A PGM-Based Jewish Hermetic Prayer of the Patriarchs

It’s fascinating to see what you can find when you dig through your old notes and drafts.  Interesting insights that slipped your mind, funny stories you’d want to tell again, and wonderful accomplishments that remind you of better times and better techniques than what you may have slipped into using.  But, perhaps most fun to find?  Unfinished drafts and projects that you couldn’t finish for one reason or another at the time, but have since come into the right knowledge and tools to do just that.  This post is one such example of that happening, and I’m glad to finally share it with you, dear reader, after so long.

As many of my readers know, the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM) is such a wonderful collection of texts that have, somehow, miraculously survived to our care in the modern day.  It’s on the same level as the Nag Hammadi Scriptures or the Dead Sea Scrolls, but which focuses instead on the so-called “practical Hermetica”, the spells, rituals, ingredients, and ritual processes of theurgy and thaumaturgy as used by actual living mages and priests from roughly 100 CE to 500 CE, largely residing in that philosophical-academic-spiritual orgiastic environment of Alexandria, Thebes, and other parts of Hellenic Egypt.  It’s important to remember, though, that the PGM isn’t just a single “grimoire”, but rather a collection of smaller grimoires, notes, tablets, and other texts from a variety of magicians that happened to be clustered together under a single volume.  There’s quite a lot of variation in there, and if different entries seem counterintuitive or contradictory to each other, that’s because they are.  It’s not proper to treat the PGM as “a single text”, but rather a collection of numerous texts that happened to be collected over the centuries and only recently compiled into a single volume (specifically, the Betz version of the PGM, though Preisendanz’s texts, volumes one and two, is still considered the earlier and other major version).

Although many of the fun rituals that are more commonly known come from the earlier PGM entries, such as the Headless Rite from PGM V or the Heptagram Rite from PGM XIII, the Betz version of the PGM has over 130 sets of PGM texts, including a number of Demotic ones, too.  Not all of them are well-preserved, and some are incredibly fragmented with extensive lacunae, but there are still plenty of gems in some of the lesser-known texts.  One such text is PGM XXIIb.1—26, headlined as the Prayer of Jacob.  The term used for “prayer” in the headline, προσευχή, can also be used to refer to a temple or sanctuary, especially of the Jews, so perhaps a better headline for this might be, if we can be granted a bit of translator’s license here, the “Holiness of Jacob”.  Given its structure and its placement, the attribution is (as it almost always is) spurious, but the fact remains that it’s primarily a Jewish, or at least heavily Judaically-inspired, prayer with some Gnostic elements as well as some elements of Merkabah and Heikhalot literature or proto-literature.

In any case, it’s mostly complete, but isn’t wholly so due to the large number of lacunae.  Most of the lacunae appear in the strings of barbarous words, though when looking at the actual text, the size and location of these lacunae become clearer, offering hints of what may have gone into them.  After all, the whole section is only 26 lines of text long, and the rest of the PGM is replete with invocations, strings of godnames, and a variety of other clues that can help fill in some of the lacunae in the text.  One of my earlier projects from a number of years ago (2013, according to the original draft post) was going to attempt a reconstruction and repair on this entry, but I didn’t really know where to go or how to attempt it, and so I just left it to get buried in the drafts folder.  But now that I’m a little older and a little more comfortable with this project, I want to try tackling it again.

To start with, this is what the original entry looks like in Betz:

O Father of the Patriarchs, Father of the All, Father of the [cosmic] power,
[Creator of all], … , creator of the angels and archangels, creator of the [saving] names!

I invoke you, Father of all powers, Father of the entire [cosmos] and of all creation inhabited and uninhabited, to whom the [cherubim] are subjected [who] favored Abraham by [giving the] kingdom [to him] … hear me, O God of the powers, o [God] of angels [and] archangels, [King]…

ΛΕΛΕΑΧ … ΑΡΩΑΧ ΤΟΥ ΑΧΑΒΟΛ … Ο … ΥΡΑΜ ΤΟΥ … ΒΟΑΧ ΚΑ … Θ … ΡΑ … ΧΑΧ ΜΑΡΙΡΟΚ … ΥΡΑΜ … ΙΘΘ ΣΕΣΟΙΚ, he who sits upon [holy] Mount Sinai;
… Ι … ΒΟ … ΑΘΕΜ … , he who sits upon the sea;
… ΕΑ … ΒΛ … Δ … Κ … Ε … ΘΗΣ … ΠΑΡΑΧΘΗ … , he who sits upon the serpentine gods;
The [god who sits upon the] Sun, ΙΑΩ, he who sits [upon] … ΤΑ … Ω … Ι … Χ!
He [who sits] upon the … ;
[He who sits upon] the … ΜΑ … ΣΙ, ΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΛΟΥΛΗΛ … Μ!
… ΧΙΡΕ … ΟΖ … Ι … resting place of the cherubim
to the ages of ages, God ΑΒΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΘΙΑΩΘ [ΣΑΒΑΩΘ] ΑΔΩΝΑΙ star … and ΒΡΙΛΕΩΝΑΙ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ ΧΑ … ΑΩΘ the Lord of the All.

I call upon you who give power [over] the Abyss [to those] above, to those below, and to those under the earth; hear the one who has [this] prayer, O Lord God of the Hebrews, ΕΠΑΓΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ, of whom is [the] eternal power, ΗΛΟΗΛ ΣΟΥΗΛ.  Maintain the one who possesses this prayer, who is from the stock of Israel and from those who have been favored by you, O god of gods, you who have the secret name ΣΑΒΑΩΘ … Ι … Χ, O god of gods, amen, amen!

You who produce the snow, who presides over the stars,  who live beyond the ages, who constantly traverse the cosmos, and who cause the fixed and movable stars to pursue all things by your creative activity, fill me with wisdom.  Strengthen me, Master!  Fill my heart with good, Master, as a terrestrial angel, as one who has become immortal, as one who has received this gift from you, amen, amen!

This entry, further, is ended with a single direction: recite it seven times facing north and east.  I interpret this as meaning northeast, which would have been the direction of Jerusalem (or other places in Israel) from most places in Egypt, but there are other rituals in the PGM and other texts of that time like the Sepher haRazim that discuss how to conjure or pray to the powers of the Sun towards the East in the daytime or towards the North at nighttime, so it could be a synthesis of that, too.  I lean towards the Jerusalem theory, personally.

For reference, here’s the original Greek transcription as given in Preisendanz, taking his corrections and emendations as a given and putting the barbarous words and godnames, or the letters that are presumed to be parts of such, in capital letters:

Προσευχὴ Ἰακώβ.

Πάτερ πατριὰρχῶν, πατὴρ ὅλων, πατὴρ δυνάμεων τοῦ κόσμου, κτίστα παντὸς …
κτίστα τῶν ἀγγέλων καὶ ἀρχαγγέλων, ὁ κτίστης ὀνομάτων σωτηρικῶν
καλῶ σε, πατέρα τῶν ὅλων δυνάμεων, πατέρα τοῦ ἄπαντος κόσμου και τῆς
ὅλης γενέσεως καὶ οἰκοθμένης καὶ ἀοικήτου, ᾡ ὑπεσταλμένοι οἱ χερουβίν, ὅς
ἐχαρίσατο Ἀβραὰμ ἐν τῷ δοῦναι τὴν βασιλείαν αὐρῷ
ἐπακοθσόν μοι, ὁ θεὸς τῶν δυνὰμεων, ὁ θεὸς ἀγγέλων καὶ ἀρχαγγέλων, βασιλεύς …
ὀ καθήμενος ἐπὶ ὄρους ἰεροῦ Σιναΐου Ι … ΒΟ ΑΘΕΜ
ὀ καθήμενος ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης … ΕΑ … ΒΛ … Δ … Κ … Ε … ΘΗΣ
ΠΑΡΑΧΘΗ … ό καθήμενος ἐπὶ τῶν δρακοντείων θεῶν, ὀ θεὸς καθήμενος ἐπὶ τοῦ
Ἡλίου ΙΑΩ, ὁ καθήμενος ἐπὶ … ΤΑ … Ω … Ι … Χ, ὁ καθήμενος ἐπὶ τοῦ … θε …
… ΜΑ … ΣΙ ΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΛΟΥΗΛ … Μ … τὸν κοιτῶνα χερουβὶν … ΧΙΡΕ … ΟΖ … Ι …
εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰῶνων θεὸς ΑΒΡΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΘΙΑΩΘ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ, ἀστραπηφόρε
καὶ ΒΡΙΛΕΩΝΑΙ ΑΔΟΝΑΙ ΧΑ … ΑΩΘ, ὁ κύριος των ὅλων. Ἐπικαλουμαί σε, ἐπὶ χάσματος δὸντα
δύναμιν τοῖς ἄνω καὶ τοῖς κάτω καὶ τοῖς ὑποκάτω τῆς γῆς. Ἐπὰκοθσον τῷ ἔχοντι τὴν
εὐχήν, ὁ κύριος θεὸς τῶν Ἑβραίνων, ΕΠΑΓΑΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ, οὗ ἡ ἀέναος δύναμισ, ΕΛΩΗΛ
ΣΟΥΗΛ. Διόρθωσον τὸν ἔχοντα τὴν εὐχὴν ἐξ τοῦ γένους Ἰσραὴλ καὶ τῶν
χαριζομένων ὑπό σοθ, θεὲ θεῶν, ὁ ἔχων τὸ κρυπτὸν ὄνομα ΣΑΒΑΩΘ
… Ι … Χ. Θεὸς θεῶν, ἀμήν, ἀμήν, ὁ χιόνα γεννῶν, ἐπὶ ἀστέρων ὑπὲρ αἰώνων καὶ ἀεὶ διοδεύων καὶ ποιῶν τοὺς
ἀπλανεῖς καί πλανωμένους ἀστέρας διώκειν τὰ πάντα τῇ σῇ δημι-
-οθργίᾳ. Πλήρωσόν με σοφίας, δυνάμωσόν με, δέσποτα, μέστωσόν μου,
τὴν καρδίαν ἀγαθῶν, δέσποτα, ὡς ἄγγελον ἐπίγειον, ὡς ἀθάνατον
γενὰμενον, ὡς τὸ δῶρον τὸ ἀπὸ σοῦ δεξάμενον, ἀμήν, ἀμήν.

Λέγε ἐπτάκις πρὸς ἄπρκτον καὶ ἀπηλιὼτην τὴν προσευχήν τοῦ Ἰακώβ.

Happily, at least this part of PGM XXIIb (P. 13895 in the Staatliche Museen in Berlin) has been digitized, but between the lacunae and the faintness of the ink in places, it’s still awfully hard to read, even if we can get a sense for how long some of the barbarous words should be.

We can kind of get a notion for how many letters are missing from the lacunae, based on the width of the letters generally in this otherwise cleanly-written papyrus, as well as some of the other notable gaps, but it also makes it clear how much of Preisendanz guessed at some of the barbarous words, too.  Incorporating Preisendanz’ bracket and blank notations and comparing with the above, we get something like this for the parts that really catch our interest for the lacunae, where the underscores indicate the relative amount of letters that are missing which may or may not be barbarous words:

ΛΕΛΕΑΧ____ΑΡΩΑΧ ΤΟΥ__ΑΧΑΒΟΛ [Ω]_______[ΥΡΑ]Μ ΤΟΥ___ΒΟΑΧ ΚΑ__________
Θ__ΡΑ_______ΧΑΧ.  ΜΑΡΙΟ[Κ]____ΥΡΑΜ_________ΙΘ Θ_______ΣΕΣΟΙΚ________
ὀ κ[α]θ[ήμενος] ἐπὶ ὄρους ἰ[εροῦ Σ]ιναΐου_________Ι_ΒΟ______ΑΘΕΜ__________
[ὀ] καθήμενος ἐπὶ τῆς θα[λάσσ]ης _ΕΑ___ΒΛ______Δ_Κ________Ε_ΘΗΣ_________
ΠΑΡΑΧΘΗ_ ό καθήμενο[ς ἐπὶ] τῶν δ[ρα]κοντ[είων] θεῶν, ὀ [θεὸς καθήμε]ν[ο]ς [ἐπὶ τοῦ]
[Ἡ]λίου ΙΑΩ, ὁ καθήμε[νος ἐπὶ]_____ΤΑ_Ω_Ι___Χ, ὁ [καθήμ]εν[ος ἐπὶ τοῦ]__θε____
__ΜΑ__ΣΙ ΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΛΟΥΗΛ_____Μ__[τ]ὸν [κ]οιτῶνα χε[ρο]υ[β]ὶν____ΧΙΡΕ___ΟΖ_______Ι _

[κ]αὶ ΒΡΙΛΕΩΝΑΙ [Α]ΔΟΝΑΙ ΧΑ___ΑΩΘ, ὁ κ[ύρ]ιος των ὅλων. Ἐπικαλουμαί σε, ἐ[πὶ χ]άσ[μα]τος δὸντα

_Ι_Χ. Θεὸς θεῶν, ἀμήν, ἀμήν, ὁ χιόνα γεννῶν, ἐπὶ ἀστέρων ὑπὲρ αἰώνων καὶ ἀεὶ διοδεύων καὶ ποιῶν τοὺς

My original goal, a few years ago, was to try to see what barbarous words would fill in these gaps through a combination of comparative analysis between this and other PGM entries, as well as through straight-up divination and trancework. But I realized, after looking at these lacunae, that it’s not possible to figure out what might just be a barbarous word and what actually might be legitimate Greek, and Lord knows my Greek is awful at best.  Some of the natural impulses I have, like replacing ΧΑ___ΑΩΘ with ΧΑΧΒΑΡΑΩΘ by adding in a few letters (in bold) to make it sound fairly appropriate based on what we see elsewhere in the PGM, make sense, but then there are others that just wouldn’t go along with that, or where there’s just not enough available to sensibly reconstruct, especially when we don’t know whether, for instance, ΚΑ__________ (in the first line) is a barbarous word (it probably is!) or one of the almost 5000 Greek words (according to Perseus-Tufts) that start with kappa-alpha.  My original approach just wasn’t going to work in any way I was going to be comfortable with or competent at, which is why I put this project off for so long.

Skip ahead a few years.  This prayer caught my attention again, so I decided to do some actual research in academic literature about it to see what might turn up.  As it turns out, there’s a bit of commentary here and there about this particular entry of the PGM, and of them, that in Pieter W. van der Horst and Judith H. Newman’s Early Jewish Prayers in Greek is an excellent one, especially about the purpose of this prayer:

“As one who has become immortal”: Goodenough assumed that the reciter of the prayer becomes angelic and immortal as a result of  saying the prayer: “Through knowing it and using it, the devotee has become an angel upon earth, an immortal, and has received the final ‘gift,’ which would seem to be the supreme mystical gift, participation in divinity.” Goodenough’s phrase “participation in divinity” begs the question of what that experience would mean exactly in the context of this prayer and cannot be answered on the basis of this prayer alone but rather within the context of angelic transformation within the Jewish and Graeco-Roman traditions. …

The final line of the prayer contains instructions to recite the prayer seven times. The number seven was of course of symbolic importance. The final line is governed by aorist middle participles which agree with the aorist imperatives. This would indicate that at the moment God fills the petitioner with wisdom, empowerment, and good, he or she becomes an angel and receives these as God’s gift. Some ambiguity remains as to when the transformation was thought to occur, whether it is during the process of repetition that the reciter is transformed into an immortal angel or if the one offering the prayer must wait until the seventh round of repetition and thus the ritual is entirely complete. The directions of north and east suggested by the rubric are understood by Reimund Leicht to be a “clear hint that it was conceived of as an invocation of Helios-Yao-Yaoil at night,” but this is a problematic claim because our prayer is addressed not to Helios-Yao, but to the God of Israel who is enthroned above Helios-Yao.

There’s also a wonderful paper by Reimund Leicht on the entry, too: Qedushah and Prayer to Helios: A New Hebrew Version of an Apocryphal Prayer of Jacob.  Although Leicht is concerned with a different “Prayer of Jacob”, he touches on this one from the PGM, too, and compares it to other entries in the PGM as well as to other prayers from the Jewish and Christian traditions much later:

In this point, our Prayer of Jacob is very similar to the PGM Prayer of Jacob (PGM XIIb). Although both texts largely differ, they have crucial elements in common: Both are prayers directed to Yaô, the creator of the world, and both adapt motifs of the celestial throne with the cherubim (PGM XXIIb 8). The two sentences “(You who) give power ov[er (the) cha]sm (to those) above and those below and those under the earth” and “[He] who is upon (the) stars abo[v]e (the) ages” remind us of the adaptation of Is 6:3 in 2:20 (fol. 2a/13 f.). Finally, the request for “wisdom” (XXIIb 17) is not very far removed from our Prayer of Jacob. The instruction to “say the prayer of Jacob seven times to (the) North and East” (PGM XIIb 20) is a clear hint that it was conceived of as an invocation of Helios- Yao-Yaôil at night.*  These similarities are certainly not sufficient proof of a direct dependency, but they can be taken as hints that the two prayers may be rather remote relatives.

* The North is the place where the sun is at night and in the East it rises.  For an invocation of Helios at night from the North cf. Sefer ha-Razim IV/43; for an invocation of the sun from the East cf. PGM XIII 254.

So, we have this wonderful little prayer that, although the majority of it is there, there are some gaps that make it just barely unfit for use.  That’s where looking at other entries from the PGM comes in.  Although the Prayer of Jacob might be unique in the PGM, some of its phrasing, barbarous words, invocations, and supplications are not, and we can find some strikingly similar examples in other parts of the PGM and other texts:

  • PGM XXXV.1—42: another Judiacally-inspired prayer, addressed to God or an agent/angel of God for power and favor, notable for its similar list of “who sit over…” attributions
  • PGM V.459—489: “Another way” to “loosen shackles, makes invisible, sends dreams, [and is] a spell for gaining favor”.  Again, with heavy Jewish influences, including the barbarous words ΒΑΡΟΥΧ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ ΕΛΩΑΙ ΑΒΡΑΑΜ, which can be easily read as Hebrew for “Blessed be my Lord, the God of Abraham” (“barukh ‘Adonai, ‘Eloah ‘Abraham”).
  • PGM IV.1227—1264: “Excellent rite for driving out daimons”, another Judaically-influenced but also Christianically-influenced prayer of exorcism, with references to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with the Christian Trinity.
  • PGM XII.270—350: “A Ring, a little ring for success and favor and victory”.  A ring consecration ritual with a lengthy prayer including a long string of barbarous words with references to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, though this shows far more Egyptian influence than anything else.
  • PGM III.1—164: “The ritual of the cat”, a lengthy and highly syncretic quasi-grimoire with some Jewish and Abrahamic elements.

Based on these texts, what I did was basically synthesize parts of them together, using the incomplete Prayer of Jacob as given in PGM XXIIb as a base, and overlaying it with parts from other prayers that fit well, especially those with similar purposes as the Prayer of Jacob.  After a few rewrites, reorganizations, and slight additions to the text for flow and content, what we end up with is a new prayer.  As a result, however, due to how badly preserved the barbarous words are from the original text, sometimes I went with replacing them entirely from another source rather than trying to see what might fit in the right places.   Now, I’m not exactly a fan of swapping out one set of barbarous words for another—Tobias over at Sublunar Space and I have discussed doing that and how it can lead to some disastrous consequences—but some of these entries are so similar to the Prayer of Jacob in approach and style that I think we can do so safely here, so long as we’re smart about it.

However, there’s a weirdness here; in all the texts that have a similar list of barbarous words, or a similar arrangement of qualities such as “you who sit upon X”, including PGM XXXV.1—42 and the Beirut phylactery for Alexandra daughter of Zoē (cf. D. R. Jordan, “A New Reading of a Phylactery from Beirut”, ZPE 88, 1991, pp.61-69), it would seem like these refer to different spirits or angels of particular things rather than attributes of God, yet the Prayer of Jacob from PGM XXIIb treats them as just that: attributes and names of God.  There’s definitely a tradition of prayers going on here, but it would seem that the Prayer of Jacob is an outlier in how it treats these lists of names and dominions.  That said, when we read “you who have the secret name ΣΑΒΑΩΘ”, with ΣΑΒΑΩΘ being a rendition of Hebrew Ṣabaot or “Hosts” referring to the innumerable angels…well, it kinda makes sense, either which way, at least to the mind of the practical Hermeticists of the PGM.  The fact that the same structure and form of prayer is present in a number of unrelated sources is significant, but equally so is the vast disparity between the divine names used.  It’s my hunch that the names are less important than the structure, and as such, the sets of names can largely be interchangeable with each other.  It’s not an ideal situation, but it does allow us some wiggle room for experimentation, and given that the barbarous words are so incomplete and damaged in PGM XXIIb, we can’t really use them anyway—but I claim that we can use those from near-identical prayers elsewhere with as good a result.

As a result of all the above and my own tweaks, I won’t call what I ended up with a “Reconstructed Prayer of Jacob” like I originally intended, because what was “reconstructed” is so different from PGM XXIIb.1—26 to the point where I can’t honestly say that it’s a reconstruction.  However, the underlying text, organization, and purpose of the prayer is identical, so what I’ll call it instead is the “Prayer of the Patriarchs”, a Jewish-Gnostic Hermetic prayer with notions of solar piety that seeks for incarnate divinization of the self as a theurgical practice in line with the Jewish mystical practices of Merkabah and Heikhalot:

In the name of ΣΕΜΕΣΕΙΛΑΜ who is above all the heavens!
I call on you who sit in the first heaven, ΜΑΡΜΑΡ
I call on you who sit in the second heaven, ΡΑΦΑΗΛ
I call on you who sit in the third heaven, ΣΟΥΡΙΗΛ
I call on you who sit in the fourth heaven, ΙΦΙΑΦ
I call on you who sit in the fifth heaven, ΠΙΤΙΗΛ
I call on you who sit in the sixth heaven, ΜΟΥΡΙΑΘΑ
I call on you who sit in the seventh heaven, ΚΑΧΘ
by the power of ΙΑΩ, by the strength of ΣΑΒΑΩΘ,
by the garment of ΕΛΟΗ, by the might of ΑΔΩΝΑΙ, by the crown of ΕΙΛΩΕΙΝ!
Protect me from every daimōn and every power of daimones and from daimonia and from all pharmaka and katadesmoi!

O Father of the Patriarchs, of the All, of the powers of the cosmos!
O Father of the angels and archangels, of the redeeming names, of all the powers!
O Father of the whole cosmos and all creation, both uninhabited and inhabited!
O Father to whom the cherubim and seraphim are subjected!
O Father who showed favor to Abraham by giving the kingdom to him!
O God of the angels and archangels, o King of kings, o Lord of lords!

O King of Heaven, ΑΡΣΕΝΟΦΡΗ
O Possessor of righteousness, ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ
O Ruler of nature, ΣΑΝΚΑΝΘΑΡΑ
O Origin of the heavens, ΣΑΤΡΑΠΕΡΚΜΗΦ
You who sit upon the holy mount, ΣΙΝΑΙ
you who sit upon the snow, ΤΕΛΖΗ
you who sit upon the sea, ΕΔΑΝΩΘ
you who sit upon the serpents, ΣΑΕΣΕΧΕΛ
you who sit upon the Sun, ΙΑΩ
you who sit upon the Abyss, ΒΥΘΑΘ
you who sit upon the rivers, ΤΑΒΙΥΜ
you who are ΒΙΜΑΔΑΜ who sit upon the fiery throne of glory, borne by Abriēl and Lūēl;
you who are ΧΑΔΡΙΥΜ who sit in the midst of ΧΑΔΡΑΛΛΟΥ upon the resting place of the cherubim and seraphim as they praise you,
you who are the Lord of the Heavenly Host,
you whose name is blessed and holy unto the ages of ages!
The Lord ΣΑΡΑΧΑΗΛ of Bil`ām,
the God who made Heaven and Earth and all within it,
the Lord of the All!

I call upon you, you who give power over the Abyss
to those above the Earth, to those upon the Earth, and to those below the Earth!
Hear your servant who prays to you in your name with your names!
O Lord God of the chosen people, God glorious unto the ages of ages,
to whom is eternal might, God who is God of all gods!
Rectify your servant who gives unto you this prayer,
make straight him who is of your people,
maintain him who is of those who have received your favor, o God of gods!
O Lord God, Lord of Hosts, blessed are you forever,
o God of ‘Adam, o God of Shet, o God of ‘Enosh,
o God of Qeynan, o God of Mahalal’el, o God of Yared,
o God of Ḥanokh, of God of Metushelaḥ, o God of Lemekh, o God of Noaḥ,
o God of ‘Abraham, o God of Yiṣḥaq, o God of Ya`aqob, o God of gods,
you who have the secret name ΣΑΒΑΩΘ!

O you who are upon the stars and above the ages,
o you who brings forth snow and constantly traverse the entire cosmos,
o you who make the stars and planets marshal all things by your creating power!
Fill me with wisdom and empower me, o Lord,
fill my heart with good, o Lord,
that I might become your angel in this world,
that I might become immortal in your wisdom,
that I might be given a share of your strength and power,
that I might be shown your favor and peace,
that I might receive this gift from you!

And, as an alternative, another version that omits the barbarous words entirely, replaces some of the more obscure magical terms with more common ones, and uses the more common English spellings of the Hebrew names used in the prayer:

In the name of the Eternal Light who is above all the heavens,
I call on you, angels of the seven heavens,
by the power of God,
by the strength of God,
by the garment of God,
by the might of God,
by the crown of God!
Protect me from every spirit, every power, every phenomenon, every spell, and every curse!

O Father of the Patriarchs, of the All, of the powers of the cosmos!
O Father of the angels and archangels, of the redeeming names, of all the powers!
O Father of the whole cosmos and all creation, both uninhabited and inhabited!
O Father to whom the cherubim and seraphim are subjected!
O Father who showed favor to Abraham by giving the kingdom to him!
O God of the angels and archangels, o King of kings, o Lord of lords!

O King of Heaven!
O Possessor of righteousness!
O gracious God!
O Ruler of nature!
O Origin of the heavens!
You who sit upon the holy mount,
you who sit upon the snow,
you who sit upon the sea,
you who sit upon the serpents,
you who sit upon the Sun,
you who sit upon the Abyss,
you who sit upon the rivers,
you who sit upon the fiery throne of glory, borne by Abriel and Luel;
you who sit upon the resting place of the cherubim and seraphim as they praise you in the midst of your glory,
you who are the Lord of the Heavenly Host,
you whose name is blessed and holy unto the ages of ages!
The Lord of Balaam, the God who made Heaven and Earth and all within it, the Lord of the All!

I call upon you, you who give power over the Abyss
to those above the Earth, to those upon the Earth, and to those below the Earth!
Hear your servant who prays to you in your name with your names!
O Lord God of the chosen people, o God glorious unto the ages of ages,
to whom is eternal might, o God who is the God of all gods!
Rectify your servant who gives unto you this prayer,
make straight him who is of your people,
maintain him who is of those who have received your favor, o God of gods!
O Lord God, Lord of Hosts, blessed are you forever,
o God of Adam, o God of Seth, o God of Enosh,
o God of Kenan, o God of Mahalalel, o God of Jared,
o God of Enoch, of God of Methushelah, o God of Lamech, o God of Noah,
o God of Abraham, o God of Isaac, o God of Jacob, o God of gods!

O you who are upon the stars and above the ages,
o you who brings forth snow and constantly traverse the entire cosmos,
o you who make the stars and planets marshal all things by your creating power!
Fill me with wisdom and empower me, o Lord,
fill my heart with good, o Lord,
that I might become your angel in this world,
that I might become immortal in your wisdom,
that I might be given a share of your strength and power,
that I might be shown your favor and peace,
that I might receive this gift from you!

Most of the changes, especially in the barbarous names, come from other PGM sources; while the Prayer of Jacob from PGM XXIIb is the most important part of the Prayer of the Patriarchs, the initial invocation of the angels of the seven heavens came from PGM XXXV and the Beirut phylactery (the PGM section in question lacks an angel for the seventh heaven), and the godnames preceding the “You who sit over…” invocations came from PGM XII.  Besides those, the only other major structural change is the addition of the full lineage of pre-Flood Patriarchs, from Adam to Noah, then ending with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  I personally like doing this, because it implies a descent of divinity and spiritual heritage from the first man down to the forebears and founders of the Israelites and Jewish people.  Although none of this is in the Prayer of Jacob proper (I mean, if it was said by Jacob, then we wouldn’t expect to find his own name used in his own prayer praisingly), we do see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob put together in other sections of the PGM.  By throwing in the pre-Flood Patriarchs, I though I would be able to tap more into the raw divinity that they had from a time immemorial.  Additionally, from PGM XXXV.1—42, I also added in the prophet Balaam, a contemporary of Moses and the only non-Israelite prophet in the Old Testament.  The inclusion of Balaam is significant, because God made Balaam, a non-Israelite and thus not one of his chosen people, a prophet so that the non-Israelites couldn’t say “if only we had our own Moses, we would be as pious as the Israelites”; more than that, Balaam was blessed with the gift to know the exact moment God became angry or wroth, a deep and emotional intimacy which no other prophet or creature was given.  By including Balaam among the patriarchs here, we’re able to include Jewish heritage as well as non-Jewish heritage, giving us a bit more wiggle room for those who aren’t Jewish or even Noahide in their lifestyle.

Still, there are a few other changes I made here and there, and there’s one interesting bit in the original phrasing that I intentionally changed.  Betz has one of the supplications as “Maintain the one who possesses this prayer, who is from the stock of Israel”, which I changed to “rectify the one who gives unto you this prayer”.  There are three things going on here:

  • I changed “who is from the stock of Israel” to “who is of your people”, making the prayer a bit more general for people who aren’t of Jewish descent to use while still establishing the mage as a person of God, godly in his works and faith, regardless of their Jewish birth heritage in favor of their Hermetic spiritual inheritance.  However, for mages who actually are Jewish, I would recommend the original phrasing instead of my correction.
  • I changed “who possesses this prayer” to “who gives unto you this prayer”.  The Betz translation, taking a cue from Preisendanz, would suggest that this whole prayer might not be recited at all, but instead written as an amulet like many of the other charms and ritual apparatuses of the PGM, but this goes against the ritual instructions at the end of this part of PGM XXIIb, so I don’t think it’s meant to be written and carried around (though doing so wouldn’t hurt, if you were to go the extra mile).  One alternative is to write down the first two paragraphs of the prayer as an amulet, while reciting the rest; that might be one possible breakdown, though I think it’s still better to recite the whole thing, with “possession” here meant metaphorically rather than literally.
  • Really interesting here is the use of the word “maintain” here, which in Greek is διόρθωσον, the aorist imperative form of διορθόω, which literally means “make straight”, in the sense of correction, revision, amending someone, reconciling, redeeming, or restoring to order.  The word has a medical connotation, too, of setting broken bones back in place, as noted by Phillip J. Long over at Reading Acts.  Instead of using “maintain” which doesn’t really have many of those connotations, I opted for “rectify”, which literally means “make right” or “make straight”, and gives more of those connotations of διορθόω.

Then there are the barbarous names ΕΠΑΓΑΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ and ΗΛΟΗΛ ΣΟΥΗΛ.  Though I’m not in the habit of leaving out barbarous words, I did I just that here, rendering them instead as “God glorious unto the ages of ages” and “God who is God of all gods”, respectively.  Though these can definitely be left as barbarous words, I think these ones can actually be translated.  As to how I translated them and why:

  • ΕΠΑΓΑΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ: There are a few Greek words that start with έπαγα- that all have to do with glory, exulting, or dignity, and I think this might be a synthesis of a Greek word with the Hebrew godname ‘El, literally “glorious ‘El” or “glorious God”.  ΑΛΑΜΝ, on the other hand, is strange, but van der Horst and Newman in their commentary on this prayer instead read its as “ALAMAN”, which they consider to be a corruption of Hebrew “`olam” or “`olamim”.  This word is common in the berakhot of Jewish practice, where every blessing begins “barukh atah ‘Adonai ‘Eloheinu, melekh ha-`olam…” or “blessed are you, my Lord, our God, king of the world…” or, alternatively, “…sovereign of the universe…” or even “…ruler of the cosmos…”.  However, in its plural form, `olamim can also mean “eternal” or, more poetically, “ages of ages”, and van der Horst and Newman note that ‘El `Olam would mean “God of Eternity”, suggesting also that we should read this as ΕΠΑΓΑ ΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΑΝ.  Thus, I translated these divine names as “God glorious unto the ages of ages”.
  • ΗΛΟΗΛ ΣΟΥΗΛ: Unfortunately, I’m not as clean here as with the above names, but I don’t want to read them as barbarous words, either.  If we break this up into ΗΛ Ο ΗΛ ΣΟΥ ΗΛ, then we could read it as “God, the God, your God” or “God, the God of you, God”.  ΗΛΟΗΛ is a weird theophoric name; although well-formed, like Μιχαηλ or Σαμουηλ, we don’t often see two divine elements put together, especially the same element, in the same name.  If we break this up into several words, then we can get a reasonable Greek construction: Ἠλ ὁ Ἠλ, literally “God, the God”.  Likewise, we can break up ΣΟΥΗΛ into σου Ἠλ, the second person singular genitive pronoun (i.e. “your”) and God.  It all comes together as “God, the God of you, God”, which implies a divinity-within-divinity or divinity-upon-divinity.  For clarity, and to imply a kind of hierarchy, I’m translating these as “God who is God of all gods”.  It’s not an exact translation, but I’m comfortable in its meaning.

And one more note: the barbarous word ΣΕΜΕΣΕΙΛΑΜ used at the start of the prayer is rendered as “Eternal Light” in the version without barbarous words.  This is due to rendering the word as Hebrew “shemesh `olam”, or “sun of the world” or “sun of eternity”.  This is translated as “Eternal Light” to avoid too heliocentric a focus of the prayer, despite the Prayer of Jacob’s and related prayers’ heliocentric theurgical focus, but bears an equivalent meaning.  This isn’t really used in any of the source texts I was working with, but it’s a word I like using with a beautiful and appropriate meaning, so I used it in a place that seemed useful for it.

And…that’s it.  This is a project that was delayed for almost six years, but I’m glad to finally remove that entry from my post drafts folder, and to present it publicly.  Now to say it seven times facing northeast.  (Or whatever direction faces Jerusalem, I suppose.)

On the Zodiacal Names and Characters of PGM VII.795—845

On the Zodiacal Names and Characters of PGM VII.795—845

Man, going through the PGM has been productive lately.  One of the reasons is because I finally picked up a copy of Stephen Skinner’s Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic, finally, after way too long.  Though I take issue with some parts of his analysis and contextualization of the material in the PGM, it’s still another solid resource for me to tap into, especially given how thorough he is with categorizing all the different rituals and parts of the PGM in a readable reference.  There are things I wish I could have seen more of in the book, but on the whole, it was still a solid purchase to make.  And, plus, relying on his organization helps point me into new directions to explore, or old roads to go down further than I have before.

I’m also realizing how big PGM VII, specifically, is.  This part of the PGM is huge, if not the hugest, and includes so much material, including (most of) the Homeromanteion, the Twenty-Eight Faces of Mēnē, some of the invocations to the Northern Stars and the Full Moon I make, lists of dates and signs for recommended magical or divinatory actions, and that recent Lunar Spell of Klaudianos I shared the other day.  Lots of good stuff in there, amongst many other things to look at and try out.  (It’s also the source for that ancient PGM meme of “grind up a pepper with some honey and coat your ‘thing'”.)  Well, one of the things in this text is PGM VII.795—845, titled “Pythagoras’ request for a dream oracle and Demokritos’ dream divination”; the attributions here are likely spurious, but then, so are most attributions to mythical or famous mathematicians or prophets in this sort of literature.  This specific ritual is much like others: it’s a particular way to obtain divinatory or prophetical knowledge through ritualized dreaming by means of the angel Zizaubiō who hails from the Pleiades.

What sets this ritual apart from so many other dream oracle rituals in the PGM is that this one relies on the use of a particular apparatus of a branch of laurel with leaves on it, on which you write a mystical name of each sign of the Zodiac as well as a magical character for each sign, one sign per leaf.  This attribution of magical names and characters to the Zodiac signs is unlike anything else in the PGM; if there are references to the Zodiac, they’re usually direct and unmagical about it.  To have a magical approach to these signs with barbarous words and characters would be a massive boon for deploying other kinds of zodiacal invocations or conjurations in the style of the PGM, but unfortunately, the list of characters didn’t…make sense at all.  Some signs seemed to have several characters, others none, and some seemed to be clustered together in weird ways.

I don’t like clutter or confusion, so I decided to sit myself down with whatever PGM source materials I could find, and do a bit of forensics and research to see if I couldn’t suss this out.  Get a drink and strap in, because this is going to be a bigger post than even I’m accustomed to making; if you just want to see my results, skip ahead to the end.  Otherwise, you get to learn how some of the words and characters from the original PGM documents got changed slightly from version to version through academia; I hope you enjoy!

So, what does Betz give us for this part of the ritual?  I’m just going to post a quick scanned excerpt, because I want to show exactly how Betz gives the characters for this section:

The two footnotes in this section, just for reference:

  1. “In this list most of the numerical designations 1 — 12 can be recognized in the far right column of the papyrus manuscript, numbering downward from Aries to Pisces.  These numbers were erroneously included in the magical symbols by Preisendanz.”
  2. “Har-Month is Horus-Montu.  Montu is the Egyptian god of war and therefore the proper counterpart of Ares, the ruler of the zodiacal sign Aries.  Horus is also associated with this sign, for “Horus the Red” was the name of Mars which governs Aries. [R.K.R.]”

For kicks, here’s the corresponding entry in Preisendanz (broken down into two images because they were on different pages):

We can see that the Betz version of the characters pretty closely matches the Preisendanz version, except that the characters that suspiciously look like Greek letter-numerals to the right are instead interpreted, rightly so, as numbers.  Fair enough; plus, we can kinda get a slightly better resolution idea of what these characters actually are.   Note also the weirdness for Libra and Scorpio, how instead of there being two characters in two horizontal lines, one for each sign, there are two characters together, and it’s not clear how to distinguish which sign gets which character.  Also note that Aries gets no character in either Betz or Preisendanz, which is odd.

Now, to throw things for a bit of a loop for the sake of being better informed, let’s take a look at the Kenyon transcription of the same text:

Now things are getting interesting!  Between the Kenyon and Preisendanz versions, there are quite a few differences.  In Kenyon:

  • Most of the zodiac sign names are abbreviated, terminating with an upwards hyphen.  Only Aries, Taurus, Scorpio, and Sagittarius are unabbreviated; Libra is there in full, but is marked as abbreviated.  Capricorn gets a full slash rather than an upwards-hyphen, and Pisces gets a weird spelling and grammatical form (might just be a typo or mistranscription).
  • A number of the characters, though similar, have subtle differences.
  • There’s an extra character above the list at the end of the preceding paragraph (line 808).
  • The second glyph for the Libra-Scorpio pair (with the upright sheaf-like character) does not have a Z shape under it; instead, it has a Zēta to the side, which is properly the Greek numeral for 7, with lowercase stigma above it for the numeral 6.  Still, though, we have these two characters side by side again.
  • The character for Sagittarius is radically different.  Even noting Kenyon’s reuse of similar-looking letters for characters based on graphical similarity, we can’t help but be caught off-guard, especially with the separator of spacing and a middle dot in there, too.
  • The Greek numeral 4 (represented by the letter Delta) is clear in Kenyon, but look at how deformed it is in Preisendanz as the rightmost character (line 813).
  • The Greek numeral 5 (represented by the letter Epsilon) is joined into the rightmost character for Virgo (line 815); note how it’s also conjoined in Preisendanz, but not in Betz.  However, Virgo should be the sixth sign, not the fifth, which is Leo.  Yet, Leo (line 814) doesn’t have an Epsilon, but a funny-looking squiggly-b letter both in Kenyon and Preisendanz.  Something got mixed up here.
  • The numbers for the signs are clearly labeled on the right as separate letters, though oddly  Ēta (8, for Scorpio) and Iōta (10, for Capricorn) seem to have been skipped.  Alpha (1, for Aries) is actually present, just put on the end of the mystical name for Aries (line 810); Preisendanz makes this clear.
  • The esoteric names for Aries (line 810) and Aquarius (line 820) do not have spaces in them.

As for the footnotes Kenyon has for the transcription, only one is pertinent to this excerpt, line 819: “αιγογερ- : so, for αιγοκερ” (referring to the abbreviation for Capricorn, Aigokerōs (Αἰγόκερως).

Now, we can clearly see some solutions to some of the problems presented by Betz and Preisendanz:

  • The long arrow-like symbol on Kenyon’s line 808 could be the character for Aries, though its placement in Kenyon is weird.
  • The weird squiggly-b symbol to the right of the character for Leo on Kenyon’s line 814 should be interpreted as a Greek numeral Epsilon, because this is the fifth row/sign/character we get.  This means that the “conjoined-epsilon” on the right character for Virgo on line 815 is actually part of the character, because it doesn’t make sense for Virgo to be given the numeral 5 when it’s the sixth sign; instead, the stigma (Greek numeral 6) put to the upper side of the sheaf-like character on the next line down should be considered Virgo’s numeral.
  • The positioning of the last three characters for Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces in Kenyon is a little weird, but the numerals for ΙΑ (11, for Aquarius) and ΙΒ (12, for Pisces) help significantly.  It’s weird that we don’t see a single Iōta for the character for Capricorn, however, but given its vertical placement above the latter two characters, it’s safe to assign this character to Capricorn.
  • We still have the issue of not knowing which character to give to Libra and which to Scorpio.  However, given Zēta’s proximity to the upright sheaf-like character, especially seeing how it was conjoined with it in Preisendanz and Betz, and given that Zēta is the numeral for 7, and given that it’s positioned slightly higher than the left Labmda-like character, I would give this character to Libra (the seventh sign) and the left lambda-like character to Scorpio (the eighth sign)
  • If that’s the case, however, then we would expect to see an Ēta somewhere to clearly delineate that the left Lambda-like character goes to Scorpio, but instead, it appears to be entirely missing from the diagram.  We should look for something that resembles an uppercase H, maybe with a loop connecting the right end of the horizontal bar and the top end of the right vertical bar.

The biggest issue we’ve got, then, is the weirdness for the characters for Sagittarius and whether it might be hiding any letters that would act as an Ēta (to distinguish the sign for Scorpio) and Iōta (to distinguish the sign for Capricorn).  As given in either Betz, Preisendanz, or Kenyon, the character (or characters) for Sagittarius are the most complex and confusing, and something here isn’t what it seems.

Unfortunately, all I have to go on are these three “critical editions” of the PGM, none of which actually translate faithfulness from the original papyrus.  If I had a scan of PGM VII.795—845, that’d make this easier to see what’s precisely going on, especially to see what the original format of the characters would have looked like without resorting to Greek letter lookalikes.  Happily, after scouring the Internet (and, of course, right as soon as I contact an actual professor for help), I found them!  Thus, here are the relevant scans from PGM VII, also known as Papyrus 121 in the London collection, courtesy of the British Library:

Now we can get some more answers!  The character for Capricorn is slightly less embellished in the scan than in Kenyon: note the lack of ring-marks on the vertical bottom end and horizontal left end.  However, there is still no Iōta present to mark the character, breaking with the rest of the pattern.  Besides that, however, the characters for Aquarius and Pisces are, indeed, made clear by positioning.  At least some of our questions can be cleared up at a glance.

For comparison to get a better idea of how the same author in the same document writes his numerals, compare PGM VII.765—778, looking at the leftmost column of two or three letters from just the previous column in the papyrus.  (Coincidentally, this is the list of the fourteen signs of Mēnē from the Twenty-Eight Faces of Mēnē ritual I mentioned not too long ago.)

Okay, so, with the information we now have at our disposal, let’s go down our problems one at a time.  What we need to do is try to decipher not only the text here, but we need to figure out the intent and mind of the original author of the papyrus.

The Mystical Name of Aquarius

This is a minor issue, but an issue nonetheless for me.  How the name for Aquarius should be spelled is a little complicated; Preisendanz and Betz give it as ΜΕΝΝΥ ΘΥΘ ΙΑΩ, while Kenyon gives it as MENNYΘΥΘ ΙΑΩ.  The scan is clear that there is definitely no space between ΜΕΝΝΥ and ΘΥΘ, so those two should be a single name (though I understand Preisendanz’s reason for splitting ΘΥΘ off under the influence of the god Thoth).  However, whether the final ΙΑΩ should be separate is debatable.  ΙΑΩ is definitely a common name in the PGM, that can’t be denied, and there is a pattern of other names that have two parts (Taurus, Gemini, Virgo) to have a second part composed of only three letters.  However, unlike those other names, there isn’t a huge space between MENNYΘΥΘ and ΙΑΩ.  The only indication that there should be a space read here is that the final Thēta of MENNYΘΥΘ doesn’t connect with the Iōta of ΙΑΩ, and the handwriting of the author always (as far as I can tell) connects the horizontal bar of Thēta with the following letter in a non-final position.  Given that, it can certainly be argued that this name should have two parts, but it can go either way.  So, the name would be MENNYΘΥΘ ΙΑΩ (two parts) or MENNYΘΥΘΙΑΩ (one part).

The Delta-Epsilon-Stigma Numerals

Going down the list, we would expect one numeral per line-sign-character: Alpha for Aries, Bēta for Taurus, Gamma for Gemini, and so forth.  Largely, this is true, but we have a bit of an issue when we look at Cancer, Leo, and Virgo.  We would expect, in order, Delta for Cancer, Epsilon for Leo, and Stigma (which was commonly used in lieu of Digamma for the number 6) for Virgo, and indeed, all these numerals appear, but not exactly where we see them.  The line for Cancer has two characters, a Thēta-like character with a long horizontal bar that swishes from the lower left to the upper right and a sort of wide Delta-like character with an upwards slash going through it, followed by a normal Delta though with a weird angular bracket between the slashed-Delta character and the Delta-numeral.  This might indicate that the bracket is part of the characters for Cancer, but let’s keep looking.  As far as that Thēta goes, it’s spaced out far enough from the rest of the name that I’m pretty sure it’s not part of the name, and it forms a character unto itself.

Leo posits more of an issue, however.  We see two glyphs to the right of the name for Leo: what looks like a plain old Delta (though it also looks like a Roman cursive lowercase “a”), and a sort of 6-like glyph.  We would expect to find an Epsilon at the end of this row to act as the numeral 5, but we don’t.  Instead, we find an Epsilon glyph at the end of the second character on the following line, and based on how the horizontal bar of the Epsilon doesn’t match up with the horizontal bar of the character, it seems like this truly is a separate glyph, indicating that that character is marked as for the fifth row.  That said, it occurs right to the side of the other character within the same row for Virgo, which should get the numeral for 6 (which would be Stigma), and we find Stigma immediately under and centered beneath it.

I’m pretty sure the vertical-sheaf character is the seventh character for the seventh sign, Libra, and we see the numeral for 7, the Greek letter Zēta, placed immediately under and centered beneath it.  Additionally, almost all the signs have exactly one glyph that acts as its given character; the only exceptions are Aries and Cancer, and both of those are still debatable at this point, and whatever is going on with Sagittarius. Given that, I would say that the cross-loopy-Z character is the proper (and only) character for Virgo, while the arrow-hourglass character is the proper (and only) character for Leo.

However, if that’s the case, then we end up with a problem: what to make of Cancer’s Delta-numeral?  We find two Delta-numerals, one to the right of the characters and one under them; there’s also the slashed-Delta which might or might not be part of the characters for Cancer along with maybe the angle bracket, and we still have that weird 6-like glyph on the line for Leo.  Given that the Delta on the line for Leo is definitely and clearly a Delta (compare its form to the “εστιν δε” above the list), I’m inclined to think it’s just a numeral to refer to the characters for Cancer on the line above.  This would make the Delta above extraneous, however, and I’m inclined to think that the author slipped up several times here: the slashed-Delta was originally going to be the numerical reference for this line, but it didn’t line up with the numerals Bēta and Gamma from the prior two lines, and it got crossed out and replaced with another Delta to the side, but then that made it messier, so he added another Delta underneath the Thēta-like character to make it clearer what the actual character for Cancer was.  The 6-glyph, then, would be a typographic mark to indicate something amiss here, either to link the Delta-numeral on the line for Leo to its proper, original placement on the prior line, or to “negate” that line’s space and direct the author/reader to look on the next line for the expected character.  I’m pretty sure that the 6-glyph isn’t a character for any of the signs, because it also doesn’t fit in with either the style of the characters, any of the letters, or any of the numerals.

The Characters for Libra and Scorpio

The vertical length of the sheaf-like character makes it difficult to squeeze into the tight rows of the text.  However, given its height and positioning, it seems like it should be given clearly to Libra, especially since it has the Greek letter Zēta immediately beneath it for the number 7.  However, I have one issue with how it’s drawn in Kenyon and Preisendanz/Betz: the four inverted chevrons are connected down the middle with a vertical line, but how far that vertical line should extend seems debatable.  Kenyon has the vertical line extending past the top chevron and below the bottom chevron, and all unconnected to its Zēta numeral; Preisendanz has the line stop at the vertex of the topmost chevron, extending past the bottom one, and in contact with the Zēta numeral; Betz has the line extend past the bottom and top chevrons and coming in contact with the Zēta numeral.  The scan is pretty clear that the vertical line should not extend past the vertex of the top chevron, but there’s a crack/crease that makes the rest of the character hard to read.  It doesn’t seem like the character should come in contact with the Zēta numeral; not only does it seem like there’s an absence of ink that would connect the two, but no other characters are graphically connected to their numerals.  Looking closely, however, there is a faint vertical line that connects the chevrons together by their vertices, but it doesn’t seem to extend past the top or bottom chevron.  So we have a good idea of what this character should actually look like.

This leaves the Lambda-like character to its left; given its smaller size, it seemed easier to slap it right next to the name for Scorpio, and the graphical placement really does make it clear that it’s this that’s the proper character for Scorpio, indeed.  Taking a closer look at the scan, it looks like a proper capital Alpha with two ring marks on the terminals of the legs, and a large ring mark at the apex that seems blurrily filled in.  Kenyon preserves the horizontal bar of this character and shows a larger-than-usual apex ring mark with a cross inside, while Preisendanz/Betz do away with the horizontal bar and leave the apex ring mark small and empty.  It seems clear to me that the horizontal bar really should have stayed in, but it’s hard to make out what exactly is going on with the apex ring mark.

However, we’re still missing an Ēta somewhere here, which is what we expect since this would be the eighth sign and every other character-sign so far has a numeral attached to it.  It’s not present here, in teh previous line, or in the next line, so this leaves us with two options: the apex ring mark has something to do with it, or the author simply left it out.  The former seems unlikely to me; though it does look messy, there’s nothing there that resembles an Ēta the way the author writes them, either in the middle of text or as a numeral.  The latter seems more likely to me, since the context here makes it clear that this character belongs, and can only belong, to Scorpio.

If we rule out that the mess with the apex ring mark has anything to do with a missing numeral, then it looks like the author made another mistake here and tried to fix it by going over the glyph again in more ink.  Looking closely, it seems like there’s a smaller ring mark within the larger one, right at the actual apex of the Alpha-shape of the character.  To me, this would indicate that the author originally drew the ring mark too big, and then tried to draw the smaller one inside in bolder ink to indicate that, no really, it should have been made the same size as the other two ring marks at the terminals of the Alpha-shape.

What the Hell is Going On With Sagittarius

So we have a bit of a mess with Sagittarius.  The end of the line has a Thēta for the numeral 9, which is what we expect, and the glyph immediately to its left is definitely a character.  Then we have the wide-bottomed Ksi glyph and the two Upsilon letters.  Kenyon has that extra dot between the Ksi glyph and the Upsilon glyphs, but that looks like it belongs more to the Zēta directly above as punctuation more than anything else, and Preisendanz and Betz don’t accurately capture how these glyphs aren’t actually connected with each other.  One thought is that these aren’t characters, but actual letters that should continue the name of the sign, so instead of it being ΦΑΝΘΕΝΦΥΦΛΙΑ, we could read it as ΦΑΝΘΕΝΦΥΦΛΙΑΞΥΥ.  However, I don’t think that’s the case, because the Ksi here is written on a different baseline than the name itself with the upper-left terminal of the letter at the base height of the line for the name, and it’s way too angular for the author to write as a normal Ksi when compared with the rest of the text, where it’s a lot more squiggly and starts up at a higher point than x-height, as in the examples below (PGM VII.386, “ΠΟΘΗΞΑΣ ΕΡΑΤΕΥΝ” and PGM VII.504, “δοξασον μοι ως εδοξασα το”).

So, if this angular-Ksi is indeed a character, as I think it could be, then the two Upsilon-chevrons to its right must also be part of it, as well.  This seems weird to me, though, because this, when combined with the definite character at the end of the line before the Thēta numeral, would make Sagittarius the only multi-glyph character, and definitely the largest and most complex of them all.  At the same time, looking through the rest of this author’s writings, the author rarely uses Ksi as a letter in his barbarous words, and it seems to be a phoneme that’s not comfortable in his own magical practice, especially when compared with the other parts of the PGM.  Indeed, this author seems to have a much stronger Egyptian bent to his work than other authors elsewhere, so I suppose it would make sense that we probably wouldn’t see a more Greek-type of phoneme.  Additionally, for a barbarous word of this length and style to end in a double Upsilon also seems unlikely to me.

There is another possibility, however, that these three glyphs form a second part of the name unto itself.  So, instead of reading it as ΦΑΝΘΕΝΦΥΦΛΙΑ followed by several characters or as ΦΑΝΘΕΝΦΥΦΛΙΑΞΥΥ followed by the one definite character, we could read it as ΦΑΝΘΕΝΦΥΦΛΙΑ ΞΥΥ followed by the one definite character.  We already have three names for sure that are two parts, Taurus (ΝΕΦΟΒΩΘΑ ΘΟΨ) and Gemini (ΑΡΙΣΤΑΝΑΒΑ ΖΑΩ) and Virgo (ΕΙΛΕΣΙΛΑΡΜΟΥ ΦΑΙ), with Aquarius maybe having two parts as stated above (MENNYΘΥΘ ΙΑΩ).  The extra long length of the bottom line of the Ksi could be to accommodate the spacing for the two Upsilon letters to its right as well as the Zēta numeral and the character for Scorpio directly above it, since getting all this to fit on one row would be overly cramped at this point.  The angularity of the Ksi here is still a little weird, but then, the author has a tendency to make sharper/more defined the letters at the beginning of words or sentences (basically, capital letters), although it doesn’t seem like any of the names here are capitalized in the same way, and I can’t easily find an example of a Ksi starting a word in the text.  So, for the name of Sagittarius to be a two-parter like Taurus, Gemini, et. al. is plausible, and would also allow us to maintain only a single character for Sagittarius like all the other signs.

To be honest, I’m not comfortable with either choice, that there’s only one barbarous name for Sagittarius and it having several characters, or having two barbarous names, the second of which is pretty unusual for this author, with one character.  However, of the two, the second seems more likely to me, because it fits in better with the pattern set by the other signs in this list with a mystical name that’s either one long part or one long part plus a shorter, three-letter part, and with each sign getting one character.  If I were to bet on one place I’d make a mistake in this analysis, it’d be here, but I’m still comfortable with my choice of analysis, or at least relatively so when compared to the alternative.

The Missing Character for Aries

Though it’s the first sign in the list, I’m saving it for last because this is probably the most perplexing of the issues, even beyond the deal with Sagittarius.  We know that the author of the papyrus tries gives the letter-numeral corresponding to the zodiac sign after the character for the same zodiac sign, either to its right if it can fit on the same line or underneath if there are space issues, with the sole exception of Scorpio with its character due to space constraints.  The line for Aries doesn’t have a noticeable character, but it does end in an Alpha, which Preisendanz/Betz understands to be the numeral, but which Kenyon has as part of the name of the sign.  However, the name here is already pretty long, and is broken down into several units by Preisendanz/Betz.  There’s a crack in the papyrus in the middle of the final…glyphs of this line, between the (possibly) larger than usual Khi and the final Alpha, and Preisendanz and Kenyon are both in agreement that this cracked glyph should be a lowercase Epsilon.  I would claim, then, that either the last one two glyphs before the final Alpha are not part of the name, but rather the character for Aries.  So, we’d end up with the name ΑΡΜΟΝΘΑΡΘΩ with both the Khi and the Epsilon as the character, or ΑΡΜΟΝΘΑΡΘΩΧ if the Epsilon itself is the character.

It can probably be established that my earlier theory was wrong, that the long horizontal arrow before the list was the missing character for Aries; it seems to be a sort of fanciful colon or continuation mark of the author rather than a character of a sign (and which is misrepresented in Kenyon, anyhow, as being three reversed “c” glyphs followed by a long horizontal line), especially given that we see similar signs elsewhere in PGM VII.  This leaves us with the question: where does the mystical name for Aries end and the character (or characters) for Aries begin?  There is a space between ΑΡΜΟΝΘΑΡΘΩ and the following Khi, but it’s nowhere like the other spaces for the other multipart names where there’s a very wide space, like for Taurus, Gemini, and Virgo.  Moreover, the second part of those names always have three characters, while this one wouldn’t; we couldn’t separate the final Ōmega from ΑΡΜΟΝΘΑΡΘΩ because it’s visibly connected to the preceding Thēta.  I’m also not confident that the Khi here is actually part of a separate word, because there doesn’t seem to be that big of a space between it and the preceding Ōmega; elsewhere in barbarous names and in regular text, the author doesn’t usually join Ōmega to its following letter, so the name here should be at least ΑΡΜΟΝΘΑΡΘΩΧ.

However, the more I look at it, the less I’m sure that the final Alpha here actually marks a numeral rather than a plain letter.  Note the long tail at the end of the Alpha; we see long tails in the text parts of the list of lunar symbols from the Twenty-Eight Faces of Mēnē text, and elsewhere where the letter can form a tail at all (like a final Sigma or final Epsilon), while the numeral use of Alpha doesn’t use a tail, there or elsewhere in the text.  Between that and how…lax the letter is written, especially with the hypercorrect numeral-letters elsewhere in sign list, it seems like this Alpha should be part of the text and not marking a character, which would make Aries have the name ΑΡΜΟΝΘΑΡΘΩΧΕΑ.  If the footnote from Betz is correct here, that ΑΡΜΟΝΘ is a rendition of Har-Montu, then we could explain ΑΡΘΩΧΕΑ as Har-Thōkhea, which…doesn’t seem to match anything I can find.  However, there could be a metathesis of letters going on here; if we switch the Theta and Khi, we would get Har-Khōthea.  It’s a stretch, but this could be a way to write Har-[em]-Akhet, better known as Harmachis, or “Horus in the Horizon”.  Harmachis has appeared before (PGM IV.475—829, “Mithras Liturgy”) under the rendition ΑΡΑΜΑΧΗΣ, but there’s no way to explain the drop of the M sound in the name, so I’m not confident that that’s what this name is really getting at.  There is the possibility that the author simply dropped the sound due to dialect or preference, but that’s a questionable assumption I’m not prepared to make.

Either way, to read this name in any way like this would leave it with no character at all, making Aries the one sign without a character, which seems absurd here!  Even if we were to read this name as something like Harmachis, we wouldn’t be able to explain the final Alpha anyway, so it really should be a numeral, though it’s not entirely clear what the character ought to be.  There is the chance that the text simply never included a character for Aries, and I’m finding it hard to escape that conclusion, reluctant though I am to accept it.  The only other alternative is that some of the letters in this name are the character for the sign; the author, elsewhere in this papyrus, has a habit of using Greek letters as characters, and it’s not always clear how to distinguish them, like in PGM VII.411—416.

In the present text, though, it doesn’t even seem like the letters are spaced or delineated in any way that would suggest that they’re supposed to be used as characters instead of letters.  That said, we do have a Thēta as the character for Cancer, and the long crossbar across it isn’t exactly unusual for the author when writing his Thētas elsewhere.  If we leave the name of Aries here as ΑΡΜΟΝΘΑΡΘΩΧ, then we have the final ΕΑ to deal with.  If we read the Alpha here as a numeral, ignoring the lack of spacing and how it looks like the middle bar of the Epsilon is conjoined with the Alpha in a way that looks pretty fluid and standard for the author, then we would use the Epsilon as our character.  But…it still doesn’t seem like that’s the case, precisely because of those very aspects of the way this is written.  It seems like ΑΡΜΟΝΘΑΡΘΩΧΕ or ΑΡΜΟΝΘΑΡΘΩΧΕΑ should be the full name of Aries, and even if the final Α seems weirdly written as a numeral, it still seems like it should be one all the same, giving us ΑΡΜΟΝΘΑΡΘΩΧΕ as the name for Aries.

The only other alternative we have, then, if Aries is to have a character at all, is that weird triple-backwards-C with the horizontal mark from two lines before.  It might be punctuation or “filler” for the rest of this column of text, but it doesn’t really seem like the author uses such filler when ending a column with extra space in the line, nor are these actual letters, and can’t be explained as such.  The fact that it’s not present in the same line as the sign and mystical name for Aries is hard to reconcile, but assuming that the author wrote down a complete set of mystical names and characters for each sign of the Zodiac without any of them missing, then this is the only other thing I can think of that might fill that void.  It being the first character drawn could explain its odd position before the author settled on an actual format when writing them down in an orderly way, but that’s a leap for me to make.  Still, I see no other way to get around this without admitting a missing or forgotten character.

The only argument I have that this set of backwards-C-with-the-line characters are the characters we’re looking for is in that scan from PGM VII.411—416 above; note the backwards-C characters and the horizontal lines, which follow “ος αν βουλε” (“add the usual, as much as you want”) for writing on a scroll.  This could be a kind of ellipsis, but I’m not confident that it is, and again, I’m pretty sure this isn’t line filler because the author doesn’t make a habit of that.  Betz and Preisendanz don’t mention it in their versions of the text, but Kenyon does.  For PGM VII.411—416, this would indicate that you’d write the string of characters first, then your request, then the terminal backwards-C-with-the-line characters.  If these are indeed characters, then it would stand that we see a similar enough set of characters for Aries here, just in a slightly unusual place.  That’s the only thing I can think of for this problem of Aries otherwise being character-less, but it would also make this sign of the Zodiac have a name and character that are disjoint, and there’s also the fact that this set of symbols does appear elsewhere in the text in unrelated parts, so I can’t say that this would be the actual character for Aries.

Of course, there is one other argument which makes so much of the rest of this moot, which makes sense and actually works given the context yet which makes me incredibly frustrated: there is no true distinction between what we’d view as letters versus what we’d view as characters.  The original text here doesn’t use the word χαρακτερ to refer to the things written at all, but rather ζωδιον, which we’d translate as “sign”.  The difference here is nuanced and subtle, but bear in mind that none of these things are part of the spoken ritual, but are all intended to be written down on the leaves of laurel for the ritual.  In other words, all that which is written is part of the zōdia, and is not necessarily meant to be decomposed into a speakable name and a writable character.  In that sense, it’s not that Aries is missing a character, but it simply doesn’t have a non-letter part of its zōdion.  I…I can’t deny that this makes sense, and does make the entire thing simple, but it also has its own weirdness (why doesn’t Aries have a character as part of its zōdion?), and it frustrates me because it would still be great to have something that could be spoken and also could be written.  The intent of the original author may be lost here, but it could be back-hacked to give us what we want, all the same.  While this last argument doesn’t get us anywhere, I wanted to bring it up just in case someone wanted to take this idea further.

Results and Refinements

Based on all the above, here’s what I would end up with as the mystical names for the signs of the Zodiac:

Sign Name

And, based on my analysis of the the original scans, plus clarifications and guidance from Betz, Preisendanz, and Kenyon, and assuming that the zōdia for the signs of the Zodiac can indeed be broken down into separate spoken parts (names) and written parts (characters), here are my renditions of the characters for each of the signs of the Zodiac, with alternatives where possible:



  • The character for Gemini is unclear from the original PGM, and all subsequent authors have their own interpretation of how exactly to replicate this glyph.  I’ve given several versions based on Betz, Kenyon, Preisendanz, and the original PGM (from what I can ascertain from it).
  • The character for Libra has two versions: one with the vertical line descending beneath the last chevron, and one where it terminates at the vertex of the last chevron.  Either may be used here.
  • The characters for all the signs of the Zodiac are essentially the same as in the text, with the exception of Aries, which does not appear in the text.  By interpreting the name of Aries ΑΡΜΟΝΘΑΡΘΩΧΕ as a corruption of Har-Montu Hor-em-Akhet or Montu-Harmachis, I decided to take the hieroglyphic spelling of the name and combining/corrupting them into something that resembles a character in its own right.  Totally an invention of my own, I admit, but it seems like a good path to follow, until someone else smarter and wiser than me can resolve the issue of the missing Aries character in this part of the PGM.

And, in case anyone wants them, I’ve also made versions of the line-fill glyph used just before this text and from other parts of PGM VII, both in a shallow-C and deep-C form, in case others want to use them as the character for Aries or for other uses.

And there you have it!  A set, largely intact and preserved from antiquity, of magical names and characters for the signs of the Zodiac based on PGM VII.795—845, with refinements from later transcriptions and critical editions of the original papyrus.  I hope this lengthy analysis, with my own mixed-in conclusions and innovations, can be of some use to those who seek to extend the names and characters from this ritual into other uses.

I would also like to give my deepest thanks to Dr. Kirsten Dzwiza of Universität Heidelberg and her excellent resource Charaktêres.com, an online database and series of publications that detail the location, use, function, and types of characters in the PGM and other texts, inscriptions, stones, and other works from the classical period for her insight and assistance in clarifying some of the sources to be used for this particular post.

Well, now, that was a rather busy month of posts; with this, May comes to a close, the summer season informally begins, and I’ve rounded out this month with 13 posts, not a bad number, and it feels good to get back to the research and to the Work.  That said, I really need to focus more on editing and refining my textbook on geomancy so that it’ll come out at some point during the next eon, so for the foreseeable future (a month or three), the number of posts is going to be scaled back to once a week, except and unless anything important pops up that needs to be known or shared with celerity.  I’m still writing for the blog, of course, I’m just throttling back my output so that there’ll always be something to output.  And yes, I’m still going to be around, so if you need me for anything in the meanwhile, feel free to leave comments on my blog or send me an email.  Thank you, dear reader, for sticking around!