A Simple Prayer from a Beloved Fandom

As I know I’ve mentioned before on my blog, one of my all-time favorite fandoms is that of Myst, the famous game series (with accompanying novels) put out by Cyan starting with the famous 1993 game (one of the first on CD-ROM and which perhaps cemented the medium’s importance in the history of computing) and progressing to the critically acclaimed sequel Riven in 1997, followed by other games like Exile, Uru, and others.  In addition to having a fantastic story and universe built (which is itself centered around the building, or rather connecting to, other worlds), it has a famous constructed language known as D’ni.  It’s not as well-built as other conlangs out there, whether for games or for more serious use, but it’s still got a bit of a corpus for itself.

One of the oldest (perhaps the first) full text of D’ni is known as “Atrus’s Prayer”.  This prayer, attributed to Atrus (one of the main characters of the whole Myst series as a sort of helpless and largely absent benefactor and instigating character who asks for your help), was shown in the 1996 Myst calendar.  For each month, the calendar included a snippet from one of Atrus’ journals regarding the various worlds (“Ages”) he traveled to and studied, mostly those that weren’t actually featured in the game itself except perhaps in one or two oblique references.  However, for November, underneath an image of Atrus’ makeshift writing desk when he was trapped in K’veer in D’ni, we find this prayer instead of a journal entry (or, perhaps, it was indeed a journal entry of its own).

Interestingly, on the December page immediately following, instead of a prayer or a journal entry relating to a particular Age, we instead get a snippet of Atrus’ own personal journal, which I include here for the tantalizing hint of context:

I am not able to understand, only to understand more.  The picture that I wish to examine is not static, it is growing and living.  Even as I understand how the hinges of a door allow me to open it, I find it leads to a room even larger than the first.  But I think perhaps that is part of wisdom.  Knowing that I cannot know all, understanding that I cannot understand all.  If the Maker’s creation was understandable would I not find the Maker something less than great, would I not consider myself equal with the Maker?  It is a tribute then to his greatness when I find myself more confused even at the very instant I have gained insight.

I’ll forego the transliteration of the prayer for the moment (for reasons which will soon become apparent), and stick to the…well, what the D’ni linguistic community can manage to translate of it.  This is a combination of several works that try to analyze it (here and here, for example, among others linked below), with possibilities regarding particular words:

Yahvo
I was [reflecting (?)] [on] your [powers (?)].
I was thinking what [grace (?)] it is to be able to link to various places of your creation.
It is [amazing (?)] to me how complex to [apparent (?), thorough (?)] you have created this universe I live in.
Still with how it is–[however (?)] [apparent (?), thorough (?)] to five [senses (?)] – you [act (?) exist (?)] still to love for me.
I [pray (?)] to you.
What I can [accomplish (?)] by Art I do not entirely [understand (?)] I am [achieving (?)] by your greatness and holiness.
I praise you for who you are.
And I thank you for what you have [allowed (?), done (?)] and what you will [allow (?), do (?)].
I am [thankful] [for my sake (?), moreover (?), my (?)] [grandmother] was diligent to [ask (?)] with end [result (?)] about you and your [purpose (?)].

The reason for so many question marks in the text, and the general awkwardness of it all, is that this prayer was published before Riven, and Riven was the first game to actually make use of the D’ni language (even the spelling of that word was different in the original Myst game, “Dunny”, before that was dropped).  Because of this (and to state things in a non-roleplaying/out-of-character sense), it’s most likely the case that this prayer was written before the D’ni language was finalized or formalized.  While it’s still recognizably D’ni both in script and in language, many of the values of the individual letters seem to have changed between this early version of D’ni and later versions that were otherwise used, and many of the words have not otherwise been encountered and are still questionable.  As a result, if we were to transliterate the text as it is using the canonical correspondences of the D’ni script, we’d get relative nonsense, and even using corrected values, we still don’t have a full grasp of the meaning of the prayer.  Still, the overall gist of the prayer makes sense, especially to those who are familiar with the Myst universe and storyline, and especially all the more after the release of Uru and other games that expounded upon D’ni religion.

Wanting to incorporate at least a bit more D’ni in my own practice (even if only for the sake of inspiration and to remember one of the biggest influences on my imagination since a young age), I thought I’d try my hand at coming up with a prayer based on the above, less oriented towards the D’ni religion that Atrus might have received in his own small way and more towards my own Hermetic path.  The way the prayer is phrased even in the original, it would seem as if a silent contemplation of awe and pious observance of the cosmos and divine creation would precede the recital of the prayer.

O Maker,

I was reflecting on your powers,
and in thinking what a blessing it is to be able to behold the various works of your making,
it awes me how complex in appearance you have created this cosmos I live in.
Yet, however it may appear to my senses, you still continue to love me.

I pray to you who are called God:
I revere you who are the maker;
I cherish the making that you make.
I do not fully understand what I am to accomplish by the great power you grant me,
yet still I work to achieve it by your greatness and holiness.
I praise you for what you do;
I thank you for what you have done and what you will do.

I am thankful for my teachers who were diligent in seeking you and the understanding of you.

In the original prayer, the recipient of the prayer is addressed as Yahvo, also sometimes called “the Maker” and the deity of the monotheistic religion of the D’ni.  Instead of translating this as “God”, I instead decided to opt for “Maker”, since this is also a way to name God according to Hermēs in CH XIV.4, and is also used to refer to God in other parts of the CH (like in CH V or CH X).  Likewise, when it comes to “Art” (which is a technical term referring to the D’ni study and mastery of writing special books to link to other Ages), which I do not myself possess, I decided to generalize it to “this great power you grant me”.  To be sure, there are plenty of Hermetic arts, the three biggest and famous being those of astrology, alchemy, and theurgy, but I decided to both generalize and personalize it a bit.  Similarly, instead of referring to linking to the various places of creation, I changed it to refer to beholding and bearing witness to the works of creation (as much as I’d love to link to other worlds, myself).  I also decided to add in an extra statement not there in the original prayer, but based on something included in a letter from Rand Miller and later included in a prophetical text from one of the later games.

There’s one word present in Atrus’ Prayer that is important to hinge things on: taygahn, usually translated as “love” but with a slightly more involved meaning closer to “to love-know with the whole mind”.  In D’ni, this word “implied a deep understanding, respect, and most importantly unselfish love for one another” in the context of D’ni marriage and the ideal relationship between spouses, but was also used in the context of D’ni belief as the cornerstone of a relationship with Yahvo.  We might consider as the closest translation for this D’ni word used in the religious sense to be the Greek word ἀγάπη agápē.  Interestingly, the word used throughout the Hermetic texts for “love” when it occurs in a divine context is either a variant of φιλία philía (e.g. CH IV.6, SH 2B.1) or—far more commonly—ἔρως érōs (e.g. CH I.4, CH I.12—16, CH VI.4, CH XVIII.14, SH 2B.3).  Litwa notes the role of érōs (passionate love) in the ascent of heaven is talked at length in Plato’s Phaedrus (224a—252b) and Symposium (206a—212b).  That agápē is not used in the Hermetic texts shouldn’t be all that surprising, seeing how it was only sometimes used for “affection” or “hold in esteem” generally prior to Christianity and only took on its much more elevated sense afterwards, originating in the Great Commandment from the New Testament, itself based on Devarim/Deuteronomy 6:5 (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”, וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכׇל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכׇל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכׇל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ׃), the Hebrew word there being a generic one for “love” in a general sense.  Anyway, it’s interesting that Atrus’ Prayer has (what we guess) Yahvo reaching out or giving taygahn-love to Atrus, rather than some dedication of Atrus committing to taygahn-love of Yahvo, but I think it makes sense in its own way, much as God in the Hermetic texts loves Humanity and, thus, each one of us as Humans, wanting us to be truly Human and to come to know (and be with) God.

The phrase “I praise you for who you are” in the original D’ni of the prayer is something I changed to “I praise you for what you do”.  To me, it’s weird to think of God as a person or other entity who is, like how my parents are or how I am or how Hermēs is, and I don’t consider God to exist in the same way as other entities might exist.  Following CH V.9, CH XI.13, CH XI.22, and CH XIV.6, which altogether say that God is not separate from the activity of God which is making (hence one of the names of God being “maker” according to Hermēs), I thought it better to rephrase this as “I praise you for what you do”, since what God does is, in effect, who God is.  This also follows Jack Miles’ insight (from his book God: A Biography, in chapter 4 section 1) that one of the names of God from Shemot/Exodus 3:15, “`Ehyeh `Ašer `Ehyeh” (“I am who I am”) can be altered slightly by changing a yod to a vav, leaidng to “`Ehyeh `Ašer `Ahweh” (“I am what I do”), with the last word “`ahweh” being strikingly similar to the Tetragrammaton itself.  In changing this phrase from “I praise you for who you are” to “I praise you for what you do”, I’m also setting up a better flow and connection with the following statement of “I thank you for what you have done and what you will do”.  Of course, the D’ni word ahrtah is not well understood, and could mean things like “do” or “permit” or “allow” or “achieve” in this context, but I’m going to go with a simple “do” (and may likely be connected to the word bahrtah earlier on tentatively translated as “accomplish”, perhaps without a prefix b’ used to indicate an infinitive verb in D’ni).

The final line of the prayer is a bit strange; based on how the prayer was originally typeset, it would seem that this final dedication of thanks to Atrus’ grandmother Ti’ana may not be part of the prayer itself.  Rather, it seems like a postscript or secondary meditation by Atrus in remembering how the eternal inquisitiveness of his grandmother (“what do you see, Atrus?”, a question he kept as a mantra close to his heart throughout his life since being raised by her in his childhood) in order to reach a better understanding of the nature of things.  Although I don’t recall Atrus coming across as particularly religious or spiritual in the games or novels (nor is religion heavily mentioned in the games until the time of Uru and Myst V), he’s certainly not irreligious, especially given the November and December pages of the 1996 Myst calendar that showed a religious wonder and awe at his deity and their works.  Since neither of my grandmothers were particularly religious or informative in my own religious life but from whom I still learned plenty, I’ve opted to generalize this dedication to “teachers” and to refocus it less on God’s purpose/design and more on the understanding (if not outright knowledge, as in gnōsis) of God.  As a final dedication, it also recalls how I myself am able to get so far and how far I’ve gotten precisely because of those who have gone before me.

For those who are interested in the transliteration of the D’ni text of Atrus’ Prayer (corrected, such as it is) and perhaps to give it a shot at pronouncing, I offer it below in my own transcription system (the other more common styles given on Omniglot and other websites around the internet, none of which I’ve ever been particularly happy with):

(Y)avo,
Kodoḵantor femagentīom.
Kodokanræd kæm lorag kenen b’ken s̠in b’bēḵ b’totī ranal co marntavom.
Dopraqizen b’zū d̠o muḵon b’tērūs̠ lemarnem met mis̠o cav te.
Gat̠ t’d̠o kenen—d̠ozones̠ tērū t’bas̠tī vat—ḵagem gat̠ b’tēgan ḵezū.
Parḵ b’s̠em.
Kæm s̠in barta t’gestō rilnar b’fasī domad̠o t’parat̠om gahūcēt̠om.
Votar a’s̠em ḵekæmrov kenem.
G’qev a’s̠em ḵekæm l’artaem ga kæm boartaem.
Ken qevet ōn mor’oḵ’mor kokenem remesfet b’vēnu t’ḵōtag zu cos̠em g’bortaom.

As a pronunciation guide, besides the usual values of the letters which you can otherwise guess based on English while also trying to be faithful to the nuances of D’ni script modifiers:

  • Vowels
    • a — /ɑː/, as in “hot” or like “father”
    • ā — /aɪ/, as in “eye”
    • æ — /æ/, as in “cat”
    • e — /ɛ/, as in “bed”
    • ē — /eɪ/, as in “day”
    • i — /ɪ/, as in “bit”
    • ī — /iː/, as in “see”
    • o — /ɔː/, as in “thought” or like “goat”
    • ō — /ɔɪ/, as in “boy”
    • u — /ʊ/, as in “hook”
    • ū — /ʊː/, like “shoe”
    • ‘ — /ə/ after a consonant is an unstressed relaxed vowel as in the final syllable of “Tina”
  • Consonants
    • ḵ — /x/, like German “ach” or Scottish “loch”
    • d̠ — /ð/, as in “then”
    • t̠ — /θ/, as in “thin”
    • s̠ — /ʃ/, as in “shin”
    • q — /t͡ʃ/, as in “chair”
    • c — /t͡s/, as in “pats”
    • j — /d͡ʒ/, as in “hedge”
    • ‘ — /ʔ/ after a vowel is a glottal stop as in “Hawai’i” or “uh-oh”
    • Other consonants (v, b, t, s, y, g, k, f, p, r, m, d, h, w, z, n) are as in English.

If one wanted to make a few changes to the D’ni prayer based on my own version of it to make it fit a bit better, though still largely not quite understandable according to modern D’ni understanding:

  • Instead of Avo at the start, it should probably be Yavo to accord with the more common spelling.  To avoid messing with any potential nuance of saying Avo instead of Yavo (the former might mean “Father” or another honorific title of the god), we might instead just say Rebareltan (“the Maker”) as an epithet.
  • Instead of b’ken s̠in b’bāḵ b’totī ranal co marntavom (“to be able to link to various places of your creation”), say b’ken s̠in b’yim a tīgaltī ranal co marntavom (“to be able to see the various works of your creation”).
  • Instead of t’gestō (“by Art”), say tregas̠inet̠ mot koltagem b’zū  (“by the great ability you have given me”).  “Ability” in this instance is a synonym for “power”, in the sense of a potential capability, capacity, or ability to accomplish something.
  • Instead of Votar a’s̠em ḵekæmrov kenem (“I praise you for who you are”), say Votar a’s̠em ḵekæm doartaem (“I praise you for what you are doing”).  I decided to use the simple present (artaem) as a sort of gnomic aspect rather than using the continuous which seems more temporally progressive.
  • Instead of ōn mor’oḵ’mor (“my grandmother”? it’s not clear what ōn in this context means, though it is strikingly similar to the D’ni possessive suffix meaning “my”) in the last line, say garot̠tīō (“my great ones”, i.e. “my teachers”).  There is no word for “teacher” I could find, so I’m taking a cue from Judaism and using the term garot̠ (“great one”) in the same way a Jew might refer to their rabbi (from Hebrew rav meaning “great one”, metaphorically “master”).  Because we change the subject of this clause from a singular noun to a plural one, we also need to change the verb to agree with it, so kokenem (“she was”) becomes kokenīt (“they were”).

This would yield the following prayer, a mixture of “proper D’ni” based on the language’s grammar and lexicon as currently understood and the “early D’ni” of the 1996 Myst Calendar itself.  I’ve also added a few minor orthographic and stylistic changes to make it mesh better with D’ni as commonly understood and today (inasmuch as it might be “common”).

Yavo (Rebareltan),

Kodoḵantor femagentīom.
Kodokanræd kæm lorag kenen ḵezū b’ken s̠in b’yim a tīgaltī ranal co bareltavom.
Dopraqizen b’zū d̠o muḵon b’tērūs̠ lemarnem a mis̠o tetomet cav.
Gat̠ t’d̠o kenen—d̠ozones̠ tērū t’bas̠tīō vat—ḵagem gat̠ b’tēgan ḵezū.

Parḵ b’s̠em kæmrov kenem fūsaij Yavo.
Isyīr a s̠em kæmrov kenem rebareltan.
S̠eten a rebalretav mot barelem.
Kæm s̠in barta tregas̠inet̠ mot koltagem b’zū rilnar b’fasī domad̠o t’parat̠om gat’hūcēt̠om.
Votar a s̠em ḵekæm artaem.
G’qev a s̠em ḵekæm koartaem ga kekæm boartaem.

Ken qevet ḵegarot̠tīō kæmrovtī kokenīt remesfet b’vēnu t’ḵōtag zu cos̠em g’bortaom.

I’ll leave finding and translating the minor changes as an exercise for the overly interested geeky reader, but it still remains in sync with my own version of the prayer given above.

A Hermetic Musing on Fate, Necessity, and Providence

This post was originally a short tweet thread I shared last September, but I don’t think I ever shared it outside Twitter, and I think I phrased some things in it that even I hadn’t realized were as big as I do now.  I’ve reformatted it and embiggened it slightly for a proper blog post, but the gist is the same.

So, a few definitions first, largely based on SH 12—14:

  1. Providence is the will of God.
  2. Necessity is what comes up with what needs to happen in order for Providence to be fulfilled.
  3. Fate is what arranges things in order for that which Necessity declares to come about.

In software engineering terms, Providence is the requirement that specifies what is to be done, Necessity is the design that specifies how it’s to be done, and Fate is the code that does what the requirement says in the manner the design says. The execution of the code—the carrying-out of Fate—is the actual activity that happens in the cosmos, right down to our own lives.

And what are the agents of Fate, you might ask?  What are the entities that facilitate and serve Fate to bring it about?  It’s the planets and stars themselves, which are not just indicators of Fate but the things that provide all things that exist down here with the energy (in the philosophical sense of activity or being-at-work-ness) to do what they need to do to be born, to grow, to die, and decay—and, in the process, fulfill whatever purpose it was meant to achieve.

That the planets are the agents of Fate is why astrology is the first (and most important) Hermetic art, because the study of the planets and stars allows us to learn about Fate, and thus about Necessity and Providence, and thus God and our relation to it. Our external and bodily lives are commanded by Fate, and Fate is not up to us to change in the Hermetic worldview, no more than we can make Mercury not go retrograde when we find it inconvenient. Fate is going to happen one way or another; we must learn to live with it.  (This is where a good understanding of Stoicism comes into play when studying Hermeticism.)

But, the thing is, your soul—that which you really are—is not your body; rather, our souls come from a place beyond the cosmos, and thus a place beyond Fate.  As such, our souls are not compelled by Fate the way our bodies and external lives are.  Our bodies are creations of the cosmos, and the cosmos is ruled by Fate, and so our bodies are naturally controlled by Fate as well as a production of it (and, by extension, the seven planets).  The soul, which only wears the body like how the body wears a shirt, is only impelled, not compelled, by Fate, in the same way that while the quality of a shirt can make a body comfortable or uncomfortable, the body is not fundamentally bound to the same fate as the shirt.  That saying that we’re spiritual entities having a physical experience, or that we should only be in the world and not of the world?  That notion is critically Hermetic, and we need to take that to heart.  We can’t be in control of everything (or even anything) external on the level of the body, but internally on the level of the soul, we can overcome it all.

It is in rising above the powers of Fate that we conquer it, by learning what it does and how it plays out that we learn the exceptions in the code and the behavior unspecified by the design and the loopholes in the requirements. Only once we rise above Fate can we make it our plaything., but in order to do so, we need to understand how Fate actually plays out on the low level once we see what Fate is trying to accomplish at a high level.  This is why alchemy is the second Hermetic art: alchemy is the study and science of learning how the activities and energies of the cosmos play out specifically at the level of material creation and manifestation, in the world we live in. Astrology looks above to see “why”, alchemy looks below to see “how”. And, well, as the Emerald Tablet (and so many others who love to quote it) says, “as above, so below”.

Learning Fate’s activity/energeia by alchemy and Fate’s power/dynamis by astrology, that’s where the third Hermetic art comes in: theurgy. Theurgy doesn’t change Fate to fight against Necessity or change Providence. Rather, it works by Fate to do what is best—what is Necessary—in accordance with highest Providence.  In working by Fate, we rise up to Fate’s own level and surpass it, able to at last be consciously and intentionally free of Fate.  Theurgy relies on knowing that which is above, that which is below, and the relationship between the two to not just go up or down, but to go beyond both entirely.  (After all, when you’re talking about a sphere, any direction away from the center is technically “up”.)

To borrow a bit of Christianity for a moment: angels are said to have no free will, but consider instead that they have will, just that their will is to fulfill God’s will. In this, the will of an angel is the will of God to be expressed through that angel.  The same goes for us, too. Theurgy is what allows us to make our will God’s will, which also makes God’s will our will. And if God is for you, sharing the one and same will, who can be against you?

When your own will is Providence, what need would you have to fight with Fate, when Fate itself could not fight with you?

I was on a two-part show on the “What Magic is This?” podcast!

Well, that certainly was fun!

I trust you, good reader, will remember that I’ve been on a handful of podcasts as a guest before, and if you’ve forgotten (or if you haven’t been around long enough to hear about that), you can check the About page of this website to see a list of what shows I’ve been on before.  It’s always a pleasure and a treat to be on someone’s show, and although I live in constant fear that I’ll make an oafish ass of myself and make the good host waste their time and bandwidth on me, apparently the shows I’ve been on tend to be well-received for one reason or another.

As it turns out, I was was invited back by Douglas Batchelor over at What Magic is This?, this time not as the sole guest but with the good Rev. Erik Arneson (of Arnemancy) as my friend and colleague, the two of us answering Doug’s questions about Hermeticism, both classical and post-classical, from all sorts of angles.  It was a great talk, and because the discussion was so expansive (it’s hard not to be when talking about 2000 years of development and wiles in all sorts of ways!), it got broken out into two separate episodes.  Take a listen, whether on YouTube, Spotify, Libsyn, or your other preferred podcast listener!

Part I (June 17, 2021), focusing on classical Hermeticism

Part II (June 25, 2021), focusing on post-classical Hermeticism

If you’ve enjoyed these talks (I certainly hope you do, and I certainly enjoyed being a part of them!), do consider supporting both Doug and Erik on their respective platforms, subscribe to their shows, donate to their Patreons, and the like!

Hermeticism FAQ: Part IV, Practice

Continuing our Hermeticism FAQ series (see part I, part II, and part III here), let’s continue today with (the final) Part IV, on the various practices of Hermeticism!

What practices are part of Hermeticism?

Although the “philosophical Hermetica” are great for teaching doctrine, they offer very little in the way of actual practice, whether day-to-day routine practice or things for non-routine ritual.  However, we do know that prayer to God is something Hermēs Trismegistos encourages, especially at sunrise (preferably outdoors facing east) and at sunset (again preferably outdoors facing south), along with at nighttime immediately before going to bed.  Practices of purity and asceticism are also encouraged, both for their training of the body as well for the work of engaging divinity without being polluted by the passions of base matter.  In tandem with study of the discourses and other arts, frequent meditation should be engaged with, both for the purposes of delving deeper into the meanings of the teachings as well as to gain insight regarding one’s own nature and the nature of the cosmos generally.  For those who are building shrines for the gods, calling the gods down into statues for more immediate contact and worship of them is recommended, by the means of filling the statues with sacred substances, burning incense before them, bathing them in sacred liquids, and the singing of hymns to seat them in their terrestrial bodies; rather than just statues or other images, bodily possession by the gods may also be attempted.  When ready, works of spiritual elevation and divine ascent should be undertaken, which can be considered among the crowning acts (though far from a one-time effort) a Hermeticist should endeavor towards.  Besides these, many other practices as described in the “technical Hermetica” or which are borrowed from any number of other magical and spiritual traditions may also be incorporated.

Are there any particular gods I should worship?

The only divinity one is strictly required to worship and venerate in Hermeticism is God, and that in a way that is often distinct from other gods; rather than burning incense or making material sacrifices, the true worship of God consists of a sacrifice of speech and the singing of hymns in sacred silence, adoring the Creator by means of their Creation.  Beyond that, whatever other gods one worships (if one worships other gods at all) is entirely up to the student.  For those who are willing, Hermēs Trismegistos himself is an excellent candidate to receive worship for those who follow the Way of Hermēs, whether as a divinity in his own right or as a deified hero-prophet; the same goes for the students of Hermēs Trismegistos, like Asklēpios (the Egyptian Imhotep), Tat (another instance of Thōth), and Ammōn (the Egyptian Amun).  While Greek and Egyptian religion offers many such deities to worship, to say nothing of the many syncretic religious entities present in texts like the Greek Magical Papyri, there is no limit nor rule as to which gods one should worship, so long as one worships God.

Did the classical Hermeticists practice magic, and should we continue to practice magic today?

Although the “philosophical Hermetica” is silent on the subject, and although Zosimus of Panopolis suggests that Hermēs Trismegistos disavowed magic, it is a fact that Hermeticism has long been associated with magical works of many types, and indeed, ancient Egyptian religion saw little distinction between religious works and magical works, to the point where the very concept of magic itself (Heka) in Egypt was venerated as a deity in its own right in addition to the view that the gods had such supernatural power at their disposal to accomplish all manner of works.  Magic is simply the operational use of subtle forces or spiritual entities in addition to or instead of physical or bodily ones to achieve particular ends, and as such, the study of such forces and entities is part and parcel of the study of the cosmos as much as the study of any material or physical force or entity.  This being the case, classical Hermeticists (along with Egyptian priests themselves, and in company with many other wandering magicians of the day) certainly practiced magic, as this was a valid way to engage with the various powers of the cosmos, and thus we are both enabled and encouraged to today.  Of course, such works should be held to a high moral and ethical standard—but so should any other work, whether or not it can be considered “magical”.

What about astrology or alchemy?

These two arts have long been held to be Hermetic, and there’s good reason for saying so; even in the core classical Hermetic texts themselves, there is much astrological symbolism and even directives to engage in the study and practice of astrology to better understand the nature of the cosmos and of divinity.  Alchemy is somewhat more complicated of a subject, becoming more popular and well-studied in the late classical and post-classical periods, but is also tied to Hermetic practices of the creation of medicine, ink, oils, and talismans.  Different texts from different time periods will focus on these arts to various degrees, but they are certainly important for the practical side of Hermeticism, and those who are interested in Hermeticism are encouraged to study and engage with them.  Remember that the study of astrology is what helps us understand more about the processes of Fate; if astrology is the “as above”, then alchemy provides the “so below”, since it helps us understand the processes of change in the cosmos, learning how the activities and energies of the cosmos play out at a low level.  The power and potentiality of Fate can be learned through astrology, and the activity and actuality of Fate can be learned through alchemy.  Even if neither are strictly required, by learning both, one has a strong footing to engage in the work of theurgy.

What about theurgy?

Theurgy (from Greek theourgia, “divine work” or “god-work”) is the ritual mystical practice of participating in the presence of the divine, whether individual gods or God itself.  On the one hand, this can be considered the work of lifting oneself up to the level of the gods through spiritual elevation and divine ascent; on the other, it can also be considered the work of bringing the gods down to our level, either by having them inhabit sacred statues or other idols or by possessing their devotees for the gods to perform work down in our world.  In either case, the ultimate goal of theurgy is to unite ourselves with the divine, fulfilled through rites of purification of the body and soul along with communion with the gods.  It should be noted that this is not a kind of “coercion of the gods” where the gods are “forced” down (as if such a thing were possible in Hermetic terms), nor is it the case that we “trap” the gods in statues for our own bidding.  This is an act of communion, such as inviting someone to live in your home and share your table, and similar acts can be seen in the tradition of “living statues” of Hinduism and in many other pagan traditions across the world.  In a smaller sense, although not always done with theurgical goals in mind, the work of ensoulment and enlivening images can also be seen in the consecration of talismans, where one “brings to life” a particular object for it to confer some benefit, either by having a “shard” of the power of some force (like a planet) empower an object or by having a spirit come to inhabit the object.

What about thaumaturgy, and how is it different from theurgy?

Thaumaturgy (from Greek thaumatourgia “wonder-working”) is a way to describe magic in general, especially magic that is intended to create change or other paranormal phenomena in our world.  In other words, thaumaturgy is another word for most magic most people do and have done the whole world over since time immemorial.  Although some people consider theurgy to be “high magic” and thaumaturgy to be “low magic”, it should be noted that the difference between theurgy and thaumaturgy consists primarily in ends or goals, not in the means or methods; the same method one might use to raise a shade of the dead to learn where buried treasure lies may well be the same method one calls upon the presence of a god to bask in their glory in unity with them.

Are initiations involved or required in practicing Hermeticism?

“Initiation” in its literal sense indicates the beginning of something new, but in a religious context, it refers to the formal induction into a mystery, something secret that bestows some sacred or mystical power, license, experience, or knowledge, generally one protected as secret by a group dedicated to that mystery.  Importantly, an initiation is conferred upon an initiate by someone who is already initiated; it is something given, not merely taken.  In that light, although individual groups that profess Hermeticism may have their own mysteries may require initiations to access such mysteries, Hermeticism as a whole does not require them, and the very notion seems to be unknown according to the Hermetic texts.  That beings said, there are mysteries in Hermeticism, and are described as such in terms of being acts of spiritual elevation or divine ascent in order to behold divine visions.  Engaging in this work may be considered an initiation of sorts, whether or not there is one there to guide a student in such an endeavor.  It is perhaps better to consider this an initiation only when one who has already undertaken such a feat guides another in undertaking that same feat; beyond that, when one undertakes it on their own without such guidance, it might better be said to not be an initiation in the technical sense, even if it does acquaint one with a mystery of the Divine apart and away from any such group.  It’s a complicated topic to discuss, but suffice it here to say that there are often initiatory experiences involved in the higher works one undertakes in Hermeticism, whether or not one is initiated into a group by other human beings.

Is divination okay in Hermeticism?

Absolutely!  Divination is more than just “telling the future”, although it also does that, too; it is the act of approaching the gods to come to know them and what they have to say.  Not only does this fall in line with ancient practices that span the entire world, upholding old traditions of the oracles of the many gods, but it also is explicitly justified in the Hermetic texts as something legitimate we can do, so that we can know what has been, what is, and what will be.  Plus, so many forms of divination have been assigned to Hermēs Trismegistos, or even just Hermēs in the purely Greek sense, not least of which is astrology, that it’s hard to not separate out the work and study of divination from Hermeticism.

Do I need to be a vegetarian or vegan to be a Hermeticist?

At the end of the Perfect Sermon, there is a direction given by Hermēs Trismegistos to his students where they are to eat a “meal that includes no living thing” or “holy food which has no blood in it” following a prayer of thanksgiving to God.  Some interpet that this is an injunction for students of Hermēs Trismegistos to be vegetarian (or even vegan) in general, while others hold to a more limited opinion that only certain ritual meals need to be vegetarian.  It’s a good question, but there’s no one right answer.  It is known that those initiated into the Orphic and Pythagorean mystery cults were famously vegetarian as a constant ascetic practice (and also excluded certain kinds of beans due to their textural similarity to flesh), and it is also known that Egyptian priestly purity practices involved many abstinences from any number of animal products, both the eating of meat and otherwise (like the wearing of wool).  For our purposes today, while maintaining a vegetarian (or vegan, if one so chooses) diet is an excellent ascetic choice one can make, it can be agreed upon as important to abstain from consuming animal products prior to engaging in ritual and to only consume vegetarian (or vegan) food as part of ritual where ritual meals are called for, regardless whether sacrifices to the gods or spirits require meat or other animal products.

What about qabbala/kabbalah/cabala?

This term (all really the same word, just different transliterations from the Hebrew) refers to the overall mystical tradition of Judaism, which builds upon earlier Jewish traditions of hekaloth literature and merkaba mysticism along with Bablyonian and Hellenistic influence.  Although its origins ultimately lie in much earlier Jewish practices, qabbala as its own discipline only arose in the medieval period around 1200 CE.  Due to the complicated and messy history of Judaism in Europe, qabbala became integrated with non-Jewish systems of magic and mysticism, and earned central importance to magical systems like those of the Golden Dawn and Thelema.  While the study of qabbala, in its various forms and approaches, may be useful to some modern Hermeticists of various styles, it is not in and of itself Hermetic in the same sense that the Corpus Hermeticum is Hermetic, though due to the Neoplatonic and broadly Hellenistic influences upon the development of qabbala, it may be integrated with Hermetic practices.

Can I incorporate modern or non-Hermetic practices into Hermeticism?

By all means, feel free!  Considering the difficulty we have in reconstructing the practices of classical Hermeticists, to say nothing of the variety between their practices as well as the practices of various Hermeticists throughout the past 2000 years, there is plenty that can be done by us today in service to the Way of Hermēs. Just bear in mind that just because you might use a practice within a Hermetic context does not automatically make it “Hermetic”, and it is also worthy to remember the context in which such a practice arose and what its design and purpose is for.  Some things can be adapted or adopted for Hermetic ends quite neatly and nicely, other things less so, and some practices are best kept separate from Hermeticism entirely depending on their nature and purpose.

Will Hermeticism make me powerful, give me spells to get laid, etc.?

Sigh.  Technically yes, and I won’t deny that a fundamental drive for magic is the drive to get laid and get paid, but we’re also here to recognize that there’s more to life than just power, sex, money, and the like.  There’s magic, and then there’s magic for Hermetic ends, and while the same spell can be used for a Hermetic end as well as a non-Hermetic end, there’s a reason greed and lust are outlined as “irrational torments of matter” that we’re meant to purge ourselves from.  Let’s try to be a little more mature in the future, yes?