Soapbox Time: Animal Sacrifice and “Black Magic”

I tried to not put a post out about this again.  I really did, you guys, especially since I was fortunate enough to completely miss the recent Internet debacle-argument about this topic, and moreso since I wrote one post on the one topic and another on the other years ago and was hoping to not have to succumb to this particular urge again.  But, then again, it has been like five years since I wrote those posts, and though quite a lot has happened, my views on these two topics hasn’t particularly changed much except for being refined.

So, the other day, I put out my write-up on PGM XII.201—269, which I’ve entitled the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, a consecration of an engraved ring of power that protects the wearer and also ensures their success in magical workings, a sort of forerunner to the Ring of Solomon found in later centuries.  Part of the ceremony calls for the sacrificial offering of seven birds—a pure white goose, three roosters, and three pigeons—but since I’m fully aware that not everyone is willing, trained, or able to perform such a ceremony, I also offered an alternative approach using sacrificial, animal-less cakes made to symbolize the offering of the birds instead.  I think that it’s a wonderful ritual that I’m eager to try at some point in the future, using the cake substitutions instead of bird sacrifices, not because I’m unable or unwilling to use birds here, but because I want to keep things simple for a first honest attempt, along with other personal accommodations for my own circumstances and situations.

Well, shortly after I shared it on one of the social media platforms I use, the ritual got a particular comment that rubbed me the wrong way, which was all of: “Whoa. That’s some serious black magick“, complete with a sadface. Granted, with such a terse comment that gave no justification for saying what it did, I honestly can’t say why that particular person commented that this was “black magic”, but I’m pretty certain I can hone in on it.  And I just…I just can’t, y’all.  I did make a reply to that comment, but since this particular thing set me off sore on two volatile topics at once, I figured if I was gonna get this urge out my system, I may as well get it out in full, in depth, and at length here.

First, let’s get the easy bit out of the way: “black magic” is a ridiculous term that we should have abandoned long ago, right along with “white magic”.  For some, it’s an issue of racism; for others, an issue of not understanding other traditions; for yet others, a shaming mechanism to get people to “evolve” into “higher states of spiritual being” from “backwards” or “primitive” or “dark” places.  Whether for these or other reasons, “black magic” is a deplorable term that’s often used to (a) make someone seem way more spooky than they are (b) market themselves as an edgelord sorcerer a la E.A. Koetting (c) shame the practices, rites, and occulture of others because one is uncomfortable with what they do.  Yes, I know the world is wide and full of awe, things that are both awesome and awful.  At the same time, you generally don’t have the right to judge other practices and cultures, especially those which are foreign to you or those which are from antiquity, unless you can also claim some measure of expertise in the context, development, and reasoning behind those practices of those cultures.

“Black magic” is a phrase that’s often more in line with really spooky witchcraft, devil-working, demon-summoning, cursing, and other outright maleficia in the sense of magic that’s intended to cause harm, pain, suffering, or death to others, generally out of a sense of wrath, greed, malice, or other vice-fueled emotion.  Then again, the term “black magic” is used at best when it “accurately” refers to these things as they are actually done; just as often as not, if not more so, the phrase “black magic” is used to describe any type of magic that one might find transgressive, dangerous, unpalatable, or frightening.  This is ridiculous, to be frank about it; the use of magic in general is transgressive and dangerous, and to anyone who isn’t familiar with anything in magic, it’s all unpalatable and frightening.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve scared off by saying I conjure angels, much less work with ancient subterranean deities, and those are generally the more appealing and “kinder” spirits we work with (though angels are terrifying as shit, too, and we should never forget why the first thing they say in biblical literature is “be not afraid”, nor should we ever forget our place amongst the gods lest we fall into hubris and suffer the extreme penalties for doing so).  If you call something “black magic” because it’s unpalatable or frightening, it’s because it’s unpalatable or frightening to you.  Others, for whom it’s their bread and butter, may find it normal and natural, even holy and sanctified in its own right.  It’s much like how many Christians think of a variety of non-Christian religions as “evil”, “wicked”, “witchcraft”, or even “black magic”; to call the practices of another that you don’t understand “black magic” is just as farcical; consider Mark Twain’s The War Prayer, which would be an example of maleficia that’s otherwise grounded in normalized, culturally-acceptable religion.  Heck, even if you do understand it, call it what it is: is it a curse, or devil-working, or maleficium?  Call it that, and be clear and accurate about it!  But don’t call it “black magic” and think that by being judgmental you’re preserving your pristine ethics and morals, because you’re not, and you end up making yourself look ridiculous.

So, the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual got called “black magic”.  Why might that be?  Considering any of the “accurate” meanings of what “black magic” might mean (and I use the term “accurate” very loosely here), we simply don’t find any of that in this ritual.  In fact, we find a pretty standard, pretty pious hymn to the Agathos Daimōn, the “Good Spirit” of Hellenic influence that became a sort of personalized almighty God figure, much as how many modern Christians conceive of God as not just the God of all the cosmos but also their own personal, private God that watches out for them.  We find the preliminary invocation calling upon all the beneficent gods who rule over the world in all its forms and in all its ways, almost in an animist worldview rather than a polytheistic one, so as to establish the authority of the magician in mythic terms with the right to call upon them.  We find the consecration of the ring to be such that the magician “may wear this power in every place, in every time, without being smitten or afflicted, so as to be preserved intact from every danger while I wear this power”, so that “none of the daimones or spirits will or can oppose” them.  If it weren’t for the explicit Egyptian references and comparatively outdated terminology in the ritual, we might be forgiven for thinking this was something from one iteration or another of the Key of Solomon.  I think we can pretty solidly establish that whatever type or field of magic might be referenced by “black magic”, the Royal Ring of Abrasax doesn’t fall into it.

If you want good PGM examples of maleficia, you don’t have to search hard: PDM xiv.675—694 (the Evil Sleep of Seth; much of PDM xiv has similar recipes and poisons for causing “evil sleep” i.e. catalepsy, as well as blindness or death), PGM IV.2622—2707 (the Slander Spell of Selēnē), PGM IV.3255—3274 (Seth’s curse of punishments), PGM VII.396—404 (for silencing, subjecting, and restraining), PGM XII.365—375 (for inflicting the separation of Seth and Osiris or Seth and Isis on two friends or lovers through strife, war, odiousness, and enmity), and PGM CXXIV.1—43 (to inflict illness), to say nothing of all the other restraining and binding spells, as well as all the love spells which verge on domination, subjection, and inflicting pain so as to make someone love the magician.  Then there are also the curse tablets, also known as defixiones or katadesmoi, which we find across the entire western Old World across many, many centuries (more information available at Ancient Esotericism).  Those are all undoubtedly maleficia of various types and kinds, which may or may not have their justifiable uses; the Royal Ring of Abrasax, however, bears nothing in common with these.

The only objectionable part of the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, then, must be the use of animal sacrifice, which is seen as a generally distasteful thing amongst…well, let’s be honest: urbanite or suburbanite, middle-class or upper-class, Western-centric practitioners who are separated from the cycle of life and death present in agriculture and animal husbandry as well as social, religious, and magical practices that go back literal millennia across every culture and continent.  On the other hand, I’m a proponent of animal sacrifice, for the ceremonies that call for them, when there’s a recognizable need to incorporate them in those ceremonies, and when performed by someone who is properly capable of carrying out such an act of sacrifice.

Before I continue, I want to mention a bit about the gravity of animal sacrifice.  While a staple of the religious and magical practices of most (not every) culture at some point on Earth, it’s a pretty big deal to sacrifice an animal; more than fruit or grain, raising animals is an investment.  Sure, agricultural goods are investments, too, but the nature of animal sacrifice is different because they’re expensive and, more importantly, have the blood and breath of life in them.  This is what makes them far more potent than offerings of libations, incense, foodstuffs, or other votive gifts, no matter how rare or intricate.  To sacrifice an animal is truly a sacrifice, because you have to come to terms with the cycle of life and death that enabled you to come into the presence of such a sacrifice as well as the process by which you cease its life for the dedication and offering to a divinity, or using its life force in a directed way for magical ends that cannot (whether easily or at all) be accomplished through the use of non-animal means.  It’s not like setting out a cup of barley grains for Hermēs or a plate of pears for Obatala, then tossing it out the next week; the process of animal sacrifice is not to be taken for granted, and neither is the life of the thing to be sacrificed.

Given that, I recognize that there are a variety of reasons one might choose to abstain from animal sacrifice, many of which were brought up in the comments on my original post on this topic from 2012:

  • One takes an egalitarian animist view of the cosmos: everything has a spirit, nothing is spiritually master or owner of another.  In this light, the notion of “dedication” and “sacrifice” become moot, because there is no point in dedicating a sacrifice to an entity that cannot own anything.
  • One takes a strictly pacifist, nonviolent approach in all their works: no harm done to anything as a result of ritual or as part of it.  This may or may not overlap with animal rights activism and vegetarianism/veganism out of concern for the well-being of animals.
  • One has a sincere love and care for the well-being of animal life, whether they are people, pets, or livestock.  This may or may not overlap with animal rights activism and vegetarianism/veganism out of concern for the well-being of animals.
  • The rules and restrictions of one’s own practices and religion forbid it (e.g. Orphism).
  • The gods and spirits one works with insist on or mandate bloodless sacrifice for their worship and works.

One common argument I see against animal sacrifice is that “you wouldn’t sacrifice your pet dog or cat, so why would you sacrifice a chicken or goat?”.  You’re right; I wouldn’t sacrifice my pet, because pets aren’t livestock.  Pets are animals we raise for support, companionship, protection, and entertainment; for all intents and purposes, pets are family, and I wouldn’t sacrifice a member of my family.  Livestock, on the other hand, do not fall into that category.  They are raised for food, for breeding, for their hair, for their eggs; livestock are animals for consumption.  To cross the semantic boundary between pet and livestock is…even I find it distasteful, but I also recall myths and stories where such things were done in times of extreme need or revelation (e.g. Baucis and Philemon about to sacrifice their pet goose when they realized that it was truly Zeus and Hermēs visiting them in their hovel).

Heck, even if one is okay with animal sacrifice, there are plenty more reasons why one might not do it:

  • Lack of skill in safely and, as much as possible, humanely slaughtering an animal
  • Lack of funds for animals
  • Lack of appropriate space or privacy to keep animals, whether on a short- or long-term basis, as well as to conduct the ceremony
  • Lack of means or skill to properly process and butcher the animal for ritual or personal consumption, if applicable to the ceremony
  • Lack of means or space to dispose of any non-sacrificial and non-processable parts
  • Lack of knowledge of the proper ritual procedure for conducting such a sacrifice

That said, farms that raise livestock for personal use are often quite skilled in quickly and safely slaughtering animals, and butchery is a time-honored profession that overlaps significantly with slaughtering animals.  So long as one is willing to get their hands and apron bloodied, it’s not hard to learn these skills at least to a rudimentary, acceptable level, and make accommodations where needed for processing, disposal, and the like.  Most humans eat meat to some extent, and for many people, it’s a necessary part of their diet and culinary culture.  (Some might argue that nobody needs to eat animals and that everyone should be vegan, but it’s not a sustainable practice for many parts of the world, and it negates the fact that the human body does not operate on a one-diet-fits-all approach.)  Many people don’t get any sort of glimpse into the process of raising, slaughtering, or processing animals for consumption nowadays, especially in the Western urban world, but we can’t lose sight of the fact of where our sliced deli meats, Thanksgiving turkeys, grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, and pork chops come from, especially considering how many people thoughtlessly and mindlessly pick up such animal products from their supermarkets and grocery stores to eat them later.  More people in the past were far more familiar with what it takes to process animals from field to plate; heck, if your grandparents are still alive, ask them what it was like to pluck chickens.  It wasn’t that long ago that many people killed animals on their own properties for their own benefit and sustenance in many Western first-world countries, either, and many still do, especially outside the Western first-world sphere.

When it comes to the religious use of animal sacrifice, we need to think about the role religion plays in our lives.  In some cultures, mainly the Greco-Roman ones I’m thinking of, there was no word for “religion” in the sense of a distinct field of human activity; there were words to describe particular modes of worship, but they struggled with a way to define the role of religion in their lives, because they couldn’t separate it out from the other things they did on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis.  More than just religious festivals and rites of passage, religion was intertwined with every breath of every day.  In that sense, if we’re going to kill something that took time and effort to raise, why not honor the gods by it and give them their fair share?  Also consider the Jewish practice of shechita, the kosher-permissible ritual slaughter of animals for consumption, which ties in with the practice of qorban, the acts and regulations of sacrifice permitted within the Temple of the Jews.  Then, bring in the long-standing and vital role that animal sacrifice plays in a variety of African religions, both practiced to this day within Africa as well as in the diaspora in forms such as La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, Candomblé, Vodou, and so forth; in these moments, animal sacrifices are often special occasions, celebrating a particular divinity, festival, or other sincere need, and are often communal celebrations where the meat is shared.  Indeed, in many traditional cultures, it’s more often than not that people got a substantial amount of their meat intake from participating in religious ceremonies.  And, more recently, some reconstructionist and revivalist pagan traditions are reincorporating the practices of animal sacrifice in their modern practices as was documented to have been done before Christianity knocked them off the map.

There are lots of schools of thought on the exact, precise role animal sacrifice plays (and, moreover, ought to play) in religious works, and generally these are limited to at most a handful of practices and traditions that involve them; I wouldn’t use Neoplatonic views on the appropriateness of animal sacrifice in Santería, nor would I try to impose Jewish ritual practices in a Hellenic ceremony.  Likewise, I would find it unconscionable for someone to judge the practices of another to which they don’t belong.  The most that I would personally agree with would be, if you have an issue for one reason or another, do your best to neither participate or benefit from it.  That’s fine!  In that case, you don’t need such practices, and they don’t need you.  If it comes to pass that you do, for some reason, need such practices as requires animal sacrifice, on the other hand, follow their rules, because they’ve been doing this a lot longer than you have and, simply put, still don’t need you to change, judge, or opine on the appropriateness of their ritual process.  There are a variety of legitimate needs and purposes for animal sacrifice; heck, even in a Neoplatonic setting, Porphyry and Iamblichus are in agreement that it has its place, and for some people, it’s a valuable and useful part of worship and theurgy to make use it in the right circumstances (cf. this excellent paper by Eleonora Zeper on the subject).

Then, on the other hand, we have magical practices.  Rather than following the institutions of religion and their practices that are typically carried on for many generations, magical practices may overlap with religion, take on religion as an independent and asocial activity, or have no overlap whatsoever.  Because of the variety of these practices, it’s hard to say anything about them in general besides the fact that they exist: they’re in the PGM, they’re in the Picatrix, they’re in the Key of Solomon, they’re in the Book of St. Cyprian, they’re in pretty much any and every pre-modern tradition and source text we have (and a number of modern ones, too).  Ranging from frogs to falcons, swine to swans, there are endless purposes for a variety of particular animals, some of which require no more than some hair or a feather plucked from them, some which require blood but without killing the animal, which require their whole burning once sacrificed (as in the Royal Ring of Abrasax), some require torture and deforming (such as a variety of frog-based spells in the Book of St. Cyprian), and so forth.  If you’re able and willing to do such acts for the sake of ritual, do it; if not, don’t do it and move on with your life.

There’s also the case of substituting blood sacrifices with bloodless sacrifices.  I give one example of this in the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, where instead of sacrificing seven birds, one sacrifices seven specially-made cakes that represent those birds.  Substitution of one ritual process with a similar-enough stand-in is a longstanding practice both ancient and less-ancient; we have records of Egyptian rituals where this was done, we know many folk practices across the world that once relied on animal sacrifices have come to use substitutions instead, and similar substitutions are made in particular traditions of Tibetan and some (but not all) other Vajrayana or Vedic practices, as well.  If done appropriately, done with the right intent, and done in a situation where a bloodless substitute is deemed acceptable by both the magician/priest and the forces they’re working with, then there’s no reason to worry for those who wish to perform a ritual but who are either unable or unwilling to perform the animal sacrifice for it: just use the substitute instead.  However, as Jason Miller points out in his recent post about animal sacrifice and using substitutes, this isn’t always possible: if the use of substitutes is not deemed necessary, whether because there’s a sincere need for a proper animal sacrifice or because the spirits reject bloodless substitutes, then you’re out of luck with substitutes.  I’ve heard stories of at least one modern ATR community that insisted on using bloodless sacrifices for their ceremonies until one of their gods came down in the flesh and demanded it of them, lest he take it from them by force; this type of thing can happen, though hopefully though less extreme measures such as through ceremonial divination and regular check-ins with the spirits you’re working with.

There’s also the possibility of reworking the format and structure of a ritual that calls for animal sacrifice to avoid using it entirely.  Consider that the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual given in PGM XII.201—269 has a parallel, closely-related consecration ceremony of a phylactery later on in PGM XIII.734—1077, where no animal sacrifice is required (though an offering of sweetbreads is called for along with bread, seasonal flowers, and pine-cones).  It is entirely feasible to use this alternate ritual procedure, or adopt and adapt the methodology of one with the prayers and purposes of the other, to come up with a blend of ritual praxis that can (but not necessarily promised to be) as effective as either.  Additionally, consider that one may try to avoid the use of sacrifices entirely and simply use the prayers of the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual in an otherwise usual, normally-conducted consecration ritual according to one’s regular process.  Is this always acceptable?  Not necessarily; the more you change the format or requirements or implements of a ritual, the further you get from being able to claim that you “did” the ritual, and the less likely you’ll end up with the expected results.  However, it is possible to come up with a new version of an old ritual, so long as you know what you’re doing.

This is a lot of digital ink to spill on something, but in short?  Animal sacrifice does not equate to “black magic”, and “black magic” is a ridiculous term that shouldn’t be used anyway.  If you find the practice distasteful, consider your own dietary habits, your own cultural heritage, your own biases about such practices, and whether you really think you know better than both age-old religious institutions and the gods and spirits they work with before you voice such opinions.  Don’t disparage the works and methods of others from a place of privilege, naiveté, and badly-conceived ethics; if you absolutely have to be judgmental about something, judge on the purpose and merits of the ritual.

PGM Kyphi: On The Incense of the Eighth Book of Moses

Trying to come up with my PGM-style framing rite was pretty fun, I have to admit.  Scouring the entire PGM for things that fit a pattern I work in, trying to select the best or most appropriate verses to use to make sure they’re generic enough to not step on toes while still being specific enough to function for a purpose, and seeing what was really needed and what wasn’t as far as potential options go helped me get an even deeper realization of the abundant (yet never enough!) material available to us in the Greek magical papyri.

Still, there were some design decisions that I had to make about what to include and where.  In the end, I decided to make the framing rite as general and flexible as possible, making lots of things optional rather than just not having them in there (and being asked about it later, or forgetting myself where something might best be placed).  One of the ritual acts that I made optional was a general burning of incense, after the empowerment and just before the ritual proper around which the framing rite takes place.  Personally, I love the use of incense, and I don’t do many rituals without it; I typically find it to be an important, if not outright essential, part of ritual magic, and there are too many rituals in the PGM to count that use some sort of suffumigation or another.

The problem is, though, the use of incense generally outside of a ritual for its own sake.  Looking through the PGM, whenever incense is burned, it’s for a specific purpose, generally to bless a particular object or as an offering.  Incense doesn’t seem to be used for its own sake, whether as a general perfume, a spiritual resonance-tuning method (getting a place more into the “feel” of a particular sphere or spirit), or a method of blessing or purifying a space (a la smudging), which are all pretty common modern uses of incense.  Rather, the use of incense appears to almost always be used as an offering to some god or spirit, or as a suffumigation to bless a particular object under a particular god or spirit.  These acts are intrinsically and intimately bound up with specific rituals, and no one method seems to cover most of them; because of this, I decided against having a general incense burning before the ritual proper in the framing rite.

This doesn’t apply, however, to the final dismissal, where incense is burned, because the parts of the PGM where I pulled those prayers from do indeed call for incense, and it being a dismissal and thanksgiving offering to the spirits, the use of incense is appropriate.  Using that logic, it’s also quite possible and appropriate to make an introductory offering of incense to the same spirits, at least those of time and space (i.e. the Guardians of the Directions, the Lord of the Hour or Day or Sign, etc.) as well as to higher powers such as the Agathodaimon or Aiōn, but I’m also not entirely sold on doing that each and every time; after all, why eat dessert when breakfast has yet to be served?  (Hush, inner child.)

Anyway.  While looking through the PGM for topics and sections involving the use and types of incenses, I came across (once again) the Eighth Book of Moses, split and replicated in several forms in PGM XIII, sections 1—343, 343—646, and 646—734.  These sections precede the section PGM XIII.734—1077, which calls itself the Tenth Book of Moses, which is also the source of the Heptagram Rite (and, thus, the Calling the Sevenths or Heptasphere ritual that’s so common in modern PGM-forms of magic).  Taken all together, PGM XIII presents a fascinating self-initiatory form of magic coming into some of the highest and most glorious powers of the cosmos, and presents an interesting blend of Egyptian and Jewish priestly practices.  One of which is the use of incenses, described in the earlier parts of PGM XIII, which is used both as an offering substance for the divinity or divinities invoked in the ritual as well as an ingredient for consecrating particular inks and drinks in the ritual.

Seven types of incenses are described as proper to the seven planets:

  • Saturn: styrax (στύραξ)
    • Despite the common modern use of styrax (or storax) to refer to benzoin (Storax officinalis, storax or cowbell), this was most likely instead the resin of Liquidambar orientalis, oriental or Turkish sweetgum, a type of balsam which was well-known in classical and medieval times.  However, given the ambiguity of this term, either may be meant.
  • Jupiter: malabathron (μαλάβαθρον)
    • This is an older name for the leaves of Cinnamonum tamala, more commonly known as Indian bay leaf, tējapatta/tejpat/tejpata, tamalpatra, tamaala, vazhanayila, edana, pattai illai, or bagharakku in various Indian languages.
    • Betz also gives Cinammonum albiflorum as an option, but it seems like this is just a synonym for Indian bay leaf.
  • Mars: costus (κόστος)
    • Sassurea lappa, also known as saw-wort or snow lotus.  The dried root was an important and well-known trade item between Rome and India.
    • Currently listed as endangered, making it illegal to dig up the plant for export, so trade of this plant is highly regulated.
  • Sun: frankincense (λίβανον)
    • Boswellia sacra, our gold old friend.  Pretty straightforward here.  We all know and love this stuff.
  • Venus: Indian nard (νάρδος Ἰνδικός)
    • Nardostachys jatamansi, spikenard, which was a luxury item in the Mediterranean.
  • Mercury: cassia (κασία)
    • Cinnamonum cassia, the usual cassia or Chinese cinnamon.  The bark of the plant is as available today as it ever was, and most store-bought cheap “cinnamon” tends to be cassia, anyway.
  • Moon: myrrh (ζμύρνα)
    • Commiphora myrrha, the resin of the plain old myrrh.  No further explanation needed.
    • The spelling for this is weird, using an initial zēta instead of an initial sigma, but so it goes.  Likely explainable due to voicing from the following mu.

In addition, PGM XIII.1—343 says that one should “prepare sun vetch on every occasion”, meaning the “Egyptian bean”.  Here, it’s most likely referring to Vicia faba, or the simple fava bean, still a staple in Egypt to this day.  Another option might be bitter vetch, Vicia ervilia, which was domesticated before fava beans by about 1500 years, but I’m inclined to think that fava beans are meant here.  However, it’s unclear whether it’s the bean itself to be used or the leaves or flowers of the plant instead.

What strikes me as significant is how…Jew-ish all those materials are.  Like, obviously this is not a particularly canon rite that would have been done in the Temple at Jerusalem, but the whole Eighth Book of Moses is definitely appropriating Jewish elements heavily, far beyond just attributing the book to the prophet Moses.  Consider PGM XIII.230ff:

The initiation called The Monad has been fully declared to you, child.  Now I subjoin for you, child, also the practical uses of this sacred book, the things which all the experts accomplished with this sacred and blessed book.  As I made you swear, child, in the temple of Jerusalem, when you have been filled with the divine wisdom, dispose of the book so that it will not be found.

Betz includes a fantastically sharp footnote here for this paragraph: “pretentious hokum”.  Still, it’s indicative of how heavy Jewish influences are in this part of the PGM, and the incense list above indicates a distinct familiarity with priestly practices.  Consider Exodus 30:22—38, which discusses the recipes and uses for the holy anointing oil and the offering incense:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus, 500 shekels of cassia—all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil.  Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer.  It will be the sacred anointing oil.  Then use it to anoint the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law, the table and all its articles, the lampstand and its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand.  You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.

“Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me as priests.  Say to the Israelites, ‘This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come.  Do not pour it on anyone else’s body and do not make any other oil using the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred.  Whoever makes perfume like it and puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from their people.'”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices—stacte, onycha and galbanum—and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer.  It is to be salted and pure and sacred.  Grind some of it to powder and place it in front of the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you.  Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the Lord.  Whoever makes incense like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from their people.”

Note the ingredients of those two special substances: myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, cassia, stacte (most likely storax or styrax), onycha (most likely part of a sea snail or labdanum from Cistus creticus), galbanum (resin of Ferula gummosa), and frankincense.  We see some significant overlap between this part of Exodus and the incense materials given in PGM XIII.  To make matters even more interesting, consider the rabbinic literature of the Talmud: it expands the list of ingredients for the incense offering significantly from the Exodus list:

  1. stacte (understood as the sap of the balsam tree, i.e. styrax, but it could also refer to mastic from terebinth, Pistacia palaestina)
  2. onycha (to which was added Carshina lye and Cyprus wine for refining and steeping it)
  3. galbanum
  4. frankincense
  5. myrrh
  6. cassia
  7. spikenard
  8. saffron
  9. costus
  10. aromatic bark
  11. cinnamon

We know that the Talmudic literature and traditions go back to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, and so its beginnings would have been roughly contemporaneous with the PGM authors.  If the Talmudic/rabbinical recipe list given above can be considered something approximating or reflecting actual Jewish practice at the time of PGM XIII’s inception, then we basically have the entire list of incenses given in PGM XIII.  The only odd one to consider is malabathron, which is not listed in either the Exodus or Talmudic recipes; however, knowing that it’s considered close to cinnamon, which we lack in our PGM incense list (except as a phylactery or charm to wear around the neck—perhaps too precious or expensive to be burned?), it could be seen as a reasonable substitute for cinnamon, and some rabbinical scholars suggest that it could indeed have been used in place of actual cinnamon.

There are other Jewish influences in PGM XIII as well, such as how the ritual is to be done such that the 41 days of purification ends with the New Moon in Aries.  This is basically ensuring that you’re timing things to line up with Passover, which generally occurs around the Full Moon in Aries.  That said, the ritual as a whole is really more of a priestly Egyptian kind of magic with Jewish elements mixed in.  This reaches its pinnacle in the idea that one has to receive “the Name” from the “god who comes in” via the initiation; this is that god’s own True Name, which is sacred and powerful and is used in many of the works that follow the initiation in PGM XIII.1—343; this can be seen to also bring in some of the influence of the Divine Name of God, only permitted to be spoken aloud once a year by the high priest in the holy of holies of the Temple.

So much for the Jewish influences.  Anyway, we have seven materials to be used as planetary incenses.  PGM XIII also prescribes the use of “the seven flowers of the seven stars”, a mixture to be made from the flowers of:

  1. Marjoram (σαμψούχινον)
    1. Origanum majorana, sometimes called sweet marjoram or knotted marjoram to ensure it’s kept distinct from oregano which can sometimes be called “marjoram”.  Another species, Origanum onites (Cretan oregano or pot marjoram) could be substituted, but all indications point to it being marjoram proper.
    2. The word used here is not the usual Greek word for marjoram, but specifically a “foreign name”, while the usual classical Greek term would be ἀμάρακος (amárakos).
  2. Lily (κρίνινον)
    1. Betz gives “white lily”, though this is not mentioned in either Preisendanz or the original Greek.  Indeed, “white lily” would have been referred to by λείριον and not the word used in the PGM, while this word here refers to non-white lilies. I’m not quite sure what a good species would be, but so long as it’s a non-white true lily like Lilium chalcedonicum or Lilium martagon (Turk’s cap) or even Lilium bulbiferum (fire lily).
  3. Lotus (λώτινον)
    1. Lots of options here, but most likely is Nymphaea lotus, also called white lotus or Egyptian lotus (unsurprisingly), and was revered in ancient Egypt as a symbol and medicine of strength and power, though it could also be the blue Egyptian lotus, Nymphaea caerulea.
  4. Erephyllinon or herephyllinon (ἐρεφύλλινον)
    1. This name is unknown and nobody seems to be sure what this name refers to.  Preisendanz gives “Dichtlaubpflanze (?)”, literally “thick-foliage plant”, so he’s not sure, either, though he also gives a possible alternative ἑρπύλλινον “herpullinon”.  If I translated it right, this word refers to tufted thyme, Thymus caespititius, and unlike many of the other plants which come from the Near East or South Asia, this one is native to Iberia.  The author may instead be referring here to Thymus capitatus, conehead thyme or Persian hyssop, and is native to the Mediterranean and Turkey, so it’s possibly more likely.
  5. Narcissus (ναρκίσσινον)
    1. This is just daffodil, most likely the type species Narcissus poeticus.
  6. Gillyflower (λευκόϊνον)
    1. “Gillyflower” confused me, but Preisendanz gives “Goldlack” as the name in German, which refers to Erysimum cheiri syn. Cheiranthus cheiri, or common wallflower.
  7. Rose (ῥόδον)
    1. It’s…it’s rose.  If one wanted to get really particular, I’d recommend the Damask rose, Rosa × damascena, which seems to have been cultivated in the classical world and is prized for both its fragrance and flavor.

Though these seven flowers are said to be “of the seven stars”, no association is made explicit between these and the planets.  The order of the incenses might be temping to use as a correspondence, but there are two orders given both for the incenses and the flowers between PGM XIII.1—343 and PGM XIII.343—646, so I’m not comfortable linking them up that way.  It’s possible to deduce some planetary rulerships, but I’m unclear on what sources to use; most modern resources would give multiple flowers to Venus (lily, rose, narcissus, and thyme), leaving not many for the other planets.  For that matter, the planetary patterns of the incenses, too, are unfamiliar to modern magicians.  It’s possible that they would be mixed-up as a blind, but I’m disinclined to think so; what few blinds there are in the PGM are code-names for particular materia magica (e.g. PGM XII.401—444), but beyond that, it’d be odd for blinds to be introduced in what are little more than personal notes or examples that were never probably meant for public dissemination.  All told, I’m not sure we can clearly identify which flower goes with which planet, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s needed; unlike the incenses, there never seems to be a use for individual flowers, but they’re to be mixed up and used as a single substance.

According to the directions in PGM XIII.1—343, these seven flowers are to be taken 21 days “before the initiation” for processing.  The timeline given in the ritual suggests that a pre-initiatory period of sunrise salutes begins on the New Moon for seven days leading up to the initiation, which then would make the initiation occur on the First Quarter Moon.  21 days before this, then, would mean to gather the flowers on the day of or just before a Full Moon.  The text says that the flowers, once picked, are to be ground finely either in a white mortar or into a white incense (the Betz translation gives two options for this), then left to dry in the shade.  However, I’m not sure this makes sense; given the colors of the flowers, grinding them “into white incense” doesn’t seem likely or possible, nor does it make sense to grind them up before drying them if they need to be ground fine into anything except a paste or mush.  Still, perhaps that’s desired; if they are to be mixed up, perhaps making a single mass of them and letting them dry in the shade (protected from the light of the Sun and the Moon and other stars) could be more effective than letting the flowers dry out first then grinding them up into a powder.

The directions further on in PGM XIII.1—343 suggest that the the seven flowers was to be mixed with the appropriate planetary incense into a “bean”, a small nugget of incense, which was then to presumably be burned; later, the incense and the powder of the seven flowers is to be used when making ink for writing on a special tablet of natron before washing it off in wine and drinking the wine.  PGM XIII.343—646 suggests that, as a general initiatory incense, all seven of the planetary incenses were to be mixed with the the seven flowers, along with unmixed wine; additionally, the seven flowers are to be mixed with ink in the same way as before; though no reference is made here to using the incense as well for this purpose, PGM XIII.646—734 does say to use both the incense and the flowers for the ink.

The use of the flower powder and the incense for making ink is outside the scope of this post, since I want to focus on the process of making the incense.  As said above, the end of PGM XIII.1—343 says that the powder of the flowers is to be mixed with the incense and, presumably, sun vetch (fava beans) into nuggets of incense.  Making pellets like this is something I’ve done before, and was definitely done in the old world as well; while burning a combination of resins works, mixing them ahead of time along with a filler to produce more, thicker, or brighter smoke was often done as well.  However, some sort of liquid would be needed in order to steep and soften the resins and barks in order that they can be ground up; indeed, PGM XIII.646—734 says that, “having ground them all to a powder” (meaning both the flowers at minimum and likely also the incenses), one is to add “wine not mixed with seawater”.  This would moisten the incenses and flowers together, allowing them not only to be more fragrant and pungent, but also giving a bit of sugar to it as well, which would help the incense smoke more; the specific note of “not mixed with seawater” suggests that white wine would have been the preference, which would also line up with the Talmudic use of Cypriot or old white wine, dry and with a greater acidity, for the Temple incense.  The use of fava beans would then act as a binder and filler, giving the incense nuggets as a whole an earthy base to solidify on and would help stretch the use of scarce or expensive ingredients.

The process of soaking and mashing the ingredients, plus curing the nuggets once made (say, in a terracotta or clay container), would indeed take about three weeks, giving the magician enough time to have them ready by the time they were to be used.  What we end up with, essentially, is a type of PGM-specific kyphi, the sacred incense compound used in Egypt for both religious and medicinal purposes, which was also a blend of a variety of resins, flowers, barks, and so forth, many of which according to ancient authors are found in our ingredients above (and which, of course, have overlap with the incense and oil recipes given by the Book of Exodus which may also have been influenced by ancient Egyptian priestly practices).  Given the Egpytian priestly influence in PGM XIII, and the fact that we see the use of this incense both as a form of fumigation as well as a type of sacred medicine (when the ink used to write on the natron tablet is either licked off or washed off into wine and drunk), it’s clear that PGM XIII is really giving us a special type of Hermetic kyphi recipe.

Quantities, unfortunately, are missing from PGM XIII (as they often are from much of the rest of the PGM), so it’s unclear exactly how much of each incense or flower we should use, the ratio of incense and flowers to beans, and so forth, so some experimentation would be needed to come up with something that would resemble the incense of PGM XIII.  Off the top of my head (and I could be really wrong about it), I’d probably think a 2:1:3 ratio by weight would be appropriate for resins to flowers to beans, all having been soaked ahead of time in dry, strong white wine that is, of course, with no salt or salt water added.  Moreover, finding these ingredients can be hard; expensive perfumery is as expensive as ever, and while all the ingredients are still technically available, the fact that some of the ingredients (like costus and, increasingly, frankincense) are considered endangered makes getting hold of sufficient quantities exceptionally difficult.  It is possible to replace the use of raw resins and barks (and even the flowers, too!) with essential oils instead, which could then be used for both making incense (when mashed with fava beans soaked in wine) as well as making a PGM-style anointing oil.

I think I’ll keep an eye out for getting some more flowers later this summer.  It’s unclear how close to what the PGM author and I’ve described I can get, but it’s probably worth a shot.  Having a PGM-style temple incense (and maybe even an oil, if I were to go the essential oil route, or simply distill the resins and flowers into an oil without the wine and fava beans) could be useful, indeed.

A PGM-Style Framing Rite for Pretty Much Any Purpose

This past quarter, the splendid Gordon White of Rune Soup held another of his classes, this time on the Greek Magical Papyri, otherwise known famously as the PGM.  It was a great course; rather than being focused on simply presenting rituals and implementations thereof, Gordon went all out on giving the context, development, influences, cosmology, and theory that really fleshes out the PGM.  No, the PGM cannot be considered a single body of texts, because they’re inherently not: they’re a jumble of papyri from multiple authors across multiple centuries.  However, Gordon’s class really pulls so much of it together into something that could, honestly, feel like it could be presented as part of a single text, or at least a single tradition with more-or-less a single mindset.  It’s a tall order, but it’s a great thing to take if you’re a member of his class stuff.  That said, and to be candid about it, I’m kinda left a little hungry by the course: knowing that Gordon’s been doing PGM magic for…quite some time (probably longer than I’ve been a magician at all), I’d’ve liked to see more implementations and descriptions of ritual rather than just the cosmological backgrounds behind what we have in the PGM.  Still, I also know that I’m often left a little (or a lot) disappointed by other books on PGM-style magic that mostly or only list rituals with only a smattering of cosmology behind them; some of them are worthwhile, at least for a while, but I tire of them easily, probably because I’m a spoiled brat and like to chew on things myself rather than simply have them presented to me, so perhaps it’s really for the best that Gordon focused on the background and theory of the PGM rather than the contents themselves.  Of the other well-known books about the PGM, Stephen Skinner’s Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic is a great analysis of the content of the PGM, and is a helpful index and guide to looking at and investigating parts of the PGM (though I differ with him on some accounts as well).

Flatteringly, Gordon referenced me and my work on my blog and website several times throughout his course.  (I admit, I was caught off-guard each time he did so, and it felt like I was being called out in the middle of a college lecture hall each time I listened into his class, and so promptly spat out my wine and/or energy drink of choice at that moment.)  To my credit, I have done quite a bit of PGM work; not as much as I’d like, but I do write about it quite a bit, and have whole groups of pages up both for PGM and PGM-like rituals as well as prayers from the Hermetic and PGM traditions, and about a tenth of the posts and pages on this website reference the PGM in one way or another.  For other splendid websites and bloggers on PGM stuff, I might also recommend Voces Magicae as well as Sublunar Space, who both appear to do quite excellent stuff on their own.

One of the most hilariously common things one might see in the PGM texts is the phrase “add the usual” (even to the point where Gordon was considering naming parts of his course that phrase).  Bear in mind that the PGM is basically a collection of the notes of working, jobbing magicians who kept track of their observations, rituals, recipes, and the like.  Just like how someone wouldn’t write down something in their journal that they did each and every time they got themselves ready in the morning but merely obliquely referenced it, so too did the PGM authors do the same for their own texts; if they had a particular MO, they wouldn’t waste the ink and papyrus on it, but simply said “add the usual”.  What that “usual” might have been, we don’t often know or have the means to find out, but it does indicate that certain rituals took place within a broader framework or ceremonial practice.  A modern term for this is a “framing rite”, where a particular ritual procedure is established to attune, protect, and generally set things up for a magician to do something specific within the overall ritual.  Examples of framing rites abound in modern systems of magic, and for those who have a daily magical practice, those same rituals can often be used both generally each day as well as immediately before/after a ritual to prepare or wind down the magician for the ritual.  With all the instances of “add the usual”, we have evidence that similar practices were done in the era of the PGM authors, as well.

With that in mind, and bringing my own Mathēsis practices and my other temple procedures into the mix, I was wondering if I could codify and establish a PGM-style framing rite for myself.  I adore the PGM stuff, after all, and I definitely incorporate many of its techniques in much that I do, whether it’s whole rituals or just parts I pick and extrapolate from.  Plus, given all the PGM resources I’ve put out on my blog, including implementations of rituals for which we only have the bare bones from the original source, it’s not like I lack for sources of inspiration.  So, I decided to pluck bits and pieces from a variety of PGM, Hermetic, Neoplatonic, and similar sources of magical praxis and slap them together into an overall procedure that works as a framing ritual for…well, anything, honestly, but with a focus on PGM-style magic (though not necessarily the PGM rituals themselves, especially those that provided inspiration for this framing ritual).  Between the lists of names of spirits, invocations for a variety of purposes, implementations of ritual designs, and the other practices I’ve developed in the meantime, it wasn’t hard to form a synthesis of PGM-inspired ritual.  Is it a mish-mash?  Absolutely, and I make no denial or complaint against that!  Is it effective?  As far as I’ve noted, it definitely is, which is why I have no complaints about it (besides my own quibbles in refining it over time).  I don’t mean to say that the PGM can be treated as a single, coherent text, because it’s absolutely not; that said, it’s not hard to pick the individual techniques that can be separated from particular parts of the PGM and synthesize them together into its own more-or-less coherent whole.

What follows is my attempt at such a generalized magical procedure.  Admittedly, this is still an experimental framework, and I’m still in the process of making minor tweaks and edits to it; however, the bulk of it is stable, and any further changes to be made would be minor indeed.  The framing rite, as the ritual proper itself, will benefit from being done in a previously established or consecrated space, but the framing rite itself suffices to establish a working temple in any space or location.  Further, with minor modifications, anything before the ritual proper according to the framing rite schema given here may also be used as a format for a regimen for daily magical practice.  Not all parts are required, but may be done at the magician’s discretion; when something is optional, I’ve said as much.  The general outline of the framing ritual, in full, is as follows:

  1. Send out any non-initiates.  (optional)
  2. Ablute with lustral water.
  3. Illumine the temple and call on the Lord of the Hour.
  4. Call on the Lord of the Day.  (optional)
  5. Call on the Lord of the Stars.  (optional)
  6. Consecrate the Light.
  7. Call on the Guardians of the Directions.
  8. Opening prayer.  (optional)
  9. Cast the circle.  (optional)
  10. Empowerment and fortification.
  11. Initial offering of incense to the spirits. (optional)
  12. The ritual proper.
  13. Closing prayer.  (optional)
  14. Dismissal offering to the spirits.
  15. Uncasting the circle.  (only if a circle was previously cast)
  16. Extinguishing the Light.

The following materials are required for the framing rite itself, in addition to whatever other materials the ritual proper calls for:

  • A head covering, such as a shawl or scarf
  • A clean basin or bowl
  • A clean towel (optional, if desired)
  • Fresh water
  • Salt or natron
  • Bay leaves, or cotton balls along with a tincture of bay laurel and frankincense
  • A lamp or candle, not colored red or black
  • Incendiary tool, such as matches or a lighter
  • Incense, most preferably frankincense
  • White chalk, a wand, or a knife to draw a circle (optional, only if desired)

In the future, once I make any further refinements and hammer out any other inconsistencies in the framing rite, I’ll eventually add it to the Rituals section of pages on my website.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy, and if you’re interested, give it a whirl and see how you feel applying the following framing rite, both around a ritual itself as well as a basis for daily practice!

Note that in the following ritual text, except for the few short Greek phrases used and the names of spirits listed in the tables below, I’ve left what few barbarous words of power are used in the framing rite in Greek.  I tried to use selected portions of the PGM that didn’t rely too heavily on barbarous words of power, but their use is still essential to PGM-style magic in general.  None of what are used below are particularly long or complicated strings of words of power as some parts of the PGM are known for, but are rather some of the shorter and most common ones; I’ve left them in Greek to prevent formatting clutter.  If you’re unsure on how to read them, consult the listed PGM sections in the Betz translation or learn how to read basic Greek.  I might also recommend to check out this page on the phonetic and esoteric associations of the Greek.alphabet as well as this post on a primer on how to meditate on them to get used to their sound and power.


If desired, especially if this is done in a group setting, recite Porphyry’s command from On Images to give a general call to dismiss all unwanted or uninitiated entities, incarnate and otherwise, to leave the space in which the ritual is to be performed:

I speak only to those who lawfully may hear:
Depart all ye profane, and close the doors.

If there is a door to the space in which the ritual is performed, now is the time to close it, unless safety concerns mandate it being open; some sort of barrier should be used instead, such as a bar, board, or stone put across or symbolically blocking the entry to the space.

Prepare the lustral water and ablute with it so as to purify yourself and the temple space. This is essentially the process of making khernips for khernimma:

  1. Fill a basin with clean, fresh water.
  2. Pour or sprinkle a small amount of sea salt or natron into the water.  I recommend doing this in a cross formation above the basin.
  3. Light a whole dried bay leaf or a cotton ball soaked in a tincture of frankincense and bay laurel. Hold it above the basin, and say:

    For the sake of purity and becoming pure…

    Quench the fire into the water, and say:

    …be purified!

  4. Mix the water thoroughly with the right hand.
  5. Wash the left hand with the right, then the right hand with the left, then the face with both hands, reciting:

    Χερνίπτομαι (Kherníptomai)! In purity, I cleanse myself and free myself from defilement.

  6. With the right hand or a bundle of bay leaves, sprinkle the khernips around you in a counterclockwise direction, reciting:

    Begone, begone, you polluting spirits, you evil spirits, begone, begone!
    May all that is profane be cast out, that only holiness may here remain.

  7. If desired, pat the face and hands dry with a clean towel or cloth.
  8. Cover your head with a loose-fitting shawl, scarf, stole, hood, or other headcovering.

If more than one person is present, the lead magician prepares the khernips, washes themselves, and asperges the temple space first.  After that, the other ritual participants wash themselves only (reciting only the “Χερνίπτομαι! In purity…” part).

Illumine the temple with sacred fire that shines forth with the light of Divinity. This is a combination of both a conjuration of the flame of the lamp or candle to be used in the ritual as well as an invocation to the temporal Lord of the Hour.  This lamp or candle should not be colored red or black, given the general proscriptions against it in the PGM for most types of work, and should be kept separate from other lights used in the ritual proper unless it’s a lamp divination or theophany that uses such a light.  Light the lamp or candle, ideally while standing to the west of the lamp and facing east towards it, and recite the following conjuration of the flame based on the spell for fires to continue from PGM XIII.1—343 (the Eighth Book of Moses) and the invocation to the lamp of PDM xiv.1—92 and PDM xiv.489—515, depending on whether the ritual is done during the daytime or the nighttime.

  • Diurnal conjuration of the flame:

    I conjure you, Fire, o daimon of holy Love, the invisible and manifold, the one and everywhere, to remain in this light at this time, shining and not dying out, by the command of Aiōn!
    Be great, o light!  Come forth, o light!  Rise up, o light!  Be high, o light!
    Come forth, o light of God!
    O bright face of Hēlios, …,  servant of God, you whose hand is this moment, who belongs to this Xth hour of the day, bring your light to me!

  • Nocturnal conjuration of the flame:

    I conjure you, Fire, o daimon of holy Love, the invisible and manifold, the one and everywhere, to remain in this light at this time, shining and not dying out, by the command of Aiōn!
    Be great, o light!  Come forth, o light!  Rise up, o light!  Be high, o light!
    Come forth, o light of God!
    O bright angel of Selēnē, …, servant of God, you whose hand is this moment, who belongs to this Xth hour of the night, bring your light to me!

The rulers of the unequal hours of the day and the night, taken from PGM IV.1596—1715 (Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios) and PGM VII.862—918 (Lunar Spell of Klaudianos):

Hour Diurnal
(PGM IV.1596—1715)
Nocturnal
(PGM VII.862—918)
I ΦΑΡΑΚΟΥΝΗΘ
PHARAKŪNĒTH
ΜΕΝΕΒΑΙΝ
MENEBAIN
II ΣΟΥΦΙ
SŪPHI
ΝΕΒΟΥΝ
NEBŪN
III ΑΜΕΚΡΑΝΕΒΕΧΕΟ ΘΩΥΘ
AMEKRANEBEKHEO THŌUTH
ΛΗΜΝΕΙ
LĒMNEI
IV ΣΕΝΘΕΝΙΨ
SENTHENIPS
ΜΟΡΜΟΘ
MORMOTH
V ΕΝΦΑΝΧΟΥΦ
ENPHANKHŪPH
ΝΟΥΦΙΗΡ
NŪPHIĒR
VI ΒΑΙ ΣΟΛΒΑΙ
BAI SOLBAI
ΧΟΡΒΟΡΒΑΘ
KHORBORBATH
VII ΟΥΜΕΣΘΩΘ
ŪMESTHŌTH
ΟΡΒΕΗΘ
ORBEĒTH
VIII ΔΙΑΤΙΦΗ
DIATIPHĒ
ΠΑΝΜΩΘ
PANMŌTH
IX ΦΗΟΥΣ ΦΩΟΥΘ
PHĒŪS PHŌŪTH
ΘΥΜΕΝΦΡΙ
THYMENPHRI
X ΒΕΣΒΥΚΙ
BESBYKI
ΣΑΡΝΟΧΟΙΒΑΛ
SARNOKHOIBAL
XI ΜΟΥ ΡΩΦ
MŪ RŌPH
ΒΑΘΙΑΒΗΛ
BATHIABĒL
XII ΑΕΡΘΟΗ
AERTHOĒ
ΑΡΒΡΑΘΙΑΒΡΙ
ARBRATHIABRI

Similarly, though not necessarily required, an invocation to the ruling god of the day may also be made at this time.  This may be done in one of two ways: either by the ruler of the day according to the planet, or according to the ruler of the Pole using the Seven-Zoned method from PGM XIII.1—343/XIII.646—734.

Using the same section from PDM xiv.489—515 as before, invoke the planetary ruler:

  • Using the day ruler method:

    O blessed god, …, servant of God, you whose hand is this moment, who rules over this day, bring your light to me!

  • Using the Seven-Zoned (Pole ruler) method:

    O blessed god, …, servant of God, you whose hand is this moment, who rules over the Pole on this day, bring your light to me!

Alternatively, another invocation to the appropriate planet may also be used, such as praying the Orphic Hymn to that planet.

Weekday Ruling Planet
By Day Pole Ruler
Sunday Hēlios Selēnē
Monday Selēnē Hermēs
Tuesday Arēs Aphroditē
Wednesday Hermēs Hēlios
Thursday Zeus Arēs
Friday Aphroditē Zeus
Saturday Kronos Kronos

If further desired, though again not required, an invocation may be made to the Zodiac sign that rules the present time, based on PGM VII.795—845 (Pythagoras’ request for a dream oracle and Demokritos’ dream divination).  Given the lunar and nighttime connections of that ritual, it may be best to call upon the sign of the Zodiac in which the Moon is currently found; however, for more solar-oriented rituals, using the Zodiac sign in which the Sun is currently found may be used instead.  A combined method, which I would recommend, calls upon the two signs of both the Sun and the Moon together:

O blessed heavens, solar … and lunar …, you two asterisms that watch over all the works of the world, bring your light to me!

If, however, the Sun and Moon are in the same sign:

O blessed heaven, …, you great asterism who watches over all the works of the world, bring your light to me!

Zodiac Sign Name
Aries ΑΡΜΟΝΘΑΡΘΩΧΕ
HARMONTHARTHŌKHE
Taurus ΝΕΟΦΟΞΩΘΑ ΘΟΨ
NEOPHOKSŌTHA THOPS
Gemini ΑΡΙΣΤΑΝΑΒΑ ΖΑΩ
ARISTANABA ZAŌ
Cancer ΠΧΟΡΒΑΖΑΝΑΧΟΥ
PKHORBAZANAKHŪ
Leo ΖΑΛΑΜΟΙΡΛΑΛΙΘ
ZALAMOIRLALITH
Virgo ΕΙΛΕΣΙΛΑΡΜΟΥ ΦΑΙ
EILESILARMŪ PHAI
Libra ΤΑΝΤΙΝΟΥΡΑΧΘ
TANTINŪRAKHTH
Scorpio ΧΟΡΧΟΡΝΑΘΙ
KHORKHORNATHI
Sagittarius ΦΑΝΘΕΝΦΥΦΛΙΑ ΞΥΥ
PHANTHENPHYPHLIA KSUHU
Capricorn ΑΖΑΖΑΕΙΣΘΑΙΛΙΧ
AZAZAEISTHAILIKH
Aquarius ΜΕΝΝΥΘΥΘ ΙΑΩ
MENNYTHYTH IAŌ
Pisces ΣΕΡΥΧΑΡΡΑΛΜΙΩ
SERYKHARRALMIŌ

With the sacred light lit and the appropriate powers of the present time invoked, uncover your head and recite the Light-Retaining Charm based on PGM IV.930—1114 (Conjuration of Light under Darkness):

I conjure you, holy Light, breadth, depth, length, height, brightness,
by ΙΑΩ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΑΡΒΑΘΙΑΩ ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ ΑΙ ΑΙ ΙΑΩ ΑΞ ΑΞ ΙΝΑΞ
remain by me in the present hour, until I have accomplished all I have set out to do!
Now, now, immediately, immediately, quickly, quickly!

Call upon the Guardians of the Directions.  This is essentially using my Invocation of the Solar Guardians, based on PGM II.64—183 and PGM.XII.14—95, to recognize the four spiritual entities who stand guard of the stations of the Sun at sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight, as well as the realms and rulers of the heights and the depths, so as to orient and protect both the temple and the magician.  The first guardian to be invoked is the one who controls the quarter of the sky where the Sun currently is: between sunrise and noon, the Guardian of the East should begin the invocations; between noon and sunset, the Guardian of the South; and so forth.

  1. First, face the East or, if preferred, whatever quarter of the sky the Sun happens to be in at the moment of the invocation.
  2. Take a half-step forward with the right foot, raise the right hand forward and out, and raise the hand up and out towards that direction.  Give the salutation to the guardian, lower the hand, bring the right foot back, then turn 90° clockwise to salute the next guardian.  The four salutations for these guardians are, with the order to be changed according to the direction first started with:

    ΙΩ ΕΡΒΗΘ, take thy place in the East!
    ΙΩ ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ, take thy place in the South!
    ΙΩ ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ, take thy place in the West!
    ΙΩ ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ, take thy place in the North!

  3. Once all four guardians of the cardinal directions have been saluted, return to the original direction, and stand with both feet together.
  4. Look directly up and extend the right palm outwards and upwards to salute the guardian of the heights:

    ΙΩ ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ, take thy place in the Heights!

  5. Look directly down, and extend the right palm outwards and downwards to salute the guardian of the depths:

    ΙΩ ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ, take thy place in the Depths!

  6. Extend both arms outward with the right hand turned up and the left hand turned down, and give the concluding call:

    For I am ΜΑΛΠΑΡΤΑΛΧΩ standing in the midst of the All!

At this point, if desired, the magician may enter into a phase of prayer before any further work.  This is not required, but those who take a more liturgical or Hermetic priestly approach may consider reciting such prayers as the Prayer of Hermes Trismegistus from the Corpus Hermeticum, the Stele of Aiōn from PGM IV.1167—1226, the Hymn of the Hidden Stele from PVM IV.1115—1166, or other such prayers.  This would be to focus the mind of the magician as well as to further sanctify the temple, but these are not strictly required to be performed.

Before further work, some magicians may feel more comfortable working within a cast circle.  Given the purification, illumination, and warding of the temple in the previous steps, a circle may be deemed superfluous and unnecessary, and though researchers like Stephen Skinner suggest that circle-working could have been a common aspect of PGM-style magic, very few rituals in the PGM and similar works explicitly call for a circle, and most have no need for one.  However, should a circle be desired for further working, one may be cast at this point.  Starting from the same direction that the Guardians of the Directions began and proceeding clockwise, trace a circle on the ground (either drawn out in white chalk or natron, or traced with the fingertips of the dominant hand, a wand, or a knife) while reciting the following (adapted from my older preparatory/framing rite the Q.D.Sh. Ritual).  As there are four lines in the chant that follows, draw the circle slowly and thoughtfully enough such that each line can be recited within the tracing of one quarter of the circle.

In the name of the Nous, this circle is consecrated for our defense.
By the power of the Logos, this circle is defended for our perfection.
For the sake of the Sophia, this circle is perfected for our work.
Through the might of the Aiōn, may all that is baneful be cast out, that only Good may here remain.

Empower yourself.  This is a three-step process, combined from one popularly-known modern one and two adapted from the PGM.  The first part is what I call the “Ray of Heaven and Earth”, which is a variant of the first part of Jason Miller’s “Pillar and Spheres” energy work method from The Sorcerer’s Secrets; the visualization is largely the same, but I’ve replaced the chants from Latin/English with appropriate Greek ones.  The second part is a shorter form of the Heptagram Rite from PGM XIII.734—1077; it’s more involved than a simple Calling the Sevenths (which is fine on its own and may be substituted here instead for time), but it’s also not the entire Heptagram Rite, either; this middle-form is what I call the Minor Heptagram Rite.  This is finished with the final declaration of power and protection from the Headless Rite from PGM V.96—172, using the Crowley form of the ritual (though substitutes may be made here as well).

  1. Perform the Ray of Heaven and Earth.
    1. Stand upright with the back straight. Center yourself.
    2. Visualize an infinite, infinitely white light shining directly above you, infinitely distant in the highest heavens.
    3. Intone: Κατάβαινε, ὦ πέλεια! (Katábaine, ō péleia! or, in English, “Descend, o Dove!”) As you intone this, inhale deeply and visualize a ray of white light shining down from the heavens directly into the crown of the head, down through the spine, through the sacrum, and downwards infinitely below you. Exhale slowly, feeling purifying, soothing, straightening power radiate from the ray into the rest of your body.
    4. Maintain the above visualization. In addition to that, Visualize an infinite, infinitely red light shining directly below you, infinitely distant in the lowest reaches of the earth.
    5. Intone: Ἀνάβαινε, ὦ ὄφϊ! (Anábaine, ō óphï! or, in English, “Ascend, o Serpent!”). As you intone this, inhale deeply and visualize a ray of red light shining up from the earth directly into the sacrum, up through the spine, through the crown, and upwards infinitely above you. Exhale slowly, feeling vivifying, heating, hardening power radiate from the ray into the rest of your body.
    6. Visualize both rays, the white descending from heaven though you into the earth and the red ascending from earth through you into heaven, and mixing in your body, connecting it with all the heavens and all the earth with you in the direct center channel between them.
    7. Intone: Ἅφθητι, ὦ πυρ! (Háphthēti, ō pur! or, in English, “Be kindled, o Fire!”) As you intone this, inhale deeply and let both powers suffuse your body in an infinitely bright light, feeling all the powers of heaven and earth connect within you. Exhale slowly, letting the power radiate through you and from you, having connected with heaven and hell equally.
  2. Perform the Minor Heptagram Rite.  If desired, the shorter Calling the Sevenths may be done instead, but for full rituals, the Minor Heptagram Rite is preferred.
    1. Recite the invocation to Aiōn:

      I call on you, eternal and unbegotten Aiōn, who are One, who alone hold together the whole creation of all things, whom none understands, whom the gods worship, whose name not even the gods can utter. Inspire from your breath, o ruler of the Pole, the one who calls on you who is under you! I call on you as the gods call you! I call on you as the goddesses call you! I call on you as the winds call you!

    2. Face the sunrise in the east with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the east: Α ΕΕ ΗΗΗ ΙΙΙΙ ΟΟΟΟΟ ΥΥΥΥΥΥ ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

    3. Face north with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the north: Ε ΗΗ ΙΙΙ ΟΟΟΟ ΥΥΥΥΥ ΩΩΩΩΩΩ ΑΑΑΑΑΑΑ

    4. Face west with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the west: Η ΙΙ ΟΟΟ ΥΥΥΥ ΩΩΩΩΩ ΑΑΑΑΑΑ ΕΕΕΕΕΕΕ

    5. Face south with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the south: Ι ΟΟ ΥΥΥ ΩΩΩΩ ΑΑΑΑΑ ΕΕΕΕΕΕ ΗΗΗΗΗΗΗ

    6. Face down with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the earth: Ο ΥΥ ΩΩΩ ΑΑΑΑ ΕΕΕΕΕ ΗΗΗΗΗΗ ΙΙΙΙΙΙΙ

    7. Face forward with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the sky: Υ ΩΩ ΑΑΑ ΕΕΕΕ ΗΗΗΗΗ ΙΙΙΙΙΙ ΟΟΟΟΟΟΟ

    8. Face up with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the cosmos: Ω ΑΑ ΕΕΕ ΗΗΗΗ ΙΙΙΙΙ ΟΟΟΟΟΟ ΥΥΥΥΥΥΥ

    9. Recite the second invocation to Aiōn, based on the Eighth Book of Moses (PGM XIII.1—343) and the Headless Rite (PGM V.96—172):

      I call on you, who are greater than all, the creator of all, the self-begotten who see all and are not seen! For you gave to Hēlios glory and all power, and to Selēnē the privilege to wax and wane and have fixed courses, yet you took nothing from the earlier-born darkness, but apportioned all things so that they should be equal! For when you appeared, both Order and Light arose! All things are subject to you, whose true form none of the gods can see, who change into all forms! You are invisible, o Aiōn of Aiōns, and through you arose the celestial pole from the earth! Hear me and help me, o lord, faultless and unflawed, who pollute no place, for I bear witness to your glory! Lord, King, Master, Helper, empower my soul!

  3. Recite the final empowerment of the Headless Rite:

    ΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΩΘ ΒΑΣΥΜ ΙΣΑΚ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΙΑΩ
    Come forth and follow, so that every spirit, whether heavenly or ethereal, upon the earth or under the earth, on dry land or in the water, of whirling air or rushing fire, and every spell and scourge of God may be obedient unto me.

    Alternatively or additionally, if another phylactery is to be used for a given ritual, this is the proper time to don it and recite any accompanying prayers or invocations that go along with it.  These include rings, pendants, headwear, anointing with oils, or the use of other charms, spoken or otherwise.

Now, complete the empowerment and establishment of the temple by reciting the following, again from the Crowley version of the Headless Rite:

Thus have I spoken; thus are the words!
ΙΑΩ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ

At this point, the temple has been prepared and established as a sacred space, and you as the magician have become empowered and placed yourself under the powers of the cosmos and of those who watch over the temple.  If desired, incense may now be lit for its own sake as a means to further purify the temple, as well as an offering for the powers that watch over and already inhabit it, though it is not necessary to do so at this time and is better reserved for the ritual proper that follows.

With all the above done, the ritual proper may then begin in earnest.  Whatever happens here depends on the magician and the ritual itself.

After the ritual proper, prayers of thanksgiving and communion (such as the Prayer of Thanksgiving of Hermes Trismegistus from the Corpus Hermeticum) may be made at this point, especially after purely theurgic or truly divine rituals, but are not required.

Once the ritual proper has come to a close, the temple must also be closed with a general dismissal of spirits and a formal extinguishing of the light:

  1. Light a small amount of incense as a final thanks, general dismissal, and banishing, reciting the following based on the final prayers from PGM I.262—347, PGM IV.154—285, and PGM VII.930—1114.  Frankincense is the best general choice for this, but other types of incense may also be offered based on the nature of the ritual done before.

    I have been attached to your holy form;
    I have been given power by your holy name;
    I have been blessed with your holy emanation of the Good;
    Be gracious unto me, Lord, god of gods, master, daimōn, primal, elder-born one!

    I give thanks to you, o great gods, elder-born, mighty powers!
    Depart, lords, depart into your heavens, into your places, into your courses.
    I adjure by the fire which first shone in the void,
    I adjure by the power which is greatest over all,
    I adjure by him who destroys even in Hadēs
    That all now depart from this place, returning to your abodes,
    And harm me not, but be forever kind.
    Keep me healthy, unharmed, untroubled by ghosts, free from calamity, and without terror.
    Hear me for all the days of my life!

    Thus have I spoken; thus are the words!
    ΙΑΩ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ

  2. If the optional circle was cast earlier, it should be traced counterclockwise starting at the same direction from which it was drawn prior to such prayers.  If the circle was merely traced, e.g. with the fingertips or a wand, trace it in reverse using the same means; if it was drawn in e.g. chalk or natron, make four openings in the circle aligned to the four directions as the circle is otherwise traced with the fingertips.  No invocation or chant is required for this, but a short thanksgiving prayer may be said, such as the following from my own simple thanksgiving practice:

    Nous, Logos, Sophia, Aiōn,
    Thank you very much for everything.
    I have no complaints whatsoever.

  3. Extinguish the light.  With the eyes closed, recite the following over the flame of the lamp or candle using the Dismissal of Light from PGM VII.930—1114 as well as a short form of the method for quenching fire from PGM XIII.1—343, the first to send away the holiness in the flame and the second to put out the physical flame itself:

    ΧΩΩ ΧΩΩ ΩΧΩΩΧ, holy brightness!
    Depart, holy brightness!
    Depart, beautiful and holy light of the highest God Aiōn!

    Hear, o Fire, o work of the works of God, o glory of the Sun!
    Be quenched, become cold, and let your flame be scattered that it may touch no one and nothing!

    Cover your head once more, open your eyes, then put out the fire in one swift motion.

The temple space has now been closed, and the ritual has now come to a complete end.  Follow-up meditation or prayers may be made or a meal may be served, and any clean-up of the temple may now be done.

On Want and Work

So much for working on my book over the past month; between ceremony and office work, as well as starting to go to the gym (finally, after far too long), turns out that I didn’t have as much time set aside, even after not working on my blog as much.  Fah.  Ah well, time goes on, and work will continue.  But, of course, writing is just one part of my work; I love to research, to construct rituals, to make connections, and to put them down on paper (physical or electronic).  Writing for this blog, helping others out in figuring out their own ceremonial or magical problems for solutions and workarounds, doing divinations, and writing my book (slowly) are all deeply satisfying for me, because it feels productive and, moreover, makes me feel helpful to others.  There’s also the research aspect of the Work that I love: studying the prayers and songs and chants, planning out ceremonies and rituals down to the individual motions and seconds, and seeing how individual motions and moments connect across a ceremony to produce a single, unified result.  That, too, is valuable and worth our time.

But we don’t call it the Writing, or the Research, or the Lesson, or the Study.  We call it the Work, because without Work, the rest of it doesn’t matter much.  You can study and research and write all you want, but if you never put paper to practice, you don’t get much of anywhere.  And, from time to time, I catch myself slipping back into the comfort of the armchair and realize that, well, one position maintained too long starts to get uncomfortable, and eventually, the whole body becomes sore from sitting down so long, and the only way to stop that soreness is to…well, get out of the chair, stand up, and do some Work.  And yet, once you sit down for too long, it’s easy to forget what, exactly, to do once you stand up again.

One way some astute readers of mine can figure out what sorts of projects I’m doing, if any at all, is to note the rate at which I post stuff, what the focuses and trends are on the things I write about, and how much I say about it.  Looking back over the years, it’s easy to note the slow periods of my writing, and there’s a definite correlation between the things I do and the things I write: if I’m doing a lot, I tend to write a lot, and if I’m not writing a lot, it’s generally because I’m not doing a lot.  It’s not always true, of course, as there are always things I can find to write about (assuming I’m in the mood for writing and have the words to put to paper for it): between managing a geomancy group on Facebook, keeping abreast (sometimes) of conversations on social media, seeing particular issues crop up in people’s lives, and finding neat tidbits to talk about from the PGM or other source texts, there’s plenty to be said in general, but when it comes to an actual impetus for writing, it’s often tied up with having an impetus to Work.

And, lately, I haven’t been Working much.

Sure, I can point to a variety of factors as to why I might not be doing as much of my own experimentation and ritual: my three hours a day commuting, the time I spend on an almost weekly basis working ceremony for the Lukumí/Santería community (and all the study and obligations that go along with that), household upkeep, going to the gym, trying to spend time with friends, staying in the office doing actual work to bring in money while I stay in my manager’s good graces, and so on and so on.  Still, some of this sounds…more like excuses than anything else, because heaven and hell know that I’ve been able to do quite a bit more with as much on my plate as I have now.  And that doesn’t change the fact that, if one were to think that Lukumí is becoming my primary “mode” and Thing now, that I’m not doing much outside of ceremony for myself; sure, I spend time with my orisha, but I’m not really going to them either for much of stuff that I want.

And that’s the crux of it all: I don’t want much.  It’s not that I don’t want much, it’s that I don’t want much.  I don’t know how it is for others, but for me, Want is the drive for Work.  It’s all well and good to practice one’s conjuration skills with the angels or demons of your choice and flavor, but to me, I feel somewhat bad about conjuring them for its own sake without a purpose.  I could practice sigils or candlework, but if it’s just for the fuck of it, how can I really put any intent into it besides half-heartedly, half-assedly saying some prayers and throwing some energy around?  It seems like, without having a goal or purpose or need or…really, a Want to drive my work, everything I could think of doing seems empty and pointless, and so that reduces me to simply studying about things, and even that tends to be scattered and unfocused.

I mean, as far as modes of living go, I lead a pretty good life, and definitely among the most privileged in the world, too.  I’m in good health overall, I’m college-educated, I have a home and a mortgage payment, I have a car of my own that’s paid off, I have clothes and finery aplenty of my own, I’m married to the love of my life, I’m gainfully employed in a stable and well-paying job, I have family and friends and godfamily and colleagues that I care about and who care about me, and I make some good side-cash out of my hobbies of writing, crafting, and occult work.  I’m not shitting on myself by saying this: I’m basically living a middle-class dream, which is rare for US millennials nowadays, and my life is easily the envy of billions of people across the world.  (Many of the lives of my readers, too, as a matter of fact; the fact you have a computer and are educated enough to read my blog attests to having at least a few successes of your own, even if by the grace of luck and birth.)  To put it bluntly, many of my needs are met, as far as the needs of normal human beings go.

But…well, you and I are not normal human beings.  We’re not satisfied merely by being successful in this world, are we?  The usual middle-class dream is definitely nice to live, but that’s not our real dream, is it?  The adventures and situations of sitcoms and television dramas might be enough for some to aspire to, but even I have to admit that they bored me to tears; no, it’s the adventures and mishaps of fantasy and sci-fi novels that would satisfy me.  At heart, I admit that I want to go above and beyond the normal, mundane, humdrum existence of human life, to experience what few to no others experience, see what few to no others see, go where few to no others dream of stepping into, speak what few to no others dare to utter.

It might be said that an ideal life is a buffet: you get your plate, you get what you want from the buffet (if it’s available), you sit back down, you eat, and you continue eating until you’re full.  I suppose that metaphor works well enough for most people, but again, you and I aren’t most people, are we?  For us, we don’t really have a finite stomach that can be filled with a plate or three of simple food you can find at a buffet.  Remember that, etymologically, the word “appetite” comes from Latin “ad + petere”, meaning “to seek out”; for us, life isn’t an appetite we want to simply satisfy, but a longing to seek out, explore, and flush out as much as we can.  Most people are content with a small, finite number of finite types of food, but you and I know better, don’t we?  There is no such thing as a finite set of experiences, a finite set of places, a finite sets of ideas, a finite set of words; all we have is a finite length of time to live, and we better do our damned best to sample shallowly from or dive deeply into whatever we Want out of the infinite patterns and arrangements of Life.

Sure, I can be content with my life; after all, I’m doing pretty well.  But why should I be content with what I have, when I have so much more out there that could be gotten or sampled?  Yes, the things I have are good, but they’re not perfect, and they can always be improved.  Yes, the life I live is sufficient for most people, but it’s only if I shut off the magician-trickster part of my mind that I could stand to consider it “enough”; after all, I have a better idea than “most people” about the depth and breadth and height and width and girth of possible reality and irreality; why be happy confined to this little tiny tower of mine, when there’s a whole world out there to explore?

It’s easy to slip into a mindset of “this is enough” or “I shouldn’t ask for more”; it’s easy to fall into a pattern of commonality, of vulgar banality, by simply accepting things the way they are and making yourself content with it.  True, there are things in the world that we cannot change, for which we must accept them as they are; it’s a good mindset to have where one should think “change this, or change myself”.  However, I don’t think many realize exactly how much there is in the world that we don’t have to simply accept, how much there is in the world that we have the power to change.  And, for the things we cannot necessarily change and which we must accept that happen, there are many things we can change, barter, bargain, or tweak about how it happens.  Yes, the walls of Troy were indeed destined to fall, but the city could have lasted another ten years in safety and prosperity, if only Aphrodite had asked Poseidon who built them.

In any software engineering project, an application isn’t really “finished” once it’s deployed.  Sure, the design may have been implemented to the letter in code and compilation, but just because it’s out being used doesn’t mean that it’s perfect.  There will always be people who have problems using the program, and changes must be made to accommodate them; there will always be bugs lurking in the code, and corrections must be made to eliminate them; there will always be areas of inefficiency in the program, and improvements must be made to optimize them.  So it is with life: no matter how good or complete you might think it is, there are always things to improve on, because there’s always some quirk, some annoyance, some inefficiency, some blindspot that can be found and improved on.  For those who have rough lives, magic is easy to learn and put to practice; for those who have good lives, what few problems they have can still be resolved using magic.  The Work makes the lives of all better, no matter where you start from, so long as you do the Work.  Having dire needs is easy to fire up your Want to fuel your Work, but for those who don’t need much, it’s harder to build that fire of Want.

Summer’s a lovely time for bonfires and to stock up on fuel for the coming, lengthening nights.  So, whether you think you’ll need to keep warm by a rusty trashcan fire or enjoy the light from a gilded fireplace, let’s start gathering while the gathering’s good, eh?

No matter whether you’re a ceremonial magician, neopagan, academic philosopher, or someone who’s just sorta interested in the occult, I’d like all of my readers to try a little exercise with me to figure out what it is we Want out of our pathetic lives.

  1. Get two pieces of paper and a pen (not a pencil, but a pen or some other permanent writing tool).  At the top of one sheet, write “DO”.  At the top of the other sheet, write “HAVE”.
  2. On the “HAVE” sheet, write out all of the things you already currently have, enjoy, and accomplish in your life.  Everything you’re satisfied with, everything you’ve worked to attain and then attained, everything you’re content with, everything you think you should be happy with, write them down, item by item.
  3. On the “DO” sheet, write out all of the things you want to do that you have not yet done, or get that you don’t yet have.  It could be big, it could be small; it could be meaningful, it could be trivial.  It doesn’t matter.  Write them down anyway, so long as it’s not already on the “HAVE” sheet.
  4. Go back to the “HAVE” sheet.  For all the things you already have, branch off each item and add onto it the things that can be improved on.  If you already have a home of your own, what can you do to improve it, or would you instead want a better, nicer home?  If you already have a car, what about trading it in for a better one, or souping it up on your own?  If you already have a job, what about getting a promotion, or moving to a new career, or changing how you get income entirely?  I guarantee you that each and every thing you already have can be improved on in at least some fashion; aim for at least two things to improve on for each and every thing you have, or cross it out entirely if you genuinely cannot think of how to improve on it, if you even have any desire to.
  5. Go back to the “DO” sheet.  For all the things you already want to get, make it more specific; improve on the improvements.  Make the things you want to get more concrete, more actualized, more detailed; think not only of purpose and goal, but of means and method as well.  Be specific.  If you find that something you want to get is already an improvement of something you already have, cross it out.
  6. Once you’re done with the “HAVE” and “DO” sheets, copy all the new items over from the “HAVE” sheet to the “DO” sheet.
  7. Look over each item on the “DO” sheet.  This is the time to judge whether you want to devote the time and energy to something; if you have anything to reconsider about a given item on it, cross it off, but leave the remnant of it there.
  8. Burn the “HAVE” sheet with intent to start off your own fire of Want.
  9. Use the “DO” sheet as your high-living to-do list, and keep it sacred as a special text for you to follow.

It doesn’t matter how good you think your life might be, because your life can always be improved.  The Work isn’t done until your life is done, and I claim with some certainty that we’re not done yet, so why waste our time sitting in an armchair that makes us sore?  Let’s get to Work.