Four Coin Divination of Hermes

So, between geomancy, grammatomancy, and astragalomancy, as well as a working knowledge of astrology both horary and otherwise, my divination needs are pretty much set.  I can determine what’s going on with a few throws of bones or letters or geomantic figures, and all these methods have served me well.  The problem is that, often, these oracles give me too much information when I don’t need anything more than a yes or no answer.  Geomancy is definitely geared for that with its inherent binary structure, but drawing up a full geomantic chart can sometimes be a little too much for something that needs a quick answer or confirmation from the spirits.  Although simpler than geomancy, grammatomancy and astragalomancy provide too much to interpret.  For instance, if I want to know whether a bottle of wine is sufficient payment for asking Hermes to help me out with something, getting “The one on the left bodes well for everything” is a little too vague and unclear for me.

Yes/no divination is one of the simplest forms of divination that can be done with tools.  You don’t need much more than a coin to flip, after all, but that seems a little too basic, and I do appreciate a bit of nuance.  I mean, imagine how body language, intonation, and subtle gestures can change a “yes” or “no” from your parents.  I suppose I could use whether the isopsephy of the letter or the sum of the astragaloi is odd or even for yes or no, but that seems like reaching a bit.  That said, I actually do have a divination system perfect for this, that of nkobos, a set of four cowrie shells I use in my ancestor and ATR work.  In it, you take four cowrie shells that have the “lump” shaved or cracked off so that it can fall on one of two sides; you ask your question to the spirits, throw the shells, inspect how many fall with the natural mouth up or down, and get your answer based on that.  This is identical to the use of chamalongos, or coconut shells, as used in Santeria and Palo and several other ATRs.  While I have a set of fed and prepared cowrie shells I use when working with my ancestors and spirits in those traditions, it always seemed weird to me to use them with other spirits, even though they provided a very useful tool in answering yes/no divination questions.  After all, cowries weren’t especially used in Greece or Europe generally, nor were coconut shells.  Add to it, I always kept getting hints that the methods of reading shells with ATR spirits was a little different from the theoi and other spirits I work with, like a different manner of interpretation was needed.

Thus, I decided to give up my cowrie shells and use them only with ATR spirits and ancestors, and make a new form of divination with the gods and spirits I normally work with generally and Hermes specifically.  I took the nkobo style of divination, modified it according to the hints I’ve been getting, and ended up with a four-coin divination method in honor of Hermes.  With no further ado, I present to you Οι Χρησμοι των Τεσσερων Νουμισματων, the Oracles of the Four Coins!  Though it is named after him, I’m making a deal with Hermes so that I can use this divination system not just with him but with any spirit with Hermes as ερμηνευτης and αγγελος, interpreter and messenger, between me and the other spirits I work with.

For this method of divination, you will need four coins, small enough so that they can all easily be held in the hand.  Four pennies are perfect for this, for those who live in the US.  Since I work near the Postal Museum in Washington, DC, the museum has one of those penny stretcher-impresser machines with four designs (Ben Franklin, Inverted Jenny, Inverted Train, and Pneumatic Tube stamp designs), so I went there during a recent monthly feast day for Hermes and got them, etched a Mercury symbol on the back, then consecrated them later that night.  You might also get four small gambling tokens, four Mercury dimes, four foreign coins, four ancient Greek coins, four flat stones with each side colored white or black, or other similar objects.  So long as you can establish which side is heads and which is tails, you’ll be set.

The process of divination is simple: ask your question, shake the coins up, cast them down onto a surface, and inspect how many are heads and how many are tails.  The order doesn’t matter; just count how many fall on which side.  In this manner, there are five possible results, and if we assume an ideal coin, they each have a 20% chance of falling (but, of course, the result is decided by the gods).  The meanings of each throw are generally as follows:

  1. All heads (Αγαθα, Blessing): Absolute yes.  The blessing of the gods.  Ease, swiftness, and success.  The gods are pleased with you and you have their aid.  You are acting on the blessed path in line with the will of the gods.  A yes from the heart.  The most positive of results.
  2. Three heads, one tails (Αναβασις, Ascent): Tentative yes.  Rephrase the question to be more specific.  The gods have already spoken.  Don’t ask what you already know.  Propitiating the gods may be helpful.  You may be missing something.  You may need further action to ensure success.
  3. Two heads, two tails (Τετροδος, Four-Way Crossroads): Simple yes but becoming “meh”.  All ways open.  Anything is possible.  You can do it if you so choose, or not if you don’t want to.  It doesn’t matter.  Freedom in any and all directions.  Keep asking more questions.  The gods don’t particularly care whichever way you choose.
  4. One heads, three tails (Καταβασις, Descent): No, perhaps reluctantly.  The situation is not going in that direction.  You’re barking up the wrong tree.  Nothing’s working against you, but it’s just not going to happen.  The gods have judged the matter against you.
  5. All tails (Ατηρια, Evil): Absolute no, a spiteful or angry no.  Don’t ask and stop asking.  Major problems impeding you from your situation.  The gods are angry at you.  You may be cursed, crossed, or stuck in too much miasma.  You need purification, fasting, and propitiation.  You plan or ask about unlawful and amoral things.  Don’t get yourself involved.  The most negative of results.

In a way, this is a lot similar to how I had originally planned the use of my two ten-sided dice divination.  Instead of it being heads or tails on four coins, I rolled 2d10 using a standard tabletop gaming set of dice.  In that system, 99-80 would be associated with Agatha, 79 through 60 with Anabasis, 59 through 40 with Tetrodos, 39 through 20 with Katabasis, and 19 through 00 with Atēria.  That, too, was also based on shell divination, but it was mostly a means by which I could use all seven of my RPG dice in addition to the grammatomancy d12 and geomancy d4, d8, d20, and d6.  Ah well, live and learn.

In addition to getting quick yes/no answers from Hermes on a variety of topics, one of the reasons why I developed this system of divination is so that I can interact with all of the Greek gods and goddesses and heroes and demigods in order to ascertain their wishes and will.  Yes, the coin divination method belongs to Hermes proper, but remember that Hermes is the messenger god who goes between gods and men and is a friend to them both.  The coins can be thrown to ask any spirit and any god what their will is through the intercession and messages of Hermes, who communicates between us and them.  I find this a very valuable thing in my work, although I may resort to other forms of divination such as reading omens or, should I ever develop a proper hand at animal sacrifice, haruspicy.

Theoretically, this is similar to making a geomancy figure: all we need is a way to get a binary result four times, then compare how many of each binary result we get.  You could draw four lines of random dots each (odd or even), pluck up four potatoes and count how many eyes are on each (odd or even), roll a die four times (odd or even), pull four playing cards (red or black), or the like.  That said, I prefer using coins for Hermes since, after all, he is a god of commerce and coins are one of his symbols.  Plus, keeping four coins in your pocket is rather convenient and easily disguised.

Since this is a coin-based divination method, a variant of sortilege, I suppose the proper term for it would be numismatomancy, literally “divination by coins”.  And, since we’re able to make a well-formed word ending in “-mancy”, why not make some ritual numismatomancy?  Honestly, I could write up new rituals for all this, but after describing ritual astragalomancy and the consecration rituals and how to ask a query of the gods, you may as well just review that and adapt it accordingly for the coins from the knucklebones.  Similar rules for how the coins bounce and fall and their relative positions of how they fall can be devised, as well, to get even more nuance out of a single throw of the coins.

As I mentioned, the order the coins are thrown in don’t matter, just how many fall heads or tails.  However, if you draw a distinction between the coins or note the order in which they fall, you could also do geomancy using these.  If you have coins A, B, C, and D, then coin A would relate to the Fire line, coin B to the Air line, coin C to the Water line, and coin D to the Earth line; a throw of heads would mean that line is active, and a throw of tails means that line is passive.  However, the idea came to me that, well, if there are 16 possible combinations of these throws, and if the divination system is assigned to Hermes, then why not take a clue from astragalomancy and assign each combination to a different aspect of Hermes?  It’s not unreasonable to do this; astragalomancy has certain throws relate to Hermes Tetragonos (Hermes Four-Sided, i.e. Herm), Hermes Diaktoros (Hermes the Leader), Hermes Paignios (Hermes the Playful), and Hermes Kerdemporos (Hermes who Brings Gain in Trade).  Besides, I’ve seen Sannion do something similar with his Net of Orpheus, where he links different throws of coins to the different members of the pantheon of the Thiasos of the Starry Bull (though he also has his own Coins of Hermes divination method that I know nothing about, the jerk!).  I may approach Hermes and see how he feels about such a method, and if he likes the idea, which epithets he’d like to ascribe to which throw.  For instance, the throw of tails-heads-tails-heads, which in geomancy would be given to the figure Acquisitio, could be given to Hermes Kerdemporos based on the similarity between the geomantic figure and the epithet of Hermes.  It’s an idea for me to explore.

Speaking of Sannion’s divination system, he mentions the following when describing his Net of Orpheus, which he made as an Orphic variant of the Chain of Saint Michael, a Sicilian/Italian derivative form of geomancy using a series of four Saint Michael medallions in a chain, not unlike the opele chain of a babalawo (diviner priest) of Ifá.  Sannion says:

That said, I do feel a little culturally appropriative since it comes from a living and lineaged tradition (Italian folk Catholicism) which I am not a part of (despite my heredity: my mom was as thoroughly Americanized as they come) but on the other hand I’m not claiming any such thing or the cachet associated with doing so – I’m being perfectly upfront that I found this system and modified it for my own uses, so I kind of hope that cancels that out. (On the other hand Orpheus had a reputation for traveling around and stealing people’s religious tech, as does Melampos the other founder of Bacchic Orphism, so I guess that just means I’m keeping the tradition alive!) Plus, while I think it entirely within the realm of possibility that this technology developed independently in the Mezzogiorno and nevertheless respect the lineage of those who are working with it now – there are some striking similarities between it and Ifá and Mẹrindínlógún, to the point that I’m a little suspicious of its antiquity.

To be honest, I don’t think it’s that big a deal.  Yes, I am deriving a similar form of divination as he was from a similar-ish source.  That said, the Sicilian Chain of Saint Michael is a variant of geomancy, as I see it, just with the association of particular saints to the figures (which is a helpful correspondence for Catholic or conjure-minded geomancers to know).  Every form of geomancy as well as Ifá, Mẹrindínlógún, Nkobo, and Chamalongos all come from Africa and all share a binary system of attaining occult knowledge.  Then again, the system itself is so simple and direct that it’s not inconceivable that other cultures in other eras and areas could have devised similar systems on their own, like the Chinese system of jiaobei.  I see no harm in appropriating and modifying a system to “make” a new one of my own, especially if it can help ascertain the will of the gods better and more clearly.  If I can’t tell whether Hermes wants one bottle of wine or two, or whether he wants me to drop off a particular offering at a crossroads or just throw it in the trash, nobody is going to be particularly happy with the results.

Since getting four pennies is easy for me to obtain, as is getting those stretched pennies from the Postal Museum (which is as much a temple to Hermes Angelos as I’ll ever seen one), I’m considering getting a bunch of these together, consecrating them, and selling them on my Etsy, or just taking custom commissions for them.  What do you think?  Would you be interested in such a set?  Lemme know in the comments if you do, and if the response is strong enough, I might make a permanent listing on my Etsy page for consecrated coins for the purpose.

Pythagorean Correspondences to the Tetractys

As many of my readers know, as well as those in Western occulture generally, correspondences are a big thing for us.  Based on our shared philosophical and educational lineages, we like to say that “A is like B”; we understand that the light of the Sun is much like the heat of fire, which itself is like the luster of gold based on certain shared properties.  In recognizing these shared properties, we immediately come to a system of symbols, where one thing can stand in for another, as well as to a system of harmonic relationships, where two things can be used compatibly with each other because they share the same ideas.  On a large scale, we call this system of symbolism one of correspondence, where something corresponds to something else.  This is often used in emanationist frameworks, where these correspondences cross levels of manifestation.  For instance, the Sun being an astrological planet is on a higher level than the element of Fire, which is itself on a higher element than actual fire or gold.  However, we can use any of these things to represent or produce a harmony with the other since they’re all corresponded to each other.

Probably one of the most valuable resources for this comes from the Second Book of Occult Philosophy by Cornelius Agrippa, where Agrippa presents a set of correspondences that link various names of God, planets, choirs of angels, ranks of the blessed, elements, prophets, and the like to each other based on certain shared properties.  Crucially, however, Agrippa organizes this by number.  Thus, he has a Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7) to correspond things that are easily divisible into one of four groups, a Scale of Seven (chapter 10) for things grouped into sevens, a Scale of Ten (chapter 13), and so forth.  Each of these are immensely useful for magicians, since they provide us with symbols and ritual ideas at a glance.  Aleister Crowley’s famous Liber 777 and, more recently, Stephen Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Tables offer these but on a much grander scale, corresponding far more things together on a qabbalistic basis than Agrippa does in his Scale of Ten.

Of course, finding systems of correspondence is an old thing, and even back in classical and antique times do we see the foundations of these systems of correspondence set up and used.  And, well, you can see where I’m taking this, aren’t you?  The Tetractys, that venerable Pythagorean symbol, was seen to contain within itself the foundations of all life and existence in every conceivable form, and not just in a strictly emanationist way.  Each rank of the tetractys, based on whether it related to the Monad, Dyad, Triad, or Tetrad, was associated to something else that formed part of the cosmos.

One good source for this comes from Iamblichus’ Life of Pythagoras, where he gives a good overview of the life of Pythagoras (duh) as well as a number of his teachings (though nowhere in depth as I’d like).  The Taylor translation linked above, however, also contains an extensive collection of other Pythagoreans who followed Pythagoras and wrote down what the Teacher (ostensibly) said, as well as a set of notes where Taylor inspects the things Iamblichus says and expands on them where the original author was annoyingly terse to our modern readers.  Part of this expansion is where Taylor talks about how the Tetractys wasn’t just a number but a graphical mnemonic, if you will, of various things

Monad Dyad Triad Tetrad
Number 1 2 3 4
Doubling Progression 1 2 4 8
Tripling Progression 1 3 9 27
Even Geometry Point Line Polygon Solid
Odd Geometry Point Open curve Closed curve (circle) Cylinder
Element Fire Air Water Earth
Platonic Solid Tetrahedron Octahedron Icosahedron Cube
Growth of Vegetation Seed Length Breadth Depth
Communities Individual Family Town State
Power of Judgment Intellect Science Opinion Sense
Parts of an Animal Rational Irascible Epithymetic Body
Seasons Spring Summer Autumn Winter
Ages of Man Infancy Youth Adulthood Old Age

Well, would you look at that, it’s a table of correspondence along the same path as Agrippa’s Scale of Four.  It’s not quite the same (Agrippa gives Summer, Spring, Winter, and Autumn instead of Pythagoras’ Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and I’m personally in favor of using Agrippa’s associations or a variation thereof, especially considering how Athenians started their year at the summer solstice), and there are a few hard-to-understand terms and progressions, but for the most part it’s definitely something useful in seeing how emanation works in everything.

I mean, sure, the can of Monster energy drink next to me is something that emanated from the Source just as I did, but it has a different body and different contents than I do.  Consider the body of the can, the metallic mostly-cylindrical shape the drink comes in.  The can wasn’t born, so it can’t age in the way a human ages, but consider how soft drink cans are made for a bit.  The cylindrical can was stretched out from a circular cut from a flat sheet of aluminum; from this, we got the tetrad-corresponded cylinder from the triad-corresponded circle.  Of course, this circle itself has depth, since it’s a cutout from an aluminum sheet which is a body; all bodies have three dimensions (length, breadth, and depth), without any one of which it’d only be a two-dimensional shape.  So, whence the circle itself?  The circle itself is a form, not a body, an idea that can interact with others.  Whence the form of a circle?  The form of a circle is made from a curved line traveling around a point.  After all, all circles only need two points for a definition: a center and a boundary.  The curved line demonstrates motion and direction, both of which are relative concepts (in order to move, you need something to move from both in terms of location, speed, orientation, etc.).  The curved line, then, comes from the single point, the Monad of all shapes and forms and bodies.

So why is the tetradic form of a circle a cylinder and not a sphere?  After all, isn’t the sphere the thing most like a circle in the third dimension?  Sorta, yeah, but a sphere is (according to Pythagoras and other Pythagoreans) a perfect body, and there is nothing we can make in the cosmos that is perfect due to the constant actions of Difference, Existence, and Sameness as well as the upheaval and drama in the four elements.  Rather, the tetradic form of a circle is a circle with depth, the most straightforward of which is a stack of circles, forming a cylinder.  It makes sense, though a little counterintuitive.

Between Agrippa and Taylor’s exposition of the correspondences of fourfold things to the Tetractys, a lot of intellectual work has already been cut out for us in studying how the Tetractys can relate to individual things.  Then again, that’s just it; this kind of analysis is good for understanding individual things, and it’s the relationships of those things that are just as important, if not moreso.  In fact, one of the more famous divisions of things is the Quadrivium, literally “four ways”: four types of mathematics used throughout the classical, medieval, and Renaissance worlds.  In this, arithmetic is an understanding of bare number (Monad), followed by music (in the broad sense) as an understanding of relationship and modulation (Dyad), followed by geometry as an understanding of static form (Triad), followed by astronomy which is an understanding of moving bodies (Tetrad).  Just as one can’t study astronomy without a knowledge of geometry, and geometry of music (for the study of proportions and ratios is a type of music in the classical, ideal sense!), and music of arithmetic, the Tetractys itself indicates that the relationships between things are where the real action lies in the cosmos.

After all, wasn’t that the whole point of my developing mathesis, anyway?  To discover relationships more than units?  To understand the changes between the different methods of manifestation rather than the methods themselves?  Something is still missing, and that’s where mathesis becomes mathematic, in our modern sense of numbers and relationships.  After all, if we’re still trying to analyze stuff as individual units, then we’re dealing with things as individual monads.  A Dyad is more than just two monads put next to each other; it is a relationship between the two that makes two monads into a Dyad.  That relationship is often called “music” in Pythagorean literature, but it’s not necessarily the music of instruments or sounds.  Music, in this case, is the means of progression, movement, and patterns.  It is not enough to study sheer quantity in the arithmetic sense, and it is yet too much to study harmony in the geometric sense.  Another type of analysis-and-synthesis is needed for the Dyad.