Genius in the Picatrix: Associations of the Four Powers

Last time, we started talking about a particularly interesting bit of the Ġāyat al-Ḥakīm, the “Goal of the Wise”, sometimes just known as the Ġayah, but definitely better known in the West as the Picatrix, most likely written in Arabic sometime in the middle of the 11th century CE. Everyone knows the Picatrix, everyone loves the Picatrix; it’s a fantastic text of astrological magic, and among the earliest of true grimoires in Europe. Although focused on what we’d nowadays call stellar image magic, the creation of astrological talismans bearing magical images and scenes made under particular stellar configurations, the text is famous for its wide inventory of bizarre magical concoctions and confections for a variety of purposes, its lengthy invocations to the planetary spirits, and its preservation of older pagan practices from the Hermetists, Sabians, Nabataeans, and various other Mediterranean peoples. It is not, however, a particularly theurgical text on the whole, even though it contains a wealth of information on philosophy, spiritual and cosmic frameworks, and the like in how and why magic works the way that it does. Yet, in book III, chapter 6, we encounter an interesting section on the “Perfect Nature”, a sort of guiding spirit or genius, originally encountered by Hermēs Trismegistus himself. The last post discussed what we would need to do to prepare for the ritual of communing with Perfect Nature; if you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

At this point, we know we need to have the altar set up in a particular way: a bowl of butter/walnut oil/sugar/honey candy in the middle, four pint-sized pitchers of wine around the altar, and four pitchers of a particular kind of fat around the altar as well: almond oil in the east, walnut oil in the west, butter in the south, and sesame oil in the north. There’s more prep to be done beyond this, but I want to take a second to look at the symbolism hidden here and to expand on that a bit, because I’ll bet that the order that the containers of oil and butter are presented in the text (almond oil in the east, walnut oil in the west, butter in the south, and sesame oil in the north) is probably important.

Remember earlier how we drew dichotomies between the four spirits of Perfect Nature, with Meegius/Tamāġīs and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs as one dichotomy (perception vs. interaction) and Betzahuech/Baġdīswād and Vacdez/Waġdās as another (substance vs. essence)? In the order of Meegius/Tamāġīs, Betzahuech/Baġdīswād, Vacdez/Waġdās, Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs , this would suggest that we’d put Meegius/Tamāġīs in the east, Betzahuech/Baġdīswād in the west, Vacdez/Waġdās in the north, and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs in the south, which doesn’t fit the dichotomy scheme when thought about in terms of directions. But the Picatrix also notes that of these four spirits, there are “three spirits in matter” which are “coadunated in perfect contemplation”, suggesting that Vacdez/Waġdās (the spirit of contemplation) is set apart from the rest. We should note that, of the four containers that have non-wine substances in them, three have oil and one has butter, and that the butter is given third in the order of the containers, just as Vacdez/Waġdās is given third in the order of the list of names and contemplation given in the list of powers. So, perhaps we got our dichotomies wrong: perhaps it’s Vacdez/Waġdās and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs that are in a better dichotomy of contemplation and labor (i.e. spiritual work vs. physical work), and Meegius/Tamāġīs and Betzahuech/Baġdīswād in another of sense and object (that which perceives vs. that which is perceived). This makes sense to me, and seems to have the altar arrangement going for it as well.

This means that we can give directional associations to the four powers of Perfect Nature, too, to the rest of our correspondences:

Power Power Direction Fat
Meegius/Tamāġīs Senses East Almond oil
Betzahuech/Baġdīswād Objects West Walnut oil
Vacdez/Waġdās Contemplation South Butter
Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs Labor North Sesame oil

And, if we tie this back into our revised vignette of Hermēs Trismegistus obtaining the four powers of Perfect Nature from the four corners of Heaven, then we know which direction to face for each individual power, which could come in use for other works, but about which book III, chapter 6 of the Picatrix says nothing. These associations could certainly be explored more, but it’s not so important for the present ritual—though, as noted before, the Moonlit Hermit does use these direction associations loosely for a daily invocation of the names of the Perfect Nature.

Also, if Vacdez/Waġdās is associated with the butter and Betzahuech/Baġdīswād with the walnut oil, then what should we make of the candy made from butter and walnut oil that takes prime position in the center of the altar? This makes the confection a mixture of the spirit of contemplation (Vacdez/Waġdās) with the spirit of “things to which spirit is attracted”; this confection, then, becomes something like a symbol of Alpha and Ōmega of Perfect Nature combined. Consider it this way: we proceed from pure contemplation (Vacdez/Waġdās) through the senses (Meegius/Tamāġīs) effected by the hands (Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs) onto an object (Betzahuech/Baġdīswād). It’s probably no surprise that this confection has four ingredients, though such a confection made from almond, sesame, and walnut oils with butter alone probably wouldn’t be particularly tasty; it’s likely that the sugar and honey are supposed to be stand-ins for the almond and sesame oils (and thus incorporating Meegius/Tamāġīs and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs into the confection as well), but I’m not sure how that might be. The many grains of sugar could be thought of like the many small grains of sesame seeds and the sweetness of almonds like honey, or perhaps the pits of dates (the fruit of which would be more common to make sugar in the Old World before the cash crop of sugarcane came about) were thought of as almonds and the thick viscosity and dark color of sesame oil like honey. It’s unclear to me, but in thinking about this, I’m fairly confident in claiming that the four containers of fats around the altar represent the four spirits of Perfect Nature separately, and the confection in the middle represents their union. Also remember that the one candle we have in the ritual is to be set amidst this candy, the symbolism likely being the divine light of God filling the works of Perfect Nature.

I suppose there’s also something else that’s symbolic to note here regarding the use of butter. Of the four containers of fats, three of them are plant-based oils (sesame, almond, and walnut), but the last one of butter is animal-based. It’s not like other plant-based oils were unknown or unused—after all, consider olive oil or sunflower oil—which suggests that the use of an animal-based fat is important here. And, of all the animal-based fats, it’s not a normal fat, like lard or suet or tallow, the production of which involves killing the animal (and there’s plenty of that in the Picatrix). Rather, butter comes from milk, which is taken from an animal (cow, in this case) while it’s still alive and which itself encourages life. This is probably a sign that it’s living animals that are prioritized above plants (animal-based fat as opposed to vegetable-based fat), just as the internal is prized above the external (the power of contemplation vs. the other powers).

Beyond the above, there’s not a whole lot we might dig out as far as correspondences or associations might go for these four powers, nor is there a lot in terms of directional associations in the Picatrix to begin with; you might occasionally see “face south for this planet” (but all planets, if viewed from the northern hemisphere, would be in the southern parts of the sky if they’re above the horizon) or “go to the eastern side of a river” for a particular ritual, but that’s about it. Except, of course, for a beautiful image from book IV, chapter 3 of the Picatrix. There’s a whole lot more in this chapter in the Arabic Picatrix (and in the Atallah/Kiesel translation) than are in the Latin Picatrix (and thus the Warnock/Greer and Attrell/Porroca translations), but the title of this chapter in the Latin Picatrix is about the knowledge and secrets of the Chaldaeans…yet it’s really more about Egypt. A specific place in Egypt, no less, a special city that it calls Adocentyn, a city founded by Hermēs Trismegistus—but which in modern Egyptian Arabic is called El-Ashmunein. Those who are familiar with this place know it as a real modern city based on the ancient ruins of Khemenu, or Hermopolis Magna, the famous City of Thoth. The Picatrix gives us a lively description of this (Warnock/Greer translation):

[Hermēs Trismegistus] also it was who built, in the east of Egypt, a city twelve miles in length, in which he built a certain citadel that had four gates in its four quarters. At the eastern gate he put the image of an eagle, at the western gate the image of a bull, at the southern gate the image of a lion, and at the northern gate he built the image of a dog. He made certain spiritual essences enter into these, which used to speak in voices that issued from the images; nor could anyone pass through the portals without their permission. In that city he planted certain trees, in the midst of which he set up an arbor that bore the fruits of all generation.

At the summit of the citadel he caused to be built a certain tower, which attained a height of thirty cubits, and on the summit of it he commanded to be put a sphere, the color of which changed in every one of the seven days. At the end of the seven days it received the color it had at first. Every day, that city was filled with the color of that sphere, and thus the aforesaid city used to shine every day with color.

Around that tower, in a circle, water abounded, in which many kinds of fish used to live. Around the city he placed diverse and changing images, by means of which the inhabitants of the city were made virtuous and freed from sin, wickedness, and sloth. The name of this city was Adocentyn. Its people were most deeply learned in the ancient sciences, their profundities and secrets, and in the science of astronomy.

A pretty nifty place, if you ask me. The Atallah/Kiesel translation, following the Arabic, gives other details, too, but the Latin Picatrix has basically the same information as far as the city itself is concerned, although this city appears in a number of different Arabic texts, all with mostly the same structure but slightly different details from text to text. Given that we’re taking a Picatrix-centric approach, we’ll stick with what we have in the Picatrix. What I want to point out here, though, are three things:

  • This city is built by none other than Hermēs Trismegistus (or founded or otherwise centered on him, at any rate, given the historical connection to Thoth)
  • There are four gates, each with a different animal facing a different direction
  • The central citadel of the city is a tower that shifts colors every day, one color per planet for that day, to fill the whole city with light

Of the four animals used to watch over the gates to the city of Adocentyn, three should look intensely familiar to students of Abrahamic religion and modern Hermetic lodge-based systems: the four living creatures of Ezekiel 1. These are the seraphim, and seen as sacred bearers of the throne of God with four faces, that of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Later in the New Testament, Revelation 4:6-8 describes similar creatures, which are associated with the Four Evangelists (Matthew as man, Mark as the lion, Luke as the ox, and John as the eagle). Admittedly, it is somewhat hilarious to see a dog replace the station of man, but the similarities here cannot be denied. Bear in mind, too, that Hermēs took on another form as Hermanubis, the cynocephalic deity who was also related to the worship of Hermēs and Thoth, and also that the dog is a holy animal associated with Thoth along with the ibis and the baboon.

Consider what this gives us as far as the vignette of Perfect Nature, though, made all the stronger by both this and the holy city of Adocentyn/El-Ashmunein/Khemenu both being associated with Hermēs Trismegistus! We now have something directional and symbolic to latch on to for our four powers of the Perfect Nature, giving the following:

  • Meegius/Tamāġīs, the Eagle of the East
  • Betzahuech/Baġdīswād, the Bull of the West
  • Vacdez/Waġdās, the Lion of the South
  • Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs, the Dog of the North

Now, I don’t mean to say that these four powers are four individual spirits, as we discussed earlier; though some might interpret the Picatrix to say so, I think that’s a misreading of the text, and that these are four attributes, powers, skills, or abilities that the spirit of Perfect Nature can give us access to. After all, to use the Adocentyn image, the gate is not the city, but the gate provides access to it—and Hermēs as ruler of the city did empower each statue with its own presence, if not entity, to protect the city and permit only those who sought permission to enter. Besides, not only were these statues guards, however, but in other Arabic works describing the city, according to Okasha El-Daly’s Egyptology: The Missing Millennium, these were statues of “priests holding scrolls of scientific works”, and whoever wanted to learn a science “went to its particular statue, stroked it with his hand and then stroked his breast, thus transferring the science to himself”. I like the sound of this, personally.

But consider: the four living creatures (substituting man with dog) have long-standing elemental associations, too. Their use in the Golden Dawn and other modern Hermetic lodge-based magical systems is well-known, to be sure, but we even find such an association going back at least as early as Agrippa himself (book II, chapter 7), giving the lion to Fire, the eagle to Air, the man to Water, and the ox to Earth. These can also be seen as the four fixed signs of the Zodiac, with the lion as Leo, the eagle (via the constellation Aquila) to Scorpio, the man to Aquarius, and the ox to Taurus—and it’s in these four signs that many pagans and neopagans celebrate those famous cross-quarter days as approximations of the midpoints of these signs. (And, based on my own planning of geomantic holy days, this means we could also give Adam to the Bull of the West, Enoch to the Lion of the South, Hermēs to the Eagle of the East, and Daniel to the Dog of the North based on their shared zodiacal correspondences, but this is neither here nor there.)

Now, granted, we’d have to pick between the directional correspondences and those to the living creatures (Fire is given to both the East and to the Lion, but here we have the Lion in the South), but let’s stick to the symbolic association first, since we know our directions are set from our altar setup. We also know, from such texts as the Asclepius and other parts of the Stobaean Fragments in the Hermetic canon, that the Egyptians considered the land of the world to be like a body, with the head in the south, the legs and feet in the north, the right side of the body in the east, and the left side of the body in the west. This means we can tie in the four powers of Perfect Nature to the elements and parts of the body as well:

Power Power Direction Symbol Element Body Fat
Meegius/Tamāġīs Senses East Eagle Air Right side Almond oil
Betzahuech/Baġdīswād Objects West Bull Earth Left side Nut oil
Vacdez/Waġdās Contemplation South Lion Fire Head Butter
Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs Labor North Dog Water Legs and feet Sesame oil

Looking at the elemental correspondences we’ve built up by means of the animals associated with the directions for the four powers, it makes sense why these powers would have these elements:

  • The power of pure contemplation (Vacdez/Waġdās) is given to Fire, the holiest and noblest of the elements that ties us directly to the divine source of all illumination, that of the Divine. This is the purely internal power of Perfect Nature, and the one that all the other powers serve and assist with—just as the Lion is the king of all beasts. Just as we pointed out earlier with this power being associated with the only animal-based substance on the altar (butter) being more important than the rest, just as the Lion is king of the beasts, so too is contemplation king of the powers. Appropriately, although the heart was considered supreme in Egyptian thought, this is given to the head being in the South, fitting for the internal power of the mind alone.
  • The power of sense (Meegius/Tamāġīs) is given to Air. Like the Eagle from up high perceiving all around, this is the ability to spiritually perceive and know the various spiritual presences, entities, powers, influences, and impulses in the world. It is, after all, the very air that transmits sights, sounds, and perceptions from the thing perceived to the thing doing the perceiving. And, like the Eagle, once we perceive something we need, we can dive down to the river to pluck what we need, interacting with it, which leads to…
  • The power of labor (Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs) is given to Water. On the face of it, this is a little weird, as dogs are not really aquatic animals. But Water is known to link, conjoin, and commute all things—water, after all, is the universal solvent, in which all things can be mixed. The dog, too, is a beast of burden and a beast of labor, which protects us, guides us, warns us, and helps us in our ways. Likewise, being in the North, the Egyptians would have recognized this as the legs and body of the world—limbs for labor, indeed.
  • The power of objects (Betzahuech/Baġdīswād) is given to Earth, which is pretty obvious. This is the power of the material substances we work, understanding them, their properties, and their uses in our work. Just as the bull (the only herbivore of these four animals) is focused on and grazes on the produce of the Earth, this is the one power that’s entirely external and based most on the study and observation of the world itself. If we use the right hand to reach out to perceive what’s out there in the world, then we use the left hand to hold things and get a sense for what we have and can make use of.

(And, to offer a variation on the geomantic progenitor assignment, we could use these elemental associations instead of their zodiacal ones given above to instead give Enoch to the Eagle of the East, Hermēs to the Dog of the North, and Daniel to the Lion of the South, with Adam remaining for the Bull of the West. Personally, based on the actual powers alone, I’d be more symbolically inclined to give Hermēs to the Lion in the South, Enoch to the Eagle in the East, Daniel to the Dog in the North, but I can see arguments for and against any of these associations. Still, again, this is neither here nor there.)

And yes, I am aware that the use of the four animals above is perhaps particular to the Picatrix. As others before me have noted, this story of a sacred city of Hermēs Trismegistus appears a fair bit in various Islamic and Arabic occult texts, sometimes not even related to the city of el-Ashmunein/Khemenu itself but to another city, with variations on the animals. However, considering that our focus here is on the Picatrix alone, I feel like we can handily tie together these two chapters neatly into one overarching symbolic gesture.

Now, I want to be clear about this: I’m still sticking to my understanding that these four powers are not spirits unto themselves, and even if the name of Perfect Nature is referred to in a fourfold way, I don’t think that the Perfect Nature is at all separate from these four entities, and that the fourfold name of Perfect Nature is really just one name with four parts. However, in making these associations with the four gate-guards of Adocentyn, it might not be a bad idea to treat each power as a power unto itself for the purposes of meditation or spiritual work, understanding that they’re all four different aspects of the abilities of Perfect Nature, a la the Moonlit Hermit’s daily practice of calling on “the four spirits of Perfect Nature”. Personally, I’d be most inclined to recite the whole fourfold name of Perfect Nature on the misbaḥa (Islamic prayer beads) 99 times, once in each direction, but that’s just me. I suppose, given the imagery, we could face east and intone or vibrate each name, visualizing each beast manifesting in its proper direction around us, and at the end recite all four names together as the spirit of Perfect Nature (or otherwise an illuminating, enlightening ray from Heaven) descending upon us. This bears some similarities to the whole image of the City of Adocentyn, but we’ll talk about that soon enough.

Anyway, while I’m certain there’s more that could yet be said about further associations of the four powers of Perfect Nature, we are getting off-track here all the same. This was a nice detour to take, and I’m glad I was able to talk about some of the symbolic associations we could make to the four powers, but let’s be honest—even some of this feels like a stretch to me. I like the idea of it all to link the four powers to the four guardians of Adocentyn, with a relationship to one’s Perfect Nature being a sort of spiritual construction of an internal Adocentyn, but so much of this is so circumstantial and hypothetical. Still, even as that may be, it’s useful to consider to expand upon some of our conceptions of these ideas and to link them to other symbols to rely on.

At any rate, we were in the middle of preparing ourselves and our ritual area for the actual rite of communion with Perfect Nature. We’ll actually get to that next time, so stay tuned!

On Prayer Beads, Devotions to Gabriel, and a New Way of Doing Just That

I think that, as of this moment…god, how many sets of prayer beads do I have in my temple room? Seven chaplets for the archangels I made myself, one rosary each for Mary the Theotokos and for Saint Cyprian of Antioch and for my ancestor shrine, a chaplet of Saint Cyprian of Antioch I designed myself, an Orthodox Christian prayer rope, a set of tiger’s eye prayer beads I made for solar work (specifically for a variant of my Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios), a set of labradorite prayer beads I made for my Holy Guardian Angel, a chaplet for Hermēs based on the work of the good Dr. Jeffrey S. Kupperman (yes, that one, the one with the book! he put out a wonderful novena rule and chaplet for Hermēs not too long ago), and a set of Islamic prayer beads (misbaḥa) for my ancestor shrine for one of my spirit guides. All told, that makes 16 different sets of prayer beads scattered throughout my temple, though admittedly I don’t use all of them; sometimes they’re there more for the shrine’s sake or the use of the spirits rather than my own. I used to have a rosewood mala for my old Buddhist stuff, but I’ve since gifted that away to a friend who can put it to better use since there’s nothing more for me to do along those lines or practices.

What? I like the convenience, customizability, and attractiveness of prayer beads. They’re useful, they’re tangible, they let the body focus on one thing and allow the mind to focus on another in a semi-autonomous way.

Well, lately, as part of my burgeoning geomantic devotional practice, I’ve been getting more interested in Islamic prayer methods. Credit where it’s due: Islamic devotional practice, prayers, and supplication frameworks are amazing. There’s a massive body of beautiful, poetic, and wonderfully specific literature-cum-prayer rules of endless supplication after supplication after supplication, and it’s at once dazzling and daunting. Now, I’m not a Muslim, nor have I intention to convert given…all the other obligations I have and some theological differences, but I cannot deny the beauty and profundity of how they approach divinity through prayer. As you might have guessed, there’s also a method of prayer with Islam’s own kind of prayer beads: the misbaḥa, also known as tasbīḥ. The word has its origins in the word subḥa, meaning “glory”, as in the phrase Subḥāna-llāh, “Glory be to God” (the recitation of which is also called Tasbīḥ, just as the recitation of the phrase Allāhu ‘akbar, “God is Great”, is called Takbīr).

Misbaḥa are easy to understand: they’re made of 99 beads, with two separators that stand out in some way to break the counting beads up into three sets of 33 beads each. The “head” or “tail” (depending on how you look at it) typically has a long, cylindrical bead, plus some other number of beads for keeping track of iterations of going through the entire thing. Other misbaḥa are made with other numbers, some as few as 11 beads or sometimes 33 broken into three sets of 11, but others used in some religious orders can have as many as a thousand beads. Some misbaḥa have a slidable marker to further mark off particular sets of beads, such as for holding one’s place or when reaching a particular count desired (e.g. 40 is a common number found in Islamic devotional repetitions).

Probably the most popular way, or at least one of the most popular and acclaimed ways, of using misbaḥa is through the method known as the Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah, the method ascribed to Fāṭimah, the daughter of the Prophet Muḥammad. The method is simple:

  1. On each of the first set of 33 beads, recite the Tasbīḥ: Subḥāna-llah (“Glory be to God”).
  2. On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite the Taḥmīd: Alḥamdu li-llāh (“Praise be to God”).
  3. On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite the Takbīr: Allāhu ‘akbar (“God is Great”).

Unlike rosaries or chaplets in the Christian tradition, note how the separators don’t have associated prayers or anything said on them; they’re just used solely as markers to switch up prayers. There are variations of this method, too, of course; some say to recite the Takbīr first followed by the Taḥmīd and the Tasbīḥ in that order, some say to recite the Takbīr 34 times instead of 33 times, some say to conclude by reciting the first part of the Shahāda (Lā ‘ilāha ‘illā-llāh, “there is no god but God”), but the general method is fundamentally the same. It is recommended for the observant to perform this devotion immediately after every compulsory prayer, but the original story behind the Prophet giving it to his daughter also recommends saying it before one retires for sleep.

Discussing this with one of my Muslim colleagues online, this is just one method of using misbaḥa; there are countless ways to use them, such as for reciting individual attributes or names of God (of which there are, of course, a conventional set of 99 in Islam), reciting particular verses of the Qur’ān over and over, and the like. The possibilities are endless, apparently.

So, of course, this got me thinking: while I, too, can use the Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah devotion, is there a way I could use this venerable tool in a way specifically geared for my own needs? Of course there is. The Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah practice is wonderful on its own, and doesn’t require one to be a Muslim to use it; after all, the supplications involved in it are pretty basic and can work for anyone with an Abrahamic, Hermetic, or just plain deist bent, and it’s a clean and straightforward practice that doesn’t involve a lot of preliminary setup, education, or training. It’s effective, I’ll absolutely grant it that. But if there are other ways to use misbaḥa, why not also try something else as well for a more specific purpose than just worship, hesychasm, and henosis?

There being three sets of 33 beads reminded me of the Chaplet of Saint Gabriel the Archangel from Catholic devotions, which is constructed with a lead chain of three beads linked to a ring of 33 beads broken into three sets of 11 beads with one separator bead between each set.

  1. Lead bead 1: “Heavenly Father, through the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel, may we honor the incarnation of your divine Son.”
  2. Lead bead 2: “Mother of our Savior, may we strive always to imitate your holy virtues and respond to our Father, ‘be it done unto me according to thy Word’.”
  3. Lead bead 3: “Archangel Gabriel, please praise our Father for the gift of his Son praying, one day, by his grace, we may all be one.”
  4. On each of the beads in each set of 11: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
  5. On each of the two separator beads: “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus.”

Simple and straightforward. It wouldn’t be a stretch to simply expand the repetitions from three sets of 11 for a total of 33 to three sets of 33 for a total of 99 (33 being a sacred number for Christians, being the number of years Jesus was alive when he was crucified). I could definitely use misbaḥa for Gabriel-based devotions, which is good given the importance of Gabriel being the angel of revelation to the prophet Daniel as well as to Elizabeth, Mary, Muḥammad, Enoch, and so many others, and given the fact that Gabriel is the angel who taught the founders of geomancy their art. However, I didn’t feel like the Catholic approach here—although totally workable—felt appropriate for either my own devotional needs or for use with the misbaḥa.

So, I scoured some verses of Scripture in which Gabriel was either directly present by name or directly being referenced from the Tanakh, the Bible, and the Qur’ān, and in the end, I developed a new method of repetition-based devotions to God through his archangel, a method I’m tentatively calling the “Crown of Gabriel”, to be used on a standard misbaḥa of 99 beads:

  1. At the beginning, recite once: “In the name of God who created me.”
  2. On of the first set of 33 beads, recite: “May God fill me with his grace.”
  3. On the first separator, recite: “God willing, teach me, o Gabriel, mighty in power, revelations to be revealed.”
  4. On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite: “May God be with me.”
  5. On the second separator, recite: “God willing, come forth, o Gabriel, to give me understanding and insight.”
  6. On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite: “Do unto me according to his word.”
  7. At the end, recite once: “My Lord is the Most Generous.”

The specific supplications come from four verses of Abrahamic scripture, one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and two from the Qur’ān, all of which are associated with Gabriel in one way or another:

  • Daniel 9:22 (the clarification of the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks):

    And he [Gabriel] informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding.

  • Luke 1:28—38 (the Annunciation):

    And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured [full of grace], the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

  • Qur’ān, Sūrah An-Najm, 53:1—10 (which describes the appearance of Gabriel to the prophet, with connections to the star Sirius):

    By the star when it descends, your companion [Muhammad] has not strayed, nor has he erred, nor does he speak from [his own] inclination. It is not but a revelation revealed, taught to him by one intense in strength, one of soundness. And he rose to [his] true form while he was in the higher [part of the] horizon. Then he approached and descended and was at a distance of two bow lengths or nearer. And he revealed to His Servant what he revealed.

  • Qur’ān, Sūrah Al-`Alaq, 96:1—5 (the very first revelation to the Prophet by Gabriel):

    Recite in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clinging substance. Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous, who taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not.

For my own needs, I didn’t keep the exact wording from scripture as the Chaplet of Saint Gabriel does; rather, I tweaked them to be more specific to me, that God might teach, fill, and guide me through his angel in a personal way appropriate to me and me alone. Unlike the usual method of Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah and like the Chaplet of Saint Gabriel, I did include prayers for use on the separator beads; originally, I had those supplications for the separator beads and the supplications done at the first and last swapped (so that you’d start with “God willing, teach me…” and end with “God willing, come forth…”), but I felt like swapping them was better so that the whole thing could start off with an invocation of God of sorts—not the proper and usual Basmala (bi-smi-llāhi ar-raḥmāni ar-raḥīm, “in the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful”), but something that works as well and follows the same structure.

Also, what’s nice is that, even though the Crown of Gabriel is designed for a misbaḥa, it can still be used on a regular Chaplet of Saint Gabriel, reducing the number of repetitions of the main supplications from 33 to 11. As for what to recite on the three lead beads, one might add in generic prayers (the Sanctus, the Trisagion, etc.) for all three to be followed with the initial supplication of the Crown of Gabriel, or one could break out the initial supplication into three by incorporating the Basmala as well:

  1. “In the name of God, the Most Compassionate!”
  2. “In the name of God, the Most Merciful!”
  3. “In the name of God, who created me!”

And, on the joint of the chaplet and lead beads, recite the Our Father, just to keep things moving.

Up till now, my angelic devotions largely focused (and will still focus!) on the archangel Michael and my own holy guardian angel. However, I cannot deny the huge role Gabriel necessarily plays in the religions that recognize the archangels at all, as well as in the mythological origins and continued practices of geomancy. Granted that all the archangels work together in a synaxis (basically, where you call on one, you’re basically getting the whole set together no matter what), it’s clear I need to amp up my own devotional practices to Gabriel. I think the Crown of Gabriel method should suffice nicely for that, while also being a way to increase my own intuitive abilities as a diviner in the process. God willing, of course.

You probably stink. Take a bath.

(Update 1/10/2018: Interested in more about this ritual?  Check out my more polished, fleshed-out writeup over on this page!)

Towards the end of last year, I visited some friends up in New England, one of whom is a Tata Quimbanda, or a Quimbandero priest.  It was fascinating to see how he worked, and the tradition of Quimbanda (about which I knew next to nothing beforehand) suddenly struck me as something potentially useful and interesting; I’ve since been reading about it and getting started in my own little layman way to build a relationship with the spirits I’ve been recommended to work with, my personal Exu and Pomba Gira and a few other spirits that go along with them.  This was all found out by means of a consulta, basically a Quimbanda check-up that determines what’s going on.  From what I noticed, they use the same divination system as in Palo or in Santeria with four shells, chamalongos, so I was able to keep up with what was going on despite the frequent use of Kikongo and Portuguese in prayers.  Thing was, pretty much every answer came up the same, the one that means “ask again”.  Usually when this happens, it means that there’s a lot of resistance or blockages in the situation, and the consulta was finished with the tata going “baths baths baths baths baths baths baths”.

So, clearly, I needed a bath.  Lots of them, actually.

According to the consulta, I have a bit of an infestation of kiumbas, which can be thought of as spiritual leeches or obsessive manes from the Roman tradition.  This happens, largely, when one isn’t cleaning off properly over a period of time and you get so spiritually icky that the ick starts to coalesce and latch onto you, or when you get into a dirty situation and don’t clean off immediately to get rid of the dirt.  And, truth be told, I haven’t been banishing a lot lately; I’ve been taking a daily ablution before the gods as all I usually need with the very occasional angelic banishing ritual I picked up from Fr. Rufus Opus years ago.  I do make a habit of washing off with a few things, like Florida water, after visiting graveyards or hospitals (which I’ve recently found out is a rule I should be following regardless), but beyond that, I generally don’t do a lot of deep and thorough cleansing.  I thought I didn’t need to, and I was wrong.

The tata had said that this is actually a common thing with a lot of ceremonial magicians as a part of the work we do.  Our main line of working involves working with spirits in different planes, notably conjuring spirits below (demons and shades) and spirits above (angels and planetaries), as well as spirits of this plane (elementals).  Kiumbas don’t necessarily belong to souls of the dead, but of any plane and of any type; they’re like aggregations of ick, and every plane has its own kind of ick.  Crossing the planes, calling down various forces, and the like brings down a lot more than just the spirit we’ve called, I’ve come to find, and over time they stick without proper banishing and cleansing, and calling down those same forces to get rid of the stuff they’re familiar with sometimes doesn’t do as thorough a job as they’re held to do.  They get rid of most of it, but not all of it.

And, honestly, I’ve noticed that since my jaunt to nine different graveyards in one night without properly cleaning off afterwards, several spiritual parties, a few workings here and there, and the like done clustered together last year, my practice and life has generally gotten “stuck”.  Problems were slow and subtle, but getting bigger without my conscious knowledge of it.  I found myself having less and less time for practice and more and more time for vain, petty shit.  At one point, a small detail blew up into almost a nervous breakdown for me, opening up a Pandora’s box of emotional baggage I thought I had chained and buried years ago.  So…yeah, I probably needed a bath to fix all that shit up.

To that end, I was recommended to start taking lots of spiritual baths and to keep taking them periodically.  Honestly, this is something I should have been doing all along, but before this consulta I had only taken one or two spiritual baths since I started practicing the occult back in 2011.  So, starting at the beginning of January, I dusted off my notes and combined mine with the herbs and recommendations from the tata, and begun a series of baths that will last me through the rest of January and which I’ll do at least once a month from here on out.

The manner of a spiritual bath I use involves repeated immersions in consecrated water designed to cleanse your body and spirit in combination with praying the Seven Penitential Psalms.  The whole process takes an hour to do at most, so be sure you can have that amount of time alone to yourself without being disturbed.

  • A tub full of hot water
  • A glass of holy water
  • A consecrated candle
  • A Bible (preferably a cheap one)
  • Holy oil or Abramelin oil
  • A clean white or lightly-colored towel
  • Clean white clothes
  • Optionally, some Florida water or Kölnisch Wasser and/or Van Van oil
  • Optionally, holy incense like frankincense
  • Optionally, an herbal wash prepared in a large bowl

The procedure:

  1. Before drawing the bath, take a shower first.  Be thorough and wash every part of your body, including the anus and feet.  Use shampoo, soap, body wash, or whatever you prefer, but be thorough.  Dry off as normal, preferably with an older towel or another cloth that isn’t the white towel.
  2. Draw the tub full of hot water.  While it’s filling, brush and floss your teeth, clean out your ears, and whatever personal hygiene activities you normally do.  If you choose, add in a few drops of Van Van oil and a small amount of Florida water or Kölnisch Wasser into the tub as it fills.  Also, if you want to finish the bath with an herbal wash, prepare it now in a bowl set aside with hot water.
  3. Set the candle somewhere above the tub in the bathroom.  Light it and consecrate the flame.  If you choose, light some incense and do the same.
  4. Take the glass of holy water (a shotglass will suffice) and pray over the water, pouring the holy water into the tub in a cross formation.  Pray the Our Father, Glory Be, and Hail Mary over the tub of water.
  5. Step into the tub and begin soaking in it.  Let your skin get used to the heat first before continuing.
  6. Immerse yourself completely in the water.  If you’re big and have a small tub, this may take several repositionings of the body and at least one dunk of the head.
  7. Pray the Asperges Me.  Before crossing yourself, take a handful of water so that you wash yourself with the tubwater as you cross yourself.
  8. Say slowly and firmly the first Penitential Psalm (Ps. 6) from the heart.  Use the copy of the Bible, but be sure not to drop it or get it wet in the water.
  9. Pray the Our Father, Glory Be, and Hail Mary.  Like before, before crossing yourself, take a handful of water so that you wash yourself with the tubwater as you cross yourself.
  10. Silently recount why you’re taking this bath: whatever transgressions you have done, whatever bad situations you have found yourself in, the problems in your life that have arisen, all the spiritual ick on your body, soul, spirit and mind.  Let them go into the water, dissolving into nothing while leaving you and your sphere clean.
  11. Repeat steps 7 through 10 for each of the other Pentitential Psalms (Pss. 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143).
  12. Stand up and begin draining the tub.  Pray from the heart that you be clean and cleansed in body, soul, spirit, and mind and freed from all pain, plague, poison, illness, injury, infirmity, death, disease, and defilement, and that you be made pure and perfect despite of and because of your imperfections.
  13. If you chose to make an herbal wash, get the bowl and pray over it that it accomplish whatever it is you want to accomplish with it (cleansing, empowerment, defense, etc.).  Pour it over your head slowly so that some liquid runs down the front of your body and some runs down the back, repeating the prayer the whole time.  With your hands, wash yourself from top to bottom with the wash, not forgetting the more sensitive and hard-to-reach parts of your body.
  14. Air dry from the bath.  Take the white towel and put it on the ground, in front of a fan or heater is ideal, and sit on it until you’re sufficiently air-dried.  If you can’t afford the time for this, dry off with the towel from the neck down, leaving the head to air-dry.
  15. Put on the clean, white clothes.  Take the holy oil and cross yourself on the forehead and back of the neck, praying Psalm 23.  This “seals in” the effect of the bath and insulates yourself a bit from external things until the effects of the bath are completely settled into your sphere.

That’s basically my procedure for taking a spiritual bath.  Yes, it’s a little long, and I do get a little faint from spending that much time in a hottub constantly praying and reimmersing myself, but it works.  The mental clarity and stability I have afterwards is hard to obtain in other ways, and it’s such a dramatic shift that for the first few baths I felt physically like shit but mentally awesome and brilliant.  Be careful if you have any medical condition that prevents you from spending so much time in a hot bath; adjust the heat if you need to.

Search Term Shoot Back, June 2014

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

“what does it mean to trace the grid from the center crystal to each other crystal using a wand or your fingers show picture” — …I mean, I feel like the idea is pretty explanatory.  Center to crystal 1 to center to crystal 2…to center.  Do you really need more guidance than this?  You already described the method.

“saint cyprian wand” — I’ve never seen something like this, save for maybe the blasting rod of the Grimoirum Verum that forms part of the Book of Saint Cyprian.  The good saint himself is usually pictured with a crosier and a book, though as a magician himself he was likely familiar with the use of wands in the classical and early medieval Mediterranean.  Heck, his crosier itself could be seen as a type of wand, being associated with wisdom, spiritual authority, and guidance, all attributes commonly given to the wand.  Still, a modern wand for use in Cyprianic workings isn’t a bad idea.  Necromantic materials would be of use: an ebony or iron wand packed with graveyard dirt and capped with smoky quartz or jet, engraved with holy symbols and names, perhaps buried for a week at the head of the grave of a priest or magician during the New Moon, fed with the blood of a black chicken or goat.  Not a bad idea at all.

“how to use saturn seals in “key of Solomon”” — If you merely read the book (book I, chapter 19), many sections tell you how to use it.  Generally, you show a pentacle unto a particular spirit like how the FBI flashes a suspect their badge (Saturn pentacles I, II, III, IV, V).  Some of them cause some change in the world by their mere existence and construction and should be kept for future use as a ritual tool, similar to a wand but used to “fire off” work into the cosmos generally (pentacles II, IV, VI, VII).  When a pentacle is not being used, it should be kept hidden and safe, or it should be enshrined on an altar with other magical tools, perhaps reconsecrated every week or so with candle and oil and incense.

“stones in sash black magic santeria” — …do people still consider Santeria to be “black magic”?  Really?  It means “way of the saints”.  It’s about as far you can get from “black magic”, and I’ve written about my thoughts on the term itself elsewhere.  As far as I’m aware, Santeria doesn’t really use sashes, though I’ve seen some massive elekes and collares that are used in limited ritual purposes, but those are all nearly entirely colored glass beads.  Also, I’ve seen sashes of fruit for newly made iyawos.  Beyond that, I can’t think of a Santeria sash, though I’m admittedly no expert in Santeria.  Sashes are sometimes used in other traditions, like the bandera of Palo Mayombe, but that’s a different thing and, again, is nearly entirely glass beads.  Stones might just be a personal flourish.

“h0w t0 consecrate oil with psalm 72” — I wasn’t familiar with this psalm before I wrote this post, but I like it!  Take some good, clean oil and pray over it fervently; that’s all you need to do to consecrate anything, really; the incense, candles, and hoopla of ritual can help but aren’t strictly necessary.  Psalm 72, specifically, sounds beautiful for blessing, dominating, and prosperity work.

“top 10 conjuring rituals real” — What, as if there’s a Buzzfeed list of magic rituals full of spooky GIFs?  C’mon, dude, get your act together.  There’s no such top-ten list of “real” rituals; any ritual that works is real, and different people often get different rituals to work for them.  Once you get the experience of a few conjuration rituals, you can start doing them on the fly with spirits you have a good connection with.

“seal of sealtiel angel” — Unfortunately, even though I’ve been making weekly offerings to Sealtiel the Archangel for a brief time now, I haven’t done much more than that and engaged the archangels in conversation, like I would in a conjuration.  I mean to in the near future, but I haven’t yet.  I don’t know of a seal for the angel, so you might want to stick with making a sigil based off the letters in his name a la chaos magic or by using my Greek Sigil Wheel idea.  Sealtiel often bears a thurible as his badge of office, so you might start with that if you want an image.

“how to use saturn to create prosperity” — Er, that’s not usually Saturn’s job.  Prosperity is usually in line with Mercury and Jupiter, the planets of exchange and expansion generally,

“autobiography of st. jehudiel”, “biography of saint sealtiel”, etc. — Seeing how these are angels who have never technically lived, it’s hard to have a biography of them, since a biography is an account of, you know, a life.  They’re immortal beings who serve the will of God directly; they don’t have lives like we think of them, and they don’t exist apart from God.  Also, an “autobiography”?  Not only does that assume a life of an angel, it also assumes they write and can communicate to us in language.

“horus demon god of sun sygils” — Much of this makes no sense to me on a conceptual level.  First, to spell the word as “sygils” means you’re probably in Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth (or however it’s misspelled) or just some middle-schooler who wants to be all dark and powerful.  That isn’t done with extra “y”s and the metal umlaut, you know.  As for Horus, yes, he’s a god of the Sun, but in no sense is he malefic or demonic.

“locating lost thing by star power” — What, are you Sailor Moon?  There are astrological and geomantic methods of finding lost objects, but unless you’re a Sailor Scout or one of the Three Wise Men, you’re not going to find anything directly through the stars themselves.

“most deadly buddhist mantras” — …I don’t think you understand the point of Buddhist mantras.  There might indeed be powerful spells and mantra-like charms in some distant and extant traditions of magic and applied Buddhism, but none I know that would kill a target or the user.  That tends to go against the Precepts, anyway, but you know, expedient means and all that shit.

“effects of reading saint cyprian book” — In my case, you’ll’ve learned Spanish and published a translation in English (hint: go buy my cheap ebook on Etsy!).  Supposedly, if you read the Book of Saint Cyprian, either front to back or back to front (I forget which), you end up summoning the Devil.  That didn’t happen in my case, and he might’ve just gotten confused with my flipping around randomly through the book.

“how to aproach the abramelin ritual if you already know your guardian angel” — Honestly, if you have contact with your HGA, why do the Abramelin ritual?  The meat of the matter is getting contact with your HGA, after which you go through and bind evil spirits from messing with you in the future.  Once you have your HGA, you can do anything, basically.  I know some friends who are going through the Abramelin as an initiation requirement in some groups, but that’s not the real use of the Abramelin, as I see it.

“is the word geomancy in the bible” — Nope.  Geomancy likely kicked off in the Sahara Desert around 900 or 1000 AD, well after the Bible was written (especially the Old Testament).  However, if you read that the Bible has a prohibition on divinatory arts generally, then that would include geomancy; if you read the Bible supporting the act of divination, then that also includes geomancy.  The word itself is coined more recently than the Bible, as is the art, so you won’t find biblical references to it, although some traditions hold that geomancy was given to the prophet Hermes Trismegistus, Adam, Idris, Daniel, Jesus, or Mohamed to discover more of the secrets of God, so it depends on what you consider meaningful.