping this content facilitates that.
Let’s simply begin with the following poem, its imagery should be most apparent, if it isn’t we’ll break it down below as to make better understanding of what it is saying.
- Sulphur, Salt, and Mercury :
- Which is master of the three ?
- Salt is Lady of the Sea ;
- Lord of Air is Mercury.
- Now by God’s grace here is salt
- Fixed beneath the violet vault.
- Now by God’s love purge it through
- With our right Hermetic dew.
- Now by God wherein we trust
- Be our sophic salt combust.
- Then at last the Eye shall see
- Three in One and One in Three,
- Sulphur, Salt and Mercury,
- Crowned by Heavenly Alchemy !
- To the One who sent the Seven
- Glory in the Highest Heaven !
- To the Seven who are the Ten
- Glory on the Earth, Amen!
– Poem by Aleister Crowley
(The numbers had been added by me to make it easier to clarify why the information I’ve provided below appears).
1. Sulphur, Salt, and Mercury here represent the Soul, Body, and Spirit.
2. This question is rhetorical, there is no master of the three, as in there’s no competition between the three, rather, we are master over them as One. Sulphur is the Soul and the Tarot attribute for it is the Fool card, which connects Kether (the Crown) to Chokmah (Wisdom, the Father). The Magus card is upon the path of Kether to Binah and is Mercury, which is Androgynous Spirit. Binah is the Mother, but the Life-Giving Mother is the path connecting Binah to Chokmah, which is the Empress path which is the Alchemical Salt. Salt is “Being”, or the crystallization of the body.
3. The Empress’ path is attributed additionally to the Hebrew letter Daleth, which means door. In the image provided of the Tree of Life (see the right side of the page), the Empress path can be seen as a lid, or as a door. An open door would be to let in the light from above, the lid is the veil known as the abyss. The abyss is a psychical barrier in the mind in which above the abyss represents non-duality (Union), and beneath the abyss is duality. Non-duality is that separation is an illusion, and that separation is the cause of suffering (Dukkha). Suffering is not being able to realize this, and is a clinging to the ego. Binah is Saturn, which is to represent ego-death. “Die Daily,” Crowley says instructing us to practice Samadhi daily.
Binah represents Nuit (the Thelemic representation of Cosmic Space, and Emptiness). The Night of PAN Crowley associates to Binah, Pan being All, and the Mystery of Pan being the Mystery of Selflessness, which is the magical grade of Ipsissimus. The Empress path has the attribute of the planet Venus which is symbolic of Love, and as the Empress acts as a blue-lid, this line is rather fitting from Crowley’s Book of the Law, as the voice of the first chapter Nuit says: “I am the blue-lidded daughter of Sunset; I am the naked brilliance of the voluptuous night-sky.” Nuit sings, “To me, to me!”.
Crowley’s invocation of the ‘higher self’ shared in this post, beautifully called for this non-dual Union,
The sacred purity of thy divine
Essence ! O Queen, O Goddess of my life,
Light unbegotten, Scintillating spark
Of the All-Self ! O holy, holy Spouse
Of my most godlike thought, come forth !
4. Lord of Air is Mercury, which is Androgynous Spirit. Of the Three, Sulfur corresponds to the elementary form of Fire, Mercury to Air and Water, Salt to Earth. [Read about the Azoth]
5. Now by God’s grace here is salt, God’s “grace”, as in maintained integrity is manifest in physical (which is salt). 6. Fixed beneath the violet vault
I take to mean the hidden spheres of the body of the tree.
7. Now by God’s love purge it through – Venus is love, and the Empress, as a symbolic door opens, and Kether flows down the tree offering its nourishment and the pure spirit to enter Malkuth. Love overcomes the duality, as Crowley put in Liber B Vel Magi, and as the opening line of his Love essay from Little Essays Toward Truth, “Now the Magus is Love, and bindeth together That and This in his Conjuration.”
8. Hermetic dew of course, dew being what forms over night, before the sun rises and it evaporates. Alchemically for the Azoth, the spiritual fiery water comes through Edem (which is “vapor” in Hebrew), and it is poured into the four elements (Malkuth, the physical).
9. Now by God wherein we trust, Crowley writes in the Book of Lies’ Stag Beetle, “In love the individuality is slain; who loves not love?”. God, Union, is trust and an absence of fear and isolation, or separation.
10. Be our sophic salt combust. Combusted salt and the word “sophic” to me implies an introduction to Sulfur again, which is the Soul, and the Fool. In William Blake’s Heaven and Hell he wrote: “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses“. In Yogacara-influenced systems, they usually retain these 8 Limbs of Yoga, such as Buddhism where there is the Eight Consciousnesses. The first five senses are brought into the Perfection of Action Wisdom, the Sixth Consciousness into the Profound Observing Wisdom, the Seventh Consciousness into the Equality (Universal Nature) Wisdom, and the Eighth Consciousness is transformed into the Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom (which is Alaya-Vijnana; emptiness, and is Non-Dual consciousness). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali interpreted by Charles Johnston states “The Soul of the Master is in essence one with the Oversoul, and therefore partaker of the Oversoul’s all-wisdom and all-power. All spiritual attainment rests on this, and is possible because the soul and the Oversoul are One.” Samadhi is Union, and a release into non-dual mind.
“Combustion is Love” it is noted in Liber Samekh.
The concept of Pure Will or True Will in Thelema being like in Daoism/Zen where there is “Wu Wei” (which means non-doing). It is not literally non-doing, but it means to do what comes effortlessly and in alignment with the Tao, or the flow of life.
I take the The Fool to mean in many ways of this emptiness as a symbol, that the exalted form of the Fool is one light-hearted, innocent and pure, whilst the lower form of the symbol could mean one who is foolish and blind to their environment and themselves, being blind to cause and effect. Mercury is the Intellect, and sophic salt combust, would mean to me non-intellectualizing, indicating the Supernal’s intuitive aspect.
11. Then at last the Eye shall see – in the Thoth Tarot, the path of Ayin is The Devil. Ayin is Hebrew for Eye. The Devil card has a goat on it, which is there representing Pan. The Book of Thoth describes the Devil Card by saying: “The formula of this card is then the complete appreciation of all existing things. He rejoices in the rugged and the barren no less than in the smooth and the fertile. All things equally exalt him. He represents the finding of ecstasy in every phenomenon, however naturally repugnant; he transcends all limitations; he is Pan; he is All.” The Devil card represents the path which connects Tipharet (the Sun) into Hod (Mercury).
In Magick Without Tears, Crowley tells of the danger of those who will cut themselves off from the Supernal, and crown themselves in Daath (Knowledge), the False Crown (which is a reinforcement of their ego). He writes that one should not restrict themselves from experience, the sin is restriction, and love is the law. He writes, “Every accretion must modify me. I want it to do so. I want to assimilate it absolutely. I want to make it a permanent feature of my Temple. I am not afraid of losing myself to it, if only because it also is modified by myself in the act of union. I am not afraid of its being the “wrong” thing, because every experience is a “play of Nuit,” and the worst that can happen is a temporary loss of balance, which is instantly adjusted, as soon as it is noticed, by recalling and putting into action the formula of contradiction.”
12. Three in One and One in Three, this is the formulation of the Supernal Triangle, which are 13. Sulphur, Salt and Mercury, which means one is non-dual, and is therefor 14. Crowned by Heavenly Alchemy ! Kether is the Crown.
15. To the One who sent the Seven the One being God, and to one who establishes their heavens (erects the pillars which hold up the Supernal Triangle), we then find 16. Glory in the Highest Heaven !
17. To the Seven who are the Ten meaning the meditator who is the full Tree of Life realized, having established equilibrium and non-duality, then there shall be 18. Glory on the Earth, Amen!
With the Seven being a reference to the seven alchemical planets which are Binah (Saturn), Geburah (Mars), Chesed (Jupiter), Tipharet (Sun), Hod (Mercury), Netzach (Venus) and Yesod (Moon). Yesod is the foundation which brings the “Spiritual Light” down, it the Light descends from Kether into Binah, through the Abyss, down the journey of the tree, finally into the well of Yesod which then brings the Light to the physical manifestation, the Earth, the Kingdom, Malkuth.
Amen, meaning forever.
As Aleister Crowley said in the Invocation:
“O abide within Me ! Every hour
I need the lofty and limpid stream
Of that White Brilliance : Leave me not alone,
O Holy Spirit ! Come to comfort me,
To draw me, and to make me manifest”