Geographical Points of Interest for Hermeticism (and not the one you probably thought of first)

Ah, beautiful and majestic Alexandria in Egypt.  Perhaps foremost of all the cities that Alexander the Great named after himself during his conquests in the fourth century CE, this famous coastal port town was always a sort of East-meets-West of the ancient world, a Greek city on Egyptian soil, and to this day remains the largest city on the whole of the Mediterranean coastline in any county.  After the Pyramids or the Sphinx, Alexandria’s ancient Lighthouse or its Library might spring to mind when we think of ancient or classical Egypt, especially of the Ptolemaic or Roman periods.  And why not?  Between the Great Library and the Mouseion of Alexandria, we get such luminaries as Euclid, Hipparchus, Eratosthenes, Hypatia, and no few other scholars, mathematicians, astronomers, and philosophers.  Countless books from across the world were housed in the Library’s archives, and even after its burning during the Julius Caesar’s civil war, it still functioned admirably for centuries.  Even then (and potentially aiding such scholarship and library needs), the mere fact of Alexandria’s location at the westernmost edge of the Nile delta gave it a uniquely powerful position in terms of trade, making it a true melting pot of language, culture, science, education, religion, and so much else.

But for any meaningful relationship to Hermeticism, as a cite of its origination?  We should look elsewhere; Alexandria, as it turns out, ain’t it.

Now, to be fair, a lot of people like talking about Hermeticism in an Alexandrian context, and given how important Alexandria was in general to the classical world and to various surviving philosophical and spiritual traditions coming from it, why not?  Alexandria was one of the busiest places in all of classical Egypt, and the presence of its Library and schools were huge claims to its fame.  As a result, we see the following in Gilles Quispel’s preface to Salaman’s Way of Hermes:

The texts of the Corpus are preserved in Greek, and appear to have been produced between the first and third centuries AD in Alexandria, Egypt.  […]

It is now completely certain that there existed before and after the beginning of the Christian era in Alexandria a secret society, akin to a Masonic lodge. The members of this group called themselves ‘brethren,’ were initiated through a baptism of the Spirit, greeted each other with a sacred kiss, celebrated a sacred meal and read the Hermetic writings as edifying treatises for their spiritual progress.

Or in the text’s afterword:

It is now generally agreed that the language of these texts points to production between the first and third centuries AD in Alexandria, a city then ruled by Rome, but culturally a cosmopolitan mix of Greek, Egyptian, Jewish and other traditions. As Gilles Quispel points out in the Preface, these texts were central to the spiritual practice of Hermetic circles in late antique Alexandria.

Or, for a more extreme example, repeated mentions of Alexandria in stuff like from Freke and Gandy’s introduction to their The Hermetica: The Lost Wisdom of the Pharaohs:

The early origins of the Hermetica are shrouded in mystery, but the evidence suggests it is a direct descendant of the ancient philosophy of the Egyptians. However, the handful of surviving works attributed to Hermes are not written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, but in Greek, Latin and Coptic. They were collated in the city of Alexandria in Egypt during the second and third centuries CE. Here the Hermetic philosophy helped inspire some of the greatest intellectual achievements of the ancient world. Alexandria was a great centre of learning, surpassing even Athens. […]

In 1614 a scholar called Isaac Casaubon published a textual analysis of the Hermetica, which showed, quite correctly, that the grammar,
vocabulary, form and content of the Greek versions of these works dated them to no earlier than the second and third centuries CE. They were not written by an ancient Egyptian sage, he claimed, but by scholars in the city of Alexandria. Their philosophy was nothing more than an exotic blend of Greek, Christian and Jewish philosophy, mixed up with astrology and magic. […]

This suggests that the Hermetica may indeed contain the wisdom of the pharaohs, which scholars in second-century Alexandria reworked for a contemporary readership. […]

The Hermetica was undoubtedly written by Alexandrian scholars for a Greek-speaking readership. […]

In this new version, therefore, we have selected key extracts and combined them to bring out the essential wisdom and inherent poetry that they contain. In this endeavour we feel we are following in the footsteps of the scholars of Alexandria who collated these books from the ancient material that was then available, making them accessible to a contemporary readership. …

While Freke and Gandy make much of an Alexandrian origin (excluding the many other cities that existed in Egypt with their own centers of learning or spirituality), they’re far from alone in it.  A.-J. Festugière (in Hermétisme et mystique païenne) calls Alexandria the “fatherland of Hermetism”, and Garth Fowden (in The Egyptian Hermes) likewise speaks of “that same Alexandrian philosophical milieu in which the Hermetists were home” and that “nearly all our best evidence for cultic syncretism, of whatever sort, comes from the more heavily Hellenized parts of Egypt, such as Alexandria and the Fayyum”.

However, Alexandria (which was even called “Alexandria-upon-Egypt” by the Romans) wasn’t even one of the larger properly-Egyptian cultural or religious centers, especially when we remember that basically all of Egypt all up and down the Nile was heavily urbanized.  Alexandria was always first and foremost a Greek colony populated by Greeks for Greeks, after all; although it was founded on an ancient Egyptian fishing village (Rhakotis) and although it relied on a rich and diverse population of Greeks and Jews and Egyptians, Alexandria itself was not Egyptian in any sense except geographical.  This led to some rather unflattering views of Egypt due to its insistence to exist anyway to some non-Egyptian minds, such as Dio Chrysostom who (according to Fowden) “regarded the whole of Egypt as a mere ‘appendage’ (προσθήκη) of the Greek metropolis, Alexandria”.  To use a modern metaphor of my own country, it’d be like thinking that New York City is the only US city noteworthy on the East Coast, and may well be the crown jewel of the Northeastern Megalopolis, but Washington, DC is also there as is Boston and Philadelphia and Baltimore with distinct cultures, dialects, universities, religious populations, and so on, along with the whole rest of the US besides, on top of all the Native American territories that existed here long before any such cities existed due to colonialism.

In his Hermetic Spirituality and the Historical Imagination (HSHI), Wouter Hanegraaff opens up his chapter 2 (“Heart of Darkness”) with a little vignette describing what Roman Imperial Egypt was like, and criticizes the view specifically that Hermeticism (or much of anything meaningfully Egyptian) arose from Alexandria, eventually making his way to Thebes to call that city instead the “ancient heartland of Egyptian religion”, and starting his historical inquiry into Hermeticism there.  Later on, in sharply criticizing the notion of “Alexandrian Hermetic lodges” (specifically that of Quispel as noted earlier), he cites a paper by Christian Bull,  Ancient Hermeticism and Esotericism, in which he highlights the primacy of Thebes (p. 116):

[…] This latter notion is in fact deeply problematic, since it is uncertain that Alexandria played any crucial role in ancient Hermetism. The fact is that we do not know the precise origins of Hermetism, other than that it was Egyptian, to judge from references both internal and external to the texts. Alexandria was of course a melting-pot of Greek and Egyptian culture, but by the time the Hermetica appeared (at least in the first half of the second century CE), the entirety of Egypt was to some degree Hellenized. In fact, the few geographical references in the Hermetica are to Hermopolis and Thebes, both in Upper Egypt. Moreover, papyrus Mimaut (PGM III) which contains the Hermetic Prayer of Thanksgiving, was likely found in Thebes, together with several other magical papyri with clear relations to the Hermetica—the so-called “Thebes-cache”. We can therefore be fairly confident that Hermetica were read in this area, and quite possibly composed there. After all, Strabo informs us that the priests of Thebes were wont to attribute their astronomical and philosophical teachings to Hermes. Hermopolis was the second largest city in Egypt, after Alexandria, and we have papyri showing that the city council there made oaths to Hermes Trismegistus, possibly alluding to the Poimandres at one point. Also, a high priest of Thoth in Hermopolis, corresponding in the early fourth century CE with someone who is ‘all wise in the wisdom of the Greeks’, refers to his god as Hermes Trismegistus. Thus, other than the fact that Alexandrians like Didymus the Blind, Cyril of Alexandria, Asclepiades and Heraiscus had read Hermetica, there is nothing that militates for Alexandria as the point of origin for Hermetism, whereas several factors point toward Upper Egypt.

Likewise, as Bull says in his The Tradition of Hermes Trismegistus, p. 454:

Hermetic groups could potentially have been found in larger centers of priestly learning, especially Hermopolis Magna of course, which was moreover one of the largest cities in Egypt after Alexandria in the Roman period. Thebes is invoked in the Hermetica and was likely a center for Hermetic ritual activity, as evidenced by the Thebes-cache. Alexandria could potentially accommodate several Hermetic groups, although there is no reason to identify the city as the birthplace of a “Hermetic lodge” as several scholars have done. There is neither internal nor external evidence for such an Alexandrian “lodge,” a designation that is alien to the ancient world and carries Masonic connotations. It is of course entirely possible, even likely, that associations of the type we have described existed there, but there is no reason to assume that Alexandria was the birth-place of Hermetism.

To my mind, situating Thebes as the focal point of Hermeticism’s historical development makes much more sense, at least given all the evidence and extant texts we have (including from the rich caches of the Greek and Demotic Magical Papyri), than just assuming Alexandria.  In a way, asserting that Hermeticism arose from Alexandria is tantamount to perpetuating colonialist attitudes, because Alexandria was (properly considered) a Greek colony on Egyptian soil, and so was culturally and geopolitically Greek more than anything else.  Thebes, on the other hand, in the words of Hanegraaff’s HSHI:

Finally, after turning another great bend in the river and heading south again, our traveler would reach Thebes, the extremely ancient Egyptian city Waset, referred to as Diospolis Magna by the Greeks and Romans but known as Luxor today. More than 3,000 years old at that time, the residence of the Pharaohs during the period of the New Kingdom (sixteenth-eleventh centuries bce) when Egypt was at the peak of its power, this city of the god Amun could be considered the heart of ancient Egypt. It is not surprising that in the centuries after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander, Thebes had emerged as a center of resistance against Greek and Roman rule. Having arrived in Thebes, our traveler could still sail farther south along the Nile, but in a real sense he could not get more distant from Alexandria, the cosmopolitical center of Greek Hellenism. This was the ancient heartland of Egyptian religion, and it is here that we begin our search for the Hermetic tradition.

This isn’t to say that Alexandria wasn’t ever important for Hermeticism; after all, it was a major intellectual center, albeit a Greek one, and there were many people who studied or worked or traveled across Egypt who yet still lived in Alexandria from time to time.  When we see reference to Hermetic groups from people like Clement of Alexandria or Cyril of Alexandria, we should take their word that there may well have been Hermeticists dwelling in their neighborhood, but not necessarily that they got started there; likewise, although Clement or Cyril may have read Hermetic texts in Alexandria, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were composed there (given how many texts from across the world were stored in or copies given to Alexandria’s libraries and schools).  That said, while I’m at it, I should also make a note about two other cities important for the history of Hemeticism besides Thebes or Alexandria:

  • Faiyum, a place in Middle Egypt known for the worship of Hermouthis, Sobek, Isis, and others.  It’s here we find the famous Hymns of Isidoros, a series of Greek praises inscribed on the gates of a temple complex in the first century BCE.  Among these hymns we see one dedicated to “Porromanrēs”, i.e. the Twelfth Dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat III, who was famous not just for building such a temple but also for his various military campaigns, mining and trade expeditions, and various landscaping and engineering projects for the Faiyummic basin; as such, he was deified after his death and had a long-standing cult given to his veneration.  Although there are other linguistic possibilities, Howard Jackson in his paper A New Proposal for the Origin of the Hermetic God Poimandres suggsests that “Porromanrēs” was the ultimate origin for the Poimandrēs of CH I and CH XIII—a possibility that Hanegraaff in HSHI reiterates and enforces as a likely origination point for Hermetic spirituality (though reserving Thebes for its eventual development and strengthening).
  • Akhmim, also known as Panopolis.  This is the place from which the famous 3rd/4th century CE alchemist-gnostic Zosimos hailed, who gives us some rather interesting and detailed accounts not only of alchemical and magical practices of his day but also of particular teachings and texts of Hermēs Trismegistos that are otherwise no longer extant.  What’s particularly interesting about Akhmim, beyond just a single but noteworthy alchemist coming from this place, is that “one of the most influential teachers in the formative period of Sufism and one of the first to discuss the concept of ma`rifa, usually translated as gnōsis” also came from here some centuries later: the 9th century CE Ḏū-l-Nūn al-Miṣrī.  He was also considered an alchemist in his day, educated in ancient Egyptian language and pagan ritual, and even thought by some to be a heretical magician for some of the work he was thought to make possible.  Between Zosimos and Ḏū-l-Nūn, there appears to have been some longstanding alchemy-centric Hermetic group(s) in Akhmim that survived from the classical period into at least the early Islamic period, potentially making for an influence in some Sufi lineages that survive today (at least that of Suhrawardiyya, founded by the 12th century CE Iranian mystic Šihāb al-Dīn Yahya ibn Ḥabaš al-Suhrawardī and who counts Ḏū-l-Nūn as one of his forebears).

Despite how highly-regarded Alexandria was at the far edge of (northern) Lower Egypt, Thebes and Faiyum and Akhmim are all much further south, including (of course) the ancient Hermopolis Magna, modern el-Ashmunein, itself an Egyptian center for the worship of Thōth.  It shouldn’t be so strange to point out that there’s more than one city or cultural center in Egypt, and that many of them were somehow important in one way or another throughout the many millennia of Egypt’s existence that grew up from Egypt’s own native soil, native people, and native spiritualities.  Yes, the metropolitan and cosmopolitan nature of Alexandria was  naturally a melting-pot for much of the classical Mediterranean world—and I know that I myself have described Hermeticism in such a context before, following a popular consensus that doesn’t add up when all the evidence is factored in—but Hermeticism, as syncretic as it is as a Greco-Egyptian form of mysticism, just doesn’t seem to arise from that specific melting-pot.  The most that we might be able to reasonably say regarding Alexandria in relation to Hermeticism is that plenty about Hermeticism was written there and disseminated by particularly noteworthy writers to the rest of the classical world, but that still doesn’t mean that the actual texts of Hermeticism were themselves written there.  To that end, when we talk about the historical origins of Hermeticism, we really should stop referring only to Alexandria as if it were the only place in Egypt that mattered.

The “mere appendage to Alexandria”, it turns out, has much of its own to contribute that deserves much more credit and respect than many scholars have afforded it, even in our modern day.  Even if we don’t know with precise specificity where Hermeticism might have first arisen or where some if its founders taught and studied, we have at least some decent notion of where it certainly grew up or grew big—and Alexandria ain’t it.

Six Supplications for Marking the Lunar Month

As I periodically remind people on my blog, I’ve occasionally put out a few PDF-based ebooks for people to purchase and peruse for in-depth studies or practical guides to a handful of topics.  Of those, two of the ones I’m most pleased about are a pair of prayer books, Preces Castri and Preces Templi.  Both are intended for a devout, practicing Hermeticist to use, but both come from radically different perspectives: Preces Castri contains more Abrahamic (Jewish, Christian, Islamic, etc.) prayers and styles of devotion, while Preces Templi is more pagan and polytheistic (specifically Hellenistic Egyptian).  Once upon a time, I defined these two approaches to Hermetic devotion and practice as “Luxoric” and “Papetic”, respectively, after two different languages’ names for the Egyptian city of Thebes, Arabic al-`Uqṣur (“Luxor”, literally “the castles”) and Coptic Pape (from earlier Egyptian p’ jp.t, literally “the adyton”).  Although I’ve experimented with both approaches, over time, I’ve drifted more and more to the Papetic side of things, and remain comfortably Greco-Egyptian polytheistic in my Hermetic stuff while yet engaging in a monist (but not monotheist!) mysticism to the God of Hermēs Trismegistos.

However, that doesn’t mean that I’ve left all the stuff in my Preces Castri ebook behind to collect dust as some sort of failed experiment.  Even if I base the majority of my work in the Papetic stuff, there’s still a few Luxoric tricks I keep up my sleeve and periodically pull out; to that end, I still make use of some of the stuff in my Preces Castri prayerbook that didn’t make it into my Preces Templi one.  One of those is a set of six prayers I like to use as supplications and contemplations to mark six different times across the span of a lunar month—specifically the synodic lunar month, i.e. the 29.5-day-long month based on the relative positions of the Sun and Moon from the perspective of us on earth.  After the all-important daily cycle of sunrise and sunset, the next most-apparent physical marker of the passage of time is the phase changes of the Moon, and it’s a common practice the whole world ’round to mark different events as the Moon changes from phase to phase in her monthly cycle.  Depending on one’s specific cultural tradition of marking the lunar month, different such events or different numbers of them might be marked: some only mark the full moon, some mark the new moon and full moon both, some mark quarters of the month, some mark thirds of the month, and so on.

In general, while I love me a good lunar cycle (and why not? the Moon is as important to us as the Sun is in most cases!), most of my practice is oriented towards the Sun and its cycles and divisions of time.  As a result, I often make such lunar cycle practices in my own work secondary to that of the Sun, and even though I’d love to do more along those lines, it’s a hassle to keep up both solar zodiacal/decanal cycle stuff up simultaneously with a lunar phase cycle without them matching cleanly.  Still, I try to make an effort in marking things like this regularly, and to that end, I came up with a series of six nine-line prayers which act as a cross between a contemplation of the Moon and its changes and a supplication both to the Moon and to God seeking succor, aid, and guidance, all themed based on the cyclical changes at play.  As a practical matter, I would rather do several small things that add up cumulatively rather than do one or two big things all at once, so I figured marking six different periods across a synodic lunar month would be a good halfway point for me in such a practice:

  1. Last sighting of the Moon: the day when the last sliver of the Moon is visible before vanishing immediately prior to conjunction
  2. Unseen Conjunction of the Moon and Sun: the conjunction of Sun and Moon together, the “dark moon” when it is not visible (or “new moon” in modern astronomical contexts)
  3. First Sighting of the Moon: the traditional understanding of “new moon”, the day when the first sliver of the Moon is visible immediately following conjunction
  4. Waxing of the Moon in Light: marking when the Moon has truly undergone a transition from being only minorly illuminated to being majorly illuminated
  5. Full Opposition of the Moon and Sun: the opposition of Sun and Moon, the full moon when it is at maximum illumination
  6. Waning of the Moon in Light: marking when the Moon has truly undergone a transition from being majorly illuminated to being only minorly illuminated

For the dates for the Waxing or Waning of the Moon in Light, I give two possible timings, depending on how you divide up a lunar month.  For a lot of people nowadays who rely on a primarily four-fold (7-day) division of the lunar month (like most Babylonian-derived calendars as well as plenty of modern folk in general), marking these points would make the most sense at the first (waxing) and third (waning) quarter phase points, which are respectively about one week after and one week before conjunction.  However, for those who use a three-fold division, where one uses ten-day decamera instead of seven-day weeks (like in traditional Greek or Egyptian systems), one would instead mark this at the ten-day mark after or before the conjunction (which happens to be about five or so days in either direction from opposition).  Either approach is appropriate, so long as you’re consistent in how you handle it.

With that, let me show you what how these six supplications actually go!

Supplication of the Last Sighting
To be recited at the last sighting of the Moon before conjunction with the Sun, in the early morning before sunrise.

The Moon leaves the domain of Night to enter the domain of Day,
taking bright refuge under the beams of the Sun,
leaving the nighttime sky empty all of light, full only with stars.
So too do I take refuge and place my faith in the One,
the Holy, the Maker, the Father, the First, and the Good,
from whom all things come, to whom all things return.
In this unseen Light which chases away all darkness
do I embark anew on this my Way, do I rededicate myself anew to the Way,
and flee the world of darkness to enter the world of Light.

Supplication of the Unseen Conjunction
To be recited at the conjunction of the Moon with the Sun, or at the sunrise or sunset immediately prior to it.

The Moon joins herself to the Sun, rising as he rises, setting as he sets,
unable to be seen by any mortal eye of flesh cast upwards,
for the brightness of the beams of the Sun overwhelm all vision.
dazzling the eyes with light and causes them to shut.
Let the eyes of my body look where they will if not the light of the Sun,
and let the eyes of my mind look only to the Light of the Good,
that holy Light that illumines all things truly and clearly,
full of all immortality, all peace, all knowledge, all goodness.
Let there always be for me true illumination of God.

Supplication of the First Sighting
To be recited at the first sighting of the Moon after conjunction with the Sun, in the evening after sunset.

The Moon frees herself from the beams and the arms of the Sun
and enters once more into her own domain of Night.
The Moon begins a new cycle, a new trek, born fresh, born clean,
bringing all of the world into fresh life with her.
O holy month, o holy day, o holy time; grant me holiness!
Let this be for me a time of freshness, newness, life, and growth,
together with peace and victory and progress on the Way,
for as the Moon begins a new month for her and for us all,
so too may I set my mind to the Way anew, lit by the new light of the Moon.

Supplication of the Waxing in Light
To be recited either when the Moon reaches the Waxing Quarter phase, or alternatively on the tenth day of the synodic lunar month.

The Moon, in her course of the heavens, grows in light,
and reflects more and more of the Sun unto the Earth.
Light increases, power increases, presence increases;
let this be a time of increase of all that is Good in the world.
Let victory, success, wealth, safety, luck, happiness, strength,
glory, long life, beauty, fortune, and peace grow and fill my life.
May every blessing increase in my life and in the world,
may every grace and mercy of God fall upon me and the world,
and sustain us all as we proceed on the Way.

Supplication of the Full Opposition
To be recited at the opposition of the Moon with the Sun, or in the evening after sunset on the night immediately prior to it, most preferably at midnight.

The Moon rises as the Sun sets, and sets as the Sun rises.
The Moon reigns over the Night as the Sun reigns over the Day,
having reached her fullness, her perfection, her glory beyond glory.
Balance is attained, and Light fully fills the darkness deep!
Let this light guide my steps in the darkness that I might not stumble;
let this Light guide my heart in the cosmos that I might not wander.
Darkness, however dark, cannot resist but be filled by the Light.
Let this be my power and strength, my hope and my guide.
Perfection is shown to me now; let me always strive for perfection in God.

Supplication of the Waning in Light
To be recited either when the Moon reaches the Waning Quarter phase, or alternatively on the twentieth day of the synodic lunar month.

The Moon, in her course of the heavens, recedes from light,
and reflects less and less of the Sun unto the Earth
as the cosmos sends forth and receives back the blessing of Light.
Moonlight is replaced by starlight as the Moon returns to the Sun;
let all that binds, hinders, and obstructs me be lessened!
Every suffering, disease, danger, hate, sorrow, adversity, misfortune,
and every malefic influence from within and beyond me vanish
as the light of the Moon recedes from the eyes of those on Earth.
Let my soul be freed and made light in the Light on the Way.

My usual approach to implementing this simple: at my main shrine, I have a pair of candleholders, one that I use to mark solar cycle events (Sun ingress a new zodiac sign or a new decan) and one that I use to mark lunar cycle events (like the six synodic events listed above).  After I do my usual prayers and practices for a given day, I’ll light my lunar event candle, offer some incense, offer an invocation to and blessing of the Moon, then recite a given supplication above according to the particular event of the day.  After reciting it, I’ll spend some time in contemplation and meditation of the thing recited, internally or silently adding on whatever further prayers or requests I might have or dwelling on certain images raised during the course of the supplication.  It’s not a lot and nothing particularly fancy, but it’s something to keep up a regular cycle of remarking and remembering the passage of the Moon around the Earth.

And there you have it!  A set of six simple, short, and neat prayers to recite and contemplate across the span of a lunar month.  I hope you might find these supplications useful, dear reader; if you give them a whirl, let me know how they work for you or how else you might implement them beyond how I do myself!  Likewise, if you’re interested in other gems like this of prayers or supplications, consider getting a copy of my Preces Castri and Preces Templi ebooks for yourself; you might be pleasantly surprised by how much else there is in there!

Praise of the Seven Ladies

Over the years, some parts of my practice have become staples that I maintain in one form or another regardless of what else I might be doing, but much else I’ve done has been experimental where I try something new or attempt worship or work with some new spirit or spirits.  Looking back, with some frequency, some of those experiments are successful enough to make such practices become staples, but more often than not, they don’t.  I’m not one to go out of my way to try to establish some “grand unifying practice” where I have to get everything to match up and agree with each other in every possible regard from the get-go, but sometimes things just stick out too much in one sense or another where they just can’t find a proper foothold in the rest of my spiritual life, or where I already have enough going on in other ways that I can’t really accommodate a new practice for long in tandem with everything else.  It’s unfortunate, given how excited I can get about some of these experiments and ventures at times, but it is what it is.

One of the things I’ve always wanted to experiment with and dig into more is venerating the northern stars, not just Polaris but the seven stars of Ursa Minor and the seven stars of Ursa Maior more generally.  I’ve gone into some depth regarding these before from a PGM standpoint (my Pole Lords and Northern Stars post series from October 2018, part 1, part 2, part 3), but there’s honestly just so much with northern star veneration in so many cultures that it’s honestly astounding.  Some of the richest and most fascinating stuff I’ve seen along these lines is how a variety of East Asian cultures and religions developed and incorporated such veneration practices into Taoism, Buddhism, and other indigenous traditions.  Once I picked up on a few threads there, this sent me on a round or four of binge-researching to see what I might find (in English, at any rate).  A few of the neater things I came across were:

There’s plenty more along these lines, but I think these three resources give a good start to those who are interested further.  This is definitely one of the fields I’d like to experiment with more, since I’ve already done a few things for the northern stars even in my own practice from time to time.  I’d love to do more, but it’s sometimes difficult to get it all to correlate in my own practice without just leaving it sorta…hanging there, untethered to much else that I do.

That said, it’s easier to find things related to the stars of Ursa Maior (the Big Dipper) in contexts like this than it is for the stars of Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper), which is somewhat annoying.  Even still, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t PGM versions of this situation, too; there are plenty of bear charms or other bear-related spells in the PGM (e.g. PGM IV.1257—1322, PGM IV.1323—1330, PGM IV.1331—1389, PGM VII.686—702).  As I mentioned in my Pole Lords and Northern Stars post series I mentioned above, we also see a fascinating deification of the stars of Ursa Maior and the stars of Ursa Minor, too, in the famous Mithras Liturgy of PGM IV.475—829, where there are “seven virgins…dressed in linen garments with the faces of asps[;] they are called the Fates of Heaven and wield golden wands” for Ursa Maior and “seven gods who have the faces of black bulls, in linen loincloths, and in possession of seven golden diadems[;] they are the so-called Pole Lords of Heaven” for Ursa Minor, each of which having their own name.  It may not be a whole lot in the PGM to develop a full or complete practice of veneration of the northern stars, but there’s certainly enough to consider and get started with.

To that end, I decided to take a somewhat eclectic, syncretic approach to devising my own lengthier invocation of the stars of Ursa Maior.  By picking at a combo of Taoist star lore, Buddhist correspondences and veneration, and some of the stuff from the PGM (specifically PGM IV.475—829), I put together the following prayer, “Praise of the Seven Ladies”, which invokes and salutes the seven stars of Ursa Maior using their names from the Mithras Liturgy for their aid and succor in our lives.  It’s definitely a hybrid spiritual approach (one might even reasonably call it a mutt of prayers) to these entities as a cluster of deities in their own right, but by grafting on influences from several traditions, it’s something experimental that I hope might one day be useful, at least to get a foothold of my own with more advanced or in-depth northern star veneration practices.

Without further ado, my “Praise of the Seven Ladies”:

I give honor to the sanctity of ΧΡΕΨΕΝΘΑΗΣ!
First amongst the blessed nobles, first among the bright seven,
leading your entourage in the twisted twistings of Fate,
penetrating the most sublime wisdom and light of the mind!
Be kind to me and protect me, o heaven-ruling goddess!
Keep your anger far from me, o insatiable eye of Heaven,
and turn all my enemies’ anger back upon themselves!

I give honor to the sanctity of ΜΕΝΕΣΧΕΗΣ!
Second among the blessed nobles, second among the bright seven,
the gate by which all powers and spirits flow free as you will,
whose voice flashes and shines as jewels with power and sublimity!
Be kind to me and protect me, o pole-ruling goddess!
Grant me your medicine, o stable wall of Heaven,
and let the poisons and plagues of my enemies flood their own homes!

I give honor to the sanctity of ΜΕΧΡΑΝ!
Third among the blessed nobles, third among the bright seven,
the commander and director of light from your blessed abode,
surpassing all glory and beauty to shine light upon the whole cosmos!
Be kind to me and protect me, o highest goddess!
Keep me happy and safe from all disaster, o strong support of Heaven,
and let whatever disasters other plan for me befall those who plan them!

I give honor to the sanctity of ΑΡΑΜΑΧΗΣ!
Fourth among the blessed nobles, fourth among the bright seven,
the supreme balance and assistant between those before and behind,
granter of supreme bliss, bestower of holiest wisdom!
Be kind to me and protect me, o beautiful-shining goddess!
Let me remain whole for the whole of my life, o firm foundation of Heaven,
and turn the blades of my enemies away to cut only themselves!

I give honor to the sanctity of ΕΧΟΜΜΙΗ!
Fifth among the blessed nobles, fifth among the bright seven,
the measure of the cosmos who views all things from your tower,
who breaks obstacles through intelligence, wisdom, and the purest of virtue!
Be kind to me and protect me, o incorruptible goddess!
May I always remain strong with you at my side, o whip and club of Heaven,
but may those who seek to weaken me instead be weakened themselves!

I give honor to the sanctity of ΤΙΧΝΟΝΔΑΗΣ!
Sixth among the blessed nobles, sixth among the bright seven,
the opener of power, of opportunity, of crisis in all things,
who delights in justice, in law, in righteousness in all things!
Be kind to me and protect me, o all-illuminating goddess!
May I live long and free without danger, o modest covering of Heaven,
but may those who seek to endanger me instead be surrounded by danger!

I give honor to the sanctity of ΕΡΟΥ ΡΟΜΒΡΙΗΣ!
Seventh among the blessed nobles, seventh among the bright seven,
the enforcer who ensures our compliance with Necessity,
supreme in the subtleties of health and wholeness from profundity!
Be kind to me and protect me, o goddess holding all things together as one!
May I be kept ordered and right on my way, o leader of the cries of Heaven,
but may those who march against me be broken and defeated!

Hail, o queens of mortals and of gods, o heavenly rulers!
Hail to you, o seven Fates of Heaven, o noble and good virgins!
Hail to you, ΧΡΕΨΕΝΘΑΗΣ!
Hail to you, ΜΕΝΕΣΧΕΗΣ!
Hail to you, ΜΕΧΡΑΝ!
Hail to you, ΑΡΑΜΑΧΗΣ!
Hail to you, ΕΧΟΜΜΙΗ!
Hail to you, ΤΙΧΝΟΝΔΑΗΣ!
Hail to you, ΕΡΟΥ ΡΟΜΒΡΙΗΣ!
For you are the most holy guardians of the four pillars,
the sacred ones and companions of ΜΙΝΙΜΙΡΡΟΦΟΡ,
who rules over the heavens, the stars, and the whole world,
greatest goddess, ruling heaven, reigning over the pole of the stars,
highest, shining beautifully, incorruptible,
all-illuminating bond of the whole cosmos,
who turn all things with a strong hand,
who are appointed to raise and lower all things!
Be kind to me, protect me, and grant me your blessing,
o mistress of water, o founder of earth, o ruler of wind, o lightener of fire!

If you have a veneration practice to the northern stars of your own, feel free to talk about it in the comments!  I’d love to hear from you, your experiences and your background and your practices, and the like.  If you’d like to give the above prayer a whirl, feel free, and let me know how it works for you!

A Fishy Story to Tell

Eh, sure, why not, let’s write a bit of Hermetic prose fiction as a morality fable, shall we?  It’s been a bit since my last such bit, after all.

So, one of the people I engage with a lot about Hermeticism is known to me on the Hermetic House of Life Discord server as well as the /r/Hermeticism subdreddit as “Sigismundo Celine” (whom I affectionately refer to as just “Sigis”).  Not too far back, with the help of a few other HHoL colleagues, he launched the Way of Hermes website as an online class that teaches about the doctrines and practices of classical Hermeticism, as well as his own blog (which replaced his earlier “Wisdom of the Son of the Circle” website).  Every now and then, he’ll share a new post on it, some of which gets some neat discussions started on the Discord server or on the subreddit.

A bit ago, he shared a new post, The Story of Tat and Ammon, a little bit of fiction that serves as a moral instruction, featuring a few characters we know and love from the Hermetica.  It’s a neat story, and I encourage you all to check it out.  Of course, being the critic I am, I offered a few thoughts and questions to it of my own in the subreddit discussion Sigis made for it.  Some of the issues I raised were more about literary criticism than anything else (I felt that some parts of the story were disjointed or didn’t follow from one idea to another), other issues about showing the proper respect to the dramatis personae in question (since, even if they’re depicted in the Hermetica as humans, we should still bear them in mind as highly revered “heroes” of a sort, if not the gods they were considered as in Greco-Egyptian culture in Hellenistic times), and other issues about keeping such a story in line with the (admittedly scant) lore we have involving Tat, Ammōn, and the rest from the extant Hermetic texts (e.g. who’s a student of whom).

Despite my criticisms and critiques, I appreciate what Sigis is trying to do here. In his own words:

If we want to breath life into the old hermetic texts and make hermetic spirituality a vibrant tradition, we should not be afraid to experiment a little and expand on the “old stuff”. Have fun with it. Our interaction with the texts need not only to be to analyze and scrutinize them. Yes, that is important, but there is more we can do.

Part of what makes a living tradition come to life is that people engage with it as something living: as one saying goes, “tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire”.  Even so, as we tend to such a flame, we should still take care and be skillful about how we go about tending to that flame, so that we might not accidentally put it out or let other things catch on fire in the process.  There are lots of ways for us to engage with a living tradition, but it while we do the work of being handed something that we might hand it down again, we should keep the thing being handed down intact and in at least as good a condition as we received it (if not better).  Part of what makes “the Hermetic tradition” Hermetic, after all, is that they didn’t seek to make new things for the sake of newness, but rather to build on older work and expand it in a way that fleshes it out and continues that work.  It can be a fine line to walk between making something informed by tradition and merely making something derivative of it, after all!  And yet, I’d still rather even that latter if it means someone else can encounter this stuff in a way that they hadn’t before, if at all.  As Sigis says, “there is more we can do”.

To that end, Sigis challenged me to “try to add something new” to all this Hermeticism stuff.  I would have thought that all my commentary, exegeses, analyses, and frameworks over the years that build upon the Hermetica to flesh it out and build it up would have qualified, but Sigis specifically dared me to be a little more creative and inspirational and a little less academic and analytical.  Now, I’m not often one to teach children, and so I’m not often one to use fables or stories as instructional tools outside of brief metaphors to illustrate a point; I find there to be plenty to talk about and learn from in more direct ways that engage with our higher mental functions that don’t need to focus on mere moral guidance for people.  But hey, it has been a while since I’ve done much creative writing, so why not?  After all, it’s no good for a hobby-reader to only read nonfiction, and I have been getting more into the fantasy novels I love again with my recent Christmas gift of an e-reader, so let’s give it a shot.

Taking into account my own criticisms and critiques, I decided to try my own hand at the vignette Sigis wrote as a story prompt.  Maybe I might get around to writing other stories, if ever the mood strikes me to distract me from the other work I do, but if I were to go about envisioning how a young and haughty Ammōn became a student of Hermēs Trismegistos because of a chance meeting with Tat while fishing…

Once upon a time and once upon an era, there was (and there wasn’t) a bustling city in the middle of Egypt on the banks of the Nile River. In that city, amongst the many households there, there lived two fathers, each of whom had a son. One father was a pious and humble scribe, a devotee of the mysteries of Thōth, and someone who loved his son dearly and as much as he did the gods. The other father was a wealthy and proud merchant who didn’t much care for the gods at all—or for his own son, for that matter, beyond what coin he could bring him in the market. Each of these boys learned much from their respective fathers, both in terms of profession as well as way of life.

One morning, as the Sun began its climb above the eastern horizon, both of the boys each decided to go to the banks of the Nile to fish. The scribe’s son just wanted a fish or two to feed himself and his father for dinner that night, while the merchant’s son wanted to catch as much fish as he could as a game and maybe to sell with his father to increase their already massive wealth. The scribe’s son, upon approaching the river, made a quiet prayer to Sobek for luck and safety with catching fish, while the merchant’s son loudly pushed right past him mid-prayer and set himself down unceremoniously on the riverbank. Both sons started fishing, and by the time the Sun started to sink towards the western horizon, the scribe’s son had only just caught one very small fish that he quickly put in a bucket of water for the way home, while the merchant’s son caught a whole pile over the course of the day that he threw into a dry basket, some of which were already starting to die and rot.

Not paying attention to the smell coming from his basket, the merchant’s son saw the meager catch in the bucket of the scribe’s son, and mocked him for his lack of skill with fishing—”look at how much better my catch was than yours!”—and for his wasted faith in the gods—”I didn’t bother praying, and yet I got so much more fish!”. The scribe’s son merely shrugged and gave thanks to the gods and to the Nile for what he had all the same, and that at least he and his father would have something to eat; he looked silently at the massive pile of dying fish of the merchant’s son, he felt bad for the bounty of the river that was already going to waste. The scribe’s son couldn’t hide the sudden rumble of his belly, though, at which the merchant’s son gave a smug smirk, carelessly picked up all his fish, and turned away. Both sons went on their ways back home to their fathers, ate according to their custom, then went to bed.

Unbeknownst to the boys, a spirit that lived in the waters of the Nile was watching them that day, and took careful note of their actions and behaviors towards the river and each other.  Having seen enough from both to know where each was headed in life, the spirit rose up from their own bed and visited both of the sons in their dreams.  To the scribe’s son, the spirit appeared with a kind smile, surrounded by a fresh mist, and with beauty glowing in their eyes.  They said:

Peace upon you! Look at you, hungry from toil, but so eager for knowledge and reverence, too. You eat from the hand of your blessed father who works in a noble profession and who follows a divine path, and this path will be your salvation. If you stay on your current path, you will be taken care of in body and soul forevermore! If you leave this path to follow another, you will lose everything and yourself. Remain with your father, do not take another father as your own, and you will continue on your path to the House of Life and the boundless realm of Light that awaits you after you reach the end. Heed my warning, and do good henceforth!

However, to the merchant’s son, the spirit appeared with bared teeth, dripping with a rancid stench, and fire burning in their eyes.  They said:

Shame upon you! Look at you, fat with wealth, and so full of yourself in every way. You eat from the hand of your wicked father who works in a miserable profession and who follows a cursed path, and this path will be your destruction. If you stay on your current path, you will be forsaken in body and soul forevermore! If you leave this path to follow another, you will gain everything and yourself. Leave your father, take the father of the boy you scorned as your own, and you will begin on your path to the House of Life and the boundless realm of Light that will await you after you reach the end. Heed my warning, and do good henceforth!

The next morning, each son arose from his bed, their dreams fresh in their minds. While the scribe’s son happily began his usual routine under his father’s watchful care, the merchant’s son frantically packed up all his belongings—the bare necessaries in a small sack and everything else of value in two large bags—and left his father’s house with nary a glance from his father. Running to the local temple, he donated everything in one large bag, and then went immediately to the scribe’s house, begged forgiveness from the son for his behavior from the prior day, and presented everything in the other large bag as a gift to the scribe’s household with a plea to join it as the scribe’s adopted son. The scribe praised Thōth and the gods for a new son to join his house that day and to learn the way he could teach, and he took the merchant’s son in as his own. From that day forth, the two boys were as brothers, and the scribe was a loving father to both of them. The merchant’s son left his haughty and godless life to live a humble and pious one in the way of Thōth and the gods instead.  Never again would he let the bounty of the world around him go to waste, make light of another’s plight or work, or let his pride or greed dominate him and his actions.  As he gave up his distracting belongings of this world in two ways, he likewise sacrificed his emotional drive and physical desire to serve for a better and higher end; true to the Nile spirit’s warning, he left the cursed path that he started on and joined his new brother on the divine path that leads all who take it to true Goodness.

In time, that scribe who took him in would become a great teacher, not merely of the sacred art of writing but also of divine mysteries, and would become known to all people through his teachings as “Hermēs Trismegistos”. His natural son, Tat, would likewise follow in his father’s path as an initiate and a mystagogue.  His adopted son, Ammōn, would not only become an initiate of these mysteries to learn all that he could from Hermēs and the rest of his sons and students, but would also go on to become a just and noble king of the land, encouraging all others to follow just and noble ways of life.  After his life ran its course, Ammōn was revered with the dignity of a god that even the Nile itself would smile upon.

They all lived well, and because of them, may we all live well, too!