Of the Secret Compass and the Rosy Cross

What started all of this was a post by Freeman about what is and is not occult, about what is healthy and what is not healthy about literalism and symbolism (by the way, Freeman is a very learned fellow, and if you are interested in Western Esotericism, you should follow his blog straight away).

Anyway, Freeman said, “Today, we still need to cultivate our balance, and I see the so-called occult revival as playing an important role in that, at least until we swing too far the other way. We can’t have only Plato or only Aristotle, or only symbolism or only literalism, and remain healthy.”

I agree with that completely, so much so that I’d like to elaborate.

The Rose Cross of the Golden Dawn

Freeman mentioned, quite rightly, that “the original Rosicrucian literature…was a corrective to Christian dogmatism that contained a balance of spiritual and empirical elements.”

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn took up the cross, the Rosy Cross to be specific, and carried it into the 20th Century.  At the heart of Golden Dawn practice are two little rituals called the Qabalistic Cross and the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, the first and only rituals taught to members prior to initiation.

The Qabalistic Cross ritual is a re-envisioning of the Catholic or Orthodox crossing gesture that has been expanded into a complete exercise that includes some special words and visualizations.  Embedded within it you will find the Hermetic Quaternary, which is “To Know, to Will, to Dare, to Keep Silent.”  Each part of the Quaternary corresponds to a direction, to one of the four letters of the Tetragrammaton, and to a way of seeing.

  • To Keep Silent is to see mystically, which is to see yourself as an insignificant part of the Universal One (saying ATEH and touching the forehead).
  • To Will is to see magically, which is to see the universe as under your command and control (saying MALKUTH and pointing to the feet or lower tip of the spine)
  • To Know is to see gnostically, that is to know the universal truths in your bones (saying VEH GEBURAH and touching right shoulder)
  • To Dare is to see scientifically,  which is to doubt and test everything you see (saying VEH GEDULAH and touching left shoulder)

The enlightened person sees in all four ways at once without contradiction.  Both dipoles — the North/South/mystic/magic nor the East/West/gnostic/scientific — are viewed non-dualistically, which is perhaps why Hermeticism has been called “Western Zen.”

A compass rose. Note that it has a rose in the middle.

Now, it should come as a surprise to nobody that the thing one uses to stay on course is a compass, and the thing you draw on a map to ensure proper orientation is called a compass rose.

The rosy cross pictured on the left orients you on the map of the material plane.  The colorful one above does so on the spiritual map.





3 responses to “Of the Secret Compass and the Rosy Cross

  1. Beautiful.

    You and Freeman and Io over at viagnonstica are all writing about compasses and calibration settings. And that pre-Rosicrucian alchemical compass rose is also labeled with leaves suggesting sixteen or so processes of alchemy which each have a cognate in physical alchemy and a mental-psychological action. Which parallels the virtues of those four infinitive verbs, too: knowledge, courage, action and humility. When you parse those four virtues out into sixteen much more particular tactics for success, it turns out that Hermeticism has a really powerful toolset for internal and external transmutation.

    • Thanks Andrew, right on! I will check out Io for sure! The three books that have really cracked my head open recently are Inner Christianity, the Hauck Alchemy book, and Tarot: a Journey into Christian Hermeticism.

    • Thanks Andrew, right on! I will check out Io for sure! The three books that have really cracked my head open recently are Smoley’s “Inner Christianity,” Hauck’s “The Emerald Tablet: Alchemy of Personal Transformation,” and “Meditations on the Tarot: a Journey into Christian Hermeticism” by Anonymous. All are great in their own way.

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