Genius in the Picatrix: Analyzing the Vignette and the Names

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

So, let’s go back to that vignette of the pit and Hermēs Trismegistus encountering Perfect Nature.  Probably the biggest thing to note here is how Perfect Nature introduces itself, coming to Hermēs Trismegistus in a dream, offering a solution to Hermēs’ problem.  Upon asking who he is, Hermēs is given the response of “I am Perfect Nature”.  This, as Warnock and Greer have noted along with many other people before, is starkly reminiscent of the introduction to Book I of the Corpus Hermeticum, in which Hermēs Trismegistus meets Poimandrēs (Copenhaver translation):

Once, when thought came to me of the things that are and my thinking soared high and my bodily senses were restrained, like someone heavy with sleep from too much eating or toil of the body, an enormous being completely unbounded in size seemed to appear to me and call my name and say to me: “What do you want to hear and see; what do you want to learn and know from your understanding?”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I am Poimandrēs,” he said, “mind of sovereignty; I know what you want, and I am with you everywhere.”

I said, “I wish to learn about the things that are, to understand their nature and to know god. How much I want to hear!” I said.

Then he said to me: “Keep in mind all that you wish to learn, and I will teach you.”

Similar indeed!  There’s an interesting reversal here, though: in the Corpus Hermeticum, Hermēs first wishes to explore, then Poimandrēs appears, introduces himself, and teaches Hermēs, but in the Picatrix, Hermēs first wishes to explore, then Perfect Nature appears, teaches Hermēs, and introduces himself.  It’s a small difference, and probably not all that important, since the end result is the same: Poimandrēs/Perfect Nature then commits to teaching Hermēs Trismegistus all that he wishes to know.

When it comes to the vignette in book III, chapter 6 of the Picatrix, well…the whole thing is a little weird.  Why should Hermēs put himself “above a certain pit that was very deep and very dark, from which a certain impetuous wind blew”?  He did so to “understand and draw forth the secrets of the workings of the world and of its qualities”, but what about this pit would be helpful for that?  We could interpret this literally, sure, but it might make more sense to interpret it figuratively.  The Chronos Speaks blog has a lovely article about this Picatrix chapter, concluding that:

This in mind, Hermes’ mysterious description of the method of contacting Perfect Nature starts to make a lot more sense. The “deep pit” is sleep itself which drags one down into the oblivion of unconsciousness if we are not successful in achieving lucidity, the “impetuous wind” is the mental noise that prevents both sleep and lucidity (and which seems to get much stronger at the critical point), the “candle” is the light of awareness itself, and the “glass lantern” that protects awareness from being blown out is the recitation of the names of the Perfect Nature itself.

It’s not a bad way to think about this whole thing, and the post above connects the notion of lucid dreaming, sleeping, and other forms of sleep-based magic in Islamic spiritual practices.  Thus, it may well be that the pit itself is not a literal pit, but Hermēs Trismegistus trying to enter a state of lucid dreaming or other trance state in order to explore the cosmos (which is also a notion attested at several points in the Corpus Hermeticum involving the travels of the soul), and that the dream in which Perfect Nature appears to Hermēs is either a separate vision in the same dream or another trance revelation entirely.

I should also note that it’s the Chronos Speaks blog post above that tipped me off as to an origin and meaning for the four names.  As noted above, “Meegius Betzahuech Vacdez Nufeneguediz” is a corruption of Arabic “Tamāġīs Baġdīswād Waġdās Nūfānāġādīs”, but it’s likely that this itself is a corruption of other, older words.  In a footnote, Franz Rosenthal’s translation of Ibn Khaldūn’s Muqaddimah, when Ibn Khaldūn talks about “dream words” in the Picatrix, suggests that this set of barbarous words or divine names are definitely non-Arabic, and Rosenthal hypothesizes that this may well be an Aramaic phrase.  The specific section in which Rosenthal mentions this is when Ibn Khaldūn talks about “dream words”, specifically relating to the Picatrix (emphasis in bold mine):

In the Ghayah [i.e. the Picatrix] and other books by practitioners of magic, reference is made to words that should be mentioned on falling asleep so as to cause the dream vision to be about the things one desires. These words are called by (the magicians) “dream words” (al-halumah). In the Ghayah, Maslamah [the reported author of the Picatrix] mentioned a dream word that he called “the dream word of the perfect nature.” It consists of saying, upon falling asleep and after obtaining freedom of the inner senses and finding one’s way clear (for supernatural perception), the following non-Arabic words: tamaghis ba’dan yaswadda waghads nawfana ghadis. The person should then mention what he wants, and the thing he asks for will be shown to him in his sleep.

A man is said to have done this after he had eaten but little and done dhikr exercises for several nights. A person appeared to him and said, “I am your perfect nature.” A question was put to that person, and he gave the man the information he desired.

With the help of these words, I have myself had remarkable dream visions, through which I learned things about myself that I wanted to know. However, (the existence of such dream words) is no proof that the intention to have a dream vision can produce it. The dream words produce a preparedness in the soul for the dream vision. If that preparedness is a strong one, (the soul) will be more likely to obtain that for which it is prepared. A person may arrange for whatever preparedness he likes, but that is no assurance that the thing for which preparations have been made will actually happen. The power to prepare for a thing is not the same as power over the thing (itself). This should be known and considered in similar cases.

[And] God “is wise and knowing.”

In his footnotes to this section, Rosenthal suggests that Ibn Khaldūn’s transcription of “tamaghis ba’dan yaswadda waghads nawfana ghadis” should be read as Aramaic “tmaggesh b’eddan swadh waghdhash nawmtha ghadhesh”, which Rosenthal proposes to mean “you say your incantations at the time of conversation, and the accident of sleep happens”.  While there are certainly cases of barbarous words, divine names, and magical phrases that certainly have an Aramaic origin (e.g. one of my PGM favorites, ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ), there are others that are only claimed as such without any real evidence to back it up (e.g. ABRACADABRA).  While I don’t have enough knowledge of Aramaic to say one way or other, and granted that Rosenthal is a respected authority on Aramaic and I’m not inclined to dispute him, I think it’s extremely hilarious that an Aramaic phrase that basically amounts to “Imma do the thing” becomes an Arabic magic phrase for doing the thing.

Going back to the vignette, what about the bit about Perfect Nature teaching Hermēs Trismegistus about the particular image, i.e. talisman, that he is to dig out of the pit to still the “impetuous wind” that blows within it?  Since the Picatrix is largely a collection (some might even say compendium) of various images to make for a variety of purposes and under a variety of powers, we’d expect something to come up to calm winds or something.  Yet, searching through the Picatrix, there’s not a lot in there that deals with winds specifically, and not a lot that deals with the weather generally, either.  Yet we find the phrase “impetuous winds”, virtually the same phrase, in a later invocation of the planet Venus from book III, chapter 7 (the famous chapter with all those, erm, long-winded planetary invocations), specifically “a prayer to Venus for love”—yet this is just an invocation, and no image is given for this work.  The only wind-related talisman that we really find in the Picatrix, however, is the famous Mirror of the Seven Winds (book IV, chapter 7).  This mirror lets one “gather men, winds, spirits, demons, the dead and the living, and all will obey you and be at your command”, as it grants “power over winds, men, and demons, and they will come obediently to you”.  It’s certainly an interesting and powerful apparatus of magic, to be sure, but I have my doubts about this, since I don’t see much of an actual tie-in here; as a result, I don’t believe the Picatrix preserves what the actual talisman is that Perfect Nature told Hermēs to recover.

But there’s something else here that bugs me about this whole vignette and the association of this being a metaphor for a deep state of sleep, at least as the Chronos Speaks post describes it as a pit “which drags one down into the oblivion of unconsciousness”.  In fact, the whole notion of a pit here is weird.  In almost every case in extant Hermetic literature, Hermēs Trismegistus is focused on ascent rather than descent.  Consider a number of cases from the Corpus Hermeticum (Copenhaver translation, emphasis in bold mine):

Once, when thought came to me of the things that are and my thinking soared high and my bodily senses were restrained… (book I, chapter 1)

…To this Poimandres said: “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 sourcesThence the human being rushes up through the cosmic framework…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.  (book I, chapters 24 through 26)

You whom we address in silence, the unspeakable, the unsayable, accept pure speech offerings from a heart and soul that reach up to you. (book I, chapter 31)

[God] filled a great mixing bowl with [Nous] and sent it below, appointing a herald whom he commanded to make the following proclamation to human hearts: “Immerse yourself in the mixing bowl if your heart has the strength, if it believes you will rise up again to the one who sent the mixing bowl below, if it recognizes the purpose of your coming to be.” (book IV, chapter 4)

But those who participate in the gift that comes from god, O Tat, are immortal rather than mortal if one compares their deeds, for in a mind of their own they have comprehended all—things on earth, things in heaven and even what lies beyond heaven. Having raised themselves so far, they have seen the good and, having seen it, they have come to regard the wasting of time here below as a calamity. They have scorned every corporeal and incorporeal thing, and they hasten toward the one and only. (book IV, chapter 5)

For none of the heavenly gods will go down to earth, leaving behind the bounds of heaven, yet the human rises up to heaven and takes its measure and knows what is in its heights and its depths, and he understands all else exactly and—greater than all of this—he comes to be on high without leaving earth behind, so enormous is his range. (book X, chapter 25)

There are other bits scattered throughout the Hermetic canon, but these suffice to say that the spiritual approach and focus of Hermēs Trismegistus is focused on going up, not going down.  What, then, are we to make of this weird pit above which the Hermēs Trismegistus of the Picatrix stands?  I don’t disagree that this vignette takes place in a state of dream or trance, especially given the evidence from Ibn Khaldūn’s Muqaddimah.  But the symbolism here doesn’t much fit with the broader trends of Hermetic imagery; this isn’t to say that that the Picatrix is part of the classical Hermetic canon, at least as far as I reckon it, but it’s still perplexing how such a fundamental change in spiritual and symbolic direction would take place.

I propose, instead, that we turn the whole thing on its head, and quite literally so.  Take the image of the vignette, of Hermēs standing on top of a deep pit, and turn it upside down: either Hermēs standing at the bottom of a deep pit or, better yet, at the rock-bottom of the Earth looking up into the vault of Heaven.  If we take this latter image of Hermēs not looking down into the Earth but up into Heaven, the whole vignette suddenly becomes exactly we’d otherwise expect to see in a classical Hermetic text.  We can rethink the vignette accordingly:

  • Hermēs Trismegistus wanted to understand and draw forth the secrets of the workings of the world and of its qualities, and so put himself underneath the open sky, unknowably profound and full of darkness, within which impetuous and violent winds blew.  He could not pierce the darkness of the sky, and whenever he tried to gaze into it with the light of flame, the flame was put out by the winds.
  • In a dream, Perfect Nature came and told Hermēs to protect the candle from the wind in a lamp so that the wind will not extinguish it.
    • Seeing how encased lamps are a truly ancient invention, I’m surprised that this had to be pointed out to Hermēs.  However, this is also symbolic, as the Chronos Speaks blog points out.  By using the candle as one’s awareness, Hermēs trying to ascend into the heavens without preparation and protection, shutting himself off from the violent passions of the world and the influences of fate produced by the planets.
  • Upon reaching the highest heights of Heaven, Hermēs is to obtain a secret power which will still the violent winds of the skies, which will allow Hermēs to remove the candle from the lamp and hold it once more.
    • We can’t rightly use the notion of “digging out a talisman” when you’re literally as far from things to dig from as possible, but the notion of obtaining a secret power upon attaining the summit of the firmament isn’t that uncommon a notion.  If we were to think of this as an actual talisman, we could consider it to be something like the Mirror of the Seven Winds, the Sigillum Dei Aemeth, etc.
    • Something that the Chronos Speaks blogpost didn’t bring up was this crucial part: that, in the original vignette, the image that Hermēs digs up from the pit would allow him to put out the winds as well as remove the candle from the lamp to “hold the light there”—or, according to Atallah/Kiesel, “it will also light up the rest of the place”.  There’s this notion of separating and protecting the candle before rejoining with it again, of separating out and protecting one’s awareness before rejoining with it and letting it spread to all things, a sort of solve-et-coagula as well as expansion of consciousness and divine presence process going on here.
  • With the winds having been stilled and the light now free from the lamp fully illuminating all things, Hermēs should then obtain from the four pillars of Heaven (or, alternatively, the four corners of the World) the secrets of the world and the generation of all things, that which holds Heaven and Earth together.

This inverted scene of the vignette of the Picatrix becomes much more conformable to and understandable within the context of the usual body of Hermetic texts, no weird descent required.  So, where did this descent story come from?  Without knowing more about the background of the Picatrix or older versions of the Liber Antimaquis/Kitab al-Isṭamāḵis to reference, it’s hard to say.  One possibility could be that this is a way to relegate Hermēs Trismegistus to a mere pagan philosopher, keeping him focused on descent and the secrets of this world as opposed to the true divine secrets of God in Heaven within an Abrahamic or Islamic context, regardless whether this story was invented for the Picatrix or whether it relies on an older ascent story that was at some point inverted to become a descent story.  It’s not beyond the pale, I suppose, but given how much of pagan practice the Picatrix bluntly and outright preserves, even with the usual warnings of merely presenting this for the sake of knowledge while advising the faithful reader to turn away from them as idolatry, I doubt that such an inversion would have originated with the author of the Picatrix itself.

It’s also interesting to note how the vignette of Hermēs having to dig four more times in the pit—or, rather, look to the four pillars of Heaven/four corners of the World—after he obtains the talisman that stills the winds.  Knowing that there are four powers of Perfect Nature from the last post, it’s likely that this is a metaphor for each of those powers being developed one after another, all under the tutelage and protection of Perfect Nature itself.  This would suggest that before one can develop the four powers necessary to magic—the power of labor, the power of objects, the power of sense, the power of contemplation—we must first obtain the guidance of Perfect Nature.  In many ways, this is highly reminiscent of the Holy Guardian Angel from the Abramelin operation, where you first work to obtain knowledge and conversation with your Holy Guardian Angel, and only then proceed to the binding of the rulers of Hell and other sacred works.  After all, at the very start of this chapter, the Picatrix says that “nothing in this science can be perfected [i.e. completed] unless the virtue and disposition of the planets are inclined towards it by their own nature”, and it’s the role of the Perfect Nature to assist in doing just that.

While I’m sure there’s more that could be said or analyzed about the vignette, I feel like this is good enough for us to continue.  After all, this isn’t the entire vignette; the main part of this whole scene about Hermēs Trismegistus interacting with Perfect Nature is with Perfect Nature detailing a particular ritual to commune with it.  We’ll start talking about that next time.

On Hermetic Tormentors and Egyptian Sins

It’s weird how research can lead you in a direction, and land you in a place, completely different from what you anticipated.

I’ve been on something of a Coptic kick for a while now, courtesy of Tobias’ post regarding Helleno-Kemetic practice over at Sublunar Space, when he brought up the very good observation that the hymns and songs used in the Coptic Christian Church are a direct descendant of otherwise ancient Egyptian musical practices.  As a result, I started listening in to a variety of Coptic hymns, and beyond the sheer beauty of it, it got me thinking about the use of Coptic as another language for Hermetic magical and religious practice.  (As if I really needed yet another language to learn.)  This led me to look into the different dialects of Coptic.  The modern Coptic church and modern Coptic speakers, such as they are, use the Bohairic dialect, based in Lower (northern) Egypt, though classically speaking, it was the Sahidic dialect that was more common as the lingua franca of Coptic, based in Upper (southern) Egypt.  Being a popular dialect common for writing texts in, is well-attributed and attested enough to study as a religious language for Hermetic stuff.

Sahidic Coptic’s area would include Hermopolis, aka Khemenu in ancient Egyptian, aka Shmun in Coptic, aka El Ashmunein in Arabic.  The placement of Hermopolis in this dialect area is important, as this was practically the city for Thoth worship as well as the worship of the  eight primordial creator deities of the Ogdoad (hence Hermopolis “city of Hermes” and Khemenu “City of Eight”), and according to some modern researchers, is a natural locus for the development of Hermetic practice and texts as well as some PGM texts (especially PGM XIII).  This is a natural draw for my attention, so I began to look up the history of this city in ancient Egypt and some of its religious practices.  This led me to begin researching the system of nomes, administrative divisions used in ancient Egypt.  I suppose it’s good to know that Hermopolis was found in the Hare Nome, Nome XV of Upper Egypt, but that’s not all that important on its own.

It was when a separate line of research of mine, diving into Egyptian texts for material to write new prayers with, combined with this information about nomes that I hit on something fascinating.  Many people are familiar with the Egyptian Book of the Dead (aka “The Book of Coming Forth by Day”) and the various scenes and trials of the afterlife, including the famous scene of the Weighing of the Heart.  For those who don’t know, the story goes like this: upon dying, the soul of the deceased is lead from its body and set on a perilous path through the Duat, the Egyptian underworld, culminating in being led by Anubis into the presence of Osiris to be judged.  The judgment would consist mostly of having the heart of the deceased weighed on a scale against the Feather of Ma`at, the goddess of truth itself: if the heart is at least as light as the feather, then the soul was judged to be pure and was admitted into the afterlife of the righteous.  If, however, the heart was heavier than the feather, then the heart of the deceased would be devoured by the fearsome beast Ammit, condemning the dead to “die a second time” and never being permitted to the true afterlife and instead forever being a restless and wandering spirit.

Leading up to this judgment of the scale, the deceased is to recite the 42 Negative Confessions (or the “42 Declarations of Purity”), oaths that describe how the deceased refrained from committing particular sins, crimes, or errors while in life.  That there are 42 such confessions here is important: each sin that was denied (e.g. “I have not stolen”, “I have not uttered curses”, etc.) was linked explicitly to one of the 42 nomes of ancient Egypt, each with its own assessor (or the Ma`aty gods) who watched over the judgment of Osiris, Anubis, and Ma`at as a sort of witness or court.  In this, there was a sort of moral code that the whole of ancient Egypt upheld in unity, and which could be seen to exemplify what morality and goodness looked like to the Egyptians.  Of course, as might be expected, different funerary texts and different versions of the Book of the Dead describe somewhat different sets of sins, but there’s massive overlap between them all.  There is some unclarity, too, in our knowledge of which assessor is linked to which nome, but we do know the names of at least a good few of them.

The number 42 caught my eye: it’s a pleasing number, to be sure, and yes, it is the number of nomes in ancient Egypt.  It is also, however, the product of 6 × 7, and since there are seven sets of six sins, this naturally made the leap in my mind to the seven planets.  No, it’s not the case that all things that come in sets of seven can be linked to the seven planets, I’m not saying that, but the description of some of these sins did bring to mind the irrational tormentors from the Corpus Hermeticum like we discussed a few months ago.  Between Book I and Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum, we have a good idea of what the classical Hermeticists would decry as bad, immoral, or unethical behavior that results in our being tortured and hindered from achieving our true end.

My thought was this: what if we could look at the various sins of the Negative Confessions and organize them according to the tormentors associated with the seven planets?  So, I plotted out the various sins, and came up with my own little association of different crimes or sins of the Egyptians and mapped them to the seven planets based on where they fall along the tormentors described by Book I and Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum.  Because there are multiple sets of sins from different funerary texts, there’s no simple one-to-one matching, and there’s no clean division in some cases into seven groups of six (e.g. there are lots more crimes relating to temple observance as well as good conduct in speech compared to sexual missteps), so I tried to combine and collate them where possible, and filled in the gaps where necessary with equally viable entries in the sin-list of the Egyptians.

To that end, this is the list I came up with.  Note that each planet is described in a joint fashion as “The Sin of X with the Tormentor of Y”, with X being provided from the list of irrational tormentors from Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum and Y from Book I.  It’s kinda clumsy, as Book I and Book XIII aren’t precisely talking about the same thing, though it’s tantalizingly close.  In the cases of sins in quotes, e.g. “wading in water”, those are phrases from original Egyptian texts that I wasn’t really able to fully piece together, but had to either figure out contextually or give my own interpretation of such a sin.

  1. Moon ­— The Sin of Increase and Decrease with the Tormentor of Ignorance
    1. Causing pain in general through misbehavior generally or through unknown missteps
    2. Neglect of property, both in the carelessness of one’s own property and the lack of respect for the property of others
    3. Making ungainly distinctions for oneself, i.e. polluting oneself by hubris and having one’s name submitted to the authorities for good or evil out of hubris and self-acclamation
    4. “Destroying food”, i.e. the causing of affliction, tears, grief, and hunger through wanton destruction
    5. Taking more food for oneself than what one needs, including general indulgence and the stealing of food
    6. Depriving the needy, whether of food specifically or sustenance generally, including children, orphans, and the poor
  2. Mercury — The Sin of Evil Machination with the Tormentor of Sorrow
    1. Eavesdropping and prying into matters
    2. Sullenness, i.e. grieving uselessly or feeling needless remorse
    3. Transgression of human and mundane law
    4. Quarreling, i.e. violence by words or thoughts
    5. Crookedness, e.g. tampering with scales or other instruments used for measuring
    6. Disputing, attacking people for one’s own ends with words or law without care
  3. Venus ­— The Sin of Covetous Deceit with the Tormentor of Intemperance
    1. Babbling and needlessly multiplying words in speech
    2. Slighting others through through words, especially someone of a lower rank to someone of a higher rank
    3. Debauching another in any non-sexual way
    4. Disturbing the peace and stirring up strife
    5. Debauching another in any sexual way
    6. Adultery, i.e. deceitful or objectionable sex outside the bounds of what is agreed to within relationships
  4. Sun — The Sin of the Arrogance of Rulers with the Tormentor of Lust
    1. Damaging a god’s image or otherwise defacing or damaging the property of the gods
    2. Transgressing divine and cosmic law
    3. “Wading in water”, i.e. defiling the sacred springs, rivers, and other bodies of water of the gods, or otherwise messing with the natural world to defile and corrupt it
    4. “Conjuration against the king”, cursing or blaspheming against a ruler or leader acting with the divine license and power of the gods or otherwise acting appropriately and respectfully of the law both mundane and divine
    5. Killing the sacred animals of the gods, including the irreverent slaughter of sacred bulls as well as otherwise hunting, trapping, or catching animals from the sacred precincts of the gods
    6. Reviling the gods, e.g. cursing the gods or treating them with contempt, including blocking their processions
  5. Mars — The Sin of Impious Daring and Reckless Audacity with the Tormentor of Injustice
    1. Impatience, i.e. acting or judging with undue haste
    2. Terrorizing, including physical violence and threats of abuse to others
    3. “Being unduly active”, i.e. acting out of passion rather than reason, especially rage
    4. “Being loud-voiced”, i.e. speaking arrogantly or in anger
    5. “Being hot-tempered”, i.e. being angry without just cause
    6. Murder, i.e. the desired and intentional killing of those who do not deserve it
  6. Jupiter — The Sin of Evil Impulse for Wealth with the Tormentor of Greed
    1. Rapaciousness
    2. Wrongdoing, i.e. the general practice of evil against others for one’s own gain
    3. Stealing the property of other humans
    4. Stealing the property and offerings of the gods, the dead, and other spirits
    5. Robbery with violence
    6. Dishonest wealth, including the use of malefica against another for one’s own gain
  7. Saturn — The Sin of Ensnaring Falsehood with the Tormentor of Deceit
    1. “Being unhearing of truth”, i.e. being unwilling to know the truth or or willfully ignoring or remaining ignorant of it
    2. Falsehood, i.e. to not tell the truth to others (including exaggeration, depreciation, or omission) to mislead others for one’s own ends
    3. Lying, i.e. uttering untrue statements, including slander or libel of others
    4. Blasphemy, i.e. lying about divinity
    5. Hoodwinking, i.e. leading others into wrongdoing
    6. Perjury, i.e. to not tell the whole truth in a court of law whether mundane or divine

It’d be even cooler if there were 49 sins; this would give us a sort of primary-secondary planetary pair to arrange the sins by, such that we could say “such-and-such a sin is the sin of the Sun of Saturn”.  Alas, there’s just 42, for the reasons already described above.  But, if we consider the tormentor of the planet as a sin unto itself as a sort of primary, overarching, or root sin, then that would fulfill the same need: the tormentor-sin would be the root of all the other sins associated with the planet.  Thus, the list of sins above follow a more-or-less planetary order: the first sin of the Moon is given to Mercury (skipping over the Moon itself), the second to Venus, the third to the Sun, etc., and the first sin of Mercury to the Moon, the second to Venus (skipping over Mercury itself), the third to the Sun, etc.  It’s a loose scheme, honestly, and I’m not 100% sold on some of them, but it’s an idea to toy around with in the future.

Now, I’m not saying that these things are really Hermetic; there’s no real list of crimes or sins in Hermetic texts, nor have I found anything resembling a code of conduct for Hermetists/Hermeticists.  Still, it is nice to consider how to flesh out the things that trigger the various tormentors along Hermetic lines, and it’s also good to tie in Egyptian practices and beliefs back into Hermetic stuff given Hermeticism’s Egyptian origin and context, no matter how much Hellenic and Mediterranean philosophy gets mixed into it.  Besides, I’m not trying to rewrite or cop the Book of the Dead or other afterlife practices or beliefs here, but rather proposing a set of prohibitions for those who might consider taking their Hermetic philosophy to the next level through changes in their daily behavior.

One way we might apply this list of planetary sins, beyond simply observing the prohibitions regarding them of course, would be to take one sin from a given set each day, or each set as a whole day by day, and meditating on them.  I recall Arnemancy bringing up the practice of Mussar, using Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues as an example, but we could expand on that in this way.  For instance, we could dedicate a particular Wednesday, the day of Mercury, to one of the sins or to all six sins as a whole, contemplating it in the morning and dedicating oneself to observing that prohibition, and then contemplating and reviewing the day in the evening before bed to see how well one stuck to it and how one could improve on observing it.  Taking each sin day by day would take place across six weeks, or across seven weeks if we also include the arch-sin/tormentor of a given planet itself to bring up the total number of sins from 42 to 49.

If one were to use a whole set of sins for a given day, one could take a slightly more ritual approach to this by announcing a dedication to each of the six directions, e.g. saying “I will not engage in eavesdropping” to the East, “I will not engage in sullenness” to the South, “I will not transgress the law of this world” to the West, “I will not engage in quarreling” to the North, “I will not engage in crookedness” downwards to the Earth, and “I will not engage in disputing” upwards to Heaven.  This could be preceded and/or followed with the declaration of “I will not engage in evil machination” (the arch-sin/tormentor of Mercury) taking the place of the divine center, or this could be included in each of the six declarations said to the directions, e.g. “I will not engage in evil machination through sullenness”.  It’s an idea, at any rate, and could be good for a stricter spiritual practice that focuses on purity through abstinence of wrong behavior.

Something that struck me late in writing this post, I admit, is the lack of mention of drunkenness.  I did throw this in under the fifth (Jupiter) sin of the Moon, “taking more food for oneself than what one needs” as a form of indulgence, but that’s really more about stealing food than overindulgence in it.  Moderation is certainly a virtue, but this got me thinking a bit: overindulgence in a way that shifts the state of the mind doesn’t do much on its own, but it’s works that impact the well-being of other people and the world that matter.  Thus, being drunk isn’t a sin, but committing violence or adultery while drunk is—but it’d be as much a sin anyway even if you weren’t drunk.  After all, as Hermēs Trismegistus preaches in Book I of the Corpus Hermeticum, everyone is in a state of sloth and drunken stupor in their mindlessness as they are; what more could booze really do when we’re already at the bottom of the barrel?  Despite the noetic focus of much of Hermetic work, when it comes to day-to-day living, it’s generally the action that counts instead of the thought.  After all, without Nous, what true thinking could you have anyway that animals themselves wouldn’t already have?  And with Nous, why would you engage in wrong behavior to begin with?

As magicians and spiritual workers, obviously we have a variety of things to study as far as the practice, technology, and technique goes for our various disciplines and types of Work, but it’s equally as important to study the philosophy, theology, and cosmology behind the practice.  This goes hand-in-hand with living life in the proper way as a way to indirectly implement the philosophical components of our Work and as a way to assist and ground the practical components of it, as well.  Merely adopting a set of purity rules or fasting is good, don’t get me wrong, but considering broader notions of morality and good/right behavior should play a bigger role in this as well.  While I won’t ascribe cosmic importance to these rules above beyond a basic planetary correspondence, and while I’m certainly not saying that this is a good stand-in for what to deny while standing before Osiris, I think it’s a good set of rules to live by for a good number of people who want to lead a good life respectful of other human beings, the cosmos, and the gods themselves irrespective of the specifics of one’s religious tradition.

A Simple Hermetic Prayer Rule

I’m not sure what a Hermetic parallel to Christian primitivism would be, especially given how little we know about actual Hermetic practices on-the-ground in the early part of the first millennium, but maybe something like this could be considered.

Like how I recently introduced a new prayer, the Praise of the Invisible and Invisible God based off Book V from the Corpus Hermeticum, I’ve been combing through other parts of the classical Hermetic corpus to come up with other prayers to recite.  What survives is largely philosophical, but there are occasional praises of God, exhortations of praise or prayer, and other exclamations of faith that dot the Hermetic literature.  We already pointed out a lengthy one from Book V not too long ago, but there are others, as well, and a few outright prayers, too, like the famous prayer from the end of Book I from the Corpus Hermeticum to the Prayer of Thanksgiving from the Asclepius, or the Perfect Sermon which also makes an appearance in the Nag Hammadi texts.  I’ve been experimenting with the explicit prayers that appear in the Hermetic canon, but I’ve even been coming up with others only based on it, even making my own kind of “Hermetic Mass” based on Book XIII (which talks a lot about the tormentors and blessings of the various spheres of the cosmos).

So far, as far as raw material to come up with new prayers goes, Book I is probably among the most fruitful.  It’s this very book of the Corpus Hermeticum that is named after Poimandrēs itself (though many translate this to “Shepherd of Men”, following Ralph Marcus, I favor a Coptic interpretation of this as “Reason of Sovereignty”), a testament of Hermēs Trismegistos himself when he obtained the divine vision of the creation of the cosmos and passage of souls, and how to achieve henosis both in this life and in the afterlife.  It’s at the end of this that Poimandrēs exhorts Hermēs to go forth and save the human race from the torments of their mortality (Copenhaver translation, and also note my italicized text in that last paragraph):

As he was saying this to me, Poimandres joined with the powers. Then he sent me forth, empowered and instructed on the nature of the universe and on the supreme vision, after I had given thanks to the father of all and praised him. And I began proclaiming to mankind the beauty of reverence and knowledge: “People, earthborn men, you who have surrendered yourselves to drunkenness and sleep and ignorance of god, make yourselves sober and end your drunken sickness, for you are bewitched in unreasoning sleep.”

When they heard, they gathered round with one accord. And I said, “Why have you surrendered yourselves to death, earthborn men, since you have the right to share in immortality? You who have journeyed with error, who have partnered with ignorance, think again: escape the shadowy light; leave corruption behind and take a share in immortality.”

Some of them, who had surrendered themselves to the way of death, resumed their mocking and withdrew, while those who desired to be taught cast themselves at my feet. Having made them rise, I became guide to my race, teaching them the words—how to be saved and in what manner—and I sowed the words of wisdom among them, and they were nourished from the ambrosial water. When evening came and the sun’s light began to disappear entirely, I commanded them to give thanks to god, and when each completed the thanksgiving, he turned to his own bed.

Within myself I recorded the kindness of Poimandres, and I was deeply happy because I was filled with what I wished, for the sleep of my body became sobriety of soul, the closing of my eyes became true vision, my silence became pregnant with good, and the birthing of the word became a progeny of goods. This happened to me because I was receptive of mind—of Poimandres, that is, the word of sovereignty. I have arrived, inspired with the divine breath of truth. Therefore, I give praise to god the father from my soul and with all my might:

After this, Hermēs recites his famous prayer itself, which has been a staple of mine and many other Hermeticists’ practices, a beautiful bit of devotional speech and supplication.

It’s the latter two paragraphs there that I took another look at, and considered that those would be excellent to base a prayer on.  Consider: Hermēs reaches out to those who seek after Truth, and “sowed the words of wisdom among them, and they were nourished from the ambrosial water” (i.e. water of immortality), after which those same people give thanks to God.  And after that, Hermēs himself gives thanks for “what [he] wished” (or prayed) for: his bodily sleep became sobriety of the soul, his eyes’ closing became true vision, etc.  And then, because of all that, he gives his famous “Holy is God…” prayer, a kind of “Threefold Trisagion”.

So I sat with this a bit, extracted the important bits, compared the translations of Scott, Copenhaver, and Salaman along with the original Greek given in Scott, and, after a good bit of writing and rewriting, I came up with the following prayer:

Sow in me the words of wisdom, and nourish me with the water of immortality.
By this, for this, and for everything, I give unto you my thanks.

May the sleep of my body become the sobriety of my soul.
May the closing of my eyes become true vision of Truth.
May my silence become pregnant with the Supreme Good.
May my birthing of the Word become the generation of true wealth.

Let me be receptive to the Nous, the Sovereign Knowledge,
that I may be inspired by the divine breath of Truth,
that I may praise God with all my soul and all my strength.

This actually works fairly well, in my limited experience trying it out, as a prayer in its own right, especially before using before the Threefold Trisagion.  The thing is that it’s very much directed towards being used before one retires to bed at night, what with the references to sleep and closing one’s eyes, as well as the original context of the content being used before people “turn[ing] to [their] own bed[s]”.  If this is a prayer that would best be used in the evening before sleep, what about one in the morning when one rises from sleep?  Easy; note the italicized parts below:

Sow in me the words of wisdom, and nourish me with the water of immortality.
By this, for this, and for everything, I give unto you my thanks.

May the rousing of my body become the awakening of my soul.
May the opening of my eyes become true vision of Truth.
May my speech become fruitful with the Supreme Good.
May my birthing of the Word become the generation of true wealth.

Let me be receptive to the Nous, the Sovereign Knowledge,
that I may be inspired by the divine breath of Truth,
that I may praise God with all my soul and all my strength.

This also works well as a morning prayer unto itself, but again especially so when followed by the Threefold Trisagion.  But there’s something else we can add, as well: the Prayer of Thanksgiving from the Asclepius.  Note how in that penultimate paragraph above from Book I that, after Hermēs gives his teaching to people, he “commanded them to give thanks to god, and when each completed the thanksgiving, he turned to his own bed”.  This means that, after the first two lines of the two derived prayers above, we could recite the Prayer of Thanksgiving, then continuing with the rest of the prayer, then finished by the Triple Trisagion.

On top of all this, we can take inspiration from the last part of the Asclepius that gives instructions on prayer (Copenhaver translation):

As they left the sanctuary, they began praying to god and turning to the south (for when someone wants to entreat god at sunset, he should direct his gaze to that quarter, and likewise at sunrise toward the direction they call east), and they were already saying their prayer…

My big issue with this is turning to the south, since the Sun doesn’t set in the south, yet the Asclepius says to face the south while also saying one “should direct his gaze to that quarter” where the Sun is setting.  My guess would be that the use of “south” here was a mistranslation or mistransmission in the text, and it should say “west”, maybe “southwest” to reflect a more realistic setting of the Sun for places in the northern hemisphere, especially between the autumn and spring equinoxes—yet in Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum, Hermes tells this same thing to Tat before he imparts the Secret Hymn, the Initiatory Hymn of Silence (note the italicized part):

Be still, my child; now hear a well-tuned hymn of praise, the hymn of rebirth. To divulge it was no easy choice for me except that I do it for you, at the end of everything. Hence, it cannot be taught; it is a secret kept in silence. Therefore, my child, stand in the open air, face the south wind when the setting sun descends, and bow down in adoration; when the sun returns, bow likewise toward the east. Be still, child: …

So, yeah, we really should be facing the south for sunset/evening prayers.  In this light, keeping in mind the Egyptian context here of Hermetic texts, it makes sense: the Way of Truth of Hermēs Trismegistos is also a Way of Life, and the direction of the West was the direction of the lands of the dead, and so inappropriate for prayers of immortality to the immortal God.  (Why, then, the direction of North wasn’t used, the direction of immortality itself, is not something I’ve puzzled out yet, but I’m tired, so it can wait.)

In either case, let’s take inspiration from this for our prayer routine above.  In the morning (ideally at sunrise), we’d say the morning prayer (with Prayer of Thanksgiving in the middle and Threefold Trisagion at the end) facing the east, and in the evening again (ideally at sunset) with the evening prayer (again with the Prayer of Thanksgiving and Threefold Trisagion) facing the south (though, if one is in the southern hemisphere, one should probably face the north instead).  Following the practice given in Book XIII as noted above as well as in the Asclepius, prayers are best made “in open air” (cf. “as they left the sanctuary” in the Asclepius), starting from a standing position, and bowing during adoration (e.g. the Secret Hymn, the Threefold Trisagion, etc.); prayers with words should be said aloud, audibly if not in a low voice, while prayers without words would be said in silence.  If standing is not possible, kneeling would be fine, prostrating instead of bowing at the appropriate times; which is my own personal preference, especially if indoors, and even more so if meditation, contemplation, readings, or other prayers are to be said either before or after this.

So there’s that: a simple prayer rule for devotional Hermetic practice, derived entirely from the classical Hermetic canon.  Short, elegant, straightforward, earnest; what more could one want, even if only to start with as a seed for extended or more elaborate prayer practices of Hermetic theurgy and henosis?  It’s something otherwise detached from any other religion or spiritual practice, and, perhaps most importantly, uses the actual words of Hermēs Trismegistos for our own prayers, and to repeat those same words (or to use them in a similar way) for following the Way of Hermēs is a powerful practice, indeed.

Speaking of “following the Way”, there’s something else I was considering.  We used that excerpt from Book I of the Corpus Hermeticum to create those evening and morning prayers above, but we focused on the latter two paragraphs of the excerpt for that.  The first two paragraphs, on the other hand, take a distinctly different tone: that of a call to wake up, a call to the Way of Truth that Hermēs Trismegistos began to teach at the instruction of Poimandrēs.  Like Buddha going around from town to town with the call of “Anyone for the other side?” or the Islamic adhān calling Muslims to prayer, similar language could be used as a preliminary…perhaps not “prayer”, but reminder of what it is to follow the Way and why we should do so.  Though I doubt there are many communities that would need such a grand call, it could be useful before both individual or group practice before any major Hermetic theurgic undertaking, even (or especially) those that rely on heavier PGM-style magic and ritual.  To that end, I figured I’d end this post by sharing my rewrite of Hermēs’ original call, based again on comparing the older translations of Scott, Copenhaver, and Salaman amongst each other:

O all you children of mankind, o all you born of the Earth, o all who you have given yourselves over to drink and sleep in your ignorance of God! Make yourselves sober, cease your drunken sickness, end your bewitchment by unreasoning sleep! Why have you given yourselves over to death, since you have the power to partake of immortality? You who have wandered with Error, you who have partnered with Ignorance: think again, and repent! Be released from the darkness, take hold of the Light, take part in divine immortality, leave behind your corrupt destruction! Do not surrender to the way of death by your mockery or distance, but come, rise, and be guided on the way of life!

A Hermetic Praise Prayer from Book V of the Corpus Hermeticum

What with my recent Christmas haul (including a good number of books I got for myself), I’ve been going through and rereading my Corpus Hermeticum again.  There’s nothing quite like it for those of a Hermetic practice—as the core texts of our religious and spiritual approach, it’s the equivalent of a Bible for us—but something caught my eye when I was going through my copy recently.  In book V, Hermēs Trismegistos dedicates a particular discourse to his son Tat, and opens up with the following (according to the Copenhaver translation):

This discourse I shall also deliver to you in full, O Tat, lest you go uninitiated in the mysteries of the god who is greater than any name.
You must understand how something that seems invisible to the multitude will become entirely visible to you. Actually, if it were (not) invisible, it would not (always) be. Everything seen has been begotten because at some point it came to be seen. But the invisible always is, and, because it always is, it does not need to come to be seen. Also, while remaining invisible because it always is, it makes all other things visible. The very entity that makes visibility does not make itself visible; what (begets) is not itself begotten; what presents images of everything (is not) present to the imagination. For there is imagination only of things begotten. Coming to be is nothing but imagination.

Clearly, the one who alone is unbegotten is also unimagined and invisible, but in presenting images of all things he is seen through all of them and in all of them; he is seen especially by those whom he wished to see him. You then, Tat, my child, pray pray first to the lord, the father, the only, who is not one but from whom the one comes; ask him the grace to enable you to understand so great a god, to permit even one ray of his to illuminate your thinking. …

The rest of book V is basically Hermēs going on to Tat about all the ways God (the One, the Father, the Creator, the Good, etc.) is visible, though God itself is invisible.  Such a series of praises isn’t foreign or unusual in the Corpus Hermeticum or other Hermetic texts, but what struck me is that so much of the book is itself written as if it were a prayer, as if Hermēs was telling Tat not only to pray but also what to pray.  Between rhetorical questions about the creation and creating of God and points where Hermēs himself goes on about how and why even he might pray, book V is basically a prayer unto itself, a praisegiving for Tat to make to God, the God who is invisible and also entirely visible.

This notion of turning the bulk of book V into a prayer struck me as something that might be useful, perhaps for my own practice and perhaps for others.  After all, actual examples of pure classical Hermetic practice that stand out to the mind as being distinctly Hermetic aren’t all that easy to come by, and the Corpus Hermeticum doesn’t have that many prayers; while there are a few true prayers embedded within Hermetic texts (like the Prayer of Hermēs Trismegistos from book I, the Initiatory Hymn of Silence from book XIII, the Prayer of Thanksgiving from the Asclepius, and the Hymn to the Eighth and the Ninth from the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth), there aren’t a lot of other “true” prayers that we might associate with the practices of the Corpus Hermeticum.  But book V gives us basically a sermon, a prayer unto itself that we might be able to use, and that’s what caught my attention.

After a bit of reworking the original text to make it flow a bit better as a prayer to be recited, plus a bit of extra backup from other books in the Corpus Hermeticum, I ended up with the following, what I’m calling (at least for the nonce) the “Praise of the Invisible and Visible God”, a prayer of praise and adoration to God in the Hermetic sense, a highly panenthiestic prayer that recognizes that God is both transcendent of creation while being immanent within it, and that even though God itself is invisible and unable to be seen by the eyes, all that exists (and all that doesn’t!) is a part of and testament to God.

It is to you that I pray,
o Lord, o Father, o Only and Single, o One Alone,
you from whom the One itself comes.
Grant me, o God, your understanding and the understanding of you.
Grant me even but a single ray of illumination to shine forth in my mind,
all for the sake of understanding you.
Unbegotten, unimagined, and invisible are you,
and you are in every begetting, in every image, in every vision,
by all, though all, in all, to all!
You, o God, are generous, not grudging with your bounty.
You, o God, are seen by those whom you wish to see you.
You, o God, are seen throughout the entirety of the cosmos.

All that is in Heaven bows and submits themselves to the Sun,
greater than Earth and Sea, greatest of all the gods in Heaven,
yet allows smaller stars than him to circle above him and around him
all according to your order and design for itself and all else,
for the Sun itself bows and submits itself to you
in reverence, in deference, in awe, in fear.
It is you, o God, who keeps the order of the passage of the Sun and Moon and Stars.
It is you, o God, who rules over the Bear that turns all of Heaven around the Pole.
It is you, o God, who set the boundary to the sea and who set the Earth in its place.
It is you, o God, you who are the maker and master of all this and all else.

Order is made by you, o God, by place and number and measure,
and without you, neither place nor number nor measure could be preserved.
You order all the cosmos, everything within it, and everything without it.
All things created with place and number and measure
are ruled by you in the order you have given it;
all things uncreated without place or number or measure
are ruled by you in the order you have not given it.
You have created the order of the cosmos,
you have created the cosmos of order:
the firmness of earth and the fluidity of sea,
the streaming of rivers and the flowing of air,
the piercing of fire and the coursing of stars,
all sped round about the celestial pole.
This is the Unmoving being moved, the Unmanifest being made manifest;
to see all this poised between Earth and Heaven,
this is your holy vision of beauty and joy!

It is you, o God, who made the beautiful form of humanity,
made in the womb of mortals, made in the image of immortality.
Who else could trace the line around the eyes?
Who else could pierce the holes for nostrils and ears?
Who else could open up the mouth?
Who else could stretch out and fasten together the sinews?
Who else could make channels for the veins of blood?
Who else could strengthen and harden the bones?
Who else could cover the flesh with skin drawn taught?
Who else could part the fingers for each hand?
Who else could flatten and widen the soles of the feet?
Who else could bore holes for the passages of the body?
Who else could stretch out the spleen?
Who else could make the heart into the shape of a temple?
Who else could join and fix the ribs together?
Who else could hollow out the lungs?
Who else could make spacious the belly for nourishment?
Who else could set the honorable parts of the body to be visible and praised?
Who else could hide away the unseemly parts of the body for private discretion?

All that is in Heaven and all that is on Earth,
all placed, all numbered, all measured,
all beautiful and yet all different:
what father, what mother, what crafter, what artist could have made all this?
So many different skills upon a single substance,
so many different labors within a single work!
God, the God unmanifest beyond manifestation,
who created all creation by his own will,
whose greatness is beyond any name,
whose work alone is to create all creation!

All things are within you, o God,
creating all that is in Heaven and all that is on Earth,
in the skies and in the seas, in the depths and in the heights,
in every part of the cosmos you have created!
There is nothing in the cosmos that you are not,
but you are all things in the cosmos and all things outside it.
Utterly unmanifest, you can be perceived by the mind,
yet most manifest, you can be perceived by the eyes.
O God invisible, o God entirely visible!
O God of no body, o God of all bodies!
O God of no names, o God of all names!
O Father of all!

How even shall I praise you, o God?
To those who act on your behalf? With those who act according to your purpose?
For whomever I turn to, I turn to you; should I turn within, still I turn to you!
For I and all others are within you and part of you,
and you are all that is, being praised from within yourself to yourself.

Where even shall I look to praise you, o God?
To the East or the West? To the North or the South?
Above or below? Within or without?
There is no direction, no place, no space, no being apart from you.

What even shall I bring to praise you, o God?
What could I give that you do not already have?
What sacrifice could I make that is not already yours?
All is within you, and all comes from you.
You give everything, and you take nothing.
You have all, and there is nothing that you do not have.

When even shall I praise you, o God?
In what time or season, what day or hour could we find you?
You cannot be found in any time, for you are within and beyond all time.
You are eternal, immortal, unbegotten,
who neither can nor ever could have come to be,
who always is, who always was, who always will be.

What even shall I hymn as praise to you, o God?
For what you have made? For what you have not made?
For what you have revealed? For what you have hidden?
You are everything, o God:
all that is and all that is not, all that is revealed and all that is hidden,
all that has come to be and all that has not come to be.

Why even shall I praise you, o God?
For that which is a part of me? For that which makes me what I am?
For that which is apart and separate from myself?
You are whatever I am and all that I am,
you are whatever I make and all that I make,
you are whatever I say and all that I say,
I and all else that is or is not.

You are that which understands,
you are that which is understood,
you are the Creator who creates,
you are the God who acts,
you are the Good who are the cause of all.

For the finest part of matter is air,
and the finest part of air is soul,
and the finest part of soul is reason,
and the finest part of reason is mind,
and the finest part of mind is God.

While there are definitely other praises to God in the Corpus Hermeticum, which can and should probably also be repurposed as prayers much like the above, the above from Book V is probably one of the longest and most notable that comes to my mind.  Although simply reading book V itself would suffice for meditation and contemplation (and this is something all Hermeticists should periodically do with such the Hermetic texts), I feel like making it slightly more poetic is beneficial for routine religious practice for fellow Hermeticists, as well.  If I like it once I take another look at this in a few days, I’ll go ahead and add it to the Prayers pages.

On the Blessing of Peace

While I don’t like to talk about the specifics of it too much except with people I trust, I do and maintain a regular daily prayer routine.  More than just a daily ritual routine (including meditation, energy work, and the like), I use a particular format that I use where I say several prayers in a particular order and format every day, accompanied with particular ritual gestures or offerings or the like.  (At least, on days when I actually get my ass down to my temple room and do my work, but that’s becoming easier and easier as of late, thank God and the gods.)  The penultimate prayer is one I use as a general…I don’t know if “offering” is the proper word to describe it, but I suppose a blessing upon all the powers, all my ancestors, all those in my life (whether living, dead, or otherwise).  Specifically, it’s a sort of litany-blessing of peace, where I pray for the peace of God to be upon whoever.  And the final line of that prayer is this:

Glory be to God, from whom there is no higher blessing than peace.

I finish this “Sending of Peace” prayer up with a variant of the “Prosperity for All” prayer by Śrı̄ Vēthāthiri Mahaṛṣi.  My own variant (“Prayer for the Peace of the World”) goes like this:

May the whole world know and enjoy
good health, long life, prosperity, happiness, and peace.
Peace in the body, peace in the soul, peace in the spirit, and peace in the mind!
O God of peace, let there be peace and peace and peace and peace!
Let your divine peace reign supreme over the whole world,
that there might be peace forever and ever
at all times, on all days, in all places, in every heart, for everyone, everywhere.

Silently, I finish it up with the same “Glory be to God…” line from above, again reminding myself (and, through the prayer, the whole world) that “there is no higher blessing than peace”.

Originally, these prayers didn’t include this line; I wrote my “Sending of Peace” prayer without it, and I never included it in the “Prayer for the Peace of the World” originally, even after I adapted Śrī Vēthāthiri Mahaṛṣi’s prayer; the statement just kinda…started falling out of my mouth, as it were, and it ended up becoming part of these prayers in my prayer routine.   Which is fine, honestly: I think that it’s a beautiful way to close out these prayers of peace, but thinking of it…why would I even say this, or think this, or feel this?  I mean, it does feel right, but why?  Like, what with my Hermetic stuff, you’d think that the ten (or seven) rational powers of God would be blessings unto themselves—which they are—culminating with life, light, and goodness, and peace is nowhere to be found in that list.  So why would peace be the highest possible blessing?

Let’s back up a bit, and consider the origin of the word “peace”.  Etymologically:

mid-12c., “freedom from civil disorder,” from Anglo-French pes, Old French pais “peace, reconciliation, silence, permission” (11c., Modern French paix), from Latin pacem (nominative pax) “compact, agreement, treaty of peace, tranquility, absence of war” (source of Provençal patz, Spanish paz, Italian pace), from PIE root *pag- “to fasten” (which is the source also of Latin pacisci “to covenant or agree;” see pact), on the notion of “a binding together” by treaty or agreement.

It replaced Old English frið, also sibb, which also meant “happiness.” Modern spelling is 1500s, reflecting vowel shift. Sense in peace of mind is from c. 1200. Used in various greetings from c. 1300, from Biblical Latin pax, Greek eirēnē, which were used by translators to render Hebrew shalom, properly “safety, welfare, prosperity.”

Other words derived from this same Proto-Indo-European root *pag- include: pact, propagate, pole (as in a stake or post), pale (in the old sense of a fence of pointed stakes used for marking boundaries), pagan (in the sense of someone being from the rural districts marked off by boundaries), page (a small sheet of paper, originally fastened to something else, but also a young man of a lower social order preparing to be a knight, from the same rural-indicative origin as pagan above), peasant (someone from the rural countryside), fang (in an Old English sense of prey, booty, spoils, “things taken or seized”), and even travail (to work or to toil through suffering, from an original Latin tripalis, an instrument of torture with three stakes).

In all these words derived from the root *pag-, there’s this notion of things being held together by sticking them into or onto something else, or things marked off because of something held together in common.  Peace, then, might seem a bit weird, but consider the etymology above: it’s closely related to the Latin for “to [make a covenant]”; peace, then, is the state of people who have entered into a covenant with each other, binding them and holding them fast together.  And this meaning isn’t just in Latin, either; the Greek name for peace (and the name of a goddess, too!), Εἰρήνη Eirēne, comes from the Greek verb εἵρω eirō, “to fasten together, esp. in rows or by string”.

This is all well and good, but let’s be honest: this emphasis on peace in my prayers (pace Śrī Vēthāthiri Mahaṛṣi) is definitely coming from an Abrhamic and Semitic influence: consider how Muslims constantly pray for “peace and blessings upon the prophet Muḥammad and his family”, how the standard Hebrew greeting for someone is shalom `alekhem and Arabic as-salāmu `alaykum, both meaning “peace be with you” (with the return greeting, “[and] upon you be peace”, being `alekhem shalom and wa-`alaykum as-salām, respectively).  The Sh-L-M triliteral root is abuntant in many Semitic languages, and unlike the Indo-European origins of the word “peace” that indicate things being bound together, the Sh-L-M root for these Semitic words for “peace” indicate something that is whole, complete, accepted, safe, intact, unharmed.  (And, just as Eirēne is the name of a Greek god, this Semitic root provides the name of an ancient Canaanite god, Shalim, the god of dusk and the Evening Star, after whom Jerusalem itself was named, the connection here being that evening and dusk was the completion and wholeness of the day.)

For us Indo-European (especially Germanic and Anglophone speakers), the closest etymological correspondence to the Sh-L-M trilteral root would be the Proto-Indo-European root *kailo- (“whole, uninjured, something of good omen”), which has given us such words as: whole, hale, health, holy, hallow.  Though this does kinda have overlap with the Sh-L-M root, it also overlaps with the Semitic Q-D-Sh triliteral root, which indicates something sacred, holy, pure, or clean (e.g. Hebrew qodesh “holiness” and miqdash “temple”, Arabic al-Quds “The Holy One” and al-Ard al-Muqaddasa “the Land of Holies” referring to Jerusalem and all its shrines).  This root is especially important when reciting a berakhah in Judaism, those endless blessings said when performing a mitzvah or enjoying something, when many of them begin: “blessed are you, o Lord our God, King of the World, who has sanctified us with his commandments…” (barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha`olam, asher qid’shanu b’mitzvotav…).  So there’s this notion here that links holiness and sanctification through the Jewish commandments of the Torah (which, by the by, is also called the Covenant, Hebrew brit, also meaning “alliance”).

We end up with this fourfold root here that ties this all together: Proto-Indo-European *pag- (fasten, bind) and *kailo- (whole, holy) and Semitic Sh-L-M (peace, accepted) and Q-D-Sh (holy, pure).  It’s between the confluence of these four things that we can get an idea of what the notion of peace really means from a spiritual standpoint: peace is an agreement and alliance between parties, one that ensures the well-being and health of all such parties, and one whose nature is sacrosanct and inviolable.  Sure, peace is the absence of violence and war, sure, but from the perspective of our work with Divinity, peace is both holiness and wholeness, being both healthy and hallowed.  Peace is the completion and fulfillment of all the other blessings, and the foundation for them all, and the obligations we enter into so as to have peace are those we enter into with Divinity, which then provides us with the peace we seek as we seek for others to have it as well by entering into peace with them.

Consider the twelve tormentors and ten powers according to the Corpus Hermeticum from the post I wrote earlier this summer.  Peace isn’t in the list of the powers (knowledge of God, joy, self-control, steadfastness, justice, generosity, truth, good, life, light) that resolve the tormentors, whether twelve in CH XIII (ignorance, grief, intemperance, lust, injustice, greed, deceit, envy, treachery, anger, recklessness, malice) or seven in CH I (increase and decrease, evil machination, covetous deceit, domineering arrogance, unholy daring and rash audacity, evil striving after wealth, ensnaring falsehood), but…what if peace is above the rest, a sort of meta-blessing that provides for all other blessings to develop, abide, and spread out?  I mean, consider the Semitic greeting of “peace be on you”: if you have peace, then you don’t have problems, because peace is the absence or the resolution of problems.  If you have peace in the body, then you don’t have physical problems of illness or injury; if you have peace in the soul, then you don’t have emotional distress; if you have peace in the spirit, you don’t have nagging worries or disturbed thoughts; if you have peace in the mind, then you don’t have confusion of divinity or spiritual blockages.  And, hell, what do we say about people who have passed away from a rough life into death?  “May they rest in peace.”

If you have problems, then you don’t have peace; if you have peace, you don’t have problems.  I mean, consider that so much in this world is violence, war, combat, and conflict: conflict between your cells and invasive cells produces illness, conflict between your person and other people produces fighting, conflict between your desires and the desires of another causes emotional distress, and the like.  This world is generated through violence, it’s true, but it’s our job to resolve that violence to find and produce peace, the resolution of problems, violence, and conflict, whether on a small scale of cells or a large scale of civilizations, whether on a small scale of emotions or a large scale of divinity.  To hope, wish, pray, and work for peace is to resolve the problems we face in the world whatever they might be or however they might come about.  We can consider this in terms of the Hermetic tormentors and powers: to pacify (literally “to make peaceful”) the tormentor of ignorance is to bring about the power of knowledge of God, and to have knowledge of God eliminates the torment of ignorance, which brings about peace; to pacify lust is to bring about steadfastness, and to have steadfastness eliminates lust, which brings about peace; and so on for all the tormentors and powers.

In this light, peace is both the means to blessing and a blessing unto itself, but it’s not like other blessings like prosperity or health.  Sure, prosperity resolves poverty, health resolves illness, and the like, and all those things lead to peace, but only when all problems are resolved can total, complete, and full peace be obtained.  Thus, to wish for such peace upon someone is to inherently wish for the resolution of all their problems in every way.  At the same time, the presence of a smaller, incomplete peace in one way helps bring about other smaller peaces in other ways: if you’re sick and poor, having health can help you resolve being poor faster, just as being prosperous can help you regain health faster.  Every little bit of peace we get helps bring about more peace, and the blessing of peace itself is all encompassing of everything else we do.  In praying for a small peace for ourselves, we bring about bigger peace for ourselves; in praying for peace for ourselves, we bring about peace for others; in praying for peace for the world, we bring about peace for ourselves.  Peace is, in many ways, the origin as well as the result of all other blessings.  In this, it precedes and fulfills everything else we do and work for and pray for, every other kind of well-being, every other kind of problem resolution, every other kind of abating of torment, whether for ourselves or for others.

So pray for peace: peace for yourself, peace for your ancestors, peace for your family, peace for your community, peace for your teachers, peace for your students.  Pray for peace: peace for those whom you love, peace for those whom you know, peace for those whom you don’t know, peace for those whom you despise.  Pray for peace: peace for everyone in this world, peace for everyone in other worlds, peace for everyone who has ever lived, peace for everyone who has ever died, peace for those who live eternally and never die.  Pray for peace: peace of body, peace of soul, peace of spirit, peace of mind.  Pray for peace, that there might be peace in every way for everyone.  Pray for peace so that there can be peace—and, having prayed for it, work to bring it about, becoming peace for others and obtaining peace for yourself.  That is the pact we make when we pray for peace: make peace and become peace to have peace.

Glory be to God, from whom there is no higher blessing than peace.

A Simple PGM Invocation to the Supreme Intelligence

Recently on my Curious Cat (which has been an ongoing thing that delights me endlessly, some 3300 questions later!), I was asked a simple question: “Do you know if in PGM there’s some sort of invocation of the Nous?”  Off the top of my head, I couldn’t recall any, given that the Nous is something more of a Hermetic and Platonic entity than anything typically common in the PGM, so I got out my copy and started searching through it for anything resembling it.  As it turns out, there is actually a short invocation along these lines to the Nous in the PGM that I wanted to explore a bit, especially in the slightly expanded context of where it appears.

Let’s look at PGM V.459ff, a short prayer found in see British Museum Papyrus 46, folio 7, both recto and verso.  This is my rendition of the prayer, using Betz’s version of the PGM as a base and transliterating the barbarous words back into Greek:

I call upon you who created earth and bones and all flesh and all spirit and who established the sea and suspended the heavens,
who separated the light from the darkness,
the Supreme Intelligence who lawfully administers all things!
Eternal Eye, Daimon of Daimons, God of Gods, the Lord of the Spirits,
ΑΙΩΝ ΙΑΩ ΟΥΗΙ who cannot go astray!
Hear my voice!

I call upon you, Master of the Gods, high-thundering Zeus, sovereign Zeus: ΑΔΩΝΑΙ
I am he who calls upon you, great god, in Syrian: ΖΑΑΛΑΗΡ ΙΦΦΟΥ
You must not ignore my voice in Hebrew: ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ ΑΒΡΑΣΙΛΩΑ

High-minded one, immortal one, who possess the crown of the whole world!

The same, but with the barbarous words in my transcription:

I call upon you who created earth and bones and all flesh and all spirit and who established the sea and suspended the heavens,
who separated the light from the darkness,
the Supreme Intelligence who lawfully administers all things!
Eternal Eye, Daimon of Daimons, God of Gods, the Lord of the Spirits,
AIŌN IAŌ ŪĒI who cannot go astray!
Hear my voice!

I call upon you, Master of the Gods, high-thundering Zeus, sovereign Zeus: ADŌNAI
I am he who calls upon you, great god, in Syrian: ZAHALAĒR IPH-PHŪ
You must not ignore my voice in Hebrew: ABLANATHANALBA ABRASILŌA

High-minded one, immortal one, who possess the crown of the whole world!

There’s a short note at the end in the usual PGM style referring to the use of the above invocation: “it loosens shackles, makes invisible, sends dreams; a spell for gaining favor.  Add the usual for what you want.”  The prayer has no other information associated with it, though it is prefixed with the label “Another way”; however, the preceding entry (PGM V.447ff) gives a ritual for a talismanic ring of Serapis for dream divination, so it doesn’t seem to be related to that, though given that the previous ritual is to Serapis (originally spelled “Sarapis”) and given the barbarious word ΣΑΡΑΠΗΟΛΣΩ (SARAPĒOLSŌ, as in Serapis; Betz and Preisendanz give this as two separate words, ΣΑΡΑΠΙ ΟΛΣΩ, but the scan of Papyrus 46 shows it as one word as given above) in the final line of this invocation, I may be mistaken, and that this invocation could also be used for dream divination.  For reference, the preceding ritual in PGM V.447ff prescribes the following:

  • Procure a “jasperlike agate” stone for setting into a ring.
  • Engrave on the front of the stone an image of Serapis seated and facing forwards holding an Egyptian royal scepter (a was scepter?) with an ibis atop the scepter, and on the reverse of the stone the name Serapis.
  • Set the stone into a ring (perhaps even have it so that the stone itself is completely encased and hidden within the ring?) and keep it secret and hidden away from anyone and everyone until you need to use the ring.
  • When you need to perform dream divination:
    • Wear the ring on the index finger of your left hand; in your right hand, hold a spray of olive and laurel twigs.
    • Wave the twigs towards “the lamp” while saying “the spell” seven times.
    • Without speaking to anyone, go to sleep, holding the ring to your left ear (perhaps most easily achieved by sleeping on your left side).

Oddly, PGM V.447ff doesn’t introduce “the lamp” or “the spell”, and this ritual seems well and truly disconnected from the preceding PGM V.370ff, which also doesn’t have a lamp, and the invocations there have nothing to do with this.  This makes me think that PGM V.447ff and V.459ff are actually part of the same ritual; the only thing that distinguishes them is the “Another way” that precedes the invocation from the latter, which is only present in the original PGM manuscript by a little squiggle on the left margin.  This same symbol, with the same “translation”, is present elsewhere in PGM V (like immediately before PGM V.172ff which follows the famous Headless Rite, folio 3 recto); granted, I’m no expert in Koiné Greek manuscript deciphering, but I’m a little doubtful of this meaning here.  I think it’s proper, rather, to read PGM V.447ff and V.459ff as one single ritual entirely, which would then mean that these two separate PGM entries are related, and that Serapis is a common factor in both; after all, the description of the invocation at the end does say that it “sends dreams”, which is exactly what the previous PGM entry aims to accomplish.

So, let’s think about both of these PGM entries, and combine them together a little more concretely.  If the whole ritual is designed to send prophetic dreams, then this is the process I would recommend.

  1. Procure a “jasperlike agate” stone, an oil lamp with a clean wick and pure oil, and a spray of olive and laurel twigs or branches.
  2. Engrave on the front of the stone an image of Serapis seated and facing forwards holding a royal scepter with an ibis atop the scepter, and on the reverse of the stone the name “Serapis” (ΣΕΡΑΠΙΣ).
  3. Either set the stone into a ring (preferably gold) or wrap it in a long band of clean, white linen.
  4. In the evening after sunset, light the lamp, and face east.
  5. With the ring on your left index finger, or with the stone bound to your left index finger with the linen wrap, hold the olive and laurel sticks in your right, and wave them in a clockwise circle towards the lamp.  While doing so, recite the invocation above seven times.
  6. Go to bed with the lamp lit, saying nothing more to anyone or for any purpose, and sleep on your left side facing the east and head pointed to the north with the ring/stone by your left ear.

In the above, a “jasperlike agate” is a little weird, since both jasper and agate are the same material (chalcedony), with the only difference being how translucent (agate) or opaque (jasper) they are.  In this case, “jasperlike agate” to me would be a chalcedony stone that is only barely translucent and mostly opaque, perhaps with only the barest of striations or bands in it.  Likewise, the scepter with an ibis on it could be a little difficult to understand; it could be the famous was-scepter, or the heka-scepter, i.e. the crook from the crook-and-flail combination.  Alternatively, given that the was-scepter itself is a rod with a stylized animal’s head on top of it, one could simply make an “ibis-scepter”, with the head of an ibis on a rod being held…though, with the long curve of the ibis beak, this would make it look awfully like a crook unto itself.

So that’s all well and good, I suppose, but what I really wanted to talk about is the invocation itself.  The whole reason why it came to my attention was the phrase “Supreme Mind” (ὁ μέγας Νοῦς, ho mégas Noûs), which is what the original anon on Curious Cat was after; the only other instances of this entity being present in the PGM are in PGM XIII (aka “the Eighth and Tenth Hidden Books of Moses”, the origin of the Heptagram Rite), but it’s more in a cosmogony/narrative sense than any invocation or ritual.  In Betz’s version, “Supreme Mind” is tagged with a footnote, that “[t]he concept of the divine Nus (Mind) is an influence from Greek philosophy”, followed by a list of citations where Nous is found in a philosophical-religious sense, including PGM XIII as well as the Corpus Hermeticum.  And it is most certainly true that Nous in the Corpus Hermeticum is a divine entity, sometimes being something divine that divine humans can attain and sometimes being the Divine Itself, so it’s tempting to view this particular entry of the PGM as being explicitly Hermetic in the Corpus Hermeticum sense.  The issue with that conclusion, however, is that I’m not sure the timeline matches up.  Historically speaking, I’m a fan of the theory that Hermeticism in the sense of the Corpus Hermeticum and related “Hermetic” texts came about as a philosophical-religious movement in the early days (or, really, centuries) of the Roman Empire, so the PGM may be roughly contemporaneous as the Corpus Hermeticum; it could be that this text was influenced by Hermeticism, sure, but it could be equally as likely that it was simply influenced by Platonism and was written either before or concurrently with Hermeticism.

Plus, there’s some other interesting stuff in this prayer I want to consider.  Do you recall our earlier talk about PGM XXIIb.1ff, the “Prayer of Jacob”, which I later redid and rewrote and augmented into a fuller Prayer of the Patriarchs?  That was an interesting bit of work, and certainly has some Hermetic (or close enough) influence, but is also surprisingly Jewish in its approach to divinity.  There’s a bit of that here, too.  There is the explicit call to the Divine (I guess the Nous, equivalent to Zeus as well as Serapis) in Hebrew (ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ ΑΒΡΑΣΙΛΩΑ, ABLANATHANALBA ABRASILŌA), but there’s also the string of barbarous words ΒΑΡΟΥΧ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ ΕΛΩΑΙ ΙΑΒΡΑΑΜ, BARŪKH ADŌNAI ELŌAI IABRAAM.  (Betz and Preisendanz just give ΑΒΡΑΑΜ, but the scan from Papyrus 46 shows ΙABRAAM.)  It’s clear, even to Betz, that this is just a Greek rendition of the Hebrew barukh [atah] Adonai, “blessed [are you], my Lord” and eloah-i Avraham, “my god of Abraham”, though “it is not clear whether or not the magician understood these words”, especially since ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ ΑΒΡΑΣΙΛΩΑ are most likely not Hebrew at all.  I mean, much of the Jewish content in the PGM is probably just aped from Jewish tradition and practices, without it being necessarily or properly Jewish in any sense, but the fact that it has a presence at all speaks to the influence of monotheistic and Abrahamic practices, even if just because of a general perception of their power.

As might be expected, many of the other barbarous words have other presences in the PGM, especially ΖΑΓΟΥΡΗ (sometimes along ΠΑΤΟΥΡΗ or ΠΑΓΟΥΡΗ, notably PGM LXXXVIII.1ff), ΛΑΙΛΑΜ, and others.  ΝΕΒΟΥΘ is unusual, in that it’s super close to ΝΕΒΟΥΤ, which starts the barbarous word ΝΕΒΟΥΤΟΣΟΥΑΛΗΘ, which is often found in contexts related to Set or Hekatē.  The first bit of the final set of barbarous words (ΣΙΕΠΗ ΣΑΚΤΙΕΤΗ ΒΙΟΥ ΒΙΟΥ ΣΦΗ ΣΦΗ ΝΟΥΣΙ ΝΟΥΣΙ ΣΙΕΘΟ ΣΙΕΘΟ…) is almost found identically in PGM XIII.734ff as well as in PGM I.232ff, PGM II.64ff, and PGM XII.96ff; there seems to be a regularly reoccuring formula consisted of duplicated words like these.  The “Syrian” name ΖΑΑΛΑΗΡ ΙΦΦΟΥ (Betz and Preisendanz give it as one word, but Papyrus 46 seems to show a space in it) is a weird one, and I can’t find anything resembling it in the rest of the PGM; while I don’t think it’s Aramaic or “Syrian” at all, I think it’d be interesting to see if there is an actual origin for this word, or if there is something close to it in the rest of the PGM, perhaps with some variation of spelling (though I couldn’t find any from the likely variations I came up with).

Given the various types of barbarous words in this invocation, the lack of asking for anything specific within the prayer itself, and how it’s described as a general-purpose invocation, this short little prayer seems to be a good PGM-style approach to invoking the Supreme Intelligence—whether as Zeus, Serapis, Nous, or even the Abrahamic God.  It’s something I want to try incorporating into some of my practices, and maybe even give it a whirl for dream divination itself.

Also, for ease of reference and for those who are interested, I already made a formal ritual page for this: the Divine Illumination of Dreams, accessible through the site menu (Rituals → Classical Hermetic Rituals → Divine Illumination of Dreams).

The Twelve Irrational Tormentors and the Ten (or Seven) Rational Powers

Lately I’ve been reviewing some of my first real spiritual texts as part of my practice that I first began to familiarize myself with years ago: the Corpus Hermeticum.  These books, being a homegrown Egyptian manifestation of what could be considered Hellenic theurgic philosophy (either as Stoicizing Neoplatonism or Neoplatonizing Stoicism), are some of my favorite texts, amounting to my own “bible” as it were.  Granted, it’s been some time since I’ve last seriously sat down with them, and since I’ve been discussing parts of it with a colleague of mine, I figured it was high time to get back into chewing on them so I’m not just talking out of my ass when it comes to classical Hermetic philosophy and theurgy.  It’s a deeply rewarding practice, after all, and study is something that we can never truly finish; it always helps to review, reread, and rethink things from time to time.

There are essentially four versions of the Corpus Hermeticum that I consult:

  1. Clement Salaman, The Way of Hermes: New Translations of the Corpus Hermeticum and the Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius.  Inner Traditions, 2004.  This is the most readable and accessible version of the Corpus Hermeticum, in my opinion, and also includes the Definitions of Hermēs Trismegistus, which was the focus of that massive blog project I did back in late 2013 that inspected all 49 definitions.  (I should probably review some of those one of these days.)
  2. Brian Copenhaver, Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation, with Notes and Introduction.  Cambridge University Press, 1995.  This is the version of the Corpus Hermeticum I started with, and though it’s not as accessible as Salaman’s translation, it’s still a very good translation all the same, and gives a slightly more critical and academic approach.
  3. G. R. S. Mead, The Corpus Hermeticum.  Thrice Greatest Hermes, vol. 2.  London, 1906.  Available in the public domain on  This is the most popular one that most people know and have used for over a hundred years, and though it has some Theosophical biases, it’s still a surprisingly good translation, even if the prose is overwrought.
  4. Walter Scott, Hermetica: The ancient Greek and Latin Writings which contain religious or philosophic teachings ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus, vol. 1.  Clarendon Press, 1924.  Though the translation isn’t considered good, Scott includes critical editions of the actual Greek text of the Corpus Hermeticum as well as the Latin of the Asclepius, so this is pretty useful for that reason alone.

If you want to read something better than the Kybalion, which would basically be anything and everything, I’d recommend the Corpus Hermeticum.  (NB: Kybalion delendum est.)

Anyway, I was flipping through the Corpus, refreshing some of the things I knew and being reminded of the things I’ve forgotten.  It was in book XIII, where Tat asks Hermēs Trismegistus for help in attaining divinity and, eventually reaches it, that I found something fascinating that I must have skipped over before.  Whether it’s due to my engineering training or my love of Buddhist text, it’s when things appear in lists that I snap to attention, and Hermēs describes a list of twelve “Hermetic sins of the body” that keep us ensnared in darkness and ignorance, as well as ten “Hermetic virtues of the soul” that free us from darkness and ignorance.  Fascinated by these lists, I dug in, and I started matching them up to a few other parts of the Corpus Hermeticum I know, the results of mulling over which I wanted to share.  I’ll let you, dear reader, pick your own preferred version of the Corpus Hermeticum and read (at minimum) books I and XIII on your own, which I recommend you do so before continuing with this post.

Ready?  Good.  So, as Hermēs states in book XIII, we have these twelve “irrational tormentors of the body” (ἄλογα τιμωρία τῆς ὕλης, áloga timōría tês húlēs).  The specific word being used here is technically τιμωρία, timōría, literally “retribution” or “vengeance” or even “punishment”, but usually translated here as “tormentor” or “torturer”.  Collectively, they all arise fundamentally from irrationality, the true lack of reason (which is emphasized in the Corpus Hermeticum as being divine, as it is truly Λόγος, Lógos, “the Word”).  Hermēs lists these tormentors as below; I give both the Greek term used in Scott along with the various translations that Salaman, Copenhaver, et al. have provided for these terms.

# Greek Salaman Copenhaver Mead Scott
1 ἄγνοια Ignorance Ignorance Not-knowing Ignorance
2 λύτη Sorrow Grief Grief Grief
3 ἀκρασία Intemperance Incontinence Incontinence Incontinence
4 ἐπιθυμία Lust Lust Concupiscence Desire
5 ἀδικία Injustice Injustice Unrighteousness Injustice
6 πλεονεξία Greed Greed Avarice Covetousness
7 ἀπάτη Deceit Deceit Error Deceitfulness
(or being deceived,
i.e. error)
8 φθόνος Envy Envy Envy Envy
9 δόλος Treachery Treachery Guile Fraud
10 ὀργή Anger Anger Anger Anger
11 προπέτεια Recklessness Recklessness Rashness Rashness
12 κακία Malice Malice Malice Vice
(or malice)

Of course, though these are the main tormentors of the body that we have to deal with, Hermēs notes that “besides these there are many others”, but these seem to be the major ones that either rule lesser tormentors or which themselves are the causes or predecessors of others.  Together, they “compel the inner man who dwells in the prison of his body to suffer through his senses”.  Hemēs is explicit, too in giving each of these a zodiacal association, even if he doesn’t say which belongs to which sign: “this tent of the body through which we have passed…is composed from the zodiac and this consists of signs, twelve in number; the body is of one nature and appears in every form; it exists to lead man astray”.  I think a simple association could be drawn up such that the first tormentor listed, “ignorance”, be given to the first sign Aries, the second “sorrow” to Taurus, the third “intemperance” to Gemini, and so forth.  It’s not exactly clear to see how each of these might be matched up with their corresponding sign, like why Aquarius should be linked to Recklessness in this way, but we’ll just accept it for granted for now.

But all hope is not lost for us!  Though these tormentors of the body plague us and trap us, “these tormentors depart one by one from the man who receives God’s mercy”, which manifests itself as ten “powers of God” (δυνάμεις θεοῦ, dunámeis theoû) that cleanse the body and soul of the twelve (and more) irrational tormentors:

# Greek Salaman Copenhaver Mead Scott
1 γνῶσις θεοῦ Knowledge of God Knowledge of God Gnosis of God Knowledge of God
2 χαρα Experience of Joy Knowledge of Joy Joy Joy
3 ἐγκράτεια Self-control Continence Continence Continence
4 καρτερία Steadfastness Perseverance Steadfastness Endurance
5 δικαιοσύνη Justice Justice Righteousness Justice
6 κοινωνία Generosity Liberality Sharing-with-all Unselfishness
7 ἀλήθεια Truth Truth Truth Truth
8 ἀγαθός Supreme Good the Good the Good Good
9 ζωή Life Life Life Life
10 φώς Light Light Light Light

Moreover, each of the powers (or at least most of them) correspond to a specific tormentor that it specifically chases out or conquers.  Using the Salaman translations of the tormentors and powers:

Tormentor Power
Ignorance Knowledge of God
Sorrow Experience of Joy
Intemperance Self-control
Lust Steadfastness
Injustice Justice
Greed Generosity
Deceit Truth
Envy Good, Life, Light

Note that the last three powers, the Good with Life and Light, seem to act as a triune force, because once Truth arrives, “the Supreme Good arises”, and Life and Light come together with it, and together they chase out the “torments of darkness” (τιμωρία τοῦ σκότος, timōría toû skótos).  Hermēs says that Life and Light are specifically united together, and “this unity is born from spirit”; this echoes what Poimandrēs told Hermēs back in book I of the Corpus Hermeticum: “the truth is: light and life is God and Father, whence Man is begotten”.

With all ten powers present, “spiritual birth is complete…and by this birth we have become divine”.  These are all given by the mercy of God, which quells the torments of the bodily senses, and one who has these powers “knows himself and rejoices”; these ten powers “beget the soul”.  There’s some Pythagorean influence here in how these are described: Life and Light together form a unit, a henad (the number One), and the henad is the source of the decad (the number Ten), and “the Henad contains the Decad” while at the same time “the Decad [contains] the Henad”.  If we consider “spirit” here to be fundamentally the spirit of God, then we can consider this to be equivalent or identified with the power of the Good itself, from which come Life and Light, and from those two all the other powers derive.  This dimly kinda recalls how I plotted out the ten spheres onto the Tetractys as part of my Mathēsis stuff, with “the Supreme Good” being simply the Monad at the top, Light being the right-hand sphaira of the Dyad (the sphere of the fixed stars, the active power) and Life being the left-hand sphaira (the sphere of the Earth, the passive power):

At the same time, note that we have two systems going on here: a system of twelve (the tormentors) and a system of ten (the powers).  We start off by specifically linking one tormentor to one power, but after the first seven pairs, the last five seem to get jumbled together.  Hermēs says that “among the signs…there are pairs united in activity”, and notes that recklessness is inseparable with and indistinguishable from anger.  Copenhaver notes that, in this light, four of the twelve tormentors can be considered as two pairs broken up; if this is so and they are reduced into units, such as anger and recklessness into a combined tormentor, then we go from twelve tormentors to ten, but we don’t know what the other pair is (perhaps envy and treachery?).  If that were the case, and if we consider the sequence of introducing Good and Life and Light to be reversed given a descent of the Dyad from the Henad, then we might come up with the following scheme:

Tormentor Power
Ignorance Knowledge of God
Sorrow Experience of Joy
Intemperance Self-control
Lust Steadfastness
Injustice Justice
Greed Generosity
Deceit Truth
Envy and Treachery Light
Anger and Recklessness Life
Malice Good

That being said, I don’t know if I trust that specific scheme; Copenhaver notes that such an understanding of some of the tormentors isn’t agreed upon.  After all, though it’s definitely not contemporaneous with this, we can bring in a bit of Qabbalah here to justify keeping the systems of twelve tormentors and ten powers separate rather than forcing them onto the same scheme of ten.  Recall that the lower seven sefirot of the Tree of Life are considered underneath the Veil of the Abyss that separate the upper three sephiroth (Keter, Ḥokmah, Binah) from the lower seven (Ḥesed, Geburah, Tiferet, Neṣaḥ, Hod, Yesod, Malkut).  The upper three sefirot, then, are considered a trinity unto themselves that, from the perspective of everything below it, act as a unity.  Not to equate the sefirot of the Tree of Life here with what Hermēs is talking about, but it does offer an interesting possible parallel to how we might consider how these powers function and upon what.

By that same token, however, this means that the last five tormentors of the body (envy, treachery, anger, recklessness, and malice) seem to function differently than the first seven, in that the first seven have a distinct power of God that chases them out while the latter five are only chased out by the highest attainments of powers of God themselves, and that indistinctly.  In a way, this brings to mind part of book I of the Corpus Hermeticum, when Hermēs is communing with Poimandrēs, who tells Hermēs about “how the way back [to Nous, i.e. the Divinity of the Mind] is found”.  In this part of book I, there’s this notion of heavenly ascent through the seven planetary spheres, where one gives up a particular force (vice? tormentor?) associated with each of the planets.  Using Salaman’s translation of this section as a base, and giving the alternative translations of Copenhaver, Mead, and Scott for each of those forces:

First, in the dissolution of the material body, one gives the body itself up to change.  The form you had becomes unseen, and you surrender to the divine power your habitual character, now inactive.  The bodily senses return to their own sources.  Then they become parts again and rise for action, while the seat of emotions and desire go to mechanical nature.

Thus a man starts to rise up through the harmony of the cosmos:

  1. To the first plain [of the Moon], he surrenders the activity of growth and diminution;
    1. Copenhaver: “increase and decrease”
    2. Mead: “growth and waning”
    3. Scott: “the force which works increase and the force that works decrease”
  2. To the second [of Mercury], the means of evil, trickery now being inactive;
    1. Copenhaver: “evil machination”
    2. Mead: “device of evils”
    3. Scott: “machinations of evil cunning”
  3. To the third [of Venus], covetous deceit, now inactive;
    1. Copenhaver: “illusion of longing”
    2. Mead: “guile of desires”
    3. Scott: “lust whereby men are deceived”
  4. To the fourth [of the Sun], the eminence pertaining to a ruler, being now without avarice;
    1. Copenhaver: “arrogance of rulers”
    2. Mead: “domineering arrogance”
    3. Scott: “domineering arrogance”
  5. To the fifth [of Mars], impious daring and reckless audacity;
    1. Copenhaver: “unholy presumption and daring recklessness”
    2. Mead: “unholy daring and rashness of audacity”
    3. Scott: “unholy daring and rash audacity”
  6. To the sixth [of Jupiter], evil impulses for wealth, all of these being now inactive;
    1. Copenhaver: “evil impulses that come from wealth”
    2. Mead: “striving for wealth by evil means”
    3. Scott: “evil strivings after wealth”
  7. And to the seventh plain [of Saturn], the falsehood which waits in ambush.
    1. Copenhaver: “deceit that lies in ambush”
    2. Mead: “ensnaring falsehood”
    3. Scott: “falsehood which lies in wait to work harm”

Then, stripped of the activities of the cosmos, he enters the substance of the eighth plain with his own power, and he sings praises to the Father with those who are present; those who are near rejoice at his coming.  Being made like to those who are there together, he also hears certain powers which are above the eighth sphere, singing praises to God with sweet voice.  Then in due order, they ascend to the Father and they surrender themselves to the powers, and becoming the powers they are merged in God.  This is the end, the Supreme Good, for those who have had the higher knowledge: to become God.

This final part of what Poimandrēs tells Hermēs in book I touches on what Hermēs and Tat discuss in book XIII once Tat receives the ten powers and attains divinity:

T:  Then, o Father, I wish to hear the hymn of praise which you said was there to be heard from the powers, on my birth into the eighth sphere.

H: I will recite it, o son; just as Poimandrēs revealed the eighth sphere to me.  You do well to make haste to free yourself from the tent of the body, for you have been purified.  Poimandrēs, the Nous of the Supreme, gave me no more than what has been written, being aware that I should be able to know all things by myself and to hear what I wanted to hear, and to see all, and he charged me to create works of beauty.  Wherefore the powers in me sing also in all things.

This follows with the Secret Hymn, or what I call the Initiatory Hymn of Silence.  Though some aspects of what Poimandrēs told Hermēs differs from what Hermēs is telling Tat, the fundamental process is the same: we either give up or chase off the irrational forces of matter and flesh that ensnare us and shroud us in ignorant darkness, and what remains after that (or what we replace with them) are the divine powers that enable us to return to a truly divine state.  This is what Hermēs tells Tat earlier on in book IV:

T: I also wish to be immersed in Nous, o father.

H: If you don’t hate your body, son, you cannot love your Self.  If you love your Self, you will have Nous, and having Nous you will partake of knowledge.

T: Why do you say that, father?

H: For, son, it is impossible to be governed by both, by the mortal and by the divine.  There are two kinds of beings, the embodied and the unembodied, in whom there is the mortal and the divine spirit.  Man is left to choose one or the other, if he so wishes.  For one cannot choose both at once; when one is diminished, it reveals the power of the other.

There’s this notion in the Corpus Hermeticum of a spiritual (re)birth that happens when we reject the irrational powers of the body and seek (or, as a result of rejecting the tormentors, are given) the rational powers of God, a process of spiritual ascension through forsaking the material, which we can perform while still embodied so long as we retract our awareness away from the senses and perceptions of the body.  In other words, by letting go of the body (even while still possessing it, or rather, being possessed by it), we grasp onto the Good.  This shouldn’t be interpreted as some sort of banally gnostic, simplistically dualistic world-hating, but as a simple understanding that focusing on the body keeps us in the body and away from God.  (There’s a lovely essay, Agrippa’s Dilemma: Hermetic ‘Rebirth’ and the Ambivalences of De Vanitate and De occulta philosophia by Michael Keefer, that I recommend for reading on this point, especially regarding Cornelius Agrippa’s own Christian interpretation of this Hermetic approach to salvation.)

And what of the torments?  How do they actually torment us?  Consider what Poimandrēs tells Hermēs when they discuss those who do not have Nous:

As for those without Nous—the evil, the worthless, the envious, the greedy, murderers, the ungodly—I am very far from them, having given way to the avenging spirit, who assaults each of them through the senses, throwing fiery darts at them.  He also moves them to greater acts of lawlessness so that such a man suffers greater retribution, yet he does not cease from having limitless appetite for his lust nor from fighting in the dark without respite.  The avenging spirit then puts him to torture and increase the fire upon him to its utmost.

It’s not that the Hermetic deity is a jealous or vengeful god that those without Nous should be deprived from people, since the lack of Nous isn’t really much more than being immersed in the darkness of matter and not living a life that focuses on the light of spirit.  As material beings that are born, we must also die, and so long as we focus on being material, we must and deserve to die, but once we strive for immaterial immortality, we begin to attain Nous.  By identifying with the material, we suffer material conditions, but by identifying with the spiritual, we enjoy spiritual ones; in a cosmic sense, “you are what you eat”.  In this sense, it’s not that Poimandrēs actively wants us to suffer, but that suffering is part and parcel of being material; for as long as we strive to be material, we suffer, and the more we try to be material, the more we suffer.  The “avenging spirit”, in this case, isn’t really a distinct devil or demon, but the torments of the body itself; the phrase used here is τιμωρῷ δαίμονι (timōrôy daímoni), with “avenging” (τιμωρός, timōrós) being fundamentally the same word as “torturer” (τιμωρία) from above.

What’s interesting now, at this point, is how we now have two models of irrational forces: a set of seven that are associated with the planets according to Poimandes, and a set of twelve that are associated with the zodiac signs from Hermēs, and there isn’t a clean match between them for us to link one set to the other.  There are some similarities, sure; the seventh zodiacal torment of Deceit (or, perhaps better, Error) is much like the seventh planetary force of falsehood; the sixth zodiacal torment of Greed is basically the sixth planetary force of evil striving for wealth, and so forth.  But there are also differences; it’s hard to see how the second zodiacal torment of Sorrow is at all like the second planetary force of evil machination.  Except that the word translated as “sorrow” for the second zodiacal torment is λύπη lúpē, which technically refers to pain of body or mind and is also related to the Greek verb λυπέω lupéō, with meanings including “grieve”, “vex”, “distress”, “feel pain”.  In this, if we consider this to be a mental anguish, we might bring to mind the temperament of melancholy, which can lead to states of mind including depression, fear, anxiety, mistrust, suspicion, and deeper cogitations; all these can definitely be linked to “evil machinations”, which was classically considered a symptom of being too melancholic.  Likewise, it’s not easy to immediately link the first zodiacal torment of Ignorance with the first planetary force of increase and decrease, but as Tat complains to Hermēs in book XIII:

T: I am dumbstruck and bereft of my wits, O father, for I see that your size and features remain the same.

H: In this you are deceived.  The mortal form changes day by day, with the turning of time it grows and decays, its reality is a deception.

T: What then is true, Trismegistus?

H: The untroubled, unlimited, colorless, formless, unmoving, naked, shining, self-knowing; the unchanging Good without a body.

So, maybe the seven planetary forces described by Poimandrēs really are the first seven of the zodiacal torments of Hermēs, just phrased in another way for another audience.  This lends some credence to the notion from above that the last five of the zodiacal torments really are of a different set or nature; after all, if Hermēs admits to Tat that there are far more torments than just the twelve he named, maybe Hermēs was just naming more than strictly necessary to show that the way is long and hard, beset by so many torments.  Yet, once we chase out the first seven, the others follow suit, because “upon the arrival of Truth, the Supreme Good arises…the Supreme Good, together with Life and Light, has followed upon Truth, and the torments of darkness no longer fall upon us, but conquered; they all fly off with a rush of wings”.  In this, the final five zodiacal torments could simply be called “darkness”, all chased off by Light (which is unified with Life and the Good).  And, fundamentally, regardless whether we take a planetary approach (being ruled by the wandering stars) or a zodiacal approach (being ruled by the fixed stars), the world of matter is governed by celestial forces that we need to break free of or give back what they force upon us.

Also, note that there are interesting differences in how Hermēs describes the attainment of the various powers of God: Hermēs says that knowledge of God and experience of Joy “come to us”, while he summons self-control, steadfastness, justice, generosity, and truth, and once truth “arrives”, the triune powers of Good-Life-Light “arise”.  Given that truth “arrives” after Hermēs summons it, and that the knowledge of God and experience of joy similarly arrive, it stands to reason that Hermēs also calls on those first two powers as well.  In effect, we have the first seven powers of God which we call or summon, and the last three which arise on their own without being summoned, instead following the summoning of truth.  In this, it seems like we only truly need to work to call forth (or reach towards) the first seven powers of God; once we have those seven, you attain the last three as a natural result.  This is effectively like breaking past the Veil of the Abyss in a Qabbalistic sense; sure, there’s always more work to be done (after all, “before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water”), but once you’ve made that jump, there’s truly nothing left stopping you.  Once you break into the eighth sphere from the seventh, it’s just a matter of time (“in due order”, according to Poimandrēs) of further elevation and ascension.

And, true enough, this isn’t the last we see of these powers that chase off the torments.  At the end of Book XIII, Hermēs passes onto Tat the Secret Hymn, what I call the Initiatory Hymn of Silence.  After Tat has been reborn through the ten divine powers that Hermēs describes and becomes one in Nous, Tat requests Hermēs to sing the “hymn of praise” that is sung by the holy entities of the eighth sphere to God.  Hermēs does so, though he “had not thought to impart [it] so easily”.  Hermēs instructs that it should be said outdoors “under the clear sky” facing the south at sunset, and east at sunrise.  After Hermēs begins the hymn proper, the hymn follows more-or-less the same format of the powers that Hermēs earlier referred to that themselves sing to God:

O powers within me, sing to the One and All!
All you powers, sing praise together at my bidding.
Divine Knowledge, illumined by you, I sing through you of the spiritual light and I rejoice in the joy of Nous.
Sing praise with me, all you powers!
Temperance, sing with me!
Justice, through me praise what is just!
Generosity, through me praise the All!
Truth, sing of the truth!
Good, praise the Good!
Life and Light, from you comes the praise and to you it returns.
I give thanks to you, Father, the strength of all my powers.
I give thanks to you, God, power of all my strength.
Your Word through me sings to you.
Receive all back through me by the Word, a spoken sacrifice.

Though it might have passed as high-brow yet pop spiritual philosophy back in the day, the Corpus Hermeticum really is a fundamental work for Western spiritual practices, and is fundamentally useful and instructive in matters of theurgy.  What we see above is a sort of plan or map for attaining divinity through theurgic practices, by means of purifying the senses and purging the soul of material influences so as to become a freer, truly immortal power of God ourselves.  By taking the accounts of Hermēs into consideration, we can figure out how we stand in terms of our bodies and souls, what we need to focus on to continue along our spiritual paths, and how we can maintain ourselves in a matter of right and proper living through right and divine reason.

EDIT (2019-07-30): So it turns out the excellent Reverend Erik put up his own post touching on this same topic, tying it into other practices and parallels in other traditions, back in September last year.  Go check it out for more information on this wonderful topic!