The 25th pathway that connects the sphere of Yesod (foundation) to the sphere of perfect unity, Tiphareth, is known as Samekh, “the prop.” Samekh is the process by which the divine tests the aspirant, and comes in phases. The path is illustrated by the tarot trump XIV, Temperance, with its alchemical imagery of the joining of opposites, and the astrological sign Sagittarius.
The main symbol of Samekh is that of an arrow being shot straight into the air. Samekh hurtles out of the three lower pathways that connect Malkuth to the higher sephirah: Qoph, Shin, and Tau. The first letter of each of these paths creates the word QShTh, Qesteth, the Hebrew word of “bow.” Yesod, Hod, and Netzach could be seen as one’s personal life, and Samekh is the first path that seeks to transcend that, bursting into the cosmic light. As such, it is known as “the piercer of the sanctuary.” The word Qesteth also means a rainbow, a symbol of God’s covenant with humanity, and correlates with the rainbow bridge of mythology, tying it further still into the myth of centaurs, and Chiron in particular.
Path 25 is also related to the Great Work, the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Here’s where part of the discrepancy and the controversy that comes in around this particular pathway. Aleister Crowley must have thought this path was essential to the angelic conversation, as he named his treatise on Abramelin‘s magick “Liber Samekh,”1 while others think this integration should have already taken place, and that your HGA should act as a guide through the Chapel Perilous of Samekh. The controversy comes in the numbering, and the order by which the paths “should” be undertaken. There are three pathways that approach the central sphere of Tiphareth: Ayin, Nun, and Samekh, emanating from Hod, Netzach, and Yesod, respectively. Ayin and Nun are ruled over by the tarot trumps XV, The Devil, and XIII, Death, who act as guardians for Tiphareth, and must be accounted for to take advantage of the lessons learned there. By breaking with the accepted numeration and going straight up the centre, one avoids the imbalances and distortions of veering off to the side pillars. In magick, as in life, balance is the thing.
However, moving up the centre from the realm of the moon, Yesod, dealing with dreams, reflection, conditioning, and the emotions, straight through to the solar logos of Tiphareth can be damned painful, as is illustrated in St. John’s Dark Night of the Soul.
The dark night of the soul
Souls who begin to enter this dark night when God proceeds to lead them from the state of beginners proper, to those who meditate on the spiritual road, and begins to set them in that of the progressives, which is, at length, that of the contemplatives, to the end, that passing through this state, they may reach that of the perfect, which is the Divine union of the Soul with God.
— St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul
I selected this particular pathway to work almost arbitrarily. The Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel has been at the forefront of my thinking and metaphysical investigations for the last four years, after I hastily scribbled out the magical oath and started working my way through the Enochian Calls, during a period of unemployment and existential crisis. This experiment directly led to the uprooting my life in Colorado and heading to parts unknown, as in my current home of the Pacific Northwest, as I felt I had a “calling” to do so.
My magical history is not that uncommon for someone of my age group. I’m 34 now, but no less bittersweet for it. I was introduced to the velvet jaguar rumble of my very own soul as a fledgling magician at the tender age of 16 thanks to a combination of ecstatic dancing, loud music, and mind enhancement. It was a classic case of “the roads of excess leading to the palace of wisdom,” to quote Blake. I was annihilated that something so potent and beautiful could reside in my chest and pineal gland, and while I was comforted by that presence. I was utterly shattered that I could not approach his beatific perfection. This created a disastrous duality of unrealistic expectations and self-loathing that would lay the groundwork for my undoing during my 20s, laying me low with alcoholism and suicidal despair. “If I can’t be perfect, I will be the foulest, filthiest person alive,” was the reasoning. I fell so far from grace I forgot what light looked like.
But grace or spirit intervened, as it will, after running me through the nigrado grist mill of addiction for six years, I emerged blinking, back into the sunlight. And my path, my calling was right there waiting for me, as it always was.
Samekh and approaching the state of Tiphareth is vital to my survival and thriving in this life that has been carved out for me. I am, by profession, a creative person and a semi-professional reviewer and critic. It is easy (and tempting) to get lost in the wings of Hod and Netzach, either by analytically studying art, deconstructing it down to its nuts and bolts in an effort to explain it, or I could dally in the sensuality of Netzach, focusing on the emotions and aesthetics, which feels good but doesn’t really help me learn how to make art of my own and could also lead to superficial thinking and bandwagon-hopping.
Either way is simply not good enough, and I have to go further to do what I feel is called of me to do in this lifetime. I am looking for the dark heart of creativity — for the personal motivations and the cultural significance, the depth psychology, the craftsmanship… There is so much behind one note of recorded music, and if you fall short in at least attempting to decipher these various layers, you’re not doing your job very well.
So I found the opportunity to write about a pathworking, and thought, foolhardily, “Sure, why not? I’ll do 25! I’ve been working on this HGA thing for a while. I’m ready to take it to the next level.”
Call me Ishmael.
— Herman Melville, Moby Dick
By nature a pathworking is more of a doing than a state of being; more verb than noun. It is a process that connects the eternal spheres of the sephiroth, each of which can be seen as its own self-contained universe, or its own paradigm or reality tunnel, if you’d rather. So each path contains each of the sephiroth it touches, as well as the inner logistics of journeying.
To me Samekh is about bridging the higher and the lower. It is about becoming who you know that you are, and who you wish to be. It is also about acting in accordance with the divine plan, whatever that means to you. And here’s where the magical mission begins to break down.
We all like to think we have some grand, epic destiny (and we all do, in time). We like to think we’re magicians because we’re special, have been selected by the universe to shoot lasers out of our eyes, and sit at the table of the legion of enlightened extraterrestrials. We don’t like to think that it may be our destiny to be the victim of a serial killer, or to be hated and feared by everybody we meet. But we simply don’t know. That’s the nature of the big picture.
By approaching the solar logos of Tiphareth, we begin to move in accord with the celestial currents. Tiphareth, we may remember, is the sphere of humanity’s enlightened masters — Jesus, Buddha, et al. People that took their directions from above, and took no heed to what society expected of them. But even Jesus, the son of God, baulked at the mandate, isolated and forlorn in the Garden of Gethsemane. Following cosmic law is an often thankless task that can make you widely despised, and can have serious ramifications on your daily life. Just ask Socrates.
These are the times that try men’s souls.
— Thomas Paine
As usual I dashed into the fray with this pathworking, beginning a seven day journey where I surrounded myself with imagery associated to the path — the Temperance card, angels, centaurs, rainbows, the colour green, images associated with Jupiter and the law — all while practicing a basic spiritual regime of reading, writing, and meditation. Very quickly, within 24 hours of the checkered flag, I was beginning to experience results. References to centaurs began to proliferate, leading me to delve into the myth of Chiron, that wounded healer that sacrificed his life for Prometheus. I realized that both my girlfriend and myself have Chiron in the twelfth house, which means it’s amplified between the two of us. This is a common aspect of shaman, curing the psychic ills of society, as well as drug addicts and religious fanatics.
I could feel the sickness of this world in the dirt of mind, and began to be aware of how I am a by-product of it. I can feel this century burning and burping in my subconscious. It’s glorious, in part, and has skads of potential. But there is the ever increasing demand to keep up, to be “with it” and “current,” and you’re ostracized like a leper if you don’t (this is increasingly true when working with the media). I am a person who finds art to be the most holy, wholly magnificent thing on the planet, metaphorically spun from the stuff of souls and dreams. And yet, the prevalent thought treats it like a commodity, like a future to be traded and bartered, like sow’s stomachs or ethanol. This is to completely miss the transcendent, life-altering properties of creativity, to put it mildly. Part of becoming who I am, and who I want to be, involves slowing down, relishing each moment in a piece of music or book. In this way you can see how reviewing records approaches the mindfulness of eastern mysticism, one aspect of what they term “enlightenment.” I want to be a person who values art, and quality, and soul, and friendship, and does not treat it as another escape or soothing balm for the aches of existence.
In a fitting bit of correspondence it turned from Scorpio into Sagittarius two or three days into this working, which led me to believe the timing was auspicious and that I was on the right path. There seemed to be an increase in Jovian concepts — the law and justice — that were popping up around that time, as the state of Missouri issued their ruling on the incident with Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Seismic echoes and rumbles seemed to be coming up a few days beforehand. I live with a lot of hot-blooded activists, and tensions were running high.
After brazenly implementing this transformation, eagerly imagining my new state of grace, I found myself acting in my absolutely worst capacity, the lowest of the low. Within 48 hours of this process, I had managed to offend and alienate my girlfriend, all of my roommates, and most of my closest friends. I was the most reviled man on Earth, totally isolated, churning in poison.
Here’s where the dark night of the soul comes in, where the divine plan tests the supplicant’s faith. Is it really faith, if you always get what you want, and it just reinforces your comforting delusions? That sounds like wishful thinking to me. Faith is keeping going when you can no longer hear the voice of spirit and you begin to doubt whether you heard it in the first place. Faith is the knowledge that you might be mad, that you might lose all your friends and even your loved ones, and yet you walk on, placing one foot in front of another.
I mention this as a cautionary tale. A lot has been written about mucking about with magick when you don’t know what you’re doing. I won’t add to the demonization and say, “Don’t do this,” I will only say that magick works, and it has consequences.
As another illustration of this and an added example of reasons to travel up the middle pillar, I began consciously invoking femininity a month or two ago, noticing a gap in my understanding. I called on the feminine current only and fell hard — to the extent that I was almost another person for a few days or a week. Then, due to the fact that I was raised as a man, the flashback came hard, and I was acting more dude-like — judgemental, short tempered, self-righteous, overly serious, and utterly sure of my convictions — than ever before, and in the most ill-dignified way imaginable.
Travelling the middle path avoids the pitfalls when one looks at only half the equation, and is the safest way to progress. A note of warning for magicians that are heavily entrenched in a gender identity, however, as these awakenings can have serious and troubling repercussions on your sense of self, which is part of the point.
The rainbow bridge
The seventh day and culmination of the ritual happened to fall on the American holiday of Thanksgiving. While most families were gathered around tables stuffing their gorge with turkey and stuffing, I took to the streets to cross the St. John’s Bridge in North Portland, and enter the wilderness that is Forest Park on the other side of the Willamette River. My occult workings had had the additional Sagittarian result of pushing me out onto the streets. I tend to work from home, but my home had become uninhabitable and intolerable and I found myself wandering endlessly and aimlessly.
I had originally intended to make some original music for the sake of the ritual, but ended up having to grab a stack of tapes and CDs on the way out the door. This ended up suiting my needs just fine. I listened to an artist named Pure, for the walk up, and crossing the Gothic cathedral span of the St. John’s Bridge, letting its waves of noisy, coruscating techno grind my thoughts and personality into sawdust. Once across the water I put on a cassette from a friend of mine who makes music under the name Holy Filament. In this case, I was the Holy Filament conducting the electrons of the universe through my meagre frame.
The thing about living in a bridge town is that energetic shifts and reality switches are fairly commonplace every time you cross the water. Walking across the impressive St. John’s Bridge had the feeling of approaching the temple as the grey water of the Willamette River met the deadened grey sky in a wall of spume and mist. There was a strong sensation of entering another world.
This was compounded by the primordial tangle of Forest Park, whose trail head is immediately over the bridge. Don’t let the name fool you as it is a park in name only, bearing a stronger resemblance to a Mesozoic jungle with some dirt footpaths through it. I entered as a supplicant, like Kafka in Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, seeking the origin of myth and dreams.
I walked for a while in the silence, listening to the swift slithering of falling leaves, until I came across an enormous treefall that spanned a ravine, 20 feet in the air. Here would be my challenge: a representation of the rainbow bridge, my very own bridge to Terabithia, where I could leave behind consensual reality.
Crossing the mossy tree was mostly a breeze, it being about as wide as a pedestrian bridge. It forked two-thirds of the way through (I took the left-hand path), and the last third was the trickiest and the slipperiest. I was back above ground when I started to lose my footing, having to grab hold and scramble my way up the dirt and woodchips. I emerged into a secluded clearing of brambles and sticks, trembling and reeking of the cold sweat of fear. I quickly marked my territory, aided by coffee and real terror, and then set to work clearing the space.
I performed the Lesser Banishing Ritual of Pentagram, and then hung out and meditated in the sacred space. I sat there for a long, long time. I ate my auspicious, impromptu dinner of cold chicken and potatoes in a silent forest clearing while the rest of the country gathered in gratitude and togetherness. My site was beautiful and moving, and also terribly, dreadfully lonely. I sat and thought of the path that had brought me to this point, and resolved to keep going, that it was worth it, no matter what the costs.
By the end of my seven day adventure I felt that I had learned a ton and grown tremendously, although the path was arduous and painstaking. It brought me closer to my alcoholism and the person I was during that time than I have probably been since those days, as well as to intrusive suicidal thoughts that would not leave me be. And still I wandered. Still I had faith. Still I prayed.
I like to think that this journey has brought me closer to real justice, real understanding, and not just the image of. It’s learning how to see the world through another’s sets of eyes, and how to think beyond your own petty concerns and opinions.
Call me Ishmael
The demon of the 25th path is known as Hismael, which can also be translated as Ishmael. Not a lot is known or written about Hismael, but the name alone corresponds to the biblical character of Ishmael and, of course, the narrator of Moby Dick. That leviathan of a book opens with those immortal three words, “Call me Ishmael.” Ishmael was the only survivor of Ahab’s relentless, monomaniacal quest to slay the white whale. Ishmael’s existence asks us, “Who are you when the questing is done? What do you do when the calling is through?” It may have been Ahab’s destiny to destroy the whale, and perish in the process, but Ishmael was just along for the ride.
The image of Ishmael floating in the dark water of the ocean, surrounded by jetsam and the memory of his fallen comrades, is a decent illustration of the perils and potentials that await when walking the 25th path, and weathering the dark night of the soul. But there is light, real hope, real understanding, and real justice on the other side, and it is a magician’s duty to try and ascend. In these dark and hurt times, as a society, as a planet, we need it.
Image credit: Hartwig HKD