On Prayer Beads, the Number 108, and Chants for PGM and Hermetic Works

I’ve always had a thing for prayer beads.  I’ve got a few posts dedicated to the use of misbaḥa, sure, and my Preces Castri prayerbook contains quite a few such prayers adapted to the prayer beads of Islamic practice, but it goes well beyond just that set of 99 beads.  I’ve played around with Christian rosaries before, too, though I never really stuck much with them given my lack of Christian practice, although I’ve created a few chaplets here and there using the usual Roman Catholic format of beads; besides the rosary, I’ve also made good use of a prayer rope, the customary prayer-counter tool of Orthodox Christianity.  While I’ve also experimented with making my own custom sets of prayer beads, none of them really hold up to the simplicity and stalwartness of using the mālā, the prayer beads common to a variety of dharmic and Asian religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.  I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with them, but for those who aren’t, a mālā is most commonly a set of 108 beads, with a single separate “guru” bead that marks the start and end of the mālā, itself usually decorated with a tassel or similar bead-based decoration.  Depending on the specific tradition in which they’re found, other separator beads may be found on the mālā as well, like in some Tibetan Buddhist practices.

Why 108 beads on a mālā?  108 is a sacred number in a lot of dharmic and Asian religions; I’m certainly no expert, but the number pops up repeatedly in these spiritual traditions: the number of attendants of Śiva, the number of saintly devotees of Kṛṣṇa, the number of mental afflictions as well as the number of dharmic phenomena according to Buddhism, the number of sins people are born with in some forms of Japanese Buddhism, and so forth and so on.  As a result, the number 108 has become popular in a wide number of religious or spiritual contexts, even in Western ones, and even makes appearances in pan-spiritual fiction nowadays (like in one of my favorite webcomics, Kill 6 Billion Demons).  Even on mālās that don’t have 108 beads (excluding the guru bead or other separator beads), they’re usually set so that it’s a clean divisor of 108, like 54, 36, 27, 18, or even just 9, so that some number of repetitions of them gets you to 108 (so twice on a 54-bead mālā, three times on a 36-bead one, etc.).  Given the abundance of reasons for this numbers sacredness in Asian religions, or at least given how often it pops up in them, it makes sense for prayer beads related to these traditions to have this number of beads on them.  Plus, it’s just a good number with a lot of factors: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 18, 27, 36, 54, and 108 (with a prime factorization of 2 × 2 × 3 × 3 × 3).

Still, despite the simplicity of mālā and my affection for them (they’re honestly just so simple and clean compared to the other prayer beads I’ve ever used), I’ve had a hard time justifying their use in my own non-dharmic Work.  I mean, prayer beads of 100, 49 (7 × 7), 120 (being a third of 360), and the like, sure, I guess—but I never really got the hang of them, and something always felt off using such things, even when I custom-built prayers or chants that made explicit use of those numbers.  It’s always something about the 108-bead mālā that keeps drawing me back to it.  Given the proliferation of strands of 108 beads for prayers and repetitions across, like, a third of the world’s landmass and religions in so many freely-exchanged and open practices, it’s not a concern over cultural appropriation about using the mālā for my own non-dharmic devotions or work, but more that I’ve never consciously found anything that could make the number 108 stick for me.  Sure, I could go with 36, being the number of decans, and then multiply that by four to get 108, but that seemed to be a bit of a stretch, especially given how much of my work isn’t necessarily decan-related.  I just…couldn’t easily get the number to fit, and since I like things being plugged into each other whenever and however possible so long as it’s a strong enough connection to use, I’ve never put 108-bead mālās to use in my Hermetic and personal spiritual work.

And so it was a bit ago when I was reading some scholarly book or text on Hermeticism—I forget exactly which, unfortunately, but it came up all the same in the context of classical Hermetic and Greco-Egyptian religion—when something so completely, gloriously obvious smacked right into my face: that the number 108, when counted in Greek numerals, is ΡΗ, transliterated as Rē.  Those who are familiar with Greco-Egyptian spirituality or the Coptic language would immediately pick this out as a late form of the name for the Egyptian solar god Ra, and indeed is one we find time and again in texts like the Greek Magical Papyri.  Such a small thing, perhaps, almost coincidental, but the moment I saw this enumeration literally spelled out for me, it just made the mālā click for me.  To be sure, my work involves the planets and stars in general in all their heavens, but it cannot be denied that Hermeticism as a whole has such a huge solar focus in it, given the Sun’s role as demiurge and the most natural physical symbol of divinity present in the cosmos, to say nothing of the most commonly-accepted etymology of the name Poimandrēs (yes, the divine teacher of Hermēs Trismegistos from CH I) being Coptic ⲠⲈⲒⲘⲈⲚⲦⲈⲢⲎ (p-eime nte-rē) or “the mind of Rē”.  I mean, heck, from SH 2A.14, we have this little gem:

Tat: “What then, father, would one call true?”

Hermēs: “Only the sun, which is beyond all other things unchanging, remaining in itself, we would call truth. Accordingly, he alone is entrusted with crafting everything in the world, with ruling and making everything. I indeed venerate him and worship his truth. I recognize him as Craftsman subordinate to the One and Primal (Deity).”

Sure, we can also find other reasons for why the number 108 might be important for Hermeticism: it could be considered the sum of 12 + 36 + 60 (signs, decans, and terms of the ecliptic), as 1¹ × 2² × 3³, having 12 factors total, roughly the number of diameters of the Sun between the Earth and the Sun itself, roughly the number of diameters of the Moon between the Earth and the Moon itself, and so on and so forth.  All these are extra things to consider, but it was really the numerology of Rē and its enumeration of 108 that did it for me.  Plus, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the presence of the number 9 in 108 (being present in many of the factors, as well as being the sum of 1 + 8); being the triple-triple, this number has connections to the Moon, both to the goddess Selēnē (and to Hekatē, Artemis, and Persephonē as she appears repeatedly throughout the PGM) and to Thōth as a lunar deity himself.  As it turns out, there really are enough connections between the number 108 and various bits of classical Hermetic, Egyptian, or Greco-Egyptian practices that enable this number to be used for sacred purposes in such works, and this extends to the use of a strand of 108 beads for chants and prayers as well.

To that end, I’ve got my good old rosewood mālā ready to go—but what about what to chant?  In my Preces Templi prayerbook, I have one section called “Meditations on Piety”, selected one-line statements on divinity and piety from various Hermetic texts, like “God is the glory of all things, who is both the Divine and divine Nature” from CH III.1 or “I think; I remember; I am thankful” from CH I.20.  I have about 25 such one-liners there, which I intended to be used as brief meditations or fodder for contemplating and holding in mind the teachings of Hermēs from the Hermetic texts like CH, SH, and DH, but these also work brilliantly as chants to be used on prayer beads, too.  This is a great start, to be sure, but something that I did my best to not include in that prayerbook were strings of barbarous names and words of power, especially those from the PGM, PDM, and PCM.  Sure, there are a few such prayers (generally those included in the “Hymns to Aiōn” section) which did include them, but as a rule, I tried to keep the prayerbook a book of prayers and not a book of incantations, and so I elided out such divine language when and where possible.  However, for the purposes of chants, barbarous words actually are rather useful, and many of those of the PGM and similar texts give us a Greco-Egyptian parallel to the use of mantras in dharmic religions, some of which are simple statements which can be understood in one language or another, others which are as mysterious and sensical as the barbarous words from the PGM.

To that end, I’d like to bring up a few that I think would be good for use.  We know that, although a good few barbarous words that come up in Greco-Egyptian magical texts are once-off things, there are many others that come up time and time again as specific formulas.  It can be hard at times to figure out their etymologies or what they might mean in human terms, but we can sometimes get a sense for their purposes or function based on the contexts in which they arise.  Of course, there are times when we can figure out their origins, as some of these barbarous words were only barbarous to the Greeks, but make (sometimes) perfectly good sense in Egyptian, Hebrew, Aramaic, or other languages spoken at the time (especially the barbarous words that are really just late Egyptian/early Coptic, making these languages something like a Hermetic parallel to how Sanskrit is used in Buddhist chants).  And, of course, though I’d like to experiment more with them using my 108-bead mālā, there’s nothing mandating you have to do such chants 108 times; rosaries or misbaḥa would work just as fine, depending on your sense for number mysticism and numerology, or you could make other custom numbers of prayer beads (such as a 120-bead strand done three times with five counter beads on the end to finish it for a total of 365 chants).

One final word of caution, however, before we get into these chants.  Although I encourage many of my readers to try these out and experiment with using them for chants or prayers, and although I haven’t gone through and just picked out phrases of barbarous words willy-nilly from the PGM, it should be noted that these words did (and still do) have functional power, which is why they were used as part of ritual invocations and incantations to begin with.  Whether they serve as names by which we call the gods or whether they effect certain changes in the cosmos merely by their being spoken, it’s always good to be familiar with where and how they appear in the PGM and similar texts because we can get an inkling as to what they were used for.  Although the PGM is a nigh-endless treasure-house of barbarous words, I tried to focus on ones with a general-enough appearance so that their being taken out of context may not cause problems for those who use them in this manner given how many disparate contexts they often appear in.  While this list shouldn’t be considered a definite or final one for potential chants from the PGM but merely my thoughts on what might make good chants, take care as to what else you might use for such chants and that their being used as such won’t threaten to cause problems.

ΗΙ ΙΕΟΥ … (ĒI IEOU …) from the end of PGM XII.270—350.  There’s a long string of barbarous words, each segment starting with these two words; the translator of this in Betz notes that these two words correspond to Egyptian i iꜣw meaning “O hail!”.  To that end, I’ve personally taken this phrase as a brief invocation and greeting to a god, such as ΗΙ ΙΕΟΥ ΑΒΡΑΣΑΞ (“ĒI IEOU ABRASAKS”) meaning loosely “O hail to you, Abrasax!”.  In a way, chanting this can be thought of akin to the Sanskrit chant “om namaḥ NN” like in “om namaḥ Śivāya”, or to the Buddhist refuge chant “namo Buddhāya”, and can be a great way to invoke or salute any deity.  In this, I think this chant is probably among the most useful and most flexible; just insert the name of whatever god you want to salute, and you have a simple chant.

ΨΙΝΩΘΕΡ ΝΩΨΙΘΕΡ ΘΕΡΝΩΨΙ  (PSINŌTHER NŌPSITHER THERNŌPSI) The “THERNŌPSI” formula so called by Betz, as seen in PGM III.186, PGM IV.828 (aka the famous “Mithras Liturgy), and (maybe) PGM VII.216, as well as in the Pistis Sophia (book IV, chapter 136; book V, chapter 142).  Nine syllables, permutations of the three syllables ΨΙ, ΝΩ, and ΘΕΡ, which can be translated (as far as ΨΙΝΩΘΕΡ) as either “the high/highest God” or “the sons of God”, or perhaps even as “the son of the (female) falcon” (in some cases where a bēta is present, as in PGM VII, though this translation seems unlikely).  In PGM III, it’s used as part of an offering; in PGM IV and VII, it’s used as part of a phylactery, and in PGM IV specifically as part of a phylactery used in a process of spiritual elevation, immortalization, and revelation.  In the Pistis Sophia, Jesus uses it in invocations to God as the Father of the Treasury of Light, a highest-of-the-high kind of divinity, for forgiveness, purification, and salvation in the course of spiritual ascension.

ΑΒΕΡΑΜΕΝΘΩΟΥΘΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞΕΘΡΕΛΘΥΟΩΘΝΕΜΑΡΕΒΑ (ABERAMENTHŌOUTHLERTHEKSANAKSETHRELTHUOŌTHNEMAREBA) The ABERAMEN formula, which appears in a number of PGM rituals (sometimes with variant spellings) like PGM I.262—347, PGM III.67—68, PGM V.172—212, PGM XXXVIII.20—21, and others.  This is a palindrome around the centermost N, and in this name can be found the name of Thōth (as ΘΩΟΥΘ) as well as ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ which is one of the forms of the Sun in PGM II.64—183 (and one of my own so-called Solar Guardians, specifically that of the south who takes the form of a fiery falcon), though it also appears in a number of Sēt-focused rituals, as well.  The old Voces Magicae blog (now defunct, but the Wayback Machine has an archive of some of the pages including this one) talks about this word abundantly, and it seems to have some meaning to the  effect of “power of the waters” or “lord of the waters and of the formulas controlling the cosmic powers”.  It also has a presence in the Pistis Sophia and is used for Jesus in a sort of merged entity with Hermēs-Thōth.  To break this name up to make it more pronounceable, I’d say something like: ΑΒΕΡΑΜΕΝ ΘΩΟΥΘ ΛΕΡΘΕΞ ΑΝΑ ΞΕΘΡΕΛ ΘΥΟΩΘ ΝΕΜΑΡΕΒΑ (ABERAMEN THŌOUTH LERTHEKS ANA KSETHREL THUOŌTH NEMAREBA).

ΧΑΒΡΑΧ ΦΝΕΣΧΗΡ ΦΙΧΡΟ ΦΝΥΡΩ ΦΩΧΩ ΒΩΧ (KHABRAKH PHNESKHĒR PHIKHRO PHNURŌ PHŌKHŌ BŌKH) This is one that was noted by SUBLUNAR.SPACE as being a series of words whose enumeration adds up to 9999, which is hugely significant and holy on its own right (being the maximum number before increasing in magnitude by an order).  This appears in several PGM spells like PGM I.42—195, PGM II.64—183, and PGM III.165—186, as well as on several Abrasax stones from contemporary periods.  This string of names keeps coming up in solar contexts, and can be considered a powerful sacred chant on its own to call upon the power of the Sun.

ΦΡΕ ΑΝΩΙ ΦΩΡ ΧΩ ΦΥΥΥΥ ΡΟΡΨΙΣ ΟΡΟΧΩΩΙ (PHRĒ ANŌI PHŌR KHŌ PHUUUU RORPSIS OROKHŌŌI)  Another string of barbarous words which also comes out to 9999, as found in PGM IV.2373—2440.

ΑΩΘ ΑΒΑΩΘ ΒΑΣΥΜ ΙΣΑΚ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΙΑΩ (AŌTH ABAŌTH BASUM ISAK SABAŌTH IAŌ) Although SUBLUNAR.SPACE above disagrees, these are the usual choice for the “six names” to be used on the crown and recited as part of PGM V.96—172, the famous Stele of Jeu or the Headless Rite.  (Although ΑΒΡΑΩΘ is given in Betz, this is a typo, and should be ΑΒΑΩΘ instead when the original papyrus is consulted.)  ΑΩΘ, ΑΒΑΩΘ, and ΣΑΒΑΩΘ can all be seen to be connected, in the sense of the heart/wing-patterns of building up or disappearing away a sacred word that we elsewhere see in the PGM, and which Baal Kadmon pointed out as being a formula in its own right, with ΒΑΣΥΜ ΙΣΑΚ being a garbled Hebrew phrase for “in the name of Isaac” (ba hašem Yiṣḥāq), so the whole thing could be interpreted as an invocation of the god of Isaac, the God of Israel.  Its presence here in the PGM doesn’t detract from its Jewish origins or meaning, but rather expands it into another form of the pancosmic pantokrator deity, and although SUBLUNAR.SPACE may well disagree with this being used for this purpose (and his logic is definitely sound in doing so, even I have to admit!), invoking these names as a chant may help those who wish to do further work with Akephalos generally or the Headless Rite specifically.

ΨΟΕΙ Ω ΨΟΕΙ Ω ΠΝΟΥΤΕ ΝΕΝΤΗΡ ΤΗΡΟΥ (PSOEI Ō PSOEI Ō PNOUTE NENTĒR TĒROU) From PGM III.1—164, this invocation comes towards the end to refer to “the brilliant Sun who shine[s] throughout the whole inhabited world, who ride[s] upon the ocean”, but the translator notes that this phrase is equivalent to the Egyptian pꜣ šy ꜥꜣ pꜣ šy ꜥꜣ pꜣ ntr nꜣ ntr w tr w or “Pšai, Pšai, o god of all the gods!” with “Pšai” being the Egyptian god of fate corresponding to the Agathos Daimōn.  This is similar to what we also see in PGM IV.1596—1715 (the prayer for the Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios), ΨΟΙ ΦΝΟΥΘΙ ΝΙΝΘΗΡ (PSOI PHNOUTHI NINTHĒR), meaning “Pšai, the god of the gods”.  Either would be a good invocation-chant for the Agathos Daimōn/Pšai.

ΑΧΑΙΦΩΘΩΘΩΑΙΗΙΑΗΙΑΑΙΗΑΙΕΗΙΑΩΘΩΘΩΦΙΑΧΑ (AKAIPHŌTHŌTHŌAIĒIAĒIAAIĒAIĒIAŌTHŌTHŌPHIKHA) A palindromic name from PGM I.262—347 and PGM IV.436—461 among others as a name for Apollōn-Hēlios-Horus, one that is “in number equal to the very Moirai”.  The translator in Betz notes the presence of ΘΩΘΩ twice, meaning “Thōth the great” (Egyptian dḥwty ꜥꜣ), though Bortolani talks about this name more: it could be read as having 36 letters, and thus the same number as the decans (which could be seen as an interpretation of fate-gods like how the Moirai are), or which can instead be broken up into three names ΑΧΑΙΦΩΘΩΘΩ ΑΙΗΙΑΗΙΑΑΙΗΑΙΕΗΙΑ ΩΘΩΘΩΦΙΑΧΑ to represent the three Moirai from Greek mythology themselves or, instead and in a more solar light, as the Sun in its dawn, midday, and sunset phases and thus as divine representations of the three times of past, present, and future or birth, life, and death.

ΑΧΘΙΩΦΙΦ ΕΡΕΣΧΙΓΑΛ ΝΕΒΟΥΤΟΣΟΥΑΛΗΘ ΣΑΘΩΘ ΣΑΒΑΘΩ ΣΑΒΡΩΘ (AKHTIŌPHIPH ERESKHIGAL NEBOUTOSOUALĒTH SATŌTH SABAŌTH SABRŌTH) A phylactery to be said to the Moon from PGM VII.317—318, which I’ve mentioned before as part of a simple lunar ritual that can be done, but which appears in other prayers like from PGM IV.1399—1434.  Betz notes that ΝΕΒΟΥΤΟΣΟΥΑΛΗΘ is a common word used in conjunction with both the names Aktiophis and Ereshkigal, and is generally tied to the lunar goddesses of the underworld, especially Hekatē, in the PGM, though its origins are otherwise unclear (but may have connections to the Babylonian god Nebo or the Egyptian “lady of Uto” nbt-wꜣdt).  Ljuba Bortolani, in her Magical Hymns from Roman Egypt: A Study of Greek and Egyptian Traditions of Divinity, notes that these three words ΑΧΘΙΩΦΙΦ ΕΡΕΣΧΙΓΑΛ ΝΕΒΟΥΤΟΣΟΥΑΛΗΘ would correspond to the three phases of the Moon: waxing, full, and waning.  Whether one choses to use just these first three words (which can be found repeatedly throughout lunar-related spells in the PGM) or the full string of six (only given in PGM VII.317—318), both would be an excellent lunar-related chant.

ΜΑΣΚΕΛΛΙ ΜΑΣΚΕΛΛΩ ΦΝΟΥΚΕΝΤΑΒΑΩ ΟΡΕΟΒΑΖΑΓΡΑ ΡΗΞΙΧΘΩΝ ΙΠΠΟΧΘΩΝ ΠΥΡΙΠΗΓΑΝΥΞ (MASKELLI MASKELLŌ PHNOUKENTABAŌ OREOBAZAGRA RĒKSIKHTHŌN HIPPOKHTHŌN PURIPĒGANUKS) The famous “MASKELLI” formula, which appears in many different parts of the PGM, sometimes in full and sometimes just as “MASKELLI-formula”, indicating that it was a common enough magical formula to be known by many different authors of the PGM and similar texts.  Again, Voces Magicae wrote about this formula, too, and notes that it’s found in love spells, coercion spells, curses, and other rituals; it has ties to Hekatē and other lunar goddesses, as well as to the deity Anankē/Necessity.

ΙΩ ΕΡΒΗΘ ΙΩ ΠΑΚΕΡΒΗΘ ΙΩ ΒΟΛΧΩΣΗΘ ΙΩ ΑΠΟΜΨ ΙΩ ΠΑΤΑΘΝΑΞ ΙΩ ΑΚΟΥΒΙΑ ΙΩ ΣΗΘ ΦΩΚΕΝΣΕΨΕΥ ΑΡΕΚΤΑΘΟΥΜΙΣΑΚΤΑΙ (IŌ ERBĒTH IŌ PAKERBĒTH IŌ BOLKHŌSĒTH IŌ APOMPS IŌ PATATHNAKS IŌ AKOUBIA IŌ SĒTH PHŌKENSEPSEU AREKTATHOUMISAKTAI) This string of words appears in a number of rituals in the PGM, like in PGM III.1—164 and PGM XII.365—375, generally in invocations to Sēt.  Admittedly, such rituals also tend to be malefic and malevolent in nature, such as to cause “evil sleep” or death, so invoking this series of barbarous words shouldn’t be taken lightly.  That being said, although Sēt had some rough parts to play in some Egyptian myths, he was far from an evil deity (even if the most common interpretation of the word ΠΑΚΕΡΒΗΘ is “the evil doer” but which also appears in solar contexts), and often had a strong protective or defensive aspect to play in a number of other myths and cults throughout Egypt.  A good example of Sēt, at least in his syncretic form as Sēt-Typhon, being worked with as a deity of high mystery can be found in PGM IV.154—285, though I also note that this formula doesn’t appear in that text.

On the Elemental and Geomantic Epodes

Ever since I wrote that post about how the physical body can be represented by geomantic figures, I’ve been trying to puzzle something out for myself.  At the end of the post, I introduce the concept of a system of geomantically-derived energy centers in the body based on four centers and four elements: the Fire center in the head, the Air center in the throat, the Water center in the upper belly, and the Earth center at the perineum.  This is based on the Geomantic Adam diagram given in MS Arabe 2631, which divvies up the geomantic figures to the parts of the body in a way that’s untied to any astrological method (which is the usual method used in European and Western geomancies):

In addition to proposing four such energy centers, I also propose three possible sets of intonations based on the obscure BZDH technique from some forms of geomancy, and also suggest that the sixteen geomantic gestures or “mudras” can be used in addition with these to form the basis of a kind of geomantic energy practice.  However, I didn’t really describe any implementation beyond laying these individual parts of such a hypothetical practice down, because I hadn’t yet come up with a way to put the parts together into a whole.  I’ve been puzzling over how to do just that since the post went up earlier this summer.  I mean, it’s not hard to just slap some energy into parts of the body and call it a day, but let’s be honest: I want to do this right and be able to incorporate it into my own practice in a way that’s not harmful, and as we all know by now, it’s just as easy to use energy to make a body awful as much as it can be made awesome.

Now, I was originally going to just write a post about a more-or-less solid energy practice that uses four energy centers in the body, one for each of the four elements.  I’m still going to write that post, because I already started it, but I realized that there’s a significant chunk of it that needs to be clarified in its own post, because there’s a number of options one might choose for it with different bits of logic and arguments for and against each choice.  This section kept growing and growing, and it eventually dwarfed the actual point of the post itself, so I decided to get this bit out of the way first, especially since I’ve already introduced the topic when I brought up the notion of a geomantic energy practice to begin with.

For me in my magical practice, the spoken word is important, especially when it comes to things that are intoned, such as barbarous words or particular chants.  For instance, the seven Greek vowels are absolutely vital to my work, because each vowel is associated with one of the seven planets.  In fact, each of the letters of the Greek alphabet has its own spiritual associations to the planets, signs of the Zodiac, and elements.  It’s the elemental letters that are the focus here now: if I wanted to intone a special word to attune myself to the power of an element just like how I’d intone a vowel to attune myself to the power of a planet, what would I use?  I can’t really intone a consonant, so I invented special “power words” for the four elements by taking the corresponding consonant for the element, intoning ΙΑΩ, and ending with the consonant again, as below:

  • Fire: ΧΙΑΩΧ (KHIAŌKH)
  • Air: ΦΙΑΩΦ (PHIAŌPH)
  • Water: ΞΙΑΩΞ (KSIAŌKS)
  • Earth: ΘΙΑΩΘ (THIAŌTH)

This method works, but to be honest, I’ve never really liked it.  It’s always felt kind of imbalanced and inelegant, especially compared to some of the more refined barbarous words of power or the simplicity and clearness of the vowels for the planets.  When I first started thinking of what I could intone for a geomantic energy practice, my routine use of these words first came up, but I quickly remembered that there are other options available to me besides just this.  All I need to find is some appropriate, elegant system of four words for intoning for the sake of attuning to the four elements.

Also, what am I calling this particular type of power word, anyway?  These are small, usually single-syllabled things to intone or chant to attune with a particular force.  I suppose that these are barbarous names of a sort, but the fact that they’re so easily constructed doesn’t seem quite appropriate to call them “barbarous”.  The closest thing I can think of are bīja, which is a Sanskrit term meaning “seed”, but referring to single syllable mantras that can be intoned and thought of as encapsulating or emanating particular elements or powers.  Think of the syllables oṃ, dhīḥ, hūṃ, or other single-syllable such mantras found in tantric Buddhism or Hinduism.  These are powerful syllables and contain some aspect of the cosmos or dharma in their own right, and many deities, bodhisattvas, buddhas, and other entities or powers have their own bījas.  That’s a good concept and term for this, but I can’t think of any Western or non-Sanskrit term to call them, like how we might have “chant” or “orison” for the word mantra, “gesture” for mudra, or “energy center” for chakra.  Since I like having Greek-based terms, here are a few I would think are appropriate:

  • Odologue, which could come either from ᾠδόλογος ōidólogos meaning “song-word” or, alternatively, ὁδόλογος hodólogos meaning “road-word”, and either Greek word could be used here.  Odology, after all, can refer to “the study of the singing voice” or “the study of roads and paths”, and considering the purpose and use of these bīja-like words,
  • Rhizophone, from Greek ῥιζόφωνη rhizóphōnē, literally meaning “root sound”.  This is about as close a calque to bīja as I could think, helpfully suggested by Kalagni of Blue Flame Magick (who has a new website now, go update your RSS readers and links!).
  • Epode, which is simply the Greek word ἐπῳδή epōidé, meaning “song sung to something”, and more figuratively an enchantment, charm, or spell.  Unlike odologue or rhizophone, epode is actually a known word, both in Greek and in English, and though it can be used more broadly for spells or charms in general, the notion of something being sung here is important, which is basically intonation.  Though I like the above two words, let’s be honest: epode here is probably the best to go with.
    • There are other words used in Greek to refer to magic spells or charms, like kḗlēma or thélktron or other words, so we can reserve “epode” for what are basically mantras.
    • “Epode” could be used to give a useful Greek translation of “mantra” generally, as opposed to just bīja syllables, which are themselves considered single-syllable mantras.  For this, “root epode” or “small epode” could be used to clarify single-syllable epodes.
    • Likewise, “epode” wouldn’t necessarily be of the same type of word as “names”, ὀνόματα onómata, referring to the barbarous words of power that may simply be spoken, shouted, or intoned depending on the situation.  Plus, the barbarous names themselves aren’t usually constructed, patterned after anything, or even understood as having distinct or intelligible meanings.

So, what we’re doing here is coming up with elemental epodes, simple words that can be intoned or sung to attune or call down the forces of the elements, just how the intonation of the seven Greek vowels can do the same for the planets.  In fact, those vowels, when sung in a magical way, would become epodes in their own right.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.  One straightforward option is to just use the Arabic or Greek words for the four elements themselves as things to intone:

  • Arabic:
    • Fire: nar (نار, pronounced “nahr”)
    • Air: hawa’ (هواء, pronounced “HAH-wa” with a sharp stop in the throat)
    • Water: ma’ (ماء, pronounced “ma” with a sharp stop in the throat)
    • Earth: turab (تراب, pronounced “tuh-RAHB”)
  • Greek:
    • Fire: pũr (πῦρ, pronounced “pür” like with the German ü or French u, or as “peer”)
    • Air: aḗr (ἀήρ, pronounced “ah-AYR”, smoothly without a stop in the sound)
    • Water: húdōr (ὕδωρ, pronounced “HEE-dohr” or “HÜ-dohr”, again with that German/French sound)
    • Earth: gē̃ (γῆ, pronounced “gay”)

However, I’m not a fan of doing this.  For one, the words themselves aren’t necessarily important if the resonance and link between what’s uttered/intoned and what’s being connected with is strong.  Here, all I really have to go is the semantic meaning of the words.  Plus, I don’t like how some of them are two syllables and others only one, and they all feel inelegant in some of the same ways as my *ΙΑΩ* words from above.  So, while the words for the elements could be used, it’s not one I’d like to use.

And no, I won’t use Latin or English for such things, either.  I don’t hold either to be a very magical language like how I’d hold Greek or Hebrew or Arabic, largely due to the lack of meaningful isopsephy/gematria or stoicheia of the letters for the Roman script common to both Latin and English.  I also didn’t list Hebrew here because, for the sake of my energy work, I largely focus on Greek stuff (for the Mathēsis side of things) or Arabic (for the geomantic side), and Hebrew doesn’t fit into either category.

However, there is another option for coming up with an intonation that is rooted in geomantic practice: the BZDH (or BZDA) technique.  This is a little-known technique in Western geomancy that seems to have had more use in Arabic geomancy.  As I said in the earlier post about the geomantic figures and the human body:

From my translation of the 15th century work Lectura Geomantiae:

By the Greek word “b z d a” we can find the house of the figures, which is to say in which house the figures are strongest, wherefore when the first point starting from the upper part of the beginning figure is odd, the second house is strong; when the second point is odd, the seventh house is strong; when the third point is odd, the fourth house is strong; when the fourth and last point is odd, the eighth house is strong. Thus we will find by this number the proper houses of the figures; by “b” we understand 2, by “z” 7, by “d” 4, by “a” 8, as in this example: “b z d a”.

This may not make a lot of sense on its own, but compare what Felix Klein-Franke says in his article “The Geomancy of Aḥmad b. `Alī Zunbul: A Study of the Arabic Corpus Hermeticum” (AMBIX, March 1973, vol. XX):

The best taskīn is that of az-Zanātī; it bears the key-word bzdḥ: according to the principle of Gematria, the transposition of letters of a word into numbers, in place of bzdḥ there result the numbers 2748. Thus the Mansions of the taskīn are indicated; each spot denotes one of the four elements; in the 2nd Mansion there is only the element Fire (Laetitia, ḥayyān), in the 7th Mansion only Air (Rubeus, ḥumra), in the 4th Mansion only Water (Albus, bayāḍ), and in the 8th Mansion only Earth (Cauda Draconis, rakīza ẖāriǧa).

Stephen Skinner clarifies this even further in his works on geomancy.  From his 1980 book “Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy”:

Further specialized configurations or taskins are outlined together with mnemonics for remembering their order. Gematria, or the art of interpreting words in terms of the total of’ the numerical equivalents of each of their letters, is introduced at this point. Using the mnemonic of a particular taskin such as Bzdh, Zunbul explains that the letters represent the four Elements, in descending order of grossness. Each letter also represents a number in Arabic, thus:

b – 2 – Fire
z – 7 – Air
d – 4 – Water
h – 8 – Earth

This mnemonic therefore indicates House number 2 for Fire, House number 7 (Air), House number 4 (Water), and House number 8 (Earth). For each of the Houses indicated in this taskin, we see that the second is most compatible with Fire, the seventh with Air, and so on. Therefore, if the geomantic figure Laetitia (or in Arabic Hayyan), which is solely Fire, occurs in the second House, this would be. an extremely favourable omen. Likewise, the occurrence of Rubeus (or Humra), which is solely Air, in the seventh House would also be extremely auspicious. Further chapters are devoted to even more complicated combinations of the basic figures, and to labyrinthine rules for everything from marriage to medicine. Diagnosis by raml even became a lay rival of the latter, and tables were educed of the relationship between specific parts of the body and the geomantic figures.

In other words, based on these letters, we could intone a particular sound that starts with the letter “b” for Fire, “z” for Air, “d” for Earth, and “ḥ” (think of the guttural “ch” of German, but further back in the throat).

So, in this technique, we have four consonants that correspond to four elements.  We could use this BZDH technique to use these four consonants, each associated with one of the four elements according to an obscure technique in Arabic and early Western geomancy, to create a simple, clear syllable for each element when paired with a simple long vowel:

  • Arabic method:
    • Fire:  (با)
    • Air:  (زا)
    • Water:  (دا)
    • Earth: ḥā (حا)
  • Greek method:
    • Fire:  (ΒΗ)
    • Air:  (ΖΗ)
    • Water:  (ΔΗ)
    • Earth:  (Ἡ)
  • Latin method:
    • Fire: ba
    • Air: za
    • Water: da
    • Earth: a

Note that I’m largely using the “ah” sound a lot for these.  For one, in Greek, this is the vowel Alpha, which is associated with the Moon, which is one of the planets closest to the sphere of the Earth and which is one of the planets most aligned with the element of Earth.  Additionally, this would be represented in Arabic with the letter ‘Alif, which has the form of a straight vertical line, much like the geomantic figure Via (or Tarīq using its Arabic name), which is also a figure associated with the Moon and which is important as it contains all four elements; in this case, the “ah” sound would be most aligned to that of the powers of geomancy as a whole, I would claim.  Note, also, how the Latin transcription of ḥ (to represent the element Earth) turned into “a”; if you wanted to think of geomancy as primarily being an oracle of Earth (which is a claim I take some issue with), then the “ah” sound would indeed be closest for phonologically working with the elements from a geomantic perspective and from our worldly, manifest basis.  Yet, we’re using Ēta for the Greek method given above; for one, this is because there’s no distinct vowel for “long a”, but “long e” is a close-enough approximation.  Using ΒΑ, ΖΑ, ΔΑ, and Ἁ for them would work as well, but using Ēta is also acceptable in this case.

Now, remember that these four consonants are used because they have their origins in being specifically labeled as elemental in the original geomantic technique from whence they come due to their numerological (gematria or isopsephic) significance. The mnemonic BZDḤ was used based on the numerological values of those letters in Arabic: bāʾ for 2, zāy for 7, dāl for 4, and ḥāʾ for 8.  Interestingly, these same consonants were used in the European version of the technique as BZDA (with A replacing Ḥāʾ, though it makes more sense to consider it H) even though it’s not technically the letters that were important, but their numerical equivalents.  If we were to simply go by their numerological (or numeric order) basis, then we should use ΒΔΗΘ for Greek or BDGH for Latin.  I suppose that one could use these letters instead for the BZDH technique-based intonation syllables, but I feel like using the original BZDH (or BZDḤ) is truer to the elements themselves, though the true Greek system could also work given their stoicheic meanings: Bēta associated with the Fire sign Aries, Delta associated with the Air sign Gemini, Ēta (used consonantally as an aspiration/aitch letter) representing the planet Venus which can be associated with the element of Water, and Thēta associated with the element of Earth itself.  So, one could also use a Greek ΒΔΗΘ system like this (using Ēta below, but again, Alpha would also work):

  • Fire:  (ΒΗ)
  • Air: (ΔΗ)
  • Water: (Ἡ)
  • Earth: thē (ΘH)

Or a Latin BDGH system as:

  • Fire: ba
  • Air: da
  • Water: ga
  • Earth: ha

Again, I’m not a fan of using Latin generally, but I can see an argument for using a BDGH system here because it’s not really words, isopsephy, or stoicheia here that are necessarily important.  However, if we were to use Greek isopsephy for determining which letters to use to represent the four elements for a Greek ΒΔΗΘ system, why not use the Greek stoicheia for them, instead?  It breaks with why we were using numbers to begin with, but we already know the letters Khi, Phi, Ksi, and Thēta work quite well for the four elements themselves, so if we were taking a purely elemental approach, it seems more proper to just use the elemental letters instead of the numerologically-appropriate letters and their natural vowels (specifically their long versions to keep with the theme of using long vowels for the epodes):

  • Fire: khei (ΧΕI)
  • Air: phei (ΦΕI)
  • Water: ksei (ΞΕI)
  • Earth: thē (ΘH)

There are definitely arguments for the use of the stoicheically-appropriate letters (ΧΦΞΘ) over the others, or the isopsephically-appropriate ones (ΒΔΗΘ), or the transliterated Arabic ones (ΒΖΔΗ).  In a more Mathēsis-pure approach, I’d probably go with the stoicheic letters, but in this particular case, I’d recommend most the transliterated Arabic ones, because that set of letters ties this energy practice closest to the original geomantic technique.  I suppose experimentation would show which is best, but I’m most comfortable sticking with the BZDH technique.

However, even using the BZDH technique as a foundation for this, an interestingly extensible system of syllables can also be devised where the BZDH technique of using different consonants is mixed with using Greek vowels that were similar enough in element to those four consonants.  For this mashup, I used my Mathēsis understanding of the planets and their positions on the mathētic Tetractys or the planetary arrangement for the geomantic figures to get vowels for the elements, and settled on using Iōta (Sun) for Fire, Upsilon (Jupiter) for Air, Ēta (Venus) for Water, and Alpha (Moon) for Earth.  Though Mars would be more appropriate for Fire and Saturn for Earth, their corresponding vowels are Omicron and Ōmega, which may not be distinct enough for this purpose, as I feel like it should be, so I made a sufficiently-acceptable substitution to use the Sun for Fire instead of Mars, and the Moon for Earth instead of Saturn.

What’s nice about combining the BZDH technique with the planetary vowels is that we can mix and match both systems and, using our system of primary and secondary elements of the figures, get a distinct epode not only for the four elements but also for each of the sixteen geomantic figures, which can be extraordinarily useful in its own right for other magical and meditative purposes.  (And here I thought that little innovation of mine was no more than “a few sprinkles on the icing of the cake of Western geomancy” when it’s come in use time and time again!)  So, let’s see about making such a full system for all sixteen figures using the three competing Greek systems (Transliterated ΒΖΔΗ, Isopsephic ΒΔΗΘ, Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ):

Transliterated ΒΖΔΗ System
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΒΙ
BI
Laetitia
ΖΙ
ZI
Puer
ΔΙ
DI
Puella

HI
Carcer
Air ΒΥ
BU
Fortuna Minor
ΖΥ
ZU
Rubeus
ΔΥ
DU
Via

HU
Caput Draconis
Water ΒΗ

Amissio
ΖΗ

Coniunctio
ΔΗ

Albus


Fortuna Maior
Earth ΒΑ
BA
Cauda Draconis
ΖΑ
ZA
Acquisitio
ΔΑ
DA
Populus

HA
Tristitia
Isopsephic ΒΔΗΘ System
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΒΙ
BI
Laetitia
ΔΙ
DI
Puer

HI
Puella
ΘΙ
THI
Carcer
Air ΒΥ
BU
Fortuna Minor
ΔΥ
DU
Rubeus

HU
Via
ΘΥ
THU
Caput Draconis
Water ΒΗ

Amissio
ΔΗ

Coniunctio


Albus
ΘΗ
THĒ
Fortuna Maior
Earth ΒΑ
BA
Cauda Draconis
ΔΑ
DA
Acquisitio

HA
Populus
ΘΑ
THA
Tristitia
Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ System using Vague Elemental Vowels
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΧΙ
KHI
Laetitia
ΦΙ
PHI
Puer
ΞΙ
KSI
Puella
ΘΙ
THI
Carcer
Air ΧΥ
KHU
Fortuna Minor
ΦΥ
PHU
Rubeus
ΞΥ
KSU
Via
ΘΥ
THU
Caput Draconis
Water ΧΗ
KHĒ
Amissio
ΦΗ
PHĒ
Coniunctio
ΞΗ
KSĒ
Albus
ΘΗ
THĒ
Fortuna Maior
Earth ΧΑ
KHA
Cauda Draconis
ΦΑ
PHA
Acquisitio
ΞΑ
KSA
Populus
ΘΑ
THA
Tristitia

Note that in the ΧΦΞΘ system below, instead of using Iōta for Fire and Alpha for Earth (as given in the “vague elemental vowels” table immediately above), I went with Omicron for Fire and Ōmega for Earth because, well, if we’re going to go all the way and stick solely to using stoicheically-appropriate consonants, it makes sense to follow through and stick to using the most precisely, stoicheically-appropriate vowels. However, it breaks with the other systems here, so while this is perhaps the most suited to a pure Mathēsis or purely-Western approach, it doesn’t fit with any of the others and it makes a total break with any BZDH system we have.  Additionally, the similarity between Omicron and Ōmega here can cause some confusion and difficulty for those who aren’t precise with their pronunciations, even if the system is precisely correct as far as stoicheia goes.

Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ System using Exact Elemental Vowels
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΧΟ
KHO
Laetitia
ΦΟ
PHO
Puer
ΞΟ
KSO
Puella
ΘΟ
THO
Carcer
Air ΧΥ
KHU
Fortuna Minor
ΦΥ
PHU
Rubeus
ΞΥ
KSU
Via
ΘΥ
THU
Caput Draconis
Water ΧΗ
KHĒ
Amissio
ΦΗ
PHĒ
Coniunctio
ΞΗ
KSĒ
Albus
ΘΗ
THĒ
Fortuna Maior
Earth ΧΩ
KHŌ
Cauda Draconis
ΦΩ
PHŌ
Acquisitio
ΞΩ
KSŌ
Populus
ΘΩ
THŌ
Tristitia

deep breath

Okay.  So, that’s all a lot of tables and lists and examples and options to pick from, all of which are nice and all, but where does that leave us?

What we wanted to come up with was a set of four simple intonable syllables—our “epodes”—to work with the four classical elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, much as how we have the seven Greek vowels to work with the seven traditional planets.  While a straightforward option would be to simply intone the words for the elements themselves, we can use an obscure geomantic technique that gives us four consonants to reflect the four elements, which we can then intone by adding a vowel to it.  However, we can make variants of this system based on how far we want to take the logic of why we have those four consonants to begin with, even going so far as to come up with a set of sixteen epodes for each of the geomantic figures.  These geomantic epodes work within the same overall system because the geomantic figures are compositions of the four elements, and the figures Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia are the geomantic figures that represent single elements unmixed with any other, which is a fact I’ve been able to use before for coming up with gestures for the four elements using the same logic.

Now, because of all the possibilities of what script to use (Arabic, Greek, Roman), what consonants to use (BZDH or the script-appropriate variants based on numerical order within that script’s alphabet), and what vowels to use (the “ah” sound, Ēta for Greek variants, or using stoicheically-appropriate vowels based on the planetary affinities towards the elements), we end up with quite a few different options for our elemental epodes:

Fire Air Water Earth
Words Arabic نار
nar
هواء
hawa’
ماء
ma’
تراب
turab
Greek πῦρ
pũr
ἀήρ
aḗr
ὕδωρ
húdōr
γῆ
gē̃
Latin ignis aer aqua terra
ΙΑΩ Names ΧΙΑΩΧ
khiaōkh
ΦΙΑΩΦ
phiaōph
ΞΙΑΩΞ
ksiaōks
ΘΙΑΩΘ
thiaōth
Transliterated Arabic با
زا
دا
حا
ḥā
Greek
Ēta
ΒΗ
ΖΗ
ΔΗ

Greek
Alpha
ΒΑ
ba
ΖΑ
za
ΔΑ
da

ha
Roman BA ZA DA A
Isopsephic Greek
Ēta
ΒΗ
ΔΗ

ΘH
thē
Greek
Alpha
ΒΑ
ba
ΔΑ
da

ha
ΘΑ
tha
Roman BA DA GA HA
Hybrid Transliterated ΒΙ
bi
ΖΥ
zu
ΔΗ

ha
Isopsephic ΒΙ
bi
ΔΥ
du

ΘΑ
tha
Mathēsis Natural
Vowels
ΧΕΙ
khei
ΦΕΙ
phei
ΞΕΙ
ksei
ΘΗ
thē
Vague
Vowels
ΧΙ
khi
ΦΥ
phu
ΞΗ
ksē
ΘΑ
tha
Exact
Vowels
ΧΟ
kho
ΦΥ
phu
ΞΗ
ksē
ΘΩ
thō

See now why I had to break all this out into its own separate post?

Originally, I was using the ΙΑΩ-based epodes, but I never really liked them, especially compared to all the other elegant options we have now based on the BZDH technique or its variants.  Of course, we have quite a few options now, and there are plenty of arguments for and against each one.  Here’s what I recommend based on your specific approach:

  • If you’re using a strict Arabic or classically “pure” geomantic system apart from planetary or other concerns and want to stick to the root of geomancy as much as possible, despite any other advantages out there from the other systems, use the Transliterated BZDH system, most preferably the Arabic system (bā/zā/dā/ḥā) or the Greek-Alpha system (ΒΑ/ΖΑ/ΔΑ/Ἁ), depending on how good your pronunciation skills at pharyngeal consonants are.
  • If you’re using a purely Greek system that wants to use the advantages of the stoicheia of the Greek alphabet as much as possible, use the Mathēsis system with exact vowels (ΧΟ/ΦΥ/ΞΗ/ΘΩ).
  • If you’re a general Western geomancer with no particular leanings towards or against any particular niche, use the Hybrid system with transliterated consonants (ΒΙ/ΖΥ/ΔΗ/Ἁ).  This would be considered the middle approach between the two extremes of “original root source” and “Mathēsis-only stoicheia please”, and is probably appropriate for the largest number of people given its ease of use and pronunciation.

Likewise, for the use of the geomantic epodes:

  • If you want a more general use, go with the Transliterated ΒΖΔΗ System.
  • If you want a specialized mathētic use, go with the Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ System with exact vowels.

Of course, given all the options above, there’s plenty of room for experimentation, and I’m sure one could extend the logic of the BZDH system (whether through transliteration, isopsephy, or stoicheia) even further and combining it with other vowel systems to come up with more options, or there would be still other ways to come up with elemental epodes (and maybe even geomantic epodes, as well) that aren’t based on the BZDH or ΧΦΞΘ systems!  As with so much else with geomantic magic, there’s so much to experiment and toy with, because it’s such a fertile and unexplored field of occult practice, so if you want to experiment with these or if you have other systems you use, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!