Original Greek and faithful transcriptions up for two ancient Hermetic prayers!

As many of my readers know, I have my Etsy shop set up for the things I make.  I tend to stick to beadwork nowadays, bracelets and necklaces and chaplets and rosaries and that sort of thing as well as my ebooks (which you can also find directly on my website on the Books page), but in the past, I’ve taken commissions for wands, Tables of Practice, and other woodworking things.  I don’t do the woodworking thing as much anymore; there are several others I would recommend on Etsy, instead, for things along those lines, who have better setups and tools and skill than I do.  Still, depending on the need and the medium, I’m certainly not opposed to taking on commissions.

Recently, I received an interesting request for a commission.  Rather than it being a physical thing, it was a digital item; sure, I can do those, too, and I’ve made designs and the like for others by special request.  After all, art is art, and craft is craft.  This, though, was also unusual; I suppose it could be said to that I was contracted rather than commissioned.  I was contacted by one Soror MNA to help her with some of her own research and work.  She took a heavy interest in two of the things I’ve shared previously on my website, the Hermetic prayers from the Greek Magical Papyri known as the Hymn of the Hidden Stele (PGM IV.1115—1166) and the Stele of Aiōn (PGM.1167—1226).  These are beautiful hymns indeed, and I’ve used them to powerful effects in the past for serious and heavily theurgical purposes.  However, I’ve only basically given my (minor) variants of them in English, with the Greek barbarous words of power rewritten in the Greek script for ease of analysis and preservation of nuances in pronunciation.

What the good Soror MNA wanted me to do was to get her copies written in Greek of these two prayers.  After all, it’s not hard to find Preisendanz’s transcriptions of the PGM online (volume 1 for PGM I through PGM VI, volume 2 for PGM VII and after); all she needed was these prayers in their original Greek as well as transliterated into Roman script for study and use in her own rituals.  So, since this was a pretty clear-cut job of typing and transcribing, I gladly took the job.

All of this is simple and straightforward and otherwise unmentionable and not worthy of note if it weren’t for the fact that, at the end, I requested a change to the terms we had agreed to that would be in both our favor.  As it was, I was just going to give her a document with the transliterations she requested, but for the same reasons she found it valuable to have these prayers in their original Greek and transliterated into Roman script, I figured it would be good for the broader occult community, especially those interested in PGM-style Hermetic work, to have access to the same.  She agreed, and to that end, graciously permitted me to share the fruits of my labors on my website.

To that end, the Hymn of the Hidden Stele and the Stele of Aiōn pages on this website have been updated and augmented with the orignal Greek and their transliterations.  All of this is thanks to the gracious and generous support and sponsorship of Soror MNA, who has my thanks for helping me and funding improvements to my website!  If it’s been a while since you last checked these hymns out, or if you’re unfamiliar with them and have any interest in some pretty potent prayers, go and take a look!  The transliteration scheme I use is custom to my own work, which I feel preserves the pronunciation and accenture of the original Greek slightly better than other texts; most of the accenture is unnecessary unless you’re intimately familiar with the byzantine Byzantine use of polytonic Greek, but in order to keep it as faithful as possible, I included it all the same.  Thank you again, Soror MNA, for your generous support!

Just to remind all my wonderful readers: if you’d like to support the Digital Ambler in my projects, writing, and other work, remember that you can do so through Ko-fi!  Every little bit counts, and you’ll have my unending, undying thanks and appreciation.  Heck, if you wanted to sponsor a post or something big for my website like what Soror MNA said, suggest something in the comment when you donate and I’ll see what I can do!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

On the Elemental and Geomantic Epodes

Ever since I wrote that post about how the physical body can be represented by geomantic figures, I’ve been trying to puzzle something out for myself.  At the end of the post, I introduce the concept of a system of geomantically-derived energy centers in the body based on four centers and four elements: the Fire center in the head, the Air center in the throat, the Water center in the upper belly, and the Earth center at the perineum.  This is based on the Geomantic Adam diagram given in MS Arabe 2631, which divvies up the geomantic figures to the parts of the body in a way that’s untied to any astrological method (which is the usual method used in European and Western geomancies):

In addition to proposing four such energy centers, I also propose three possible sets of intonations based on the obscure BZDH technique from some forms of geomancy, and also suggest that the sixteen geomantic gestures or “mudras” can be used in addition with these to form the basis of a kind of geomantic energy practice.  However, I didn’t really describe any implementation beyond laying these individual parts of such a hypothetical practice down, because I hadn’t yet come up with a way to put the parts together into a whole.  I’ve been puzzling over how to do just that since the post went up earlier this summer.  I mean, it’s not hard to just slap some energy into parts of the body and call it a day, but let’s be honest: I want to do this right and be able to incorporate it into my own practice in a way that’s not harmful, and as we all know by now, it’s just as easy to use energy to make a body awful as much as it can be made awesome.

Now, I was originally going to just write a post about a more-or-less solid energy practice that uses four energy centers in the body, one for each of the four elements.  I’m still going to write that post, because I already started it, but I realized that there’s a significant chunk of it that needs to be clarified in its own post, because there’s a number of options one might choose for it with different bits of logic and arguments for and against each choice.  This section kept growing and growing, and it eventually dwarfed the actual point of the post itself, so I decided to get this bit out of the way first, especially since I’ve already introduced the topic when I brought up the notion of a geomantic energy practice to begin with.

For me in my magical practice, the spoken word is important, especially when it comes to things that are intoned, such as barbarous words or particular chants.  For instance, the seven Greek vowels are absolutely vital to my work, because each vowel is associated with one of the seven planets.  In fact, each of the letters of the Greek alphabet has its own spiritual associations to the planets, signs of the Zodiac, and elements.  It’s the elemental letters that are the focus here now: if I wanted to intone a special word to attune myself to the power of an element just like how I’d intone a vowel to attune myself to the power of a planet, what would I use?  I can’t really intone a consonant, so I invented special “power words” for the four elements by taking the corresponding consonant for the element, intoning ΙΑΩ, and ending with the consonant again, as below:

  • Fire: ΧΙΑΩΧ (KHIAŌKH)
  • Air: ΦΙΑΩΦ (PHIAŌPH)
  • Water: ΞΙΑΩΞ (KSIAŌKS)
  • Earth: ΘΙΑΩΘ (THIAŌTH)

This method works, but to be honest, I’ve never really liked it.  It’s always felt kind of imbalanced and inelegant, especially compared to some of the more refined barbarous words of power or the simplicity and clearness of the vowels for the planets.  When I first started thinking of what I could intone for a geomantic energy practice, my routine use of these words first came up, but I quickly remembered that there are other options available to me besides just this.  All I need to find is some appropriate, elegant system of four words for intoning for the sake of attuning to the four elements.

Also, what am I calling this particular type of power word, anyway?  These are small, usually single-syllabled things to intone or chant to attune with a particular force.  I suppose that these are barbarous names of a sort, but the fact that they’re so easily constructed doesn’t seem quite appropriate to call them “barbarous”.  The closest thing I can think of are bīja, which is a Sanskrit term meaning “seed”, but referring to single syllable mantras that can be intoned and thought of as encapsulating or emanating particular elements or powers.  Think of the syllables oṃ, dhīḥ, hūṃ, or other single-syllable such mantras found in tantric Buddhism or Hinduism.  These are powerful syllables and contain some aspect of the cosmos or dharma in their own right, and many deities, bodhisattvas, buddhas, and other entities or powers have their own bījas.  That’s a good concept and term for this, but I can’t think of any Western or non-Sanskrit term to call them, like how we might have “chant” or “orison” for the word mantra, “gesture” for mudra, or “energy center” for chakra.  Since I like having Greek-based terms, here are a few I would think are appropriate:

  • Odologue, which could come either from ᾠδόλογος ōidólogos meaning “song-word” or, alternatively, ὁδόλογος hodólogos meaning “road-word”, and either Greek word could be used here.  Odology, after all, can refer to “the study of the singing voice” or “the study of roads and paths”, and considering the purpose and use of these bīja-like words,
  • Rhizophone, from Greek ῥιζόφωνη rhizóphōnē, literally meaning “root sound”.  This is about as close a calque to bīja as I could think, helpfully suggested by Kalagni of Blue Flame Magick (who has a new website now, go update your RSS readers and links!).
  • Epode, which is simply the Greek word ἐπῳδή epōidé, meaning “song sung to something”, and more figuratively an enchantment, charm, or spell.  Unlike odologue or rhizophone, epode is actually a known word, both in Greek and in English, and though it can be used more broadly for spells or charms in general, the notion of something being sung here is important, which is basically intonation.  Though I like the above two words, let’s be honest: epode here is probably the best to go with.
    • There are other words used in Greek to refer to magic spells or charms, like kḗlēma or thélktron or other words, so we can reserve “epode” for what are basically mantras.
    • “Epode” could be used to give a useful Greek translation of “mantra” generally, as opposed to just bīja syllables, which are themselves considered single-syllable mantras.  For this, “root epode” or “small epode” could be used to clarify single-syllable epodes.
    • Likewise, “epode” wouldn’t necessarily be of the same type of word as “names”, ὀνόματα onómata, referring to the barbarous words of power that may simply be spoken, shouted, or intoned depending on the situation.  Plus, the barbarous names themselves aren’t usually constructed, patterned after anything, or even understood as having distinct or intelligible meanings.

So, what we’re doing here is coming up with elemental epodes, simple words that can be intoned or sung to attune or call down the forces of the elements, just how the intonation of the seven Greek vowels can do the same for the planets.  In fact, those vowels, when sung in a magical way, would become epodes in their own right.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.  One straightforward option is to just use the Arabic or Greek words for the four elements themselves as things to intone:

  • Arabic:
    • Fire: nar (نار, pronounced “nahr”)
    • Air: hawa’ (هواء, pronounced “HAH-wa” with a sharp stop in the throat)
    • Water: ma’ (ماء, pronounced “ma” with a sharp stop in the throat)
    • Earth: turab (تراب, pronounced “tuh-RAHB”)
  • Greek:
    • Fire: pũr (πῦρ, pronounced “pür” like with the German ü or French u, or as “peer”)
    • Air: aḗr (ἀήρ, pronounced “ah-AYR”, smoothly without a stop in the sound)
    • Water: húdōr (ὕδωρ, pronounced “HEE-dohr” or “HÜ-dohr”, again with that German/French sound)
    • Earth: gē̃ (γῆ, pronounced “gay”)

However, I’m not a fan of doing this.  For one, the words themselves aren’t necessarily important if the resonance and link between what’s uttered/intoned and what’s being connected with is strong.  Here, all I really have to go is the semantic meaning of the words.  Plus, I don’t like how some of them are two syllables and others only one, and they all feel inelegant in some of the same ways as my *ΙΑΩ* words from above.  So, while the words for the elements could be used, it’s not one I’d like to use.

And no, I won’t use Latin or English for such things, either.  I don’t hold either to be a very magical language like how I’d hold Greek or Hebrew or Arabic, largely due to the lack of meaningful isopsephy/gematria or stoicheia of the letters for the Roman script common to both Latin and English.  I also didn’t list Hebrew here because, for the sake of my energy work, I largely focus on Greek stuff (for the Mathēsis side of things) or Arabic (for the geomantic side), and Hebrew doesn’t fit into either category.

However, there is another option for coming up with an intonation that is rooted in geomantic practice: the BZDH (or BZDA) technique.  This is a little-known technique in Western geomancy that seems to have had more use in Arabic geomancy.  As I said in the earlier post about the geomantic figures and the human body:

From my translation of the 15th century work Lectura Geomantiae:

By the Greek word “b z d a” we can find the house of the figures, which is to say in which house the figures are strongest, wherefore when the first point starting from the upper part of the beginning figure is odd, the second house is strong; when the second point is odd, the seventh house is strong; when the third point is odd, the fourth house is strong; when the fourth and last point is odd, the eighth house is strong. Thus we will find by this number the proper houses of the figures; by “b” we understand 2, by “z” 7, by “d” 4, by “a” 8, as in this example: “b z d a”.

This may not make a lot of sense on its own, but compare what Felix Klein-Franke says in his article “The Geomancy of Aḥmad b. `Alī Zunbul: A Study of the Arabic Corpus Hermeticum” (AMBIX, March 1973, vol. XX):

The best taskīn is that of az-Zanātī; it bears the key-word bzdḥ: according to the principle of Gematria, the transposition of letters of a word into numbers, in place of bzdḥ there result the numbers 2748. Thus the Mansions of the taskīn are indicated; each spot denotes one of the four elements; in the 2nd Mansion there is only the element Fire (Laetitia, ḥayyān), in the 7th Mansion only Air (Rubeus, ḥumra), in the 4th Mansion only Water (Albus, bayāḍ), and in the 8th Mansion only Earth (Cauda Draconis, rakīza ẖāriǧa).

Stephen Skinner clarifies this even further in his works on geomancy.  From his 1980 book “Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy”:

Further specialized configurations or taskins are outlined together with mnemonics for remembering their order. Gematria, or the art of interpreting words in terms of the total of’ the numerical equivalents of each of their letters, is introduced at this point. Using the mnemonic of a particular taskin such as Bzdh, Zunbul explains that the letters represent the four Elements, in descending order of grossness. Each letter also represents a number in Arabic, thus:

b – 2 – Fire
z – 7 – Air
d – 4 – Water
h – 8 – Earth

This mnemonic therefore indicates House number 2 for Fire, House number 7 (Air), House number 4 (Water), and House number 8 (Earth). For each of the Houses indicated in this taskin, we see that the second is most compatible with Fire, the seventh with Air, and so on. Therefore, if the geomantic figure Laetitia (or in Arabic Hayyan), which is solely Fire, occurs in the second House, this would be. an extremely favourable omen. Likewise, the occurrence of Rubeus (or Humra), which is solely Air, in the seventh House would also be extremely auspicious. Further chapters are devoted to even more complicated combinations of the basic figures, and to labyrinthine rules for everything from marriage to medicine. Diagnosis by raml even became a lay rival of the latter, and tables were educed of the relationship between specific parts of the body and the geomantic figures.

In other words, based on these letters, we could intone a particular sound that starts with the letter “b” for Fire, “z” for Air, “d” for Earth, and “ḥ” (think of the guttural “ch” of German, but further back in the throat).

So, in this technique, we have four consonants that correspond to four elements.  We could use this BZDH technique to use these four consonants, each associated with one of the four elements according to an obscure technique in Arabic and early Western geomancy, to create a simple, clear syllable for each element when paired with a simple long vowel:

  • Arabic method:
    • Fire:  (با)
    • Air:  (زا)
    • Water:  (دا)
    • Earth: ḥā (حا)
  • Greek method:
    • Fire:  (ΒΗ)
    • Air:  (ΖΗ)
    • Water:  (ΔΗ)
    • Earth:  (Ἡ)
  • Latin method:
    • Fire: ba
    • Air: za
    • Water: da
    • Earth: a

Note that I’m largely using the “ah” sound a lot for these.  For one, in Greek, this is the vowel Alpha, which is associated with the Moon, which is one of the planets closest to the sphere of the Earth and which is one of the planets most aligned with the element of Earth.  Additionally, this would be represented in Arabic with the letter ‘Alif, which has the form of a straight vertical line, much like the geomantic figure Via (or Tarīq using its Arabic name), which is also a figure associated with the Moon and which is important as it contains all four elements; in this case, the “ah” sound would be most aligned to that of the powers of geomancy as a whole, I would claim.  Note, also, how the Latin transcription of ḥ (to represent the element Earth) turned into “a”; if you wanted to think of geomancy as primarily being an oracle of Earth (which is a claim I take some issue with), then the “ah” sound would indeed be closest for phonologically working with the elements from a geomantic perspective and from our worldly, manifest basis.  Yet, we’re using Ēta for the Greek method given above; for one, this is because there’s no distinct vowel for “long a”, but “long e” is a close-enough approximation.  Using ΒΑ, ΖΑ, ΔΑ, and Ἁ for them would work as well, but using Ēta is also acceptable in this case.

Now, remember that these four consonants are used because they have their origins in being specifically labeled as elemental in the original geomantic technique from whence they come due to their numerological (gematria or isopsephic) significance. The mnemonic BZDḤ was used based on the numerological values of those letters in Arabic: bāʾ for 2, zāy for 7, dāl for 4, and ḥāʾ for 8.  Interestingly, these same consonants were used in the European version of the technique as BZDA (with A replacing Ḥāʾ, though it makes more sense to consider it H) even though it’s not technically the letters that were important, but their numerical equivalents.  If we were to simply go by their numerological (or numeric order) basis, then we should use ΒΔΗΘ for Greek or BDGH for Latin.  I suppose that one could use these letters instead for the BZDH technique-based intonation syllables, but I feel like using the original BZDH (or BZDḤ) is truer to the elements themselves, though the true Greek system could also work given their stoicheic meanings: Bēta associated with the Fire sign Aries, Delta associated with the Air sign Gemini, Ēta (used consonantally as an aspiration/aitch letter) representing the planet Venus which can be associated with the element of Water, and Thēta associated with the element of Earth itself.  So, one could also use a Greek ΒΔΗΘ system like this (using Ēta below, but again, Alpha would also work):

  • Fire:  (ΒΗ)
  • Air: (ΔΗ)
  • Water: (Ἡ)
  • Earth: thē (ΘH)

Or a Latin BDGH system as:

  • Fire: ba
  • Air: da
  • Water: ga
  • Earth: ha

Again, I’m not a fan of using Latin generally, but I can see an argument for using a BDGH system here because it’s not really words, isopsephy, or stoicheia here that are necessarily important.  However, if we were to use Greek isopsephy for determining which letters to use to represent the four elements for a Greek ΒΔΗΘ system, why not use the Greek stoicheia for them, instead?  It breaks with why we were using numbers to begin with, but we already know the letters Khi, Phi, Ksi, and Thēta work quite well for the four elements themselves, so if we were taking a purely elemental approach, it seems more proper to just use the elemental letters instead of the numerologically-appropriate letters and their natural vowels (specifically their long versions to keep with the theme of using long vowels for the epodes):

  • Fire: khei (ΧΕI)
  • Air: phei (ΦΕI)
  • Water: ksei (ΞΕI)
  • Earth: thē (ΘH)

There are definitely arguments for the use of the stoicheically-appropriate letters (ΧΦΞΘ) over the others, or the isopsephically-appropriate ones (ΒΔΗΘ), or the transliterated Arabic ones (ΒΖΔΗ).  In a more Mathēsis-pure approach, I’d probably go with the stoicheic letters, but in this particular case, I’d recommend most the transliterated Arabic ones, because that set of letters ties this energy practice closest to the original geomantic technique.  I suppose experimentation would show which is best, but I’m most comfortable sticking with the BZDH technique.

However, even using the BZDH technique as a foundation for this, an interestingly extensible system of syllables can also be devised where the BZDH technique of using different consonants is mixed with using Greek vowels that were similar enough in element to those four consonants.  For this mashup, I used my Mathēsis understanding of the planets and their positions on the mathētic Tetractys or the planetary arrangement for the geomantic figures to get vowels for the elements, and settled on using Iōta (Sun) for Fire, Upsilon (Jupiter) for Air, Ēta (Venus) for Water, and Alpha (Moon) for Earth.  Though Mars would be more appropriate for Fire and Saturn for Earth, their corresponding vowels are Omicron and Ōmega, which may not be distinct enough for this purpose, as I feel like it should be, so I made a sufficiently-acceptable substitution to use the Sun for Fire instead of Mars, and the Moon for Earth instead of Saturn.

What’s nice about combining the BZDH technique with the planetary vowels is that we can mix and match both systems and, using our system of primary and secondary elements of the figures, get a distinct epode not only for the four elements but also for each of the sixteen geomantic figures, which can be extraordinarily useful in its own right for other magical and meditative purposes.  (And here I thought that little innovation of mine was no more than “a few sprinkles on the icing of the cake of Western geomancy” when it’s come in use time and time again!)  So, let’s see about making such a full system for all sixteen figures using the three competing Greek systems (Transliterated ΒΖΔΗ, Isopsephic ΒΔΗΘ, Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ):

Transliterated ΒΖΔΗ System
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΒΙ
BI
Laetitia
ΖΙ
ZI
Puer
ΔΙ
DI
Puella

HI
Carcer
Air ΒΥ
BU
Fortuna Minor
ΖΥ
ZU
Rubeus
ΔΥ
DU
Via

HU
Caput Draconis
Water ΒΗ

Amissio
ΖΗ

Coniunctio
ΔΗ

Albus


Fortuna Maior
Earth ΒΑ
BA
Cauda Draconis
ΖΑ
ZA
Acquisitio
ΔΑ
DA
Populus

HA
Tristitia
Isopsephic ΒΔΗΘ System
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΒΙ
BI
Laetitia
ΔΙ
DI
Puer

HI
Puella
ΘΙ
THI
Carcer
Air ΒΥ
BU
Fortuna Minor
ΔΥ
DU
Rubeus

HU
Via
ΘΥ
THU
Caput Draconis
Water ΒΗ

Amissio
ΔΗ

Coniunctio


Albus
ΘΗ
THĒ
Fortuna Maior
Earth ΒΑ
BA
Cauda Draconis
ΔΑ
DA
Acquisitio

HA
Populus
ΘΑ
THA
Tristitia
Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ System using Vague Elemental Vowels
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΧΙ
KHI
Laetitia
ΦΙ
PHI
Puer
ΞΙ
KSI
Puella
ΘΙ
THI
Carcer
Air ΧΥ
KHU
Fortuna Minor
ΦΥ
PHU
Rubeus
ΞΥ
KSU
Via
ΘΥ
THU
Caput Draconis
Water ΧΗ
KHĒ
Amissio
ΦΗ
PHĒ
Coniunctio
ΞΗ
KSĒ
Albus
ΘΗ
THĒ
Fortuna Maior
Earth ΧΑ
KHA
Cauda Draconis
ΦΑ
PHA
Acquisitio
ΞΑ
KSA
Populus
ΘΑ
THA
Tristitia

Note that in the ΧΦΞΘ system below, instead of using Iōta for Fire and Alpha for Earth (as given in the “vague elemental vowels” table immediately above), I went with Omicron for Fire and Ōmega for Earth because, well, if we’re going to go all the way and stick solely to using stoicheically-appropriate consonants, it makes sense to follow through and stick to using the most precisely, stoicheically-appropriate vowels. However, it breaks with the other systems here, so while this is perhaps the most suited to a pure Mathēsis or purely-Western approach, it doesn’t fit with any of the others and it makes a total break with any BZDH system we have.  Additionally, the similarity between Omicron and Ōmega here can cause some confusion and difficulty for those who aren’t precise with their pronunciations, even if the system is precisely correct as far as stoicheia goes.

Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ System using Exact Elemental Vowels
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΧΟ
KHO
Laetitia
ΦΟ
PHO
Puer
ΞΟ
KSO
Puella
ΘΟ
THO
Carcer
Air ΧΥ
KHU
Fortuna Minor
ΦΥ
PHU
Rubeus
ΞΥ
KSU
Via
ΘΥ
THU
Caput Draconis
Water ΧΗ
KHĒ
Amissio
ΦΗ
PHĒ
Coniunctio
ΞΗ
KSĒ
Albus
ΘΗ
THĒ
Fortuna Maior
Earth ΧΩ
KHŌ
Cauda Draconis
ΦΩ
PHŌ
Acquisitio
ΞΩ
KSŌ
Populus
ΘΩ
THŌ
Tristitia

deep breath

Okay.  So, that’s all a lot of tables and lists and examples and options to pick from, all of which are nice and all, but where does that leave us?

What we wanted to come up with was a set of four simple intonable syllables—our “epodes”—to work with the four classical elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, much as how we have the seven Greek vowels to work with the seven traditional planets.  While a straightforward option would be to simply intone the words for the elements themselves, we can use an obscure geomantic technique that gives us four consonants to reflect the four elements, which we can then intone by adding a vowel to it.  However, we can make variants of this system based on how far we want to take the logic of why we have those four consonants to begin with, even going so far as to come up with a set of sixteen epodes for each of the geomantic figures.  These geomantic epodes work within the same overall system because the geomantic figures are compositions of the four elements, and the figures Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia are the geomantic figures that represent single elements unmixed with any other, which is a fact I’ve been able to use before for coming up with gestures for the four elements using the same logic.

Now, because of all the possibilities of what script to use (Arabic, Greek, Roman), what consonants to use (BZDH or the script-appropriate variants based on numerical order within that script’s alphabet), and what vowels to use (the “ah” sound, Ēta for Greek variants, or using stoicheically-appropriate vowels based on the planetary affinities towards the elements), we end up with quite a few different options for our elemental epodes:

Fire Air Water Earth
Words Arabic نار
nar
هواء
hawa’
ماء
ma’
تراب
turab
Greek πῦρ
pũr
ἀήρ
aḗr
ὕδωρ
húdōr
γῆ
gē̃
Latin ignis aer aqua terra
ΙΑΩ Names ΧΙΑΩΧ
khiaōkh
ΦΙΑΩΦ
phiaōph
ΞΙΑΩΞ
ksiaōks
ΘΙΑΩΘ
thiaōth
Transliterated Arabic با
زا
دا
حا
ḥā
Greek
Ēta
ΒΗ
ΖΗ
ΔΗ

Greek
Alpha
ΒΑ
ba
ΖΑ
za
ΔΑ
da

ha
Roman BA ZA DA A
Isopsephic Greek
Ēta
ΒΗ
ΔΗ

ΘH
thē
Greek
Alpha
ΒΑ
ba
ΔΑ
da

ha
ΘΑ
tha
Roman BA DA GA HA
Hybrid Transliterated ΒΙ
bi
ΖΥ
zu
ΔΗ

ha
Isopsephic ΒΙ
bi
ΔΥ
du

ΘΑ
tha
Mathēsis Natural
Vowels
ΧΕΙ
khei
ΦΕΙ
phei
ΞΕΙ
ksei
ΘΗ
thē
Vague
Vowels
ΧΙ
khi
ΦΥ
phu
ΞΗ
ksē
ΘΑ
tha
Exact
Vowels
ΧΟ
kho
ΦΥ
phu
ΞΗ
ksē
ΘΩ
thō

See now why I had to break all this out into its own separate post?

Originally, I was using the ΙΑΩ-based epodes, but I never really liked them, especially compared to all the other elegant options we have now based on the BZDH technique or its variants.  Of course, we have quite a few options now, and there are plenty of arguments for and against each one.  Here’s what I recommend based on your specific approach:

  • If you’re using a strict Arabic or classically “pure” geomantic system apart from planetary or other concerns and want to stick to the root of geomancy as much as possible, despite any other advantages out there from the other systems, use the Transliterated BZDH system, most preferably the Arabic system (bā/zā/dā/ḥā) or the Greek-Alpha system (ΒΑ/ΖΑ/ΔΑ/Ἁ), depending on how good your pronunciation skills at pharyngeal consonants are.
  • If you’re using a purely Greek system that wants to use the advantages of the stoicheia of the Greek alphabet as much as possible, use the Mathēsis system with exact vowels (ΧΟ/ΦΥ/ΞΗ/ΘΩ).
  • If you’re a general Western geomancer with no particular leanings towards or against any particular niche, use the Hybrid system with transliterated consonants (ΒΙ/ΖΥ/ΔΗ/Ἁ).  This would be considered the middle approach between the two extremes of “original root source” and “Mathēsis-only stoicheia please”, and is probably appropriate for the largest number of people given its ease of use and pronunciation.

Likewise, for the use of the geomantic epodes:

  • If you want a more general use, go with the Transliterated ΒΖΔΗ System.
  • If you want a specialized mathētic use, go with the Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ System with exact vowels.

Of course, given all the options above, there’s plenty of room for experimentation, and I’m sure one could extend the logic of the BZDH system (whether through transliteration, isopsephy, or stoicheia) even further and combining it with other vowel systems to come up with more options, or there would be still other ways to come up with elemental epodes (and maybe even geomantic epodes, as well) that aren’t based on the BZDH or ΧΦΞΘ systems!  As with so much else with geomantic magic, there’s so much to experiment and toy with, because it’s such a fertile and unexplored field of occult practice, so if you want to experiment with these or if you have other systems you use, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Grammatēmerologion Calendar for Cycle 69, available for download now!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

On Sounds and Silences

In preparation for some more mathetic exploration, I took another look at the Tetractys and how I want to approach the exploration of paths.  To refresh your memory, dear reader, this is my version of the Tetractys, a kind of Pythagorean “Tree of Life”, with Greek letters forming the 24 οδοι between the ten σφαιραι that collectively compromise the ten Hermetic realms.

alchemical_planetary_tetractys_gnosis_paths

Any particular path will connect two particular spheres.  As mentioned an age ago, I separated out the 24 paths into two sets of twelve paths: the Gnosis Schema and the Agnosis Schema.  The Gnosis Schema connects all ten spheres in a cyclical manner, starting with the Sphere of Mercury and returning back to it multiple times.  We start at Mercury, continue down to Jupiter, then to Mars, then to the Sun, then back to Mercury, then to the Moon, and so forth.  This was the foundation for the assignment of letters to these paths, and each path in this order has the letter that corresponds to each of the twelve Zodiac signs.

alchemical_planetary_tetractys_paths_circuit1

Having the letters for the paths is good, since given we have several techniques to meditate on the power of individual letters.  However, even if we have means to access the powers of the paths, what might I do to access the powers of the spheres themselves in a similar fashion?  The paths lead to the spheres, but how do I embrace the spheres?  My instinct would be to use meditation on the seven vowels that correspond to the seven planets, but that only works for the lower seven of the spheres that correspond to the seven planets.

In the subfield of linguistics known as phonology, there are different ways to categorize a vowel.  A vowel can be produced in the front, middle, or back of the mouth; it can be produced with the tongue elevated or lowered; it can be produced with the lips rounded or unrounded.  A specific diagram is often used, known as the vowel trapezium, that illustrates the different vowels used for a given language, such as the one below for standard Californian English.  The more to the left a vowel is, the closer the tongue is towards the front; the more to the right, the closer the tongue is towards the back; the higher, the more closed the mouth is; the lower, the more open the mouth is.

California_English_vowel_chart.svg

Using Ancient Greek phonology, which is what I prefer for ritual, the resulting scheme that demonstrates (roughly, per Wikipedia) what the vowel qualities are for the seven Greek vowels:

Front Back
unrounded rounded
Close Ι Υ
Close-mid Ο
Middle Ε
Open-mid Η Ω
Open Α

Take a look at how these vowels are associated with the planets on the Tetractys.  We’ve previously grouped the ten spheres into three groups: the Hot Initiatory Cycle (Mercury, Jupiter, Mars, Sun), the Cold Initiatory Cycle (Mercury, Moon, Saturn, Venus), and the Cosmic Initiatory Cycle (Mercury, Stars, Monad, Earth).  If we look at the Hot and Cold cycles, we can separate the vowels like this:

  • Hot: Ε, Υ, Ο, Ι
  • Cold: Ε, Α, Ω, Η

The Hot vowels are all middle-to-closed vowels (formed by the tongue in the middle of the mouth raised upward to the roof), while the Cold vowels are all middle-to-open (formed by the tongue in the middle of the mouth lowered down to the floor).  The vowel Ε, representing Mercury in the middle of the Tetractys, is fittingly part of both cycles as well as the only true middle or neutral vowel formed in the mouth.  Additionally, the most extreme closed vowel is Ι, representing the Sun which “descends” into Jupiter and Mars according to the Tetractys, and the most extreme open vowel is Α, representing the Moon which “descends” into Saturn and Venus.  Ε, the vowel of Mercury, “descends” into Venus and Jupiter, the vowels of which are less extreme and more moderated in the mouth than the vowels of Saturn and Mars.  The sync between the vowel qualities and the placement of the spheres of heaven on the Tetractys forms a neat little match.

This leaves three spheres that have no such sounds for the heavens: the Fixed Stars, the Earth, and the Monad.  These are the spheres that comprise the Cosmic cycle, which stars with Mercury and thus the vowel Ε, but there are no vowels for these last three spheres.  I’m still wrapping my head around this, and this is all as yet purely theoretical, but it would make sense that these spheres have no sound.  These are spheres of silence, but they’re different spheres, and thus should have different resonances, different “sounds” of silence.  Silence is a simple word, but like the word “love”, I think that it would be fitting to think of different kinds of silence that the word itself may not clearly delineate.  Bear with me a bit through this.

The sphere of the Earth (leading up to Mercury) is the sphere of terrestrial, pregnant silence.  This is the tension in the air you feel before a conversation, the feeling of blood pulsing through your veins, the breath entering in and exiting from the lungs, the whisper of wind coursing through the skies, the currents of water under the ocean, the flame combusting on clean fuel.  This is the silence that is an absence of communication but is always surrounded and punctuated by it.  This is the silence you hear everywhere there is life, the silence of potential, the silence of worldly presence without which there cannot be action.  This is the silence that gives way to speech and necessitates it in order to be produced again.  This is the silence of the womb whence we come and the silence of the tomb whither we go.

The sphere of the Stars (leading away from Mercury) is the sphere of heavenly, holy silence.  This is the Hymns of Silence, the infinite chorus sung outside the hearing of those who live, the deafening silence that ascends and descends that backs up all cosmic travel and all magical work, the sound behind any sound.  This is the silence of communion, of ritual, of connection without bodies.  This is the silence of activity, the silence of divine power, the silence of initiation.  This is the silence that precludes the need for sound and overrides any song sung, tale told, or speech spoken.  This is the eternal silence underlying all things that exist, both sounding-board and root of sound for all that becomes, all that is, all that was, and all that might be.

One way to think of the difference between these two kinds of silence is to reflect upon how we recognize something meant when we hear it.  When we hear a word we understand, we have the spoken sound of it, but then we also have the known meaning of it.  We cannot directly hear meaning, but it is borne into us by the sound of the word.  The meaning is always forever in our mind, even if it is not always at the forefront of our minds; conversely, the sound can always be made, but is not the only sound we make nor is it a sound that continues forever.  A meaning cannot be communicated to another without it being spoken aloud, and a word that is not understood does not communicate meaning.  In this case, meaning is like the silence of the Stars: it is always there, but must be known before being understood or used in any way; likewise, word is like the silence of the Earth: it must be made, though it cannot be made forever without something else interrupting it, and it can only be made once per instance.

That just leaves the silence of the Monad.

The sphere of the Monad (between the spheres of the Stars and of the Earth) is…well, this is a little tricky.  This is a silence beyond silence.  This is a place beyond places.  This is a sound beyond sounds.  And it is none of these things.  The Monad is, in a word, God, beyond all duality and all manifestation, beyond all potential and all action.  This silence is ineffable, the holy presence itself that contains all information intelligible and unintelligible, all knowledge knowable and unknowable.  This is the place from which sounds and silences both come.  This is a thing beyond understanding, describing, or talking, so perhaps it is best to keep my own silence on this matter.

On Geomancy as Actually Being Earthy

I’ll be honest with you.  I don’t actually think geomancy is nearly as earthy as people make it out to be.

Yes, the word “geomancy” comes from Greek γεωμαντεια, literally “earth-seeing”.  Yes, St. Isidore of Seville and Hugh of St. Victor, two philologists and academics of the medieval era, list geomancy as a form of divination alongside other elemental forms of divination (although St. Isidore lived and wrote about geomancy several centuries before we have records of it ever being practiced).  However, I think this is glossing over something very important.  If you look at the history of the word geomancy, the Greek word was a calque (literal word-for-word translation) from the Arabic term for it, `ilm al-raml, which literally means “science of the sand”.  This is in reference to the way the first geomancers practiced their art, by drawing out the figures and dots and lines in sand or loose, fine soil as would have been done by shepherds and holy men in the desert climates of the Sahara.  Thus, sand being the “earth” of the Arabs, I suppose it’s reasonable to translate `ilm alm-raml literally as “earth-seeing”.

The problem with this is that people have taken the word and gone into some pretty crazy directions with it.  For one, the word “geomancy” is haphazardly applied to such varied things as the Chinese art of feng shui (literally “wind and water”, probably more accurately translated as “auspicious designing”) as well as the more modern art of plotting ley lines and places of natural power, which might better be termed “spiritual/occult geography”.  Modern fantasy stories and role-playing games haven’t helped matters any, for that matter, by badly applying any word ending in “-mancy” to a field of magic, such as pyromancy to bending the forces of Fire or geomancy to bending the forces of Earth to cause harm or help with the wave of a wand or utterance of a word of power.  (Alas that I can’t do that…yet.)

Then again, maybe “geomancy” isn’t the best name for this art of divination I practice, either.  In its deepest, oldest, and most tried-and-true sense, geomancy should be just that: earth-seeing, scrying using dirt or rocks or crystal formations in and upon the Earth itself, just as pyromancy is scrying flames or just as hydromancy is scrying the patterns and images that appear in bodies of water.  To use the word “geomancy” implies a strong connection using the natural resources of the Earth that express the element of Earth, and, well…that’s simply not the case with the art called “geomancy”.

To put it simply, geomancy is not based on Earth, but based on the Earth; it’s not about γη the element, but Γη the place we live.  There is, quite literally, a world of difference between the two.

Consider, if you will, a bit of Qabbalah.  The sephirah associated with the Earth is Malkuth, sephirah #10 at the bottom of the Tree of Life.  This sephirah is seen as the distillation and combination, the entire purpose and the entire root of the Tree of Life.  However, while each of the other sephirah are presented as just one color (e.g. red for Geburah, yellow for Tiphareth, green for Netzach), Malkuth is unusual in that it’s presented as four colors all at once: citrine, olive, russet, and black.  This is because Malkuth isn’t a single atomic force, but a combination of the four elements that are Air, Water, Fire, and Earth.  Older European Hermetic depictions of the cosmos as a series of nested spheres often show the Earth as within four spheres of the elements Earth, Water, Air, and Fire all nested within the sphere of the Moon.

Thus, the Earth is the combination of the four elements Fire, Air, Water, and Earth that together make up our world; the Earth is not synonymous with the element Earth.  Similarly, the art called geomancy uses 16 figures that are themselves amalgamations of the four elements, and manipulates them using binary algorithms to figure out what’s going on in the world we live in.  Geomancy doesn’t just deal with the element of Earth, but it deals with those of Fire, Air, and Water equally as much to figure out what’s going on in the world we live in.  Geomancy isn’t about divination with the element of Earth; geomancy is about divination to understand the Earth and what’s going on in this sphere we call “the World”.  Perhaps another, more appropriate word for this art might be κοσμομαντεια, cosmomancy or “cosmos-seeing”.  It’s more inclusive than just using the element of Earth, since we geomancers actually use all four elements in all their combinations, just as the world, or the κοσμος, we live in expresses all the elements in all their combinations.  Alternatively, seeing how we use the four elements in divination, we might also call it στοιχειομαντεια, stoicheiomancy or “element-seeing”, perhaps which can be translated “theoretical alchemical divination”, which isn’t a bad way to summarize the art of geomancy generally.

However, I doubt I’ll be able to shift to using these alternate terms anytime soon, or encourage others to do the same; the word “geomancy” is simply too entrenched into the art over its millennium-long history, and I’m a little fond of how it rolls off the tongue.  Still, I think it’d do the geomantic community well to take another look at the term “geomancy” and remember that it’s not the element of Earth that we focus on, but the world we call the Earth that geomancy relies upon.  Geomancy can be considered “terrestrial astrology”, as Stephen Skinner famously called it; while it does injustice towards the arts of geomancy and astrology alike, it makes sense from an outsider’s point of view.  Astrology is the understanding of the heavens using heavenly bodies and how they affect us; geomancy is the understanding of the World using worldly elements and how they affect us.

Consider this another way, too: when we read the geomantic chart, we start with the Judge and work our way up.  We literally begin at the bottom and look upward.  That’s basically the perspective of everything from the Earth’s point of view; it looks upward from beneath everything, seeing everything from below.  This ties in elegantly with late Renaissance theories of how geomancy “works”; while most geomancers agreed that it was an act of the soul within humans that allowed it to reach out and contact the divine for guidance, it was also played in part by the anima Mundi, or the soul of the world, that gave us the answers.  In contacting the Earth, we learn pretty much everything that happens, has happened, and will happen, and get a pretty down-to-earth (boo) and objective answer.

So, I think I’ll disagree with how the estimable John Michael Greer labeled the art when he titled his first book on geomancy “Earth Divination: Earth Magic”.  Geomancy is far from being divination-by-earth, but should be seen rather as divination-of-the-Earth.  The distinction in nuance here is pretty big, and I think it’d pay off well for us geomancers to reconsider how our art came to be and the forces we’re calling on.  If we’re just calling on the powers and spirits of the element of Earth to help us in geomantic divination and works, then we’re effectively forgetting the other three-quarters of the art that involve the powers and spirits of Fire, Air, and Water.  I think a healthy spiritual approach to this art should remember that fact, and model itself accordingly.

Search Term Shoot Back, February 2015

I get a lot of hits on my blog from across the realm of the Internet, many of which are from links on Facebook, Twitter, or RSS readers.  To you guys who follow me: thank you!  You give me many happies.  However, I also get a huge number of new visitors daily to my blog from people who search around the Internet for various search terms.  As part of a monthly project, here are some short replies to some of the search terms people have used to arrive here at the Digital Ambler.  This focuses on some search terms that caught my eye during the month of February 2015.

“saturn%25252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252525252bsabbath” — Oh really, now?  I’m not sure why you’re using the % sign so much in that query (%25 is a common way to represent the % sign itself in some encodings), but…I mean, Saturn is in a little bit of everything, Hermetically speaking, so yes, you could represent how closely something is associated with Saturn as a percentage?  I guess?

“where does wiccan writing come from” — You likely mean the Theban alphabet.  This script was adopted at some point by people in Wicca, though I’m not sure when or why.  It was given as a magical writing system for the Roman script by Agrippa (book III, chapter 29), and we find this same script appear in Johann Trithemius’s Polygraphia, which makes sense as Trithemius was Agrippa’s mentor.  However, this script predates Trithemius, originating in alchemical cipher scripts of medieval and Renaissance Europe.  Trithemius claims that it started with Honorius of Thebes (yes, the same one after whom the Sworn Book of Honorius is named after) “as given by Pietro d’Abano”, though d’Abano gives no such reference.  There are some theories that the Theban writing system was loosely based on Georgian script or Ethiopian script, though these still seem far-fetched to my mind.

“hermetic how consecrate a orisha” — You don’t.  End of.  Orisha are not part of the Hermetic tradition; they’re part of the African diasporic religions that originate in Yoruba culture and mixed with European Christian saint veneration and American indigenous traditions, like Cuban (Santeria) or Brazilian (Candomble).  If you want to consecrate a vessel for an orisha, you’ll need to be part of those traditions, which keep those methods and tools as secret mysteries one has to be initiated into.  If you want to approach an orisha on your own, you can do that in a way not unlike calling a Greek or Roman god or a planetary power, but you’d do best to approach them in the way they’re traditionally called.  Go to your local botanica or ile to ask more.  Besides, the Hermetic tradition is jam-packed with spirits of all kinds, types, names, and histories all their own.  It’s a complete system and framework for approaching the cosmos, and even though it can incorporate or understand other traditions from within itself, there really is no need to borrow so liberally from other traditions just because you want an exotic flavor in your own work.

“what happens when you summon hermes” — I wouldn’t know, since I don’t make it a habit to summon or conjure gods.  I invoke them and call upon them and invite them to be with me or to help me, but I don’t conjure them in the way I conjure an angel.  That seems presumptuous of me, especially since Hermes is usually pretty busy and comes at his leisure and choice rather than my forceful summons.

“what spirit should be my first conjuration?” — Personally, I suggest a spirit close to you.  Land spirits of places you frequent often, such as a park or an office building, or even your own home, are fantastic.  Ancestor spirits and people from whom you’re descended are also easy to come in contact with, and being their progeny, you already have an in with them that makes for an easy contact.  If you want to go with angels, I suggest Uriel, not just because Uriel was the first angel I went with, but because Uriel is the angelic king associated with Earth, and thus the angel closest to humanity and the world we live in.  The important thing is to not reach too far, but to pick something easy and relatively safe for conjuration so that you begin to get the feel for what feels right in a context like that.

“how to position candles when conjuring a seal” — I’m not sure about the positioning, but I’m rather more intrigued by your attempt to call forth marine mammals into being with magic.  Seals can be a very good source of fragrance and fuel materials, to be sure.

“was pope gregory or psuedo dionys first wirh archangel names” — Neither, actually.  There are references to seven archangels, and archangels generally, that predate Pope Gregory and Pseudo-Dionysus the Areopagite by centuries.  We find Michael in the Book of Daniel and Raphael in the Book of Tobit, and we find more extensive archangel names in the Books of Enoch, all of which were written long before the births of Greg or P.-D.

“wiccan language” — You mean English?

“summoning ghost rituals aaaaaaaaaa” — Dude, it’s not that scary.  Relax.

“sigils greek gods” — The Greek gods don’t really have seals or sigils of their own; they simply weren’t worked with like that, and the use of seals is very much a later thing.  We find the use of barbarous words of power and celestial characters in magical writings from the PGM, sure, but nothing like a “seal” like what’s given in the Lemegeton Goetia.  Rather, the Greek gods were usually called upon and prayed to, perhaps using a statue or other sacred image of them as a focus.

“occultic gay love bonding” — I’m game for it; I’m always for using magic for getting laid and getting paid, and all the better if you live happily ever after.  Thing is, since most people are straight, most magic is, too.  Doesn’t mean that queer/gay/trans/agender magic is wrong or trivial, though, though it is hard to come by.  There’s one spell from olden times I know of specifically for male-male love, but that’s about it.  Generally speaking, any romance or love spell you can think of will work as well for same-sex or agendered relationships as it would for different-sex relationships.  However, if that ritual uses very gendered elements (one partner has High John the Conqueror root and one partner has Queen Elizabeth root, or there’s some combination of a phallus and vagina candle), you may want to change those as desired for the proper effect.

“kybalion is male focused” — Ugh.  The Kybalion is hardly focused at all, and among modern texts, it’s basically swill.  If your only issue with the Kybalion is that it tends to focus on men or masculinity (I guess?), then you need to get out more or read more texts, because there are many more problems in the Kybalion than just that.