Compilation Paralysis

I’ve been on a compilation kick lately.  I mentioned in a recent post of mine about the Orphic Hymns that I’m compiling a personal temple text from a variety of sources because I don’t like having books in my temple room if I can avoid it; for instance, I have a copy of Dervenis’ Oracle Bones Divination that, up until quite recently, I’ve been using as my reference for astragalomancy, and have kept it with my shrines for the Greek gods.  This…makes me uncomfortable, so I transcribed all the necessary information from that into a personal ebook for me to keep a printout of instead.  Not only do I get to finally put the damn book back on the bookshelf after way too long, but I also get to reformat it, reorganize it, and include other information I want to reference, as well as tweak some of the translations for my own tastes.

Of course, one thing led to another.  I also included a few pages for grammatomancy, which also references a good chunk of my Mathesis correspondences to the letter, and because Opsopaus included the Delphic Maxims in his Oracles of Apollo book, I decided to include those, too.  Again, nothing too elaborate or in-depth; I have enough experience with these systems and the backgrounds and contexts in which they were written to not have to have all the extra information in a temple reference.  The final result is something I could be content with…except, of course, I wasn’t.  Given all the references to the other gods between grammatomantic correspondences to the zodiac signs and, by those, to the Greek gods (cf. Agrippa’s Orphic Scale of Twelve, book II chapter 14), I wanted to also have a section for the Orphic Hymns.  This is reasonable; after all, my personal vademecum-enchiridion-prayerbook has a number of them already transcribed, and while I won’t use all the Orphic Hymns in my practice, why not have a complete set for reference, just in case?  It wasn’t hard to find a copy of the Greek texts as well as the Taylor translations that I could simply copy, paste, and format for LaTeX’s customary needs.

But, of course, why stop there?  I also ended up adding Gemisthus Plethon’s hymns as well as those of Proclus, which I find useful for my Neoplatonic uses as well as my devotional ones.  And, if we’re going with devotions, I decided to also include a few prayers attributed to Hermes Trismegistus from the Corpus Hermeticum, the Asclepius, and so on, and because of those, I also wanted to bring in a few things from the PGM, which then became more than a few things from the PGM, and then I added in the planetary invocations from the Picatrix because those would be useful, too…

The ebook I was preparing ballooned from a simple reference for divination to a compendium of devotional and oracular texts.  Whoops.

But, yanno, I was hooked!  I wanted to bring in what I could, because it might be useful, whether in a devotion to the theoi or in divination or needing something to reference for meditation.  And, so, my penchant for completionism and perfectionism kicked in—hard—and I’ve been looking through my other references and books, trying to pick out useful prayers, invocations, rituals, and the like for my temple.  In effect, I was essentially making a typed-up version of my vademecum, with a different focus and with plenty more texts that I’m not accustomed to using.

This is all well and good, of course, assuming I could actually use the thing.  And in the form it was in, even in the form it had been in, it was quite plenty useful, and definitely satisfied my original needs of having a handy divination reference in my temple.  But since I brought in all these other things, I knew I wanted more, and because I wanted more, I also knew that it was incomplete.  And how would I tolerate having something be incomplete?  The idea is as distasteful as unnecessarily having books in my temple room.  Because it was incomplete, I didn’t want to print it out prematurely, especially with having to deal with page numbers or section enumeration, because if I wanted to add or fix something, I’d have to go back and reprint the damn thing for consistency, and even though I can get by by using the office printers once in a while for personal ends, I didn’t want to waste that much paper and ink.  Editing a text is one thing—I’m not opposed to using interim texts with scratched-in notes—but putting something on paper, especially printing something out, gives me a hard-to-achieve and yet so-satisfactory feeling of something being “fixed”, even if it is for my eyes only.  So, in order to make printing this thing meaningful, I wanted to make sure it was worthy and proper for printing.

It’s been over a month since I had the original problem of “I need a quick reference for divination”.  It’s also been over a month since I’ve had a workable, totally satisfactory solution for this problem, too, and yet I still haven’t fulfilled my needs.  Instead, I got caught up in a problem I call “compilation paralysis”: not wanting to proceed in some matter due to a fear of not having enough resources, options, or sources.

Some authors, especially those in academia or in teaching-types of writing, might know the feeling well, of not feeling like you have adequate source material to publish.  I have that same sensation, too, for my geomancy book-in-progress, knowing that there’s still so much more that might be included but…well, the benefits diminish after a certain point, and well before that, it’s probably better to cut out stuff that’s truly extraneous and unnecessary before adding anything more.  It does, in fact, help to start off with too much and cut down rather than having the opposite problem, and this is a habit I picked up in college for my research papers (getting down to the ten-page mark was a lot easier than trying to BSing and subtle-formatting my way up to it).  But, at the same time, consider the context: what these authors are dealing with is a single book on a single topic that is published for a single need.  Once that need is met, the book is (in theory, at least) publishable; further books can be written or new editions made with further appendices, but those aren’t strictly needed.  My problem, in this case, is dealing with something for me and me alone that needs to satisfy my sometimes-nebulous needs.

One of the reasons why I support people having a notebook or, perhaps even better from a utilitarian standpoint, a binder with written pages for their vademecum-enchiridion-prayerbooks or records of their prayers and rituals is because these are essentially living documents; as we grow in practice, they grow, too.  As we find new prayers, rituals, and correspondences, we add them in, organization be damned.  We can reevaluate the real use of these things we add, and reorganize what makes the cut, when we fill the first notebook and move onto the second one, as I did not too long ago.  These aren’t things that need to be polished, edited, or fixed in any way except what serves our needs in prayer and ritual, and as such, don’t need to be fancy, embellished, typeset, illumined, or otherwise made particularly fancy.  In fact, I have a personal fear of using those beautifully handcrafted, leatherbound, embossed, etc. journals I see floating across the internet and bookstores because I tremble at the thought of messing up such a beautiful work with errors or wasted paper; not only is my calligraphy not up to par to match the beauty of these books, but I find these things to be more appropriate to true works of devotion and love that are complete and refined unto themselves.  (I only speak for myself, of course.)

So, like, with my personal enchiridion, I don’t particularly care about making errors; there are scratchmarks, crossouts, and addenda all over the damn thing.  The important thing for me is not to waste space, so I try to be as efficient as possible cramming in as much information and references as possible into as few pages and lines as possible.  This is fine; after all, it’s my own personal thing, and nobody else needs to see or use it; besides, Moleskines can be expensive for such a notebook, even if they’re the perfect size to carry around (and fit in a Hyundai car manual leather case, I might add, which gives it extra padding and some extra utility, in case you wanted to try that out as a Moleskine bookcover).  The things I add to my enchiridion are a testimony to my growth and directions and shifts in focus I take in my practice, which I find is informative on its own.  The only important criterion I have for adding stuff to it, truly the only one, is whether something is going to be useful to me; if not, I’m not gonna waste the time writing it in or the ink to write it.

That’s what reminded me to get out of my compilation paralysis.  There’s no need to be scared or anxious about not having enough sources; if I need something later, I can just add it it.  It’s not like I didn’t already have these sources and there’s a threat of losing them; I’ve never needed a copy of the Homeric Hymns or the Nabataean prayers to the Sun or Saturn on hand when I didn’t already have my enchiridion or my copy of the Picatrix at hand, after all, so why should I be so worried about not having them in this temple reference?  I can always add new things into the overall document, print out the necessary pages, and just add them into the binder where appropriate.  It’s not that big a deal.  I know for a fact that I can always get this information should I need it, and if I haven’t needed it yet, there’s no harm to start off with that which I know I need right now and add stuff later.  I’ve got more than enough source material for what I need, anyway, and it’s more manageable to deal with two small binders than one massive one.

It’s a bitter pill for me to swallow, but even I have to admit it: none of us needs to know everything about our practices right out of the gate.  It might be nice, to be sure, but that’s also kind of the beauty of it, to let growth happen organically, especially if you’re in a practice that you’re developing on your own, as so many magicians and pagans are.  You don’t need full copies of the Homeric Hymns or Orphic Hymns in both Greek and English the moment you decide to build a shrine to one of the gods; you don’t need to know all the specific proportions of all the ingredients for the obscure incenses needed for all the planets from the Picatrix when you’re not even going to bother with a planet you’re going to interact with tonight once and probably not again for a few years more.  Part of the practice is just that: practice.  We do things, and then we do both more things and we do those same things more.  We learn, we accumulate, and we incorporate what we do into what eventually becomes our whole practice.  Part of that is necessarily finding more things to add and adding them at the proper time, as well as changing the things we do as we need to change them so as to keep doing them better or, at least, keep doing things better for our own sakes.  If we need to make emendations, do so at the proper time; you don’t know what would need them until you do or until they’re pointed out to you, and so much of that is based upon trial and error, experimentation and evaluation.  It’s not that big a deal.

There’s no need to worry, and there’s no cause for paralysis.  All you need to do is, simply, do.  Amend, fix, and add when you need to.  Don’t worry about trying to have everything ready for everything, especially when you don’t know what “everything” consists of.  Relax, then Work.

The Twenty-Eight Faces of Mēnē

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grammatēmerologion Calendar for Cycle 69, available for download now!

I mentioned in the introduction to my last post on myth and stories as models for practice that I’ve been working on my old grammatomantic calendar, the Grammatēmerologion, again.  In short, this is a lunisolar calendar I devised based on the Attic calendar used in ancient Athens for my Mathesis work, with a special emphasis on associating the days of the lunar months to the letters of the Greek alphabet.  Not only does this help me get a sort of feel for the type of day I might be facing, a la omen calendars such as in Hesiod’s Works and Days or the day-based forecasting of Mayan astrology, but it also helps me organize rituals and meditations, especially for sacrifices to the Greek gods.  I find it an incredibly useful invention for my own work, and I used to do a Daily Grammatomancy blurb for my followers on my Facebook page that incorporated the information from this (the practice of which I plan to bring back in the near future, so if you haven’t yet, log onto Facebook and like my page!).  For more information on the Grammatēmerologion calendrical system, check out these posts:

Thing is, keeping track of a lunisolar calendar by hand can be hard.  I’ve written a few simple programs that calculate the lunisolar date and corresponding letter information for my convenience, but trying to export that information was hard enough as it is, especially if I’m down in my temple, forgot the proper date, and need to temporarily abort ceremony to run back to my computer to figure out what the date is.  For this sort of thing, having an actual physical calendar would be useful; after all, keeping track of dates is literally what they’re for!  Of course, given the kinds of data I wanted, I had to do quite a bit more programming to calculate any arbitrary set of astronomical and astrological phenomena, because…well, trying to find almost 40 years’ worth of such data online and then formatting it into a way I can use turned out to be far more work than coding the astronomical algorithms by hand, making sure the calculations were reasonably accurate, and formatting the output from said calculations.  It sounds like it’d be more work to do it that way, but it actually wasn’t that bad, compared to wrestling with any number of websites and then beating them into submission.

Well, I’m happy to announce that such a calendar is now complete in as good a form as I can stomach to make it (at least for the time being).  You can download the Grammatēmerologion Calendar for Cycle 69, spanning the time between June 2009 and June 2047.  This document includes:

  • A thorough description of the design, calculations, and nuances of the Grammatēmerologion lunisolar calendar from its Attic calendar origins
  • A discussion on grammatēmerologic days, months, years, hours, and days of the week
  • How to organize ritual and divination according to the grammatomancy of the days and other time periods of the Grammatēmerologion
  • Dates of significant grammatēmerologic importance
  • Seasonal start and midpoint dates
  • Zodiacal ingress dates of the Sun
  • Lunar phases of the Moon
  • Solar and lunar eclipses

Download the Grammatēmerologion Calendar for Cycle 69 for free at this link.
Ignore that link, check out the revised version (and why) here!

Unlike my other ebooks, I release this one gratis for all those who are interested in it.  Not only is it much different in style and purpose from my other ebooks, but I’m aware that this is a very niche thing that, in all likelihood, only I and maybe one or two other people will use.  Given its departure from the Attic calendar and the traditional way of assigning feast days to the Greek gods, I’m not holding my breath for Hellenion or any of the Hellenic pagan community to just suddenly up and adopt this calendar for their own usages.  That said, some of my fellow occultists and woogity friends have expressed interest in this calendar, so why not?  After all, I find value in long-term planning, and what could better fit that tendency of mine than planning out New Moon dates some 30 or 40 years in advance?  Plus, this way, I and others can print out hard copies to stash in our temples, so that we’re not running back and forth reaching for our phones or computers to check the letter-date when we happen to forget it after we already get comfortable in our sacred spaces.

Making this calendar was a fair bit of fun, and I have to say I learned quite a bit about astronomy and calendrical orders, as well as how to get my computer to play well with compiling huge documents programmatically.  Still, it was a lot of work, and I’m glad I don’t have to do this again anytime soon (though I may release other versions of this for previous or future cycles, just for those who want that sort of ephemerical information for decades far removed from our current one).  If there’s enough of a need for it, I may also decide to redo this project to include other astronomical or astrological information (perhaps retrograde periods of particular planets?) or other traditional Hellenic holidays accounted for by the Attic calendar, but that can wait for later.  If you find this sort of thing useful, please consider throwing a few bucks my way to my Ko-fi page to keep me caffeinated and productive on this and other projects!  Every little bit helps, and you’ll have my undying appreciation for the support.

Also, as another small update to be aware of: you can now purchase my ebooks directly through my blog!  I’ve added a new Books page to the top-level menu, so check it out!  Before now, the only way to get my ebooks was through my Etsy shop, but if (for some reason) you don’t like going through them or can’t, you can just use PayPal instead.  Be aware that, once you purchase an ebook directly through my blog, I’ll do my best to send you a copy of the ebook (either the file itself or a link to its download) as soon as I can; with Etsy, the download link is sent automatically upon purchase.  Still, this can give some people a helpful alternative to buying some of the things I’ve written.

Update: okay, so, later in the day after I publicly make this thing available, I found something in the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM VII.756ff) that would have been perfect to add into this.  Take a look; you won’t be disappointed once you see it.

Mythos and Stories as Models of Practice

Lately, I’ve been fiddling around with Python and LaTeX scripts again.  For those who aren’t as inclined to computers, the former is a very flexible, extensible programming language of no small fame, while the latter is a type of language used to format, typeset, and compile documents (sorta like what HTML and CSS are for webpages).  I use Python for all my short, little, experimental research things, like calculating certain astronomical/astrological phenomena or doing a brute-force search of all 65,536 possible geomantic charts for particular patterns, minimums, or maximums of certain qualities.  Meanwhile, I use LaTeX for all my document needs, mostly for ebooks but also for letters, résumés, and other things in lieu of a normal word processor like OpenOffice or Microsoft Word (because I’m a crazy fool who loves the commandline and raw power over convenience and ease).

The main impetus for this bout of hobby programming that’s been going on this week is so I can make a full calendar in LaTeX that spans from June 23, 2009 through June 23, 2047, complete with dates of eclipses, lunar phase changes, seasonal start and midpoint dates, and zodiacal ingresses of the Sun.  It’s hard to find that sort of data over such a wide span of time, and much more difficult than that to find it in an easily-obtainable format that I can use for LaTeX compilation.  To that end, I wrote the scripts to calculate all the astronomical information from scratch (Jean Meeus’ “Astronomical Algorithms” is a godsend of a book for this, so do get yourself a copy for reference) and formatted the output just the way I needed it.  It’s not exactly an exciting feeling to realize that it’s easier to just code and test all the algorithms yourself than trying to find the data you need online, but after two long days of coding, the profound feeling of accomplishment can’t be easily described (except, of course, as “fucking awesome and thank god that’s over”).

For what end would I take on this crazy project, you might ask?  Because this unusual span of time is the 69th cycle of 38 years of the Grammatēmerologion, the lunisolar grammatomantic calendar I devised that associates the days of the lunar months, the lunar months themselves, and the lunisolar years with the letters of the Greek alphabet for use in ritual grammatomancy and, more broadly, my nascent theurgic practice of mathesis, a new kind of Hermetic theurgy I’m developing that refocuses on Pythagorean, Platonic, and Neoplatonic influences before introduction of qabbalah.  It’s been a bit since I’ve done any mathetic work, given the whole house-buying/house-moving of 2016 and the Year in White of iyaworaje that went on through most of 2017, but I’m preparing slowly to pick it up again.  Since a daily observation of the letter of the day is a practice I found great use with, I wanted to have an actual calendar to reference instead of having another one of my scripts calculate it for me each and every morning.  (This also means I’ll be getting back to my Daily Grammatomancy posts I was doing for a while over on my Facebook page, so if you haven’t liked it yet, please head on over and do so!)  So, yanno, it’s the little gains that help give a sturdy foundation for this sort of work.

The thing is, though, that I’m not setting out to develop this whole new practice and system for its own sake, or for the sake of being able to say “look at me, mister high muckety-muck of my own sandcastle!”.  I want a way to explore the Neoplatonic and Hermetic cosmos without having to rely on the procrustean bed of qabbalah that we can’t seem to escape from, purge, or ignore; Hermeticism and Neoplatonism existed before and did fine without it, and even if qabbalah brought in excellent insights and models and frameworks for the two philosophies to expand with (and it most certainly did!), after a certain point, those same models and frameworks can become a hindrance.  If nothing else, taking another look with another system can breathe a breath of fresh air into these things, and allow for opening up new doors and avenues to cosmic exploration, theurgy, and spiritual development.

Going through my old posts and notes on what I’ve already set up is incredibly useful, but I see something clearly now that I didn’t before (time is great for providing experience, after all, no matter how much we might think we have some at the time).  Consider one of my favorite quick rituals, the Blessing of the Vessel, first discussed in this 2015 post, which I use as a way for generating a sacred elixir to partake of the blessing of the Divine.  This ritual works quite well on its own, though it uses some pretty arcane Judaeo-Coptic symbolism.  However, if I were to make a mathetic variant…I ran into a mental wall trying to figure that one out.  Sure, I could just replace the names of the angels or godforms, but…that seems hollow to me.  While swapping out related concepts from one system to automagically transform it into a new system is definitely a thing, like using a Celtic or Hellenic deities instead of the four archangels to make more pagan forms of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, I personally find the practice distasteful and it never seems to work as fully, as cleanly, or as effectively as the original ritual in its own context with its own appropriate entities and names.  Moreover, I couldn’t think of anything comparable to the symbols and metaphors used in the Blessing of the Vessel that could be seen in Hellenic mythology off the top of my head, which…

That reminded me of that post I wrote not too long ago about how the rituals we use are means of reliving myths.  La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, more commonly known as Santería, is a perfect example of this.  All the ceremonies we participate in, all the things we wear, all the offerings we make, all the songs we sing, and so forth are established not just by tradition, but by the precedents laid out for us in the mythological stories that undergird the entire religion.  In this case, as in many religions and systems of faith, “myth” here doesn’t just mean a fairy-tale, but a narrative that explains how things become into the world and why we do certain things in a certain way.  The mythos of a religion, then, is the collective story of the cosmos from the point of view of that religion; to participate in the religion is to participate in the eternal telling-retelling of that mythos, where we are both a member of the audience as well as an actor on the stage.  Every religion is like this: Christianity retells the story of Christ’s sacrifice through the Eucharist, which is an eternal event that is played out in discrete instances that participate in the eternal truth of Jesus’ sacrifice; Judaism retells the story of the covenants of God with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and Aaron and the Exodus through the Passover Seder and the various mitzvot they maintain; Buddhism describes the paths to nirvana through the practices of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and how we are to understand the Noble Eightfold Path as well as all the discrete, different practices that can more quickly help us achieve our goal; Santeria tells through all the odu and all the pataki about the exploits of the orishas and how they impact our lives and what we can do about the problems through the rites and rituals that the orisha laid down so long ago, and so on.  Even in magic, we use stories that undergird our work: Solomonic magicians take on the role of Solomon as primordial gōes, reiki masters take on the role of their initiators going back to Usui-sensi to ply their work, Greek necromancers take on the role of those heroes like Odysseus who went down to the land of the dead and came back alive, and so forth.  These aren’t just simple stories we tell to children; these are the archetypal foundations of ideology, worldview, culture, faith, and interaction that our societies and civilizations are built upon and grow around.

So, what then of mathesis?  I realized that, though I have the basic ideas of Hermetic theurgy within a Pythagoreansim-centered Neoplatonic framework down and a handful of basic tools and methods at my disposal, I lack a story, a myth that explains what the whole goal is and how spiritual practices and methods should be established.  It’s these stories that not only provide inspiration for new methods to grow and develop, but also point to some of the dangers I might face and flaws I might find in myself along the way, as well as the remedies and precautions to take for when I do face them.  Without such a story, all I’m really doing is bumbling around in the dark repeating the same acts over and over with no purpose.  I can liken this to an actor on a stage reciting the same soliloquy extemporaneously with neither context nor play; no matter how excellently they might recite it, it has no meaning or purpose except to practice the ability of recitation for its own sake.  It’s only when such a soliloquy takes place in the proper context of a play that it has meaning.  All these practices of purification, meditation, contemplation, initiation, and whatnot don’t mean anything if they don’t have an overall story to fit into.  Like a collection of pieces to build furniture from IKEA, if you don’t know what you’re doing and have no instructions to fit everything together, that collection is going to remain nothing more than a pile of bits and odds and ends that don’t do anything except allow for someone to play at a frustrating adult version of Legos.

Now, I should say that I’m not trying to distill mathesis down to any one myth, any one story that we know of from ancient Greece.  I’m not suggesting that I’m doing that, or that I should do that.  I’m really talking about something more archetypal and fundamental than any one story, something that takes place time and time again in individual stories.  Consider what Leo Tolstoy (or Dostoyevsky, or John Gardner, or others) once said: “all great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town”.  This is the kind of archetype I’m talking about: a fundamental action that takes place.  Just how the Iliad is an example of the classical “war epic” while the Odyssey is one of the “journey epic”, and how the Aeneid is an example of both, and all of which take place in greater and larger cycles of epics and sagas, each with their own stories and subplots that collectively describe how things come to be, what is the sort of high-level framework “saga” that mathesis might adopt as its underlying mythos?  That’s an interesting thing for me to ponder as a model for mathesis.

After all, consider that we can use the word “model” in terms of “framework”, but also in the sense of “role model”.  What sort of character am I playing out by working in this way?  What sort of tribulations, conflicts, issues, problems, predicaments, and crises might I face?  Where might I look towards for help and succor?  To what end do I play out this role, and how does this role pick up and start again (reincarnate, rebirth, renew) in another iteration of the story?  After all, the idea of “role model” is played out quite heavily in occult and spiritual work in terms of godforms; the Catholic priest takes on the role of Jesus when he lifts up the host and say “this is my body”, the Vajrayana Buddhist takes on the role of their yidam in meditation, the Golden Dawn initiate takes on the role of any number of Egyptian gods for a given ritual, and so forth.  In adopting a role, we take on the strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and powers of that form we take; consider the Headless Rite, where the primary mechanism is to become Akephalos, the Headless One, to command the forces of the cosmos for exorcism or banishing or conjuration.  Not only do models inform us what our views of the cosmos will be like, but models also inform us how we act within that cosmos and what our abilities and limitations are.

This isn’t to say, of course, that we can’t, don’t, or shouldn’t live by our own stories; of course we can, and we must!  While there’s definitely truth to Ecclesiastes 1:9—”what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun”—there’s a difference between the fundamental archetype which is mythos and the discrete, concrete instantiation of a a story that falls under that mythos.  Like with the whole “two stories, journey or arrival” quote from above, consider that, at least under the “journey” header, we have such disparate and varied stories such as that of The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, Pokémon, and the Odyssey are all such stories.  Under the broader notion of Proto-Indo-European religion, which formed the basis for many of the pagan religions across Europe and some parts of Asia and the Near East, there are high-level archetype stories of divine horse twins, a sky father, a dawn goddess, and a hero slaying a dragon; take a look, dear reader, at Celtic, Greek, Roman, Slavic, Vedic, Nordic, and other Indo-European myths and you’ll find countless stories that relate to them, oftentimes many iterations of a single story with different variations.  We each have our own story, each of which is unique, and all of which play into the archetypes of the cosmos both as processes and actors.

Come to think of it, that’s one of the things that I think we as occultists tend to neglect.  It’s…it’s at least an issue, but I’m unsure whether it’s a full-blown problem, that so many of us lack contexts for the things we do.  Like the actor reciting a preset soliloquy extemporaneously without context, many of the practices we have are so distanced and removed from the theologies, cosmologies, and philosophies that gave birth to them, and we’re at a loss without understanding that collective context.  I mean, sure, the Headless Rite will still work for you whether or not you understand the currents of Egyptian, Christian, Jewish, Greek, gnostic, academic, priestly, and folk influences that collectively gave rise to that ritual and its place in the broader understanding of Greco-Egyptian magical praxis and theory, but knowing all the rest of that does significantly help attune oneself better to the ritual, not just by understanding where it came from, but also the role of the ritual, the magician who invokes Akephalos, and Akephalos itself.  To put it in modern terms, consider chaos magic with its notion of paradigm shifting.  You can pick up any ritual and make it work, sure, but if you can’t paradigm shift between them, you can’t get the most out of any given ritual you perform because you aren’t immersed in the fundamental contexts (the mythos) that allow for that ritual to work.

This is most dangerous for eclectic practitioners that don’t belong to any one tradition or practice except “what they feel like, a bit of this and a bit of that”; without a coherent, cohesive, connective mythos that undergirds their worldviews, philosophies, cosmologies, and so on, I find it extremely rare that anything of what they do even comes close to the power and efficacy of someone who has a mythos and has truly integrated themselves and everything they do into that mythos.  A mythos as model, then, provides both a skeleton and a skin for one’s practices: a skeleton to arrange and structure one’s practices together, and a skin to separate out what belongs to it and what does not, filtering things in to and out from one’s system of practices.  Without a mythos, you’re just a jumble of things that you do, some of which may have an immediate use but no overarching purpose; a set of practices without a mythos is no more than a jumble of IKEA parts without instructions that may or may not combine together to form a useful bit of furniture, and even then only if you stumble upon the right combination and order of doing so.  If you’re just interested in performing and knowing how to perform individual acts for individual needs, more power to you, but if you’re looking for purpose and direction and how all these things you do can lead to you it, then you’re going to need a mythos to understand how all these things you do play into it.

It’s because of this that I’m so interested in setting up a new kind of Hermetic theurgy with Neoplatonic philosophy divested from qabbalah.  The central mythos is the same both with and without qabbalah, sure, but the stories that play out would be different.  A different story means different actors, different problems, different predicaments, different crises, different climaxes, different resolutions, different conclusions, even if it all fits into the same mythic pattern.  With each new difference comes new insights, new abilities, new techniques, new practices that can be developed, refined, and applied, yielding new ways to understand the cosmos and ourselves.  Mathesis and qabbalah might both be mirrors made of the same stuff that reflect reality, but they’d present it from different angles, with different views, colors, shadows, and understandings of the thing to be reflected.

Qabbalah works for Hermeticism, to be sure, but almost all that we do is part of the same Hermetic story.  I want to tell a new story, and see where else I might end up.  What story will mathesis tell, I wonder?