I was back on the Coffee & Divination podcast, this time talking about grammatomancy!

Back in April last year, I made an appearance on the inaugural Coffee & Divination podcast.  It’s a great show, run by the fabulous Joanna Farrer (musician and high priestess of the North Wyldewood Coven), and I was more than happy and honored to be the guest for the first episode.  Apparently Joanna’s audience enjoyed our talk, so over a year later, I was invited back to talk again about divination—this time, about grammatomancy (the divinatory art of using the letters of an alphabet, specifically the Greek alphabet, about which I’ve put out an ebook for you to consider plus plenty of other posts exploring how to use this neat little system of Greek “runes”).  It’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, and which I’ve involved in plenty of stuff with my (on the back burner) Mathēsis project and which I spoke about as well at the Salem Witchcraft & Folklore Festival last year.  In addition to just that, we also get into some fun bits about Hermetic magic and a few other fun topics, as well!  It was, as ever, a great time to chat with Joanna, so I hope you enjoy the chat, as well (whether or not you like coffee).

To listen to the podcast, you can find the interview on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and other podcast platforms, as well as on their Vimeo channel.  And, if you’d like to support her show, please consider throwing some coffee money her way over on Ko-fi!

A Simple Prayer from a Beloved Fandom

As I know I’ve mentioned before on my blog, one of my all-time favorite fandoms is that of Myst, the famous game series (with accompanying novels) put out by Cyan starting with the famous 1993 game (one of the first on CD-ROM and which perhaps cemented the medium’s importance in the history of computing) and progressing to the critically acclaimed sequel Riven in 1997, followed by other games like Exile, Uru, and others.  In addition to having a fantastic story and universe built (which is itself centered around the building, or rather connecting to, other worlds), it has a famous constructed language known as D’ni.  It’s not as well-built as other conlangs out there, whether for games or for more serious use, but it’s still got a bit of a corpus for itself.

One of the oldest (perhaps the first) full text of D’ni is known as “Atrus’s Prayer”.  This prayer, attributed to Atrus (one of the main characters of the whole Myst series as a sort of helpless and largely absent benefactor and instigating character who asks for your help), was shown in the 1996 Myst calendar.  For each month, the calendar included a snippet from one of Atrus’ journals regarding the various worlds (“Ages”) he traveled to and studied, mostly those that weren’t actually featured in the game itself except perhaps in one or two oblique references.  However, for November, underneath an image of Atrus’ makeshift writing desk when he was trapped in K’veer in D’ni, we find this prayer instead of a journal entry (or, perhaps, it was indeed a journal entry of its own).

Interestingly, on the December page immediately following, instead of a prayer or a journal entry relating to a particular Age, we instead get a snippet of Atrus’ own personal journal, which I include here for the tantalizing hint of context:

I am not able to understand, only to understand more.  The picture that I wish to examine is not static, it is growing and living.  Even as I understand how the hinges of a door allow me to open it, I find it leads to a room even larger than the first.  But I think perhaps that is part of wisdom.  Knowing that I cannot know all, understanding that I cannot understand all.  If the Maker’s creation was understandable would I not find the Maker something less than great, would I not consider myself equal with the Maker?  It is a tribute then to his greatness when I find myself more confused even at the very instant I have gained insight.

I’ll forego the transliteration of the prayer for the moment (for reasons which will soon become apparent), and stick to the…well, what the D’ni linguistic community can manage to translate of it.  This is a combination of several works that try to analyze it (here and here, for example, among others linked below), with possibilities regarding particular words:

I was [reflecting (?)] [on] your [powers (?)].
I was thinking what [grace (?)] it is to be able to link to various places of your creation.
It is [amazing (?)] to me how complex to [apparent (?), thorough (?)] you have created this universe I live in.
Still with how it is–[however (?)] [apparent (?), thorough (?)] to five [senses (?)] – you [act (?) exist (?)] still to love for me.
I [pray (?)] to you.
What I can [accomplish (?)] by Art I do not entirely [understand (?)] I am [achieving (?)] by your greatness and holiness.
I praise you for who you are.
And I thank you for what you have [allowed (?), done (?)] and what you will [allow (?), do (?)].
I am [thankful] [for my sake (?), moreover (?), my (?)] [grandmother] was diligent to [ask (?)] with end [result (?)] about you and your [purpose (?)].

The reason for so many question marks in the text, and the general awkwardness of it all, is that this prayer was published before Riven, and Riven was the first game to actually make use of the D’ni language (even the spelling of that word was different in the original Myst game, “Dunny”, before that was dropped).  Because of this (and to state things in a non-roleplaying/out-of-character sense), it’s most likely the case that this prayer was written before the D’ni language was finalized or formalized.  While it’s still recognizably D’ni both in script and in language, many of the values of the individual letters seem to have changed between this early version of D’ni and later versions that were otherwise used, and many of the words have not otherwise been encountered and are still questionable.  As a result, if we were to transliterate the text as it is using the canonical correspondences of the D’ni script, we’d get relative nonsense, and even using corrected values, we still don’t have a full grasp of the meaning of the prayer.  Still, the overall gist of the prayer makes sense, especially to those who are familiar with the Myst universe and storyline, and especially all the more after the release of Uru and other games that expounded upon D’ni religion.

Wanting to incorporate at least a bit more D’ni in my own practice (even if only for the sake of inspiration and to remember one of the biggest influences on my imagination since a young age), I thought I’d try my hand at coming up with a prayer based on the above, less oriented towards the D’ni religion that Atrus might have received in his own small way and more towards my own Hermetic path.  The way the prayer is phrased even in the original, it would seem as if a silent contemplation of awe and pious observance of the cosmos and divine creation would precede the recital of the prayer.

O Maker,

I was reflecting on your powers,
and in thinking what a blessing it is to be able to behold the various works of your making,
it awes me how complex in appearance you have created this cosmos I live in.
Yet, however it may appear to my senses, you still continue to love me.

I pray to you who are called God:
I revere you who are the maker;
I cherish the making that you make.
I do not fully understand what I am to accomplish by the great power you grant me,
yet still I work to achieve it by your greatness and holiness.
I praise you for what you do;
I thank you for what you have done and what you will do.

I am thankful for my teachers who were diligent in seeking you and the understanding of you.

In the original prayer, the recipient of the prayer is addressed as Yahvo, also sometimes called “the Maker” and the deity of the monotheistic religion of the D’ni.  Instead of translating this as “God”, I instead decided to opt for “Maker”, since this is also a way to name God according to Hermēs in CH XIV.4, and is also used to refer to God in other parts of the CH (like in CH V or CH X).  Likewise, when it comes to “Art” (which is a technical term referring to the D’ni study and mastery of writing special books to link to other Ages), which I do not myself possess, I decided to generalize it to “this great power you grant me”.  To be sure, there are plenty of Hermetic arts, the three biggest and famous being those of astrology, alchemy, and theurgy, but I decided to both generalize and personalize it a bit.  Similarly, instead of referring to linking to the various places of creation, I changed it to refer to beholding and bearing witness to the works of creation (as much as I’d love to link to other worlds, myself).  I also decided to add in an extra statement not there in the original prayer, but based on something included in a letter from Rand Miller and later included in a prophetical text from one of the later games.

There’s one word present in Atrus’ Prayer that is important to hinge things on: taygahn, usually translated as “love” but with a slightly more involved meaning closer to “to love-know with the whole mind”.  In D’ni, this word “implied a deep understanding, respect, and most importantly unselfish love for one another” in the context of D’ni marriage and the ideal relationship between spouses, but was also used in the context of D’ni belief as the cornerstone of a relationship with Yahvo.  We might consider as the closest translation for this D’ni word used in the religious sense to be the Greek word ἀγάπη agápē.  Interestingly, the word used throughout the Hermetic texts for “love” when it occurs in a divine context is either a variant of φιλία philía (e.g. CH IV.6, SH 2B.1) or—far more commonly—ἔρως érōs (e.g. CH I.4, CH I.12—16, CH VI.4, CH XVIII.14, SH 2B.3).  Litwa notes the role of érōs (passionate love) in the ascent of heaven is talked at length in Plato’s Phaedrus (224a—252b) and Symposium (206a—212b).  That agápē is not used in the Hermetic texts shouldn’t be all that surprising, seeing how it was only sometimes used for “affection” or “hold in esteem” generally prior to Christianity and only took on its much more elevated sense afterwards, originating in the Great Commandment from the New Testament, itself based on Devarim/Deuteronomy 6:5 (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”, וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכׇל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכׇל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכׇל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ׃), the Hebrew word there being a generic one for “love” in a general sense.  Anyway, it’s interesting that Atrus’ Prayer has (what we guess) Yahvo reaching out or giving taygahn-love to Atrus, rather than some dedication of Atrus committing to taygahn-love of Yahvo, but I think it makes sense in its own way, much as God in the Hermetic texts loves Humanity and, thus, each one of us as Humans, wanting us to be truly Human and to come to know (and be with) God.

The phrase “I praise you for who you are” in the original D’ni of the prayer is something I changed to “I praise you for what you do”.  To me, it’s weird to think of God as a person or other entity who is, like how my parents are or how I am or how Hermēs is, and I don’t consider God to exist in the same way as other entities might exist.  Following CH V.9, CH XI.13, CH XI.22, and CH XIV.6, which altogether say that God is not separate from the activity of God which is making (hence one of the names of God being “maker” according to Hermēs), I thought it better to rephrase this as “I praise you for what you do”, since what God does is, in effect, who God is.  This also follows Jack Miles’ insight (from his book God: A Biography, in chapter 4 section 1) that one of the names of God from Shemot/Exodus 3:15, “`Ehyeh `Ašer `Ehyeh” (“I am who I am”) can be altered slightly by changing a yod to a vav, leaidng to “`Ehyeh `Ašer `Ahweh” (“I am what I do”), with the last word “`ahweh” being strikingly similar to the Tetragrammaton itself.  In changing this phrase from “I praise you for who you are” to “I praise you for what you do”, I’m also setting up a better flow and connection with the following statement of “I thank you for what you have done and what you will do”.  Of course, the D’ni word ahrtah is not well understood, and could mean things like “do” or “permit” or “allow” or “achieve” in this context, but I’m going to go with a simple “do” (and may likely be connected to the word bahrtah earlier on tentatively translated as “accomplish”, perhaps without a prefix b’ used to indicate an infinitive verb in D’ni).

The final line of the prayer is a bit strange; based on how the prayer was originally typeset, it would seem that this final dedication of thanks to Atrus’ grandmother Ti’ana may not be part of the prayer itself.  Rather, it seems like a postscript or secondary meditation by Atrus in remembering how the eternal inquisitiveness of his grandmother (“what do you see, Atrus?”, a question he kept as a mantra close to his heart throughout his life since being raised by her in his childhood) in order to reach a better understanding of the nature of things.  Although I don’t recall Atrus coming across as particularly religious or spiritual in the games or novels (nor is religion heavily mentioned in the games until the time of Uru and Myst V), he’s certainly not irreligious, especially given the November and December pages of the 1996 Myst calendar that showed a religious wonder and awe at his deity and their works.  Since neither of my grandmothers were particularly religious or informative in my own religious life but from whom I still learned plenty, I’ve opted to generalize this dedication to “teachers” and to refocus it less on God’s purpose/design and more on the understanding (if not outright knowledge, as in gnōsis) of God.  As a final dedication, it also recalls how I myself am able to get so far and how far I’ve gotten precisely because of those who have gone before me.

For those who are interested in the transliteration of the D’ni text of Atrus’ Prayer (corrected, such as it is) and perhaps to give it a shot at pronouncing, I offer it below in my own transcription system (the other more common styles given on Omniglot and other websites around the internet, none of which I’ve ever been particularly happy with):

Kodoḵantor femagentīom.
Kodokanræd kæm lorag kenen b’ken s̠in b’bēḵ b’totī ranal co marntavom.
Dopraqizen b’zū d̠o muḵon b’tērūs̠ lemarnem met mis̠o cav te.
Gat̠ t’d̠o kenen—d̠ozones̠ tērū t’bas̠tī vat—ḵagem gat̠ b’tēgan ḵezū.
Parḵ b’s̠em.
Kæm s̠in barta t’gestō rilnar b’fasī domad̠o t’parat̠om gahūcēt̠om.
Votar a’s̠em ḵekæmrov kenem.
G’qev a’s̠em ḵekæm l’artaem ga kæm boartaem.
Ken qevet ōn mor’oḵ’mor kokenem remesfet b’vēnu t’ḵōtag zu cos̠em g’bortaom.

As a pronunciation guide, besides the usual values of the letters which you can otherwise guess based on English while also trying to be faithful to the nuances of D’ni script modifiers:

  • Vowels
    • a — /ɑː/, as in “hot” or like “father”
    • ā — /aɪ/, as in “eye”
    • æ — /æ/, as in “cat”
    • e — /ɛ/, as in “bed”
    • ē — /eɪ/, as in “day”
    • i — /ɪ/, as in “bit”
    • ī — /iː/, as in “see”
    • o — /ɔː/, as in “thought” or like “goat”
    • ō — /ɔɪ/, as in “boy”
    • u — /ʊ/, as in “hook”
    • ū — /ʊː/, like “shoe”
    • ‘ — /ə/ after a consonant is an unstressed relaxed vowel as in the final syllable of “Tina”
  • Consonants
    • ḵ — /x/, like German “ach” or Scottish “loch”
    • d̠ — /ð/, as in “then”
    • t̠ — /θ/, as in “thin”
    • s̠ — /ʃ/, as in “shin”
    • q — /t͡ʃ/, as in “chair”
    • c — /t͡s/, as in “pats”
    • j — /d͡ʒ/, as in “hedge”
    • ‘ — /ʔ/ after a vowel is a glottal stop as in “Hawai’i” or “uh-oh”
    • Other consonants (v, b, t, s, y, g, k, f, p, r, m, d, h, w, z, n) are as in English.

If one wanted to make a few changes to the D’ni prayer based on my own version of it to make it fit a bit better, though still largely not quite understandable according to modern D’ni understanding:

  • Instead of Avo at the start, it should probably be Yavo to accord with the more common spelling.  To avoid messing with any potential nuance of saying Avo instead of Yavo (the former might mean “Father” or another honorific title of the god), we might instead just say Rebareltan (“the Maker”) as an epithet.
  • Instead of b’ken s̠in b’bāḵ b’totī ranal co marntavom (“to be able to link to various places of your creation”), say b’ken s̠in b’yim a tīgaltī ranal co marntavom (“to be able to see the various works of your creation”).
  • Instead of t’gestō (“by Art”), say tregas̠inet̠ mot koltagem b’zū  (“by the great ability you have given me”).  “Ability” in this instance is a synonym for “power”, in the sense of a potential capability, capacity, or ability to accomplish something.
  • Instead of Votar a’s̠em ḵekæmrov kenem (“I praise you for who you are”), say Votar a’s̠em ḵekæm doartaem (“I praise you for what you are doing”).  I decided to use the simple present (artaem) as a sort of gnomic aspect rather than using the continuous which seems more temporally progressive.
  • Instead of ōn mor’oḵ’mor (“my grandmother”? it’s not clear what ōn in this context means, though it is strikingly similar to the D’ni possessive suffix meaning “my”) in the last line, say garot̠tīō (“my great ones”, i.e. “my teachers”).  There is no word for “teacher” I could find, so I’m taking a cue from Judaism and using the term garot̠ (“great one”) in the same way a Jew might refer to their rabbi (from Hebrew rav meaning “great one”, metaphorically “master”).  Because we change the subject of this clause from a singular noun to a plural one, we also need to change the verb to agree with it, so kokenem (“she was”) becomes kokenīt (“they were”).

This would yield the following prayer, a mixture of “proper D’ni” based on the language’s grammar and lexicon as currently understood and the “early D’ni” of the 1996 Myst Calendar itself.  I’ve also added a few minor orthographic and stylistic changes to make it mesh better with D’ni as commonly understood and today (inasmuch as it might be “common”).

Yavo (Rebareltan),

Kodoḵantor femagentīom.
Kodokanræd kæm lorag kenen ḵezū b’ken s̠in b’yim a tīgaltī ranal co bareltavom.
Dopraqizen b’zū d̠o muḵon b’tērūs̠ lemarnem a mis̠o tetomet cav.
Gat̠ t’d̠o kenen—d̠ozones̠ tērū t’bas̠tīō vat—ḵagem gat̠ b’tēgan ḵezū.

Parḵ b’s̠em kæmrov kenem fūsaij Yavo.
Isyīr a s̠em kæmrov kenem rebareltan.
S̠eten a rebalretav mot barelem.
Kæm s̠in barta tregas̠inet̠ mot koltagem b’zū rilnar b’fasī domad̠o t’parat̠om gat’hūcēt̠om.
Votar a s̠em ḵekæm artaem.
G’qev a s̠em ḵekæm koartaem ga kekæm boartaem.

Ken qevet ḵegarot̠tīō kæmrovtī kokenīt remesfet b’vēnu t’ḵōtag zu cos̠em g’bortaom.

I’ll leave finding and translating the minor changes as an exercise for the overly interested geeky reader, but it still remains in sync with my own version of the prayer given above.

A Hermetic Musing on Fate, Necessity, and Providence

This post was originally a short tweet thread I shared last September, but I don’t think I ever shared it outside Twitter, and I think I phrased some things in it that even I hadn’t realized were as big as I do now.  I’ve reformatted it and embiggened it slightly for a proper blog post, but the gist is the same.

So, a few definitions first, largely based on SH 12—14:

  1. Providence is the will of God.
  2. Necessity is what comes up with what needs to happen in order for Providence to be fulfilled.
  3. Fate is what arranges things in order for that which Necessity declares to come about.

In software engineering terms, Providence is the requirement that specifies what is to be done, Necessity is the design that specifies how it’s to be done, and Fate is the code that does what the requirement says in the manner the design says. The execution of the code—the carrying-out of Fate—is the actual activity that happens in the cosmos, right down to our own lives.

And what are the agents of Fate, you might ask?  What are the entities that facilitate and serve Fate to bring it about?  It’s the planets and stars themselves, which are not just indicators of Fate but the things that provide all things that exist down here with the energy (in the philosophical sense of activity or being-at-work-ness) to do what they need to do to be born, to grow, to die, and decay—and, in the process, fulfill whatever purpose it was meant to achieve.

That the planets are the agents of Fate is why astrology is the first (and most important) Hermetic art, because the study of the planets and stars allows us to learn about Fate, and thus about Necessity and Providence, and thus God and our relation to it. Our external and bodily lives are commanded by Fate, and Fate is not up to us to change in the Hermetic worldview, no more than we can make Mercury not go retrograde when we find it inconvenient. Fate is going to happen one way or another; we must learn to live with it.  (This is where a good understanding of Stoicism comes into play when studying Hermeticism.)

But, the thing is, your soul—that which you really are—is not your body; rather, our souls come from a place beyond the cosmos, and thus a place beyond Fate.  As such, our souls are not compelled by Fate the way our bodies and external lives are.  Our bodies are creations of the cosmos, and the cosmos is ruled by Fate, and so our bodies are naturally controlled by Fate as well as a production of it (and, by extension, the seven planets).  The soul, which only wears the body like how the body wears a shirt, is only impelled, not compelled, by Fate, in the same way that while the quality of a shirt can make a body comfortable or uncomfortable, the body is not fundamentally bound to the same fate as the shirt.  That saying that we’re spiritual entities having a physical experience, or that we should only be in the world and not of the world?  That notion is critically Hermetic, and we need to take that to heart.  We can’t be in control of everything (or even anything) external on the level of the body, but internally on the level of the soul, we can overcome it all.

It is in rising above the powers of Fate that we conquer it, by learning what it does and how it plays out that we learn the exceptions in the code and the behavior unspecified by the design and the loopholes in the requirements. Only once we rise above Fate can we make it our plaything., but in order to do so, we need to understand how Fate actually plays out on the low level once we see what Fate is trying to accomplish at a high level.  This is why alchemy is the second Hermetic art: alchemy is the study and science of learning how the activities and energies of the cosmos play out specifically at the level of material creation and manifestation, in the world we live in. Astrology looks above to see “why”, alchemy looks below to see “how”. And, well, as the Emerald Tablet (and so many others who love to quote it) says, “as above, so below”.

Learning Fate’s activity/energeia by alchemy and Fate’s power/dynamis by astrology, that’s where the third Hermetic art comes in: theurgy. Theurgy doesn’t change Fate to fight against Necessity or change Providence. Rather, it works by Fate to do what is best—what is Necessary—in accordance with highest Providence.  In working by Fate, we rise up to Fate’s own level and surpass it, able to at last be consciously and intentionally free of Fate.  Theurgy relies on knowing that which is above, that which is below, and the relationship between the two to not just go up or down, but to go beyond both entirely.  (After all, when you’re talking about a sphere, any direction away from the center is technically “up”.)

To borrow a bit of Christianity for a moment: angels are said to have no free will, but consider instead that they have will, just that their will is to fulfill God’s will. In this, the will of an angel is the will of God to be expressed through that angel.  The same goes for us, too. Theurgy is what allows us to make our will God’s will, which also makes God’s will our will. And if God is for you, sharing the one and same will, who can be against you?

When your own will is Providence, what need would you have to fight with Fate, when Fate itself could not fight with you?

I was on a two-part show on the “What Magic is This?” podcast!

Well, that certainly was fun!

I trust you, good reader, will remember that I’ve been on a handful of podcasts as a guest before, and if you’ve forgotten (or if you haven’t been around long enough to hear about that), you can check the About page of this website to see a list of what shows I’ve been on before.  It’s always a pleasure and a treat to be on someone’s show, and although I live in constant fear that I’ll make an oafish ass of myself and make the good host waste their time and bandwidth on me, apparently the shows I’ve been on tend to be well-received for one reason or another.

As it turns out, I was was invited back by Douglas Batchelor over at What Magic is This?, this time not as the sole guest but with the good Rev. Erik Arneson (of Arnemancy) as my friend and colleague, the two of us answering Doug’s questions about Hermeticism, both classical and post-classical, from all sorts of angles.  It was a great talk, and because the discussion was so expansive (it’s hard not to be when talking about 2000 years of development and wiles in all sorts of ways!), it got broken out into two separate episodes.  Take a listen, whether on YouTube, Spotify, Libsyn, or your other preferred podcast listener!

Part I (June 17, 2021), focusing on classical Hermeticism

Part II (June 25, 2021), focusing on post-classical Hermeticism

If you’ve enjoyed these talks (I certainly hope you do, and I certainly enjoyed being a part of them!), do consider supporting both Doug and Erik on their respective platforms, subscribe to their shows, donate to their Patreons, and the like!