The Three Versions of the Hermetic Thanksgiving Prayer

Another year, another Thanksgiving has gone by.  I meant to get this written last week or so, but as we’ve all been discovering this year, linear time is a lie.

Around Thanksigiving each year, I like to draw attention to the Hermetic Prayer of Thanksgiving.  It’s one of the more famous prayers from the Hermetic texts, made especially well-known in its appearance in the final section of the Asclepius.  However, those who have a sharp eye will also pick up on its presence in two other locations: one in PGM III in a ritual to establish a relationship with Hēlios, and the other in the Nag Hammadi Codices.  What’s fascinating is that we have three versions of the same prayer, each preserved in a different language (Latin in the Asclepius, Greek in the PGM, and Coptic in the Nag Hammadi Codices).  Getting access to the Latin and Greek version is easy enough—Preisendanz is the most easily-accessible critical edition of PGM III, and the Asclepius is everywhere in the Western world since the time of Ficino—but getting access to the Coptic text was a bit more of a challenge, because for the longest time all I could find was versions of the Nag Hammadi texts in English translation.  However, not that long ago, I got my hands on a copy of volume 11 of the Nag Hammadi Studies, a part of the Coptic Gnostic Library from Leiden, which gives the only complete collection of  the Coptic texts from the Nag Hammadi Codices in full, both in Coptic and in English translation.  Once I found this, I wanted to finally do something I’ve been aiming to do for a while: a side-by-side comparison of these three texts to see exactly how far they’re alike and how far they’re not.  Happily, it seems that the scholars who worked on this specific section of the Nag Hammadi texts (Peter Dirkse and James Brashler) had the same idea, and gave a side-by-side comparison of the three versions of the Prayer of Thanksgiving in their publication of it.  Between their notes and my own observations, I’m thrilled to finally be able to show off a bit of fun stuff on my blog for this.

First, a bit of context.  The Prayer of Thanksgiving is in all three sources as a pretty-much perfectly-preserved (or as perfectly as one can expect over 2000 years under the knife of time and the redactor’s pen) Hermetic prayer, and is more than just a simple hymn of gratitude to God.  In each text it appears in, it seems to fulfill a ritual role in a broader context, though its wholly self-contained structure suggests that it .

  • In the context of the Asclepius, Hermēs recites this prayer with Tat, Asklēpios, and Ammōn outside the temple (facing east at sunrise or south at sunset) after the long and holy sermon he gave to them inside.  Similar to the Coptic text, the final line of this final section of the Asclepius ends with the note “with such hopes we turn to a pure meal that includes without any flesh of animals”, phrased as a spoken end to the prayer.
  • For the Coptic Nag Hammadi text, this prayer appears immediately after the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth; the placement suggests that it was recited by Hermēs and Tat(?) immediately after their ritual work described in that text, especially given the incipit introducing the Prayer of Thanksgiving (“this is the prayer that they spoke”) and the closing lines of it (“when they said these things in prayer, they embraced each other and they went to eath their holy food which has no blood in it”).  Immediately after the prayer comes the “Scribal Note”, a small addendum by whoever transcribed the prayer indicating that it was sent to someone who was likely already familiar with many such Hermetic texts or prayers; after that comes a Coptic translation of several sections from a now-lost version of the Greek Asclepius (though notably of a slightly different lineage of texts than what the Latin Asclepius preserves).
  • For the Greek text from PGM III.591—611, the Prayer of Thanksgiving occurs in the middle of a longer oration as part of an operation to “establish a relationship with Hēlios”.  After calling on the names, forms, plants, stones, birds, and animals associated with the twelve hours of the Sun in its daytime course through the heavens (much like the Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios from PGM IV.1596—1715, yet with more attributions yet in much poorer shape) and after a short hymn in verse (Preisendanz’s Hymn 2, which he says is addressed to the “All-Creator” and which I find to be an exceedingly appropriate companion to CH III) along with general requests, this thanksgiving prayer is used. 

The introduction to the Prayer given by Dirske and Brashler is highly informative, as is Jean-Pierre Mahé’s introduction in The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts edited by Marvin Meyer, as well as Copenhaver’s notes in his Hermetica.  A few highlights from their analyses of the text in question:

  • From Dirske and Brashler:
    • This prayer is “especially significant for the clear evidence it presents of the existence of [classical] Hermetic cultic practices”, and “the prayer itself is certainly liturgical, as its balanced language attests”.
  • From Mahé:
    • This prayer is “particularly appropriate to conclude a dialogue describing the final stage of [a] Hermetic initiation”.
    • Although the prayer describes “the three gifts of mind, word, and knowledge…to be granted simultaneously”, other Hermetic texts (like the preceding Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth) suggest that these “fulfill successive functions on the ‘way of immortality’).
    • “Knowledge divinizes human beings not by itself alone, but jointly with word and mind, which both remain indispensable to cover ‘the way of immortality’ up to its end” (cf. CH I.26: “this is the final good for those who have received knowledge: to be made god”).
    • There is a description of sacred sexuality in the text, especially in the final parts, and Mahé interprets “light of mind” as a male principle and “life of life” as a female one, coming together to describe God not just as someone with both male and female sexual organs but also as one who never stops impregnating their own womb.
  • From Copenhaver:
    • Some scholars argue that the presence of the Prayer of Thanksgiving with a rubric (directions to face before the prayer, instructions for a ritual meal afterwards) in the Asclepius without other magical rituals present, as well as at the final part of a magical ritual in the PGM, suggests that “the survival of a thanksgiving for gnōsis in ‘a magician’s handbook testifies to a certain amount of sharing between Hermeticism and the magicians who produced the Greek Magical Papyri”.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the actual texts themselves in their original languages with Romanized transliteration.  First up, the Sahidic Coptic text from NHC VI.7, page 63 line 34 through page 65 line 2.  For the Coptic transliteration below, note that the schwa letter (“ə”) transcribes the supralineal stroke above a letter, indicating a weak/movable vowel or one that turns the marked consonant into a vocalized one.    

# Coptic Transliteration
1 ⲦⲚ̄ϢⲠ̄ ϨⲘⲞⲦ Ⲛ̄ⲦⲞⲞⲦⲔ̄ tənšəp hmot ənto’tək
2 ⲮⲨⲬⲎ ⲚⲒⲘ ⲀⲨⲰ ⲪⲎⲦ ⲠⲞⲢϢ̄ ϢⲀⲢⲞⲔ psukhē nim awō phēt porəš šarok
3 Ⲱ ⲠⲒⲢⲀⲚ ⲈⲨⲢ̄ⲈⲚⲰⲬⲖⲈⲒ ⲚⲀϤ ⲀⲚ ō piran ewərenōkhli naf an
4 ⲈϤⲦⲀⲈⲒⲀⲈⲒⲦ ϨⲚ̄ ⲦⲞⲚⲞⲘⲀⲤⲒⲀ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲚⲞⲨⲦⲈ eftaiait hən tonomasia əmpnute
5 ⲀⲨⲰ ⲈⲨⲤⲘⲞⲨ ⲈⲢⲞϤ ϨⲚ̄ ⲦⲞⲚⲞⲘⲀⲤⲒⲀ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲒⲰⲦ awō ewsmu erof hən tonomasia əmpiōt
6 ϪⲈ je
7 ϢⲀ ⲞⲨⲞⲚ ⲚⲒⲘ ⲀⲨⲰ ϢⲀ ⲠⲦⲎⲢϤ̄ ša won nim awō ša ptērəf
8    
9 ⲦⲈⲨⲚⲞⲒⲀ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲈⲒⲰⲦ ⲘⲚ̄ ⲠⲘⲈ ⲘⲚ̄ ⲠⲞⲨⲰϢ teunoia əmpeiōt mən pme mən pwoš
10 ⲀⲨⲰ ⲈϢϪⲈ ⲞⲨⲚ̄ ⲞⲨⲤⲂⲰ ⲈⲤϨⲀⲖⲈϬ ⲈⲤⲞ Ⲛ̄ϨⲀⲠⲖⲞⲨⲤ awō ešje wən usbō eshalec eso ənhaplus
11 ⲈⲤⲢ̄ⲔⲀⲢⲒⲌⲈ ⲚⲀⲚ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲚⲞⲨⲤ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲖⲞⲄⲞⲤ Ⲛ̄ ⲦⲄⲚⲰⲤⲒⲤ esərkarize nan əmpnus əmplogos ən tgnōsis
12 ⲠⲚⲞⲨⲤ ⲘⲈⲚ ϪⲈⲔⲀⲀⲤ ⲈⲚⲀⲢ̄ⲚⲞⲨⲈⲒ Ⲙ̄ⲘⲞⲔ pnus men jeka’s enaərnui əmmok
13 ⲠⲖⲞⲄⲞⲤ ⲆⲈ ϪⲈⲔⲀⲀⲤ ⲈⲚⲀϨⲈⲢⲘⲎⲚⲈⲨⲈ Ⲙ̄ⲘⲞⲔ plogos de jeka’s enahermē newe əmmok
14 ⲦⲄⲚⲰⲤⲒⲤ ⲆⲈ ϪⲈⲔⲀⲀⲤ ⲈⲚⲚⲀⲤⲞⲨⲰⲚⲔ̄ tgnōsis de jeka’s ennaswōnək
15 ⲦⲚ̄ⲢⲀϢⲈ tənraše
16 Ⲛ̄ⲦⲀⲢⲚ̄ϪⲒ ⲞⲨⲞⲈⲒⲚ ϨⲚ̄ ⲦⲈⲔⲄⲚⲰⲤⲒⲤ əntarənji woin hən tekgnōsis
17 ⲦⲚ̄ⲢⲀϢⲈ tənraše
18 ϪⲈ ⲀⲔⲦⲤⲈⲂⲞⲚ ⲈⲢⲞⲔ je aktsebon erok
19 ⲦⲚ̄ⲢⲀϢⲈ tənraše
20 ϪⲈ ⲈⲚϨⲚ̄ ⲤⲰⲘⲀ je enhən sōma
21 ⲀⲔⲀⲀⲚ Ⲛ̄ⲚⲞⲨⲦⲈ ϨⲚ̄ ⲦⲈⲔⲄⲚⲰⲤⲒⲤ aka’n ənnute hən tekgnōsis
22 ⲠϢⲠ ϨⲘⲀⲦ Ⲛ̄ⲠⲢⲰⲘⲈ ⲈⲦⲠⲎϨ ϢⲀⲢⲞⲔ ⲞⲨⲀ ⲠⲈ pš[ə]p hmat ənprōme et-pēh šarok wa pe
23 ϪⲈⲔⲀⲤ ⲀⲦⲢⲚ̄ ⲤⲞⲨⲰⲚⲔ̄ jekas atrən swōnək
24 ⲀⲚⲤⲞⲨⲰⲚⲔ̄ answōnək
25 Ⲱ ⲠⲞⲨⲞⲈⲒⲚ Ⲛ̄ⲚⲞⲎⲦⲞⲚ ō pwoin ənoēton
26 Ⲱ ⲠⲰⲚϨ̄ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲰⲚϨ̄ ō pōnəh əmpōnəh
27 ⲀⲚⲤⲞⲨⲰⲚⲔ̄ answōnək
28 Ⲱ ⲦⲘⲎⲦⲢⲀ Ⲛ̄ϪⲞ ⲚⲒⲘ ō tmētra ənjo nim
29 ⲀⲚⲤⲞⲨⲰⲚⲈ answōne
30 Ⲱ ⲦⲘⲎⲦⲢⲀ ⲈⲦϪⲠⲞ ϨⲚ̄ ⲦⲪⲨⲤⲒⲤ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲒⲰⲦ ō tmētra et-j[ə]po hən t[ə]phusis əmpiōt
31 ⲀⲚⲤⲞⲨⲰⲚⲈ answōne
32 Ⲱ ⲠⲘⲞⲨⲚ ⲈⲂⲞⲖ ϢⲀ ⲈⲚⲈϨ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲈⲒⲰⲦ ⲈⲦϪⲠⲞ ō pmun ebol ša eneh əmpeiōt et-j[ə]po
33 ⲦⲈⲒ̈ϨⲈ ⲀⲚ ⲞⲨⲰϢⲦ̄ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲈⲔⲀⲄⲀⲐⲞⲚ ⲞⲨ teïhe an wōšət əmpekagathon u
34 ⲞⲨⲰϢⲈ ⲞⲨⲰⲦ ⲠⲈⲦⲚ̄Ⲣ̄ⲀⲒⲦⲈⲒ Ⲙ̄ⲘⲞϤ wōše wōt petənəraiti əmmof
35 ⲈⲚⲞⲨⲰϢ ⲈⲦⲢⲈⲨⲢ̄ ⲦⲎⲢⲈⲒ Ⲙ̄ⲘⲞⲚ ϨⲚ̄ ⲦⲄⲚⲰⲤⲒⲤ enwōš etrewər tēri əmmon hən tgnōsis
36 ⲞⲨⲀⲢⲈϨ ⲆⲈ ⲞⲨⲰⲦ ⲠⲈⲦⲈⲚ ⲞⲨⲞϢϤ̄ wareh de wōt peten wōšəf
37 ⲈⲦⲘ̄ⲦⲢⲈⲚⲤⲖⲀⲀⲦⲈ ϨⲘ̄ ⲠⲈⲈⲒⲂⲒⲞⲤ Ⲛ̄ϮⲘⲒⲚⲈ etəmtrensla’te həm peibios əntimine

Yes, I know line 8 is empty.  There’ll be some oddities in how this and the following Greek and Latin text are arranged or how the lines are numbered; bear with me, and it’ll make sense further on.

Next, the Koiné Greek text from the Papyrus Mimaut (Louvre P. 2391) column XVIII lines 591—611, aka PGM III.591—611 (broader entry PGM III.494—611, possibly continued through line 731).   Unfortunately, the final two lines (after the end of the prayer proper) are in too poor a shape to read.  For the Greek text here, Dirske and Brashler used Preisendanz’s version of the PGM emended with suggestions from Mahé and “an independent collation from published photos” of the papyrus.  (I know I’m using my idiosyncratic style of transliteration here, so just bear with me.)

# Greek Transliteration
1 Χάριν σοι οἴδαμεν Khárin soi oídamen
2 Ψυχὴ πᾶσα καὶ καρδίαν πρὸς σὲ ἀνατεταμένην psukhḕ pâsa kaì kardían pròs sè anatetaménēn
3 ἄφραστον ὄνομα τετιμημένον áphraston ónoma tetimēménon
4 τῇ τοῦ θεοῦ προσηγορίᾳ têy toû theû prosēgoríay kaì elogoúmenon
5 καὶ ελογούμενον τῇ τοῦ πατρὸς ὀνομασίᾳ têy toû patròs onomasíay
6 Ὁς Hos
7 πρὸς πάντας καὶ πρὸς πάντας pròs pántas kaì pròs pántas
8 πατρικὴν εὔνοιαν καὶ στρογὴν καὶ φιλίαν patrikḕn eúnoian kaì storgḕn kaì philían
9 καὶ ἐπιγλυκυτά την ἐνεργίαν kaì epiglukutá tēn energían
10 ἐνεδίξω enedíksō,
11 χαρισάμενος ἠμῖν νοῦν, λόγον, γνῶσιν kharisámenos ēmîn noûn, lógon, gnôsin:
12 νοῦν μὲν ἵνα σε νοήσωμεν noûn mèn hína se noḗsōmen,
13 λόγον δὲ ἵνα σε ἐπικαλέσωμεν lógon dè hína se epikalésōmen,
14 γνῶσιν δὲ ἵνα σε ἐπιγνώσωμεν gnôsin dè hína se epignṓsōmen.
15    
16    
17 Χαίρομεν Khaíromen,
18 ὅτι σεαυτὸν ἡμῖν ἔδιξας hōti seautòn hēmîn édiksas.
19 Χαίρομεν Khaíromen,
20 ὅτι ἐν πλὰσμασιν ἡμᾶς ὄντας hóti en plàsmasin hēmâs óntas
21 ἀπεθέωσας τῇ σεαυτοῦ γνώσει apethéōsas têy seautoû gnṓsei.
22 Χάρις ἀνθρώπου πρὸς σὲ μία Kháris anthrṓpou pròs sè mía:
23 τὸ γνωρίσαι σε tò gnōrísai se.
24 Ἐγνωρίσαμεν σε Egnōísamen se,
25 ὦ φῶς νοητόν ô phôs noētón,
26 ὦ τῆς ἀνθρςπίνης ζωῆς ζωή ô tês anthrōpínēs zōês zoḗ.
27 Ἐγνωρίσαμεν σε Egnōísamen se,
28 ὦ μήτρα πάσης φύσεως ō̂ mḗtra pásēs phúseōs.
29 Ἐγνωρίσαμεν σε Egnōísamen se,
30 ὦ μήτρα κυηφόρε ἐμ πατρὸς φυτίᾳ ō̂ mḗtra kuēphóre em patròs phutíay.
31 Ἐγνωρίσαμεν σε Egnōísamen se,
32 ὦ πατρὸς κυηφοροῦντος αἰώνιος διαμονή ō̂ patròs kuēphoroûntos aiṓnios diamonḗ.
33 Οὕτο τὸν σοῦ ἀγαθὸν προσκυνήσαντες Hoúto tòn soû agathòn proskunḗsantes,
34 μηδεμίαν ᾐτήσαμεν χάριν πλὴν mēdemían hēytḗsamen khárin plḕn:
35 Θελησον ἡμᾶς διατηρηθῆναι ἐν τῇ σῇ γνῶσει thelēson hēmâs diatērēthênai en têy sêy gnôsei;
36 Μία δὲ τήρησις mía dè tḗrēsis:
37 τὸ μὴ σφαλῆναι τοῦ τοιούτου βίου τούτου tò mḕ sphalênai toû toioútou bíou toútou.

Finally, the Latin text from the Asclepius, section 41.  The Latin here is taken from Nock’s and Festugière’s Hermès Trismégiste vol. II, pages 353—355, compiled from a number of Latin manuscripts written in the 12th or 13th centuries.  Because the text is in Latin, no transcription is needed here.

  1. Gratias tibi / summe exsuperantissime / tua enim gratia tantum sumus cognitionis tuae lumen consecuti,
  2. Nomen sanctum et honorandum,
  3. nomen unum quo solus deus est benedicendus
  4. religione paterna,
  5. quoniam
  6. omnibus
  7. paternam pietatem et religionem et amorem
  8. et quaecumque est dulcior efficacia
  9. praebere dignaris
  10. condonans nos sensu, ratione, intelligentia:
  11. sensu ut te cognouerimus,
  12. ratione ut te suspicionibus indagemus,
  13. cognitione ut te cognoscentes gaudeamus.
  14. Ac numine saluati tuo
  15. gaudemus,
  16. quod te nobis ostenderis totum;
  17. gaudemus
  18. quod nos in corporibus sitos aeternitati
  19. fueris consecrare dignatus.
  20. Haec est enim humana sola gratulatio:
  21. cognitio maiestatis tuae.
  22. Cognouimus te
  23. et lumen maximum solo intellectu sensibile.
  24. Intellegimus te,
  25. o uitae uera uita.
  26. O naturarum omnium fecunda praegnatio;
  27. cognouimus te.
  28. totius naturae tuo conceptu plenissimae aeterna perseueratio.
  29. In omni enum ista oriatione adorantes bonum bonitatus tuae
  30. hoc tantum deprecamur,
  31. ut nos uelis seruare persuerantes in amore conitionis tuae
  32. et numquam ab hoc uitae genere seperari.

Having the original texts in their original languages is nice, but now it’s time to actually get to the translation.  Although these are all fundamentally the same text, a side-by-side comparison will show the differences in both their orders and their specific wordings.  To better establish a concordance between the different bits and parts of the Coptic, Greek, and Latin texts, I essentially used the Coptic text as a base to give each part of the prayer a number, which is why the numbering in the above sections looks so weird, but it’ll help make the concordance easier to handle.  Take a look:

# Coptic   # Greek   # Latin
1 We give thanks to you.   1 We give thanks to you,   1 We thank you,
            1a o most high and most excellent,
            1b for by your grace have we received the great light of your knowledge.
2 Every soul and heart is lifted up to you,   2 every soul and heart stretched out to you,      
3 o undisturbed name   3 o inexpressible name   3 Your name is holy and to be honored,
4 honored with the name of “God”,   4 honored with the designation of “God”   4 the only name by which God alone is to be blessed
5 and praised with the name of “Father”,   5 and blessed with the name of “Father”,   5 with ancestral reverence,
6 for   6 for   6 because
7 to everyone and everything   7 to everyone and to all things   7 to all things
8 [comes]            
9 the fatherly kindness and affection and love   9 paternal kindness, devotion, love   9 paternal kindness, devotion, love
10 and any teaching there may be that is sweet and plain,   10 and yet sweeter action   10 and whatever virtue may be more sweet,
      8 you have displayed,   8 you think it good to display
11 giving us mind, word, and knowledge:   11 having granted to us mind, word, and knowledge:   11 granting to us mind, reason, and knowledge:
12 mind so that we may understand you,   12 mind in order that we may understand you,   12 mind in order that we may understand you,
13 word so that we may expound you,   13 word in order that we may call upon you,   13 reason in order that by means of hints we may investigate you,
14 knowledge so that we may know you.   14 knowledge in order that we may know you.   14 knowledge in order that, knowing you, we may rejoice.
15 We rejoice,   15        
16 having been illumined by your knowledge.   16     16 Redeemed by your power,
17 We rejoice   17 We rejoice   17 we rejoice,
18 because you have shown us yourself.   18 because you have shown yourself to us.   18 that you have shown yourself to us completely.
19 We rejoice   19 We rejoice   19 We rejoice,
20 because while we were in the body   20 because while we were yet in molded shapes      
21 you have made us divine through your knowledge.   21 you deified us by the knowledge of yourself.   21 that you have thought it good to deify us for eternity
            20 while we are yet situated in bodies.
22 The thanksgiving of the man who attains to you is one thing:   22 The thanksgiving of a man to you is one:   22 For this is the only human gratitude:
23 that we may know you.   23 to know you.   23 the knowledge of your majesty.
24 We have known you,   24 We have known you,   24 We know you
25 o intellectual light.   25 o intellectual light,   25 and the greatest light perceptible to the intellect alone.
            27 We understand you,
26 O life of life,   26 o life of human life.   26 o true life of life.
27 we have known you.   27 We have known you,      
28 O womb of every creature,   28 o womb of all nature.   28 O pregnancy fertile with all natures,
29 we have known you.   29 We have known you,   29 we know you,
30 O womb pregnant with the nature of the Father,   30 o womb pregnant in the nature of the Father.      
31 we have known you.   31 We have known you,      
32 O eternal permanence of the begetting Father,   32 o eternal continuation of the impregnating Father.   32 eternal continuation of all nature most full of your impregnating activity
33 thus have we worshiped your goodness.   33 Thus having worshiped your goodness,   33 For worshiping the good of your goodness in this whole prayer
34 There is one petition that we ask:   34 we ask only one favor:   34 we pray for just one thing:
35 we would be preserved in knowledge.   35 that you might will that we will be preserved in your knowledge;   35 that you will to keep us preserving in the love of your knowledge
36 And there is one protection that we desire:   36 and one protection:      
37 that we not stumble in this kind of life.   37 that we not fall away from a life such as this.   37 and never to be separated from a life such as this.

Notes on the side-by-side comparison:

  1. For the most part, it’s clear that the Coptic and Greek versions are nearly identical in structure, although the Greek version seems to have dropped lines 15 and 16 (“we rejoice, having been illumined by your knowledge”), and the Coptic lacks any explicit verb corresponding to “you have displayed” on line 8 present in both the Greek and Latin (though this appears after the list of the gifts of God).
  2. The Latin version, on the other hand, is much more variant, with several lines appearing out of order compared to the Coptic or Greek text (e.g. lines 21 and 20), extra adoration to God (lines 1a and 1b), or outright missing lines usually due to structural simplification or modification (e.g. line 15).
  3. Line 2, “every soul and heart is lifted up/stretched out to you”, echoes CH I.31: “accept pure speech offerings from a soul and heart that reach up to you” (ἀπὸ ψυχῆς καὶ καρδίας πρὸς σὲ ἀνατεταμένης).  The Greek text from PGM III is corrupt at this point, so the Greek from the CH is used to emend it.
  4. Line 3 in Coptic has “undisturbed” (ⲈⲨⲢ̄ⲈⲚⲰⲬⲖⲈⲒ ⲚⲀϤ ⲀⲚ “him not being disturbed” from Greek ένοχλεῖν “to disturb, trouble”), but the Greek uses ἄφραστον “inexpressible”.  This is one of several bits of evidence that the Coptic prayer was a translation from a Greek prayer, but from a different textual lineage from what was used in PGM III.  The use of “undisturbed” here is difficult for me to parse, but based on the use of the Greek “inexpressible”, perhaps it’s in a sense of “one who cannot be disturbed by calling”.
  5. Line 5 in the Coptic and Greek pretty much agree exactly (“praised/blessed with the name of ‘[the] Father'”), but the corresponding line in Latin is weird.  I assume some corruption crept into the Latin text over time, so it kinda got the overall gist of what was being said (religione paterna) even if not the precise meaning.
  6. Line 10 uses the adjective “sweet”, but the different texts use it in different ways, and evidence here suggests that the Greek text has the better structure and meaning.
  7. In line 10, although the Coptic uses “teaching” (ⲤⲂⲞ) to translate Greek ἔνδειξιν, the Greek text from PGM III uses ἐνδείξω.  It may be that the original prayer in Greek uses ἐνδείξω and a Coptic translator misread the final -ω for -ιν, changing the verb into a noun.
  8. In line 10, the Coptic uses “plain” (ϨⲀⲠⲖⲞⲨⲤ from Greek ἁπλοῦς), which is likely a translation from the Greek ἐναργήν (“visible”, “palpable”, “manifest”), which was sometimes confused for ἐνεργήν (“active”, “effective”).  Alternatively, it may have been confused for ἐνεργίαν/ἐνεργεῖαν (“energy”, “activity”), which would relate better to both the Greek ἐνεργίαν and the Latin efficacia.
  9. Line 13 is a fun one: “word, that we may ____ you”.  Each version gives a different word here: the Latin gives “investigate by means of hints”, the Greek gives “call upon” (ἐπικαλέσωμεν), and the Coptic has “expound” (ⲈⲚⲀϨⲈⲢⲘⲎⲚⲈⲨⲈ, from Greek ἑρμηνεύειν meaning “interpret”).  It’s the use of the Coptic-Greek word here that is a fun link to Hermēs, given the long history between the Greek name of the god and the word “to interpret”, which can also be used for “to give voice/utterance to” or “to put into words”.  I like that, but there’s no clean way to translate that with the richness of the pun here, so the best English translation might be the one from the Greek, in my opinion.
  10. The Latin text, given that it’s a translation from an earlier Greek one, is fairly dutiful in how it represents the original Greek despite how the English translation might look.  The two Latin verbs cognouerimus and cognoscentes correspond to Greek νοήσωμεν and ἐπιγνώσωμεν, meaning “to understand/think” and “to discern/come to know”, respectively.
  11. The word “light” or “illumination” (ⲞⲨⲞⲈⲒⲚ) on line 16 the Coptic suggests that the corresponding Latin should read “light” instead of “power” (lumine instead of numine).
  12. Lines 19-21 are interesting; all the texts agree on what’s being said (“we rejoice, for while we were yet in the body, you made us divine through your knowledge”).  However, this does admittedly fly against several Hermetic texts that state that divinity and divinization/deification cannot be done while in the body (e.g. CH I.26, CH IV.7, CH X.6).  However, CH XIII talks about how spiritual rebirth does occur in the body once one receives the divine mercies of God to chase away the tormentors once physical perception has been transcended.
  13. Although line 21 has Greek ἀπεθέωσας (perhaps better spelled ἀποθεώσας) and Coptic ⲀⲔⲀⲀⲚ Ⲛ̄ⲚⲞⲨⲦⲈ (“make gods”, I think?), the Latin has consecrare, which isn’t the same thing as deification, just “make holy”.  Copenhaver in his notes to his translation of the Asclepius points out a possible modesty or shyness on the part of the Latin translator (or later redactors) about using the term “deification”, especially in light of an increasingly Christian audience.
  14. There’s a nuance to the phrase “we know you” in lines 23 through 31.  In Greek, this verb is in the aorist tense, which has no direct correspondence to an English one; it indicates an undivided events (like the individual steps in a continuous process) or to express events that happen in general without asserting a time.  Knowing God is a divinely simple action, complete and indivisible unto itself, and the use here is almost like a completed action; it’s like a cross between “we know you indefinitely and without restriction” and “we have undergone the process to make you known to us”.
  15. Although line 32 has the translation of “permanence” from Coptic and “continuation” from Greek (διαμονή) and Latin (peveratio), even the Greek word is used in both senses/translations, so I don’t know if there’s much of a difference here implied by the use of “permanence” vs. “continuation”.  Likewise, the Latin word used here can also be used for “persistance” or “perseverance” or “duration”, as can the Coptic word.
  16. Line 35 in the Coptic reads “knowledge” (ⲦⲄⲚⲰⲤⲒⲤ), but should probably be emended to read ⲦⲈⲔⲄⲚⲰⲤⲒⲤ (“your knowledge”) which would make it agree with both the Greek and Latin and to agree with its own line 21 above.

I’m honestly glad I had the chance—and enough of what few meager language chops I can bring to bear—to actually take a look at all three texts side-by-side.  It’s this kind of analysis that helps me (and, more than likely, a good few of us) get a better understanding at the text itself as well as the other texts in which it appears as a component.  Plus, it helps us come up with a sort of “synthesized” version of the prayers; lacking any original, we can still make an attempt at coming up with a “uniform” version that bridges the gaps between its different appearances between the Asclepius, PGM, and NHC.  I’ve done so before on my old page write-up for the Prayer of Thanksgiving, which I’m going to update as a matter-of-course now that I’ve done this analysis, but I think I should make a slight update to (if not a new stab at) what I had before as a synthesized version of the prayer.

We give thanks to you!
Every soul and heart reaches up to you,
o ineffable Name
honored as “God” and praised as “Father”,
for to everyone and everything you have shown
fatherly kindness, affection, love, and sweetest activity,
granting to us mind, word, and knowledge:
mind, that we may understand you;
word, that we may call upon you;
knowledge, that we may know you.
We rejoice, for we have been illuminated by your knowledge.
We rejoice, for you have revealed yourself to us.
We rejoice, for you have made us incarnate divine by your knowledge.

The thanksgiving of mankind to you is this alone:
that we may know you.
O Light of Mind, we know you.
O Life of Life, we know you.
O Womb of every creature, we know you.
O Womb pregnant with the nature of the Father, we know you.
O eternal permanence of the begetting Father, we know you.

Thus do we worship your goodness.
Thus do we ask for one favor: that we be preserved in your knowledge.
Thus do we ask for one protection: that we not fall away from this sort of life.

The Prayer Whispered In The Temple

I have to admit: it’s not the being home and away from friends, family, and colleagues in person for three and a half months that’s getting to me, nor is it the fear of being Kissed by the Lady of Crowns.  It’s not being shut in with the same people whom I love every day, even when the little things add up that frustrate and annoy me, more than ever before given that I’m home all the time and can’t escape it.  It’s not the hypothetical worries of financial solvency in a time when the economy is constantly degrading and when there are threats looming on the horizon of the next bank statement.  It’s not seeing the cracked and corroded political system of my country implode with constant protests the whole nation over for over three weeks, with more and more people being murdered in grotesque ways every day.  It’s not seeing people I’ve heard about or know die, sometimes naturally, sometimes unnaturally, and usually before their time.  It’s not seeing global climate change catch scientists by surprise with trends that are happening a century earlier than expected.  It’s not seeing the constant war, famine, plague, and death sweep the world (when has it ever not?) in ever-encroaching circles.

It’s not any one thing, but it’s…kinda all of this at once.  (Except the working-at-home-indefinitely bit, I sincerely dig that.)  I know I enjoy at least some measure of safety, however temporary, secluded and swaddled in comfort as I am in my home, free to spend my time mostly as I please, but…

I’m a staunch believer in the claim of Ecclesiastes 1:9, that “what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the Sun”.  We, as a species, are pretty much the same as we were 60,000 years and more ago: we still have the same fundamental needs of sleeping, eating, fucking, and wondering, and everything else is just accessorizing and window-dressing.  We still love and hate, we still learn and ignore, we still live and die, as we and every single one of our ancestors always have going back to the beginning of humanity.  It’s this cyclical continuity that, although it might have been dreary to the author of that book, gives me hope and comfort in that, no matter how bad things get or seem, everything can be survived and surpassed, one way or another, just as it always has been before.  But…it’s hard even for me to not realize that, even if the melody is the same, the key of the music can and does change, and although the lyrics may rhyme, it’s never the same thing being said.  And in that, things may never have been good, depending on whom you ask, but on any large scale by pretty much any measure, things are definitely not great right now, and despite what I want to see, it also seems like things are getting less great by the day.

Despite the breadth of my writings, my focus in my various spiritual practices is decidedly on the small-scale.  Sure, I do readings and consultations for clients, and I study and practice rituals in case I need them should the need arise, but I don’t need a lot, seeing how much I already have; in a way, I’m kinda living one of the messages of the Double Sice bone in reading dominoes, where your material life is in a state of fulfillment so now you need to turn your sights higher.  Instead of trying to advance myself worldly, I do what I can to maintain things in a state of peace and satisfaction for myself, my husband, my housemates, my family, and my godfamily—those near to me and dear to me, and those for whom I can do the most at the time being.  It’s not that I’m being greedy with my power, but necessarily rationing it; even with what little I’m doing to maintain my standards of living, I still have high standards of living, and keeping up with it all can sometimes be soul-wearying and heart-tiring.  (How much worse, then, for people who have it worse?  Why can’t I help them more beyond offering mere words or some meager support here and there, especially in the face of Just So Much where any gain feels like a loss?)  And that’s not even bringing up the work and Work that will surely need doing once the current situations pass—or, if they don’t, and some of them won’t, the work and Work that will still need doing even then.  Gotta save some spoons for what comes later.

There’s an undercurrent here of everything I’m doing being all the running I can do just to stay in the same place.  Even with a legion of spirits, ancestors, angels, and gods at my back supporting me and uplifting me, there’s just so much to tackle on even such a small scale as my own personal life, even without broader problems that so many of my friends and online colleagues I see suffer routinely or constantly.  Even with keeping to a quiet, daily routine of the same-old same-old, logging into work every day to earn a paycheck to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly, it’s hard to not hear the klaxons growing louder every minute and every mundane, routine thing I do seem increasingly, surreally, laughably absurd in comparison, and operating under this kind of farce is tiring.  It gets harder and harder to chop wood and carry water when the hairs on the back of my neck rise as the insidious question arises in my mind: “what happens when there’s no more wood to chop or water to carry?”, not out of a sense of completion, but out of a sense of running out through faults both mine and not my own.  I’m not saying this to complain (maybe a little?), but…even if nothing else, it’s hard to look forward to the future in general with more than a modicum of hope, and even that feels forced more and more often.  None of this is me just being self-pitying and grieving uselessly, but it’s hard to not feel the pressure of everything bearing down with no end in sight, and it gets to everyone at different rates and in different ways.  And, so, I turn to those same spirits, ancestors, angels, and gods in prayer and contemplation as a way to resolve this pressure.

In my various searches through the rich body of Islamic prayers and supplications, I found one that struck a particular chord with me: the Munajāt, or the Whispered Prayer, of Imām `Alı̄ ibn ‘Abī Ṭālib (as) in the Great Mosque of Kūfa.  This supplication attributed to the first Shia imam invoked during the lunar month of Sha`bān is simple, if a bit long (though nowhere near as long as many other such supplications).  The structure of the prayer can be broken down into two movements: the first movement calls upon the blessing of Allāh on the day of the Judgment at the end of time, when all else fails and there is nothing good left in the world, while the second movement calls upon the mercy of Allāh according to his various attributes and epithets, and how the imām relates to Allāh by them (e.g. “you are the Creator and I am the creature…you are the Powerful and I am the weak”).  It’s a touching monologue of a prayer that emphasizes the connection between the divine and the mundane, the immortal and a mortal, the One and a one.  In some ways, it kinda encapsulates a particular kind of mood I often find myself in nowadays.  Not to say that I feel the world is ending, but…when things keep looking like they keep getting worse, when the world looks like it’s all downhill from here, it’s hard to keep the mind from thinking about what it’s like at the bottom of that hill.  Even in the pleasant summer nights that make me pine for a walk on the beach under the stars, wind-rustled dunegrass on my left and moon-soaked seafoam on my right, there’s a poignant and quiet terror laced throughout the humidity that fogs the heart more than it does my glasses.  It’s not the impermanence and dissolution and passing-away of things in a world that constantly changes that I fear, I suppose, but rather the lived process of waiting for it and undergoing it at the slow, painful pace of the day-by-day.

All this reminded me of that infamous part of the famous Hermetic text of the Asclepius, specifically sections 24—26.  In this part of the dialog between Hermēs Trismegistus and his disciples Asclepius, Tat, and Ammon, Hermēs begins by praising Egypt as the image of Heaven, and how Egypt is the temple of the whole world, where the gods themselves reside on Earth and where all good order is maintained, and why it is necessary to revere not just God but also humanity made in the likeness of god and the ensouled statues of gods that we ourselves make from divine nature.  “And yet,” Hermēs continues after such praise, “since it befits the wise to know all things in advance,” Hermēs foretells the future of this temple of the world, a harrowing prophecy and prediction of the ultimate fate of Egypt and the world as a whole, a cataclysm and eventual apocalypse that, although ultimately ending in a renewal of all that is beautiful and good, necessitates the utter destruction of everything that is, both by its own hands and by divine impetus.  In some ways, it’s not unlike the Stoic notion of ekpyrosis, the periodic conflagration and destruction of the cosmos that is renewed through palingenesis, or the recreation of all things to start a new cycle—except, when seen from a personal perspective on the ground instead of an academic theoretical one, it’s…well, terrifying, and makes Asclepius weep on the spot in that point in the dialog.  (In some ways, one might argue that more than a fair chunk of the prophecy has been fulfilled, and that we’re well on our way to the rest, at least on some timescale or another.  Such people who argue thus have a point that I can’t really argue against, except maybe vacuously.)

In this, I saw a bit of an opportunity for inspiration to strike, given my recent introduction to the Munajāt.  I did a bit of prayer writing and rewriting, and adapted the Munajāt through a Hermetic lens, substituting the Islamic cataclysm with the Hermetic one from the Asclepius. Instead of using Islamic epithets and names of Allah, I scoured the Hermetic texts for the various epithets and attributes of God with a Hermetic understanding and approach.  Not living in Egypt myself, I spatially generalized the prophecy a bit to take place more generally, but the effect of the wording is the same for me as it might have been for Hermēs and his students.  Nothing new under the Sun, after all.  It’s not my intention to rip off or appropriate the Imām’s prayer, but to make use of it in a way that better befits my own practice, communicating the same sentiment with the same devotion and reverence to, ultimately, the same One.

In keeping with the structure and theme of the Munajāt, there are two movements in this Hermetic rendition of the Whispered Prayer, the first seeking protection and the second seeking mercy. Although it might be odd to see such an emphasis on protection and mercy in a Hermetic prayer to the divine, both of these things are extant in Hermetic texts, too: in the Prayer of Thanksgiving given at the end of the Asclepius, also extant in PGM III as well as the Nag Hammadi Scriptures, a plea for “one protection: to preserve me in my present life”, and in Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum, when Hermēs describes to Tat the method and means of rebirth, he says that it is unobtainable except for those “to whom God has shown mercy”, and that “whoever though mercy has attained this godly birth and has forsaken bodily sensation recognizes himself as constituted of the intelligibles and rejoices”.  In this, the goal of Poimandrēs as given in the First Book—the end of the Way of Hermēs—is fulfilled.

And, to be frank, both divine protection and divine mercy sound like good things to pray for, both in general and especially now, especially in this admittedly dour mood of mine.  We should pray and work for everything else good, too, to be sure—good health, long life, prosperity, happiness, peace, and all the rest of the things we seek in life—but maybe it’s also appropriate to think about what what we ask for instead when none of that can be found or given.  In this, too, I suppose there is hope; it might be small and distant, but there is still hope, because there is always, and must always be, hope.  Even when all I can eke out is just a whisper of a prayer from my heart, knowing that even the deepest refuge of the strongest sanctuary must one day still fall, that hope that I whisper for is enough and will have to be enough.  So sit satis; let it be enough.

In reciting this prayer, after every supplication, silently recite “Oh God, my God, be merciful, be gracious, be propitious to us all”.  In keeping with the Munajāt, it is preferable to recite this prayer in a low, hushed, or whispered voice.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all devotion will have been in vain.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all worship will have borne no fruit.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the gods will have abandoned the Earth and returned to Heaven.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all reverence will have fallen into neglect.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when the divine teachings will have been mocked as delusion and illusion.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all religion will have been outlawed and all sacred traditions lost.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when the reverent will have been executed for the crime of reverence.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all temples will have become tombs.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when the dead will have outnumbered the living.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when darkness and death will have been preferred to light and life.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when the cosmos will have ceased to be revered and honored.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when the world will have been filled with barbarity.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the people will have turned to cruelty against each other.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the rivers will have filled and burst with blood.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the lands will have crumbled under stress.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the seas will have ceased to be navigable.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the winds will have stalled lifelessly.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all earth will have become sterile, bearing only withered fruit.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the heavens will have gone dark.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the bodies of heaven will have ceased their courses.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when all the voices of divinity will have gone silent.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when you will have ceased to be worshiped and glorified.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when you will dissolve all the world in flood, fire, and pestilence.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when you will restore the world to worthiness of reverence and wonder.

O God, I ask you for your protection,
on the day when you will return all that is good and sacred to the world.

O God, you are the Father and I am the child;
who else can be merciful to the child except the Father?

O God, you are the Creator and I am the created;
who else can be merciful to the created except the Creator?

O God, you are the Unbegotten and I am the begotten;
who else can be merciful to the begotten except the Unbegotten?

O God, you are the Pervasive and I am the blind;
who else can be merciful to the blind except the Pervasive?

O God, you are the Invisible and I am the mistrustful;
who else can be merciful to the mistrustful except the Invisible?

O God, you are the Good and I am the one the one immersed in evil;
who else can be merciful to the evil except the Good?

O God, you are the Pure and I am the one immersed in defilement;
who else can be merciful to the defiled except the Pure?

O God, you are the Complete and I am the one immersed in deficiency;
who else can be merciful to the deficient except the Complete?

O God, you are the Perfect and I am the one immersed in excess;
who else can be merciful to the excessive except the Perfect?

O God, you are the Still and I am the one immersed in motion;
who else can be merciful to the moved except the Still?

O God, you are the Unchanging and I am the one immersed in change;
who else can be merciful to the changed except the Unchanging?

O God, you are the Imperishable and I am the one immersed in decay;
who else can be merciful to the decaying except the Imperishable?

O God, you are the Beautiful and I am the one immersed in crudity;
who else can be merciful to the crude except the Beautiful?

O God, you are the Ineffable and I am the one immersed in babble;
who else can be merciful to the babbler except the Ineffable?

O God, you are the Cause of Liberation and I am the one immersed in torment;
who else can be merciful to the tormented except the Cause of Liberation?

O God, you are the Cause of Temperance and I am the one immersed in recklessness;
who else can be merciful to the reckless except the Cause of Temperance?

O God, you are the Cause of Virtue and I am the one immersed in vice;
who else can be merciful to the vicious except the Cause of Virtue?

O God, you are the Cause of Truth and I am the one immersed in deceit;
who else can be merciful to the deceived except the Cause of Truth?

O God, you are the Cause of Mind and I am the one immersed in ignorance;
who else can be merciful to the ignorant except the Cause of Mind?

O God, you are the Cause of Life and I am the one immersed in death;
who else can be merciful to the dying except the Cause of Life?

O God, you are the Cause of Light and I am the one immersed in darkness;
who else can be merciful to the darkened except the Cause of Light?

O God, you are the Propitious and I am the one given favor;
who else can be merciful to the one given favor except the Propitious?

O God, you are the Gracious and I am the one given grace;
who else can be merciful to the one given grace except the Gracious?

O God, you are the Merciful and I am the one given mercy;
who else can be merciful to the one given mercy except the Merciful?

O God, you are the Glory of the All and I am the one who is in the All;
only you can be merciful to all in the All, for you are the Glory of the All!

O God, be merciful, be gracious, be propitious to me,
and be pleased with me by your mercy, your grace, and your favor,
you who are the source of all mercy, all grace, and all favor!
O God, be merciful, be gracious, be propitious to me and to us all!

A Simple Hermetic Prayer Rule

I’m not sure what a Hermetic parallel to Christian primitivism would be, especially given how little we know about actual Hermetic practices on-the-ground in the early part of the first millennium, but maybe something like this could be considered.

Like how I recently introduced a new prayer, the Praise of the Invisible and Invisible God based off Book V from the Corpus Hermeticum, I’ve been combing through other parts of the classical Hermetic corpus to come up with other prayers to recite.  What survives is largely philosophical, but there are occasional praises of God, exhortations of praise or prayer, and other exclamations of faith that dot the Hermetic literature.  We already pointed out a lengthy one from Book V not too long ago, but there are others, as well, and a few outright prayers, too, like the famous prayer from the end of Book I from the Corpus Hermeticum to the Prayer of Thanksgiving from the Asclepius, or the Perfect Sermon which also makes an appearance in the Nag Hammadi texts.  I’ve been experimenting with the explicit prayers that appear in the Hermetic canon, but I’ve even been coming up with others only based on it, even making my own kind of “Hermetic Mass” based on Book XIII (which talks a lot about the tormentors and blessings of the various spheres of the cosmos).

So far, as far as raw material to come up with new prayers goes, Book I is probably among the most fruitful.  It’s this very book of the Corpus Hermeticum that is named after Poimandrēs itself (though many translate this to “Shepherd of Men”, following Ralph Marcus, I favor a Coptic interpretation of this as “Reason of Sovereignty”), a testament of Hermēs Trismegistos himself when he obtained the divine vision of the creation of the cosmos and passage of souls, and how to achieve henosis both in this life and in the afterlife.  It’s at the end of this that Poimandrēs exhorts Hermēs to go forth and save the human race from the torments of their mortality (Copenhaver translation, and also note my italicized text in that last paragraph):

As he was saying this to me, Poimandres joined with the powers. Then he sent me forth, empowered and instructed on the nature of the universe and on the supreme vision, after I had given thanks to the father of all and praised him. And I began proclaiming to mankind the beauty of reverence and knowledge: “People, earthborn men, you who have surrendered yourselves to drunkenness and sleep and ignorance of god, make yourselves sober and end your drunken sickness, for you are bewitched in unreasoning sleep.”

When they heard, they gathered round with one accord. And I said, “Why have you surrendered yourselves to death, earthborn men, since you have the right to share in immortality? You who have journeyed with error, who have partnered with ignorance, think again: escape the shadowy light; leave corruption behind and take a share in immortality.”

Some of them, who had surrendered themselves to the way of death, resumed their mocking and withdrew, while those who desired to be taught cast themselves at my feet. Having made them rise, I became guide to my race, teaching them the words—how to be saved and in what manner—and I sowed the words of wisdom among them, and they were nourished from the ambrosial water. When evening came and the sun’s light began to disappear entirely, I commanded them to give thanks to god, and when each completed the thanksgiving, he turned to his own bed.

Within myself I recorded the kindness of Poimandres, and I was deeply happy because I was filled with what I wished, for the sleep of my body became sobriety of soul, the closing of my eyes became true vision, my silence became pregnant with good, and the birthing of the word became a progeny of goods. This happened to me because I was receptive of mind—of Poimandres, that is, the word of sovereignty. I have arrived, inspired with the divine breath of truth. Therefore, I give praise to god the father from my soul and with all my might:

After this, Hermēs recites his famous prayer itself, which has been a staple of mine and many other Hermeticists’ practices, a beautiful bit of devotional speech and supplication.

It’s the latter two paragraphs there that I took another look at, and considered that those would be excellent to base a prayer on.  Consider: Hermēs reaches out to those who seek after Truth, and “sowed the words of wisdom among them, and they were nourished from the ambrosial water” (i.e. water of immortality), after which those same people give thanks to God.  And after that, Hermēs himself gives thanks for “what [he] wished” (or prayed) for: his bodily sleep became sobriety of the soul, his eyes’ closing became true vision, etc.  And then, because of all that, he gives his famous “Holy is God…” prayer, a kind of “Threefold Trisagion”.

So I sat with this a bit, extracted the important bits, compared the translations of Scott, Copenhaver, and Salaman along with the original Greek given in Scott, and, after a good bit of writing and rewriting, I came up with the following prayer:

Sow in me the words of wisdom, and nourish me with the water of immortality.
By this, for this, and for everything, I give unto you my thanks.

May the sleep of my body become the sobriety of my soul.
May the closing of my eyes become true vision of Truth.
May my silence become pregnant with the Supreme Good.
May my birthing of the Word become the generation of true wealth.

Let me be receptive to the Nous, the Sovereign Knowledge,
that I may be inspired by the divine breath of Truth,
that I may praise God with all my soul and all my strength.

This actually works fairly well, in my limited experience trying it out, as a prayer in its own right, especially before using before the Threefold Trisagion.  The thing is that it’s very much directed towards being used before one retires to bed at night, what with the references to sleep and closing one’s eyes, as well as the original context of the content being used before people “turn[ing] to [their] own bed[s]”.  If this is a prayer that would best be used in the evening before sleep, what about one in the morning when one rises from sleep?  Easy; note the italicized parts below:

Sow in me the words of wisdom, and nourish me with the water of immortality.
By this, for this, and for everything, I give unto you my thanks.

May the rousing of my body become the awakening of my soul.
May the opening of my eyes become true vision of Truth.
May my speech become fruitful with the Supreme Good.
May my birthing of the Word become the generation of true wealth.

Let me be receptive to the Nous, the Sovereign Knowledge,
that I may be inspired by the divine breath of Truth,
that I may praise God with all my soul and all my strength.

This also works well as a morning prayer unto itself, but again especially so when followed by the Threefold Trisagion.  But there’s something else we can add, as well: the Prayer of Thanksgiving from the Asclepius.  Note how in that penultimate paragraph above from Book I that, after Hermēs gives his teaching to people, he “commanded them to give thanks to god, and when each completed the thanksgiving, he turned to his own bed”.  This means that, after the first two lines of the two derived prayers above, we could recite the Prayer of Thanksgiving, then continuing with the rest of the prayer, then finished by the Triple Trisagion.

On top of all this, we can take inspiration from the last part of the Asclepius that gives instructions on prayer (Copenhaver translation):

As they left the sanctuary, they began praying to god and turning to the south (for when someone wants to entreat god at sunset, he should direct his gaze to that quarter, and likewise at sunrise toward the direction they call east), and they were already saying their prayer…

My big issue with this is turning to the south, since the Sun doesn’t set in the south, yet the Asclepius says to face the south while also saying one “should direct his gaze to that quarter” where the Sun is setting.  My guess would be that the use of “south” here was a mistranslation or mistransmission in the text, and it should say “west”, maybe “southwest” to reflect a more realistic setting of the Sun for places in the northern hemisphere, especially between the autumn and spring equinoxes—yet in Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum, Hermes tells this same thing to Tat before he imparts the Secret Hymn, the Initiatory Hymn of Silence (note the italicized part):

Be still, my child; now hear a well-tuned hymn of praise, the hymn of rebirth. To divulge it was no easy choice for me except that I do it for you, at the end of everything. Hence, it cannot be taught; it is a secret kept in silence. Therefore, my child, stand in the open air, face the south wind when the setting sun descends, and bow down in adoration; when the sun returns, bow likewise toward the east. Be still, child: …

So, yeah, we really should be facing the south for sunset/evening prayers.  In this light, keeping in mind the Egyptian context here of Hermetic texts, it makes sense: the Way of Truth of Hermēs Trismegistos is also a Way of Life, and the direction of the West was the direction of the lands of the dead, and so inappropriate for prayers of immortality to the immortal God.  (Why, then, the direction of North wasn’t used, the direction of immortality itself, is not something I’ve puzzled out yet, but I’m tired, so it can wait.)

In either case, let’s take inspiration from this for our prayer routine above.  In the morning (ideally at sunrise), we’d say the morning prayer (with Prayer of Thanksgiving in the middle and Threefold Trisagion at the end) facing the east, and in the evening again (ideally at sunset) with the evening prayer (again with the Prayer of Thanksgiving and Threefold Trisagion) facing the south (though, if one is in the southern hemisphere, one should probably face the north instead).  Following the practice given in Book XIII as noted above as well as in the Asclepius, prayers are best made “in open air” (cf. “as they left the sanctuary” in the Asclepius), starting from a standing position, and bowing during adoration (e.g. the Secret Hymn, the Threefold Trisagion, etc.); prayers with words should be said aloud, audibly if not in a low voice, while prayers without words would be said in silence.  If standing is not possible, kneeling would be fine, prostrating instead of bowing at the appropriate times; which is my own personal preference, especially if indoors, and even more so if meditation, contemplation, readings, or other prayers are to be said either before or after this.

So there’s that: a simple prayer rule for devotional Hermetic practice, derived entirely from the classical Hermetic canon.  Short, elegant, straightforward, earnest; what more could one want, even if only to start with as a seed for extended or more elaborate prayer practices of Hermetic theurgy and henosis?  It’s something otherwise detached from any other religion or spiritual practice, and, perhaps most importantly, uses the actual words of Hermēs Trismegistos for our own prayers, and to repeat those same words (or to use them in a similar way) for following the Way of Hermēs is a powerful practice, indeed.

Speaking of “following the Way”, there’s something else I was considering.  We used that excerpt from Book I of the Corpus Hermeticum to create those evening and morning prayers above, but we focused on the latter two paragraphs of the excerpt for that.  The first two paragraphs, on the other hand, take a distinctly different tone: that of a call to wake up, a call to the Way of Truth that Hermēs Trismegistos began to teach at the instruction of Poimandrēs.  Like Buddha going around from town to town with the call of “Anyone for the other side?” or the Islamic adhān calling Muslims to prayer, similar language could be used as a preliminary…perhaps not “prayer”, but reminder of what it is to follow the Way and why we should do so.  Though I doubt there are many communities that would need such a grand call, it could be useful before both individual or group practice before any major Hermetic theurgic undertaking, even (or especially) those that rely on heavier PGM-style magic and ritual.  To that end, I figured I’d end this post by sharing my rewrite of Hermēs’ original call, based again on comparing the older translations of Scott, Copenhaver, and Salaman amongst each other:

O all you children of mankind, o all you born of the Earth, o all who you have given yourselves over to drink and sleep in your ignorance of God! Make yourselves sober, cease your drunken sickness, end your bewitchment by unreasoning sleep! Why have you given yourselves over to death, since you have the power to partake of immortality? You who have wandered with Error, you who have partnered with Ignorance: think again, and repent! Be released from the darkness, take hold of the Light, take part in divine immortality, leave behind your corrupt destruction! Do not surrender to the way of death by your mockery or distance, but come, rise, and be guided on the way of life!

On the Simplicity of Divine Prayer

Trying to get back into a routine is rough when you’ve been out of it for so long.  Between the job changes, house moves, seclusionary period of religious vows, and then a glut of partying and celebration at the end of 2017, I’m sure some of my readers can sympathize.  None of that excuses me, of course, from what I should be doing, but a trial’s a trial, after all.

One morning this week was the first in a long time I’ve made myself sit down, meditate, and recite some prayers.  Not many, given my lengthier commute than what I had back a few years ago, and given that I need to reconfigure my sleep schedule to allow for more awake time in the morning before work.  But, yanno, it was enough for this morning.  Admittedly, the prayers take some getting used to again, reciting them with the same focus, the same intent, the same clarity I recall I once had.  But then, any skill left unused for too long dulls faster than an overused knife, so it’ll just take practice and repetition and applying myself.  After a few days, I started to get that…silent Ring, that echo of the Hymns of Silence, back into my words.  So even if it doesn’t take too long to sharpen myself, it still takes time.

Briefly, I considered maybe if I wasn’t doing enough, if I wasn’t incorporating enough elements to give myself that proper atmosphere.  You know of what I speak, dear reader: that misty-shadowy-monochrome-occult,  evidently-powerful, clearly-mystical aesthetic that we all idealize and fetishize in our Work.  That perfectly-framed instagrammable/snapchattable/sharable #nofilter dark-room bones-and-herbs-strewn-about #tradcraft altar look that often sticks in our minds as both breathtaking and inspirational.  So, while in the middle of a prayer, holding my book in one hand, I reached for the incense with the other—

I stopped myself.  No, incense was not what I needed.  What I needed was prayer, and that alone.

A few weeks ago, while trying to find an appropriate time for a feast day of Hermes Trismegistus, I recalled a specific astrological alignment used for…something Hermetic.  After scouring through the Corpus Hermeticum and other Hermetic texts, I eventually stumbled upon what I was looking for in the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth, but there was another bit of text that, although unrelated to what I was looking for, stuck out to me and reminded me of the simplicity called for in spiritual works, especially that of prayer.

From the Asclepius (chapter XLI; Copenhaver translation, p92):

As they left the sanctuary, they began praying to God and turning to the south (for when someone wants to entreat God at sunset, he should direct his gaze to that quarter, and likewise at sunrise towards the direction they call East), and they were already saying their prayer when in a hushed voice Asclepius asked: “Tat, do you think we should suggest that your father tell them to add frankincense and spices as we pray to God?”

When Trismegistus heard him, he was disturbed and said: “A bad omen, Asclepius, very bad.  To burn incense and such stuff when you entreat God smacks of sacrilege.  For he wants nothing who is himself all things or in whom all things are.  Rather, let us worship him by giving thanks, for God finds mortal gratitude to be the best incense.”

Let me unpack this by means of a parallel lesson I learned back in high school.  Say you’re the subject of a king, and the king is coming to your village to pay a visit and hold court.  All the local lords and nobles are coming, and all the subjects (high- or lowborn) are expected to present something to the king.  What they present are not gifts; gifts, after all, are seen as a kind of favorable charity, but how could a subject give a gift to his king?  The king already has a right to whatever his subjects own; a gift implies the bestowing of something that the receiver does not already have.  No, it is absurd for a subject to give his king a gift; what the subject offers is tribute.  Tribute is something given (yet not a gift) as well as an act of expressing admiration, gratitude, and respect to someone.  A craftsman giving a delicately crafted timepiece, a farmer giving the best of his year’s fruit, a herdsman giving the fattest of his personal flock, an artist giving a fully-decorated manuscript are all things that can be considered tribute in this context; these are acts or offerings of their own labor, their own work, their own hands with which they express thanks to their king, who enables them to do everything.

Of course, you can’t just offer any old thing as tribute.  No, it should be the finest example of what can you can produce, the most rarefied exemplar of skill and labor, and that which is suited to the tastes and needs of the king receiving tribute, as well as exemplifying the natural ownership of the king over his domain.  In other words, proper tribute shows our respect to those above us that we are grateful for their support, patronage, guidance, and protection in the means that they themselves strive to attain.

In this case, Hermes Trismegistus is suggesting that prayers of gratitude are tribute to God, and anything else is simply extra and, moreover, sullying the pure act of prayer.  After all, God is both transcendent and immanent of the world we live in; God already contains all things, all incenses and oils and blood-offerings and flowers.  Why should we bother with these things then?  Hermes would claim that to offer incense in prayer to God would be like offering fish to the ocean, or like giving a king a tributary offering of cattle, including all the shit and piss and vomit they make.  It’s not that these things are unhelpful or without use to us, but they are of little worth to a king, and are so beneath him as to be offensive.  Hermes says that there is nothing physical we could offer to God, because everything physical is already part and parcel to him.

If we shouldn’t offer physical things to God, then what should we offer?  Hermes says simply: “let us worship him by giving thanks, for God finds mortal gratitude to be the best incense”.  Just as subjects to a king offer tribute to express their gratitude towards and to show their abilities fostered by their protecting lord, we offer prayer of gratitude with our intellect and own internal divinity to show God, who gave humanity its intelligible nature by means of the Logos, our respect and thanks to him.  We recognize our place and nature in the world, a unique intersection between the purely physical universe and the purely spiritual cosmos, and we remember our divine origins in God’s own being; we express thanks and gratitude, not to appease or placate God’s wrath, but to grow closer to him and his domain so as to rise above mere matter.

That’s another reason why Hermes abhors the use of incense in prayer to God.  If we’re to ascend above this mortal coil so as to retake our divine essence and birthright, then why should we let those very same mortal, physical, doomed things continue to hold us down?  As Hermes and Poemander say in the very first book of the Corpus Hermeticum (book I, chapters 20—21; Salaman translation, pp21—22):

[Poemander] continued, “If you have remembered, tell me, why are those who are in death, worthy of death?

[Hermes] replied, “Because the grim darkness is the first origin of one’s own body, from which darkness arose the watery nature, from which darkness the body is formed in the sensory world of which death drinks.”

“You have observed correctly”, he said.  “But why does he who has remembered himself go to the Father, as the Word of God says?”

I replied, “Because the Father of all is constituted out of light and life, whence Man has been begotten.”

Poimandres then said, “The truth is: light and life is God and Father, whence Man is begotten.  If, therefore, you realize yourself as being from life and light, and that you have been made out of them, you will return to life.”

Death and ignorance of the divine are intrinsic to physical existence and physical things, and of the things that are not physical, the opposite is true.  Thus, to mix physical things in acts meant to focus on that which is purely divested of them (i.e. matters of God) introduces a measure of death and ignorance into them.  Thus, not only is it sufficient to simply pray to God, but anything more taints such a pure act.

So, no.  I didn’t need to light incense to pray.  I never have, and I never will.  Such prayer to God, performed with the full intent of prayer, is a complete and sufficient act unto itself that no addition could ever make more or better than my present, attentive, intentive, and intelligible Speech saying the divine Words.

Now, I will qualify this: there are times when incenses, oils, tools, and other physical materia matter for spiritual works or sacrifices to the gods, but note the context of difference here.  With offerings to the theoi, for instance, it is proper to offer wine, olive oil, incense, and burnt offerings; they find these things pleasing, and to an extent they are either part of this world or part of the cosmos close to us where these things are useful and appreciated.  Magical ceremonies involving the planets, them being physical-spiritual forces in our world, make use of colors and metals and incenses and herbs and whatnot to make their presence stronger here on Earth.  But when we talk about prayer to God, who is completely above all and encapsulates all within himself?  It’s a different set of rules and contexts, where there is nothing physical to do or appreciated, and the inclusion of physical things only acts as a distraction and delay.  In a sense, it’s highly parallel to what the Buddha taught about meditation: you don’t need incenses or bells or Lululemon pants or overpriced crystals or ridiculously over-engineered sitting cushions.  All you need is meditation, nothing more; nothing else will help you meditate than simply meditating.  In the same vein, Hermes Trismegistus teaches in the Asclepius that nothing else will help with praying to God than simply praying to God.

And, to finish that off, what was the prayer that Hermes Trismegistus offered after his rebuke to Asclepius?  This, which serves as an example of the type of intellectual reflection and deep gratitude Hermes Trismegistus propounded:

We thank you, supreme and most high God, by whose grace alone we have attained the light of your knowledge; holy Name that must be honored, the one Name by which our ancestral faith blesses God alone, we thank you who deign to grant to all a father’s fidelity, reverence, and love, along with any power that is sweeter, by giving us the gift of consciousness, reason, and understanding:
consciousness, that we may know you;
reason, by which we may seek you in our dim suppositions;
knowledge, by which we may rejoice in knowing you.

And we who are saved by your power do indeed rejoice because you have shown yourself to us wholly.  We rejoice that you have deigned to make us gods for eternity even while we depend on the body.  For this is mankind’s only means of giving thanks: knowledge of your majesty.

We have known you, the vast light perceived only by reason.
We have understood you, true life of life, the womb pregnant with all coming-to-be.
We have known you, who persist eternally by conceiving all coming-to-be in its perfect fullness.

Worshiping with this entire prayer the good of your goodness, we ask only this: that you wish us to persist in the love of your knowledge and that we never be cut off from such a life as this.

With such hopes and such prayers, let us now turn to putting it to practice with dedication.