Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Western Mysteries-An Introduction

The Western Mysteries

What do we mean when use the phrase Western Mystery Traditions?  In general this includes everything not of Eastern origins.   Many equate the Western Mysteries with Jewish Mysticism and even Esoteric Christian beliefs and practices.  While that is or can be a part of the Western Mysteries, it is not all there is to be found.  The Western Mysteries were heavily influenced by the rites and philosophy of many different Pagan sources.  Some of which include the likes of Socrates, Plato, and Pythagoras to name but a few.  Also included are the rites of Osiris and Dionysus and the Eleusinian Mysteries.  Another whole topic that could be included under the Western Mystery umbrella would be the Holy Grail and the Grail Tradition itself.  

The Western Mysteries often makes reference to High Magic also known as Theurgy.  What is High Magic?  Ceremonial Magic is often called High Magic, but the two terms are really not synonymous. High Magic is more precisely defined as Magic where the end result is to bring the practitioner closer to the Divine.   Connecting with the Divine is the ultimate goal of High Magic.  High Magic is focused on bringing oneself ever closer to uniting with the Divine on ALL levels.  

High Magic is as much art as science.  The roots of High Magic are ancient, but the techniques have continually evolved and adapted through all ages.  High Magic is also known as Hermetic Magic as it is derived from the hermetic arts and sciences.  High Magic uses and relies upon a complex system of correspondences derived from numerous sources including but not limited to: Alchemy; Astrology; Angelic whether Enochian or not; the Elements-Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit/Ethers; Gematria; the Tarot; and Qabalah-spelled with a Q to distinguish it from Jewish Kabbalah and Christian Cabbalah.

The Mother of the Mysteries is no less than ISIS Herself.  Isis is the Virgin of the World.  Isis is one of the most important symbolic characters in the Mystery Tradition.  It is from the womb of Isis that initiates are born.  All adepts are daughters and sons of Isis.  Which makes each initiate Horus, the ‘Widow’s Son’.  Even modern Masonic Lodges refer to members as the Widow’s Son.  Ever heard that phrase before?  Well, if you hear it again now you know they are talking about Isis.  The murder of Osiris is said to be the destruction of Wisdom.  In some traditions it is said that the job of Horus is to avenge the destruction of wisdom.  Isis-the Widow- is the Mystery School itself and through her efforts the redeemers of Wisdom are continually produced.

Throughout the study of the Western Mystery traditions we often come across a certain term repeatedly.  That term is ‘The Great Work’.   The Great Work is another term for the primary goal of many facets of the Western Mysteries.  Each step along the Path of Return brings one closer to the Divine. The Great Work is nothing less the achievement of union with the Divine at the highest possible level. The three pillars of Alchemy, Magic, and Astrology are used to achieve this goal.  Alchemy is defined as being the Operation of the Sun.  Magic in this context is defined as the Operation of the Stars.  Astrology in this context is defined as the Operation of the Moon. Together they are the Three Parts of the Wisdom of the Universe as laid out in the Emerald Tablet of Hermes.  The Emerald Tablet is the origin of the phrase, ‘As Above, so Below.’.  The Emerald Tablet also refers to the three parts of the wisdom of the whole Universe.

Hermetic Philosphy derives its name from the writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus.   This name is really a title which means the Thrice Great Hermes.  Hermes is the Greek god name associated with a much older Egyptian God Thoth/Tehuti.  Hermetic teachings heavily influenced the Western Mystery Traditions and through them the Renaissance and the Reformation.  That tells you where the name came from, but still doesn’t tell you anything about Hermetic philosophy.
The Hermetic philosophies found in the writings of Hermes are collected in numerous volumes called collectively the Corpus Hermeticum-17 volumes of which survived. Another much shorter text is the famous Emerald Tablet of Hermes.  

The Emerald Tablet of Hermes

True, without falsehood, certain and most true, that which is above is as that which is below, and that which is below is as that which is above, for the performance of the miracles of the One Thing. And as all things are from One, by the mediation of One, so all things have their birth from this One Thing by adaptation. The Sun is its father, the Moon its mother, and the Wind carries it in its belly, its nurse is the Earth. This is the father of all perfection, or consummation of the whole world. Its power is integrating, if it be turned into earth. 

Thou shalt separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, suavely, and with great ingenuity. It ascends from earth to heaven and descends again to earth, and receives the power of the superiors and of the inferiors. So thou hast the glory of the whole world; therefore let all obscurity flee before thee. This is the strong force of all forces, overcoming every subtle and penetrating every solid thing. So the world was created. Hence were all wonderful adaptations, of which this is the manner. Therefore am I called Hermes Trismegistus, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world. What I have to tell is completed, concerning the Operation of the Sun.

The Kybalion-is more modern book containing the Hermetic Philosophy, though it was published over 100 years ago now.  


"The Principles of Truth are Seven; he who knows these, understandingly, possesses the Magic Key before whose touch all the Doors of the Temple fly open."

The Seven Hermetic Principles, upon which the entire Hermetic Philosophy is based, are as follows:

“THE ALL IS MIND; The Universe is Mental.”

“As above, so below; as below, so above.”        
“Nothing rests, everything moves; everything vibrates.”

“Everything is Dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.”

“Everything flows, out and in; everything has its tides; all things rise and fall; the pendulum swing manifests in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compenstates.”

“Every Cause has its Effect; every Effect has its Cause; everything happens according to Law; Chance is but a name for Law not recognized; there are many planes of causation, but nothing escapes the Law.”

“Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and Feminine Principles; Gender manifests on all planes.”

The Tree of Life
One of the primary symbols seen throughout the study of the Western Mystery Tradition is Tree of Life.  The Tree of Life is derived from Jewish Mysticism and perhaps more properly the European Pagan influences to which the early practitioners of Occult Hermetic Qabalah were exposed.   Within the Tree of Life we have three Pillars and 10 Sephiroth and 22 Paths connecting them. Hmm, just happens to be 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  There are also 22 Keys or Trumps in the Major Arcana of the Tarot.  Each Tarot Key is related to a letter of the Hebrew Alphabet and is assigned a Path along the Tree of Life. 

A more familiar view of The Tree of Life may be the image below.

The Pattern on the Trestleboard as listed below walks us down the Tree of Life from top to bottom.  You might notice there are eleven statements listed but only ten numbered Sephiroth.  The other one is for Daath which is not always listed or counted among the Sephiroth.  Daath does exist though and could be the subject of many a discussion.   I’ll let everyone decide which of the eleven listed statements is actually for Daath.

The Pattern on the Trestleboard

This Is Truth About The Self
  1. All the Power that ever was or will be is here now.
  2. I am a center of expression for the Primal Will-to-Good which eternally creates and sustains the Universe.
  3. Through me its unfailing Wisdom takes form in thought and word.
  4. Filled with Understanding of its perfect law, I am guided, moment by moment, along the path of liberation.
  5. From the exhaustless riches of its Limitless Substance, I draw all things needful, both spiritual and material.
  6. I recognize the manifestation of the Undeviating Justice in all the circumstances of my life.
  7. In all things, great and small, I see the Beauty of the Divine Expression.
  8. Living from that Will, supported by its unfailing Wisdom and Understanding, mine is the Victorious Life.
  9. I look forward with confidence to the perfect realization of the Eternal Splendor of the Limitless Light.
  10. In thought and word and deed, I rest my life, from day to day, upon the sure Foundation of Eternal Being.
  11. The Kingdom of Spirit is embodied in my flesh.
One lesson of sorts that we find when studying the Western Mysteries asks us to take our own path and or beliefs and see how it fits upon the Tree of Life. Where does your path fit upon this the Tree of Life?

Bill Schell


  1. Comments are welcome and appreciated.

  2. I am curious as to what iteration of 'virgin' you are meaning when you name Isis the 'virgin' of the world? Cultural context is critical here, as is timing. The original meaning of this phrase means 'independent/ without children', and applies to any menstruating woman. The Christian meaning, OTOH, is much more restrictive, and means 'a woman untouched/claimed by a man (or not impregnated)'.

    Isis was a very independent figure- after Osiris was slain, she embarked on a journey to retrieve him, revive him, and have Horus. Technically, she's probably more of a Mother/Guardian figure than a virgin- because the cult of virginity was a Jewish/Christian import and overlay on the Isian cult. Mary became the cult figure when Christianity took over, although some 'black' Madonnas, clearly descended from the original Isian cults, survived for a long time. Virginity became the means to restrict, constrict, and vanquish the wisdom and power of women, silencing their voices and making them invisible. The shadow of virginity and its harsh strictures survive to this day, and need to be diluted and disappeared, in order to permit the light to return to our world.

    1. Since you do know me I have to ask, Why would you even think I meant what you are terming the 'Christian meaning'? If you did not know me, I see your point. I do not disagree with anything in your reply. If you want to better understand of my own meaning go read this: . Lots of Cultural context...

  3. Synchronicity indeed. I recently have found myself drawn to learn much more about the Tarot and Astrology than the little I do now. I also obtained a copy of The Kybalion....references to it seemingly "followed me around" for days. And now, I find myself reading this blog. I have learned so much with this short writing. I know not what specifics lie ahead, but "something is clearly afoot".........I do love being. Thank you for writing this.

  4. As you now know then, Chance is but a name for Law not yet recognized.
    You are Most Welcome Dear One.