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The Riddle of the Sphinx
& the Great Work

V.H. Frater S.A.

What walks on four come the morning,

Walks on two in the afternoon,

Then walks on three by the evening?

The answer is Man - for an infant crawls on all fours in the morning or beginning of life; an adult walks on two in the afternoon or middle of life, and the elderly walks with the aid of a cane during the evening or end of life. To the uninitiated this answer is sufficient, but to the Initiate, a true mystic by rite seeks the deeper meaning within the question in relation to the answer.

It is assumptive in all our works and the very construct of the Temple are the emblems of the Great Work – for the Temple is a macrocosmic representation of Man, to which is the answer of the riddle.

The riddle has three parts – morning (beginning), afternoon (middle), and evening (end); along with specific values of four, two, and three. Four sides to a square, two hemispheres to a circle, and three angles to a triangle. To further understand the meanings and purpose we must know the quest of the Wise in times of old; the quest of the oracles – as above, so below; as without, so within.

What walks on four come the morning

The mystic of old began the quest to the Northern Oracle; a place that absorbs all the Light. It I the realm f Darkness for t is the pursuit of things to come; it is the future and no man can clearly see the future. It is the mind of man that absorbs, and is why we clothe ourselves in Darkness, and adorn our Temple in black.

On this quest the four-perfect elements are revealed to be the secrets of Nature; making the cube and archetype of Nature. It is the black cube that serves as a base to the pillars and the doubled cube is our altar. In alchemy it is called the Black Work; the crude material of lead to be turned into gold, the sacrifice requiring perseverance in labors.

The Bull (Taurus), a symbol of power, fertility, and prosperity, is analogous to the mystic’s pursuit of the Northern Oracle – for it is the pursuit of the beast becoming a man. So is the purpose of the Black Work; to ascend beyond a life focused on the pursuit of pleasures and avoidance of pain.

In the Golden Dawn tradition, this work is summed up in the Outer Order; it is the Black Work, the mastery of the Lesser Mysteries, and understanding of Nature’s secrets. Designed for a single purpose; to answer the question that only the Northern Oracle poses; the first step to self-mastery and enlightenment – Knowledge.

To endeavor to answer that secret question: What dost thou seek? What is it that your truly want? A question that one in their twilight years can answer by looking upon their life and discern from their life what it is hat they wanted. If you could go back to High School with what you know of yourself now, it may have been a very different experience.

Walks on two in the afternoon

The mystics of antiquity after learning the knowledge to be imparted from the North, now seek the Southern Oracle, a place of Light. The Realm of Light for it is that which has come to pass; it is the past that makes us who we are. It is the heart of Man that continually gives and why we accent our Temple with white in contrast to black as our hearts are in contrast.

Good vs. Evil, Mercy vs. Severity, Ying vs. Yang,… is the Ouroboros composing two parts bounded into one – a circle, a struggle only found in man. It is the black and white pillars (cylindrical – circle) and the checkered floors of our sacred space. In alchemy it is called the White Work, the amalgamation of perfected materials to create gold, sacrificing tears through perseverance of the spirit.

The Minotaur (Aquarius) is a mythical creature who bears the body of a bull, for the base nature is still that of the beast, and the head of a Man that aspires beyond the constraints of our senses. In the Southern Oracle the man-beast endeavors to be more than human. In the White Work, do things unseen become more real hands things that can be seen.

In the Golden Dawn tradition this work is found in the Inner Order; it is the White Work, the mastery of the Greater Mysteries, and an understanding of the inner secrets of Man. Designed for a single experience – to answer the question that can only be found in the Southern Oracle; the second step to self-mastery and enlightenment – Love.

Answering that mystical question: Why ist thou here? What is your purpose? To ones purpose gives meaning to ones life and living with meaning brings true power of the Saints and those who would be heroes.

Then walks on three by the evening

The mystics of time before bearing the understanding of Nature in the North and holding the experiences of Man in the South begins to live in the East. The Eastern Oracle is the Gateway between the Northern and Southern Oracles; it is the Present composed of the Past and the Future; composed of our entire being. In our Temple it is found in he flames that burn illuminescent.

Two basal angles of opposing forces reconciled by a third – the Supernal, the Trine, the Trinity – that which is of God. It is the tetrahedron that crowns the pillars, and the flames that consume the candle wick. In alchemy it is called the Red Work; the tincturing of pure amalgam into gold. It is through the sacrifice of blood and perseverance of the Soul.

The Gryphon (Scorpio) is a mythical creature with a body of the Bull (for the base nature is still a beast), the head of a Man (who perceives the unseen), and the wings of an Eagle (that can climb to unattainable heights). The Eastern Oracle is the abode of the over-man-beast whom evolved to the heights of possibilities desire other the same, for in the Red Work does perfection begin to spread to others.

In the Golden Dawn tradition this work is found in the Secret Order, it is the Red Work, the mastery of the Mysteries, and understanding of things Divine. With one singular conclusion – to answer the ultimate question found only by the Eastern Oracle, the third and final step of self-mastery and enlightenment – Truth.

Answering that singular question: Who are you? For to know thyself is to be equal to the universe and the gods; to be self-realized; to be one with God.

The Great Work

Since time immortal mystics have embarked on the Northern, Southern, and Eastern Oracles; mastering the Mind, Heart, and Soul; and discovering the mysteries of the Future, the Past, and the Present. It is in the Temple, a reflection of our own being that such labors are endeavored.

The black cube that supports the cylindrical-pillar of contrasting black and white, surmounted by the red tetrahedron composes the emblem of the Great Work. The reason for the strict construction of our Temple’s Pillars is to be emblems of the oracles and markers for the sacrifice along the path of enlightenment – Sweat, Tears, and Blood.

The Sphinx (Leo) is a mythical creature with a body of the Bull (for the base nature is still a beast), the head of a Man (who perceives the unseen), the wings of an Eagle (that can climb to unattainable heights), and limbs and tail of a lion (accented by Kingship). The holy living creature is perfected by the four elements and reconciles that which cannot be reconciled by the common man.

It is our tradition that brings three Orders together for the Great Work, to walk among the gods, and go forth in Love, Truth, and Knowledge. To answer that eternal question: Who am I? First knowing our purpose, and to know that by knowing what we truly seek.


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