The Angel & The Abyss

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Angel & The Abyss: The Inward Journey, Books II & III by J Daniel Gunther.

J Daniel Gunther The Angel and The Abyss

This sequel volume to Initiation in the Aeon of the Child reveals the larger structure of the “Inward Journey” to which it supplies the second and third parts. The first part, in the earlier book, was concerned with the Outer Order of A∴A∴, treating themes considered in terms of the qabalistic paths in the lower reaches of the Tree of Life. In the second part, which is The Angel & the Abyss (constituting most of the second book), Gunther applies himself to concerns of the Inner Order, as bracketed by the two critical tasks by which aspirants are admitted to and matriculated from its ranks. These are the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel and the Adventure of the Abyss. In the third part, The Hieroglyphic Triad, the ultimate three paths that integrate the supernal triad (to which the grades of the Third Order are attributed) are treated in a set of single-page diagrams with cryptic text.

The book features a glowing introduction from O.T.O. Australian Grand Master Shiva X°. Throughout the body text, there are frequent illustrations pertinent to the symbols and history under discussion. The end matter features several appendices: one on Egyptian writing, one on the Thelemic sacred text Liber Trigrammaton, and finally the “Class D” (official ritual) paper on the ceremonial robes of the Outer Order. This last item features a new set of photo illustrations to replace the drawings that were in the 1996 edition in The Equinox (Commentaries on the Holy Books and Other Papers).

As in the prior volume, Gunther takes a conservative approach to Crowley’s doctrines. Here, though, he makes bolder to contradict the common reception of those doctrines, and he is actually dismissive of some of Crowley’s earlier writings when he finds them superseded by later texts which differ in their understanding. Gunther is most decidedly not among those who believe Crowley to have overshot his mark in 1909 (a perspective variously represented by John Symonds and Alex Owen among others), and he points up the special conditions of the Cefalu period as cause for caution regarding Crowley’s output of that time, while he emphasizes the late writings of Magick Without Tears as a doctrinal standard. Throughout the book, there are useful observations on hermeneutic method, and applications of these to the Holy Books of Thelema, The Vision & the Voice, and the images of the Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot.

In common with Gunther’s earlier book and with other recent expositors of the A∴A∴ system, this work emphasizes conceptual continuity with Jungian psychology. Despite my estimation of Jung as an adept, I feel like Gunther’s references to “Archetypal perspective” tend to give too much credit to psychological theory for wisdom that was already demonstrated in Crowley’s occult works. Still, Gunther does criticize Jung for selling short the conscious ambitions of traditional alchemists.

The Angel & the Abyss employs an unusual quantity of analysis rooted in the history of religion, when compared to other books professing to address Crowley’s scriptures and initiatory processes. On the whole, Gunther emphasizes the conceptual distinctions between Thelema and historical religions, and he does an admirable job of calling out the redeployment of symbolic material from Egyptian, medieval Christian, and Asian mystical sources.

I was impressed, but not overwhelmed, with the previous part of this work. Seeing it now as a completed whole, I think it fully justifies its imprimatur, and it can be considered essential reading for those investigating the system of A∴A∴, and valuable for Thelemites in general. [via]