Dominoes and Orisha

This summer was a lot more writing-filled than I would ever have anticipated, and not just because of the whole Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration thing, either. (I’ll stop harping on it eventually.) Really, this year was more surprising than not in a lot of ways, and one of the things I ended up getting myself into was, of all possible things, domino fortune-telling. Like…that one really did catch me off-guard, not least because I’m kinda terrible at actually playing the game. What started it all was, back on Curious Cat earlier this year, I was asked about the connections between dominoes and geomancy; since both geomantic figures and dominoes are composed of combinations of points, there’s gotta be a connection there between them, right? Nope! I have never once encountered any connection to dominoes in any geomantic text I’ve ever come across, whether traditional or modern, and I couldn’t think up any connection between them, either. I charted the different dot-patterns and tried to fit the dominoes with geomantic figures, and I just couldn’t come up with anything. They’re just too different to make simple comparisons with, and there’s not a lot else to go on. It just goes to show that just because different things kinda-sorta superficially look the same doesn’t mean that they’re connected at all.

And that’s where I intended to leave dominoes. Except…I didn’t. In fact, I pretty much outright couldn’t. Something snagged my attention hard to dominoes, and so I began researching domino fortune-telling. It might have been a spirit guide or ancestor of mine waiting for just such an opportunity, or it might have been something genuinely instinctive and curious in myself. Either way, this was something that I couldn’t simply drop, and I ended up taking it quite a bit further than was probably reasonable, but whatever.

It started with my recalling an old hand-me-down book from my brother’s neopagan days, Ray Buckland’s 1992 Secrets of Gypsy Fortunetelling, which had a brief section on dominoes. I dug the book out from the back of my dusty shelves, and started there. It seemed straightforward enough: each of the 28 bones of a double-six set of dominoes has a particular set of omens associated with it, along with meanings particular to the suits (the number of pips on either end of a bone) and weights (the total number of pips on a bone). There didn’t seem to be a lot to it, and there wasn’t a lot there to begin with. So, not being satisfied with just one book, I started to see what else was out there. Skip ahead a few months: 50 books later and half as many websites in several European languages, I ended up compiling over 150 pages of notes for the various interpretations of the bones, how they seemed to shift and turn and twist over the decades, what different authors seem to have thought about their own takes, and the like. These notes ended up getting transformed into a book format, which is now at over 200 pages and which will go to print once I finish getting a few other things wrapped up with it.

I should note that domino fortune-telling isn’t that old a practice. The earliest text I can find that describes this system of domino fortune-telling is from 1873, Mehemet Ali’s Oriental Interpretation of Dreams. This text gives a simple one-line interpretation for the 28 bones of a double-six set of dominoes, and these interpretations were later copied, sometimes vertabim from one text to another, sometimes expanded from one whole sentence to one whole paragraph. Now, I’m not ruling out the possibility of domino fortune-telling being in earlier texts or having an earlier origin than the early 1870s, but I have noticed that this type of dream-interpretation/pop-divination book (and there are dozens of examples on both sides of the Atlantic!) doesn’t include sections for dominoes before 1873, but they almost all did after 1873. (Side note: many of these texts include sections on playing card divination, numerology, astrology, and palmistry, but none include anything about geomancy, or at least, none in any reasonable way beyond the simplest of look-up tables, like in the 1884 Napoleon’s Oraculum and Dream Book, and even there, there’s no connection between dominoes and geomancy.) Even if we want to give the origins of domino fortune-telling an earlier date, we just don’t have the evidence to make it too early. After all, dominoes were only introduced into (or invented in, depending on your historical approach) Europe, specifically France and Italy, in the 1700s, reaching England and Germany only in the later part of that century, and spreading from there into the Americas after that. So, if it seems that the art of domino fortune-telling is young, then that’s because it is, because dominoes themselves are young in the West.

An interesting thing I noticed was that, as domino fortune-telling texts came over into the Americas, a particular subset of modern Spanish texts with Caribbean or Latin American origins all seemed to share a common trend not seen in other domino texts: links between dominoes with the orisha, West African deities carried over into the Caribbean and Brazil through the slave trade, with one of the most famous branches of orisha religion being a Cuban one, La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, also known as Santería. Myself being an initiated priest of Ogún in this religion, I was intrigued by this. Sure, dominoes are a huge thing in the Caribbean, and Cubans are known to start outright jihad over the game (sometimes friendly, sometimes not), but to see dominoes prescribing ritual solutions or suggesting things about orisha alongside the traditional interpretations of dominoes caught me off-guard. Sure, it’s not a lot of information along these lines, but it does exist in a handful of texts and sources, so that got me wondering how this mash-up came to be. This led to a separate strain of research alongside the rest of my domino fortune-telling investigations.

Now, bear with me here, dear reader. I know there are a few unknowns here, and I know that I’m still young in Lukumí, so there’s plenty that I don’t know. But something about the mash-up between dominoes and orisha just doesn’t smell right or feel right to me, so let me explain why. If I’m wrong, then I look forward to being educated better on it by those who know better than I do.

The thing about Lukumí (and orisha religion in general) is that, for all its own innovation and adaptations it’s had to undergo in order to survive under oppression and slavery, it’s still a comparatively rigid and closed system; it is in many ways as much an institution and religion as the Roman Catholic Church. After all, the word “regla” indicates “rule”, like the Benedictine Rule for monks in Catholicism, in the sense of there being a defined set of protocols and practices that must be followed in order for something to be considered legitimate within the bounds of orisha religion (or at least a particular type of orisha religion, like Brazilian Candomblé, Yoruba Traditional/Isheshe, Trinidadian Shango Baptist, etc., all of which have slightly different sets of protocols). This is founded on the pacts that we humans in the initiated priesthoods of orisha have made and established with orisha, and which are propagated as part of initiation into these priesthoods: if you’re a priest, you’re held to those pacts, and if you’re not in those pacts, then you’re not a priest. Within these pacts is regla; outside these pacts is…well, not a lot of note, really. To operate outside of these pacts is to operate outside regla, which isn’t looked upon favorably and wherein lies danger. This might sound like gatekeeping, but as an initiated priest myself, it’s literally my job to gatekeep: priests are the ones who maintain these pacts with orisha, and until the day comes when there are no more living priests of the orisha, these pacts will be maintained and must be defended. Orisha worship is a living and vibrant tradition, not something to be reconstructed (like Nordic, Hellenic, or Celtic practices) or approached on a whim based on something neat you read in a book that one time. To work within orisha religion is to initiate, study, train, and follow the practices and customs of your lineage based on the pacts that founded them; unlike other modern pagan or non-Abrahamic practices available in the West, orisha religion isn’t a DIY build-from-the-ground-up practice you can just do as you like with. You don’t have to initiate to worship orisha, but you do have to initiate to “work with” them (which is a turn of phrase that I find increasingly off-putting, but which I think gets my point across here).

Similarly, unlike many forms of popularly-practiced paganism, Lukumí doesn’t lend itself to free-wheeling syncretism due to the importance of maintaining these pacts and regla; you can’t just up and say that Ogún speaks through this particular Tarot card or that Oshún problems are indicated given a particular astrological transit, because neither Tarot nor astrology have any connection to orisha. Yes, there is (limited) syncretism in Lukumí, developed according to a Lukumí-specific logic, and those are valid and legitimate to varying extents depending on who you’re talking to, especially when you factor in an old-world style of Catholic saint devotion a la interpretatio Graeca. But syncretism has its limits, and when it comes to communicating with orisha or discerning their actions and recommendations, there are certain sanctioned forms of divination that are accepted by both orisha and their priests, e.g. dilogún (reading with sixteen cowrie shells), obi (reading with four pieces of coconut meat or kola nut), or Ifá (its own thing). If something isn’t sanctioned, then it’s not regla; if it’s not regla, it’s not legitimate; if it’s not legitimate, it can’t be trusted; if it can’t be trusted, it shouldn’t be used. And, well…dominoes just aren’t sanctioned for orisha-related divination, just like Tarot or runes with orisha.

There are only a small number of websites that talk about “el quenkén”, supposedly the term for (Lukumí-specific) orisha-centric domino reading based on a similar game played in Nigeria (about which I can find nothing). Unlike other topics involving either dominoes or orisha, websites about orisha-centric domino divination are really scarce, which itself suggests that this just isn’t a “thing”. In print, there are only three texts I can find that talk about this topic, the earliest being Luis Manuel Núñez’ 1989 Santeria: A Practical Guide to Afro-Caribbean Magic; the other two texts, Juan Garcia Cortez’ The Osha: Secrets of the Yoruba-Lucumi-Santeria Religion in the United States and Americas and Carlos G. y Poenna’s The Yoruba Domino Oracle, both published in 2000, offer further developments and explanations of orisha-related domino reading, often directly echoing Núñez. All three texts include the same basic information as the non-quenkén traditional domino texts, just with an added orisha flair. That there are only three texts on this topic, all of which are incredibly modern, compared to the dozens of books about obi, dilogún, and Ifá that go back a hundred years or more, gives me even more cause for concern. Further, there’s an interesting trend between these three texts:

  • Núñez’ text introduces domino reading by saying that dominoes “are not as respected or trusted as the formal oracles” of obi, dilogún, or Ifá, and many of the domino interpretations include directions to “throw [obi]” to confirm something with a particular orisha or to “go see a Santero or Babalawo” for further investigation and reading with dilogún and Ifá, respectively.
  • Cortez’ book, which mixes legitimate practices with illegitimate ones and which includes errors that would only be known to those who are properly initiated, doesn’t include the outright disclaimer that dominoes aren’t as trusted or respected as the sanctioned oracles, but he admits that he “was lucky enough to inherit [this method of reading] from my father’s Santeria book”. This rings odd to me, since Lukumí is primarily an oral tradition where one learns from observation and practice, not books. Moreover, like Núñez, many of these domino interpretations also say to go to a properly-initiated priest for further investigation.
  • y Poenna’s book says that reading with dominoes “is an explicit divination system that has been used for many years in the Yoruba tradition” (based on my research and the accounts of my elders, this statement is a total fabrication), but also says that “they are only helpful for people who are leading stable lifestyles” (what of people who have unstable ones and need stability?) and that “they are not usually read when someone is in a huge crisis” (what good of it, then?), and “often refer the querent to additional divinations using” obi, dilogún, or Ifá. It claims that “domino divination has its roots in the various earth-based systems of geomancy” (it isn’t) and that “it is possible that dominoes themselves were originally created as a means of geomantic divination” (they weren’t) but also that the practice “traces its origin to the Yoruba oracle of Ifa” (it doesn’t). Again, many of the bones instruct the reader to go to a “Pardon” or “Pi de Santo” (horrific misspellings of “padrino” and “pai de santo”, respectively, though the latter term is properly Brazilian and not Spanish or Cuban), or to a babalawo.

The evidence from the above texts speaks loudly to me: orisha-centric domino reading is inherently considered to be incomplete due to the necessary reliance on other diviners and other systems of divination and, fundamentally, cannot be trusted as a form of communication with and from orisha like what these texts otherwise claim. There are indeed times when a sanctioned oracle in Lukumí can redirect you to another priest to get more information, but these situations are well-understood and backed up by the logic of these systems; dominoes, however, do not appear to have such sanction, and it seems like it’s an intrusion into orisha religion, or at least Afro-Caribbean orisha religious culture. Domino fortune-telling on its own outside orisha religion has never had such warnings of “go to a card reader” or “do not trust this oracle more than this other older one”, but it’s only within the context of orisha religion that we see such warnings. That’s pretty telling to me that dominoes aren’t sanctioned, aren’t regla, aren’t legitimate, and aren’t trustworthy in the context of orisha-related practices. This isn’t to say that dominoes aren’t useful for divination and fortune-telling (they most certainly are!), or that diviners who also happen to be olorishas can’t use them for divination (they most certainly can!), just that dominoes should not be read in this particular way with these references to orisha, sacrifices, and the like. In other words, domino reading in general is fine, but orisha-centric domino reading is not.

Now, there is the possibility that maybe, just maybe, orisha-centric domino divination was really carried on from older Yoruba sources and used as a form of communication with orisha by some legitimate priests, weird as it may sound to us nowadays. Or, alternatively, it could feasibly have happened that this was an innovation that was invented and adopted by some legitimate priests and considered to be legitimate within their own small communities, just not a wide-spread or well-known one, and that nobody in my lineage and nobody that I’m in contact with can vouch for it due to an absence of knowledge. This kind of thing can and does happen; there are Lukumí lineages in eastern Cuba that do things incredibly differently than in western Cuba, there are legitimate differences in approach and practice between metropolitan and rural practitioners, and those who are unfamiliar with these differences can err out of ignorance and incorrectly say that different practices they’re not aware of must be illegitimate outright, even when they’re actually legitimate. This sort of unfortunate accusation can and does happen, and it can cause harm to many people when it does. So, I’m not 100% ruling out the possibility that maybe, just maybe, dominoes were used by someone in Lukumí-style orisha religion as a means of communication with orisha with good intent. But, doing what I can do to find out as much as I can find, that honestly doesn’t look like that’s the case. Orisha religion (whether in the Caribbean, Latin America, or West Africa) is much older than dominoes, what records exist about orisha-centric domino reading are all super modern, and none of the respected and well-informed elders I can contact are aware of it. While I won’t mistake evidence for proof, what evidence I have doesn’t speak well for this.

It really would be fascinating to use dominoes for communicating with orisha and obtaining their advice, but there’s no real evidence that orisha-centric domino divination is any older than I am, and judging by the accounts of my elders, there seems to be no legitimate history behind the practice. Granted, my elders are only human, but they have 30, 50, or more years in the religion with their own elders, families, and friends; heck, there’s one example saying that orisha-centric domino reading isn’t valid written by a well-known elder priestess of Yemonja all the way back in December 2005. Orisha-centric domino divination really does seem to be no more than an unsanctioned invention in trying to use the gods and sacred advice of one initiation-restricted religion in an open, unrelated practice. After all, Núñez, Cortez, and y Poenna all agree that, unlike reading obi, dilogún, or Ifá, reading dominoes is not restricted to the priesthood, but without training (which only comes about as part of initiating into the priesthood), non-initiates wouldn’t know how to interpret what orisha is properly saying and what to prescribe because of it beyond the little they have written in their books, especially when compared to the encyclopedic amounts of knowledge and lore reached through dilogún or Ifá. I mean, when you’re trying to get religious guidance and advice, you should want an initiated, respectable, trained priest who has the power, authority, license, and expertise to prescribe ritual and religious solutions, and who knows why and when such things should be prescribed.

Let’s be honest, even from a practical standpoint: no non-initiate has any business pulling the 0-3 domino from the boneyard and telling anyone (according to Núñez) that “you need to feed Eleggua a white rooster on Monday and do what Eleggua tells you to do”, especially if they themselves don’t have an Eleggua, have never thrown obi, or have never sacrificed a bird before. On top of the fact that non-initiates have no license or authority to speak on behalf of orisha, there are other things wrong with just saying even that much that non-initiates wouldn’t be aware of, especially without any particular cause or need pointed out in the reading beyond the most vague of indications, which the nature of domino reading doesn’t really get at to the same depth, breadth, or length that dilogún or Ifá would. It’s exactly like if someone whose own spiritual education doesn’t extend any further than a few meet-ups at the local new-age store were to get the Tarot of the Orishas and start doing readings “with orisha” and telling people “Oshún is on the Ace of Cups here in your querent spot in the spread, so Oshún clearly owns your head”. It just doesn’t work like that, because dominoes (with pretty much complete certainty) don’t and can’t speak for orisha, just as Tarot doesn’t and can’t speak for orisha.

If, dear reader, orisha-centric domino reading is indeed a non-sanctioned invention of popular spirituality that takes orisha from its original sanctioned context, as all the evidence I can find suggests it is, then this would be a good example of appropriation.

Now, as I said, it could still be that orisha-centric domino reading was preserved from an earlier Yoruba tradition (incredibly unlikely) or (questionably) invented either by initiates in Lukumí or by those who were not initiated yet adjacent to initiates (and who probably didn’t want to get into the hassle of properly initiating into the religion, as was/is seen with some spiritual workers who did/do prescribe orisha-related things without initiation). Still, it’s possible for people of the same overall culture to appropriate from a subset of that culture when things proper to that subset are not open to others outside it. So, while this isn’t necessarily outright cultural appropriation, it is religious appropriation. And, yes, it is true that Lukumí does grow and evolve and adapt, within particular parameters and following a particular logic, just as any living tradition does—but this just ain’t it, chief. The absolute most that dominoes might be able to indicate along these lines is that something is up with some part of your own private, priestly, or orisha practices and you might want to get that checked out, but that could apply to any sort of spiritual influence around you, not just or simply orisha (and there are many more influences around us than just them at any given moment), nor would it talk at all in the same way with the same authority, legitimacy, and clarity how dilogún or Ifá might actually talk. Dominoes might be able to speak more to (or even for) other spirits you work with, venerate, or worship, especially if they agree to it, but orisha aren’t in that category. This is, in some ways, much like how espiritismo (the Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Caribbean forms of Kardecian Spiritism) interplays with Lukumí: orisha do not and cannot talk in a misa espiritual (basically a séance), but non-orisha spirits associated with them (e.g. deceased priests or culture heroes) can touch on orisha-related things just as they could non-orisha-related things. Still, espiritismo does not and cannot stand in for divinatory or oracular message from orisha, even if some of the mechanisms seem similar, because orisha belong to a closed religion in which espiritismo has no part; the same goes for dominoes. To cross that line is to enter into intrusion into a closed, initiation-locked system and to appropriate from it.

Of course, by my own admission, I don’t think the whole history of the practice of orisha-centric domino reading can be reliably known with such a paucity of sources, and I am still young in the religion as a whole, and thus still learning quite a bit! But, from everything I can see, know, hear, and learn? Bringing something like domino fortune-telling that has no legitimate origin in regla into it (or, rather, taking things out of it for use by non-initiates with already-not-regla domino fortune-telling in the role an initiate would be expected to play within regla) is effectively appropriating and misusing the religion and divination system both. Orisha-centric domino reading does not appear to have a longstanding practice despite (a very few) claims of it being “old”, nor does it have a theological backing to support its use with orisha. And to those who say that it does, I reply: show me the odu in which the dominoes are born and that orisha can speak through them as they would the cowries, and show me your lineage of teachers (not books) who teach this method of divination, because if there is such an odu and if you have such a lineage, I’d love to know about it to properly, happily, and quickly correct my views and this post.

Barring a miraculous discovery of some truly-secret low-key divinatory practice that doesn’t properly fit into Lukumí yet validates what Núñez, Cortez, and y Poena write about the topic—and I honestly don’t think such a revelation is ever going to happen—mixing dominoes with orisha is not something I can support, nor is it something any legitimate initiate or non-initiate can really use in orisha-related or domino-related practices because of the gross disservice it does to the religion and the gross misunderstandings it makes to domino fortune-telling. And, honestly, I really hesitated whether to make known these authors and book titles. I only bring up these texts to indicate the sources I’m talking about, but I emphatically and strongly discourage the reader from reading them, both to protect what legitimate information is contained therein from those who are not initiated (and, likewise, to protect the noninitiate from them), and to prevent the various mistakes in these books from spreading further. However, on top of these books already being published, cat yronwode’s Throwing the Bones: How to Foretell the Future with Bones, Shells, and Nuts encourages readers to check out y Poenna’s book, which I think is irresponsible and dangerous out of ignorance, even if meant helpfully, so I may as well be explicit here about these books to offer some sort of correction in the public record. What’s most troubling is that at least two of the above authors, if not all three, have or at least claim initiation into Lukumí, so I’m not sure where their information is really coming from or what lineages they represent. But, based on the knowledge and accounts of my elders whom I trust, I can’t find anything legitimate or historical about this practice within the context of orisha religion.

Domino fortune-telling is something which I gladly accept, study, encourage, and am myself beginning to practice—it’s just that I should (and will) only do so responsibly outside Lukumí, not within it. There has never been too much information behind it, but I’ve been able to develop a really strong and widespread body of information for each of its symbols, which is fantastic to make it a really helpful and usable system of divination, but it’s just not on the same level as legitimate forms of divination of orisha religion. And that’s okay! It doesn’t have to be, since the focus isn’t for communicating with orisha anyway. I think that’s the best way to go about it, both for myself and for others. So, for my readers who are likewise interested in domino fortune-telling: the core stuff is good and useful, just set aside anything that mixes it with orisha. And, for my readers who are interested in orisha religion: don’t pay attention to anyone who says they’ll do an orisha reading for you with anything less than legitimate methods.

Thoughts on Fr. Rufus Opus’ “Seven Spheres”

Over time, more and more people have turned to Fr. Rufus Opus’ (Fr. RO for short) book of planetary magic, Seven Spheres (SS), which was put out by Nephilim Press back in 2014.  Although not everyone might care for his writing style or approach to magic, Fr. RO does give people a taste in SS of what non-Golden Dawn Hermetic magic is and can be, providing a back-to-basics Hermetic cosmology largely outside (but still playing nice with) Hermetic Qabbalah and a way to directly interface with the planetary angels through conjuration in his own variant of the conjuration method in The Art of Drawing Spirits Into Crystals (DSIC) attributed to Johann Trithemius (which, if you’re still not familiar with it yet, you could do worse than reading my analysis of the whole thing).  Fr. RO has been working this system for a while, at least since 2006 when his blog Head for the Red was started, and began building up his own approach to planet-centric theurgy using DSIC around that time, eventually beginning to teach his system through the RWC system.  Eventually, he stopped admitting new people into the RWC, took some of the content from it, reworked it a bit, and published SS.  So, even though people can no longer get access to the RWC as it was (though, again, there are some who continue to provide it!), SS was intended as the more mass-available release of that, which Fr. RO (so I would assume) considers to be the distillation of the RWC.

As one of his active students at the time in his Red Work Course (RWC, which I now disseminate myself, along with a handful of others he’s licensed to do the same), I was excited for the book, and heartily threw my encouragement behind it, even on my own blog—and, coincidentally enough, exactly five years ago to the day.  Now, looking back five years later, for myself and SS?  I cannot truthfully say that I’ve actually worked SS.  What I can say I’ve done is the magic in RWC, which includes everything in SS and much, much more.  I have done everything in SS, oftentimes verbatim, just not according to SS.  By the time SS was published, I was already “done” with my planetary inductions through his Planetary Gates rituals, which was basically the entirety of the Green Work segment of RWC—heck, I was already “done” with RWC, having accomplished all that it set out to do and setting me properly on my own path with the techniques in RWC providing the bedrock for my road to be built.  Since I started studying under Fr. RO in 2011, I’ve done things according to his instructions as well as experimented with twisting them, breaking them, or outright replacing them with other methods that sometimes work better, sometimes not, sometimes just as well with different means.

I give this introduction and apology because, I’ve been thinking about SS as of late, and I want to share my thoughts about it.  It’s not a bad text and there’s a lot of good stuff in there, to be sure!  But I have a few significant issues with it that I find jarring enough—and dangerous enough—that I want to make some of my thoughts known for others to be aware of based on my own experiences and continuing education beyond RWC/SS.  Mostly, these issues keep being raised by a lot of people who keep asking me the same questions on Curious Cat or by email or in consultations with me regarding the system of magic presented in SS, and I keep having to reply to them over and over, so perhaps by writing a post about it, perhaps I can save us all a bit of time.

Perhaps the most overarching issue I have with SS is that many people take it to be a beginner’s text on magic, when I can’t really consider it to be such.  For many people, SS is their first glimpse of planetary magic or planetary conjurations (as evidenced by how often SS is brought up on /r/planetarymagic), and that’s fair!  Until the publication of SS, while obviously planetary magic abounds in the Western mystery tradition as a whole, there wasn’t a lot so easily or famously accessible that didn’t involve dragging yourself through Golden Dawn curricula or simpler “call on this planet to achieve X” spells and rituals.  SS provides many people with a more encompassing method of working with the planets and their ruling spirits in a more profound and potent way, providing self-initiations (what I now prefer to call “induction”) into the planetary spheres.  However, SS is just not written for beginners, even if that’s what Fr. RO may have had in mind.  Though Fr. RO may have distilled his RWC content into SS, in my opinion, he went way too far; RWC was a whole course of Hermeticism and magical practice that really did start you from scratch, while SS doesn’t do nearly as much, nor does it provide for a strong foundation to properly train people for conjuration, spiritual contact and communication, spiritual hygiene, ritual practice, or the like.  SS basically assumes you already have it and that you already have decent enough visionary skills to perceive spirits.  For this and other reasons, while RWC provides a true beginning for beginners in magic, SS doesn’t; thus, SS simply doesn’t qualify as a beginner’s text.  As a result, those who actually are beginners often find themselves skipping quite a few steps in the process to get to the Gates rituals Fr. RO describes in SS, which he had previously saved for the last phase of RWC.

More specifically, though, what I consider to be the most damaging aspect of SS from a methodological point of view to my mind is the time allotted for the schedule of conjuration and the process of planetary induction.  Fr. RO explains his conjuration schedule at the start of the “Ritual Planning” chapter:

It’s possible to go through the seven spheres in seven days, and it’s actually a lot of fun.  I’ve done it, and so have several of my friends and colleagues.  It can release a lot of power way too quickly, though, and it’s really not very safe.  I mean, when the forces that result in a complete transformation of your life are all moving at once, it can get…uhm, not fun.  Overwhelming.  One might burn out, in fact.

In theory.

As a result, the approach I recommend is paced a little more slowly.  If you follow the schedule I lay out below, it will take five weeks to go through all seven spheres.  This is still a pretty heavy pace for most folks, and it will completely transform your life.

The table below shows how the schedule will fall on the calendar.  You begin in Jupiter on a Thursday, and you finish in Saturn on a Saturday.  This schedule gives you about four days of rest between each right, and a little time to integrate the forces into your sphere and get used to them.  At the same time, it doesn’t give you enough time to finish materializing the forces you’ve released.  It keeps them in the formative state throughout the whole series of rites.  This is useful in making sure the current released in Jupiter is then woven through the other spheres to all aspects of your life.

He follows this with a table that looks like the following:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Jupiter
Mars
Sun Venus
Mercury
Moon (Saturn)

So, according to SS, you’re supposed to conjure the planetary angel of each planet for the first time in a span of five weeks, giving yourself four days of rest between conjurations.  This is a kinder (though still rough) approach than going through the seven spheres in seven consecutive days, which he and others (myself included) have done.  So, Fr. RO doesn’t recommend doing seven spheres in seven days, but rather seven spheres across five weeks.

Even as a kinder approach, that’s still fucking insane.

Fr. RO is no newbie magician.  By the time he published SS, he was already working the DSIC system for at least eight years (the earliest posts on his blog in 2006 reference Trithemius and DSIC), and had plenty of other experience with a variety of magical practices before that.  For all his flaws, perceived or actual, the man is at least competent in what he can do.  For him, going through a five-week cycle (or even a seven-day cycle!) of conjurations is straightforward and simple, but he wasn’t writing SS for himself: he was writing SS for other magicians, and many of those magicians don’t have nearly the amount of experience, stamina, spiritual hygiene skills, or practical know-how that Fr. RO and his circle of friends have.  To ask them to put themselves under that kind of spiritual duress, to me, is more than “a pretty heavy pace”, it’s outright dangerous.  And that’s the “kinder” approach he offers!

He talks a bit more about the expected results of doing this five-week ordeal:

Overall, it will take approximately six to weight weeks to perform the rites and have them all begin to really change your life.  By the sixth week, you will find that everything has become more intense, obstacles in your way have vanished, and that you’ve gone through more personal, spiritual, and mental growth than you have in years.  By the eighth week, the forces you’ve released will be materializing and being grounded in your kingdom.  You’ll find the physical results of the mental and spiritual growth making themselves “real” to you.

It might take a while to get back to a sense of normal.  It will happen though.  When it does, and you’re feeling safe, secure, and happy with how things are going in your life, consider starting the cycle yet again.  There is always more to learn in each sphere.

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend anyone to undergo such a rapid process like this unless they’re already well-acquainted with the powers of the planets and already skilled at conjuration and other magical practices.  I’ve done my fair share (and sometimes continue to do so) of rushing through things, but let my burned hands be an indication here: there is no need to rush like this.  The planets will always be there, and you have time to go through them at a more reasonable, sensible pace—and there’s no reason to not give yourself as much time as you need to properly acclimate and adjust to these influences.  While I understand the urge to just dive right in, well, consider an actual 12′ deep pool.  You wouldn’t dive into the deep end without already knowing how to swim, right?  So if you’re not able to swim in magical works, or even how to tread water, why on God’s green Earth would you do the same with this?  Don’t do this.

When you begin the process of induction into a planetary (or elemental, or zodiacal…) sphere, you’re opening yourself up to a whole new realm of powers, entities, forces, and influences into your life.  Depending on your own planetary inclinations (which you can get a feel for based on your natal horoscope), you might find some of these to be easier than others, but none of them are ever truly easy.  You’re opening yourself up to the literal gods of heaven and telling them “okay, come on in, do your thing!”.  To just outright throw wide the doors isn’t leaping from the frying pan into the fire, it’s going from your lead safety suit into the nuclear reaction chamber itself.  It’s dangerous, even for the experienced, to push yourself so hard like this without giving yourself enough time to rest, recuperate, review what you did and where you made mistakes, acclimate to the new changes in your life, adjust to the powers in your life that weren’t there before, and just overall heal from the ordeal.  To rush that process is like not giving yourself enough rest after pushing yourself too hard at the gym: you stand to break yourself and seriously injure yourself in the process.

Also, from another practical standpoint?  Fr. RO only follows the system of planetary day and hour.  He ignores any other kind of astrological or zodiacal timing; that’s not uncommon for a lot of people in the Solomonic tradition as opposed to the astrological tradition, where such timing is more important (especially according to Francis Barrett himself, where he uses outright elections of the planets to time his conjurations).  However, something important I feel he leaves out is to at least consider the Moon.  At least for the purposes of this kind of planetary work, I think the phase of the Moon is critical for what we’re trying to achieve regardless of the specific planet.  While you could go crazy with it, the simple observation of whether the Moon is waxing (New to Full) or waning (Full to New) is sufficient.  Use the waxing Moon to bring things into the world (which is great for conjuring to a strong or even manifest appearance, talisman consecrations, blessings, etc.), and use the waning Moon to send things out of the world (better for diminishing things and some kinds of curse work, sure, but also for theurgy and spiritual initiations/inductions, since you’re the one being sent out of this world into higher ones).  So, rather than just using planetary day and hour (and of the two, the hour is far more important than the day), I think it’s also important to observe the Moon as well.  However, the Moon is only waxing for two weeks at a time and waning for another two weeks; doing the seven spheres across five weeks mixes the two up and can get you uneven results from your work.

So, all that said, here’s my recommendation as for timing:

  • In the day and hour of the planet while the Moon is waxing, conjure the angel of the planet and ask them to bring their influences into your life.  This gives you a good start to understand what that planet does in your life and world and sphere.  Ask for their presence and guidance, assistance in bringing themselves into your life, and whatever else you might need.  If you don’t get contact, try the conjuration again in another appropriate hour, but only while the Moon is waxing.  You want the waxing help of the Moon here to bring that angel down into our world so you can get a better connection.
  • Once you make contact and have formed that connection in that first conjuration, spend the next two or six weeks getting used to that infusion of planetary energy to acclimate to it, not conjuring anything else or focusing on any other force in a major way (except in cases of emergency).
  • After two or six weeks (six weeks is better), perform another conjuration of the angel of that planet in its day and hour but, importantly, with the Moon waning.  This time, review the past bit of time since you made that first contact, and ask for initiation/induction into the sphere of that planet, opening the Gate, entering into that sphere, and the like.  The first conjuration formed a connection so you can get a taste of what that planet does; this second conjuration provides the initiation/induction into that sphere to more deeply integrate yourself with it, and it with you.
  • Spend at least a month after this conjuration taking notes, observing changes, and getting used to the planetary forces.
  • After that, perform another conjuration of the angel of the planet; it doesn’t matter so much what the phase of the Moon is in so long as you can use it.  Check up on yourself with the angel, see what else you’re missing, explore through the gate of that planet some more, do some more work however you need, and lock those forces in.

This is a much slower process of conjuration-based initiation, sure, taking from one to three months per planet, yielding an overall timeframe of 7 to 21 months.  Sure, you could speed it up if you felt it necessary, or if a particular planet was easy enough to integrate into your sphere, or if you wanted to be faster just to be faster.  I favor more cautious routes nowadays, and there’s no harm in that; after all, there’s no rush, so why rush it?  And this is on top of the practice you need to get in before you even start working with the planets, too!  To simply give SS to a beginner when it’s not a beginner’s text and tell them “go through all seven planets in five weeks, seven days if you wanna, good luck, have fun”…while I see what Fr. RO was trying to achieve by this, and while I get the enthusiasm in making people better ASAP, I just can’t recommend this approach to anyone unless they’re absolutely sure about it, especially if they don’t have an actual teacher or mentor guiding them and nurturing them through the process.  And a book, by its very nature, cannot do that.

So much for time and scheduling.  There’s another specific issue I have, though, and that’s with the order of planetary work itself.  Fr. RO has a well-known bias towards the planet Jupiter; it wouldn’t surprise me to find out if he had an exceedingly dignified Jupiter in his horoscope, or one that was significantly bolstered by the placement of his Sun.  In addition to being one of the founding members of the Gentlemen For Jupiter, Fr. RO simply loves the planetary force and blessings of Jupiter. He places a huge emphasis in his magical work and philosophy around the notion of divine kingship, and builds his approach to reclaiming our divine heritage and spiritual immortality according to the philosophies of Hermēs Trismegistus from there.  And it’s not a bad approach!  I think we could all do with the reminder that we are children of God, endowed with the faculties and functions of God incarnate as humanity on Earth in a way that other spirits may not necessarily have the capacity for.

Now, I’m not one to yuck someone else’s yum, and I understand that we all have favorite planets, kinds or styles of working, and inclinations.  What one person likes, another person may not like; what one person is good at, another person may not be.  That’s natural and fair, so I’m not going to knock Fr. RO’s stringent and zealous focus on Jupiter here and elsewhere.  What I question, however, is starting the whole process of planetary induction with Jupiter.  I get where Fr. RO is coming from: according to him, in order to (re)claim your status and heritage as a divine king, you must first be anointed as such, and that comes about in the sphere of Jupiter.  But in my view, all the planets confer that, and all the planets represent royalty and rulership in different ways.  Fr. RO says as much, too, in SS, so it’s not like we can argue on that point, but I don’t think just up and starting with kingship for the sake of kingship is the best start without the proper context and training for it.  Yes, magic can and ought to be used to make our lives better in every possible way, that’s true, but kingship and royalty and rulership over your life is a long process, and I don’t think it should simply passed into from the get-go.

Personally, I don’t think everyone is meant to be a king; while we are all children of God made in his image (which is something true even from a Hermetic stance), I think Fr. RO’s emphasis on the divine heritage of humanity being inherent kingship is somewhat off the mark. Yes, we are always children of God, but not necessarily kings of men—and to rule your life is not necessarily to be a king of it.  I think this is a point that is easily missed: kingship isn’t about rulership.  To me, kingship is about the highest form of servitude and service that there can be; while a king might have power over their people, a king is also ultimately the servant to provide for the well-being of their people.  This is definitely included in the purview of Jupiter, to be sure, being the planet of righteousness and grace and mercy!  But this kind of noble service is often overlooked or forgotten, especially if you just up and start with Jupiter in a mania.  This is something that must be worked for and slowly understood, building up to the ability to properly serve others order to rule oneself.

From a more practical standpoint? Jupiter is pretty high up there in the heavens, and there are five other planets lower than Jupiter that are closer to us, and thus easier to access.  For magicians, and especially those new to conjuration and spiritual communication, I don’t find Jupiter to be a good planet to start with.  Instead, I recommend to start with the Moon, being the closest planetary sphere to us on Earth, and work our way up from there to Mercury, then to Venus, the Sun, Mars, and then to Jupiter and Saturn.  This is a properly theurgical approach of elevation and ascension through the heavens, as opposed to an arguably thaumaturgical descent and materialization down through the heavens into our world.  I mean, theurgy can absolutely be done “downwards” just as thaumaturgy can be done “upwards”, but for the sake of practicality, starting with the Moon makes the most sense to me.  This is especially the case for those whose psychic and visionary skills aren’t well-developed yet, as the Moon naturally rules over both.  By getting a firm foundation in the sphere of the Moon, it becomes easier to build up from there and reach into the higher heavens.  Additionally, the Moon is known to gather and collect the light of all the other planets, and so interfaces with them all in a way that no other planet does.  By starting with the Moon, not only do we develop a strong lunar foundation for ourselves, but we also naturally get a small taste or a whiff of every other planet in the process.

Now, Fr. RO released the original Gates ritual texts (e.g. Gate of Jupiter, Gate of Mars, etc.) on his blog in 2011, and did in fact start with the Gate of Jupiter.  However, in the Green Work section of the RWC, the first Gate text he intended for his students to take was, in fact, the Gate of the Moon; though he never makes this explicit, it suggests that he intended the Moon-upwards approach in RWC as opposed to the Jupiter-downward approach he gives in SS.  This ties into the same approach for the conjurations of the elemental angels (which he completely omits in SS), where you start with Earth (the lowest element) and work your way up to Fire (the highest element).  This is the approach I would most recommend more than anything.

But, also?  Saturn.  Fr. RO, in my opinion, gravely disrespects Saturn and its crucial role for us all, especially as magicians, and especially as a planet of magic, the occult, and mystery itself.  This ties into the earlier concern about the order of conjuration, where Fr. RO starts with Jupiter, works his way down to the Moon, and ends with Saturn.  Except…he doesn’t actually end with Saturn.  Note the table of ordering the conjurations above.  Fr. RO explains this:

Note that Saturn is in parentheses.  That’s because it should be considered optional.  You don’t need to go to Saturn until you feel completely and fully integrated as the King of your personal Kingdom.  You shouldn’t go to Saturn until you need to expand the borders of your Kingdom.

Saturn is not optional.  Period, point blank, full stop.  Saturn is as necessary as any and every other planet.  To ignore Saturn is to throw yourself into imbalance, become overweeningly arrogant and proud, focus too much on expansion and exuberance in a state of frenzy and mania, and can inflict some serious issues in your life.  Saturn is the planet of restraint and moderation, the planet of boundaries and borders. I get that a lot of people are scared of Saturn, being the greater malefic and all, but honestly?  All the other planets can be at least as malefic as Saturn.  To my mind, Saturn rules the things that are naturally inimical to human desire, but that doesn’t make them any less necessary or divine.  To use Fr. RO’s kingdom analogy, Saturn is the walls that ring round your kingdom, and holds everything in.  For Fr. RO, these walls should be expanded as much as you can when you’re capable of doing so.  And yes, Fr. RO does note that “walls support the roof, the dam stores the water, and the bones provide the support that lets us live as more than amorphous blobs”.  Fr. RO says quite a lot, actually, about the helpful and crucially, critically necessary role of Saturn in our lives and our Work—yet says here that Saturn is “optional”.  Even considering his understandable caution with Saturn and its spirits, I cannot agree with this statement.  Do not skip Saturn.  Never skip Saturn, just as you would never skip any of the other planets.

Sigh.  I think I’ve griped enough.  All in all, SS isn’t a bad book to work, but it’s not one for beginners, that’s for sure.  While I get Fr. RO’s rationale for structuring it the way it is, in my own experience and in comparison with some of the other systems I work, I still have issues with how SS presents the Work to be done.  In my opinion, his RWC content, from which the majority (but not all!) of SS was plucked, was and continues to be better for beginner and experienced magicians alike, especially in introducing them slowly and more fully through all the forces of the Hermetic cosmology.  For that reason, I’m happy to share the RWC content for those who ask, or redirect them to those who teach them more formally.  SS has its place in our modern magical literature, but I think we need to be clear about what that place is.

On the Blessing of Peace

While I don’t like to talk about the specifics of it too much except with people I trust, I do and maintain a regular daily prayer routine.  More than just a daily ritual routine (including meditation, energy work, and the like), I use a particular format that I use where I say several prayers in a particular order and format every day, accompanied with particular ritual gestures or offerings or the like.  (At least, on days when I actually get my ass down to my temple room and do my work, but that’s becoming easier and easier as of late, thank God and the gods.)  The penultimate prayer is one I use as a general…I don’t know if “offering” is the proper word to describe it, but I suppose a blessing upon all the powers, all my ancestors, all those in my life (whether living, dead, or otherwise).  Specifically, it’s a sort of litany-blessing of peace, where I pray for the peace of God to be upon whoever.  And the final line of that prayer is this:

Glory be to God, from whom there is no higher blessing than peace.

I finish this “Sending of Peace” prayer up with a variant of the “Prosperity for All” prayer by Śrı̄ Vēthāthiri Mahaṛṣi.  My own variant (“Prayer for the Peace of the World”) goes like this:

May the whole world know and enjoy
good health, long life, prosperity, happiness, and peace.
Peace in the body, peace in the soul, peace in the spirit, and peace in the mind!
O God of peace, let there be peace and peace and peace and peace!
Let your divine peace reign supreme over the whole world,
that there might be peace forever and ever
at all times, on all days, in all places, in every heart, for everyone, everywhere.
Amen.

Silently, I finish it up with the same “Glory be to God…” line from above, again reminding myself (and, through the prayer, the whole world) that “there is no higher blessing than peace”.

Originally, these prayers didn’t include this line; I wrote my “Sending of Peace” prayer without it, and I never included it in the “Prayer for the Peace of the World” originally, even after I adapted Śrī Vēthāthiri Mahaṛṣi’s prayer; the statement just kinda…started falling out of my mouth, as it were, and it ended up becoming part of these prayers in my prayer routine.   Which is fine, honestly: I think that it’s a beautiful way to close out these prayers of peace, but thinking of it…why would I even say this, or think this, or feel this?  I mean, it does feel right, but why?  Like, what with my Hermetic stuff, you’d think that the ten (or seven) rational powers of God would be blessings unto themselves—which they are—culminating with life, light, and goodness, and peace is nowhere to be found in that list.  So why would peace be the highest possible blessing?

Let’s back up a bit, and consider the origin of the word “peace”.  Etymologically:

mid-12c., “freedom from civil disorder,” from Anglo-French pes, Old French pais “peace, reconciliation, silence, permission” (11c., Modern French paix), from Latin pacem (nominative pax) “compact, agreement, treaty of peace, tranquility, absence of war” (source of Provençal patz, Spanish paz, Italian pace), from PIE root *pag- “to fasten” (which is the source also of Latin pacisci “to covenant or agree;” see pact), on the notion of “a binding together” by treaty or agreement.

It replaced Old English frið, also sibb, which also meant “happiness.” Modern spelling is 1500s, reflecting vowel shift. Sense in peace of mind is from c. 1200. Used in various greetings from c. 1300, from Biblical Latin pax, Greek eirēnē, which were used by translators to render Hebrew shalom, properly “safety, welfare, prosperity.”

Other words derived from this same Proto-Indo-European root *pag- include: pact, propagate, pole (as in a stake or post), pale (in the old sense of a fence of pointed stakes used for marking boundaries), pagan (in the sense of someone being from the rural districts marked off by boundaries), page (a small sheet of paper, originally fastened to something else, but also a young man of a lower social order preparing to be a knight, from the same rural-indicative origin as pagan above), peasant (someone from the rural countryside), fang (in an Old English sense of prey, booty, spoils, “things taken or seized”), and even travail (to work or to toil through suffering, from an original Latin tripalis, an instrument of torture with three stakes).

In all these words derived from the root *pag-, there’s this notion of things being held together by sticking them into or onto something else, or things marked off because of something held together in common.  Peace, then, might seem a bit weird, but consider the etymology above: it’s closely related to the Latin for “to [make a covenant]”; peace, then, is the state of people who have entered into a covenant with each other, binding them and holding them fast together.  And this meaning isn’t just in Latin, either; the Greek name for peace (and the name of a goddess, too!), Εἰρήνη Eirēne, comes from the Greek verb εἵρω eirō, “to fasten together, esp. in rows or by string”.

This is all well and good, but let’s be honest: this emphasis on peace in my prayers (pace Śrī Vēthāthiri Mahaṛṣi) is definitely coming from an Abrhamic and Semitic influence: consider how Muslims constantly pray for “peace and blessings upon the prophet Muḥammad and his family”, how the standard Hebrew greeting for someone is shalom `alekhem and Arabic as-salāmu `alaykum, both meaning “peace be with you” (with the return greeting, “[and] upon you be peace”, being `alekhem shalom and wa-`alaykum as-salām, respectively).  The Sh-L-M triliteral root is abuntant in many Semitic languages, and unlike the Indo-European origins of the word “peace” that indicate things being bound together, the Sh-L-M root for these Semitic words for “peace” indicate something that is whole, complete, accepted, safe, intact, unharmed.  (And, just as Eirēne is the name of a Greek god, this Semitic root provides the name of an ancient Canaanite god, Shalim, the god of dusk and the Evening Star, after whom Jerusalem itself was named, the connection here being that evening and dusk was the completion and wholeness of the day.)

For us Indo-European (especially Germanic and Anglophone speakers), the closest etymological correspondence to the Sh-L-M trilteral root would be the Proto-Indo-European root *kailo- (“whole, uninjured, something of good omen”), which has given us such words as: whole, hale, health, holy, hallow.  Though this does kinda have overlap with the Sh-L-M root, it also overlaps with the Semitic Q-D-Sh triliteral root, which indicates something sacred, holy, pure, or clean (e.g. Hebrew qodesh “holiness” and miqdash “temple”, Arabic al-Quds “The Holy One” and al-Ard al-Muqaddasa “the Land of Holies” referring to Jerusalem and all its shrines).  This root is especially important when reciting a berakhah in Judaism, those endless blessings said when performing a mitzvah or enjoying something, when many of them begin: “blessed are you, o Lord our God, King of the World, who has sanctified us with his commandments…” (barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha`olam, asher qid’shanu b’mitzvotav…).  So there’s this notion here that links holiness and sanctification through the Jewish commandments of the Torah (which, by the by, is also called the Covenant, Hebrew brit, also meaning “alliance”).

We end up with this fourfold root here that ties this all together: Proto-Indo-European *pag- (fasten, bind) and *kailo- (whole, holy) and Semitic Sh-L-M (peace, accepted) and Q-D-Sh (holy, pure).  It’s between the confluence of these four things that we can get an idea of what the notion of peace really means from a spiritual standpoint: peace is an agreement and alliance between parties, one that ensures the well-being and health of all such parties, and one whose nature is sacrosanct and inviolable.  Sure, peace is the absence of violence and war, sure, but from the perspective of our work with Divinity, peace is both holiness and wholeness, being both healthy and hallowed.  Peace is the completion and fulfillment of all the other blessings, and the foundation for them all, and the obligations we enter into so as to have peace are those we enter into with Divinity, which then provides us with the peace we seek as we seek for others to have it as well by entering into peace with them.

Consider the twelve tormentors and ten powers according to the Corpus Hermeticum from the post I wrote earlier this summer.  Peace isn’t in the list of the powers (knowledge of God, joy, self-control, steadfastness, justice, generosity, truth, good, life, light) that resolve the tormentors, whether twelve in CH XIII (ignorance, grief, intemperance, lust, injustice, greed, deceit, envy, treachery, anger, recklessness, malice) or seven in CH I (increase and decrease, evil machination, covetous deceit, domineering arrogance, unholy daring and rash audacity, evil striving after wealth, ensnaring falsehood), but…what if peace is above the rest, a sort of meta-blessing that provides for all other blessings to develop, abide, and spread out?  I mean, consider the Semitic greeting of “peace be on you”: if you have peace, then you don’t have problems, because peace is the absence or the resolution of problems.  If you have peace in the body, then you don’t have physical problems of illness or injury; if you have peace in the soul, then you don’t have emotional distress; if you have peace in the spirit, you don’t have nagging worries or disturbed thoughts; if you have peace in the mind, then you don’t have confusion of divinity or spiritual blockages.  And, hell, what do we say about people who have passed away from a rough life into death?  “May they rest in peace.”

If you have problems, then you don’t have peace; if you have peace, you don’t have problems.  I mean, consider that so much in this world is violence, war, combat, and conflict: conflict between your cells and invasive cells produces illness, conflict between your person and other people produces fighting, conflict between your desires and the desires of another causes emotional distress, and the like.  This world is generated through violence, it’s true, but it’s our job to resolve that violence to find and produce peace, the resolution of problems, violence, and conflict, whether on a small scale of cells or a large scale of civilizations, whether on a small scale of emotions or a large scale of divinity.  To hope, wish, pray, and work for peace is to resolve the problems we face in the world whatever they might be or however they might come about.  We can consider this in terms of the Hermetic tormentors and powers: to pacify (literally “to make peaceful”) the tormentor of ignorance is to bring about the power of knowledge of God, and to have knowledge of God eliminates the torment of ignorance, which brings about peace; to pacify lust is to bring about steadfastness, and to have steadfastness eliminates lust, which brings about peace; and so on for all the tormentors and powers.

In this light, peace is both the means to blessing and a blessing unto itself, but it’s not like other blessings like prosperity or health.  Sure, prosperity resolves poverty, health resolves illness, and the like, and all those things lead to peace, but only when all problems are resolved can total, complete, and full peace be obtained.  Thus, to wish for such peace upon someone is to inherently wish for the resolution of all their problems in every way.  At the same time, the presence of a smaller, incomplete peace in one way helps bring about other smaller peaces in other ways: if you’re sick and poor, having health can help you resolve being poor faster, just as being prosperous can help you regain health faster.  Every little bit of peace we get helps bring about more peace, and the blessing of peace itself is all encompassing of everything else we do.  In praying for a small peace for ourselves, we bring about bigger peace for ourselves; in praying for peace for ourselves, we bring about peace for others; in praying for peace for the world, we bring about peace for ourselves.  Peace is, in many ways, the origin as well as the result of all other blessings.  In this, it precedes and fulfills everything else we do and work for and pray for, every other kind of well-being, every other kind of problem resolution, every other kind of abating of torment, whether for ourselves or for others.

So pray for peace: peace for yourself, peace for your ancestors, peace for your family, peace for your community, peace for your teachers, peace for your students.  Pray for peace: peace for those whom you love, peace for those whom you know, peace for those whom you don’t know, peace for those whom you despise.  Pray for peace: peace for everyone in this world, peace for everyone in other worlds, peace for everyone who has ever lived, peace for everyone who has ever died, peace for those who live eternally and never die.  Pray for peace: peace of body, peace of soul, peace of spirit, peace of mind.  Pray for peace, that there might be peace in every way for everyone.  Pray for peace so that there can be peace—and, having prayed for it, work to bring it about, becoming peace for others and obtaining peace for yourself.  That is the pact we make when we pray for peace: make peace and become peace to have peace.

Glory be to God, from whom there is no higher blessing than peace.

On Mistakes in Divination

A few days ago, I was chatting with one of my good Twitter friends in private messages.  He’s a pretty cool guy, and though I met him through a few mutual furry contacts we have online, I also found out he was an occultist, so we have fun things to talk about now and again.  He’s been learning geomancy lately (a highly worthwhile endeavor!), and he posed to me a question:

Consider a reading, where the seer fucks up and their dyslexic ass misreads Albus as Fortuna Maior, or got turned around with the meanings of say, Capricorn and Sagittarius.  Would the reading be wrong, or would it be adequate to take that slip as part of the system that produces the interpretation?  And, if the seer realizes their fuckup, should they make a full redaction and correction, or should they make a “transformation” in the reading like old Yin and old Yang in I Ching readings?

He had already guessed what my answer would be, and he was right, but he still wanted to know what my thoughts were.  It was a pretty fruitful discussion for us both, and I want to share some of the insights from that conversation more publicly.  And no, I’m not upset with him!  It just turns out that I have some Thoughts and Opinions in where we differ, and I think these are good things to talk about here.

I know that there are some diviners who everything that happens in a reading, whether in geomancy or in another system entirely, as omens of significance.  Like, say you’re shuffling a deck of Tarot cards for your usual spread, and a card slips out of the deck and falls face-up.  Some people say that that card is important and should be interpreted like any card in the spread itself; I hope he can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it was Gordon White from Rune Soup who said something along the lines of “the only thing that card means is that you’re bad at shuffling”—and that’s a viewpoint I agree with (and if he didn’t say that or doesn’t agree with it, then I guess we disagree).  I don’t take all omens in a divination reading that relies on a divination system (i.e. a process with rules and standards and checks and skill) as significant, but only those that are produced according to the system within the boundaries of the system.  There’s a place and a role for intuition to play in divination, to be sure, but when it comes to mistakes, well…mistakes are just that: mistakes.

Without any exaggeration, I can claim that geomancy is a mathematical form of divination: geomancy relies on binary processes of addition and recursion using the binary structure of the 16 geomantic figures to produce a chart.  And there aren’t an infinite number of charts, nor are there 16! (2.092279 × 1013) different charts, or even more than that.  In fact, there are far fewer charts: only 65,536 (164) possible charts are permitted within the mathematical rules of geomancy.  By definition, any chart that does not fall into one of those 65,536 charts is not a valid chart, and there are multiple ways of checking to make sure a chart is valid.  So, you can’t have a chart where all four Mother figures are all Populus and have any other figure in the chart that isn’t Populus; such a chart just isn’t possible, any more than there could be a Tarot spread with three Empresses in a row or a horoscope where Venus opposes the Sun.  Such impossible charts are inherently invalid, and indicate that there was a mistake in your mathematics when calculating the chart; the proper approach isn’t to inspect the chart as it was drawn, but to go back and fix your error so you have a correct chart to look at.  Heck, although it wasn’t said so bluntly, there are some texts that say that “if the Judge is an odd figure, the chart is cursed and must be thrown out”; in a mathematically valid chart, the Judge must always be an even figure (containing an even number of points, e.g. Fortuna Maior with 6 points), so if you have one with an odd Judge (e.g. Puer with 5 points), that means you made a mistake.

But here’s the thing: you can make a mistake in multiple places in the chart, and a mistake anywhere in the chart means that the whole chart gets messed up.  The only four truly independently-generated figures there are in a geomantic chart, where the four figures have no inherent relationship to each other, are the four Mothers.  The Daughters rely on the Mothers, the Nieces rely on the Mothers and the Daughters, the Witnesses rely on the Nieces (and thus the Mothers and Daughters), the Judge relies on the Witnesses (and thus the Nieces, and thus the Mothers and Daughters), and the Sentence relies on the First Mother as well as the Judge (and thus, ultimately, the Four Mothers).  A mistake in the chart in the Daughters, Nieces, Witnesses, or Court indicates that there’s a break in the calculation that causes the whole chart to become invalid.  In other words, any of the figures from the fifth figure (First Daughter) to the sixteenth (Sentence) relies on all the other figures to be correct; if one figure is calculated wrong, even if it doesn’t impact the rest of the figures in the chart, it still means that the whole chart is off.

Now, on the rare occasion, I have seen some people in the geomancy Facebook group I admin post a chart that has a mistake in it, and generally one of the community will be sharp and fast enough to point out that mistake.  However, there is the rare time now and again that someone will still want to interpret the invalid, erroneous chart, because “well, that’s what they made in the moment”.  Like…I get it, but that’s not how geomancy works.  Geomancy is a system, a body of (more or less) well-defined and well-understood rules that must be applied for it to be considered “geomancy”.  To break those rules is to break the system, and you end up in the realm of “undefined behavior”, which doesn’t give you a lot to stand on besides pure intuition.  And geomancy, while making use of intuition, cannot simply rely on it in favor of the actual rules that keep things grounded in the actual art and practice of geomancy.

Now, to be sure and to be fair, there is absolutely a role for intuition in geomancy!  This is where we can explore our connection to the Divine and plumb its depths in order to come up with true and truly artful interpretations that pull every ounce and gram of nuance and detail out of a chart, even a single figure or a single passation of a figure from one house to another.  But that connection must be solid in order for it to be of use, and you still have to be sure you’re looking at the right things.  I’ve seen people in a variety of settings whose intuitions are strong, but not strong enough to not be swayed by what they’re looking at; it’s often what they’re looking at that kickstarts or unlocks their intuition, so if what they’re looking at is wrong, then while they might be getting messages, it’ll end up being a case of garbage-in garbage-out.  And that gets nobody anywhere good.  Sure, there are times where your intuition or spirit guides or what-have-you will kick in strong and give you ultimately-right answers with a fundamentally wrong chart, essentially covering for your mistakes, but it’s not guaranteed, it’s not trustworthy, it’s not reliable, and it’s still a problem because you made a mistake and didn’t spot or correct it.

So much for the chart, but there is a way for the Mothers to be wrong, too!  Recall that, of all the various ways to generate figures, the oldest and most traditional method is the stick-and-surface method: the geomancer takes some marking instrument (stick, staff, wand, pen, pencil, finger, etc.) and a markable surface (sand, dirt, paper, wax tablet, electronic tablet, etc.) and makes 16 rows of randomly-generated marks from right to left, then counts them off two-by-two until either one or two marks are left in a row.  Those leftover marks, read in succession from the top down and clustered into four groups of four, are what give you your four Mother figures.  The trick is to be able to make those marks clearly and distinctly enough when you’re in the throes of that geomantic diviner’s trance so that, when you’re later counting them, you can clearly count exactly how many marks you made.  The soul is moved to make those marks through the use of the body, but if you can’t read what the soul was actually doing, then there wasn’t enough control over the body to make that connection clear.  So, if you ended up reading two points as one (if the two marks were made too closely together), or if you ended up counting an extra point where there shouldn’t have been, then you got a bad Mother where you might end up with Fortuna Maior instead of Albus or vice versa, and that’s something that’s super hard to check for, and not at all possible based on the chart that uses those Mothers.  You need to carefully inspect the actual marks you made when using the stick-and-surface method to make sure you actually recorded what you were supposed to get.  (It’s because of this difficulty and honing of the use of the body, in addition to practicing that diviner’s trance, that I recommend people to start with the stick-and-surface method and become adept at it before going on to any other method of generating Mothers.)

So what about those who use the stick-and-surface method to generate figures?  Sure, humans may not be perfect dot-making or dot-reading machines, but c’mon.  If you’re not able to make or read dots well enough to avoid mistakes, then you need to get better at making and reading dots.  If you’re a geomancer who has the querent themselves make the dots for making the Mothers (and this is a thing!), well…maybe don’t let them make dots, but have them use another tool or method instead, like throwing dice or drawing cards to generate Mothers.  Or, heck, instead of making dots, I might instead recommend making short vertical notches, which are easier to read and mark rather than dots, which can get pretty sloppy.  Sure, we might not be perfect at making or reading dots, but it’s not about the dots themselves—it’s about trying to understand what the motions of the soul were trying to communicate through making the dots, not what the dots are literally saying themselves.  The dots must be inspected carefully to make sure the motions of the soul that produced them is understood, and any mistake in translating there means that that connection is disrupted, and the omens that follow will be misread.

Basically, what it comes down to is this: if there’s an error in the calculation of the chart or in the generation of the Mothers, then that’s on you to notice and to fix, then start interpreting the correct chart.  Consider a library, where each book is a particular destiny or fate for individual queries put to divination, and you want to find the book for the specific query the querent in front of you is asking; the geomantic chart is the call number for that book.  If you have the right call number, then you have the right book, and all you need to do is read from it; easy enough!  But if you have the wrong call number, then you’ll get the wrong book which won’t speak to the query put to divination by the querent—heck, you may end up with a call number for a book that doesn’t even exist.  This is why it’s crucial to make sure that we calculate the chart correctly, because if we don’t, we’re not going to get a chart that properly responds to the query put to divination: any mistake that occurs in the calculation of the chart will mess with the interpretation of the chart.

And that’s a whole other level to worry about, too!  Even if you have the chart mathematically correct, you can still mess up in the interpretation of the chart, like if you misread Fortuna Maior for Fortuna Minor or if you thought that Amissio was a figure of Mercury instead of Venus.  As a geomancer, you need to make sure that you know your symbols well enough to at least avoid major blunders in their interpretation.  These symbols are a thousand years old and are known across the Old World from Morocco to Mumbai, from Madagascar to Murmansk, and though there are definitely variations in how some geomancers or how some traditions of geomancy interpret them, the core meanings are the same no matter where you turn.  To make an egregious error in thinking that Caput Draconis talks about death or that Amissio talks about great gains in wealth is to show that you’re not getting the right information, and that will mess up the interpretation accordingly.  Just because you say things that are wrong doesn’t mean they become right because you’re “in the zone” and getting lost in the moment of talking; it just means you’re wrong and getting carried away with yourself.

My friend countered that the interpretation of a geomantic chart should embrace our imperfections and slips of reading or memory, but I countered with the metaphor of a doctor measuring someone’s blood pressure.  If their blood pressure meter is broken, the wrong numbers will result; if the blood pressure meter uses the wrong-sized armband, the wrong numbers will result; if the doctor mentally flips the numbers so that the systolic pressure is read on the bottom and the diastolic pressure on the top, the wrong numbers will result.  And wrong numbers means that the doctor is going to get a bad understanding and could gauge the person to be healthy when they’re not, or that they’re in danger when they’re fine.  Let’s not kid ourselves here: this kind of mistake can kill someone, and such a mistake cannot be tolerated or allowed by the doctor, so the doctor must make sure that the blood pressure meter is working and calibrated properly, that they’re using the right equipment for their patient, and that they’re reading and properly understanding the numbers that result.  The doctor cannot afford mistakes in tending to their patient, and neither can we, as diviners, afford mistakes in tending to our querents.  When people come to us for divination, they sometimes come to us to save their lives.  Divination can often be a matter of literal life and death for some people who know it, and more’s the pity, those who aren’t even aware of it yet.  There should be absolutely no expense spared in effort, skill, practice, study, or tools to make sure that everything in our divination readings is absolutely correct as possible, including making our calculations and double-, triple, even quadruple-checking them according to the rules within our system.  The rules of geomancy, when aided (but not replaced) by intuition, are what ensures that it work, so we need to make sure we understand the system at work.

To use another medical metaphor, consider someone coming to you for herbal medicine.  Ideally and hopefully, you can get a good read on the person and their symptoms and you know your herbs well enough to give them a particular kind of herbal concoction to help them improve themselves.  Sometimes, we can rely on intuition or spiritual guidance to pick the herbs for us, passing our hands over our jars and bundles and going “mmm…yes, this one feels right for you”.  But let’s be honest: if you don’t have a good grasp of your patient’s symptoms, or if they’re not telling you all their symptoms, or if you misremember certain properties of herbs or don’t know them to begin with, you can make a mistake in the medicine you give them that could poison them, incapacitate them, or otherwise make their situation worse.  I don’t care how strong someone’s intuition is: if my goal is to help someone, then the least I can do is to do no harm, so I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure I can at least hit that bare minimum threshold, which requires me to make sure I don’t make mistakes in what I do.  People come to us diviners for help, and it’s our job as diviners to help them and not hurt them; thus, it’s of paramount importance that everything in my divination work be done as properly and correctly as possible.  Heck, I’ll still pull out my notes and reference books when doing divinations; even if I think I know the figures and rules after ten years of constant use and study, I’ll still double-check and cross-check myself to make sure I’m on a good path with what I’m doing.  Making mistakes, honest or careless or with good intentions or otherwise, is still making mistakes, and that’s not something we can tolerate, nor is it anything I would take a chance with.

Now, sure, if geomancy were a more free-form kind of divination that relies far more on intuition, like bone-throwing or fire-scrying or trance states of remote viewing or possession, then this would all be a moot point, because pure intuition (so long as that connection is strong and clear) doesn’t have rules that can be broken.  Likewise, forms of divination that are developed on-the-spot or that have rules that can be bent or tossed aside in the moment, like some kinds of bone-throwing or nonce Tarot spreads, don’t have this issue, again because there are no rules that keep things correct, because it’s going to be correct by default.  And, of course, there are forms of divination that are strictly omen-based, like Roman augury, where you must inspect everything that happens or everything that is said as being of potential significance!  But geomancy isn’t like those forms of divination; geomancy has rules, and we use those rules and systems to enhance and ground our intuition, not the other way around.

Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood here: I’m not trying to say that geomancy is just about the rules, because it’s not, nor that there is no role that intuition plays, because there absolutely is.  Technique and intuition go hand-in-hand with geomancy, as I once said long ago with a beautiful metaphor based on Bernadette Brady’s Predictive Astrology: The Eagle and the Lark, and the dumbing-down of geomancy that reduced it only to a rule-based system ended up in the cultural forgetting and setting-aside of geomancy in favor of more intuitive methods of divination like Tarot that we saw in the West.  Intuition helps reach where rules cannot, but let’s be clear here: it really is the rules that do the bulk of the work in geomantic divination, and if you falter in the understanding or application of the rules, your intuition may not be enough to cover the distance that you’re falling short of.  Yes, there are times where intuition can do just that, and I’m not saying that it can’t or doesn’t; there are times when we’re so plugged in to the querent and tuned in to the query that we can clearly see without the use of geomancy, or that we can get at obscure meanings of the figures that don’t normally apply because of the peculiarities of a given situation.  However, if you’re using a system composed of rules like geomancy, and unless you’re a professional medium or clairvoyant or honest-to-gods psychic, you can’t always rely on that helping you out when you make a mistake, nor can you always be certain that your connection is 100% clear and strong enough to do so—and if you do have such a strong intuitive connection, then chances are you don’t need geomancy anyway.  Even so, geomancy is still more technique-based than intuition-based, and although intuition plays a role in refining and aiming the rules of geomancy, it’s still the rules of geomancy themselves that point us in the right direction to begin with, so we need to make sure that we’re facing the right way to see in that way.

Remember: an honest mistake is still a mistake, and mistakes can be costly.

“Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration” ebook available for free download!

This is just a short little notice, for those who prefer printouts or ebooks compared to reading things strictly on the web:

So, some of you may know that I wrote that 23-post-long series Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration earlier this summer.  Coming in at close to 100k words, this was a nontrivial thing that—I swear—was only going to be a single post, but things got a little out of hand and there ended up being a bit more I wanted to talk about, and then more, and then more…well, it culminated in a post series that I’m rather proud of having written.

The problem is that not everyone can read things online all that easily, for one reason or another, especially something as lengthy as an informal Ph.D.-level dissertation.  Though I’m reluctant to publish the post series as an actual book (it would need to be rewritten from the ground up, with lots of copyright and usage rights back-and-forths between me and some two dozen other magicians and authors, amongst other reasons), my good friend Dr. Al Cummins proposed the idea of simply compiling all the posts into a single PDF.  I found this pretty fair, and although the task ended up being a bit more complicated and involved than I anticipated, I ended up doing it.  (I actually did this quite a while ago, but I forgot about it and left the file on my computer, for which I apologize.)  I didn’t want to spend too much time on it, so it’s not anything formal or fully polished like I might normally do for my ebooks or publications, but it does satisfy me and stands up well enough on its own.

So, to that end, if you’d like a more print-friendly approach to reading my Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration blog posts in a single document, you can download the PDF version at this link, and you can also download it from the Books page of my website.  Arguably, “print-friendly” is probably something up for debate; it’s almost 50MB and over 260 pages with lots of images, but at least it’s all self-contained in a single document.  Like the blog posts themselves, this is free to download and read (though donations through Ko-fi for having reformatted it all would certainly be greatly and deeply appreciated if this is something you can make use of).

A Simple PGM Invocation to the Supreme Intelligence

Recently on my Curious Cat (which has been an ongoing thing that delights me endlessly, some 3300 questions later!), I was asked a simple question: “Do you know if in PGM there’s some sort of invocation of the Nous?”  Off the top of my head, I couldn’t recall any, given that the Nous is something more of a Hermetic and Platonic entity than anything typically common in the PGM, so I got out my copy and started searching through it for anything resembling it.  As it turns out, there is actually a short invocation along these lines to the Nous in the PGM that I wanted to explore a bit, especially in the slightly expanded context of where it appears.

Let’s look at PGM V.459ff, a short prayer found in see British Museum Papyrus 46, folio 7, both recto and verso.  This is my rendition of the prayer, using Betz’s version of the PGM as a base and transliterating the barbarous words back into Greek:

I call upon you who created earth and bones and all flesh and all spirit and who established the sea and suspended the heavens,
who separated the light from the darkness,
the Supreme Intelligence who lawfully administers all things!
Eternal Eye, Daimon of Daimons, God of Gods, the Lord of the Spirits,
ΑΙΩΝ ΙΑΩ ΟΥΗΙ who cannot go astray!
Hear my voice!

I call upon you, Master of the Gods, high-thundering Zeus, sovereign Zeus: ΑΔΩΝΑΙ
Lord: ΙΑΩ ΟΥΗΕ
I am he who calls upon you, great god, in Syrian: ΖΑΑΛΑΗΡ ΙΦΦΟΥ
You must not ignore my voice in Hebrew: ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ ΑΒΡΑΣΙΛΩΑ
For I am ΣΙΛΘΑΧΩΟΥΧ ΛΑΙΛΑΜ ΒΛΑΣΑΛΩΘ ΙΑΩ ΙΕΩ ΝΕΒΟΥΘ ΣΑΒΙΟΘ ΑΡΒΩΘ ΑΡΒΑΘΙΑΩ ΙΑΩΘ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ
ΠΑΤΟΥΡΗ ΖΑΓΟΥΡΗ
ΒΑΡΟΥΧ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ ΕΛΩΑΙ ΙΑΒΡΑΑΜ
ΒΑΡΒΑΡΑΥΩ ΝΑΥΣΙΦ

High-minded one, immortal one, who possess the crown of the whole world!
ΣΙΕΠΗ ΣΑΚΤΙΕΤΗ ΒΙΟΥ ΒΙΟΥ ΣΦΗ ΣΦΗ ΝΟΥΣΙ ΝΟΥΣΙ ΣΙΕΘΟ ΣΙΕΘΟ ΧΘΕΘΩΝΙ ΡΙΓΧ
ΩΗΑ Η ΗΩΑ ΑΩΗ ΙΑΩ
ΑΣΙΑΛ ΣΑΡΑΠΗΟΛΣΩ ΕΘΜΟΥΡΗΣΙΝΙ ΣΕΜ ΛΑΥ ΛΟΥ ΛΟΥΡΙΓΧ

The same, but with the barbarous words in my transcription:

I call upon you who created earth and bones and all flesh and all spirit and who established the sea and suspended the heavens,
who separated the light from the darkness,
the Supreme Intelligence who lawfully administers all things!
Eternal Eye, Daimon of Daimons, God of Gods, the Lord of the Spirits,
AIŌN IAŌ ŪĒI who cannot go astray!
Hear my voice!

I call upon you, Master of the Gods, high-thundering Zeus, sovereign Zeus: ADŌNAI
Lord: IAŌ ŪĒE
I am he who calls upon you, great god, in Syrian: ZAHALAĒR IPH-PHŪ
You must not ignore my voice in Hebrew: ABLANATHANALBA ABRASILŌA
For I am SILTHAKHŪKH LAILAM BLASALŌTH IAŌ IEŌ NEBŪTH SABIOTH ARBŌTH ARBATHIAŌ IAŌTH SABAŌTH
PATŪRĒ ZAGŪRĒ
BARŪKH ADŌNAI ELŌAI I-ABRAHAM
BARBARAUŌ NAUSIPH

High-minded one, immortal one, who possess the crown of the whole world!
SIEPĒ SAKTIETĒ BIŪ BIŪ SPHĒ SPHĒ NŪSI NŪSI SIETHO SIETHO KHTHETHŌNI RINKH
ŌĒA Ē ĒŌA AŌĒ IAŌ
ASIAL SARAPĒOLSŌ ETHMŪRĒSINI SEM LAU LOU LOURINKH

There’s a short note at the end in the usual PGM style referring to the use of the above invocation: “it loosens shackles, makes invisible, sends dreams; a spell for gaining favor.  Add the usual for what you want.”  The prayer has no other information associated with it, though it is prefixed with the label “Another way”; however, the preceding entry (PGM V.447ff) gives a ritual for a talismanic ring of Serapis for dream divination, so it doesn’t seem to be related to that, though given that the previous ritual is to Serapis (originally spelled “Sarapis”) and given the barbarious word ΣΑΡΑΠΗΟΛΣΩ (SARAPĒOLSŌ, as in Serapis; Betz and Preisendanz give this as two separate words, ΣΑΡΑΠΙ ΟΛΣΩ, but the scan of Papyrus 46 shows it as one word as given above) in the final line of this invocation, I may be mistaken, and that this invocation could also be used for dream divination.  For reference, the preceding ritual in PGM V.447ff prescribes the following:

  • Procure a “jasperlike agate” stone for setting into a ring.
  • Engrave on the front of the stone an image of Serapis seated and facing forwards holding an Egyptian royal scepter (a was scepter?) with an ibis atop the scepter, and on the reverse of the stone the name Serapis.
  • Set the stone into a ring (perhaps even have it so that the stone itself is completely encased and hidden within the ring?) and keep it secret and hidden away from anyone and everyone until you need to use the ring.
  • When you need to perform dream divination:
    • Wear the ring on the index finger of your left hand; in your right hand, hold a spray of olive and laurel twigs.
    • Wave the twigs towards “the lamp” while saying “the spell” seven times.
    • Without speaking to anyone, go to sleep, holding the ring to your left ear (perhaps most easily achieved by sleeping on your left side).

Oddly, PGM V.447ff doesn’t introduce “the lamp” or “the spell”, and this ritual seems well and truly disconnected from the preceding PGM V.370ff, which also doesn’t have a lamp, and the invocations there have nothing to do with this.  This makes me think that PGM V.447ff and V.459ff are actually part of the same ritual; the only thing that distinguishes them is the “Another way” that precedes the invocation from the latter, which is only present in the original PGM manuscript by a little squiggle on the left margin.  This same symbol, with the same “translation”, is present elsewhere in PGM V (like immediately before PGM V.172ff which follows the famous Headless Rite, folio 3 recto); granted, I’m no expert in Koiné Greek manuscript deciphering, but I’m a little doubtful of this meaning here.  I think it’s proper, rather, to read PGM V.447ff and V.459ff as one single ritual entirely, which would then mean that these two separate PGM entries are related, and that Serapis is a common factor in both; after all, the description of the invocation at the end does say that it “sends dreams”, which is exactly what the previous PGM entry aims to accomplish.

So, let’s think about both of these PGM entries, and combine them together a little more concretely.  If the whole ritual is designed to send prophetic dreams, then this is the process I would recommend.

  1. Procure a “jasperlike agate” stone, an oil lamp with a clean wick and pure oil, and a spray of olive and laurel twigs or branches.
  2. Engrave on the front of the stone an image of Serapis seated and facing forwards holding a royal scepter with an ibis atop the scepter, and on the reverse of the stone the name “Serapis” (ΣΕΡΑΠΙΣ).
  3. Either set the stone into a ring (preferably gold) or wrap it in a long band of clean, white linen.
  4. In the evening after sunset, light the lamp, and face east.
  5. With the ring on your left index finger, or with the stone bound to your left index finger with the linen wrap, hold the olive and laurel sticks in your right, and wave them in a clockwise circle towards the lamp.  While doing so, recite the invocation above seven times.
  6. Go to bed with the lamp lit, saying nothing more to anyone or for any purpose, and sleep on your left side facing the east and head pointed to the north with the ring/stone by your left ear.

In the above, a “jasperlike agate” is a little weird, since both jasper and agate are the same material (chalcedony), with the only difference being how translucent (agate) or opaque (jasper) they are.  In this case, “jasperlike agate” to me would be a chalcedony stone that is only barely translucent and mostly opaque, perhaps with only the barest of striations or bands in it.  Likewise, the scepter with an ibis on it could be a little difficult to understand; it could be the famous was-scepter, or the heka-scepter, i.e. the crook from the crook-and-flail combination.  Alternatively, given that the was-scepter itself is a rod with a stylized animal’s head on top of it, one could simply make an “ibis-scepter”, with the head of an ibis on a rod being held…though, with the long curve of the ibis beak, this would make it look awfully like a crook unto itself.

So that’s all well and good, I suppose, but what I really wanted to talk about is the invocation itself.  The whole reason why it came to my attention was the phrase “Supreme Mind” (ὁ μέγας Νοῦς, ho mégas Noûs), which is what the original anon on Curious Cat was after; the only other instances of this entity being present in the PGM are in PGM XIII (aka “the Eighth and Tenth Hidden Books of Moses”, the origin of the Heptagram Rite), but it’s more in a cosmogony/narrative sense than any invocation or ritual.  In Betz’s version, “Supreme Mind” is tagged with a footnote, that “[t]he concept of the divine Nus (Mind) is an influence from Greek philosophy”, followed by a list of citations where Nous is found in a philosophical-religious sense, including PGM XIII as well as the Corpus Hermeticum.  And it is most certainly true that Nous in the Corpus Hermeticum is a divine entity, sometimes being something divine that divine humans can attain and sometimes being the Divine Itself, so it’s tempting to view this particular entry of the PGM as being explicitly Hermetic in the Corpus Hermeticum sense.  The issue with that conclusion, however, is that I’m not sure the timeline matches up.  Historically speaking, I’m a fan of the theory that Hermeticism in the sense of the Corpus Hermeticum and related “Hermetic” texts came about as a philosophical-religious movement in the early days (or, really, centuries) of the Roman Empire, so the PGM may be roughly contemporaneous as the Corpus Hermeticum; it could be that this text was influenced by Hermeticism, sure, but it could be equally as likely that it was simply influenced by Platonism and was written either before or concurrently with Hermeticism.

Plus, there’s some other interesting stuff in this prayer I want to consider.  Do you recall our earlier talk about PGM XXIIb.1ff, the “Prayer of Jacob”, which I later redid and rewrote and augmented into a fuller Prayer of the Patriarchs?  That was an interesting bit of work, and certainly has some Hermetic (or close enough) influence, but is also surprisingly Jewish in its approach to divinity.  There’s a bit of that here, too.  There is the explicit call to the Divine (I guess the Nous, equivalent to Zeus as well as Serapis) in Hebrew (ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ ΑΒΡΑΣΙΛΩΑ, ABLANATHANALBA ABRASILŌA), but there’s also the string of barbarous words ΒΑΡΟΥΧ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ ΕΛΩΑΙ ΙΑΒΡΑΑΜ, BARŪKH ADŌNAI ELŌAI IABRAAM.  (Betz and Preisendanz just give ΑΒΡΑΑΜ, but the scan from Papyrus 46 shows ΙABRAAM.)  It’s clear, even to Betz, that this is just a Greek rendition of the Hebrew barukh [atah] Adonai, “blessed [are you], my Lord” and eloah-i Avraham, “my god of Abraham”, though “it is not clear whether or not the magician understood these words”, especially since ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ ΑΒΡΑΣΙΛΩΑ are most likely not Hebrew at all.  I mean, much of the Jewish content in the PGM is probably just aped from Jewish tradition and practices, without it being necessarily or properly Jewish in any sense, but the fact that it has a presence at all speaks to the influence of monotheistic and Abrahamic practices, even if just because of a general perception of their power.

As might be expected, many of the other barbarous words have other presences in the PGM, especially ΖΑΓΟΥΡΗ (sometimes along ΠΑΤΟΥΡΗ or ΠΑΓΟΥΡΗ, notably PGM LXXXVIII.1ff), ΛΑΙΛΑΜ, and others.  ΝΕΒΟΥΘ is unusual, in that it’s super close to ΝΕΒΟΥΤ, which starts the barbarous word ΝΕΒΟΥΤΟΣΟΥΑΛΗΘ, which is often found in contexts related to Set or Hekatē.  The first bit of the final set of barbarous words (ΣΙΕΠΗ ΣΑΚΤΙΕΤΗ ΒΙΟΥ ΒΙΟΥ ΣΦΗ ΣΦΗ ΝΟΥΣΙ ΝΟΥΣΙ ΣΙΕΘΟ ΣΙΕΘΟ…) is almost found identically in PGM XIII.734ff as well as in PGM I.232ff, PGM II.64ff, and PGM XII.96ff; there seems to be a regularly reoccuring formula consisted of duplicated words like these.  The “Syrian” name ΖΑΑΛΑΗΡ ΙΦΦΟΥ (Betz and Preisendanz give it as one word, but Papyrus 46 seems to show a space in it) is a weird one, and I can’t find anything resembling it in the rest of the PGM; while I don’t think it’s Aramaic or “Syrian” at all, I think it’d be interesting to see if there is an actual origin for this word, or if there is something close to it in the rest of the PGM, perhaps with some variation of spelling (though I couldn’t find any from the likely variations I came up with).

Given the various types of barbarous words in this invocation, the lack of asking for anything specific within the prayer itself, and how it’s described as a general-purpose invocation, this short little prayer seems to be a good PGM-style approach to invoking the Supreme Intelligence—whether as Zeus, Serapis, Nous, or even the Abrahamic God.  It’s something I want to try incorporating into some of my practices, and maybe even give it a whirl for dream divination itself.

Also, for ease of reference and for those who are interested, I already made a formal ritual page for this: the Divine Illumination of Dreams, accessible through the site menu (Rituals → Classical Hermetic Rituals → Divine Illumination of Dreams).

How would you like an online geomancy class taught by yours truly?

No, I haven’t forgotten my blog; it’s just that it’s only this past week that my yearly Hell Season has finally come to an end. Between three long road-trips up and down the East Coast, several birthdays (including my own!), several Lukumí initiation anniversaries (including my own!), my wedding anniversary, and at least a half-dozen feast days in various traditions, this has been a super-busy summer, guys, and made all the better by getting to meet so many of you in person. (Here’s hoping that trend continues!) Now that it’s done with, I’m finally able to get settled back into the routine of things, and also resting and relaxing.

Besides travel, ritual, ceremony, and being pleasantly-yet-uncommonly social, I’ve also been busy with writing, though more for books than posts. Not only did my Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration posts earlier this year take more out of me than I expected, but since then, I’ve also been working obsessively on researching the history and practice of domino fortune-telling, and writing a book on the same; this isn’t just the most complete treatment of the subject ever written in English, but it’s also a project and topic that I completely didn’t expect to ever tackle, yet which is already nearing completion (and publication). However, now that that’s winding down, I’ve also been getting back to working more on my geomancy textbook, Principia Geomantica. It’s still a work in progress, and I’ve been doing more research and refining to it to get it to where I’m personally satisfied with it, including review of some techniques I thought were useful and showed some promise but which didn’t really play out as well as I had hoped. Much of this research also includes translating more Latin from Renaissance-era texts like Robert Fludd and Henri de Pisis (and you can find plenty of the original sources in this post listing digitized historical geomancy texts), but also from modern 20th century French works on geomancy, which offer even more insight and advice. (I also have some neat stuff to say about that body of literature, not least of which is that they advanced many of the same innovations I myself have come up with independently, along with some rather peculiar thoughts all of their own that don’t seem to be found in any other geomantic tradition I’m familiar with.)

In the meantime, however, I think I’d like to try my hand at offering online geomancy classes; after all, not everyone enjoys or is able to learn from a textbook, and I think this might be a useful thing for many of us. Not to step on the toes of the good Dr. Cummins with his wonderful geomancy classes over at Wolf & Goat, which I myself have taken and can definitely recommend, but I’d also like to offer my own training and teaching for those interested in the divinatory art of geomancy. I’d like to present as comprehensive a course on geomancy as I can manage, covering all the bases in a steady progression, just as my (eventual) geomancy textbook would cover. However, there are different ways to offer such a class, and I’ve been mulling over what might be best received by the online occult community. To that end, let me know your thoughts in this poll (but only after finishing reading the rest of this post first:

(If you’re viewing this post in an RSS reader or in a really old or badly-coded web browser, the embedded poll above might not show up. If that’s the case, please use this direct link to the poll.)

How would each of these three options play out, you might ask?

  • The online live classes would be held over Zoom in a group of no more than 20 people. These would be held weekly on a set schedule. Recordings would be made, but only for people who miss a class due to schedule conflicts, and not for public dissemination. I would plan for multiple iterations of the online classes, with one or two cycles offered every year, so if you don’t get into one, you could wait a few months to get into the next. You’d pay once to reserve your seat in the class, and that payment would be a lump sum for the entire cycle. I’d be able to get this set up and established pretty quickly, once I have my idea for a curriculum and plan for teaching, so if I can get my thoughts sorted out well enough, it could be held as early as spring 2020.
  • The pre-recorded videos would be, well, just that: recordings of voice augmented by visual demonstrations, either drawn out on a whiteboard or digitally with slides and images. These would be recorded once and, after paying a set fee for the bundle, you’d be given access to download them within a set timeframe, and you would watch/listen to them at your own pace. I’m not sure whether the videos would be best broken up by hour/hour-and-a-half chunks and fitting in whatever topics can be spoken about in such a time per video, or broken up by individual topic of variable duration. Except in egregious cases of error or omission, the videos would not be updated or added to. This would take a bit longer to set up than the online classes, and I’d probably be able to deliver the set by summer 2020.
  • The slides or textpages, likewise, are self-explanatory, something along the lines of boring online training for one’s job or in the method of Quareia. You’d pay to get access to it, and you would work through it at your own pace, perhaps stopped by regular knowledge-checks or quizzes to make sure you understood the material enough to proceed. In many ways, this would be a sort of “textbook lite”. This would probably take the longest time to deliver, pending other writing projects, and could be finished as early as autumn 2020.

My personal guess, based on preliminary results from Twitter, is that the pre-recorded videos would be the most preferred and that the slides/textpages would be least preferred. While I like the idea of online live classes, I think pre-recorded videos makes the most sense, but I’d like to see what the potential students themselves would like.

In all cases, however, I’d start some sort of searchable forum (perhaps a Facebook group or subreddit, just to make it easy?) for students to join, ask questions, post charts, and get feedback on. I’d also set up some sort of “final exam” for those overachievers who would want to prove their capabilities to me in exchange for a polyphanic certification of having learned and understood geomancy according to my standard of approval (and, hopefully, exceeding it). If I offer future classes on geomancy that go well above and beyond the already-comprehensive course of study I’m thinking about for geomantic divination, such as on niche topics within geomancy or geomantic magic, I’d insist that you first complete this course and pass the final exam as a prerequisite.

For a price point, I’m not yet decided; I’d need to think about that more after I actually come up with the material to see how it all breaks down into classes, topics, and expected durations, but the price point would probably be in the range of US$300 to US$600. The total cost here would include the classes themselves, as well as permanent access to the student forum, review of tests, providing of certificates, individual answering of questions, review of charts, and the like. Payments would be made through PayPal, as with my current services and ebooks offered directly through my website. I’m also considering, once I actually finish and publish Principia Geomantica, to throw in a half-off coupon for buying that book, but that’ll be down the road, so even if the price point seems high, I’ll try to make it worth every penny.

I’ll have this poll running for two weeks, so be sure to get your vote in no later than 11:59 pm Eastern US time, November 2, 2019. Also be sure to spread this post to all your geomantically-inclined friends, whether by link or Facebook or Twitter, so I can get as good a summary of potential students’ preferences as possible! Not only will I be using this poll to figure out which delivery method is most preferred, I’ll also be using it as a gauge of interest, both for online classes generally (geomantic and otherwise) as well as to see what delivery method might logistically be most feasible given how many people want to take it. Once the poll closes and I get a good handle of the results, I plan on setting another poll in November to ascertain what people’s existing geomantic skills are, where they feel they’re lacking, and what they’d be most interested in learning and focusing on. So, if you’re interested in a potentially-polyphanic online course of geomancy, stay tuned for giving more feedback!