Unlocking the Observatory: The Spiritual Cosmology of Zoroaster’s Telescope

Where were we? We’re in the middle of discussing the obscure Telescope of Zoroaster (ZT), a manual of divination and spirituality originally published in French in 1796 (FZT) at the close of the French Revolution, which was later translated into German in 1797 (GZT) and then again in an abridged form as part of Johann Scheible’s 1846 Das Kloster (vol. 3, part II, chapter VII) (KZT), with Scheible’s work then translated into English in 2013 as released by Ouroboros Press (OZT).  Although OZT is how most people nowadays tend to encounter this system, I put out my own English translation of FZT out a bit ago as part of my research, and while that translation was just part of the work I’ve been up to, there’s so much more to review, consider, and discover when it comes to this fascinating form of divination.  Last time, we talked about . If you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

※ For those following along with their own copy of ZT (get yours here!), this post does not touch on any specific chapter of the text.

Something I touched on briefly in the last post is that, nestled amidst all the interpretations and significations of the tiles as given in ZT’s “First Supplement”, there’s a weird trend specifically with the Intelligence tiles.  These tiles have meanings just like all the others, but there’s a few I want to specifically highlight:

  • Genhelia ☉: Physical soul, home country.
  • Seleno ☾: Earth.
  • Erosia ♀︎: Universal magnet (“love”).
  • Panurgio ☿: Sea.
  • Lethophoro ♄: Darkness (literally “night”), water.
  • Aglaé ♃: Air.
  • Adamasto ♂︎: Fire.
  • Psykomena ☽: Foreign country.
  • Psykelia ◎: Heavenly soul, light (perhaps metaphorically “day”).

Unlike many of the tiles, these seem to be connoting things less about omens or matters of future, and indicate more cosmological aspects.  It’s kind of a neat trend, and it emphasizes how important the nine Intelligences are to the well-ordering of the world around us.  Unlike in astrology proper (which, of course, ZT says is basically just charlatanry) where the planets themselves effect their influences in our world, ZT establishes that the things that happen in the world are effected by the Intelligences of the planets, not the planets themselves.  This reaches not just into the vagaries of emotion and action between humans (as influenced through their natal angels and natal stars which have planetary rulerships themselves), but even into the very world around us, where e.g. fire is an expression of the activity of Adamasto/Mars, the winds of Aglaé/Jupiter, and so forth.  In classical grimoiric (or at least Agrippan) terms, ZT’s Intelligences might be thought of either as grimoiric planetary intelligences or as planetary spirits, being either the tools that shape creation or the raw material that forms it, all in the hands of the Creator (or the two Principles).

What’s so fascinating about this is that this is just one small aspect of a much grander vision of the Great Cabala that ZT proclaims.  True, ZT is a divination manual, a short introductory handbook laying out the fundamental principles of a cute sort of divination, and most people would be inclined to pick it up, read it, and put it down as being nothing more than that.  But, as much as ZT talks about a divination process, ZT also talks about so much more at the same time, spending at least as many words on spirituality, cosmology, and even (dare we say it) religion as it does on divination.  It’s not that it’s hiding this, either; it’s rather up-front and blunt about it, but it doesn’t lay it out as clearly as it does its divinatory content.  By that same token, it’s something that’s more obscured in KZT/OZT because, again, KZT took the original ZT content and abridged it, cutting out a lot of the religious and spiritual flavor and content we see in FZT/GZT for the sake of presenting a more condensed divinatory manual.  If we turn to the older texts like FZT/GZT, however, we find a lot more of this sort of thing, especially in the Epistle.

Like, consider how ZT talks about itself at the start of the “Second Supplement”:

Hence, for once, the gaze of the being to whom the Pure Spirit will have given the eyes such a being needs in order to discover certain sublime objects—by these, we say, and by means of this second supplement—the gaze of the Elect will be able to soar to the highest point of the cabalistic Pyramid, of which the seven Steps earlier described are only its base and first layers. As these approved eyes look upward along the faces of this mysterious edifice, it will happen—should the Pure Spirit allow it—that the clouds, at first reaching down to the ground to hide everything from the profane eye, will rise so slowly as to barely be noticed at once. Stone is succeeded by marble, marble by crystal, crystal by diamond, and diamond finally by a heavenly brilliance—but the Elect are not like to be dazzled with damage. This brilliance, which shows that the Pure Spirit is within this whirlwind of light, retains a final shroud, the only one that the human condition is not allowed to penetrate.

What ZT teaches may well be just a divination system, but what it gives us is far more than just a means to predict the future.  The whole of ZT, both the divinatory system specifically as well as the Great Cabala more generally, is intended to access that which is superhuman by familiarizing the reader with those selfsame superhuman intelligences. The “Key” that ZT provides is not just a key to a particular practice of divination but rather “the key to the superhuman riches of which the Great Cabala is the inexhaustible store”, one that is even “a master key which will open not just the main doors but all the side doors, all the cupboards, all the drawers, and even the smallest secrets”.

To understand what ZT means by “superhuman”, let’s first talk about the word “occult”, literally meaning “hidden”.  This word can be understood in two ways: the secret or hidden virtues in things that confer surprising or powerful benefits to those who know how to tap them, or to teachings and disciplines kept secret and occluded from public dissemination for the education of and use by the few. Anything that cannot be seen or otherwise perceived by the physical senses of the body are, in one sense or another, “occult”, and have historically been bound up in the various traditions and teachings of any number of religions, mysticisms, and spiritualities. To modern sensibilities, many of the activities and interests of such systems deal with what is termed the “supernatural”, which is to say things that are not wholly within the physical and material realm of nature. However, not all such systems would agree that these things are necessarily “supernatural” if all things already belong to a more pervasive view of nature.  In that light, ZT says in its introduction that the Great Cabala has nothing “supernatural”, but rather has things in it that are “superhuman”, things that are technically beyond our reach as human beings. Rather than drawing a distinction between that which is of nature (“natural”) and that which is beyond it (“supernatural”), ZT draws a distinction between what is human and what is superhuman, seeing both as ultimately belonging to the one and same nature of Creation. Although the word “superhuman” is occasionally used throughout ZT, the bulk of the understanding and use of this word comes from the Epistle—and, for that matter, the Epistle provides much of the spiritual contextualization for ZT as a whole, being an apologia of sorts for engaging with the spirituality of ZT.  (This just compounds how much of a shame it is that this compelling essay only appears in the earlier versions of ZT and not in the more condensed versions as in KZT.) The Epistle uses the word “superhuman” a number of times to refer not only to entities as spirits or intelligences, but also to the work of divination, divine inspiration, and holy obligation. At the same time, the Epistle does not classify all spiritual or occult things as superhuman, as it denies that “black or diabolical” magic can rightly be called “superhuman”.

Rather than thinking of “superhuman” to mean “spiritual” or “occult”. it may be better to consider this word in the mind of the author of Epistle (and ZT more generally) to mean “holy”. This then suggests that the word “human” as the antonym of “superhuman” should be interpreted to mean “profane”, but this is not borne out by the Epistle. There are references to “purely human sciences” or that most humans are content with mere reason, but the Epistle also refers in equal measure to humans of genius or otherwise pious humans who admit and seek after divine things with the respect due to them. However, by definition, humans on their own cannot enter into or attain to the superhuman; to do so requires the active participation of the superhuman to grant humanity such access.  As the introduction of ZT itself says:

As to what is superhuman (which does not mean “supernatural”) in the Cabala, the mere idea contained in the word “superhuman” establishes in proof that we cannot lay hold onto what it expresses, and therefore we cannot give it away. It is a definition that can make its own existence felt.

The most common use of the word “superhuman” in the Epistle is to refer to “superhuman intelligences”, referring to immaterial entities with their own agency and capacity for communication, action, and interaction. The term “intelligence” has been used to refer to such immaterial or spiritual entities throughout much of European magical and grimoiric literature, even affecting later spiritual traditions such as Spiritism, so finding it used here should be no surprise especially as a more refined approach to other words such as “spirit”, (although GZT merely refers to them as übermenschliche/himmlischen Wesen “superhuman/heavenly beings”).

As that first passage I quoted above above says, so much is dependent upon not just the dedication and studies of the one who studies ZT, but on the permission and presence of the “Pure Spirit”, because ZT is not purely a thing of humanity and thus requires the superhuman in order to delve into it properly.  So what exactly is the “Pure Spirit”?  Basically, it’s the ZT’s equivalent of the Christian notion of the Holy Ghost, but we need to unpack this idea a bit more to get at what ZT considers this to be, along with ZT’s notions of divinity generally.

Although we can’t truly say that ZT is a Christian work in a technical sense, it is abundantly clear that its author has had a Christian education and upbringing, because the author uses a number of quotes and stories from the Old Testament and New Testament alike, and the author counts themselves as a Christian writing for an assumedly Christian audience. It is certainly true that, as OZT notes in its introduction, “the 18th century was an active time for occultism”, both across the whole of the Western world as a whole in general but especially in France in its transitionary period between the ancien régime and the République. However—even in the face of such infamous occultist circles as La Voisin and the Affair of the Poisons, even given the relative freedom of exploration for heterodox religious beliefs—there were still limits as to what was deemed acceptable or pious for public consumption. It should be no surprise, then, that at least some Christian, or otherwise broadly Judeo-Christian, influence is evident in the spirituality of ZT. Although there is little of Christ or any salvific figure involved in ZT, one would reasonably find ZT’s notions of the Supreme Being and the Pure Spirit to be its analogues for God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Although there is no specific discussion of the Supreme Being (also called the “Eternal One”, “Almighty”, or “Creator”) or Pure Spirit in the ZT, they are referenced throughout it all the same, as well as in Epistle and the Epilogue. The “Second Supplement” explicitly states that it was the Supreme Being that Moses saw in the burning bush, and that Gabriel announced to Mary the birth of Jesus on behalf of the Supreme Being. However, despite the explicit identification of ZT’s Supreme Being with the God of Abraham, absent are the latter’s jealous or even judgmental aspects. Rather, ZT speaks of the Supreme Being as a pious mystic would: worthy of our reverence and devotion and connection, having in mind our best interests and loftiest aims in mind, and wanting to develop us to the point where we might reach them either through their merciful loving-kindness or through their castigating “tough love”. All things are possible for the Supreme Being, and likewise, all things are determined and allotted by the Supreme Being.

Historically, it should be noted that, while “Supreme Being” is a reasonable moniker for the Godhead in many Christian contexts, it should be noted that there was also the Culte de l’Être suprême “Cult of the Supreme Being”, a form of deism pioneered by Maximilien Robespierre and established in France as a state religion during the French Revolution in the early 1790s. This new civic religion was intended to maintain a pious theism as well as social order without descending into the anthropocentric atheism of the Cult of Reason (which appalled Robespierre) nor permit the excesses of Catholicism to continue in the newly-established Republic. In the Decree Establishing the Cult of the Supreme Being on 18 Floréal II (7 May 1794) at the National Convention, it was declared that:

  • The French people recognize the existence of the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul.
  • They recognize that the worship worthy of the Supreme Being is the practice of the duties of man.
  • They place in the first rank of these duties to detest bad faith and tyranny, to punish tyrants and traitors, to rescue the unfortunate, to respect the weak, to defend the oppressed, to do to others all the good that one can and not to be unjust toward anyone.

Given the publication date of 1796 for FZT, even in spite of the Epistle’s sympathies for the then-deposed aristocracy and nobility, it is impossible to ignore the possibility of Revolutionary religious influence in ZT, at least to some small degree. In a historical and social context where much of the old established order was being upturned so as to build a new one, and considering how much animosity the author of ZT has towards a variety of traditional occult disciplines such as astrology or geomancy, it may be that the author of ZT was (in their mind) trying to recover some long-lost pristine spiritual practice, much as the French Revolution attempted to reclaim the democratic heritage of ancient Greece and Rome. This tendency may be evident in ZT’s encouragement of astronomy and discouragement of astrology, seeing the former as essentially useful and the latter as essentially corrupt, much as revolutionary tendencies in a wide array of cultural arenas elsewhere would have sought to do away with the old and fixate upon the new, or at least newly-recovered. In that light, ZT may well be avoiding an explicitly Christian spirituality and instead tapping into the revolutionary current of its time so as to develop its own revolutionary understanding of divinity.  Of course, given the blatant aristocratic and royalist leanings of the author of ZT (and especially pronounced in the Epistle), maybe this is reading too much into it, putting the cart before the horse: it may be relying on an overall French spirituality that ties as much to Catholicism as it does to revolutionary deistic cults.

Far more commonly mentioned in ZT than the Supreme Being, however, is the Pure Spirit, also occasionally called the “Pure Mind”. Mentioned only twice in Epistle but mentioned at least once (and often many times) in the majority of the chapters of ZT including the Epilogue, the Pure Spirit is a nebulously-defined numinous presence that facilitates the divinity of the Supreme Being in our world. It is the Pure Spirit that is itself the source of all truth; it was the Pure Spirit to whom the ancient Magi dedicated their temples, and it is the Pure Spirit to whom the Cabalists of ZT direct themselves for succor in their cabalistic and divinatory works. ZT is clear on this last point: it is only through the Pure Spirit’s inspiration that the reader might actually perform works of divination, guiding them to speak truth even (or especially) when the diviner runs up against the limit of the methods of ZT. However, the Pure Spirit is not some passive matrix of spiritual presence; ZT describes the Pure Spirit as having an agency and will of its own, deigning to work at some times but not at others, allowing some humans to perform certain works but not other humans or other works.

In many ways, even if one were to discount any Christian involvement in the development of ZT, it is clear that the Supreme Being and Pure Spirit would be close analogues to the Catholic notions of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, though there is no notion of salvation in the ZT, precluding the necessity for an analogue of God the Son. It may better be said that, although both the Supreme Being and the Pure Spirit are God for the author of ZT, the Supreme Being is more distant than the Pure Spirit is, and it is the Pure Spirit who acts as both the presence of God as well as the gateway to God, giving primacy to the Pure Spirit only insofar as is necessary to participate in divinity. It may be said, then, that the Pure Spirit functions as an analogue both to the Catholic Holy Spirit as well as Christ, as it is the breath of the Pure Spirit in ZT that allows one to be truly and divinely inspired.

And, of course, we shouldn’t confuse the Supreme Being or Pure Spirit with the two Principles of Sisamoro and Senamira, either.  If the Supreme Being is the Creator of all Creation, then the two Principles, Sisamoro and Senamira, can roughly be considered as rival demiurges or underlying actors within the dynamic system of the cosmos. In this light, when ZT says that Sisamoro is “inifinite goodness” and Senamira is “infinite wickedness”, the descriptions of Sisamoro and Senamira come into greater clarity, especially with the footnotes noted above. Sisamoro is the encosmic principle and source of all goodness, purity, light, and bliss, while Senamira is the same but for all wickedness, depravity, darkness, and suffering. It is because of this that ZT states that Christians have interpreted the former to be “God” and the latter “Satan”, employing a sort of antagonistic dualism already known to the reader as asserted by the author.  It has to be said that the Principles form one of the few links from ZT to the actual Zoroaster and Zoroastrianism: ZT points out that, because these names are present in the divinatory system, the system must therefore come from that ancient religion.

Sure, the religion of Mazdayasna (“the worship of wisdom”) was founded on the teachings of Zarathustra in the 6th century BCE worships one universal, supreme, transcendent, all-good, and uncreated creator Ahura Mazda (“Lord of Wisdom” or “Wise Lord”) who dwells above, from which emanates asha, the spiritual force of cosmic order and the antithesis of druj, falsehood and disorder, which itself emanates from Angra Mainyu (“destructive spirit”), also known as Ahriman, who dwells below. These two forces are in constant conflict throughout all creation, especially pronounced upon humanity, although Ahura Mazda wins out in the end times, at which point a savior known as the Saoshyant will come forth to resurrect the dead, all of creation will be purified and renovated, and all humanity will be judged twice: once for their spiritual being and once for their physical being. While there are similarities between the above Zoroastrian notions and ZT’s notions of Sisamoro and Senamira, the similarities end there. While the tiles given in the Urn foldout all have a distinct flame motif on each of the Intelligence and Numeral tiles, hearkening to the notion of Zoroastrian fire worship, this is all little more than a superficial appropriation of Zoroastrian symbols and concepts to offer an exotic orientalizing flavor to a relatively modern form of divination. The whole of the rest of the system displays the usual European Christian frameworks and sensibilities which, although at times parallel with Zoroastrian ones, is less an indication of ZT’s ultimate Persian antiquity and more one of cultural resonance.

Especially intriguing on this point, however, is a note from the Epistle. Towards the end, in describing the mythic history of the Great Cabala, the author of the Epistle states that “the Good Principle and the Bad Principle, having become rivals in the opinion of these impious fools, shared equally a desecrated incense”. It is true in Zoroastrianism that Ahura Mazda is the supreme creator, and though they are at war until the end times, their conjoined conflict can be said to provide for the constant creation of the current world which will end when Ahura Mazda eventually and inevitably conquers Ahriman; in this, Ahura Mazda and Ahriman cannot be said to be rivals or equals. Yet, in the divinatory and cosmological system of ZT, Sisamoro and Senamira do appear to fulfill that role, being equal though opposite in power, with the Supreme Being beyond both of them taking on the role in ZT that Ahura Mazda himself has in Zoroastrianism. It may be that the Epistle here is referring to the religious understanding of Ahura Mazda and Ahriman in Zoroastrianism proper than the cosmological signification of Sisamoro and Senamira in ZT, maybe showing at least some awareness beyond the merely superficial of the religion itself.

While Sisamoro and Senamira work on a cosmic scale, the two spirits Sallak and Sokak act on a human scale, almost as their respective emissaries. ZT notes that these are not divinities in their own right as Sisamoro or Senamira might be, but are “only Creatures of the First Order”. Similarly, the implications of a statement like “the two Principles and the two Spirits do not overlap each other in the Great Cabala” and the similar though diminutive designs of the Sallak and Sokak tiles derived from those of Sisamoro and Senamira emphasize the different roles these pairs of entities have. This is further indicated by how their tiles are treated in a divinatory session employing the Great Mirror: the Principle tiles are not used in the Great Mirror itself but are placed beyond it in a way that affects the mirror as a whole, while the Spirit tiles are used just as any other. The suggestion is that Sisamoro and Senamira work on a grander or cosmic (or at least transpersonal) level, while Sallak and Sokak work on a smaller, individual scale.

As a symbol in the divinatory system of ZT, Sallak represents good fortune in general; Sallak is explicitly identified as the Catholic notion of a guardian angel. According to the Catholic Catechism (I.2.1.I.5.I.336):

From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.

On the contrary, Sokak is labeled as “the evil genius of the Ancients…the evil Angel”. Like Sallak, Sokak is a constant companion of each individual human; unlike Sallak who guides and helps each human to their most beneficial end, Sokak lays traps to afflict and waylay each individual human. To that end, in the divinatory system of ZT, Sokak represents ill fortune, but this is more of a concession to the system of divination rather than merely saying that Sallak is merely Eutychē and Sokak Distychē.  These are about our fates, where we encounter things that are good for us so long as we stick to the path of our fate, and encounter things bad for us if we fall off that path.

I’m sure there’s much more that one can extrapolate from ZT about its view of cosmology and spirituality in general, but I’m not sure how much more I could offer beyond mere conjecture; after all, I’m no expert in the history of French religion and occulture, and trying to get into the research of that is a daunting prospect far beyond my capabilities right now.  What I can offer, at least, is what ZT itself says about how it thinks about and constructs notions of divinity and the cosmos—but all this still leaves open the question of “so what?”.  I mean, okay, sure, we have all this notion of a grand cosmos filled with spirits and the Pure Spirit and everything, but where does that leave us, what is our goal, what do we do with all this information?  We’ll save the best for last, dear reader, and get to that next time.

Traversing the Paths on the Tetractys of Life

There hasn’t been much talk here about the paths themselves on the Tetractys since we figured out a way to associate letters to them.  Largely, this is because I’ve had a hard time figuring out where to start.  I mean, I developed the whole mathesis thing out of a need to work with a Greek system of paths between the spheres on the Tree of Life, yet never actually did much pathworking or meditation on the paths themselves on the Kircher Tree (which, though it goes against my usual advice, I think was justified here).  I know that the paths describe a means of change and evolution from one emanation to the next, yet beyond that…it was hard to say.  Since then, I’ve been looking at the Tetractys and trying to figure out where to start.  Unlike the Tree of Life in qabbalah that so conveniently gives us Malkuth as the starting line for our Work, the Tetractys doesn’t have anything so readily apparent.  Then again, the answer was literally staring out at me from the middle of the whole thing, and it’d be a shame for me to ignore my own patron god Hermes at this point.  Starting with that brief moment of inspiration, I started from the middle of the Tetractys and worked my way out, and now I’ve ended up developing a way to traverse the sphairai on the Tetractys of Life in an ordered and coherent way.  Bear with me guys, because this post is going to be a little lengthy to get all my thoughts out.

So, we have our Tetractys of Life.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s ignore the letters on the paths and focus just on the existence of the paths:

alchemical_planetary_tetractys_paths

First, let’s talk about having a single “path” (really, a network of paths between individual sphairai) that traverses the whole Tetractys sphere by sphere.  I propose the following schema:

  1. Mercury
  2. Air/Jupiter
  3. Fire/Mars
  4. Sulfur/Sun
  5. Mercury
  6. Salt/Moon
  7. Earth/Saturn
  8. Water/Venus
  9. Mercury
  10. Light/Fixed Stars
  11. Monad
  12. Darkness/Earth

Graphically, the paths on the Tetractys selected between these sphairai look like this:

alchemical_planetary_tetractys_paths_circuit1

I’ll bet you’re confused.  For one, we have twelve spheres listed, with Mercury being listed three times; shouldn’t we have to go through each sphere only once?  Second, we’re starting with Mercury and not the Monad; shouldn’t we start with the Monad being the All and the Source of all?  Well, sorta.  I’ll admit, my background in qabbalah was inhibiting me from running with this sequence of paths, but then, mathesis is not qabbalah, and the Tetractys is not the Tree.  In Hermetic qabbalah or Jewish kabbalah, we have a clearly defined start and end, a Source and a Destination, and either of them will be Kether or Malkuth depending on whether you’re going up or down the Tree.  However, while the Tree is like an elaborate map, the Tetractys presents us with something different, like a blueprint.  Instead of showing how things come to be in a linear fashion, the Tetractys shows the presence and building blocks of life present in all things; the Tetractys shows how things come to be in a nonlinear fashion.  There is no single end goal with the Tetractys; the Monad descends into the Tetrad, not any one of the four elements alone.  All the parts of the Tetractys must be constantly and repeatedly traversed to become complete both of ourselves and of the cosmos, encompassing all aspects of the act, process, and result of Creation.

As for passing through the sphaira of Mercury, let’s talk about what we’re doing on the paths first.  We start with what looks like the Mitsubishi logo around the Tetractys: three rhombuses each with one acute corner at the Mercury sphaira and the other acute corner at one of the distant corners of the Tetractys.  I’ll call each of these three sets of four sphairai a system, and each system focuses on a particular theme:

  • The Hot System involves the active principles of Air, Fire, and Sulfur.  Processes of power, actively causing change.
  • The Cold System involves the passive principles of Salt, Earth, and Water.  Processes of reception, passively receiving change
  • The Cosmic System involves the encompassing principles of Light, the Monad, and Darkness.  Processes of cosmic stasis and unity.

In each case, we both start and end at Mercury, both astrologically and alchemically, being the center and present in nearly all things except the purest and most extreme of all elements: Earth, Fire, and the Source itself.  Everything else is connected with Mercury, so it makes sense that it’s the only one that can reasonably allow us to translate between the three systems. Yes, we can go from Water to Air (traversing the Cold and Hot Systems directly), Sulfur to Light (Hot and Cosmic), or Salt to Darkness (Cold and Whole), but a better balance can be preserved and future progress can be assured by always returning to Mercury.  If we spend some time in the Hot System, we should pass from Sulfur through Mercury to Salt, because Mercury is what naturally balances the two forces.  At the end of the Cold System, we pass from Water/Venus to Light/Stars; though it’s not immediately apparent how Mercury balances these two, consider the myth of Aphrodite being born from Ocean (Water) from the remains of Ouranos (Sky); the ability to create physically comes from supercelestial impetus and the latter is accomplished by the former, but also consider the endless horizon is the meeting point of the two realms.  At the end of the Cosmic System, we proceed from Darkness to Air; again, an awkward comparison to make, but recall that in the Poemander myth of creation, air is what separated the heavens from the mixed mass that would eventually become the Earth, and the ability to begin the process of rising and falling through the spheres is accomplished by means of air as an intermediary.  Mercury is a symbol of strong change, but not in a way that changes something into its direct opposite; rather, Mercury changes something into its complement, something that completes and links the two systems together.

The use of systems here isn’t just to provide a way to go through all the sphairai of the Tetractys in one go.  Rather, within each system are four sphairai and four paths, forming a kind of mini-tetractys within each system in a mini-cycle.  While one can traverse each system once to complete the whole Tetractys, I see it being worthwhile to cycle through each system several times to really grok and complete the work that needs to be done in each.  If we consider the three phases of alchemy (nigredo, albedo, rubdeo), then each system can be viewed as one of these stages, and it may take time for the Work from each phase to settle in.  Going through each stage of the work thoroughly requires several iterations; for instance, cycling through the Hot system four times would yield a pass each to focus on the ideas of Hot, Hot-Air, Hot-Fire, and Hot-Sulfur.  By cycling not only through the Tetractys as a whole but within each system on the Tetractys, we can begin to fully understand each force in its entirety and on its own terms.

All this leads to the cycle of paths that this “Mitsubishi” arrangement forms.  We start with Mercury then descend into the Hot System by progressing to Air, drying ourselves into Fire, and rarefying ourselves into Sulfur.  From there, we return to Mercury, cooling down and becoming pure Salt, degrading into Earth, then quickening into Water.  After that, we return to Mercury, ascend into the Light, achieve union or the image of the Source, then descend back down to Darkness.  From there, we repeat the process over again, returning to Mercury and heating up again into Air, cycling through the Tetractys infinitely and repeatedly, each time becoming more powerful with each sphaira and each time achieving more and more of the henosis that is the Great Work.  So, a full set of iterations to proceed throughout the whole Tetractys in this manner would involve a total of four stages that I tentatively call Initiations, progressing through the different systems or within the same system to obtain a deeper understanding of each force.  Keeping the same order within each system, the whole schema looks like this:

  1. Hermetic Initiation
    1. Hot System (Mercury → Air → Fire → Sulfur)
    2. Cold System (Mercury → Salt → Earth → Water)
    3. Cosmic System (Mercury → Light → the Monad → Darkness)
  2. Hot Initiation
    1. Hot System with a focus on Mercury (e.g. a deeper acquaintance of the Hot forces)
    2. Hot System with a focus on Air (e.g. seeing Air and how it relates and acts throughout the Hot forces)
    3. Hot System with a focus on Fire (e.g. same as above but with Fire)
    4. Hot System with a focus on Sulfur (e.g. etc.)
  3. Cold Initiation
    1. Cold System with a focus on Mercury
    2. Cold System with a focus on Salt
    3. Cold System with a focus on Earth
    4. Cold System with a focus on Water
  4. Cosmic Initiation
    1. Cosmic System with a focus on Mercury
    2. Cosmic System with a focus on Light
    3. Cosmic System with a focus on the Monad
    4. Cosmic System with a focus on Darkness

And, after this, we’d repeat the whole thing over again as many times as desired or as necessary until we achieve the Great Work.  Besides, by completely cycling through the whole Tetractys (at least in the Hermetic Initiation) starting and ending with Mercury, we hit Mercury four times, and four is a number mythologically sacred to Hermes.  And, if we consider all the Initiation passes together, we pass through the entire Tetractys a total of five times.

So, in this manner, we have a set of twelve paths traversing three systems within the Tetractys.  Each system is composed of four sphairai, all starting with and ending with Mercury; Mercury is then a liminal point between the three “worlds”, both starting and ending each set of paths within an system.  We constantly proceed from and return to Mercury as a central hub or nexus.  However, with our twelve Mitsubishi paths, we leave another set of twelve paths unused.  What are these paths?

alchemical_planetary_tetractys_paths_circuit2

These twelve paths never touch central Mercury or the extreme Earth, Fire, or Monad sphairai at all, but instead connect the six “middling” sphairai of Darkness, Salt, Water, Air, Sulfur, and Light.  Two cycles are presented here, shown by the hexagram paths (inner cycle) and hexagon paths (outer cycle).  Instead of having systems, we have one group of six sphairai that are each connected to everything but their complement (e.g. Salt and Sulfur, Water and Light) and four leftovers that are unconnected which would link everything else together.  Rather than getting us to henosis and the Monad, or alternatively to a fundamental understanding of how our cosmos works through Earth and Fire, these cycles keep us trapped, never able to each any extreme and never having the ability to reasonably transform ourselves into anything we need to progress.

Between the Mitsubishi paths and hexagram/hexagon paths, I think we have a distinction of how things progress within the cosmos as shown by the Tetractys.  The hexagon and hexagram paths indicate a cycle of reincarnation, always stuck hovering around and just under the things that truly break them out but never quite within reach; the one thing that can do that is Mercury, which they constantly rely on but never call upon. We’ll call these set of paths the Agnosis Schema, as opposed to the Mitsubishi paths which I’ll call the Gnosis Schema.  The Gnosis Schema connects all the sphairai together and in a way that encourages, well, enlightenment in almost a Buddhist sense of extinguishing the process of forced rebirth and reincarnation, freeing ourselves from the trap of maya or ignorance that keeps us in the cycle of being reborn without our control.  In other words, the Gnosis Schema allows us to be reborn by choice and free ourselves from this Hermetic samsara, which is a world of difference from the Agnosis Schema; we can deliberately choose to go to places that we’d never end up in involuntarily or by accident.  We continue around the Gnosis Schema as long as we need or desire to until that last iteration where we go to the sphaira of the Monad and stay there, never returning to Darkness to continue the cycle.  (And, of course, metempsychosis or reincarnation was indeed a belief of Pythagoreanism and Neo-Platonism, so I’m in the right here to bring that beast of a topic into this.)

So, going back to the Gnosis Schema of paths, we can use the order of them to figure out a numerical assignment from 1 to 10 of the sphairai on the Tetractys of Life.  Again, if we start with Mercury as the start, we assign it the number 1 and proceed along the Gnosis Schema paths in order, skipping over where Mercury is repeated:

  1. Mercury
  2. Air/Jupiter
  3. Fire/Mars
  4. Sulfur/Sun
  5. Salt/Moon
  6. Earth/Saturn
  7. Water/Venus
  8. Light/Fixed Stars
  9. Monad
  10. Darkness/Earth

This system of numbers is grossly different from that of the qabbalistic scheme of things, and rightly so.  We’re not describing a path of linear descent from the Source to the World, but a means of cyclical progressive process that continually builds one up further and further until they reach the Highest without having to go down lower anymore.  Described numerically, the Tetractys looks like the following:

numerical_tetractys_gnosisBear in mind that, although each of the sphairai are associated with some celestial heaven (from the Prime Mover to the World we live in), these numbers do not describe their level.  The celestial numbers of the heavens stay as they are, such that Saturn is still the third heaven (from the Top), and so forth.  If we were to compare the cosmological number of each of the sphairai (based on their planets) with the Gnosis Schema numbering (based on their alchemical force), we end up with the following table (which is an exercise in polyvalent thinking):

Sphaira Gnosis Schema Cosmological
Alchemical Planetary
Mercury 1 8
Air Jupiter 2 4
Fire Mars 3 5
Sulfur Sun 4 6
Salt Moon 5 9
Earth Saturn 6 3
Water Venus 7
Light Fixed Stars 8 2
The Monad 9 1
Darkness The World 10

Note that two of the sphairai, the Monad and Mercury, are essentially the same when it comes to what their force is: the planetary force of Mercury and the alchemical force of Mercury are so close that they’re conceptually synonymous.  Likewise, the Monad is…well, the Monad.  There’s literally only one Monad in any system of thought here.  However, look at the numbers: we see two of the sphairai, those of Venus/Water and Darkness/World, have the same number in both systems.  While these are the exceptions to the rule, they’re exceptions worth noticing.  That Darkness/World is 10, the final stage in the emanatory process, is unsurprising; it is completion, it is the ending, it is the goal of creation to create the World.  Although it is present in the Dyad in contrast to Light/Fixed Stars and thus “comes first” before anything lower, the entirety of the World can only exist when all the other forces are present to give it life, animacy, and agency.  As for Water/Venus, it’s interesting that it’s kept the number seven between the two, that of essence and quality of life.  It’s low down on the Tetractys as part of the Tetrad, but all the same it’s vital to giving things animacy, as opposed to Darkness/World which is what is given animacy.

Personally, I feel it appropriate to comment on what the Gnosis/Agnosis Schemas mean for the individual letters of the paths themselves.  For instance, note that all the Air paths (letters Υ, Φ, Ψ, Σ, Δ, Μ) are all part of the Agnosis Schema, as well as the other fixed signs (letters Φ, Κ, Ν) as well as the other elemental paths (letters Χ, Ξ, Θ).  The twelve letters that belong to the Gnosis path are Ο, Ζ, Π, Ε, Η, Λ, Τ, Ω, Α, Β, Ρ, and Ι, which are the six non-fixed non-Air signs and the six non-Jupiter planets.  However, all I’ve done so far is figure out which abstract paths to take regardless of their letters; I fully expect my Tetractys of Life to have its letter-path assignments change over time as I fine tune and explore the system deeper.  The system, as of now, is coherent and structured, which I like, but who knows whether it’s actually valid and practical to use.  That’s what further writing and scrying is for, and now that I have an actual path to pathwork, I think that process should begin soon.

Animal Sacrifice: a bloody mess of a topic

Based on the comments from Ancient Cans of Whoop-Ass, I figured I may as well compile some of my own thoughts on the topic of animal sacrifice.  The topic came up because, in the process of bringing up a ritual from the PGM, it was noted that the use of the blood and head of a donkey (an animal sacred to Set-Typhon) or any animal was abhorrent to some people.  I have my own points of view on the matter, as surely we all do, and it’s definitely a touchy or messy subject for a lot of us to think clearly about.  To be blunt, I don’t have an issue with it.  For some people and paths, it’s not only a good thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.  For others, it’s the wrong thing to do and can cause more harm.  Like everything else, there’s no clear-cut answer, and the acceptability of animal sacrifice depends on the context in which it occurs.

First, let’s clear up a few terms:

  • Sacrifice is the ritual offering of something to a god or spirit.  It literally means “to make holy”, and refers to the dedication of some act, object, or intent to a higher purpose.  A material object, a physical action, an emotion, invention, or discovery of thought or resource can all be sacrificed and made holy to a god.
  • Animal sacrifice, then, is the ritual offering of an animal to a god or spirit.  This can take two forms: giving a live animal to a god, such as the Asclepian snakes living in the temples to Asclepius back in the day, or killing an animal to dedicate its life and blood to the god.  For the purposes of this post, I’ll be referring to the latter method of killing an animal.
  • Animal sacrifice is not the same thing as the use of animals, animal parts, or animal life in magical rituals, especially “low magic” that doesn’t involve the gods but relies on the animal’s own occult virtues.  Of course, things always get hairy when discussing the differences between magic and religion, but I hope the difference is clear.

There’s a lot of drama between people who support animal sacrifice and those who don’t, and even those who aren’t against animal sacrifice and don’t properly belong in either group (but for some reason or another often get thrown into one side by the other).  Emotions run high and a lot of assumptions remain hidden, and it’s often these basic philosophical ideas and assumptions that are at the real root of the matter.  Here’s a rough sketch of the Hermetic and Western philosophical background I’m coming from:

  • All things descend from the divine Source.  This means that humans, animals, plants, metals, stones, angels, demons, and everything from the lowest hell to the highest heaven share the same spark of holiness.  This does not, however, mean that all things are on the same level of holiness or that all things share equally in consciousness or power.
  • Animals have spirit and intelligence and consciousness; nobody’s debating that.  What would the point of animal sacrifice be of something without spirit, intelligence, or consciousness?
  • Animals are connected into the cosmos as humans are; we all have our part to play.  Just as animals fight and kill other animals for their survival and betterment, humans fight and kill animals for their survival and betterment.  Let’s assume that we’re not talking about intra-species killing, e.g. wolves against wolves or humans against humans.
  • Even though (individual?) animals have spirit and intelligence and consciousness, they’re on the same level of spirit, intelligence, or consciousness as humans.  In terms of activity, spirituality, and food acquisition, humans are higher on the food chain and have been for most of our evolution.  We don’t interact with them in the same ways as humans, even humans whose languages and cultures are utterly different from our own.  Likewise, some animals treat predators on their level in similar ways or fight them for dominance, and predators treat prey further below them as, well, prey.
  • Humans are higher than animals, and as humans made in the image of God and act as an intermediary between the physical and metaphysical realms, we are entrusted with the care and use of the world and things around us in the cosmos.  If something works for us in a way that brings us what we desire, we’re enabled to go ahead and do it according to our means and power, which we should be increasing anyway.
  • Just as humans are higher than animals, the gods are higher than humans; so, the gods will make use of humans for their power just as humans will animals.  However, because we’re higher than animals and operate in different ways, this means that the gods have the option to make use of us in different ways than animals, and may appreciate the slaughtering of animals and not that of humans, accepting the worship and service of humans instead.

Am I saying that animal sacrifice is kick-ass awesome and everyone should get in on it?  No.  For one, there are other means to achieve the same ends that animal sacrifice obtains; it’s far from the only method of raising energy or empowering devotional or magical acts, though it’s certainly a powerful one.  For two, not all sacrifices have to be made with animal life, and sometimes an offering of plant life or symbols of prosperity will suffice.  Not everyone should kill, or even can; Pythagoreans were prohibited from killing or eating animals, and Buddhist and Jain monks are prevented from killing any living thing, though other devotees may make use of killing in trantric paths.  People involved in African diasporic religions make frequent use of the ritual killing of animals, and those involved with seriously reconstructing any number of ancient pagan paths from the Hellenic to Nordic to Semitic will eventually have to come to terms with the fact that the gods accepted, approved, and desired animal sacrifice.  This has happened across almost every culture, especially Indo-European and Abrahamic ones, for thousands of years, and for thousands of years into prehistory before or as cultures were coming together into civilizations.

Not all gods will want this to happen: some gods have begun to accept other sacrifices despite being accustomed to animal sacrifices over the centuries, while others are too young to ever have developed a taste for it.  However, to assume that all gods in every path and pantheon have “evolved” with humanity (a gross misuse of the term) to live without animal sacrifice is both short-sighted and hubristic.  Evolution does not suggest improvement, but only change and adaptation; the gods, being eternal and (usually) immortal, don’t have to evolve if they don’t want to., and the gods don’t have to change along with humanity if they don’t want to.  If anything, humans are changing faster and more than the gods ever will, and it may very well be that humans are changing in ways disagreeable to the gods rather than the gods ever having done disagreeable things.  Further, if you’re assuming anything on the part of the gods, you may have to answer for it if you happen to assume differently than how they actually think, and historically as well as mythologically this has ended poorly.  Consider Abel and Cain: they each made their offerings to the Lord, one of meat and one of grain, and Abel’s offering of meat was accepted while Cain’s wasn’t.  Cain thought that sucked, and so killed Abel; he assumed that this would be okay, and it wasn’t.  Consider, also, the siblings Antigone and Creon: Antigone wanted to obey the gods’ injunction to bury their deceased brother who had unfortunately committed treason, while king Creon threatened death against anyone who would dare it.  Antigone buried their brother; Creon had her buried alive as punishment.  Since it was the will of the gods that their brother should be buried as due to him, and since Creon hubristically decided otherwise, Creon got smacked and hard by the gods.

As for respecting animals and their spirits, that’s to go without saying.  Being the caretakers of the cosmos, born into it both as natives and visitors from the Source, we can’t just say “take it, rape it, it’s yours”.  That’s ascribing too much to ourselves and is dangerously prideful, and denies the holiness of everything else in the cosmos.  Animals are to be respected, honored, and cherished, but (based on the above cosmological framework), not put on the same level as humans.  I’m not saying you should grab any old cat or dog or raccoon off the roads, break their backs or skin them alive or douse them in lighter fluid, and drop them whole onto an altar; that’s disrespectful and needlessly painful.  When an animal sacrifice is to be done, it should be done to respect the humanity of the officiant, the divinity of the divine, and the holiness of the animal sacrificed/made sacred.  This is how we developed ritual acts of killing to begin with, done in prescribed ways to provide as clean and painless a death to the animal as needed, from which we have laws of kosher and halal butchery (which are known for being among the most sanitary, efficient, and respectful ways to kill animals for food and sacrifice).  Even then, some gods and practices require extreme forms of sacrifice, such as the tearing apart of goats in the Dionysian mysteries or the aspersion of blood in ancient Judaism, but these are also acceptable in their own contexts, because they’re allowed and supported by the gods that ask for them.*

Nothing’s stopping you or anyone else from respecting animals as humanity’s equals, if that’s your philosophy or cosmology, but by doing so in the Western framework you may be elevating animals to a position they may not have earned or lowering humans to a level they may be beyond.  Some (many?) humans are indeed on or below the level of animals, and some animals are indeed on or above the level of humans; these entities are exceptions to the rule, and again have their own context to consider.  Just as one wouldn’t be casting pearls before swine, one may want to think twice before sacrificing a certain animal that’s exhibited far and beyond normal animal qualities.

One more thing: karma.  Though a useful concept in the contexts in which it arose (with different definitions for different dharmic paths), karma doesn’t have a place in Western traditions.  It’s an import, it doesn’t make sense when used by a lot of poorly-understanding laypeople, and it doesn’t quite fit with a lot of other things even when well-understood.  In Western philosophies and paths, we often have the notion of a divine, infinite Source, and when you throw anything infinite into the mix, all notions of balance and zero-sum games get thrown out of the window.  The physical universe and metaphysical cosmos is not limited, in the Western framework in which I operate, and so there is no need for ancient actions to have to have effects except for those allowed by those involved, though it may be difficult to escape them.  When you have infinity on your side, you really can do anything, and it’s hinted at that devas, bodhisattvas, and buddhas in dharmic paths are enabled to act without generating karma.  Even in Vedic Hinduism in which the notion of karma first arose, there were common thoughts of karma being dispensed by the gods themselves which could be placated into dealing less punishment or more blessings.  Hinduism, too, also allows and supports animal sacrifice in some contexts (primarily those worshipping Shakti, the divine feminine), and if they with their notions of karma can get by with it, I don’t see why others can’t.  Saying that animal sacrifice is “karmically bad” or “continuing suffering” is short-sighted; this ignores the past karma of the animal that led it there to be sacrificed, whether its karma warranted a more severe or painful death than the one given to it, whether the combined karma of animal and officiant was overall a good or bad thing, whether the animal sacrifice was an expedient means to solve bigger problems, and so forth.  Again, generalized and myopic use of misunderstood terms won’t help here.

You’ll notice that I keep using the word “context”, and it’s important you recognize what I mean when I use it.  I refer to the culture in which something occurs, the reasons and circumstances for something, and the people and entities involved with it.  Cultural appropriation is the act of taking something from one context and using it in a radically different one, dogmatic purity is the restriction of allowing any externally-derived innovation in a certain context, and so forth.  When I say “context”, I’m really saying “it depends”, because a lot depends on how, when, where, why, for what, and by whom something occurs.  Calling something “barbaric” or “abhorrent” disregards the notion of context, and is a kind of appropriation and judgment that often cannot be reasonably or reliably made from outside the relevant context; it’s a different story if you’re operating within that context.  Blanket statements cannot be made except at the highest, most general level, and at that level you can’t get much more specific than “it is” or “shit happens”; when you get any more specific or specialized than the cosmos taken as a complete whole in which everything occurs as it should, you’re going to run into different paths with different notions of acceptability.  Just as I wouldn’t use Solomonic conjurations to get the Greek gods to do something for me, so too would I not use animal sacrifice for a god that didn’t want it.  Different people have different views of divinity, and have different relationships with their gods than you may have; telling them that their practices are wrong when they’ve got it on good authority (assumingly) that they’re right is, simply, disrespectful and ignorant of their context.

As for my own practice, I do not make use of animal sacrifice, but am generally not against it.  I offer praise, wine, food, candles, incense, and the occasional flowers to the gods and spirits I work with, and while sufficient, I also don’t work with gods or spirits that I know demand animal or blood sacrifices (that I know of).  The god Hermes, with whom I’m starting a much closer relationship than I had expected to, has said that he would appreciate the sacrifice of small birds or larger animals, but understands that I am not in a place or position to do so; this may change when I move out of an apartment into a place with my own land and yard, and when I learn the proper procedures and handling involved.  The use of animal blood, organs, or other body parts are well-attested in Solomonic, ceremonial, and Western magic generally, and are not always some “witch’s code” or blind that swapped out names of herbs or bodily fluids with exotic names of animal parts.  Sometimes substitutions can be made, like this nasty mixture I’m setting for consecrating the Solomonic black-handled knife to stand in for the blood of a black cat; sometimes, the use of animal fluids, parts, or life cannot be substituted without a much greater cost.

I understand that even a position as mild(?) as mine will get some people riled up, angry, vitriolic, and downright spiteful of my very existence.  Some people, like militant vegans or extreme PETA activists, will vociferously argue against the use of any animal life for personal gain in any way; that’s okay, though I find their arguments against killing animals in any case to be more emotionally than logically or philosophically driven, not to mention ideologically oppressive.  Honestly, if a topic like animal sacrifice is all it takes to set someone off and think less of me, I’m sure they’d find more unsavory and disagreeable things to hate me over.  If you’d like to discuss this further, privately or publicly in the comments, feel free to, but keep it respectful, reasonable, and rational.

*  Remind me to work out my own notion of holiness and fix Socrates’ issues with piety later.