View Full Version : A Shortcut Across the Abyss

06-23-2011, 08:43 AM
Alright, there's been a bunch of twaddle spilled about the meaning of 4 degrees and it's time to clear the air some. I hope those in the back row are particularly paying attention.

There are, as in most artistic expressions, a myriad of interpretations to be given to 4 degrees. Such is the nature of the aesthetic. This does not mean that there isn't a message in the song, or perhaps family of messages, that is (or are) more or less 'better' than others. (As an aside for the more philosophically minded: this characteristic of aesthetic experience--that it admits of a practically continuous range of intersubjective content, from the wildly subjective to the fixed and universal--is a feature of the logic of art that runs throughout a whole domain that is properly thought of as 'aesthetic.' Truths of god, individual self-awareness, our shared socio-ethical constitution, and even the pink cubes and red pyramids of the phenomenologist, are to be understood along categories that have their home in aesthetics. I can think of no better place to start here than C.S. Peirce's "The Three Normative Sciences.")

Now with the interpetation of Tool's art there is more in play for the critic than just arbitary subjective experience. Such an approach to their work is only going to end in solipsistic nonsense, navel gazing of the most insipid variety. But the task of proper criticism here requires not merely that one get beyond one's own subjective perspective (or, perhaps better, to OWN one's perspective wholly as one's own).

In the first place one must deal with the intentional obsfucation of the band and their compatriots. This chicanery is, as Blair has often remarked, in part to ensure that the foolish who would put the art to ill use would be blocked by their own incompetence--it takes a peculiar cast of mind, and a dedication of will, to effect the understanding necessary to truly utilize what lies hid beneath the surface of their work (echoes of undertow's euphoria ring in the background). In some ways it is the more apt students who are likely to suffer for their effort. That someone who understands the nature of the game should lose everything that is of any value is a heartache that only the gifted can experience, and because of this they are cursed by their gift.

Second, and more importantly, there's the problem of putting oneself in a state such that one can pick up or resonate to the ideas being conveyed. But once the aspirant has breathed the air of god long enough, she begins to be able to appreciate the deeper truths enshrined in that hallow symphony. ("Mark well" the value of that word!)

And in this regard 4 degrees is fairly easy to understand.

In short, the theme is Crowley's expansion of the Golden Dawn's system of initiation by the inclusion of psycho-sexual ritual workings. The first truly major transition on one's path through the degrees, that to which the whole Outer Order is devoted, is the transition from Yetzirah to Beriah, from the world of creation to that of form, and the crossing of the abyss of the sphere of knowledge (daath). This idea is a theme running through the whole album (Undertow). Intolerance is the banishment of the lower self with the dagger of yetzirah, that tool one uses when the sphere of the sun is the locus of action (the sun of course the seat of psychic sacrifice, self-immolation, death and resurrection). Undertow (the song) is itself an expression of the abyss experience of total self-annihilation and what lies beyond (or beneath). To cross the abyss that separates the lower 7 spheres of the tree of life from the supernal spheres (cf Isaac Luria's story of the shattering of the vessels) was, for Crowley, to completely lose oneself in the fire of the divine. To be reborn on the other side of that abyss one must be willing to give up oneself as one knows it, so as to be reborn as a babe on the other side, a new star shining in the heavens. (Nightwish's "Nemo" is about this same experience, 'nemo' being the title Crowley gave himself on that stage of his experience, 'nemo' being a Latin word meaning 'no name'.)

It is to this end that the Golden Dawn prepared its aspirants, and so far as I know there is little indication that pathworking for the higher degrees was in place at the time Crowley was a member of the Order. Much of Crowley's work after accepting the Book of the Law was devoted to developing rituals for those higher degrees. Normally the passage from the lower spheres to the supernals was an extended and drawn out working taking many years. But over the course of his career Crowley played with various ways of circumventing some of those preparations, and the psycho-sexual rituals that Crowley developed (some heterosexual, some homosexual) were meant to afford ways of preparing oneself for and taking part in that transition without following the conventional method of ascent.

4 degrees is a song that references one of the rituals Crowley created for this purpose. It is a sexual ritual, one that calls for the two partners to engage in an act of union that eradicates the indivdiual identities of both of them, but which act creates by their intermingling a substance that is imbued with the divinized virility of both, a manna to be then ingested at the consummation of the act ("I'll kill what you want me to, take what's left and eat it"). (Incidentally, this strongly suggests that the song should be viewed as a heterosexual version of that ritual rather than a homosexual one, unless one is willing to eat shit.) In doing so the practitioners are taking part in a ritual that is as old as western civilization itself (cf. the ancient practice of ingesting the god, found in the communion of Christians; also consider Osiris' mating with Isis after his death and dismemberment to beget Horus).

The practice itself is difficult to achieve, as far too seldom do two partners line up with the requirements necessary to accomplish the work in any manner other than that found in the dim glow of a drug-addled candlelit porno, and for the ritual to work one needs a truly consummate union. Again, it is the simple-minded who have the least to fear, and whose simplicity shields them from the suffering peculiar to those who have eaten from the tree of knowledge. The inept are often saved from the ravages of the work by their own ineptitude--it is the right-minded who, should they squander their ability, find themselves lost in the tidal forces of this practice.

Get up and free yourself from yourself. Locked up inside you, like the calm beneath castles, is a cavern of treasures that no one has been to. Let's go digging. Bring it out to take you back in. You won't do what you'd like to do. Lay back and let me show you another way. I'll kill what you want me to, take what's left and eat it. Take all or nothing. Life's just too short to push it away. Take it all. Take it all in. All the way in. Let it go. Let it go in. You won't feel what you'd like to feel. Lay back and let me show you another way. If you knock me down I'll come back running, knock you down, it won't be long now All the way in. All the way. Take it up higher. 4 degrees warmer. Give in now and let me in. You'll like this in Don't pull it out. It brings us closer than dying and cancer and crying. Come on. You can take it all. Just like that.

06-23-2011, 11:51 AM
very interesting. Where would one go to find out more about the connection between Tool's music and the golden dawn rituals and beliefs? a book or website...?

06-23-2011, 12:29 PM
...orrr, it might simply be a metaphor for anal sex, hmm

07-08-2011, 03:21 PM
stick to the shallow end. you never quite never learned to swim

07-08-2011, 03:57 PM
stick to the shallow end. you never quite never learned to swim


07-18-2011, 12:07 PM
I suggest the esoteric writings of Jeff Quindlen, or just mail something to Crowley because his dead ass cares

07-18-2011, 12:08 PM
Aww damn, I was a little too late to join the discussion.

07-26-2011, 05:01 AM
I heard once that the whole song uses anal sex as a metaphor for forcing religion onto somebody, and when you read the lyrics it's definitely a possibility. Also a common theme for Tool, hating on the people who tell you what to believe.