My View on the Modern Planets (and Human Nature, Too)

Last night on social media was kinda interesting.  Not too long ago, one of my favorite traditional/Hellenic astrologers Chris Brennan whom I follow on Twitter retweeted the following:

To which I replied publicly that simplicity is the highest form of elegance, with this simple diagram I made for my geomancy book:

Even if I made this specific image, the diagram itself is a traditional one that’s been in use for hundreds of years in Europe and the Middle East as a teaching aide to demonstrate the balance and symmetry of how the planets are assigned to the twelve signs of the Zodiac: the luminaries go to the brightest times of the year (in the Northern hemisphere), then the planets are assigned in their usual solar system order outwards, such that dark Saturn is given to the signs Capricorn and Aquarius, the darkest times of the year (again, in the Northern hemisphere).  All this diagram shows is exactly what @dahlia_anara posted in a graphical format.  Growing up, it was a mystery as to why the planets were given to the signs, but then, this sort of diagram seems to have been all but forgotten in modern texts; had I known about it in my early baby-ccultist days, this would have made everything make a lot more sense a lot earlier on.

For some reason, my sharing this image turned kinda viral, and some people were even put at peace by just seeing it; while it’s nothing more than a teaching diagram, it does reflect an underlying balance of the astrological cosmos, so I can get it.  Of course, with it being shared and favorited by so many, it did spark a few discussions and conversations, one of which was about why Saturn is the planet that gets that last position and not, you know, any of the planets that have since been discovered in modern times past Saturn.  This, of course, touches on an important, lively, and active debate (which doesn’t always remain good-hearted) on the approaches of modern astrology versus traditional astrology, and of course, I know you know that when I have Thoughts and Opinions, I let them be known.

Before I continue, let me preface this with the following disclaimer: what follows is my own personal view of astrology and its symbols that reflect my own practice and understanding of the cosmos, as informed by my studies, experiences, and works in astrology, geomancy, and other subjects.  Because I recognize that my practice is not your practice, and that my views are not necessarily representative of universal truths, you’re still free to hold any well-reasoned, well-researched, informed, and sound opinion, research methods, or approaches to astrology you want.  Understood?  We good?  Good.

Simply put, I don’t think the use of the outer planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) and asteroids (Ceres, Pallas, Chiron, etc.) are necessary to the practice of astrology, and while they may have some use, they’re by no means of large importance to me for several reasons.  The most physics-based of these is that many of these objects move so slowly through the Zodiac that they’re not of incredible importance for individual persons.  While the Moon changes her signs every two or three days, and Saturn just over every two-ish years, the trans-Saturnians shift their degrees and signs so much more slowly that two people born in the same seven- or twenty-year period will have identical or similar locations.  For mundane astrology, this is potentially useful, because these slow-moving planets are more helpful in defining whole generations of people or zeitgeists rather than how individual people form in their own individual lives; once the zeitgeist established by the slow-moving planets is understood, one can inspect the relationships that the planets from Saturn on down with the slow-moving ones to see how one relates to such a zeitgeist.  In both a phyiscal and spiritual sense, the slow-moving trans-Saturnian planets occupy a place between the planets proper and the fixed stars; yes, they still shift like planets do, but slowly enough to be imperceptible on a reasonable timeframe, much like the light of the fixed stars.

Of course, this is all on top of a more fundamental astrological reason why I don’t find the use of these modern planets particularly helpful: astrology was already complete before the formal discovery of Uranus in the late 17th century ce.  In the seven thousand or more years that astrology has been practiced since the earliest foundations of Egypt and Sumer were laid, we’ve had more than a little time to see, plot, experiment, test, and record our observations and theories with the stars, and though refinement and elaboration, astrology became as complete an art of science (in the old sense of “knowing things”) as anything ever could.  The methods of astrology that have been passed on down to us are elegant, balanced, and established on numerological and divine harmonies that together form a complete, interlocking system.  The system already works, so as the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Writing this post also reminds me of a similar post I wrote from the very earliest days on this blog, back from when I was still in college.  The points in there are basically the ones I’m raising in the present post, but there’s one bit I wanted to highlight as well:

We’ve had 6,000 years to build up our knowledge of the intra-Saturnians, while we’ve had just over 200 for Uranus, 150 for Neptune, and not even a full century for Pluto. Finding the full meanings for these planets will take a lot more time than we’ve given it, and finding appropriate uses for them will take even longer. I’m not arguing for a static and legalistic school of astrology, but I don’t think that astrologers have been doing the right thing for their art for the past two centuries. We should be using traditional astrology as a stronger foundation than we are, but instead we’re assigning meanings to the planets “because it feels right” or “because it’s intuitive”. What happened the last time you tried to prove an answer on a test, or a fact to a judge, with “because it feels right”?

Bear in mind that these planets are only very recently discovered and, while we can tap into our millennia’s experience of astrology to more quickly divine and refine the significations of these outer planets or asteroids, what we do know about them pales in comparison to what we know of the older symbols we’ve been using from the start.  Again, from my older post:

However, even until the early 20thcentury astrologers had not reached a consensus; Alan Leo wrote in 1909 that “Uranus has been given no sign by astrologers, though Aquarius has often been suggested”. As for Raphael, there is evidence to believe that he may have been writing just to get published: he wasn’t a good astrologer by anybody’s measure, and was more of a magician selling charms than an astrologer. He often didn’t provide reasoning or logic for his claims, and what he argues against is often borne out instead in practice (like the use of terms).

So, even over a century after Uranus’ firm discovery that it was a planet, astrologers still hadn’t figured out what to do with it in its entirety.  Trying to incorporate new symbols into an ancient system is difficult and time-consuming, especially for the first few introductions when the process of incorporation is still poorly understood, but at the same time, it bears remembering that the occult community wanted to keep up-to-date and “scientific” by bringing in whatever theories and discoveries they could from modern science to make their own arts seem more respectable and well-grounded.  Trying to bring in Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, the asteroids, and everything else modern science says exists into the art of astrology was an attempt at doing just that, but they ended up shattering some of the symmetries and balances that kept the system in check and functional in the process.

Plus, like I said before, astrology was already a complete system long before what we know as “modern astrology” came onto the scene.  Consider: while modern astrologers often give Uranus the ownership of electricity, computers, astrology, and change, all these things already had ownerships in the old system: Mercury ruled all sciences and arts of the mind, including astrology and alchemy, as well as devices and means of communication, like computers; Mars would have ruled over power generally, and Jupiter (through his mythological connections with thunderbolt-throwing Zeus) would have been a natural fit for electricity generally, with Mercury (again) for circuitry and wiring; the Moon rules over changes in general, along with the flighty nature of Mercury.  To shuffle these things from the old planets to the new doesn’t really do much except introduce duplication into the system generally; at best, we can use the outer planets for very specific needs, like specifically giving Neptune to the seas and to seafaring specifically even if these would have been naturally ruled over by the Moon and Mercury, but at worst, this serves to bring confusion into the system of correspondences and obscures the logic of why certain planets have domains over the things they do.

This points to my last, and most fundamental, complaint about modern astrology, and especially the viewpoints of many who use it (badly).  Many often say that, as humanity has continued in its existence, we have undergone processes of spiritual evolution, and so need more and newer planets to reflect that, being such progressed, evolved beings now than we were.  The only evidence I can see that agrees with that is the development of what John Michael Greer calls the “civic religion of progress”, which is a very modern, very peculiar cultural notion that humanity can only change in one way: onwards, upwards, and strictly for the better, that all change is inherently better than what we had before.  As JMG points out, consider smartphones: they may get more complex and support more functionalities, but they get more costly and damaging to make, often more fragile, with more restrictions and burdens on them than what we had in the past.  This isn’t progress, even if it is change.  I look around at the world generally, and I see that a lot has changed: we have more and more accessible and cheaply-made clothing, more cars and means to move, more weapons and more explosive or damaging types of them, more means of communication, and so forth, but underlying all that?  I see the same humans underneath it all that have been around since the first human could be recognized as such.

Yes, we have developed elegant, complex, and abstract philosophies, governments, civilizations, technologies, but these are all window decorations to the real humans who, after all these countless myriads of years, still need to breathe, eat, sleep, shit, fuck, love, fight, kill, speak, learn, wonder, wander, live, and die.  I read ancient Greek, Chinese, and Mesoamerican philosophers, historians, and graffiti artists who bicker and complain about the same damn things that we bicker and complain about nowadays on the Internet about our fellow man.  The names and places we know, the media and languages we use, the projectiles we use to kill and hunt, the clothes we wear and rip and mend may have all changed over the years, but our underlying understanding of the human condition and what it means to experience humanity has been relatively unchanged the world over.  In short, humanity has remained more-or-less unchanged since we first came around, changing on the whole neither for the better nor worse.  That’s why, even in our modern and “evolved” time, we still turn time and again to the help and wisdom of our ancestors and to traditional, indigenous, and truly ancestral systems of knowledge, because not only have all those who have gone before us experienced everything we do now, they also had more time to process, understand, and correlate everything, and have since joined all the others who have done just that.

Spiritually evolved as a species my sedentary ass; individuals can certainly get to the point of spiritual development where they undergo such fundamental changes, but by that point, they’re no longer human and no longer bound to this mortal coil of humanity (cf. Buddha, Christ, spirit guides, orisha, etc.).  Plus, consider that, biologically speaking, sea sponges are just as evolved as humans are; trying to claim that humans as a whole are now “spiritually evolved” in a way we weren’t before is just forcing the notion of progress onto humanity simply because time has elapsed, ignoring what it is we are, what it is we do, and where it is we live.  But, yanno, if all you do is sit in a classroom all day without paying attention to the teacher or doing the classwork, you’re not going to get better grades by virtue of just sitting at your desk longer than anyone else.  It takes Work to get better, and not everyone does that Work, much less our entire species, and much less than that in an automatic process.

In that light, it makes even more sense how complete the system of astrology really is without having to bring in the modern planets and points in the sky.  If humanity hasn’t appreciably changed, as I claim and see that it hasn’t, then why should we need to change the models and systems of our realities to reflect some misguided sense of progress and evolution that hasn’t happened?  Astrologers have gotten along fine and have gotten accurate results in prediction and understanding people for thousands of years without incorporating them, so I see no reason to change the system, break its balances, and introduce needless confusion into the mix.  There’s plenty that can be innovated, discovered, or invented in the systems of traditional astrology without having to make it “modern”, just as how geomancy can be extended in its techniques and skills and understanding without bringing in new figures or elements into the mix.

Now.  All that said, do I think the modern planets and asteroids have no use at all?  No, I don’t.  I don’t think they’re necessary to practice astrology or magic, since everything they could represent is already represented by the main seven planets, but they can offer insights and specific details that can be helpful.  When I look at a horoscope, I treat the outer planets and the asteroids like I do fixed stars: I give them a very tight orb, and I don’t consider aspects unless they’re exact or approaching an exact degree.  When I interpret them, I first use the main seven planets to get an idea of what the chart as a whole is about, then I look at the outer planets and asteroids (when they matter!) to get a deeper idea of what the seven main planets are talking about.  I don’t look at an aspect between, say, Mars and Neptune and go off about this relationship willy-nilly; I first look at how Mars, Venus, and the Moon act, and see what such a relationship between Mars and Neptune clarifies amongst all that to see what specifically is meant.  That, I feel, is a more responsible way of using the modern planets, but again, the only benefit it affords is a specific insight to a specific detail to other factors already present and more clearly visible in the horoscope.  Helpful?  At times, sure.  Necessary?  By no means.

And, of course, don’t forget that “more evolved” or “newer” doesn’t necessarily mean “better”, and that the more things change, the more too do things stay the same.  Just as Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: “what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

On True Praying (also, a thank you!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

With all my heart, thank you!

On the Simplicity of Divine Prayer

Trying to get back into a routine is rough when you’ve been out of it for so long.  Between the job changes, house moves, seclusionary period of religious vows, and then a glut of partying and celebration at the end of 2017, I’m sure some of my readers can sympathize.  None of that excuses me, of course, from what I should be doing, but a trial’s a trial, after all.

One morning this week was the first in a long time I’ve made myself sit down, meditate, and recite some prayers.  Not many, given my lengthier commute than what I had back a few years ago, and given that I need to reconfigure my sleep schedule to allow for more awake time in the morning before work.  But, yanno, it was enough for this morning.  Admittedly, the prayers take some getting used to again, reciting them with the same focus, the same intent, the same clarity I recall I once had.  But then, any skill left unused for too long dulls faster than an overused knife, so it’ll just take practice and repetition and applying myself.  After a few days, I started to get that…silent Ring, that echo of the Hymns of Silence, back into my words.  So even if it doesn’t take too long to sharpen myself, it still takes time.

Briefly, I considered maybe if I wasn’t doing enough, if I wasn’t incorporating enough elements to give myself that proper atmosphere.  You know of what I speak, dear reader: that misty-shadowy-monochrome-occult,  evidently-powerful, clearly-mystical aesthetic that we all idealize and fetishize in our Work.  That perfectly-framed instagrammable/snapchattable/sharable #nofilter dark-room bones-and-herbs-strewn-about #tradcraft altar look that often sticks in our minds as both breathtaking and inspirational.  So, while in the middle of a prayer, holding my book in one hand, I reached for the incense with the other—

I stopped myself.  No, incense was not what I needed.  What I needed was prayer, and that alone.

A few weeks ago, while trying to find an appropriate time for a feast day of Hermes Trismegistus, I recalled a specific astrological alignment used for…something Hermetic.  After scouring through the Corpus Hermeticum and other Hermetic texts, I eventually stumbled upon what I was looking for in the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth, but there was another bit of text that, although unrelated to what I was looking for, stuck out to me and reminded me of the simplicity called for in spiritual works, especially that of prayer.

From the Asclepius (chapter XLI; Copenhaver translation, p92):

As they left the sanctuary, they began praying to God and turning to the south (for when someone wants to entreat God at sunset, he should direct his gaze to that quarter, and likewise at sunrise towards the direction they call East), and they were already saying their prayer when in a hushed voice Asclepius asked: “Tat, do you think we should suggest that your father tell them to add frankincense and spices as we pray to God?”

When Trismegistus heard him, he was disturbed and said: “A bad omen, Asclepius, very bad.  To burn incense and such stuff when you entreat God smacks of sacrilege.  For he wants nothing who is himself all things or in whom all things are.  Rather, let us worship him by giving thanks, for God finds mortal gratitude to be the best incense.”

Let me unpack this by means of a parallel lesson I learned back in high school.  Say you’re the subject of a king, and the king is coming to your village to pay a visit and hold court.  All the local lords and nobles are coming, and all the subjects (high- or lowborn) are expected to present something to the king.  What they present are not gifts; gifts, after all, are seen as a kind of favorable charity, but how could a subject give a gift to his king?  The king already has a right to whatever his subjects own; a gift implies the bestowing of something that the receiver does not already have.  No, it is absurd for a subject to give his king a gift; what the subject offers is tribute.  Tribute is something given (yet not a gift) as well as an act of expressing admiration, gratitude, and respect to someone.  A craftsman giving a delicately crafted timepiece, a farmer giving the best of his year’s fruit, a herdsman giving the fattest of his personal flock, an artist giving a fully-decorated manuscript are all things that can be considered tribute in this context; these are acts or offerings of their own labor, their own work, their own hands with which they express thanks to their king, who enables them to do everything.

Of course, you can’t just offer any old thing as tribute.  No, it should be the finest example of what can you can produce, the most rarefied exemplar of skill and labor, and that which is suited to the tastes and needs of the king receiving tribute, as well as exemplifying the natural ownership of the king over his domain.  In other words, proper tribute shows our respect to those above us that we are grateful for their support, patronage, guidance, and protection in the means that they themselves strive to attain.

In this case, Hermes Trismegistus is suggesting that prayers of gratitude are tribute to God, and anything else is simply extra and, moreover, sullying the pure act of prayer.  After all, God is both transcendent and immanent of the world we live in; God already contains all things, all incenses and oils and blood-offerings and flowers.  Why should we bother with these things then?  Hermes would claim that to offer incense in prayer to God would be like offering fish to the ocean, or like giving a king a tributary offering of cattle, including all the shit and piss and vomit they make.  It’s not that these things are unhelpful or without use to us, but they are of little worth to a king, and are so beneath him as to be offensive.  Hermes says that there is nothing physical we could offer to God, because everything physical is already part and parcel to him.

If we shouldn’t offer physical things to God, then what should we offer?  Hermes says simply: “let us worship him by giving thanks, for God finds mortal gratitude to be the best incense”.  Just as subjects to a king offer tribute to express their gratitude towards and to show their abilities fostered by their protecting lord, we offer prayer of gratitude with our intellect and own internal divinity to show God, who gave humanity its intelligible nature by means of the Logos, our respect and thanks to him.  We recognize our place and nature in the world, a unique intersection between the purely physical universe and the purely spiritual cosmos, and we remember our divine origins in God’s own being; we express thanks and gratitude, not to appease or placate God’s wrath, but to grow closer to him and his domain so as to rise above mere matter.

That’s another reason why Hermes abhors the use of incense in prayer to God.  If we’re to ascend above this mortal coil so as to retake our divine essence and birthright, then why should we let those very same mortal, physical, doomed things continue to hold us down?  As Hermes and Poemander say in the very first book of the Corpus Hermeticum (book I, chapters 20—21; Salaman translation, pp21—22):

[Poemander] continued, “If you have remembered, tell me, why are those who are in death, worthy of death?

[Hermes] replied, “Because the grim darkness is the first origin of one’s own body, from which darkness arose the watery nature, from which darkness the body is formed in the sensory world of which death drinks.”

“You have observed correctly”, he said.  “But why does he who has remembered himself go to the Father, as the Word of God says?”

I replied, “Because the Father of all is constituted out of light and life, whence Man has been begotten.”

Poimandres then said, “The truth is: light and life is God and Father, whence Man is begotten.  If, therefore, you realize yourself as being from life and light, and that you have been made out of them, you will return to life.”

Death and ignorance of the divine are intrinsic to physical existence and physical things, and of the things that are not physical, the opposite is true.  Thus, to mix physical things in acts meant to focus on that which is purely divested of them (i.e. matters of God) introduces a measure of death and ignorance into them.  Thus, not only is it sufficient to simply pray to God, but anything more taints such a pure act.

So, no.  I didn’t need to light incense to pray.  I never have, and I never will.  Such prayer to God, performed with the full intent of prayer, is a complete and sufficient act unto itself that no addition could ever make more or better than my present, attentive, intentive, and intelligible Speech saying the divine Words.

Now, I will qualify this: there are times when incenses, oils, tools, and other physical materia matter for spiritual works or sacrifices to the gods, but note the context of difference here.  With offerings to the theoi, for instance, it is proper to offer wine, olive oil, incense, and burnt offerings; they find these things pleasing, and to an extent they are either part of this world or part of the cosmos close to us where these things are useful and appreciated.  Magical ceremonies involving the planets, them being physical-spiritual forces in our world, make use of colors and metals and incenses and herbs and whatnot to make their presence stronger here on Earth.  But when we talk about prayer to God, who is completely above all and encapsulates all within himself?  It’s a different set of rules and contexts, where there is nothing physical to do or appreciated, and the inclusion of physical things only acts as a distraction and delay.  In a sense, it’s highly parallel to what the Buddha taught about meditation: you don’t need incenses or bells or Lululemon pants or overpriced crystals or ridiculously over-engineered sitting cushions.  All you need is meditation, nothing more; nothing else will help you meditate than simply meditating.  In the same vein, Hermes Trismegistus teaches in the Asclepius that nothing else will help with praying to God than simply praying to God.

And, to finish that off, what was the prayer that Hermes Trismegistus offered after his rebuke to Asclepius?  This, which serves as an example of the type of intellectual reflection and deep gratitude Hermes Trismegistus propounded:

We thank you, supreme and most high God, by whose grace alone we have attained the light of your knowledge; holy Name that must be honored, the one Name by which our ancestral faith blesses God alone, we thank you who deign to grant to all a father’s fidelity, reverence, and love, along with any power that is sweeter, by giving us the gift of consciousness, reason, and understanding:
consciousness, that we may know you;
reason, by which we may seek you in our dim suppositions;
knowledge, by which we may rejoice in knowing you.

And we who are saved by your power do indeed rejoice because you have shown yourself to us wholly.  We rejoice that you have deigned to make us gods for eternity even while we depend on the body.  For this is mankind’s only means of giving thanks: knowledge of your majesty.

We have known you, the vast light perceived only by reason.
We have understood you, true life of life, the womb pregnant with all coming-to-be.
We have known you, who persist eternally by conceiving all coming-to-be in its perfect fullness.

Worshiping with this entire prayer the good of your goodness, we ask only this: that you wish us to persist in the love of your knowledge and that we never be cut off from such a life as this.

With such hopes and such prayers, let us now turn to putting it to practice with dedication.

Prayer for the New Year

It always makes me chuckle when I inadvertently stumble across something useful in the course of unrelated research.  Like, I’ll be looking for one thing, and even though I find something (maybe at best) tangentially related and ultimately unhelpful to my original goal, there’ll be something that just kinda screams “HEY, LOOK AT ME, I’M RIGHT HERE, LOOK AT ME”.

Lion GIF

One such thing happened recently, as you might be able to tell.  When I was thinking of ideas for geomantic holy days not too long ago, I was stuck on trying to come up with a feast day for Hermes Trismegistus.  Although I eventually settled on April 4 of the Gregorian calendar (which happily borrows the feast day of St. Isidore of Seville), I was briefly considering using an Egyptian calendar to calculate a celebration of Thoth, the Egyptian form of the god.  The idea didn’t quite work out, but I did learn a fun amount about the Coptic calendar, which is a direct descendant of the calendar used since ancient Egyptian times (even with fundamentally the same names!).

One thing about the Coptic calendar is that its New Year doesn’t match up with the European one.  Rather, it starts on 1 Thout, which historically coincided with the heliacal rising of Sirius and marked the beginning of the flood season on the Nile, but after the Julian calendar reforms, has slightly drifted away day by day over the many long years.  Nowadays, the Coptic New Year starts around September 11ish (and every century or three, the date will advance by a day or so).  Because of its connection with the beginning of the flood season, the Egyptian name for the New Year was originally Ni-Yarouou, or the “Feast of the Rivers”, but over time, this was confused with the name for the unrelated Persian New Year Nowruz (which happens at the spring equinox in their calendar).  As a result, the modern Coptic name for the New Year is Nayrouz.

In the course of trying to learn more about what’s done religiously according to certain dates of the Coptic and Egyptian calendars (which share more than a few festival dates, much like how the Europeans preserved old pagan festivals in the Christian calendar), I came across a discussion of the Feast of Nayrouz, which also included a prayer that stuck out to me and begged for meditation and use.  Given that our own calendar is coming to a close for 2017 and the New Year of 2018 is starting in a few days, I decided to adapt this prayer for something of a more general, Western use.

O God, grant us to celebrate the Feast of the New Year that we may ask for a blessed year for all humanity, and that every man and woman has the experience of Your marvelous day.  Thus will all enjoy the brightness of Your glory every day in the New Year.  Allow me, O God, to celebrate the Feast of the New Year; let me experience this joyful faith and the truth of everlasting unity with You.  Let me celebrate the feast of the martyrs as I am able, that I may testify for Your truth.  Change my life to be full of joy with You, even in the moments of my repentance.

Wondrous is the Son who paid the price of my passage to Your divine bosom!  I see You, my beloved Lord, coming to me; you have chosen me to share in Your glory; you offered Yourself as a joyful sacrifice of love.  Come quickly, o Lord!  Our hearts are enflamed with Your love; our hearts ask for nothing and no one except You.  Grant me to become an icon of You with a blessed heart full of love to all humanity, that I may become a font of joy to everyone.

Wondrous is the Holy Spirit who renews me into a heavenly bride, carrying me as if with the wings of a dove that Heaven may celebrate my wedding!  Your dwelling in me, o Holy Spirit, renews my nature; you transform my dark tomb into a holy sanctuary, you convert my darkness into exceeding brightness!  Grant me with all my brethren to fly and be with You in Heaven!

You see me, my Lord, rejoicing in You, and You become delighted in me.  The heavenly angels see me coming to You, and they welcome me.  They receive me with exceeding joy to join them in praising You.  The sinners see me full of joy, and they become filled with hope.  They see me rejoicing, and they join me in my continuous repentance.  The prophets and the apostles and all the martyrs see me, and they praise You for letting me accompany them in Your kingdom!

What a wonderful thing, that You delight in me, and all Your creation in Heaven and on Earth!  But the Devil runs away before me as he sees Your divine joy enlightening me and shining upon my face!  Glory to You, the source of joy and victory.

Grant, O Lord, that I may celebrate this and every new day of this and every new year all my life, that I may proclaim Your joyful renewal of us and the world, and that I may always be joined with You in Your tremendous love that I see You anticipating with longing for me.

Amen.

I would suggest reciting this prayer at sunset on New Year’s Eve (with sunset marking the start of the new day in most Abrahamic traditions) or at sunrise on New Year’s Day (as more Western magicians might reckon the start of the day), perhaps in front of a lit candle and crucifix facing the east, the direction from which the Sun rises and from which the Son shall come to us once more.  Besides that, however, I would also consider there to be potential in combining this prayer with a ceremony such as the Blessing of the Vessel (another Coptic ritual, but more in the vein of PGM magic) as a more magical means of bringing down the blessing of newness and freshness into a renewed water of life, to be used in refreshing the body and soul.

No matter how you use this prayer, or whether you do at all, I hope you all have a wonderful end to this year and a splendid start of the next!  Don’t forget to clean your house and put on some new clothes, too!