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?

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.

tetractys_paths_gnosis_signs

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 months, 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.

On Astragalomantic Probabilities

Using the astragaloi, or knucklebones, for divination has really intrigued me lately, as if you couldn’t tell from my last two posts on the subject.  Something about them feels different from other divination tools I’ve used; it could be that they’re actual bones taken from a living creature once, or that they just feel more arcane and ancient than my divination dice or cards I’m known to use.  All the same, they’re quickly becoming my favorite divination tool (besides geomancy generally), and I’m struck by their power and potency in getting answers.  The method is overall simple: take five astragaloi, throw them, and find the oracular verse associated with the combination of the sides that come up.  It’s simple, but elegant and straightforward.

However, they’re also different from my other divination tools in that they have really weird statistical properties.  Consider a die: every side of the die has (approximately) an equal chance of coming up when thrown.  Thus, on a six-sided die, throwing a 1 comes up as often as throwing a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.  Knucklebones, however, are different: they’re not ideal Platonic solids, nor are they regularly shaped in any sense.  Their organic and geometrically awkward shape results in there being different probabilities in throwing an astragalos on any given side.  Of course, the probabilities will differ slightly based on the individual knucklebone used and how hard it’s thrown, but based on an analysis by Phil Winkelman, we can approximate throwing an astragalos onto a particular side as follows:

  • Khion (1): 10%
  • Hyption (3): 40%
  • Pranēs (4): 40%
  • Kōon (6): 10%

It struck me that, because of the statistical probabilities associated with each number, not all oracular verses associated with each throw of the astragaloi will come up equally.  Some verses might be relatively common, while others would be extraordinarily uncommon to obtain, whether for good or evil.  Having some free time on my hands, I decided to run a short statistical analysis on how common different throws of the astragaloi would come up and how that would affect divination using astragaloi as compared to my other divination methods or suggested ways to use the astragalomantic oracular verses.

For instance, consider the use of astragaloi for grammatomancy.  Grammatomancy is my expanded version of the Greek alphabet oracle, and traditionally you would use five astragaloi for obtaining a Greek letter by throwing the bones and summing up the sides of the astragaloi.  So, for instance, if you threw (1,1,6,4,3), the sum would be 1 + 1 + 6 + 4 + 3 = 15.  The minimum sum you can get is 5 (1,1,1,1,1) and the maximum is 30 (6,6,6,6,6); based on how the numbers add up, you could not obtain a sum of 6 which requires (1,1,1,1,2) nor a sum of 29 which requires (6,6,6,6,5).  Between the numbers 5 and 30 inclusive, excluding the numbers 6 and 29, there are 24 possible sums.  Thus, we can associate each sum with one of the 24 Greek letters, starting with 5 = Ω and 30 = Α.  However, because the probability of an astragalos rolling on a 1 or 6 is 0.1, and on a 3 or 4 is 0.4, we get different possibilities for rolling different combinations of astragaloi and, further, obtaining different sums.  Below is a table that maps each letter of the Greek alphabet with its corresponding astragaloi sum (presented both in Arabic numerals and Greek numerals) and the probability one will obtain that letter from rolling five astragaloi.  The more extreme (higher or lower) the sum, the more rare the throw.  Thus, it’s extraordinarily unlikely that one will obtain Α or Ω with astragaloi (0.001% of the time), but comparatively common to obtain Μ and Ν (15.48% of the time).

Letter Astragaloi Sum Probability
Numerical Greek
Α 30 Λʹ 0.00001
Β 28 ΚΗʹ 0.0002
Γ 27 ΚΖʹ 0.0002
Δ 26 ΚϜʹ 0.0016
Ε 25 ΚΕʹ 0.00325
Ζ 24 ΚΔʹ 0.008
Η 23 ΚΓʹ 0.02
Θ 22 ΚΒʹ 0.0328
Ι 21 ΚΑʹ 0.0624
Κ 20 Κʹ 0.09674
Λ 19 ΙΘʹ 0.12
Μ 18 ΙΗʹ 0.1548
Ν 17 ΙΖʹ 0.1548
Ξ 16 ΙϜʹ 0.12
Ο 15 ΙΕʹ 0.09674
Π 14 ΙΔʹ 0.0624
Ρ 13 ΙΓʹ 0.0328
Σ 12 ΙΒʹ 0.02
Τ 11 ΙΑʹ 0.008
Υ 10 Ιʹ 0.00325
Φ 9 Θʹ 0.0016
Χ 8 Ηʹ 0.0002
Ψ 7 Ζʹ 0.0002
Ω 5 Ε 0.00001

For me, being used to my divination dice, this is shocking.  I use a dodecahedron die (d12, 12-sided die) for grammatomancy, where I roll the die twice.  The first roll gives me an odd or even number, which refer to the first 12 or last 12 letters in the Greek alphabet, while the second roll gives me the letter within that set according to its rank.  So, if I roll a 5 and an 8, I end up with the Greek letter Theta (eighth letter of the first half of the alphabet).  Using a 12-sided die where every side has an equal chance of turning up (approximately 8.333% of the time), every letter of the Greek alphabet has an equal chance of occurring (4.1667% of the time).  The statistical difference between getting the same Greek letter with a 12-sided die used in this way compared to using five knucklebones is huge; we’d get Α on the die 4.1667% of the time, but on the astragaloi only 0.00001% of the time.  It’s not impossible, just far more unlikely.  Then again, another classical method of grammatomancy was the method of ψηφοι, psēphoi or “pebbles”, where one has a jar of stones each marked with a different letter.  By reaching into the jar and pulling out a random stone, you get approximately an equal chance of obtaining any single Greek letter, which gets us the same results as using a 12-sided die in my fashion of using one.  Whether the use of astragaloi or psēphoi was more common for grammatomancy isn’t clear to me, but both methods work.

So what about the actual throw for proper astragalomancy, where we’re looking at the combination that results instead of the sum that’s formed from the combination?  We know that:

  • There are four sides (1, 3, 4, 6) on each astragalos
  • There are five astragaloi
  • Order of the dice doesn’t matter

Thus, although there are 1024 possible combinations of astragaloi, we only end up with 56 possible throws of the astragaloi when we disregard the order and only consider unique combinations of the bones.  Below is a table that shows the probability for each possible throw of the astragaloi; remember that order doesn’t matter, so (1,1,3,4,6) is equivalent to (1,3,6,4,1) and (6,3,1,4,1).  Generally, the more 3s and 4s there are, the more likely a particular throw is.  Thus, we end up with a probability of 0.0001% for (1,1,1,1,1) and (6,6,6,6,6) as our most unlikely throws, and a probability of 10.24% for (3,3,3,4,4) and (3,3,4,4,4) as our most likely throws.

Throw Sum Probability
A B C D E
1 1 1 1 1 5 0.00001
1 1 1 1 3 7 0.0002
1 1 1 1 4 8 0.0002
1 1 1 1 6 10 0.00005
1 1 1 3 3 9 0.0016
1 1 1 3 4 11 0.0032
1 1 1 3 6 13 0.0008
1 1 1 4 4 11 0.0016
1 1 1 4 6 13 0.0008
1 1 1 6 6 15 0.0001
1 1 3 3 3 11 0.0064
1 1 3 3 4 12 0.0192
1 1 3 3 6 14 0.0048
1 1 3 4 4 13 0.0192
1 1 3 4 6 15 0.0096
1 1 3 6 6 17 0.0012
1 1 4 4 4 14 0.0064
1 1 4 4 6 16 0.0048
1 1 4 6 6 18 0.0012
1 1 6 6 6 20 0.0001
1 3 3 3 3 13 0.0128
1 3 3 3 4 14 0.0512
1 3 3 3 6 16 0.0128
1 3 3 4 4 15 0.0768
1 3 3 4 6 17 0.0384
1 3 3 6 6 19 0.0048
1 3 4 4 4 16 0.0512
1 3 4 4 6 18 0.0384
1 3 4 6 6 20 0.0096
1 3 6 6 6 22 0.0008
1 4 4 4 4 17 0.0128
1 4 4 4 6 19 0.0128
1 4 4 6 6 21 0.0048
1 4 6 6 6 23 0.0008
1 6 6 6 6 25 0.00005
3 3 3 3 3 15 0.01024
3 3 3 3 4 16 0.0512
3 3 3 3 6 18 0.0128
3 3 3 4 4 13 0.1024
3 3 3 4 6 15 0.0512
3 3 3 6 6 17 0.0064
3 3 4 4 4 18 0.1024
3 3 4 4 6 20 0.0768
3 3 4 6 6 22 0.0192
3 3 6 6 6 24 0.0016
3 4 4 4 4 19 0.0512
3 4 4 4 6 21 0.0512
3 4 4 6 6 23 0.0192
3 4 6 6 6 25 0.0032
3 6 6 6 6 27 0.0002
4 4 4 4 4 20 0.01024
4 4 4 4 6 22 0.0128
4 4 4 6 6 24 0.0064
4 4 6 6 6 26 0.0016
4 6 6 6 6 28 0.0002
6 6 6 6 6 30 0.00001

These probabilities are still different from the coin-toss method Kostas Dervenis gives in his Oracle Bones Divination.  Dervenis suggests one uses three coins flipped to obtain one of four results (T = tails, H = heads), each with the following probabilities:

  • Khion: HHH (12.5%)
  • Hyption: THH (37.5%)
  • Pranēs: TTH (37.5%)
  • Kōon: TTT (12.5%)

Thus, using coins as a substitute for astragaloi, we’d have a 0.0000305% chance of obtaining a (1,1,1,1,1) or (6,6,6,6,6) roll and a 7.41577% chance of obtaining a (3,3,4,4,4) or (3,3,3,4,4) roll.  These are pretty big changes in the probabilities of particular rolls, and all the other rolls would be affected similarly.  In either case, however, we have a situation where some results will come up far more regularly than others; then again, the oracle overall seems designed to have common outcomes assigned to the common fates, and extraordinary news to uncommon throws.  After all, it’s not every day you have the help of Zeus, King of the Gods and Men at your side, but far more common that you should wait a bit longer since your right time to act in the cosmos isn’t yet here.

So where does this leave us?  Should we forsake the use of dice and coins in favor of authentic knucklebones for astragalomancy since the probabilities of a given outcome are so different based on the tools used?  I don’t think so.  If we were playing a game of chance, then yes, the tools definitely matter, just as weighting a particular die to come up more on a given side would.  However, we’re not simply gambling with the gods here.  Divination is a sacred art and profession, and it helps the gods communicate with us so that we can ascertain their will as well as understand our own fates and our place in the divine order of creation.  Sure, it may be our hands that throw the bones, but it’s the hands of the gods that determine the outcome and how they land.  We’re not just rolling dice on our own, no more than things in the cosmos happen according to pure chance and nothing else.  This is why it’s important to invoke the gods of divination, like Hermes and Apollo, so that they’re involved in the throw of the astragaloi and can help guide them to fall on the proper sides so that we have a proper understanding of their wills and knowledge based on the result of the throw.  In that sense, using dice or bones or coins wouldn’t really matter, since it’s ultimately up to the gods to determine the outcome, and nothing is impossible for the gods.  Although they may have a preference for the system and tools used (hence the consecration and divination ritual from the previous post), they’re pretty handy when it comes to the myriads of tools used for divination.  So long as you’re letting the gods answer when you ask, the tools and their statistical qualities don’t matter in the long run.

Ritual Astragalomancy

Astragalomancy, as I brought up in the last post, is divination using knucklebones.  Besides the fact that I can legitimately say that I “throw the bones” when I do readings, I’m excited to learn about it because it’s such a classical system of divination, and one tied directly to Hermes.  Thing is, however, that it’s pretty straightforward, pretty simple, and pretty clear.  I’m a ceremonial magician.  Can I make something more complex?  You bet your ass I can, so I did with this.  After all, knucklebones and a guide to divination is well and good, but why not consecrate my new divination tools or set up a ritual divinatory framework with them?

Dervenis in his Oracle Bones Divination happily gives instructions on how astragaloi were cleansed and prepared from the actual sheep by repeatedly boiling them in a fresh dilute solution of vinegar and cleaning off whatever can come off until they’re completely cleaned of blood and flesh.  He admits that this is a bit much to ask of the everyday reader in our culture far removed from home butchery, and my knucklebones are already cleaned off.  Still, I figured I’d incorporate this simple act into a ritual of consecration under Hermes to dedicate the knucklebones for divination; the ritual boils the knucklebones more for effect and going through the motions instead of actually cleaning them, but if you’re actually cleaning off flesh and blood from the knucklebones, the ritual can be adapted for that, too.

At dawn on the day of the month given to worship of Hermes (the fourth day of the lunar month if you go by the Attic calendar, or the seventh day if you go by the mathetic calendar), prepare a large batch of khernips and wash yourself off with it.  Set aside frankincense and cinnamon incense, olive oil, white vinegar, clean water, and red wine, and make an offering to Hermes as you would normally with the usual prayers, incense, wine, candles, and whatever else you do; be sure to offer a good-sized glass of wine to the god during your offering.  Present to Hermes the five astragaloi, either by laying them on his altar before his image (if you have one) or by raising them up to the east facing the sunrise; dedicate the astragaloi to him as a gift and a means by which you can communicate with him and he with you for advice, divination, guidance, and direction:

Hail, Hermēs Khrēsmophoros! By your guidance, I seek messages from the gods.
Hail, Hermēs Euskopos! By your guidance, I seek wisdom from on high.
With these five knucklebones, these five astragaloi, I seek to know my life and the world I live in.
O Hermēs, you who love to be a friend to humanity, I give these astragaloi to you!
Let us throw these together as friends, sharing knowledge and wisdom of action and reaction!
Let us throw these together as mates, giving and hearing words of reality and advice!
Accept these five knucklebones, Hermēs Astragalios, as tools by which we may speak together!

After this, take a small pot and wash it out with the khernips.  Take one measure of vinegar and four measures of water in the pot, enough so that the entire amount is enough to completely cover the knucklebones, and heat the solution until it comes to a rolling boil.  Place the knucklebones into the boiling solution and slowly say the Orphic Hymn to Hermes.  Take the knucklebones out of the solution and place them on a clean white towel to dry and cool off, and throw out the liquid from the pot.  If so desired, repeat all this four more times, from rinsing the pot out with khernips to drying out the knucklebones, so that the knucklebones have been washed off five times in diluted vinegar; once, however, is enough, especially if the knucklebones have already been cleaned.

After this, rinse off each knucklebone in the khernips.  Take a shallow bowl and place the five knucklebones in it, and present the knucklebones to Hermes again as clean instruments for divination.  Light the incense of cinnamon and frankincense.  For each of the five knucklebones, take one from the bowl, hold it aloft, and dedicate it to Hermes in work with divination, submerging it in the wine you offered to him earlier:

With this wine, I nourish these bones that they may be fed to work in my divination.
With this wine, I honor these bones that they may help me in my life.
With this wine, I exalt these bones that they may loosen the tongues of the gods.
With this wine, I dedicate these bones to Hermēs that he may speak with his power.

After all five knucklebones have been fed with wine, empty and clean out the bowl, then place them back in the bowl (you may want to pat them dry first) and drizzle them all with the olive oil.  Rub each with the olive oil, making sure that they’re slick and covered with the stuff.  Waft each of the knucklebones in the incense so that the smoke completely surrounds each bone, having come in contact with all its surfaces.  Present the oiled and suffumigated knuclebones in the bowl (again emptied and cleaned out) to Hermes again, setting them before his image (if you have one), and pray:

Hail, Hermēs Khrēsmophoros! By your guidance, I seek messages from the gods.
Hail, Hermēs Euskopos! By your guidance, I seek wisdom from on high.
Great Hermēs guides all on their paths.
Great Hermēs leads all to their ends.
Great Hermēs knows all in their minds.
I dedicate these five astragaloi, to the words and works of Hermēs Astragalios,
that I may not be misguided, that I may not be mislead, that I may not be left in ignorance.
Cleaned, fed, anointed, suffumigated, dedicated,
may Hermēs speak clear and true through his oracles of his dice!

After this, leave the knucklebones on his altar for some time, at least a full day but, if possible, a full lunar month; set a candle on top of the bones every day that they’re being consecrated.  Once the consecration period is over, make an offering to Hermes in thanks for consecrating and accepting the knucklebones as a tool to be used with him for divination; the dice can now be wiped off from any extra oil that did not take and can be kept in a clean, protective bag.  Afterwards, that same day, also make an offering to Apollo, the best friend of Hermes and the other primary god of divination, and present the dice to him that his words may also come across true and clear through the dice with the guidance and aid of Hermes.

With that, our astragaloi are consecrated and ready for use.  Now, how do we go about using them?  Traditionally, astragalomancy was performed in the agora or forum, the town marketplace, by a herm (four-sided pillar topped with a bust of Hermes) with the 56 different oracles inscribed on the sides.  Next to the herm would be a table or a bowl containing the five astragaloi for divination; you’d ask Hermes the question, take up the astragaloi, roll them on the table or on the ground, and look up the corresponding answer.  Pretty simple and straightforward; ritually speaking, we don’t need to do more than just invoke Hermes and ask him our query.  Then again, that’s boring, so let’s be a little fancier.

Before consulting the astragalomancy, it helps to always figure out what exactly you’re going to ask.  I’ve talked about this plenty before, more in person than otherwise, but the query is the most important part of the whole divination process.  Without a good query, your answer’s going to be shit.  A good query follows the rules of the three “C”s:

  • A good divination query is clear.  There is no obscurity, duplicity, or vagueness in the query; you’re being honest about what it is you want to know, and you’re putting it bluntly, frankly, and openly for both yourself, the diviner, and the gods or spirits who answer.
  • A good divination query is concise.  You aren’t droning on for half an hour telling your life story, nor are you taking the garden path when asking your question.  Instead, you’re able to succinctly phrase your question into a single, short sentence.  This goes hand-in-hand with the clarity of the query.
  • A good divination query is concrete.  You know exactly what you’re asking about and you’re asking it clearly and concisely.  You aren’t talking about abstract concepts or hypothetical theoretical potentialities of what ifs, but something that can actually happen with tangible or viewable results.

So, rather than asking “will I ever be happy in my love life?”, which is clear and concise but not concrete, you might ask “will John Doe propose to me by the end of this year?”; instead of asking “am I in the right place in my life” after droning on for an hour about your college mistakes, you might ask “should I leave my current company to work on my start-up idea?”.  You get the gist.  Given the placement of the oracle and given the major focus of the astragalomantic verses, although astragalomancy can be applied to any query, they’re especially powerful for matters involving business, trade, travel, and other worldly affairs.  It’s quite probable that tradesmen, shopkeepers, and other business-minded people would consult the agora astragalomancy before business deals or other ventures as our modern businesspeople consult the stock market and trade indexes.

Once you have the query fixed in your mind, understanding what it is you’re actually going to ask, prepare yourself and a few supplies for making a formal supplication for divination from Hermes.  Wash off with khernips and sprinkle it around the area you’ll be divining in as well as on the astragaloi.  Set the astragaloi before you.  Make an offering to Hermes by lighting a white candle and, if desired, some frankincense incense, and pour out a small amount of wine, praying:

Hail, Hermēs Khrēsmophoros! By your guidance, I seek messages from the gods.
Hail, Hermēs Euskopos! By your guidance, I seek wisdom from on high.
Great Hermēs guides all on their paths.
Great Hermēs leads all to their ends.
Great Hermēs knows all in their minds.
I make you this offering, Hermēs, and I seek your presence here!
I come with a question seeking answers, a query seeking advice!
Accept this light, this incense, and this wine, blessed god, and be pleased with them.
Open now my paths and see now my plight!

Feed the astragaloi with wine, using the fingers of your left hand to dip into the glass of wine for Hermes and sprinkling them onto the astragaloi.  Pray the same wine-feeding prayer as above:

With this wine, I nourish these bones that they may be fed to work in my divination.
With this wine, I honor these bones that they may help me in my life.
With this wine, I exalt these bones that they may loosen the tongues of the gods.
With this wine, I dedicate these bones to Hermēs that he may speak with his power.

Take up the astragaloi in your left hand and speak your query directly into them; focus on the query, breathing onto the astragaloi, until they become warm.  Once they’ve taken on your heat, cup them in both hands, shake them four times, and toss them onto the ground before you.  Make a note of how each astragalos falls, both in terms of which side it falls on (Khion, Hyption, Pranēs, Kōon) and how it falls in terms of speed, bounce, location, direction, and whether it bumps into another astragalos or into another object.  Announce the god associated with the throw of the astragaloi, and read aloud the corresponding oracle associated with the throw of the astragaloi.  Meditate on the god, the oracle, and the manner in which the astragaloi fell and how it all ties into a single answer for your query; if desired, also consult the Greek alphabet oracle interpretation for the sum of the throw.

If there are any more questions to be asked, wash off the astragaloi with khernips and feed them with wine again, saying the prayer as above, then repeat the process of throwing the astragaloi and meditating on the answer.  Once all questions have been asked, the divination ritual can be brought to a close.  Wash off the astragaloi with the khernips once more and pour a bit more wine into the offering for Hermes, thanking him for his answers and guidance from your heart, and asking that he continue to guide you that his advice may not be wasted or spoken in vain.  The candle can be respectfully put out or left burning as an offering.

Of course, if all the above is too much for you, you might invoke Apollo and Hermes, the gods of divination and prophecy, in a simple prayer that Apollonius Sophistes gives on his page about the Greek alphabet oracle.  This is an invocation at the top of a pillar with a set of oracular verses upon which grammatomancy is based, directly preceding the verses themselves.  The prayer runs thus:

Apollo, Lord, and Hermes, lead the way!
And thou, who wanders, this to thee we say:
Be still; enjoy the oracle’s excellence,
for Phoebus Apollo has given it to us,
this Art of Divination from our ancestors.

As far as ritual timing goes, I’d say that pretty much any time is good for Hermaic astragalomancy.  He’s both ouranic and chthonic, liminal, and everywhere all the time; there’s no bad time to work with him for this.  That said, as a matter of custom, any days the agora or market wouldn’t be open is probably a day to not consult the bones for this; in my lunar grammatomantic calendar, the unlettered days would be an example of this.  The usual astrological phenomena apply, of course: be wary of Mercury retrograde, rethink starting a matter when Mercury is afflicted or Moon is void of cource, yada yada.  Taking observance of the weather, a common warning in geomantic practice, is useful, too; you probably don’t want to do divination with the gods when those same gods in charge of the weather and the world are fighting or upset, causing storms or hurricanes or damaging winds or sharp frosts or whatever.  The process of figuring out the query can be coupled with meditation to clear out your own mind and settle your own passions, too, but you probably already know this.