Genius in the Picatrix: The Spiritual Nature(s) of Perfect Nature

Not too long ago, I was flipping through my copy of the Picatrix, and came across a fascinating little bit.  It’s something I recall having seen (but glossed over) in M. David Litwa’s Hermetica II (an amazing, though annoyingly expensive, follow-up to Brian Copenhaver’s Hermetica, focusing on the Stobaean Fragments and a number of other Hermetic texts and later references to Hermēs Trismegistus).  There’s lots in Litwa’s book which is great, most of it classical and definitely part of what I’d consider the “Hermetic canon”.  For me, that’s basically stuff written during the Roman Empire, and what separates the two in my mind is basically the Emerald Tablet (which first appears written in Arabic between the 500s and 600s); depending on how you look at it, you might consider it the last instance of classical Hermetic canonical texts, or the first of post-/neo-Hermetic texts.  Personally, my Hermetic focus is on the stuff predating the Emerald Tablet along the lines of the Corpus Hermeticum.  So, when Litwa’s book goes into neo-Hermetic texts that either talk about Hermēs Trismegistus or have things attributed to him, I admit that I glazed over that a bit easier and faster than I did the Stobaean Fragments.  Besides, so much of what was said later tends to be derivative or repetitive from earlier works.

Enter the Ġāyat al-Ḥakīm, the “Goal of the Wise”, sometimes just known as the Ġayah, but definitely better known in the West as the Picatrix, most likely written in Arabic sometime in the middle of the 11th century CE, and based on the history of Ibn Khaldūn, the author of this text is supposedly one Maslama al-Majrīṭī, a Muslim Andalusian scholar, mathematician, and astronomer.  Everyone knows the Picatrix, everyone loves the Picatrix; it’s a fantastic text of astrological magic, and among the earliest of true grimoires in Europe, being among the great granddaddies of them all.  As many people know, it’s primary focus is on what we nowadays call stellar image magic (the creation of astrological talismans under specific stellar configurations of planets, signs, lunar mansions, and stars that often bear a particular scene or image on them) along with early alchemical concoctions for love and hate and many other purposes (many of which are bizarre and not a few of which are outright toxic or poisonous), and which also contain some fantastic ritual prayers and processes for adoring and communing with the spirits of the planets themselves.  It also contains, hidden among its many leaves, wonderful examples and preservations of older pagan practices from the Hermetists, Sabians, Nabataeans, and various other Mediterranean peoples.  It is not, however, a particularly theurgical text on the whole, even though it contains a wealth of information on philosophy, spiritual and cosmic frameworks, and the like in how and why magic works the way that it does.

Just to get this out of the way up front, we’ll be looking at several different editions and translations of the Picatrix, so I wanted to get a list of resources set up for those who want to do their own research as well:

I was looking through my well-worn copy of the Picatrix (I mostly rely on the Warnock/Greer translation) for more resources on prayers and prayer methods (always on the lookout for more tech!), and there was something that caught my eye as I was breezing through its pages looking for keywords of interest .  Nestled between other bits and bobs of magic, there were two phrases that caught my eye: “Hermēs Trismegistus” and “Perfect Nature”.  In Latin, this is phrased Natura Completa, as in one’s nature that is fulfilled, whole, complete, and, well, perfected.  Admittedly, I had basically already seen this section before from Litwa, but this time, it hit different—and it turns out that Litwa didn’t include the entire section, either.

From the end of book III, chapter 6 of the Picatrix (Warnock/Greer translation):

Certain people inquired of Hermes the sage, asking: “With what are science and philosophy joined?” He answered, “With Perfect Nature.” They asked again, saying, “What is the root of science and philosophy?” He said, “Perfect Nature.” Then they questioned him more closely: “What is the key by which science and philosophy are opened?” He answered, “Perfect Nature.” They then asked of him, “What is Perfect Nature?” He answered, “Perfect Nature is the spirit of the philosopher or sage linked to the planet that governs him. This is that which opens the closed places of knowledge, and by which is understood that which cannot otherwise be understood at all, and from which workings proceed naturally both in sleep and in waking.”

Thus it is clear from the foregoing that Perfect Nature acts in the sage or philosopher as a teacher toward a student, teaching the latter first in simple and easy matters, and then proceeding step by step to greater and more difficult ones, until the student is perfect in knowledge. When Perfect Nature works in this way, according to its own virtue and influence, the intellect of the philosopher is disposed according to his natural inclination.

You should understand this, committing it to memory, because from the foregoing it may be concluded that it is impossible for anybody to attain this science except those who are naturally inclined to it, both by their own virtue and by the disposition of the planet ruling in their nativity.

The Atallah/Kiesel translation gives a slightly more clear version of that second paragraph, at least in my mind:

The Perfect Nature for the philosopher is like the good teacher that teaches the boy word for word, and every time [the boy] gets done with one door of knowledge, he enters with [Perfect Nature] to another door, and that boy will never fear missing any knowledge as long as he has such a teacher that lasts with him forever.  Because the teacher always reveals to the boy everything that troubles him and teaches him what is hard, this is the philosopher’s Perfect Nature.

At the beginning of this chapter, the Picatrix introduces this notion of Perfect Nature in its own way, that Perfect Nature “fortifies those who philosophize and strengthens their intellect and their wisdom, so that in all their works they may quickly attain fulfillment”.  And, compounding the role of Perfect Nature, at the start of that first excerpt given above, the author of the Picatrix states that Socrates had his opinion that the Perfect Nature is the “Sun of the Wise”, i.e. the personal Sun of individual sages and philosophers.  Given these connections, it’s starting to sound an awful lot like Perfect Nature being a spirit akin to one’s own agathodaimōn or genius, especially as the Picatrix explicitly links one’s Perfect Nature to one’s ruling planet.  There are also hints later on—we’ll talk about them when we get there—that this spirit also can be a protector as well, making this in all cases much like the later notion of the guardian angel, or even Holy Guardian Angel, as both defender and teacher.

The Picatrix gives a little vignette, a vision of Hermēs Trismegistus and how he found his own Perfect Nature.  Supposedly, all this comes from the book Kitab al-Isṭamāḵis, or the Liber Antimaquis (which I myself have translated from Latin, but which didn’t appear in what I had access to), which the Picatrix attributes to Aristotle.  The vignette of Hermēs Trismegistus encountering Perfect Nature goes like this (Warnock/Greer translation):

When I wished to understand and draw forth the secrets of the workings of the world and of its qualities, I put myself above a certain pit that was very deep and dark, from which a certain impetuous wind blew; nor was I able to see anything in the pit, on account of its obscurity.  If I put a lit candle in it, straightway it was extinguished by the wind.

Then there appeared to me in a dream a beautiful man of imperial authority, who spoke to me as follows: “Put that lit candle in a lantern of glass, and the impetuosity of the wind will not extinguish it. You should lower the lantern into the pit, in the middle of which you should dig; thence you may draw forth an image by which, when you have drawn it forth, the wind from the pit will be extinguished, and then you will be able to hold the light there. Then you should dig in the four corners of the pit, and from there you may draw out the secrets of the world and of Perfect Nature, and its qualities, and the generation of all things.”

I asked him who he was, and he replied: “I am Perfect Nature; if you wish to speak to me, call me by my proper name, and I will answer you.” I asked him them by what name he was called, and he answered me, saying, “By the four names mentioned above I am named and called…”

“Four names”?  Towards the start of this chapter, the Picatrix says that the ancient sages gave a string of four names to Perfect Nature: Meegius, Betzahuech, Vacdez, and Nufeneguediz.  These are corruptions of Arabic names, and cross-checking with the Arabic Picatrix, these names are properly Tamāġīs (تماغيس), Baġdīswād (بغديسواد), Waġdās (وغداس), and Nūfānāġādīs (نوفاناغاديس).  At least, these are my own transcriptions of the names; Atallah/Kiesel give them as “Tamaghees, Baghdiswad, Waghidas, Nufanaghdees”, which are fairly close (though I’m not sure where they got the extra vowel in Waġdās from, or where one of the vowels in Nūfānāġādīs went).  To get from the Arabic “tamāġīs baġdīswād waġdās nūfānāġādīs” to the Latin “meegius betzahuech vacdez nufeneguediz”…well, it’s actually fairly close as it is, especially Vacdez/Waġdas and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs, and Betzahuech/Baġdīswād is kinda close (though I’d expect something like “Bagtezued”), but it’s the shift from Tamāġīs to Meegius that’s most perplexing.  Perhaps if we read تماغدس as “tamāġyus” instead of “tamāġīs” (reading the yā’ here as a consonant rather than a vowel), that’d get us closer, though there’s still the perplexing issue of what happened to that initial “ta-” from Arabic into Latin.  Oh well.  We’ll talk more about the origins of these names in our next post (of course there’d be a next post).

(Also, can I just say that I would absolutely join in on a new, more easily-accessible translation from the Arabic of the Picatrix, or even just a list of barbarous words and divine names from the original Arabic?  One of my greatest frustrations when having to deal with translations of Arabic works into Western languages is a lack of faithful transliteration from Arabic script to Roman script.  I know it’s a hard habit to break, but nowadays, we absolutely have the technology to faithfully produce many diacritics on letters easily, so there’s no reason why we should perpetuate bad transliterations like Atallah/Kiesel “Tamaghees” as opposed to a more faithful “Tamāġīs” where you can more easily figure out the original Arabic spelling, which is so important for pronunciation, etymology, and numerology, all of which are crucial for occult researchers.  Heck, even if you don’t want to use all sorts of diacritics, there are so many good forms of romanization for Arabic that there’s just no excuse for this.)

The Picatrix somewhat goes back and forth on this, but it seems that these are actually the names of four component spirits of Perfect Nature, or alternatively the four powers of an individual’s spirit of Perfect Nature (Warnock/Greer translation primary):

  1. The spirit/power of the senses “which are said to be joined to the world” (Atallah/Kiesel: “spreading intentional power in the world”)
  2. The spirit/power of things “to which spirit is attracted” (Atallah/Kiesel: “the spiritual instrumental power that pulls the spirits”)
  3. The spirit/power of perfect, sane, and unbroken contemplation (Atallah/Kiesel: “the right spiritual power”)
  4. The spirit/power “by which works are done by the hands” (Atallah/Kiesel: “handmade spiritual power”)

Moreover, “these three spirits in matter” (as opposed to the spirit of contemplation, i.e. the spirit of senses, things, and works done by the hands) “which exist in intention and effect, are coadunated in perfect contemplation with the sense, which we have said are joined to the world”.  In this, the Picatrix goes on to explain that the senses do not merely perceive the world passively, but like in the medieval understanding of how the eyes see in terms of lux and lumen, the senses “attract rays and bring them to those things towards which they are directed, like a mirror that is raised up to the light of the Sun”.  This is to say that, in focusing our senses on something, we not only receive those influences into ourselves, but also fill the thing with more of its own influence, or direct those influences elsewhere, as a mirror reflecting the rays of the Sun “projects them into shadowy places, and those shadowy places become bright and illuminated” without the Sun being diminished.  (It’s probably important to note the Sun and light connections here with Socrates’ own description of the Perfect Nature as the “Sun of the wise”.)

By directing the powers of the cosmos by means of the senses, we facilitate joining those powers from their sources to our targets: “when the spirits of motion and rest are joined to the superior world while in contact with the senses, they attract the powers of the spirits of the superior world and pour them out upon matter”.  It is this, fundamentally this very action, that allows the consecration, empowerment, and ensoulment of talismans (“images”) to function; images are, after all, things we look at, and this is why they often have some sort of scene, person, or figure on them to bring about a particular influence or effect.  And, in looking at something, we contemplate it, and contemplation “goes into anything in which the virtue consists of a hidden spirit”.

In this light, assuming that the names of the spirits given at the start of this chapter and this list of what the powers are at the end of it are in the same order, we can consider the four names of the four spirits of Perfect Nature and what these spirits do a little more closely:

  1. Meegius/Tamāġīs: the spirit/power of our senses that join higher things to lower ones.  This is our ability to spiritually perceive the cosmos and its various spirits, energies, and powers in their ebb and flow.
  2. Betzahuech/Baġdīswād: the spirit/power of the lower things that we work upon to infuse with higher things.  This is the actual physical substance we work with to create images, talismans, confections, and other sacred objects, including the supplies of herbs, stones, incense, fabric, paper, ink, paint, and the like, as well as our understanding of them.
  3. Vacdez/Waġdās: the spirit/power of our own mental and spiritual contemplation.  This is our ability to mentally and spiritually process information and power, the strictly internal aspect that can best be thought of as our reliance upon our divinely-granted faculties and our connection to the Divine itself.
  4. Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs: the spirit/power of labor and works that we do in the world to implement.  This is the actual work we do, both in terms of the physical labor involved to create things as well as the rituals we do around, upon, or for them.

There seems to be a natural dichotomy that results from these four spirit/power seen in this light.  Meegius/Tamāġīs is the non-physical and passive way we integrate the spiritual and material, while Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs is the physical and active way we do so (a dichotomy of perception versus interaction).  Betzahuech/Baġdīswād is the external and material component of the works we carry out, while Vacdez/Waġdās is the internal and spiritual component of those works (a dichotomy of substance and essence).  I like this sort of categorization, but we’ll return more to this idea later.

The trouble now is figuring out the precise relationship of these four spirits to the spirit of Perfect Nature itself.  In the vignette, Perfect Nature says that “I am named and called” the four names “by which I shall respond when you call”.  There is a difference, however, in how the Latin Picatrix (via Warnock/Greer and Attrell/Porreca) and the Arabic Picatrix (via Atallah/Kiesel)  actually talks about these spirits.  The Latin Picatrix makes it sound like these are four names for four individual spirits (“they gave to the spirits of Perfect Nature these four names”), while the Arabic Picatrix makes it sound like this is all just one name for one spirit (“these wise men called the hidden secret of the complete inborn spiritual nature…”).  Thinking about this some more, I think the notion of each of these being a distinct spirit unto itself is faulty, and a misunderstanding of the grammar here.  I think it’s better to understand Perfect Nature as a single spirit that has four powers, rather than as a sort of collective of four separate spirits.  However, I don’t think such a view is necessarily wrong, either; if they are separate, then they operate together as a synaxis, where if you call one, you basically get them all, all mutually supportive of each other and all mutually involved with each other (cf. the orthodox view of the archangels as all distinct entities but all working together for the same ends at the same time).

Before wrapping this post up, I should also note that the Moonlit Hermit wrote two posts some years ago, back in December 2014 and January 2015, that also explored this same chapter and this same topic, as well as another post regarding a daily practice of calling on the four names of Perfect Spirit.  I came across their posts in the research for these, and I thought they were interesting.  We arrive at some similar conclusions and some different ones, but I think they’re good to read for others who are interested in this same topic, as well.

I think this is a good place to take a break for now, having introduced Perfect Nature, its role, and its powers.  There’s plenty more to talk about, though, starting with really looking into that vignette of Hermēs Trismegistus standing above the pit and being taught by Perfect Nature how to conquer it.  We’ll talk more about that next time, so stay tuned!

Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Helios

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

As I mentioned last time in that post detailing a list of neat shit I found for use in my own magic, there’s one particular ritual that I hadn’t used before or included in my original enchiridion, but that I thought would be worth it to include.  This is a ritual from the Greek Magical Papyri, that awesome Dead Sea Scrolls collection of magic, and specifically comes from PGM IV.1596—1715, under the title This is the consecration for all purposes; Spell to Helios.  It’s a somewhat lengthy incantation, and doesn’t provide any ritual instructions nor does it seem immediately connected to any other ritual found close to it in the PGM, but it’s a fascinating method of consecration of a charm, stone, ring, phylactery, or other object for power under Helios, the sun god of the Greeks.

However, it being the PGM, its’s not that straightforward.  Besides the usual barbarous words of power, this ritual has several fascinating aspects to it.  For one, the ritual associates Helios with the Αγαθος Δαιμον, the Good Spirit or Genius, with heavy references to a Serpent God and even an explicit one to Serapis, none of which is too surprising given the PGM context in which we find this ritual.  More fascinating than this, however, this ritual has Helios with twelve forms and twelve names, each form and name for each of the twelve hours of the day.  This is much like the names of the hours of the Heptameron, and has corollaries to the names of angels from the Key of Solomon; however, the practice of giving names and gods to the individual hours of the day is old and definitely has its origins in ancient Egyptian practice.  There is another ritual, PGM III.494, which provides a partial list of the gods of the hours, but it’s incomplete, making PGM IV.1596 the only complete one in the text.  For reference, the names (in Greek along with their isopsephic values) and forms of Helios in the twelve hours are listed below, along with the hieroglyph for each animal (as close as I can ascertain, for reasons which will soon become clear):

Hour Name Animal
1 ΦΑΡΑΚΟΥΝΗΘ
1159 (ΩΨΝΘ)
Cat Hieroglyph for "Cat"
2 ΣΟΥΦΙ
1180 (ΩΤΠ)
Dog Hieroglyph for "Dog"
3 ΑΜΕΚΡΑΝΕΒΕΧΕΟ ΘΩΥΘ
2122 (ΩΨΧΚΒ)
Serpent Hieroglyph for "Snake"
4 ΣΕΝΘΕΝΙΨ
1029 (ΩΣΚΘ)
Scarab Hieroglyph for "Dung beetle"
5 ΕΝΦΑΝΧΟΥΦ
2176 (ΩΨΧΟΕΑ)
Donkey Hieroglyph for "Donkey"
6 ΒΑΙ ΣΟΛΒΑΙ
326 (ΤΚΕΑ)
Lion Hieroglyph for "Lion"
7 ΟΥΜΕΣΘΩΘ
1533 (ΩΨΛG)
Goat Hieroglyph for "Ibex"
8 ΔΙΑΤΙΦΗ
833 (ΩΛΓ)
Bull Hieroglyph for "Bull"
9 ΦΗΟΥΣ ΦΩΟΥΘ
2957 (ΩΨΧΦΤΝΖ)
Falcon Hieroglyph for "Falcon"
10 ΒΕΣΒΥΚΙ
639 (ΧΛΘ)
Baboon Hieroglyph for "Sacred baboon"
11 ΜΟΥ ΡΩΦ
1910 (ΩΨΥΙ)
Ibis Hieroglyph for "Crested ibis"
12 ΑΕΡΘΟΗ
193 (ΡΠΓ)
Crocodile Hieroglyph for "Crocodile"

There’s a small bit written about the forms of the Helios, mostly in German, and I don’t propose to get into it too deeply here.  However, I did mention above that there is another list of names and forms of the Sun through the hours earlier in the PGM, but it’s incomplete; Stephen Flowers in his Hermetic Magic attempts a reconstruction, but…well, suffice to say that I’m not particularly sanguine about his work.  Mind you, this is focusing on the twelve hours of the day, since Helios (in the Egyptian reckoning) dies and goes into the underworld during the nighttime.  Some of the faces of Helios have small descriptions appended to them, such as that of the ninth face ΦΗΟΥΣ ΦΩΟΥΘ as “the lotus emerged from the abyss”, of which the lotus is a traditional throne of Harpokrates, also known as Horus, given the animal form of a falcon.  It might be that the Sun was thought of by the author as an ultimate, monistic god that took on multiple forms, especially given his laudation of the Sun as “the great Serpent, leader of all the gods, who control the beginning of Egypt and the end of the whole inhabited world” and other praises.  Other notably Egyptian names can be found amidst the other barbarous words in this ritual.

Now, while the ritual as given in the PGM is well-preserved, there are two main issues, as I see it.  For one, each one of the twelve hours has an associated benediction for the phylactery or charm to be consecrated except for the tenth and twelfth hours; Betz notes that it’s likely a copyist omission that left out the consecration for the these hours.  Moreover, the bigger issue we have is that we don’t know exactly how to employ the ritual, as no framework for the ritual was given.  To that end, here are some of my thoughts on setting up such a ritual employing this consecration:

  • When it comes to timing, I think it’d be good for us modern Hermetic magi to stick to a time powerful for the Sun, such as during a day and hour of the Sun, during a good astrological election of the Sun, or using the day when the Sun hits his exaltation at 18° Aries (which, barring unusual circumstances, only happens once a year sometime around April 7).  As this is a consecration, choosing a day when the Moon is waxing or full would be preferred.  The wording of the text suggests that the Sun, at the time of uttering the spell, has already set, meaning that the ritual would have been done at nighttime, leading to a peculiar necromantic-solar vibe.  However, there’s room for fleshing this out, and I think doing it in the daytime could be done just as well.
  • No offerings are mentioned, but strong red wine would be a safe bet.
  • Ritual setup could involve six candles (six being the Qabbalistic number of the Sun), but I think it’d be better to have twelve candles, one each for the twelve faces of Helios.  Alternatively, oil lamps would work equally well.
  • Frankincense would be an obvious choice for a suffumigation, but if you wanted to go fancier, you could make a more complicated and delectable solar blend.  If you wanted to go old-school, perhaps kyphi would also work.
  • The usual solar decorations of gold, yellow, bay laurel, and the like would be nice, perhaps substituting the number 6 for 12 (such as using a duodecadon or a double hexagon instead of a single hexagon).
  • Even though the ritual text lacks benedictions for the tenth and twelfth hours, it’s not terribly hard to fill in the blanks with related ones.

So, with all that in mind, here’s what I have planned for the full ritual of the Consecration of the Twelve Faces of .  For the full ritual, it will take place over the course of a full day from the moment of sunrise to the moment of sunset, with thirteen total invocations to be done, but later on I’ll also describe a one-fell-swoop approach to doing the whole ritual.

Preparation
Prepare the following supplies:

  • Thirteen white, ivory, yellow, or gold candles that burn for at least 12 hours, or thirteen clean oil lamps that have not been painted red filled with enough oil to burn for at least 12 hours
  • A bottle of red wine
  • Twelve small cups and one large bowl, if the ritual is done inside
  • Non-red (preferably white or yellow) chalk, paint, or ink, if the ritual is done inside and/or upon some sort of writable ground or surface
  • Incense, either purely of frankincense or compounded of equal parts frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, and cinnamon
  • Oil, either pure olive oil or some sort of blessing/magical oil
  • An object to be consecrated, henceforth known as the “charm” (but change the word in the instructions and ritual text as necessary to “ring”, “phylactery”, &c.)

The ritual will take place at thirteen different points in time throughout the same day: at the first hour of the day (moment of sunrise), at the second, third…twelfth, and at the thirteenth hour of the day (moment of sunset).  Be sure to calculate these specific times for the ritual in the same way as you’d calculate planetary hours, focusing only on the diurnal hours plus the first nocturnal hour (sunset).  One is to strictly fast from all food, all drinks except water, all sexual activity, and all impurity from the moment the ritual begins until it is concluded after sunset.

Prepare the ritual area:

  1. Clean, purify, and banish the ritual area from all impurity before setting anything up.  Using natron as a purifying agent is suggested, but not required.
  2. Arrange twelve of the candles in a large semicircle, so that the open side faces the north. The twelve candles may be spaced so that the first candle is oriented due east and the last candle due west, or they may be spaced so that the first candle is oriented towards the exact direction of sunrise and the last candle towards the exact direction of the Sun’s position in its twelfth hour of the day.
  3. If done inside or in such an area as to permit a writable surface, write out the name of the twelve faces of Helios between the object to be consecrated and each of the candles, so that ΦΑΡΑΚΟΥΝΗΘ is written between the object and towards the easternmost candle, ΣΟΥΦΙ towards the next one just to the south, and so forth.  If space is tight, use the isopsephic value of each name instead, written either in Arabic or Greek numerals.  Outside the semicircle beside each candle, write the Egyptian hieroglyph for the animal associated with that candle’s hour and name.  Additionally, write the hieroglyph for the Sun in the focal point of the semicircle.
    Hieroglyph for "Sun"
  4. If the ritual is done inside, place the bowl at the focal point of the semicircle, then put the charm inside the bowl.  If outside, place the charm at the focal point on the ground.
  5. If the ritual is done inside, set a small cup just beyond each candle (either on or beyond the hieroglyph if on a writable surface).
  6. Place the censer for the incense behind the focal point, a little bit away from the charm towards the north.
  7. If desired, write the names of the four guardians of the directions ΕΡΒΗΘ to the east, ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ to the south, ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ to the west, and ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ to the north around the whole ritual area.  I’ve found these names of power to represent the entities guarding the stations of the Sun as he progresses through the heavens and hells, but it’s optional.  Likewise, if desired and if space permits, you may also want to “close off” the area by drawing a second semicircle to the north so as to make a more-or-less complete circle.

The resulting layout for the ritual, assuming we use the due-east/due-west orientation of the candles with all the extra things and large enough to walk within, would look like this:

Daytime Consecration to the 12 Faces of Helios Arrangement

Ritual
Before sunrise on the day of the ritual, prepare the temple space so that it is clean, banished, and prepared accordingly. Just before sunrise, invoke the four guardians of the directions, if desired, or other watchtower-type entities. At sunrise, the ritual fast and actions begin; light the thirteenth candle (henceforth referred to as the Sun candle) that has not been set out in the semicircle.  Light the incense, then take the Sun candle in in the left hand, salute the rising Sun with the right, and begin the preliminary invocation (state your name or whoever’s the beneficiary of the charm wherever “NN.” is used):

I invoke you, the greatest god, eternal lord, world ruler, I who are over the world and under the world, mighty ruler of the sea, rising at dawn, shining from the east for the whole world, setting in the west. Come to me, you who rises from the four winds, joyous Agathos Daimon, for whom heaven has become the processional way. I call upon your holy and great and hidden names which you rejoice to hear.  The earth flourished when you shone forth; the plants became fruitful when you laughed; the animals begat their young when you permitted.  Give glory and honor and favor and fortune and power to this charm which I consecrate today for NN.

I invoke you, the greatest in heaven, ΗΙ ΛΑΝΧΥΧ ΑΚΑΡΗΝ ΒΑΛ ΜΙΣΘΡΗΝ ΜΑΡΤΑ ΜΑΘΑΘ ΛΑΙΛΑΜ ΜΟΥΣΟΥΘΙ ΣΙΕΘΩ ΒΑΘΑΒΑΘΙ ΙΑΤΜΩΝ ΑΛΕΙ ΙΑΒΑΘ ΑΒΑΩΘ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ, the great god, ΟΡΣΕΝΟΦΡΗ ΟΡΓΕΑΤΗΣ ΤΟΘΟΡΝΑΤΗΣΑ ΚΡΙΘΙ ΒΙΩΘΙ ΙΑΔΜΩ ΙΑΤΜΩΜΙ ΜΕΘΙΗΙ ΛΟΝΧΟΩ ΑΚΑΡΗ ΒΑΛ ΜΙΝΘΡΗ ΒΑΝΕ ΒΑΙΝΧΧΥΧΧ ΟΥΦΡΙ ΝΟΘΕΟΥΣΙ ΘΡΑΙ ΑΡΣΙΟΥΘ ΕΡΩΝΕΡΘΕΡ, the shining Helios, giving light throughout the whole world.  You are the great Serpent, leader of all the gods, who control the beginning of Egypt and the end of the whole inhabited world, who mate in the ocean, ΨΟΙ ΦΝΟΥΘΙ ΝΙΝΘΗΡ.  You are he who becomes visible each day and sets in the northwest of heaven, and rises in the southeast.

Proceed to the first candle in the semicircle and light it with the Sun candle; if the circle is large enough to walk in, stand on top of the name of the face for the first hour and face the candle, but otherwise stand behind the charm towards the north and facing the candle of the first hour. Say the invocation of the first hour while saluting the first candle with the right hand:

In the first hour you have the form of a cat; your name is ΦΑΡΑΚΟΥΝΗΘ. Give glory and favor to this charm.

Pour out an offering of wine, either directly on the ground on top of the hieroglyph (if outside) or in its proper cup (if inside). Follow this with the following supplication:

You who will set at evening as an old man, who are over the world and under the world, mighty ruler of the sea, hear my voice in this present day, in these holy hours, and let all things done by this charm be brought to fulfillment, and especially for the need for which I consecrate it, for the sake of NN.

Set the Sun candle down by or on top of the charm. The ritual for the first hour is complete.

At each of the successive hours of the day through the twelfth hour, repeat the process by lighting more incense, taking up the Sun candle, and proceeding to go through each invocation for each of the hour, saluting each candle, until you reach the proper candle for the appropriate hour, where you’ll light that hour’s candle, recite the invocation to that hour while saluting the candle, pour out wine for that hour, and finish with the final supplication before putting the Sun candle down by the charm. The rest of the hour invocations are (supplemented with my own additions for the tenth and twelfth hours):

  1. In the second hour you have the form of a dog; your name is ΣΟΥΦΙ.  Give strength and honor to this charm and to NN.
  2. In the third hour you have the form of a serpent; your name is ΑΜΕΚΡΑΝΕΒΕΧΕΟ ΘΩΥΘ.  Give honor to the god NN.
  3. In the fourth hour you have the form of a scarab; your name is ΣΕΝΘΕΝΙΨ.  Mightily strengthen this charm for that which it is consecrated.
  4. In the fifth hour you have the form of a donkey; your name is ΕΝΦΑΝΧΟΥΦ.  Give strength and courage and power to the god NN.
  5. In the sixth hour you have the form of a lion; your name is ΒΑΙ ΣΟΛΒΑΙ, the ruler of time.  Give success to this charm and glorious victory.
  6. In the seventh hour you have the form of a goat; your name is ΟΥΜΕΣΘΩΘ.  Give sexual charm to this charm.
  7. In the eighth hour you have the form of a bull; your name is ΔΙΑΤΙΦΗ, who becomes visible everywhere.  Let all things done by the use of this charm be accomplished.
  8. In the ninth hour you have the form of a falcon; your name is ΦΗΟΥΣ ΦΩΟΥΘ, the lotus emerged from the abyss.  Give success and good luck to this charm.
  9. In the tenth hour you have the form of a baboon; your name is ΒΕΣΒΥΚΙ.  Give power and wisdom in all things to the god NN. for whom this charm is consecrated.
  10. In the eleventh hour you have the form of an ibis; your name is ΜΟΥ ΡΩΦ.  Protect this great charm for lucky use by NN. from this present day for all time.
  11. In the twelfth hour you have the form of a crocodile; your name is ΑΕΡΘΟΗ.  Give the greatest protection to NN. by this charm.

At sunset, go through the entire ritual once more, burning more incense and invoking and saluting each of the hours as before.  Regardless of whether the circle is large enough to walk through, stand behind the censer facing south towards the candles, and hold the charm in the incense smoke throughout the entire set of invocations.  After this, continuing to hold the charm in the incense smoke, recite the following prayer:

You who have set at evening as an old man, who are over the world and under the world, mighty ruler of the sea, hear my voice in this night, in these holy hours, and let all things done by this charm be brought to fulfillment, and especially for the need for which I consecrate it, for the sake of NN.  Please, lord ΚΜΗΦ ΛΟΥΘΕΟΥΘ ΟΡΦΟΙΧΕ ΟΡΤΙΛΙΒΕΧΟΥΧ ΙΕΡΧΕ ΡΟΥΜ ΙΠΕΡΙΤΑΩ ΥΑΙ, I conjure earth and heaven and light and darkness and the great god who created all, ΣΑΡΟΥΣΙΝ, you, Agathon Daimonion the Helper, to accomplish for NN. everything done by the use of this charm.

Put the charm back down in the focal point of the semicircle, either on the ground (if outside) or inside the bowl (if inside).  Pour out a new offering of wine on top of the charm. Set the candle by or on top of the charm.  Face north with the candles to your back.  With arms outstretched, say the concluding formula:

The one Zeus is Serapis.

The ritual is complete, and the ritual fast may now be broken.  Let all the candles burn out on their own, and at the first sunrise after all the candles have burned out. If done inside, take the bowl with the wine and the charm, remove the charm from the bowl and set it on the ground facing the Sun, and pour out the wine on top of the charm while facing the Sun. Whether done inside or outside, once the charm can be removed from the ritual area, gently clean off the charm with pure water and let it dry in the Sun’s light after anointing it with oil.  Keep the charm nearby whenever you need its power or whenever you need to use it.

Nighttime Simultaneous Ritual
An alternative method of employing the ritual is, instead of progressively building up to the full consecration throughout the twelve hours of the day, is to do it all at once at night.  For this, the general ritual setup would be similar with the fast starting at the sunset before the ritual and ending at sunrise after the ritual, but the ritual is to be done precisely at solar midnight, the balance-point between sunset of the previous day and sunrise of the next (which, especially if you’re on summer time/DST, may closer to 1 a.m. instead of 12 a.m.).  In addition, the candles may last any length of time; I’d recommend twelve tealights and a single taper candle.  Perform any banishing or invocation as desired and set up the ritual space, but instead of using the semicircular arrangement as above, use a circular arrangement with the first face oriented to the east; the censer should be put off to the side somewhere, with the twelve candles surrounding the charm.

Nighttime Consecration to the 12 Faces of Helios Arrangement

At true midnight, light the incense and light the Sun candle, and begin the preliminary invocation.  For each of the twelve faces of Helios in order, light its candle, salute, invoke, and pour wine out for the face.  Afterwards, finish with the final supplication (the one involving barbarous words), pouring out of wine on top of the charm, and concluding with the concluding formula.  Let the candles burn out and clean up at sunrise as you otherwise would.

Other Variations
I’ve seen vague references to other magicians employing this ritual for other purposes, not just for the consecration of a charm but for general empowerment or wealth, and this ritual can be modified accordingly merely by tweaking the text for the benedictions of each hour as well as the final supplications.  For a more initiatory ritual, you might use the circular arrangement, even in daytime, with you standing at the center being the thing consecrated, building up after a fast and performing the ritual at least once, if not at nighttime then multiple times throughout the day.

Special Snowflake Syndrome

Whenever I engage in a conjuration of one of the bigger angels, or chat with a god during a special offering, I end up shooting the shit with them about any number of things: things I’d like to see happen or done in my life, various questions about practice and theory in terms of theurgy and thaumaturgy, and gods-know-what-else.  At the end of these little discussions, but before I wrap it up and dismiss or leave the spirit, I ask this:

Is there anything else at this point you would teach me or tell me?  Is there anything else you would have me learn, know, or do?

Such a simple question, but with such a vast effect.  A good third of the total information I’ve ever gotten from conjurations comes from asking this.  The spirits, after all, often know a lot more than we do and how we relate to them.  Getting their feedback in understanding our roles in the spheres they work in and how we stand in relation to them is invaluable advice, and if you’re not asking this when you engage with spirits you’ve built up a relationship with, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

I started asking this on my own to the angels when I was first getting really involved with the elemental angels “way back when” (all the way back in 2011, baby, all those two long years ago), mostly out of a desire to know what the fuck it was I was actually doing.  I still feel this way often enough, but back then, I was really feeling like I was just blundering and blustering about blindly in the darkness and then suddenly spirits happen.  So, naturally enough, one of the first questions I wanted to know was “why am I doing this?”, and I haven’t really been able to get a satisfactory answer, neither then nor anytime since then.  In other words, why am I practicing magic?  Why am I called for this, why am I doing this?  Ever since I started asking, nearly every spirit who has the purview and interest enough to answer has replied the same: “to do magic”, like it’s my primary and chosen vocation or something.

Well and good, but it’s not specific enough to my tastes and leaves much to be desired.  And yet, it’s problematic for me in another way.  If I’m chosen to do magic, what are the limits of magic?  If my frameworks and theories of magic indicate that its power is basically unlimited (in its own ways according to certain circumstances and conditions), then doesn’t that give me a huge power over the world, myself, and others?  Doesn’t that make me, well, special?  Being chosen by the spirits to do spiritual work certainly isn’t a common calling; with it still being a necessary calling and a needed role to fill, doesn’t that make me extra-needed by creation?  Doesn’t that make me, in some way, a kind of mini-savior?

Barring the natural difference in people due to talent and genius, I believe that one of the defining attributes of humanity is that we don’t necessarily have fixed roles among ourselves.  Every species has its own role to play in the larger scheme of things: predators control populations of other animals, fungi help dissolve and decompose to recycle materials into the biosphere, and the like.  Humans, according to a Hermetic view, help maintain the sephirah of Malkuth, the sphere of existence that meshes the material universe with the spiritual cosmos; humanity can be seen to be this sphere’s “choir of angels”, so to speak, maintaining and working with this sphere as our job as part of the larger creation of things.  However, this role can be endlessly complex, due to the complexity created from humanity’s interaction with both the universe and the cosmos, or what I call the human world.  Among ourselves, we have different roles to play, different jobs to discharge, and different strengths for which we are uniquely suited that only we can fill, a strong indication of one’s True Will or spiritual purpose, where we fit into the larger machine of creation.

Still, seeing what we’re good at, what we ought to discharge in this sphere, and ultimately who we are can be a dangerous thing, and leads to something I often term “special snowflake syndrome”.  According to Urban Dictionary,

A malady affecting a significant portion of the world’s population wherein the afflicted will demand special treatment, conduct themselves with a ludicrous, unfounded sense of entitlement, and generally make the lives of everyone around them that much more miserable.

The danger of this disease is that the sufferers rarely, if ever, know that they have contracted it, and continue about their merry way under the assumption that EVERYONE ELSE is the problem.

(If you ever look at the social justice or otherkin tumblrs, you’ll know what I mean.  If you haven’t read them, never do this.)

Why do people develop this?  It’s because they begin to see who they are, which is a good thing, but get an unfounded sense of vainglory, pride, and self-importance at who they are, which is a bad thing.  They think that because they’re the only ones who can be them and do the things they do, this makes them special or otherwise rare in the world, and end up developing a persecuted savior mindset because why can’t you treat them like the unique holy thing that they are, bawwwwwwwww.  They don’t need to consult others or get external input on what they’re doing or supposed to be doing, because clearly they already know everything they need to know about their special role.  Like a snowflake, they must be unique, and therefore are to be cherished by the masses.  I see this developing in no small number of magical people who suddenly realize “o hej, I can do magickqzs!” and think that they are the biggest shit ever.  Sadly, in the process, they actually do become the biggest shit ever, but not in the sense they desire.

I like to keep myself well-grounded and humble enough to prevent this from happening to me, bordering on self-depreciation and overmodesty.  In fact, it’s why I make a special prayer of humility fairly often to keep myself from getting too carried off in my own delusions of grandeur.  Even if I’m one of the few chosen to do magic, why should I be necessarily praised for essentially just doing my job?  Even if I’m a holy power chosen by the Almighty, why wouldn’t I recognize that same in every other human and entity alive?  Maybe it’s the weirdness and glamour of magic itself that still strikes me as weird, that fascination with this arcane and maligned yet powerful art that can change the course of nations and individuals alike.  But even so, can’t I say the same thing about my computer science skills and my current workplace, where I work with significant economic data used in thousands upon thousands of contracts and analyses daily across my country and the world?  Can’t I say the same thing about the jobs and work of others, too?  Can’t I say the same thing about others generally, too?  Just because I’m chosen for a particular necessary role doesn’t diminish the necessity of other roles or those chosen for them.  Just because I’m helping out the world in my own small way doesn’t make me a savior for the masses, it makes me a small gear in the great machinery of creation.  Just because I’m told to do magic doesn’t make me special, it makes me understand that my minor job in a world of jobs is the best one for me and I’m the best person in a world of people for it.

Yes, I may be a special snowflake, but there are also a lot of snowflakes out there.  It’s only upon microscopic inspection that any one snowflake can be meaningfully differentiated from the others; at any other larger distance, snow is one large undifferentiated mass (barring contaminants, pollution, or dense packs of ice, of course).  Snow falls and is natural, and each flake contributes to the weather; we enjoy the snow, but we don’t necessarily care about or notice any one particular flake.  One snowflake does not make a blizzard and lasts for no time at all on its own.

Genius, Skill, Talent, Technique

Between the sufferings of both modern public school education and psychological neuroses, a lot of people fall into one of two camps of belief:

  1. I can be anything I want and be good at everything I do.
  2. I can’t do anything no matter how hard I try.

Both of these beliefs are false, as I reckon them.  In a way, they’re two sides of the same coin, with each influenced by and growing upon the other.  The first belief (that of supercapability) is overly positive to combat any self-doubt, but when taken to its extreme, it fails the holder of that belief and leads one into the second belief (that of incapability).  That second belief is borne out of sorrow and doubt, but is also easily refuted in at least one action which can cycle back into the first belief.  Some people never cycle between the two, getting stuck in one belief or the other, but either way these beliefs are simply wrong.

According to the doctrine of astrology and Hermetic philosophy, we’re all born with several things, such as a purpose, a history, a goal, and a set of things we’re good at and a set of things we’re bad at.  Taken together, plus a little extra, this might all be construed as one’s True Will, the thing we’re supposed to be carrying out in order to fulfill our role in the cosmos as children of the Divine.  After all, the whole point of Hermeticism and Neoplatonism is to reclaim our true heritage and value as children of gods and co-creators of the cosmos, and we can’t know what we’re supposed to create without knowing what we’re good at and where we’re supposed to be.  Knowledge of our True Will helps us focus our efforts on the things we should be doing, which is almost always correlated with what we’re good at.

In addition to knowledge of our True Will, there are several spirits among the heavens that can help us find out what we’re supposed to be doing.  Among those, there are the threefold keepers of Man: the angel of the nativity, the Holy Guardian Angel, and the angel of the profession.  The angel of the nativity is the guy whose name is derived from the natal horoscope based on the five hylegical places, and is a guiding spirit who helps us out in this life for this incarnation.  While the HGA is more for our Selves across incarnations and the heavens, the angel of the nativity is a spirit specific to this life for what we need to do now.  In a way, it’s like the good angel on the shoulder of cartoon characters, but is more knowledgable about what we’re supposed to be doing and how we’re supposed to be doing it.  The other name for this spirit is the natal genius, or the birth-spirit, that helps us do what we need to do for ourselves and our Selves in this life.  In other words, it tells us what’s Right for us to do.  And, like I said before, when we do something proper and Right for us, it tends to be easy or flawless. 

We often call people “genius” when they’re really adept or smart at something, but it wasn’t originally a title of intelligence or mastery.  Instead, “genius” referred to the guiding spirit who helps us be good at certain things because that’s the role we’re supposed to fill; it’s kinda like a cosmic version of Huxley’s “Brave New World”.  Knowing what we’re good at via our genius helps us figure out our talents, the things we’re innately good at in the cosmos.  This could be anything from simple skills such as memorization or a good eye for measurement to whole fields like mathematics or biology or counseling.  Whatever we’ve got a talent in, we should probably explore and make use of. 

Still, just because one has talent in something doesn’t mean one has mastery.  Mastery in something can be called proper technique, the totality of knowledge in how, why, and what methods to use for a particular goal or end result.  Talent helps with building technique, but talent alone doesn’t cut it.  Talent needs refining through building skill, which can be thought of as learned technique as opposed to inborn technique through talent.  Skill helps refine talent to be used for specific, fine things in a regular, repeated manner that talent alone may not be able to do.  It’s like the difference between having a vague subconscious understanding of something and a total comprehension and coherent knowledge of it.

Other people, however, have little to no talent in a given technique, but still want to learn that technique.  In this case, skill is all they have to go on.  They’ll need to become more skillful to make up for the lack of talent, but this doesn’t mean they can’t learn technique or master something.  It just means they’ll have to learn and focus more on building up the skill that people with talent may already be good at.  However, spending time to build up skill in something in which one has little talent often takes time away from building up skill in something one does have talent for.  Keep in mind that talent implies that we’re supposed to be good at something and that we’re supposed to do it; if one shows talent in something but is wasting one’s skill on something else, they’re probably being misguided.

A lot of modern society treats all people the same, which is usually a good thing.  After all, I enjoy and favor equality of rights and opportunity for all, because we’re all still human and capable of basic humanity with human needs.  However, things go awry when society treats us all as having the same talents, skills, capabilities, and inclinations for things.  This kind of social conditioning does real damage, because it assumes everyone has the same basic drive and same basic talents, when this assumption doesn’t hold up.  Some people are very good at written language but awful at mathematics, some good at art and some good at sports, and so forth; we should afford people the chance to explore everything if they so choose, but we shouldn’t force them to pass standardized tests that assume everyone’s at an arbitrary level of technique for an arbitrary number of subjects.

Not everyone is going to be good at everything.  That’s just a fact of life, and that’s quite alright.  There are going to be subjects, fields, and tasks at which we aren’t suited but that others are.  This isn’t to say that we should settle for mediocrity and laziness for ourselves instead of striving to know and become more than we are, but we shouldn’t try to become a jack of all trades when we’re really only good and supposed to be good in a handful of them.  There are so many roles to fill in the world that requires dedication, single-mindedness, and talent in addition to skill, any number of which might be considered taboo or dangerous or outré, even though they’re just as necessary as any other.  Society may say it knows what’s best for itself, but it doesn’t.  We’ve all got a purpose, indicated by our talent and genius, and we need skill to make ourselves perfect.  Only with genius, skill, talent, and technique will we be able to know and carry out our True Will, and make progress on the path to becoming full-fledged co-creators of the cosmos once again.