ΣΤΗΛΗ 666

By Z.A.X.

 

 

 

A stele is defined as “An upright stone or slab with an inscribed or sculptured surface, used as a monument or as a commemorative tablet in the face of a building”(OED). Stelae have been used throughout history to commemorate important events or eulogize deceased individuals. The most famous of all stelae is arguably the Rosetta Stone found in Egypt by Napoleon in the late 18th century ev. This discovery ultimately led to the decipherment of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Obelisks having inscriptions are also a specialized form of stelae. Along with these commemorative stones, there are specifically magical stelae that are used for healing purposes. These are called cippi and usually have a depiction of Harpocrates standing on crocodiles. Water would be poured over this and the patient would then drink that water. Because the ancient Egyptians considered the words used in spells to have a specific magical quality of their own, the stelae (or papyri) are magical as well.

 

An interesting concept is that of the legominism, a word coined by G I Gurdjieff to denote a process where “ancient wisdom is transmitted beneath a form ostensibly intended for quite a different purpose”. He suggested that this wisdom could be conveyed by ancient architecture (pyramids), musick (Gregorian chants, Throbbing Gristle), poetry (Goethe), artifacts (relics), et al.  Our stele, the Stele of Revealing or Stele 666 is one such legominism that stands as the talisman that opened the Gates of the Aeon of Horus in 1904ev.

Today, it is known to the vulgar world by its Egyptian Museum catalogue number 9422. It is known to Thelemites as Stele 666 which was the number assigned to it at the time in 1904ev when Crowley and Rose Kelly discovered it in the museum at Gizeh, not Boulaq, as he stated. Although the collection that Crowley and Rose saw began its existence in the Boulaq museum, it was transferred in 1889ev to the Gizeh building. Crowley, however, persisted in referring to the Boulaq museum as witnessed in the Equinox of the Gods.

This Stele is unusual in that it is made from wood, most likely Acacia wood. This material was popular in Thebes during the era of its owner Ankh-af-na-Khonsu but not so in others eras or locations. As with ancient stelae in general, most Egyptian stelae are made from stone, rather than wood. It is only due to the exceptionally dry climate that wooden artifacts of any kind have survived. The use of wood for stelae was not an economic measure because wood in Egypt was, and is, relatively scarce. Our Stele is also notable because it is painted and inscribed on both the front (obverse) and the back (reverse). It would have found use in either the tomb or offering chapel of its owner. Others that were found with it were blank on the reverse. All of them share similar dimensions. Stele 666 measures 51.5 cm x 31 cm. They were most likely discovered in 1858ev by early Egyptologist, August Mariette in the massive temple of the 18th dynasty queen/king Hatshepsut. It is believed that they were placed there in antiquity for safe keeping and had no meaningful connection with her.

 

The principals depicted on the obverse are Nut, the female figure arching over the rest of the scene, Horus Behudet, the winged globe with uraei (snakes) hovering over Ra Horakhty, the falcon-headed and throned  figure on the left. Ankh-af-na-Khonsu, the Adorant, is on the right, and in an attitude of declamation or summoning (A’ash). An altar stands between the latter two figures and is stacked with offerings. The Adorant here is calling upon Ra Horakhty to admit him into the Company of the Gods. He wishes to have the right to say “there is no part of me that is not part of the gods”. It is likely that our Ankh-af-na-Khonsu was a lector priest who, in life, read aloud from the sacred texts as the god (Mentu or Ra) was brought out and displayed to the people in elaborate processions. The role of priest made Ankh-af-na-Khonsu an important and respected member of the community. He probably lived during the XXVth or XXVIth dynasty when Egypt was in a decline as a strong regional power.

 

The god forms depicted on our Stele are typical of many stelae of the period. Egyptian art was very structured and formulaic. Scenes in tombs and in tomb artifacts were no exception.

 

Nut (Nuit), in the Egyptian pantheon, is the sky goddess and is a literal representation of the sky and the stars. She acts as a barrier between the Outer Chaos and the order of earthly existence. Both her hands and feet are touching the earth. Her function is easily recognized in the scene depicted on the stele as she forms a border in the upper register.

 

Horus Behudet (Hadit), hovering just beneath the arch of Nuits’ body is a form of Horus that serves a protective function for the solar god Ra in his form of Ra Harmachis (Ra Harmakhu). He is referred to in the hieroglyphs as the Great Lord of Heaven. It was necessary for Ra Harmachis to employ this assistance as he was very old and needed help from his son who took on the form of a winged disk. In this form, he was able to locate the enemies of Ra and attack them with vengeance. It should be noted that this solar disk is guarded by twin Uraeus serpents.

 

Just beneath the winged disk and on the left side, we see a throned, hawk-headed figure holding the uas scepter of royalty and facing right. This is Ra Heru-Khuti (Ra-Hoor-Khuit). Because the symbol of Amenta, the underworld.  and Osiris’ domain, he is here associated with Osiris-Sokar the chief god of the Dead. Specifically, he is the god of the first of fifteen sections of the Sekhet Aaru which is an Underworld parallel of the mundane world. This connection is understandable as our Stele is funerary in nature. Even though Ankh-af-na-Khonsu is a priest of Mentu in life (a very martial entity), he needs to identify with a funerary god in the underworld for him to gain immortality. In our case, we have a god, Ra Horakhty, who is both martial and, when identified with Sokar-Osiris, is funerary as well.

Beneath the scene that dominates our stele are 11 lines of hieroglyphics which are from the 91st Chapter of the Book of the Dead. This is a spell for “not letting a mans’ Soul be imprisoned in the Underworld”. Crowley had all of the hieroglyphs from the stele translated by the museum staff. He put all of this into verse but it is the obverse of the Stele that is part of Liber AL vel Legis. On the reverse of the stele, chapters XXX and II, respectively, are depicted. The former is a plea for the heart not to betray its owner or speak badly of him. The latter is a spell for coming forth by day and doing ones will among the living.

 

It should be noted that an Egyptian funerary stele was believed to house the Ka, or life-force, of its owner which survives physical death. In our case the owner is Ankh-af-na-Khonsu, the priest of the princes and who was the scribe that took the dictation of AL vel Legis.

On 18 March 1904ev, Crowley and wife Rose visited what he referred to as the Boulaq Museum. He wanted to see if Rose could identify a representation of Horus who she stated was the “waiter” after becoming “inspired” while Crowley was attempting to amuse her with his magical skill. He claimed that her statements were strong enough to warrant the trip to the museum. She apparently passed by a number of representations of Horus but went directly to a glass case containing, among other things, an “obscure and undistinguished” wooden stele with the god Ra Horakhty on the obverse. Crowley examined the Stele and, lo and behold, it was exhibit no: 666! The iconography of this stele would dictate the cosmology of Liber AL vel LEGIS. The three god forms on the obverse of the stele describe the nature of the three chapters. Nuit is visible on the stele as a presence which oversees all of manifestation. Her depiction suggests stasis and stability. Heru Behutet would be translated into the solar-phallic Hadit and his depiction suggests movement and ability to rise high and become invisible even though always present. The interplay of Nuit and Hadit is that of the circle and the point within. Ra Horakhty would be translated as Ra Hoor Khuit and his depiction suggests power and authority as he wields the uas scepter. The Stele, of course, introduces Ankh af na Khonsu who is present throughout Liber AL vel LEGIS.

 

It is interesting to question what course Thelema would have taken if the Stele would not have been there in the museum on 18 March 1904ev. It is integral to the whole of the Great Revelation. Was the Stele and its Egyptian iconography necessary because Crowley was trained initially in the Golden Dawn which utilized Egyptian god-forms in ritual?

 

David Jones presented an excellent discussion at Notocon 2005 where he stated that revelation, when it comes, needs to be presented to the recipient in terms that can be understood and are present in his/her consciousness. Egyptian and biblical mythology were part of Crowleys’ intellectual inventory. There is distinct biblical imagery in AL vel LEGIS as witnessed very prominently in the numerous references to the Beast and the Scarlet Woman. These are major characters in the Apocalypse of St John aka Revelations. Another clear reference to biblical literature comes in Chapter III, verse 19: “That stele they shall call the Abomination of Desolation; count well its name, & it shall be to you as 718”. The Abomination of Revelation comes from the OT book of Daniel and the NT books of Mark, Matthew, and Revelations. Daniel speaks of this in terms of the proscription of the Jewish religion by Antiochus Epiphanes when he erected an image of Zeus in the Temple. This was considered by the Jews as the ultimate blasphemy. The NT references to the Abomination liken it to the “image of the Beast” in Revelations. This places our Stele, the Thelemic Abomination of Revelation in some pretty nasty company. Verse 19 of Chapter III also states that the stele would have the numerical value of 718. Crowley, being a good Qabalist, worked out this problem and explains his efforts in the Commentaries. After some trial and error, he eventually hit upon the correct explanation. He reasoned that the difference between 666 and 718 was 52. Implementing a little-used Greek numerical convention which assigns the numeration of “6” to “ΣT”, he derived the value of ΣΤΗΛΗ 666 as 718 (ΣΤ=6, Η=8, =30, Η=8). Therefore, he derived ΣΤΗΛΗ 666 as 718.

 

We are made distinctly aware of the importance of the promulgation of Thelema by the direction given to the scribe in Chapter, verse 10: “Get the stele of revealing itself; set it in thy secret temple-and that temple is already aright disposed- & it shall be your kiblah forever…”. A kiblah is any direction which one faces to pray. The word is usually used in connection with the holiest shrine in Islam, that of the Kaaba which is located in Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Crowley never got possession of the Stele, which has been displayed in a “locked glass” on and off since 1904ev, but always in a museum. Verse 11 speaks of an “abstruction” which Crowley considered to be a replica. He did, indeed, have a replica made. The Thelemic holy place or kaaba was established at Boleskine, Crowley’s residence on Loch Ness. Boleskine is still the direction, or kiblah, that is used as the Thelemic magical East.

 

I was unable to view the stele in 1979ev because, unfortunately, it was not on display. Naturally, this was a disappointment. A group of Thelemites and OTO members did, however, visit the Egyptian Museum to view it as it is now displayed in the “locked glass”. I spoke with a number of the group and they all told me that was a remarkable experience to be able to see it. My interest in Egyptology in general has made me especially interested in the Egyptian influence that surrounds AL vel LEGIS. Without that influence, the nature of our revelation would have taken a different course. I don’t believe that it was coincidence that the revelation occurred in Egypt. It possesses a very ancient and powerful magical current and one in which Crowley was conversant.

 

Our Stele has a very special importance to Thelemites even though to most people it is just an interesting example of a later dynasty Egyptian artifact. We are fortunate that it still exists and can be viewed.