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Thoughts About the Bornless One Invocation Rite

Mar 29, 2018
Andrea Knight
Core Spirit member since Dec 24, 2020
Reading time 10 min.

Perhaps one of the most compelling rituals that I have ever studied or attempted to perform is known as the Bornless Rite, which I have called the Bornless One Invocation rite. It’s part of the extended Golden Dawn lore, but has little or no documentation accompanying it. In fact, it doesn’t even fit in with the rest of the extended Golden Dawn rituals and writings, it’s just there, alone and seemingly completely out of context. However, it was not at all ignored, since the language that it is uses is remarkable, powerful and profoundly relevant even today. It is most likely the crown jewel of the Golden Dawn tradition, but the question remains - where’s the rest of the jewels that go with it - and where is the crown? These questions have been in my mind for years, but there really wasn’t any ability on my part to answer this question, because it wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered the source material for this ritual. I admit that I have been a bit slow in making that connection, since other magicians have been examining that source material for over a decade or more.

Aleister Crowley was quite taken with this ritual as well, since he published a version of this rite in the Equinox, which is called Liber Samakh. This article has been used and studied for quite some time. However, whether Crowley knew the source of this ritual, or like me, accepted it as is (with modifications and re-working) is unknown. He does mention revising the ritual with corrected versions of the god-names and barbarous words of evocation, but careful examination shows that he may not have known the actual source of this ritual.

Later occultists identified where the ritual came from, although I am at a loss to state exactly who first made this discovery (was it Stephen Flowers?). Needless to say, I myself didn’t discover it until I checked my assumption that the ritual was taken from the Leyden Papyrus located in the British Museum. Of course, I didn’t find it there, and further research revealed a much larger work that was both obscure and significant, and that is the now famous Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (Chicago University Press - 1992), released in an edited format by Hans Dieter Betz, but the translations have been accomplished by many different scholars since the scrolls were first discovered in the early 19th century.

The Greek Magical Papyri have their own unique history that is quite interesting. According to sketchy historical records, the different sections of papyrus were originally a single massive scroll, buried in the tomb of some unknown important and wealthy person in Thebes, perhaps sometime in the first or second century of the common era. This tomb was discovered, illegally entered into and its contents pilfered by professional tomb robbers, of the kind that have been stealing the contents of tombs great and small since dynastic times. The massive scroll, however, deemed to be worth less than the artifacts, eventually found its way to Cairo, to be sold along with a myriad of other stolen artifacts to European collectors who had ready cash for such priceless pieces.

When all this occurred is unknown, however, the scroll was sold to a foreign collector named Jean d’Anastasi, who was an ambassador to the Egyptian pasha in Alexandria, and from there, in 1820’s, the collection of papyri found their way to several European museums, where they continue to be examined and studied to this day. Apparently, seeking to maximize his profits, d’Anastasi cut the papyrus scroll into smaller sections. Each of these museums had their own section, and each, apparently, thought that their section was unique. It wasn’t until almost the end of the 19th century that scholars, by accident, noted that the different sections of papyri were in fact from the same massive scroll. They began to translate and pull the different sections together so that once again, at least in translation, the great work is once again whole - or at least more so than it was previously.

This collection of scrolls contains perhaps the only extent copy of magical practices and spells as they were supposedly used in Egypt in antiquity. It’s possible that the collection spans a long period, and the original collector pulled together a very heterogeneous batch of magical spells, recopying them into a scroll that was apparently continually added to. The text is written predominantly in Greek, but other parts are written in Coptic and even Demotic. The spells incorporate magical ideas and practices from all over the known world, including Greek, Egyptian, Jewish, Persian, Chaldean, Christian and Gnostic god names, techniques and materials. The magical spells are representative of what magic probably was like from that time period, incorporating the religious beliefs, practices and esoteric notions of all of the peoples of the Graeco-Roman world. This shouldn’t be too surprising, since other rare sources of magical writings (Hermetic, Gnostic or Christian) show a decidedly heterogenous mixture of nearly every religious creed and belief in antiquity. However, these rare glimpses show that magicians were anything but strict sectarians, and would use whatever worked for them.

These spells cover the gamut of typical magic, such as various kinds of divination, love spells, money and buried treasure spells, curses, healing spells, exorcisms, the creation of magic artifacts and the summoning of spirits, whether gods, powerful entities of obscure origin, or even souls of the dead. Yet the most intriguing thing found in all of these spells are the collection of powerful and barbarous words of evocation, a seemingly plethora of what historians call “verba ignota” (unknown words). Some of the magic words are obvious corruptions of identifiable god names from various religions, others are more obscure and even indecipherable. But these words of power and magic, even after all these centuries, when properly pronounced and intoned, still have a remarkable effect - so this is the value that these spells have, the words of power.

The Bornless rite was taken from one of these scrolls, pulled from its source context and given a name remotely like it’s original. The section of scroll that it was liberated from is known to scholars as PGM V, lines 96 through 172. The full blown ritual is actually an exorcism, where the magician invokes his highest godhead in order authoritatively order the spirit out of the body of the victim. The name of this godhead is the “Headless One”, and that functions as a rubric for the spell. It could be surmised that Mathers, having been introduced to the British museum’s section of the scroll and an 1850’s translation of it, expropriated the interesting part of the ritual to be used in the advanced lore of the Golden Dawn. It may have been his intention to liberate other parts as well, perhaps to build a magical system based on that which was practiced in antiquity, but this never occurred, and the Bornless rite was stored alone with other bits of ritual lore until Aleister Crowley published his own version of it in the Equinox. Some editions of the Golden Dawn published by Israel Regardie had this ritual in its original form included, other editions omitted it for unknown reasons. Needless to say, this is what the practitioners of modern ritual magic have to work with, at least until recently.

A question about the name that the Golden Dawn chose for this rite has rankled a number of occultists, who have said that the original title for this ritual is the “Headless One”, which is not the same thing as the Bornless One. However, I have a theory that would explain why the title, Bornless One is actually a good one. In Hebrew, the word head can have the additional meaning of “beginning”, and an example is the first word of Genesis, which in Hebrew is “Brashet.” This word means “in the beginning” - or literally, “in the head”, since “rosh” means head. Similarly, Rosh Hashanna - beginning of the Year - New Year (literally “head of the year”). I suspect that the Hebrew word Rosh has cognates in Arabic and even Hamitic languages (such as Egyptian). So perhaps, with that being said, the Greek translation of “Headless” might actually be from the original Egyptian, which would have meant, “Without Beginning”, or “Bornless”, similar to the Greek “Autogenes” - self-begotten, which is a powerful Gnostic name for an aspect of the Godhead. I believe that the term Headless has this meaning and is comparable to Autogenes. But, that’s just my opinion. The proof would be to trace the word to either Coptic or Egyptian, and see if it’s used in a similar manner to the way it’s used in Hebrew and Arabic.

After learning about the real source of the Bornless rite, and purchasing a copy of Hans Dieter Betz’s book, I decided that I should at least look over all of the rituals in that massive tome and see if there were any other rituals that might be useful. My premise was that if one could expropriate one very powerful ritual from it, then why not repeat the exercise, especially since I had a resource that was much larger than Mather’s had over a hundred years ago. So I looked over the collection of spells and began to pick anything that really grabbed my attention, knowing that such an exercise would have to be done many times and in minute detail to give the massive collection a fair assessment. So, I performed this exercise, going over all of the known spells in the Greek Egyptian Papyri collection. I found several excellent additional sources that can be used as additional lore to the Bornless Rite, producing, what I think would be a complete set of rites for that type of magick. What I found required some extensive rewriting and reinterpreting, but it was not any more difficult than what the Golden Dawn did 120 years ago to produce the Bornless Rite. I am quite tickled by the whole process that I found additional cool ritual lore, and I am looking forward to adding more rituals to the lore of the Order.

So has anyone else done magical work with this extensive collection of rituals and spells? The answer is, of course, “yes”, but no one (that I am aware of) has actually thought of adding companion rites to the Golden Dawn Bornless rite. Other authors have actually done the task of reclamation to make some of this lore available to practicing magicians, most notably, Tony Mierzwicki’s book, Graeco Egyptian Magick (which I very highly recommend). Then there is the book Hermetic Magic by Stephen Flowers, a lesser work in my opinion, but also of value to the practitioner. These books assemble a workable system of magic from the extent source materials, but I do wonder why no else has come up with the idea of looking for additional rituals to accompany the Bornless rite? Certainly, GD students and high magick practitioners have known about the source for the Bornless Rite for some time, but no one thought of producing additional lore. The loneliness of this rite does scream for additional companion rites, or at least that is how I interpret it. I guess no one else saw the insular-ness of the Bornless Rite but me.

I would, therefore, assume that the Bornless rite is part of a suite of rites that would include rituals that would assist the magician in assuming the spirit of the Bornless One. Other tasks would be consecrating a magical ring, which would act as a powerful link to deploy the magic of that assumption. A rite of envisioning would also be appropriate, one that would allow the magician to perform a kind of active divination, projecting his true will into the present or future, and so fulfill the will of the godhead. So, to recap, I have deduced the following rituals to be part of the Bornless One suite of rituals, making for a total of four rites in all. In addition, I have also decided to merge the Abramelin ordeal with the Bornless rite, but perform it using one and half lunar cycles instead of the traditional six or eighteen months. I would also perform the Bornless rite as a climax to the ordeal and not at the two to four times a day that Aleister Crowley proposed in Liber Samekh. This is the list:

1. Bornless Rite and the temple stairway of four Qabbalistic Worlds and Ante Chamber of Ultimate Spirit (this is already done)

2. Assumption of the Bornless One and vestment of powers and wisdom of the Monad (extension of the existing Bornless Rite)

3. Consecration of the Magician’s Ring (the ring is used as a physical link to the Bornless spirit)

4. Rite of Envisioning (Bornless Spirit vision quest)

These rituals were taken from PGM IV (the Paris Papyrus), PGM VII and PGM XII, and they should be completed in the very near future, since I am currently working on them as I write this article. Much of this material hasn’t been used in over two thousand years, but they are still very valuable and quite powerful, requiring only an extraction and integrating them into a modern ritual structure. (I have also found that Stephen Flowers had also identified some of the spells in his book that I have chosen, but since I am using them to create companion rites for the Bornless One, they won’t be used in a similar manner at all.)

Reclamation has many different approaches. Some might seek to reconstruct the rituals in some manner, perhaps skipping the animal sacrifices and other dubious practices, and others will just pull out the words of power and use them in an analogous rite. I respect both of these approaches, and in fact, my workings tend to give justice to both, since I am more faithful to the actual original use and purpose of these spells.

While I was pouring through the various spells, I found something quite interesting. There is a pseudo Egyptian-Jewish Eighth Book of Moses (PGM XIII) that I would like to carefully examine, and I suspect I will find more gems amongst the thousands of mundane spells as well. I also invite others to carefully look over the Greek Magical Papyri to find yet other gems and useful spells to reclaim and bring into a 21st century context. I suspect that in time, there will be more rituals culled from this collection than what I am presently proposing, or what previous authors have already done.

by Frater Barrabbas

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