The Geomancer’s Cross: The Motions and the Prayer

Alright, so, last time, we talked about my own take on the Qabbalistic Cross, the Geomancer’s Cross, a simple energy work and centering ritual.  Instead of envisioning the Etz Chayyim (Tree of Life) laid over the body, we simply conceive of four of the sixteen geomantic energy centers as defining a vertical axis (from Laetitia at the head down to Tristitia at the groin) and a horizontal axis (from Puer at the right shoulder to Puella at the left shoulder), meeting with Coniunctio at the ribcage with a third depthwise axis passing through to represent the Sun and Moon.  This has the benefit of reflecting both all four elements as well as all seven planets at the same time, and is done virtually identically to the Qabbalistic Cross so many already know, but with a radically different set of background rules and ideas.  What we left untouched last time, however, was the actual ritual itself.

Now that we have a foundation for the structure and theory of a Geomancer’s Cross ritual, let’s move on to actual implementation of the ritual.  So we have our four points of the body plus the intersection point that brings them all together.  Following the practice from the Golden Dawn for this ritual, what we’d do is something like the following.  Assume for now that we have a set of six things to intone; what those are we’ll discuss in a bit, just for now assume we have them.

  1. Touch the forehead.  Visualize a sphere of light at the head.  Intone the first intonation.
  2. Touch the groin (or the solar plexus if this is not possible).  Visualize a sphere of light in the groin, with a beam of light connecting it to the sphere at the head.  Intone the second intonation.
  3. Touch the right shoulder.  Visualize a sphere of light at the right shoulder.  Intone the third intonation.
  4. Touch the left shoulder.  Visualize a sphere of light at the left shoulder, with a beam of light connecting it to the sphere at the right shoulder.  Intone the fourth intonation.
  5. Press both palms together upright at the sternum.  Visualize an infinitesimally small but infinitely bright point at the intersection of the two beams of light in the body, joining them both together.  Intone the fifth intonation.
  6. Open the hands and arms out forward and to the sides in a sweeping motion.  Visualize three beams of light emanating from that intersection point: an infinite vertical one passing through both the head and the groin, an infinite horizontal one passing through both the right shoulder and left shoulder, and an infinite beam passing through the chest forward and backward.  Intone the sixth intonation.

And that’s it.  Well, mostly; that’s it for the actual motions and visualizations.  What about a prayer, intonation, or incantation for accompanying them, much like those other rituals we mentioned earlier?  We could take a hint from the Golden Dawn practice of using the doxology from the Lord’s Prayer (which the Golden Dawn version is a greatly pared-down variant that doesn’t actually match Christian religious practice, but which I’m sure they have their reasons for phrasing it the way they do).  In this light, though, there’s no need to bind ourselves to just using (badly-spoken, badly-understood) Hebrew, so why not give ourselves some options?

Head Groin Right Shoulder Left Shoulder Sternum Close
English Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever amen
Greek Σοῦ ἐστιν
Soû estin
ἡ βασιλεία
hē basileía
καὶ ἡ δύναμις
kaì hē dúnamis
καὶ ἡ δόξα
kaì hē dóksa
εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας
eis toùs aiônas
ἀμήν
amḗn
Hebrew
(Golden Dawn)
אתה
Ateh
מלכות
malkut
וגבורה
ve-gevurah
וגדולה
ve-gedulah
לעולם
le-olam
אמן
amen
Hebrew
(Bible)
לך
Lekha
הממךכה
ha-mamlakha
והגברה
ve-ha-gevurah
והתפארת
ve-ha-tiferet
לעולמי עולמים
le-olemei olamim
אמן
amen
Arabic لَكَ
Laka
الملك
al-mulka
والقوة
wa-al-quwwaha
والمجد
wa-al-majda
إلى الأبد
‘ilā al-‘anadi
آمين
‘āmīn
Coptic
(Sahidic)
ⲦⲰⲔ ⲦⲈ
Tōk te
ⲦⲘⲚⲦⲈⲢⲞ
təməntero*
ⲘⲚ ⲦϬⲞⲘ
mən təcom†
ⲘⲚ ⲠⲈⲞⲞⲨ
mən peow
ϢⲀ ⲚⲒⲈⲚⲈϨ
ša nieneh
ϨⲀⲘⲎⲚ
hamēn
Coptic
(Bohairic)
ⲐⲰⲔ ⲦⲈ
Thōk te
ϮⲘⲈⲦⲞⲨⲢⲞ
timetouro
ⲚⲈⲘ ϮϪⲞⲘ
nem tijom‡
ⲚⲈⲘ ⲠⲒⲰⲞⲨ
nem piōw
ϢⲀ ⲈⲚⲈϨ
ša eneh
ⲀⲘⲎⲚ
amēn

* This word is not actually used in the Sahidic version of the prayer, but I included it here anyway for completeness.  I hope I got the grammar right.
† In Coptic, “c” (Ϭ) is pronounced like “ky” as in “acute” (ah-kyoot), so this word is pronounced “teh-kyohm”.
‡ In Coptic, “j” (Ϫ) is pronounced like a soft English “g” as in “giraffe”, so this word (related to təcom) is pronounced “tee-jjohm”.

What’s nice about the above formula using the doxology from the Lord’s Prayer is that there’s a loose association between what you’re saying and the general notion of what you’re connecting it to: God with Laetitia and the head, the Kingdom of the Cosmos with Tristitia and the groin as the lowest part of the center of the body, power (and thus severity) with Puer and the right (sword) arm, glory (and thus mercy) with Puer and the left (shield) arm, and eternity with Coniunctio with the heart.  To me, this is why the doxology is used in the Golden Dawn and related systems of magic.

Still, I’m sure there are other formulas one could use for such an end, too, so long as it’s a set of five words/phrases (to which are appended some variant of “amen”), or six words/phrases (no “amen”).  The Ephesia Grammata are a candidate (ΑΣΚΙΟΝ ΚΑΤΑΣΚΙΟΝ ΛΙΞ ΤΕΤΡΑΞ ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ ΑΙΣΙΟΝ or some variant thereof); for PGM-inspired methods, the six names of the Headless Rite (PGM V.96ff, “ΑΩΘ ΑΒΑΩΘ ΒΑΣΥΜ ΙΣΑΚ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΙΑΩ”) or Sublunar Space’s proposed Abrasax-stone version (ΧΑΒΡΑΧ ΦΝΕΣΧΗΡ ΦΙΧΡΟ ΧΝΥΡΩ ΦΩΧΩ ΒΩΧ), or the names of the six solar guardians of my own system (ΕΡΒΗΘ ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ ΑΡΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ) are also possibilities.  The issue with this is finding some meaningful link between that which you’re saying and that which you’re doing—and I don’t see much along these lines here.

Likewise, I know we did just go over all those posts about the Perfect Nature and how to contact it from the Picatrix, with its pleasingly fourfold name of “Meegius Betzahuech Vacdez Nufeneguediz” (or “Tamāġīs Baġdīswād Waġdās Nūfānāġādīs” to use a more accurate Arabic transliteration).  We could say one at a time for each of the four points around the body, then all four together at once at the center, followed up by something like “Be with me, o Perfect Nature” (which would be, if I got the Arabic right, كن معي يا طباع اتام kun ma`ī, yā ṭibā` at-tāmm); this could be seen to work since these four names/powers do have elemental associations.  The problem with this, however, is that we already linked these four names to the four parts of the body and to the four elements—and it’s a rather different system that doesn’t match with what we’re trying to do.  In that system, we linked Fire (Vacdez/Waġdās) with the head, which matches up with the sphere of Laetitia and Air (Meegius/Tamāġīs) with the right side, but the other two names don’t match up with the element and body part that we’re looking at here (e.g. Betzahuech/Baġdīswād is given to Earth but to the left side and not to the legs as we’d need it here, and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs to Water but to the legs and not to the left side as we’d need it here).  Either the elemental associations or the body part associations would need to change to get the two systems to play nicely, and granted that our associations of elements and body parts to the four powers/names of Perfect Nature is largely conjectural, it’s not something I’m comfortable doing as yet given how neatly the system works in its own context.

And that’s really the crux of it here: I’m not really familiar with any specific set of geomantic prayers or words of power that specifically match up with this system.  (I mean, to an extent, this doesn’t surprise me, since I really have been developing much of this as a unique system more or less independently.)  It really might be best to not look anywhere else but to geomancy itself to come up with a set of things to pray for this ritual, but—barring alchemical or Arabic methods that are presently unknown to me—I don’t know what within the system is readily available for its use.  It’s not like geomancy has much of a cosmology or mythology of its own beyond a simple origin story which may or may not have been based on a potential pre-Islamic Arabian form of augury, and that doesn’t give us a lot to work with.  We really do need to come up with something more or less from scratch, unless we just want to reuse the doxology from the Lord’s Prayer.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly effective and workable, but there might be something more independent and geomantically-appropriate we might be able to use instead.

One thing that arises to me are the use of my own set of geomantic epodes, particular seed syllables or vowel strings that I’ve associated with the figures before, and also within the context of magic and energy work.  For us, what that might look like could be “BI HA ZI DI ZĒ” (for Laetitia, Tristitia, Puer, Puella, and Coniunctio, respectively) followed by…I’m not sure, or we could use the vowel string forms of “OIEA IEAŌ OUEŌ OEĒA IUĒA” (again for the same figures in the same order), again followed by I’m-not-sure-what.  I’m not exactly thrilled by either of these options, to be honest.  I suppose they could work, but these epodes were constructed focusing on the elemental assignments and structures of the figures without regard for their planetary associations, and I dislike the heavy imbalance of the use of vowels in these epodes here.

Let’s consider taking a different track.  Rather than intoning some word of power, a brief prayer or invocation might do us better, written with one line per action (touch head, touch groin, touch right shoulder, touch left shoulder, touch heart/sternum, open hands and arms away).  This would rely more on the symbolism of the figures and, more broadly, the symbolism of what we’re trying to come up with.  Personally, I’d avoid anything too overtly elemental or planetary for such a purpose, as it might be hard to correlate that explicitly with such a ritual in prayer form—but I also won’t hesitate to say that it feels a bit gauche to me, as well.  I’d rather have something a little more poetic and flowing than a mere technical blast of intent, but that’s just me.  To that end, I gave it some thought, and can offer something along these lines for use with the six motions of the Geomancer’s Cross.  It’s not much, but it does work.

From the Rupture of Blazing Heaven!
To the Womb of Fertile Abyss!
By the Power of Fiercest Wildness!
With the Grace of Purest Mildness!
I join together the Forces of the All,
and join myself to the Lights of the All!

Six simple statements, one for each motion, each symbolic of what it is you’re trying to connect to or accomplish.  It’s elegant, at least to an extent, I suppose.  We connect to the powers above the Earth through Laetitia (with echoes of Cauda Draconis) and below the Earth through Tristitia (with echoes of Caput Draconis), followed by connecting to the severe external strength that destroys of Puer (with echoes of Rubeus) and the merciful internal strength that preserves of Puella (with echoes of Albus).  All these, representing the four elements and the four major planets and thus all the distinct powers of the world, are joined together at the elemental and planetary crossroads of Coniunctio within the self, and with all these powers of the cosmos connected together, we can then connect ourselves to the cosmos themselves through the lights of the Sun and the Moon.  That being said, it is something of a…wordy invocation for something that should be otherwise relatively simple, and that kinda makes the flow a little harsh and uneven.  So perhaps this could be cut down a notch:

From Blazing Rupture,
To Darkest Womb,
By Fiercest Power,
With Purest Grace!
Join within,
join me to the All!

As in so much else, simplicity is the highest form of elegance.  I’m sure there are other things one could write or devise, and as I begin to apply this, I’m sure I’ll stumble upon some variation of this that would work better—though, admittedly, the doxology from the Lord’s Prayer is always a tried-and-true one that, despite its Christian and Abrahamic origins, are pretty generic on their own and usable for this and many other things.  Until then, this is a useful form of energy work within a geomantic framework that I’ll keep incorporated into my own daily practice, and might recommend others to do the same, especially if they want to expand their own geomantic practices beyond simple divination.

The Geomancer’s Cross: The Framework Behind the Ritual

By my own admission, I don’t do a lot of energy work nowadays.  I used to in earlier forms of my daily practices, and I definitely engage in warm-up works and preparation before major rituals, but as part of my daily practice nowadays, I don’t do a lot.  Mostly it’s because of time, having to prioritize meditation and prayer before energy work; I would love to do more, but I can only get up so early in the morning before becoming non-functional for the rest of the day.  Still, this isn’t to say that I don’t do any energy work; I fold it into my prayers in a subtle way through vowel intonation, visualization, and some simple gestures that keep things flowing for me.

The way my daily practice is arranged basically goes like this:

  1. Wake up (hopefully after pressing snooze only once).
  2. Take a shower with prayers as part of my daily full ablution.
  3. Salute my ancestors and orisha.
  4. Do some light stretches.
  5. Anoint myself with holy oil.
  6. Meditate for 20 minutes (30 if I’m working from home or not working at all that day).
  7. Prayers (usually for 20 minutes if I have to go to the office, usually 30 or more if I’m working from home or not working at all that day).

During my prayers, based on how I’ve become accustomed to doing them, there’s a natural break that sorta separates the first part from the second part, each part having its own format and process.  The first part is centered on devotions to God and Divinity, while the second part is more geomantic and spiritual in general, and that’s where I weave in my light energy work.

Although I don’t really do Golden Dawn magic, there are some techniques and technology from Golden Dawn practices that I have adopted in my own way.  One of these is the famous Qabbalistic Cross ritual, a simple and short ritual that both energetically balances and cosmically centers the practitioner.  There’s much written about this short ritual, and in addition to being one of the very first ritual acts that initiates in the Golden Dawn learn, it’s also often used as part of the overall ritual process for any number of other Golden Dawn rituals.  Although I don’t have a reference ready, I recall John Michael Greer saying that this is the one ritual that basically provides the foundation for all Golden Dawn work, and while most Golden Dawn tech can be hotswapped to use Celtic, Nordic, Hellenic, Roman, or other pantheon-specific powers and aesthetics instead of Egyptian ones simply by changing names around, it’s the Qabbalistic Cross that needs to be truly replaced and reworked in order to have everything else flow from there, using the other tech more-or-less the same.  For instance, in this January 2018 post of his on his Towards Ecosophy blog, he gives an outright replacement called the “Circle of Presence” to replace the Qabbalistic Cross.  In this way, he’s made a Celtic Golden Dawn using “The Rite of the Rays”, a Heathen Golden Dawn using The Hammer Sign, and other such variants.

The point here I’m making is that the Qabbalistic Cross is an important ritual, but it’s not the be-all end-all of centering or balancing works.  I myself like using it for its centering purposes, though I don’t use the Golden Dawn “Atah Malkuth ve-Geburah…” chant for it; rather, I’ve been using the Greek form of the doxology from the Lord’s Prayer (Σοῦ ἐστιν / ἡ βασιλεία / καὶ ἡ δύναμις / καὶ ἡ δόξα / εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας / ἀμήν, Soû estin / hē basileía / kaì hē dúnamis / kaì hē dóksa / eis toùs aiônas / amḗn) to relatively good effect.  It’s simple, short, and sweet, and I find the Greek easier to intone than anything else.  I don’t do a lot of visualization involving colors that the Golden Dawn does for the proper version of the Qabbalistic Cross, but then, I’m not a Golden Dawn magician.  I just find this tech useful.

But I was thinking: since I use my little version of the Qabbalistic Cross shortly before my Prayer of the Geomancers (available in my Secreti Geomantici ebook, for those who are interested), into which I’ve incorporated elemental and geomantic visualizations as it is, and since the Qabbalistic Cross can be adapted or reworked into other things that are at least as good for my own practice, especially since I’m not a Golden Dawn magician myself, why not come up with my own take on the Qabbalistic Cross properly?  Why not come up with a Geomancer’s Cross ritual, a kind of geomantic centering that’s easy and quick to do, familiar to most in modern Western occulture?

And here we are.  Just to be clear: I’m not trying to come up with an exact replacement for the Golden Dawn’s Qabbalistic Cross ritual, but rather a similar ritual that does similar things along geomantic lines that anyone can use for centering and balancing, and if we can get the extra benefit of making this an elemental or planetary thing as well, all the better.

To start with, let’s review our “Geomantic Adam”, a diagram from MS Arabe 2631 from the Bibliothèque nationale de France that we’ve brought up before in our talks about the physical and subtle body according to geomancy along with some explorations into geomantic energy work:

(I really need to redo the edits of this photo to make it properly cleaned up to avoid the grotesquely obvious erasure marks.)

The image of the diagram is to be understood as the person facing away from the viewer; thus, Puer is the right shoulder and Puella the left, Acquisitio the right hand and Amissio the left, Fortuna Minor the right leg and Fortuna Maior the left, and so forth.  There’s more to be said about the logic behind why certain figures are given to different parts of the body along with some tweaks and corrections to my earlier attempts to understand this diagram, to be sure, but we can leave that aside for now and focus on the four main parts of the body relevant to the present ritual: the head given to Laetitia, the groin given to Tristitia, the right shoulder given to Puer, and the left shoulder given to Puella.

Note the planetary makeup of these four parts, along with the elemental rulership of each figure:

  • Head­ — Laetitia — Jupiter — Fire
  • Groin — Tristitia — Saturn — Earth
  • Right shoulder — Puer — Mars — Air
  • Left shoulder — Puella — Venus — Water

Each of these points belongs to a different element, with Fire naturally being at the highest point of the body and Earth at the lowest, and with the moist elements on the same level but on different sides.  Also note how, on the vertical axis of the body, we have the two “greater” planets, greater in the sense of being the greater benefic (Jupiter) and greater malefic (Saturn), while on the horizontal axis, we have the two “lesser” planets, the lesser benefic (Venus) and the lesser malefic (Mars).  This is a pretty neat scheme for energy work, but we’re not done yet.  The two axes meet up in the torso, which can be thought of as belonging to one of four figures:

  • Back ­— Populus — Moon
  • Chest — Carcer — Saturn
  • Ribcage and sternum — Coniunctio — Mercury
  • Upper belly and solar plexus — Albus — Mercury

The back is too big an area for a single point of contact, so we can throw out Populus/Moon for this.  While Carcer makes sense, since the two axes really do line up over the chest, note that Carcer is ruled by Saturn, and Saturn is already represented by Tristitia at the groin.  This leaves us with Coniunctio or Albus as the remaining intersection figure, and Coniunctio seems to be much more apt for this in both placement and in symbolism of such a thing.  With Coniunctio, then, representing the intersection of the vertical and horizontal axes of the body, and with Coniunctio ruled by the planet Mercury, this gives us all five non-luminary planets represented by these five points total:

  • Head­ — Laetitia — Jupiter
  • Groin — Tristitia — Saturn
  • Right shoulder — Puer — Mars
  • Left shoulder — Puella — Venus
  • Sternum — Coniunctio — Mercury

This is actually a really nifty arrangement.  This only leaves two planets out of the mix, the Sun and the Moon itself.  The solar figures of Fortuna Maior and Fortuna Minor are given to the legs (specifically the thighs and upper legs), while the lunar figures of Populus and Via are given to the back and belly, respectively.  Looking at the Geomantic Adam diagram above, we can see certain patterns about how certain figures are given to different parts of the body:

  • Figures with one active point (Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, Tristitia) are given to the center axis of the body from head to groin, representing the four parts of the body as they would the four parts of a geomantic figure (the head row, the neck/arms row, the belly row, and the legs/feet row).
  • Axial figures (non-directional, viz. Populus, Via, Carcer, Coniunctio) are given to the parts of the body that are also on the central axis of the body, e.g. the various parts of the torso (back, chest, ribs, belly).
  • Non-axial figures with more than one active point (Puer, Puella, Acquisitio, Amissio, Fortuna Minor, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Cauda Draconis) are given to the various parts of the body that are on the right or the left, all distal from the torso without being on it.

How might we include the Sun and Moon into our Geomancer’s Cross ritual?  Well, it wouldn’t be directly according to how we’re incorporating the five non-luminary planets.  There are three ways I can conceive of this:

  1. If the Sun and Moon form an axis of their own, then it wouldn’t be on a the vertical axis (Jupiter and Saturn) or the horizontal axis (Mars and Venus), but on the depth axis of fore and aft, with the Sun being before and the Moon being behind.  Consider that Populus is given to the whole of the back, the only figure on the “rear” of the body, which naturally puts the Sun before; connecting them gives a third dimension to the body, with different polarities of planets at each end or on each side of the body, leaving ever-mercurial Mercury as the true center of all things.
  2. The Sun and Moon could each represent one of the two main axes of the body.  Knowing that the figures of the Moon are both axial figures, this would indicate that the Moon would “own” the vertical axis of the body (where are aligned all the axial figures, as well as the single-active-point pure-elemental figures), while the Sun, with its non-axial figures, would “own” the horizontal axis of the body.
  3. Note that the figure Coniunctio = Puer + Puella (the two figures of the horizontal axis) while Carcer = Laetitia + Tristitia (the two figures of the vertical axis).  While we know that Coniunctio is our preferred understanding for the intersection of the two axes of the body, we do have to admit that the right and left shoulders are much more connected (by means of the ribcage and generally being in alignment with each other) than the head and groin are; the two planets of the vertical axis would remain separate (Carcer) without the planets of the horizontal axis stepping in to bridge the gap (Coniunctio).  Also note that Coniunctio + Carcer = Via, the geomantic Whole, the true combination of all powers in one.  In this light, by adding together the figures of Laetitia, Tristitia, Puer, and Puella, we get Via, a whole of the body, meaning that the body and all its parts are fundamentally ruled by the Moon.  In this light, where is the Sun?  The Sun would be the power that flows into and through the body to animate it, being the active principle of Spirit to the Moon’s passive principle of Matter.

I personally favor explanation #1 the most, but #3 also gives some really useful food for thought, as well.  I suppose any of these would work, but beyond that, the luminaries (and, for that matter, the nodes) don’t really play a substantial part in this present discussion.  What we do have, however, is already looking great—and already seems far more balanced in the use of all five non-luminary planets rather than the Golden Dawn approach of Heaven and Earth, Mars and Jupiter, and the Sun.

Also, there’s another nifty thing I want to note here about the relationship of the figures involved here.  We can see that all four seven-pointed figures—the pure elemental ones of Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia—are on the direct center meridian of the body, while all the five pointed figures—Puer, Puella, Caput Draconis, and Cauda Draconis—are all tied to the lateral extremities (upper arms/shoulders for the first two, the feet for the last two).  We know that Puer and Puella convert (remember your geomantic operations!) into Rubeus and Albus, respectively, linking the right and left shoulders, arms, hands to the center of the body—or, seen another way, linking the horizontal upper axis of the body to the center midline.  Likewise, we know that Laetitia and Tristitia convert into Cauda Draconis and Caput Draconis, linking the center vertical line of the body from the head through the groin all the way down to the feet, on the left and the right respectively.  It’s interesting to see the reflection of figures here through the use of conversion, which preserves the element of odd figures, and that all eight odd figures can be thought of as involved in this body structure of elements and planets.

So, that’s the framework and foundation for the ritual.  It’s an interesting extrapolation from our Geomantic Adam diagram, and allows us to come up with a way to ritually center and energetically prepare ourselves for Work in a way that’s both planetary and elemental at the same time, while using the symbolism and technology of geomantic figures.  As for what the ritual itself actually is, we’ll talk about that tomorrow.

On Timing Daily Prayers to the Degrees of the Decans

I’ve had this idea in my head for prayer practice that revolves around the notion of cycles.  For instance, as part of my daily prayer practice, I’ve written a set of seven prayers, one for each of the seven days of the week, which I recite on an ongoing cycle.  They’re not necessarily planetary prayers, like you might find in the Hygromanteia or Heptameron, but they do have some planetary allusions and hints thrown into them.  The seven-day week, which is fundamentally a Mesopotamian invention, makes for a simple cycle of prayers, but I’ve been thinking about ways I could incorporate more cycles into my prayers.  For instance, a simple and short invocation for each of the days of a lunar month—with my Grammatēmerologion, my oracular Greek letter lunisolar calendar—based around the powers and potencies of each of the letters of the Greek alphabet, along with their spirits or gods, could be something fun to toy around with.  There’s lots of opportunities for this sort of practice:

  • the four turns of the Sun each day, a la Liber Resh (sunrise, noon, sunset, midnight)
  • the seven days of the week
  • the 24 planetary hours of a given day
  • the four (or eight) phases of the Moon (new, crescent, first quarter, gibbous, full, disseminating, third quarter, balsamic)
  • the 29/30 days of a synodic lunar month
  • the 28 days of a sidereal lunar month (a la the 28 lunar mansions)
  • the 30/31 days of a solar month (a la the 12 signs of the Zodiac)
  • the four seasons (solstices and equinoxes), perhaps also with the four cross-quarter days (midpoints between the solstices and equinoxes)
  • the 10 days of a decan
  • when a planet stations retrograde or direct
  • when eclipses occur
  • when a planet or star is seen at its heliacal rising or setting

There are lots of opportunities to engage in prayers linked to or with the natural cycles of the cosmos, many of which are fundamentally astrological in nature.  The idea of coming up with a large-scale overarching prayer practice that engages in such cycles, to me, would be a fantastic way to recognize these natural cycles, bring oneself into alignment with them, and tap ever more greatly into the power of these cycles, especially when certain cycles interact or sync up with each other.  By aligning ourselves with these cycles, we can not just make use of χρονος khronos “time” generally, but also καιρος kairos “the moment”, the fleeting opening of opportunity itself that allows us to do the best thing possible.  There’s this Hermetic notion—it’s hard to find the note I was referencing for it, but I’m pretty sure it’s in Copenhaver’s Hermetica or Litwa’s Hermetica II—that we rely on kairos in order to fully carry out the process of rebirth in the Hermetic mystical sense, and that would be determined by the processes of Providence, Necessity, and Fate along with the very will of God.

Along these lines, I wanted to come up with a new cycle of prayers for myself, one specifically for the decans.  Some might know these as faces, the 36 10° segments of the ecliptic, three to a sign of the Zodiac.  The decans are old, as in ancient Egyptian old, and play a part in the astrological prognosticatory and magical literature of the Egyptians, Arabs, Brahmins, and Hermeticists the world over.  We see them referenced in magical-medical texts going back to the classical period, and they also appear in such texts as the Picatrix as well as Cornelius Agrippa (book II, chapter 37).  Though they come up time and time again, they also take so many wildly different forms between traditions and texts, which is fascinating on its own merits.  We even see Hermēs Trismegistus himself talk about the decans and their importance in the Sixth Stobaean Fragment.  In that part of the Hermetic cannon, Hermēs explains to Tat that the decans belong to a celestial sphere between the eighth sphere of the fixed stars and the higher sphere of the All, being a backdrop to the very stars themselves, and thus higher than the constellations and signs of the Zodiac.  These decans exert “the greatest energy” on us and the world, and they drive “all general events on the earth: overthrows of kings, uprisings in cities, famines, plagues, tsunamis, and earthquakes”.  In other Hermetic texts, like the Sacred Book of Hermēs to Asclepius, the decans also rule over specific parts of the body and the injuries and illnesses that afflict them (which is a very Egyptian concept indeed that we see in purer forms of Egyptian religion and spiritual practice).

You can probably guess where I’m going with this: more prayers and a ritual practice dedicated to the decans.  This would consist of two parts:

  • An invocation of the powers of the decan itself, according to its specific form and name and virtues, to be done when the Sun enters that decan.
  • One prayer per each day the Sun is in a given decan, a set of ten prayers to be recited over a ten day decanal “week”.  Since the Sun spends about one day per degree, this means that each degree of a decan can be considered a separate day, and each day with its own prayer.

After some thinking, I was able to come up with a relatively straightforward set of prayers for the decans themselves at the moment (or the first sunrise following) the Sun’s ingress into them, but it’s the latter part I’m still struggling with.  I have ideas about what to base them on—the ten Hermetic virtues from the Corpus Hermeticum, the Pythagorean symbolism of the first ten numbers, and so forth—but coming up with those prayers is a slow process, indeed.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on a bit of a programming project, something to plan ahead and help me figure out what such a prayer practice would look like scheduled out.  This is basically what I was doing with my Grammatēmerologion project, coding up a variety of astronomical functions to calculate the various positions and attributes of celestial bodies for any given moment, and courtesy of SUBLUNAR.SPACE (whose online customizable almanac is an invaluable and deeply treasured tool for any magician nowadays), I was tipped off to a much easier and faster way to develop such astronomical programs: the Swiss Ephemeris codebase, of which I found a Python extension for even more flexibility.

And that’s when the problems started.  (Beyond the usual mishaps that come along with any nontrivial programming project.)

See, as it turns out, there are more days in a year than there are degrees in a circle—which means that while the Sun moves roughly one degree per day, it actually moves slightly less than one degree per day.  This is why we have 365 days (or 366 days, in leap years) in a year.  To the ancient Egyptians, they considered the civil solar year to only have 12 months of 30 days each, each month consisting of three decans, with a leftover set of five days at the end of the year, considered to be the birthdays of the gods Osiris, Horus, Set, Isis, and Nephthys.  These intercalary (or epagomenal) days were considered a spiritually dangerous and liminal time, but once those days were over, the calendar was brought back into sync with its proper cycle.  However, what I wanted to do is to come up with a 10-day cycle linked to the degrees of the Sun, which means I would have to deal with these epagomenal days throughout the year instead of bundled up all at the end.  My logic was simple:

  • Start counting decan day assignments (decan day-numbers) starting from the first sunrise after the March equinox (which is when the Sun enters 0° Aries as well as the first decan).
  • Judge the degree of the ecliptical position of the Sun based on sunrise of any given day.
  • Take the whole degree of the Sun (e.g. if 9.459°, then 9), divide by 10, take the remainder, and that’s your day in the cycle.  Thus, if o°, then this is our first day; if 1°, the second day; if 2°, the third day;…if 9°, the tenth day.  Thus, when we hit the next o° day, we start the cycle over.
  • If the whole degree of the Sun is the same as the previous day (e.g. 7.998° for today and 7.014° for yesterday), then this is an epagomenal day, and we say either no prayer at all or an eleventh special prayer not otherwise used except for epagomenal days.

A relatively simple method, all told.  Or so I thought.  When I actually ran the program, I noticed that there were not five epagomenal days (e.g. 1-2-3-4-5-X-6-7-8-9-10, where X is the epagomenal day) in the final count, but seven, which was…weird.  This would mean that there were 367 days, which would be wrong, except that there were 365 outputs.  It turns out that there were two skipped days (e.g. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-9-10, but no 8), one in early December and one in mid-February.  On top of that, although I expected the epagomenal days to be spaced out more-or-less equally throughout the year, they were all between early April and mid-September.  After looking into this, and making sure my code was correct (it was), what’s going on is this:

  • I made the mistake of assuming that the Sun moves at a constant speed each and every day of the year.  It doesn’t, for a variety of astronomical factors.
  • The Sun spends more time in the northern celestial hemisphere (about 185 days) than in the southern celestial hemisphere (about 180 days).
  • The Sun moves slower in winter around perihelion than in the summer around aphelion.
  • From winter through summer, the sunrise gets earlier and earlier, pushing the judgment-time of each day earlier and earlier, while in summer through winter, the reverse happens.

Talk about vexation: I had here what I thought was a perfectly reasonable method—and to a large extent, it is—yet which results in the cycle just skipping days, which I intensely dislike, since it breaks the cycle.  Without doubling up prayers on the skipped days, which I’d really rather like to avoid, it means that I couldn’t use this otherwise simple method to figure out a decanal 10-prayer schedule that would be in sync with the Sun.

After thinking about it some, I considered five different ways to associate the days to the degrees of the decans:

  1. The “Egyptian” method.  This is the most old-school and traditional, and mimics the behavior of the actual ancient Egyptian calendar: starting from the New Year, assign an unbroken cycle of days from day one to day ten 36 times.  This gradually becomes more and more unsynced as time goes on, but we throw in five or six epagomenal days at the very end to catch up all at once before the next New Year.  Simple, traditional, clean, but it’s really the worst of the bunch with the accumulating degree differences that get resolved all at once at the end of the year instead of periodically throughout the year.
  2. The “plan-ahead” method. Like the Egyptian”method, this is a pretty artificial way to allocate the days, but elegant in its own way, and spreads out the epagomenal days across the year more-or-less regularly.  We know that, at least for the foreseeable future, we’re going to deal with either normal years of 365 days or leap years of 366 days.  For normal years, we need to have five epagomenal days, so we insert an epagomenal day after the 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th, and 36th decans (or, in other words, every seventh decan not including the first).  For leap years, we need six epagomenal days, which we insert after the 6th, 12th, 18th, 24th, 30th, and 36th decan (i.e. every sixth decan).  Note that we judge a year to be a normal year or a leap year based on the Gregorian calendar year prior to a given March equinox; thus, for this method, we start assigning days from the March 2020 equinxo using the normal method because the prior calendar year, 2019, was not a leap year; we use the leap year method starting from the March 2021 equinox because the prior calendar year, 2020, was a leap year.
  3. The “true degree” method.  This is the method mentioned before: starting with the New Year at the March equinox, when the true degree of the Sun is exactly 0° and using sunrise at one’s location as the reference time, take the degree of the Sun and compare it to the degree at the previous day’s reference time.  If the degree is in the next whole number (e.g. 23.005° and 22.025°), the day proceeds to the next whole number; if the degree is in the same whole number (e.g. 23.985° and 23.005°), then it’s an epagomenal days.  The problem, as stated earlier, is that due to the varying speed of the Sun as the Earth travels between perihelion and aphelion (which also has the effect of the Sun spending more time in the northern celestial hemisphere than in the southern celestial hemisphere), we end up with more epagomenal days than expected around aphelion, and with days that are outright skipped around perihelion.  While the exact match of day to degree is appealing, it’s the skipped days that breaks cycles and which ruins the whole prayer system I was trying to devise.
  4. The “average degree” method.  This is a variation on the true degree method, only instead of using the Sun’s true position at the reference time on each day, we take a theoretical position of the Sun based on its average daily motion of 360.0°/365.2421897 days = 0.98564735989°/day.  Starting with the New Year at the March equinox, when both the true degree and average degree of the Sun is exactly 0°, using sunrise at one’s location as the reference time, take the theoretical average degree of the Sun (advancing it by the Sun’s average daily motion day by day at the reference time) and compare it to the degree at the previous day’s reference time, with the same epagomenal rule as before.  The benefit to this method is that it gets us the expected number of epagomenal days which are evenly distributed throughout the year without skipping any other days; the downside is that, as we get closer to the September equinox, the theoretical average position of the Sun drifts further away from the true position by as much as 3.780°, putting us three or four days out of sync with the true position.
  5. The “rebalanced true degree” method.  This is an extension of the true degree method above.  We start with the assignments of days to degrees as before, extra epagomenal days and skipped days and all, but we “rebalance” the days by removing some epagomenal days and reinserting them where we were earlier skipping days.  For every skipped day, we alternate between choosing the first and last of the epagomenal days.  So, if we have seven epagomenal days on year days 24, 59, 83, 105, 127, 151, and 182, and we have two skipped days on days 274 and 333, then we first remove the first epagomenal day from day 24 and reinsert it on day 274, and then the last epagomenal day from day 181 (was 182 before we removed the other one) and insert it on day 333.

So, five different methods of assigning days a decan day-number, one of which (the Egyptian method) being the most regular and artificial with the worst drift, one of which (the true degree method) being the most accurate and realistic yet which skips days entirely, and three other methods (plan-ahead, average degree, rebalanced true degree) that vary in terms of computational complexity and accuracy.  We know that the true degree method is the most accurate, so we can plot the various other methods against it to visually see how bad the drift is between it and the other methods.  In the following graphs, the true degree method is given in red, with the other method being compared to it in blue.  Epagomenal days are marked as having a decan day-count number of -1, hence the severe dips at times.  Where the blue and red lines are more in sync, the method is better; where the lines depart, the method gets worse.  The true degree method gives an epagomenal day in decans 3, 6, 8, 11, 13, 15, and 18, and if you look close enough, you can see the skip in the days towards the end of decans 27 and 33.

Just visually looking at these methods, we can see that all four methods start off the same for a little more than the first two decans, but after that, most of them begin to diverge.  The Egyptian method is worse in how often and by how much it diverges, with that nasty flatline of epagomenal days at the end, and the plan-ahead method doesn’t fare much better, either; note also how both of these methods end with epagomenal days for at least the final day of the year.  The average degree method doesn’t look too bad, though it does get worse around the September-October area of the year before it gets better again, eventually getting back in sync for the final three decans of the year.  By far the most pleasing and in-sync graph we see is with the rebalanced true degree method, which does vary a little bit but by no means as bad or as irregularly as the other methods; we have about five decans where they’re in sync, 22 where they’re one day off, and nine when they’re off by two days.

But, besides just looking at them with my eyeballs, how should I best compare the accuracy of all these methods?  What I settled on was a ratio between the day’s decan day-number according to a particular method and the true degree expected for the Sun for that day:

  1. If a given day is an epagomenal day, throw out the value entirely, and don’t factor it into calculations.
  2. For a given day reckoned at the reference time (sunrise on the March equinox for a given location), find the Sun’s true ecliptic position.
  3. Take the whole degree of the Sun (e.g. if 9.227°, 9).
  4. Divide the number from the previous step by 10 and take the remainder.
  5. Add one to the previous step.
  6. Divide a given day’s decan day-number by the previous step.

The shortcut to this method would basically be to divide the method’s decan day-number for a given day against the true degree method’s decan day-number, but I wanted to be sure I was getting the Sun’s true position here for mathematical rigor.  This ratio indicates the general percentage difference we expect; if the ratio is 1, then the given method’s decan day-number is what we’d expect; if more than 1, it’s ahead of what we expect; if less than 1, behind what we expect.

Doing some simple math on these ratios for these given methods gets us the following statistics (omitting the epagomenal days entirely), judged against the year from the March 2020 equinox through the March 2021 equinox (considered a normal year).  I calculated these results based on a prototype decanal calendar starting on March 20, 2020 at 11:12 UTC (the first sunrise after the spring equinox for my town’s given longitude) for 365 days.

Method Mean Median Min Max STD Variance
Egyptian 1.71222574 1 0.1 8 1.856253825 3.445678262
Plan-ahead 1.467144864 1.333333333 0.1 6 1.09989769 1.209774928
True degree 1 1 1 1 0 0
Average degree 1.351345416 1.166666667 0.1 5 0.9200161032 0.8464296301
Rebalanced true degree 1.211630551 1.2 0.1 3 0.5348857385 0.2861027532

In the 2020/2021 year, we can see that it’s the rebalanced true degree method that has the lowest standard deviation and variance, with the mean closest to 1.  This means that the rebalanced true degree method gets us the closest decan day-numbers to what the Sun’s actual position is on the whole, being at worst three days ahead (compared to the potential of being five, six, or eight days ahead with the other non-true degree methods).

For another look, we can also consider the leap year (according to our rule above) for the March 2021 equinox through the March 2022 equinox.  I calculated these results based on a prototype decanal calendar starting on March 20, 2021 at 11:13 UTC for 366 days.

Method Mean Median Min Max STD Variance
Egyptian 1.704857316 0.85 0.1 8 1.89868141 3.604991096
Plan-ahead 1.432609127 1.333333333 0.1 6 1.044951208 1.091923027
True degree 1 1 1 1 0 0
Average degree 1.338694885 1.2 0.1 5 0.8991436886 0.8084593728
Rebalanced true degree 1.142828483 1.142857143 1 2 0.3982472329 0.1586008585

We get even better results during leap years, it’d seem, at least based on this example alone; we’re only a max of two days ahead of the Sun’s true position, and we have even less variance and deviation than before.

If I were to go with any system of assigning a 10-day repeating cycle of prayers to the days to keep more-or-less in sync with the position of the Sun as it goes through the decans, I’d go with the rebalanced true degree method.  Still, even if it’s the most in sync, it’s not truly in sync, as there really isn’t such a system possible without skipping days due to the inconvenient misalignment of physical phenomena with discrete human systems of calendrics.  As SUBLUNAR.SPACE commiserated with me about on Facebook, as he found out when he was coding his own almanac program, the decans “do not like to be pushed into human patterns”, and that we really have to choose degrees or days, because we can’t have both.  In his almanac, he settled with marking things by the actual ingress, which was the common practice in the decan calendars of Ptolemaic times.  On top of that, as far as calculation goes, it’s among the more complicated, requiring manual rebalancing after figuring out the true degree day equivalences first for the whole year until the next March equinox; easy enough to do by a computer program, but tedious or outright difficult to do by hand.

For now, I’m going to content myself with marking the Sun’s ingress into the decans, and leave it at that.  For one, though I’d like to engage in a 10-day cycle of prayers aligned with the decans, and even though I have some sort of system in place to explore that, I still don’t have those damn ten (or eleven) prayers written up for them.  But, at least knowing what the schedule looks like is a start.

Sum of their Parts: The Planetary Syntheses of the Geomantic Figures

I don’t make as much of a practice of meditating on the geomantic figures as I sometimes feel I should.  It’s an important practice, I think, that really opens up some truly amazing doors in the understanding of the geomancer to not just get an intellectual feel for these sixteen symbols of elemental presence or absence, of elemental action, reaction, and interaction, but also to get a truly profound, soul-touching understanding of them.  This is crucially important, I claim, for any new geomancer: perhaps even before studying the techniques of geomancy (which are pretty straightforward, really), they should make an effort to truly learn what the figures are, not just what they mean or stand for through rote memorization of correspondence lists or the like.  In doing so, we learn more about the figures and how they play out in the world around us.

Back during January, during some of my usual daily prayers, the thought arose to me that maybe I shouldn’t just be meditating on the figures more often than once a year or so, but also to simply consider newer and other ways to understand them. After all, we have all these mathematical ways of understanding the figures, the various operations that can be applied to a figure to transform it into another, but one of the most important for us is addition: the process of taking two figures and combining them mathematically to form a third.  This is the fundamental technique that allows us to come up with the Nieces from the Mothers or Daughters, the Witnesses from the Nieces, the Judge from the Witnesses, and the Sentence from the Judge and First Mother.  The process of addition can be interpreted in one of three ways:

  • Us + Them = Interaction
  • Start + End = Transition
  • Factor + Context = Conclusion

In all cases, what addition shows us is what happens when you add the symbolism of one figure to the symbolism of another.  For instance, consider the two figures Puer + Laetitia = Acquisitio.  What could this mean?  Well, let’s consider it according to the three models of addition above:

  • (Us + Them = Interaction) Our youthful energy, drive, and brazenness is faced with a happy time and people more than happy to uplift us and support us.  The combination of like minds, with the enthusiasm of Puer on our side combined with the optimism of Laetitia on the other, yields great gain for us all.  However, that gain is only incidental; what matters more is finding people willing to help us as we need to, so that we’re not the only ones striving for something.
  • (Start + End = Transition) A stoked start to matters, full of energy and gumption and not a small amount of willingness to step on toes to get our way, is going to indeed get our way and find everything that we seek.  It’s this very nature of winning, when all we want to do is win, that will get us to a state of true happiness and bliss.  Money isn’t what matters, but it certainly helps us in our overall goals to celebrate the goodness that life has in store for us.
  • (Factor + Context = Conclusion) Put a bull in a china shop, and you can expect things to get broken.  However, put a bull in a lush field full of other happy cows, and you can expect the bull to be in a happy place, indeed, doing what bulls naturally want to do: eat, sleep, and procreate.  When a huge bundle of energy like yourself is put in a situation where it’s own heat and drive is redirected and put to useful ways, all that energy you have goes to natural, proper ends that just works well for everyone in the end, so long as that energy is allowed to do what it naturally needs and wants to do.

With addition, we can expand our notions of 16 geomantic figures to 256 geomantic processes, each of which can be interpreted along the three models above, all of which touch on the same core idea but which can be phrased in different ways appropriate to different models of understanding or different situations in which they appear.  This is where the complexity of geomancy truly lies, I feel, and the only way to really navigate these complexities is through having a profound, intuitive understanding of the figures, which only comes about through study, contemplation, and meditation.

To be fair, not all such study, contemplation, and meditation needs to be done sitting on a mat and pathworking or scrying the figures.  Sometimes we can take a more logical or synthetic approach as opposed to a mystical one which itself can yield a fertile ground for further meditation, and today, I want to take a new twist on that.  We know that addition is an important operation in geomancy that can yield not just new figures but also new understandings of the figures, but we also know that there are 16 figures, which can be reasonably broken down into eight pairs of figures, each pair relating to one of the planets (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Nodes).  If there’s a pair, then there can be addition:

Planet First Figure Second Figure Synthesis Figure
Moon Populus Via Via
Mercury Albus Coniunctio Rubeus
Venus Puella Amissio Tristitia
Sun Fortuna Maior Fortuna Minor Via
Mars Puer Rubeus Carcer
Jupiter Acquisitio Laetitia Puer
Saturn Tristitia Carcer Laetitia
Nodes Caput Draconis Cauda Dracions Carcer

What we have here is a table of what happens, what figures result when you add the two figures belonging to the same planet together.  Thus, consider the two figures of Mercury, Albus and Coniunctio.  If you add them together, you get the figure Rubeus.  What might this mean symbolically, not just for the figures of Mercury but for a geomantic understanding of Mercury itself?  Remember that the addition of figures shows us what the core themes of interaction, transition, and conclusion are between two forces, but in this case, we’re taking the two sides of each planet and seeing what happens when we synthesize them together.

There are a few observations we can make right off the bat:

  • In all cases except for the figures of the Moon, the synthesis figure is both a different figure than either the original figures and also belongs to a different planet than the planet that the original figures belonged to (Jupiter in the case of the figures of Saturn, Mars in the case of Jupiter, etc.).
  • Two figures are repeated among the synthesis figures: Carcer (formed from both the figures of the Nodes as well as the figures of Mars) and Via (figures of the Sun and figures of the Moon).  Mathematically, this is because these are the only planets whose two figures are inverses of each other, and Via can only result when you add inverses.  This suggests that only the figures of the Moon and the Sun are truly opposites of each other and reflect two totally distinct sides of each planet; all the other planets share something in common and show different themes without being complete opposites.
  • The synthesis figures are always going to belong to the Moon (Via), Mars (Puer or Rubeus), Jupiter (Laetitia), or Saturn (Carcer or Tristitia).  Mercury, Venus, and the Sun do not appear at all in this mix.  This is an interesting contrast to the Judges that can result from a geomantic chart, where only Mars is unrepresented as a Judge.
  • Saturn has a plurality of synthesis figures with three out of eight, Mars has two, the Moon has two, and Jupiter has one.  This is another interesting contrast to the number of figures belonging to the planets for the possible Judges that can form in a chart: the Moon has two possible Judges, the Sun has two, Mercury has one, Venus has one, Jupiter has one, and Saturn has one, with Mars having none at all.
  • Three of the four pure-elemental figures (Laetitia, Rubeus, and Tristitia) are present among the synthesis figures, but Albus is left out, the figure of pure Water.  Coincidentally, we have the inverse of Albus, Puer, as the synthesis of Jupiter, the figure that has everything but water.  In fact, with the exception of Via, all the planetary synthesis figures lack Water entirely as an element.

What we’re building up to is an understanding of a geomantic understanding of the planets (including the pair of Nodes together as a “planet” in its own right, at least for the sake of the model here) by seeing what happens when we add—synthesize—the two figures of a planet.  As opposed to simply looking at the different way a planet can express its energy, what we’re arriving at is a geomantic symbol of the core nature or tension of that planet, and how that nature relates to other planets as well.

With that in mind, let’s take a deeper dive into this and see how this plays out for each pair.  While I’m sure there’s more to be said than just a simple paragraph about each synthesis pair, this should be enough to get started for the sake of contemplation and meditation on the figures.  Note that the focus here is on the synthesis figure, irrespective of the order in which the synthesis takes place (e.g. Albus + Coniunctio and Coniunctio + Albus both add up to Rubeus equally).

Moon: Populus + Via = Via

This one is almost too easy, given that this is the only synthesis of planetary figures that yields a figure of the same planet as its components.  However, we should consider why that synthesis figure is Via and not Populus.  Via is the figure of change, and that is fundamentally the nature of the Moon: the Moon is in a constant state of flux, never appearing the same from one night to the next in its raw appearance.  As the fastest of the seven planets, the Moon constantly shifts between signs and lunar mansions on a scale completely beyond all the other planets, which is why the Moon symbolically has her planetary joy in House III.  However, more than that, Via is the one figure that has all four elements present and active; in astrology and astrological magic, the Moon is the planet that gathers up the light of all the other planets and can act as a stand-in for any other planet as necessary.  As the lowest of the planets, the Moon is also the closest planet to Earth, the realm of totally manifested reality, and thus the Moon is closest to the realm of the elements themselves.  In this light, Via is almost boringly obvious as the figure that relates to the essence of the Moon.

Mercury: Albus + Coniunctio = Rubeus

I suppose it’s super fitting, given that Mercury is generally considered a mutable planet harmonious with the element of Air, that the two Mercurial figures of Albus and Coniunctio add to form the figure whose sole active element is Air: Rubeus.  However, Rubeus is generally a hot and dangerous figure, one of deceit, treachery, lies, theft, and confusion—but are these not also things that trickster Mercury is known for?  We praise Mercury as being the planet of communication and commerce, travel and trade, language and science, and all this is true, but if a planet can bestow something, it can just as easily corrupt or deny those things, too: if Mercury grants a strong mind, it can also grant a weak or debilitated mind, or one that’s so strong that it becomes a deadly weapon in its own right (cf. “the pen is mightier than the sword”, and spilled ink can lead to spilled blood).  Further, we should never ignore the mythological aspects here of Hermēs being the slayer of Argos, in some myths by beheading with a golden sword, in others by bludgeoning with a rock, through with a scheme of trickery and plotting involved in such a thing, and ultimately to rescue (steal) Iō from Hēra.  If Albus is the mind at its most refined and noble, then Rubeus is the mind at its most raw and corrupt; it’s perhaps a good thing that Hermēs is the messenger of the gods acting on their behest rather than his own, since if Hermēs were to take his power into his own hands rather than using it on behalf of Zeus and the other gods, as the Homeric Hymn to Hermēs suggests, his greatest inclination is to lie, cheat, steal, deceive, and hoodwink all others endlessly for his own selfish gain.  We should remember that the mind is not just a tool but a power unto itself, and without harnessing that power and refining it through wisdom and morality, that power will serve itself more than anything else in ways that are cruel, crude, despicable, and destructive.

Venus: Puella + Amissio = Tristitia

Now this is an odd one: the figures of Venus add up to the figure of Saturn, Sorrow.  Off the bat, my first thought is that Saturn has its exaltation in Libra, a sign of Venus, but that’s not saying much about why Tristitia would be the synthesis figure for Venus.  There is also the notion that, to me at least, I associate Venus most strongly with the element of Water, and each of the elements has a particular motion associated with it: Air expands and Earth contracts, Fire goes upward and Water goes downward—and Tristitia is a figure of downwards motion, yet that too doesn’t seem to hit on the connection here all that well.  There’s something about the raw, simple power of pure Earth that turns the volatile passion of Amissio into the stabilized harmony of Puella: the feeling of having enough, the knowledge that everything is going to be alright, the blessing of experience and memory, the ability to dull or blunt emotional pain (whether one’s own or that of another).  All of these things are Earthy, sure, but none of these things strike me as Sorrowful.  But there is something here: all these things come about as the result of labor.  The fields and the forest may be abundant and fruitful, sure, but what good is all of that if you do not toil in the fields to ensure a harvest, or wander in the fields risking cuts and bites to pluck berries and mushrooms?  Venus, in all its splendor, is not a planet known for its labor, but there is a deeper, more profound labor going on behind the pretty face, whether done up for a night out or marred by tears from a bad night: there’s a profound emotional labor going on, either in the process of it that causes emotional volatility or as a result of it that produces emotional stability.  Venus, as a primary symbol of femininity, is also a symbol of childbirth, and how arduous and painful can that be, filled with tears and groans and moaning?  Tristitia is a profound figure that makes things alright in the end, but the process of that can be hard and long—but always results in pleasure, once the clouds clear from the skies.

Sun: Fortuna Maior + Fortuna Minor = Via

The other synthesis pair of figures that yield Via, it’s somewhat surprising to find that the figures of the Sun synthesize into a figure of the Moon.  After all, if Via is all about change, what do we make of this since we know the Sun to be a symbol of perfection and eternity itself?  We should still remember that even if the Sun itself is perfect and timeless, how the Sun relates to the Earth is not: the Sun rises and sets and itself marks the most fundamental change in the world, that of the day-night cycle, as well as that of the seasonal cycle as the Sun gradually moves above and below the celestial equator along the ecliptic.  Heck, think of the neopagan concept of the Wheel of the Year that discusses the various solar events of solstices, equinoxes, and zodiacal midpoints and how this tells an agricultural story of the birth, growth, triumph, fall, death, and rebirth of the Sun.  We should also note the reference in PGM XII.201ff (the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual) to “yours is the processional way of Heaven”, referring most likely to the starry road of the ecliptic—and what is Via if not literally a road?  Rather than Via indicating change itself as it does for the Moon, for the Sun, Via instead indicates the process of change rather than the thing that undergoes change: while the roads we take in life take their toll, the roads themselves remain themselves and do not themselves go anywhere.  So too does the Sun show the road that we take, season in and season out, year in and year out, and even though the Sun will always remain the Sun, we constantly change as we follow the Sun throughout the times of life.

Mars: Puer + Rubeus = Carcer

The first of two synthesis pairs that yield Carcer, this pair of the figures of Mars shows a bold hero facing the endlessly tumultuous battle, the stoic soldier fighting against a raving berserker.  The notion of Carcer here is that of being locked into battle, a constant and neverending struggle of violence from which one cannot escape.  This is the figure that demonstrates the endless drive to break through and break free despite the utter impossibility of doing so (cf. the prisoner unfairly imprisoned who constantly plots and works their way out of prison) as well as the endless anger and frustration of trying to break free from that which binds oneself: we shouldn’t forget that Fire is present in Carcer, too, after all!  On top of this, Carcer is the figure of separation, which is the crucial action of Mars: the fundamental purpose of a blade is to cut, which divides one thing from another (whether a rope bridge spanning a chasm or the blood from its body).  In struggle, Mars separates one person/side/thing from another, yet the person/side/thing that is separated from the other will always be locked into a struggle with it, whether the struggle of imprisonment, of war, or of life and death itself.  While we might consider Puer to be a sword and Rubeus a battleaxe, Carcer would then be a sort of shield, another thing that cuts off one from another without doing much to resolve that separation.

Jupiter: Acquisitio + Laetitia = Puer

Now this is a fun one: the two Jovial figures adding up to a Martial one.  Why should two otherwise beneficial figures that lead to happiness—material and financial on the one hand, emotional and spiritual on the other—lead to something that so easily ruins happiness?  Crucially, there’s always too much of a good thing, and if any planet exemplifies the idea of “too much”, it’s Jupiter.  Jupiter is the planet of expansion, but to expand requires force, and Zeus, as king of Olympos, has all the force in the world to wield, whether for weal or for woe: there is nothing that can withstand the might of Zeus.  More than that, when we have good things, we want more good things, and that want, if not tempered by wisdom, can become a corruption of them, as acid (a Martian thing!) dissolves lesser metals.  Acquisitio’s desire for wealth can become insatiable greed, and Laetitia’s desire for hope and success can become reckless daring.  Jupiter is pure power, and that power is to make things more Jupiter through force, one way or another.  After all, how often do kings and rulers in our own world resort to the application of force, oftentimes brutal, whether against their own people or others, in order to satisfy their needs for resources, space, or the fulfillment of their state’s ambitions?  If the nature of a king is to rule, then the underlying ability that allows that king to rule is the application of force.

Saturn: Tristitia + Carcer = Laetitia

Just as it’s somewhat surprising to find that the figures of the Sun yield a figure of the Moon, it’s also weird to see the figures of Saturn synthesizing into a figure of Jupiter, doubly so since Laetitia is the reverse of Tristitia.  Structurally speaking, this synthesis is a lot like what’s going on with the Mercurial figures (an axial figure plus a pure elemental figure), and in that light, seeing how we took a heavily mythological twist to that analysis, perhaps it’s fitting to bring up that Kronos was once a benevolent, almost Jovial king during the Golden Age when humanity “lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them…”.  It is true that Saturn is the planet is melancholy, depression, toil, labor, old age, decrepitude, and the like, but that’s just its effects from our side: consider that once you strip away everything else that is unessential baggage (a la one’s Saturn return), that which remains is the pure essence of the thing, and this itself is freedom and a kind of joy unto itself, a revealing of truth from the deception of incarnation.  Plus, Saturn is the highest of the planets in the heavens, and Laetitia is the figure of upwards motion, indicating Saturn’s top position above all, closest to Divinity and showing the way to true joy where old age and death no longer have any power or presence.  The way to such a destination is fraught with endless problems and terrible toil, just as the course of the afterlife in Egyptian thought through the Duat, but so long as you hold true to the course and can survive everything thrown at you, your ultimate destination is a place of eternal joy, not of emotion but beyond all emotion.

Nodes: Caput Draconis + Cauda Draconis = Carcer

The second of two synthesis pairs that yield Carcer, the two figures of the lunar nodes here don’t show the struggle and separation side of Carcer, but rather show the other aspect of this figure as a cycle.  Consider the ouroboros, the symbol of eternity of the snake swallowing its tail, an apt symbol for the combination of the Head and Tail of the Dragon: the cycle of beginning and ending is an eternal one, for when one thing ends, another must begin, and where one thing begins, another must have ended.  This is the eternal cycle of creation and destruction, the cycle of life and death itself, the cycle of saṃsāra into which we are constantly born time and time again whether as reincarnation or as rebirth.  The only way to break out of the prison of the world is to break the world itself; the only way to escape creation is to cease being created and to cease participating in creation entirely.  After all, in many religions and cosmologies, the world has a fundamental start point and a fundamental end point, but these are often outside time itself.  In this, Carcer represents not just the cyclical creation/destruction of the cosmos, but also the walls that separate that which is inside creation from that which outside it entirely; this is the dragon in the ninth heaven, above the fixed stars themselves within creation but still below the domain of God outside creation.

A Hymn to Hermēs Sōtēr

I know I don’t speak a lot much nowadays about my devotional work with Hermēs, or at least as much as I used to.  Admittedly, my focus and practices have shifted over the years, and as an arrangement I entered into willingly on both my terms and the terms of the god, my devotional work with the Son of Zeus and Maia waxes and wanes over time.  But, through it all, despite it all, and even because of it all, Hermēs has never left me, and I have never left him.  Even with my house more full of more gods than I would ever have anticipated, I still maintain my own practice and service to the god, and lately I’ve been spending more time getting back in touch with him since the last Mercury retrograde period ended.  It’s…well, not gonna lie, it’s pretty nice to do this again, and to remind myself why I got his emblem emblazoned on my flesh all those years ago.

Lately, between a renewed sense of his presence and a concern for the world, I was moved to write a simple hymn for the god.  It’s nothing special, but it’s something I wanted to share and spread, a hymn to Hermēs Sōtēr (the Savior).  Although he’s not usually considered among the usual savior-type gods, I feel like there’s something to be said for the blessings of swiftness, slyness, and quick motion (in the sense of both speed and life) that we could call on from the god in our time of need.  So, in this day of Jupiter and in this hour of Mercury, I dedicate these words to the god of my heart who accompanies on my ways.  May these words ring out in the air around me and throughout the entire world as a small token of my honor to the god, that all people of all cultures and all habits and all tongues may come to honor, sing, praise, and exalt the god who guides all men, spirits, souls, heroes, and gods!

Hail, Hermēs, o bright and swift savior through the paths of all the worlds!
O you who loves to be a close friend to mankind,
o you who cuts to the heart, knowing all that is within,
o you who stands keen watch at every cross and every fork,
o you who cannot be denied by any god or any man!

Son of Maia and scion of Atlas who knows the secrets of all the stars,
messenger of Zeus and all the gods who delivers words hither and thither!
Giving to all minds the wit to discern the gods and all their many works,
giving to all hands the skill to join in the very work of the very gods,
great are you who established the heavenly rites of offering and worship!

Ram-bearer, wand-bearer, leader of robbers and thieves!
You care for the well-being of all flocks of all kinds, kind Hermēs!
You lead them away amid motley heart-broken cries, sly Hermēs!
You defend them from those who would devour them, fierce Hermēs!
Driver of herds, shepherd of the living, o guide of all the dead!

Be kind to us, lord of the world, for all our travels and travails in it!
Lead us to the right place at the right time in the right way on the right day;
keep our hands as clean as they can, yet no dirtier than we need them to be.
By your guidance, keep us safe on our roads from all the awful nosoi;
by your wiles, o Hermēs, lead them afar by a different road entirely!

Be gracious, lord of the world, who collect the goods of gods and men!
Lead us all to sweet safety, to calm harbors, to a place to call our own,
to a shelter unafflicted by blight or the waste of terrible, hateful decay!
Let your lyre soothe the raging hearts of the bright children of Mother Lētō;
stay their fatal arrows, o lord, but when let fly, take us out from their flight!

Come, lord savior Hermēs, and hear this my heartfelt prayer;
be kind and be propitious to all those who seek your care.

Most people who are familiar with the god will understand most of the references, but I admit the one to the nosoi is probably a weird one.  These were a class of daimones in ancient Greek belief, the spirits of plague and sickness; for the Romans, these would be considered the Morbi, like Morbus (Disease), Pestis and Lues (Pestilence), Macies (Wasting), and Tabes (Corruption).  In Homeric literature, plague and disease was typically seen as being the arrows sent forth in wrath from the bows of Apollōn and Artemis, the two children of Lētō, but I also felt that the nosoi are a useful thing to ward against on their own right.  After all, there are two approaches to health, sanitization and inoculation, and in the absence of one, we must resort to the other; in the absence of vaccines or other defenses against the attacks of heavenly arrows or hellish claws, we must evade them entirely, and who better among the theoi to help lead us on the route to escape than Hermēs himself?  Who else but Hermēs to help us, the one among all the gods closest to the cries of all humanity, most familiar of all tongues, who guides us both in our world and in the next?  After all, although there aren’t all that many connections between Hermēs and plague, as Kriophoros (“Ram-bearer”), Hermēs is one who has helped before to save people from pestilence and plague, and with later connections of Kriophoros and Christ, lends a definite savior link to the noble son of Zeus and Maia.

May God and all the gods be charitable and propitious unto us all, and grant us all all life, all prosperity, and all health.

Genius in the Picatrix: The Ritual Itself, and Why Do It Anyway

Last time, we started talking about a particularly interesting bit of the Ġāyat al-Ḥakīm, the “Goal of the Wise”, sometimes just known as the Ġayah, but definitely better known in the West as the Picatrix, most likely written in Arabic sometime in the middle of the 11th century CE.  Everyone knows the Picatrix, everyone loves the Picatrix; it’s a fantastic text of astrological magic, and among the earliest of true grimoires in Europe.  Although focused on what we’d nowadays call stellar image magic, the creation of astrological talismans bearing magical images and scenes made under particular stellar configurations, the text is famous for its wide inventory of bizarre magical concoctions and confections for a variety of purposes, its lengthy invocations to the planetary spirits, and its preservation of older pagan practices from the Hermetists, Sabians, Nabataeans, and various other Mediterranean peoples.  It is not, however, a particularly theurgical text on the whole, even though it contains a wealth of information on philosophy, spiritual and cosmic frameworks, and the like in how and why magic works the way that it does.  Yet, in book III, chapter 6, we encounter an interesting section on the “Perfect Nature”, a sort of guiding spirit or genius, originally encountered by Hermēs Trismegistus himself.  The last post discussed some of the symbolic components and associations we can make to the four powers of Perfect Nature; if you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

Anyway, at this point, we now have everything prepared for the ritual, including ourselves.  Once the ritual area has been prepared with the candy confection made, the altar and braziers/censers have been set up appropriately, and the Moon has entered the first degree of Aries (ideally at the very moment of the Moon entering the first degree of Aries), perform the ritual:

  1. Light the candle, then put it in the middle of the dish with the candy confection (if the candle is encased in glass or another foodsafe material, or if the dish itself has a space for the candle), or immediately next to it towards the east if this is not possible.
  2. Fill the two braziers/censers with burning coals or otherwise light the coals in the braziers/censers, and set frankincense and mastic in the one to the north and aloeswood in the other to the south.  Alternatively, if using self-igniting stick/cone incense, light those now in the same order.
  3. Stand upright to the west of the altar facing east towards the altar.
  4. Recite the four names of the spirits of Perfect Nature seven times, whether using the Latin Picatrix version:

    Meegius, Betzahuech, Vacdez, Nufeneguediz

    Or the Arabic Picatrix version:

    Tamāġīs, Baġdīswād, Waġdās, Nūfānāġādīs

  5. Recite the following prayer (my own version, synthesized from the translations of Greer/Warnock, Attrell/Porreca, and Atallah/Kiesel):

    I call you, o high and powerful Spirit of Spirits, o Wisest of the Wise, o Intelligent of all Intelligence, o Knowledgeable of the Knowledge of the whole world!  It is from you that the knowledge and understanding of the wise proceed, and it is by your virtue that the desires of the wise are accomplished.  Hear me, answer me, come to me, be present here with me; unite me with your powers and draw me close to your knowledge; strengthen me with your knowledge, and grant me to understand what I do not understand, know the things I do not know, and see the things I do not see!  Remove from me and protect me from all blindness, corruption, forgetfulness, and disease.  Lift me up to the level of the ancient sages, those whose hearts were filled with intelligence, wisdom, understanding, and insight.  Let all this abide in my heart forever; imprint and affix these things in my heart, that they may never depart from me!

  6. Engage in communion with the Perfect Nature.

That’s it.  For all the complexity of much of what’s in the Picatrix, as far as ingredients or elections or supplies are concerned, this ritual is surprisingly simple and straightforward.  Let the candle burn out on its own, then disassemble the altar and ritual area.

After the directions above, the Latin Picatrix and its translations then say that one is to proceed to the table and partake in the wine, oils, and confection as desired as a sacred feast.  This suggests to me that the altar (or another table in the ritual area) may also have other foodstuffs on it in addition to the wine and oils, e.g. breads, cakes, and the like, but with the candy confection being of primary importance.  More than that, however, the Latin Picatrix and its translations say that the one who performs this ritual is to proceed to the table and feast “with their friends”, indicating that this is a sacred feast to be held and shared not just with one’s own Perfect Nature, but with others who may wish to commune with them as well, or with one’s students or colleagues in the Work.  Because multiple people might be involved, all potentially having different planetary rulerships, having this ritual timed along to a particular planet’s hour/day, rising/culminating, or its sign(s) rising or culminating or having braziers/censers intentionally made with a particular planetary metal may not be advisable, depending on who will be there participating in the ritual.  If on your own or with people who share the same ruling planet, then this could be a good idea for all involved, but otherwise, it might be better to forego such a consideration.

However, I should also note that, although this notion of a sacred communal meal is appealing, it is entirely absent from the Atallah/Kiesel translation—and thus, likely from the Arabic Picatrix in general.  The Atallah/Kiesel translation says nothing about proceeding to the table to partake of whatever is on it, nor anything about sharing a meal with one’s friends.  In fact, later on in the Atallah/Kiesel translation, there’s even a bit that suggests that doing this communally may not be a good idea in general:

Aristotle mentioned in his book also that the first philosopher that worked with these talismans and had the spirits appear to him and led him to the wonders of talismans and made him connect with his perfect nature and opened his eyes to the mysterious secrets of creation.  Also those spirits that told him will never appear to anyone else but you, unless they call our name and present a gift of sacrifice in our name.

This is made all the more confusing, given that the Perfect Nature (or “familiar spirit”) of Caraphzebiz told him in the Latin Picatrix:

“I will remain with you, but do not reveal me to others or speak of me, and make sacrifices in my name.”

In this light, the Picatrix strongly seems to suggest that it would perhaps be best that this whole ritual be done individually, or as an act of sacrifice to one’s own Perfect Nature, whether or not a teacher or mystagogue was present to direct and arrange the ritual for you, and even then, that would probably be best up to that mystagogue’s own Perfect Nature.  In this light, the offerings of wine, oil, and candy may all be a sacrifice to this spirit, not to be consumed by the person performing the ritual.  I suppose, however, at that point, you’d be listening to the directives of your Perfect Nature, who may invite you to partake in it all the same.  It’s unclear; it’s interesting that the Latin Picatrix would include such a shift in ritual directives that the Arabic Picatrix does not, while still holding to the same overall idea elsewhere.

Also, would it be strange that Perfect Nature should give Hermēs Trismegistus a prayer that seeks to make him like “the ancient sages”, given how ancient Hermēs himself is and given how Hermēs is considered to be the founder of so much of philosophy and science?  Not really; we find references in the Asclepius and Stobaean Fragments that the Hermēs we call Trismegistus is but one in a line of Hermai, and likewise for Asclepius from the earlier and more famous deified Imhotep.  Hermēs Trismegistus himself in the Hermetic writings is not just the author of ancient wisdom, but an initiator and preserver of wisdom that was established even before his time.  And, in a much later Abrahamic cultural milieu that, despite ennobling and praising him, still puts him down as a mere pagan, while Islam and Christianity were seen as pristine and purer forms of philosophy and religion dating back to the beginning of the world, this prayer allows for both a connection deeper into the Hermetic mysteries as well as more generalized divine ones that go back to the beginning of all Creation.  Depending on how you look at it, of course; given how the Picatrix also preserves outright pagan and non-Abrahamic practices, holding to an Abrahamic interpretation of what Perfect Nature can tie into is not necessarily a given.  All the same, it is something neat to pick up on here.

So, all that being said, that’s the approach one should take to understanding and communing with the Perfect Nature from book III, chapter 6 of the Picatrix.  At what point should one do this?  I mean, yes, this can be done anytime the Moon is in the first degree of Aries, and judging by the various forms of the Picatrix, this should be done at least once a year by everyone, but at what point in one’s spiritual practice, especially if one takes a Picatrix-heavy or -centric approach, should one undertake this?  I’d argue that it should be one of the very first things actually done, as opposed to study alone.  After all, if what the Picatrix says is true, that:

  • nothing “in this science” can be perfected, done, or accomplished except when the virtues and dispositions of the planets and stars allow it
  • Perfect Nature strengthens the intellect and wisdom of those who seek to do these works
  • each sage has their own proper virtue infused into them according to the works of Perfect Nature in conjunction with the powers of their own ruling planet
  • that perfecting one’s Perfect Nature grants knowledge, understanding, success, increase of wealth and station, protection from harm, and “many other things”

…then communing with and perfecting one’s Perfect Nature is essential for spiritual works, and not just in the Picatrix.  The Picatrix is tapping into a long-standing cross-cultural tradition of communing with and learning from one’s own agathodaimōn, genius, paredos, tutelar, guardian angel, or whatever you want to call it, yet it also takes on a specific association with the particular “powers of the sage” here that furthers mere education into something much, much more.  Note that the Picatrix says that the sages of old “taught all knowledge and subtleties of philosophy” before giving their students the means to work with Perfect Nature, indicating that the students of the wise first needed to understand what things are before how to make the best use of them, and that while the sages could certainly teach what can be done and how they do it, it’s one’s own Perfect Nature that teaches the how, what, and why of what each individual should best do for themselves.  Perfect Nature is the solution to the intractable problems of life that no sage, philosopher, or teacher can answer: as Hermēs says, Perfect Nature is that “by which is understood that which cannot be otherwise be understood at all, and from which workings proceed naturally both in sleep and in waking”.  The Perfect Nature is the perfect teacher, the one teacher who can truly teach us what is best and in the best way above and beyond any other.  It’s just that the Perfect Nature still needs us to learn about the world first so that we know how to properly interact with it; after all, you can’t build if you don’t have raw materials to build with.

In this, there are intensely strong parallels between Perfect Nature and True Will, as well, from a modern perspective.  If the Thelemic concept of True Will is “the true purpose of the totality of one’s being” and that “its discovery is initiation….and its nature is to move continually”, that it is “the true expression of the Nature, the proper or inherent motion of the matter concerned”, then to live according to one’s True Will is to fully realize the purpose, method, means, and aims of one’s proper and best life, as accorded to us by Divinity.  This, too, then is also what Perfect Nature does in virtually the same way, taking the influences of our ruling planet and refining them, joining them with divine methods to accomplish that which is best for us.  And, if we’re to take Hermēs at his word at the end of this chapter of the Picatrix, Perfect Nature really is the solution to all the problems of the wise: how science and philosophy can be joined, what the root is of science and philosophy individually and together, and how the secrets of science and philosophy may be opened to us.  Not just how or what, either, I suppose, as the Perfect Nature does more than merely tell us these things; it informs (forms within) us, it instructs (builds within) us.  After all, as Ṭumṭum al-Hindi says in the Atallah/Kiesel translation of the Arabic Picatrix (this doesn’t appear to be in the Latin Picatrix, minor edits for clarity and structure):

…when you first start to look inside of yourself to your managing spirit that connects you with your star—and that is the Perfect Nature that Hermēs the Wise mentioned in his book saying “the microcosm”, in which he meant the human—his soul would be in a similar position to that of the stationary Sun in the sky that shines with its light on the whole world.  Just so does the Perfect Nature spread in the soul so its rays connect with the power of Wisdom and pulls it until it is centered in the soul in its own proper place, just as the Sun pulls and directs the rays of the cosmos to hold itself up in the heavens.

Remember what we said earlier about our inverted vignette, how instead of Hermēs digging in a pit for the four powers of Perfect Nature, he looks to the four pillars of Heaven (or the four corners of the World) to obtain them?  If Hermēs attaining the power at the top of the heavens to still the winds is effectively him reaching his Perfect Nature, and if the top of the vault of Heaven is supported by its pillars, then we see that the relationship one has with one’s Perfect Nature is reliant upon building and refining those four spiritual powers, “just as the Sun pulls and directs the rays of the cosmos to hold itself up in the heavens”.  The Perfect Nature is self-sustaining, providing its own support, much like a spiritual singularity: once you have it, so long as you do not utterly shut yourself off from it, you’ll be set on your proper path to perfect your nature and fulfill your true will.  This, however, is still Work—it is the Work, which is why this ritual is not just a once-and-done thing, but something to be done periodically to continually maintain a relationship with your Perfect Nature in an intimate and personal way, as opposed to the subtle and suggestive ways.

This leads me to think about one more thing about the image of the City of Adocentyn from book IV, chapter 7 of the Picatrix: the central color-changing citadel.  Consider the similarity we have here with our vignettes: a deep pit with a central image and four secrets buried around it (or, rather, the apex of Heaven with the four pillars of Heaven supporting it), and a central citadel in a beautiful city guarded by four powerful gates.  To me, the symbolism would link the Perfect Nature itself with that central citadel, being able to harmonize to the planets (though always linking one most to one’s own ruling planet).  Protected by the four gates and empowered by the central citadel, “the inhabitants of the city were made virtuous and freed from sin, wickedness, and sloth…its people were most deeply learned in the ancient sciences, their profundities, and secrets, and in the science of astronomy”.   Doesn’t this all sound awfully similar to the benefits of communing and working with one’s Perfect Nature?  While I’m not sure whether or not it was written to this intent, it’s starting to sound a lot like that the City of Adocentyn, the Spiritual Hermopolis/El-Ashmunein/Khemenu, while it may well have existed in the mind of the author of the Picatrix and in myth generally, can be read as a strong metaphor for the perfection of one’s own spiritual life.  In working with and living in accordance with our Perfect Nature, we build our own internal Adocentyn of the soul, lush and abundant in life, wisdom, and wealth.

There is one final lingering problem, though: what do we make of sleep?  We know that Ibn Khaldūn in his Muqaddimah gives the four names “Tamāġīs, Baġdīswād, Waġdās, Nūfānāġādīs” (really, a variant thereof, “tamaghis ba’dan yaswadda waghads nawfana ghadis”, which may or may not be Aramaic in origin) as an incantation one uses before sleep to obtain a vision of Perfect Nature, apart and away from any rite of communion or sacred feast, and we also know that Hermēs Trismegistus received his first vision of Perfect Nature in a dream.  Dream/trance states are important for continuing one’s work with Perfect Nature, just as it was for Hermēs and Poimandrēs all the way back in the Corpus Hermeticum, and gives us a means to continually remain in contact beyond a yearly or semiyearly ritual.  It’s the constant work, the constant development, the constant communion we remain in that allows such a relationship to truly flourish—again, we see similar ideas crop up time and again in any culture or magical tradition that involves the presence and aid of an agathodaimōn, genius, tutelar, guardian angel, etc.  Big rituals are good, but it’s the small, quotidian stuff that should never, ever be neglected.

Despite the relatively late text of the Picatrix, at least as far as classical Hermetic stuff goes which the Picatrix does not properly fall into compared to other works like the Corpus Hermeticum or Asclepius or Stobaean Fragments, we find in this chapter of the Picatrix something that’s so starkly, obviously Hermetic, both in tone and content, augmented with a culturally-shifting evolution from classical pagan to (then) modern eclectic practices of spiritual works, here combining the secrets of divinity with astrology, alchemy, magic, and many other practices, almost in a seamless way.  Sure, the Perfect Nature of the Picatrix may not be the Poimandrēs, but the sentiment here is so close and familiar as to be easily understandable.  The Perfect Nature of the Picatrix is the Picatrix’s own take on one’s genius spirit, and as such, should certainly be considered one possible route to attain this crucial relationship so vital to the well-being, spiritual development, and ultimate success of any magician, philosopher, or sage—or, indeed, anyone at all.

And yes, the ritual is up on its own page for easy access under the main menu: Rituals → Communion of Perfect Nature

Genius in the Picatrix: Associations of the Four Powers

Last time, we started talking about a particularly interesting bit of the Ġāyat al-Ḥakīm, the “Goal of the Wise”, sometimes just known as the Ġayah, but definitely better known in the West as the Picatrix, most likely written in Arabic sometime in the middle of the 11th century CE. Everyone knows the Picatrix, everyone loves the Picatrix; it’s a fantastic text of astrological magic, and among the earliest of true grimoires in Europe. Although focused on what we’d nowadays call stellar image magic, the creation of astrological talismans bearing magical images and scenes made under particular stellar configurations, the text is famous for its wide inventory of bizarre magical concoctions and confections for a variety of purposes, its lengthy invocations to the planetary spirits, and its preservation of older pagan practices from the Hermetists, Sabians, Nabataeans, and various other Mediterranean peoples. It is not, however, a particularly theurgical text on the whole, even though it contains a wealth of information on philosophy, spiritual and cosmic frameworks, and the like in how and why magic works the way that it does. Yet, in book III, chapter 6, we encounter an interesting section on the “Perfect Nature”, a sort of guiding spirit or genius, originally encountered by Hermēs Trismegistus himself. The last post discussed what we would need to do to prepare for the ritual of communing with Perfect Nature; if you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

At this point, we know we need to have the altar set up in a particular way: a bowl of butter/walnut oil/sugar/honey candy in the middle, four pint-sized pitchers of wine around the altar, and four pitchers of a particular kind of fat around the altar as well: almond oil in the east, walnut oil in the west, butter in the south, and sesame oil in the north. There’s more prep to be done beyond this, but I want to take a second to look at the symbolism hidden here and to expand on that a bit, because I’ll bet that the order that the containers of oil and butter are presented in the text (almond oil in the east, walnut oil in the west, butter in the south, and sesame oil in the north) is probably important.

Remember earlier how we drew dichotomies between the four spirits of Perfect Nature, with Meegius/Tamāġīs and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs as one dichotomy (perception vs. interaction) and Betzahuech/Baġdīswād and Vacdez/Waġdās as another (substance vs. essence)? In the order of Meegius/Tamāġīs, Betzahuech/Baġdīswād, Vacdez/Waġdās, Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs , this would suggest that we’d put Meegius/Tamāġīs in the east, Betzahuech/Baġdīswād in the west, Vacdez/Waġdās in the north, and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs in the south, which doesn’t fit the dichotomy scheme when thought about in terms of directions. But the Picatrix also notes that of these four spirits, there are “three spirits in matter” which are “coadunated in perfect contemplation”, suggesting that Vacdez/Waġdās (the spirit of contemplation) is set apart from the rest. We should note that, of the four containers that have non-wine substances in them, three have oil and one has butter, and that the butter is given third in the order of the containers, just as Vacdez/Waġdās is given third in the order of the list of names and contemplation given in the list of powers. So, perhaps we got our dichotomies wrong: perhaps it’s Vacdez/Waġdās and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs that are in a better dichotomy of contemplation and labor (i.e. spiritual work vs. physical work), and Meegius/Tamāġīs and Betzahuech/Baġdīswād in another of sense and object (that which perceives vs. that which is perceived). This makes sense to me, and seems to have the altar arrangement going for it as well.

This means that we can give directional associations to the four powers of Perfect Nature, too, to the rest of our correspondences:

Power Power Direction Fat
Meegius/Tamāġīs Senses East Almond oil
Betzahuech/Baġdīswād Objects West Walnut oil
Vacdez/Waġdās Contemplation South Butter
Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs Labor North Sesame oil

And, if we tie this back into our revised vignette of Hermēs Trismegistus obtaining the four powers of Perfect Nature from the four corners of Heaven, then we know which direction to face for each individual power, which could come in use for other works, but about which book III, chapter 6 of the Picatrix says nothing. These associations could certainly be explored more, but it’s not so important for the present ritual—though, as noted before, the Moonlit Hermit does use these direction associations loosely for a daily invocation of the names of the Perfect Nature.

Also, if Vacdez/Waġdās is associated with the butter and Betzahuech/Baġdīswād with the walnut oil, then what should we make of the candy made from butter and walnut oil that takes prime position in the center of the altar? This makes the confection a mixture of the spirit of contemplation (Vacdez/Waġdās) with the spirit of “things to which spirit is attracted”; this confection, then, becomes something like a symbol of Alpha and Ōmega of Perfect Nature combined. Consider it this way: we proceed from pure contemplation (Vacdez/Waġdās) through the senses (Meegius/Tamāġīs) effected by the hands (Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs) onto an object (Betzahuech/Baġdīswād). It’s probably no surprise that this confection has four ingredients, though such a confection made from almond, sesame, and walnut oils with butter alone probably wouldn’t be particularly tasty; it’s likely that the sugar and honey are supposed to be stand-ins for the almond and sesame oils (and thus incorporating Meegius/Tamāġīs and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs into the confection as well), but I’m not sure how that might be. The many grains of sugar could be thought of like the many small grains of sesame seeds and the sweetness of almonds like honey, or perhaps the pits of dates (the fruit of which would be more common to make sugar in the Old World before the cash crop of sugarcane came about) were thought of as almonds and the thick viscosity and dark color of sesame oil like honey. It’s unclear to me, but in thinking about this, I’m fairly confident in claiming that the four containers of fats around the altar represent the four spirits of Perfect Nature separately, and the confection in the middle represents their union. Also remember that the one candle we have in the ritual is to be set amidst this candy, the symbolism likely being the divine light of God filling the works of Perfect Nature.

I suppose there’s also something else that’s symbolic to note here regarding the use of butter. Of the four containers of fats, three of them are plant-based oils (sesame, almond, and walnut), but the last one of butter is animal-based. It’s not like other plant-based oils were unknown or unused—after all, consider olive oil or sunflower oil—which suggests that the use of an animal-based fat is important here. And, of all the animal-based fats, it’s not a normal fat, like lard or suet or tallow, the production of which involves killing the animal (and there’s plenty of that in the Picatrix). Rather, butter comes from milk, which is taken from an animal (cow, in this case) while it’s still alive and which itself encourages life. This is probably a sign that it’s living animals that are prioritized above plants (animal-based fat as opposed to vegetable-based fat), just as the internal is prized above the external (the power of contemplation vs. the other powers).

Beyond the above, there’s not a whole lot we might dig out as far as correspondences or associations might go for these four powers, nor is there a lot in terms of directional associations in the Picatrix to begin with; you might occasionally see “face south for this planet” (but all planets, if viewed from the northern hemisphere, would be in the southern parts of the sky if they’re above the horizon) or “go to the eastern side of a river” for a particular ritual, but that’s about it. Except, of course, for a beautiful image from book IV, chapter 3 of the Picatrix. There’s a whole lot more in this chapter in the Arabic Picatrix (and in the Atallah/Kiesel translation) than are in the Latin Picatrix (and thus the Warnock/Greer and Attrell/Porroca translations), but the title of this chapter in the Latin Picatrix is about the knowledge and secrets of the Chaldaeans…yet it’s really more about Egypt. A specific place in Egypt, no less, a special city that it calls Adocentyn, a city founded by Hermēs Trismegistus—but which in modern Egyptian Arabic is called El-Ashmunein. Those who are familiar with this place know it as a real modern city based on the ancient ruins of Khemenu, or Hermopolis Magna, the famous City of Thoth. The Picatrix gives us a lively description of this (Warnock/Greer translation):

[Hermēs Trismegistus] also it was who built, in the east of Egypt, a city twelve miles in length, in which he built a certain citadel that had four gates in its four quarters. At the eastern gate he put the image of an eagle, at the western gate the image of a bull, at the southern gate the image of a lion, and at the northern gate he built the image of a dog. He made certain spiritual essences enter into these, which used to speak in voices that issued from the images; nor could anyone pass through the portals without their permission. In that city he planted certain trees, in the midst of which he set up an arbor that bore the fruits of all generation.

At the summit of the citadel he caused to be built a certain tower, which attained a height of thirty cubits, and on the summit of it he commanded to be put a sphere, the color of which changed in every one of the seven days. At the end of the seven days it received the color it had at first. Every day, that city was filled with the color of that sphere, and thus the aforesaid city used to shine every day with color.

Around that tower, in a circle, water abounded, in which many kinds of fish used to live. Around the city he placed diverse and changing images, by means of which the inhabitants of the city were made virtuous and freed from sin, wickedness, and sloth. The name of this city was Adocentyn. Its people were most deeply learned in the ancient sciences, their profundities and secrets, and in the science of astronomy.

A pretty nifty place, if you ask me. The Atallah/Kiesel translation, following the Arabic, gives other details, too, but the Latin Picatrix has basically the same information as far as the city itself is concerned, although this city appears in a number of different Arabic texts, all with mostly the same structure but slightly different details from text to text. Given that we’re taking a Picatrix-centric approach, we’ll stick with what we have in the Picatrix. What I want to point out here, though, are three things:

  • This city is built by none other than Hermēs Trismegistus (or founded or otherwise centered on him, at any rate, given the historical connection to Thoth)
  • There are four gates, each with a different animal facing a different direction
  • The central citadel of the city is a tower that shifts colors every day, one color per planet for that day, to fill the whole city with light

Of the four animals used to watch over the gates to the city of Adocentyn, three should look intensely familiar to students of Abrahamic religion and modern Hermetic lodge-based systems: the four living creatures of Ezekiel 1. These are the seraphim, and seen as sacred bearers of the throne of God with four faces, that of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Later in the New Testament, Revelation 4:6-8 describes similar creatures, which are associated with the Four Evangelists (Matthew as man, Mark as the lion, Luke as the ox, and John as the eagle). Admittedly, it is somewhat hilarious to see a dog replace the station of man, but the similarities here cannot be denied. Bear in mind, too, that Hermēs took on another form as Hermanubis, the cynocephalic deity who was also related to the worship of Hermēs and Thoth, and also that the dog is a holy animal associated with Thoth along with the ibis and the baboon.

Consider what this gives us as far as the vignette of Perfect Nature, though, made all the stronger by both this and the holy city of Adocentyn/El-Ashmunein/Khemenu both being associated with Hermēs Trismegistus! We now have something directional and symbolic to latch on to for our four powers of the Perfect Nature, giving the following:

  • Meegius/Tamāġīs, the Eagle of the East
  • Betzahuech/Baġdīswād, the Bull of the West
  • Vacdez/Waġdās, the Lion of the South
  • Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs, the Dog of the North

Now, I don’t mean to say that these four powers are four individual spirits, as we discussed earlier; though some might interpret the Picatrix to say so, I think that’s a misreading of the text, and that these are four attributes, powers, skills, or abilities that the spirit of Perfect Nature can give us access to. After all, to use the Adocentyn image, the gate is not the city, but the gate provides access to it—and Hermēs as ruler of the city did empower each statue with its own presence, if not entity, to protect the city and permit only those who sought permission to enter. Besides, not only were these statues guards, however, but in other Arabic works describing the city, according to Okasha El-Daly’s Egyptology: The Missing Millennium, these were statues of “priests holding scrolls of scientific works”, and whoever wanted to learn a science “went to its particular statue, stroked it with his hand and then stroked his breast, thus transferring the science to himself”. I like the sound of this, personally.

But consider: the four living creatures (substituting man with dog) have long-standing elemental associations, too. Their use in the Golden Dawn and other modern Hermetic lodge-based magical systems is well-known, to be sure, but we even find such an association going back at least as early as Agrippa himself (book II, chapter 7), giving the lion to Fire, the eagle to Air, the man to Water, and the ox to Earth. These can also be seen as the four fixed signs of the Zodiac, with the lion as Leo, the eagle (via the constellation Aquila) to Scorpio, the man to Aquarius, and the ox to Taurus—and it’s in these four signs that many pagans and neopagans celebrate those famous cross-quarter days as approximations of the midpoints of these signs. (And, based on my own planning of geomantic holy days, this means we could also give Adam to the Bull of the West, Enoch to the Lion of the South, Hermēs to the Eagle of the East, and Daniel to the Dog of the North based on their shared zodiacal correspondences, but this is neither here nor there.)

Now, granted, we’d have to pick between the directional correspondences and those to the living creatures (Fire is given to both the East and to the Lion, but here we have the Lion in the South), but let’s stick to the symbolic association first, since we know our directions are set from our altar setup. We also know, from such texts as the Asclepius and other parts of the Stobaean Fragments in the Hermetic canon, that the Egyptians considered the land of the world to be like a body, with the head in the south, the legs and feet in the north, the right side of the body in the east, and the left side of the body in the west. This means we can tie in the four powers of Perfect Nature to the elements and parts of the body as well:

Power Power Direction Symbol Element Body Fat
Meegius/Tamāġīs Senses East Eagle Air Right side Almond oil
Betzahuech/Baġdīswād Objects West Bull Earth Left side Nut oil
Vacdez/Waġdās Contemplation South Lion Fire Head Butter
Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs Labor North Dog Water Legs and feet Sesame oil

Looking at the elemental correspondences we’ve built up by means of the animals associated with the directions for the four powers, it makes sense why these powers would have these elements:

  • The power of pure contemplation (Vacdez/Waġdās) is given to Fire, the holiest and noblest of the elements that ties us directly to the divine source of all illumination, that of the Divine. This is the purely internal power of Perfect Nature, and the one that all the other powers serve and assist with—just as the Lion is the king of all beasts. Just as we pointed out earlier with this power being associated with the only animal-based substance on the altar (butter) being more important than the rest, just as the Lion is king of the beasts, so too is contemplation king of the powers. Appropriately, although the heart was considered supreme in Egyptian thought, this is given to the head being in the South, fitting for the internal power of the mind alone.
  • The power of sense (Meegius/Tamāġīs) is given to Air. Like the Eagle from up high perceiving all around, this is the ability to spiritually perceive and know the various spiritual presences, entities, powers, influences, and impulses in the world. It is, after all, the very air that transmits sights, sounds, and perceptions from the thing perceived to the thing doing the perceiving. And, like the Eagle, once we perceive something we need, we can dive down to the river to pluck what we need, interacting with it, which leads to…
  • The power of labor (Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs) is given to Water. On the face of it, this is a little weird, as dogs are not really aquatic animals. But Water is known to link, conjoin, and commute all things—water, after all, is the universal solvent, in which all things can be mixed. The dog, too, is a beast of burden and a beast of labor, which protects us, guides us, warns us, and helps us in our ways. Likewise, being in the North, the Egyptians would have recognized this as the legs and body of the world—limbs for labor, indeed.
  • The power of objects (Betzahuech/Baġdīswād) is given to Earth, which is pretty obvious. This is the power of the material substances we work, understanding them, their properties, and their uses in our work. Just as the bull (the only herbivore of these four animals) is focused on and grazes on the produce of the Earth, this is the one power that’s entirely external and based most on the study and observation of the world itself. If we use the right hand to reach out to perceive what’s out there in the world, then we use the left hand to hold things and get a sense for what we have and can make use of.

(And, to offer a variation on the geomantic progenitor assignment, we could use these elemental associations instead of their zodiacal ones given above to instead give Enoch to the Eagle of the East, Hermēs to the Dog of the North, and Daniel to the Lion of the South, with Adam remaining for the Bull of the West. Personally, based on the actual powers alone, I’d be more symbolically inclined to give Hermēs to the Lion in the South, Enoch to the Eagle in the East, Daniel to the Dog in the North, but I can see arguments for and against any of these associations. Still, again, this is neither here nor there.)

And yes, I am aware that the use of the four animals above is perhaps particular to the Picatrix. As others before me have noted, this story of a sacred city of Hermēs Trismegistus appears a fair bit in various Islamic and Arabic occult texts, sometimes not even related to the city of el-Ashmunein/Khemenu itself but to another city, with variations on the animals. However, considering that our focus here is on the Picatrix alone, I feel like we can handily tie together these two chapters neatly into one overarching symbolic gesture.

Now, I want to be clear about this: I’m still sticking to my understanding that these four powers are not spirits unto themselves, and even if the name of Perfect Nature is referred to in a fourfold way, I don’t think that the Perfect Nature is at all separate from these four entities, and that the fourfold name of Perfect Nature is really just one name with four parts. However, in making these associations with the four gate-guards of Adocentyn, it might not be a bad idea to treat each power as a power unto itself for the purposes of meditation or spiritual work, understanding that they’re all four different aspects of the abilities of Perfect Nature, a la the Moonlit Hermit’s daily practice of calling on “the four spirits of Perfect Nature”. Personally, I’d be most inclined to recite the whole fourfold name of Perfect Nature on the misbaḥa (Islamic prayer beads) 99 times, once in each direction, but that’s just me. I suppose, given the imagery, we could face east and intone or vibrate each name, visualizing each beast manifesting in its proper direction around us, and at the end recite all four names together as the spirit of Perfect Nature (or otherwise an illuminating, enlightening ray from Heaven) descending upon us. This bears some similarities to the whole image of the City of Adocentyn, but we’ll talk about that soon enough.

Anyway, while I’m certain there’s more that could yet be said about further associations of the four powers of Perfect Nature, we are getting off-track here all the same. This was a nice detour to take, and I’m glad I was able to talk about some of the symbolic associations we could make to the four powers, but let’s be honest—even some of this feels like a stretch to me. I like the idea of it all to link the four powers to the four guardians of Adocentyn, with a relationship to one’s Perfect Nature being a sort of spiritual construction of an internal Adocentyn, but so much of this is so circumstantial and hypothetical. Still, even as that may be, it’s useful to consider to expand upon some of our conceptions of these ideas and to link them to other symbols to rely on.

At any rate, we were in the middle of preparing ourselves and our ritual area for the actual rite of communion with Perfect Nature. We’ll actually get to that next time, so stay tuned!