A Simple Water Blessing for the Home

I feel like it’s rare nowadays that I talk about something that isn’t something from the Corpus Hermeticum or something about geomancy, but to be fair, those are a major part of my Work and studies, and much of my writing is focused on what I’m currently working on or exploring.  In many ways, my blog is a sort of formalization of my thoughts and notes as I go about my practices that I share with the world because…I mean, why not?  I have a blog because I like to share information, and if that information can help others in their work, then all the better.  To that end, there’s something small, but immensely helpful (or so I find, at least) that I want to share today.  Remember how I mentioned not too long ago what my daily ritual routine looks like?  That was a really high-level overview of what it is I do, because I didn’t get into the specifics of what my actual prayers are, what the offerings I make are, or the like.  There are also a few minor things I do regularly that, although I don’t often see a need to share so publicly, there is something today I wanted to show: a daily blessing of my own home requiring nothing more than water and a prayer.

Every day when I wake up, I take a shower and salute my orisha.  It’s nothing required of me, although it is required of some, and although it’s not required of me to do so, I take comfort in it and draw strength from it.  Because the orisha I’ve been initiated to is one of the so-called Warriors, his sacred space resides in the foyer of my house by the front door, so every day I get a little gourd of water, sprinkle some as a libation, and ask for his blessing in my life as the first nontrivial spiritual act I do every day.  Prayer is important, to be sure, but every prayer should be accompanied by a small libation of cool, clean water, which itself is the foundation of all life, and thus the first offering we make to orisha in any situation, as it is also the foundation of all offerings.  Life couldn’t exist without water, of course, but water plays so many roles in our lives: it soothes, it cools, it heals, it purifies, it lustrates, it freshens, it protects, and it does so many things for us in so many regards.  Although there are often many types of waters used for spiritual work, plain water—so long as it’s cool and clean and drinkable—is the foundation of them all, and regardless whether it’s from rainfall or springs or rivers or wells, it’s water that allows us to survive.  Just how Hestia gets the first offering for the Greeks because without her there could be no home nor temple to worship in nor hearth nor altar to worship at, water for me is the first offering because without it there could be no life that could make offerings nor anything to grow or cultivate to give as offerings.

None of the whole orisha-saluting bit, of course, is something I recommend to people who don’t have orisha (although perhaps similar devotional salutations could be made for those who have similar relationships with their own gods), but I wanted to introduce this as context for what comes next.  It’s because this first daily salutation takes place in the foyer of my house that I’m already right next to the front door of my house, and because I don’t need to pour out the whole gourd of water for my orisha but just use a few drops to sprinkle as a token offering, that I came up with the idea of how to use the rest of the water in the gourd.  After all, if water can do so much, why not use it for the main gate of my house as well?

So I started developing a bit of a routine of sprinkling water in the threshold of my house, out towards the road from the front door, and around inside the foyer every morning as a way to bless, purify, protect, and cultivate goodness within my house.  After a while, the happenstance impromptu requests I was making became a formalized prayer in and of itself, and it’s this whole little ritual that I want to share today.  This is something anyone can do, and I would recommend anyone who can to do it for their own home wheresoever they might live or reside—even for temporary places, like hotels, or even places of business one works at or owns.

First, get a small bowl of water, about one or two cups’ worth.  Any bowl can be used, it doesn’t have to be fancy or consecrated for any particular purpose, so long as it’s clean; a thoroughly-washed margarine container or something would be fine.  Holding the bowl in your submissive hand, stand at the front door of your home (or whatever place) and open it up enough for you to stand in the threshold of it.  Repeatedly sprinkle drops of water from the bowl in the direction of the road from your doorway while reciting the following:

With this water do I cleanse the roads and the ways from this house into the world,
for the sake of myself (, my husband/wife/spouse, my children, my housemates, my colleagues, etc.)
that we may have good roads, clear roads, easy roads, safe roads to take in this life this day
that we may make all our destinations swiftly, secretly, speedily, and safely
that we may not be obstructed, impedited, confused, delayed, or distracted
that we may have safety on our way to our destinations,
safety while at our destinations,
safety on our way back from our destinations,
and safety while at home.

Repeatedly sprinkle water in all directions from your doorway, roadward and otherwise while reciting:

With this water do I cleanse our roads from all negativity,
all death, disease, and defilement
all injury, infirmity, and illness
all pain, plague, and poison
all sorrow, suffering, and sadness
all arrest, arrogance, and anger
all malevolence, mischief, and misfortune
all malefica, witchcraft, and curse
all damage, loss, and threat
that none of it may arise, that none of it may encounter us,
that none of it may seek us out, that none of it may arrest us,
that none of it may follow us back to this house…

Sprinkle water directly on the base of the threshold of your door back and forth while reciting:

…that none of it cross any boundary of this land
that none of it cross any threshold into this house
that none of it cross any doorway into this house
that none of it cross any window into this house…

Take up a handful of water and fling it directly out of your doorway, reciting:

…but that it may be blocked out, sent out, cast out, and thrown out into the world for good.

Sprinkle water into your doorway across the threshold of your home a few times, reciting:

And as I cleanse the way into this house do I invite blessing into this home…

Sprinkle water throughout the foyer, entryway, hallways, and the like of your house in the area of the front door, making a whole loop around the area eventually returning to the front door itself, reciting:

…good health, long life, prosperity, happiness, peace,
abundance, growth, pleasure, leisure, luxury,
joy, satisfaction, satiation, sufficiency, stability,
safety, protection, strength, courage, vitality,
determination, discipline, resolution, resolve,
camaraderie, harmony, companionship, love,
wisdom, knowledge, understanding, education,
accomplishment, victory, triumph, glory, honor,
enlightenment, empowerment, ascension, development, evolution,
and all good things for myself (, my husband/wife/spouse, my children, my housemates, my colleagues, etc.)
for all those who abide here in this house
for all those who lawfully, respectfully, and properly enter into this place.

Fling whatever water remains in the bowl out through the doorway towards the road, finishing with “Amen” or “So be it” or something similar to finalize the ritual.

That’s basically it.  You don’t need to memorize the exact wording if you don’t want; I share what I say, but it’s mostly just lists of things I want to avoid or invite; customize the wording as you need or want, but note the process here: clearing and cleansing the roads, washing away the impurities in the world, then cultivating blessings in the home.  The process of that is the important bit; the words you say are up to you and what you want to pray for.  It’s best if you can do this before you leave home for the day, if you do at all for errands or work or whatnot, and also good if you can do it before anyone else in your household also leaves for the day so that the blessing helps them from the get-go before they have to get on the road themselves.  It’s best if you leave the water sprinkled on the ground to evaporate normally, though it can be wiped up if you must if it’s a distraction or a danger for slippage.

I’m lucky enough to live in my own home in the middle of a forest with good tree-cover on all sides, so I have no worries bothering other people or being bothered by other people as I do this, and the people I live with are all spiritual people anyway, so nobody here is bothered by any of this that I do every morning (though, depending on how early in the morning it is, other prayers and things I do can be an annoyance to them at times).  Still, not everyone has this sort of arrangement: some live in apartments on hallways, some live with family members who don’t know about or appreciate spiritual practices of blessing, and the like.  Some of us have pets, too, which makes standing in an open doorway a risk (as I found out one morning when the asshole terrorist cat I live with decided to bolt through my legs).  In these cases, as always, do what you can in a way that makes things as discreet and safe for you as possible: breathing prayers onto the water itself before sprinkling, cutting down on prayers, sprinkling water only on the doormat, sprinkling water in nearby potted plants inside your home, sprinkling water along the baseboards, or the like.  There are lots of variations that could easily be made to suit your specific living arrangement, to say nothing of customizing this according to your own spiritual or devotional practices and relationships.  For instance, if you have a Hellenic practice, you could turn this into an offering to Hermēs Hodios (for clearing the roads), Hermēs Polytropos (for safety outside the home), and Zeus Ktēsios (for protection inside the home), or to some other set of gods.  You could also add a bit of honey to the water, or add a splash of holy water or a fragrant cologne or sweet fruit juice, or add other ingredients to the base of water itself.

In the end, although this is such a small little act, it’s the little acts that build up over time in a whole, overarching magical life.  Sometimes these are things we come up with or pick up from grimoires, but there are countless such customary acts different cultures put in place for particular needs; I’m thinking of one old Roman custom of, when entering a house where a woman is giving birth, one undoes all their belts, shoelaces, braids, knots, and the like to help ease the childbirth by allowing nothing in the house to be tied up, so to speak.  It’s these little acts that might well come across as superstition that, for many people, keep their lives whole; after all, if magic is the art and science of causing change, then any act can be made into a magical or spiritual one with the right intent.  A little sprinkle of water to appease, soothe, smooth, and cool the roads and to wash away any defilement or impurity headed for the home is something we could all make use of, I’d think.

Thoughts on PGM I.195—222 and Invocations to Hēlios

There are always surprises to be found in the wonderful treasure trove of the Greek Magical Papyri, as I think we’re all familiar with by now.  It’s a fantastic, if not sometimes hard-to-piece-together, resource of various approaches to magic both theurgic and thaumaturgic from Hellenic Egypt around the early centuries of the Roman Empire, giving us a blessed and bounteous buffet of works, notes, prayers, and rituals from a variety of magicians, priests, and occultists from back in the day.  Although it’s folly to treat the PGM as one single work, given that its various papyri were written and collected from various parts of Egypt across several centuries, there are sometimes neat connections you can make between different texts within the PGM that show a thread of common practice or other commonalities in how the different magicians back then worked for their desired and necessary ends—beyond just “add the usual”, of course.

I was flipping through my loved copy of Betz recently, this time on something of a mission.  I was looking for a relatively short invocation of the Sun to use as part of other works related to the decans and other solar-focused projects, and I wanted to focus this time on the papyri given earlier in the collection, which I don’t often turn to (even though they’re among the longest and most well-preserved of them all).  This time, I had taken note of a section from PGM I, also known as Papyrus 5025 housed in the Staatliche Museen in Berlin, Germany, and I found PGM I.195—222, “the prayer of deliverance for the first-begotten and first-born god”.  It’s a relatively short prayer with only two reasonably-sized strings of barbarous words, and the text of it is pretty par-for-the-course as far as invocations to an almighty god for divine aid go, and is explicitly associated with Hēlios at the end of the text.

Below is my own version of the prayer in English, a slightly modified translation based on Betz:

I call upon you, o Lord!
Hear me, o holy god who rests among the holy ones,
at whose side the glorious angels stand forever!
I call upon you, o Forefather, and I beseech you, o Aiōn of Aiōns,
o unmoved ruler, eternal ruler of the celestial pole,
you who are established upon the seven-part heavens!
ΧΑΩ ΧΑΩ ΧΑ ΟΥΦ ΧΘΕΘΩΝΙΜΕΕΘΗΧΡΙΝΙΑ ΜΕΡΟΥΜ Ι ΑΛΔΑ ΖΑΩ ΒΛΑΘΑΜΜΑΧΩΘ ΦΡΙΞΑ ΗΚΕΩΦΥΗΙΔΡΥΜΗΩ ΦΕΡΦΡΙΘΩ ΙΑΧΘΩ ΨΥΧΕΩ ΦΙΡΙΘΜΕΩ ΡΩΣΕΡΩΘ ΘΑΜΑΣΤΡΑ ΦΑΤΙΡΙ ΤΑΩΧ ΙΑΛΘΕΜΕΑΧΕ
Υou who hold fast to the root of the cosmos!
you who possess the powerful name hallowed by all the angels!
Hear me, you who have established the mighty decans and archangels,
beside whom stands untold myriads of angels!
You have been exalted to Heaven by the Lord,
having borne witness to your wisdom and having praised your power,
having declared that your strength is as his in every way in this world.

I call upon you, o Lord of the All, in my hour of need;
hear me, for my soul is distressed, and I am troubled and in want of everything.
Come to me, who you are lord over all the angels;
shield me against all excess of power of the aerial Daimōn and of Fate.
O Lord, hear me, for I call upon you by your secret name
that reaches from the heights of Heaven to the depths of the Abyss:
ΑΘΗΖΟΦΩΙΜ ΖΑΔΗΑΓΗΩΒΗΦΙΑΘΕΑΑ ΑΜΒΡΑΜΙ ΑΒΡΑΑΜ
ΘΑΛΧΙΛΘΟΕ ΕΛΚΩΘΩΩΗΗ ΑΧΘΩΝΩΝ ΣΑ ΙΣΑΚ
ΧΩΗΙΟΡΘΑΣΙΩ ΙΩΣΙΑ ΙΧΗΜΕΩΩΩΩ ΑΩΑΕΙ
Rescue me in an hour of need!

The two sets of barbarous words, transliterated into Roman text (and with my own aspirations of <h> thrown in for good measure where I find them to be appropriate):

  1. KHAŌ KHAŌ KHA ŪPH KHTHETHŌNIMEHETHĒKHRINIA MERŪMI I ALDA ZAŌ BLATHAMMAKHŌTH PHRIKSA ĒKETHEPHYĒIDRUMĒŌ PHERPHRITHŌ IAKHTHŌ PSUKHEŌ PHIRITHMEŌ RŌSERŌTH THAMASTRA PHATIRI TAŌKH IALTHEMEAKHE
  2. ATHĒZOPHŌIM ZADĒAGĒŌBĒFIATHEAHA AMBRAMI ABRAHAM THALKHILTHOE ALKŌTHŌŌHĒĒ AKHTHŌNŌN SA ISAK KHŌĒIŪRTHASIŌ IŌSIA IKHĒMEHŌŌŌŌ AŌAEI

In the above prayer, which is more-or-less readable from the papyrus (though with plenty of emendations from Preisendanz since the papyrus isn’t in the best state), there’s only one real lacuna, in the first string of words in the name ΗΚΕΩΦΥΗΙΔΡΥΜΗΩ.  Based on where the papyrus has degraded, Preisendanz identifies this as being two characters (ΗΚΕ__ΦΥΗΙΔΡΘΜΗΩ), which I initially guessed would be filled in with ΘΕ.  My choice of this here is really more of a guess than anything else, since there’s no real way of telling given the condition of the papyrus and the ink, but from what remains and based on the handwriting, ΘΕ seems to fit here, though I’m sure there are other possibilities.  ΣΑ would be another choice, but given how rarely sigma appears in this section’s barbarous words, and given how often thēta appears, I’d be more inclined with that.  Looking at the papyrus itself, we start PGM I.195ff at the line just above the centered single-word line on the first column in the digitized scan from the Staatliche Museen:

Upon checking out Preisendanz’ footnotes, he mentions that the word ΡΩΣΕΡΩΘ also appears in PGM IV, specifically in PGM IV.1167—1226 “the stele that is useful for all things”, which I myself call the Stele of Aiōn.  There are several parallels between PGM I.195ff and PGM IV.1167ff, including that both are fundamentally addressed to Aiōn-qua-Hēlios, both have connotations of being used in emergency situations to free one from death or extreme danger, both have a number of phraseological similarities throughout.  Most interestingly, however, we see a string of barbarous words there that are extremely similar to the one given in PGM I.195ff here:

  • PGM I.195ff: …Ι ΑΛΔΑ ΖΑΩ ΒΛΑΘΑΜΜΑΧΩΘ ΦΡΙΞΑ ΗΚΕΩΦΥΗΙΔΡΥΜΗΩ ΦΕΡΦΡΙΘΩ ΙΑΧΘΩ ΨΥΧΕΩ ΦΙΡΙΘΜΕΩ ΡΩΣΕΡΩΘ ΘΑΜΑΣΤΡΑ ΦΑΤΙΡΙ ΤΑΩΧ ΙΑΛΘΕΜΕΑΧΕ
  • PGM IV.1167ff: …ΙΑΛΔΑΧΑΩ ΒΛΑΘΑΜ ΜΑΡΧΩΡ ΦΡΙΧ ΑΝ ΚΕΩΦ ΕΝΑΔΥΜΕΩ ΦΕΡΦΡΙΘΩ ΙΑΧΘΩ ΨΥΧΕΩ ΦΙΡΙΘΜΕΩ ΡΩΣΕΡΩΘ ΘΑΜΑΣΤΡΑΦΑΤΙ ΡΙΜΨΑΩΧ ΙΑΛΘΕ ΜΕΑΧΙ…

In this light, and given the extreme similarity between these two strings, I went with the PGM IV.1167ff suggestion of ΗΚΕΩΦΥΗΙΔΡΥΜΗΩ (noting that an ōmega here would be about two characters wide and of roughly similar shape as ΘΕ).  In fact, given the number of emendations and suggestions Preisendanz had to make for PGM I given its condition, it might not be a bad idea to replace the whole string of barbarous words here in PGM I.195ff with that of PGM IV.1167ff.

Also, we should make a note here of the use of the names of Abraham, Isaac, and Josiah (not Jacob? weird) in the barbarous words, along with a number of other noted parallels to Psalms and a number of other books of the Bible.  Though, what’s interesting here is that, when we compare this part of PGM I.195ff to the Stele of Aiōn from PGM IV.1167ff again, we notice all the biblical names vanish (along with some of the biblical language, though other Judaizing elements are introduced).  Even with the changes to the barbarous words, the overall structure and spelling is still highly similar.

  • PGM I.195ff: ΑΘΗΖΟΦΩΙΜ ΖΑΔΗΑΓΗΩΒΗΦΙΑΘΕΑΑ ΑΜΒΡΑΜΙ ΑΒΡΑΑΜ ΘΑΛΧΙΛΘΟΕ ΕΛΚΩΘΩΩΗΗ ΑΧΘΩΝΩΝ ΣΑ ΙΣΑΚ ΧΩΗΙΟΡΘΑΣΙΩ ΙΩΣΙΑ ΙΧΗΜΕΩΩΩΩ ΑΩΑΕΙ
  • PGM IV.1167ff: ΑΘΗΖΕ ΦΩΙ ΑΑΑ ΔΑΙΑΓΘΙ ΘΗΟΒΙΣ ΦΙΑΘ ΘΑΜΒΡΑΜΙ ΑΒΡΑΩΘ ΧΘΟΛΧΙΛ ΘΟΕ ΟΕΛΧΩΘ ΘΙΟΩΗΜΧ ΧΟΟΜΧ ΣΑΗΣΙ ΙΣΑΧΧΟΗ ΙΕΡΟΥΘΡΑ ΟΟΟΟΟ ΑΙΩΑΙ

Notably, that string of barbarous names in PGM IV.1167ff is specifically labeled as a hundred-letter name, and the same quality holds in PGM I, as well, even accounting for the variations and differences in spelling and vocalization.  Whoever wrote these prayers and based one on the other or as variants of the same source knew what they were doing in keeping to that quality.

In any case, what PGM I.195ff gives us is indeed a “prayer of deliverance”, and it ends with the sole instruction of “say this to Hēlios or whenever you are forced to do so” (though Betz notes that the translation is tentative at this point), and although the purpose of this prayer is not exactly given explicitly except as “deliverance”, the phrasing given towards the end of the prayer (“shield me against all excess of power of the aerial Daimōn and of Fate”) and in this sole instruction suggest that it is deliverance from the onslaught of a demonic attack.  However, I’d like to propose a slightly different translation for “you are forced to do so”, given the Greek καταληφθῇς used here.  If we take out the aspiration, we end up with καταληπτῇς, which more has connotations of being seized or arrested.  This, again, has parallels with PGM IV.1167ff, which “is useful for all things; it even delivers from death”.  Again, that notion of deliverance, and in PGM IV.1167ff, it asks for protection “from every excess of power and from every violent act”.  While both of these prayers can certainly be used and interpreted as asking for deliverance from demonic/spiritual attack, I think that the crux of it is really more specifically about demonic obsession or possession, to be recited by someone who is being so accosted by spirits that they threaten to take over the body, or alternatively, an actual plea to divinity for help in being restrained, abducted, arrested, or detained by worldly authorities (which is just a material and potentially more archonic parallel of demonic possession).  What leads me to think that this is also to be used for worldly restraints is that notion of being saved “from every excess of power of the aerial Daimōn or of Fate“.  It’s that “or of Fate” bit that suggests that there’s more going on here than spiritual attack, but the actual workings of the cosmos that happen to be working against you at that moment in whatever form they might take.

What I was looking for was a general prayer to Hēlios, but PGM I.195ff doesn’t seem to cut it for me; although potent, to be sure, it seems too tailored for a specific (dire) situation to be used more generally as an invocation.  Although the parallels between this and PGM IV.1167ff are strong, and although that latter is a prayer “useful for all things”, I think the usefulness there is for extreme cases of need of deliverance, saving, and protection from actual harm rather than for use as an invocation or simple praise.  I could be simply limiting myself out of an excess of caution, but something about reciting either of these prayers too freely seems to cheapen their power a bit.  After all, an alternative reading of that last line from PGM I.195ff, λέγε Ἡλίῳ ἣ ὄποθ ἑὰν καταληφθῇς, instead of being “say this to Hēlios or whenever you are seized/forced to do so”, could also be “say this to Hēlios if you are truly seized”.  There are other prayers in PGM I, II, III, and others that give invocations to Hēlios in one form or another, I suppose, that could be investigated besides, and I know that some other PGM-minded magicians use PGM IV.1167ff as a prayer to Hēlios along these lines, though I’m not sure I agree with the use of it in this way for the reasons noted above.

On top of that, there’s another thing that nags me about this prayer.  I was originally looking for a prayer to Hēlios, and sure enough, this “prayer of deliverance” is meant to be said to Hēlios, but…well, it’s not all that solar of a prayer.  I mean, sure, Betz has the initial invocation directed to the “eternal ruler of the sun’s rays”, but Preisendanz translates this instead as berharrender Herrscher “persistent ruler”, and the original Greek has it as ἀκινοκράτωρ which I translate as “unmoved ruler”; I’m not really sure where Betz got “eternal ruler of the sun’s rays” from.  It’s really not all that solar of a prayer at all, and when we also consider the notion of “eternal ruler of the pole” (αἰωνοπολοκράτωρ which, again, Betz weirdly translates as “eternal ruler of the celestial orb”), that ties it more into the much bigger divinity of Aiōn a la the Heptagram Rite from PGM XIII or other high-cosmic deities that go well above and beyond the Sun’s station.  True, PGM IV.1167ff does explicitly address that prayer to Hēlios, but I’d be more inclined to interpret that as Hēlios as an attribute of Aiōn rather than Hēlios as Aiōn.  Instead of interpreting that final line of PGM I.195ff as addressing the prayer to Hēlios the deity, I think it’d be at least as appropriate to interpret it as meaning that the prayer is to be said facing the Sun, a literal direction instead of a metaphorical one, and using the physical Sun (wherever it might be placed in the sky, though presumably only at daytime) as a focal point for the higher deity of Aiōn.

Oh well, I guess the search continues.  In the meantime, however, I’d like to share a small invocation that I use for the Sun in the mornings after my usual daily prayers and routine.  This is a mix of Julian’s Prayer to Hēlios, the invocation from Orphic gold mystery tablets, several divine names associated with the Sun from the PGM, and my own invocations.

Hail to you, Lord Hēlios, Lord of the All!
O Spirit of the Cosmos, Power of the Cosmos, Light of the Cosmos,
be kind to us, be gracious to us, be propitious to us all!
Shine upon us, your children, the children of starry Heaven and fertile Earth:
you whose light is unconquerable, you whose light is for ever,
as you rise from the darkness under the Earth into the brightness of the heavens!
Bless us, your children, the children of starry Heaven and fertile Earth:
grant us your Spirit that we might live,
your Power that we might work,
your Light that we might see,
and your Fire to fuel and temper the flames of want and will in our own hearts!

ΗΙ ΙΕΟΥ ΑΧΕΒΥΚΡΩΜ
ΗΙ ΙΕΟΥ ΑΒΡΑΣΑΞ
ΗΙ ΙΕΟΥ  ΣΕΜΕΣΕΙΛΑΜ
ΗΙ ΙΕΟΥ ΨΟΙ ΦΝΟΥΘΙ ΝΙΝΘΗΡ
ΧΑΙΡΕ ΗΛΙΕ ΠΑΝΤΟΚΡΑΤΟΡ

The bit in Greek text at the bottom is a combination of several things:

  • ΗΙ ΙΕΟΥ from PGM XII.270—350 as an exclamatory invocation corresponding to the Egyptian i iꜣw, “o hail”.
  • ΑΧΕΒΥΚΡΩΜ from PGM XIII.1—343 (the Heptagram Rite), an explicit name of Hēlios, specifically “the flame and radiance of the [solar] disc”.
  • ΑΒΡΑΣΑΞ is Abrasax, whose solar connections are obvious and replete through the PGM.
  • ΣΕΜΕΣΕΙΛΑΜ from various parts of the PGM, a Hellenization of Hebrew shemesh `olam, “eternal Sun”.
  • ΨΟΙ ΦΝΟΥΘΙ ΝΙΝΘΗΡ from PGM IV.1596—1715 (the Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios) as a name of the Sun, but which in Egyptian corresponds to “the Agathodaimōn, the god of gods”.
  • ΧΑΙΡΕ ΗΛΙΕ ΠΑΝΤΟΚΡΑΤΟΡ is just Greek for “Hail, Sun, All-Ruler”.

The line “as you rise from the darkness under the Earth into the brightness of the heavens” was written with the intent that this salutation and invocation of the Sun would be done in the morning around sunrise, but it could be modified or replaced for any of the four solar points of the day, Liber Resh style if one so chooses:

  • Sunrise: …as you rise from the darkness under the Earth into the brightness of the heavens!
  • Noon: …as you culminate in the highest heights of the bright summit of the heavens!
  • Sunset: …as you descend from the brightness of the heavens into the darkness of the Earth!
  • Midnight: …as you settle in the deepest depths of the dark womb of the Earth!

I hope this short invocation can be of some use to others, now that spring is here in the northern hemisphere and as the Sun has moved into its own exaltation of Aries.

The Geomancer’s Cross: The Motions and the Prayer

Alright, so, last time, we talked about my own take on the Qabbalistic Cross, the Geomancer’s Cross, a simple energy work and centering ritual.  Instead of envisioning the Etz Chayyim (Tree of Life) laid over the body, we simply conceive of four of the sixteen geomantic energy centers as defining a vertical axis (from Laetitia at the head down to Tristitia at the groin) and a horizontal axis (from Puer at the right shoulder to Puella at the left shoulder), meeting with Coniunctio at the ribcage with a third depthwise axis passing through to represent the Sun and Moon.  This has the benefit of reflecting both all four elements as well as all seven planets at the same time, and is done virtually identically to the Qabbalistic Cross so many already know, but with a radically different set of background rules and ideas.  What we left untouched last time, however, was the actual ritual itself.

Now that we have a foundation for the structure and theory of a Geomancer’s Cross ritual, let’s move on to actual implementation of the ritual.  So we have our four points of the body plus the intersection point that brings them all together.  Following the practice from the Golden Dawn for this ritual, what we’d do is something like the following.  Assume for now that we have a set of six things to intone; what those are we’ll discuss in a bit, just for now assume we have them.

  1. Touch the forehead.  Visualize a sphere of light at the head.  Intone the first intonation.
  2. Touch the groin (or the solar plexus if this is not possible).  Visualize a sphere of light in the groin, with a beam of light connecting it to the sphere at the head.  Intone the second intonation.
  3. Touch the right shoulder.  Visualize a sphere of light at the right shoulder.  Intone the third intonation.
  4. Touch the left shoulder.  Visualize a sphere of light at the left shoulder, with a beam of light connecting it to the sphere at the right shoulder.  Intone the fourth intonation.
  5. Press both palms together upright at the sternum.  Visualize an infinitesimally small but infinitely bright point at the intersection of the two beams of light in the body, joining them both together.  Intone the fifth intonation.
  6. Open the hands and arms out forward and to the sides in a sweeping motion.  Visualize three beams of light emanating from that intersection point: an infinite vertical one passing through both the head and the groin, an infinite horizontal one passing through both the right shoulder and left shoulder, and an infinite beam passing through the chest forward and backward.  Intone the sixth intonation.

And that’s it.  Well, mostly; that’s it for the actual motions and visualizations.  What about a prayer, intonation, or incantation for accompanying them, much like those other rituals we mentioned earlier?  We could take a hint from the Golden Dawn practice of using the doxology from the Lord’s Prayer (which the Golden Dawn version is a greatly pared-down variant that doesn’t actually match Christian religious practice, but which I’m sure they have their reasons for phrasing it the way they do).  In this light, though, there’s no need to bind ourselves to just using (badly-spoken, badly-understood) Hebrew, so why not give ourselves some options?

Head Groin Right Shoulder Left Shoulder Sternum Close
English Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever amen
Greek Σοῦ ἐστιν
Soû estin
ἡ βασιλεία
hē basileía
καὶ ἡ δύναμις
kaì hē dúnamis
καὶ ἡ δόξα
kaì hē dóksa
εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας
eis toùs aiônas
ἀμήν
amḗn
Hebrew
(Golden Dawn)
אתה
Ateh
מלכות
malkut
וגבורה
ve-gevurah
וגדולה
ve-gedulah
לעולם
le-olam
אמן
amen
Hebrew
(Bible)
לך
Lekha
הממךכה
ha-mamlakha
והגברה
ve-ha-gevurah
והתפארת
ve-ha-tiferet
לעולמי עולמים
le-olemei olamim
אמן
amen
Arabic لَكَ
Laka
الملك
al-mulka
والقوة
wa-al-quwwaha
والمجد
wa-al-majda
إلى الأبد
‘ilā al-‘anadi
آمين
‘āmīn
Coptic
(Sahidic)
ⲦⲰⲔ ⲦⲈ
Tōk te
ⲦⲘⲚⲦⲈⲢⲞ
təməntero*
ⲘⲚ ⲦϬⲞⲘ
mən təcom†
ⲘⲚ ⲠⲈⲞⲞⲨ
mən peow
ϢⲀ ⲚⲒⲈⲚⲈϨ
ša nieneh
ϨⲀⲘⲎⲚ
hamēn
Coptic
(Bohairic)
ⲐⲰⲔ ⲦⲈ
Thōk te
ϮⲘⲈⲦⲞⲨⲢⲞ
timetouro
ⲚⲈⲘ ϮϪⲞⲘ
nem tijom‡
ⲚⲈⲘ ⲠⲒⲰⲞⲨ
nem piōw
ϢⲀ ⲈⲚⲈϨ
ša eneh
ⲀⲘⲎⲚ
amēn

* This word is not actually used in the Sahidic version of the prayer, but I included it here anyway for completeness.  I hope I got the grammar right.
† In Coptic, “c” (Ϭ) is pronounced like “ky” as in “acute” (ah-kyoot), so this word is pronounced “teh-kyohm”.
‡ In Coptic, “j” (Ϫ) is pronounced like a soft English “g” as in “giraffe”, so this word (related to təcom) is pronounced “tee-jjohm”.

What’s nice about the above formula using the doxology from the Lord’s Prayer is that there’s a loose association between what you’re saying and the general notion of what you’re connecting it to: God with Laetitia and the head, the Kingdom of the Cosmos with Tristitia and the groin as the lowest part of the center of the body, power (and thus severity) with Puer and the right (sword) arm, glory (and thus mercy) with Puer and the left (shield) arm, and eternity with Coniunctio with the heart.  To me, this is why the doxology is used in the Golden Dawn and related systems of magic.

Still, I’m sure there are other formulas one could use for such an end, too, so long as it’s a set of five words/phrases (to which are appended some variant of “amen”), or six words/phrases (no “amen”).  The Ephesia Grammata are a candidate (ΑΣΚΙΟΝ ΚΑΤΑΣΚΙΟΝ ΛΙΞ ΤΕΤΡΑΞ ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ ΑΙΣΙΟΝ or some variant thereof); for PGM-inspired methods, the six names of the Headless Rite (PGM V.96ff, “ΑΩΘ ΑΒΑΩΘ ΒΑΣΥΜ ΙΣΑΚ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΙΑΩ”) or Sublunar Space’s proposed Abrasax-stone version (ΧΑΒΡΑΧ ΦΝΕΣΧΗΡ ΦΙΧΡΟ ΧΝΥΡΩ ΦΩΧΩ ΒΩΧ), or the names of the six solar guardians of my own system (ΕΡΒΗΘ ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ ΑΡΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ) are also possibilities.  The issue with this is finding some meaningful link between that which you’re saying and that which you’re doing—and I don’t see much along these lines here.

Likewise, I know we did just go over all those posts about the Perfect Nature and how to contact it from the Picatrix, with its pleasingly fourfold name of “Meegius Betzahuech Vacdez Nufeneguediz” (or “Tamāġīs Baġdīswād Waġdās Nūfānāġādīs” to use a more accurate Arabic transliteration).  We could say one at a time for each of the four points around the body, then all four together at once at the center, followed up by something like “Be with me, o Perfect Nature” (which would be, if I got the Arabic right, كن معي يا طباع اتام kun ma`ī, yā ṭibā` at-tāmm); this could be seen to work since these four names/powers do have elemental associations.  The problem with this, however, is that we already linked these four names to the four parts of the body and to the four elements—and it’s a rather different system that doesn’t match with what we’re trying to do.  In that system, we linked Fire (Vacdez/Waġdās) with the head, which matches up with the sphere of Laetitia and Air (Meegius/Tamāġīs) with the right side, but the other two names don’t match up with the element and body part that we’re looking at here (e.g. Betzahuech/Baġdīswād is given to Earth but to the left side and not to the legs as we’d need it here, and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs to Water but to the legs and not to the left side as we’d need it here).  Either the elemental associations or the body part associations would need to change to get the two systems to play nicely, and granted that our associations of elements and body parts to the four powers/names of Perfect Nature is largely conjectural, it’s not something I’m comfortable doing as yet given how neatly the system works in its own context.

And that’s really the crux of it here: I’m not really familiar with any specific set of geomantic prayers or words of power that specifically match up with this system.  (I mean, to an extent, this doesn’t surprise me, since I really have been developing much of this as a unique system more or less independently.)  It really might be best to not look anywhere else but to geomancy itself to come up with a set of things to pray for this ritual, but—barring alchemical or Arabic methods that are presently unknown to me—I don’t know what within the system is readily available for its use.  It’s not like geomancy has much of a cosmology or mythology of its own beyond a simple origin story which may or may not have been based on a potential pre-Islamic Arabian form of augury, and that doesn’t give us a lot to work with.  We really do need to come up with something more or less from scratch, unless we just want to reuse the doxology from the Lord’s Prayer.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly effective and workable, but there might be something more independent and geomantically-appropriate we might be able to use instead.

One thing that arises to me are the use of my own set of geomantic epodes, particular seed syllables or vowel strings that I’ve associated with the figures before, and also within the context of magic and energy work.  For us, what that might look like could be “BI HA ZI DI ZĒ” (for Laetitia, Tristitia, Puer, Puella, and Coniunctio, respectively) followed by…I’m not sure, or we could use the vowel string forms of “OIEA IEAŌ OUEŌ OEĒA IUĒA” (again for the same figures in the same order), again followed by I’m-not-sure-what.  I’m not exactly thrilled by either of these options, to be honest.  I suppose they could work, but these epodes were constructed focusing on the elemental assignments and structures of the figures without regard for their planetary associations, and I dislike the heavy imbalance of the use of vowels in these epodes here.

Let’s consider taking a different track.  Rather than intoning some word of power, a brief prayer or invocation might do us better, written with one line per action (touch head, touch groin, touch right shoulder, touch left shoulder, touch heart/sternum, open hands and arms away).  This would rely more on the symbolism of the figures and, more broadly, the symbolism of what we’re trying to come up with.  Personally, I’d avoid anything too overtly elemental or planetary for such a purpose, as it might be hard to correlate that explicitly with such a ritual in prayer form—but I also won’t hesitate to say that it feels a bit gauche to me, as well.  I’d rather have something a little more poetic and flowing than a mere technical blast of intent, but that’s just me.  To that end, I gave it some thought, and can offer something along these lines for use with the six motions of the Geomancer’s Cross.  It’s not much, but it does work.

From the Rupture of Blazing Heaven!
To the Womb of Fertile Abyss!
By the Power of Fiercest Wildness!
With the Grace of Purest Mildness!
I join together the Forces of the All,
and join myself to the Lights of the All!

Six simple statements, one for each motion, each symbolic of what it is you’re trying to connect to or accomplish.  It’s elegant, at least to an extent, I suppose.  We connect to the powers above the Earth through Laetitia (with echoes of Cauda Draconis) and below the Earth through Tristitia (with echoes of Caput Draconis), followed by connecting to the severe external strength that destroys of Puer (with echoes of Rubeus) and the merciful internal strength that preserves of Puella (with echoes of Albus).  All these, representing the four elements and the four major planets and thus all the distinct powers of the world, are joined together at the elemental and planetary crossroads of Coniunctio within the self, and with all these powers of the cosmos connected together, we can then connect ourselves to the cosmos themselves through the lights of the Sun and the Moon.  That being said, it is something of a…wordy invocation for something that should be otherwise relatively simple, and that kinda makes the flow a little harsh and uneven.  So perhaps this could be cut down a notch:

From Blazing Rupture,
To Darkest Womb,
By Fiercest Power,
With Purest Grace!
Join within,
join me to the All!

As in so much else, simplicity is the highest form of elegance.  I’m sure there are other things one could write or devise, and as I begin to apply this, I’m sure I’ll stumble upon some variation of this that would work better—though, admittedly, the doxology from the Lord’s Prayer is always a tried-and-true one that, despite its Christian and Abrahamic origins, are pretty generic on their own and usable for this and many other things.  Until then, this is a useful form of energy work within a geomantic framework that I’ll keep incorporated into my own daily practice, and might recommend others to do the same, especially if they want to expand their own geomantic practices beyond simple divination.

The Geomancer’s Cross: The Framework Behind the Ritual

By my own admission, I don’t do a lot of energy work nowadays.  I used to in earlier forms of my daily practices, and I definitely engage in warm-up works and preparation before major rituals, but as part of my daily practice nowadays, I don’t do a lot.  Mostly it’s because of time, having to prioritize meditation and prayer before energy work; I would love to do more, but I can only get up so early in the morning before becoming non-functional for the rest of the day.  Still, this isn’t to say that I don’t do any energy work; I fold it into my prayers in a subtle way through vowel intonation, visualization, and some simple gestures that keep things flowing for me.

The way my daily practice is arranged basically goes like this:

  1. Wake up (hopefully after pressing snooze only once).
  2. Take a shower with prayers as part of my daily full ablution.
  3. Salute my ancestors and orisha.
  4. Do some light stretches.
  5. Anoint myself with holy oil.
  6. Meditate for 20 minutes (30 if I’m working from home or not working at all that day).
  7. Prayers (usually for 20 minutes if I have to go to the office, usually 30 or more if I’m working from home or not working at all that day).

During my prayers, based on how I’ve become accustomed to doing them, there’s a natural break that sorta separates the first part from the second part, each part having its own format and process.  The first part is centered on devotions to God and Divinity, while the second part is more geomantic and spiritual in general, and that’s where I weave in my light energy work.

Although I don’t really do Golden Dawn magic, there are some techniques and technology from Golden Dawn practices that I have adopted in my own way.  One of these is the famous Qabbalistic Cross ritual, a simple and short ritual that both energetically balances and cosmically centers the practitioner.  There’s much written about this short ritual, and in addition to being one of the very first ritual acts that initiates in the Golden Dawn learn, it’s also often used as part of the overall ritual process for any number of other Golden Dawn rituals.  Although I don’t have a reference ready, I recall John Michael Greer saying that this is the one ritual that basically provides the foundation for all Golden Dawn work, and while most Golden Dawn tech can be hotswapped to use Celtic, Nordic, Hellenic, Roman, or other pantheon-specific powers and aesthetics instead of Egyptian ones simply by changing names around, it’s the Qabbalistic Cross that needs to be truly replaced and reworked in order to have everything else flow from there, using the other tech more-or-less the same.  For instance, in this January 2018 post of his on his Towards Ecosophy blog, he gives an outright replacement called the “Circle of Presence” to replace the Qabbalistic Cross.  In this way, he’s made a Celtic Golden Dawn using “The Rite of the Rays”, a Heathen Golden Dawn using The Hammer Sign, and other such variants.

The point here I’m making is that the Qabbalistic Cross is an important ritual, but it’s not the be-all end-all of centering or balancing works.  I myself like using it for its centering purposes, though I don’t use the Golden Dawn “Atah Malkuth ve-Geburah…” chant for it; rather, I’ve been using the Greek form of the doxology from the Lord’s Prayer (Σοῦ ἐστιν / ἡ βασιλεία / καὶ ἡ δύναμις / καὶ ἡ δόξα / εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας / ἀμήν, Soû estin / hē basileía / kaì hē dúnamis / kaì hē dóksa / eis toùs aiônas / amḗn) to relatively good effect.  It’s simple, short, and sweet, and I find the Greek easier to intone than anything else.  I don’t do a lot of visualization involving colors that the Golden Dawn does for the proper version of the Qabbalistic Cross, but then, I’m not a Golden Dawn magician.  I just find this tech useful.

But I was thinking: since I use my little version of the Qabbalistic Cross shortly before my Prayer of the Geomancers (available in my Secreti Geomantici ebook, for those who are interested), into which I’ve incorporated elemental and geomantic visualizations as it is, and since the Qabbalistic Cross can be adapted or reworked into other things that are at least as good for my own practice, especially since I’m not a Golden Dawn magician myself, why not come up with my own take on the Qabbalistic Cross properly?  Why not come up with a Geomancer’s Cross ritual, a kind of geomantic centering that’s easy and quick to do, familiar to most in modern Western occulture?

And here we are.  Just to be clear: I’m not trying to come up with an exact replacement for the Golden Dawn’s Qabbalistic Cross ritual, but rather a similar ritual that does similar things along geomantic lines that anyone can use for centering and balancing, and if we can get the extra benefit of making this an elemental or planetary thing as well, all the better.

To start with, let’s review our “Geomantic Adam”, a diagram from MS Arabe 2631 from the Bibliothèque nationale de France that we’ve brought up before in our talks about the physical and subtle body according to geomancy along with some explorations into geomantic energy work:

(I really need to redo the edits of this photo to make it properly cleaned up to avoid the grotesquely obvious erasure marks.)

The image of the diagram is to be understood as the person facing away from the viewer; thus, Puer is the right shoulder and Puella the left, Acquisitio the right hand and Amissio the left, Fortuna Minor the right leg and Fortuna Maior the left, and so forth.  There’s more to be said about the logic behind why certain figures are given to different parts of the body along with some tweaks and corrections to my earlier attempts to understand this diagram, to be sure, but we can leave that aside for now and focus on the four main parts of the body relevant to the present ritual: the head given to Laetitia, the groin given to Tristitia, the right shoulder given to Puer, and the left shoulder given to Puella.

Note the planetary makeup of these four parts, along with the elemental rulership of each figure:

  • Head­ — Laetitia — Jupiter — Fire
  • Groin — Tristitia — Saturn — Earth
  • Right shoulder — Puer — Mars — Air
  • Left shoulder — Puella — Venus — Water

Each of these points belongs to a different element, with Fire naturally being at the highest point of the body and Earth at the lowest, and with the moist elements on the same level but on different sides.  Also note how, on the vertical axis of the body, we have the two “greater” planets, greater in the sense of being the greater benefic (Jupiter) and greater malefic (Saturn), while on the horizontal axis, we have the two “lesser” planets, the lesser benefic (Venus) and the lesser malefic (Mars).  This is a pretty neat scheme for energy work, but we’re not done yet.  The two axes meet up in the torso, which can be thought of as belonging to one of four figures:

  • Back ­— Populus — Moon
  • Chest — Carcer — Saturn
  • Ribcage and sternum — Coniunctio — Mercury
  • Upper belly and solar plexus — Albus — Mercury

The back is too big an area for a single point of contact, so we can throw out Populus/Moon for this.  While Carcer makes sense, since the two axes really do line up over the chest, note that Carcer is ruled by Saturn, and Saturn is already represented by Tristitia at the groin.  This leaves us with Coniunctio or Albus as the remaining intersection figure, and Coniunctio seems to be much more apt for this in both placement and in symbolism of such a thing.  With Coniunctio, then, representing the intersection of the vertical and horizontal axes of the body, and with Coniunctio ruled by the planet Mercury, this gives us all five non-luminary planets represented by these five points total:

  • Head­ — Laetitia — Jupiter
  • Groin — Tristitia — Saturn
  • Right shoulder — Puer — Mars
  • Left shoulder — Puella — Venus
  • Sternum — Coniunctio — Mercury

This is actually a really nifty arrangement.  This only leaves two planets out of the mix, the Sun and the Moon itself.  The solar figures of Fortuna Maior and Fortuna Minor are given to the legs (specifically the thighs and upper legs), while the lunar figures of Populus and Via are given to the back and belly, respectively.  Looking at the Geomantic Adam diagram above, we can see certain patterns about how certain figures are given to different parts of the body:

  • Figures with one active point (Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, Tristitia) are given to the center axis of the body from head to groin, representing the four parts of the body as they would the four parts of a geomantic figure (the head row, the neck/arms row, the belly row, and the legs/feet row).
  • Axial figures (non-directional, viz. Populus, Via, Carcer, Coniunctio) are given to the parts of the body that are also on the central axis of the body, e.g. the various parts of the torso (back, chest, ribs, belly).
  • Non-axial figures with more than one active point (Puer, Puella, Acquisitio, Amissio, Fortuna Minor, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Cauda Draconis) are given to the various parts of the body that are on the right or the left, all distal from the torso without being on it.

How might we include the Sun and Moon into our Geomancer’s Cross ritual?  Well, it wouldn’t be directly according to how we’re incorporating the five non-luminary planets.  There are three ways I can conceive of this:

  1. If the Sun and Moon form an axis of their own, then it wouldn’t be on a the vertical axis (Jupiter and Saturn) or the horizontal axis (Mars and Venus), but on the depth axis of fore and aft, with the Sun being before and the Moon being behind.  Consider that Populus is given to the whole of the back, the only figure on the “rear” of the body, which naturally puts the Sun before; connecting them gives a third dimension to the body, with different polarities of planets at each end or on each side of the body, leaving ever-mercurial Mercury as the true center of all things.
  2. The Sun and Moon could each represent one of the two main axes of the body.  Knowing that the figures of the Moon are both axial figures, this would indicate that the Moon would “own” the vertical axis of the body (where are aligned all the axial figures, as well as the single-active-point pure-elemental figures), while the Sun, with its non-axial figures, would “own” the horizontal axis of the body.
  3. Note that the figure Coniunctio = Puer + Puella (the two figures of the horizontal axis) while Carcer = Laetitia + Tristitia (the two figures of the vertical axis).  While we know that Coniunctio is our preferred understanding for the intersection of the two axes of the body, we do have to admit that the right and left shoulders are much more connected (by means of the ribcage and generally being in alignment with each other) than the head and groin are; the two planets of the vertical axis would remain separate (Carcer) without the planets of the horizontal axis stepping in to bridge the gap (Coniunctio).  Also note that Coniunctio + Carcer = Via, the geomantic Whole, the true combination of all powers in one.  In this light, by adding together the figures of Laetitia, Tristitia, Puer, and Puella, we get Via, a whole of the body, meaning that the body and all its parts are fundamentally ruled by the Moon.  In this light, where is the Sun?  The Sun would be the power that flows into and through the body to animate it, being the active principle of Spirit to the Moon’s passive principle of Matter.

I personally favor explanation #1 the most, but #3 also gives some really useful food for thought, as well.  I suppose any of these would work, but beyond that, the luminaries (and, for that matter, the nodes) don’t really play a substantial part in this present discussion.  What we do have, however, is already looking great—and already seems far more balanced in the use of all five non-luminary planets rather than the Golden Dawn approach of Heaven and Earth, Mars and Jupiter, and the Sun.

Also, there’s another nifty thing I want to note here about the relationship of the figures involved here.  We can see that all four seven-pointed figures—the pure elemental ones of Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia—are on the direct center meridian of the body, while all the five pointed figures—Puer, Puella, Caput Draconis, and Cauda Draconis—are all tied to the lateral extremities (upper arms/shoulders for the first two, the feet for the last two).  We know that Puer and Puella convert (remember your geomantic operations!) into Rubeus and Albus, respectively, linking the right and left shoulders, arms, hands to the center of the body—or, seen another way, linking the horizontal upper axis of the body to the center midline.  Likewise, we know that Laetitia and Tristitia convert into Cauda Draconis and Caput Draconis, linking the center vertical line of the body from the head through the groin all the way down to the feet, on the left and the right respectively.  It’s interesting to see the reflection of figures here through the use of conversion, which preserves the element of odd figures, and that all eight odd figures can be thought of as involved in this body structure of elements and planets.

So, that’s the framework and foundation for the ritual.  It’s an interesting extrapolation from our Geomantic Adam diagram, and allows us to come up with a way to ritually center and energetically prepare ourselves for Work in a way that’s both planetary and elemental at the same time, while using the symbolism and technology of geomantic figures.  As for what the ritual itself actually is, we’ll talk about that tomorrow.

On Timing Daily Prayers to the Degrees of the Decans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genius in the Picatrix: The Ritual Itself, and Why Do It Anyway

Last time, we started talking about a particularly interesting bit of the Ġāyat al-Ḥakīm, the “Goal of the Wise”, sometimes just known as the Ġayah, but definitely better known in the West as the Picatrix, most likely written in Arabic sometime in the middle of the 11th century CE.  Everyone knows the Picatrix, everyone loves the Picatrix; it’s a fantastic text of astrological magic, and among the earliest of true grimoires in Europe.  Although focused on what we’d nowadays call stellar image magic, the creation of astrological talismans bearing magical images and scenes made under particular stellar configurations, the text is famous for its wide inventory of bizarre magical concoctions and confections for a variety of purposes, its lengthy invocations to the planetary spirits, and its preservation of older pagan practices from the Hermetists, Sabians, Nabataeans, and various other Mediterranean peoples.  It is not, however, a particularly theurgical text on the whole, even though it contains a wealth of information on philosophy, spiritual and cosmic frameworks, and the like in how and why magic works the way that it does.  Yet, in book III, chapter 6, we encounter an interesting section on the “Perfect Nature”, a sort of guiding spirit or genius, originally encountered by Hermēs Trismegistus himself.  The last post discussed some of the symbolic components and associations we can make to the four powers of Perfect Nature; if you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

Anyway, at this point, we now have everything prepared for the ritual, including ourselves.  Once the ritual area has been prepared with the candy confection made, the altar and braziers/censers have been set up appropriately, and the Moon has entered the first degree of Aries (ideally at the very moment of the Moon entering the first degree of Aries), perform the ritual:

  1. Light the candle, then put it in the middle of the dish with the candy confection (if the candle is encased in glass or another foodsafe material, or if the dish itself has a space for the candle), or immediately next to it towards the east if this is not possible.
  2. Fill the two braziers/censers with burning coals or otherwise light the coals in the braziers/censers, and set frankincense and mastic in the one to the north and aloeswood in the other to the south.  Alternatively, if using self-igniting stick/cone incense, light those now in the same order.
  3. Stand upright to the west of the altar facing east towards the altar.
  4. Recite the four names of the spirits of Perfect Nature seven times, whether using the Latin Picatrix version:

    Meegius, Betzahuech, Vacdez, Nufeneguediz

    Or the Arabic Picatrix version:

    Tamāġīs, Baġdīswād, Waġdās, Nūfānāġādīs

  5. Recite the following prayer (my own version, synthesized from the translations of Greer/Warnock, Attrell/Porreca, and Atallah/Kiesel):

    I call you, o high and powerful Spirit of Spirits, o Wisest of the Wise, o Intelligent of all Intelligence, o Knowledgeable of the Knowledge of the whole world!  It is from you that the knowledge and understanding of the wise proceed, and it is by your virtue that the desires of the wise are accomplished.  Hear me, answer me, come to me, be present here with me; unite me with your powers and draw me close to your knowledge; strengthen me with your knowledge, and grant me to understand what I do not understand, know the things I do not know, and see the things I do not see!  Remove from me and protect me from all blindness, corruption, forgetfulness, and disease.  Lift me up to the level of the ancient sages, those whose hearts were filled with intelligence, wisdom, understanding, and insight.  Let all this abide in my heart forever; imprint and affix these things in my heart, that they may never depart from me!

  6. Engage in communion with the Perfect Nature.

That’s it.  For all the complexity of much of what’s in the Picatrix, as far as ingredients or elections or supplies are concerned, this ritual is surprisingly simple and straightforward.  Let the candle burn out on its own, then disassemble the altar and ritual area.

After the directions above, the Latin Picatrix and its translations then say that one is to proceed to the table and partake in the wine, oils, and confection as desired as a sacred feast.  This suggests to me that the altar (or another table in the ritual area) may also have other foodstuffs on it in addition to the wine and oils, e.g. breads, cakes, and the like, but with the candy confection being of primary importance.  More than that, however, the Latin Picatrix and its translations say that the one who performs this ritual is to proceed to the table and feast “with their friends”, indicating that this is a sacred feast to be held and shared not just with one’s own Perfect Nature, but with others who may wish to commune with them as well, or with one’s students or colleagues in the Work.  Because multiple people might be involved, all potentially having different planetary rulerships, having this ritual timed along to a particular planet’s hour/day, rising/culminating, or its sign(s) rising or culminating or having braziers/censers intentionally made with a particular planetary metal may not be advisable, depending on who will be there participating in the ritual.  If on your own or with people who share the same ruling planet, then this could be a good idea for all involved, but otherwise, it might be better to forego such a consideration.

However, I should also note that, although this notion of a sacred communal meal is appealing, it is entirely absent from the Atallah/Kiesel translation—and thus, likely from the Arabic Picatrix in general.  The Atallah/Kiesel translation says nothing about proceeding to the table to partake of whatever is on it, nor anything about sharing a meal with one’s friends.  In fact, later on in the Atallah/Kiesel translation, there’s even a bit that suggests that doing this communally may not be a good idea in general:

Aristotle mentioned in his book also that the first philosopher that worked with these talismans and had the spirits appear to him and led him to the wonders of talismans and made him connect with his perfect nature and opened his eyes to the mysterious secrets of creation.  Also those spirits that told him will never appear to anyone else but you, unless they call our name and present a gift of sacrifice in our name.

This is made all the more confusing, given that the Perfect Nature (or “familiar spirit”) of Caraphzebiz told him in the Latin Picatrix:

“I will remain with you, but do not reveal me to others or speak of me, and make sacrifices in my name.”

In this light, the Picatrix strongly seems to suggest that it would perhaps be best that this whole ritual be done individually, or as an act of sacrifice to one’s own Perfect Nature, whether or not a teacher or mystagogue was present to direct and arrange the ritual for you, and even then, that would probably be best up to that mystagogue’s own Perfect Nature.  In this light, the offerings of wine, oil, and candy may all be a sacrifice to this spirit, not to be consumed by the person performing the ritual.  I suppose, however, at that point, you’d be listening to the directives of your Perfect Nature, who may invite you to partake in it all the same.  It’s unclear; it’s interesting that the Latin Picatrix would include such a shift in ritual directives that the Arabic Picatrix does not, while still holding to the same overall idea elsewhere.

Also, would it be strange that Perfect Nature should give Hermēs Trismegistus a prayer that seeks to make him like “the ancient sages”, given how ancient Hermēs himself is and given how Hermēs is considered to be the founder of so much of philosophy and science?  Not really; we find references in the Asclepius and Stobaean Fragments that the Hermēs we call Trismegistus is but one in a line of Hermai, and likewise for Asclepius from the earlier and more famous deified Imhotep.  Hermēs Trismegistus himself in the Hermetic writings is not just the author of ancient wisdom, but an initiator and preserver of wisdom that was established even before his time.  And, in a much later Abrahamic cultural milieu that, despite ennobling and praising him, still puts him down as a mere pagan, while Islam and Christianity were seen as pristine and purer forms of philosophy and religion dating back to the beginning of the world, this prayer allows for both a connection deeper into the Hermetic mysteries as well as more generalized divine ones that go back to the beginning of all Creation.  Depending on how you look at it, of course; given how the Picatrix also preserves outright pagan and non-Abrahamic practices, holding to an Abrahamic interpretation of what Perfect Nature can tie into is not necessarily a given.  All the same, it is something neat to pick up on here.

So, all that being said, that’s the approach one should take to understanding and communing with the Perfect Nature from book III, chapter 6 of the Picatrix.  At what point should one do this?  I mean, yes, this can be done anytime the Moon is in the first degree of Aries, and judging by the various forms of the Picatrix, this should be done at least once a year by everyone, but at what point in one’s spiritual practice, especially if one takes a Picatrix-heavy or -centric approach, should one undertake this?  I’d argue that it should be one of the very first things actually done, as opposed to study alone.  After all, if what the Picatrix says is true, that:

  • nothing “in this science” can be perfected, done, or accomplished except when the virtues and dispositions of the planets and stars allow it
  • Perfect Nature strengthens the intellect and wisdom of those who seek to do these works
  • each sage has their own proper virtue infused into them according to the works of Perfect Nature in conjunction with the powers of their own ruling planet
  • that perfecting one’s Perfect Nature grants knowledge, understanding, success, increase of wealth and station, protection from harm, and “many other things”

…then communing with and perfecting one’s Perfect Nature is essential for spiritual works, and not just in the Picatrix.  The Picatrix is tapping into a long-standing cross-cultural tradition of communing with and learning from one’s own agathodaimōn, genius, paredos, tutelar, guardian angel, or whatever you want to call it, yet it also takes on a specific association with the particular “powers of the sage” here that furthers mere education into something much, much more.  Note that the Picatrix says that the sages of old “taught all knowledge and subtleties of philosophy” before giving their students the means to work with Perfect Nature, indicating that the students of the wise first needed to understand what things are before how to make the best use of them, and that while the sages could certainly teach what can be done and how they do it, it’s one’s own Perfect Nature that teaches the how, what, and why of what each individual should best do for themselves.  Perfect Nature is the solution to the intractable problems of life that no sage, philosopher, or teacher can answer: as Hermēs says, Perfect Nature is that “by which is understood that which cannot be otherwise be understood at all, and from which workings proceed naturally both in sleep and in waking”.  The Perfect Nature is the perfect teacher, the one teacher who can truly teach us what is best and in the best way above and beyond any other.  It’s just that the Perfect Nature still needs us to learn about the world first so that we know how to properly interact with it; after all, you can’t build if you don’t have raw materials to build with.

In this, there are intensely strong parallels between Perfect Nature and True Will, as well, from a modern perspective.  If the Thelemic concept of True Will is “the true purpose of the totality of one’s being” and that “its discovery is initiation….and its nature is to move continually”, that it is “the true expression of the Nature, the proper or inherent motion of the matter concerned”, then to live according to one’s True Will is to fully realize the purpose, method, means, and aims of one’s proper and best life, as accorded to us by Divinity.  This, too, then is also what Perfect Nature does in virtually the same way, taking the influences of our ruling planet and refining them, joining them with divine methods to accomplish that which is best for us.  And, if we’re to take Hermēs at his word at the end of this chapter of the Picatrix, Perfect Nature really is the solution to all the problems of the wise: how science and philosophy can be joined, what the root is of science and philosophy individually and together, and how the secrets of science and philosophy may be opened to us.  Not just how or what, either, I suppose, as the Perfect Nature does more than merely tell us these things; it informs (forms within) us, it instructs (builds within) us.  After all, as Ṭumṭum al-Hindi says in the Atallah/Kiesel translation of the Arabic Picatrix (this doesn’t appear to be in the Latin Picatrix, minor edits for clarity and structure):

…when you first start to look inside of yourself to your managing spirit that connects you with your star—and that is the Perfect Nature that Hermēs the Wise mentioned in his book saying “the microcosm”, in which he meant the human—his soul would be in a similar position to that of the stationary Sun in the sky that shines with its light on the whole world.  Just so does the Perfect Nature spread in the soul so its rays connect with the power of Wisdom and pulls it until it is centered in the soul in its own proper place, just as the Sun pulls and directs the rays of the cosmos to hold itself up in the heavens.

Remember what we said earlier about our inverted vignette, how instead of Hermēs digging in a pit for the four powers of Perfect Nature, he looks to the four pillars of Heaven (or the four corners of the World) to obtain them?  If Hermēs attaining the power at the top of the heavens to still the winds is effectively him reaching his Perfect Nature, and if the top of the vault of Heaven is supported by its pillars, then we see that the relationship one has with one’s Perfect Nature is reliant upon building and refining those four spiritual powers, “just as the Sun pulls and directs the rays of the cosmos to hold itself up in the heavens”.  The Perfect Nature is self-sustaining, providing its own support, much like a spiritual singularity: once you have it, so long as you do not utterly shut yourself off from it, you’ll be set on your proper path to perfect your nature and fulfill your true will.  This, however, is still Work—it is the Work, which is why this ritual is not just a once-and-done thing, but something to be done periodically to continually maintain a relationship with your Perfect Nature in an intimate and personal way, as opposed to the subtle and suggestive ways.

This leads me to think about one more thing about the image of the City of Adocentyn from book IV, chapter 7 of the Picatrix: the central color-changing citadel.  Consider the similarity we have here with our vignettes: a deep pit with a central image and four secrets buried around it (or, rather, the apex of Heaven with the four pillars of Heaven supporting it), and a central citadel in a beautiful city guarded by four powerful gates.  To me, the symbolism would link the Perfect Nature itself with that central citadel, being able to harmonize to the planets (though always linking one most to one’s own ruling planet).  Protected by the four gates and empowered by the central citadel, “the inhabitants of the city were made virtuous and freed from sin, wickedness, and sloth…its people were most deeply learned in the ancient sciences, their profundities, and secrets, and in the science of astronomy”.   Doesn’t this all sound awfully similar to the benefits of communing and working with one’s Perfect Nature?  While I’m not sure whether or not it was written to this intent, it’s starting to sound a lot like that the City of Adocentyn, the Spiritual Hermopolis/El-Ashmunein/Khemenu, while it may well have existed in the mind of the author of the Picatrix and in myth generally, can be read as a strong metaphor for the perfection of one’s own spiritual life.  In working with and living in accordance with our Perfect Nature, we build our own internal Adocentyn of the soul, lush and abundant in life, wisdom, and wealth.

There is one final lingering problem, though: what do we make of sleep?  We know that Ibn Khaldūn in his Muqaddimah gives the four names “Tamāġīs, Baġdīswād, Waġdās, Nūfānāġādīs” (really, a variant thereof, “tamaghis ba’dan yaswadda waghads nawfana ghadis”, which may or may not be Aramaic in origin) as an incantation one uses before sleep to obtain a vision of Perfect Nature, apart and away from any rite of communion or sacred feast, and we also know that Hermēs Trismegistus received his first vision of Perfect Nature in a dream.  Dream/trance states are important for continuing one’s work with Perfect Nature, just as it was for Hermēs and Poimandrēs all the way back in the Corpus Hermeticum, and gives us a means to continually remain in contact beyond a yearly or semiyearly ritual.  It’s the constant work, the constant development, the constant communion we remain in that allows such a relationship to truly flourish—again, we see similar ideas crop up time and again in any culture or magical tradition that involves the presence and aid of an agathodaimōn, genius, tutelar, guardian angel, etc.  Big rituals are good, but it’s the small, quotidian stuff that should never, ever be neglected.

Despite the relatively late text of the Picatrix, at least as far as classical Hermetic stuff goes which the Picatrix does not properly fall into compared to other works like the Corpus Hermeticum or Asclepius or Stobaean Fragments, we find in this chapter of the Picatrix something that’s so starkly, obviously Hermetic, both in tone and content, augmented with a culturally-shifting evolution from classical pagan to (then) modern eclectic practices of spiritual works, here combining the secrets of divinity with astrology, alchemy, magic, and many other practices, almost in a seamless way.  Sure, the Perfect Nature of the Picatrix may not be the Poimandrēs, but the sentiment here is so close and familiar as to be easily understandable.  The Perfect Nature of the Picatrix is the Picatrix’s own take on one’s genius spirit, and as such, should certainly be considered one possible route to attain this crucial relationship so vital to the well-being, spiritual development, and ultimate success of any magician, philosopher, or sage—or, indeed, anyone at all.

And yes, the ritual is up on its own page for easy access under the main menu: Rituals → Communion of Perfect Nature

Genius in the Picatrix: Ritual Prep and Setting the Altar

Last time, we started talking about a particularly interesting bit of the Ġāyat al-Ḥakīm, the “Goal of the Wise”, sometimes just known as the Ġayah, but definitely better known in the West as the Picatrix, most likely written in Arabic sometime in the middle of the 11th century CE.  Everyone knows the Picatrix, everyone loves the Picatrix; it’s a fantastic text of astrological magic, and among the earliest of true grimoires in Europe.  Although focused on what we’d nowadays call stellar image magic, the creation of astrological talismans bearing magical images and scenes made under particular stellar configurations, the text is famous for its wide inventory of bizarre magical concoctions and confections for a variety of purposes, its lengthy invocations to the planetary spirits, and its preservation of older pagan practices from the Hermetists, Sabians, Nabataeans, and various other Mediterranean peoples.  It is not, however, a particularly theurgical text on the whole, even though it contains a wealth of information on philosophy, spiritual and cosmic frameworks, and the like in how and why magic works the way that it does.  Yet, in book III, chapter 6, we encounter an interesting section on the “Perfect Nature”, a sort of guiding spirit or genius, originally encountered by Hermēs Trismegistus himself.  The last post went on at length analyzing the meaning of the vignette of Hermēs Trismegistus encountering Perfect Nature; if you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

So, after the vignette, or rather as part of it, Perfect Nature introduces itself to Hermēs Trismegistus.  But he doesn’t just stop there (Warnock/Greer translation):

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

At this point, Perfect Nature describes a ritual to Hermēs Trismegistus to be done to invoke the Perfect Nature as a form of divine communion.  According to the Picatrix, which itself claims that all this is according to the Kitab al-Isṭamāḵis/Liber Antimaquis, “the ancient sages used to perform this working every year” (the Atallah/Kiesel translation says “once or twice a year”) “for the sake of their spirits, so that they might put in order their Perfect Natures”.  The Picatrix also goes on to say that Aristotle himself claims that this allowed the ancient sages to have “his proper virtue infused into him by exalted spirits, by whose powers their senses were closed, their intellects opened, and sciences revealed to them”, and that “this virtue was conjoined with the virtue of the planet ruling the radix of the nativity” (i.e. one’s ruling planet, the almuten of one’s natal chart) “so that the virtue thus co-created in them strengthened them and gave intelligence to them”, and that in this way the sages “helped themselves in their knowledge and understanding, and the increase of their business and possessions, and guarded themselves from the plots of their enemies, and did many other things”.

Warnock and Greer make an important observation at this point in their translation:

This entire passage is reminiscent of the Poemandres, the first dialogue of the Corpus Hermeticum, in which Hermes has a conversation with a similar spiritual being.  The ritual that follows is of great interest; it seems to bridge the gap between classical rituals for evoking a guardian spirit, of the sort found in the Graeco-Egyptian magical papyri, and early modern rituals for the same purpose such as the famous Abramelin working.

Based on the ritual that follows and everything we already know about the Perfect Nature, I’m absolutely in agreement with them.  Perfect Nature is already being presented through the vignette as an actual spirit one can interact with, and is described as a sort of spirit that neatly fills the role of genius, tutelar, agathodaimōn, or guardian angel.  What’s interesting about the Picatrix, however, is that it also breaks out the single entity of Perfect Nature into its four works of Meegius/Tamāġīs, Betzahuech/Baġdīswād, Vacdez/Waġdās, and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs, each corresponding to a particular power—or individual spirit, if you choose to interpret the Picatrix that way.  In either case, Perfect Nature is both one and many: a single entity with distinct powers, or a single entity as a collective of four spirits.  I lean towards the former interpretation, as discussed earlier.

According to the Latin Picatrix and its translations, the ritual to commune with Perfect Nature is to be done when the Moon is in the first degree of Aries (i.e. between 0°0’0″ Aries and 0°59’59.999…” Aries); it does not matter whether the ritual is done during the daytime or nighttime, so long as the Moon is in this degree of Aries.  On average (and this can vary incredibly depending on the specific speed of the Moon at this time, based on where the Moon’s apogee/perigee is relative to the first degree of Aries), this gives you a window about 110 minutes long on average, or a little less than two hours, once every 28-ish days.  This also puts the Moon starting a new sidereal cycle, coinciding with:

  • The first lunar mansion, An-Naṭḥ (Alnath), which is good “to go on a journey, so as to travel safely and return in good health…to place discord and enmity between husband and wife, and between two friends so that they become enemies, and to sow discord between two allies…to cause servants to flee” (book I, chapter 4), as well as “for destruction and depopulation” (book IV, chapter 9).
  • The first face/decan of Aries, “a face of strength, high rank and wealth without shame” (book II, chapter 11), which makes one to be “always victorious in battle, litigation and controversy and gain what they wish, and are never defeated; and…to hinder the milk of beasts and destroy their butter” (book II, chapter 12).

Granted, these observations are really more for making talismans in the vein of stellar image magic than anything connected to the present ritual, although the notions of “going on a journey safely and in good health” along with “strength, high rank, and wealth without shame” and victory without defeat are always nice suggestions, too.  What matters most is that the Moon is in the first degree of Aries; if you wanted to put a nice touch on it, you could aim for this to coincide with a planetary hour and/or day corresponding to the planet that governs you, or have a sign of that planet rising or culminating, but these are secondary concerns at best.  However, in the Atallah/Kiesel translation of the Arabic Picatrix, the phrasing is given somewhat differently: “when the Moon comes down to the level of the Head of Aries at any time in either day or night”.  This might be a poetic or idiomatic way of saying the same thing the Latin Picatrix is saying (“cum Luna in primo gradu Arietis fuerit in die vel in nocte”), but it could be interpreted in other ways.  For instance, knowing that the first lunar mansion is associated with the star β Arietis (Sheratan, the lower/first horn of Aries), we could do away with signs and lunar mansions entirely and link the entire ritual to the conjunction of the Moon with this star, ignoring the effects of precession.  Still, I think the simple explanation here is the easiest and most straightforward: the ritual is to be done in that brief window of time when the Moon is in the first degree of Aries.

Taking a step back, now that we know when to do the ritual, what about preliminary purification or other spiritual preparations to be made ahead of the ritual?  Although the Picatrix doesn’t really say much about this, it does say that the philosopher Tintinz the Greek (طمطم الهندي Ṭumṭum al-Hindī in the Arabic Picatrix, a name known to students of geomancy as a student of Hermēs Trismegistus) claims that “one who desires to perform this work ought to abandon all intention and contemplation concerning other things, because the root and foundation of all these workings consists of contemplations” (see above about the role of contemplation as the main vehicle for empowering images), and that either the philosopher Caraphzebiz (in the Arabic Picatrix, كرفسايس Karafsāyis?) or his student Amenus (in the Latin Picatrix, who is not mentioned in the Arabic Picatrix as far as I can tell), likewise says that (Warnock/Greer translation):

…any sage who wanted to work magic, and preserve himself with the powers of the spirits, ought strictly to give up all cares and all other sciences beside this one, because when all the senses and the mind, and all contemplations about other things, are strictly turned to magic, it may be acquired with ease; and since many assiduous contemplations are appropriate to this science of magic, the magician must wrap himself in these, rather than being wrapped around any other things.

In other words, yeah, works of purification and other preliminary preparations of the mind, spirit, soul, and body should be undertaken before this ritual, even if only to refine the focus and desire of the person who undertakes it.  This is especially backed up by what Ibn Khaldūn says in the Muqaddimah:

A man is said to have done this after he had eaten but little and done dhikr exercises for several nights. A person appeared to him and said, “I am your perfect nature.” A question was put to that person, and he gave the man the information he desired.

So, based on this, I would suggest engaging in a period of fasting accompanied by works of steadfast devotion and sincere prayer, especially the repetition of divine names or chants (perhaps including the Four Names of Perfect Nature as well?), at least for three days leading up to the ritual, but more preferably seven or longer, perhaps even for a full lunar month starting from the previous time the Moon entered the first lunar mansion.

Before or during this preparatory period, gather together the following supplies:

  • Almond oil
    • If one has an allergy to nuts, substitute with a neutral oil not otherwise listed here.
  • Walnut oil
    • Warnock/Greer and Attrell/Porreca both only say “nut oil” based on the Latin “oleum nucum”, but Atallah/Kiesel specify “walnut oil” for دهن الجوز duhn al-jawz.  The word there can mean nut generally, but it is used specifically for walnuts as well.
    • If walnuts are a no-go, use another nut-based oil that is not almond oil that’s sweet and good for baking or in cooking desserts, like hazelnut or macadamia nut.
    • If one has an allergy to nuts, substitute with pine nut oil.
  • Sesame oil
    • Atallah/Kiesel say “vinegar oil”, and I have no idea what they mean by that.  Perhaps a thick, reduced vinegar, like a balsamic vinegar?
    • The Arabic phrase used for this is دهن الخل duhn al-ḵall, which does literally mean “oil of vinegar”, and is called for in another part of the Picatrix (book III, chapter 11, “that you may appear in the form of any animal you wish”), where, again, the Latin Picatrix renders this as “sesame oil”.  There are also other Latin works based on Arabic works that do seem to regularly translate sesame oil for “oil of vinegar”.
    • The confusion here is between دهن الخل duhn al-ḵall (oil of vinegar) and دهن الحل duhn al-ḥall (oil from whole sesame seeds).  In Arabic script, the difference is of the presence or absence of a single dot, which can confuse the two meanings.  In general, it seems that the use of “vinegar” here is a typo in the Arabic, given how common it was across the Mediterranean to translate this phrase as “sesame oil” into a variety of languages by different translators.
    • I suppose, however, that one could make an argument that this is something more alchemical than anything else (a la “oil of egg” or “oil of gold”), but this seems unlikely to me.
    • I would most recommend sesame oil (reading it as duhn al-ḥall), as it makes the most sense in this context, though if the vinegar approach were taken (reading it as duhn al-ḵall), this would probably be implied to be balsamic vinegar.
  • Cow’s milk butter
    • I’d recommend unsalted butter, personally.
    • Although there exist non-dairy butter substitutes, I cannot recommend their use due to the symbolic importance of this having come from a living creature (more on that later).
    • In the case of an extreme allergy to dairy, I might recommend the use of shea butter or cocoa butter, but only as an extremely limited case.
  • Wine
    • Atallah/Kiesel just say “alcohol”, though the word used in the Arabic Picatrix is خمر ḵamr, wine.  However, no specific type of wine is mentioned in the Latin Picatrix or its translations.  My personal preference would be a semi-dry white wine, and barring that a light sweet red wine, but that’s just me.
  • One large glass serving dish
    • A large low glass bowl would be perfect for this, even better if it had a separation in the middle (a la a chips-and-dip serving platter).
  • Eight glass pint-sized pitchers or tumblers
    • Each of these holds the wine, oil, or butter.  Warnock/Greer say that each of these pitchers “should have a capacity of around one pint”, while Attrell/Porreca and Atallah/Kiesel both say that these pitchers should be big enough to hold one pound of the wine, oil, or butter.  Checking WolframAlpha, making these to be pint-sized containers does in fact check out.
    • However, that assumes we know exactly which “pound” is intended for use.  One avoirdupois pound (standard in the modern US) is 453.6 grams which is equivalent to 497mL or 16.8 fl oz, but there are other definitions of pound out there historically, too, and may be closer to what was intended in the original Picatrix (using olive oil as a neutral base for unit conversion and comparison here):
      • Roman pound, equivalent to 328.9 grams (360mL, 12.2 fl oz)
      • Byzantine gold pound, which was originally 327.6 grams (359mL, 12.1 fl oz) but decreased over time to about 319 grams (349mL, 11.8 fl oz)
      • Byzantine silver pound, equivalent to 333 grams (365mL, 12.3 foz)
      • Byzantine oil pound, equivalent to 256 grams (280mL, 9.48 fl oz)
    • Based on these, I’d personally go with the Byzantine oil pound, which means instead of using pint-sized (16oz) pitchers, one needs more like 10oz containers, so a little more than half that size, about the size of a standard disposable styrofoam cup or a little more than halfway of a Solo cup.  I think this is fine, especially as almond oil or walnut oil can be expensive.
    • No material for these pitchers is specified, though I’d recommend glass to match the large serving dish above and the symbolism of the glass lantern in the vignette.
  • Sugar
    • Date palm sugar would be best if you wanted to go for cultural or historical accuracy.
  • Honey
  • Coal
  • Incense blended or compounded from frankincense and mastic
    • Atallah/Kiesel say “kandar, a good-smelling glue”.  From what I can find, this is actually a Persian term that just refers to frankincense, but probably high- or top-grade milky-white frankincense.  However, a gloss in the footnotes says that either a part of this phrase that references what to use (بالكية والكندر) is either just frankincense or is frankincense and mastic.  I’d go with using both.
  • Aloeswood (aka oudh or agarwood)
  • One tall candle
  • Two braziers for burning incense
  • A table

Before the ritual, physically clean and spiritually cleanse the ritual area so that it may be made “clean and splendid”.  Although the Picatrix says “house” here, this should better be understood to mean one’s temple space or ceremonial chamber—though cleaning and purifying the whole house where this would take place certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Once the ritual area has been appropriately cleaned and cleansed, prepare the altar.  On the eastern side of the ritual area, set up a table (a card table, coffee table, etc. would be perfect for this).  The Warnock/Greer translation says “a raised table”, the Attrell/Porreca translation “a table raised from the ground”, and the Atallah/Kiesel translation “a table…on a step higher than the ground”.  What we’re looking at is a table set on a dais or other low platform, with the dais probably no more than a foot in height.  For comfort’s sake, I’d recommend the dais be a little larger than the table itself, but not too much so.  An impromptu platform made from bricks, a piece of plywood supported by some low cinderblocks, or the like would be perfect.

Before setting up the altar, a particular kind of sweet confection must be made with butter, honey, walnut oil , and sugar.  Based on the Latin and Latin-translated Picatrix alone, this may look like a sweet whipped creation, much like a buttercream frosting.  Atallah/Kiesel, however, say that this is “a candy” (later, “candies”, suggesting less a mass of substance and more parceled-out bits of it) made with “lots of sugar” and that “it needs to be very sweet and heavy on oil”.  Rather than buttercream frosting, what this may mean is to aim for something closer to toffee or butterscotch candy.

The altar should have the following things on it:

  • One pint-sized pitcher of almond oil, set towards the east on the altar
  • One pint-sized pitcher of walnut oil, set towards the west on the altar
  • One pint-sized pitcher of cow’s milk-based butter, set towards the south on the altar
    • This could be solid or melted or something else; given the presence of liquid oils for the other three such containers, melted butter or even clarified butter may be meant here.  My preference would be for whipped or otherwise non-compacted butter.
  • One pint-sized pitcher of sesame oil, set towards the north on the altar
  • Four pint-sized pitchers of wine, one placed to each of the four directions on the altar
    • These may be placed immediately to the side of the containers of the oils and butter along the edge of the table, or just beside them closer to the center, or with the pitchers of wine on the outside and the pitchers of oil and butter on the inside.
  • A glass dish filled with the candy/confection made from cow’s butter, walnut oil, honey, and sugar, placed in the center of the altar
    • No description of the containing dish is given beyond “glass”, but to my mind, simple clear glass would be best; the other containers for wine and oil would best be made of the same material, ideally even in a matching style.
    • Clear a space in the center of the dish to hold the candle later, if at all possible.

I suppose, of course, that one could also cover the table with a tablecloth; I’d recommend a white linen cloth that hangs down generously around the table, but that’s just me.  None is mentioned in the original text, so we’d be fine without it.

In addition to preparing the ritual space and the altar, we also need to prepare two braziers or censers, one to burn a mixture of frankincense and mastic (or just frankincense, maybe? per the Arabic Picatrix), the other to burn aloeswood, but the Picatrix does not say where to put these things.  If free-standing braziers are to be used (which seems to be the best practice here), I would put the one with frankincense and mastic to the north of the altar and the one with aloeswood to the south, at least three feet away on either side, depending on how much space one has available.  If smaller censers are to be used, they may be put on platforms of their own (milk crate-sized boxes would be perfect, or taller standing pillars if you wanted to be fancy) in the same positions.  Other options for using smaller censers could be to put them directly on the altar itself (I’d recommend keeping to the north/south positioning halfway between the cups and the dish) or underneath the altar directly on the dais (which I don’t find likely or recommended here at all).  The brazier approach, or otherwise keeping the censers off and away from the altar, seems to be the most reasonable.

Unlike other parts of the Picatrix that specify the metal to be used for the censers (e.g. book IV, chapter 2), no description of the material is given, so it probably doesn’t matter.  Simple braziers, made from a steel or iron bowl or chafing dish to hold the coals and incense and supported on metal or wooden legs as a tripod, or otherwise simple small censers, would really be best, especially given the simplicity of the ritual as a whole.  However, if you wanted to customize this aspect of the ritual setup for yourself based on other Picatrix practices for your own ruling planet, the metals from book III, chapter 7 would be good to observe:

  • Saturn: iron
  • Jupiter: tin
  • Mars: bronze or brass
  • Sun: gold
  • Venus: electrum (gold and silver alloy)
  • Mercury: “fixed mercury” (mercury alloy)
  • Moon: silver

If you wanted to go the extra mile, you could also make a special censer for yourself based on the instructions given in book III, chapter 5.  Such a censer would be best used for works with a particular planet, to be made with that planetary metal in the form of a hollow cross, open at the top to allow smoke to exit, and with the container for the coal/wood/fire and the incense underneath such that all the smoke of the incense would flow up through the cross and out the top.  This also has the beneficial symbolic association of smoke rising up a single channel, in the sense of rising up from a pit or straight up to Heaven in our inverted vignette.  Again, this is almost certainly and entirely unnecessary for the present ritual, but the Picatrix does have quite a lot of tech to share.  For reasons that we’ll get to later, a more general metal or material rather than one specific to any given planet might be better; better to keep it simple.

And yes, of course, for those who are operating on a budget and cannot afford braziers/censers, frankincense/mastic resin, and aloeswood (whether as whole wood chips or as powder), using self-igniting stick or cone incense is also acceptable.  It’s definitely better to go with loose incense on coals, especially as stick and cone incense tends to be compounded with fillers and other scents, but it’ll work for those who need it to work.

All this is a lot to talk about the initial ritual prep, but there’s still more to talk about along these lines, not to mention the ritual itself.  That’ll be in the next post, so stay tuned!