An Origin for the Letter Rules of Western Geomancy

Yes, yes, I am still working on my geomancy textbook!  As I’ve said before, it’s a long project, and by necessity it’s not the number one priority in my life; between a full-time job, heavy involvement in my religious community, managing several kinds of online presence, and my own routines and practices, working on my book is definitely a priority but not the priority.  If I had days empty of all other tasks, it’d be a different story, but here we are.  Besides, the book has been in progress since 2013, back at a point where I now think I was wholly unqualified to write such a book.  (I still think I am unqualified to write such a book, not least because I’ve made a number of discoveries, innovations, and corrections to what I knew earlier, but here we are.)

One of the fun parts of the book for me to write is the postscript.  It’s an appendix that, rather than focusing on the meat-and-bones of geomantic techniques and practices, I talk a small bit about my own thoughts, views, and opinions on certain techniques and how my own practice prioritizes certain techniques over others, or my value-estimates of certain techniques.  After all, though there are hundreds of different techniques that one can use in geomantic divination, in any given chart I might only use a handful of them, some I use generally for every reading and others I bust out for particular situations.  Almost all the techniques have some value, but some have more value than others.  I talk a bit about what I think of such things in the postscript as a kind of final letting-my-hair-down moment, where I get to drop a little of the academic and technical style I use throughout the book and get a little personal in my practice.

The postscript really isn’t a place for me to introduce or talk about any particular techniques at length, though—except one: methods to determine names or letters with geomancy.  As I’ve mentioned before on my blog, the methods to determine names is something that would be sorely useful for geomancers, and a number of historical authors mention methods to do so, most of all Christopher Cattan who introduces several “rules” for associating the figures with letters and a number of methods to use them.  John Heydon, likewise, introduces several such sets of associations for different scripts, but largely references the same methods Cattan uses.  John Michael Greer, continuing the vein of carrying on such information especially as it was republished over and over again in the late Renaissance, gives a similar set of attributions in his “Art and Practice of Geomancy”.

It’s all a shame, though, because I’ve never gotten these methods to work.  In my past experiments with them, I kept getting garbage answers with chance results.  Quoth my earlier article:

Alas, however, I have to consign a geomantic technique to the failure pile, and it’s not for lack of trying: determining names.  While it would make sense conceptually that one could determine names with geomancy, I have never been able to get such name charts to work right, from the first time I ran a name chart years ago up until the present day.  Add to it, I’ve found several methods to determine names with geomancy, and several ways to associate the letters to the figures, and I’ve tried them all, none of them giving anything remotely resembling an accurate answer.  This frustrates me to no end, because why the hell would this one technique not work when nearly every other technique I’ve tried has given me useful results?  This is especially frustrating, since being able to predict names would be exceptionally useful in the world, from determining the names of cities one might be successful in to determining the names of future spouses. …

But even using any of the techniques with any set of correspondences, I kept coming up with wrong answers.  If I were lucky, some of the letters in the actual name I was trying to find might appear at random places in the chart, but this was by no means guaranteed.  I did notice a slight tendency for some of the letters to appear in houses II, V, and VIII, but there was no pattern for which letters (start, medial, end) appeared within them.  I even tried using the values of the Greek, Hebrew, and Celestial Hebrew associations that Heydon gives (untrustworthy as his stuff tends to be) to see if it would get me anything closer than the Roman script association; nada.  Plus, many of the techniques assumes there to be at least four letters or syllables in a name; many names I ended up asking about after I did a reading on them had one or two syllables, or had even just three letters, and these techniques don’t specify what to do in the case of really short names.

It seems, also, that I’m not the first person to complain about these methods, not by far.  In addition to my own colleagues and contacts in the present day who largely give the same conclusions I have, the French geomancer Henri de Pisis gives in his 17th century book Opus Geomantiae Completum in libros tres divisum (reproduced as part of Fludd’s later work Fasciculus Geomanticus) gives the following complaint when he introduces these methods (translation mine from Latin):

So as to know someone’s name. I might have put this and another table of the same from Cattan, yet given how useless and hollow it is, I freely suppress it, lest it impose onto this very art which usually predicts with certainty. By this understanding, I would have omitted it and the following chapter, as with things uncertain and generally wrong, if not for that we would see what even a single author maintains …

In truth, it has always escaped me as to the use they make of these numbers here, for nobody thus far has been able to discover their reasoning; neither Gerard of Cremona, nor Geber, nor Pietro d’Abano, nor myself, nor any others besides Cocles and Cattan have discerned the reasoning of the numbers or of the letters of names. It can essentially be seen that Cattan and Cocles would have relaxed this art to such a freewheeling extent into the form of some game, such as the casting of dice or dominoes, for the troublesome cheating of long nights or for the future coaxing of a droll joke, and a good many use it for this and will have had nothing certain placed in the art. In other words, since they are unaware of that which is superfluous to the art, they are unestablished in the foundations of this very art, and are only outsiders into contempt of it. I suggest that these methods be rejected.

It’s frustrating, especially for someone like de Pisis to have written so bluntly about this in a way he doesn’t elsewhere in Opus Geomantiae; he only includes these methods because others have written about them, and that only bitterly and begrudgingly.  This is all the more frustrating because Arabic geomancers make claims to predict names and letters as a matter of course, though because I speak neither Arabic nor Urdu nor Farsi, it’s hard for me to find what methods they use to validate it and see whether they can walk the talk or if they’re just full of hot air.

Now, skip ahead a few years.  The Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook is thriving with over a thousand members, including a good number from Arabic-speaking countries who are, God bless them, actually willing to share and discuss Arabic methods of geomancy.  One of them even goes so far as to include a list of those fancy apparati of Arabic geomancy, taskins, though I prefer an alternate term for them now, dā`ira (plural dawā`ir), which is commonly found in Urdu and Farsi texts, and which literally mean “cycle”.  These things are fascinating for Western geomancers to look at, because we have no parallel for them; they’re a combination of correspondence as well as technique unto themselves, enforcing particular orders of figures for different needs.  Depending on the tradition of Arabic geomancy you’re looking at, some geomancers claim that there are 16 cycles, others 28, or even as many as 400 or more, some kept secret for mystical and magical ends.  Some dawā`ir are clearly organized along mathematical or otherwise clearly understood principles, such as the dā`ira-e-abdaḥ which organizes the figures according to their binary numeral meanings (reading Laetitia as 1000 as 1, Rubeus as 0100 as 2, Fortuna Minor as 1100 as 3, and so forth); others are far more obscure as to why certain figures are arranged in certain ways.

So this list of dawā`ir is shared in the group, and happily the poster who shared it cited a particular academic: Dr. Matthew Melvin-Koushki, currently of the University of South Carolina, one of whose research interests is the occult sciences in Islam.  In his paper “Persianate Geomancy from Ṭūsī to the Millennium: A Preliminary Survey” (in Nader El-Bizri and EvaOrthmann, eds., Occult Sciences in Pre-modern Islamic Cultures, Beirut: Orient-Institut Beirut, 2018, pp. 151-99), Melvin-Koushki lists seven such cycles:

The various regional schools of geomantic thought are therefore to be distinguished by the ‘cycles’ (sg. dāʾira) they prefer to employ. A cycle, Hidāyat Allāh explains, is simply a specific sequence (tartīb) of the 16 geomantic figures, with each sequence featuring different types of correspondences — elemental, humoral, temporal, astrological, lettrist, etc. And the four cycles he identifies above are far from the only ones in common use. The geomancer has at his disposal a rather larger number of cycles; which he employs in any given reading depends on the nature of the information being sought and the degree of detail required. Hidāyat Allāh lists seven by way of example:

  1. The Occupation (sakan) cycle is the most basic; it begins with Laetitia and ends with Via.
  2. The Constitution (mizāj) cycle tells the querent what day he can expect to realize his desire; it begins with Acquisitio and ends with Cauda Draconis.
  3. The BZDḤ cycle, aka the Number (ʿadad) cycle, is used to tell periods of time; it begins with Puer and ends with Populus.
  4. The Letter (ḥarf) cycle is used to reveal names (a very popular application of the science); it too begins with Laetitia and ends with Via, with the first twelve figures being assigned two letters each and the last four figures only one.
  5. The Arabic Alphabet (abjad-i ʿarabī) cycle, aka the Element (ʿunṣur) or Interior (dākhil) cycle; it begins with Laetitia and ends with Populus.
  6. The ABDḤ cycle, aka the Element (ʿunṣur) or Arabic Alphabet (abjad-i ʿarabī) cycle, which is also popular; it too begins with Laetitia and ends with Populus.
  7. The Most Complete (aṣaḥḥ) cycle, which has a different organizing principle and procedure; it begins with Laetitia and ends with Via.

Note that fourth cycle Melvin-Koushki lists: the ḥarf cycle, the word literally meaning “letter” (as in characters of an alphabet).  This cycle goes in the following order:

  1. Laetitia
  2. Tristitia
  3. Rubeus
  4. Albus
  5. Fortuna Maior
  6. Fortuna Minor
  7. Caput Draconis
  8. Cauda Draconis
  9. Puer
  10. Puella
  11. Acquisitio
  12. Amissio
  13. Populus
  14. Carcer
  15. Coniunctio
  16. Via

Melvin-Koushki says that the first twelve figures (Laetitia through Amissio) get two letters each, and the final four (Populus through Via) get one letter each.  Looking through contemporary texts on Arabic geomancy (despite my lack of knowledge of Arabic/Farsi/Urdu, I can still pick out patterns and particular words well enough to find them!), we get the following correspondences of figures to letters:

Figure Letter
Laetitia أ
‘Alif
ف
Fā’
Tristitia ب
Bā’
ص
Ṣād
Rubeus ج
Jīm
ق
Qāf
Albus د
Dāl
ر
Rā`
Fortuna Maior ه
Hā’
ش
Shīn
Fortuna Minor و
Wāw
ت
Tā’
Caput Draconis ز
Zāy
ث
Thā’
Cauda Draconis ح
Ḥā’
خ
Khā’
Puer ط
Ṭā’
ذ
Dhāl
Puella ي
Yā’
ض
Ḍād
Acquisitio ك
Kāf
ظ
Ẓā’
Amissio ل
Lām
غ
Ghayn
Populus م
Mīm
Carcer ن
Nūn
Coniunctio س
Sīn
Via ع
`Ayn

Note the order of how the letters go, first down the left column then down the right: this is the traditional abjadī order of the Arabic script, the same one in use for all other Phoenician-derived scripts like Greek and Hebrew.  The fact that the last four figures in the ḥarf cycle have only one letter each are also the liminal figures that are neither entering nor exiting might be because these four figures are special.  More realistically, though, it’s because there are 28 letters in the Arabic script, which means that some figures would get two letters and others only one; because there are 16 figures, 16 × 2 = 32, and 32 – 28 = 4.  If you just start assigning the letters one by one to the figures, you’d run out for the last four.  This raises the question, which came first, the order of the figures, or the ordering of the letters to which the figures were then mapped?  It’s unclear which came first to me, but we can pick out some interesting structural notes about the ḥarf cycle:

  • The first 12 figures are given in reversion pairs: Laetitia/Tristitia, Rubeus/Albus, etc.
  • The first four figures are the “pure elemental” figures, each with seven points.
  • The last four figures are all liminal figures, each of which is their own reversion; the first two are considered the stable liminal figures, the latter two the mobile liminal figures, progressively going from the most stable to the most mobile.

I also want to note that the source Melvin-Koushki is referencing came from the late 16th century, and his sources likely came from much older ones; by that point, geomancy was already around 600 or 700 years old.  Regardless, this cycle is still found in many works even today as a means to predict names.  (I have also seen the ABDḤ/binary-numeral cycle used for this same purpose, but it seems like that’s less popular of a choice than using this specific cycle, though the mechanism is the same.  I don’t know how common using the ABDḤ cycle is for this purpose, or where it might be centralized.)  Although I haven’t yet found much in English or another language I know yet about how to specifically use this cycle for divining names, at least I know how they associate the figures with letters, which is pretty neat unto itself.

I bring this up because, while going over my draft for my postscript in my book, I returned to that section about how Western geomancy has methods for determining names.  I originally wrote the seed for that section in the aforementioned blog post of mine back in 2014, and I basically copied the same tables (in a more intelligible way and broken down by author or source) into my book.  While I was revising that particular section, something about the order of how Cattan, Heydon, and Case associated the figures to the letters…something about it struck me as familiar.  I normally use the planetary order of the figures in my posts and tables (lunar figures, Mercurial figures, Venereal figures, …, nodal figures), but it struck me that several Western authors all had it that Laetitia was given to A, Tristitia to B, Rubeus to C, and so on.  They don’t all agree with each other in some of the associations, and Cattan and Heydon have other rules that give other letters to the figures, but it’s clear they were all drawing on the same source in one form or another, and…hm.  Neither the similarities between them nor that same order could be given to chance.

Digging out my ancient binder of geomancy notes from when I was in college, I got out my transcript of one of the earliest Western works on geomancy, Martin of Spain’s work “De Geomancia”, written sometime in the 1200s.  Dr. Laurel Means has a version of it in Popular and Practical Science of Medieval England (Lister M. Matheson, ed., Michigan State University Press, 1994), and I was able to get a text transcript of it while in college, though I’ve since lost the original source and the transcript file I was working on, though I did save a copy.  I remembered this because it has an early association of the figures with letters from well before Cattan or the others, and I wanted to see how it’d match up.  Surprise: it did, more than I expected, even if I’m missing associations for two of the figures.  Though Martin of Spain gives anywhere from one to five letters to the figures, the first of them typically matches with the expected one and seems to be the “primary” letter.  All these Western sources all seemed to share the same basic order of the figures, starting with Laetitia and Tristitia and continuing from there.  There are some variations, but it’s all fundamentally the same thing.

To compare what I’m seeing, here’s a table that associates the letters of the alphabet with the figures from Christopher Cattan (specifically his First Rule), John Heydon (the “First Rule” for English, with annotations), John Case, and Martin of Spain (more below because this is weird):

Letter Martin of Spain Cattan Heydon Case
A Laetitia Laetitia Laetitia Laetitia
B Tristitia Tristitia Tristitia Tristitia
C Rubeus Rubeus Caput Draconis Caput Draconis
D Albus Albus Albus Albus
E Fortuna Minor Fortuna Minor Fortuna Minor Fortuna Minor
F Fortuna Maior Fortuna Maior Fortuna Maior Fortuna Maior
G Caput Draconis Caput Draconis Rubeus Rubeus
H Cauda Draconis Cauda Draconis Puella Puella
I J Puella Puella Acquisitio Acquisitio
K Puer Puer Cauda Draconis Cauda Draconis
L Acquisitio Puer Puer
M Acquisitio
N Via Amissio Amissio Amissio
O
P Carcer Via Via Via
Q
R Carcer Carcer Carcer
S
T Populus Populus Populus Populus
U V W
X Coniunctio Coniunctio Coniunctio Coniunctio
Y Via
Z

Admittedly, Martin of Spain’s attributions are a little weird; he gives a set of letters for each figure, roughly in alphabetical order per figure, so a bit of sussing needs figuring out; additionally, the letters “l” and “y” are not allocated anywhere, but there is an allocation for the obsolete letter yogh (ʒ), which I interpreted as “y” above.  The full set of associations from Martin of Spain are:

Figure Numbers Letters
Fortuna Maior 12 ff
Fortuna Minor 8 or 1 e
Caput Draconis 13 g t
Acquisitio 31 h m
Laetitia 50 a d
Puer 9 k j
Tristitia 12 b d n
Puella 1 j c e
Rubeus 14 a c s
Albus 14 a d e
Amissio 15 j t s
Cauda Draconis 14 or 12 h j c d
Populus 2 n o t u
Coniunctio 13 or 17 r s t x
Via 8 n o t a ʒ
Carcer 10 o p q r s

Anyway, none of the associations we have in Martin of Spain, Cattan, Heydon, or Case give a figure for the letter Z, and the letters I/J and U/V/W weren’t classified as separate letters until recently, anyway.  As always, Case agrees with Heydon, as I’m pretty sure Case’s Angelical Guide was based on Heydon’s Theomagia, and both differ from Cattan in some minor ways.  Martin of Spain’s order starts off clear, but the order gets really mixed up and unclear towards the end.  Cattan’s order seems to be the most orderly, and preserves almost but frustratingly not quite the same order as the ḥarf cycle from before, with the following changes:

  • Cattan has Fortuna Minor and Fortuna Maior in positions 5 and 6; the ḥarf cycle switches these
  • Cattan has Puella and Puer in positions 9 and 10; the ḥarf cycle switches these
  • Cattan has Via, Carcer, Populus, and Coniunctio as the final four figures; the ḥarf cycle has Populus, Carcer, Coniunctio, and Via

What we’re arriving at is that the Western rules for assigning letters to the figures is clearly a continuation of the same cycle associations that began in the Arabic tradition, even from a very early period in Western geomancy, which indicates that the ḥarf cycle definitely dates back to the late 1200s, probably earlier, making it a very early arrangement of figures, indeed.  At least in the western part of Europe (i.e. Spain as opposed to Greece), this was likely brought in at an early point along with the rest of geomantic technique, and held on in some form or another by a handful of geomancers.  It’s unclear to me exactly how popular this method or association was, since I haven’t found more than a handful of resources that give such an association and most of them tend to be the larger works on geomancy that date from Cattan and onwards, but it may well be that this system was held onto, perhaps with some corruptions or changes, which would explain the small changes in Cattan’s order versus the ḥarf cycle.

The other major difference is how the letters get assigned to the figures in their cycle.  Rather than how the Arabic method goes through the cycle of figures and gives each figure one letter in turn, which results in a bunch of figures at the start with two letters and a few at the end with only one, the European method seems to almost be reverse: double up the letters at the end of the cycle and work forward until the rest of the figures at the start have only one letter each.  Given how straightforward the association method would be, I’m not sure how the method changed so drastically; either several corruptions happened along the way, or someone innovated a variation on the system.  I can’t seem to trace sources back past Cattan, or at least find any in an accessible form, so it’s unclear whether Cattan or his predecessors carried on the same tradition that Martin of Spain wrote about, whether his method came from another variant closely related to it, or whether he reimported an Arabic method and customized it for European needs.

What would it look like if we were to use the ḥarf cycle order of the figures and the same method, but applied it to the Roman script?  Considering that the Roman script that we use nowadays has shifted a bit from Renaissance usage, notably with the introduction of a few more letters (J from I, V and W from U, and Z), we can envision two versions of this, a “Renaissance Roman” ḥarf association of the figures with the letters as it was done in the days of Cattan et al. with 23 letters, and a “Modern English” association that uses all 26 letters of the modern English alphabet but done in the same way.  Below is what we would get from using those methods, alongside Cattan’s association for comparison (with the mis-ordered letters, e.g. Fortuna Maior and Fortuna Minor, in bold italic).  Heck, we can even come up with a Cattan-style association of the letters, using the ḥarf ordering (to fix the irregularities we might have seen from before) but using the same Western-style doubling-up of successive letters at the end:

Figure Cattan Ḥarf-Style
Renaissance
Roman
Ḥarf-Style
Modern English
Cattan-Style
Modern English
Laetitia A A R A Q A
Tristitia B B S B R B
Rubeus C C T C S C
Albus D D U/V/W D T D
Fortuna Maior F E X E U E
Fortuna Minor E F Y F V F
Caput Draconis G G G W G H
Cauda Draconis H H H X I J
Puer K I/J I Y K L
Puella I/J K J Z M N
Acquisitio L M L K O P
Amissio N O M L Q R
Populus T U/V/W N M S T
Carcer R S O N U V
Coniunctio X Y P O W X
Via P Q Q P Y Z

In this light, let’s point out two things about Cattan’s original style (which I’m taking as the default Western letter association rule, which was an earlier version of what Heydon and Case later used):

  • Really, why is there no Z in the Renaissance Roman scheme, or even Cattan’s original scheme?  As I mentioned earlier, Z was barely considered a letter in English until comparatively recently, so it’s not completely surprising that medieval, Renaissance, and even early modern texts on geomancy would omit it from such an association scheme.  Yet, French (for that matter, many forms of Romance languages) definitely uses the letter Z in its language regularly, so it’s odd that French or Italian would omit this letter.  Note how it would fall in the ḥarf-style Renaissance Roman scheme, as a letter corresponding to Caput Draconis.  This, however, would give its reverse figure Cauda Draconis no corresponding double letter, because the Roman script including Z would have 23 letters, and an odd number would mean one of these reversion-pairs would go unassigned.  So, this letter would have to be omitted to keep the system clean, and would probably logically be merged with S (as part of Carcer).
  • Even then, why does the Cattan scheme double up successive letters at the end, rather than allocate sequential letters cyclicly through the alphabet?  It might be more for a superficial resemblance or mirroring of how the ḥarf cycle associations work for Arabic, where the final positions are given to the liminal figures which were seen as “breaking the pattern” in some special way.  Because 22 letters get nowhere near those final four figures (as the ḥarf-style Renaissance Roman scheme shows) and because we might still want to make those final figures special in some way, the doubling-up of successive letters at the end could be seen as a compromise to keep the final few figures special while still allocating the letters to the figures in an orderly way.  It’s a major departure from the logic of the ḥarf cycle method, but it’s a method all the same.

So, let’s say that we have our pick now of these four systems.  Which would I recommend to use?  Given what the original ḥarf cycle logic was, I would throw my hat in for the ḥarf-style modern English associations above, but that’s also because I use the English language, and though the Renaissance Roman script is just an earlier version of the English alphabet, I see no reason to use an outdated orthography that omits several important letters that have not been considered allographs or variants of others for several hundred years now.  The same method of straightforwardly allocating the letters of one’s writing system in order to the geomantic figures in the ḥarf cycle can be used for any alphabetic or abjadic script.

Even with this, there are still several important questions that are still left unanswered:

  • It’s clear that alphabets or abjads that have an even number of letters would be favored, because it keeps the reversal pairs intact, so that each figure in the pair has the same number of letters.  What about scripts with an odd number of letters?  Does it really matter that much to keep reversal pairs intact?
  • Why are the figures in the ḥarf cycle placed in this order at all?  Is there an organizing principle behind it, or was it more inspired than devised?
  • Did the ḥarf cycle come first and then the association with the letters, or did the idea of divvying up the 28 letters of the Arabic script come first and the figures associated with those letters afterwards?  If the latter, it could explain why the four liminal figures just so happen to be at the end of the cycle where they get one figure each.  But even then, why would the pure element figures Laetitia, Tristitia, etc. be at the front in that order?  Reading the figures as elements, they could be read as Fire-Earth-Air-Water (my modern system or just using the points of those elemental lines) or as Air-Earth-Fire-Water (the older system that swaps Rubeus for Fire and Laetitia for Air), but this would be odd considering their pure elemental representations.
  • Can other cycles be used instead of the ḥarf cycle?  I know that at least some geomancers use the ABDḤ cycle using the same method of allocating letters to figures, just in a different order of the figures, though it seems the ḥarf cycle is more popular, at least in Africa and the Near East.
  • Where did Cattan get his Second and Third Rules of assigning the letters to the figures come from?  I haven’t been able to figure out a pattern there, either, especially with the varied and numerous associations he gives that don’t match anything else.  He even includes the letter Z in the Third Rule!

  • Did the methods of determining names as given by Cattan, Heydon, etc. also originally come from Arabic geomancy, or were they developed purely in a Western setting?  If they came from Arabic geomancy, did they come in at an early date and get passed down (and potentially corrupted) as time went by, or were they reimported at a later date?  Given their wording, it seems they were unclear and obscure even in Renaissance times.
  • What even are the methods in use for Arabic geomancy for using the ḥarf cycle?  I haven’t been able to read or research much about that, either.  How do Arabic geomancers determine names, and how similar are these methods using the ḥarf cycle (or other cycles with letters associated to the figures!) to those in Western geomancy?
  • What can be done about non-alphabetic or non-abjadic scripts?  Syllabaries can feasibly be assigned, syllable by syllable, to the geomantic figures, though that would quickly get out of hand depending on the number of syllables a language has.  How about abugidas, like any of the Brahmic-derived scripts?  How would vowels be handled in that system, if at all?  What about logographic scripts?

Still, even with these unanswered questions, I feel like I have enough at this point to convince me that that whole section in my book’s postscript about how trash these methods of determining names and letters are probably deserves a rewrite.  In fact, what’s astounding about the Western methods is that we have a fossil of Arabic dawā`ir embedded in our own practice, when otherwise there we don’t use any dā`ira-based technique.  It really emphasizes to me that, truly, geomancy is still an art that reaches deep into the sands of north African and Arabic culture, and perhaps there are more things that we can learn from or even merge with from our eastern siblings in this art.

In the meantime, I’m going to get back to more research and writing.  I want to take another look at those rules and try applying them again; now that I have a better understanding of why the letters get allocated to some figures in certain patterns, maybe using the ḥarf cycle in a more pure way than what Cattan or Heydon have could improve those chances of determining names.

Another Look at the Letters on the Paths of the Tetractys

The big thrust of this whole mathesis thing was to develop a graphical outline of the structure of the cosmos, both macrocosmic and microcosmic, and allow for the use of letters as vehicles of transformation between different states on the cosmic map.  We decided to use the Tetractys as our overall map, and found a set of 24 paths between the ten spheres of the TetractysEach path was then assigned to one of the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet (excepting the obsolete letters digamma, qoppa, and sampi), and boom, we have our graphical cosmic map.  Thing is, all this was experimental and an exercise in logic and extrapolation; it’s been largely untested, but it does provide a neat way to arrange the letters on the Tetractys.

I’ve been feeling comfortable with the assignment of the spheres on the Tetractys to the ten forces: the Monad or Source, light or activity, darkness or passivity, alchemical sulfur, alchemical mercury, alchemical salt, fire, air, water, and earth.  Mapping these forces to their cosmological equivalents, likewise, was fairly straightforward.  What I haven’t been completely comfortable this whole time with, however, was the assignment of letters to the paths themselves.  I’ve guessed from the beginning that, no matter how logical my original assignment was, chances are it wasn’t going to be a permanent assignment.  I all but definitively knew that at least some of the letters on the paths were going to change, and I’d leave it to until I actually got around to exploring the Tetractys through ritual and scrying to change them.

Somewhat ahead of that predicted schedule, however, I asked Hermes and asked for some guidance about the upcoming trips on the Tetractys paths, but unfortunately he was unusually tight-lipped; this was definitely something I would have to explore when the time came.  He did say he’d help open some doors in the meanwhile to help me get a feel for what’d be coming up, however, so I went back and took another close look at what I’ve been discussing since I first laid out how I assigned the letters to the paths.  This time, however, I kept the distinction of direction and the Gnosis/Agnosis Schemata in mind, and started over from there.  I ended up with a wholly new way to assign letters to the paths and, although I’m still feeling a little unsure, this has a much different feel than the first arrangement, and it’s one I conceptually like more.  I warn you, in this post I’m going to be using lots of gaudy color, and since we’ve already been through this kind of analysis once before, I’ll be a little more rough when explaining things.

So, in the Gnosis Schema, we have twelve paths that go around the Tetractys, hitting the sphere of Mercury four times and every other sphere once:

alchemical_planetary_tetractys_paths_circuit1The Agnosis Schema, on the other hand, has the twelve remaining paths that only connect to the non-Mercury middling spheres:

alchemical_planetary_tetractys_paths_circuit2

Consider that the Gnosis Schema is an orderly array of paths, a sequence that follows a strict ordering.  The Agnosis Schema, however, has no such inherent order, and has criss-cross of paths that allow for wandering around without a plan, so to speak.  If we start with these two ideas, we have two sets of twelve paths.  We have 24 letters, which are divvied up between four elements, the meta-element Spirit, seven planets, and twelve zodiac signs.  We can divide the letters and their corresponding forces, likewise, into two groups of twelve: the twelve zodiac signs/simple consonants, and the twelve forces/vowels and complex consonants.  The zodiac signs follow a particular celestial order, and while we can ascribe orders to the elements based on density or planets based on distance from Earth, we also recognize that the elements shift among themselves and the planets move around from place to place.

So, if we assign the twelve zodiac signs to the twelve paths of the Gnosis Schema, in the order that we proceed from Mercury to Air to Fire and so forth, we end up with the paths in the same order as the twelve signs of the Zodiac, as below:

tetractys_paths_gnosis_signs

Alright, easy part’s over.  We still have the twelve paths of the Agnosis Schema to set out, and this is where things get a little more complicated.  First, let’s review what we know about the letters and their stoicheia again:

  • There are two sets of forces: zodiacal and energetic.  Zodiacal forces are the 12 signs of the zodiac, and the energetic forces are the four elements, the meta-element spirit, and seven planets.
  • There are four elements of the forces: fire, air, water, earth.
  • There are three modes of the forces.  In the zodiac forces, these are manifested as cardinal (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn), fixed (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius), and mutable (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces).  In the energetic forces, these are manifested as the ideal (the four elements Fire, Air, Water, Earth), the empyrean (the planets of the Sun, Mercury, Moon, and spirit considered as a planet), and the ouranic (the planets of Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn).
  • We can link the ideal mode of the energies to the fixed mode of the zodiac signs, the empyrean to the cardinal, and the ouranic to the mutable.
  • There are four groups of three zodiac signs and four groups of three energies based on element.
  • There are three groups of four zodiac signs and three groups of four energies based on mode.
  • There are thus six forces (three energetic and three zodiacal) for each of the four elements.
  • There are thus eight forces (four energetic and four zodiacal) for each of the three modes.

Drawn out in tables, we see the following:

Fire Air Water Earth
Ideal Fire Air Water Earth
Empyrean Sun Spirit Mercury Moon
Ouranic Mars Jupiter Venus Saturn
Fire Air Water Earth
Cardinal Aries Libra Cancer Capricorn
Fixed Leo Aquarius Scorpio Taurus
Mutable Sagittarius Gemini Pisces Saturn

We know what the letters and their corresponding forces look like for the Gnosis Schema, and we can use that to help guide us with a bit of geometrical innovation to figure out what the paths on the Agnosis Schema should be based on the geometry of element and mode.

Let’s focus on the elements of the zodiac signs first.  If we divide the twelve Gnosis Schema paths up by element, we get the following four figures: three paths for the Fire signs, three for Water, three for Air, and three for Earth.  Below are the paths color coded such that red paths are Fire, blue are Water, green are Earth, and yellow are Air:

tetractys_paths_gnosis_signs_element_color

The Fire and Water signs both emanate out from the central sphere of Mercury, while the Air and Earth signs emanate out from the three extreme spheres of the Monad, Fire, and Earth.  Note that if we look at the Fire set of signs and Water set of signs separately, we can draw an equilateral triangle that connects the outer points of their paths.  These would give us another three paths for both the elements of Fire and Water to complete the set, which forms the hexagram in the center of the Tetractys, a symbol renowned as the mark of combining fire with water.

As for Air and Earth, on the other hand, it gets a little less clear.  We know from the elements themselves that Air likes to connect and bridge gaps, while Earth likes to close it on itself and separate.  Thus, let’s give Air the three paths in the middle of the outer edges of the Tetractys, trying to reach and form one large triangle, while Earth gets the three paths in the corners of the Tetractys, trying to form three small triangles.  Just as the Fire and Water paths intersect with each other to form a cohesive union, the Air and Earth paths must be joined together (though they don’t intersect) in order to form complete wholes on their own; the triangles that the Earth paths form are completed by Air, and the larger triangle that the Air paths form is completed by Earth.  Thus, we have three more paths for Air and three more paths for Earth:

Note the interplay of elements for the paths with this.  The central hexagram joins Fire and Water together, with one triangle belonging to Fire and the other to Water, and if we include the zodiacal paths that connect the vertices of the triangles, we end up with a 2-dimensional birds-eye look of two interlocked tetrahedrons, one pointing up (Fire) and one pointing down (Water).  The hexagon around the hexagram alternates Air and Earth, and with the six zodiacal paths inside the hexagon, we end up with a 2-dimensional view of a cube facing one of its corners, with its 12 edges bounded by the elements four times each.  Each of the elements comes in contact with all the other elements at least once each by means of the paths on the Tetractys, forming a completely yet regularly mixed whole.

tetractys_paths_gnosis_elements_color

Now we need to figure out the modes of the paths, and this is where things get a little less geometrically clean.  We already know the modes of the zodiacal forces, after all, and if we plot them out by cardinal, mutable, and fixed, we end up with this weird “broken W” shape rotated each way around the Tetractys.  Let’s use orange for cardinal paths, purple for fixed paths, and pink for mutable paths:

Remember, though, that these are for the zodiacal forces on the Gnosis Schema, while we need to figure out the energetic forces on the Agnosis Schema.  Both the Gnosis Schema and Agnosis Schema have four paths for each of the three modes, and we’re trying to divide up the twelve hexagon/hexagram paths of the Agnosis Schema into three groups of four.  We did this a ways back when we were discussing the meditation of the divine name IAŌ on the Tetractys by making three rectangles that orbited the central sphere of Mercury:

We used a similar method to complete the division of elemental forces based on zodiacal mode, but now I think that method was somewhat misguided since it conflated the two, and further it never really resolved the association of the hexagram paths of Air to their forces in a clean way.  Instead, let’s talk about what I mean by the energetic modes of Ideal, Empyrean, and Ouranic:

  • Ideal energies are the pure elements themselves, their most high and abstract concepts and overall form to which the other energies are associated.  These are the four elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.
  • Empyrean energies are the four forces of the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, and Spirit.  The three planets here are those that are those represented by the Triadic rank of the Tetractys, associated respectively with Sulfur, Salt, and Mercury.  These are the high holy forces of Light/Sameness, Darkness/Difference, Motion/Existence, and Spirit/Emptiness.  Although “empyrean” literally means “on fire” and often refers to the abode of the gods/God, I’m using it here to denote a different kind of “heavenly planet” from…
  • Ouranic energies are the four forces of Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn.  These are the other four planets that are represented in the Tetrad rank of the Tetractys, and associated respectively with Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.  Unlike the empyrean forces, the ouranic forces (also meaning “heavenly” but in a sense closer to “celestial” rather than “divine”) are not planets associated with the process of alchemy, but planets associated with the materials of alchemy, the four elements.  They’re in a sense “lower” than the four empyrean forces.

We have three modes of energetic forces, and we also have three modes of zodiacal forces.  We’ve already established from before that the fixed signs are closest to the elements themselves, so we can associate the zodiacal mode of fixity with the energetic mode of ideality.  Carrying the idea (pun unintended) through, the zodiacal mode of mutability might best be associated with the energetic mode of ouranicity, which leaves us the zodiacal mode of cardinality which can be associated with the energetic mode of empyreality.  This allows us to associate the zodiac forces with the energetic forces quite nicely and cleanly:

Fire Air Water Earth
Primary
Mode
Cardinal Aries Libra Cancer Capricorn
Empyrean Sun Spirit Mercury Moon
Secondary
Mode
Fixed Leo Aquarius Scorpio Taurus
Ideal Fire Air Water Earth
Tertiary
Mode
Mutable Sagittarius Gemini Pisces Virgo
Ouranic Mars Jupiter Venus Saturn

Although my previous attempt to assign the modes to the three elements of Fire, Water, and Earth may have been misguided, I do like how I assigned the three rectangular sets of paths to the three modes.  Thus, the vertical rectangle with short horizontal paths is still given to the fixed/ideal mode, the diagonal rectangle with short down-right paths given to the cardinal/empyrean mode, and the diagonal rectangle with short down-left paths given to the mutable/ouranic mode.  We thus end up with the following combinations of paths based on their mode:

Putting it all together, we now know the mode of every path in the Tetractys:

tetractys_paths_gnosis_modes_color

When we combine our knowledge of what element each path should be along with what mode it should be, knowing already whether it’s a zodiacal force (on the Gnosis Schema) or an energetic force (on the Agnosis Schema), we end up with a new Tetractys of Life with the appropriate letters on each of the 24 paths:

alchemical_planetary_tetractys_gnosis_paths

Overall, I like this version of the Tetractys more; it has a different “ring” to it, something a little clearer and smoother, but I’m still unsure as yet whether it’s the right one.  Only exploration and testing will show that out, and whether any adjustment (or outright rewriting) is needed.  What’s interesting, though, is how this might affect our exploration of the Tetractys in a structured way.  Note that we’ve assigned the Gnosis Schema paths to the twelve signs of the zodiac.  The Zodiac is the belt of stars that the Sun and all the other planets travel through over the course of their orbits, and we make one revolution through the Zodiac every year.  Thus, we have a sort of solar schedule for how we travel through the paths: for instance, we make the trip between Mercury and Air during Aries, Air and Fire during Taurus, Fire and Sulfur during Gemini, Sulfur and Mercury during Cancer, and so forth until we end up back at Mercury while we’re in Pisces.

The association of the Zodiac with the Gnosis Schema paths, further, divides the year up into three periods, one for each of the Initiatory Cycles as mentioned before. the first four signs (from the start of Aries to the end of Cancer) to the Hot Initiation (Mercury, Air, Fire, Sulfur); the second four signs (start of Leo to the end of Scorpio) to the Cold Initiation (Mercury, Salt, Earth, Water); and the last four signs (start of Sagittarius to the end of Pisces) to the Cosmic Initiation.  Of course, this is slightly adrift from our notion of having four seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, but we do go from a period of cold to hot (heating the year), a period of hot to cold (cooling the year), and a period of just cold (darkest and coldest point of the year).  It’s not hard to make associations between these three quasi-seasons with the three Initiatory Cycles, but of course, my living in the Northern Hemisphere is coloring my views somewhat.

Of course, I don’t think we need to follow the Sun in the Zodiac as we follow the paths in the Tetractys, but it does imply that there’s a natural flow, a cycle that’s inherent in the mechanics of the cosmos.  Consider the three empyrean planets of the Sun, Moon, and Mercury: the Sun only ever goes in one direction through the Zodiac, as does the Moon; Mercury does go retrograde fairly often, but its retrograde periods are also extremely short compared to all the other planets, and is so close to the Sun that it basically is taken along with it.  Spirit, the other empyrean energy, is both lower than and amidst the planets themselves, providing the space and nature for them to exist and coexist at all.  Between the Sun, Moon, and Mercury, there’s a natural flow that pretty much only ever goes in one direction, and that’s around the Zodiac in its proper order.  As the Sun and Moon pretty much define nearly all the natural cycles down here on Earth, it suggests that there’s a natural flow and pull for ourselves to be taken along the Gnosis Schema ever onwards towards gnosis and henosis.

However, we get trapped and caught up by the forces of the other planets and elements, which gets us tangled up and going against the natural flow and rhythm of the Gnosis Schema.  We get swept up in a particular planet’s influence, we get brought down by a particular element’s effects, and we generally get caught up in long periods of retrograde motion and muddled manifestation of forces that keep us from flowing naturally with the cosmos as we should.  In aikido terms, the more stressed we are, the less ki can flow through us; in quasi-Thelemic terms, the more we focus on our temporary will, the less we naturally enact our True Will.  If we could simply incorporate the powers of the planets and elements without being subsumed or dominated by them, we could live with the natural flow of the cosmos to attain our true destinations and ends.  Of course, because of the various influences shining down upon us and emanating from within us, we have to struggle to constantly align and realign ourselves with the natural flow of things.  We have to constantly be on guard so that we don’t fall from Gnosis back to Agnosis; we have to constantly keep ahead of the ghost of Argos so we don’t become trapped once more.

From a Gnostic standpoint, this set of paths makes even more sense than the one before.  While we’re trapped in this world, we’re subject to the seven heavens of planets and their associated archons, which clothe us in misunderstanding and agnosis; they give us false notions of how the cosmos works, as well as how we ourselves work.  But, once we break free of them outside the realm of elements and planets, we enter into the realm of the fixed stars, that starry Eighth Sphere, where we proceed into gnosis.  Quoth the Divine Poemander:

First of all, in the resolution of the material body, the Body itself is given up to alteration, and the form which it had becometh invisible; and the idle manners are permitted, and left to the Demon, and the senses of the body return into their Fountains, being parts, and again made up into Operations.  And Anger, and concupiscence, go into the brutish or unreasonable nature; and the rest striveth upward by Harmony.

And to the first Zone [planet] it giveth the power it had of increasing and diminishing.  To the second, the machinations or plotting of evils, and one effectual deceit or craft.  To the third, the idle deceit of Concupiscence.  To the fourth, the desire of Rule, and unsatiable Ambition.  To the fifth, profane Boldness, and the headlong rashness of confidence.  To the sixth, Evil and ineffectual occasions of Riches.  To the seventh Zone, subtle Falsehood, always lying in wait.

And then being made naked of all the Operations of Harmony, it cometh to the Eighth Nature [sphere of the fixed stars, realm of the Zodiac, etc.], having its proper power, and singeth praises to the father with the things that are, and all they that are present rejoice, and congratulate the coming of it; and being made like to them with whom it converseth, it heareth also the Powers that are above the Eighth Nature, singing Praise to God in a certain voice that is peculiar to them.  And then in order they return unto the Father, and themselves deliver themselves to the Powers, and becoming Powers they are in God.  This is the Good, and to them that know, to be desired.

Thus, while we’re trapped in this world, we cycle chaotically and confusedly around the cosmos without real understanding of how it works, no matter how much we jive with the planetary and elemental forces.  It’s only once we recognize them for the powers that they are that we break free of them, traveling among the fixed stars themselves.  Even in agnosis, there is learning; we need to be aware of what the elements and planets do to us before we can truly break free of them and shed ourselves of their influence.  Once we know how to work them and how to get rid of their influence while remaining in control of them, we then proceed to rise above them to gnosis and understand what the whole cosmos is really about.  Planetary and elemental magic can only get us so far; they cannot get us to the most extreme parts of the cosmos (or, in this model, the outermost spheres of the Tetractys) nor can they get us to a point where we’re balanced and able to go in any direction we want (the sphere of Mercury).  It’s only by making the leap from agnosis to gnosis that we can do that, but even then, we must be on our guard; we can slip and fall back into agnosis by dwelling too much on any one energetic force, allowing it to entrap us once more.

Personally, though I don’t expect this to be the final draft of the Tetractys with lettered paths, I think it’s definitely an improvement, and unless Hermes opens up any more doors in the meanwhile, I expect this to be the system of letters and paths that I’ll use.  If nothing else, it goes to show that there really isn’t just one way to attribute letters to the paths; then again, without having come up with the notion of the Gnostic/Agnostic Schemata, this set of lettered paths wouldn’t’ve been possible.  Still, even using the Schemata as our base, we could still attribute each cycle of Initiations to one of the three groups of energetic forces instead of the zodiac signs, perhaps by giving the empyrean energies to the Hot Initiation, the ouranic energies to the Cold Initiation, and the ideal energies to the Cosmic Initiation.  There are many ways to arrange the paths systematically, so it’s unclear without testing it to see which one works best, if any at all even really matter.  To that end, let’s see how well this particular system can be used.

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Symbolism of the Greek Letters

From before, a letter has four parts: a name, a glyph, a sound, and a meaning.  The first three were discussed last time, along with a basic set of meditations to get us familiar with the first three of these parts.  We didn’t discuss the final part of the letters, however, which is the meaning of the letters.  Unlike the name, glyph, and sound for a letter, of which there tends to be only one of each, there are many layers of meaning for each letter: numerical, astrological, divine, oracular, Phoenician, Greek, and more.  This is what makes the divination system of grammatomancy so powerful, in that a whole world of knowledge can be unlocked with a single letter.  So, even though the meaning of a letter is the fourth part, there are many parts to the meaning of a letter.

What are some of those meanings?  Honestly, if I had to indicate all the meanings of the letters, this blog post would become a whole blog in and of itself, so I’ll simply list a few sets of meanings along with links or links to books for further reading, though my ebook on grammatomancy lists many of them:

  1. Numerical:  my page on isopsephy and gematria, Kieran Barry’s The Greek Qabalah
  2. Astrological: my page on stoicheia, Agrippa’s table of letters (book I, chapter 74, though I reverse how he arranges the planets to the Greek vowels)
  3. Oracular: Apollonius Sophistes’ Greek Alphabet Oracle
  4. Divine: a post linking the Greek gods to the letters for purposes of a lunar grammatomantic ritual calendar

Honestly, with all that down, we already have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, but there’s another way to give meanings to the Greek letters: their original Phoenician names, and Greek words related to the letters.  Even the Greeks were aware, to an extent, of the Phoenician origin of their alphabet, which doesn’t diminish its importance in the least for our purposes.  After all, the Phoenician script was the origin of many of the world’s writing systems (especially if you buy the argument, as I do, that it formed the origin of the Brahmic script in India, which connects it even to the Far Eastern Korean).  The diagram below shows Phoenician in the center column, Hebrew to the right of Phoenician and Arabic to the right of that, and Greek to the left of Phoenician and Latin to the left of that.  Letters of different scripts in the same color boxes show the origin of the letter, while arrows show derivations of other letters.

Origins of Letters from Phoenician

 

Phoenician script has 22 letters, the same 22 as modern Hebrew; there’s a 1-to-1 mapping between those two scripts.  The Ionian Greek script, however, got rid of three of the letters (digamma/waw, qoppa, san/sampi), added four (phi, khi, psi, omega), and moved the position of the derived form of Waw (which became Upsilon) further back in the alphabet.  Each of the Phoenician letters had their own name, many of which provided the names for their corresponding Greek letters.  These names referred to, in many cases, earlier Egyptian hieroglyphs or related words that provided a basis for what the letter looked like.  Many of these names were maintained in Greek, often in derived forms, such as Alpha from ʾĀlp, Bēta from Bet, Gamma from Gimel, and so forth.  For the Greek letters that have Phoenician origins, either in name of the letter or its form, their Phoenician meanings might include the following:

Letter Phoenician Meaning
Α ʾĀlp Ox
Β Bet House
Γ Gimel Throwing stick weapon, camel
Δ Dāleth Door
Ε He Window
Ζ Zayin Weapon, sword
Η Ḥeth Wall, courtyard, thread
Θ Ṭēth Wheel, good
Ι Yōdh Hand, finger
Κ Kaph Hand, palm of a hand
Λ Lāmedh Goad
Μ Mēm Water
Ν Nun Fish, serpent, whale
Ξ Simketh or Sāmekh Fish, tent peg, prop support
Ο ʿAyin Eye
Π Mouth
Ρ Rēš Head
Σ Form from Šin
Name from Simketh
Tooth
Τ Tāw Mark, cross
Υ Wāw Hook
Φ Form from Qōph Back of the head, sewing needle, eye of a needle, monkey
Χ
Ψ
Ω Form from Omicron

Of course, by the time the Ionian Greek script was adopted and spread throughout Greece, many of the letter forms were so far removed from their Phoenician counterparts (if any existed) that many of these meanings became meaningless or detached from the letters.  However, the Greeks themselves often found new symbolism for the names, often from a variety of sources.

  • Words or names that started with the letter itself
  • Images or concepts that bear a resemblance to the shape of the letter
  • Words that bear a strong resemblance or things that have a connection to the name of the letter
  • Assigning a letter to parts of the body, starting with Alpha at the head and going down to Mu at the feet, then starting again from Nu at the feet and going back up to Ōmega at the head (cf. the Body of Sophia)
Letter Meaning
Initial letter Graphical Importance Body
Α  Man, air, Apollo  Beginning, invention, source, God  Head
Β  King, help  Duality  Neck
Γ  Earth, birth  Shoulders and hands
Δ  God, ten  Breast
Ε  Build  Justice, Apollo  Diaphragm
Ζ  Life, Zeus  Back
Η  Hera  Belly
Θ  God, death, Mars  The world/universe  Thighs
Ι  Jesus, jot, single  Line, perfection, Rod of Moses  Knees
Κ  Lord, Caesar  Lower legs
Λ  Lion  Ratio, progression  Ankles
Μ  Mary, myriad  Middle  Feet
Ν  Feet
Ξ  Ankles
Ο  Circle, heaven  Lower legs
Π  Father, fire, five, Mars  Knees
Ρ  Thighs
Σ  Savior  Belly
Τ  Cross, crucifix  Back
Υ  Son  Moral choice, dilemma  Diaphragm
Φ  Voice, sound  Breast
Χ  Time, Christ  World soul, cross  Shoulders and hands
Ψ  Psyche, soul  Holy Spirit  Neck
Ω  Ocean, Orion  End  Head

You’ll note that I’ve started to include Abrahamic and Christian references; this is intentional, and not simply me copying entries blind from Kieran Barry’s “The Greek Qabalah”.  After all, as a Hermeticist, I’m not opposed to including Christian or Jewish references here (despite my trying to distance myself from Jewish kabbalah); rather, including them reaches back and allows for more access to much of Renaissance and Medieval development of Hermeticism as well as its classical and pagan origins.

So, where does all this leave us?  Between the graphical shapes and names of the letters, along with their oracular meanings, divine connections, numerical and isopsephic connections, and astrological or planetary or elemental connections, we have whole worlds of meaning for each of the letters.  These can all be incorporated into the meditations on the letters by visualizing or contemplating on them while intoning or repeating the letters.  The images and symbolism of the letters, coupled with their pronunciation, will further open up more doors in exploring the worlds and meanings of the letters and how they affect the world through their presence and, by their presence, the will and presence of the gods and God.

In fact, speaking of doors, let me share a method of scrying I like to use for deeply exploring a particular symbol.  Once the meanings and symbolism of the letters in all their complexity and layers have been learned and reviewed, and after meditating briefly to calm and clear the mind but before leaving the meditative state, I visualize a doorway with a particular symbol inscribed on it.  In our case, that symbol would be one of the letters of the Greek alphabet.  Knock on the door, mentally intoning the letter itself, and open it up.  Everything inside is a representation and symbol connected to that original symbol; explore the world, perhaps calling on the genius or spirit of the symbol to guide you or to send you a guide, or calling on your own HGA or personal tutelary spirit to guide you through it.  Explore the world as deeply as you care to, and when you’ve decided you’ve had enough, take the same route back through the world, passing by all the things you passed by before, and exit the same way you came.  Close the door, clear the mind again, and exit the meditative state.  I’ve used this skill to great efficacy before, notably on my meditations on the geomantic figures and the elemental archangelic kings, and it can be adapted to any number of symbols.  Using this method with the Greek letters can increase one’s deeper knowledge of them by exploring the deeper symbolism and worlds behind the letters which wouldn’t be apparent from simply reading up on their symbolism, and can indicate other symbols not listed above as well as connections to other letters that might not be apparent.  Further, the technique can be augmented by having it take place in one’s astral temple, or astrally projecting into the world itself.

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Meditating on the Greek Letters

So, if the gods reveal themselves by signs and omens, and those signs are the basis of the Greek letters, then the gods reveal themselves by means of the Greek letters.  This isn’t that big a stretch; after all, there is grammatomancy, that awesome divination system (which I strongly recommend buying the ebook I put out for it for more information on the Greek letters in magic, hint hint) where the Greek letters themselves are messages.  Plus, the Greek letters are also associated with number, which is the foundation for the creation of the cosmos according to Pythagoras, so if the gods didn’t make the universe by means of the Greek letters, then the Greek letters can certainly indicate how they did so by means of number.  Even if we don’t worship the gods or engage in explicit theurgy (which we really should be doing anyway), even coming to a deep understanding of the Greek letters themselves, on their own terms, as their own entities, will still help us achieve a deep understanding of the cosmos approximating or equalling a full theurgic understanding of the cosmos.

The question then becomes “how should we go about understanding the Greek letters”?  Well, let’s say that there are four parts to a letter:

  1. Name, the word by which we refer to a letter, such as “alpha”, “beta”, etc.
  2. Glyph, the graphical sign that refers to a letter, such as Α/α, Β/β, etc.
  3. Sound, the sound the letter produces, such as [a], [b], etc. (Knowing IPA is helpful for this part.)
  4. Meaning, the occult and esoteric meaning of the letter

The first three parts are fairly straightforward, barring regional and temporal variants in the Greek script.  For the purposes of kampala, I’m going to be using what’s been considered the Greek alphabet in use for the past 2400 years, the classical Ionian script, adopted by the archon Eucleides in 403 BC in Athens and quickly standardized across the rest of Greece shortly thereafter.  This script has the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet we’re all familiar with in the same forms we’re all familiar with, and has been roughly unchanged since their adoption.  Their pronunciation has shifted slightly in accordance with basic phonological laws over the millennia, but this is to be expected and isn’t that great an issue.

So, with that, let’s take a look at the Greek alphabet.  There are 24 letters, which are:

Letter Name Sound
Greek Roman Greek English Classical Modern
Α A αλφα alpha a, aː a
Β B βητα bēta b v
Γ G γαμμα gamma g ɣ ~ ʝ
Δ D δελτα delta d ð
Ε E εψιλον epsilon e e
Ζ Z ζητα zēta zd, dz, z z
Η Ē ητα ēta ɛː i
Θ TH θητα thēta θ
Ι I ιωτα iōta i, iː i
Κ K καππα kappa k k, c
Λ L λαμβδα lambda l l, ʎ
Μ M μυ mu m m
Ν N νυ nu n n
Ξ X ξει xi ks ks
Ο O ομικρον omicron o o
Π P πει pi p p
Ρ R ρω rhō r r
Σ S σιγμα sigma s s
Τ T ταυ tau t t
Υ U, Y υψιλον upsilon y, yː i, f ~ v
Φ PH, F φει phi f
Χ KH, CH χει chi χ ~ ç
Ψ PS ψει psi ps ps
Ω Ō ωμεγα ōmega ɔː p

Note that some of the English names for the Greek letters simplify the vowels a bit, such that Π is “pi” in English, not the more accurate classical “pei”, though in Modern Greek it’s “pi”.  Also, where there’re different possible ways to write the letter out, those are given in the table; for instance, Χ can be written as “ch” or “kh” (I prefer the latter, personally).

The thing about the number 24 is that it has a lot of factors and a lot of ways to be split up or multiplied by equally convenient numbers, which makes it mathematically appealing; for instance, 24 × 15 = 360, or 4 × 6 = 24.  Since there are 24 Greek letters, there are different ways to split them up in different ways.  I personally prefer a 7/12/5 schema: seven vowels, twelve “simple” consonants (which themselves are broken into seven stop and five continuing consonants), and five “complex” consonants.  This schema has important symbolic meaning, but let’s focus on the phonetic parts for now:

  • The seven vowels (letters that produce a clear vocal sound) are pretty straightforward: Α, Ε, Η, Ι, Ο, Υ, Ω
  • Simple stop consonants are those which are produced from one action in the mouth and stop the airflow completely: Β, Γ, Δ, Κ, Π, Τ
  • Simple continuing consonants are those which are produced from one action in the mouth but can be vocally continued: Ζ, Λ, Μ, Ν, Ρ
  • Complex consonants are those which are produced from two actions in the mouth: Θ, Ξ, Φ, Χ, Ψ

Pronouncing the vowels can be a little tricky for some people, but it’s still easy.  Alpha, Epsilon, Iōta, and Omicron produce the same sounds you’d expect in English: “ah”, “eh”, “ee”, “oh”.  Upsilon is a little tricky; it’s like the combination of “ee” and “oo”, but a good example of the sound is the French “u” or German “ü”.  Ēta and Ōmega, to make the distinction simple, is that they were lengthened versions of Epsilon and Omicron.  I don’t mean that the sound changed (though it did in later varieties of Greek) except in how long you pronounced it.  So an Epsilon is “eh”, and Ēta is “ehhhh”.  That’s really basically it, though it ended up where Ēta had a sound only slightly closer to “ei” (between “bed” and “bait”) than “eh”, and Ōmega was more like a deeper “auh” (“thought”) than “oh”.

As for consonants, when I say “simple” versus “complex”, compare Tau and Thēta.  They both classically made a “t” sound, but the difference was that Tau was a simple unaspirated and nonbreathy “t”, while Thēta produced an aspirated (breathy) “t”.  It’s the difference between “water” (a nonbreathy “t”) and “tin” (a breathy “t”).  Thēta, Phi, and Khi are all aspirated, while their unaspirated versions are Tau, Pi, and Kappa.  The other complex letters, Xi and Psi, are combinations of two simple consonants: Kappa and Sigma for Xi, and Pi and Sigma for Psi.  The other simple consonants are pronounced the same way you’d pronounce them in English, bearing in mind the difference between aspirated and unaspirated consonants (try being aware of when you’re producing a breathy sound in the future).

Why am I spending so much time over the basics of Greek pronunciation?  Because this is going to be key for understanding the meaning of the letters in a meditative and contemplative way.  Sure, the letters have their own symbolism based on their shape and meaning, which we’ll talk about more another time, but I want to offer a method to meditate on the letters by means of their sounds.  This is similar to the use of seed syllables in varieties of Tantric Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as the use of speaking certain names of God with different vowels in Jewish kabbalah.  By truly, deeply vibrating, intoning, and focusing all of the body and mind on pronouncing the sounds of the Greek letters, we attune ourselves to them and begin to open up deeper mysteries of the letters.  However, there are many different ways to start this, so I propose the following methods:

For vowels:

  1. Intoning a single vowel.  Example: ΑΑΑΑΑΑ
  2. Intoning a sequence of vowels with a breath between each.  Example: ΑΑΑΑΑΑ   ΕΕΕΕΕΕ
  3. Intoning a sequence of vowels once.  Example: ΑΑΑΑΑΑΕΕΕΕΕΕ
  4. Intoning a sequence of vowels, cycling through the vowels themselves.  Example: ΑΑΑΕΕΕΑΑΑΕΕΕ
  5. Any of the above at different vocal pitches, such as at a high pitch then a low pitch

For  simple stop consonants:

  1. Making the consonant once, breathing out afterwards.  Example: B
  2. Making the consonant multiple times within a single breath with no sound.  Example: B B B B B
  3. Making the consonant multiple times within a single breath with an unstressed vowel.  Example: B B B B B (buh buh buh buh buh)

For simple continuing consonants:

  1. Making the consonant once, breathing out afterwards.  Example: Λ
  2. Making the consonant once, prolonging it within a single breath.  Example: ΛΛΛΛΛΛΛ
  3. Making the consonant multiple times within a single breath.  Example: Λ Λ Λ Λ Λ Λ
  4. Making the consonant multiple times over several breaths, continuing it on a single breath.  Example: ΛΛΛ ΛΛΛ ΛΛΛ ΛΛΛΛ
  5. Any of the above at different vocal pitches, such as at a high pitch then a low pitch

For a complex consonant, any of the making the consonant once but prolonging the complexity.  Example, ΞΣΣΣΣΣΣΣ, or Θ breathing out completely.  The other simple continuing consonant meditations should also be done with these, as well.

For vowels and consonants:

  1. Making the consonant with one vowel to prolong it.  Example: ΒΑΑΑΑΑΑΑ
  2. Making the consonant several times with different vowels with a breath between each.  Example: ΒΑΑΑΑΑΑ ΒΕΕΕΕΕΕΕ ΒΗΗΗΗΗΗΗ
  3. Making the consonant several times with different vowels within a single breath.  Example: ΒΑΑΑΒΕΕΕΒΗΗΗ
  4. For simple continuing consonants or complex consonants, prolonging the consonant followed by the vowel.  Example: ΞΣΣΣΣΣΑΑΑΑ or Θ…ΑΑΑΑ (exhaling halfway before making the vowel with a weak unstressed vowel, like “t-hhhuhhh-ahhh”)
  5. Any of the above with vowels coming to a stop with a consonant with no sound following.  Example: ΑΑΑΑΑΑΒ
  6. Any of the above with vowels coming to a stop with a consonant with an unstressed vowel following.  Example: ΑΑΑΑΑΑΒ (ahhhhhbuh)
  7. Any of the above at different vocal pitches, such as at a high pitch then a low pitch

And, perhaps it’s understated, but even intoning the name of a single letter (e.g. “ΑΛΦΑ”) is worthwhile, too, and I’d consider it to be the most complex of these basic meditative exercises.  Once one becomes comfortable with all the meditations on all the letters (and a good combination of consonants and vowels), the next logical step is to meditate on whole words in the same way.  This method produces mantras out of each and every letter in the Greek alphabet, as well as every combination of them, in a variety of ways to acclimate one to their pronunciation and use later in the study of kampala.  At the beginning, it might be preferred to use combinations of vowels and consonants in order (so alpha-bēta, alpha-gamma, alpha-delta, etc.) before jumping around the alphabet.

While pronouncing the letter, it also helps to give the mind something to focus on; I suggest the shape of the letter itself.  Either the capital or lowercase letter could be used; for the purposes of kampala, they’re treated the same, though all analyses are given based on the capital letter.  Visualizing the letter itself is simple, since none of the letters are particularly complex glyphs, and visualization exercises abound on the Internet.  As you breath in, let the mind clear; as the letter is pronounced, let the letter shine brightly in the mind; as the letter’s sound goes away or is breathed out, let the letter dim until only an afterimage or thought-echo is left in the mind until the breath is emptied out.

How much time should be spent on this?  As with anything, as much as you want to, and as much as you can.  I personally find it useful to sync up daily letter meditations, doing different letters and letter combinations based on the grammatomantic letter of the day of the lunar month, so I meditate on Kappa on Kappa-day, Omicron on Omicron-day, and so forth.  (I’ll be making increasing use of that grammatomantic lunar calendar throughout this kampala project, since it spreads things out nicely and regularly for me.)  This is a good way to get introduced to basic meditation on the letters, but you’ll notice that we haven’t talked about the meaning of the letters yet at all.  That’s coming up soon, and it’ll give us more things to meditate on when we do letter meditation in the future, but for now, keep it basic and get busy, since now we begin working our way into the emerging mysteries of kampala.

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Mythology of the Greek Letters

If we’re to really get anywhere with this Greek kabbalah, or kampala, then we need to start from the basics.  And, as an engineer, for me the basics often consist of the tools I’m going to use in order to build myself up more.  Theory and theology are great and all, but it’s hard to read a book if you don’t know how to read.  I claim that, in pursuing the goal of creating a system of kampala, it’s important to start out from the basics if we want to start from first principles.  Put bluntly, if the universe is made from number as Pythagoras claims, than it’s possible to gain an understanding of the universe by means of number.  And, if Greek letters stand for numbers, then it’s likewise possible to understand the universe by means  of Greek letters.  Add to it, the number of numbers is, well, infinite (infinitely and uncountably infinite, to be exact), while the Greek letters are finite; yet, the Greek letters can represent all numbers.  Since we’re finite beings ourselves, it helps us to use a finite set of symbols to gain understanding, not least infinity itself.

So, the Greek alphabet.  I claim it’s a useful tool, and not just for the purposes of grammatomancy and isopsephy, either.  I won’t harp on those topics just yet, though, nor do I want to talk about what the letters are or how to pronounce them or how they developed from Phoenician or how they developed as numbers.  You can read all that on your own without much context or debate.  What I really want to talk about is the mythology behind the letters, where they came from in a divine sense according to what we already know.  According to Hyginus in his Fabulae, #277:

The Parcae, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos invented seven Greek letters – A B H T I Y.
Others say that Mercury invented them from the flight of cranes, which, when they fly, form letters.
Palamedes, too, son of Nauplius, invented eleven letters; Simonides, too, invented four letters – Ó E Z PH; Epicharmus of Sicily, two – P and PS.
The Greek letters Mercury is said to have brought to Egypt, and from Egypt Cadmus took them to Greece. Cadmus in exile from Arcadia, took them to Italy, and his mother Carmenta changed them to Latin to the number of 15.
Apollo on the lyre added the rest.

Thus, we have several groups of letters along with who invented them:

  • Moirai (7): Α, Β, Η, Τ, Ι, Υ, ?
  • Palamedes (11): Γ, Δ, Θ, Κ, Λ, Μ, Ν, Ξ, Ο, Ρ, Σ, Χ
  • Simonides (4): Ω, Ε, Ζ, Φ
  • Epicharmus of Sicily (2): Π, Ψ

The list is somewhat confusing, since the translation (and a Latin copy of Hyginus) give variations depending on the source of who invented what letters or how many.  The list above has the Moirai inventing seven letters but only listing six.  Something’s not adding up here, but that’s what crappy penmanship and scribery will get you over the centuries.  Besides, this is only one myth, and there are many; Herodotus in his Histories claims that Cadmus, a Phoenician prince, brought a Phoenician alphabet to the Greeks.  Herodotus and others note that ancient Greek (and this was ancient even for them) was written using identical letters to those of Phoenician scripts of the time, though over time the Greek alphabet had diverged and grown unique in its own use.  Other historians cast doubt on Herodotus, claiming the Greek script had a Euboean, Eretrian, or other Greek origin; others yet claimed that calling them “Phoenician letters” was a misnomer since, even if the Phoenicians brought them to Greece, they themselves got their letters from other nations, specifically Syria according to Diodorus Siculus.  As it would turn out, Herodotus was closest to the factual history of the matter.  This is why Hebrew and Greek share a common origin, because they both pull their alphabets from Phoenician, though their mythologies may say differently on the matter.

Unlike Egyptian or Hebrew mythology, the Greeks as a whole didn’t have that many myths for where their alphabet came from; either Cadmus the Phoenician gave it to Greece, or the Fates and Hermes contributed to the alphabet along with mortals.  That doesn’t change the fact that the Greeks had and appreciated their writing system, though, and if any mythological non-mortal origin must be traced to the letters, then it’s from two sources: the Moirai, goddesses of fate, as well as Hermes, communicator and messenger of the gods.  The Moirai were Klōthō, Lakhesis, and Atropos, the three white-robed goddesses who, respectively, spun the thread of life from her distaff onto her spindle to begin life, measured the thread to determine how long a life should be, and cut the thread of life to end it once it was fully measured out.  Their name itself refers to “part” or “lot”, similar to one’s fate or destiny or the allotment of length of life.  However, their collective name can be more broadly interpreted to refer to everything that fell as one’s lot in life: glory, happiness, grief, death, and the like, which are all unexpected and fall to chance and fate.  Sometimes, even, the three Moirai are represented as the single goddess Moira, who subsumes all their functions into an abstract concept, of whom Zeus is the occasional personification.  In terms of writing, however, that the Moirai developed several letters for our use indicates that the ability to write gives us the ability to understand and work with what falls to us; writing not only comes from the divine but allows us to learn more about them.

As for Hermes, well, what needs be said about him that many of us don’t already know?  He’s the communicator and messenger between the gods, traveling across all worlds doing their bidding, and especially from our world to the heavens to communicate our desires and prayers and sacrifices to the gods themselves. He’s the god of all communication and the post, and thus over writing and many of its related arts such as mathematics, science, engineering, programming, and so forth.  However, his association with this is not given in his Homeric hymn, but developed as a result of his function as messenger and courier.  The myths do associate him with divination through signs, such as birdflight and other chance omens, which themselves are messages.  In this light, letters are messages from the gods always telling us more about the world as well as of the gods themselves.  Letters, coming from the shapes of birds and other omens, all have their own messages to speak in addition to the message they spell out as a whole.

Unlike in Hebrew, where the world was literally created by means of the Hebrew script (which the Jews think God gave to mankind in exactly the same curvy square-script form they use today, which I find…odd), the Greeks had no such conception; there are plenty of other cosmogonies in Greek mythology, but none involve language per se or even as an important tool; abstract gods generate other gods either by themselves or in copulation with another.  Instead, the use of writing is a constant transaction between us and the cosmos; every letter of every message is significant in always communicating to us the will and desire of the gods, as well as correlating all the things in our life to what happens to and because of us.  This is a huge idea; this means that if the will of the gods are in their messages, and their messages are in the letters, then they are effectively within and staring at us from the letters.  As we write letters, we communicate the will of the gods by means of the things we write since they use each letter independently and in tandem with each other to communicate their will to the rest of the cosmos.  While the letters may not be the building blocks of the world, they are vital to its constant functioning and maintenance.

Grammatomancy: Divination by Letters

While idly browsing around Reddit and the rest of the vasty deep of the Internet, I encountered an absolutely fantastic website for people working in Greco-Roman or Hellenic pagan paths, the Biblioteca Arcana.  I was directed to the site while looking up some information on dice-based divination, and ended up discovering something a little more interesting: a system of divination that uses the Greek letters much as modern diviners use the Elder Futhark runes.

The system is pretty easy to learn.  There are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet (ignoring the obsolete digamma, qoppa, and sampi), and each letter is associated with a particular oracular verse or lyric that begins with that letter (much as an acrostic).  Select a letter through some random means (dice, selecting a stone from a bag, etc.), and the oracular verse corresponded with the letter is the answer.  This is effectively divination by Greek letters, or grammatomancy.  Since all the oracular verses are fairly short, it’s only a minor chore to associate the Greek letters with the meanings of them, no more tedious than learning runes.  It might even be simpler, since the traditional technique didn’t allow for multiple letters being drawn or reversed letters (though I’m sure the system could be modified to allow for it, definitely something to try out).

The dude at the link above, Apollonius Sophistes, offers three methods of selecting letters randomly: using stones or potsherds inscribed with one letter on each, using four sheep knucklebones, or using five six-sided dice (noted as 5d6 in RPG terms).  The knucklebones and dice, when rolled, give a number associated with a particular letter.  While I’m fond of the first method, I wanted something that was simpler to carry around.  Considering that there are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet, why not use that number to our advantage?  We can factorize 24 into 4 and 6, so one method is to use the a four-sided die (1d4) to select a “hexad” of letters (hexad 1 = Α through Ζ, hexad 2 = Θ through Μ, etc.), and to use a six-sided die (1d6) to select the letter within the hexad.  So, say we roll the dice and get 3 on the d4 and 5 on the d6.  So, we look at the fifth letter in the third hexad, which is Ρ (Greek rho, not Latin pee).

Alternatively, 24 divides into 2 and 12; we could use a twelve-sided die (d12) and roll it twice, once to determine whether we look at the first dodecad of letters (first dodecad =  Α through Μ, second = Ν through Ω) and again to determine the specific letter within that dodecad.  We might say that an odd number on the first roll is associated with the first dodecad and an even number with the second.  So, say we roll 2d12, and we get the numbers 4 and 11.  4 is even, so we look at the eleventh letter in the second dodecad, which is Ψ (Greek psi).  Alternatively, instead of rolling 2d12 and using the first roll for its parity, we might roll a 1d12 with a 1d2 (i.e., flip a coin), but that requires having something extra on hand.

At any rate, what’s awesome about this style of grammatomancy is that we can combine the oracles given above with the technique of stoicheia, where each of the Greek letters is assigned to a particular magical force.  Consider that there are 12 astrological signs, seven traditional planets, and four classical elements plus Spirit/quintessence.  Thus, 12 + 7 + 4 + 1 = 24, the number of letters in the Greek alphabet.  The seven vowels (Α through Ω) are assigned to the planets (Moon through Saturn); the five complex consonants (Θ, Ξ, Φ, Χ, Ψ) are assigned to the elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire, Spirit); the twelve simple consonants leftover are assigned to the twelve signs of the zodiac in order (Β with Aries through Τ with Pisces).

Through the use of the association of the zodiac signs with the simple consonants, we might use Agrippa’s association of the Olympic deities with the signs (book II, chapter 14) to arrive at big-name gods instead of just signs if we want a less astrological bend to this; similarly, we might use his association of the elements (book II, chapter 7) and of the planets (book II, chapter 10) to the directions.  We might want to go this route if we want to know which god or wind is favorable to appeal to or would hinder us, though all divination and oracles come from Apollo and/or Hermes in traditional reckoning.  This is in addition to using the numerical values of the letters in isopsephy or Greek gematria, as well, for another layer of interpretation that you might consider.

I’ve always held writing to be magical (as it damn well is, coming from Hermes-Thoth-Odin-whoever), and I’ve always wanted to try using writing itself as divination besides automatic writing.  Runes never clicked with me, but this style of Greek grammatomancy seems much more appealing; it’s probably just an aesthetic thing, but hey, aesthetics matter, and it fits much more closely in the systems and currents I work with than a writing system far removed in time, space, and symbolism.  I strongly suggest checking out the dude’s page and experimenting with this and other techniques of his; I know I will.  As a good academic should, he even posts his sources and scans of original Greek texts where applicable, which is pretty awesome.  I’m pretty psyched to learn this style of divination, if you guys couldn’t tell.