Many occult practitioners (possibly all of us) draw to a greater or lesser extent on the spiritual and Magickal systems of the past. This may be the recent past, such as the Golden dawn, or Gardnerian Witchcraft; or it may be ancient, from Greece, Egypt or the Norse times. But this raises many questions about the use of ancient deities and pantheons in Magickal practice today: can we use ancient deities helpfully? Are we entitled to use them? Are they effective? And is what we are doing connected in any way with what the ancient practitioners of that system were thinking or doing?
I have to own up to using ancient Egyptian imagery, terminology and deities. We work a variant of the Golden Dawn system of Magick, and so we use god names and godforms from Egypt: Osiris, Isis, Thoth, Horus, and so on. I’ve been doing that for decades, and it has worked for me. But I made a discovery that rocked me to the core: apparently the god Thoth wasn’t actually called Thoth – he was called something like Djehuti. And it gets worse. Osiris was called Usiriu or Yasari; or something like that. Thoth and Osiris are anglicised versions of the Greek version of the Egyptian.
Now that should not really be a problem. After all, Jesus was called Yeshua by his contemporaries, Moses was Moshe, Elijah was Eliahu, Mary was Miriam, Solomon was Shlomo and James was Yaakov. It is sometimes difficult for Christians when they learn that Isaac was actually called Yitzchak; but even then we don’t know for sure how his contemporaries pronounced the name. So having one’s own version of ancient religious names has a long history. And names changed even during the time these deities were still worshipped: at different times and places we have Odin, Othinn, Woden, Wotan, Wuothin, Wuotan and Wothenaz. The ever-popular triple goddess of the Celts, Bridget, has been known as Brigit, Brighid, Brid (pronounced ‘Breathe’), Bride, Brighde, Braid and Ffraid.
OK, I’m going to get over this – but I’m still going to say ‘Thoth’ and ‘Osiris’ in the ritual. Why?
I will admit to not being an Egyptologist. I do have a passing interest in ancient Egypt and a fair familiarity with its deities, but I am no expert; and as a Magickian I have no need to be. A Magickal Order is not a re-enactment society. I am not trying to re-create ancient Egyptian religion, but use some of its thoughts, images and concepts in my modern Magickal practice. I am less interested in what ancient Egyptians did and more interested in how their material can help my own work in the present. In fact, my use of Egyptian deities is not only not very Egyptian – it is based on what the Victorian magickians thought was Egyptian long before Egyptian was anything like as well-known as it is now.
So when I am doing a magickal evocation of Thoth, or Bridget or Odin, what is going on? There are three popular answers.
The more old-fashioned answer is that somewhere, in some dimension, lives a divine entity called Thoth (or whatever). He is male, looks like a human being, but has the head of an ibis, and dresses like an ancient Egyptian. He lives in this place, and if you are very clever you can visit him there or invite him to join you where you are. He can, if you are persuasive enough and he is in a good mood, grant you certain favours.
This is rather like saying that far, far away, there is palace in a place called Kyoto where the Emperor of Japan lives. He is a real person, although you won’t have met him. But, if you are clever enough and persistent enough, you could, theoretically, contact him and ask him for money. If he happens to be in a good mood, you could get a handout from the Chrysanthemum Throne.
The other answer is that this is all in your mind. Thoth is a projection of your unconscious desires, needs, projections and other processes. You can contact your inner Thoth, and the thing that Thoth represents for you can be used by you as a self-help tool. This a popular approach at the moment: Which Greek Goddess Are You?
You may not be surprised to hear that I favour a third approach: it’s not either the one nor the other: it’s both. Thoth is an objective being, who is not me, who has certain characteristics and who inhabits a certain dimension. He can be contacted and visited, or invited to join us here. He can confer certain benefits on us in the process, but there are certain dangers and difficulties involved in this. At the same time Thoth is a projection of my own needs, memories, assumptions, prejudices, etc. Thoth is outside of me, and at the same time Thoth is inside me. Eliphaz Levi famously gave us the very useful concept: as above, so below; and as inside, so outside. To explain this more I need to step back a bit and go back to basics.
There is an energy, a power, a force, whatever you will, which was identified by magickians in a particular time and social and cultural context. Human beings cannot, on the whole, grasp this raw energy, much less communicate with it. So in order to do so, this energy has to be clothed in characteristics, physical appearance and personal qualities that made sense to people of the time and allowed them to have an interaction with it. This became known as Thoth (or Djehuti). In the days when religion was more fluid, Thoth was identified with Hermes and Mercury, and perhaps even Odin.
When I invoke Thoth or the other deities, I am tapping into the power of an archetype which is composed both of a subjective external intelligent energy and also the many characteristics that have been projected onto it for centuries. I don’t do this because I have studied ancient Egypt and come to believe in Egyptian religion. I do this because, as a part of the magickal system into which I was initiated, Thoth, Osiris and Isis play a significant and meaningful part.
Another part of our system is derived from Kabbalah and works with Archangels. Is there really an Archangel Michael, who rules the element of Fire, lives in a temple deep within a volcano and dresses in red and orange robes? Well, probably not. But there is a powerful energy in a dimension which I cannot imagine, with whom I can communicate, if I dress this being in a way that makes him/her/it accessible to me.
Whilst I am saying all this, I want to say something else that might seem a bit radical but which is part of Magickal theory: all that we have said about deities, archangels and other spiritual and psychic beings also holds true for us, humans. We are also fundamentally beings of pure energy, who exist simultaneously on all levels, physical, psychological, psychic and spiritual. There is a ‘Me’ who exists in this physical time and place. That ‘Me’ is called Peter, lives in London, has a certain history, wears certain clothes and prefers certain foods (chocolate, mainly). That Me is not the real me, but he is a real Me – one of the many real Me’s. If you want to contact Me on a physical level, you can write, phone or email. But if you want to contact that Me on a different level, you have to use different media. I want to stress again, it isn’t that the real Me is the spiritual one and the physical Me is somehow less real – all are equally real and all the real Me. So it is with Thoth and co. The being that we call Thoth is just the way in which we find it easiest to understand and communicate with that particular energetic entity.
It doesn’t really matter which pantheon or system I choose (although if you choose Quetzalcoatl and his Aztec colleagues, I advise against ripping out any still-beating hearts). What matters is that we know that it is a model, which contains truth but isn’t The Truth, and work with intelligence and discrimination. We are all, ultimately, being of energy and light, aspects of the One.