The Scarlet Letter
Volume VI, Number 2 | September 2001
Crowley’s The Ship: A Grand Premiere
A Mystery Play Revealed
by Sr. Lutea

Part I

Aleister Crowley has written a great many wonderful works: poetry, erotica, magical and Thelemic essays, novels, treatises on yoga and meditation, translations of foreign writers, volumes of instructional works, even a rhapsody; he also has written a couple of plays. One play in particular, The Ship, was written sometime between 1909 and 1913, but was only published within The Equinox, volume I, #10. It was never produced while Crowley was alive, but remained like many of his writings, available to be read and pondered over. It wasn’t until nearly a hundred years later that The Ship found its way to a stage and an audience. At the Ordo Templi Orientis’ Third National Conference, held in Long Beach California, on August 11th this mystery play was finally produced on stage.

The Ship

Frater Kallah Adonai, also known as Thelemite Chris Parker, had dreamed of the day when he might be able to produce this unusual two-scene production. Since the National Conference was to be hosted by the Southern California Thelemic community, the opportunity sprang to the fore. Kallah Adonai’s mind raced with visual interpretations for each scene, possible costume constructions and ways of making what Crowley, the creative genius, meant by his stage directions and how to make them become realized in an acceptable and presentable manner. Crowley, with his definitive flair for the dramatic, but having not had the play produced, was unaware of the difficulties that might be presented. Undaunted by these difficulties, a cast was drawn together, a costume designer asked to work a creative interpretation, a stage designer pushed to create a stage with no proscenium arch, a lighting director to create mood with no lighting rail or footlights, and a music master to create every sound from the opening to the closing.

In a cursory reading of the script one may be left wondering at what is meant by the entire exercise. It seems more than a simple death/rebirth story. It is called The Ship, but a ship is never seen. The set is described more like a Tarot card than any everyday setting. The characters seem to be randomly selected (an Arab, a Chinaman and a Zulu) and lazily named (Julie and Julian, Joanna and Jovian). The characters ask questions as often as they reply with exclamations. It seems to be presented as a modern mystery, yet has an ancient Greek feel with a chorus resounding asides and glorious adulations. Yet the play does leave one with a sense of ritual inspiration, via a divine device with a soulful recount. The language is poetically spoken in rhyming circles, yet it reveals a truth that is ever present and unending.

Since this was the first time that the play had been produced, this writer was curious to know what kind of insight each actor had received by embodying each character, and their insights on the production in general. A greater insight and understanding was needed for a production so paradoxical. To assist with this overall interpretation each of the actors was asked a series of questions. How did it feel to play their part? Did playing their part strike any particular note on a personal basis? Did their character represent in their mind any possible analogy magically or psychologically? Did their character reveal a particular truth or key aspect within the play? What were some of their overall interpretations of the production as a whole? It was discovered that multiple levels of symbolism could be found depending upon the observer’s and participant’s magical experience and level of Thelemic initiation. Often only by examining the parts, can one discover the meaning of the whole; and only by succeeding magical experience can one understand the depth of each singular action.

Who is John the High Priest and what does he represent? Chris Parker, who played the lead as well as directed and produced the play, lent us his insight. John is “the aged kingship, with upright power, yet weary.” It’s about “his willing yet still tragic surrender to the forces of dissolution, Zagreus dismembered, the body broken, the host fractured that a particle might be extracted, a seed planted… then Life at last. The Light extended, Life reborn, the Deed Divine.” John is “our Lord in ourselves, whose name is Mystery of Mystery. Solve et coagula; the Angel and a hint of the Abyss to come. The life of every man and woman; birth, death and rebirth; creation, their dissolution and their identity. The First Matter and the gold therein; descent into darkness per adventure to find the Light. Pouring the Sun into the Moon. Iacchos!”

When one reads the list of the play’s characters, it becomes obvious that something special is meant by naming the two women and the two wardens names that all begin with the letter J. Soror Lilavati, who played Julia, had this explanation: “The four J’s are actually part of John. They represent the manifestation of John’s consciousness into the world of matter, through the four worlds of Tetragrammaton. Without the four J’s, the ‘Shin’ of John and the formula of IAO they are just abstract ideas. The actions of the four J’s bring the Shin into all four worlds simultaneously, including Assiah.” Sarah Sabolek, who played Joanna reminds us that “each character in the play represents an aspect of our psychological makeup.” Chris Parker clarified it even more by saying, “The priest, the shrine, the God, the Rite of Creation, these are always present in the life of every person. The process cycles continuously whether we are conscious of it or not.”

Who are Julia and Joanna and whom do they represent? Again Soror Lilavati answers for Julia. Julia is “Isis in mourning, or Isis as the mature Queen of Magick, wife, and mother; the second ‘heh’ in tetragrammaton; any of the Queens of the Tarot; and the Empress. I was overcome with an aspect of Isis, but it was not until after the Rose Dance that the full impact hit me. When I said ‘Alas, no life reposes,’ real tears filled my eyes, and I was overcome with grief and sorrow in that moment. That moment opened a door for me into the Mysteries of Julia… Her joy in union with the Priest, the dark night of her loss, her hope for the dawn and fear that it would not come, her rapture in the rebirth of the young Priest who is both her son and her husband, the knowing that she must ‘dare the dark again.’ Essentially, it is a particular window into the formula of IAO.”

Sarah Sabolek gives us a closer look at her character. “Joanna plays the innocent, the virgin; aspects of her are Persephone-like. She embodies a pureness, a sacredness within the shrine,” and during the production, “she goes through the passage of girlhood into adulthood. She is strong because she is pure. She is brave because she is innocent, and innocence can be a great strength. Joanna offers corn to John, as it represents the body and the work of being. The offer of wine by Julia is the blood of life. Joanna cannot offer that as she has yet to know the mysteries of the blood.”

When asked what she thought about the play, Sarah continued, “The play portrays the story of rebirth. Immortality is locked into mortality, which guarantees that the continuance of life is insured by its very demise. Crowley managed to fit so many stories into one play. He managed to fit a crucifixion in with the story of Noah’s Ark, and reincarnation with the basic changing of the seasons. Experiencing the role brought all those great truths to a focused reality inside of me. Performing made it a part of my body. I mean there are spectrums of existence out there to experience, but then to share it with so many magicians sitting in the audience brought on a wave of that realization even more powerfully.”

Anthony Torchia played one of the wardens of the temple of the sun, Jovian. “Playing Jovian seemed to suit who I am at this point in my life. The insight I have is that even though Jovian failed to protect John, the resurrection would not have been possible without this failure. So in reality he played his role exactly as needed to fulfill the formula, and to label it a failure is to miss the point. Each time John was resurrected in our rehearsals, and particularly at the two performances [a previous performance was given a month earlier at a local bookstore], I felt the universe saying to me as forcefully as it could that this is the universal theme, and this formula is available to be used every day of your life. The Sufis say that Allah recreates himself every moment, and now I begin to understand this and realize its incredible value. The past is dead. Let yourself be reborn into the youthful, enthusiastic star that you truly are.”

Frater Seraphino played the other warden Julian. “Basically, the warders struck me as being akin to the children of the Mass, both magickally and in terms of stage presence. I don’t think Crowley wrote this play to be performed. Instead, I think he wrote this play in order to tick off the Masons by alluding to the various secrets of Masonry up to the highest of their degrees. I suspect that he had the warders fill many different bit characters in the Masonic stories (the grave diggers, the people hunting the assassins, the guards of the temple) that they sort of became the generic “Swiss army knife” of the bit players on stage.”

Soror Lilavati instinctively viewing the tableau of the wardens on stage added that, “Jovian and Julian in white and black [respectively], uphold John much as the black and white pillars of Jachin and Boaz uphold the Temple. John is able to manifest because he is upheld by the two opposites.”

The three Assassins perhaps bring on the most imperspicuous and complex interpretations the play has to offer. Soror Lilavati and Kallah Adonai offered these analogies: the three gunas of Sattva, Rajas, Tamas; the three assassins in the Rite of Sol of Leo, Aries and Scorpio-Apophis; the three characters on the rim of the wheel in the Rite of Jupiter of Typhon, Hermanubis and the Sphinx; and also alchemically with the substances of mercury, sulfur and salt. All of which possess the magical formula for transmutation.

Tess Moon played a voice in the chorus as well as one of the three assassins, the Arab. “Being the Arab Assassin wearing red, my costume was like the magician’s natural garment except the white undergarment was replaced with a black one (an impure being, combined with the red becoming Self-Will.) The color red may also refer to Jupiter’s red spot, a.k.a. the Eye of Horus. It has also been visualized as the mouth from where the original ‘Word’ of creation was uttered.”

Tess then makes a pertinent analogy of the three assassins, of Julia and Joanna and of John directly to the Sephiroth. The sun (John/Tiphareth) requires proper tempering by the energies of Venus/Netzach (Soror Lilavati in green) and Jupiter/ Chesed (Sarah in blue). The assassins represent Mercury/Hod (Dr. Bright in yellow/orange), Mars/Geburah (me in red) and Saturn/Binah (Rick in black). The order of the assassins Hod-Geburah-Binah was reflected within their dialog and action, as in the tarot paths linking each to the sun god. Hod uses weapons that bind and scourge as in the Devil card. Geburah passes judgment thru the nails corresponding to fate, and Binah is the one who ultimately sacrifices the innocent sun god. It is very much the energies of the left pillar alternating with the right pillar that create the cycle of the sun.”

Tess lends a further insight, “also, as humans we encompass each of the archetypal energies represented by the Sephiroth. Ultimately, we are to become our Higher Self represented by Tiphareth. The important thing is, that energy does not remain static. As we move through the paths back and forth through the Sephiroth, we often experience these as projected conflicts with others, which requires change/ compromise and new understanding. These changes always bring us back to Binah, by integrating the new information in a way that [causes] future responses to be changed and becomes Wisdom. In the process, our Higher Self is “destroyed” and goes thru a process of Self-transformation we often save for our Regular Selves. It is then up to our Regular Self to continue working with the Devotional/Mystical Sephiroth in order to bring our Higher Self ‘back to Life’ or ‘back into our Being,’ so to speak, since only through our Higher Self can we perceive (if only indirectly) the Divine Truth.”

Dr. Robert C. Bright played a voice in the chorus as well as the second of the three assassins, the Chinaman. “As the Chinaman I did think about the Chinese [or Oriental perspective] and what that might mean, but I didn’t have that deep of a connection to it on that level. The racial aspect was de-emphasized and the alchemical aspect emphasized.” How did it feel to play this part? “A little scary because I must “kill and be killed” and I felt some sense of injustice because I did not kill the priest, I just gave him a whipping, and maybe I could have had a lighter sentence with better counsel? Their [the assassins’] means of death related to the chakras, too. What also impressed me was the fact that the three assassins wanted the secret so bad that they were willing to risk death to get it,” which is exactly what they would need to do. Also “the yearning for the light part, and the blinding blazing forth from the desecrated temple, particularly struck a recent familiar experience.”

Rick Gorton also played one of the voices of the chorus, the third assassin—perhaps the cruelest, the Zulu. “For myself, I attempted to bring a surrealism to my role as the Zulu. I had to portray a sense of sarcastic evil; the epitome of being a Black Brother attempting to lure my way into the temple with my associates. When guile did not achieve my aim, force was attempted, then murder. During the period after the assassination, I tried to give an impression of desperation, as the three of us assassins realize our eventual fate. Historically, I drew an analogy to Brutus, and the assassination of Caesar.”

The Chorus was made up of six people. The three actors who played the assassins helped to fulfill three of these voices and the remainder played by Soror Pelagia Phosteres or sister Cynthea Wilkes, sister Angela Wixtrom, and Frater SivAnanda Samsara completed the chorus. Dr. Bright thought maybe they portrayed “uninitiated humans.”

Cynthea Wilkes played a voice in the chorus and the voice in the west. “Being the voice of the west, it was associated with the flood waters. The atrocities of the assassins were the catalyst for the flood waters to rise.” As far as the rest of the play, “I feel the entire Man of Earth triad is represented in the character of John, as if he were the Everyman initiate. While the assassins represent the challenges to doing your true will. The four seasons are represented by Julia (Spring), Joanna (Summer), Jovian (Autumn) and Julian (Winter), to work together to bring John through his natural cycle.” In other words, “Hye Kye. Let it flow, let it conceive.”

Angela Wixtrom also played a voice in the chorus. “The chorus acted as a witness to the work.” It can be thought of as “mankind becoming manifest. At times dropping the mask and being true men and women.” The Ship is about “the incarnation of man, of consciousness being born from that; the slaying of Osiris, through the dark side of the moon.”

Fr. SivAnanda Samsara played a voice in the chorus and the Keph-Ra Beetle. “Working as the Keph-Ra Beetle was for me much more of a rich spiritual experience than the chorus (which was more of an academic/historic exercise). One of the techniques that I used was to modify Crowley’s Liber Resh adoration from the second person to the first person, in order to gain the proper focus, ‘Kephra in my hiding and also unto me who art Kephra in my silence’. After I had gotten over the excitement-rush of being the sacred beetle for the play, I began to realize that I had personally neglected the understanding of the God Keph-Ra. My entire extent into the symbolism had been smashing Kephra beetles in order to hear them “POP” when I was traveling on my “Hajj” to Cefalu. I began to explore the various naturalistic attributes behind the concept of the force of life being contained in the shit/manure [which this animal rolls its eggs in to incubate them], but I had not yet completely connected with the spiritual aspect of this fact of Nature.”

“It was also noteworthy to me to keep in mind the formula of V.I.T.R.I.O.L. — Visita Interior Terrae Rectificando Iuvenies Occultum Lapidum, as an alchemical quest; utilizing also Jungian depth-psychological methods of delving completely into the complexes and insanities of your own psyche in order to find growth and strength from the resolution (rectificando) of subconscious stress-points and ‘issues/baggage’. When I had piped the results of this analysis into the Yogic techniques of Pratyahara a Dharana a Dhyana a Samadhi a NirvikalpaSamapati I was able to deeply jostle loose any complexes. Jung called it the “Misverhaeltnis” or literally wrongly-completely-state-of-holding or something being held in a false relationship or proportion with something else; especially in terms of complexes/interpretations in the psyche unconscious. This is what had led me to avoid the contemplation of the Keph-Ra mysteries in the first place. As Crowley once stated it, and I paraphrase: Subdue thy fear and thy disgust of all things soever, then behold! ‘Who art when all but thou art gone, thou centre and secret of the sun….’

“Crowley says somewhere that the play The Ship contains all of the true secrets of Blue Lodge Masonry, i.e. 1st through 3rd degree ‘regular’ Craft masonry. The body of the slain priest-king John being carried and held within a ‘grown-new’ ship to be set adrift into the ‘sea that hath no shores’ was a masterful marriage of the Ashurbanipul-Ziggurat/SchneeWitchen(Snow White)-Crypt/Noah-Ark myth with the Krishna/Dionysus/Bacchus/Christ life and subsequent death events. Their obvious initiated interpretations cannot be here stated except that any O.T.O. initiate of the Man of Earth degrees should recognize some similarities (more in some degrees than in others) with the radical analysis. The character of the Beetle to me, was rather a synthesis of the entire myth cycle contained within the seed of the God-form. My explorations made me realize and appreciate the beauty of the symbol of the Hawk-winged Beetle carrying the ultimate spark of the intimate fire sleeping within a shell of utter putrefaction carrying it across the Abyss to a convenient place for its rebirth.”

Part II

Each of the actors in The Ship has related what their character was representing symbolically in the play. There have been those that related to a differentiated part of the one self, a planet or Sephirah, or that their part was analogous to other characters as related and explored in several of Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis. Another aspect, the alchemical model mentioned by Frater Kallah Adonai and Fr. SivAnanda Samsara, struck this writer particularly as hitting the mark for an explanation of the various portrayals and for the overall production of the work.

The Great Work within the art of alchemy, as every great magician and artificer knows, and as Crowley knew only too well, is working with the rarefying process of changing matter to spirit and back again. It is the dual process of applying equally the working of the outer forces of nature upon the inner dimension, and working upon the interior (plant, metal, man’s body and spirit), to produce a transmutation or rebirth of the original material. If applied to the Great Work upon metals the alchemist names this result the Philosopher’s stone. If applied to the Great Work upon the self, philosophers call it the Stone of the Wise. On one level, one can work the alchemy of plants, on another that of metals, and on another the soul of the individual. For Crowley, his laboratory notes were transcribed into what many philosophers had done before him, he had given a great truth literary and poetic analogy through the writing of a mystery play.

For most, it will work best if you open to a copy of the play and are able to follow along, while I delve into the specialized processes of alchemy as veiled through the verse that Crowley sets forth in The Ship. This is not meant to be another treatise on the subject of alchemy, but only to describe the most rudimentary components as they relate to The Ship.

First, let me briefly describe one small simple example of a transmutation immediately available to view in the opening scene. As one views the stage looking to the left are green trees, in the center the temple of the sun, and on the right a heap of builder’s refuse. One may ask, why? It is a simple and at once visual explanation of the nature of change, a foreshadowing of the great work to come. The trees are the original, organic form—the prima materia. The trees are changed into wood that becomes the temple of the sun and then the refuge or the dross after the building was completed is left. We see at once a transmutation of the trees into something beautiful and amazing.

The transmutation that takes place throughout The Ship is similar in principle, but is presented on another level. Through the elevation of the prima materia—the body of John, by the purifying of the inner self and an integration of the polarities within the soul or the self, the incarnation of spirit occurs. This process, which unfolds in a series of character conflicts, allegorically speaking, is the very alchemical process of the self in its Death-Rebirth experience, or the process of reincarnation. By the process of working with the elements within, the self transforms itself. This body or ‘ore’ changes into something greater than from which it began and in the end becomes the enlightened soul, or transmuted ‘gold’.

Through successive alchemical operations, as explained through the famous work known as the Splendor Solis (written by a no doubt pseudonymous author naming himself Salomon Trismosin sometime in the 16th century), it explains the transformation process involving the incarnation of spirit in matter through a death-rebirth. The Splendor Solis is also accompanied by twenty-two successive illustrations that portray the work. In The Ship, amazingly, the plot closely follows this process. The soul of John, in his transmutation must go through the seven general successive alchemical steps that metals go through: calcination, sublimation, solution, putrefaction, distillation, coagulation & fixation. We shall see how well this occurs within the play.

The play opens at the temple of the sun, and drawn upon the backdrop are seen two intersecting disks; the terrestrial (earth) and the celestial (all of the heavens), and at their center is a vesica. In the first illustration of the Splendor Solis, is shown a shield of the sun, bringing the macrocosmic sun into the lower world of the earth. In the second illustration is seen a banner which says, ‘Let us go and seek the nature of the four elements,’ which are all found within the earth. In the plays opening scene the King is resting, and behind the veil, Julia says, “Softly splendid, to his rest steals the godhead to my breast!” And Joanna says, “Hidden in the Holy veil, Thou and I prepare the rite….” John the sun unites with Julia the mother earth, and Joanna the moon. In the next Splendor Solis illustration is seen a knight guarding a double fountain, which is poured the golden and silver liquid, the sun and the moon, or the sulfur and the mercury, and on his shield is written. “Make one water out of two waters….”

In the next illustration is shown the meeting of the polarities of the lunar queen and the solar King. This represents the King’s decision to carry out the ensuing step of the process of calcination in the soul, the willingness to burn away the ego.

The vesica is the doorway through which the transmuted spirit will eventually find birth from the working of this unification. Both the play and the illustrations show that one must descend into the matter and then rise up remade. ‘As above so below, and as below, so above.’ The first four Splendor Solis illustrations introduce the basic forces of what must be achieved, by first integrating the polarities within. Out of the two will come the product of their union. This groundwork must occur before the self or the ore may prepare for its transmutation.

Next, enter a Chinese, an Arab and a Zulu. Allegorically, the conflict that ensues represents the activating forces, which bring on “a heat” or the calcination of the ore. We must look beyond the racial representations and understand the basis at which Crowley chose these particular men. It is easily understood when viewed as the alchemical stages of heat and its successive colorations. The Chinese represents the yellowing, the Arab the reddening, and the Zulu, the blackening. They are the salt, sulphur and mercury of the soul. In another alchemical writing called the “Turba” the heating process is generally explained. “Twice it turns black, twice also it turns yellow and twice red.” This is exactly what happens when the three men approach first Jovian and then Julian to obtain entrance into the shrine.

This heating process is next represented in the Splendor Solis illustrations in seven separate phases of the death and rebirth cycle, which we shall see, follow suit within the play. They can be divided up into the following:

1. the extraction of the ore,
2. the archetypal tree,
3. the death of the old king,
4. the meeting with the angelic spiritual being,
5. the winged hermaphrodite with the egg,
6. the beheading and dismembering of the body, and
7. the bath of transformation.

The Chinese says upon entering the stage, “I am the dragon brother of your priest and we come from north and south and east, to build your god a new and nobler shrine.” In alchemy, the symbolic language of calling the first heat, the alloy of copper and silver made by warming the two metals with mercury, is called the “Dragon,” and signifies the beginning of the heating process. In the first illustration of the Splendor Solis, a youth is seen pouring a flask down a Dragon’s throat. The forces of John’s soul must now be dissolved.

In the next illustration we see that the forces have been digested and transformed into three birds—the three assassins of John’s soul. The red bird is the expansive fiery energies that are untamable. The black bird is the dark and decaying material of old perceptions and habits. The white/yellow bird tries to mediate between the two. Thus the Chinese, the Arab and the Zulu work their scourging, impaling and spearing upon John. The metals separately work upon the soul material and then burn themselves into the next stage of the soul’s transformation. The three metals mostly fuse themselves together. In the next illustration is shown an eagle with three heads—the three assassins worked as one slayer, but in three different ways.

In the second phase, the next Splendor Solis illustration shows a tree uniting the earth and heaven, an analogy for the process of the self, establishing firm roots and growing new branches. This shift is an etheric one. In order for the self to grow, the self must release its etheric force. John is tied to the white column. His arms are outstretched and he is crucified, as upon a cross. E.J. Holmyard’s book Alchemy describes this analogy: “The symbolic equation of Christ with the philosopher’s stone may be explained as a projection of the redeemer-image, but with the reservation that the Christian earns the fruits of grace from a work already performed, while the alchemist labours in the cause of the divine world-soul slumbering and awaiting redemption in matter.”

John, the old king, dies. In this third phase, the Splendor Solis illustration shows the Old King sinking into the universal sea of the soul, symbolizing the hardened contractive and rigid patterns within.

As the assassins declare to the women to open the shrine, the chorus reveals the fourth phase of the work. “In it all principles inhere; to it all elements conspire; from it all energies revere, of it the inscrutable desire.” In the Splendor Solis is shown the four elements and in their center a hermaphrodite holds an egg, the fifth essence. Jovian and Julian stand by as Julia and Joanna open the door of the vesica and blind the assassins with a blaze of light. This light is the whitening of the ‘ore’, the bright soul of the spirit released in a blinding flash, John in angelic form, the quintessence of the spirit. The assassins sink down to the rubble on stage, appropriately, as the work they have done, like the metals they are, have done their work. In this phase, he has reached the turning point of the transformation. His etheric force has now become an astral soul.

In the next illustration we encounter the sixth process, of dismemberment of the body. The energies of the three metals that have worked their process must now be transformed. A final separation of them must be irrevocably separated from the body. In the Splendor Solis, a man is seen wearing garments of red and white with a sword. (John wears a white robe now stained with blood.) The pictured philosopher must cut and dismember the etheric forces that he has brought to bear. The three ruffians are now put to their final deaths. This process of purification is the second major step of alchemy, the sublimation.

At the final death of each of the ruffians, the waters succeedingly rise. In Adam McLean’s commentary on this phase of the Splendor Solis, he writes about this illustration. “In the background are seen people welcoming the arrival of a ship with its long-sought cargo, a metaphor for the bringing of new forces into the work. Also is seen a temple, a physical manifestation of a spiritual impulse and represents the abiding, eternal foundation of the work in substance.” John’s soul now must sink into the universal sea within the soul.

The Ship is the vessel which travels over the sea as an alchemical flask for the soul. It carries this developing ore of the self for a certain period of time in order for this truth to ‘sink’ into the subconscious. The chorus peals, “Through the tempest, toward the dark, ploughs the fate-fulfilling bark, laden with the sacred ark.” In the next Splendor Solis illustration, the philosopher sinks into a restless sea. The earthly body is dissolved. This last phase of the death cycle is called the bath of transformation, and it heralds the beginning of the third major process in alchemy, the process of solution. It is one of silence and of peace for the soul. In this alchemical process the gold is slowly rising to form a red tincture by a gently heated water bath.

The chorus describes the fear that Julia and Joanna have in the opening of the second scene. “Dreams diluvian daunt the daring daughters that, devout in the hour of wastrel waters hither bore from its house of eld the shrine.” And, “the ocean labours; earth is awake; a murmured motion marks the end of the tragic theme.” Then the stage directions read, “A great Beetle emerges from the pool holding in its mandibles the sacred Vesica! He advances, and affixes it to the Tree, just above the fork of the boughs.” This dramatic portrayal is the next major alchemical step of putrefaction. The beetle is black, which represents what the mixture in the vessel has turned into. It also symbolically represents the natural process of what this animal does with its young, that of rolling the eggs along within a dung ball to allow the life inside to incubate until its proper time. This is also what happens when the old seed in the soil decomposes to make a rich loamy food for the next seed to germinate. From the darkness of the unconscious mind, a new life is forming.

Through the alchemical process of this resolution there comes an integration of the three principles already mentioned, the salt, sulfur and mercury. In the Splendor Solis illustration there is seen the iridescence of the philosophical mercury and what is pictured is a peacock’s colorful tail. In the play, a rainbow is seen above the trees. Julia hits it ‘right on the head,’ “The seven colours glow upon the murk. This is the midmost moment of the work.” This is the next major alchemical step, the distillation. The coloration is caused by the rising of the vapors from the body of the materia. “The energy is constantly falling back down to nature’s trio of Saturn, Mercury and Mars, and then rising again into the realm of the Moon and Venus,” says Mellie Uyldert in his Metal Magic.

In the play, the bier is brought before the tree. Julia dances about the body and roses fall from heaven. The body is then raised up and stood against the tree. Julia and Joanna raise their hands to heaven and invoke the powers of rejuvenation under the moon. Despite their work to bring the body back to life, it does not stir. The alchemist must be patient; this is the critical final point of the work. Everything happens of its own accord. One cannot force or rush this final phase of Coagulation. The final stage in alchemy is the process and formation of the red tincture of the solar forces, beautifully portrayed by John getting covered in roses.

In the Splendor Solis, the next illustration shows a Queen holding an orb in her right hand, a scepter in her left, and she stands in brilliant light. The white stone or philosophical salt is finally brought into contact with living energies. Salomon Trismosin reminds us, “Without the moon the whole mastery is in vain, for it is a metallic water which rejoices in the body and makes it alive.” As the dawn’s light so prevails, so does the new spirit of the transmuted self come to rebirth. The young John now awakes and is reborn.

In the last Splendor Solis illustration, the king is seen holding the orb and scepter in his hands, and there he stands exalted, crowned and powerful. The sun is seen radiating out from behind him. The philosophical sulphur of John has reached its fully active penetrating aspect, having acted inwardly to reattach its radiating and life-seeking reaches of his soul. “This is the alchemical marriage, where opposing principles are fused into a purified and incorruptible whole,” says E.J. Holmyard. John raises his hands and opens the vesica shrine. His inner soul, now transformed and luminous, shines upon all who are around him and touches all who see it, as one may feel the radiance from a transcended being.

Little did I or many of the actors and crew fully know when first reading The Ship, what Crowley was trying to present. What at first glance was seen as a short play about rebirth, had become a major literary tableau for the story of the eternal soul in its evolution of reincarnation via the vehicle of the superlative cooperation of nature and man. “Mankind, matured from myriad wombs, is but the garden where it blooms.” As Tess Moon said, “It’s something that can be forever contemplated.”

To close, I would like to share the closing words of a rare Greek alchemical poem translated by C.A. Browne.

Thus he doth easily release himself by drinking nectar,  
though completely dead;
He poureth out to mortals all his wealth and by his help
the Earth-born are sustained.
Abundantly in life, when they have found the wondrous
mystery, which being fixed
Will turn to silver, dazzling bright in kind, a metal
having naught of earthy taint,
So brilliant, clear, and wonderfully white.


Crowley, Aleister. The Equinox Vol I, No 10. Samuel Weiser Inc, 1972

Holmyard, E.J. Alchemy. Penguin Books, 1957

Trismosin, Salomon (pseud.) Splendor Solis. Translated by Joscelyn Godwin, Introduction and Commentary by Adam McLean. Phanes Press, 1991

Uyldert, Mellie. Metal Magic: The Esoteric Properties And Uses Of Metals. Translated from the Dutch by Jane Fenoulhet. Turnstone Press, 1980

I would like to thank all those who contributed their comments to this article.

< Back to Vol. VI, No. 2 Cover