Nightside of Eden

Review by David Hall

Despite appearances, and according to the author’s own testimony, the thesis of Nightside of Eden is basically simple. It is concerned with the reverse or dark side of the Tree of Life, and with the entrance to that world which is the shadowy sephira Daäth, the Garden of ODN or Eden. It is the purpose of this short article to show by quotation that the views propounded in this book, bizarre and dangerous as they might seem to some, are by no means unique to Mr Grant or the Cult of Thelema but may be found in such diverse places as the writings of one whom Crowley knew as ‘the Worm’, and a monk of Mount Athos.

According to our author the Tree of Death or Daäth is not in any way ‘evil’ but is “the noumenal source of phenomenal existence”. In comparison with this noumenal and numinous Source it is the phenomenal world that is false, being a world of appearances only.

Stated thus, this is the position of universal metaphysics and the philosophia perennis. It is a basic tenet of all religions East and West, old and new, and volumes could be filled with texts from sacred scripture to demonstrate its universality. We will only quote here from the greatest contemporary exponent of traditional metaphysics, Frithjof Schuon. In an essay entitled ‘Concerning the Proofs of God’ he writes: “Men imagine that this earth, these mountains, or bodies, can only be destroyed by forces on their own level, by masses or energies belonging to our physical universe. What they do not see, however, is that this world, in appearance so compact, can collapse ab intra, that matter can flow back ‘inward’ by a process of transmutation, and that the whole of space can shrink like a balloon emptied of air; in short, that fragility and impermanence not only affect things within a space naiïvely supposed to be stable, they also affect existence itself with all its categories”. We are sure that Mr Grant has realised this knowledge in his own experience and it is doubtless this that has occasioned the basic thesis of the book as stated above.

The distinction between the front and the back of the Tree, made in the Kantian terms of phenomena and noumena, is also made in the language of Being and Non-being: “Non-being, of which the symbol is darkness, is the source of Being . . .”; also Being and existence: “Being alone is real. It is the within-ness of things; the noumenon. Existence is unreal for, as the word implies, it comports the objectivity of Being in some external state and there is none”. (Nightside of Eden, p.40.) The term Being is thus seen to expand and contract according to context, comprehending existence when opposed to Non-being but comprehending Non-being when opposed to existence, all in the tradition of ambiguous ontology.

These concepts are taken directly from traditional metaphysics, corresponding to the Brahma Nirguna (‘not qualified’) and Saguna (‘qualified’) of Hinduism, and the scholastic distinction between God as Essence or Beyond-Being (Boehme’s Ungrund), and God as Creator or Being (Maya). In addition we have the refinement, in recognition of the relatively Absolute, of two kinds of Void: “First there IS (i.e. Malkuth) – Form (i.e. Presence of Object). Then there is NOT (i.e. Kether) – Void (i.e. Presence of Subject). Then there IS (i.e. Ain) – Neither Form nor Void, but absence of the presence of both Object and Subject (i.e. the Absolute Absence, or Void)”. (Nightside of Eden, p.40.) It is not with this kind of metaphysical insight that anyone might wish to quarrel, but with the magickal fleshing out of such ideas in the course of which we are led up some very strange garden paths and down some very tortuous tunnels.

Although there is no true bridge between the front and the back of the Tree, between the Void of Kether and the Absolute Void of Ain, there is a “solution of continuity” through which the Absolute Void gives rise to phenomenal existence: “That which is noumenal (i.e. within) is prior to that which is without (i.e. phenomenal). There is no objective reality, but there is the manifestation of non-manifestation; the shadow of being that is cast by non-being. This current, when applied to the physiology of incarnation, produces the Typhonic teratomas which became the types of the Qliphoth as symbolic of the influences emanating from the ‘other world’; in the terminology of qabalistic metaphysics, the other side of the Tree”. (Nightside of Eden, pp.52-53.) This is an important passage containing most of the concepts with which we shall deal in the analysis that follows.

To begin with, and complementary to the distinctions already made between the front and the back of the Tree, noumena and phenomena, Non-being and Being, we have the notions of the within and the without, the inner and the outer. The within is at one with the noumena of Non-being and is the source of the phenomena of Being. It is the Darkness from which the phenomenal world originates and into which it can collapse at any moment ab intra, from within, as described by Schuon. In the process of manifestation, the within of the Absolute Void gives rise to entities or intelligences that Mr Grant chooses to call “Typhonian Teratomas”, but which other traditions have termed Titans, Asuras, or Demiurges. The term Titan appears in the Cult of Thelema as TEITAN, whose number is 666 and is identical with the Janus-headed Beast Choronzon (333) – Shugal (333), whose abode is at the Pylon of Daäth, the gate to the ‘other world’ at the back of the Tree.

Now it is true, as Mr Grant says, that entities of a Typhonic or Titanic nature have been generally regarded as metaphysically and morally ambiguous, when not condemned as simply ‘evil’. In Greek mythology the Titans were the ‘old Gods’ who fought a tremendous battle against the new gods led by Zeus, who eventually succeeded in imprisoning the Titans in the lowest depths of the underworld, as far beneath Hades as the sky is above the earth. The Titans were the offspring of Uranus (sky) and Gaia (earth), and after their defeat their mother Gaia mated with Tartarus, i.e. the very place to which the Titans were confined, and brought forth Typhoeus or Typhon, the largest and most terrifying Titan of all. It is seen from this that the Titans can always break through into the upper world, as Jane Harrison observed in her Themis: “They are constantly driven down below the earth to nethermost Tartarus and always re-emerging. The very violence and persistence with which they are sent below shows that they belong up above”. This implies that the Titans and the Gods are ab origine and in essence of the same nature. This appears even more clearly in Indian tradition.

The idea that the Devas and Asuras are in essence of the same nature has been noted by several writers, e.g. Alain Daniélou in his Hindu Polytheism, but its most careful documentation and explication has been carried out in several little known essays by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy. For instance, he introduces his essay entitled ‘You couldn’t make it up could you. Angel & Titan: An Essay in Vedic Ontology’ as follows: “The leading idea to be developed in the present article is that the Devas and Asuras, Angels and Titans, powers of Light and powers of Darkness in the Rig-Veda, although distinct and opposite in operation, are in essence consubstantial, their distinction being a matter not of essence but of orientation, revolution, or transformation, as indicated by such express statements as “The Serpents are the Suns” in the Pancavimsa Brahmana, and the constant employment of vrt, to ‘turn’, ‘vert’, ‘volve’, etc in the Rig-Veda and Brahmanas, in connection with the relations of Angels and Titans, passim. In this case, the Titan is potentially an Angel, the Angel still by nature a Titan; the Darkness in actu is Light, the Light in potentia Darkness; whence the designations Asura and Deva may be applied to one and the same ‘Person’ according to the mode of operation, as in the case of Varuna, or alternatively, there may be a distinction of names in the same sense, as in Rig-Veda I.163.3, “Trita art thou (Agni) by interior operation” (guhyena vratena). At the same time it is proposed to show that whereas the angels are typically ‘men’ or ‘birds’, the Titans are typically theriomorphic and in particular ophidian (sarpya)”.

Every part of the above quotation could be commented on at length and related to the subject matter of Nightside of Eden. To take only the most obvious points, vrt, to ‘turn’, relates to the formula of reversing or ‘turning’ round the back of the Tree. In the Jaimaniya Brahmana it is recorded that: “What incantations the Angels pronounce forwards (avastat), that the Titans pronounce backwards (parastat)”. The whole idea of turning or churning is connected with the ‘Churning of the Ocean’ which is the process of creation itself in which the Devas and Asuras pull in opposite directions, just as do Set and Horus in the Egyptian mythos (see Hamlet’s Mill passim). About this turning, Coomaraswamy notes that: “the ‘opposite direction’ is not a backward one but onward”, meaning that the ‘spiral force’ continuing its forward motion ceases to be centrifugal and becomes centripetal, leading to reintegration rather than dissolution.

The third chapter of Nightside of Eden is entitled ‘The Light that is Not’, in which it is explained that: “Darkness is absence of light, an absence that makes possible the presence of all that appears to be. Non-being, of which the symbol is darkness, is the source of Being . . .” (Nightside of Eden, p.25). This is paralleled in the Coomaraswamy quotation by: “the Darkness in actu is Light, the Light in potentia Darkness”. The subject of Darkness and Light brings us to the important question of what is the relationship of the creatures of the Dark, the Typhonian Teratomas, the Titans and Asuras, to the Infinite and Absolute Void of Non-being. How can the Absolute Void that lies behind the Tree be full of Lovecraftian-type monsters?

As with the Deep Old Ones of the Cthulu mythos, the Typhonian Teratomas of the Cult of Thelema, and the Titans of Greek mythology, the Asuras are prior to the Devas. Indra, the king of the gods, is of Titan birth and rebels against his Father in the beginning. Coomasaswamy observes of Indra that: “his position is strictly speaking that of Lucifer before the Fall”, but goes on to add significantly: “It must be realised, of course that Indra, Lucifer and Satan must not be confused with the ‘evil’ power of Darkness, Death (mrtyu, mara), the Godhead, the ‘unkindly Father’ himself. The width of the entire universe divides the one from the other, divides the ‘outer darkness’ from the Darkness ab intra, “impervious to all illumination and hidden from all knowledge” (Dionysius, Ep. ad Caium Monach., cited St.Thomas, Sum. Theol. III,92.1), but of which St.Thomas says that it is called ‘Darkness’ “on account of its surpassing brightness”, i.e. as being blinding light. Indra, although like every other Angel of Titan birth, remains an angel even in his pride, being like Satan ‘fallen not in nature, but in grace’; whereas the Dragon-Father never was nor ever can be natured, it is he that by his nature natures all things”.

We thus have the important distinction between the Luciferian, i.e. lightbearing, creation-making, Typhonian Teratomas, and the Dragon-Father of the Absolute Void who “by his nature natures all things”. The terrifying creatures of the Abyss are the first movements of the Darkness ab intra toward the ‘outer darkness’ of Being and existence. Strictly speaking they exist between the Absolute Void and the manifest world of the front of the Tree. The “width of the whole universe” is the space between the Darkness of the Absolute Void ab intra and the final step ‘down’ or ‘out’ into manifestation and dissolution.

The statement from Coomaraswamy that: “the Titans are typically theriomorphic and in particular ophidian”, might be a quote from any book by Kenneth Grant. This is even more true of many of Coomaraswamy’s subsequent statements: “there can be no doubt from RV.I.32. and other texts of the identity of the Dragon, Vrta, with Ahi, the Serpent”, “Ahi corresponds to Avestan Azhi, known as Vishapa, ‘of poisonous slaver’, and also to Sumerian Mushussu, the seven-headed dragon slain by Ninurta, later Tiamat bisected by Marduk who makes Heaven of one of the parts . . .”, etc. In the glossary to Nightside of Eden, Aza is defined as: “The evil mother of all demons”, corresponding not only to the dragon-king Azhi Dahaka but also to the Zurvanite and Manichaean Az, who R. C. Zaehner defines as: “the principle of disorder that has invaded the natural order: she is excess and deficiency as opposed to the Mean. But she would seem to be very much more than this; for basically she is desire – hunger and thirst on the one hand and sexual desire on the other. As such she is the very precondition of physical life as well as physical death”. Once again, unmistakable Grantian echoes.

The statement that Marduk makes Heaven from one of the parts of the slain Serpent points to the meaning that lies behind all Serpent symbolism. As Coomaraswamy says: “The tremendous emphasis laid on the dragon-slaying motif in all traditions can be readily understood when we realize that the dismemberment of the ophidian power is precisely the act of creation”. In RV.II.11.5, we find: “Thou Champion (Indra), hast smitten in thy manly might the Serpent the Magician, as he lurked obscured and hidden away in secret in the Waters, him that held down the Waters and the Light of Heaven”; and further RV.II.19. 2-3, “This mighty Indra, hewing apart the Serpent that withheld the flood, propelled the flood of waters to the sea (of life), brought about the Sun”s nativity, found the cattle, by means of night fulfilled the work of days”.

The word night in the above context bears the same implications as in the title Nightside of Eden. The tunnels on the dark or ‘nightside’ of the Tree contain the powers spoken of in Vedic and similar ancient texts. Witness for instance Kenneth Grant’s statement about the tunnel of Dagdagiel: “It is here that the Snake and the Spider meet . . .” (Nightside of Eden, p.180), paralleled by RV.II.11.18, “Thou (Indra) clavest the spidery Vrta, son of Danu”.

It is in the ‘darkness’ of such primaeval cosmogony that we may find the origins of the legend of St. George (Indra) and the Dragon. St. George has been one of the most universally popular saints precisely because his pre-human cosmogonic function was understood instinctively by the ‘unsophisticated’ everywhere. The fact that it is hard to pin down the saint historically and that dragons no longer ‘exist’, far from being reasons for his elimination from the calendar, should indicate his Reality, which was perfectly well understood in the Middle Ages. This is just one more example of how the Church has ceased to understand the Mysteries of which it was once the custodian.

Writing of serpent symbolism in Nightside of Eden, Kenneth Grant says: “In the later Osirian Cults the serpent was equated with solar-phallic energy in the form of the lion-serpent which generated the spermatozoon. In the Draconian, however, Teth is the serpent symbolic of the female who periodically sloughs her old body as does the snake its skin” (Nightside of Eden, p.20). (The female aspect of serpent symbolism is treated by Coomaraswamy in essays entitled ‘On the Loathly Bride’ and ‘The Darker Side of Dawn’.) In the excerpts from the Rig-Veda quoted above, the ‘Waters’ which Indra releases by slaying the Dragon Vrta can be considered either astronomically, as the waters of space rising and falling in equinoctial precession (see Hamlet’s Mill, passim), or following Kenneth Grant as the menstrual ‘waters’ and kalas that are the physical key to the metaphysical womb of the beginning.

This brings us to Part II of Nightside of Eden which explains Liber 231, a mysterious grimoire first published by Crowley without comment in The Equinox Vol.I no.vii. This second part takes the form of an extended set of correspondences and comments on the tunnels that are the averse aspects of the 22 paths of the Tree of Life, an area that most previous occultists have left in the obscurity they felt it deserved.

According to Coomaraswamy the Asura-pitr, Ahi-Vrta, is identical ab intra with the god Varuna. Of those who find an identification of two such dissimilar characters difficult to swallow he writes: “It may be observed, that even for the scholar who is not a professed Christian, a modern Christian inheritance and ‘moralistic’ preoccupation have made it difficult to accept the position of the older teaching, by no means unknown even in the Middle Ages in Europe, that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ have a valid significance only ‘under the sun’ and ‘within the worlds’, but in the Supreme Identity are coincident without opposition or composition”. It is doubtless such “‘moralistic’ preoccupation” that will form the main obstacle to a good reception for Nightside of Eden. Anticipating such reaction Mr Grant goes out of his way to emphasise that the entities that inhabit the tunnels at the back of the Tree, although they are undoubtedly old, and deep, and primaeval, and Typhonic, and altogether terrifying and dangerous, whatever else they might be they are not ‘evil’.

To emphasise the amoral character of the Qliphoth several quotations from A. E. Waite are employed, so that it seems poor old pompous Edwin Arthwaite has his uses after all. Grant quotes Waite as saying: “As there is a door in the soul which opens on God, so there is another door which opens on the recremantal deeps and there is no doubt that the deeps come in when it is opened effectually. There are also the powers of the Abyss . . .”, after which Grant notes approvingly that “Waite distinguishes between the ‘deeps’ and the ‘powers of the abyss’”. Presumably the ‘powers of the Abyss’ are those which Waite refers to elsewhere when he writes: “In Egypt, in India and in Greece, there was no dealing with devils in the Christian sense of the expression; Typhon, Juggernaut and Hecate were not less divine than the gods of the overworld, and the offices of Canidia were probably in their way as sacred as the peaceful mysteries of Ceres”. In contrast with these powers the ‘deeps’ are: “the cesspools of spiritual life and the pit of the second death: their powers are those of the pesthouse, and they are as remote from the sombre terrors of Dante’s Inferno as are the stars and lilies of the Blessed Damozel far – and how far – away from the Vision and the Union”.

It would seem from this that there are two ‘doors’ in the soul of man that open on to different terrors. There is the door of Daäth that opens on to the Abyss between the lower sephiroth and the Supernals and the door that opens on to the ‘deeps’, the ‘abyss below Malkuth’. This, surely, is the distinction made earlier in this article between the Darkness ab intra and the ‘outer darkness’. The ‘width of the whole universeŇ’ between the Non-being of the prime source of the Absolute Void and the exhaustion of Being at the furthest reaches of existence. But, in contrast to Waite, Kenneth Grant insists that there is only one door – “the abyss below Malkuth is accessible to man only through the gate of Daäth” (Nightside of Eden, p.44). That is the same door that is also the entrance to the Absolute Void of Ain; here truly is a trap-door for the unwary.

The solution surely lies in the fact that it is only by passing through the door of Daäth (Death) on to the ‘other side’ of the Tree that the door to the abyss or ‘deeps’ below Malkuth can be found. For the two poles of the universe are as clearly understood by Grant as they were by Waite, as may be seen from Grant’s description of the ‘reflex of Malkuth’, the place of: “disintegration and the incarnation of unstable forms of existence such as elementals, demons, etc. It is the antipode of Pluto (Kether), and represents the slime of Satan spawning in the outer spaces beyond the far flung rim of the known universe (the ‘outer darkness’). In this sense Malkuth is the anti-pole of the star-spate of space beyond Pluto” [the Darkness ab intra] (Nightside of Eden, p.151).

There is thus the ‘Deep’ beyond Kether and the ‘deep’ below Malkuth. The Titans ‘before the fall’ are not of the same kind nor do they inhabit the same darkness as the psychic residues and the demons of the ‘deep’ of the ‘second death’, but it is only by venturing beyond the Pylon of Daäth that either can be met or mastered. In this we follow in the footsteps of One who ‘descended into hell’. As Archimandrite Sophrony has written in describing the life of Staretz Silouan: “God embraces all things, even the bottomless abysses of hell, for there is no domain outside His reach, and the Saints behold and abide in hell, but it has no power over them, and the manner of their abiding differs from the abiding of those who constitute hell”.

© David Hall, 1978; Janet Audley-Charles, 2013, 2021.

This review by David Hall first appeared in Sothis Volume II Number 2, 1978. It is reproduced courtesy of Jan and Mike Magee, the surviving editors and publishers of Sothis.

Return to the details page for Nightside of Eden