The Scourge

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The Scourge


An essay on the importance of the Scourge in Traditional Wicca and a Qabblistic interpretation of the numerical of the sequence 3, 7, 9 and 21.


Recognition of the importance of the Scourge in traditional Wicca has fallen out of favor over the last few years. Rarely, if ever, is it discussed within modern Pagan literature nor is it recognized as one of the tools of a traditional Witch1. Even worse than this oversight is the lack of attention given to the higher message attached to the Scourge. As Witches, practitioners dedicate themselves to the Higher, to the Glory of the Gods and to service for the benefit of All. Therefore, Witches dedicate themselves to compassion and love for all beings. This is explained right at the beginning under the maxims of Perfect Love and Perfect Trust. The higher message of the Scourge is that without suffering there can be no compassion. And that suffering is fleeting, it does not remain, but the wisdom that was earned through that suffering is imperishable.

The lack of this higher message from the modern-day Witches understanding of Wicca is beyond distressing. In truth, this is one of THE great messages of Wicca. To cut it from the tradition would be like cutting Christ out of the teachings of Christianity or compassion out of Buddhism. To go further, to ignore the importance of the Scourge would also leave newly initiated practitioners without a frame of reference to deal with suffering. In life, as humans, we suffer. There are many different ways that suffering is experienced, and all suffering is a form of Karma. We have to live through it, to deal with it and to get beyond it. But as Witches (and various other practitioners of true paths of Enlightenment) we are given the opportunity to not only learn compassion from suffering, but to recognize the necessity of it. With this recognition comes the understanding that suffering and pain are fleeting, but true wisdom is ever lasting. And we are then equipped to help others grapple with their own suffering.

Now this is not to say that people should go out of their way to suffer, induce some form of self-flagellation, or commit acts of self-mutilation. To do so would be purpose defeating (i.e. ‘and it harm none’). Instead, when experiencing something unpleasant or painful, be conscious of the fact. Attempt to learn from it. And try to remember that the experience is like the Scourge, the pain passes but the memory of the experience and the wisdom earned from the experience (if consciously looked for) remain.

It must noted that the point of using the Scourge is NOT TO INFLICT PAIN. In fact, if pain is being given during the use of the Scourge, IT IS NOT BEING DONE PROPERLY! While the message is about suffering, the point is not to inflict suffering. Given that Witches have dedicated themselves to Perfect Love and Perfect Trust, to willfully inflict pain on another is to go against the maxims and is not apart of the tradition of Wicca.

The Scourge is only used for ritual proposes and only within a Magick Circle. The total number of strokes given is 40 and the sequence of strokes is 3, 7, 9, and 212. The High Priestess is usually the first to be Scourged (performed by the High Priest), followed by the High Priest (performed by the High Priestess). Afterwards, each convener in turn is Scourged by the High Priestess or High Priest (men by the High Priestess; women by the High Priest).

The physical sensation of the Scourge is not painful. In fact, the High Priestess or High Priest tries to be as gentle as possible and is always cautious not to hurt anyone. It serves as a reminder that all individuals on the path will experience suffering in some form: be it breaking a limb, losing a loved one, or dealing with the knowledge of the immense suffering in the world. It is important to remember that all beings are on the path, but as Witches (and practitioners of wisdom traditions) we consciously engaged in walking it. At times this suffering may seem unbearable, or never ending but it is a lapse of time, a moment that passes. After that moment there is still aspiration and devotion, there is still love for all beings and we are still not alone in the Great Work. This knowledge serves to remind us of the fleetingness of suffering and helps to purify aspiration in order to be move beyond unconscious recognition and be free of the habits of the ego. During or after being Scourged, there is a feeling of bliss or inherent relaxation that comes from the knowledge of that fleetingness.

Although the Scourge is a tool of traditional Wicca, I have chosen to examine and discuss the numerical sequence of the Scourge strokes used in ritual context through the Hermetic system, as well as with reference to Egyptian doctrine. This was done primarily because there is quite a bit of overlap between the Hermetic tradition and the system of Wicca. Therefore, understanding Hermetics’ is a vital component to a holistic occult discipline, and Egyptian doctrine simply follows. The reminder of the essay makes reference to a lot of Qabblistic terminology, and a basic knowledge of Hermetics3 will help in understanding the content. That being said, it is written in such a way that no prior knowledge of Hermetics or the Qabbla is necessary to understand the content of this paper.

Regardless of the fact that outside of traditional Wicca, scourges have been used to inflict physical pain, within Wicca the use of the Scourge is dedicated to love and compassion. The sequence of strokes for the ritual use of the Scourge is 3, 7, 9 and 21, equaling a total of 40. Let’s take a look at each one in turn.

3 is the number of strokes in the first section of the sequence: the number 3 in the Qabblistic Alphabet is the Hebrew letter GIMEL (meaning camel). GIMEL represents the 13th path on the Tree of Life4 connecting TIPHARETH to KETHER. TIPHARETH is the 6th Sphere, associated with a strong connection to the higher self. KETHER is the 1st Sphere. When a practitioner is described as in KETHER, it means that they are working from an enlightened state of consciousness. The 13th path is also known as the path of the High Priestess. On this path, the individual practitioner passes through the veil that separates the Supernals (KETHER, CHOKMAH and BINAH, also known as the higher states of consciousness. BINAH represents the Goddess, CHOKMAH the God and KETHER as the Great Union) from the rest of the Tree of Life (which consists of CHESED, GEBURAH, TIPHARETH, HOD, NETZACH, YESOD and MALKUTH).

According to magical legend, the Mighty Ones or Archangels (who rule the elements) help to raise the practitioner above this veil. Should the practitioners’ spirit be heavier then a feather, the Mighty Ones will be unable to take the practitioner though the veil and will drop them before crossing into the realm of the Supernals (keep in mind that this doesn’t mean physically dropping an individual from a great height). The concept of the weighing less than a feather is extremely reminiscent of the weighing of the heart in the afterlife of Egyptian Theology, from the Book of the Dead. In the Book of the Dead, when an individual dies they go through a variety of trials that must be passed in order to be admitted into the afterlife. The last of these tests is the weighing of the individuals’ heart against that of a feather. Should the heart be heavier then the feather, then the individual is refused from entering the afterlife and is consigned to destruction. The feather is also a symbol of MAAT, the Egyptian Goddess of harmony and truth, which incidentally means the way, or the truth (just as Tao means the way of the truth).

To go back to the 13th path, the concept is truly the same. To get beyond the veil or to go beyond the weighing of the heart would mean letting go of the ego and habit and moving beyond vested personal interest that people generally work from on a day-to-day basis. Therefore to pursue and achieve this higher state of consciousness, one must let go of doing mundane things for mundane reasons. This does not mean that an individual can no longer do mundane things. On the contrary, the individual will continue to engage in mundane pursuits but the motivation behind those activities will have changed, i.e. doing everything in the name and to the glory of the Gods. It must be kept in mind that the path of the High Priestess is on of intense and pure love for all beings. That love and trust in that love is the key that makes an individual weigh less then a feather. This state is a place of insight, where the phenomenal world is understood to be fundamentally unsubstantial (combination of death (of the ego or mundane understanding of the self) and dream-likeness).

To continue the sequence, 7 is the next section of strokes: 7 is also the Hebrew letter ZAYIN (meaning arms) and is associated with the 17th path connecting TIPARETH (the higher self) to BINAH (the Goddess). TIPHARETH (which also represents the Sun), as has already been noted above, is the 6th Sphere and in its most simplistic explanation is the consolidation of all of the teachings accumulated from all paths and Spheres. Needless to say that this is not a set linear development. The end product is the knowledge of the conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel, occurring at the magical core or the level of consciousness associated with TIPHARETH. The Holy Guardian Angel is in reality the higher self; the higher consciousness and the conversation that takes places could be seen as the consolidation of the higher self with the lower self.

The juxtaposition of the higher and lower in no way means that the two levels of consciousness are separated. Discussing the higher and lower leads to the assumption that there is some sort of boundary between the two, at least abstractly. On the contrary, there is no boundary, only the conception of a boundary and it is in this sphere where that conception evaporates. The consolidation within TIPHARETH can then be seen as the internal development of the knowledge that you are your higher self.

BINAH (the Goddess) is the 3rd Sphere on the Tree of Life and is part of the Supernals (recall that the Supernals consists of BINAH, CHOKMAH and KETHER, or the Goddess, the God and the Great Union). All manifested activity on the planes of experience comes into existence from this Sphere. BINAH is also associated with the vastness of the ocean, and the power of creation, the forming principle from which the unstoppable force that fuels the creation of the universe is sprung (the unstoppable force, or energy coming from CHOKMAH (i.e. the God) moving through BINAH (i.e. the Goddess) to form the universe). In short, BINAH is the Hermetic representation of the Goddess. This outward pushing, creating, destroying force is the exterior movement to the interior will. It is the energy and power of will manifest and can therefore be seen as the balance between interior will (from the perspective of higher consciousness) and exterior manifestation (from which everything is created)

The 17th path is associated with the Yetziratic Attribution of zodiacal Gemini (II), also known as the lovers. Most commonly assumed to be the union of opposites, Gemini is also representative of twin brothers or more accurately of two opposing sides within one individual. One common Gemini trait is being able to have completely opposing views, habits, moods, etc without recognizing any sort of internal contradiction between the two oppositions. From a higher perspective, the juxtaposition of two opposites with no internal contradiction is the basis of Enlightenment in Wicca as well as in many other Wisdom Traditions (for example, a table being viewed both as physically placed within reality and therefore concrete as well as being pure consciousness, as both are equally true).

What can be deduced from this attribute list than is that the internal recognition of the higher self leads the way to the enlightened understanding that all manifestation is a product of mind, or pure consciousness. To put it another way, being able to recognize both the absolute physicality of the universe as well as the inherent insubstantial nature of the phenomenal world, in which everything is just mind.

To continue, the next section of strokes in the sequence is 9: 9 is also the Hebrew letter TETH (meaning the serpent) and is associated with the 19th path. This path connects GEBURAH (the 5th Sphere) to CHESED (the 6th Sphere, also known as GEDULAH). The two Spheres’, GEBURAH and CHESED, appear at first glance to have opposing symbology and meaning. However, one cannot be discussed without the other, as they are more like the opposite sides of the same coin. GEBURAH is symbolized by the image of a warrior king with his righteous sword of justice. This is the king that leads his armies into battle during war times and that makes tough decisions in service for his people. CHESED is symbolized by the image of the peaceful king, merciful and content on his throne. This is the king that regulates prosperity in his kingdom during times of peace, who strives to keep that peace and calm for all of the people in the kingdom.

Already, we can see how the symbolism of the two Spheres is intimately linked. Without war, there can be no conception of peace and vice versa (just as without suffering, there can be no compassion). Balance is needed between activity and inactivity. Unchecked activity can lead to vengefulness and anger. Unchecked inactivity can lead to cruelty. Let’s take an example from everyday life to clarify what these two statements in the current discussion mean.

The most compassionate thing a person can do for another is to let a friend or a loved one or even a stranger be responsible for themselves. This can mean a variety of things. One example would be confronting a friend about detrimental habits. Another would be to trust a loved ones ability to learn from their experiences without your two cents. As a Witch (or fellow practitioner on the path to Enlightenment), you recognize that you are responsible for your own actions, and that choosing not to act is an action in itself. To go beyond that, Witches (and fellow practitioners of Wisdom Traditions) are dedicated to love and compassion for all beings, which at times also means providing ‘tough love’ by confronting others on negative behavior in order to help them take responsibility for their own actions, and sometimes it means choosing to do nothing and trusting them to learn from their own life situations or karma. Compassion does not always mean being nice, or following the socio-cultural rules of personal interaction. Nor does it mean bossing people around.

The balance between activity and inactivity is wisdom, the understanding between when to act and when not to. This wisdom inevitably comes from devotion and aspiration, firmly rooted in dedication to love and compassion for all beings. Without devotion, without dedication to the higher, no individual can truly walk the balance between action and inaction. In order to walk that line, the individual must have a firm understanding of self, which is not the identification with the personality as it has been created in everyday, mundane reflections. Self in this context is rooted in the higher, in compassion and love and in trusting the universe (hence Perfect Love and Perfect Trust).

The final section of strokes in the sequence is 21: 21 is also the Hebrew letter KAPH (the palm), which is associated with the 21st path. The 21st path connects NETZACH (the 7th Sphere) to CHESED (the 4th Sphere, also known as GEDULAH) and is also represented by the tarot card The Wheel of Fortune. Alternatively, the Hebrew letter THAV, meaning cross and associated with the 32nd path between YESOD (the 9th Sphere) and MALKUTH (the 10th Sphere) represented by the Tarot card The World, also equals 21. These two attributions of 21 revolve around a theme of connectedness. The Wheel of Fortune represents the never-ending, constantly changing wheel of time and events, or karma. The World card of the Tarot deck makes explicit reference to MALKUTH, which represents the physical plane of existence and the place where consciousness manifests into concrete reality.

The 21st path between NETZACH (the sphere of emotions or habit) and CHESED (the sphere of mercy) is directly linked with developing the ability to get beyond personal emotive reactions rooted in the ego and functioning from the perspective of true empathy, which is not dependant on validating the superficial tendencies of the ego. The 32nd path between MALKUTH and YESOD is the first step on the path to recognizing the high self. It is on this path that the practitioner meets the hunchback5. The hunchback is actually the ego, the internal force that resists pushing past existence rooted solely on the physical plane, i.e. the internal resistance to striving towards enlightened states of mind and the recognition that everything is pure consciousness.

What can be seen from these two paths (the 21st and 32nd paths) is that Karma manifests in the physical world. Karma, both negative and positive is generated by all activity (again, inactivity in itself is action). Therefore, everything we do generates Karma and everything that happens in the course of a lifetime is the production of Karma. Life very rarely throws anything at us that we cannot deal with. It is not always pleasant (sometimes it is really, really unpleasant), but it serves a purpose. That purpose is to point out our blind spots, areas in our nature that need to be consciously recognized in order to move past habit. In each life, we learn (and most of the times, relearn) the lessons that are embedded in all Karmic activity. Suffering and happiness are deeply rooted to karma and change. The point is not to automatically resist change (which is the fail-safe reaction of the ego derived from the level of comfort we get from habit) or to bemoan suffering, but to learn from experience. All experience, regardless of the labels we put on it (i.e. good-bad, pleasant-unpleasant, etc) is a doorway to continue on the path to the higher, towards Perfect Love and Perfect Trust, which is intimately linked to true compassion.

The total number of strokes is 40: 40 represents the Hebrew letter MEM (meaning water), which is associated with the 23rd path connecting HOD (the 8th Sphere) to GEBURAH (the 5th Sphere, see discussion of GEBURAH above) and is the total sum of the 3, 7, 9, and 21 sequence. HOD is also associated with the intellect (i.e. thoughts). The 23rd path from this perspective can then be seen as moving past the point of view where thoughts control action to action that is governed by wisdom (true wisdom, not dictated by mundane thoughts or governed by socio-cultural norms). The underlining theme here is the mind or consciousness.

Water is representative of the ocean of consciousness that is BINAH, the forming principle of the unstoppable force that creates the universe. The ocean of the Goddess that is so vast, it is daunting, awe inspiring and endless. It is the recognition of this vastness, of the beauty of the universe, which keeps aspiration pure even through suffering. The Goddess is the archetypical representation of pure love and it is Her ocean that creates all beings, that connects all beings, that is all beings. To follow through with this tenet, all existence is mind or consciousness. Therefore, all experience (whether it be suffering or joy) is the exploration of mind.

Therefore, the sum of the Scourge is love. 3 represents the highest form of love. 7 represents the balance between the internal recognition of higher consciousness (i.e. you are your higher self) and the external manifestation of the will (i.e. BINAH or the Goddess creating the universe). 9 represents the strength of that will and trust in knowledge of self. And 21 represents the wheel of karma, the world, all the paths, the involution and evolution of the practitioner (as well as the Goddess6). Taken together, leading and always striving for the recognition that all existence is pure consciousness. From this recognition, the only way to respond to all beings who have forgotten their own divine nature is with compassion.

To conclude, the Scourge is both a reminder that the path is sometimes fraught with suffering and that Perfect Love and Perfect Trust is needed to follow the path past suffering in order to complete the Great Work, in service for the benefit of All.


All sorrows are but shadows

They pass and are done, but there is

THAT which remains.’

(exert from the ‘Invocation to the Goddess’).

△ Nuit

Isis Hathor Coven

May 2009

1 There are eight tools in traditional Wicca. These are the Sword, the Athame, the White Handled Kinfe, the Wand, the Pentegram, the Censer, the Scourge and the Cords. The Chalice is not considered a tool, as it embodies the Goddess.

2 To be more precise, 3 strokes are given followed by a rest or pause, followed by 7 strokes then a rest or pause, followed by 9 strokes and a pause, etc. with 40 strokes in total.

3 Dion Fortune’s The Mystical Qabbala is an extremely useful text on the Qabblistic system, although it is quite dense. The Chicken Qabbala of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford by Lon Milo Duquette is a more reader friendly text that is also extremely good.

4 The Tree of Life is composed of Sphere’s and Paths. There are 10 Sphere’s and 21 Paths to represent different planetary and zodiacal influences on differing states of consciousness. The Sphere’s are the culmination of those influences and the paths are the different ways that those influences are experienced.

5 See Aleister Crowley’s commentary on the Soldier and the Hunchback, available in PDF form online

6 See the ‘Aradia’s descent into the Underworld’.