An Abbreviated Barbarous Name in a Solar Vision Spell from PGM Va

As part of a little research project of mine, I’ve been trying to come up with magical formulas that consist of five or six words or simple phrases.  We’ll talk more about why later on once I get to that point in my research and have a post to share about it, but for now, suffice it to say that I was flipping through the PGM again recently, and came across a short little entry, PGM Va.1—3.  There’s no title or heading for this, though Betz classifies it as a “spell for direct vision”:

O Hēlios ΒΕΡΒΕΛΩΧ ΧΘΩΘΩΜΙ ΑΧ ΣΑΝΔΟΥΜ ΕΧΝΙΝ ΖΑΓΟΥΗΛ, bring me into union with you!
(Add the usual, then anoint yourself, and you will have a direct vision).

(Transliteration of the barbarous words: BERBELŌKH KHTHŌTHŌMI AKH SANDŪM EKHNIN ZAGŪĒL)

Short and simple, I guess.  But something is weird about this already, given its unusual PGM index number of Va, seemingly belonging neither to PGM V nor PGM VI.  Sure enough, Betz indicates that this papyrus doesn’t belong to PGM V, the famous Papyrus 46 from the British Library, nor to PGM VI, which is Papyrus 121 from the same collection.  Rather, PGM Va belongs to the Stockholm Papyrus, aka the Papyrus Graecus Holmiensis, a collection of chemical and alchemical formulae and recipes largely focusing on gems, pearls, and textile dyeing.  It’s only at the very end of this papyrus on a separate folio that we find the following (the whole scan of which is up on the World Digital Library):

Preisendanz gives the transcription of this as:

ΕΧΝΙΝ ΖΑΓΟΥΗΛ, ἔχε με συνιστάμενον.
Κοινά, καὶ τότε ἐγχρίου, καὶ αὐτοπτήσεις.

The way Preisendanz includes this papyrus is such that it comes between PGM V and PGM VI, and thus immediately follows the final two parts of PGM V, PGM V.447—458 and PGM V.459—489.  It’s these segments that give us the Divine Illumination of Dreams ritual and the Invocation to the Supreme Nous that I discussed not too long ago, which share some similar barbarous words as this one (ΧΘΕΘΩΝΙ similar to ΧΘΩΘΩΜΙ, ΖΑΓΟΥΡΗ similar to ΖΑΓΟΥΗΛ).

Importantly, note something in the original manuscript and in Preisendanz that’s not in Betz: the overline over ΑΧ.  This indicates one of two things: that it’s either a number (which is incredibly unlikely in this case, but if it were, it’d be 601), or it’s an abbreviation for another word.  The author of the Stockholm Papyrus uses abbreviations regularly, like Η̅Μ̅ for ἡμέρα “day”, but Α̅Χ̅ is likely an abbreviation for another barbarous word.  The question then becomes: which barbarous word would Α̅Χ̅ stand for?

Without other context, I’m not 100% sure what this abbreviation would refer to.  The word that immediately comes to mind would be ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ (AKRAMMAKHAMAREI), but I’m sure there are other candidates for this, too, like ΑΧΑΧ (“AKHAKH”, PGM1.42ff, PGM III.410ff) or ΑΧΒΑ (“AKHBA” as a name for Aiōn from the Mithras Liturgy in PGM IV.475ff).  ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ also appears in the short victory charm in PGM VII.1017ff, which directly starts off hailing Hēlios, and also in PGM XII.153ff, a spell for divine revelation, which also includes a name, ΒΑΡΒΑΡΒΕΛΩΧΑ ΒΑΡΒΑΙΑΩΧ (“BARBARBELŌKHA BARBARIAŌKH”), tantalizingly similar to ΒΕΡΒΕΛΩΧ in PGM Va.

However, given the similarity of ΖΑΓΟΥΗΛ to the name ΖΑΓΟΥΡΗ (“ZAGŪRĒ”) which is in PGM V.447—489 as well as in (amongst other parts of the PGM as a whole) PGM XIII, we can also pick up on the name ΑΧΕΒΥΚΡΩΜ (“AKHEBUKRŌM”), which later on in PGM XIII is explicitly called “the name of Hēlios” and “signifies the flame and radiance of the disk”.  However, unlike ΖΑΓΟΥΡΗ or ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ, both of which are fairly common throughout the PGM, the name ΑΧΕΒΥΚΡΩΜ only appears in PGM XIII.  I suppose it helps that this papyrus is contemporaneous with PGM Va and has the same Theban provenance, but perhaps more importantly, it has been noted before that PGM Va and the first 21 folios of PGM XIII are written in the same hand, giving more weight that ΑΧΕΒΥΚΡΩΜ is the real name here.

It’s also more convenient that ΑΧΕΒΥΚΡΩΜ actually starts with “ΑΧ” unlike ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ, which would have to be broken into ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑ and ΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ in order for the abbreviation Α̅Χ̅ to make sense.  Breaking up a name like this based on syllables isn’t that uncommon (like Μ̅Ρ̅ for Μαρια), but seeing that this divine name likely has its origins with Aramaic עקר מכמרי‬ `aqar makhmarei (“uproot the nets”, i.e. a magical command to dispel the magical powers and protections upon someone), dividing it along the lines of ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑ and ΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ seems unlikely.

So, depending on how you want to reckon it, Α̅Χ̅ is most likely an abbreviation for either ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ or ΑΧΕΒΥΚΡΩΜ.  This means that we’d repair our solar invocation of PGM Va.1—3 as either:


Personally, the more I think about it, the more ΑΧΕΒΥΚΡΩΜ makes sense, given that PGM Va is about a solar divine revelation and that ΑΧΕΒΥΚΡΩΜ is explicitly identified as a solar word/name—although some scholars have contended that ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ is still a solar word in its own right along with other famous barbarous words like ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ, so I guess it could go either way depending on how you look at the evidence.  However, given all the historical, linguistic, and symbolic evidence here, I lean towards ΑΧΕΒΥΚΡΩΜ, but without seeing any other examples of either of these barbarous words abbreviated, I suppose it’s up to experimentation and divination to clarify the way forward.

As for actually using this invocation, well…there’s not a lot to really help us out, besides the ever-delightful “add the usual”, though the instruction to “anoint yourself, and you will have a direct vision” does help.  I suppose we could preface this (or follow it up) by reciting the Invocation to the Supreme Nous from PGM V.459ff, though the use of the name “Zeus” and lack of any overt solar symbolism seems to make this a less-than-ideal candidate.  PGM XIII.1ff has a good couple of candidates, such as the invocations from lines 255—261 and 335—341 that are explicitly for making Hēlios appear, to be said facing the east and to be used to “perform the acts of thanksgiving to Hēlios, rites to fetch lovers, send dreams, ask for dreams, make Hēlios appear, attain goals, win victories, and in short, everything”:

I am he on the two cherubim at the middle of the cosmos,
between Heaven and Earth, Light and Darkness, Night and Day, Rivers and Sea!
Appear to me, o archangel of God, set in authority by the One and Only Himself!

Using this method, however, there is a chance that Hēlios could appear “glowering”, i.e. upset or angry at you for having called him at an inopportune time.  According to the practice given in PGM XIII.1ff, follow the above with this to ask for another suitable time for the operation:

Specify an hour, a day, a month, a year, o Lord of Life!

Alternatively, the whole of the Preliminary Invocation of the Heptagram Rite from PGM XIII.734ff, to be used before the actual Calling of the Sevenths, may also work well, or this could be incorporated into the Heptagram Rite generally specifically for a solar and divine revelation.  Or you could just, well, “add the usual” according to your own usual practices.

As for the ointment with which you are to anoint yourself, this could be something as simple as pure olive oil or an oil composed of solar ingredients and prayed over, but there are plenty of other options we could pick, too, from other PGM sections:

  • PGM IV.475ff (the Mithras Liturgy): the oil of the mystery composed of a sacred sun scarab, lotus fruit pulp, honey, and rose oil
  • PGM V.54ff (another short direct vision spell): anoint the right eye with water from a shipreck or sunken skiff, and the left eye with kohl (“Coptic eyepaint”) with the same water
  • PGM V.213ff (Hermes’ ring to be used for revelation): salve of lilies, myrrh, or cinnamon
  • PGM XXXVI.221ff (a prayer to Hēlios for victory and restraining anger): just plain oil

Going back to the original topic of the post, on what barbarous name Α̅Χ̅ stands for, I should point out that I would never have noticed that this is actually an abbreviation for a name and not the word ΑΧ itself if I hadn’t looked past Betz and inquired about the origins and earlier versions of this text.  As I’ve seen discussed a number of times on Facebook PGM groups and by other amazing occult authors and writers, the more we take a deeper look at the PGM in Betz, the more we find simple mistakes or omissions that weren’t there in either the original manuscript or in Preisendanz’ critical Greek version of the PGM.  It behooves many of us to do this sort of deeper digging and diving, not only because it can lead to newer and surprising revelations and approaches to this sort of magic, but also because we have the technology, resources, and community collaboration to do this that wasn’t available even a few years ago.

2 responses

  1. Hmm, I am not entirely convinced. I have not come across abbreviations written with a dash above, but mostly with the last letter of the abbreviation written above the first letters. But who knows…it might be.

    In that case there are also other barbarous names: αχαϊφωθωθωαϊηϊαηϊααϊηαϊηϊαωθωθωφιαχα (Hymn to Apollo, PGM I. 327), and αχαραβαυβαυ (Spell to Selene, PGM I. 149)

    What’s more likely imho is that the whitespace is off in the papyrus and that the barbarous names are like so often transliterations of Egyptian/Coptic. Instead of ΧΘΩΘΩΜΙ Α̅Χ̅ it is more probable that it’s ΧΘΩΘΩ ΜΙAX from Egyptian Ḏḥwty’ȝ = “Thoth is great” and “m(i) ꜣḫ” where “m” could be “come” or “like” or “who(se)” and “ꜣḫ” = the Egyptian Akh soul. I know it doesn’t explain the dash on the AX though….

    thanks for the amazing research anyhow, as usual!! and thanks for the link ;)


    • Admittedly, it is *super* weird to find a barbarous name that’s abbreviated, and I was only flipping through the rest of the PGM to see other candidates, just like you did with PGM I there, which are also candidates. And the Egyptian is another possibility!

      Who knows? Maybe it really is a number of 601 and suggests to repeat the whole thing 601 times. :P

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