The Four Powers of the Sphinx

The Four Powers of the Sphinx are as follows: to Know, to Will, to Dare, and to keep Silent. I can’t tell you the history of this grouping, if it’s ancient or not. I know Crowley talked about them. T Thorn Coyle wrote an entire book based on them. I’ve been thinking of these powers a lot lately, mostly in light of the last one.

Bonaparte Before the Sphinx by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1867-68.

I’m good at Knowing. I have always been a self-motivated learner. If I can’t find some one to teach me, I will press forward myself. I have an advanced degree in theology; I read non-fiction – particularly books related to my spiritual practices – all the time. Knowing is not the same as wisdom, but I figure it’s a good first step.

I am not afraid to assert my Will. I spend time thinking about what I want and discerning the best ways to make those things happen. I speak up for my choices and desires. I use all my tools in pursuit of my Will.

Daring also seems to come easily to me. It didn’t as teen and early adult; I was too crippled with anxiety to dare much. But each new daring act done has made the next one easier to do . I view to Will and to Dare as two sides of the same coin. Without knowing my Will, Daring because nothing more than a foolhardy act. Will without Daring is just an empty dream. Put the two together and magic happens. The times I have dared have been among my proudest moments and accomplishments – even if ‘success’ was not attained.

Silence is one that feels trickier to me. If my mother is reading this, I’m sure she just choked. I talked A LOT as a child. A LOT. It took a long time for the filter to grow in on my brain.  But I don’t talk all that much anymore. I’m much more of a hermit these days. I can keep secrets. Over the years I’ve grown my listening skills, which is another valuable magical skill and very much a part of keeping Silent.

Both of the traditions I practice are mystery traditions: initiatory lineages that involve a fair amount of keeping oaths and lore to one’s self. This I can do. Yet blogging makes things complicated. As it stands, I’m not an initiate of either tradition, so I have no oaths or secrets to betray! But there seems at every turn – every book I read, many of the conversations I have with initiates – a reminder to keep silent about one’s practices, thoughts, and processes. That certainly would make blogging about my spiritual practices and journey more difficult!

I see the importance of keeping silent, whether it’s not breaking oaths or just keeping something quietly to one’s self. It’s a bit like cooking. The stew isn’t ready – let it sit and simmer, with lid on. Or let the bread rise and bake. If you keep removing the lid or opening the oven the temperature wavers, the steam is released, and the final product will likely not be as excellent as it might have been. So we let the juices mingle and the heat do its transformative work, much like we do with magic.

Keeping Silent requires wise discernment, though. Silence can be deadly, as any abused person knows. Silence can also be a form of hoarding. Sometimes I wonder why I’ve read all of the books and taken all of the classes if I’m not going to use the knowledge in some way. Sharing that knowledge, either in teaching or in discussion, is one way I can use the skills I feel I’ve learned and earned over the years.

If it ever becomes necessary for the next step on my path, I will drop blogging like a hot coal. For now, it isn’t. So I’ll continue to ponder Silence – and the other three Powers of the Sphinx – in silence.


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  • Spiritscraft

    I think silence has its place, but that people called to share their practices do so for the benefit of the community. With no one speaking about their practices, no one could learn. I find that I will speak about something that is completed. A spell or spiritual practice attempted and successful or failed. Its actual experience to speak from rather than oversharing. I cringe when I see people go, I just cast this spell and here is how I did it… They aren’t speaking yet from a place of experience and so they are merely sharing undeveloped ideas–which has less value for them and for others. So when share they should do so in the sense of brainstorming or sharing with trusted friends. However, no one is barred from sharing if they want too, I just see it having less immediate value to the readers.

    • I’m not convinced that silence means no discussion whatsoever. I write to part of the wider community discussion, and because writing was and is part of my way of making sense of my own experience. We *do* learn from one another, and I think it’s important for individual growth and development.

      But silence is also valuable. As Thorn says, silence where gestation happens. Ultimately, honoring oaths and using discernment is necessary for wise Silence.

      • eelsalad

        I agree that silence doesn’t mean no discussion. I’ve found, though, that if I go yakking about some things, it borks the magic. Keeping silent about spells while they work, for example, or talking too much about something I’m writing before I’m finished with at least one draft.

        Plus, what is meditation if not a form of keeping silence? 🙂

  • Henry Buchy

    Think the first instance of them appeared in eliphas levi, “transcendental magic”

  • Henry Buchy

    another aspect of “to keep silent” is listening.