On Pride and Humility

Not that long ago, someone on Curious Cat asked me a pretty good question, and it’s something that’s been sitting with me for a while now:

People constantly complain about ‘baby witches’ and the inefficacy/infantilization of mainstream pop-culture “magic” on Witchblr, but on the other hand, instead of behaving like the mature and levelheaded adults they purport themselves to be, these Super Serious Traditional Ceremonial Magicians tend to be extremely rude, condescending, narcissistic and outright boorish in their treatment of others.

It’s like they’re reenacting outcast goth teen fantasies of being Powerful Darksided Magicians able to kill their enemies in a fingersnap. I mean, is this a prerogative in becoming a devoted and serious practitioner of magick? Because if so, I proudly throw in the towel.

While some questions I can answer on my phone on the go, there are others that I’d rather sit down with at a proper keyboard, think about for a bit, and type up a better thought-out answer than not.  This was one such question, and in reply, I said:

There’s a reason why so many religions prescribe humility as a virtue to be cultivated. And I know that I, myself, can lack it at times, though I try to keep it a focus for myself, too.

No, there’s no prerogative to being a pompous, prideful, supercilious bastard when it comes to magic. But when you have people getting into occult stuff—and it occurs as much with witches as it does with ceremonial magicians, even if ceremonial magicians have a reputation for it—it’s easy to get carried away when we start realizing all the power we now have access to. Fr. Rufus Opus (who at least admits that he’s overly cocky now and then) warns against “Insufferableprickitis” or “Moses-off-the-mount syndrome”, where we finally think that we truly Get It and have all the keys to the power of the Almighty. Even if it’s true, you don’t want that newfound radiance to be so overbearing and annoying that you treat other people like they’re utterly unenlightened and fools for not yet being on their level.

Everyone, no matter what field or hobby or profession or culture, thinks that they’re better than others or that they have a better way of doing something. It’s good to take pride in your accomplishments, whether it’s in software engineering or publishing anthologies of poetry or in plying the forces of the cosmos for theurgy and thaumaturgy, but it’s not okay to disparage or despise others because of those accomplishments.

There’s also an undercurrent of “oh you’re doing this because it’s popular now”, too. Big whoop. Fads come and go. If they’re meant for it, they’ll stick with it, and if not, they won’t, regardless of what mean things are said to them.

Plus, you’re reading stuff on the internet. It’s extraordinarily too common for people to get huffy and enraged and self-aggrandizing on the internet. Relax, take a deep breath and a step back, and don’t let people get to you that way, whether you’re the recipient of that kind of talk or just a witness to it. Let your work, instead, focus on making yourself better, sharing (but not enforcing) the skills you have according to your means and ability and desire, and making the world a better place.

It’s true that many occultists—myself included—can be on the pompous, arrogant, egotistical, and pretentious side, and it’s an especially common accusation lobbed at ceremonial magicians, and not without due cause.  The way I see it, there are two main influences going on here:

  1. Occultists (including witches) in general are liable to feel this way.  When you’re presented with a materialistic world and find a non-materialistic way to bend or break the rules without getting into trouble, i.e. magic, you’re going to feel powerful, and that realization will lead you to get a bit puffed-up, especially when other people say that what you do is impossible or frowned upon.  The thrill of doing stuff that society says you can’t and shouldn’t be doing can be exhilarating.
  2. When we say “ceremonial magicians”, we typically refer to those in Hermetic and Solomonic styles of magic, where we call down immense forces of the cosmos or call up demons and devils of all kinds, often with imperious threats and provocations in order to make sure that the cosmos hears us and, more than that, obeys us.  I mean, just look at the prayers in the Lemegeton Goetia, the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano, or the rituals of the Munich Manual.  The modus operandi of browbeating the world to obey us is a common one, even going back to classical mystery traditions and the rituals of the PGM two thousand years ago and more.

I’m sure there are other reasons, too, but those are the two big ones that occur to me.  Another thing that I mentioned in my answer above is, simply, that we’re on the Internet, and it’s easy to say a lot of things without repercussions like getting punched in the face or spat on or having a drink thrown at you because there’s an element of anonymity and facelessness that lets us feel more righteous and dignified than we properly have a right to be most of the time.

Being overweeningly proud is a problem, to be sure, but it’s not one that’s necessarily limited to ceremonial magicians, or to occultists in general, but to a lot of people in the world.  Pride is, after all, considered to be one of the seven deadly sins (and by some accounts, the most serious of them all), but I think it’s important to recall what pride is.  A proper kind of pride is akin to greatness of soul and magnanimity, bound up with nobility and goodness of character; it’s possible to take pride in the things we’ve done, placing value and greatness on our accomplishments or abilities, and it’s good to do this within reason.  Taking too much pride, however, tends to vanity, self-worship, vainglory, narcissism, and all-around hubris, and that’s where the danger comes into play.  Hubris, in the classical sense, is having pride beyond what is deserved to be proud of, which leads to ill-treating others for one’s own satisfaction and gratification.  And that’s a real problem which was truly fitting of punishment direct from the gods themselves, a notion that was carried on in Christianity to this day.

Thus, this is where humility comes in.  Though it can be used to mean having a low self-regard or feeling unworthy, it’s also a recognition of our place in the cosmos, how little we are, and that we should be selfless compared to selfish.  Consider the etymology of the word itself:

humility (n.)
early 14c., “quality of being humble,” from Old French umelite “humility, modesty, sweetness” (Modern French humilité), from Latin humilitatem (nominative humilitas) “lowness, small stature; insignificance; baseness, littleness of mind,” in Church Latin “meekness,” from humilis “lowly, humble,” literally “on the ground,” from humus “earth,” from PIE root *dhghem– “earth.” In the Mercian hymns, Latin humilitatem is glossed by Old English eaðmodnisse.

In other words, to be humble is to be down-to-earth in a way that reminds you that you are of the earth.  Yes, Hermeticism has much to say about us having divine origins and that we’re made in the likeness of God and all that, sure, and all that’s all well and good, but let’s be honest: as human beings, part of us is divine, but being human is being human, living on the Earth and living in Heaven.  Heck, the word “human” itself has the same ultimate origin as the word humility:

human (adj.)
mid-15c., humain, humaigne, “human,” from Old French humain, umain (adj.) “of or belonging to man” (12c.), from Latin humanus “of man, human,” also “humane, philanthropic, kind, gentle, polite; learned, refined, civilized.” This is in part from PIE *(dh)ghomon-, literally “earthling, earthly being,” as opposed to the gods (from root *dhghem- “earth”), but there is no settled explanation of the sound changes involved. Compare Hebrew adam “man,” from adamah “ground.” Cognate with Old Lithuanian žmuo (accusative žmuni) “man, male person.”

To be properly human is to be humble.  Yes, we all belong to God and it is to God our souls will return, but our bodies are made from dust, and to dust our bodies shall return.  We have to remember and set ourselves apart from the gods and spirits we work with, because we are incarnate, mortal, and finite as opposed to discarnate, immortal, and infinite.  We have to remember that we are humans, and have far more in common with other humans and the human world we live in than with the spirits and their non-human world.  For that reason, we need to remain humble, not only to avoid reaching too far past our proper station as humans, but also to avoid putting ourselves on too high a pedestal above other humans.  We have to take care of ourselves, recognizing that no matter how much we might be capable of, we are only capable of but so much.  As Tzadqiel, the angel of Jupiter, once told me long ago:

You see those stars?  They’re kings, just like the Sun here.  They rule over their parts of the sky, their worlds.  They are small and distant, however, and they are not kings here.  As they travel their light to other places, they cease to become kings and become equals or even less to the places they travel.  They rule only over what they rule, and no more.  Just so do you rule only what you rule, and you do not rule over everything, even though you may think you do.  You will one day become as a star, but even stars are outshone by the ones higher and brighter than them, especially the highest Light.

Humility is a virtue even in the greatest kings.  Humility is the beginning of greatness.

Now, it’s important to distinguish humility from modesty, because the two are vastly different.  As I wrote about back in 2013, humility is more being meek in the facts of a situation, while modesty is more about understating something to the point of reverse exaggeration, and that’s essentially lying against oneself.  But I also brought up that there’s a similarity between (proper) pride and humility: (proper) pride is recognition of all that you are and can be or do, while humility is recognition of all that you are and have done in the grand scheme of things.  Pride is accepting that we have accomplished and learn things, and humility is accepting that we can accomplish and learn yet more.  To be properly proud as well as humble is to be honest and truthful about yourself to the world in the world you live.  Boasting, on the other hand, is having too much pride, the lie we tell to make ourselves seem more than we actually are; modesty, likewise, is the lie we tell to make ourselves seem less than we actually are.

I bring up all this because I want to bring up one of my favorite prayers today, the Litany of Humility.  I think I first brought it up on my blog in another post from 2013, where I meditated on what might make me special, but more importantly, how my being special doesn’t make anyone else less special.  This prayer, as seen in a number of Christian, and especially Catholic, texts, is often attributed to or outright claimed to be written by the 19th/20th century Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, although it doesn’t seem like he actually wrote it.  Instead, the real origin of the Litany seems to be lost to history—a fitting end, I suppose, for one who prayed for no glory of the world, instead giving their work to the world freely.  At any rate, the Litany of Humility isn’t like the usual litanies of the Christian Church, at least, not like those commonly used in the formal liturgies like the Litany of the Saints; while it can be used liturgically, it reads and feels more like a personal plea and a way to remind oneself of the good things we should aim towards and the bad things we should aim away from.

While I originally used the standard modern Christian version in my prayer practice, reciting it at least once a week for a good long while, as my practice has shifted, I’ve been less and less…I don’t want to say “comfortable”, but less inclined to call on explicitly Christian names and phrases when I can avoid it in favor of more general deistic language.  Plus, it’s been a long time since I’ve recited or read it (dropping out of a regular practice will do that to you), so I think it’s time to take another look at it.  While I still think the original Christian version is an excellent one that we should all bear in mind, I also think it’s worthwhile to make it more usable by others who aren’t Christian.  To that end, I sat down with it and amended it somewhat for my own personal use, and thought I might share it for others to consider using in their use, should they so desire.  Below is the variant I use now that basically keeps the same text, with a slightly different opening and a different invocation for each request.  Rather than being Jesus-centric, e.g. “from the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus”, I’ve substituted every invocation of Jesus with simply “o Lord”.  This way, the prayer is more accessible to those within a more broadly Abrahamic, deist, or non-Christian Hermetic practice.  The sentiment is the same: we invoke God and pray that we might begin to possess the virtue of humility while shedding from ourselves the vice of pride.

O Lord, hear my prayer, and grant me, I beg you,
the blessing to be humble of heart,
the power to crush my pride,
and the grace to master myself that I may more fully serve you.

From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being preferred, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, o Lord.

From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being rebuked, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being maligned, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, o Lord.

That others may be loved more than me, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than me, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may grow and I diminish in the opinion of the world, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than me, provided that I might become as holy as I should, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.


I think it’s important to remember all that being proud entails, and what being humble necessitates.  That goes for both ceremonial magicians and witches, both occultists and scientists, and all people, especially myself.  I’ve come a long way since those posts in 2012 and 2013 when I discussed these things before, but I know that I’ve only come but so far, and there’s still so much for me to do, and no matter how far I might reach, there are still yet others who are (properly and well-deservedly) better than me.  It’s all I can do to do all I must do, and that’s for the best.  I’m happy to have recalled this prayer up, because I think it’s high time for me to reincorporate it back into my prayer routine regularly again.  Perhaps there are others who might find it useful, too.

A PGM-Based Jewish Hermetic Prayer of the Patriarchs

It’s fascinating to see what you can find when you dig through your old notes and drafts.  Interesting insights that slipped your mind, funny stories you’d want to tell again, and wonderful accomplishments that remind you of better times and better techniques than what you may have slipped into using.  But, perhaps most fun to find?  Unfinished drafts and projects that you couldn’t finish for one reason or another at the time, but have since come into the right knowledge and tools to do just that.  This post is one such example of that happening, and I’m glad to finally share it with you, dear reader, after so long.

As many of my readers know, the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM) is such a wonderful collection of texts that have, somehow, miraculously survived to our care in the modern day.  It’s on the same level as the Nag Hammadi Scriptures or the Dead Sea Scrolls, but which focuses instead on the so-called “practical Hermetica”, the spells, rituals, ingredients, and ritual processes of theurgy and thaumaturgy as used by actual living mages and priests from roughly 100 CE to 500 CE, largely residing in that philosophical-academic-spiritual orgiastic environment of Alexandria, Thebes, and other parts of Hellenic Egypt.  It’s important to remember, though, that the PGM isn’t just a single “grimoire”, but rather a collection of smaller grimoires, notes, tablets, and other texts from a variety of magicians that happened to be clustered together under a single volume.  There’s quite a lot of variation in there, and if different entries seem counterintuitive or contradictory to each other, that’s because they are.  It’s not proper to treat the PGM as “a single text”, but rather a collection of numerous texts that happened to be collected over the centuries and only recently compiled into a single volume (specifically, the Betz version of the PGM, though Preisendanz’s texts, volumes one and two, is still considered the earlier and other major version).

Although many of the fun rituals that are more commonly known come from the earlier PGM entries, such as the Headless Rite from PGM V or the Heptagram Rite from PGM XIII, the Betz version of the PGM has over 130 sets of PGM texts, including a number of Demotic ones, too.  Not all of them are well-preserved, and some are incredibly fragmented with extensive lacunae, but there are still plenty of gems in some of the lesser-known texts.  One such text is PGM XXIIb.1—26, headlined as the Prayer of Jacob.  The term used for “prayer” in the headline, προσευχή, can also be used to refer to a temple or sanctuary, especially of the Jews, so perhaps a better headline for this might be, if we can be granted a bit of translator’s license here, the “Holiness of Jacob”.  Given its structure and its placement, the attribution is (as it almost always is) spurious, but the fact remains that it’s primarily a Jewish, or at least heavily Judaically-inspired, prayer with some Gnostic elements as well as some elements of Merkabah and Heikhalot literature or proto-literature.

In any case, it’s mostly complete, but isn’t wholly so due to the large number of lacunae.  Most of the lacunae appear in the strings of barbarous words, though when looking at the actual text, the size and location of these lacunae become clearer, offering hints of what may have gone into them.  After all, the whole section is only 26 lines of text long, and the rest of the PGM is replete with invocations, strings of godnames, and a variety of other clues that can help fill in some of the lacunae in the text.  One of my earlier projects from a number of years ago (2013, according to the original draft post) was going to attempt a reconstruction and repair on this entry, but I didn’t really know where to go or how to attempt it, and so I just left it to get buried in the drafts folder.  But now that I’m a little older and a little more comfortable with this project, I want to try tackling it again.

To start with, this is what the original entry looks like in Betz:

O Father of the Patriarchs, Father of the All, Father of the [cosmic] power,
[Creator of all], … , creator of the angels and archangels, creator of the [saving] names!

I invoke you, Father of all powers, Father of the entire [cosmos] and of all creation inhabited and uninhabited, to whom the [cherubim] are subjected [who] favored Abraham by [giving the] kingdom [to him] … hear me, O God of the powers, o [God] of angels [and] archangels, [King]…

ΛΕΛΕΑΧ … ΑΡΩΑΧ ΤΟΥ ΑΧΑΒΟΛ … Ο … ΥΡΑΜ ΤΟΥ … ΒΟΑΧ ΚΑ … Θ … ΡΑ … ΧΑΧ ΜΑΡΙΡΟΚ … ΥΡΑΜ … ΙΘΘ ΣΕΣΟΙΚ, he who sits upon [holy] Mount Sinai;
… Ι … ΒΟ … ΑΘΕΜ … , he who sits upon the sea;
… ΕΑ … ΒΛ … Δ … Κ … Ε … ΘΗΣ … ΠΑΡΑΧΘΗ … , he who sits upon the serpentine gods;
The [god who sits upon the] Sun, ΙΑΩ, he who sits [upon] … ΤΑ … Ω … Ι … Χ!
He [who sits] upon the … ;
[He who sits upon] the … ΜΑ … ΣΙ, ΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΛΟΥΛΗΛ … Μ!
… ΧΙΡΕ … ΟΖ … Ι … resting place of the cherubim
to the ages of ages, God ΑΒΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΘΙΑΩΘ [ΣΑΒΑΩΘ] ΑΔΩΝΑΙ star … and ΒΡΙΛΕΩΝΑΙ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ ΧΑ … ΑΩΘ the Lord of the All.

I call upon you who give power [over] the Abyss [to those] above, to those below, and to those under the earth; hear the one who has [this] prayer, O Lord God of the Hebrews, ΕΠΑΓΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ, of whom is [the] eternal power, ΗΛΟΗΛ ΣΟΥΗΛ.  Maintain the one who possesses this prayer, who is from the stock of Israel and from those who have been favored by you, O god of gods, you who have the secret name ΣΑΒΑΩΘ … Ι … Χ, O god of gods, amen, amen!

You who produce the snow, who presides over the stars,  who live beyond the ages, who constantly traverse the cosmos, and who cause the fixed and movable stars to pursue all things by your creative activity, fill me with wisdom.  Strengthen me, Master!  Fill my heart with good, Master, as a terrestrial angel, as one who has become immortal, as one who has received this gift from you, amen, amen!

This entry, further, is ended with a single direction: recite it seven times facing north and east.  I interpret this as meaning northeast, which would have been the direction of Jerusalem (or other places in Israel) from most places in Egypt, but there are other rituals in the PGM and other texts of that time like the Sepher haRazim that discuss how to conjure or pray to the powers of the Sun towards the East in the daytime or towards the North at nighttime, so it could be a synthesis of that, too.  I lean towards the Jerusalem theory, personally.

For reference, here’s the original Greek transcription as given in Preisendanz, taking his corrections and emendations as a given and putting the barbarous words and godnames, or the letters that are presumed to be parts of such, in capital letters:

Προσευχὴ Ἰακώβ.

Πάτερ πατριὰρχῶν, πατὴρ ὅλων, πατὴρ δυνάμεων τοῦ κόσμου, κτίστα παντὸς …
κτίστα τῶν ἀγγέλων καὶ ἀρχαγγέλων, ὁ κτίστης ὀνομάτων σωτηρικῶν
καλῶ σε, πατέρα τῶν ὅλων δυνάμεων, πατέρα τοῦ ἄπαντος κόσμου και τῆς
ὅλης γενέσεως καὶ οἰκοθμένης καὶ ἀοικήτου, ᾡ ὑπεσταλμένοι οἱ χερουβίν, ὅς
ἐχαρίσατο Ἀβραὰμ ἐν τῷ δοῦναι τὴν βασιλείαν αὐρῷ
ἐπακοθσόν μοι, ὁ θεὸς τῶν δυνὰμεων, ὁ θεὸς ἀγγέλων καὶ ἀρχαγγέλων, βασιλεύς …
ὀ καθήμενος ἐπὶ ὄρους ἰεροῦ Σιναΐου Ι … ΒΟ ΑΘΕΜ
ὀ καθήμενος ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης … ΕΑ … ΒΛ … Δ … Κ … Ε … ΘΗΣ
ΠΑΡΑΧΘΗ … ό καθήμενος ἐπὶ τῶν δρακοντείων θεῶν, ὀ θεὸς καθήμενος ἐπὶ τοῦ
Ἡλίου ΙΑΩ, ὁ καθήμενος ἐπὶ … ΤΑ … Ω … Ι … Χ, ὁ καθήμενος ἐπὶ τοῦ … θε …
… ΜΑ … ΣΙ ΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΛΟΥΗΛ … Μ … τὸν κοιτῶνα χερουβὶν … ΧΙΡΕ … ΟΖ … Ι …
εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰῶνων θεὸς ΑΒΡΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΘΙΑΩΘ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ, ἀστραπηφόρε
καὶ ΒΡΙΛΕΩΝΑΙ ΑΔΟΝΑΙ ΧΑ … ΑΩΘ, ὁ κύριος των ὅλων. Ἐπικαλουμαί σε, ἐπὶ χάσματος δὸντα
δύναμιν τοῖς ἄνω καὶ τοῖς κάτω καὶ τοῖς ὑποκάτω τῆς γῆς. Ἐπὰκοθσον τῷ ἔχοντι τὴν
εὐχήν, ὁ κύριος θεὸς τῶν Ἑβραίνων, ΕΠΑΓΑΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ, οὗ ἡ ἀέναος δύναμισ, ΕΛΩΗΛ
ΣΟΥΗΛ. Διόρθωσον τὸν ἔχοντα τὴν εὐχὴν ἐξ τοῦ γένους Ἰσραὴλ καὶ τῶν
χαριζομένων ὑπό σοθ, θεὲ θεῶν, ὁ ἔχων τὸ κρυπτὸν ὄνομα ΣΑΒΑΩΘ
… Ι … Χ. Θεὸς θεῶν, ἀμήν, ἀμήν, ὁ χιόνα γεννῶν, ἐπὶ ἀστέρων ὑπὲρ αἰώνων καὶ ἀεὶ διοδεύων καὶ ποιῶν τοὺς
ἀπλανεῖς καί πλανωμένους ἀστέρας διώκειν τὰ πάντα τῇ σῇ δημι-
-οθργίᾳ. Πλήρωσόν με σοφίας, δυνάμωσόν με, δέσποτα, μέστωσόν μου,
τὴν καρδίαν ἀγαθῶν, δέσποτα, ὡς ἄγγελον ἐπίγειον, ὡς ἀθάνατον
γενὰμενον, ὡς τὸ δῶρον τὸ ἀπὸ σοῦ δεξάμενον, ἀμήν, ἀμήν.

Λέγε ἐπτάκις πρὸς ἄπρκτον καὶ ἀπηλιὼτην τὴν προσευχήν τοῦ Ἰακώβ.

Happily, at least this part of PGM XXIIb (P. 13895 in the Staatliche Museen in Berlin) has been digitized, but between the lacunae and the faintness of the ink in places, it’s still awfully hard to read, even if we can get a sense for how long some of the barbarous words should be.

We can kind of get a notion for how many letters are missing from the lacunae, based on the width of the letters generally in this otherwise cleanly-written papyrus, as well as some of the other notable gaps, but it also makes it clear how much of Preisendanz guessed at some of the barbarous words, too.  Incorporating Preisendanz’ bracket and blank notations and comparing with the above, we get something like this for the parts that really catch our interest for the lacunae, where the underscores indicate the relative amount of letters that are missing which may or may not be barbarous words:

ΛΕΛΕΑΧ____ΑΡΩΑΧ ΤΟΥ__ΑΧΑΒΟΛ [Ω]_______[ΥΡΑ]Μ ΤΟΥ___ΒΟΑΧ ΚΑ__________
Θ__ΡΑ_______ΧΑΧ.  ΜΑΡΙΟ[Κ]____ΥΡΑΜ_________ΙΘ Θ_______ΣΕΣΟΙΚ________
ὀ κ[α]θ[ήμενος] ἐπὶ ὄρους ἰ[εροῦ Σ]ιναΐου_________Ι_ΒΟ______ΑΘΕΜ__________
[ὀ] καθήμενος ἐπὶ τῆς θα[λάσσ]ης _ΕΑ___ΒΛ______Δ_Κ________Ε_ΘΗΣ_________
ΠΑΡΑΧΘΗ_ ό καθήμενο[ς ἐπὶ] τῶν δ[ρα]κοντ[είων] θεῶν, ὀ [θεὸς καθήμε]ν[ο]ς [ἐπὶ τοῦ]
[Ἡ]λίου ΙΑΩ, ὁ καθήμε[νος ἐπὶ]_____ΤΑ_Ω_Ι___Χ, ὁ [καθήμ]εν[ος ἐπὶ τοῦ]__θε____
__ΜΑ__ΣΙ ΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΛΟΥΗΛ_____Μ__[τ]ὸν [κ]οιτῶνα χε[ρο]υ[β]ὶν____ΧΙΡΕ___ΟΖ_______Ι _

[κ]αὶ ΒΡΙΛΕΩΝΑΙ [Α]ΔΟΝΑΙ ΧΑ___ΑΩΘ, ὁ κ[ύρ]ιος των ὅλων. Ἐπικαλουμαί σε, ἐ[πὶ χ]άσ[μα]τος δὸντα

_Ι_Χ. Θεὸς θεῶν, ἀμήν, ἀμήν, ὁ χιόνα γεννῶν, ἐπὶ ἀστέρων ὑπὲρ αἰώνων καὶ ἀεὶ διοδεύων καὶ ποιῶν τοὺς

My original goal, a few years ago, was to try to see what barbarous words would fill in these gaps through a combination of comparative analysis between this and other PGM entries, as well as through straight-up divination and trancework. But I realized, after looking at these lacunae, that it’s not possible to figure out what might just be a barbarous word and what actually might be legitimate Greek, and Lord knows my Greek is awful at best.  Some of the natural impulses I have, like replacing ΧΑ___ΑΩΘ with ΧΑΧΒΑΡΑΩΘ by adding in a few letters (in bold) to make it sound fairly appropriate based on what we see elsewhere in the PGM, make sense, but then there are others that just wouldn’t go along with that, or where there’s just not enough available to sensibly reconstruct, especially when we don’t know whether, for instance, ΚΑ__________ (in the first line) is a barbarous word (it probably is!) or one of the almost 5000 Greek words (according to Perseus-Tufts) that start with kappa-alpha.  My original approach just wasn’t going to work in any way I was going to be comfortable with or competent at, which is why I put this project off for so long.

Skip ahead a few years.  This prayer caught my attention again, so I decided to do some actual research in academic literature about it to see what might turn up.  As it turns out, there’s a bit of commentary here and there about this particular entry of the PGM, and of them, that in Pieter W. van der Horst and Judith H. Newman’s Early Jewish Prayers in Greek is an excellent one, especially about the purpose of this prayer:

“As one who has become immortal”: Goodenough assumed that the reciter of the prayer becomes angelic and immortal as a result of  saying the prayer: “Through knowing it and using it, the devotee has become an angel upon earth, an immortal, and has received the final ‘gift,’ which would seem to be the supreme mystical gift, participation in divinity.” Goodenough’s phrase “participation in divinity” begs the question of what that experience would mean exactly in the context of this prayer and cannot be answered on the basis of this prayer alone but rather within the context of angelic transformation within the Jewish and Graeco-Roman traditions. …

The final line of the prayer contains instructions to recite the prayer seven times. The number seven was of course of symbolic importance. The final line is governed by aorist middle participles which agree with the aorist imperatives. This would indicate that at the moment God fills the petitioner with wisdom, empowerment, and good, he or she becomes an angel and receives these as God’s gift. Some ambiguity remains as to when the transformation was thought to occur, whether it is during the process of repetition that the reciter is transformed into an immortal angel or if the one offering the prayer must wait until the seventh round of repetition and thus the ritual is entirely complete. The directions of north and east suggested by the rubric are understood by Reimund Leicht to be a “clear hint that it was conceived of as an invocation of Helios-Yao-Yaoil at night,” but this is a problematic claim because our prayer is addressed not to Helios-Yao, but to the God of Israel who is enthroned above Helios-Yao.

There’s also a wonderful paper by Reimund Leicht on the entry, too: Qedushah and Prayer to Helios: A New Hebrew Version of an Apocryphal Prayer of Jacob.  Although Leicht is concerned with a different “Prayer of Jacob”, he touches on this one from the PGM, too, and compares it to other entries in the PGM as well as to other prayers from the Jewish and Christian traditions much later:

In this point, our Prayer of Jacob is very similar to the PGM Prayer of Jacob (PGM XIIb). Although both texts largely differ, they have crucial elements in common: Both are prayers directed to Yaô, the creator of the world, and both adapt motifs of the celestial throne with the cherubim (PGM XXIIb 8). The two sentences “(You who) give power ov[er (the) cha]sm (to those) above and those below and those under the earth” and “[He] who is upon (the) stars abo[v]e (the) ages” remind us of the adaptation of Is 6:3 in 2:20 (fol. 2a/13 f.). Finally, the request for “wisdom” (XXIIb 17) is not very far removed from our Prayer of Jacob. The instruction to “say the prayer of Jacob seven times to (the) North and East” (PGM XIIb 20) is a clear hint that it was conceived of as an invocation of Helios- Yao-Yaôil at night.*  These similarities are certainly not sufficient proof of a direct dependency, but they can be taken as hints that the two prayers may be rather remote relatives.

* The North is the place where the sun is at night and in the East it rises.  For an invocation of Helios at night from the North cf. Sefer ha-Razim IV/43; for an invocation of the sun from the East cf. PGM XIII 254.

So, we have this wonderful little prayer that, although the majority of it is there, there are some gaps that make it just barely unfit for use.  That’s where looking at other entries from the PGM comes in.  Although the Prayer of Jacob might be unique in the PGM, some of its phrasing, barbarous words, invocations, and supplications are not, and we can find some strikingly similar examples in other parts of the PGM and other texts:

  • PGM XXXV.1—42: another Judiacally-inspired prayer, addressed to God or an agent/angel of God for power and favor, notable for its similar list of “who sit over…” attributions
  • PGM V.459—489: “Another way” to “loosen shackles, makes invisible, sends dreams, [and is] a spell for gaining favor”.  Again, with heavy Jewish influences, including the barbarous words ΒΑΡΟΥΧ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ ΕΛΩΑΙ ΑΒΡΑΑΜ, which can be easily read as Hebrew for “Blessed be my Lord, the God of Abraham” (“barukh ‘Adonai, ‘Eloah ‘Abraham”).
  • PGM IV.1227—1264: “Excellent rite for driving out daimons”, another Judaically-influenced but also Christianically-influenced prayer of exorcism, with references to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with the Christian Trinity.
  • PGM XII.270—350: “A Ring, a little ring for success and favor and victory”.  A ring consecration ritual with a lengthy prayer including a long string of barbarous words with references to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, though this shows far more Egyptian influence than anything else.
  • PGM III.1—164: “The ritual of the cat”, a lengthy and highly syncretic quasi-grimoire with some Jewish and Abrahamic elements.

Based on these texts, what I did was basically synthesize parts of them together, using the incomplete Prayer of Jacob as given in PGM XXIIb as a base, and overlaying it with parts from other prayers that fit well, especially those with similar purposes as the Prayer of Jacob.  After a few rewrites, reorganizations, and slight additions to the text for flow and content, what we end up with is a new prayer.  As a result, however, due to how badly preserved the barbarous words are from the original text, sometimes I went with replacing them entirely from another source rather than trying to see what might fit in the right places.   Now, I’m not exactly a fan of swapping out one set of barbarous words for another—Tobias over at Sublunar Space and I have discussed doing that and how it can lead to some disastrous consequences—but some of these entries are so similar to the Prayer of Jacob in approach and style that I think we can do so safely here, so long as we’re smart about it.

However, there’s a weirdness here; in all the texts that have a similar list of barbarous words, or a similar arrangement of qualities such as “you who sit upon X”, including PGM XXXV.1—42 and the Beirut phylactery for Alexandra daughter of Zoē (cf. D. R. Jordan, “A New Reading of a Phylactery from Beirut”, ZPE 88, 1991, pp.61-69), it would seem like these refer to different spirits or angels of particular things rather than attributes of God, yet the Prayer of Jacob from PGM XXIIb treats them as just that: attributes and names of God.  There’s definitely a tradition of prayers going on here, but it would seem that the Prayer of Jacob is an outlier in how it treats these lists of names and dominions.  That said, when we read “you who have the secret name ΣΑΒΑΩΘ”, with ΣΑΒΑΩΘ being a rendition of Hebrew Ṣabaot or “Hosts” referring to the innumerable angels…well, it kinda makes sense, either which way, at least to the mind of the practical Hermeticists of the PGM.  The fact that the same structure and form of prayer is present in a number of unrelated sources is significant, but equally so is the vast disparity between the divine names used.  It’s my hunch that the names are less important than the structure, and as such, the sets of names can largely be interchangeable with each other.  It’s not an ideal situation, but it does allow us some wiggle room for experimentation, and given that the barbarous words are so incomplete and damaged in PGM XXIIb, we can’t really use them anyway—but I claim that we can use those from near-identical prayers elsewhere with as good a result.

As a result of all the above and my own tweaks, I won’t call what I ended up with a “Reconstructed Prayer of Jacob” like I originally intended, because what was “reconstructed” is so different from PGM XXIIb.1—26 to the point where I can’t honestly say that it’s a reconstruction.  However, the underlying text, organization, and purpose of the prayer is identical, so what I’ll call it instead is the “Prayer of the Patriarchs”, a Jewish-Gnostic Hermetic prayer with notions of solar piety that seeks for incarnate divinization of the self as a theurgical practice in line with the Jewish mystical practices of Merkabah and Heikhalot:

In the name of ΣΕΜΕΣΕΙΛΑΜ who is above all the heavens!
I call on you who sit in the first heaven, ΜΑΡΜΑΡ
I call on you who sit in the second heaven, ΡΑΦΑΗΛ
I call on you who sit in the third heaven, ΣΟΥΡΙΗΛ
I call on you who sit in the fourth heaven, ΙΦΙΑΦ
I call on you who sit in the fifth heaven, ΠΙΤΙΗΛ
I call on you who sit in the sixth heaven, ΜΟΥΡΙΑΘΑ
I call on you who sit in the seventh heaven, ΚΑΧΘ
by the power of ΙΑΩ, by the strength of ΣΑΒΑΩΘ,
by the garment of ΕΛΟΗ, by the might of ΑΔΩΝΑΙ, by the crown of ΕΙΛΩΕΙΝ!
Protect me from every daimōn and every power of daimones and from daimonia and from all pharmaka and katadesmoi!

O Father of the Patriarchs, of the All, of the powers of the cosmos!
O Father of the angels and archangels, of the redeeming names, of all the powers!
O Father of the whole cosmos and all creation, both uninhabited and inhabited!
O Father to whom the cherubim and seraphim are subjected!
O Father who showed favor to Abraham by giving the kingdom to him!
O God of the angels and archangels, o King of kings, o Lord of lords!

O King of Heaven, ΑΡΣΕΝΟΦΡΗ
O Possessor of righteousness, ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ
O Ruler of nature, ΣΑΝΚΑΝΘΑΡΑ
O Origin of the heavens, ΣΑΤΡΑΠΕΡΚΜΗΦ
You who sit upon the holy mount, ΣΙΝΑΙ
you who sit upon the snow, ΤΕΛΖΗ
you who sit upon the sea, ΕΔΑΝΩΘ
you who sit upon the serpents, ΣΑΕΣΕΧΕΛ
you who sit upon the Sun, ΙΑΩ
you who sit upon the Abyss, ΒΥΘΑΘ
you who sit upon the rivers, ΤΑΒΙΥΜ
you who are ΒΙΜΑΔΑΜ who sit upon the fiery throne of glory, borne by Abriēl and Lūēl;
you who are ΧΑΔΡΙΥΜ who sit in the midst of ΧΑΔΡΑΛΛΟΥ upon the resting place of the cherubim and seraphim as they praise you,
you who are the Lord of the Heavenly Host,
you whose name is blessed and holy unto the ages of ages!
The Lord ΣΑΡΑΧΑΗΛ of Bil`ām,
the God who made Heaven and Earth and all within it,
the Lord of the All!

I call upon you, you who give power over the Abyss
to those above the Earth, to those upon the Earth, and to those below the Earth!
Hear your servant who prays to you in your name with your names!
O Lord God of the chosen people, God glorious unto the ages of ages,
to whom is eternal might, God who is God of all gods!
Rectify your servant who gives unto you this prayer,
make straight him who is of your people,
maintain him who is of those who have received your favor, o God of gods!
O Lord God, Lord of Hosts, blessed are you forever,
o God of ‘Adam, o God of Shet, o God of ‘Enosh,
o God of Qeynan, o God of Mahalal’el, o God of Yared,
o God of Ḥanokh, of God of Metushelaḥ, o God of Lemekh, o God of Noaḥ,
o God of ‘Abraham, o God of Yiṣḥaq, o God of Ya`aqob, o God of gods,
you who have the secret name ΣΑΒΑΩΘ!

O you who are upon the stars and above the ages,
o you who brings forth snow and constantly traverse the entire cosmos,
o you who make the stars and planets marshal all things by your creating power!
Fill me with wisdom and empower me, o Lord,
fill my heart with good, o Lord,
that I might become your angel in this world,
that I might become immortal in your wisdom,
that I might be given a share of your strength and power,
that I might be shown your favor and peace,
that I might receive this gift from you!

And, as an alternative, another version that omits the barbarous words entirely, replaces some of the more obscure magical terms with more common ones, and uses the more common English spellings of the Hebrew names used in the prayer:

In the name of the Eternal Light who is above all the heavens,
I call on you, angels of the seven heavens,
by the power of God,
by the strength of God,
by the garment of God,
by the might of God,
by the crown of God!
Protect me from every spirit, every power, every phenomenon, every spell, and every curse!

O Father of the Patriarchs, of the All, of the powers of the cosmos!
O Father of the angels and archangels, of the redeeming names, of all the powers!
O Father of the whole cosmos and all creation, both uninhabited and inhabited!
O Father to whom the cherubim and seraphim are subjected!
O Father who showed favor to Abraham by giving the kingdom to him!
O God of the angels and archangels, o King of kings, o Lord of lords!

O King of Heaven!
O Possessor of righteousness!
O gracious God!
O Ruler of nature!
O Origin of the heavens!
You who sit upon the holy mount,
you who sit upon the snow,
you who sit upon the sea,
you who sit upon the serpents,
you who sit upon the Sun,
you who sit upon the Abyss,
you who sit upon the rivers,
you who sit upon the fiery throne of glory, borne by Abriel and Luel;
you who sit upon the resting place of the cherubim and seraphim as they praise you in the midst of your glory,
you who are the Lord of the Heavenly Host,
you whose name is blessed and holy unto the ages of ages!
The Lord of Balaam, the God who made Heaven and Earth and all within it, the Lord of the All!

I call upon you, you who give power over the Abyss
to those above the Earth, to those upon the Earth, and to those below the Earth!
Hear your servant who prays to you in your name with your names!
O Lord God of the chosen people, o God glorious unto the ages of ages,
to whom is eternal might, o God who is the God of all gods!
Rectify your servant who gives unto you this prayer,
make straight him who is of your people,
maintain him who is of those who have received your favor, o God of gods!
O Lord God, Lord of Hosts, blessed are you forever,
o God of Adam, o God of Seth, o God of Enosh,
o God of Kenan, o God of Mahalalel, o God of Jared,
o God of Enoch, of God of Methushelah, o God of Lamech, o God of Noah,
o God of Abraham, o God of Isaac, o God of Jacob, o God of gods!

O you who are upon the stars and above the ages,
o you who brings forth snow and constantly traverse the entire cosmos,
o you who make the stars and planets marshal all things by your creating power!
Fill me with wisdom and empower me, o Lord,
fill my heart with good, o Lord,
that I might become your angel in this world,
that I might become immortal in your wisdom,
that I might be given a share of your strength and power,
that I might be shown your favor and peace,
that I might receive this gift from you!

Most of the changes, especially in the barbarous names, come from other PGM sources; while the Prayer of Jacob from PGM XXIIb is the most important part of the Prayer of the Patriarchs, the initial invocation of the angels of the seven heavens came from PGM XXXV and the Beirut phylactery (the PGM section in question lacks an angel for the seventh heaven), and the godnames preceding the “You who sit over…” invocations came from PGM XII.  Besides those, the only other major structural change is the addition of the full lineage of pre-Flood Patriarchs, from Adam to Noah, then ending with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  I personally like doing this, because it implies a descent of divinity and spiritual heritage from the first man down to the forebears and founders of the Israelites and Jewish people.  Although none of this is in the Prayer of Jacob proper (I mean, if it was said by Jacob, then we wouldn’t expect to find his own name used in his own prayer praisingly), we do see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob put together in other sections of the PGM.  By throwing in the pre-Flood Patriarchs, I though I would be able to tap more into the raw divinity that they had from a time immemorial.  Additionally, from PGM XXXV.1—42, I also added in the prophet Balaam, a contemporary of Moses and the only non-Israelite prophet in the Old Testament.  The inclusion of Balaam is significant, because God made Balaam, a non-Israelite and thus not one of his chosen people, a prophet so that the non-Israelites couldn’t say “if only we had our own Moses, we would be as pious as the Israelites”; more than that, Balaam was blessed with the gift to know the exact moment God became angry or wroth, a deep and emotional intimacy which no other prophet or creature was given.  By including Balaam among the patriarchs here, we’re able to include Jewish heritage as well as non-Jewish heritage, giving us a bit more wiggle room for those who aren’t Jewish or even Noahide in their lifestyle.

Still, there are a few other changes I made here and there, and there’s one interesting bit in the original phrasing that I intentionally changed.  Betz has one of the supplications as “Maintain the one who possesses this prayer, who is from the stock of Israel”, which I changed to “rectify the one who gives unto you this prayer”.  There are three things going on here:

  • I changed “who is from the stock of Israel” to “who is of your people”, making the prayer a bit more general for people who aren’t of Jewish descent to use while still establishing the mage as a person of God, godly in his works and faith, regardless of their Jewish birth heritage in favor of their Hermetic spiritual inheritance.  However, for mages who actually are Jewish, I would recommend the original phrasing instead of my correction.
  • I changed “who possesses this prayer” to “who gives unto you this prayer”.  The Betz translation, taking a cue from Preisendanz, would suggest that this whole prayer might not be recited at all, but instead written as an amulet like many of the other charms and ritual apparatuses of the PGM, but this goes against the ritual instructions at the end of this part of PGM XXIIb, so I don’t think it’s meant to be written and carried around (though doing so wouldn’t hurt, if you were to go the extra mile).  One alternative is to write down the first two paragraphs of the prayer as an amulet, while reciting the rest; that might be one possible breakdown, though I think it’s still better to recite the whole thing, with “possession” here meant metaphorically rather than literally.
  • Really interesting here is the use of the word “maintain” here, which in Greek is διόρθωσον, the aorist imperative form of διορθόω, which literally means “make straight”, in the sense of correction, revision, amending someone, reconciling, redeeming, or restoring to order.  The word has a medical connotation, too, of setting broken bones back in place, as noted by Phillip J. Long over at Reading Acts.  Instead of using “maintain” which doesn’t really have many of those connotations, I opted for “rectify”, which literally means “make right” or “make straight”, and gives more of those connotations of διορθόω.

Then there are the barbarous names ΕΠΑΓΑΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ and ΗΛΟΗΛ ΣΟΥΗΛ.  Though I’m not in the habit of leaving out barbarous words, I did I just that here, rendering them instead as “God glorious unto the ages of ages” and “God who is God of all gods”, respectively.  Though these can definitely be left as barbarous words, I think these ones can actually be translated.  As to how I translated them and why:

  • ΕΠΑΓΑΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ: There are a few Greek words that start with έπαγα- that all have to do with glory, exulting, or dignity, and I think this might be a synthesis of a Greek word with the Hebrew godname ‘El, literally “glorious ‘El” or “glorious God”.  ΑΛΑΜΝ, on the other hand, is strange, but van der Horst and Newman in their commentary on this prayer instead read its as “ALAMAN”, which they consider to be a corruption of Hebrew “`olam” or “`olamim”.  This word is common in the berakhot of Jewish practice, where every blessing begins “barukh atah ‘Adonai ‘Eloheinu, melekh ha-`olam…” or “blessed are you, my Lord, our God, king of the world…” or, alternatively, “…sovereign of the universe…” or even “…ruler of the cosmos…”.  However, in its plural form, `olamim can also mean “eternal” or, more poetically, “ages of ages”, and van der Horst and Newman note that ‘El `Olam would mean “God of Eternity”, suggesting also that we should read this as ΕΠΑΓΑ ΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΑΝ.  Thus, I translated these divine names as “God glorious unto the ages of ages”.
  • ΗΛΟΗΛ ΣΟΥΗΛ: Unfortunately, I’m not as clean here as with the above names, but I don’t want to read them as barbarous words, either.  If we break this up into ΗΛ Ο ΗΛ ΣΟΥ ΗΛ, then we could read it as “God, the God, your God” or “God, the God of you, God”.  ΗΛΟΗΛ is a weird theophoric name; although well-formed, like Μιχαηλ or Σαμουηλ, we don’t often see two divine elements put together, especially the same element, in the same name.  If we break this up into several words, then we can get a reasonable Greek construction: Ἠλ ὁ Ἠλ, literally “God, the God”.  Likewise, we can break up ΣΟΥΗΛ into σου Ἠλ, the second person singular genitive pronoun (i.e. “your”) and God.  It all comes together as “God, the God of you, God”, which implies a divinity-within-divinity or divinity-upon-divinity.  For clarity, and to imply a kind of hierarchy, I’m translating these as “God who is God of all gods”.  It’s not an exact translation, but I’m comfortable in its meaning.

And one more note: the barbarous word ΣΕΜΕΣΕΙΛΑΜ used at the start of the prayer is rendered as “Eternal Light” in the version without barbarous words.  This is due to rendering the word as Hebrew “shemesh `olam”, or “sun of the world” or “sun of eternity”.  This is translated as “Eternal Light” to avoid too heliocentric a focus of the prayer, despite the Prayer of Jacob’s and related prayers’ heliocentric theurgical focus, but bears an equivalent meaning.  This isn’t really used in any of the source texts I was working with, but it’s a word I like using with a beautiful and appropriate meaning, so I used it in a place that seemed useful for it.

And…that’s it.  This is a project that was delayed for almost six years, but I’m glad to finally remove that entry from my post drafts folder, and to present it publicly.  Now to say it seven times facing northeast.  (Or whatever direction faces Jerusalem, I suppose.)

Revisiting the Sixteen Realms of the Figures

Happy solar new year!  Today’s the first full day of spring according to the usual zodiacal reckoning, with the spring equinox having happened yesterday afternoon in my area; if I timed it right, this post should be coming out exactly at my area’s solar noon.  I hope the coming year is bright and full of blessing for all of you.

I’m taking the day to celebrate, as well, and not just for the freshness of the new year.  Since the start of the calendar year, when I made that post about a sort of feast calendar for geomantic holy days, I’ve been busy coming up with an entirely new devotional practice.  It’s not really my doing, but it’s a matter of inspiration, and…well, it’s an impressive effort, even by my own standards.  As part of it, around the start of the month (fittingly, the start of this current Mercury retrograde period!), I undertook my first celebration of the Feast of the Blessed Dead, my own recognition, honoring, and feasting with the blessed ancestors of my kin, faith, work, and practices.

And, of course, far be it from me to pass up a half-decent photo op.

According to the scheme I made for a geomantic calendar, after the Feast of the Blessed Dead at sunrise begins the Days of Cultivation, 16 days of prayer, meditation, study, fasting, purification, and the like.  In a way, it’s kinda like a kind of Lent or Ramaḍān, but at least for only 16 days instead of a lunar month or 40 days.  After those are done, it’s the Feast of Gabriel the Holy Archangel, Teacher of the Mysteries.  Which happens to coincide (either on the day of or day after, depending on the exact time) with the spring equinox.  Yanno, today.  So I’m quite thrilled to bring this ordeal to an end and take things easier again—especially after a good two hours of prayers, rituals, and offerings this morning—but I can’t take it too easy; one of the many benefits I’ve been seeing from doing this practice is that it’s forcing me to get back to a daily practice again, something I’ve been meaning to do now that I have the time again in the way I want to but just haven’t.

(As a side note: one of the things I’ve been doing is a kind of fast, not a whole or total fast, but something more like a Ramadan or orthodox Lent with extra dietary restrictions: no eating or drinking anything except water between sunrise and sunset, one large meal after sunset, no meat nor dairy nor eggs nor honey nor any other animal product.  It wasn’t my intention to go vegan; instead, I had this elaborate progressive fasting scheme that took inspiration from kosher dietary restrictions and the Fast of Daniel from the Book of Daniel, but that proved way too complicated for such a short-term thing, so I just decided to omit meat and dairy, but that then extended to all animal products, so.  I have to say, it’s been a good exercise, all the same, and the intermittent fasting regimen is something I may well keep up, as I’m seeing other benefits besides spiritual focus, even if I do find myself being cold a lot more often than before; more reason to cultivate inner-heat practices.  All that being said, I am excited to indulge in a whole-ass pizza or tub of orange chicken tonight.)

One of the practices I was doing every day during these Days of Cultivation was a contemplation on one of the sixteen figures of geomancy.  In a way, I was returning to one of the oldest and first major things I ever did in my geomantic studies.  John Michael Greer in his Art and Practice of Geomancy, as part of the section on geomantic magic, instructs the reader to “scry” the figures.  Rather than scrying into a crystal ball or anything like that, what he means is an active contemplation and visualization of the figures, or in more Golden Dawn-ish terms, engage in a kind of pathworking of the figures: visualize the figure clearly, then see it emblazoned on a door of some kind, then go through the door and see what you see, hear what you hear, and experience what you experience as part of the realm or world of that figure.  This is a deeply profound and intimate way to learn about the figures, once you have a basic understanding of their usual meanings and correspondences, because you’re actually entering the worlds of the figures themselves.  Those who recall my De Geomanteia posts from way back will remember that I gave an elaborate visualization or scene that helped to impart some of the meaning of that figure; those are the direct results of my contemplations of the figures from years ago.  (If you never read those posts, check them out!  I talk about the figures in depth and at length, and talk a bit about some really useful geomantic techniques, too.)

So, I decided to try contemplating the figures again, except this time, I brought a lot more of my art to bear (I wasn’t really a magician back in those days!) and fit it within the framework of this burgeoning devotional practice, calling on my guardian angel as well as the archangel Gabriel, that famous celestial being who taught the founders of geomancy their art, to help me understand the figure through its mysteries.  The process was, fundamentally, the same, except with some preliminary and concluding prayers (which helped in ways I would never have conceived of even a few months ago, much several years ago): visualize the figure, see it form a door, mentally go up to the door and knock, open the door, and go on through.  I augmented this process by using the geomantic salutes as well as by intoning the epodes for a figure and reciting the orison for a figure (16 short hymns of the figures, available in my Secreti Geomantici ebook!) for an all-around way to get as much of me engaged in the process as I could without breaking out into a fuller ritual involving incenses or candles or the like.  For the order, I used my trusty elemental ordering of the figures according to their primary and secondary elemental rulerships, based on the structure of the figures rather than their planetary or zodiacal correspondences.  So, I started with Laetitia on the first day, Fortuna Minor on the second, Amissio on the third, and so forth, up until Tristitia on the last and final day.

I was looking forward to seeing what new knowledge I could get, getting reacquainted with these figures I see and use so often in my work, maybe even revisiting the same scenes I saw so long ago.  Interestingly enough, that wasn’t the case.  Instead, what I was shown was a city, a vast metropolitan city filled with skyscrapers and towers that came to an abrupt end at a single, long road that ran from an infinite East to an infinite West, on the opposite side of which was an equally-vast forest, filled with every kind of tree and bush and plant imaginable.  Every figure-contemplation took place along that road, dividing that vast city and that vast forest, but every figure-contemplation was drastically different: time of day, weather, what was happening, the condition of the city; heck, there even seemed to be a notion that sometimes years or even decades would pass along that road between visualizations.  In a way that caught me off-guard, the elemental ordering of the figures I used told a deep, intricate, and coherent story of the flow of time of that place, between the metropolitan inhabitants of the city and the autochthonous inhabitants of the forest, ranging from celebration to war to cataclysm to peace and all the things between.

In a way, I guess I was revisiting the realm of Via itself.  After all, the fact that all these visualizations took place along a Road was not lost on me, and seeing how this figure is often considered to be the first figure of geomancy in the historiolas that we have as well as having all elements present, and that I was using an elemental ordering of the figures to arrange and schedule my contemplations of them…well, I guess it makes sense, in retrospect.

I didn’t want to give a whole new set of intricate visualizations, much less share some of the intimate things I witnessed in each contemplation, but I did want to share a few things with you from what I saw: primarily, the form of the door that formed for each figure, and a brief lesson to learn from each figure.  The doors you might see in your own contemplations may well be different, but I figure that giving some sort of description for what to expect could help.  The lessons were, for those who follow me on Twitter, shared day by day in a short-enough form to encapsulate some of the high-level important messages that I could deliver from each realm of the figure.  Perhaps they, too, can be helpful for those who are learning about the figures, or want something to start with that they can expand on in their own meditations.

A large arched banded wooden door situated in a fluted pillar-supported stone arch, opening towards
There are always reasons to celebrate, but celebration need not mean partying. While some take time off, others still serve, and they too have cause to celebrate. To truly celebrate is to rejoice in work, channeling hope into power; true praise of God is praise through Work.

Fortuna Minor
A square, wide, wooden door banded with iron and surrounded by cut stone, opening towards
Don’t chase after sunsets. Diminishing returns will waste you time, and time is something you can’t waste anymore. All we have is all we have; prepare when you can, make do when you must. It’s all we can do to look after ourselves and our own; find independence through community.

A normal cheap white bedroom door with plain threshold, opening outwards
Better to be homeless in loss than to build a home on it, lest your foundation sink into quicksand. Refugees, divorcees, ex-employees, we all suffer loss time and again; it hurts, and it hurts to stay and it hurts to go, but in accepting loss, we leave loss behind.

Cauda Draconis
A weak, filthy, dusty, shaky door that smells, opening outwards
This world is meant to end, and yet we are meant to make it last. We must do what we can when we can—but at the proper time, and no sooner? Collapse early, avoid the rush. Loss is nothing compared to perdition; how simple we are to focus only on the now when all else is at stake.

Metal bulkhead door, opening outwards
Enthusiasm can wash over any disaster like an opportunistic wave, but when faced with actual problems, it can end in dashing oneself against rocks in order to break them, or fleeing to fight another battle and another day. Waves will break and scatter but overwhelm all the same.

A black door, almost invisible, opening outwards
Unbridled desire is like air, stale though thinking it’s fresh, trapped in a cyclone that wrecks damage it cannot see. Over and over it runs roughshod over all, consuming and hurting all. Only true fresh thought clears the air, bringing helpful change instead of harmful calamity.

A rustic door with a fine, elaborate lintel, opening outwards
In war, all else looks like peace; in peace, all else looks like war. It’s in the liminal space between them, a blue hour of life, that everything and everyone can come together as equals. Not as allies, but as equals in crisis, equals in opportunity, equals in assessment.

A marble door with engraved inlays of lapis and gold, flanked by fluted columns, opening towards in half
After reckoning comes work; after assessment, business. All come as equals, sharing to increase, increasing their share, carrying our past forever with us. True wealth is practical knowledge, an endless font to always build, augment, and—soon—to rejoice. “Go forth and multiply.”

An opalescent glass door with a shiny chrome frame, opening outwards
Beauty is an emergent property out of assessment, union, and work. We don’t find beauty; it finds us, when we’re in the embrace of equals whom we don’t just acknowledge but truly know are our equals. Beauty is a property of truth, and truth comes from acceptance of the world.

A color-changing veil suspended from an arch, sliding to the left
Every infinitesimal moment has infinite potential, every one a knife-blade, a parer of possibilities. In each moment lies every potential of every kind of action; it’s up to us to take it, transforming the world and ourselves. Geomancy isn’t called “cutting the sand” for nothing.

A white wooden door in a white, rough-cut stone threshold, opening towards
After we (re)build, the dust settles, and we can see clearly; purity of the heart leads to purity of the mind. We hollow the church, and fill the world as a monastery, living in peace to remember and re-member. But don’t forget: believing we have peace doesn’t mean we really do.

A thin, white, translucent veil divided in half, suspended from a thin smooth metal frame, parting to open from the middle
Love leads to peace, but without further direction, leads to inertia and languor. Utter clarity of vision leads us to live utterly in the here and now, and makes us forget our lessons, even as we return to how things always were. We take too much for granted; we lose our way.
*Note: this one feels like it should be first or last, a complete return to how things always were.

A double door, the inner one of thick wrought iron bars opening towards, the outer one of heavy steel bulkhead opening outwards
Inertia stops to become hollow convention, which becomes enforced restriction. The word of God is replaced by the word of law, and we become isolated and ignorant of the larger world, and keeps us bound to the same old same old, always for the best, and if you’re not convinced…

Caput Draconis
A pair of elegant-yet-subdued baroque French doors, ivory with bright gold leaf accents, opening outward from the middle
With enough rules, even rulers become slaves, and all the old guard wander in lost memories. It’s the too-young, those too fresh to have known anything else, that begin the coup, but all they know is how to prepare and destroy. Chaos? Yes! The climactic Big Bang, a fecund reset.

Fortuna Maior
A gate of warm gold set with bars of iron with iron gateposts on either side, opening outward from the middle
Forced dominion toils to keep order, but true royalty has no need for force. Rulers naturally assume their role, and all rule their own proper domain; as planets in their orbits, all take care of their own work, honest and pure. Independent success, all for the sake of the All.

The heavy, metal-covered stone door of a tomb with a ring for a handle, opening towards
The Work is easy to start, but hard to continue; hope flees and dread finds us instead. The plague of “what if?” seeps into us like polluted air into sod, turning fertile grass into barren dust. The Sun has set, but will rise again; keep going until dawn, for then there is hope.

The Kybalion is Still Crap, No Matter Who You Think You Are

Last night, I made a tweet, as I periodically do, about how much I dislike the Kybalion:

Longtime readers—and those who follow me on Facebook or Twitter—know that I’m no fan of this text. Published in 1912 by The Yogi Publication Society Masonic Temple in Chicago, Illinois, and supposedly written by the “Three Initiates”, its own introduction plays itself up quite admirably:

We take great pleasure in presenting to the attention of students and investigators of the Secret Doctrines this little work based upon the world-old Hermetic Teachings. There has been so little written upon this subject, not withstanding the countless references to the Teachings in the many works upon occultism, that the many earnest searchers after the Arcane Truths will doubtless welcome the appearance of this present volume.

The purpose of this work is not the enunciation of any special philosophy or doctrine, but rather is to give to the students a statement of the Truth that will serve to reconcile the many bits of occult knowledge that they may have acquired, but which are apparently opposed to each other and which often serve to discourage and disgust the beginner in the study. Our intent is not to erect a new Temple of Knowledge, but rather to place in the hands of the student a Master-Key with which he may open the many inner doors in the Temple of Mystery through the main portals he has already entered.

There is no portion of the occult teachings possessed by the world which have been so closely guarded as the fragments of the Hermetic Teachings which have come down to us over the tens of centuries which have elapsed since the lifetime of its great founder, Hermes Trismegistus, the “scribe of the gods,” who dwelt in old Egypt in the days when the present race of men was in its infancy. Contemporary with Abraham, and, if the legends be true, an instructor of that venerable sage, Hermes was, and is, the Great Central Sun of Occultism, whose rays have served to illumine the countless teachings which have been promulgated since his time. All the fundamental and basic teachings embedded in the esoteric teachings of every race may be traced back to Hermes. Even the most ancient teachings of India undoubtedly have their roots in the original Hermetic Teachings…

It goes on to claim that not only is Hermetic philosophy the origin of Western philosophy, occult and otherwise, but so too is it the origin of Vedic and Hindu philosophy, along with every other philosophy of note. And yet, despite Hermeticism supposedly being the origin of all the world’s philosophies, occultisms and occultures, and religions:

…the original truths taught by him have been kept intact in their original purity by a few men in each age, who, refusing great numbers of half-developed students and followers, followed the Hermetic custom and reserved their truth for the few who were ready to comprehend and master it. From lip to ear the truth has been handed down among the few… These men have never sought popular approval, nor numbers of followers. They are indifferent to these things, for they know how few there are in each generation who are ready for the truth, or who would recognize it if it were presented to them… They reserve their pearls of wisdom for the few elect, who recognize their value and who wear them in their crowns, instead of casting them before the materialistic vulgar swine, who would trample them in the mud and mix them with their disgusting mental food…

The text then goes on in short order to describe “The Kybalion”, which it only really describes as “a compilation of certain Basic Hermetic Doctrines, passed on from teacher to student”, with the exact meaning of the word “having been lost for several centuries”. Yet, the book we call the Kybalion is just the interpretation and exegesis of this ancient text that it never actually quotes in full; the Three Initiates just cite a bunch of small quotes that may or may not make up the entirety of its supposed origin text, and that in such a highbrow, supercilious way that only the occultists of the late 19th and early 20th century could achieve.

TL;DR: the Kybalion is a pretentious mess.

Probably my biggest gripe about this blasted thing is that, though the Kybalion claims to be a Hermetic text, it’s just not. I’ll delightfully and happily recommend my readers to take a look at Nicholas E. Chapel’s wonderful essay, The Kybalion’s New Clothes: An Early 20th Century Text’s Dubious Association with Hermeticism, which goes into the history and origins of the Kybalion and that it’s very much a modern product that derives from New Thought, a new age movement that originated in the 19th century spiritual scene of the United States, itself the likely root of Christian Science. From the New Thought crowd, a strong case can be made that the real identity of the “Three Initaites” is William Walker Atkinson, aka Yogi Ramacharaka aka Magus Incognito aka Theron Q. Dumont, who served in a position of honorary leadership of the International New Thought Alliance and who was a prolific writer of many works, many of which have nontrivial overlaps with the material in the Kybalion. Chapel’s essay also goes on at length and in depth about the real and numerous differences between the Kybalion and actual Hermetic philosophy, and it’s definitely an excellent read, but suffice it to say that there’s not a lot of Hermeticism in the Kybalion.

It would also be remiss of me, at this point, to not bring up the good Reverend Erik’s post over at Arnemancy about What to Read Instead of the Kybalion (surprise, it’s actual Hermetic philosophy texts, specifically the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius!) and The Nature of God in the Kybalion and the Hermetica (surprise, there’re major differences in how divinity and God is described between the two texts). Also definitely give those a read, too.

All this was going through my head last night, because I saw yet another post somewhere on one of the magic-related subreddits about, once again, the Kybalion. I’ve gotten tired about voicing my opinion on there, unless it comes up in another thread I’m already involved with, but I rolled my eyes, made a snarky tweet, and got on with my evening. Then someone out of the blue—I’ve never heard of them, they weren’t following me, we have one mutual follower in common who’s someone I only barely know (but what I do know I like)—struck up a short quasi-conversation with me (verbatim below):

Them: Its entry lvl concepts but its still effective if you have discernment, just like every other esoteric projection. Better to have newly awakened read the kybalion then jump straight into solomons lesser key or any of oto ffs

Me: I find the Kybalion’s “principles” to be a waste of time at best and dangerously misleading at worst, and they often require unlearning and serious deconditioning when getting into the real meat and bones. I contend they should get into the Corpus Hermeticism at the start. But even then, taken right, there’s nothing wrong with starting off with the Lemegeton or Thelema if they want to, so long as they take them seriously.

Them: Curpus is not exactly easy digestion. Had to read it twice to fit pieces together. Its all doctrine, so whatever works for the individual to find the path to virtue is correct. But you should already know youre projecting your self into the argument…

Me: “Bitter for the mouth is sweet for the stomach.” Better they read good stuff that’s hard from the start than junk food swill for the mind; after all, nobody promised that obtaining wisdom would be easy. Besides, at least the Corpus is actually Hermetic, unlike the Kybalion.

Them: And how many initiates take any infrastructure as serious as they need to?

Me: If the initiation was done right, and if they needed initiation (otherwise, they shouldn’t have it), then all of them. It’s on the initiator as much as the initiate to ensure that instilling mysteries is done properly, but is also appropriate for the person to have them.

Them: You sure do have a lot of rules to enlightenment. Makes me think you havent found it yet. Ive heard everything I need to from you.

At which point, they blocked me. To be honest, this is the first time in the nine years I’ve been on Twitter that I can recall something like this happening, so I’m pretty proud of myself to have irritated someone to the point of getting blocked because I disagreed with them.

Listen, I have my gripes about the Kybalion, to be sure, and I’ll name three specifically:

  1. It’s not Hermetic, and thus gets people confused about actual, legitimate Hermetic philosophy and practices.
  2. Many of its lessons tend to become hindrances later on that are, at best, worthless and can just be dropped and, at worst, are dangerous and need to be unlearned.
  3. It’s such a basic text that it doesn’t really do much besides say “there are things out there”, focused more on feel-good kinda-truths that maybe encourages people to get off their ass and do something with their lives.

But, really, it’s that first gripe that’s the biggest: the Kybalion is not a Hermetic text, period, full stop. It’s influenced by Hermeticism, I’ll grant it that, but as Reverend Erik said in a comment to one of his posts above, “[d]efinitely Hermeticism influenced the Kybalion, but that doesn’t mean the Kybalion agrees entirely with Hermeticism”. And, if you look at what’s actually written in texts like the Corpus Hermeticum, the Asclepius, the Emerald Tablet, the Virgin of the World, the Isis to Horus, and the like, there’s really not a lot that the Kybalion agrees with at all. The Kybalion isn’t so much a rewrite of Hermetic philosophy and ideas into modern language, but an injection of New Thought ideas into Hermeticism. Not that I’m opposed to innovations if they’re useful, and I’ll be the first to happily and readily admit that Hermeticism as we know it from classical writings is absolutely syncretic and synthesized by many authors with related ideas and viewpoints. The problem is that this injection is also a rebranding of New Thought as Hermeticism, and thus confuses the two together, when the two are so distinct that it leads to confusion among many who read it.

I do not and cannot recommend the Kybalion as an introductory text, except unless you’re getting into New Thought and Christian Science—in which case, have at! There’s definitely virtue in New Thought and the like, but don’t call it Hermeticism, because it’s not. Yet, I’m evidently in the minority with that viewpoint that the Kybalion should not be recommended for students of Hermeticism as an introductory text, as I commonly see it lauded and praised and recommended time and time again as being so good. I mean…well, the good Dr Al Cummins said it better than I could on a Facebook post about the Kybalion I made recently: “I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered anyone online stanning the Kybalion who actually had anything remotely interesting or useful to say about it”.

Then here comes along someone whom I don’t know and who doesn’t know me saying that the Kybalion is better than the Lemegeton and the Ordo Templi Orientis. The Lemegeton I can sorta understand; goetia isn’t exactly something to go rushing into for the most part, but let’s be honest, how many generations of magicians have started with that very text and have used it and abused it for wondrous and terrible things? It’s several hundred years older than the Kybalion, for one, and though it’s more Solomonic practical literature than Hermetic, it’s still so tied up into Hermetic practice that its influences cannot be denied. But, come on, dude went out of his way to smear the O.T.O.? For real? Despite that the O.T.O. itself is also older than the Kybalion, is still around and lively to this day, and has greatly influenced modern Western occulture, especially with Crowley’s and Thelema’s influence on the O.T.O., with a supportive community and rigorous lodge-based system, you’re gonna say that the Kybalion’s better than that? As a rule, books are never preferred to teachers when teachers are available, and O.T.O. is full of them.

Is the Kybalion effective? I don’t judge it so, to be honest, and neither have many of my colleagues. We might remember it fondly, but we more often talk about it derisively, and, well, there’s what Dr Cummins said about it, too, which I can’t disagree with. Is it good to help open the mind? Sure! Is it good for getting into new age practices generally? Absolutely, since New Thought’s one such practice! But to say it’s good for getting into Hermeticism isn’t saying much more than saying it can help you move your foot towards the door, when you would probably do that anyway and a lot better, quicker, and easier if you started with actual Hermetic texts. Which is why I always recommend the Corpus Hermeticum as a kind of Hermetic Bible of sorts, along with the other texts as one is ready for them.

“But oh no, the Corpus is so hard to read!” dude said, “it took me two times to understand it!” First, it only took you two times to get it to make sense? I’m reading it for the two hundredth time and I’m still learning more from it. I had to go over it multiple times to get it to sit right in my head, and several more after that to actually begin to grok it. If you’re complaining that it took you two tries to read it, then that says a lot about how much you’re able to stomach actual philosophy, occult studies, and the like; you might have a sharp mind, but little faculty to keep with it. I find complaining about that to be embarrassing, to be honest, because of course something that old and dense on such a cosmically-encompassing huge topic is going to be hard to understand. Yet, with the works of Brian Copenhaver or Clement Salaman, it’s easy to study so long as you let yourself chew on it and digest it. Nobody promised that the occult was easy, and nobody promised that you would be able to understand Cosmic Truths About God And Everything on your first go; to think that you could or should right out of the gate is folly.

Then the dude goes on about how initiates don’t take their stuff seriously. First off, as an initiate in several mystery religions myself? Have you ever met a convert to a religion or someone newly initiated into something? Nine times out of ten, they can’t shut up about it, and are hungry to know whatever they can, do whatever they can, ask whatever they can, and implement whatever they can. Their enthusiasm may run low over time, sure, but unless it’s a matter of life and death (or because it’s a matter of social life and death), you don’t go for initiation into a spiritual path for shits and giggles, you go because you Want it. Those who Want it will take it as seriously as anything in their lives, because for them, it becomes their life.

And, as I noted, there are those who apply for initiation but aren’t ready for it, or don’t have the capacity for it, and so it’s on their initiators to assess, gauge, and test the applicants to make sure they’re able to initiate or progress to higher initiations. (It works the same in the O.T.O. as it does in Freemasonry as it does in traditional Wicca as it does in Ocha.) Heck, recall those quotes from the introduction of the Kybalion above, too! Even the Kybalion states that the old Hermetic masters “reserved their truth for the few who were ready to comprehend and master it” and that they “reserve their pearls of wisdom for the few elect, who recognize their value and who wear them in their crowns, instead of casting them before the materialistic vulgar swine, who would trample them in the mud and mix them with their disgusting mental food”. That this dude would complain about initiation clearly forgot about that part of the Kybalion, and about the role initiation properly serves in spiritual practices generally.

Due to the influence of La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, aka Santería, in my life, I’m increasingly a stickler for oathbound, authorized, and transmission-based forms of initiation, and find it a useful system, not only to gain power or wisdom or what-have-you but also to throttle it and cultivate it in a useful, beneficial, and appropriate manner, controlled by the initiators and community as a whole who have as much a say in the life and works of any given initiate as the initiate does themselves. This isn’t always the case with many spiritual practices—I have plenty that are more auturgic than initiated, and not everyone needs to go the initiation route—but I know and admit that this isn’t a popular stance to take in modern occulture. As it proved to this dude, who then says that my occultism has too many rules for enlightenment and, thus, I must not be enlightened. To which:

  1. I wasn’t talking about enlightenment. I was talking about Hermetic texts and what’s better to read than not.
  2. I never claimed to be enlightened. I’ll be first to claim that I’m not, and that I’m just a rank beginner with a little expertise here and there.
  3. Who on Earth are you to judge someone, on Twitter of all places, whom you don’t know and who doesn’t know you, regarding their spiritual state?

In all honesty, despite that I’m writing such a post about this, I find the whole affair more hilarious than aggravating. He saved me the trouble of having to block him, at least; at least he had the kindness to shut the door behind him when he left.

I bring all this up because, for one, I enjoy taking any opportunity to rail against the Kybalion, and this gives me an excellent time and means to do it on my own terms, and also to flesh out some of my statements last night with more nuance and explanation. But also, let this be an example of how not to engage with someone, especially me, especially on the Internet. I know at least a few people who would take serious umbrage at this to the point of actual retribution instead of just a snarky blog post. Just…come on, guys. Don’t be a haughty asshole to other people. If you want to discuss, then discuss! Don’t just walk in, say some shit, smear someone and a few religions while you’re at it, then strut off thinking you won when all you won is some mockery.

Let’s grow up and discuss things like adults, shall we? It’s the Hermetic thing to do.

Correspondence of Spirits to the Greek Alphabet

Judging from my recent blog post history, you’d be forgiven if you thought that this whole damn blog, and my whole damn practice, was just about geomancy.  Technically, that’d be wrong, but I do, indeed, talk about geomancy a lot.  There’s just a lot to talk about when it comes to that topic.  One of the things I still keep up with, albeit not as much as I’d like or as much as I’d otherwise have time for, is my old Mathēsis practice, that whole system of Greek letter mystiticsm, a kind of neo-Pythagorean quasi-Hermetic system of theurgy and meditation that works closely with the Greek gods.  I’ve made some good innovations when it comes to developing this practice, from coming up with a Tetractys-based “map” of the cosmos, as well as various other meditative and purificatory practices that, even when I’m not working in a mathētic framework, still help out one way or another.  This whole thing came about through my interest and development of grammatomancy, the Greek alphabet oracle, which I’ve found to be an excellent system of divination that I also specialize in along with geomancy.  One of my finest innovations, I think, is the Grammatēmerologion, a lunisolar calendar that maps the days, months, and years themselves to different letters of the Greek alphabet for tracking feasts, holidays, rituals, and meditations, whether according to the days purely or overlaps between the letters of the days along with astrological and astronomical phenomena.  I’ve found it incredibly helpful, and I hope that others can, as well.

One of the things I find it especially useful for is arranging the days of the lunar month, from New Moon to New Moon, to the different gods of the Hellenic pantheon and other aspects of ancient Greek and Mediterranean mythos.  However, in a naïve or simple way, the Greek letters don’t really have very many associations to the various deities, divinities, and spirits, but I wanted to see how far I could take things.  For instance, it makes sense to honor Asklēpios along with Apollōn, his father, and by extension the goddesses of health like Panakeia or Hygieia or Iasō.  But what about the more obscure divinities, like Triptolemos or Amphitritē or Themis?  I began to expand the associations I was working with to associate the Greek letters to the gods, and I ended up with…well, quite a large set, especially because I wanted to be pretty darn complete or at least reasonably so.  Yanno, just in case.

That ended up in making a table so big even I wasn’t comfortable with it, so I ended up making four tables of correspondences of the various deities and spirits of a Hellenic, Pythagorean, or generally Greek pagan practice to the letters of the Greek alphabet.  I tried to make the associations as reasonably as I could, and despite the overwhelming number of entities present in Greek myth, I tried to focus on those that tended to receive cult in classical times.  Below are those tables, as reasonably complete as I could make them.  When gaps exist in the tables, that indicates that I couldn’t find anything to fit there, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be; perhaps this table could be expanded upon over time, and I’d look forward to it.  Heck, even for the cells that are populated, I’m sure there can be additions or changes made.

What’s also nice is that these tables can also play well with the use of the Kyranides, a famous proto-grimoire “index” of the various minerals, animals, and plants of the world according to their initial letter by their Greek names; connections between those sorts of associations according to the Greek alphabet and how they might play well with the associations given by other authors and sources would be a great thing for me to (eventually) research.

Before we begin, let me share a few resources that were helpful, instrumental, or otherwise important in helping me devise these tables of divine correspondences to the Greek alphabet:

Table I: The Table of the Whole.  This table gives the high-level associations of the letters of the Greek alphabet, both the 24 letters in use from ancient times to modern times as well as the three obsolete letters Digamma, Qoppa, and Sampi, to their various associations: those of the various forces of the cosmos of the elements, planets, and signs of the Zodiac based on Cornelius Agrippa’s associations (book I, chapter 74); the singlemost important deity for that letter of the alphabet based on its corresponding force; a sacred word of power taken from PGM CI.1-53, a holy angel for each letter taken from the Coptic magical manuscript Berlin 11346, and a general part of the body commonly associated with the letters of the Greek alphabet apart from other zodiacal associations.  Note that the three obsolete letters Digamma, Qoppa, and Sampi lack most associations, and are instead given to three classes of spirits of the dead: Digamma has Ancestors of Kin (one’s own blood- and name-related family), Qoppa has Ancestors of Work (ancestors, founders, and forebears of one’s mundane and spiritual professions and lineages), and Sampi has Ancestors of the Great (culture heroes, legendary founders of cities and civilizations, as well as forgotten and wandering dead).  Other oddities, such as the presence of Eōsphoros and Hesperos for Ēta or Zeus Euēnemos for Phi are discussed below in tables for that specific class of letters.

Letter Force Deity Word Angel Body


Taurus Aphroditē ΓΕΝΙΟΜΟΥΘΙΓ
Gemini Apollōn ΔΗΜΟΓΕΝΗΔ
Mercury Stilbōn ΕΝΚΥΚΛΙΕ
of Kin
Cancer Hermēs ΖΗΝΟΒΙΩΘΙΖ
Venus Eōsphoros and
Earth Hēra Geēros ΘΩΘΟΥΘΩΘ
Sun Hēlios ΙΑΕΟΥΩΙ
Virgo Dēmētēr ΛΟΥΛΟΕΝΗΛ
Libra Hēphaistos ΜΟΡΟΘΟΗΠΝΑΜ




Water Persephonē ΞΟΝΟΦΟΗΝΑΞ
Mars Pyroeis ΟΡΝΕΟΦΑΟ
Sagittarius Artemis ΠΥΡΟΒΑΡΥΠ
Ancestors of
Capricorn Hestia ΡΕΡΟΥΤΟΗΡ
Pisces Poseidōn ΤΑΥΡΟΠΟΛΙΤ
Jupiter Phaethōn ΥΠΕΦΕΝΟΥΡΥ
Air Zeus
Spirit Dionysos ΨΥΧΟΜΠΟΛΑΨ
Saturn Phainōn ΩΡΙΩΝ
Ancestors of
the Great

Table II: the Table of the Seven Vowels.  This table expands on the seven vowels of the Greek alphabet, which are given most strongly to the seven traditional planets.  Each planet has its own specific astral titan associated with it, such as Selēnē for the Moon or Hēlios for the Sun, but note that Venus has two astral titans for it, Eōsphoros and Hesperos, because historically this planet was reckoned as two separate entities, Eōsphoros as the Morning Star when Venus rose before the Sun and visible in the dawn hours before sunrise, and Hesperos as the Western Star when Venus set after the Sun and visible in the dusk hours after sunset.  Based on the directions associated with these letters as given in the Heptagram Rite of PGM XIII.734—1077, each of these planets may also be given to the four Elder Titans along with their mother Gaia and their father Ouranos.  Other deities may also be assigned to the planets, such as Artemis for the Moon, along with clusters of lesser deities and other spirits associated with those deities.

Letter Planet Star Titan Deities Cluster
Α Moon Selēnē Hyperiōn Hekatē,
Ε Mercury Stilbōn Koios Hermēs Dioskouroi
Η Venus Eōsphoros,
Iapetos Aphroditē Hesperides
Ι Sun Hēlios Kriōs Apollōn, Dionysos,
Eōs, Theia
Ο Mars Pyroeis Gaia Arēs, Hēphaistos,
Υ Jupiter Phaethōn Kronos Zeus,
Ω Saturn Phainōn Ouranos Kronos, Adrasteia,

Table III: the Table of the Five Complex Consonants. This table expands on the five complex or double consonants of the Greek alphabet, which are given to the four elements plus the quintessence, the meta-element of Spirit.  Each of these is presided over by one of five gods, with the four classical elements associated with Zeus, Hēra, Hadēs, and Persephonē according to the Greek philosopher Empedocles.  To distinguish this specific Zeus and Hēra from their other forms, the titles “Zeus Euēnomos” (Zeus of the Good Winds) and “Hēra Geēros” (Hera of the Earth) are given specifically to them.  Along with these major divinities, other minor divinities who often received cult and are associated with these elements are given, along with important clusters of (often-named individual) spirits and lesser gods as well as general classes of various spirits.

Letter Element Major
Cluster Spirits
Θ Earth Hēra Geēros Gaia, Rhea, Kybelē,
Mēter Theōn
Ξ Water Persephonē Aphroditē, Ōkeanos,
Tēthys, Hekatē
Seirenēs Naiades,
Φ Air Zeus Euēnemos Aiolos,
Χ Fire Hadēs Hēphaistos, Hestia,
Ψ Spirit Dionysos Promētheus, Iakkhos,

Table IV: the Table of the Twelve Simple Consonants.  This table expands on the twelve simple or single consonants of the Greek alphabet, which are given to the twelve signs of the Zodiac.  Each of these zodiac signs are assigned to one of the twelve Olympian gods according to the Orphic Scale of Twelve as given by Cornelius Agrippa (book II, chapter 14) as their prime divinity, along with lesser or alternate divinities who are closely associated with the functions, roles, and ideals of those gods.  Along with these, other sacred figures are given according to the specific body of the zodiac sign, such as the divine twins Dioskouroi to the sign of the twins of Gemini, as well as important clusters of (often-named individual) spirits and lesser gods as well as general classes of various spirits that are also associated with the major divinities of these letters.

Letter Zodiac
Cluster Spirits
Β Aries Athēna Nikē, Mētis, Pronoia,
Hēphaistos, Erikhthonios
Γ Taurus Aphroditē Erōs, Adonis, Harmonia,
Peithō, Parēgoros
Δ Gemini Apollōn Aristaios, Lētō,
Hymenaios, Asklēpios,
Hygeia, Panakeia, Iasō
Dioskouroi Mousai
Ζ Cancer Hermēs Pan, Morpheus,
Maia, Hērakles
Pleiades Panes, Oneiroi,
Κ Leo Zeus Tykhē, Nemesis, Themis,
Ganymēdēs, Hēraklēs,
Bia, Nikē, Kratos, Zēlos
Λ Virgo Dēmētēr Persephonē, Triptolemos,
Hekatē, Ploutos, Iakkhos
Asteria Hōrai
Μ Libra Hēphaistos Athēna, Kēladiōn Dikē Kyklōpes,
Ν Scorpio Arēs Phobos, Deimos,
Eris, Enyō
Π Sagittarius Artemis Lētō, Hekatē Kheirōn Nymphai,
Ρ Capricorn Hestia Pan
Σ Aquarius Hēra Hēbē, Eileithyia, Iris Ganymēdēs Hesperides,
Τ Pisces Poseidōn Prōteus, Amphitritē,
Tritōn, Nēreus,
Palaimon, Leukotheua

One of the fascinating things I find about this Table IV is that there’s a subtle logic in how the major divinities are assigned to the signs of the Zodiac based on the opposing sign.  Consider that Pan is the god most commonly associated with the actual form of the sign Capricorn, but Pan is also often associated with Hermēs in mythos, sometimes even being Hermēs’ own son; there’s an interesting dichotomy here between these two signs, with Hestia essentially being the goddess of what happens inside the home while Hermēs is the god of what happens outside the home.  Likewise, note how the famous centaur Kheiron (or Chiron in modern spelling) is the god of the form of the sign Sagittarius, the opposite sign of Gemini, which itself is associated with Apollōn, his adoptive father and also the father of Asklēpios, whom Kheiron later teaches as his pupil.  Ganymēdēs, too, was the famous cup-bearer taken up by Zeus and placed into the sky as the sign Aquarius, yet this sign itself is given to Hēra, who disapproved of Ganymēdēs, while the sign opposite of both Hēra and Ganymēdēs is none other than Leo, given to Zeus himself.  It’s kinda fascinating to see the logic and polarities going on with how the gods are given to the signs and how they play off each other in a coherent whole of reinforcing-oppositions.

And there you have it!  My system of correspondences I use to categorize and organize the various gods, demigods, daimones, and spirits of the classical and mythic Hellenic world according to the letters of the Greek alphabets.  I’ve personally gotten good mileage out of it, and I hope others can, too, inasmuch as a letter-based system of mysticism might be helpful, but also to just pick out associations and links between the different entities of Hellenic mythos.

A New Model of Elemental Assignments to the Geomantic Figures

We all know the basic four elements of Western occult cosmology, don’t we?  Of course we do!  We know that there’s Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, in order from least dense to most dense, or from most subtle to least subtle, whichever you prefer.  They’re even described in the Divine Poemander, the opening chapter of the Corpus Hermeticum as being fundamental (even in this same order!) to the creation of the cosmos:

And I saw an infinite sight, all things were become light, both sweet and exceeding pleasant; and I was wonderfully delighted in the beholding it. But after a little while, there was a darkness made in part, coming down obliquely, fearful and hideous, which seemed unto me to be changed into a certain moist nature, unspeakably troubled, which yielded a smoke as from Fire; and from whence proceeded a voice unutterable, and very mournful, but inarticulate, inasmuch as it seemed to have come from the Light.  Then from that Light, a certain holy Word joined itself unto Nature, and outflew the pure and unmixed Fire from the moist nature upwards on high; it was exceeding Light, and sharp, and operative withal. And the Air, which was also light, followed the Spirit and mourned up to Fire from the Earth and the Water, insomuch that it seemed to hang and depend upon it.  And the Earth and the Water stayed by themselves so mingled together, that the Earth could not be seen for the Water, but they were moved because of the Spiritual word that was carried upon them.

According to long-standing doctrine, going back to the time of Aristotle and before him even unto Empedocles, the four elements are considered to be arranged according to the two qualities each element has.  One pair of qualities exists on a spectrum from Hot to Cold, and the other from Dry to Moist.  If you take both Hot and Dry, you end up with Fire; Hot and Moist, Air; Cold and Moist, Water; Cold and Dry, Earth.  In this way, each element pertains to two qualities:

Hot Cold
Dry Fire Earth
Moist Air Water

This sort of arrangement has classically been described graphically with a kind of diamond-square diagram, showing how the four elements arise from combinations of these two qualities.  In the below diagram, Fire is represented by the upwards-pointing triangle in the upper left positioned between Hot and Dry, Air by the upwards-pointing triangle with a horizontal bar in the upper right between Hot and Wet, and so forth.

The thing about the four elements is that, while they are combinations of two qualities, they’re not necessarily static combinations thereof.  Some philosophers have specified that the elements are primarily of one quality and secondarily of the other that allows them to change into each other or react with each other in a more fluid way.  Fire, for instance, is both hot and dry, but in this fluid system, is specifically considered to be primarily hot and secondarily dry.  In the diagram above, we can see this in that, going clockwise around the diagram, the primary quality of an element is clockwise from that element’s corner, and the secondary quality is counterclockwise; in this sense, the primary quality is what that element is headed into, and the secondary quality is what that element is leaving behind.  Thus:

  • Fire is primarily hot and secondarily dry.
  • Air is primarily wet and secondarily hot.
  • Water is primarily cold and secondarily wet.
  • Earth is primarily dry and secondarily cold.

From this, let’s say that the four qualities themselves—even if they’re proto-elemental—can be ascribed to the four elements themselves, such that Heat is basically the main characteristic of Fire, Moisture of Air, Cold of Water, and Dryness of Earth.  (This offshoot of the Empedoclean-Aristotelian system is in opposition to the Stoic system, which gives Heat and Coldness to Fire and Air, and Moisture and Dryness to Water and Earth, but that doesn’t matter for the purposes of this system which is effectively unrelated.)  So, although Heat is part of both Fire and Air, Heat is more aligned towards Fire than Air.

We also know that certain elements—more properly, certain qualities of the elements—cannot be together lest they cancel each other out because of their inherent opposition.  Heat and Cold cancel each other out, as do Moisture and Dryness.  Thus, when we say that Fire and Water cancel each other out, it’s really their elemental qualities that cancel each other out, leaving behind a mess.  What remains when different elements cancel each other out, or some combination of elements reinforcing each other in some ways or reducing each other in other ways, can be instructive in how to alchemically understand these elemental reactions from a basic principle.

Now consider the 16 geomantic figures.  Each figure, as we all know by now, is represented by four rows, each row having one or two dots.  Each row represents one of the four elements: from top to bottom, they’re Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.  A single dot in a row signifies the presence or activity of that element in the figure, while two dots in a row signifies its absence or passivity.  Thus, Laetitia (with only one dot in the topmost Fire row and two dots in the other rows) has only Fire active, and so forth.  We know that there are many different ways to assign the elements to the figures, some being more recent than others, and the way I like to assign them has the benefit of being one of the oldest used in Western geomancy…mostly, with the figures Laetitia and Rubeus swapped around so that Laetitia is ruled by Fire and Rubeus by Air.  Moreover, my way of assigning the elements also has a benefit of giving each figure both a primary and a secondary elemental ruler, which has come in use in various techniques more often than I had originally anticipated.

Still, what would happen if we used a different method beyond overall signification to assign the figures to the elements?  What would happen if we took the structure of the figures themselves as the sole key to understand their elemental affinities based on what’s present, what’s absent, what cancels out, and what reinforces each other?  Knowing that certain elemental qualities do just that when put together, what would happen if we took that structural approach to the elements active within a geomantic figure?  For instance, Puer has Fire, Air, and Earth active; we know that because of their opposing qualities, Air (Hot and Wet) and Earth (Cold and Dry) cancel each other out, leaving only Fire behind, giving Puer a basically fiery nature.  What if we took this approach to all the figures, seeing what came out of such elemental interactions amongst the elements present within a geomantic figure?

Fire First
Remainder Result
Laetitia Hot
Hot ×2 Hot
Amissio Hot
Ø Null
Puer Hot
Rubeus Hot
Coniunctio Hot
Wet ×2 Wet
Acquisitio Hot
Ø Null
Puella Hot
Via Hot
Ø Null
Albus Cold
Populus Ø Null
Carcer Hot


Dry ×2 Dry




Cold ×2 Cold
Tristitia Cold

Note the overall results we get:

  • Eight figures end up with an actual element that represents them, four being a result of that element being the only active one in that figure (e.g. Laetitia, being Fire, because only Fire is active), and four being a result of that element being active, its opposing element being inactive, and the other two elements that cancel out being active (e.g. Puer, being Fire, because Fire is active but so is Air and Earth, which cancel each other out).
  • Four figures end up with being not an actual element, but a single quality, because it contains the two elements active in that figure that have that quality, with the other qualities of those elements canceling out (e.g. Fortuna Minor is pure Heat, because Fire and Air are active within it, both elements of Heat, though the dryness of Fire and moisture of Air cancel each other out).
  • Four figures end up with being null and void of any element or quality.  One is trivial, Populus, because it just has nothing active in it to begin with, but the other three (Via, Amissio, and Acquisitio) are combinations of only opposing elements that all cancel each other out somehow.

If we separate out those eight figures that end up with an element into a “pure element” group (where the figure consists of only that single element itself) and a “muddled element” group (where the figure consists of that element plus two other elements that oppose each other and cancel out), we end up with a neat grouping of four groups of four figures.  Even nicer is that the Pure Element, Muddled Element, and Single Quality groups all have each figure representing one of the four elements (the Single Quality representing elements by means of their most closely associated quality, e.g. Fire by Heat, Water by Cold).  That leaves us with a convenient scheme for assigning the figures to the elements in a new way…

Fire Air Water Earth
Laetitia Rubeus Albus Tristitia
Puer Cauda
Coniunctio Fortuna

…mostly.  The Null Quality group of figures (Via, Populus, Amissio, and Acquisitio) don’t fall into the same patterns as the rest because…well, they’re all null and void and empty of any single element or quality.  We’ll get to those later.

First, note that the Pure Element, Muddled Element, and Single Quality groups, we see a process of descension from one element to the next.  Descension is the process by which the elemental rows of a geomantic figure are “shifted” downwards such that the Fire line gets shifted down to the Air line, Air down to Water, Water down to Earth, and Earth cycles back up again to Air; I discussed this and the corresponding reverse technique, ascension, in an earlier post of mine from 2014.  Moreover, note that all these groups descend into the proper elements ruling that figure in lockstep, so that if we take the Fire figure from one group and descend it into the Air figure of that same group, the other Fire figures from the other groups also descend into the Air figures of those groups.  That’s actually a pretty neat reinforcing of this new system of assigning elements to the figures, and in a conveniently regular, structural way.

It’s with the Null Quality figures (Via, Populus, Amissio, and Acquisitio) that that pattern breaks down.  We know that Amissio and Acquisitio descend into each other in a two-stage cycle of descension, while Via and Albus descend into themselves without a change.  We can’t use the process of descension like we did before to make a cycle of elements within a quality group of figures, and because of their null quality, we can’t just look at the elements present in the figures themselves to determine what element they might be aligned with as a whole in this system.  So…what next?

Take a close look at the figures we already have charted, and follow along with my next bit of logic.  For one, we know that all the odd figures are either in the Pure Element or Muddled Element group, which means all the even figures must be in the Single Quality or Null Quality group.  On top of that, if we look at the figures that are already charted to the elements, we can note that Fire and Air figures are all mobile, and Water and Earth figures are all stable.  This suggests that Via and Amissio (the mobile Null Quality figures) should be given to Fire and Air somehow, and Populus and Acquisitio (the stable Null Quality figures) to Water and Earth somehow.  We’re getting somewhere!

The Null Quality figures share more similarities with the Single Quality figures because they’re both sets of even figures.  Even though the Single Quality figures follow a process of descension between one element and the next, we also see that figures that belong to opposing elements (Fire and Water, Air and Earth) are also inverses of each other (inversion being one of the structural transformations of geomantic figures, this one specifically replacing odd points with even points and vice versa).  This can be used as a pattern for the Null Quality figures, too, such that inverse Null Quality figures are given to opposing elements. This means that we have two possible solutions:

  1. Via to Fire, Amissio to Air, Populus to Water, Acquisitio to Earth
  2. Amissio to Fire, Via to Air, Acquisitio to Water, Populus to Earth

At this point, I don’t think there’s any structural argument that could be made for one choice over the other, so I shift to a symbolic one.  In many Hermetic and Platonic systems of thought, when it comes to pure activity or pure passivity (though there are many other alternatives to such terms!), Fire and Water are often thought of as perfect examplars, so much so that the Hexagram is literally interpreted as a divine union of masculine/ejective/active Fire (represented by the upwards-pointing triangle) and feminine/receptive/passive Water (represented by the downwards-pointing triangle).  Taking it a step further, in some interpretations of this mystical formation of the hexagram, this combination of Fire and Water produces the element of Air.  If we translate this into geomantic figures, we can consider “pure activity” (Fire) to best be represented by the figure Via (which could, I suppose, be taken as the simplest possible representation of the phallus, being a single erect line, or as the number 1 which is also historically considered to be masculine or active), and “pure passivity” (Water) as Populus (which, likewise, could be seen as the walls of the birth canal or vulva, as well as the number 2 which is considered feminine or passive).  If we give Via to Fire and Populus to Water, this means that we’d give Amissio to Air and Acquisitio to Earth.  Note how this actually works nicely for us, because the Null Quality figure we give to Air is itself composed of Fire and Water, matching with that mystical elemental interpretation of the Hexagram from before.

Now we can complete our table from before:

Fire Air Water Earth
Laetitia Rubeus Albus Tristitia
Puer Cauda
Coniunctio Fortuna
Via Amissio Populus Acquisitio

Next, can we impose an ordering onto the figures given these elemental assignments and quality groups?  Probably!  Not that orders matter much in Western geomancy as opposed to Arabic geomancy, but it could be something useful as well, inasmuch as any of this might be useful.  The order I would naturally think would be useful would be to have all sixteen figures grouped primarily by element—so all four Fire figures first, then the four Air figures, and so on—and then, within that group, the most representative of that element down to the least representative, which would suggest we start with the Pure Element figure and end with the Null Quality figure.  So, which comes second, the Muddled Element or the Single Quality?  I would suggest that the Single Quality figure is more like the element than the Muddled Element figure, because the Single Quality is representative of the…well, single quality that is representative of that element and, though it has some things canceling out within the figure, those things that cancel out based on their corresponding elements active within the figure are still harmonious and agreeable to the overall element itself.  Meanwhile, the Muddled Element is more removed due to the presence of other opposing elements that fight within itself, dragging it down further away from a pure expression of its overall element.  These rules would get us an order like the following:

  1. Laetitia
  2. Fortuna Minor
  3. Puer
  4. Via
  5. Rubeus
  6. Coniunctio
  7. Cauda Draconis
  8. Amissio
  9. Albus
  10. Fortuna Maior
  11. Caput Draconis
  12. Populus
  13. Tristitia
  14. Carcer
  15. Puella
  16. Acquisitio

So, what does this leave us with, and where does this leave us?  We have here a new way to associate the geomantic figures to the traditional elements in a way that’s substantially different from either the usual structural method that I prefer or a more zodiacal method that’s also in common use by authors like John Michael Greer and those immersed in Golden Dawn-like systems, though there is still a good amount of overlap between this kind of elemental assignment and the structural method with eight of the figures retaining their same element (all four Pure Element figures plus Fortuna Minor, Coniunctio, Carcer, and Populus).  This is not a method I’ve encountered before in any geomantic text I’m familiar with, and I’m inclined to say it’s pretty much a novel approach to assigning the elements to the figures, though considering how straightforward the process was, or at least how simple the idea behind it was, I’d be honestly surprised that such a thing hasn’t been thought of before now.

I don’t mean to supplant the major two existing systems of elemental assignments of the geomantic figures (the planetary-zodiacal method or the structural method) or their variations as found throughout the literature; personally, I’m still inclined to keep to my structural method of elemental assignments instead of this combinatoric method, as it’s what I’ve most closely worked with for years, and I’ve gotten exceedingly good mileage out of it.  To me, all the above is something like a curiosity, a “what if” experiment of potential.  Still, even as an experiment, this combinatoric method could have more interesting applications outside pure divination, and I’m thinking more along the lines of alchemy, magic, or other such applications where it’s truly the action, nonaction, interaction, and reaction of the elements themselves among the figures is what matters.  We can alchemically-geomantically view the cosmos as arising from:

  • 4 base substances
  • 16 base entities (the 16 = 4 × 4 different combinations of the elements to form the figures)
  • 256 base interactions (the 256 = 16 × 16 = 4 × 4 × 4 × 4 different addition-pairs of the figures)

So, consider: if you add pure Fire and pure Water, that’d be Laetitia + Albus = Amissio, which gets you a Null figure of balance that leads to an overall condition of Air.  (Fitting, given our explanation of why Amissio should be given to Air at all.)  If you add simple Heat to pure Air, that’d be Fortuna Minor + Rubeus = Laetitia, which also makes sense because, as a figure of Air, Rubeus is primarily wet and secondarily hot; if we reinforce the heat, it becomes primarily hot, and the wet condition gets dried out by the overabundance of heat, transforming Air into Fire.  If we add simple Cold and simple Heat, which would be weird to think about even in alchemical terms except unless we’d isolate those qualities from simpler bases (which we do in geomantic terms), that’d be Fortuna Maior + Fortuna Minor, which would become Via, a technically Null figure given to balanced, ideal, spiritual Fire; how odd!  But we wet the same result when we add any of the opposing Single Qualities, which to me would be like a geomantic division by zero.

I think that this combinatoric model of elemental assignments, what I’m going to call the “alchemical model” as opposed to my usual “structural model” or the Golden Dawn-style “zodiacal model”, could be useful for more mystical, philosophical, or magical meditations on the figures.  It’s not one I’ve completely fleshed out or can immediately agree with given how different it can be from the models I’m used to working with, but I think it does hold some promise and is worthy of exploration and testing, especially in a more magical and less divinatory context.

On Prayer Beads, Devotions to Gabriel, and a New Way of Doing Just That

I think that, as of this moment…god, how many sets of prayer beads do I have in my temple room? Seven chaplets for the archangels I made myself, one rosary each for Mary the Theotokos and for Saint Cyprian of Antioch and for my ancestor shrine, a chaplet of Saint Cyprian of Antioch I designed myself, an Orthodox Christian prayer rope, a set of tiger’s eye prayer beads I made for solar work (specifically for a variant of my Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios), a set of labradorite prayer beads I made for my Holy Guardian Angel, a chaplet for Hermēs based on the work of the good Dr. Jeffrey S. Kupperman (yes, that one, the one with the book! he put out a wonderful novena rule and chaplet for Hermēs not too long ago), and a set of Islamic prayer beads (misbaḥa) for my ancestor shrine for one of my spirit guides. All told, that makes 16 different sets of prayer beads scattered throughout my temple, though admittedly I don’t use all of them; sometimes they’re there more for the shrine’s sake or the use of the spirits rather than my own. I used to have a rosewood mala for my old Buddhist stuff, but I’ve since gifted that away to a friend who can put it to better use since there’s nothing more for me to do along those lines or practices.

What? I like the convenience, customizability, and attractiveness of prayer beads. They’re useful, they’re tangible, they let the body focus on one thing and allow the mind to focus on another in a semi-autonomous way.

Well, lately, as part of my burgeoning geomantic devotional practice, I’ve been getting more interested in Islamic prayer methods. Credit where it’s due: Islamic devotional practice, prayers, and supplication frameworks are amazing. There’s a massive body of beautiful, poetic, and wonderfully specific literature-cum-prayer rules of endless supplication after supplication after supplication, and it’s at once dazzling and daunting. Now, I’m not a Muslim, nor have I intention to convert given…all the other obligations I have and some theological differences, but I cannot deny the beauty and profundity of how they approach divinity through prayer. As you might have guessed, there’s also a method of prayer with Islam’s own kind of prayer beads: the misbaḥa, also known as tasbīḥ. The word has its origins in the word subḥa, meaning “glory”, as in the phrase Subḥāna-llāh, “Glory be to God” (the recitation of which is also called Tasbīḥ, just as the recitation of the phrase Allāhu ‘akbar, “God is Great”, is called Takbīr).

Misbaḥa are easy to understand: they’re made of 99 beads, with two separators that stand out in some way to break the counting beads up into three sets of 33 beads each. The “head” or “tail” (depending on how you look at it) typically has a long, cylindrical bead, plus some other number of beads for keeping track of iterations of going through the entire thing. Other misbaḥa are made with other numbers, some as few as 11 beads or sometimes 33 broken into three sets of 11, but others used in some religious orders can have as many as a thousand beads. Some misbaḥa have a slidable marker to further mark off particular sets of beads, such as for holding one’s place or when reaching a particular count desired (e.g. 40 is a common number found in Islamic devotional repetitions).

Probably the most popular way, or at least one of the most popular and acclaimed ways, of using misbaḥa is through the method known as the Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah, the method ascribed to Fāṭimah, the daughter of the Prophet Muḥammad. The method is simple:

  1. On each of the first set of 33 beads, recite the Tasbīḥ: Subḥāna-llah (“Glory be to God”).
  2. On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite the Taḥmīd: Alḥamdu li-llāh (“Praise be to God”).
  3. On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite the Takbīr: Allāhu ‘akbar (“God is Great”).

Unlike rosaries or chaplets in the Christian tradition, note how the separators don’t have associated prayers or anything said on them; they’re just used solely as markers to switch up prayers. There are variations of this method, too, of course; some say to recite the Takbīr first followed by the Taḥmīd and the Tasbīḥ in that order, some say to recite the Takbīr 34 times instead of 33 times, some say to conclude by reciting the first part of the Shahāda (Lā ‘ilāha ‘illā-llāh, “there is no god but God”), but the general method is fundamentally the same. It is recommended for the observant to perform this devotion immediately after every compulsory prayer, but the original story behind the Prophet giving it to his daughter also recommends saying it before one retires for sleep.

Discussing this with one of my Muslim colleagues online, this is just one method of using misbaḥa; there are countless ways to use them, such as for reciting individual attributes or names of God (of which there are, of course, a conventional set of 99 in Islam), reciting particular verses of the Qur’ān over and over, and the like. The possibilities are endless, apparently.

So, of course, this got me thinking: while I, too, can use the Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah devotion, is there a way I could use this venerable tool in a way specifically geared for my own needs? Of course there is. The Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah practice is wonderful on its own, and doesn’t require one to be a Muslim to use it; after all, the supplications involved in it are pretty basic and can work for anyone with an Abrahamic, Hermetic, or just plain deist bent, and it’s a clean and straightforward practice that doesn’t involve a lot of preliminary setup, education, or training. It’s effective, I’ll absolutely grant it that. But if there are other ways to use misbaḥa, why not also try something else as well for a more specific purpose than just worship, hesychasm, and henosis?

There being three sets of 33 beads reminded me of the Chaplet of Saint Gabriel the Archangel from Catholic devotions, which is constructed with a lead chain of three beads linked to a ring of 33 beads broken into three sets of 11 beads with one separator bead between each set.

  1. Lead bead 1: “Heavenly Father, through the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel, may we honor the incarnation of your divine Son.”
  2. Lead bead 2: “Mother of our Savior, may we strive always to imitate your holy virtues and respond to our Father, ‘be it done unto me according to thy Word’.”
  3. Lead bead 3: “Archangel Gabriel, please praise our Father for the gift of his Son praying, one day, by his grace, we may all be one.”
  4. On each of the beads in each set of 11: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
  5. On each of the two separator beads: “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus.”

Simple and straightforward. It wouldn’t be a stretch to simply expand the repetitions from three sets of 11 for a total of 33 to three sets of 33 for a total of 99 (33 being a sacred number for Christians, being the number of years Jesus was alive when he was crucified). I could definitely use misbaḥa for Gabriel-based devotions, which is good given the importance of Gabriel being the angel of revelation to the prophet Daniel as well as to Elizabeth, Mary, Muḥammad, Enoch, and so many others, and given the fact that Gabriel is the angel who taught the founders of geomancy their art. However, I didn’t feel like the Catholic approach here—although totally workable—felt appropriate for either my own devotional needs or for use with the misbaḥa.

So, I scoured some verses of Scripture in which Gabriel was either directly present by name or directly being referenced from the Tanakh, the Bible, and the Qur’ān, and in the end, I developed a new method of repetition-based devotions to God through his archangel, a method I’m tentatively calling the “Crown of Gabriel”, to be used on a standard misbaḥa of 99 beads:

  1. At the beginning, recite once: “In the name of God who created me.”
  2. On of the first set of 33 beads, recite: “May God fill me with his grace.”
  3. On the first separator, recite: “God willing, teach me, o Gabriel, mighty in power, revelations to be revealed.”
  4. On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite: “May God be with me.”
  5. On the second separator, recite: “God willing, come forth, o Gabriel, to give me understanding and insight.”
  6. On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite: “Do unto me according to his word.”
  7. At the end, recite once: “My Lord is the Most Generous.”

The specific supplications come from four verses of Abrahamic scripture, one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and two from the Qur’ān, all of which are associated with Gabriel in one way or another:

  • Daniel 9:22 (the clarification of the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks):

    And he [Gabriel] informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding.

  • Luke 1:28—38 (the Annunciation):

    And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured [full of grace], the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

  • Qur’ān, Sūrah An-Najm, 53:1—10 (which describes the appearance of Gabriel to the prophet, with connections to the star Sirius):

    By the star when it descends, your companion [Muhammad] has not strayed, nor has he erred, nor does he speak from [his own] inclination. It is not but a revelation revealed, taught to him by one intense in strength, one of soundness. And he rose to [his] true form while he was in the higher [part of the] horizon. Then he approached and descended and was at a distance of two bow lengths or nearer. And he revealed to His Servant what he revealed.

  • Qur’ān, Sūrah Al-`Alaq, 96:1—5 (the very first revelation to the Prophet by Gabriel):

    Recite in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clinging substance. Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous, who taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not.

For my own needs, I didn’t keep the exact wording from scripture as the Chaplet of Saint Gabriel does; rather, I tweaked them to be more specific to me, that God might teach, fill, and guide me through his angel in a personal way appropriate to me and me alone. Unlike the usual method of Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah and like the Chaplet of Saint Gabriel, I did include prayers for use on the separator beads; originally, I had those supplications for the separator beads and the supplications done at the first and last swapped (so that you’d start with “God willing, teach me…” and end with “God willing, come forth…”), but I felt like swapping them was better so that the whole thing could start off with an invocation of God of sorts—not the proper and usual Basmala (bi-smi-llāhi ar-raḥmāni ar-raḥīm, “in the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful”), but something that works as well and follows the same structure.

Also, what’s nice is that, even though the Crown of Gabriel is designed for a misbaḥa, it can still be used on a regular Chaplet of Saint Gabriel, reducing the number of repetitions of the main supplications from 33 to 11. As for what to recite on the three lead beads, one might add in generic prayers (the Sanctus, the Trisagion, etc.) for all three to be followed with the initial supplication of the Crown of Gabriel, or one could break out the initial supplication into three by incorporating the Basmala as well:

  1. “In the name of God, the Most Compassionate!”
  2. “In the name of God, the Most Merciful!”
  3. “In the name of God, who created me!”

And, on the joint of the chaplet and lead beads, recite the Our Father, just to keep things moving.

Up till now, my angelic devotions largely focused (and will still focus!) on the archangel Michael and my own holy guardian angel. However, I cannot deny the huge role Gabriel necessarily plays in the religions that recognize the archangels at all, as well as in the mythological origins and continued practices of geomancy. Granted that all the archangels work together in a synaxis (basically, where you call on one, you’re basically getting the whole set together no matter what), it’s clear I need to amp up my own devotional practices to Gabriel. I think the Crown of Gabriel method should suffice nicely for that, while also being a way to increase my own intuitive abilities as a diviner in the process. God willing, of course.