The Scarlet Letter
In Egypt 4,300 years ago the goddess of eternal life spoke; “Be as an imperishable star that lives forever.” Millennia later, a twenty-nine year old English Mage heard the message of this infinite being; “Every man and every woman is a star.” The words are those of Nuit the Star-goddess, continuous one of heaven. To the ancients she was the sky above and the fabric of space within whose form was every reality. Who is she now? Many of the concepts known to those who read The Book of the Law are far older than the work’s 1904 Cairo origins. The omnipresence of her body, her love for mankind—these have not changed. The goddess of Liber AL has a rich and venerable identity; her character and message is consistent with the past and enlivens our present-day magick. Let’s acquaint ourselves with Nut of the Egyptians and explore the Thelemic connection. Then we will see what she has to say for herself.
The Ancient Goddess
Is her name Nut or Nuit? Both are correct, older works on Egyptology spell it several ways. Modern scholars transcribe her name from hieroglyphics as Nwt. A best guess at the historic pronunciation is “Noot.” The Egyptians knew her as the ordered cosmos who surrounds the plane of the physical earth with stars and planets, including the dimension of the afterlife.
Her primeval consort is Geb the Earth-god and they are the parents of the great gods Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys. Her prayers are inscribed in the pyramids and her image is present in many temples, but none dedicated exclusively to her have yet been found.1
When Nut is portrayed as the sky arching over the earth, she is naked. Sometimes the stars are portrayed as being inside her body, at other times they are on her skin or painted alongside. However, nudity is unusual for the depiction of an Egyptian deity. Nut may have been portrayed this way because she is thought of as a woman continuously giving birth (by the nightly passage of the sun through her body). When depicted more conventionally—such as on tomb wall murals—she is clothed. Her identifying headgear is not a star as one might guess, but a waterpot. This uterine hieroglyph represents the sound nu, both her name and function associating water with life. In pre-dynastic times, she absorbed the identities of tribal mother goddesses associated with eternal life, water, and abundance. These qualities remained connected to her. The primeval waters of creation produced life, as does the earth’s river Nile. Nut’s body forms the celestial Nile upon which sails the bark of the sun during the day and through which it passes at night. The eternal mother of light gives birth to the sun each dawn, she surrounds us day and night in her embrace of starry space.
“Every man and every woman is a star.” The Egyptians would have agreed, at least if you were talking about the worthy souls of the departed. Becoming a star in the sky was one of their earliest beliefs of life after death. The Book of the Dead says “I pass pure into the midst of the Milky Way.” [Spell 176]
The starry stream above is the domain of the eternal souls and the Sky-goddess who receives them. For thousands of years of Egyptian history Nut is firmly associated with receiving, reviving, and protecting the dead. For this reason she is represented on funerary pieces such as the Stélé of Revealing2. In a mortuary text from 1350 BC she says: “I enclose your beauty within this soul of mine, for all life, stability, dominion and health for the king, may he live forever!” [Pyramid Text Utterance 11]
The purpose of the Nut sequence of spells in the Pyramid Texts and Coffin
Texts is to empower the royal dead to rise into the sky and become immortal
stars throughout eternity. “May you go forth with your mother Nut;
that she may take your hand and give you the road to the horizon, to the
place where Ra is” [PT 422]. These texts are found on the walls of
pyramids, sarcophagus chambers and inscribed on coffins. Once in the heavens,
the deceased is “encircled by Orion, by Sothis and by the Morning
Star” who place him within the arms of Mother Nut and preserve him
from punishment or annihilation. Nut is a friend and protector of the dead,
who appeal to her as a child appeals to its mother: “O my Mother
Nut, stretch yourself over me, that I may be placed among the imperishable
stars which are in you, and that I may not die” [Coffin of Henut-wadjebu].
The Modern Nuit
There are millennia between Nut of the ancient Egyptians and present day adherents of Thelema4, but she did not forget us—her star children. In what was perhaps the greatest initiation of Aleister Crowley’s life, she inaugurates a new Aeon and plainly identifies herself as “Nuit.” Is Nuit the same being as Nut? I believe she is. Within esoteric theology there are gods who evolve, who change and develop over time in co-creation with humanity and culture.5 So it is with the Star-goddess whose personality continues to unfold in a manner consistent with the ancient Lady of Heaven. One of the three foundation deities of Thelemic theology, she reveals herself to us in the channeled text of The Book of the Law. The first chapter (her particular manifestation) is an expansive message which has not ceased to inspire and fascinate new generations6. Crowley is charged to “to follow the love of Nu in the star-lit heaven...to tell them this glad word.” And tell he did!
So why didn’t Crowley call her Nut? Since The Book of the Law was transcribed as Crowley heard it spoken, perhaps the optional (and Thelemically preferred) pronunciation of her name as New-eet was fixed at that time. The text also refers to her as “Nu”, which makes perfect sense as an Egyptian nickname (it is the waterpot—her emblem). Besides the names Nuit and Nu, in his Commentary on the Book of the Law Crowley writes of her as Nuith, which was another accepted spelling of the day. Crowley was already acquainted with the goddess from his studies. She is briefly mentioned in his 1901 poem A Litany 7. Earlier, he would have known her from brief appearances (as Nu) in Golden Dawn rituals. But now there is much, much more. With the spiritual insights of 1904, the chosen priest and prophet of the beauteous one tells us “Nuit is a conception immeasurably beyond all men have ever thought of the Divine. Thus she is not the mere star-goddess, but a far higher thing, dimly veiled by that unutterable glory.”8
A new philosophy is unveiled; her consort now declared to be the god Hadit. His name is from an inscription on the Stélé of Revealing9 and was also heard during the transmission of The Book of the Law. This association is not based on archeology, but is a metaphysical viewpoint. Hadit is the center point of Nuit’s infinite extension, and represents the individual in relation to her, the self-conscious point of view which experiences life and the goddess. In his New Comment [I:31] Crowley says “The development of the Adept is by expansion—out to Nuit—in all directions equally.”
We can picture Nuit as the ever-enlarging universe, containing infinite dimensions. Within those immeasurable dimensions, stars, life forms, and actions—are all possibilities. She is infinite, she is inconceivable. Any manifestation or image of her is not her, but only a small vision. When we look up at night, we are able to view only a portion of the immense night sky, which is only a fragment of the entire universe. We fail as we attempt to describe her: “...let them speak not of thee at all, since thou art continuous.” Even if we approach her as the One, the highest of manifest deities, we could not comprehend her: “...let it be ever thus that men speak not of thee as One, but as None...” This None, Naught or Zero (0) encompasses all, even our concepts of deity. It is the all-pervasive Tao, the Source, the Ain Soph. It is the Perfect beyond the two of masculine and feminine, beyond even the One.10 “The Perfect and the Perfect are one Perfect and not two; nay, are none!” There is paradox here. She is the None—the Infinite Without who is beyond polarity. At the same time she is a specific goddess with an image, name, history, promises and even preferences; “...ye are my chose ones.”
As the stars are visible to us even with limited perception, so too is Nuit accessible. We meet her at Gnostic Mass where the Voice from the shrine declares herself “the naked brilliance of the voluptuous night?]sky.” The priestess has become the figure arched atop the Stélé of Revealing11—Nut the Sky-goddess—who says “To Me, To Me.” We are called forth to union with her, to a life where we are aware of being indivisible from the universe and sacredness. Unity with the Divine no longer denotes One, as in the Old Aeon12. Now it means Naught, the Infinite; “Nothing is a secret key of this law.” We are not told to reject our humanity. Her instructions are to delight in it; “...dress ye all in fine apparel; eat rich foods and drink sweet wines and wines that foam!” We are to be stars now, not saints in some transcendent afterlife; “ecstasy be thine and joy of earth.” She urges us to seek joy within the miracle of incarnation and through that perfection (“This shall regenerate the world...”)—achieve mastery of the physical universe. “Remember all ye that existence is pure joy.” Reunion and joy; truly this is the Great Work.13
Why invoke Nuit? Even outside the magick and mystery of the Gnostic Mass (her primary public ritual), we have reason to invite awareness of her. We invoke to attune ourselves to a being without limits, to offset our supposed limitations, and to break the bounds of confining thoughts, ideas, and behaviors. “The word of sin is restriction.” We invoke to reject separation and live the perspective she offers, and thereby align with our own highest aspirations and true will. She is the infinite source of stars, space and every manifestation. She is “Infinite Space,” with all the magnitude of activity the term suggests. This is our birthright, not the restrictions of the gods who would make us their slaves. “Aye! feast! rejoice! there is no dread hereafter.”
Our beautiful Star Goddess embraces every woman and every man for indeed, we are already a part of her being. She provides whatever will bring pleasure and comfort in an often difficult world. Whether seeking seclusion in her womb between lives, the ecstasy of her touch, a caring embrace, or boundless possibilities—she provides. She says to us only “Yes.” She greets warmly all those who seek solace in her treasures and who embrace her undying love. “The joys of my love will redeem ye from all pain.”
G.K. Chesterton said, “Among all the strange things men have forgotten, the most universal and catastrophic lapse of memory is that by which they have forgotten that they are living on a star.” We neglect our connection to Infinite Source at are own peril14, even disaster, disastrato in Latin. Dis means “away from or apart” and astrato means “the stars.” For the universe to exist, division from the All was necessary; “I am divided for love’s sake.” The consequences of separation are often suffering, but those of reunion are “unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death; peace unutterable, rest, ecstasy . . ..” She desires our conscious participation as worship—“Always unto Me!”—but requires nothing in sacrifice. There is no “One Right Way” to her joy. No orthodoxy leads us to her ecstasy. She brings the paradoxical laws of Will and Love and wishes us to know we have never truly been separate; “I am above you and in you. My ecstasy is in yours. My joy is to see your joy.”
The law of light, life, love, and liberty has been proclaimed. She who is endless and eternal is embodied by each of us—as stars in our own true orbits. Nuit has given us the light to illumine the soul with ecstasy, the life to experience her infinite possibilities of “Love under Will,” the love to unite with her and the liberty to choose our own path.
Be as an imperishable star that lives forever.
All quotations not otherwise attributed are from The Book of the Law.
Analyzing Liber AL vel Legis. Sam Webster. www.hermetic.com. Ed. Al Billings. 24 July 2002. http://www.hermetic.com/220/webster?comment.html
The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ani). Trans. R.O. Faulkner. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990.
The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. Trans. R.O. Faulkner. Warminster, U.K.: Aris & Phillips, 1973-78.
Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Trans. R.O. Faulkner. Oxford:
Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt. James Henry Breasted. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959.
The Gods of the Egyptians. E. A. Wallace Budge. New York: Dover Press, 1969.
The Great Goddesses of Egypt. Barbara Lesko. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.
The Holy Books of Thelema; Preface and Appendix A. Aleister Crowley. York Beach: Samuel Weiser, 1983.
Liber AL vel Legis The Book of the Law (CCXX). Aleister Crowley. York Beach: Samuel Weiser, 1976.
Liber Nu (XI). Aleister Crowley. The Libri of Aleister Crowley. hermetic.com. Ed. Al Billings. 1 March 2002. http://www.hermetic.com/crowley/libers/lib11.html
The Old and New Commentaries to Liber AL (Liber Legis). Aleister Crowley. Commentaries on Liber AL. hermetic.com. Ed. Al Billings. 15 February 2002.
The Way of Permission. William E. Howell. 1986. Unpublished.