On an English Alphabet Grammatomancy

The other night, I got an email from a reader with a question.  This sort of thing happens often; in general, I enjoy taking the honest questions from my readers about practice, theory, and everything in between when it comes to the occult, as it often helps them as much as it does me by putting my thoughts in readable order and making me think.  It’s not that common I have to put some questions off, and generally that’s because they involve so much investigation and life-work that it becomes better to take the road to take a proper consultation with me for a really in-depth approach to answering such questions.  However, more often than not, simple one-off questions get prompt answers.  (If you’re interested, dear reader, check out the Contact page.)

Regrettably, this email I got didn’t have a good email address attached to it.  When I tried sending my reply, the email was immediately returned as undeliverable due to a non-existent email address.  It’s unfortunate, especially since this is the first time this has happened.  I have no other way of trying to get in contact with this person besides putting out a call on my Twitter and Facebook pages, so unless this particular reader of mine stalks me on either of those media, I don’t have a way to get back in contact with them.  (Let that be a lesson to everyone, to double-check all your entries when you try to contact someone!)  In that case, perhaps it’s best I just answer the email by making a new post specifically on this topic.  Turning a reader question by email into a post isn’t my usual approach, but between a lack of a means of communication and because the question in question is actually a thought-provoking topic, it’d be good to get the word out all the same.

What this particular reader was asking was about grammatomancy, the divination system I like that uses the letters of the Greek alphabet in a way not unlike Nordic rune divination.  In grammatomancy, each letter of the Greek alphabet is associated with a different oracular statement, and each statement begins with a different Greek letter.  For instance, the letter Gamma (Γ) has the oracle “Γῆ σοι τέλειον καρπὸν ἀποδώσει πόνων”, which translates to “The Earth will give you the ripe fruit of your labors”.  Traditionally, grammatomancy was performed by taking a bowl and filling it with 24 different pebbles or potsherds or other similar type of token, and each token had a different letter engraved on it.  Ask your question, draw out a random token, and look up the associated oracle; bam, there’s your answer.  Personally, I prefer a different approach of using dice, specifically two throws of a 12-sided die; I wrote about my method to use dice in this older post of mine.

What the reader asked was this:

I’m looking for simple instructions on how to set up dice with letters from the English alphabet, not Greek letters or symbols, including how many dice, how the letters are assigned to them, and any other info you may have.  The word “grammatomancy” goes right back to some site that gives the Greek info.

First, if I understand the situation correctly, the word “grammatomancy” started with this website.  The original source of the information I used by Apollonius Sophistes (John Opsopaus) simply calls it the Greek alphabet oracle, even in his more recent book The Oracles of Apollo: Practical Ancient Greek Divination for Today, and I honestly don’t recall the word “grammatomancy” or its Greek form “γραμματομαντεια” being used before its appearance in this 2013 post.  If it was, I apologize for my hubris, and would love to be corrected, but to my knowledge, searching online for the word grammatomancy will likely end you up at something I wrote.  Because of that, and because I’ve only discussed grammatomancy in terms of the Greek alphabet, all the resources available under that word are going to focus on the Greek alphabet.

Now, what about the actual question the reader asked?  Is there a way to use dice to randomly generate English letters?  The short answer is “no”, because of how many letters there are in the English alphabet.

The Greek alphabet as used since ancient times has 24 letters; there were a few extra letters at the start, like digamma and qoppa, but those were disused from an early period and kept around only for numeric and accounting purposes by specialists.  24 is a rather pleasing number, because it can be factored into several different sets of numbers, specifically 2 × 12, 3 × 8, and 4 × 6.  These are all fairly manageable numbers, and can be translated into dice throws quite easily.  For instance, you could use two throws of a 12-sided die (my preferred method), where the first throw determines the first half or second half of the alphabet (odd number = first 12 letters, even number = second 12 letters), and the second throw determines which letter in that set to pick; if I throw a 5 and a 9, for instance, I’ll look at the ninth letter of the first half of the Greek alphabet, which in this case is Iota.  Instead of rolling twice, you could flip a coin to determine heads for the first half of the alphabet and tails for the second half; in effect, you’re using a 2-sided die and a 12-sided die simultaneously.  Alternatively, you could throw a 4-sided die to determine which set of six letters to look at, and the 6-sided die to determine which letter in that set to pick; a 3 on the 4-sided die followed by a 3 on the 6-sided die would get you the third letter of the third set of six, which would be the fifteenth letter, which would be Omikron.  Heck, you could just use a 24-sided die (they exist!) and just associate each letter of the Greek alphabet with each number in order.

The problem with the English alphabet is that it has 26 letters.  Unlike the number 24, 26 cannot be broken down so neatly into smaller pairs of factors; you could only really break it down into 2 × 13.  While there are 13-sided dice and 26-sided dice out there, these are very uncommon specialty items, and probably not what the reader was asking about given how rare they are.  So, what could an English-minded grammatomancer do in this case?  There are several options that present themselves:

  • Don’t bother with dice at all and just use a bag of tokens or a bowl of pebbles.  This is the trivial non-answer, of course, and is not necessarily as convenient as just using plain old poker dice or tabletop RPG dice.
  • Use specially-made English alphabet dice.  They exist, sure, but again, this is a specialist option, and not very useful.
  • Increase the number of options to use from 26 to another number that can be easily factored into smaller numbers.  For instance, if you were to include a “space” letter (comparable to the modern Nordic “wyrd rune”), you get 27 options, which can be broken down into 3 × 9; if you were to include two extra letters (like the Spanish Ll and Ñ), you get 28 = 4 × 7.  However, both of these options aren’t really useful either, because 9-sided and 7-sided dice are only slightly easier to come by than 13-sided dice, which is to say “not very”.  The next greatest number that could be used for a standard set of tabletop roleplaying dice would be 32 = 4 × 8, so a roll of a 4-sided die and an 8-sided die, but this means having to use six extra letters or reinterpreting them as “wild” options that make you throw the dice again until you get a valid letter.  (This is basically what the alphabet dice in the above option does.)
  • Decrease the number of options to use from 26 down to 24.  This may seem like blasphemy (how dare I suggest deleting letters!), but consider that the English alphabet is a modern repurposing of the older Roman alphabet, which originally only had 21 letters and was later increased to 23 during the classical period.  In English use, the letters J and U are essentially “duplications” of the original letters I and V, and it was only up until recently that you’d often find things spelled as “Ierusalem” or “Vnder the sea”.  If you were to fold J into I and V into U, you’d go back down to 24 letters, and then you could use the same options that the Greek alphabet uses.

Personally, if I were pressed to make a choice that forced me to use dice, I’d go with the last option and get rid of J and U at the expense of considering them their own letters, because it seems most convenient that way.  I’d still consider using tokens a better choice than dice for the English alphabet, though.

However, this is only half the answer to what the reader asked about.  Once a method is found for using dice, what about the letters themselves for divination?  When we look at the Greek alphabet, we find historical evidence across the eastern Mediterranean that uses the Greek alphabet as a form of divination, with multiple sets of oracles associated with them, sometimes overlapping and sometimes distinct based on the region.  For the Roman alphabet, however, I don’t know of any such sources.  We have nursery rhymes and mnemonics that associate the letters of the English alphabet to different things, sure, but nothing of the same scale and focus as the Greek alphabet oracles that dot the ancient world.  To that end, I have no resources at my disposal and know of none that exist otherwise that discuss the letters of the English or Latin alphabets as an oracle in a grammatomantic way.

Should someone want to develop a set of oracular statements for each letter of the English alphabet, I would think it a good development, especially if the user of such a system wanted to find a more mystical way of applying the English alphabet in spiritual practices, or reinterpreting it as a “Theban oracle” by using the Theban alphabet cipher for English (which, as an aside, note how it already collapses I/J and U/V, and how W is just a duplication of U/V, technically reducing it down to 23 letters as used since classical Rome).  However, I would find using the Greek alphabet to be more useful from the get-go, not least because there are already sets of oracles ready to go for the Greek letters, but because the Greek alphabet already has associations to numbers, planets, signs, and elements via stoicheia and isopsephia as well as to hundreds of other classical concepts, animals, birds, stones, and procedures according to texts like the Kyranides.  In other words, the Greek alphabet already has information, lore, history, and power in it that the English alphabet basically lacks.  I won’t knock an English system of grammatomancy, but it’d need quite a bit of work, innovation, and invention to get it to a similar usable state that the Greek system presents immediately.

I hope that helps!  May the reader who sent me this question find this answer useful, and may everyone ensure to check their email addresses for correctness and validity before using them in contact forms.

Mathetic Pathworking of the Tetractys

Alright, time to actually talk practice again.  The past few posts were heavy on number theory, but the end of the last post touched on how it impacts our traversal of the Tetractys and how we can start thinking of numbers in terms of how we can actually use them for our spiritual progression.

So, disclaimer, guys: although this post is going to be on pathworking, astral/clairvoyant exploration, and similar topics, I make no claims to being an expert on this.  Although pathworking is not something foreign to me, it’s something that I underutilize in my work, if not outright ignore, even though I recognize the usefulness of it.  I’m geared more towards physical ritual, but astral exploration is something I’d like to get more into.  To that end, Tetractyean pathworking, yay!

The idea behind pathworking is actually fairly simple, and I’ve employed it before when doing meditations on the geomantic figures waaaay back in the day, but also more recently when meditating on the letters of the Greek alphabet.  The technique I use for “astral contemplation” is straightforward:

  1. Sit or lie in a comfortable position.  Clear the mind and regulate the breath.
  2. Visualize the symbol to be contemplated as clearly as you can.  Focus on the symbol becoming as real as possible in the mind.
  3. Vizualize a door, gate, veil, or curtain on which the symbol is written, engraved, embroidered, or whatever.  Let the symbol to be contemplated mark the gate as the entry to the “world” of that symbol.  You might picture the same door each time, or let the door form on its own around the symbol.
  4. Once both the symbol and the gate are fully realized in the mind, open the gate (or have it open) and step through it.
  5. Explore the world of the symbol.  Take note of all you perceive, and interact with the world as desired.
  6. When ready to leave, exit the world by taking the same path backwards, passing by each thing that was encountered on the way in until you reach the gate.
  7. Exit through the gate back into your own headspace, and close the gate.
  8. Visualize the gate dissolving into the symbol itself so that only the symbol remains.
  9. Visualize the symbol disseminating into one’s own sphere to as to retain the power and lessons learned from the contemplation.

You can use this with any set of symbols, from the seals of spirits to the geomantic figures to the planetary sigils from Agrippa to Greek letter or Tarot cards.  It’s a very malleable process that doesn’t rely much on ritual, if at all, though it can certainly be augmented by it through the use of mind-enhancing incenses, consecrated candles or oils, preliminary chants, and the like.

However, what this process best benefits from is preliminary study of the symbol.  What is the symbol’s name?  What spirits is it associated with?  What planets, elements, animals, plants, stones, forces, stars, and numbers is it associated with?  What mythic figures from different religions does it connect to?  In other words, it’s a vital, crucial part of the process to understand the correspondences of the symbol first.  You don’t need to see how they all interact with each other; I can hardly tell you how or why the twelve tribes of Israel are associated with the Zodiac signs the way they are, but they’re there for a reason.  It’s the astral exploration and contemplation that help with understanding the subtle interactions of everything, and give one a deeper knowledge of the symbol by means of experience.

So, let’s review our map, the Tetractys with the paths of letters.  As before, there are two main sets of paths, the Gnosis Schema with its Mitsubishi-like turns, and the Agnosis Schema with its hexagram-hexagon set.

The difference between the Gnosis and Agnosis Schemata involve the kind of force associated with each schema, as well as what sphairai they reach.  The Gnosis Schema is based on the twelve signs of the Zodiac, one step for every sign, as the student travels around the Tetractys.  The Agnosis Schema, on the other hand, contains the non-zodiacal forces: the seven planets and the four elements plus the quintessence of Spirit.  This is where one can get trapped in the cycles of this world, buffeted around by the archons and cruel fate; the Gnosis Schema, on the other hand, indicates the natural, fluid, smooth passage through all aspects of the cosmos up to and including purest Divinity, where we take the reins of our chariot and proceed on our true path to accomplish our One Thing.


Let’s focus first on the twelve paths of the Gnosis Schema.  Each path has an associated letter, and each letter with a sign of the Zodiac.  If we use Agrippa’s Orphic Scale of Twelve, we already have a wealth of symbolic knowledge on each path, to say nothing of what Liber 777 or other books of correspondence can get us.  However, the number 12 isn’t strictly given to the Zodiac, even in Hellenic reckoning.   There’s also the notion of the Twelve Labors of Heracles (of which the Thelemites have a fascinating view), and some medieval alchemists considered the Great Work to be composed of twelve stages, such as the Gates of George Ripley or the Keys of Basil Valentine.  All these can be considered as a single group, quest, set of paths, tasks, or transformations required to traverse the entirety of the Tetractys by means of the Gnosis Schema.

What of the Agnosis Schema, then?  The Agnosis Schema isn’t just one set of forces; in fact, according to how things are set up on the Tetractys, we can divvy these twelve forces up into three groups of four.  The first set, known as the Ideal forces, are the four elements themselves: Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.  The second set, the Empyrean set, are the two luminaries, the planet Mercury, and the quasi-element quasi-planet quasi-force Quintessence, aka Spirit.  The third set, the Ouranic forces, are the other four non-luminary planets of Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  The four elements and the seven planets all have their usual correspondences (cf. Agrippa’s Scale of Four and Scale of Seven plus, like, literally everything else written in the Western and Near Eastern occult corpus for 5000 years, give or take a millennium), but it’s that last force of Spirit that kinda confuses things a bit.  Spirit wasn’t really considered a separate force way back when; sure, as there are five Platonic solids mentioned in Plato’s Timaeus, there was a notion of a fifth…something out there, but it wasn’t considered to be an element like how Fire or Water was.  Nor was it a visible object in the night sky like the planets or stars, however Plato claims that this force decorated the entire cosmos.  I claim that Spirit is best seen as a median between the elements and planets, or a substrate underlying any other force out there, a type of non-materialized metaforce required for the materialization of anything else.  It’s like how, in order for an object to exist, there must exist a space for it to be present.  That kind of thing.  You can figure out the rest.

However, in addition to the zodiacal, planetary, and elemental forces, each path on the Tetractys is given one of the 24 Greek letters (indeed, this was really the whole impetus for having the paths to begin with).  Each Greek letter can be viewed in different ways.  The first three of these are fairly mundane: the name, the glyph, and the sound of the specific letter, all of which are given on a post way back when I first started considering the Greek letters as a vehicle for theurgy.

Okay, so.  At this point, I’d normally provide a table listing all the correspondences I’ve just mentioned to recap them all, but…the format of my blog would have this table run off the column of this text into the wild unknown, and gods only know what havoc it’d wreak on any number of RSS feeds, so I’m going to refrain from doing so this once.  I mean, if you wanted a table of correspondences that big, just get a copy of Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Tables.  Maybe, one day, I’ll publish my own focusing more on the Greek letters than Hebrew, but that’s not now.  Instead, go ahead and take a gander at all the links I’ve posted above and feed your hungry mind on the connections of the paths to the letters and to the forces and to everything else.

Why study all this?  Because the more information that is accessible to us in our minds, the more tools we’re providing our spirits for when we begin astral exploration and contemplation of these symbols.  It’s a commonly-heard refrain in some circles that “the limits of my language are the limits of my world” (cf. Sapir-Whorf hypothesis); if you don’t have an appropriate symbol set to work with, you can’t communicate, hold onto, or receive information that could use those symbols.  The more symbols we become familiar with, the more our minds and spirits have to work with, which expands the possibilities of vision and clairvoyance.  After all, it’s as my favorite comic seer Dominic Deegan says:

When a seer looks into a crystal ball and spouts some cryptic message, it’s not because second sight is inherently mysterious.  It’s because the seer doesn’t know what he’s looking at and he’s probably disguising his ignorance with cliché mysticism.  To master second sight you must have knowledge, which is found in books, which is why we have so much required reading for this class. (January 5, 2007)

Second sight is hard.  It requires a solid knowledge of history, politics, religion, arcane theory and even geography to really be of any use.  Otherwise it’s just looking at pictures. (January 11, 2007)

Study hard, kids. That’s important, no matter what you do in the occult.

Okay, so, say you’ve got a good grasp of the symbols, correspondences, associations, and affiliations of the letters with everything else.  What now?  We tap into that with pathworking, which is ritualized contemplation within a specific theurgical context.  Taking into account what’s commonly done in Golden Dawn and related orders, we would first mentally place ourselves within a particular sphaira as its own separate “temple”, envisioning a path leading to it (the one we used to enter) and other paths leading away from it (the possibilities of egress from the temple along the other paths).  Taking Alex Sumner’s brief discourse on qabbalistic pathworking, there are several steps to this process (rephrased from Sumner’s approach):

  1. Preparation of the physical temple and the pathworker.
  2. Visualization of the origin of the pathworking.
  3. Invocation of the forces of the path to be worked.
  4. The departure onto the path from the origin.
  5. The vision of the path.
  6. The arrival from the path unto the destination.
  7. The return to the world and normal consciousness.

Now, we can’t simply replace all the qabbalistic elements with mathetic ones; in many cases, I simply haven’t developed all the same things, and in others, I have no need to.  However, the underlying idea is the same, and many of the same methods can be adapted to this.  The important part that needs to be figured out first, however, is…where exactly do we start?

The whole point of undergoing initiation into the Gnosis Schema is to bring us from wherever we might be on the Agnosis Schema to the central sphaira on the Gnosis Schema.  Before that point, we don’t know where we are or how we got there; we need to be brought to a point of balance so as to be able to grow from that point, rather than trying to catch our bearings while we’re lost adrift on stormy seas.  After initiation, we find ourselves at the central sphaira, which has six paths leading to it all, all equally spread apart.  Thus, we begin at the sphaira of Mercury, and thence proceed onward to the path of Beta, which leads us down to the sphaira of Jupiter/Air.  We repeat the process time and again, periodically returning to Mercury, and continue along our paths.

So, if we begin at Mercury, how do we envision a “temple” or world for this sphaira?  That…well, I don’t really know what it would look like.  I do not know whether I can slip in my own visions of the planetary sphere of Mercury, and I doubt I could very easily, though it might make sense.  I do not know if the image I already have in mind can work, since I haven’t actually gone and explored what this sphaira looks like yet (to my own great shame).  But, if I were pressed to come up with a simple (if not simplistic) view based on what we already know and what we’ve already developed, I suppose we could always go with this little imagining I came up with:

Around you is a forum, a marketplace, filled with stalls and tents and shops all around you.  For some, these stalls are each manned and staffed with heaps of all sorts of foods, spices, riches, and goods; for others, the marketplace is deserted and dilapidated, with it looking more like a shantytown full of ghosts.  In either case, you stand at the center of three roads crossing each other in six directions.  The sky has the usual weather, the air balmy and breezy, and the road is full of dust sweeping in from each of the roads to the center where you now stand.  At the very center of the marketplace, in the exact middle of this six-way crossroads, stands a tall brazier atop a round altar.  This brazier has a fire lit of pure white gold flame, gently warming but weak.  Each road is lined with stalls and shops, though they start becoming fewer and farther between the further you look down each road.  Looking down one of the roads in the direction of the morning sun, you see at the far end of it, where the shops and buildings and tents give way to grass and rocks and dirt roads, a tall stone arch glittering in the light of the sky.

As you walk down this path, the bustle and business of the marketplace (or, alternatively, the whispers of wind and loose tentcloth) die down to silence, almost in anticipation of you reaching the arch.  As you get closer to the arch and further from the tents, you see that the arch leads onto a bridge crossing a deep chasm, heading off around you to both the left and the right.  The whole marketplace is on a large island, cut off from the surrounding lands yet connected by means of these six arches and their bridges wide enough to carry travelers, merchants, pilgrims, warlords, princes, paupers, and others of all kinds and nations.  Yet, these bridges are all but empty.  Beyond, however, you can see a whole new world through the arch, hearing all sorts of new voices and sounds, yet somehow it was not apparent to you until you looked through the arch itself.

The arch is elaborate, delicately engraved with repetitive motifs echoing long-lost languages that yet look familiar to you, mixed in with baroque depictions of cities, wars, crops, livestock, wildlands, gods above and below, and so many other scenes that could never be descried except at close distance, and at a close enough distance, you see all these patterns forming an infinitely-detailed fractal building upon and within itself endlessly.  At the very top of the arch, you see that the whole arch has been engraved with the ancient Greek letter Β; under it, suspended by gilded iron chains, is a brightly-gleaming lantern.  It has not been lit, though you can tell from the slow way it sways that it is full of oil and ready to be ignited at a moment’s notice.  Just above where the flame would be is a rope, tied to both columns supporting the arch, and from that rope a gate that, although fine and delicately-wrought, prevents you from passing through the arch proper.

Light the lamp and let its light beckon to those who would seek to enter, guided and amplified by the white gold flame in the crossroads.  Burn the rope, and bring down the gate.  Open the path to this new road and to this new world.  Leave the town as you are, and return when you are not.

…a bit of fancy prose, sure, but why not?  I don’t have much else to go on at the moment.  Besides, when I do get around to actually exploring the central sphaira, I’ll be able to get a better vision of the place and use that as the preliminary setup for a “mathetic temple”.  The use of the “gate blocking the arch” bit was to show that one cannot simply proceed immediately without doing work to earn the right of passage upon the path; in the Golden Dawn style of pathworking, each path had its own guard that needed to be appeased or tested first before one could go along the path.  Similar things should apply here, I figure, though the methods of testing would likely be different.  Plus, I might actually become inspired enough to give the damn thing its own proper name and title, as opposed to just calling it the “central sphaira” or “sphaira of Mercury”.

Details on the Grammatēmerologion

Yes, it’s official.  I’m settling on the term γραμματημερολογιον grammatēmerologion as the official term for the lunisolar grammatomantic calendar, including its chronological ritual use to schedule magical rites and festivals.  Long story short, this is a lunisolar calendar that maintains the lunar synodic months of 29 or 30 days in a particular cycle of either 12 or 13 months for every year to keep track with the seasons and the solar year.  What makes this different is that the days of the lunar month, as well as the months and the years themselves, are attributed to the letters of the Greek alphabet, hence grammatomantic for their ritual and occult significations.  If for some reason, dear reader, you don’t know what I’m talking about yet, go read through those two posts I just linked and learn more.

At its core, the major use of the Grammatēmerologion system is to keep track of monthly ritual days.  Of the 29 or 30 days in a lunar month, 24 are attributed to the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet; three are attributed to the obsolete letters of the Greek alphabet that were phased out (Digamma, Qoppa, and Sampi); and the other two or three are simply unlettered days.  Each of the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet is associated with a particular elemental, planetary, or zodiacal force according to the rules of stoicheia, and by those associations to one or more of the old gods, daimones, and spirits of the ancient Greeks.  Thus, consider the second day of the lunar month; this day is given the letter Beta.  Beta is associated with the zodiacal sign Aries, and by it to the goddess Athena and her handmaiden Nike.  Thus, scheduling sacrifices and worship to Athena and her attendant spirits on this day is appropriate.  The rest goes for the other days that are associated to the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet.  The three days given to the obsolete letters are given to the ancestral spirits of one’s family and kin (Digamma), one’s traditions and professions (Qoppa), and to culture heroes and the forgotten dead (Sampi).  The unlettered days have no ritual prescribed or suggested for them, and the best thing one can do is to clean up one’s house and shrines, carry out one’s chores, and generally rest.

Given a calendar or a heads-up of what day is what, that’s all most people will ever need to know about the Grammatēmerologion system.  Anything more is for the mathematicians and calendarists to figure out, although there are a few things that the others should be aware of.  For instance, there’s the problem of figuring out what months have 30 days (full months) and what months have 29 days (hollow months).  Add to it, in order to maintain a link between the lunar months and the solar year, we need to figure out which years need 13 months (full years) instead of the usual 12 (hollow years).  There’s a method to the madness here, and that method is called the Metonic cycle.  The cycle in question was developed by the Athenian astronomer Meton in the 5th century BCE, and he calculated that 19 solar years is nearly equal to within a few hours to 235 synodic months of the Moon.  Meton prescribes that for every 19 solar years, 12 of them should contain 12 synodic months and seven should contain 13; there should be a full year of 13 months after every two or three hollow years of 12 months.  Likewise, to keep the lunar month fixed to the actual phases of the Moon, a hollow month of 29 days should follow either one or two full months of 30 days.

Now, I won’t go into all the specifics here about exactly what month in what year of the Metonic cycle has 29 or 30 days or the gradual error that accumulates due to the Metonic cycle; that’ll be reserved for another text and another time.  Suffice it to say that Meton was very thorough in developing his system of 19 years and 235 days, figuring out when and where we should add or remove a day or a month here or there, and I’ve used his system in developing a program that calculates what the lunar date is of any given Gregorian calendar date.  (If you’re interested, email me and I’ll send you the Python code for private use only.)  If you want to read more about the specifics of the Metonic cycle developed and employed in ancient Greece, along with other calendrical schemes that the Metonic cycle was based on and influenced later on, I invite you to browse the six-volume work Origines Kalendariæ Hellenicæ by Edward Greswell from the 1860s (volumes one, two, three, fourfive, and six).  Yes, this is a nasty endeavor, but hey, I did it, so you can too.

So, let’s take for granted that we have the Metonic cycle of hollow and full months and hollow and full years.  We have a cycle of 19 years that repeats; cool!  The problem is, where do we start the cycle?  Without having a start-point for our Metonic cycle, we don’t have a way of figuring out which year is which in the Metonic cycle.  In the post where I introduced the lunisolar grammatomantic calendar, I sidestepped this by using the same cycles as another lunisolar calendar that makes use of a system similar to (but isn’t exactly) the Metonic cycle, that of the Hebrew calendar.  However, after researching the differences between the two, I decided to go full-Meton, but that requires a start date.  This start date, formally called an epoch, would be the inaugural date from which we can count these 19-year cycles.  The question then becomes, what should that start date be?

Well, the structure of the lunisolar grammatomantic calendar is based on that of the Athenian calendar, which starts its years on the Noumenia (the first day after the New Moon) that immediately follows the summer solstice.  Looking back at history, I decided to go with June 29, 576 BCE.  No, the choice of this date wasn’t random, and it was chosen for three reasons:

  • The New Moon, the day just before the Noumenia, occurred directly on the summer solstice.
  • The summer solstice coincided with a total solar eclipse over Greece.
  • This was the first year after the legislative reform of Solon of Athens in 594 BCE where the Noumenia coincided with the summer solstice so closely.

Thus, our first cycle of the Grammatēmerologion system begins on June 29, 576 BCE.  That date is considered the inaugural date of this calendrical system, and although we can track what the letters of the days, months, and years were before that, I’ve chosen that date to count all further dates from in the future.

Still, there’s a bit of a caveat here.  Recall that, in a 19-year cycle, there are 12 years with 12 months and seven years with 13.  12 is a nice number, but for the purposes of working with the Greek alphabet, we like the number 24 better.  Thus, instead of using a single Metonic cycle of 19 years, a grammatemerological cycle is defined as two Metonic cycles, i.e. 38 years.  Thus, in 38 years, there will be 24 hollow years and 14 full years.  At last, we can start assigning the Greek letters to periods longer than a day!  The 24 hollow years are the ones that have Greek letters, and these are given in order that they’re encountered in the grammatemerological cycle; the 14 full years, being anomalous, are left unlettered.

The only thing left now is to assign the letters to the months themselves.  In a year, we have either 12 or 13 synodic months, and that 13th month only occurs 14 times in a period of 38 years; we’ll make those our unlettered months.  Now, again, within a year, we only have 12 months, and we have 24 Greek letters to assign.  The method I choose to use here is to assign the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet to the 24 months in two successive years.  That means that, in the cycle of 38 years, the odd-numbered years will have month letters Α through Μ, and the even-numbered years will have month letters Ν through Ω.  This doesn’t mean that we’re redefining a year to be 24 (or 25) months, but that our cycle of associating the letters of the Greek alphabet makes use of two years instead of just one.  This is only cleanly possible with a dual Metonic cycle of 38 years, since a single Metonic cycle of 19 years would have both that final 19th year and the next initial first year both have month letters Α through Μ.

If you’re confused about the resulting system, I got your back.  Below are two charts I had already typed up (but really don’t wanna transcribe into HTML tables, although it feels awkward to take screenshots of LaTeX tables) that describe the complete system.  The first table shows what months are full and hollow within a single Metonic cycle of 19 years.  The second table shows what years and months within a dual Metonic cycle of 38 years get what letters.

Like I mentioned before, this is getting really in-depth into the mechanical details of a system that virtually nobody will care about, even if they find the actual monthly calendar useful in their own work.  Then again, I’m one of those people who get entranced by details and mathematical rigor, so of course I went through and puzzled this all together.  Ritually speaking, since we ascribe particular days to particular forces or divinities, we can now do the same for whole months and years, though with perhaps less significance or circumstance.

However, these details also yield an interesting side-effect to the Grammatēmerologion system that can be ritually and magically exploited: that of Μεγαλημεραι (Megalēmerai, “Great Days”) and Μεγιστημεραι (Megistēmerai, “Greatest Days”).  Because the day, month, and year of a given grammatemerological date each have a given letter, it’s possible for those letters to coincide so that the same letter appears more than once in the date.  So, for instance, on our epoch date of June 29, 576 BCE, this was the first day of the first month of the first year in a grammatemerological cycle; the letter of the day, month, and year are all Α.  In the second day of the second month of the first year, the letters of the day and month are both Β and the letter of the year is Α.  These are examples of a megistēmera and a megalēmera, respectively.

  • A megalēmera or “Great Day” occurs when the letters of the day and the month are the same with a differing letter of the year.  A megalēmera occurs in every month that itself has a letter, so not in those 13th intercalary months in full years.  Because it takes two years to cycle through all 24 month letters, a particular megalēmera occurs once per letter every two years.
  • A megistēmera or “Greatest Day” occurs when the letters of the day, month, and year are all the same.  A megistēmera can only occur in years and months that themselves have letters, so megistēmerai cannot occur in full years.  A particular megistēmera occurs once per letter every 38 years, but not all letters have megistēmerai.  Only the ten letters Α, Ε, Ζ, Κ, Λ, Ν, Ρ, Σ, Χ, and Ψ can receive megistēmerai due to the correspondence between the letters of the year and the letters of the month based on whether the year is odd or even.

In a sense, these are like those memes that celebrate such odd Gregorian calendrical notations such as 01/01/01 (January 1, 1901 or 2001) or 11/11/11 (November 11, 1911 or 2011).  However, we can use these particular dates as “superdays” on which any particular action, ritual, offering, or festival will have extra power, especially on the comparatively rare megistēmerai.  These days are powerful, with the force and god behind the letter of the day itself extra-potent and extra-important, and should be celebrated accordingly.  It’s similar to how the system of planetary days and hours work: yes, a planetary hour is powerful, and a planetary day is also powerful, and if you sync them up so that you time something to a day and hour ruled by the same planet, you get even more power out of that window of time than you would otherwise.  However, megalēmerai are comparatively common, with 12 happening every year, compared to megistēmerai, which might happen once every few years.

Consider the next megistēmera that we have, which falls on October 17, 2015.  In 2015, we find that June 17 marks the start of the new grammatemerological year; yes, I know that this falls before the summer solstice on June 21, but that’s what happens with lunar months that fall short of a clean twelfth of the year, and hence the need for intercalary months every so often.  The year that starts in 2015 is year 7 of the 69th cycle since the epoch date of June 29, 576 BCE.  According to our charts above, the seventh year of the grammatemerological cycle is given the letter Ε.  Since this is an odd-numbered year in the cycle, we know that our months will have letters Α through Μ, which includes Ε.  The letter Ε is given to the fifth month of the year, which begins on October 13.  We also know that the letter Ε is given to the fifth day of the month.  Thus, on October 17, 2015, the letter of the day will be Ε, the letter of the month will be Ε, and the letter of the year will be Ε.  Since all three letters are the same, this qualifies this day as a Megistēmera of Epsilon.  This letter, as we know from stoicheia, is associated with the planetary force of Mercury, making this an exceptionally awesome and potent day to perform works, acts, and rituals under Mercury according to the Grammatēmerologion system.  The following Megistēmera will be that of Zeta on November 25, 2017, making it an exceptionally powerful day for Hermes as a great generational day of celebration, sacrifice, and honor.

As noted before, only the ten letters Α, Ε, Ζ, Κ, Λ, Ν, Ρ, Σ, Χ, and Ψ can receive megistēmerai.  To see why Β cannot receive a megistēmerai, note that Β is assigned to the second year in the 38-year grammatemerological cycle.  Even-numbered years have months lettered Ν through Ω, and the letter Β is not among them.  This is a consequence of having the months be given letters in a 24-month cycle that spreads across two years.  We could sidestep this by having each month be given two letters, such as the first month having letters Α and Ν, the second month Β and Ξ, and so forth, but that complicates the system and makes it less clean.  Every letter receives two megalēmerai per grammatemerological cycle, but only these specified ten letters can receive megistēmerai; whether this has any occult significance, especially considering their number and what they mean by stoicheia, is something I’ve yet to fully explore.

So there you have it: a fuller explanation of the lunisolar grammatomantic calendar, known as the Grammatēmerologion system, to a depth you probably had no desire to investigate but by which you are now enriched all the same.  It’s always the simple concepts that create the most complicated models, innit?

Grammatomantic Ritual Calendar vs. Planetary Hours

Of all the ritual tools I possess, the most important one isn’t even really a tool at all, since it’s intangible.  I have a hard time calling it a technique, since it’s not really a skill and it’s something I have to work with in order to make use of, like a resource.  It’s the matter of timing, and it’s crucial to much of my magical and devotional works.  Whether it’s being as specific as timing something to a 30min window for a rare astrological election or just being lazy and doing something at some point during a week of the waxing moon, timing is something that can easily make or break a good ritual, so it’s important to understand the rules of occult timing properly for any magician.  Any ritual, heck, any activity whatsoever can be augmented and benefitted from looking at a clock and using a few mental rules or simple charts, from conjuring one of the cosmic leaders of creation to organizing your wardrobe; it pays, sometimes handsomely, to learn how to time things magically.

By far, the most common system I’ve seen of occult timing is the system of planetary days and hours, which is such common knowledge among Hermetic magicians and traditional astrologers that I don’t see a need to rehash it in full here.  Suffice it to say that each of the seven traditional planets (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn) are each associated with one of the days of the week (Sunday with the Sun, Monday with the Moon…).  Each planetary day starts at sunrise, and there are 12 diurnal hours (1/12 of the total time between sunrise and sunset) and 12 nocturnal hours (1/12 of the total time between sunset and the next sunrise); each of these are assigned one of the planets, as well, in a repeating order.  Times when the planet of the hour matches the planet of the day are exceedingly good for working with that planet, such as conjuring the angel or daimon presiding over the planet, while combinations of different planetary hours with different planetary days can yield interesting and refined times for specific acts (a la Jason Miller’s Advanced Planetary Magic).  This system of hours and days may look complicated, and if you’re having to calculate it all out by hand then it can be a headache at times, but there are plenty of tools to help you calculate planetary hours, so you don’t really have an excuse to be ignorant of them.  This system has been used for over a thousand years, and comes up time and time again (sorry I’m not sorry) throughout Western occult literature, so it behooves you, dear reader, to become familiarized with the system if you’re not already.

Remember, however, that you can’t have the planetary hours without the planetary days, and the planetary days is a repeating cycle of seven.  Seven is quite a popular number in occulture, spirituality, religion, and mysticism, and the system of planetary hours/days is a complete system on its own that can augment anything and benefit anyone.  The problem I have, however, is that I’m starting to use a totally different cycle of timing, my lunisolar grammatomantic calendar for Hellenic and mathetic rituals.  This is a cycle of 29 days (in a hollow month) or 30 days (in a full month) following the passage of the Moon in its synodic month, where there are three decamerons of 10 days, with the final decameron having 9 days if it’s a hollow month.  In each decameron, eight of the days are associated with one of the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet, one of the days is given to one of the three obsolete Greek letters, and one of the days is unlettered (with this being the omitted day in hollow final decamerons).  I’ve been using this calendar for great effect lately in doing my mathetic letter meditations, scrying sessions, and rituals with the Greek gods above and below, and it’s a system I plan to continue using and refining as I continue developing it and my own mathetic practice.

The issue arises when I try to combine the two systems; it doesn’t really work.  Neither 29 nor 30 are multiples of 7, so they don’t really overlap except in complete cycles of each other (so thirtyish weeks or sevenish lunations, and the lack of specificity and exactitude here bothers me).  Add to it, the grammatomantic calendar doesn’t prescribe offerings and sacrifices on the days associated with the seven vowels, instead giving them to the seven planets themselves.  Thus, the first day of the lunar month, the Noumenia, is given to the letter Α, and thus to the planet of the Moon, regardless of what the day of the week might say it is; same case for the fifth day being given to Ε and thus to Mercury, and so forth.  Thus, the grammatomantic calendar affords another kind of planetary association to the days, though much more spread out than the system of planetary days.  It’s not something I’ve fully explored yet, being used to the system of planetary days and hours, but I plan to in the near future.

The problem, as you might have guessed, is that these systems don’t overlap very often.  For instance, if the Noumenia is the day associated with the Moon, and we’d like to find Noumeniai that are on Mondays to link the planetary day of the Moon with the grammatomantic day of the Moon, the next one is coming up on Monday, December 22, 2014; the next one after that is Monday, September 14, 2015, nine months apart!  Add to it, the system of planetary days and hours is pretty much a solar system, timed according to the rise and set of the Sun in patterns of seven.  The grammatomantic calendar (which I really need to find a shorter name for, perhaps γραμματημερολογιον, “grammatēmerologion”?) is lunar and follows its own patterns, which are frustratingly irregular by solar notions of the passage of time.  The two systems, simply, aren’t compatible to be mixed like that.

This only gets worse once we start reckoning letters for periods longer than a day.  For instance, the lunisolar grammatomantic calendar can give a letter to every lunar month, as well, but note that, because of the mismatch between the number of days in a synodic month and the number of days in a year, some years will have 12 months (hollow years) and some will have 13 (full years).  If we assume that every year has 12 months, then we assign every month in a two-year period one of the Greek letters in order, with the thirteenth month in a year receiving no letter.  How do we figure out which years need 13 months and which only need 12?  We look to the Metonic cycle of 19 years, 12 of the years being hollow (12 months) and seven of the years being full (13 months) in a particular order.  If we use a dual Metonic cycle of 38 years, then we have 24 hollow years interspersed with 14 full years.  We can assign all the hollow years in the dual Metonic cycle a Greek letter in order, leaving the full years unlettered.  However, with a month of 29 or 30 days, a year of 12 or 13 months, and a cycle of 38 years, none of this can be easily matched up with a system of seven days.  Thus, if one dual Metonic cycle starts on a Monday (year Α, month Α, day Α all falling on a Monday), the next time that will happen is in approximately (but maybe not exactly!) 266 years, which is 7 × 38.  A rare occurrence, indeed!

In that light, let me qualify my previous statement: the system of planetary days and hours, on its own without considerations of other systems of time, can be used by anyone to benefit everything, given a more-or-less Western or Hermetic understanding of the cosmos with seven planets.  The grammatēmerologion system uses the same seven planets, but is otherwise incompatible with the system of planetary days and hours.  Thus, they can’t really be used in tandem except by happenstance unless you have months (at a minimum) or centuries (if you want the whole shebang) to wait for a syzygy of letters and planets and days to occur.  I admit that I’m a little grieved by this, but I can’t say I’m completely surprised by the result.

So where does that leave us?  Honestly, my best solution is that it doesn’t matter.  So what if the systems don’t match up right?  They don’t need to!  They’re independent systems working on their own; there’s nothing wrong with that.  The system of planetary days and hours, of course, is definitely vetted and used across Western occulture, and it’s both simple and highly refined to achieve powerful results all on its own.  The grammatēmerologion system works, although it is experimental and used pretty much only by me and my household, yet calls upon the same forces.  So what if it calls for lunar rituals on a Tuesday?  According to the grammatēmerologion system, we don’t even have Tuesdays or any of the other days of the week; we have decamerons of ten days each based on the phase of the Moon, not (what might plausibly be argued) artificial cycles of seven days.  A debate between the theoretical efficacy of planetary days and hours versus that of grammatēmerologion is akin to arguing which set of elements is better to use, the Empedoclean/Western set of four or the Chinese system of five.  Arguing about it doesn’t make sense, since there’s no common ground to link the two together and compare or contrast against.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’ll break out my conjuration tools and call down Gabriel at sunrise on a Tuesday just because it happens to be the first day of the lunar month.  Planetary conjurations in the Trithemian-Solomonic-Hermetic system make use of the system of planetary days and hours, and I’m not one to force Gabriel to work with a system that he (nor the enclosing system he finds himself in) hasn’t vetted or agreed to.  Yes, I can just conjure Gabriel during a planetary hour of the Moon on a Tuesday, but that’s still relying on planetary hours and days.  Rather, in order to stick with the grammatēmerologion system in mathetic ritual and that system alone, a different approach to working with the planetary energies and forces is suggested here, one that can work with the seven planets as understood in Hermeticism as well as not being tied to the system of planetary days and hours as much of Solomonic work tends to be.  That’ll afford a deeper area of research, which can easily tie into my devotions as well as other offerings and sacrifices made throughout the rest of the grammatomantic lunar month.