I’ve been working under a bit of a deadline recently for one of my own projects. I’ve mentioned before, sometimes subtly and sometimes (probably most of the time) not, that I’ve been developing a new practice, a kind of devotional-spiritual-magical geomantic practice. It’s been taking more and more shape, pleasantly enough; prayers, feasts, celebrations, lunar observances, and an upcoming thing which I’m calling the Days of Cultivation: 16 days of fasting, abstinence, prayer, meditation, and a generally intensified spiritual practice. I mentioned the idea back when I brought up a sort of geomantic calendar of sorts a few months ago. Having established that the first full day of spring after the vernal equinox in March would be established as a Feast of Gabriel and also the geomantic/solar new year, I also brought up the idea of two more events: a Feast of the Blessed Dead set 17 days before the Feast of Gabriel, and the sixteen days between them being the Days of Cultivation:
I actually feel pretty comfortable with this novel arrangement. Though there are five main feasts that would be celebrated, which would be an odd number for geomancy, it’s really more like four feasts of the Progenitors plus a special feast that they all center around. They could be balanced by adding in the other three feasts of the archangels to yield a constant and balanced eight feasts per year, sure, peppered with the other feasts throughout the year for the other saints and days taken from Catholic (or Orthodox) tradition. For me, though, it suffices to have these primary five (really, four plus one) feasts to act as holy days for a devotional geomantic practice. I can easily envision having lead-up days, such as one to four days of fasting immediately prior to the feasts of the Progenitors or four to sixteen days of fasting, studying, and praying leading up to the feast of Gabriel at the spring equinox, too, which would also work to deepen and focus devotional practices. Heck, we could give these fancy terms, too, like “Days of Cultivation” for the period leading up to the feast of Gabriel…
…What about a day or feast to recognize the blessed dead, whether familial or spiritual, by blood-lineage or tradition-lineage? Again, you could use All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days for this, or other culturally-appropriate Day of the Dead-type holidays; for specific ancestors, you could use their birthdays or their deathdays. Though, given the above system, I think we could do one better. Those Days of Cultivation, the days of fasting and study and prayer leading up to the geomantic new year and the Feast of Gabriel? Why not make the day before that dedicated to the dead? After all, it’s because of them that all this we have can come to pass, and by “starting” the Days of Cultivation with them, we give them their proper due and respect as we would begin our own period of intensive study and prayer and preparation for the New Year. So, that means that the Feast of the Blessed Dead would be 17 days before the Feast of Gabriel…
Well, this year, according to the rules set in that post, the Feast of Gabriel is slated for Thursday, March 21, which means the sixteen days prior would be the Days of Cultivation, which means that the day before those start would be the Feast of the Blessed Dead.
Which is today.
I’ve been slowly building up this whole practice, and though I have most of the feasts established in how I want to recognize them—at least for the four archangels, because prayers and rites to recognize the four progenitors Adam, Enoch, Hermēs, and Daniel stubbornly refuse to come together in any way—the last major feast for me to come up with something was that of the Blessed Dead. After piecing together something that I’m pretty proud of, based on other ancestor veneration practices I use or with which I’m familiar, there was one more thing I felt like I should add: a set of repetitive prayers. Specifically, something using prayer beads.
I adore the use of the Catholic Chaplet of the Dead, but it doesn’t fit into the overall practices I’m developing, which are more Hermetically theist rather than being Christian, Jewish, or Islamic (though acknowledging the debt I have to all those faiths and practices that have their origin in them). Plus, it…it doesn’t last that long, and the most awkward parts of it are the reciting of the first three prayers. It wouldn’t work for what I wanted to do, so I did the next best thing: I wrote my own set of prayers for use with prayer beads. I already brought up the misbaḥa in a previous post, the Islamic prayer beads of 99 beads broken up into three sets of 33, which is most commonly used for the famous Tasbīḥ Fātimah (In the name of God the Most Merciful the Most Gracious ×1, Glory be to God ×33, Praise be to God ×33, God is Great ×33, there is no God but God ×1), but for which I also developed the Crown of Gabriel, a specific devotion I wrote for the archangel Gabriel based on the Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur’ān. So, knowing that the misbaḥa can be used in any number of ways, and knowing that I can write prayers for it, I decided to write one for ancestor veneration and prayers for the dead.
Thus, on this day of the Feast of the Blessed Dead, I’d like to present to you a new misbaḥa devotion, the Crown of the Dead.
- At the beginning, recite once: “In the name of God, the Lord of the World, the True Judge.”
- On of the first set of 33 beads, recite: “May God give … unbounded mercy.”
- On the first separator, recite: “O God, for all the evil … have done in life, overlook it and forgive them in death.”
- On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite: “May God give … eternal rest.”
- On the second separator, recite: “O God, for all the good … have done in life, increase it and honor them in death.”
- On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite: “May God give … perpetual light.”
- At the end, recite once: “May … find peace on the wings of the divine presence of God.”
At each ellipsis, you can dedicate the recitation of the Crown of the Dead to a specific person (e.g. “May God give John son of Elizabeth unbounded mercy” or “May God give Jane Doe eternal rest”), or to all the dead generally (e.g. “May God give all the blessed souls of the dead perpetual light”. Thus, the Crown of the Dead may be performed for a specific person who has passed away or for the benefit of all the dead.
There are basically four influences on the construction of the Crown of the Dead:
- El Malei Raḥamim, a Jewish prayer for the deceased
- Birkhat Dayan haEmet, a Jewish blessing one says when one receives ill news such as hearing about the death of a loved one
- Various Islamic `ad’iyah (supplications) for the dead and funerals
- Requiuem Aeternam, the Eternal Rest prayer in western Christianity
So, pretty nifty, I think. Simple in its execution, powerful in its meaning, and flexible in its use.
At this point, my little prayerbook-in-development now listed three prayers (Dead, Gabriel, and the Tasbīḥ Fātimah) for the misbaḥa instead of just two, which actually made it worth a section of its own. But why should I stop there? After all, I’ve gotten some experience writing chaplets for archangels before, so why not try coming up with other misbaḥa-based prayers for the other three archangels that this system would celebrate, Michael and Raphael and Uriel? Truth be told, I didn’t originally want to or plan to; I was going to use the Crown of Gabriel as a general preface practice for all the angelic celebrations, because this practice is largely Gabriel-centric. However, when thinking about it and trying to arrange the celebrations right, they just…it didn’t fit. Not that that should be surprising, but I ended up buckling and coming up with three more misbaḥa practices for the other archangels, named (oh-so-creatively!) the Crown of Michael, the Crown of Raphael, and the Crown of Uriel.
The Crown of Michael:
- At the beginning, recite once: “In the name of God, the Most Holy, the Lord of the Heavenly Host.”
- On of the first set of 33 beads, recite: “Holy Michael, defend us in battle.”
- On the first separator, recite: “O God, come to my assistance.”
- On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite: “Protect us against the snares and wickedness of evil.”
- On the second separator, recite: “O God, make haste to help me.”
- On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite: “There is none like unto God but God.”
- At the end, recite once: “Save us, o Lord, and grant us the defense of your angels.”
The Crown of Raphael:
- At the beginning, recite once: “In the name of God, the Living, Eternal, and Faithful King.”
- On of the first set of 33 beads, recite: “O God, may Raphael lead me to health.”
- On the first separator, recite: “Holy Raphael, o cure of all diseases! Come to my aid, o terror of all demons!”
- On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite: “O God, through health, lead me to virtue.”
- On the second separator, recite: “Holy Raphael, o guide of all paths! Come to may aid, o friend of all travelers!”
- On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite: “O God, through virtue, lead me to victory.”
- At the end, recite once: “Blessed are you, o God, Lord of creation, who bestows good things upon the unworthy and has bestowed upon me every goodness.”
The Crown of Uriel:
- At the beginning, recite once: “In the name of God, the One Light of all creation.”
- On of the first set of 33 beads, recite: “O flaming sword cutting darkness and deception!”
- On the first separator, recite: “God willing, holy Uriel, enlighten me in my dark understanding.”
- On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite: “O scales of justice proving truth and fairness!”
- On the second separator, recite: “God willing, holy Uriel, enlighten me in my dark understanding.”
- On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite: “O abundance of the garden nourishing all the world!”
- At the end, recite once: “Glory to God and all his deeds, for all that he does is good.”
There are a variety of influences here, ranging from Jewish blessings to Catholic prayers to calling on the general symbolism of the angels and their powers and patronages. Personally, while I’m set on the Crown of the Dead and the Crown of Michael, the Crown of Raphael and the Crown of Uriel don’t seem quite finished to me yet; there seem to be some subtle differences in how they’re currently written versus the others that I’m not comfortable with, so those are up for some refining, but I still think they’re quite usable on their own. I haven’t had much of a chance to actually work them—yet—but I’m excited to give them a swing.
I’m really warming up to the use of the misbaḥa as a general prayer tool. There are (usually) no overt symbols of faith attached to it, and I like the number of beads and the forms it has, plus the general beauty of them compared to so many rosaries I’ve seen before. Plus, its simplicity and flexibility allows it to be used for any number of devotions and prayer rules, even if a bit of ingenuity needs to be used to come up with them. For instance, most chaplets for the angels and saints are done on so-called niner chaplets, chaplets that consist of nine beads; a straightforward, though laborious, way to apply chaplet prayers to a misbaḥa is simply to repeat each prayer 33 times instead of just once, going over the misbaḥa three times total for a series of 9 × 33 = 297 invocations. Definitely worth taking one’s time, I suppose, or one could just apply separators to every 11 sets of beads, so that each invocation is repeated 11 times instead of just once or 33 times. Plus, with masābiḥ (I think that’s the proper Arabic plural, even though I’m not 100% certain, because I don’t want to use the Anglicized plural of misbaḥas), they’re large enough to be worn comfortably as a necklace, just like a mala might be, and about the same length, too. I find wearing them to be important, especially immediately after reciting one of the prayers above, like for Gabriel or Michael; I’m not just calling them “crowns” for nothing, after all.