Setting Up a Hermetic Shrine

I didn’t intend to make a post series about shrines and the like for a Hermetic context, but after the last two posts on offerings and feasts at a Hermetic shrine which themselves followed up on a bit about the importance of a shrine lamp for Hermeticists, I figured I may as well finish what I inadvertently started as a bit of musing on my part.  I mean, I’ve spoken a bit now about what can do and when one can do it at a shrine, but what of the shrine itself?  What concerns should one have for a shrine for Hermetic practice, what should go on it, how should one maintain it?  These are all good questions, to be sure.  Unlike the last two posts, however, where I relied heavily on Hermetic testimonia and accounts about Hermēs Trismegistos to inform Hermetic practices from a backwards-looking Islamic-era perspective, there are limitations to such an approach; we were able to learn about the nature and timing of offerings, but not where.  To that end, in this post, I’ll talk about my take on Hermetic shrines based on my own practice, experience, and opinions, instead of it being anything grounded in any Hermetic text or testimony (since there’s really not a lot to go on).

First, a bit of definitions.  Personally, I like drawing a distinction between the terms “shrine” and “altar”, and while they may overlap, I do not consider them equivalent.  I think I picked up such a notion from Elani Temperance over at the Baring the Aegis blog, whose work and diligence I’ve admired for quite some time now, but the main difference in a nutshell is:

  • An altar is a place where one makes sacrifice or otherwise does work to, for, or with the gods and spirits.
  • shrine is a place where gods and spirits (or their images) are housed.

In a Hellenistic context of worshipping the Greek gods, in classical times there were two locations one had to be mindful of when worshipping a god: an outdoor altar (either a bōmos “raised platform” or bothros “pit”, depending on the specific god in question) and a temple building.  The altar was (almost) always outside, and the temple was oriented to face the altar.  Sacrifices were (almost) always made outdoors at the altar, not inside the temple building itself, even if the temple housed all sorts of sacred images, statuary, gifts, and the like; in a good number of cases, the temple was just a glorified storehouse and administrative building, while the actual religious part of a temenos “sacred district” was always outside at a comparatively dinky stone block.  This really gets to the heart of the distinction between an altar and a shrine, I think, because in a stereotypical Hellenistic context there was a good separation between the two.

Of course, that hardly can be generalized to all possible religious traditions, and there are many cases where the distinction between shrine and altar is reasonably blurred.  I mean, if you make offerings to a shrine of incense or food, then technically you’re making a sacrifice right there, which would have that shrine serve as an altar, too, right?  Or you might have a large temple space where there’s a sacred image or cult statue of a god (literally) enshrined within, and priests would set up temporary tables in front of the image for rites of sacrifice and worship; in this case, one sets up a temporary altar before a permanent shrine, and then the altar itself is disassembled after the ritual.  It may not always be required to have a separate “working space” apart from the place of a god or spirit, and although some approaches may find it useful, it’s hardly a universal thing, especially when you throw in non-institutionalized household worship into the mix, with different space and logistical constraints entirely.

And that’s one of the big concerns with Hermeticism, I think, that we need to bear in mind: Hermeticism is, by and large, not a temple-oriented practice, at least in the sense of a large permanent institution with a permanent priesthood tending to a public congregation of worshippers.  To be sure, based on our best understanding of the Greco-Egyptian origins of Hermeticism, it definitely arose within a temple-based context, led by mystically-minded Egyptian priests teaching and guiding Egyptians and Greeks in a quasi-syncretic context, but it wouldn’t be right to say that this was a focus of their duties.  Rather, they had all their temple duties as they always had for centuries and millennia: maintaining temple grounds, making sacrifices, tending to shrines, writing and copying texts, and the like.  Likewise, non-priestly people coming to the temple had a primary goal, worshiping the gods, for which they went to temple and didn’t generally linger past what was appropriate.  However, there were then (as there are now) people (both priestly and lay) for whom going to temple, participating in a sacrifice or festival, singing a hymn or two, and having that be the sum of their religious life wasn’t enough; for them, they’d want something more, something more profound, something mystical.  That’s where Hermeticism has its origins: a sort of extracurricular “meet me after class” deal for the mystically-minded, between mystically-minded priests and mystically-minded seekers.  They’d get up to this mystical stuff, seeing the Divinity behind the divinities, after their usual temple stuff; they wouldn’t ignore their temple stuff, not at all, but would build upon that as a foundation for reaching higher and deeper into spiritual reality.

To emphasize this point, consider the set and setting of the Perfect Sermon, otherwise known as the Asclepius (AH).  Among the classical Hermetic texts, AH is notable because it presents a dialogue with a narrative setting: we actually get a notion of where the dialogue takes place.  In this case, AH takes place in a temple, with Hermēs and Asklēpios already inside ready for a divine discourse, and then Hermēs sends Askēpios to fetch Tat to be present, and likewise Asklēpios proposes Ammōn also join them, at which point Hermēs says “yup, that’s good, but that’s enough”.  Hermēs gives his sermon in the temple, and “the reverence of the four men and the divine presence of god filled that holy place…and then divine love began to speak”.  After Hermēs concludes the discourse, the four of them then recite the Prayer of Thanksgiving, but note the important bit: they leave the temple to go outside to pray, and also offer nothing except prayer, not even incense.  For the purpose of teaching and religious edification, Hermēs chooses the temple as the appropriate setting, but for actual mystical practice and devotion, he leaves it and its accoutrement behind.

All this is to say that a Hermetic practice does not need to be considered something priestly, hieratic, or temple-oriented, and so the usual obligations, logistics, or the like of temple concerns do not need to be our concerns insofar as we’re talking about Hermeticism.  But, if that’s the case, and if temples are places specifically for enshrining and petitioning and propitiating the gods, then what is a Hermetic shrine for at all?  I mean, while one could certainly enshrine any number of gods (Hermēs and his crew, maybe the seven planets, maybe even Poimandrēs and/or Agathos Daimōn, and the like), none of those would (strictly speaking) be necessary for an esoteric Hermetic practice so long as they were already factored into a preexisting exoteric or temple-oriented practice.  That last part is important to emphasize, I think, because that might change the concerns one would have for such a Hermetic shrine.  For instance, if one already has an existing practice to Hermēs and/or Thōth with their own shrines, then one can just go to them for works specifically pertaining to them, either within or outside of a Hermetic context, but if one does not have such an existing practice, then maybe having a little image of Hermēs/Thōth/Hermēs-Thōth/Hermēs Trismegistos as part of one’s Hermetic shrine would be a benefit to them.

Of course, this is already getting into hypotheticals and details of a Hermetic shrine without talking about the general or high-level stuff first, so let’s back up a bit.  The biggest question to be tackled is this: for what purpose would having a Hermetic shrine fulfill?  To me, the biggest thing would be giving a Hermetic practitioner a place to do their Hermetic work, their prayer, their devotional and meditative and theurgic activities.  In this light, the focus of the Hermetic shrine would be the focus of Hermeticism, which is God—and, as I mentioned before, that would render the shrine lamp as the most important element on a Hermetic shrine, being representative not only of God itself but also of our goal of divine union with God and the quest of the soul towards God.  The shrine lamp holding a sacred flame is the sine qua non of a Hermetic shrine, and…well, after all the years of me doing things along this line, is probably the only absolutely necessary thing that I would say one might need to make a Hermetic shrine.  Beyond a handful of offering dishes for observing feasts, which is more of a utilitarian concern and convenience more than anything else and which would be put away when not in use anyway, I genuinely don’t think that anything else is absolutely necessary to be present for a Hermetic shrine beyond a shrine lamp.

In that regard, can this sort of thing even really be considered a “shrine”, at least using the terms I’ve defined at the start of this post?  I suppose not, no.  I mean, what could one do to “enshrine” God?  What image could house God itself?  As book V of the Corpus Hermeticum (CH V) beautifully points out, there is nothing that could limit God either in terms of speech or image or time, so there’s neither point nor possibility in trying to “house” God when God itself is what surrounds and fills all things.  Rather, the Hermetic shrine is a place for us to do the work we need to do towards God (and, if necessary, the gods as well).  In that light, this would really be more of an altar than a shrine—except, of course, unless we do have gods enshrined there, but let’s put that aside for now (again).  The point is that I keep calling this a “Hermetic shrine”, but I’m using the term “shrine” in a very broad way that goes against my own usual definitions in a way that muddles the distinction between “shrine” (a place where spirits are housed), “altar” (a working surface for ritual or sacrifice), and “temple” (a sacred space that contains shrines and/or altars for spiritual activities).  I suppose my calling this a “Hermetic shrine” comes from my own unspoken notion of calling any place I pray at regularly a “shrine”, while I reserve “altar” for a place I do work at on an as-needed basis.  It’s just another set of definitions, I suppose.

And even then, is a dedicated space for this sort of work really necessary?  I mean, at the end of the AH, Hermēs and crew leave the temple in order to pray, and likewise the prayer instructions in CH XIII.16 (after Hermēs guides Tat into spiritual rebirth and before he sings the “secret hymn”) say that one should pray “in the open air”.  The only other context we get for something mystically happening is in CH I, when Hermēs receives his vision from Poimnadrēs, and that was entirely location-independent when Hermēs’ “thinking soared high and [his] bodily senses were restrained, like someone heavy with sleep from too much eating or toil of the body” (i.e. a deep trance state).  In an ideal setting, worship and veneration of God would not be done at any particular temple (which would be dedicated to any number of other gods anyway on an ontologically lower level than God) but rather in the open air directly under and in the midst of the heavens; spiritual work and elevation would be done, similarly, apart and away from the body itself.  Of course, that’s all in an ideal situation; a Hermetic shrine, a place we could go to in the safety and convenience of our own homes, gives us a means to engage in the work (preparatory or no) to reach such an ideal state at some point.  To that end, while I don’t think a Hermetic shrine is technically necessary, I do think that it’s helpful to have for those as a means to concentrate and focus their prayer, meditation, and work all the same.

Anyway, let’s keep up with the high-level stuff.  If the shrine lamp and a handful of offering dishes is all that’s strictly needed for the Hermetic shrine, then what should the shrine itself look like?  I don’t personally like having such things directly on the floor, and recommend some sort of elevated surface to keep everything on, but beyond that, I don’t think the specifics matter all too much.  So long as it’s something comfortable for you to stay at for an extended period of time (to account for time in meditation, prayer, devotional work, conjuration, communion, offering, etc.), then that’s the most important thing.  For instance, I like kneeling with a seiza bench for my Hermetic stuff, which makes low tables (side tables, coffee tables, etc.) ideal for me, being not too tall for me to strain my neck by looking up or having to reach to the end of it.  Others might feel more comfortable with something at desk height where they can sit in a simple chair; others might prefer something at their waist, or even higher than that, depending on the significance they might attach towards physical elevation towards these things.  Some people state that, as a sign of respect, holy things should be no lower than one’s waist and preferably at head height or above, and I respect that, but as a matter of convenience and logistics in terms of one’s own personal mystical stuff, I don’t think that that’s as strict a concern here for the considerations of the Hermetic shrine.  So long as it’s at a reasonable height for one’s practice and is large enough to hold what one needs to put on it, then I don’t think the specifics matter.  The Hermetic shrine, in a sense, can be thought of as tool for you to use, so it should be appropriate for your use.

Should the shrine be covered with a cloth?  Again, it’s up to you; I think it’s good practice to do so, so long as you can find something appropriate. You could change out tablecloths for the Sun being in different signs of the Zodiac, or for different planet/sphere-specific rituals, or for different seasons of the year, certainly.  You could just refresh the cloth with a new one once a year to mark the passage of the Sun from one solar year to the next, or to mark some anniversary like one’s first contact with one’s HGA/Agathodaimōn.  Or you could just use just one cloth that looks nice until it wears out, or none at all.  This is more “shrine decoration” than anything to my mind, and I’ve gone back and forth on the specifics of it.  My thoughts are that such a thing is nice to have, but it’s nothing necessary.  (Besides, if one has a particularly beautiful table with an elegant wood grain or marbled surface or the like, I see no reason to let that not be a decoration unto itself.)  As for colors, white is always pleasant for divine works in general, and gold or gold-accented fabric is resonant enough with Hermetic symbolism to be more than acceptable; if one has an Egyptian or especially PGM flair, one might avoid red for general purposes due to its Set-related connotations, but otherwise, I don’t think it matters too much.

Bearing in mind the notion about facing certain directions from AH 41 and CH XIII.16, what about the placement and direction of our Hermetic shrine?  This gets a bit tricky, because those instructions specify two directions: east for morning/sunrise, and south (not west!) for evening/sunset.  We might consider a free-standing shrine that we can position ourselves around, or we might put a shrine in a southeast corner of a room that we might sit at the west (facing east) in the morning and at the north (facing south) in the evening, or just facing southeast in general (if it’s something like a corner/triangular desk).  That said, with the exception of putting something in a southeast corner and calling it a day, I find all those options kinda…awkward, really.  I dislike things like this not being against a wall and, frankly, I like using east in general for matters of the divine and holiness; as a rule, if nothing else speaks more strongly for another direction (like actual space constraints in someone’s home), placing this towards the eastern wall of a room is probably a reasonable choice for most people.  Likewise, it should be in a respectful place, ideally a room with a door that can be closed where one can have some measure of solitude and peace, which won’t have mundane or sexual activity happening within it.  This would be ideal, of course, as with any concerns for establishing a temple space, but as I’ve said before, it’s far from essential.  Do what you can as best as you can.  If the room has access to a window that faces outside, all the better.

Getting back to the shrine itself, what about things to go on it besides just the lamp?  In my post about the shrine lamp, I also mentioned that I’ve experimented with other things placed on my shrine(s) in the past, in various orders or combinations or arrangements:

  • A natural tall-ish stone, or a brick/stone pyramid, situated and rising from a bowl of water to represent the Benben mound of Egyptian cosmogonic myth
  • An image (statue, scroll, painting, etc.) of Hermēs Trismegistos, either with or without accompanying (and perhaps smaller) images of his students Tat, Asklēpios, and Ammōn
  • An image of the Agathodaimōn or HGA
  • An image of the Divine Cosmos or of Divine Nature (much as one might find in Jeffrey Kupperman’s excellent Living Theurgy: A Course in Iamblichus’ Philosophy, Theology, and Theurgy)
  • A small abstract model of Adocentyn (or, as one might consider it, Hermopolis Theia) from the Picatrix
  • A pair of images to represent the Sun and Moon, or seven such images of the seven planets
  • Images or symbols of one’s general faith and religion, especially if one syncretizes Hermeticism with another religion or practices it as a mystical approach to another religion (e.g. a crucifix for Christian Hermeticists)
  • Calligraphy of sacred words, verses, or statements of faith

These are all possibilities one might consider for their own Hermetic shrine, based on what they might contemplate, or venerate as symbols of the Creator or of Creation.  Additionally, one might also have particular images or statues, such as that of Hermēs Trismegistos or of the Sun and Moon or of one’s Agathodaimōn or whatnot, which one might venerate or actively ensoul, and thus enshrine at their Hermetic shrine (which would then render such a thing a shrine in the technical sense I established at the start of this post).  The thing about all these things, though, is that they aren’t essential to making a Hermetic shrine (that’d be the role of the shrine lamp), and are otherwise all so varied and ultimately based on personal needs and desires for such a shrine that it’s hard to generalize anything about it all.  Again, the Hermetic shrine is effectively a tool for our use, and so should be appropriate for our needs; if something doesn’t serve a purpose to us on the shrine, then it shouldn’t be there, and whatever is on there should always be oriented towards the ultimate goal of Hermetic practice.

So is that it, then?  Beyond it being some sort of raised surface off the ground with a lamp on top and a bit of space, is that all that I’d consider required, and everything else (size, height, location, direction, covering, etc.) is up to one’s own personal discretion?  Basically, yeah.  The whole purpose of a Hermetic shrine, to my mind, is to be a centerpoint of spiritual activity for one’s Hermetic mystical practice, but what does that entail?  Prayer, meditation, offerings to the gods in a Hermetic framework, works of purity and ascent, contemplation, and the like—all of this has a place within Hermeticism, to say nothing of astrological or alchemical works, even trafficking with any number of spirits ouranic or chthonic for the purposes of one’s own Work in this world.  To that end, one doesn’t need a whole lot beyond a bit of space that one can call their own, that one can turn to as a command-center of sorts, that one can trust will be there for them for works both routine or irregular.  As one’s own practice evolves, so too may the specific concerns on the shrine; at one time there may be a cross, at another an image of a solar deity, at another an image of the cosmos as some sort of astrological mandala, but always will the shrine itself be a thing to hold a bit of space apart from the rest of one’s life specifically for one’s own Hermetic endeavors.

To summarize this winding, rambling post:

  • The Hermetic shrine’s primary purpose is to act as a sacred space to engage in Hermetic mystic practices.
  • Required aspects of the shrine:
    • The shrine should be a raised surface, elevated off the floor.
    • The shrine must contain at least one thing at all times in a central and clearly-visible place: a shrine lamp.
    • There should be some sort of storage (underneath or to the side) to keep offering dishes clean and safe when not in use.
    • There should be sufficient space on the surface to hold offering dishes when in use.
  • Suggested or encouraged aspects of the shrine:
    • The shrine should be at a reasonable height for one to kneel or sit at for extended durations without discomfort.
    • The shrine should be kept in a quiet room with a door that closes to be used as a temple space in general, away from mundane or sexual activity.
    • The shrine should be kept facing the east, or positioned in a way that one could face it either east or south.
    • The shrine may be covered with a clean tablecloth.
    • The shrine may hold ensouled statues or devotional images for propitiation or contemplation.

What about actually setting up or maintaining the shrine?  I mean, lots of traditions have particular conditions and processes on sanctifying or purifying implements or space for sacred purposes, but…I mean, one can certainly do that, too, with the Hermetic shrine and every object that goes on it, and I wouldn’t argue against doing so, especially if one feels strongly or is already engaged in a temple/exoteric practice that makes use of such preparatory actions.  The most important thing for actually setting up or maintaining the shrine, though, as I see it?  Just keep it clean and set aside for Hermetic stuff.  If it gets dusty, wipe it down with a clean cloth; if something spills, clean it up quickly.  Don’t use the offering dishes for kitchen stuff again, and don’t use obviously filthy things with or near the shrine.  Maybe sprinkle a bit of holy water over the furniture before using it as a shrine, maybe do a monthly or seasonal cleansing of the shrine and all its tools as you use it.  Cleaning or maintaining the shrine doesn’t need to be a whole affair or anything beyond routine tidiness unless you really want it to be.  To be sure, the more thorough and dedicated you turn everything towards, the better off things will be overall, but the more expert stuff can be left for a time when you have more expertise.  If you’re just getting started, the most important thing is to just start, and everything else will proceed from there.  You can always improve on the shrine over time, just as you improve upon yourself over time.

Based on my own experiences and practices, there are a few things I could suggest that one might keep at such a Hermetic shrine.  These are just extra tools or supplies to have on hand for a variety of works and practices, all of which might also be kept in storage with the offering dishes if needed.  Again, nothing here is required, but the things in the lists below are those which I have personally found to be useful in fulfilling the vast majority of my regular (and a good number of irregular) spiritual operations that I get up to, or which make the things I do at my Hermetic shrine just more convenient in general:

  • Recommended tools, utilities, or fixtures of a shrine:
    • A bowl or vessel for preparing lustral water to make ablutions from (e.g. a khernibeion for khernips)
    • An aspergillum for sprinkling things with liquid
    • A bowl for making liquid offerings from
    • A cup or goblet for partaking in libations or for mystic works
    • A snuffer and trimmer for wicks of candles or oil lamps
    • A knife for cutting cloth, string, or other things
    • A set of tweezers and/or tongs for holding things at a distance or which require fine dexterity
    • A lighter or set of matches for lighting lamps or incense
    • A shawl (preferably of natural plant-based fibers and of a white or natural light color) for covering one’s shoulders and/or head while praying or engaging in particular works
    • A prayer rug (whether a small fabric carpet or a grass mat) to kneel or sit on while at the shrine
    • A shallow but wide non-porous, fireproof tray for performing particular works with
    • Small wooden or stone stands for elevating sacred images or to act as mini-altars for particular works
    • A quiet timer for meditation
    • A bell (whether one with a handle or a singing bowl/gong struck with a mallet)
    • A set of prayer beads for reciting chants
    • A book of prayers and ritual to recite and perform
    • A book of sacred texts or scriptures to read and contemplate
    • Clean white washcloths
    • Glass jars with airtight lights for storage of liquids, powders, or the like
    • A wastebin with liners/bags for any detritus or rubbish for immediate disposal
  • Recommend supplies for works and operations at a shrine:
    • Clean water
    • Olive oil
    • Wine
    • High-proof neutral alcohol
    • Coal for censers and loose incense
    • White chalk, whether for drawing out patterns or crumbling into powder
    • Pens, ink, and clean paper
    • Twine or string made from hemp, cotton, or linen
    • Natron
    • Pure salt (whether sea salt or rock salt, or one might have different kinds available for different purposes)
    • Pure soil or sand

Still, all these are just things I might recommend as extras that might be good to have on hand, all of which may depend more importantly on your own practice, and any of which might be called for or not depending on the direction you take things in for yourself.  The big thing to remember is that, so long as the shrine lamp burns, there’s a Light to guide you, and beyond that, the shrine gives you a place to pray, read, meditate, and work.  There doesn’t need to be a whole lot else to this, and in this regard, simplicity really can be (and is) best.  At times, I do find it helpful to have separate shrines or work-spaces for different traditions or styles of work; in that regard, while the Hermetic shrine might be good for a good number of operations, it may not be good for all possible works one might get up to.  Still, not all such work-spaces need to be permanent fixtures in one’s temple space, or sometimes one just needs to do enough for a spirit or god to take care of the rest.  Just as the Hermetic shrine gives us a focus for our Hermetic work, so too should we be focused on Hermetic stuff while we’re at it; that’s the big thing to remember, and everything else will take care of itself from there.

Offerings at a Hermetic Shrine

It probably hasn’t escaped the notice of many of my readers that much of my recent research and reading focuses on the classical Hermetic stuff.  As a general rule of thumb, I like using the best-available dating of the Emerald Tablet from the Kitāb Sirr al-Ḫalīqa (“Book of the Secrets of Creation”) as a cut-off, so sometime around the 6th or 7th century CE; that which is written before this is what I consider “classical Hermeticism”, and after this “post-classical Hermeticism” (ranging from medieval to Renaissance to modern, depending on the time period and geographic origin of a given text).  I like dividing these texts up in this way because, at least in western Europe prior to Marsilio Ficino’s translation of the Corpus Hermeticum in the 15th century, this cut-off date roughly corresponds to a shift in the overall focus of Hermetic texts.  While there was always a heavy practical/technical component involved in Hermeticism at all points in time, there was a much stronger and more pronounced mystical and theosophical (or, more traditionally, philosophical/theoretical) bent to many such texts, as evidenced by the Corpus Hermeticum, the Armenian Definitions of Hermēs Trismegistos to Asklēpios, the Latin Asclepius or Perfect Sermon, and the like.  After this point, however—roughly coinciding with the Roman Empire’s closing of pagan temples in the 4th and 5th centuries—much of the mystical stuff seemed to have faded into the background, and the more practical and magical stuff was not only left but was also drastically expanded, with the more mystical components no longer being provided by Greco-Egyptian religiosity but by Christianity and Islam.

However, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any further mystical or religious elements in post-classical Hermeticism.  On the contrary, there’s plenty of it to be found, albeit in a diminished and somewhat preserved state.  In a number of grimoires, magical manuals, and historical records written, we see reference to particular practices that don’t cleanly fit as merely magical or occult, but rather descriptions of things that would be classified more as worship.  I find this to be super fascinating because, outside of a small handful of things from classical Hermetic texts, we don’t have a big notion of what actual worship would have been like for a Hermeticist as a Hermeticist, rather than as someone participating in general Greco-Egyptian or Hellenistic temple cult more generally.  For instance, turning to a few of the classical texts, we see a few ideas:

  • CH I.29—30: nighttime (pre-sleep?) prayers
  • CH XIII.15: face east for morning/sunrise prayers and south for evening/sunset prayers
  • AH 41: face west for evening/sunset prayers and east for morning/sunrise prayers, no use of incense when praying to God, prayers are followed by a ritual embrace and ritual vegetarian/bloodless meal

And…well, without reading in between the lines of the rest of the classical Hermetic texts too much (e.g. does CH IV suggest a ritual baptism?), that’s about all we get.

As can be seen just now, I like using abbreviations to refer to particular Hermetic texts, like CH for Corpus Hermeticum, AH for the Latin Asclepius, DH for the Armenian Definitions, and so forth.  I have compiled a whole index of Hermetic texts and references for the benefit of the Hermetic House of Life Discord server, where I list all the abbreviations for the major texts based on our current state of Hermetic scholarship.  The numbering of the CH and AH is pretty well-known across many modern texts, while the SH (Hermetic fragments and excerpts from the Anthology of John of Stobi, aka Stobaeus) numbering is based on that originally given in Walter Scott’s four-volume Hermetica series in the first part of the 20th century.  However, there’s also the FH and TH texts—though “texts” might be a bit of a stretch.  These stand for “Hermetic Fragments” and “Hermetic Testimonies”, the former being smaller quotes or excerpts preserved in other authors, the latter being accounts of or about Hermēs Trismegistos and Hermeticism.  M. David Litwa’s Hermetica II contains an abundant wealth of FH and TH texts, and introduces them accordingly:

When approaching the Hermetic fragments, one must distinguish between a direct citation, a paraphrase, the employment of Hermetic ideas, and the mere naming of Hermes Thrice Great. In this section (FH), I strive to print only direct citations or paraphrases of Hermes Thrice Great. Moreover, I favor passages that do not appear elsewhere in Hermetic literature. Thus citations of CH and Ascl. by later authors are not included. Those interested in authors who employ Hermetic ideas or who refer in passing to Hermes should proceed to the Testimonies concerning Hermes Thrice Great (TH).

As for the TH specifically:

The Hermetic testimonies printed here range from the late third century BCE until the fifteenth century CE. The authors quoted are Jewish, Phoenician, Hellenic, Christian, and Muslim. They all present different portraits of Hermes that cannot easily be reconciled. For example, the Jewish writer Artapanus identified Hermes with Moses the great culture hero. The Christian Athenagoras indicated that Hermes was a deified king like Alexander the Great. Iamblichus the Neoplatonic philosopher presented Hermes as a god. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, depicted him as an idolater and demonically inspired prophet. The Alexandrian philosopher Hermias presented Hermes as triply incarnated. The Muslim writer Abū Ma‘shar said that there were three different Hermeses. The first of these built the pyramids in Egypt; the second was a Babylonian scholar; and the third was an expert on poisons. According to the magical handbook the Picatrix, Hermes was the builder of a mystical, multi-colored city featuring a wondrous temple to the Sun and an array of animated statues.

Whatever their diversity of content, these testimonies show that Hermes the philosopher and culture hero was never far removed from Hermes the magus and master of esoteric lore. Hermes was the inventor of writing according to Philo of Byblos. Yet according to the same author, he used his magic spells to help Kronos defeat his enemies. Arnobius put Hermes in the company of Pythagoras and Plato. Yet the Peratic author linked Hermes with Ostanes and Zoroaster (called Zoroastris), the chief Persian magi. For the philosopher Iamblichus, Hermes was the great guide to theurgists. In turn, most Arabic writers viewed Hermes as an expert on astrology and alchemy. Such testimonies indicate that the constructed boundary between “philosophical” and “technical” Hermetic writings remains questionable.

Although the following testimonies are wide-ranging, they are hardly exhaustive. We do not trace the reception history of the Asclepius by Latin writers after Augustine, since this work has already been done. Moreover, some works attributed to Hermes – such as the Arabic Rebuke of the Soul – are too long to be included here and are available elsewhere. There are dozens more Arabic and medieval Latin sources that make mention of Hermes, often in passing. A great number of these are alchemical, astrological, and magical texts that somehow feature Hermes or are attributed to him. Even today, this material remains largely uncharted by scholars. A full and exhaustive record of Hermetic testimonies can only await new critical editions and studies of these materials.

In a sense, while we might consider texts like CH, AH, DH, and the like to be primary sources and the FH texts to be quasi-primary or secondary sources, the TH texts that Litwa gives are tertiary at best, if not outright stories about some variant or other of Hermēs rather than necessarily being Hermetic.  As a case in point, Litwa opens up a few sources from the third to first centures BCE, like a quote from Cicero’s De Natura Deorum, written well before our usual dating of even the earliest CH texts.  Likewise, there’s also stuff from medieval Arabic and Latin texts which show abundant Islamicization or Christianization of Hermēs Trismegistos, or other adaptations of this pagan prophet to a non-pagan cultural milieu.  And yet, despite this, we still get some interesting accounts about what Hermēs and his followers (were thought to have) taught and practiced.

For instance, consider Litwa’s TH 37b, better known as book III, chapter 7 from the Picatrix:

The sages who made these prayers and sacrifices to the planets in mosques did all of the foregoing things. While the planet moved through eight degrees of heaven, they would sacrifice one animal, and similarly when it declined by another eight degrees they would offer another sacrifice. They say that Hermēs commanded them to do this in mosques or in their own churches. These sages say of the aforementioned Hermēs that he was the lord of the three flowers of things, that is, king, prophet, and sage. They require that no animal of two colors, nor black, nor having a broken bone nor a horn broken in any way, nor an injured eye, nor having any flaw in its body, be sacrificed in their mosques. When they behead an animal, they take out its liver at once. They examine it, and if they find any defect or spot in it, they say that the lord of that place has some notable impediment. They then cut up the liver and give it to one of the bystanders to eat.

Perhaps more fascinatingly, we can turn instead to TH 28, which Litwa draws from sections 7.8—10.19 of the Kitāb Muẖtār al-Ḥikam wa-Maḥāsin al-Kalim (“Compendium of Maxims and Aphorisms”, otherwise known as Dicts or Sayings of the Philosophers) by Abū al-Wafā’ Al-Mubaššir ibn Fātik:

He preached God’s judgment, belief in God’s unity, humankind’s worship (of God), and saving souls from punishment. He incited (people) to abstain piously from this world, to act justly, and to seek salvation in the next world. He commanded them to perform prayers that he stated for them in manners that he explained to them, and to fast on recognized days of each month, to undertake holy war against the enemies of the religion, and to give charity from (their) possessions and to assist the weak with it. He bound them with oaths of ritual purity from pollutants, menstruation, and touching the dead. He ordered them to forbid eating pig, donkey, camel, dog, and other foods. He forbade intoxication from every type of beverage, and stated this in the most severe terms.

He established many feasts for them at recognized times, and prayers and offerings in them. One (of these) is that of the entry of the sun into the beginnings (that is, the first degrees) of the signs of the zodiac. Another is that of the sightings of the new moon and that of the times of astrological conjunctions. And whenever the planets arrive at their houses and exaltations or are aspected with other planets, they make an offering. The offerings for what he prescribed include three things: incense, sacrificial animals, and wine. Of the first fruits of aromatic plants they offer roses. Of grains, they offer wheat and barley, of fruit, grapes, and of drink, wine.

We also see something similar to TH 28 in the following excerpt from the Tārīẖ Muẖtaṣar al-Duwal (“Brief History of Nations”) by Gregory Bar Hebraeus, specifically the section “On the Three Hermēses”.  Although this isn’t in Litwa’s Hermetica II (and thus lacks a TH number), Walter Scott provides a Latin translation of this bit in his fourth volume of his Hermetica series:

It is also handed down that the first Hermēs founded a hundred and eighty cities, the smallest of which is Ruhā (Edessa, Urfa); and that he prescribed to people the worship of God: fasting, prayers, alms, that they held feasts whenever the planets were in their own domicile in the descendant or in the ascendant as well as on each new moon and whenever the Sun entered any of the twelve signs; they would offer the first fruits of all crops and the best perfumes and wine; and he did not prohibit inebriation or illicit foods.

Based on all of these testimonies regarding Hermēs and Hermetic “religion”, such as it might have been considered by Islamic or Christian authors that well postdated the classical heyday of Hermeticism, we can still see clearly non-Islamic and non-Christian stuff going on.  We get, for example, a set of feasts and celebrations to be done according to particular astrological phenomena:

  • New moon (i.e. first sighting of the waxing crescent Moon after syzygy with the Sun)
  • Sun ingresses into a new sign
  • Planets ingress into their domiciles
  • Planets arrive at their degrees of exaltations
  • Planets arrive into conjunction with one another (and possibly other aspects)

For these feasts (in addition to the ones we know were observed classically even if not listed here, like the Sun ingressing into individual decans as opposed to general signs or the full Moon in addition to the new Moon), we also get notions of things given in offering sacrifice: incense/perfume, wine, flowers (especially roses), grains (especially barley and wheat), fruit (especially grapes), and sacrificial animals (with the conditions that they should be unblemished and healthy, of a single colors, and not black).  We also see notions about ritual purity and prohibited foodstuffs and drinks, some of which might seem Islamic on the surface of them but which can reasonably be tied to historical prohibitions from Greco-Roman times for Egyptian priests.

And, of course, this is just limiting ourselves to just what Hermēs (was claimed to have) taught.  If we expand our scope slightly, we can then also account for some of the accounts involving the Sabians of Harran, who took the Hermetic texts as their gospel in an attempt to become a People of the Book (given an identification of Hermēs Trismegistos with the quranic prophet Idris and thus the patriarch Enoch).  If we turn back to Tārīẖ Muẖtaṣar al-Duwal for a moment, we also see another section, “On the Practices of the Sabians”:

What is known about the sect of the Sabians among us is that their confession is exactly the same as the confession of the ancient Chaldaeans, their qiblah is the North Pole, and they diligently pursue the four intellectual virtues. It is also imposed on them to pray three times [a day]: first, a half-hour or less before sunrise, which is completed with eight bows when the sun is rising, each of which contains three prayers; secondly, a prayer finished at noon, when the sun begins to move downwards, and this consists of five kneelings, each of which contains three prayers; third, with a prayer similar to the second, to be finished when the sun sets.

There are fasts imposed on them: one of thirty days, the first day of which is the eighth of ‘Ādar (i.e. Hebrew Adar); also one of nine days, the first of which is the ninth of Kānūn I (i.e. Hebrew Kīslev); and one of seven days, the first of which is the eighth of Šubāṭ (i.e. Hebrew Šẹvat).

They invoke the stars and offer many sacrifices, from which they do not eat, but which are consumed by fire. They abstain from eating beans and garlic, and some also from wild beans, cabbage, kale, and lentils. Their sayings are near to the sayings of the philosophers; and they have the firmest arguments to prove the unity of God. They assert that the souls of transgressors are tortured for nine thousand ages, but then return to the mercy of God.

Based on these practices of the Sabians, we can also gather the following information:

  • Prayer and worship practices
    • Pray facing the north
    • Prostration-based prayer practice not unlike the Islamic rak’ah, each prostration having three prayers
    • Pray three times a day
      • A half hour or less before sunrise with eight prostrations
      • Just after noon (as the Sun begins to descend) with five prostrations
      • Just before sunset (to be completed as the Sun sets) with five prostrations
    • Animal sacrifices are burned whole without being eaten
  • Fasts
    • Thirty-day fast starting on the eighth day of Adar (roughly February or March)
    • Nine-day fast starting on the ninth day of Kislev (roughly November or December)
    • Seven-day fast starting on the eighth day of Shevat (roughly January or February)
  • Prohibited foods
    • All abstain from (cultivated) beans and garlic
    • Some abstain from wild beans, cabbage, kale, and lentils

It’s in light of all of this that I think that, even if we have a dearth of classical evidence of Hermetic rites and processes of worship, I think we have plenty of post-classical stuff that we can extrapolate from and work with all the same.  It might take a bit of sifting and reconfiguration, but as an attempt at (re)constructing a Hermetic practice based on available evidence, we have a surprising abundance of stuff to work with that makes sense for Hermetic stuff in general.

All of that is my introduction to talking specifically about shrine offerings.  Yes, while the notion of Hermetic feasts or holidays is certainly important, we also learn plenty about what they offered for such practices, and it’s that specific idea that I’ve been considering lately.  While I’m still settling on a firm notion of what a proper Hermetic shrine should consist of, at least for me (beyond, at least, the presence of a shrine lamp), I still want to take into account the notion of what sorts of offerings the above TH excerpts suggest, in tandem with my own experience of offerings and exposure to other approaches I’ve seen elsewhere, because offerings constitute a huge part of my own practice.  Sure, in a Hermetic view, the big focus of it all is on God rather than the gods, and to God one should offer nothing except pure offerings of speech in silence—but that’s just for God, not the gods, who do reasonably get quite a lot more and whose importance should never be underestimated in supporting a Hermeticist’s work and way.  And, while one could simply wing it and freestyle sets of offerings based on the above quite easily, I like having particular processes and protocols in place to give myself a formal foundation of practice.

To that end, while any given shrine should have a few basic necessities and other accouterment that facilitate worship and veneration (such as implements of prayer like bells or beads, books for reciting prayers or reading scripture, etc.), I would think that one should first get a set of dishes to make offerings with.  Based on the excerpts above, we know that the big things offered were incense, wine, grains, fruit, and flowers, so we can use this as a basis for figuring out what sorts of dishes we’d need.  My thoughts on this would be:

  • Twelve dishes should be used for formal offerings:
    • One tray (bowl, tripod, brazier, censer, thurible, boat, etc.) for incense offerings
    • Three candle holders or oil lamps for light offerings
    • Two vases for flower offerings
    • Two cups for liquid offerings
    • Two bowls for grain offerings
    • Two plates for fruit offerings
  • The dishes used may be reasonably small (e.g. shot glasses, rice/ice cream bowls, and bread/butter plates), especially for household or private practice where large offerings are not practical
  • The dishes used should be made in a matching style or aesthetic
  • The dishes used should be non-porous, water-safe, and corrosion-resistant
  • The dishes used should be free of cracks, dents, chips, scratches, or other blemishes
  • The dishes used may be repurposed from other mundane uses after thorough cleaning, if otherwise in good condition, but once used for shrine offerings should not otherwise be used for mundane purposes again
  • Extra candle holders/oil lamps, cups, bowls, and plates may be obtained as replacements or for additional offerings beyond formal offerings
  • Extra saucers or small plates may be used for candle holders to collect any wax that drips off them
  • When not in use, the offering dishes should be safely kept in storage near the shrine

Knowing the types of offerings to be made and the dishes used for them, we can then consider a set of guidelines for what specific offerings to make, how to choose certain offerings, the order of preference when considering particular types of offerings, and what offerings might go well with what other offerings.  Again, based on the above excerpts and my own experience in offerings with my own preferences I’ve developed:

  • All dishes used to make offerings should be removed from shrine storage, rinsed with clean water, and completely dried before use
  • Offerings may be made all at once before the formal start of a ritual, or may be offered one-by-one as a part of the ritual, but each individual type of offering (e.g. “wine” or “wine and water” as appropriate, but “flowers” generically instead of “one vase of flowers and another vase of flowers”) should be specifically enumerated and identified regardless
  • Incense and light must always be offered, but after these, at least one other offering must be made
    • The type of non-incense/non-light offering(s) can be one or more of liquids, grains, fruits, or flowers, according to availability and preference
    • Keep to a symbolic but reasonable number of offering dishes (e.g. three, seven, ten, or twelve dishes, as appropriate to the offering and occasion)
      • Three dishes are offered as a bare but common minimum
      • Twelve dishes are offered as a rare maximum
    • For more common or quotidian offerings, offering fewer dishes is acceptable and encouraged
  • When offering incense:
    • May be offered in self-igniting form (e.g. sticks) or loose form (e.g. resin grains or powders on top of charcoals), as desired
    • Amount of incense may be done in an appropriate number (e.g. three sticks or three scoops of powder)
    • Incense is ideally composed from odiferous substances appropriate to the offering
    • Incense used for offering should be pleasant, or at the very least not harsh
    • Any incense offered, regardless of the number of kinds or amount used, is all considered as one single offering (as it should all be offered on the one single dish)
  • When offering light:
    • At least one light in all cases, but:
      • Only one light should be offered if only three dishes are being offered
      • Two lights may be offered, if desired, if an offering is for an observance that occurs once a month or less and if one is offering more than three dishes
      • Three lights should be reserved only for the largest and grandest/rarest of offerings
    • If more than one light is offered, all such lights should be identical
    • Any light offered should burn for at least thirty minutes but no longer than twelve hours
    • If candles are used:
      • They may always be white or undyed
      • They may also be in a color appropriate to the offering
      • They should not be artificially scented
    • If oil lamps are used:
      • They may be of any non-animal source appropriate to the offering (olive oil always being acceptable)
      • They may also be of an animal source if rendered from the fat of appropriate animals previously sacrificed
      • They should not be blended of multiple sources (e.g. no mixes of olive oil and sesame oil)
      • They should not be artificially scented
    • Wicks used to burn for candles or oil lamps should be of a natural, undyed fabric (e.g. cotton or linen)
  • When offering flowers:
    • If more than one vase is used for offering, all vases should have the same kinds of flowers
    • Roses are most preferred before any other flower
    • The flowers should be in a color and number appropriate to the offering
    • It is best to use only fresh flowers, ideally cut immediately prior to offering
    • If desired (especially for rare or special events), a fresh spray of evergreens may also be included behind the flowers, with fragrant and non-spiny evergreens (e.g. laurel, cinnamon, star anise) being most preferred
  • When offering liquids:
    • If making two liquid offerings in a single ritual, it is best to offer two different kinds of liquids
    • Wine (i.e. any non-distilled fermented beverage not of an animal source) and/or clean cool water are preferred before other liquids (e.g. distilled liquor, tea, coffee, soda)
      • For highly frequent offerings (especially daily), water is preferred before wine
      • For less frequent offerings, wine is preferred before water
    • Liquids which can turn moldy or sour (like fresh milk or non-fermented juice) should be offered sparingly, if at all
    • Old or soured wine is discouraged from being offered
    • Any liquid offered must be safe to drink (at least in moderation) for human consumption
  • When offering grains:
    • If making two grain offerings in a single ritual, it is best to offer two different kinds of grains
    • Barley is most preferred
    • Wheat is preferred second after barley and before other grains (e.g. oats, rice, millet)
    • Grains may be cooked or uncooked before offering
    • If cooked grains are offered, they should be freshly cooked, unsalted and unseasoned
    • If uncooked grains are offered, it is best to use the first portion of a harvest or otherwise use grains that are not aged or stored for a long period of time
    • If cooked or uncooked grain cannot be obtained, bread or another cooked non-bean staple food may be offered instead
  • When offering fruits:
    • If making two fruit offerings in a single ritual, it is best to offer two kinds of fruits
    • Grapes are most preferred before any other fruit
    • Any fruit offered should be sweet rather than sour or bitter
    • It is best to use only fresh fruit, ideally obtained immediately prior to offering
    • Fruit should be free of blemishes or injury
    • Fruit should be gently washed before offering
    • Fruit should not be cut up or sliced before offering
    • If fresh fruit cannot be obtained, dried fruit or other prepared non-meat non-staple food (most preferably desserts) may be offered instead

Make a special note of the avoidance of beans and meat in the above offerings (under grain and fruit offerings, respectively).  While one might reasonably avoid beans (fresh or dried) in general (especially given a longstanding Pythagorean avoidance of them), I also recognize that they are a staple food all the same for many people the whole world over; likewise, different kinds of meat may well be offered in sacrifice especially if an animal sacrifice is being performed and not offered as part of a holocaust.  To be clear, I’m not suggesting that these things cannot be offered in a context of this sort of shrine offering, but rather, I suggest that they shouldn’t be offered as part of this particular formalized offering approach.  Instead, dishes of beans or meat may be offered as additional offerings beyond the formal set of things to be offered, not as substitutes for them.

Similarly, note the deal with water and wine above.  I have always made these two liquids a staple of my own offering practice for many years now, but I’ve gone back and forth on when and how much to offer of either.  I recognize that, based on the TH excerpts above, even if wine was not consumed, it was certainly offered, with water being nowhere mentioned; however, I also consider water to be a universal offering, and not everyone is able to obtain wine or to use it in highly frequent offerings (like those on a daily or even weekly basis).  Because of that, I generally prefer giving water primarily for frequent or low-key offerings, but wine becomes primary for high-key or less-frequent ones.  Your mileage, as ever, may vary, and if you can afford to offer wine regularly, then please feel free to!  Note that I use the term “wine” here generically to refer to any non-distilled fermented beverage, so that would include drinks like beer, sake, toddy, and the like, but not anything distilled like araq, whiskey, vodka, baijiu, or soju.  For similar reasons as above with meat, I would also encourage not offering animal-derived liquids like milk, arkhi, kumis, or eggnog as part of the formal set of offerings, but may be offered beyond them.  As for mead (non-distilled) or honey liqueur (distilled), however, I’ll leave that to one’s determination about whether it qualifies as an extraordinary or ordinary offering, since it is technically derived from animals (bees) but can be argued otherwise.

But that’s not all!  In addition to figuring out what offerings to make, we should also consider how to arrange them in the shrine.  This is, admittedly, a really flexible thing in general, but in addition to how I like setting up my own shrines, I also like to take a hint and a bit of inspiration from the arrangements of Japanese Buddhist shrines, especially in household butsudan arrangements as exemplified here or here (both Shingon) or here (Jōdo Shinshū).  This isn’t to merely ape or appropriate them, but to give an idea of a formal way of arranging fairly universal offerings that are specifically highlighted in those TH texts above in a way that makes sense, at least for myself

  • The lights and incense tray should generally be placed in the center closest to the icon in the shrine, with other offerings placed in front of them slightly further away from the icon in the shrine or on the sides of these
  • When placing lights:
    • If one light is offered, it should be placed either directly in front of the incense tray, behind it on a slightly elevated surface, or to the right of it
    • If two lights are offered, they should be placed on either side of the incense tray
    • If three lights are offered, they should be placed in a row in front of the incense tray with one directly in front of it or behind it on a slightly elevated surface, and the other two on either side of the incense tray
  • When placing flowers:
    • If one vase is offered, it should be placed to the left, either to the left of the incense tray (if only one light is offered and placed on the right of the tray) or to the left of the offering area in general
    • If two vases are offered, they should be placed on the outermost left and right of the offering area
  • When placing liquids:
    • If one cup is offered, it should be placed in front of the incense tray and lights, either to the innermost left (opposite a single grain offering, if also present) or in the center (if a single grain offering is not present)
    • If two cups are offered, they should be placed in front of the incense tray and lights, to the innermost left and right
  • When placing grains:
    • If one bowl is offered, it should be placed in front of the incense tray and lights, either to the innermost right (opposite a single liquid offering, if also present) or in the center (if a single liquid offering is not present)
    • If two bowls are offered, they should be placed in front of the incense tray and lights, to the inner left and right (but on the outside of liquid offerings, if also present)
  • When placing fruit:
    • If one plate is offered, it may be placed in front of the incense tray and lights, either to the left or right (but in balance with any other single offering, if also present)
    • If two places are offered, they may be placed in front of the incense tray and lights, to the outer left and right (outside of the liquid/grain offerings but inside of the flowers, if any of those are also present)

Likewise, after having made offerings, we should also consider how to remove them once the ritual is done and after some time has elapsed:

  • For incense offerings:
    • Any incense should burn out on their own before the offering can be considered complete to be removed
    • Incense ash may be tamped down in the tray to hold future offerings of incense, repurposed, or disposed
  • Lights may be allowed to safely burn out on their own or be extinguished after a reasonable time, but they must go out or be put out before the offering can be considered complete to be removed
  • For flower offerings:
    • Flowers are to be removed upon wilting, though the water in the vases may be changed out once a day to preserve them as long as desired before they wilt
    • Flowers may be consumed, repurposed, composted, or returned to nature
  • For liquid offerings:
    • Non-water liquids are to be removed within twenty-four hours and consumed, repurposed, or dumped onto dry earth
    • Water is to be removed within a week and consumed, repurposed, or dumped onto dry earth
  • For grain offerings:
    • Cooked grains are to be removed within twelve hours and consumed, repurposed, composted, or scattered outside for animals
    • Uncooked grains are to be removed within a week and either used for immediate cooking (i.e. not to be mixed with other grains back into storage) and consumption or repurposing, or scattered outside for animals
    • Non-grain staple food is to be removed within twelve hours and consumed, repurposed, composted, or scattered outside for animals
  • For fruit offerings:
    • Fruit is to be removed within a week and consumed, repurposed, composted, or scattered outside for animals
    • Non-fruit prepared food is to be removed within twelve hours and consumed, repurposed, composed, or scattered outside for animals
  • All dishes used to make offerings should be thoroughly cleaned after each use, then put away safely into shrine storage
  • Any method of disposal should be done respectfully
  • Anything consumed may be done so by eating or drinking by the offerant/priest, their household/temple, or given freely as charity to others in need
  • Anything repurposed may be done so by being used in baths, washes, medicine, incenses, oils, or other purposes as deemed appropriate by the offerant/priest

I’m something of a split mind when it comes to whether and how to make use of things offered after they’ve been offered.  In one respect, things that are offered belong to the entity being offered to, and so aren’t for our use anymore; on the other hand, the act of us making an offering is often one of communion as well as sacrifice, in which we can share in the presence of a divine entity by means of the things we offer.  As a rule, any offering that begins to mold, decompose, or “turn bad” in any way should be disposed of immediately (its essence and any possible use of the offering has basically been fully consumed by the entity being offered to, especially when such decomposition happens at an otherwise remarkable rare), but given a reasonable timeframe to allow things to be consumed, whatever is left may be shared so that nothing ever goes to waste in any sense.  To that end, I’d leave it to an individual whether they give anything they offer fully away to the entity, or to give it and then partake in part of it themselves in any reasonable and respectful manner.

So, what about some example layouts?

Example offering layouts (list not intended to be exhaustive but only illustrative of different compositions):

  • Three dishes: The simplest possible layout, consisting of the incense tray, one light, and some other offering that is neither incense or light.  This could be a cup of wine/water/some other liquid, a bowl of barley/wheat/some other grain, a plate of grapes/oranges/some other fruit, or a vase of roses/carnations/some other flowers.  The incense tray would be front and center, the candle would go to the right of the tray, and the other offering would go to the left of the tray.  Easy.
  • Five dishes: This is where we can easily change things up into a lot of different variations really quickly.
    • For instance, one could make a five-dish non-edible offering consisting of incense, two lights, and two vases of flowers, arranged entirely symmetrically all in a row with the incense in the middle, the lights on either side of the tray, and the flowers on the far sides beyond the lights.
    • One could instead make a varied offering consisting of incense, one light (placed behind and above the incense), a cup of wine (placed in front of the incense), a bowl of barley (placed on the right of the wine), and a vase of flowers (placed on the left of the wine).
  • Seven dishes: Even more possibilities arise!
    • We could try a symmetric layout of mixed offerings consisting of incense, two lights (placed on either side of the incense), one cup of wine and one bowl of barley (placed in front of the incense, liquid on the left and grain on the right), and two vases of flowers on the far left and right of the offering.  Instead of grains or liquids, one might also offer a plate of grapes instead, placed accordingly.
    • For a symmetric layout of two liquids and no grains, one would take the above layout and offer both wine and water, wine on the left and water on the right.
    • For a symmetric layout of two grains and no liquids, one would take the above layout again and offer both barley and wheat berries, barley on the left and water on the right.
    • One could instead make a varied offering consisting of incense in the middle, one light (placed behind and above the incense), a cup of wine and a cup of water (placed directly in front of the incense, wine on the left and water on the right), a bowl of barley (placed in the center in front of the two cups), a plate of grapes (placed to the right of the grains), and a vase of flowers (placed to the left of the grains).
  • Ten dishes: Now we’re getting fancy, and we start getting into having a full spread showing off a full set of all kinds offerings.  For this, the incense would be placed in the center as always, with a single light placed behind and above the incense.  In front of the incense would be placed a cup of wine and a cup of water together (wine on the left and water on the right); to the left of the cups would go a bowl of barley and to the right a bowl of wheat.  To the left of the barley would go a plate of grapes; to the right of the wheat would go a plate of some other fruit, like oranges.  Outside of all of these, on the far left and right, would go the vases of flowers.
  • Twelve dishes: Basically the same as ten dishes, except with the addition of two additional lights.  These would go on either side of the incense tray, with the third remaining behind and above the incense tray or all three arranged in a row in front of it and behind the two cups of liquid.  This would be the maximum formal offering, reserved only for the grandest or rarest of circumstances (like a solar new year or a rare astrological event).

Of course, there’s nothing saying you couldn’t offer more than just the above, like extra plates of food or drink, especially for making offerings for rarer events like the once-every-20-years Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.  Rather, I intend all of the above as a sort of template upon which one can arrange for making offerings of various scales and styles, covering all the necessary bases that make a sine qua non of Hermetic offerings (at least according to the Hermetic testimonies available to us).  As for determining how many dishes to set out for an offering and how to gauge the specialness of any given event, well, that’s more a matter of practicality and availability; in general, I’m a fan of the Spartan and laconic notion of not being too extravagant too often so that one might always have something to offer, and let’s be honest, sometimes there’s just not a whole lot of need or reason to offer more than light, incense, and water.  Still, when there is a need or reason to do so, at least I have a few guidelines to set things up for myself to keep myself in line without having to worry too much about the details on the fly.

Lighting the Shrine to Light the Way

Once again, I’ve found myself in the doldrums when it comes to regular practice, and once again, I periodically check in on my temple room and get a profound urge to organize, downsize, and redo so much of it.  Spirits that no longer serve, shrines I no longer tend to, tools I’ve collected but have long since forgotten what purpose they were supposed to get to—eventually, bit by bit, it all compounds upon itself, leading to a massive feeling of obligation and no means to resolve it, and thus also leading to a complete paralysis and inability to even want to do anything about it.  It is, of course, a familiar cycle, and it turns on again and again, as it ever has.

Part of the usual turning of this cycle, as it seems to turn out, is where I reconsider my main shrine, the point at which I do the bulk of all my Hermetic prayers.  I’ve had one ever since I started all this stuff back when I got into Rufus Opus’ Red Work Course way back when in 2011, and have kept it in some form or another ever since, ranging from a simple nightstand at the foot of my Ikea folding bed in my old apartment to a long sidetable in a temple room in my old place to a much wider and taller desk-type setup in the temple room where I live now.  Just as the shape and size of the surface itself has changed, so too has what’s gone on it, from a simple candle and corner for my HGA to a candle with the seven archangels and my HGA and Mary as Queen of Heaven, to a…well, much more elaborate setup I had involving the four progenitors of geomancy with the Sun and Moon, or alternatively angelic representations of the North and South Nodes of the Moon, etc.  That I’ve always had a shrine to do my Hermetic stuff at hasn’t changed, but the shape and format of my shrine has, reflecting different stages of my spiritual development, experimentation, and thinking about what it is I’m actually doing.

In addition to the various things I’ve already tried, I’ve also considered a bunch of other things, too, that I thought about as incorporating as devotional elements that might be nice for a Hermetic practice:

  • A natural tall-ish stone, or a brick/stone pyramid, situated and rising from a bowl of water to represent the Benben mound of Egyptian cosmogonic myth
  • An image (statue, scroll, painting, etc.) of Hermēs Trismegistos, either with or without accompanying (and perhaps smaller) images of his students Tat, Asklēpios, and Ammōn
  • An image of the Agathodaimōn or HGA
  • An image of the Divine Cosmos or of Divine Nature (much as one might find in Jeffrey Kupperman’s excellent Living Theurgy: A Course in Iamblichus’ Philosophy, Theology, and Theurgy)
  • A small abstract model of Adocentyn (or, as one might consider it, Hermopolis Theia) from the Picatrix
  • A pair of images to represent the Sun and Moon, or of the seven planets
  • Images or symbols of one’s general faith and religion, especially if one syncretizes Hermeticism with another religion or practices it as a mystical approach to another religion (e.g. a crucifix for Christian Hermeticists)
  • Calligraphy of sacred words, verses, or statements of faith

All of these are nice, I admit, and they all reflect different ideas, approaches, and meanings that can be used towards Hermeticism.  However, despite all of these things that one might feasibly use, I’ve always felt strongly about one thing that one must use in such a Hermetic shrine, and that’s a sacred light burning on the shrine: the shrine lamp itself.  All else is effectively up to the individual’s choice, but the shrine lamp must be present, I’d claim.  It’s something I’ve always had going for my own shrines, to be sure, in one form or another, whether a plain glass-encased white novena candle in the center and back of my shrine or a Moroccan tealight lantern hanging above my shrine.  More than that, it’s not just that it’s a habit of mine, but rather that it makes sense to have it.

So, why a shrine lamp at all?  In my view, this lantern or candle or whatever burning with a sacred flame represents the pure light and holy presence of God.  I mean, light as a thing is a hugely important notion in the classical texts of Hermeticism, like the elaborate revelation of Poimandrēs to Hermēs Trismegistos in book I of the Corpus Hermeticum, how all things were originally light and it is from this light that all creation came to be and that light is the origin of mind itself.  I’ve not just explored the sacred notion and use of light in my own home and life before, but also in how it can be used in a religious sense in geomancy with its Islamic origins, but there’s also an interesting notion at play that I really want to focus on today: that of the story of Hermēs Trismegistos and the Perfect Nature from the Picatrix (book III, chapter 6).  I wrote a five-part series of posts about it a ways back (The Spiritual Nature(s) of Perfect Nature, Analyzing the Vignette and the Names, Ritual Prep and Setting the Altar, Associations of the Four Powers, and The Ritual Itself, and Why Do It Anyway), and the story there is a really interesting one (using Warnock/Greer’s translation):

When I wished to understand and draw forth the secrets of the workings of the world and of its qualities, I put myself above a certain pit that was very deep and dark, from which a certain impetuous wind blew; nor was I able to see anything in the pit, on account of its obscurity.  If I put a lit candle in it, straightway it was extinguished by the wind.

Then there appeared to me in a dream a beautiful man of imperial authority, who spoke to me as follows: “Put that lit candle in a lantern of glass, and the impetuosity of the wind will not extinguish it. You should lower the lantern into the pit, in the middle of which you should dig; thence you may draw forth an image by which, when you have drawn it forth, the wind from the pit will be extinguished, and then you will be able to hold the light there. Then you should dig in the four corners of the pit, and from there you may draw out the secrets of the world and of Perfect Nature, and its qualities, and the generation of all things.”

I asked him who he was, and he replied: “I am Perfect Nature; if you wish to speak to me, call me by my proper name, and I will answer you.” I asked him them by what name he was called, and he answered me, saying, “By the four names mentioned above I am named and called…”

In my second post on the series, I explored this little vignette, and tried to analyze it in the context of what I knew, seeing it as a mirrored version of Hermēs’ ascent into the heavens in classical pagan literature with here a chthonic descent into treasure realms in later Islamic literature.  However, what I was unaware of when I wrote that post series is that such an interpretation (which I still think has some merit as a symbolic reinterpretation) isn’t quite reasonable when one takes a broader view of the literature and myths available to the writer(s) of the Picatrix.  For instance, if we were to turn to, say, the Kitāb sirr al-ḫalīqa, or the Book of the Secret of Creation and the Art of Nature attributed to Balīnūs of Tuaya (aka Apollonius of Tyana), which the first text we know of that contains the short text of the Emerald Tablet, we see a super similar story, indeed.  Turning to Jason Colavito’s translation:

I was an orphan of the people of Tuaya, totally indigent and destitute of everything. There was in the place where I lived a statue of stone raised on a column of wood; on the column one could read these words: “I am Hermes, to whom knowledge has been given; I have made this wonderful work in public, but afterward I hid the secrets of my art, so that they can only be discovered by a man as learned as I am.” On the breast of the statue one could similarly read these words written in ancient language: “If anyone wishes to know the secret of the creation of beings, and in what way nature has been formed, he should look under my feet.” They came in crowds to see this statue, and everyone looked under its feet without seeing anything.

As for me, I was still a weak child; but when I was stronger, and I attained a more advanced age, having read the words that were on the chest of the statue, I understood the meaning, and I undertook to dig the ground under the foot of the column. I discovered a subterranean vault where a thick darkness reigned, and in which the light of the sun could not penetrate. If one wanted to carry in the light of a torch, it was immediately extinguished by the movement of the winds which blew ceaselessly. I found no way to follow the path I had discovered, because of the darkness that filled the underground; and the force of the winds which blew through it did not allow me to enter by the light of the torch. Unable to overcome these obstacles, I slipped into depression, and sleep took hold of my eyes.

While I slept an anxious and restless sleep, my mind occupied with the subject of my pain, an old man whose face resembled mine appeared before me and said to me: “Arise, Balīnūs, and enter into this underground path; it will lead you to knowledge of the secrets of creation, and you will come to know how nature was formed.” “The darkness,” I replied, “prevents me from discerning anything in this place, and no light can withstand the wind blowing there.” Then this old man said to me: “Balīnūs, place your light under a transparent vessel. It will thus be sheltered from the winds which will be able to put it out, and it will illuminate this dark place.” These words restored joy to my soul; I felt that I would finally enjoy the object of my desire, and I addressed the man with these words: “Who are you,” I said to him, “to whom I am indebted for such a great blessing?” “I am,” he replied, “your creator, the perfect being.”

At that moment I awoke, filled with joy, and placing a light under a transparent vessel, as I had been ordered to do, I descended underground. I saw an old man sitting on a throne of gold, holding in one hand a tablet of emerald, on which was written: “This is the formation of nature”; before him was a book on which this was written: “This is the secret of the creation of beings, and the science of the causes of all things”” I took this book boldly, and without fear, and I departed from this place. I learned what was written in this book of the Secret of the Creation of Beings; I understood how nature was formed, and I acquired knowledge of the causes of all things. My knowledge made my name famous; I knew the art of talismans, and marvelous things, and I penetrated the combinations of the four elementary principles, their different compositions, their antipathies, and their affinities.

The similarities here are beyond happenstance; to my mind, it’s clear that the Picatrix’s account of Hermēs coming in contact with Perfect Nature so as to enter a dark pit falls into the same lineage of myths and vignettes as this one of Apollonius coming in contact with Perfect Nature so as to enter the tomb of Hermēs himself.  In either case, note the crucial thing that this spirit suggests so as to enter the windy darkness and see what is within: a light encased within glass, the line to shine into the darkness and the glass to protect the light.  In my earlier analysis of the vignette from the Picatrix, I understood this to be a metaphor for protecting one’s own mind:

In a dream, Perfect Nature came and told Hermēs to protect the candle from the wind in a lamp so that the wind will not extinguish it.  Seeing how encased lamps are a truly ancient invention, I’m surprised that this had to be pointed out to Hermēs.  However, this is also symbolic…By using the candle as one’s awareness, Hermēs trying to ascend into the heavens without preparation and protection, shutting himself off from the violent passions of the world and the influences of fate produced by the planets.

I arrived at this interpretation with help from the Chronos Speaks blog on this very same topic:

This in mind, Hermes’ mysterious description of the method of contacting Perfect Nature starts to make a lot more sense. The “deep pit” is sleep itself which drags one down into the oblivion of unconsciousness if we are not successful in achieving lucidity, the “impetuous wind” is the mental noise that prevents both sleep and lucidity (and which seems to get much stronger at the critical point), the “candle” is the light of awareness itself, and the “glass lantern” that protects awareness from being blown out is the recitation of the names of the Perfect Nature itself.

Of course, this is all in addition to what I said before about the light itself being representative of God, and the use of a sacred fire to do this is far from uncommon.  There is, of course, the holy fires of Zoroastrian temples who see the ātar as the visible presence of Ahura Mazda, as well as the ner tamid of Jewish synagogues and the altar lamps of Christian churches, but even other early monotheistic movements in the early Roman Empire period had similar practices, like those of the Hypsistarians.  And, of course, from Islam, there’s the famous Āyat an-Nūr, the Verse of Light from the Qur’ān 24:35:

God is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth.
The image of his Light is that of a niche.  In it is a lamp.
The lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a brilliant star.
Lit from the oil of a blessed olive tree, neither of the East nor of the West,
whose oil would almost glow on its own even if fire had not touched it.
Light upon Light!
God guides to his Light whom he wills.
God gives images to follow for his people.
God is All-Knowing of all things.

This is a beautiful praise of Allah, and is a qur’anic verse that I myself like to contemplate and use in my own prayers, given the harmony it has with so much else I do.  If you can get past the formatting, this webpage from The Ideal Muslimah contains not just practice for learning it by heart, but also includes a bunch of exegetical commentary and interpretations of the verse, which I think are also super neat to expand on.  I mean, while I don’t think lamps are used in the same symbolic way in mosques as they are in synagogues or churches, there is a history of mosque lamps used for illumination in mosques generally, and it’s a tradition that such lamps are also themselves decorated with the Verse of Light.

All this to say that I think that the use of a shrine lamp for a Hermetic shrine/altar/temple/prayer-space/what-have-you is crucial, above and beyond anything else one might have, and—taking a cue from the Islamic Hermetic literature—we can give it a form: a flame in glass.  This can be as simple as a tealight in a glass votive holder or a glass-encased novena candle on its own, but I’d prefer to make it a proper enclosed lantern, like a Moroccan lantern or something, where the enclosure not only allows for the flame to be carried about but also offers it protection from wind, breath, splatters, and other environmental hazards (and, likewise, protects the environment from it).  Sure, a candle in such a lantern would work totally fine (it’s what I myself have been using for quite some time), but I think there’s something more potent in using an actual oil lamp, not least because candles can be expensive and hard to maintain a continuity of flame with, while oil lamps are easier to refill and keep going endlessly.  Oil-wise, olive oil would be great, and while I’m not opposed to the use of animal products for such a thing, I’d personally find value in sticking to plant-based oils, if at all possible.  Barring either candles or oil lamps, of course, an electric lamp would also suffice—it, too, is a burning of energy to provide light, and it’s not like it’s any less useful than other things while also being generally safer to maintain; however, I prefer the care and glow of an actual flame whenever possible, viewing its maintenance as a devotional and meditative gesture in and of itself.

As for the lamp itself, while a traditional kind of terracotta-handled low lamp we think of from the classical Mediterranean world would work (like as I’ve described before), a Hindu-style akhand diya, Buddhist-style butter lamps, or Chinese-style oil lamps of a cup of oil layered on top of water with a floating wick would all be great, since it can be more easily be refilled, and a plain glass hurricane chimney could be placed around it.  Of course, for those who would want a more modern approach, there are a variety of mineral oil/paraffin oil/kerosene oil lamps that were common sights prior to the mass spread of electricity, which would also work great (though require different handling than natural oil lamps that don’t flow as easily or quickly as kerosene), or even better, modern battery-operated/rechargable LED-powered butter lamps that do a decent job at simulating the feel and appearance of an actual lamp flame.   In any case, taking a symbolic cue from the Verse of Light and a practical one from the Picatrix/Book of the Secrets of Creation vignettes, whatever the source of light would be, the glass itself that surrounds it should be clear and clean, preferably uncolored and unpatterned so as to allow the pure light of the flame to shine out.

For me, the shrine lamp would need to be placed in a position of relative importance.  Right now, my shrine lamp (a Moroccan metal tealight lantern) is suspended above the surface of the shrine by about two feet or so, but with my earlier shrines from before, I’ve always had a tall candle or other lightsource burning on a stone trivet in the center and towards the back of the shrine.  I might end up going back to that older format, since I find having the lamp at a more convenient height to gaze upon to be a benefit to my practice, though I do like the notion of having some elevation for it, as well.  So long as it’s at a comfortable height at least above the heart’s position, based on how one would normally pray at such a shrine, that would be fine; keeping it at eye-level when standing may also be appropriate, depending on shrine (and temple) layout, but that might be too high if, for instance, one usually prays while kneeling without getting a crick in the neck.

And then, of course, there’s the actual lighting of the lamp.  For such a thing with such central importance to my devotional space and mystic work, the shrine lamp deserves a bit of extra thought and care when lighting it, as it’s no mere candle or anything.  There are plenty of ways one might go about consecrating a flame for some holy work or other; I’ve offered such prayers in my Preces Castri and Preces Templi ebooks, but one might also reasonably use a modified form of the consecration of the fire for incense from Drawing Spirits Into Crystals, an example of which I’ve already shared as part of my own candle consecration procedure on my website and which has similar parallels in other grimoiric texts like the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano.  Heck, if the Abrahamic and grimoiric stuff doesn’t cut it, there’s always my PGM framing rite approach, too.  If long prayers like that don’t feel right, there’s always the recitation of scripture, too; while the quranic Verse of Light is a great one, there’s a bunch from the Tanakh and the New Testament, too, like Psalms 119:105 (or the entire verse, Ps. 119:105—112, all given to the letter Nun, which is the same letter that starts of the word ner or Light) or Matthew 5:14—16.  Of course, all these things are great to say for lighting the lamp, but not everyone can (or feels comfortable to) leave a burning lamp untended or to let it burn out; in cases where the flame cannot be kept going, the lamp must be extinguished, and there are plenty of prayers one might also say when doing that, too.  Lots of options abound, as ever.

In the end, all of this is really just to say that I think that a shrine lamp is really the quintessential part of a Hermetic shrine, the sine qua non that not only represents the presence of God in our lives and which gives us a focus to which to pray as an aid for ourselves, but also which represents us in our own work.  Just as in CH I where it is written that mind comes from light and in CH VII where a holy place is described where “the light cleansed of darkness” shines, or even in CH X where Hermēs describes to Tat the holy light of the Good that shines forth without blinding or harming us, the presence of a sacred flame should be immediately understood to a Hermeticist in the context of a shrine.  Encasing it in glass, rendering a lamp or candle into a lantern, protects the flame, and so too should it be a reminder to protect ourselves in the quest for this selfsame light, while also serving to magnify and beautify the flame itself for all who can gaze upon it.

I suppose I have more cleaning to do of my temple room to get to that point, and a lot of reconsidering to do of what I really need to get there, but at least I won’t do so in darkness.

The Chaplet of Eight Dragons, or, the Rosary of the Geomancers of Allahabad

More surprises from 20th century French geomancy texts, but this one caught me really by surprise.

As I mentioned the last time I brought up these modern French geomancy texts, there’s an interesting mix of elements that are both plainly familiar and starkly unfamiliar in terms of the usual tradition of Western geomancy.  Obviously, the bulk and foundation of these works are from the usual Western sources from the medieval and Renaissance periods, including Robert Fludd, Henri de Pisis, Christopher Cattan, and others; that much isn’t surprising.  What is surprising is that there’s so much different in them that we don’t see in the modern English geomantic literature, which I assume is due to the introductions of African and Middle Eastern geomantic techniques and concepts that resulted from French imperialist and colonialist activity.  There’s no other European examples of some of the techniques and associations these French texts make, even if it’s not explicit—but sometimes it is, as in this interesting little thing, Le Rosaire des Géomanciens d’Allahabad or “The Rosary of the Geomancers of Allahabad”:

It’s a kind of beaded necklace, in an interesting pattern broken down into eight sections, each of which is composed of one segment of white beads and another of black beads, sometimes of one bead per “slot”, sometimes of two.  For reasons that we’ll discuss soon, another term for this device is Le Chapelet des Huit Dragons, “The Chaplet (or Wreath) of Eight Dragons”.

The moment I laid my eyes upon it, I knew immediately what this was based on.  Years ago, I had come up with the notion of geomantic “superfigures” (which I later called “emblems”), combinations of 16 rows of single or double points that, for every consecutive set of four rows (plus three “hidden” rows at the end duplicating the first three), contain all sixteen geomantic figures.  As a mini-example, consider a series of seven rows: single, double, double, double, double, single, single (·::::··); rows 1 through 4 gives the figure Laetitia, rows 2 through 5 Populus, rows 3 through 6 Tristitia, and rows 4 through 7 Fortuna Maior.  If we extend that, we can come up with a series of single/dual point sequences that contain all sixteen geomantic figures exactly once, which was what I intended to do with my superfigure/emblem idea.  Unfortunately, even after coming up with a (really stupidly complex) way of assigning rulerships and correspondences of the 256 emblems to the base 16 figures, as well as thinking of ways to actually use the damn things, I never really got all that far with them.  (If you’re not familiar with this notion, at least read the first two posts linked above in this paragraph, which explain about the structure and what “hidden” means for those final three lines.)

I had no idea nor any means at the time to find out whether such a concept had ever before arisen in the minds of other geomancers, but given that geomancy is a thousand years old and spread across so much of the world, I would have been surprised if I were truly the first to come up with this idea.  Still, I hadn’t encountered anything of the like in any geomantic text I had come across, nor had I yet—until I came across these French geomantic texts, which finally gave me something to work with.  The two texts I’ve found this in (there may well be more that I just haven’t come across yet) is Francis Warrain’s Physique, métaphysique, mathématique, et symbolique cosmologique de la Géomancie (1968), along with the highly eclectic Joël Jacques’ Les signes secrets de la Terre Géomancie (1991).  Interestingly, however, it does not appear in Robert Ambelain’s La Géomancie arabe (1984), which takes a good chunk of its information from his earlier La Géomancie magique (1940), which suggests a different origin entirely (which isn’t to say that Ambelain’s later text was an accurate or precise representation of Arabic geomancy, because it’s not, but it does have a few other different interesting things in it related to jinn lore).

Warrain’s book includes a lengthy chapter, Cycles des seize figures Géomantiques Emboitées (“Cycles of the Sixteen Nested Geomantic Figures”), which talks about these sorts of things; I’m going through it slowly with the generous help of Google Translate, because my French isn’t exactly up-to-par for casual reading.  However, the following chapter (my translation) talks directly about this interesting rosary, albeit only briefly, as it seems to be more of a note in a later edition of Warrain’s manuscript.  (The edition of his book I have is from 1986, while the esotericist and metaphysician Warrain himself died in 1940, making this a posthumous release of an earlier work.)

Editor’s note: We found in one of the last manuscripts of “La Géomancie”, revised and reworked rather late by Francis Warrain himself, the following additional text, concerning this present problem of “The Nesting of Figures” to which he provides additional documentation. We give below this complete amending text:

Oswald Wirth succeeded in representing the complete sequence of the sixteen Figures on a circle divided into sixteen equal parts, each carrying a single point (“monopoint”) or a double point (“bipoint”), these points being distributed so that starting from any radius and traversing the circumference always in the same direction (“dextrogyre” or “sinistrogyre”) the points located on four consecutive rows give, when one reads them successively four to four, and progressing each time from a point (monopoint or bipoint), the sixteen different Figures of Geomancy, without any of them being repeated.

It is possible, by doing so, and by modifying each time certain successions of points, to obtain 8 different combinations in the grouping of the Figures and to produce materially, using wood beads or glass beads or vegetable seeds, eight different “geomantic rosaries” of 24 grains each, which can close by butting on themselves, or which, abutted to each other and closed in a closed cycle, constitute a long “rosary” made of 128 successive rows of monopoints and bipoints, 64 rows from one and 64 rows from the other, or 192 beads in total.

Other researchers than Oswald Wirth (I learned only late) had also realized this problem in a very complete way, in all its generality.

Mr. Marcel Nicaud, renowned painter, xylographer, and famous fresco artist, attached to the Musées Nationaux Français, and had fully achieved this by a simple and precise mathematical process which was personal and invented by a special technique. (1)

I will present this problem of “Sixteen nested geomantic figures” in general, and as I have personally conceived and solved it. Are there other solutions to discover? I don’t think I can say!

The singular designation of “Rosary of the Eight Dragons” is given to this “Rosary” because, arranged in a circle on a plane, it comprises, placed in the 8 directions of space, the unchanging representation of the Figures of Caput Draconis and of Cauda Draconis separated from each other by the Figure of Via, that is to say the symbolic representation of 8 “Amphisbenes” or mythological tantric two-headed dragons.

(1) It is to Marcel Nicaud, skillful engraver and subtle esotericist, that the illustration of this astonishing masterpiece of arithmology and symbolic esotericism is due, due to the prodigious traditional knowledge of one of our last “Authentic Masters” which is entitled From Natural Architecture, or Report by Petrus Talemarianus on the establishment, according to the principles of Tantrism, Taoism, Pythagorism and Cabal, of a “Golden Rule” used for the Realization of the Laws of Universal Harmony and contributing to the accomplishment of the “Grant Work”. Les Editions Véga, Paris, 1950.  It is from this “summa” that we extracted the “Geomantic Rosary” illustrating the text opposite.

(2) These “rosaries” are commonly used, it seems, in certain and highly secret tantric sects as supports for very complex metaphysical meditations, as well as for geomantic divinatory uses, and also for subtle purposes of “recognition initiation”.

It’s a short section, admittedly, and doesn’t say a lot, but it does give some names of other Western esotericists (especially the famous Oswald Wirth, contemporaneous with Warrain) to look up for future research regarding the geomantic emblems (however they phrased or worded the concept).  The Nicaud book is extant, both in French and in English, but it’s difficult and expensive to find, so it may be some time before I can get my hands on it.  I don’t know which Wirth book Warrain refers to, but I’ll see if I can dig it up.

In Jacques’ book, on the other hand…well, Les signes secrets de la Terre Géomancie is, like I said, a rather eclectic text.  It places a good amount of emphasis on the transnational, transcultural role of geomancy, by which I mean equating Western geomancy with Ifá and I Ching, which isn’t a great approach in my opinion, and it makes a lot of the usual New Age jumps between Hinduism and Buddhism and this and that and the other into one confused mess with questionable numerological and etymological leaps of logic.  Still, eclectic and spastic as it can be, it also has a few good points on this particular topic (capitalization preserved from the original text, my translation):

To return to a more particularly cosmogonic research: to this desire to inscribe the Geomantic Figures in the astral cycles, at least to give them a representation which could represent the Sky, to this desire to unite the mantic arts around the divine Revelation of the origin of things, we will dwell for a moment on what appeared to us as an African contribution to Geomancy, an external contribution to the Mediterranean basin which can be considered as a bridge between the worlds, from one culture to another: the Rosary!

There is a form of representation of the distributing Figures of traditional Geomancy that it is possible to compare the lunar cycles which we spoke above: it is the geomantic Rosary which is said to serve as a sign of recognition to some magicians of the East. This geomantic rosary also bears the names of “Rosary of Allahabad”, “Rosary of the Geomancers of Allahabad” or “Rosary of the Eight Dragons”.  With regard to this designation, it is quite difficult to formulate an exact explanation because no ancient rosary has been found in this city in the north of India.  However, in Arabic, Allahabad means “the City of God” or, in other words, “the Heavenly City”.  It therefore seems somewhat random to us to want to link this name to a current geographic reality; the Agharta concept would be more acceptable…

The total number of beads composing the rosary is 192, making it therefore possible to link the reduction to the name of JERUSALEM (Yod-Resh-Vav-Shin-Lamed-Mim = 93, which is 99 less than 192) which leads us to think that the name “Rosary of the Geomancers of Allahhabad “, since Jerusalem is also a holy city of Islam, is a rather recent name indeed for the rosary.   The rosary is in the form shown in the figure above.  Each DRAGON is red, the color of fire, and made up of three elements: AIR-FIRE-WATER, in this order, i.e of a coupling and an opposition.  The total number of points in each DRAGON is eight.  Eight is the first female cubic number, and eight represents the EARTH (the element absent from the composition of the DRAGON), the element in which has the deepest mysteries. It is a conventional chthonic symbol called number of Pluto (the One who lives under the Earth).  It is a sacred sign among the Japanese, representing multiplicity, shown in the form of an eight-petaled flower, a representation of the Lotus also found in many Western representations of Romanesque art.  Eight is the letter Ḥeth of the Hebrews, the first letter of the word Ḥai (Ḥeth-Yod-Heh) which means LIFE (8 + 1 + 5 = 14 = 5⁷), and is also the first letter of the name of the eighth Sephirah, HOD, or Glory.  Eight is the symbol of infinity, but let us also remember: the eight arms of Vishnu, the eight spokes of the Wheel of the way of Buddhism, the eight paths of the Tao, the eight forms of SHIVA.  “The one whom Christ brings to life is placed under the figure EIGHT”, wrote Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd century; this is not surprising because, if 8 is turned onto its side, it represents infinity, but it also takes the form of a stylized fish, a primitive symbol of Christianity, the religion which by epiphany connects man to eternity.

These eight deployments represent ALL the composition possibilities of the 16 Distributing Figures of Geomancy preceded or followed by the DRAGON. Symbolically, they connect the first two male and female couples (1 + 0) by the 10 lines of each of the cycles to the essence of the Zodiac, the Ouroboros.  10 is Malkuth, the Kingdom.  The dragon bites its tail, which in no way means that the theme at rest, i.e. that in which each Figure is in its place, is among these cycles.  Each now has the keys that will allow him to discover the riches of the rosary and especially why it is also called “rosary”.  Six rows of the DRAGON among eight red points, ten rows for the cycle among sixteen black points: note, however, that in the sacred language of Christians, Hebrews, and Arabs, red has always been associated with FIRE and divine love, but black symbolizes the night and everything that is more malicious than death.

Interestingly, Jacques uses that possibly Arabic but definitely French system of elements and elemental associations to pairs of rows of figures, both in the passage above and throughout his book, but Warrain doesn’t appear to use the system at all.  Warrain, likewise, didn’t mention anything about colors for the beads; although Jacques may have found another text that talks about it, he doesn’t list Wirth or Nicaud in his bibliography, so his use of colors might well be an innovation or extrapolation from the image on his part.

So, with those introductions out of the way, let’s talk about the structure of this device.

  • The “Chaplet of Eight Dragons” (hereafter “the Rosary”) is broken down into eight sections, each section an emblem of itself, all starting with the binary structure 011110 (:····:), itself consisting of the figures Caput Draconis, Via, and Cauda Draconis.  The other rows of a given section provide the rest of the emblem.
  • The draconic points/beads (for the 011110 segments) are always in another color (e.g. red) compared to the non-draconic beads that provide the rest of one complete emblem (e.g. black).  The draconic segment 011110 of each section is important, as it grounds and anchors the Rosary to eight directions, with the gaps between them consisting of the same number of beads/points but in an irregular way.
  • Each section consists of 24 points/beads, eight from the draconic segment and 16 from the non-draconic segment.
  • There are sixteen total emblems that start with 011110, but there are only eight sections on the Rosary.  In the depiction above, those eight sections are the following emblems (with their corresponding geomantic figure breakouts), starting with the 011110 segment at the top and proceeding clockwise around the Rosary, with the “hidden” final three lines (which are the first three of the following 011110 segment, which fully completes the emblem) in parentheses:
    1. 0111101100101000(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia (, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior)
    2. 0111101000010110(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio (, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior)
    3. 0111100001101001(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer (, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella)
    4. 0111100101101000(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia (, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior)
    5. 0111101100001010(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio (, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior)
    6. 0111101000011001(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer (, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella)
    7. 0111100001001101(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer (, Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella)
    8. 0111100100001101(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer (, Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella)
  • The other eight emblems that start with 011110 are also present on the Rosary; they simply need to be read counterclockwise around the Rosary.  Starting from the 011110 segment at the top and proceeding counterclockwise from there in the depiction above, these get us the following emblems (with their corresponding geomantic figure breakouts), with the “hidden” final three lines in parentheses:
    1. 0111101011000010(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus (, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior)
    2. 0111101011001000(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Rubeus, Laetitia (, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior)
    3. 0111101001100001(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia (, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella)
    4. 0111100101000011(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior (, Coniunctio, Puer, Puella)
    5. 0111100001011010(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio (, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior)
    6. 0111101001011000(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia (, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior)
    7. 0111100110100001(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia (, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella)
    8. 0111100001010011(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior (, Coniunctio, Puer, Puella)

That’s what we know from looking at this thing at a glance.  The next big thing to figure out would be why this specific order of emblems is used on the Rosary, and for that, we need to pick up on a few other details looking at the general structure of the Rosary:

  • Proceeding clockwise around the Rosary from the topmost draconic segment, the emblems used follow 011110 using an odd-odd-even-even-odd-odd-even-even pattern for the first non-draconic row, i.e. the first non-draconic row in the first two segments have a single point each, the next two double, the penultimate two single, and the last two double.
  • However, the final non-draconic row of each section has double, double, single, double, double, single, single, single points.  This leads to an interesting asymmetry where if we go clockwise around the Rosary, we have a regular pattern, but no such pattern if we go counterclockwise.
  • There’s almost a perfect symmetry with the first full figure from the non-draconic segment clockwise around the Rosary: the first and fifth non-draconic segments start with 1100 (Fortuna Minor), the second and sixth 1000 (Laetitia), the third and seventh 0001 (Tristitia), but the fourth starts with 0101 (Acquisitio) and eighth with 0100 (Rubeus).  However, at least for the first three non-draconic rows, the symmetry is perfect.  Following the initial Caput Draconis-Via-Cauda Draconis breakout of every section, this gives the first and fourth sections (which start with the non-draconic 110) an initial figure breakout of Puer-Puella-Coniunctio; the second and fifth sections (100) Puer-Amissio-Rubeus; the third and sixth sections (000) Fortuna Minor-Laetitia-Populus; and the fourth and eighth sections (010) Fortuna Minor-Carcer-Albus.
  • This also means that the first, second, fifth, and sixth sections, because the first non-draconic row has a single point/bead, have Puer as the first breakout figure following the initial Caput Draconis-Via-Cauda Draconis breakout of every section, and that the third, fourth, seventh, and eighth sections all have Fortuna Minor as the first breakout figure.
  • There’s much less symmetry counterclockwise, however: the first and fifth non-draconic segments counterclockwise have 1011 and 0001 (Puella and Tristitia), the second and sixth 1011 and 1001 (Puella and Carcer), the third and seventh 1001 and 0110 (Carcer and Coniunctio), and the fourth and eighth have 0101 and 0001 (Acquisitio and Tristitia).  The only symmetry I can find here is that the first non-draconic row of the first and fifth segments are opposed (1 and 0, yielding the figures Puer and Fortuna Minor), the second and sixth aligned (1 and 1, both yielding Puer), the third and seventh opposed (1 and 0, again yielding Puer and Fortuna Minor), and the fourth and eighth aligned (0 and 0, both yielding Fortuna Minor).
  • Looking at the two rows on either side of the draconic segments clockwise as “bounds” for each “dragon”, then going clockwise, then the first dragon is bound double-double, the second double-single, the third double-double, the fourth single-double, the fifth double-single, the sixth double-single, the seventh single-double, and the eighth single-single.  This means that there are two double-double bound dragons, one single-single bound dragon, two single-double bound dragons, and three double-single bound dragons.  No real symmetry here to speak of.

All sixteen 011110-starting emblems are represented, eight clockwise and eight counterclockwise; this is why this is a “Chaplet of the Eight Dragons” and not “Chaplet of the Sixteen Dragons”.  However, based on the lack of symmetry going counterclockwise around the Rosary, or at least given how little symmetry there is going counterclockwise compared to there is going clockwise, it seems that there really is directionality involved in the Rosary, and that it seems stronger going clockwise.  This means that the eight emblems read clockwise around the Rosary are probably more important than those going counterclockwise, or that the eight counterclockwise emblems arise as an effect from the positioning of the eight clockwise ones.

What doesn’t rely on directionality, however, is something I hadn’t noticed before when it came to the geomantic emblems: starting from any point of any emblem and taking the first four figures drawn from the seven rows starting from the one chosen, if you take those seven rows as representing four overlapped geomantic figures and then take them as four Mother figures for a geomantic chart, the four Mother figures will be the same as the four Daughter figures.  More concretely, say you randomly choose a point on the Rosary, and you end up at the first row of the segment 1000010.  Breaking that out, you get the four figures Laetitia (1000), Populus (0000), Tristitia (0001), and Albus (0010).  If you use those as Mother figures for a geomantic chart, then the four Daughters that result will also be Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, and Albus, in that same order.

This is a fascinating property that I hadn’t picked up on before, and yields a special class of geomantic chart I call “repetitive charts”: charts where the four Mothers are the same as the four Daughters and in the same order, and thus the first two Nieces are the same and in the same order as the last two Nieces, the two Witnesses are the same, the Judge is Populus, and the Sentence is always the same figure as the First Mother.  There are 1024 (2¹⁰) such repetitive charts, and there’s a particular way you can construct one based on the sixteen rows of points of the four Mother figures.  First, remember that the sixteen rows that collectively comprise the Mother figures are the same as those that comprise the Daughter figures, just read horizontally across from top to bottom instead of vertically down from right to left:


In order to create a repetitive chart, certain rows have to be the same, reflected across the top right-bottom left diagonal:


Thus, Row 2 must be the same as Row 5 (A), Row 3 must be the same as Row 9 (B), Row 4 must be the same as Row 13 (C), and so forth.  Thus, if the third row of the First Mother has a single point, then the first row of the Third Mother must also have a single point.  Rows 1, 6, 11, and 16 are marked by asterisks (∗) and can be anything, single or double, and won’t affect the repetitiveness of the chart.  Thus, there are ten distinct choices to make here: the six mandated-repeated rows A, B, C, D, E, and F, and the four wildcard rows (∗).  Because there are ten choices to make between two options, this means that we have 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 = 2¹⁰ = 1024 repetitive charts.

Turning back to the Rosary, we know that there are 128 rows on the Rosary, which means that there are 128 options for picking out such charts if we use it clockwise, and another 128 options counterclockwise, which means we have 256 possibilities total for picking out charts using this method.  However, not all these charts are distinct, because the same sequences of seven rows (e.g. 0111100) appear multiple times in the Rosary.  If we focus on just all possible combinations of single or double points among seven rows, then this means that there are only 2⁷ = 128 possible distinct charts, but not all combinations of points among seven rows are present on the Rosary, either (e.g. the case of 1111111, where all four Mothers are Via).  In fact, based on the figure breakouts given above, we know there are only 74 possible distinct charts using the Rosary, formed from the following Mothers:

  1. Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer (2 repetitions)
  2. Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia (2 repetitions)
  3. Acquisitio, Puella, Caput Draconis, Via (6 repetitions)
  4. Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor (4 repetitions)
  5. Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Puer (2 repetitions)
  6. Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus (4 repetitions)
  7. Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Caput Draconis (4 repetitions)
  8. Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio (4 repetitions)
  9. Albus, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior (2 repetitions)
  10. Albus, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus (2 repetitions)
  11. Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella, Caput Draconis (2 repetitions)
  12. Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio (2 repetitions)
  13. Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer, Albus (2 repetitions)
  14. Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior (4 repetitions)
  15. Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus (6 repetitions)
  16. Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor (8 repetitions)
  17. Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer (8 repetitions)
  18. Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio (2 repetitions)
  19. Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella (4 repetitions)
  20. Carcer, Albus, Rubeus, Laetitia (2 repetitions)
  21. Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Via (4 repetitions)
  22. Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor (1 repetition)
  23. Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer (3 repetitions)
  24. Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus (3 repetitions)
  25. Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior (1 repetition)
  26. Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus (4 repetitions)
  27. Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio (2 repetitions)
  28. Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus (4 repetitions)
  29. Cauda Draconis, Puer, Puella, Coniunctio (2 repetitions)
  30. Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus (3 repetitions)
  31. Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior (1 repetitions)
  32. Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus (4 repetitions)
  33. Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio (2 repetitions)
  34. Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus (4 repetitions)
  35. Coniunctio, Puer, Puella, Caput Draconis (2 repetitions)
  36. Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis (8 repetitions)
  37. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer (1 repetition)
  38. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia (1 repetition)
  39. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio (4 repetitions)
  40. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer, Puella (2 repetitions)
  41. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio (4 repetitions)
  42. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Rubeus (2 repetitions)
  43. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis (1 repetition)
  44. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio (1 repetition)
  45. Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia (8 repetitions)
  46. Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus (8 repetitions)
  47. Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior (8 repetitions)
  48. Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio (6 repetitions)
  49. Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Rubeus (2 repetitions)
  50. Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis (4 repetitions)
  51. Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio (4 repetitions)
  52. Puella, Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis (8 repetitions)
  53. Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer (3 repetitions)
  54. Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia (3 repetitions)
  55. Puella, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio (2 repetitions)
  56. Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella (4 repetitions)
  57. Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer (4 repetitions)
  58. Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia (4 repetitions)
  59. Puer, Puella, Caput Draconis, Via (2 repetitions)
  60. Puer, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor (2 repetitions)
  61. Rubeus, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio (2 repetitions)
  62. Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis (3 repetitions)
  63. Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio (3 repetitions)
  64. Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia (8 repetitions)
  65. Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio (2 repetitions)
  66. Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella (3 repetitions)
  67. Tristitia, Albus, Rubeus, Carcer (2 repetitions)
  68. Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Via (4 repetitions)
  69. Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor (1 repetition)
  70. Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer (3 repetitions)
  71. Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer (4 repetitions)
  72. Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia (4 repetitions)
  73. Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio (6 repetitions)
  74. Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Puella (2 repetitions)

Organized by how many repetitions there are for each set of Mothers:

  1. One repetition (8 sequences)
    1. Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor
    2. Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior
    3. Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior
    4. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer
    5. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia
    6. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis
    7. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio
    8. Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor
  2. Two repetitions (24 sequences)
    1. Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer
    2. Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia
    3. Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Puer
    4. Albus, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior
    5. Albus, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus
    6. Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella, Caput Draconis
    7. Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio
    8. Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer, Albus
    9. Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio
    10. Carcer, Albus, Rubeus, Laetitia
    11. Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio
    12. Cauda Draconis, Puer, Puella, Coniunctio
    13. Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio
    14. Coniunctio, Puer, Puella, Caput Draconis
    15. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer, Puella
    16. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Rubeus
    17. Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Rubeus
    18. Puella, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio
    19. Puer, Puella, Caput Draconis, Via
    20. Puer, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor
    21. Rubeus, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio
    22. Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio
    23. Tristitia, Albus, Rubeus, Carcer
    24. Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Puella
  3. Three repetitions (9 sequences)
    1. Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer
    2. Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus
    3. Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus
    4. Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer
    5. Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia
    6. Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis
    7. Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio
    8. Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella
    9. Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer
  4. Four repetitions (21 sequences)
    1. Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor
    2. Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus
    3. Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Caput Draconis
    4. Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio
    5. Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior
    6. Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella
    7. Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Via
    8. Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus
    9. Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus
    10. Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus
    11. Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus
    12. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio
    13. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio
    14. Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis
    15. Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio
    16. Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella
    17. Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer
    18. Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia
    19. Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Via
    20. Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer
    21. Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia
  5. Six repetitions (4 sequences)
    1. Acquisitio, Puella, Caput Draconis, Via
    2. Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus
    3. Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio
    4. Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio
  6. Eight repetitions (8 sequences)
    1. Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor
    2. Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer
    3. Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis
    4. Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia
    5. Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus
    6. Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior
    7. Puella, Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis
    8. Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia

Now, 74 is a really strange number that doesn’t really appear otherwise in geomancy, and the distributions here are a little unusual, so maybe there’s something to investigate along those lines more.  Perhaps there’s significance to these 74 charts in some way, but I’m not so sure.  For that matter, there could be other significance or meaning attributed to the whole emblematic order of the Rosary, but it’s not clear to me.  Still, even if this post raises more questions than it answers regarding this intriguing little device, at least all this is something to note, whether for my or future geomancers’ research, so maybe someone can do something with this information.