Labeling Myself as a Follower of the Way of Hermēs Trismegistus

Another day, another rant about the Kybalion.  No rest for the weary nor comfort for the correct, I suppose.  Readers here and my good followers and friends on Twitter and Facebook will know that I have no love for the Kybalion for any number of reasons, the biggest of which is that it claims to be a Hermetic text when it just, flatly, isn’t.  All it has going for it is that it claims itself to be and describes itself to be Hermetic, despite that the “real” text that what we have as the Kybalion claims to be an exegesis of doesn’t exist, that none of the quotes attributed to Hermēs Trismegistus in that text appear in any of the literature of philosophical or technical Hermetica, and that none of the cosmology, framework, or spiritual “infrastructure” that the Kybalion describes lines up with that which the Hermetic canon does.  The more one reads the Hermetic canon of texts and the more one reads the Kybalion, the more obvious and more numerous the differences become.  (Eventually, I have in mind to write a blog post series, “A Hermetic Refutation of the Kybalion”, but that’s something that even I’m dreading to write, honestly; that’ll be no small work, that I already know.)

And yet people are still surprised to hear any of this, if not outright disbelieving, because all they’ve ever heard is that the Kybalion is a Hermetic text.  It says right there that it is, after all; why would we not believe it?  Whole Hermetic orders of magical lodges and communities praise and promulgate the Kybalion, and generations of magicians and spiritual seekers uphold it and keep it fondly next to their hearts.  I’ve been called a sham and a liar and a poser for saying that the Kybalion isn’t Hermetic—because, I reiterate, it’s not—and that I should be ashamed of myself for misleading both myself and others about such a venerable ancient text (written about 110 years ago, as opposed to the 1700 years that the Corpus Hermeticum was written, give or take a century), and how dare I call myself a Hermeticist when I would oppose such a useful, informative, enlightening text.  It’s so accessible!  It’s so concise!  It’s so inspiring!  It’s such a good text!  (So many people harbor such a rabid love for the text, I wonder if there isn’t some deeper egregore at work here that makes so many place it atop such an esteemed pedestal with almost cult-like fanaticism.)

Like, I really don’t know what else to say besides the same thing over and over again: the Kybalion is not a Hermetic text, nor is it even derived from Hermetic texts.  Nowhere in the Hermetic canon of texts do we find a notions of “seven principles”, “three planes”, “the ALL is mental”, or whatever.  It’s all very clearly New Thought, and all derivative at that.  It’s not ancient, and it’s not Hermetic.  Whenever someone claims that it’s either of those things, that’s a good sign that they don’t know what they’re talking about.  Even if it is good for opening a window—not even a door—to let in a fresh breeze of spiritual awakening in, I can’t seriously consider that enough to give it such praise as it’s given.  I mean, we all go through embarrassing phases—I started off my PGM work with Stephen Flowers’ “Hermetic Magic”, which was good to spark my interest but which I haven’t touched in years because it’s such a dreadful text, to say nothing of my fondness for Scott Cunningham’s “Earth Power” and “Earth, Air, Fire, and Water”, which actually are useful if not awkward to admit it as such—it’s okay to let crappy things die in the past, especially as we find newer and better things to study.  Even if the Kybalion is an easy-to-digest introductory text to thinking in spiritual terms, unless you’re going to continue to go down the path of New Thought or the various other paths of mish-mash derivative New Age messes, there’s so much unlearning to do to actually properly understand Hermetic philosophy and spirituality in its own terms.  At that point, whatever good the Kybalion can bring is negated and made worse by the harm it can do; it’s like how sugar-processed white bread buns with faux-grilled misc-meat-product hamburgers are good for a quick burst of calories on the go when you’re hungry, but holding to that diet over time will give you severe health problems later on.  Even if the actual Hermetic texts are more difficult to read and ponder?  Good!  Like sex, better hard and slow than fast and bad.

Heck, even the word “Kybalion”, which looks Greek, isn’t even a meaningful word; it’s either meant to dimly recall notions of kabbalah (which, as a Jewish system of mysticism, also isn’t Hermetic), or perhaps the goddess Cybele (what connections that might have with Hermeticism is beyond me).  The only two Greek words that are extant that bear similarity to “Kybalion” are κυβαλικος (like a rascal, knave, or rogue) and κιβδηλος (fraud, counterfeit)—both of which are fitting, I suppose, for this text.

Let me clarify something, I suppose.  When I refer to “the Hermetic canon”, I refer primarily to the source texts of Hermeticism attributed to Hermēs Trismegistus written in the classical period (between 100 and 700 CE) that all Hermetic philosophy, theology, cosmology, and practices descend from.  These texts are largely broken down into two categories, the philosophical Hermetica and the technical Hermetica.  The technical Hermetica consist of a truly wide variety of texts, ranging from astrology and (proto-)alchemy to medicine and scribecraft and everything in-between; the Greek, Demotic, and Coptic Magical Papyri are good examples of this, though not all of those would necessarily qualify as “technical Hermetica”.  On the other hand, the philosophical Hermetica consists of, well, more philosophical, spiritual, and devotional texts, the most famous of which is the Corpus Hermeticum, the first book of which is sometimes taken to be the title of the whole thing: “The Divine Pymander” (or whatever variant spelling of Poimandrēs one wants to take).  When people ask about resources for the philosophical Hermetica in modern English, I typically share the same list of resources:

There are, to be sure, other translations of these texts, especially of the Corpus Hermeticum and Asclepius, but I find Copenhaver’s and Salaman’s to be the best currently out there.  Salaman’s translation is a little easier and smoother to read, though he makes more editorial and translator’s decisions for the sake of an easy read; Copenhaver is more critical and exact, which is better for study and comparison.  Salaman’s “Way of Hermes” is excellent for the translation of the Definitions alone, and Litwa’s text (though unfortunately rather pricey) is a fantastic resource on so much of the “miscellaneous philosophical Hermetica” that covers at least as much ground as the Corpus Hermeticum and Asclepius do themselves—to say nothing about the Korē Kosmou, which itself is part of the Stobaean Fragments.  I’m sure there will be future translations coming out, too, especially one rumored by Christian Bull whose works on Hermetic philosophy are priceless to us in the modern day—to say nothing about the extreme hope we have for other Hermetic texts to be discovered that we’ve otherwise lost over the passage of time—but for now, these are what I stick with.  These collectively form my starting point for Hermetic philosophy and, more generally, the “way of Hermēs”, which is perhaps a better way to understand the material given in the philosophical Hermetica.  But I claim that these are the starting point, or should be the starting point, for anyone and anything that claims to be Hermetic—else, if what you’re doing or writing about has no connection to nor root from Hermēs Trismegistus, what sense does it make to call it Hermetic?

It’s true that I am limiting myself in my own personal selection of “the Hermetic canon”, with my own cutoff point being the Emerald Tablet (which, I should note, only first appears in Arabic between the 500s and 700s CE); it’s not like people just forgot about Hermēs Trismegistus after the fall of the Roman Empire.  Far from it!  Although the tradition of the philosophical Hermetica may have fallen by the wayside, the tradition of technical Hermetica lived on strong, especially in the fields of astrology and alchemy (though theurgy and other spiritual works, at that point, were either taken over by other religious systems or just outright quashed as a form of heresy and paganism).  However, that’s not where my focus lies: between my personal focus on the philosophical and contemplative side of things, as well as the fact that after the Emerald Tablet so much of Hermetic literature gets mixed up with other religious and spiritual traditions, it gets harder and harder to make out a firm outline of Hermetic content like we could in earlier texts.  While they’re still valuable as part of the Hermetic tradition, we do start to see branching-off into various kinds of “Hermeticisms”, leading to such wide-ranging differences in the term such as the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” or Franz Bardon’s famous “Introduction to Hermetics”.  Easier and clearer for me, at least, to consider the original texts that they all come from before this branching-off as the root that we can all at least agree on are Hermetic.  And if something outright builds up a radically different framework and cosmology and philosophy that either doesn’t talk about what those texts does, contradicts it constantly, or talks about things that the original texts didn’t care to discuss or outright said was a distraction, can that really be called Hermetic?  No—which is why I claim that the Kybalion isn’t a Hermetic text.

But you know what?  It is true that there are a variety of Hermeticisms around nowadays, and that Hermēs (whether as Maiados or as Trismegistos) is a pretty promiscuous character.  It’s not at all beyond the pale to consider Hermeticism to have “sects”, much as Christianity or Islam, and while all these Hermetic sects may trace or claim some origin with Hermēs Trismegistus as the prophet-sage-teacher-god-hero-initiator that resulted from Hellenicizing the Egyptian Thoth and Egyptianizing the Greek Hermēs, let’s be honest: so many of these sects and groups that claim the label of “Hermetic” can often be so far away that they’re anything but.  As one of my Twitter friends noted, it’s like how many Mormons call themselves Christian online without every having read the actual Bible and only swearing by the Book of Mormon: sure, I guess it’s derived from Christianity and does claim Jesus Christ as the (or a) central figure, but it’s so far removed from the rest of Christianity that it may as well just be its own thing.  I mean, it’s not uncommon that I have to explain that, no, I have no connection to the Golden Dawn and that my magic is not derived from or influenced by them, yet the Golden Dawn is the first thing that pops into their mind when they hear the word “Hermetic”.  It’s good marketing, I suppose—which is the most likely reason why the Kybalion tried to claim that title for itself so as to sell more copies and spread the word of New Thought further—but considering the depth and breadth of Hermeticism outside the Golden Dawn, to simply think of Hermeticism as Renaissance-derived Rosicrucian blends of Solomonic magic and (very distantly-derived) Jewish mysticism with Egyptian window-dressing in a Freemasonry lodge structure is…pretty far off the mark, if you ask me.

So, okay.  If people want to claim that I’m not Hermetic because I don’t like and discourage people from reading the Kybalion?  Alright, sure.  Though I’d rather they stop using the term Hermetic when they’re not discussing anything of the sort, sure, I’ll drop the label first.  From now on, I won’t call myself a Hermeticist except in the extremely broadest sense of meaning “something to do with Hermēs Trismegistus” (whether legitimately or spuriously, because words do have meaning after all), and for anything more specific, I’m going to adopt the label of “Hermetist” for myself, and “Hermetism” for what it is I study.

Hermetist, Hermetism?  These are terms I find in academic literature discussing the classical Hermetic texts over and over, and although some do use “Hermetic” and “Hermeticism”, there’s a subtle distinction being made here.  The bulk of modern academia is, as ever, focused on distancing itself from the occult, spiritual, magical, and anything considered “woo”, for better or for worse (though there are increasingly more and more researchers and writers and professors who don’t care about that, especially once they get tenure).  Because the word “Hermetic” is fraught with magical tension, they often use the term “Hermeticism” to refer to post-classical alchemical and magical texts and orders, and “Hermetism” to refer to the actual texts, traditions, and groups that we know had weight as being written and taught by Hermēs Trismegistus.  In that sense, the Corpus Hermeticum is (or ought to be) a text of both the Hermetist and Hermeticist, while the unrelated texts of the e.g. Ordo Aurum Solis would be more for the Hermeticist.  All of this would be considered Hermetic (as that is the proper adjective to use for things pertaining to Hermēs Trismegistus, as opposed to “Hermaic”, which is more for the god Hermēs himself apart and away from the other trappings), but as far as the path, framework, and the rest is concerned, there’s quite a gulf that separates Hermetism from Hermeticism more broadly, indeed.

I know there are some people who get upset at someone deciding to label themselves, because waaah limits or waaah you’re cutting yourself off from the truth or waaah why can’t we all get along or something.  But you know what?  Labels are words, and anyone who has any knowledge of Egyptian models of magic is that words are power, whether written or spoken, because words have meaning.  If people want to insist that something that claims to be Hermetic isn’t Hermetic even after there being abundant and well-agreed-upon evidence, like the Kybalion, or want to use the word “Hermetic” to describe something that has evolved and shifted so far away from its Hermetic roots that there’s no clear connection or silhouette between the two anymore?  Okay, fine.  Then what those people are doing isn’t what I’m doing, and there are clearly more of them than me out there, and a distinction in terminology is called for with good reason and impetus.  I’m aware that the Hermeticism/Hermetism distinction is not well-understood yet, hence this post being written: perhaps those who see such a distinction and agree with it can take the word on as well, and get on with our practice and lives without being dragged down by people who don’t care much for such trifling things such as coherence, cohesion, or correctness in the choice of words we use to describe things or in the worldviews and spiritual frameworks we apply ourselves in.  No shame nor shade to those who prefer a more Hermeticist than Hermetist path, as I know a good deal of people who do good work in modern Hermeticist traditions, but they aren’t doing what I’m doing, and perhaps that needs to be made more clear.

So, yeah.  As a follower on the Way of Hermēs Trismegistus, taking the classical philosophical Hermetica as the backbone of my cosmology and the classical technical Hermetica as the (ever-widening, ever-deepening) foundation of my magical practices?  I’m a Hermetist in the practice and ideology of Hermetism, and those are the terms I’m going to use from here on out.  This isn’t to say that I’m disavowing anything that came after the classical period or that more modern Hermeticist stuff is worthless or pointless—the Trithemian rite of conjuration is still excellent, to be sure, and I have a number of other practices that have origins in a number of other time periods—but as far as I consider myself and the core of my practices, I’m a Hermetist.

May as well save some of my own breath, even with that one syllable removed, given how much others waste theirs.

EDIT: Another friend of mine on Twitter reports that there was no term “Hermetic” or “Hermeticist” or even “Hermetist” used as such back in classical times as a distinct label for people who also followed the Way of Hermēs Trismegistus, but “Trismegistici” or “Τρισμεγιστικοι”, as opposed to Ερμαιοι or Ερμετικοι.  This would make the modern term for them “Trismegistist” and the adjective form “Trismegistic”, although “Trismegist” sounds a bit nicer, I have to admit.  It’s so pomous and immodest, but yanno what?  I do kinda like it, even if it a bit more obscure and opaque than “Hermetist” would be.  So there’s another option for terminology: Trismegistism, Trismegistic, Trismegist(-ist).  Or, as she later suggested, “Altrismegest” in a not-so-subtle nod to the Almagest, which I have to admit makes me melt a little inside.

On Timing Daily Prayers to the Degrees of the Decans

I’ve had this idea in my head for prayer practice that revolves around the notion of cycles.  For instance, as part of my daily prayer practice, I’ve written a set of seven prayers, one for each of the seven days of the week, which I recite on an ongoing cycle.  They’re not necessarily planetary prayers, like you might find in the Hygromanteia or Heptameron, but they do have some planetary allusions and hints thrown into them.  The seven-day week, which is fundamentally a Mesopotamian invention, makes for a simple cycle of prayers, but I’ve been thinking about ways I could incorporate more cycles into my prayers.  For instance, a simple and short invocation for each of the days of a lunar month—with my Grammatēmerologion, my oracular Greek letter lunisolar calendar—based around the powers and potencies of each of the letters of the Greek alphabet, along with their spirits or gods, could be something fun to toy around with.  There’s lots of opportunities for this sort of practice:

  • the four turns of the Sun each day, a la Liber Resh (sunrise, noon, sunset, midnight)
  • the seven days of the week
  • the 24 planetary hours of a given day
  • the four (or eight) phases of the Moon (new, crescent, first quarter, gibbous, full, disseminating, third quarter, balsamic)
  • the 29/30 days of a synodic lunar month
  • the 28 days of a sidereal lunar month (a la the 28 lunar mansions)
  • the 30/31 days of a solar month (a la the 12 signs of the Zodiac)
  • the four seasons (solstices and equinoxes), perhaps also with the four cross-quarter days (midpoints between the solstices and equinoxes)
  • the 10 days of a decan
  • when a planet stations retrograde or direct
  • when eclipses occur
  • when a planet or star is seen at its heliacal rising or setting

There are lots of opportunities to engage in prayers linked to or with the natural cycles of the cosmos, many of which are fundamentally astrological in nature.  The idea of coming up with a large-scale overarching prayer practice that engages in such cycles, to me, would be a fantastic way to recognize these natural cycles, bring oneself into alignment with them, and tap ever more greatly into the power of these cycles, especially when certain cycles interact or sync up with each other.  By aligning ourselves with these cycles, we can not just make use of χρονος khronos “time” generally, but also καιρος kairos “the moment”, the fleeting opening of opportunity itself that allows us to do the best thing possible.  There’s this Hermetic notion—it’s hard to find the note I was referencing for it, but I’m pretty sure it’s in Copenhaver’s Hermetica or Litwa’s Hermetica II—that we rely on kairos in order to fully carry out the process of rebirth in the Hermetic mystical sense, and that would be determined by the processes of Providence, Necessity, and Fate along with the very will of God.

Along these lines, I wanted to come up with a new cycle of prayers for myself, one specifically for the decans.  Some might know these as faces, the 36 10° segments of the ecliptic, three to a sign of the Zodiac.  The decans are old, as in ancient Egyptian old, and play a part in the astrological prognosticatory and magical literature of the Egyptians, Arabs, Brahmins, and Hermeticists the world over.  We see them referenced in magical-medical texts going back to the classical period, and they also appear in such texts as the Picatrix as well as Cornelius Agrippa (book II, chapter 37).  Though they come up time and time again, they also take so many wildly different forms between traditions and texts, which is fascinating on its own merits.  We even see Hermēs Trismegistus himself talk about the decans and their importance in the Sixth Stobaean Fragment.  In that part of the Hermetic cannon, Hermēs explains to Tat that the decans belong to a celestial sphere between the eighth sphere of the fixed stars and the higher sphere of the All, being a backdrop to the very stars themselves, and thus higher than the constellations and signs of the Zodiac.  These decans exert “the greatest energy” on us and the world, and they drive “all general events on the earth: overthrows of kings, uprisings in cities, famines, plagues, tsunamis, and earthquakes”.  In other Hermetic texts, like the Sacred Book of Hermēs to Asclepius, the decans also rule over specific parts of the body and the injuries and illnesses that afflict them (which is a very Egyptian concept indeed that we see in purer forms of Egyptian religion and spiritual practice).

You can probably guess where I’m going with this: more prayers and a ritual practice dedicated to the decans.  This would consist of two parts:

  • An invocation of the powers of the decan itself, according to its specific form and name and virtues, to be done when the Sun enters that decan.
  • One prayer per each day the Sun is in a given decan, a set of ten prayers to be recited over a ten day decanal “week”.  Since the Sun spends about one day per degree, this means that each degree of a decan can be considered a separate day, and each day with its own prayer.

After some thinking, I was able to come up with a relatively straightforward set of prayers for the decans themselves at the moment (or the first sunrise following) the Sun’s ingress into them, but it’s the latter part I’m still struggling with.  I have ideas about what to base them on—the ten Hermetic virtues from the Corpus Hermeticum, the Pythagorean symbolism of the first ten numbers, and so forth—but coming up with those prayers is a slow process, indeed.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on a bit of a programming project, something to plan ahead and help me figure out what such a prayer practice would look like scheduled out.  This is basically what I was doing with my Grammatēmerologion project, coding up a variety of astronomical functions to calculate the various positions and attributes of celestial bodies for any given moment, and courtesy of SUBLUNAR.SPACE (whose online customizable almanac is an invaluable and deeply treasured tool for any magician nowadays), I was tipped off to a much easier and faster way to develop such astronomical programs: the Swiss Ephemeris codebase, of which I found a Python extension for even more flexibility.

And that’s when the problems started.  (Beyond the usual mishaps that come along with any nontrivial programming project.)

See, as it turns out, there are more days in a year than there are degrees in a circle—which means that while the Sun moves roughly one degree per day, it actually moves slightly less than one degree per day.  This is why we have 365 days (or 366 days, in leap years) in a year.  To the ancient Egyptians, they considered the civil solar year to only have 12 months of 30 days each, each month consisting of three decans, with a leftover set of five days at the end of the year, considered to be the birthdays of the gods Osiris, Horus, Set, Isis, and Nephthys.  These intercalary (or epagomenal) days were considered a spiritually dangerous and liminal time, but once those days were over, the calendar was brought back into sync with its proper cycle.  However, what I wanted to do is to come up with a 10-day cycle linked to the degrees of the Sun, which means I would have to deal with these epagomenal days throughout the year instead of bundled up all at the end.  My logic was simple:

  • Start counting decan day assignments (decan day-numbers) starting from the first sunrise after the March equinox (which is when the Sun enters 0° Aries as well as the first decan).
  • Judge the degree of the ecliptical position of the Sun based on sunrise of any given day.
  • Take the whole degree of the Sun (e.g. if 9.459°, then 9), divide by 10, take the remainder, and that’s your day in the cycle.  Thus, if o°, then this is our first day; if 1°, the second day; if 2°, the third day;…if 9°, the tenth day.  Thus, when we hit the next o° day, we start the cycle over.
  • If the whole degree of the Sun is the same as the previous day (e.g. 7.998° for today and 7.014° for yesterday), then this is an epagomenal day, and we say either no prayer at all or an eleventh special prayer not otherwise used except for epagomenal days.

A relatively simple method, all told.  Or so I thought.  When I actually ran the program, I noticed that there were not five epagomenal days (e.g. 1-2-3-4-5-X-6-7-8-9-10, where X is the epagomenal day) in the final count, but seven, which was…weird.  This would mean that there were 367 days, which would be wrong, except that there were 365 outputs.  It turns out that there were two skipped days (e.g. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-9-10, but no 8), one in early December and one in mid-February.  On top of that, although I expected the epagomenal days to be spaced out more-or-less equally throughout the year, they were all between early April and mid-September.  After looking into this, and making sure my code was correct (it was), what’s going on is this:

  • I made the mistake of assuming that the Sun moves at a constant speed each and every day of the year.  It doesn’t, for a variety of astronomical factors.
  • The Sun spends more time in the northern celestial hemisphere (about 185 days) than in the southern celestial hemisphere (about 180 days).
  • The Sun moves slower in winter around perihelion than in the summer around aphelion.
  • From winter through summer, the sunrise gets earlier and earlier, pushing the judgment-time of each day earlier and earlier, while in summer through winter, the reverse happens.

Talk about vexation: I had here what I thought was a perfectly reasonable method—and to a large extent, it is—yet which results in the cycle just skipping days, which I intensely dislike, since it breaks the cycle.  Without doubling up prayers on the skipped days, which I’d really rather like to avoid, it means that I couldn’t use this otherwise simple method to figure out a decanal 10-prayer schedule that would be in sync with the Sun.

After thinking about it some, I considered five different ways to associate the days to the degrees of the decans:

  1. The “Egyptian” method.  This is the most old-school and traditional, and mimics the behavior of the actual ancient Egyptian calendar: starting from the New Year, assign an unbroken cycle of days from day one to day ten 36 times.  This gradually becomes more and more unsynced as time goes on, but we throw in five or six epagomenal days at the very end to catch up all at once before the next New Year.  Simple, traditional, clean, but it’s really the worst of the bunch with the accumulating degree differences that get resolved all at once at the end of the year instead of periodically throughout the year.
  2. The “plan-ahead” method. Like the Egyptian”method, this is a pretty artificial way to allocate the days, but elegant in its own way, and spreads out the epagomenal days across the year more-or-less regularly.  We know that, at least for the foreseeable future, we’re going to deal with either normal years of 365 days or leap years of 366 days.  For normal years, we need to have five epagomenal days, so we insert an epagomenal day after the 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th, and 36th decans (or, in other words, every seventh decan not including the first).  For leap years, we need six epagomenal days, which we insert after the 6th, 12th, 18th, 24th, 30th, and 36th decan (i.e. every sixth decan).  Note that we judge a year to be a normal year or a leap year based on the Gregorian calendar year prior to a given March equinox; thus, for this method, we start assigning days from the March 2020 equinxo using the normal method because the prior calendar year, 2019, was not a leap year; we use the leap year method starting from the March 2021 equinox because the prior calendar year, 2020, was a leap year.
  3. The “true degree” method.  This is the method mentioned before: starting with the New Year at the March equinox, when the true degree of the Sun is exactly 0° and using sunrise at one’s location as the reference time, take the degree of the Sun and compare it to the degree at the previous day’s reference time.  If the degree is in the next whole number (e.g. 23.005° and 22.025°), the day proceeds to the next whole number; if the degree is in the same whole number (e.g. 23.985° and 23.005°), then it’s an epagomenal days.  The problem, as stated earlier, is that due to the varying speed of the Sun as the Earth travels between perihelion and aphelion (which also has the effect of the Sun spending more time in the northern celestial hemisphere than in the southern celestial hemisphere), we end up with more epagomenal days than expected around aphelion, and with days that are outright skipped around perihelion.  While the exact match of day to degree is appealing, it’s the skipped days that breaks cycles and which ruins the whole prayer system I was trying to devise.
  4. The “average degree” method.  This is a variation on the true degree method, only instead of using the Sun’s true position at the reference time on each day, we take a theoretical position of the Sun based on its average daily motion of 360.0°/365.2421897 days = 0.98564735989°/day.  Starting with the New Year at the March equinox, when both the true degree and average degree of the Sun is exactly 0°, using sunrise at one’s location as the reference time, take the theoretical average degree of the Sun (advancing it by the Sun’s average daily motion day by day at the reference time) and compare it to the degree at the previous day’s reference time, with the same epagomenal rule as before.  The benefit to this method is that it gets us the expected number of epagomenal days which are evenly distributed throughout the year without skipping any other days; the downside is that, as we get closer to the September equinox, the theoretical average position of the Sun drifts further away from the true position by as much as 3.780°, putting us three or four days out of sync with the true position.
  5. The “rebalanced true degree” method.  This is an extension of the true degree method above.  We start with the assignments of days to degrees as before, extra epagomenal days and skipped days and all, but we “rebalance” the days by removing some epagomenal days and reinserting them where we were earlier skipping days.  For every skipped day, we alternate between choosing the first and last of the epagomenal days.  So, if we have seven epagomenal days on year days 24, 59, 83, 105, 127, 151, and 182, and we have two skipped days on days 274 and 333, then we first remove the first epagomenal day from day 24 and reinsert it on day 274, and then the last epagomenal day from day 181 (was 182 before we removed the other one) and insert it on day 333.

So, five different methods of assigning days a decan day-number, one of which (the Egyptian method) being the most regular and artificial with the worst drift, one of which (the true degree method) being the most accurate and realistic yet which skips days entirely, and three other methods (plan-ahead, average degree, rebalanced true degree) that vary in terms of computational complexity and accuracy.  We know that the true degree method is the most accurate, so we can plot the various other methods against it to visually see how bad the drift is between it and the other methods.  In the following graphs, the true degree method is given in red, with the other method being compared to it in blue.  Epagomenal days are marked as having a decan day-count number of -1, hence the severe dips at times.  Where the blue and red lines are more in sync, the method is better; where the lines depart, the method gets worse.  The true degree method gives an epagomenal day in decans 3, 6, 8, 11, 13, 15, and 18, and if you look close enough, you can see the skip in the days towards the end of decans 27 and 33.

Just visually looking at these methods, we can see that all four methods start off the same for a little more than the first two decans, but after that, most of them begin to diverge.  The Egyptian method is worse in how often and by how much it diverges, with that nasty flatline of epagomenal days at the end, and the plan-ahead method doesn’t fare much better, either; note also how both of these methods end with epagomenal days for at least the final day of the year.  The average degree method doesn’t look too bad, though it does get worse around the September-October area of the year before it gets better again, eventually getting back in sync for the final three decans of the year.  By far the most pleasing and in-sync graph we see is with the rebalanced true degree method, which does vary a little bit but by no means as bad or as irregularly as the other methods; we have about five decans where they’re in sync, 22 where they’re one day off, and nine when they’re off by two days.

But, besides just looking at them with my eyeballs, how should I best compare the accuracy of all these methods?  What I settled on was a ratio between the day’s decan day-number according to a particular method and the true degree expected for the Sun for that day:

  1. If a given day is an epagomenal day, throw out the value entirely, and don’t factor it into calculations.
  2. For a given day reckoned at the reference time (sunrise on the March equinox for a given location), find the Sun’s true ecliptic position.
  3. Take the whole degree of the Sun (e.g. if 9.227°, 9).
  4. Divide the number from the previous step by 10 and take the remainder.
  5. Add one to the previous step.
  6. Divide a given day’s decan day-number by the previous step.

The shortcut to this method would basically be to divide the method’s decan day-number for a given day against the true degree method’s decan day-number, but I wanted to be sure I was getting the Sun’s true position here for mathematical rigor.  This ratio indicates the general percentage difference we expect; if the ratio is 1, then the given method’s decan day-number is what we’d expect; if more than 1, it’s ahead of what we expect; if less than 1, behind what we expect.

Doing some simple math on these ratios for these given methods gets us the following statistics (omitting the epagomenal days entirely), judged against the year from the March 2020 equinox through the March 2021 equinox (considered a normal year).  I calculated these results based on a prototype decanal calendar starting on March 20, 2020 at 11:12 UTC (the first sunrise after the spring equinox for my town’s given longitude) for 365 days.

Method Mean Median Min Max STD Variance
Egyptian 1.71222574 1 0.1 8 1.856253825 3.445678262
Plan-ahead 1.467144864 1.333333333 0.1 6 1.09989769 1.209774928
True degree 1 1 1 1 0 0
Average degree 1.351345416 1.166666667 0.1 5 0.9200161032 0.8464296301
Rebalanced true degree 1.211630551 1.2 0.1 3 0.5348857385 0.2861027532

In the 2020/2021 year, we can see that it’s the rebalanced true degree method that has the lowest standard deviation and variance, with the mean closest to 1.  This means that the rebalanced true degree method gets us the closest decan day-numbers to what the Sun’s actual position is on the whole, being at worst three days ahead (compared to the potential of being five, six, or eight days ahead with the other non-true degree methods).

For another look, we can also consider the leap year (according to our rule above) for the March 2021 equinox through the March 2022 equinox.  I calculated these results based on a prototype decanal calendar starting on March 20, 2021 at 11:13 UTC for 366 days.

Method Mean Median Min Max STD Variance
Egyptian 1.704857316 0.85 0.1 8 1.89868141 3.604991096
Plan-ahead 1.432609127 1.333333333 0.1 6 1.044951208 1.091923027
True degree 1 1 1 1 0 0
Average degree 1.338694885 1.2 0.1 5 0.8991436886 0.8084593728
Rebalanced true degree 1.142828483 1.142857143 1 2 0.3982472329 0.1586008585

We get even better results during leap years, it’d seem, at least based on this example alone; we’re only a max of two days ahead of the Sun’s true position, and we have even less variance and deviation than before.

If I were to go with any system of assigning a 10-day repeating cycle of prayers to the days to keep more-or-less in sync with the position of the Sun as it goes through the decans, I’d go with the rebalanced true degree method.  Still, even if it’s the most in sync, it’s not truly in sync, as there really isn’t such a system possible without skipping days due to the inconvenient misalignment of physical phenomena with discrete human systems of calendrics.  As SUBLUNAR.SPACE commiserated with me about on Facebook, as he found out when he was coding his own almanac program, the decans “do not like to be pushed into human patterns”, and that we really have to choose degrees or days, because we can’t have both.  In his almanac, he settled with marking things by the actual ingress, which was the common practice in the decan calendars of Ptolemaic times.  On top of that, as far as calculation goes, it’s among the more complicated, requiring manual rebalancing after figuring out the true degree day equivalences first for the whole year until the next March equinox; easy enough to do by a computer program, but tedious or outright difficult to do by hand.

For now, I’m going to content myself with marking the Sun’s ingress into the decans, and leave it at that.  For one, though I’d like to engage in a 10-day cycle of prayers aligned with the decans, and even though I have some sort of system in place to explore that, I still don’t have those damn ten (or eleven) prayers written up for them.  But, at least knowing what the schedule looks like is a start.

On Hermetic Tormentors and Egyptian Sins

It’s weird how research can lead you in a direction, and land you in a place, completely different from what you anticipated.

I’ve been on something of a Coptic kick for a while now, courtesy of Tobias’ post regarding Helleno-Kemetic practice over at Sublunar Space, when he brought up the very good observation that the hymns and songs used in the Coptic Christian Church are a direct descendant of otherwise ancient Egyptian musical practices.  As a result, I started listening in to a variety of Coptic hymns, and beyond the sheer beauty of it, it got me thinking about the use of Coptic as another language for Hermetic magical and religious practice.  (As if I really needed yet another language to learn.)  This led me to look into the different dialects of Coptic.  The modern Coptic church and modern Coptic speakers, such as they are, use the Bohairic dialect, based in Lower (northern) Egypt, though classically speaking, it was the Sahidic dialect that was more common as the lingua franca of Coptic, based in Upper (southern) Egypt.  Being a popular dialect common for writing texts in, is well-attributed and attested enough to study as a religious language for Hermetic stuff.

Sahidic Coptic’s area would include Hermopolis, aka Khemenu in ancient Egyptian, aka Shmun in Coptic, aka El Ashmunein in Arabic.  The placement of Hermopolis in this dialect area is important, as this was practically the city for Thoth worship as well as the worship of the  eight primordial creator deities of the Ogdoad (hence Hermopolis “city of Hermes” and Khemenu “City of Eight”), and according to some modern researchers, is a natural locus for the development of Hermetic practice and texts as well as some PGM texts (especially PGM XIII).  This is a natural draw for my attention, so I began to look up the history of this city in ancient Egypt and some of its religious practices.  This led me to begin researching the system of nomes, administrative divisions used in ancient Egypt.  I suppose it’s good to know that Hermopolis was found in the Hare Nome, Nome XV of Upper Egypt, but that’s not all that important on its own.

It was when a separate line of research of mine, diving into Egyptian texts for material to write new prayers with, combined with this information about nomes that I hit on something fascinating.  Many people are familiar with the Egyptian Book of the Dead (aka “The Book of Coming Forth by Day”) and the various scenes and trials of the afterlife, including the famous scene of the Weighing of the Heart.  For those who don’t know, the story goes like this: upon dying, the soul of the deceased is lead from its body and set on a perilous path through the Duat, the Egyptian underworld, culminating in being led by Anubis into the presence of Osiris to be judged.  The judgment would consist mostly of having the heart of the deceased weighed on a scale against the Feather of Ma`at, the goddess of truth itself: if the heart is at least as light as the feather, then the soul was judged to be pure and was admitted into the afterlife of the righteous.  If, however, the heart was heavier than the feather, then the heart of the deceased would be devoured by the fearsome beast Ammit, condemning the dead to “die a second time” and never being permitted to the true afterlife and instead forever being a restless and wandering spirit.

Leading up to this judgment of the scale, the deceased is to recite the 42 Negative Confessions (or the “42 Declarations of Purity”), oaths that describe how the deceased refrained from committing particular sins, crimes, or errors while in life.  That there are 42 such confessions here is important: each sin that was denied (e.g. “I have not stolen”, “I have not uttered curses”, etc.) was linked explicitly to one of the 42 nomes of ancient Egypt, each with its own assessor (or the Ma`aty gods) who watched over the judgment of Osiris, Anubis, and Ma`at as a sort of witness or court.  In this, there was a sort of moral code that the whole of ancient Egypt upheld in unity, and which could be seen to exemplify what morality and goodness looked like to the Egyptians.  Of course, as might be expected, different funerary texts and different versions of the Book of the Dead describe somewhat different sets of sins, but there’s massive overlap between them all.  There is some unclarity, too, in our knowledge of which assessor is linked to which nome, but we do know the names of at least a good few of them.

The number 42 caught my eye: it’s a pleasing number, to be sure, and yes, it is the number of nomes in ancient Egypt.  It is also, however, the product of 6 × 7, and since there are seven sets of six sins, this naturally made the leap in my mind to the seven planets.  No, it’s not the case that all things that come in sets of seven can be linked to the seven planets, I’m not saying that, but the description of some of these sins did bring to mind the irrational tormentors from the Corpus Hermeticum like we discussed a few months ago.  Between Book I and Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum, we have a good idea of what the classical Hermeticists would decry as bad, immoral, or unethical behavior that results in our being tortured and hindered from achieving our true end.

My thought was this: what if we could look at the various sins of the Negative Confessions and organize them according to the tormentors associated with the seven planets?  So, I plotted out the various sins, and came up with my own little association of different crimes or sins of the Egyptians and mapped them to the seven planets based on where they fall along the tormentors described by Book I and Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum.  Because there are multiple sets of sins from different funerary texts, there’s no simple one-to-one matching, and there’s no clean division in some cases into seven groups of six (e.g. there are lots more crimes relating to temple observance as well as good conduct in speech compared to sexual missteps), so I tried to combine and collate them where possible, and filled in the gaps where necessary with equally viable entries in the sin-list of the Egyptians.

To that end, this is the list I came up with.  Note that each planet is described in a joint fashion as “The Sin of X with the Tormentor of Y”, with X being provided from the list of irrational tormentors from Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum and Y from Book I.  It’s kinda clumsy, as Book I and Book XIII aren’t precisely talking about the same thing, though it’s tantalizingly close.  In the cases of sins in quotes, e.g. “wading in water”, those are phrases from original Egyptian texts that I wasn’t really able to fully piece together, but had to either figure out contextually or give my own interpretation of such a sin.

  1. Moon ­— The Sin of Increase and Decrease with the Tormentor of Ignorance
    1. Causing pain in general through misbehavior generally or through unknown missteps
    2. Neglect of property, both in the carelessness of one’s own property and the lack of respect for the property of others
    3. Making ungainly distinctions for oneself, i.e. polluting oneself by hubris and having one’s name submitted to the authorities for good or evil out of hubris and self-acclamation
    4. “Destroying food”, i.e. the causing of affliction, tears, grief, and hunger through wanton destruction
    5. Taking more food for oneself than what one needs, including general indulgence and the stealing of food
    6. Depriving the needy, whether of food specifically or sustenance generally, including children, orphans, and the poor
  2. Mercury — The Sin of Evil Machination with the Tormentor of Sorrow
    1. Eavesdropping and prying into matters
    2. Sullenness, i.e. grieving uselessly or feeling needless remorse
    3. Transgression of human and mundane law
    4. Quarreling, i.e. violence by words or thoughts
    5. Crookedness, e.g. tampering with scales or other instruments used for measuring
    6. Disputing, attacking people for one’s own ends with words or law without care
  3. Venus ­— The Sin of Covetous Deceit with the Tormentor of Intemperance
    1. Babbling and needlessly multiplying words in speech
    2. Slighting others through through words, especially someone of a lower rank to someone of a higher rank
    3. Debauching another in any non-sexual way
    4. Disturbing the peace and stirring up strife
    5. Debauching another in any sexual way
    6. Adultery, i.e. deceitful or objectionable sex outside the bounds of what is agreed to within relationships
  4. Sun — The Sin of the Arrogance of Rulers with the Tormentor of Lust
    1. Damaging a god’s image or otherwise defacing or damaging the property of the gods
    2. Transgressing divine and cosmic law
    3. “Wading in water”, i.e. defiling the sacred springs, rivers, and other bodies of water of the gods, or otherwise messing with the natural world to defile and corrupt it
    4. “Conjuration against the king”, cursing or blaspheming against a ruler or leader acting with the divine license and power of the gods or otherwise acting appropriately and respectfully of the law both mundane and divine
    5. Killing the sacred animals of the gods, including the irreverent slaughter of sacred bulls as well as otherwise hunting, trapping, or catching animals from the sacred precincts of the gods
    6. Reviling the gods, e.g. cursing the gods or treating them with contempt, including blocking their processions
  5. Mars — The Sin of Impious Daring and Reckless Audacity with the Tormentor of Injustice
    1. Impatience, i.e. acting or judging with undue haste
    2. Terrorizing, including physical violence and threats of abuse to others
    3. “Being unduly active”, i.e. acting out of passion rather than reason, especially rage
    4. “Being loud-voiced”, i.e. speaking arrogantly or in anger
    5. “Being hot-tempered”, i.e. being angry without just cause
    6. Murder, i.e. the desired and intentional killing of those who do not deserve it
  6. Jupiter — The Sin of Evil Impulse for Wealth with the Tormentor of Greed
    1. Rapaciousness
    2. Wrongdoing, i.e. the general practice of evil against others for one’s own gain
    3. Stealing the property of other humans
    4. Stealing the property and offerings of the gods, the dead, and other spirits
    5. Robbery with violence
    6. Dishonest wealth, including the use of malefica against another for one’s own gain
  7. Saturn — The Sin of Ensnaring Falsehood with the Tormentor of Deceit
    1. “Being unhearing of truth”, i.e. being unwilling to know the truth or or willfully ignoring or remaining ignorant of it
    2. Falsehood, i.e. to not tell the truth to others (including exaggeration, depreciation, or omission) to mislead others for one’s own ends
    3. Lying, i.e. uttering untrue statements, including slander or libel of others
    4. Blasphemy, i.e. lying about divinity
    5. Hoodwinking, i.e. leading others into wrongdoing
    6. Perjury, i.e. to not tell the whole truth in a court of law whether mundane or divine

It’d be even cooler if there were 49 sins; this would give us a sort of primary-secondary planetary pair to arrange the sins by, such that we could say “such-and-such a sin is the sin of the Sun of Saturn”.  Alas, there’s just 42, for the reasons already described above.  But, if we consider the tormentor of the planet as a sin unto itself as a sort of primary, overarching, or root sin, then that would fulfill the same need: the tormentor-sin would be the root of all the other sins associated with the planet.  Thus, the list of sins above follow a more-or-less planetary order: the first sin of the Moon is given to Mercury (skipping over the Moon itself), the second to Venus, the third to the Sun, etc., and the first sin of Mercury to the Moon, the second to Venus (skipping over Mercury itself), the third to the Sun, etc.  It’s a loose scheme, honestly, and I’m not 100% sold on some of them, but it’s an idea to toy around with in the future.

Now, I’m not saying that these things are really Hermetic; there’s no real list of crimes or sins in Hermetic texts, nor have I found anything resembling a code of conduct for Hermetists/Hermeticists.  Still, it is nice to consider how to flesh out the things that trigger the various tormentors along Hermetic lines, and it’s also good to tie in Egyptian practices and beliefs back into Hermetic stuff given Hermeticism’s Egyptian origin and context, no matter how much Hellenic and Mediterranean philosophy gets mixed into it.  Besides, I’m not trying to rewrite or cop the Book of the Dead or other afterlife practices or beliefs here, but rather proposing a set of prohibitions for those who might consider taking their Hermetic philosophy to the next level through changes in their daily behavior.

One way we might apply this list of planetary sins, beyond simply observing the prohibitions regarding them of course, would be to take one sin from a given set each day, or each set as a whole day by day, and meditating on them.  I recall Arnemancy bringing up the practice of Mussar, using Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues as an example, but we could expand on that in this way.  For instance, we could dedicate a particular Wednesday, the day of Mercury, to one of the sins or to all six sins as a whole, contemplating it in the morning and dedicating oneself to observing that prohibition, and then contemplating and reviewing the day in the evening before bed to see how well one stuck to it and how one could improve on observing it.  Taking each sin day by day would take place across six weeks, or across seven weeks if we also include the arch-sin/tormentor of a given planet itself to bring up the total number of sins from 42 to 49.

If one were to use a whole set of sins for a given day, one could take a slightly more ritual approach to this by announcing a dedication to each of the six directions, e.g. saying “I will not engage in eavesdropping” to the East, “I will not engage in sullenness” to the South, “I will not transgress the law of this world” to the West, “I will not engage in quarreling” to the North, “I will not engage in crookedness” downwards to the Earth, and “I will not engage in disputing” upwards to Heaven.  This could be preceded and/or followed with the declaration of “I will not engage in evil machination” (the arch-sin/tormentor of Mercury) taking the place of the divine center, or this could be included in each of the six declarations said to the directions, e.g. “I will not engage in evil machination through sullenness”.  It’s an idea, at any rate, and could be good for a stricter spiritual practice that focuses on purity through abstinence of wrong behavior.

Something that struck me late in writing this post, I admit, is the lack of mention of drunkenness.  I did throw this in under the fifth (Jupiter) sin of the Moon, “taking more food for oneself than what one needs” as a form of indulgence, but that’s really more about stealing food than overindulgence in it.  Moderation is certainly a virtue, but this got me thinking a bit: overindulgence in a way that shifts the state of the mind doesn’t do much on its own, but it’s works that impact the well-being of other people and the world that matter.  Thus, being drunk isn’t a sin, but committing violence or adultery while drunk is—but it’d be as much a sin anyway even if you weren’t drunk.  After all, as Hermēs Trismegistus preaches in Book I of the Corpus Hermeticum, everyone is in a state of sloth and drunken stupor in their mindlessness as they are; what more could booze really do when we’re already at the bottom of the barrel?  Despite the noetic focus of much of Hermetic work, when it comes to day-to-day living, it’s generally the action that counts instead of the thought.  After all, without Nous, what true thinking could you have anyway that animals themselves wouldn’t already have?  And with Nous, why would you engage in wrong behavior to begin with?

As magicians and spiritual workers, obviously we have a variety of things to study as far as the practice, technology, and technique goes for our various disciplines and types of Work, but it’s equally as important to study the philosophy, theology, and cosmology behind the practice.  This goes hand-in-hand with living life in the proper way as a way to indirectly implement the philosophical components of our Work and as a way to assist and ground the practical components of it, as well.  Merely adopting a set of purity rules or fasting is good, don’t get me wrong, but considering broader notions of morality and good/right behavior should play a bigger role in this as well.  While I won’t ascribe cosmic importance to these rules above beyond a basic planetary correspondence, and while I’m certainly not saying that this is a good stand-in for what to deny while standing before Osiris, I think it’s a good set of rules to live by for a good number of people who want to lead a good life respectful of other human beings, the cosmos, and the gods themselves irrespective of the specifics of one’s religious tradition.

I have an article published in this next year’s issue of the Witches’ Almanac!

For those of us who love, use, and collect almanacs and who also do magic, you could do worse than getting yourself into the habit of picking up a copy of the Witches’ Almanac, a wonderful compendium of the usual almanac stuff—sunsets and sunrises, moon phases and stations, eclipses and retrogrades, planting times and suggestions, etc.—all with a magical, spiritual, and witchy bent to it all, but that’s not all!  Each issue of the Witches’ Almanac also has a fantastic array of articles, and each issue has a particular theme.  For instance, this past year’s almanac (Issue 38, Spring 2019—2020) was themed around animals, them being our friends and familiars, and had a bunch of articles in it along those lines.

In this coming year’s almanac (Issue 39, Spring 2020—2021, coming in at 208pp. for the price of US$12.95), the theme is “Stones: the Foundation of Earth”, and has a good number of articles from such authors as Lon Milo DuQuette, Sorita d’Este, John Michael Greer, Oberon Zell, and others—including me!  I was asked to submit an article to this year’s issue, and after wondering what on earth I could contribute, I settled on an old standby of mine: grammatomancy, also known as the Greek Alphabet Oracle, the method of divination that uses the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet.  How would this tie in, you might wonder?  Because one of the oldest and most common ways of performing this kind of divination was with the use of ψηφοι, psēphoi, little pebbles which were inscribed with a different letter of the alphabet on each.  I thought it was a nice tie-in to this year’s theme, and it’s a lovely system besides, so why not?

The amazing and handsome publisher-friend I have at the Witches’ Almanac also thought it was a great idea, too, so in went my article, Stone Spelling: Delving Deeply into the Greek Alphabet Oracle, where I talk about the origins of this oracle and all the different ways it can be of use beyond getting mere advice from the gods.  Heck, it’s even the first feature article in the almanac this coming year, and you can even check out an excerpt of it online on their website!

(Also, John Michael Greer himself published an article in it on, of all possible things, domino divination.  Yanno, that thing that I’ve been obsessed with learning about all summer long and have suddenly started writing one of the most complete books on the topic ever written since one of my spirit guides kicked me in the side of the head with it.  If that’s not a goddamn sign, then I don’t know what is.  Hmph.)

What are you waiting for?  Get yourself a copy and get ready for the coming year with this little treasure trove of wisdom and information that’ll be sure to make your practice smoother and easier!