The Headless One

Last year, lots of people in the magical community got hugely excited about Gordon White’s book The Chaos Protocols and the hugely relevant and powerful Star.Ships (which I reviewed here).  Gordon is of course the author of the moderately-successful chaos magic blog, Rune Soup. So did I, but due to events in my life it was impossible for me to write about my experiences with the Headless Rite.

And I kind of made what feels like a relevant discovery.

Some Background

I’d been working with the Decans, thanks to the pioneering work of Austin Coppock.  That California astrologer has done some amazing work in assembling Thirty-Six Faces (Three Hands Press), to create a series of descriptions and expositions of each of those frames-of-reference called the Decans of the Zodiac.  When you divide the twelve signs of the Zodiac (which are each 30 degrees wide), you get thirty-six 10°-wide segments… and each of these has its own peculiar character and meaning.

Exploring these Decans in poetry has been an important part of my writing life for about two years now.  I started by writing a few poems in November and December, and I noticed that the Decan associated with the time between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day was also associated with the Headless One.  I knew that Gordon was interested in the Headless One, and that the Stele of Jeu had been important in the work of Aleister Crowley, and that a number of significant occult events in the 20th century had been triggered by the formal recitation of the Exorcism of the Headless One (Sometimes called the Bornless One Rite).  You can find a copy of it for your own use over on Theo’s website Seething Among the Suits, or at Digital Ambler.  I may get around to producing one of my own here, but mostly it would be derivative.

At the same time that I was beginning work with the Decans, I was also finishing work on another major poetic project, a series of poems on the Mansions of the Moon (this series wasn’t actually finished until April 2016, but more on that a little later).  This work had been done in connection with a reading of Picatrix, and also a reading of Christopher Warnock’s book The Mansions of the Moon — and both were connected with his astrology course.

My own, poetic work with the Decans and the Mansions of the Moon and the Behenian Stars should be available sometime next year I think, in a very small press offering — and then maybe someone else will publish the whole thing if there’s interest. We’ll see.  Anyway. Back to the story.

Cue March 2016.  My life fell into a little black hole.  And almost as soon as it did, an order I’d placed for Gordon’s book, The Chaos Protocols, arrived on my doorstep: March 29, 2016. What with one thing and another, I didn’t read it until March 31, 2016.

The Execution Season

I read the book, and finished it, in a single sitting.  Practically the first thing I did after finishing it, on the first of April — a terrific time to begin any new magical project — was to make a strip of parchment into a headband, and say the Headless One’s long invocation, together with the invocation of the Four Kings.  I proceeded to do that every day for a month.

One night in mid-April 2016, I happened to be doing the Headless Rite outside.  Mostly I was doing it outside, but this night I had the time and space to do it out of doors.  The Moon was in the Seventh Mansion, and part of me felt ridiculous.  It was a clear night, and I found myself looking at the Moon, looking very much like it was perched upon the shoulders of Orion. The moon was not full —  I expect that the Headless One Rite can only be performed on a Full Moon night when the Moon is full on the Taurus-Gemini division line, which probably doesn’t happen every year.  But it got me thinking…

When does the Sun sit on the shoulders of Orion?

And the answer turned out to be in Austin Coppock’s book — that at the Solstice, the Sun figuratively ‘loses its head’, and starts to fall from the heights of his northern course.  Lots of medieval and Renaissance folk traditions suggest a battle between the Oak King and the Holly King, and the Oak King loses at the Summer Solstice so that the Holly King can begin his reign and maintain his power until the Winter Solstice.  Then the fight between them occurs, the Oak King regains his crown and his head, and the cycle begins again.

And here it was.  On the last day of the Sun’s passage through Gemini, the day of his entry into the sign of Cancer, the Sun loses his head on the Summer Solstice, and the days begin to shorten in the Northern Hemisphere.  Light slowly bleeds out of the day, and darkness rises.

And so here it is.  The Headless One’s Head is the Sun, and the execution day when the head rolls off the shoulders is the Summer Solstice.  Suddenly, a great many folk and spiritual and astrological traditions make sense — that a period of ten or so days just before the Summer Solstice is the only time of year that the Headless One actually has a Solar head.

The Moon as Head

The whole experience of seeing the Sun as the Head of the Headless One, though, began with the insight that the Moon was on the shoulders of the Headless One — even though it wasn’t full at the time.

So when was the Moon both full, and on the shoulders of the Headless One? Given the position of the constellation of Orion, the answer seemed to be when the Full Moon was more or less on the line between the constellations of Taurus and Gemini.

How often did that happen? I wondered.

I could do some rough figuring, even though I am not a particularly skilled astrologer.  The answer, at a minimum, was that if Taurus was the home of the Full Moon, that meant that the Sun had to be late in Sagittarius or early in Capricorn.  The Seventh Mansion of the Moon, dedicated to Scheliel, was a possibility. So was the Fifth Mansion, whose image is traditionally a Head, at least according to Picatrix.  And The Fifth Mansion, tropically, is in the right-ish place, although sidereally it leaves a lot to be desired.

That places the season of the Headless One’s return in the First-ish Decan of Capricorn.

When is the Sun in the First Decan of Capricorn?  And some calculations later… Capricorn begins around December 21…   

So The Headless One, i.e. Orion, approximately wears the Full Moon as his head at around the Winter Solstice.  More or less every year. Some years it might be more precisely timed — some years it might be a little out of whack, left or right.  I’m not sure it matters to me although I can see some years as being worthy of greater celebrations because the Moon was in exactly the right place, right at the middle of the shoulders.

And it explains the tremendous relief and celebration of the winter Solstice throughout the northern hemisphere, to my mind, as well — The Sun is returning, and the Moon is riding on the shoulders of Orion. Again.  It’s a never-failing promise, really, and for ancient peoples it was a relevant sign that the universe had an underlying order and synchrony.

Some Other Possibilities

In truth though, sometimes it’s all of the planets.  At times, such as when the moon sits upon the shoulders of Orion, it’s the Moon. Sometimes it’s the Sun. Sometimes it’s Jupiter or Mars. Sometimes it might be Venus or Mercury or Saturn.  And I imagine that these different moments carried very different meanings to those who observed them — that the Headless One wore the planets like a series of helmets or heads at various times.

But it strikes me as no accident that one of the Behenian Stars, Capella, helps place a secondary marker in the sky, above the shoulders of Orion, to help judge when a given planet is coming into the right place at the right time.  Capella marks the position of Almathea, the nurse-maid goat of Zeus, who fed the god in diapers and in hiding when Saturn/Cronos threatened to eat all his children.  When one of the other planets comes upon the shoulders of the Headless One, otherwise known as the constellation Orion,  the light of Capella nourishes and feeds that divine emanation, and the newly headed Headless One beams new power into the world — love and sex when the Head is Venus, war when the Head is Mars, and so on.

I’m not enough of a master old-style astrologer or astronomer to know how and when to calculate this.  But I think it matters.  It did for me.


But the key to these discoveries was observation in the real world.

And the key to that observation in the real world was, in fact, practice.  Practice of the recitation of the Rite of the Headless One — at least daily, indoors and out, with awareness of the position of Orion and the position of the Sun and Moon relative to Orion, over several months.

And so I hope you’ll join me at the full moon in December this year, when the Holly King should be losing his head during the window of 13-18 or so of December.

At the same time I hope you’ll be cracking open Gordon’s book a few times between now and then, though.  Because there’s so many other wonders on those pages worth noticing, and this one is just a forecast of what else you might find lurking there.

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  1. This could explain the story of the Gawain and the Green Knight. Gawain chops off the head of the Green Knight at Christmas, and travels next Christmastide for the return battle of heads!

    • Thanks, Jow. It’s been pointed out to me that the mythology of Orion doesn’t include headlessness or headfulness. But two things come to mind in any case:

      1) in an era 13,000 or so years ago, before the fixing of 0-deg Aries to the spring equinox, precession of the equinoxes would have made Orion’s solar rise roughly aligned with the winter solstice…

      2) and this makes me think about Gordon’s “spirit on a mission” comments about ayahuasca and St. Cyprian. Maybe there’s a reason that we’ve more or less ignored Orion as the headless one for so many centuries, and now his hour has slouched round at last. Again.

      Just a thought. I’m not wedded to either of them.

    • I’m glad. I noted to Jow a moment ago that further thoughts connected to precession of the equinoxes occurred to me, and that I wonder if 13 millennia ago, Orion didn’t rise with the Sun at the winter solstice. Makes clear maybe why we’re suddenly paying attention to him again? A thought.

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