Morgan P. Stevens
Both the wand and the sword are implements that man uses to exercise his desire over his environment. The difference between them lies in that the wand is a creative tool, whereas the sword is only a weapon and of no use to the artisan or craftsman. With the sword one man physically imposes himself over another. Thus, the destructive, discerning function of the sword is assimilated to the torment of the alchemical salt, and intellect. Whereas the wand is a generative tool; it is a conduit which catalyzes and directs the process of becoming. With it the magus neither imposes nor impedes, but rather, harmoniously calls forth the inborn fire. Directing it, as he does, toward some purpose. The wand is the focus par excellence of the visionary.
The wand is associated chiefly with two principles: Harmony and fire. Harmony relates to the wand as an architectural analog and implement. So armed with their measuring rods, the first master builders were able to set out their temples proportionally to the cosmos itself. The mystical duty of the architect was reckoning natural law into the form of the earthly temple. Rods of measure evoke the septenary, forming a link between the trinity and the four elements; between the inner and the outer world. The fiery quality is attributed to these rods, critically, through the esoteric significance of the trinity.
As an organic instrument, the wand absorbed many of these qualities through the professional and enlightened status of its wielders. At the core of this creative tool, then, lies a discussion concerning symbolic fire and man’s sympathy with it.
The divine nature of the soul has long been symbolized by fire. The warmth of the living body belied an internal source of heat, which dissipated with the breath or the blood at death. Looking toward other living entities such as vegetation, ancient man observed that they too were in possession of an animating force; a vigorous volition. That volition seemed to ‘hide’ inside those possessed of it, and could be called forth through magical means. Striking stones yielded a spark of flame for even the most distantly primitive man. Fire resulted as well from friction between heavenly and chthonic phenomena in the form of lightning or volcanism. Therefore, fire was revealed to the rational observer as the most evident candidate for this in-dwelling, and vivifying component. The puckish character of messenger gods commonly found in relation to fire—of Agni, of Thoth and his ape, and of Hermes, or Mercury—is revealed to be a consequence of the ‘hidden’ aspect of fire; a quality of considerable antiquity. Similarly, the proclivity of primordial man to equate his gods, cultic heroes and axial cosmologies to the ‘tree’ is partially clarified, as the vegetive genus figured as the preferred vehicle for the analogy: The wand.
Fire, in an esoteric sense, is characterized by a threefold nature insomuch as it is resultant from a pairing; the friction between two objects. Here, Agrippa clarifies the numerical significance of the elements:
“Now each of them is three-fold, that so the number of four may makeup the number of twelve; and by passing by the number of seven into the number of ten, there may be a progress to the supreme Unity, upon which all virtue and wonderful operation depends.”
The manipulation of fire—of heat—is the preferred catalytic tool for eliciting changes in material form for both Nature and her surrogates: the alchemist, and the artisan. Eliade described man’s mastery of fire as that thing which propelled him beyond the world of the beasts, and allowed him to delineate both time and space through a sort of rational divination. In other words, creation itself is the most essential act of what Chaucer famously considered “magyck natureel.”
The widespread symbolic importance of fire is intentional. We see it in the emblematic fire of Pentecost, the Hermetic sulfur and the nigredo, and in the Eastern ‘awakened kundalini’ ushering open the ‘third eye.’ We see fire as well being the source of light for Al-Kindi, and Agrippa who likewise claimed that “… the sight is fiery, neither can it perceive without fire and light.” The iconographic heavenly corona—which matured into the form of the crown—descends from this kinetic phenomenon through proximity to the body’s ruling visionary part: The head.
The philosophical perception of an internal luminary is quite ancient and preserved in the parent language of all Indo-European traditions. In tracing the origins of vision, one comes to the Proto-Indo-European stem, *weyd meaning “to know; see.” This root in so many other tongues also connotates “knowledge,” “wisdom,” or “art” as it does in the Sanskrit vedyā́. When speaking of sight, optic, is the preferential signifier. The integral stem hails again from the Proto-Indo-European root *h₃ep- meaning “to work, toil, make” and whose derivatives hold the added interpretation of “desire,” “to see,”; and among the Ancient Greeks, optós signified both vision, “see,” and fiery manipulation through cooking or metallurgy: “roasted,” and “forged, tempered,” or “scorched.”
The celestial wreath-of-fire in all its forms symbolized a particular sort of enlightenment. This mark of sagacity represented the possession of a sympathetically trained consciousness—an illumined vision—by those who recognized, and understood the principles that governed their internal and outer world. Doubtlessly those enigmatic fire worshipers of antiquity, smiths, artisans, and their corresponding gods, bear an ineffable relationship with fire. Eliade wrote:
“It is this intimacy, this sympathy with fire, which unites such differing magico-religious experiences and identifies such disparate vocations as that of the shaman, the smith, the warrior and the mystic.”
Flame came to be representative of what Hermeticists called gnosis. In lieu of Egyptian philosophy, Schwaller de Lubicz posits that this self-ratifying faculty was encapsulated by “the intelligence-of-the-heart.” Egyptian gnosis was credited to the creator god, Ptah of the Memphite triad, who was likewise the patron of architects and the progenitor of the healing and artisanal traditions. The world-pillar, djed, naturally served as his rod of rule. Ptah, like many artisanal and initiatory gods, was lame. His feet were bound and only when he was freed from bondage by his counterpart Sekhmet, was he able to realize his duty of awakening the world. For the ancient Egyptian, it was Ptah who instilled the causal fire in the core of materiality, granting such things a vivifying volition: A heart. Through disparity, the triad is formed. For this reason, did the Greek philosophers hold to the cryptic idea that three is the ‘first’ number, and as to why they referred to the mystifying land of Hwt-Ka-Ptah, as “Egypt.”
The Egyptians evidently maintained the same expressive character of the wand over so many centuries by virtue of their firm grasp of the ‘causal cause.’ Later, Babylonians and Greeks extrapolated the symbol, emblematizing a diluted version. Henceforth the wand appeared as a trinitarian image itself—witnessed, for example, by wings or serpents that bear physiological correspondences. This devolution occurred in much the same way that the fiery progenitor and manipulator, Ptah—initially a “heavenly fire fallen into earth”—came to be anthropomorphized by the Greek Hephaestos, who was dramatized with a veil of reasoning for his descent. In one sense, the result cheapens the cosmic principles initially preserved by Egyptian theology and deludes the secret understanding of progressive generation symbolized by “one.”
Schwaller de Lubicz reminds the initiate that man has paid far too much attention to his rational faculty; that he has weaponized it and divorced himself from the “intellect-of-the-heart.” Revelation has long-since abdicated to justification. At the core of this antagonism lies a combative animus, wherein the tool, lacking a masterful wielder, overtakes the novice. No place is this more evident than in the sexual and phallic obsessions so often read-into the wand.
Plato’s Timaeus and Aristotle’s Historia Animalium remark on an occult vascular system, in which they describe two complementary channels that flank the spine and follow it down the body, crossing at certain loci or chakras terminating ultimately in the phallus. These channels provide the pathways for bringing on the soul-marrow-seed that was thought to reside in the skull, down and out, through the phallus during procreation. That classical man commonly believed the skull to be the commensurate seat of the psyche or soul is undeniable, as noted by R.B. Onians, and numerous other scholars. Thus, the head is connected to the procreative organ both physiologically and esoterically.
The indwelling fire, ‘vivifying sacrament,’ ‘soul,’ or ‘quintessence,’ is often analogized sexually, but this too, is evidently another degeneration of the original conception. Plato was fortunate enough to recognize as much by remarking that the true eros is constituted not of lust, but rather it is resultant in a higher form of generation, as in the case of creative or immaculate conceptions. Platonic and Pythagorean thought count sexual desire not among the proclivities of the lower soul—but as a degeneration of the colloquial ‘higher’ soul. Eros cannot be exclusive to the material. Sexual desire, then, is taken to be a confusion. Thomas McEvilley wrote, “through the bewilderment of existing in time, the soul now mistakenly sees merging with the species as merging with the One, and desires to attain immortality through offspring.” Sexual desire and physical procreation are, for the mystic, a subsidiary expenditure or even bastardization in light of its other, more superlative functions.
Images of the twinned snakes coiled around the staff; the Hellenic Caduceus or the Babylonian god Ningishzida; display the wand in a somewhat withered form. We can see that the psychopomp’s charge descends from the same lineage. With the charge, one unlocks the gates of the underworld—as depicted by Dante, in Inanna-Ishtar’s katabasis, and Hermes’ divine ordaining. In all such cases the charge signifies the wielder’s command over the phenomena of life, death, transmutation, and metamorphosis. In sum, of creation. Figures that carry this later form of the wand travel freely—of their own volition—between the two realms. Despite such witherings, what remains is the symbolic undertone of the wand.
Originating, then, as an architectural symbol of divine rule, the wand absorbed a creative and fiery quality as it indicated the acquired gnosis of those who studied and manipulated the laws of the natural world. Thereafter, two additional aspects were attached to the wand: The masculine and feminine; the Ida and Pingala; the ascending and descending—or more simply, the active and receptive. Thus, the wand decayed into a basal ‘threeing,’ and the true character of its creative primacy was obscured.