Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Symbolism of the Greek Letters

From before, a letter has four parts: a name, a glyph, a sound, and a meaning.  The first three were discussed last time, along with a basic set of meditations to get us familiar with the first three of these parts.  We didn’t discuss the final part of the letters, however, which is the meaning of the letters.  Unlike the name, glyph, and sound for a letter, of which there tends to be only one of each, there are many layers of meaning for each letter: numerical, astrological, divine, oracular, Phoenician, Greek, and more.  This is what makes the divination system of grammatomancy so powerful, in that a whole world of knowledge can be unlocked with a single letter.  So, even though the meaning of a letter is the fourth part, there are many parts to the meaning of a letter.

What are some of those meanings?  Honestly, if I had to indicate all the meanings of the letters, this blog post would become a whole blog in and of itself, so I’ll simply list a few sets of meanings along with links or links to books for further reading, though my ebook on grammatomancy lists many of them:

  1. Numerical:  my page on isopsephy and gematria, Kieran Barry’s The Greek Qabalah
  2. Astrological: my page on stoicheia, Agrippa’s table of letters (book I, chapter 74, though I reverse how he arranges the planets to the Greek vowels)
  3. Oracular: Apollonius Sophistes’ Greek Alphabet Oracle
  4. Divine: a post linking the Greek gods to the letters for purposes of a lunar grammatomantic ritual calendar

Honestly, with all that down, we already have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, but there’s another way to give meanings to the Greek letters: their original Phoenician names, and Greek words related to the letters.  Even the Greeks were aware, to an extent, of the Phoenician origin of their alphabet, which doesn’t diminish its importance in the least for our purposes.  After all, the Phoenician script was the origin of many of the world’s writing systems (especially if you buy the argument, as I do, that it formed the origin of the Brahmic script in India, which connects it even to the Far Eastern Korean).  The diagram below shows Phoenician in the center column, Hebrew to the right of Phoenician and Arabic to the right of that, and Greek to the left of Phoenician and Latin to the left of that.  Letters of different scripts in the same color boxes show the origin of the letter, while arrows show derivations of other letters.

Origins of Letters from Phoenician

 

Phoenician script has 22 letters, the same 22 as modern Hebrew; there’s a 1-to-1 mapping between those two scripts.  The Ionian Greek script, however, got rid of three of the letters (digamma/waw, qoppa, san/sampi), added four (phi, khi, psi, omega), and moved the position of the derived form of Waw (which became Upsilon) further back in the alphabet.  Each of the Phoenician letters had their own name, many of which provided the names for their corresponding Greek letters.  These names referred to, in many cases, earlier Egyptian hieroglyphs or related words that provided a basis for what the letter looked like.  Many of these names were maintained in Greek, often in derived forms, such as Alpha from ʾĀlp, Bēta from Bet, Gamma from Gimel, and so forth.  For the Greek letters that have Phoenician origins, either in name of the letter or its form, their Phoenician meanings might include the following:

Letter Phoenician Meaning
Α ʾĀlp Ox
Β Bet House
Γ Gimel Throwing stick weapon, camel
Δ Dāleth Door
Ε He Window
Ζ Zayin Weapon, sword
Η Ḥeth Wall, courtyard, thread
Θ Ṭēth Wheel, good
Ι Yōdh Hand, finger
Κ Kaph Hand, palm of a hand
Λ Lāmedh Goad
Μ Mēm Water
Ν Nun Fish, serpent, whale
Ξ Simketh or Sāmekh Fish, tent peg, prop support
Ο ʿAyin Eye
Π Mouth
Ρ Rēš Head
Σ Form from Šin
Name from Simketh
Tooth
Τ Tāw Mark, cross
Υ Wāw Hook
Φ Form from Qōph Back of the head, sewing needle, eye of a needle, monkey
Χ
Ψ
Ω Form from Omicron

Of course, by the time the Ionian Greek script was adopted and spread throughout Greece, many of the letter forms were so far removed from their Phoenician counterparts (if any existed) that many of these meanings became meaningless or detached from the letters.  However, the Greeks themselves often found new symbolism for the names, often from a variety of sources.

  • Words or names that started with the letter itself
  • Images or concepts that bear a resemblance to the shape of the letter
  • Words that bear a strong resemblance or things that have a connection to the name of the letter
  • Assigning a letter to parts of the body, starting with Alpha at the head and going down to Mu at the feet, then starting again from Nu at the feet and going back up to Ōmega at the head (cf. the Body of Sophia)
Letter Meaning
Initial letter Graphical Importance Body
Α  Man, air, Apollo  Beginning, invention, source, God  Head
Β  King, help  Duality  Neck
Γ  Earth, birth  Shoulders and hands
Δ  God, ten  Breast
Ε  Build  Justice, Apollo  Diaphragm
Ζ  Life, Zeus  Back
Η  Hera  Belly
Θ  God, death, Mars  The world/universe  Thighs
Ι  Jesus, jot, single  Line, perfection, Rod of Moses  Knees
Κ  Lord, Caesar  Lower legs
Λ  Lion  Ratio, progression  Ankles
Μ  Mary, myriad  Middle  Feet
Ν  Feet
Ξ  Ankles
Ο  Circle, heaven  Lower legs
Π  Father, fire, five, Mars  Knees
Ρ  Thighs
Σ  Savior  Belly
Τ  Cross, crucifix  Back
Υ  Son  Moral choice, dilemma  Diaphragm
Φ  Voice, sound  Breast
Χ  Time, Christ  World soul, cross  Shoulders and hands
Ψ  Psyche, soul  Holy Spirit  Neck
Ω  Ocean, Orion  End  Head

You’ll note that I’ve started to include Abrahamic and Christian references; this is intentional, and not simply me copying entries blind from Kieran Barry’s “The Greek Qabalah”.  After all, as a Hermeticist, I’m not opposed to including Christian or Jewish references here (despite my trying to distance myself from Jewish kabbalah); rather, including them reaches back and allows for more access to much of Renaissance and Medieval development of Hermeticism as well as its classical and pagan origins.

So, where does all this leave us?  Between the graphical shapes and names of the letters, along with their oracular meanings, divine connections, numerical and isopsephic connections, and astrological or planetary or elemental connections, we have whole worlds of meaning for each of the letters.  These can all be incorporated into the meditations on the letters by visualizing or contemplating on them while intoning or repeating the letters.  The images and symbolism of the letters, coupled with their pronunciation, will further open up more doors in exploring the worlds and meanings of the letters and how they affect the world through their presence and, by their presence, the will and presence of the gods and God.

In fact, speaking of doors, let me share a method of scrying I like to use for deeply exploring a particular symbol.  Once the meanings and symbolism of the letters in all their complexity and layers have been learned and reviewed, and after meditating briefly to calm and clear the mind but before leaving the meditative state, I visualize a doorway with a particular symbol inscribed on it.  In our case, that symbol would be one of the letters of the Greek alphabet.  Knock on the door, mentally intoning the letter itself, and open it up.  Everything inside is a representation and symbol connected to that original symbol; explore the world, perhaps calling on the genius or spirit of the symbol to guide you or to send you a guide, or calling on your own HGA or personal tutelary spirit to guide you through it.  Explore the world as deeply as you care to, and when you’ve decided you’ve had enough, take the same route back through the world, passing by all the things you passed by before, and exit the same way you came.  Close the door, clear the mind again, and exit the meditative state.  I’ve used this skill to great efficacy before, notably on my meditations on the geomantic figures and the elemental archangelic kings, and it can be adapted to any number of symbols.  Using this method with the Greek letters can increase one’s deeper knowledge of them by exploring the deeper symbolism and worlds behind the letters which wouldn’t be apparent from simply reading up on their symbolism, and can indicate other symbols not listed above as well as connections to other letters that might not be apparent.  Further, the technique can be augmented by having it take place in one’s astral temple, or astrally projecting into the world itself.

10 responses

  1. What is this character? I know very little about this subject, but had a waking dream about a language I didn’t know. There were so many and it felt as if it was of importance. Unfortunately, I only remember these two distinctly: Σ and the “green” one that looks like a backward F with a “tail” on the bottom, opposite. Sorry. I have no experience whatsoever in this subject. I did a quick search looking for characters that were similar to what I saw. Any advice (including go away), would be welcome. Thanks for your time.

    • It’s hard to say what you saw, especially since you yourself don’t remember the image very clearly. The “backward F with a ‘tail'” reminds me of the letter Yod from the Phoenician script (see this link). Without knowing what it was you saw, how you felt, under what circumstances you saw this, I really don’t know what to say.

      • It was very close to Yohd (from the link provided). It was a highly unusual and, honestly, powerful dream for me. The letters were appearing so fast, I couldn’t keep up, but a statement was left. My inquiry was more a stab in the dark than anything. Perhaps it will make sense to me in the future…perhaps not. Thanks again for your time. Very, very well done site.

    • Jim, the first letter is the Greek capital letter “sigma”, which has its origin from the Hebrew “shin”, and the interesting thing is that the small Greek letter “sigma” occurs in two forms, depending on whether it appears at the beginning or within the word, or at the end of the word, and both are significant. Without seeing a specific picture of the second letter, I cannot tell you precisely what the letter is, but I believe it may be from the Ancient Hebrew Aleph-bet. Hope this helps, because God is very specific in His Words, even though we only have copies of copies, which are much more carnally and spiritually accurate than any translation. God preserved His Word in Hebrew and Greek for good reason, and we must first understand the Hebrew, so we will understand the Greek, which can both be read spiritually, which is a much larger book than the carnally translated OT and NT, and we must discern the difference spiritually, 1Corinthians 2:14. Hope this helps.

  2. Pingback: Meditation Exercise on the Tetractys | The Digital Ambler

  3. Pingback: Basic Daily Practices of Mathesis | The Digital Ambler

  4. Sir, you have much to learn about Ancient Greek, because to understand it, you must first understand Ancient Hebrew, as well as Modern Hebrew, because the number of letters in each alphabet is different, and words began as sounds, which became pictures, which became letters, which became words, and the pictures and letters have specific meanings that are within the words, which is why those who overcome carnal mindedness, Romans 8:6, will eat the hidden manna of God, Revelation 2:17, and that spiritual food of the spiritually minded will nourish the soul for an eternity.

  5. You should always begin at the beginning, Genesis 1:1, because the first word in Scripture is בראשית which was translated as “In the beginning”. Just for fun, go to Google translate and type in that particular phrase and look at the Hebrew word that is generated, and then type in the word “genesis” and see what you get. Try to remember that all words began as sounds, which became pictures, which became letters, which produce sounds, when spoken. In Ancient Hebrew, two letters are “silent”, and those letters are Aleph and Ayin. Aleph means “head of power/God”, and Ayin means “knowledge”, and it is a well known fact that the knowledge of God was silent to the Jews, Jeremiah 4:22, and they couldn’t even recognize Christ Jesus, the Son of God, when He was born in sinful flesh, Romans 8:3, and we must understand and reject the evil and accept only the good, Isaiah 7:15, to become like Immanuel, but we must first eat butter before eating the sweet honey of the Word of God.

    By the way, the spiritual rendering of the first word in Scripture is “The house of the head of man and God is the Word of God, and the right hand of power that marks” , and you must understand that the head of every man is Christ, 1Corinthians 11:3. Follow the command that Paul gave Timothy, in 2Timothy 2:15, because we are all “dear to God”, Strong’s G5095, which is two words, G5092 and G2316.

    TheThe Word of God, the OT and NT is so tightly bound together, and the two must become one, and there is none good but One, Matthew 19:17, Mark 10:18, and Luke 18:19, and that One is the number 1, G1520, which is expressed spoken as a single word, but appears as a single number. Welcome to the understanding of the binary code.

    • I think we’re done here; not only is this specific post four and a half years old, but the project that launched from it (look up the rest of my posts under the category/tag “mathesis”) took a distinctly wonderful, but also distinctly non-Christian, turn that takes things in its own direction. While I’m quite familiar with the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, they don’t really have a bearing on this particular project of mine. There’s no need to cite scripture or Strong’s concordances at me, especially here. I’ll also note that I myself am not Christian, and I’m also of a Jewish family, who have their own grasp of divinity that you don’t seem to appreciate. The Jews, frankly, neither need nor want the New Testament, because the New Testament only has value because it says it has value, not because of anything the Old Testament says. So, yanno…proselytizing here isn’t in good form or good taste.

      You also don’t appear to know what “binary” means. And that’s okay! There are lots of things that are easily misunderstood, whether unintentionally or willingly in order to make a point.

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