Tetractys and Magic

Alright, alright, I can hear some of my readers mutter in the distance.  “Yes, polyphanes, we know you like the Tetractys.  We get it.  You’re on a huge Pythagorean kick lately.  You’ve been on this kick for over a month and a half now.  Yes, it’s awesome.  But what about magic?  What about conjurations and talismans and shit?  When are you going to talk about those things again?”  Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten.  Yes, I admit I’ve been taken with the Tetractys and this new field of occult mathesis as of late, but to be fair, it’s a huge new thing for me that I didn’t expect to develop.  I honestly feel like I should be spending more time on it, more meditation, more scrying, since it’s all so new and, thus, unexplored.  And, to make proper use of it, I feel like more exploration is definitely needed.  Otherwise I’d just be stumbling around with a wand in the dark, and I like to do my research before jumping into anything.

Though, I also have to wonder: what substantially changes if I use the Tetractys of Life instead of the Tree of Life as my core magical framework?  The best answer I have for that is, well, not terribly much.  I mean, the only real kabbalistic thing I use in my work is the use of particular godnames to conjure the planetary and elemental angels under; maybe I rap several times on the altar to open up a ritual, the number corresponding to the spirit’s sephirah; I might occasionally use a number square to charge something upon.  But, really, that’s about it.  The planets, stars, and elements would exist regardless whether I used the Tree, the Tetractys, or neither, as they have for countless other cultures and magicians before me.

celestial_spheres

The heavens still remain in their usual order, which is probably one thing that neither the Tetractys nor the Tree of Life really affect.  I mean, Saturn is still the next heaven in line under that of the stars, and Jupiter is the next one under Saturn.  In this scheme, there are still ten heavens, with the first one being that of God (Monad) and the last one being that of the Earth (Decad).  Thus, the sphere of the fixed stars is still recognized as the Dyad (2), that of Saturn as the Triad (3), that of Jupiter as the Tetrad (4), and so forth until that of the Moon as the Ennead (9).  The sephiroth are not the planets, and the planets are not the sephiroth; the Tree of Life assimilated the planets into its structure as a later development of the Tree itself, corresponding to the planets without identifying with them.  The planets are still a representation of number, and numeric representations of the planets are still important tools independent of whether they’re placed on the Tetractys or the Tree.  In that light, the magic number squares of the planets can still be used as important tools, and the use of numbers to associate with the planets as well.

In this view, perhaps my idea-in-passing from a ways ago about using a Greek version of the magic number squares could still be used.  After all, the planets are a different realization of number and are associated with the sephiroth, but are not themselves the sephiroth; the number squares are also representations of number in the same way as the planets are.  The magic squares are not kabbalistic in and of themselves in the same way we’d reckon kabbalah; they’re a tool used to understand the kabbalah, but they are not themselves kabbalah.  The only real change to be made here would be to create a set of Greek number squares and find a new set of spirit names to make sigils with; that idea is one I’ll have to pursue for sure.  The hangup I had with that, to be honest, was the fact that I couldn’t easily assign a simple 1-to-10 numbering to each of the dots in the Tetractys.  It’s easier to see the planets or other forces as distinct groups working in tandem with each other on different levels in a conceptual way apart from the nested-spheres view.  The planets are number, too, and with a bit of clever rearrangement can be put into a tetractys of their own.  While I like my arrangement of the planets onto the Tetractys, it’s surely not the only way to do so, though I have good reasons for going with the model I have.

Say some reader says “well, I think the number squares should stick to kabbalah, so we should use another model of numerical mediation”.  Okay, good!  I like making new models and tools.  However, what could be used in their stead?  The regular polygons of a particular number, say?  Well, if you exclude the Monad (which is a simple point) and the Dyad (which is an infinite line or a circle, neither of which are polygons), we run into an issue.  The “true” Greek way of developing a polygon is to use a compass and straightedge, neither of which are marked for degree or length.  While the triangle, square, pentagon, hexagon, octagon, and decagon can be constructed by a compass and straightedge, the heptagon and enneagon cannot.  They can be approximated, sure, but these numbers cannot be made into regular polygons by compass and straightedge alone, similar to the ancient Greek geometrical problems of squaring the circle or doubling the cube.  It’d be like trying to make a magic number square of rank 2, which cannot be done.  While their ideal forms might be good for meditation, it’d be hard to apply those forms in reality or construction of forms.  This itself can be considered a mystery worthy of meditation, but in terms of applying or constructing numbers, I’d prefer number squares myself if the rank of the square is going to be the same as the number of sides of the polygon.

Beyond numbers, what else might have to change?  Colors?  I’ve gotten good enough results with the colors as used in the Golden Dawn Queen and King scales, so I may as well stick to those (though seeing what else the spheres themselves can show me is useful).  Names of spirits?  Obviously, since Greek names and spelling follow radically different rules than Hebrew, but again, those would just have to be obtained through scrying and numerological research.  The associations of other tools, symbols, and the like with the planets is pretty firmly established and I see no reason to change all those.  So, if by and large the major tools of my work aren’t going to change by switching over to the Tetractys from the Tree, what really changes?

alchemical_planetary_tetractys_paths

The set of paths I have on the Tetractys really don’t work for the Tree of Life; if you try to take the standard ten sephiroth and apply the same paths I have on here, you end up with something resembling metaphysical spaghetti.  While the paths on the Tetractys make sense to me, they cannot be separated from the Tetractys.  The Tetractys offers a radically new meditation and theurgic model of manifestation and understanding how the Divine interacts with all that exists.  That’s the big thing that the mathetic Tetractys provides: a modern Neoplatonic/Neopythagorean model of emanation and divine flow from high to low and back up again.  Unlike the Tree of Life with its neatly-defined start and end points that are so diametrically opposed to each other (due to the Jewish conception of the mortal world being so far removed from the divine), the Tetractys shows how everything is involved in a balanced way in the evolution of everything.  The Monad exists as much as it does down here as it does up there, after all; there’s no need of a God to “recede” from itself to allow for creation within-yet-apart from the rest of its own infinity.  There’s no clean start point for us to use the Tetractys, because not only are we composed of all the forces in the Tetractys, but all of the Tetractys is within us equally and directly.  It might make good sense for us to start with the four elements that compose our bodies and senses of self, but we could easily start with ourselves as a unified whole, or a Monad unto ourselves, and see how we quickly devolve/evolve into a Dyad between ourselves and the rest of the cosmos.

What does the Tetractys really represent?  If the Tetractys is fully present within each of ourselves, then that means we can start anywhere and go anywhere on our personal Tetractyes; we can start at Earth and work our way up through the elements, then the reagents, then the principles, all the way up to the Monad and back down to Earth; we can start at Fire and sublimate ourselves to Nothingness and back down to pure matter once more.  The Tetractys of Life is less about state than it is about process, less about what we are and more about how we come to be in every passing moment.  It’s the connections that we should study, I claim, since that’s where the real beauty and action happens.  Once we understand how we work internally, then we can start expanding outwards and relating ourselves to the rest of the cosmos.  I mean, if each of us is an individual Tetractys in the world, then we’re each our own monads, each taking part in an even larger Tetractys that connects and binds us all together.  Once we can understand the grander connections, we can scale back down and back up in a neverending Tetractys fractal, understanding how the cosmos as a whole is based on the same principles we are, and how we can use the same processes with different materia at different levels.  After all, ten monads does not a decad make; it’s the connections and processes between them that link them together into an ordering, a kosmos of its own.

While the Tree of Life in Jewish kabbalah was originally intended to be used as a mediation model to indicate the interaction of the Creator with Creation, and eventually picked up associations and correspondences to further those meditations, Hermeticists and occultists generally took qabbalah into their own hands as a model of magic and system of correspondences as a cosmological framework.  I don’t consider this an abuse of kabbalah, but I do consider it (at worst) a misuse of the system generally, especially when many people don’t have the required background to fully explore kabbalah as it’s meant to be studied and used.  In the same way, I don’t intend for this Tetractys of Life to be used as a system of correspondences but, again, as a meditative and theurgic blueprint for understanding how things come to be.  Tables of correspondence exist aplenty; good meditative models are harder to come by.

Magically, the use of the letters on the Tetractys’ paths deserves exploration.  For instance, the path between Venus/Water and Jupiter/Air is connected by Nu/Scorpio.  And, while the exact correspondences between the signs of the Zodiac and alchemy differ from tradition to tradition, the most common association I’ve seen with Scorpio is the process of Separation, where a mixture of two or more substances into distinct groups, usually with one of the components of the original mixture enriched in one of its resulting groups.  Air and Water are closely related, both being moist and easily blended with other substances, but it’s by their separation that we can see warm air rising and cool water falling, as in the Poemander’s description of the creation of the world.  Alchemically, we can understand separation in this sense of refining a particular lump of mass within a mixture, but we can also see it in other occult ways, too, such as whittling down extraneous forces to get to the heart of a particular matter or spirit.  We know that the path of Nu is a “lower register” in the Tetrad as the single path is directly above it in the Dyad is, or the path of Nu compared with the path of Xi, which we know is associated with Water, that which permits change and flow.  While Air connects and diffuses itself, Water flows and changes things, cutting certain areas off from others or whisking things away from one place to another.  Water is a form of separation, as separation is a representation of Water.

So now that I’ve thought about the place of the Tetractys of Life in magic a bit more, it doesn’t really have as big an effect on my magical practice as I thought it might have (or worried it might have).  Kabbalah was famous for crossing religions and traditions and incorporating more and more tools into its own toolbox; why not let mathesis do the same a bit, especially from those parts that themselves came from Neoplatonism or Pythagoreanism?  My day to day magical practice and religious offerings are going to be maintained, and the colors and materials of my talismans won’t change much if at all.  I will need to make versions of the magic squares using Greek letters and go through the planets and start getting new spirit names (as well as to figure out why there’s a “spirit of spirits” and “intelligence of intelligences” for the Moon and the like from the spirits themselves), but that’s something that we could all make do with, after all.

Oh, and names of God?  I haven’t forgotten about those, either.  Making use of my names of God from my first foray into making a Greek kabbalah, let’s see what we have.  First, recall that the Tetractys is composed of four ranks: a Monad, Dyad, Triad, and Tetrad.  I temporarily propose these names of God for these ranks, all based on Revelation 1:8, which contains all these names of God (attributes, really, but eh):

  1. ho Kyrios, “the Lord”
  2. hē Arkhē kai to Telos, “the First and the Last”
  3. ho Ēn kai ho Ōn kai ho Erkhomenos, “He who Was and Is and Is to Come”.
  4. ho Pantokratōr, “the All-Ruler”

All are God, of course, and the overall monadic name could easily be God (ho Theos), the Aeon (ho Aiōn), the Whole (to Holon), and so forth.  Personally, I’m getting into the habit of using Aiōn or Iaō as my primary go-to names of God, though my old Stoic inclinations always keeps the Whole nearby in my mind.  So, in conjurations, I’ll test how the use of these specific names work, though I’ll also shoot for other names to see whether other appellations or descriptors of God work better, or whether there are more secret names of God to be used.  Who knows?  As this Tetractys model of magic develops, maybe these names’ll be obsoleted in favor of others, or another method can be used entirely.

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: First Swirlings

A few weeks ago, I made a post about an idea about working with a Greek style of Hermetic qabbalah, tentatively calling it kambala (Greek way to write out qabbalah from Hebrew) or to Paradedomenon (lit. “that which is handed down”).  The idea, I claim, is an interesting one: in the absence of Hebrew kabbalah, is it possible to make a Hellenic style of emanationist cosmological magic and theology that works with the Greek letters as magical units and entities in their own right?  Asked another way, could there conceivably be such a thing as a Greek qabbalah?  So I started thinking about it, and I first went and looked up translations of the names of the sephiroth and the like from Hebrew into Greek, and started translating other names into Greek as well, and also rewriting the magic number squares of the planets using Greek letter-numerals to develop new planetary spirit names.

Now I’m thinking I was going down the wrong path and need to start fresh without using the Tree of Life, or even using Jewish kabbalah at all.

I mean, what is Jewish kabbalah?  It is a deep, powerful, multifaceted, beautiful system of Jewish mysticism that can deliver one great, perhaps infinite, knowledge and power through the proper use of its system, but it’s still at its heart a Jewish system.  Thus, it is Jewish, and geared towards those who are Jewish: not only by blood (as tradition would have it), but also by culture (having the means and faculties available to a proper Jew) and definitely by religion and religious studies.  Kabbalah is really only meant for those who are prepared to study it, which requires a deep and thorough study of the Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, Mishnah, and so many other aspects of Jewish religion and how it ties into Jewish life.  For all intents and purposes, to get the most out of kabbalah, you have to be Jewish.  You don’t necessarily have to be a Jew (unless you’re so hard-core traditionalist that only the first-born son of a kabbalist can learn it from his rabbi father), but you definitely have to be Jewish in order to properly study kabbalah.  Anything less, and you’re not going to be able to use it as much as it can or ought to be.

As for me?  Sure, I can claim descent as a Jew, but I’m about as Jewish as an Olive Garden is Italian, which is to say “hahaha not really”.  Sure, I can say the berakhah for Chanukah, and that’s about it.  I’ve never had my bar mitzvah (even though my father has idly wondered that we should probably get ours done eventually at the same time), and it’s more likely that I’ll be baptized into Christianity before having a bar mitzvah.  I’ve only read the Old Testament in English, not even in the proper order of the books that the Tanakh would have; I don’t maintain kosher standards of purity or cleanliness (especially not with the occasional use of blood rum), and I can’t even read or speak Hebrew.  In all honesty, for me to properly study kabbalah, I’d need to learn Hebrew, get bar mitzvah’d, and undergo what’s likely to be many years of studying before I even read properly about the sephiroth.  Which is why I’m not, nor will I ever, learn about Jewish kabbalah outside a few books by Aryeh Kaplan.

But of course, that’s not the only way to study the Tradition.  What about Hermetic qabbalah (this time with a Q)?  I’ve been making good use of that, to be sure, as have many others in the Golden Dawn, Thelemite, and other modern Hermetic movements, and heck, even in a good number of neopagan movements I’ve seen that are influenced by Gardnerian Wicca and the Golden Dawn.  While I’d argue that the heart of Hermetic qabbalah and Jewish kabbalah is the same (it provides a means to understand the source of an emanationist panentheist cosmos by means of a cosmological Abrahamic structure), the study of the two nearly couldn’t be further apart.  And, to be honest, after mulling it over some, I’m not sure Hermetic qabbalah is even recognizably able to achieve the same goal as Jewish kabbalah.  My good friend the Rev. Michael Strojan has compared Jewish kabbalah to a beautiful rose garden maze leading to a unique spiritual experience of the mind of God in creation, while Hermetic qabbalah is a far more rational, utilitarian cosmological mapping.

In fact, when a Hermeticist tends to refer to “qabbalah”, they’re usually referring to the specific teaching of the Tree of Life, the linking of the ten sephiroth with 22 paths in a particular geometric array.  In Hebrew, this is known as the upright arrangement of the sephiroth, or “yosher”, which is one way to view the sephiroth; the other is “iggulim”, or “circles”, viewing the cosmos as a series of nested circles with God on the outside and Malkuth in the innermost circle.  I’ve seen a similar way to represent the sephiroth before in Hermetic qabbalah, but only as an introduction to emanationist principles and never for serious magic or prolonged study.  While the paths of the Tree of Life are important, they’re usually grossly understudied in favor of the sephiroth themselves; I’ve seen plenty of people talking about scrying the spheres but next to nobody about scrying the paths, and I admit that I’m guilty of this, too!  It’s nearly all about corresponding things to the ten spheres, and that’s about it.  Consider Yesod, the ninth sephirah: Yesod is associated with the first heaven, which coincides with the sphere of the Moon, so anything lunar can be corresponded to Yesod.  That’s nearly about it in Hermetic qabbalistic framework, it’d seem, unless I’m missing a large amount of the cultural movement and study of the thing.  I’m aware that many Hermeticists have gone in much deeper study of the sephiroth and the paths, but I wouldn’t call them a majority.  To most magicians who use Hermetic qabbalah, they only use it as a system of correspondences.

More than that, however, for a non-Jew, even a learned Neoplatonic theosopher and magician, to attempt their own study of kabbalah can come off as something insincere.  I mean, as non-Jews (and I’m including myself de facto in that group), we’re not raised Jewish, we celebrate different holidays, we’re not studied in the traditions and text that Jewish kabbalah builds upon.  While it’s certainly possible to get a lot out of the system, we won’t be able to fully plumb the depths of the system without having all those other things under our belt.  And while it’s certainly allowed to study any and all knowledge and teachings out there on the subject, it’s still a subject that’s pretty much not meant for most of us.  Even in traditional kabbalistic teachings, many Jews couldn’t learn it, which is why we have the Sacred Magic of Abramelin, since (chapter 9, my emphasis):

This wisdom hath its foundation in the high and holy Qabalah which is not granted unto any other than unto the first-born, even as God hath ordained, and as it was observed by our predecessors. Thence arose the difference, and the truck or exchange between Jacob and Esau; the primogeniture being the Qabalah, which is much nobler and greater than the Sacred Magic. And by the Qabalah we can arrive at the Sacred Magic, but by the latter we cannot have the Qabalah. Unto the child of a servant, or of an adulterer, the Qabalah is not granted, but only unto a legitimate child; as occurred in the case of Isaac and Ishmael; but the sacred wisdom through the mercy of God all can acquire, provided that they walk in the right path; and each one should content himself with the gift and grace of the Lord. And this must not be done out of curiosity, and with extravagant and ridiculous scruples, wishing to know and understand more than is right; seeing that temerity is certainly punished by God, who then permitteth him who is presumptuous not only to be turned aside out of the true way by the Second Causes, but also the demon hath power over him, and he ruineth and exterminateth him in such a manner, that we can only say that he himself is the sole cause of his own ruin and misery. It is certain that the Old Serpent will attempt to contaminate the present book with his venom, and even to destroy and lose it utterly, but O Lamech! as a faithful father I entreat thee by the true God who hath created thee and all things, and I entreat every other person who by thy means shall receive this method of operating, not to be induced or persuaded to have any other sentiment or opinion, or to believe the contrary. Pray unto God and ask him for his assistance, and place all thy confidence in him alone. And although thou canst not have the understanding of the Qabalah, nevertheless the holy guardian angels at the end of the six Moons or months will manifest unto thee that which is sufficient for the possession of this Sacred Magic.

Is there a means for us to study divinity and obtain power and knowledge thereby?  Of course!  The Word of God is something all humans with ears can hear (as much of my 49 Days of Definitions project indicated), but not every word is meant for us.  There are many words out there for us to understand the Word; they are all the Word, but not using the same words.  In a Hermetic sense, kabbalah is a form of Logos for the Jews who are able and allowed to study it.  So, while a Hermetic qabbalah with roots and liberal borrowing from the Hebrew kabbalah is not improper, strictly speaking, it does seem like trying to borrow a prayer in another language to another divinity and speaking it aloud with a bad accent to your own.  To be terse, the more I look at it, the more Hermetic qabbalah looks like cultural appropriation, and knowing how rife much of the Golden Dawn material was with culturally appropriated techniques and technology, this isn’t too surprising.

Besides, while Jewish kabbalah is definitely Jewish, it’s not entirely Jewish.  It’s apparent that there was much cross-pollination between Jewish and Neoplatonic thought back in the days of the Roman Empire, especially after the Jewish Diaspora after the destruction of the Second Temple, and it was only then did the Hebrew alphabet begin to be used as numbers in addition to letters, a notably Greek practice that had already been in place for centuries, along with the Greek practice of isopsephic exegesis in interpreting words as numerical strings and linking them to numerological concepts and other words by means of isopsephy.  Heck, even the Hebrew word “gematria” has its origins in Greek “geometria”.  It might reasonably be said that what is today Jewish kabbalah is a combination of Greek Neoplatonist philosophy and isopsephic techniques combined with the native Jewish Merkava and Hekhalot mystic techniques.  This was used, then merged again with other European thought as the centuries passed, so that kabbalah borrowed and reborrowed other philosophies just as it was borrowed and reborrowed from.  As a magician in the vein of Neoplatonism, I can definitely see much that I resonate with in kabbalistic thought and practice, but the system takes place in a context that is sufficiently different from my own that it’s difficult for me to penetrate it without my entering into that context itself.

In that light, recontextualizing kabbalah into Hermetic qabbalah wholesale just isn’t the best way to go about it, and to develop an even further-detached system as a Hellenic or Greek kabbalah based on the Hermetic qabbalah would be even less effective.  While such a Greek kabbalah would be great for my own practice and context, being much more familiar with Neoplatonic, Stoic, and even some Pythagorean philosophy (which is really the root of much of this, anyway), trying to base it on the already “debased” (to exaggerate the sense) Hermetic qabbalah would be like a game of Translation Party.  And, just like with proper English-to-Japanese translation, you need to have a good sense of the language, structure, and system you’re trying to build things into based on the ideas and thoughts you already have instead of trying to go through a predetermined middleman system with its own rules already in place.  In order to create a Greek kabbalah, I’d need to start fresh from first principles.  Scrying the Tree of Life in a Greek framework isn’t the only work that has to be done, but the creation of a new map of the cosmos and new paths, developing an understanding more fitting to my own context instead of that of a different religion and tradition, is all necessary.

In other words, I hope you stay tuned as I work towards a Greek kabbalah.  This will be a series of posts over the coming month exploring all the aspects I consider necessary to build such a system, so I hope you follow along.