A Reconstructed Hymn to Hermēs-Thoth from the Greek Magical Papyri

Looking through the various hymns of the Greek Magical Papyri so helpfully listed by Preisendanz is a good boon for devotional work; to be sure, the PGM is full of magical spells for all sorts of ends, both for weal and for woe, but there’s a good bit in there that’s definitely more priestly than magely and more devout than spooky.  After all, so much of these rituals are still calling on the gods themselves, and although a good number of the hymns (usually the ones to female and chthonic deities, as Bortolani noticed) do seek to constrain, slander, or bind the gods, others exalt them and praise them for their own sake in the course of a magician seeking their succor.  One of these hymns—technically three—is a hymn to Hermēs, which is found in three separate locations throughout the PGM.  Although they all have similarities with each other, there are also some interesting differences between them, as well; it’s hard to tell which would be older or the original form of the hymn, but in comparing them, it’s also possible to merge them together into one.  That’s what I’ve done to increase my prayer arsenal a bit by coming up with a…well, I guess a “reconstruction” of sorts, and I’d like to show it off today and point out some interesting bits about this varying hymn.

First, let’s take a look at the version of the hymn from PGM V.400—420.  The broader section of the PGM here is PGM V.370—446, an elaborate dream oracle involving 28 olive leaves, ibis eggs, and other ingredients to make a statue of Hermēs in his Greek form “holding a herald’s staff”, charged with a roll of papyrus or the windpipe of a goose that has a spell written on it along with the hair of the supplicant, enshrined within a box of lime wood.  This shrine is to be put by the head before going to sleep to incubate a dream revelation.  Although there are barbarous words used in this ritual, they’re more for the papyrus than to be spoken, although there is a (seemingly unrelated) spell of compulsion and a conjuration of a lamp present as well.  As for the hymn, which is to be recited “both at sunrise and moonrise”:

Hermēs, Lord of the World, who’re in the heart,
o circle of Selene, spherical
and square, the founder of the words of speech,
Pleader of justice’s cause, garbed in a mantle
With winged sandals, turning airy course
Beneath earth’s depths, who hold the spirit’s reins,
O eye of Helios, o mighty one,
Founder of full-voiced speech, who with your lamps
Give joy to those beneath earth’s depths, to mortals
Who’ve finished life. The prophet of events
And Dream divine you’re said to be, who send
Forth oracles by day and night; you cure
All pains of mortals with your healing cares.
Hither, o blessed one, o mighty son
Of Memory, I who brings full mental powers,
In your own form both graciously appear
And graciously render the task for me,
A pious man, and render your form gracious
To me, NN,
That I may comprehend you by your skills
Of prophecy, by your own wond’rous deeds.
I ask you, lord, be gracious to me and
Without deceit appear and prophesy to me.

Then the hymn from PGM VII.668—680 (broader section PGM VII.664—685).  Again, this is another ritual for a dream oracle, this time writing your request on linen in myrrh ink wrapped around an olive branch and put beside the head before one goes to bed.  This hymn is to be said seven times to an otherwise unspecified lamp, presumably left burning while one goes to sleep.  The hymn is followed with barbarous words similar to the inscription of the papyrus/goose windpipe from the PGM V procedure, also to be recited with the hymn proper:

Hermes, lord of the world, who’re in the heart,
O circle of Selene, spherical
And square, I the founder of the words of speech,
Pleader of Justice’s cause, garbed in a mantle,
With golden sandals, turning airy course
Beneath earth’s depths, who hold the spirit’s reins,
The sun’s and who with lamps of gods immortal
Give joy to those beneath earth’s depths, to mortals
Who’ve finished life. The Moirai’s fatal thread
And Dream divine you’re said to be, who send
Forth oracles by day and night; you cure
Pains of all mortals with your healing cares.
Hither, o blessed one, o mighty son
Of the goddess who brings full mental powers,
By your own form and gracious mind. And to
An uncorrupted youth reveal a sign
And send him your true skill of prophecy.

And then the hymn from PGM XVII.b, which is the entire papyrus.  There’s no procedure here, just a prayer given, no barbarous words, and the condition of this entry is poor given the number of lacunae.  However, based on the text in the prayer, it also appears to be used for another dream incubation/oracle/revelation ritual:

[Hermes, lord of the world], who’re in the heart,
[O orbit of Selene, spherical]
[And] square, the founder of the words [of speech]
[Pleader of justice’s cause,] garbed in a mantle,
[With winged sandals,] who rule [expressive] speech
[Prophet to mortals] . . .
For he inspires . . .
. . . within a short time . . .
[Whene’er] the fateful [day arrives] again
. . . [who send] some [oracle] that’s sure, you’re said
To be [the Moirai’s thread] and [Dream divine],
[The all-subduer, Unsub]dued, just as
. . . may you judge . . .
You offer good things to the good, [but grief]
[To those who’re worthless.] Dawn comes up for you,
For you swift [night draws] near. I You lord it o’er
The elements: fire, air, [water, and earth]
When you became helmsman of [all the] world;
And you escort the souls of those you wish,
But some you rouse again. For you’ve become
The order of the world, for you [cure], too,
Man’s [every] ailment, [who send oracles]
By day and night; [send] me, I pray your [form],
For I’m a man, a pious suppliant,
And your [soldier]; and so, [while I’m asleep],
[Send to me your unerring] mantic skill.

We can see that, although all three prayers start the same and sorta end the same, the PGM V and PGM VII hymns are much closer in form and structure than the one from PGM XVIIb, which seems to have more praise and description of Hermēs than the other two, but even that does still sync up with the other two hymns at times.  In that light, seeing the connection between certain phrases (even if worded slightly differently or in a different order), I compared and contrasted the three versions of the hymns and developed my own “reconstructed” hymn.  Perhaps “reconstruction” is too strong a word; what I really did was weave these three variants of the hymn together into one.  To do so, I largely used the basis of PGM XVIIb and added in the content from PGM V and PGM VII as necessary and where possible; I didn’t delve too deeply into the Greek here, and I did change some of the wording to be both more literal and more descriptive as far as the translation goes based on Betz, but in the end, this is what I came up with.

O Hermēs, Lord of All the Cosmos,
o you who are in the heart,
o wheel of the Moon
both circular and square,
first author of the words of speech,
o you who persuade for Justice’s sake,
o mantle-garbed, wearing winged golden sandals,
driver of spirit riding ’round the airy course below Earth’s abyss,
o eye of Hēlios,
first founder of full-voiced speech!
With your immortal lamps,
give joy to those beneath Earth’s abyss,
to mortals who have finished life.
Prophet to mortals,
you’re the one said to be the thread of the Moirai and Dream divine!

O All-Subduer and Unsubdued!
To the good you offer good things,
but to the craven you give grief.
Dawn rises up for you,
and for you swift Night draws near.
You became master over the elements,
over Fire and Air and Water and Earth,
when you became the steersman of all the cosmos.
You escort away the souls of those whom you wish,
but of some you rouse back up again!

For you have become the order of the world,
emissary of oracles both by day and by night.
You cure all pains of all mortals with your healing attendance.
Come to me, I pray, o blessed one,
o great son of mind-perfecting divine Memory,
in gracious form and gracious mind!
For I am one who is a pious supplicant, I am one who is your soldier.
Render your form graciously and reveal yourself to me,
that I may fathom you by your mantic arts and by your virtues;
I ask you, o Lord, be gracious to me,
without deceit appear to me,
send forth your sacred sight to me!

You can tell that I didn’t bother keeping with the original line-based structure or dactylic hexameter meter of the original hymn; that’s a job for a poet better than me, while I focused more on the content and meaning of the hymn.  I broke out the lines more or less into individual phrases that made sense to me, which also explains the relatively long line length of the hymn compared to the originals, and reworded a few things to be clearer based on my own understanding of the Greek diction and grammar used here. I did try to keep this a more literal translation than what’s given in Betz, though the end of the hymn is a bit weird; all three variants of this hymn are all focused strictly on a dream divination, so it constantly references “oracle” or “art of divination” or “mantic skill”, which I rendered more obliquely as “sacred sight” in the final line.  A bit of a twist on my part, to be sure, but this is a twist that encapsulates both a theophany of the god as well the oracular power of the god at the same time, in my view.

I also broke up the hymn into three sections, with the first and last containing text (almost entirely) common to at least two out of three variants of the hymn, and the middle section containing content from PGM XVIIb.  There’s one line from PGM XVIIb that is in the first section given how it flows (“Prophet to mortals…”), and likewise two lines in the last section (“For you’ve become the order of the world” and “…and your soldier”); I keep these here, even if they’re not part of PGM V and PGM VII, given the flow and grammar of the hymn, but they’re minor additions that fit well all the same.  My reasoning is that, because PGM XVIIb is the weirdest variant but still contains some of the content of the other two variants in PGM V and PGM VII, I use that as the skeleton of the whole structure and fill in the rest as necessary; this basically assumes that the variants in PGM V and PGM VII had the content from PGM XVIIb fall out at some point, and that these are condensed or shortened versions of the hymn.  It’s a pretty big assumption to make, to be absolutely fair, but it also allows us to make the most out of all these variants together at once in the cleanest way.

While all of the content of the hymns from PGM V and PGM VII are accounted for, there are a few lines from PGM XVIIb that I couldn’t do anything with on account of their incompleteness (“For you inspire…”, “…within a short time…”, “whenever the fateful day arrives again”, “…who send some oracle that’s true”, “just as…may you judge…”).  Betz notes that some of these bear similarity to Homeric verses, but the context isn’t clear enough to offer a firm reconstruction of these missing parts of the hymn.  It’s likely, given these parallels to Homeric verses that describe going down to the underworld (which PGM XVIIb seems to elaborate on heavily in Hermēs’ role as psychopomp), that these lines describe something similar.  This is just an outright guess, but something appropriate might go something like this (with boldface text being what survives and can be reconstructed by Betz/Preisendanz):

Prophet to mortals in life, guide to mortals in death,
for you inspire quickness in the mind and daring in the heart
and takes mortals below within a short time before taking them up and
whenever the fateful day arrives again
you return them to Hadēs, you who send some message that’s true

This conjecture references the descent of great heroes like Odysseus into the underworld to progress on their quests while alive though they’ll go back down once more for good at their proper time, and also recalls the processes of ancient Hellenic necromancy through dream incubation by sleeping upon or by the tombs of the dead to receive revelation from them, which would be facilitated by Hermēs leading the dead from the underworld up again to our world briefly before taking them back down.  Again, this is all just purely a conjecture on my part, and I’ve got no clue what sort of language could be used to fit the dactylic hexameter of the hymn here.  Still, something along those lines could be considered appropriate, but we just don’t have the means to know definitively one way or another without finding another variant of this hymn that mentions these.  Because of that, I’ve omitted them from my “reconstructed” hymn.

There are a few interesting things to note about this hymn and the phrasing of it.  To be sure, there are definite Hellenic influences and symbols in this hymn, and an interesting thing to note is the description of Hermēs as “garbed in a mantle” (χλαμυδηφόρε).  It’s not all that weird to think of Hermēs wearing a cape or cloak while traveling on the road, and we certainly see Hermēs wearing it in many old depictions, but we should note that, by the time of the writing of the PGM, the chlamys was cemented firmly in the minds of people as being Greek military attire.  In that light, the supplicant referring to themselves as Hermēs’ “soldier” (στρατιώτῃ) in PGM XVIIb solidifies this militaristic view of Hermēs, along with shifting notions at this time of the chlamys being worn by not just soldiers but officials (especially rulers and emperors) in charge of soldiers.  Betz notes that a supplication referring to oneself as a soldier is found in PGM IV.154—285 in a hymn to Typhōn (Preisendanz reconstructed hymn 6, note boldface text):

I’m he who closed in heaven’s double gates and put
To sleep the serpent which must not be seen,
Who stopped the seas, the streams, the river currents
Where’er you rule this realm. And as your soldier
I have been conquered by the gods, I have
Been thrown face down because of empty wrath.

Perhaps in a particular milieu in Roman Empire-period Theban Egypt, being considered a soldier of some god was more esteemed or noble (or had more means accessible to them) than just being considered a servant or devotee of the god.

Up at the start of the hymn, all three hymns refer to Hermēs as the “orbit of Selēnē, spherical and square”.  We might also translate this phrase (κύκλε Σελήνη, στρογγύλε καὶ τετράγωνε) as “circle of the Moon, round and four-sided”, but the sentiment is basically the same.  This would appear to be a reference to Hermēs in his Egyptian form as Thoth, a god of the Moon and the cycles of the lunar month.  While I’ve seen one or two passing references to an identification of Hermēs with the Moon in non-Egyptian contexts or influences, I can’t really find anything along those lines concretely, so I’m pretty sure this is an Egyptian influence in this hymn.  “Spherical and square” (I prefer “circular and square”, personally) seems paradoxical, but each of these words could be interpreted in several ways.  “Spherical” most likely refers to the “wheel of the Moon”, but it could also refer to the actual planetary star of Hermēs himself (or, likewise, of the Moon).  “Square” could refer to Hermēs’ traditional presence as hermai, the four-sided posts at crossroads in Greece., but interpreted as “four-sided”, could refer to the four weeks of a lunar month, reckoned by the New, First Quarter, Full, and Last Quarter Moons.  It’s an interesting appellation of the god, either way.

There’s also the explicit association of Hermēs with “the thread of the Moirai and Dream divine” (Μοιρῶν τε κλωστὴρ…καὶ θεῖος ὄνειρος).  Sure, all the gods fulfill and carry out Fate, but to describe Hermēs explicitly as the “thread of the Moirai” is something stark, indeed.  Likewise, although Hermēs is certainly one to send dreams by means of sending sleep (cf. Orphic Hymn LVI to Hermēs Chthonios, “thine is the wand which causes sleep to fly, or lulls to slumb’rous rest the weary eye”), but to identify him explicitly as Dream itself is not altogether common.  But, by the same token of Hermēs being the “thread of the Moirai” in two of the hymns, he’s also the “prophet of events” in the other (Μοιρῶν προγνώστης); sure, we might interpret this as just a general divinatory allusion, but the Greek here might be more accurately translated as “prognosticator”, which has medical overtones, as this was also a term used for medical specialists and physicians. 

This, coupled with Hermēs being described as the one who “cure[s] all pains of all mortals with your healing attendance”,  gives him a bigger role than just a diviner, but also one who heals the fatal problems of fate itself.  “Healing attendance” here is “healing cares” in the other hymns translated in Betz, but this is just a single word in Greek: θεραπείαις, origin of our word “therapy”.  In this, we might even consider Hermēs to take on a presence closer to what we might expect of Asklēpios, the son of Apollōn, hero of physicians and medical workers, whose temples were also famous places for dream oracles and prognostication for and through dreams.  It’s hard to avoid this, too, given that Hermēs is described here as the “eye of Hēlios”, which works equally well in the sense of Thoth being born from the eye of Horus and Asklēpios being the son of Apollōn, as well as Asklēpios’ later identification in Hermetic literature with the 27th century bce Egyptian chancellor Imhotep, who was also a high priest of Ra.  But, as Asklēpios, he then becomes Hermēs pupil, making a complete circuit of associations.  Interesting loops we can weave between all these things, huh?  Still, even given all these solar allusions, Hermēs here is not being described as the Sun, but as a derivative and relative of it, and it’s this that is something distinctly Thothian in nature.

Perhaps not as surprising, but definitely as stark, is the description of Hermēs here as a cosmic all-ruler.  This is a definite Egyptian influence from Thoth being considered as such, giving Hermēs a much grander, more powerful role than what we might otherwise find in a purely Hellenic context.  From “offering good things to the good but grief to those who’re worthless”, we see Hermēs elevated from being merely a psychopomp of the dead to being a judge of the dead, much as we’d find Thoth weighing the heart of the deceased against the feather of Ma’at; from seeing him becoming “master over the elements…when [he] became helmsman of all the cosmos” and becoming “the order of the world”, we see him being a truly powerful organizing principle and organizer of the powers of Nature itself; even the cycles of day and night serve Hermēs in this prayer.  Hermēs as “all-subduer, unsubdued” positions Hermēs truly as “lord of the cosmos”; even the Hellenic notions of Hermēs being a god of communication and language are strengthened here by the same attributes of Thoth being called out and given to Hermēs. 

At the end of the day, the PGM Hymn to Hermēs is definitely a hymn to praise and call on the god, but in its three variants we have surviving to us, it seems that it (along with many other hymns in the PGM, especially those focused on male or masculine deities) was always centered on the revelation of oracles through dreams and sleep.  Sure, there’s enough prayer and praise in there to tweak it slightly to make it more general purpose, but the very description of Hermēs as being “Dream divine” and the repeated requests for sending prophesy and dreams, especially with a confirmed use of this hymn related to putting sacred objects by one’s head while asleep to receive information in dreams, makes this a fine-tuned hymn for receiving revelation from the god.  Even if one were to make it slightly more general-purpose by tweaking the requests at the end, we still are left with a powerful prayer invoking and praising the power of a truly syncretic Hermēs-Thoth, all-powerful in his way in ordering the world and not just guide to the dead but their judge, too.  While there are still a few mysteries left with this prayer, especially given the poor quality of one of the hymn variants that also seems to have the most in store for us, what we have left is still beautiful and still potent.  This hymn, as written, does ask for the prophecy and appearance of the god, but I think it’s still general-purpose (or generalizable) enough to be used as an all-around invocation of the god, whether Hermēs or Thoth, but especially Hermēs-Thoth the Thrice Great.

A Hymn to Hermēs Sōtēr

I know I don’t speak a lot much nowadays about my devotional work with Hermēs, or at least as much as I used to.  Admittedly, my focus and practices have shifted over the years, and as an arrangement I entered into willingly on both my terms and the terms of the god, my devotional work with the Son of Zeus and Maia waxes and wanes over time.  But, through it all, despite it all, and even because of it all, Hermēs has never left me, and I have never left him.  Even with my house more full of more gods than I would ever have anticipated, I still maintain my own practice and service to the god, and lately I’ve been spending more time getting back in touch with him since the last Mercury retrograde period ended.  It’s…well, not gonna lie, it’s pretty nice to do this again, and to remind myself why I got his emblem emblazoned on my flesh all those years ago.

Lately, between a renewed sense of his presence and a concern for the world, I was moved to write a simple hymn for the god.  It’s nothing special, but it’s something I wanted to share and spread, a hymn to Hermēs Sōtēr (the Savior).  Although he’s not usually considered among the usual savior-type gods, I feel like there’s something to be said for the blessings of swiftness, slyness, and quick motion (in the sense of both speed and life) that we could call on from the god in our time of need.  So, in this day of Jupiter and in this hour of Mercury, I dedicate these words to the god of my heart who accompanies on my ways.  May these words ring out in the air around me and throughout the entire world as a small token of my honor to the god, that all people of all cultures and all habits and all tongues may come to honor, sing, praise, and exalt the god who guides all men, spirits, souls, heroes, and gods!

Hail, Hermēs, o bright and swift savior through the paths of all the worlds!
O you who loves to be a close friend to mankind,
o you who cuts to the heart, knowing all that is within,
o you who stands keen watch at every cross and every fork,
o you who cannot be denied by any god or any man!

Son of Maia and scion of Atlas who knows the secrets of all the stars,
messenger of Zeus and all the gods who delivers words hither and thither!
Giving to all minds the wit to discern the gods and all their many works,
giving to all hands the skill to join in the very work of the very gods,
great are you who established the heavenly rites of offering and worship!

Ram-bearer, wand-bearer, leader of robbers and thieves!
You care for the well-being of all flocks of all kinds, kind Hermēs!
You lead them away amid motley heart-broken cries, sly Hermēs!
You defend them from those who would devour them, fierce Hermēs!
Driver of herds, shepherd of the living, o guide of all the dead!

Be kind to us, lord of the world, for all our travels and travails in it!
Lead us to the right place at the right time in the right way on the right day;
keep our hands as clean as they can, yet no dirtier than we need them to be.
By your guidance, keep us safe on our roads from all the awful nosoi;
by your wiles, o Hermēs, lead them afar by a different road entirely!

Be gracious, lord of the world, who collect the goods of gods and men!
Lead us all to sweet safety, to calm harbors, to a place to call our own,
to a shelter unafflicted by blight or the waste of terrible, hateful decay!
Let your lyre soothe the raging hearts of the bright children of Mother Lētō;
stay their fatal arrows, o lord, but when let fly, take us out from their flight!

Come, lord savior Hermēs, and hear this my heartfelt prayer;
be kind and be propitious to all those who seek your care.

Most people who are familiar with the god will understand most of the references, but I admit the one to the nosoi is probably a weird one.  These were a class of daimones in ancient Greek belief, the spirits of plague and sickness; for the Romans, these would be considered the Morbi, like Morbus (Disease), Pestis and Lues (Pestilence), Macies (Wasting), and Tabes (Corruption).  In Homeric literature, plague and disease was typically seen as being the arrows sent forth in wrath from the bows of Apollōn and Artemis, the two children of Lētō, but I also felt that the nosoi are a useful thing to ward against on their own right.  After all, there are two approaches to health, sanitization and inoculation, and in the absence of one, we must resort to the other; in the absence of vaccines or other defenses against the attacks of heavenly arrows or hellish claws, we must evade them entirely, and who better among the theoi to help lead us on the route to escape than Hermēs himself?  Who else but Hermēs to help us, the one among all the gods closest to the cries of all humanity, most familiar of all tongues, who guides us both in our world and in the next?  After all, although there aren’t all that many connections between Hermēs and plague, as Kriophoros (“Ram-bearer”), Hermēs is one who has helped before to save people from pestilence and plague, and with later connections of Kriophoros and Christ, lends a definite savior link to the noble son of Zeus and Maia.

May God and all the gods be charitable and propitious unto us all, and grant us all all life, all prosperity, and all health.

New divination tools of Hermēs available up on my Etsy!

If you want something done, give it to a busy person.  And boy, between my usual stuff going on, a new shrine project that came together WAY too quickly for it to have been mere chance, and all the 2019 yearly forecast readings going on (have you gotten yours yet? special ends next Wednesday!), it’s a true blessing that I’ve been snowed in for the past few days and have had the time to actually do everything I need and get some sleep on top of that.

I’ve had it in my mind to make some divination tools for the public to have for a while now, based on some of the tools and methods I use.  I’ve written about a bunch on this blog from time to time over the year—granted, most of it is geomancy, which is pretty tool-independent when you get right down to it—and some of them require some specialized tools.  In general, most forms of divination, especially practiced in a modern way, don’t really require consecration or blessing, though it never hurts to do so.  Tarot readers can just pick up a pack of cards and get to work, but it can often help to cleanse them and spiritually prepare them for the work they’re doing.

However, not all the forms of divination I do are so free-wheeling or powered by my own spiritual sense, but are tied directly to the spirits and gods, a true divinization of divination as it were.  To that end, I like to have some of my tools properly prepared, blessed, consecrated, and linked up to the voices of those spirits and gods so that I can read what they say as much as I hear them.  For some time now, I’ve been working on how, exactly, to go about doing that for others, but I kept putting it on the back burner.  Well, no more of that; a bunch of supplies came in, and I promptly got myself read, got into the right headspace, made the right offerings, and got to Work with the Hellenic god of guides and guide of gods, men, spirits, souls, and heroes, Hermēs.

Long-time readers might remember two forms of divination I use with him:

Guess what?  You can now buy sets of four coins and sets of five astragaloi on my Etsy page, all consecrated, blessed, and ready to go.

Making these was a pleasure and an honor, and they’re specially made for those who work with Hermēs as the messenger of gods and men to communicate to them, and to any to approach them, the best advice in the time they need and the way they need, so that anyone who comes to the gods with sincerity, honor, and reverence may have the proper guidance to go where they must go, know what they must know, do what they must do, and become what they must be.  Not only are these tools for you, but they may be used through your service for any who come to you.  Just call on Hermēs, and he will answer.

I’ve prepared a bunch of these sets in a batch, which was easy enough for me, but supplies are still limited.  I may make more in the future, or I may make more only as special requests and commissions, I haven’t yet decided.  If you’re interested, head on over to my Etsy while supplies still last:

I include with the coin sets a short guide on how to use them along with a special prayer, but the bones contain no such guide due to the amount of information they can provide.  For that, I would strongly recommend getting one of the following texts:

Of course, there are other ways you can use the astragaloi, too; one such way is to use them for grammatomancy, the Greek alphabet oracle, which I just so happen to have written about and have a highly useful reference text on, too, also coincidentally available on my Etsy.  However, you might also consider getting John Opsopaus’ book, Oracles of Apollo (Llewellyn Publications, 2017), which has that and other divination methods included in it, as well.

So what are you waiting for?  Who can deny the blessings of the gods, and who would ignore their guidance?  Learn how to communicate with Hermēs and, through him, with the rest of the gods today; get in on these tools while they’re still there to get!

Pole Lords and Northern Stars: The Ruler of the Pole and the Charms of the Bear

As it turns out, I do belong to other groups on Facebook than just the geomancy one I admin, and just like in that group, many of the discussions in other groups to which I belong are equally as fascinating and helpful.  One such group, the PGM Study & Practice Group, is focused on (mirabile dictu!) the study and practice of rituals and texts from the Greek Magical Papyri (or PGM, as many of my readers know).  I’ve shared some of my works and joined in some conversations there from time to time, and I find it a helpful resource to belong to.

Recently, I made a bit of a post myself, asking for help and experience from others in the group about a particularly interesting and particularly obscure point from PGM XIII, which is a truly fascinating bundle of texts that I’ve discussed before on my blog.  The post I made specifically discussed the nature, purpose, and function of the Ruler of the Pole from these texts:

PGM XIII, the Eighth and Tenth Hidden Books of Moses, uses an interesting device. Before the various spells of PGM XIII.1—343 and at the end of PGM 646—734, we’re given “the technique of determining which god is ruler of the celestial pole” using “The Seven-Zoned” method.

If the day is Sunday (day of Hēlios), the ruler is Selēnē.
If the day is Monday (day of Selēnē), the ruler is Hermēs.
If the day is Tuesday (day of Arēs), the ruler is Aphroditē.
If the day is Wednesday (day of Hermēs), the ruler is Hēlios.
If the day is Thursday (day of Zeus), the ruler is Arēs.
If the day is Friday (day of Aphroditē), the ruler is Zeus.
If the day is Saturday (day of Kronos), the ruler is Kronos.

In other words, however many days have elapsed in the week since Sunday, the further up in the celestial spheres you go. As Sunday marks the beginning of the week, so too does Selēne mark the first celestial sphere; as Saturday marks the end of the week, so too does Kronos mark the last celestial sphere.

My question is: what is this for?

The “celestial pole” is, almost certainly, the pole around which the Earth and all its heavens whirl around, commonly recognized to be Polaris, the North Star, and tail of Ursa Maior. However, PGM XIII doesn’t refer to a way of invoking or referring to the ruler of the pole, just that there apparently is one. In fact, nowhere else in the PGM is the word “pole” used in conjunction with planetary rulers; the only such thing I might be able to even tangentially relate to it is in PGM IV.930—1114, where it calls upon a form of Horus Harpocratēs in a conjuration of sorts by calling upon “you who are seated within the seven poles ΑΕΗΙΟΥΩ”, but this seems unrelated and more about the seven supports of the heavens (cf. PGM V.213—303, “The pole [of the sky] will be brought down…”). PGM XIII.1—343 does mention that the student should “learn who is the ruler of that day” along with the “[names of the] gods of the hours, then those set over the weeks”, but this again appears to be something different, like a different god for each day of the year.

So what are we actually recognizing by this “ruler of the pole” method? Are we saying that the North Star, and thus the immortal gate of heaven itself through which we ascend and address the gods, has a planetary affinity that shifts from day to day in a way separate from the planetary rulers of the day? Are we saying that the usual weekday reckoning of the planetary ruler of the day is a blind for a more magical, more woogity kind of planetary rulership of the days? Or is this referring to something we just don’t have extant in the texts anymore? Would you attach any significance to the fact that Saturn is the ruler of the pole as well as of the day on Saturday?

Unfortunately, my attempt at starting a discussion just garnered a lot of likes and not a lot of comments.  So, let me explain what little I understand and think of this particular aspect of this particular segment of the PGM.

Basically, PGM XIII gives us a table like the following that compares the ruler of any day of the week as we’d normally consider it to the ruler of the Pole on that given day.  No matter what the planetary ruler of the day is “in the Greek reckoning”, which is the system we’re most commonly used to in the West based on the planet that rules the first hour of the day starting at sunrise, PGM XIII says instead to recognize the planet that rules over the Pole according to the “Seven-Zoned” (also called “The Monad of Moses” in PGM XIII.646—734).

Weekday Planetary Ruler
Day Ruler
(“Greek reckoning”)
Pole Ruler
(“Seven-Zoned”)
Sunday Hēlios Selēnē
Monday Selēnē Hermēs
Tuesday Arēs Aphroditē
Wednesday Hermēs Hēlios
Thursday Zeus Arēs
Friday Aphroditē Zeus
Saturday Kronos Kronos

The idea behind this organization appears to be that, as the week gets “older” and later, starting from Sunday all the way to Saturday, the Ruler of the Pole on that day gets “older” and higher in the heavens, starting with the Moon and going all the way until Saturn.  Thus, on the first day of the week (Sunday), the Ruler of the Pole is the first closest heaven (the Moon); on the second day (Moon), the second heaven (Mercury); and so forth.  It’s not a matter of picking, like, the midnight planetary hour on each day, as the order of the planets in the Seven-Zoned method doesn’t fit that result.  Plus, it might be significant that the only planet that overlaps its Pole Ruler day with its own weekday is Saturn.

There is a relationship that can be drawn between these too, however.  Recall the Planetary Heptagram that’s used to determine the order of the week by tracing the planets both in a circle as well as in an acute heptagram.  There are different ways we can draw it that end up with the same result, but this is the basic and traditional order:

If we start with the Moon at the top and work counterclockwise around in a simple circle outside the heptagram, we get the order of the planets ascending through the heavens (Moon, Mercury, Venus, &c.).  If we follow the heptagram around clockwise starting from the Moon, we get the order of the planets for the days of the week (Moon, Mars, Mercury, &c.).  Instead of using that heptagram, consider the following obtuse heptagram:

Here, if we start with Moon at the top and go around the circle clockwise, we get the order of the planets in the days of the week (Moon, Mars, Mercury, &c.), and if we follow the heptagram clockwise around starting from the Moon, we get the order of the planets ascending through the heavens (Moon, Mercury, Venus, &c.).  What we basically end up with is the exact inverse arrangement as before, we’re just flipping the arrangement around.  It might be argued that the author of PGM XIII considered the arrangement of planets for the days of the week to be a blind or corruption of a true order, that of the heavens, and by applying the same function that transformed the heavenly arrangement into the weekday arrangement just in reverse, we end up with a corrected, ideal, true order of the planets (kind of like the difference between the Earlier Heaven and Later Heaven sequences of the Ba Gua).

In fact, that comparison to the Earlier Heaven and Later Heaven sequences of the Ba Gua might not be a bad parallel.  If we consider the usual modus operandi of a magician of the PGM, if they’re not outright apotheotizing themselves into God, then they’re often initiating themselves to be their equals as, indeed, we’re doing in the rituals of PGM XIII.  Aiōn, which is basically the divinity being appealed to in this part of the PGM, is considered an eternal god of time, but who’s to say what “time” looks like to such an entity?  Our methods of reckoning time down here on Earth may not really apply “up there”, where another system entirely might be used.  In other words, the different arrangements of the planets apply on different scales of the cosmos: the weekday arrangement of planetary rulers of the day functions on a microcosmic, human level, while the celestial arrangement of the planets functions on a macrocosmic, divine level.  If (and this is a huge “if”) the author of PGM XIII was thinking in this way, then we’d want to appeal, entreat, and approach the gods on their own temporal terms rather than using our own human and worldly systems of planetary time-keeping.  It’s an idea, I suppose, but I have nothing to back it up.

So much for the method and a potential argument as to its function, I suppose.  Even assuming we understand its function, what about its purpose?  Why is it a thing?  Despite the importance of this table and method of determining the planet that rules over the Pole on any given day of the week, it’s not really that apparent why the Ruler of the Pole is supposed to be called upon.  There are exceedingly few references to such a pole in the PGM, and it doesn’t make much sense to interpret them on the same level as what we might find in PGM XIII.  There are a few such mentions, some of which are explicit and some of which are debatable:

  1. The invocation of Aiōn from PGM XIII.1—343, specifically lines PGM XIII.64ff, and again in a minor variant of wording and barbarous names from PGM XIII.570ff:

    I call on you, who are greater than all, the creator of all, you, the self-begotten, who see all and are not seen.  For you gave Hēlios the glory and all the power, Selēnē the privilege to wax and wane and have fixed courses, yet you took nothing from the earlier-born darkness, but apportioned all things that they should be equal. For when you appeared, both Order arose and Light appeared.  All things are subject to you, whose true form none of the gods can see, who change into all forms.  You are invisible, Aiōn of Aiōns.

    I call on you, lord, to appear to me in a good form, for under your order I serve your angel, ΒΙΑΘΙΑΡΒΑΡ ΒΕΡΒΙΡ ΣΧΙΛΑΤΟΥΡ ΒΟΥΦΡΟΥΜΤΡΩΜ, and your fear, ΔΑΝΟΥΦ ΧΡΑΤΟΡ ΒΕΛΒΑΛΙ ΒΑΛΒΙΘ ΙΑΩ. Through you arose the celestial pole and the earth. …

    I call on you, the creator of all, who are greater than all, you, the self-begotten god, who see all hear all and and are not seen.  For you gave Hēlios the glory and the power, Selēnē the privilege to wax and wane and have fixed courses, yet you took nothing from the earlier-born darkness, but assigned them equality [with it]. For when you appeared, both Order arose and Light appeared, and all things were arranged by you.  Therefore all things are also subject to you, whose true form none of the gods can see, who take different forms in [different] visions, Aiōn of Aiōns.

    I call on you, lord, that you may show me your true form. For under your order I serve your angel, ΑΝΟΓ ΒΙΑΘΙΑΒΑΡ ΒΕΡΒΙ ΣΧΙΛΑΤΟΥΡ ΒΟΥΦΡΟΥΜΤΩΡΜ, and your fear ΔΑΝΟΥΠ ΧΡΑΝΤΩΡ ΒΕΛΒΑΛΙ ΒΑΛΒΙΘ ΙΑΩ. Through you arose the [celestial] pole and the earth. …

  2. Ritual practice from lines PGM XIII.114ff and again from PGM XIII.671ff. Though the use of a god of a day in this context might refer to one of the gods of the individual 365 days of the year, the specific phrasing leads me to believe it’s discussing the Ruler of the Pole of the day.

    Accordingly, as I said before, when you have purified yourself in advance [through the last seven days] while the Moon is waning, at the dark of the Moon begin sleeping on the ground on a pallet of rushes.  Rising at dawn, greet Hēlios through seven days, each day saying first the [names of the] gods of the hours, then those set over the weeks.  Also [each day], learning who is the ruler of that day, keep after him, saying “Lord, on such-and-such a day, I am calling the god to the sacred sacrifices”—doing so until the eighth day.

    Accordingly, as I have said before, when you have purified yourself in advance [through the last] seven days while the Moon is waning, at the dark of the Moon begin sleeping on the ground. Rising at dawn, greet the Sun through seven days, each day saying first the [names of the] gods of the hours, then those set over the weeks. Also [each day], learning who is the ruler of that day, keep after him, saying “Lord, on such-and-such a day I am calling the god to the sacred sacrifices”—doing so until the eighth day.

  3. Sacrifice protocol from PGM XIII.376ff.  However, despite being a “ruler of the day in some sense”, what’s being referred to here probably refers instead to a ruler of one of the 365 days of the year, especially given its use along with gods of the hours, each with their own compulsive or restraining formula that we see traces of later in the Hygromanteia tradition.  This is different than the juxtaposition of the “ruler of that day” from the above section, because it’s separated from the gods of the hours which are bundled with the gods of the weeks.

    The tasting of the victims is done [in] this way: When you are ready to taste them, sacrifice the rooster, so that [the god] may receive lots of spirit, and at the point of tasting, call on the god of the hour and him of the day, so that you may have sponsorship from them.  For if you do not invoke them, they will not hear you, as being uninitiated.  Now you will find [the names of] the gods of the hours and those of the days, and the compulsive formula for each of them in the Key of Moses, for he set them out one by one.

  4. Invocation of Aiōn from PGM XIII.844ff:

    I call on you, eternal and unbegotten, who are one, who alone hold together the whole creation of all things, whom none understand, whom the gods worship, whose name not even the gods can utter.  Inspire from your breath, ruler of the pole, him who is under you; accomplish for me the NN. thing. …

This is basically all I can find in PGM XIII about the Ruler of the Pole, so as important as it might be for the text to point out how to determine the Ruler of the Pole, it’s apparently not that important except in how to address maybe one or two prayers and how to consider the temporal qualities of Aiōn on a day-to-day basis.  None of these few uses, most of which are limited to just references to Aiōn as being a generic ruler (or a sort of hyperstasis of the individual planets, a sort of planet-behind-the-planets or the very Platonic Idea of Planet itself?), give much of a hint of what we’re doing by invoking the Ruler of the Pole.

Let’s back up a bit, I suppose.  What, exactly, is the “Pole” being ruled over?  There are two possible candidates for this: the ecliptic pole (the pole of the planet of the ecliptic, the orbital path of the Sun as viewed from the Earth) and the axial pole (the pole around which the Earth itself rotates on a daily basis).  Though these two poles are similar, they are not identical; after all, the ecliptic is tilted slightly to the rotation of the Earth, which is why we have seasons.  The axial pole of the Earth is basically the North Star, Polaris, which is the tail of Ursa Minor, or the Litte Dipper.  On the other hand, the ecliptic pole of the Earth, along with all the other planets in the Solar System, lies further off in the nearby constellation of Draco.

This was the point of the only small conversation that my post in the Facebook group started, mostly by my good colleague Freeman Presson.  Freeman had the idea that, in a sense, every planet is conjunct the Pole by longitude in the same sense that, if you yourself are standing at the North Pole on Earth, any direction you face or travel will be south.  Because of this, every planet could be seen as being eternally in communion with the Pole, even if they’re separated by latitude.  However, someone else popped in to say that that’s not quite right, and that the pole of the ecliptic is not the same as the pole of the axial rotation of the Earth, and the two don’t really line up that well here.  It was something to consider at least, but it doesn’t really get us much of anywhere.

To be honest, I think it’s far more likely that it really is the axial pole of the Earth (the one that points to Polaris and Ursa Minor) it the one being referred to.  While I’m sure the ecliptic pole was known, there’s far more emphasis in the PGM on the use of the pole stars Polaris, Ursa Minor, and Ursa Maior, with many “bear charms” and other works with the northern stars.  Plus, it does help that both Ursa Minor and Ursa Maior both have seven stars each; indeed, the old Latin word for “north” is “septentrio”, from “septem triones” meaning “seven oxen” or “seven bulls”.  When we look at the Bear-related spells from the PGM, we get a better understanding of some of the power of this figure, or at least the station of this figure (bold text emphasizes similarities with the description of the Ruler of the Pole in PGM XIII):

  1. PGM IV.1275—1322 (“Bear charm which accomplishes everything”): I call upon you, the greatest power in heaven, in the Bear, appointed by the Lord God to turn with a strong hand the holy Pole, ΝΙΚΑΡΠΟΛΗΞ!  Listen to me, Hēlios, Phre!  Hear the holy prayer, you who hold together the universe and bring to life the whole world…ΘΩΖΟΠΙΘΗ, Bear, greatest goddess, ruling heaven, reigning over the Pole of the stars, highest, beautiful-shining goddess, incorruptible element, composite of the all, all-illuminating, bond of the universe ΑΕΗΙΟΥΩ ΕΗΙΟΥΩΑ ΗΙΟΥΩΑΕ ΙΟΥΩΑΕΗ ΟΥΩΑΕΗΙ ΥΩΑΕΗΙΟ ΩΑΕΗΙΟΥ, you who stand on the pole, you whom the Lord God appointed to turn the holy Pole with a strong hand
  2. PGM IV.1323—1330 (“Another [Bear charm]”): ΚΟΜΦΘΟ ΚΟΜΑΣΙΘ ΚΟΜΝΟΥΝ, you who shook and shake the world, you who have swallowed the ever-living serpent and daily raise the disk of the Sun and of the Moon, you whose name is ΙΘΙΟΩ ΗΙ ΑΡΒΑΘΙΑΩ Η, send up to me, NN., at night the daimon of this night to reveal to me concerning the NN. matter.
  3.  PGM VII.686—702 (“Bear charm”): Bear, Bear, you who rule the heaven, the stars, and the whole world; you who make the axis turn and control the whole cosmic system by force and compulsion, I appeal to you, imploring and supplicating that you may do the NN. thing, because I call upon you with your holy names at which your deity rejoices, names which you are not able to ignore…

The thing about many of these Bear charms is that they bear (heh) some semantic similarities and connections to the Hellenic goddess Artemis, due to the myth of her companion Callisto transformed into the constellation of Ursa Maior and the view that Callisto was seen to be an aspect or manifestation of Artemis herself.  From Artemis, connections can be drawn to Selēnē, the Moon, and from the Moon to the Egyptian god Thoth.  Yes, Thoth, who was considered by the Egyptians themselves to be a lunar deity (consider the fact that he is often depicted as wearing a lunar crown and that the crescent shape of the beak of the ibis recalls the shape of the crescent Moon).  Though epithets and praise names of this god are many, some of the more relevant ones are:

  • Who fashioned all things
  • Who made all that exists
  • Bull among the stars (remember the “seven bulls” of the northern stars!)
  • Who determines fate
  • Who glorifies the two eyes (yes, the eyes of Horus, but remember “you gave Hēlios the glory and the power, Selēnē the privilege to wax and wane and have fixed courses…”)
  • Governor of Ma’at (i.e. Truth or Fate) in heaven and Earth
  • Lord of heaven
  • According to whose word the Ennead acts

There are even some texts that give Thoth descriptions and praises in similar patterns and wordings to Akephalos, the Headless One of the Headless Rite.  While I’m not suggesting that Thoth is the Ruler of the Pole or the North Star here, I am suggesting that many of the same qualities of a pantokrator/cosmocrator/all-ruler god transfer over based on similar ideas and notions.  In other words, I’m definitely freestyling my correspondences and connections here, but rather than saying “X is Y”, I’m saying that “X is like Y”.

Anyway.  It’s also fascinating to see mentioned in PGM IV.1323—1330 that reference to “you who have swallowed the ever-living serpent”, which could, if we were to take a staunchly pro-stellar view, refer to the constellation Draco, which might be viewed as a sort of conquering of the ecliptical pole by the axial pole.  It could also relate, as Betz notes in a footnote to PGM IV.930—1114, to the serpent Apophis who daily attempts to devour the bark of Re.  Other references to serpents yields PGM VII.300, another lunar spell that also includes an ibis (!) and a reference to the explicitly lunar god Khonsu, has a particular “circled-ibis” phylactery:

ΣΑΧΜΟΥ ΟΖΟΖΟ, you the one who thunders, the one who shakes the heaven and the earth, the one who has swallowed the Serpent, hour by hour raising the disk of the Sun and surrounding the Moon, ΧΩΝΣΟΥ ΟΧΧΑ ΕΝΣΟΥ Ο ΒΙΒΕΡΟΗΣΟΣ.  Write on your left hand with myrrh ink these things surrounding the ibis.

Similar incantations also exist in PGM VII.359—369 (“Request for a dream oracle”).  PGM VIII.1—63, however, includes a neat little tidbit: an aspect of Hermēs called upon for a binding love spell, but the aspect of which is given the description “in the north you have the form of a serpent”.  Betz notes that this refers to the deity Uto or Wadjet, who is often found associated with the north.  This whole “conquering” or “swallowing of the serpent” could also refer, historically, to the slow shift of the North Star to Polaris in Ursa Minor from Thuban, α Draconis, from some two- to three-thousand years prior.  It’s an idea, I suppose.

This is fascinating, but we’re not where we need just yet to figure out what the Rulers of the Pole are or what they do.  We know that the Pole being ruled over has something to do with Polaris and the constellations of Ursa Maior and Ursa Minor, but that’s about it; we’re not seeing anything in PGM XIII or the Bear charms that are giving us a hint about these specific “rulers of the pole”.  But there are other hints in the PGM and from the classical world that can tip us off in the right direction; we’ll handle that in the next post.