The Veil of Isis (Part 1)

How Hermetic Adepts Use the Mystery at the Heart of Creation for Magic & Self-Mastery

Donna Woodwell
7 min readFeb 27, 2020

In the last chapter, our Magician stands at the crossroads, examining the things spread out on the table before him, and wonders.

You see, the Magician’s already figured out that, in order to create — in order to step into that coveted Flow — he needs to focus on mastering the task at hand, while simultaneously plugging into an awareness that seems larger than himself.

The paradox of it tickles at his mind. The Magician muses to himself:

“If I can understand how Creation occurred for all of this, maybe I can copy the pattern. I can learn to Create like a God.”

When we left our young Mage, he was knocking at the door of the Great Mystery.

What exactly is the Great Mystery?

Well, to my shamanic teacher, who was trained by a band of the Lakota tribe, “the Spirit of Great Mystery” — Wakan Tanka — meant the mystery at the heart of Creation.

The ancient Greek philosopher Plotinus called it τὸ Ἕν, the One, that which has no divisions.

And my Hermetic teacher, who had a modern flair with words, just called it “up in the Hologram.”

However you conceive of it, West Wing presidential hopeful Matt Santos summed it up in a soundbite:

“I’m sure that many of us would agree that, at the beginning of all that begat-ing, something begun.”

Click, Boom and It Happens.

But, how did “It” happen? Or, perhaps a better question, how is It happening?

When modern-day magicians investigate the Cosmos, some use scanning electron microscopes, space-based telescopes, or superconducting supercolliders, bound together with a whole lot of math.

Of course, ancient magicians had none of these cool toys. What they had was their own mind and senses, logic and felt experience.

And still, what they conceived was astonishing. Both in its consistency across cultures, as well as its resonance with today’s cosmological theories.

But this is an article, not a book. So, I’ll keep it simple, and start with Plotinus…

The Life of Plotinus

Plotinus was a philosopher who lived in late antiquity, the 3rd century of the common era to be precise. Born in the Nile delta of northern Egypt, in his late 20s the desire for knowledge sent him off on his own Heroic journey.

His first stop: Alexandria. Alexandria was one of the greatest centers of learning in the ancient world and had been for nearly five centuries. (And, fortunately for Plotinus, not far from his hometown.)

The Pharos, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, engraved for the Geographical Dictionary [c.1760].

Third-century Alexandria was truly cosmopolitan: a World City. Scholars from around the globe — African Egypt and Ethiopia, European Italy, Greece and Turkey, Middle Eastern Syria and Babylon, Asian Persia, India and beyond — gathered in this bustling polyglot cauldron to share ideas and philosophies.

(Not to mention, to create the largest library of the age, but I’ll resist the digression.)

Plotinus spent a decade studying with his teacher Ammonious Saccas, before setting off toward Persia and India to continue his studies with eastern masters. Eventually he made his way back to Rome, where he began teaching his own students.

And though you may never have heard his name before, Plontinus’ ideas have found their way into things I’m sure you’re familiar with: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as Gnostic and Pagan metaphysics.

In a sense, Plotinus’ ideas were a nexus point: they emerged out of the world’s collective wisdom, and then seeded numerous traditions as they developed. Such was the elegance of his inner vision.

(And just an aside: Yes, Western civilization was born from the cross-pollinating of migrants, with books. Deal with it.)

For Plotinus, in the beginning, there was The One. Whole and undifferentiated. Pure potential, and absolute rest.

Imagine for a moment that you are the One thing. If you’re in a safe place, go ahead and close your eyes, and really get into it…

Imagine there are no boundaries. No edges.

There’s no light or dark. No hot or cold. No Others of any kind, and therefore, no Self.

Ok, did you do it? If you did, you probably realized one thing very quickly…

Oneness, it turns out, isn’t very interesting.

Sure, it’s omnipotent and omnipresent. But that’s because it’s the only thing.

To Plotinus, the One isn’t even conscious. To be conscious requires self-awareness. And since the One has no boundaries, it can have no sense of Self.

(Plotinus is lucky he didn’t vanish in a puff of logic.)

And then, the Great Mystery occurred. The Oneness overflowed itself, reaching out. And in so doing, Created.

(Or as my hermetic teacher called it: “Thought which Creates.”)

Like the Sun emanates light, Oneness “emanates“ Twoness, a duality that contemplates itself.

Now, Twoness, it turns out, is much more interesting. From there, it’s a slippery slope to…


You can think of it as the primal “yin and yang.” (Because that’s what it is).

But Plotinus used the words nous and prime matter. Nous is divine mind, or the forms and patterns of creation, and prime matter, something that receives and reflects the forms and patterns.

If you’re having Bible-study flashbacks of “Spirit hovering over the waters,” yes, exactly that. The patterns of creation (spirit) require reflection (water) to self-actualize.

That’s because Plotinus’ concept is not unique. It’s mirrored in the Jewish mystical tradition. In the Qabala, Kether the Unknowable Unity, emanates Chokmah and Binah, the Great Father and Great Mother.

Together the pair creates the rest of the Cosmos.

The Science of Duality

Modern physicists may not use the same esoteric language of the ancients, but they are the inheritors of its myriad implications.

I’ve heard it said that Albert Einstein called Geometry “the relationship between things.” The Golden Compass certainly can’t make a circle without its two legs.

When scientists talk about the “holographic” nature of information encoding in the universe, they’re referring to a technology that requires creating an interference pattern between two sets of waves.

In the case of a hologram, that’s an information carrying wave, and a reference wave. Together they produce a three-dimensional image.

The physicist David Bohm described the great cosmic hologram as the Implicate order, that which is enfolded and unseen. The ghostly image the hologram generates he called the explicit order. This illusion is our observable cosmos.

(Their ideas certainly echo Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, but I shall resist that digression too…)

Nassim Haramein of the Resonance Project, is certainly playing in the same playground. In his theories, the quality “Spin” is fundamental to all bodies in the Cosmos. Spin occurs when density differentials force two poles to pull on one another, driving spirals and change. In other words, interacting poles generate the movement that creates life. Without polarity, life is barren.

Like the tail-eating Ouroboros, natural systems feed back on themselves, create the complexity we see all around us. Such feedback loops are an essential ingredient of the fractal nature of the cosmos. When mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot described them mathematically, they became a cornerstone of Chaos theory.

(I could keep citing more science, but I’ll remind myself again, this is an article, not a book.)

Suffice it to say, while all is essentially One, we manifest as duality in order to Create.

If these modern cosmologists and quantum physicists have picked up on the themes ancient philosophers explored, I promise it’s not out of a jealous desire to crib from the best.

Rather, it’s from the simple fact that, when patterns appear in multiple places, and at multiple times, it’s a safe bet to assume that the pattern itself is somehow fundamental to the fabric of reality.

And working with the ramifications of essential-oneness-expressed-as-twoness is the raison d’être, the reason for being, of the Hermetic arts.

Continue reading in The Veil of Isis, Part 2.

This article is the transcript from Episode 003 of the Magic and Mastery podcast.

If you’d like to check out the podcast audio, the “Principle of Polarity” experiment you can try out on your own, or sign up for email notifications when new episodes are released, check out the Episode 003 show notes.



Donna Woodwell

Magician, Astrologer, Shaman: Writer. Headmistress at Donna Philosophica’s School of Magic and Mastery.