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IAO -

A magical
FORMULA OF THE HIGHEST:
A Source Study from Origins to New Aeon Symbology
or, The ‘I’ in the Triangle.

A Paper presented at the


1ST ANNUAL AUSTRALASIAN THELEMIC CONFERENCE
University of Technology, Sydney, Oct 1996
By Fr. LVX/NOX (Leigh Blackmore)
© 1996

Updated draft as at June 2007: 8000 wds approx

See p. 53 Eight Lectures on Yoga for yogic formula


See EQ 3/10 p. 219 for Achad’s view that in IAO “Hru appears as the average Apophis to
those who try to go back, or retrogress”.

Part 1: ORIGINS

A. Introduction: What is a Magical Formula?

Lon Milo DuQuette’s is a handy and simple definition:


AA magical formula is a statement of perceived cosmological fact or theory. It can be as
simple as an axiom:
Love thy neighbour as thyself. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
It can be a statement or a set of symbols revealing the mechanism of a natural law:
As above, so below. All is sorrow. Love is the law, love under will. E = MC 2. YHVH.
INRI. AUM.
It can even be a single word that initiates an entire age:
TAO; ANATTA; IAO; Thelema. (Duquette p. 6)

This paper will suggest that IAO (as it occurs in Thelemic magic) is a formula combining
the “set of symbols revealing a mechanism” (or we could say a cycle or process) and the
“single initiating word”. It is a formula containing in its three letters various aspects of
the Great Work, and summing up (heiroglyphing) the essence of the Highest - that is, the
ultimate goal of the spiritual aspirant.

Caveat! However, it is a formula by no means easy to define and this study, by drawing
together historical threads with divergent examples of magical usages of the formula, is
primarily meant to be a suggestive elaboration of both verifiable and possible
correlations of the formula. Particular caution will be exercised in discussing the formula
in relation to Liber XV, The Gnostic Mass. Since the significance of Thelemic symbolism
is revealed only gradually in the OTO through the initiatic process, the interpretations of
an individual will more than likely reflect only the insights of the grade to which they
have attained.

Nevertheless by looking at usages of IAO and their various textual contexts, it ought to
be possible for any of us to gain some understanding. In Book 4 Pt 3 Ch 9: “Of Silence
and Secrecy and of the Barbarous Names of Evocation”, Crowley points out that IAO is a
supreme word of the kind which enshrines the complete formula of the God invoked (as
are also Tetragrammaton and Abrahadabra) (see Bk 4, p. 189). Given this information,
we ought to be able to apprehend, even if only dimly, the nature of the God invoked.
Putting connected ideas in co-relation is a mean of apprehending any magical formula.

Most participants in the Gnostic Mass as celebrated by the contemporary Ecclesia


Gnostica Catholica (E.G.C.) are probably aware that IAO was originally a deity of the
Gnostics, but may be unaware of the extent to which IAO features in other Thelemic
ritual, both theoretical and practical. My own attraction to researching this was through
participation in the Gnostic Mass, as Deacon, and as Priest, and wondering just what
energies calling on “the name of IAO” should be invoking.

This paper begins with the historical Gnostic context and comes up to the present
(where the facts of etymology are reasonably well-founded), after which applications of
the formula are examined from the perspective of several different esoteric traditions
(alchemy, Enochian and so on). Such examinations are bound to be somewhat more
hypothetical.

The paper presumes reasonable familiarity on the reader’s part with Thelemic magic in
general. However in support of each point I quote reasonably extensively from other
writers, Crowley in particular. The bibliography also contains detailed references for
further reading which I believe will be helpful to initiates and non-initiates alike.

B. The Gnostic Schools

The Gnostic schools were a very loose grouping of philosophical and in some cases
organised religious systems incorporating many influences from Indian Buddhism,
Persian Zoroastrianism, and Graeco-Roman philosophy. They gained prominence during
the first centuries AD and continued in some instances to survive for many centuries as
organised systems and as philosophical concepts which exerted not only great influence
on the development of classical Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but have continued into
modern times where they have been incorporated into such religious movements as the
Rosicrucians, Christian Science and the modern Gnostic Church. In talking about the
transmission of the Gnostic current we should clearly distinguish between the notion of
transmission of gnosis (which means ‘knowledge’) and transmission of Gnosticism. The
relevance of this will probably become obvious later in discussion of the Mass, which to
some extent raises the question of just how “Gnostic” is the Gnostic Mass.

C. The Gnostic , Graeco-Egyptian and Hermetic IAO

In The Secret Book According to John (from the literature known as the “apocryphal acts
of the apostles”, author and composition unknown though probably between c. 180 and
350 e.v.), Iao is given as the name of a demon with the face of a serpent and having
seven heads. This demon is the fourth of seven demons created by Ialdabaoth, the
product or offspring of Wisdom.

Each of these seven demons possibly corresponds to a day of the week and a planet.
Blavatsky, quoting Origen’s account of the Egyptian Gnostic attributions attributes them
as follows: Adonai (of the Sun), Iao (as the genius of the moon), Eloi (Jupiter), Sabao
(Mars), Orai (Venus), Astaphoi (Mercury) and finally Ialdabaoth (Saturn). (Secret Doctrine
p. 538) Iao is seen to correspond to the power of Lordship. Note here the lunar
attribution of IAO, as later it is attributed primarily to the Sun.

Move to footnote: (Blavatsky has an extensive discourse about IO and the moon and its
relationship to the Theban triad Amoun, Mout and Khonsu - see Secret Doctrine pp. 465-
66- this is extremely interesting and would be relevant to a study of the Lord of Thebes
and Ankh-af-na-Khonsu (which means “my life is in the moon”) but we can’t dwell on it
here.

Parallels between this sevenfold (heptarchic) conception of Iao, and Revelations’ account
of the Beast with seven heads could also fruitfully be pursued. See especially in this
connection Ch. 49 of THE BOOK OF LIES, “Waratah Blossoms”.

Footnote: [Kenneth Grant’s analysis in ALEISTER CROWLEY AND THE HIDDEN GOD of the
7 heads of the Beast as the seven stations of the Pole Star which make up the Great Year
is also suggestive but perhaps too personal a speculation on Grant’s part].
St Iranaeus of Lyon (c.130-200 e.v.) in his Against Heresies, wherein he summarises
what is known of the Gnostics’ beliefs, makes Iao the second of the seven demons; it
appears he knew a different version of the Secret Book According to John than the one
whose manuscript has come down to us. [Another early Christian writer, St Ephiphanius
of Salamis (e.v. c. 315-403) in a similar work (The Panarion), in contrast gives Iao as the
ruler of the first of seven heavens.]

Footnote: Iranaeus also gives a summary of Ptolemy’s version of the Gnostic myths
(Ptolemy being one of the first and most brilliant students of Valentinus, whose Gnostic
teachings spread throughout Italy and the East from AD 150-692). In this summary, the
meaning of the name Iao is related as follows: Achamoth, who represented the thinking
of Sophia (higher wisdom), had been cast forth in a region of shadow and emptiness, but
the anointed (Christ) took pity on this female being and stretched out along the cross,
forming her as a concrete formation. ”Now, once she had been formed and come to her
senses, and then been immediately emptied of the Word that was invisibly with her, i.e.
the anointed (Christ), she rushed to search for the light that had left her; and she could
not comprehend it, being prevented by the boundary. It was here that the boundary, in
preventing her from the impulse to forward motion, said “Iao!” This - they say - is the
origin of the name Iao.”

Iranaeus further recounts that each of the seven demonic beings or deities (known as
the holy septet) chose its own herald to glorify it and to proclaim that it was God
amongst the Jews. To Iao in this hierarchy of prophets belong the prophets Samuel,
Nathan, Jonah and Micah.

David Godwin (Light in Extension: 119ff) constructs a “Gnostic Ritual of Self-


Development” based on the
psychological myth-structure of the Apocryphon of John. In it, Iao is the planetary Archon
relating to the sun, and Ain this context represents false and unworthy authority -
specifically, your own ego, although here he is externalised and objectified. He has no
head as such, but seven hissing serpents sprout from his neck, an apt analogy for the
usual fragmentation of the conscious mind.

In a diagram called “The Mount Lebanon Diagram”, which represents a Tree of Life
system formulated by the Gnostic Ophites (Footnote: one of the earliest sects of
Gnosticism, known as “the Brotherhood of the Serpent”, and active in Egypt in the
second century e.v.) IAO corresponds to the position of Chokmah (Wisdom), the second
emanation on the conventional Qabalistic Tree of Life. In some Ophite placements,
however, IAO is shown as a spirit corresponding to Yesod - the sphere whose ruling
planet is the Moon. The Aurum Solis magical tradition also associates Iao with the Moon
(Godwin: 210.)

Blavatsky gives a complicated etymology too long to detail here, (Blavatsky, Isis
Unveiled: 298) which basically relates how the name IAO was often confounded with that
of Yahweh. “But the name IAO neither originated with, nor was it the sole property of the
Jews”. She then traces it back to an old mystic name of the Shemites, which was
communicated to Moses when he was initiated at Hor-eb. In an old religion of the
Chaldeans [Southern Babylonians] whose remains are to be found among the neo-
Platonists, the highest divinity, enthroned above the seven heavens, representing the
Spiritual Light-Principle...and also conceived of as Demiurgus, was called Iaw, who was,
like the Hebrew Yaha, mysterious and unmentionable, and whose name was
communicated to the initiated. The Phoenicians had a Supreme God, whose name was
trilateral and secret, and he was Iaw.” (Isis Unveiled and Secret Doctrine p. 541).

IAO is discussed in the Pistis Sophia, an extremely important Gnostic scripture normally
attributed to Valentinus. Pistis Sophia I, vii reads, in part:
“So the power of the little Iao, who is in the Midst, and the soul of the prophet Elias, they
were bound into the body of John the Baptizer”.

Blavatsky comments that in other Gnostic contexts IAO, far from being referred to as
“little”, is referred to as the great Leader of the Midst whom the Rulers of the Aeons call
the Great IAO, and that this apparent dualism is quite in keeping with all esoteric
systems. So that what appears to be inconsistency in the accounts of IAO is more
probably a reflection of the god having various aspects.

A variant version of the derivation of Iao is an amusing Egyptian anti-Semitic tradition


whereby the god worshipped by the Jews had to be an ass, because they spoke of him
(in Greek) as “Iao” (cf. Yahu, Yahweh) and the old Coptic word for “ass” was eio or iao.
Footnote: While this indicates a possible path of study of the relationship between IAO
and JHVH, the Tetragrammaton, Crowley emphasises the same view as Blavatsky in
Magick Without Tears: 24: “Nor is Tetragrammaton IAO, even though etymology asserts
the identity”.
Footnote: [Re: eio one could have some fun constructing a Crowleyean Qabalistic
analysis [along the lines of Crowley’s analysis of “Humpty Dumpty” in “An Interlude” -
see Bk 4 pp. 81-85 - of the children’s’ song “Old Macdonald Had a Farm” with its chorus
“ee-i-ee-i-o”]. Frater Numa [of Oceania Grand Lodge, O.T.O. Australia] has also pointed
out to me that the ass is sacred to Priapus etc. Jesus rides in on the ass, and Crowley
considers the Templars to have worshipped an ass-headed deity. There are many other
correspondences here.

Red Flame’s special issue on the Gnostic mass (see under Scriven in bibliography) has a
commentary
on Greek names used in the Gnostic Mass: AIAO is the Hellenized version of the Hebrew
Tetragrammaton. However, it has an independent linguistic association with Dyaus, the
name of the ancient Indo-European Sky God, with the Greek Divine Names Zeus and
Chaos, and with the Latin Deus. Qabalistically, it pertains to Tiphareth: the Divine Name
of Tiphareth in Atziluth is YHVH ELOAH VEDATH, the notariqon of which is I.A.V., which
can be pronounced IAO.”(Red Flame p. 76)

Hargrave Jennings describes some Gnostic gems wherein the name iao [with small
omicron] usually in conjunction with that of the Gnostic divinity Abraxas, is engraved
over or around some symbolic figures (see p. 181). Kenneth Grant and other writers
since Jennings, including Crowley, are wont to refer to IAO as “the Supreme Divinity of
the Gnostics” we have seen from Blavatsky that this might well have been the case,
though Crowley takes this a given and evidence for this supremacy is rarely adduced by
him. (There are other Gnostic deities whose names appear in Thelemic magick, and
whose significance would be interesting to investigate, e.g. Sabao, Abraxas, - Red Flame
p. 76 gives interesting background - etc but IAO seems generally regarded as the most
important of the Gnostic deities). [show transparency of gems]

IAO also occurs as one of the “Barbarous Names of Evocation” in that Greek-derived rite
which appears as the Preliminary Invocation of the Goetia (see the Legemeton - the
Lesser Key of Solomon) and its adaptation as “The Bornless Ritual” which was mainly
used by the Golden Dawn. It is therefore also significant in the context of Crowley’s Liber
Samekh, where for instance the barbarous name Aphen-IAF is recited along with Athou
treasure of IAO and SA-BA-FT is followed by a phrase which links “Hail IAO” with the
Thelemic deities Nuit, Hadit, Ra-Hoor-Khuit and the Great Wild Beast. However, a full
exploration of this would be a study in itself, involving detailed attention to Crowley’s
Scholion on the ritual. (See however note 601 in Book Four for further light on Qabalistic
interpretations of this Formula).
IAO according to Eliphas Levi’s History of Magic occurs in the Egyptian sacred calendars:
“where it is known that each month was placed under the protection of three decani or
genii of ten days, the first decanate in the sign of Leo is represented by a human head
with seven rays; the body has a Scorpio-tail and the sign of Sagittarius is under the chin.
Beneath the head is the name of IAO, and the figure was called Khnoubis, an Egyptian
word which signifies gold and light”. We see here obvious associations with the sphere
of Tiphareth – we’ll touch on this again later.

IAO by Greek Qabalah enumerates to 811, which is equivalent to (according to Kieren


Barry’s Liber MCCLXIV, the Greek Qabalah): the words for

- needle
- breast
- Attis (Eng.) (Note: Attis was a dying and resurrected vegetation god of Phrygia, widely
worshipped throughout the Roman Empire).
- to fart (relates the Nephesch or animal nature to the highest - Kether is in Malkuth; is
God to be found in a dog? etc). Also compare this with the Moon/Yesod attribution (moon
as the sphere of instinctuality).
- to perceive, to know (gnosis!)
- (Fiat) “Let there be” (Latin) (It would be interesting to compare this with the
imperatives in the Enochian calls). Crowley suggests, discussing his student’s Magical
Motto, “Fiat, being 811, is identical with IAO, and therefore FIAT YOD might be read not
only as “let there be” (or “Let me become”), the secret source of all creative energy, but
as “the secret source of energy of Jehovah”. (Magick Without Tears: 13)

David Godwin (p. 236) gives some further correspondences for 811: tessera (holy
symbol in Aurum Solis); and asteres (stars).

Tarot Attributions
See also 777, where in the chart “The Vital Triads of the Tarot”, the first is “The Three
Gods IAO”=, corresponding to Atu 0 (The Holy Ghost), Atu I (The Messenger) and Atu IX
(The Secret Seed). Valuable amplification of the components of the formula may
therefore be obtained by studying those chapters of THE BOOK OF THOTH which
explicate these particular Atus, commonly known as The Fool, The Juggler, and The
Hermit.

D. IAO in the Golden Dawn System of Magick (as Heiroglyph of the Great Work)

In the opening and closing of the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram, (LRH) we first analyse
the word INRI, then invoke the names of certain Egyptian gods (and their
zodiacal/planetary attributions) by saying:

Virgo, Isis, Mighty Mother.


Scorpio, Apophis, Destroyer,
Sol, Osiris, Slain and Risen.
Isis, Apophis, Osiris, IA0.

And we perform, as prescribed in Liber O, the LVX signs that are appropriate thereto, i.e.
related to symbolism of redemption - Osiris slain (the cross +), Isis Mourning - the
Svastika (L), Typhon (Apophis) (V) - the Trident, and Osiris Risen - the Pentagram (X).

This symbolism is derived from that of the Ceremony of the Grade of Adeptus Minor
(5=6 ritual)
in the Golden Dawn. (The complete ceremony can be found in Regardie, Volume 7, pp.
30-61). In this ceremony IAO is invoked at various points - firstly, in close association
with explanations of the Mystic Mountain of Abiegnus (p. 34); further on in the analysis
of the Key Word (pp. 36-37) and later again where the great avenging angel HUA is
invoked “in the divine name IAO” (p. 41).

Duquette p. 117:
“Considered by the Adepts of the Aeon of Osiris to be the “new, improved” magical
formula of the day, the Latinised/Christian formula of resurrection (INRI) is seen to
conceal the great formulae of the Egyptians and the Gnostics (IAO)”.

Crowley elucidates the connection of INRI with IAO (Book of Thoth: 276):
“INRI, the inscription on the Cross, becomes Yod Nun Resh Yod, which are in the heavens
Virgo, the Virgin Mother; Isis, Scorpio, Apophis the Dragon, the Destroyer; Sol, Osiris, the
Slain and Risen. The initials of these three divine beings thus make the more ancient
name of Jehovah - IAO. In this way the initiates of old expressed their understanding of
the fact that the Universe was after all perfect, even if requiring a little manipulation; but
as explained previously, this doctrine is for the weaker brethren, for those who are
suffering from the illusion of imperfection; it enables them to make their way to the
illimitable Light”.

In 777, Column CLXXXVII (Magical Formulae) IAO: INRI equates to Key Scale 30, 200 by
the Arabic Alphabet Numeration and 100 by Greek Alphabet Numeration. Its
correspondence in “Typical Diseases” is Repletion.

For the symbolism of INRI see also Rowe – paper cited in Bibliogaphy.

The paper “Qabalistic Dogma” from Crowley’s Collected Works I (written prior to 905)
describes the IAO formula and its relationship to the LVX signs as employed in the
Golden Dawn which formed the basis for the LRH in Liber O. Here Crowley takes a
morphological approach to the formula. :
“I is the Straight Line or Central Pillar of the Temple of Life; also it stands for Unity, and
for the Generative Force. A is the Pentagram, which means the Will of Man working
Redemption. O is the Circle from which everything came, also Nothingness, and the
Female, who absorbs the male. The Progress of the Name shows then the Way from Life
to nirvana by means of the Will: and is a Hieroglyph of the Great Work... (italics
mine)...their initials form the sacred Word of the Gnostics”.

Footnote: Blavatsky (Secret Doctrine p. 463) “Now Euthanasius declares that IO means
the moon, in the dialect of the Argians; and it was one of the names of the same in
Egypt.... The pillar and Circle (IO), now constituting the first decimal number, and which
with Pythagoras was the perfect number contained in the Tetractis [Tetrad] became later
a pre-eminently phallic Number - amongst the Jews, foremost of all, with whom it is the
male and female Jehovah”

This morphological explanation of I0 if applied to IAO does not define the “A”. Another
consideration in discussing these matters is the concept of the “excluded middle”. This
is the third term that many modern academics since the 1920's and the advent of
quantum uncertainty feel needs to be added to the Aristotelian logic of either/or. It
relates to the Hegelian idea of thesis/antithesis/synthesis. For instance, mathematician
John von Neumann, who proposed in 1933 discussing the new paradoxes of quantum
mechanics in a three-valued logic of false, true and maybe; and others such as
semanticist Alfred Korzybski - yes + no + a many-probabilitied middle; and in 1964
mathematician Lofti Zadeh invented fuzzy logic. (See Robert Anton Wilson, COSMIC
TRIGGER VOL III). All these could be applied to the middle term of the IAO formula but
let’s just make passing mention of that. The phrase “centre and secret of the Sun”
springs to mind as well.... Galian discusses the Hegelian Dialectic (pp. 50-51)
“The resulting materialisation of balanced visualisation is often neither the initial desire
nor the contradiction within, but instead a surpassing of the two. In philosophical terms
this is known as the Hegelian dialectic: Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis. In magickal terms,
Aleister Crowley illuminates this principle through the formula of I.A.O. “I” represents the
Egyptian Goddess Isis. Isis represents the energy that flows at the beginning of any
endeavour. She is connected symbolically to the Nile. She represents the virgin state of
“the matter”. Next we come to the letter “A” which stands for Apophis, otherwise known
as Set. Set is the deceiver. This is the time when enthusiasm and ardour at the
beginning of the venture is replaced by the dull routine. The energetic forward thrust of
the Isis Force meets up with the inertia of the Apophis force. Apophis represents the
opposing force. Lastly, we come to the letter “O” which represents the Egyptian God,
and brother-husband of Isis, “Osiris”. Osiris was a mortal King, slain by Set who then
rose from the dead. When Osiris rose from the dead, he became an Immortal God.
Through his encounter with the Contradiction or Opposing Force (Set), Osiris becomes
even greater than when he was a King. As Obi Wan says to Darth Vader in “Star Wars”:
“Cut me down and I will have more power than you can possibly imagine.” Therefore to
sum up, when we only visualise the positive, we neglect the occult fact that eventually
the universe will pull the pendulum in the opposite direction, thereby taking away our
goal, unless we do something to counteract the opposing force! The solution is not to
wage war upon the Opposing Force, not to exorcise it, banish it, or resist it, but to
encounter it, and to find a way to integrate it into ourselves.”

PART 2: IAO IN THELEMIC MAGICK

A. As invocation of the Old Aeon formula

REFER TO OTHER PAPER ON AEONS....

In Crowley’s work, IAO is sometimes mentioned simply in the context of the Old Aeon
formula. For instance, IAO is discussed in “The Master Therion: A Biographical Note” (a
paper by AC reprinted in The Heart of the Master) where it appears as that word uttered
by Dionysus (cf Buddha’s word ANATTA, Lao-tzu TAO, Mohammed ALLAH):

“For the function of the Magus is to proclaim a new Law by virtue of one Word in which
resides a Formula of Wisdom” (p.19 OTO revised ed 1992).

IAO – In Heart of the Master, p. 39 IAO comes under “the Voice of the Pelican” – “all that
liveth is blood of the Heart of the Master; all stars are at feast on that Pasture, abiding in
Light.” At top of triangle – Horus/The Perfected Man (freedom form polarity; in Jung’s
terms, a ‘conjunctio oppositorum’, a higher union). At bottom left, Isis (Physical man)
forms a polarity with Osiris (Spiritual Man). Also the points of the triangle represent the
Supernals, and don’t forget the Eye in the Triangle.
IAO is The Word of Dionysus – see Heart of the Master p. 9

Similarly in Liber Aleph: 71:


“Krishna hath names and forms innumerable, and I know not His true human Birth. For
his formula is of the major Antiquity. But His Word hath spread into many Lands, and we
know it today as INRI with the secret IAO concealed therein” (and so on).

And Liber Aleph: 208 re the Pure Fool:


“yea, and more also, I have known Thee who Thou art, Bacchus Diphues, none and two,
in thy Name IAO!”.

IAO also in section 49, The Benediction of Liber Astarte: “And so may the Love that
passeth all Understanding keep your hearts and minds through IAO Adonai Sabao” (Book
4 p. 627).

Vision and the Voice p. 74, NOTE 31: “Osiris, tricked into the belief in death, had to
overcome it by Magick, the formula IAO”.

However, clearly Crowley intended the Thelemic recontextualisation of IAO within the
Aeon of Horus to be plainly understood. “The Heart of the Master” (a visionary paper
written 1925 by AC in Tunisia) itself, in section III: The Temple of Truth indicates : “So,
when the time was ripe, appeared the Brethren of the Formula of Osiris, whose word is
IAO...Now, this great formula being fulfilled, and turned into abomination, [italics mine]
this Lion came forth to proclaim the Aeon of Horus, the crowned and conquering child,
who dieth not, nor is reborn, but goeth radiant ever upon his way...Of this Prophet the
word is Thelema” (p. 116).

In Fuller’s 963 (The Treasure House of Images) in the section “The 169 Cries of Adoration
of God” “I adore Thee IAO!” forms part of the refrain to every cry - a typical paeanic
usage within Thelemic usage where the divinity/supremacy of IAO is not elaborated and
is virtually taken for granted.

Duquette: “IAO, the great God of the Gnostics, even announces the magical formula of
life, death, and resurrection in the letters of its name: Isis (Nature) is ruined by Apophis
(the forces of destruction and decay), but is cyclically resurrected in Osiris” (p. 9). In this
sense the name is seen as an acronym or (loosely) as a notariqon of one of the main
symbolic truths which it represents.

In Confessions: 795) Crowley comments: “The old pagan worship of the Mother-idea was
superseded by the word IAO or its equivalents, which asserted the formula of the Dying
God, and made the Male, dying to himself in the act of love, the engineer of the
continued life of the race. This revolution cut at the root of all previous custom.
Matriarchy vanished; self-sacrifice became the cardinal virtue...this idea of
accomplishing the Great Work by a voluntary death was bound up with the belief that
the sun died, and was reborn with the hours and the seasons....My own word, Thelema,
supplies a new and scientifically sound basis for ethics. Self-sacrifice is a romantic folly;
death does not end life; it is a temporary phase of life as night and winter are of
terrestrial activity...Already, in a thousand ways, the principles involved have replaced
those of the Dying God.”

“To one who understands this chain of the Aeons from the point of view of the Sorrowing
Isis and of the triumphant Osiris, not forgetting their link in the destroyer Apophis, there
remains no secret veiled in nature. He cries that name of God which throughout History
has been echoed by one religion to another, the infinite swelling paean I.A.O.!” (Bk 4 p.
149)

Also, Crowley states that IAO is Qabalistically identical with that of the BEAST and with
his number 666, so that he who invokes the former invokes the latter. (Bk 4 p. 149)

Charles Stansfeld Jones (Parzival X0) discusses the IAO formula in the Aeonic context in
his “Horus, Isis and Osiris in the Q.B.L.” (Ref. EQUINOX 3/10, pp. 217-18) showing how
Horus “appears as the avenger Apophis to those who try to go back, or retrogress. He
has to destroy them in order that they may be renewed”.

B. Combined with the Formula of the New Aeon

I. IAO in the Reception of the Book of the Law


Equinox of the Gods p. 68 and p. 70 give in detail the IAO invocation performed by
Crowley on March 16, 1904 as a prelude to the Reception of Liber AL.

ii. IAO in the Gnostic Mass (replace all occurrences of name here with Greek letters).

In the Gnostic Mass (Liber VX), the Deacon invokes the sacred Gnostic word IAO in the
Introit: “I proclaim the Law of Light, Life, Love and Liberty in the name of IAO”. (italics
mine). Note the Greek capitals literation of the word as: IAO. Note 21 to the Red Flame
text of the Mass points out:
Note – “I am the Alpha and the Omega” - since IAO in the Mass is spelt with the Greek
letters throughout. This is Crowley’s emphasis on the End and the Beginning of the Great
Work.

The Priest invokes this sacred word again during the “Ceremony of the Opening of the
Veil” where he chants in Greek “Io Io Io IAO...Io IAO....Agios, Agios, Agios IAO. [Io Io Io IAO
...Io IAO...Holy, Holy, Holy IAO]. Note that IAO occurs triply in this invocation - at the
beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the invocation - the tripartite nature of Spirit
manifested (Shin) may likely be attributed to this. Possibly there is also a
correspondence here to the priest’s triple advance up the steps from below to above the
Abyss, to the realm of the Supernal Sephiroth.

Later again in the Mass, at the conclusion of “The Consecration of the Elements” the
priest again invokes in the sacred Gnostic word – “hear ye all, saints of the true church
of old time now essentially present, that of ye we claim heirship, with ye we claim
communion, from ye we claim benediction in the name of IAO”. As he elevates the Host
and the Cup, and the Bell strikes, he again invokes “Agios, Agios, Agios, IAO!”

My main assertion or suggestion is that in the Mass the IAO formula has both a historical
function (Old Aeon formula) in bringing before us the sacred word of the Gnostics (since
in celebrating the Mass we are, in part, celebrating our heirship to the Light of the
Gnosis), but more importantly, a specifically Thelemic connotation in which it holds an
intimate connection with the Eucharist.

Although the name doesn’t occur in the text, IAO could therefore be possibly considered
an underlying formula of such Eucharistic rituals as “The Mass of the Phoenix” (Liber 44).

I haven’t resolved all the questions raised on these matters. According to Frater Numa,
“Crowley slams the cosmology [of the Gnostics] in the commentary to Liber AL [see Law
is for All: 82] where in commenting on I: 8 “The Khabs is in the Khu, not the Khu in the
Khabs”
he says:

“I think that we are warned against the idea of a Pleroma, a flame of which we are
sparks, and to which we return when we ‘attain’...the idea of incarnations ‘perfecting’ a
thing originally perfect by definition is imbecile. The only sane solution is...to suppose
that the Perfect enjoys experience of (apparent) imperfection”.

but in a type of contradiction he wrote the Gnostic Mass to correspond with the Roman
Rite (which did, in turn, borrow an enormous amount from Valentinian Gnosticism).”

How should we see this in relation to the Creed?: “I believe in one Star in the company of
stars, of whose fire we are created and to which we shall return”. We might also wonder
why, if the Gnostic Mass is principally a Thelemic rite, the Thelemic amplification of the
formula FIAOF is not used rather than IAO.
See the 0=2 formula in Magick Without Tears.

iii. IAO in Other Thelemic Rituals

IAO crops up again in Liber Arcanorum (Liber CCXXXI). Verse 0 reads: “A, the heart of
IAO, dwelleth in ecstasy in the secret place of the thunders. Between Asar and Asi he
abideth in joy”.
Here again we have the middle element of the formula assuming a great importance,
especially considered alchemically as the transmutational element.

LIBER XVII (Liber 17 - note the number) is called LIBER IAO. According to the Curriculum
of AA, this work “gives three methods of attainments through a willed series of thoughts.
This book has not been published. (My italics). It is the active form of Liber HHH. The
article “Energised Enthusiasm” is an adumbration of this book”.

VISION AND THE VOICE p. 192, note 9: “The Swastika has 17 squares. 17 = IAO, the
triune Kether”. (Petra touched on this in her paper on the Swastika). Once again is
emphasised that IAO is a tripartite formula which makes a unity at the loftiest point of
the Tree of Life. Also, A (yod) (aleph) (vav) add to 17 and, by the Golden Dawn formula,
disclose LVX, the Light of the Cross” - this is Regardie’s note 7, p.29 of VV

LIBER HHH (Liber CCCXLI - Liber 341) according to the Curriculum of the AA “Gives three
methods of attainment through a willed series of thoughts”. Working out what IAO
means could involve determining which of these methods is the “active form” and
applying this to the fact that Liber 17 is mysteriously ‘unpublished/non-extant’ -
intentionally so from Crowley’s point of view.

“Energised Enthusiasm: A Note on Theurgy” (written 1912) (Liber DCCCXI) first


appeared in The Equinox 1, No. 9 (1913). It gives a more direct suggestion as to the
Thelemic aspect of the formula envisioned by Crowley. When we turn to it, we find that
the first sentence is “IAO the supreme One of the Gnostics, the true God, is the Lord of
this work”. The content of the work will not be discussed here; suffice it to say that in the
account of the rite that Crowley witnessed, the chorus of those present is “Evoe Ho,
Iacche! Epelthon, Epelthon, Evoe, IAO!”

LIBER LXVI (Liber 66) - Liber Stellae Rubeae or the Book of the Ruby Star. According to
the Curriculum of the AA is “a secret ritual, the Heart of IAO-OAI, delivered unto VVVVV
for his use in a certain matter of Liber Legis”. Verse 34 of this ritual reads: “I who reveal
the ritual am IAO and OAI; the Right and the Averse”. To understand the averse we first
must understand the usual form of the formula.
As another practical application of the formula, Crowley’s magical record John St John is
records how he used it in mantric fashion - that is, the cyclic repetition of IAO used in
conjunction with pranayama breathing, along with such practices as the Middle Pillar
exercise, the Augoeides invocation, etc. King/Skinner p. 150 draw attention to this
usage.

C. Significance of the formula

I have to agree with someone who suggested to me that this is “one of the most
abstruse and veiled of Crowley’s formulae”. Nevertheless we can obtain understanding
of it through study of its usage in context within Thelemic ritual, and by application of
what is originally an old-Aeon formula to Crowley’s specifically Thelemic rituals, that is to
rituals of the Aeon of Horus. .

As DuQuette points out: “Obsolete formulae of the past aren't necessarily discarded
completely, but are often amended or fine-tuned to better harmonize with a new,
expanded understanding of natural or spiritual law”. (p. 6)

In the BOOK OF LIES are several elucidations of Crowley’s interpretation of the IAO
formula. Ch. 61 “The Fool’s Knot” has a note that reads: “Paragraph 2 shows the Lingam
and the Yoni as, in conjunction, the foundation of ecstasy (IO!) and of the complete
symbol IAO. It’s interesting to consider, in this light, the use of IAO as the concluding
formula of the Thelemic cross performed in the Star Ruby ritual, and its connection with
the paean in the middle of the Star Ruby where the Night of Pan is invoked through the
NOX signs in conjunction with the words “Io Pan” etc. Cf Barry’s comments on Attic
language consisting of mainly I’s and 0's. (Lines and circles). And Io as supreme god in
the Maori cosmogony.

We may also study especially Book 4 (Magick) Part 3: Magick in Theory and Practice Ch.
5: The Formula of IAO, of which a brief summary is here given: [SHOW TRANSPARENCY]

I = Isis/Nature
ruined by
A = Apophis the Destroyer
.& restored to life by
O = Osiris the Redeemer

Crowley notes: “There is a quite different formula in which I is the father, O the Mother, A
the child - and yet another, in which IAO are all fathers of different kinds balanced by
HHH, 3 Mothers, to complete the Universe. In a third, the true formula of the Beast 666, I
and O are the opposites which form the field for the operation of A” [see Liber Samekh,
p. 521 of Book 4].

As Frater Numa points out, “for the relationship of Wagner’s Parsifal to the redeeming
gods see Crowley’s “the Formula of IAO” in Bk 4, especially the table on p. 163".
(Waratah, p. 23). Understanding of the Parzival symbolism is another way of gaining
insight into the IAO formula.

Ii. IAO as formula of meditation


Crowley considers IAO essentially the formula of yoga or meditation. To paraphrase him
(Bk 4 pp 160-61) the meditation process is threefold: it always begins with quiet
pleasure, is succeeded by depression, and concludes with the arising of Osiris. The
process is one whereby “the ancient condition is not restored, but a new and superior
condition is created, a condition only rendered possible by the process of death”.
We may compare this with his diary notes in John St John - see Wasserman p. 23,
reprinted from EQUINOX 1 No.1 of 1909:
“Certainly the first two days were Isis - natural, pleasant, easy events. Most certainly too
today has been Apophis! Think of the wild cursing and black magic etc...we must hope
for the Osiris section tomorrow or next day. Birth, death, resurrection! IAO!”.

Again, BOOK OF THOTH p. 274: “The ‘formula of the dying god’, as this is usually called,
does actually exist, but it represents a stage in human development which is now past
as far as external theology is concerned. It has a sort of shadowy vitality in psychology;
for instance, in taking up a new task of any importance, one begins very pleasantly, the
period of Isis; the task becomes tedious and baffling, one begins to despair, the period of
Apophis; then suddenly, the subject is mastered and one comes to a triumphant
conclusion, the period of Osiris. But the whole of this formula depends upon ignorance of
the laws of nature; there is in fact no catastrophe”.

I. IAO as Alchemical formula

The parallel between this formula and that of Alchemy is strong, and can
advantageously be considered, where:

I = The first matter


A = The Black Dragon (corrupt or dark stage)
O = The Pure and Perfect Gold; or the glorified body resurrected from the Abyss.

It is very much in this synergetic context that Crowley used the formula of IAO in his
workings of 1914 recorded in his diary for that year (see MAGICAL RECORD OF THE
BEAST 666) where invocations to IAO are linked to Mercury.

Crowley’s comments that a “ceremonial self-initiation may be constructed with


advantage on this formula...The essence of it consists in robing yourself as a king, then
stripping and slaying yourself, and rising from that death to the Knowledge and
Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel” (p. 161) may be illuminated by considering
the actions of the High Priest of the Sun in “The Ship”. Give careful consideration to Old
John as I (the first matter), to his death as A (the Black Dragon), and his
reappearance/rebirth birth as the Young John as 0 (The Gold). This may profitably be
studied in conjunction with Crowley’s discussion in Book 4 Pt 3, Ch 22: “Of the Eucharist,
and of the Art of Alchemy”.

Iii. IAO as formula of Tiphareth


Israel Regardie on the “Tree and Hierarchies” section of the Golden Dawn tapes simply
attributes IAO to Tiphareth as the Sephira’s divine name, shorter and more suitable for
practical work than the long and clumsy YHVH Eloah Vedath.
Crowley also points out that IAO is a formula of Tiphareth. It is, he says, a proper
Hieroglyph of the Ritual of Self-Initiation in this Aeon of Horus. Note that on the earlier
interpretation of I as the Middle Pillar, that this pillar stretches from Kether through
Tiphareth to Malkuth.

Iv. FIAOF as amplified Thelemic form of IAO

Crowley later modified the spelling of IAO to Qabalistically equate it with 93 (the number
of the Thelemic current) by his transliteration of the Hebrew as FIAOF - see Book 4 p. 162
for the full detail of how Crowley arrives at this, and pp 163-165 for his full analysis and
interpretation of IAO as it has been conceived in the various historical Aeons.

FIAOF is used as an invocatory formula, or Word of Power, of the magician in such rituals
as Liber V vel Reguli, where as Crowley states “the Energies of the Aeon of Horus work
his will in the world”. (Bk 4 p. 562).

V The Enochian IAO

According to Schueler p. 44, the number of this formula is 48, corresponding to the
phrase
L-AHA-LAS-A, which significantly translates as “supreme treasure zones”. This phrase
appears in each of the Great Crosses of the Watchtower in the Enochian system.

Schueler p. 177 also interprets (via the acronym or notariqon method) the IAO letters
(also p. 174) to stand for IADNAH ATH OLORAT, which means “the highest work is man”
(which is, if speculative, fairly congruent with traditional and Thelemic usages). His
gematria, on the other hand, leads to correspondences including 326, 314 and
especially 96 related to “improving karma, cancelling karmic debts”; “IAO is the formula
for a passive acceptance of life in the sense of karma-less action.” Schueler pp. 300-303
gives an Enochian ritual of IAO for use in dispelling karmic debts. He says this invokes a
“typical feminine current and then uses the masculine current of [the Aethyr] MAZ for
balance and completeness”.
Schueler adduces no support for treating the formula in this manner. I’m dubious of its
value as in this interpretation he seems out on his own) although we may note that 314
by Godwin’s Greek Qabalah is magos (magician).

IAO in Enochian letters. Given that there are four systems of Enochian gematria which
assign different numerical values to the letters, various values can be obtained from any
Enochian word. By Crowley’ gematria IAO spelled in Enochian is equivalent to 96 (60 + 6
+ 30). By the Golden Dawn Geomantic method it also 96. By the Golden Dawn
Greek/Hebrew method it is 81 (10 + 1 + 70). By the Aurum Solis method it is 85 (9 + 6 +
70).

From Laycock’s’ dictionary we may compare with IAO such words as “iaod” (ya-od), and
“iaodaf” (ya-o-daf) meaning “beginning” (found at 1.61 of the First Enochian Call or key -
James p. 67) and also “Iad” (yad) and “iado”, meaning “God”.

In Enochian this latter stem forms the words “Iaida” (yai-da), which is a title of God
meaning “The Highest” and “Iaidon” (yai-don) which is a title of God meaning “The All-
Powerful” (Laycock pp. 120-21) as in the Eleventh to the Eighteenth Enochian Calls,
which all end with the words:
...”for I am the servant of the same God as you, the true worshipper of the Highest”
(Iaida) and the Call of the Thirty Aethyrs in which the heavens of each Air being invoked
is said to “execute the judgement of the Highest” (Iaida).

Compare also “iadnah” (yad-na) and “iadnamad” (yad-na-mad= which mean knowledge,
divine knowledge.
d. Conclusion

In summary, it is at least clear that IAO is a symbolically complex and rich formula of
magick. It seems to me that Crowley used it both to invoke its traditional historical and
psychological associations of Godhead - that is, of the Highest - (especially given that
he invokes in this name in Liber Samekh where he was obtaining the Knowledge and
conversation of his Holy Guardian Angel) and also reinterpreted the formula in the light
of the Equinox of the Gods as a central formula of Thelemic Magick, where it carries
various specific codings of aspects of the Great Work on physiological (material) and
elevated (astral and other) planes.

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