IAO as a godform of gnosticism
IAO (iota, alpha, omega) was the Greek form of the Tetragrammaton, IHVH (Yod-He-Vau-He, or Jehova, the “Bringer of Light”), the Hebrew divine name for God. Although a reference to Jahova (or Yahweh), IAO was also widely associated with both Hermes and Bacchus (Iacchus), especially in ancient magical texts and amulets.
As a gnostic godform, IAO is both a sun-god and mystery-god.
IAO as a magical formula
The basic formula of IAO is one of life, death, and rebirth.
In Magick (1997, Ch. 5), Aleister Crowley states that IAO is
the principal and most characteristic formula of Osiris, of the Redemption of Mankind. "I" is Isis, Nature, ruined by "A", Apophis the Destroyer, and restored to life by the Redeemer Osiris.
He also refers to it as the formula of yoga, as illustrated by the initial pleasure of this practice, followed by the inevitable agony, and finally resulting in a new, superior state, perhaps similar to, yet fundamentally different from the initial state.
Crowley draws many parallels—namely the formula LVX, alchemy, Jesus Christ, and Prometheus.
In yet another example, Crowley says that IAO is the formula of all learning:
You begin with a delightful feeling as of a child with a new toy; you get bored, and you attempt to smash it. But if you are a wise child, you have had a scientific attitude towards it, and you do not smash it. You pass through the stage of boredom, and arise from the inferno of torture towards the stage of resurrection, when the toy has become a god, declared to you its inmost secrets, and become a living part of your life. There are no longer these crude, savage reactions of pleasure and pain. The new knowledge is assimilated. (Eight Lectures On Yoga, Fourth Lecture)
Ceremonially, IAO can be illustrated by the act of “robing yourself as a king, then stripping and slaying yourself, and rising from that death to the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel” (Crowley, 1997).
It is important to note that Crowley (1997) believed that the formula of IAO had been replaced by that of Horus, who gave us his two formulae, Thelema and Abrahadabra.
Transformation into VIAOV
Crowley, wanting to make IAO fit within the new Aeon, added the Hebrew letter Vau to both ends, which he then called the “proper hieroglyph of the Ritual of Self-Initiation in this Aeon of Horus” (Crowley, 1997). The new word, VIAOV (also FIAOF), enumerates to 93, just as Thelema and Agape do. Of the person who travels through this new process, Crowley writes,
Thus, he is Man made God, exalted, eager; he has come consciously to his full stature, and so is ready to set out on his journey to redeem the world. But he may not appear in this true form; the Vision of Pan would drive men mad with fear. He must conceal Himself in his original guise.
He therefore becomes apparently the man that he was at the beginning; he lives the life of a man; indeed, he is wholly man. But his initiation has made him master of the Event by giving him the understanding that whatever happens to him is the execution of this true will.
IAO in English
IAO has a special status in English. "I" and "A" are the most commonly known single letter words. "I" is singular subjective term, while "A" is a singular objective term. "O" is a lesser known English word. It appears in poetry, for example Colerige's Kubla Khan;
"O that deep romantic chasm,
which slanted down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover.
A savage place; as holy and Enchanted,
as E're beneath the waning Moon was haunted,
by woman wailing for her demon lover."
"O" suggests ecstacy, and the union of Self with Other. It brings the in-animate forms of our objective world to life in the divine.
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Encyclopedia of Thelema
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