Genius in the Picatrix: The Spiritual Nature(s) of Perfect Nature

Not too long ago, I was flipping through my copy of the Picatrix, and came across a fascinating little bit.  It’s something I recall having seen (but glossed over) in M. David Litwa’s Hermetica II (an amazing, though annoyingly expensive, follow-up to Brian Copenhaver’s Hermetica, focusing on the Stobaean Fragments and a number of other Hermetic texts and later references to Hermēs Trismegistus).  There’s lots in Litwa’s book which is great, most of it classical and definitely part of what I’d consider the “Hermetic canon”.  For me, that’s basically stuff written during the Roman Empire, and what separates the two in my mind is basically the Emerald Tablet (which first appears written in Arabic between the 500s and 600s); depending on how you look at it, you might consider it the last instance of classical Hermetic canonical texts, or the first of post-/neo-Hermetic texts.  Personally, my Hermetic focus is on the stuff predating the Emerald Tablet along the lines of the Corpus Hermeticum.  So, when Litwa’s book goes into neo-Hermetic texts that either talk about Hermēs Trismegistus or have things attributed to him, I admit that I glazed over that a bit easier and faster than I did the Stobaean Fragments.  Besides, so much of what was said later tends to be derivative or repetitive from earlier works.

Enter the Ġāyat al-Ḥakīm, the “Goal of the Wise”, sometimes just known as the Ġayah, but definitely better known in the West as the Picatrix, most likely written in Arabic sometime in the middle of the 11th century CE, and based on the history of Ibn Khaldūn, the author of this text is supposedly one Maslama al-Majrīṭī, a Muslim Andalusian scholar, mathematician, and astronomer.  Everyone knows the Picatrix, everyone loves the Picatrix; it’s a fantastic text of astrological magic, and among the earliest of true grimoires in Europe, being among the great granddaddies of them all.  As many people know, it’s primary focus is on what we nowadays call stellar image magic (the creation of astrological talismans under specific stellar configurations of planets, signs, lunar mansions, and stars that often bear a particular scene or image on them) along with early alchemical concoctions for love and hate and many other purposes (many of which are bizarre and not a few of which are outright toxic or poisonous), and which also contain some fantastic ritual prayers and processes for adoring and communing with the spirits of the planets themselves.  It also contains, hidden among its many leaves, wonderful examples and preservations of older pagan practices from the Hermetists, Sabians, Nabataeans, and various other Mediterranean peoples.  It is not, however, a particularly theurgical text on the whole, even though it contains a wealth of information on philosophy, spiritual and cosmic frameworks, and the like in how and why magic works the way that it does.

Just to get this out of the way up front, we’ll be looking at several different editions and translations of the Picatrix, so I wanted to get a list of resources set up for those who want to do their own research as well:

I was looking through my well-worn copy of the Picatrix (I mostly rely on the Warnock/Greer translation) for more resources on prayers and prayer methods (always on the lookout for more tech!), and there was something that caught my eye as I was breezing through its pages looking for keywords of interest .  Nestled between other bits and bobs of magic, there were two phrases that caught my eye: “Hermēs Trismegistus” and “Perfect Nature”.  In Latin, this is phrased Natura Completa, as in one’s nature that is fulfilled, whole, complete, and, well, perfected.  Admittedly, I had basically already seen this section before from Litwa, but this time, it hit different—and it turns out that Litwa didn’t include the entire section, either.

From the end of book III, chapter 6 of the Picatrix (Warnock/Greer translation):

Certain people inquired of Hermes the sage, asking: “With what are science and philosophy joined?” He answered, “With Perfect Nature.” They asked again, saying, “What is the root of science and philosophy?” He said, “Perfect Nature.” Then they questioned him more closely: “What is the key by which science and philosophy are opened?” He answered, “Perfect Nature.” They then asked of him, “What is Perfect Nature?” He answered, “Perfect Nature is the spirit of the philosopher or sage linked to the planet that governs him. This is that which opens the closed places of knowledge, and by which is understood that which cannot otherwise be understood at all, and from which workings proceed naturally both in sleep and in waking.”

Thus it is clear from the foregoing that Perfect Nature acts in the sage or philosopher as a teacher toward a student, teaching the latter first in simple and easy matters, and then proceeding step by step to greater and more difficult ones, until the student is perfect in knowledge. When Perfect Nature works in this way, according to its own virtue and influence, the intellect of the philosopher is disposed according to his natural inclination.

You should understand this, committing it to memory, because from the foregoing it may be concluded that it is impossible for anybody to attain this science except those who are naturally inclined to it, both by their own virtue and by the disposition of the planet ruling in their nativity.

The Atallah/Kiesel translation gives a slightly more clear version of that second paragraph, at least in my mind:

The Perfect Nature for the philosopher is like the good teacher that teaches the boy word for word, and every time [the boy] gets done with one door of knowledge, he enters with [Perfect Nature] to another door, and that boy will never fear missing any knowledge as long as he has such a teacher that lasts with him forever.  Because the teacher always reveals to the boy everything that troubles him and teaches him what is hard, this is the philosopher’s Perfect Nature.

At the beginning of this chapter, the Picatrix introduces this notion of Perfect Nature in its own way, that Perfect Nature “fortifies those who philosophize and strengthens their intellect and their wisdom, so that in all their works they may quickly attain fulfillment”.  And, compounding the role of Perfect Nature, at the start of that first excerpt given above, the author of the Picatrix states that Socrates had his opinion that the Perfect Nature is the “Sun of the Wise”, i.e. the personal Sun of individual sages and philosophers.  Given these connections, it’s starting to sound an awful lot like Perfect Nature being a spirit akin to one’s own agathodaimōn or genius, especially as the Picatrix explicitly links one’s Perfect Nature to one’s ruling planet.  There are also hints later on—we’ll talk about them when we get there—that this spirit also can be a protector as well, making this in all cases much like the later notion of the guardian angel, or even Holy Guardian Angel, as both defender and teacher.

The Picatrix gives a little vignette, a vision of Hermēs Trismegistus and how he found his own Perfect Nature.  Supposedly, all this comes from the book Kitab al-Isṭamāḵis, or the Liber Antimaquis (which I myself have translated from Latin, but which didn’t appear in what I had access to), which the Picatrix attributes to Aristotle.  The vignette of Hermēs Trismegistus encountering Perfect Nature goes like this (Warnock/Greer translation):

When I wished to understand and draw forth the secrets of the workings of the world and of its qualities, I put myself above a certain pit that was very deep and dark, from which a certain impetuous wind blew; nor was I able to see anything in the pit, on account of its obscurity.  If I put a lit candle in it, straightway it was extinguished by the wind.

Then there appeared to me in a dream a beautiful man of imperial authority, who spoke to me as follows: “Put that lit candle in a lantern of glass, and the impetuosity of the wind will not extinguish it. You should lower the lantern into the pit, in the middle of which you should dig; thence you may draw forth an image by which, when you have drawn it forth, the wind from the pit will be extinguished, and then you will be able to hold the light there. Then you should dig in the four corners of the pit, and from there you may draw out the secrets of the world and of Perfect Nature, and its qualities, and the generation of all things.”

I asked him who he was, and he replied: “I am Perfect Nature; if you wish to speak to me, call me by my proper name, and I will answer you.” I asked him them by what name he was called, and he answered me, saying, “By the four names mentioned above I am named and called…”

“Four names”?  Towards the start of this chapter, the Picatrix says that the ancient sages gave a string of four names to Perfect Nature: Meegius, Betzahuech, Vacdez, and Nufeneguediz.  These are corruptions of Arabic names, and cross-checking with the Arabic Picatrix, these names are properly Tamāġīs (تماغدس), Baġdīswād (بغديسواد), Waġdās (وغداس), and Nūfānāġādīs (نوفاناغاديس).  At least, these are my own transcriptions of the names; Atallah/Kiesel give them as “Tamaghees, Baghdiswad, Waghidas, Nufanaghdees”, which are fairly close (though I’m not sure where they got the extra vowel in Waġdās from, or where one of the vowels in Nūfānāġādīs went).  To get from the Arabic “tamāġīs baġdīswād waġdās nūfānāġādīs” to the Latin “meegius betzahuech vacdez nufeneguediz”…well, it’s actually fairly close as it is, especially Vacdez/Waġdas and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs, and Betzahuech/Baġdīswād is kinda close (though I’d expect something like “Bagtezued”), but it’s the shift from Tamāġīs to Meegius that’s most perplexing.  Perhaps if we read تماغدس as “tamāġyus” instead of “tamāġīs” (reading the yā’ here as a consonant rather than a vowel), that’d get us closer, though there’s still the perplexing issue of what happened to that initial “ta-” from Arabic into Latin.  Oh well.  We’ll talk more about the origins of these names in our next post (of course there’d be a next post).

(Also, can I just say that I would absolutely join in on a new, more easily-accessible translation from the Arabic of the Picatrix, or even just a list of barbarous words and divine names from the original Arabic?  One of my greatest frustrations when having to deal with translations of Arabic works into Western languages is a lack of faithful transliteration from Arabic script to Roman script.  I know it’s a hard habit to break, but nowadays, we absolutely have the technology to faithfully produce many diacritics on letters easily, so there’s no reason why we should perpetuate bad transliterations like Atallah/Kiesel “Tamaghees” as opposed to a more faithful “Tamāġīs” where you can more easily figure out the original Arabic spelling, which is so important for pronunciation, etymology, and numerology, all of which are crucial for occult researchers.  Heck, even if you don’t want to use all sorts of diacritics, there are so many good forms of romanization for Arabic that there’s just no excuse for this.)

The Picatrix somewhat goes back and forth on this, but it seems that these are actually the names of four component spirits of Perfect Nature, or alternatively the four powers of an individual’s spirit of Perfect Nature (Warnock/Greer translation primary):

  1. The spirit/power of the senses “which are said to be joined to the world” (Atallah/Kiesel: “spreading intentional power in the world”)
  2. The spirit/power of things “to which spirit is attracted” (Atallah/Kiesel: “the spiritual instrumental power that pulls the spirits”)
  3. The spirit/power of perfect, sane, and unbroken contemplation (Atallah/Kiesel: “the right spiritual power”)
  4. The spirit/power “by which works are done by the hands” (Atallah/Kiesel: “handmade spiritual power”)

Moreover, “these three spirits in matter” (as opposed to the spirit of contemplation, i.e. the spirit of senses, things, and works done by the hands) “which exist in intention and effect, are coadunated in perfect contemplation with the sense, which we have said are joined to the world”.  In this, the Picatrix goes on to explain that the senses do not merely perceive the world passively, but like in the medieval understanding of how the eyes see in terms of lux and lumen, the senses “attract rays and bring them to those things towards which they are directed, like a mirror that is raised up to the light of the Sun”.  This is to say that, in focusing our senses on something, we not only receive those influences into ourselves, but also fill the thing with more of its own influence, or direct those influences elsewhere, as a mirror reflecting the rays of the Sun “projects them into shadowy places, and those shadowy places become bright and illuminated” without the Sun being diminished.  (It’s probably important to note the Sun and light connections here with Socrates’ own description of the Perfect Nature as the “Sun of the wise”.)

By directing the powers of the cosmos by means of the senses, we facilitate joining those powers from their sources to our targets: “when the spirits of motion and rest are joined to the superior world while in contact with the senses, they attract the powers of the spirits of the superior world and pour them out upon matter”.  It is this, fundamentally this very action, that allows the consecration, empowerment, and ensoulment of talismans (“images”) to function; images are, after all, things we look at, and this is why they often have some sort of scene, person, or figure on them to bring about a particular influence or effect.  And, in looking at something, we contemplate it, and contemplation “goes into anything in which the virtue consists of a hidden spirit”.

In this light, assuming that the names of the spirits given at the start of this chapter and this list of what the powers are at the end of it are in the same order, we can consider the four names of the four spirits of Perfect Nature and what these spirits do a little more closely:

  1. Meegius/Tamāġīs: the spirit/power of our senses that join higher things to lower ones.  This is our ability to spiritually perceive the cosmos and its various spirits, energies, and powers in their ebb and flow.
  2. Betzahuech/Baġdīswād: the spirit/power of the lower things that we work upon to infuse with higher things.  This is the actual physical substance we work with to create images, talismans, confections, and other sacred objects, including the supplies of herbs, stones, incense, fabric, paper, ink, paint, and the like, as well as our understanding of them.
  3. Vacdez/Waġdās: the spirit/power of our own mental and spiritual contemplation.  This is our ability to mentally and spiritually process information and power, the strictly internal aspect that can best be thought of as our reliance upon our divinely-granted faculties and our connection to the Divine itself.
  4. Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs: the spirit/power of labor and works that we do in the world to implement.  This is the actual work we do, both in terms of the physical labor involved to create things as well as the rituals we do around, upon, or for them.

There seems to be a natural dichotomy that results from these four spirit/power seen in this light.  Meegius/Tamāġīs is the non-physical and passive way we integrate the spiritual and material, while Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs is the physical and active way we do so (a dichotomy of perception versus interaction).  Betzahuech/Baġdīswād is the external and material component of the works we carry out, while Vacdez/Waġdās is the internal and spiritual component of those works (a dichotomy of substance and essence).  I like this sort of categorization, but we’ll return more to this idea later.

The trouble now is figuring out the precise relationship of these four spirits to the spirit of Perfect Nature itself.  In the vignette, Perfect Nature says that “I am named and called” the four names “by which I shall respond when you call”.  There is a difference, however, in how the Latin Picatrix (via Warnock/Greer and Attrell/Porreca) and the Arabic Picatrix (via Atallah/Kiesel)  actually talks about these spirits.  The Latin Picatrix makes it sound like these are four names for four individual spirits (“they gave to the spirits of Perfect Nature these four names”), while the Arabic Picatrix makes it sound like this is all just one name for one spirit (“these wise men called the hidden secret of the complete inborn spiritual nature…”).  Thinking about this some more, I think the notion of each of these being a distinct spirit unto itself is faulty, and a misunderstanding of the grammar here.  I think it’s better to understand Perfect Nature as a single spirit that has four powers, rather than as a sort of collective of four separate spirits.  However, I don’t think such a view is necessarily wrong, either; if they are separate, then they operate together as a synaxis, where if you call one, you basically get them all, all mutually supportive of each other and all mutually involved with each other (cf. the orthodox view of the archangels as all distinct entities but all working together for the same ends at the same time).

Before wrapping this post up, I should also note that the Moonlit Hermit wrote two posts some years ago, back in December 2014 and January 2015, that also explored this same chapter and this same topic, as well as another post regarding a daily practice of calling on the four names of Perfect Spirit.  I came across their posts in the research for these, and I thought they were interesting.  We arrive at some similar conclusions and some different ones, but I think they’re good to read for others who are interested in this same topic, as well.

I think this is a good place to take a break for now, having introduced Perfect Nature, its role, and its powers.  There’s plenty more to talk about, though, starting with really looking into that vignette of Hermēs Trismegistus standing above the pit and being taught by Perfect Nature how to conquer it.  We’ll talk more about that next time, so stay tuned!

On Repurposing Ritual Parts for New Practices

This PGM train won’t stop, at least, not yet.  I hope you’re not bored of this talk of the Greek Magical Papyri, dear reader, because there’s so many awesome things about it, not least for its historical value in understanding some of the origins and foundations of Western magical practice as we know it today and how their rediscovery continues to shape it in modern occulture, but because of all the wonderful techniques they contain.  And just think: what we have in Betz’s famous translation is still only a fraction of what’s still out there, both discovered and undiscovered, translated and untranslated.

So, I meant to have this post out shortly after the ritual writeup of the Royal Ring of Abrasax was put up, but then the last post happened where I also introduced it, so…whoopsie.  Anyway, this ritual, PGM XII.201—269, describes the consecration of a kind of ring of power, “useful for every magical operation and for success”, which it claims is constantly sought after by kings and other types of rulers.  In a sense, this particular ring can act as a general phylactery or protective charm against spirits in magical works and conjurations as well as a charm for success, victory, and fortune in all of one’s endeavors.  In some sense, it can be considered something resembling a conceptual forerunner of the Ring of Solomon known to later magicians; this isn’t to say that PGM XII.201—269 is an ancestor of the Ring of Solomon, but it indicates a transition of magical rings and how they evolved from simple empowerment and fortune charms into phylacteries and guarantors of magical success.  If you haven’t seen my write-up and analysis yet, it’s up under the Occult → Classical Hermetic Rituals menu.  Take a look!  It’s a fine example of a solid Graeco-Egyptian consecration ritual which can be seen as a kind of forerunner to later Hermetic and Solomonic ones.

The reason why I’ve been looking over this ritual is because Gordon White over at Rune Soup used this ritual as his (only) group exercise for his recent 2018 Q2 course on the PGM.  It’s an excellent course, as I’ve mentioned before, especially as it focuses less on the actual rituals present in the PGM and more about the background, context, development, and general methodology behind them.  Of course, it’s not like Gordon only wanted to just talk about them, but he wanted to get people up and running with them in a sensible way that involves some measure of rigor and spiritual connection.  For that purpose, Gordon set up a group exercise for those participating in the course to recite a portion of PGM XII.201—269 as a kind of semi-self-initiation before other PGM work.  As to how, specifically, Gordon accomplishes this, I recommend you head over to Rune Soup to check out the members section and go through his course material.  It’s worth the small cost of admission, I claim.  Just because the course is finished doesn’t mean you can’t perform the self-initiation ritual at any time you want or need, especially now that a current-connection has already been established in the same way by quite a number of other magicians.

Gordon explains his reasoning for adapting this ritual for this purpose at the end of the first module of the course.  Essentially, the author (or compiler) of these parts of the PGM texts was, in all likelihood, an actual Egyptian initiated priest who moonlighted as a magician-for-hire.  Because of his initiated status, he had access and license to work with the gods and spirits found in the PGM in such a way that we never can at this point, or at least, not in the same way; those initiations and lineages are long since vanished, and there’s no way to achieve the exact same status as our original author friend; as I’ve discussed before, lineage can make a world of difference when it comes to starting out at the same point of power based on initiation and lineage or the lack thereof.  To that end, Gordon set up a specially-modified form of PGM XII.201—269 as a sort of quick self-initiation into the powers and currents of the PGM to make our future PGM work that much more effective, serving as an introduction to the PGM powers.  Without performing such a self-initiation, it’s possible that we can get some results out of doing PGM work, but not necessarily to the same extent without a formal introduction, for which Gordon’s modified PGM XII.201—269 serves decently enough for any beginner to PGM-style magic.  Plus, it benefits from the fact that it’s a comparatively simple ritual (at least in Gordon’s modified form) without onerous barbarous names of power, which can be terrifying for those new to the PGM.

The Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual is not a particularly complex or difficult ritual to do; sure, there’s a bit of animal sacrifice involved, but that’s nothing that we can’t work with, either by actually bleeding the required birds or by making a sincere and appropriate substitution (I go over one such method in my write-up for those who are unable or unwilling to perform such a sacrifice, and for more information, check out my last post).  The main hymn of it is rather beautiful, but it also struck me as familiar, and I wasn’t entirely sure why that was the case.  It was some of the footnotes from Betz that tipped me off; part of the hymn was annotated with a reference to PGM XIII.734—1077, which titles itself the Tenth Book of Moses, from which the Heptagram Rite comes (along with its smaller variant the Calling of the Sevenths, aka Heptasphere).  The preliminary invocation of the Heptagram Rite (at least in its Major form that I’ve written about) is basically the entirety of the main hymn of the Royal Ring of Abrasax, just fleshed out with more barbarous names of power, including close variants of the same barbarous name that the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual centers around.  This was fantastic to discover on its own, that these two PGM sections from different papyri could be tied together in this way, but there was another part to discover; the end of the Tenth Book of Moses (after the Heptagram Rite is discussed) introduces a consecration for a particular kind of phylactery that, itself, bears many parallels to the consecration ritual of the Royal Ring of Abrasax.  So, not only do we have a near-identical prayer in these two PGM sections, but we even have a rough match of a consecration for a charm of power and protection!  Finding two such similar rituals in close proximity within the same PGM would be one thing (a la the Eighth Book of Moses from PGM XIII.1—343, 343—646, and 646—734), but this is an even more important realization.  It either indicates that both papyri were compiled or written by the same author, or that two separate authors had the same source for almost the same procedures; I’m not sure which is more likely, but both are exciting things.

However, the parallel parts between PGM XII.201—269 and PGM XIII.734—1077 are separated by quite a lot of content, and what’s present in one is not used in the same way as it’s used in the other.  The near-identical hymn that’s present in both is used for two radically different rituals: in PGM XII.201—269, it’s used as part of a consecration of a charm, and in PGM XIII.734—1077, it’s used as part of (what is essentially) a theurgic ritual.  It’s an interesting example of using the same ritual act or performance for different ends, especially because it’s in the source text of the PGM which we all admire and love.  What this indicates to me is that there’s an implicit acknowledgment that certain things can be used in different ways, a kind of magical upcycling or repurposing of techniques.  This isn’t particularly uncommon; after all, consider the PGM-style framing rite I put out a few days ago.  The vast majority of that is slapped together from a variety of PGM sources, picking and choosing this and that to come up with a more-or-less unified whole.  Heck, one of the sources I picked some techniques from, PGM IV.930—1114 (the Conjuration of Light under Darkness ritual) itself has the markers of being slapped together from two different rituals for different purposes brought into a more-or-less unified whole.  What I did to come up with my framing rite may not sit well with PGM-focused grimoire purists, but it’s solidly within the same tradition and following the same meta-methodology that’s present within the PGM itself.

Consider our modern use of PGM V.96—172, the Headless Rite.  Originally, it was intended as a simple exorcism, but thanks to the innovations of Aleister Crowley, it was adapted into a theurgic self-empowerment and self-elevation ritual, and the way he did it allows for further customizations to be made.  Where Crowley changed “deliver NN. from the demon that restrains him” to “hear me and make all spirits subject unto me” (a reuse of one of the last lines of the ritual), other adaptations can be made to the Headless Rite that can turn it from an exorcism ritual into a banishing, empowering, or theurgic ritual:

  • 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.

Consider also our modern use of the Orphic Hymns, especially those for the planets.  One of my good colleagues suggests that the original use of the Orphic Hymns were that they were to all be sung in succession as a kind of diagnostic theurgic rite so as to call out specific divinities that might be affecting someone at a given time, and not necessarily that individual hymns were to be used on their own.  Yet, magicians have been using them for centuries as individual prayers for individual entities outside their original contexts; consider what Cornelius Agrippa has to say about them in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy (book I, chapter 71):

Besides, with the divers sorts of the names of the Stars, they command us to call upon them by the names of the Intelligencies, ruling over the Stars themselves, of which we shall speak more at large in their proper place. They that desire further examples of these, let them search into the hymns of Orpheus, then which nothing is more efficatious in naturall Magick, if they together with their circumstances, which wise men know, be used according to a due harmony, with all attention.

After all, most people in the modern Hermetic/astrological magic scene (especially those who work outside the Golden Dawn and similar systems) are familiar with the use of the Orphic Hymns for the planets and use them in their rituals, whether as a kind of daily adoration of the ruling planet of the day or as part of a chant for the consecration of a planetary talisman during an election of that planet or for other purposes.  For instance, as a gesture of worship to Hermēs, I recite his Orphic Hymn whenever I enter a post office, no matter the day or time; this is certainly a modern adaptation of the use of such a prayer, and one that wouldn’t fit into any classical scheme except the broadest notions of “general worship”, but it goes to show that bits and pieces of ritual and religious texts can be used in ways that may not have been anticipated by their original authors, yet work well all the same for their new purpose.

In a similar vein, consider the use of the Psalms of the Old Testament.  These were originally devised as songs for worship, celebration, and religious meditation, yet parts of them have been in use in a variety of religious rituals and ceremonies; consider the Asperges Me, a few lines of Psalm 51 that’s recited in some Catholic Masses as well as in folk ceremonies of purification.  Heck, consider the wide and deep practice of psalm-based magic, where particular psalms are recited, either on their own or accompanying other ritual acts such as dressing and lighting candles.  A good example of a similar type of Old Testament-based magic is that of Draja Mickaharic’s Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets, where Mickaharic describes how to use individual verses of the minor prophetical books from the Old Testament for a variety of magical ends, including one chapter where every verse from an entire book can be used magically.  This is definitely magical repurposing on a whole new level, and yet is so firmly grounded and founded in classical magical meta-methodology that it’s hard to see how deep these foundations have been dug.

The trick when repurposing bits and pieces of extant ritual and texts, as always, is to be smart about it.  Cherry-picking without care or caution can get you into a lot of trouble real quickly, because not all individual parts of rituals can be extracted or extrapolated for different use.  For instance, the Conjuration of Light under Darkness is absolutely a conjuration ritual, combined from a lamp divination spell and a theophanic ritual.  However, at a large scale, the Conjuration as a whole cannot be adapted to the conjuration of other entities generally, like how the Trithemian rite of conjuration I use can be used for angels, natal genii, genii loci, and so forth with the right adaptations; instead, it’s pretty specifically geared to the conjuration and communion of one entity.  However, particular parts of this ritual may be used outside of it; I chose the Light-Retaining Charm and the Dismissal of Light, specifically, which kind of come as a set, since if you use one, you need the other.  My whole dismissal prayer I use is cobbled together from two different PGM sources (PGM I.262—347 and PGM VII.930—1114) which work well when mixed together due to overlap of particular phrases, and the fact that they do the same thing.

The compatibility and extensibility of particular techniques, and at what level and for what purpose, is important to consider when trying to pick and pull things together.  This can be difficult with PGM stuff, given the use of barbarous names of power; in general, we don’t know what they mean, and so we don’t know if we’re calling on something generally by their use in a given situation or if we’re calling on something particularly specific for a specific function.  Moreover, we don’t know whether what we’re calling is compatible only with its original context and not with the repurposed one we’re putting it to.  What makes things dicey is that we can’t just omit the barbarous names of power, either; consider Zoroaster’s injunction #155 from the Chaldaean Oracles, “change not the barbarous Names of Evocation for-there are sacred Names in every language which are given by God, having in the Sacred Rites a Power Ineffable”.  The words have power, which is why we say them; to remove the words is to remove the power, and to change the words is to change the power.  Better to use them than not, where present, unless you know precisely what you’re doing and how to get around it.  That’s why one of the reasons it took me so long to cobble together a PGM-style framing rite from off-the-shelf PGM pieces, because I needed to make sure that they were either naturally general enough to be used, or could safely be made general while still being effective as well as compatible with the other parts I was using.

The reuse of the hymn to the Agathos Daimōn between the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual and the Major Heptagram Rite presents us with a unique opportunity, then, to see how one particular magical technique can be repurposed and even reworded; note that the Royal Ring of Abrasax version of the hymn contains far fewer barbarous names, indicating that—perhaps—not all of those are needed here for this purpose, or their use would have been more appropriate to a theurgic ritual rather than a consecration ritual, or that their use was not needed at all for the sake of praising and honoring the Agathos Daimōn.  Noting how the same prayer can be used in different rituals, it’s also easy (and, I’d argue, fruitful) to think how the prayer can be used in other contexts, such as in a daily prayer routine alongside other PGM-derived prayers like PGM IV.1115—1167 (the Hymn of the Hidden Stele, which has no purpose stated either as a header or as part of this section of the PGM) or PGM IV.1167—1226 (the Stele of Aiōn, which works as both a powerful prayer generally as well as being “useful for all things; it even delivers from death”).

When going about cobbling together from parts of other rituals (PGM or otherwise), I would recommend to a few questions to bear in mind to make sure you’re on the right track:

  1. Have you studied or, even better, performed the original ritual you’re choosing parts from to get an intimate understanding of what it does, both as a collection of ritual parts and as a unified whole?
  2. What is the nature of the original rituals, both as a whole and as parts, and how does it compare with the goal of the new ritual, both as a whole and as parts?
  3. What entities are being called upon in the original ritual, and do they conflict with other entities from other original rituals?
  4. Does the part of the original ritual being chosen require something else to be done with it, or can it stand alone on its own?
  5. Can the part being chosen from the original ritual be picked up and used as it is, or does it require modifications to wording or performance?
  6. Does the original ritual use barbarous or divine names of power?  Does the intent behind them in the context of the original ritual work for a different use?
  7. Can the charge or purpose of the part being chosen from the original ritual be modified or generalized while still keeping true to the power of the original ritual?
  8. Is taking a part from an original ritual really needed?  Is that part serving an actual use or function within the cosmological and methodological understanding of the new ritual?
  9. Is a new ritual being put together from parts of original rituals necessary, or will an original ritual suffice, either with or without modifications to charges, commands, or ritual implements?

There is value in knowing and understanding the dozens, hundreds of rituals in the PGM, or in any system or tradition or collection of magical works, and accomplished magicians can pull any ritual they need from their handbooks or private collections to accomplish anything they need or want.  However, there is at least as much value in being able to understand the parts of those same rituals, know what works, know what can be extended or abridged or adapted, and being able to whip something up (big or small) from parts off the shelf that’s at least as effective because they know how to plug certain ritual actions into each other.  The trick is being smart about it and knowing what can—and should—plug into what.

Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Helios

(Update 1/9/2018: Interested in more about this ritual?  Check out my more polished, fleshed-out writeup over on this page!)

As I mentioned last time in that post detailing a list of neat shit I found for use in my own magic, there’s one particular ritual that I hadn’t used before or included in my original enchiridion, but that I thought would be worth it to include.  This is a ritual from the Greek Magical Papyri, that awesome Dead Sea Scrolls collection of magic, and specifically comes from PGM IV.1596—1715, under the title This is the consecration for all purposes; Spell to Helios.  It’s a somewhat lengthy incantation, and doesn’t provide any ritual instructions nor does it seem immediately connected to any other ritual found close to it in the PGM, but it’s a fascinating method of consecration of a charm, stone, ring, phylactery, or other object for power under Helios, the sun god of the Greeks.

However, it being the PGM, its’s not that straightforward.  Besides the usual barbarous words of power, this ritual has several fascinating aspects to it.  For one, the ritual associates Helios with the Αγαθος Δαιμον, the Good Spirit or Genius, with heavy references to a Serpent God and even an explicit one to Serapis, none of which is too surprising given the PGM context in which we find this ritual.  More fascinating than this, however, this ritual has Helios with twelve forms and twelve names, each form and name for each of the twelve hours of the day.  This is much like the names of the hours of the Heptameron, and has corollaries to the names of angels from the Key of Solomon; however, the practice of giving names and gods to the individual hours of the day is old and definitely has its origins in ancient Egyptian practice.  There is another ritual, PGM III.494, which provides a partial list of the gods of the hours, but it’s incomplete, making PGM IV.1596 the only complete one in the text.  For reference, the names (in Greek along with their isopsephic values) and forms of Helios in the twelve hours are listed below, along with the hieroglyph for each animal (as close as I can ascertain, for reasons which will soon become clear):

Hour Name Animal
1159 (ΩΨΝΘ)
Cat Hieroglyph for "Cat"
1180 (ΩΤΠ)
Dog Hieroglyph for "Dog"
2122 (ΩΨΧΚΒ)
Serpent Hieroglyph for "Snake"
1029 (ΩΣΚΘ)
Scarab Hieroglyph for "Dung beetle"
2176 (ΩΨΧΟΕΑ)
Donkey Hieroglyph for "Donkey"
326 (ΤΚΕΑ)
Lion Hieroglyph for "Lion"
1533 (ΩΨΛG)
Goat Hieroglyph for "Ibex"
833 (ΩΛΓ)
Bull Hieroglyph for "Bull"
2957 (ΩΨΧΦΤΝΖ)
Falcon Hieroglyph for "Falcon"
639 (ΧΛΘ)
Baboon Hieroglyph for "Sacred baboon"
1910 (ΩΨΥΙ)
Ibis Hieroglyph for "Crested ibis"
193 (ΡΠΓ)
Crocodile Hieroglyph for "Crocodile"

There’s a small bit written about the forms of the Helios, mostly in German, and I don’t propose to get into it too deeply here.  However, I did mention above that there is another list of names and forms of the Sun through the hours earlier in the PGM, but it’s incomplete; Stephen Flowers in his Hermetic Magic attempts a reconstruction, but…well, suffice to say that I’m not particularly sanguine about his work.  Mind you, this is focusing on the twelve hours of the day, since Helios (in the Egyptian reckoning) dies and goes into the underworld during the nighttime.  Some of the faces of Helios have small descriptions appended to them, such as that of the ninth face ΦΗΟΥΣ ΦΩΟΥΘ as “the lotus emerged from the abyss”, of which the lotus is a traditional throne of Harpokrates, also known as Horus, given the animal form of a falcon.  It might be that the Sun was thought of by the author as an ultimate, monistic god that took on multiple forms, especially given his laudation of the Sun as “the great Serpent, leader of all the gods, who control the beginning of Egypt and the end of the whole inhabited world” and other praises.  Other notably Egyptian names can be found amidst the other barbarous words in this ritual.

Now, while the ritual as given in the PGM is well-preserved, there are two main issues, as I see it.  For one, each one of the twelve hours has an associated benediction for the phylactery or charm to be consecrated except for the tenth and twelfth hours; Betz notes that it’s likely a copyist omission that left out the consecration for the these hours.  Moreover, the bigger issue we have is that we don’t know exactly how to employ the ritual, as no framework for the ritual was given.  To that end, here are some of my thoughts on setting up such a ritual employing this consecration:

  • When it comes to timing, I think it’d be good for us modern Hermetic magi to stick to a time powerful for the Sun, such as during a day and hour of the Sun, during a good astrological election of the Sun, or using the day when the Sun hits his exaltation at 18° Aries (which, barring unusual circumstances, only happens once a year sometime around April 7).  As this is a consecration, choosing a day when the Moon is waxing or full would be preferred.  The wording of the text suggests that the Sun, at the time of uttering the spell, has already set, meaning that the ritual would have been done at nighttime, leading to a peculiar necromantic-solar vibe.  However, there’s room for fleshing this out, and I think doing it in the daytime could be done just as well.
  • No offerings are mentioned, but strong red wine would be a safe bet.
  • Ritual setup could involve six candles (six being the Qabbalistic number of the Sun), but I think it’d be better to have twelve candles, one each for the twelve faces of Helios.  Alternatively, oil lamps would work equally well.
  • Frankincense would be an obvious choice for a suffumigation, but if you wanted to go fancier, you could make a more complicated and delectable solar blend.  If you wanted to go old-school, perhaps kyphi would also work.
  • The usual solar decorations of gold, yellow, bay laurel, and the like would be nice, perhaps substituting the number 6 for 12 (such as using a duodecadon or a double hexagon instead of a single hexagon).
  • Even though the ritual text lacks benedictions for the tenth and twelfth hours, it’s not terribly hard to fill in the blanks with related ones.

So, with all that in mind, here’s what I have planned for the full ritual of the Consecration of the Twelve Faces of .  For the full ritual, it will take place over the course of a full day from the moment of sunrise to the moment of sunset, with thirteen total invocations to be done, but later on I’ll also describe a one-fell-swoop approach to doing the whole ritual.

Prepare the following supplies:

  • Thirteen white, ivory, yellow, or gold candles that burn for at least 12 hours, or thirteen clean oil lamps that have not been painted red filled with enough oil to burn for at least 12 hours
  • A bottle of red wine
  • Twelve small cups and one large bowl, if the ritual is done inside
  • Non-red (preferably white or yellow) chalk, paint, or ink, if the ritual is done inside and/or upon some sort of writable ground or surface
  • Incense, either purely of frankincense or compounded of equal parts frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, and cinnamon
  • Oil, either pure olive oil or some sort of blessing/magical oil
  • An object to be consecrated, henceforth known as the “charm” (but change the word in the instructions and ritual text as necessary to “ring”, “phylactery”, &c.)

The ritual will take place at thirteen different points in time throughout the same day: at the first hour of the day (moment of sunrise), at the second, third…twelfth, and at the thirteenth hour of the day (moment of sunset).  Be sure to calculate these specific times for the ritual in the same way as you’d calculate planetary hours, focusing only on the diurnal hours plus the first nocturnal hour (sunset).  One is to strictly fast from all food, all drinks except water, all sexual activity, and all impurity from the moment the ritual begins until it is concluded after sunset.

Prepare the ritual area:

  1. Clean, purify, and banish the ritual area from all impurity before setting anything up.  Using natron as a purifying agent is suggested, but not required.
  2. Arrange twelve of the candles in a large semicircle, so that the open side faces the north. The twelve candles may be spaced so that the first candle is oriented due east and the last candle due west, or they may be spaced so that the first candle is oriented towards the exact direction of sunrise and the last candle towards the exact direction of the Sun’s position in its twelfth hour of the day.
  3. If done inside or in such an area as to permit a writable surface, write out the name of the twelve faces of Helios between the object to be consecrated and each of the candles, so that ΦΑΡΑΚΟΥΝΗΘ is written between the object and towards the easternmost candle, ΣΟΥΦΙ towards the next one just to the south, and so forth.  If space is tight, use the isopsephic value of each name instead, written either in Arabic or Greek numerals.  Outside the semicircle beside each candle, write the Egyptian hieroglyph for the animal associated with that candle’s hour and name.  Additionally, write the hieroglyph for the Sun in the focal point of the semicircle.
    Hieroglyph for "Sun"
  4. If the ritual is done inside, place the bowl at the focal point of the semicircle, then put the charm inside the bowl.  If outside, place the charm at the focal point on the ground.
  5. If the ritual is done inside, set a small cup just beyond each candle (either on or beyond the hieroglyph if on a writable surface).
  6. Place the censer for the incense behind the focal point, a little bit away from the charm towards the north.
  7. If desired, write the names of the four guardians of the directions ΕΡΒΗΘ to the east, ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ to the south, ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ to the west, and ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ to the north around the whole ritual area.  I’ve found these names of power to represent the entities guarding the stations of the Sun as he progresses through the heavens and hells, but it’s optional.  Likewise, if desired and if space permits, you may also want to “close off” the area by drawing a second semicircle to the north so as to make a more-or-less complete circle.

The resulting layout for the ritual, assuming we use the due-east/due-west orientation of the candles with all the extra things and large enough to walk within, would look like this:

Daytime Consecration to the 12 Faces of Helios Arrangement

Before sunrise on the day of the ritual, prepare the temple space so that it is clean, banished, and prepared accordingly. Just before sunrise, invoke the four guardians of the directions, if desired, or other watchtower-type entities. At sunrise, the ritual fast and actions begin; light the thirteenth candle (henceforth referred to as the Sun candle) that has not been set out in the semicircle.  Light the incense, then take the Sun candle in in the left hand, salute the rising Sun with the right, and begin the preliminary invocation (state your name or whoever’s the beneficiary of the charm wherever “NN.” is used):

I invoke you, the greatest god, eternal lord, world ruler, I who are over the world and under the world, mighty ruler of the sea, rising at dawn, shining from the east for the whole world, setting in the west. Come to me, you who rises from the four winds, joyous Agathos Daimon, for whom heaven has become the processional way. I call upon your holy and great and hidden names which you rejoice to hear.  The earth flourished when you shone forth; the plants became fruitful when you laughed; the animals begat their young when you permitted.  Give glory and honor and favor and fortune and power to this charm which I consecrate today for NN.

I invoke you, the greatest in heaven, ΗΙ ΛΑΝΧΥΧ ΑΚΑΡΗΝ ΒΑΛ ΜΙΣΘΡΗΝ ΜΑΡΤΑ ΜΑΘΑΘ ΛΑΙΛΑΜ ΜΟΥΣΟΥΘΙ ΣΙΕΘΩ ΒΑΘΑΒΑΘΙ ΙΑΤΜΩΝ ΑΛΕΙ ΙΑΒΑΘ ΑΒΑΩΘ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ, the great god, ΟΡΣΕΝΟΦΡΗ ΟΡΓΕΑΤΗΣ ΤΟΘΟΡΝΑΤΗΣΑ ΚΡΙΘΙ ΒΙΩΘΙ ΙΑΔΜΩ ΙΑΤΜΩΜΙ ΜΕΘΙΗΙ ΛΟΝΧΟΩ ΑΚΑΡΗ ΒΑΛ ΜΙΝΘΡΗ ΒΑΝΕ ΒΑΙΝΧΧΥΧΧ ΟΥΦΡΙ ΝΟΘΕΟΥΣΙ ΘΡΑΙ ΑΡΣΙΟΥΘ ΕΡΩΝΕΡΘΕΡ, the shining Helios, giving light throughout the whole world.  You are the great Serpent, leader of all the gods, who control the beginning of Egypt and the end of the whole inhabited world, who mate in the ocean, ΨΟΙ ΦΝΟΥΘΙ ΝΙΝΘΗΡ.  You are he who becomes visible each day and sets in the northwest of heaven, and rises in the southeast.

Proceed to the first candle in the semicircle and light it with the Sun candle; if the circle is large enough to walk in, stand on top of the name of the face for the first hour and face the candle, but otherwise stand behind the charm towards the north and facing the candle of the first hour. Say the invocation of the first hour while saluting the first candle with the right hand:

In the first hour you have the form of a cat; your name is ΦΑΡΑΚΟΥΝΗΘ. Give glory and favor to this charm.

Pour out an offering of wine, either directly on the ground on top of the hieroglyph (if outside) or in its proper cup (if inside). Follow this with the following supplication:

You who will set at evening as an old man, who are over the world and under the world, mighty ruler of the sea, hear my voice in this present day, in these holy hours, and let all things done by this charm be brought to fulfillment, and especially for the need for which I consecrate it, for the sake of NN.

Set the Sun candle down by or on top of the charm. The ritual for the first hour is complete.

At each of the successive hours of the day through the twelfth hour, repeat the process by lighting more incense, taking up the Sun candle, and proceeding to go through each invocation for each of the hour, saluting each candle, until you reach the proper candle for the appropriate hour, where you’ll light that hour’s candle, recite the invocation to that hour while saluting the candle, pour out wine for that hour, and finish with the final supplication before putting the Sun candle down by the charm. The rest of the hour invocations are (supplemented with my own additions for the tenth and twelfth hours):

  1. In the second hour you have the form of a dog; your name is ΣΟΥΦΙ.  Give strength and honor to this charm and to NN.
  2. In the third hour you have the form of a serpent; your name is ΑΜΕΚΡΑΝΕΒΕΧΕΟ ΘΩΥΘ.  Give honor to the god NN.
  3. In the fourth hour you have the form of a scarab; your name is ΣΕΝΘΕΝΙΨ.  Mightily strengthen this charm for that which it is consecrated.
  4. In the fifth hour you have the form of a donkey; your name is ΕΝΦΑΝΧΟΥΦ.  Give strength and courage and power to the god NN.
  5. In the sixth hour you have the form of a lion; your name is ΒΑΙ ΣΟΛΒΑΙ, the ruler of time.  Give success to this charm and glorious victory.
  6. In the seventh hour you have the form of a goat; your name is ΟΥΜΕΣΘΩΘ.  Give sexual charm to this charm.
  7. In the eighth hour you have the form of a bull; your name is ΔΙΑΤΙΦΗ, who becomes visible everywhere.  Let all things done by the use of this charm be accomplished.
  8. In the ninth hour you have the form of a falcon; your name is ΦΗΟΥΣ ΦΩΟΥΘ, the lotus emerged from the abyss.  Give success and good luck to this charm.
  9. In the tenth hour you have the form of a baboon; your name is ΒΕΣΒΥΚΙ.  Give power and wisdom in all things to the god NN. for whom this charm is consecrated.
  10. In the eleventh hour you have the form of an ibis; your name is ΜΟΥ ΡΩΦ.  Protect this great charm for lucky use by NN. from this present day for all time.
  11. In the twelfth hour you have the form of a crocodile; your name is ΑΕΡΘΟΗ.  Give the greatest protection to NN. by this charm.

At sunset, go through the entire ritual once more, burning more incense and invoking and saluting each of the hours as before.  Regardless of whether the circle is large enough to walk through, stand behind the censer facing south towards the candles, and hold the charm in the incense smoke throughout the entire set of invocations.  After this, continuing to hold the charm in the incense smoke, recite the following prayer:

You who have set at evening as an old man, who are over the world and under the world, mighty ruler of the sea, hear my voice in this night, in these holy hours, and let all things done by this charm be brought to fulfillment, and especially for the need for which I consecrate it, for the sake of NN.  Please, lord ΚΜΗΦ ΛΟΥΘΕΟΥΘ ΟΡΦΟΙΧΕ ΟΡΤΙΛΙΒΕΧΟΥΧ ΙΕΡΧΕ ΡΟΥΜ ΙΠΕΡΙΤΑΩ ΥΑΙ, I conjure earth and heaven and light and darkness and the great god who created all, ΣΑΡΟΥΣΙΝ, you, Agathon Daimonion the Helper, to accomplish for NN. everything done by the use of this charm.

Put the charm back down in the focal point of the semicircle, either on the ground (if outside) or inside the bowl (if inside).  Pour out a new offering of wine on top of the charm. Set the candle by or on top of the charm.  Face north with the candles to your back.  With arms outstretched, say the concluding formula:

The one Zeus is Serapis.

The ritual is complete, and the ritual fast may now be broken.  Let all the candles burn out on their own, and at the first sunrise after all the candles have burned out. If done inside, take the bowl with the wine and the charm, remove the charm from the bowl and set it on the ground facing the Sun, and pour out the wine on top of the charm while facing the Sun. Whether done inside or outside, once the charm can be removed from the ritual area, gently clean off the charm with pure water and let it dry in the Sun’s light after anointing it with oil.  Keep the charm nearby whenever you need its power or whenever you need to use it.

Nighttime Simultaneous Ritual
An alternative method of employing the ritual is, instead of progressively building up to the full consecration throughout the twelve hours of the day, is to do it all at once at night.  For this, the general ritual setup would be similar with the fast starting at the sunset before the ritual and ending at sunrise after the ritual, but the ritual is to be done precisely at solar midnight, the balance-point between sunset of the previous day and sunrise of the next (which, especially if you’re on summer time/DST, may closer to 1 a.m. instead of 12 a.m.).  In addition, the candles may last any length of time; I’d recommend twelve tealights and a single taper candle.  Perform any banishing or invocation as desired and set up the ritual space, but instead of using the semicircular arrangement as above, use a circular arrangement with the first face oriented to the east; the censer should be put off to the side somewhere, with the twelve candles surrounding the charm.

Nighttime Consecration to the 12 Faces of Helios Arrangement

At true midnight, light the incense and light the Sun candle, and begin the preliminary invocation.  For each of the twelve faces of Helios in order, light its candle, salute, invoke, and pour wine out for the face.  Afterwards, finish with the final supplication (the one involving barbarous words), pouring out of wine on top of the charm, and concluding with the concluding formula.  Let the candles burn out and clean up at sunrise as you otherwise would.

Other Variations
I’ve seen vague references to other magicians employing this ritual for other purposes, not just for the consecration of a charm but for general empowerment or wealth, and this ritual can be modified accordingly merely by tweaking the text for the benedictions of each hour as well as the final supplications.  For a more initiatory ritual, you might use the circular arrangement, even in daytime, with you standing at the center being the thing consecrated, building up after a fast and performing the ritual at least once, if not at nighttime then multiple times throughout the day.