Compilation Paralysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diviner’s Syndromes: Prometheus, Tithonos, Teireisias

Recently in the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook, there were a few discussions about how long one should study and practice before charging for their services.  As always, these conversations are enlightening, and occasionally entertaining; I’m also pleased to note that such conversations never seem to get overheated or rage-inducing anymore, neither for myself nor others.  This conversation did take an interesting turn, however; someone brought up an interesting view, apparently common in some Asian worldviews, which is another argument for why diviners ought to charge at all:

…diviners tend to have “shortened” lifespans due to their profession of revealing the heavenly secrets to others. Therefore, it’s only right to charge a fee, in return for revealing the heavenly secrets. This resulted in people charging, regardless in the level of skills…

…There’s often a belief that diviners often suffer some sort of disability or misfortune, as a result of being in a profession that goes against the Will of the Heavens.

It’s a fascinating viewpoint, and I immediately chimed in with two points from ancient Greece as a sort of circumlocuitous approach to my answers and thoughts:

  1. There’s a division of these arts between the gods Apollo and Hermes, according to that fun classical read the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. They both deal with foresight, sure, but they do so in different ways: Apollo is, properly speaking, the divinity of prophecy, while Hermes is the god of divination. The two are not the same. Prophecy is actually knowing the mind and will of Zeus (i.e. true and unadulterated knowledge of fate), while divination is simply reading and extrapolating from patterns in natural things or randomly generated patterns aided and assisted by the gods, which may or may not necessarily match up with the will of Zeus. Only Apollo could grant prophecy, but Hermes was given divination because Apollo (the previous “owner” of the art) had no need for it once he had prophecy as his Thing. Going to Apollo was a hard time indeed, but anyone could easily approach Hermes.
  2. It was commonly known that the Pythia, the sacred oracle and prophetess of Delphi under Apollo, would tend to lead shorter lives than other women of the same area due to her sacred work. Whether this can be attributed to the potentially psychotropic gases that inhabited her sacred cave or to the nature of her spiritual work is unknown, but it was believed to be the latter, not as retribution for speaking the will of heaven but because of how hard it is on a mortal body to contain the spirit of an immortal, especially repeatedly as a kind of career.

Eventually, after a bunch of other people put in their excellent points and I had some time to actually think and write out my thoughts, this is what I replied with:

… [regarding how money is passed from client to diviner in] divination in Santeria, there’s a lot more going on than just an exchange of money for getting the tools familiarized with the energy of the client; there’s a whole process to sanctify the area for the divination, and there are protocols involved for if the reading gets too “hot”, or energetically excited to the point of danger, or just to ward off negative omens so that they can be more effectively dealt with and so that nothing “sticks” to the diviner. Plus, for some priests, they need to undergo a light purification ahead of the reading to make sure they’re clean and focused enough to do the reading properly, and it’s almost always considered good practice to do a cleansing afterwards of the space and reader themselves to make sure no “ick” was left behind. In other words, we clean up after ourselves.

Plus, in the first year of being initiated in Santeria, there’s generally a blanket ban on…quite a lot, but that also includes spiritual works such as divination for oneself or others. This is because the new initiate requires a year of isolation from anything that could pose physical or spiritual danger, and this includes tapping into the energies, lives, and minds of others, which may not be always so pure or kind as we’d otherwise like them to be. When we perform divination for someone, we get at least a little mixed up in their life, a little entangled in their energies, which can rub off on us or leave us “stained” with their spiritual activities. If other spiritual hygiene isn’t implemented, those effects build up over time into a spiritual miasma that can really put us under.

There’s also the idea that, when we do divination, we’re using a little of our own spiritual power to fuel the act, even if it’s not “us” doing the real Talking. Just how a day of investigating papers and books to do research can leave us with a headache and eyesores, prolonged divination or doing lots of successive divinations in short order can leave us drained, which is a state of weakness, which can make us more vulnerable to spiritual miasma or other negative afflictions, which can lead very well to encountering physical dangers.

Do I think we’re revealing some cosmic secrets which are not to be known by mere mortals and which which the gods jealously guard? Not necessarily. Do I think there are other risks and dangers inherent to the act of divination? Absolutely! Having an active spiritual practice that includes proper rest, recharging, cleansing, hygiene, and spiritual upkeep is important for everyone, but especially so for diviners, who can often end up facing some real pieces of work out there which can really leave us a mess as we try to help others with theirs.

For the supplies we consume and the time we take preparing and maintaining our own well-being, I think that alone deserves compensation, for sure! And that’s not including the cost of tapping into and expending our spiritual power for the reading, the years of training and expertise we’re calling on, travel expenses, and so on, all of which deserve at least an attempt to pay for.

This led me to think of three “diviner’s syndromes” to tack onto my older notions of divinaddiction and divinaversion, the latter two affecting the person receiving divination and the new three affecting the person doing divination.  For the sake of art and whimsy, I’m naming these three diviner’s syndromes after three figures from Greek mythology:

  • Prometheus (Προμηθεύς) was the Titan god of forethought who, after sculpting humanity out of clay, wanted to make their lives better and thus tricked the gods out of meat for their sacrifices and stole the secret of fire from the gods, both for the sake of humanity.  As punishment for this, the theoi bound him to Mount Kaukasos, condemned to have his ever-regenerating liver plucked out by an eagle for the rest of time…at least until Herakles rescued him.
  • Tithonos (Τιθωνός) was a prince of Troy, and beloved of the goddess of dawn Eos.  Eos wanted to take Tithonos as her lover, and wanted to make him immortal.  However, she could not do this herself, and so asked Zeus to do this.  Zeus did so, but it only became apparent later that Eos made a critical misstep and forgot to ask for eternal youth along with immortality.  Tithonos grew old and older, never dying, but losing all his strength and sense and sanity.
  • Teireisias (Τειρεσίας) was one of the most famous seers in ancient Greece.  Having lived life as both a man and woman due to some incidents involving snakes, Zeus and Hera decided to use him as a judge in one of their debates regarding who had more pleasure during sex, the man or the woman; Zeus said that the woman did, and Hera argued that the man did.  Teireisias agreed with Zeus, giving him victory; Hera, in her rage, blinded Teireisias.  Zeus, unable to undo another god’s actions, gave Teireisias the power of perfect foresight to make up for his being deprived of eyesight.

I think you can see where I’m going with this, dear reader, if you’re at all familiar with how adopting the signs and symbols of myth can play out in our real lived lives.

  • Prometheus syndrome is an affliction of the diviner that comes about as an honest-to-god theft of secrets and revealing of information that cannot be known, causing offense to the gods or other spirits and which causes them to act upon you offensively.
  • Tithonos syndrome is an affliction of the diviner that results in decreased vitality, strength, intellect, health, and overall well-being due to being neglectful of one’s own physical and spiritual hygiene and maintenance.
  • Teireisias syndrome doesn’t really fit in with either of the two above; it indicates that a physical handicap of some sort allows for a greater spiritual strength, sort of how like those who are blind often have increased senses of hearing.  Like Teireisias, who gave up physical sight for spiritual foresight, those who are often outcast make the best of their situation and rise above their mundane problems through spiritual development.

Of these three, I think Tithonos syndrome is probably the most hazardous, and also the most likely we as diviners encounter.  I know that from my own experience and from the reported experience of others, doing a string of divination readings in a row can often tire me out and wear me down, causing me headaches, fatigue, light-headedness, or just making me more predisposed to being hangry.  And that’s the ideal case, too; if I do readings for people who have some really heavy shit going on, or who are being meddled with on a spiritual level by people throwing curses at them or by spirits obsessing over them, or if mental illness comes out in the reading or in their behaviors that play out on a spiritual level, then the problems ramp up real quickly.  And that’s all on top of the actual personal interactions I have to work with to act, not just as seer, but as counselor to make sure the person can integrate my advice in a healthy, productive way that isn’t threatened by fear, jealousy, anxiety, mental illness, or the like.  Between the energy I’m putting out, the energy I have to put up with, and the constant personal investment I have to make to accomplish the reading, it’s truly no small matter.

So, to prepare myself for a divination (and especially any string of divinations, like for a psychic fair or if I have multiple appointments lined up on the same day), I’ll be sure to take a special bath to protect myself while enhancing my sight and quickening my tongue, warding the reading space to make sure the information comes out clear without spiritual interference, and wear my preferred diviner’s charms and recite my prayers to make sure all goes well; to wrap things up, even if I’m dead tired from doing everything above, I’ll make myself cleanse the area of the divinations along with myself, lock everything down, cut all loose threads that didn’t want to be tied up earlier, and then get a good meal and a good night’s rest.  It’s a lot to handle, but it’s absolutely necessary, because without such precautions and postactions, it’s almost laughably easy to get so tired you get vertigo, faint, pass out, fall sick, or come to some other bad end that results in physical illness or injury.  It’s not worth it to ignore these ameliorating actions, because the cost will always be higher in the end.  Over time, with practice, your spiritual stamina can be lengthened, your focus sharpened, your defenses strengthened, and so forth through routine meditation, warding, energy work, prayer, and so forth, but this only lessens the harm because you can deflect more of it at a time; it doesn’t eliminate the threat or effects of it entirely.  Tithonos syndrome is no joke, dear reader; if you engage with divination, this is a real risk you bring upon yourself.  Take care of yourself.

Then there’s Prometheus syndrome, which…I’ll be honest, I don’t think it plays out like this.  If the gods didn’t want us to speak about the future, they wouldn’t let us know it to begin with.  Consider what Apollo says in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, where Hermes tries to strike a bargain with Apollo so that he could get in on the sweet, sweet gift of prophecy (emphasis mine):

But as for sooth-saying, noble, heaven-born child, of which you ask, it is not lawful for you to learn it, nor for any other of the deathless gods: only the mind of Zeus knows that. I am pledged and have vowed and sworn a strong oath that no other of the eternal gods save I should know the wise-hearted counsel of Zeus. And do not you, my brother, bearer of the golden wand, bid me tell those decrees which all-seeing Zeus intends. As for men, I will harm one and profit another, sorely perplexing the tribes of unenviable men. Whosoever shall come guided by the call and flight of birds of sure omen, that man shall have advantage through my voice, and I will not deceive him. But whoso shall trust to idly-chattering birds and shall seek to invoke my prophetic art contrary to my will, and to understand more than the eternal gods, I declare that he shall come on an idle journey; yet his gifts I would take.

In other words, Apollo cannot give prophecy to Hermes because Zeus has ordained that prophecy belongs only to Apollo, and that all those who seek to trespass on prophetic powers or augury or other omens without the proper license do so in vain, no matter what they try to bribe or tempt Apollo with.  Only those who are true and truly guided by the proper channels can obtain such truth from Apollo; all others will fail in the attempt.  In this light, I find it less likely that one suffers the fate of Prometheus in stealing fire from the gods for speaking what ought not be spoken, and more likely that one just says wrong things; at best, such a bad prediction is useless and without effect, but at worst, it can truly mislead someone into ruin of their own doing for paying heed to the wrong people.

That said, I think that there are three cases where Prometheus syndrome could actually take place:

  1. One has a pact with a particular spirit who acts as a familiar or tutelary divinity of divination, and that pact allows the diviner to rely on that entity for divination in exchange for honoring that spirit through sacrifice and payment, and relying on that entity only as much as that entity agrees to share.  To press that entity further than what they agree to can end up angering that spirit to the point of causing punishment, just as neglecting one’s own end of the deal by ignoring or foregoing sacrifice and payment to them.  Still, this would less be a case of “speaking what ought not be spoken” and more a matter of “violating spiritual vows”.  If you rely on such a spirit for aid in divination, work such boundaries out for yourself, then stick to them; if you have a taboo or prohibition on divining for a particular topic (e.g. one’s eventual date of death), don’t try to pry into those secrets.
  2. While all the above makes sense to me from my Western perspective, I can’t discount that there may very well be cultures and traditions where divination is truly seen as a means of theft from the gods, and the methods they use actually work out in that way.  I can’t speak to this, but it may well be that any such form of divination is truly like Prometheus stealing fire from Olympos, which would them open them up to punishment.  I can’t say for sure, but it’s not something I can discount.  To avoid this, try a different system of divination and cosmological worldview that doesn’t see it this way, I guess?
  3. The last case would technically be considered an inverted Prometheus syndrome; rather than suffering punishment for speaking what ought not be spoken, I find it a very real threat to not speak what ought to be spoken.  In other words, if you see something in a divination, you as the diviner are obliged to inform the client about it, especially if it’s about a danger or risk to their well-being.  The idea goes that whatever you don’t inform the client of comes back to hurt you instead; it’s thus in your best interest to speak everything that you see and can correlate into a cohesive story (and the once-off “just popped into my mind” bits, too) to the client.  That way, the client has as complete and thorough understanding as can be given to them at the time, and the diviner can say that they did their best to help the client.  After all, knowing is half the battle, but if the diviner withholds knowledge that they’re privy to from a client that the client is paying for, not only is it dishonest, it also opens up the diviner to either punishment or “taking the hit” for the client simply from whatever is coming for the client.  Of these three cases, it’s this inverted Prometheus syndrome I’m most concerned about, but that can be resolved pretty easily: don’t lie in divination, don’t hide in divination, don’t mislead in divination.  If you speak what you see and all that you see as best as you can, then not only do you uphold your own professionalism in divination, you also hold yourself clean and free from the repercussions of problems that you’d otherwise stand in the way of.

So much for Prometheus syndrome and Tithonos syndrome.  Then there’s Teireisias syndrome, which…I dunno.  Like, I know plenty of diviners of all kinds: male, female, trans, nonbinary, straight, gay, queer, old, young, abled, disabled, of every race and every socioeconomic class and every attractive quality (or lack thereof).  I haven’t really noticed much of a pattern in seeing whether “disabled people make better diviners” or “gay men make better prophets” or whatnot, so for me, I’d probably chalk Teireisias syndrome up to more of a myth than something to actually consider as a thing.  I suppose it’s more like self-selection or selection bias; consider, after all, that many people who get involved in the occult arts and sciences tend to already be outcasts, and being different in some way (queer, nonbinary, disabled, poor, neuro-atypical, etc.) is a big cause of being considered outcasts.  I guess it’s like how many men think women talk more than they do; if they see queer/nonbinary/otherwise-different people doing divination, then it’d be a matter of overrepresentation becoming rumour becoming fable rather than something mystically inherent in different people.  But, hey, if it helps us with getting more business, you can bet I’ll play my asthma, bad knee, and gayness up for as much as it’d be worth, and I’d encourage everyone else to do the same with whatever makes them different (so long as they’re also, yanno, competent enough to be worth it).

Those are my thoughts on diviner’s syndromes that we might encounter, along with some of the dangers and problems we face and how we might begin to rectify them.  What about you, dear reader?  If you’re a diviner yourself, have you noticed any problems that you encounter with divination that affect you on a spiritual or physical level?  Do you know of any tales, cultures, or myths where divination is taken as a last resort out of fear of divine punishment (besides the whole Witch of Endor thing from the Book of Samuel)?  How do you try to keep yourself in as good a condition as you can before, during, and after divination?  Let us know down in the comments!

Honoring Venus on the Great Day of Gamma

It’s funny how I never really paid attention to the Moon, even as a magician, for years and years.  Yes, I’d check a calendar to see whether it was waning or waxing when making a particular talisman or other, and maybe I’d be caught off-guard and wonder why the nighttime is so bright outside before looking up and spontaneously saying my Full Moon invocation from the PGM, but beyond that, the motion of the Moon was simply something I never paid attention to.  That was, of course, until I started working on my grammatomantic calendar, a lunisolar method of tracking the passage of the Moon against the seasons and the yearly passage of the Sun.  It was a short leap to make from assigning letters to the days to assigning rituals to the days, and I ended up in short order making a ritual grammatomantic calendar based on the individual days of the months.  In the past, especially when getting the discipline of mathesis kicked off (which I’m still working on getting back into after so long), the use of the ritual grammatomantic calendar cycle has really helped before.  In short, I’ve termed the whole system of a lunar grammatomantic calendar, with all its prescribed rituals and applications, as the Grammatēmerologion.

There’s an interesting side-effect to how I set up the Grammatēmerologion, however, and one of those side-effects is coming up in short order.  The Grammatēmerologion system includes a way to not only assign the letters of the Greek alphabet to individual days of the lunar month, but also to whole months as well as to whole years.  For instance, this past Noumenia (the first day of the lunar month, starting at the sunrise after the New Moon) had the day letter Α (first day of the lunar month), which started off the month Β (second month in the lunar year) in the year Ε (fifth year of the 38-grammaterological cycle).  This system of day-letters and month-letters can be exploited in a ritual way by using particular days when the day-letter and month-letter are the same.  When the day-letter matches the month-letter, we have what I call a Μεγαλημερα (Megalēmerai), or “Great Day”, a day when the effect of the day-letter upon the world is significantly stronger than it would be in a month when the day-letter does not match the month-letter.  A Megalēmera for any given letter occurs only once every two years since there are twelve (or, sometimes, thirteen) lunar months in a given year, and since there are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet, it takes two years to cycle through all the Greek letters for each lunar month.

As you might have surmised, dear reader, we have just such a Megalēmera coming up on Monday, August 17, the third day of the third lunar month of this year, when both the letter of both the day and month are Γ.  The letter Gamma is associated in the system of grammatomancy with the astrological sign of Taurus, and thus with the goddess Aphrodite according to the Orphic system of zodiacal-theological correspondences.  I would find it an exceptionally fine day to honor Aphrodite on this day for this reason, with the necessary mathetic and ceremonial flairs, of course, and I’d like to talk about just such a ritual.  I already have a framework for a generalized mathetic invocation and offering to the gods, so we’ll use that as a template and build off on that.  After all, if that sort of ritual is good for any ol’ day, then we’ll want to make it comparatively greater to make it fitting for a Great Day.  This is the first time I’ve made any sort of ritual for a Megalēmera, so this is an experimental setup for me, although I think it’s well-grounded enough to be used in the future, as well, with some tweaks here and there based on how this setup goes.

On the day before the Megalēmera (Sunday, August 16), prepare the shrine accordingly if you do not already have one set up.  This should be done at some point before sunrise on the Megalēmera, so it can be done in the wee hours of the dark morning if you can’t do it on the day before, if needed.  The shrine should be left standing until sunrise on the day after the Megalēmera, so that it can be active during the entirety of the Megalēmera.  While we’re setting up the shrine, we’re preparing a suitable basis to honor Aphrodite on the Megalēmera itself, but we’re not making any offerings at this point.  Only the mathetes, or mathetic initiate, is to prepare the shrine, and the mathetes alone.  Other forms of personal preparation, such as fasting, can be done at the mathetes’ discretion.

  1. Before touching or preparing anything, cleanse yourself using khernips.  You’ll be using a lot of it, so make a decent batch for this day.  It helps if you also do all the usual mathetic daily stuff ahead of time to prepare yourself accordingly.
  2. Go outside and find four small pebbles, preferably from a crossroads or a driveway.  Set these aside for now.
  3. Sprinkle khernips around the area and in the air of the area where the shrine will be erected.  Chant “απο απο κακοδαιμονες” (“begone, begone evil spirits”) while doing so.
  4. Obtain an elevated platform, e.g. a table or shelf, that is at least waist-high.  Wash off the surface of the table with khernips.  This will form the foundation of our shrine.
  5. Cover the shrine with a cloth.  For Aphrodite, according to the color scheme I use, I suggest something green, ideally with shades of emerald or reflective green against a solid brighter green.  If you can get something with a floral or organic design or pattern on it, even better.
  6. Obtain an image of Aphrodite; this can be a statue or a framed picture.  Wash off the image in khernips and set it in the middle of the shrine.
  7. Obtain three white candles or clean olive oil lamps, each washed off with khernips.  On each candle or lamp, engrave or write the letter Γ three times.  Set the three candles or lamps around the image of Aphrodite in a triangle, with one behind her and two before her, and light all three.
  8. Set an empty cup or small bowl to the right of the triangle made by the candles, a censer before it, and a vase to the left of it.  Also set three green candles engraved with the word ΑΦΡΟΔΙΤΗΙ (“to Aphrodite”) around the image of Aphrodite, but not where the three white candles are.  Unlike the rest of the offerings, these candles are not to be washed off in khernips.
  9. Anchor the image of Aphrodite in the shrine by performing the Tetractys Meditation.  Modify this, however, in the following way: after visualizing and holding the image of the Tetractys in your mind, project the image onto the surface of the shrine, with Aphrodite standing in the middle of the Tetractys with the three flames at the three outermost pointsof the Tetractys, and connecting the image to the 24 paths of the Tetractys from where she stands in the middle.  Visualize the flames to burn a bright emerald green, and to fill the whole visualization with green light from them through all the paths of the Tetractys into and around the image of Aphrodite.  Fix the visualization as strongly as you can, and silently breathe the name of Aphrodite three times onto the image of Aphrodite on the shrine, fixing the visualization in the material form.
  10. Get those four pebbles you gathered a bit ago, and wash off each in khernips.
  11. Obtain a small cup of wine mixed with a small amount of olive oil.  For each pebble you obtained, dip each pebble in the wine and place them in a row leading towards the shrine.  When placing each pebble, call upon Hermes in the following way:

    Hermes Diaktoros, you are the god of guides and guide of gods, men, spirits, souls, and heroes.
    Hermes Odolysios, you open the doors and clear the roads and smooth the paths.
    Hermes Theogogos, you lead the words and presence of the gods to the world of man.
    Hermes Pompaios, you lead the hearts and minds of men to the world of gods.
    Hermes, open the way for Aphrodite to take her seat here on her throne, that I may honor her as is her due and that I may derive from her the blessing that is my desire.

  12. Take another white candle and wash it off in khernips.  Place this between the shrine and the pebble closest to the shrine.
  13. Take the cup of wine and oil used for the pebbles to the nearest road, along with any remaining khernips.  Throw the wine and oil out into the road as an offering to Hermes, and return home without looking back.  On the way back, sprinkle all the remaining khernips from the road back to your house to cleanse the way for the goddess.

With that, the preparation for the shrine is complete.  Spend some time getting wine, olive oil, incense (I suggest rose mixed with benzoin), flowers (ideally roses, at least red but preferably of three different colors), and any other offerings you might want to make, including jewelry, fruit, honey, sea-water, shells, copper, statuary, and the like.  The candles or lamps are to be left until they burn out, and the proper Megalēmera ritual can only be done after they have done so, so be sure to set up the shrine with enough time beforehand.  When they burn out, remove them from the shrine; beyond this, no further work is to be done between the time the shrine is erected and proper ritual on the Megalēmera.

On the Megalēmera itself, at sunrise, do your normal mathetic ritual daily practice as usual.  Ideally, performing the Megalēmera ritual immediately afterwards would be best, but if not, they can be performed at any time before the next sunrise.  The Megalēmera ritual is to be led by the mathetes, but any others who wish to join in to honor Aphrodite as well may do so, so this can easily become a communal or community ritual or feast.

  1. Open a window or door to allow Aphrodite to enter the shrine.  Even a small crack is sufficient, so long as there’s some way to the outside.  Needless to say, if the shrine has been set up outdoors, then no such step need be taken.
  2. All present are to dress primarily in white, with green or copper accents or jewelry if desired.  Before approaching the shrine, all are to wash off with khernips.  Perform the Tetractys Meditation together.
  3. If desired, in another place nearby facing away from the shrine, make an offering to Hestia in some way one might choose as eldest and youngest of the children of Rhea and Kronos.  This is intended primarily for the more Hellenistic crowd, and is not strictly required according to the practice of mathesis, but may be done if so desired for ritual propriety’s sake.
  4. Sanctify the area of the shrine once more with khernips, by sprinkling khernips around the area and in the air of the area where the shrine is erected while chanting “απο απο κακοδαιμονες” (“begone, begone evil spirits”).
  5. Approach the shrine, and pick up each of the four pebbles one by one that lead up to it.  When all pebbles are picked up, stand up and, with the pebbles in the right hand, call upon Hermes as before.
  6. Place three of the pebbles around Aphrodite at the exact spots where the three candles or lamps stood the day before, i.e. at the three points of the anchoring Tetractys.  When placing each pebble on the shrine, say aloud “Hermes, lead Aphrodite to us”.
  7. Take the fourth pebble and touch the image of Aphrodite with it, and say aloud “Aphrodite, be here with us”.  Place this pebble on the image of Aphrodite or just before the image, touching its base.
  8. Light the white candle and begin the letter chant-meditation on the letter Γ, including a chant for the sacred name of the letter, which for Γ is ΓΕΝΙΟΜΟΥΘΙΓ (Geniomūthig).  Continue this until a desired and sufficient numinous power has been built up for the letter and its associated goddess.
  9. Knock on the shrine and call out the name of Aphrodite three times, then pray her Homeric Hymn.  Either the short hymn (Homeric Hymn #6) or the long hymn (Homeric Hymn #5) may be used, with the very short hymn (Homeric Hymn #10) used only if pressed for time.  Other hymns, such as Proclus’ hymn to Aphrodite or one independently written, may also be used.
  10. Announce yourself fully by your full name, as the child of your parents by their full names, and any mathetic or magical name you may use before the gods.  Announce yourself fully and openly that Aphrodite and all in attendance, whether god or mortal, may know who you are without deceit.  All others may announce themselves to Aphrodite as well, at least using their first names but as openly as they choose to.
  11. Dedicate all offerings to Aphrodite.  Light the three green candles on her altar, followed by the incense which is to be placed in the censer.  Pour out wine, olive oil, fresh water, and honey into the offering cup or bowl for her.  Place flowers in her vase.  Place any other offerings to be dedicated to Aphrodite around her shrine as well.  Only the mathetes is to light the candles and incense and to pour the libation into the cup, but everyone else may give their offerings afterward.  Everything placed on her shrine is to be joined with the words “for Aphrodite on this Great Day”.
  12. All present are to recite the Orphic Hymn to Aphrodite at least once, ideally three times.
  13. After this, the mathetes is to make any supplication, request, personal prayer, or praise of the goddess.  All others in attendance may do the same one by one, with the mathetes standing off to the side and the others stepping before the shrine.  Remember that all prayers are to be said aloud, as is customary for the Greek gods; silence should be reserved for meditation.
  14. Celebrate the Great Day of Gamma by sharing drinks, food, and leisure amongst each other.  Those who wish to do so may meditate in the presence and glory of Aphrodite on her shrine and continue their prayers.  Share her stories, talk about her powers, and do all that may be done to exalt and honor her in her presence.  Additional libations may be made by pouring the first part of one’s drink into her bowl before anything has been drunk from the cup, along with a plate with the first part of all food given to her, if so desired.
  15. When all celebration and meditation is complete, the mathetes is to bring the ritual to a close with all present.  Thank Aphrodite for her presence, blessing, and graces, along with all her divine entourage, and ask her once more to accept all offerings made to her as her gifts and property.  Bid her farewell respectfully, asking that she stay or go as she so desires, and acknowledging that she will be honored again at the proper time after she leaves.
  16. Call out the name of Aphrodite and knock on the altar three times.  Recite the formal close:  “If anything has been done improperly, if anything has been said improperly, let it be as if it were done and said properly.”

After this, the Megalēmera ritual is complete.  After sunrise the next day, long after the candles and incense have burnt out, the shrine is to be dismantled and the image of Aphrodite formally unanchored from the shrine, and all offerings made to her are to be disposed of respectfully.

  1. Once more, prepare another decent batch of khernips, and wash yourself off with it.
  2. Sprinkle khernips on the pebble touching the image of Aphrodite, and in doing so, visualize the light that anchors the image of Aphrodite to the Tetractys dissolving, with the Tetractys and Aphrodite both filled with green light yet as separate entities.  Sprinkle more khernips on each of the three pebbles around the image of Aphrodite at the distant points of the Tetractys, and in doing so, dissolve the paths on the Tetractys into a floating green formless light.  Breathe in the green light that results from this.  Circulate this green light through your body; once you have been “flushed” with this light, breathe it out and into the world.  The image of Aphrodite is to remain filled with green light on its own; the image is to be removed and kept at her usual place, or another permanent shrine may be built for her.
  3. Take the four pebbles and a good amount of khernips and go out to the road, sprinkling khernips before you every step of the way.  Throw the pebbles into the road and any khernips that remains, and thank Hermes for his guidance and help in the worship done the day before.  Alternatively, the four pebbles may be used to build up a herm for Hermes, with the khernips splashed across the herm.
  4. All perishable offerings made to Aphrodite (food, fruit, flowers, waters, libations, etc.) along with any incense ash is to be collected and disposed of respectfully outside.  Any river, beach, or body of water is good to deposit the offerings into; if none of these are possible, they may be deposited at any crossroads after splashing khernips onto the crossroads.
  5. All nonperishable offerings made to Aphrodite (jewelry, stones, metals, pictures, etc.) are to be split evenly between the mathetes and any other person who has a shrine to Aphrodite.  These possessions are Aphrodite’s, not belonging to any mortal, and must remain so.  If there are gifts made that are not accepted by anyone, they are to be respectfully buried outside, either at a crossroads if the Megalēmera ritual was done inside, or on the spot where the Megalēmera ritual was done if it was done outside.
  6. The remainder of the altar is to be sprinkled with khernips, and dismantled and washed in whatever way one may desire.

And that’s it!  I’m looking forward to honoring Aphrodite in this way, and I’d like to see how it plays well with her.  This is something substantially bigger than any weekly or monthly offering I’ve made to her yet, though it follows the same overall format; since I already have a tiny shrine for her in my temple room, I plan on setting up her Megalēmera shrine in a more grand manner in my living room at the center of my house.  Hopefully, I can use this same format for other Megalēmera rituals, and those who can figure these things out can determine how they might be done for other gods and goddesses in the Greek pantheon using the same mathetic format.  While it’d probably be best to honor each and every god for each and every Megalēmera, if I were far more invested in the time and energy to honor the gods as properly as they should be, I’ll really only focus on the ones I’m more intimately connected to, either by spirit or profession or purpose; I don’t plan on throwing twelve Megalēmerai a year, maybe only a handful, depending on the god in question.  Still, such a grand celebration can easily be done as desired for each of the gods that can be associated with the Greek alphabet on these Great Days.

Mathetic Invocation and Offering to the Gods

The last post described a daily practice for people interested in working with mathesis, and how I use it for getting myself in line with the entities and powers present within this system: a meditation on the Tetractys, a meditation on the Greek letter of the day of the lunar month, a grammatomantic divination to plan my day, an offering to the god of the day of the lunar month, a pre-bed invocation of Hermes Oneirodotes for dreams, and a recollection of the day’s events as I go off to sleep.  It’s all fairly simple and I described the method of each, except for one: the offering to the god of the day.  I realize that not everyone has the same offering procedure: some go all-out with the gods with wine and food and the like, some make a quick prayer under their breath as they leave their house for the day, and some fall in-between the two extremes.  I never really offered a method of offering to the gods, so I want to talk about what I do as a template for other mathetai.

While it’d be nice to make awesome offerings to all the gods, that’s pretty much going to be impossible; there were effectively an infinite number of gods back in the old days (not like that’s changed since), with regional rituals differing from polis to polis as they differed from town to town, neighborhood to neighborhood, or even household to household.  Some people hold this god in high esteem, some that god, while nobody seems to really rever this other god even though they have a high mythological stature.  It’s important to honor all the gods, but honoring the gods doesn’t necessarily mean to make offerings or vows to them all; all deities should be honored, but not all deities should be worked with.  We can make a personalized practice and roster of gods by limiting ourselves to the deities have an important role in our lives: major gods relate significantly to our lives’ works, acts, jobs, and activities, while minor gods don’t have much of an active role.  For instance, as a software engineer, Hermes has a huge role in my livelihood, while Demeter doesn’t since I’m not much of a gardener, planter, or farmer.  Zeus as king of the gods has a universal all-ruling aspect to him, but besides honoring him as cosmic king, I’m not much of a prince or ruler besides myself.

Just to clarify: the terminology here of “minor” does not imply a generally unimportant or localized role, like how river gods or gods of a particular grove or street corner might be consider minor.  Rather, “minor” only implies that one doesn’t have much to do with that god, like a software engineer with Demeter or a hippie pacifist with Ares.  When making an offering to a minor god, the minimum we need to do is an invocation of them to praise them for the general work they do in the world and that they continue to bless us, however indirectly, by the people who carry out their work, by their general blessing to make our lives better, and by their presence that we may come to know and honor them more in a better way.  “Major” gods, on the other hand, directly impact our ability to live and prosper in the world, and so we fall much closer to them than the “minor” gods.  Again, the minimum needed for them is prayer, but a much more personal prayer, asking for the blessing of the god as we carry out their work and that we may receive their blessing in the work we do, and by it to

So, how do we know which god to honor on which day?  We use the lunar grammatomantic ritual calendar I developed, where each day of the lunar month is associated with a particular letter of the Greek alphabet.  Each letter can be associated with a stoicheic force, and one or more of the gods can also be associated with a stoicheic force, and so we honor that god/those gods on the day of that letter that shares a stoicheic force with that god/those gods.  So how do we associate the letters with the gods?  Again, let’s use our threefold division of the letters into simple consonants, complex consonants, and vowels:

  • The simple consonants are associated with the twelve signs of the Zodiac.  Cornelius Agrippa corresponds the zodiac signs with the Twelve Olympians (counting Hestia, not Dionysus) in book II, chapter 15.  His method seems a little haphazard, but it works.  Agrippa seems to be using a combination of assigning pairs of gods to opposing signs based on relationship (e.g. Apollo and Artemis, twins, to Gemini and Sagittarius) or pairs of gods to signs ruled by the same planet based on idea (e.g. Athena and Ares, gods of warfare, to the Martial signs Aries and Scorpio).  However, we can expand this list to include closely-associated deities with the Olympians, such as Asklepios with Apollo, Pan with Hermes, Nike with Athena, Eros with Aphrodite, and so forth.
  • The complex consonants are associated with the four elements and the metaelement of Spirit.  Agrippa doesn’t assign these to the Olympian or other gods in his Three Books, although we can assume that the gods of these days directly pertain to the element of the day and, moreover, aren’t among the Olympians.  I’ve settled on giving the letter Psi, associated with the metaelement Spirit, to Dionysus, since he’s the outsider god, able to commingle with gods and men and travel in all places above and below.  Theta, associated with Earth, is given to any divinity of the Earth itself: Gaia, Rhea, and Kybele come to mind, but this also would include any flora or fauna spirits, the fae, gnomes, and other nature spirits of the land, mountains, or forests.  Xi, given to Water and generally falling on the day of the Full Moon, can be used to honor Okeanos, Thetis, or any divinity or spirits of the seas, rivers, or lakes, but I also give this to the underworld gods Hades and Persephone, since deep waters often have chthonic or subterrestrial associations.  Phi, associated with Air, I give to any spirits of the air and the mind, including the Muses and Graces.  Khi, associated with Fire, is given to any spirit of light, fire, the stars, or otherworldly spirits, but given that Khi falls near the end of the month, I also give this to the fiery underworld goddess Hekate.
  • The vowels are associated with the seven planets, and although one could honor the Olympian associated with each planet (e.g. Ares for Mars) or the pair of Olympians associated with the planets by means of their signs (e.g. both Ares and Athena for Mars), I reserve these days for magical operations involving the planets.  Technically, the planets were considered either as the bodies of the Olympians or as titans in their own right, so I don’t really make offerings on these days so much as I call down the forces themselves.  Alternatively, we can associate the planets with the seven directions (north, south, east, west, up, down, beyond) with the different winds (Boreas, Notos, Apeliotes, etc.) or other guardians of the directions (Erbeth, Lerthexanax, Ablanathanalba, etc.) and honor them, too.

However, in our lunar grammatomantic calendar, we also have two other types of days: three days that use the obsolete letters of Digamma, Qoppa, and Sampi; and three days that have no letter at all.

  • The days of obsolete letters are given to our ancestors, heroes, and blessed dead, spiritual entities who are lower than gods and were human but are no longer among the living.  These days have no stoicheic force, but the spirits that guide them are those that helped us become real in our lives; without our ancestors and blessed dead, we literally would not exist.  I generally divide up the spirits of the dead into three categories: Ancestors of Kin (blood-related and otherwise familial ancestors), Ancestors of Work (masters and teachers in one’s studies, profession, traditions, and lineages, both spiritual and mundane), and the Ancestors of the Great (culture and war heroes whose work impacts us today though not directly, as well as all the forgotten dead).  I honor the Ancestors of Kin on the day of Digamma, Ancestors of Work on the day of Qoppa, and the Ancestors of the Great on the day of Sampi.  However, this division is kinda artificial, and it does no harm to honor “the dead” generally on the obsolete letter days.
  • The unlettered days have no offerings prescribed for them.  Moreover, without a letter or stoicheic force or spirit to guide or rule the day, these days are generally considered unlucky and unfit for most spiritual activity.  It’s better to focus on the world itself today and get one’s cleaning, chores, and purification done on these days.  Clean up altars and spiritual spaces, aerate the house, take a good long bath, and the like.

So, my overall ritual calendar (after a bit of fine-tuning) has come to look like this:

Day Letter Stoicheia Observance
1 Α Moon Selene, Hermes, Erbeth, Apeliotes
2 Β Aries Athena, Nike
3 Γ Taurus Aphrodite, Eros
4 Δ Gemini Apollo, Asklepios
5 Ε Mercury Stilbon, Apollo and Demeter, Sesengenbarpharanges, Boreas
6 Ϝ Ancestors of Kin: family, relatives, blood-relatives
7 Ζ Cancer Hermes, Pan
8 Η Venus Hesperos and Phosphoros, Aphrodite and Hephaistos, Ablanathanalba, Zephyros
9 Θ Earth Gaia, Rhea, Kybele, fae, flora, fauna, lands, mountains, forests, etc.
10
11 Ι Sun Helios, Zeus, Lerthexanax, Notos
12 Κ Leo Zeus, Tykhe
13 Λ Virgo Demeter
14 Μ Libra Hephaistos
15 Ν Scorpio Ares
16 Ξ Water Persephone, Hades, Charon, Okeanos, Pontos, Nereus, Tethys, Thetis, bodies of water
17 Ο Mars Pyroeis, Athena and Ares, Damnameneus, Styx
18 Π Sagittarius Artemis
19 Ϙ Ancestors of Work: traditions, professions, lineages, guilds, etc.
20
21 Ρ Capricorn Hestia
22 Σ Aquarius Hera, Hebe, Iris, Eileithyia
23 Τ Pisces Poseidon
24 Υ Jupiter Phaethon, Artemis and Poseidon, Malpartalkho, Agathodaimon, Hyperion
25 Φ Air Spirits of air and sky, Muses, Graces
26 Χ Fire Spirits of fire and light, otherworldly spirits, Hekate, Furies, Asteria
27 Ψ Spirit Dionysos
28 Ω Saturn Phainon, Hera and Hestia, Akrammakhamarei, Ouranos, Kronos, Khronos
29 ϡ Ancestors of the Great: culture heroes, war heroes, forgotten dead
30

Now, while one could adapt this type of lunar grammatomantic calendar to other pantheons, such as the Norse or Egyptian pantheons, I’d question why you’d want to do that.  This is all based on the Greek alphabet, after all, which is tied up culturally and mythologically with the Greek gods.  Before you go saying “Well, Thor is a god of lightning, so he should be given the same day as Zeus or the planet Jupiter!”, you might want to ask Thor whether he’s okay with that.  Heck, even this type of calendar isn’t traditional at all in Hellenismos or attested Greek cultural practice (at least in Ionia, Hermes was honored on the fourth day of the month, not the seventh), but my gods don’t seem to mind it one whit, and they’ve given me the go-ahead to use it in a cohesive system with the rest of my work.  Be respectful when trying to squish systems together.

So, say you’re good to go now with the ritual offering times for the gods based on grammatomancy and the lunar calendar.  Now what?  Now you need to make offerings to the gods, bearing in mind the major/minor distinction from above.  In general, we can use the same format for the individual gods, groups of gods or spirits, ancestors, and planets, although the fine details will differ from each to each.  The general format of offering I do follows the same course:

  1. Preparation of ritual space.  It’s important to maintain a proper sacred ritual space to invite the god into, and this usually consists of sprinkling a small amount of holy water or khernips (ancient Hellenic lustral water), around the area chanting “απο απο κακοδαιμονες” (“begone, begone evil spirits”).  I also make sure the lighting is right, not too bright but usually not completely dark, and I always make sure there exists an open window or doorway leading outside for the god to come into the room; of course, if you’re doing this outside, there’s no need for that last part.  Also, always involve Hermes into your worship; after all, he is the messenger of the gods and goes between the gods and mortals, and helps to ferry our prayers and offerings to them, and their messages and blessings to us.  Call upon him as Hermes Odolysios, Hermes the Road-Opener, before calling upon the god properly.
  2. Initial invocation of the god.  At this stage, I open up the ritual by singing the Homeric Hymn to the god (usually if there exists a short one), or some other personalized invocation to the god to invite them to the ritual space.  This sets the mood and formally announces to the gods that I’m calling upon them to receive my offering.  I also ask them to be present to accept the offerings and devotion that follow in a gesture of goodwill and grace.
  3. Announcement of the officiant by name.  I announce myself fully so that the god knows who’s making offerings to them.  I declare myself by my full name, being a child of my parents called by their full names, and I also announce any magical or working names I may be using so that the god knows who I am openly and without deceit.
  4. Dedication of offerings.  This is the part where I offer candles, incense, wine, oil, water, food, statues, or whatever I feel is good to give to the god.  For some of my shrines, I dedicate new altarpieces and nondisposable votive offerings during this point, but this is a once-in-a-while thing.  Usually, it’s just a liquid libation paired with at least one candle and one stick of incense.
  5. Singing of hymns.  I usually dedicate the singing of a hymn, such as one of the Orphic Hymns, as part of the offerings being one of praise and honor, but sometimes this accompanies the offerings in fulfilling a different role, something that blends both the previous step of dedication and the next step of supplication together.
  6. Supplication and meditation.  After I make my offerings, I request the blessing of the god in whatever senses I may need, or I may just sit back and chill in the presence of the god, meditating in their presence, conversing with them, learning from them, and the like.
  7. Closure of the invocation.  I thank the god for their presence and for having accepting the offerings prepared for them, and I use the Roman closing supplication of “if anything was said improperly, if anything was done improperly, let it be as if it were done correctly” from the Iguvine Tablets.  I bid farewell to the god respectfully, bidding them to go or depart as they choose to but acknowledging that they will be honored again at a proper time.

Optionally, if you’re of a more traditional bent, you might also consider making a preliminary and concluding offering to Hestia.  In Hellenismos and ancient Greek reconstruction paganism, Hestia is given the first and final offering every time a god is made an offering to, since she’s both the first-born of Gaia and last-saved from Kronos (and, in a sense, last-born), and most altars of the gods doubled as hearths for the family.  I don’t do this, and you can read more about my own work with Hestia in an older blog post, but it’s something to consider.

Just a note: whenever possible, the prayers and invocations and whatever should be spoken aloud, at least loud enough for you to hear yourself clearly.  It was traditional practice in ancient Greece that prayers were meant to be spoken aloud, that even if the gods are, y’know, gods, they aren’t necessarily omniscient or mind-readers.  Be direct and clear with the gods, speak your mind (respectfully, of course).  Indeed, Sophocles in his tragedy Electra has Clytemnestra (not a good person, thus her actions in the play are against common practice) pray to Apollo (who is certainly not on her side) in silence and obscurity rather than being outspoken and direct as a way to suggest that such prayer is badly done:

Raise then, my handmaid, the offerings of many fruits, that I may uplift my prayers to this our king, for deliverance from my present fears. Lend now a gracious ear, O Pheobus our defender, to my words, though they be dark; for I speak not among friends, or is it meet to unfold my whole thought to the light, while she stands near me, lest with her malice and her garrulous cry she spread some rash rumour throughout the town: but hear me thus, since on this wise I must speak.

That vision which I saw last night in doubtful dreams—if it hath come for my good, grant, Lycean king, that it be fulfilled; but if for harm, then let it recoil upon my foes. And if any are plotting to hurl me by treachery from the high estate which now is mine, permit them not; rather vouchsafe that, still living thus unscathed, I may bear sway over the house of the Atreidae and this realm, sharing prosperous days with the friends who share them now, and with those of my children from whom no enmity or bitterness pursues me.

O Lycean Apollo, graciously hear these prayers, and grant them to us all, even as we ask! For the rest, though I be silent, I deem that thou, a god, must know it; all things, surely, are seen by the sons of Zeus.

Just…just speak your prayers aloud, please.  You don’t need your son killing you with the blessing of the god you’re invoking because you decided to sleep with another man and want to hide it from the gods and other people around you for the sake of saving face.

So, let’s give some examples of worship.  As might be guessed, Hermes is one of my “major” gods, being my patron generally as well as the patron of mathesis specifically, so I make offerings to him not just on his day of the lunar month but also lesser observances every Wednesday (the day of Mercury of the week), but let’s focus on what I do for his major offerings.  Note that I have a shrine set up for Hermes, but you may not need one; it’s up to you, but I make full use of my shrines for my gods whenever possible.  If you read closely into the following, you’ll catch snippets of the phrasing I use with the gods and can apply them as easily in your own offerings.

  1. At sunrise (or whenever I can), I ritually prepare his shrine by sprinkling holy water around it, and I open the window in my temple room.  I set out four tealights anointed with a special kind of oil, and a stick each of frankincense, cinnamon, and sandalwood incense.  I pour out his offering bowl of wine and clean it out, if needed, and pour in fresh wine and a dallop or so of good quality olive oil.  I don a special orange silk scarf I use when doing my Hermaic priestly stuff, and I take up my ritual caduceus staff.  Since this is the offering to Hermes himself, I don’t really need to have him open the roads for his own reverence, though it can’t hurt if you so choose to do this.
  2. I knock on the shrine four times (four being the number of Hermes) and I recite a personal prayer I wrote to Hermes as well as the shorter Homeric Hymn to Hermes (#18).  I call out for Hermes by several of his epithets and roles, and I call for his presence with me
  3. I announce myself to Hermes as his priest, servant, dedicant, and devotee by my full name, my parents’ names, my magical names and mottoes, and that I have come to make him offerings in a spirit of love, thanks, honor, glory, and joy.
  4. I dedicate the candles to him burning for his honor, glory, exaltation, enlightenment, and empowerment, asking that as the candles shine their light upon the room, so too may he shine his light on my paths and empower and enlighten me.  I dedicate the incense to him burning that it may fortify, sate, and cheer him, asking that as the incense rises to fill up the room, so too may he fill up my body, soul, spirit, and mind with his blessing and essence of his divinity and presence that I may be initiated deeper into his presence and mysteries.  I dedicate the wine mixed with oil to him that it may refresh, please, and satisfy him, asking that as the libation has been poured out to him, so too may he pour his spirit into my life that I may be blessed completely by him in all aspects.
  5. I recite the Orphic Hymn to Hermes reverently, seeking that as my words ring out in the air, so too might they ring out throughout the entire world that all people may come to honor and revere Hermes.
  6. I ask for the blessing of Hermes in my life: skill in my profession, guidance when traveling, sharpness in thought, swiftness in talk, protection in work, proficiency in Work, and that he help me communicate and commune with all the other gods, as well as leading me through the mysteries of mathesis as he and I are both able.  I ask him for his guidance on any specific matters that might come to mind, and I generally chat and enjoy time with him, meditating in his light and power.
  7. I thank Hermes for his presence, for he has come as I called and aided me as I asked.  As he has come to receive these offerings, I bid him farewell; he can go as he will or stay as he will, but I leave him letting him know that he will always have a place of honor and respect in my life and in his shrine, and that if anything was done improperly, if anything was said improperly, let it be as if it were done and said properly.

Now, what about a “minor” god?  Let’s pick Demeter, the goddess of fields and produce of all plants, who although I rely upon for sustenance and survival, I don’t much deal with directly.  The format is overall the same but is much more pared-down; while an offering to a “major” god for me can last half an hour or more, a “minor” god’s offering can be as short as three or five minutes.

  1. At sunrise (or whenever I can), I ritually prepare a clean, raised space in my temple room by sprinkling holy water around it, and I open the window in my temple room.  I don’t usually make offerings of light, incense, or libations to gods I don’t have much of a relationship with, though if I feel moved to do so, I’ll set out a tealight, a stick of generic temple incense, and a clean glass of pure water or wine without oil.  I knock on the altar once and call upon Hermes Odolysios to be present with me and to clear the path from me to Demeter and from Demeter to me so as to allow my prayer to be heard and my offering to be received.
  2. I invoke the presence and blessing of Demeter to be with me in my life, to nurture me, and to help me honor her more fully as a human who relies upon the gods for his survival.
  3. I announce myself by my full name as a child of my parents, and that I have come to make her offerings in a spirit of love, thanks, honor, glory, and joy.
  4. I dedicate my praise to Demeter much as I would to Hermes, but without expectation or asking for reciprocal blessing; rather, I’m giving her offerings for her own sake and honor.
  5. I recite the Orphic Hymn to Demeter reverently in the same way I would Hermes’.  If a particular god lacks a hymn, I generally praise them however I can with whatever comes to mind, or I just sit in contemplation of their presence singing a Hymn of Silence focused on them.  Even then, if a god does have a specific hymn, I often just get by with a Hymn of Silence and contemplation with them praising them in silence.
  6. I ask for the blessing of Demeter generally, that she use her powers to help me in my life as I need them, and that I may come to be more aware of her work and her workers in the world that I may come to honor her more and more suitably.
  7. I thank Demeter for her presence, for she has come as I called and aided me as I asked.  As she has come to receive these offerings, I bid her farewell; she can go as she will or stay as he will, but I leave her letting her know that I will honor her again, and that if anything was done improperly, if anything was said improperly, let it be as if it were done and said properly.

Overall, all my offerings go mostly the same, though the prayers and specific offerings might differ.  Some gods prefer food, and I like offering fresh apples to Aphrodite; some gods like something done to one of the things on their altar, like making a notch in a specific wooden figure every month.  My ancestors get separate glasses of wine, water, and rum, and I also pray the Chaplet for the Dead, sing the Mourner’s Kaddish, and meditate with them while I play the Eggun song used in Santeria.  I rarely make offerings to the planets themselves, instead using the Orphic Hymns for their respective Olympian figures while I work with the planetary angels from my Hermetic/Trithemian work to honor and invoke their presence and powers in my life.  While my calendar may seem full, I only make major offerings to a very small subset of them based on the work I do, and I generally pare down my offerings to the minor gods to just a quick acknowledgment on mornings I’m busy.  It’s the major gods I work with who get focused offerings, after all.

So what happens if you happen to miss a day of offerings?  Let’s say it’s the day of Kappa, where one honors Zeus, and you have Zeus as a major god in your personal practice.  You get up early to make offerings at sunrise, only to remember that you have extra work to do in the office and need to leave early to make it home as you normally would, so you say that you’ll make offerings to Zeus when you get home.  However, despite leaving early, your day has still more work than you expected, and on the way home there’s a nasty traffic accident blocking the roads that makes you even later getting home.  By the time you get home, it’s already your bedtime, so you simply didn’t have time to make offerings.  In this case, you could simply pare down the major offering to a minor one during a few moments of silence or peace in the office, or do it right before you make your nightly supplication for dreams from Hermes; if you can’t manage that, try making the offering the next day, or at least on the next day you’d honor the ancestors.  So long as you catch up on the ritual sometime by the following unlettered day, you should be good, but this doesn’t give you a blank check to procrastinate on making offerings.  Whenever you can, always make at least one minor offering a day to the god, gods, or spirits of the day, no matter how rushed or quick.  Always acknowledge the gods each and every day; that’s the important bit here.  If you can’t afford the time or materials to make a major offering, don’t, but always try to make some kind of invocation to the gods as an offering of praise and honor.

One of the takeaways from all of this is that, for the mathetai, Hermes becomes a major god for us all, uniting us as being his students; we’d be οι μαθεται του Ερμου, after all, the disciples of Hermes, so it’s proper to honor him as a major god for us in mathesis.  Beyond Hermes, however, I can make arguments for all the others gods being both major or minor depending on what you do in your life, but for the purposes of mathesis, Hermes takes a central focus.  If you already have a relationship with Hermes, consider bumping it up by making more offerings to him, at least once a month (either on the seventh day of the lunar grammatomantic month or the fourth day of the traditional Ionian lunar month), but maybe a “minor” god-type of offering to him as well every Wednesday as you can.

Hermes and the Other Gods in Mathesis

You’d think that, from the past few weeks (months?) on this blog, the only two entities I work with spiritually are Hermes and Saint Cyprian.  A quick glance around my temple room indicates otherwise, of course, and I have healthy and strong relationships with a bevy of angels, theoi, and saints, not to mention the Divine itself.  Still, at least as far as mathesis goes, it seems like the only god I’ve been talking about is Hermes.  After all, we start with the sphaira of Mercury in the Gnosis Schema, and the initiation ritual into mathesis makes Hermes into our guide, if not our salvific figure, in being released from the Agnosis Schema into gnosis.  So what happens with all the other gods?

Well, let’s backtrack a bit and talk about Hermes a bit more.  When I went to the conference on Hermes at UVa this year, I learned quite a bit (see my first, second, and third posts for what was discussed).  One of the things that had struck me was the prevalence of herms, the four-sided pillars with a bust of Hermes at the top and often a phallus on the pillar, in many devotional scenes of work.  No matter the god that was being worshipped, it seems like herms were always present in devotional settings of ritual or sacrifice, as if they were a terminal to interact with the gods.  Given that some of the herms depicted the caduceus or other Hermaic paraphernalia, it’s unclear whether all of these herms are actually Hermes or if there were some non-Hermes herms out there.  I’m unsure either way, but it would make sense if Hermes was each and every herm and, thus, present in each and every rite of sacrifice and worship.  After all, Hermes is the messenger of the gods, but also their interlocutor; he is the one who ferries information between the world of mortals and the world of immortals, as well as sacrifice and praise.  Heck, the Homeric Hymn to Hermes even states that Hermes is the god who invented fire for sacrifice:

…Then, after he had well-fed the loud-bellowing cattle with fodder and driven them into the byre, close-packed and chewing lotus and began to seek the art of fire. He chose a stout laurel branch and trimmed it with the knife ((lacuna)) . . . held firmly in his hand: and the hot smoke rose up. For it was Hermes who first invented fire-sticks and fire. Next he took many dried sticks and piled them thick and plenty in a sunken trench: and flame began to glow, spreading afar the blast of fierce-burning fire.

And while the strength of glorious Hephaestus was beginning to kindle the fire, he dragged out two lowing, horned cows close to the fire; for great strength was with him. He threw them both panting upon their backs on the ground, and rolled them on their sides, bending their necks over, and pierced their vital chord. Then he went on from task to task: first he cut up the rich, fatted meat, and pierced it with wooden spits, and roasted flesh and the honourable chine and the paunch full of dark blood all together. He laid them there upon the ground, and spread out the hides on a rugged rock: and so they are still there many ages afterwards, a long, long time after all this, and are continually. Next glad-hearted Hermes dragged the rich meats he had prepared and put them on a smooth, flat stone, and divided them into twelve portions distributed by lot, making each portion wholly honourable. Then glorious Hermes longed for the sacrificial meat, for the sweet savour wearied him, god though he was; nevertheless his proud heart was not prevailed upon to devour the flesh, although he greatly desired. But he put away the fat and all the flesh in the high-roofed byre, placing them high up to be a token of his youthful theft. And after that he gathered dry sticks and utterly destroyed with fire all the hoofs and all the heads.

Add to the fact that Hermes is instrumental in sacrifice, Hermes was often known as almighty or παντοκρατωρ, “all-ruling”.  Sometimes this word was used to flatter a god being praised, but in Hermes, this isn’t too terrible a description.  The thing about Hermes is that, even though we know he is the god of messengers and of trade and this and that, Hermes is not just any of those things.  To be fair, no god is just one thing or another, but Hermes is especially the jack of all trades because he had no one sphere of influence; he was involved in everything.  This is why it’s surprising that it’s uncommon to find actual temples, or τεμενοι, dedicated to Hermes, not to mention a scarcity of cults that were often given regularly to all the other gods.  I mentioned this when a particular theme of talks dawned on me during the second day of the Hermes conference, that in working with Hermes, we gain the ability to approach and interact with all the other gods:

Hermes, although an Olympian, is certainly not among the important ones, but he’s still a vital god to work with and crucial in day-to-day living.  Hermes has no temple, because he’s in every temple; he has no rites, because he’s in all rites; he has no expertise, because he’s an expert in everything.  Hermes is the go-between that leads us on in anything and everything; he is the road between destinations, but is not the destinations themselves.  He only leads us along the roads, but the road is where we spend most of our lives and times.  The presence of Hermes is required by man to work with any god, and is required to communicate to man from the gods.

However, just as Hermes is god of the roads, he’s also the god of opening the roads, which is essentially what the ritual of mathetic initiation is about: opening the path to the Gnosis Schema from the Agnosis Schema, and proceeding onward from there.  This is fitting, because Hermes has told me that he will not lead me into the sphairai themselves, only along the odoi.  I have a few inklings here and there as to why that might be, but if we consider each sphaira to be a destination, an abode, then chances are it’s where a given divinity or family dwells.  They’re not places of exchange or trade, that’s for sure, else Hermes’d be all up in there.  It’s not a theater, either, since Hermes was often found in plays and can be considered a god of both comedic drama and cajoling song.  The sphairai are places of rest or respite, a pause where we must make the choice to leave, picking up the path again when we contact Hermes to get back on the road.

So, either we don’t need guidance in the sphairai themselves, or we do and Hermes simply isn’t going to be it for us.  It would logically follow that another entity would step in at that point, and to logically follow that, it’d be the other gods.  We only ever work with Hermes on the odoi of the Tetractys, never in the sphairai, and this includes the sphaira of Mercury (even to my own confusion).  Thus, although Hermes is a crucial figure in mathesis, helping us out during times of transition (which is where most of the work is focused), he is of necessity not the only one we work with.  Instead of considering the sphairai the destinations and the odoi the transitions, we might consider the sphairai to be transitions or changes in direction between the individual odoi.  After all, if each of the odoi on the Gnosis Schema is marked by a letter associated with a zodiac sign, then the sphairai are the cusps of the signs, the thresholds between the last degree of one sign and the first degree of the next.

Given this solar image, it makes me wonder whether the sphairai are intimately connected to the god Apollo in a way I hadn’t considered before.  After all, it would tie in with what Hermes said before about not entering into the sphairai themselves.  If Hermes is the god who can literally go anywhere, then why on earth wouldn’t he go to a particular place, and what would that place be?  Hermes himself tells us in the Homeric Hymn again:

Then the son of Leto said to Hermes: “Son of Maia, guide and cunning one, I fear you may steal form me the lyre and my curved bow together; for you have an office from Zeus, to establish deeds of barter amongst men throughout the fruitful earth. Now if you would only swear me the great oath of the gods, either by nodding your head, or by the potent water of Styx, you would do all that can please and ease my heart.”

Then Maia’s son nodded his head and promised that he would never steal anything of all the Far-shooter possessed, and would never go near his strong house; but Apollo, son of Leto, swore to be fellow and friend to Hermes, vowing that he would love no other among the immortals, neither god nor man sprung from Zeus, better than Hermes: and the Father sent forth an eagle in confirmation.

Hermes does not enter the house of Apollo.  Apollo is associated with the Sun, and the sphairai are the cusps, the thresholds, the stations of the Sun as it progresses through the zodiacal odoi.  Apollo, further, is the Μουσηγετης, Muse-leader, the head of the nine Muses.  Together, Apollo and the Muses are ten deities, perhaps one for each sphaira of the Tetractys.  So who are the nine Muses?

  • Kalliopē (“Beautiful Voice”), muse of epic poetry
  • Kleiō (“Make Famous”), muse of history
  • Eratō (“Lovely”), muse of lyric poetry
  • Melpomenē (“Celebrate with Song”), muse of tragic drama
  • Ūraniē (“Heavenly”), muse of astronomy and astrology
  • Polyhymnia (“Many Hymns”), muse of hymns and devotional speech
  • Euterpē (“Giving Much Delight”), muse of song and elegaic poetry
  • Terpsikhorē (“Delighting in Dance”), muse of dance
  • Thaleia (“Blooming”), muse of comedic drama

And if I had to guess off the top of my head which deity goes with which sphaira:

  • Monad: Apollo (leader of the Muses and source of art)
  • Light: Ūraniē (dance of celestial bodies)
  • Darkness: Terpsikhorē (dance of terrestrial bodies)
  • Sulfur: Kalliopē (poetry of action)
  • Mercury: Euterpē (poetry generally of all types)
  • Salt: Eratō (poetry of affection)
  • Fire: Polyhymnia (godly works)
  • Air: Thaleia (joyful works)
  • Water: Melpomenē (sorrowful works)
  • Earth: Kleiō (factual works)

Of course, this is a fairly late list of Muses and their attributes, but it’s an idea all the same.  Even if this little path of association leads us nowhere, it does show that the Tetractys is full of gods, not just of the individual zodiac signs but of everything.  The Tetractys, after all, is the “enformer of gods and men” and present in us all, so why not all of us within it?  I’m sure, over time, a more coherent theogony and theology of the Tetractys and mathesis will come together, and it’s still really early in the game to determine who goes where or what sphaira means what power more specifically than “salt” or “fire”.  I can definitely say, however, that mathesis will lead us to work, in at least some respect, all the gods of this world.

After all, “this world” is the world below Olympos, the cosmos under the rule and sight of the gods.  Every city, every forest, every river, every stone, every person is presided over by a god big or small.  By traveling the paths on the Tetractys, we come to be exposed to all parts of the cosmos, not just the parts that humans live in; we live in only one part of the world, though we have the ability (with practice and the blessing of Logos and Nous and all that good stuff) to go anywhere and everywhere.  In mathesis, that’s quite the point; we need to do that, instead of just getting stuck in a the fraction of the cosmos we know as the human world.  It is only by becoming all that we can become, knowing all that we can know, going all where we can go, and doing all we can do that we experience everything and in every way.

And while it’d be hubristic of me to say that we can conquer the world, we can certainly become unified with it and, while not escaping it (for who can escape the All?), we can certainly come to the All and be with it.  Note that I’m saying the All, and not the One or the Monad; these are generally the same concept and used interchangeably in philosophy, but it’s a slightly different nuance I’m using here.  Consider the Tetractys as a mountain, with the peak at the top.  This mountain is that of Olympus, the center of all divine activity and from which all rules, edicts, and cosmic decisions are made.  By ascending and descending Olympus, we come to know the gods and interact with them (assuming they allow us and they allow Hermes to guide us, lest we get struck by lightning on the way).  However, it is only by integrating all of them into ourselves, and by them all of the cosmos, that we can live in perfect accordance with them even when they themselves conflict.  After all, the Dyad isn’t just two Monads acting independently, but it’s the relationship between them that makes them into a Dyad.  Likewise, we should aim for acting as that which makes the ten monads of the Tetractys into a Decad, a complete whole, and nothing less.

Personally, this is starting to sound like a weird mix of Stoicism, Hermeticism, Buddhism, and Taoism.  Let’s see how it’ll turn out.