The Powers of the Sphinx
“To attain the SANCTUM REGNUM, in other words, the knowledge and power of the Magi, there are four indispensable conditions–an intelligence illuminated by study, an intrepidity which nothing can check, a will which cannot be broken, and a prudence which nothing can corrupt and nothing intoxicate. TO KNOW, TO DARE, TO WILL, TO KEEP SILENCE–such are the four words of the Magus, inscribed upon the four symbolical forms of the sphinx.”
Eliphas Lévi, Transcendental Magic
After musing on one of the Five Pagan Virtues as part of the Pagan Blog Project it was suggested that I could complete the series of five as personal reflection on these virtues. However I didn’t want to present them wholly out of context so what follows is a look at the history of the Five Virtues of the Thelmic traditions, also known as the Powers of the Sphinx, and linking into my personal musings. I would like to thank Michael Osiris Snuffin for his great website which allowed me to access the quotes I have used and firm up my knowledge of the Thelmic origins of the Powers of the Sphinx
These virtues, also known as rules, as laid out initially by Eliphas Lèvi and then expanded by Alistair Crowley, are the corner stone of ceremonial magic however they have wider applications as a practical approach to learning and growth within a pagan path. To Know, To Dare, To Will, To Keep Silent form the foundation of this and are more commonly known as the Powers of the Sphinx.
The Sphinx is a creature created from many part, but consistently contains a lions body and a human head and depending on the culture a few extra bits thrown in. Eliphas Lévi’s Sphinx is made up of head of a man, the torso and front paws of a lion, the rear end of a bull and the wings of the eagle. Lévi assigns each of these component parts a directon and element;
Power Kerub Element
Know Man Air
Will Bull Earth
Dare Lion Fire
Keep Silent Eagle Water
Lévi covered these powers over a series of works, slowly filtering his knowledge and understanding to the reader building on the theory that just as the Sphinx is made up of the four different elements so was Man, however the Sphinx represents perfect balance of these elements whereas Man must strive to attain them. In his final work The Great Secret Lévi states
“To attain such an achievement it is necessary to KNOW what has to be done, to WILL what is required, to DARE what must be attempted and to KEEP SILENT with siscernment.”
Using Homers the Odyssey Lévi then clearly lays down how Odysseus was able to achieve his return home using these four principles.
” … because he willed to see Ithaca and Penelope again, because he always knew how to extricate himself from danger, because he dared what had to be done and because he always kept silent when it was not expedient to speak.”
Lévi presents them as a series of steps which must be followed if mastery of the self and magic is to be attained.
“In order to DARE we must KNOW; in order to WILL, we must DARE; we must WILL to possess empire and to reign we must BE SILENT.”
Eliphas Lévi, Transcendental Magic
The final stage, developed by Crowley in his work Magick Without Tears, is the culmination of the cycle. According to Crowley it is by achieving the first four stages that practitioner is able to move forward, to Go, in a state of balance.
“You are familiar with the Four Powers of the Sphinx, attributed by the Adepts of old time to their Four Elements. Air is to Know, Scire; Fire is to Will, Velle; Water is to Dare, Audere; and Earth is to Keep Silence, Tacere. But now that a fifth Element, Spirit, is generally recognized in the Qabalah, I have deemed it proper to add a Fifth Power corresponding: to Go, Ire.
Then, as Spirit is the Origin, the Essence, and the Sum of the other four, so is to Go in relation to those powers. And to Go is the very meaning of the name God, as elsewhere shewn in these letters; hence the Egyptian Gods were signalized as such by their bearing the Ankh, which is a Sandal-strap, and in its form the Crux Ansata, the Rosy Cross, the means whereby we demonstrate the Godhead of our Nature.”
Allister Crowley, Magic Without Tears
The astute reader will notice that Crowley mixes the associations up in comparison to Lèvi and he presents a variation of associations in his different works however his final associations are as follows;
Sign Symbol Element Virtue
Leo Lion Fire Will
Scorpio Eagle/Dragon Water Dare
Aquarius Man Air Know
Taurus Bull Earth Keep Silence
Sun Ankh Spirit Go
Lévi and Crowley both agree that by achieving each of the four preceeding steps the fifth is attained, a greater understanding of the divine self within.
Personal I see these five virtues as an everlasting cycle. The first step being to gather knowledge before you can attempt to dare to use it and will the end result into manifestation. Once the process of manifestation or use of knowledge begins we must reflect on how much we share outside of ourselves and immediate circle as we go forth and attain a final understanding. Once this is achieved we then seek to gain greater understanding and knowledge of the experience and ourselves and new avenues that our realisation might have brought to light and so the cycle continues.
The below links take you to my musings on the Five Virtues as discussed above. They are my personal understanding and should be considered personal gnosis rather than hard fast fact.
Keep checking back or follow my blog so you can see updates as they appear, they will be added to the blog roll as and when I complete them and linked in below.
I have also prepared a list of virtues of other traditions, mainly within the European sphere, as a reference. It doesn’t take a comprehensive look at these virtues however it does link out to other websites of interest for those wanting to know more.