Summary

The really short version of the history of the Western Magical Tradition is that most of the essential principles came about as a combination of eastern philosophy (e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism) and Rosicrucianism. Theosophy was invented as a means to reconcile these disparate systems into a single coherent model. Note that the use of the word ‘cosmology’ in this paper refers to the philosophical concept, not the scientific one. We’re charting the phases of emanationist creation, not the stars.

Kabbalistic Cosmology

Put simply, eastern philosophy simply doesn’t work for people living in the modern world. Few people have the luxury of being able to stare at a blank wall for 5 years to attain some degree of enlightenment. The Theosophists dug into this issue and asked “why are such extreme practices necessary?”. The answer was that the Eastern cosmology was overly simplistic, in the sense that it did not define enough stages in their transcendental model of creation (they defined 5). Because of this, each stage of advancement required a very large leap in understanding and awareness from the previous one.

Interestingly, the existing Kabbalistic model was even worse, only defining 4 transcendental worlds: Assiah, Yetzirah, Briah, Atziluth. But the one very helpful thing that the Kabbalistic model does is to explicitly draw out the correlation between the microcosm (the world in your head) and the macrocosm (the world of shared experience) by defining a corresponding set of microcosmic worlds (or levels of the soul): Nephesh, Ruach, Neschamah, Chiah. These are further given form as transcendental states through their correlation to Tetragrammaton. So, taken together, we have a Kabbalistic cosmology that looks like the following table. Note that the worlds are listed in order from the most abstract at the top to the physical world at the bottom.

The Kabbalistic Cosmological Model
Tetragrammaton Macrocosm Microcosm Meaning
Yod Atziluth Chiah Emanation
Heh Briah Neschamah Creation
Vav Yetzirah Ruach Formation
Heh (final) Assiah Nephesh Action / Physical

 

One attempt to reconcile this model with the Buddhist 5-World model was to simply add another world to the top representing quintessential essence. Leveraging the symbolism of Adam Kadmon as the quintessence of existence, this provides a means to accomplish this in a way that is logical and doesn’t disturb the meaning of any existing worlds in the model. while this does appear to work on paper to rectify the predominant Eastern and Western models, we are left with the fact that adding another layer at the top of the model isn’t particularly useful for anything. It’s too far removed from everyday experience, or even our wildest flights of fantasy, to be of much use from a practical perspective.

A New Western Cosmology

Focussing on the practical utility of these models, we find that there isn’t a lot of room to describe the most common aspects of the mental universe. essentially, everything you know to exist that isn’t physical gets lumped into one world, Yetzirah, with only ‘inspiration’ or perhaps ‘creativity’ falling into the world of Briah. That’s all well in good in the sense that the model is complete and consistent. But it’s also often relegated to footnotes in Kabbalistic texts because of the very limited utility, Remember that a cosmological model may serve multiple purposes at the same time. It can be a map of how things came into being. Or it may be a map of the soul’s journey back up the source (i.e. The Flaming Sword). Or it may describe the journey of consciousness to ever-higher states of awareness. It can also map concepts and their relationship to one another. A particularly well-crafted model could even tell us what happens when we die. 

But the traditional models don’t satisfy all the criteria listed above. Not to mention that they leave little room for improvement. While they may have served the needs of monks who devoted their lives full time to the search for enlightenment, they offer little (aside from general concept) as a tool for the modern person seeking to elevate their level of awareness. So we see here that due to the changing needs of people – due to changes in society and the way we live our lives – there exists a need for a cosmological model with much more room for more granular definitions in order to have a system of self-improvement that is compatible with modern life (i.e. without the need for each person to retire to a monastery). 

After struggling with the limitations of the traditional cosmological models, a group of Theosophists led by Charles Leadbeater, William Atkinson, and Annie Besant, developed a cosmological model that was still consistent with the traditional models but divided each cosmological world into many more granular divisions or ‘planes’. The result was a 7-world model with each of those worlds comprised of 7 planes, giving a total of 49 stages of both understanding and modeling. This gave magicians much more room to place various concepts and experiences and also model their relationships to one another. It may even offer a means to achieve the goal of mapping the afterlife.

For example, only then did we have a place to model the concept of the Holy Guardian Angel (that was originally, though indirectly, defined by a third-century Neoplatonist named Iamblichus. Unfortunately, the concept was appropriated and repurposed by the Catholic church, who never really understood the original intent or purpose of the concept. It was only revived in the 19th century with the discovery and translation of Iamblichus’ original treatise “De Mysteriis Aegyptorum”, which interestingly is a book about demons. This development directly influenced and contributed to the establishment of the (pre-Crowley) A.’.A.’. system of magick and The Golden Dawn system of initiation.)

 

So here’s where we have a discrepancy between the Eastern and Western cosmologies. There is no comparable concept to the HGA in Eastern cosmology. The reason is that they simply skipped that part. They had the means to devote themselves so fully to their spiritual work that they could muscle through without it. In the Western Magical Tradition, the HGA is a critical element needed to guide the Adept on their journey to the Abyss (if that is their Will). But in truth, like most everything, the HGA is a pure fabrication. In fact, it’s a fabrication that each Adept must individually create. However, just because it’s an abstract construct of thought doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Unfortunately for us, the publication of this model in “Initiation: Human and Solar” by Annie Besant came at a time when there was much discord and political infighting in the occult philosophical communities. The Golden Dawn was gone (now reimagined as Stella Matutina), The Theosophical Society may not have technically been gone, but it was in spirit aside from the effort of these few dedicated researchers. Consequently, the release of this new model went unnoticed and that is precisely why you haven’t heard of it before now.

A Personal Cosmology

While such static models can provide an excellent starting point for the magician’s inner or outer journeys, we must keep in mind that we are all gods, in a sense, creating reality as we go along. So it is up to each of us to determine if these models are appropriate or not and to fill in our own experiences and knowledge. In this way, each initiate can model their individual progress in understanding as they advance in their studies and self-reflection. 

Therefore, it is incumbent on each magician to define and document a personal cosmology and worldview (which happens to be a requirement for the Adeptus Exemptus grade in A.’.A.’.). All things that the magician knows to exist in the world must fit somewhere in that model (in practice, however, the documented model usually only contains those things that are of particular interest to the magician at that time). In so doing, the magician has a very firm foundation upon which to continue building a magical practice, as well as validation that their worldview is consistent and complete. 

Starting from scratch, that would be an insanely difficult thing to propose. Fortunately for us, by studying history and the major developments in general-purpose occult cosmologies, we have the luxury of being able to stand on the shoulders of giants. In this way, we can borrow what works, discard what doesn’t, and leave our next incarnations with even taller shoulders to stand on.