Definitions, Instructions, and Sentences: On Different Didactic Texts for the Hermeticist

On the Hermetic House of Life (HHoL) Discord Server, we’re finally just about back to normal, and that means that all our weekly discussions are back underway.  In addition to having a bunch of channels to talk about various topics related or pertaining to Hermeticism or Western esotericism in one way or another, we also have a handful of weekly discussion channels, where we talk about a particular topic in depth; so far, we have three, one for astrology, one for pagan literature, and the oldest one for Hermetic texts.  Just before the old Hermetic Agora server imploded, we started talking about the Armenian Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius (abbreviated DH), which we’re picking back up on this week.  This is a fascinating text, and is one of the major contributions in the field of Hermetic studies of Jean-Pierre Mahé.  Currently, the only English translation is the one he himself put out as part of The Way of Hermes: New Translations of the Corpus Hermeticum and the Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius published by Clement Salaman et al., although he has put out an earlier French translation as part of the second volume of his Hermès en Haute-Égypte series.

DH is a fascinating text, and one which Fr. Rufus Opus introduced me to as part of his Red Work Course all those many years ago; indeed, it was good for me to read them so much to the point I put out a massive daily series of blog posts taking each one in one-by-one back at the end of 2013.  The text is composed of ten sets of more-or-less axiomatic statements (or “definitions”), each set having as few as two statements or as many as seven all for a total of 49 statements.  On the whole, DH focuses on discussing cosmology and theology, all matters of doctrine regarding the Creator, the Creation, and us as Creatures within Creation made by the Creator.  As I summarized in the review post for my “49 Days of Definitions” post linked above, I gave these high-level summaries of each set of statements in the DH:

  1. The three worlds of creation, viz. God, the world, and Man
  2. The elements of the world and light which enables the world to be known
  3. The ubiquity of God, the place of Man in the world, and of the world in God
  4. The different types of living beings and what they’re composed of
  5. Nous and Logos, God and reasonable speech
  6. The development towards perfection of the soul of Man in the body of humans
  7. The immortality of Man afforded by God, and the mortality of humans mandated by the world
  8. Knowledge or ignorance of God/world/Man/self, and the power of Man as God
  9. The place of Man in the cosmos, the nature of the soul in Man, what perfect knowledge is
  10. The natures and realization of good and evil, how the parts of the world work together

Although one of the lesser-known Hermetic texts out there, not least because it’s one of the most recently-recovered ones, it’s also very much worth the while of any Hermeticist to study, though the DH’s terse and dense nature in its statements will necessarily require a bit more patience and contemplation to work through, chew on, and digest.

One of the neat things that Mahé points out is how similar so much in the DH is to other texts in the Corpus Hermeticum (CH), the Stobaean Fragments (SH), the Oxford Fragments (OH), and other Hermetic texts.  To an extent, this shouldn’t be particularly surprising; after all, even for all its inconsistencies and internal disagreements, there is at least some harmony between different Hermetic texts that agree on general points of doctrine.  However, perhaps the closest surviving text we have in a similar format to DH is SH 11, which provides a lengthy list of doctrinal statements, also called κεφαλαία kephalaía, the “chief points” of Hermēs’ teaching.  In that text, Hermēs instructs his son Tat after finishing the list:

If you remember these chief points, you will easily recall the points I discuss at greater length. For the main points are summaries of the explained teachings.

The purpose of these statements can be used in many different ways, but their explicit purpose as stated is to use them as a kind of mnemonic to recall lengthier lectures as a whole.  Mahé agrees with this, noting in his introduction to DH in The Way of Hermes that this is likely what’s going on with DH as well:

An early date might also be assumed for our collection of aphorisms with regard to the clarity of its style and the firmness of its thought. In our edition of the Coptic and Armenian transla­tions of hermetic writings in 1982 several clues led us to suggest that the most ancient hermetic philosophical writings were col­lected aphorisms such as the ‘Sayings of Agathos Daimon’, of which only short fragments have been preserved (cf. CH 10.25; 12.1.8-9). Beyond DH, one of these collections is still extant in SH 11 . As to the use of such collections of aphorisms we quoted CH 14.1 and SH 11.1, which depict them as summaries (kephalaia) of lectures delivered by Hermes and invite the disciple to reconstruct the whole teaching once he has learnt the sentences by heart (SH 11.3). Indeed we can easily show that many hermetic writings are made out of sentences, such as those of DH or SH 11 which are either linked up one after another with conjunctions, or com­mented upon or worked into a myth or a prayer.

However, Mahé also waxes poetically regarding their spiritualized functions and how they play a role in the overall literary ecosystem of Hermeticism:

The Definitions are perhaps at once the plainest and the deepest of all hermetic writings. We can read it as a mere resume of elementary teaching. Most of the hermetic dialogues take up the same sentences and comment upon them at the logos-level, which is but the second stage of the way to immortality. Rarely do they go one step further and reveal to us the spiritual meaning of the text.

It is no surprise that at least one sentence of this collection also occurs in the Gospel of Thomas. Both texts comprise sacred say­ings and secret teachings meant to strike imagination and to strongly impress their reader. Moreover we could venture to assert that, in regard to the other hermetic writings, the Definitions are almost in the same position as the Gospel of Thomas with regard to the four Gospels. In both cases, we have the aphorisms by themselves on the one hand, and sayings worked into a reasoned account or narrative on the other. The problem is whether the story is missing because it does not yet exist (or it is unknown to the compiler) or quite on the contrary, because it has been purpose­ fully ruled out.

We can also assert the comparison for essential reasons…the hermetic author of our text seems to have deliberately eliminated all kind of commentary in order to free his readers from the heaviness of abstract reasoning, to raise them above space and time and to hand over to them the very essence of meditation. You do not easily forget such a text. Hermetic sentences get mysteriously carved in your memory. They are still at work on your mind even when you do not think of them. For ‘it dwells in those who have already seen it and draws them upward, just as they say a magnet draws up iron’ (CH 4.11).

In a footnote, Mahé introduces the idea regarding the possible origins of DH:

In 1982, the Demotic Book of Thoth—a prehermetic dialogue discovered in 1993 by K.Th. Zauzich and Richard Jasnow—was still unknown. It is noteworthy that this work contains a short collection of Thoth’s precepts entitled The Little Book of Advice. Although none of those precepts are directly echoed by any Greek her­metic aphorism, it may confirm our assumption (which has been sharply
criticised by G. Fowden 1986, pp. 71-2) that Greek hermetic literature is closely connected with Greek hermetic gnomologies which in turn bear the influence of Egyptian Wisdoms or instructions.

The overall gist of Mahé’s argument here (which he treats on at length in Hermès en Haute-Égypte) is that DH—and, given the outsized role he gives DH as being an origination point for many later Hermetic texts later put to paper, all of the Hermetic texts as a hole—have their origin in the long genre of Egyptian sebayt (sbꜣyt) literature, often translated as “instructions” or “teachings”.  We have a good number of such texts; indeed, the Ancient Egyptian Literature series (volume I on the Old Kingdom period, volume II on the Middle and New Kingdoms period, and volume III on the Late Period) by Miriam Lichtheim gives translations for no fewer than these (from oldest to latest):

  • Instruction of Prince Hardjedef
  • Instruction to Kagemni
  • Instruction of Ptahhotep
  • Instruction of Amenemhet I for Sesostris I
  • Instruction to Any
  • Instruction of Amenemope
  • Instruction of Anksheshonq
  • Instruction of the Demotic Insinger Papyrus

In addition to these, as referred to by Mahé, the Demotic Book of Thoth (an easy layman’s translation is available in Jasnow’s and Zauzich’s Conversations in the House of Life: A New Translation of the Ancient Egyptian Book of Thoth) also has a small section that also qualifies as sebayt.  In addition to all the above, we also know for a fact that there were many other instances of sebayt, which either have not survived or which have not received enough public attention to be given modern translations, but we know that it was a long-lived genre of literature and was often hugely popular, with many texts being continuously copied an disseminated throughout Egyptian society.  What links all these texts together as belonging to a single “genre” is two, maybe three things:

  1. The text is, for the most part, a set of largely disconnected aphorisms
  2. The text is intended to inculcate the necessary actions, behaviors, and mindsets necessary to lead a good life
  3. Sometimes, the text provides an initial narrative that frames the text as being addressed from a father to a son for the son’s well-being in life

When it comes to studying good ways to live life, sebayt texts are often like gold, often touching on various aspects of living life: marriage, household affairs, national affairs, business, conducting oneself in public, eating, sleeping, sex, managing servants, and so on.  On occasion, the texts frame these exhortations and instructions in a religious light, saying that such-and-such behavior is something the gods approve of or that other behavior is what causes the gods to shun you, but that’s less common than just instructing someone to behave in such a way because it leads to good results in this life, maintaining good face, ensuring the prosperity and well-being of one’s household and family name, and the like.  Of course, given the long-lasting nature of this genre, as time goes on, there are some shifts in later sebayt texts that tend to merge certain aspects together, like how morality and piety become identified in e.g. the first century CE Demotic Papyrus Insinger.

And that’s just the rub: despite the many connections Mahé draws between DH and sebayt, I don’t think I can buy Mahé’s theory that DH descends from or is an evolution of Egyptian sebayt literature.  For the most part, sebayt are focused on living life well in this world, and aren’t focused on matters of mysticism or salvation like the DH is (to say nothing of the rest of the body of classical Hermetic literature), much less on doctrinal statements about cosmology or theology (which is all the DH really are anyway).  To derive a sense of religiosity or spirituality from the sebayt would require a good bit of squinting and stretching—not to say that it can’t be done, but that honestly doesn’t appear like the intended purpose of these texts.  Despite Mahé’s claims, the only thing that really links DH (or similar aphorism-based texts like SH 11) to the sebayt genre is its structure, being lists of aphorisms or maxims or statements (that first quality of sebayt literature I mentioned above).  But it’s not like a list of maxims is a particularly uncommon thing; after all, what of the Delphic Maxims or the Golden Verses of Pythagoras?  Those are much closer to sebayt in both style and content, but there’s no claim that those have an Egyptian origin.

In this, it turns out that I’m in complete agreement with Garth Fowden’s analysis of Mahé’s claims (as Mahé pointed out in that footnote above).  In The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind, Fowden devotes a lengthy section of chapter 2 to the idea that the Hermetic texts (at least the philosophical stuff like DH, CH, etc.) are connected to sebayt and offers a refutation of Mahé’s claims much along these same lines.  To summarize some of Fowden’s points:

  • Sebayt texts were not unknown in a priestly context for classical Egypt, but these were more popular than spiritual texts and generally focus on different topics and areas than priestly Thoth literature
  • These texts were, on the whole, about practical living, sometimes making use of otherwise unethical approaches as an expedient means
  • These texts center humanity in a human world rather than God/the gods in a divine world or humans in relation to the divine
  • These texts are “though pious…this-worldly, ethical, social” while those of the Hermetic texts are “gnostic, contemplative, individualist”
  • Mahé goes to the opposite extreme of Festugière: while Festugière claimed that Hermeticism was a popular Hellenic philosophical phenomenon dolled up in Egyptian makeup, Mahé claims that Hermeticism is thoroughly Egyptian and only later Hellenized as an affectation; Fowden notes how many other Greek and Jewish influences there are in even the provably early Hermetic texts that Mahé effecitvely passes over in silence
  • Although the technical Hermetica has many more links to traditional (even ancient) Egyptian priestly and magical practices, the “writings of the philosophical Hermetists….had far fewer direct links with the Egyptian past”, given that they yet “combined openness to the international civilization of Hellenism with a deep, sometimes even aggressive awareness of their roots in Egypt”

To be sure, not all of the sebayt texts are so disconnected from the spirit of classical Hermeticism.  Of the texts mentioned above, I think the Instruction of Papyrus Insinger hits closest to a Hermetic ethos: although its handwriting style has been dated to the first century CE with at least part of its composition may well lie in the latter half of the Ptolemaic period, I personally think that it’s a great sebayt text to bear in mind for students of Hermeticism.  Not only is it largely well-perserved and intelligible, nor that it provides a good approach to living morally and piously, but also because it emphasizes a reliance on fate and the notion that the gods always have the final say in things, their divine order being one which we must turn to and live in accordance with.  That sort of idea is one that we don’t often see in many such texts.  Further, each section of the text ends with the same line, which suffices as a memorable statement of belief:

The fate and the fortune that come, it is the god who sends them.

Some of the hallmarks that make a Hermetic text Hermetic is that it needs to have some ascription, whether explicit or otherwise, to Hermēs Trismegistos, one of his teachers (e.g. Agathos Daimōn, Poimandrēs), or one of his students (e.g. Asklēpios, Tat, Ammōn), and that it overall needs to evince some sort of focus on the mystic impulses and imperatives grounded in the Hellenistic Greco-Egyptian worldview evinced by other Hermetic texts like the CH, AH, SH, OH, DH, and the like.  Obviously, sebayt texts won’t focus on Hermēs Trismegistos as such (Thōth is another matter entirely, but it’s arguable whether we can mythically equate Hermēs Trismegistos with Thōth in this specific instance), but the purpose and focus of sebayt doesn’t match up with those of the Hermetic texts, either.  For that reason, we can’t really say that the Hermetic texts can be considered Kemetic in the sense of being purely Egyptian or being an outgrowth of purely Egyptian stuff, at least by focusing on sebayt texts alone for the purposes of studying the philosophical/theoretical Hermetic texts.

Does that make sebayt, or other Egyptian religious and spiritual stuff, worthless for studying Hermeticism?  By no means; indeed, we do know that there is an ultimately Egyptian origin to Hermeticism and Hermetic texts, and learning the kind of influences Egyptian religiosity and spirituality had in the development of Hermeticism is super important for understanding the Hermetic texts better.  However, by that same token, we also need to understand the extent and limits of such influence, because we also know that there are so many other influences at play in the development of Hermeticism ranging from Stoicism and Platonism to (Hellenized) Judaism and early gnostic tendencies.  But we shouldn’t conflate sebayt or other Egyptian stuff as Hermetic stuff, no more than we should conflate Greek stuff as Hermetic stuff, because while sebayt are purely-Egyptian, Hermetic texts are Greco-Egyptian, and that makes a world of different.  Studying these other texts may well be (and often are) useful to fill in our gaps in our knowledge, provide useful frameworks for a lived and living practice, and otherwise fleshing out an incomplete picture of Hermeticism, but in order to know what Hermeticism is, we also need to know what it is not, and how these things play with and off of each other.

Even if the doctrinal statements of (potentially early) Hermetic literature aren’t descended from sebayt texts, I think I can point to another text that bears more in common with sebayt: the Sentences of Sextus (SoS).  I first came across this text while flipping through my copy of the Nag Hammadi Library (NHL) texts, and it’s an interesting thing; the Coptic version preserved in NHL isn’t complete, but it survives in many other copies in Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Armenian, and Georgian, and has been variously ascribed to the pre-Christian Stoic-Pythagorean Roman philosopher Quintus Sextus or to decidedly Christian figures like Pope Sixtus II.  Regardless of its origins (and we’ll touch more on that in a bit), SoS was well-known and well-read in antiquity by many early Christians according to the testament of Origen of Alexandria, who gives us our first extant reference to SoS in the mid-third century CE.  SoS is composed of 451 aphorisms  (with some versions adding an extra 159) originally written in Greek, all of which provide general exhortations and encouragements towards living a moral, pious life.  Although it’s been claimed by some to be a product of pre-Christian pagan morality—and, indeed, it does show lots of similarities with the Golden Verses of Pythagoras or the Sentences of Clitarchus, and can be considered a textual sibling to Porphyry’s Ad Marcellam—a closer study of the text (as in the 1959 study by Henry Chadwick or in the excellent 2012 translation and commentary by Walter T. Wilson) given its overlap and borrowing of language and topics from the Bible suggests that is rather the product of a Christian compiler who has (in the words of Chadwick) “edited, carefully revised, and modified a previous pagan collection (or perhaps collections)” of similar maxims.

Beginning to sound familiar?  I thought so, too.

Now, to be clear, I am not claiming SoS to be a Hermetic text.  As with the equally-extreme and equally-wrong stances of whether Hermeticism is purely-Greek or purely-Egyptian, there have also been people who take extreme views on whether SoS is purely-Christian or purely-pagan, when it is indeed indebted to both.  We know that SoS was compiled at some point no earlier than the late second century CE, and given that Origen was the first person to refer to it, it has a strong likelihood of being composed in Egypt.  In addition to this origin making SoS roughly contemporaneous and colocated with the development of the classical Hermetic texts, it also suggests that not only is SoS Christian, but specifically Egyptian Christian—and, given the content and format of SoS, being a (long) list of aphorisms encouraging one to live life well, suggests this to be a much more viable candidate for being a descendant (even if an indirect one) of sebayt literature.

To be sure, it’s not an altogether clean match.  In his article “Wisdom, Paraensis, and the Roots of Monasticism” in the 2012 anthology Early Christian Paraenesis in Context, Samuel Rubenson notes (emphasis in bold mine):

Moral exhortation, paraenesis, was, moreover, not something specifically Christian or Biblical. In Egypt there was a long tradition of collections of wisdom in the form of moral exhortations, often directed to “my son.” To some scholars it is this Egyptian wisdom tradition that is the basic foundation of the Apophthegmata. Thus the exhortations of the monastic fathers are actually a Christianized form of the exhortations of the old wise men of Egypt. However, as clearly demonstrated by Miriam Lichtheim, Egyptian wisdom had already begun to change drastically long before the rise of monasticism. Traditional morality with its focus on human relations especially within the family had been fused with religious piety focusing on the holy man, the ideal model of calm, restraint, patience and trust in God. The exhortations in the late Demotic texts do not look for “the good life,” but for “the way of God” or even “salvation.” And in the few texts that can be used as a bridge between late Egyptian wisdom literature and the early Egyptian monastic exhortations, the influence of Greek philosophy is prevailing. Based on Pythagorean ascetic traditions fused with Platonic and Stoic popular philosophy, texts like the Sentences of Sextus represent something different from Egyptian wisdom, an anthropological dualism most strikingly demonstrated in the fact that when translated into Coptic the word psyche had to be borrowed from the Greek, since Old Egyptian simply has no word for soul. When monasticism began in Egypt in the late third century, traditional Egyptian wisdom was already something that belonged to the past. The sapiential texts that we know in Coptic are all Hellenic, and most probably all translated from Greek. Original Coptic compositions begin with the first monks, and the models are all Greek.

In a sense, SoS is in the perfect sweet-spot for syncretism, itself being a result of syncretizing the old wisdom of religiosity with new impulse for mysticism, and itself encouraging further syncretizing though being a foundation for later Christian (or para-Christian) wisdom texts or for writers like Evagrius of Pontus.  Given how it was already remarked as being popular Christian literature of the time, SoS appearing in something like Nag Hammadi shouldn’t be too surprising—but given how Hermetic texts also appear in Nag Hammadi suggests that there would have probably been some mutual influence between the equally-cosmopolitan, roughly contemporaneous, and roughly colocated mystical traditions of both Hermeticism and Christianity in the second and third centuries CE.

In that light, given its focus and origination and its likely antecedents, I personally find SoS to be an excellent adjunct for Hermetic studies, especially in how it can function as providing a useful guide for right-living in light of a need for piety, spiritual rigor, and the ascent of the soul.  To be sure, SoS is not a Hermetic text, but I think it has plenty of value for Hermeticists to read as if it were a Hermetic text.  And while SoS can be argued to descend from sebayt texts, I would still elevate SoS to a higher priority to read than sebayt texts for the purposes of better understanding and practicing Hermeticism; not only does SoS express a much closer affinity to the goals and aims of Hermeticism than sebayt texts do, but the syncretic and cross-cultural Greco-Egyptian origins of both the classical Hermetic texts and SoS, both being composed at about the same time, give them much more in common that allow each to be much more readily understood and approached from both ends than either would from the long history of purely-Egyptian sebayt.  (Of course, that’s with the exception of the Instructions of Papyrus Insinger, but that’s just one of many sebayt texts, and is already so late and already composed during a Hellenistic colonization of Egypt that there was already likely some Greco-Egyptian syncretism beginning to happen.  As a result, Papyrus Insinger can be argued to be the exception that proves the rule.)

To be sure, SoS is as lacking in cosmology and theology as any sebayt text, and in that regard, cannot and should not be seen as a forerunner of any sort of Hermetic doctrine; in that, DH and SH 11 and similar compilations of Hermetic statements are still in a separate category from SoS.  However, there are so many moral and ethical exhortations in SoS that agree, if not entirely than almost so, with moral and ethical outlooks in Hermetic texts that it’s a wonder that such a text as SoS was kept so distinct from Hermetic compilations; although Wilson rarely cites it and is more fond of citing Christian scripture, he does point out at least some stated similarities between SoS and CH, e.g. SoS 141 (“If you love things you should not, you will not love things you should”) with CH IV.6 (“It is not possible, my son, to attach yourself both to things mortal and to things divine”) or SoS 320 with CH XIII.12, or SoS 370 with CH XII.23.  As Chadwick notes of SoS, “there are no maxims offensively redolent of their ethnic origin”, but neither are there any references to Christ or the apostles or specific Christian dogmata beyond general encouragements using contextless biblical quotes or near-quotes, which allows SoS to be read in any hypsistarian or monotheistic manner, or even a monist one as befitting much of the language of the Hermetic texts.

I think it’s important to remember how messy the history is of Hermeticism and its development, and how it’s not any one clean thing or another with neat and well-spaced dividers—but, for that matter, neither are many other mystical and spiritual movements, since nothing ever arises in a vacuum.  It behooves us all to remember that, although it has Egyptian origins, we cannot accurately call Hermeticism “Egyptian” in the same way that the pharaonic cult of Amun is Egyptian; it is, more accurately, Greco-Egyptian, and we cannot ignore the Helleniality of Hermeticism any more than we can its Egyptianity.  To that end, I would wager that other classical Greco-Egyptian or otherwise cosmopolitan eastern Mediterranean texts and traditions are probably going to be at least as informative, if not more so, than those from just a purely Egyptian or a purely Greek origin, much less those from much older time periods than the early Roman Imperial era.  The sebayt texts and Egyptian priestly traditions are awesome to study and dig into for Hermetic studies—I would never say otherwise—but I think that some scholars and students may overemphasize them to the exclusion of other, much more reasonable and readily-available sources that lend themselves at least as well to the context of Hermeticism, like SoS.

Besides, at the end of the day, whether one is reading a set of definitions or instructions or sentences, or however else one translates the word γνῶμαι, so long as it can be used by a Hermeticist and agrees with the goals and aims of Hermeticism, then that’s what matters most, even if that thing isn’t Hermetic on its own terms.  And I, personally, find much more to use in agreement with Hermeticism in texts like the SoS than in texts like the Instruction of Ankhsheshonq.

Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: Dechristianizing DSIC

Where were we?  We’re in the middle of discussing the early modern conjuration ritual The Art of Drawing Spirits Into Crystals (DSIC), attributed to the good abbot of Spanheim, Johannes Trithemius, but which was more likely invented or plagiarized from another more recent source by Francis Barrett in his 1801 work The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer.  Many who are familiar with it either read it directly from Esoteric Archives, came by it through Fr. Rufus Opus (Fr. RO) in either his Red Work series of courses (RWC) or his book Seven Spheres (SS), or came by it through Fr. Ashen Chassan in his book Gateways Through Stone and Circle (Fr. AC and GTSC, respectively).  I’ve been reviewing the tools, techniques, and technology of DSIC for my own purposes as well as to ascertain the general use and style used by other magician in the real world today, and today we can move on to other topics  Last time, we discussed how we might tackle certain problems that could come up in conjuration when things go sideways.  If you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

As we’ve shown at many points during our review, survey, and discussion over the past number of weeks, it’s clear that DSIC is very much a relatively late product of Western Renaissance Hermetic, Solomonic, and qabbalistic literature, relying especially on Agrippa’s Fourth Book and the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano but also referencing many other texts in those same lines, which were universally written with either pseudo-Jewish language, Christian language, or both.  I mean, heck, DSIC itself is attributed to a Christian abbot, Johannes Trithemius of Spanheim, so it should come as little surprise that we’d find Christian phrases and reliance on the power of Jesus Christ in our prayers—even if the real authorship of DSIC lies either with Barrett himself or one of his contemporaries or near-predecessors.

It really shouldn’t catch anyone off-guard that every tool, implement, and prayer in DSIC is accompanied with or emblazoned by names of God or references to Jesus; after all, that pretty much is the whole of the grimoire tradition from a pretty early period onwards up into the modern era.  After all, the majority of Europeans have (for better or worse) been various kinds of Christian for at least the past 1000 years, if not 1500 or even longer more; for the past thirty or so generations of European-centric culture, people were born Christian, lived Christian, and died Christian.  It was heresy, apostasy, and blasphemy to do otherwise—though, of course, the exact limits of what could be considered “Christian” would certainly vary from place to place and people to people, especially once you account for even longer-lived traditions that carried on under Christian masques.

It’s only within relatively recent history that people born within a largely European or Western culture are willingly and openly choosing to live in non-Christian ways again, and though some of those people do so in a way that’s respectful and understanding of their Christian heritage (which of course they have), many people just outright leave it all behind and want nothing to do with it anymore.  And I don’t blame them!  It’s not like Christianity, beautiful religion that it can be when you get into the theologies and eschatologies and salvific elements, has earned itself a good reputation when you factor in the institutionalization, politics, war crimes, sexual abuse epidemics, colonization, and all the other horrific problems that come about when you become an imperialist power of the shit-filled world we live in.  As the Indian philosopher Bara Dada once said, “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians, you are not like him”.

To get to the point: we have a modern, thriving occulture and occult scene being played out on worldwide platforms that has dozens, hundreds of spiritual lineages, traditions, and practices being shared, applied, experimented with, adjusted, and adapted by a hundred times as many people each and every day.  The problem that arises, as far as DSIC (and this post) is concerned, is when people are presented with a ritual text and want to (or are directed or suggested to) apply it but are yet unwilling to do so due to its Christian tone and approach because they themselves are uncomfortable with Christianity.  What can be done?

In all honesty, the easiest choice is to just use the text as written: despite any hangups, chips on your shoulder, or hesitation when it comes to Christian language and theology, the honest-to-God most straightforward approach here is to just suck it up, shelve your hesitations or chips or blocks, and use DSIC.  It’s already a complete (well…mostly, sorta) text that works, and has been shown to work by Christians and non-Christians alike (I’m proof of just that).  You don’t need to be Jewish to use Psalms in magic, you don’t need to be Hindu to make pūjā for the devas, you don’t need to be Buddhist to use mantras for the bodhisattvas, and you don’t need to be Christian to use DSIC.  If the only thing that prevents you from using DSIC (by all accounts an easy, straightforward method to Western-style conjuration, if not an introduction to even heavier and more laborious and intense texts than that) is you, then either you should sit with yourself and try to resolve your hangups that has nothing directly to do with them (it’s not like Christian authorities would exactly approve of what DSIC does!), or perhaps find a different approach to magic and conjuration entirely that doesn’t cause you such problems.

But that’s not a great answer, and can come across as pretty insensitive.  Plus, with the title of the post as it is, you can guess I’m not gonna accept that answer myself.

Yes, there are ways we can modify the ritual text to avoid references to Christ; that’s not that difficult at all, and is actually pretty trivial if you know a few non-Christian set phrases here and there to replace Christian set phrases.  For instance, the divine name Agla is, in reality, an acronym for the Hebrew phrase Atah Gibor Le-olam Adonai, “You are mighty forever, my Lord”, and we see echoes of this in some of the older prayers used in Christianity, such as “mighty unto the ages of ages” or “whose mercy endures forever and ever” or “world without end”.  So, for instance, whenever we see a conclusion to the prayer that ends in “through Jesus Christ our Lord” or any variation thereof, we can replace it with “for the honor and glory of God Almighty” or “for your honor and glory” (depending on whether God is being addressed or not in that specific prayer).  Instead of “in the name of the blessed Trinity”, we can simply say “in the name of God Almighty”—or, if you wanted to replace this with a more Islamic flavor, “in the name of God the Most Gracious and Most Merciful”.  Changes like this are pretty easy and straightforward to make.

For instance, below is a copy of the DSIC ritual script that contains just the prayers from DSIC, but with all references to Christ and the Trinity removed and substituted with fairly appropriate changes in bold text:

O God, you who are the author of all good things!  I beseech you, strengthen this your poor servant, that he may stand fast without fear through this dealing and work.  I beseech you, o Lord, enlighten the dark understanding of your creature, that his spiritual eye may be opened to see and know your angelic spirits descending here into this crystal.

O inanimate creature of God, be sanctified and consecrated and blessed to this purpose: that no evil phantasy may appear in you, or, if one should gain ingress into you, that they be constrained to speak intelligibly, truly, and without the least ambiguity, for the honor and glory of God Most High.  Amen.

As your servant standing here before you, o Lord, who desires neither evil treasures, nor injury to his neighbor, nor hurt to any living creature; grant him the power of descrying those celestial spirits and intelligences that may appear in this crystal, and whatever good gifts—whether the power of healing infirmities, or of imbibing wisdom, or discovering any evil likely to afflict any person or family, or any other good gift—you might be pleased to bestow on me.  Enable me, by your wisdom and mercy, to use whatever I may receive to the honor of your holy name. Grant that all this may come to pass for your honor and glory.  Amen.

In the name of God Most High and Most Holy do I consecrate this piece of ground for our defense, so that no evil spirit may have power to break these bounds prescribed here, by the everlasting power of God.  Amen.

I conjure you, o creature of fire, by Him who created all things, both in Heaven and Earth and the Sea and in every other place whatsoever, that you cast away every phantasm from you, so that no hurt whatsoever shall be done in any thing.

Bless, o Lord, this creature of fire, and sanctify it that it may be blessed, and that your blessing may fill up the power and virtue of its odors, so that neither the enemy nor any false imagination may enter into them, that all things may serve towards your honor and glory.  Amen.

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful!  I desire you, o strong mighty angel NN., that if it be the divine will of him who is called Tetragrammaton … the Holy God, the Father, that you take upon yourself some shape as best becomes your celestial nature, and appear to me visibly here in this crystal, and answer my demands in as far as I shall not transgress the bounds of divine mercy and grace by requesting unlawful knowledge, but that you graciously show me what things are most profitable for me to know and do, to the glory and honor of his divine majesty, he who lives and reigns, world without end.  Amen.

Lord, your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.  Make clean my heart within me, and take not your holy spirit from me.

O Lord, by your name have I called NN.; suffer him to administer unto me, and that all things may work together for your honor and glory, that to you, o Lord, be ascribed all might, majesty, and dominion.  Amen.

O Lord!  I give to you my hearty and sincere thanks for the hearing of my prayer, and I thank you for having permitted your spirit NN. to appear unto me, whom I, by your grace, will interrogate to my further instruction, in your holy Light.  Amen.

Do you swear by and within the True Light of God that reveals all secrets and obliterates all darkness that you are truly the spirit as you say you are and that you come to help me as I have called you?

O great and mighty spirit NN, inasmuch as you came in peace and in the name of the ever-blessed and righteous Trinity, so too in this name you may depart, and return to me when I call you in His name to whom every knee bows down.  Farewell, o NN.!  May peace be between us for the eternal honor and glory of God Almighty.  Amen.

To God, the Father, the eternal Spirit, the fountain of Light, the Creator of all creation, and the Sustainer of all life be all honor and glory, world without end.  Amen.

Like, I did all that in about five minutes, copy-pasting and all.  It wasn’t hard.  And, moreover, it ties in just fine with the use of the DSIC tools that similarly don’t involve Christian language; the few divine names that are used have no relationship to Christ (which is another argument in favor of their ultimate Solomonic origins, I might add).  All the things I replaced were only in the prayers to be made, and were replaced with pretty bland and basically-equivalent things that maintained the same sense of what I wanted to use to begin with.  Heck, based on some of Fr. RO’s writings before on using more classically Hermetic stuff, I’ve got my own version of drawing out the circle specifically with a more Hermetic-Gnostic bent, which departs more from the DSIC phrasing but does exactly the same thing:

In the name of the Nous, this circle is consecrated for our defense.
By the power of the Logos, this circle is defended for our perfection.
For the sake of the Sophia, this circle is perfected for our work.
Through the might of the Aiōn, may all that is baneful be cast out, that only Good may here remain.

But there are those who would still take issue with this dechristianized version of DSIC because to them it’d still read as “too Christian”.  Despite this not being Christian at all anymore, it is still theistic in the Abrahamic sense, and that’s much harder to avoid because the prayers of DSIC are fundamentally Solomonic, and Solomonic texts are absolutely Abrahamic coming from a long tradition of Jewish magic, whether or not Hellenistic, Babylonian, Neoplatonic, or qabbalistic elements are involved or not.  To remove God from DSIC would mean completely detaching DSIC not only from its Solomonic tradition, but from the entirety of the Solomonic hierarchial worldview with God at the top of it and all things being accomplished by it under the authority and with the license of God.  And that’s very difficult to accomplish, because doing so means we need to rethink the entire cosmological underpinnings of DSIC that allows it to work at all.

It’s a lot like petitioning Christian saints, like (especially) St. Cyprian of Antioch, without being Christian: sure, you can do so, and it’s not like the saints themselves will (typically) spurn you, because they recognize that the same divinity that made them holy is within you, too.  But you can’t petition the saints or approach them without recognizing that it’s quite literally Jesus Christ that made them a saint to begin with.  If you accept the validity of the power and presence of Christian saints but deny the fundamental divinity that gives them that power and presence, then you’re basically trying to ascribe power to the saints themselves apart and away from Jesus, which isn’t how it works at all.  Not only that, but you also end up insulting the saints by disparaging and denying the God and savior they themselves worship.  It doesn’t end prettily.  You don’t have to be Christian to work with the saints (even if it does help immensely to be so), but you do need to recognize and honor Jesus Christ in your work with them because that’s the fundamental source of their own power.

Likewise, I know (and have personally encountered) some people who want to work with angels but who don’t like the idea of God and end up ignoring God entirely in their works.  That’s honestly a contradiction, because no matter how you cut it, the angels are the functionaries, emissaries, and servants of God; it’s right in their names (Michael ← “Who is like God?”, Raphael ← “Healing of God”, Gabriel ← “Strength of God”, etc.).  To take entities like this and completely remove them from their cosmological, theological, and mythological origins really doesn’t leave you with a lot to work with, because accepting the power of the angels necessitates accepting the power of God.  God and the angels come together as part of a package deal; you can’t really take one and leave the other without leaving yourself in the dust.  You don’t have to be Christian or Jewish or Muslim or partake in any kind of Abrahamic faith, but you do have to recognize the power and sovereignty of God in order to enter into the hierarchy that allows the angels themselves to work as well as to allow DSIC, as a ritual that’s fundamentally based on the angels and Solomonic hierarchies, to function.

So is that it, then?  If you don’t believe in God, you’re screwed as far as DSIC is concerned?  Well…yes and no.  “Yes” because DSIC fundamentally relies on a notion of a Divine Sovereign at the top of a cosmological hierarchy to which all things in the cosmos must necessarily obey when presented by an authority licensed by that Sovereign, to whom we can petition that we receive such authority and license to perform spiritual works to direct and summon spiritual entities as we desire within the boundaries of the permission of that Sovereign, under whom are particular planetary and worldly powers that facilitate creation, manifestation, and materialization in the world we live in that ultimately is made by and ruled by that Sovereign.  That is my understanding of the bare-bones cosmology under which the DSIC ritual operates, apart and away from its Solomonic vocabulary and structure.  That notion of Divine Sovereign is the “God” in which you must believe in order to use DSIC, so if you can’t buy that, then yes, you’re screwed.

That being said, the Divine Sovereign of DSIC is not necessarily identical to the God of the Jews, the God of the Christians, or the God of the Muslims, or any one particular cosmocrator, all-ruling deity or divinity of any particular tradition or faith.  If you can look behind some of the classically-used terms that people (who happen to be Jewish or Christian or Muslim, or some variant thereof that includes traditional, indigenous, or otherwise pagan influences without being classified as outright heretical or apostate) used to refer to this Divine Sovereign and see the fundamental divinity behind any particular religious approach and see something that you can understand and work with, then no, you’re not screwed, and can use DSIC just fine.  You might have hang-ups with some of the language used, and that can be resolved or worked with, finding appropriate substitutions as necessary, but once you understand why some of those very same terms and names are used, you can begin to appreciate what purpose they fulfill in the grander cosmological scheme of things and can still apply them without necessarily having to buy into any individual religious tradition that you don’t like or agree with.  In that light, you could consider this Divine Sovereign as YHVH of Judaism, as the Triune God of Christianity, as ‘Allāh of Islam, as Zeus Pantokrator of the Hellenes, Iupiter Optimus Maximus of the Romans, the Good of the Platonists, the Nous of the Hermeticists, Viṣṇu of Vaishnavaite Hindus or Śiva of Shaivite Hindus, and so on.  (This is one of the mysteries, as I see it, of Hermeticism as a spiritual practice: being able to see through the different interpretations to get to that which is interpreted directly.)

That’s where we need to be careful when changing the language and divine names used in DSIC—or, for that matter, any Solomonic or Hermetic ritual—because they typically fulfill some spiritual function at least as often as they fulfill some poetic or literary function.  While the phrases I replaced in my simple dechristianized DSIC alternative above were pretty easy, they also filled more-or-less the exact same role as the original Christian language, but I didn’t touch the divine names used on the tools because there was no need to and fit just as cleanly with the adapted ritual text as it did the original.  As Fr. AC says in GTSC, at least where it comes to the prayers themselves, that if the Christian language of the prayers used in DSIC “are too much of an aversion to your spiritual nature”, then you should make alternative prayers that—and he emphasizes this strongly and in no uncertain terms—”match [the original prayers] as closely as possible“.  This is most easily accomplished by simply changing some of the language, but you would need to do so in a way that matches the function of the original language as well as maintaining the underlying cosmological framework, as well.

I’m suddenly reminded that, back in February 2009, Fr. RO put up a post on his blog (a single post, unlike…what, is this the 21st post in this series?) that was basically a synopsis of how to conjure spirits using a very pared-down, fast-and-loose version of DSIC.  In it, he describes some non-Christian, and even non-Abrahamic things one might use for a combined lamen-cum-Table of Practice and some of the prayers:

You’ll need to draw the spirit’s symbol inside a hexagram, underneath it’s name. A Hexagram is a Star of David, made of two triangles, one pointing up and one pointing down. Each little triangle formed by the points should be the same size.

Around this hexagram, draw FIVE Pentragrams (five-pointed stars). Four of these stars represent the four Angels of the Corners of the Earth. The Fifth represents the Spirit you are conjuring.

Next write the spirit’s name above these stars. In the Fourth Book, you write them in Hebrew.

Next, draw an equilateral triangle around everything you’ve drawn so far.

Next, draw a circle around the Triangle. It should touch the three points of the triangle.

Draw another circle around that circle, about a half-inch or so out from the first circle. In the border you have created, write the Names of God. These Names will vary depending on your source. If you’ve studied the Golden Dawn version of the Tree of Life, and have performed the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram a time or two, and the Middle Pillar on occasion, then you should probably use the Names of God that are assigned to the ten Sephiroth.

In my opinion, you can write IAO, LOGOS, Chronos, Zeus, Apollo, Aries, Aphrodite, Hermes, Artemis, and Hephaestus. You can throw in Hecate instead of Hepaestus too, but I’d keep Hephaestus in there anyhow. Now these are Greek manifestations of the faces of God that were revealed to a set of people that were not given the Law the way God gave it to the Jews. Instead, they were given the Logos in the form of Philosophy and other weirdness.*

Either way, or any other way, you’re representing in the outermost circle the manifestations of God that represent the different phases He went through in his emanation of the physical world. By listing these secret names, you the magician are pointing out to the servants of the Most High that you’re in on the secret, you understand the way things work, and that you’re an initiate. It’s like a badge that a sheriff wears. There’s no magic in the star of the cop, it’s what it represents that makes a criminal have to listen.

When I trace a Circle, I say, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, I consecrate this ground for our defense!” You can say, IAO, LOGOS, and Spiritus Mundi/Spiritus Sancti if you’re not feeling particularly comfortable with the names of God from the Christian tradition. I strongly urge you to stick with the neoplatonic system though. You’ll need a representative of the Monad, the Intercessor, and the Spirit that maintains everything in your world, like the name of your Nativity Angel, Genius, Agathadaimon, or HGA. By touching on these three things, you’re retracing your path up through the spheres, and acknowledging who you are and what your status is. You’re affirming that you are indeed the magician in the center square of the Circle of the Goetia with these simple words.

In some ways, I agree with his logic, and as a result, I’m reminded of some of Satyr Magos’ old work from a few years back in a custom Table of Practice to conjure the spirit of the plant cannabis, as well as a unique lamen-based pentacle incorporating PGM elements of the spirits of Saturn and Venus, all taking the fundamental techniques and technology of DSIC (based on Agrippa’s Fourth Book as well as fundamentally Solomonic ideas) and applying them in his own way.  These are by no means pure implementations of DSIC, Agrippa, or Solomonica, but they don’t have to be, because Satyr Magos (definitely not Christian or Abrahamic) took the fundamental notions of what was going on, went past the Abrahamic language, adapted DSIC to work within a Hellenistic pagan and magical method using the same fundamental underlying cosmology, and made something great with it.

But at the same time, I also know that Fr. RO took care in specifying what was being done, as did Satyr Magos.  You can’t just slap the names of the Twelve Olympians on top of the seven planetary angels, because they don’t fulfill the same function…unless you know to approach and conceive of them in that way: that the Olympians preside over the celestial and heavenly forces that produce creation.  (This is the same reasoning, by the way, that allows some people to successfully adapt DSIC tools to forego the use of the four kings and use the four archangels instead, because for them, in their manner of working and cosmological need, the four angels fill the same purpose as the four kings, and depending on how far back you want to reach, as we touched on before, can be considered interchangeable or identical with them.)

Basically, if you want to adapt DSIC not just in how you design the tools but how you construct and recite the very prayers of the ritual, you need to be careful that you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Yes, in order to use DSIC, you do need to buy into the fundamental cosmological framework upon which DSIC is founded and within which DSIC operates.  So long as you can do that, and recognize what the individual components of the ritual (prayers, divine names, sigils, symbols, arrangements, etc.) are doing, then you are entirely and absolutely able to adapt DSIC to your own personal religious or spiritual needs; thus, you could come up with a Neoplatonic Hellenic DSIC, a PGM-style DSIC, an Islamic DSIC, and any number of other variants that both click with the underlying framework of DSIC as well as being adjusted to the needs of specific spiritual or religious traditions.  However, even though this boils down to just a change in aesthetics, extreme caution is still needed that you keep all the things that need to be kept.  Otherwise, you end up either jeopardizing the functionality or safety of DSIC, or end up with something so completely different that it cannot be considered DSIC anymore.

So, for example, let’s say we wanted to come up with an adaptation of DSIC in the style of the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM).  Honestly, given how some of the texts are phrased in the PGM itself, the general theist adaptation of the prayers given above would suffice just fine for them; the only thing it really lacks are strings of barbarous words of power or other humanely-unintelligible divine names, which we could put in when referring to “the ever-blessed and righteous Trinity” or “swear upon the blood and righteousness of Christ” or wherever, as necessary.  However, the generic dechristianized prayer adaptation above would work fine.  The real issue in getting DSIC to fall more in line with PGM stuff would be the design of the tools and implements…sorta.

  • I mean, if you consider the divine names used on the pedestal and wand to just be a type of generalized barbarous word of power that happens to have Hebrew or Greek origins (much as the popular barbarous word ΣΕΜΕΣΕΙΛΑΜ comes from Hebrew for “eternal sun”, shemesh `olam), and the three symbols on the pedestal/wand to just be forms of characters generally.  I mean, wherever “Tetragrammaton” occurs, you could just keep that but written in Greek (which wouldn’t be utterly uncommon), or substitute it with ΙΑΩ (which is a Greek rendition of YHVH, the actual Tetragrammaton).  Alternatively, instead of referring to Jesus, one might call upon Abrasax (whose name, ΑΒΡΑΣΑΞ, adds up to 365) as another divine figure, especially considering that they’re both solar entities at heart.
  • The only thing that you might want to consider changing would be the names of the four angels, four kings, and seven planetary angels.  But would that even really be necessary, either?  I mean, there are references to the angels in the PGM, as well, so their inclusion—at least for the four archangels on the pedestal—in a PGM device would fall within the realm of plausibility.
  • The four kings, likewise, even though they’re not purely part of PGM, could be included all the same, or we might substitute them with e.g. my four Solar Guardians of the Directions.
  • The seven planetary angels could be substituted with the seven planetary titans (e.g. Hēlios, Mēnē, Stilbōn) or their corresponding deities (e.g. Apollōn, Artemis, Hermēs), or (using an alternative interpretation of the DSIC instructions) we could omit the planetary angels entirely and just use the seals and characters of the planets without making reference to angels at all.
  • Or, if you wanted to stick with the seven planets, or something related to them, there are the names of the Fates of Heaven (PGM IV.662—674), the Pole Lords of Heaven (PGM IV.674—692), and the Images of God (PGM XIII.880—887) we put together when we discussed the seven stars of both Ursa Minor and Ursa Maior, and the seven planets and how they might relate to each other in a structure of high-cosmic rulership.  No characters for these, it’d seem, but PGM stuff always focused far more by far on names and words of power than characters generally.
  • Instead of using seven planets on the outer ring, depending on whether you consider the planets the primary celestial generators of the cosmos or the stars, you could use the twelve signs of the Zodiac instead, perhaps replacing their names and glyphs with those from Demokritos’ Dream Divination ritual from PGM VII.795—845.
  • For the lamen, the general form could remain the same, perhaps just replacing the string of divine names on the ring if you wanted something less Abrahamic, even if they still qualified as barbarous words of power on their own, some of them appearing in the PGM itself—perhaps using the divine names in the PGM that add up to 9999 (ΦΡΗ ΑΝΩΙ ΦΩΡΧΩ ΦΥΥΥΥ ΡΟΡΨΙΣ ΟΡΟΧΩΩΙ and ΧΑΒΡΑΧ ΦΝΕΣΧΗΡ ΦΙΧΡΟ ΦΝΥΡΩ ΦΩΧΩ ΒΩΧ, respectively), the “six names” from the Headless Rite (ΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΘΩ ΒΑΣΥΜ ΙΣΑΚ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΙΑΩ, but remember that ΙΑΩ is a Greek rendition of YHVH, i.e. the Tetragrammaton itself, ΣΑΒΑΩΘ a rendition of Tzabaoth, and ΒΑΣΥΜ ΙΣΑΚ can be interpreted as Aramaic or Hebrew for “in the name [of] Isaac”), or other divine names as desired, especially if they have planetary connections for the planet of the spirit being conjured.  Another good set of names to use here are those from the Royal Ring of Abrasax: ΦΝΩ ΕΑΙ ΙΑΒΩΚ, ΑΔΩΝΑΙΕ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ, Ο ΠΑΝΤΩΝ ΜΟΝΑΡΧΟΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ, ΚΡΥΠΤΕ ΑΟΡΑΤΕ ΠΑΝΤΑΣ ΕΦΟΡΩΝ, ΟΥΕΡΤΩ ΠΑΝΤΟΔΥΝΑΣΤΑ.
  • As for general ritual process, I would (of course) recommend my PGM-Style Framing Rite as a way to “do the usual” for such a PGM-style DSIC, or parts of it could be used to hack up a PGM-style DSIC process.

What about if we were to come up with a more Islamic variant?

  • Again, although the prayer variation given above works fine, more epithets could be used from the 99 Names of ‘Allāh, or similar invocations of jinn or spirits from a variety of Islamic texts on magic could be used.
  • Although the Picatrix has two sets of angels for the planets (one used in the lengthy and beautiful prayers that doesn’t match up with any other system commonly known or used, another used for the Mirror of the Seven Winds which do match up with what we later find in sources like Liber Juratus Honorii or the Heptameron), I might recommend instead using the Shams al-Ma`ārif instead, which uses a set of angels that’s more well-attested in Islamic and Arabic planetary magic.  In my estimation, the seals of the angels could reasonably be kept the same, changing the names out to be Arabic instead of Latin or Hebrew (or, realistically, pseudo-Hebrew or Hebrew-derived).
  • Jinn lore (cf. this website on these topics), but also Tewfik Canaan, “The Decipherment of Arabic Talismans” in The Formation of the Classical Islamic World (vol. 42), Magic and Divination in Early Islam, ed. Savage-Smith, 2004 Ashgate Publishing Ltd.) describes “four Heads” or “four Helpers”, spiritual entities who preside over the four directions: Māzar in the East, Qasūrah in the South, Kamṭam in the West, and Ṭaykal in the North (though properly “the sea”).  These four serve under (or are served by), respectively, the jinn lords El-Aḥmar, Shamhūrish, Mudhhib, and Murrah.  I’m not sure whether the four Helpers are better than using the four jinn lords here, because the jinn lords count among their number the jinn Maymūn—who would later become the Western Amaymon.  Within an Islamic or Arabic context, however, perhaps the four Helpers would be better.
  • Canaan above gives four angels for the four directions: Daniā’īl for the East, Ḥazqiā’īl for the South, Dardiā’īl for the West, and ‘Asiā’īl for the North.  However, I’ve also seen it attributed that the four main angels in Islamic lore are given such that Azrael (`Azrā’īl) is given to the East, Gabriel to the South, Raphael (Isrāfīl) to the West, and Michael (Mīkā’īl) to the North.  And, to offer another variation, we could use the angels of the planets that rule over the jinn lords above when connected to the four Helpers, leading to Samsamā’īl (Mars/Tuesday) for the East, Ṣarfyā’īl (Jupiter/Thursday) for the South, Rūqayā’īl (Sun/Sunday) for the West, and Jibraīl (Moon/Monday) for the North.  Any one of these sets could be used for the pedestal, though I like using the four main angels, myself, perhaps replacing Azrael with Uriel (‘Ūriāl).
  • I’m not sure what good replacements would be for the divine names used on the wand, pedestal, or lamen.  We know that some of the famous 99 Names of ‘Allāh in Islam have planetary uses or associations (see the link to the Shams al-Ma`ārif above), but perhaps other texts such as the Berhatiah might contain other divine names for consideration.

I don’t mean to say that these are the only possible ways to vary DSIC, or even for these specific traditions, but they should give some food for thought to those who would want to change DSIC up a bit to suit other traditions and spiritual practices, without using a fundamentally different conjuration ritual that involves other or different tools.  DSIC, as has been shown in the past 15 years or so, can prove to be a highly flexible system, especially if you play more fast-and-loose with it as Fr. RO likes to do, because the fundamental technology and approach works to conjure spirits into crystals.  That’s all we’re trying to do; everything else is aesthetics and design choices.

Yet Another Misbaḥa Prayer: the Thrice Holy Crown

Yes, another devotion that uses the misbaḥa, the prayer beads used in Islam and Arabic-speaking areas.  I’ve already discussed this twice before—once about my Crown of Gabriel, another for the Crown of the Dead and the other archangels—and it seems like I’m falling into an unimaginative yet productive pattern when it comes to coming up with new ones.  This one, however, is more like the original Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah, in that it’s a devotion to God and God alone rather than calling upon another spirit or devoted for the sake of a spirit.  And it’s kinda rooted in a Christian practice, too, that also happens to use a set of Christian prayer beads.

So, we know the format, right?  The misbaḥa is a set of 99 beads, split up into three groups of 33 with a separator between the sets, all strung along from a larger starting bead that isn’t itself counted.

Given that kind of framework, here’s the misbaḥa-based devotional I call the “Thrice-Holy Crown”:

  1. Recite once: “In the name of God, the Most Holy, whose mercy is endless.”
  2. On each of the first set of 33 beads, recite: “Holy God, have mercy on us.”
  3. On the first separator, recite: “Cleanse our sins, forgive our errors, heal our illness.”
  4. On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite: “Holy Strong, have mercy on us.”
  5. On the second separator, recite: “Before your glory do we bow in worship.”
  6. On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite: “Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.”
  7. Recite once: “Glory be to God, forever and ever.”

Simple, clean, effective.  It’s one I find myself increasingly using in my regular devotions alongside, but more commonly nowadays instead of, the standard Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah when I’m not using my misbaḥa for other devotions.  Honestly, I’m liking the use of the misbaḥa for being so generic, flexible, and amenable to any number of devotions or ways to use it, and I’m basically treating it as taking in spiritual oomph like how some esoteric Buddhists treat their malas.  Plus, a standard misbaḥa is large enough to be worn around the neck or wrist to keep it at ready access, as well as being large enough to be draped over or wrapped around something.  This, I’m finding, is coming in use as a spiritual technique to gird or surround or help imbue something or someone with a particular spiritual presence.  For instance, when I’m praying something special for Gabriel, I’ll pray the Crown of Gabriel misbaḥa prayer I have using the misbaḥa, then either wear it while doing my intense Gabriel works or wrap it around a candleholder that’s being used for a candle dedicated to Gabriel.  For things like that, my misbaḥa is fast becoming one of my favorite multipurpose spiritual tools I have in my temple.

The heart and ultimate origin of this devotion is that of the Trisagion, one of my favorite and most simple prayers:

Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

That’s it.  That’s literally all there is to it.  It’s simple, short, and effective, and though it comes from Christianity, it can be used as well for pretty much any deist practice.  The Trisagion is an ancient prayer, and the name itself literally means “thrice holy”—hence its Latin appellation, the Tersanctus, which has the same meaning.  The prayer is sometimes incorporated into a broader “Trisagion Prayer”, or appended to other liturgies, but it’s a common sight in many forms of older forms of Christianity.  There’s also the wonderfully-termed Anti-Trisagion, which is sometimes used as a replacement for the Trisagion proper, but of which there also exist several variants or options, such as:

Before your Cross we bow down in worship, Master, and we glorify your holy Resurrection.

As for where it comes from, though there exists a traditional miraculous origin story for it, it may well be a combination of the Kyrie Eleison prayer and supplication (“Lord, have mercy”) plus an expansion of the Sanctus prayer, originally the hymn of the seraphim to God from Isaiah 6:3:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts,
Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!

Personally, I change “who comes in the name of the Lord” to a more inclusive and atemporal “who comes, has come, and will come in the name of the Lord”, based on a more Orthodox version of the prayer, but that’s just me.

But back to the Trisagion, it’s…it’s just elegant and refined in its simplicity, and I find it a useful chant on its own.  Heck, that’s exactly what Greek and Russian Orthodox people use it for in conjunction with the Jesus Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

The way the Jesus Prayer and Trisagion come together in Orthodox and Eastern Christian devotions is through the komboskini or prayer rope, essentially the Eastern/Orthodox parallel to the Western/Catholic rosary or chaplet.  Rather than being beads strung on a string or chained together, the prayer rope is a rope held together with intricate knots that take the form of crosses upon crosses.  Prayer ropes typically have 100 knots, with separator beads at every 25, sometimes 10, knot; smaller prayer ropes, sometimes of 10 or 50 knots or even 33 knots, and larger prayer ropes of 150 or more knots, also exist.

With the prayer rope, the usual practice (from what I’ve seen) is to recite the Jesus Prayer once on each knot, and the Trisagion on each separator bead.  Of course, there’s no one way to use the prayer rope, just like there’s no one way to use the misbaḥa, but the Jesus Prayer and Trisagion together form a wonderful spiritual practice for mystics and monastics alike.

Of course, I’m trying to…I mean, “divest” or “distance” is correct but I feel like that’s overly harsh, and it’s not like I have any ill will or bitterness towards Christian prayers, yet…well, anyway, in any case, I am trying to keep my own Hermetic practice as generally deist as possible without relying on religion-specific references, such as to Christ or Mary or Muḥammad, hence all this reinventing-the-prayer-wheel work I’ve been doing lately.  And yet, it’s been profoundly useful and clarifying for me to do so, to focus on a Hermetic practice that’s set apart from Christian Hermeticism or Islamic Hermeticism.  Plus, it’s not like all prayers from Christianity or Islam or Judaism or what-have-you are bound up in those religions; the Lord’s Prayer, for example, is a lovely prayer no matter who you are or what you’re doing, in a way that can be set apart from the Hail Mary or the Glory Be.  And, of course, if you’re Christian yourself, you should make use of such prayers!  But if you’re not, there are definitely alternatives and other options available.

Anyway.  What I did was, given the neat three-fold division of the structure of the misbaḥa, I split the Trisagion up into three separate supplications, then used each supplication for each set of beads on the misbaḥa.  For the separators, I took inspiration from one of the supplications used in the Eastern Orthodox Trisagion Prayer liturgy (see bold text):

Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever unto the ages of ages.

All-holy Trinity, have mercy on us.
Lord, cleanse us from our sins.
Master, pardon our iniquities.
Holy God, visit and heal us for thy Name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever unto the ages of ages.

Our Father who art in heaven, &c.

So I took those three supplications and combined them into a single line for the first separator, “cleanse our sins, forgive our errors, heal our illness”.  Similarly, the second separator is based on the Anti-Trisagion given above.  It was the beginning and ending prayers that I was kinda torn on.  I mean, with Islamic prayers, everything is started with the Basmalah, the famous incipit of the Qur’ān and so many other practices and prayers:

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Heck, the words for “Most Gracious” and “Most Merciful”, raḥmān and raḥīm, both derive from the same root, R-Ḥ-M, with a general notion of mercy, compassion, loving-kindness, and the like.  So, I could have just started the Thrice-Holy Crown with that and have it be entirely appropriate (it lacks anything specifically Islamic in its wording, after all), but I decided on a different start.  I like to keep the same format of the Basmalah to start my own misbaḥa prayers, all starting with “in the name of God…” and ending in a way that’s more fitting for that specific misbaḥa devotion, so I decided to go with “in the name of God, the Most Holy, whose mercy is endless”.  The appellation of God as “Most Holy” reflects the underlying focus of the Trisagion on the holiness of God, and the “whose mercy is endless” comes from the (strangely optional) concluding prayer from the Catholic devotion of the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, another wonderfully potent and beautiful Christian devotion for the same purpose that I’m going for with my Thrice-Holy Crown (see bold text):

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself

The concluding prayer of the Thrice-Holy Crown, a simple “Glory be to God, forever and ever” is just a generic praise of God, my equivalent to the practice of tasbīḥ in Islam, which is nothing more than the recitation of “subḥānallāh” meaning “glory be to God”, though literally translated sometimes as “God is free/void” in the sense of having no errors, defects, faults, or flaws.  In fact, it’s this very same prayer in Islam that gives the foundation to the use of the Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah and to the misbaḥa generally—note the shared root there, S-B-Ḥ, referring to notions of glory or praise.

And there you have it!  At some point, once I refine some of my other misbaḥa “crown” prayers, I’ll end up compiling them into their own page.  For now, though, there’s already plenty else for me to do, but I did want to share this little thing I’ve been using for those who are amenable to using it.

On the Megaloschema

Today, as many of my readers in the West are probably aware, is Good Friday as reckoned by Western Christianity as the annual holiday that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the fifth day of Holy Week and the first of the Paschal Triduum leading up to Easter Sunday, which properly celebrates the resurrection of Christ, the most important holy day in the Christian calendar. I don’t need to get into the specifics of this holiday and celebration, given its huge importance in the rites of Christianity specifically and Christian-influenced Western culture generally, nor do I really celebrate this holiday. After all, I’m not baptized as a Christian, nor was I raised as one, nor do I profess it myself as my religion. Indeed, although Christianity has a huge influence on my own magical practices, especially where saints and angels are concerned, my recent spiritual practices are taking me in my own Hermetic deist way apart from the usual stuff of Christianity. Still, that’s not to say that I’m entirely abandoning the Christian influences, at least where they’re appropriate. And today, on the commemoration of the Passion of Christ, I’d like to talk a bit about one of my favorite pieces of Christian graphical design: the Megaloschema, the Great Schema.

Properly speaking, this design is one found in Eastern Christianity, especially Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox practices, and generally reserved for use as a special vestment given to monks who have attained a high degree of spiritual accomplishment and retraction from the world, for whom the title “Megaloschemos” is given. It’s a profound mark of spirituality, and comes at no small cost or effort to those who have earned the rite, with some sects only giving it to monks and nuns on their deathbed. Plus, let’s be honest: those who wear it look like a wizard’s sartorial wet dream.

It’s also densely packed with symbolism, all tied to the Passion of Jesus Christ, the climax of the trials and tribulations that Christ faced at the end of his earthly life that led up to the Resurrection. Although the standard emblem of Christianity is the simple Cross (more properly, a crucifix, which is a cross plus the body of Christ), which acts as a reminder of the sacrifice of the Son of God for the sake of the salvation of the world, the Megaloschema is the Cross plus quite a bit more.

My good friend and colleague Michael Lux of Necromantic Matters tipped me off to the design a few years back, and I simply fell in love with it: the dense layers of symbolism, the almost cosmological patterning of the elements arranged on it, and the use of Greek acronyms and initialisms to add even more meaning to it immediately appealed to me, and so I appended it to my then-primary shrine, dedicated to my worship of God and the veneration of the seven archangels. It fit nicely, at least, nestled under some of the chaplets I made for them to give a bit of balance.

As my practices have shifted more and more away from Christianity, however, I found that I was using this particular shrine less and less, and when I started to reorganize and clean up my temple space, shrines, and altars after my Year in White in 2017 and again more recently at the end of 2018 and the start of this year, I realized that, even though I don’t have as much personal adoration of the Cross anymore, I still adore the use of the Megaloschema. I kept that little, dinky cutout where it was. By necessity, it was dinky; I couldn’t find a good high-resolution image of it anywhere except for other variants of the pattern that didn’t have as much detail or as many elements on it, so I kept it at the small size that it was.

Well, when I redid my temple space, I moved around a few shrines and cleaned up some other things. One of the things I moved around was my shrine to the Hieromartyr of Antioch, Saint Cyprian of Antioch with Saint Justina and Saint Theocistus. Originally, I had drawn a somewhat elaborate pattern in chalk on the wall above and behind the shrine, consisting of a Cross, a skull-and-bones, a cauldron, a crozier, and other images relevant to the work I was doing at the time with St. Cyprian. I don’t have a good picture of the specific design I drew, but you can see parts of it in this one picture I took of the shrine during the Days of the Cyprians from 2018:

When I cleaned my temple space up, I decided to wipe off the chalk drawing from the wall (it was getting faded anyway) and rotated the shrine around so that it faced a new direction. The shrine looked fresher and cleaner, but I still wanted something along the lines of the chalk pattern I had set up, now that the space was a bit clearer. At that moment, I realized that the Megaloschema would have been perfect for the Cyprian shrine; after all, still being a publicly-venerated saint in Eastern Christianity and definitely fulfilling the qualities that a monastic would have that would permit them the use of the Megaloschema, it seemed appropriate enough, especially given how symbolically rich—and, frankly, how just simply magical—the design is. Yet, as before, I couldn’t find a design that was clear enough or high-resolution enough for the shrine.

So I made one.

This is pretty packed with symbolism, so let’s break it down into its individual components:

  • The True Cross, the instrument of the execution of Christ upon which Christ was killed by the world and, in so doing, conquered the death of the world
  • The tilted beam on the Cross, tilted up to the right of Christ signifying the ascension of the thief on his right to Heaven
  • The Title of the Cross placed on top, put up to mock Christ
  • The crown of thorns used to crown Christ, encircling the four nails used to pierce the body of Christ
  • A darkened sun, indicating the eclipse that occurred at the moment of the death of Christ
  • A moon with three stars, indicating the three days Christ died, descended into Hell, and returned at his Resurrection
  • The Holy Lance, the spear of Longinus that pierced the side of Christ
  • The Holy Sponge on a reed of hyssop, used to give Christ vinegar to drink (most likely not vinegar-vinegar but posca, a diluted vinegar-wine drink consumed regularly by soldiers, lower-classes, and the poor)
  • The rooster, facing away from the Cross, being the cock that crowed three times for the denials of Peter
  • The column, to which Christ was fastened and flailed 39 times
  • The ladder used by Joseph of Arimathea, the man who assumed responsibility for burying Christ, to bring the body of Christ down from the Cross
  • The pitcher used to wash the body of Christ, and also that which he used to wash the feet of his disciples
  • The Holy Chalice, or the Holy Grail, used by Christ at the Last Supper
  • The hammer used to fix the nails into the body of Christ
  • The pincers used to remove the nails from the body of Christ
  • The flail used on the body of Christ
  • The skull and bones, being those of Adam, the First Man, buried at Golgotha where Christ was crucified

There are other items that could be included, based on the traditional items associated with the Passion of Christ collectively known as the Arma Christi, but I found the above to be enough and all fairly traditional based on the versions of the Megaloschema I could find.

And, of course, the Greek letters (note the use of the lunate sigma, Ϲ, in the image above, instead of the usual sigma, Σ, in the descriptions below):

  • ΘΕΟΣ (Θεός) — Literally just the word God
  • ΟΒΤΔ (Ο Βασιλεύς της Δόξης) — The King of Glory
  • ΙΣ ΧΣ ΝΙΚΑ (Ιησούς Χριστός Νικά) — Jesus Christ conquers
  • ΤΤΔΦ (Τετιμημένον Τρόπαιον Δαιμόνων Φρίκη) — Honored trophy, dread of demons
  • ΡΡΔΡ (Ρητορικοτέρα Ρητόρων Δακρύων Ροή) — A flow of tears more eloquent than orators
  • ΧΧΧΧ (Χριστός Χριστιανοίς Χαρίζει Χάριν) — Christ bestows grace upon Christians
  • ΞΓΘΗ (Ξύλου Γεύσις Θάνατον Ηγαγεν) — The tasting of the Tree brought Death
  • ΣΞΖΕ (Σταυρού Ξύλοω Ζωήν Εύρομεν) — Through the Tree of Life have we found Life
  • ΕΕΕΕ (Ελένης Εύρημα Εύρηκεν Εδέμ) — The discovery of Helen has uncovered Eden
  • ΦΧΦΠ (Φως Χριστού Φαίνοι Πάσι) — The Light of Christ shines upon all
  • ΘΘΘΘ (Θεού Θέα Θείον Θαύμα) — The vision of God, a divine wonder
  • ΤΣΔΦ (Τύπον Σταυρού Δαίμονεσ Φρίττοσιν) — Demons dread the sign of the Cross
  • ΑΔΑΜ (Αδάμ) — Literally just the name Adam
  • ΤΚΠΓ (Τόποσ Κρανίου Παράδεισος Γέγονε) — The place of the Skull has become Paradise
  • ΞΖ (Ξύλον Ζωής) — The Tree of Life
  • ΠΑΓΗΔΤΠ — The first letter of the seven sayings of Jesus Christ on the Cross:
    • Πάτερ, ἄφες αὐτοῖς, οὐ γὰρ οἴδασιν τί ποιοῦσιν. — “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
    • Ἀμήν σοι λέγω σήμερον μετ’ ἐμοῦ ἔσῃ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ. — “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
    • Γύναι, ἴδε ὁ υἱός σου· Ἴδε ἡ μήτηρ σου. — “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” (John 19:26-27)
    • Ἠλὶ ἠλὶ λεμὰ σαβαχθάνι;— “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)
    • Διψῶ. — “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
    • Τετέλεσται. — “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
    • Πάτερ, εἰς χεῖράς σου παρατίθεμαι τὸ πνεῦμά μου. — “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Despite the beauty and dense symbolism of this severe symbol of the Passion, the Megaloschema is really only limited to Eastern Christian practices; it’s not really found in Western Christianity. That is, except for one surprising icon: the Icon of the Seven African Powers, more commonly known as Las Siete Potencias Africanas, a fun amalgamation of Christian Passion- and saint-related imagery mixed in with African orisha syncretism:

Around the edge of the icon are seven different saint images for the seven most popular orisha from Yòrubá and Lukumí orisha religion. Starting at the lower right corner and going clockwise from there, they are:

Interestingly, these seven saint images (given in oval shapes, much like Roman Catholic saint medallions) are bound together by a chain with seven tools hanging from the bottom of them: a machete, hammer, spear, hoe, pickaxe, rake, and shovel. The chain and all these tools are associated with Ogun, the Blacksmith Warrior, the God of Iron and God in Iron, whose domain includes all metal and all implements of metal. (He’s also my own tutelary orisha to whom I’m primarily ordained.) Ogun plays a crucial role in orisha religion, too, and the subtle opposition between Shango (as Saint Barbara) at the top and the tools of Ogun at the bottom is a fun nod to their intense relationship.

In the center of all the saints and the chain with tools is the image of Jesus Christ on the Cross with a ladder, a spear, a sponge on a rod, a sword, a pitcher, dice, a skull, a lantern, a column, a flail, a rooster, a darkened Sun, and other implements of the Arma Christi. Although Jesus Christ is given the name Olofi (a term used in Lukumí for the cosmocrator and creator orisha, i.e. God), we have fundamentally the same exact setup and iconography as the Megaloschema of Eastern Christianity in this icon of heavily-syncretized Western Christianity. It’s a delightful mashup of names and symbols that appeals to me, even if I don’t much care for the art style that’s commonly used in Western Christian iconography. Yet, it’s also incredibly confusing and amazing how the Megaloschema got blended in with African diasporic syncretized Christianity in the New World; since I don’t actively work with the specific folk traditions that produced this image, I’m honestly not sure how this particular icon of the Seven African Powers came about. It might be something fun to research one day, especially since I’m already in orisha religion as it is.

These are just some of my thoughts on this Good Friday; I had the idea to write a post about the Megaloschema for some time now, but it didn’t seem to come together until this morning, fittingly enough. For all of my Christian readers, rejoice, for soon your Lord will be risen! For all my other readers, I hope you have a wonderful start to your weekend.

Also, PSA: don’t forget that today is the Feast of Saint Expedite! Go honor our good friend who loves to help us quickly, quickly, immediately, immediately, crushing the demon that cries “tomorrow, tomorrow!” and holding the divine power of Today, today! Get him a poundcake, some wine, some cigarettes, some dice, and some flowers to honor this good saint who wards off procrastination and who helps speed us on our way speedily.

Also, another PSA: today, April 19 2019, the weather for the United States has quite a bit of rain headed our way on the East Coast as well as in the Pacific Northwest. This is an excellent day to put out your bins, basins, bowls, buckets, and all other rainwater collection instruments you might have, since today is not only Good Friday and the Feast of Saint Expedite, but also a full moon (exact at 7:12 am Eastern US time this morning); such a confluence of dates is pretty rare, so take advantage of it all! Beyond just simply being rainwater, with all its normal spiritual uses, today’s rainwater would have exceedingly strong spiritual powers, potencies, and uses for quite a number of ends. Be safe when you’re traveling and commuting today, and collect that rainwater!