On the Blessing of Peace

While I don’t like to talk about the specifics of it too much except with people I trust, I do and maintain a regular daily prayer routine.  More than just a daily ritual routine (including meditation, energy work, and the like), I use a particular format that I use where I say several prayers in a particular order and format every day, accompanied with particular ritual gestures or offerings or the like.  (At least, on days when I actually get my ass down to my temple room and do my work, but that’s becoming easier and easier as of late, thank God and the gods.)  The penultimate prayer is one I use as a general…I don’t know if “offering” is the proper word to describe it, but I suppose a blessing upon all the powers, all my ancestors, all those in my life (whether living, dead, or otherwise).  Specifically, it’s a sort of litany-blessing of peace, where I pray for the peace of God to be upon whoever.  And the final line of that prayer is this:

Glory be to God, from whom there is no higher blessing than peace.

I finish this “Sending of Peace” prayer up with a variant of the “Prosperity for All” prayer by Śrı̄ Vēthāthiri Mahaṛṣi.  My own variant (“Prayer for the Peace of the World”) goes like this:

May the whole world know and enjoy
good health, long life, prosperity, happiness, and peace.
Peace in the body, peace in the soul, peace in the spirit, and peace in the mind!
O God of peace, let there be peace and peace and peace and peace!
Let your divine peace reign supreme over the whole world,
that there might be peace forever and ever
at all times, on all days, in all places, in every heart, for everyone, everywhere.
Amen.

Silently, I finish it up with the same “Glory be to God…” line from above, again reminding myself (and, through the prayer, the whole world) that “there is no higher blessing than peace”.

Originally, these prayers didn’t include this line; I wrote my “Sending of Peace” prayer without it, and I never included it in the “Prayer for the Peace of the World” originally, even after I adapted Śrī Vēthāthiri Mahaṛṣi’s prayer; the statement just kinda…started falling out of my mouth, as it were, and it ended up becoming part of these prayers in my prayer routine.   Which is fine, honestly: I think that it’s a beautiful way to close out these prayers of peace, but thinking of it…why would I even say this, or think this, or feel this?  I mean, it does feel right, but why?  Like, what with my Hermetic stuff, you’d think that the ten (or seven) rational powers of God would be blessings unto themselves—which they are—culminating with life, light, and goodness, and peace is nowhere to be found in that list.  So why would peace be the highest possible blessing?

Let’s back up a bit, and consider the origin of the word “peace”.  Etymologically:

mid-12c., “freedom from civil disorder,” from Anglo-French pes, Old French pais “peace, reconciliation, silence, permission” (11c., Modern French paix), from Latin pacem (nominative pax) “compact, agreement, treaty of peace, tranquility, absence of war” (source of Provençal patz, Spanish paz, Italian pace), from PIE root *pag- “to fasten” (which is the source also of Latin pacisci “to covenant or agree;” see pact), on the notion of “a binding together” by treaty or agreement.

It replaced Old English frið, also sibb, which also meant “happiness.” Modern spelling is 1500s, reflecting vowel shift. Sense in peace of mind is from c. 1200. Used in various greetings from c. 1300, from Biblical Latin pax, Greek eirēnē, which were used by translators to render Hebrew shalom, properly “safety, welfare, prosperity.”

Other words derived from this same Proto-Indo-European root *pag- include: pact, propagate, pole (as in a stake or post), pale (in the old sense of a fence of pointed stakes used for marking boundaries), pagan (in the sense of someone being from the rural districts marked off by boundaries), page (a small sheet of paper, originally fastened to something else, but also a young man of a lower social order preparing to be a knight, from the same rural-indicative origin as pagan above), peasant (someone from the rural countryside), fang (in an Old English sense of prey, booty, spoils, “things taken or seized”), and even travail (to work or to toil through suffering, from an original Latin tripalis, an instrument of torture with three stakes).

In all these words derived from the root *pag-, there’s this notion of things being held together by sticking them into or onto something else, or things marked off because of something held together in common.  Peace, then, might seem a bit weird, but consider the etymology above: it’s closely related to the Latin for “to [make a covenant]”; peace, then, is the state of people who have entered into a covenant with each other, binding them and holding them fast together.  And this meaning isn’t just in Latin, either; the Greek name for peace (and the name of a goddess, too!), Εἰρήνη Eirēne, comes from the Greek verb εἵρω eirō, “to fasten together, esp. in rows or by string”.

This is all well and good, but let’s be honest: this emphasis on peace in my prayers (pace Śrī Vēthāthiri Mahaṛṣi) is definitely coming from an Abrhamic and Semitic influence: consider how Muslims constantly pray for “peace and blessings upon the prophet Muḥammad and his family”, how the standard Hebrew greeting for someone is shalom `alekhem and Arabic as-salāmu `alaykum, both meaning “peace be with you” (with the return greeting, “[and] upon you be peace”, being `alekhem shalom and wa-`alaykum as-salām, respectively).  The Sh-L-M triliteral root is abuntant in many Semitic languages, and unlike the Indo-European origins of the word “peace” that indicate things being bound together, the Sh-L-M root for these Semitic words for “peace” indicate something that is whole, complete, accepted, safe, intact, unharmed.  (And, just as Eirēne is the name of a Greek god, this Semitic root provides the name of an ancient Canaanite god, Shalim, the god of dusk and the Evening Star, after whom Jerusalem itself was named, the connection here being that evening and dusk was the completion and wholeness of the day.)

For us Indo-European (especially Germanic and Anglophone speakers), the closest etymological correspondence to the Sh-L-M trilteral root would be the Proto-Indo-European root *kailo- (“whole, uninjured, something of good omen”), which has given us such words as: whole, hale, health, holy, hallow.  Though this does kinda have overlap with the Sh-L-M root, it also overlaps with the Semitic Q-D-Sh triliteral root, which indicates something sacred, holy, pure, or clean (e.g. Hebrew qodesh “holiness” and miqdash “temple”, Arabic al-Quds “The Holy One” and al-Ard al-Muqaddasa “the Land of Holies” referring to Jerusalem and all its shrines).  This root is especially important when reciting a berakhah in Judaism, those endless blessings said when performing a mitzvah or enjoying something, when many of them begin: “blessed are you, o Lord our God, King of the World, who has sanctified us with his commandments…” (barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha`olam, asher qid’shanu b’mitzvotav…).  So there’s this notion here that links holiness and sanctification through the Jewish commandments of the Torah (which, by the by, is also called the Covenant, Hebrew brit, also meaning “alliance”).

We end up with this fourfold root here that ties this all together: Proto-Indo-European *pag- (fasten, bind) and *kailo- (whole, holy) and Semitic Sh-L-M (peace, accepted) and Q-D-Sh (holy, pure).  It’s between the confluence of these four things that we can get an idea of what the notion of peace really means from a spiritual standpoint: peace is an agreement and alliance between parties, one that ensures the well-being and health of all such parties, and one whose nature is sacrosanct and inviolable.  Sure, peace is the absence of violence and war, sure, but from the perspective of our work with Divinity, peace is both holiness and wholeness, being both healthy and hallowed.  Peace is the completion and fulfillment of all the other blessings, and the foundation for them all, and the obligations we enter into so as to have peace are those we enter into with Divinity, which then provides us with the peace we seek as we seek for others to have it as well by entering into peace with them.

Consider the twelve tormentors and ten powers according to the Corpus Hermeticum from the post I wrote earlier this summer.  Peace isn’t in the list of the powers (knowledge of God, joy, self-control, steadfastness, justice, generosity, truth, good, life, light) that resolve the tormentors, whether twelve in CH XIII (ignorance, grief, intemperance, lust, injustice, greed, deceit, envy, treachery, anger, recklessness, malice) or seven in CH I (increase and decrease, evil machination, covetous deceit, domineering arrogance, unholy daring and rash audacity, evil striving after wealth, ensnaring falsehood), but…what if peace is above the rest, a sort of meta-blessing that provides for all other blessings to develop, abide, and spread out?  I mean, consider the Semitic greeting of “peace be on you”: if you have peace, then you don’t have problems, because peace is the absence or the resolution of problems.  If you have peace in the body, then you don’t have physical problems of illness or injury; if you have peace in the soul, then you don’t have emotional distress; if you have peace in the spirit, you don’t have nagging worries or disturbed thoughts; if you have peace in the mind, then you don’t have confusion of divinity or spiritual blockages.  And, hell, what do we say about people who have passed away from a rough life into death?  “May they rest in peace.”

If you have problems, then you don’t have peace; if you have peace, you don’t have problems.  I mean, consider that so much in this world is violence, war, combat, and conflict: conflict between your cells and invasive cells produces illness, conflict between your person and other people produces fighting, conflict between your desires and the desires of another causes emotional distress, and the like.  This world is generated through violence, it’s true, but it’s our job to resolve that violence to find and produce peace, the resolution of problems, violence, and conflict, whether on a small scale of cells or a large scale of civilizations, whether on a small scale of emotions or a large scale of divinity.  To hope, wish, pray, and work for peace is to resolve the problems we face in the world whatever they might be or however they might come about.  We can consider this in terms of the Hermetic tormentors and powers: to pacify (literally “to make peaceful”) the tormentor of ignorance is to bring about the power of knowledge of God, and to have knowledge of God eliminates the torment of ignorance, which brings about peace; to pacify lust is to bring about steadfastness, and to have steadfastness eliminates lust, which brings about peace; and so on for all the tormentors and powers.

In this light, peace is both the means to blessing and a blessing unto itself, but it’s not like other blessings like prosperity or health.  Sure, prosperity resolves poverty, health resolves illness, and the like, and all those things lead to peace, but only when all problems are resolved can total, complete, and full peace be obtained.  Thus, to wish for such peace upon someone is to inherently wish for the resolution of all their problems in every way.  At the same time, the presence of a smaller, incomplete peace in one way helps bring about other smaller peaces in other ways: if you’re sick and poor, having health can help you resolve being poor faster, just as being prosperous can help you regain health faster.  Every little bit of peace we get helps bring about more peace, and the blessing of peace itself is all encompassing of everything else we do.  In praying for a small peace for ourselves, we bring about bigger peace for ourselves; in praying for peace for ourselves, we bring about peace for others; in praying for peace for the world, we bring about peace for ourselves.  Peace is, in many ways, the origin as well as the result of all other blessings.  In this, it precedes and fulfills everything else we do and work for and pray for, every other kind of well-being, every other kind of problem resolution, every other kind of abating of torment, whether for ourselves or for others.

So pray for peace: peace for yourself, peace for your ancestors, peace for your family, peace for your community, peace for your teachers, peace for your students.  Pray for peace: peace for those whom you love, peace for those whom you know, peace for those whom you don’t know, peace for those whom you despise.  Pray for peace: peace for everyone in this world, peace for everyone in other worlds, peace for everyone who has ever lived, peace for everyone who has ever died, peace for those who live eternally and never die.  Pray for peace: peace of body, peace of soul, peace of spirit, peace of mind.  Pray for peace, that there might be peace in every way for everyone.  Pray for peace so that there can be peace—and, having prayed for it, work to bring it about, becoming peace for others and obtaining peace for yourself.  That is the pact we make when we pray for peace: make peace and become peace to have peace.

Glory be to God, from whom there is no higher blessing than peace.

A New Version of the Chaplet of St. Barachiel the Archangel

Back in 2014, I undertook a project where I came up with new chaplets for some of the lesser-known archangels.  Chaplets, as many of you are aware, are types of prayers made using prayer beads in the Western Christian, especially Catholic, traditions; the famous rosary is a specific type of chaplet, and many chaplets exist for any number of holy images, events, entities, and saints in Christianity.  I find them useful to pray in devotion and meditation, myself, and as one of my devotion practices is to the Seven Archangels, I find it fitting to use chaplets as a way to connect and offer veneration to them.  Thing is, however, that while there are definitely seven major archangels venerated throughout Christianity and many Abrahamic traditions, they’re not always the same set of seven.  For me in my practice, I use the Orthodox set: Michael (whose name means Who is Like God?), Gabriel (the Strength of God), Raphael (the Healing of God), Uriel (or Auriel, but either way, the Light of God), Sealtiel (sometimes spelled Selaphiel, but either way, the Prayer of God), Jehudiel (the Praise of God), and Barachiel (the Blessing of God).  Everyone knows who the first three are, as they’re the only archangels named in the Bible (which is why the Roman Catholic Church only officially permits devotions to these three); Uriel is not as well-known, but he’s still pretty popular, especially in magical circles that use Auriel as the angel ruling over the element of Earth.  The latter three, however, are next to unknown in Western contexts.  It’s one of the reasons why I wrote my De Archangelis ebook, to collect and arrange what prayers could be used for them for a Western practitioner.

When it comes to chaplets and the archangels, there are already well-known chaplets for Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and even Uriel (that last which I initially mistook for a simple rewriting of the Raphael chaplet, but which is sufficiently different enough to be its own thing).  However,  no chaplets seemed to exist for Sealtiel, Jehudiel, and Barachiel, so I wrote one for each of them.  I’ve since had a set of seven chaplets for the seven archangels I work with, and I’ve been pretty satisfied with the practice.  However, of the three that I wrote, I’m very pleased with the ones for Sealtiel (which is a very thorough prayer that calls on the archangel as well as each of the nine choirs of angels to help you pray better—Gordon White of Rune Soup finds this approach fascinating and almost so helpful as to be unfair) and Jehudiel (which is based on praising God through Psalm 151), but I’ve never been as pleased or comfortable with the one for Barachiel.  It never seemed to flow right, I kept getting caught up on how it ran, and I can never seem to get it to work.  I like the base idea of it—using the Eight Beatitudes from Matthew 5 as a base for the chaplet combined with the Priestly Blessing from Numbers 6—but it never seemed to work.

Well, last year, when I was struggling to use this chaplet, I finally got fed up with how it ran (or, rather, how it didn’t), so I decided to rewrite it with the gracious help of the angel Barachiel emself, and I’ve been using it ever since.  I wanted to keep the same bead structure from before and keep the same idea, but change how the prayers ran so that it made more sense and flowed easier and nicer, and I took some further pointers from Agrippa’s Scale of Eight (book II, chapter 11), since the chaplet is based on the Eight Beatitudes.  In accordance with the wishes of the archangel emself, I’ve decided to wait some time before publishing this, on the Friday (the weekday associated with Barachiel) leading up to the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel and All the Bodiless Powers of Heaven (September 29); this is an excellent day to use this chaplet if you never have before!

As before, the chaplet beads themselves are constructed of three lead beads with a medal of Saint Barachiel (good luck finding one of those!), a crucifix, cross charm, or other angelic charm at the end, attached to a large bead on a ring of eight sets of four beads.

The initial parts of the chaplet are the same as before.  We start the chaplet on the medal, reciting:

Saint Barachiel the Archangel, blessing of God, pray for us, now and forever, awake and asleep, in prosperity and in hardship, in joy and in sorrow, in solitude and in communion, when guided or when astray.  Amen.

On each of the three lead beads, pray the Hail Mary in honor of Mary, Queen of Heaven and of Angels.

On the large bead, if desired, silently pray the Our FatherGlory Be, or another personal invocation to Saint Barachiel.

Each of the eight sets of four beads has a particular recitation to go along with it: one of the Eight Beatitudes, an invocation of one of the blessings of God through Saint Barachiel the Arachangel, a variation of the Priestly Blessing made into a request, and then finally the Glory Be.

The Eight Beatitudes (first bead of each set of four beads):

  1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
  2. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
  3. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
  4. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be fulfilled.
  5. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
  6. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
  7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
  8. Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

The eight invocations of Saint Barachiel (second bead of each set):

  1. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with the keys to the kingdom of my own life, that I might rule over all my affairs with justice and righteousness in all that I do.
  2. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with joy, that always I might enjoy all of the fruits of God’s blessing and help bring comfort to others that they too might rejoice in all that God gives.
  3. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with power, directed for the work of God for the benefit of all, to accomplish all that I hope for.
  4. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with incorruptibility, that I might be perfected through wisdom and lead others to purity of heart and righteousness in soul.
  5. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with grace, that I might love God and be loved by God, and all of His creatures that He created.
  6. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with the vision of God, that I might always know true divinity, never losing sight of His radiant Throne.
  7. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with the inheritance of God, as a human made in His divine image, worthy of all of the promises of Christ.
  8. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with victory over all my difficulties in this life, that no one and nothing might stand against me, restrain me, or chase after me in this world.

The Request of the Priestly Blessing (third bead of each set):

May the Lord bless me and keep me.
May the Lord make his face shine upon me, and be gracious unto me.
May the Lord lift his countenance upon me, and give me peace.

Since that’s still really disconnected, let’s put it all together and pray together now:

  1. First Set
    1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
    2. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with the keys to the kingdom of my own life, that I might rule over all my affairs with justice and righteousness in all that I do.
    3. May the Lord bless me and keep me; may the Lord make his face shine upon me, and be gracious unto me; may the Lord lift his countenance upon me, and give me peace.
    4. Glory Be, &c.
  2. Second Set
    1. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
    2. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with joy, that always I might enjoy all of the fruits of God’s blessing and help bring comfort to others that they too might rejoice in all that God gives.
    3. May the Lord bless me and keep me; may the Lord make his face shine upon me, and be gracious unto me; may the Lord lift his countenance upon me, and give me peace.
    4. Glory Be, &c.
  3. Third Set
    1. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
    2. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with power, directed for the work of God for the benefit of all, to accomplish all that I hope for.
    3. May the Lord bless me and keep me; may the Lord make his face shine upon me, and be gracious unto me; may the Lord lift his countenance upon me, and give me peace.
    4. Glory Be, &c.
  4. Fourth Set
    1. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be fulfilled.
    2. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with incorruptibility, that I might be perfected through wisdom and lead others to purity of heart and righteousness in soul.
    3. May the Lord bless me and keep me; may the Lord make his face shine upon me, and be gracious unto me; may the Lord lift his countenance upon me, and give me peace.
    4. Glory Be, &c.
  5. Fifth Set
    1. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
    2. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with grace, that I might love God and be loved by God, and all of His creatures that He created.
    3. May the Lord bless me and keep me; may the Lord make his face shine upon me, and be gracious unto me; may the Lord lift his countenance upon me, and give me peace.
    4. Glory Be, &c.
  6. Sixth Set
    1. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
    2. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with the vision of God, that I might always know true divinity, never losing sight of His radiant Throne.
    3. May the Lord bless me and keep me; may the Lord make his face shine upon me, and be gracious unto me; may the Lord lift his countenance upon me, and give me peace.
    4. Glory Be, &c.
  7. Seventh Set
    1. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
    2. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with the inheritance of God, as a human made in His divine image, worthy of all of the promises of Christ.
    3. May the Lord bless me and keep me; may the Lord make his face shine upon me, and be gracious unto me; may the Lord lift his countenance upon me, and give me peace.
    4. Glory Be, &c.
  8. Eighth Set
    1. Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
    2. By the intercession of Saint Barachiel, may I be blessed with victory over all my difficulties in this life, that no one and nothing might stand against me, restrain me, or chase after me in this world.
    3. May the Lord bless me and keep me; may the Lord make his face shine upon me, and be gracious unto me; may the Lord lift his countenance upon me, and give me peace.
    4. Glory Be, &c.

At the end, recite the concluding prayer:

O powerful Archangel, Saint Barachiel, filled with heaven’s glory and splendor, you are rightly called God’s benediction.  We are God’s children placed under your protection and care.  By the grace and power granted to you by God, please aid us in our lives and grant us blessings throughout our travels in this our exile.  Let us know the blessing of God in our physical existence as well in our spiritual growth that we may lack for nothing and have all we need to proceed upon and progress in our paths.  Grant that through your loving intercession, we may reach our heavenly home one day.  Sustain us and protect us from all harm that we may posses for all eternity the peace and happiness that Jesus has prepared for us in heaven.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.

This chaplet flows a lot nicer and doesn’t feel as blocky, discontinuous, or otherwise uncomfortable; it’s still one of the more involved chaplets and isn’t simply a repetition of prayers, so in many ways, it’s kind of more in line with what might (content-wise) be considered a litany.  Still, though, it’s much nicer than before.  I’ve updated the main page with the chaplet on my website, but I’ll leave the original 2014 post up for kicks at this point; also, the original chaplet will still be found in my De Archangelis ebook (both on my Etsy and on the Books page).

The Twelve Irrational Tormentors and the Ten (or Seven) Rational Powers

Lately I’ve been reviewing some of my first real spiritual texts as part of my practice that I first began to familiarize myself with years ago: the Corpus Hermeticum.  These books, being a homegrown Egyptian manifestation of what could be considered Hellenic theurgic philosophy (either as Stoicizing Neoplatonism or Neoplatonizing Stoicism), are some of my favorite texts, amounting to my own “bible” as it were.  Granted, it’s been some time since I’ve last seriously sat down with them, and since I’ve been discussing parts of it with a colleague of mine, I figured it was high time to get back into chewing on them so I’m not just talking out of my ass when it comes to classical Hermetic philosophy and theurgy.  It’s a deeply rewarding practice, after all, and study is something that we can never truly finish; it always helps to review, reread, and rethink things from time to time.

There are essentially four versions of the Corpus Hermeticum that I consult:

  1. Clement Salaman, The Way of Hermes: New Translations of the Corpus Hermeticum and the Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius.  Inner Traditions, 2004.  This is the most readable and accessible version of the Corpus Hermeticum, in my opinion, and also includes the Definitions of Hermēs Trismegistus, which was the focus of that massive blog project I did back in late 2013 that inspected all 49 definitions.  (I should probably review some of those one of these days.)
  2. Brian Copenhaver, Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation, with Notes and Introduction.  Cambridge University Press, 1995.  This is the version of the Corpus Hermeticum I started with, and though it’s not as accessible as Salaman’s translation, it’s still a very good translation all the same, and gives a slightly more critical and academic approach.
  3. G. R. S. Mead, The Corpus Hermeticum.  Thrice Greatest Hermes, vol. 2.  London, 1906.  Available in the public domain on Gnosis.org.  This is the most popular one that most people know and have used for over a hundred years, and though it has some Theosophical biases, it’s still a surprisingly good translation, even if the prose is overwrought.
  4. Walter Scott, Hermetica: The ancient Greek and Latin Writings which contain religious or philosophic teachings ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus, vol. 1.  Clarendon Press, 1924.  Though the translation isn’t considered good, Scott includes critical editions of the actual Greek text of the Corpus Hermeticum as well as the Latin of the Asclepius, so this is pretty useful for that reason alone.

If you want to read something better than the Kybalion, which would basically be anything and everything, I’d recommend the Corpus Hermeticum.  (NB: Kybalion delendum est.)

Anyway, I was flipping through the Corpus, refreshing some of the things I knew and being reminded of the things I’ve forgotten.  It was in book XIII, where Tat asks Hermēs Trismegistus for help in attaining divinity and, eventually reaches it, that I found something fascinating that I must have skipped over before.  Whether it’s due to my engineering training or my love of Buddhist text, it’s when things appear in lists that I snap to attention, and Hermēs describes a list of twelve “Hermetic sins of the body” that keep us ensnared in darkness and ignorance, as well as ten “Hermetic virtues of the soul” that free us from darkness and ignorance.  Fascinated by these lists, I dug in, and I started matching them up to a few other parts of the Corpus Hermeticum I know, the results of mulling over which I wanted to share.  I’ll let you, dear reader, pick your own preferred version of the Corpus Hermeticum and read (at minimum) books I and XIII on your own, which I recommend you do so before continuing with this post.

Ready?  Good.  So, as Hermēs states in book XIII, we have these twelve “irrational tormentors of the body” (ἄλογα τιμωρία τῆς ὕλης, áloga timōría tês húlēs).  The specific word being used here is technically τιμωρία, timōría, literally “retribution” or “vengeance” or even “punishment”, but usually translated here as “tormentor” or “torturer”.  Collectively, they all arise fundamentally from irrationality, the true lack of reason (which is emphasized in the Corpus Hermeticum as being divine, as it is truly Λόγος, Lógos, “the Word”).  Hermēs lists these tormentors as below; I give both the Greek term used in Scott along with the various translations that Salaman, Copenhaver, et al. have provided for these terms.

# Greek Salaman Copenhaver Mead Scott
1 ἄγνοια Ignorance Ignorance Not-knowing Ignorance
2 λύτη Sorrow Grief Grief Grief
3 ἀκρασία Intemperance Incontinence Incontinence Incontinence
4 ἐπιθυμία Lust Lust Concupiscence Desire
5 ἀδικία Injustice Injustice Unrighteousness Injustice
6 πλεονεξία Greed Greed Avarice Covetousness
7 ἀπάτη Deceit Deceit Error Deceitfulness
(or being deceived,
i.e. error)
8 φθόνος Envy Envy Envy Envy
9 δόλος Treachery Treachery Guile Fraud
10 ὀργή Anger Anger Anger Anger
11 προπέτεια Recklessness Recklessness Rashness Rashness
12 κακία Malice Malice Malice Vice
(or malice)

Of course, though these are the main tormentors of the body that we have to deal with, Hermēs notes that “besides these there are many others”, but these seem to be the major ones that either rule lesser tormentors or which themselves are the causes or predecessors of others.  Together, they “compel the inner man who dwells in the prison of his body to suffer through his senses”.  Hemēs is explicit, too in giving each of these a zodiacal association, even if he doesn’t say which belongs to which sign: “this tent of the body through which we have passed…is composed from the zodiac and this consists of signs, twelve in number; the body is of one nature and appears in every form; it exists to lead man astray”.  I think a simple association could be drawn up such that the first tormentor listed, “ignorance”, be given to the first sign Aries, the second “sorrow” to Taurus, the third “intemperance” to Gemini, and so forth.  It’s not exactly clear to see how each of these might be matched up with their corresponding sign, like why Aquarius should be linked to Recklessness in this way, but we’ll just accept it for granted for now.

But all hope is not lost for us!  Though these tormentors of the body plague us and trap us, “these tormentors depart one by one from the man who receives God’s mercy”, which manifests itself as ten “powers of God” (δυνάμεις θεοῦ, dunámeis theoû) that cleanse the body and soul of the twelve (and more) irrational tormentors:

# Greek Salaman Copenhaver Mead Scott
1 γνῶσις θεοῦ Knowledge of God Knowledge of God Gnosis of God Knowledge of God
2 χαρα Experience of Joy Knowledge of Joy Joy Joy
3 ἐγκράτεια Self-control Continence Continence Continence
4 καρτερία Steadfastness Perseverance Steadfastness Endurance
5 δικαιοσύνη Justice Justice Righteousness Justice
6 κοινωνία Generosity Liberality Sharing-with-all Unselfishness
7 ἀλήθεια Truth Truth Truth Truth
8 ἀγαθός Supreme Good the Good the Good Good
9 ζωή Life Life Life Life
10 φώς Light Light Light Light

Moreover, each of the powers (or at least most of them) correspond to a specific tormentor that it specifically chases out or conquers.  Using the Salaman translations of the tormentors and powers:

Tormentor Power
Ignorance Knowledge of God
Sorrow Experience of Joy
Intemperance Self-control
Lust Steadfastness
Injustice Justice
Greed Generosity
Deceit Truth
Envy Good, Life, Light
Treachery
Anger
Recklessness
Malice

Note that the last three powers, the Good with Life and Light, seem to act as a triune force, because once Truth arrives, “the Supreme Good arises”, and Life and Light come together with it, and together they chase out the “torments of darkness” (τιμωρία τοῦ σκότος, timōría toû skótos).  Hermēs says that Life and Light are specifically united together, and “this unity is born from spirit”; this echoes what Poimandrēs told Hermēs back in book I of the Corpus Hermeticum: “the truth is: light and life is God and Father, whence Man is begotten”.

With all ten powers present, “spiritual birth is complete…and by this birth we have become divine”.  These are all given by the mercy of God, which quells the torments of the bodily senses, and one who has these powers “knows himself and rejoices”; these ten powers “beget the soul”.  There’s some Pythagorean influence here in how these are described: Life and Light together form a unit, a henad (the number One), and the henad is the source of the decad (the number Ten), and “the Henad contains the Decad” while at the same time “the Decad [contains] the Henad”.  If we consider “spirit” here to be fundamentally the spirit of God, then we can consider this to be equivalent or identified with the power of the Good itself, from which come Life and Light, and from those two all the other powers derive.  This dimly kinda recalls how I plotted out the ten spheres onto the Tetractys as part of my Mathēsis stuff, with “the Supreme Good” being simply the Monad at the top, Light being the right-hand sphaira of the Dyad (the sphere of the fixed stars, the active power) and Life being the left-hand sphaira (the sphere of the Earth, the passive power):

At the same time, note that we have two systems going on here: a system of twelve (the tormentors) and a system of ten (the powers).  We start off by specifically linking one tormentor to one power, but after the first seven pairs, the last five seem to get jumbled together.  Hermēs says that “among the signs…there are pairs united in activity”, and notes that recklessness is inseparable with and indistinguishable from anger.  Copenhaver notes that, in this light, four of the twelve tormentors can be considered as two pairs broken up; if this is so and they are reduced into units, such as anger and recklessness into a combined tormentor, then we go from twelve tormentors to ten, but we don’t know what the other pair is (perhaps envy and treachery?).  If that were the case, and if we consider the sequence of introducing Good and Life and Light to be reversed given a descent of the Dyad from the Henad, then we might come up with the following scheme:

Tormentor Power
Ignorance Knowledge of God
Sorrow Experience of Joy
Intemperance Self-control
Lust Steadfastness
Injustice Justice
Greed Generosity
Deceit Truth
Envy and Treachery Light
Anger and Recklessness Life
Malice Good

That being said, I don’t know if I trust that specific scheme; Copenhaver notes that such an understanding of some of the tormentors isn’t agreed upon.  After all, though it’s definitely not contemporaneous with this, we can bring in a bit of Qabbalah here to justify keeping the systems of twelve tormentors and ten powers separate rather than forcing them onto the same scheme of ten.  Recall that the lower seven sefirot of the Tree of Life are considered underneath the Veil of the Abyss that separate the upper three sephiroth (Keter, Ḥokmah, Binah) from the lower seven (Ḥesed, Geburah, Tiferet, Neṣaḥ, Hod, Yesod, Malkut).  The upper three sefirot, then, are considered a trinity unto themselves that, from the perspective of everything below it, act as a unity.  Not to equate the sefirot of the Tree of Life here with what Hermēs is talking about, but it does offer an interesting possible parallel to how we might consider how these powers function and upon what.

By that same token, however, this means that the last five tormentors of the body (envy, treachery, anger, recklessness, and malice) seem to function differently than the first seven, in that the first seven have a distinct power of God that chases them out while the latter five are only chased out by the highest attainments of powers of God themselves, and that indistinctly.  In a way, this brings to mind part of book I of the Corpus Hermeticum, when Hermēs is communing with Poimandrēs, who tells Hermēs about “how the way back [to Nous, i.e. the Divinity of the Mind] is found”.  In this part of book I, there’s this notion of heavenly ascent through the seven planetary spheres, where one gives up a particular force (vice? tormentor?) associated with each of the planets.  Using Salaman’s translation of this section as a base, and giving the alternative translations of Copenhaver, Mead, and Scott for each of those forces:

First, in the dissolution of the material body, one gives the body itself up to change.  The form you had becomes unseen, and you surrender to the divine power your habitual character, now inactive.  The bodily senses return to their own sources.  Then they become parts again and rise for action, while the seat of emotions and desire go to mechanical nature.

Thus a man starts to rise up through the harmony of the cosmos:

  1. To the first plain [of the Moon], he surrenders the activity of growth and diminution;
    1. Copenhaver: “increase and decrease”
    2. Mead: “growth and waning”
    3. Scott: “the force which works increase and the force that works decrease”
  2. To the second [of Mercury], the means of evil, trickery now being inactive;
    1. Copenhaver: “evil machination”
    2. Mead: “device of evils”
    3. Scott: “machinations of evil cunning”
  3. To the third [of Venus], covetous deceit, now inactive;
    1. Copenhaver: “illusion of longing”
    2. Mead: “guile of desires”
    3. Scott: “lust whereby men are deceived”
  4. To the fourth [of the Sun], the eminence pertaining to a ruler, being now without avarice;
    1. Copenhaver: “arrogance of rulers”
    2. Mead: “domineering arrogance”
    3. Scott: “domineering arrogance”
  5. To the fifth [of Mars], impious daring and reckless audacity;
    1. Copenhaver: “unholy presumption and daring recklessness”
    2. Mead: “unholy daring and rashness of audacity”
    3. Scott: “unholy daring and rash audacity”
  6. To the sixth [of Jupiter], evil impulses for wealth, all of these being now inactive;
    1. Copenhaver: “evil impulses that come from wealth”
    2. Mead: “striving for wealth by evil means”
    3. Scott: “evil strivings after wealth”
  7. And to the seventh plain [of Saturn], the falsehood which waits in ambush.
    1. Copenhaver: “deceit that lies in ambush”
    2. Mead: “ensnaring falsehood”
    3. Scott: “falsehood which lies in wait to work harm”

Then, stripped of the activities of the cosmos, he enters the substance of the eighth plain with his own power, and he sings praises to the Father with those who are present; those who are near rejoice at his coming.  Being made like to those who are there together, he also hears certain powers which are above the eighth sphere, singing praises to God with sweet voice.  Then in due order, they ascend to the Father and they surrender themselves to the powers, and becoming the powers they are merged in God.  This is the end, the Supreme Good, for those who have had the higher knowledge: to become God.

This final part of what Poimandrēs tells Hermēs in book I touches on what Hermēs and Tat discuss in book XIII once Tat receives the ten powers and attains divinity:

T:  Then, o Father, I wish to hear the hymn of praise which you said was there to be heard from the powers, on my birth into the eighth sphere.

H: I will recite it, o son; just as Poimandrēs revealed the eighth sphere to me.  You do well to make haste to free yourself from the tent of the body, for you have been purified.  Poimandrēs, the Nous of the Supreme, gave me no more than what has been written, being aware that I should be able to know all things by myself and to hear what I wanted to hear, and to see all, and he charged me to create works of beauty.  Wherefore the powers in me sing also in all things.

This follows with the Secret Hymn, or what I call the Initiatory Hymn of Silence.  Though some aspects of what Poimandrēs told Hermēs differs from what Hermēs is telling Tat, the fundamental process is the same: we either give up or chase off the irrational forces of matter and flesh that ensnare us and shroud us in ignorant darkness, and what remains after that (or what we replace with them) are the divine powers that enable us to return to a truly divine state.  This is what Hermēs tells Tat earlier on in book IV:

T: I also wish to be immersed in Nous, o father.

H: If you don’t hate your body, son, you cannot love your Self.  If you love your Self, you will have Nous, and having Nous you will partake of knowledge.

T: Why do you say that, father?

H: For, son, it is impossible to be governed by both, by the mortal and by the divine.  There are two kinds of beings, the embodied and the unembodied, in whom there is the mortal and the divine spirit.  Man is left to choose one or the other, if he so wishes.  For one cannot choose both at once; when one is diminished, it reveals the power of the other.

There’s this notion in the Corpus Hermeticum of a spiritual (re)birth that happens when we reject the irrational powers of the body and seek (or, as a result of rejecting the tormentors, are given) the rational powers of God, a process of spiritual ascension through forsaking the material, which we can perform while still embodied so long as we retract our awareness away from the senses and perceptions of the body.  In other words, by letting go of the body (even while still possessing it, or rather, being possessed by it), we grasp onto the Good.  This shouldn’t be interpreted as some sort of banally gnostic, simplistically dualistic world-hating, but as a simple understanding that focusing on the body keeps us in the body and away from God.  (There’s a lovely essay, Agrippa’s Dilemma: Hermetic ‘Rebirth’ and the Ambivalences of De Vanitate and De occulta philosophia by Michael Keefer, that I recommend for reading on this point, especially regarding Cornelius Agrippa’s own Christian interpretation of this Hermetic approach to salvation.)

And what of the torments?  How do they actually torment us?  Consider what Poimandrēs tells Hermēs when they discuss those who do not have Nous:

As for those without Nous—the evil, the worthless, the envious, the greedy, murderers, the ungodly—I am very far from them, having given way to the avenging spirit, who assaults each of them through the senses, throwing fiery darts at them.  He also moves them to greater acts of lawlessness so that such a man suffers greater retribution, yet he does not cease from having limitless appetite for his lust nor from fighting in the dark without respite.  The avenging spirit then puts him to torture and increase the fire upon him to its utmost.

It’s not that the Hermetic deity is a jealous or vengeful god that those without Nous should be deprived from people, since the lack of Nous isn’t really much more than being immersed in the darkness of matter and not living a life that focuses on the light of spirit.  As material beings that are born, we must also die, and so long as we focus on being material, we must and deserve to die, but once we strive for immaterial immortality, we begin to attain Nous.  By identifying with the material, we suffer material conditions, but by identifying with the spiritual, we enjoy spiritual ones; in a cosmic sense, “you are what you eat”.  In this sense, it’s not that Poimandrēs actively wants us to suffer, but that suffering is part and parcel of being material; for as long as we strive to be material, we suffer, and the more we try to be material, the more we suffer.  The “avenging spirit”, in this case, isn’t really a distinct devil or demon, but the torments of the body itself; the phrase used here is τιμωρῷ δαίμονι (timōrôy daímoni), with “avenging” (τιμωρός, timōrós) being fundamentally the same word as “torturer” (τιμωρία) from above.

What’s interesting now, at this point, is how we now have two models of irrational forces: a set of seven that are associated with the planets according to Poimandes, and a set of twelve that are associated with the zodiac signs from Hermēs, and there isn’t a clean match between them for us to link one set to the other.  There are some similarities, sure; the seventh zodiacal torment of Deceit (or, perhaps better, Error) is much like the seventh planetary force of falsehood; the sixth zodiacal torment of Greed is basically the sixth planetary force of evil striving for wealth, and so forth.  But there are also differences; it’s hard to see how the second zodiacal torment of Sorrow is at all like the second planetary force of evil machination.  Except that the word translated as “sorrow” for the second zodiacal torment is λύπη lúpē, which technically refers to pain of body or mind and is also related to the Greek verb λυπέω lupéō, with meanings including “grieve”, “vex”, “distress”, “feel pain”.  In this, if we consider this to be a mental anguish, we might bring to mind the temperament of melancholy, which can lead to states of mind including depression, fear, anxiety, mistrust, suspicion, and deeper cogitations; all these can definitely be linked to “evil machinations”, which was classically considered a symptom of being too melancholic.  Likewise, it’s not easy to immediately link the first zodiacal torment of Ignorance with the first planetary force of increase and decrease, but as Tat complains to Hermēs in book XIII:

T: I am dumbstruck and bereft of my wits, O father, for I see that your size and features remain the same.

H: In this you are deceived.  The mortal form changes day by day, with the turning of time it grows and decays, its reality is a deception.

T: What then is true, Trismegistus?

H: The untroubled, unlimited, colorless, formless, unmoving, naked, shining, self-knowing; the unchanging Good without a body.

So, maybe the seven planetary forces described by Poimandrēs really are the first seven of the zodiacal torments of Hermēs, just phrased in another way for another audience.  This lends some credence to the notion from above that the last five of the zodiacal torments really are of a different set or nature; after all, if Hermēs admits to Tat that there are far more torments than just the twelve he named, maybe Hermēs was just naming more than strictly necessary to show that the way is long and hard, beset by so many torments.  Yet, once we chase out the first seven, the others follow suit, because “upon the arrival of Truth, the Supreme Good arises…the Supreme Good, together with Life and Light, has followed upon Truth, and the torments of darkness no longer fall upon us, but conquered; they all fly off with a rush of wings”.  In this, the final five zodiacal torments could simply be called “darkness”, all chased off by Light (which is unified with Life and the Good).  And, fundamentally, regardless whether we take a planetary approach (being ruled by the wandering stars) or a zodiacal approach (being ruled by the fixed stars), the world of matter is governed by celestial forces that we need to break free of or give back what they force upon us.

Also, note that there are interesting differences in how Hermēs describes the attainment of the various powers of God: Hermēs says that knowledge of God and experience of Joy “come to us”, while he summons self-control, steadfastness, justice, generosity, and truth, and once truth “arrives”, the triune powers of Good-Life-Light “arise”.  Given that truth “arrives” after Hermēs summons it, and that the knowledge of God and experience of joy similarly arrive, it stands to reason that Hermēs also calls on those first two powers as well.  In effect, we have the first seven powers of God which we call or summon, and the last three which arise on their own without being summoned, instead following the summoning of truth.  In this, it seems like we only truly need to work to call forth (or reach towards) the first seven powers of God; once we have those seven, you attain the last three as a natural result.  This is effectively like breaking past the Veil of the Abyss in a Qabbalistic sense; sure, there’s always more work to be done (after all, “before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water”), but once you’ve made that jump, there’s truly nothing left stopping you.  Once you break into the eighth sphere from the seventh, it’s just a matter of time (“in due order”, according to Poimandrēs) of further elevation and ascension.

And, true enough, this isn’t the last we see of these powers that chase off the torments.  At the end of Book XIII, Hermēs passes onto Tat the Secret Hymn, what I call the Initiatory Hymn of Silence.  After Tat has been reborn through the ten divine powers that Hermēs describes and becomes one in Nous, Tat requests Hermēs to sing the “hymn of praise” that is sung by the holy entities of the eighth sphere to God.  Hermēs does so, though he “had not thought to impart [it] so easily”.  Hermēs instructs that it should be said outdoors “under the clear sky” facing the south at sunset, and east at sunrise.  After Hermēs begins the hymn proper, the hymn follows more-or-less the same format of the powers that Hermēs earlier referred to that themselves sing to God:

O powers within me, sing to the One and All!
All you powers, sing praise together at my bidding.
Divine Knowledge, illumined by you, I sing through you of the spiritual light and I rejoice in the joy of Nous.
Sing praise with me, all you powers!
Temperance, sing with me!
Justice, through me praise what is just!
Generosity, through me praise the All!
Truth, sing of the truth!
Good, praise the Good!
Life and Light, from you comes the praise and to you it returns.
I give thanks to you, Father, the strength of all my powers.
I give thanks to you, God, power of all my strength.
Your Word through me sings to you.
Receive all back through me by the Word, a spoken sacrifice.

Though it might have passed as high-brow yet pop spiritual philosophy back in the day, the Corpus Hermeticum really is a fundamental work for Western spiritual practices, and is fundamentally useful and instructive in matters of theurgy.  What we see above is a sort of plan or map for attaining divinity through theurgic practices, by means of purifying the senses and purging the soul of material influences so as to become a freer, truly immortal power of God ourselves.  By taking the accounts of Hermēs into consideration, we can figure out how we stand in terms of our bodies and souls, what we need to focus on to continue along our spiritual paths, and how we can maintain ourselves in a matter of right and proper living through right and divine reason.

EDIT (2019-07-30): So it turns out the excellent Reverend Erik put up his own post touching on this same topic, tying it into other practices and parallels in other traditions, back in September last year.  Go check it out for more information on this wonderful topic!

The Attainment of Adam

Now that we’re done with our DSIC discussion (which you can access easily by going to the recap post at this link or searching through the blog with the tag reviewing the trithemian conjuration), let’s move on to other topics once again.

Not all the PDFs I make for my occult and spirituality stuff go up for sale; sometimes I just like fiddling around in LaTeX (which is my preferred way for formally typesetting documents, whether it’s an ebook, a book-book, or a letter), especially if I’m trying to get something out onto paper for a more formal use than otherwise.  I’ve made personal-use ebooks for things like Orphic Hymns, Homeric Hymns, divination oracles for grammatomancy and astragalomancy, and the like before for my temple; I have no intent on publishing them, but there’s a quiet enjoyment I take in this sort of typesetting, even if only I see the results of it.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on restructuring my own Hermetic practice in a way that uses a sort of geomantic devotional approach as its main vehicle for work, which largely resulted as a product of mulling over what geomantic holy days would look like, then again into a more simplified and regular “wheel of the year” kind of form.  Since then, I’ve been working on putting together another ebook—again, one I don’t intend on putting out publicly, at least not yet, and not anytime soon.  This ebook is essentially my new vademecum, my new enchiridion, my new prayerbook consisting of prayers, orisons, litanies, prayer bead rules (like those misbaḥa prayers I’ve mentioned), rituals, consecrations, and the like.  It’s currently sitting at 226 pages, all told; since it’s still in flux, from the specific wording and phrasing of prayers to the processes and procedures used for a variety of rituals I’ve been working on that all form together to make a complete system (one of the reasons I’ve been working on those DSIC posts!), I haven’t actually printed it out yet, but just keeping it as a PDF on my phone.  I’m really pleased with how it’s been turning out and coming together, as well as my practices generally.

But there’s one sticking point I haven’t been able to resolve.  I’ve been able to either outright write fresh, compile, pilfer, adapt, or otherwise reuse many prayers in this new prayer book of mine for so many purposes: general prayers to God, to the ancestors, to the angels, for specific dates or times or needs, for the figures and planets, for this and that…but there’s been one group of entities for whom I haven’t been able to come up with pretty much damn near anything, and that’s the prophets themselves: Adam, Enoch, Hermēs Trismegistus, and Daniel.  I just can’t seem to put anything to paper for them, for prayers or praises or invocations or rituals, unlike the abundance of the same I have for the angels or the blessed dead or this or that or the other.  Ironic, then, that the very four entities, these progenitors of the geomantic art, who inspired me who come up with a ritual calendar and formed the basis of this whole geomantic practice, have basically nothing coming up for them.

It’s not for lack of trying, I swear.  But it just…I can’t seem to get anything out of me.  Even more annoying, I can’t seem to find very many prayers or the like in traditional Abrahamic or Hermetic literature as devotions for these four geomantic forefathers.  Like, sure, there’s a few things that come to mind that I could use from the Book of Enoch to write up some Enoch-focused praises, at least in the context of his angelization into Metatron (though I’m hesitant to put too much weight on that specific aspect), but that’s not a lot on its own, and there’s just not a lot that seems to be written out there.  Like, while there are prayers in abundance for many of the mythic and saintly figures of Christianity and Islam (especially the various ‘ad`iyah /du`a’s of Islam attributed to their holy and saintly figures), there’s just…really not a lot.  Heck, the idea, even, sounds weird to me, since we don’t often think of the prophets of Abrahamic traditions to necessarily be saints or to participate in intercession or intervention like the saint-saints or angel-saints do, and while we all certainly praise Hermēs Trismegistus as the one revealed the secrets of the Great Work by the Divine Poemander to teach to the world, I just can’t find many prayers or praises in a formal context like this.  It could be that I’m not looking in the right sources (perhaps more Gnostic texts might be useful), but I just can’t find a lot.

So, it happened that, according to my ritual calendar, the Feast of the Prophet Adam, the First Man, Progenitor of Attainment came and went on Monday, May 6 earlier this year.  I had intended to devote a few weeks in April trying to draw up something to mark the day, even just something simple…but alas, the day arrived on its own, and I showed up empty-handed.  Still, I did what I could still do: I sat down at my shrine, lit a candle and some incense for Adam as I would any other saint or hero, and just sorta…thought and mused aloud in the solitude of my temple space.  Though I came empty-handed, I left with quite a few insights that I didn’t have before, and I wanted to share them here, even if only to keep the thoughts about it going.

Back when I wrote the Secreti Geomantici ebook, I developed a “Prayer of the Geomancers”, which I recite daily as part of my own practice (though reworked slightly and fit into my newer practice that arise after I wrote Secreti Geomantici).  In it, I give a supplication where we ask to be instilled with the four blessings of  “the judgment of Daniel, the dedication of Enoch, the wisdom of Hermēs, and the attainment of Adam”.  I basically tried to come up with some sort of high-minded virtue, ideal, strength, blessing, just…yanno, something that I could associate with each of the four progenitors to ask for to help us in our divination practices and spiritual development as geomancers.  For Daniel and Enoch, I used their very names as inspiration, the former meaning “God is my Judge” and the latter meaning “dedicated”, as in to God.  Hermēs Trismegistus, for me, is associated with wisdom, not just knowing things but knowing how to apply them.  But for Adam…I honestly didn’t know what to say.  “Attainment” sounded good enough, and it sorta semantically ties in with Adam in general for me.  Earth-born, earth-made Adam, whose name is a pun on the Hebrew word for “earth” (adamah), and was God’s final creation in the Genesis narrative as a distinct species or entity.  Eve (and Lilith), of course, could also be considered separate, but when reckoning them all as various kinds of Human, then it was Adam that would be considered the final bit of distinct creation of God.

In that sense, why “attainment”?  What did Adam attain?  Adam was the attainment, the completion and fulfillment of God’s work to create the cosmos; in the Abrahamic as much as the Hermetic sense, we are made in the image of God, but we could not exist as we are without literally everything else having existed before us.  (This reminds us to be humble in a new way; though we might be closest to God as a species of this worldly reality, we are also the youngest, junior to and thus dependent on ants, urchins, fleas, mold, and all else that exists.)  It wasn’t until God made humanity that God could rest on the seventh day after he first spoke “let there be light”.  In that sense, the creation of humanity completed the cosmos, giving everything the final connection that allows the cosmos be what it needs to be.

However, humanity as created was not made in a fixed state, as it lacked primarily one thing: knowledge.  That’s where the story of Adam, Eve, the serpent, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil came in; it wasn’t until Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree and gave it to Adam to eat that humanity finally knew their position in the cosmos and learned about themselves.  Up until that point, they were made in the image of God, but since they did not know or could even understand their material nature, they could not act on it or incorporate that knowledge; for them, they lived in a divine ignorance that effectively separated their spiritual nature from their material nature.  Only by eating the fruit of the Tree could they understand the latter, and then began incorporating it.  Of course, this had its own cost: by understanding the material nature of the bodies they inhabited, they became trapped by them, and in the process, excluded from Paradise.  We could consider this as a sort of “birth” from the womb; though they were not “born” in the traditional sense, we could consider God their “father” and the Earth their “mother”, with the Garden of Eden itself being the womb from which they were born.  For as long as they lived in Paradise, they could not be independent or truly alive in the sense that you and I are alive; they had to be “born” into the world, just as we are, in order to fully come into their own.  For them, their own completion was not complete until they went into their own birth.  And, just like with our own birth, it was accompanied by tears and pain.

This isn’t to say that God made humanity poorly, but that creation is a process that isn’t just a one-and-done thing.  As Jack Miles demonstrates in his wonderful literary and character analysis of the Old Testament God: A Biography, the process of creation is effectively God learning as much about his creation as we do ourselves.  And it’s not until we can take a look at the whole picture of something that we can finally perform a full analysis of something to understand it, and we can’t do that in terms of a human until we know their entire life.  For Adam and Eve, that entirety doesn’t come about until they die: it takes death to fully understand the whole of the human experience, so it wasn’t until the death of the First Man that the original creation of God might finally be considered “complete”.  In this sense, Adam had to attain his own creation and completion just as God did—and so too do all of us, as well.

This is also where the angel Uriel comes into the picture.  Uriel, in the Western tradition, is the archangel who’s typically associated with the element of Earth, and so I consider this angel to have a natural connection to Adam on a simple elemental basis.  And, of course, there’s the fact that Uriel is the angel appointed to stand guard at the gate to the Garden of Eden with the flaming sword.  What does this mean for us in terms of “attainment”?  Adam and Eve had everything they could possibly need while in the Garden, and so would never have had to work for anything, learn anything, struggle, adapt, invent, or grow at all; they would have lived in this sort of ignorant stasis where everything was good and nothing was bad, having been given everything except something to do—something to attain.  Just as we can no longer enter our mother’s womb, so too could Adam and Eve never reenter the Garden and regress to an earlier stage of development; their expulsion was necessary for humanity to truly flourish.  I mean, consider: if humanity is made in the image of God, then what had God done up to this point?  God had made something from nothing.  If Adam and Eve were to take after God, then they too must create something from nothing, but so long as they lived in the Garden, how could they do that if they already had everything and had neither anything to invent nor needed anything to invent?  It was only when they were taken out of the Garden that they truly had nothing—except the clothes that God made for them as an act of parental care, but let’s be honest, by that point they had already made their clothes to cover their nudity in the Garden after eating the fruit of the Tree.  And consider the context of that, too: they made something in a place God made where they needed nothing, and so effectively judged God’s creation…I hesitate to use this word, but lacking in a way.  To use a software development metaphor, if the Garden was God’s development-and-testing sandbox, the fact that Adam and Eve could create and invent shows that they were finally capable of being released into production, becoming independent co-creators with God in the process (“co-creators” because we are made to take after God and being infused with his breath), just on a smaller scale as befits our finite, more material role.

Uriel was positioned at the Gates to ensure that neither Adam and Eve nor any of their descendants could eat of the fruit of the other Tree, the Tree of Life, which would grant them immortality that God himself possesses.  Okay, fair.  But Uriel’s purpose is more than just to guard the other Tree; I think he was stationed there to make sure that humanity itself could learn to use their own world and tools to constantly create more of the world, co-creating with God throughout the entire process of their lives.  However, our lives must come to an end; why?  Because we have descendants.  In order for us to properly execute our function as humans, we must create and leave things behind so that others can create after us—whether they’re our own blood-and-flesh children, godchildren, initiates, or students doesn’t matter.  In order that they too can fulfill their purpose, they must have their own share of the world; for that reason, our bodies must return to the Earth, “for from it you were taken, for dust you are, and to dust you shall return”.  Also, it’s at this point in the Genesis narrative, once God issues his order of expulsion—that Adam finally names Eve, whose name in Hebrew is Ḥawwāh, meaning “living one” or “source of life”, (most likely) related to Hebrew Ḥāyâ “to live”, and Genesis itself says that Adam named Eve such “because she was the mother of all the living”.  The final name given to the final God-made creation of the Garden, only complete at their time’s end within it.

So, if our bodies return to the Earth, whence, then, our breath, our divine essence that God gave to humanity?  As I see it, based on this little bit, the breath returns to God, and thence can be breathed back into the world to continue the co-creation of the world.  For as long as the process of life and death exists, for as longs as there are descendants of Adam and Eve, for as long as the world exists, the process of co-creation is always ongoing.  Individual people may complete their attainment, but their attainment is not truly complete until the end of their lives as befits us as mortal creatures of this world.  Similarly, the attainment of humanity cannot be complete until humanity itself finally and eventually passes away from the world—or the life-sustaining world itself passes away, whichever comes first, I suppose.  And, when we do return to the Earth, it is only then that we can reenter the Garden.

What, then, of our own attainment?  What can we take after Adam, what could we ask for to help us in our own spiritual paths?  We know that, just like Adam, we cannot revert to an earlier stage in our spiritual progression; we know that we must become independent from our mothers, go out into the world, and work for ourselves and those who come after us; we know that we must live our lives until such a time as proper for us that our bodies return to the Earth and our breath returns to God, and until that point, we must always work to constantly create our world, co-creating with God as we are made in his image.  It is up to us, to each of us, that we do what we can to fulfill our purpose, role, and function in this world, taking what has been given to us and what we can to constantly create, build, grow, and nurture.  It is up to us that we attain our own role as being truly human and truly divine.  It is up to us to attain the fullness of our creation.  It is up to us to attain our true Will.  We cannot go back from whence we came, for just as the angel Uriel guards the gates to Paradise, but just as Uriel is the angel of the light of God, we can look back upon our past and see what was so that we can begin to understand what may be.  I mean, in this system of devotion I’m building, the title I give to Uriel is “Keeper of the Mysteries”; just as he keeps the Garden apart from us, he shows us with his light (and the light of his “fiery ever-turning sword”) what is possible, and permits reentry into the Garden as divine gatekeeper only at the proper time.  Things may leave the Garden, but not enter back in improperly.

There’s more that I can muse about this, of course, but I think this is a start.  I mean, honestly, this is probably one of the actual mysteries of this new little practice that’s been dropped on my lap that I’m really starting to chew into, structured by all the prayers and routines and rituals that I have.  Perhaps one day, after enough musing and research and writing and meditating, I might have proper prayers for Adam—maybe even the rest of the prophets, too!  For now, though, I don’t have much…but I do have this last bit I want to share.  While there’s not a lot out there that I can find for prayers that are attributed to Adam, there is one short Islamic du`ā’ of Adam (and, also, properly speaking, of Eve) that I thought was simple enough to commit to heart.  This was taken from Qur’ān 7:23, after Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in Paradise and were called out by God for it:

رَبَّنَا ظَلَمْنَا أَنفُسَنَا وَإِن لَّمْ تَغْفِرْ لَنَا وَتَرْحَمْنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ

Rabbanā ṭālamnā anfusanā wa-in lam taghfir lanā watarḥamnā lanakūnanna mina al-khasirīn

Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves. If you do not forgive us and bestow not upon us your mercy, we shall surely be among the losers.

It’s not a lot, but it’s something.  Working on the spot, and recalling the context in which this bit of scripture was recited, I also recalled to mind another simple du`ā’, this one from Qur’ān 21:83, this one associated with Job after he was ill for many years:

أَنِّي مَسَّنِيَ الضُّرُّ وَأَنتَ أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ

Annī massaniya aḍ-ḍurru waanta arḥamu ar-raḥimīna

Truly, adversity has touched me, and you [God] are the Most Merciful of the merciful.

Kinda working on the spot, I ended up mixing these two supplications together, tweaking the terms and concepts slightly to better match my own spiritual needs and framework, and ended up with another misbaḥa devotional, which was at least something I could offer in the memory and veneration of Adam.  It’s not the same thing as what might be recited by faithful Muslims, but then, I’m no Muslim.  Using the usual misbaḥa format:

  1. Recite once: “In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Truly Merciful, the Exalter and Abaser both.”
  2. On each of the first set of 33 beads, recite: “O God, may we not wrong ourselves.”
  3. On the first separator, recite: “It is in God that we seek refuge.”
  4. On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite: “O God, show us your grace and your mercy.”
  5. On the second separator, recite:”It is in God that we seek refuge.”
  6. On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite:”O God, may we not be among the lost.”
  7. Recite once: “Though suffering is near to me, it is you, o God, who is Merciful among all the merciful.”

It’s something that I can use in the meantime, barring anything more.  It’ll just be part of my own attainment.

When God Says No: On True Will and the Will of God

Yesterday, we started talking about a number of questions from Curious Cat that focused on the role of angels in magical work, and what happens when they don’t show up or don’t do what we ask, command, or commission them to do for us.  This is a really complex topic, at least so complex that I can’t really answer it in the 3000 character limit that Curious Cat sets for question replies, but I’m trying to flesh it out as best as I can here on my blog.  Again, I’m approaching this from a Hermetic monist-yet-polytheist standpoint that takes in the existence of both angels and gods under God in the same creation that we’re in.  What we ended up with so far is this idea that we can’t really command angels to do anything; all we can do is pray that they do something for us, whether it’s appearing in a crystal for a conjuration or fulfilling some task or teaching us some mystery.  And when we make such prayers, we’re directing those prayers to God, because angels exist solely to fulfill the will of God; that’s their nature.  Angels don’t have free will; their will is the will of God, or they just constantly and forever want the exact same thing God wants in the exact same way, and will act in their capacities to fulfill the will of God.  This means that it’s our prayers to God that matter more than the presence or help of the angels, and there are lots of reasons why prayers might not be answered: sometimes it’s because we’re not asking for what’s possible according to the will of God, and sometimes it’s best we don’t get what we want because it’s not for us or because we’re not ready for it yet.

What it all comes down to is this: we, as human beings, are blessed with quite a lot of power, but it’s not infinite power.  We’re actually quite small and insignificant in the grander scope of the cosmos, but we still have some significance.  That significance plays through our True Will, which is a fancy modern way to describe “our path in life”, the purpose and plan of God that God has established for us as individuals as written in his Book of Life.  Everything we do in life, in order to be successful, has to be either in explicit accordance with our True Will or at least tolerated and permissible within the bounds of what our True Will necessitates; to give a mundane example, it’s necessary that I leave my house at 7:20 am to go get to the train station on time, but that doesn’t mean I have to wake up at 6 am in order to be sufficiently ready, because I have the freedom to wake up earlier or later so long as I’m out the door by 7:20 am.  Likewise, we have to live according to our True Will, whether or not we’re consciously aware of it, but we also have leeway to do things explicitly outside it because it doesn’t fundamentally matter one way or another, so long as we’re not doing things that actively go against our True Will.

When we act in accordance with our True Will, then we’re acting in accordance with the will of God, and we effectively become his angels for as long as our will is his will, and so long as that synchronization is maintained, there is nothing that can stop us; we might be delayed, slowed down, or face other difficulties in accomplishing it according to the usual vicissitudes of life and the struggles we face against the ignorant actions of ourselves or other human beings or the inimical actions of malevolent spirits, but God will not bar us or deny us from it, because it is his will that we should do the thing we’re doing.  When we act within the permissibility of our True Will, then what we’re doing may not be explicitly necessitated or mandated by God, but we have the license to act on it anyway because it doesn’t fundamentally matter one way or another so long as we get the right things done in the right way.  But when we act outside the permissibility of our True Will, then we go against the will of God, and there is nothing we can do that will change that, and we’re off-track from the proper path for ourselves in life.

The topic of True Will is one that I’ve talked about time and again on my blog in the past, and I think I’ve made some really important points on this before:

When we follow and carry out our True Wills, things generally go easier for us, since they’re increasingly tied into the things we’re doing.  We encounter fewer and fewer difficulties, since we’re effectively carrying out our roles to play in the cosmos, and “if God is for us, who can be against us”?  Sure, we might still attract haters (who will, after all, continue to hate on ‘choo), but when we work our Will on the cosmos, people who would interfere with us are either brought over to our side and begin helping us instead, or are drowned out, burned up, or otherwise silenced and made powerless to counteract or contradict us.  Plus, the more we work our True Will, the more we begin to find and associate with those who are also carrying out their Will, and since they’re doing what they must for the cosmos, it’ll naturally fall in line and correlate with what we must do for the cosmos, as two players on opposite sides of an orchestra play harmoniously in the whole.

It’s only when someone else messes up their part and trashes their Will so badly that it ends up careening into yours that can cause problems, like a planet that suddenly shifts out of orbit and collides into other planets, or a player in an orchestra that decides to start playing a march when everyone else is playing a waltz just to confuse others.  Sometimes this is out of earnest confusion and spiritual flailing, sometimes this is out of deliberate spite and (mis- or ab-)use of their power and Will.  This can certainly cause issues, and can even put a cold damper or shut down the flame of one who’s actually working their Will as they should.  All it needs is a bit of correction on both our part and the parts of others to get everything singing harmoniously again, and then we’ll all be aweseome again as we should.

In a way, the idea of True Will is starting to sound a lot like Grace to me: just as Grace is not a reward, neither is True Will, but they’re both the state and result of being doing the highest Good, of becoming properly Godly, and coming to truly know yourself, your origins, and your duty. (January 31, 2013)

So too is the wand of the magician not used as a blasting rod or an offensive weapon, but it’s used as a mark of divine right and being rightly divine.  The wand should be used to remind the magician and guide them to their True Will, not used to enforce their temporary will onto others.  After all, if one is following their True Will, then pretty much all else will fall into place accordingly (except in dire or unusual circumstances when other work must be applied).  The image of control that the wand bestows is just that, an illusory image; it’s the obedience of entities to their proper stations in the cosmos that the wand reminds them of, and helps them fall into place when in the presence of one who is effectively sent from on high.  To use  the wand to simply force or bind something to the whimsy of the magician is to abuse the authority given to the magician, and when abused enough, the magician incurs punishment just as Chinese emperors might lose the Mandate of Heaven. (October 11, 2013)

What do we, as conjurers and magicians and magi, do?  We take our divine birthright as children of the Most High and join with him in the ever-continuing act of creation of the cosmos.  We ask for the blessing of God to do what is Right and to enact our True Wills, thereby rejoining God in his infinite Grace.  We step into the role as agents of the Divine, of the Most Divine, to work with the spirits who are our relatives, who are our brothers and sisters from the same Source, and who endeavor to aid us as they aid the Divine themselves.  We, essentially, become a consciously direct extension of God and join with God.  I’m going to stop this little poetic waxing short of saying “we become God”, because we already are essentially part of the Prime Mover down in this little ass-end of the cosmos, but we come closest to it consciously when we do our Work.

There are points when working with the spirits simply does not work; as Fr. Rufus Opus has said, the general idea is “move  this or move me”, where either a thing desired is changed or made in the world or where we ourselves are changed if nothing else can be changed.  God, clearly, can change everything, since that’s pretty much his thing; nothing disobeys God, since everything is a part of God and works as part of the One, the cohesive Whole.  But, that said, by moving ourselves, we partake in that same action, and bring ourselves closer to becoming what we need to Be and do what we need to Do; in these cases, we bring ourselves closer to attaining and carrying out our True Wills.  This is also the same in all other instances when working with the spirits gets us results in the external world. (November 2, 2013)

This ties in tightly to notions of True Will and divine providence, too, and the ideas are similar.  When we do what God wants us to do, carrying out and serving our divine purpose, that’s our True Will, the will we are meant to fulfill which we ourselves can know once we can see ourselves clearly enough.  To do that, however, we have to carry out the Great Work, which helps us prepare ourselves across the four parts of the world and begin to hear and use Logos.  This allows our sensible, material bodies to better heed and serve our souls, which can then develop properly into a fully-knowledgeable and divine soul with Nous.  With Nous being known to ourselves, we then can carry out what it is we’re supposed to do; at that point, any distinction between what we want and what God wants is meaningless, because our wills have become God’s will and vice versa. (December 8, 2013)

I’ve brought up the idea before that, if we envision the whole grand scheme of things, the Cosmos, as a giant machine, then everyone is a gear in that machine. So long as we keep on doing what we need to do, every part works in harmony with every other part, and the machine works well. If even one part, however, gets out of sync or decides to revolt, then much of the rest of the system we find ourselves in can malfunction or break down, and other parts have to accommodate the malfunction until things get into proper working order again. (This is why life isn’t perfect, I suppose.) Kalagni of Blue Flame Magick once described this to me (in a discussion on True Will) as how a solar system works: the planets don’t need to think or plan or consciously strive towards orbiting the Sun, they just do it naturally as an expression of their selves and their purpose. But imagine, dear reader, if a rogue planet suddenly whipped itself into our solar system, or worse, imagine if one of our own planets suddenly got a wild hare up its axis of rotation and jumped out of its orbit. What happens? The other planets get knocked out of their own orbits, potentially colliding with other planets or celestial bodies, and the whole system gets out of whack until it finds a new equilibrium to settle down in. There’s no guarantee that this equilibrium will be equivalent to the previous one, or that the solar system as a whole will survive such an accident, but hey, shit happens. The Cosmos will do what it needs to do in order to work out its own problems, and its our job to make sure that we do our own Work accordingly to handle our Will, regardless of what the vicissitudes of fate throw at us. (February 12, 2017)

When you seek to work against your True Will, you cause problems, and the only solution is to get back in line with your True Will; there is no other option or alternative, and as I said earlier, no angel, demon, ghost, or god will make what you seek permissible without them going against their own True Wills.  Yes, other entities have their own True Wills.  It stands to reason that if we have a particular purpose in the creation of the Creator, then so does everyone and everything else, too, with the same kinds of boundaries and limits, just on different scales and with different scopes.  I brought this up in my answer to that last question from Curious Cat, since the question referenced other deities as examples of ones one might go to when God himself says “no”, one of which was the orisha Yemaya:

Since you bring up Yemaya, my mother in Ocha who’s extraordinarily dear to my heart (though my father and crown is Ogun), I can phrase this in a more Ocha-centric way. In Ocha theology, there are all these orisha, the divinities of the world, but there’s a hierarchy among them, with Obatala as king of the orisha. But Obatala is not the almighty all-ruler of the cosmos; that role goes to Olodumare (or Olorun or Olofi, they’re all basically the same), the divine creator of the whole cosmos. All things exist to carry out the will of Olodumare, including the orisha; as oloshas, we don’t interact with Olodumare because ey’s so far distant and removed from our day-to-day life, but instead, we interact with eir’s emissaries, stewards, and regents: the orisha. They cannot go against the will of Olodumare, who sets the laws for everything and everyone, but within their own domains, they have the power to work and act. So long as Olodumare grants them license to do so, they can do what they want.

Heck, even in orisha religion, there’s a notion that “no orisha can bless you if your own Ori does not accept it”.  Ori, in this case, is a special kind of head spirit that we all have, initiated or not, and is a kind of notion of “higher self” as well as our own “spirit of destiny”.  In many ways, if I were to translate it in to Western Hermtic terms, it’s essentially the spirit of our True Will.  If we ask for something but our Ori says “nope”, then it’s not part of your destiny to receive it, and no orisha will be able to give it to you, even if they want to give it to you or if you want to get it from them.  But if your Ori says “yup”, then it doesn’t matter whether we want the thing or not, because it’s part of our destiny to have it; we might delay on it or we might speed up towards it, but we can’t avoid it, and no orisha will be able to stop it, no matter how hard they try.  There might be ways to ameliorate or “fix” one’s destiny, but it’s limited, and even then, defaults back to the will of Olodumare (i.e. the will of God).

Even in Hellenic traditional religion, there’s a notion that Zeus is not just the king of Olympos, but the king of truly the entire cosmos whose power and rule is absolute, and whose will must be obeyed by all.  I dimly recall a scene from the Iliad (I forget where) where Zeus proclaims his own power, saying that if all the other gods and goddesses and spirits held on to the end of an unbreakable rope and if Zeus alone had it wrapped around his little finger, he could still yank the rope with such force as to fling all the other deities to the far ends of the world with just a nudge.  The will of Zeus is absolute, and no things can go against that supreme will; though Zeus is not necessarily a creator deity, he is still a cosmocrator all the same; he just happens to go along with his own designs and plans and will when he “obeys” the powers of other deities such as Anankē (Necessity) or the Moirai (Fates), because he does not permit himself to break the rules that he himself has set in conjunction with the other deities that establish the purpose and path of all things.

Consider it this way: in order to get around mental blocks about fighting against God when God says “no”, replace the word “God” (or “Olodumare” or “Zeus” or any other cosmocrator/creator deity) with the phrase “the fundamental nature of the cosmos”.  Thus, when the fundamental nature of the cosmos says “yes”, there’s nothing that can stop it from happening, and when the fundamental nature of the cosmos says “no”, there’s nothing that can make it happen.  Likewise, to get around the mental blocks when angels or any particular deity or divinity say “no”, replace the word “angels” or “other gods” with the phrase “the fundamental forces of the cosmos”.  When the fundamental forces of the cosmos say “yes”, that’s because the fundamental nature of the cosmos necessitates that those forces act in a certain way in order for the cosmos to maintain its nature; when the fundamental forces of the cosmos say “no”, that’s because the fundamental nature of the cosmos cannot allow those forces to function in that way in accordance with the rules that the fundamental nature of the cosmos set up and plays by.  However, those same fundamental forces of the cosmos may function in ways that produce interesting and perhaps unexpected side effects or which produce emergent properties that arise from particular combinations or edge-cases of forces interacting; these don’t go against the fundamental nature of the cosmos, but are still part of the cosmos because of how those forces work.  A force will do whatever it will do, and given the proper setting and context, it can and will do a lot, especially if there’s nothing stopping it, but it cannot do what it was not designed to do nor can it do anything when it has no power in a particular situation or context.

This is essentially where fate and destiny come into play, because “fate” is essentially “the course that the fundamental nature of the cosmos will take”, and it’s up to us to live our lives in accordance with fate, just as one can’t really go upstream down a torrentially-flowing river.  The thing is that we can go with it or fight against it; whether we’re successful or not is, ultimately, up whether what we’re doing is in accordance with that destiny and whether it plays a role in accomplishing it.  It sounds like, in the debate between fate vs. free will, all the above argues against free will and for the undeniable power of fate.  And yes!  That’s true.  But it’s also true that, from our point of view, we have freedom of choice and freedom of will, to be sure.  We don’t have to go along with the the fundamental nature of the cosmos, but it probably won’t end well, and even within the boundaries of the fundamental nature of the cosmos, we can still do a lot that the fundamental nature of the cosmos hasn’t explicitly mandated, often including how we do what we need to do.  After a certain point in the cosmos, the distinction between fate and free will becomes moot; you just do what you’re supposed to do, not because you don’t have a choice, but because you capital-W Want to.

For as important and wonderful and powerful as we are as human beings, we are still so small and weak.  The cosmos is filled with things far bigger, older, smarter, cleverer, and stronger than us.  Sometimes we can fight against them, and on occasion, we might even win.  In general, though, issues with authority will only cause you problems, and issues with the underlying authority of all of creation itself won’t get you very far at all.  When we appeal to God for help, we might get it, or we might not; it’s not up to us to demand it, because quite frankly, the cosmos owes you nothing at all.  You were made to fulfill some purpose or role; strive for that, because all else is meaningless in the end!  If you want something and you’re both meant to have it and capable of having it, then it will be yours; if you want something and you’re meant to have it but you’re not capable of having it, then start working on being capable of having it so that it can be yours; if you  want something and you’re not meant to have it, then accept it and move on to the things that you’re meant to have.  This is not an easy lesson to learn, because this is fundamentally the lesson of humility before God: “be it done unto me according to your word”.  We might be kings of our spheres and worlds, but there are still higher powers that we, too, must obey in order for our kingdoms to survive.  We are both ruler of that which is below and within and servant to that which is above and without.

This is essentially the whole point of our Great Work, our Magnum Opus, our True Will: we must learn what is appropriate and best for us, then work towards accomplishing it.  It’s not a one-and-done event that you can spend a month studying for then doing a simple ritual one night and going to bed and partying for the rest of your life; it’s literally the constant work of lifetimes, the most important and the most difficult thing we can ever do and ever be doing.  By that very same token, it’s also the most worthy, worthwhile, valuable, and precious thing we can ever hope to accomplish, and there is nothing we can do that is truly worthy of such a blessing and reward except to simply do it.  That we have the means and capability of fulfilling our fate is, in a sense, true grace from God.  We just need to keep our eyes on the target, keep facing towards God, and keep learning about our True Will so that we can fulfill it, day by day, step by step, stone by stone, breath by breath, bite by bite.  One day, we’ll get there.  There is nothing else in all of creation that is as worthy, or as difficult, than for us to fulfill what we were meant to do.

Whether we get what we want doesn’t ultimately matter, regardless whether or not we get it.  It’s whether we get what we Want that matters.

When God Says No: On God and the Angels

Yes, another post from Curious Cat.  It’s honestly a great way for people to reach out to me, and it gives me a ready store of ideas for posts to write about.  (I’ve been asking for comments on my website, Facebook, and Twitter for ages for when people would like to ask questions, but people either just don’t do that or don’t generally trigger a post-writing reaction.)  Plus, according to Human Design (which my blessed sister studies and practices), I’m a so-called “manifesting generator” type, who responds well to being asked questions in order to produce and effect wonderful things.  But unlike other posts about things that come from questions on Curious Cat, this post is gonna be a little different; we’re going to discuss a common thread that ties together several different questions that were asked, all largely pertaining to angels, their role in the cosmos, how we interact with them, how we’re permitted to interact with them, and what their relationship is to God.  To give a brief summary of the questions asked and my replies to them:

  • Where do angels come from, and what are they?  God made them to carry out his will in infinitesimal slices of divine presence, made discrete and distinct to govern over specific things, entities, events, or phenomena of the cosmos.  Angels have no free will; by definition, their will is the will of God and vice versa, so that they act strictly and solely in accordance with, for, by, and to God.
  • If angels have no free will, then when we invoke or conjure an angel and commission it with a request, it can only fulfill this request if God wills it? Yes!  All the conjurations we do in the Western Hermetic and Solomonic tradition of higher entities, if we’re not taking the rather old-school approach of assuming divine power ourselves and browbeating the cosmos into complying with our (temporarily-assumed) divine will, is to supplicate God through prayer to reveal that he send his angels to us in his name for his honor and glory.  Thus, when we call on an angel, we’re essentially asking God to graciously give his permission for the angel to be sent to us, because God’s will and God’s will alone is what allows all things to happen; how much more this is the case, then, for entities whose sole purpose is to perfectly and only fulfill the will of God!
  • What sort of behavior do angels hate?  It depends on what they’re the angel of, but in general, angels don’t really “hate” because they don’t really do emotion, since they’re the embodiments of and agents for the will of God.  In that sense, angels “hate” anything that goes contrary to the will, design, aims, and goals of God—and, by extension, all that we do that goes against our True Will, which is nothing more or less than the will of God that is right and proper for us to will and accomplish in our lifetimes.
  • How can we discover our True Will if we’re unaware of it?  This is nothing short of the first half of the Great Work; the second half is fulfilling it.  And there is nothing harder or higher than to know and do what it is what we truly Will.  This is exactly the same thing as knowing the purpose God has established for us in life.
  • Why do angels hate emotion, then? Angels don’t hate emotion; they just don’t have it, or at least in any meaningful way that we might recognize as emotion.  We might perceive or interpret them to be acting emotionally, but that’s only because we ourselves are human and thus emotive creatures, while angels are utterly devoid of humanity and completely above and beyond our level, at least or especially where emotions are concerned.  Angels don’t have free will; they don’t even roll or blink their (innumerable) eyes without God willing it.
  • If an angel is being difficult, how do we complain to its manager?  If an angel is being difficult, it’s not because the angel is acting wily or being a punk for the sake of being a punk.  If an angel declines to do something, it’s because God declines to permit that thing from occurring; it’s not that the angels decide against it, but God decides against it.  That’s why, when we pray in conjuration for an angel to appear, we pray that God grant that it should happen (see above).  If something doesn’t happen, then there’s a reason for it; we either must work towards it so that we’re ready and proper for it in the eyes of God, or we must pray for the right thing to occur, whether it involves the conjuration and commissioning of an angel to do something or whether we should do something else entirely that would be better for us to do.
  • If God is unwilling to help us, would intervention from other deities from other traditions or pantheons help instead? Maybe, but if God’s decided against it, then there’s probably a good reason for that. It could be that you should look elsewhere for help, such as from another god or using another set of spirits or practices entirely to get the same thing done rather than by directly appealing to the Highest, but it could also be that you’re asking for the wrong thing entirely or that it’s not meant for you, whether now or at all. That’s where divination is crucial for magicians: it helps us plan out what we can do, but more than that, whether we should do something. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, and if you shouldn’t, you should learn the reasons why. In other words, don’t go shopping around for a second opinion when you already got The One Opinion To Rule Them All. Keep to the principle of “move, or move me”.
  • But when it comes to other gods, don’t they also share power over our reality as well?  Absolutely!  But for all their greatness and grandness and power, they’re not as great or grand or powerful as the cosmocrator God behind them all. And that’s okay, because they don’t need to be, and it’s often better to work with them directly if you’re in such a tradition than to work with the behind-the-scenes all-ruling One, because they’re more accessible. But there are limits in place that even they can’t argue with, because they’re not in charge of literally everything like God is.

All this ended up with me saying this from that last question in the series, which I want to specifically quote with a special emphasis on one particular line:

God (and I use that term in a very general, very high-and-behind-the-scenes way as in Hermetic theology/philosophy), more often than not, doesn’t really established hard and fixed prohibitions so long as something fits (or is, at least, tolerated and permissible) within the grander scheme of things.  Even the biggest events and problems in our lives are less than specks of dust compared to the grandness of all creation, and accordingly, there’s not too much that really conflicts with the overall overarching design of God; there’s more than one way to skin a cat. But when God says “no” through the creation of the cosmos, there’s no angel, demon, ghost, or god that will say “yes”. If God says “no”, then you should find out why that might be the case and act accordingly, because more often than not, it’s with your own best interests in mind. Again, this is where divination is important, because it will tell you what’s going on, whether you can do something, and whether you should do something.

Now, there’s a lot to unpack in all of this, because I didn’t necessarily summarize everything, and Curious Cat, for all its usefulness, isn’t great for truly nuanced discussions, what with its 3000 character limit on replies, and it’s easy to get some parts of the above misunderstood.  Plus, there are things that I’m hinting at in some of my replies that really need to be said explicitly, but just couldn’t fit reasonably in the above replies within the constraints of Curious Cat.  First, let me preface this by saying that I’m coming from a position that’s largely Hermetic and Neoplatonic and fundamentally emanationist-monist within a polytheistic framework, and I recognize that not all systems of theology, cosmology, or philosophy operate on these principles—but there are still quite a number that do.  Since I’m the one being asked these questions for my opinions, and since this is my own blog, these are my thoughts on all of this.

At the core of it all, the theme of all these questions is what role God has to play in our Work, whether or not we’re monotheistic or monist, and how we relate to God in that sense.

First, what exactly is this God we’re talking about?  Coming from a Hermetic standpoint, God is the ultimate underlying authority and entity that created and creates the whole cosmos.  Without getting into the nitty-gritty of Hermetic philosophy (I did a good-enough job of that in my 49 Days of Definitions blog series from 2013 regarding the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”), God is both the end result of spiritual development and the ultimate source of all things that exist, don’t exist, might exist, etc.  Everything else that exists does so within God as part of God.  It may be said that God is fullness itself; instead of merely saying that all things exist within God, it can also be said that all things are God, and since God is all things, God is All.  However, since God is still one divinely simple entity, God is also One, and thus All is One.  God is the Platonic Good, the summum bonum of the philosophers, the object of highest knowledge and importance that is the forerunner and producer of all other objects.  God is also the Monad, the One, that which is alone in itself, made by itself endlessly (i.e. unmade), making all things, coming first; it is the one Source of all things, creating all things within itself yet never being made from anything besides itself, never taking away from itself into less nor multiplying itself into more.  God, further, encompasses all things; not only is God fully immanent in all of creation, but God also transcends all of creation, too.  Everything is permeated with divine essence, but everything is also intrinsically connected to each other and to God by it as well.

Where does that put us, as human beings?  All beings, human and otherwise that are not God are finite; they are not infinite, unending, immovable, or the like, since these are qualities that belong only to God.  Something that is finite has an end; it is defined, or set in by boundaries.  The maximum extent of these boundaries can be called something’s capacity, and nothing that is finite can exceed its own capacity.  Thus, everything that exists that is not God has a certain way of existing up to a certain point, whether it be in quantity or quality or good or evil; these things cannot act outside or beyond that point, because then it would exceed its own capacity.  A being’s capacity is, essentially, its destiny; a being does what its nature is designed to do, which is to fulfill its own capacity, but which it cannot exceed, because that would be going past what its destiny necessitates.  This is essentially our power: to fulfill our capacity, to fulfill our fate, and we have the choice of doing good or evil in a Hermetic sense, to fulfill our fate or to not fulfill it.  And that’s huge!  But, despite all this power we’re entitled to have, we’re not omnipotent; for example, our nature as humans is to die; we are mortal, after all, and the nature of things with material bodies is to die eventually.

What about other entities that aren’t human beings, such as angels or gods that are distinct from capital-G God?  They’re entities in their own rights, to be sure, and have their own capacities, natures, and roles to play.  But they’re still finite, no matter how much power they have.  Whatever something is according to its nature, that is going to be how it will be for that being.  These entities still have power, but they still exist as finite entities within creation; thus, they are still not God.  Rather, it’s God who establishes their natures and capacities, and it’s the role of those entities to fulfill them however they so choose.  Being higher than us and made of more subtle stuff and without the distractions and darkness of incarnate bodies, they also see more and know more than we do, and are necessarily closer to God than we are down here.  All the same, however, they cannot exceed their own capacities, either.

Now, I know that this might seem a little…appropriative, as if I’m trying to fit every possible tradition or religion into a single monist framework.  In a sense, yeah, because that’s what Hermeticism is, and it’s fundamentally one of the ways that Neoplatonic philosophy regards the hierarchy and workings of the cosmos.  To be sure, there isn’t just one Neoplatonism, and I’ll admit that my own philosophical background is amateurish, but it’s a thing I’ve seen and considered time and again and, simply, the framework works.  While I believe in God, I also believe in a plurality of many other gods; they’re all real, and often with varying powers, domains, personalities, temperaments, preferences, and the like.  And yet, they exist as part of creation just like I do, which is why approaching them works.  Yet, as a Hermeticist, I also recognize the existence (such as it is) of a God of gods, a God behind all creation, both within and without.  This is effectively the same God as that of Abraham or Muḥammad as well as of Hermēs Trismegistus, as well as Olodumare of the Yòrubá and Lukumí, as well as the God of the gnostics and the Good of the philosophers.  One can still be a monist without being a monotheist or monolatrist.  Even if you disagree with that approach to divinity and divinities (and I know of at least several who would with very good reasons!), accept the premise of it for the purposes of this post.

When it comes to angels, the word itself literally means “messenger” in Greek (ἄγγελος ángelos), and the notion of it in Abrahamic religions comes from the Hebrew מלאך mal’ākh meaning, again, “messenger”.  More than just being a bearer of the messages of God, however, angels are more like ambassadors, emissaries, or functionaries of God: they accomplish the will of God in every possible way, fulfilling it by governing, ruling, directing, and instructing different parts of the cosmos, essentially acting as the limbs of God and extensions of the will of God.  If we want to take the “messenger” idea a bit further in a way that comports with both Hermeticism and Christianity, consider the role of the Word; after all, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word is God”.  The “Word” of Christianity does refer to Jesus Christ, sure, but it’s also the Logos of the Hermeticists, the rational and intelligible principle that allows God (as the Nous, or Mind) to allow the cosmos to function.  In that sense, angels are messengers of the Word of God; where they bear the Word, they fulfill the will of God.

The thing about angels is that they are still only messengers; they speak the Word of God, but that is all they can speak, for that is their capacity and nature.  Angels, as extensions of the will of God, have no free will of their own; their whole purpose is to effect the will of God in the creation God made.  Whatever an angel “wants” to do is identical with what God wills; their will is inherently God’s will.  That’s why, among many other things, we can’t command an angel to do anything, because that’s equivalent to commanding God to do something, which is so far outside our finite and human capacity and capabilities that it’s laughable.  Angels cannot and do not do anything that God does not command them to do, but “command”, though a familiar concept to us coming from a Jewish, Christian, or Islamic background, isn’t really what’s happening between God and the angels; rather, God speaks his Word, and the angels bear that Word to wherever they’re going to accomplish whatever that Word is.  Angels are almost machine-like in that sense; they exist for the sole purpose of “serving God” by fulfilling the will of God.

In terms more suited to Renaissance Hermeticism, angels are “intelligences”, spiritual entities under the rule of God that guide and direct the manifestation of the forces of the cosmos.  Every force, entity, place, planet, and thing in the cosmos has its own presiding or governing angel, which can be worked with through devotional, magical, or some other kind of spiritual means.  Thus, consider Tzaphqiel, the angel of Saturn; this angel is the “governor” of that planet, and serves to establish the power, roles, functions, motions, and works of Saturn in all things in the cosmos.  Tzaphqiel, as an angel, bears the Word of God in a way that focuses on the Logos as it pertains to Saturn.  If we want to bring more Saturn power into our lives or throttle it back from our lives, we can work with Tzaphqiel to do just that.  But what if Tzaphqiel says “no”?

This is basically what a lot of these questions on Curious Cat are getting at.  Let’s step aside for a bit and consider something else for the moment: where does the nature of angels in relation to God leave us in angelic magic, whether through prayers or conjurations?  It cannot be denied that working with angels is often incredibly effective for any number of ends, and is a staple of European folk religion and folk magic as well as Hermetic, Solomonic, and other kinds of magic generally in both the West and the East.  Obviously, we don’t worship angels—that’d be idolatry, and an insult to both the angel and God—but we do venerate them and honor them, especially when thanking them or calling upon them.  But the thing is that, when we call upon them, there’s something that’s really common in much of Western magical literature that we need to carefully consider: we don’t command the angels to appear, but we ask for them to appear.  Moreover, we don’t ask the angel to appear, but we ask God that the angel appear for us.  And there are very good reasons for that.

Consider the specific conjuration prayer from Johann Trithemius’ Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals.  For clarity, let me use my own slightly reworded version, and note the specific phrasing of the prayer in the emphasized sections:

In the name of the blessed Tetragrammaton, I call upon you, you strong and mighty angel Michael, if it be the divine will of the most holy God that you take the shape that best shows your celestial nature, and appear to me visibly here in this crystal, and answer my demands in as far as I shall not transgress the bounds of divine mercy by requesting unlawful knowledge, and that you graciously show me what things are most profitable for me to know and do, to the glory and honor of his divine majesty, who lives and reigns, world without end.  Amen.

Lord, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Make clean my heart within me, and take not your holy spirit from me.

O Lord, by your name I have called Michael; suffer him to administer unto me, and that all things may work together for your honor and glory, and that to you be ascribed all might, majesty, and dominion.  Amen.

O Lord, I thank you for the hearing of my prayer, and I thank you for having permitted your spirit to appear unto me.  Amen.

For another example, consider the orison from book II, chapter 12 of the Book of Abramelin:

O Lord God of Mercy … Sanctify me also with the oil of thy sanctification, wherewith thou hast sanctified all thy prophets; and purify in me therewith all that appertains unto me, so that I may become worthy of the conversation of thy holy angels and of thy divine wisdom, and grant unto me the power which thou hast given unto thy prophets over all the evil spirits. Amen, amen.

Another example, the prayer from septenary II, aphorism 14 from the Arbatel of Magic:

O Lord of heaven and earth, Creator and Maker of all things visible and invisible; I, though unworthy, by thy assistance call upon thee, through thy only begotten Son Jesus Christ our Lord, that thou wilt give unto me thy holy Spirit, to direct me in thy truth unto all good. Amen.

Because I earnestly desire perfectly to know the Arts of this life and such things as are necessary for us, which are so overwhelmed in darkness, and polluted with infinite humane opinions, that I of my own power can attain to no knowledge in them, unless thou teach it me. Grant me, therefore, one of thy spirits, who may teach me those things which thou would have me to know and learn, to thy praise and glory, and the profit of our neighbor…

Then again, the invocation to call forth angels from the Ars Almadel (language cleaned up to be made more readable for modern readers):

O you great, mighty, and blessed angel of God, NN. … I, the servant of the same your God entreat and humbly beseech you to come and show unto me all the things that I desire of you, so far as in office you can or are capable to perform if God permit to the same.  O you servant of Mercy, NN., I entreat you and humbly beseech you … to inform and rightly instruct me in my ignorant and depraved intellect, judgment, and understanding, and to assist me both in both this and in all other truths that the almighty Adonai, the King of Kings and the Giver of all good gifts, shall in his bountiful and fatherly Mercy be graciously pleased to bestow upon me.  Thus, o you blessed angel NN., be friendly unto me and work for me, so far as God has given you power in office to perform, whereunto I move you in power and presence to appear that I may sing with his holy angels: o mappa la man, hallelujah!  Amen.

I think the message I’m getting across is clear here.  Granted, not all grimoires in the Solomonic or Hermetic tradition use this kind of phrasing, especially when we’re dealing in a more goetic fashion where instead of pleading for God to grant his permission of such-and-such a phenomenon happening, we simply assume that God has given us his authority to make things happen, thus all the perilous threats that Solomonic magicians are known to use.  But how do we actually know or make sure we have that authority, or how do we know whether God will grant us permission?  Consider the very first line of the Key of Solomon (book I, chapter 1): “Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel, hath said that the beginning of our Key is to fear God, to adore him, to honor him with contrition of heart, to invoke him in all matters which we wish to undertake, and to operate with very great devotion, for thus God will lead us in the right way.”

Heck, I think the Key of Solomon is an excellent text to discuss here.  Julio Cesar Ody (of famous occult-lampooning fame), if I recall correctly (and I hope he corrects me if I’m wrong!) has remarked before that people treat the Key of Solomon as something to pilfer and take extracts from, rather than treating it like a full initiatory system of magic unto itself.  And when you look at it…yeah.  It really is far more than just a collection of works and talismans to be made with good prayers to be used for consecrating three dozen and more tools and pentacles.  Consider that the recitation of psalms is a huge part of they Key of Solomon; why would that be the case?  Because the Psalms are fundamentally songs that are used to praise God for his power and  beneficence, creation of the world, and miracles and favors done for mankind generally and for the sake of Israel specifically.  They can take the form of laments, thanksgiving, praisegiving, celebration, or pleas for help, and their study and recitation is common in Judaism and Christianity for imparting wisdom and cultivating grace and an elevated spirituality in accordance with the will and command of God.  Yes, the specific psalms used in the rituals of the Key of Solomon do bear relation to the things being consecrated at times, but it’s a constant practice of keeping ourselves spiritually in line with the will of God, which, when used with the actual prayers of the rituals themselves, produce an all-around feat of holy work.  Consider the first prayer from book I, chapter 5:

O Lord God, holy Father, Almighty and Merciful One who has created all things, who know all things and can do all things, from whom nothing is hidden, to whom nothing is impossible!  You who know that we do not perform these ceremonies to tempt your power, but that we may penetrate into the knowledge of hidden things.  We pray to you, by your sacred Mercy, to cause and to permit that we may arrive at this understanding of secret things of whatever nature they may be by your aid, o most holy ADONAI, whose Kingdom and Power shall have no end unto the Ages of the Ages. Amen.

Fundamentally, working divine magic is just prayer, just supplications to the Divine—to God—that certain things happen, not for the simple reason that we want it to happen, but that it be capital-G Good and ordained by God that it should happen.  That’s really all there is to it.  You might want to use so many words as all the excerpts above show, perhaps to inflame yourself with prayer to reach a more powerful or ecstatic state of working, or you might use less, if you can manage to get as much intent and focus out from fewer words.  Either way, this sort of magic is just prayer.

In this light, what happens when we pray for something and it doesn’t happen?  There could be several explanations:

  • What we’re praying for isn’t permissible within the design of God. It could be that what you’re asking for just isn’t possible, realistic, or appropriate for the world that God has established.  God could look at you and say “you’re being unreasonable here, focus on what’s realistic”.  I could pray to grow wings so that I can fly around the skies, but it’s not going to happen according to the laws of human physiology and basic physics in this world, which were designed according to the will and plan of God.  It could happen on other planes where one’s form isn’t so rigidly fixed, but it’s not going to happen here.  Likewise, if you pray for the consecration of a particular talisman for a particular end and it doesn’t end up consecrated, it’s because God sees that what you’re asking for isn’t permissible within the overall scheme of things that God has set up for us, perhaps due to the nature of what you’re asking (e.g. a talisman to shoot fireballs out of our hands) or due to the ramifications it might have (e.g. it could set off a chain reaction that would end up butting up harshly against things God already has in store for the cosmos).
  • What we’re praying for isn’t for us to receive. It could be that what you’re asking for is good, noble, and proper, but you’re not the right person to request it or have it.  God could look at you and say “this is a good idea, but it’s not for you to work on, so ask for  something else”.  Not everyone is going to be good at everything; I’m no fighter or doctor, so while I might pray for skill in battle or for success in a lucrative medical career, these things aren’t in my life path.  Trying to force them, so long as it doesn’t go against the will of God for me, could get some success, but it could also just as easily happen that trying to go down those paths would end up with me being stymied, frustrated, and blocked at every turn.  These are signs from the cosmos itself that I’m not on the right path and that I’m barking up the wrong tree.  Instead, I should learn what my path truly entails and focus on that; it might not be easy (it rarely is!), but it will be successful in a way that would go far beyond things that I’m not meant to do.  Thus, if you’re praying for something to happen and it doesn’t happen, it’s could be because that thing isn’t for you to have in your life because it won’t help you and could easily harm you.
  • What we’re praying for is something that we can receive eventually but which we’re not ready to receive now. It could be that what you’re asking for is good, noble, and proper, and it’s proper for you to have those things, but you’re not ready to have it yet.  God could look at you and say “you’ve got the potential, but you aren’t at the right state of development for it right now, so keep working at it”.  In other words, you’re on the right track, but it’s above your station; one day, if you keep on the right track, you’ll get there.  Consider the notion of knowledge and conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel; coming in contact with this divine spirit often involves an ordeal because it’s a direct link to God, and quite simply, not everyone is ready for it.  They all have their own guardian angels, to be sure, but they might not be able to truly comprehend the power and, thus, the accompanying responsibility of the conscious company of that spirit yet.  They need to refine themselves through cultivating virtue and abandoning vice until they reach a certain stage of spiritual development.  Receiving those things we pray for earlier than when it’s appropriate for us could very easily cause us and those around us harm at worst or just distractions and delays at best.

How do we know whether a prayer of ours will be granted?  This is where divination comes into play.  Divination is important for magicians of all kinds, not just because it’s a useful and profitable skill to bring in clients and to spy on people, but because it shows us the way for our own Work.  By divination, we can figure out what’s going on and what the appropriate ways are to handle it; as part of that, we can see not just whether we can do a particular ritual for a particular end, but whether we should do it (or, in the words of the good and most reverend Bishop Lainie Petersen, whether it’s wise for us to do it).  If a reading indicates that we can do something but that we should not do it, then it’s within our power to do the thing but it’s not the best use of our power to do it.  If a reading indicates that we can not do something but that we should do it, then it’s not within our power yet to do the thing and that we need to focus on cultivating that power however necessary in order to do it.  And, if a reading indicates that we can not do something and that we also should not do it, then it’s neither in our power nor our best interests to do the thing.  The answer to can-or-can’t ultimately lies with us, but the answer to should-or-shouldn’t lies with God.

We’ll pick up on this tomorrow when we get more into the notion of what “should” really means here, because this is touching on what role the will of God plays for us in our lives.

On Fasting (and All the Various Ways You Can Fast)

Another wonderful question from Curious Cat:

What alternative recommendations would suggest to someone who cannot fast due to health issues? I already eat relatively clean … I’d like to re-start my system, but can’t entirely forgo food due to a compromised immune system. Any suggestions?

This is a surprisingly deep question, and one with plenty of alternatives.  I answered it on Curious Cat, but I want to go into more depth about it here, because it turns out there’s a lot to say.  Also, it just so happens that I’ve written about fasting long ago in two posts from 2012, here and here, which I only remembered after writing most of this current post.  Still, I think it’s time for a refresher and see what new information I might be able to put to paper here, now that I’m a little older and maybe a little bit wiser, too.

First, what exactly is fasting?  Fasting is fundamentally a practice of abstinence that typically focuses on one’s diet and which is composed of three main things:

  • A set of prohibitions on food, drink, and other substances we take into our bodies
  • A set of prohibitions on how we take food, drink, and other substances into our bodies
  • A duration of time for which above prohibitions are to be observed

The most common sorts of fasting is an absolute fast (absolutely no food or liquid) or a water fast (no food but water is permitted), and this is typically what we think of when we hear about fasting.  There are plenty of reasons for this—diagnostic fasting to achieve a baseline for medical testing or hunger strikes for the sake of political or humanitarian protests come to mind—but one of the most common reasons for fasting is for religious or spiritual purposes, and is seen in many religions across the world for an equally wide number of reasons:

  • Cultivate and maintain discipline
  • Develop spiritual powers or blessings
  • Atonement and repentance for sins or lawlessness
  • Purification of the body and spirit
  • Devotion to higher powers
  • Mourning
  • Following the example of a saint, prophet, or holy exemplar of the religion
  • Preparation for a ritual or feast

Basically, in general, when we fast for a religious or spiritual purpose, we’re essentially engaging in a form of asceticism, putting our body under an ordeal of abstinence from things that please us our our senses, holding back our taste for worldly sustenance so that we can instead feast on heavenly delights.  Asceticism and some forms of drastic fasting can also include self-mortification, but we’re not interested in that here; we don’t want to harm or destroy the body, but we do want to control and purify it through abstinence.

The thing is that absolute fasting or water fasting can be dangerous for many people: those with autoimmune disorders, blood sugar disorders (especially diabetes), hormonal imbalances (e.g. thyroid or adrenaline issues), and the like can and will suffer harm to their bodies up to and including death if they go without food for too long.  Moreover, there are also a number of religions where fasting just isn’t a thing or which is actively discouraged.  Heck, for myself, I have a specific spiritual prohibition from La Regla de Ocha Lukumí (a.k.a. Santería) where I can’t skip lunch, which I interpret a little more broadly to mean “no absolute/water fasts”, so I can’t engage in that kind of practice anymore, either.  To that end, I engage in intermittent fasting, where I don’t eat from sunrise to sunset, a la Muslim Ramaḍān or the Bahá’í Nineteen Day Fast, though I do permit myself to have water at all times and only permit other drinks during eating-time, if I don’t set a prohibition on those as well.  In the end, though, it’s important to remember that fasting isn’t the be-all end-all of spiritual practices, or even of ways to purify and refine the body and spirit.  If you’re part of a religion or tradition that recommends or requires it, or if you feel like you should engage in it, then do so, and do so safely and reasonably without causing harm or torment to yourself; otherwise, you should feel no obligation to do so, since there are plenty of other practices you can engage in towards the same ends.

But, let’s say you want to do some sort of fast or fasting-like practice, but you can’t do an absolute or water fast for health reasons, and you’re not discouraged from a fasting practice in general.  What can you do?  Quite a lot, actually.  If we interpret “fasting” to mean “abstinence” more broadly, and consider the three parts of fasting (prohibitions on food/liquid/etc., prohibitions on how we eat/drink/etc., and durations), then there are plenty of things we can hone in on, whether taken as a single thing to abstain from or taken as a cluster of rules to be observed simultaneously.  In short, rather than an absolute fast or a water fast, we engage in a so-called partial fast, where we only abstain from particular things in our diet.  The following lists of prohibitions are by no means exhaustive, but they’re intended as examples for further inspiration, and are pulled from a variety of traditions, cultures, practices, religions, and the like for consideration.

Restrictions on what food or drink is permissible :

  • No processed grains
  • No grains at all
  • No leavened bread
  • No bread or flour-based products at all (e.g. noodles, porridge, crackers).
  • No grain-, starch-, pulse-, bean-, tuber-, or nut-based staple foods
  • No meat of mammals or birds (essentially a pescatarian diet)
  • No meat at all (essentially a vegetarian diet)
  • No dairy
  • No animal products generally (essentially a vegan diet)
  • No gritty foods
  • No solid foods (i.e. broths and soups only)
  • No oils added to food or drink
  • No sweeteners added to food or drink
  • No spices added to food or drink
  • No salt added to food or drink
  • No sweet food eaten or drink drunk for the reason of being sweet
  • No carbonated drinks
  • No drinks that are not plain water
  • No drinking clear alcohols (e.g. white rum or vodka, but excluding creme liqueurs or red wines)
  • No drinking alcohol at all
  • No drinking more than a set amount of liquid each day
  • No food prepared with sauce, gravy, or dressing of any kind
  • No food or drink of a particular color (e.g. red food, brown food, white food)
  • No food or drink that are root vegetables (e.g. potatoes, onions, carrots)
  • No food or drink that are not root vegetables
  • No food or drink that contain caffeine of any kind (e.g. coffee, tea, chocolate)
  • No food or drink that contain a specific kind of ingredient (e.g. pumpkin, eggs, wheat, corn)
  • No food or drink that doesn’t contain a specific kind of ingredient (e.g. tree nuts, legumes, potatoes, beans)
  • No vitamins, dietary supplements, or medicines that are not strictly necessary for medical reasons
  • Etc.

Restrictions on how food or drink is cooked or processed:

  • No cooked food or drink
  • No cooked food or drink older than 24 hours (i.e. no leftovers)
  • No preserved food or drink
  • No prepackaged food or drink
  • No food or drinks that are colder than ambient room temperature (e.g. nothing ice-cold or chilled)
  • No food or drinks that are hotter than ambient room temperature (e.g. nothing warm or hot)
  • No food or drink that has been touched by fire
  • No food or drink that has been cooked with or come in contact with metal
  • No food or drink that is fermented
  • No food or drink that was not cooked or prepared by your own hands
  • No food or drink that was not freely given to you by another person
  • No food or drink that was not prepared using a specially-dedicated, consecrated, or otherwise set-apart set of cookware or dishes
  • Etc.

Restrictions on when we eat or drink:

  • No eating between sunset and sunrise
  • No eating or drinking between sunset and sunrise
  • No dining more than once a day
  • No dining before a particular task or set of tasks have been done
  • Etc.

Restrictions on how we eat or drink:

  • No engaging in talking, writing, or any other activity when eating
  • No dining at restaurants, at other people’s homes, or anywhere outside your own home
  • No dining with other people
  • No dining unless in the company of other people
  • No dining with metal implements
  • No dining while seated at a table (i.e. only while sitting on the ground)
  • Etc.

Besides just focusing on dietary prohibitions, though, there are also behavioral prohibitions that we can incorporate, either instead of dietary prohibitions or in addition to them.  Again, if we engage in fasting as a means of restraining ourselves by means of abstaining from things that give us sensual pleasures and distractions from spiritual development, then we can also include a bunch of behaviors, habits, addictions, or other things we like doing (rather than just eating or drinking) that can be at least as spiritually distracting or impure as any kind of food or drink.  After all, consider that the original questioner from Curious Cat already eats pretty clean and sparingly, so trying to restrict or further inhibit or prohibit their food/drink intake might just be a case of diminishing returns, so it might not be a bad idea to expand our scope of prohibitions to behaviors.  Some examples include (again, not a definitive or exhaustive list):

  • No sexual activity, whether with someone else or by oneself
  • No playing games or sports, listening to music, watching movies or TV, or any other activity for the sole purpose of entertainment
  • No social media
  • No computer or mobile use between sunset and sunrise
  • No smoking of tobacco, cannabis, salvia, or any other inhaled drug
  • No recreational or psychotropic drugs except those for explicitly medical or required spiritual purposes
  • No sleeping on a bed or any surface higher than the width of two fingers
  • No wearing makeup, nail polish, or any other cosmetics for the purpose of embellishing or hiding the natural form of the body
  • No using perfumes, colognes, scented oils, fragrances, or any other odoriferous substance outside of purely religious or spiritual reasons
  • No wearing jewelry, fine clothes, immodest clothes, or any other articles for the purpose of ostentation or displaying appeal
  • No wearing clothes of a particular color (e.g. black clothes, red clothes)
  • No bathing or washing any part of the body with hot water
  • No being in direct sunlight or moonlight
  • No being in complete darkness
  • No lying, exaggerating, undue modesty, deceit, or misleading of any kind
  • No cursing, arguing, yelling, raising one’s voice, gossiping, or using any kind of heated or improper language
  • No violence to any living being
  • No using or carrying of weapons of any kind
  • No using, lighting, carrying, or being around fire
  • No sleeping in late or taking naps
  • No cutting any of the hair on the head or the body
  • No capitalizing the first-person singular pronoun “I” (i.e. always write it as “i went to the store”)
  • Etc.

(I admit that a bunch of those behavioral rules are those that are common-enough prohibitions from the initiatory year of Lukumí, the Year in White, which I had to observe for…quite some time, and some I still have to observe for other reasons, but are general enough and smart enough rules to be used by plenty of people.)

With all the options above we have for abstaining from particular foods and drinks, how they’re prepared, how we can abstain from them, and other behaviors, I think it’s important to remember that fasting is an ordeal, and should be taken seriously as such.  Yes, you could do a fast from all pork products, but if you never or only rarely eat pork, then you’re not really abstaining from something that you weren’t already abstaining from.  Fasting, whether absolute or partial or whether total or intermittent, should be a time when we give up and abstain from things that we actively enjoy or find ourselves relying on or addicted to; when you fast, take away the things that give you a sense of pleasure and which distract you from focusing on spiritual stuff.  If you eat a lot of candy, give that up; if you don’t eat candy, give something else up instead.  If you don’t have the ability to sleep in (e.g. if you live on a regimented, scheduled military base or if you have a farm), then you’re already de facto abstaining from that, so give something else up instead.  Of the things that you don’t strictly need for medical or health-related reasons, pick the things you dread or fear to give up yet which you’re able to, and then you’ll be properly fasting.

Then, finally, then there’s one last thing to consider: how long do we observe all the above prohibitions, and when should we do it?  While all of the above is really up to you in how seriously (or not) you want to engage in your own personalized kind of fasting, this is where it can get really customized.  This is where you should really focus on what your traditions or religions say, because those are the guiding principles here along with whatever your priests or mentors or gurus or godparents might prescribe or recommend, but there are some guiding rules that I like to follow for my own practices and traditions.  Some examples of fasting durations include (again, not a definitive or exhaustive list):

  • One day every week on a day set aside for the worship, veneration, or devotion of a particular spirit or deity
  • The day of the New Moon (technically, the day of the first sighting of the Moon rather than the day of syzygy between the Moon and the Sun)
  • The three days before, the day of, and the day after the Full Moon
  • Three, four, seven, or sixteen days leading up to any feast or regular celebration
  • Three days leading up to any minor ritual, whether for yourself or another
  • Seven days leading up to any major ritual, whether for yourself or another
  • Three, four, seven, sixteen, or more days after any major initiation, according to that tradition’s rules
  • The two days before and of religious communion or communal worship
  • The forty days of Lent (for Christians)
  • The thirty(ish) days of Ramaḍān (for Muslims)
  • The nineteen days of the Nineteen Day Fast (for Bahá’í)
  • The forty-nine days after the death of a close family member
  • Throughout spiritual retreats or prolonged holy festivals or gatherings
  • The three or more days after one has committed a particularly bad spiritual offense
  • Once a week on a particular weekday for a set number of weeks (e.g. every Sunday from sunrise to sunset for six weeks straight)
  • Whenever vows or rules are adopted in devotion to a spirit or as part of a pact or payment

When fasting for a prolonged period of time more than a single day, there’s also the notion of progressive fasting, where as time goes by, you bring on more and more prohibitions.  For instance, in one of the posts from 2012 I mentioned, there’s the four-day progressive fast from the Scribbler (whose blog is no longer active) where, for example, on the first day I would abstain from meat, alcohol, and soda; on the second, all the above plus abstinence from breads and noodles as well as all non-clear liquid drinks; on the third day, all the above plus abstinence from anything that wasn’t fresh fruits and water; on the fourth and final day, all the above plus abstinence from anything that wasn’t just water, i.e. a water fast.  Progressive fasts can be useful for those who need time for their body to adjust to heavier and heavier kinds of fasting, especially if a particular substance is one we habitually eat and which we might rely on as a staple, and which can be a way for the body to acclimate for more severe or austere fasting practices so that they won’t cause a total shock to the body which could result in medical harm.

What happens when we violate one or more of the prohibitions we have set for us?  Honestly, that depends on your tradition’s or practice’s rules on fasting or how you set up the rule or agreement of fasting, but it’s probably most important how you violated it.  If you started running into severe medical issues from a particular prohibition, then it’s best to get rid of that prohibition entirely so that you can fast more safely; it’s not an indulgence if it’s absolutely necessary for your health!  Likewise, if even a partial fast or if even intermittent fasting is causing you problems at all, then stop fasting.  It’s better you live and find other ways to hone and temper the body without suffering and putting yourself at major risk for health problems or death.  What if you were forced to fast, like if you were incarcerated or imprisoned and forced to eat things you wouldn’t against your will?  Honestly, nobody would blame you for getting by, and you’re already in a bad and potentially ascetic situation; better to survive under duress and save your strength than suffer righteously with the risk of death.

All of those could be considered accidental or unintentional violations, but what about if you just decided “eh, fuck it, let’s have a cheat day” or if you thought nobody was looking?  Tough luck, pal; you intentionally and willfully committed a violation of your prohibitions when you had no reason not to, and that’s where you should own up to your violation and make amends.  How you do that is up to you, your tradition, and your spirits; you might add on another day (or week, or month, etc.) of fasting for every willful violation you committed, add on another prohibition in addition to the ones you already had pay a “fine” through donating or caring for others out of your own pocket, put yourself through another spiritual ordeal such as intense purifications or heightened prayers, or make formal amends through heavy offerings to God, the gods, or other spirits to make up for your violation.  Or, you could just eat it (heh) and accept that you were weak and carry on as normal, being more mindful as time goes on, perhaps with letting someone know as a kind of confession.  Sometimes, it’s okay to perform a fast with built-in cheat days or days of leniency, but these should be limited; remember, the whole point of a fast is to not indulge.

However, note that all of the above are almost all focused on prohibitions, rules that take things away from ourselves.  That’s entirely a workable and practical way to do fasting, but consider: instead of taking things away, why not add things?  If we consider a fast to be a duration of time to cultivate and refine the spirit, then there are plenty of other things we can do, whether instead of piling on prohibitions or to be done along with them.  This is an idea that I got from Catholic writings a few years back, specifically for Lent; rather than just take things away, incorporate new things to fill the gaps left behind or just for the sake of upping our spiritual practices and devotions generally. Some examples include (again, not a definitive or exhaustive list):

  • Say a prayer to formally begin a fast, whenever you break the fast, and when you formally end the fast.
  • When you sit down to eat, pray over and bless the meal before you do so.
  • Engage in daily prayer, or add more prayers to your daily practice
  • Participate in daily communal worship (e.g. going to daily mass, having a daily circle with a coven)
  • Read and contemplate scripture daily
  • Commit to doing works of charity frequently (e.g. giving to the poor, working at a kitchen, setting aside income as donations for noble causes)
  • Commit to creating a devotional work of art every day (e.g. poetry, drawing, sculpture)
  • Commit to environmental works (e.g. picking up litter, tending to a communal garden)
  • Commit to helping or organizing religious works (e.g. signing up to be an altar-server, assisting with setting up circle devotions, providing guidance to students)
  • Commit to daily offerings, whether dedicated to a particular spirit or deity specifically or more generally for the benefit of all sentient beings
  • Perform a daily purification (e.g. ablution, spiritual bath, banishing)
  • Etc.

In the end, when it comes to abstinence for spiritual purposes, we can do a lot better than just simply cutting out food, and we can focus on a number of different aspects of the practice of fasting that can provide for a well-rounded period of intense spiritual work that can work for anyone, regardless of their health conditions, so that we can all derive benefit by focusing on the higher while tempering (but not utterly neglecting) the lower:

  • Prohibitions on what food and drink one takes in
  • Prohibitions on how food or drink is prepared
  • Prohibitions on when one can eat or drink
  • Prohibitions on how food or drink is consumed
  • Prohibitions on behaviors and activities outside eating and drinking
  • Mandates on behaviors to include spiritual or spiritually-oriented activities
  • The duration for which prohibitions and mandates are to be observed

Now, what about me?  There are times when I’ll fast for my own practices (like for those Sixteen Days of Cultivation leading up to the spring equinox I did not too long ago), or before receiving or participating in ceremony for Lukumí purposes, sure.  But, lest we all forget, I’m a Hermeticist, and there’s some useful stuff in the Corpus Hermeticum and other Hermetic texts that touch on this same topic, too. There’s this almost-universal, quasi-gnostic notion that you can’t really engage in a spiritually pure practice without somehow abstaining from physical pleasures or indulgences, and that abstaining from food and drink, whether entirely or from particular kinds or from particular ways of having it, is one of the most common ways to do that.  Food and drink is what sustains the body, yes, and we should care for the body since it’s our vessel for living in this world.  But since we’re spiritual entities ourselves that just so happen to have a body, and since we’re all always trying to become better spiritual entities, we need to care for the body only as much as we need to, and focus on the spirit at least as much as we care for the body, if not much more than that.  To focus overmuch on the body is to neglect the spirit; just as in the Buddha’s method of taking the Middle Path, we should care for the body just enough that it’s healthy and can stay healthy, and give the rest of our time, energy, and attention to spiritual works.  That’s really the whole purpose of fasting: to cut back on indulging the body so that we can indulge the spirit, instead.  We don’t need to completely neglect or harm the body; otherwise, you may as well just kill yourself off quickly and painlessly than starve yourself to death painfully!  We need our body to host our spirit for as long as our spirit needs the body, and until the point when our spirit is ready to go, we need to care for the body.  But we only need to care for it, not indulge it.  And even then, remember: fasting is not the be-all end-all of ways to accomplish spiritual evolution.  Do it if you want to or if your tradition requires you to, and if you do engage in fasting, do so safely.  If you don’t engage in it, there still so many ways to indulge the spirit and encourage its cultivation rather than just tempering the body.

What about you, dear reader?  Do you fast, and if so, how do you fast?  Do you engage in total fasting, partial fasting, or intermittent fasting?  Do you abstain from only certain things or practices?  What else do you do when you fast?  Let me know in the comments!