Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: The Planetary Stuff on the Table

Where were we?  We’re in the middle of discussing the early modern conjuration ritual The Art of Drawing Spirits Into Crystals (DSIC), attributed to the good abbot of Spanheim, Johannes Trithemius, but which was more likely invented or plagiarized from another more recent source by Francis Barrett in his 1801 work The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer.  Many who are familiar with it either read it directly from Esoteric Archives, came by it through Fr. Rufus Opus (Fr. RO) in either his Red Work series of courses (RWC) or his book Seven Spheres (SS), or came by it through Fr. Ashen Chassan in his book Gateways Through Stone and Circle (Fr. AC and GTSC, respectively).  I’ve been reviewing the tools, techniques, and technology of DSIC for my own purposes as well as to ascertain the general use and style used by other magician in the real world today, and right now, we’re in the middle of focusing on the Table of Practice and how DSIC instructs the table and pedestal to be made.  Last time, we bit into one of the biggest debates about different approaches to the DSIC, namely whether to use the names of the Four Kings of the Earth (Oriens, Paimon, Egyn, Amaymon) or the names of the Four Archngels (Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel); many grimoire-purists and demon-workers argue for the former, while Fr. RO, Fr. Acher, and a number of others argue for the latter or for either or.  But we’re moving on now to keep the discussion moving; if you need a refresher, go read the last post!

Now that we have the debacle-debate about the four kings out of the way, let’s move on with the rest of the table.  We know from the description given in DSIC that the table needs to have the following on it:

…on the table on which the crystal stands the following names, characters, &c. must be drawn in order.

First, The names of the seven planets and angels ruling them, with their seals or characters. The names of the four kings of the four corners of the earth. Let them be all written within a double circle, with a triangle on a table; on which place the crystal on its pedestal: this being done, thy table is complete (as in the Fig. D,) and fit for the calling of the spirits…

With the four kings understood, and the debate about the pros and cons about using the four archangels instead of the four kings, what about the planetary stuff?  DSIC says to draw “the names of the seven planets and angels ruling them, with their seals or characters”.  That’s…quite a lot of stuff, actually.  According to the text, we need the name of the planet, the name of the angel ruling the planet, and then…well, what exactly do we mean by “their seals or characters”?  Do we mean the seals of the angels, the seals of the planet, or both?  The most common form of table that we see, as seen from Fr. RO’s versions above, use only the glyph for the planet (viz. the ones we most commonly see as a representation of them in astrological charts and texts) and the names of the planetary angels, with no other characters or names present.  We see this in the majority of Tables of Practice with some variants, such as the Magian-script one from the Scribbler, another version made by Fr. FC, and many that are commonly made and sold on Etsy

However, Fr. AC, as usual, goes a bit further.  GTSC gives the following for each planet:

  • the glyph of the planet
  • the name of the planet
  • the name of the angel
  • the seal of the angel

GTSC separates these four elements with middle dots (·), and separates groups of these elements with colons (:).  I like that design choice of separation, but I want to call into question his choice of characters here.  Though it’s a little hard to see, an image of how he sets up his table (along with the pedestal) is up on one of his old blog’s posts:

I find it incredibly odd that GTSC uses only the genitive forms of the Latin names instead of the nominative (e.g. Saturni instead of Saturnus, “of Saturn” instead of just “Saturn”).  Maybe this is due to a result of a poor understanding of Latin on Fr. AC’s part? I mean, it could be read as e.g. “Saturni Cassiel” translating to “Cassiel of Saturn”, but the use of the separator dot would seem to break that construction.  I think Fr. AC made a mistake here: he says he likes the “old spelling” of the planets, but that would properly imply using the nominative case here, just as we wouldn’t say “Michaelis” (genitive of Michael) or “Raphaelem” (accusative of Raphael), just “Michael” and “Raphael”.

However, Fr. AC interprets “their seals or characters” to only apply to the angels and not the planets, but there are indeed characters of the planets, too, which Fr. AC completely passes over in this case.  As noted above, Fr. Acher uses the sigils of the planets derived from their magic squares from Cornelius Agrippa (book II, chapter 22), but Satyr Magos over on his blog Journey Through The Obsidian Dream devised a nonce-based version that included only the planetary glyphs and characters (while omitting the angelic names) from earlier on in Cornelius Agrippa (book I, chapter 33).  Similarly, Erneus of Magia Pragmatica: Key to the Key of Solomon developed a Fr. RO-based design of the Table of Practice that includes the angelic names and seals as well as the planetary characters and images from the Magical Calendar, replacing the usual planetary glyphs with their corresponding images.  And, too, recall how Fr. Acher uses the number square-based planetary seals, too, on his table design.

Satyr Magos uses the planetary characters from Agrippa, but the table design made by Erneus uses the characters that were also used in the Ars Paulina.  The Ars Paulina, I should note, is likely the main inspiration or corroborating text that the Magical Calendar sourced its versions of the planetary characters from, and so it’s these that already have a good argument for using them instead of Agrippa’s planetary characters because they’re already part of a Table of Practice used for the same ends as the DSIC one, even if it’s of a fundamentally different design.  That is, there would be a good argument if only it weren’t for the fact that the Ars Paulina likely postdates Agrippa (given its likely Paracelsan origin), and the Magical Calendar definitely postdates Agrippa.  However, I think either set of characters would work, but I would favor the Agrippa set of characters that Satyr Magos uses.  However, Joseph Peterson mentions in his notes to the Lemegeton that the characters from the Ars Paulina, given the connections that the Ars Paulina also has with book II of the Steganographia of Johannes Trithemius (actually the real author instead of his spurious association to DSIC), may well give this latter set of characters a stronger argument.

While it’d be great to have the name, glyph, and character(s) of the planet as well as the name and seal of the angel, Fr. Acher pointed out in his design of his own table that it’s…just kinda too much.  Plus, it also raises the issue of the fact that the four kings have only names and neither characters nor seals (unless you want to go with the really intricate seals from the Clavis Inferni, as Asterion showed on his blog, which may not be necessarily recommend for this purpose); we could use the elemental glyphs, but that seems weird to me, as the four kings are more about the four corners of the Earth rather than the four elements.  If we wanted to make everything follow the same standard, we’d use only the names of the angels and planets and the names of the kings with no other glyphs or seals or characters, because that’s something they all have, but that certainly misses DSIC’s explicit instruction to engrave them with the “seals or characters” of the planets and/or the angels.  If we interpret the “seal or character” of the planet to just be that planet’s glyph, as GTSC appears to do, then that makes the process much easier and cleaner for us, and it avoids having to cram in several batches of things into a tight space, but I don’t like that approach; it seems to stretch what is normally meant by “seal or character”.  But, including the planetary characters, if we weren’t going to go with the seal/sigil like how Fr. Acher did (which is super detailed and can be hard to do on some surfaces with sufficient clarity) would mean we’d either need either a very large table or a very small font to get everything written in.

Thinking on this for myself, just to consider the planetary elements of the design of the table, I would include the glyphs for the planet, the strings of planetary characters from Agrippa, and the name of the angel; those would be my priorities.  The glyph of the planet basically stands in for and is synonymous with the name (and indeed is read as the name itself in many occult texts), and the planetary characters help to give the planetary power to the table as their “seals”, much as in the same way the names of the four kings lend their power to the table as well.  As for the angels, the angelic names are more important for me than their seals; after all, you don’t need a spirit’s seal to conjure them so long as you have their name, and so long as you have their name, you can develop any number of sigils for that name by which you can conjure them as effectively (or nearly so).  Plus, on the lamen itself (which we’ll discuss in the future), it’s the name that’s given the most prominence rather than the seal, which is comparatively hidden and nestled inside the hexagram.  It’s not that we want to bring the full presence of the angel to the table, either, but just their attention; I feel like this is more appropriate for just using their name rather than their fullness.  All this effectively interprets “the names of the seven planets and angels ruling them, with their seals or characters” as referring to the names, angels, and seals of the seven planets, not the names and characters of the angels and of the planets, nor the names and characters of the angels and also of the planets.  This final point really is up to just how specifically you want to interpret the DSIC description here, and is probably the most serious linguistic point of contention between how different people want to design the table.  However, in doing it this way, we also end up with something that’s on the same scale as the GTSC table combined with Satyr Magos’ design above, and yields a slightly cleaner and simpler design choice.

Moving on from that, what order do we put the planetary stuff in?  There’s no order given in DSIC for this, but given that the order of the Scale of Seven from Agrippa (book II, chapter 10) starts with Saturn and proceeds towards the Moon in descending geocentric distance order, I would think that order would be the most sensible to use.  Of course, you could go the other way, going from the Moon up to Saturn.  I don’t think it actually matters much, but as we’ll see in a bit, I think there’s a good argument to be made for the descending geocentric distance order, especially as we’ll see more about in a bit.  Fr. AC in GTSC agrees with this, that one should use the descending order of the planets, and Fr. RO uses this same order in his Modern Angelic Grimoire and RWC.  Both Fr. AC and Fr. RO use the same image in both their respective books to illustrate why this might be the case, the famous design of the geocentric celestial spheres according to Peter Apian’s 1539 work Cosmographia:

While we’re looking at this diagram, by the way, we also see why Fr. AC used the genitive forms of the names of the planets in his table design, because that’s what he most likely read according to this specific diagram.  Properly speaking, however?  Note the word “COELṼ” (read “coelum”, literally “heaven”) to the left of the glyph for Saturn; this should be read as “Coelum Saturni”, or literally “Heaven of Saturn”, and likewise “Coelum Iovis” as “Heaven of Jupiter”.  If we just wanted to use the planetary names on their own, we’d write the names in the nominative case instead: Saturnus, Iovis/Iup(p)iter, Mars, Sol, Venus, Mercurius, Luna.  I’m pretty sure the case-based linguistics of Latin tripped Fr. AC up, leading him to use the wrong form of the planetary names.

Anyway, back to orders.  Interestingly, Fr. RO uses another order instead for SS: going in the direction of the names of the angels (counterclockwise due to the right-to-left nature of Hebrew) he uses the order of Saturn, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Moon, Mars, Sun.  This doesn’t match the distance order, weekday order, or even weight order of the planets (according to their planetary metals, as I discussed once long ago, that of Saturn, Mars, Venus, Moon, Jupiter, Sun, Mercury).  First, compare the following two Tables of Practice he’s put out, the older one from RWC that uses the four archangels and the distance-based order, and the more recent one (posted on his own Facebook page) that uses the four kings and this new weird order.

I know where he got it from: it’s the association of the planets to the elements and directions according to Cornelius Agrippa’s Scale of Four.  Note how Mercury and Saturn, associated with Water, are placed by Egyn in the North, associated with Gabriel the angel of Water in his version of the table; Mars and the Sun, put by Oriens in the East, associated with Michael of Fire; Jupiter and Venus, put by Paymon in the West, associated with Raphael of Air; and the Moon, put by Amaymon in the North, associated with Uriel of Earth (along with the fixed stars according to the Scale of Four, but which aren’t associated with any planetary angel).  Though he never mentions it in SS, this is essentially Fr. RO’s hiding of his old Table of Manifestation layout from his earlier stuff; Fr. RO is organizing the planets according to their elemental associations, according to Agrippa’s Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7).  While I wouldn’t call this an order, it is an arrangement with its own internal logic.

This is classic Fr. RO stuff here.  Using this same organization for the Table of Manifestation as he uses for his Table of Practice is not an approach that I disagree with, given what Fr. RO uses his Table of Manifestation layout for, but it’s not one I particularly like for the table for DSIC.  I still prefer the descending distance order of the planets, myself, but Fr. RO’s arrangement is definitely a valid approach if you take a primarily elemental/directional approach to arranging things on the table from our perspective as incarnate human beings on the Earth—which we necessarily do.

But there’s also one more issue at play here: the specific names to be used.  Fr. RO and Fr. Acher use the Hebrew names as given in Cornelius Agrippa’s Scale of Four; this is simple enough.  However, this isn’t precisely in line with other sets of planetary angel names.  Granted, many of the names are similar, but not identical, and it shows.  GTSC, for instance, use the names as given in the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano, and Erneus put out another version of his table that uses a faithful Hebrew rendition of the same names rather than those used by Cornelius Agrippa (note the subtle differences in the Hebrew in the outer ring).

So there’s also some contention about the exact spelling of names.  To give a comparison between the different versions we’re looking at, here’s a table that shows the various spellings that are common for DSIC Tables of Practice from a variety of sources:

  • The Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano, which gives the names in Latin.  These are the same names given in DSIC itself, with the same spellings.
  • Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy.  He gives them in both Hebrew and Latin transcription.
  • Erneus’ version of the table above, which gives them in Hebrew.
  • GTSC itself, which gives the names both in Latin and Hebrew.  The Latin names are identical to that of the Heptameron.
  • SS itself, which gives the Latin names as given in the Heptameron, but frustratingly, two different Hebrew spellings: one for the Table of Practice (which agrees with Agrippa), and another set that appears to be closer to Erneus and GTSC, but with a number of differences, too.
    • There also appear to be some typos: the Hebrew spelling of Gabriel in the Table itself matches everything else, but the lamen omits the letter Yod (giving us “Gabrel”), and the Hebrew spelling of Haniel in the Table uses an initial Aleph instead of Heh (giving us “Aniel”).  I won’t mention these typos as specific spelling differences, however.
    • Annoyingly, RWC (the old Gates texts upon which SS was based) use a different set of spellings on some of the lamens themselves, but which agree with Agrippa’s Hebrew: the angel of Saturn is given as צדקיאל, that of Jupiter צפקיאל, and that of Mars כמאל.  Oddly, the typo of Gabriel as lacking the letter Yod in his lamen is still present.

This gets us the messy table below to compare a variety of all these angel spelling names:

Latin Hebrew
Heptameron Agrippa Agrippa Erneus GTSC  SS
Saturn Cassiel Zaphkiel*† צפקיאל קפציאל § כאססיאל ¶
Jupiter Sachiel Zadkiel* צדקיאל זכיאל סאחאל ¶
Mars Samael Camael כמאל סמאל סאמאל ¶
Sun Michael‡ מיכאל
Venus Anael Haniel האניאל ענאל ענאל or אנאל ‖ אנאל
Mercury Raphael‡ רפאל
Moon Gabriel גבריאל גבראל

* Agrippa renders Tzaddi as “Z” here according to the custom at the time of Hebrew transcription, so these should probably more accurately read “Tzaphkiel” and “Zadkiel”.  Likewise, he renders Qoph as “K”, which would give us an even more faithful rendition of these names as “Tzaphqiel” and “Tzadqiel”.
† Mistake in the text; Agrippa has “Zaphiel” (or, reading Z as Tzaddi, “Tzaphiel”).  “Zaphkiel” (or “Tzaphqiel”) is given in Agrippa’s Scale of Ten, as expected.
‡ Agrippa swaps Michael and Raphael such that Raphael becomes the angel of the Sun and Michael the angel of Mercury, which is definitely a thing seen in many grimoires of the time, which is also repeated in his Scale of Twelve when it comes to the corresponding sephiroth.  I swapped them back to fit in with modern/conventional practice.
§ This Hebrew spelling of the angel of Saturn in Erneus and GTSC would more faithfully be transliterated as “Qaptziel” and could arguably be transliterated into Latin as “Cassiel” (← Qassiel ← Qafsiel ← Qaptziel, account for the Hebrew combination of the /f/ and /p/ sounds).  While reasonable on its own, I can’t help but wonder if this is a case of propagated dyslexia, because swapping Qoph and Tzaddi here gets you the same spelling as in Agrippa.
‖ GTSC gives both spellings, one that starts with `ayin and one that starts with ‘aleph.
¶ Fr. RO seems to have naïvely transliterated the names from the Heptameron back into Hebrew, as some of these spellings seem really unlikely.

There’s a lot more variation in the Hebrew spellings because we don’t really have consistent or reliable Hebrew spellings for these angel names besides what’s given in Agrippa; the usual approach, it would seem, is to take the Latin names from the Heptameron and back-transliterate them into Hebrew, which gets us such varied results.  I don’t much care for this approach, honestly, but it’s not an unreasonable one, especially if you can trace back the root meanings of the theophoric names or use a bit of numerological magic to finagle them into shape.  I haven’t really seen a lot of reliable and historical Hebrew spellings for these angels besides Agrippa, but that might just be my own lack of literature and infamiliarity with texts that others might be more familiar with.

With all these variants above, what would I recommend?  Honestly, since I’m not sure where the Hebrew spellings of the angels came from in Agrippa, or whether they shared an origin with the Latin ones and one set or the other got corrupt, or one set formed the root for the other via transliteration.  While the spelling of the angel ought to matter, I think practice shows that all these names are, even if they are fundamentally different, just synonyms for the same spirit, so that Cassiel is Qaptziel is Tzaphqiel; heck, “Cassiel” itself is such a problematic name, as it was spelled in so many damn ways in the old grimoires, including Captiel, Caffriel, and Cafriel (cf. the Munich Manual entry on planetary conjurations, which has the same origin as the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano); this could be explained as misreading the lowercase “f” as a long s “ſ” (making the original spelling like Caffiel which was reinterpreted as Cassiel, as in Caſſiel) or the other way around.

My recommendation, at the end of the day, is to pick a set of names from a single source that you like and stick with it.  Experience and reports from many magicians the world over show that they all basically work.  That said, if you wanted to go with Hebrew, I don’t suggest Fr. RO’s Hebrew spellings from SS.  As much as I love the man, I wouldn’t trust these spellings here.  They don’t match the spelling pronunciation rules that are typically used for Hebrew, even for magical names; I’d recommend most going with either Agrippa or GTSC for the Hebrew spellings.

And, one more final note about writing the names themselves and in what script.  Given the late origin of DSIC and the fact that the four kings don’t have a readily agreed-upon spelling in Hebrew, it’s probably best for the sake of uniformity to use the Latin spellings of all the names on the table.  Consider, after all, that all the names and words for the wand, pedestal, and lamen are written in Latin; it follows that those on the table should be, too.  Again, this might have been an innovation by Fr. RO and/or Fr. Acher, who used Hebrew for the names of the angels and, in Fr. Acher’s case, the planets.   However, the lamen design from DSIC does have the name of “Michael” emblazoned on it in Hebrew as well as in Latin, so…I think it could go either way.

If, however, you choose to use Hebrew, at least for the angelic names, then there’s also the option of either using plain old square script that Hebrew is normally and conventionally written in, or the use of the Celestial Script as described by Agrippa (book III, chapter 30), which I personally like doing for planetary, stellar, and celestial angels generally (though I give the square script to the elemental angels as well as the honest-to-God truly-divine seven archangels, but that’s another topic for another day).  The Celestial Script is just another form of Hebrew, using more angular lines and ring-marks to imitate both constellation lines on star maps as well as the ring-mark characters on a variety of magical literature from the classical and medieval periods; this was either introduced or propagated later on by Agrippa with other magical scripts of the time.  While I like using Celestial for writing the names of the planetary angels, I seem to be an outlier in that (except for when I see people using my own designs); Fr. RO doesn’t advocate for this use in either SS or RWC explicitly for his Table of Practice, but I believe I got the idea from the discussion groups in his class (I think).  It made sense to me at the time, given that these entities are celestial beings, and Fr. RO does use the Celestial script for the names of the planetary angels on the lamens themselves.  I just followed suit and used the same font for the table, as well.

And then, related to this point about linguistics, there’s the Fr. AC’s decision in GTSC to spell the four kings out in Greek, which…honestly I don’t understand, and which he doesn’t explain.  I’d just use the Latin spellings, honestly, especially as we don’t know whether, for instance, Paimon should be spelled in Greek script with an ōmega or omikron (ΠΑΙΜΩΝ or ΠΑΙΜΟΝ).  Strangely, Fr. AC spells it ΠΑΥΜΟΝ, interpreting the Latin spelling of “Paymon” to use the equivalent Greek letters, but that’d interpret the Latin “y” as a Greek upsilon, which would give it a pronunciation more like “paow-mon” or “pav-mon”; ditto for Amaymon (“ah-maow-mon” or “ah-mahv-mon”).  I think these are both errors, to be honest; after all, Latin y is not the same letter with the same pronunciation as Greek upsilon.  Consider, further, that the name Amaymon comes from the Arabic jinn Maymūn (ميمون), meaning it should be an “i” sound (Greek iōta, Latin i or y) rather than a “u” sound (which Greek upsilon would imply).  It also ignores the fact that the name “Oriens” is literally just the Latin word for the direction East.  But, even more than that, it also goes against his own reasoning in GTSC for using the Latin names of the angels instead of Hebrew:

I debated for a time whether I wanted to use English, Hebrew, or angelic script for the names of the angels and the planets.  I believe any of these choices are valid and would be appropriate.  However, I eventually settled on the English versions, since this is the language I will be requiring the angels to speak in.

Honestly, to avoid any such confusion, I’d recommend spelling at least the names of the four kings in Latin, and neither guess at what their Greek or Hebrew counterparts would be.  The other names for the angels, both elemental and planetary, could be spelled in any such language or font, but there’s a strong argument to be made to just use the Latin versions of the names (using the English alphabet, which is functionally equivalent) for them all for the sake of standardization and to go along with Fr. AC’s reasoning.

On the Elemental and Geomantic Epodes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or a Latin BDGH system as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HU
Caput Draconis
Water ΒΗ

Amissio
ΖΗ

Coniunctio
ΔΗ

Albus


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

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

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

HU
Via
ΘΥ
THU
Caput Draconis
Water ΒΗ

Amissio
ΔΗ

Coniunctio


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

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

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

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

deep breath

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

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

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

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

Greek
Alpha
ΒΑ
ba
ΖΑ
za
ΔΑ
da

ha
Roman BA ZA DA A
Isopsephic Greek
Ēta
ΒΗ
ΔΗ

ΘH
thē
Greek
Alpha
ΒΑ
ba
ΔΑ
da

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

ha
Isopsephic ΒΙ
bi
ΔΥ
du

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

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

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

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

Likewise, for the use of the geomantic epodes:

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

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

On an English Alphabet Grammatomancy

The other night, I got an email from a reader with a question.  This sort of thing happens often; in general, I enjoy taking the honest questions from my readers about practice, theory, and everything in between when it comes to the occult, as it often helps them as much as it does me by putting my thoughts in readable order and making me think.  It’s not that common I have to put some questions off, and generally that’s because they involve so much investigation and life-work that it becomes better to take the road to take a proper consultation with me for a really in-depth approach to answering such questions.  However, more often than not, simple one-off questions get prompt answers.  (If you’re interested, dear reader, check out the Contact page.)

Regrettably, this email I got didn’t have a good email address attached to it.  When I tried sending my reply, the email was immediately returned as undeliverable due to a non-existent email address.  It’s unfortunate, especially since this is the first time this has happened.  I have no other way of trying to get in contact with this person besides putting out a call on my Twitter and Facebook pages, so unless this particular reader of mine stalks me on either of those media, I don’t have a way to get back in contact with them.  (Let that be a lesson to everyone, to double-check all your entries when you try to contact someone!)  In that case, perhaps it’s best I just answer the email by making a new post specifically on this topic.  Turning a reader question by email into a post isn’t my usual approach, but between a lack of a means of communication and because the question in question is actually a thought-provoking topic, it’d be good to get the word out all the same.

What this particular reader was asking was about grammatomancy, the divination system I like that uses the letters of the Greek alphabet in a way not unlike Nordic rune divination.  In grammatomancy, each letter of the Greek alphabet is associated with a different oracular statement, and each statement begins with a different Greek letter.  For instance, the letter Gamma (Γ) has the oracle “Γῆ σοι τέλειον καρπὸν ἀποδώσει πόνων”, which translates to “The Earth will give you the ripe fruit of your labors”.  Traditionally, grammatomancy was performed by taking a bowl and filling it with 24 different pebbles or potsherds or other similar type of token, and each token had a different letter engraved on it.  Ask your question, draw out a random token, and look up the associated oracle; bam, there’s your answer.  Personally, I prefer a different approach of using dice, specifically two throws of a 12-sided die; I wrote about my method to use dice in this older post of mine.

What the reader asked was this:

I’m looking for simple instructions on how to set up dice with letters from the English alphabet, not Greek letters or symbols, including how many dice, how the letters are assigned to them, and any other info you may have.  The word “grammatomancy” goes right back to some site that gives the Greek info.

First, if I understand the situation correctly, the word “grammatomancy” started with this website.  The original source of the information I used by Apollonius Sophistes (John Opsopaus) simply calls it the Greek alphabet oracle, even in his more recent book The Oracles of Apollo: Practical Ancient Greek Divination for Today, and I honestly don’t recall the word “grammatomancy” or its Greek form “γραμματομαντεια” being used before its appearance in this 2013 post.  If it was, I apologize for my hubris, and would love to be corrected, but to my knowledge, searching online for the word grammatomancy will likely end you up at something I wrote.  Because of that, and because I’ve only discussed grammatomancy in terms of the Greek alphabet, all the resources available under that word are going to focus on the Greek alphabet.

Now, what about the actual question the reader asked?  Is there a way to use dice to randomly generate English letters?  The short answer is “no”, because of how many letters there are in the English alphabet.

The Greek alphabet as used since ancient times has 24 letters; there were a few extra letters at the start, like digamma and qoppa, but those were disused from an early period and kept around only for numeric and accounting purposes by specialists.  24 is a rather pleasing number, because it can be factored into several different sets of numbers, specifically 2 × 12, 3 × 8, and 4 × 6.  These are all fairly manageable numbers, and can be translated into dice throws quite easily.  For instance, you could use two throws of a 12-sided die (my preferred method), where the first throw determines the first half or second half of the alphabet (odd number = first 12 letters, even number = second 12 letters), and the second throw determines which letter in that set to pick; if I throw a 5 and a 9, for instance, I’ll look at the ninth letter of the first half of the Greek alphabet, which in this case is Iota.  Instead of rolling twice, you could flip a coin to determine heads for the first half of the alphabet and tails for the second half; in effect, you’re using a 2-sided die and a 12-sided die simultaneously.  Alternatively, you could throw a 4-sided die to determine which set of six letters to look at, and the 6-sided die to determine which letter in that set to pick; a 3 on the 4-sided die followed by a 3 on the 6-sided die would get you the third letter of the third set of six, which would be the fifteenth letter, which would be Omikron.  Heck, you could just use a 24-sided die (they exist!) and just associate each letter of the Greek alphabet with each number in order.

The problem with the English alphabet is that it has 26 letters.  Unlike the number 24, 26 cannot be broken down so neatly into smaller pairs of factors; you could only really break it down into 2 × 13.  While there are 13-sided dice and 26-sided dice out there, these are very uncommon specialty items, and probably not what the reader was asking about given how rare they are.  So, what could an English-minded grammatomancer do in this case?  There are several options that present themselves:

  • Don’t bother with dice at all and just use a bag of tokens or a bowl of pebbles.  This is the trivial non-answer, of course, and is not necessarily as convenient as just using plain old poker dice or tabletop RPG dice.
  • Use specially-made English alphabet dice.  They exist, sure, but again, this is a specialist option, and not very useful.
  • Increase the number of options to use from 26 to another number that can be easily factored into smaller numbers.  For instance, if you were to include a “space” letter (comparable to the modern Nordic “wyrd rune”), you get 27 options, which can be broken down into 3 × 9; if you were to include two extra letters (like the Spanish Ll and Ñ), you get 28 = 4 × 7.  However, both of these options aren’t really useful either, because 9-sided and 7-sided dice are only slightly easier to come by than 13-sided dice, which is to say “not very”.  The next greatest number that could be used for a standard set of tabletop roleplaying dice would be 32 = 4 × 8, so a roll of a 4-sided die and an 8-sided die, but this means having to use six extra letters or reinterpreting them as “wild” options that make you throw the dice again until you get a valid letter.  (This is basically what the alphabet dice in the above option does.)
  • Decrease the number of options to use from 26 down to 24.  This may seem like blasphemy (how dare I suggest deleting letters!), but consider that the English alphabet is a modern repurposing of the older Roman alphabet, which originally only had 21 letters and was later increased to 23 during the classical period.  In English use, the letters J and U are essentially “duplications” of the original letters I and V, and it was only up until recently that you’d often find things spelled as “Ierusalem” or “Vnder the sea”.  If you were to fold J into I and V into U, you’d go back down to 24 letters, and then you could use the same options that the Greek alphabet uses.

Personally, if I were pressed to make a choice that forced me to use dice, I’d go with the last option and get rid of J and U at the expense of considering them their own letters, because it seems most convenient that way.  I’d still consider using tokens a better choice than dice for the English alphabet, though.

However, this is only half the answer to what the reader asked about.  Once a method is found for using dice, what about the letters themselves for divination?  When we look at the Greek alphabet, we find historical evidence across the eastern Mediterranean that uses the Greek alphabet as a form of divination, with multiple sets of oracles associated with them, sometimes overlapping and sometimes distinct based on the region.  For the Roman alphabet, however, I don’t know of any such sources.  We have nursery rhymes and mnemonics that associate the letters of the English alphabet to different things, sure, but nothing of the same scale and focus as the Greek alphabet oracles that dot the ancient world.  To that end, I have no resources at my disposal and know of none that exist otherwise that discuss the letters of the English or Latin alphabets as an oracle in a grammatomantic way.

Should someone want to develop a set of oracular statements for each letter of the English alphabet, I would think it a good development, especially if the user of such a system wanted to find a more mystical way of applying the English alphabet in spiritual practices, or reinterpreting it as a “Theban oracle” by using the Theban alphabet cipher for English (which, as an aside, note how it already collapses I/J and U/V, and how W is just a duplication of U/V, technically reducing it down to 23 letters as used since classical Rome).  However, I would find using the Greek alphabet to be more useful from the get-go, not least because there are already sets of oracles ready to go for the Greek letters, but because the Greek alphabet already has associations to numbers, planets, signs, and elements via stoicheia and isopsephia as well as to hundreds of other classical concepts, animals, birds, stones, and procedures according to texts like the Kyranides.  In other words, the Greek alphabet already has information, lore, history, and power in it that the English alphabet basically lacks.  I won’t knock an English system of grammatomancy, but it’d need quite a bit of work, innovation, and invention to get it to a similar usable state that the Greek system presents immediately.

I hope that helps!  May the reader who sent me this question find this answer useful, and may everyone ensure to check their email addresses for correctness and validity before using them in contact forms.

Two new translations from Latin on medieval astrology!

While browsing through my computer for old files for something I was trying to look up, I came across some old translations that had been sitting there, untouched and unloved.  I meant to compile a few more and publish it as another ebook, but I don’t have the original book to translate from anymore (it’s a hard-to-find critical edition from a university library), so so much for that idea.  Instead of just letting them languish and gather electronic bit dust on my hard drive, I decided to polish them up a bit and let them shine on some distant server’s hard drive instead for the whole world to see.

These two translations are from the text Hermes Trismegistus, Astrologia et divinatoria (Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis 144C, Brepols: Turnhout, 2001), which is also the very same collection of manuscripts, texts, and other critical editions that gave me the Lectura Geomantiae and the Liber Runarum, medieval texts on geomantic divination and runic magical practice, respectively.  Now joining those two translations, I now present to you the following two:

  • Liber De Accidentibus (“The Book of Accidents”).  This translation consists of a collection of astrological aphorisms and rules about particular astrological arrangements or phenomena and how they may be used in forecasting, as in mundane or horary astrology.
  • De Amicitia vel Inimicitia Planetarum (“On the Amity and Enmity of the Planets”).  This translation describes a simple form of mundane astrology based on the planetary rulers of particular parts of the world and how their motions through the signs ruled by other planets impact or affect those areas of the world.

You can find these pages up under the site menu: Occult→ Liber Divinationis → (pagename), where I’ve also bundled the Liber Runarum page with them under the overall heading Liber Divinationis, or “The Book of Divination”.

I hope you enjoy, and maybe even find them useful in some small way!

Same Figures, but Different Names and Different Traditions

In addition to the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook that I admin, there are a few other groups out there that focus on geomancy.  I may or may not be a member of them, or I might have been at one point before leaving, but there’s one that I belong to that focuses on the Arabic style of geomancy, Ilm-e-Ramal (Geomancy).  What the Geomantic Study-Group is for Western geomancy, this group is for Arabic `ilm al-raml (the formal Arabic term for geomancy, literally “the science of the sand”, sometimes abbreviated to raml or ramal), and since I’d love to learn more about that style of geomancy, I decided to join in.  It’s not always easy, since many of the members use Urdu or Arabic as their primary language, but when there are English conversations, I try to follow along best I can.

One of the major issues in learning Arabic `ilm al-raml for an English speaker is, of course, terminology.  It’s only fair and expected that the users of a system built in one language would use that language to discuss it, but it still poses a stumbling block.  After all, geomancy has been practiced continuously in Arabic- and Urdu-speaking countries far longer than it was in Europe, and they’ve kept the system in their own ways.  Once I see what they’re doing and see certain words repeated in certain contexts, I can usually catch on and follow along, but the biggest impediment to discussing geomancy and `iln al-raml is the different names we have for the figures themselves.  It’s difficult for me to talk about the meanings of a given figure and compare it with what it means in `ilm al-raml when neither of us know which figure we’re supposed to be talking about, after all.

So, with that in mind, I decided to produce the following table that lists the names of the sixteen geomantic figures and their names in Western geomancy (in Latin and English, using their most popular form) and in Arabic `ilm al-raml (in Arabic and English, again using their popular form).  This is to help me out to learn the names of the figures better in Arabic contexts, as well as to help the students of `ilm al-raml learn the European names for Western contexts.  For other variants in these and other languages that have historically been used for geomancy, including Hebrew, Greek, Sudanese, and Malagasy, I’d recommend checking out Stephen Skinner’s book on geomancy, Geomancy in Theory and Practice, and his larger book on correspondences, The Complete Magician’s Tables.

Figure Latin Arabic Yoruba
Populus
People
جماعت
Jamaʿat
Group
Oyẹku
Via
Way
طريق
Ṭariq
Way
Ogbe
Albus
White
بياض
Bayaḍ
White
Oturupọn
Coniunctio
Conjunction
اجتماع
Ijtimaʿ
Meeting
Iwori
Puella
Girl
نقى
Naqi
Pure
Otura
Amissio
Loss
قبض الخارج
Qubiḍ al-kharij
Catching the outside
Ọsẹ
Fortuna Maior
Greater Fortune
نصرهّ الداخل
Nuṣraht al-dahkhil
Inside victory
Iwọnrin
Fortuna Minor
Lesser Fortune
نصرهّ الخارج
Nuṣraht al-kharij
Outside victory
Irosun
Puer
Boy
فرح
Farih
Happiness
Irẹtẹ
Rubeus
Red
حمره
Ḥumrah
Red
Ika
Acquisitio
Gain
قبض الداخل
Qubiḍ al-dakhil
Catching the inside
Ofun
Laetitia
Joy
ليحان
Layhan (or Ḥayyan)
Bearded
Ọbara
Tristitia
Sorrow
انكيس
Ankis
Reversal
Ọkanran
Carcer
Prison
عقله
ʿUqlah
Shackle
Odi
Caput Draconis
Head of the Dragon
عتبة الداخل
ʿAtabaht al-dakhil
Inner threshold
Ọsa
Cauda Draconis
Tail of the Dragon
عتبة الخارج
ʿAtabaht al-kharij
Outer threshold
Ogunda

Because I like using an Arabic transliteration system that uses diacritics for faithful romanization, it can be a little difficult to read the Arabic names, but the accented letters can be read as follows:

  • q sounds like a “k”, but further back in the throat.
  • ṭ, ṣ, and ḍ all sound like normal but with the back of the tongue further to the back and top of the throat.  However, in Urdu, ṭ and ṣ just sound like “t” and “s”, and ḍ just sounds like “z”.
  • ǧ sounds like a soft “g” or “j” (or like in the word “division”).
  • ḫ sounds like the “ch” in Scottish “loch“.
  • ḥ sounds like the “ch” in Scottish “loch” but a little smoother.
  • ʿ sounds like a very soft, whispered “h” sound, if pronounced at all.

So, “Bayaḍ” can sound like either “bah-yahd'”, or “bayz”, “Nuṣraht al-ḫariǧ” will sound like “nus-raht al-khareej”, and so forth.  Note that some of these names are not proper Arabic, and moreover, just like in Western geomancy, there are dozens of names used across the Arabophone sphere.  These are just one set that I’ve found common in geomancy groups online, and are the ones I’m trying to memorize.  Most of the other variants used are just that: variants, which are easy enough to pick up on.

Also, note that I’m using the standard planetary order of the figures in the above chart, which is fairly common for Western geomancers.  While Western geomancy doesn’t really prescribe a particular order as the order of the figures, Arabic geomancy has a set number of particular orders of the figures that are used for various divinatory purposes.  Probably the most common and canonical one is the dairah-e-abdah, which uses a kind of binary ordering, as seen in the following diagram (to be read from right to left):

While it may not seem like it makes much sense for me to make a single blog post doing nothing more than transliterating and translating a single set of Arabic names into English, given my penchant for long-winded exploratory posts, this is still an important first step in increasing Western geomancers’ understanding of Arabic `ilm al-raml as well as Arabic practitioners’ understanding of Western geomancy.  After all, it’s hard to make a journey if the door is still shut, and this helps open the door for both sides.

Now, you’ll notice that I’ve also included a third set of names, which are Yoruba for the figures as used in the sacred divination of Ifá.  I’ve included them for reference (both my own and other scholars of geomancy, especially those with a historical or academic eye), but I want to make something clear that I’ve only mentioned in passing before: Ifá is not geomancy, and geomancy is not Ifá.  Stephen Skinner talks at length about how the art of Ifá came about historically in his geomancy book, but the short of the matter is this: as geomancy traveled along the Arabic trade routes from its (likely) origin in the northern Sahara westward to Morocco and Spain, eastward to Palestine and Greece, and southward through Africa as far as Madagascar, it also traveled to West Africa where it was adopted and adapted by the priests and lorekeepers of the cultures living there.

While geomancy largely retained the same form and (mostly) the same interpretations everywhere else, it underwent dramatic changes and adaptations to the native Yoruba and Fon cultures in what is now Nigeria and Benin to become Ifá.  The form of the figures and several crucial aspects of geomancy were retained, but pretty much the entirety of the art was rebuilt from the ground up and grew apart into its own entirely-unique system.  As a result, although we as geomancers might recognize that Ifá has sixteen figures in the same format we’d consider them to be figures, almost nothing of what we know about geomancy applies to Ifá, and no assumptions should be made regarding any similarities besides the superficial appearance thereof.  To say it another way, if European geomancy and Arabic `ilm al-raml are sisters who grew up in the same house but then left to go their separate ways in neighboring cities, then Ifá is a distant cousin who grew up in an entirely different part of the country with little contact with the rest of the family.

As an initiate in La Regla de Ocha Lukumi (aka Santería), which also has roots in Nigeria and matured alongside Ifá in Cuba, Ifá is something I’m constantly surrounded by, especially since I belong to an Ifá-centric house that respects, utilizes, and incorporates Ifá and its priests (the babalawos and oluwos) in our ceremonies and lives.  While I understand the historical origins of Ifá from geomancy, I also have to understand and respect the mythological origins and religious context of its practice as its own thing.  And, like Santería itself, it’s an initiated tradition, and non-initiates are not taught or permitted to learn the secrets of Ifá; for various reasons, I am not and will likely never become an initiate in Ifá.  Unlike many Western systems including geomancy, where formal initiation is not really a Thing outside magical lodges and certain master-student systems, this might be something of a shock to my readers, but as it is, there is only so much of the external parts of Ifá that I can learn, and even less that I’m willing to share to people, even to those in Santería itself.  I caution my readers to avoid getting too studious of Ifá without considering proper initiation and study under a legitimate and respected babalawo.

Likewise, a similar word of warning for those Western geomancers who aspire to study Arabic `ilm al-raml and vice versa.  Unlike geomancy and Ifá, geomancy and `ilm al-raml are much closer in method, meaning, and use, and many things are easily translatable between the two systems.  However, caution should still be taken, because although they’re very close sister traditions where there are more similarities than differences, they are still different traditions where the differences still matter.  It’s much like the difference between Western astrology and Indian jyotiṣa astrology: same origin, same symbols, slightly different techniques of interpretation and shades of meaning of those symbols.  While some things are translatable between geomancy and `ilm al-raml, not everything is, and the two systems should still be respected as two separate systems.  Experience and study of both systems will show the diligent geomancer what can be brought over with no effort, what must be adapted from one system to the other, and what is unique and proper to one system and not the other.  Though they share the same origin and great similarities, enough time, space, and work has passed that have made the two sciences grow apart into their own unique systems.  Respect that, study the differences, and experiment accordingly.

Also, my thanks go out to Masood Ali Thahim, one of the multilingual good guys in the `ilm al-raml group on Facebook, who helped me with the Arabic spelling and transliteration of the names of the figures as used in `ilm al-raml.

New Geomancy Ebook for Sale!

Between all the writing for the 49 Days of Definitions project I’ve got going on, I’ve also been able to finish up a new ebook for publication on my blog.  It’s up for sale on the Services page, but you can find the PayPal button below as well.  As before, this new ebook is is US$10 through PayPal.  (And just in time for the winter celebrations where everyone suddenly gets money and gifts!)

Pay for Lectura Geomantiae through PayPal

This new book is the “Lectura Geomantiae”, my translation of a 15th century work on astrological geomancy, applying the geomantic figures in the 12 houses of an astrological house chart.  It’s a fascinating look of geomancy as practiced by more common people than, say, Robert Fludd or Cornelius Agrippa, and it contains interesting bits of advice and some new quirks that haven’t been observed before.  I translated the text once before from Latin to English, but I went through it again and re-translated it to my satisfaction, as well as including a number of appendices and corrections that can help geomancers understand the text better.  The Lectura Geomantiae is a useful and easy-to-use resource for geomancers who are interested in the astrological side of geomancy.  It’s never been translated into English before I did, as far as I can tell; John Michael Greer plans to include it in his forthcoming “Geomancer’s Sourcebook”, but that project has been on hold for a long while.  Clearly, you should buy this now instead.

Also, if divination’s your thing, don’t forget that I also wrote an ebook on grammatomancy, a method of divination using Greek letters not unlike runes, which also incorporates astrological, qabbalistic, and numerological influences to form a complete and coherent system of occult knowledge.  That’s also available up on the Services page, too!

Also, I’ve noticed that I’m starting to get some more email about questions, either about general occult issues or about specific things on commissions and services.  To make things easy, please use the new Contact page to send me an email straight through the blog.

Ne Reverte (this is what I do at work)

Vivam sic sine te…

Mihi n’ ai voles deser’re
Whoa whoa whoa whoa
Whoa whoa whoa whoa

Volas deser’re
Non precar manere
Debeas ire, amate
Sic melius fortasse
Ero valens, ita
Ero bona, ita
Ne fatiga te de corde meo

Vade abhinc
Curabo non
Abi, exi, sed…

Ne reverte
Videas cor meum frangentem
Ne reverte
Nol’ t’ videre me plorantem
Abi abi
Ego deserenda, volneras me
Absolvo te
Sed non t’ sinam scire
Non t’ sinam scire
Whoa whoa whoa whoa
Whoa whoa whoa whoa

Brachia tua circa me
Egebo non
(Arct’ tenentes)
Cum cogitabas meam umquam
Nosce quoque sim bona
(Ero bona)
Ero valens, ita
Ero bona, ita
Ne fatiga te de corde meo

Vivam sic
Versabor bene
Etiam discam viver’ sine te

Ne reverte
Videas cor meum frangentem
Ne reverte
Nol’ t’ videre me plorantem
Abi abi
Ego deserenda, volneras me
Absolvo te
Sed non t’ sinam scire

Clamare volo valde
Quod amer te
Dicere volo tibi
Nol’ i…

Ut deseret iam
Sentit dolor ardet iam
Amati tui
Non noscent qua accident
Nim’ celsi rever’tu
Cessit

Ne reverte
Videas cor meum frangentem
Ne reverte
Nol’ t’ videre me plorantem
Abi abi
Ego deserenda, volneras me
Absolvo te

Care, ne reverte
Whoa whoa whoa whoa
Ne reverte
Whoa whoa whoa whoa
Abi abi
Whoa whoa whoa whoa
Ego deserenda, volneras me
Absolvo te

Ne reverte
Whoa whoa whoa whoa
Ne reverte
Whoa whoa whoa whoa
Abi abi
Whoa whoa whoa whoa

Yup.  I was so bored that I translated Ace of Base’s “Don’t Turn Around” into Latin.  The meter checks out, too, though I took some shortcuts on top of my shoddy Latin, but there you go.  Try singing along.  Give yourself something to smile about today.

You’re welcome, Internet.  Your irregularly-scheduled Digital Ambler content will resume shortly, once I finish chatting it up with a few angels and get some shit tied down.  It’s been a week, let me tell you.