As I’ve worked with more people who are freshly into the elemental grades or are working their way through them, I’ve consistently seen certain questions and themes pop up as people experience the energies of those grades and find themselves perplexed. Even when the theory behind the rituals is laid out, you aren’t really told what to expect going into the experience, and as a result students are less prepared for the impact of those energies than one would hope. This blog post is an attempt to remedy that, at least in part.
One thing to bear in mind about the elemental grades in the Golden Dawn tradition is that they are intentionally designed to throw you off balance in very specific ways. Because there’s no such thing as a free lunch, the way these grades work is by giving you a themed set of challenges to overcome. In overcoming them, you bring those energies to greater perfection within yourself. In the Portal grade, these energies are re-integrated and balanced further. But in the meantime, it can be quite a ride. You’re more likely to see challenges to your material and home life in Zelator, for example. People in Theoricus can often become “air-headed”, becoming more forgetful and spacey than usual. Practicus turns on the “water works”, making one more emotionally sensitive. Philosophus may ignite both passions and anger alike. This is all a normal and expected part of the path.
The way this unbalancing takes place is different for each person. For me, apart from the themed challenges in each grade, I consistently found that whenever I had a good routine of daily practice going the initiation ceremony would knock me right back off that horse and completely disrupt my ability to be consistent in that work. I often had to pursue the inner alchemy of the grade and let that do its job before the consistency could return. Your mileage may vary, but be aware that ebbs and flows in the energy that you have available for the practical and meditative work are normal, and don’t give yourself too hard a time if your work suffers because you’re busy doing the Work of balancing out those grade energies.
I’ve also consistently seen that a given elemental grade will affect a person in proportion to the number of planets that individual possesses in their birth chart within signs that correspond to the same element. I’m a Capricorn, and have a three planet stellium in Virgo, so Zelator kicked my ass hard. Same with Zelator Adeptus Minor. By contrast, I only have one planet in an Air sign, and I “breezed through” Theoricus faster than any of the other grades. This is also something to be aware of as you go into the elemental grades, so you can be prepared for which ones are likely to be the most challenging for you.
When those challenges do arise, the best advice I can give is to roll with it, do what you can to recognize any out of the ordinary reactions you might have, and sit with them rather than letting them influence your behavior. Take the challenges as they come, do what you can to surmount them, and know that there’s no way out but through–but that you will get through it.
A phenomenon I’ve noticed in my own journey, and one which I’ve heard echoed by a number of other students, is that when you’re ready to progress to the next grade the themes of that grade will begin coming to the fore even before the initiation ceremony. This is usually a pretty good indication that the themes of your current grade are drawing to a close and that you’re ready to take the next step on the path.
Make no mistake, the Golden Dawn system isn’t an easy path to walk. But it’s a very rewarding one. If you have any questions or find yourself wondering what’s going on with your own experience of the grades, please feel free to reach out and contact me. I can be reached by email at email@example.com, but be forewarned that I’m terrible at responding to emails. The best way to find me is on Discord: my username is McCryptoFace#0519, and I hang out on the Hermetic House of Life and the Qabalah Self Initiation servers. Hope to see you there!
The Mystical Words—Khabs Am Pekht—are ancient Egyptian, and are the origin of the Greek “Konx Om Pax” which was uttered at the Eleusinian Mysteries. A literal translation would be “Light Rushing Out in One Ray” and they signify the same form of Light as that symbolized by the Staff of the Keryx.
Golden Dawn Neophyte Ceremony
For about as long as I’ve been studying and practicing within the Golden Dawn tradition, I’ve been curious about the words Khabs Am Pekht, Konx Om Pax, Light in Extension. These words are first encountered in the Neophyte Ceremony, and establish a mythic link connecting the strands of Ancient Egypt, the Eleusinian Mysteries, and the modern Golden Dawn system. When I first began delving into a study of these phrases back in the early 2000s, I found precious little material to draw from–though I was left with the impression that the connection between the Egyptian, Greek, and English phrases was more a mythic one than an historical one. I recently decided to revisit this study, and am happy to say that far more resources are now available to the online scholar in order to facilitate such an investigation.
In the Neophyte Ceremony, “Konx Om Pax” and “Khabs Am Pekht” are presented as sayings with identical meanings in Greek and Egyptian respectively, translating to something akin to “Light in Extension” in English. These terms originated in the Golden Dawn tradition with the Cipher Manuscripts (folios 4, 5, 7; “Pekht” also appears on folio 39).1 This series of phrases therefore predates Mathers and Westcott.
To those of us who follow the Golden Dawn tradition, myself most certainly included, these words are sacred. They establish a mythic link between the Greek, the Egyptian, and the Victorian eras embodied within the Golden Dawn itself. But we must be careful not to conflate our mythos with our logos; or more to the point, we should not cross the streams of our mythic and literal histories. To borrow the phrasing of my friend Chelydoreus, the saying Khabs Am Pekht, Konx Om Pax, Light in Extension involves “pseudo-mythical ideas and a new interpretation of historical data”, but is “meant as a mythic/spiritual connection to the ancient mysteries, not a historical continuation or…reconstructing or unearthing any historical facts”.2 We must therefore distinguish between the mythic, which is True in the spiritual and mystic sense; and the historical, which is true in the literal and mundane sense.
The reason I preface this treatment of the phrases in question with this distinction between mythic and historical truth is that, to be blunt, almost everything you think you know about the phrases is probably wrong. Konx Om Pax derives from a fundamental misreading of an historical source and a connection to the Eleusinian Mysteries that is conjured out of thin air. Khabs Am Pekht shows no evidence of existing as a phrase at all, apart from attempts to justify a connection from Konx Om Pax to the Egyptian in hindsight. We’ll begin by investigating the actual history of the Greek phrase, and then move on to a treatment of the even more troublesome Egyptian. Along the way we’ll take a look at what others have had to say about these phrases, and examine how close (or how far) these sources were to an accurate read on the subject.
Konx Om Pax
The earliest attestation for Konx Om Pax comes from the Greek grammarian Hesychius of Alexandria, who compiled his famous lexicon, “Alphabetical Collection of All Words”, circa the 5th or 6th century CE. A complete version of this lexicon was published in 1514 by Aldus Manutius, with another edition by Schmidt in the middle of the 19th century. This is what Hesychius has to say on the subject, in his own words:
Translated by Chelydoreus, the above reads loosely as follows: “Konx, similarly pax. Exclamation of completion. Also the sound of the judicial vote (lit. pebble), like that of the clepsydra (water clock). For the Attics ‘blops’.” Note that the Greek reads κόγξ ὁμοίως πάξ (konx homoios pax) and not konx ompax. Hesychius was not repeating a phrase here, but was instead saying that the word konx was similar in meaning to the Greek word pax.
Unfortunately, when Johannes Meursius wrote Eleusinia, sive, de Cereris Eleusinæsacro, ac festo in 1619, he made two critical errors. The first was misreading Hesychius’ entry as “Κόγξ, Ὃμπαξ” rather than “κόγξ ὁμοίως πάξ”, turning the two separate words into a single unified phrase. The second mistake was associating the words with the Eleusinian Mysteries. Meursius’ own synopsis for chapter XI of his work reads “Post initiationem acclamari solitum, Κόγξ, Ὃμπαξ“, and he further elaborates in the chapter itself: “Atque hunc in modum initiatis acclamatum mox; Κόγξ, Ὃμπαξ. Hesychius. Κόγξ, Ὃμπαξ. Ἐπιφώνημα τοῖς τετελεσμένοις. Eâque acclamatione quasi dimissi, discedebant; aliisque, itidem initiari cupientibus, locum dabant.”4 It is uncertain why Meursius references Hesychius in conjunction with the Eleusinian Mysteries, as this was not a connection drawn in the latter’s Lexicon. That said, given the nature of Meursius’ misreading, we should perhaps simply be thankful that we didn’t end up with the phrase “Konx Om Blops” instead.
To be clear, it is implausible that the phrase Konx Ompax was uttered during the Eleusinian Mysteries. Martiana, who runs the excellent SARTRIX blog, holds that “Greek pax is unrelated [to the Latin] and [is] more like ‘shush’, absolutely an undignified word unsuitable to mysteries. … [K]onx and pax are exclamations related to completion – not ‘of initiation’… Incidentally, albeit ‘konx‘ as such doesn’t turn up elsewhere, another lexicographer (pseudo-Photius) mentions ‘kyx‘ as the sound of the voting pebble in the entry on ‘blops‘. So there can really be no doubt at all that [the] emendation from “konx ompax” to “konx, likewise pax” is correct.”5 This further agrees with the information provided in Liddell-Scott’s Greek–English Lexicon for ὄμπαξ, which refers the reader to the entry on πάξ. The latter entry states that the word is an “exclam[ation] to end a discussion”, roughly translating to “enough!“, and notes that the entry in Hesychius is probably conjecture.6
Once Meursius seized upon Konx Ompax as a phrase uttered in connection with the Eleusinian Mysteries, the two became united in the cultural consciousness. In 1788 Jean-Jacques Barthélemy published Travels of Anacharsis the Younger in Greece, a fictional travelogue set in the 4th century BCE, in which he repeated Meursius’ connection between the Mysteries and this curious set of words. It appears to be Barthélemy who first proposed an Egyptian origin for the phrase: opining that the words are not Greek, he states, “I should be inclined to think [the words konx ompax] are Egyptian, because the Eleusinian Mysteries appear to me to have been brought from Egypt”.7 Barthélemy references Le Clerc, who “tells us that [the words] signified watch and abstain from evil” [emphasis in original], but with respect to an Egyptian origin he acknowledges the great difficulty of finding an etymological antecedent as it would be necessary “that we should be better acquainted with the ancient Egyptian language, of which we have only some small remains in the Coptic” in addition to the potential issues of pronunciation and orthography that result when words migrate from one language into another.8
After Barthélemy brought the phrase konx ompax into the popular mind of the late 18th century, it appears to have become something of a lexical Rorschach test for those who came after, onto which a number of meanings were imposed. Perhaps most notably, Immanuel Kant referenced the phrase by way of Barthélemy in his essay On Perpetual Peace; here he attempts to find a Tibetan origin for the phrase, concluding that “Konx Ompax probably should mean the holy (Konx), blessed (Om), and wise (Pax) Supreme Being permeating the entire world (the personification of nature), and it was used in the Greek mysteries probably to designate monotheism for the Epoptes [those with repeated experience of the mysteries], in contrast to the polytheism of the people.”9 Nor were Egypt and Tibet the only origins sought for this mysterious phrase. Nikos Sarantakos notes that the antiquarian G. Georgalas argues for a Greek origin of konx ompax, repeating however Meursius’ error when he stated, “At the Eleusinian Mysteries foreigners were driven out with the sacramental phrase ‘Konx Om Panx’ [sic]. The Maya said ‘Konex Omon Panex’. The Brahmins in the Indies said ‘Kanska Om Pakscha’. These words they tried unsuccessfully to interpret as Phoenician, Hebrew, Egyptian , Sanskrit.”10
Perhaps the most detailed study of Konx Ompax prior to this article is the entry by Arthur Edward Waite in his New Encyclopædia of Freemasonry. Waite similarly traces the origin of the phrase back to Hesychius by way of Meursius, and notes as well that the connection to the Eleusinian Mysteries is not attested by the former, observing that this problematic conclusion by Meursius “has no evidence to support it, on the part of any writer by whom it has been cited and explained”.11 He goes on to relate the opinions of Lobeck, who echoes Hesychius’ original intention of “κόγξ ὁμοίως πάξ” as equivalent to the Latin “konx similiter pax”, or put differently “whatever is understood by konx is comparable to whatever is signified by pax“.12 Lobeck also correctly notes that the word κόγξη signifies “a bivalve or shellfish of the oyster kind”, lending strength to Hesychius’ assertion that the word is onomatopoeic in nature. LSJ specifically refers to κόγξη as a mussel shell, and indeed all of the related words beginning with κόγξ are closely connected with this meaning. Lobeck proceeds to state quite incorrectly however that Liddell holds πάξ as being equivalent to the Latin pax, meaning “Peace, be still, etc., the equivalent precisely of our colloquial: ‘Shut up'”.13 In point of fact LSJ makes no such equation. Waite provides somewhat of an apologia for Lobeck’s take on the term, relying on the Latin meaning to salvage it as pertains to its applicability to the Eleusinian Mysteries; but as noted by Martiana above, while the word may indeed be translated as “shut up”, it does not have the more genteel meaning of the Latin homophone and would be considered an unsuitable colloquialism for use in this context. Waite continues on to provide several other explanations for the phrase Konx Ompax, including origins in the Phoenician, Sanskrit, and Maya languages; but he puts little credence in these explanations. Given Waite’s involvement in the Order of the Golden Dawn, it is especially noteworthy that he rejects the “alleged Egyptian derivation…Khobs am Pekht [sic]” as “a preposterous invention”. Waite concludes, perhaps uncharitably, that “the meaning of Konx Ompax can matter to no one, but least of all to the students of the Mysteries”.14
By the middle of the 19th century, it was a matter of common belief that the epoptae or initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries were “dismissed with two barbarous words, κογξ ομπαξ, konx ompax, of which perhaps the hierophants themselves did not comprehend the import,” and that these words “had been introduced by the first Egyptian missionaries, and retained after their signification was lost”.15 In the post-Napoleonic period in Britain, after Champollion pioneered modern Egyptology and the Rosetta Stone facilitated the first translations of the Egyptian hieroglyphs (Athanasius Kircher’s earlier but unsuccessful attempt aside), new possibilities opened up for those interested in the Mysteries to explore what they viewed as the possible Egyptian antecedents for the phrase Konx Ompax. It is here that we turn our attention to the results of that exploration.
Khabs Am Pekht
It should perhaps be obvious by this point that the phrase Khabs Am Pekht is but one of many attempts at a back-formation of Konx Ompax into one among equally many languages speculated to be its historical predecessor. These attempts are often a stretch at best, and hopelessly corrupt at worst. We shall take a tour through these various attempts, highlight their relative merits and flaws, and examine how we may best make linguistic lemonade out of a particularly sour batch of lemons by rendering the most correct (or perhaps more accurately the least incorrect) versions of this phrase.
In contrast with the section on Konx Ompax, which investigates the history and cultural transmission of the phrase from its apparent inception, the investigation into Khabs Am Pekht must by nature begin with the recognition that the phrase is an artificially derived one, and seek to compare the various hypothesized sources and hieroglyphic renderings through a more linguistic lens. The measure of success here is not accuracy per se–as there is no “legitimate” or “accurate” Egyptian antecedent to be found. Most of the attention we will devote to Khabs Am Pekht consequently involves examining the various hieroglyphic forms presented in connection with the phrase and assessing their linguistic accuracy and implications of meaning, and an examination of potential sources from which the phrase may have been drawn contemporaneous with the production of the Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscripts.
When it comes to hieroglyphic interpretations of Khabs Am Pekht, few specifically Golden Dawn sources seem to exist. Cygnus, on the Servitor Ludi blog, presents the only version I was able to find which claims to be from “a scan of a hand-copied version from the 1890s” provided by “a private Golden Dawn Scholar”, thus:16
The first thing that stood out to me is that the Coptic is absolutely atrocious, which is unfortunately in keeping with much of what we know about the use of Coptic in the original Golden Dawn. Specifically, the Coptic letters read “chaubs am pathti“, which should be a clear indication that something is not quite right here. Surprisingly, the hieroglyphic characters make significantly more sense. The phonetic hieroglyphs largely line up with the sounds of the phrase, though it must be pointed out that the hieroglyph 𓇼 (Gardiner N14) is misplaced, and serves as a determinative sign rather than possessing phonetic value in many versions of khabs attested in Egyptian dictionaries.17 Because 𓇼 when used other than as a determinative possesses the value of dwꜣ, as written this would read ḫꜣdwꜣbs m pḫṭ, or khaduebs m-pekht. Similarly, the hieroglyph that is in the shape of a cross is not listed among the Gardiner hieroglyphs at all, and appears to have been invented out of whole cloth. By moving the 𓇼 to the end of khabs and eliminating the spurious hieroglyph, however, we wind up with a fairly reasonable spelling which is indeed attested in Budge.18
Turning to a different source, Perdurabo ST presents a hieroglyphic rendering not of Khabs Am Pekht but only of khabs; but this still gives us a hook for investigation:19
While the ḫꜣbꜣśtransliteration is decidedly spurious–the correct transliteration is in fact ḫꜣbs or khebs–this hieroglyphic rendering is otherwise entirely accurate, being attested in Budge with the meaning of “lamp, light”; and equated with the Coptic ϩⲃⲥ (Sahidic), ϩⲏⲃⲥ (Bohairic), ϩⲏⲃⲉⲥ (Fayyumic), and ϩⲏⲃⲥ (Akhmimic).20,21 This is also the single hieroglyphic rendering given by Wiktionary for Coptic ϩⲏⲃⲥ, which may help to explain the selection of this particular spelling by the author.22
The preceding examples highlight two important considerations, each of which we must treat somewhat separately. The first is linguistic in nature. There are many possible spellings of khabs in Egyptian hieroglyphs; and there are multiple Egyptian words corresponding to the transliteration khabs which carry related but distinct meanings, depending significantly on the determinative signs used at the end of the words’ construction. Thus also with pekht. So while it is an interesting exercise to render the word in hieroglyphs, and while we can (and shall) provide a more exhaustive display of the variety of ways in which the word can be spelled, the question of spelling glosses over the question of whether this is authentic Egyptian. And we already know that it is not. There is no attestation of any Egyptian text containing the phrase ḫꜣbs m-pḫt, no occurrence of it “in the wild” as it were. But as we have seen in our investigations into Konx Ompax, there are no genuine historical antecedents; and thus we already knew that the phrase Khabs Am Pekht was a pious invention–or perhaps a curious synchronicity. But while we can uncover poor spellings and provide correct ones, this much is trivial. The more interesting consideration in my opinion is the question of provenance.
Armed with far fewer resources than we have at our disposal today, the author of the Cipher Manuscript plumbed the newly available Egyptological resources looking for an antecedent to Konx Ompax in that language. Consequently, while we can ask whether the author did a good job of translating the English into Egyptian, this to me misses the point. But it is noteworthy that there were far fewer resources available during the period that the Cipher Manuscript was written; and this at least begs us to ask the question of whether we might be able to trace the Khabs Am Pekht verbiage to any specific source or sources of the time, or at least to formulate a hypothesis as to whence the author might have conjured the particular phrasing and meaning of Light in Extension.
If we accept R.A. Gilbert’s assertion that Kenneth Mackenzie was the author of the Cipher Manuscript, and that it entered Westcott’s hands in 1886 (the same year that Mackenzie died)23, we have an end date on the time window of Egyptological resources to which he would have had disposal. With respect to a beginning date, given that the “Golden Age of English Fringe Masonry” began “circa 1860”24, this seems like a reasonable place to fix the early date of our inquiry. The terminal date is of course more significant than the beginning date, as this is the parameter that allows us to exclude a vast swath of resources that arose after that time; and as Champollion had only deciphered the hieroglyphs in 1822 this still leaves us with a span of 64 years to consider. If we hypothesize that Mackenzie derived the phrase Khabs Am Pekht; that he did so during the height of English Fringe Masonry; that he was more likely to use recent sources and those of topical interest to Fringe Masonry; and that he was most inclined to draw from sources in English, French, and German (as these were the languages in which he was fluent)25, we have a fairly targeted 26-year span of time at which we are looking most closely. This seems like a viable set of possibilities to investigate.
Perdurabo ST states that “‘Pekht’ is not found as a transliteration of an ancient Egyptian word with the meaning of ‘extension’ or the like neither in old literature nor in modern translation”26, an assertion that seems a bit of a stretch to me unless one looks only for the specific word “extension” among the dictionary definitions, given that he presents a dictionary definition which includes the word “extend” almost immediately thereafter. Perdurabo ST does note, however, that pekht had “turned up in 1881 as an ancient Egyptian word in a work by…Gerald Massey” entitled A Book of the Beginnings.27 This source ticks all of the boxes when it comes to the aforementioned parameters of our investigation, and it seems an excellent place to begin. Massey does indeed list pekht among his definitions, with one of the meanings being “to stretch out”; he additionally lists pekh with a meaning of “to extend”.28 This seems promising, especially given the “extend” translation; but while pekht is attested in this source, the word khabs is obscure at best: it is listed as meaning “star” as a definition ancillary to Kheb, “Typhon”, which in turn is given as the Egyptian equivalent of Hebrew kokav (“star”, also used as the Hebrew name of the planet Mercury). One would thus not expect the author of the Cypher Manuscript to translate the same word as “light”. Perdurabo ST conjectures based on the discovery of an 1877 essay on a Persian dialect whose vocabulary lists “Pekht-am” as the past form of the verb meaning “to ripen” that Khabs Am Pekht was a construction using artistic license from both Egyptian and Persian, but this seems a stretch to me. Having plundered the available linguistic sources, he further asserts that pekht may be Massey’s own original construction, pointing out that his work appeared approximately seven years before the founding of the Order of the Golden Dawn. If we hypothesize a single source for the origin of the phrase, however, we must rule Massey out based on the preceding evidence (or lack thereof). Perdurabo ST examines several other sources which have various words with similar meanings such as peṭ, peḳ, and peḳa, but if Mackenzie had found his word in these sources then one would expect to find that word, and not pekht, in the phrase. We must therefore look to other sources.
We get somewhat closer to the mark by turning our attention to another text, Bunsen’s massive five-volume 1867 work Egypt’s Place in Universal History. Specifically, if we turn our attention to the Egyptian vocabulary in the final volume of that work, we can clearly see the word khabs defined as “lamp, light, star”; but in the opposite of the problem we encountered in Massey, here in Bunsen we find that the closest thing to the word pekht is the word peka, which is defined as “extend”.29 We may be closer, but we still miss the mark.
In truth, I have been able to find no single source prior to 1886 which offers up both definitions of khabs and pekht, much less one which gives definitions of both consistent with the English translation of Light in Extension. By the time of Budge’s famous Egyptian hieroglyphic dictionary both are clearly present and attested, but Budge did not publish this work until 1926. It is possible that Mackenzie drew from multiple sources in locating these terms, but this is a relatively unsatisfying conjecture. Perhaps future research into the dictionary resources available in the mid-19th century will yield more satisfactory results. For the time being, however, the original source of these terms remains veiled in obscurity.
Extending the Light
So what are we to make of all this mess? We’ve seen that the words Konx Om Pax have no connection to the Eleusinian Mysteries; that the phrase konx ompax itself is spurious, being a misunderstanding of the Greek of Hesychius; that it can bear nothing but a superficial similarity of sound to the phrase Khabs Am Pekht; and that while the phrase Khabs Am Pekht may or may not be a good translation of “Light in Extension” into Egyptian (spoiler alert: it is not), we know that it was indeed a translation of an English phrase into Egyptian rather than vice-versa. Well, this is where we must return to the distinction between mythic and literal history that I emphasized at the start of this essay. Viewed from the perspective of literal history, the entirety of the mythos surrounding the words Khabs Am Pekht, Konx Om Pax, Light in Extension is devoid of historical fact. But this history was never intended to be taken as factually true. Like much within the Golden Dawn tradition, it is intended as mythic history: it established and forged the magical connection between the Order of the Golden Dawn and the Mysteries it sought to draw from, embody, and carry forward into a new era.
If we can’t take the history as factually true, then, what can we do with it? We can treat it in the same way as all the other Mysteries within the Golden Dawn tradition: we meditate upon it, reflect upon it, seek the Hidden Wisdom contained within it. We treat it as a cypher of meaning–because this is precisely how it was constructed in the first place.
The distinction between mythic and literal history becomes problematic for us primarily when the curtain of the literal gets pulled back to reveal the cracks in the veneer. We must remember that in the Victorian era there was far less access to linguistic research and scholarship than there is today, especially in the area of Egyptian language and cultural history. Much of the mythic history of the Golden Dawn was made possible by the relative lack of scrutiny given to historical claims at the time, and the ability to read (or invent) fanciful origins into areas that were not well-understood. As the cultural forces of modernity have increasingly taken hold, it becomes more of a challenge for us to embrace our mythos while recognizing its appropriate place. We have an obligation to be true to ourselves while also not being unfaithful to our history–both mythic and literal. This can be quite a tightrope to walk at times. But by embracing the mythic, rather than devaluing it as secondary to the literal, we have the opportunity to become co-creators of that myth, or conduits of it if you prefer, extending the Light rather than lamenting its diminution.
One way we can do this is by patching up those cracks in the veneer, and updating our understandings of the mythic elements to conform more to what modern scholarship has to teach us. Because it is not a literal truth but a deeper and more subtle kind of meaning which undergirds our myths, we have some latitude to change the outward forms of those myths without doing violence to the underlying meanings behind those forms. Now, the phrase Khabs Am Pekht, Konx Om Pax, Light in Extension forms the core of that form, the unalterable presentation with which we must engage, come what may. What has been done with those terms, however, is another question entirely. We see attempts to find Egyptian hieroglyphs to represent the words Khabs Am Pekht, as well as at least one Coptic rendering–in addition to the Hebrew of Crowley’s Sepher Sephiroth, which we shall address momentarily. The creative part of this endeavor then becomes asking the question, how can we do these things in a way that does line up as best as possible with the modern scholarship to which we have access? We have seen attempts to engage with the meaning of the terms based on their definitions and the signs used in the various hieroglyphs. What can we learn from a studied examination of these meanings? My own attempts to answer these questions constitute the remainder of this essay.
The mystery of Konx Ompax since Meursius, and the mystery of Khabs Am Pekht in the latter day, is largely due to the ambiguity within the phrases. Konx Ompax is a phrase which contains a connection (however invented) to the Eleusinian Mysteries, which have themselves largely been lost to the sands of time, as well as an ambiguity in that the words translate to nothing especially meaningful in the Egyptian–and thus linguistic antecedents to this ostensibly magical phrase were sought in a variety of potential source languages. The phrase consequently outgrew itself and became a symbol of something more. On this front it seems to me that little more can be said, but the phrase Khabs Am Pekht is more ripe for the picking. The linguistic ambiguity created by rendering the phrase in English characters and with an English definition allows us to read into the sources, and to discover the serendipitous elements of meaning that may emerge from such an exercise.
Aleister Crowley attempted one such reading in Sepher Sephiroth, when he represented Khabs Am Pekht in Hebrew with the translation אור בפאהה, possessing a value of 300.30 Here Crowley translates “Light” into the Hebrew אור (aur), substitutes the Hebrew preposition ב (“in”) for the Egyptian preposition m with the same meaning, and transliterates pekht into Hebrew as פאהה rather than seeking a translation for extension. The problem with this rendering of course, for anyone possessing even a smattering of Hebrew, is that the letter ה is flatly unable to take either the sounds kh or t. While a superficial similarity of sound and spelling may be sufficient for a case of ostensible linguistic evolution, as in Khabs Am Pekht to Konx Om Pax, it does not suffice in this case–and the attempt to render pekht into Hebrew with characters that are fundamentally unable to replicate the phonology of the original makes it transparent that Crowley derived this spelling without genuine fidelity to the Hebrew language but as an attempt to fit the rendering to the gematric value of 300 instead.
So how should we render Khabs Am Pekht into Hebrew, if we should be inclined to do so? The easiest option is simply to finish the job of translation rather than leaving it half done. While translation is an art and there are frequently multiple words that a translator can select as candidates to translate the same meaning (such as “extension”), one possible rendering would be אוֹר הַרחָבָה, aur be-harchavah. This would give us a gematric value of 629, a value shared according to Crowley with the phrase “the great trumpet”31 (שופר גדול). Another approach, though to my mind a less satisfactory one, would be to follow in Crowley’s footsteps and transliterate pekht with a ח/כ to represent the kh and a ט/ת to represent the t. This leads us to spellings of פאכת (which I personally prefer), פאחת ,פאכט, or פאחט for pekht, leading to gematric values for the phrase Khabs Am Pekht in Hebrew of 710, 319, 698, and 307 respectively.
While the use of the Coptic in the Golden Dawn is both hindered by its founders’ poor understanding of the language and somewhat obviated by the Egyptological research and the increased resources available for Middle Egyptian language, it is also possible to translate Khabs Am Pekht into Coptic based on the information we have already uncovered thus far. As mentioned previously, khabs entered Coptic as ϩⲃⲥ, ϩⲏⲃⲥ, and ϩⲏⲃⲉⲥ depending on dialect. The word pekht entered Coptic as ⲡⲟⲣⲥ, a “thing stretched”;32 though Budge provides the Coptic as ⲡⲱϩⲧ instead which is closer to the Egyptian pronunciation.33 The addition of the preposition ⲙ/ϩⲙ (“in”) to this word gives Khabs Am Pekht as ϩⲏⲃⲥ ⲙⲡⲟⲣⲥ (/ħe:βs m pors/, or “ḥēbs m-pors”). As my own skills with Coptic are far from proficient, however, be advised that this translation is highly fallible. That said, it passes muster at first glance and should serve well enough for our purposes. At any rate, it is certainly a better attempt than “chaubs am pathti“.
While there were three separate dialectical forms of Khabs by the time the word entered the Coptic language, there were even more ways to spell the word in the Egyptian language. Because hieroglyphs are formed from a combination of phonetic glyphs and a determinative glyph, the difference in the determinative glyph is especially salient when examining the subtle differences in meaning shone forth by multiple hieroglyphic spellings. The component hieroglyphs that are used phonetically are also magically significant, but the determinative sign–the last sign (or occasionally multiple signs) in the word–carries the most semantic “weight” as it provides context for the phonetic value.
In the case of khabs, the determinative for the singular form is always 𓇼 (Gardiner N14), but we can instead look at the meanings and associations of the component phonetic hieroglyphs, in the same way that such a breakdown is occasionally done for words and names in Hebrew. As an example, let us consider the first spelling in the list above, 𓆼𓅡𓋴
𓆼 (Gardiner M12) depicts a lotus plant, has the phonetic value /ḫꜣ/ which itself refers to part of a lotus, and has the meaning “bow, bend, do homage”. It also refers to the number 1,000 in Egyptian mathematics.36 This allows us to associate the sign with Hebrew gematric values, and Sepher Sephiroth gives the entry תשרק for the number 1,000–a word which refers to an acrostic-based “Qabalistic method of exegesis”.37
𓅡 (Gardiner G29) on its own possesses the sound /bꜣ/ and represents a saddle-billed stork. Agrippa lists the stork as among the animals under the power of Jupiter.
𓋴 (Gardiner S29) has the sound /s/ and is meant to resemble a folded cloth.
By looking at the component “letters” of a word in this manner, a variety of additional meanings implicit within the written representation of the word can be unlocked.
We can see from the phonetic values of the above hieroglyphs that the modern Egyptological spelling of khabs is ḫꜣbꜣs, pronounced khebes. Apart from 𓇼 which serves as the determinative for all other singular forms of the word, the remaining hieroglyphs in the dictionary entry for khabs are as follows.
𓄿 (Gardiner G1) is the Egyptian aleph or /ꜣ/, and depicts a vulture. The vulture corresponds to Mars and is sacred to the goddess Hathor.
𓃀 (Gardiner D58) has the sound /b/ and depicts a foot. As a word it is also /bw/, meaning “place”.
𓅱 (Gardiner G43) has the sound /w/ and depicts a quail chick. It is also used for the plural at word endings. Agrippa calls the quail Saturnine, and states that it is an enemy of the Moon and Sun.
I am uncertain about the remaining two characters. I was not able to find the former (the one that looks somewhat like a J) in Gardiner’s sign list. I believe the latter may be 𓊃 (Gardiner O34) which has the sound /s/ and depicts a door bolt.
The word pekht in Egyptian is more interesting, as there are multiple determinatives which contextualize the phonetic value of the word, and which therefore possess greater magical significance than the phonetic value alone. The first entry does not possess a determinative, but those from the remaining entries are as follows.
𓂡 (Gardiner D40) depicts a forearm with a stick; more precisely, this stick appears to be the heka or crook. As a word on its own it can mean “strongly”, “to strike”, or “to examine”.
𓂻 (Gardiner D54) depicts walking legs. As a word on its own it can mean “approach”, “enterprise”, “do not move”, “stop”, or “thigh”.
𓀒 (Gardiner A15) depicts a man falling. As a word on its own it can mean “trap”.
𓏴 (Gardiner Z9) on its own represents multiple sounds, notably including /ḫbs/. It depicts crossed diagonal sticks. On its own it can mean “destroy”, “break”, “divide”, “over load”, “cross”, and “meet”.
The phonetic hieroglyphs used in pekht above are:
𓊪 (Gardiner Q3) has the sound /p/ and depicts a stool.
𓐍 (Gardiner Aa1) has the sound /ḫ/ and represents a placenta or sieve.
𓏏 (Gardiner X1) has the sound /t/ and represents a loaf of bread.
For a further example of the type of Qabalistic analysis that involves separating a word into the meanings of its component letters, see Israel Regardie’s A Garden of Pomegranates, 1999 edition, page 112.
When I set out to research this topic I did not intend to effectively demolish the mythic history of the phrase Khabs Am Pekht, Konx Om Pax, Light in Extension. It seems that I have nonetheless done so, and we must keep in mind the difference between literal and mythic history and to appreciate the latter in order to keep from being disillusioned by such a discovery. Despite the fictional history of the phrase, however, I still hold these words sacred, and say them every day in my own practice. They have not lost their meaning for me as I began to uncover their literal history. Instead, I have found the inspiration to look more deeply into the intent behind their use and look at this phrase with the same kind of reverence I imagine its creator must have felt: as a connective thread of meaning weaving the old and the new Mysteries magically together, and as a Mystery itself to be meditated upon and unfolded.
Küntz, D., 1996. The complete Golden Dawn cipher manuscript. Edmonds, WA: Holmes Pub. Group, pp. 46, 48, 52, 126.
The Golden Dawn system is a fabulously complex interweaving of magical symbolism. The major themes of each initiation ceremony change, but certain aspects remain consistent throughout. One such aspect is the positioning of the Cross and Triangle upon the Altar. Present within each ceremony from Neophyte through Philosophus, the positioning of the Cross and the Triangle relative to each other changes with each grade, and these positions each have different significance. My intent with this post is to walk you through the various positions of the Cross and Triangle in each grade, and to unpack their meaning and symbolism.
The initiate first encounters the Cross and Triangle in the Neophyte Ceremony. It is this symbol upon which the blindfolded candidate swears their oath, and which they see for the first time at the raising of the blindfold or hoodwink. The new initiate is told that the “White Triangle [is] in the image of that Immortal Light, that Triune Light, which moved in Darkness and formed the world of Darkness and out of Darkness”; and that “the Red Cross above the White Triangle, is an image of Him Who was unfolded in the Light”1.
Pat Zalewski elaborates somewhat further, stating that “the Red Cross of Tiphareth (to which the grade of 5°=6° is referred) is placed above the White Triangle, not as dominating it, but as bringing it down and manifesting it unto the Outer Order. It is as though the Crucified One, having raised the symbol of self-sacrifice, had thus touched and brought into action in matter the Divine Triad of Light.”2
One seldom-noted fact concerning the Cross and Triangle arrangement in Neophyte, which represents the entirety of the Outer Order–the “Golden Dawn” proper–is that it is identical with one of the alchemical symbols for Phosphorus. Meaning “light-bearer” (from φῶς light + φόρος bearer), and having the same appellation as the planet Venus as the morning star, the significance should be obvious. As the Neophyte Ceremony represents in microcosm the entirety of the Work of the Outer Order, so too is the symbol of Phosphorus emblematic of the Golden Dawn in the same way that Venus heralds the morning light; it is also symbolic of the Promethean ignition of the Light in the initiate. For the same reason, the Vault of the Adepti is entered through the wall of Venus, “that sole planet unto whose symbol all the Sephiroth are conformed”.3
In the Zelator Ceremony, the Cross is placed within the upright Triangle. As an evolution or unfolding of the meaning first established in Neophyte, this arrangement represents Spirit as made manifest in Matter. The Zelator grade is the first Elemental grade, and the first one in which the initiate steps onto the Tree of Life, into the Sephirah of Malkuth, the material world. The Cross and Triangle in this position reflects the maxim that “Kether is in Malkuth and Malkuth is in Kether”4.
The words of the Hiereus in the Zelator Ceremony are as follows: “In this Grade, the red Cross is placed within the White Triangle upon the Altar, and it is thus the symbol of the Banner of the West. The Triangle refers to the Three Paths [i.e. Qoph, Shin, and Tav] and the Cross to the Hidden Knowledge. The Cross and the Triangle together represent Life and Light.”5
Appropriate to the first of the Elemental grades, the three vertices of the Triangle in this arrangement correspond to the three Qabalistic elements of Air, Fire, and Water.
In the Theoricus Ceremony the Hiereus states, “The cross within the triangle, apex downwards placed upon the Altar at the base of the Tree of Life, refers to the Four Rivers of Paradise, while the angles of the Triangle refer to the Three Sephiroth NETZACH, HOD and YESOD.”6
Here the downwards triangle has its lower vertex in Yesod, assigned to the Theoricus grade; and its upper vertices point to the two subsequent grades, as well as to the elements of Fire and Water, of which Air is the son. As stated in the Fourth Knowledge Lecture, “Thus the Rivers form a Cross and on it the GREAT ADAM, the SON who is to rule the Nations, was extended from TIPHARETH”.7 Bearing the Four Rivers of Paradise, the Triangle is the downwards reflection of the Supernal Eden into the Astral realm.
The placement of the cross above the downward-pointing triangle in the Practicus ceremony is explained as “the power of the Spirit of Life rising above the Triangle of the Waters, and reflecting the Triune therein.”8 Here the symbolism of the Cross retains its significance as the Spirit of Life as encountered in the Neophyte and Zelator Ceremonies (and implicit, I would argue, within the meaning of the Cross within Theoricus as well).
Zalewski elaborates further: “The Cross above the inverted triangle is very important to the Water Grade of Hod. In reflection, the Tarot Key of the Hanged Man justifies this. The Cross, in effect, is I.A.O. or the Divine White Brilliance that is to descend into the inverted triangle–Osiris. It is the Light of Redemption, Osiris Risen through trial and suffering. In many respects it is identical to Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden; they must redeem themselves before they can return. The Cross must descend to give the triangle enlightenment.”9
In the Philosophus Ceremony, “the Triangle surmounting the Cross upon the Altar represents the Fire of the Spirit surmounting the Cross of Life and of the Waters of Edom.”10 Upon entry into the Temple of Netzach, the officers are arranged in the same pattern as the Cross and Triangle on the altar, namely that of the glyph of Sulphur. In alchemy, Sulphur is associated with the active male principle and with Fire, as Mercury—encountered in Practicus—is associated with the passive female principle and with Water. This completes the philosophic triad, the Salt of the corporeal world of matter having been introduced in Malkuth (and being physically present on the Altar in the Theoricus Ceremony).
In the Fourth Knowledge Lecture we are further told, “The Alchemical symbol of Sulphur on the Tree of Life…does not touch the 4 lower Sephiroth. The Cross terminates in Tiphereth, whereby as it were the Supernal Triangle is to be grasped, and Tiphareth is the purified Man.”11
Of the diagram of Sulphur on the Tree of Life, Zalewski says:
This diagram represents the trials and tribulations of the Candidate who has been purified and enriched through suffering by the Holy Fire. Its essence can only be reached through the process of separation from the grosser lower forms, shown by the lower Sephiroth. Its symbolic symbolism shows that through the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life one can ascend, be purified, and reborn through the Tiphareth center of death and rebirth. In many respects, this is a hint of things to come for the renewal of the spirit. The lower Sephiroth form the incorporeal cross (imperfect man) of Sulphur, Sal Salfuris (Salt of the Soul) below the actual start of the material cross (perfected man). The incorporeal cross is analogous to man, the areas that have to be purified first. … In Netzach, we see Sulphur in its own fiery nature, its basic raw state. The Sephiroth of Tiphareth, at the very base of the cross, is in its perfected state of readiness. The cross of Sulphur is also analogous to the red cross of suffering in the 5°=6° ritual, for before the lower Sephiroth can be purged of their impurities, the gap must be bridged to its Higher Form as the candidate does in the 5°=6° Oath.”12
Pat Zalewski, Golden Dawn Rituals and Commentaries, pp. 321-322
In the symbolism of the Golden Dawn, the “Cross of Life” corresponds to Tiphereth, whereas the Triangle changes reference points depending on the grade to which the arrangement is attributed.
We learn in the Philosophus knowledge lecture that the symbol of alchemical Sulphur that is displayed in the altar arrangement of that grade maps onto the six upper Sephiroth on the diagram of the Tree. We are further told in the Theoricus ceremony that the triangle on the altar refers to the three Sephiroth of Netzach, Hod, and Yesod. Using this information as a starting point, we can begin to decipher how the remaining cross and triangle arrangements also fit into this scheme.
Just as the Microprosopus is the reflection of the Supernal Macroprosopus across the waters of the Abyss, embracing the six Sephiroth from Chesed to Yesod in the figure of Zauir Anpin, so too is the Cross and Triangle arrangement of the Practicus grade on the Tree of Life the mirror image of the Sulphur glyph of Philosophus, laid out upon these same six Sephiroth. Thus the triangle in this grade is encompassed within Malkuth itself, touching the three Paths but not traversing them.
A more subtle meaning of the Cross and Triangle arrangements rests with the alchemical symbolism of the Elemental grades. The meanings of both symbols as explained within the ceremonies differ from grade to grade, to the point that the Cross in the Practicus ritual and the Triangle in the Philosophus ritual effectively share the same meaning at different times. Nonetheless, I believe that the two symbols share a common meaning in a more overarching capacity within the Outer Order. The Triangle generally symbolizes the person of the initiate. This should not be considered synonymous with the body, nor necessarily with the Ruach or the Nephesh in and of themselves. Rather, it would perhaps be most accurate to frame it in the language of the Neoplatonic understanding of the double nature of man. The Triangle represents the Neoplatonic “lower self”: the part of each person that busies itself with the mundane task of living one’s everyday life. The Cross is the higher self, which we may regard in Hermetic or Qabalistic terms as the Neshamah. The Neoplatonists (at least as represented by Porphyry and Plotinus) believed that while the higher self is certainly superior to the lower self and represents the proper aim of our existence, the goal was not to suppress the lower self or replace it with the higher self. Instead, the goal was integration between the two: to live a life of engagement with noesis, understood as contemplation or meditation, while still going about the business of daily life under the direction of the lower self.
With this in mind, the progression of the Cross and Triangle motif makes a great deal of sense in light of the alchemical operations involved in the Outer Order grades. When the initiate first enters the Order, he is in a state of darkness, ignorance, and mortality. As represented by the cord and hoodwink in the Neophyte Ceremony, the soul is bound by the lower self. The Zelator grade commences the Great Work with calcination, as represented by the upright triangle of Fire. We proceed to dissolution in Theoricus, in which the Triangle is now that of Water. Following the dissolution operation we enter the separation stage, and the Cross is therefore freed from the triangle in order to stand outside it. We proceed back through the Triangle of Water in the corresponding elemental grade of Practicus, to the Triangle of Fire in Philosophus—where the arrangement also symbolizes the alchemical principle of Sulphur, as explained in the ceremony. In the operation of conjunction in Tiphareth that takes place in the Adeptus Minor grade (and to which the initiate is partially introduced in Portal), the Cross of the higher self will once again be united to the Triangle of the lower self, but this time in an integrative capacity. The Adept will begin to grasp at the peaceful coexistence of the lower self under the presidency of the higher self.
Regardie, I. (1989) The Golden Dawn: An account of the teachings, rites and ceremonies of the order of the Golden Dawn. 6th ed. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, p. 128.
Zalewski, P. (2011) Golden Dawn Rituals and Commentaries. [United States]: Rosicrucian Order of the Golden Dawn, p. 74.
Farrell, N. (2015) The Magic Machine: The Golden Dawn vault in colour. Rome: Magical Order of the Aurora Aurea, p. 18.
Zalewski, P. (2011) Op. cit., p. 163.
Regardie, I. (1989) Op. cit., p. 147.
Regardie, I. (1989) Op. cit., p. 162.
Regardie, I. (1989) Op. cit., p. 74.
Regardie, I. (1989) Op. cit., p. 178.
Zalewski, P. (2011) Op. cit., p. 259.
Regardie, I. (1989) Op. cit., p. 194.
Regardie, I. (1989) Op. cit., p. 84.
Zalewski, P. (2011) Op. cit., pp. 321-322.
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