The Kybalion is Still Crap, No Matter Who You Think You Are

Last night, I made a tweet, as I periodically do, about how much I dislike the Kybalion:

Longtime readers—and those who follow me on Facebook or Twitter—know that I’m no fan of this text. Published in 1912 by The Yogi Publication Society Masonic Temple in Chicago, Illinois, and supposedly written by the “Three Initiates”, its own introduction plays itself up quite admirably:

We take great pleasure in presenting to the attention of students and investigators of the Secret Doctrines this little work based upon the world-old Hermetic Teachings. There has been so little written upon this subject, not withstanding the countless references to the Teachings in the many works upon occultism, that the many earnest searchers after the Arcane Truths will doubtless welcome the appearance of this present volume.

The purpose of this work is not the enunciation of any special philosophy or doctrine, but rather is to give to the students a statement of the Truth that will serve to reconcile the many bits of occult knowledge that they may have acquired, but which are apparently opposed to each other and which often serve to discourage and disgust the beginner in the study. Our intent is not to erect a new Temple of Knowledge, but rather to place in the hands of the student a Master-Key with which he may open the many inner doors in the Temple of Mystery through the main portals he has already entered.

There is no portion of the occult teachings possessed by the world which have been so closely guarded as the fragments of the Hermetic Teachings which have come down to us over the tens of centuries which have elapsed since the lifetime of its great founder, Hermes Trismegistus, the “scribe of the gods,” who dwelt in old Egypt in the days when the present race of men was in its infancy. Contemporary with Abraham, and, if the legends be true, an instructor of that venerable sage, Hermes was, and is, the Great Central Sun of Occultism, whose rays have served to illumine the countless teachings which have been promulgated since his time. All the fundamental and basic teachings embedded in the esoteric teachings of every race may be traced back to Hermes. Even the most ancient teachings of India undoubtedly have their roots in the original Hermetic Teachings…

It goes on to claim that not only is Hermetic philosophy the origin of Western philosophy, occult and otherwise, but so too is it the origin of Vedic and Hindu philosophy, along with every other philosophy of note. And yet, despite Hermeticism supposedly being the origin of all the world’s philosophies, occultisms and occultures, and religions:

…the original truths taught by him have been kept intact in their original purity by a few men in each age, who, refusing great numbers of half-developed students and followers, followed the Hermetic custom and reserved their truth for the few who were ready to comprehend and master it. From lip to ear the truth has been handed down among the few… These men have never sought popular approval, nor numbers of followers. They are indifferent to these things, for they know how few there are in each generation who are ready for the truth, or who would recognize it if it were presented to them… They reserve their pearls of wisdom for the few elect, who recognize their value and who wear them in their crowns, instead of casting them before the materialistic vulgar swine, who would trample them in the mud and mix them with their disgusting mental food…

The text then goes on in short order to describe “The Kybalion”, which it only really describes as “a compilation of certain Basic Hermetic Doctrines, passed on from teacher to student”, with the exact meaning of the word “having been lost for several centuries”. Yet, the book we call the Kybalion is just the interpretation and exegesis of this ancient text that it never actually quotes in full; the Three Initiates just cite a bunch of small quotes that may or may not make up the entirety of its supposed origin text, and that in such a highbrow, supercilious way that only the occultists of the late 19th and early 20th century could achieve.

TL;DR: the Kybalion is a pretentious mess.

Probably my biggest gripe about this blasted thing is that, though the Kybalion claims to be a Hermetic text, it’s just not. I’ll delightfully and happily recommend my readers to take a look at Nicholas E. Chapel’s wonderful essay, The Kybalion’s New Clothes: An Early 20th Century Text’s Dubious Association with Hermeticism, which goes into the history and origins of the Kybalion and that it’s very much a modern product that derives from New Thought, a new age movement that originated in the 19th century spiritual scene of the United States, itself the likely root of Christian Science. From the New Thought crowd, a strong case can be made that the real identity of the “Three Initaites” is William Walker Atkinson, aka Yogi Ramacharaka aka Magus Incognito aka Theron Q. Dumont, who served in a position of honorary leadership of the International New Thought Alliance and who was a prolific writer of many works, many of which have nontrivial overlaps with the material in the Kybalion. Chapel’s essay also goes on at length and in depth about the real and numerous differences between the Kybalion and actual Hermetic philosophy, and it’s definitely an excellent read, but suffice it to say that there’s not a lot of Hermeticism in the Kybalion.

It would also be remiss of me, at this point, to not bring up the good Reverend Erik’s post over at Arnemancy about What to Read Instead of the Kybalion (surprise, it’s actual Hermetic philosophy texts, specifically the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius!) and The Nature of God in the Kybalion and the Hermetica (surprise, there’re major differences in how divinity and God is described between the two texts). Also definitely give those a read, too.

All this was going through my head last night, because I saw yet another post somewhere on one of the magic-related subreddits about, once again, the Kybalion. I’ve gotten tired about voicing my opinion on there, unless it comes up in another thread I’m already involved with, but I rolled my eyes, made a snarky tweet, and got on with my evening. Then someone out of the blue—I’ve never heard of them, they weren’t following me, we have one mutual follower in common who’s someone I only barely know (but what I do know I like)—struck up a short quasi-conversation with me (verbatim below):

Them: Its entry lvl concepts but its still effective if you have discernment, just like every other esoteric projection. Better to have newly awakened read the kybalion then jump straight into solomons lesser key or any of oto ffs

Me: I find the Kybalion’s “principles” to be a waste of time at best and dangerously misleading at worst, and they often require unlearning and serious deconditioning when getting into the real meat and bones. I contend they should get into the Corpus Hermeticism at the start. But even then, taken right, there’s nothing wrong with starting off with the Lemegeton or Thelema if they want to, so long as they take them seriously.

Them: Curpus is not exactly easy digestion. Had to read it twice to fit pieces together. Its all doctrine, so whatever works for the individual to find the path to virtue is correct. But you should already know youre projecting your self into the argument…

Me: “Bitter for the mouth is sweet for the stomach.” Better they read good stuff that’s hard from the start than junk food swill for the mind; after all, nobody promised that obtaining wisdom would be easy. Besides, at least the Corpus is actually Hermetic, unlike the Kybalion.

Them: And how many initiates take any infrastructure as serious as they need to?

Me: If the initiation was done right, and if they needed initiation (otherwise, they shouldn’t have it), then all of them. It’s on the initiator as much as the initiate to ensure that instilling mysteries is done properly, but is also appropriate for the person to have them.

Them: You sure do have a lot of rules to enlightenment. Makes me think you havent found it yet. Ive heard everything I need to from you.

At which point, they blocked me. To be honest, this is the first time in the nine years I’ve been on Twitter that I can recall something like this happening, so I’m pretty proud of myself to have irritated someone to the point of getting blocked because I disagreed with them.

Listen, I have my gripes about the Kybalion, to be sure, and I’ll name three specifically:

  1. It’s not Hermetic, and thus gets people confused about actual, legitimate Hermetic philosophy and practices.
  2. Many of its lessons tend to become hindrances later on that are, at best, worthless and can just be dropped and, at worst, are dangerous and need to be unlearned.
  3. It’s such a basic text that it doesn’t really do much besides say “there are things out there”, focused more on feel-good kinda-truths that maybe encourages people to get off their ass and do something with their lives.

But, really, it’s that first gripe that’s the biggest: the Kybalion is not a Hermetic text, period, full stop. It’s influenced by Hermeticism, I’ll grant it that, but as Reverend Erik said in a comment to one of his posts above, “[d]efinitely Hermeticism influenced the Kybalion, but that doesn’t mean the Kybalion agrees entirely with Hermeticism”. And, if you look at what’s actually written in texts like the Corpus Hermeticum, the Asclepius, the Emerald Tablet, the Virgin of the World, the Isis to Horus, and the like, there’s really not a lot that the Kybalion agrees with at all. The Kybalion isn’t so much a rewrite of Hermetic philosophy and ideas into modern language, but an injection of New Thought ideas into Hermeticism. Not that I’m opposed to innovations if they’re useful, and I’ll be the first to happily and readily admit that Hermeticism as we know it from classical writings is absolutely syncretic and synthesized by many authors with related ideas and viewpoints. The problem is that this injection is also a rebranding of New Thought as Hermeticism, and thus confuses the two together, when the two are so distinct that it leads to confusion among many who read it.

I do not and cannot recommend the Kybalion as an introductory text, except unless you’re getting into New Thought and Christian Science—in which case, have at! There’s definitely virtue in New Thought and the like, but don’t call it Hermeticism, because it’s not. Yet, I’m evidently in the minority with that viewpoint that the Kybalion should not be recommended for students of Hermeticism as an introductory text, as I commonly see it lauded and praised and recommended time and time again as being so good. I mean…well, the good Dr Al Cummins said it better than I could on a Facebook post about the Kybalion I made recently: “I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered anyone online stanning the Kybalion who actually had anything remotely interesting or useful to say about it”.

Then here comes along someone whom I don’t know and who doesn’t know me saying that the Kybalion is better than the Lemegeton and the Ordo Templi Orientis. The Lemegeton I can sorta understand; goetia isn’t exactly something to go rushing into for the most part, but let’s be honest, how many generations of magicians have started with that very text and have used it and abused it for wondrous and terrible things? It’s several hundred years older than the Kybalion, for one, and though it’s more Solomonic practical literature than Hermetic, it’s still so tied up into Hermetic practice that its influences cannot be denied. But, come on, dude went out of his way to smear the O.T.O.? For real? Despite that the O.T.O. itself is also older than the Kybalion, is still around and lively to this day, and has greatly influenced modern Western occulture, especially with Crowley’s and Thelema’s influence on the O.T.O., with a supportive community and rigorous lodge-based system, you’re gonna say that the Kybalion’s better than that? As a rule, books are never preferred to teachers when teachers are available, and O.T.O. is full of them.

Is the Kybalion effective? I don’t judge it so, to be honest, and neither have many of my colleagues. We might remember it fondly, but we more often talk about it derisively, and, well, there’s what Dr Cummins said about it, too, which I can’t disagree with. Is it good to help open the mind? Sure! Is it good for getting into new age practices generally? Absolutely, since New Thought’s one such practice! But to say it’s good for getting into Hermeticism isn’t saying much more than saying it can help you move your foot towards the door, when you would probably do that anyway and a lot better, quicker, and easier if you started with actual Hermetic texts. Which is why I always recommend the Corpus Hermeticum as a kind of Hermetic Bible of sorts, along with the other texts as one is ready for them.

“But oh no, the Corpus is so hard to read!” dude said, “it took me two times to understand it!” First, it only took you two times to get it to make sense? I’m reading it for the two hundredth time and I’m still learning more from it. I had to go over it multiple times to get it to sit right in my head, and several more after that to actually begin to grok it. If you’re complaining that it took you two tries to read it, then that says a lot about how much you’re able to stomach actual philosophy, occult studies, and the like; you might have a sharp mind, but little faculty to keep with it. I find complaining about that to be embarrassing, to be honest, because of course something that old and dense on such a cosmically-encompassing huge topic is going to be hard to understand. Yet, with the works of Brian Copenhaver or Clement Salaman, it’s easy to study so long as you let yourself chew on it and digest it. Nobody promised that the occult was easy, and nobody promised that you would be able to understand Cosmic Truths About God And Everything on your first go; to think that you could or should right out of the gate is folly.

Then the dude goes on about how initiates don’t take their stuff seriously. First off, as an initiate in several mystery religions myself? Have you ever met a convert to a religion or someone newly initiated into something? Nine times out of ten, they can’t shut up about it, and are hungry to know whatever they can, do whatever they can, ask whatever they can, and implement whatever they can. Their enthusiasm may run low over time, sure, but unless it’s a matter of life and death (or because it’s a matter of social life and death), you don’t go for initiation into a spiritual path for shits and giggles, you go because you Want it. Those who Want it will take it as seriously as anything in their lives, because for them, it becomes their life.

And, as I noted, there are those who apply for initiation but aren’t ready for it, or don’t have the capacity for it, and so it’s on their initiators to assess, gauge, and test the applicants to make sure they’re able to initiate or progress to higher initiations. (It works the same in the O.T.O. as it does in Freemasonry as it does in traditional Wicca as it does in Ocha.) Heck, recall those quotes from the introduction of the Kybalion above, too! Even the Kybalion states that the old Hermetic masters “reserved their truth for the few who were ready to comprehend and master it” and that they “reserve their pearls of wisdom for the few elect, who recognize their value and who wear them in their crowns, instead of casting them before the materialistic vulgar swine, who would trample them in the mud and mix them with their disgusting mental food”. That this dude would complain about initiation clearly forgot about that part of the Kybalion, and about the role initiation properly serves in spiritual practices generally.

Due to the influence of La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, aka Santería, in my life, I’m increasingly a stickler for oathbound, authorized, and transmission-based forms of initiation, and find it a useful system, not only to gain power or wisdom or what-have-you but also to throttle it and cultivate it in a useful, beneficial, and appropriate manner, controlled by the initiators and community as a whole who have as much a say in the life and works of any given initiate as the initiate does themselves. This isn’t always the case with many spiritual practices—I have plenty that are more auturgic than initiated, and not everyone needs to go the initiation route—but I know and admit that this isn’t a popular stance to take in modern occulture. As it proved to this dude, who then says that my occultism has too many rules for enlightenment and, thus, I must not be enlightened. To which:

  1. I wasn’t talking about enlightenment. I was talking about Hermetic texts and what’s better to read than not.
  2. I never claimed to be enlightened. I’ll be first to claim that I’m not, and that I’m just a rank beginner with a little expertise here and there.
  3. Who on Earth are you to judge someone, on Twitter of all places, whom you don’t know and who doesn’t know you, regarding their spiritual state?

In all honesty, despite that I’m writing such a post about this, I find the whole affair more hilarious than aggravating. He saved me the trouble of having to block him, at least; at least he had the kindness to shut the door behind him when he left.

I bring all this up because, for one, I enjoy taking any opportunity to rail against the Kybalion, and this gives me an excellent time and means to do it on my own terms, and also to flesh out some of my statements last night with more nuance and explanation. But also, let this be an example of how not to engage with someone, especially me, especially on the Internet. I know at least a few people who would take serious umbrage at this to the point of actual retribution instead of just a snarky blog post. Just…come on, guys. Don’t be a haughty asshole to other people. If you want to discuss, then discuss! Don’t just walk in, say some shit, smear someone and a few religions while you’re at it, then strut off thinking you won when all you won is some mockery.

Let’s grow up and discuss things like adults, shall we? It’s the Hermetic thing to do.

A New Model of Elemental Assignments to the Geomantic Figures

We all know the basic four elements of Western occult cosmology, don’t we?  Of course we do!  We know that there’s Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, in order from least dense to most dense, or from most subtle to least subtle, whichever you prefer.  They’re even described in the Divine Poemander, the opening chapter of the Corpus Hermeticum as being fundamental (even in this same order!) to the creation of the cosmos:

And I saw an infinite sight, all things were become light, both sweet and exceeding pleasant; and I was wonderfully delighted in the beholding it. But after a little while, there was a darkness made in part, coming down obliquely, fearful and hideous, which seemed unto me to be changed into a certain moist nature, unspeakably troubled, which yielded a smoke as from Fire; and from whence proceeded a voice unutterable, and very mournful, but inarticulate, inasmuch as it seemed to have come from the Light.  Then from that Light, a certain holy Word joined itself unto Nature, and outflew the pure and unmixed Fire from the moist nature upwards on high; it was exceeding Light, and sharp, and operative withal. And the Air, which was also light, followed the Spirit and mourned up to Fire from the Earth and the Water, insomuch that it seemed to hang and depend upon it.  And the Earth and the Water stayed by themselves so mingled together, that the Earth could not be seen for the Water, but they were moved because of the Spiritual word that was carried upon them.

According to long-standing doctrine, going back to the time of Aristotle and before him even unto Empedocles, the four elements are considered to be arranged according to the two qualities each element has.  One pair of qualities exists on a spectrum from Hot to Cold, and the other from Dry to Moist.  If you take both Hot and Dry, you end up with Fire; Hot and Moist, Air; Cold and Moist, Water; Cold and Dry, Earth.  In this way, each element pertains to two qualities:

Hot Cold
Dry Fire Earth
Moist Air Water

This sort of arrangement has classically been described graphically with a kind of diamond-square diagram, showing how the four elements arise from combinations of these two qualities.  In the below diagram, Fire is represented by the upwards-pointing triangle in the upper left positioned between Hot and Dry, Air by the upwards-pointing triangle with a horizontal bar in the upper right between Hot and Wet, and so forth.

The thing about the four elements is that, while they are combinations of two qualities, they’re not necessarily static combinations thereof.  Some philosophers have specified that the elements are primarily of one quality and secondarily of the other that allows them to change into each other or react with each other in a more fluid way.  Fire, for instance, is both hot and dry, but in this fluid system, is specifically considered to be primarily hot and secondarily dry.  In the diagram above, we can see this in that, going clockwise around the diagram, the primary quality of an element is clockwise from that element’s corner, and the secondary quality is counterclockwise; in this sense, the primary quality is what that element is headed into, and the secondary quality is what that element is leaving behind.  Thus:

  • Fire is primarily hot and secondarily dry.
  • Air is primarily wet and secondarily hot.
  • Water is primarily cold and secondarily wet.
  • Earth is primarily dry and secondarily cold.

From this, let’s say that the four qualities themselves—even if they’re proto-elemental—can be ascribed to the four elements themselves, such that Heat is basically the main characteristic of Fire, Moisture of Air, Cold of Water, and Dryness of Earth.  (This offshoot of the Empedoclean-Aristotelian system is in opposition to the Stoic system, which gives Heat and Coldness to Fire and Air, and Moisture and Dryness to Water and Earth, but that doesn’t matter for the purposes of this system which is effectively unrelated.)  So, although Heat is part of both Fire and Air, Heat is more aligned towards Fire than Air.

We also know that certain elements—more properly, certain qualities of the elements—cannot be together lest they cancel each other out because of their inherent opposition.  Heat and Cold cancel each other out, as do Moisture and Dryness.  Thus, when we say that Fire and Water cancel each other out, it’s really their elemental qualities that cancel each other out, leaving behind a mess.  What remains when different elements cancel each other out, or some combination of elements reinforcing each other in some ways or reducing each other in other ways, can be instructive in how to alchemically understand these elemental reactions from a basic principle.

Now consider the 16 geomantic figures.  Each figure, as we all know by now, is represented by four rows, each row having one or two dots.  Each row represents one of the four elements: from top to bottom, they’re Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.  A single dot in a row signifies the presence or activity of that element in the figure, while two dots in a row signifies its absence or passivity.  Thus, Laetitia (with only one dot in the topmost Fire row and two dots in the other rows) has only Fire active, and so forth.  We know that there are many different ways to assign the elements to the figures, some being more recent than others, and the way I like to assign them has the benefit of being one of the oldest used in Western geomancy…mostly, with the figures Laetitia and Rubeus swapped around so that Laetitia is ruled by Fire and Rubeus by Air.  Moreover, my way of assigning the elements also has a benefit of giving each figure both a primary and a secondary elemental ruler, which has come in use in various techniques more often than I had originally anticipated.

Still, what would happen if we used a different method beyond overall signification to assign the figures to the elements?  What would happen if we took the structure of the figures themselves as the sole key to understand their elemental affinities based on what’s present, what’s absent, what cancels out, and what reinforces each other?  Knowing that certain elemental qualities do just that when put together, what would happen if we took that structural approach to the elements active within a geomantic figure?  For instance, Puer has Fire, Air, and Earth active; we know that because of their opposing qualities, Air (Hot and Wet) and Earth (Cold and Dry) cancel each other out, leaving only Fire behind, giving Puer a basically fiery nature.  What if we took this approach to all the figures, seeing what came out of such elemental interactions amongst the elements present within a geomantic figure?

Fire First
Row
Second
Row
Third
Row
Fourth
Row
Remainder Result
Laetitia Hot
Dry
Hot
Dry
Fire
Fortuna
Minor
Hot
Dry
Hot
Wet
Hot ×2 Hot
Amissio Hot
Dry
Cold
Wet
Ø Null
Cauda
Draconis
Hot
Dry
Hot
Wet
Cold
Wet
Hot
Wet
Air
Puer Hot
Dry
Hot
Wet
Cold
Dry
Hot
Dry
Fire
Rubeus Hot
Wet
Hot
Wet
Air
Coniunctio Hot
Wet
Cold
Wet
Wet ×2 Wet
Acquisitio Hot
Wet
Cold
Dry
Ø Null
Puella Hot
Dry
Cold
Wet
Cold
Dry
Cold
Dry
Earth
Via Hot
Dry
Hot
Wet
Cold
Wet
Cold
Dry
Ø Null
Albus Cold
Wet
Cold
Wet
Water
Populus Ø Null
Carcer Hot
Dry
Cold

Dry

Dry ×2 Dry
Caput
Draconis
Hot
Wet
Cold

Wet

Cold

Dry

Cold
Wet
Water
Fortuna
Maior
Cold
Wet
Cold
Dry
Cold ×2 Cold
Tristitia Cold
Dry
Cold
Dry
Earth

Note the overall results we get:

  • Eight figures end up with an actual element that represents them, four being a result of that element being the only active one in that figure (e.g. Laetitia, being Fire, because only Fire is active), and four being a result of that element being active, its opposing element being inactive, and the other two elements that cancel out being active (e.g. Puer, being Fire, because Fire is active but so is Air and Earth, which cancel each other out).
  • Four figures end up with being not an actual element, but a single quality, because it contains the two elements active in that figure that have that quality, with the other qualities of those elements canceling out (e.g. Fortuna Minor is pure Heat, because Fire and Air are active within it, both elements of Heat, though the dryness of Fire and moisture of Air cancel each other out).
  • Four figures end up with being null and void of any element or quality.  One is trivial, Populus, because it just has nothing active in it to begin with, but the other three (Via, Amissio, and Acquisitio) are combinations of only opposing elements that all cancel each other out somehow.

If we separate out those eight figures that end up with an element into a “pure element” group (where the figure consists of only that single element itself) and a “muddled element” group (where the figure consists of that element plus two other elements that oppose each other and cancel out), we end up with a neat grouping of four groups of four figures.  Even nicer is that the Pure Element, Muddled Element, and Single Quality groups all have each figure representing one of the four elements (the Single Quality representing elements by means of their most closely associated quality, e.g. Fire by Heat, Water by Cold).  That leaves us with a convenient scheme for assigning the figures to the elements in a new way…

Fire Air Water Earth
Pure
Element
Laetitia Rubeus Albus Tristitia
Muddled
Element
Puer Cauda
Draconis
Caput
Draconis
Puella
Single
Quality
Fortuna
Minor
Coniunctio Fortuna
Maior
Carcer
Null
Quality
…?

…mostly.  The Null Quality group of figures (Via, Populus, Amissio, and Acquisitio) don’t fall into the same patterns as the rest because…well, they’re all null and void and empty of any single element or quality.  We’ll get to those later.

First, note that the Pure Element, Muddled Element, and Single Quality groups, we see a process of descension from one element to the next.  Descension is the process by which the elemental rows of a geomantic figure are “shifted” downwards such that the Fire line gets shifted down to the Air line, Air down to Water, Water down to Earth, and Earth cycles back up again to Air; I discussed this and the corresponding reverse technique, ascension, in an earlier post of mine from 2014.  Moreover, note that all these groups descend into the proper elements ruling that figure in lockstep, so that if we take the Fire figure from one group and descend it into the Air figure of that same group, the other Fire figures from the other groups also descend into the Air figures of those groups.  That’s actually a pretty neat reinforcing of this new system of assigning elements to the figures, and in a conveniently regular, structural way.

It’s with the Null Quality figures (Via, Populus, Amissio, and Acquisitio) that that pattern breaks down.  We know that Amissio and Acquisitio descend into each other in a two-stage cycle of descension, while Via and Albus descend into themselves without a change.  We can’t use the process of descension like we did before to make a cycle of elements within a quality group of figures, and because of their null quality, we can’t just look at the elements present in the figures themselves to determine what element they might be aligned with as a whole in this system.  So…what next?

Take a close look at the figures we already have charted, and follow along with my next bit of logic.  For one, we know that all the odd figures are either in the Pure Element or Muddled Element group, which means all the even figures must be in the Single Quality or Null Quality group.  On top of that, if we look at the figures that are already charted to the elements, we can note that Fire and Air figures are all mobile, and Water and Earth figures are all stable.  This suggests that Via and Amissio (the mobile Null Quality figures) should be given to Fire and Air somehow, and Populus and Acquisitio (the stable Null Quality figures) to Water and Earth somehow.  We’re getting somewhere!

The Null Quality figures share more similarities with the Single Quality figures because they’re both sets of even figures.  Even though the Single Quality figures follow a process of descension between one element and the next, we also see that figures that belong to opposing elements (Fire and Water, Air and Earth) are also inverses of each other (inversion being one of the structural transformations of geomantic figures, this one specifically replacing odd points with even points and vice versa).  This can be used as a pattern for the Null Quality figures, too, such that inverse Null Quality figures are given to opposing elements. This means that we have two possible solutions:

  1. Via to Fire, Amissio to Air, Populus to Water, Acquisitio to Earth
  2. Amissio to Fire, Via to Air, Acquisitio to Water, Populus to Earth

At this point, I don’t think there’s any structural argument that could be made for one choice over the other, so I shift to a symbolic one.  In many Hermetic and Platonic systems of thought, when it comes to pure activity or pure passivity (though there are many other alternatives to such terms!), Fire and Water are often thought of as perfect examplars, so much so that the Hexagram is literally interpreted as a divine union of masculine/ejective/active Fire (represented by the upwards-pointing triangle) and feminine/receptive/passive Water (represented by the downwards-pointing triangle).  Taking it a step further, in some interpretations of this mystical formation of the hexagram, this combination of Fire and Water produces the element of Air.  If we translate this into geomantic figures, we can consider “pure activity” (Fire) to best be represented by the figure Via (which could, I suppose, be taken as the simplest possible representation of the phallus, being a single erect line, or as the number 1 which is also historically considered to be masculine or active), and “pure passivity” (Water) as Populus (which, likewise, could be seen as the walls of the birth canal or vulva, as well as the number 2 which is considered feminine or passive).  If we give Via to Fire and Populus to Water, this means that we’d give Amissio to Air and Acquisitio to Earth.  Note how this actually works nicely for us, because the Null Quality figure we give to Air is itself composed of Fire and Water, matching with that mystical elemental interpretation of the Hexagram from before.

Now we can complete our table from before:

Fire Air Water Earth
Pure
Element
Laetitia Rubeus Albus Tristitia
Muddled
Element
Puer Cauda
Draconis
Caput
Draconis
Puella
Single
Quality
Fortuna
Minor
Coniunctio Fortuna
Maior
Carcer
Null
Quality
Via Amissio Populus Acquisitio

Next, can we impose an ordering onto the figures given these elemental assignments and quality groups?  Probably!  Not that orders matter much in Western geomancy as opposed to Arabic geomancy, but it could be something useful as well, inasmuch as any of this might be useful.  The order I would naturally think would be useful would be to have all sixteen figures grouped primarily by element—so all four Fire figures first, then the four Air figures, and so on—and then, within that group, the most representative of that element down to the least representative, which would suggest we start with the Pure Element figure and end with the Null Quality figure.  So, which comes second, the Muddled Element or the Single Quality?  I would suggest that the Single Quality figure is more like the element than the Muddled Element figure, because the Single Quality is representative of the…well, single quality that is representative of that element and, though it has some things canceling out within the figure, those things that cancel out based on their corresponding elements active within the figure are still harmonious and agreeable to the overall element itself.  Meanwhile, the Muddled Element is more removed due to the presence of other opposing elements that fight within itself, dragging it down further away from a pure expression of its overall element.  These rules would get us an order like the following:

  1. Laetitia
  2. Fortuna Minor
  3. Puer
  4. Via
  5. Rubeus
  6. Coniunctio
  7. Cauda Draconis
  8. Amissio
  9. Albus
  10. Fortuna Maior
  11. Caput Draconis
  12. Populus
  13. Tristitia
  14. Carcer
  15. Puella
  16. Acquisitio

So, what does this leave us with, and where does this leave us?  We have here a new way to associate the geomantic figures to the traditional elements in a way that’s substantially different from either the usual structural method that I prefer or a more zodiacal method that’s also in common use by authors like John Michael Greer and those immersed in Golden Dawn-like systems, though there is still a good amount of overlap between this kind of elemental assignment and the structural method with eight of the figures retaining their same element (all four Pure Element figures plus Fortuna Minor, Coniunctio, Carcer, and Populus).  This is not a method I’ve encountered before in any geomantic text I’m familiar with, and I’m inclined to say it’s pretty much a novel approach to assigning the elements to the figures, though considering how straightforward the process was, or at least how simple the idea behind it was, I’d be honestly surprised that such a thing hasn’t been thought of before now.

I don’t mean to supplant the major two existing systems of elemental assignments of the geomantic figures (the planetary-zodiacal method or the structural method) or their variations as found throughout the literature; personally, I’m still inclined to keep to my structural method of elemental assignments instead of this combinatoric method, as it’s what I’ve most closely worked with for years, and I’ve gotten exceedingly good mileage out of it.  To me, all the above is something like a curiosity, a “what if” experiment of potential.  Still, even as an experiment, this combinatoric method could have more interesting applications outside pure divination, and I’m thinking more along the lines of alchemy, magic, or other such applications where it’s truly the action, nonaction, interaction, and reaction of the elements themselves among the figures is what matters.  We can alchemically-geomantically view the cosmos as arising from:

  • 4 base substances
  • 16 base entities (the 16 = 4 × 4 different combinations of the elements to form the figures)
  • 256 base interactions (the 256 = 16 × 16 = 4 × 4 × 4 × 4 different addition-pairs of the figures)

So, consider: if you add pure Fire and pure Water, that’d be Laetitia + Albus = Amissio, which gets you a Null figure of balance that leads to an overall condition of Air.  (Fitting, given our explanation of why Amissio should be given to Air at all.)  If you add simple Heat to pure Air, that’d be Fortuna Minor + Rubeus = Laetitia, which also makes sense because, as a figure of Air, Rubeus is primarily wet and secondarily hot; if we reinforce the heat, it becomes primarily hot, and the wet condition gets dried out by the overabundance of heat, transforming Air into Fire.  If we add simple Cold and simple Heat, which would be weird to think about even in alchemical terms except unless we’d isolate those qualities from simpler bases (which we do in geomantic terms), that’d be Fortuna Maior + Fortuna Minor, which would become Via, a technically Null figure given to balanced, ideal, spiritual Fire; how odd!  But we wet the same result when we add any of the opposing Single Qualities, which to me would be like a geomantic division by zero.

I think that this combinatoric model of elemental assignments, what I’m going to call the “alchemical model” as opposed to my usual “structural model” or the Golden Dawn-style “zodiacal model”, could be useful for more mystical, philosophical, or magical meditations on the figures.  It’s not one I’ve completely fleshed out or can immediately agree with given how different it can be from the models I’m used to working with, but I think it does hold some promise and is worthy of exploration and testing, especially in a more magical and less divinatory context.

A PGM-Style Framing Rite for Pretty Much Any Purpose

This past quarter, the splendid Gordon White of Rune Soup held another of his classes, this time on the Greek Magical Papyri, otherwise known famously as the PGM.  It was a great course; rather than being focused on simply presenting rituals and implementations thereof, Gordon went all out on giving the context, development, influences, cosmology, and theory that really fleshes out the PGM.  No, the PGM cannot be considered a single body of texts, because they’re inherently not: they’re a jumble of papyri from multiple authors across multiple centuries.  However, Gordon’s class really pulls so much of it together into something that could, honestly, feel like it could be presented as part of a single text, or at least a single tradition with more-or-less a single mindset.  It’s a tall order, but it’s a great thing to take if you’re a member of his class stuff.  That said, and to be candid about it, I’m kinda left a little hungry by the course: knowing that Gordon’s been doing PGM magic for…quite some time (probably longer than I’ve been a magician at all), I’d’ve liked to see more implementations and descriptions of ritual rather than just the cosmological backgrounds behind what we have in the PGM.  Still, I also know that I’m often left a little (or a lot) disappointed by other books on PGM-style magic that mostly or only list rituals with only a smattering of cosmology behind them; some of them are worthwhile, at least for a while, but I tire of them easily, probably because I’m a spoiled brat and like to chew on things myself rather than simply have them presented to me, so perhaps it’s really for the best that Gordon focused on the background and theory of the PGM rather than the contents themselves.  Of the other well-known books about the PGM, Stephen Skinner’s Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic is a great analysis of the content of the PGM, and is a helpful index and guide to looking at and investigating parts of the PGM (though I differ with him on some accounts as well).

Flatteringly, Gordon referenced me and my work on my blog and website several times throughout his course.  (I admit, I was caught off-guard each time he did so, and it felt like I was being called out in the middle of a college lecture hall each time I listened into his class, and so promptly spat out my wine and/or energy drink of choice at that moment.)  To my credit, I have done quite a bit of PGM work; not as much as I’d like, but I do write about it quite a bit, and have whole groups of pages up both for PGM and PGM-like rituals as well as prayers from the Hermetic and PGM traditions, and about a tenth of the posts and pages on this website reference the PGM in one way or another.  For other splendid websites and bloggers on PGM stuff, I might also recommend Voces Magicae as well as Sublunar Space, who both appear to do quite excellent stuff on their own.

One of the most hilariously common things one might see in the PGM texts is the phrase “add the usual” (even to the point where Gordon was considering naming parts of his course that phrase).  Bear in mind that the PGM is basically a collection of the notes of working, jobbing magicians who kept track of their observations, rituals, recipes, and the like.  Just like how someone wouldn’t write down something in their journal that they did each and every time they got themselves ready in the morning but merely obliquely referenced it, so too did the PGM authors do the same for their own texts; if they had a particular MO, they wouldn’t waste the ink and papyrus on it, but simply said “add the usual”.  What that “usual” might have been, we don’t often know or have the means to find out, but it does indicate that certain rituals took place within a broader framework or ceremonial practice.  A modern term for this is a “framing rite”, where a particular ritual procedure is established to attune, protect, and generally set things up for a magician to do something specific within the overall ritual.  Examples of framing rites abound in modern systems of magic, and for those who have a daily magical practice, those same rituals can often be used both generally each day as well as immediately before/after a ritual to prepare or wind down the magician for the ritual.  With all the instances of “add the usual”, we have evidence that similar practices were done in the era of the PGM authors, as well.

With that in mind, and bringing my own Mathēsis practices and my other temple procedures into the mix, I was wondering if I could codify and establish a PGM-style framing rite for myself.  I adore the PGM stuff, after all, and I definitely incorporate many of its techniques in much that I do, whether it’s whole rituals or just parts I pick and extrapolate from.  Plus, given all the PGM resources I’ve put out on my blog, including implementations of rituals for which we only have the bare bones from the original source, it’s not like I lack for sources of inspiration.  So, I decided to pluck bits and pieces from a variety of PGM, Hermetic, Neoplatonic, and similar sources of magical praxis and slap them together into an overall procedure that works as a framing ritual for…well, anything, honestly, but with a focus on PGM-style magic (though not necessarily the PGM rituals themselves, especially those that provided inspiration for this framing ritual).  Between the lists of names of spirits, invocations for a variety of purposes, implementations of ritual designs, and the other practices I’ve developed in the meantime, it wasn’t hard to form a synthesis of PGM-inspired ritual.  Is it a mish-mash?  Absolutely, and I make no denial or complaint against that!  Is it effective?  As far as I’ve noted, it definitely is, which is why I have no complaints about it (besides my own quibbles in refining it over time).  I don’t mean to say that the PGM can be treated as a single, coherent text, because it’s absolutely not; that said, it’s not hard to pick the individual techniques that can be separated from particular parts of the PGM and synthesize them together into its own more-or-less coherent whole.

What follows is my attempt at such a generalized magical procedure.  Admittedly, this is still an experimental framework, and I’m still in the process of making minor tweaks and edits to it; however, the bulk of it is stable, and any further changes to be made would be minor indeed.  The framing rite, as the ritual proper itself, will benefit from being done in a previously established or consecrated space, but the framing rite itself suffices to establish a working temple in any space or location.  Further, with minor modifications, anything before the ritual proper according to the framing rite schema given here may also be used as a format for a regimen for daily magical practice.  Not all parts are required, but may be done at the magician’s discretion; when something is optional, I’ve said as much.  The general outline of the framing ritual, in full, is as follows:

  1. Send out any non-initiates.  (optional)
  2. Ablute with lustral water.
  3. Illumine the temple and call on the Lord of the Hour.
  4. Call on the Lord of the Day.  (optional)
  5. Call on the Lord of the Stars.  (optional)
  6. Consecrate the Light.
  7. Call on the Guardians of the Directions.
  8. Opening prayer.  (optional)
  9. Cast the circle.  (optional)
  10. Empowerment and fortification.
  11. Initial offering of incense to the spirits. (optional)
  12. The ritual proper.
  13. Closing prayer.  (optional)
  14. Dismissal offering to the spirits.
  15. Uncasting the circle.  (only if a circle was previously cast)
  16. Extinguishing the Light.

The following materials are required for the framing rite itself, in addition to whatever other materials the ritual proper calls for:

  • A head covering, such as a shawl or scarf
  • A clean basin or bowl
  • A clean towel (optional, if desired)
  • Fresh water
  • Salt or natron
  • Bay leaves, or cotton balls along with a tincture of bay laurel and frankincense
  • A lamp or candle, not colored red or black
  • Incendiary tool, such as matches or a lighter
  • Incense, most preferably frankincense
  • White chalk, a wand, or a knife to draw a circle (optional, only if desired)

In the future, once I make any further refinements and hammer out any other inconsistencies in the framing rite, I’ll eventually add it to the Rituals section of pages on my website.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy, and if you’re interested, give it a whirl and see how you feel applying the following framing rite, both around a ritual itself as well as a basis for daily practice!

Note that in the following ritual text, except for the few short Greek phrases used and the names of spirits listed in the tables below, I’ve left what few barbarous words of power are used in the framing rite in Greek.  I tried to use selected portions of the PGM that didn’t rely too heavily on barbarous words of power, but their use is still essential to PGM-style magic in general.  None of what are used below are particularly long or complicated strings of words of power as some parts of the PGM are known for, but are rather some of the shorter and most common ones; I’ve left them in Greek to prevent formatting clutter.  If you’re unsure on how to read them, consult the listed PGM sections in the Betz translation or learn how to read basic Greek.  I might also recommend to check out this page on the phonetic and esoteric associations of the Greek.alphabet as well as this post on a primer on how to meditate on them to get used to their sound and power.


If desired, especially if this is done in a group setting, recite Porphyry’s command from On Images to give a general call to dismiss all unwanted or uninitiated entities, incarnate and otherwise, to leave the space in which the ritual is to be performed:

I speak only to those who lawfully may hear:
Depart all ye profane, and close the doors.

If there is a door to the space in which the ritual is performed, now is the time to close it, unless safety concerns mandate it being open; some sort of barrier should be used instead, such as a bar, board, or stone put across or symbolically blocking the entry to the space.

Prepare the lustral water and ablute with it so as to purify yourself and the temple space. This is essentially the process of making khernips for khernimma:

  1. Fill a basin with clean, fresh water.
  2. Pour or sprinkle a small amount of sea salt or natron into the water.  I recommend doing this in a cross formation above the basin.
  3. Light a whole dried bay leaf or a cotton ball soaked in a tincture of frankincense and bay laurel. Hold it above the basin, and say:

    For the sake of purity and becoming pure…

    Quench the fire into the water, and say:

    …be purified!

  4. Mix the water thoroughly with the right hand.
  5. Wash the left hand with the right, then the right hand with the left, then the face with both hands, reciting:

    Χερνίπτομαι (Kherníptomai)! In purity, I cleanse myself and free myself from defilement.

  6. With the right hand or a bundle of bay leaves, sprinkle the khernips around you in a counterclockwise direction, reciting:

    Begone, begone, you polluting spirits, you evil spirits, begone, begone!
    May all that is profane be cast out, that only holiness may here remain.

  7. If desired, pat the face and hands dry with a clean towel or cloth.
  8. Cover your head with a loose-fitting shawl, scarf, stole, hood, or other headcovering.

If more than one person is present, the lead magician prepares the khernips, washes themselves, and asperges the temple space first.  After that, the other ritual participants wash themselves only (reciting only the “Χερνίπτομαι! In purity…” part).

Illumine the temple with sacred fire that shines forth with the light of Divinity. This is a combination of both a conjuration of the flame of the lamp or candle to be used in the ritual as well as an invocation to the temporal Lord of the Hour.  This lamp or candle should not be colored red or black, given the general proscriptions against it in the PGM for most types of work, and should be kept separate from other lights used in the ritual proper unless it’s a lamp divination or theophany that uses such a light.  Light the lamp or candle, ideally while standing to the west of the lamp and facing east towards it, and recite the following conjuration of the flame based on the spell for fires to continue from PGM XIII.1—343 (the Eighth Book of Moses) and the invocation to the lamp of PDM xiv.1—92 and PDM xiv.489—515, depending on whether the ritual is done during the daytime or the nighttime.

  • Diurnal conjuration of the flame:

    I conjure you, Fire, o daimon of holy Love, the invisible and manifold, the one and everywhere, to remain in this light at this time, shining and not dying out, by the command of Aiōn!
    Be great, o light!  Come forth, o light!  Rise up, o light!  Be high, o light!
    Come forth, o light of God!
    O bright face of Hēlios, …,  servant of God, you whose hand is this moment, who belongs to this Xth hour of the day, bring your light to me!

  • Nocturnal conjuration of the flame:

    I conjure you, Fire, o daimon of holy Love, the invisible and manifold, the one and everywhere, to remain in this light at this time, shining and not dying out, by the command of Aiōn!
    Be great, o light!  Come forth, o light!  Rise up, o light!  Be high, o light!
    Come forth, o light of God!
    O bright angel of Selēnē, …, servant of God, you whose hand is this moment, who belongs to this Xth hour of the night, bring your light to me!

The rulers of the unequal hours of the day and the night, taken from PGM IV.1596—1715 (Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios) and PGM VII.862—918 (Lunar Spell of Klaudianos):

Hour Diurnal
(PGM IV.1596—1715)
Nocturnal
(PGM VII.862—918)
I ΦΑΡΑΚΟΥΝΗΘ
PHARAKŪNĒTH
ΜΕΝΕΒΑΙΝ
MENEBAIN
II ΣΟΥΦΙ
SŪPHI
ΝΕΒΟΥΝ
NEBŪN
III ΑΜΕΚΡΑΝΕΒΕΧΕΟ ΘΩΥΘ
AMEKRANEBEKHEO THŌUTH
ΛΗΜΝΕΙ
LĒMNEI
IV ΣΕΝΘΕΝΙΨ
SENTHENIPS
ΜΟΡΜΟΘ
MORMOTH
V ΕΝΦΑΝΧΟΥΦ
ENPHANKHŪPH
ΝΟΥΦΙΗΡ
NŪPHIĒR
VI ΒΑΙ ΣΟΛΒΑΙ
BAI SOLBAI
ΧΟΡΒΟΡΒΑΘ
KHORBORBATH
VII ΟΥΜΕΣΘΩΘ
ŪMESTHŌTH
ΟΡΒΕΗΘ
ORBEĒTH
VIII ΔΙΑΤΙΦΗ
DIATIPHĒ
ΠΑΝΜΩΘ
PANMŌTH
IX ΦΗΟΥΣ ΦΩΟΥΘ
PHĒŪS PHŌŪTH
ΘΥΜΕΝΦΡΙ
THYMENPHRI
X ΒΕΣΒΥΚΙ
BESBYKI
ΣΑΡΝΟΧΟΙΒΑΛ
SARNOKHOIBAL
XI ΜΟΥ ΡΩΦ
MŪ RŌPH
ΒΑΘΙΑΒΗΛ
BATHIABĒL
XII ΑΕΡΘΟΗ
AERTHOĒ
ΑΡΒΡΑΘΙΑΒΡΙ
ARBRATHIABRI

Similarly, though not necessarily required, an invocation to the ruling god of the day may also be made at this time.  This may be done in one of two ways: either by the ruler of the day according to the planet, or according to the ruler of the Pole using the Seven-Zoned method from PGM XIII.1—343/XIII.646—734.

Using the same section from PDM xiv.489—515 as before, invoke the planetary ruler:

  • Using the day ruler method:

    O blessed god, …, servant of God, you whose hand is this moment, who rules over this day, bring your light to me!

  • Using the Seven-Zoned (Pole ruler) method:

    O blessed god, …, servant of God, you whose hand is this moment, who rules over the Pole on this day, bring your light to me!

Alternatively, another invocation to the appropriate planet may also be used, such as praying the Orphic Hymn to that planet.

Weekday Ruling Planet
By Day Pole Ruler
Sunday Hēlios Selēnē
Monday Selēnē Hermēs
Tuesday Arēs Aphroditē
Wednesday Hermēs Hēlios
Thursday Zeus Arēs
Friday Aphroditē Zeus
Saturday Kronos Kronos

If further desired, though again not required, an invocation may be made to the Zodiac sign that rules the present time, based on PGM VII.795—845 (Pythagoras’ request for a dream oracle and Demokritos’ dream divination).  Given the lunar and nighttime connections of that ritual, it may be best to call upon the sign of the Zodiac in which the Moon is currently found; however, for more solar-oriented rituals, using the Zodiac sign in which the Sun is currently found may be used instead.  A combined method, which I would recommend, calls upon the two signs of both the Sun and the Moon together:

O blessed heavens, solar … and lunar …, you two asterisms that watch over all the works of the world, bring your light to me!

If, however, the Sun and Moon are in the same sign:

O blessed heaven, …, you great asterism who watches over all the works of the world, bring your light to me!

Zodiac Sign Name
Aries ΑΡΜΟΝΘΑΡΘΩΧΕ
HARMONTHARTHŌKHE
Taurus ΝΕΟΦΟΞΩΘΑ ΘΟΨ
NEOPHOKSŌTHA THOPS
Gemini ΑΡΙΣΤΑΝΑΒΑ ΖΑΩ
ARISTANABA ZAŌ
Cancer ΠΧΟΡΒΑΖΑΝΑΧΟΥ
PKHORBAZANAKHŪ
Leo ΖΑΛΑΜΟΙΡΛΑΛΙΘ
ZALAMOIRLALITH
Virgo ΕΙΛΕΣΙΛΑΡΜΟΥ ΦΑΙ
EILESILARMŪ PHAI
Libra ΤΑΝΤΙΝΟΥΡΑΧΘ
TANTINŪRAKHTH
Scorpio ΧΟΡΧΟΡΝΑΘΙ
KHORKHORNATHI
Sagittarius ΦΑΝΘΕΝΦΥΦΛΙΑ ΞΥΥ
PHANTHENPHYPHLIA KSUHU
Capricorn ΑΖΑΖΑΕΙΣΘΑΙΛΙΧ
AZAZAEISTHAILIKH
Aquarius ΜΕΝΝΥΘΥΘ ΙΑΩ
MENNYTHYTH IAŌ
Pisces ΣΕΡΥΧΑΡΡΑΛΜΙΩ
SERYKHARRALMIŌ

With the sacred light lit and the appropriate powers of the present time invoked, uncover your head and recite the Light-Retaining Charm based on PGM IV.930—1114 (Conjuration of Light under Darkness):

I conjure you, holy Light, breadth, depth, length, height, brightness,
by ΙΑΩ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΑΡΒΑΘΙΑΩ ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ ΑΙ ΑΙ ΙΑΩ ΑΞ ΑΞ ΙΝΑΞ
remain by me in the present hour, until I have accomplished all I have set out to do!
Now, now, immediately, immediately, quickly, quickly!

Call upon the Guardians of the Directions.  This is essentially using my Invocation of the Solar Guardians, based on PGM II.64—183 and PGM.XII.14—95, to recognize the four spiritual entities who stand guard of the stations of the Sun at sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight, as well as the realms and rulers of the heights and the depths, so as to orient and protect both the temple and the magician.  The first guardian to be invoked is the one who controls the quarter of the sky where the Sun currently is: between sunrise and noon, the Guardian of the East should begin the invocations; between noon and sunset, the Guardian of the South; and so forth.

  1. First, face the East or, if preferred, whatever quarter of the sky the Sun happens to be in at the moment of the invocation.
  2. Take a half-step forward with the right foot, raise the right hand forward and out, and raise the hand up and out towards that direction.  Give the salutation to the guardian, lower the hand, bring the right foot back, then turn 90° clockwise to salute the next guardian.  The four salutations for these guardians are, with the order to be changed according to the direction first started with:

    ΙΩ ΕΡΒΗΘ, take thy place in the East!
    ΙΩ ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ, take thy place in the South!
    ΙΩ ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ, take thy place in the West!
    ΙΩ ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ, take thy place in the North!

  3. Once all four guardians of the cardinal directions have been saluted, return to the original direction, and stand with both feet together.
  4. Look directly up and extend the right palm outwards and upwards to salute the guardian of the heights:

    ΙΩ ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ, take thy place in the Heights!

  5. Look directly down, and extend the right palm outwards and downwards to salute the guardian of the depths:

    ΙΩ ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ, take thy place in the Depths!

  6. Extend both arms outward with the right hand turned up and the left hand turned down, and give the concluding call:

    For I am ΜΑΛΠΑΡΤΑΛΧΩ standing in the midst of the All!

At this point, if desired, the magician may enter into a phase of prayer before any further work.  This is not required, but those who take a more liturgical or Hermetic priestly approach may consider reciting such prayers as the Prayer of Hermes Trismegistus from the Corpus Hermeticum, the Stele of Aiōn from PGM IV.1167—1226, the Hymn of the Hidden Stele from PVM IV.1115—1166, or other such prayers.  This would be to focus the mind of the magician as well as to further sanctify the temple, but these are not strictly required to be performed.

Before further work, some magicians may feel more comfortable working within a cast circle.  Given the purification, illumination, and warding of the temple in the previous steps, a circle may be deemed superfluous and unnecessary, and though researchers like Stephen Skinner suggest that circle-working could have been a common aspect of PGM-style magic, very few rituals in the PGM and similar works explicitly call for a circle, and most have no need for one.  However, should a circle be desired for further working, one may be cast at this point.  Starting from the same direction that the Guardians of the Directions began and proceeding clockwise, trace a circle on the ground (either drawn out in white chalk or natron, or traced with the fingertips of the dominant hand, a wand, or a knife) while reciting the following (adapted from my older preparatory/framing rite the Q.D.Sh. Ritual).  As there are four lines in the chant that follows, draw the circle slowly and thoughtfully enough such that each line can be recited within the tracing of one quarter of the circle.

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

Empower yourself.  This is a three-step process, combined from one popularly-known modern one and two adapted from the PGM.  The first part is what I call the “Ray of Heaven and Earth”, which is a variant of the first part of Jason Miller’s “Pillar and Spheres” energy work method from The Sorcerer’s Secrets; the visualization is largely the same, but I’ve replaced the chants from Latin/English with appropriate Greek ones.  The second part is a shorter form of the Heptagram Rite from PGM XIII.734—1077; it’s more involved than a simple Calling the Sevenths (which is fine on its own and may be substituted here instead for time), but it’s also not the entire Heptagram Rite, either; this middle-form is what I call the Minor Heptagram Rite.  This is finished with the final declaration of power and protection from the Headless Rite from PGM V.96—172, using the Crowley form of the ritual (though substitutes may be made here as well).

  1. Perform the Ray of Heaven and Earth.
    1. Stand upright with the back straight. Center yourself.
    2. Visualize an infinite, infinitely white light shining directly above you, infinitely distant in the highest heavens.
    3. Intone: Κατάβαινε, ὦ πέλεια! (Katábaine, ō péleia! or, in English, “Descend, o Dove!”) As you intone this, inhale deeply and visualize a ray of white light shining down from the heavens directly into the crown of the head, down through the spine, through the sacrum, and downwards infinitely below you. Exhale slowly, feeling purifying, soothing, straightening power radiate from the ray into the rest of your body.
    4. Maintain the above visualization. In addition to that, Visualize an infinite, infinitely red light shining directly below you, infinitely distant in the lowest reaches of the earth.
    5. Intone: Ἀνάβαινε, ὦ ὄφϊ! (Anábaine, ō óphï! or, in English, “Ascend, o Serpent!”). As you intone this, inhale deeply and visualize a ray of red light shining up from the earth directly into the sacrum, up through the spine, through the crown, and upwards infinitely above you. Exhale slowly, feeling vivifying, heating, hardening power radiate from the ray into the rest of your body.
    6. Visualize both rays, the white descending from heaven though you into the earth and the red ascending from earth through you into heaven, and mixing in your body, connecting it with all the heavens and all the earth with you in the direct center channel between them.
    7. Intone: Ἅφθητι, ὦ πυρ! (Háphthēti, ō pur! or, in English, “Be kindled, o Fire!”) As you intone this, inhale deeply and let both powers suffuse your body in an infinitely bright light, feeling all the powers of heaven and earth connect within you. Exhale slowly, letting the power radiate through you and from you, having connected with heaven and hell equally.
  2. Perform the Minor Heptagram Rite.  If desired, the shorter Calling the Sevenths may be done instead, but for full rituals, the Minor Heptagram Rite is preferred.
    1. Recite the invocation to Aiōn:

      I call on you, eternal and unbegotten Aiōn, who are One, who alone hold together the whole creation of all things, whom none understands, whom the gods worship, whose name not even the gods can utter. Inspire from your breath, o ruler of the Pole, the one who calls on you who is under you! I call on you as the gods call you! I call on you as the goddesses call you! I call on you as the winds call you!

    2. Face the sunrise in the east with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the east: Α ΕΕ ΗΗΗ ΙΙΙΙ ΟΟΟΟΟ ΥΥΥΥΥΥ ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

    3. Face north with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the north: Ε ΗΗ ΙΙΙ ΟΟΟΟ ΥΥΥΥΥ ΩΩΩΩΩΩ ΑΑΑΑΑΑΑ

    4. Face west with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the west: Η ΙΙ ΟΟΟ ΥΥΥΥ ΩΩΩΩΩ ΑΑΑΑΑΑ ΕΕΕΕΕΕΕ

    5. Face south with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the south: Ι ΟΟ ΥΥΥ ΩΩΩΩ ΑΑΑΑΑ ΕΕΕΕΕΕ ΗΗΗΗΗΗΗ

    6. Face down with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the earth: Ο ΥΥ ΩΩΩ ΑΑΑΑ ΕΕΕΕΕ ΗΗΗΗΗΗ ΙΙΙΙΙΙΙ

    7. Face forward with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the sky: Υ ΩΩ ΑΑΑ ΕΕΕΕ ΗΗΗΗΗ ΙΙΙΙΙΙ ΟΟΟΟΟΟΟ

    8. Face up with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the cosmos: Ω ΑΑ ΕΕΕ ΗΗΗΗ ΙΙΙΙΙ ΟΟΟΟΟΟ ΥΥΥΥΥΥΥ

    9. Recite the second invocation to Aiōn, based on the Eighth Book of Moses (PGM XIII.1—343) and the Headless Rite (PGM V.96—172):

      I call on you, who are greater than all, the creator of all, the self-begotten who see all and are not seen! For you gave to Hēlios glory and all power, and to Selēnē the privilege to wax and wane and have fixed courses, yet you took nothing from the earlier-born darkness, but apportioned all things so that they should be equal! For when you appeared, both Order and Light arose! All things are subject to you, whose true form none of the gods can see, who change into all forms! You are invisible, o Aiōn of Aiōns, and through you arose the celestial pole from the earth! Hear me and help me, o lord, faultless and unflawed, who pollute no place, for I bear witness to your glory! Lord, King, Master, Helper, empower my soul!

  3. Recite the final empowerment of the Headless Rite:

    ΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΩΘ ΒΑΣΥΜ ΙΣΑΚ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΙΑΩ
    Come forth and follow, so that every spirit, whether heavenly or ethereal, upon the earth or under the earth, on dry land or in the water, of whirling air or rushing fire, and every spell and scourge of God may be obedient unto me.

    Alternatively or additionally, if another phylactery is to be used for a given ritual, this is the proper time to don it and recite any accompanying prayers or invocations that go along with it.  These include rings, pendants, headwear, anointing with oils, or the use of other charms, spoken or otherwise.

Now, complete the empowerment and establishment of the temple by reciting the following, again from the Crowley version of the Headless Rite:

Thus have I spoken; thus are the words!
ΙΑΩ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ

At this point, the temple has been prepared and established as a sacred space, and you as the magician have become empowered and placed yourself under the powers of the cosmos and of those who watch over the temple.  If desired, incense may now be lit for its own sake as a means to further purify the temple, as well as an offering for the powers that watch over and already inhabit it, though it is not necessary to do so at this time and is better reserved for the ritual proper that follows.

With all the above done, the ritual proper may then begin in earnest.  Whatever happens here depends on the magician and the ritual itself.

After the ritual proper, prayers of thanksgiving and communion (such as the Prayer of Thanksgiving of Hermes Trismegistus from the Corpus Hermeticum) may be made at this point, especially after purely theurgic or truly divine rituals, but are not required.

Once the ritual proper has come to a close, the temple must also be closed with a general dismissal of spirits and a formal extinguishing of the light:

  1. Light a small amount of incense as a final thanks, general dismissal, and banishing, reciting the following based on the final prayers from PGM I.262—347, PGM IV.154—285, and PGM VII.930—1114.  Frankincense is the best general choice for this, but other types of incense may also be offered based on the nature of the ritual done before.

    I have been attached to your holy form;
    I have been given power by your holy name;
    I have been blessed with your holy emanation of the Good;
    Be gracious unto me, Lord, god of gods, master, daimōn, primal, elder-born one!

    I give thanks to you, o great gods, elder-born, mighty powers!
    Depart, lords, depart into your heavens, into your places, into your courses.
    I adjure by the fire which first shone in the void,
    I adjure by the power which is greatest over all,
    I adjure by him who destroys even in Hadēs
    That all now depart from this place, returning to your abodes,
    And harm me not, but be forever kind.
    Keep me healthy, unharmed, untroubled by ghosts, free from calamity, and without terror.
    Hear me for all the days of my life!

    Thus have I spoken; thus are the words!
    ΙΑΩ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ

  2. If the optional circle was cast earlier, it should be traced counterclockwise starting at the same direction from which it was drawn prior to such prayers.  If the circle was merely traced, e.g. with the fingertips or a wand, trace it in reverse using the same means; if it was drawn in e.g. chalk or natron, make four openings in the circle aligned to the four directions as the circle is otherwise traced with the fingertips.  No invocation or chant is required for this, but a short thanksgiving prayer may be said, such as the following from my own simple thanksgiving practice:

    Nous, Logos, Sophia, Aiōn,
    Thank you very much for everything.
    I have no complaints whatsoever.

  3. Extinguish the light.  With the eyes closed, recite the following over the flame of the lamp or candle using the Dismissal of Light from PGM VII.930—1114 as well as a short form of the method for quenching fire from PGM XIII.1—343, the first to send away the holiness in the flame and the second to put out the physical flame itself:

    ΧΩΩ ΧΩΩ ΩΧΩΩΧ, holy brightness!
    Depart, holy brightness!
    Depart, beautiful and holy light of the highest God Aiōn!

    Hear, o Fire, o work of the works of God, o glory of the Sun!
    Be quenched, become cold, and let your flame be scattered that it may touch no one and nothing!

    Cover your head once more, open your eyes, then put out the fire in one swift motion.

The temple space has now been closed, and the ritual has now come to a complete end.  Follow-up meditation or prayers may be made or a meal may be served, and any clean-up of the temple may now be done.

On the Simplicity of Divine Prayer

Trying to get back into a routine is rough when you’ve been out of it for so long.  Between the job changes, house moves, seclusionary period of religious vows, and then a glut of partying and celebration at the end of 2017, I’m sure some of my readers can sympathize.  None of that excuses me, of course, from what I should be doing, but a trial’s a trial, after all.

One morning this week was the first in a long time I’ve made myself sit down, meditate, and recite some prayers.  Not many, given my lengthier commute than what I had back a few years ago, and given that I need to reconfigure my sleep schedule to allow for more awake time in the morning before work.  But, yanno, it was enough for this morning.  Admittedly, the prayers take some getting used to again, reciting them with the same focus, the same intent, the same clarity I recall I once had.  But then, any skill left unused for too long dulls faster than an overused knife, so it’ll just take practice and repetition and applying myself.  After a few days, I started to get that…silent Ring, that echo of the Hymns of Silence, back into my words.  So even if it doesn’t take too long to sharpen myself, it still takes time.

Briefly, I considered maybe if I wasn’t doing enough, if I wasn’t incorporating enough elements to give myself that proper atmosphere.  You know of what I speak, dear reader: that misty-shadowy-monochrome-occult,  evidently-powerful, clearly-mystical aesthetic that we all idealize and fetishize in our Work.  That perfectly-framed instagrammable/snapchattable/sharable #nofilter dark-room bones-and-herbs-strewn-about #tradcraft altar look that often sticks in our minds as both breathtaking and inspirational.  So, while in the middle of a prayer, holding my book in one hand, I reached for the incense with the other—

I stopped myself.  No, incense was not what I needed.  What I needed was prayer, and that alone.

A few weeks ago, while trying to find an appropriate time for a feast day of Hermes Trismegistus, I recalled a specific astrological alignment used for…something Hermetic.  After scouring through the Corpus Hermeticum and other Hermetic texts, I eventually stumbled upon what I was looking for in the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth, but there was another bit of text that, although unrelated to what I was looking for, stuck out to me and reminded me of the simplicity called for in spiritual works, especially that of prayer.

From the Asclepius (chapter XLI; Copenhaver translation, p92):

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 towards the direction they call East), and they were already saying their prayer when in a hushed voice Asclepius asked: “Tat, do you think we should suggest that your father tell them to add frankincense and spices as we pray to God?”

When Trismegistus heard him, he was disturbed and said: “A bad omen, Asclepius, very bad.  To burn incense and such stuff when you entreat God smacks of sacrilege.  For he wants nothing who is himself all things or in whom all things are.  Rather, let us worship him by giving thanks, for God finds mortal gratitude to be the best incense.”

Let me unpack this by means of a parallel lesson I learned back in high school.  Say you’re the subject of a king, and the king is coming to your village to pay a visit and hold court.  All the local lords and nobles are coming, and all the subjects (high- or lowborn) are expected to present something to the king.  What they present are not gifts; gifts, after all, are seen as a kind of favorable charity, but how could a subject give a gift to his king?  The king already has a right to whatever his subjects own; a gift implies the bestowing of something that the receiver does not already have.  No, it is absurd for a subject to give his king a gift; what the subject offers is tribute.  Tribute is something given (yet not a gift) as well as an act of expressing admiration, gratitude, and respect to someone.  A craftsman giving a delicately crafted timepiece, a farmer giving the best of his year’s fruit, a herdsman giving the fattest of his personal flock, an artist giving a fully-decorated manuscript are all things that can be considered tribute in this context; these are acts or offerings of their own labor, their own work, their own hands with which they express thanks to their king, who enables them to do everything.

Of course, you can’t just offer any old thing as tribute.  No, it should be the finest example of what can you can produce, the most rarefied exemplar of skill and labor, and that which is suited to the tastes and needs of the king receiving tribute, as well as exemplifying the natural ownership of the king over his domain.  In other words, proper tribute shows our respect to those above us that we are grateful for their support, patronage, guidance, and protection in the means that they themselves strive to attain.

In this case, Hermes Trismegistus is suggesting that prayers of gratitude are tribute to God, and anything else is simply extra and, moreover, sullying the pure act of prayer.  After all, God is both transcendent and immanent of the world we live in; God already contains all things, all incenses and oils and blood-offerings and flowers.  Why should we bother with these things then?  Hermes would claim that to offer incense in prayer to God would be like offering fish to the ocean, or like giving a king a tributary offering of cattle, including all the shit and piss and vomit they make.  It’s not that these things are unhelpful or without use to us, but they are of little worth to a king, and are so beneath him as to be offensive.  Hermes says that there is nothing physical we could offer to God, because everything physical is already part and parcel to him.

If we shouldn’t offer physical things to God, then what should we offer?  Hermes says simply: “let us worship him by giving thanks, for God finds mortal gratitude to be the best incense”.  Just as subjects to a king offer tribute to express their gratitude towards and to show their abilities fostered by their protecting lord, we offer prayer of gratitude with our intellect and own internal divinity to show God, who gave humanity its intelligible nature by means of the Logos, our respect and thanks to him.  We recognize our place and nature in the world, a unique intersection between the purely physical universe and the purely spiritual cosmos, and we remember our divine origins in God’s own being; we express thanks and gratitude, not to appease or placate God’s wrath, but to grow closer to him and his domain so as to rise above mere matter.

That’s another reason why Hermes abhors the use of incense in prayer to God.  If we’re to ascend above this mortal coil so as to retake our divine essence and birthright, then why should we let those very same mortal, physical, doomed things continue to hold us down?  As Hermes and Poemander say in the very first book of the Corpus Hermeticum (book I, chapters 20—21; Salaman translation, pp21—22):

[Poemander] continued, “If you have remembered, tell me, why are those who are in death, worthy of death?

[Hermes] replied, “Because the grim darkness is the first origin of one’s own body, from which darkness arose the watery nature, from which darkness the body is formed in the sensory world of which death drinks.”

“You have observed correctly”, he said.  “But why does he who has remembered himself go to the Father, as the Word of God says?”

I replied, “Because the Father of all is constituted out of light and life, whence Man has been begotten.”

Poimandres then said, “The truth is: light and life is God and Father, whence Man is begotten.  If, therefore, you realize yourself as being from life and light, and that you have been made out of them, you will return to life.”

Death and ignorance of the divine are intrinsic to physical existence and physical things, and of the things that are not physical, the opposite is true.  Thus, to mix physical things in acts meant to focus on that which is purely divested of them (i.e. matters of God) introduces a measure of death and ignorance into them.  Thus, not only is it sufficient to simply pray to God, but anything more taints such a pure act.

So, no.  I didn’t need to light incense to pray.  I never have, and I never will.  Such prayer to God, performed with the full intent of prayer, is a complete and sufficient act unto itself that no addition could ever make more or better than my present, attentive, intentive, and intelligible Speech saying the divine Words.

Now, I will qualify this: there are times when incenses, oils, tools, and other physical materia matter for spiritual works or sacrifices to the gods, but note the context of difference here.  With offerings to the theoi, for instance, it is proper to offer wine, olive oil, incense, and burnt offerings; they find these things pleasing, and to an extent they are either part of this world or part of the cosmos close to us where these things are useful and appreciated.  Magical ceremonies involving the planets, them being physical-spiritual forces in our world, make use of colors and metals and incenses and herbs and whatnot to make their presence stronger here on Earth.  But when we talk about prayer to God, who is completely above all and encapsulates all within himself?  It’s a different set of rules and contexts, where there is nothing physical to do or appreciated, and the inclusion of physical things only acts as a distraction and delay.  In a sense, it’s highly parallel to what the Buddha taught about meditation: you don’t need incenses or bells or Lululemon pants or overpriced crystals or ridiculously over-engineered sitting cushions.  All you need is meditation, nothing more; nothing else will help you meditate than simply meditating.  In the same vein, Hermes Trismegistus teaches in the Asclepius that nothing else will help with praying to God than simply praying to God.

And, to finish that off, what was the prayer that Hermes Trismegistus offered after his rebuke to Asclepius?  This, which serves as an example of the type of intellectual reflection and deep gratitude Hermes Trismegistus propounded:

We thank you, supreme and most high God, by whose grace alone we have attained the light of your knowledge; holy Name that must be honored, the one Name by which our ancestral faith blesses God alone, we thank you who deign to grant to all a father’s fidelity, reverence, and love, along with any power that is sweeter, by giving us the gift of consciousness, reason, and understanding:
consciousness, that we may know you;
reason, by which we may seek you in our dim suppositions;
knowledge, by which we may rejoice in knowing you.

And we who are saved by your power do indeed rejoice because you have shown yourself to us wholly.  We rejoice that you have deigned to make us gods for eternity even while we depend on the body.  For this is mankind’s only means of giving thanks: knowledge of your majesty.

We have known you, the vast light perceived only by reason.
We have understood you, true life of life, the womb pregnant with all coming-to-be.
We have known you, who persist eternally by conceiving all coming-to-be in its perfect fullness.

Worshiping with this entire prayer the good of your goodness, we ask only this: that you wish us to persist in the love of your knowledge and that we never be cut off from such a life as this.

With such hopes and such prayers, let us now turn to putting it to practice with dedication.