For me, physical motions in ritual are hugely important. Tools, incenses, oils, candles, and all the rest are heavily used in most of my rituals, but the biggest thing is what I’m physically doing with my body. I’m not the greatest fan of using astral-only rituals, and I’m a firm believer in that if you want your magic to have worldly effects, you need to do stuff in this world to effect it, both inside and outside ritual scenes. The body is perhaps our greatest tool we have, from our breath and voice to our dances and our hands, and with it we can accomplish the greatest of things.
I make a special case for the movements, motions, and gestures of the hands, which I find to be among the most crucial of all ritual acts. Just as we write with the hands, we can make gestures with the hands in a way to create a symbol that’s halfway between spoken sound and written letter. I’ve discussed this before when I developed a system of geomantic gestures or mudras, where each of the sixteen figures of geomancy are associated with a particular extension or reflex of the fingers on the hand. If I’m working with the powers of a particular geomantic figure, I’ll use the corresponding mudra in whatever ritual I’m doing.
When I recently started investigating mathetic ritual, I started wondering about motions and gestures one could use for this work. I mean, the Golden Dawn and OTO have their signs of their grades, and I’m sure they have other signs besides those. What sorts of mudras could I use or adapt for mathetic work? Sure, given my geomantic musings on the Tetractys, I could borrow those mudras over again, but I didn’t feel it proper to do so. (Depending on the ritual, of course, since I’ve been using the mudras for Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia as pure elemental mudras quite well.) If the main symbols of mathesis are the Greek letters, what could I…
Oh. Duh. Of course there exists a set of mudras for the letters of the Greek alphabet. It’s called fingerspelling (alternatively dactylology, lit. “words of the fingers”), and it’s been done for centuries now. Sure, there’s one such chart recorded by the Venerable Bede from the 1400s that gives distinct signs for the numbers (and, thus, the letters of Greek), but it seems in bad shape and I can’t clearly make out what it is. Besides, Wikipedia says that such finger alphabets were likely “only a bookish game” and not seriously used. What is seriously used? Greek Sign Language, the official language of the Deaf Community in Greece as of 2000, with up to 60,000 native speakers of it at last recording. That’s actually kinda big, when you think about it, and their method of fingerspelling gives us a readily available alphabet of mudras to work with for mathesis. (My deaf and hard-of-hearing friends, and my hearing friends with deaf/HOH families would be facepalming at my density right now, Jim.)
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of written material on Greek sign language that I can easily scan for, especially in English where most of what I find are technological white papers on automated GSL synthesis, but I did find one excellently clear guide to Greek fingerspelling with clear pictures on this website, but another source that I’m more inclined to follow has somewhat different letter forms for a few of them. The former seems to be a remapping of American Sign Language fingerspelling to Greek sounds, while the latter seems to be more authentically Greek. As a bonus, the latter doesn’t involve any motion of the hands, so we can use them and hold them indefinitely, a good benefit for mudras.
To describe each of these signs for the Greek alphabet, or more properly, δακτυλογοι (daktylogoi):
- Α: a fist facing away from the signer upright, with the thumb pressed against the side of the fist pointing upwards
- Β: a palm facing away from the signer upright, with the thumb curled over the palm and the four fingers extending upward together
- Γ: a fist facing down, with the index finger extended downwards and the thumb extended out to the side
- Δ: a palm facing to the side upright, with the index finger extended upward, the thumb connected to the middle finger, and the other two fingers curled in an O-shape
- Ε: a palm facing away from the signer upright, with the thumb curled over the palm and the four fingers curled to connect to the length of the thumb
- Ζ: a fist facing toward the signer sideways, with the index and little fingers extended outward and the thumb curled over the fist
- Η: a fist facing away from the signer upright, with the index and little fingers extended outward and the thumb curled over the fist
- Θ: a fist facing toward the signer sideways, with the index and middle fingers extended outward and the thumb curled over the fist
- Ι: a fist facing away from the signer upright, with the little finger extended upwards
- Κ: a fist facing to the side upright, with the index finger extended upwards, the middle finger extended to the side, and the thumb pressed against the side of the fist
- Λ: a fist facing down, with the index and middle fingers extended outward and apart from each other
- Μ: a fist facing away from the signer upright, with the index, middle, and ring fingers extended downwards
- Ν: a fist facing away from the signer upright, with the index and middle fingers extended downwards
- Ξ: a fist facing toward the signer sideways, with the index, middle, and ring fingers extended outward and apart from each other
- Ο: a palm facing sideways, with all the fingers bent to connect to the thumb together curled in an O-shape
- Π: a fist facing downwards, with the index and little fingers extended downwards
- Ρ: a fist facing away from the signer upright, with the index and middle fingers extended upward, both fingers crossed
- Σ: a fist facing away from the signer upright, with the thumb held over the fingers
- Τ: a fist facing downwards, with the index finger extended downwards
- Υ: a fist facing away from the signer upright, with the little finger and thumb extended outwards
- Φ: a palm facing away from the signer upright, with the thumb and index finger connected in a O-shape and the middle, ring, and little fingers extended upward together
- Χ: a palm facing away from the signer upright, with the index and middle fingers extended upward and hooked down, and with the thumb curled over the ring and little fingers
- Ψ: a palm facing away from the signer upright, with the index, middle, and ring fingers extended upward and apart from each other, and with the thumb connected to the little finger
- Ω: a palm facing upwards, with all the fingers coming together at a peak above the palm
I suppose, if I really wanted to be completionist about it, I could develop three more signs for the obsolete letters Digamma, Qoppa, and Sampi, but…they wouldn’t be used in ritual, since the letters themselves go unused in ritual and on the Tetractys, so there’s really no point.
Okay, so, at this point, we have a system of mudras for the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet. Excellent! As a matter of protocol, I’d use my right hand for signing these in ritual, primarily because my right hand is my dominant hand, but also because of the classical taboo on using the left hand. That said, if you’re left-handed, screw the taboo and switch the sides. How would I go about using these mudras? Say I’m sitting down to meditate on a Greek letter. In addition to intoning the name of the letter, I could also simultaneously hold the mudra while intoning the name, and use the mudra mentally as a way to open the gate of the letter before entering its world when pathworking. It’s a useful idea, to be sure. If I’m using a tool for a given ritual, I’d probably use the tool with the dominant hand and make the corresponding mudra needed with the submissive hand…though I’m not entirely sure yet when such a situation would apply. After all, the dominant hand is the one you write with; it’s the one that should, correspondingly, make the gestures for the letters, but in a ritual, you’d be “writing” an effect with another tool, but perhaps they can be combined in some manner.
So, if I’d be signing the letter with my dominant hand, what would my left hand be doing? For now, lacking other ideas, I’d be holding it under the letter; if I’m signing the letter at chest height, I’d have my left hand at my center, palm facing upwards, as if radiating light to the mudra or collecting light from it. That said, perhaps there are other possibilities for other mudras to be used in tandem with the letter of the dominant hand. For instance, perhaps a system of ten mudras to describe the ten forces on the alchemical Tetractys could be developed; four of them are already known to me, the elemental mudras borrowed from geomancy, so there’d be six to go there. Alternatively, perhaps a “grade” mudra could be made, according to one’s station within mathesis as hypognostes, epignostes, or gnostes. This would be a later addition, however, and not strictly necessary.