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.
Amen.

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
Lord: ΙΑΩ ΟΥΗΕ
I am he who calls upon you, great god, in Syrian: ΖΑΑΛΑΗΡ ΙΦΦΟΥ
You must not ignore my voice in Hebrew: ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ ΑΒΡΑΣΙΛΩΑ
For I am ΣΙΛΘΑΧΩΟΥΧ ΛΑΙΛΑΜ ΒΛΑΣΑΛΩΘ ΙΑΩ ΙΕΩ ΝΕΒΟΥΘ ΣΑΒΙΟΘ ΑΡΒΩΘ ΑΡΒΑΘΙΑΩ ΙΑΩΘ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ
ΠΑΤΟΥΡΗ ΖΑΓΟΥΡΗ
ΒΑΡΟΥΧ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ ΕΛΩΑΙ ΙΑΒΡΑΑΜ
ΒΑΡΒΑΡΑΥΩ ΝΑΥΣΙΦ

High-minded one, immortal one, who possess the crown of the whole world!
ΣΙΕΠΗ ΣΑΚΤΙΕΤΗ ΒΙΟΥ ΒΙΟΥ ΣΦΗ ΣΦΗ ΝΟΥΣΙ ΝΟΥΣΙ ΣΙΕΘΟ ΣΙΕΘΟ ΧΘΕΘΩΝΙ ΡΙΓΧ
ΩΗΑ Η ΗΩΑ ΑΩΗ ΙΑΩ
ΑΣΙΑΛ ΣΑΡΑΠΗΟΛΣΩ ΕΘΜΟΥΡΗΣΙΝΙ ΣΕΜ ΛΑΥ ΛΟΥ ΛΟΥΡΙΓΧ

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
Lord: IAŌ ŪĒE
I am he who calls upon you, great god, in Syrian: ZAHALAĒR IPH-PHŪ
You must not ignore my voice in Hebrew: ABLANATHANALBA ABRASILŌA
For I am SILTHAKHŪKH LAILAM BLASALŌTH IAŌ IEŌ NEBŪTH SABIOTH ARBŌTH ARBATHIAŌ IAŌTH SABAŌTH
PATŪRĒ ZAGŪRĒ
BARŪKH ADŌNAI ELŌAI I-ABRAHAM
BARBARAUŌ NAUSIPH

High-minded one, immortal one, who possess the crown of the whole world!
SIEPĒ SAKTIETĒ BIŪ BIŪ SPHĒ SPHĒ NŪSI NŪSI SIETHO SIETHO KHTHETHŌNI RINKH
ŌĒA Ē ĒŌA AŌĒ IAŌ
ASIAL SARAPĒOLSŌ ETHMŪRĒSINI SEM LAU LOU LOURINKH

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).