The Headless Rite

Often referred to as “The Bornless Ritual” or “Liber Samekh” in modern times, the Headless Rite is a powerful ritual that has gained no small following in the Western magical community for over a century now.  Popularized by Aleister Crowley and Samuel L. MacGregor Mathers in their version of the Lemegeton, and by Crowley’s republishing of it as Liber Samekh within the A∴A∴, this ritual has been used famously for the work of Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, but has many other uses that may not be immediately apparent.  My original write-up of this ritual was from 2012 in this post, but this page presents a fuller explanation and description of the ritual.

Central to this ritual is the invocation of the Akephalos, literally “Headless One”, which is an entity not commonly found in either a Hellenic or Egyptian context, and is rarely even mentioned elsewhere in the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM).  There are archetypal parallels and suggestions between this and other headless entities in other traditions, but in this context, the Akephalos is considered to be a high divinity figure.  Crowley and Mathers interpreted this to be “Bornless” by recalling that the Hebrew word for “head” can also mean “start” or “beginning”; thus, one that has no head has no beginning or birth, and is in a sense “bornless”, i.e. an eternal entity.

The original ritual calls upon the Akephalos first to exorcise someone from a demon, but as the ritual culminates towards its end, the magician switches from simply invoking Akephalos to speaking as Akephalos, becoming a divine entity themselves.  Because of this interesting shift in perspective, this ritual was adapted by Crowley from a ritual of external exorcism into a ritual of self-exorcism, purifying one’s own form so that the divine presence of Akephalos can better inhabit the body, allowing one to assume the form, power, and presence of a God or one of his messengers or avatars; this was the innovation that allows for this ritual to be used for the modern Abramelin-inspired endeavor for pursuing contact with one’s own agathodaimon or Holy Guardian Angel.

The original Greek from the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM V.96—172), formally titled “Στηλη του Ιεου του Ζωγρ εις την επιστολην” or “The Stele of Ieu the Hieroglyphist in His Letter” reads as follows:

Σὲ καλῶ, τὸν Ἀκέφαλον, τὸν κτίσαντα γῆν καὶ οὐρανὸν, τὸν κτίσαντα νύκτα καὶ ἡμὲραν, σὲ τὸν κτίσαντα φῶς καὶ σκότος. Σὺ εἶ Ὀσορόννωφρις, ὃν οὐδεὶς εἶδε πώποτε. Σὺ εἶ Ἴαβας! Σὺ εἶ Ἰάπως! Σὺ διέκρινας τὸ δίκαιον καὶ τὸ ἄδικον. Σὺ ἐποίησας θῆλυ καὶ ἄῤῤεν. Σὺ ἔδειξας σπορὰν καὶ καπρούς. Σὺ ἐποίησας τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἀλληλοφιλεῖν καὶ ἀλληλομισεῖν. Ἐγώ εἰμι Μοϋσῆς ὁ προφήτης σου, ᾧ παρέδωκας τὰ μυστέριά σου τὰ συντελούμενα Ἰσράηλ. Σὺ ἔδειξας ὑγρὸν καὶ χηρὸν καὶ πᾶσαν τροφήν. Ἐπάκουσόν μου!

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἄγγελος τοῦ Φαπρω Ὀσορόννωφρις. Τοῦτὸ ἐστιν σοῦ τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ἀληθινὸν τὸ παραδιδόμενον τοῖς προφήταις Ἰσραήλ.

Ἐπάκουσόν μου·
ΑΡΒΑΘΙΑΩ ΡΕΙΒΕΤ ΑΘΕΛΕΒΕΡΣΗΘ ΑΡΑ ΒΛΑΘΑ ΑΛΒΕΘ ΕΒΕΝΦΧΙ ΧΙΤΑΣΓΟΗ ΙΒΑΩΘ ΙΑΩ

Εἰσάκουσόν μοθ καὶ ἀποστρεψον τὸ δαιμόνιον τοῦτο. Ἐπικαλοῦμαί σε, τὸν ἐν τῷ κενῷ πνεύματι δεινὸν καὶ ἀόρατον θεὸν·
ΑΡΟΓΟΓΟΡΟΒΡΑΩ ΣΟΧΟΥ ΜΟΔΟΡΙΩ ΦΑΛΑΡΧΑΩ ΟΟΟ

Ἄγιε Ἀκέφαλε! Ἀπάλλαξον τὸν δεῖνα ἀπὸ τοῦ συνέχοντος αὐτὸν δαίμονος·
ΡΟΥΒΡΙΑΩ ΜΑΡΙ ΩΔΑΜ ΒΑΑΒΝΑΒΑΩΘ ΑΣΣ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ ΑΦΝΙΑΩ ΙΘΩΛΗΘ ΑΒΡΑΣΑΧ ΑΗΩΩΥ

Ἰσχυρὲ Ἀκέφαλε! Ἀπάλλαξον τὸν δεῖνα ἀπὸ τοῦ συνέχοντος αὐτὸν δαίμονος·
ΜΑΒΑΡΡΑΙΩ ΙΟΗΛ ΚΟΘΑ ΑΘΟΡΗΒΑΛΩ ΑΒΡΑΩΘ

Ἀπάλλαξον τὸν δεῖνα·
ΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΩΘ ΒΑΣΥΜ ΙΣΑΚ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΙΑΩ

Οὗτος ἐστιν ὁ κύριος τῶν θεῶν. Οὗτος ἐστιν ὁ κύριος τῆς οἰκουμένης. Οὗτος ἐστιν ὂν οἱ ἄνεμοι φοβοῦνται. Οὗτος ἐστιν ὁ ποιήσας φωνὴς προστάγματι ἑαυτοῦ πάντα. Κύριε! Βασιλεῦ! Δύναστα! Βοηθὲ! Σῶσον ψυχὴν·
ΙΕΟΥ ΠΥΡ ΙΟΥ ΠΥΡ ΙΑΩΤ ΙΑΗΩ ΙΟΟΥ ΑΒΡΑΣΑΧ ΣΑΒΡΙΑΜ ΟΟ ΥΥ ΕΥ ΟΟ ΥΥ ΑΔΩΝΑΙΕ

Ἤδη, ἤδη, εὐαγγελος τοῦ θεοῦ·
ΑΝΛΑΛΑ ΛΑΙ ΓΑΙΑ ΑΠΑ ΔΙΑΧΑΝΝΑ ΧΟΡΥΝ

Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ Ἀκέφαλος Δαίμων, ἐν τοῖς ποσὶν ἔχων τὴν ὄρασιν. Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ Ἰσχυρὸς, ὁ ἔχων τὸ πῦρ τὸ ἀθάνατον. Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ Ἁλήθεια, ὁ μισῶν ἀδικήματα γίνεσθαι ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ. Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἀστράπτων καὶ βροντῶν. Ἐγώ εἰμι οὗ ἐστιν ὁ ἴδρως ὄμβρος ἐπιπίπτων ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἵνα ὀχεύῃ. Ἐγώ εἰμι οὗ τὸ στόμα καίεται δι’ ὅλου. Ἐγώ εἰμι γεννῶν καὶ ἀπογεννῶν. Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ Χάρις τοῦ Αἰῶνος. Ὅνομὰ μοι καρδία περιεζωσμένη ὄφιν. Ἕξελθε καὶ ἀκολούθησον.

At the end of the text, there’s a small section entitled “Preparation for the foregoing ritual” (Τελετὴ τῆς προκειμένης ποιήσεως), which reads:

Γρὰψας τὰ ὀνόματα εἰς καινὸν χαρτάριον καὶ διατείνας ἀπὸ κροτάφου εἰς κρὸταφον σεαυτοῦ, ἐντύγχανε πρὸς βορέαν τοῖς Ϝ´ ὀνόμασι, λέγον·

Ὑπόταξόν μοι πάντα τὰ δαιμόνια, ἴνα μοι ᾖ ὑπὲκοος πᾶς δαίμων οὐράνιος καὶ αἰθέριος καὶ ἐπίγειος και ὑπόγειος καὶ χερσαῖος καὶ ἔνυδρος καὶ πᾶσα ἐπιπομπὴ καὶ μάστιξ ἡ θεοῦ.

Καὶ ἔσται σοι τὰ δαιαμόνια πάντα ὑπέκοα. Ἐστὶν δὲ τὸ ἀγαθὸν ζώδιον· :7

That said, let’s talk about how to apply it and what all the Greek actually means.  First, decide upon the purpose for your use of the Headless Rite, and phrase it to become a charge or statement of intent for the ritual.  I personally use the Headless Rite for one of four purposes, each with their own charge:

  • Exorcism: “Deliver NN. from the demon that restrains him!”
    • Here, NN. is the name of the person to be exorcised.
    • This is the original “rubric” as used in the PGM version of the text, since this was originally intended as an exorcism ritual.
  • Banishing: “Deliver me, NN., from any and all demons, death, defilement, illness, impurity, infirmity, pain, plague, or poison that restrains me!”
    • Here, NN. is your own name.
  • Empowering: “Subject to me all spirits so that every spirit whether heavenly or ethereal, upon the earth or under the earth, on dry land or in the water, of whirling air or rushing fire, and every spell and scourge of God may be obedient to me!”
    • This is the version used in Liber Samekh, which is just a more fleshed-out version of the charge used for donning the coronet, as discussed below.
  • K&CHGA: “Send to me my neverborn friend and guardian, my supernatural assistant, my agathodaimon, my holy guardian angel!  Send to me the spirit NN. whose duty it is to guide, lead, assist, and protect me through this and all lives!”
    • Here, NN. in this case refers to the name of the guardian angel, if known.  Otherwise, omit the use of a name entirely and refer to the guardian angel generally.

Once I decide upon a charge, I remember it and recite it at specific moments in the Headless Rite proper.  I only use one charge for each instance of the ritual; I do not mix several, so as to maintain focus and simplicity in purpose.

Prepare yourself a coronet, preferably from “a new sheet of papyrus” (a fresh sheet of white paper is fine), and write upon it the six sacred names in Greek letters “ΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΩΘ ΒΑΣΥΜ ΙΣΑΚ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΙΑΩ” in ink that is neither red nor brown.  The text on the coronet should span the width of your forehead (“from one of your temples to the other”).  Also on this coronet should be inscribed “the good sign”, which further cements one’s power over all spirits to ensure their obedience.  This glyph can take slightly different forms depending on which specific translation you’re looking at:

My personal interpretation of this glyph is that it functions as a powerful defensive-offensive symbol, combining the images of a shield with inner power to burst through any oncoming force.  Whatever form of “the good sign” you choose, write the glyph in the center of this string of names between “ΒΑΣΥΜ” and “ΙΣΑΚ”, or underneath and centered below the names.

Before the ritual proper, I recommend to purify oneself according to your usual methods, as well as performing any preliminary meditation and energy work.  Wearing loose, white- or light-colored clothing is preferable, if any.

Stand and face north.  Don the coronet and recite the following:

AŌTH ABRAŌTH BASYM ISAK SABAŌTH IAŌ

Subject to me all daimons, so that every daimon, whether heavenly or aetherial, upon the earth or under the earth, on dry land or in the water, and every spell and scourge of god might be obedient to me.

Continue to face north.  Calm the mind, focus yourself, raise the arms either in an orans gesture or with the dominant hand raised towards the heavens with the palm facing outward, and proceed with the ritual.  Speak authoritatively and with the surety of the voice of God.  Whenever “[Charge]” is encountered in the ritual, recite the statement of intent as discussed above.

AŌTH ABRAŌTH BASYM ISAK SABAŌTH IAŌ
Thee I invoke, the Headless One.
Thee, who created earth and the heavens.
Thee, who created night and day.
Thee, who created darkness and light.
Thou art OSORONNŌPHRIS, whom no man hath ever seen.
Thou art IABAS!
Thou art IAPŌS!
Thou hast distinguished between the just and the unjust.
Thou hast made the female and the male.
Thou has revealed the seed and the fruit.
Thou hast made men to love each other and hate each other.
I am thy prophet to whom thou hast transmitted thy mysteries, the whole quintessence of Mageia.

Hear me!  I am the messenger of OSORONNŌPHRIS!
This is thy true name handed down to the prophets!
ARBATHIAŌ REIBET ATHELEBERSĒTH ARA BLATHA ALBEU EBENPHKHI KHITASGOĒ IBAŌTH IAŌ
[Charge]

I call upon thee with an empty spirit, oh awesome and invisible god!
AROGOGOROBRAŌ SOKHŪ MODORIŌ PHALARKHAŌ OHOHO
[Charge]

Holy Headless One, hear me!
RUBRIAŌ MARI ŌDAM BAHABNABAŌTH ASS ADŌNAI APHNIAŌ ITHOLĒTH ABRASAKS AĒŌHŌU
[Charge]

MABARRAIŌ IOĒL KOTHA ATHORĒBALŌ ABRAŌTH
[Charge]

AŌTH ABRAŌTH BASYM ISAK SABAŌTH IAŌ
He is the lord of the gods!
He is the lord of the world!
He is the one whom the winds fear!
He is the one who made all things by the command of his voice!
Lord, King, Master, Helper, empower my soul!
IEŪ PYR IŪ PYR IAŌT IAĒŌ IOŪ ABRASAKS SABRIAM OHO UHU EU OHO UHU ADŌNAIE
Quickly, quickly, o good messenger of God!
ANLALA LAI GAIA APA DIAKHANNA KHORYN

At this point in the invocation, center yourself, and visualize yourself existing in all moments and in all places, a body that is pure spiritual light burning through fire itself, transcendent of and immanent throughout the whole Cosmos.  As the Headless One, you exist completely outside all physical time and space, yet present in the most immediate here and now.

I am the Headless One with sight in the feet!
I am the mighty one who possesseth the immortal fire!
I am the Truth that hateth that evil is wrought in the world!
I am the one who maketh the lightning flash and the thunder roll!
I am the one whose sweat is the heavy rain that falls upon the earth that it might be fertile!
I am the one whose mouth is utterly aflame!
I am the one who begetteth and destroyeth!
I am the Grace of the World!
“HEART GIRT WITH A SERPENT” is my name!

Come and follow, that every spirit, whether heavenly or ethereal, upon the earth or under the earth, on dry land or in the water, of whirling air or rushing fire, and every spell and scourge of God may be obedient unto me.

IAŌ SABAŌTH

Having assumed such a form, having spoken with such definiteness and power, dwell within the divine form of the Headless One and continue with whatever work and charge you set out to do.  Once finished with whatever task you have set out to do, release yourself from transcendence back into pure immanence; become human again, ground yourself, and close the ritual however you’re accustomed to doing.

Some final notes about the translation and procedure given above:

  • The sacred names and barbarous words of power tend to defy explanation, though some of them are commonly known from similar works of occult and spiritual literature (especially Ιαω, Σαβαωθ, Αβρασαξ, etc.).  Kenyon and Betz offer some academic notes on some of the terms and phrases used, while Crowley attempts to offer a syllable-by-syllable breakdown of meaning for every word based on his gematria-based interpretations.  Personally, I decline to translate or offer meaning for these phrases, leaving them as divine speech intelligible only on a level above human understanding.
  • My interpretation of “being headless” while also having “sight in the feet” is a description of being both transcendent and immanent.  Despite their general flaws in interpretation, Crowley and Mather’s interpretation of “headless” as “bornless” makes good sense to me: being “headless” means having no beginning, and so the Headless One has always existed outside of time and space, a truly eternal and transcendent entity.  However, by having “sight in the feet”, he is immanent as well.  Consider: where are your feet?  Where you stand.  Where do you stand?  In the here and now.  Without a head, the Headless One would be limited to observing creation only from a transcendent, external perspective without the ability to interact with it.  However, even though he is outside time and space, he is also present within it in this exact time and space, perceiving and acting in this precious present Moment.
  • The ritual text specifies that the magician is to face north for the ritual; given the Egyptian context of the PGM, this makes sense, since north was the directional home of the polar stars, which were conceived of as both symbols of immortality and as divine immortal gods themselves.  Further, the use of the polar stars may also function as a heavenly portal through which divinities may pass into our world.  That said, for those working in a more modern or Western milieu, one may face east instead given its association of bringing light, divinity, and everlasting life.
  • The use of the papyrus/paper coronet is not strictly necessary, in my experience.  Instead of that, a medallion with the six divine names on one side and “the good sign” on the other works as well, which may be worn around the neck as a pendant or fixed to the center of the forehead as a circlet or diadem.  For those who wish to take a more modern approach, anointing the forehead and palms with Abramelin oil while visualizing the six names and the good sign emblazoned upon the forehead in light may also work.
  • I specified above that, if written upon paper or papyrus, the ink used for the names and the sign should not be red or brown; these colors were associated with the Egyptian god Set, and considered to be malignant or harmful to most magical workings in the PGM unless specifically said otherwise.  Some authors, such as Jake Stratton-Kent, interpret this ritual to be of a specifically Sethian or Typhonian nature, but I disagree with such an interpretation.  Given some of the phrases used in the ritual, the Headless One bears more resemblance to the pantokrator or omnipotent versions of Thoth in some Egyptian magical texts than any other divinity.