The occult, writ large, is a journey of the spirit. It will not reveal the secrets of the universe, but it will show you as much of “what is” as your spirit can hold. It’s not a sly trick to getting what you want, though you will receive things never imagined. And while no one is unbreakable, insoluble, and whole, you will learn to rally all parts of yourself in the service of who you truly are.
And lastly, you will find that what you learn, what you do, and what you become are nothing but metaphors to those you have left behind. You will have become a living myth, and will be silent even when you speak.
When you have done this, you will know the others of your kind. Whether they have made this journey by choice, by initiation, by happenstance, or in a battle for their lives, you will know when your eyes meet theirs. You will know without words that we are one people.
“To Know, to Dare, to Will, to Keep Silence”
All of us ascend the Witches’ Pyramid. We struggle to raise the Four Pillars of the Witches’ Temple. Our work is to reveal in each of us the Powers of the Sphinx. These are not virtues limited to the occult, to magi and witches. But what our teachings do is give us a roadmap, a blueprint, a mirror in which to see the next steps. Without them we would walk in darkness.
In the late 19th century, the poet Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942) translated and published a book titled Transcendental Magic, Its Dogma and Ritual (1896). A. E. Waite’s name is still familiar enough in occult circles. He’s the Waite of the Rider-Waite tarot deck.
Waite was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the head of the eventual faction that had it out with Aleister Crowley for control; it was a battle that shattered the order. In short, he was important in the development of the Western Occult Tradition.
All that aside, Waite’s translation was of Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, a book written by Éliphas Lévi and published in two volumes (1854 and 1856). If we say Waite was present at the birth of the modern occult, Éliphas Lévi was the grandfather.
Éliphas Lévi is the pen name of Alphonse Louis Constant (February 8, 1810 – May 31, 1875), a devout Christian in his own way. Though not famous in his own lifetime, Lévi was the originator of what later became the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. His version isn’t the same, but there is a clear relationship between the two.
Lévi was the first to write about the four Powers of the Sphinx. But the words most of us know are the translation of Waite: “To Know, to Dare, to Will, and to Keep Silence.” Something, I feel, was lost in translation.
Savoir, Oser, Vouloir, Se Taire
SAVOIR, OSER, VOULOIR, SE TAIRE —these were the words of Éliphas Lévi in his 1854 work, where he makes it clear that these four actions relate to the tarot cards. This is generally taken to mean that they relate to the four signs: the man, the bull, the eagle, and the lion – the scions of the elements, the four faces of the four drivers of the Merkabah (link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merkabah_mysticism), as well as the faces of the four Angel-Wheels of the Chariot of God.
But are those the right words? Mostly, we’ve been relying on Waite’s translation of Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie. It was Waite’s words, both on his own and through Aleister Crowley (another whole story itself), that carried the Powers of the Sphinx out around the newly burgeoning occult community after the fragmentation of the Golden Dawn. And Waite had his own views of what a magus should be.
To Silence Yourself
“To Keep Silence” is Waite’s translation of “Se Taire.” At least to me, Waite’s words evoke the silence of some occult order; it is an outer silence between the brothers and sisters of the occult.
But there is another reading, more literal, as well. “To Silence Yourself” means the same, objectively. But it turns this “verb” (in Lévi’s word) active once more. Silence is not a virtue for some outer reason. This is not about hiding the depths of the universe behind oaths and secret handshakes.
Lévi’s silence is instead a virtue in and of itself. It is “une discrétion que rien ne puisse corrompre ou enivrer” — a discretion that nothing can corrupt or intoxicate. It is not silence forced from without; it is the quiet of inner peace shining from within.
While Waite’s silence is a practical price we pay for knowledge, Lévi’s silence is a mythical badge of wisdom. The journey of the spirit is to ascend the Witches’ Pyramid, to attain the Powers of the Sphinx, and to become the magus. It cannot be taught, but the path is laid before us.
For further reading:
- Full text of “Transcendental magic, its doctrine and ritual“
- On the Powers of the Sphinx, Part 1: Eliphas Lévi
- On the Powers of the Sphinx, Part 2: Aleister Crowley
- Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, Tome Premier
- Dogme et Rituel de Haute Magie