An Origin for the Letter Rules of Western Geomancy

Yes, yes, I am still working on my geomancy textbook!  As I’ve said before, it’s a long project, and by necessity it’s not the number one priority in my life; between a full-time job, heavy involvement in my religious community, managing several kinds of online presence, and my own routines and practices, working on my book is definitely a priority but not the priority.  If I had days empty of all other tasks, it’d be a different story, but here we are.  Besides, the book has been in progress since 2013, back at a point where I now think I was wholly unqualified to write such a book.  (I still think I am unqualified to write such a book, not least because I’ve made a number of discoveries, innovations, and corrections to what I knew earlier, but here we are.)

One of the fun parts of the book for me to write is the postscript.  It’s an appendix that, rather than focusing on the meat-and-bones of geomantic techniques and practices, I talk a small bit about my own thoughts, views, and opinions on certain techniques and how my own practice prioritizes certain techniques over others, or my value-estimates of certain techniques.  After all, though there are hundreds of different techniques that one can use in geomantic divination, in any given chart I might only use a handful of them, some I use generally for every reading and others I bust out for particular situations.  Almost all the techniques have some value, but some have more value than others.  I talk a bit about what I think of such things in the postscript as a kind of final letting-my-hair-down moment, where I get to drop a little of the academic and technical style I use throughout the book and get a little personal in my practice.

The postscript really isn’t a place for me to introduce or talk about any particular techniques at length, though—except one: methods to determine names or letters with geomancy.  As I’ve mentioned before on my blog, the methods to determine names is something that would be sorely useful for geomancers, and a number of historical authors mention methods to do so, most of all Christopher Cattan who introduces several “rules” for associating the figures with letters and a number of methods to use them.  John Heydon, likewise, introduces several such sets of associations for different scripts, but largely references the same methods Cattan uses.  John Michael Greer, continuing the vein of carrying on such information especially as it was republished over and over again in the late Renaissance, gives a similar set of attributions in his “Art and Practice of Geomancy”.

It’s all a shame, though, because I’ve never gotten these methods to work.  In my past experiments with them, I kept getting garbage answers with chance results.  Quoth my earlier article:

Alas, however, I have to consign a geomantic technique to the failure pile, and it’s not for lack of trying: determining names.  While it would make sense conceptually that one could determine names with geomancy, I have never been able to get such name charts to work right, from the first time I ran a name chart years ago up until the present day.  Add to it, I’ve found several methods to determine names with geomancy, and several ways to associate the letters to the figures, and I’ve tried them all, none of them giving anything remotely resembling an accurate answer.  This frustrates me to no end, because why the hell would this one technique not work when nearly every other technique I’ve tried has given me useful results?  This is especially frustrating, since being able to predict names would be exceptionally useful in the world, from determining the names of cities one might be successful in to determining the names of future spouses. …

But even using any of the techniques with any set of correspondences, I kept coming up with wrong answers.  If I were lucky, some of the letters in the actual name I was trying to find might appear at random places in the chart, but this was by no means guaranteed.  I did notice a slight tendency for some of the letters to appear in houses II, V, and VIII, but there was no pattern for which letters (start, medial, end) appeared within them.  I even tried using the values of the Greek, Hebrew, and Celestial Hebrew associations that Heydon gives (untrustworthy as his stuff tends to be) to see if it would get me anything closer than the Roman script association; nada.  Plus, many of the techniques assumes there to be at least four letters or syllables in a name; many names I ended up asking about after I did a reading on them had one or two syllables, or had even just three letters, and these techniques don’t specify what to do in the case of really short names.

It seems, also, that I’m not the first person to complain about these methods, not by far.  In addition to my own colleagues and contacts in the present day who largely give the same conclusions I have, the French geomancer Henri de Pisis gives in his 17th century book Opus Geomantiae Completum in libros tres divisum (reproduced as part of Fludd’s later work Fasciculus Geomanticus) gives the following complaint when he introduces these methods (translation mine from Latin):

So as to know someone’s name. I might have put this and another table of the same from Cattan, yet given how useless and hollow it is, I freely suppress it, lest it impose onto this very art which usually predicts with certainty. By this understanding, I would have omitted it and the following chapter, as with things uncertain and generally wrong, if not for that we would see what even a single author maintains …

In truth, it has always escaped me as to the use they make of these numbers here, for nobody thus far has been able to discover their reasoning; neither Gerard of Cremona, nor Geber, nor Pietro d’Abano, nor myself, nor any others besides Cocles and Cattan have discerned the reasoning of the numbers or of the letters of names. It can essentially be seen that Cattan and Cocles would have relaxed this art to such a freewheeling extent into the form of some game, such as the casting of dice or dominoes, for the troublesome cheating of long nights or for the future coaxing of a droll joke, and a good many use it for this and will have had nothing certain placed in the art. In other words, since they are unaware of that which is superfluous to the art, they are unestablished in the foundations of this very art, and are only outsiders into contempt of it. I suggest that these methods be rejected.

It’s frustrating, especially for someone like de Pisis to have written so bluntly about this in a way he doesn’t elsewhere in Opus Geomantiae; he only includes these methods because others have written about them, and that only bitterly and begrudgingly.  This is all the more frustrating because Arabic geomancers make claims to predict names and letters as a matter of course, though because I speak neither Arabic nor Urdu nor Farsi, it’s hard for me to find what methods they use to validate it and see whether they can walk the talk or if they’re just full of hot air.

Now, skip ahead a few years.  The Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook is thriving with over a thousand members, including a good number from Arabic-speaking countries who are, God bless them, actually willing to share and discuss Arabic methods of geomancy.  One of them even goes so far as to include a list of those fancy apparati of Arabic geomancy, taskins, though I prefer an alternate term for them now, dā`ira (plural dawā`ir), which is commonly found in Urdu and Farsi texts, and which literally mean “cycle”.  These things are fascinating for Western geomancers to look at, because we have no parallel for them; they’re a combination of correspondence as well as technique unto themselves, enforcing particular orders of figures for different needs.  Depending on the tradition of Arabic geomancy you’re looking at, some geomancers claim that there are 16 cycles, others 28, or even as many as 400 or more, some kept secret for mystical and magical ends.  Some dawā`ir are clearly organized along mathematical or otherwise clearly understood principles, such as the dā`ira-e-abdaḥ which organizes the figures according to their binary numeral meanings (reading Laetitia as 1000 as 1, Rubeus as 0100 as 2, Fortuna Minor as 1100 as 3, and so forth); others are far more obscure as to why certain figures are arranged in certain ways.

So this list of dawā`ir is shared in the group, and happily the poster who shared it cited a particular academic: Dr. Matthew Melvin-Koushki, currently of the University of South Carolina, one of whose research interests is the occult sciences in Islam.  In his paper “Persianate Geomancy from Ṭūsī to the Millennium: A Preliminary Survey” (in Nader El-Bizri and EvaOrthmann, eds., Occult Sciences in Pre-modern Islamic Cultures, Beirut: Orient-Institut Beirut, 2018, pp. 151-99), Melvin-Koushki lists seven such cycles:

The various regional schools of geomantic thought are therefore to be distinguished by the ‘cycles’ (sg. dāʾira) they prefer to employ. A cycle, Hidāyat Allāh explains, is simply a specific sequence (tartīb) of the 16 geomantic figures, with each sequence featuring different types of correspondences — elemental, humoral, temporal, astrological, lettrist, etc. And the four cycles he identifies above are far from the only ones in common use. The geomancer has at his disposal a rather larger number of cycles; which he employs in any given reading depends on the nature of the information being sought and the degree of detail required. Hidāyat Allāh lists seven by way of example:

  1. The Occupation (sakan) cycle is the most basic; it begins with Laetitia and ends with Via.
  2. The Constitution (mizāj) cycle tells the querent what day he can expect to realize his desire; it begins with Acquisitio and ends with Cauda Draconis.
  3. The BZDḤ cycle, aka the Number (ʿadad) cycle, is used to tell periods of time; it begins with Puer and ends with Populus.
  4. The Letter (ḥarf) cycle is used to reveal names (a very popular application of the science); it too begins with Laetitia and ends with Via, with the first twelve figures being assigned two letters each and the last four figures only one.
  5. The Arabic Alphabet (abjad-i ʿarabī) cycle, aka the Element (ʿunṣur) or Interior (dākhil) cycle; it begins with Laetitia and ends with Populus.
  6. The ABDḤ cycle, aka the Element (ʿunṣur) or Arabic Alphabet (abjad-i ʿarabī) cycle, which is also popular; it too begins with Laetitia and ends with Populus.
  7. The Most Complete (aṣaḥḥ) cycle, which has a different organizing principle and procedure; it begins with Laetitia and ends with Via.

Note that fourth cycle Melvin-Koushki lists: the ḥarf cycle, the word literally meaning “letter” (as in characters of an alphabet).  This cycle goes in the following order:

  1. Laetitia
  2. Tristitia
  3. Rubeus
  4. Albus
  5. Fortuna Maior
  6. Fortuna Minor
  7. Caput Draconis
  8. Cauda Draconis
  9. Puer
  10. Puella
  11. Acquisitio
  12. Amissio
  13. Populus
  14. Carcer
  15. Coniunctio
  16. Via

Melvin-Koushki says that the first twelve figures (Laetitia through Amissio) get two letters each, and the final four (Populus through Via) get one letter each.  Looking through contemporary texts on Arabic geomancy (despite my lack of knowledge of Arabic/Farsi/Urdu, I can still pick out patterns and particular words well enough to find them!), we get the following correspondences of figures to letters:

Figure Letter
Laetitia أ
‘Alif
ف
Fā’
Tristitia ب
Bā’
ص
Ṣād
Rubeus ج
Jīm
ق
Qāf
Albus د
Dāl
ر
Rā`
Fortuna Maior ه
Hā’
ش
Shīn
Fortuna Minor و
Wāw
ت
Tā’
Caput Draconis ز
Zāy
ث
Thā’
Cauda Draconis ح
Ḥā’
خ
Khā’
Puer ط
Ṭā’
ذ
Dhāl
Puella ي
Yā’
ض
Ḍād
Acquisitio ك
Kāf
ظ
Ẓā’
Amissio ل
Lām
غ
Ghayn
Populus م
Mīm
Carcer ن
Nūn
Coniunctio س
Sīn
Via ع
`Ayn

Note the order of how the letters go, first down the left column then down the right: this is the traditional abjadī order of the Arabic script, the same one in use for all other Phoenician-derived scripts like Greek and Hebrew.  The fact that the last four figures in the ḥarf cycle have only one letter each are also the liminal figures that are neither entering nor exiting might be because these four figures are special.  More realistically, though, it’s because there are 28 letters in the Arabic script, which means that some figures would get two letters and others only one; because there are 16 figures, 16 × 2 = 32, and 32 – 28 = 4.  If you just start assigning the letters one by one to the figures, you’d run out for the last four.  This raises the question, which came first, the order of the figures, or the ordering of the letters to which the figures were then mapped?  It’s unclear which came first to me, but we can pick out some interesting structural notes about the ḥarf cycle:

  • The first 12 figures are given in reversion pairs: Laetitia/Tristitia, Rubeus/Albus, etc.
  • The first four figures are the “pure elemental” figures, each with seven points.
  • The last four figures are all liminal figures, each of which is their own reversion; the first two are considered the stable liminal figures, the latter two the mobile liminal figures, progressively going from the most stable to the most mobile.

I also want to note that the source Melvin-Koushki is referencing came from the late 16th century, and his sources likely came from much older ones; by that point, geomancy was already around 600 or 700 years old.  Regardless, this cycle is still found in many works even today as a means to predict names.  (I have also seen the ABDḤ/binary-numeral cycle used for this same purpose, but it seems like that’s less popular of a choice than using this specific cycle, though the mechanism is the same.  I don’t know how common using the ABDḤ cycle is for this purpose, or where it might be centralized.)  Although I haven’t yet found much in English or another language I know yet about how to specifically use this cycle for divining names, at least I know how they associate the figures with letters, which is pretty neat unto itself.

I bring this up because, while going over my draft for my postscript in my book, I returned to that section about how Western geomancy has methods for determining names.  I originally wrote the seed for that section in the aforementioned blog post of mine back in 2014, and I basically copied the same tables (in a more intelligible way and broken down by author or source) into my book.  While I was revising that particular section, something about the order of how Cattan, Heydon, and Case associated the figures to the letters…something about it struck me as familiar.  I normally use the planetary order of the figures in my posts and tables (lunar figures, Mercurial figures, Venereal figures, …, nodal figures), but it struck me that several Western authors all had it that Laetitia was given to A, Tristitia to B, Rubeus to C, and so on.  They don’t all agree with each other in some of the associations, and Cattan and Heydon have other rules that give other letters to the figures, but it’s clear they were all drawing on the same source in one form or another, and…hm.  Neither the similarities between them nor that same order could be given to chance.

Digging out my ancient binder of geomancy notes from when I was in college, I got out my transcript of one of the earliest Western works on geomancy, Martin of Spain’s work “De Geomancia”, written sometime in the 1200s.  Dr. Laurel Means has a version of it in Popular and Practical Science of Medieval England (Lister M. Matheson, ed., Michigan State University Press, 1994), and I was able to get a text transcript of it while in college, though I’ve since lost the original source and the transcript file I was working on, though I did save a copy.  I remembered this because it has an early association of the figures with letters from well before Cattan or the others, and I wanted to see how it’d match up.  Surprise: it did, more than I expected, even if I’m missing associations for two of the figures.  Though Martin of Spain gives anywhere from one to five letters to the figures, the first of them typically matches with the expected one and seems to be the “primary” letter.  All these Western sources all seemed to share the same basic order of the figures, starting with Laetitia and Tristitia and continuing from there.  There are some variations, but it’s all fundamentally the same thing.

To compare what I’m seeing, here’s a table that associates the letters of the alphabet with the figures from Christopher Cattan (specifically his First Rule), John Heydon (the “First Rule” for English, with annotations), John Case, and Martin of Spain (more below because this is weird):

Letter Martin of Spain Cattan Heydon Case
A Laetitia Laetitia Laetitia Laetitia
B Tristitia Tristitia Tristitia Tristitia
C Rubeus Rubeus Caput Draconis Caput Draconis
D Albus Albus Albus Albus
E Fortuna Minor Fortuna Minor Fortuna Minor Fortuna Minor
F Fortuna Maior Fortuna Maior Fortuna Maior Fortuna Maior
G Caput Draconis Caput Draconis Rubeus Rubeus
H Cauda Draconis Cauda Draconis Puella Puella
I J Puella Puella Acquisitio Acquisitio
K Puer Puer Cauda Draconis Cauda Draconis
L Acquisitio Puer Puer
M Acquisitio
N Via Amissio Amissio Amissio
O
P Carcer Via Via Via
Q
R Carcer Carcer Carcer
S
T Populus Populus Populus Populus
U V W
X Coniunctio Coniunctio Coniunctio Coniunctio
Y Via
Z

Admittedly, Martin of Spain’s attributions are a little weird; he gives a set of letters for each figure, roughly in alphabetical order per figure, so a bit of sussing needs figuring out; additionally, the letters “l” and “y” are not allocated anywhere, but there is an allocation for the obsolete letter yogh (ʒ), which I interpreted as “y” above.  The full set of associations from Martin of Spain are:

Figure Numbers Letters
Fortuna Maior 12 ff
Fortuna Minor 8 or 1 e
Caput Draconis 13 g t
Acquisitio 31 h m
Laetitia 50 a d
Puer 9 k j
Tristitia 12 b d n
Puella 1 j c e
Rubeus 14 a c s
Albus 14 a d e
Amissio 15 j t s
Cauda Draconis 14 or 12 h j c d
Populus 2 n o t u
Coniunctio 13 or 17 r s t x
Via 8 n o t a ʒ
Carcer 10 o p q r s

Anyway, none of the associations we have in Martin of Spain, Cattan, Heydon, or Case give a figure for the letter Z, and the letters I/J and U/V/W weren’t classified as separate letters until recently, anyway.  As always, Case agrees with Heydon, as I’m pretty sure Case’s Angelical Guide was based on Heydon’s Theomagia, and both differ from Cattan in some minor ways.  Martin of Spain’s order starts off clear, but the order gets really mixed up and unclear towards the end.  Cattan’s order seems to be the most orderly, and preserves almost but frustratingly not quite the same order as the ḥarf cycle from before, with the following changes:

  • Cattan has Fortuna Minor and Fortuna Maior in positions 5 and 6; the ḥarf cycle switches these
  • Cattan has Puella and Puer in positions 9 and 10; the ḥarf cycle switches these
  • Cattan has Via, Carcer, Populus, and Coniunctio as the final four figures; the ḥarf cycle has Populus, Carcer, Coniunctio, and Via

What we’re arriving at is that the Western rules for assigning letters to the figures is clearly a continuation of the same cycle associations that began in the Arabic tradition, even from a very early period in Western geomancy, which indicates that the ḥarf cycle definitely dates back to the late 1200s, probably earlier, making it a very early arrangement of figures, indeed.  At least in the western part of Europe (i.e. Spain as opposed to Greece), this was likely brought in at an early point along with the rest of geomantic technique, and held on in some form or another by a handful of geomancers.  It’s unclear to me exactly how popular this method or association was, since I haven’t found more than a handful of resources that give such an association and most of them tend to be the larger works on geomancy that date from Cattan and onwards, but it may well be that this system was held onto, perhaps with some corruptions or changes, which would explain the small changes in Cattan’s order versus the ḥarf cycle.

The other major difference is how the letters get assigned to the figures in their cycle.  Rather than how the Arabic method goes through the cycle of figures and gives each figure one letter in turn, which results in a bunch of figures at the start with two letters and a few at the end with only one, the European method seems to almost be reverse: double up the letters at the end of the cycle and work forward until the rest of the figures at the start have only one letter each.  Given how straightforward the association method would be, I’m not sure how the method changed so drastically; either several corruptions happened along the way, or someone innovated a variation on the system.  I can’t seem to trace sources back past Cattan, or at least find any in an accessible form, so it’s unclear whether Cattan or his predecessors carried on the same tradition that Martin of Spain wrote about, whether his method came from another variant closely related to it, or whether he reimported an Arabic method and customized it for European needs.

What would it look like if we were to use the ḥarf cycle order of the figures and the same method, but applied it to the Roman script?  Considering that the Roman script that we use nowadays has shifted a bit from Renaissance usage, notably with the introduction of a few more letters (J from I, V and W from U, and Z), we can envision two versions of this, a “Renaissance Roman” ḥarf association of the figures with the letters as it was done in the days of Cattan et al. with 23 letters, and a “Modern English” association that uses all 26 letters of the modern English alphabet but done in the same way.  Below is what we would get from using those methods, alongside Cattan’s association for comparison (with the mis-ordered letters, e.g. Fortuna Maior and Fortuna Minor, in bold italic).  Heck, we can even come up with a Cattan-style association of the letters, using the ḥarf ordering (to fix the irregularities we might have seen from before) but using the same Western-style doubling-up of successive letters at the end:

Figure Cattan Ḥarf-Style
Renaissance
Roman
Ḥarf-Style
Modern English
Cattan-Style
Modern English
Laetitia A A R A Q A
Tristitia B B S B R B
Rubeus C C T C S C
Albus D D U/V/W D T D
Fortuna Maior F E X E U E
Fortuna Minor E F Y F V F
Caput Draconis G G G W G H
Cauda Draconis H H H X I J
Puer K I/J I Y K L
Puella I/J K J Z M N
Acquisitio L M L K O P
Amissio N O M L Q R
Populus T U/V/W N M S T
Carcer R S O N U V
Coniunctio X Y P O W X
Via P Q Q P Y Z

In this light, let’s point out two things about Cattan’s original style (which I’m taking as the default Western letter association rule, which was an earlier version of what Heydon and Case later used):

  • Really, why is there no Z in the Renaissance Roman scheme, or even Cattan’s original scheme?  As I mentioned earlier, Z was barely considered a letter in English until comparatively recently, so it’s not completely surprising that medieval, Renaissance, and even early modern texts on geomancy would omit it from such an association scheme.  Yet, French (for that matter, many forms of Romance languages) definitely uses the letter Z in its language regularly, so it’s odd that French or Italian would omit this letter.  Note how it would fall in the ḥarf-style Renaissance Roman scheme, as a letter corresponding to Caput Draconis.  This, however, would give its reverse figure Cauda Draconis no corresponding double letter, because the Roman script including Z would have 23 letters, and an odd number would mean one of these reversion-pairs would go unassigned.  So, this letter would have to be omitted to keep the system clean, and would probably logically be merged with S (as part of Carcer).
  • Even then, why does the Cattan scheme double up successive letters at the end, rather than allocate sequential letters cyclicly through the alphabet?  It might be more for a superficial resemblance or mirroring of how the ḥarf cycle associations work for Arabic, where the final positions are given to the liminal figures which were seen as “breaking the pattern” in some special way.  Because 22 letters get nowhere near those final four figures (as the ḥarf-style Renaissance Roman scheme shows) and because we might still want to make those final figures special in some way, the doubling-up of successive letters at the end could be seen as a compromise to keep the final few figures special while still allocating the letters to the figures in an orderly way.  It’s a major departure from the logic of the ḥarf cycle method, but it’s a method all the same.

So, let’s say that we have our pick now of these four systems.  Which would I recommend to use?  Given what the original ḥarf cycle logic was, I would throw my hat in for the ḥarf-style modern English associations above, but that’s also because I use the English language, and though the Renaissance Roman script is just an earlier version of the English alphabet, I see no reason to use an outdated orthography that omits several important letters that have not been considered allographs or variants of others for several hundred years now.  The same method of straightforwardly allocating the letters of one’s writing system in order to the geomantic figures in the ḥarf cycle can be used for any alphabetic or abjadic script.

Even with this, there are still several important questions that are still left unanswered:

  • It’s clear that alphabets or abjads that have an even number of letters would be favored, because it keeps the reversal pairs intact, so that each figure in the pair has the same number of letters.  What about scripts with an odd number of letters?  Does it really matter that much to keep reversal pairs intact?
  • Why are the figures in the ḥarf cycle placed in this order at all?  Is there an organizing principle behind it, or was it more inspired than devised?
  • Did the ḥarf cycle come first and then the association with the letters, or did the idea of divvying up the 28 letters of the Arabic script come first and the figures associated with those letters afterwards?  If the latter, it could explain why the four liminal figures just so happen to be at the end of the cycle where they get one figure each.  But even then, why would the pure element figures Laetitia, Tristitia, etc. be at the front in that order?  Reading the figures as elements, they could be read as Fire-Earth-Air-Water (my modern system or just using the points of those elemental lines) or as Air-Earth-Fire-Water (the older system that swaps Rubeus for Fire and Laetitia for Air), but this would be odd considering their pure elemental representations.
  • Can other cycles be used instead of the ḥarf cycle?  I know that at least some geomancers use the ABDḤ cycle using the same method of allocating letters to figures, just in a different order of the figures, though it seems the ḥarf cycle is more popular, at least in Africa and the Near East.
  • Where did Cattan get his Second and Third Rules of assigning the letters to the figures come from?  I haven’t been able to figure out a pattern there, either, especially with the varied and numerous associations he gives that don’t match anything else.  He even includes the letter Z in the Third Rule!

  • Did the methods of determining names as given by Cattan, Heydon, etc. also originally come from Arabic geomancy, or were they developed purely in a Western setting?  If they came from Arabic geomancy, did they come in at an early date and get passed down (and potentially corrupted) as time went by, or were they reimported at a later date?  Given their wording, it seems they were unclear and obscure even in Renaissance times.
  • What even are the methods in use for Arabic geomancy for using the ḥarf cycle?  I haven’t been able to read or research much about that, either.  How do Arabic geomancers determine names, and how similar are these methods using the ḥarf cycle (or other cycles with letters associated to the figures!) to those in Western geomancy?
  • What can be done about non-alphabetic or non-abjadic scripts?  Syllabaries can feasibly be assigned, syllable by syllable, to the geomantic figures, though that would quickly get out of hand depending on the number of syllables a language has.  How about abugidas, like any of the Brahmic-derived scripts?  How would vowels be handled in that system, if at all?  What about logographic scripts?

Still, even with these unanswered questions, I feel like I have enough at this point to convince me that that whole section in my book’s postscript about how trash these methods of determining names and letters are probably deserves a rewrite.  In fact, what’s astounding about the Western methods is that we have a fossil of Arabic dawā`ir embedded in our own practice, when otherwise there we don’t use any dā`ira-based technique.  It really emphasizes to me that, truly, geomancy is still an art that reaches deep into the sands of north African and Arabic culture, and perhaps there are more things that we can learn from or even merge with from our eastern siblings in this art.

In the meantime, I’m going to get back to more research and writing.  I want to take another look at those rules and try applying them again; now that I have a better understanding of why the letters get allocated to some figures in certain patterns, maybe using the ḥarf cycle in a more pure way than what Cattan or Heydon have could improve those chances of determining names.

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.

Search Term Shoot Back, September 2014

I get a lot of hits on my blog from across the realm of the Internet, many of which are from links on Facebook, Twitter, or RSS readers.  To you guys who follow me: thank you!  You give me many happies.  However, I also get a huge number of new visitors daily to my blog from people who search around the Internet for various search terms.  As part of a monthly project, here are some short replies to some of the search terms people have used to arrive here at the Digital Ambler.  This focuses on some search terms that caught my eye during the month of September 2014.

Before I start with the actual search terms, I’d like to point out that September is generally the month of Virgo.  And yes, if you’ve kept up with the other Search Term Shoot Back posts, then you can probably guess that I’ve gotten a large number of queries involving the Greek god Hermes, the Zodiac sign Virgo, men, and huge dicks.  These search terms are a thing (though I can’t fathom why).  I can’t really speak to whether Virgo men generally have huge dicks; I have my reasonable sample size of them (that I’ve sampled in more than one way, ohhh my), of course, and I can’t draw any good conclusions one way or the other.  Hermes is a god, and generally speaking everything involving the gods is big, so, yeah.  Anyway, onto the more legitimate queries!

“how the moon affect the invocation of angels?” — In my experience, not much, but it depends on the angel you’re calling and for what purpose.  The only times astrological phenomena have negatively interfered with my conjurations of the angels is during periods of Mercury retrograde, when the voices of the angels tends to be more distant or unclear or I might get the wrong spirit in the crystal, but it’s a problem that’s easily worked around.  I’ve also noticed that the angels of the zodiac tend to like being conjured when their sign is rising or culminating, but that’s another issue.  Rather, the Moon affects the purpose of conjuration.  Generally, you want the waxing Moon to bring things into manifestation or achieve worldly ends (since the Moon is reflecting more of the Sun’s heavenly light to the Earth), and you want the waning Moon to take things away from the Earth or achieve spiritual initiations (since the Moon is reflecting more of the Sun’s light away into the heavens).  The Full Moon is good for opening up clear communication and all matters generally, while the Dark Moon is good for obscurity, binding, and hidden matters generally.  I haven’t noticed Void of Course Moon affecting conjurations themselves, but again, consider it as part of a larger project rather than in conjuration alone.

“crucible omnimancers” — The Omnimancers are good people who do good work, and I’m hanging out with them this coming weekend at Crucible Convention 2014 in Princeton, NJ.  More than that, I’m speaking there this year on my mathesis research!  You should totally come by if you’re anywhere in the mid-Atlantic US region during this weekend of October 4.  Not only will you get to meet me and the Omnimancers, but you’ll also get to meet a slew of other awesome people and magicians!

“the great book of saint cyprian pdf download” — You can do so for $10 off my Etsy!

“roman alphabet with english translation” — Technically, English already uses the Roman alphabet.  We use the same letters, generally speaking, as the Romans did for Latin, and have for at least 2500 years or so.  We’ve developed a few extra letters since then (J which is a variant of I, and U and W which are variants of V), and other languages written with the Roman script have developed others (like Nordic and Germanic languages, which use Æsh, Þorn, Eð, Ƿynn, among others).  Still, for a comparison between how the Romans used the alphabet and how we English-speakers use it, compare their corresponding pages on Omniglot.

“greek god sigils” — The Greeks didn’t use sigils for their gods; they may have used special characters to represent the language of the gods or the barbarous words of magic, but they didn’t have seals or sigils like how we developed them for the angels.  The more traditional way is to use isopsephy, or Greek gematria, to reduce their name to a number and use that as an esoteric symbol for them, or you might use my Greek Sigil Wheel to make a sigil for them much as how the Golden Dawn uses their Rose Cross wheel for Hebrew sigils.

“venus conjuration to bind someone to love you in angel magic” — So, while I understand what you’re trying to say, the way this is phrased irks me.  Technically, Venus is not an angel, so you can’t directly use Venus in angelic magic.  Venus is either a Roman goddess or an astrological planet, magically speaking.  Depending on your mythology and theology, you might consider the goddess Venus as an angel or deity subservient to the One, but this is somewhat rude and a little brusque when approaching her.  Instead, you’d want to contact the angel presiding over the sphere of Venus, whose name is Haniel (in Cornelius Agrippa) or Anael (in Pietro d’Abano’s Heptameron).  That’d be the spirit you’d be conjuring.  Second, binding someone to you in love magic does work, but logistically speaking, if you have to compel someone to stay with you, it’s probably not that great.  It’s like how the saying goes, “love is like a fart; if you have to force it, it’s probably shit”.  Rather, while Haniel (or Saint Cyprian, for that matter, since he’s known for love spells) can do love-bindings, you’d be better off smoothing things out so they’d willingly want to stay without the need for compulsion or impelling them, or using Venereal energies to put you in the right place where you’d find the truly right person for yourself.  But hey, if you know what you want, by all means, reach for it however you want.

“joseph lisiewski vs poke runyon” — I’d pay to see this cagematch.  If I recall correctly, Poke Runyon was in the Army, so if his radio show and magical lifestyle haven’t kept him too sedentary, I’d put my gold lamen on him (even if he can be delightfully crotchety).

“the greek way to bless your house from spirits” — So, an ancient Greek household would have three principle gods: Hestia (Lady of the Hearth), Zeus Ktesios (Zeus of the Property), and Hermes (protector from thieves).   What you’d do is have a small herm, a square pillar with a phallus on the shaft (heh) and a bust of the god on top and place it at the gate or entry to the property; this represents Hermes, and he’d watch out for thieves and robbers and keep them away; after all, he rules and leads them, so he can also lead them away from your house.  You’d have Hestia’s shrine set up at and as the hearth of the home, and a bit of every meal as well as a bit of every sacrifice made to any other god was always reserved for her both at the beginning and the last of the worship.  Zeus Ktesios watched over the property in general and its prosperity, but specifically over the pantry, and he’d have a special ktesios jar made as an offering to him as a matter of prosperity.  I really should get around to making a herm for my house and driveway one of these days, and I’ve already written about Hestia earlier this month; I haven’t gotten around to experimenting with Zeus Ktesios yet or ktesios jars, but I may in the future.  Beyond that, it helps to do a monthly cleansing ritual on the Noumenia or on the date of the new moon itself by sprinkling holy water around the house, lighting incense, and making offerings to one’s ancestors and household spirits besides Hermes, Hestia, and Zeus.  I keep thinking that there’s a ritual to get rid of unclean spirits by throwing beans and the like from the entry of the house outside into the street, but I may be conflating traditions here.  Generally speaking, if you have a good relationship with Hestia, Hermes, and Zeus, your house is basically going to be protected and blessed.

“isidore seville chaplet” — Chaplets, or a short prayer rule often done with a set of prayer beads, are an excellent devotion that the Catholic Christian tradition uses, and I’ve written up chaplets for the archangels Jehudiel, Barachiel, and Sealtiel as well as for Saint Cyprian of Antioch before.  However, not all saints and angels have their own chaplets, and there’s no set rule on how to pray them or make them; they’re basically personal devotions.  The most common form of chaplet is the “niner” chaplet, which consists of a medallion of the saint, three sets of three beads, and sometimes a crucifix; you pray the Lord’s Prayer, the Glory Be, and the Hail Mary on the three beads of each set in the honor of and seeking the intercession of whoever is on the medallion.  You can use this as a chaplet for Saint Isidore of Seville who, as far as I know, doesn’t have a specific chaplet form for himself.  I may get around to writing one up one of these days, however, since he’s the patron saint of the Internet and is pretty important in most of our modern lives.

“how big is the magical circle to be draw by trithemius” — Interestingly enough, Trithemius (really, Francis Barrett, since this ritual historically wasn’t likely to have been written by the pre-Agrippan Christian abbot) doesn’t specify how big the magic circle should be.  He specifies that the Liber Spirituum (Book of Spirits) must be about seven inches long, and that the crystal ball should be about an inch and a half in diameter, but those are the only concrete sizes he offers.  Presumably, the magic circle should be large enough to comfortably fit two people, one to conjure and one to scry, though I’ve only needed space enough for the altar and myself.  Thus, a circle about 6′ in diameter should be made at minimum if you’re including the altar in your circle, like I do under Fr. Rufus Opus’ instruction; alternatively, if you’re like Fr. Ashen, you might want the altar outside of the circle, in which case you don’t need as big a circle.  The most well-known size of circle is that from the Lemegeton Goetia, which specifies a circle 18′ in diameter, which is huge.  The rule of thumb I’d go by is, so long as you have enough space to expand your arms without breaking the circle and as long as you have enough space to hold all the gear you need, you have a big enough circle.

“big grids penis image” — …I don’t even.  Like, what, are you looking for low-resolution pictures of penis? Do you have a video compression fetish?

“saint cyprian nine days novena” — Yes, there are novenas for this good saint (as I’m sure many of us are now aware, now that the season of Saint Cyprian is done), and you can find a collection of them in my Vademecum Cypriani ebook, which you can buy off Etsy for US$9.00.  Just a note, however: traditional practice says that, when you’re timing a novena to a saint’s feast day, you normally coincide the final day of the novena with the feast day itself.  The process is a little different for Saint Cyprian, since people culturally do his novenas on the nine days before and not including his feast day (the Days of the Cyprians, the nine days between the Feast of Saint Cyprian of Carthage and the Feast of Saint Cyprian of Antioch).  Generally, time the final day to the feast day itself.  However, both of these rules are superseded by the more important rule of novena timing: whenever you need to do one.

“st cipriani evil saint magic” — I detest the notion that the saints can do “evil magic”.  They’re saints; by definition, they’re holy, and what’s holy is not evil.  That said, depending on how you ask, they might be more lenient to granting certain favors.  I mean, some of the saints are morally flexible.  Some are so morally flexible as to be part of a philosophical Cirque du Soleil.  After all, when you have the power of God to intercede with, theodicy becomes less a problem to puzzle out and more a resource to exploit for profit/prophet.

“hours and days for conjuring oriens” — Oriens is commonly known as a demonic, daemonic, or hellish king of spirits in the East (his name means “East” in Latin), and Cornelius Agrippa mentions him in his Scale of Four as a prince of spirits associated with Fire under the archangelic king Michael (book II, chapter 7).  Since Oriens is a sublunar spirit, planetary days and hours don’t need to be used for him, though since he’s associated with Michael who also happens to be the angel of the Sun, you might consider days and hours of the Sun for him.  Beyond that, though, I don’t think there are any special times associated with this spirit beyond what you might need for other works involving him (cf. the moon/invocation query above).

“enochian angels seals, digital-ambler.com” — You won’t find any of those on this site, I’m afraid.  Partially it’s because I have my hands full with so much other stuff, angelic and otherwise, but mostly it’s because Enochiana freaks me the fuck out.  I honestly can’t say why; it’s not the stories that people have told about furniture getting upended by Enochian angels (that’d actually be kinda awesome), or how people go crazy (they probably already were), or whatever.  Something about Enochiana just wigs me out and makes me uncomfortable, and I’m not sure why that is, nor do I particularly care to explore the reasons.

“can i use solomon seal drawing to summon spirits” — Absolutely not.  The Seal of Solomon is used to bind, constrain, and constrict spirits, like keeping them trapped in a prison.  You do not use it to summon them.

Alright.  Now that September is done and the Season of Saint Cyprian with it (though of course there’s always more Work to do), now I get a few days of rest before heading to Crucible this weekend.  Hope to see you there!

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Letters on the Paths of the Tetractys

Where do we stand on our system of kampala, or Greek kabbalah?  We have letters, we have spheres, we have paths.  We’ve combined the paths with the spheres, and now we need to combine the paths with the letters.  This is the last big thing we have yet to do in order to fully develop our use of Greek letter-number-stoicheia mysticism into a full-fledged theurgic framework, turning simple grammatomancy into grammatotheurgy.  Last we checked in on our Tetractys of Life, we have the following ten spheres linked together with a set of 24 paths: alchemical_planetary_tetractys_paths Each sphere is associated with a particular alchemical concept as well as a cosmic heaven, all coming down from the single, divinely simple, undifferentiated, all-generating Monad.  Seven of the ten spheres are moderate enough in their forces to be connected as completely as they can, while three are too extreme to be connected to any except their closest two forces.  So far, so good.  Now, let’s talk about the letters of the Greek alphabet.  It’s hard to assign the letters to these 24 paths based on their symbolic looks alone, and although the Greek letters are number, it’s also difficult to assign pure number to the paths by virtue of their cardinality, parity, or magnitude.  However, we have another route: using the stoicheia, or occult associations, of the Greek letters, which provide many more qualities and concepts on their own which can help us to figure out which path might best be represented on our Tetractys of Life.

Recall that the practice of stoicheia assigns one of the 12 signs of the Zodiac, one of the seven planets, or one of the five elements to each letter of the Greek alphabet.  After all, 12 + 7 + 5 = 24, so this can easily be done.  And, lo, it is!  Recall that there are three groups of letters in the Greek consonants: vowels, simple consonants, and complex consonants.  There are seven vowels (Α, Ε, Η, Ι, Ο, Υ, Ω), twelve simple consonants (Β, Γ, Δ, Ζ, Κ, Λ, Μ, Ν, Π, Ρ, Σ, Τ), and five complex consonants (Θ, Ξ, Φ, Χ, Ψ).  In that case, our division has already been made for us.  We give each of the vowels to one of the seven planets, starting with Alpha as the Moon and Ōmega as Saturn; we give each of the simple consonants to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, starting with Bēta as Aries and Tau as Pisces; we give each of the complex consonants to one of the five elements from most dense to least dense, from Thēta as Earth to Khi as Fire and Psi as Spirit.

The simplest way to assign these forces and their corresponding letters to the Tetractys of Life would be to base the selection on the geometry of the paths itself.  For instance, in the Jewish kabbalah’s Tree of Life which uses the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, there are three sets of paths: twelve diagonal paths, seven vertical paths, and three horizontal paths.  The diagonal paths are given to the zodiac signs; the vertical paths are given to the planets; the horizontal paths are given to the elements (Hebrew mysticism recognizes only Air, Fire, and Water as elements, with Earth and Spirit not being considered).  Kalagni over at Blue Flame Magick describes how he developed his own set of qabbalistic correspondences between the paths and the Hebrew letters based on their stoicheia, finding a closer resonance to the Jewish practice using the Hermetic Kircher Tree, which is different from the traditional Jewish kabbalah Tree of Life.  The Golden Dawn’s use of the Tree simply plots each path in a particular order from 11 at the top to 32 at the bottom, and gives each path a letter based on its order in the alphabet.  Kalagni and I agree in that this doesn’t suit the actual significance of the letters, so I should find some way to assign the Greek letters to the Tetractys of Life based on the geometry of the paths themselves.

Unfortunately, the 24 paths on the Tetractys don’t split up well into groups of 12, 7, and 5, so of course I’m going to have to think about this and figure out deeper connections that aren’t immediately apparent.  However, 24 is a nice number and can be easily and evenly divided into many smaller numbers: 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12.  Is it possible to use any of these factors to devise a scheme to divide the zodiac signs, elements, and planets into even groups?  And, if so, is there a coherent way to assign these groups to different groups of the paths? Recall from our meditations on the Greek divine name ΙΑΩ that we were able to divide the paths up into four groups of six: horizontal, right-going, left-going, and hexagram:

The number four immediately brings to mind the lowest rank of the Tetractys, the realm of the four elements: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire.  It might be possible that each of the paths in each set given above shares something about one of the elements in common, but how might we discern what those connections and relationships might be?  Let’s take a closer look at what the paths are actually connecting, again going back to our meditations on ΙΑΩ.

  • The paths that go right increase in activity; they are an expression of the masculine or active principle between levels of manifestation.  The Monad, as it differentiates itself into a Dyad, becomes the active force of Light; as Light differentiates itself, it becomes the active force of Sulfur; as Sulfur differentiates itself, it becomes the active force of Fire.  Fire is the lower-rightmost sphere on the Tetractys, indicating that the active principle as represented by an element is Fire.  The paths that go right are thus best associated with the element of Fire.
  • The paths that go left increase in passivity; they are an expression of the feminine or passive principle between levels of manifestation.  Thus, as the Monad descends into the elemental world, it becomes first Darkness, then Salt, then Earth, which is the lower-leftmost sphere on the Tetractys.  The paths that go left are associated with Earth.
  • The paths that are horizontal change in activity or passivity depending on which direction you’re going, but do not change in a level of manifestation.  The Monad, being undifferentiated, cannot change from itself except into itself; Darkness becomes Light, and vice versa; Salt becomes Mercury, and Mercury becomes Sulfur, and vice versa; Earth becomes Water, Water becomes Air, and so forth.  These horizontal paths demonstrate fluidity in energy while maintaining manifestation, which I understand to be the primary quality of Water, which flows from place to place.  The horizontal paths are associated with Water.
  • The hexagram paths change in diverse ways, some only in manifestation level while preserving the active/passive balance, some in drastic active/passive ways while changing manifestation only slightly.  The ability to change in such dramatic ways that should normally take several paths speaks of the quality of Air to me, since Air allows communication over long distances as well as rising and setting among and filling the gaps between the many heavens.  The hexagram paths are associated with Air.

Okay, so now we have four sets of paths that each share an element.  Thus, there should likewise be a way to divide up the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet into four groups of six by respecting their elemental associations.  We know that there are four letters for the four elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire; we also know that there are 12 letters for the signs of the Zodiac, which can be divided up by triplicity (elemental quality) into four groups of three.  Thus, we already have four groups of four letters for a total of 16:

Earth Water Air Fire
Capricorn Cancer Libra Aries
Taurus Scorpio Aquarius Leo
Virgo Pisces Gemini Sagittarius

This leaves seven planets and the leftover element of Spirit for a total of eight more letters.  Spirit, for the purposes of this analysis, can be considered a planet, since Spirit is not truly an element, nor is it truly a planet or zodiac sign, but a type of meta-force that can fit anywhere and accomplish anything as a foundation for other forces to combine and work with it.  Since Spirit is kinda-sorta higher than an element and kinda-sorta lower than a planet, yet can fit amongst either, we can think of these as a group of eight forces, which can be divided up into four groups of two based on their element.  Happily, by our association of the planets with the elements in our alchemical Tetractys of Life, we already know that Saturn is of Earth, Venus of Water, Jupiter of Air, and Mars is of Fire.  This leaves the Moon, Sun, Mercury, and Spirit:

  • The Moon, being on the direct descent from the Monad along the Earth paths to Saturn is given to the element of Earth.
  • Similarly, the Sun is given to Fire, since it’s on the direct descent from the Monad along the Fire paths to Mars.
  • Mercury is present in the center of the Tetractys, able to change in many ways to many other forces but never in the same ways that the Air paths do, leaving Mercury assigned to Water.
  • Spirit, being leftover, is given to Air.  However, Spirit as a raw force can transform anything into drastically different forces, performing miracles and works that no other element can, so this attribution is also fitting.

So now we have four groups of six forces, zodiacal and planetary and elemental, divided up along elemental lines:

Earth Water Air Fire
Saturn Venus Jupiter Mars
Moon Mercury Spirit Sun
Capricorn Cancer Libra Aries
Taurus Scorpio Aquarius Leo
Virgo Pisces Gemini Sagittarius

Alright, so now we need to find a way to assign the forces to the paths.  Of the four groups of paths, the Air sign is the odd one out (since it doesn’t fit the pattern of the other three), so let’s leave that aside for now and focus on the Fire, Water, and Earth paths.  We know that we can divide up these groups of six paths into a kind of partial-tetractys of their own consisting of three ranks (a trictys?): the first row has one path, the second row has two, and the third row has three.  We know that, among each division of our forces, we have one element, two planets, and three signs:

Element Earth Water Air Fire
Planet Saturn Venus Jupiter Mars
Moon Mercury Spirit Sun
Sign Capricorn Cancer Libra Aries
Taurus Scorpio Aquarius Leo
Virgo Pisces Gemini Sagittarius

So, based on this 1/2/3 division of both paths and forces, we can assign the single element to the single path of each group, the two planets to the row of two paths in each group, and the signs to the row of three paths in each group.  Assigning the element to the single path is trivial: give Water to the topmost horizontal path, Fire to the leftmost right-descending path, and Earth to the rightmost left-descending path: Tetractys_paths_elements_AWE We know that we have three sets of two planets, and one set is attributed to the elemental spheres directly on the lowest rank of the Tetractys of Life.  The other three appear higher up, indicating a more unmanifest or rarefied nature.  The Fire and Earth planetary paths have an upper path that link the Dyad and Triad and a lower component that link the Triad and Tetrad.  The lower path is given to the “lower” planet, lower as in the sense of manifestation according to the Tetractys, while the upper path is given to the “higher” planet in the same sense.  Thus, the upper path of Fire is given to the Sun, and the lower path to Mars, and the upper path of Earth is given to the Moon and the lower path to Saturn.  The Water path only has two horizontal components within the same rank, though one connects to a passive reagent and the other to an active reagent.  The path that connects to the passive reagent is considered “lower” in the same sense as above, as the path that connects to the active reagent is considered “higher”; thus, the leftward path of Water is given to Venus, and the rightward one to Mercury.

So far, so good.  This only leaves the three paths of each set to be given to the three signs of the Zodiac for each element.  Each of the three Zodiac sign belonging to the same triplicity (element) is assigned a different quadruplicity, also known as a modality: cardinal, fixed, and mutable.  Cardinal signs initiate and begin; fixed signs maintain and hold; mutable signs degrade and prepare for transformation.

Element Earth Water Air Fire
Planet Saturn Venus Jupiter Mars
Moon Mercury Spirit Sun
Sign Cardinal Capricorn Cancer Libra Aries
Fixed Taurus Scorpio Aquarius Leo
Mutable Virgo Pisces Gemini Sagittarius

It’s a staple of astrology that the fixed signs best represent their element, and we know from our meditations before on the name ΙΑΩ that the central path in the row of three paths “maintains” or holds the same essence as the single path on the far side of the tetractys.  Thus, since that single path represents an element, the middle path on the other side of the tetractys should be the Zodiac sign that best represents that element, i.e. the fixed sign.  Thus, the middle path on each side of the Tetractys should be given to Taurus for the Earth paths, Scorpio for the Water paths, and Leo for the Fire paths: Tetractys_paths_elements_FWE_fixed From this, it remains to assign the cardinal and mutable signs.  Much as how we assigned the “active” planet to the upper or leftward-horizontal path and “passive” planets to the lower or rightward-horizontal paths based on whether they were more manifest or unmanifest in the Tetractys, we can apply a similar method here based on whether a zodiac sign is cardinal (more active) or mutable (more passive).  Thus, as we read the Earth zodiac sign paths from the Monad down to the bottom, we read Capricorn, Taurus, Virgo; as we read the Fire zodiac sign paths from the Monad down to the bottom, we read Aries, Leo, Sagittarius.  The Water paths are more active on the right and more passive on the left, so if we read the Water zodiac sign paths from left to right, we read Pisces, Scorpio, Cancer: Tetractys_paths_signs_FWE Alright!  That covers it for the Fire, Water, and Earth paths of the Tetractys.  That only leaves the confusing hexagram paths of Air, where we can’t use the above system as cleanly anymore.  For one, instead of having three groups of 1, 2, and 3 paths, we have two cyclical sets of 3 paths each.  Both of these cycles have one vertical path, one right-going path, and one left-going path, so neither of them have an imbalance of passivity or activity.  We know that there are three signs of the Zodiac, though, so we can say that the Zodiac signs should all belong on one triangle and the element and two planets (really, the one planet Jupiter and the one meta-element of Spirit) go on the other.  So which should be which?  And, moreover, how do we figure out which line of the zodiac triangle paths is cardinal, fixed, or mutable?

Remember that, in our meditations on the name ΙΑΩ, we linked the long hexagram paths to the different sides of the Tetractys based on how the middle path of the side of the Tetractys linked to the single apex path on the far side.  These long paths then shared the same letter of ΙΑΩ as their shorter rectangular-end paths.  We can apply something similar here, too.  Also remember that 24 is divisible by many numbers, and we’ve so far been thinking about it as 4 × 6.  However, if we link the long paths of the hexagram with the Fire, Water, and Earth sets of lines as we did before with the name ΙΑΩ, we end up with 3 × 8, or three groups of eight paths:

Now, instead of thinking about the groups of paths in terms of four elements, let’s think about them in terms of the three modalities: cardinal, fixed, and mutable.  Cardinal signs are the most active; fixed signs are between active and passive; mutable signs are the most passive.  Thus, if we link these notions of activity and passivity to the three non-Air elements, we get cardinal signs associated with Fire (since they increase in activity), fixed signs with Water (since they hold the level of activity or passivity just as Water maintains manifestation across a rank of the Tetractys), and mutable signs with Earth (since they increase passivity).  Thus, on the triangle that gets the zodiac signs of Air, the paths linked to (at right angles with) the paths of a particular element receive that element’s modality.  So which triangle is the zodiac triangle, and which is the element/planet triangle?

Looking at the triangles, we notice that the one that “points” to the left has a “base” (connecting Light and Air) on the right side of the Tetractys, giving it a foundation of activity tending towards passivity.  Similarly, the triangle that points to the right has a base (connecting Darkness and Water) on the left side, giving it a foundation of passivity tending towards activity.  The type of forces that we’re looking at is the key here: the fixed stars do little on their own besides radiate power, while the planets and elements actively manifest and create far down below.  The fixed stars, then, emit power but do not control it, letting their power and presence be used rather than actively using themselves; the planets and elements emit and radiate their power in the ways they find best for them, acting more than being acted upon.  Thus, the zodiac signs are best given to the triangle pointing to the right, since they’re mostly passive with tendencies towards action, while the planets/elements are best given to the triangle pointing to the left, since they’re mostly active with tendencies towards being acted upon.

So, if the Air signs of the Zodiac are given to the right-pointing triangle, and we know that the vertical line is fixed, the right-going line is mutable, and the left-going line is cardinal, we end up with this arrangement: Tetractys_center_triangle_right_signs Therefore, the left-pointing triangle is given to the forces of Air, Jupiter, and Spirit.  These don’t really fall into the scheme of cardinal/fixed/mutable, but we do know that for the Fire, Water, and Earth sets of paths, the path for the element is always on a “higher register” directly above the fixed sign on the far side of the Tetractys.  If we apply that same logic here, we see that the fixed Air sign Aquarius is on the vertical path of the right-pointing triangle, so the element of Air itself should go on the vertical path of the left-pointing triangle.  Between the planet Jupiter and the quasi-element Spirit, we can argue that Spirit is the more malleable, pervasive, and changeable than the firm and lofty power of Jupiter, which would make Jupiter more active than Spirit.  Since the only two choices we have left here are for a cardinal-active path and mutable-passive path, that would set Jupiter on the path opposite Libra and Spirit on the path opposite Gemini, with the result like this: Tetractys_center_triangle_left_forces And that’s it!  All told, now we have all 24 paths assigned to the 12 signs of the Zodiac, the seven planets, the metaelement Spirit, and the four classical elements in a logical and coherent manner.  This means that we can finally associate each path of the Tetractys of Life with a letter, and with it a number and stoicheic force, in a manner like the following:

 

alchemical_planetary_tetractys_paths

You’ll note that there’s some criss-cross of the paths in the center where the hexagram paths overlap with the others.  In cases like this, the path on top is going to have its associated letter’s numerical value odd (if the one on the bottom is even) or greater than the one on the bottom (if they’re both odd or both even).  To determine an odd number or even number, I ignore the magnitude of the number and reduce it to a number 1 through 9; thus, Kappa, given the value of 20, is reduced to 2, so Kappa is even.  Likewise, Tau, given the value of 300, is reduced to 3, which makes Tau odd.

For the more tabularly inclined, here’s a helpful table plotting out each of the 10 spheres and the 24 paths of the Tetractys of Life, along with a bit about the Pythagorean virtues associated with each sphere on the Tetractys:

Sphere Lambdoma Alchemy Cosmological Virtue
1 1 Monad Infinite Light Henosis
2 2 Darkness Mundus Intuition
3 3 Light Fixed Stars Love
4 4 Salt Moon Satiety
5 6 Mercury Mercury Detachment
6 9 Sulfur Sun Submission
7 8 Earth Saturn Fortitude
8 12 Water Venus Prudence
9 18 Air Jupiter Temperance
10 27 Fire Mars Justice
Path Letter Number Stoicheia Spheres
1 Α 1 Moon 3 5
2 Β 2 Aries 1 3
3 Γ 3 Taurus 2 4
4 Δ 4 Gemini 2 6
5 Ε 5 Mercury 5 6
6 Ζ 7 Cancer 9 10
7 Η 8 Venus 4 5
8 Θ 9 Earth 6 9
9 Ι 10 Sun 2 5
10 Κ 20 Leo 3 6
11 Λ 30 Virgo 4 7
12 Μ 40 Libra 6 8
13 Ν 50 Scorpio 8 9
14 Ξ 60 Water 2 3
15 Ο 70 Mars 5 9
16 Π 80 Sagittarius 6 10
17 Ρ 100 Capricorn 1 2
18 Σ 200 Aquarius 2 8
19 Τ 300 Pisces 7 8
20 Υ 400 Jupiter 3 4
21 Φ 500 Air 3 9
22 Χ 600 Fire 4 8
23 Ψ 700 Spirit 4 9
24 Ω 800 Saturn 5 8

As it turns out (and this was entirely unplanned), this is the tenth post in the series on developing a Greek kabbalah, kampala, Pythagorean framework, tetractean theurgy, or whatever.  In Pythagorean mysticism, the number ten itself is holy, being the number of completion and the number of points in the tetractys, as well as being a unity of a higher order (tens instead of ones).  This post then completes the first cycle of this study, where we now have the basic framework, tools, and understanding needed to progress further in working this system and seeing where it can take us.  At the beginning of this project, I wanted a kabbalah-like system of theurgy and mysticism that would replace the use of Jewish kabbalah or Hermetic qabbalah in place of something that felt closer to what I actually study and practice, and outlined a series of goals to that end:

  1. Provide a cosmological framework that allows for the ten spheres of the cosmos (Earth, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Fixed Stars, Divinity)
  2. Provide a cosmological map that allows for traversing the spheres of the cosmos with paths that connect them together
  3. Provide a mapping between the paths of the map with the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet
  4. Provide a means of starting from awareness on the Earth sphere (where the majority of us live and operate on a day-to-day basis) and reaching any other sphere by means of the paths, especially that of Divinity
  5. Provide a description of the creation of the cosmos by means of the cosmological framework and mapping
  6. Provide a means of correspondence to link other forces, concepts, objects, etc. to the paths and spheres on the framework and map
  7. Be rooted primarily in Neoplatonic and Pythagorean thought, referencing Hermeticism as necessary without relying on explicitly Jewish principles that are not also present in Hermeticism

How did we do?  For the most part, we hit nearly all of these targets, and most of them dead center in our targets.  The only things that really need to be explored now are, well, the Tetractys itself.  Sure, we’ve analyzed it and meditated on it and written a lot about it, but all this has been an intellectual exercise.  Now that we have a map of the cosmos, we need to start exploring the cosmos with the help of our map.  All this is theoretical, based on relationships between alchemical and astrological principles, and now we need to put the theory to the test.  How is it that we can use the Tetractys of Life to rise through the spheres, both of the heavens as well as of reality itself, and refine ourselves to reach the One?  For that, we now get to apply our meditations and go deeper into new worlds.  In the future, as I discover more about this system and apply any necessary tweaks or refinements, or perhaps come up with a better name than kampala or Greek kabbalah (though I like the ring of “tetractyeon” more and more) I’ll discuss more about it, but I’m going to bring this series to a close for now.  As one of my favorite games has said, perhaps the ending has not yet been written.

Also, I want to give a shoutout to my good friends Rev. Michael Strojan and Kalagni for helping me out with this.  Without them, I’d still be fighting over some of the petty details and quibbling about path arrangement and such, but their vast knowledge and sharp ingenuity really guided me along the way.  Guys, thank you.