‘Just as there is a door which opens unto God, so is there a Devil’s Door which opens upon the recremental deeps. Let the aspirant be in no doubt that once this door is opened that the deeps will come in.’ – A.E. Waite
‘The cornerstone that the builders rejected is the place from which I come. The gate that is not a gate is the source of the living One.’ – The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
There is a peculiar feature to many of England’s medieval Churches, being a smaller entrance commonly situated in the North side of the building. This door is only opened during the Ceremonies of Baptism and Communion, and at no other times. Lore tells that Devils may reside within the Spirit of an unbaptised child, and that its spirit is Exorcised during these Rituals. It is also at this door that the aspiring Initiate of the Black Art may meet their Master, and make their Pact. For all these reasons, it is called the Devil’s Door.
In Christian lore, it is said that the Lord will rise again in the East; thus this side of a Church is regarded as the most sacred. It was common practice for the dead to be buried with their feet pointing towards to East, so that they could meet Him at the time of Resurrection. Next is the South, then West, and finally the North – this from the belief that the dead would rise in this order. The East is considered God’s side, where His throne is set; the West, man’s side, the Galilee of the Gentiles; the South, the side of the ‘Spirits Made Just’ and Angels, and the North is the Devil’s side. Criminals and paupers were frequently buried in the North side of the churchyard.
References to the North as the direction of the Evil One may be found in the Bible. In Jeremiah 1-13/14 we find; ‘What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north. Then the Lord said unto me, out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.’ In Jeremiah 46-20; ‘..destruction cometh; it cometh out of the north’.
The cardinal direction of North was associated in the Middle Ages with criminality. An accused person would stand facing his judges to the North. If a thief or criminal was being chased by the authorities, they could seek sanctuary within a church, as no violence was to take place there. If they could get to the Devil’s Door and take a hold of its handle, they could not be arrested until such times as they had let go. Ecclesiastical sanctuary is believed to have developed through usage from the Anglo-Saxon period until James I abolished the right altogether in 1623. Nevertheless, it was still practised in some parts of the country until the 19th century.
Many early churches in Britain were built upon the very spots used by previous generations of pagan worshippers. Perhaps it was that the sacred space usurped by the church would have been entered only from the North. In ancient Britain and the Germanic territories, the direction was central to the pagan Mysteries. Might we see here the presence of the Sorcerer-God known to us as Woden? That Master of Darkness, Initiator of Sorcerers, and Knower of the Dead? It seems a strong likelihood that these Mysteries may have informed the lore of the Devil’s Door. Amongst Woden’s many names we find also that of ‘Grim’, once again associated with the Devil as the ‘Church Grim’. The God Tyr, also, is associated with the North; indeed his Rune is an arrow pointing to the North Star.
It occurs in Phaerie Lore that the human wishing to make contact with the Hidden Folk may do so by circling a mound beneath which they live, anti-clockwise, and ending in the North. Perhaps here we see the continuation from the Elder Faith, carried through yet adapted to a Christian interpretation. Indeed, as we shall see, there are many practices that remain essentially unchanged from their origins within Phaerie Lore, the service of the Old Ones, and those that are later defined as Infernal Witchcraft.
Yet just because we find a strong correlation, we should not assume to have solved the Mystery in its entirety. Here we have one of many examples where myths have wound together like twisting roots, revealing an intricate pattern.. The association of the North with Devils, and the realms of the dead, may also be found in the Magick of the Zoroastrians. In a Rite of Exorcism, performed in the name of Ahurumazda, the Druj is cast out with these words; “Perish away to the regions of the North, never more to give unto death the living world of the Holy Spirit.”
According to the book of Bahir, amongst the oldest of Kabalist texts, the North is the abode of evil, and Satan comes from the North. It may be noted that the Northerly direction, the cold wastes of the Abyss, and the darkness of perpetual winter, are attributed within Kabalist Lore to the ‘Sephiroth that is not a Sephiroth’; Daath. The significance here is that Daath is indeed the Devil’s Door upon the Tree of Life, leading to the alternate dimensions of the Tree of Death – and the realms of Hell.
It is congruent, also, that within the Egyptian Mysteries the North is associated with Set- the original archetypal ‘Devil’ who was Invoked with Rites we would otherwise describe as Witchcraft pure and simple. For now it is enough to draw attention to the associations with Set, funerary Rites, self overcoming, and the Pathways of the Tree of Death which have been called the Tunnels of Set.
This Mystery may also be found within the Rites of Freemasonry. It is told of the Temple of King Solomon that; ‘….the Sun and Moon….could dart no ray of light into the North part thereof.’ Thus it is that the first degree Mason is taught the North of a term of darkness. This is more than mere allegory, for whilst the Sun progresses through the ecliptic it never reaches beyond 23 degrees North of Earth’s equator. Thus, a building constructed any further North will receive light only on its South face when the Sun is at its meridian height.
According to Witchcraft Lore, it is at this Devil’s Door that the candidate meets their Initiator. Such provides the culmination of a Rite taking place over a series of consecutive nights, during which time the candidate visits the church at midnight and circles the building Widdershins, walking backwards, a variable number of times (usually 3, but always an odd number).
On the final night the Devil is called upon to appear, perhaps as a person, a toad, a large black dog, or any other creature it might choose. The candidate offers a Consecrated host, which must be fed to whatever awaits. As with the formulæ of Witchcraft generally, it must be stressed that there are many variants to this tradition.
It is of relevance that the Rites of Initiation take place at locations bordering the dimensions, as may be understood to be the symbolic aspect of the Devil’s Door itself, or at the crossroads, the seashore, bridges, and so on. Initiation concerns the worlds of the Visible and Invisible, hinging upon the point where the dimensions intersect. The mythic function serves to accentuate occult reality, allowing it to obsess us temporarily that we may once again reabsorb it.
In all these traditions the Initiator may be specifically identified with the Devil. Evidence of such goes back at least to the Middle Ages, with many signs appearing in the Persecution records. In all such depictions, the Rites are portrayed as overtly Satanic. It is that mythic formula concealed also within the tale of the Fall, of Eve and Adam’s partaking of the Forbidden Fruit.
Within many of the old Trade Gilds, which in their day celebrated the Mysteries of their Craft and gave offering to their Gods at their gatherings, the Initiator also became identified with the Devil. Such things were true of the Society of the Horseman’s Word. The Devil is also recognised as the Mystery behind the closely related Initiatory formulæ of the Toad Witches.
Another formula of Self-Initiation is recorded by Scot in his Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), amongst the most commonly employed books within the Cunning and Art of England, in which the candidate places one hand upon their head, the other on the sole of their foot, giving all between their two hands to the Devil and declaring their self the enemy of all organised religion.
Yet Nature presents one grand and useful lesson more; the knowledge of Self. She teaches, by contemplation, to prepare for the closing hours of existence; and when she has led through the intricate twists and turns of mortal life, she finally brings the lesson of Death. Such are the peculiarities of the Rites of Initiation. They are an invitation to reflect upon that awful subject and teach that, to the Upright Man, death has no terror equal to that of error and illusion.
The formulæ of Initiation, whether into primitive societies or advanced fraternities, are of symbolic death and resurrection; as typified in the myths of Osiris, Christ, and Hiram, amongst many others. Such symbolism is present in the tradition of meeting one’s Initiator at the North side of the church- being that part of the graveyard where the poor are buried, and where sunlight does not fall.
Through the nearness of darkness and death we are inevitably reminded that our own life is but a transient dream. It is analogous, also, to the Inner Darkness, through which we may be presented with glimpses into the Mysteries. It is a symbolic renewal of the candidate’s connection with the embryonic Void; the gateway to the Mysteries, living and breathing the Rite as a dreamer dreams a dream. The shadows of the graveyard serve to remind us of the shifting shadows of Self, ever descending into reincarnation, attempting even death for its satisfaction. This darkness is embraced in its totality that the flame of Illumination may ignite spontaneously within the Self, as the Limitless Light first emerged from the Void.
This is that symbolic death that allows us to mature, imperceptibly, within ourselves. It is not a physical death, but the death of the candidate’s inertia upon the Path of Self; their unawareness and alienation. The aim of Initiation is to kill this death, uncovering the Self buried beneath so much sand and mud. It is as if the candidate were reincarnated ‘this time around’- and let us not forget, that through this symbolised death, the Initiate may come to expand their awareness of mortal death. It is not entirely unknown for Initiates to regain certain memories of previous incarnations at such times. This death corresponds to the Alchemical processes of transmutation, and does not in itself present the culmination of the Rite.
This Harrowing of Hell, called also the Journey Unto the Centre of the Earth, is not merely one of introspection. It serves also as an Enchantment cast upon one’s own Self by the aid of the Devil. The descent into one’s Self foreshadows Infinity; its aim is the perception of a complex reality revealed through various components of the Rite. It is at this stage, having attained the very heart of this realty, that the tangible world opens itself up to the Mysteries.
Herein lies the paradox of Initiation. It is easy to comprehend the need to Become One’s Self in order to realise one’s potential, yet it is difficult to comprehend how the seemingly finite Self is to identify with the infinite Mysteries.
By the process of Initiation, the aspirant rediscovers their Self, stripping it of those beliefs and miscomprehension that hindered them from becoming their own creator, which the Alchemists understood by the phrase Son of His Works. The Initiate enters into this Mystery, revealing the cruel beauty which runs as a current through the Self, as it runs also through the world.
Much superstition and misunderstanding has been accumulated around the formulæ of Initiation. It is often supposed that the candidate acquires by these Rites great Mystical insight as if by a single moment of Illumination, and that great powers are to be granted them suddenly by the agency of the Devil. In reality, however, the Rites of Initiation provide a function that might better be described as poetic, stirring the Greater Mind within the individual as great poetry may serve to awaken the Secrets of the Soul; which is as Danté called the Straight Track.
Nor is the Devil’s Door representative of some singular and finite Attainment. Rather, it is a vow that must be continually reaffirmed. It is not enough to perform this Rite but the once, and consider oneself a ‘Witch’ from this moment on, and forever. The enigma may be decoded through the dictum ‘The object of the Quest is the very way of the Quest’, by which is meant that the goal of our journey is not the aim of our embarking, for it will be to us forever Mysterious. Rather it is the journey itself that is its own purpose. Thus, in the old gilds (the forerunners of ‘guilds’, preserving trade secrets and lore), the candidate for Initiation was sometimes known as a Journeyman. The Rites themselves serve as a momentary Enchantment, a marking of the beginning of a journey that may have no ultimate destination other than death, itself as illusory as life. It is a spelling out with action, and may never replace the endless journey of maturation it represents.