Thoughts on Incarnation

“What does incarnation mean to you?  What does it mean for you to be incarnate?”

A straightforward question, I suppose, posed to me by one of my spirits, yet one that is anything but straightforward for me to answer.  I’ve been mulling over the question for over a week now, and coming up with any semblance of a coherent answer is challenging.  I mean, by definition, incarnation is literally to be born in a physical body, right?  Etymologically, it’s a Latin derivation, from in- plus caro “flesh”.  We’re spirits having a material experience, to use the new age saying, but there’s so much more to it than that, isn’t there?

I’ve been mulling over the Hermetic canon a lot lately, and I suppose I could pull bits and pieces out from that about the role of the body and the relationship between the body and the soul, and why humans are born in bodies at all to begin with.  There’s plenty in the Corpus Hermeticum and Stobaean Fragments and other parts of the Hermetic canon that talk about the fall of mankind in one sense or another, the proving-ground that is incarnate reality to obtain Mind and practice devotion and piety, how Fate affects the body but not the soul unless the soul permits it to affect it, and the like, but…something about that approach seems false to me to answer this question.  It’s all informative, sure, but something about this question posed to me necessitates a more personal exploration that integrates that information into a real, substantial answer rather than just regurgitating what I can pick up or gleam uncritically from the old texts.  It may not be enough to come up with a good answer, but maybe if I can come up with just an answer, it’ll be enough to start with.

I suppose that, in many ways, coincidence is more of a false myth than most of magic is: if things happen, they happen because something else happened, and there’s typically a reason for it happening.  Sure, there are some things that just arise from the craziness of the world as a logical consequence of it, and at a shallow level we might call that “coincidence”, but as a magician/priest/spiritualist who believes that the whole of the cosmos is full of spirits, there’s always stuff happening at every level, and even if we humans—puny, fragile, expendable mortals that we are—can’t see all that deeply into the waters of the cosmos, that doesn’t mean there’s no root cause to something.  So, it’s reasonable to me to think, then, that if something happens, there’s both a reason why and a cause by which it happened.  It then follows that, because incarnation is something that happens, then it happens for a reason; because my incarnating into this body happened (and continuously happens, I suppose), it happened (and happens) for a reason.  After all, consider the Mahābhārata or so many of the Hellenic myths of the gods taking on mortal form—incarnating, in one sense or another, especially in the Hindu myths of Viṣṇu where he’s literally born, lives, and dies as a god in mortal form, as well as the myth of Jesus being God incarnate.  They all do so for a purpose, according to a plan executed through incarnation for some greater goal or aim.  Granted, I’m no god, and I’m not nearly as aware as anything so grandiose to be attained by means of my own incarnation, but perhaps the logic can be extended: we’re born for a purpose, not as some chance and meaningless happenstance of the mechanics of the cosmos.

That we’re phrasing it as “incarnation” at all supposes that there are two elements here: an immaterial soul and a material body.  Incarnation, then, is the inhabiting of the body by the soul—or some other aggregate of consciousness and awareness, depending on the system of belief and cosmology you’re looking at (like Buddhism, which professes anātman as there being no unchanging, permanent self/soul/essence in phenomena, which is why there’s generally only a notion of rebirth in Buddhism as opposed to reincarnation).  As a Hermetist, I take the existence of the soul as a given, which means that for my soul to have been incarnated in this body, there should be a reason.  So that means that there’s a purpose for my being incarnate in this world.  Relevant bits and pieces from the Hermetic canon along these lines state things related to this that do inform something about this:

  • (SH 2B) In order to live one’s life well, one should show devotion to God, which is the highest height of philosophy, and without philosophy, it is impossible to reach the heights of devotion.  The goal of devotion, then, is to “know the place of truth and its nature”: to learn the “nature of reality, how it is ordered, by whom, and for what purpose”, for one who learns these things will show thanks to the Creator as “a good father, a kind provider, and a faithful administrator”, for one “who learns about its own Forefather holds fast to passionate love, forgets all its ills, and can no longer stand apart from the Good”.  In doing so, one will “live well and die blessed”, since this informs the soul “of where it should wing its upward flight”; this is how one can attain the Good.
  • (SH 6) It is impossible for someone incarnate to obtain the vision of God; it can only be done in a discarnate state, but in order to do so, one must “exercise one’s soul down here first to arrive up there where it can behold and not stray from the path”.
  • (SH 18) Soul is composed four things: mind (Nous), reason (Logos), intellect, and discursive thought.  Discursive thought itself is composed to opinion and sensation, but are changeable, and “experience excess, deficiency, and non-identity”; these alone vary and mislead, but when governed by discursive thought, they result in valid judgments about the world.
  • (SH 19 and 20) Soul is inherently bodiless, and is the cause of existence of other things, i.e. the body, and so is prior to the body.  Souls have reason and mind, which bodies do not have on their own, and endow a body with reason and mind by virtue of the soul within it, which provides it life.  Souls receive such bodies as agree with the soul, although the body itself is tempered according to its nativity.
  • (CH 3) As we noted before, the heavenly and divine powers “created every soul incarnate” to do eight things: to contemplate Heaven, to contemplate the paths of the heavenly gods, to contemplate the works of God, to contemplate the working of Nature, to examine the things that are good, to know the power of God, to know the whirling changes of fair and foul, and to discover every means of working skillfully with things that are good.  This is in addition to the seven things that the gods bid us to do with our bodies: to know the works of God, to be a working witness to Nature, to increase the number of mankind, to master all things under Heaven, to know that which is Good, to increase by increasing, and to multiply by multiplying.
  • (CH 4) God did not give mind (Nous) to all people (despite the wording of other parts of the Hermetic canon, but as we know, they’re neither held to be nor needed to be internally consistent as one’s progress on the “way of Hermes” advances), but “put [Nous] between souls…as a prize for them to contest”, daring/commanding humans to “immerse yourself in the mixing bowl [of Nous] if your heart has the strength, if it believes you will rise up again to the one who sent the mixing bowl below, if it recognizes the purpose of your coming to be”.  Those who did, good; those who didn’t are considered to be “people of reason” (as opposed to people of reason and mind), and “do not know the purpose or the agents of their coming to be”.  What that purpose of coming to be is not here specified, except in broader terms related to knowing God and creation in general, and seeking that knowledge is the Way.  Consider that famous saying attributed to Socrates: “the unexamined life is not worth living”.  To allow the soul to flourish means to divert attention away from the body; “unless you first hate your body…you cannot love yourself, but when you have loved yourself, you will possess mind, and if you have mind, you will also have a share in the way to learn”.
  • (CH 10) The vice of the soul is ignorance, which makes the soul to be “shaken by the passions” of the body, making it a slave to the body, being ruled by the body instead of ruling it (which is proper); the virtue of the soul is knowledge.  By pursuing and integrating knowledge, the quality of a human’s soul becomes more and more refined until it enters into the “troop of the gods”, which is the “soul’s most perfect glory”, enabling it to look on the beauty of the Good.  This deification, however, which is “the changes that belong to any separated [i.e. discarnate refined] soul”, is not possible “while in a human body”.  This is tied up in the “only deliverance” for humanity, “the knowledge of god”, which is equivalent to the “ascent to Olympus”.  The soul tends to forget, which leads to its vice of ignorance, once the body drags the soul down to a material level, though before the body could do so, the soul was considered pristine and beautiful, closer to the very soul of the cosmos without being “sullied by the passions of the body”.  The whole vehicle of this deliverance of the soul is mind (Nous), because “without mind, soul…can neither say nor accomplish anything”, yet mind “often flies out of soul” because the mind “cannot endure” in a “sluggish soul”, unlike the soul which can not only endure but is outright entrapped by a body.
  • (CH 11) “To be ignorant of the divine is the ultimate vice”, for one who has “shut your soul up in the body and abase it” has nothing to do with God.  “To be able to know, to will, and to hope is the straight and easy way leading to the good”.
  • (Asclepius 12) “…this is the payment for those who live faithfully under God, who live attentively with the world.  For the unfaithful it goes differently: return to heaven is denied them, and a vile migration unworthy of a holy soul puts them in other [lesser] bodies…it seems that souls run a great risk in this earthly life regarding hope of eternity to come.”

And on and on.  The general idea from the Hermetic canon regarding the function of incarnation (if not its purpose) is to train the soul to become more fit to more fully understand, comprehend, and know God, and thus come to know ourselves more in the process, because knowledge is the virtue of the soul.  But, if the soul is weighed down by the body, and if the soul is more pristine and more and closer to divinity when outside the body, and if the soul only becomes forgetful when bogged down by the body which leads it into ignorance which triggers a negative feedback loop upon the nature of the soul, then why should souls be incarnated at all?  Why should we have been incarnated to begin with?

I should mention that most of the final Stobaean Fragments (SH 23—26), more commonly known as the Korē Kosmou or “Virgin of the World”, does touch on a “Hermetic” fall-of-mankind story, and I can see why it’s Hermetic, as anyone else can, given that Isis is considered to be a pupil of Hermēs Trismegistus and passes on his wisdom as interlocutor to her son Horus.  But…so much of the Korē Kosmou is of a radically different tone, style, and framework that it’s hard to reconcile it cleanly with the rest of the Hermetic canon.  Not to say that I discount it, but taking it in with the same level of gravity is…a little awkward at best for me, especially given how far it departs or how much it conflicts with other Hermetic accounts of cosmogony and how much it personalizes God in a way that the rest of the Hermetic corpus doesn’t.

But there is certainly a fall-of-mankind story even in the usual Hermetic texts, not least of which is in Book I of the Corpus Hermeticum.  The general notion, starting from there and following the rest of the ideas throughout the Hermetic canon (Korē Kosmou excepted, I suppose) goes like this:

  1. God makes the cosmos, within which is the material realm of the world.
  2. God makes the ideal humanity (soul) within the cosmos.
  3. The ideal humanity beholds the world, and the world beholds the ideal humanity.
  4. The gods and/or the world makes the material humanity (body).
  5. The ideal humanity enters the world via the vessels of material humanity, becoming embodied as incarnate souls in the process.
  6. Once embodied, some souls remember their divine origin and focus on divine existence, and some souls forget it and focus instead on embodied existence.
  7. At the time of death (the dissolution of the body and the retreat of the soul from it), the souls who remember their divine origin leave the world behind and return to their divine origin, but the souls who do forget their divine origin suffer death and incarnation over and over, as if embodiment were an addiction to them.
  8. What causes forgetfulness is the divine mind of the soul which ascends being fought against down by the drive and desire of the soul which descends, which necessarily arise as a result of the embodiment of the soul.  The ascending portion of the soul, if it conquers the descending portion, free themselves; otherwise, the soul is reincarnated.

Whether this is my first incarnation or my thousand-and-first incarnation, it would seem that I fell down (or came down) to Earth and, while that in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, and while (despite nothing in the world being good or true, as Hermēs says, which is a pessimistic-dualist view that doesn’t hold throughout all the Hermetic texts) this world is full of pleasures to enjoy and works to do, staying down here in a way that traps me here is what I should be trying to avoid or escape through philosophy (which “depends only on reverence for god” and is “to adore the godhead with simple mind and soul and to honor his works, also to give thanks to god’s will (which alone is completely filled with good)”, according to Asclepius 14).  And it’s my incarnation that better allows me to experience the world and more fully know the creation of the Creator, which would not otherwise be possible had my soul not decided to come on down to the world.

So, what I consider to be myself is really two parts: my soul, and my body, which exist together in incarnation, with the soul being technically independent (though weighed down by the body, at least temporarily) of the body and, yet, as many Hermetic texts say, the body being completely reliant on the soul.  There’s a tension, then, between the soul and the body, and if if the essential “me” is—properly speaking—my soul, then I need to consider the relationship between my soul and my body.  Bearing in mind the notion of reincarnation as a failed attempt at the soul remaining independent and in control of the body, if this is my first incarnation, then what are the risks that this specific body poses to my soul in this life?  And if this is not my first incarnation, then what were the addictions I had in past lives that caused me to reincarnate, and how do those affect this life, along with the risks presented in this current life?

My natal horoscope has quite a bit of Earth in it: ascendant and Part of Fortune in Taurus, Moon and Venus in Virgo, midheaven in Capricorn.  Although my Sun is in Libra, my chart is dominated by Earth, and I do resonate fairly well with materialization and embodiment.  It’s also, as I see it, one of the causes (if not a reason, necessarily) why trance work, dream work, and astral projection-type states of consciousness have always been so difficult for me; while Fr. RO in his Red Work Course recommends doing the White Work (largely consisting of a daily practice of the Headless Rite to come in contact with the Supernatural Assistant) in the astral temple, I did it in my physical temple, because I found that I was naturally more able to focus and draw down those powers into my body rather than have to focus and split my attention on maintaining a presence in the astral (which was really more like mental/imaginal projection more than astral projection proper, to me).  Although lately I’ve been making real gains in dream work, most of my actual work is done while conscious in the body and in the material realm.  This is, perhaps, counter to some of the visionary experiences demonstrated in the Hermetic canon (cf. Book I, “when…my thinking soared high and my bodily senses were restrained, like someone heavy with sleep from eating or too much toil of the body”), and although I’ve been able to make do and get far, I admit that I know I’ve been missing out on a large portion of possibility and avenues for advancement along my path by neglecting the visionary, astral, dream, and trance aspects of spiritual practice.  To an extent, I have to compensate for a lack of ability in one area by doing more in another area—not all people are going to be good at all things, of course—but since so much of the spiritual focus in the Hermetic Way is getting used to getting by without the distractions of the body, it still points out a gap in my practice and skillset.  Figuring out what works for me and what can work for me, and what work I need to do to get it to work, is something I would definitely think would be on the docket for me in this incarnation as a whole.  After all, with my North Node in Pisces, this shows a definite departure from a purely embodied manner of living into a more dissolved, loose, spiritual manner.  And therein lies the challenge, of course, perhaps more for me than for others who might not have such a horoscope.

This isn’t to be a fatalist about my life and incarnation, of course—except in the sense of Fate expounded by Hermetic texts, that Fate rules the body and cannot be escaped, because the body is formed by the very powers of Fate.  Even then, though, Fate does not absolve us of our obligations or responsibilities, since the soul always has the power to choose, because the soul comes from a place above and beyond Fate, and thus is not subject to it.  Yet, because the embodied soul is wrapped up in a material vessel which is subject to Fate, and because the body struggles with the soul for dominance, the soul can be impacted by Fate; thus, the soul can be impelled, but not compelled, to behave in a certain way by Fate.  It just means that my soul is in this body, for better or worse, and I need to learn how to adapt my choices to make the best use of this body while I have it, instead of letting my body make use of my soul according to how and what it wants.  A challenge, to be sure, but not an insurmountable one—and even if it is, could I really not face it or even attempt to?  There are always lessons in failures, after all; maybe one day I’ll be wise on that front, one way or another.

I feel like I’m going in circles with this topic—but isn’t that appropriate, too?  Life here is cyclic: birth, death, rebirth, redeath, rerebirth, reredeath: ad nauseam, perhaps, but not ad inifinitum.  The planets whirl about the heavens in their cycles, as do all the fixed stars together as one, but the planets and stars are immortal and, thus,  it’s right and proper for them to go about doing so.  Not so for us; bodies and life down here, perhaps, may well be endless as far as life can be sustained (before the Restart described in the Asclepius, at least), but our souls don’t properly belong here.  Rather, as Book I of the Corpus Hermeticum says, once our souls are “stripped of the [fate-related planetary and stellar] effects of the cosmic framework, the [ideal] human enters the region of the ogdoad [i.e. the sphere of the fixed stars]; he has his own proper power, and along with the blessed he hymns the father”.  It’s our goal and destiny to break the cycle of incarnation through gnosis and spiritual development and rise up to our proper places above the realm of Fate, at which point:

…Those present there rejoice together in [the ascended human’s] presence, and, having become like his companions, he also hears certain powers that exist beyond the ogdoadic region and hymn god with sweet voice.  They rise up to the father in order and surrender themselves to the powers, and, having become powers, they enter into god.  This is the final good for those who have received knowledge: to be made god.

So where do we break the cycle?  Can the cycle be broken, for as long as there is human life?  That would mean that there would be humans born without souls—but is that even possible?  Although some parts of the Hermetica suggest that humans can’t devolve or change, other parts do say just that, in a very Hindu-like sort of grading where lower forms of souls develop through life into higher forms and are reincarnated into higher forms, as animals into humans, or vice versa if the life was ill-lived.  This might also then mean that the whole race of humanity is a proving ground for all the souls not given immortal forms in the cosmos, in a very Buddhist-like sense, at that.  But the only way to break the cycle, then, is to know the cycle fully.  This does echo the various goals for humanity that Book III decrees, both for the body and the soul of the human: through contemplation of the various creatures of Creation, one arrives at knowledge of ourselves, and having arrived at knowledge of ourselves, one uses that knowledge to know God, and in knowing God, we ultimately become God.  Life and the orbits of the fixed and wandering stars may be cyclical, but for us, it’s an expanding cycle—a spiral.  We start where we are, right here and right now, and we end at the limit of God, and just as God is an infinite circle whose circumference is nowhere and whose center is everywhere…well, quite a few concepts break down once you throw infinity into the mix, doesn’t it?  There is a terminus, that we can see, but perhaps it’s the spiral beyond that terminus in the infinite infinity of God that we truly can’t.

Every point in a cycle can be considered a beginning and an end, and I guess I find myself pretty much back where I started from.  But so long as the experience of that cycle is maintained, the path to be walked in the future is not quite like the path to be walked in the past, and then the cycle becomes a spiral, hitting the same angles from where you started but at a different distance from where you started.  I don’t have a good answer to the question of what incarnation means, but perhaps, in thinking about it, I may have the beginnings of an answer to the question of how to find out that meaning.  Every life lived, and every life that we live, gives us that chance, after all.  Incarnation, then, becomes a way to learn what cannot otherwise be learned, but more than that, a way to earn what cannot otherwise be earned.  If God put the mixing-bowl of Nous down as a prize set between souls that strive for it, then while we might think of this as a trial, it might also be a requirement instead; perhaps it could just as easily be said that God put the mixing-bowl of Nous down amidst incarnate humans because discarnate humans cannot receive Nous; there must be some quality about incarnation that allows us to receive, use, train, and develop Nous that cannot otherwise be simply given from the get-go outside of incarnation as a matter of divine Necessity.  After all, God does not make things in vain, so if God made the world we know composed of elements and bodies what with the Logos descending upon it all, then this material creation has a purpose and a function.  It may well be that this world was made explicitly to complete the process of completing humanity through-and-through.

But the only way to learn that is to, well…to learn, to contemplate, and to know.  Thus our lives—thus my life.  As Socrates is supposed to have said, “the unexamined life is not worth living”, because otherwise what would be the point of it all if you never bothered to learn about your life?  It would make the whole experience a waste from the proper soul’s point of view, bodily pleasures be damned.  By all means, enjoy the body, but be cognizant of what it’s going through, appreciate what’s happening at every step of the way, and why.  Contemplate pleasure, just as one might contemplate pain, because it’s knowing “the whirling changes of fair and foul” that our souls are commissioned to do.

Maybe the question is a trick; maybe looking for the meaning of incarnation is like looking for happiness, where you don’t find happiness when you look for it but you find it when you look for something you want.  If that’s the case, then the meaning of incarnation arises when I find everything else I should be looking for.  And there’s quite a lot to look for—and to look forward to.

A Simple Water Blessing for the Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Royal Praises from Book XVIII of the Corpus Hermeticum

Like with the wonderful Praise of the Invisible and Visible God that I wrote up (or, rather, rewrote from the original material from prose into something more structured) back in January or the simple Hermetic prayer rule and “prelude prayers” I discussed back in February, there’s plenty else in the Corpus Hermeticum that can be thought of as ripe material for coming up with prayers, devotions, and hymns for the Divine.  Much of it, of course, is prose rather than poetry, as the Corpus Hermeticum wasn’t really written as hymnal stuff, but there are frequent exhortations to “show devotion”, instances of thanksgiving, and other praises given to the Divine that are to ignore.  It’s what makes the Hermetic canon so hard to consider in a strictly philosophical or scientific light apart and away from mysticism or faith; as Willhelm Boussett has said, “the Hermetica belong to the history of piety, not philosophy”.

One of the more odd inclusions in the Hermetic canon is Book XVIII of the Corpus Hermeticum, which has the title “On the soul hindered by the body’s affections”, but which A.D. Nock suggests was a later assignment by a redactor, and which only really applies to the first few paragraphs of the book.  The bulk of Book XVIII, instead, focuses on giving praise to God, both in his own right as well as a prelude to give praise of kings (more the general class of kings rather than any king in particular).  Brian Copenhaver includes Book XVIII in his translation, but Clement Salaman pointedly does not, noting that:

Scott and Nock-Festugière agree in regarding [Book XVIII] as not belonging to the Corpus.  It is manifestly inferior to the other books, both in content and in style (Festiguère refers to it as: ‘Cette insipide morceau de rhétorique’ [Copenhaver translates this as “an insipid piece of rhetoric in rhythmic prose”]).  No real single theme develops, but merely disconnected remarks relating to the praise of kings and of God.

I’ll grant it that, to be sure: it lacks either the atmosphere of the temple or clarity of the classroom that so many of the other parts of the Hermetic canon have, and rather suggests something more of a philosopher at a courtly symposium.  Still, it’s not hard to see why this would be bundled with the rest of the Corpus Hermeticum, given how it treats the soul as affected by the body’s weaknesses by way of an extended metaphor involving musicians and their instruments, as well as its sincere (and rather beautiful) praise to God.  What’s weird is the “royal panegyric” that Book XVIII also gives a praise and hymn to kings and their virtues generally.  It’s not like the Hermetica doesn’t involve kings at all; after all, Book XVI (“Definitions of Asclepius to King Ammon”) is written as a letter to a king, Book XVII preserves an interaction between Tat and an unnamed king, and the 24th Stobaean Fragment (the middle part of the Korē Kosmou) discusses the various natures of souls and how some souls are specifically kingly and royal ones.  In the broader context of the Hermetic canon, and given the important role of the king (rather, pharaoh) as incarnated divinity on Earth in ancient Egypt, it doesn’t make too much nonsense to have something treating the topic of kings or praising their virtues, if indeed they are a force of divinity here explicitly and locally manifest in the cosmos as opposed to implicitly and ambiently manifest.

To that end, I decided to rework the praise bits of Book XVIII into a pair of prayers that I call “The Royal Praises”.  The first part is the one I think more people will find more useful: “The Royal Praise of the Almighty”:

Come, come all, let us hasten and praise the Almighty!
In all things do we begin with God and the power above, and so too do we end.
In the end of all things do we return to the beginning, from God unto God!
The Sun partakes of all in its rising, the nourisher of all that grows,
its rays stretched out like great hands to gather in the crops,
its rays partaking in the ambrosial radiance of the harvest;
like crops in the warmth of the Sun do we take in the wisdom of God,
like crops under the light of the Sun do we grow under the light of God,
and like crops from the Earth, in beginning with God we return to God,
our praise becoming the bounty of God that waters every shoot we plant.

O God, Whole of the All, wholly pure and undefiled, Father of all our souls,
may praise rise up from a myriad mouths in a myriad voices to you,
even though none can say anything worthy of you or before you,
for no mortal speech can equal your might, power, or presence.
As the child cannot properly praise their father,
still the child exclaims their love with all their strength,
and, honoring their father as they can, receives his love and mercy.
So too may we praise you with all the strength of our souls!
For you, our Creator, are greater than all of creation;
let all our praise always confess your boundless power and endless extent!

To praise you, o God, is in our nature, in our hearts, and in our very souls,
for as your descendants, like attracting like, we are like unto you,
and as your children, seeing ourselves in you, we can only love and praise you.
Yet even should you grant it to us before we even ask,
we still ask for your forgiveness, your forbearance, your mercy, and your grace.
As the father does not turn away the child for their lack of strength,
but delights in their coming to grow and to know him,
so too do you delight in us coming to know you and all your creation,
for the knowledge of the All confers life unto all,
and our understanding becomes our praise to you for all that you give us.

O God, o Good of the Beginning, o Ever-Shining, o Immortal,
alone containing the limit of divine eminence, encircling the All that is all that is!
Always flowing from your own energy from beyond to within the cosmos,
from yourself above in Heaven to mankind below on Earth,
you send the message of promise that leads to the praise that saves us,
to the work that lifts us, to the way that guides us beyond to you!
For beyond there is no discord among beings, neither dissonance nor difference;
all think one Thought, all have one Knowledge, all share one Mind.
One sense works within them all, one charm unites them all:
love, divine love, love of the Good that makes all act together in harmony as One!

When it comes to the bit in the first paragraph about the Sun and its rays like hands, Copenhaver notes that:

The image of the sun reaching down with hand-like rays became an artistic motif in the Egypt of Akhenaton; the sun’s rays were a manifestation of heka, a magical power that energizes the universe, but [Festugière] sees this allusion to solar magic as an empty metaphor in this “purely literary” text.

Although the reign of Akhenaten was removed from the writing of the Corpus Hermeticum by about a thousand years, give or take a few centuries, it is a compelling image of the power of the Sun, and given the importance of the Sun in the Hermetic canon (cf. Book XI, “the sun is an image of the cosmos…the human is an image of the sun”; Book XVI, “in this way, the craftsman (I mean the sun) binds heaven to earth, sending essence below and raising matter above”), it’s not surprising how this image might be carried through the centuries into Hermetic symbolism and praise.

The second part is a shorter hymn (the panegyric proper of Book XVIII), the “Royal Praise of Kings”:

As the Creator has all power and presence in the cosmos of his creation,
so too does the king possess all power and presence in the order of his kingdom.
We praise God, and so doing, we praise the one who takes his scepter from him,
o divine among us mortals, o arbiter of our peace,
o king of kings, o image of God on Earth, you who are our king!
In singing our reverent love of God, we know to praise what is divine;
thus do we hymn and glorify the king, even as we hymn and glorify God! For in raising
our voice first to the Supreme King of All, the Good, the God,
we must then lift our song to those whom God has established in his might!
O foremost of the security of the people, o prince of peace of the world!
Authority, victory, honors, and trophies were established by God for you!
As God is the source of your dominion, so too are you the source of our hope!

The virtue of a king, the name of a king, is to be the judge of peace,
and with such peace comes prosperity for which we cannot but give tribute!
Setting his kingly grace kindly upon even the highest of worldly powers,
achieving over all discourse and discord the mastery that brings all peace,
panicking all barbarian armies and outdoing all their tyranny,
the very name alone of the king is the very symbol of peace!
For the king’s threat drives the enemy off with fear,
and the king’s statue succors the tempest-tost with haven;
for the icon of the king brings the warrior quick victory,
and the presence of the king gives the besieged an aegis.
Let us always praise and proclaim, treat and tribute the king,
that the king, free in peace from threat and harm, may ensure the same for all!

In our day and age, when we’re so far removed from any real notion of divine kingship or the divine right of kings (unless you’re an old-school British royalist or Japanese imperialist), it’s weird to give such praise for such a human being who happens to be a ruler over other people.  We typically conceive of rulers as coming into power through worldly means for rather less than cosmic reasons (cf. John Bradshaw’s “in the name of the People of England of which you were elected king” at the trial of King Charles I, conceiving of kingship as something random, arbitrary, and unearned).  But the Korē Kosmou (the 23rd through 25th of the Stobaean Fragments) discusses mortal kings as being in a league different from other kinds of humans.  From Litwa’s translation:

…On earth dwell humans and the other animals, ruled by the current king. Gods, my child, give birth to kings worthy of being their offspring on earth.  Rulers are emanations of the king, and the one nearest the king is more kingly than the others. Hence the Sun, inasmuch as he is nearer to God, is greater than the Moon and more powerful. The Moon takes second place to the Sun in rank and power.

The king is last in the rank of the other gods, but premier among human beings. As long as he dwells on earth he is divorced from true divinity. Yet he possesses a quality superior to other human beings—an element like unto God. This is because the soul sent down into him is from that realm higher than the one from which other people are sent. Souls are sent down from that realm to rule for two reasons, my child.

Some souls, destined to be deified, run through their own lifetime nobly and blamelessly so that, by ruling, they train to hold authority among the gods. The other group of souls are already divine and veer only slightly from the divinely inspired ordinance. They are sent into kings so as not to endure embodiment as a punishment. On account of their dignity and nature, they suffer nothing like the others in their embodiment. Rather, what they had when free (of the body) they possess while bound to it.

Now the character differences that develop among kings are distinguished not by a distinction in their soul. All royal souls are divine. The differences arise by virtue of the soul’s angelic and daimonic retinue during its installation. For such great souls descending to such great tasks do not descend apart from an advance parade and military escort. For Justice on high knows how to apportion dignity to each soul, even though they are pushed from the placid realm.

In the Hermetic view, there are particular people who are incarnated with a specific role to play in the world, and that role is to be divine as they are already among the foremost of souls in nature and rank; it is this that makes one a king when incarnate, assuming that kings live otherwise good lives “so as not to endure embodiment as a punishment”.  And, knowing that the Egyptians conceived of kings as not just being divine beings on Earth, and knowing that they strove to immortalize and deify them after death, we can conceive of this as being the end-game for the metempsychosis of humans: to refine ourselves through the knowledge of God to become more and more divine, and thus become as divine as a human can possibly be before being outright deified by other humans.

Admittedly, this notion is hard to swallow for many of us nowadays who would much rather an egalitarian view of souls (which, admittedly, much of the rest of the Hermetica would seem to encourage) and who don’t agree with the divinity of rulership (I mean…look at the current state of the world, and tell me that there’s anything new under the Sun).  Still, I suppose there’s plenty that could be said about a more generalized notion of “kingship”, either as something relatively detached from governance and dominion of people as a geopolitical power, or perhaps (and better) closer to what my mentor, Fr. Rufus Opus, discusses in his Seven Spheres:

I feel the same about the term King. To me, a King is anyone who rules, regardless of their gender. The need for different words to differentiate between genders is silly, in my opinion.

But the LOGOS pointed out something really important. The things we seek, they are part of what automatically comes with a kingdom. They are secondary manifestations, the results. Look at Kings. They have everything they need, and then some. LOGOS was saying, look, don’t go after that stuff; that’s what other people do with their lives, people who have not been chosen to know who they are, who have not had their divine nature and true paternity revealed to them. Instead of going after all that stuff, or the means to get that stuff, focus instead on the Kingdom. Learn that you are a King already. Learn what that means, learn the art of being the Royal You. Train yourself, improve yourself, be Kingly, and you’ll find that you have a Kingdom of a God all around you, and that you are its ruler.

But what are Kings?

Kings are people who were personally (or through the source of their noble lineage) positioned by fate and fortune and gifted with the quality required to lead their world naturally. They were linked to the gods either by favor or by blood, and they received a Kingdom as a result of their nature and the quality of their deeds. They were noble.

What he says in his introduction to Seven Spheres smacks of what Isis tells Horus in the 25th Stobaean Fragment.  If we broaden the notion of “kingdom” to be one’s whole life and sphere of influence, then each and every one of us is a king—regardless of our external gender, station, or condition.  It’s being able to carry ourselves as such, to rule our lives as such, that makes us so: it’s a matter of waking up to the reality of the matter and behaving accordingly.  Those who can are kings, and those who can’t aren’t.  After all, if God is with you, who can be against you?  If you’re living your True Will in tune with your Perfect Nature, then how could you not be among the royalty of souls?  And if royal souls are divine, then divine souls must also be royal ones.  And are Hermēs, Asclepius, Tat, and Ammon not thus kings?  After all, in the Prayer of Thanksgiving from the final part of the Asclepius, does Hermēs not say “we rejoice that you have deigned to make us gods for eternity even while we depend on the body”, or as I personally phrase it based on the similar prayer from PGM III.494—611, “we rejoice, for you have made us [who are incarnate] divine by your knowledge”?  If the knowledge of God makes one divine (literally deification, even while alive), then it must also make one a king, at least in some sense.

I’m sure there’s more that can be discussed along these lines of what it means for deification and kingship in a Hermetic context, especially understanding the historical and cultural implications of the such and how that might compare or translate to the modern world, but that’s a topic for another day.  For now, I’ll leave this with these two brief rephrasings and restructurings of Book XVIII of the Corpus Hermeticum to use for further devotional works to the Divine.

Upcoming appearance on the Coffee & Divination podcast!

Just a quick little thing: there’s a new podcast being started up soon, and yours truly is the guest on the inaugural episode!  I bring you the Coffee & Divination podcast:

Coffee & Divination started three summers ago, during North Wyldewood Coven’s annual retreat. As we relaxed in the sunshine with our coffee and tea, we brought our cards and runes out to the table, and started reading for one another.  As time passed, we’ve kept up the tradition in person and online, and now we’re inviting you to join us!

Divination is the art of obtaining knowledge through hidden means, and has been a part of civilizations around the world – likely for tens of thousands of years.  Divination can help us understand situations, answer questions (mundane or spiritual!) and give us insight on the threads that weave our lives together. While our world undergoes this time of upheaval, studying and practicing the arts of divination can help us navigate and plan for the roads ahead.

Each month, host JoAnna Farrer (Assistant HPS of the North Wyldewood Coven, in the Temple of the Spiral Path) will interview a different expert on divination, ranging from Geomancy, Tarot, Astrology, Oracles, Runes, and more, and we want you to be a part of the show! All podcast interviews will take place LIVE on Zoom, so you can listen in, and submit questions for our guest experts.​

I’ll be invited to talk about geomancy specifically and divination in a world that’s a bit crazier than many of us might be used to, so keep an eye out!  The podcast will be held live (in a webinar-type format) at 6pm EDT (UTC-0400) this Saturday, April 25 on Zoom, which you’ll need to register for in order to listen live, submit questions, and join the chat.  Note that attendance is limited, so please only register is you actually plan and are able to join.  Here’s hoping to see you there, and here’s hoping you subscribe to Coffee & Divination for more podcasts on divination over coffee!

UPDATE (2020-05-16): Sorry I let this slide so long! The episode is up and can be accessed here on Vimeo! Also be sure to visit the podcast’s website above and subscribe to them using whatever podcast organizer you enjoy most!

Third Book like a First Sermon: Book III of the Corpus Hermeticum

Perhaps fitting for all those Carcers I got in the yearly readings I did at the start of 2020, these past few weeks have been marked by self-isolation and quarantine both voluntary and involuntary for many of us. Frankly, this has been an excellent time for me; not only do I naturally take to a hermitic life, but I don’t have to waste time commuting, getting dressed, or the like, and can instead spend more time in my daily prayers and meditations, more time doing rituals, more time writing, more time reading, and more time sleeping. (Well, maybe not sleeping, but one can always hope.) In addition to being a hermitic time, it is also—surprising positively nobody—a rather Hermetic time for me, as well. I’m going back more and more lately, it seems to what I’ve been calling the “Hermetic canon”: the Corpus Hermeticum, the Asclepius, the Stobaean Fragments, and various other bits of classical Hermetic bits and pieces that have been compiled throughout the centuries and translated thanks to the like of Brian Copenhaver, M. David Litwa, Clement Salaman, A.D. Nock and A.-J. Festugière, Walter Scott (vols. one, two, and three), and the like back and back through time. For me, I’ve been diving in deeper and deeper, contemplating and mulling over these texts, as they rightly and well deserve. They are, after all, the foundation of Hermetic thought, belief, and practice. So, it’s not uncommon that I’ll crack open my copy of Copenhaver or Litwa as I curl up in bed, read a few passages, and think them over as my head stops thinking and starts dreaming. It’s not exactly light reading, of course, but it’s a hard meal to take for the mind, full of roughage and slow-digesting nutrients—and thus among the most nutritious for the soul.

Although a number of the books of the Corpus Hermeticum are well-known and well-loved and have their own nicknames—Book I as the Divine Poemander, Book IV as the Mixing-Bowl, Book X as the Key, and so on—it’s Book III that recently caught my attention. It’s succinctly titled The Sacred Discourse of Hermēs Trismegistos (Ἑρμοῦ τοῦ Τρισμεγίστου λόγοσ ἱερός according to Scott, Ἑρμοῦ ἱερός λόγος according to Nock/Festugière), and like its short name, is a short section of the Corpus Hermeticum, indeed, coming in at only 23 (oddly long) lines of text, broken down into five short paragraphs. The trouble is, however, that the original manuscript is badly preserved, with rather lengthy lacunae on the seventh, thirteenth, and fourteenth lines, and with the first eight lines having a chunk cut off of them at the end. We also don’t have a good idea of when the text was written; some suggest as early as the third century bce, others as late as the third century ce. But what we do have, I think, is probably one of the best introductions to what Hermeticism (or Hermetism), the “Way of Hermēs”, is really all about.

Grab a drink and buckle in, dear reader. We’re going on a bit of a trip this time.

In his notes on his translation, Scott says that Book III:

…is so corrupt as to be almost wholly meaningless; and I have altered it with a free hand. It is not likely that the conjecturally emended text which is here printed is precisely what the author wrote; but I think it probable that, in the main at least, it correctly represents his meaning.

There is no necessity to take this little piece to be an extract from a longer treatise; it appears to be a complete whole in itself, and it is rounded off by a recurrence, in the concluding words, to the same thought with which it began. It is the concentrated essence of some unknown Egyptian’s reflections on the universe.

The author of Corp. III had read the first chapter of Genesis. It is impossible to doubt this, when we compare the corresponding passages in detail [between Genesis 1:1—3, 7, 11, 13, 20, 22, 24, 26, and 28 and Book III]. It is evident then that the writer of Corp. III knew the Mosaic account of the creation. But he also knew the Stoic cosmology; and in this document, he has tried to harmonize the one with the other, and so “reconcile Genesis with science”.

We have fragments of another cosmogony, which appears to have been likewise derived in part from Genesis and in part from Stoic science, but was said by its author to be based on the writings of Thoth, whom the Greeks called Hermēs Trismegistus,—namely, the cosmogony of Sanchuniathon, as reported by Philo Byblius; and it seems worth while to compare this with Corp. III…

Nock and Festugière in their notes instead comment that (my translation, with the generous help of Google Translate from the French original):

According to the remarks of L. Ménard, this whole treatise is full of inconsistencies and obscurity. This is probably due, at least in part, to the corruption of the text. In this case, the comparison with some of the variants from the Stobaean Fragments testifies to the small chance we have to correct errors that go back to the very sources of the [Hermetic] tradition. But a large part of the obscurity is also undoubtedly attributable to the author; he likes the long, sonorous words and the style of the Septuagint, which recalls the extreme obscurity of the Greek versions of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Further, we do not here have a cosmogony in the genre of Book I of the Corpus Hermeticum or of the Korē Kosmou; this is a ἱερός λόγος and, in fact, is a prose hymn.

The background of this book is worthy of attention. We do not start, as in Book I, with Light, but, in the normal order, with darkness: sand here plays a role analogous to that which we see in what Damascius knew as an Egyptian cosmology, and the celestial gods have and play their part. God is in the universe, and is not transcendent from nor separate of the universe: there are these and other marks of Stoic influence and traces of Platonism (cf. Scott and Ferguson IV, p. XLVII for a Neopythagorean parallel in §4). Everything else comes from the Septuagint. However, the ideas of redemption and immortality [which we find earlier in Book I and elsewhere in the Hermetic canon] are absent. One moves, in fact, in the atmosphere of Judaism of the kind of Ecclesiastes, before eschatological hopes for nature or for the individual had become important and before, in certain circles, one had highlighted, like the Greeks, the opposition of the soul and the body, which was a constant idea in Philo (who was hardly the first, eschatologically speaking). Perhaps this treatise is of older date than many others in the Corpus, and it was accepted as it is, because of the affinities which it presents with the circle where the rest of the treatises were composed.

Copenhaver notes the various issues and debates over Book III in his footnotes to his translation. It is certainly a conflicted part of the Corpus Hermeticum, and it doesn’t help that the lacunae are formidable here, but which Scott and Nock/Festugière have attempted to repair admirably, giving us reasonably complete translations (with caveats) later on courtesy of Copenhaver and Salaman, as well as earlier translators like G.R.S. Mead from 1906 or John Everard from 1650. Of them all, Scott really seems to do his own thing, with everyone else remaining in more-or-less agreement about what the text says (to varying levels of accuracy, of course). Although Nock and Festugière give their own summary and outline of Book III, I want to give my own, based on their translation and version of the text, as opposed to what Scott gives. This isn’t a full version of the text, for which I’d suggest reading Copenhaver or Salaman, but it hits on all the same essential things, broken down into five fairly short paragraphs:

  1. God, the gods, and godly Nature is the glory of all things.
    1. God is Mind, Nature, and Matter.
    2. God is the beginning of the All.
    3. God is Wisdom that shows all things.
    4. The gods, who have their beginning in God, perform and consist of the creation of the cosmos.
  2. The creation of the world.
    1. In the beginning was boundless darkness, water, and spirit, all existing in chaos.
    2. Light descended upon the chaos, and the elements solidified out of the chaos.
    3. The gods separated out the part of nature that could generate and regenerate, and divided it among themselves.
    4. In the moment of separation of the elements but before the formation of matter, the subtle elements (Fire and Air) rose up and the dense elements (Water and Earth) remained behind mixed together.
    5. The world was created, bounded by Fire and set aloft in the air of the cosmos, borne by spirit.
    6. The heavens formed in seven layers around the world.
    7. The gods became visible in the shapes of the stars and their constellations, the constellations conforming themselves to the gods.
    8. The heavens around the world began to rotate by spirit.
  3. The creation of life.
    1. The gods created life according to the powers and responsibilities given unto them, making animals and plants.
    2. The gods created humanity in all its generations to know the works of God and to increase and multiply.
    3. The gods created the souls of humanity for the bodies of humanity to contemplate creation and to discover all things.
  4. The way of life.
    1. To know God, to contemplate creation, etc. is the beginning of virtue and wisdom.
    2. To know God, to contemplate creation, etc. is the beginning of release from the works of the world.
    3. The things of the world will fade, and will be remade anew through the processes of Nature set in motion by the gods.
  5. All the powers of nature in the cosmos are divine, for nature is divine.

The cosmogony of Book III reads a little weird to Scott and Nock/Festugière: as Nock and Festugière noted, “we do not start, as in Book I, with Light, but, in the normal order, with darkness: sand here plays a role analogous to that which we see in what Damascius knew as an Egyptian cosmology, and the celestial gods have and play their part”. But I would counter that by saying it’s virtually the same thing as what’s given in Book I, when Poimandrēs reveals the origin of creation to Hermēs, just from the perspective of creation rather than the creator. Per Copenhaver:

I saw an endless vision in which everything became light—clear and joyful—and in seeing the vision I came to love it. After a little while, darkness arose separately and descended—fearful and gloomy—coiling sinuously so that it looked to me like a snake. Then the darkness changed into something of a watery nature, indescribably agitated and smoking like a fire; it produced an unspeakable wailing roar. Then an inarticulate cry like the voice of fire came forth from it. But from the light…a holy word mounted upon the watery nature, and untempered fire leapt up from the watery nature to the height above. The fire was nimble and piercing and active as well, and because the air was light it followed after spirit and rose up to the fire away from earth and water so that it seemed suspended from the fire. Earth and water stayed behind, mixed with one another, so that earth could not be distinguished from water, but they were stirred to hear by the spiritual word that moved upon them.

Note that this vision of revelation is given to Hermēs from the perspective of God, who (arguably does or does not) exist in Light. Before the creation of matter itself, all is Light; it’s only when God makes a little room within himself, within the Light, can there be a darkness, within which matter can manifest and take shape, and once it does, God sends forth from the Light the Logos, the “holy word”, which puts the process of creation into motion. That’s virtually what we see here in Book III, too, just from the perspective of the space-within-God where matter first manifests; after all, darkness was the beginning of creation, but God preexisted creation in Light.  In other words, Light is still pre-eminent in Creation, it’s just that it hasn’t reached where the darkness existed “by divine power in chaos”.  Likewise, although Nock and Festugière claim that Book III has God being only immanent without being transcendent of creation, that can only really be said if you ignore any implications of transcendence in this account of creation; just because something is not made explicit doesn’t mean the text denies it. I see no real issue here in mismatch between the cosmogonies of Book I and Book III; it’s just that Book III is easier to grok from what we or other common people might expect, already born and present here in creation.

But it’s the third paragraph of Book III that really struck me as important as I’ve been reading it. After describing the creation of animals and plants, the gods (which Scott takes to refer to the four elements themselves, acting as demiurges under God, though the text pretty clearly seems to refer to the gods of the stars and also maybe the planets) create the race of humanity. But it’s not just creation for creation’s own sake; rather, the gods create humanity for a particular set of…ideals, goals, aims, or purposes, I guess, for humanity to aspire to. Going with Copenhaver’s translation, based on Nock and Festugière, “the gods sowed the generations of humans to…”:

  1. To know the works of God
  2. To be a working witness to Nature
  3. To increase the number of mankind
  4. To master all things under Heaven
  5. To know that which is Good
  6. To increase by increasing
  7. To multiply by multiplying

But the text continues after this and gives another list, saying that “through the wonder-working course of the cycling gods they created every soul incarnate to…”:

  1. To contemplate Heaven
  2. To contemplate the paths of the heavenly gods
  3. To contemplate the works of God
  4. To contemplate the working of Nature
  5. To examine the things that are good
  6. To know the power of God
  7. To know the whirling changes of fair and foul
  8. To discover every means of working skillfully with things that are good

As opposed to Nock and Festugière, who follow the text as it is lacunae and all, Scott heavily amends and “repairs” the text and proposes a different wording and suggestions for the lacunae here, causing notable drift between his translation and what other translators propose. He only gives (only can give?) the following list of goals, which reads like a combination of what Nock and Festugière have above. Scott suggests that, given the similarity of these two lists based on their phrasing, “the two passages cannot have been intended to stand together in the same paragraph; one of them must have been written as an alternative or substitute for the other”. Thus, the Scott translation says that God (not the gods) created to:

  1. To contemplate Heaven
  2. To have dominion over all things under Heaven
  3. To know the power of God
  4. To witness the workings of Nature
  5. To mark what things are good
  6. To discern the diverse natures of things good and bad (elsewhere: to learn to distinguish good things from bad things)
  7. To invent all manner of cunning arts

I see Scott’s logic, I have to admit, but it also does seem a bit hacky; he does admit, after all, to altering the text freely to suit his own understanding, while Nock and Festugière preserve more of the original wording, which does seem repetitive. Perhaps, however, what Nock and Festugière have could be interpreted in a different way, a double-creation of humanity, the first material (creation of the body) and the second spiritual (creation of the soul), giving the spiritual essence of the soul one set of tasks to fulfill and the material vessel of the body another set to fulfill. That ties in closely with the wording and order of creation, following up the creation of animals and plants with humanity (“sowed the generations of humans”) and following that up with the creation of souls to inhabit human bodies (“they created every soul incarnate”). This also ties in with the wording of these different tasks: the first set are more manifest and material (mastering things under Heaven, increase the number of humanity, etc.) and the second more subtle and immaterial (to contemplate, examine, know, or discover various things).

A potential problem with this interpretation, however, is that Scott heavily argues that Book III basically denies a Platonic or spiritual understanding of immortality (of the soul, the spiritual part of humanity) which we find elsewhere in the Corpus Hermeticum as being of primary importance. According to Scott’s notes:

Corp. III shows hardly a trace of Platonism; and its writer definitely rejects the Platonic doctrine of the survival of the individual soul. It contains nothing distinctively Egyptian; and there is not the slightest sign of Christian influence. The document may be shortly described as Judaeo-Stoic. …

Each individual man, at the termination of his life on earth, “disappears” and “undergoes dissolution”. Not only is there no mention of a survival of the individual soul after the dissolution of the body, but the contrary is clearly implied. Nothing of a man continues to exist after his death, except his “name” (i.e. the memory of him in the minds of living men); and even that, in most cases, fades away in a little while. …

… Men, beasts, and plants alike (must perish). The end of the sentence is lost; but its meaning can be inferred with certainty from the context. Perhaps the author’s thought might be better expressed by writing…”all flesh is grass”. …

… If we retain these words, we must take them in connexion with ἀπομνημονεύματα τεχνουργημάτων, and the suggested thought would be this: “not only do men perish, but their works perish also; and though the names of great men may be preserved into long ages by the memorials they have left behind them, yet even the greatest will be forgotten in the end”. But the phrase is awkwardly interposed, and hardly suits the context; it cannot be said of the works of human art that they are “renewed by the operation of the stars”, in the sense in which this is said of human and animal births and vegetable growths. …

That which decays and passes away is “renewed”, but only by substitution. The individual perishes, but the race is immortal. The dead do not live again, but others are born to succeed them. And this unceasing renewal of life on earth is caused by the unvarying movements of the heavenly bodies, through the operation of which fresh births are continually taking place. The force by which the renewal is effected may be called φύσις; but φύσις is dependent on the movements of the stars, and therefore the sovereign power of God, by whom the stars themselves were made and set in motion.

Personally—based primarily on my reading of Copenhaver, and thus Nock and Festugière, which seems closer to the original text rather than the overly dour translation (and heavy-handed “repairing”) of Scott—I don’t buy this interpretation. It is true that Book III doesn’t touch on the immortality of the soul explicitly or any sort of higher goal than what was stated above as the goals of the human (whether as a whole, per Scott, or as human body and human soul, per Nock/Festugière). But consider the fourth paragraph, which Scott’s notes above describe as relating to the passing away of humanity and their works a la Ozymandias. From Copenhaver:

For [humans], [the whole of these goals for the body and soul] is the beginning of [the virtuous] life and of wise thinking as far as the course of the cycling gods destines it, and it is also the beginning of their release to what will remain of them after they have left great monuments on earth in works of industry. In the fame of seasons they will become dim [i.e. their memory will wane and be forgotten], and, from every birth of ensouled flesh, from the sowing of crops and from every work of industry, what is diminished will be renewed by necessity and by the renewal that comes from the gods and by the course of nature’s measured cycle.

To me, the lack of anything substantial of what Book III says about the soul after death or the greater cosmic path of the soul as we might find in Book I or Book XIII isn’t a statement about the non-immortality of the soul at all. Rather, Book III is giving us insight into the overall purpose of what we have to do and focus on in life, any greater cosmic eschatology being irrelevant to this topic. Although this is a “sacred discourse”, I would rather argue that this is not one held to be kept secret or reserved for initiates; rather, this is a sermon to be given to people as a whole, whether or not they’re focused on a philosophical or religious life. This is a sermon that Hermēs Trismegistus might give to passers-by or to the public community who might or might not (or just might not yet) have some sort of interest in divine philosophy no matter how small, a sermon that describes in brief a summary of the creation of the world and showing a real-world, walking-the-talk way of life for those who would follow in his way. For the common people or the world at large who might have different views about where their souls might go or who might not think anything of it, it wouldn’t matter what Hermēs would say about what Poimandrēs told him about what happens to the soul after death and how to ascend through the heavenly spheres to be made God (as in Book I), so Hermēs here says nothing about it. Rather, Book III is trying to inspire people to engage in the divine work right here, right now, in this very world, in this very body that God and the gods have given us, not to put it off for some theoretical eschatology that might beggar belief. After all, it is living this divine way of life that “is the beginning of life and of wise thinking”.

By that same token, though, it is also “the beginning of their release to what will remain of them after they have left great monuments on earth in works of industry”. How to interpret this? Scott would read this derisively as that it is our lot to die and pass away, with all that we leave behind passing away too in time, but recall that other parts of the Hermetica warn us against attachment to the world and love for the body, because it is this that traps us here in the world in an endless cycle of torturous rebirth ignorant of the Good. After all, we should not forget God’s announcement at the creation of humanity according to Book I:

… But God immediately spoke a holy speech: “Increase in increasing and multiply in multiplying, all you creatures and craftworks, and let him who is mindful recognize that he is immortal, that desire is the cause of death, and let him recognize all that exists.”

After God said this, Providence, through Fate and through the cosmic framework, caused acts of intercourse and set in train acts of birth; and all things were multiplied according to kind. The one who recognized himself attained the chosen good, but the one who loved the body that came from the error of desire goes on in darkness, errant, suffering sensibly the effects of death.

Is this spread of humanity in the world not like what we see described in Book III, where “through the wonder-working course of the cycling gods they created every soul incarnate”, and that “what is diminished will be renewed by necessity and by the renewal that comes from the gods and by the course of nature’s measured cycle”? The wording is a bit different, but the meaning here reads identically. In fulfilling the tasks set for us in body and in soul, we begin to live a virtuous life—or, really, in the Greek original, just “way of living”, perhaps in the sense of true life, which itself is a divine blessing and virtue that corrects and heals the torments of existence along with Light and the Good. At the same time as we begin life and wisdom, we begin to free ourselves from the death of the body. The phase here of “what will remain of them after they have left great monuments on earth in works of industry” is one I interpret euphemistically to refer to our corpses, the thing that stays behind when we die as our souls move on—or should move on, at least, assuming we can free ourselves from our attachments to it, the world, and the works of the world. In many ways, Book III reads a lot like what the historical Buddha might have preached when going from town to town, describing what entering the stream would be like for those who begin on the path to enlightenment. Consider the Buddha’s second sermon, the Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta:

Bhikkhus, when a noble follower who has heard (the truth) sees thus, he finds estrangement in form, he finds estrangement in feeling, he finds estrangement in perception, he finds estrangement in determinations, he finds estrangement in consciousness.

When he finds estrangement, passion fades out. With the fading of passion, he is liberated. When liberated, there is knowledge that he is liberated. He understands: “Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived out, what can be done is done, of this there is no more beyond.”

Although my understanding of how the Corpus Hermeticum eventually became compiled as a series of books into a single “text” is weak, if I were to compile the books myself, I’d put Book III at the very front of the line for thematic reasons before all the rest of the books of the Hermetic canon. To me, after mulling it over and chewing on it a good while, Book III reads like the introduction to the teachings and way of life that Hermēs Trismegistus teaches. All the other revelations, philosophy, mysteries, and initiations that Hermēs teaches to Asclepius, Tat, and Ammon are all well and good, but for someone who is otherwise wandering in the dark without guidance at all, Book III shines for them a beacon that can guide them to a safe harbor, planting the seed (as the gods themselves did and do in the world) of life and wisdom.

Labeling Myself as a Follower of the Way of Hermēs Trismegistus

Another day, another rant about the Kybalion.  No rest for the weary nor comfort for the correct, I suppose.  Readers here and my good followers and friends on Twitter and Facebook will know that I have no love for the Kybalion for any number of reasons, the biggest of which is that it claims to be a Hermetic text when it just, flatly, isn’t.  All it has going for it is that it claims itself to be and describes itself to be Hermetic, despite that the “real” text that what we have as the Kybalion claims to be an exegesis of doesn’t exist, that none of the quotes attributed to Hermēs Trismegistus in that text appear in any of the literature of philosophical or technical Hermetica, and that none of the cosmology, framework, or spiritual “infrastructure” that the Kybalion describes lines up with that which the Hermetic canon does.  The more one reads the Hermetic canon of texts and the more one reads the Kybalion, the more obvious and more numerous the differences become.  (Eventually, I have in mind to write a blog post series, “A Hermetic Refutation of the Kybalion”, but that’s something that even I’m dreading to write, honestly; that’ll be no small work, that I already know.)

And yet people are still surprised to hear any of this, if not outright disbelieving, because all they’ve ever heard is that the Kybalion is a Hermetic text.  It says right there that it is, after all; why would we not believe it?  Whole Hermetic orders of magical lodges and communities praise and promulgate the Kybalion, and generations of magicians and spiritual seekers uphold it and keep it fondly next to their hearts.  I’ve been called a sham and a liar and a poser for saying that the Kybalion isn’t Hermetic—because, I reiterate, it’s not—and that I should be ashamed of myself for misleading both myself and others about such a venerable ancient text (written about 110 years ago, as opposed to the 1700 years that the Corpus Hermeticum was written, give or take a century), and how dare I call myself a Hermeticist when I would oppose such a useful, informative, enlightening text.  It’s so accessible!  It’s so concise!  It’s so inspiring!  It’s such a good text!  (So many people harbor such a rabid love for the text, I wonder if there isn’t some deeper egregore at work here that makes so many place it atop such an esteemed pedestal with almost cult-like fanaticism.)

Like, I really don’t know what else to say besides the same thing over and over again: the Kybalion is not a Hermetic text, nor is it even derived from Hermetic texts.  Nowhere in the Hermetic canon of texts do we find a notions of “seven principles”, “three planes”, “the ALL is mental”, or whatever.  It’s all very clearly New Thought, and all derivative at that.  It’s not ancient, and it’s not Hermetic.  Whenever someone claims that it’s either of those things, that’s a good sign that they don’t know what they’re talking about.  Even if it is good for opening a window—not even a door—to let in a fresh breeze of spiritual awakening in, I can’t seriously consider that enough to give it such praise as it’s given.  I mean, we all go through embarrassing phases—I started off my PGM work with Stephen Flowers’ “Hermetic Magic”, which was good to spark my interest but which I haven’t touched in years because it’s such a dreadful text, to say nothing of my fondness for Scott Cunningham’s “Earth Power” and “Earth, Air, Fire, and Water”, which actually are useful if not awkward to admit it as such—it’s okay to let crappy things die in the past, especially as we find newer and better things to study.  Even if the Kybalion is an easy-to-digest introductory text to thinking in spiritual terms, unless you’re going to continue to go down the path of New Thought or the various other paths of mish-mash derivative New Age messes, there’s so much unlearning to do to actually properly understand Hermetic philosophy and spirituality in its own terms.  At that point, whatever good the Kybalion can bring is negated and made worse by the harm it can do; it’s like how sugar-processed white bread buns with faux-grilled misc-meat-product hamburgers are good for a quick burst of calories on the go when you’re hungry, but holding to that diet over time will give you severe health problems later on.  Even if the actual Hermetic texts are more difficult to read and ponder?  Good!  Like sex, better hard and slow than fast and bad.

Heck, even the word “Kybalion”, which looks Greek, isn’t even a meaningful word; it’s either meant to dimly recall notions of kabbalah (which, as a Jewish system of mysticism, also isn’t Hermetic), or perhaps the goddess Cybele (what connections that might have with Hermeticism is beyond me).  The only two Greek words that are extant that bear similarity to “Kybalion” are κυβαλικος (like a rascal, knave, or rogue) and κιβδηλος (fraud, counterfeit)—both of which are fitting, I suppose, for this text.

Let me clarify something, I suppose.  When I refer to “the Hermetic canon”, I refer primarily to the source texts of Hermeticism attributed to Hermēs Trismegistus written in the classical period (between 100 and 700 CE) that all Hermetic philosophy, theology, cosmology, and practices descend from.  These texts are largely broken down into two categories, the philosophical Hermetica and the technical Hermetica.  The technical Hermetica consist of a truly wide variety of texts, ranging from astrology and (proto-)alchemy to medicine and scribecraft and everything in-between; the Greek, Demotic, and Coptic Magical Papyri are good examples of this, though not all of those would necessarily qualify as “technical Hermetica”.  On the other hand, the philosophical Hermetica consists of, well, more philosophical, spiritual, and devotional texts, the most famous of which is the Corpus Hermeticum, the first book of which is sometimes taken to be the title of the whole thing: “The Divine Pymander” (or whatever variant spelling of Poimandrēs one wants to take).  When people ask about resources for the philosophical Hermetica in modern English, I typically share the same list of resources:

There are, to be sure, other translations of these texts, especially of the Corpus Hermeticum and Asclepius, but I find Copenhaver’s and Salaman’s to be the best currently out there.  Salaman’s translation is a little easier and smoother to read, though he makes more editorial and translator’s decisions for the sake of an easy read; Copenhaver is more critical and exact, which is better for study and comparison.  Salaman’s “Way of Hermes” is excellent for the translation of the Definitions alone, and Litwa’s text (though unfortunately rather pricey) is a fantastic resource on so much of the “miscellaneous philosophical Hermetica” that covers at least as much ground as the Corpus Hermeticum and Asclepius do themselves—to say nothing about the Korē Kosmou, which itself is part of the Stobaean Fragments.  I’m sure there will be future translations coming out, too, especially one rumored by Christian Bull whose works on Hermetic philosophy are priceless to us in the modern day—to say nothing about the extreme hope we have for other Hermetic texts to be discovered that we’ve otherwise lost over the passage of time—but for now, these are what I stick with.  These collectively form my starting point for Hermetic philosophy and, more generally, the “way of Hermēs”, which is perhaps a better way to understand the material given in the philosophical Hermetica.  But I claim that these are the starting point, or should be the starting point, for anyone and anything that claims to be Hermetic—else, if what you’re doing or writing about has no connection to nor root from Hermēs Trismegistus, what sense does it make to call it Hermetic?

It’s true that I am limiting myself in my own personal selection of “the Hermetic canon”, with my own cutoff point being the Emerald Tablet (which, I should note, only first appears in Arabic between the 500s and 700s CE); it’s not like people just forgot about Hermēs Trismegistus after the fall of the Roman Empire.  Far from it!  Although the tradition of the philosophical Hermetica may have fallen by the wayside, the tradition of technical Hermetica lived on strong, especially in the fields of astrology and alchemy (though theurgy and other spiritual works, at that point, were either taken over by other religious systems or just outright quashed as a form of heresy and paganism).  However, that’s not where my focus lies: between my personal focus on the philosophical and contemplative side of things, as well as the fact that after the Emerald Tablet so much of Hermetic literature gets mixed up with other religious and spiritual traditions, it gets harder and harder to make out a firm outline of Hermetic content like we could in earlier texts.  While they’re still valuable as part of the Hermetic tradition, we do start to see branching-off into various kinds of “Hermeticisms”, leading to such wide-ranging differences in the term such as the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” or Franz Bardon’s famous “Introduction to Hermetics”.  Easier and clearer for me, at least, to consider the original texts that they all come from before this branching-off as the root that we can all at least agree on are Hermetic.  And if something outright builds up a radically different framework and cosmology and philosophy that either doesn’t talk about what those texts does, contradicts it constantly, or talks about things that the original texts didn’t care to discuss or outright said was a distraction, can that really be called Hermetic?  No—which is why I claim that the Kybalion isn’t a Hermetic text.

But you know what?  It is true that there are a variety of Hermeticisms around nowadays, and that Hermēs (whether as Maiados or as Trismegistos) is a pretty promiscuous character.  It’s not at all beyond the pale to consider Hermeticism to have “sects”, much as Christianity or Islam, and while all these Hermetic sects may trace or claim some origin with Hermēs Trismegistus as the prophet-sage-teacher-god-hero-initiator that resulted from Hellenicizing the Egyptian Thoth and Egyptianizing the Greek Hermēs, let’s be honest: so many of these sects and groups that claim the label of “Hermetic” can often be so far away that they’re anything but.  As one of my Twitter friends noted, it’s like how many Mormons call themselves Christian online without every having read the actual Bible and only swearing by the Book of Mormon: sure, I guess it’s derived from Christianity and does claim Jesus Christ as the (or a) central figure, but it’s so far removed from the rest of Christianity that it may as well just be its own thing.  I mean, it’s not uncommon that I have to explain that, no, I have no connection to the Golden Dawn and that my magic is not derived from or influenced by them, yet the Golden Dawn is the first thing that pops into their mind when they hear the word “Hermetic”.  It’s good marketing, I suppose—which is the most likely reason why the Kybalion tried to claim that title for itself so as to sell more copies and spread the word of New Thought further—but considering the depth and breadth of Hermeticism outside the Golden Dawn, to simply think of Hermeticism as Renaissance-derived Rosicrucian blends of Solomonic magic and (very distantly-derived) Jewish mysticism with Egyptian window-dressing in a Freemasonry lodge structure is…pretty far off the mark, if you ask me.

So, okay.  If people want to claim that I’m not Hermetic because I don’t like and discourage people from reading the Kybalion?  Alright, sure.  Though I’d rather they stop using the term Hermetic when they’re not discussing anything of the sort, sure, I’ll drop the label first.  From now on, I won’t call myself a Hermeticist except in the extremely broadest sense of meaning “something to do with Hermēs Trismegistus” (whether legitimately or spuriously, because words do have meaning after all), and for anything more specific, I’m going to adopt the label of “Hermetist” for myself, and “Hermetism” for what it is I study.

Hermetist, Hermetism?  These are terms I find in academic literature discussing the classical Hermetic texts over and over, and although some do use “Hermetic” and “Hermeticism”, there’s a subtle distinction being made here.  The bulk of modern academia is, as ever, focused on distancing itself from the occult, spiritual, magical, and anything considered “woo”, for better or for worse (though there are increasingly more and more researchers and writers and professors who don’t care about that, especially once they get tenure).  Because the word “Hermetic” is fraught with magical tension, they often use the term “Hermeticism” to refer to post-classical alchemical and magical texts and orders, and “Hermetism” to refer to the actual texts, traditions, and groups that we know had weight as being written and taught by Hermēs Trismegistus.  In that sense, the Corpus Hermeticum is (or ought to be) a text of both the Hermetist and Hermeticist, while the unrelated texts of the e.g. Ordo Aurum Solis would be more for the Hermeticist.  All of this would be considered Hermetic (as that is the proper adjective to use for things pertaining to Hermēs Trismegistus, as opposed to “Hermaic”, which is more for the god Hermēs himself apart and away from the other trappings), but as far as the path, framework, and the rest is concerned, there’s quite a gulf that separates Hermetism from Hermeticism more broadly, indeed.

I know there are some people who get upset at someone deciding to label themselves, because waaah limits or waaah you’re cutting yourself off from the truth or waaah why can’t we all get along or something.  But you know what?  Labels are words, and anyone who has any knowledge of Egyptian models of magic is that words are power, whether written or spoken, because words have meaning.  If people want to insist that something that claims to be Hermetic isn’t Hermetic even after there being abundant and well-agreed-upon evidence, like the Kybalion, or want to use the word “Hermetic” to describe something that has evolved and shifted so far away from its Hermetic roots that there’s no clear connection or silhouette between the two anymore?  Okay, fine.  Then what those people are doing isn’t what I’m doing, and there are clearly more of them than me out there, and a distinction in terminology is called for with good reason and impetus.  I’m aware that the Hermeticism/Hermetism distinction is not well-understood yet, hence this post being written: perhaps those who see such a distinction and agree with it can take the word on as well, and get on with our practice and lives without being dragged down by people who don’t care much for such trifling things such as coherence, cohesion, or correctness in the choice of words we use to describe things or in the worldviews and spiritual frameworks we apply ourselves in.  No shame nor shade to those who prefer a more Hermeticist than Hermetist path, as I know a good deal of people who do good work in modern Hermeticist traditions, but they aren’t doing what I’m doing, and perhaps that needs to be made more clear.

So, yeah.  As a follower on the Way of Hermēs Trismegistus, taking the classical philosophical Hermetica as the backbone of my cosmology and the classical technical Hermetica as the (ever-widening, ever-deepening) foundation of my magical practices?  I’m a Hermetist in the practice and ideology of Hermetism, and those are the terms I’m going to use from here on out.  This isn’t to say that I’m disavowing anything that came after the classical period or that more modern Hermeticist stuff is worthless or pointless—the Trithemian rite of conjuration is still excellent, to be sure, and I have a number of other practices that have origins in a number of other time periods—but as far as I consider myself and the core of my practices, I’m a Hermetist.

May as well save some of my own breath, even with that one syllable removed, given how much others waste theirs.

EDIT: Another friend of mine on Twitter reports that there was no term “Hermetic” or “Hermeticist” or even “Hermetist” used as such back in classical times as a distinct label for people who also followed the Way of Hermēs Trismegistus, but “Trismegistici” or “Τρισμεγιστικοι”, as opposed to Ερμαιοι or Ερμετικοι.  This would make the modern term for them “Trismegistist” and the adjective form “Trismegistic”, although “Trismegist” sounds a bit nicer, I have to admit.  It’s so pomous and immodest, but yanno what?  I do kinda like it, even if it a bit more obscure and opaque than “Hermetist” would be.  So there’s another option for terminology: Trismegistism, Trismegistic, Trismegist(-ist).  Or, as she later suggested, “Altrismegest” in a not-so-subtle nod to the Almagest, which I have to admit makes me melt a little inside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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