On the Simplicity of Divine Prayer

Trying to get back into a routine is rough when you’ve been out of it for so long.  Between the job changes, house moves, seclusionary period of religious vows, and then a glut of partying and celebration at the end of 2017, I’m sure some of my readers can sympathize.  None of that excuses me, of course, from what I should be doing, but a trial’s a trial, after all.

One morning this week was the first in a long time I’ve made myself sit down, meditate, and recite some prayers.  Not many, given my lengthier commute than what I had back a few years ago, and given that I need to reconfigure my sleep schedule to allow for more awake time in the morning before work.  But, yanno, it was enough for this morning.  Admittedly, the prayers take some getting used to again, reciting them with the same focus, the same intent, the same clarity I recall I once had.  But then, any skill left unused for too long dulls faster than an overused knife, so it’ll just take practice and repetition and applying myself.  After a few days, I started to get that…silent Ring, that echo of the Hymns of Silence, back into my words.  So even if it doesn’t take too long to sharpen myself, it still takes time.

Briefly, I considered maybe if I wasn’t doing enough, if I wasn’t incorporating enough elements to give myself that proper atmosphere.  You know of what I speak, dear reader: that misty-shadowy-monochrome-occult,  evidently-powerful, clearly-mystical aesthetic that we all idealize and fetishize in our Work.  That perfectly-framed instagrammable/snapchattable/sharable #nofilter dark-room bones-and-herbs-strewn-about #tradcraft altar look that often sticks in our minds as both breathtaking and inspirational.  So, while in the middle of a prayer, holding my book in one hand, I reached for the incense with the other—

I stopped myself.  No, incense was not what I needed.  What I needed was prayer, and that alone.

A few weeks ago, while trying to find an appropriate time for a feast day of Hermes Trismegistus, I recalled a specific astrological alignment used for…something Hermetic.  After scouring through the Corpus Hermeticum and other Hermetic texts, I eventually stumbled upon what I was looking for in the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth, but there was another bit of text that, although unrelated to what I was looking for, stuck out to me and reminded me of the simplicity called for in spiritual works, especially that of prayer.

From the Asclepius (chapter XLI; Copenhaver translation, p92):

As they left the sanctuary, they began praying to God and turning to the south (for when someone wants to entreat God at sunset, he should direct his gaze to that quarter, and likewise at sunrise towards the direction they call East), and they were already saying their prayer when in a hushed voice Asclepius asked: “Tat, do you think we should suggest that your father tell them to add frankincense and spices as we pray to God?”

When Trismegistus heard him, he was disturbed and said: “A bad omen, Asclepius, very bad.  To burn incense and such stuff when you entreat God smacks of sacrilege.  For he wants nothing who is himself all things or in whom all things are.  Rather, let us worship him by giving thanks, for God finds mortal gratitude to be the best incense.”

Let me unpack this by means of a parallel lesson I learned back in high school.  Say you’re the subject of a king, and the king is coming to your village to pay a visit and hold court.  All the local lords and nobles are coming, and all the subjects (high- or lowborn) are expected to present something to the king.  What they present are not gifts; gifts, after all, are seen as a kind of favorable charity, but how could a subject give a gift to his king?  The king already has a right to whatever his subjects own; a gift implies the bestowing of something that the receiver does not already have.  No, it is absurd for a subject to give his king a gift; what the subject offers is tribute.  Tribute is something given (yet not a gift) as well as an act of expressing admiration, gratitude, and respect to someone.  A craftsman giving a delicately crafted timepiece, a farmer giving the best of his year’s fruit, a herdsman giving the fattest of his personal flock, an artist giving a fully-decorated manuscript are all things that can be considered tribute in this context; these are acts or offerings of their own labor, their own work, their own hands with which they express thanks to their king, who enables them to do everything.

Of course, you can’t just offer any old thing as tribute.  No, it should be the finest example of what can you can produce, the most rarefied exemplar of skill and labor, and that which is suited to the tastes and needs of the king receiving tribute, as well as exemplifying the natural ownership of the king over his domain.  In other words, proper tribute shows our respect to those above us that we are grateful for their support, patronage, guidance, and protection in the means that they themselves strive to attain.

In this case, Hermes Trismegistus is suggesting that prayers of gratitude are tribute to God, and anything else is simply extra and, moreover, sullying the pure act of prayer.  After all, God is both transcendent and immanent of the world we live in; God already contains all things, all incenses and oils and blood-offerings and flowers.  Why should we bother with these things then?  Hermes would claim that to offer incense in prayer to God would be like offering fish to the ocean, or like giving a king a tributary offering of cattle, including all the shit and piss and vomit they make.  It’s not that these things are unhelpful or without use to us, but they are of little worth to a king, and are so beneath him as to be offensive.  Hermes says that there is nothing physical we could offer to God, because everything physical is already part and parcel to him.

If we shouldn’t offer physical things to God, then what should we offer?  Hermes says simply: “let us worship him by giving thanks, for God finds mortal gratitude to be the best incense”.  Just as subjects to a king offer tribute to express their gratitude towards and to show their abilities fostered by their protecting lord, we offer prayer of gratitude with our intellect and own internal divinity to show God, who gave humanity its intelligible nature by means of the Logos, our respect and thanks to him.  We recognize our place and nature in the world, a unique intersection between the purely physical universe and the purely spiritual cosmos, and we remember our divine origins in God’s own being; we express thanks and gratitude, not to appease or placate God’s wrath, but to grow closer to him and his domain so as to rise above mere matter.

That’s another reason why Hermes abhors the use of incense in prayer to God.  If we’re to ascend above this mortal coil so as to retake our divine essence and birthright, then why should we let those very same mortal, physical, doomed things continue to hold us down?  As Hermes and Poemander say in the very first book of the Corpus Hermeticum (book I, chapters 20—21; Salaman translation, pp21—22):

[Poemander] continued, “If you have remembered, tell me, why are those who are in death, worthy of death?

[Hermes] replied, “Because the grim darkness is the first origin of one’s own body, from which darkness arose the watery nature, from which darkness the body is formed in the sensory world of which death drinks.”

“You have observed correctly”, he said.  “But why does he who has remembered himself go to the Father, as the Word of God says?”

I replied, “Because the Father of all is constituted out of light and life, whence Man has been begotten.”

Poimandres then said, “The truth is: light and life is God and Father, whence Man is begotten.  If, therefore, you realize yourself as being from life and light, and that you have been made out of them, you will return to life.”

Death and ignorance of the divine are intrinsic to physical existence and physical things, and of the things that are not physical, the opposite is true.  Thus, to mix physical things in acts meant to focus on that which is purely divested of them (i.e. matters of God) introduces a measure of death and ignorance into them.  Thus, not only is it sufficient to simply pray to God, but anything more taints such a pure act.

So, no.  I didn’t need to light incense to pray.  I never have, and I never will.  Such prayer to God, performed with the full intent of prayer, is a complete and sufficient act unto itself that no addition could ever make more or better than my present, attentive, intentive, and intelligible Speech saying the divine Words.

Now, I will qualify this: there are times when incenses, oils, tools, and other physical materia matter for spiritual works or sacrifices to the gods, but note the context of difference here.  With offerings to the theoi, for instance, it is proper to offer wine, olive oil, incense, and burnt offerings; they find these things pleasing, and to an extent they are either part of this world or part of the cosmos close to us where these things are useful and appreciated.  Magical ceremonies involving the planets, them being physical-spiritual forces in our world, make use of colors and metals and incenses and herbs and whatnot to make their presence stronger here on Earth.  But when we talk about prayer to God, who is completely above all and encapsulates all within himself?  It’s a different set of rules and contexts, where there is nothing physical to do or appreciated, and the inclusion of physical things only acts as a distraction and delay.  In a sense, it’s highly parallel to what the Buddha taught about meditation: you don’t need incenses or bells or Lululemon pants or overpriced crystals or ridiculously over-engineered sitting cushions.  All you need is meditation, nothing more; nothing else will help you meditate than simply meditating.  In the same vein, Hermes Trismegistus teaches in the Asclepius that nothing else will help with praying to God than simply praying to God.

And, to finish that off, what was the prayer that Hermes Trismegistus offered after his rebuke to Asclepius?  This, which serves as an example of the type of intellectual reflection and deep gratitude Hermes Trismegistus propounded:

We thank you, supreme and most high God, by whose grace alone we have attained the light of your knowledge; holy Name that must be honored, the one Name by which our ancestral faith blesses God alone, we thank you who deign to grant to all a father’s fidelity, reverence, and love, along with any power that is sweeter, by giving us the gift of consciousness, reason, and understanding:
consciousness, that we may know you;
reason, by which we may seek you in our dim suppositions;
knowledge, by which we may rejoice in knowing you.

And we who are saved by your power do indeed rejoice because you have shown yourself to us wholly.  We rejoice that you have deigned to make us gods for eternity even while we depend on the body.  For this is mankind’s only means of giving thanks: knowledge of your majesty.

We have known you, the vast light perceived only by reason.
We have understood you, true life of life, the womb pregnant with all coming-to-be.
We have known you, who persist eternally by conceiving all coming-to-be in its perfect fullness.

Worshiping with this entire prayer the good of your goodness, we ask only this: that you wish us to persist in the love of your knowledge and that we never be cut off from such a life as this.

With such hopes and such prayers, let us now turn to putting it to practice with dedication.

On Geomantic Holy Days

One of the things I subtly introduced in my 2018 ritual calendar post was the inclusion of a lot more feast days of saints and holy men in the Abrahamic/Judeo-Christian tradition.  Some of them make sense for me as a magician (like Epiphany for the Three Magi, or Saint Cyprian of Antioch), while I recognize others for their use in scheduling feast days or ceremonies for orisha worship and work by means of the saints syncretized with the orisha (like Saint Barbara for Ṣàngó).  Others are more personal, like the feast of the Prophet Samuel for my namesake and reminding myself from whence I come and the virtues I need to remind myself to live up to.  Then there are a handful of others, where there’s no immediate connection.  I mean, what’s the deal with the Feast of Adam and Eve, or that of Daniel or Enoch?  Yeah, they’re all important characters in the Grand Story of the World, but…admittedly, it’s weird.

Not too long ago, I was experimenting with coming up with a prayer for geomantic practice.  It’s something I’ve long tried to do, time and time again, but with little success in finding something right for my practice and needs.  Heck, when floundering around for inspiration, I even put out a post on Twitter and Facebook asking whether everyone else who divines has their own diviner’s prayer, and if so, what it might be.  (If you replied to that post, you have my unending thanks, and my deep appreciation for your practices, prayer or no!) Eventually, however, I finally came up with something that fit in well with my needs and in a pleasant, organized, comprehensive way.  As part of the prayer, I recognize my ancestors, not just of my kin but also of my practice.  In this case, I recognize my blood ancestors as well as my geomantic ancestors, and what better ones to recognize than the Forebears of the Art?

If you look through the older geomantic literature, you’ll sometimes find an educational narrative about how the art of geomancy came to be.  I’ve even written one myself, a bit more prose-filled and fleshed-out than what you might find in medieval manuscripts, but the idea is the same: at one point, a wise man was meditating and an angel came to him and taught him the art of geomancy, with which the man became even wiser and learned the secrets of the cosmos and of God.  Interestingly, the choices for which wise man are limited: it’s almost always Adam, Enoch, Daniel, Hermes Trismegistus, or Idris ﷺ.  Further, when the angel is given a name, it’s usually Gabriel, which brings in his associations with being the messenger for the Virgin Mary,  a protector and guide of Daniel, and the revelator who narrated the Qur’an to the prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

The Forebears of the Art make decent enough sense, if you think about it:

  • Adam was the first man created, and thus the origin of humanity with his wife and co-creation, Eve.  From him do we have all language and, thus, the original medium for us to have and process knowledge.  Plus, his name literally means “earth”, for it is from dust and clay that we were all created, by which we live and eat, and to which we all one day return.
  • Enoch was considered to be among the greatest scribes to have ever lived, and lived 365 years before walking with God and entering Heaven alive.  Enoch was seven generations descended from Adam and several before Noah, and is credited with writing the Book of Enoch, but also with a huge number of books on all subjects, which provided the foundation for all civilization, science, technology, and art.  Once assumed into Heaven, it is said that he assumes the role of the Metatron, attendant to the Throne, guardian to all celestial treasures and secrets, and communicator of the presence of God.  For this and other reasons, the meaning of Enoch’s name means “dedicated” or “educated”.
  • Daniel, whose name means “God is my Judge” or “judgment of God”, isn’t considered a prophet (the divine art of which ended with his immediate forefathers before the Babylonian Exile), but was considered the foremost righteous and pious of the Jews in the diaspora.  It is because of this that he was blessed with divine protection, understanding, visions, and knowledge of mysterious signs, dreams, and omens, to say nothing of his otherwise astute sharpness, observation, and knowledge.
  • Hermes Trismegistus is…well, Hermes Trismegistus, another prophetical figure, mentor to his son Asclepius and student Tat, who was revealed the true nature of things by Poemander, the Shepherd of Men, and who is credited with the Corpus Hermeticum, the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth, the Perfect Sermon, the Emerald Tablet, and many other Hermetic texts.  It is from Hermes Trismegistus, the Thrice-Great One, that we get the name for our style of magic, and many works, books, texts, arts, sciences, and discoveries are attributed to him.  That geomancy was one of them is of no great surprise.  In many ways, he can be considered another aspect of the Greek god Hermes, messenger and diviner and trickster and wayfarer, and especially so when combined with the Egyptian god Thoth, scribe, knowledge-seeker, order-keeper, magic-teacher, and ultimate president of fate.
  • Idris ﷺ is one of the lesser-known prophets in the Western world, but in Islam, he’s huge.  He came before the prophet Muhammad ﷺ, but still preached monotheism, purity, chastity, wisdom, honesty, patience, and all the other good virtues common to the prophets who came after him.  The name of this prophet has connections with the concepts of interpretation and instruction.  Many aspects of his life, from all the original civilizing works on sciences and arts, being the first to have the knowledge of writing, living for 365 years, and so forth have overwhelming parallels with Enoch, and the two are often considered identical in Qur’anic and biblical studies.  In other cases, especially by the more mystic interpreters of the texts, he’s associated with Hermes Trismegistus for many of the same reasons.  For the purposes of my studies and understanding, I equate Idris ﷺ more with Enoch than Hermes Trismegistus, but both associations are equally valid.

So, with that understood and clarified, I consider there to be four Forebears of the Art: Adam, Enoch, Hermes Trismegistus, and Daniel.  They are all equally the progenitors of the art of geomancy, each instructed according by the angel Gabriel to know, practice, and (in some cases) teach the art to their descendants, either children by blood or students by mind.  Given that there are four such Forebears, why not go one step further and associate them to the four elements themselves, and different blessings upon a diviner that grants them skill and success in the art?

  • Daniel, for his illumined understanding of visions and dreams and the judicious power of of the highest levels of mind, is given to the element of Fire, and models the blessing of Judgment to the diviner.
  • Enoch, for his education, skill in writing, and holding the secrets of the airs and the heavens in his possession, is given to the element of Air, and models the blessing of Dedication to the diviner.
  • Hermes Trismegistus, for his spiritual understanding and meditation upon the deepest of mysteries, initiation into new living and life, and mediation between all peoples and cultures, and so is given to the element of Water, and models the blessing of Wisdom to the diviner.
  • Adam, being born directly of the Earth and giving the first names to all things that are, bringing them into full materialization and actualization within the newly-made World of Man, is given to the element of Earth, and models the blessing of Attainment to the diviner.

Given that, if one were to consider honoring these progenitors, why not use their feast days, as normally reckoned according to the various Christian churches out there?

  • Feast of Gabriel the Archangel: March 24
  • Feast of All Angels: September 29
  • Feast of Daniel the Prophet: July 21
  • Feast of Enoch the Great Scribe: July 30
  • Feast of Adam and Eve: December 24

Note that, technically, Gabriel can be celebrated on two days: March 24 is his general feast day in the West, and was even recognized by the Roman Catholic Church before 1969.  After, the Church prefers to celebrate all the angels on Michaelmas, September 29, which includes Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel.

The only feast day I don’t have listed above for is Hermes Trismegistus who…well, doesn’t really have one.  It’s a little weird, now that I think about it, but I never really considered a specific day to give to Hermes Trismegistus. While he was sometimes recognized as a gentile prophet by some fathers of the Church, much as how Idris ﷺ was recognized as a virtuous pre-Islamic prophet before the Qur’an, Hermes Trismegistus is not formally recognized as either saint or prophet, and so has no feast day of his own in the Churchs’ systems.  So, my ideas on a possible feast day for Hermes Trismegistus:

  • I can’t really seem to find any practice or consensus of a feast day for Hermes Trismegistus besides a very modern and unexplained May 24, which doesn’t seem well-grounded to me.  The only source for this I can find is in Dennis William Hauck’s book on the Emerald Tablet, something-something pan-pagan Triple Goddess feast day, mumble-mumble alchemical processes describing the enlightenment/death of the Buddha Śākyamuni on the full moon of May.  I’m unconvinced of the associations, personally.
  • Previously I’d’ve used the Hermaia, but that’s more properly for the Hellenic Hermes, and is also based on the Hellenic lunisolar calendar (fourth day of the tenth lunar month, reckoned from the summer solstice).   This typically occurs in March at some point.
  • Rather than the Hellenic festival, the Roman one of Mercuralia on May 15 could suffice.  However, the focus on this was really the god of the marketplace and commerce (as Mercury always was, only later adopting more of Hermes’ traits and, even later than that, Hermes Trismegistus’).
  • We could just assign him a day of a new invention with an appropriate number.  The fourth day of the fourth month for us would be April 4, which might just be simple enough to work, even if it is unfounded in anything else.  This day does happen to be the feast day for Saint Isidore of Seville, the famous composer of the Etymologiae, the patron saint of the internet, computers, programmers, and students generally, so this might actually work reasonably well.
  • I suppose one could argue for an astrological alignment, such as when the planet Mercury is at 15° Virgo (or between that point and the start of Libra) between sunrise and noon as described in the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth, but that’s incredibly variable and not tied to the Gregorian calendar, which can also involve nasty retrograde periods, which might be ill-fitting for honor.   Plus, there’s debate about whether this is just an astrological election for talismans, a set of one-time instructions for the mythic engraving of the Discourse, or a reoccurring celestial marker to actually remember him by.  Plus, now that I look at it, there isn’t clarity as to whether the text really means the planet Mercury or the Moon, because Hermes Trismegistus was associated with Hermes in the Hellenic system and Thoth in the Egyptian one; Hermes is given the planet Mercury, but Thoth the Moon.
  • Instead of thinking of a purely Christian system, why not look at Hermes Trismegistus’ older Egyptian one?  Thoth was primarily celebrated on the third day of the Wag Festival, held from the 17th through 19th of First Akhet, the first month after the heliacal rising of Sirius.  The heliacal rising of Sirius isn’t something I would like to use, as the Egyptian calendar was timed by this observation but dependent upon the precession of the stars and latitude of observation; some modern Kemeticists do the right thing and calculate when the new year would be for their own area, but just as many (so it seems) just use an old date and work from there.  I often see August 6 as a date to celebrate Thoth and, thus, Hermes Trismegistus, but again, this is using a date that’s long since been out of sync with any historical use.
  • The ancient Egyptian calendar is still technically in use by their modern descendants, the Copts.  The Coptic calendar is still used by Coptic Christians today, and is largely regularized though it still drifts ever so slowly, since it’s effectively a kind of Julian calendar and not Gregorian.  Still, it’s better than nothing!  The first day of the year in that calendar, 1 Thout, is September 11 in our calendar (or September 12 in Gregorian leap years) for the rest of this century, due to the Julian-Gregorian drift of leap days (shhhh); skipping ahead to the 19th day of this month gets us to September 29, which would be the modern date of the Wag and Thoth Festival.  Oh, would you look at that, September 29 is also Michaelmas.  Cute.  So, we can slide Hermes Trismegistus on into there as well, and use that (or knock it back one day later, during leap years or until 2100 CE) as our feast day for the prophet.
  • Another Egyptian calendar, the Cairo Calendar, gives an explanation of the usefulness and auspiciousness of each day in the Egyptian year, along with an ongoing mythic account of what happens in the divine realm on that day.  The events have been associated and linked to certain celestial events involving certain stars, as well, with Thoth especially linked to Alphecca (α Coronae Borealis) in its heliacal rising on October 12 for the “going forth of Thoth in order to judge in the presence of Ra” or its culmination at dawn on January 24 for “the coming of Thoth”.

Honestly?  I’m inclined to just use April 4 for its regularity and convenient timing, so as to not overlap or bunch up with other things going on that time of year, and consider Saint Isidore of Seville to be a “mask” lent to Hermes Trismegistus for this purpose.  No heliacal or stellar observations, no Julian calendrics, no lunation weirdness; it’s easy, it’s regular, it’s Gregorian, the number matches well with Hermes and Hermes Trismegistus and geomancy, it matches the pattern of the other feast days, and the saint mask here is perfect.  Boom, April 4, done.

So much for feast days of the saints of geomancy.  The usual invocations and offerings can be made to them: candles in appropriate colors, traditional meals or drinks, flowers, and so forth.  Gabriel is, of course, among the most well-known of Christian entities, and chaplets, novenas, and other prayers to him are readily found aplenty.  (Heck, I even wrote an ebook compiling prayers to the seven Christian archangels, including more than a few for Gabriel.)  In the absence of any particularly specific prayers for some of the older biblical figures, I like using the Orthodox kontakion and troparion prayer-songs for Daniel and Adam and Eve, but I’m having trouble finding other such prayers for Enoch; I’ll likely need to do more digging or some writing for those, or appropriate/innovate from the Islamic tradition with his equivalent there.  Prayers for Hermes Trismegistus are old hat and abundant in Hermetic literature, but devising new ones might always be appreciated.

What about giving days to the figures themselves, for like a Feast of Albus or a Feast of Fortuna Minor?  This is getting dangerously close to setting up a “geomantic zodiac”, which weirds me out and is getting into very experimental territory; I’ve spoken before on setting up geomantic cycles of time, which can get kinda hairy.  Still, talking with the good Dr Al Cummins, I decided “eh, screw it” and went to work drafting an idea for a geomantic calendar of sorts.  The idea is very loosely based off the pagan Wheel of the Year, which divides up the solar year into eight parts.  Eight is just half of 16, so if we can divide the year up into eight, why not one more division down?  The fundamental idea behind these 16 “geomantic districts of the ecliptic” lies in the primary and secondary elemental rulers of the elements, so brush up on those if you’re unfamiliar with how I structurally figure those out.

The idea of this calendar goes like this:

  • Each season has a ruling element, based on the cardinal zodiac sign associated with the solstice/equinox that starts it.  Thus, Spring starts at the spring equinox, which is 0° Aries; because Aries is a Fire sign, Spring is ruled by Fire.
  • Divide each season up into four districts of 23 or 22 days.  As a guide, the quarter days (i.e. solstices and equinoxes) start the first district, and the cross-quarter days, reckoned by the Sun midpoint that season’s fixed sign (e.g. 15° Taurus in Spring) will start the third district.
  • The third district is given to the figure whose primary and secondary elemental ruler is the same as that season’s element.  Thus, for Spring, Laetitia (Fire/Fire) is given to the third district.
  • The second district is given to the figure whose primary ruler is the element of the season, and whose secondary ruler is its complementary element.  Fire complements Air and vice versa; Water complements Earth and vice versa.  In other words, use the element where the heat matches but not the moisture.
  • The first district is given to the figure whose primary ruler is the element of the season, and whose secondary ruler matches the element of the preceding season.  In the case of Spring and Autumn, the secondary element will be oblique to the primary one, agreeing in moisture but not heat; in the case of Summer and Winter, the secondary element will oppose the primary one, agreeing in neither heat nor moisture.
  • The fourth district is given to the figure whose primary ruler is the element of the season, and whose secondary ruler matches the element of the succeeding season.  In the case of Summer and Winter, the secondary element will be oblique to the primary one, agreeing in moisture but not heat; in the case of Spring and Autumn, the secondary element will oppose the primary one, agreeing in neither heat nor moisture.

With that, here’s a table showing an approximate yearly calendar matching the four seasons, the date divisions of the geomantic districts and their ecliptic degree boundaries, the associated pagan Wheel of the Year celebration (if any), the primary/major and secondary/minor elements of the district, and the figure ruling the district itself.  Note that the dates here are rough approximates, and will shift from year to year according to the exact placement of the Sun along the ecliptic.

Season Solar
Element Figure
Major Minor
Spring 0° Ari Mar 21 Ostara Fire Earth Cauda Draconis
22°30′ Ari Apr 13 Air Fortuna Minor
15° Tau May 6 Beltane Fire Laetitia
7°30′ Gem May 29 Water Amissio
Summer 0° Can Jun 21 Litha Water Fire Puella
22°30′ Can Jul 14 Earth Populus
15° Leo Aug 6 Lammas Water Albus
7°30′ Vir Aug 29 Air Via
Autumn 0° Lib Sep 21 Mabon Air Water Coniunctio
22°30′ Lib Oct 13 Fire Puer
15° Sco Nov 5 Samhain Air Rubeus
7°30′ Sag Nov 27 Earth Acquisitio
Winter 0° Cap Dec 21 Yule Earth Air Caput Draconis
22°30′ Cap Jan 12 Water Fortuna Maior
15° Aqu Feb 3 Imbolc Earth Tristitia
7°30′ Pis Feb 26 Fire Carcer

As for the use of the neopagan names of the quarter/cross-quarter days, I should point out that I don’t really do anything with the cross-quarter days themselves, nor can I even really remember their names on a frequent basis.  However, they are a useful set of names for those eight days, which is why I’m using them here.  Besides, just because I don’t really do anything with them doesn’t mean nobody else does, and they’re pretty common knowledge for other people, so I figured I’d have them here anyway.

(that said, don’t @ me about the exact dates of the cross-quarter days in pagan/neopagan/tradcraft practice, I know that it’s common to give them to the first day of May, August, November, and February, I don’t care because it doesn’t mesh with a system based on the exact placement of the Sun in the ecliptic as described above. shhhhh.)

Presented in a more pleasant and graphical format, I present to you a prototype Geomantic Wheel of the Year. Read the figures from the outside in, aligned with the date text in each district.

Of course, the usual caveats apply: this is entirely theoretical and hypothetical, and is thus in need of actual experimentation.  There are some oddities that would need to be explored here, like starting off the solar year with…Cauda Draconis, of all figures.  Then again, consider that Caput Draconis starts off the winter; these are the two figures of the eclipses, the spots that turn the luminaries dark, and here they bound the darkest time of the year, and fruther, one could argue that one needs to firmly close and end the old year at the boundary before truly starting anew.  Alternatively, we might consider the geomantic year to start at the winter solstice with Caput Draconis, the district starting off the season of Earth, rather than with the spring equinox of Fire.  It’s an idea.

The important thing with this is the use of the exact days when the Sun enters the degree of the district, though I suppose it could be argued that if the geomantic figure actually resonates well with those particular degrees, it could hold over into the district as a whole.  And, of course, other such arrangements could exist, such as by expanding and refitting the lunar mansions associations of the figures into 22°30′ chunks, or reconfiguring the elemental assignments (swapping the rules for the first and fourth districts, for instance, or using different elemental rulers).

While I’m okay with the idea of ecliptic districts for the figures, the idea of particular days for the figures still strikes me as odd.  It’s like saying “this is the annual day to celebrate the Moon” or “this is the festival of the planet Jupiter”.  It’s fine when we talk about saints or gods, but when you’re talking about a celestial force apart and away from those, it seems a bit…weird.  Like, with the geomantic figures, yes they can be associated with spirits or saints or prophets or gods, but they’re still essentially forces that are constantly at work at all times in all places in the cosmos, universe, and world.  To single out a particular day seems more like a convention than something that actually arises harmonically and naturally, but then, considering how I’m linking the elemental flow of the seasons of the year to the elemental rulerships of the figures, I guess it could work.  I would fain try to apply the geomantic districts to any sort of astrological interpretation, but it is a useful model to organize a geomantic calendar, I suppose.

If you wanted to go one level further than just districts of the ecliptic, you could give the middle 16 days of each district to one figure (which means you’d have three to four days on either side of this set, or six to seven days altogether unallocated).  In that way, you could focus on pairs of the figures: first the figure of the current district, then the figure of the day within the district as its partner.  In this way, you could meditate on each of the 256 pairs of the figures throughout the course of a year in a regular, timed way.  How would the sixteen figures be allocated to the days within a district?  Good question, and one I do not propose an answer to (yet).  Maybe eventually, if the Geomantic Year ever takes off for me or others.

So now we have days for the geomantic saints, our noble Forebears of the Art, as well as an experimental system for special days for the sixteen figures themselves.  What about geomancy as a whole?  I mean, New Year’s Day, the turn of the seasons (or midseasons), one’s own birthday or nameday, or other important anniversaries can be done and made personal to one’s geomantic practice to perform divination for the coming season or year, as well as to honor the geomancers who went before you and the powers of the cosmos that are at work.  If you want to take a nature-centric approach to the art, there’s always Earth Day on April 22 each year.

But, if you’re asking me whether there’s one single day I might associate with the art?  I mean…that’s like asking for an “astrology day” or “tarot day” or “alchemy day”.  What I would say is this: no day must, any day can, and probably most days should be such a day to study and practice our art.

The Spiritual Origin of Geomancy

It occurs to me that I talk a fair bit about geomancy, and on occasion have briefly described the factual history of the art.  Geomancy, as it is understood by scholars and historians, has no pinpointed origin as yet; the best we can guess at is that the art was developed roughly around 900 CE likely in the northeast Saharan region of Africa.  It was likely innovated by migrant tribes, perhaps merchants from further east or by Tuaregs or other Bedouin-esque peoples, as a form of divination that connected with simple mathematics.  It got caught up in Arabic trade routes that synced up with the expansion of Islam, and spread pretty much all over from there: west to Morocco, southwest to Nigera where it became ifá, south to Madagascar where it became sikidy, and east to Palestine and Arabia where it became raml, and even further to India where it became ramalashastra.  When medieval Europe began its academic discovery and recovery that we call the Renaissance, around 1100 CE, it began to import academic, spiritual, alchemical, and divinatory texts from the Arabic world from two directions: from western Morocco into Spain where this new art was called “geomancia”, and from eastern Palestine and Turkey into Greece where it was called “rabolion”.  From these two fonts came a new river of geomantic knowledge that spread quickly throughout the rest of Europe within the span of a hundred years or so.  From there, it quickly became one of the foremost spiritual arts of Europe and maintained its place for another six hundred years, only beginning to fade and go underground with the coming of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution.  As older texts began to be rediscovered yet again, many parts of the Western mystery tradition became reintegrated into modern practice, geomancy with them, and here we are today.

While it’s nice for an academic, it’s hollow as a spiritual story to tell.  Happily, many of the older geomantic works, especially in the Arabic tradition but with no small number of European texts joining in, give us a spiritual origin story for geomancy, usually originating with Adam, Enoch, Idris, Daniel, or Hermes Trismegistus and usually from the angel Gabriel.  So, on this day, the fourth day of the tenth lunar month that is the yearly Hermaia, as an offering to Hermes celebrating his joy and work in our world, I figure I’d share my retelling of the spiritual origin of geomancy.  What follows isn’t exactly original, but it’s not exactly a rehash, either.  Have a seat and pour yourself and Hermes a drink, dear reader, and let me tell you a tale.

May the Muses smile on me and help me share this story well.


As was his custom, he was sitting outside under his favorite tree during the height of the Sun’s path through the skies.  Not part of the local priesthood but taught some two week’s sojourn north along the Nile, the man with the thin neck and long nose wore his usual habit of loose-fitting white robes to keep himself cool during the summer heat.  His tree was on the barren outskirts of an old city, a sacred one dedicated to the Eight who made and rule the world, the scribe-god Thoth foremost among them, but although the man was well-acquainted with the local festivals and religion, he was more focused on divinity itself rather than that of any particular temple.

Alas, the day when the man would see the one who calls himself Shepherd of Men would be still far off, but the man hoped every day that that day would be this one.  On that day, he would begin to be called Thrice-Great by countless students.  For now, he just bears the name Hermes as some foreign god does, as yet unaware of his own divine nature but more attuned to the ebb and flow of power and life in the world than most.

It was under his favorite tree that the man would look at the distant roads and marketplaces, too far off to hear but kept in eyesight by the harsh light of the Sun.  The tree was hardy, able to survive in rough winds as well as in parched earth, and had the benefit of offering good shade to the man especially when the Sun’s heat would be otherwise unbearable.  Almost nobody came out this way to bother him, far off as the tree was without a nearby road, which gave the man good time and space to think.  When he could, the man would meditate, contemplating whatever mystery snagged his intellect on any given day, but being human, he would sometimes suffer hunger or thirst or lust.  Not seeing these as bad things but not wanting to indulge in them, the man would keep himself distracted by reciting prayers, analyzing interesting rocks, gazing at the stars, and conversing with the rare passer-by when one happened to wander out this way for grazing or travel to the next market.  Anything he could learn, he figured, would help him eventually; even if he couldn’t yet directly know God, he could always know more about the creations and creatures around him.

It was on one such day that the man was slightly more perturbed than he usually was by worldly concerns.  He had family, and although he cared for them as much as a solitary philosopher could, he wasn’t always in the best contact with them.  One of his sons had a propensity for spiritual development as much as he did, but his other children were better suited to buying and selling.  One such son of his traveled far and wide, well out of the Black Land, and it was a rare day indeed that the man ever got word from him.  Whether it was a fear of having an empty nest or having grass-is-greener syndrome from seeing a successful youth exploring the world, the man was more distracted than usual in the shade and couldn’t fully focus on his usual contemplation.  Thought leaped to thought as he went from his son to his children to his own fatherhood to his own father to his own home.  It didn’t help that he felt like he should only be a part of this world without being of the world, but his worries kept overriding that spiritual calling.

Resorting to habit, the man looked around him and noticed the wind calmer than it should be for this time of year, the land quieter than it had been this week, the Sun brighter than he thought it could ever be.  Nothing around him to take his mind off his son, the man resorted to the earth underneath him and grasped a handful of the loose, sandy dirt under his knees and held it.  He felt the grit, the dryness, the coolness, the crumbliness of the dirt, feeling this handful of soil as if his palm was all he had of sense.  Curious, he tossed it away from him into the air, noting how the particles of dirt traveled through the air in near-perfect arcs, the gleam and glimmer of pulverized crystal and silica shining bright once it crossed the threshold of shade into the realm of light, the smell of dry barely-fertile dirt filling the air.  He began to cough and his eyes began to water as some of the dirt suddenly flew back into his face from a strong wind that came out of nowhere.  That wind caught him off-guard, and the pain in his dusty lungs snapped him back to the present and the place where he sat.

Once he could see clearly again, he wiped off the cough-spittle from his mouth and looked around him.  The dirt he threw covered the ground, smoothed out by the wind, leaving him with a blank space before him that nearly begged to have something, anything, upon it.  Feeling somewhat out of himself from the cough, like he had just awoken from a nap, he leaned forward and dipped his fingers into the flat earth before him.  A dot here, a mark there, a trailing line from letting his arm rest before pulling it back.  He recalled some of his education as a child in being taught simple numbers and parts of numbers, and from that memory, treated some of the marks he made as mathematical forms.  He heard that, once, some teacher visiting from the far north across the Sea, the only non-Egyptian who had ever been taught by the priesthood of home, was saying something like numbers were life and all was number, but this man never really understood that kind of thing.  Numbers were numbers and couldn’t eat or fight or mate, just like the lines and marks he was making before him on the dirt.

Another wind came up, this time from the opposite direction.  Again surprised, the man looked around himself; the sky was unchanged, the Sun barely moved, no storms on the horizon.  There should’ve been no cause for this wind, considering the time of year; this meteorological puzzle would have eaten at his mind more, but he glanced down and saw that the land before him was smoothed out by the wind again, as if the marks he had made were never made at all.  Frowning, he began to consider the benefit of just going home and returning to housekeeping if going outside was going to be so uncooperative.  Another spasm shot through his lungs from the dust he inhaled, making him cough again.

“Hey there.”

The man jumped.  Opening his eyes, wiping tears from his face with a dusty hand, he looked around and saw someone standing a few yards off from him under the light of the Sun.  The man saw a placid face atop loose robes of white and blue, nearly blending into the sky and sand behind him.  Unsure if it was a trick of the tears in his eyes and the light of the Sun, Hermes blinked several times before letting his eyes fix on the stranger.  No sound of approach, no previous call to him, unusually-colored clothes, coming from the direct direction as the noontime Sun?  This was something stranger than Hermes was used to for an average day under his tree.

Seeing confusion flicker across Hermes’ face, the stranger gave an apologetic smile and slowly took a few steps towards the shade. “Sorry for giving you a scare.  I was going to my father’s house, and was curious to see what someone was doing under this lonely tree.”

Hermes, taking comfort in the stranger’s voice that had an odd lilting quality to it, smiled back and waved away the apology.  “No worries.  I think a lot here.  You just gave me a bit of a startle, no worries.”

The stranger looked around and smirked. “I take it you don’t get much company out this way.  Mind if I join you?  The Sun is bright today.”

“Of course, of course!  I don’t deny anyone the pleasure of shade here.  Come, have a seat.”  Hermes waved the stranger over, emitting one last, small cough before the stranger could begin another conversation.

“Thank you.” The stranger entered the shade and sat down gracefully a few paces from Hermes.  Hermes didn’t notice that the stranger’s footsteps weren’t marking the ground, but was still looking around, still half-wondering where that last wind came from.  As the stranger sat down, Hermes opened his mouth to begin his usual niceties to greet passers-by when he caught the stranger’s eyes looking directly into his own.  Hermes stopped short of making any kind of utterance; the piercing quality of the stranger’s eyes seemed like pure fire, and his skin seemed to glow from something more than the Sun’s heat.

The stranger took this opportunity of awe and silence from Hermes and leaned forward curiously.  “Before I surprised you, I noticed you were drawing in the sand.  I take it you’ve studied letters?”  Hermes nodded, confusion mixing with his awe.  The stranger smiled enthusiastically.  “Good!  It always gladdens me to find another soul schooled in that art.  Mind if I ask what you were writing?”

Hermes snapped to his senses and shook himself out of his awestruck confusion.  “Ah, er, nothing, really.  Not letters, more like numbers.  I was clearing my mind and letting my hands do their own thing.”  Hermes grinned with some embarrassment, wiggling his fingers as if to show they thought on their own.

The stranger let out a casual scoff.  “Come now.  Surely one studied such as yourself should know that all forms are valuable.  After all, sometimes the most true meaning can come from pure accident.”  Hermes nodded with a shrug, not sure what the stranger was getting at but feeling something nagging at his mind in that general, vague sentiment. “If it’s not too presumptuous of me, I noticed an interesting thing from afar.  Would you show me some of the marks you made?”  The stranger tilted his head coyly, but Hermes didn’t catch what the stranger was getting at.

“Er…okay.  It wasn’t much, just a few dots in a row like this.”  Hermes leaned forward and made four small dots in the sand, one atop each other in a stack.  “I recognize this as a particular way to write a particular number, but little else.  Like I said, I was just idly clearing my mind.”

The stranger looked down and chewed his lip thoughtfully before glancing up.  “True, but numbers are true, too.  Simple though it might look, I know of this symbol as an omen.  Look at it this way; if you link the dots here”—Gabriel made a light cut down the row of dots in the dirt—”you get a straight, long line, like a road.  Roads are powerful, long though they may be, and the longer, the better.  Don’t you agree?”  Hermes let the stranger’s words sink in a bit, looking down at the dots and looking up again.  “Absolutely,” Hermes replied, “and it’s true that the more one travels, the more one changes.  It’s a lonely path, but then, what journey isn’t truly taken alone?”

The stranger gave a broad smile, teeth glimmering like pearls even in the shade of the tree.  “You speak wisdom beyond your years, sir.  What’s your name?”

Hermes sat up and extended his hand toward the stranger in friendship.  “I’m Hermes.  I live in the town over there,” giving a nod towards the marketplace too far to be heard.  “And you, my friend?”

The stranger clasped Hermes’ hand and nodded.  “An honor, Hermes.  I am called Gabriel.”

Hermes cocked his head and gave Gabriel a puzzled look. “A strong name, Gabriel, and a rare one.  You’re from Canaan, aren’t you?  I haven’t met someone with one of those names before, though I’ve heard of similar names before.”

Gabriel shrugged and looked down evasively.  “It’s not exactly my homeland, but yes, my tribe is settled there.”  Gabriel looked up beyond the eaves of the tree towards the north, then back to Hermes.  “But the road I walk is long, which is why this symbol you cast”—he motioned to the dots on the ground—”caught my eye.  Would you want to know more of the truth of this symbol?”  Always eager for more knowledge and more to contemplate, Hermes nodded and tilted his hand towards Gabriel, beckoning him to continue.  And continue Gabriel did for quite some time, expounding to Hermes this symbol that Gabriel called the Road, and how to find this symbol as a result of multiple marks being made and crossed off two by two.

At the end of Gabriel’s discourse on the letter, Hermes noted a queer thing.  They must have been talking for at least an hour, and Hermes was unusually tired and mentally overstimulated from learning about this character, but the Sun was still in the same position it was before Gabriel had arrived, as if it was suspended and watching Gabriel teach as Hermes himself did.  Gabriel, noticing that Hermes was exhausted from the lesson, smiled and stood up, ignoring the dust that clung to his robes.  “I see that I’ve talked your ear off, and probably ruined your day with my chatter.  I should probably get on with my day, Hermes, and let you do the same, but I’m glad you’ve let me share this with you.”  Hermes shook his head with a grateful smile.  “No, I’m glad you’ve shared this with me!  I appreciate it, and honored by it.  If you’ve stayed too long, then I apologize for keeping you too long.”

Hermes began to climb to his feet to see Gabriel off, but Gabriel dismissively waved Hermes back down.  “Don’t bother, don’t bother.  If you like, I can visit again tomorrow and tell you more.  There were other symbols I saw you drawing; those have meaning, too, much like the Road does.  Would it bother you too much to visit you again?”  Hermes, sensing an unusual opportunity that seemed unusual on an already unusual day, felt that this was one to seize.  “Of course!  You know where to find me, my friend.  I’ll see you again.”  Gabriel nodded and gave a slight bow, then walked off into the desert away from the Sun.

The man looked towards Gabriel as he left, glancing at the symbol for the Road before glancing back up.  Hermes let out a yelp; Gabriel was nowhere to be found, despite the land around being fairly clear and there being no footprints to mark Gabriel’s coming or going.  Now he was certain; this stranger named Gabriel was no ordinary man, just as this day was no ordinary day, and this symbol was no ordinary symbol.  Hermes leaned back on the tree, running his dusty fingers through his hair in perplexion, spending  several hours more in quiet contemplation of this figure, turning over Gabriel’s lesson over and over again in his head, digesting all that the stranger had taught him.  As the Sun lowered to the western lands, Hermes left his mental exploration and decided to call it a day, feeling renewed and grown in this new knowledge.  Hermes got up and headed to his home in the city, leaving his marks in the dirt.

The Sun set, the stars rose, the stars set, and the Sun rose once more.

After the Sun began its ascent to the heavens, as was his custom, Hermes went back to his tree, seeing his marks on the ground from the day before the same as he left it.  He sat back down as he normally would, and let his mind wander before settling on higher thoughts.  As the morning slowly turned to afternoon, Hermes, his eyes closed in meditation, began to drift into a light sleep, when a breezy rustling through the leaves above him roused him from his nap.  He looked around and found, yet again, the ground before him blank from the wind.  The moment Hermes noticed his marks on the ground erased, Hermes looked up to find Gabriel approaching once more from the south.

Hermes gave the strange not-quite-a-stranger a wave, and Gabriel responded in kind, raising his hand in a friendly salute as he approached the tree.  “Well, you’re actually here!  And if you’re here to learn, then I’m here to teach, if you’re ready for it.” “Of course, my friend,” Hermes said with a grin, waving Gabriel over, “I’d like to see what these other symbols you mentioned were.”  Gabriel took his seat once more by Hermes, and repeated the same process as the day before.  Again, Gabriel asked Hermes to draw a symbol, and again, Gabriel expounded the meaning of the symbol to Hermes; again, the Sun stood  still in the heights of heaven, and again, Hermes became worn out from learning all that Gabriel taught; again, Gabriel offered to teach Hermes more, and again, Hermes agreed to meet with Gabriel to learn more; again, Hermes noted the unusual vanishing of Gabriel, and again, Hermes went home looking forward to the next lesson.

For fourteen more days, Hermes and Gabriel continued in the same way, learning all the other figures.  On the sixteenth day, Gabriel told Hermes that these were all the figures that Gabriel could teach: the Road, the People, the Union, the Prison, the Greater Fortune, the Lesser Fortune, the Dragon’s Head, the Dragon’s Tail, the Girl, the Boy, Red, White, Joy, Sorrow, Loss, Gain.  Gabriel told Hermes how the first four figures could be combined from their tops and their bottoms to form the other twelve, and how each figure reflects a different story on its own.  His lesson complete, Gabriel shrugged, saying that this was all that he could offer Hermes in the ways of symbols and their lore, but that this was also just the beginning of their true meaning and purpose.  Hermes, entranced by these symbols and stories, asked Gabriel to return to teach the rest, and Gabriel accepted.

For the next sixteen days, Gabriel taught Hermes how each figure reflects the four elements that compose all of creation as well as how they relate to the stars both wandering and fixed that determine how all things wax, wane, and transform.

For another sixteen days, Gabriel taught Hermes the secrets of combining these figures two by two and transforming them by inverting and reverting and converting them into other figures, and how all these methods change and add to the meanings of individual figures.

For yet another sixteen days, Gabriel taught Hermes how to use the meanings of the figures, the elemental and planetary and stellar correspondences, the combinations, and the transformations in answering all sorts of questions, imparting to Hermes the art of divination to reveal all mysteries of this world and all things upon it.

At the end of these 64 days, Hermes found himself exhausted, utterly and completely exhausted, from having so much taught to him in so short a time, but he felt a new wellspring of knowledge beginning to flow inside himself.  Gabriel knew he was wearing Hermes thin, and after his final lesson where he revealed the deepest secrets of this art, Gabriel took from his robes a flask, uncorked it, and took a swig from it.  The teacher passed the flask to Hermes, who gladly took it with both hands; Hermes was unaccustomed to drinking or eating during the day, but Hermes found himself more than parched and in need of something to quench his thirst.  Hermes drank from the flask from the same spout Gabriel did, and found it filled with the clearest, coolest water.  It refreshed Hermes, sure, but once he took the spout from his lips and breathed in, he felt filled with a truly newfound power.  All these days of learning, all of Gabriel’s lessons seemed to immediately snap together like well-built masonry, forming within himself a beautiful temple of the finest knowledge.  Figures shone like priceless jewels, transformations linked the figures like silver filigree across altars, truths and wisdom rose up like the smoke of rarest olibanum—

“I thought you might need a drink after this last lesson,” Gabriel said with a warm smile.  “It’s no easy thing to learn all this, but you’ve done admirably, and I am proud to be able to share with you what I have.”

Hermes snapped out of his reverie and, realizing he was stuck holding the flask in the air as he stared off into space, hastily gave it back to Gabriel, blushing at both his own clumsiness and at the praise Gabriel gave him.  Gabriel took the flask from Hermes’ hands and put it back in his robe with a chuckle before continuing.  “You’re smarter than you look.  You know I’m no ordinary man, and this no ordinary art.”  Hermes, calming down from his embarrassment, nodded; “I know.  With your name, I know not only who you are but what you are and where you come from, and it’s certainly not Canaan.”

Gabriel chuckled.  “Bingo.  I know you and have known you, Hermes, and I am glad you finally know me, too.”  He looked down at the patch of dirt where he taught his art to Hermes, then looked back at Hermes with a contented smile.  “I learned this art from my Father, and it was entrusted to me to help me in my job as His messenger.  And now I entrust this art to you, Hermes, as your brother.”  Hermes looked deeply at Gabriel, not only seeing that fire in Gabriel’s eyes but joining it with his own, and nodded his assent.  “And as I have received this art from you, Gabriel”, Hermes responded, “I am your brother.”  Gabriel smiled and, looking once more towards the northern sky and then down at their patch of dirt, stood up and brushed the dust and dirt off from his robes.  “You’ve learned much, but you cannot master what you cannot name,” Gabriel said as he wiped his hands clean.  “We have no word for this art where I’m from.  What will you call it?”

Hermes stared at Gabriel thoughtfully, then looked down at the patch of ground in front of him that contained all his marks.  He drew out all sixteen figures together, contemplating each point and line as he did.  He gazed at the dirt for a long time, and as the Sun began to touch the horizon, he finally he looked up at Gabriel, his teacher’s profile illuminated in the ruddy gold glow of the evening Sun.  “This is an art to know all that happens in and upon the world.  This is an art born from the Earth, not just with earth or water but all the elements of this world.  I call it ‘geomancy’, to see with the Earth.”  Gabriel grinned as the wind began to pick up, blowing his robes behind his back majestically towards the sky.  “Then I have taught you geomancy, Hermes, and you are the first geomancer of this world.  May this art serve you well, and may you serve the world well by it.”

Hermes nodded and smiled, wiping the patch of earth before him clean before the wind could do it for him this time.  “I hope that I may, brother.”  Gabriel nodded in reply and extended his hand to Hermes, which Hermes took in his own.  The teacher lifted his student up and, after measuring him with his eyes, embraced Hermes in the love only brothers have.  After a time, Gabriel let go of Hermes and turned away, heading for the last time towards the north with the Sun setting on his left and the Moon rising on his right.  Hermes kept his eyes fixed on Gabriel’s back as he walked off, but another gust of wind blew Gabriel’s robes up like wings as it blew more dust into Hermes’ eyes; by the time Hermes could clear his eyes, there was nobody around, with neither the figures of geomancy nor the footsteps of angels to mark what happened.

Sitting back down by his tree, Hermes mulled over his time with Gabriel, all of the things he learned, and all of the things he might yet learn.  A quiet breeze blew, kicking up a bit of dust around Hermes but without irritating his lungs again.  Staring at the ground marked with the sixteen geomantic figures, he rubbed his fingers together, noticing the fine grit of dust and sand caught between the grooves of his digits.  In the last sliver of light of the Sun, Hermes got up and walked home, taking more time than he normally would to carefully settle down in all his newfound knowledge and skill.  Finishing his journey well after nightfall, he paused outside the threshold of his house and looked around, seeing an empty patch of fallow ground to the side of his house.  In the light of the Moon, now high in the sky, Hermes cast his first chart to see how his traveling merchant son was doing.  Hermes smiled; he would never again be worried by being out of touch.

Days, weeks, months, years passed.  Hermes practiced his art of geomancy, but went back to his tree every day and, once his mind calmed down from the mania of having a new method of understanding the world, went back to his habit of meditating and contemplating divine mysteries.  However, the man no longer doodled mindlessly in the sand, but used geomancy to explore that which he had trouble understanding.  One day, he finally became great, greater, greatest among men, beholding the Shepherd of Men and understanding the source and purpose of all things.  Finally, he began to teach; he no longer worried for his children, leaving them to their own devices, except for his son Tat whom he taught as a successor to his wisdom.  As Hermes Trismegistus traveled, he taught arts and skills of all kinds, reserving some for particular students and others for other students, but he kept geomancy a secret, not finding one apt enough in his travels yet to learn it from him.

Inspired by whispers of white and blue in his heart to teach geomancy to one who would do both him and his art well, Hermes Trismegistus traveled to the east, and gave the entirety of the art of geomancy to the one named Tumtum.  Tumtum learned it and traveled west, giving it to the one named az-Zanati.  Az-Zanati learned it and gave it to the Arabs.  The Arabs learned it and gave it to the Europeans.

The ancients learned it and gave it to us.

And now I, having learned it, give it to you.


Hermetic Prayers to the Aiōn

Lately, I’ve been going back through some of my texts digging for more information on Hellenic and classical Mediterranean prayers to the One, sometimes known as Aiōn, the God of gods, ineffable and indescribable except by what we can see in our material and sensible world.  The Aiōn is not quite an elusive figure, since we see the same name pop up in the sense of both “eternity” as well as a deity of unbounded time and space, in distinction to Khronos, the god of limited and experienced time.  Aiōn was a notable figure in several mystery religions of the time, including Orphism and Mithraism, and even appears in some Pythagorean texts (or so I read).

One of the books I sometimes go to is G.R.S. Mead’s Hymns of Hermes, a cute little book that gives several hymns and prayers that Hermes Trismegistus gives in several Hermetic texts, such as the Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth as well as the Divine Poemander.  These forms of the prayers are not original, of course; Mead had a habit of very fancifully rewriting the prayers into a sort of modern English in the style of biblical prayers.  I can’t blame him; the book is from the early twentieth century, when many occult texts were being published widely for the first time and with a penchant for Egyptian exoticism and mysterious woogity.  That said, the book is a good one for picking out some “authentic” Hermetic prayers, and some even occur in the Nag Hammadi Scriptures, which lends it some credence towards this.

One such prayer, though, didn’t quite fit into the set of the others.  Mead described a prayer that was written in such a style as to easily fit quite into the Hermetic paradigm, and found in that most-beloved of texts, the PGM.  In comparing Mead’s version and that present in Betz’ version of the PGM (specifically PGM IV.1115), I noticed that Mead does away with the barbarous words scattered throughout the prayer and rephrases things in a way I find too fanciful.  I took the liberty of transcribing the prayer from the PGM with a few emendations of my own, but nothing as extreme as that of Mead, and reincluded the barbarous words.  It’s a fascinating prayer, and definitely one that deserves my attention:

Hail, whole cosmos of the aerial Spirit, ΦΩΓΑΛΩΑ
Hail, Spirit who extends from heaven unto earth, ΕΡΔΗΝΕΥ
Hail, Spirit who extends from earth which is in the middle of the cosmos unto the ends of the abyss, ΜΕΡΕΜΩΓΓΑ
Hail, Spirit who enters into me, convulses me, and leaves me kindly according to the will of God, ΙΩΗ ΖΑΝΩΦΙΕ

Hail, beginning and end of nature that cannot be moved, ΔΩΡΥΓΛΑΟΦΩΝ
Hail, revolution of untiring service by heavenly bodies, ΡΩΓΥΕΥ ΑΝΑΜΙ ΠΕΛΗΓΕΩΝ ΑΔΑΡΑ ΕΙΩΦ
Hail, radiance of the cosmos subordinate to the rays of the Sun, ΙΕΟ ΥΗΩ ΙΑΗ ΑΙ ΗΩΥ ΟΕΙ
Hail, orb of the night-illuminating, unequally shining Moon, ΑΙΩ ΡΗΜΑ ΡΩΔΟΥΩΠΙΑ
Hail, all spirits of the aerial images, ΡΩΜΙΔΟΥΗ ΑΓΑΝΑΣΟΥ ΩΘΑΥΑ

Hail to those whom the greeting is given with blessing, to brothers and sisters, to holy men and holy women!

O great, greatest, round, incomprehensible figure of the cosmos,
of heaven ΕΝΡΩΧΕΣΥΗΛ
in heaven ΠΕΛΗΘΕΥ
of the ether ΙΩΓΑΡΑΑ
in the ether ΘΩΠΥΛΕΟ ΔΑΡΔΥ
of water ΙΩΗΔΕΣ
of earth ΠΕΡΗΦΙΑ
of fire ΑΦΘΑΛΥΑ
of air ΙΩΙΕ ΗΩ ΑΥΑ
of light ΑΛΑΠΙΕ
of darkness ΙΕΨΕΡΙΑ
shining with celestial light ΑΔΑΜΑΛΩΡ
moist, dry, hot, and cold Spirit!

I glorify you, God of gods,
the one who brought order to the cosmos, ΑΡΕΩ ΠΙΕΥΑ
the one who gathered together the abyss at the invisible foundation of its position, ΠΕΡΩ ΜΥΣΗΛ Ο ΠΕΝΤΩΝΑΞ
the one who separated heaven and earth and covered the heaven with eternal, golden wings ΡΩΔΗΡΥ ΟΥΩΑ
the one who fixed the earth on eternal foundations ΑΛΗΙΟΩΑ
the one who hung up the ether high above the earth ΑΙΕ ΩΗ ΙΟΥΑ
the one who scattered the air with self-moving breezes ΩΙΕ ΟΥΩ
the one who put the water roundabout ΩΡΗΠΗΛΥΑ
the one who raises up hurricanes ΩΡΙΣΘΑΥΑ
the one who thunders ΘΕΦΙΧΥΩΝΗΛ
the one who hurls lightning ΟΥΡΗΝΕΣ
the one who rains ΟΣΙΩΡΝΙ ΦΕΥΓΑΛΓΑ
the one who shakes ΠΕΡΑΤΩΝΗΛ
the one who produces living creatures ΑΡΗΣΙΓΥΛΩΑ
the God of the Aiōns!

You are great, Lord, God, Ruler of the All!

This section in the PGM is only described as a “hidden stele” or “secret tablet”, without instructions on how to use it or a purpose other than it seems to be an adoration of Aiōn.  I’m okay with that, since it’s general enough to be put to many ends, and the use of the barbarous words can offer a meditative aspect to it, intoning the name and linking it to the aspect listed for each name.  While many of the attributes ascribed to Aiōn make sense, some are a little unclear.  In Platonic thought, it was thought that the One was a perfect being of perfect shape and form, and to Plato, the most perfect shape was the sphere, hence the description of Aiōn as “greatest, round, incomprehensible figure of the cosmos”.  Personally, I get a huge kick out of working with this prayer, and the names are something I want to revisit later in a more mystical or capital-P Powerful way; I make use of this prayer before any serious working nowadays, especially as a preface to the Headless Rite.

In the PGM, the prayer is followed by yet another stele (PGM IV.1167), this time with the purpose that it is “useful for all things; it even delivers from death”, with the ominous warning that one is to “not investigate what is in it”.  This prayer, too, is addressed to Aiōn, but appears to be more of a protective incantation than mere adoration.  It’s not given in Mead’s book, but it’s useful all the same, as I reckon it.  Presented is the prayer below, again with my minor emendations:

I praise you, the one and blessed of the eons and father of the world, with cosmic prayers.
Come to me, you who filled the whole cosmos with air, who hung up the fire from the heavenly water and separated the earth from the water.

Pay attention, Form, Spirit, Earth and Sea, to the words of the wise who know divine Necessity.
Accept my words as arrows of fire, because I am Man, the most beautiful creature of the God in Heaven, made out of spirit, dew, and earth.

Open, o Heaven; accept my words!
Listen, Helios, Father of the World!
I call upon you with your great name, you, the only one having the original element:

You are the holy and powerful name considered sacred by all the angels.
Protect me, N., from every excess of power and from every violent act.
Yea, do this, Lord, God of gods:
O Creator of the world, Creator of the cosmos, Lord, God of Gods:

I have spoken of your unsurpassable glory, you who created gods, archangels, and decans.
The ten thousands of angels stood by you and exalted the heaven, and the lord witnessed to your Wisdom which is Aiōn:
and said that you are as strong as he is.

I invoke your hundred-lettered name, which extends from the sky to the depth of the earth!
Save me, for you are always ever rejoicing in saving those who are yours!

I call upon you, the one on the gold leaf, before whom the unquenchable lamp continually burns, the great God, the one who shone on the whole world, who is radiant at Jerusalem, Lord!
I call upon you for your blessing, Lord!

Betz says that “this protective prayer presumes a section describing a gold lamella to be worn as a phylactery”, which “contained the hundred-letter name of the god and was worn as a protection against ‘every excess of power’ and the ‘very violent act'” mentioned in the prayer.  The notion of a name being 100 letters would’ve been important, and the final stanza of the prayer does say “the one on the gold leaf”, so it’s possible that such an instruction to the prayer might be omitted.  What’s interesting is that the two last strings of barbarous words are marked in the PGM as both having 100 letters each, though the final string only has 99 letters in it; the first string has 149, the second 108, and the third has 19, for comparison.  The style of the barbarous words is much more Egyptian in nature, and bears some in common with those found in the Headless Rite.  What’s even odder about this prayer is that it’s the only place in the PGM, according to Betz, is that Sophia (Wisdom) is identified with Aiōn.  This is an unusual thought, whether in Gnostic, Christianity, or other mystery traditions.  Further, despite the Egyptian Gnostic feel of the prayer, it even references the Jewish miracle of the undying light of the menorah in the Temple of Jerusalem, from whence the festival of Hanukkah comes.  Between the Jewish, Gnostic, and Egyptian influence (especially due to the reference to decans alongside angels), this latter prayer is a prime example of how syncretic and elastic Hermetic magicians could be in the old days.

Of course, not all the prayers that Mead lists were pared down so much.  One prayer that took me a bit of finding is one that Hermes Trismegistus taught to his son Tat, which Mead calls “the secret hymnody”, which is pretty much what it is, for it is “not taught but hid in silence”.  Hermes introduces it as an initiation, as it were, to Tat in Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum, titled the Secret Discourse on the Mountain.  This book focuses on the nature of rebirth, but also emphasizes the truth that only silence can tell (much as in the same way of the Hymns of Silence Hermes describes in the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth).  After some persuading, Hermes instructs Tat to recite it outside and bow down in adoration facing the south at the setting of the sun, and again at the rising of the sun facing to the east:

Let every creature in the cosmos give ear to this hymn.
Open, Earth!  Let every lock that holds the rains open to me!  Shake not, trees!
I am about to praise the Lord of Creation, the All and the One.
Open, heavens!  Winds, be still!
Let God’s immortal sphere receive my song.

For I am about to sing praise to the Creator of All,
who fixed the earth,
who suspended the heavens,
who parted fresh water from the ocean in lands inhabited and in the wild for the creation and sustenance of all mankind,
who ordained that fire shine for every use of gods and men.
Let us give praise to Him above the heavens, the founder of all nature.
He is the eye of Nous.
May He receive the praise of every power within me.

O powers within me, sing to the One and All!
All you powers, sing praise together at my bidding.
Divine Knowledge, illumined by you, I sing through you of the spiritual light and I rejoice in the joy of Nous.
Sing praise with me, all you powers!
Temperance, sing with me!
Justice, through me praise what is just!
Generosity, through me praise the All!
Truth, sing of the truth!
Good, praise the Good!
Life and Light, from you comes the praise and to you it returns.
I give thanks to you, Father, the strength of all my powers.
I give thanks to you, God, power of all my strength.
Your Word through me sings to you.
Receive all back through me by the Word, a spoken sacrifice.

Thus cry the powers within me.
They praise the All, they accomplish your will which comes forth from you and returns to you, being the All.
Receive an offering of speech from all beings.
O Life, preserve the All within us.
O Light, illuminate the All.
O God, inspire the All.
For Nous guides your Word, O spirit-bearer, o Creator of the world.
You are God.

All this your man proclaims through fire, air, earth, water; through spirit, through your creatures.
From you I have discovered eternity’s song of praise and in your will I have found the rest I seek.
By your will, I have witnessed this praise being sung.

To which Tat adds, with Hermes’ corrections and exhortation to use caution with his words:

To you, God, first author of generation, I, N., send these offerings of speech.  God, you are the Father, you are Lord, you are Nous, receive these words of mine as you will.  For by your will all things are accomplished through the Word.

This final prayer, though without barbarous words or names of power, is important in the Hermetic tradition since it represents a type of Hermetic initiation.  Once Tat, the most intuitive and spiritual of Hermes’ sons including the intellectual Asclepius and technical Ammon, is initiated properly into the seven spheres of the planets, he is finally able to join the eighth sphere, that of the fixed stars, that of Silence, and begin further work into direct realization of gnosis.  It’s only with the initiation, however, that Tat receives in properly communicating in the manner of this sphere that allows him to do this, as well as the similar initiation that Hermes gives in his Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth:

I call upon you,
who rules over the kingdom of power,
whose word is an offspring of light,
whose words are immortal, eternal, immutable,
whose will produces life for forms everywhere,
whose nature gives form to substance,
by whom souls, powers, and angels are moved,
whose word reaches all who exist,
whose providence reaches all who exist,
who produces everyone,
who has divided the eternal realm among spirits,
who has created everything,
who, being Self within Self, supports everything,
to whom one speaks in silence, being perfect, the invisible God,
whose image is moved when it is managed, and it is so managed,
who is exalted above majesty, mighty one in power,
who is superior to those honored!


Lord, grant us wisdom from your power that reaches us that we may relate to ourselves the vision of the Eighth and the Ninth.
Already we have advanced to the Seventh since we are faithful and abide in your law.
Your will we fulfill always.
We have walked in your ways and have renounced evil so your vision may come.
Lord, grant us truth in the image!
Grant that through your spirit we may see the form of the image that lacks nothing and accept the reflection of the Fullness from us through  our praise.

Recognize the spirit within us,
for from you the cosmos received soul,
for from you, the one unbegotten, the begotten came to be.
The birth of the self-begotten is through you, the birth of all begotten things that exist.
Accept these spiritual offerings from us which we direct to you with all our heart, soul, and strength.
Save what is within us and grant us immortal wisdom.

Then, after Hermes once more coaches Tat on how to hymn in silence and the two ecstatically praise God, Tat continues the hymn:

I shall offer up the praise in my heart as I invoke the end of the cosmos, and the beginning of the beginning, the goal of the human quest, the immortal discovery, the producer of light and truth, the sower of reason, the love of immortal life.  No hidden word can speak of you, Lord.  My mind wants to sing a hymn to you every day.  I am the instrument of your Spirit; Mind is your plectrum, and your guidance makes music with me.  I see myself!  I have received power from you, for your love has reached us.

O Grace!  After this, I thank you by singing a hymn to you.  You gave me life when you made me wise.  I praise you.  I invoke your name hidden in me!


You exist with spirit.
I sing to you with godliness.

The series of vowels given in these prayers are evidence of ecstatic glossolalia, but their varied nature indicates a collected power from their previous initiations with the seven planetary spheres, given the relationship of the seven Greek vowels to the seven planets.  Hermes concludes this discourse not with instructions of practice but with instructions to preserve the lesson he gave Tat through a detailed list of directions to engrave the prayer and discourse on turquoise steles, to be done when the planet Mercury is at 15° Virgo, the Sun is in the first half of the day.  The final set of instructions seems odd, I admit, but it attests to the holiness and permanence of the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, as many prayers to the Aiōn are throughout Mediterranean spirituality.