Selected Hermetic Meditations on Death and Dying

It’s kinda weird, I suppose, how neatly some basic impulses start up like clockwork in alignment with the seasons.  As it’s getting darker now where I live, as summer finally relinquishes its old and lets autumn blow in, Scorpio season has arrived and, with it, Halloween and Samhain and all sorts of things related to death and the dead.  Of course, it’s also been a super rough time the past 24 months for…well, basically everyone across the world, and more people have died lately than is pleasing to count (not that it ever was pleasing, but it’s even less pleasing now that the numbers are so high everywhere).  Some of us are luckier than others, I suppose, but it seems like every day now I hear about how, in some community or other I’m connected to, someone has recently passed away.  That’s just what happens in a turbulent time, I suppose, especially one made all the worse by an ongoing global pandemic, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with psychologically or spiritually.

While I count myself fortunate and blessed enough to handle these things well enough by my own standards, I know that many others out there are struggling in the face of mass death and their own mortality—and it’s in times like this that people often turn to religion and religious texts for comfort, guidance, and support as balm for their tired souls and broken hearts.  I thought I’d pull out a few such excerpts from Hermetic texts that might offer some starting point for meditation, if not consolation, when it comes to the rather weighty (and ever-present) topic of death.

To offer my own summary of the views of classical Hermeticism before we dig into the passages themselves:

  • For the Hermeticist, death is something as natural to this world as life itself, and is part of the same process of coming-to-be as birth, growth, and decay.  Despite the claims of later alchemists, Hermēs Trismegistos in the classical philosophical/theosophical/theoretical texts never preached a form of immortality except for that of the soul, which is basically held to be inviolate and eternal as a direct issue of God.
  • The problems for us arise only when we try to latch onto these dissolvable bodies and identify the soul with them, from which arises addiction to corporeality, longing for the satisfaction of sense desires, and continued suffering through needless cycles of errant reincarnation.  In remembering what death truly is, we also remind ourselves what life truly is, both the immortal life of the soul as well as the proper means of living while the soul is still in the body.
  • While some religions or spiritual systems think of Death as an entity unto itself, there’s really no such notion in Hermeticism.  Death is just another process that things with bodies undergo.  Properly understood, there is nothing terrifying about death, any more than there is about the digestion of food, the expulsion of waste, yawning, or getting acne.  While particular ways of dying might be more unpleasant than others, the same could easily be said of living, as well.
  • Unlike other religious or spiritual systems, Hermeticism doesn’t really talk much about the spirits of the dead.  Sure, there’s plenty that talks about the origins and paths and destinations of the soul, whether in the course of its anabasis or katabasis or metempsychosis, but there’s basically nothing about how to treat the dead themselves.  It’s not that Hermeticism denies that ghosts and ancestors are a thing, it’s just irrelevant to the teachings and goals of Hermeticism, which is understanding the immortal life of the soul and how to consciously, intellectually, intelligibly achieve that immortality to free ourselves from our unthinking, unaware, unconscious addiction to mortality.  For actual ancestral practices or rites of propitiating the dead, if one does not wish to take a quasi-Buddhist approach of “preaching to the dead” to encourage them to move on from their attachments and addictions so that they can ascend instead, I would instead recommend researching historically appropriate approaches to funerary rites and practices of ancestral veneration as would be performed in Hellenistic (Ptolemaic or Roman) Egypt by the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians in their own temples and household cults.

CH I.15

…Mankind is twofold—in the body mortal but immortal in the essential man. Even though he is immortal and has authority over all things, mankind is affected by mortality because he is subject to fate; thus, although man is above the cosmic framework, he became a slave within it. He is androgyne because he comes from an androgyne father, and he never sleeps because he comes from one who is sleepless. Yet love and sleep are his masters.

Ah, the initial text of the Corpus Hermeticum, Book I and the revelation of Poimandrēs to Hermēs.  There is much in this book to unpack, but this text, situated at the start of the fundamental collection of Hermetic treatises, introduces the idea that what we truly are is our souls, which come from God directly and were made immortal, while our bodies are products of this cosmos we happen to inhabit and which are mortal.  It is, fundamentally, a matter of ignorance and error that leads us to confuse who and what we really are, and in confusing the two, we lead ourselves to our own destruction.  There is suffering, and there is a way out of this suffering—this is what Poimandrēs teaches Hermēs and what Poimandrēs enjoins Hermēs to teach the world—and it all starts with this simple fact, that God created all things and that we as creations of God are immortal God-issued souls dwelling within cosmos-made bodies.  Bearing that in mind, all else falls into place, including the notion that it is only our bodies that are subject to Fate, while our souls are technically free of it (while they cannot be compelled to act or undergo conditions like the body does, because of the soul’s interaction and inhabitance of the body, the soul can be impelled towards the same).  It also introduces the notion that we are only ever in this cosmos temporarily, even to the point where cosmic incarnation can be considered a “prison” of sorts (though never as pessimistically as what some Gnostic sects would say).

CH I.24—26

First, in releasing the material body you give the body itself over to alteration, and the form that you used to have vanishes. To the demon you give over your temperament, now inactive. The body’s senses rise up and flow back to their particular sources, becoming separate parts and mingling again with the energies. And feeling and longing go on toward irrational nature.

Thence the human being rushes up through the cosmic framework, at the first zone surrendering the energy of increase and decrease; at the second evil machination, a device now inactive; at the third the illusion of longing, now inactive; at the fourth the ruler’s arrogance, now freed of excess; at the fifth unholy presumption and daring recklessness; at the sixth the evil impulses that come from wealth, now inactive; and at the seventh zone the deceit that lies in ambush.

And then, stripped of the effects of the cosmic framework, the human enters the region of the ogdoad; he has his own proper power, and along with the blessed he hymns the father. Those present there rejoice together in his presence, and, having become like his companions, he also hears certain powers that exist beyond the ogdoadic region and hymn god with sweet voice. They rise up to the father in order and surrender themselves to the powers, and, having become powers, they enter into god. This is the final good for those who have received knowledge: to be made god.

This section coming towards the end of CH I is a lovely depiction of the ascent of the soul after death; Poimandrēs gives this explanation when Hermēs asks him “tell me again about the way up, tell me how it happens”.  In this, we see a three-part ascent: the first part regarding the dissolution of the body, its temperament, and its senses as they return to nature and as the soul frees itself from all these things of the body; the second part regarding the ascent of the soul through the seven planetary spheres and, passing through each one, returning to each the cosmos-generating energy bestowed upon the soul; and the third part regarding the final stages of the ascent, above and beyond the forces of generation and corruption, as the soul reaches a timeless state of eternal perfection eventually entering into God.  CH I contrasts with CH XIII (the spiritual rebirth on the mountnain) and NHC VI.6 (the “Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth”) in that there doesn’t seem to be any initiatory rites that ensure the salvation of the soul; whether this is just what happens for those who are able to give up the body willingly at the time of its death or it’s what happens to all people, it paints a lovely picture of the afterlife and the course we take after death, up to and including a perfect salvation and blessed existence in God.  Death is merely a door to this, and is only an end of a brief sojourn here on Earth while also being a beginning of something else much greater.

CH III.4

[This is the] beginning of their living and becoming wise,
according to [their] lot from [the] course of [the] cyclic gods.
And [this is the beginning of their] being released,
leaving behind great memorials of [their] works of art upon the Earth,
and every generation of ensouled flesh,
and [every generation] of [the] sowing of fruit,
and [every generation] of every craftwork,
[all] for fame unto the obscurity of [the] ages—
[all] that is diminished will be renewed by Necessity
and by [the] renewal of the gods
and by [the] course of the measured wheel of Nature.

For the Divine is the whole cosmic combination renewed by Nature,
for the Nature is established in the Divine.

This is the final part of Book III of the Corpus Hermeticum (CH III), and specifically my own translation that I did a while back.  In the course of offering my own commentary of each of the four sections of this book, I wrote up this particular post about this section, which some may find helpful as a review of this bit.  In addition to CH III being a general overview and introduction of the Hermetic worldview and motivating ethos which I find helpful as a meditation generally, this last part has something poignant and powerful in it regarding death. The preceding section talks about all the reasons why humanity was made by the gods, “every soul in flesh”, but then we get this bit: “this is the beginning of their living and becoming wise according to their lot…and this is the beginning of their being released, leaving behind great memorials of their works of art upon the Earth, and every generation…[all that is done] for fame unto the obscurity of ages, all that is diminished will be renewed”.  No matter how much things pass away, no matter how impermanent this world and everything in it (including us as individuals and us as a species) might be, all things continue, and all things will be “renewed”, reborn, and will flourish again.  Yes, things will be forgotten, and that is our lot—but it is also our lot to be renewed, and thus remembered for a time before passing out of memory before again passing back into it, both into living and into living memory.  A doctrine of reincarnation, perhaps, or a doctrine of cyclic repeated existence; either way, we are but here for a time to do good works, then to leave them behind, much as we go to college to learn and then to graduate out of it.

CH VIII.1—4

Now, my son, we must speak about soul and body and say in what way the soul is immortal and whence comes the energy that composes and dissolves the body. Death actually has nothing to do with this. Death is a notion that arises from the term “immortal”: either it is an empty usage, or, through the loss of the first syllable, “im-mortal” is taken to mean “mortal”. Death has to do with destruction, yet none of the things in the cosmos is destroyed. If the cosmos is a second god and an immortal living thing, it is impossible for any part of this immortal living thing to die. All things in the cosmos are parts of the cosmos, but especially mankind, the living thing that reasons.

When matter was without body, my child, it was without order. Especially here below, matter has the disorder confined to the other lesser things that have qualities, the property of increase and decrease that humans call death. But this disorder arises among things that live on earth; the bodies of heavenly beings have a single order that they got from the father in the beginning. And this order is kept undissolved by the recurrence of each of them. The recurrence of earthly bodies, by contrast, is the dissolution of their composition, and this dissolution causes them to recur as undissolved bodies—immortal, in other words. Thus arises a loss of awareness but not a destruction of bodies.

Book VIII of the Corpus Hermeticum is a fairly short monist treatise, blending both Platonic and Stoic conceptions on the nature of reality and the cosmos, its creator, and our place within amongst it all.  The major thrust of CH VIII is that the cosmos as a whole is a single living being composed of multiple parts, just how your body is a single living organism composed of multiple organs and smaller cells.  If the cosmos is a single living being, then the cosmos lives, meaning everything in the cosmos lives; there can never truly be death in a living being lest the whole thing dies, and since the cosmos never dies, no part of the cosmos ever truly dies, either.  What we see and think of as death is no more than dissolution of a thing into its constituent components, which are then taken up again and used as constituent components of other living things.  The only thing that is lost is bodily awareness, but nothing else is ever truly lost in death.  Nothing here is spoken of the soul, of course, which is amply talked of in other Hermetic texts; here, we just familiarize ourselves with what “death” actually looks like, and how it is no more than a continuation of the same processes of life that produce ourselves as living beings within a forever-immortal, ever-living cosmos.

CH XII.15—18

“This entire cosmos—a great god and an image of a greater, united with god and helping preserve the father’s will and order—is a plenitude of life, and throughout the whole recurrence of eternity that comes from the father there is nothing in the cosmos that does not live, neither in the whole of it nor in its parts. For there never was any dead thing in the cosmos, nor is there, nor will there be. The father wished it to be alive as long as it holds together, and so it was necessary for the cosmos to be god. How then, my child, can there be dead things in god, in the image of all, in the plenitude of life? For deadness is corruption, and corruption is destruction. How can any part of the incorruptible be corrupted or anything of god be destroyed?”

“The things that live in the cosmos, father, though they are parts of it, do they not die?”

“Hold your tongue, child; the terminology of becoming leads you astray. They do not die, my child; as composite bodies they are only dissolved. Dissolution is not death but the dissolution of an alloy. They are dissolved not to be destroyed but to become new. And what is the energy of life? Is it not motion? In the cosmos, then, what is motionless? Nothing, my child.”

“Does the earth not seem motionless to you, father?”

“No, child; it is the only thing that is full of motion and also stationary. Would it not be quite absurd if the nurse of all were motionless, she who begets everything and gives birth to it? For without motion the begetter cannot beget anything. It is most absurd of you to ask if the fourth part is idle; that a body is motionless can signify nothing but being idle.

“Therefore, my child, you should know that everywhere in the cosmos everything is moved, either by decrease or by increase. What is moved also lives, but not everything that lives need stay the same. Taken as a whole, my child, the entire cosmos is free from change, but its parts are all subject to change. Nothing, however, is corruptible or destroyed—terms that disturb human beings. Life is not birth but awareness, and change is forgetting, not death. Since this is so, all are immortal—matter, life, spirit, soul, mind—of which every living thing is constituted.”

This excerpt from Book XII of the Corpus Hermeticum refreshes the same topic as above from CH VIII, that no part of the cosmos ever truly dies, but are only dissolved and reused in other life just as we ourselves are made from constituent parts of other things that were once living.  Dissolution is therefore part and parcel of renewal, a continuous cyclical motion of life.  Sure, different living things experience life at different stages; some are being formed, some are being dissolved, some are increasing, some are decreasing, some are growing strong, some are growing weak—but this is all life, all the same, and there is no true thing as “death”, as such, except as a matter of perception.

DH 8.7

You do not have the power of becoming immortal; neither does, indeed, the immortal have the power of dying.  You can even become a god if you want, for it is possible.  Therefore want and understand and believe and love; then you have become it!

The seventh statement from the eighth set from the Definitions of Hermēs Trismegistos to Asklēpios reminds us, quite simply, that we humans are mortal—at least, physically so, just as much as the gods are immortal.  This is something that cannot and does not change, but then, our bodies are merely and only our bodies, not who and what we truly are; rather, are souls, being immortals, have every right to stand on the same level as the gods, so long as we recognize who and what we truly are, and so long as we work towards it.  In this, we should seek to learn to accept and live by what we cannot change, and instead focus on what we can, doing what we can, to do what is truly best for ourselves and the world we live in.  (I wrote about the Definitions long ago, in what seems like another lifetime, but here’s my post about this specific one for those who are interested in reading some of my early thoughts on this.)

DH 10.6

Providence and Necessity are, in the mortal, birth and death; in God, unbegotten essence.  The immortal beings agree with one another, and the mortal envy one another with jealousy, because evil envy arises due to knowing death in advance.  The immortal does what he always does, but the mortal does what he has never done.  Death, if understood, is immortality; if not understood, it is death.  They assume that the mortal beings of this world have fallen under the dominion of the immortal, but in reality the immortal are servants of the mortals of this world.

This is statement six from the tenth set of the Definitions, this time pointing out that death causes problems for us mortal humans, if only because we see our lives as precious, non-renewable resources, fighting over our time and our lives like geopolitically-minded countries fight over oil or water; we know we will all one day die, whether we like to admit it publicly or not, but those who don’t have a proper understanding of death end up taking the wrong lessons from it, causing not just a lack of proper living but a surplus of unnecessary death in the process.  We are immaterial, noncorporeal entities abiding in material, corporeal forms for but a time; if we only focus on what is material, we neglect the immaterial, which is way more than half of what truly matters for us.  (Again, my old post with my early thoughts on this statement can be found here.)

SH 11.2.38, 39

What is immortal does not share what is mortal, but the mortal shares the immortal.

A mortal body does not come into an immortal one, but an immortal body can arrive in a mortal one.

The eleventh Stobaean Fragment (SH) contains, sandwiched between a very brief introduction and a conclusion that reminds Tat (and the reader) towards secrecy of not teaching the unlearned advanced things of the learned, a list of 48 maxims, which can be somewhat likened to “Hermetic principles” even if their original purpose is as mnemonic reminders of broader discussions.  Amongst these maxims, these two stuck out to me in this topic, since it touches on the dichotomy between immortal souls and mortal bodies.  There is so much amongst all the Hermetic stuff that goes on and on about the immortality of the soul, all at length and in depth and by many different avenues.  There is also, likewise, plenty that touches on the mortality of the body, how the soul interacts with the body (which is especially a focus in the Stobaean Fragments), and how we are truly our souls and not our bodies.  These two maxims, sufficing indeed as kephalaía-type summaries, remind us that it is our bodies that are secondary to who and what we are while our souls are primary, and that it is our bodies that merely house and clothe the soul for its relatively brief stay in this world.  It is the nature of mortal bodies to be born and, from the moment of their birth, grow old and decay, but no such nature is given to the soul, which is immortal and does not suffer such change, and instead comes into bodies, leaves, and then enters into other bodies as it is necessary for it to.

TH 28 (emphasis mine)

He was, upon him be peace, a man of dark complexion, of full stature, bald, of handsome face, thick-bearded, of pleasant lineaments, and perfect arm-span, broad-shouldered, big-boned but of little flesh, with flashing, dark-lined eyes, unhurried in his speech, often silent, his limbs at rest; when he walked, he mostly kept his gaze toward the earth; he thought much; he was serious and stern. He moved his index finger when he talked. His period on the earth was eighty-two years.

There was on the bezel of his seal-ring that he wore every day: “Patience combined with faith in God bequeaths victory.” And on the bezel of the seal-ring that he wore at religious feasts was “perfect joy at religious feasts is good works.” And on the bezel of his seal-ring that he wore when he prayed for a dead person, “The time of death is the harvest of hope; death is a watchman never heedless.” And on the belt that he always wore, “Consideration of the next life bequeaths security to body and soul from harmful accidents.” On the belt that he wore to religious feasts, “Keeping religious duties and law is the fulfillment of religion, and the fulfillment of religion is the fulfillment of valor.” On the belt that he wore at the time of prayer for the dead, “Whoever considers his soul is victorious, and his intercession with the Lord is his good works.”

I don’t often bring up texts like this—normally I stick to the classical Hermetic texts themselves—but that doesn’t mean that we can’t look at the post-classical Hermetic fragments, excerpts, and quotes (collectively “Hermetic Fragments”, or FH), and testimonia and descriptions (TH) regarding Hermēs Trismegistos or Hermeticism.  An especially rich source of such stuff is from the Arabic doxological, gnomological, and biographical tradition, and this one in particular comes from the Muẖtār al-ḥikam (“Selection of Wise Sayings”) by Al-Mubaššir ibn Fātik, who wrote this around 1049 CE, and which was eventually translated into European languages, such as the Latin Liber philosophorum moralium antiquorum and the Middle English The Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers.  This bit focuses more on the biographical side of Hermēs Trismegistos, the first part talking about his life (and, importantly, his death—even the greatest of sages is still mortal!) and his manner of teaching and living, the later parts focusing more on things he taught or which were ascribed to him, but the bits about the sayings engraved on his rings and belt buckles still count as “wise sayings” all the same (and, as Kevin van Bladel says in his The Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to Prophet of Science, “The paragraph dealing with the inscriptions on Hermes’ rings and belt buckles is clearly part of a pre-Islamic genre: records of maxims inscribed on rings of famous individuals are attested in Arabic texts of Iranian origin…This portion is surely an excerpt from a larger collection of wise maxims adapted for the present purpose of describing Hermes”).  Although there aren’t a whole lot of other maxims attributed to Hermēs here along the lines of death and dying, there is this one at least:

Death is like a dart already thrown, and your lifespan is as much as its course toward you.

Classically speaking, there is much of Hermeticism that was inspired by the Greek and Hellenistic philosophy of Stoicism, at least in terms of its physics, but also its ethics, as well; as time went on, the ethical portion of Stoicism started to take primary place, hence what we know of from Stoic thinkers and philosophers as Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus.  This sort of memento mori is abundant in Stoic writings, and we should also bear in mind that death is not something we can avoid; we must make the best use of what time we have, and that wisely, and welcome death when it does come.

Although not one of the testimonia listed in Litwa or Nock/Festugière, van Bladel in his The Arabic Hermes does also offer this maxim from another Arabic work, the Muntaẖab:

[Hermēs] said: there are two kinds of death: voluntary death and natural death.  Whoever makes is [appetitive] soul die the voluntary death will have a natural death that is for him life.

This sort of maxim is also attributed to Socrates in other works, and definitely has Greek origins.  This one specifically is also useful to remember and to tie into the lessons we can learn from e.g. CH I.19: “the one who recognized himself attained the chosen good, but the one who loved the body that came from the error of desire goes on in darkness, errant, suffering sensibly the effects of death”.  By tempering, restraining, and giving up the body and its appetites to their own death, recognizing them for what they are and not indulging them any further than is strictly necessary for the soul to do what it has to do in its time down here, then when the death of the body comes, it is no real death at all.  To me, this is very much along the same lines as Eckhart Tolle’s saying “the secret to life is to die before you die”, but also including the death of the body so that the soul doesn’t die with it.

TH 33

When he was nearing the final end of his life, a company of disciples rose and stood around him.

“Thus far, my children,” he said, “I, expelled from my fatherland, have lived as a sojourner and an exile. Now, safe and secure, I seek my fatherland again. When, after a little while, I am fully released from my bodily chains and depart, see to it that you do not bewail me as if I were dead. I return to that best and blessed city in which all its citizens know not death or corruption, a city governed by the One, the Unique, the supreme God. As long as all people desire to obey the supremely just rule of God, they are united by the fullness of God’s inestimable and inviolable goodness, and filled with God’s wondrous sweetness.

“I confess to you, my children, that that life is the true life. In it, all effects of changeability are banished, while its citizens cling inseparably to the eternal Good and enjoy true blessedness. For the life which many consider to be the only one is rather called ‘death’, nor is there one single mortal life, but many–as many, I would say, as there are hindrances to the virtues of the highest God, as many as there are clouds of ignorance, as many as there are failures to fulfill sacred vows, and all the other errors in which our mortal condition is entangled.

“So dry your tears, my children! For this dissolution, in which occurs the unloading of the burden of corruptibility, brings with it no calamitous end for me, but to me offers a glorious return! There is no reason to mourn me when you devote me to the glory of true life. Thus far I have gasped as one about to receive the prize of true immortality, which the divine steadfastness of my soul, providence, sobriety, justice, and the unimpaired worship of God has earned for me.

“You yourselves will follow your father and find him in the fatherland–and surely you will not fail to know me in my transformed state. This is because each person, when the darkness of unknowing is dispersed, will recognize all his fellow citizens by that single immense light of goodness which is God–more truly than I am able to tell. I tell you, you will follow me if you most wholly venerate the virtues of which justice is chief. By this virtue, I earnestly exhort you: despise the multitude of diversions and distractions of this world and its life that is to be called death, and worship instead with supplication the One who constructed the entire mechanism of the world’s body and  who shut up souls in these earthly prisons.”

When his disciples continued to stand around him pouring out tears instead of joy, Hermēs said: “Silence—for I know not what wondrously sweet music echoes in my ears, whose immensely pleasing melody I confess that I have never more fully attended to. It is much different than the reverberations in musical instruments by which we enjoy the symphony that procures and preserves good habits. I cannot, for lack of experience, describe that which the swiftness of the wondrous firmament produces by the mixing of high and low notes, with the seven celestial spheres veering in a contrary direction.”

Up to this point the words trailed from Hermēs’ moving lips and a glow of superlative brightness beamed from his face. Then Hermēs spoke no more, and his soul flew away from his corpse.

What Litwa has labeled as TH 33 in his Hermetica II is an extract from Book of Alcidus on the Immortality of the Soul, a Christian work from the late 12th century CE.  This is largely a beautiful monologue Hermēs gives to his disciples on his deathbead, which I think ties in nicely with the bit from TH 28 above, just from a different perspective.  I admit that the above is not exactly the translation of Litwa; it’s largely based on Litwa’s translation (and thus the original text), to be sure, though I have made some edits to remove some too-stringently monotheist language to make it a little more generalizeable.  While many of the earlier excerpts, especially from the , focused on how there is no true thing as “death” as such and how life is constantly being lived in all ways at all times in the cosmos, there are other texts, too, that stress the immortality of the soul, which is arguably far more of a thing discussed amply throughout various Hermetic texts—and I think this excerpt from the Book of Alcidus does an amazing job at pointing out the fundamental message here.  Our very lives “down here” are nothing but a sojourn and exile from our true home “up there”, and in the physical death of the body that releases our immortal souls (which is our true essence, who and what we “really” are) from its fleshy vessel, we finally embark on our return home.

De Castigatione Animae

(IV, 3) The raft on which you are borne upon this great sea [of earthly life] is made of water frozen to ice, and it is only by chance that it serves to bear you.  Soon the sun will rise and shine on it and melt the ice, and it will turn into water again, and you will be left sitting on water. But you certainly will not be able to remain in that position; you must therefore look for something to bear you up, and there is nothing that will serve that purpose except ability to swim and to direct your course aright until you shall have reached [firm ground].

(IV, 5—6) A man is not showing contempt for the house he lives in if, while omitting to fit it out and adorn it, he nevertheless goes on living in it without reluctance; he shows utter contempt for it only when he is eager to quit it, and is ready and willing to go out of it and live elsewhere.  And even so, a man does not show contempt for the physical world if, while putting away from him thepleasures and desires which belong to it, he nevertheless stays on in it without reluctance; he shows true contempt for it only when he eagerly longs to depart from it, and to be at rest from it, and from its hostility, contrariety, discord, and darkness.  You ought to fix firmly in your mind a longing and eagerness for physical death, and guard against being troubled at the prospect of it; for by fear of death is wrought destruction, and by desire for it, salvation.  Surely you know this, that by physical death you will migrate to another abode where you will dwell, not [as now] in poverty, but at ease; not in want, but fully satisfied; not in fear, but without fear; not toiling, but at rest; not in pain, but in pleasure; not in sickness, but in health; not in darkness, but in light.  Do not therefore grieve overmuch at being stripped of the garments of evil and of delusive appearance, and clothed in garments of that which is good and everlasting; grieve not at getting sure knowledge of those things, and, in virtue of your own simplicity and unity, seeing them face to face.

(IV, 12) To die with firmness is glorious; to die in fear and cowardice is shameful.  Dying is but for a moment, and is quickly ended; but base endurance of captivity is a lasting condition.  Be not unwilling then to undergo death, and thereby to quit the physical world; but suffer not yourself to be reduced to captivity, for that death is everlasting life, and this captivity is everlasting death.

(VIII, 4) First of all, assure yourself that physical death is nothing else than a departure of the soul from the body.

This text is originally an Arabic one, and was translated into Latin as Hermetis Trismegisti de castigatione animae libellus, or “The Little Book of Hermēs Trismegistos on the Castigation of the Soul” (henceforth CA for short); Walter Scott includes a translation of the entire thing into English from the Latin in volume 4 of his Hermetica, but I haven’t found another translation of it anywhere else.  It’s a somewhat long text, and is less than a single treatise and more of an anthology of maxims and brief meditations on a handful of themes, a collection of about 90 more-or-less passages broken out into 14 chapters.  The original text, although attributed to Hermēs Trismegistos, was more of a product of an Arabic Platonist, and if not an Islamic one than one heavily influenced by Islam.  Much of the text is fairly repetitive, harping on the same themes over and over, and the above bits tie into those same fundamental themes: focus on the soul, shun the body.  However, given the focus of the above sections in how we should live with respect to death, CA shows that death is truly nothing to worry about; heck, even dying itself is nothing too great, especially compared to the pain and tribulation of living badly.  In living well, we have nothing to fear; in living poorly, we have everything to fear.  Chapter IV, sections 5—6 is a rather strongly-worded section, I feel, and I want to specify that I don’t actively encourage people to indulge in thanatic urges or suicidal ideation; rather, we should read this section in the context of remembering that the body is not all we are, not by a longshot, and in giving up the body to its proper death, we relieve our souls of a burden rather than having anything ripped away from us.

Revisiting the Sixteen Realms of the Figures

Happy solar new year!  Today’s the first full day of spring according to the usual zodiacal reckoning, with the spring equinox having happened yesterday afternoon in my area; if I timed it right, this post should be coming out exactly at my area’s solar noon.  I hope the coming year is bright and full of blessing for all of you.

I’m taking the day to celebrate, as well, and not just for the freshness of the new year.  Since the start of the calendar year, when I made that post about a sort of feast calendar for geomantic holy days, I’ve been busy coming up with an entirely new devotional practice.  It’s not really my doing, but it’s a matter of inspiration, and…well, it’s an impressive effort, even by my own standards.  As part of it, around the start of the month (fittingly, the start of this current Mercury retrograde period!), I undertook my first celebration of the Feast of the Blessed Dead, my own recognition, honoring, and feasting with the blessed ancestors of my kin, faith, work, and practices.

And, of course, far be it from me to pass up a half-decent photo op.

According to the scheme I made for a geomantic calendar, after the Feast of the Blessed Dead at sunrise begins the Days of Cultivation, 16 days of prayer, meditation, study, fasting, purification, and the like.  In a way, it’s kinda like a kind of Lent or Ramaḍān, but at least for only 16 days instead of a lunar month or 40 days.  After those are done, it’s the Feast of Gabriel the Holy Archangel, Teacher of the Mysteries.  Which happens to coincide (either on the day of or day after, depending on the exact time) with the spring equinox.  Yanno, today.  So I’m quite thrilled to bring this ordeal to an end and take things easier again—especially after a good two hours of prayers, rituals, and offerings this morning—but I can’t take it too easy; one of the many benefits I’ve been seeing from doing this practice is that it’s forcing me to get back to a daily practice again, something I’ve been meaning to do now that I have the time again in the way I want to but just haven’t.

(As a side note: one of the things I’ve been doing is a kind of fast, not a whole or total fast, but something more like a Ramadan or orthodox Lent with extra dietary restrictions: no eating or drinking anything except water between sunrise and sunset, one large meal after sunset, no meat nor dairy nor eggs nor honey nor any other animal product.  It wasn’t my intention to go vegan; instead, I had this elaborate progressive fasting scheme that took inspiration from kosher dietary restrictions and the Fast of Daniel from the Book of Daniel, but that proved way too complicated for such a short-term thing, so I just decided to omit meat and dairy, but that then extended to all animal products, so.  I have to say, it’s been a good exercise, all the same, and the intermittent fasting regimen is something I may well keep up, as I’m seeing other benefits besides spiritual focus, even if I do find myself being cold a lot more often than before; more reason to cultivate inner-heat practices.  All that being said, I am excited to indulge in a whole-ass pizza or tub of orange chicken tonight.)

One of the practices I was doing every day during these Days of Cultivation was a contemplation on one of the sixteen figures of geomancy.  In a way, I was returning to one of the oldest and first major things I ever did in my geomantic studies.  John Michael Greer in his Art and Practice of Geomancy, as part of the section on geomantic magic, instructs the reader to “scry” the figures.  Rather than scrying into a crystal ball or anything like that, what he means is an active contemplation and visualization of the figures, or in more Golden Dawn-ish terms, engage in a kind of pathworking of the figures: visualize the figure clearly, then see it emblazoned on a door of some kind, then go through the door and see what you see, hear what you hear, and experience what you experience as part of the realm or world of that figure.  This is a deeply profound and intimate way to learn about the figures, once you have a basic understanding of their usual meanings and correspondences, because you’re actually entering the worlds of the figures themselves.  Those who recall my De Geomanteia posts from way back will remember that I gave an elaborate visualization or scene that helped to impart some of the meaning of that figure; those are the direct results of my contemplations of the figures from years ago.  (If you never read those posts, check them out!  I talk about the figures in depth and at length, and talk a bit about some really useful geomantic techniques, too.)

So, I decided to try contemplating the figures again, except this time, I brought a lot more of my art to bear (I wasn’t really a magician back in those days!) and fit it within the framework of this burgeoning devotional practice, calling on my guardian angel as well as the archangel Gabriel, that famous celestial being who taught the founders of geomancy their art, to help me understand the figure through its mysteries.  The process was, fundamentally, the same, except with some preliminary and concluding prayers (which helped in ways I would never have conceived of even a few months ago, much several years ago): visualize the figure, see it form a door, mentally go up to the door and knock, open the door, and go on through.  I augmented this process by using the geomantic salutes as well as by intoning the epodes for a figure and reciting the orison for a figure (16 short hymns of the figures, available in my Secreti Geomantici ebook!) for an all-around way to get as much of me engaged in the process as I could without breaking out into a fuller ritual involving incenses or candles or the like.  For the order, I used my trusty elemental ordering of the figures according to their primary and secondary elemental rulerships, based on the structure of the figures rather than their planetary or zodiacal correspondences.  So, I started with Laetitia on the first day, Fortuna Minor on the second, Amissio on the third, and so forth, up until Tristitia on the last and final day.

I was looking forward to seeing what new knowledge I could get, getting reacquainted with these figures I see and use so often in my work, maybe even revisiting the same scenes I saw so long ago.  Interestingly enough, that wasn’t the case.  Instead, what I was shown was a city, a vast metropolitan city filled with skyscrapers and towers that came to an abrupt end at a single, long road that ran from an infinite East to an infinite West, on the opposite side of which was an equally-vast forest, filled with every kind of tree and bush and plant imaginable.  Every figure-contemplation took place along that road, dividing that vast city and that vast forest, but every figure-contemplation was drastically different: time of day, weather, what was happening, the condition of the city; heck, there even seemed to be a notion that sometimes years or even decades would pass along that road between visualizations.  In a way that caught me off-guard, the elemental ordering of the figures I used told a deep, intricate, and coherent story of the flow of time of that place, between the metropolitan inhabitants of the city and the autochthonous inhabitants of the forest, ranging from celebration to war to cataclysm to peace and all the things between.

In a way, I guess I was revisiting the realm of Via itself.  After all, the fact that all these visualizations took place along a Road was not lost on me, and seeing how this figure is often considered to be the first figure of geomancy in the historiolas that we have as well as having all elements present, and that I was using an elemental ordering of the figures to arrange and schedule my contemplations of them…well, I guess it makes sense, in retrospect.

I didn’t want to give a whole new set of intricate visualizations, much less share some of the intimate things I witnessed in each contemplation, but I did want to share a few things with you from what I saw: primarily, the form of the door that formed for each figure, and a brief lesson to learn from each figure.  The doors you might see in your own contemplations may well be different, but I figure that giving some sort of description for what to expect could help.  The lessons were, for those who follow me on Twitter, shared day by day in a short-enough form to encapsulate some of the high-level important messages that I could deliver from each realm of the figure.  Perhaps they, too, can be helpful for those who are learning about the figures, or want something to start with that they can expand on in their own meditations.

Laetitia
A large arched banded wooden door situated in a fluted pillar-supported stone arch, opening towards
There are always reasons to celebrate, but celebration need not mean partying. While some take time off, others still serve, and they too have cause to celebrate. To truly celebrate is to rejoice in work, channeling hope into power; true praise of God is praise through Work.

Fortuna Minor
A square, wide, wooden door banded with iron and surrounded by cut stone, opening towards
Don’t chase after sunsets. Diminishing returns will waste you time, and time is something you can’t waste anymore. All we have is all we have; prepare when you can, make do when you must. It’s all we can do to look after ourselves and our own; find independence through community.

Amissio
A normal cheap white bedroom door with plain threshold, opening outwards
Better to be homeless in loss than to build a home on it, lest your foundation sink into quicksand. Refugees, divorcees, ex-employees, we all suffer loss time and again; it hurts, and it hurts to stay and it hurts to go, but in accepting loss, we leave loss behind.

Cauda Draconis
A weak, filthy, dusty, shaky door that smells, opening outwards
This world is meant to end, and yet we are meant to make it last. We must do what we can when we can—but at the proper time, and no sooner? Collapse early, avoid the rush. Loss is nothing compared to perdition; how simple we are to focus only on the now when all else is at stake.

Puer
Metal bulkhead door, opening outwards
Enthusiasm can wash over any disaster like an opportunistic wave, but when faced with actual problems, it can end in dashing oneself against rocks in order to break them, or fleeing to fight another battle and another day. Waves will break and scatter but overwhelm all the same.

Rubeus
A black door, almost invisible, opening outwards
Unbridled desire is like air, stale though thinking it’s fresh, trapped in a cyclone that wrecks damage it cannot see. Over and over it runs roughshod over all, consuming and hurting all. Only true fresh thought clears the air, bringing helpful change instead of harmful calamity.

Coniunctio
A rustic door with a fine, elaborate lintel, opening outwards
In war, all else looks like peace; in peace, all else looks like war. It’s in the liminal space between them, a blue hour of life, that everything and everyone can come together as equals. Not as allies, but as equals in crisis, equals in opportunity, equals in assessment.

Acquisitio
A marble door with engraved inlays of lapis and gold, flanked by fluted columns, opening towards in half
After reckoning comes work; after assessment, business. All come as equals, sharing to increase, increasing their share, carrying our past forever with us. True wealth is practical knowledge, an endless font to always build, augment, and—soon—to rejoice. “Go forth and multiply.”

Puella
An opalescent glass door with a shiny chrome frame, opening outwards
Beauty is an emergent property out of assessment, union, and work. We don’t find beauty; it finds us, when we’re in the embrace of equals whom we don’t just acknowledge but truly know are our equals. Beauty is a property of truth, and truth comes from acceptance of the world.

Via
A color-changing veil suspended from an arch, sliding to the left
Every infinitesimal moment has infinite potential, every one a knife-blade, a parer of possibilities. In each moment lies every potential of every kind of action; it’s up to us to take it, transforming the world and ourselves. Geomancy isn’t called “cutting the sand” for nothing.

Albus
A white wooden door in a white, rough-cut stone threshold, opening towards
After we (re)build, the dust settles, and we can see clearly; purity of the heart leads to purity of the mind. We hollow the church, and fill the world as a monastery, living in peace to remember and re-member. But don’t forget: believing we have peace doesn’t mean we really do.

Populus
A thin, white, translucent veil divided in half, suspended from a thin smooth metal frame, parting to open from the middle
Love leads to peace, but without further direction, leads to inertia and languor. Utter clarity of vision leads us to live utterly in the here and now, and makes us forget our lessons, even as we return to how things always were. We take too much for granted; we lose our way.
*Note: this one feels like it should be first or last, a complete return to how things always were.

Carcer
A double door, the inner one of thick wrought iron bars opening towards, the outer one of heavy steel bulkhead opening outwards
Inertia stops to become hollow convention, which becomes enforced restriction. The word of God is replaced by the word of law, and we become isolated and ignorant of the larger world, and keeps us bound to the same old same old, always for the best, and if you’re not convinced…

Caput Draconis
A pair of elegant-yet-subdued baroque French doors, ivory with bright gold leaf accents, opening outward from the middle
With enough rules, even rulers become slaves, and all the old guard wander in lost memories. It’s the too-young, those too fresh to have known anything else, that begin the coup, but all they know is how to prepare and destroy. Chaos? Yes! The climactic Big Bang, a fecund reset.

Fortuna Maior
A gate of warm gold set with bars of iron with iron gateposts on either side, opening outward from the middle
Forced dominion toils to keep order, but true royalty has no need for force. Rulers naturally assume their role, and all rule their own proper domain; as planets in their orbits, all take care of their own work, honest and pure. Independent success, all for the sake of the All.

Tristitia
The heavy, metal-covered stone door of a tomb with a ring for a handle, opening towards
The Work is easy to start, but hard to continue; hope flees and dread finds us instead. The plague of “what if?” seeps into us like polluted air into sod, turning fertile grass into barren dust. The Sun has set, but will rise again; keep going until dawn, for then there is hope.

More on Geomantic Epodes and Intonations

One of my colleagues on Facebook, Nic Raven Run of Ravens Hall Press, asked me an interesting question to follow up on my post on epodes for the elements and geomantic figures from the other day.  In that post, I offered a set of single syllables that could be chanted or intoned like a bīja, or “seed syllable” mantra, for each of the four elements based on an obscure geomantic method of interpretation (the BZDḤ technique), which I also extrapolated into a system of single syllable intonations for each of the sixteen geomantic figures.  To that end, here are the two systems I would most likely use in my own practice, one based on the BZDḤ system and one based on strict stoicheia for the elements:

  • Hybrid Greek system
    • Fire: bi (ΒΙ)
    • Air: zu (ΖΥ)
    • Water: (ΔΗ)
    • Earth: ha (Ἁ)
  • Exact Mathēsis system
    • Fire: kho (ΧΟ)
    • Air: phu (ΦΥ)
    • Water: ksē (ΞΗ)
    • Earth: thō (ΘΩ)

And their corresponding expansions into the two systems of geomantic epodes using the two systems I would recommend (with the pure elemental epodes in bold text showing their location in the geomantic systems):

Hybrid Greek System (ΒΖΔΗ)
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
Exact Mathēsis System (ΧΦΞΘ)
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

What this gets us is a system of single-syllable units that can represent not only the four elements but all sixteen figures.  In addition to being useful for energy work exercises among other magical practices, it also gives us an interesting method of encoding geomantic figures phonetically.  For instance, we could encapsulate an entire geomantic chart based on the four Mother figures, such that e.g. BIZAZIDĒ would be interpreted as Laetitia (BI), Acquisitio (ZA), Puer (ZI), and Albus (DĒ).  Another way we could use these is to encapsulate one of the 256 combinations of figures in two or three syllables: for instance, the combination of Coniunctio (ZĒ) and Acquisitio (ZA) to form Fortuna Maior (HĒ) could be written succinctly as ZĒZA or more fully as ZĒZAHĒ.  There are plenty of ways to extend such a system, ranging from Abulafia-like meditating on the 256 permutations of syllables to using them in geomantic candle magic a la Balthazar Black’s technique.

However, note that each such epode is basically considered a unit; yes, it’s composed of an elemental consonant and a vowel that, although they are inherently based on the Greek notion of planetary associations, can be reckoned as elemental symbols as well, and the combination of them composes a single syllable based on the primary (consonant) and secondary (vowel) elements of the geomantic figures.  What Nic was asking about was an alternative system of epodes: how could we use the elemental epodes to “compose” a geomantic figure in the sense of describing which elements were active and passive?  For instance, we could simply describe Via as BIZUDĒHA since it has all four elements, but how might one represent a figure with one or more passive elements?  Nic suggested a phonetic approach using a system of using two sets of vowels, using open vowels for active elements and close vowels for passive elements.  The system Nic was suggesting would be to effectively use a series of diphthongs to approximate such vowels.

I didn’t like this approach, to be honest.  For one, the reason why I’m using the vowels I’m using (which themselves are a mix of open and close in the systems I suggest) are (a) because the Greek system is particularly amenable to occult works and (b) because I’m relying not so much on phonetics as I am the occult symbolism and correspondences of the letters to the planets and, by those same correspondences, to the elements.  In that framework, diphthongs really mess with the system, because a diphthong involves several vowels which “muddle” the planetary/elemental symbolism that I’m trying to accomplish.  Plus, such a system would necessitate eight distinct but more-or-less balanced vowel sounds, and the Greek alphabet or phonetics isn’t really geared for that.  Now, that said, the idea isn’t a bad one!  However, because I’m not operating from purely phonetic principles, it’s not for me to go along that route.  I encouraged Nic (and I encourage others as well, if there are others to whom this idea is appealing) to explore such a phonetic approach to representing elements and their compositions to form geomantic figure representations.

There are other approaches to creating composed epodes for the geomantic figures, though, which I also discussed with Nic.  The first hunch I had was to simply include or omit the basic letters needed; for instance, if the consonants BZDḤ represent Fire, Air, Water, and Earth respectively, then combinations of those letters would represent the active elements in a figure, and we could fill in the vowels according to the rules of instinctual Arabic methods or the methods of pronouncing Greek generated words from before.  So, Via (with all four elements) would simply be BZDḤ or “bahz-dach”, Amissio (with just Fire and Water) would be BD or “bahd”, Fortuna Maior would be DḤ or “dach”, and so forth.  Populus, however, having no elements active, could be represented through silence, soft breathing, or something else entirely like “hmmmm” (using the notion that the Semitic letter for M, Arabic mīm or Hebrew mem, has its origins in the hieroglyph and word for “water”, which is the dominant element of Populus).  It’s an idea, but one I don’t particularly like, either, as it seems clunky and inelegant to use without regularity or much appeal, especially since the use of Ḥ only really works in Arabic, as we’d just end with a vowel in the Greek system which could be unclear.  We could use the mathētic approach of using ΧΦΞΘ instead, but we can do better than that.

Instead of using consonants, let’s think about a system that just uses the seven pure Greek vowels.  Recall in the systems above from the earlier post that there’s a way to use the Greek vowels, which normally represent the planets, to represent the four elements as well:

In the last row of my mathētic Tetractys, note how we have the four non-luminary and non-Mercury planets each associated to one of the four elements: Mars with Fire, Jupiter with Air, Venus with Water, and Saturn with Earth.  Though this system doesn’t quite match Cornelius Agrippa’s Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7), it does with his broader and more fuller explanations and detailing of the planets earlier in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy (book I, chapters 23 through 29).  Thus, as applied in my exact mathētic system of epodes, we can use Omicron (Mars) for Fire, Upsilon (Jupiter) for Air, Ēta (Venus) for Water, and Ōmega (Saturn) for Earth.  The letters Iōta (Sun), Alpha (Moon), and Epsilon (Mercury) are not used in the exact mathētic system of epodes, but are in the vague hybrid system from before, being a little easier to use and distinguish.

The connection I made for using these vowels was based on another notion I had of arranging the seven planets into the geomantic figures.  In that topic, one could envision taking seven planetary objects (talismans, coins, stones, etc.) and arranging them on an altar in a regular way to represent the graphical forms of the geomantic figures.  The method I gave for doing this was described like this:

Since we want to map the seven planets onto the points of the figures, let’s start with the easiest ones that give us a one-to-one ratio of planets to points: the odd seven-pointed figures Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia.  Let us first establish that the four ouranic planets Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn are the most elementally-representative of the seven planets, and thus must be present in every figure; said another way, these four planets are the ones that most manifest the elements themselves, and should be reflected in their mandatory presence in the figures that represent the different manifestations of the cosmos in terms of the sixteen geomantic figures.  The Sun, the Moon, and Mercury are the three empyrean planets, and may or may not be present so as to mitigate the other elements accordingly.  A row with only one point must therefore have only one planet in that row, and should be the ouranic planet to fully realize that element’s presence and power; a row with two points will have the ouranic planet of that row’s element as well as one of the empyrean planets, where the empyrean planet mitigates the pure elemental expression of the ouranic planet through its more unmanifest, luminary presence.  While the ouranic planets will always appear in the row of its associated element, the empyrean planets will move and shift in a harmonious way wherever needed; thus, since the Sun (as the planetary expression of Sulfur) “descends” into both Mars/Fire and Jupiter/Air, the Sun can appear in either the Fire or Air rows when needed.  Similarly, Mercury can appear in either the Air or Water rows, and the Moon in either the Water or Earth rows (but more on the exceptions to this below).

This led us to having the following arrangements:

Note that Via is the only figure that uses only the so-called “ouranic” planets Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn, because Via is the only figure with all elements active.  All the other figures, having at least one element passive, will involve one or more of the planets Mercury, Sun, or Moon, because those “empyrean” planets mitigate and lessen the elemental presence of the row that they’re found in.  The only major exception to this arrangement is—you guessed it—Populus, which uses a different arrangement entirely.  For more information about how and why these figures are arranged with the planets in the way they are and how they might otherwise be used, see the relevant post on my blog, linked just above.  The terms ouranic and empyrean are a distinction I make in my Mathēsis work to distinguish the twelve non-zodiacal forces into three groups, as demonstrated in this post.

Now, remember that each planet has its own vowel, and note where the planets appear in the arrangements above for each figure.  We can come up with a rule that transforms the figures into sequences of vowels to represent the figures like this:

  1. For all figures except Populus:
    1. Every row will have either a single ouranic planet (Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn) or both an ouranic and empyrean planet (Moon, Sun, Mercury).
    2. If a given elemental row has an empyrean planet present as well as an ouranic planet, use the vowel of the empyrean planet there.
    3. Otherwise, if a given elemental row has only an ouranic planet present, use the vowel of the ouranic planet.
  2. For the figure Populus:
    1. All planets are present in their own arrangement to represent the voids of Populus.
    2. Use all the vowels, some mutually-exclusive set, or just keep silent.

Thus, consider the figure Via.  In each row, it only has an ouranic planet, so we simply use their corresponding vowels: ΟΥΗΩ.  For Coniunctio, note how we have two empyrean planets in the figure, the Sun alongside Mars and the Moon alongside Saturn; we would use their corresponding vowels instead of their ouranic equivalents, getting us the vowel string ΙΥΗΑ (Iōta instead of Omicron and Alpha instead of Ōmega).  Likewise, Puer has the empyrean planet Mercury present alongside Venus, so its vowel string would be ΟΥΕΩ (Epsilon instead of Ēta).  The only exception to this would be Populus, as noted above, which could be represented either as the entire vowel string ΑΕΗΙΟΥΩ or as simple, holy silence, but we can talk more about that later.

This gets us the following vowel epodes for the figures:

  • Laetitia: ΟΙΕΑ
  • Fortuna Minor: ΟΥΙΑ
  • Amissio: ΟΙΗΑ
  • Cauda Draconis: ΟΥΗΕ
  • Puer: ΟΥΕΩ
  • Rubeus: ΙΥΕΑ
  • Coniunctio: ΙΥΗΑ
  • Acquisitio: ΙΥΑΩ
  • Puella: ΟΕΗΑ
  • Via: ΟΥΗΩ
  • Albus: ΙΕΗΑ
  • Populus: More on that in a bit.
  • Carcer: ΟΙΑΩ
  • Caput Draconis: ΕΥΗΩ
  • Fortuna Maior: ΙΑΗΩ
  • Tristitia: ΙΕΑΩ

What’s nice about this system is that, at least for all the non-Populus figures, we have four vowels that we can intone.  Anyone familiar with the classical Hermetic and Neoplatonic texts and techniques is familiar with how vowel-intoning was considered a pure and sacred practice, and now we can apply it to the figures as well as the planets!  Even better, since each geomantic figure uses a distinct set of vowels, we can permute them in any which way.  Thus, if we wanted to engross ourselves in the world of, say, Laetitia, we could intone all possible variations of its vowel string:

ΟΙΕΑ ΟΙΑΕ ΟΕΙΑ ΟΕΑΙ ΟΑΙΕ ΟΑΕΙ
ΙΟΕΑ ΙΟΑΕ ΙΕΟΑ ΙΕΑΟ ΙΑΟΕ ΙΑΕΟ
ΕΟΙΑ ΕΟΑΙ ΕΙΟΑ ΕΙΑΟ ΕΑΟΙ ΕΑΙΟ
ΑΟΙΕ ΑΟΕΙ ΑΙΟΕ ΑΙΕΟ ΑΕΟΙ ΑΕΙΟ

For each of the non-Populus figures which have four distinct vowels, there are 24 possible permutations of its vowel string, with six permutations that begin with each one of the vowels.  Going through and intoning each permutation could be a powerful meditative practice for each of the figures, and probably especially effective for magical practices, too.

What about Populus?  For that, we have all seven vowels ΑΕΗΙΟΥΩ, and to permute all seven of those would…take a considerably longer time than the other figures (there are 5040 possible permutations).  Though going through all such permutations would also be a powerful practice, there are better ways we can use our time.  For one, what about the sequence ΑΕΗΙΟΥΩ itself?  It’s simple and straightforward, but it doesn’t really reflect the arrangement of planets we use for Populus: note how we have the empyrean planets (Sun, Mercury, and Moon) down the middle with the ouranic planets (Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn) around the sides in a distinctly mathētic pattern.  For this arrangement, we could use the vowel string ΙΟΥΕΗΩΑ: we have Iōta at the beginning, Epsilon in the middle, and Alpha at the end, with the other four vowels in their elemental order interspersed between them, the hot elements Fire and Air in the first half and the cold elements Water and Earth in the second half.  Using this pattern, we could imagine a kind of lightning-bolt descending from the Sun down to the Moon through Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, and Saturn, a pattern that would take us from the hottest, brightest, most active powers down to the coldest, darkest, most passive powers.

Another way is to use a condensed vowel string: rather than using the ouranic planets’ vowels at all, why not limit ourselves to the empyrean planets, which are only ever used for passive elements anyway in this scheme?  In this reckoning, we could reduce ΙΟΥΕΗΩΑ to ΙΕΑ (reflecting the center empty “gap” of the dots in the figure Populus), just as we commonly figure that the divine name ΙΑΩ is a reduction of the full string ΑΕΗΙΟΥΩ.  Plus, we only ever see the string ΙΕΑ in the (permutations of) the string for the figures that are mostly passive anyway: Laetitia (ΟΙΕΑ), Rubeus (ΙΥΕΑ), Albus (ΙΕΗΑ), and Tristitia (ΙΕΑΩ).  If there were any vowel string that could be considered the inverse of that of Via (ΟΥΗΩ), the mutually-exclusive remaining set of vowels ΙΕΑ would be it!  We could then permute this string in a simple set of six permutations, too:

ΙΕΑ ΕΑΙ ΑΙΕ
ΕΙΑ ΙΑΕ ΑΕΙ

Instead of doing either ΙΟΥΕΗΩΑ or permutations of ΙΕΑ, though, there’s another approach to us: if Populus is devoid of elements, then it has nothing at all, and thus has nothing to intone, so Populus could simply be represented by a pure, holy silence devoid of intonations.  This is also entirely appropriate, and would symbolically make Populus a vacuum of empty space, a blank template upon which the other elements could be applied.  Entirely fitting to represent Populus on its own.

Of course, using that logic, then why would we bother using the empyrean planets’ vowels at all to represent the passive elements in a figure?  We could just stick with the ouranic planets that are active, which would get us the following “short” set of vowel intonations, such as Ο for Laetitia, ΟΥ for Fortuna Minor, ΟΥΗ for Cauda Draconis, and so forth.  Not nearly as elegant, perhaps, but could also work.  I’m not a fan, personally, as it then begins to conflate the elemental presences of the figures with purely planetary ones.  For instance, Laetitia being simply represented by Omicron would then conflate Laetitia with the planet Mars, even though Laetitia is solidly linked to Jupiter, and likewise Rubeus with Upsilon to Jupiter and not Mars.  I wouldn’t recommend this system, personally.

So, where does that leave us?  At this point, there are three systems of epodes I would recommend for working with the geomantic figures, two of which are single-syllable epodes (one based on the BZDḤ system with Greek vowels, and one derived from that same system using a purer stoicheic/mathētic approach), and one of which is based on mathētic principles to come up with intonable, permutable vowel strings.

Figure Single Syllable Vowel String
Hybrid Mathēsis
Laetitia ΒΙ
BI
ΧΟ
KHO
ΟΙΕΑ
Fortuna Minor ΒΥ
BU
ΧΥ
KHU
ΟΥΙΑ
Amissio ΒΗ
ΧΗ
KHĒ
ΟΙΗΑ
Cauda Draconis ΒΑ
BA
ΧΩ
KHŌ
ΟΥΗΕ
Puer ΖΙ
ZI
ΦΟ
PHO
ΟΥΕΩ
Rubeus ΖΥ
ZU
ΦΥ
PHU
ΙΥΕΑ
Coniunctio ΖΗ
ΦΗ
PHĒ
ΙΥΗΑ
Acquisitio ΖΑ
ZA
ΦΩ
PHŌ
ΙΥΑΩ
Puella ΔΙ
DI
ΞΟ
KSO
ΟΕΗΑ
Via ΔΥ
DU
ΞΥ
KSU
ΟΥΗΩ
Albus ΔΗ
ΞΗ
KSĒ
ΙΕΗΑ
Populus ΔΑ
DA
ΞΩ
KSŌ
ΙΟΥΕΗΩΑ or ΙΕΑ
or just keep silent
Carcer
HI
ΘΟ
THO
ΟΙΑΩ
Caput Draconis
HU
ΘΥ
THU
ΕΥΗΩ
Fortuna Maior
ΘΗ
THĒ
ΙΑΗΩ
Tristitia
HA
ΘΩ
THŌ
ΙΕΑΩ

This is all well and good, but where does this actually leave us?  What the past few posts on these tangentially-geomantic topics are accomplishing is taking the sixteen geomantic figures and coming up with new ways to apply them in ways outside of strict divinatory purposes, giving them new media such as sound to be “played” or transmitted through, and using those media to accomplish other tasks.  If the planets can be used for astrology as well as magic, there’s no reason why the figures can’t be used for geomancy as well as magic, either.  The ability to form meditative or magical epodes for concentrating, contemplating, and connecting with the figures on deeper levels plays into the same systems that geomantic gestures or energy centers or altar arrangements do: using these figures for a magical, world-changing purpose instead of a merely predictive one.

By the same token, however, so much of this is highly experimental.  All magic is at some point, but given the novelty and how mix-and-match I’m being between Greek letter magic and geomantic systems, this is all deserving of some deep practice and reflection and refinement.  I’m sharing this on my blog because…well, it’s my blog, and it’s interesting to share my theories here, and to spread some of my ideas out there to get feedback on by those who are interested.  At the same time, so much of all this is just theoretical and musings on how to apply certain ideas in certain ways.  I’m confident I can get them to work, but that’s not a guarantee that they will.  Experimentation and practice is absolutely needed, not only to get my own aims and goals accomplished, but even just to see whether certain methods work at all for anything.

Still, while we’re at it, let’s make up a new practice, shall we?  Let’s say we want to have a formalized way of conjuring up the power of a given figure, such as for some intense contemplation or pathworking.  In my Secreti Geomantici ebook, wherein I talk about lots of different magical practices involving geomancy and geomantic figures, I provide a set of sixteen prayers for each of the figures.  We can use those in combination with the geomantic epodes above to come up with a more thorough invocation of a figure.  The process I have in mind would be to recite the hybrid single-syllable epode as few as four or as many as sixteen times (or as many times as there are points in the figure), recite the given orison of the figure, then permute through its vowel string.  Thus, for Laetitia, we could do the following, while sitting before an image of Laetitia (or an altar of planetary talismans arranged in the form of the figure Laetitia) while holding the geomantic hand gesture of Laetitia:

ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ

Jovian Laetitia, standing tall
Granting hope in the hearts of all
Blazing spirit, o fulgent flame
Flashing brightest, of rousing fame
In our dark minds you spark pure Fire
Calcining spite to high desire
Grand arch of joy, embrace us here
And bring us tidings glad and clear

ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ

ΟΙΕΑ ΟΙΑΕ ΟΕΙΑ ΟΕΑΙ ΟΑΙΕ ΟΑΕΙ
ΙΟΕΑ ΙΟΑΕ ΙΕΟΑ ΙΕΑΟ ΙΑΟΕ ΙΑΕΟ
ΕΟΙΑ ΕΟΑΙ ΕΙΟΑ ΕΙΑΟ ΕΑΟΙ ΕΑΙΟ
ΑΟΙΕ ΑΟΕΙ ΑΙΟΕ ΑΙΕΟ ΑΕΟΙ ΑΕΙΟ

ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ

See?  By coming up with small, individual innovations and extrapolations and translations of one set of symbols from one medium into another, we can start using each on their own effectively, or we can start plugging them in to come up with bigger, better, and more profound practices that can really pack a punch.  Geomancy has every potential and every capability to become a full magical and spiritual practice in its own right that can fit right in with any other Western or Hermetic practice based on their own symbol sets; just because extant literature is lacking on the subject doesn’t mean it can’t be done, after all, and with a bit of thought and ingenuity, there are so many avenues that open themselves up for ready exploration.

One final thought about the use of these vowel epodes: we know that for any non-Populus figure, there are 24 permutations of the vowel string epodes.  So, that makes 15 × 24 = 360.  Which is a…stupidly pleasing number, to be honest.  As we all know, Using this little tidbit, we could conceive of a sort of year-long geomantic practice, focusing on one of the permutations of vowel epodes for the figures per day.  This gives us 15  24-day “months” of figures, with five or six days leftover at the end of the year.  In leap years that have six epagomenal days, we could use the permutations of the short epode ΙΕΑ for Populus; in non-leap years, we could just focus on the whole epode ΙΟΥΕΗΩΑ, or we could just keep silent (perhaps more fitting for epagomenal days).  It’s not entirely balanced in that regard, but it does have its own logic and cleanliness that could make it a viable yearly-daily practice for meditating on the epodes of the figures.  I might expand on this idea at a later point, or perhaps rework my geomantic Wheel of the Year to match it in some sense, but it’s something to mull over for now.  The next leap year isn’t for another year and a half, after all.

De Regnis: Visualization, Meditation, Contemplation

Although most of my writing is visible and accessible through my blog and my ebooks, there are a bunch of writing projects that I don’t necessarily intend for public release.  When I was recently going through my old documents folder on my computer, I found a writing project I had intended to be a compendium of Hermetic and Neoplatonic knowledge, guidance, and advice that would serve to document my understandings and work as a textbook unto itself, both for my benefit and any who might come after me.  This project, De Regnis or “On Kingdoms”, got pretty far along before it got abandoned, though parts of it serve as seeds or are outright cannibalized for some of my other works.  Though I have no plans to continue writing this text, I want to share some of the sections I wrote that can act as a useful introduction to some of the practices of Hermetic magic in a modern context.  My views and practices and experiences have grown considerably since then, but perhaps it can help those who are just getting started or are curious about how to fortify their own practices and views.  If you have any views, comments, suggestions, or ideas on the topics shared in this post, please feel free to share in the comments!

Today’s selection will be on the topics of visualization, meditation, and contemplation.

On Visualization

Visualization is the act of using the imagination to form in-depth images in the mind. While this may sound like mere daydreaming, visualization is far more powerful and capable of creating whole immersive worlds. Using the imagination to create images, then, implies a greater sense of“image” than simply a mental picture, and visualizations should indeed be more than just a fleeting thought in the mind. Visualization makes use of the mind’s full range of senses and perception to create an image, both from the physical senses and the ethereal senses. Visualization is essential in picturing or working with spirits, traveling mentally to other spiritual realms, and understanding and directing the flow of cosmic forces, just as the physical senses are necessary in helping one walk around a city or engaging in conversation with a friend.

Humans interact with the world with five primary physical senses: sight, sound, touch, taste,and smell. As humans have evolved to have refined and delicate organs of sight, the sense of sight tobe the strongest and first developed imaginative faculty of the mind. The relative ease of picturing the face of a friend, guessing how something might look now based on past experiences, or recalling a vivid visual memory can attest to this. However, the most intense and immersive of memories,dreams, and visualizations generally make use of all the senses. It is by all the senses working together that people interact with the world, and when one sense is hindered, the other senses compensate by bringing more information to the mind so as to comprehend physical reality.

The mind can be thought of as a machine that processes data. It can be argued well that humans do not experience the world directly, but only through the filter of their senses. For instance, though many people might perceive an icy lake as cold, someone with nerve damage in the hands might not perceive any change from that to a blazing bonfire. Similarly, though people might perceive one apple as red and another as green, someone with colorblindness might not perceive any difference at all between the two. The senses deliver sensory data from the physical world to the brain, which processes and unites them into a more-or-less coherent perception for the mind to understand and work with. However, the mind is more capable of creating and understanding the world than the brain itself is; while the brain can only process the information that the sensory organs give it, the mind can process all that and more all simultaneously.

A simple visualization exercise begins with physically picking up a small everyday object, say, a pencil. Observe the pencil: looking at it with the eyes is not enough. See every detail of the pencil,every groove and edge, every dent and scratch, the color differentiation on the eraser, the smooth sheen on the graphite, the angle the graphite has been worn down by writing. Feel the weight of the pencil, the temperature of it when picked up and how slowly its temperature changes when held, the smoothness or roughness of its parts. Smell and taste the pencil, the thick odor of its graphite, the rubbery tang of the eraser, the skin and sweat rubbed onto it with use. Hear the pencil and listen closely as the graphite squeaks and rubs onto paper or wood, the dull quiet brush of the eraser rubbing off the marks. Completely witness the pencil using every physical sense.

Afterwards, put the pencil down and close the eyes. Recall every memory, every perceived sensation of the pencil that was obtained from witnessing it, hear how it sounded, smell how it tasted, feel how it felt, see how it seemed. Recreate the pencil in the mind from the perception of weight to the perception of smell to the perception of how light reflected off it. Hold the complete image in the mind for a minute without letting it dissipate, then let it go. Half an hour later, try it again without picking up or observing the pencil in the meanwhile. Try it the next day. If details are lost, go back to the pencil and find those details and bring them back into memory. Over the course of several days, slowly increase the time spent visualizing the pencil from one minute to five minutes.

Once the pencil can be recalled in its entirety at any moment, repeat the same process with something a little larger or a little more complex, then again with something even larger or more complex. Proceed from the pencil to a fruit, a chair, a bed, a door, an empty room, a sparsely decorated room, a fully furnished room, a house, a building, a forest. Over time, the process of visualizing increasingly complex things, places, and people will become easier and the images more in-depth, more lifelike, and more real to the mind. Experiment with more complex things, such as an instrument playing a song or a meal being eaten. Learn how to recreate or newly create whole things in the mind, and the mind will be strengthened and capable of working with the immaterial realms of spirit.

On Meditation

Meditation is the act of reflecting or measuring oneself mentally, permitting one’s own mind to come to terms with itself by itself independent of external stimuli. In a sense, it allows the mind to settle down into stability unperturbed by thoughts that arise. The mind has been described,in one sense, as a mirror: it reflects anything put in front of it, though its true nature is clear and reflective. By letting the mind be reflective instead of reflecting something, the true nature of the mind can become known instead of the constantly buzzing, chattering, thinking mind that humanity has grown accustomed to.

The breathing exercises in the previous section lay the groundwork for meditation, and indeed form a style of meditation on their own. By focusing one’s awareness on a single, repetitive, cyclical act, one begins to shake the mind free from the thoughts that cloud it. When such thoughts arise in meditation, let them arise and let them pass without clinging onto them, following them, or becoming angry at their arising. All one needs to do is return to the original act of being aware.

While the breathing exercises focus on being aware of one’s own breath, meditation begins by being aware of one’s own thoughts instead of thinking them. Sit as before, comfortably and relaxed, and begin the fourfold breath exercise for a short while. When ready, having focused the awareness on the breath and permitting thoughts to arise and pass, begin becoming aware of the arising of thoughts themselves. Note where they appear to arise in the brain and in the mind, what other string of thoughts or stimuli caused a thought to arise from simply being aware of thoughts,and let them go. If a particular thought cannot be let go, say “I will think of this and deal with it later, but now it is time to let it go” and do so; if the thought persists as in a repetitive song, permit it to continue and direct the awareness away from it. Whenever the awareness attaches itself to a thought instead of being focused on the arising of thoughts, and whenever this is realized, bring the awareness back to the arising of thoughts without anger or shame. This should be practiced for five minutes a day after breathing exercises every day, working up to ten, then twenty, then indefinitely.

After this has been established with some level of repeatable skill, turn the awareness onto the act of being aware itself. Though perhaps recursively confusing, this focuses the mind on its own reflective nature without being reflective of anything; in this state, the mind is free of thoughts and can enter into deeper levels of trance or spiritual states suitable for magical working. Begin as before with the fourfold breath, then being aware of the arising of thoughts. After being aware of how thoughts arise in the mind, become aware of the mind and the act of awareness, of awareness itself. Hold that awareness, not letting other thoughts intrude as usual. Maintain this for as long as one can, and repeat the process every day. This may sound and seem difficult, but once attained can be repeated with ease.

On Contemplation

While meditation allows the mind to focus and explore itself on its own terms, letting other thoughts arise on their own as they will until they arise no more, this same focus and single-mindedness can be applied towards a thought to greatly expand its ability to be understood. As opposed to merely thinking a thought, focusing one’s awareness on a thought, topic, or concept allows the mind to fully enter into and explore it. This style of meditation is called contemplation, and in contemplation one comes to understand and support something from its fundamental axioms to its furthest implications.

Before beginning contemplation of an idea or thought, it helps to be intimately familiar with that idea or thought. Precede the contemplation with extensive reading, note-taking, discussion,and even idle banter involving the concept. Learn about its history, its development, its uses, its origins, its risks, its benefits, its correspondences, its associations, its causes, and its conditions.Whatever can be learned about it ahead of time will help in contemplation.

As before, begin by sitting comfortably, beginning breathing exercises, and enter into a meditative state. Consciously call up the idea or thought to be contemplated, then focus all awareness on that, exploring every thought that arises based on that original thought. If other completely unrelated thoughts arise, let them arise on and out on their own as before; if a thought can be made to fit or be associated with the contemplation, explore why.

As opposed to meditation before, where one wants to abstain from thinking consciously with a part of a distracted mind, contemplation seeks to completely absorb the mind in consciously thinking with its entire force.As opposed to meditation, where the mind is kept from wandering to focus on itself, contemplation allows the mind to wander down paths and avenues of thought related to the topic. Images,smells, sounds, memories, colors, and related thoughts that arise during contemplation, unless the mind is truly wandering off the path into distraction, help illumine or offer details or nuances or meanings to the topic being contemplated. Thoughts that seem to come from “outside” the mind,especially when contemplating the seal of a spirit, may also be indicative of the topic.Contemplation is not simply thinking about a thing.

Contemplation is completely absorbing the mind into a thing, deconstructing it, inspecting every aspect of it from every angle, discovering new angles and new aspects, using different techniques of thought to understand and comprehend it, and relating the meaning of it to one’s own experience: physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and eternally.