I was back on the Coffee & Divination podcast, this time talking about grammatomancy!

Back in April last year, I made an appearance on the inaugural Coffee & Divination podcast.  It’s a great show, run by the fabulous Joanna Farrer (musician and high priestess of the North Wyldewood Coven), and I was more than happy and honored to be the guest for the first episode.  Apparently Joanna’s audience enjoyed our talk, so over a year later, I was invited back to talk again about divination—this time, about grammatomancy (the divinatory art of using the letters of an alphabet, specifically the Greek alphabet, about which I’ve put out an ebook for you to consider plus plenty of other posts exploring how to use this neat little system of Greek “runes”).  It’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, and which I’ve involved in plenty of stuff with my (on the back burner) Mathēsis project and which I spoke about as well at the Salem Witchcraft & Folklore Festival last year.  In addition to just that, we also get into some fun bits about Hermetic magic and a few other fun topics, as well!  It was, as ever, a great time to chat with Joanna, so I hope you enjoy the chat, as well (whether or not you like coffee).

To listen to the podcast, you can find the interview on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and other podcast platforms, as well as on their Vimeo channel.  And, if you’d like to support her show, please consider throwing some coffee money her way over on Ko-fi!

A Simple Prayer from a Beloved Fandom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O Maker,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yavo (Rebareltan),

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

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

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

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

On Prayer Beads, the Number 108, and Chants for PGM and Hermetic Works

I’ve always had a thing for prayer beads.  I’ve got a few posts dedicated to the use of misbaḥa, sure, and my Preces Castri prayerbook contains quite a few such prayers adapted to the prayer beads of Islamic practice, but it goes well beyond just that set of 99 beads.  I’ve played around with Christian rosaries before, too, though I never really stuck much with them given my lack of Christian practice, although I’ve created a few chaplets here and there using the usual Roman Catholic format of beads; besides the rosary, I’ve also made good use of a prayer rope, the customary prayer-counter tool of Orthodox Christianity.  While I’ve also experimented with making my own custom sets of prayer beads, none of them really hold up to the simplicity and stalwartness of using the mālā, the prayer beads common to a variety of dharmic and Asian religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.  I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with them, but for those who aren’t, a mālā is most commonly a set of 108 beads, with a single separate “guru” bead that marks the start and end of the mālā, itself usually decorated with a tassel or similar bead-based decoration.  Depending on the specific tradition in which they’re found, other separator beads may be found on the mālā as well, like in some Tibetan Buddhist practices.

Why 108 beads on a mālā?  108 is a sacred number in a lot of dharmic and Asian religions; I’m certainly no expert, but the number pops up repeatedly in these spiritual traditions: the number of attendants of Śiva, the number of saintly devotees of Kṛṣṇa, the number of mental afflictions as well as the number of dharmic phenomena according to Buddhism, the number of sins people are born with in some forms of Japanese Buddhism, and so forth and so on.  As a result, the number 108 has become popular in a wide number of religious or spiritual contexts, even in Western ones, and even makes appearances in pan-spiritual fiction nowadays (like in one of my favorite webcomics, Kill 6 Billion Demons).  Even on mālās that don’t have 108 beads (excluding the guru bead or other separator beads), they’re usually set so that it’s a clean divisor of 108, like 54, 36, 27, 18, or even just 9, so that some number of repetitions of them gets you to 108 (so twice on a 54-bead mālā, three times on a 36-bead one, etc.).  Given the abundance of reasons for this numbers sacredness in Asian religions, or at least given how often it pops up in them, it makes sense for prayer beads related to these traditions to have this number of beads on them.  Plus, it’s just a good number with a lot of factors: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 18, 27, 36, 54, and 108 (with a prime factorization of 2 × 2 × 3 × 3 × 3).

Still, despite the simplicity of mālā and my affection for them (they’re honestly just so simple and clean compared to the other prayer beads I’ve ever used), I’ve had a hard time justifying their use in my own non-dharmic Work.  I mean, prayer beads of 100, 49 (7 × 7), 120 (being a third of 360), and the like, sure, I guess—but I never really got the hang of them, and something always felt off using such things, even when I custom-built prayers or chants that made explicit use of those numbers.  It’s always something about the 108-bead mālā that keeps drawing me back to it.  Given the proliferation of strands of 108 beads for prayers and repetitions across, like, a third of the world’s landmass and religions in so many freely-exchanged and open practices, it’s not a concern over cultural appropriation about using the mālā for my own non-dharmic devotions or work, but more that I’ve never consciously found anything that could make the number 108 stick for me.  Sure, I could go with 36, being the number of decans, and then multiply that by three to get 108, but that seemed to be a bit of a stretch, especially given how much of my work isn’t necessarily decan-related.  I just…couldn’t easily get the number to fit, and since I like things being plugged into each other whenever and however possible so long as it’s a strong enough connection to use, I’ve never put 108-bead mālās to use in my Hermetic and personal spiritual work.

And so it was a bit ago when I was reading some scholarly book or text on Hermeticism—I forget exactly which, unfortunately, but it came up all the same in the context of classical Hermetic and Greco-Egyptian religion—when something so completely, gloriously obvious smacked right into my face: that the number 108, when counted in Greek numerals, is ΡΗ, transliterated as Rē.  Those who are familiar with Greco-Egyptian spirituality or the Coptic language would immediately pick this out as a late form of the name for the Egyptian solar god Ra, and indeed is one we find time and again in texts like the Greek Magical Papyri.  Such a small thing, perhaps, almost coincidental, but the moment I saw this enumeration literally spelled out for me, it just made the mālā click for me.  To be sure, my work involves the planets and stars in general in all their heavens, but it cannot be denied that Hermeticism as a whole has such a huge solar focus in it, given the Sun’s role as demiurge and the most natural physical symbol of divinity present in the cosmos, to say nothing of the most commonly-accepted etymology of the name Poimandrēs (yes, the divine teacher of Hermēs Trismegistos from CH I) being Coptic ⲠⲈⲒⲘⲈⲚⲦⲈⲢⲎ (p-eime nte-rē) or “the mind of Rē”.  I mean, heck, from SH 2A.14, we have this little gem:

Tat: “What then, father, would one call true?”

Hermēs: “Only the sun, which is beyond all other things unchanging, remaining in itself, we would call truth. Accordingly, he alone is entrusted with crafting everything in the world, with ruling and making everything. I indeed venerate him and worship his truth. I recognize him as Craftsman subordinate to the One and Primal (Deity).”

Sure, we can also find other reasons for why the number 108 might be important for Hermeticism: it could be considered the sum of 12 + 36 + 60 (signs, decans, and terms of the ecliptic), as 1¹ × 2² × 3³, having 12 factors total, roughly the number of diameters of the Sun between the Earth and the Sun itself, roughly the number of diameters of the Moon between the Earth and the Moon itself, and so on and so forth.  All these are extra things to consider, but it was really the numerology of Rē and its enumeration of 108 that did it for me.  Plus, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the presence of the number 9 in 108 (being present in many of the factors, as well as being the sum of 1 + 8); being the triple-triple, this number has connections to the Moon, both to the goddess Selēnē (and to Hekatē, Artemis, and Persephonē as she appears repeatedly throughout the PGM) and to Thōth as a lunar deity himself.  As it turns out, there really are enough connections between the number 108 and various bits of classical Hermetic, Egyptian, or Greco-Egyptian practices that enable this number to be used for sacred purposes in such works, and this extends to the use of a strand of 108 beads for chants and prayers as well.

To that end, I’ve got my good old rosewood mālā ready to go—but what about what to chant?  In my Preces Templi prayerbook, I have one section called “Meditations on Piety”, selected one-line statements on divinity and piety from various Hermetic texts, like “God is the glory of all things, who is both the Divine and divine Nature” from CH III.1 or “I think; I remember; I am thankful” from CH I.20.  I have about 25 such one-liners there, which I intended to be used as brief meditations or fodder for contemplating and holding in mind the teachings of Hermēs from the Hermetic texts like CH, SH, and DH, but these also work brilliantly as chants to be used on prayer beads, too.  This is a great start, to be sure, but something that I did my best to not include in that prayerbook were strings of barbarous names and words of power, especially those from the PGM, PDM, and PCM.  Sure, there are a few such prayers (generally those included in the “Hymns to Aiōn” section) which did include them, but as a rule, I tried to keep the prayerbook a book of prayers and not a book of incantations, and so I elided out such divine language when and where possible.  However, for the purposes of chants, barbarous words actually are rather useful, and many of those of the PGM and similar texts give us a Greco-Egyptian parallel to the use of mantras in dharmic religions, some of which are simple statements which can be understood in one language or another, others which are as mysterious and sensical as the barbarous words from the PGM.

To that end, I’d like to bring up a few that I think would be good for use.  We know that, although a good few barbarous words that come up in Greco-Egyptian magical texts are once-off things, there are many others that come up time and time again as specific formulas.  It can be hard at times to figure out their etymologies or what they might mean in human terms, but we can sometimes get a sense for their purposes or function based on the contexts in which they arise.  Of course, there are times when we can figure out their origins, as some of these barbarous words were only barbarous to the Greeks, but make (sometimes) perfectly good sense in Egyptian, Hebrew, Aramaic, or other languages spoken at the time (especially the barbarous words that are really just late Egyptian/early Coptic, making these languages something like a Hermetic parallel to how Sanskrit is used in Buddhist chants).  And, of course, though I’d like to experiment more with them using my 108-bead mālā, there’s nothing mandating you have to do such chants 108 times; rosaries or misbaḥa would work just as fine, depending on your sense for number mysticism and numerology, or you could make other custom numbers of prayer beads (such as a 120-bead strand done three times with five counter beads on the end to finish it for a total of 365 chants).

One final word of caution, however, before we get into these chants.  Although I encourage many of my readers to try these out and experiment with using them for chants or prayers, and although I haven’t gone through and just picked out phrases of barbarous words willy-nilly from the PGM, it should be noted that these words did (and still do) have functional power, which is why they were used as part of ritual invocations and incantations to begin with.  Whether they serve as names by which we call the gods or whether they effect certain changes in the cosmos merely by their being spoken, it’s always good to be familiar with where and how they appear in the PGM and similar texts because we can get an inkling as to what they were used for.  Although the PGM is a nigh-endless treasure-house of barbarous words, I tried to focus on ones with a general-enough appearance so that their being taken out of context may not cause problems for those who use them in this manner given how many disparate contexts they often appear in.  While this list shouldn’t be considered a definite or final one for potential chants from the PGM but merely my thoughts on what might make good chants, take care as to what else you might use for such chants and that their being used as such won’t threaten to cause problems.

ΗΙ ΙΕΟΥ … (ĒI IEOU …) from the end of PGM XII.270—350.  There’s a long string of barbarous words, each segment starting with these two words; the translator of this in Betz notes that these two words correspond to Egyptian i iꜣw meaning “O hail!”.  To that end, I’ve personally taken this phrase as a brief invocation and greeting to a god, such as ΗΙ ΙΕΟΥ ΑΒΡΑΣΑΞ (“ĒI IEOU ABRASAKS”) meaning loosely “O hail to you, Abrasax!”.  In a way, chanting this can be thought of akin to the Sanskrit chant “om namaḥ NN” like in “om namaḥ Śivāya”, or to the Buddhist refuge chant “namo Buddhāya”, and can be a great way to invoke or salute any deity.  In this, I think this chant is probably among the most useful and most flexible; just insert the name of whatever god you want to salute, and you have a simple chant.

ΨΙΝΩΘΕΡ ΝΩΨΙΘΕΡ ΘΕΡΝΩΨΙ  (PSINŌTHER NŌPSITHER THERNŌPSI) The “THERNŌPSI” formula so called by Betz, as seen in PGM III.186, PGM IV.828 (aka the famous “Mithras Liturgy), and (maybe) PGM VII.216, as well as in the Pistis Sophia (book IV, chapter 136; book V, chapter 142).  Nine syllables, permutations of the three syllables ΨΙ, ΝΩ, and ΘΕΡ, which can be translated (as far as ΨΙΝΩΘΕΡ) as either “the high/highest God” or “the sons of God”, or perhaps even as “the son of the (female) falcon” (in some cases where a bēta is present, as in PGM VII, though this translation seems unlikely).  In PGM III, it’s used as part of an offering; in PGM IV and VII, it’s used as part of a phylactery, and in PGM IV specifically as part of a phylactery used in a process of spiritual elevation, immortalization, and revelation.  In the Pistis Sophia, Jesus uses it in invocations to God as the Father of the Treasury of Light, a highest-of-the-high kind of divinity, for forgiveness, purification, and salvation in the course of spiritual ascension.

ΑΒΕΡΑΜΕΝΘΩΟΥΘΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞΕΘΡΕΛΘΥΟΩΘΝΕΜΑΡΕΒΑ (ABERAMENTHŌOUTHLERTHEKSANAKSETHRELTHUOŌTHNEMAREBA) The ABERAMEN formula, which appears in a number of PGM rituals (sometimes with variant spellings) like PGM I.262—347, PGM III.67—68, PGM V.172—212, PGM XXXVIII.20—21, and others.  This is a palindrome around the centermost N, and in this name can be found the name of Thōth (as ΘΩΟΥΘ) as well as ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ which is one of the forms of the Sun in PGM II.64—183 (and one of my own so-called Solar Guardians, specifically that of the south who takes the form of a fiery falcon), though it also appears in a number of Sēt-focused rituals, as well.  The old Voces Magicae blog (now defunct, but the Wayback Machine has an archive of some of the pages including this one) talks about this word abundantly, and it seems to have some meaning to the  effect of “power of the waters” or “lord of the waters and of the formulas controlling the cosmic powers”.  It also has a presence in the Pistis Sophia and is used for Jesus in a sort of merged entity with Hermēs-Thōth.  To break this name up to make it more pronounceable, I’d say something like: ΑΒΕΡΑΜΕΝ ΘΩΟΥΘ ΛΕΡΘΕΞ ΑΝΑ ΞΕΘΡΕΛ ΘΥΟΩΘ ΝΕΜΑΡΕΒΑ (ABERAMEN THŌOUTH LERTHEKS ANA KSETHREL THUOŌTH NEMAREBA).

ΧΑΒΡΑΧ ΦΝΕΣΧΗΡ ΦΙΧΡΟ ΦΝΥΡΩ ΦΩΧΩ ΒΩΧ (KHABRAKH PHNESKHĒR PHIKHRO PHNURŌ PHŌKHŌ BŌKH) This is one that was noted by SUBLUNAR.SPACE as being a series of words whose enumeration adds up to 9999, which is hugely significant and holy on its own right (being the maximum number before increasing in magnitude by an order).  This appears in several PGM spells like PGM I.42—195, PGM II.64—183, and PGM III.165—186, as well as on several Abrasax stones from contemporary periods.  This string of names keeps coming up in solar contexts, and can be considered a powerful sacred chant on its own to call upon the power of the Sun.

ΦΡΕ ΑΝΩΙ ΦΩΡ ΧΩ ΦΥΥΥΥ ΡΟΡΨΙΣ ΟΡΟΧΩΩΙ (PHRĒ ANŌI PHŌR KHŌ PHUUUU RORPSIS OROKHŌŌI)  Another string of barbarous words which also comes out to 9999, as found in PGM IV.2373—2440.

ΑΩΘ ΑΒΑΩΘ ΒΑΣΥΜ ΙΣΑΚ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΙΑΩ (AŌTH ABAŌTH BASUM ISAK SABAŌTH IAŌ) Although SUBLUNAR.SPACE above disagrees, these are the usual choice for the “six names” to be used on the crown and recited as part of PGM V.96—172, the famous Stele of Jeu or the Headless Rite.  (Although ΑΒΡΑΩΘ is given in Betz, this is a typo, and should be ΑΒΑΩΘ instead when the original papyrus is consulted.)  ΑΩΘ, ΑΒΑΩΘ, and ΣΑΒΑΩΘ can all be seen to be connected, in the sense of the heart/wing-patterns of building up or disappearing away a sacred word that we elsewhere see in the PGM, and which Baal Kadmon pointed out as being a formula in its own right, with ΒΑΣΥΜ ΙΣΑΚ being a garbled Hebrew phrase for “in the name of Isaac” (ba hašem Yiṣḥāq), so the whole thing could be interpreted as an invocation of the god of Isaac, the God of Israel.  Its presence here in the PGM doesn’t detract from its Jewish origins or meaning, but rather expands it into another form of the pancosmic pantokrator deity, and although SUBLUNAR.SPACE may well disagree with this being used for this purpose (and his logic is definitely sound in doing so, even I have to admit!), invoking these names as a chant may help those who wish to do further work with Akephalos generally or the Headless Rite specifically.

ΨΟΕΙ Ω ΨΟΕΙ Ω ΠΝΟΥΤΕ ΝΕΝΤΗΡ ΤΗΡΟΥ (PSOEI Ō PSOEI Ō PNOUTE NENTĒR TĒROU) From PGM III.1—164, this invocation comes towards the end to refer to “the brilliant Sun who shine[s] throughout the whole inhabited world, who ride[s] upon the ocean”, but the translator notes that this phrase is equivalent to the Egyptian pꜣ šy ꜥꜣ pꜣ šy ꜥꜣ pꜣ ntr nꜣ ntr w tr w or “Pšai, Pšai, o god of all the gods!” with “Pšai” being the Egyptian god of fate corresponding to the Agathos Daimōn.  This is similar to what we also see in PGM IV.1596—1715 (the prayer for the Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios), ΨΟΙ ΦΝΟΥΘΙ ΝΙΝΘΗΡ (PSOI PHNOUTHI NINTHĒR), meaning “Pšai, the god of the gods”.  Either would be a good invocation-chant for the Agathos Daimōn/Pšai.

ΑΧΑΙΦΩΘΩΘΩΑΙΗΙΑΗΙΑΑΙΗΑΙΕΗΙΑΩΘΩΘΩΦΙΑΧΑ (AKAIPHŌTHŌTHŌAIĒIAĒIAAIĒAIĒIAŌTHŌTHŌPHIKHA) A palindromic name from PGM I.262—347 and PGM IV.436—461 among others as a name for Apollōn-Hēlios-Horus, one that is “in number equal to the very Moirai”.  The translator in Betz notes the presence of ΘΩΘΩ twice, meaning “Thōth the great” (Egyptian dḥwty ꜥꜣ), though Bortolani talks about this name more: it could be read as having 36 letters, and thus the same number as the decans (which could be seen as an interpretation of fate-gods like how the Moirai are), or which can instead be broken up into three names ΑΧΑΙΦΩΘΩΘΩ ΑΙΗΙΑΗΙΑΑΙΗΑΙΕΗΙΑ ΩΘΩΘΩΦΙΑΧΑ to represent the three Moirai from Greek mythology themselves or, instead and in a more solar light, as the Sun in its dawn, midday, and sunset phases and thus as divine representations of the three times of past, present, and future or birth, life, and death.

ΑΧΘΙΩΦΙΦ ΕΡΕΣΧΙΓΑΛ ΝΕΒΟΥΤΟΣΟΥΑΛΗΘ ΣΑΘΩΘ ΣΑΒΑΘΩ ΣΑΒΡΩΘ (AKHTIŌPHIPH ERESKHIGAL NEBOUTOSOUALĒTH SATŌTH SABAŌTH SABRŌTH) A phylactery to be said to the Moon from PGM VII.317—318, which I’ve mentioned before as part of a simple lunar ritual that can be done, but which appears in other prayers like from PGM IV.1399—1434.  Betz notes that ΝΕΒΟΥΤΟΣΟΥΑΛΗΘ is a common word used in conjunction with both the names Aktiophis and Ereshkigal, and is generally tied to the lunar goddesses of the underworld, especially Hekatē, in the PGM, though its origins are otherwise unclear (but may have connections to the Babylonian god Nebo or the Egyptian “lady of Uto” nbt-wꜣdt).  Ljuba Bortolani, in her Magical Hymns from Roman Egypt: A Study of Greek and Egyptian Traditions of Divinity, notes that these three words ΑΧΘΙΩΦΙΦ ΕΡΕΣΧΙΓΑΛ ΝΕΒΟΥΤΟΣΟΥΑΛΗΘ would correspond to the three phases of the Moon: waxing, full, and waning.  Whether one choses to use just these first three words (which can be found repeatedly throughout lunar-related spells in the PGM) or the full string of six (only given in PGM VII.317—318), both would be an excellent lunar-related chant.

ΜΑΣΚΕΛΛΙ ΜΑΣΚΕΛΛΩ ΦΝΟΥΚΕΝΤΑΒΑΩ ΟΡΕΟΒΑΖΑΓΡΑ ΡΗΞΙΧΘΩΝ ΙΠΠΟΧΘΩΝ ΠΥΡΙΠΗΓΑΝΥΞ (MASKELLI MASKELLŌ PHNOUKENTABAŌ OREOBAZAGRA RĒKSIKHTHŌN HIPPOKHTHŌN PURIPĒGANUKS) The famous “MASKELLI” formula, which appears in many different parts of the PGM, sometimes in full and sometimes just as “MASKELLI-formula”, indicating that it was a common enough magical formula to be known by many different authors of the PGM and similar texts.  Again, Voces Magicae wrote about this formula, too, and notes that it’s found in love spells, coercion spells, curses, and other rituals; it has ties to Hekatē and other lunar goddesses, as well as to the deity Anankē/Necessity.

ΙΩ ΕΡΒΗΘ ΙΩ ΠΑΚΕΡΒΗΘ ΙΩ ΒΟΛΧΩΣΗΘ ΙΩ ΑΠΟΜΨ ΙΩ ΠΑΤΑΘΝΑΞ ΙΩ ΑΚΟΥΒΙΑ ΙΩ ΣΗΘ ΦΩΚΕΝΣΕΨΕΥ ΑΡΕΚΤΑΘΟΥΜΙΣΑΚΤΑΙ (IŌ ERBĒTH IŌ PAKERBĒTH IŌ BOLKHŌSĒTH IŌ APOMPS IŌ PATATHNAKS IŌ AKOUBIA IŌ SĒTH PHŌKENSEPSEU AREKTATHOUMISAKTAI) This string of words appears in a number of rituals in the PGM, like in PGM III.1—164 and PGM XII.365—375, generally in invocations to Sēt.  Admittedly, such rituals also tend to be malefic and malevolent in nature, such as to cause “evil sleep” or death, so invoking this series of barbarous words shouldn’t be taken lightly.  That being said, although Sēt had some rough parts to play in some Egyptian myths, he was far from an evil deity (even if the most common interpretation of the word ΠΑΚΕΡΒΗΘ is “the evil doer” but which also appears in solar contexts), and often had a strong protective or defensive aspect to play in a number of other myths and cults throughout Egypt.  A good example of Sēt, at least in his syncretic form as Sēt-Typhon, being worked with as a deity of high mystery can be found in PGM IV.154—285, though I also note that this formula doesn’t appear in that text.

On Variations From and In Grimoires

A good question from an inquiring reader:

I’m just confused about something I see many occultists do, and that is simply this: deviating from the instructions given in the grimoires. In your wand-making posts, for example, you make substitutions, additions, and combine aspects from multiple sources, and you are not the only one who does this. But this is super confusing to me since the grimoires are all like, “this is the true wisdom of true divinity, so you’d better follow every rule to the letter or oooh there’ll be trouble!”  So how is it possible to deviate from the instructions and still work effective operations?

It’s certainly an interesting question to ask, and a good one, too.

Consider the origin of the word “grimoire”, in that it comes from the same word we have as “grammar”.  For us, grammar (without the article) is the set of rules we use to compose clauses, phrases, words, sentences, and the like to communicate with other people using language; a grammar (with the article) refers to a book that describes and lays out such rules.  If you were to learn Japanese from a Japanese grammar book, it would tell you how to properly and correctly conjugate verbs and adjectives, where to use the subject and topic particles, and the like.  It would also indicate to you what would be incorrect language, with the warning that you will not be understood properly if you use it.  All grammar books tend to work in similar ways to this: use these rules properly as laid out and you’ll be understood, don’t and you won’t.

But the thing is, people break those rules all the time, and they’re understood all the same.  Whether they use a non-standard dialect compared to the “standard” language of the grammar, whether they’re breaking rules ironically (e.g. “cat no like banana” or “I accidentally the thing”), or whether they’re using poetry that intentionally breaks some rules to maintain senses of beauty or aesthetics—the proper rules of grammar are broken all the time, and we still manage to understand people who do so.  Sometimes it’s an honest error, like when a native Chinese speaker gets the English pronouns “he” and “she” mixed up (because they don’t historically have a gender distinction for the third person singular pronoun 他 ); sometimes it’s because people have just adapted how they talk and have formed a “new standard” for themselves even if it’s not “book standard” according to this or that grammar.  This is the danger with linguistic or grammatical texts, and why there’s a distinction between “prescriptive” linguistics (which describe language as it “ought to” or “should” be spoken from a top-down authority) and “descriptive” linguistics (which describe language how it’s actually spoken in real life from the bottom up).

It’s much the same with many grimoires and magical texts.  What distinguishes a grimoire from a spellbook or Book of Shadows is that a grimoire doesn’t just provide a collection of spells, but a method and methodology—a “grammar”, if you will—of ritual and magic.  And grimoires, like grammars, can be traced and investigated to ascertain their origins and development across and through time, culture, and language; we know for a fact that no one grimoire just appeared out of thin air, but comes in a long line of spiritual research and development, and even if it’s an original text (rare, but it happens!), we can still trace its context for clues about what information fed into it.  For instance, the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano and the planetary invocations from the Munich Manual both share a common origin, as does the Elucidarius Magicae, and all of these texts are based on other texts in the Solomonic grimoiric textual tradition, some of which can be traced back to earlier Arabic magical texts like the Shams al-Ma`arif.  When we take a broader look at these grimoires in their histories and lineages, we definitely see changes, developments, innovations, and departure from earlier texts all the time; sometimes it’s because a new author-operant of a grimoire found an improvement or simplification to make, sometimes they made a copyist’s error, sometimes they tried to “aesthetically fix” an ugly or messy symbol they found which causes changes in the shapes or appearances of seals and sigils and the like (cf. the pre- and post-Mathers versions of the seals of the 72 demons of the Lemegeton Goetia).

If anyone told me that they had the one and true wisdom and method of magic and that any deviation from it whatsoever would land me in trouble, I’d laugh in their face; that’s obviously just not factual.  But what these grimoires give us (in all their variation) as a whole isn’t just the notion that there’s more than one right way to do, write, or chant something; they each give us a baseline of operations.  One of the reasons I encourage people who are looking or consulting a grimoire for something to work with one specific grimoire to the letter, at least at first, is because it gives them something to establish themselves with.  Either they get results with it and they know what can happen when they follow the text, or they don’t get anything and either need to check themselves for departures from it or find out that maybe that method just isn’t for them.  But getting this sort of baseline is important for when you do need to change things or extrapolate from the grimoire to do something new using old methods; after all, the fundamental idea of a grammar isn’t to tell you every possible correct sentence, but how to form correct sentences.  Just so does a grimoire not tell you all that can be done, but shows you how to do all things by using its own “grammar” of magic and extending it as necessary.  And, when you want to innovate, improve, simplify, adapt, or otherwise depart from the grimoire for whatever reason or need that arises, you know what you can compare against as a baseline because you’ve already done what the grimoire says, and can extrapolate from the grimoire from there.  Remember that these grimoires were written by people who lived and breathed that magic in them; they know it works, because that’s what they’ve done and recorded as what works.  This is the reason behind the “this is the true wisdom of true divinity”, because it’s gotten them there—it’s just that that’s their truth, and there’s usually more than one way to be true.

It is possible, of course, that deviation from the rules can (and does) land you in trouble; to use a food-based metaphor, there is no safe way to incorporate arsenic as an ingredient into a meal, even if you’d like for that meal to be colored a brilliant green, and there’s no way to use food to perform physical equations in the same way as you would with pen and paper.  But if a recipe calls for buttermilk and all you have is Greek yoghurt, you can substitute one for the other and still come out with a great dish, and the recipe will still work.  Sometimes it works because the thing you’re substituting and the thing you substituted are similar enough where you got your point across, or where they’re functionally and spiritually identical and it’d work either way; sometimes it works because you have no other choice but to make it work, because perhaps the original thing called for is unavailable or otherwise impossible to get or do anymore; sometimes it works because you make systemic changes that overall achieve the same goal by compensating in one area what you lacked or goofed on in another.  What the grimoires often show is an ideal, perfect method of doing something, but the world we live in is hardly ever ideal; we do what we can to make things as ideal as possible, and what we can’t, we make up for in substituting, rearranging, or otherwise putting in elbow grease to make it work the rest of the way.  An engineering textbook can give you the principles of building a bridge, and even show how to build a bridge under ideal conditions, but where on Earth is there a place where those ideal conditions actually exist?  Living engineers using real engineering must make concessions to reality and work around things that aren’t ideal in order to make a safe and sturdy bridge that fulfills its travel throughput needs—but using the principles of engineering in that textbook, and following whatever governmental, market-based, and other regulations and restrictions they need to along the way (which the engineering textbook itself may not take into account).

For my part, with my Wand of Art, it’s not so much that I was deviating from a grimoire I was working, since I wasn’t really working from any one grimoire—at least, not intentionally so.  But I was taking inspiration from and adapting several sources at once for an all-around all-purpose sort of tool that covers different aspects of wands from several grimoires.  For that reason, I wasn’t so much “deviating from the instructions” as I was making new instructions entirely, just based on old ones.  Besides, many of the grimoires offer designs and instructions not just as an ideal case, but also sometimes as a minimum requirements standard: so long as you do X, Y, and Z, it doesn’t matter what else you do, whether A, B, or Θ, even if you happen to mix the two.  In this case, I read the grimoires in question as giving a minimum set of requirements for my wand to fulfill, and as such, I’m able to work with both.  There’s also the matter of interpretation, such as by using Hebrew names of God instead of Latin ones, but since they’re effectively the same thing one way or another, it’s a clean substitution in many ways.

This is probably a bit longer of an answer than they (or you, dear reader) were anticipating, so to offer a summary: it’s possible to deviate from the instructions and still work operations because the instructions themselves are only an example of ideal situations and case-studies, and the fundamental method and methodology of a grimoire allows for making whatever improvements, adjustments, or fixes along the way to account for real-world scenarios—but no more than what’s necessary.  Even then, each grimoire is just a snapshot of a particular book-based magical tradition and lineage, and each snapshot we can get shows how varied the real-time, real and living magical tradition can be.  There is never “one true way”, but many ways to truth; it’s just up to us to find them and follow them, and sometimes we can take a detour along the way that ends up being better for us but not for others.