On the Megaloschema

Today, as many of my readers in the West are probably aware, is Good Friday as reckoned by Western Christianity as the annual holiday that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the fifth day of Holy Week and the first of the Paschal Triduum leading up to Easter Sunday, which properly celebrates the resurrection of Christ, the most important holy day in the Christian calendar.  I don’t need to get into the specifics of this holiday and celebration, given its huge importance in the rites of Christianity specifically and Christian-influenced Western culture generally, nor do I really celebrate this holiday.  After all, I’m not baptized as a Christian, nor was I raised as one, nor do I profess it myself as my religion.  Indeed, although Christianity has a huge influence on my own magical practices, especially where saints and angels are concerned, my recent spiritual practices are taking me in my own Hermetic deist way apart from the usual stuff of Christianity.  Still, that’s not to say that I’m entirely abandoning the Christian influences, at least where they’re appropriate.  And today, on the commemoration of the Passion of Christ, I’d like to talk a bit about one of my favorite pieces of Christian graphical design: the Megaloschema, the Great Schema.

Properly speaking, this design is one found in Eastern Christianity, especially Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox practices, and generally reserved for use as a special vestment given to monks who have attained a high degree of spiritual accomplishment and retraction from the world, for whom the title “Megaloschemos” is given.  It’s a profound mark of spirituality, and comes at no small cost or effort to those who have earned the rite, with some sects only giving it to monks and nuns on their deathbed.  Plus, let’s be honest: those who wear it look like a wizard’s sartorial wet dream.

It’s also densely packed with symbolism, all tied to the Passion of Jesus Christ, the climax of the trials and tribulations that Christ faced at the end of his earthly life that led up to the Resurrection.  Although the standard emblem of Christianity is the simple Cross (more properly, a crucifix, which is a cross plus the body of Christ), which acts as a reminder of the sacrifice of the Son of God for the sake of the salvation of the world, the Megaloschema is the Cross plus quite a bit more.

My good friend and colleague Michael Lux of Necromantic Matters tipped me off to the design a few years back, and I simply fell in love with it: the dense layers of symbolism, the almost cosmological patterning of the elements arranged on it, and the use of Greek acronyms and initialisms to add even more meaning to it immediately appealed to me, and so I appended it to my then-primary shrine, dedicated to my worship of God and the veneration of the seven archangels.  It fit nicely, at least, nestled under some of the chaplets I made for them to give a bit of balance.

As my practices have shifted more and more away from Christianity, however, I found that I was using this particular shrine less and less, and when I started to reorganize and clean up my temple space, shrines, and altars after my Year in White in 2017 and again more recently at the end of 2018 and the start of this year, I realized that, even though I don’t have as much personal adoration of the Cross anymore, I still adore the use of the Megaloschema.  I kept that little, dinky cutout where it was.  By necessity, it was dinky; I couldn’t find a good high-resolution image of it anywhere except for other variants of the pattern that didn’t have as much detail or as many elements on it, so I kept it at the small size that it was.

Well, when I redid my temple space, I moved around a few shrines and cleaned up some other things.  One of the things I moved around was my shrine to the Hieromartyr of Antioch, Saint Cyprian of Antioch with Saint Justina and Saint Theocistus.  Originally, I had drawn a somewhat elaborate pattern in chalk on the wall above and behind the shrine, consisting of a Cross, a skull-and-bones, a cauldron, a crozier, and other images relevant to the work I was doing at the time with St. Cyprian.  I don’t have a good picture of the specific design I drew, but you can see parts of it in this one picture I took of the shrine during the Days of the Cyprians from 2018:

When I cleaned my temple space up, I decided to wipe off the chalk drawing from the wall (it was getting faded anyway) and rotated the shrine around so that it faced a new direction.  The shrine looked fresher and cleaner, but I still wanted something along the lines of the chalk pattern I had set up, now that the space was a bit clearer.  At that moment, I realized that the Megaloschema would have been perfect for the Cyprian shrine; after all, still being a publicly-venerated saint in Eastern Christianity and definitely fulfilling the qualities that a monastic would have that would permit them the use of the Megaloschema, it seemed appropriate enough, especially given how symbolically rich—and, frankly, how just simply magical—the design is.  Yet, as before, I couldn’t find a design that was clear enough or high-resolution enough for the shrine.

So I made one.

This is pretty packed with symbolism, so let’s break it down into its individual components:

  • The True Cross, the instrument of the execution of Christ upon which Christ was killed by the world and, in so doing, conquered the death of the world
  • The tilted beam on the Cross, tilted up to the right of Christ signifying the ascension of the thief on his right to Heaven
  • The Title of the Cross placed on top, put up to mock Christ
  • The crown of thorns used to crown Christ, encircling the four nails used to pierce the body of Christ
  • A darkened sun, indicating the eclipse that occurred at the moment of the death of Christ
  • A moon with three stars, indicating the three days Christ died, descended into Hell, and returned at his Resurrection
  • The Holy Lance, the spear of Longinus that pierced the side of Christ
  • The Holy Sponge on a reed of hyssop, used to give Christ vinegar to drink (most likely not vinegar-vinegar but posca, a diluted vinegar-wine drink consumed regularly by soldiers, lower-classes, and the poor)
  • The rooster, facing away from the Cross, being the cock that crowed three times for the denials of Peter
  • The column, to which Christ was fastened and flailed 39 times
  • The ladder used by Joseph of Arimathea, the man who assumed responsibility for burying Christ, to bring the body of Christ down from the Cross
  • The pitcher used to wash the body of Christ, and also that which he used to wash the feet of his disciples
  • The Holy Chalice, or the Holy Grail, used by Christ at the Last Supper
  • The hammer used to fix the nails into the body of Christ
  • The pincers used to remove the nails from the body of Christ
  • The flail used on the body of Christ
  • The skull and bones, being those of Adam, the First Man, buried at Golgotha where Christ was crucified

There are other items that could be included, based on the traditional items associated with the Passion of Christ collectively known as the Arma Christi, but I found the above to be enough and all fairly traditional based on the versions of the Megaloschema I could find.

And, of course, the Greek letters (note the use of the lunate sigma, Ϲ, in the image above, instead of the usual sigma, Σ, in the descriptions below):

  • ΘΕΟΣ (Θεός) — Literally just the word God
  • ΟΒΤΔ (Ο Βασιλεύς της Δόξης) — The King of Glory
  • ΙΣ ΧΣ ΝΙΚΑ (Ιησούς Χριστός Νικά) — Jesus Christ gonquers
  • ΤΤΔΦ (Τετιμημένον Τρόπαιον Δαιμόνων Φρίκη) — Honored trophy, dread of demons
  • ΡΡΔΡ (Ρητορικοτέρα Ρητόρων Δακρύων Ροή) — A flow of tears more eloquent than orators
  • ΧΧΧΧ (Χριστός Χριστιανοίς Χαρίζει Χάριν) — Christ bestows grace upon Christians
  • ΞΓΘΗ (Ξύλου Γεύσις Θάνατον Ηγαγεν) — The tasting of the Tree brought Death
  • ΣΞΖΕ (Σταυρού Ξύλοω Ζωήν Εύρομεν) — Through the Tree of Life have we found Life
  • ΕΕΕΕ (Ελένης Εύρημα Εύρηκεν Εδέμ) — The discovery of Helen has uncovered Eden
  • ΦΧΦΠ (Φως Χριστού Φαίνοι Πάσι) — The Light of Christ shines upon all
  • ΘΘΘΘ (Θεού Θέα Θείον Θαύμα) — The vision of God, a divine wonder
  • ΤΣΔΦ (Τύπον Σταυρού Δαίμονεσ Φρίττοσιν) — Demons dread the sign of the Cross
  • ΑΔΑΜ (Αδάμ) — Literally just the name Adam
  • ΤΚΠΓ (Τόποσ Κρανίου Παράδεισος Γέγονε) — The place of the Skull has become Paradise
  • ΞΖ (Ξύλον Ζωής) — The Tree of Life
  • ΠΑΓΗΔΤΠ — The first letter of the seven sayings of Jesus Christ on the Cross:
    • Πάτερ, ἄφες αὐτοῖς, οὐ γὰρ οἴδασιν τί ποιοῦσιν. — “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
    • Ἀμήν σοι λέγω σήμερον μετ’ ἐμοῦ ἔσῃ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ. — “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
    • Γύναι, ἴδε ὁ υἱός σου·  Ἴδε ἡ μήτηρ σου. — “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” (John 19:26-27)
    • Ἠλὶ ἠλὶ λεμὰ σαβαχθάνι;— “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)
    • Διψῶ. — “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
    • Τετέλεσται. — “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
    • Πάτερ, εἰς χεῖράς σου παρατίθεμαι τὸ πνεῦμά μου. — “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Despite the beauty and dense symbolism of this severe symbol of the Passion, the Megaloschema is really only limited to Eastern Christian practices; it’s not really found in Western Christianity.  That is, except for one surprising icon: the Icon of the Seven African Powers, more commonly known as Las Siete Potencias Africanas, a fun amalgamation of Christian Passion- and saint-related imagery mixed in with African orisha syncretism:

Around the edge of the icon are seven different saint images for the seven most popular orisha from Yòrubá and Lukumí orisha religion.  Starting at the lower right corner and going clockwise from there, they are:

Interestingly, these seven saint images (given in oval shapes, much like Roman Catholic saint medallions) are bound together by a chain with seven tools hanging from the bottom of them: a machete, hammer, spear, hoe, pickaxe, rake, and shovel.  The chain and all these tools are associated with Ogun, the Blacksmith Warrior, the God of Iron and God in Iron, whose domain includes all metal and all implements of metal.  (He’s also my own tutelary orisha to whom I’m primarily ordained.)  Ogun plays a crucial role in orisha religion, too, and the subtle opposition between Shango (as Saint Barbara) at the top and the tools of Ogun at the bottom is a fun nod to their intense relationship.

In the center of all the saints and the chain with tools is the image of Jesus Christ on the Cross with a ladder, a spear, a sponge on a rod, a sword, a pitcher, dice, a skull, a lantern, a column, a flail, a rooster, a darkened Sun, and other implements of the Arma Christi.  Although Jesus Christ is given the name Olofi (a term used in Lukumí for the cosmocrator and creator orisha, i.e. God), we have fundamentally the same exact setup and iconography as the Megaloschema of Eastern Christianity in this icon of heavily-syncretized Western Christianity.  It’s a delightful mashup of names and symbols that appeals to me, even if I don’t much care for the art style that’s commonly used in Western Christian iconography.  Yet, it’s also incredibly confusing and amazing how the Megaloschema got blended in with African diasporic syncretized Christianity in the New World; since I don’t actively work with the specific folk traditions that produced this image, I’m honestly not sure how this particular icon of the Seven African Powers came about.  It might be something fun to research one day, especially since I’m already in orisha religion as it is.

These are just some of my thoughts on this Good Friday; I had the idea to write a post about the Megaloschema for some time now, but it didn’t seem to come together until this morning, fittingly enough.  For all of my Christian readers, rejoice, for soon your Lord will be risen!  For all my other readers, I hope you have a wonderful start to your weekend.

Also, PSA: don’t forget that today is the Feast of Saint Expedite!  Go honor our good friend who loves to help us quickly, quickly, immediately, immediately, crushing the demon that cries “tomorrow, tomorrow!” and holding the divine power of Today, today!  Get him a poundcake, some wine, some cigarettes, some dice, and some flowers to honor this good saint who wards off procrastination and who helps speed us on our way speedily.

Also, another PSA: today, April 19 2019, the weather for the United States has quite a bit of rain headed our way on the East Coast as well as in the Pacific Northwest.  This is an excellent day to put out your bins, basins, bowls, buckets, and all other rainwater collection instruments you might have, since today is not only Good Friday and the Feast of Saint Expedite, but also a full moon (exact at 7:12 am Eastern US time this morning); such a confluence of dates is pretty rare, so take advantage of it all!  Beyond just simply being rainwater, with all its normal spiritual uses, today’s rainwater would have exceedingly strong spiritual powers, potencies, and uses for quite a number of ends.  Be safe when you’re traveling and commuting today, and collect that rainwater!

 

When God Says No: On True Will and the Will of God

Yesterday, we started talking about a number of questions from Curious Cat that focused on the role of angels in magical work, and what happens when they don’t show up or don’t do what we ask, command, or commission them to do for us.  This is a really complex topic, at least so complex that I can’t really answer it in the 3000 character limit that Curious Cat sets for question replies, but I’m trying to flesh it out as best as I can here on my blog.  Again, I’m approaching this from a Hermetic monist-yet-polytheist standpoint that takes in the existence of both angels and gods under God in the same creation that we’re in.  What we ended up with so far is this idea that we can’t really command angels to do anything; all we can do is pray that they do something for us, whether it’s appearing in a crystal for a conjuration or fulfilling some task or teaching us some mystery.  And when we make such prayers, we’re directing those prayers to God, because angels exist solely to fulfill the will of God; that’s their nature.  Angels don’t have free will; their will is the will of God, or they just constantly and forever want the exact same thing God wants in the exact same way, and will act in their capacities to fulfill the will of God.  This means that it’s our prayers to God that matter more than the presence or help of the angels, and there are lots of reasons why prayers might not be answered: sometimes it’s because we’re not asking for what’s possible according to the will of God, and sometimes it’s best we don’t get what we want because it’s not for us or because we’re not ready for it yet.

What it all comes down to is this: we, as human beings, are blessed with quite a lot of power, but it’s not infinite power.  We’re actually quite small and insignificant in the grander scope of the cosmos, but we still have some significance.  That significance plays through our True Will, which is a fancy modern way to describe “our path in life”, the purpose and plan of God that God has established for us as individuals as written in his Book of Life.  Everything we do in life, in order to be successful, has to be either in explicit accordance with our True Will or at least tolerated and permissible within the bounds of what our True Will necessitates; to give a mundane example, it’s necessary that I leave my house at 7:20 am to go get to the train station on time, but that doesn’t mean I have to wake up at 6 am in order to be sufficiently ready, because I have the freedom to wake up earlier or later so long as I’m out the door by 7:20 am.  Likewise, we have to live according to our True Will, whether or not we’re consciously aware of it, but we also have leeway to do things explicitly outside it because it doesn’t fundamentally matter one way or another, so long as we’re not doing things that actively go against our True Will.

When we act in accordance with our True Will, then we’re acting in accordance with the will of God, and we effectively become his angels for as long as our will is his will, and so long as that synchronization is maintained, there is nothing that can stop us; we might be delayed, slowed down, or face other difficulties in accomplishing it according to the usual vicissitudes of life and the struggles we face against the ignorant actions of ourselves or other human beings or the inimical actions of malevolent spirits, but God will not bar us or deny us from it, because it is his will that we should do the thing we’re doing.  When we act within the permissibility of our True Will, then what we’re doing may not be explicitly necessitated or mandated by God, but we have the license to act on it anyway because it doesn’t fundamentally matter one way or another so long as we get the right things done in the right way.  But when we act outside the permissibility of our True Will, then we go against the will of God, and there is nothing we can do that will change that, and we’re off-track from the proper path for ourselves in life.

The topic of True Will is one that I’ve talked about time and again on my blog in the past, and I think I’ve made some really important points on this before:

When we follow and carry out our True Wills, things generally go easier for us, since they’re increasingly tied into the things we’re doing.  We encounter fewer and fewer difficulties, since we’re effectively carrying out our roles to play in the cosmos, and “if God is for us, who can be against us”?  Sure, we might still attract haters (who will, after all, continue to hate on ‘choo), but when we work our Will on the cosmos, people who would interfere with us are either brought over to our side and begin helping us instead, or are drowned out, burned up, or otherwise silenced and made powerless to counteract or contradict us.  Plus, the more we work our True Will, the more we begin to find and associate with those who are also carrying out their Will, and since they’re doing what they must for the cosmos, it’ll naturally fall in line and correlate with what we must do for the cosmos, as two players on opposite sides of an orchestra play harmoniously in the whole.

It’s only when someone else messes up their part and trashes their Will so badly that it ends up careening into yours that can cause problems, like a planet that suddenly shifts out of orbit and collides into other planets, or a player in an orchestra that decides to start playing a march when everyone else is playing a waltz just to confuse others.  Sometimes this is out of earnest confusion and spiritual flailing, sometimes this is out of deliberate spite and (mis- or ab-)use of their power and Will.  This can certainly cause issues, and can even put a cold damper or shut down the flame of one who’s actually working their Will as they should.  All it needs is a bit of correction on both our part and the parts of others to get everything singing harmoniously again, and then we’ll all be aweseome again as we should.

In a way, the idea of True Will is starting to sound a lot like Grace to me: just as Grace is not a reward, neither is True Will, but they’re both the state and result of being doing the highest Good, of becoming properly Godly, and coming to truly know yourself, your origins, and your duty. (January 31, 2013)

So too is the wand of the magician not used as a blasting rod or an offensive weapon, but it’s used as a mark of divine right and being rightly divine.  The wand should be used to remind the magician and guide them to their True Will, not used to enforce their temporary will onto others.  After all, if one is following their True Will, then pretty much all else will fall into place accordingly (except in dire or unusual circumstances when other work must be applied).  The image of control that the wand bestows is just that, an illusory image; it’s the obedience of entities to their proper stations in the cosmos that the wand reminds them of, and helps them fall into place when in the presence of one who is effectively sent from on high.  To use  the wand to simply force or bind something to the whimsy of the magician is to abuse the authority given to the magician, and when abused enough, the magician incurs punishment just as Chinese emperors might lose the Mandate of Heaven. (October 11, 2013)

What do we, as conjurers and magicians and magi, do?  We take our divine birthright as children of the Most High and join with him in the ever-continuing act of creation of the cosmos.  We ask for the blessing of God to do what is Right and to enact our True Wills, thereby rejoining God in his infinite Grace.  We step into the role as agents of the Divine, of the Most Divine, to work with the spirits who are our relatives, who are our brothers and sisters from the same Source, and who endeavor to aid us as they aid the Divine themselves.  We, essentially, become a consciously direct extension of God and join with God.  I’m going to stop this little poetic waxing short of saying “we become God”, because we already are essentially part of the Prime Mover down in this little ass-end of the cosmos, but we come closest to it consciously when we do our Work.

There are points when working with the spirits simply does not work; as Fr. Rufus Opus has said, the general idea is “move  this or move me”, where either a thing desired is changed or made in the world or where we ourselves are changed if nothing else can be changed.  God, clearly, can change everything, since that’s pretty much his thing; nothing disobeys God, since everything is a part of God and works as part of the One, the cohesive Whole.  But, that said, by moving ourselves, we partake in that same action, and bring ourselves closer to becoming what we need to Be and do what we need to Do; in these cases, we bring ourselves closer to attaining and carrying out our True Wills.  This is also the same in all other instances when working with the spirits gets us results in the external world. (November 2, 2013)

This ties in tightly to notions of True Will and divine providence, too, and the ideas are similar.  When we do what God wants us to do, carrying out and serving our divine purpose, that’s our True Will, the will we are meant to fulfill which we ourselves can know once we can see ourselves clearly enough.  To do that, however, we have to carry out the Great Work, which helps us prepare ourselves across the four parts of the world and begin to hear and use Logos.  This allows our sensible, material bodies to better heed and serve our souls, which can then develop properly into a fully-knowledgeable and divine soul with Nous.  With Nous being known to ourselves, we then can carry out what it is we’re supposed to do; at that point, any distinction between what we want and what God wants is meaningless, because our wills have become God’s will and vice versa. (December 8, 2013)

I’ve brought up the idea before that, if we envision the whole grand scheme of things, the Cosmos, as a giant machine, then everyone is a gear in that machine. So long as we keep on doing what we need to do, every part works in harmony with every other part, and the machine works well. If even one part, however, gets out of sync or decides to revolt, then much of the rest of the system we find ourselves in can malfunction or break down, and other parts have to accommodate the malfunction until things get into proper working order again. (This is why life isn’t perfect, I suppose.) Kalagni of Blue Flame Magick once described this to me (in a discussion on True Will) as how a solar system works: the planets don’t need to think or plan or consciously strive towards orbiting the Sun, they just do it naturally as an expression of their selves and their purpose. But imagine, dear reader, if a rogue planet suddenly whipped itself into our solar system, or worse, imagine if one of our own planets suddenly got a wild hare up its axis of rotation and jumped out of its orbit. What happens? The other planets get knocked out of their own orbits, potentially colliding with other planets or celestial bodies, and the whole system gets out of whack until it finds a new equilibrium to settle down in. There’s no guarantee that this equilibrium will be equivalent to the previous one, or that the solar system as a whole will survive such an accident, but hey, shit happens. The Cosmos will do what it needs to do in order to work out its own problems, and its our job to make sure that we do our own Work accordingly to handle our Will, regardless of what the vicissitudes of fate throw at us. (February 12, 2017)

When you seek to work against your True Will, you cause problems, and the only solution is to get back in line with your True Will; there is no other option or alternative, and as I said earlier, no angel, demon, ghost, or god will make what you seek permissible without them going against their own True Wills.  Yes, other entities have their own True Wills.  It stands to reason that if we have a particular purpose in the creation of the Creator, then so does everyone and everything else, too, with the same kinds of boundaries and limits, just on different scales and with different scopes.  I brought this up in my answer to that last question from Curious Cat, since the question referenced other deities as examples of ones one might go to when God himself says “no”, one of which was the orisha Yemaya:

Since you bring up Yemaya, my mother in Ocha who’s extraordinarily dear to my heart (though my father and crown is Ogun), I can phrase this in a more Ocha-centric way. In Ocha theology, there are all these orisha, the divinities of the world, but there’s a hierarchy among them, with Obatala as king of the orisha. But Obatala is not the almighty all-ruler of the cosmos; that role goes to Olodumare (or Olorun or Olofi, they’re all basically the same), the divine creator of the whole cosmos. All things exist to carry out the will of Olodumare, including the orisha; as oloshas, we don’t interact with Olodumare because ey’s so far distant and removed from our day-to-day life, but instead, we interact with eir’s emissaries, stewards, and regents: the orisha. They cannot go against the will of Olodumare, who sets the laws for everything and everyone, but within their own domains, they have the power to work and act. So long as Olodumare grants them license to do so, they can do what they want.

Heck, even in orisha religion, there’s a notion that “no orisha can bless you if your own Ori does not accept it”.  Ori, in this case, is a special kind of head spirit that we all have, initiated or not, and is a kind of notion of “higher self” as well as our own “spirit of destiny”.  In many ways, if I were to translate it in to Western Hermtic terms, it’s essentially the spirit of our True Will.  If we ask for something but our Ori says “nope”, then it’s not part of your destiny to receive it, and no orisha will be able to give it to you, even if they want to give it to you or if you want to get it from them.  But if your Ori says “yup”, then it doesn’t matter whether we want the thing or not, because it’s part of our destiny to have it; we might delay on it or we might speed up towards it, but we can’t avoid it, and no orisha will be able to stop it, no matter how hard they try.  There might be ways to ameliorate or “fix” one’s destiny, but it’s limited, and even then, defaults back to the will of Olodumare (i.e. the will of God).

Even in Hellenic traditional religion, there’s a notion that Zeus is not just the king of Olympos, but the king of truly the entire cosmos whose power and rule is absolute, and whose will must be obeyed by all.  I dimly recall a scene from the Iliad (I forget where) where Zeus proclaims his own power, saying that if all the other gods and goddesses and spirits held on to the end of an unbreakable rope and if Zeus alone had it wrapped around his little finger, he could still yank the rope with such force as to fling all the other deities to the far ends of the world with just a nudge.  The will of Zeus is absolute, and no things can go against that supreme will; though Zeus is not necessarily a creator deity, he is still a cosmocrator all the same; he just happens to go along with his own designs and plans and will when he “obeys” the powers of other deities such as Anankē (Necessity) or the Moirai (Fates), because he does not permit himself to break the rules that he himself has set in conjunction with the other deities that establish the purpose and path of all things.

Consider it this way: in order to get around mental blocks about fighting against God when God says “no”, replace the word “God” (or “Olodumare” or “Zeus” or any other cosmocrator/creator deity) with the phrase “the fundamental nature of the cosmos”.  Thus, when the fundamental nature of the cosmos says “yes”, there’s nothing that can stop it from happening, and when the fundamental nature of the cosmos says “no”, there’s nothing that can make it happen.  Likewise, to get around the mental blocks when angels or any particular deity or divinity say “no”, replace the word “angels” or “other gods” with the phrase “the fundamental forces of the cosmos”.  When the fundamental forces of the cosmos say “yes”, that’s because the fundamental nature of the cosmos necessitates that those forces act in a certain way in order for the cosmos to maintain its nature; when the fundamental forces of the cosmos say “no”, that’s because the fundamental nature of the cosmos cannot allow those forces to function in that way in accordance with the rules that the fundamental nature of the cosmos set up and plays by.  However, those same fundamental forces of the cosmos may function in ways that produce interesting and perhaps unexpected side effects or which produce emergent properties that arise from particular combinations or edge-cases of forces interacting; these don’t go against the fundamental nature of the cosmos, but are still part of the cosmos because of how those forces work.  A force will do whatever it will do, and given the proper setting and context, it can and will do a lot, especially if there’s nothing stopping it, but it cannot do what it was not designed to do nor can it do anything when it has no power in a particular situation or context.

This is essentially where fate and destiny come into play, because “fate” is essentially “the course that the fundamental nature of the cosmos will take”, and it’s up to us to live our lives in accordance with fate, just as one can’t really go upstream down a torrentially-flowing river.  The thing is that we can go with it or fight against it; whether we’re successful or not is, ultimately, up whether what we’re doing is in accordance with that destiny and whether it plays a role in accomplishing it.  It sounds like, in the debate between fate vs. free will, all the above argues against free will and for the undeniable power of fate.  And yes!  That’s true.  But it’s also true that, from our point of view, we have freedom of choice and freedom of will, to be sure.  We don’t have to go along with the the fundamental nature of the cosmos, but it probably won’t end well, and even within the boundaries of the fundamental nature of the cosmos, we can still do a lot that the fundamental nature of the cosmos hasn’t explicitly mandated, often including how we do what we need to do.  After a certain point in the cosmos, the distinction between fate and free will becomes moot; you just do what you’re supposed to do, not because you don’t have a choice, but because you capital-W Want to.

For as important and wonderful and powerful as we are as human beings, we are still so small and weak.  The cosmos is filled with things far bigger, older, smarter, cleverer, and stronger than us.  Sometimes we can fight against them, and on occasion, we might even win.  In general, though, issues with authority will only cause you problems, and issues with the underlying authority of all of creation itself won’t get you very far at all.  When we appeal to God for help, we might get it, or we might not; it’s not up to us to demand it, because quite frankly, the cosmos owes you nothing at all.  You were made to fulfill some purpose or role; strive for that, because all else is meaningless in the end!  If you want something and you’re both meant to have it and capable of having it, then it will be yours; if you want something and you’re meant to have it but you’re not capable of having it, then start working on being capable of having it so that it can be yours; if you  want something and you’re not meant to have it, then accept it and move on to the things that you’re meant to have.  This is not an easy lesson to learn, because this is fundamentally the lesson of humility before God: “be it done unto me according to your word”.  We might be kings of our spheres and worlds, but there are still higher powers that we, too, must obey in order for our kingdoms to survive.  We are both ruler of that which is below and within and servant to that which is above and without.

This is essentially the whole point of our Great Work, our Magnum Opus, our True Will: we must learn what is appropriate and best for us, then work towards accomplishing it.  It’s not a one-and-done event that you can spend a month studying for then doing a simple ritual one night and going to bed and partying for the rest of your life; it’s literally the constant work of lifetimes, the most important and the most difficult thing we can ever do and ever be doing.  By that very same token, it’s also the most worthy, worthwhile, valuable, and precious thing we can ever hope to accomplish, and there is nothing we can do that is truly worthy of such a blessing and reward except to simply do it.  That we have the means and capability of fulfilling our fate is, in a sense, true grace from God.  We just need to keep our eyes on the target, keep facing towards God, and keep learning about our True Will so that we can fulfill it, day by day, step by step, stone by stone, breath by breath, bite by bite.  One day, we’ll get there.  There is nothing else in all of creation that is as worthy, or as difficult, than for us to fulfill what we were meant to do.

Whether we get what we want doesn’t ultimately matter, regardless whether or not we get it.  It’s whether we get what we Want that matters.

When God Says No: On God and the Angels

Yes, another post from Curious Cat.  It’s honestly a great way for people to reach out to me, and it gives me a ready store of ideas for posts to write about.  (I’ve been asking for comments on my website, Facebook, and Twitter for ages for when people would like to ask questions, but people either just don’t do that or don’t generally trigger a post-writing reaction.)  Plus, according to Human Design (which my blessed sister studies and practices), I’m a so-called “manifesting generator” type, who responds well to being asked questions in order to produce and effect wonderful things.  But unlike other posts about things that come from questions on Curious Cat, this post is gonna be a little different; we’re going to discuss a common thread that ties together several different questions that were asked, all largely pertaining to angels, their role in the cosmos, how we interact with them, how we’re permitted to interact with them, and what their relationship is to God.  To give a brief summary of the questions asked and my replies to them:

  • Where do angels come from, and what are they?  God made them to carry out his will in infinitesimal slices of divine presence, made discrete and distinct to govern over specific things, entities, events, or phenomena of the cosmos.  Angels have no free will; by definition, their will is the will of God and vice versa, so that they act strictly and solely in accordance with, for, by, and to God.
  • If angels have no free will, then when we invoke or conjure an angel and commission it with a request, it can only fulfill this request if God wills it? Yes!  All the conjurations we do in the Western Hermetic and Solomonic tradition of higher entities, if we’re not taking the rather old-school approach of assuming divine power ourselves and browbeating the cosmos into complying with our (temporarily-assumed) divine will, is to supplicate God through prayer to reveal that he send his angels to us in his name for his honor and glory.  Thus, when we call on an angel, we’re essentially asking God to graciously give his permission for the angel to be sent to us, because God’s will and God’s will alone is what allows all things to happen; how much more this is the case, then, for entities whose sole purpose is to perfectly and only fulfill the will of God!
  • What sort of behavior do angels hate?  It depends on what they’re the angel of, but in general, angels don’t really “hate” because they don’t really do emotion, since they’re the embodiments of and agents for the will of God.  In that sense, angels “hate” anything that goes contrary to the will, design, aims, and goals of God—and, by extension, all that we do that goes against our True Will, which is nothing more or less than the will of God that is right and proper for us to will and accomplish in our lifetimes.
  • How can we discover our True Will if we’re unaware of it?  This is nothing short of the first half of the Great Work; the second half is fulfilling it.  And there is nothing harder or higher than to know and do what it is what we truly Will.  This is exactly the same thing as knowing the purpose God has established for us in life.
  • Why do angels hate emotion, then? Angels don’t hate emotion; they just don’t have it, or at least in any meaningful way that we might recognize as emotion.  We might perceive or interpret them to be acting emotionally, but that’s only because we ourselves are human and thus emotive creatures, while angels are utterly devoid of humanity and completely above and beyond our level, at least or especially where emotions are concerned.  Angels don’t have free will; they don’t even roll or blink their (innumerable) eyes without God willing it.
  • If an angel is being difficult, how do we complain to its manager?  If an angel is being difficult, it’s not because the angel is acting wily or being a punk for the sake of being a punk.  If an angel declines to do something, it’s because God declines to permit that thing from occurring; it’s not that the angels decide against it, but God decides against it.  That’s why, when we pray in conjuration for an angel to appear, we pray that God grant that it should happen (see above).  If something doesn’t happen, then there’s a reason for it; we either must work towards it so that we’re ready and proper for it in the eyes of God, or we must pray for the right thing to occur, whether it involves the conjuration and commissioning of an angel to do something or whether we should do something else entirely that would be better for us to do.
  • If God is unwilling to help us, would intervention from other deities from other traditions or pantheons help instead? Maybe, but if God’s decided against it, then there’s probably a good reason for that. It could be that you should look elsewhere for help, such as from another god or using another set of spirits or practices entirely to get the same thing done rather than by directly appealing to the Highest, but it could also be that you’re asking for the wrong thing entirely or that it’s not meant for you, whether now or at all. That’s where divination is crucial for magicians: it helps us plan out what we can do, but more than that, whether we should do something. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, and if you shouldn’t, you should learn the reasons why. In other words, don’t go shopping around for a second opinion when you already got The One Opinion To Rule Them All. Keep to the principle of “move, or move me”.
  • But when it comes to other gods, don’t they also share power over our reality as well?  Absolutely!  But for all their greatness and grandness and power, they’re not as great or grand or powerful as the cosmocrator God behind them all. And that’s okay, because they don’t need to be, and it’s often better to work with them directly if you’re in such a tradition than to work with the behind-the-scenes all-ruling One, because they’re more accessible. But there are limits in place that even they can’t argue with, because they’re not in charge of literally everything like God is.

All this ended up with me saying this from that last question in the series, which I want to specifically quote with a special emphasis on one particular line:

God (and I use that term in a very general, very high-and-behind-the-scenes way as in Hermetic theology/philosophy), more often than not, doesn’t really established hard and fixed prohibitions so long as something fits (or is, at least, tolerated and permissible) within the grander scheme of things.  Even the biggest events and problems in our lives are less than specks of dust compared to the grandness of all creation, and accordingly, there’s not too much that really conflicts with the overall overarching design of God; there’s more than one way to skin a cat. But when God says “no” through the creation of the cosmos, there’s no angel, demon, ghost, or god that will say “yes”. If God says “no”, then you should find out why that might be the case and act accordingly, because more often than not, it’s with your own best interests in mind. Again, this is where divination is important, because it will tell you what’s going on, whether you can do something, and whether you should do something.

Now, there’s a lot to unpack in all of this, because I didn’t necessarily summarize everything, and Curious Cat, for all its usefulness, isn’t great for truly nuanced discussions, what with its 3000 character limit on replies, and it’s easy to get some parts of the above misunderstood.  Plus, there are things that I’m hinting at in some of my replies that really need to be said explicitly, but just couldn’t fit reasonably in the above replies within the constraints of Curious Cat.  First, let me preface this by saying that I’m coming from a position that’s largely Hermetic and Neoplatonic and fundamentally emanationist-monist within a polytheistic framework, and I recognize that not all systems of theology, cosmology, or philosophy operate on these principles—but there are still quite a number that do.  Since I’m the one being asked these questions for my opinions, and since this is my own blog, these are my thoughts on all of this.

At the core of it all, the theme of all these questions is what role God has to play in our Work, whether or not we’re monotheistic or monist, and how we relate to God in that sense.

First, what exactly is this God we’re talking about?  Coming from a Hermetic standpoint, God is the ultimate underlying authority and entity that created and creates the whole cosmos.  Without getting into the nitty-gritty of Hermetic philosophy (I did a good-enough job of that in my 49 Days of Definitions blog series from 2013 regarding the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”), God is both the end result of spiritual development and the ultimate source of all things that exist, don’t exist, might exist, etc.  Everything else that exists does so within God as part of God.  It may be said that God is fullness itself; instead of merely saying that all things exist within God, it can also be said that all things are God, and since God is all things, God is All.  However, since God is still one divinely simple entity, God is also One, and thus All is One.  God is the Platonic Good, the summum bonum of the philosophers, the object of highest knowledge and importance that is the forerunner and producer of all other objects.  God is also the Monad, the One, that which is alone in itself, made by itself endlessly (i.e. unmade), making all things, coming first; it is the one Source of all things, creating all things within itself yet never being made from anything besides itself, never taking away from itself into less nor multiplying itself into more.  God, further, encompasses all things; not only is God fully immanent in all of creation, but God also transcends all of creation, too.  Everything is permeated with divine essence, but everything is also intrinsically connected to each other and to God by it as well.

Where does that put us, as human beings?  All beings, human and otherwise that are not God are finite; they are not infinite, unending, immovable, or the like, since these are qualities that belong only to God.  Something that is finite has an end; it is defined, or set in by boundaries.  The maximum extent of these boundaries can be called something’s capacity, and nothing that is finite can exceed its own capacity.  Thus, everything that exists that is not God has a certain way of existing up to a certain point, whether it be in quantity or quality or good or evil; these things cannot act outside or beyond that point, because then it would exceed its own capacity.  A being’s capacity is, essentially, its destiny; a being does what its nature is designed to do, which is to fulfill its own capacity, but which it cannot exceed, because that would be going past what its destiny necessitates.  This is essentially our power: to fulfill our capacity, to fulfill our fate, and we have the choice of doing good or evil in a Hermetic sense, to fulfill our fate or to not fulfill it.  And that’s huge!  But, despite all this power we’re entitled to have, we’re not omnipotent; for example, our nature as humans is to die; we are mortal, after all, and the nature of things with material bodies is to die eventually.

What about other entities that aren’t human beings, such as angels or gods that are distinct from capital-G God?  They’re entities in their own rights, to be sure, and have their own capacities, natures, and roles to play.  But they’re still finite, no matter how much power they have.  Whatever something is according to its nature, that is going to be how it will be for that being.  These entities still have power, but they still exist as finite entities within creation; thus, they are still not God.  Rather, it’s God who establishes their natures and capacities, and it’s the role of those entities to fulfill them however they so choose.  Being higher than us and made of more subtle stuff and without the distractions and darkness of incarnate bodies, they also see more and know more than we do, and are necessarily closer to God than we are down here.  All the same, however, they cannot exceed their own capacities, either.

Now, I know that this might seem a little…appropriative, as if I’m trying to fit every possible tradition or religion into a single monist framework.  In a sense, yeah, because that’s what Hermeticism is, and it’s fundamentally one of the ways that Neoplatonic philosophy regards the hierarchy and workings of the cosmos.  To be sure, there isn’t just one Neoplatonism, and I’ll admit that my own philosophical background is amateurish, but it’s a thing I’ve seen and considered time and again and, simply, the framework works.  While I believe in God, I also believe in a plurality of many other gods; they’re all real, and often with varying powers, domains, personalities, temperaments, preferences, and the like.  And yet, they exist as part of creation just like I do, which is why approaching them works.  Yet, as a Hermeticist, I also recognize the existence (such as it is) of a God of gods, a God behind all creation, both within and without.  This is effectively the same God as that of Abraham or Muḥammad as well as of Hermēs Trismegistus, as well as Olodumare of the Yòrubá and Lukumí, as well as the God of the gnostics and the Good of the philosophers.  One can still be a monist without being a monotheist or monolatrist.  Even if you disagree with that approach to divinity and divinities (and I know of at least several who would with very good reasons!), accept the premise of it for the purposes of this post.

When it comes to angels, the word itself literally means “messenger” in Greek (ἄγγελος ángelos), and the notion of it in Abrahamic religions comes from the Hebrew מלאך mal’ākh meaning, again, “messenger”.  More than just being a bearer of the messages of God, however, angels are more like ambassadors, emissaries, or functionaries of God: they accomplish the will of God in every possible way, fulfilling it by governing, ruling, directing, and instructing different parts of the cosmos, essentially acting as the limbs of God and extensions of the will of God.  If we want to take the “messenger” idea a bit further in a way that comports with both Hermeticism and Christianity, consider the role of the Word; after all, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word is God”.  The “Word” of Christianity does refer to Jesus Christ, sure, but it’s also the Logos of the Hermeticists, the rational and intelligible principle that allows God (as the Nous, or Mind) to allow the cosmos to function.  In that sense, angels are messengers of the Word of God; where they bear the Word, they fulfill the will of God.

The thing about angels is that they are still only messengers; they speak the Word of God, but that is all they can speak, for that is their capacity and nature.  Angels, as extensions of the will of God, have no free will of their own; their whole purpose is to effect the will of God in the creation God made.  Whatever an angel “wants” to do is identical with what God wills; their will is inherently God’s will.  That’s why, among many other things, we can’t command an angel to do anything, because that’s equivalent to commanding God to do something, which is so far outside our finite and human capacity and capabilities that it’s laughable.  Angels cannot and do not do anything that God does not command them to do, but “command”, though a familiar concept to us coming from a Jewish, Christian, or Islamic background, isn’t really what’s happening between God and the angels; rather, God speaks his Word, and the angels bear that Word to wherever they’re going to accomplish whatever that Word is.  Angels are almost machine-like in that sense; they exist for the sole purpose of “serving God” by fulfilling the will of God.

In terms more suited to Renaissance Hermeticism, angels are “intelligences”, spiritual entities under the rule of God that guide and direct the manifestation of the forces of the cosmos.  Every force, entity, place, planet, and thing in the cosmos has its own presiding or governing angel, which can be worked with through devotional, magical, or some other kind of spiritual means.  Thus, consider Tzaphqiel, the angel of Saturn; this angel is the “governor” of that planet, and serves to establish the power, roles, functions, motions, and works of Saturn in all things in the cosmos.  Tzaphqiel, as an angel, bears the Word of God in a way that focuses on the Logos as it pertains to Saturn.  If we want to bring more Saturn power into our lives or throttle it back from our lives, we can work with Tzaphqiel to do just that.  But what if Tzaphqiel says “no”?

This is basically what a lot of these questions on Curious Cat are getting at.  Let’s step aside for a bit and consider something else for the moment: where does the nature of angels in relation to God leave us in angelic magic, whether through prayers or conjurations?  It cannot be denied that working with angels is often incredibly effective for any number of ends, and is a staple of European folk religion and folk magic as well as Hermetic, Solomonic, and other kinds of magic generally in both the West and the East.  Obviously, we don’t worship angels—that’d be idolatry, and an insult to both the angel and God—but we do venerate them and honor them, especially when thanking them or calling upon them.  But the thing is that, when we call upon them, there’s something that’s really common in much of Western magical literature that we need to carefully consider: we don’t command the angels to appear, but we ask for them to appear.  Moreover, we don’t ask the angel to appear, but we ask God that the angel appear for us.  And there are very good reasons for that.

Consider the specific conjuration prayer from Johann Trithemius’ Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals.  For clarity, let me use my own slightly reworded version, and note the specific phrasing of the prayer in the emphasized sections:

In the name of the blessed Tetragrammaton, I call upon you, you strong and mighty angel Michael, if it be the divine will of the most holy God that you take the shape that best shows your celestial nature, and appear to me visibly here in this crystal, and answer my demands in as far as I shall not transgress the bounds of divine mercy by requesting unlawful knowledge, and that you graciously show me what things are most profitable for me to know and do, to the glory and honor of his divine majesty, who lives and reigns, world without end.  Amen.

Lord, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Make clean my heart within me, and take not your holy spirit from me.

O Lord, by your name I have called Michael; suffer him to administer unto me, and that all things may work together for your honor and glory, and that to you be ascribed all might, majesty, and dominion.  Amen.

O Lord, I thank you for the hearing of my prayer, and I thank you for having permitted your spirit to appear unto me.  Amen.

For another example, consider the orison from book II, chapter 12 of the Book of Abramelin:

O Lord God of Mercy … Sanctify me also with the oil of thy sanctification, wherewith thou hast sanctified all thy prophets; and purify in me therewith all that appertains unto me, so that I may become worthy of the conversation of thy holy angels and of thy divine wisdom, and grant unto me the power which thou hast given unto thy prophets over all the evil spirits. Amen, amen.

Another example, the prayer from septenary II, aphorism 14 from the Arbatel of Magic:

O Lord of heaven and earth, Creator and Maker of all things visible and invisible; I, though unworthy, by thy assistance call upon thee, through thy only begotten Son Jesus Christ our Lord, that thou wilt give unto me thy holy Spirit, to direct me in thy truth unto all good. Amen.

Because I earnestly desire perfectly to know the Arts of this life and such things as are necessary for us, which are so overwhelmed in darkness, and polluted with infinite humane opinions, that I of my own power can attain to no knowledge in them, unless thou teach it me. Grant me, therefore, one of thy spirits, who may teach me those things which thou would have me to know and learn, to thy praise and glory, and the profit of our neighbor…

Then again, the invocation to call forth angels from the Ars Almadel (language cleaned up to be made more readable for modern readers):

O you great, mighty, and blessed angel of God, NN. … I, the servant of the same your God entreat and humbly beseech you to come and show unto me all the things that I desire of you, so far as in office you can or are capable to perform if God permit to the same.  O you servant of Mercy, NN., I entreat you and humbly beseech you … to inform and rightly instruct me in my ignorant and depraved intellect, judgment, and understanding, and to assist me both in both this and in all other truths that the almighty Adonai, the King of Kings and the Giver of all good gifts, shall in his bountiful and fatherly Mercy be graciously pleased to bestow upon me.  Thus, o you blessed angel NN., be friendly unto me and work for me, so far as God has given you power in office to perform, whereunto I move you in power and presence to appear that I may sing with his holy angels: o mappa la man, hallelujah!  Amen.

I think the message I’m getting across is clear here.  Granted, not all grimoires in the Solomonic or Hermetic tradition use this kind of phrasing, especially when we’re dealing in a more goetic fashion where instead of pleading for God to grant his permission of such-and-such a phenomenon happening, we simply assume that God has given us his authority to make things happen, thus all the perilous threats that Solomonic magicians are known to use.  But how do we actually know or make sure we have that authority, or how do we know whether God will grant us permission?  Consider the very first line of the Key of Solomon (book I, chapter 1): “Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel, hath said that the beginning of our Key is to fear God, to adore him, to honor him with contrition of heart, to invoke him in all matters which we wish to undertake, and to operate with very great devotion, for thus God will lead us in the right way.”

Heck, I think the Key of Solomon is an excellent text to discuss here.  Julio Cesar Ody (of famous occult-lampooning fame), if I recall correctly (and I hope he corrects me if I’m wrong!) has remarked before that people treat the Key of Solomon as something to pilfer and take extracts from, rather than treating it like a full initiatory system of magic unto itself.  And when you look at it…yeah.  It really is far more than just a collection of works and talismans to be made with good prayers to be used for consecrating three dozen and more tools and pentacles.  Consider that the recitation of psalms is a huge part of they Key of Solomon; why would that be the case?  Because the Psalms are fundamentally songs that are used to praise God for his power and  beneficence, creation of the world, and miracles and favors done for mankind generally and for the sake of Israel specifically.  They can take the form of laments, thanksgiving, praisegiving, celebration, or pleas for help, and their study and recitation is common in Judaism and Christianity for imparting wisdom and cultivating grace and an elevated spirituality in accordance with the will and command of God.  Yes, the specific psalms used in the rituals of the Key of Solomon do bear relation to the things being consecrated at times, but it’s a constant practice of keeping ourselves spiritually in line with the will of God, which, when used with the actual prayers of the rituals themselves, produce an all-around feat of holy work.  Consider the first prayer from book I, chapter 5:

O Lord God, holy Father, Almighty and Merciful One who has created all things, who know all things and can do all things, from whom nothing is hidden, to whom nothing is impossible!  You who know that we do not perform these ceremonies to tempt your power, but that we may penetrate into the knowledge of hidden things.  We pray to you, by your sacred Mercy, to cause and to permit that we may arrive at this understanding of secret things of whatever nature they may be by your aid, o most holy ADONAI, whose Kingdom and Power shall have no end unto the Ages of the Ages. Amen.

Fundamentally, working divine magic is just prayer, just supplications to the Divine—to God—that certain things happen, not for the simple reason that we want it to happen, but that it be capital-G Good and ordained by God that it should happen.  That’s really all there is to it.  You might want to use so many words as all the excerpts above show, perhaps to inflame yourself with prayer to reach a more powerful or ecstatic state of working, or you might use less, if you can manage to get as much intent and focus out from fewer words.  Either way, this sort of magic is just prayer.

In this light, what happens when we pray for something and it doesn’t happen?  There could be several explanations:

  • What we’re praying for isn’t permissible within the design of God. It could be that what you’re asking for just isn’t possible, realistic, or appropriate for the world that God has established.  God could look at you and say “you’re being unreasonable here, focus on what’s realistic”.  I could pray to grow wings so that I can fly around the skies, but it’s not going to happen according to the laws of human physiology and basic physics in this world, which were designed according to the will and plan of God.  It could happen on other planes where one’s form isn’t so rigidly fixed, but it’s not going to happen here.  Likewise, if you pray for the consecration of a particular talisman for a particular end and it doesn’t end up consecrated, it’s because God sees that what you’re asking for isn’t permissible within the overall scheme of things that God has set up for us, perhaps due to the nature of what you’re asking (e.g. a talisman to shoot fireballs out of our hands) or due to the ramifications it might have (e.g. it could set off a chain reaction that would end up butting up harshly against things God already has in store for the cosmos).
  • What we’re praying for isn’t for us to receive. It could be that what you’re asking for is good, noble, and proper, but you’re not the right person to request it or have it.  God could look at you and say “this is a good idea, but it’s not for you to work on, so ask for  something else”.  Not everyone is going to be good at everything; I’m no fighter or doctor, so while I might pray for skill in battle or for success in a lucrative medical career, these things aren’t in my life path.  Trying to force them, so long as it doesn’t go against the will of God for me, could get some success, but it could also just as easily happen that trying to go down those paths would end up with me being stymied, frustrated, and blocked at every turn.  These are signs from the cosmos itself that I’m not on the right path and that I’m barking up the wrong tree.  Instead, I should learn what my path truly entails and focus on that; it might not be easy (it rarely is!), but it will be successful in a way that would go far beyond things that I’m not meant to do.  Thus, if you’re praying for something to happen and it doesn’t happen, it’s could be because that thing isn’t for you to have in your life because it won’t help you and could easily harm you.
  • What we’re praying for is something that we can receive eventually but which we’re not ready to receive now. It could be that what you’re asking for is good, noble, and proper, and it’s proper for you to have those things, but you’re not ready to have it yet.  God could look at you and say “you’ve got the potential, but you aren’t at the right state of development for it right now, so keep working at it”.  In other words, you’re on the right track, but it’s above your station; one day, if you keep on the right track, you’ll get there.  Consider the notion of knowledge and conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel; coming in contact with this divine spirit often involves an ordeal because it’s a direct link to God, and quite simply, not everyone is ready for it.  They all have their own guardian angels, to be sure, but they might not be able to truly comprehend the power and, thus, the accompanying responsibility of the conscious company of that spirit yet.  They need to refine themselves through cultivating virtue and abandoning vice until they reach a certain stage of spiritual development.  Receiving those things we pray for earlier than when it’s appropriate for us could very easily cause us and those around us harm at worst or just distractions and delays at best.

How do we know whether a prayer of ours will be granted?  This is where divination comes into play.  Divination is important for magicians of all kinds, not just because it’s a useful and profitable skill to bring in clients and to spy on people, but because it shows us the way for our own Work.  By divination, we can figure out what’s going on and what the appropriate ways are to handle it; as part of that, we can see not just whether we can do a particular ritual for a particular end, but whether we should do it (or, in the words of the good and most reverend Bishop Lainie Petersen, whether it’s wise for us to do it).  If a reading indicates that we can do something but that we should not do it, then it’s within our power to do the thing but it’s not the best use of our power to do it.  If a reading indicates that we can not do something but that we should do it, then it’s not within our power yet to do the thing and that we need to focus on cultivating that power however necessary in order to do it.  And, if a reading indicates that we can not do something and that we also should not do it, then it’s neither in our power nor our best interests to do the thing.  The answer to can-or-can’t ultimately lies with us, but the answer to should-or-shouldn’t lies with God.

We’ll pick up on this tomorrow when we get more into the notion of what “should” really means here, because this is touching on what role the will of God plays for us in our lives.

On Fasting (and All the Various Ways You Can Fast)

Another wonderful question from Curious Cat:

What alternative recommendations would suggest to someone who cannot fast due to health issues? I already eat relatively clean … I’d like to re-start my system, but can’t entirely forgo food due to a compromised immune system. Any suggestions?

This is a surprisingly deep question, and one with plenty of alternatives.  I answered it on Curious Cat, but I want to go into more depth about it here, because it turns out there’s a lot to say.  Also, it just so happens that I’ve written about fasting long ago in two posts from 2012, here and here, which I only remembered after writing most of this current post.  Still, I think it’s time for a refresher and see what new information I might be able to put to paper here, now that I’m a little older and maybe a little bit wiser, too.

First, what exactly is fasting?  Fasting is fundamentally a practice of abstinence that typically focuses on one’s diet and which is composed of three main things:

  • A set of prohibitions on food, drink, and other substances we take into our bodies
  • A set of prohibitions on how we take food, drink, and other substances into our bodies
  • A duration of time for which above prohibitions are to be observed

The most common sorts of fasting is an absolute fast (absolutely no food or liquid) or a water fast (no food but water is permitted), and this is typically what we think of when we hear about fasting.  There are plenty of reasons for this—diagnostic fasting to achieve a baseline for medical testing or hunger strikes for the sake of political or humanitarian protests come to mind—but one of the most common reasons for fasting is for religious or spiritual purposes, and is seen in many religions across the world for an equally wide number of reasons:

  • Cultivate and maintain discipline
  • Develop spiritual powers or blessings
  • Atonement and repentance for sins or lawlessness
  • Purification of the body and spirit
  • Devotion to higher powers
  • Mourning
  • Following the example of a saint, prophet, or holy exemplar of the religion
  • Preparation for a ritual or feast

Basically, in general, when we fast for a religious or spiritual purpose, we’re essentially engaging in a form of asceticism, putting our body under an ordeal of abstinence from things that please us our our senses, holding back our taste for worldly sustenance so that we can instead feast on heavenly delights.  Asceticism and some forms of drastic fasting can also include self-mortification, but we’re not interested in that here; we don’t want to harm or destroy the body, but we do want to control and purify it through abstinence.

The thing is that absolute fasting or water fasting can be dangerous for many people: those with autoimmune disorders, blood sugar disorders (especially diabetes), hormonal imbalances (e.g. thyroid or adrenaline issues), and the like can and will suffer harm to their bodies up to and including death if they go without food for too long.  Moreover, there are also a number of religions where fasting just isn’t a thing or which is actively discouraged.  Heck, for myself, I have a specific spiritual prohibition from La Regla de Ocha Lukumí (a.k.a. Santería) where I can’t skip lunch, which I interpret a little more broadly to mean “no absolute/water fasts”, so I can’t engage in that kind of practice anymore, either.  To that end, I engage in intermittent fasting, where I don’t eat from sunrise to sunset, a la Muslim Ramaḍān or the Bahá’í Nineteen Day Fast, though I do permit myself to have water at all times and only permit other drinks during eating-time, if I don’t set a prohibition on those as well.  In the end, though, it’s important to remember that fasting isn’t the be-all end-all of spiritual practices, or even of ways to purify and refine the body and spirit.  If you’re part of a religion or tradition that recommends or requires it, or if you feel like you should engage in it, then do so, and do so safely and reasonably without causing harm or torment to yourself; otherwise, you should feel no obligation to do so, since there are plenty of other practices you can engage in towards the same ends.

But, let’s say you want to do some sort of fast or fasting-like practice, but you can’t do an absolute or water fast for health reasons, and you’re not discouraged from a fasting practice in general.  What can you do?  Quite a lot, actually.  If we interpret “fasting” to mean “abstinence” more broadly, and consider the three parts of fasting (prohibitions on food/liquid/etc., prohibitions on how we eat/drink/etc., and durations), then there are plenty of things we can hone in on, whether taken as a single thing to abstain from or taken as a cluster of rules to be observed simultaneously.  In short, rather than an absolute fast or a water fast, we engage in a so-called partial fast, where we only abstain from particular things in our diet.  The following lists of prohibitions are by no means exhaustive, but they’re intended as examples for further inspiration, and are pulled from a variety of traditions, cultures, practices, religions, and the like for consideration.

Restrictions on what food or drink is permissible :

  • No processed grains
  • No grains at all
  • No leavened bread
  • No bread or flour-based products at all (e.g. noodles, porridge, crackers).
  • No grain-, starch-, pulse-, bean-, tuber-, or nut-based staple foods
  • No meat of mammals or birds (essentially a pescatarian diet)
  • No meat at all (essentially a vegetarian diet)
  • No dairy
  • No animal products generally (essentially a vegan diet)
  • No gritty foods
  • No solid foods (i.e. broths and soups only)
  • No oils added to food or drink
  • No sweeteners added to food or drink
  • No spices added to food or drink
  • No salt added to food or drink
  • No sweet food eaten or drink drunk for the reason of being sweet
  • No carbonated drinks
  • No drinks that are not plain water
  • No drinking clear alcohols (e.g. white rum or vodka, but excluding creme liqueurs or red wines)
  • No drinking alcohol at all
  • No drinking more than a set amount of liquid each day
  • No food prepared with sauce, gravy, or dressing of any kind
  • No food or drink of a particular color (e.g. red food, brown food, white food)
  • No food or drink that are root vegetables (e.g. potatoes, onions, carrots)
  • No food or drink that are not root vegetables
  • No food or drink that contain caffeine of any kind (e.g. coffee, tea, chocolate)
  • No food or drink that contain a specific kind of ingredient (e.g. pumpkin, eggs, wheat, corn)
  • No food or drink that doesn’t contain a specific kind of ingredient (e.g. tree nuts, legumes, potatoes, beans)
  • No vitamins, dietary supplements, or medicines that are not strictly necessary for medical reasons
  • Etc.

Restrictions on how food or drink is cooked or processed:

  • No cooked food or drink
  • No cooked food or drink older than 24 hours (i.e. no leftovers)
  • No preserved food or drink
  • No prepackaged food or drink
  • No food or drinks that are colder than ambient room temperature (e.g. nothing ice-cold or chilled)
  • No food or drinks that are hotter than ambient room temperature (e.g. nothing warm or hot)
  • No food or drink that has been touched by fire
  • No food or drink that has been cooked with or come in contact with metal
  • No food or drink that is fermented
  • No food or drink that was not cooked or prepared by your own hands
  • No food or drink that was not freely given to you by another person
  • No food or drink that was not prepared using a specially-dedicated, consecrated, or otherwise set-apart set of cookware or dishes
  • Etc.

Restrictions on when we eat or drink:

  • No eating between sunset and sunrise
  • No eating or drinking between sunset and sunrise
  • No dining more than once a day
  • No dining before a particular task or set of tasks have been done
  • Etc.

Restrictions on how we eat or drink:

  • No engaging in talking, writing, or any other activity when eating
  • No dining at restaurants, at other people’s homes, or anywhere outside your own home
  • No dining with other people
  • No dining unless in the company of other people
  • No dining with metal implements
  • No dining while seated at a table (i.e. only while sitting on the ground)
  • Etc.

Besides just focusing on dietary prohibitions, though, there are also behavioral prohibitions that we can incorporate, either instead of dietary prohibitions or in addition to them.  Again, if we engage in fasting as a means of restraining ourselves by means of abstaining from things that give us sensual pleasures and distractions from spiritual development, then we can also include a bunch of behaviors, habits, addictions, or other things we like doing (rather than just eating or drinking) that can be at least as spiritually distracting or impure as any kind of food or drink.  After all, consider that the original questioner from Curious Cat already eats pretty clean and sparingly, so trying to restrict or further inhibit or prohibit their food/drink intake might just be a case of diminishing returns, so it might not be a bad idea to expand our scope of prohibitions to behaviors.  Some examples include (again, not a definitive or exhaustive list):

  • No sexual activity, whether with someone else or by oneself
  • No playing games or sports, listening to music, watching movies or TV, or any other activity for the sole purpose of entertainment
  • No social media
  • No computer or mobile use between sunset and sunrise
  • No smoking of tobacco, cannabis, salvia, or any other inhaled drug
  • No recreational or psychotropic drugs except those for explicitly medical or required spiritual purposes
  • No sleeping on a bed or any surface higher than the width of two fingers
  • No wearing makeup, nail polish, or any other cosmetics for the purpose of embellishing or hiding the natural form of the body
  • No using perfumes, colognes, scented oils, fragrances, or any other odoriferous substance outside of purely religious or spiritual reasons
  • No wearing jewelry, fine clothes, immodest clothes, or any other articles for the purpose of ostentation or displaying appeal
  • No wearing clothes of a particular color (e.g. black clothes, red clothes)
  • No bathing or washing any part of the body with hot water
  • No being in direct sunlight or moonlight
  • No being in complete darkness
  • No lying, exaggerating, undue modesty, deceit, or misleading of any kind
  • No cursing, arguing, yelling, raising one’s voice, gossiping, or using any kind of heated or improper language
  • No violence to any living being
  • No using or carrying of weapons of any kind
  • No using, lighting, carrying, or being around fire
  • No sleeping in late or taking naps
  • No cutting any of the hair on the head or the body
  • No capitalizing the first-person singular pronoun “I” (i.e. always write it as “i went to the store”)
  • Etc.

(I admit that a bunch of those behavioral rules are those that are common-enough prohibitions from the initiatory year of Lukumí, the Year in White, which I had to observe for…quite some time, and some I still have to observe for other reasons, but are general enough and smart enough rules to be used by plenty of people.)

With all the options above we have for abstaining from particular foods and drinks, how they’re prepared, how we can abstain from them, and other behaviors, I think it’s important to remember that fasting is an ordeal, and should be taken seriously as such.  Yes, you could do a fast from all pork products, but if you never or only rarely eat pork, then you’re not really abstaining from something that you weren’t already abstaining from.  Fasting, whether absolute or partial or whether total or intermittent, should be a time when we give up and abstain from things that we actively enjoy or find ourselves relying on or addicted to; when you fast, take away the things that give you a sense of pleasure and which distract you from focusing on spiritual stuff.  If you eat a lot of candy, give that up; if you don’t eat candy, give something else up instead.  If you don’t have the ability to sleep in (e.g. if you live on a regimented, scheduled military base or if you have a farm), then you’re already de facto abstaining from that, so give something else up instead.  Of the things that you don’t strictly need for medical or health-related reasons, pick the things you dread or fear to give up yet which you’re able to, and then you’ll be properly fasting.

Then, finally, then there’s one last thing to consider: how long do we observe all the above prohibitions, and when should we do it?  While all of the above is really up to you in how seriously (or not) you want to engage in your own personalized kind of fasting, this is where it can get really customized.  This is where you should really focus on what your traditions or religions say, because those are the guiding principles here along with whatever your priests or mentors or gurus or godparents might prescribe or recommend, but there are some guiding rules that I like to follow for my own practices and traditions.  Some examples of fasting durations include (again, not a definitive or exhaustive list):

  • One day every week on a day set aside for the worship, veneration, or devotion of a particular spirit or deity
  • The day of the New Moon (technically, the day of the first sighting of the Moon rather than the day of syzygy between the Moon and the Sun)
  • The three days before, the day of, and the day after the Full Moon
  • Three, four, seven, or sixteen days leading up to any feast or regular celebration
  • Three days leading up to any minor ritual, whether for yourself or another
  • Seven days leading up to any major ritual, whether for yourself or another
  • Three, four, seven, sixteen, or more days after any major initiation, according to that tradition’s rules
  • The two days before and of religious communion or communal worship
  • The forty days of Lent (for Christians)
  • The thirty(ish) days of Ramaḍān (for Muslims)
  • The nineteen days of the Nineteen Day Fast (for Bahá’í)
  • The forty-nine days after the death of a close family member
  • Throughout spiritual retreats or prolonged holy festivals or gatherings
  • The three or more days after one has committed a particularly bad spiritual offense
  • Once a week on a particular weekday for a set number of weeks (e.g. every Sunday from sunrise to sunset for six weeks straight)
  • Whenever vows or rules are adopted in devotion to a spirit or as part of a pact or payment

When fasting for a prolonged period of time more than a single day, there’s also the notion of progressive fasting, where as time goes by, you bring on more and more prohibitions.  For instance, in one of the posts from 2012 I mentioned, there’s the four-day progressive fast from the Scribbler (whose blog is no longer active) where, for example, on the first day I would abstain from meat, alcohol, and soda; on the second, all the above plus abstinence from breads and noodles as well as all non-clear liquid drinks; on the third day, all the above plus abstinence from anything that wasn’t fresh fruits and water; on the fourth and final day, all the above plus abstinence from anything that wasn’t just water, i.e. a water fast.  Progressive fasts can be useful for those who need time for their body to adjust to heavier and heavier kinds of fasting, especially if a particular substance is one we habitually eat and which we might rely on as a staple, and which can be a way for the body to acclimate for more severe or austere fasting practices so that they won’t cause a total shock to the body which could result in medical harm.

What happens when we violate one or more of the prohibitions we have set for us?  Honestly, that depends on your tradition’s or practice’s rules on fasting or how you set up the rule or agreement of fasting, but it’s probably most important how you violated it.  If you started running into severe medical issues from a particular prohibition, then it’s best to get rid of that prohibition entirely so that you can fast more safely; it’s not an indulgence if it’s absolutely necessary for your health!  Likewise, if even a partial fast or if even intermittent fasting is causing you problems at all, then stop fasting.  It’s better you live and find other ways to hone and temper the body without suffering and putting yourself at major risk for health problems or death.  What if you were forced to fast, like if you were incarcerated or imprisoned and forced to eat things you wouldn’t against your will?  Honestly, nobody would blame you for getting by, and you’re already in a bad and potentially ascetic situation; better to survive under duress and save your strength than suffer righteously with the risk of death.

All of those could be considered accidental or unintentional violations, but what about if you just decided “eh, fuck it, let’s have a cheat day” or if you thought nobody was looking?  Tough luck, pal; you intentionally and willfully committed a violation of your prohibitions when you had no reason not to, and that’s where you should own up to your violation and make amends.  How you do that is up to you, your tradition, and your spirits; you might add on another day (or week, or month, etc.) of fasting for every willful violation you committed, add on another prohibition in addition to the ones you already had pay a “fine” through donating or caring for others out of your own pocket, put yourself through another spiritual ordeal such as intense purifications or heightened prayers, or make formal amends through heavy offerings to God, the gods, or other spirits to make up for your violation.  Or, you could just eat it (heh) and accept that you were weak and carry on as normal, being more mindful as time goes on, perhaps with letting someone know as a kind of confession.  Sometimes, it’s okay to perform a fast with built-in cheat days or days of leniency, but these should be limited; remember, the whole point of a fast is to not indulge.

However, note that all of the above are almost all focused on prohibitions, rules that take things away from ourselves.  That’s entirely a workable and practical way to do fasting, but consider: instead of taking things away, why not add things?  If we consider a fast to be a duration of time to cultivate and refine the spirit, then there are plenty of other things we can do, whether instead of piling on prohibitions or to be done along with them.  This is an idea that I got from Catholic writings a few years back, specifically for Lent; rather than just take things away, incorporate new things to fill the gaps left behind or just for the sake of upping our spiritual practices and devotions generally. Some examples include (again, not a definitive or exhaustive list):

  • Say a prayer to formally begin a fast, whenever you break the fast, and when you formally end the fast.
  • When you sit down to eat, pray over and bless the meal before you do so.
  • Engage in daily prayer, or add more prayers to your daily practice
  • Participate in daily communal worship (e.g. going to daily mass, having a daily circle with a coven)
  • Read and contemplate scripture daily
  • Commit to doing works of charity frequently (e.g. giving to the poor, working at a kitchen, setting aside income as donations for noble causes)
  • Commit to creating a devotional work of art every day (e.g. poetry, drawing, sculpture)
  • Commit to environmental works (e.g. picking up litter, tending to a communal garden)
  • Commit to helping or organizing religious works (e.g. signing up to be an altar-server, assisting with setting up circle devotions, providing guidance to students)
  • Commit to daily offerings, whether dedicated to a particular spirit or deity specifically or more generally for the benefit of all sentient beings
  • Perform a daily purification (e.g. ablution, spiritual bath, banishing)
  • Etc.

In the end, when it comes to abstinence for spiritual purposes, we can do a lot better than just simply cutting out food, and we can focus on a number of different aspects of the practice of fasting that can provide for a well-rounded period of intense spiritual work that can work for anyone, regardless of their health conditions, so that we can all derive benefit by focusing on the higher while tempering (but not utterly neglecting) the lower:

  • Prohibitions on what food and drink one takes in
  • Prohibitions on how food or drink is prepared
  • Prohibitions on when one can eat or drink
  • Prohibitions on how food or drink is consumed
  • Prohibitions on behaviors and activities outside eating and drinking
  • Mandates on behaviors to include spiritual or spiritually-oriented activities
  • The duration for which prohibitions and mandates are to be observed

Now, what about me?  There are times when I’ll fast for my own practices (like for those Sixteen Days of Cultivation leading up to the spring equinox I did not too long ago), or before receiving or participating in ceremony for Lukumí purposes, sure.  But, lest we all forget, I’m a Hermeticist, and there’s some useful stuff in the Corpus Hermeticum and other Hermetic texts that touch on this same topic, too. There’s this almost-universal, quasi-gnostic notion that you can’t really engage in a spiritually pure practice without somehow abstaining from physical pleasures or indulgences, and that abstaining from food and drink, whether entirely or from particular kinds or from particular ways of having it, is one of the most common ways to do that.  Food and drink is what sustains the body, yes, and we should care for the body since it’s our vessel for living in this world.  But since we’re spiritual entities ourselves that just so happen to have a body, and since we’re all always trying to become better spiritual entities, we need to care for the body only as much as we need to, and focus on the spirit at least as much as we care for the body, if not much more than that.  To focus overmuch on the body is to neglect the spirit; just as in the Buddha’s method of taking the Middle Path, we should care for the body just enough that it’s healthy and can stay healthy, and give the rest of our time, energy, and attention to spiritual works.  That’s really the whole purpose of fasting: to cut back on indulging the body so that we can indulge the spirit, instead.  We don’t need to completely neglect or harm the body; otherwise, you may as well just kill yourself off quickly and painlessly than starve yourself to death painfully!  We need our body to host our spirit for as long as our spirit needs the body, and until the point when our spirit is ready to go, we need to care for the body.  But we only need to care for it, not indulge it.  And even then, remember: fasting is not the be-all end-all of ways to accomplish spiritual evolution.  Do it if you want to or if your tradition requires you to, and if you do engage in fasting, do so safely.  If you don’t engage in it, there still so many ways to indulge the spirit and encourage its cultivation rather than just tempering the body.

What about you, dear reader?  Do you fast, and if so, how do you fast?  Do you engage in total fasting, partial fasting, or intermittent fasting?  Do you abstain from only certain things or practices?  What else do you do when you fast?  Let me know in the comments!

Shoutouts to excellent colleagues and consultants: Nate Craddock, Asterion, and others!

It’s sometimes said that “no man is an island”, and I agree.  All of us live together on this planet, and unless you’re truly a dedicated hermit that does not live in or rely on society, the rest of us absolutely do, and we all interact with other people from time to time in some way or another.  However, it’s also important to rely on people from time to time, too; we all have our own specialties, areas of expertise, and skill that we can provide others, the things that we’re good at.  But, not only are we good at some things, but there are some things that we’re just not good at, and so we turn to others who are better than us to learn and do more.  And then there’s the fact that, even if we’re not asking for help from others, we can still enjoy their company, works, and friendship all the same to make our own lives a little brighter in this dark world of ours.

To that end, on this blessed Feast of St. Isidore of Seville and of Hermes Trismegistus, on this Day of Jupiter in the Hour of the Sun (at least for where I am), I’d like to talk about two such people whose skills far exceed my own, Nate Craddock of Soul Friend Astrology and Asterion of Asterion’s Occult Art and Practical Solomonic Magic, and give them my thanks and to publicly praise them for the wonderful things they do in general and for the wonderful things they did for me specifically.  Plus I’d also like to draw attention to Alexander Eth of the Glitch Bottle podcast and Raquelle Puchol of Saturn and the Sun Astrology, because they’re wonderful people whose works you should already be following if you’re not yet.

First, let’s talk about Nate Craddock.  It’s my custom to get my own beginning-of-year reading, usually from the oracles of Ifá from my babalawo or Lukumí from my godfather, but due to the chaos and craziness at the beginning of the year (including a snowstorm the day that I was supposed to head to my babalawo’s house), I simply wasn’t able to get one in the timeframe I wanted, so I ended up just doing without.  After a while, and after much banter and back-and-forth on Twitter with Nate (@RyanCaradog), I ended up getting one of his Annual Update consultations to catch up on my lost time and see what would be ahead for me.  But, because it’s been a long time since I’ve had my natal horoscope properly analyzed (I had it done once by Chris Warnock of Renaissance Astrology back in 2011, which was great, too!), I also got a natal consultation with Nate to be done first, partially because I figured I could do with the review of my own chart and also to help get more out of the annual update later on.  The natal consultation was…honestly, to say that I’m impressed with Nate’s skill would be such an understatement that I would feel bad about lying and would need to atone for the grave insult that would be towards Nate.  His skill is on-point, sharp, refined, and incredibly detailed, so much so that I scheduled a second natal consultation to get more into the in-depth nitty-gritty that he normally doesn’t get to for most clients due to the niche nature of them all.  (We discussed my own knowledge of astrology, and I admit that I’m more astrology-adjacent rather than a proper astrologer, but what little knowledge and understanding I had going into this made it super easy for Nate to skip over the basic descriptions and get into the real meat-and-marrow of the chart.)  Plus, Nate has professional training in actual counseling and guidance, which really comes to bear in his client-centric consultation style in a way that’s compassionate, understanding, and (most importantly) useful to the consultee.

I know who my astrologer’s gonna be in the future. If you’re looking for someone to help you out to keep an eye on the stars in a friendly, understanding, guiding way that gives you actual, immediate insight into your life, you’d be doing a disservice to yourself to not hire the services of Nate Craddock at Soul Friend Astrology.  Seriously, you won’t be disappointed.  In the meantime, follow him on Twitter.  He’s been doing a great set of 20 one-line tweet interpretations of people’s natal charts for them to get the high-level motif and focus for them to tackle, and is taking on new projects, too, including his upcoming podcast at Jailbreak the Sacred (not quite live yet, but going live later this month) and vlog-style horoscopes over at his YouTube, and while you’re at it, give him a like on his Facebook page.  Definitely keep an eye on him for his future works and productions (one of which I’ll be on, too!).

(I also fully admit that the Libra quality of “tell me more about me” was coming out hard and it’s hard to not indulge myself when listening to his amazing voice.  So, yanno.  That’s a bonus, too.  His podcast is gonna be excellent.)

Now, let me go on about the inestimable Asterion.  Honestly, I don’t think anyone needs an introduction to him at this point; his excellent artcraft is renowned across the occult blogosphere, and his work has been highly acclaimed by authors and publishers such as Fr. Ashen Chassan, Nineveh Shadrach, Michael Cecchetelli, James Banner, and others.  Heck, I even used his Arbatel seals in my own Arbatel lamens, with his permission, years ago.  His work in redoing the sometimes-unclear seals and sigils of classical and medieval grimoires is famous, and his more modern and innovative artwork is stunning.  Heck, I can’t tell you the number of people who’ve used his Seal of the Planetary Hierarchy, both with and without his permission.  I’ve seen it across all of Etsy and Wish by people who would never have known that Asterion is the one who made it back in 2011, but there it is, all the same.  As far as occult art goes, Asterion is a legendary force of nature.  It’s only a shame that his old two blogs have been largely discontinued due to his other projects and studies at the moment, but that’s not to say he isn’t still active.

More recently, I turned to him asking if he could take a few seals I had received from spirits and draw them up professionally for me.  It’s the ones I’ve been using for the four elemental archangels for years ever since my first contact with them, and though I’ve been doing fine with my own hand-drawn versions, I wanted something nicer and more professionally well-done.  I could think of nobody else but Asterion to do it for me, and it was a project he took on with enthusiasm, speed, and—surprising positively nobody—the greatest quality and care.  Plus, he even had the patience to deal with my nitpicking over even the most inscrutable of details, for which he has my admiration; I know well how rough it can be to go back-and-forth with a picky client, but he did so with grace and charm and patience for me.  (And no small amount of ribbing and poking fun at each other along the way.)  To be honest, I’m appalled at myself that I didn’t contact him years ago to do this very thing for me, but I’m glad I have all the same.  I know he can be sometimes picky about what clients he takes on, given how much other work takes up his precious and well-used time, but I’m honored he agreed to work with me, and—hopefully—in the future as well for yet other projects.

Truly, from the bottom of my heart, thank you, Nate and Asterion!  And you, dear reader, should give them both a look-over.  If you need an astrologer, whether for natal or horary or electional or predictive needs, check out Soul Friend Astrology.  And if you need a good artist whose works are stunningly potent, check out Asterion.  You will not be disappointed.

And while I’m at it, there are two other colleagues I’d like to draw attention to.  First, Alexander Eth of the Glitch Bottle podcast.  You can probably guess why; keep an eye out later this month!  Subscribe to his YouTube channel, like his Facebook Page, and follow him on Twitter (@glitchbottle)!

And finally, the incredible Raquelle Puchol of Saturn and the Sun Astrology.  She’s a wonderful astrologer trained in traditional, Hellenic, and Vedic astrology and chiromancy, and she’s a professional artist and calligrapher who does hands down some of the most beautiful astrological diagrams, charts, and illustrations that I have ever seen (and I count a number of artists among my friends), both for custom commissions and prints.  She shares much of her work and analyses on her Twitter (@saturnsunastro), which you should absolutely be following.

So, yanno.  In your spare time, do check out these wonderful people I am blessed to know, work with, and who do excellent work of their own.

On Pride and Humility

Not that long ago, someone on Curious Cat asked me a pretty good question, and it’s something that’s been sitting with me for a while now:

People constantly complain about ‘baby witches’ and the inefficacy/infantilization of mainstream pop-culture “magic” on Witchblr, but on the other hand, instead of behaving like the mature and levelheaded adults they purport themselves to be, these Super Serious Traditional Ceremonial Magicians tend to be extremely rude, condescending, narcissistic and outright boorish in their treatment of others.

It’s like they’re reenacting outcast goth teen fantasies of being Powerful Darksided Magicians able to kill their enemies in a fingersnap. I mean, is this a prerogative in becoming a devoted and serious practitioner of magick? Because if so, I proudly throw in the towel.

While some questions I can answer on my phone on the go, there are others that I’d rather sit down with at a proper keyboard, think about for a bit, and type up a better thought-out answer than not.  This was one such question, and in reply, I said:

There’s a reason why so many religions prescribe humility as a virtue to be cultivated. And I know that I, myself, can lack it at times, though I try to keep it a focus for myself, too.

No, there’s no prerogative to being a pompous, prideful, supercilious bastard when it comes to magic. But when you have people getting into occult stuff—and it occurs as much with witches as it does with ceremonial magicians, even if ceremonial magicians have a reputation for it—it’s easy to get carried away when we start realizing all the power we now have access to. Fr. Rufus Opus (who at least admits that he’s overly cocky now and then) warns against “Insufferableprickitis” or “Moses-off-the-mount syndrome”, where we finally think that we truly Get It and have all the keys to the power of the Almighty. Even if it’s true, you don’t want that newfound radiance to be so overbearing and annoying that you treat other people like they’re utterly unenlightened and fools for not yet being on their level.

Everyone, no matter what field or hobby or profession or culture, thinks that they’re better than others or that they have a better way of doing something. It’s good to take pride in your accomplishments, whether it’s in software engineering or publishing anthologies of poetry or in plying the forces of the cosmos for theurgy and thaumaturgy, but it’s not okay to disparage or despise others because of those accomplishments.

There’s also an undercurrent of “oh you’re doing this because it’s popular now”, too. Big whoop. Fads come and go. If they’re meant for it, they’ll stick with it, and if not, they won’t, regardless of what mean things are said to them.

Plus, you’re reading stuff on the internet. It’s extraordinarily too common for people to get huffy and enraged and self-aggrandizing on the internet. Relax, take a deep breath and a step back, and don’t let people get to you that way, whether you’re the recipient of that kind of talk or just a witness to it. Let your work, instead, focus on making yourself better, sharing (but not enforcing) the skills you have according to your means and ability and desire, and making the world a better place.

It’s true that many occultists—myself included—can be on the pompous, arrogant, egotistical, and pretentious side, and it’s an especially common accusation lobbed at ceremonial magicians, and not without due cause.  The way I see it, there are two main influences going on here:

  1. Occultists (including witches) in general are liable to feel this way.  When you’re presented with a materialistic world and find a non-materialistic way to bend or break the rules without getting into trouble, i.e. magic, you’re going to feel powerful, and that realization will lead you to get a bit puffed-up, especially when other people say that what you do is impossible or frowned upon.  The thrill of doing stuff that society says you can’t and shouldn’t be doing can be exhilarating.
  2. When we say “ceremonial magicians”, we typically refer to those in Hermetic and Solomonic styles of magic, where we call down immense forces of the cosmos or call up demons and devils of all kinds, often with imperious threats and provocations in order to make sure that the cosmos hears us and, more than that, obeys us.  I mean, just look at the prayers in the Lemegeton Goetia, the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano, or the rituals of the Munich Manual.  The modus operandi of browbeating the world to obey us is a common one, even going back to classical mystery traditions and the rituals of the PGM two thousand years ago and more.

I’m sure there are other reasons, too, but those are the two big ones that occur to me.  Another thing that I mentioned in my answer above is, simply, that we’re on the Internet, and it’s easy to say a lot of things without repercussions like getting punched in the face or spat on or having a drink thrown at you because there’s an element of anonymity and facelessness that lets us feel more righteous and dignified than we properly have a right to be most of the time.

Being overweeningly proud is a problem, to be sure, but it’s not one that’s necessarily limited to ceremonial magicians, or to occultists in general, but to a lot of people in the world.  Pride is, after all, considered to be one of the seven deadly sins (and by some accounts, the most serious of them all), but I think it’s important to recall what pride is.  A proper kind of pride is akin to greatness of soul and magnanimity, bound up with nobility and goodness of character; it’s possible to take pride in the things we’ve done, placing value and greatness on our accomplishments or abilities, and it’s good to do this within reason.  Taking too much pride, however, tends to vanity, self-worship, vainglory, narcissism, and all-around hubris, and that’s where the danger comes into play.  Hubris, in the classical sense, is having pride beyond what is deserved to be proud of, which leads to ill-treating others for one’s own satisfaction and gratification.  And that’s a real problem which was truly fitting of punishment direct from the gods themselves, a notion that was carried on in Christianity to this day.

Thus, this is where humility comes in.  Though it can be used to mean having a low self-regard or feeling unworthy, it’s also a recognition of our place in the cosmos, how little we are, and that we should be selfless compared to selfish.  Consider the etymology of the word itself:

humility (n.)
early 14c., “quality of being humble,” from Old French umelite “humility, modesty, sweetness” (Modern French humilité), from Latin humilitatem (nominative humilitas) “lowness, small stature; insignificance; baseness, littleness of mind,” in Church Latin “meekness,” from humilis “lowly, humble,” literally “on the ground,” from humus “earth,” from PIE root *dhghem– “earth.” In the Mercian hymns, Latin humilitatem is glossed by Old English eaðmodnisse.

In other words, to be humble is to be down-to-earth in a way that reminds you that you are of the earth.  Yes, Hermeticism has much to say about us having divine origins and that we’re made in the likeness of God and all that, sure, and all that’s all well and good, but let’s be honest: as human beings, part of us is divine, but being human is being human, living on the Earth and living in Heaven.  Heck, the word “human” itself has the same ultimate origin as the word humility:

human (adj.)
mid-15c., humain, humaigne, “human,” from Old French humain, umain (adj.) “of or belonging to man” (12c.), from Latin humanus “of man, human,” also “humane, philanthropic, kind, gentle, polite; learned, refined, civilized.” This is in part from PIE *(dh)ghomon-, literally “earthling, earthly being,” as opposed to the gods (from root *dhghem- “earth”), but there is no settled explanation of the sound changes involved. Compare Hebrew adam “man,” from adamah “ground.” Cognate with Old Lithuanian žmuo (accusative žmuni) “man, male person.”

To be properly human is to be humble.  Yes, we all belong to God and it is to God our souls will return, but our bodies are made from dust, and to dust our bodies shall return.  We have to remember and set ourselves apart from the gods and spirits we work with, because we are incarnate, mortal, and finite as opposed to discarnate, immortal, and infinite.  We have to remember that we are humans, and have far more in common with other humans and the human world we live in than with the spirits and their non-human world.  For that reason, we need to remain humble, not only to avoid reaching too far past our proper station as humans, but also to avoid putting ourselves on too high a pedestal above other humans.  We have to take care of ourselves, recognizing that no matter how much we might be capable of, we are only capable of but so much.  As Tzadqiel, the angel of Jupiter, once told me long ago:

You see those stars?  They’re kings, just like the Sun here.  They rule over their parts of the sky, their worlds.  They are small and distant, however, and they are not kings here.  As they travel their light to other places, they cease to become kings and become equals or even less to the places they travel.  They rule only over what they rule, and no more.  Just so do you rule only what you rule, and you do not rule over everything, even though you may think you do.  You will one day become as a star, but even stars are outshone by the ones higher and brighter than them, especially the highest Light.

Humility is a virtue even in the greatest kings.  Humility is the beginning of greatness.

Now, it’s important to distinguish humility from modesty, because the two are vastly different.  As I wrote about back in 2013, humility is more being meek in the facts of a situation, while modesty is more about understating something to the point of reverse exaggeration, and that’s essentially lying against oneself.  But I also brought up that there’s a similarity between (proper) pride and humility: (proper) pride is recognition of all that you are and can be or do, while humility is recognition of all that you are and have done in the grand scheme of things.  Pride is accepting that we have accomplished and learn things, and humility is accepting that we can accomplish and learn yet more.  To be properly proud as well as humble is to be honest and truthful about yourself to the world in the world you live.  Boasting, on the other hand, is having too much pride, the lie we tell to make ourselves seem more than we actually are; modesty, likewise, is the lie we tell to make ourselves seem less than we actually are.

I bring up all this because I want to bring up one of my favorite prayers today, the Litany of Humility.  I think I first brought it up on my blog in another post from 2013, where I meditated on what might make me special, but more importantly, how my being special doesn’t make anyone else less special.  This prayer, as seen in a number of Christian, and especially Catholic, texts, is often attributed to or outright claimed to be written by the 19th/20th century Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, although it doesn’t seem like he actually wrote it.  Instead, the real origin of the Litany seems to be lost to history—a fitting end, I suppose, for one who prayed for no glory of the world, instead giving their work to the world freely.  At any rate, the Litany of Humility isn’t like the usual litanies of the Christian Church, at least, not like those commonly used in the formal liturgies like the Litany of the Saints; while it can be used liturgically, it reads and feels more like a personal plea and a way to remind oneself of the good things we should aim towards and the bad things we should aim away from.

While I originally used the standard modern Christian version in my prayer practice, reciting it at least once a week for a good long while, as my practice has shifted, I’ve been less and less…I don’t want to say “comfortable”, but less inclined to call on explicitly Christian names and phrases when I can avoid it in favor of more general deistic language.  Plus, it’s been a long time since I’ve recited or read it (dropping out of a regular practice will do that to you), so I think it’s time to take another look at it.  While I still think the original Christian version is an excellent one that we should all bear in mind, I also think it’s worthwhile to make it more usable by others who aren’t Christian.  To that end, I sat down with it and amended it somewhat for my own personal use, and thought I might share it for others to consider using in their use, should they so desire.  Below is the variant I use now that basically keeps the same text, with a slightly different opening and a different invocation for each request.  Rather than being Jesus-centric, e.g. “from the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus”, I’ve substituted every invocation of Jesus with simply “o Lord”.  This way, the prayer is more accessible to those within a more broadly Abrahamic, deist, or non-Christian Hermetic practice.  The sentiment is the same: we invoke God and pray that we might begin to possess the virtue of humility while shedding from ourselves the vice of pride.

O Lord, hear my prayer, and grant me, I beg you,
the blessing to be humble of heart,
the power to crush my pride,
and the grace to master myself that I may more fully serve you.

From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being preferred, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, o Lord.

From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being rebuked, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being maligned, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, o Lord.

That others may be loved more than me, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than me, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may grow and I diminish in the opinion of the world, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than me, provided that I might become as holy as I should, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.

Amen.

I think it’s important to remember all that being proud entails, and what being humble necessitates.  That goes for both ceremonial magicians and witches, both occultists and scientists, and all people, especially myself.  I’ve come a long way since those posts in 2012 and 2013 when I discussed these things before, but I know that I’ve only come but so far, and there’s still so much for me to do, and no matter how far I might reach, there are still yet others who are (properly and well-deservedly) better than me.  It’s all I can do to do all I must do, and that’s for the best.  I’m happy to have recalled this prayer up, because I think it’s high time for me to reincorporate it back into my prayer routine regularly again.  Perhaps there are others who might find it useful, too.

A PGM-Based Jewish Hermetic Prayer of the Patriarchs

It’s fascinating to see what you can find when you dig through your old notes and drafts.  Interesting insights that slipped your mind, funny stories you’d want to tell again, and wonderful accomplishments that remind you of better times and better techniques than what you may have slipped into using.  But, perhaps most fun to find?  Unfinished drafts and projects that you couldn’t finish for one reason or another at the time, but have since come into the right knowledge and tools to do just that.  This post is one such example of that happening, and I’m glad to finally share it with you, dear reader, after so long.

As many of my readers know, the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM) is such a wonderful collection of texts that have, somehow, miraculously survived to our care in the modern day.  It’s on the same level as the Nag Hammadi Scriptures or the Dead Sea Scrolls, but which focuses instead on the so-called “practical Hermetica”, the spells, rituals, ingredients, and ritual processes of theurgy and thaumaturgy as used by actual living mages and priests from roughly 100 CE to 500 CE, largely residing in that philosophical-academic-spiritual orgiastic environment of Alexandria, Thebes, and other parts of Hellenic Egypt.  It’s important to remember, though, that the PGM isn’t just a single “grimoire”, but rather a collection of smaller grimoires, notes, tablets, and other texts from a variety of magicians that happened to be clustered together under a single volume.  There’s quite a lot of variation in there, and if different entries seem counterintuitive or contradictory to each other, that’s because they are.  It’s not proper to treat the PGM as “a single text”, but rather a collection of numerous texts that happened to be collected over the centuries and only recently compiled into a single volume (specifically, the Betz version of the PGM, though Preisendanz’s texts, volumes one and two, is still considered the earlier and other major version).

Although many of the fun rituals that are more commonly known come from the earlier PGM entries, such as the Headless Rite from PGM V or the Heptagram Rite from PGM XIII, the Betz version of the PGM has over 130 sets of PGM texts, including a number of Demotic ones, too.  Not all of them are well-preserved, and some are incredibly fragmented with extensive lacunae, but there are still plenty of gems in some of the lesser-known texts.  One such text is PGM XXIIb.1—26, headlined as the Prayer of Jacob.  The term used for “prayer” in the headline, προσευχή, can also be used to refer to a temple or sanctuary, especially of the Jews, so perhaps a better headline for this might be, if we can be granted a bit of translator’s license here, the “Holiness of Jacob”.  Given its structure and its placement, the attribution is (as it almost always is) spurious, but the fact remains that it’s primarily a Jewish, or at least heavily Judaically-inspired, prayer with some Gnostic elements as well as some elements of Merkabah and Heikhalot literature or proto-literature.

In any case, it’s mostly complete, but isn’t wholly so due to the large number of lacunae.  Most of the lacunae appear in the strings of barbarous words, though when looking at the actual text, the size and location of these lacunae become clearer, offering hints of what may have gone into them.  After all, the whole section is only 26 lines of text long, and the rest of the PGM is replete with invocations, strings of godnames, and a variety of other clues that can help fill in some of the lacunae in the text.  One of my earlier projects from a number of years ago (2013, according to the original draft post) was going to attempt a reconstruction and repair on this entry, but I didn’t really know where to go or how to attempt it, and so I just left it to get buried in the drafts folder.  But now that I’m a little older and a little more comfortable with this project, I want to try tackling it again.

To start with, this is what the original entry looks like in Betz:

O Father of the Patriarchs, Father of the All, Father of the [cosmic] power,
[Creator of all], … , creator of the angels and archangels, creator of the [saving] names!

I invoke you, Father of all powers, Father of the entire [cosmos] and of all creation inhabited and uninhabited, to whom the [cherubim] are subjected [who] favored Abraham by [giving the] kingdom [to him] … hear me, O God of the powers, o [God] of angels [and] archangels, [King]…

ΛΕΛΕΑΧ … ΑΡΩΑΧ ΤΟΥ ΑΧΑΒΟΛ … Ο … ΥΡΑΜ ΤΟΥ … ΒΟΑΧ ΚΑ … Θ … ΡΑ … ΧΑΧ ΜΑΡΙΡΟΚ … ΥΡΑΜ … ΙΘΘ ΣΕΣΟΙΚ, he who sits upon [holy] Mount Sinai;
… Ι … ΒΟ … ΑΘΕΜ … , he who sits upon the sea;
… ΕΑ … ΒΛ … Δ … Κ … Ε … ΘΗΣ … ΠΑΡΑΧΘΗ … , he who sits upon the serpentine gods;
The [god who sits upon the] Sun, ΙΑΩ, he who sits [upon] … ΤΑ … Ω … Ι … Χ!
He [who sits] upon the … ;
[He who sits upon] the … ΜΑ … ΣΙ, ΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΛΟΥΛΗΛ … Μ!
… ΧΙΡΕ … ΟΖ … Ι … resting place of the cherubim
to the ages of ages, God ΑΒΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΘΙΑΩΘ [ΣΑΒΑΩΘ] ΑΔΩΝΑΙ star … and ΒΡΙΛΕΩΝΑΙ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ ΧΑ … ΑΩΘ the Lord of the All.

I call upon you who give power [over] the Abyss [to those] above, to those below, and to those under the earth; hear the one who has [this] prayer, O Lord God of the Hebrews, ΕΠΑΓΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ, of whom is [the] eternal power, ΗΛΟΗΛ ΣΟΥΗΛ.  Maintain the one who possesses this prayer, who is from the stock of Israel and from those who have been favored by you, O god of gods, you who have the secret name ΣΑΒΑΩΘ … Ι … Χ, O god of gods, amen, amen!

You who produce the snow, who presides over the stars,  who live beyond the ages, who constantly traverse the cosmos, and who cause the fixed and movable stars to pursue all things by your creative activity, fill me with wisdom.  Strengthen me, Master!  Fill my heart with good, Master, as a terrestrial angel, as one who has become immortal, as one who has received this gift from you, amen, amen!

This entry, further, is ended with a single direction: recite it seven times facing north and east.  I interpret this as meaning northeast, which would have been the direction of Jerusalem (or other places in Israel) from most places in Egypt, but there are other rituals in the PGM and other texts of that time like the Sepher haRazim that discuss how to conjure or pray to the powers of the Sun towards the East in the daytime or towards the North at nighttime, so it could be a synthesis of that, too.  I lean towards the Jerusalem theory, personally.

For reference, here’s the original Greek transcription as given in Preisendanz, taking his corrections and emendations as a given and putting the barbarous words and godnames, or the letters that are presumed to be parts of such, in capital letters:

Προσευχὴ Ἰακώβ.

Πάτερ πατριὰρχῶν, πατὴρ ὅλων, πατὴρ δυνάμεων τοῦ κόσμου, κτίστα παντὸς …
κτίστα τῶν ἀγγέλων καὶ ἀρχαγγέλων, ὁ κτίστης ὀνομάτων σωτηρικῶν
καλῶ σε, πατέρα τῶν ὅλων δυνάμεων, πατέρα τοῦ ἄπαντος κόσμου και τῆς
ὅλης γενέσεως καὶ οἰκοθμένης καὶ ἀοικήτου, ᾡ ὑπεσταλμένοι οἱ χερουβίν, ὅς
ἐχαρίσατο Ἀβραὰμ ἐν τῷ δοῦναι τὴν βασιλείαν αὐρῷ
ἐπακοθσόν μοι, ὁ θεὸς τῶν δυνὰμεων, ὁ θεὸς ἀγγέλων καὶ ἀρχαγγέλων, βασιλεύς …
ΛΕΛΕΑΧ … ΑΡΩΑΧ ΤΟΥ … ΑΧΑΒΟΛ … Ω … ΥΡΑΜ ΤΟΥ … ΒΟΑΧ ΚΑ
Θ … Ρ Α … ΧΑΧ. ΜΑΡΙΟΚ … ΥΡΑΜ … ΙΘΘ ΣΕΣΟΙΚ …
ὀ καθήμενος ἐπὶ ὄρους ἰεροῦ Σιναΐου Ι … ΒΟ ΑΘΕΜ
ὀ καθήμενος ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης … ΕΑ … ΒΛ … Δ … Κ … Ε … ΘΗΣ
ΠΑΡΑΧΘΗ … ό καθήμενος ἐπὶ τῶν δρακοντείων θεῶν, ὀ θεὸς καθήμενος ἐπὶ τοῦ
Ἡλίου ΙΑΩ, ὁ καθήμενος ἐπὶ … ΤΑ … Ω … Ι … Χ, ὁ καθήμενος ἐπὶ τοῦ … θε …
… ΜΑ … ΣΙ ΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΛΟΥΗΛ … Μ … τὸν κοιτῶνα χερουβὶν … ΧΙΡΕ … ΟΖ … Ι …
εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰῶνων θεὸς ΑΒΡΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΘΙΑΩΘ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ, ἀστραπηφόρε
καὶ ΒΡΙΛΕΩΝΑΙ ΑΔΟΝΑΙ ΧΑ … ΑΩΘ, ὁ κύριος των ὅλων. Ἐπικαλουμαί σε, ἐπὶ χάσματος δὸντα
δύναμιν τοῖς ἄνω καὶ τοῖς κάτω καὶ τοῖς ὑποκάτω τῆς γῆς. Ἐπὰκοθσον τῷ ἔχοντι τὴν
εὐχήν, ὁ κύριος θεὸς τῶν Ἑβραίνων, ΕΠΑΓΑΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ, οὗ ἡ ἀέναος δύναμισ, ΕΛΩΗΛ
ΣΟΥΗΛ. Διόρθωσον τὸν ἔχοντα τὴν εὐχὴν ἐξ τοῦ γένους Ἰσραὴλ καὶ τῶν
χαριζομένων ὑπό σοθ, θεὲ θεῶν, ὁ ἔχων τὸ κρυπτὸν ὄνομα ΣΑΒΑΩΘ
… Ι … Χ. Θεὸς θεῶν, ἀμήν, ἀμήν, ὁ χιόνα γεννῶν, ἐπὶ ἀστέρων ὑπὲρ αἰώνων καὶ ἀεὶ διοδεύων καὶ ποιῶν τοὺς
ἀπλανεῖς καί πλανωμένους ἀστέρας διώκειν τὰ πάντα τῇ σῇ δημι-
-οθργίᾳ. Πλήρωσόν με σοφίας, δυνάμωσόν με, δέσποτα, μέστωσόν μου,
τὴν καρδίαν ἀγαθῶν, δέσποτα, ὡς ἄγγελον ἐπίγειον, ὡς ἀθάνατον
γενὰμενον, ὡς τὸ δῶρον τὸ ἀπὸ σοῦ δεξάμενον, ἀμήν, ἀμήν.

Λέγε ἐπτάκις πρὸς ἄπρκτον καὶ ἀπηλιὼτην τὴν προσευχήν τοῦ Ἰακώβ.

Happily, at least this part of PGM XXIIb (P. 13895 in the Staatliche Museen in Berlin) has been digitized, but between the lacunae and the faintness of the ink in places, it’s still awfully hard to read, even if we can get a sense for how long some of the barbarous words should be.

We can kind of get a notion for how many letters are missing from the lacunae, based on the width of the letters generally in this otherwise cleanly-written papyrus, as well as some of the other notable gaps, but it also makes it clear how much of Preisendanz guessed at some of the barbarous words, too.  Incorporating Preisendanz’ bracket and blank notations and comparing with the above, we get something like this for the parts that really catch our interest for the lacunae, where the underscores indicate the relative amount of letters that are missing which may or may not be barbarous words:

ΛΕΛΕΑΧ____ΑΡΩΑΧ ΤΟΥ__ΑΧΑΒΟΛ [Ω]_______[ΥΡΑ]Μ ΤΟΥ___ΒΟΑΧ ΚΑ__________
Θ__ΡΑ_______ΧΑΧ.  ΜΑΡΙΟ[Κ]____ΥΡΑΜ_________ΙΘ Θ_______ΣΕΣΟΙΚ________
ὀ κ[α]θ[ήμενος] ἐπὶ ὄρους ἰ[εροῦ Σ]ιναΐου_________Ι_ΒΟ______ΑΘΕΜ__________
[ὀ] καθήμενος ἐπὶ τῆς θα[λάσσ]ης _ΕΑ___ΒΛ______Δ_Κ________Ε_ΘΗΣ_________
ΠΑΡΑΧΘΗ_ ό καθήμενο[ς ἐπὶ] τῶν δ[ρα]κοντ[είων] θεῶν, ὀ [θεὸς καθήμε]ν[ο]ς [ἐπὶ τοῦ]
[Ἡ]λίου ΙΑΩ, ὁ καθήμε[νος ἐπὶ]_____ΤΑ_Ω_Ι___Χ, ὁ [καθήμ]εν[ος ἐπὶ τοῦ]__θε____
__ΜΑ__ΣΙ ΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΛΟΥΗΛ_____Μ__[τ]ὸν [κ]οιτῶνα χε[ρο]υ[β]ὶν____ΧΙΡΕ___ΟΖ_______Ι _

[κ]αὶ ΒΡΙΛΕΩΝΑΙ [Α]ΔΟΝΑΙ ΧΑ___ΑΩΘ, ὁ κ[ύρ]ιος των ὅλων. Ἐπικαλουμαί σε, ἐ[πὶ χ]άσ[μα]τος δὸντα

_Ι_Χ. Θεὸς θεῶν, ἀμήν, ἀμήν, ὁ χιόνα γεννῶν, ἐπὶ ἀστέρων ὑπὲρ αἰώνων καὶ ἀεὶ διοδεύων καὶ ποιῶν τοὺς

My original goal, a few years ago, was to try to see what barbarous words would fill in these gaps through a combination of comparative analysis between this and other PGM entries, as well as through straight-up divination and trancework. But I realized, after looking at these lacunae, that it’s not possible to figure out what might just be a barbarous word and what actually might be legitimate Greek, and Lord knows my Greek is awful at best.  Some of the natural impulses I have, like replacing ΧΑ___ΑΩΘ with ΧΑΧΒΑΡΑΩΘ by adding in a few letters (in bold) to make it sound fairly appropriate based on what we see elsewhere in the PGM, make sense, but then there are others that just wouldn’t go along with that, or where there’s just not enough available to sensibly reconstruct, especially when we don’t know whether, for instance, ΚΑ__________ (in the first line) is a barbarous word (it probably is!) or one of the almost 5000 Greek words (according to Perseus-Tufts) that start with kappa-alpha.  My original approach just wasn’t going to work in any way I was going to be comfortable with or competent at, which is why I put this project off for so long.

Skip ahead a few years.  This prayer caught my attention again, so I decided to do some actual research in academic literature about it to see what might turn up.  As it turns out, there’s a bit of commentary here and there about this particular entry of the PGM, and of them, that in Pieter W. van der Horst and Judith H. Newman’s Early Jewish Prayers in Greek is an excellent one, especially about the purpose of this prayer:

“As one who has become immortal”: Goodenough assumed that the reciter of the prayer becomes angelic and immortal as a result of  saying the prayer: “Through knowing it and using it, the devotee has become an angel upon earth, an immortal, and has received the final ‘gift,’ which would seem to be the supreme mystical gift, participation in divinity.” Goodenough’s phrase “participation in divinity” begs the question of what that experience would mean exactly in the context of this prayer and cannot be answered on the basis of this prayer alone but rather within the context of angelic transformation within the Jewish and Graeco-Roman traditions. …

The final line of the prayer contains instructions to recite the prayer seven times. The number seven was of course of symbolic importance. The final line is governed by aorist middle participles which agree with the aorist imperatives. This would indicate that at the moment God fills the petitioner with wisdom, empowerment, and good, he or she becomes an angel and receives these as God’s gift. Some ambiguity remains as to when the transformation was thought to occur, whether it is during the process of repetition that the reciter is transformed into an immortal angel or if the one offering the prayer must wait until the seventh round of repetition and thus the ritual is entirely complete. The directions of north and east suggested by the rubric are understood by Reimund Leicht to be a “clear hint that it was conceived of as an invocation of Helios-Yao-Yaoil at night,” but this is a problematic claim because our prayer is addressed not to Helios-Yao, but to the God of Israel who is enthroned above Helios-Yao.

There’s also a wonderful paper by Reimund Leicht on the entry, too: Qedushah and Prayer to Helios: A New Hebrew Version of an Apocryphal Prayer of Jacob.  Although Leicht is concerned with a different “Prayer of Jacob”, he touches on this one from the PGM, too, and compares it to other entries in the PGM as well as to other prayers from the Jewish and Christian traditions much later:

In this point, our Prayer of Jacob is very similar to the PGM Prayer of Jacob (PGM XIIb). Although both texts largely differ, they have crucial elements in common: Both are prayers directed to Yaô, the creator of the world, and both adapt motifs of the celestial throne with the cherubim (PGM XXIIb 8). The two sentences “(You who) give power ov[er (the) cha]sm (to those) above and those below and those under the earth” and “[He] who is upon (the) stars abo[v]e (the) ages” remind us of the adaptation of Is 6:3 in 2:20 (fol. 2a/13 f.). Finally, the request for “wisdom” (XXIIb 17) is not very far removed from our Prayer of Jacob. The instruction to “say the prayer of Jacob seven times to (the) North and East” (PGM XIIb 20) is a clear hint that it was conceived of as an invocation of Helios- Yao-Yaôil at night.*  These similarities are certainly not sufficient proof of a direct dependency, but they can be taken as hints that the two prayers may be rather remote relatives.

* The North is the place where the sun is at night and in the East it rises.  For an invocation of Helios at night from the North cf. Sefer ha-Razim IV/43; for an invocation of the sun from the East cf. PGM XIII 254.

So, we have this wonderful little prayer that, although the majority of it is there, there are some gaps that make it just barely unfit for use.  That’s where looking at other entries from the PGM comes in.  Although the Prayer of Jacob might be unique in the PGM, some of its phrasing, barbarous words, invocations, and supplications are not, and we can find some strikingly similar examples in other parts of the PGM and other texts:

  • PGM XXXV.1—42: another Judiacally-inspired prayer, addressed to God or an agent/angel of God for power and favor, notable for its similar list of “who sit over…” attributions
  • PGM V.459—489: “Another way” to “loosen shackles, makes invisible, sends dreams, [and is] a spell for gaining favor”.  Again, with heavy Jewish influences, including the barbarous words ΒΑΡΟΥΧ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ ΕΛΩΑΙ ΑΒΡΑΑΜ, which can be easily read as Hebrew for “Blessed be my Lord, the God of Abraham” (“barukh ‘Adonai, ‘Eloah ‘Abraham”).
  • PGM IV.1227—1264: “Excellent rite for driving out daimons”, another Judaically-influenced but also Christianically-influenced prayer of exorcism, with references to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with the Christian Trinity.
  • PGM XII.270—350: “A Ring, a little ring for success and favor and victory”.  A ring consecration ritual with a lengthy prayer including a long string of barbarous words with references to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, though this shows far more Egyptian influence than anything else.
  • PGM III.1—164: “The ritual of the cat”, a lengthy and highly syncretic quasi-grimoire with some Jewish and Abrahamic elements.

Based on these texts, what I did was basically synthesize parts of them together, using the incomplete Prayer of Jacob as given in PGM XXIIb as a base, and overlaying it with parts from other prayers that fit well, especially those with similar purposes as the Prayer of Jacob.  After a few rewrites, reorganizations, and slight additions to the text for flow and content, what we end up with is a new prayer.  As a result, however, due to how badly preserved the barbarous words are from the original text, sometimes I went with replacing them entirely from another source rather than trying to see what might fit in the right places.   Now, I’m not exactly a fan of swapping out one set of barbarous words for another—Tobias over at Sublunar Space and I have discussed doing that and how it can lead to some disastrous consequences—but some of these entries are so similar to the Prayer of Jacob in approach and style that I think we can do so safely here, so long as we’re smart about it.

However, there’s a weirdness here; in all the texts that have a similar list of barbarous words, or a similar arrangement of qualities such as “you who sit upon X”, including PGM XXXV.1—42 and the Beirut phylactery for Alexandra daughter of Zoē (cf. D. R. Jordan, “A New Reading of a Phylactery from Beirut”, ZPE 88, 1991, pp.61-69), it would seem like these refer to different spirits or angels of particular things rather than attributes of God, yet the Prayer of Jacob from PGM XXIIb treats them as just that: attributes and names of God.  There’s definitely a tradition of prayers going on here, but it would seem that the Prayer of Jacob is an outlier in how it treats these lists of names and dominions.  That said, when we read “you who have the secret name ΣΑΒΑΩΘ”, with ΣΑΒΑΩΘ being a rendition of Hebrew Ṣabaot or “Hosts” referring to the innumerable angels…well, it kinda makes sense, either which way, at least to the mind of the practical Hermeticists of the PGM.  The fact that the same structure and form of prayer is present in a number of unrelated sources is significant, but equally so is the vast disparity between the divine names used.  It’s my hunch that the names are less important than the structure, and as such, the sets of names can largely be interchangeable with each other.  It’s not an ideal situation, but it does allow us some wiggle room for experimentation, and given that the barbarous words are so incomplete and damaged in PGM XXIIb, we can’t really use them anyway—but I claim that we can use those from near-identical prayers elsewhere with as good a result.

As a result of all the above and my own tweaks, I won’t call what I ended up with a “Reconstructed Prayer of Jacob” like I originally intended, because what was “reconstructed” is so different from PGM XXIIb.1—26 to the point where I can’t honestly say that it’s a reconstruction.  However, the underlying text, organization, and purpose of the prayer is identical, so what I’ll call it instead is the “Prayer of the Patriarchs”, a Jewish-Gnostic Hermetic prayer with notions of solar piety that seeks for incarnate divinization of the self as a theurgical practice in line with the Jewish mystical practices of Merkabah and Heikhalot:

In the name of ΣΕΜΕΣΕΙΛΑΜ who is above all the heavens!
I call on you who sit in the first heaven, ΜΑΡΜΑΡ
I call on you who sit in the second heaven, ΡΑΦΑΗΛ
I call on you who sit in the third heaven, ΣΟΥΡΙΗΛ
I call on you who sit in the fourth heaven, ΙΦΙΑΦ
I call on you who sit in the fifth heaven, ΠΙΤΙΗΛ
I call on you who sit in the sixth heaven, ΜΟΥΡΙΑΘΑ
I call on you who sit in the seventh heaven, ΚΑΧΘ
by the power of ΙΑΩ, by the strength of ΣΑΒΑΩΘ,
by the garment of ΕΛΟΗ, by the might of ΑΔΩΝΑΙ, by the crown of ΕΙΛΩΕΙΝ!
Protect me from every daimōn and every power of daimones and from daimonia and from all pharmaka and katadesmoi!

O Father of the Patriarchs, of the All, of the powers of the cosmos!
O Father of the angels and archangels, of the redeeming names, of all the powers!
O Father of the whole cosmos and all creation, both uninhabited and inhabited!
O Father to whom the cherubim and seraphim are subjected!
O Father who showed favor to Abraham by giving the kingdom to him!
O God of the angels and archangels, o King of kings, o Lord of lords!

O King of Heaven, ΑΡΣΕΝΟΦΡΗ
O Possessor of righteousness, ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ
O gracious God, ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ
O Ruler of nature, ΣΑΝΚΑΝΘΑΡΑ
O Origin of the heavens, ΣΑΤΡΑΠΕΡΚΜΗΦ
ΑΘΘΑΝΝΟΥ ΑΘΘΑΝΝΟΥ ΑΣΤΡΑΦΑΙ ΙΑΣΤΡΑΦΑΙ
ΠΑΚΕΡΤΩΘ ΠΑΚΕΡΒΙΩΘ ΗΡΙΝΤΑΣΚΛΙΟΥΘ ΕΦΙΩ ΜΑΡΜΑΡΑΩΘ
You who sit upon the holy mount, ΣΙΝΑΙ
you who sit upon the snow, ΤΕΛΖΗ
you who sit upon the sea, ΕΔΑΝΩΘ
you who sit upon the serpents, ΣΑΕΣΕΧΕΛ
you who sit upon the Sun, ΙΑΩ
you who sit upon the Abyss, ΒΥΘΑΘ
you who sit upon the rivers, ΤΑΒΙΥΜ
you who are ΒΙΜΑΔΑΜ who sit upon the fiery throne of glory, borne by Abriēl and Lūēl;
you who are ΧΑΔΡΙΥΜ who sit in the midst of ΧΑΔΡΑΛΛΟΥ upon the resting place of the cherubim and seraphim as they praise you,
you who are the Lord of the Heavenly Host,
you whose name is blessed and holy unto the ages of ages!
The Lord ΣΑΡΑΧΑΗΛ of Bil`ām,
the God who made Heaven and Earth and all within it,
the Lord of the All!

I call upon you, you who give power over the Abyss
to those above the Earth, to those upon the Earth, and to those below the Earth!
Hear your servant who prays to you in your name with your names!
O Lord God of the chosen people, God glorious unto the ages of ages,
to whom is eternal might, God who is God of all gods!
Rectify your servant who gives unto you this prayer,
make straight him who is of your people,
maintain him who is of those who have received your favor, o God of gods!
O Lord God, Lord of Hosts, blessed are you forever,
o God of ‘Adam, o God of Shet, o God of ‘Enosh,
o God of Qeynan, o God of Mahalal’el, o God of Yared,
o God of Ḥanokh, of God of Metushelaḥ, o God of Lemekh, o God of Noaḥ,
o God of ‘Abraham, o God of Yiṣḥaq, o God of Ya`aqob, o God of gods,
you who have the secret name ΣΑΒΑΩΘ!

O you who are upon the stars and above the ages,
o you who brings forth snow and constantly traverse the entire cosmos,
o you who make the stars and planets marshal all things by your creating power!
Fill me with wisdom and empower me, o Lord,
fill my heart with good, o Lord,
that I might become your angel in this world,
that I might become immortal in your wisdom,
that I might be given a share of your strength and power,
that I might be shown your favor and peace,
that I might receive this gift from you!
Amen.

And, as an alternative, another version that omits the barbarous words entirely, replaces some of the more obscure magical terms with more common ones, and uses the more common English spellings of the Hebrew names used in the prayer:

In the name of the Eternal Light who is above all the heavens,
I call on you, angels of the seven heavens,
by the power of God,
by the strength of God,
by the garment of God,
by the might of God,
by the crown of God!
Protect me from every spirit, every power, every phenomenon, every spell, and every curse!

O Father of the Patriarchs, of the All, of the powers of the cosmos!
O Father of the angels and archangels, of the redeeming names, of all the powers!
O Father of the whole cosmos and all creation, both uninhabited and inhabited!
O Father to whom the cherubim and seraphim are subjected!
O Father who showed favor to Abraham by giving the kingdom to him!
O God of the angels and archangels, o King of kings, o Lord of lords!

O King of Heaven!
O Possessor of righteousness!
O gracious God!
O Ruler of nature!
O Origin of the heavens!
You who sit upon the holy mount,
you who sit upon the snow,
you who sit upon the sea,
you who sit upon the serpents,
you who sit upon the Sun,
you who sit upon the Abyss,
you who sit upon the rivers,
you who sit upon the fiery throne of glory, borne by Abriel and Luel;
you who sit upon the resting place of the cherubim and seraphim as they praise you in the midst of your glory,
you who are the Lord of the Heavenly Host,
you whose name is blessed and holy unto the ages of ages!
The Lord of Balaam, the God who made Heaven and Earth and all within it, the Lord of the All!

I call upon you, you who give power over the Abyss
to those above the Earth, to those upon the Earth, and to those below the Earth!
Hear your servant who prays to you in your name with your names!
O Lord God of the chosen people, o God glorious unto the ages of ages,
to whom is eternal might, o God who is the God of all gods!
Rectify your servant who gives unto you this prayer,
make straight him who is of your people,
maintain him who is of those who have received your favor, o God of gods!
O Lord God, Lord of Hosts, blessed are you forever,
o God of Adam, o God of Seth, o God of Enosh,
o God of Kenan, o God of Mahalalel, o God of Jared,
o God of Enoch, of God of Methushelah, o God of Lamech, o God of Noah,
o God of Abraham, o God of Isaac, o God of Jacob, o God of gods!

O you who are upon the stars and above the ages,
o you who brings forth snow and constantly traverse the entire cosmos,
o you who make the stars and planets marshal all things by your creating power!
Fill me with wisdom and empower me, o Lord,
fill my heart with good, o Lord,
that I might become your angel in this world,
that I might become immortal in your wisdom,
that I might be given a share of your strength and power,
that I might be shown your favor and peace,
that I might receive this gift from you!
Amen.

Most of the changes, especially in the barbarous names, come from other PGM sources; while the Prayer of Jacob from PGM XXIIb is the most important part of the Prayer of the Patriarchs, the initial invocation of the angels of the seven heavens came from PGM XXXV and the Beirut phylactery (the PGM section in question lacks an angel for the seventh heaven), and the godnames preceding the “You who sit over…” invocations came from PGM XII.  Besides those, the only other major structural change is the addition of the full lineage of pre-Flood Patriarchs, from Adam to Noah, then ending with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  I personally like doing this, because it implies a descent of divinity and spiritual heritage from the first man down to the forebears and founders of the Israelites and Jewish people.  Although none of this is in the Prayer of Jacob proper (I mean, if it was said by Jacob, then we wouldn’t expect to find his own name used in his own prayer praisingly), we do see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob put together in other sections of the PGM.  By throwing in the pre-Flood Patriarchs, I though I would be able to tap more into the raw divinity that they had from a time immemorial.  Additionally, from PGM XXXV.1—42, I also added in the prophet Balaam, a contemporary of Moses and the only non-Israelite prophet in the Old Testament.  The inclusion of Balaam is significant, because God made Balaam, a non-Israelite and thus not one of his chosen people, a prophet so that the non-Israelites couldn’t say “if only we had our own Moses, we would be as pious as the Israelites”; more than that, Balaam was blessed with the gift to know the exact moment God became angry or wroth, a deep and emotional intimacy which no other prophet or creature was given.  By including Balaam among the patriarchs here, we’re able to include Jewish heritage as well as non-Jewish heritage, giving us a bit more wiggle room for those who aren’t Jewish or even Noahide in their lifestyle.

Still, there are a few other changes I made here and there, and there’s one interesting bit in the original phrasing that I intentionally changed.  Betz has one of the supplications as “Maintain the one who possesses this prayer, who is from the stock of Israel”, which I changed to “rectify the one who gives unto you this prayer”.  There are three things going on here:

  • I changed “who is from the stock of Israel” to “who is of your people”, making the prayer a bit more general for people who aren’t of Jewish descent to use while still establishing the mage as a person of God, godly in his works and faith, regardless of their Jewish birth heritage in favor of their Hermetic spiritual inheritance.  However, for mages who actually are Jewish, I would recommend the original phrasing instead of my correction.
  • I changed “who possesses this prayer” to “who gives unto you this prayer”.  The Betz translation, taking a cue from Preisendanz, would suggest that this whole prayer might not be recited at all, but instead written as an amulet like many of the other charms and ritual apparatuses of the PGM, but this goes against the ritual instructions at the end of this part of PGM XXIIb, so I don’t think it’s meant to be written and carried around (though doing so wouldn’t hurt, if you were to go the extra mile).  One alternative is to write down the first two paragraphs of the prayer as an amulet, while reciting the rest; that might be one possible breakdown, though I think it’s still better to recite the whole thing, with “possession” here meant metaphorically rather than literally.
  • Really interesting here is the use of the word “maintain” here, which in Greek is διόρθωσον, the aorist imperative form of διορθόω, which literally means “make straight”, in the sense of correction, revision, amending someone, reconciling, redeeming, or restoring to order.  The word has a medical connotation, too, of setting broken bones back in place, as noted by Phillip J. Long over at Reading Acts.  Instead of using “maintain” which doesn’t really have many of those connotations, I opted for “rectify”, which literally means “make right” or “make straight”, and gives more of those connotations of διορθόω.

Then there are the barbarous names ΕΠΑΓΑΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ and ΗΛΟΗΛ ΣΟΥΗΛ.  Though I’m not in the habit of leaving out barbarous words, I did I just that here, rendering them instead as “God glorious unto the ages of ages” and “God who is God of all gods”, respectively.  Though these can definitely be left as barbarous words, I think these ones can actually be translated.  As to how I translated them and why:

  • ΕΠΑΓΑΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ: There are a few Greek words that start with έπαγα- that all have to do with glory, exulting, or dignity, and I think this might be a synthesis of a Greek word with the Hebrew godname ‘El, literally “glorious ‘El” or “glorious God”.  ΑΛΑΜΝ, on the other hand, is strange, but van der Horst and Newman in their commentary on this prayer instead read its as “ALAMAN”, which they consider to be a corruption of Hebrew “`olam” or “`olamim”.  This word is common in the berakhot of Jewish practice, where every blessing begins “barukh atah ‘Adonai ‘Eloheinu, melekh ha-`olam…” or “blessed are you, my Lord, our God, king of the world…” or, alternatively, “…sovereign of the universe…” or even “…ruler of the cosmos…”.  However, in its plural form, `olamim can also mean “eternal” or, more poetically, “ages of ages”, and van der Horst and Newman note that ‘El `Olam would mean “God of Eternity”, suggesting also that we should read this as ΕΠΑΓΑ ΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΑΝ.  Thus, I translated these divine names as “God glorious unto the ages of ages”.
  • ΗΛΟΗΛ ΣΟΥΗΛ: Unfortunately, I’m not as clean here as with the above names, but I don’t want to read them as barbarous words, either.  If we break this up into ΗΛ Ο ΗΛ ΣΟΥ ΗΛ, then we could read it as “God, the God, your God” or “God, the God of you, God”.  ΗΛΟΗΛ is a weird theophoric name; although well-formed, like Μιχαηλ or Σαμουηλ, we don’t often see two divine elements put together, especially the same element, in the same name.  If we break this up into several words, then we can get a reasonable Greek construction: Ἠλ ὁ Ἠλ, literally “God, the God”.  Likewise, we can break up ΣΟΥΗΛ into σου Ἠλ, the second person singular genitive pronoun (i.e. “your”) and God.  It all comes together as “God, the God of you, God”, which implies a divinity-within-divinity or divinity-upon-divinity.  For clarity, and to imply a kind of hierarchy, I’m translating these as “God who is God of all gods”.  It’s not an exact translation, but I’m comfortable in its meaning.

And one more note: the barbarous word ΣΕΜΕΣΕΙΛΑΜ used at the start of the prayer is rendered as “Eternal Light” in the version without barbarous words.  This is due to rendering the word as Hebrew “shemesh `olam”, or “sun of the world” or “sun of eternity”.  This is translated as “Eternal Light” to avoid too heliocentric a focus of the prayer, despite the Prayer of Jacob’s and related prayers’ heliocentric theurgical focus, but bears an equivalent meaning.  This isn’t really used in any of the source texts I was working with, but it’s a word I like using with a beautiful and appropriate meaning, so I used it in a place that seemed useful for it.

And…that’s it.  This is a project that was delayed for almost six years, but I’m glad to finally remove that entry from my post drafts folder, and to present it publicly.  Now to say it seven times facing northeast.  (Or whatever direction faces Jerusalem, I suppose.)