On an English Alphabet Grammatomancy

The other night, I got an email from a reader with a question.  This sort of thing happens often; in general, I enjoy taking the honest questions from my readers about practice, theory, and everything in between when it comes to the occult, as it often helps them as much as it does me by putting my thoughts in readable order and making me think.  It’s not that common I have to put some questions off, and generally that’s because they involve so much investigation and life-work that it becomes better to take the road to take a proper consultation with me for a really in-depth approach to answering such questions.  However, more often than not, simple one-off questions get prompt answers.  (If you’re interested, dear reader, check out the Contact page.)

Regrettably, this email I got didn’t have a good email address attached to it.  When I tried sending my reply, the email was immediately returned as undeliverable due to a non-existent email address.  It’s unfortunate, especially since this is the first time this has happened.  I have no other way of trying to get in contact with this person besides putting out a call on my Twitter and Facebook pages, so unless this particular reader of mine stalks me on either of those media, I don’t have a way to get back in contact with them.  (Let that be a lesson to everyone, to double-check all your entries when you try to contact someone!)  In that case, perhaps it’s best I just answer the email by making a new post specifically on this topic.  Turning a reader question by email into a post isn’t my usual approach, but between a lack of a means of communication and because the question in question is actually a thought-provoking topic, it’d be good to get the word out all the same.

What this particular reader was asking was about grammatomancy, the divination system I like that uses the letters of the Greek alphabet in a way not unlike Nordic rune divination.  In grammatomancy, each letter of the Greek alphabet is associated with a different oracular statement, and each statement begins with a different Greek letter.  For instance, the letter Gamma (Γ) has the oracle “Γῆ σοι τέλειον καρπὸν ἀποδώσει πόνων”, which translates to “The Earth will give you the ripe fruit of your labors”.  Traditionally, grammatomancy was performed by taking a bowl and filling it with 24 different pebbles or potsherds or other similar type of token, and each token had a different letter engraved on it.  Ask your question, draw out a random token, and look up the associated oracle; bam, there’s your answer.  Personally, I prefer a different approach of using dice, specifically two throws of a 12-sided die; I wrote about my method to use dice in this older post of mine.

What the reader asked was this:

I’m looking for simple instructions on how to set up dice with letters from the English alphabet, not Greek letters or symbols, including how many dice, how the letters are assigned to them, and any other info you may have.  The word “grammatomancy” goes right back to some site that gives the Greek info.

First, if I understand the situation correctly, the word “grammatomancy” started with this website.  The original source of the information I used by Apollonius Sophistes (John Opsopaus) simply calls it the Greek alphabet oracle, even in his more recent book The Oracles of Apollo: Practical Ancient Greek Divination for Today, and I honestly don’t recall the word “grammatomancy” or its Greek form “γραμματομαντεια” being used before its appearance in this 2013 post.  If it was, I apologize for my hubris, and would love to be corrected, but to my knowledge, searching online for the word grammatomancy will likely end you up at something I wrote.  Because of that, and because I’ve only discussed grammatomancy in terms of the Greek alphabet, all the resources available under that word are going to focus on the Greek alphabet.

Now, what about the actual question the reader asked?  Is there a way to use dice to randomly generate English letters?  The short answer is “no”, because of how many letters there are in the English alphabet.

The Greek alphabet as used since ancient times has 24 letters; there were a few extra letters at the start, like digamma and qoppa, but those were disused from an early period and kept around only for numeric and accounting purposes by specialists.  24 is a rather pleasing number, because it can be factored into several different sets of numbers, specifically 2 × 12, 3 × 8, and 4 × 6.  These are all fairly manageable numbers, and can be translated into dice throws quite easily.  For instance, you could use two throws of a 12-sided die (my preferred method), where the first throw determines the first half or second half of the alphabet (odd number = first 12 letters, even number = second 12 letters), and the second throw determines which letter in that set to pick; if I throw a 5 and a 9, for instance, I’ll look at the ninth letter of the first half of the Greek alphabet, which in this case is Iota.  Instead of rolling twice, you could flip a coin to determine heads for the first half of the alphabet and tails for the second half; in effect, you’re using a 2-sided die and a 12-sided die simultaneously.  Alternatively, you could throw a 4-sided die to determine which set of six letters to look at, and the 6-sided die to determine which letter in that set to pick; a 3 on the 4-sided die followed by a 3 on the 6-sided die would get you the third letter of the third set of six, which would be the fifteenth letter, which would be Omikron.  Heck, you could just use a 24-sided die (they exist!) and just associate each letter of the Greek alphabet with each number in order.

The problem with the English alphabet is that it has 26 letters.  Unlike the number 24, 26 cannot be broken down so neatly into smaller pairs of factors; you could only really break it down into 2 × 13.  While there are 13-sided dice and 26-sided dice out there, these are very uncommon specialty items, and probably not what the reader was asking about given how rare they are.  So, what could an English-minded grammatomancer do in this case?  There are several options that present themselves:

  • Don’t bother with dice at all and just use a bag of tokens or a bowl of pebbles.  This is the trivial non-answer, of course, and is not necessarily as convenient as just using plain old poker dice or tabletop RPG dice.
  • Use specially-made English alphabet dice.  They exist, sure, but again, this is a specialist option, and not very useful.
  • Increase the number of options to use from 26 to another number that can be easily factored into smaller numbers.  For instance, if you were to include a “space” letter (comparable to the modern Nordic “wyrd rune”), you get 27 options, which can be broken down into 3 × 9; if you were to include two extra letters (like the Spanish Ll and Ñ), you get 28 = 4 × 7.  However, both of these options aren’t really useful either, because 9-sided and 7-sided dice are only slightly easier to come by than 13-sided dice, which is to say “not very”.  The next greatest number that could be used for a standard set of tabletop roleplaying dice would be 32 = 4 × 8, so a roll of a 4-sided die and an 8-sided die, but this means having to use six extra letters or reinterpreting them as “wild” options that make you throw the dice again until you get a valid letter.  (This is basically what the alphabet dice in the above option does.)
  • Decrease the number of options to use from 26 down to 24.  This may seem like blasphemy (how dare I suggest deleting letters!), but consider that the English alphabet is a modern repurposing of the older Roman alphabet, which originally only had 21 letters and was later increased to 23 during the classical period.  In English use, the letters J and U are essentially “duplications” of the original letters I and V, and it was only up until recently that you’d often find things spelled as “Ierusalem” or “Vnder the sea”.  If you were to fold J into I and V into U, you’d go back down to 24 letters, and then you could use the same options that the Greek alphabet uses.

Personally, if I were pressed to make a choice that forced me to use dice, I’d go with the last option and get rid of J and U at the expense of considering them their own letters, because it seems most convenient that way.  I’d still consider using tokens a better choice than dice for the English alphabet, though.

However, this is only half the answer to what the reader asked about.  Once a method is found for using dice, what about the letters themselves for divination?  When we look at the Greek alphabet, we find historical evidence across the eastern Mediterranean that uses the Greek alphabet as a form of divination, with multiple sets of oracles associated with them, sometimes overlapping and sometimes distinct based on the region.  For the Roman alphabet, however, I don’t know of any such sources.  We have nursery rhymes and mnemonics that associate the letters of the English alphabet to different things, sure, but nothing of the same scale and focus as the Greek alphabet oracles that dot the ancient world.  To that end, I have no resources at my disposal and know of none that exist otherwise that discuss the letters of the English or Latin alphabets as an oracle in a grammatomantic way.

Should someone want to develop a set of oracular statements for each letter of the English alphabet, I would think it a good development, especially if the user of such a system wanted to find a more mystical way of applying the English alphabet in spiritual practices, or reinterpreting it as a “Theban oracle” by using the Theban alphabet cipher for English (which, as an aside, note how it already collapses I/J and U/V, and how W is just a duplication of U/V, technically reducing it down to 23 letters as used since classical Rome).  However, I would find using the Greek alphabet to be more useful from the get-go, not least because there are already sets of oracles ready to go for the Greek letters, but because the Greek alphabet already has associations to numbers, planets, signs, and elements via stoicheia and isopsephia as well as to hundreds of other classical concepts, animals, birds, stones, and procedures according to texts like the Kyranides.  In other words, the Greek alphabet already has information, lore, history, and power in it that the English alphabet basically lacks.  I won’t knock an English system of grammatomancy, but it’d need quite a bit of work, innovation, and invention to get it to a similar usable state that the Greek system presents immediately.

I hope that helps!  May the reader who sent me this question find this answer useful, and may everyone ensure to check their email addresses for correctness and validity before using them in contact forms.

Clarifications on Terms for Symbols

It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine when people badly use terms in an occult context.  To be fair, different traditions may use certain terms in particular ways that are specific to that particular tradition, which may or may not differ from normal use.  Other groups treat some terms completely interchangeably when, strictly speaking, the terms signify different things.  Generally, however, there’s not much rigor in how people use specific terms, and end up misusing them (through their own ignorance and confusion) or abusing them (to intentionally mislead or annoy others).  I’d like to clear up a few things and offer some of my definitions for particular terms used in an occult context, this time focusing specifically on terms used for different types of symbols.

For any of these terms, “symbol” is the highest-level term I can think of for any of these following terms.   If you’re not sure what kind of symbol a particular thing is, just say “symbol”.  Everyone understands that.  Not everyone understands what a particular person means by “sigil” or “rune”, however.  Granted, these words are given with my personal definitions, and again, may not be those used by other traditions.  However, for the sake of having a regular inventory of words with specific, unambiguous meanings, here’s how I use these particular things.

Glyphs are symbols used to indicate a basic thought or sound.  In other words, a glyph is much like a written-down word.  Individual letters communicate sounds; individual numerals communicate numbers; individual Chinese characters communicate sounds or concepts or words; the glyphs for the planets, zodiac signs, elements, and alchemical concepts communicate those things and only those things.  Glyphs are essentially a generalized notion of a letter in an alphabet; they are characters in a writing system that includes letters, numbers, punctuation,  labels, and so forth.  Glyphs may or may not be used in an occult context; for instance, these words you’re reading right now are composed of glyphs (letters and punctuation of the English alphabet), but so is an astrological chart (the symbols used to denote the planets and Zodiac signs) or a computer science textbook (punctuation and numerals and diagrams to indicate logical connections or mathematical operations).  Glyphs may be used one at a time (using the symbol for the Sun) or in combination with other glyphs (multiple letters to spell out a name).

Seals are symbols that are invented as a complete unit or are received from a spirit.  Seals cannot be decomposed into more basic things, but are a whole unto themselves.  They are symbols that are not generated according to a particular rule or composed according to sacred geometry.  They are simply abstract symbols that refer to something.  Importantly, especially in my own work, seals are “revealed” or given unto someone by a spirit or person to refer to themselves; seals are an abstract “body” to give an idea a graphical or visual form.  Consider the symbols used to refer to spirits in the Lemegeton Goetia; these are not composed of more base units or other symbols, but are whole things unto themselves.  These are seals, and often have no origin besides “this is what I was shown to use and has no rhyme or reason beyond that”.  Seals are to constructed diagrams what barbarous words of power are to words in the dictionary; they may not have any communicable meaning that us humans can understand, but they work.

Sigils are symbols that are constructed according to a particular algorithm.  Think of the standard way of creating a letter-based sigil according to Agrippa (book III, chapter 30) or as used in modern chaos magic, or like with my own shorthand system.  Alternatively, consider the sigils used for the planets with their planetary intelligences and spirits from Agrippa (book II, chapter 22), which are lines drawn over the qameas of particular planets and playing connect-the-dots with the gematria values of individual letters of a name or word.  Sigils are symbols created according to a defined set of rules (combine these letters, connect these numbers on this qamea, etc.).  They are not always artistically made, although the algorithms used to generate a sigil may have some leeway for style and innovation.  A painting may incorporate sigils, but a sigil is not made of pictures; a sigil is a geometric, abstract form composed or generated from glyphs.

Runes are letters of the writing systems used for Germanic languages prior to the introduction of the Roman script.  In other words, runes are no more than letters of a particularly old style of European alphabet.  These can be classified, generally speaking, into two families: the Scandinavian futhark (both Elder and Younger, together used between the 2nd and 11th centuries) and the Anglo-Saxon futhorc.  There were medieval runes used in some astrological contexts, but generally runes stayed out of Hermetic and Western ceremonial stuff.  However, a particular alphabet known as Darlecarlian runes was in use until the 20th century in a small province in Sweden, but this was certainly the exception to the historical abandonment of runic writing.  There are other systems of writing and symbols that are runiform, such as Old Turkic and Old Hungarian, but these bear only a superficial resemblance to Germanic runes, and are not technically runes on their own as they belong to a different writing system, culture, and geographic area.

Pentagrams are five-pointed stars.  That’s it.  Nothing more than that.  You can only really draw a pentagram one way, regardless of orientation.

Hexagrams are six-pointed stars . Again, nothing special here, but there’s a bit more complexity.  The Star of David is nothing more than a hexagram composed of two overlapping equilateral triangles, which is what’s usually meant by “hexagram”.  The unicursal hexagram is another type, though it’s not original to Crowley by any means; the mathematician Blaise Pascal depicts it in one of his works from 1639.  The “elemental hexagrams” shown in the Key of Solomon (book I, chapter 3) are not, strictly speaking, hexagrams (with the exception of one); they are configurations of two triangles each that do not, necessary, combine to form a proper hexagon.

Pentacles are not stars.  They are not necessarily pentagrams, nor are they necessarily hexagrams.  Pentacles are more of a system of symbols that work together in unison for a particular goal; they are something usually, but not always, more elaborate than a sigil and are not necessarily combined in an algorithmic way.  Consider the pentacles from the Key of Solomon (book I, chapter 18), or the Elemental Weapon of the Earth as used in the Golden Dawn, or the protective lamen with the pentagram and extra symbols used in the Lemegeton Goetia, or that used in the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano.  Pentacles are, essentially, the physical version of a graphic design composed of one or more symbols, often including letters and names, and arranged in a method more akin to sacred geometry than algorithmic combining or tracing.  Pentacles are tangible objects, things you can hold and touch and wear.  All pentacles are talismans, although not all talismans are pentacles.  For instance, a talisman engraved in a circular stone may have the design of a fish surrounded by Hebrew words can be considered a pentacle, but a talisman of a stone fish with words engraved on it is not a pentacle.  Pentacles are generally round, flat objects such as a circular piece of paper or a metal disc that have a design engraved, painted, drawn, or otherwise inscribed upon it as a graphic design of a system of symbols.  Pentacles are not oddly-shaped things like carved statues or rings or wands, despite its talismanic properties or designs on them.  Although the words “pentacle” and “pentagram” are related and were originally used interchangeably, the word “pentacle” started to be used for any magical talisman in the form of a pentagram or hexagram starting in medieval French.  An alternate etymology combines this with an older French word for pendant, pentacol or pendacol, or something worn around the neck.  Indeed, most pentacles are typically worn around the neck as lamens, which is probably the most correct use of this word in my opinion, but can easily be expanded to other (typically circular and flat) objects with a system of magical symbols inscribed upon it.

Tetragrammaton (more properly the Tetragrammaton) is another word for the four-letter name of God, Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh or Yahweh or Jehovah or whatnot.  The word is Greek and literally means “the thing of four letters”.  It is a title to refer to the sacred name of God, akin to the Hebrew haShem “the Name”, but is often used in Hermetic and Solomonic work as itself as a sacred name of God.  However, this is nothing more than a word composed of individual letters; the word “Tetragrammaton” does not refer to any pentacle or other occult design.

Meditating on the Abacedarian Ancient Words of Power

I think it’s been too long since I mentioned everyone’s favorite ancient grimoire, the Greek Magical Papyri, isn’t it?  Yes, it has been too long, especially when there are some real gems in there (and in the related Demotic Magical Papyri) that can help us out to this day, especially since I was reminded not too long ago of one particular selection from the PGM that can help us out in our mathesis work.

Although the majority of the well-preserved PGM spells are at the beginning of the collection, some of the later ones are pretty awesome, even if they’re fragmented.  PGM CI.1-53 contains a full binding ritual, a καταδεσμος or defixio, using the spirits of the dead to bring a woman in love to the magician.  The magician in question threatened the gods of the world with upsetting the cosmic order and constrained the spirits to carry out his will, and in the process used a series of barbarous words of power to constrain the forces of the cosmos to do his bidding.  That series of magical words is rather special, since we see almost nothing like it elsewhere: a list of 24 magical words, each starting with a different letter of the Greek alphabet.

Letter Word of Power
Α ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ Akrammakhamarei
Β ΒΟΥΛΟΜΕΝΤΟΡΕΒ Būlomentoreb
Γ ΓΕΝΙΟΜΟΥΘΙΓ Geniomūthig
Δ ΔΗΜΟΓΕΝΗΔ Dēmogenēd
Ε ΕΝΚΥΚΛΙΕ Enkyklie
Ζ ΖΗΝΟΒΙΩΘΙΖ Zēnobiōthiz
Η ΗΣΚΩΘΩΡΗ Ēskōthōrē
Θ ΘΩΘΟΥΘΩΘ Thōthūthōth
Ι ΙΑΕΟΥΩΙ Iaeūōi
Κ ΚΟΡΚΟΟΥΝΟΩΚ Korkoūnoōk
Λ ΛΟΥΛΟΕΝΗΛ Lūloenēl
Μ ΜΟΡΟΘΟΗΠΝΑΜ Morothoēpnam
Ν ΝΕΡΞΙΑΡΞΙΝ Nerxiarxin
Ξ ΞΟΝΟΦΟΗΝΑΞ Xonophoēnax
Ο ΟΡΝΕΟΦΑΟ Orneophao
Π ΠΥΡΟΒΑΡΥΠ Pyrobaryp
Ρ ΡΕΡΟΥΤΟΗΡ Rerūtoēr
Σ ΣΕΣΕΝΜΕΝΟΥΡΕΣ Sesenmenūres
Τ ΤΑΥΡΟΠΟΛΙΤ Tauropolit
Υ ΥΠΕΦΕΝΟΥΡΥ Ypephenūry
Φ ΦΙΜΕΜΑΜΕΦ Phimemameph
Χ ΧΕΝΝΕΟΦΕΟΧ Khenneopheokh
Ψ ΨΥΧΟΜΠΟΛΑΨ Psykhompolaps
Ω ΩΡΙΩΝ Ōriōn

With the exception of the words for Alpha and Omega, each word starts and ends with the same letter of the alphabet, and based on the structure of the words, it’d appear as if some of them were originally meant to be palindromes, words running the same in both directions.  Regardless of whether the words are supposed to be palindromes, they pack some power, and can be seen in echoes across the PGM.  Consider the words ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ, ΘΩΘΟΥΘΩΘ, and ΩΡΙΩΝ: the first is a well-known voces magicae meaning “cast off the nets” and can be used to dispel protections or wards; the second is a triple name of the Egyptian god Thoth, and the last is the hero from Greek mythology and one of the most well-known constellations in the sky.

Although these words can be used as magical names of the letters and, by extension, the world of correspondences to each letter (such that ΤΑΥΡΟΠΟΛΙΤ encompasses both the zodiacal world of Pisces as well as the divine realm of Poseidon, and more) and likely have many magical uses, the first one that came to my mind was in meditation and contemplation of these worlds.  After all, it’s part of my daily mathesis ritual that I do a meditation on the letter of the day of the lunar month, so when I have the time during the day, I’ll spend a bit longer after doing my letter chants and enter into a more contemplative state of mind.  In a way, this is basically scrying the letter, but it’s a little different from how I’ve done it in the past.

So, when I sit down to do my daily mathesis rituals, I start with some basic breathing exercises to calm down the mind and body; it helps that I usually do at least 15 minutes of awareness meditation before this, too, but you don’t strictly need that.  Then I recite the Invocation of the Tetractys, and I do my Tetractyean meditation and visualization.  Once I finish that, I’ll then begin what I call my letter chants, or (as I tentatively call it in Greek) γραμματωδαι (grammatōdai, sing. grammatōdē).  I’m still settling into the pattern I want to use for them, but I’ve broken it into several styles based on what type of letter it is.  Once I finish the grammatōdai, I’ll do some visualization to open up a doorway into the world of the letter using the mystical word associated with it, and see what comes out of that.

First, let’s split up the 24 Greek letters into four groups: vowels, stop consonants, continuing consonants, and complex consonants.

  • The seven vowels (letters that produce a clear vocal sound) are pretty straightforward: Α, Ε, Η, Ι, Ο, Υ, Ω
  • Stop consonants are those which are produced from one action in the mouth and stop the airflow completely: Β, Γ, Δ, Κ, Π, Τ
  • Continuing consonants are those which are produced from one action in the mouth but can be vocally continued: Ζ, Λ, Μ, Ν, Ρ
  • Complex consonants are those which are produced from two actions in the mouth: Θ, Ξ, Φ, Χ, Ψ

The first part of the meditation is to intone the name of the letter.  I’ll slowly and powerfully say the name of the letter (alpha, beta, etc.) at least once and no more than nine times, depending on the pythmenic value of the letter, but once usually suffices.  While doing this, I’ll picture the written form of the letter clearly in my mind.  I repeat this step until I get the “feel” and image of the letter solidly situated in my mind and body.

After this, I’ll start repeating the “simple” sound of the letter repeatedly at a quick pace.  For consonants, this just involves making the sound over and over again.  Thus, for Beta, I’ll go “buh buh buh buh buh buh buh”, for Kappa “kh kh kh kh kh kh kh kh”, for Theta “th th th th th th th”, and so forth.  Vowels are a little different, where instead of just intoning the vowel constantly I’ll separate out “repetitions” of the vowel with aspirations.  Thus, for Alpha, I’ll go “a ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha”, and so forth.  I’ll continue this for four or so full breaths, completely exhausting my lungs with each series of repetitions while maintaining my focus on the sound of the letter and the feeling it makes within me, making a note of any observation that arises from doing so.

This is followed by another set of repetitions, but much slower than the first.  Thus, for consonants, instead of going “buh buh buh buh buh” in a single breath, I’ll go “buhhhhhhh” and exhale completely, repeating again with a new breath.  For vowels, I’ll simply intone the vowel until my lungs are emptied, e.g. “ahhhhhhhhhh”.  I try to do at least four times as many slow repetition breaths as I do the fast repetition breaths, this time letting myself get completely absorbed in the simple sounds themselves.

The next step depends on whether I’m meditating on a consonant or a vowel, but the point here is to begin to vocalize the letter with vowels:

  • For consonants, I’ll take the consonant and go through each of the seven vowels, mixing each with the letter in different ways.  Using the notation where C indicates the consonant and V indicates the vowel, I’ll intone the CV, VC, VCV, and CVC combinations with the consonant and every vowel, starting first with Alpha through Omega and then starting again with Omega and going through Alpha.  So, with Beta, I’ll intone: ΒΑ ΒΕ ΒΗ ΒΙ ΒΟ ΒΥ ΒΩ, ΒΩ ΒΥ ΒΟ ΒΙ ΒΗ ΒΕ ΒΑ; ΑΒ ΕΒ ΗΒ ΙΒ ΟΒ ΥΒ ΩΒ, ΩΒ ΥΒ ΟΒ ΙΒ ΗΒ ΕΒ ΑΒ; ΑΒΑ ΕΒΕ ΗΒΗ ΙΒΙ ΟΒΟ ΥΒΥ ΩΒΩ, ΩΒΩ ΥΒΥ ΟΒΟ ΙΒΙ ΗΒΗ ΕΒΕ ΑΒΑ; ΒΑΒ ΒΕΒ ΒΗΒ ΒΙΒ ΒΟΒ ΒΥΒ ΒΩΒ, ΒΩΒ ΒΥΒ ΒΟΒ ΒΙΒ ΒΗΒ ΒΕΒ ΒΑΒ.  Thus, for every consonant, there are 4 × 7 × 2 = 56 different words to intone.
  • For vowels, I’ll intone different pairs of vowels, always focusing on the vowel of the day.  In this case, using X for the vowel of the day and Y for the other vowel, I’ll go through all different combinations of XY, YX, XYX, YXY.  Thus, for Alpha, I’ll intone: ΑΑ ΑΕ ΑΗ ΑΙ ΑΟ ΑΥ ΑΩ, ΑΩ ΑΥ ΑΟ ΑΙ ΑΗ ΑΕ ΑΑ; ΑΑ ΕΑ ΗΑ ΙΑ ΟΑ ΥΑ ΩΑ, ΩΑ ΥΑ ΟΑ ΙΑ ΗΑ ΕΑ ΑΑ; ΑΑΑ ΑΕΑ ΑΗΑ ΑΙΑ ΑΟΑ ΑΥΑ ΑΩΑ; ΑΩΑ ΑΥΑ ΑΟΑ ΑΙΑ ΑΗΑ ΑΕΑ ΑΑΑ; ΑΑΑ ΕΑΕ ΗΑΗ ΙΑΙ ΟΑΟ ΥΑΥ ΩΑΩ, ΩΑΩ ΥΑΥ ΟΑΟ ΙΑΙ ΗΑΗ ΕΑΕ ΑΑΑ.  Thus, for every vowel, there are another 56 words to intone.  I don’t have a glottal stop or an aspiration between vowels, so the sound changes smoothly between each vowel.

I’ll usually do the vocalizations once, but if they don’t seem to have kicked in yet and settled into my body and mind, I’ll start it over again another time.  After this, I’ll do another set of quick simple repetitions followed by long simple repetitions of the pure sound, followed by another set of repetitions of the name of the letter.  Note that, throughout this whole time, I’ll be holding the image of the letter itself in my mind, usually without color but occasionally fluctuating depending on the vowel being intoned.

Once I finish intoning the name of the letter for the last time, by this point I’m already in a good headspace for going into a trance session into scrying the letter.  To begin this, I continue visualizing the letter in my mind, but then I picture it being placed on top of a veil split down the middle, supported by a stone threshold.  Both the color of the cloth and the style of the threshold will differ based on the letter itself and the feelings it’s given me; some are simple linen supported by a few sticks, some are black velvet with gold threading supported in a temple entryway, and others are yet different. All the same, the veil hangs down flat, and I approach the veil in my mind.  I then intone, both mentally and physically, the full magical word for the letter, into the visualization of the letter on the cloth.  At this point, the veil tends to fly apart like it’s being blasted by a gust of wind from behind, and I enter into the veil.

This scrying method is a variation of a common technique to scry or contemplate symbols using a door with the symbol emblazoned on the door itself.  However, with other symbols, I’ve been able to explore full worlds of rich imagery and sensation and people.  The letters, on the other hand, are different: I see nothing.  It’s mostly visceral sensation and sounds, which, to be honest, make sense given what these symbols are: letters, graphical representations of human articulation made from the body.  If I try to conjure any sort of mental image, I usually get a close up of a particular sound and how it might be realized in my mind as an image, e.g. a sticky wet cool sensation as blood on grass.  Usually, however, there are no mental images, only sound and sensation.  I’ll perceive motion, weight, pressure, sound, acceleration, charge, and emotion; pretty much the whole gamut except for sight, and for that matter smell and taste, too.  I’m sure that, with deeper levels of meditation, I could eventually get those, but if I’m meditating on the letters qua letters, then my perceptions will be in the same ways letters make: through physical vibration and all the effects that entails.

At some point, once I’ve had my fill of the scrying session, I’ll “back out” of the world, though it’s hard to describe how do that without an image-based perception of the place to maneuver around.  At some point, I’ll exit out back through the gate of the veil, and I’ll intone the magical word of the letter once more to shut the veil and to calm the winds that blow it open.  Once the veil is closed, I’ll focus my attention on the letter itself until just that letter exists.  I close the meditation out by breathing in the letter into my body, dissolving it entirely within me, and intoning the name of the letter on the exhale.

If you’re interested, give the letter meditation and grammatodai a try.  How does the letter feel when you pronounce it?  How does it play with the vowels?  What kinds of emotions or sensations or objects does the sound of the letter call up?  What kind of veil and threshold do you see when you visualize it for the letter?  What kinds of sensations, feelings, and perceptions do you get while scrying the letter?  How does the magical word feel compared to the magical world its linked to?

An Alternative System of Stoicheia

Far be it from me, a ceremonial magician, to take something simple without introducing some complexity or confusion into it.

In continuing and reviewing my mathesis and Greek language-based mysticism research, there’s one modern book that’s invaluable to my studies: The Greek Qabalah (1999) by Kieren Barry.  Barry’s scholarship is excellent, and he wrote the book as a hybrid between pure academicism and applicability for occultists and magicians, so it’s highly accessible for most people but with plenty of inroads for deeper analysis.  Of course, I’d love to read Franz Dornseiff’s “Das Alphabet in Mystik und Magie” (1925) since it has plenty more raw information, but that’s all in German, and alas, nope.  Anyway, Barry’s book is a good start, and it’s one of the original influences that led me to go against the “Alexandrian Tree of Life” and start over fresh.  From chapter 6 (emphasis mine)

On the evidence we have seen, it is plainly incorrect to state that there are only a few correspondences to the letters of the Greek alphabet along the lines of those found much later in the Hebrew Qabalah.*  It is also anachronistic, as well as completely pointless, to attempt to project Hebrew Qabalistic symbolism onto the Greek alphabet, or to imagine anything so historically impossible as an “Alexandrian Tree of Life,” as has been done.*…

* (48) See for example, S. Flowers, Hermetic Magic (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1995), a forgettable mixture of historical fact and personal fantasy.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I claim that when a scholar is throwing those kind of footnotes at you in an academic work, you prolly dun’ fucked up.  But I digress.

So, of course, Barry mentions the property of stoicheia in several parts as he begins to discuss the mystical associations of the letters with other well-known forces or powers in the cosmos; the seven planets are a given, as well as all the permutations and wing- or heart-shaped formations of letter triangles that are formed from having rows of letters with slowly increasing or decreasing numbers of letters in each line.  However, the system of stoicheia Barry shows is much different than the one I use when it comes to the association of letters with the planets and elements.  Not that it matters much to me; I’ve gotten used to my system, and I’ve gotten good results from using it, but just in case anyone wants to start a meaningless argument with me saying that my way isn’t the only way, lemme preempt that and discuss what Barry talks about.  First, if you’re forgetful or unclear on what my system of stoicheia is like, read more here.  I honestly don’t know how far back the system I uses goes, but it’s at least as old as Cornelius Agrippa (book I, chapter 74); if it’s not any older than this, at least I know it works and makes sense to me.

The Greek words for the five elements are ΓΗ (earth), ΥΔΩΡ (water), ΑΗΡ (air), ΠΥΡ (fire), and ΑΙΘΗΡ (rarefied air, ether, spirit).  Note that there are only five consonants used between all of these words: Γ (used only in γη), Δ (used only in υδωρ), Π (used only in πυρ), Θ (used only in αιθηρ), and Ρ (used in all except γη, but the only one used in αηρ).  Thus, we can associate each of these five consonants with the five elements:

  • Gamma with Earth
  • Delta with Water
  • Rho with Air
  • Pi with Fire
  • Theta with Spirit

This method of assigning the letters to the elements, which I call the acronymic method (though this isn’t a true acronymic method), seems to have more truck in really old antique and classical systems than the phonologic method I use, which is based on the comparatively recent Cornelius Agrippa.  However, since the system of vowels connected to the seven planets remains the same in both the phonologic and acronymic systems, we can also complete this system of stoicheia by associating the other letters to the zodiac signs in the same way.  Thus, Beta in both the phonologic and acronymic methods is given to Aries, but in the phonologic system Taurus is given to Gamma (the next simple consonant), while Taurus is given to Zeta in the acronymic method (since Gamma is given to Earth, Delta to Water, and Epsilon to Mercury).

There’s also another method of stoicheia introduced by the classical Hellenic astrologer Vettius Valens, who associated the entire Greek alphabet to the 12 signs of the Zodiac.  This doesn’t assign letters to the planets or elements themselves, just the Zodiac, and since we have 24 letters and 12 signs, the associations are very straightforward: start with Alpha and Aries and continue on to Pisces associated with Mu, then Nu with Aries again until Omega with Pisces again.  This was used in a system of “onomatic astrology”, less astrology than numerology-like stoicheic interpretation of names, where yes/no divination on a matter involving multiple people can be performed based on how their names compare based on number and stoicheia.  Perhaps eventually I’ll get around to finding more about this, as there exist similar things at least as far back as the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM XII.351) and at least as recent as Christopher Cattan’s “The Geomancy”, but we’ll see.

So, if we compare these three systems of stoicheia (the full phonological stoicheia, full acronymic stoicheia, and zodiac-only stoicheia), we get the following system:

Letter Full Stoicheia Zodiac-only
Stoicheia
Phonologic Acronymic
Α Moon Aries
Β Aries Taurus
Γ Taurus Earth Gemini
Δ Gemini Water Cancer
Ε Mercury Leo
Ζ Cancer Taurus Virgo
Η Venus Libra
Θ Earth Spirit Scorpio
Ι Sun Sagittarius
Κ Leo Gemini Capricorn
Λ Virgo Cancer Aquarius
Μ Libra Leo Pisces
Ν Scorpio Virgo Aries
Ξ Water Libra Taurus
Ο Mars Gemini
Π Sagittarius Fire Cancer
Ρ Capricorn Air Leo
Σ Aquarius Scorpio Virgo
Τ Pisces Sagittarius Libra
Υ Jupiter Scorpio
Φ Air Capricorn Sagittarius
Χ Fire Aquarius Capricorn
Ψ Spirit Pisces Aquarius
Ω Saturn Pisces

So, how does this impact my work with mathesis or Greek letter magic (grammatomageia as opposed to grammatomanteia)?  Well, not much.  It’s like the use of different house systems for astrology or different ways to assign the figures from the Shield Chart to the House Chart in geomancy; it’s just a different way of using the same tools and the same symbols.  While the system overlaps for 1/3 (8 of 24) of the Greek letters, the system is notably different.  But, if the only thing that really changes is what forces we associate them to, then the only thing that really changes is, maybe, the association of letters to the odoi of the Tetractys.  Remember, we assigned the letters to the paths based on their stoicheia.  The path of Taurus is still going to be the path of Taurus, the path of the Moon is still going to be the path of the Moon, and so forth; it’s just that, in my system, the path of Taurus is given the letter Beta, but in the acronymic stoicheic system, it’d be given the letter Zeta.  The letters alone change on the paths, as well as any tangential associations the paths receive based on the shapes and non-stoicheic associations of the letters; otherwise, the structure is pretty much solid.  Then again, like I said, I’ve gotten good results with my phonologic stoicheic system, so I see no reason to switch.

And no, I’m not going to redraw up that lettered Tetractys picture again for this.

As for Valens’ zodiac-only stoicheic system?  That’s almost neither here nor there; it’s geared for a different purpose, although it is one that’s interesting and bears further exploration.