The Scarlet Letter
Volume III, Number 3 | June 1996
An Alternate Anthem for the Gnostic Mass
by Aleister Crowley / adapted by Dionysus Soter
with notes informed by correspondence with Tau Apiryon
The text of this anthem is from Crowley's The World's Tragedy. It consists of the bulk of a speech of the character Chrysippus in the prologue of that work (pp. 14-15 of the New Falcon edition). The passage is neither padded nor abridged; it is simply divided into responsory sections along the model of the original Anthem in Liber XV.
It was first performed experimentally in IVii e.n. at Scarlet Woman Camp. It was authorized as an alternate in IViv e.n. and subsequently performed in Mass at Circle of Stars Sanctuary. When first contemplating the use of this anthem and some other experiments, I sought the guidance of Bishop T Apiryon. He offered a set of criteria for evaluating the anthem. The criteria are reproduced here, as they provide the structure for analyzing this alternate.
1. How did you gauge [experimental] success [of the alternate anthem]?
Besides evidence of the fulfillment of the other specified criteria, I gauged the “success” of the anthem in performance by the demonstrated involvement of the People during the anthem, and their later conscious reactions to it. The Office of the Anthem is second only to the recital of the Creed in the amount of attention and verbal activity that it demands from the People, and any effective anthem must engage the People. One of the functions of the Office of the Anthem appears to be that it breaks the trance of the People established during the Collects and maintained through the Consecration of the Elements—and replaces it with another trance more fitted to the Work of Communication. (Note that I do not use the word trance in any will-negating coercive sense. For present purposes, various trances are merely focusings of awareness on an individual or group level.) This alteration of trance is also a “magical function,” though one that operates on a fairly accessible theatrical basis.
2. How does your alternative fulfill the magical function of the Anthem? What aspect of Deity is invoked? How does it transform the Priest? Into what does it transform him? What effect does it have on the Priestess? What effect does it have on the Host?
The magical functions of the Liber XV Anthem are clear in its original context, Crowley's mystery-play The Ship, where it appears as an anthem of the same type and purpose as in the Mass. The World's Tragedy likewise sheds light, though less obviously, on the variant drawn from it. The entire passage is spoken by Chrysippus, the disciple of the philosopher Heracleitus, and is occasioned by a command from his mentor to distill mystical ecstasy from his sensual attraction to a scene of innocent debauch. The magical operation is very Gnostic in its essence, as Chrysippus aspires to the pleroma, metaphorically ascending to the eighth sphere through various heavenly phenomena.
The passage begins with an invocation with the name Abrasax. Abrasax is a Gnostic name for the demiurge having a value in Greek of 365, the number of days in a solar year. The breaking of “the bar of the unshifting star,” points to the movement of the pole star, an astronomical phenomenon intimately connected with the precession of the Equinoxes and the change of astrological ages. In The World's Tragedy, the implication is that the Osirian age of Pisces is imminent, but in a Mass, the allusion would be to the new Aeon and the age of Aquarius. (The correspondence between Thelemic/Gnostic aeons and astrological ages is rough and debatable, but it is also popular and accessible.)
“IO Asar!” would have been a greeting to Osiris in the context postulated by The World's Tragedy. The Priest can use it as a cry of recognition to the old forces as he is overcome by the new, so that by the end of the anthem, he adores the “miraculous sun” associated with Ra-Hoor-Khuit. “IO” is a cry of aspiration; in The World's Tragedy it would signify aspiration to Asar, but in the Mass it indicates aspiration as Asar. As the Manifesto of the Church indicates, only those who have “fulfilled [the] formulae” of the previous aeons are “capable of comprehension” of the new formula and its sacraments. In the Liber XV Anthem, the Men imply their fulfillment of the formula of Osiris when they say, “Glory to thee from gilded tomb!”
As with the original Anthem, the Priest strives through image and symbol to identify with THAT which informs his essence. The Liber XV Anthem describes THAT as “beyond speech and beyond sight,” just as the alternate asserts that it is “beyond speech, beyond song, beyond evidence.” In The Ship, the success of this operation is heralded by the chorus proclaiming the trinity and the descent of a dove upon the head of the Priest at the anthem's conclusion. (I'd like to pull that one off in a Mass!) The trinity may correspond to the supernal triad to which the Priest aspires through the Abyss. Similarly, it is the final chorus of the People in the “By Abrasax!” variant that declares that the invasion of the heights of the soul is accomplished.
I must confess to some ignorance on the effects of the original Anthem on the Priestess. Still, the “By Abrasax!” anthem seems to have some significant relevance to the work of the Priestess. The concluding sections particularly relate to the formulae of solve et coagula as presented in The Book of Lies (especially in “The Oyster” and “The Dragon-Flies”). The anthem proclaims coagula—the many longing for the one in coition/dissolution—as the work of the Priest; the Priestess performs the complementary work of the one longing for the many in creation/parturition (solve).
The later portions of Chrysippus' soliloquy are not included in this anthem, not only out of consideration for performance length, but because they exceed the mandate of the Office of the Anthem as a magical mechanism. The final lines of that passage push the exaltation of Chrysippus beyond the One to the None, a stage that I perceive as more suited to the Consummation of the Elements than the Office of the Anthem.
3. How does your alternative fulfill the devotional function of the Anthem? How does it transmit the adoration of the Priest and the People to the aspect of Divinity being invoked?
Devotionally, the “By Abrasax!” anthem finds its culmination in the praise of the “wonder intense, a miraculous sun” to which the Priest directs his adoration. One of the relevant senses of the many being “molten and mixed into one” is the sacerdotal function of the Priest, so that he expresses both his own devotion and that of the People.
The imagery of the alternate anthem focuses on the cosmic and celestial, rather than the vegetative and organic orientation of the Liber XV Anthem. But both make elaborate references to the passage of time, and come to a final focus on the sun as a representation of the principle adored.
4. How does your alternative fulfill the teaching function of the Anthem? How does it assist to symbolically convey the Central Mysteries of the Order?
I feel myself somewhat unqualified to judge this aspect of the anthem, since I am a Man of Earth still seeking acquaintance with the Central Mysteries (not to mention the Peripheral Ones) of the Order. Still, this anthem reflects much of what I have learned, and the references in points 1 & 2 above specify some of that learning. The variant furthermore emphasizes Light, Life, Love, and Liberty, as does the original Anthem, as a way of emphasizing the Emanations of that Law which it is the Order's purpose to promulgate.