(or how to find Heaven in Hell)

Colin Low 1999

It has been my opinion for many years that a magician should have a tower. And a cave.

A cave formed by the excavation of the material required to build the tower would seem to be ideal, suggesting a high, limestone plateau both as a suitable location and a source of building material, with an additional bonus that workmen chipping out limestone blocks for the tower might break through into a natural underground labyrinth. There is a wonderful economy in this idea. Phallus and Kteis. Chokhmah and Binah.

The height of the tower should be sufficient to free one from the cares of the world.

How high do the cares of the world extend? Do they reach God, for example? The evidence suggests that they do not, given the history of divine intervention and the current state of theology, which is still (after 2500 years) asking the question "If God is perfect, why is the world such a fucking mess?". I think we can safely conclude that the cares of the world do not reach quite so far as Aravot, the seventh heaven. To be more specific, the magician's tower does not have to reach so high that its builders lay the foundation stone speaking their mother's tongue, and cement the last block in place to the sound of an overtime dispute conducted in a babble of dialects unheard since the diabolic hosts were routed from Heaven.

It should be high, but not ridiculously high - the male magician can take comfort in the idea that it is not mere size that counts, and one should be capable of communing with the angels without breaking through into the lower strata of the Heavenly Halls. It is said that Sandalphon has his feet in Malkuth and his head in Kether, and following this tradition a magician should be content to have a tower high enough to see Sandalphon's belly-button on a clear day - a place not found in any table of correspondences, but an important navigational point in the Inner Planes nevertheless.

The shipping weather forecasts on BBC Radio Four mention two maritime regions which (I swear, honestly) sound just like "North Yetzirah" and "South Yetzirah". Perhaps there are Spanish trawlers chugging off into the fog en-route to Yetzirah - they seem to be fishing everywhere else - but I find this unlikely. The magician however, should definitely be fishing in Yetzirah, not North or South Yetzirah, but steamy Equatorial Yetzirah where the big fish are. "That is not dead which only dreaming lies etc." - you know the couplet.

Big Fish. A wink is as good as a nod to a blind horse .... and it might not be blind if it were not for all the w*nking.

So we seem to be converging on a definite height for the magician's tower: higher than the cares of Assiah, lower than Atziluth, somewhere between earth and heaven, high enough to view the underside of the supernal waters, low enough to avoid fouling the masts of Spanish trawlers.

The caverns beneath the magician's tower should run as far beneath the earth as the tower reaches into the aethyr, so deep that they emerge (in a paradox of a kind so beloved by Escher) not into Hell, but into Equatorial Yetzirah. This Mobius-like quality of shamanic journeying can be confirmed in the works of the Merkabah mystics, who travelled down to the Merkabah, looping the loop in search of God's throne, confirming the mystical claim that good and evil are not to be found in different places, and the marriage of Heaven and Hell is something more than a half-Blaked idea.

The magician's tower reaches so high that it penetrates its deepest cellar, and the magician ascends in free-fall, proving that there is such a thing as a free lunch, and providing the basis for an interesting and athletic technique of sexual magick.

I found myself thinking about towers because I was sitting in an aeroplane, and an aeroplane can fly clear above the clouds of human anxiety - I could look down on the cumulus, stratus and cirrus of human turmoil while all around me were the clear blue skies of the sempiternal realms inhabited by idealist philosophers, theologians, and gnostics of every persuasion. This left me with no worries other than those I cannot bear to be without, such as the possibility of immediate and instantaneous death. All it takes is a some ingenuity with a few ounces of Semtex and you have La Maison Deu, lots of Yods, a sky full of flailing ayins, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to find out what it really feels like to descend unto the Merkabah. Under the circumstances, the traditional Tibetan Chod ritual, where the neophyte offers his body as a meal to demons at midnight in a graveyard, seems melodramatic and out of touch - there is no opportunity to win air miles.

My thoughts of death were not of the Ben Sirach, there-is-no-new-thing-under-the-sun, all-things-must-pass varity. There were almost certainly dozens of country churchyards at ground level below me, but I had no intention of writing elegies on the impermanence of human endeavour. My relationship with death is more immediate and less abstract. Terry Pratchett has it right when he proposes that all magicians can see death. One can turn the proposition around and suggest that unless you can see death, you are not a magician, making the knowledge and conversation of Death both a necessary and sufficient condition for the right to wear a pointy hat with "Wizzard" written on it. (Not that I want to wear the hat you understand, but I keep it in a pyramidical hatbox in a secluded villa in astral Tuscany where I can admire it from time-to-time. Keeps the point sharp too.)

If negation is determination, if a thing is defined as much by what-it-is-not as by what-it-is, then death is not just a punctuation mark that terminates the rambling dissertation of self-definition that we write for our personal amusement; it is the ground of our definition and defines us more objectively than an arbitrary list of personal qualities, beliefs and opinions. Death may result in an unsightly hole in   the ground, but (travelling down, like the Merkabah mystic, to the beginning of this essay) it is the source of all the limestone.

So, now we know where the rock comes from. If I knew where the sex and drugs came from, life would be tickety-boo.

Copyright Colin Low 1999