New ebook for sale: The Telescope of Zoroaster!

On the one hand, I should probably apologize to all my followers on Twitter for being subjected to a constant barrage of tweet threads about this topic for several weeks now.  On the other hand, I can also blame someone else for starting me on this bizarre research project.  Either way, those who know anything about my history regarding fixations and obsessions when it comes to niche occult topics would probably guess I’d get around to writing more formally about it at some point.

So, back in early March, Nicholas Chapel a.k.a. McCryptoFace on Discord (from the excellent Hermeticulture blog) asked in the Hermetic House of Life Discord server a fairly innocuous question in the divination channel:

Has anyone ever heard of Zoroaster‘s Telescope as a divinatory method? We used to do it every year for the year ahead back when I was in my temple. I’d never heard of it before or since, but it was always pretty cool to do.

He and one of the other mods on the server (cuchlann from the G Conley: Magic Arts blog) were talking about various cartomantic card spreads, one of which was a Fibonacci-like spiral spread.  The spiraling reminded him of a similar pattern laid out with the tiles of this weird divination system, and he wanted to know if anyone else was familiar with it, since he himself wasn’t sure of the details of it.

As it so happens, I have a book on the system—rather, the book on it, I suppose.  Back in summer 2013, the fine occult book publisher Ouroboros Press put out Zoroaster’s Telescope: The Key to the great divinatory Kabbala of the Magi, translated by the inestimable Dr. Jenn Zahrt (yes, the same one of Revelore Press).  Sometime that year, I had seen some link to the book, probably on Facebook, and given how this was still relatively early on in my magical career, I thought that it would be a neat addition to my own collection and could be a useful thing for me to pick up.  I mean, Zoroaster?  Something related to the Chaldaean Oracles?  Astrological sortilege?  It seemed pretty cool!  So, in addition to getting a few of Ouroboros Press’s limited-run prints (namely their lunar mansions print and their Emerald Tablet print), I also got a copy of their Zoroaster’s Telescope book, and the book arrived later that winter.

And then it promptly sat unused for the next nine years.

It’s not like I didn’t try to read it or anything; I did give it a few honest skims, but I admit, it was a daunting system.  The method itself called for some 112 hexagonal tiles, each with a different number + planet + zodiacal symbol + angel name on them, each of which could appear in these elaborate beehive patterns it called “mirrors”, and, uh…well, the text didn’t seem to be all that well-specified.  I told myself that I’d eventually get around to reading it and studying it properly, and one day I’d get a set of wooden tiles and make them myself according to the patterns in the book.  Nine years later, the book has seen more action moving from shelf to shelf and residence to residence than actually being studied or consulted.  However, with this weird question from Nick seemingly out of the blue, I decided to take this as a sign that maybe this is the time to actually dedicate some time to learning the system.  Maybe I just wasn’t ready or learned enough before to make heads or tails of the system or something, and it’s not like I wasn’t swimming in occult research or work anyway, so I pulled the (admittedly tiny) book down off my shelf and started reading it anew

Almost immediately, I was hooked.  I started putting together spreadsheets to track correspondence tables and lists of interpretations, started jotting down notes on the system, and started puzzling out how this divinatory system was put together.  The more I studied the Ouroboros Press book (which was becoming something of a pain, because it’s actually really small for my hands and also too small for my bookholders to actually carry), the more questions I ended up having.  There was plenty about the system that made sense, but for every thing I could puzzle out there was another that I couldn’t—and the Ouroboros Press book seemed to be, I dunno, incomplete or inscrutable at times.  This led me down a long spiral of research and digging through several hundred years’ worth of really obscure occult, divinatory, and astrological texts that…well, I’ll get to that in a bit (though I’m sure you can see where this is going).

See, the 2013 Ouroboros Press book is not an original work; as I said earlier, it was Zahrt who translated it, not who wrote it.  What this book is is an English translation of the German text present in Johann Scheible’s Das Kloster (1846), volume 3, part II, chapter VII. Scheible was a German antiquarian and compiler of folklore, issuing a monumental 12-volume series from 1845 through 1849 containing various magical texts, superstitions, fairy tales, and other stories or records. Although the entire series is a treasury of folklore and esoterica, volume 3 in particular is an especially useful resource for occultists and magicians, containing such texts as the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano, On Ceremonial Magic by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, the Romanus-Büchlein, a German version of the Arbatel: De Magia Veterum, and others. Nestled among these well-known texts is Zoroasters Telescop, oder Schlüssel zur großen divinatorischen Kabbala der Magier, which is what the Ouroboros Press book translated into English for the first time.  However, as the Ouroboros Press book itself notes, Zoroaster’s Telescope did not originate with Scheible, who was, after all, a compiler and not an author himself.  Rather, the system dates back to an earlier 1796 French version, Telescope de Zoroastre, ou Clef de la Grand Cabale Divinatoire des Mages.  Now, admittedly, I wasn’t about to compare the Das Kloster German book with the 1796 French one myself—my language skills are nowhere near good enough for that in either language, and the Das Kloster book is itself written in eye-gouging Fraktur—so I’m going to trust (as I have every reason to) that Zahrt’s translation of Scheible is spot on and as high quality as we should expect from her.  However, even at a glance, I could tell that there was a lot in the French version that just…wasn’t in the German version: the omission of an entire lengthy introductory epistle as well as concluding epilogue, the omission of footnotes, and the rest of what remained just generally seemed abridged or abbreviated.

Seeing this snagged my attention towards this research even more (if such a thing could be possible), and…well, three weeks later, I had my own English translation of the 1796 French version of Zoroaster’s Telescope, which I have now made available through my Etsy store or my Ko-fi store for only US$10!

The Telescope of Zoroaster (inventive title, I know) is a 92 page (US Letter-sized) PDF text in English that contains, following a brief preface of my own, the first (as far as I can tell) English translation of the fascinating 1796 French text that presents both a manual to a deceptively-simple system of divination that brings along with it a grand vision of theurgy, according to how it was originally published before any other translation or abridgement occurred (or, at least, the earliest extant such text).  Admittedly, I am an amateur at translating French, and even that’s a rather generous way to put it; I’ve been powering through with a combination of online translation resources plus harassing my Francophone artist friend Berenike (who also has an amazing Etsy shop of their own which y’all should check out selling Greco-Egyptian icons and art), but I like to think that I’ve put together a fairly reasonable and intelligible translation of the work, which is itself more of a challenge than even I was expecting—not just that I’m bad at French, but the text itself was pretty difficult to work with.

Now, here’s the thing.  While I was putting together this PDF, I was torn about including anything more than the translation itself (and my own preface to explain and introduce what the rest of the text was that follows with a handful of other sources).  There is so much about this system that is just outright delightfully bizarre, and as I mentioned above, for every question I was able to answer by the text there was another that was raised.  While turning to the French original has been an amazing experience that has done wonders for my ability to grok this divinatory system (as well as placing it in a broader spiritual practice that turns it into something so much more than just a divinatory system, which the Das Kloster version of the text, and by extension the Ouroboros Press version, seems to elide out), there are still so many other questions that I simply have not been able to answer to my own satisfaction, and so I am left with either conjectures on my part or halfway-incomplete answers—and I don’t like the thought of putting those into a more-or-less permanent format as an ebook as I have with some of the other things I’ve done before.  Besides, I mean, it’s not like my blog has been particularly active as of late (I’ve been enjoying a quiet time to myself besides the fun on the HHoL Discord), and this is a system that is both obscure and daunting so many people—so why not take the opportunity to actually walk through the text of Zoroaster’s Telescope (my own, no less!), the system it describes, and everything else about it that I’ve learned during the course of my research about it?

To that end, over the coming weeks and into June, I’ll be putting up a series of blogposts about Zoroaster’s Telescope, where I’ll be fleshing out whatever I can about the system (and hopefully garner some feedback and pointers from others more expert than I am in 1600s/1700s continental European occultism and literature) based on my translation.  I would encourage those who can and who are interested to get a copy of my ebook to better follow along and to pick up on whatever stuff I don’t mention, but I’ll try to cover all the main points in my posts as well.  Seriously, this is a really neat topic that I’m thrilled to get into, so we’ll start on that soon, and I hope you’ll stick around and enjoy the ride with me!  Maybe this will help more people figure out what this system is, or at least get more attention drawn to this unfortunately (although maybe intentionally?) neglected system of spiritual perfection through knowledge.

Also, my apologies to my Twitter and Discord friends who had to put up with me not just going on endlessly and repeatedly about Zoroaster’s Telescope in general, but also for the delay in getting out the translation as well as this series of posts.  I had to wait on a particularly obscure modern French book to come in the mail, which took a while to arrive, in order to finish one last bit of analysis before the whole thing went public, and I didn’t want to start the series only for it to be interrupted pending such a thing halfway through.  Most of this was finished up at the start of April (not even a month had passed since that original question on Discord!), but I just wanted to make sure all was said and done before I considered myself finished, too. Still, it’s all there now, so now we can get started with the actual fun!

Anyway, in the meantime, why not get yourself a copy of my translation and get a head start on what we’ll be talking about?  Head over to my Etsy store or my Ko-fi store and get yourself a copy of The Telescope of Zoroaster (or my other ebooks) today!

New ebook for sale: The Oracle of the Dominoes (also updated prices for my other ebooks!)

This is a project I’ve sat on long enough, I think, and it’s high time I get it out to people’s hands in at least one form I can manage.

While it’s been a long time since I’ve bothered—I fell out of it after it started feeling like a slog and a drain—I recall how my now-defunct CuriousCat account got quite a lot of attention, and was a great way to come up with post topics or other points for discussion and research.  Starting around May 2019, I think, people really started asking me about dominoes in quick succession, as if it were some sort of joke picking up speed on the way to be a running one or something.  It all started, I think, when someone asked about a connection between geomancy and dominoes.  After all, the geomantic figures are combinations of dots, and so are the pips on dominoes, so are they perhaps related? I mean, people can do divination with dominoes, too, right?

The answer was, and still is, a clear and flat “no”; there is no historical connection between dominoes and geomancy, or at least none that I have ever found in any text or discussion in any medium whatsoever.  If there ever was a connection, it’s long been forgotten or was never developed in a way that was preserved.  However, just to make sure, I did some simple research on the history of dominoes, and it turns out that dominoes were just coming onto the scene in Europe around the time geomancy was pushed off to the side in the 1700s CE.  Dice (which are in many ways similar to dominoes) are old, to be sure, and geomancy is also old, but Western-style dominoes are a relatively young thing, whether they arose from six-sided dice or were somehow descended from Chinese dominoes (骨牌 gǔpái, 牙牌 yápái, or 蒱牌 púpái).  And, just to be even more sure, I started some very brief research into reading about domino divination, just enough to confirm my suspicions; as I suspected, there was no connection between geomantic divination and domino divination.

But in the process of that research, something snagged my interest, and hard.  Maybe it was a spirit of mine, maybe it was just some latent desire to get good at this thing I had never before considered or even knew much about, but for the entirety of that summer I became obsessed with learning how to do domino reading and divination. What few books I could find—heck, most of the information was just a few pages in a handful of books.  I did as much research as I could, going back as far as I could with what resources I had available to me, a combination of using digitized records or buying antique copies of books barely held together anymore from the 1800s and scrounging around on websites in a variety of languages and crosschecking it all together to see what matched and what didn’t.  I ended up compiling dozens upon dozens of pages of notes on technique and interpretations, sorting out what seemed useful and what seemed to be coming out of left field.  Heck, I even ended up coming across the supposed connections between domino reading and orisha divination—which is very much not a thing, as I’ve mentioned before in the strongest of terms (that post came out of this research).

It was out of these notes and this research that I ended up putting together a whole book’s worth of knowledge, lore, and technique on how to read the dominoes as a form of divination and fortune-telling (which I immediately put to practice for myself, and whew does it work better and clearer than I thought it would).  I’ve been sitting on releasing this for a while, I admit, but I figured that I may as well just push it to PDF ebook format, since I know I’m not likely to get involved in formal publishing anytime soon (if ever).  After all, the more people who learn domino reading and take it seriously, the better off we’ll all be, I think, whether someone takes it as their one-and-done system or as an adjunct to other systems like card reading or geomancy.

To that end, I present to you my newest ebook: The Oracle of the Dominios, available through my Etsy store or my Ko-fi store for only US$10!

The Oracle of the Dominos (a title that isn’t in Latin for once!) is a 178-page (US Letter-sized) PDF text in English that summarizes basically all the research I was able to do on domino divination, combining what I could gleam from over 50 different texts going back to 1862 across five languages.  A combination of both technique and reference, there’s over 100 pages alone of just details on what each of the individual bones of a traditional set of double-six dominoes means, split out into areas like work and career, money and finances, love and romance, family and friends, health issues, spiritual guidance, general advice, and other notes.  In addition to detailing the traditional approach of reading the dominoes, I’ve also included much more modern ways like using spreads or alternative ways that use the dominoes for specific situations like determining names, numbers, times, and the like, as well as introducing a little astrological symbolism to the dominoes (which I’ve never otherwise encountered) to expand the meanings to also include predictions regarding people’s temperament, character, appearance, and the like.  Having learned and practiced this form of divination since I started learning about it, I can personally attest to how brilliant this lore is when it comes together under the bones—if not outright punchy and blunt at times just to make a point!

Not gonna lie, I did originally intend to find a publisher for this and have it go to press, but honestly, that’s a lot more headache and hassle than I want to deal with (on top of my own personal thoughts and opinions regarding the state of occult publishing as well as perceptions around publishing in general), and that was frankly an impediment to me getting this sort of project out at all.  For those who wanted something like this in print, I apologize; I’d rather self-publish through PDF ebooks than keep this as a file that I’d never otherwise get out publicly.  Still, I’m fully aware that there are those who, despite the increasing popularity of e-readers and the like, still prefer to have an offline and non-digital copy of such things; for those purposes, as with all my other ebooks, I highly encourage my readers to please print these things off on their own for their own private and personal use, either just on plain printer paper shoved into a binder or whether done more professionally through something like Lulu or CreateSpace.  It’s also one of the reasons why, despite the time and resources I poured into a text like this, I’m pricing it how I am—and, for that matter, why I’ve priced my other ebooks how I have, because it’s just a digital file that I’m providing, which (I hope) allows those who wish for something more tangible to spend a few extra dollars on their own to have things printed out in a format and style they themselves prefer.

To that end, I’ve also dropped the prices of three of my older ebooks (Secreti Geomantici, Preces Castri, and Preces Templi) from US$18 or US$16 down to US$10.  I consider the two Preces books to be some of my crowning achievements when it comes to some of my prayer-writing and research, and Secreti Geomantici a fantastic text about a nascent field of magic in Western practice that stands to be developed greatly by the geomantic community, and I also consider this new ebook on domino divination to also be up there, especially given the time and resources I had to pour into it to get it researched and written.  It’s not that I don’t want to make money—money, though it isn’t everything, is damn useful to anyone—but I also want to be fair to people while also not wanting to be unfair to myself, especially in this time when there are so many people out there going through such hard times when something as simple as learning domino reading or having a new set of prayers for ritual practice could give them a necessary edge to make things so much better for themselves and others.  Given how printing things out on one’s own is an extra cost, I figured I may as well just standardize my ebook price to US$10 across the board rather than having things that are comparatively more expensive, especially since US$10 is already a fairly reasonable price for many print books already out there—and authors of such books in print generally get much less of that total cut than what I get (which is almost everything after a few fees towards PayPal, Etsy, or the like).    For those who have already bought these ebooks at the previous price, I give you my sincere thanks and hope you have found them useful enough to be worth the cost; for those who have not yet bought these ebooks, I hope the new price will encourage you to buy them and get some use out of them!

Anyway, what are you waiting for?  Head over to my Etsy store or my Ko-fi store and get yourself a copy of The Oracle of the Dominoes (or my other ebooks!) today, and learn a new predictive skill for yourself that can give you an edge in life!

The Hermetic Refranations and Repentances

I admit: I haven’t been keeping up with my daily practice.  In fact, it’s been quite some time since I’ve really done much of anything spiritual as of late, besides the bare minimum of shrine upkeep and keeping things clean around my house, and the most I’ve done is just study and discuss and listen and write, all of which are important but none of which take the place of actual practice and Work, all of which are necessary but none of which is sufficient unto themselves for doing what I need to be doing.  I can give all sorts of reasons for this, some of which are more reasonable than others, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’ve fallen out of the habit of regular spiritual practice and work.  It’s happened before, and I know that even if I get back on the ball that I’ll fall off again at some point, but that doesn’t change the fact that I really should spend more time in my temple again and at least get back into the habit of daily prayers and meditation.  I know that this is a cycle of mine, where at times I’ll be really good for spiritual work, and at other times I won’t be.  There are good and bad things that happen in either phase of the cycle, of course, and it tends to last for however long it lasts.

Lately, however, I can feel something stirring again—a pining to get back to spiritual practice (if not the actual inspiration and determination to do it, at least yet), a resurgence of ideas to explore, a wellspring of things to try out and write up.  Lately, I’ve been reconsidering how I want to do my shrines, my prayer practice, what the prayers I say are, whether I want to add in new prayers or take out old ones—all this to the effect that maybe my practice as it was, before I had fallen off the ball, was perhaps getting stale and oppressive, and maybe I just needed to break from it all in more ways than one.  After all, in breaking from things, I can also more easily break them apart, see what’s missing, what can be used to fill in the gaps, and whatnot.

To that end, I’ve been drafting and considering adding two new prayers to my prayer rule, in addition to the ones I know I’ll already be using (a little more elaborate but based on the prayer rule I outlined in this post, making use of the Triple Trisagion and the Prayer of Thanksgiving).  These two prayers are what I call “The Refranations” and “The Repentances”, respectively, and…well, you can probably guess what they’re about right from the name: the first is a prayer that dedicates myself to refraining from particular acts, and the second is a prayer that admits my faults and flaws and seeks to repent from them by confessing them and seeking forgiveness.  I wasn’t in the habit of doing either of these two things before; sure, I have my Prayer of Refuge which includes a good confessional bit and seeks forgiveness, and I’ve rewritten a sort of Solomonic confessional prayer (specifically based on book I, chapters 4 through 5 from the Key of Solomon) for my Preces Castri prayer book.  That said, I never really put much stock in the notion of sin, per se, as a Hermeticist: sure, we all make mistakes, but we’re all part of God and all doing the best we can (even if we’re mislead at times).  I suppose I see these things less in a Catholic or Western Christian notion of “crimes” and more as an Orthodox or Eastern Christian notion of “sickness”, and I shouldn’t necessarily feel bad about being sick, so long as I care enough to get better from it.

Lately, though, I’ve been reconsidering that comparatively nonchalant “it’ll resolve itself” type of approach.  One of my longstanding spiritual influences is that of Buddhism generally, and I’ve lately been looking into daily Buddhist household practices from various Buddhist cultures, sects, and traditions for inspiration (to say nothing of shrine arrangements based on Japanese butsudan).  One thing I’ve seen recommended for daily (or otherwise regular) recital and contemplation is that of the Pañcaśīla, or Five Precepts: five fundamental commitments one makes in Buddhism that forms a fundamental system of morality in Buddhism, a Buddhist parallel to the Jewish Ten Commandments.  All lay and monastic followers strive to uphold these precepts (with some lay followers also taking on some more precepts on holy days, and monastic followers having many more precepts to uphold at all times), and so these provide a useful thing to think on every day for many Buddhists the whole world over.  While I don’t quite see anything in the Hermetic texts suggesting negative commandments of behavior, e.g. “thou shalt not do X”, I did consider the energies of the planets from CH I and the irrational tormentors of matter from CH XIII and how those can be reframed as conducive to “sins” of a sort, following the 42 Negative Confessions from Egyptian funerary ritual.

Bearing that in mind, I came up with a short “prayer” of sorts which I call “the Refranations”, which are my Hermetic sevenfold parallel to the daily recital of the Five Precepts in Buddhism:

That I might flee death, darkness, and evil,
that I might strive for life, light, and goodness,
that I might continue on the way of wisdom,
that I might avoid the errors of drive and desire,
that I might subdue my temperament and senses,
that I might be saved from punishment and disgrace,
that I might not be heedless and not be evil:

I will refrain from corruption.
I will refrain from machination.
I will refrain from lust.
I will refrain from arrogance.
I will refrain from audacity.
I will refrain from greed.
I will refrain from falsehood.

For the first part of the Refranations, I specifically drew on language from CH I.18—19, CH I.24, CH I.28—29, CH XII.23, and CH XIII.21.  That first part is basically an appeal and reminder to the self for what the whole purpose is of the prayer, while the latter part is the actual statement of things I will refrain from—”will” being an important part of the formula here, not just as an indication of the future tense in English, but also as a statement of planning and intention, so not just that I will refrain, but that I will to refrain.  The phrasing of the second part originally incorporated both the planetary energies from CH I and the irrational tormentors of matter from CH XIII, e.g. “I will refrain from coveting and intemperance”, but I decided to keep things simpler, especially in light of the consideration that (as I claim) the tormentors of CH XIII were based on the energies of CH I.  I also considered having a seven-times-seven set of repentances, one set of seven for each day of the week, with each set focused on one of the bundles of planetary “sins” I introduced in my earlier post about the tormentors and the Negative Confessions; while I think such a practice could be useful for more intensive periods of spiritual devotion and focus, as I mention in that post being a Mussar-like practice, I figured that for regular recital something much simpler would be better, especially for all-around usage.

Of these two verses, it’s the second verse that is the meat of the Refranations, as they are literally statements of what I will refrain from; the first verse is more like an introduction or preliminary meditation, and while I like it, I’m not entirely sure I’ll keep that in the future as I actually set about using this prayer.  I suppose it could be useful in a chain or sequence of prayers, especially to mark a transition, but for the purposes of contemplation and moral orientation, I don’t think it’s as important.  Alternatively, I could reorder and assign each of the initial seven contemplations as being a specific thing to strive for by means of each of the Refranations themselves, based on a very loose association between them and the planet of the energy to be refrained from.  Admittedly, I do like this approach better, but it remains to be seen which is more effective in practice when I’m actually reciting my prayers themselves.

That I might flee death, darkness, and evil,
I will refrain from corruption.

That I might continue on the way of wisdom,
I will refrain from machination.

That I might avoid the errors of drive and desire,
I will refrain from lust.

That I might strive for life, light, and goodness,
I will refrain from arrogance.

That I might subdue my temperament and senses,
I will refrain from audacity.

That I might be saved from punishment and disgrace,
I will refrain from greed.

That I might not be heedless and not be evil,
I will refrain from falsehood.

At any rate, the sevenfold nature here of the statements of refraining reflects the dominance of the seven planets and their energies/tormentors that incite me towards mundanity and all that continues this cycle of generation and corruption I find myself in.  Although these are energies that are attached to the soul (at least according to Poimandrēs’ account to Hermēs in CH I.25), and thus to an extent something I can probably not fully purify myself without perfecting a divine ascent in some form or another, I can still do my best to abstain from engaging with those energies, which also doubles as training for when I do eventually give up (or have to give up) those energies as part of that divine ascent.  And yes, for those who picked up on it: the use of the term refranation here is also a nod to horary astrology, where two planets are moving towards an aspect with each other, but one abruptly stops and turns retrograde, separating away again before the aspect can perfect (which is delightfully illustrated here on Twitter by @authormischief).  Fitting enough, since these things I refrain from are planetary in and of themselves, but in this context, “refranation” also reminds me that I need to catch myself before I commit them or engage in them, no matter how close I am to them, so long as and however I can.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I necessarily will be able to catch myself before I engage in these things.  I do not claim to be a paragon of morality, and I know my behavior is far from perfect at any given moment; my actions, speech, and thoughts are not always in line with what I know they should be.  In other words—for one reason or another, whether I intend to or not—I can and do fuck up.  It’s not great of me, and I need to hold myself to account for that.  More than that, though, I should also be aware that my fuck-ups don’t necessarily just affect only me; rather, they affect everyone around me in one way or another.  Heck, even if such failings of mine were only to affect me directly, the fact that I am not able to hold myself to the good standards I set for myself means that I am not fully living up to what others deserve of me, which is basically depriving them of what they should get from me by those selfsame standards that I set for myself.  Whether directly or indirectly, my faults and failings can and do affect the world I live in, merely because I live in it, and for that, I need to hold myself to account.  It’s easy to think that I’ll be able to do so upon realizing that I’ve fucked up, but let’s be honest, sometimes we all need to have our noses shoved in the shit we put out in the world, whether we do so ourselves or by others who need to call us out for our shit.  This is why confession is a thing, notably for many Christians but also for many Buddhists as well, especially in monastic communities, because in holding ourselves and each other to account, we not only remind ourselves of the things we’ve done wrong, but learn how we can redress them, fix them, and hold ourselves back from engaging with them in the future.  If we consider these things crimes, then we learn what it is we did and what the punishment and payment for it is; if we consider these things sickness, then we learn what it is that got us sick and what the treatment and prevention for it is.

To that end, I wrote another prayer, “the Repentances”.  A bit longer than the Refranations, sure, but then, there’s more that needs to be said, since this prayer is not just a matter of confessing that which I’ve done wrong, but seeking forgiveness for it, as well.  The trigger for me writing this prayer was learning about the Awgatha/Okāsa, the so-called “common Buddhist prayer”, a formulaic prayer used in Burmese Buddhism that includes a minor act of confession as well as paying homage to the Triple Gem of Buddhism, as well as one’s parents and teachers, but I took the notion more broadly and expanded it in a way that, I feel, addresses what needs to be addressed:

Without giving thought to what I have said or done,
I have acted as one without mind.
Without mind have I acted with irreverence,
and in irreverence have I journeyed in error,
and in error have I partnered with ignorance.

In my irreverence, error, and ignorance
I have transgressed the laws of Heaven and Earth
by means of my senses, deeds, speech, and thoughts,
by doing that which I should I not have done,
by not doing that which I should have done.

For all that I have done openly or secretly,
for all that I have committed against divinity and nature,
that I might be held to account to level the balance,
I confess myself to all who hear me,
and I seek forgiveness from all who hear me.

With raised hands and lowered head
I throw myself before the gods who judge me
and seek their forgiveness and mercy for my irreverence
that, in reverence, I might be freed from the pyre of suffering
and receive the fire of light that illumines the mind.

With raised hands and lowered head
I throw myself before the sages who teach me
and seek their forgiveness and wisdom for my error
that, in attainment, I might be saved from the flood of corruption
and receive the water of life that nourishes the soul.

With raised hands and lowered head
I throw myself before the travelers who walk with me
and seek their forgiveness and assistance for my ignorance
that, in knowledge, I might be cleansed from the stench of vice
and receive the incense of virtue that refines the body.

I confess my irreverence, error, and ignorance;
may I be forgiven, o gods and sages and travelers!
In this light, life and virtue do I worship the One;
so too do I pray that I might always have a good mind
and uphold reverence, attainment, and knowledge.

For this prayer, I relied heavily on language from CH I.20, CH I.22—23, CH I.28, CH VII.1—2, CH IX.4, CH X.8, and CH X.22, but the overall structure and content of the prayer is a bit more extrapolated.  Sure, I took some inspiration from my Prayer of Refuge and that Solomonic confession prayer I mentioned above, but I also took the notion of confessing to and seeking forgiveness from the gods, the sages (i.e. Hermēs Trismegistos and others), and my colleagues/peers/fellow students on the Way from several different places.  For one, it’s a tip to continue one of the notions from my Sending of Peace and by recognizing the various powers and forces in my life, whether divine or human, but from there, it gets a little hazy.  It makes sense to me to seek forgiveness from those around me “the travelers who walk with me”, as I also recognize them in my Prayer of the Itinerant, because they are the ones who stand to most immediately be affected by that which I do, for good or ill.  More metaphorically, even if not present (whether dead or just being divine/mythic entities), I also seek forgiveness from the sages, teachers, and guides who have, one way or another, led me to where I am today; after all, what I do wrong I cannot blame them for, and what wrong I do besmirches their teachings and disrespects them who taught me better.

But the gods?  Sure, them too; I originally had “divine spirits” here, but I figured that “gods” was a shorter way to communicate that notion.  This is a notion that is not absent from Hermeticism: CH I.23 talks about the “avenging daimōn” who assails “the thoughtless and evil and wicked and envious and greedy and violent and irreverent”; section 28 of the Asclepius talks about “the chief demon who weighs and judges [the soul’s] merit” and determines its destination after death; and SH 7 talks about Justice, “the greatest female daimōn”, who is “appointed to be a punisher of human beings who err upon the earth”.  While I personally consider these to be more mythic depictions of how and why things happen (with there being no greater punisher to ourselves than our own folly when you get right down to it, all else being a matter of cause and effect whether in this world or the next), I do accept that it is a belief in some Hermetic texts that there is some divine entity that judges humanity and treats them accordingly.  Even then, though, I also need to remember that that which I do wrong doesn’t just affect those in the world around me, but the very world around me itself, and thus the gods who create and maintain and administer this world.  To wit, I piss in a river, I don’t just annoy those who are swimming in it, but I also annoy the spirits who live in that river, too.

Moreover, if we were to dig into the Egyptian roots of Hermeticism a bit more, we shouldn’t forget how a human is judged in the Weighing of the Heart, watched over and administered by the gods themselves.  While I don’t think that all of creation is necessarily a zero-sum game (all bets are off once you throw Infinity into the mix, which is why so much magic works so well despite all odds), I do need to recognize that everything I do starts a chain of cause and effect, action and reaction.  While apologizing to a broken plate doesn’t repair the plate, it does get me to a point where maybe I can replace the plate or make a new one, and in that, gives me a hope that I can redress the balance of things that I unbalance with my actions, and in so doing unburden myself of the guilt and shame I accrue from my misdeeds.  I may not be able to sway the judgment of the gods for what I’ve done, whether intentionally or otherwise, but in recognizing what it is I’ve done, I can equip myself with the knowledge, awareness, and mindfulness to address my faults and redress the balance in the future to make up for it as best as I’m able to, or at least to do what I can to cause no further harm.  This, in addition to remembering what it is I’m doing and how to do things better, is the purpose of my Repentances: to do what I can to fix what I’ve done.  And it’s not just about the things I’ve necessarily done by actions, but also by speech and thought, as well, which are as volatile and powerful as anything else I work with.

In addition to this threefold model of confessing and seeking forgiveness from the gods, the sages, and the fellow travelers on the Way, I’ve also incorporated a threefold model of the means by which I confess and am forgiven, centered around the imagery of fire, water, and incense.  In addition to being the fundamental things I offer in my spiritual practice for pretty much anything to anyone, I wanted to tie them a bit to the notion that God is “life and light” from CH I—at least for fire (for Light) and water (for Life), though I suppose Life would be better paralleled by spirit, since the demiurge in CH I.9 is introduced as being spoken into being of “fire and spirit” from God’s “light and life”.  However, seeing how those who hearkened to Hermēs’ teaching in CH I.29 were “nourished from the ambrosial water”, I figured to give water to this instead, and instead referred incense to…well, frankly, the last section of the Asclepius, where Hermēs tells his disciplines not to burn incense for offering to God.  Rather, this incense (in addition to being something I can offer) isn’t so much for God as it for me, not as an offering to myself but to prepare myself for offering my prayers and, indeed, myself to God.  Fire, water, incense—these things are offerings I make, sure, but they are also symbols of things that I offer as well as strive for, and they are also agents of purification and sanctification so that I can continue my own Work.

Of these two prayers, especially for independent or solitary practice, I’d consider the Refranations to be more important than the Repentances, but they’re both important and useful in their own ways, especially in the course of constant self-reflection and mindfulness (which the opening and final verses of the Repentances explicitly calls out).  While I don’t consider (any more, as much) Hermeticism to be a religion properly so much as a path of mysticism and spiritual development, that doesn’t change the fact that there’s still this impetus to learn, grow, and do better that is common to both mysticism and religion, where my very behavior and character is itself a means by which I offer worship to God and the gods.  While a mere expression of wanting to change and do better is not necessarily the same as actually doing better, it is an important part of that process (viz. “the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one”).  In an ideal world, I wouldn’t need to set aside a specific prayer to call to mind my own follies and faults—heck, in an ideal world, I wouldn’t be committing such things to begin with—but in lieu of constant self-reflection, setting aside some time in a dedicated practice to doing just that is still a good thing.

To me, these two prayers of the Refranations and the Repentances work well together—though I presented them in reverse of how I’d actually use them.  I’d recite the Repentances first, and that as one of the first things (if not the very first thing) I should recite for my own prayer rule; heck, I could even link up the mentions of fire, water, and incense by setting up my shrine’s offerings with those very things, lighting a candle and pouring fresh water and setting incense to burn, but that’s totally secondary to the real purpose of this prayer, which is to remember the things I’ve done (or not done) wrong, that I might instead come to my Work with a clean heart just as I come with clean hands, a scrubbing of my conscience as I’ve brushed my teeth and face.  While I could immediately then recite the Refranations (which would totally work as its own practice), I would probably recite this much later in my prayer rule, as one of the last things I’d recite before some sort of summary closing.  That way, as I close my prayers, I can walk away from my shrine fully reminded of how to live my life and do my Work, prepared to hold myself to a high standard with the goals and methods firmly fixed in my mind.

At least, that’s the idea anyway, the goal I have in mind.  I actually need to put these prayers to the proof first to see how much they actually help in that, as well as to give them enough tries to see if the language and rhythm flows as nicely when spoken aloud as they sound in my head.  For now, these prayers are just drafts, but I do hope to start using them soon—which, hey, gives me another reason to get back to the practice I should be keeping up with, anyway.  In the meantime, perhaps my change in thinking about these things (a literal μετάνοια, the Greek word often translated in to English as “repentance”) can be a source of inspiration for others, as well.

The Reed-Pen of Hermēs

Lately, I’ve been going through one of those times where I’ve been reviewing the old stuff I’ve written, drawn, doodled, and talked about.  It’s part and parcel of that “quiet cycle” I periodically go through, so it’s nothing new, and God and gods know that I’ve got plenty of loose ends or dead ends lying around that could use repurposing or reinspection.  In the course of making my rounds through my files and old posts here and elsewhere, I came across this little thing I made in Illustrator one day when I was playing around with symbols:

I made it last summer when trying to come up with an icon, glyph, or general symbol for my own brand and interpretation of classical Hermeticism, grounded as it is in the classical Hermetic corpora and the various magical and mystic practices of late Ptolemaic and early Roman Imperial Hellenistic Egypt.  I shared it on Twitter at the time, and it sparked some neat discussions (and some rather spooky reactions) from people, and I sorta left it at that.  Since I haven’t really been doing much new stuff as of late, this little glyph was made and shelved for another time.  As I’m reviewing some of my older stuff, though, I figured I may as well dust this off and share it on my website for others to consider, and to more publicly flesh out some of the elements and symbolism of this thing.

The construction of this glyph (we’ll talk about a name for it later) is simple: using a downwards-pointing equilateral triangle as a “stencil” of sorts, draw out horizontal lines across it at its base, at one-third of the way down, and at two-thirds of the way down, with a vertical line bisecting them all from the base to the point.  Draw a circle tangent to and centered on the base with a radius equal to one third of the base, and draw a point at the circle’s center.  Add a few serifs to the horizontal and vertical lines if desired for decorative purposes, and with that, the glyph is constructed.

I’m sure many of my readers can pick out a few graphical similarities or borrowings from other symbols, but what I had in mind when I was constructing this glyph was the following:

  • Ankh
    • The quintessential Egyptian hieroglyph to represent life, especially eternal or immortal life
    • Also associated with mirrors and floral bouquets, given that they were spelled with the same consonants in Egyptian
    • Preserved in Coptic Christianity as the crux ansata, reminiscent of the tau-rho (staurogram) abbreviation for the word σταυρός “cross”
    • Also reminiscent of the modern planetary glyph for Venus, also a planet of life and fertility and one I associate with the element of Water
  • Djed pillar
    • The sacred tree of life, crafting, and creation
    • Together with the ankh, the scepter of Ptah
    • The spine of Osiris, a pillar-like symbol representing stability
      • Used as an amulet for the dead to ensure their reanimation, resurrection, and immortality
    • Form derived here via the Phoenician samekh, origin for and similar to the archaic form of the Greek letter ksi (Ξ)
      • I associate this letter (using its stoicheia) with the element of Water
      • If this is broken down further into its constituent sounds, this yields kappa + sigma + iōta, which I stoicheically associate respectively with Leo, Aquarius, and the Sun, the two zodiac signs here being the domicile and detriment of the Sun
  • Circle of the Monad
    • Also the Egyptian hieroglyph and the modern planetary glyph for the Sun
    • Also reminiscent of an ever-watchful, ever-waking Eye of God
  • Seven points at the ends of the horizontal and vertical lines:
    • The seven planets (Moon and Sun, Saturn and Jupiter, Venus and Mars, Mercury) and their according energies/blessings/tormentors
    • The seven lesser mercies of God from CH XIII (knowledge, joy, self-control, perseverance, justice, liberality, truth)
  • Three horizontal bars:
    • The three worlds/gods (God, Cosmos, Humanity)
    • The three titles of God (the Good, the Maker, the Father)
    • The thrice-greatness of Hermēs (priest, king, philosopher)
    • The three Hermetic arts (astrology, alchemy, theurgy)
    • The three students of Hermēs (Tat, Asklēpios, Ammōn)
    • The three generations of teachers (Poimandrēs, Hermēs, Hermēs’ students)
    • The three origins of Poimandrēs (Thōth as the mind of Rē, Pharaoh Amenemhet III, Agathos Daimōn/Šai)
    • The three levels of celestial objects (decans, zodiac signs, planets)
    • The three kinds of stars (fixed, luminary wandering, non-luminary wandering)
    • The three arranging principles of existence (Providence, Necessity, Fate)
    • The three greater mercies of God from CH XIII (Life, Light, the Good)

The use of a downwards-pointing triangle to construct the lengths of the horizontal bars was intentional.  For one, the use of a triangle gives this a slight hint of the presence of the ten-pointed Tetractys (albeit pointing downwards), but when I was constructing the glyph, I tried this originally with three equal-length bars.  Frankly, that looked boring and overly stable to the point of stagnant; using bars whose lengths decrease from top to bottom in the shape of a triangle gives the glyph a greater feeling of dynamism.  Additionally, the ratios of the lengths of the horizontal bars lead the eye downward to its bottommost point, but due to the presence of the dotted circle at the top, there’s a particular tension; as others have noted in the original Twitter thread where I shared the glyph, the dotted circle at the top holds the gaze stronger though the eye wants to look downward.  This tension, as some have noted, gives a sort of “as above so below” feel, but also gives people a somewhat disconcerting, wyrd, or even unsettling feel; one person even said that the glyph seems to “want things”, which I found fascinating.

I also tried a variant of the glyph with the central dot removed from the top circle, too, just to see how some of the people engaged in this conversation would also react to that.  While some found it less “confrontational”, they registered the open, empty circle as more of a portal than an eye, and also with more venerial than solar symbolism, which seemed to clash with the overall vibe of the glyph.  I decided to just keep the dot in the eye. Besides, the dot in the circle really does makes the top read more clearly as the Sun, which is nice for the Hermetic  vibes I’m going for regarding Nous/One/Monad vibes.Someone else, in another part of the conversation, noted how the three horizontal bars with the vertical line connecting them was reminiscent of the Bahá’í Ringstone symbol, where the three bars represent (from top to bottom) the world of God, the Manifestations of God and the world of revelation, and the world of humanity, with the vertical line connecting them being the holy spirit of God descending from its own world to that of humanity through the Manifestations.  This wasn’t my intent, but it is something neat to note in the similarity of structure and symbolism.

Anyway, getting back to the glyph I created, I really am fond of this symbol.  It’s no replacement for my own personal glyph (which I use as an icon for pretty much every account on every platform I’m on, and is even seen as the logo of my website), but I do like using (or at least thinking about) this glyph as a representation of my own brand of classical Hermeticism (or, to be more strict with the term, Hermetism).  Even though the glyph is largely a kind of cross, the term “Hermetic Cross” is unfortunately already a somewhat confusing term.  For most people, I would think this term is used to refer to the Rose Cross of the Golden Dawn.

However, at other times, the phrase is also used to refer to the so-called “Cross of Hermes”, which…well, my first thought about this symbol is that this it was originally a printer’s mark used during the English Renaissance in alchemical or occult texts—and it turns out that there are many such variants of this that were indeed used as printer’s marks for various printers!  Despite the claims that this is a combination of symbols to represent a fourfold nature of creation with the maxim “as above so below”, when I went to consult my alchemical symbol dictionary, I also was able to break it down into one of the alchemical symbols for borax (the 4 with the cross on the right-hand bar) atop the alchemical symbol for alembic/distillation flask/still (the upright and inverted V symbols overlapping), which was also one of the symbols also used for glass (and I note specifically that borax was and is used in the making of glass).  Though the printer’s mark theory is far more believable, it can’t be denied that Hermeticism and alchemy were especially close in Europe for centuries, so it’s little surprise that people might have mistaken printers’ marks for alchemical symbols or otherwise conflated the two.  Besides, as the link above to Fameorshame Press’s website says, the use of the glyph for 4 in the four-and-orb style of printer marks was often thought of as being associated with Hermēs being the god of scribes, tradesmen, merchants, and travelers, so there is some connection there, however faint.

Either way, I didn’t want to use the term “Hermetic cross” to refer to this glyph I made to represent my own brand of classical Hermeticism, and I wanted to stay away from anything involving calling it a “tree” or “pillar” (both of which are reasonable terms given the djed-symbolism of it, but which have also been taken over by Golden Dawn and modern Western European qabbalistic stuff as well in this case).  Calling it a “Hermetic staff” or a “staff of Hermēs” would be somewhat conflicting with the notion of the kērukeion/caduceus, the winged-and-serpented herald’s staff of Hermēs in Hellenic imagery, though it is true that the overall shape of this glyph can also be considered a highly stylized, simplified image of the same thing.  But, perhaps taking a clue from Alan Moore’s Promethea comic series, considering how the protagonist used her very pen and art of poetry to transform it into a caduceus and herself into the eponymous heroine, perhaps I could call this symbol the “Pen of Hermēs” or “Reed-Pen of Hermēs”, which recalls more of the reed-pen of Thōth than the herald-staff of the son of Zeus and Maia, and perhaps rings more closely to the Hermēs Trismegistos of the classical Hermetic tradition.  Alternatively, still keeping to this idea and also reinforcing the grander symbolism behind this, perhaps a grander name for this symbol could be the “Reed-Scepter of Hermēs” (much how the ankh, djed, was, or other types of scepters were used by the Egyptian gods in their iconography).  If I were to use another language for this, we might use the Greek term for reeds (and thus reed-pens) κάλαμος kalámos, or perhaps even the Coptic word ⲕⲁϣ kaš.

All of these terms, regardless of the language, would work well to my mind as a term for this symbol, but consider what the name implies for the symbol itself.  If we were to think of this symbol as a pen, then we have the ink flowing down from the top dotted circle (God) down through the words of the various teachers (Poimandres to Hermēs to his students) and down through the various levels of creation (from the sphere of the Father through the sphere of the Cosmos through the sphere of Humanity) down to a single point—which, if we consider the seven ends of the straight lines as the seven planets, that bottommost point is given to the planet Mercury as the balance and fulcrum of all the rest.  The ink would be Wisdom itself, flowing through the channel that links Mercury to the great spiritual Sun, held and guided by the hands of the various teachers from one generation to the next.  Not a bad way to consider the overall structure of the symbol, I suppose.

Of course, I wouldn’t want to use this glyph as a mere decorative thing.  Just as the Crucifix is a symbol to refer to Christianity while also being a potent mystical and meditative symbol that contains within it many mysteries for the Christian to dwell on, I keep thinking of that tension that holds the gaze up at the dotted circle at the top even though the gaze wants to be drawn downwards.  Holding the gaze at that dotted circle long enough, I get the same sense of the horizontal lines being an encouragement to lift up one’s gaze, in the same way that one holds a weight for a long duration, gravity and fatigue trying to get us to put the weight down but our own determination and will continuing to lift the weight up; the horizontal bars become less of a ladder that leads one down, and more arms that are held up in supplication towards the One above.  In thinking about this, I can’t help but think of the fiery sermon of book VII of the Corpus Hermeticum (emphasis in bold mine):

The vice of ignorance floods the whole earth and utterly destroys the soul shut up in the body, preventing it from anchoring in the havens of deliverance. Surely you will not sink in this great flood? Those of you who can will take the ebb and gain the haven of deliverance and anchor there. Then, seek a guide to take you by the hand and lead you to the portals of knowledge. There shines the light cleansed of darkness. There no one is drunk. All are sober and gaze with the heart toward one who wishes to be seen, who is neither heard nor spoken of, who is seen not with the eyes but with mind and heart.

In that struggle of keeping the gaze fixed above while it wants to be drawn downwards, is that not a good metaphor itself for our struggle as a whole?  To free ourselves from being fully trapped down here in this world of matter, caught up in the cycles of rebirth and reincarnation due to our errors of desire, fighting to free ourselves?  To resist the easy down-draw of drive and desire, of thumos and epithumia, and struggling to set our soul on its proper course upwards?  To constantly look upwards and inwards, not with the mere eyes of the body that can only see things perceptible but with the eyes of the mind and heart to see that which is intelligible?  The upwards-downwards tension in this glyph is emblematic of the very difficulty we walk on the Way of Hermēs, I think.  Perhaps, in learning how to resolve that tension fruitfully (and upwardly) through this glyph, we can learn how to resolve that parallel tension in our own lives—to tie this to the imagery of the Pen, we learn how to properly hold it with the proper balance and posture and flow, so that we can learn how to properly Write.  Write what, you might ask?  The wisdom of Hermēs, which is the wisdom of God, the “wisdom for the making known of the All” (as CH III.1 would have it), writing this in our own hearts and minds until we become filled with that same ink of wisdom to spread to others, connecting us back to the very Source of that same ink.

Next time I start digging around and playing around with Illustrator or Inkscape, I’ll probably pretty up the glyph a bit and see about turning into a higher-quality picture, and perhaps giving it a few meditative or contemplative tries here and there to see where it might take me.  As a few people noted in that Twitter conversation, it’s quite possible that this symbol wasn’t merely my own creation, but something needing to be made through me; it wouldn’t be the first time, to be sure, and perhaps there are even deeper mysteries lying in this thing than what I could pick out in that list of symbolisms above.  Perhaps others might give it a whirl, too, and let me know where they might end up.