In my experience, most people think of the sphinx as an Egyptian creature, usually depicted as a lion with a man’s head like the famous monument on the Giza plateau. But Greek mythology presents a different kind of sphinx, and it is that one to which I am drawn.
In Greek mythology, the sphinx typically has the head (and often but not always the breasts) of a woman, the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and a serpent headed tail. She is known for posing riddles, most famously to Oedipus, in her role as guardian at the gates.
She is also an elemental figure. In modern magick, the four powers of the sphinx (also called the witch’s pyramid by some) are “To Know, To Will, To Dare, and To Keep Silent.” These are linked to the elements of life — Air, Fire, Water, and Earth respectively — and just as Spirit is considered the essence and sum of the four elements, Aleister Crowley added a fifth power to the sphinx, namely “To Go”, as the essence and sum of the other four powers.
There are different ways to attribute the elements to the parts of the sphinx (and in part they vary because there are different types of sphinx.) But this is how I see the elements assigned to the sphinx as depicted here:
The woman’s head holds the power To Know. This is the human mind and intellect, as well as the deep intuitive wisdom that contributes to true knowledge. This relates to the power of Air, and the sign of Aquarius.
The powerful lion’s body represents To Will. The lion brings solar energy, sovereignty, and the Fire of will as Leo.
The broad eagle’s wings give her the power To Dare, soaring the heights where others fear to tread. The eagle is also one of the symbols connected with the sign of Scorpio and hence the powers of Water.
The subtle serpent tail relates to the power To Keep Silent. The serpent is low to the ground, and is often associated with secret wisdom (i.e., that which is kept silent.) Here’s where the astrological connection falls apart, however, as I can’t quite connect the serpent to Taurus (although some other images of the sphinx include elements of a bull to make that connection). Still, I think the serpent is not too far off as a symbol of Earth.
And, of course, the sphinx as a whole would be Spirit, with all of her combined parts giving her the power To Go.
So this is how I see us — all of us, the whole star-touched human race when we are at our best — standing at the center of Above and Below, incorporating within ourselves the elements of life that we may do our Work.
May we remember that Work, and go forth to accomplish it.