Feasts at a Hermetic Shrine

In the last post, I brought up the notion of what sorts of offerings one might make at a shrine used for Hermetic devotions and worship and how one might go about arranging them.  For me in general, this is an important thing to mull over, because I find the simple making of offerings (even just incense, candles, and water) to be a hugely beneficial work unto itself.  And yes, sure, while Hermēs at the end of the Asclepius (AH 41) says that one shouldn’t offer incense to God:

As they left the sanctuary, they began praying to god and turning to the south (for when someone wants to entreat god at sunset, he should direct his gaze to that quarter, and likewise at sunrise toward the direction they call east), and they were already saying their prayer when in a hushed voice Asclepius asked: “Tat, do you think we should suggest that your father tell them to add frankincense and spices as we pray to god?”

When Trismegistus heard him, he was disturbed and said: “A bad omen, Asclepius, very bad. To burn incense and such stuff when you entreat god smacks of sacrilege. For he wants nothing who is himself all things or in whom all things are. Rather let us worship him by giving thanks, for god finds mortal gratitude to be the best incense.”

Such a direction only really applies to the One God, not to the many gods.  After all, earlier on in the Asclepius (AH 38), Hermēs praises works of sacrifice for the gods, or at least those that inhabit cult images in temples:

And this is why those gods are entertained with constant sacrifices, with hymns, praises and sweet sounds in tune with heaven’s harmony: so that the heavenly ingredient enticed into the idol by constant communication with heaven may gladly endure its long stay among humankind. Thus does man fashion his gods.

While I think that making offerings to the gods is never something done in vain and can be done anytime and all the time, I also find that it helps to have some sort of routine, rhythm, or rubric by which one can organize the timing of offerings, what sorts of offerings should be given, and the like.  This is where the notion of ritual timing comes into play, and so raises the question of when we should engage in such works of offering and sacrifice.  There are lots of terms for such events, but a good general-purpose one we might use is simply “feast”—if not for us, then at least for the gods.

In the last post, I cited a few Hermetic Testimonies (TH) texts that informed my notion of what can/should be given at a Hermetic shrine for Hermetic work, according to a few Islamic-era texts that describe some clearly non-Islamic (but potentially Islamicly-filtered) practices that may well be Hermetic.  Let’s review those texts once more, with the bits about timing highlighted.

TH 37B (Picatrix III.7), but using the Attrell/Porreca translation:

The opinion of the sages about the prayers and petitions suited to the planets is that each of the planets acts on matters corresponding to its own nature (the fortunate to the good and the unfortunate to the evil).  When you wish to ask something from the planets, see to it that the chosen planet be aspected by the lord of the ascendant, that the almuten of the figure be in the east and also high in its epicycle in the fourth altitude in the east.  Then the sages would make their petitions.  The powers and effects of the planets are stronger and of greater influence at night.  Beware lest you seek anything from the any planet that is not from its own proper nature since it would be the downfall of such a request.

The sages who made prayers and sacrifices to the planets in mosques did the abovementioned things.  When the heavens moved by eight degrees, they made the sacrifice of one animal, and while it as setting by eight degrees, they made another sacrifice.  They say that Hermes ordered them to do this in mosques or in their churches.  Those sages have claimed regarding Hermes that he was lord of the three thriving roles, namely a king, a prophet, and a sage.

The context of this part of the Picatrix is from a lengthy chapter that contains descriptions of the seven planets, what their properties and associations are, and what prayers may be recited for them (and how!) for a number of ends.  These prayers specify particular astrological configurations (e.g. for Saturn “you must wait until he enters into good condition” like in Libra, Aquarius, or Capricorn), so these can reasonably fall into the domain of astrological magic, but if you consider Hermeticism or those influenced by it to participate in an astrological religion, then there’s little difference between the two.

In that light, what we see here is also astrological in nature, but rather than it being about a particular election, it’s about repeated and regular rituals rituals after an election.  Once a particular planetary working was performed at a given election, two further sacrifices were given to the planet, each when it had passed eight degrees along the ecliptic.  Thus, for example, if I were to do an operation of the Sun when it was at is exaltation degree of 18° Aries, then I’d make another sacrifice to the Sun at 18 + 8 = 26° Aries, and then again at 26 + 8 = 34 → 4° Taurus.  Depending on the speed of the planet in question, it could take anywhere from a day to a year or more, but the point is to follow up one ritual with two subsequent ones, either as thanks or to revisit the working to ensure its success.  However, I wouldn’t really call these “feasts”, not really; while these would be ritualized offerings, they’re done as follow-ups to particular purpose-driven operations, like follow-up visits to the doctor after a once-in-a-lifetime health procedure rather than a regularly-scheduled yearly checkup.

We’ll look at the next two together, since they’re pretty similar in content.  First, TH 28 (Kitāb Muẖtār al-Ḥikam wa-Maḥāsin al-Kalim 7.8—10.19):

He preached God’s judgment, belief in God’s unity, humankind’s worship (of God), and saving souls from punishment. He incited (people) to abstain piously from this world, to act justly, and to seek salvation in the next world. He commanded them to perform prayers that he stated for them in manners that he explained to them, and to fast on recognized days of each month, to undertake holy war against the enemies of the religion, and to give charity from (their) possessions and to assist the weak with it. He bound them with oaths of ritual purity from pollutants, menstruation, and touching the dead. He ordered them to forbid eating pig, donkey, camel, dog, and other foods. He forbade intoxication from every type of beverage, and stated this in the most severe terms.

He established many feasts for them at recognized times, and prayers and offerings in them. One (of these) is that of the entry of the sun into the beginnings (that is, the first degrees) of the signs of the zodiac. Another is that of the sightings of the new moon and that of the times of astrological conjunctions. And whenever the planets arrive at their houses and exaltations or are aspected with other planets, they make an offering. The offerings for what he prescribed include three things: incense, sacrificial animals, and wine. Of the first fruits of aromatic plants they offer roses. Of grains, they offer wheat and barley, of fruit, grapes, and of drink, wine.

And then Tārīẖ Muẖtaṣar al-Duwal, “On the Three Hermēses”:

It is also handed down that the first Hermēs founded a hundred and eighty cities, the smallest of which is Ruhā (Edessa, Urfa); and that he prescribed to people the worship of God: fasting, prayers, alms, that they held feasts whenever the planets were in their own domicile in the descendant or in the ascendant as well as on each new moon and whenever the Sun entered any of the twelve signs; they would offer the first fruits of all crops and the best perfumes and wine; and he did not prohibit inebriation or illicit foods.

As opposed to being as-needed purpose-driven operations, what these extracts give us would be much closer to religious observances.  They’re still astrologically-determined, sure, but they’re not as arbitrary or at-will as what Picatrix III.7 was describing.  From these, we get the following notions:

  • New moon (i.e. first sighting of the waxing crescent Moon after syzygy with the Sun).  This makes sense and is a pretty common observance to make the whole world over, given how the observable synodic cycle of the Moon is a common basis for months in lunar or lunisolar calendars.  Repeated, regularly-timed feasts.
  • Sun ingresses into a new sign.  For anyone astrologically-inclined, this would also make sense for similar reasons as the observance of the new Moon, just for a strictly solar calendar rather than a lunar/lunisolar one.  (Consider the Persian Nowruz celebration, marking the new year at the March equinox when the Sun enters Aries.)  More repeated, regularly-timed feasts.
  • Planets ingress into the signs of their domiciles.  Now we’re getting into actual astrological stuff, but in a way that’s as repeated and regular as the strictly lunar and solar observances as before.  (In the case of the Sun, this would overlap with the Sun ingressing into Leo.)
  • Planets ingress into the signs of their exaltations (or, more specifically, arrive at their degrees of exaltation).  Again, similar as above with planets ingressing into their domiciles, but there are two options here.  While we might perform such a feast when a given planet enters the sign of its exaltation (e.g. Venus hits 0° Pisces), exaltations are technically degree-based dignities of the planets, so instead of doing it by sign ingress, we might instead do this when the planet hits that specific degree (e.g. Venus hits 26° Pisces).  This gives us something like two or three observances a year for each planet (possibly more if we consider the separate times a planet hits a degree due to retrograde motion as a separate observance worthy of action).
  • Planets arrive into conjunction with one another, and possibly other aspects.  Unlike the above, this is not something so regular or repeated, because it depends on particular astrological configurations of the planets that might happen on any timescale, like the Great Conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn that happen once every 20 years or so.  Now, the language here is somewhat conflicting or obscure: what such events are worthy of such an observance?  Conjunctions are specifically highlighted, but between what planets, or how many planets?  For other aspects, do we care about greater aspects (oppositions and trines) or lesser aspects (squares and sextiles)?  For Mercury and Venus, do we care about whether a conjunction is superior (on the far side of the Sun during direct motion) or inferior (between the Earth and the Sun during retrograde motion)?  Depending on the strictness of one’s observation, one could really open up the field here to quite a lot of feasts all the time or just a handful of them a year.

Also, something I’d also like to propose in addition to the above, based not on Islamic-period Hermetic testimonia but classical-period Greco-Egyptian practice: the decans!  These are 10-day periods, basically the equivalent of Egyptian “weeks”, which were used to track the passage of time, and later became incorporated into Hellenistic and later forms of astrology as “faces”, 10° segments of the ecliptic, giving three decans/faces to a sign (o° to 10°, 1o° to 20°, and 20° to 30°).  Like most of the above, these would be regular and repeated observances, but definitely on a more frequent timescale than any of the others…unless we also factor in lunar phases beyond the New Moon, like the Full Moon or quarter Moons.  It’s interesting how new Moons are specifically highlighted as an observance for making offerings, but not any other kind of lunar timing beyond this; one might presume that smaller or private observances might have been made without as much public pomp as new Moon ones, but that’s entirely conjecture.  Either way, we can certainly consider the above highlights from the Islamic-period Hermetic testimonia give a good number of basic observances to start with that form the foundation of an astrologically-informed religious practice, to which we can add other astrologically-informed observances to if desired for a more active and rigorous schedule.

In addition to all the above—or, technically, as a specification of one of the items from above—I’d also like to highlight a particular observance when Mercury hits the fifteenth degree of Virgo (i.e. 14° Virgo).  This is part of the specific astrological timing given in NHC VI,6, the Coptic Hermetic text Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth, as that to be used for the inscribing of sacred steles:

“Child, copy this book for the temple at Diospolis  in hieroglyphic characters, and call it the Eighth Reveals the Ninth.”

“I shall do it, father,  as you command.”

“Child,  copy the contents of the book on turquoise steles.  Child, it is fitting to copy this book on turquoise steles in hieroglyphic characters, for mind itself has become the supervisor of these things. So I command that this discourse be carved into stone and that you put it in my sanctuary.  Eight guards watch over it with…the sun: the males on the right have faces of frogs, and the females on the left have faces of cats.  Put a square milkstone at the base of the turquoise tablets, and copy the name on the azure stone tablet in hieroglyphic characters. Child, you must do this when I am in Virgo, and the sun is in the first half of the day, and fifteen degrees have passed by me.”

I should note that the fifteenth degree of Virgo is the exaltation degree of Mercury, so this would already technically be accounted for in the above lists, but would definitely rank as a super-important observance to make.

Also, to follow up on something from the Picatrix, remember all that talk we had about the communion with the Perfect Nature from book III, chapter 6According to the ritual instructions given there, one is to undertake the operation when the Moon is in the first degree of Aries (i.e. 0° Aries).  Technically, the Moon is only in the first degree of Aries for about a two-hour window once every 28 days, but the Moon’s ingress to Aries could be reckoned more broadly as another kind of “new month”, just using a sidereal lunar month instead of a synodic one.  Although not given in the above list, we might also generalize this to make an observance for the Moon ingress into every sign just as the Sun does, which would rank as the most frequent type of observance (twelve or thirteen per month, once every two or three days!).

Anyway!  In the last post, though, I also highlighted another excerpt from Tārīẖ Muẖtaṣar al-Duwal, from the section “On the Practices of the Sabians”:

What is known about the sect of the Sabians among us is that their confession is exactly the same as the confession of the ancient Chaldaeans, their qiblah is the North Pole, and they diligently pursue the four intellectual virtues. It is also imposed on them to pray three times [a day]: first, a half-hour or less before sunrise, which is completed with eight bows when the sun is rising, each of which contains three prayers; secondly, a prayer finished at noon, when the sun begins to move downwards, and this consists of five kneelings, each of which contains three prayers; third, with a prayer similar to the second, to be finished when the sun sets.

There are fasts imposed on them: one of thirty days, the first day of which is the eighth of ‘Ādar; also one of nine days, the first of which is the ninth of Kānūn I; and one of seven days, the first of which is the eighth of Šubāṭ.

They invoke the stars and offer many sacrifices, from which they do not eat, but which are consumed by fire. They abstain from eating beans and garlic, and some also from wild beans, cabbage, kale, and lentils. Their sayings are near to the sayings of the philosophers; and they have the firmest arguments to prove the unity of God. They assert that the souls of transgressors are tortured for nine thousand ages, but then return to the mercy of God.

The Ṣābians (or Sabaeans) of Ḥarrān are a fascinating group.  Unfortunately, we don’t know a whole lot about them, but we know at least a few things, namely that they were a Semitic group in upper Mesopotamia (now in southern Turkey near the Syrian border) practicing a kind of polytheistic, astrologically-inclined religion well into the Islamic period.  In classical times, it was the principal city for the worship of the lunar deity Sin, and given its location at a trade crossroads (the literal meaning of the word harrānu in Akkadian), it had access to lots of religious influences from the old world.  After centuries of obstinate refusal to convert to Christianity, when it stood to be conquered by Islamic caliphs, the inhabitants of Ḥarrān were given a choice: convert to Islam, prove that they were a People of the Book as a protected people, or die.  On account of this, the Ṣābians of Ḥarrān claimed that they had Hermēs Trismegistos as a prophet, making themselves officially Hermeticists of a sort, which would legitimize them in the eyes of Islam since Hermēs Trismegistos was assimilated to the prophet ‘Idrīs, himself the biblical patriarch Enoch.  Of course, as Kevin van Bladel has amply shown in The Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to Prophet of Science, they weren’t really Hermetic in any way one might recognize beyond being some sort of Neoplatonic or Pseudo-Aristotelian astrally-focused polytheists, who held many pagan sages and philosophers in high esteem well beyond just Hermēs Trismegistos.  (For real, van Bladel’s book is an excellent source on the discussion of the Ṣābians of Ḥarrān in general with ample sources and quotes, do check it out.)

What we find in the Bar Hebraeus quote above is a description of some of the practices attributed to such a people.  None of it is particularly Hermetic or tied to Hermeticism, and given the evidence van Bladel presents there may well not be any such connection at all, but it is noteworthy as a religion at least nominally tied in some marginal (and marginalized) way to Hermēs Trismegistos.  While there’s more here about regular religious practice (which doesn’t neatly mesh with what we know of from the classical Hermetic texts), I do find it fascinating that there are three fasting periods listed:

  • Thirty-day fast starting on the eighth day of Adar (roughly February or March)
  • Nine-day fast starting on the ninth day of Kislev (roughly November or December)
  • Seven-day fast starting on the eighth day of Shevat (roughly January or February)

I’m using the Hebrew month names here, but we should remember that the Hebrew calendar, which itself is a continuation of the earlier Babylonian calendar which was in use for quite a while and which spawned later calendars all across Mesopotamia and the near/middle East.  It’s not clear what these fasts would be for or why they were celebrated, but it is an interesting thing to note all the same for religious observances, especially if one wanted to take a more generically Old World-inspired religious approach to observances (and which might be tied into the “fast on recognized days of each month” bit from TH 28 above).  After all, we should remember that the lunar/lunisolar Babylonian calendar and its derivatives have little to do with the solar Egyptian calendar and its derivatives (like the Coptic calendar), which arrange for time in a much different way.

On that point, I’m reminded of an earlier discussion I had back when I was considering holy days for a geomantic practice, when trying to figure out a feast day of sorts to commemorate and venerate Hermēs Trismegistos himself.  And that opens up a whole new can of worms for us to mull over, doesn’t it?  All the above are very astral/astrological observances that recognize the changes, ebbs, and flows of things in the cosmos, which is certainly an important thing for a Hermetic practice that seeks to be awe-struck by the beauty of the cycles of the cosmos to incorporate, but what about other holidays and feasts that aren’t astrologically determined or which are for the explicit purpose of astrological observations?  This would include things like feasts and holidays from Hellenic and Egyptian religious traditions that fed into the development of Greco-Egyptian spiritualities like Hermeticism, and a handful I can think of would be:

  • The Greek Hermaia, to be celebrated on the fourth day of the tenth lunar month, the days reckoned from the first sighting of the Moon and the months reckoned from the first new Moon after the June solstice (putting this usually sometime in March)
  • The Roman Mercuralia, celebrated on May 15
  • The Egyptian Thoth festival celebrated on the third day of the Wag festival, so the 19th day of the first month, reckoned from the heliacal rising of Sirius (using the ancient Egyptian reckoning, which varies from latitude to latitude on Earth but is generally between late July and late August) or from the start of the Coptic New Year (using the modern Coptic calendar, starting on September 11)

And those three would just be the most famous ones focusing on Hermēs-Mercurius-Thōth as analogues for our own Hermēs Trismegistos based on other religious traditions with their own calendars, to say nothing of minor or more regional holidays across the Mediterranean.  If we expand that to also include ones for Asklēpios-Imhotep or Ammōn-Amūn as other students of Hermēs Trismegistos (the student-son Tat being equivalent to Thōth himself), we’d get even more candidates for holidays.  As for whether one should incorporate them is a matter for one’s own personal practice, of course, especially if one is already engaged in one of these sorts of paganisms today (e.g. modern Hellenism or Kemeticism).  Given the trouble I had with trying to figure out what would have been a reasonable feast day for Hermēs Trismegistos all those many moons ago, I’ll leave this thread here for others to pick up if they so choose.  If I were pressed to make a choice, I’d just make up arbitrary Gregorian calendar-based dates for honoring Hermēs Trismegistos and the rest of them that use repeating numbers: March 3 for Hermēs  Trismegistos and April 4 for Tat (or vice versa, or together as one or the other), June 6 for Asklēpios-Imhotep, and December 12 for Ammōn-Amūn.

Besides just figuring out feasts for individual gods apart from astrological considerations, there’s also an abundance of choices one might have for particular commemorations, whether cultural, historical, or personal.  Because of how much possibility there is for that, both that I might consider for myself as well as others for themselves, it’s just too much to consider in a single post even for me, and I wouldn’t even know where to start.  What I think we can all agree on, however, are the transitions and changes that the cycles of astrological phenomena might suggest as being a good foundation for everyone to consider.  I’ve idly considered making a sort of prayer practice composed of interlocking cycles that relate to astronomical and cosmic ones:

  • Two, three, four, or six prayers for the four times of the day
    • Sunrise, sunset
    • Sunrise, noon, sunset
    • Sunrise, noon, sunset, midnight
    • Dawn, sunrise, noon, sunset, dusk, midnight
  • Seven prayers for the seven days of the week
  • Ten prayers for the ten days of each decan
  • 12 prayers for the Sun or Moon ingress into each sign of the Zodiac
  • 28 prayers for the Moon ingress into each lunar mansion
  • 36 prayers for the Sun ingress into each decan
  • Three, four, six, or eight prayers for the lunar phases
    • Waxing, culminating, waning
    • New, waxing, full, waning
    • New, first sighting after syzygy, waxing, full, waning, last sighting before syzygy
    • New, crescent, waxing, gibbous, full, disseminating, waning, balsamic

Needless to say, trying to get all of that done on a regular basis is…well, outside my and most people’s capabilities for the time being (I’ve tried), probably only being reasonable for those living a highly regulated prayer-centric monastic lifestyle actively dedicated to this sort of thing.  Still, the idea of it is appealing, as it’s a way to fully line oneself up and keep oneself in tune with the natural rhythms of the Sun, Moon, and other planets (directly or indirectly).  And while I don’t think trying to implement a full prayer rule based on all of this is reasonable or feasible (I’ve kinda sorta done something like that with my Hermetic Epitomes in my Preces Templi ebook), I can at least observe such cycles with a brief moment of recognition when possible, even if just once a day.  But this is getting distracted from the main topic we were discussing.  While the observation of cycles and the progress within them is important, it’s the transitions between cycles or acyclical happenings that are what give the notion of Hermetic feasts; thus, recognizing every single day of the Sun being in a given zodiacal sign isn’t as important as recognizing the day when the Sun enters a new sign.  Without going crazy when it comes to obscure combinations of events (like I’ve experimented with my Grammatēmerologion before), probably keeping a handful of things down to a few general-purpose ideas is good enough for most people, and would still keep one plenty busy.

Of course, the next question that naturally arises: sure, we’re observing particular astrological phenomena as feasts, but what are we celebrating as a feast? To whom (or what) do we direct offerings that we’d make at such a feast?  For the astrological phenomena, at least, the answer would be straightforward enough: the planets themselves.  At least, that’d be the first answer; the secondary choice would also be the fixed stars themselves, either as single stars (if a planet were to become conjunct with one, like Jupiter and Regulus) or as constellations or decans (e.g. for the Sun entering Leo, celebrating both the Sun and/or the actual constellation Leo as a divine entity itself).  Given the highlighting of the Moon (celebrating new moons) and the Sun (celebrating new zodiac signs), the two luminaries would be primary among all the stars, but the others (primarily the wandering stars) all get offerings for their own needs at the appropriate time.

But does this make sense, to make offerings to the planets (or stars more generally) as gods?  I claim that it does from several perspectives.  For one, we know that astral polytheism is totally a thing, and while the TH fragments above might be reflecting an Islamically-perspectived mishmash of different pagan traditions lumped together as “Hermeticism” (like with the ︎Ṣābians of Ḥarrān), they do also show that the planets and stars were worshipped as gods with sacrifices being made to them.  But, for two, we also know that the planets are of paramount importance in Hermeticism as being the cosmic forces that allow creation to continue being created and creating.  Sure, from a more gnostic-flavored standpoint, they’re the things that weigh us down with energies of incarnation, but from a more holistically Hermetic view, they are the things that allow the beauty of the goodness of God to flourish through creation, including the fleshy vehicles that we travel in.  (It’s a gift with a cost, sure, but it’s still a gift all the same.)  In making good with the planets and stars, not only do we gratify them and obtain their assistance instead of just their assailing, but we also bring ourselves closer to them through the act of communion—which is what the work of offering facilitates.  (And that doesn’t even touch on the gods down here, inhabiting bodies of their own such as temple statues or sacred natural objects, that we make offerings to as well, which may also be associated with or considered to be the planetary gods, much as the Navagraha are in Hindu temple practice.)

In the end, there’s lots of opportunities for establishing particularly important days for Hermetic practice, at least as far as offerings and special devotions are concerned.  One can certainly expand them to any arbitrarily complex and rigorous degree right down to every planetary hour if desired (or even planetary minutes!), but whether that’s required or even recommended would be matter for one’s own schedule, availability, and willingness.  Still, based on what we might know from historical accounts, there are definitely a few important highlights to hit that would be reasonable for any Hermeticist to pick up on, and I think that’s good enough for anyone to start with.

When the lights go dark, look to the Sun.

As you might be aware, dear reader, the planet Mercury went retrograde a few days ago on September 17, and will be in retrograde until October 9.  It’s cute how this retrograde ties in oh-so-well with commuting issues (the Pope is coming to visit my area, causing huge traffic and building closures) as well as other large-scale events (e.g. upcoming government shutdown), but it also means I have some insulation and introspection to do in the meantime.  Mercury retrograde periods are good for review; as the planet goes backwards, it behooves us to look back and take stock of what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished, and the like.  Conjuration and some divination of mine can get a little hairy during these periods, but it’s not insurmountable with a bit more dedication and practice; Hermetic magic, though based on Hermes-Mercury-Thoth, provides many tools to get around the currents and ebbs and flows inherent to the tradition when they on their own don’t go your way.

One of the things I do during Mercury retrograde periods is wrap my Hermes statue in fine black cloth, although loosely.  It’s not that I want to completely cut myself off from him or his effects, but doing this keeps some of the worst of retrograde issues at bay, like a layer of sunscreen on a hot and bright summer day.  Meanwhile, I restrict my offerings to him to silent and short ones done only at night, and when I do make a prayer aloud to him, I switch from using the usual Orphic Hymn to Mercury to the one for Terrestrial Hermes, as befitting his complete change in the heavens above.  I keep my explicitly Hermaic things to a minimum during these times, which can be a little awkward, given how big he is in my life.

Earlier this week, though, even before Mercury went retrograde, I was making an offering to him, and we had a bit of a chat.  He reminded me of the other gods I have in my temple, some of whom haven’t gotten an offering made to them in quite a while due to my eight-month hiatus from Work, and most notable among these was Apollo, the son of Zeus and Leto.  Hermes told me that, in the future, I should keep Hermes primary in my devotional work when it comes to the θεοι and with mathesis, and I should definitely involve Apollo more in my life and Work.  However, when Hermes is “retired” into retrograde, he told me that I should then shift my gears into working explicitly and primarily with Apollo—not as a substitute patron, mind you, but as a substitute guide and teacher.  Divination with knucklebones confirmed this explicitly, and since Apollo hadn’t gotten an offering in…well, too long, I decided to make an offering to him last night and call him down.

I forgot how much of a douche he can be.  He’s truly awesome, of course, as only a god can, but goddamn is he ever the frattiest and most brotastic of gods I’ve had the privilege of working with.

Still, after the jokes and haughtiness of the god were worked through, it hit me how badly I’ve fucked up by not incorporating him into my regular worship and Work for so long, even before the end of last year.  He’s instructed me in a way to approach him and, after more divination to confirm a few things, will continue to do so by my regular honor of him.  It’s not exactly what I’m used to, but it’s something that I really do need.  This is especially true with mathesis, that art I’ve procrastinated on developing for so long, since Apollo is truly supposed to be a part of it; this is something confirmed by both the god himself and Hermes, and in a way far greater than thorough purification.  I’ve become stagnant with mathesis, and after my own self-initiation under Hermes, I was looking forward to exploring the roads of the central six-way crossroads of the Tetractys I developed, but instead, I got stuck on an island with no way out.


Part of this was the set of tools I’ve developed to work in mathesis.  They’re not much, but they’re something I had designs to use and…never got around to using them, partially because I knew I needed to have them but had no idea how to do so.  In my offering to Apollo, I was given a first glimpse and some very basic practice in using them; they felt a little awkward-yet-right, if that makes sense, and in getting more used to them, I can finally get off my ass and get back to mathetic exploration.  This is good, since Hermes is directing me to do a full mathetic ritual later on in October and I’m still stuck as to how to set that up.  With Apollo’s guidance, I may just be able to figure that out in time, at least in a preliminary and exploratory way so as to get started with other types of mathetic ritual and development.

So, why Apollo?  Well, he is Hermes’ half-brother by Zeus, and shares in the arts of divination and prophecy, that much is obvious.  Still, with Apollo’s connection to the Sun, especially as a rational force that drives the Sun’s light as opposed to Helios who is the Sun, we have a great wellspring of power and direction that can illumine much in our lives.  This is different from Hermes who guides, who walks along with us on a road and leads us hither and thither; Hermes guides, but Apollo directs.  There’s a subtle difference between the two in terms of scale and scope.  Besides, going by planets, both Hermes and Apollo could be recognized in the Triad.  But…this would mean a third deity, linked to the Moon, would be called upon as well for another purpose.  Can’t get the Tetractys all unbalanced, after all, but I’m unsure whether this would be Artemis or another deity, especially as I have no experience with the Lady Huntress.

For now, one thing at a time.  Take this time of Mercury retrograde and call upon the forces of the Sun in your life, and honor Apollo and his progeny and allies.  You may be pleasantly surprised to see where it leads you, as well!

Search Term Shoot Back, November 2014

I get a lot of hits on my blog from across the realm of the Internet, many of which are from links on Facebook, Twitter, or RSS readers.  To you guys who follow me: thank you!  You give me many happies.  However, I also get a huge number of new visitors daily to my blog from people who search around the Internet for various search terms.  As part of a monthly project, here are some short replies to some of the search terms people have used to arrive here at the Digital Ambler.  This focuses on some search terms that caught my eye during the month of November 2014.

“wicks for middle eastern oil lamp” — Honestly, for those little clay, metal, or terracotta lamps you find from the Middle East, the best type of wicks are those you make yourself from a cotton ball.  Every cotton ball is actually a tiny roll of cotton; simply unroll it into a flat-ish sheet, then roll it again tightly lengthwise like a dreadlock.  Stick it into the spout of the lamp, soak in oil for five minutes before lighting, and boom, you have yourself a perfectly good wick.  Follow the rest of the rules for oil lamps here.

“seven sphere rufus opus”, “‘seven spheres’ opus”, “seven spheres rufus opus”, “rufus opus seven spheres”, “seven spheres by rufus opus” — Yes, Fr. Rufus Opus (my instructor, who is not me) released a book this month, “Seven Spheres” by Nephilim Press.  It is an awesome book (that I did not write).  You should totally buy it from him (who is not me).  I have my copy that I’m working through, and it’s truly an awesome text.

“cinnamon powder spell benefits to sprinkle in four corners” — I don’t know of any, myself, but cinnamon is used to sweeten things up, as well as bring prosperity and joy into one’s life; given its connections to the Sun (cassia and Saigon cinnamon are a little spicier and given to Mars), it also has some mildly protective benefits in magic.  Some ideas for sprinkling cinnamon in this fashion would be to do so in an hour of Jupiter in the day of the Sun, praying for prosperity and happiness to fill up your home, hearth, and house, that all rooms in the house and all places on the property be blessed with the grace of the Lord.  Simple stuff like that, perhaps also setting a white candle dressed in cinnamon oil in each room.

“how to relate question to geomancy houses” — The twelve houses of geomancy are the same twelve houses in astrology.  You, as the querent, have a query to ask.  That query has a topic.  Find the house that best relates to that topic: e.g., if marriage then house VII, if children then house V, if job then house X, if curses then house XII, etc.  It really doesn’t get any simpler than that.  If your query doesn’t have a topic, then you don’t have a query.  If your query can be associated with several houses equally, then inspect each of those houses.  Take your time.  There is no rush to ask a question of geomancy.  Make sure your query is clear, concise, and concrete enough for you to handle instead of being vague, complicated, and abstract.

“tetractys divination” — This is an idea I’ve been experimenting with, using the Tetractys (especially in mathesis) for divination.  I haven’t yet found a suitable way to do so, but there are opportunities here I may not be looking at yet.  My idea would be to use two ten-sided dice (2d10) from a tabletop gaming set, with the 0-9 die given to “answer #1” (where you’re coming from, where you’re based out of, past experiences) and the 00-90 die given to “answer #2” (where you’re headed to, what you need to become, future experiences).  The number on each die could be associated with one of the ten sphairai on the Tetractys, such that if I rolled a 3 and a 50, that’d indicate the sphairai of Fire and of Salt, respectively, indicating that it’s time for me to reduce myself from pure action in the world to a base of nothing, to burn out completely, to focus on the substance that keeps me burning rather than focusing on the results of acting.  That kind of thing.  It’s a side project, but one that could be useful.

“penis growth curse” — …is this really a curse? I mean, usually you’d want to shrink or remove the penis as an effective curse, which is actually a cultural phenomenon in Africa known as koro.  People actually get killed for being accused as wizards or witches there who shrink or disappear away men’s penises, so this is a pretty big thing, but cursing a penis to get bigger?  Dude, that’s like a fetish of everyone who likes penises, especially their own, unless you’re talking about something so big that it’d crush cars.  Even then, there’s a fetish for that, too (hyper and/or macro).

“huge dick images.” — You won’t find any of those on this blog, sadly; I may be a little colorful with my vocabulary, but nothing here is generally NSFW.  I do make the “big anointed wand” joke occasionally, though.

“how to use elohim gibor in prayer” — Technically, you don’t.  From my point of view, you let him use you.  Elohim Gibor (lit. “Strong God”) is one of the names of God, associated in Western qabbalistic practice to the sephirah of Geburah and thus to the planet Mars.  I’ve used this name when working with a martial aspect of God or when working with martial spirits who respond to this name of God.  However, the process is the same otherwise as with any other name of God: you seek the aid of God for his blessing, grace, guidance, and protection that his will be done and not your own lest it be in accordance with his, that you work with the authority of God that God may work through you, etc. etc.  So, really, the answer to this turns out like that Soviet Russia joke, with Elohim Gibor using you.  Beyond that, gematrialize it, intone it, contemplate it, meditate on it, calligraphy it, and whatever else you want to use to figure the name out.

“rufus opus review” — Dude’s cute but in a relationship, also straight, so I typically don’t have my eye out for him like that.  He’s charismatic, for sure, especially once he’s got a few whiskeys in him.

“do males born on a leo/virgo cusp have big dicks” and also “do guys born on a leo/virgo cusp have big penises like greek god hermes” — I’m not surprised I got these searches (again), though I am surprised that they came apart several days away from each other.  Either this is one very concerned searcher, or two separate searchers who have similar tastes and problems.  Hermes, if you look at his Homeric Hymn, would actually be born sometime around the end of Pisces or the start of Aries (a few days after the third New Moon after the winter solstice), and he’s not generally the most sexualized of the gods (though he has his own thing going on), and isn’t exactly a god of giant endowments.  Then again, he might be totally the god to go to if you have a koro curse to enact on someone, which would be hilarious for everyone except those who’d get killed in Africa for it, so I dunno.

“geomancy blog” — While this blog covers many topics, I do occasionally write about geomancy.  A while ago, I wrote a 20-post series on geomancy that covers each of the 16 figures in depth and at length along with four aspects of geomantic technique. the I even wrote a translation of a medieval text on geomancy, which is available on my Etsy that you should check out!  Spread the word, check it out, and I hope it helps.

“congo men biggest cocks” — Since I’ve never slept with someone from the Congo region of Africa, I can’t say whether this is true or not. Also, seriously, I know the US had two federal holidays this past month, but if having two extra days off (for only a percentage of the population here, mind you) gets you that hot and bothered that I’m getting a higher than average hit count for people looking for giant pictures of dicks or for people with giant dicks, I seriously question why you’re using Google and WordPress and not Grindr or Scruff.  Tumblr’s where I go to get my porn, generally speaking, so you might also check that out.

“material used in summoning a spirit” — Technically speaking, you don’t need anything material to summon a spirit; intent, prayer, and a mental connection are all you strictly need.  Some people do a bit of centering prayer to contact a spirit, some people go to their astral temples, and other people just see them, flag them down, and have a conversation with them.  That said, many people (including myself) find it extraordinarily useful to have material tools, for which I suggest a scrying medium (e.g. crystal ball, glass of water, mirror), a summoning platform (e.g. Triangle of Art, Table of Practice), a tool of will (wand or knife or dominant index finger), a few candles, some appropriate incense, and the usual stuff.  Again, none of it is strictly needed, but it helps.

“books on loan from australian libraries about hinese and japanese astrology specifically nine star ki” — I know literally nothing about any of these these things.  I am definitely not an Australian library, nor have I ever been to one nor gotten a book out on loan from one. I’ve talked about these things exactly zero times on my blog or my Twitter.  Why did Google lead you here.  I apologize.

“adherent bandage and jelq” — For those who don’t know, jelqing is a method some men use to increase their penis size (both length and girth) by forcing more blood than normal into it with an extra-firm grip, using an almost udder-milking technique.  The jury’s out on whether this works, but I’ve heard good things with it, so long as you keep at it regularly like any workout; the idea is that you’ll slowly stretch the blood cavities in the soft tissue of the shaft, which allows it to hold more blood when you get an erection, which means getting a bigger hardon.  It’s not recommended for everyone, and there are definitely unsafe ways to do this.  Since you’re forcing more blood into the cock than normally goes in, if you have a cut or scrape or other wound on it that requires a bandage, you really really shouldn’t be handling it that roughly, if at all.  But then, who am I kidding, if you’re already into jelqing then you’re probably not looking to play by all the rules.

“do quadrivium.oils work” — Absolutely!  Some of my favorite oils comes from Quadrivium Supplies, and I’m a big fan of her work.  She charges a pretty reasonable amount for pretty powerful magical oils, and occasionally stocks some other useful and interesting supplies.  By all means, take a look; this time of the year, she has some good sales going on, so have at!

“san lazaro bead pattern” — San Lazaro, more commonly known in English as Saint Lazarus, can be a bit confusing for some people, since there are two Lazaruses in the Bible.  One is Saint Lazarus of Bethany, the brother of Mary and Martha and the one who was raised by Jesus Christ from the dead after being in his tomb for four days.  The other is…well, he has no formal appellation, just “Lazarus” from the parable of Jesus known as “The Rich Man and Lazarus”, from the Gospel of Luke.  San Lazaro kinda merges these two Lazari, mostly from the second, and is often depicted as a beggar covered in sores, walking on crutches, and licked upon by dogs.  He’s syncretized with the orisha Babaluaye, the orisha of illness, poverty, death, and the like.  However, there are many paths or aspects to San Lazaro, each possessing their own name, focus, and bead pattern for their elekes.  While you should always go to your local olorisha or Santero/a for real information, you can find some information online that may not be as trustworthy.

“hermes/mercury and legba” — They’re all pretty cool guys who don’t afraid of anything.  However, they are not the same entity, and you’d do well to take heed of that.  Hermes is Greek, Mercury is Roman; these two basically grew up together, with Mercury being solidly based on Hermes (the name “Mercurius” literally means “god of the merchants” and isn’t a native Roman god).  Legba is one of the variants of the name Eleggua, the childlike trickster and messenger of the crossroads who opens the ways.  Yes, they both preside over crossroads, messages, pranks, children, medicines, and many other things, but there are also important differences, too.  Legba, specifically, indicates more of a Haitian variant from Vodou, which has its own means of contacting Legba than Santería does Eleggua.  I highly suggest against conflating Legba with another crossroads gods, especially from a white or European culture.

Mercury as Abyss, Island, and Bridge in the Tetractys

Last time we discussed how we might traverse the Tetractys of Life in pathworking through two sets of paths, collectively termed schemata:

  • The Gnosis Schema consists of 12 paths that link every sphaira on the Tetractys in a pattern not unlike the Mitsubishi logo, looping around through three systems of four spheres each, passing through Mercury multiple times.
  • The Agnosis Schema consists of 12 paths that link all but the Mercury, Monad, Fire, and Earth sphaira together in two cycles, the hexagon and hexagram paths around the Mercury sphaira.

The big difference between these schemata is that the Gnosis Schema allows one to see into the deepest and highest reaches of the cosmos, as well as the Source of the cosmos itself, for theurgical and henosistic purposes, allowing us the choice of reincarnation as we desire until we reach our final henosis with the Monad.  The Agnosis Schema, however, keeps us trapped in a Hermetic samsara of sorts, always flitting around like bats in a cave around real Life and yet just out of reach of real Truth.  In other words, as long as we’re trapped in the Agnosis Schema, we’re not making progress to the real ends of the cosmos where the real treasure lies.  We need to make that schematic leap from Agnosis to Gnosis, and as we discussed before, it all starts with Mercury.


The question is, though, how do we make that leap?  Mercury is at the center of the Tetractys of Life and is connected to all the sphairai but the most extreme ones, that of the Monad, Fire, and Earth.  However, it’s only in the Gnosis Schema that we can get from any of these “middling” sphairai (Darkness, Salt, Water, Air, Sulfur, and Light) to Mercury.  The Agnosis Schema has these middling sphairai all connected to each other but not to Mercury, Monad, Fire, or Earth.  As long as we’re on the Agnosis Schema, we’re barred from attaining access to those spheres, and if we can’t even get to Mercury which is the closest and most easily accessible of them all, how can we even consider being able to get to the Monad?

Thus comes in an idea that’s also present in the Tree of Life, though I’ve seen it far more in Hermetic qabbalah than Jewish kabbalah.  That idea is that of the Veils, though there are two sets in qabbalah, one of two and one of three.  The former set is the one I’m talking about: the Veils of Paroketh and of the Abyss.  In the Tree of Life, the Veil of Paroketh separate the sephiroth from Tiphareth and up from Netzach and below.  The Veil of the Abyss (or, more commonly, the Abyss) separates the sephiroth of Binah and above from Chesed and below, often with the Abyss itself represented by the “false” sephirah (se-faux-rah?) of Da`ath.  The former veil of Paroketh is illusory; there is no real separation between the personal world (represented by the lower four sephiroth) and the interpersonal world (represented by the higher sephiroth), except that of our own making.  By tearing down the veil of our own making, or at least by temporarily parting it, we gain access to higher spiritual truths.  As long as we continue thinking that the world must follow the rules we conceive to be law, and as long as we refuse to accept the universe and the cosmos on its own terms, the veil remains firmly in place.  Leave all that behind, and the veil is easily parted.  The comic series Promethea by Alan Moore gives this scene in bloody detail: on the Kircher Tree, the path that links Tiphareth with Netzach (transcending the Veil) is associated with the letter Nun, given to Scorpio and Tarot trump XIII, Death.  In order to attain new life in the Sun, the protagonists must die, literally rent apart and completely dissected.  It was all an illusion, however, but a painful one all the same to dismember.  By dismembering our preconceptions, we remember the truth of the world.

The Abyss, on the other hand, is much more of a problem on the Tree of Life.  To keep it very simple and brief, almost to the point of a lie, the Abyss is the division of the mundane and the spiritual; it’s the gulf between what the world should be and the world that is damned to be, the mirror between what is and what Is that cannot normally be transcended.  It’s the purpose of the magician or theurgist to transcend this gulf and attain divine understanding, wisdom, and finally the crown of all that exists and not-exists.  It’s a dangerous thing, especially since the Lightning Bolt Path on the Kircher Tree doesn’t actually have a path where it should between Chesed and Binah.  All the same, the Abyss must be transcended and crossed over, and it’s no easy thing.  Some people never do and get lost in it, while others spend a long time in dark places only to come out a completely different person (which is quite the goal of the whole thing).  Going back to Promethea, as opposed to a few pages where Promethea and Barbara crossed the veil of Paroketh, a whole issue was devoted to their crossing the Abyss, and it wasn’t a pleasant or rational part of their journey.

A similar case exists with making the jump from the Agnosis to the Gnosis Schemas.  While we’re stuck in our cycle of mindless and uncontrolled rebirth, we lack the ability to achieve true life, power, and knowledge.  At any stage on the Agnosis Schema, we have the option of going to the sphaira of Mercury or to the nearest extreme sphaira (the one of the same system which belongs to the one one is already in, e.g. if one is in the sphaira of Salt, the nearest extreme sphaira is that of Earth).  However, making the jump from the Agnosis Schema to Mercury on the Gnosis Schema is most important, even though one could feasibly start their path at any point on the Tetractys.  Mercury is the most preferable starting point, because Mercury is a figure of balance and allows one to start with equal footing and a clean spiritual slate; further, given the road-opening, guiding, and quickening abilities of this sphaira, starting with Mercury is arguably the best choice and continuing along the Gnosis Schema paths as normal.

Still, the process of getting from any of the middling sphairai to Mercury is, itself, crossing an abyss of sorts.  It’s not because there’s no path that exists (because Mercury is connected to all the middling spheres), but because the types of path are so divergent from the normal roles of Mercury.  The Agnosis Schema seeks to circumvent Mercury however it can, while the Gnosis Schema leads right to Mercury time and again.  The first abyss we must cross in order to get to Mercury from any of the middling sphairai is that of desire: we must first seek out Mercury, we must first seek the path to take before we even take it.  Once there, we have suddenly jumped to the Gnosis Schema.  As one of the prayers in my gnostic work goes, “in order for us to understand the gnosis, we must first seek a firm foundation”; Mercury provides us with that foundation.  We must first seek our guide, our protector, our initiator to assist us in our real work.  Finding that guide and opening the door is just the beginning to it all; it might be that your guide is Hermes, your Holy Guardian Angel, a yidam, or some other tutelary spirit, but something that guides you along the Gnosis Schema as it applies to you is just about crucial to starting the Work.

But, once we get to Mercury, what then?  If we stay where we are, we’ve crossed the abyss only to be stranded on an island.  If we forget that, hey, we have a cosmos to explore (and then some), reveling in our initiation and fact that we can go anywhere without actually doing so, we end up back on the Agnosis Schema.  But wait!  There are no paths connecting the sphaira of Mercury to anything on the Agnosis Schema, so we end up trapped there.  We end up in a one-node loop; rather than running around in circles, we end up twisting in the wind.  Being trapped in Mercury is always dangerous, not just after our first initiation into the Gnosis Schema, but because we risk this every time we return to Mercury on the Gnosis Schema.

  • We go through the Hot System and we return to Mercury, thrilled that we’ve overcome our obstacles on that part of the cosmos, yet end up burning up too much with joy and think we’ve accomplished and are in charge of everything.  Only by recognizing our inability to act fully within the cosmos and our ultimate nature as finite, non-omniscient, and manipulatable creatures and allowing ourselves to be acted upon can we free ourselves from the Agnostic sphaira of Mercury.
  • We go through the Cold System and we return to Mercury, feeling confident that we understand how things are affected by others in the cosmos, and end up passively waiting for true action to happen to ourselves when we need to accomplish it ourselves.  Only by realizing that we still need to play an active role in the cosmos do we free ourselves from the Agnostic sphaira of Mercury.
  • We go through the Cosmic System and we return to Mercury, catching a glimpse of the Source and really grokking important truths about creation as a whole.  After this, we end up with what Fr. Rufus Opus elegantly calls “insufferableprickitis”, or “Moses Off The Mount Syndrome”.  After all, when Moses came down from the Mount and jamming with the Lord, his face was so radiant and glowing from the divine interaction that he wore a veil to mask himself.  Without wearing the veil (and this isn’t like the veils we discussed above), we come across as a holier-than-thou (even if it’s true) douchebag who thinks they know everything because they had one brush with God.  In this state of pride, we think we’ve done everything there is to do and are confident that we’ve attained the Great Work, when all we’ve done is made a loop around the cosmos once.  We end up stuck at the Agnostic sphaira of Mercury until we realize that there’s still so much more, that no finite amount of practice can truly equate infinite gnosis.

All that being said, while getting to Mercury can be a bitch of an abyss in and of itself, and while visiting Mercury has its own dangers that turn it into a deserted island isolated from the rest of the cosmos, when approached properly and respectfully, Mercury becomes a bridge from something into its complement.  That’s Mercury’s role, after all; to balance things out between opposites.  Mercury is placed between Sulfur and Salt, Light and Water, and Darkness and Air.  We continue on our path of the Gnostic Schema by traversing Mercury and transforming ourselves from one thing into its opposite.  Mercury is not only our beginning but our constant transformation; it is only in the extreme sphairai of the Monad, Earth, and Fire do we have no choice but to continue along our path of Gnosis and keep going in one direction or another without immediate recourse to Mercury.  Mercury, in a sense, is our “home away from home”, our place of respite between systems as well as our nexus of transformation between systems.

We can fall into the Agnosis Schema at any stage of the Gnosis Schema if we linger too long or if we lose our way; with Mercury as our guide leading us away from and towards our cyclical destination, that shouldn’t ideally pose a problem, but we humans (and, for that matter, all entities) are constantly fighting against what we should do, even if it’s a subtle and instinctual reaction.  If we stray from our path even a little bit, we lose our way; if this happens at the Monad or the sphairai of Fire, Earth, or Mercury, then we end up stranded until we loosen ourselves up and make ourselves capable of further progress, or until we strengthen our resolve and continue along the path of transformation.

It’s not that we fall by fate from Gnosis into Agnosis or vice versa, but it’s a choice we make, even if we’re unaware we’re consciously making it and the repercussions of doing so.  Tying the sphaira of Mercury back to its mythological counterpart, Hermes is the god of guides and guide of gods, men, spirits, souls, and heroes.  If we choose to progress along the Gnosis Schema to accomplish the divine imperative given to us, then ouranic (heavenly) Hermes will lead us on; if we choose to linger or abandon that quest, then chthonic (underworld) Hermes will lead us to Styx and leave us there until we dig ourselves out again.  It’s dangerous falling back into Agnosis, especially if we’re at one of the extreme spheres, since we may not be able to find our way back.  Of course, the rules change a bit once we achieve henosis and union with the Monad, where we can freely choose to leave the Tetractys completely and enjoin what becomes of us with the Infinite and Simple, at which point we’ve completed our path and ended up exactly where we need, and no longer need a guide to continue our path.  That said, that’s the endgame, and chances are we’re nowhere near that stage of spiritual evolution yet.  If you were, then I hope your divine prerogative includes something more than reading one magician’s ramblings on the Internet.