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Principles in Recovery and the Magical Formula IAO

Principles in Recovery and the Magical Formula IAO

by Tino Navarra


Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

I suppose I should start by mentioning that the following essay is merely a conglomeration of my personal experiences, thoughts and opinions on the subject material.  I’m writing this on behalf of my own recovery and curiosity, and anything contained therein are purely my experiences, thoughts and opinions. 

Please see the Literature and Preamble of Alcoholics Anonymous for an official overview of AA and the Twelve Steps.  Please see Aleister Crowley’s Liber ABA (Book 4) and the Equinox Vol 1 Nos 1-10 for a comprehensive and thorough introduction to the principles of Magick, and the techniques of which it is composed.

The Twelve Steps & Magick

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole. 

The Twelve Steps of AA are a formula for living, and from the perspective of the Western Mystery Tradition, Thelema and Ceremonial Magick, the Twleve Steps could also be considered to be 1) a singular magical formula and 2) a nested hierarchy of magical formulae.

What is magick?  Broadly speaking, Magick is a spiritual practice that is composed of the  study and practice of ceremonial ritual, alchemy, Qabalah, Yoga, prayer, meditation, devotion, invocation and evocation, et al. in an effort to achieve what Aleister Crowley calls Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. 

In other words, it is a set of techniques, spiritual in their nature, that puts the practitioner in conscious contact with their Higher Power(s).

In The Goetia of the Lemegeton of King Solomon Aleister Crowley writes:

“Magick is the Highest, most Absolute, and most Divine Knowledge of Natural Philosophy, advanced in its works and wonderful operations by a right understanding of the inward and occult virtue of things; so that true Agents being applied to proper Patients, strange and admirable effects will thereby be produced.  Whence magicians are profound and diligent searchers into Nature: they, because of their skill, know how to anticipate an effect, the which to the vulgar shall seem to be a miracle.”

In his Magick in Theory and Practice Crowley states:

“Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.”

The Magical Formula of IAO

What is a magical formula? A magical formula could be defined as a single principle and/or a nexus of principles condensed into and often represented by a word or series of words, wherein a deeper meaning and application is to be inferred, communicated and put to use through action, whether that is in the form of formal ritual or simply living day to day life.

In Ceremonial Magick there is a formula that is used and found widely.  And that is the formula of IAO.  IAO or IAΩ is a God-name of the early-Gnostics, and can be considered a Greek form of the Tetragrammaton.  As a magical formula it depicts a three-fold process of creation-destruction-regeneration or birth-death-resurrection: three principles that, on a certain level, cannot exist apart from one another. 

IAO is representative of the deities Isis, Apophis and Osiris.  Isis is the Great Mother, and represents the principle of Life in the sense of Life-that-is-sweet-and-just-beginning.  Isis is the honeymoon phase (the Pink Cloud).  Apophis or Apep is the Great Serpent, and is the destructive principle, and represents Death.  Apophis is the dark night of the soul or that which feels bleak and vile.  Osiris is the regenerative principle, representing Resurrection, not in the sense of a coming-back-as-what-was, but Resurrection in the sense of awakening anew through transformation.  Osiris, in the context of IAΩ as I am describing it, is Spiritual Awakening.[1]

IAO in the 12 Steps

We encounter Isis in the first three steps: Step One, Step Two and Step Three, when sobriety is new and we surrender, we begin to find hope, and we make a decision to live life differently than we’ve been living it. 

We encounter Apophis in the next six steps, when we unearth, analyze and dissect our old ideas about ourselves, our behavior and the world.  The false narratives of our lives (of my life anyway!), was dissolved and the truth laid bare for us to behold. 

We encounter Osiris in the final three steps:  Step Ten, Step Eleven and Step Twelve.  This is where we begin to regularly cultivate self-awareness, conscious contact with a Higher Power(s) and service to others.

We also encounter the formula of IAO, and the principles therein, within each one of the Twelve Steps, individually, in varying proportions.  In working Step One for the first time, I discovered Isis in the fatal nature of my situation as an active alcoholic, and I felt a sense of new life as a result of this realization.  I also found Isis in this new concept called honesty.  I discovered Apophis in the doom that I felt for the reckoning that was to come and for the person that I had been, and the fact that I could no longer live with alcohol or without alcohol.  I encountered Osiris when I conceded to my inner most self that I was alcoholic, and I found myself in the Big Book when people read to me from Bill’s Story, More About Alcoholism and There is a Solution.

 In Step Two, I encountered Isis when I began to get hope and realized that there was a path forward.  I encountered Apophis when I heard the people in the rooms talk about God, and I recoiled in horror at the idea of having to avail myself to the God of my youth, which was a humiliating and punishing force, and was a devil in “His” own right.  I encountered Osiris when it was suggested that I be open-minded and ask to have my prejudice against spiritual things set aside, so that I could begin to connect with a Power greater than my unaided and isolated self.  This notion of the Osirian principle of Resurrection is well described in the ‘Promises’ of Step Two on p.65 of the Big Book:  “…we enjoyed peace of mind, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow and yesterday or the hereafter.  We were reborn.”   I also encountered Osiris when someone kindly drew my attention to Appendix II The Spiritual Experience in the back of the Book, wherein the Higher Power or God is equated with an “unexpected inner resource”.

In Step Three, I encountered Isis when I read about the ‘key called willingness’ in the Twelve and Twelve.  I encountered Apohis when I realized alcohol was but a symptom.  Life as I had been living it, aside from my drug and alcohol use, was not working for me, and in fact I was continuing to harm others with my behavior driven by my unacknowledged character defects and unacknowledged lower aspects of myself, and my fear of Step Four.  I encountered Osiris when I made the decision to do Step Four and to trade in will for Will. 

In Step Four, I found Isis in the setting out.  Quickly thereafter, I encountered Apophis as I wrote down the inescapable truth of the person that I was and how I behaved under the influence of drugs and alcohol.  The process almost killed me, quite literally, but I was lifted up by the Fellowship and by the Higher Power(s). I encountered Osiris when I could begin to see exactly how, when and where my natural desires had warped me, and that every serious emotional problem that I had was a problem of misdirected instinct—that I have been living my life as a walking obelisk of blind, unbalanced force.

In Step Five, I encountered Isis when I recognized that I could learn to trust other people, and that I could begin to let go of the shame and guilt that I had been carrying around my whole life (therapy helped, too!).  I encountered Apophis, when I spoke out loud about things that I had locked down very deeply, and that I was going to take to the grave.  I encountered Osiris when I finished reading my Fourth Step out loud to a sponsor, and I realized that I felt like a part of the human race.

In Step Six, I encountered Isis through my new found freedom I was experiencing as a result of having done Step Five.  I encountered Apophis when I realized that I wasn’t done doing the work and that it would be a life-long task.  I continually came around to the idea, through pain, that I had to change my behavior, and release and repurpose these toxic and ancient coping mechanisms that I was still carrying around.  I encountered Osiris when I surrendered, and became entirely ready.

In Step Seven, I encountered Isis when I started to see my behavior changing, and that I could actually begin to pause when agitated instead of reacting emotionally to stimulus in my external and internal environment.  I encountered Apophis when I learned in a very non-linear and painful way about acting my way to right thinking rather than thinking my way to right action, and that pain is often the touchstone of all spiritual growth.  I encountered Osiris when experiencing and connecting with the principle of humility in a deep and personal way for the first time in my life.

In Step Eight, I encountered Isis in the setting out.  I encountered Apophis in realizing that I was going to have to reckon with the truth and consequences of my actions in regards to the harms that I had done others.  I encountered Osiris when the feeling came over me that I would be okay no matter what, even if I had to serve time for some of the things that I had done.  I experienced unconditional serenity, and unrelenting willingness to correct and balance what I had done wrong.

In Step Nine, I encountered Isis in the same serenity I had felt as a result of doing Step Eight.  I encountered Apophis in the painful inflammation then annihilation of ego as I looked into the eyes of people that I had harmed and made amends.  I encountered Osiris through experiencing the forgiveness of others, and in turn I learned how to forgive. 

In Step Ten, I encountered Isis through owning up to my mistakes in day to day life.  I encountered Apophis through realizing that there is more to Step Ten than saying I’m sorry for the same thing over and over.  I encountered Osiris through the quiet examination and exploration and observation of my thoughts and feelings, without reacting to them, as I go through life a day at a time, and I make an inventory at the end of each day.

In Step Eleven, I encountered Isis through action and surrender wherein I felt peace and serenity.  I encountered Apophis through the disciplines of daily practice.  I encountered Osiris through Spiritual Awakening and seeking to love, comfort and understand rather than to be loved comforted and understood.

In Step Twelve, I encountered Isis in the realization that I was now a different person, and that all of the Steps and principles therein are within the Twelth Step, as I am asked to practice them in all my affairs, in addition to the principle of service to others.  I encountered Apophis through sponsorship, and the false trappings of ego.  I encounter Osiris through service to others, and through continuing to practice the principles of all Twelve Steps, every day, one day at a time. 

Integrating IAO

Each day, the steps take on new depths of meaning, and they enable me to stay sober a day at a time.  Through sobriety, I’ve been able to rediscover Thelema and Magick which has added further depth of meaning and purpose to my life, and I’m grateful for that. 

We don’t have to look far in order to find the principles of IAΩ, whether we’re a recovering person or not.  We encounter these three-fold principles and cycles in our jobs, our romantic lives, a spiritual practice, a hobby, a favorite recipe. 

It helps me to remember that when everything goes to shit—like in a global pandemic for example—or watching social upheaval unfold, or an argument with a spouse, or butting heads with a boss, or having a massive identity crisis in terms of gender, sexuality, career, whatever—that that is the Aphophic principle, which is inextricably linked the the regenerative principle of Osiris. 

And if we simply recognize that there is a deeper reality and a bigger picture outside of whatever clusterfuck is going on at the time— life invariably and inevitably gets better.   And so it goes ad infinitum.

Love is the law, love under will.


[1] Osiris also represents the archetype and formula of the dying god, and is attributed to the sphere of Tiphareth.  In a Thelemic paradigm Tiphareth is no longer considered the Supreme Attainment as it was considered to be pre-1904.  This is a piece of Thelemic doctrine that is not really relevant to this essay, but is worth mentioning here in any case.


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