Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Improving Solve et Coagula

This article was originally posted on 11/7/2006 on the previous version of this blog. Since then, my magical working group has experimented with the revised formula and obtained some interesting results. Those will be summarized at the end of the article.

Reading through Enochian Initiation I was struck by some of the similarities between Frater W.I.T.'s experiences and the experiences of my own ritual group when we attempted a series of elemental invocations based on the solve et coagula formula used by most modern magical orders. The idea is for the most part simple and logical - it consists of a series of initiations based on the arrangement of the four classical elements and adds the element of Spirit at the end of the cycle to bring the other four elements back together and integrate the experience. Frater W.I.T. found that Earth and Air were relatively easy, but going from Air to Water was much more difficult. This is what we noticed as well - Earth and Air went quickly, everyone had little trouble showing up and making time for the related practices, and nobody's life exploded. I was laid off from my job at the time toward the end of Air, but as I had been considering quitting for many months and being laid off instead gave me a sizeable severance check, I can't really consider that much of a disaster. Water, however, was a different story. A number of people in the group ran into various personal problems and the series dragged out as we wound up having to reschedule a number of the workings. We pushed on and finally finished Water, Fire, and Spirit but it took us a lot longer than we originally expected and the end of the series was not nearly as smooth as the beginning.

After much deliberation, I think the problem may be with the solve et coagula formula itself, which requires a rethinking of one of the most basic initiatory structures of the Western Esoteric Tradition.

Solve et Coagula essentially means "dissolution and unification." Solve is the root of the English dissolve and Coagula that of coagulate. It is a formula that is drawn from European alchemy that describes the process by which substances are distilled into their component parts, each individual portion is then purified, and finally the components are recombined to create a synthesis of the purified elements. In initiatory work, time is spent working with each of the elements on its own and once this is complete Spirit is invoked to bind the elements back together. The most common pattern is the inverse of YHVH - Earth, then Air, then Water, then Fire - although some orders work the pattern in order of density - Earth, then Water, then Air, then Fire.

One of the biggest difficulties with this pattern is the problem of rushing ahead. As realization expands with the invocation of the "higher" elements, problems that remain in the "lower" elements can be magnified and manifest in pathological ways. In theory, if one were to completely master Earth once could move on to Air without encountering any problems. The difficulty there is that complete mastery of an element can take a lifetime, and it is difficult to know when to move on. A lot of magical and pagan folks have ongoing trouble with Earth - I have certainly met quite a few of them who have problems holding down jobs and managing finances. Frater W.I.T. was guided by the Enochian Angels who told him when it was time to move on, which is an effective way to work so long as the communications you are receiving are accurate. It is hard to implement this in a group setting, though, in which a standard initiatory pattern is desirable.

So what to do? I read a fair amount of Ken Wilber, who synthesizes a lot of psychological research related to personality development and connects it with stages of spiritual development. In Integral Psychology Wilber outlines how the personality develops by integrating new stages of awareness in a series of concentric rings, each of which includes all previous stages of development. This is different than the "great chain of being" model exemplified by the "perennial philosophy" in Western Esotericism in that rather than metaphorically climbing a ladder in which the steps are separate states that are predicated upon but not inclusive of the previous steps, in that Wilber's model is much more holistic. Each new step includes the whole of personality development in addition to itself, and the result is a more integrated (or in Wilber's terminology, "integral") concept of psychological development.

When we worked with our elemental series each element was invoked for six weeks. For the first week we invoked the element as whole, and then during the next four the parts of the element would be invoked individually (for example, Earth of Earth, then Air of Earth, then Water of Earth, then Fire of Earth), and on the last week we would invoke the Spirit part to bind the other four parts together. The daily practice corresponding to this included our regular rituals (Lesser Pentagram/Lesser Hexagram or Star Ruby/Star Sapphire, and some sort of general invocatory practice like the Middle Pillar or Animadversion to the Aeon) along with the Greater Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram for the element we were working with during each six week period. This structure was based on solve et coagula and the idea was to completely immerse ourselves in each element as we worked through the series. These rites actually seemed very effective and a number of people in the group had interesting realizations, but they were not completely successful in that various problems arose in peoples' personal lives that to some extend derailed the practice.

Wilber's model suggests a new way to invoke the elements. Rather than working with Earth, then switching to Air, then switching to Water, then switching to Fire, and then finally invoking Spirit, the magician could begin with Earth and then add the subsequent elements in order as they are invoked in a series of initiatory rites. The specific daily practice for this would consist of beginning with the Greater Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram for Earth at the beginning of the series, but keeping the Invoking Pentagram of Earth in the north (its proper microcosmic direction) when moving on to Air. Air then stays in the east along with Earth in the north when the magician moves on to water, and finally with the addition of Fire the magician would be tracing the pentagrams of all four elements to the proper microcosmic directions. This maintains the foundation established at the level of each element, which could at least in theory act to stabilize the realization more effectively than invoking each element on its own. For the period invoking Spirit, something like Liber V vel Reguli would be ideal, especially since it uses the inverse pentagram that represents spirit condensing into matter.

The elemental series could also be integrated with a practice like Liber Resh vel Helios in which the invoking pentagrams and Golden Dawn grade signs used in the Greater Ritual of the Pentagram could represent "the sign of his grade" given prior to the adoration. As with the pentagram ritual, pentagrams could be added as the series moves along. The magician would start by making the Earth pentagram and sign to all four directions, then keep making the Earth pentagram to the north but move on to making the Air pentagram to the the other three directions and so forth.

So here's what the whole thing would look like following the standard inverse YHVH formula.

Basic Daily Practice

Star Ruby
Star Sapphire
Animadversion to the Aeon
Liber Resh

The first three rituals should be done once per day, more often if desired and time permits. Liber Resh should be done throughout the day. Remember that if Daylight Savings Time is in effect, noon and midnight are actually more like 1 PM and 1 AM.

First Six Weeks: Earth

Make the Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Earth to all four directions when performing Liber Resh.Use the Greater Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram for Earth. This follows the Star Sapphire and precedes the Animadversion to the Aeon.

Next Six Weeks: Air

For Resh, make the Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Earth for midnight, Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Air for morning, noon, and evening.For the Greater Pentagram, make the Invoking Pentagram of Earth in the north and the Invoking Pentagram of Air to the other three directions.

Next Six Weeks: Water

For Resh, make the Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Earth for midnight, the Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Air for morning, and the invoking Pentagram and Sign of Water for noon and evening.For the Greater Pentagram, make the Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Earth in the north, the Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Air in the east, and the Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Water to the south and west.

Next Six Weeks: Fire

For Resh, make the Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Earth for midnight, the Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Air for morning, the invoking Pentagram and Sign of Water for evening, and the Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Fire for noon.For the Greater Pentagram, make the Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Earth in the north, the Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Air in the east, and the Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Water to the west, and the Invoking Pentagram and Sign of Fire to the South.

Next Six Weeks: Spirit

Resh is same as Fire.The Greater Ritual of the Pentagram and Animadversion to the Aeon are replaced by Liber Reguli, which includes the Animadversion.

This can then serve as ongoing daily practice once the elemental series is complete. Some sort of dramatic initiatory ritual could be substituted for the first week of each element, or added so that the series goes from 36 to 42 weeks. As a bonus, you could add something like Liber Samekh for the rest of the year and attempt the Invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel for the last ten weeks.

Update - December 2007: This article was written about 13 months ago. In the meantime, my magical working group decided to go forward with a second elemental series of invocations inspired by this pattern. We also incorporated some ideas from Mark Stavish, who works with the elements by density order rather than inverse YHVH. This changes the sequence so that Air and Water are switched, making the order Earth -> Water -> Air -> Fire -> Spirit. We repeated the original series, but using Stavish's order along with practices similar to those outlined above, though not quite as extensive. We used the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, a modified version of the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram, and a Golden Dawn-inspired ritual for invoking the elements, since not everyone in the group is as familiar with Crowley's rituals as I am.

The results were very different from the first set of invocations. There were relatively few crises while we were actually working the series and unlike the first time around we didn't reach a point where getting the rituals done became much more difficult. This could be attributed to a number of factors, but I am of the opinion that the revised practices were the key. I think that using the Stavish order was helpful as well in that the density-based order creates a better and more stable foundation for ongoing magical work, but in the end I think problems were magnified by isolating the elements in the first set of rituals and this led to all sorts of difficulties. Furthermore, for whatever reason none of these problems really resolved themselves during the first series, but seemed to only exist to create static.

During the second series some problems did arise, but it seemed as if those problems held off their full intensity until the series was concluded and the situations those problems produced led to real resolutions. On the basis of these observations, I am now working with the tenative working hypothesis that solve et coagula really does require a more effective replacement.
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Michael Gorsuch said...

Hi There - I'm working through your archives right now (great stuff, by the way), and came across these references to Stavish. Can you show me where Mark references this order of elements? I'm a fan of his work, and would like to read more about his approach in context.

Thanks again!

Unknown said...

Follows the order of passive spirit invoking pentagram. Also in the Mass: "life love liberty and light"
"Health and Wealth and Strength and Joy..."