Thoughts on Mars

So, as many astrologers, occultists, and others (like me) who are groupies of astro-Twitter are aware, Mars is about to enter in Aries again, where it’ll be for about the next six months or so.  This is a rather long time for this feisty planet to be in its own domicile, and gives a good number of people some worries and concerns, especially given the rather volatile nature of everything going on in the world right about now.  In this light, one of my good friends on Twitter sought some advice from others regarding this (sometimes misunderstood) planet and how to best integrate it into our lives beyond the merely superficial descriptions that so many seem to find online:

There were a good number of replies to his tweet from a variety of perspectives (which I encourage my readers to read, to be sure!).  Me, being the total Mars fanboy that I am, had…well, more than a few words about this topic, which I’d like to share here.

You cannot engage in construction without destruction: agriculture cuts open the flesh of the Earth, building a house requires cutting down trees and clearing out land, establishing new doctrine inherently destroys the old.

All canon is made by or as cannon, one way or another.

Mars is the sword, but what do swords do, like all knives? They cut. They cut at, away, and into things. They bite. They tear and rip and rend—but for nutrition, or for harvesting, or for sex, or for just chaos?

Mars is power of justification, but can it justify your own sense of justice, or just your own self-justification? Justification for its own sake is injustice; the knife thrown about haphazardly is dangerous for everyone. Only with a trained hand and purpose can that be honed.

Is the dynamite being used to clear land or a wedding party? Is the knife used to whittle wood on a bench or flesh on a torturer’s rack? Is the crucible used for spiritual alchemy or for chemical warfare? Mars is all these; it doesn’t care how it affects, so long as it effects.

Learn to wield your tools well, and they serve you well—but remember that you can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs. You can’t plant seeds into a garden without slicing open the soil; you can’t establish order without demarcating and fighting against disorder.

Mars is the usher, the guardian, the bouncer, the blacksmith, the farmer, the soldier, the fucker, the knave, the footpad, the general. Mars acts because action is needed. What that action is for isn’t up to him; Mars just acts because action is needed.

In the Ladder of Manifestation, stern mother Saturn says what’s possible at all, and happy father Jupiter fills it out with grace and goodness. Mars is the one that refines creation by blade and flame to determine what actually gets to stick; it is the trial by exposure.

Mars is the parer-down of vague possibilities into concrete probabilities, that which is improbable to that which is probable. Mars is the one who balances excess and deficiency by cutting out a hole for something to hold more, or cutting out extra to hold less, by raw change.

All change is, in a sense, violence; it strips away the comfort of the status quo. Violence, in a sense, is inescapable; to enact one plan for peace is to violently crush and destroy all other such plans for peace, because it strips those plans from manifesting and realizing.

Are you strong enough to withstand that violence when it is just to happen to you? To defend against it when it is unjust to happen to you and just for you to stop it? To wield it properly when justice calls? To refrain from it when injustice tempts?

Mars manifests as strength (ενεργεια), sure, but more than that, Mars is the source of strength (δυναμις). Being unmanifest, Mars itself is the edge of the blade between potentiality and activity. Learning the trade of Mars is learning not just how to effect its power, but when.

Mars gives the gift of anger, the sense that injustice is being done, spurring you on to action out of a sense of justice. But that anger can also cloud you, overloading your circuits to the point of explosion, resulting in you yourself becoming a force of and for injustice.

Anger is a powerful cleansing agent of the soul and the world, but it is draining and sticky, and will latch on to any bias or fear or anxiety, magnifying it and exploding it, blowing it out of proportion, harvesting it for all its worth to burn as kindling to sustain itself.

Use anger scalpel-surgically, and become the stoic but utterly just commander-tactician to conquer all adversity; use anger bomb-recklessly, and become a blood-thirsty mindless berserker taking down friend and foe alike. Wartime or not, Mars fights all the same; how is up to us.

We all like fire, but what cuts the difference between playing with fire and pyromania? Knowing when to put out the fire and being able to do so. Being unable to quit anger, to lay down your weapons, is succumbing to primal injustice that would see everything burn to save itself.

Mars is not pleasure, not satisfaction, not generosity, not rationality. Mars is determination: it makes you determined and it makes you determine. Saturn may be the boundary, but Mars is the one who cuts those terminal lines and enforces it—terminally if need be.

Even if I’m absolutely a through-and-through (although indignified) Cytherean boy myself, I’m also a complete encourager, supporter, and facilitator of the various powers and works of Mars.  Personally, I find that those who are in aversion to or fearful of working with this red planet are often (though not always) misguided.  To be sure, as a malefic, Mars is not a pleasant force to deal with—but deal with it we must, because we cannot live without it, and when utilized and integrated appropriately, there is nothing that could stand in your way except God—and if God is in your way, then you’re probably not on the right way to begin with, and haven’t integrated the lessons of Mars appropriately.

To that end, I also recommended my friend (and recommend to everyone, really) to read a fine bit of modern literature: Meti’s Sword Manual.  This bit of instructive writing is from one of the best webcomics to grace our generation, Kill 6 Billion Demons, which I swear taps into more than just pretty art, but that’s beside the point.  This little “guide”, such as it is, is something I often turn to for contemplation and guidance—perhaps not as much as Epictetus’ Enchiridion, the Arbatel, or various parts of the classical Hermetic canon, but I find the advice in it to be fantastic all the same.  Illusion that this fiction might be, what else in this world isn’t illusion itself?  And what a wonderfully useful and pragmatic illusion it is!

May Mars always smile benignly on you, dear readers: as the Orphic Hymn to this god goes, “encourage peace, to gentle works inclin’d, and give abundance, with benignant mind”.

The Prayer Whispered In The Temple

I have to admit: it’s not the being home and away from friends, family, and colleagues in person for three and a half months that’s getting to me, nor is it the fear of being Kissed by the Lady of Crowns.  It’s not being shut in with the same people whom I love every day, even when the little things add up that frustrate and annoy me, more than ever before given that I’m home all the time and can’t escape it.  It’s not the hypothetical worries of financial solvency in a time when the economy is constantly degrading and when there are threats looming on the horizon of the next bank statement.  It’s not seeing the cracked and corroded political system of my country implode with constant protests the whole nation over for over three weeks, with more and more people being murdered in grotesque ways every day.  It’s not seeing people I’ve heard about or know die, sometimes naturally, sometimes unnaturally, and usually before their time.  It’s not seeing global climate change catch scientists by surprise with trends that are happening a century earlier than expected.  It’s not seeing the constant war, famine, plague, and death sweep the world (when has it ever not?) in ever-encroaching circles.

It’s not any one thing, but it’s…kinda all of this at once.  (Except the working-at-home-indefinitely bit, I sincerely dig that.)  I know I enjoy at least some measure of safety, however temporary, secluded and swaddled in comfort as I am in my home, free to spend my time mostly as I please, but…

I’m a staunch believer in the claim of Ecclesiastes 1:9, that “what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the Sun”.  We, as a species, are pretty much the same as we were 60,000 years and more ago: we still have the same fundamental needs of sleeping, eating, fucking, and wondering, and everything else is just accessorizing and window-dressing.  We still love and hate, we still learn and ignore, we still live and die, as we and every single one of our ancestors always have going back to the beginning of humanity.  It’s this cyclical continuity that, although it might have been dreary to the author of that book, gives me hope and comfort in that, no matter how bad things get or seem, everything can be survived and surpassed, one way or another, just as it always has been before.  But…it’s hard even for me to not realize that, even if the melody is the same, the key of the music can and does change, and although the lyrics may rhyme, it’s never the same thing being said.  And in that, things may never have been good, depending on whom you ask, but on any large scale by pretty much any measure, things are definitely not great right now, and despite what I want to see, it also seems like things are getting less great by the day.

Despite the breadth of my writings, my focus in my various spiritual practices is decidedly on the small-scale.  Sure, I do readings and consultations for clients, and I study and practice rituals in case I need them should the need arise, but I don’t need a lot, seeing how much I already have; in a way, I’m kinda living one of the messages of the Double Sice bone in reading dominoes, where your material life is in a state of fulfillment so now you need to turn your sights higher.  Instead of trying to advance myself worldly, I do what I can to maintain things in a state of peace and satisfaction for myself, my husband, my housemates, my family, and my godfamily—those near to me and dear to me, and those for whom I can do the most at the time being.  It’s not that I’m being greedy with my power, but necessarily rationing it; even with what little I’m doing to maintain my standards of living, I still have high standards of living, and keeping up with it all can sometimes be soul-wearying and heart-tiring.  (How much worse, then, for people who have it worse?  Why can’t I help them more beyond offering mere words or some meager support here and there, especially in the face of Just So Much where any gain feels like a loss?)  And that’s not even bringing up the work and Work that will surely need doing once the current situations pass—or, if they don’t, and some of them won’t, the work and Work that will still need doing even then.  Gotta save some spoons for what comes later.

There’s an undercurrent here of everything I’m doing being all the running I can do just to stay in the same place.  Even with a legion of spirits, ancestors, angels, and gods at my back supporting me and uplifting me, there’s just so much to tackle on even such a small scale as my own personal life, even without broader problems that so many of my friends and online colleagues I see suffer routinely or constantly.  Even with keeping to a quiet, daily routine of the same-old same-old, logging into work every day to earn a paycheck to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly, it’s hard to not hear the klaxons growing louder every minute and every mundane, routine thing I do seem increasingly, surreally, laughably absurd in comparison, and operating under this kind of farce is tiring.  It gets harder and harder to chop wood and carry water when the hairs on the back of my neck rise as the insidious question arises in my mind: “what happens when there’s no more wood to chop or water to carry?”, not out of a sense of completion, but out of a sense of running out through faults both mine and not my own.  I’m not saying this to complain (maybe a little?), but…even if nothing else, it’s hard to look forward to the future in general with more than a modicum of hope, and even that feels forced more and more often.  None of this is me just being self-pitying and grieving uselessly, but it’s hard to not feel the pressure of everything bearing down with no end in sight, and it gets to everyone at different rates and in different ways.  And, so, I turn to those same spirits, ancestors, angels, and gods in prayer and contemplation as a way to resolve this pressure.

In my various searches through the rich body of Islamic prayers and supplications, I found one that struck a particular chord with me: the Munajāt, or the Whispered Prayer, of Imām `Alı̄ ibn ‘Abī Ṭālib (as) in the Great Mosque of Kūfa.  This supplication attributed to the first Shia imam invoked during the lunar month of Sha`bān is simple, if a bit long (though nowhere near as long as many other such supplications).  The structure of the prayer can be broken down into two movements: the first movement calls upon the blessing of Allāh on the day of the Judgment at the end of time, when all else fails and there is nothing good left in the world, while the second movement calls upon the mercy of Allāh according to his various attributes and epithets, and how the imām relates to Allāh by them (e.g. “you are the Creator and I am the creature…you are the Powerful and I am the weak”).  It’s a touching monologue of a prayer that emphasizes the connection between the divine and the mundane, the immortal and a mortal, the One and a one.  In some ways, it kinda encapsulates a particular kind of mood I often find myself in nowadays.  Not to say that I feel the world is ending, but…when things keep looking like they keep getting worse, when the world looks like it’s all downhill from here, it’s hard to keep the mind from thinking about what it’s like at the bottom of that hill.  Even in the pleasant summer nights that make me pine for a walk on the beach under the stars, wind-rustled dunegrass on my left and moon-soaked seafoam on my right, there’s a poignant and quiet terror laced throughout the humidity that fogs the heart more than it does my glasses.  It’s not the impermanence and dissolution and passing-away of things in a world that constantly changes that I fear, I suppose, but rather the lived process of waiting for it and undergoing it at the slow, painful pace of the day-by-day.

All this reminded me of that infamous part of the famous Hermetic text of the Asclepius, specifically sections 24—26.  In this part of the dialog between Hermēs Trismegistus and his disciples Asclepius, Tat, and Ammon, Hermēs begins by praising Egypt as the image of Heaven, and how Egypt is the temple of the whole world, where the gods themselves reside on Earth and where all good order is maintained, and why it is necessary to revere not just God but also humanity made in the likeness of god and the ensouled statues of gods that we ourselves make from divine nature.  “And yet,” Hermēs continues after such praise, “since it befits the wise to know all things in advance,” Hermēs foretells the future of this temple of the world, a harrowing prophecy and prediction of the ultimate fate of Egypt and the world as a whole, a cataclysm and eventual apocalypse that, although ultimately ending in a renewal of all that is beautiful and good, necessitates the utter destruction of everything that is, both by its own hands and by divine impetus.  In some ways, it’s not unlike the Stoic notion of ekpyrosis, the periodic conflagration and destruction of the cosmos that is renewed through palingenesis, or the recreation of all things to start a new cycle—except, when seen from a personal perspective on the ground instead of an academic theoretical one, it’s…well, terrifying, and makes Asclepius weep on the spot in that point in the dialog.  (In some ways, one might argue that more than a fair chunk of the prophecy has been fulfilled, and that we’re well on our way to the rest, at least on some timescale or another.  Such people who argue thus have a point that I can’t really argue against, except maybe vacuously.)

In this, I saw a bit of an opportunity for inspiration to strike, given my recent introduction to the Munajāt.  I did a bit of prayer writing and rewriting, and adapted the Munajāt through a Hermetic lens, substituting the Islamic cataclysm with the Hermetic one from the Asclepius. Instead of using Islamic epithets and names of Allah, I scoured the Hermetic texts for the various epithets and attributes of God with a Hermetic understanding and approach.  Not living in Egypt myself, I spatially generalized the prophecy a bit to take place more generally, but the effect of the wording is the same for me as it might have been for Hermēs and his students.  Nothing new under the Sun, after all.  It’s not my intention to rip off or appropriate the Imām’s prayer, but to make use of it in a way that better befits my own practice, communicating the same sentiment with the same devotion and reverence to, ultimately, the same One.

In keeping with the structure and theme of the Munajāt, there are two movements in this Hermetic rendition of the Whispered Prayer, the first seeking protection and the second seeking mercy. Although it might be odd to see such an emphasis on protection and mercy in a Hermetic prayer to the divine, both of these things are extant in Hermetic texts, too: in the Prayer of Thanksgiving given at the end of the Asclepius, also extant in PGM III as well as the Nag Hammadi Scriptures, a plea for “one protection: to preserve me in my present life”, and in Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum, when Hermēs describes to Tat the method and means of rebirth, he says that it is unobtainable except for those “to whom God has shown mercy”, and that “whoever though mercy has attained this godly birth and has forsaken bodily sensation recognizes himself as constituted of the intelligibles and rejoices”.  In this, the goal of Poimandrēs as given in the First Book—the end of the Way of Hermēs—is fulfilled.

And, to be frank, both divine protection and divine mercy sound like good things to pray for, both in general and especially now, especially in this admittedly dour mood of mine.  We should pray and work for everything else good, too, to be sure—good health, long life, prosperity, happiness, peace, and all the rest of the things we seek in life—but maybe it’s also appropriate to think about what what we ask for instead when none of that can be found or given.  In this, too, I suppose there is hope; it might be small and distant, but there is still hope, because there is always, and must always be, hope.  Even when all I can eke out is just a whisper of a prayer from my heart, knowing that even the deepest refuge of the strongest sanctuary must one day still fall, that hope that I whisper for is enough and will have to be enough.  So sit satis; let it be enough.

In reciting this prayer, after every supplication, silently recite “Oh God, my God, be merciful, be gracious, be propitious to us all”.  In keeping with the Munajāt, it is preferable to recite this prayer in a low, hushed, or whispered voice.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all devotion will have been in vain.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all worship will have borne no fruit.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the gods will have abandoned the Earth and returned to Heaven.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all reverence will have fallen into neglect.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when the divine teachings will have been mocked as delusion and illusion.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all religion will have been outlawed and all sacred traditions lost.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when the reverent will have been executed for the crime of reverence.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all temples will have become tombs.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when the dead will have outnumbered the living.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when darkness and death will have been preferred to light and life.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when the cosmos will have ceased to be revered and honored.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when the world will have been filled with barbarity.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the people will have turned to cruelty against each other.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the rivers will have filled and burst with blood.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the lands will have crumbled under stress.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the seas will have ceased to be navigable.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the winds will have stalled lifelessly.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all earth will have become sterile, bearing only withered fruit.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the heavens will have gone dark.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the bodies of heaven will have ceased their courses.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the voices of divinity will have gone silent.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when you will have ceased to be worshiped and glorified.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when you will dissolve all the world in flood, fire, and pestilence.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when you will restore the world to worthiness of reverence and wonder.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when you will return all that is good and sacred to the world.

O God, you are the Father and I am the child;
who else can be merciful to the child except the Father?

O God, you are the Creator and I am the created;
who else can be merciful to the created except the Creator?

O God, you are the Unbegotten and I am the begotten;
who else can be merciful to the begotten except the Unbegotten?

O God, you are the Pervasive and I am the blind;
who else can be merciful to the blind except the Pervasive?

O God, you are the Invisible and I am the mistrustful;
who else can be merciful to the mistrustful except the Invisible?

O God, you are the Good and I am the one the one immersed in evil;
who else can be merciful to the evil except the Good?

O God, you are the Pure and I am the one immersed in defilement;
who else can be merciful to the defiled except the Pure?

O God, you are the Complete and I am the one immersed in deficiency;
who else can be merciful to the deficient except the Complete?

O God, you are the Perfect and I am the one immersed in excess;
who else can be merciful to the excessive except the Perfect?

O God, you are the Still and I am the one immersed in motion;
who else can be merciful to the moved except the Still?

O God, you are the Unchanging and I am the one immersed in change;
who else can be merciful to the changed except the Unchanging?

O God, you are the Imperishable and I am the one immersed in decay;
who else can be merciful to the decaying except the Imperishable?

O God, you are the Beautiful and I am the one immersed in crudity;
who else can be merciful to the crude except the Beautiful?

O God, you are the Ineffable and I am the one immersed in babble;
who else can be merciful to the babbler except the Ineffable?

O God, you are the Cause of Liberation and I am the one immersed in torment;
who else can be merciful to the tormented except the Cause of Liberation?

O God, you are the Cause of Temperance and I am the one immersed in recklessness;
who else can be merciful to the reckless except the Cause of Temperance?

O God, you are the Cause of Virtue and I am the one immersed in vice;
who else can be merciful to the vicious except the Cause of Virtue?

O God, you are the Cause of Truth and I am the one immersed in deceit;
who else can be merciful to the deceived except the Cause of Truth?

O God, you are the Cause of Mind and I am the one immersed in ignorance;
who else can be merciful to the ignorant except the Cause of Mind?

O God, you are the Cause of Life and I am the one immersed in death;
who else can be merciful to the dying except the Cause of Life?

O God, you are the Cause of Light and I am the one immersed in darkness;
who else can be merciful to the darkened except the Cause of Light?

O God, you are the Propitious and I am the one given favor;
who else can be merciful to the one given favor except the Propitious?

O God, you are the Gracious and I am the one given grace;
who else can be merciful to the one given grace except the Gracious?

O God, you are the Merciful and I am the one given mercy;
who else can be merciful to the one given mercy except the Merciful?

O God, you are the Glory of the All and I am the one who is in the All;
only you can be merciful to all in the All, for you are the Glory of the All!

O God, be merciful, be gracious, be propitious to me,
and be pleased with me by your mercy, your grace, and your favor,
you who are the source of all mercy, all grace, and all favor!
O God, be merciful, be gracious, be propitious to me and to us all!

The Osirian Bindings

Looking through the PGM recently, I came across a delightful little entry from PGM VII.429—458, “A restraining [rite] for anything”.  The description of the effects of this binding ritual is impressive: “works even on chariots…causes enmity and sickness, cuts down, destroys, and overturns for whatever you wish…the spell, when said, conjures daimons and makes them enter [objects or people]”.  Impressive, indeed.  I figured we might talk about this ritual today, even if only because it has a bit of interesting description about the powers of the Moon and how it relates to the efficacy of long-term magical items buried underground.  Why am I deciding to share this one today?  Eh, why not?  Seems like we can always use good ritual tech, after all.  Sometimes it’s good to get back to your roots, and this type of restraining spell is a classic, an example of malefica we’d otherwise call defixio or katadesmos a.k.a. “curse tablets”, but this time containing some interesting Egyptian elements.  Why are we bringing this up today?  Well, why not?

The thing about this ritual, however, is that it’s not one binding, but two, each one operating in different ways using the same apparatus.  We’ll break down this ritual into several parts.

Creating the Binding Plate

The main implement of both of these binding rituals is that of a lead plate, ideally “from a cold-water channel”; in our modern day and age, any old lead pipe that was used for plumbing and carrying unheated water would be ideal.  You’d take such a bit of lead, hammer and roll it out thin, and there you go, but do what you can; you can also get pre-rolled sheets of lead just fine, or if you’re worried about toxicity, a soda can or beer can you drain out and cut up into a large rectangle will work, too, especially if you pour out the drink as an offering to the spirits of the underworld who’ll do the work.

On the plate, engrave with a “headless bronze needle” (i.e. a needle that does not have a hammer-flat “head” on it, like how railroad spikes do, or any sort of ornamentation) the following:

I conjure you, Lord Osiris, by your holy names: ΟΥΧΙΩΧ ΟΥΣΕΝΑΡΑΝΑΘ ΟΥΣΙΡΕΙ ΟΥΣΕΡΡΑΝΝΟΥΦΘΙ ΟΣΟΡΝΟΥΦΗ ΟΥΣΕΡ ΜΝΕΥΕ ΟΥΣΕΡΣΕΤΕΜΕΝΘ ΑΜΑΡΑ ΜΑΧΙ ΧΩΜΑΣΩ ΕΜ ΜΑΙ ΣΕΡΒΩΝΙ ΕΜΕΡ ΙΣΙ ΑΡΑΤΩΦΙ ΕΡΑΧΑΞ ΕΣΕΟΙΩΘ ΑΡΒΙΩΘΙ ΑΜΕΝΧΟΥΜ ΜΟΝΜΟΝΤ ΟΥΖΑΘΙ ΠΗΡ ΟΥΝΝΕΦΕΡ ΕΝ ΩΩΩ

I give over to you, Lord Osiris, and I deposit with you this matter: …

“Add the usual” at this point; write down what you wish to happen.  Transliterated into Roman script, the barbarous words are:

ŪKHIŌKH ŪSENARANTH ŪSIREI ŪSERRANNŪPHTHI OSORNŪPHĒ ŪSER MNEUE ŪSERSETEMENTH AMARA MAKHI KHŌMASŌ EM MAI SERBŌNI EMER ISI ARATŌPHI ERAKHAKS ESEOIŌTH ARBIŌTHI AMENKHŪM MONMONT ŪZATHI PĒR ŪNNEPHER EN Ō Ō Ō

Betz in his translation makes several notes about the barbarous words above and how much Egyptian can be spotted in them:

  • ΟΥΣΕΡΣΕΤΕΜΕΝΘ: wsir nfr, “Osiris the Good”
  • ΕΜ ΜΑΙ: “in truth”
  • ΕΜΕΡ ΙΣΙ: “whom Isis loves”
  • ΟΥΝΝΕΦΕΡ: either ḥwn-nfr “beautiful youth” or wn-nfr “Onnophris”

Anyway, with the lead plate engraved, it’s time to consecrate it.  It should be consecrated with bitter aromatics, such as myrrh, bdellum, styrax, aloes, and thyme, and with “river mud”; I would interpret this, personally, to mean that the plate should be suffumigated in an incense composed of herbs like the foregoing, washing it and smearing it with mud from a river in the process.  This is to be done “late in the evening or in the middle of the night”—midnight would be ideal.

At this point, we have one of two choices in how we want to go about this binding.

Approach #1: The Drowned Binding

All the foregoing would ideally be done at the place where the lead plate is to be deposited, but if not, do it in private and then take it to its place of deposition, into a stream or drain that leads away, preferably into a larger body of water.  The plate is to be tied to a sturdy cord or string and anchored or tied to where the person casting the binding can reach it; punching a hole in a corner and tying the thread through the hole would be good.  The plate is then thrown into the stream, reciting the above incantation that was written on the plate seven times.  Be sure the plate does not drift away, become untied, or otherwise unreachable; be sure this is done in a place where others will not interfere with the plate or string.

When you want to undo the binding, pull the plate out from the water using the string and untie the plate from the string.

Approach #2: The Buried Binding

Instead of throwing the plate into a river or stream, the plate may also be buried or left in a hole, well, coffin, or larger body of water.  In addition to writing the above, also write the Ephesian words (which this PGM entry says are “Orphic”):

ΑΣΚΙ ΚΑΤΑΣΚΙ ΛΙΞ ΤΕΤΡΑΞ ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ ΑΙΣΙΑ

Transliterated into Roman script:

ASKI KATASKI LIKS TETRAKS DAMNAMENEUS AISIA

Take the plate and tie and bind it all around on the outside with a black thread using 365 knots.  How to do this?  You could make 365 holes around the edge of the plate and tie the thread continuously through each hole and knotting each one, or make one hole in the plate to anchor the thread, tie the thread through that, then loop the thread all over and cocoon it in the thread, knotting it each time for a total of 365 times.  While doing this, recite over and over the Ephesian words (or at least ΑΣΚΙ ΚΑΤΑΣΚΙ) followed by your charge of binding (e.g. “Keep him held”, etc.).  This done, the plate may be deposited wherever you wish.

However, this should be done at a place where you have access to, ideally being able to stand directly over the place of deposition.  The reason for this is that PGM VII.429ff claims that “Selēnē, when she goes through the underworld, breaks whatever [spell] she finds”.  To circumvent this and keep her from breaking the binding, the above formula of the Ephesian words with the charge of binding should be recited at least once daily on the spot where the plate is buried.  In this case, the binding is considered to be in effect for as long as one maintains this daily practice.

Close of the Binding

Whenever you’re done with the ritual, whether binding or unbinding your target, leave the place of deposition.  Do not turn back and do not look backwards; do not speak a word to anyone for any reason until you get home.  Once you do get home, wash yourself thoroughly, making sure you can immerse every part of your body in water, then go to sleep.  Maintain a vegetarian diet for at least seven days in this process to maintain purity and holiness, and to ensure that your work will continue strong.

Technically, this close is only mentioned for the first method of binding, not the second.  However, it would also be a good practice to engage in it for the second option as well to increase both the general purity and the protection of the practitioner.  After all, when engaging with chthonic and underworld powers, it helps to be respectful.  I’d even take the extra step of taking a different route back to my home than the one I used to take to the place of deposition, but that’s just me.

A Reconstructed Hymn to Hermēs-Thoth from the Greek Magical Papyri

Looking through the various hymns of the Greek Magical Papyri so helpfully listed by Preisendanz is a good boon for devotional work; to be sure, the PGM is full of magical spells for all sorts of ends, both for weal and for woe, but there’s a good bit in there that’s definitely more priestly than magely and more devout than spooky.  After all, so much of these rituals are still calling on the gods themselves, and although a good number of the hymns (usually the ones to female and chthonic deities, as Bortolani noticed) do seek to constrain, slander, or bind the gods, others exalt them and praise them for their own sake in the course of a magician seeking their succor.  One of these hymns—technically three—is a hymn to Hermēs, which is found in three separate locations throughout the PGM.  Although they all have similarities with each other, there are also some interesting differences between them, as well; it’s hard to tell which would be older or the original form of the hymn, but in comparing them, it’s also possible to merge them together into one.  That’s what I’ve done to increase my prayer arsenal a bit by coming up with a…well, I guess a “reconstruction” of sorts, and I’d like to show it off today and point out some interesting bits about this varying hymn.

First, let’s take a look at the version of the hymn from PGM V.400—420.  The broader section of the PGM here is PGM V.370—446, an elaborate dream oracle involving 28 olive leaves, ibis eggs, and other ingredients to make a statue of Hermēs in his Greek form “holding a herald’s staff”, charged with a roll of papyrus or the windpipe of a goose that has a spell written on it along with the hair of the supplicant, enshrined within a box of lime wood.  This shrine is to be put by the head before going to sleep to incubate a dream revelation.  Although there are barbarous words used in this ritual, they’re more for the papyrus than to be spoken, although there is a (seemingly unrelated) spell of compulsion and a conjuration of a lamp present as well.  As for the hymn, which is to be recited “both at sunrise and moonrise”:

Hermēs, Lord of the World, who’re in the heart,
o circle of Selene, spherical
and square, the founder of the words of speech,
Pleader of justice’s cause, garbed in a mantle
With winged sandals, turning airy course
Beneath earth’s depths, who hold the spirit’s reins,
O eye of Helios, o mighty one,
Founder of full-voiced speech, who with your lamps
Give joy to those beneath earth’s depths, to mortals
Who’ve finished life. The prophet of events
And Dream divine you’re said to be, who send
Forth oracles by day and night; you cure
All pains of mortals with your healing cares.
Hither, o blessed one, o mighty son
Of Memory, I who brings full mental powers,
In your own form both graciously appear
And graciously render the task for me,
A pious man, and render your form gracious
To me, NN,
That I may comprehend you by your skills
Of prophecy, by your own wond’rous deeds.
I ask you, lord, be gracious to me and
Without deceit appear and prophesy to me.

Then the hymn from PGM VII.668—680 (broader section PGM VII.664—685).  Again, this is another ritual for a dream oracle, this time writing your request on linen in myrrh ink wrapped around an olive branch and put beside the head before one goes to bed.  This hymn is to be said seven times to an otherwise unspecified lamp, presumably left burning while one goes to sleep.  The hymn is followed with barbarous words similar to the inscription of the papyrus/goose windpipe from the PGM V procedure, also to be recited with the hymn proper:

Hermes, lord of the world, who’re in the heart,
O circle of Selene, spherical
And square, I the founder of the words of speech,
Pleader of Justice’s cause, garbed in a mantle,
With golden sandals, turning airy course
Beneath earth’s depths, who hold the spirit’s reins,
The sun’s and who with lamps of gods immortal
Give joy to those beneath earth’s depths, to mortals
Who’ve finished life. The Moirai’s fatal thread
And Dream divine you’re said to be, who send
Forth oracles by day and night; you cure
Pains of all mortals with your healing cares.
Hither, o blessed one, o mighty son
Of the goddess who brings full mental powers,
By your own form and gracious mind. And to
An uncorrupted youth reveal a sign
And send him your true skill of prophecy.

And then the hymn from PGM XVII.b, which is the entire papyrus.  There’s no procedure here, just a prayer given, no barbarous words, and the condition of this entry is poor given the number of lacunae.  However, based on the text in the prayer, it also appears to be used for another dream incubation/oracle/revelation ritual:

[Hermes, lord of the world], who’re in the heart,
[O orbit of Selene, spherical]
[And] square, the founder of the words [of speech]
[Pleader of justice’s cause,] garbed in a mantle,
[With winged sandals,] who rule [expressive] speech
[Prophet to mortals] . . .
For he inspires . . .
. . . within a short time . . .
[Whene’er] the fateful [day arrives] again
. . . [who send] some [oracle] that’s sure, you’re said
To be [the Moirai’s thread] and [Dream divine],
[The all-subduer, Unsub]dued, just as
. . . may you judge . . .
You offer good things to the good, [but grief]
[To those who’re worthless.] Dawn comes up for you,
For you swift [night draws] near. I You lord it o’er
The elements: fire, air, [water, and earth]
When you became helmsman of [all the] world;
And you escort the souls of those you wish,
But some you rouse again. For you’ve become
The order of the world, for you [cure], too,
Man’s [every] ailment, [who send oracles]
By day and night; [send] me, I pray your [form],
For I’m a man, a pious suppliant,
And your [soldier]; and so, [while I’m asleep],
[Send to me your unerring] mantic skill.

We can see that, although all three prayers start the same and sorta end the same, the PGM V and PGM VII hymns are much closer in form and structure than the one from PGM XVIIb, which seems to have more praise and description of Hermēs than the other two, but even that does still sync up with the other two hymns at times.  In that light, seeing the connection between certain phrases (even if worded slightly differently or in a different order), I compared and contrasted the three versions of the hymns and developed my own “reconstructed” hymn.  Perhaps “reconstruction” is too strong a word; what I really did was weave these three variants of the hymn together into one.  To do so, I largely used the basis of PGM XVIIb and added in the content from PGM V and PGM VII as necessary and where possible; I didn’t delve too deeply into the Greek here, and I did change some of the wording to be both more literal and more descriptive as far as the translation goes based on Betz, but in the end, this is what I came up with.

O Hermēs, Lord of All the Cosmos,
o you who are in the heart,
o wheel of the Moon
both circular and square,
first author of the words of speech,
o you who persuade for Justice’s sake,
o mantle-garbed, wearing winged golden sandals,
driver of spirit riding ’round the airy course below Earth’s abyss,
o eye of Hēlios,
first founder of full-voiced speech!
With your immortal lamps,
give joy to those beneath Earth’s abyss,
to mortals who have finished life.
Prophet to mortals,
you’re the one said to be the thread of the Moirai and Dream divine!

O All-Subduer and Unsubdued!
To the good you offer good things,
but to the craven you give grief.
Dawn rises up for you,
and for you swift Night draws near.
You became master over the elements,
over Fire and Air and Water and Earth,
when you became the steersman of all the cosmos.
You escort away the souls of those whom you wish,
but of some you rouse back up again!

For you have become the order of the world,
emissary of oracles both by day and by night.
You cure all pains of all mortals with your healing attendance.
Come to me, I pray, o blessed one,
o great son of mind-perfecting divine Memory,
in gracious form and gracious mind!
For I am one who is a pious supplicant, I am one who is your soldier.
Render your form graciously and reveal yourself to me,
that I may fathom you by your mantic arts and by your virtues;
I ask you, o Lord, be gracious to me,
without deceit appear to me,
send forth your sacred sight to me!

You can tell that I didn’t bother keeping with the original line-based structure or dactylic hexameter meter of the original hymn; that’s a job for a poet better than me, while I focused more on the content and meaning of the hymn.  I broke out the lines more or less into individual phrases that made sense to me, which also explains the relatively long line length of the hymn compared to the originals, and reworded a few things to be clearer based on my own understanding of the Greek diction and grammar used here. I did try to keep this a more literal translation than what’s given in Betz, though the end of the hymn is a bit weird; all three variants of this hymn are all focused strictly on a dream divination, so it constantly references “oracle” or “art of divination” or “mantic skill”, which I rendered more obliquely as “sacred sight” in the final line.  A bit of a twist on my part, to be sure, but this is a twist that encapsulates both a theophany of the god as well the oracular power of the god at the same time, in my view.

I also broke up the hymn into three sections, with the first and last containing text (almost entirely) common to at least two out of three variants of the hymn, and the middle section containing content from PGM XVIIb.  There’s one line from PGM XVIIb that is in the first section given how it flows (“Prophet to mortals…”), and likewise two lines in the last section (“For you’ve become the order of the world” and “…and your soldier”); I keep these here, even if they’re not part of PGM V and PGM VII, given the flow and grammar of the hymn, but they’re minor additions that fit well all the same.  My reasoning is that, because PGM XVIIb is the weirdest variant but still contains some of the content of the other two variants in PGM V and PGM VII, I use that as the skeleton of the whole structure and fill in the rest as necessary; this basically assumes that the variants in PGM V and PGM VII had the content from PGM XVIIb fall out at some point, and that these are condensed or shortened versions of the hymn.  It’s a pretty big assumption to make, to be absolutely fair, but it also allows us to make the most out of all these variants together at once in the cleanest way.

While all of the content of the hymns from PGM V and PGM VII are accounted for, there are a few lines from PGM XVIIb that I couldn’t do anything with on account of their incompleteness (“For you inspire…”, “…within a short time…”, “whenever the fateful day arrives again”, “…who send some oracle that’s true”, “just as…may you judge…”).  Betz notes that some of these bear similarity to Homeric verses, but the context isn’t clear enough to offer a firm reconstruction of these missing parts of the hymn.  It’s likely, given these parallels to Homeric verses that describe going down to the underworld (which PGM XVIIb seems to elaborate on heavily in Hermēs’ role as psychopomp), that these lines describe something similar.  This is just an outright guess, but something appropriate might go something like this (with boldface text being what survives and can be reconstructed by Betz/Preisendanz):

Prophet to mortals in life, guide to mortals in death,
for you inspire quickness in the mind and daring in the heart
and takes mortals below within a short time before taking them up and
whenever the fateful day arrives again
you return them to Hadēs, you who send some message that’s true

This conjecture references the descent of great heroes like Odysseus into the underworld to progress on their quests while alive though they’ll go back down once more for good at their proper time, and also recalls the processes of ancient Hellenic necromancy through dream incubation by sleeping upon or by the tombs of the dead to receive revelation from them, which would be facilitated by Hermēs leading the dead from the underworld up again to our world briefly before taking them back down.  Again, this is all just purely a conjecture on my part, and I’ve got no clue what sort of language could be used to fit the dactylic hexameter of the hymn here.  Still, something along those lines could be considered appropriate, but we just don’t have the means to know definitively one way or another without finding another variant of this hymn that mentions these.  Because of that, I’ve omitted them from my “reconstructed” hymn.

There are a few interesting things to note about this hymn and the phrasing of it.  To be sure, there are definite Hellenic influences and symbols in this hymn, and an interesting thing to note is the description of Hermēs as “garbed in a mantle” (χλαμυδηφόρε).  It’s not all that weird to think of Hermēs wearing a cape or cloak while traveling on the road, and we certainly see Hermēs wearing it in many old depictions, but we should note that, by the time of the writing of the PGM, the chlamys was cemented firmly in the minds of people as being Greek military attire.  In that light, the supplicant referring to themselves as Hermēs’ “soldier” (στρατιώτῃ) in PGM XVIIb solidifies this militaristic view of Hermēs, along with shifting notions at this time of the chlamys being worn by not just soldiers but officials (especially rulers and emperors) in charge of soldiers.  Betz notes that a supplication referring to oneself as a soldier is found in PGM IV.154—285 in a hymn to Typhōn (Preisendanz reconstructed hymn 6, note boldface text):

I’m he who closed in heaven’s double gates and put
To sleep the serpent which must not be seen,
Who stopped the seas, the streams, the river currents
Where’er you rule this realm. And as your soldier
I have been conquered by the gods, I have
Been thrown face down because of empty wrath.

Perhaps in a particular milieu in Roman Empire-period Theban Egypt, being considered a soldier of some god was more esteemed or noble (or had more means accessible to them) than just being considered a servant or devotee of the god.

Up at the start of the hymn, all three hymns refer to Hermēs as the “orbit of Selēnē, spherical and square”.  We might also translate this phrase (κύκλε Σελήνη, στρογγύλε καὶ τετράγωνε) as “circle of the Moon, round and four-sided”, but the sentiment is basically the same.  This would appear to be a reference to Hermēs in his Egyptian form as Thoth, a god of the Moon and the cycles of the lunar month.  While I’ve seen one or two passing references to an identification of Hermēs with the Moon in non-Egyptian contexts or influences, I can’t really find anything along those lines concretely, so I’m pretty sure this is an Egyptian influence in this hymn.  “Spherical and square” (I prefer “circular and square”, personally) seems paradoxical, but each of these words could be interpreted in several ways.  “Spherical” most likely refers to the “wheel of the Moon”, but it could also refer to the actual planetary star of Hermēs himself (or, likewise, of the Moon).  “Square” could refer to Hermēs’ traditional presence as hermai, the four-sided posts at crossroads in Greece., but interpreted as “four-sided”, could refer to the four weeks of a lunar month, reckoned by the New, First Quarter, Full, and Last Quarter Moons.  It’s an interesting appellation of the god, either way.

There’s also the explicit association of Hermēs with “the thread of the Moirai and Dream divine” (Μοιρῶν τε κλωστὴρ…καὶ θεῖος ὄνειρος).  Sure, all the gods fulfill and carry out Fate, but to describe Hermēs explicitly as the “thread of the Moirai” is something stark, indeed.  Likewise, although Hermēs is certainly one to send dreams by means of sending sleep (cf. Orphic Hymn LVI to Hermēs Chthonios, “thine is the wand which causes sleep to fly, or lulls to slumb’rous rest the weary eye”), but to identify him explicitly as Dream itself is not altogether common.  But, by the same token of Hermēs being the “thread of the Moirai” in two of the hymns, he’s also the “prophet of events” in the other (Μοιρῶν προγνώστης); sure, we might interpret this as just a general divinatory allusion, but the Greek here might be more accurately translated as “prognosticator”, which has medical overtones, as this was also a term used for medical specialists and physicians. 

This, coupled with Hermēs being described as the one who “cure[s] all pains of all mortals with your healing attendance”,  gives him a bigger role than just a diviner, but also one who heals the fatal problems of fate itself.  “Healing attendance” here is “healing cares” in the other hymns translated in Betz, but this is just a single word in Greek: θεραπείαις, origin of our word “therapy”.  In this, we might even consider Hermēs to take on a presence closer to what we might expect of Asklēpios, the son of Apollōn, hero of physicians and medical workers, whose temples were also famous places for dream oracles and prognostication for and through dreams.  It’s hard to avoid this, too, given that Hermēs is described here as the “eye of Hēlios”, which works equally well in the sense of Thoth being born from the eye of Horus and Asklēpios being the son of Apollōn, as well as Asklēpios’ later identification in Hermetic literature with the 27th century bce Egyptian chancellor Imhotep, who was also a high priest of Ra.  But, as Asklēpios, he then becomes Hermēs pupil, making a complete circuit of associations.  Interesting loops we can weave between all these things, huh?  Still, even given all these solar allusions, Hermēs here is not being described as the Sun, but as a derivative and relative of it, and it’s this that is something distinctly Thothian in nature.

Perhaps not as surprising, but definitely as stark, is the description of Hermēs here as a cosmic all-ruler.  This is a definite Egyptian influence from Thoth being considered as such, giving Hermēs a much grander, more powerful role than what we might otherwise find in a purely Hellenic context.  From “offering good things to the good but grief to those who’re worthless”, we see Hermēs elevated from being merely a psychopomp of the dead to being a judge of the dead, much as we’d find Thoth weighing the heart of the deceased against the feather of Ma’at; from seeing him becoming “master over the elements…when [he] became helmsman of all the cosmos” and becoming “the order of the world”, we see him being a truly powerful organizing principle and organizer of the powers of Nature itself; even the cycles of day and night serve Hermēs in this prayer.  Hermēs as “all-subduer, unsubdued” positions Hermēs truly as “lord of the cosmos”; even the Hellenic notions of Hermēs being a god of communication and language are strengthened here by the same attributes of Thoth being called out and given to Hermēs. 

At the end of the day, the PGM Hymn to Hermēs is definitely a hymn to praise and call on the god, but in its three variants we have surviving to us, it seems that it (along with many other hymns in the PGM, especially those focused on male or masculine deities) was always centered on the revelation of oracles through dreams and sleep.  Sure, there’s enough prayer and praise in there to tweak it slightly to make it more general purpose, but the very description of Hermēs as being “Dream divine” and the repeated requests for sending prophesy and dreams, especially with a confirmed use of this hymn related to putting sacred objects by one’s head while asleep to receive information in dreams, makes this a fine-tuned hymn for receiving revelation from the god.  Even if one were to make it slightly more general-purpose by tweaking the requests at the end, we still are left with a powerful prayer invoking and praising the power of a truly syncretic Hermēs-Thoth, all-powerful in his way in ordering the world and not just guide to the dead but their judge, too.  While there are still a few mysteries left with this prayer, especially given the poor quality of one of the hymn variants that also seems to have the most in store for us, what we have left is still beautiful and still potent.  This hymn, as written, does ask for the prophecy and appearance of the god, but I think it’s still general-purpose (or generalizable) enough to be used as an all-around invocation of the god, whether Hermēs or Thoth, but especially Hermēs-Thoth the Thrice Great.