Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Visions of the Pylons: A Magical Record of Exploration in the Starry Abode by J Daniel Gunther.
The Visions of the Pylons documents a series of magical operations undertaken in the 1970s by Daniel Gunther with the scribal assistance of Richard Gernon. Although the work was premised on the names and sequences supplied in a series of ancient Egyptian texts regarding the Duant (“nether sky”), the visionary results recorded here are very much in line with the conventions of modern hermetic occultism. Moreover, on multiple occasions the guardians, angels, or other speakers manifest a more forthright acceptance and declaration of the Law of Thelema than the human operator demonstrates (N.B. 37 including footnote 14).
In his 21st-century editorial framing, Gunther is at some pains to bracket the more immature perspective he held as a young initiate of A∴A∴ “not yet fully a Philosophus” (129). He supplies a lot of explanatory notes, furnishing context as well as esoteric correspondences that might be lost on a lay reader. It is clear from the content that the magician was well immersed in Aleister Crowley’s doctrinal writings, perhaps in some respects more than the later editor. For example, when the seer relates, “Thus it is said, Thou must slay the serpent,” the editor opines that it “probably refers to the Hindu legend wherein Krishna commands Arjuna to kill the snake Ashvasena” (109). It seems more likely to me, though, that the allusion was to Crowley’s Magick, where he cautions the practitioner thus:
“When you have killed the snake you can use its skin, but as long as it is alive and free, you are in danger. And unfortunately the ego-idea, which is the real snake, can throw itself into a multitude of forms, each clothed in the most brilliant dress.” (Magick, 71)
Although the text is presented as “a magical record,” there has been a curious editorial decision to assemble the visions in non-chronological order. Instead, they progress through the pylons in their given numbered sequence. In most instances, this does result in a chronological advance, but the “Second Skry” of Pylon Five is placed before the visions obtained for Pylon Six, both of which were in fact earlier operations. Gunther’s editorial remarks make it clear that he came to the Pylons of the Duant with preconceptions about their relationship to the qabalistic sephiroth. Even if those preconceptions had to be revised (as they were) there is still a rigid adherence to the ascending sephirothic pattern. Editorial speculation about “a distinct analogy to the scientific theory of ‘wormholes,’ a hypothetical gateway through spacetime” is not only redolent of the confused effusions of Kenneth Grant, it comes worryingly close to the perspective of the “learned Qabalist” whom Crowley mocks for misunderstanding tantamount to having “maintained that a cat was a creature constructed by placing the letters C.A.T. in that order” (Magick, 141).
The effort to understand the Pylons in qabalistic terms results in an attractive set of color plates diagramming their relationship to the Tree of Life (between 144 and 145). These are similar to analytical work performed by Crowley on his own Liber CDXVIII, and reproduced in the 1998 O.T.O. edition of The Vision & the Voice with Commentary and Other Papers (Equinox IV:2, figures 15-17). Generally the format of The Visions of the Pylons exhibits direct modeling on Liber CDXVIII, although the content of Gunther’s visions is understandably less exalted, with less numinosity and insight than even the early Mexican visions of Crowley’s work in the Enochian Aires. Rather than the “Class A B” imprimatur of Crowley’s book, The Visions of the Pylons is appropriately issued in Class C, which A∴A∴ literature uses to designate “matter which is to be regarded rather as suggestive than anything else” (Magick, 458).
A set of appendices affords full procedural details for the method used in obtaining these visions. Of particular interest is the novel eucharist premised on ancient Egyptian sources and used as a magical engine for the work. This material stands as a clear exhortation and set of tools for further magicians to renew and extend the experimentation documented in this book. After all, Gunther himself only obtained visions for the first seven of twelve Pylons, and he repeatedly expresses his dissatisfaction with the integrity of his results. It may be that a complete exploration of the Duant on these lines would reflect attainment comparable to the full ascent to LIL recounted in The Vision & the Voice, and thus involve initiation to the grade of a Master of the Temple.
This edition also features a laudatory introduction from Italian O.T.O. Grandmaster Phanes, an index by subject matter, and frequent black-and-white illustrations and diagrams. It is as materially handsome as one could wish, and as one might have come to expect from Studio 31 book design.