On an English Alphabet Grammatomancy

The other night, I got an email from a reader with a question.  This sort of thing happens often; in general, I enjoy taking the honest questions from my readers about practice, theory, and everything in between when it comes to the occult, as it often helps them as much as it does me by putting my thoughts in readable order and making me think.  It’s not that common I have to put some questions off, and generally that’s because they involve so much investigation and life-work that it becomes better to take the road to take a proper consultation with me for a really in-depth approach to answering such questions.  However, more often than not, simple one-off questions get prompt answers.  (If you’re interested, dear reader, check out the Contact page.)

Regrettably, this email I got didn’t have a good email address attached to it.  When I tried sending my reply, the email was immediately returned as undeliverable due to a non-existent email address.  It’s unfortunate, especially since this is the first time this has happened.  I have no other way of trying to get in contact with this person besides putting out a call on my Twitter and Facebook pages, so unless this particular reader of mine stalks me on either of those media, I don’t have a way to get back in contact with them.  (Let that be a lesson to everyone, to double-check all your entries when you try to contact someone!)  In that case, perhaps it’s best I just answer the email by making a new post specifically on this topic.  Turning a reader question by email into a post isn’t my usual approach, but between a lack of a means of communication and because the question in question is actually a thought-provoking topic, it’d be good to get the word out all the same.

What this particular reader was asking was about grammatomancy, the divination system I like that uses the letters of the Greek alphabet in a way not unlike Nordic rune divination.  In grammatomancy, each letter of the Greek alphabet is associated with a different oracular statement, and each statement begins with a different Greek letter.  For instance, the letter Gamma (Γ) has the oracle “Γῆ σοι τέλειον καρπὸν ἀποδώσει πόνων”, which translates to “The Earth will give you the ripe fruit of your labors”.  Traditionally, grammatomancy was performed by taking a bowl and filling it with 24 different pebbles or potsherds or other similar type of token, and each token had a different letter engraved on it.  Ask your question, draw out a random token, and look up the associated oracle; bam, there’s your answer.  Personally, I prefer a different approach of using dice, specifically two throws of a 12-sided die; I wrote about my method to use dice in this older post of mine.

What the reader asked was this:

I’m looking for simple instructions on how to set up dice with letters from the English alphabet, not Greek letters or symbols, including how many dice, how the letters are assigned to them, and any other info you may have.  The word “grammatomancy” goes right back to some site that gives the Greek info.

First, if I understand the situation correctly, the word “grammatomancy” started with this website.  The original source of the information I used by Apollonius Sophistes (John Opsopaus) simply calls it the Greek alphabet oracle, even in his more recent book The Oracles of Apollo: Practical Ancient Greek Divination for Today, and I honestly don’t recall the word “grammatomancy” or its Greek form “γραμματομαντεια” being used before its appearance in this 2013 post.  If it was, I apologize for my hubris, and would love to be corrected, but to my knowledge, searching online for the word grammatomancy will likely end you up at something I wrote.  Because of that, and because I’ve only discussed grammatomancy in terms of the Greek alphabet, all the resources available under that word are going to focus on the Greek alphabet.

Now, what about the actual question the reader asked?  Is there a way to use dice to randomly generate English letters?  The short answer is “no”, because of how many letters there are in the English alphabet.

The Greek alphabet as used since ancient times has 24 letters; there were a few extra letters at the start, like digamma and qoppa, but those were disused from an early period and kept around only for numeric and accounting purposes by specialists.  24 is a rather pleasing number, because it can be factored into several different sets of numbers, specifically 2 × 12, 3 × 8, and 4 × 6.  These are all fairly manageable numbers, and can be translated into dice throws quite easily.  For instance, you could use two throws of a 12-sided die (my preferred method), where the first throw determines the first half or second half of the alphabet (odd number = first 12 letters, even number = second 12 letters), and the second throw determines which letter in that set to pick; if I throw a 5 and a 9, for instance, I’ll look at the ninth letter of the first half of the Greek alphabet, which in this case is Iota.  Instead of rolling twice, you could flip a coin to determine heads for the first half of the alphabet and tails for the second half; in effect, you’re using a 2-sided die and a 12-sided die simultaneously.  Alternatively, you could throw a 4-sided die to determine which set of six letters to look at, and the 6-sided die to determine which letter in that set to pick; a 3 on the 4-sided die followed by a 3 on the 6-sided die would get you the third letter of the third set of six, which would be the fifteenth letter, which would be Omikron.  Heck, you could just use a 24-sided die (they exist!) and just associate each letter of the Greek alphabet with each number in order.

The problem with the English alphabet is that it has 26 letters.  Unlike the number 24, 26 cannot be broken down so neatly into smaller pairs of factors; you could only really break it down into 2 × 13.  While there are 13-sided dice and 26-sided dice out there, these are very uncommon specialty items, and probably not what the reader was asking about given how rare they are.  So, what could an English-minded grammatomancer do in this case?  There are several options that present themselves:

  • Don’t bother with dice at all and just use a bag of tokens or a bowl of pebbles.  This is the trivial non-answer, of course, and is not necessarily as convenient as just using plain old poker dice or tabletop RPG dice.
  • Use specially-made English alphabet dice.  They exist, sure, but again, this is a specialist option, and not very useful.
  • Increase the number of options to use from 26 to another number that can be easily factored into smaller numbers.  For instance, if you were to include a “space” letter (comparable to the modern Nordic “wyrd rune”), you get 27 options, which can be broken down into 3 × 9; if you were to include two extra letters (like the Spanish Ll and Ñ), you get 28 = 4 × 7.  However, both of these options aren’t really useful either, because 9-sided and 7-sided dice are only slightly easier to come by than 13-sided dice, which is to say “not very”.  The next greatest number that could be used for a standard set of tabletop roleplaying dice would be 32 = 4 × 8, so a roll of a 4-sided die and an 8-sided die, but this means having to use six extra letters or reinterpreting them as “wild” options that make you throw the dice again until you get a valid letter.  (This is basically what the alphabet dice in the above option does.)
  • Decrease the number of options to use from 26 down to 24.  This may seem like blasphemy (how dare I suggest deleting letters!), but consider that the English alphabet is a modern repurposing of the older Roman alphabet, which originally only had 21 letters and was later increased to 23 during the classical period.  In English use, the letters J and U are essentially “duplications” of the original letters I and V, and it was only up until recently that you’d often find things spelled as “Ierusalem” or “Vnder the sea”.  If you were to fold J into I and V into U, you’d go back down to 24 letters, and then you could use the same options that the Greek alphabet uses.

Personally, if I were pressed to make a choice that forced me to use dice, I’d go with the last option and get rid of J and U at the expense of considering them their own letters, because it seems most convenient that way.  I’d still consider using tokens a better choice than dice for the English alphabet, though.

However, this is only half the answer to what the reader asked about.  Once a method is found for using dice, what about the letters themselves for divination?  When we look at the Greek alphabet, we find historical evidence across the eastern Mediterranean that uses the Greek alphabet as a form of divination, with multiple sets of oracles associated with them, sometimes overlapping and sometimes distinct based on the region.  For the Roman alphabet, however, I don’t know of any such sources.  We have nursery rhymes and mnemonics that associate the letters of the English alphabet to different things, sure, but nothing of the same scale and focus as the Greek alphabet oracles that dot the ancient world.  To that end, I have no resources at my disposal and know of none that exist otherwise that discuss the letters of the English or Latin alphabets as an oracle in a grammatomantic way.

Should someone want to develop a set of oracular statements for each letter of the English alphabet, I would think it a good development, especially if the user of such a system wanted to find a more mystical way of applying the English alphabet in spiritual practices, or reinterpreting it as a “Theban oracle” by using the Theban alphabet cipher for English (which, as an aside, note how it already collapses I/J and U/V, and how W is just a duplication of U/V, technically reducing it down to 23 letters as used since classical Rome).  However, I would find using the Greek alphabet to be more useful from the get-go, not least because there are already sets of oracles ready to go for the Greek letters, but because the Greek alphabet already has associations to numbers, planets, signs, and elements via stoicheia and isopsephia as well as to hundreds of other classical concepts, animals, birds, stones, and procedures according to texts like the Kyranides.  In other words, the Greek alphabet already has information, lore, history, and power in it that the English alphabet basically lacks.  I won’t knock an English system of grammatomancy, but it’d need quite a bit of work, innovation, and invention to get it to a similar usable state that the Greek system presents immediately.

I hope that helps!  May the reader who sent me this question find this answer useful, and may everyone ensure to check their email addresses for correctness and validity before using them in contact forms.

Two new translations from Latin on medieval astrology!

While browsing through my computer for old files for something I was trying to look up, I came across some old translations that had been sitting there, untouched and unloved.  I meant to compile a few more and publish it as another ebook, but I don’t have the original book to translate from anymore (it’s a hard-to-find critical edition from a university library), so so much for that idea.  Instead of just letting them languish and gather electronic bit dust on my hard drive, I decided to polish them up a bit and let them shine on some distant server’s hard drive instead for the whole world to see.

These two translations are from the text Hermes Trismegistus, Astrologia et divinatoria (Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis 144C, Brepols: Turnhout, 2001), which is also the very same collection of manuscripts, texts, and other critical editions that gave me the Lectura Geomantiae and the Liber Runarum, medieval texts on geomantic divination and runic magical practice, respectively.  Now joining those two translations, I now present to you the following two:

  • Liber De Accidentibus (“The Book of Accidents”).  This translation consists of a collection of astrological aphorisms and rules about particular astrological arrangements or phenomena and how they may be used in forecasting, as in mundane or horary astrology.
  • De Amicitia vel Inimicitia Planetarum (“On the Amity and Enmity of the Planets”).  This translation describes a simple form of mundane astrology based on the planetary rulers of particular parts of the world and how their motions through the signs ruled by other planets impact or affect those areas of the world.

You can find these pages up under the site menu: Occult→ Liber Divinationis → (pagename), where I’ve also bundled the Liber Runarum page with them under the overall heading Liber Divinationis, or “The Book of Divination”.

I hope you enjoy, and maybe even find them useful in some small way!

Time running out on discounted divination services!

Just FYI, there’s only a few days remaining on my discount for divination services through my Etsy! Through January 31, my divination services are 20% off:

If you’re looking for a thorough, clear, and understandable forecast for the year of 2018, or if you have other issues and questions you’d like to resolve through divination, now’s the time to do it!  You can even book ahead and schedule multiple readings with the discount rate, and use them as you need to throughout the year, so if you think you need multiple readings in the near future, you should consider stocking up and get the offer while the getting’s good.  Normal prices will resume starting February 1.

Also, don’t forget that I also do full consultations that aren’t limited to just divination!  If you need a one-off mentoring session, guidance or help with ritual works, or have a larger problem that can’t be solved with just one divination session or a short email reply, you can book me for a 60-minute or 90-minute video/voice chat where we can talk about anything and everything you might need, divination and other help all included in the price.  For those, check out my Services page over on the site!

On True Praying (also, a thank you!)

After my recent post about why simplicity in prayer is not only a good thing but the only real thing there is in praying, one of my oldest friends commented on my Facebook page about how it inspired her that she can pray in her own way and still be heard in her prayers.  She was worried that if she didn’t use anything obviously deep or meaningful or profound that was written centuries or millennia ago that she wasn’t doing it right, but the words of Hermes Trismegistus helped calm her worries and reminded her of the right path of prayer.  That’s an important realization that I know I’ve had to have multiple times, and I know many others are being reminded of it, some for the first time, some for the eleventy-first.

Prayer is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or another deity”, and ultimately comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *prek meaning “to ask, request, or entreat”.  Throughout countless millennia, ever since humanity has been aware of the presence of divinity in our world or in any other, prayer has been the central vehicle for communion with the divine, with or without sacrifice.  It is this unique act that we, as humans, are capable of in a way unlike any other living entity on Earth that allows us to seek communication and communion with higher entities than us through the use of our own higher faculties.  Heck, even the Catechism of the Catholic Church (part IV, section 1) defines prayer as “the vital and personal relationship with the living and true God”, and that it is “the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God”.  When all other things are taken out of the equation, all religious action we undertake all boils down to a single essence: prayer.

Due to its importance in all religious work we undertake, humanity has been compiling and transmitting their knowledge of prayers to any number of divinities and entities from one generation to the next, whether by word of mouth or by the written word.  In my own work, I use prayers that have been in use for literal centuries or millennia, either in its original language or in a faithful translation into my own, from such varied sources as the PGM, exoteric and esoteric early Judaism, Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions, Hermetic wisdom texts, Hellenic religious cults, and even some of my own original writings; you can see a small selection of what I have written down in my personal prayerbook over in the Prayers section of pages.  I sing songs passed down to me through multiple generations of slaves and migrants in languages I can scarce understand, and I recite scriptures from lineages and faiths that are literally in my ancestral and living blood.  All these prayers serve to open doors both in my mind and in the world around me, and I would be much poorer off if I had no knowledge of them.

It goes without saying that there is power in all these ancient prayers that come from before my time.  After being recited time and again by thousands or millions of people across countless cultures, lands, and eras, the combined faith and spiritual force that has been put into many of these prayers is overwhelming.  Even those that I’ve written have been used regularly, sometimes even daily, for years, and hold great importance and power even for myself and others.  Of course, the ones I’ve written barely hold a candle to those that have been passed down from one generation to the next of priests, magicians, and other religious people, especially those prayers that have been composed by sages and mystics far wiser and holier than I am, and those who actually knew what they were doing.

Using these prayers that both look and feel Powerfully Old has value for its own sake.  In many cases, such prayers were devised for a purpose, the wording exactly and precisely chosen to cause certain effects in ourselves and the world around us because of what they seek, express, and ask for.  In such cases, these “purposeful” prayers are indistinguishable from spells or conjurations; indeed, many spells and conjurations I use are identical in form, structure, and diction to what you might find used in the Roman Ritual or in a modern church service.  Simply by reciting these prayers with a true need and a sincere heart, even just once and that quietly, can produce powerful and wondrous effects in your life, and it helps to have an index of them handy just in case for a variety of services or needs; this is one of the reason why I maintain and carry with me everywhere my own enchiridion, my own handbook of prayers and rituals, just in case I need something specific for a particular purpose.

Even still, all that being said, reciting prayers that have been recorded and presented to you isn’t all there is to prayer.  After a certain point, the same prayers recited over and over, even if it starts out meaningful, can sometimes become meaningless, soulless, and empty; some people, after settling into a routine for the sake of routine, end up praying the same empty words as a routine.  This drains the efficacy and power of prayer, because all you’re doing is saying the words for the sake of saying the words because you’re used to saying them.  Other people like to keep “enhancing” their prayers by introducing longer and more elaborate phrases, in an attempt to keep the air flowing and trying to reclaim some of that initial wonder through more of the same, but this often misses the entire point of prayer.  This is pointless; as Jesus said in Matthew 6 (despite the context-appropriate disdain for “pagans”), “when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words; do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him”. 

You don’t need to keep saying the same things over and over louder and louder to be heard.  Words alone are not the only part of the vehicle of prayer, no matter how old those words are, who said them first, or how many you use.  If your heart isn’t in the prayer, you’re just giving a soliloquy to be heard by yourself and nobody and nothing else; if you pray without heart, you’re not praying. 

In the end, all true prayer comes from the heart.  It’s that personal divine spark that sets off the holy fire that enflames us in prayer, within which we can become consumed and by which we can become refined into a holier state of being.  All these recorded prayers that we have at our disposal are meant to gather up the flames of the heart into a holy bonfire that reaches to Heaven and illumines our entire world; that’s why we have them, and why we use them.  We recite these old prayers with the intent that our hearts become a spiritual muscle, becoming stronger with each use, and which we use to elevate ourselves and our minds to the Divine; to recite them by rote without actually using the spiritual muscle of our heart is nothing more than going through the motions, which at best does nothing to make us stronger than we already are, and at worst leads us into the atrophy of despair, depression, and faithlessness.

So what are we to do, if the practice of reciting prayers eventually breaks down?  Simple: we don’t let it break down in the first place, because the intent of prayer should be fresh, pure, and strong each and every time you even reach for your cheatsheet or enchiridion of prayers.  Each word you say should be as if you’re saying it for the first time, each divine thought should be like fresh, clean, unused water splashed across your face and body.  Prayer is a vehicle, but our hearts and souls provide the fuel that keeps it going to our ultimate destination.  However, after a time, you’ll find that the vehicles you’re used to aren’t critical to the process; the fuel you provide through your heart and soul in prayer is the real power in the whole process that will eventually get you to where you need to be by virtue of themselves.  This fuel will self-ignite, and not only propel you further in your Work, but ends up consuming your entire self as fuel for the flames.  This is what I mean by “enflaming yourself in prayer”, and this is the true means of prayer, whether or not you recite something written down thousands of years ago or said anew for the very first time.  In the end, the two are indistinguishable.

The door to true communion with the Divine can only be opened by true, personal, intimate, private prayer, and the key to that door never looks the same twice.  The notion of spontaneous prayer here is key: it’s what simply comes out through the mouth from the heart, and is in many cases the seed from which all recorded prayers are grown. It is a genuine, in-the-moment expression of prayer that is not dictated by any rule or rhyme, but which simply happens.  It may be guided by frameworks of prayer instilled in the head through routine and habit, but it is intimately, completely personal how it comes out and becomes expressed.  If the old prayers handed down from time immemorial are elaborate carvings and breathtaking works of art made by the great masters of wordsmithing of ages past, this spontaneous prayer said in the moment is like a cluster of wildflowers bursting through the earth on the first morning of spring to bask in the Sun: it might look small and delicate, but it is a raw, unstoppable force of nature in its own right, and beautiful in its own pristine, unrestrained way.

Heck, at a certain point, even spoken or thought words stop being useful, and the real prayer starts becoming the rarefied, ideal thoughts behind any possible words of prayer that only the heart can wordlessly utter.  This is the idea behind the Hymns of Silence, which I describe as the highest kind of prayer humans can make.  These are the hymns and songs of prayer that even the angels sing unto God in praise, admiration, and gratitude, and which lie behind any and all prayer we can earnestly make.  Strip down true prayer to its core, and what you have are the Hymns of Silence: wordless, unspeakable, ineffable Love and Thanks for the Creator.

Of course, getting to the stage where knowing what the Hymns of Silence are, what they “sound” like, and how to “sing” them takes effort, just as any muscle requires training and time to develop.  I got a kickstart on that process through my planetary conjurations that culminated in the conjuration of the angel of the fixed stars, where even the usual physical tools and implements of magic stop being of use to us in a true astral realm.  However, whether you ascend through conjuration of the spheres or by climbing the ladder of prayer from Down Here to Up There, the result is the same: an outpouring from the heart of true communion with the Divine.  This is the real goal of true prayer, through which any desire can be effected, any hope expressed, any wish granted, any request made to the Divine.

Even for me, especially after being out of a prayer or spiritual routine for so long, recalling the ability to sing the Hymns of Silence and make true prayer is difficult.  Like I said, it’s like a muscle, and that muscle needs to constantly be used and strengthened in order to be of any use.  Still, I use the means at my disposal to open those doors again.  For myself in my own practice?  My own prayer routine looks like this:

  1. Wake up in the morning, and wash my face and hands in cold water (if I don’t take a full shower at this point).  Basically, a simplified form of ablution with khernips or other lustral water, and reminiscent of the process of wuḍū` for Muslims.
  2. Light a simple candle and recite a blessing over it.  I typically use the Trithemian Rite consecration of fire from this, but you can say whatever you like to consecrate the fire for the sake of holiness and divine presence and protection.
  3. Meditate for at least 10 minutes, if only to quiet the mind.
  4. Recite the Prayer of Hermes Trismegistus.
  5. Recite the Prayer of the Itinerant.
  6. Recite the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be.
  7. Recite a personal Prayer of the Geomancer.
  8. At this point, my heart and mind are focused and empowered enough to say a spontaneous prayer, which can take any form: gratitude for the days I’ve been given, hope for the day I’m about to face, seeking help to power me through my fears, or whatever else rises from the flame of my heart in prayer.

Eventually, the flame of my heart takes over, and begins burning of its own accord without being ignited by spoken prayers; this flame rises to my mind and sets off a conflagration of looking upwards to Heaven and simply Being in Prayer; this is the beginning to the Hymns of Silence, which (if I have enough time to spend) can go on indefinitely until the flame weakens and I begin to look back down to Earth and myself.  I know it sounds corny or mysterious, but I don’t have a much better way of describing how it feels.  It’s almost a trance state, uplifting in the same automatic way that the heat from a fire sends purified white ash upwards through convection.

Over time, these muscles of the heart become stronger, and it becomes easier to start the fire of prayer, going from a rousing, raging, holy blaze into a still, silent, sacred Light.  I’m working on that process day by day, and I hope to keep working on it to get even farther than I ever was, even when I was in a regular dedicated routine.  Like in anything else, dedication and resilience make for the best guides in the Work, and it helps make prayer truly effective like it does anything and everything else.

Also, dear reader, you may have noticed that there’ve been more changes to this website recently.  Thanks to all your generous support through donations, purchasing my ebooks and materia magica, and obtaining my divination and consultation services, I was finally able to secure the funds for a professional WordPress account!  Not only does this mean I finally got a proper domain name for the blog (https://digitalambler.com/, but you don’t need to update your bookmarks to use it!), but I got an even nicer site layout, all those invasive ads are gone, and a few other cosmetic tweaks have been made throughout the site to make it easier to read and navigate.  One of the really nice things is that it’s allowed me to revamp my Services page to actually look and feel useful, too, so if you’re interested in commissioning me for divination, consultation, ritual work, or other needs, go on over and take a look!

Plus, with the recent blog redesign, I consolidated and changed some of the Occult and Prayer resources through the top menu.  In addition, I also added a whole new page on the Headless Rite, which is more fully fleshed out and offers a full Greek original text, as well as a whole section of prayers from the Corpus Hermeticum, condensed from other posts around this blog for ease of reference.  Putting these out is a pleasure of mine, since I hope to make these resources more easily accessible for all who visit my blog.

Of course, keeping this website as functional and clean as it is (to say nothing of keeping my projects active to continue providing new and awesome content for my readers) will continue to take money, so please help continue supporting the Digital Ambler!  You can do this through any number of ways: checking out my Etsy store for my ebooks and materia magica, checking out my Services page for my divination and ritual comissions, or just buying me a coffee through Ko-fi!  Also, don’t forget my 20% off sale on all my divination services through Etsy through the end of January 2018!  All your support will help me keep my website beautiful, awesome, and helpful to myself, you, and the occult community as a whole!

Do you have any suggestions for improving or augmenting my services, supply of goods, crafts, or ideas for posts?  Is there anything glaringly awful about this website you’d love for me to fix, or anything you’d wish me to include for reference and ease of access?  Do you just want to send me a note of encouragement to keep up the Work, or want to say how my own Work has helped you in yours?  Feel free to send me an email through the Contact page and let me know!

With all my heart, thank you!