On the Megaloschema

Today, as many of my readers in the West are probably aware, is Good Friday as reckoned by Western Christianity as the annual holiday that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the fifth day of Holy Week and the first of the Paschal Triduum leading up to Easter Sunday, which properly celebrates the resurrection of Christ, the most important holy day in the Christian calendar. I don’t need to get into the specifics of this holiday and celebration, given its huge importance in the rites of Christianity specifically and Christian-influenced Western culture generally, nor do I really celebrate this holiday. After all, I’m not baptized as a Christian, nor was I raised as one, nor do I profess it myself as my religion. Indeed, although Christianity has a huge influence on my own magical practices, especially where saints and angels are concerned, my recent spiritual practices are taking me in my own Hermetic deist way apart from the usual stuff of Christianity. Still, that’s not to say that I’m entirely abandoning the Christian influences, at least where they’re appropriate. And today, on the commemoration of the Passion of Christ, I’d like to talk a bit about one of my favorite pieces of Christian graphical design: the Megaloschema, the Great Schema.

Properly speaking, this design is one found in Eastern Christianity, especially Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox practices, and generally reserved for use as a special vestment given to monks who have attained a high degree of spiritual accomplishment and retraction from the world, for whom the title “Megaloschemos” is given. It’s a profound mark of spirituality, and comes at no small cost or effort to those who have earned the rite, with some sects only giving it to monks and nuns on their deathbed. Plus, let’s be honest: those who wear it look like a wizard’s sartorial wet dream.

It’s also densely packed with symbolism, all tied to the Passion of Jesus Christ, the climax of the trials and tribulations that Christ faced at the end of his earthly life that led up to the Resurrection. Although the standard emblem of Christianity is the simple Cross (more properly, a crucifix, which is a cross plus the body of Christ), which acts as a reminder of the sacrifice of the Son of God for the sake of the salvation of the world, the Megaloschema is the Cross plus quite a bit more.

My good friend and colleague Michael Lux of Necromantic Matters tipped me off to the design a few years back, and I simply fell in love with it: the dense layers of symbolism, the almost cosmological patterning of the elements arranged on it, and the use of Greek acronyms and initialisms to add even more meaning to it immediately appealed to me, and so I appended it to my then-primary shrine, dedicated to my worship of God and the veneration of the seven archangels. It fit nicely, at least, nestled under some of the chaplets I made for them to give a bit of balance.

As my practices have shifted more and more away from Christianity, however, I found that I was using this particular shrine less and less, and when I started to reorganize and clean up my temple space, shrines, and altars after my Year in White in 2017 and again more recently at the end of 2018 and the start of this year, I realized that, even though I don’t have as much personal adoration of the Cross anymore, I still adore the use of the Megaloschema. I kept that little, dinky cutout where it was. By necessity, it was dinky; I couldn’t find a good high-resolution image of it anywhere except for other variants of the pattern that didn’t have as much detail or as many elements on it, so I kept it at the small size that it was.

Well, when I redid my temple space, I moved around a few shrines and cleaned up some other things. One of the things I moved around was my shrine to the Hieromartyr of Antioch, Saint Cyprian of Antioch with Saint Justina and Saint Theocistus. Originally, I had drawn a somewhat elaborate pattern in chalk on the wall above and behind the shrine, consisting of a Cross, a skull-and-bones, a cauldron, a crozier, and other images relevant to the work I was doing at the time with St. Cyprian. I don’t have a good picture of the specific design I drew, but you can see parts of it in this one picture I took of the shrine during the Days of the Cyprians from 2018:

When I cleaned my temple space up, I decided to wipe off the chalk drawing from the wall (it was getting faded anyway) and rotated the shrine around so that it faced a new direction. The shrine looked fresher and cleaner, but I still wanted something along the lines of the chalk pattern I had set up, now that the space was a bit clearer. At that moment, I realized that the Megaloschema would have been perfect for the Cyprian shrine; after all, still being a publicly-venerated saint in Eastern Christianity and definitely fulfilling the qualities that a monastic would have that would permit them the use of the Megaloschema, it seemed appropriate enough, especially given how symbolically rich—and, frankly, how just simply magical—the design is. Yet, as before, I couldn’t find a design that was clear enough or high-resolution enough for the shrine.

So I made one.

This is pretty packed with symbolism, so let’s break it down into its individual components:

  • The True Cross, the instrument of the execution of Christ upon which Christ was killed by the world and, in so doing, conquered the death of the world
  • The tilted beam on the Cross, tilted up to the right of Christ signifying the ascension of the thief on his right to Heaven
  • The Title of the Cross placed on top, put up to mock Christ
  • The crown of thorns used to crown Christ, encircling the four nails used to pierce the body of Christ
  • A darkened sun, indicating the eclipse that occurred at the moment of the death of Christ
  • A moon with three stars, indicating the three days Christ died, descended into Hell, and returned at his Resurrection
  • The Holy Lance, the spear of Longinus that pierced the side of Christ
  • The Holy Sponge on a reed of hyssop, used to give Christ vinegar to drink (most likely not vinegar-vinegar but posca, a diluted vinegar-wine drink consumed regularly by soldiers, lower-classes, and the poor)
  • The rooster, facing away from the Cross, being the cock that crowed three times for the denials of Peter
  • The column, to which Christ was fastened and flailed 39 times
  • The ladder used by Joseph of Arimathea, the man who assumed responsibility for burying Christ, to bring the body of Christ down from the Cross
  • The pitcher used to wash the body of Christ, and also that which he used to wash the feet of his disciples
  • The Holy Chalice, or the Holy Grail, used by Christ at the Last Supper
  • The hammer used to fix the nails into the body of Christ
  • The pincers used to remove the nails from the body of Christ
  • The flail used on the body of Christ
  • The skull and bones, being those of Adam, the First Man, buried at Golgotha where Christ was crucified

There are other items that could be included, based on the traditional items associated with the Passion of Christ collectively known as the Arma Christi, but I found the above to be enough and all fairly traditional based on the versions of the Megaloschema I could find.

And, of course, the Greek letters (note the use of the lunate sigma, Ϲ, in the image above, instead of the usual sigma, Σ, in the descriptions below):

  • ΘΕΟΣ (Θεός) — Literally just the word God
  • ΟΒΤΔ (Ο Βασιλεύς της Δόξης) — The King of Glory
  • ΙΣ ΧΣ ΝΙΚΑ (Ιησούς Χριστός Νικά) — Jesus Christ conquers
  • ΤΤΔΦ (Τετιμημένον Τρόπαιον Δαιμόνων Φρίκη) — Honored trophy, dread of demons
  • ΡΡΔΡ (Ρητορικοτέρα Ρητόρων Δακρύων Ροή) — A flow of tears more eloquent than orators
  • ΧΧΧΧ (Χριστός Χριστιανοίς Χαρίζει Χάριν) — Christ bestows grace upon Christians
  • ΞΓΘΗ (Ξύλου Γεύσις Θάνατον Ηγαγεν) — The tasting of the Tree brought Death
  • ΣΞΖΕ (Σταυρού Ξύλοω Ζωήν Εύρομεν) — Through the Tree of Life have we found Life
  • ΕΕΕΕ (Ελένης Εύρημα Εύρηκεν Εδέμ) — The discovery of Helen has uncovered Eden
  • ΦΧΦΠ (Φως Χριστού Φαίνοι Πάσι) — The Light of Christ shines upon all
  • ΘΘΘΘ (Θεού Θέα Θείον Θαύμα) — The vision of God, a divine wonder
  • ΤΣΔΦ (Τύπον Σταυρού Δαίμονεσ Φρίττοσιν) — Demons dread the sign of the Cross
  • ΑΔΑΜ (Αδάμ) — Literally just the name Adam
  • ΤΚΠΓ (Τόποσ Κρανίου Παράδεισος Γέγονε) — The place of the Skull has become Paradise
  • ΞΖ (Ξύλον Ζωής) — The Tree of Life
  • ΠΑΓΗΔΤΠ — The first letter of the seven sayings of Jesus Christ on the Cross:
    • Πάτερ, ἄφες αὐτοῖς, οὐ γὰρ οἴδασιν τί ποιοῦσιν. — “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
    • Ἀμήν σοι λέγω σήμερον μετ’ ἐμοῦ ἔσῃ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ. — “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
    • Γύναι, ἴδε ὁ υἱός σου· Ἴδε ἡ μήτηρ σου. — “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” (John 19:26-27)
    • Ἠλὶ ἠλὶ λεμὰ σαβαχθάνι;— “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)
    • Διψῶ. — “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
    • Τετέλεσται. — “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
    • Πάτερ, εἰς χεῖράς σου παρατίθεμαι τὸ πνεῦμά μου. — “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Despite the beauty and dense symbolism of this severe symbol of the Passion, the Megaloschema is really only limited to Eastern Christian practices; it’s not really found in Western Christianity. That is, except for one surprising icon: the Icon of the Seven African Powers, more commonly known as Las Siete Potencias Africanas, a fun amalgamation of Christian Passion- and saint-related imagery mixed in with African orisha syncretism:

Around the edge of the icon are seven different saint images for the seven most popular orisha from Yòrubá and Lukumí orisha religion. Starting at the lower right corner and going clockwise from there, they are:

Interestingly, these seven saint images (given in oval shapes, much like Roman Catholic saint medallions) are bound together by a chain with seven tools hanging from the bottom of them: a machete, hammer, spear, hoe, pickaxe, rake, and shovel. The chain and all these tools are associated with Ogun, the Blacksmith Warrior, the God of Iron and God in Iron, whose domain includes all metal and all implements of metal. (He’s also my own tutelary orisha to whom I’m primarily ordained.) Ogun plays a crucial role in orisha religion, too, and the subtle opposition between Shango (as Saint Barbara) at the top and the tools of Ogun at the bottom is a fun nod to their intense relationship.

In the center of all the saints and the chain with tools is the image of Jesus Christ on the Cross with a ladder, a spear, a sponge on a rod, a sword, a pitcher, dice, a skull, a lantern, a column, a flail, a rooster, a darkened Sun, and other implements of the Arma Christi. Although Jesus Christ is given the name Olofi (a term used in Lukumí for the cosmocrator and creator orisha, i.e. God), we have fundamentally the same exact setup and iconography as the Megaloschema of Eastern Christianity in this icon of heavily-syncretized Western Christianity. It’s a delightful mashup of names and symbols that appeals to me, even if I don’t much care for the art style that’s commonly used in Western Christian iconography. Yet, it’s also incredibly confusing and amazing how the Megaloschema got blended in with African diasporic syncretized Christianity in the New World; since I don’t actively work with the specific folk traditions that produced this image, I’m honestly not sure how this particular icon of the Seven African Powers came about. It might be something fun to research one day, especially since I’m already in orisha religion as it is.

These are just some of my thoughts on this Good Friday; I had the idea to write a post about the Megaloschema for some time now, but it didn’t seem to come together until this morning, fittingly enough. For all of my Christian readers, rejoice, for soon your Lord will be risen! For all my other readers, I hope you have a wonderful start to your weekend.

Also, PSA: don’t forget that today is the Feast of Saint Expedite! Go honor our good friend who loves to help us quickly, quickly, immediately, immediately, crushing the demon that cries “tomorrow, tomorrow!” and holding the divine power of Today, today! Get him a poundcake, some wine, some cigarettes, some dice, and some flowers to honor this good saint who wards off procrastination and who helps speed us on our way speedily.

Also, another PSA: today, April 19 2019, the weather for the United States has quite a bit of rain headed our way on the East Coast as well as in the Pacific Northwest. This is an excellent day to put out your bins, basins, bowls, buckets, and all other rainwater collection instruments you might have, since today is not only Good Friday and the Feast of Saint Expedite, but also a full moon (exact at 7:12 am Eastern US time this morning); such a confluence of dates is pretty rare, so take advantage of it all! Beyond just simply being rainwater, with all its normal spiritual uses, today’s rainwater would have exceedingly strong spiritual powers, potencies, and uses for quite a number of ends. Be safe when you’re traveling and commuting today, and collect that rainwater!

The Twenty-Eight Faces of Mēnē

The devil of every author hit me the other day when I released my ebook on the Grammatēmerologion, the lunisolar calendar system I developed for associating the days of the lunar months to the letters of the Greek alphabet for my Mathesis work.  Every author can sympathize: within hours of my having made the damn thing public, I found something that would have been an excellent addition to incorporate into the text.  Damn shame, that.  Ah well, live and learn; besides, after actually thinking about it, I couldn’t find a way to incorporate that information neatly into the text anyway.  I’ll write about it here instead, for those who are interested.

To give some backstory, I’d like everyone to know that I first came across grammatomancy—the Greek alphabet oracle that assigns each of the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet to an oracular statement of advice or wisdom—from the Biblioteca Arcana, a treasure trove of pagan, occult, and theurgic resources in a Hellenic current as maintained by Apollonius Sophistes, better known as John Opsopaus.  I took the information from his site, reworked it a bit, expanded on it, and that’s how I got to my current form of grammatomancy, which kickstarted my whole Mathesis thing.  Well, Opsopaus put out a book last year, The Oracles of Apollo: Practical Ancient Greek Divination for Today, which I encourage many of my readers interested in Hellenic and Greek system of occult works to check out.  In that book, he lists a set of image-symbols to link to each of the Greek letters, as well as an ancient source for where he got them, such that the image of the ox is given to Alpha, the vulture to Bēta, and so forth.  Excitedly, I dashed off to check out the source, which of course is the Greek Magical Papyri.  What I found immediately brought to mind my beloved Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios ritual from PGM IV.1596—1715, except as a lunar parallel to that, with equally as little information in the PGM itself and with equally as much potential for expansion.

PGM VII.756—794, simply titled “Prayer”, is like the Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios in that all we have is the spoken text to be used for the ritual without any instructions or directions to use it.  The prayer consists of a reasonably short invocation to the moon goddess Mēnē (MHNH) under the power of the great divinity known throughout the PGM and many other magical texts for the past two thousand-some years, Iaō (ΙΑΩ).  However, again like the Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios, we get some special good insights into how we might think of or perceive the Moon as a sacred entity with many faces, forms, or approaches.  It’s not as complete as the Hēlios rite in that we don’t get names or specific blessings, but instead we get a set of 28 sacred images and 14 sacred sounds.

Below is my rendition of the prayer text, with minor edits to formatting and spelling:

I call upon you who have all forms and many names, double-horned goddess MHNH, whose form no one knows except him who made the entire world, ΙΑΩ, the one who shaped you into the twenty-eight shapes of the world so that they might complete every figure and distribute breath to every animal and plant, that it might flourish, you who grow from obscurity into light and leave light for darkness.

And the first companion of your name is silence,
the second a popping sound,
the third groaning,
the fourth hissing,
the fifth a cry of joy,
the sixth moaning,
the seventh barking,
the eighth bellowing,
the ninth neighing,
the tenth a musical sound,
the eleventh a sounding wind,
the twelfth a wind-creating sound,
the thirteenth a coercive sound,
the fourteenth a coercive emanation from perfection.

Ox, vulture, bull, beetle, falcon, crab, dog,
wolf, serpent, horse, she-goat, asp, ibex, he-goat,
baboon, cat, lion, leopard, fieldmouse, deer, multiform,
virgin, torch, lightning, garland, a herald’s wand, child, key.

I have said your signs and symbols of your name so that you might hear me, because I pray to you, mistress of the whole world!
Hear me, the stable one, the mighty one,
ΑΦΕΙΒΟΗΩ ΜΙΝΤΗΡ ΟΧΑΩ ΠΙΖΕΦΥΔΩΡ ΧΑΝΘΑΡ ΧΑΔΗΡΟΖΟ ΜΟΧΘΙΟΝ ΕΟΤΝΕΥ
ΦΗΡΖΟΝ ΑΙΝΔΗΣ ΛΑΧΑΒΟΩ ΠΙΤΤΩ ΡΙΦΘΑΜΕΡ ΖΜΟΜΟΧΩΛΕΙΕ ΤΙΗΔΡΑΝΤΕΙΑ ΟΙΣΟΖΟXΑΒΗΔΩΦΡΑ

The final block of barbarous words, transcribed into Roman script:

APHEIBOĒŌ MINTĒR OKHAŌ PIZEPHYDŌR KHANTHAR KHADĒROZO MOKHTHION EOTNEU
PHĒRZON AINDĒS LAKHABOŌ PITTŌ RIPHTHAMER ZMOMOKHŌLEIE TIĒDRANTEIA OISOZOKHABĒDŌPHRA

The ritual is then concluded with that wonderfully vague direction so common in the PGM: “add the usual”.

One of the things Opsopaus describes about the ritual is that it gives 27 symbols of the Moon, which can be likened to the 27 main days of the lunar month (between the Noumenia and the Hene kai Nea, the first and last days of the month, just on either side of the New Moon itself).  To get 27 symbols instead of the 28 listed above (as in Betz), Opsopaus combines the symbols “multiform” and “virgin” into “multiform virgin”, which is to say the image of Hekate with three faces.  This is a reasonable leap to make; after all, the final set of symbols after that of the deer are all classically associated with Hekate, especially in the PGM.  Still, this is in disagreement with the Betz translation, which clearly distinguishes “multiform” and “virgin” as separate.  Additionally, by bringing the number of symbols down to 27, Opsopaus gets all seven Hekatē-related symbols together in the same seven-day week of the Moon.

However, I disagree with such a combining of “multiform” and “virgin” into a single symbol of “multiform virgin”.  Betz gives 28 symbols, and the prayer explicitly says in the introductory part “the twenty-eight shapes of the world so that they might complete every figure and distribute breath to every animal and plant”.  Plus, though Hekate is often reckoned as being a maiden-virgin, there are stories and myths where she gives birth to Kirke and Medea.  If we’re talking about multiple forms here, then, it makes more sense to me to consider “multiform” (i.e. triple-faced) and “virginal” as two separate faces of the Moon.  Even then, however, with 28 symbols, I couldn’t find a way to link them all to the letters of the Greek alphabet, which has either 24 letters (omitting the obsolete letters Digamma, Qoppa, and Sampi) or 27 (including the obsolete letters).  Given that 28 seems to be the more solid number to go on for this ritual, I’m hesitant to actually associate these symbols to the Greek letters, and would instead consider it its own separate symbol set; this is why I decided against trying to go back and include this information in my Grammatēmerologion text, and instead write about it here as its own separate thing.

So much for the 28 symbols given in the ritual; what of the fourteen “signs”, the sounds that the ritual gives?  Moreover, why fourteen?  I’d liken each of these to the stages of the Moon in terms of her brightness or lack thereof, such that on the first fourteen days of the lunar month (from New to Full), we’d associate that fullness of the Moon with that particular sign, and on the second set of fourteen days, the signs would be given in reverse order.  In other words, if we were to plot them out, we’d get a table like the following:

Day Sign Symbol
1 Silence Ox
2 Popping Vulture
3 Groaning Bull
4 Hissing Beetle
5 Cry of Joy Falcon
6 Moaning Crab
7 Barking Dog
8 Bellowing Wolf
9 Neighing Serpent
10 Musical Horse
11 Sounding wind She-goat
12 Wind-creating Asp
13 Coercive Goat
14 Coercive emanation from perfection He-goat
15 Coercive emanation from perfection Baboon
16 Coercive Cat
17 Wind-creating Lion
18 Sounding wind Leopard
19 Musical Fieldmouse
20 Neighing Deer
21 Bellowing Multiform
22 Barking Virgin
23 Moaning Torch
24 Cry of Joy Lightning
25 Hissing Garland
26 Groaning Herald’s wand
27 Popping Child
28 Silence Key

It’s tempting to think that the symbols are associated with the signs in some way, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  It’s equally tempting, at least for me, to shift some of the symbols around to match up with their signs, at least in the first 14-day period, such that e.g. horse matches up with neighing, or garland with “cry of joy” (in terms of a wedding garland or other celebratory crown).  Perhaps the orders of the signs and symbols could be experimented and toyed around with, and see if the order actually matters as given or if we could swap some of them around.  There might also be correspondences that could arise from mapping the two symbols together based on their shared sign, but I’m unsure about that; that could be slightly bigger a leap than I currently realize.

So, that’s the prayer and some beginning information on the contents thereof.  I have plans on expanding it into a full, multiply-repeated ritual a la the Twelve Faces of Hēlios ritual, perhaps one that actually spans a lunar month, building up the symbols day by day and actually using the signs in the ritual as a means of focusing concentration and power…even though some of them don’t seem like actual sounds one could make, except as soundless spiritual vibrations that would cause spiritual effects.

In the meantime, what I would recommend (and what I plan on trying out for my own first attempt) is to perform the ritual on the last day of the lunar month before or on the New Moon, the Greek Henē kai Nea also known as Hekatē’s Deipnon, between sunset and sunrise, probably at solar midnight when the Moon is directly underfoot.  Face the North, and light three white candles; if you’re using an altar, these would be arranged in an upwards-pointing triangle towards the North, but if you’re not using an altar, you could use three candles put together in the same configuration on the ground before you or three candles arranged in a triangle around you in a large-enough “circle” to stand in and move about.  With the usual offerings you’d bring to a ritual of the Moon or to a Deipnon of Hekatē, arrange and make use of them as usual: food offerings, libations of dark wine, incenses, and so forth.  Recite the ritual as given above, making the associated sounds physically and/or spiritually (when appropriate) after their enumeration, and visualizing a circle of the symbols around you as you recite each symbol, starting from the North and going clockwise from there.  After the recitation of the barbarous names, give your charge to the Moon goddess Mēnē, and recite the barbarous names once more.  Conclude the ritual with your thanks, then leave the candles to burn out on their own.

A variant of this ritual that springs to mind immediately is, instead of doing the ritual on the New Moon, perform the ritual at the Full Moon instead, outside where you can see the Full Moon, when the Moon is highest in the sky.  Face the Moon, and arrange the candles in a downwards-pointing triangle instead of an upwards-pointing one.  Use the same process as above, perhaps beginning or concluding with my normal Full Moon invocation from the PGM.

Now to get the time and supplies and purpose arranged for such a ritual experiment, then getting a more elaborate system built up.  The next New Moon is just over two weeks away, after all.

Full Moon Ritual

(Update 1/9/2018: Interested in more about this ritual?  Check out my more polished, fleshed-out writeup over on this page!)

Well, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s entirely overcast, I’d be outside right now under the light of the full moon doing a short and simple ritual.  Tonight’d be a fantastic night for it, too, since the Moon is at its perigee, its closest point to the Earth, so it’s also huge.  Fie on the weather!  The only cop-out (cop-in?) I’d be able to get is if it started raining; the angel of the Moon once suggested that if I can’t get moonlight, moonrain is just as helpful, since the moonlight comes in contact with the clouds and the clouds transfer that light to Earth in a more material way.  Next month might be better, since the full moon will occur on a Monday, so I can get it to its own day and time, assuming that the weather will allow for it.

Anyway, the ritual I use for full moons is short and simple, taken from the Greek Magical Papyri (VII.317).  On the night of a full moon, go out to a dark place outside where you can see the Moon.  Purify oneself in the moonlight however one sees fit, then say the following:

ΑΧΘΙΩΦΙΦ ΕΡΕΣΧΙΓΑΛ ΝΕΒΟΥΤΟΣΟΥΑΛΗΘ ΣΑΘΩΘ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΣΑΒΡΩΘ
AKHTHIŌPHIPH ERESKHIGAL NEBŪTOSŪALĒTH SATHŌTH SABAŌTH SABRŌTH

State your request and intent to the Moon aloud, whether something general such as for protection or for something specific for a particular working.  Make an offering to the Moon, then close the rite as you see fit.

The names are related to very dark, chthonic, or nighttime-related spirits, as can be seen by the name of Ereshkigal (in a Greek form) in the words.  Jason Miller uses a variant of the first three words in his spirit trap design, too, and this working is under a heading in the PGM specifically for protection.  However, I use this as a general working, with protection as it main focus.