The Mixing-Bowl of Mind

The usual way I’ve seen to refer to a particular book and section of the Corpus Hermeticum is CH A.B, with “A” being the book number in Roman numerals and B being a section of that book in Arabic numerals (such that CH X.15 is section 15 of the tenth book of the Corpus Hermeticum).  It’s a system I like using to cite particular extracts of Hermetic doctrine from the Corpus Hermeticum as well as the Stobaean Fragments (SH), the Definitions of Hermēs to Asclepius (DH), and other Hermetic texts, but I should also note that a number of the various books of the Corpus Hermeticum sometimes have a title of their own.  CH I, for instance, is often called “Poimandrēs” (which is why Marsilio Ficino entitled his entire translation of the Corpus Hermeticum “The Divine Pymander”, though that’s like calling the entirety of the Old Testament “The Book of Geneisis”), CH X is called “The Key”, CH III is called “The Sacred Sermon”, and so forth.

CH IV, specifically, is called “The Mixing-Bowl”.  It’s also sometimes called just “(A Discourse of) Hermēs to Tat” or “The Monad”,  with the former indicating that this is a dialogue between Hermēs and Tat and the latter bringing up the discussion of the Monad at the end of the book, but it gets the name “Mixing-Bowl” from the dialogue in CH IV.3—6 in a discussion about Mind (Νους) (Copenhaver translation, here and below):

“God shared reason among all people, O Tat, but not mind, though he begrudged it to none. Grudging envy comes not from on high; it forms below in the souls of people who do not possess mind.”

“For what reason, then, did god not share mind with all of them, my father?”

“He wanted it put between souls, my child, as a prize for them to contest.”

“And where did he put it?”

“He filled a great mixing bowl with it and sent it below, appointing a herald whom he commanded to make the following proclamation to human hearts: ‘Immerse yourself in the mixing bowl if your heart has the strength, if it believes you will rise up again to the one who sent the mixing bowl below, if it recognizes the purpose of your coming to be.’  All those who heeded the proclamation and immersed themselves in mind participated in knowledge and became perfect people because they received mind.

“But those who missed the point of the proclamation are people of reason because they did not receive (the gift of) mind as well and do not know the purpose or the agents of their coming to be.  These people have sensations much like those of unreasoning animals, and, since their temperament is willful and angry, they feel no awe of things that deserve to be admired; they divert their attention to the pleasures and appetites of their bodies; and they believe that mankind came to be for such purposes.

“But those who participate in the gift that comes from god, O Tat, are immortal rather than mortal if one compares their deeds, for in a mind of their own they have comprehended all—things on earth, things in heaven and even what lies beyond heaven. Having raised themselves so far, they have seen the good and, having seen it, they have come to regard the wasting of time here below as a calamity. They have scorned every corporeal and incorporeal thing, and they hasten toward the one and only.

“This, Tat, is the way to learn about mind, to {resolve perplexities} in divinity and to understand god. For the mixing bowl is divine.”

This is an interesting metaphor Hermēs decided to use, and it’s one that’s given me some pause for thought.  Some scholars interpret this notion of “immersing yourself in the mixing-bowl of Mind” to be evidence of a ritual baptism practiced among the classical Hermeticists, but not everyone buys it.  I like the idea of it, but it’s not a lot of evidence to go on to indicate that baptism was actually a thing for the followers of Hermēs.  One might draw parallels to early forms of Christian baptism or Jewish tvilah upon which Christian baptism was based which, given the influence Judaism had on the early development of Hermeticism, isn’t too far a stretch, but there’s little else to go on besides this reference to immersion.  Neither CH XIII, which is Tat’s rebirth and initiation into the Hymns of Silence, nor “Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth”, which is another story of Tat’s initiation and elevation into the higher spheres of the cosmos, bring up a notion of baptism or ritual immersion, and those are our strongest texts indicating such ritual works performed by the early Hermeticists from the Hermetic corpora themselves.  It’s an idea I don’t not like, at any rate, though one with not a lot of firm foundation to stand upon.

What strikes me more oddly is the use of the word “mixing-bowl” (κρατήρ).  There were obviously words for “basins” or “fonts” or “pools” or “baths” in Koiné Greek, but this text specifically uses “mixing-bowl”.  It’s not like a mixing bowl one might use for cooking, though; a kratēr was a specific type of large vessel used in Greek sumposia for mixing wine that was to be served.  A Greek sumposion (or symposium, as we’d better know it in its Latin form) was a kind of formal drinking party and a key institution to Hellenic civilization for men, sometimes to revel, sometimes to discuss and debate, sometimes to initiate boys into adulthood.  Sometimes there was entertainment, sometimes philosophy, sometimes orgiastic mystery rites reserved for initiates, but every symposium had two things in common: a kratēr—the mixing-bowl in question—and a symposiarch who oversaw its use.  The symposiarch, the “leader of the symposium”, was basically the master of ceremonies and director of the symposium, ordaining what was to be the order of the event, what sorts of activities were to be engaged in, and (most importantly) decided how strong the wine was to be.  This last aspect was the crucial and fundamental job of the symposiarch.

Wine back in ancient times was most likely different from our times, and was probably much stronger (though not necessarily fortified), so while we nowadays would just drink wine straight from the bottle, drinking undiluted wine back in ancient times was seen as a massive error in behavior, and something that was suited only for barbarians and those who were drunkards to the point of insanity.  Wine was to be diluted to an acceptable strength, and determining the proper dilution for a symposium was the symposiarch’s job.  For a more relaxed, philosophical time, the wine would be diluted to a 1:3 ratio of wine to water; for a more pleasurable and entertaining time, 1:2; for the rare orgiastic rites and revelries, 1:1.  With the wine diluted to the appropriate level, the symposiarch would send his servants or slaves around with pitchers filled from the kratēr to serve the attendees.  Wine was not drunk from the kratēr directly, because this is a pretty massive vessel we’re talking about, like a mega-punchbowl ranging from 14″ to 22″ in height, and wouldn’t have been able to easily be transported when full (if at all).  It’s this notion of the kratēr that Dionysos brings up regarding how much is proper to drink at such events from Eubulos’ Semēlē:

For sensible men I prepare only three kratērs: one for health which they drink first, the second for love and pleasure, and the third for sleep. After the third one is drained, wise men go home. The fourth kratēr is not mine any more—it belongs to bad behavior; the fifth is for shouting; the sixth is for rudeness and insults; the seventh is for fights; the eighth is for breaking the furniture; the ninth is for depression; the tenth is for madness and unconsciousness.

This instrument of symposia, the kratēr, is what Hermēs describes as God having filled with Mind for people.  The use of the image of the kratēr should not be overlooked or misconstrued as just a regular bowl or basin, for which other words exist, especially for the purposes of ablution or purification (like the word χερνιβεῖον khernibeîon used for the usual lustral water outside temples, aka khernips).  This isn’t a mere matter of purification going on here; something else is happening in this passage Hermēs is trying to describe.

Let’s back up fist a bit and consider the notion of the symposium again.  CH IV, like all of the Corpus Hermeticum, is a philosophical text, so it assumes a philosophical outlook, context, set, and setting; a symposium of the Corpus Hermeticum would be more like Plato’s Symposium rather than just a simple college party, especially when there’s plenty of negative references to and metaphors of (common especially in gnostic texts and traditions) people being drunk and sick from inebriation (like from CH VII.1, which I discussed not too long ago).  A Hermetic symposium would be one where the symposiarch would likely dilute the wine rather well, and would gather people together for an intellectual time rather than one for the sake of mere entertainment.  But there are always those who go out to any event for the sake of having fun and being social, regardless of what the wishes of the host are; some people host parties for a purpose, but some people attend such parties for the sake of partying regardless of the purpose itself, like that one uncle who shows up to their nephew’s third birthday party with a keg of beer.  Now, bearing that notion in mind, consider what Hermēs says about people of Mind versus people of Reason:

“But those who missed the point of the proclamation are people of reason because they did not receive (the gift of) mind as well and do not know the purpose or the agents of their coming to be.  These people have sensations much like those of unreasoning animals, and, since their temperament is willful and angry, they feel no awe of things that deserve to be admired; they divert their attention to the pleasures and appetites of their bodies; and they believe that mankind came to be for such purposes…”

At a Hermetic symposium, the people of Reason are like those who show up just to drink and have fun, who ignore the symposiarch’s wishes for a philosophical time to use the wine provided for conversation (“they feel no awe of things that deserve to be admired”) and instead just drink the wine to drink wine and get drunk; they “divert their attention to the pleasures and appetites of their bodies”, and in believing “that mankind came to be for such purposes”, it’s like seeing any such social event as a party to which they go just for the sake of partying.  It’s the people of Mind, rather, who participate in the symposium for the proper ends and using the means provided properly instead of improperly; they “participated in knowledge” because they “received mind”.  Mind is the drink provided, and those who use Mind appropriately and let it absorb into their being instead of letting it simply pass through them in the mouth and out the urethra is what enables them to become “perfect people”.

But Mind isn’t just the thing being drunk; no, God set the kratēr of Mind for those who could to immerse themselves within it.  God has provided Mind to fill the kratēr, but a kratēr is used to mix things together, not just to have something there as it is.  While some would interpret this immersion in the kratēr of Mind to be more like a baptism, in which one is purified and from which one is reborn, the more obvious idea here is staring at us in the face: we’re the things to be mixed with Mind.  God is the symposiarch, and we are that which is mixed with Mind.  Earlier, I might have said that Mind would be wine, but…thinking about it, I think that we ourselves are the wine, and Mind is the water that dilutes it.  After all, drinking unmixed wine, or ἄκρατος akratos, was considered to be (and to lead to) insanity.  Is that not a perfect metaphor for what Hermēs is trying to save us from?  In CH VII.1, he calls out to people to save them (my emphasis, Greek from Festugière/Nock given first to show the original wording):

Ποῖ φέρεσθε, ὧ ἄνθρωποι, μεθύοντεσ, τὸν τῆς ἀγνωσίας ἄκρατον λόγον ἐκπιόντες, δ’ν οὐδὲ φέρειν δύνασθε, ἀλλ’ ἤδη αὐτὸν καὶ ἐμεῖτε;

Where are you heading in your drunkenness, you people? Have you swallowed the doctrine of ignorance undiluted, vomiting it up already because you cannot hold it? Stop and sober yourselves up!

And in CH I.27—29, when Hermēs begins his kergyma (“you who have surrendered yourselves to drunkenness and sleep and ignorance of god, make yourselves sober and end your drunken sickness…”) and teaching to the people after being told by Poimandrēs to guide and save the human race (emphasis mine):

Some of them, who had surrendered themselves to the way of death, resumed their mocking and withdrew, while those who desired to be taught cast themselves at my feet. Having made them rise, I became guide to my race, teaching them the words—how to be saved and in what manner—and I sowed the words of wisdom among them, and they were nourished from the ambrosial water.

The mixing-bowl is not for the purpose of diluting Mind, but for the purpose of diluting us with Mind.  We are the unmixed wine of insanity and ignorance, that dark liquid that cannot be seen through and which keeps one drunk in ignorance and insanity; as CH I.20 would put it, this is “the hateful darkness, from which comes the watery nature, from which the body was constituted in the sensible cosmos, from which Death drinks”.  And it is God who wishes for us to be diluted and elevated with the “ambrosial water” of everlasting and eternal life, provided by Mind and knowledge.  In diluting wine, the wine becomes palatable and healthful, and impurities in the wine are washed away so that the goodness of wine shows through.  This is why not everyone’s “heart has the strength”, why not everyone “believes that you will rise up again”; those who are mired in their own ignorance do not wish to be diluted, do not wished to be washed out, just as a party-goer deep in their cups will forego a refreshing glass of water for another glass of booze to keep the buzz going, but those who see and recognize the ignorance and darkness in them and wish to be made into a clearer and better form will admit the necessity of diluting the wine with water.

With us being the wine to be diluted, so long as we enter into the mixing-bowl of God, God will dilute us with the water of Mind as we need to be.  The only thing we really lose in the process is our ignorance and insanity; by us (or, perhaps better, our souls) being mixed with Mind, we cease becoming insane and causing insanity, and instead “participate in knowledge” (γνώσεωςi.e. gnōsis).  Those who undergo this mixing and dilution become “perfect people”, and in so doing, we become the drink of life itself, and so participate in ourselves with ourselves.  This is, perhaps, a difficult thing to explain, and maybe it’s just the metaphor of the mixing-bowl and symposium breaking down here, but I am reminded of the exclamation of Tat in the process of his rebirth from CH XIII.11—13:

Since god has made me tranquil, father, I no longer picture things with the sight of my eyes but with the mental energy that comes through the powers. I am in heaven, in earth, in water, in air; I am in animals and in plants; in the womb, before the womb, after the womb; everywhere…

Father, I see the universe and I see myself in mind.

Tat, in the process of his rebirth, no longer sees himself as merely apart from or within the cosmos; he witness himself as the cosmos and within it.  More than that, he sees himself “in Mind”.  I’m also reminded of how Hermēs tells Asclepius in CH X.12 that:

A human soul is carried in this way: the mind is in the reason; the reason is in the soul; the soul is in the spirit; the spirit, passing through veins and arteries and blood, moves the living thing and, in a manner of speaking, bears it up.

And later on in CH X.19:

The human soul—not every soul, that is, but only the reverent—is in a sense demonic and divine. Such a soul becomes wholly mind after getting free of the body and fighting the fight of reverence. (Knowing the divine and doing wrong to no person is the fight of reverence.) The irreverent soul, however, stays in its own essence, punishing itself, seeking an earthy body to enter…

The human entity consists of Reason (λόγος), yes, which all people have, but Mind (νους) is mixed with this for those who can.  Those who have Mind in their souls mixed with Reason will, in the process of their spiritual progression along the Way, eventually become entirely Mind, and as such, as Poimandrēs tells Hermēs in CH I.26, “enter into God[; for] this is the final good for those who have received knowledge: to be made God”.  This requires us to dilute ourselves with the water of Mind in the mixing-bowl from CH IV, which, as the long night of the symposium of our earthly incarnation continues, should progress so that only the water of Mind is left, and none of the wine of our bodily selves remain.  The people of Reason, however, devoid of Mind, do not wish for this to happen due to their ignorance, and instead “stay in their own essence”, remaining undiluted and continuing in their life of ignorance, “willful and angry” (as one might be from having drunk unmixed wine, or just drinking too much wine at all, per Dionysos’ disavowal of the fourth kratēr and beyond).

This all makes the following sections of CH IV.6—7 make so much more sense to me.  Most people interpret this as a straightforward world-denying body-hating section, but in light of the notion of dilution…well, read for yourself:

“I too wish to be immersed, my father.”

“Unless you first hate your body, my child, you cannot love yourself, but when you have loved yourself, you will possess mind, and if you have mind, you will also have a share in the way to learn.”

“What do you mean by this, father?”

“My child, it is impossible to be engaged in both realms, the mortal and the divine. Since there are two kinds of entities, corporeal and incorporeal, corresponding to mortal and divine, one is left to choose one or the other, if choice is desired. One cannot {have both together when one is left to choose}, but lessening the one reveals the activity of the other.

“Choosing the stronger, then [ ], not only has splendid consequences for the one who chooses—in that it makes the human into a god—but it also shows reverence toward god. On the other hand, choosing the lesser has been mankind’s destruction, though it was no offence to god, with this single reservation: just as processions passing by in public cannot achieve anything of themselves, though they can be a hindrance to others, in the same way these people are only parading through the cosmos, led astray by pleasures of the body.”

Ignorance and death is the unmixed wine, while knowledge (from Mind) and life is the water that dilutes it in the mixing-bowl.  Hone in, specifically, on the statement “lessening the one reveals the activity of the other”: by diluting the wine, the water begins to come to the fore.  As we begin the process of moving from a focus in living from the corporeal to the incorporeal, the wine of our ignorance and death becomes further diluted, until eventually there is no wine left, only the water of Mind.  Doing this admits that the undiluted wine of ignorance we possess cannot remain as such; we cannot love being so undiluted, but instead must seek to destroy that state through dilution (“unless you first hate your body, my child, you cannot love yourself, but when you have loved yourself, you will possess mind”).  Those who insist on remaining undiluted in their ignorance, however, ignore the importance of the incorporeal, of Mind and knowledge and God, and continue in their own destruction, and in so doing, cause a “hindrance to others…parading through the cosmos, led astray by pleasures of the body” as one would in a reckless and drunken revel.

Something still bothers me about all this, though.  When Tat asks Hermēs why God did not share Mind with all people from the get-go, Hermēs responds that God “wanted it put between souls…as a prize for them to contest” (ἠθέλησεν, ὧ τέκνον, τοῦτον ἐν μέσῳ ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὥσπερ ἄθλον ἱδρῦσθαι with a rough translation of “he willed, my son, this in the midst of these souls just as a prize of contest to be found”).  This notion of “contest” for one to strive towards is a weird one, but it’s not wholly unfamiliar; there is a notion of intentful striving throughout the corpora Hermetica that leads to divinity: CH I.21 has Poimandrēs telling Hermēs that “if you learn you are from light and life and that you happen to come from them, you shall advance to life once again”, after recounting God’s counsel to all of creation in CH I.18 that “let him who is mindful recognize that he is immortal, that desire is the cause of death, and let him recognize all that exists”.  I interpret this notion of a “prize for a contest” to mean that we are not necessarily striving against one another, though it may feel that way, but it’s more of our souls striving against our bodies, the divine and immortal part of ourselves striving against the corporeal and mortal part of ourselves.    I suppose one could make a game of it with others, of course, which would be appropriate at a symposium, and depending on how long the symposium of God goes on, more and more wine will need to be drawn upon and mixed one way or another so that everyone, in the end, gets mixed with the water of Mind.  I’m not entirely settled on the meaning of the wording of this, and I think this part is definitely worthy of more contemplation and consideration.

Likewise, Hermēs mentions that God appointed “a herald whom he commanded to make the following proclamation to human hearts” regarding immersing ourselves in the mixing-bowl.  Who or what might this herald be?  Given Hermēs’ commission from Poimandrēs to teach and guide humanity so that they might be saved, he may well be referencing himself, but there is also the possibility of this being one of the personified forces of the cosmos, of which there are no small number: Providence, Necessity, and Fate have been personified at times in the Stobaean Fragments, and SH XXVI.3 (from the last part of the Korē Kosmou excerpts) mentions that Providence has “two ministers”: a Steward of Souls and an Escort of Souls.  We also shouldn’t forget Poimandrēs himself, of course, too, an emanation from Mind who (depending on your perspective and analysis of the name) could be Ra, Thoth, or the XIIth Dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat III (I swear at least one scholar thinks this).  Whether this herald is a cosmic entity or not, whether it’s an oblique reference by Hermēs to himself or not, the identity of the herald isn’t the focus of this book from the Corpus Hermeticum, and it’s certainly less important than the fact that a message was given to humanity: “immerse yourselves in the mixing-bowl if your heart has the strength”.  Fittingly, this message does bear much in similarity with what Hermēs calls out to people in CH I.27—29 and in CH VII, but that alone doesn’t make this particular topic particularly clear, either.

At any rate, Hermēs goes on to say in CH IV.9 that “knowledge is not a beginning of the good, but it furnishes us the beginning of the good that will be known”.  If knowledge is produced from Mind, and our immersion in the mixing-bowl and our first dilution with the water of Mind is just the start of it all on our way to become wholly Mind (as in CH X.19), then this is just the beginning of a long party, indeed.  But even if the Way is long, we won’t be thirsty along the way, so long as we keep listening to and following the Leader who keeps us nourished with what is right for us.

Sum of their Parts: The Planetary Syntheses of the Geomantic Figures

I don’t make as much of a practice of meditating on the geomantic figures as I sometimes feel I should.  It’s an important practice, I think, that really opens up some truly amazing doors in the understanding of the geomancer to not just get an intellectual feel for these sixteen symbols of elemental presence or absence, of elemental action, reaction, and interaction, but also to get a truly profound, soul-touching understanding of them.  This is crucially important, I claim, for any new geomancer: perhaps even before studying the techniques of geomancy (which are pretty straightforward, really), they should make an effort to truly learn what the figures are, not just what they mean or stand for through rote memorization of correspondence lists or the like.  In doing so, we learn more about the figures and how they play out in the world around us.

Back during January, during some of my usual daily prayers, the thought arose to me that maybe I shouldn’t just be meditating on the figures more often than once a year or so, but also to simply consider newer and other ways to understand them. After all, we have all these mathematical ways of understanding the figures, the various operations that can be applied to a figure to transform it into another, but one of the most important for us is addition: the process of taking two figures and combining them mathematically to form a third.  This is the fundamental technique that allows us to come up with the Nieces from the Mothers or Daughters, the Witnesses from the Nieces, the Judge from the Witnesses, and the Sentence from the Judge and First Mother.  The process of addition can be interpreted in one of three ways:

  • Us + Them = Interaction
  • Start + End = Transition
  • Factor + Context = Conclusion

In all cases, what addition shows us is what happens when you add the symbolism of one figure to the symbolism of another.  For instance, consider the two figures Puer + Laetitia = Acquisitio.  What could this mean?  Well, let’s consider it according to the three models of addition above:

  • (Us + Them = Interaction) Our youthful energy, drive, and brazenness is faced with a happy time and people more than happy to uplift us and support us.  The combination of like minds, with the enthusiasm of Puer on our side combined with the optimism of Laetitia on the other, yields great gain for us all.  However, that gain is only incidental; what matters more is finding people willing to help us as we need to, so that we’re not the only ones striving for something.
  • (Start + End = Transition) A stoked start to matters, full of energy and gumption and not a small amount of willingness to step on toes to get our way, is going to indeed get our way and find everything that we seek.  It’s this very nature of winning, when all we want to do is win, that will get us to a state of true happiness and bliss.  Money isn’t what matters, but it certainly helps us in our overall goals to celebrate the goodness that life has in store for us.
  • (Factor + Context = Conclusion) Put a bull in a china shop, and you can expect things to get broken.  However, put a bull in a lush field full of other happy cows, and you can expect the bull to be in a happy place, indeed, doing what bulls naturally want to do: eat, sleep, and procreate.  When a huge bundle of energy like yourself is put in a situation where it’s own heat and drive is redirected and put to useful ways, all that energy you have goes to natural, proper ends that just works well for everyone in the end, so long as that energy is allowed to do what it naturally needs and wants to do.

With addition, we can expand our notions of 16 geomantic figures to 256 geomantic processes, each of which can be interpreted along the three models above, all of which touch on the same core idea but which can be phrased in different ways appropriate to different models of understanding or different situations in which they appear.  This is where the complexity of geomancy truly lies, I feel, and the only way to really navigate these complexities is through having a profound, intuitive understanding of the figures, which only comes about through study, contemplation, and meditation.

To be fair, not all such study, contemplation, and meditation needs to be done sitting on a mat and pathworking or scrying the figures.  Sometimes we can take a more logical or synthetic approach as opposed to a mystical one which itself can yield a fertile ground for further meditation, and today, I want to take a new twist on that.  We know that addition is an important operation in geomancy that can yield not just new figures but also new understandings of the figures, but we also know that there are 16 figures, which can be reasonably broken down into eight pairs of figures, each pair relating to one of the planets (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Nodes).  If there’s a pair, then there can be addition:

Planet First Figure Second Figure Synthesis Figure
Moon Populus Via Via
Mercury Albus Coniunctio Rubeus
Venus Puella Amissio Tristitia
Sun Fortuna Maior Fortuna Minor Via
Mars Puer Rubeus Carcer
Jupiter Acquisitio Laetitia Puer
Saturn Tristitia Carcer Laetitia
Nodes Caput Draconis Cauda Dracions Carcer

What we have here is a table of what happens, what figures result when you add the two figures belonging to the same planet together.  Thus, consider the two figures of Mercury, Albus and Coniunctio.  If you add them together, you get the figure Rubeus.  What might this mean symbolically, not just for the figures of Mercury but for a geomantic understanding of Mercury itself?  Remember that the addition of figures shows us what the core themes of interaction, transition, and conclusion are between two forces, but in this case, we’re taking the two sides of each planet and seeing what happens when we synthesize them together.

There are a few observations we can make right off the bat:

  • In all cases except for the figures of the Moon, the synthesis figure is both a different figure than either the original figures and also belongs to a different planet than the planet that the original figures belonged to (Jupiter in the case of the figures of Saturn, Mars in the case of Jupiter, etc.).
  • Two figures are repeated among the synthesis figures: Carcer (formed from both the figures of the Nodes as well as the figures of Mars) and Via (figures of the Sun and figures of the Moon).  Mathematically, this is because these are the only planets whose two figures are inverses of each other, and Via can only result when you add inverses.  This suggests that only the figures of the Moon and the Sun are truly opposites of each other and reflect two totally distinct sides of each planet; all the other planets share something in common and show different themes without being complete opposites.
  • The synthesis figures are always going to belong to the Moon (Via), Mars (Puer or Rubeus), Jupiter (Laetitia), or Saturn (Carcer or Tristitia).  Mercury, Venus, and the Sun do not appear at all in this mix.  This is an interesting contrast to the Judges that can result from a geomantic chart, where only Mars is unrepresented as a Judge.
  • Saturn has a plurality of synthesis figures with three out of eight, Mars has two, the Moon has two, and Jupiter has one.  This is another interesting contrast to the number of figures belonging to the planets for the possible Judges that can form in a chart: the Moon has two possible Judges, the Sun has two, Mercury has one, Venus has one, Jupiter has one, and Saturn has one, with Mars having none at all.
  • Three of the four pure-elemental figures (Laetitia, Rubeus, and Tristitia) are present among the synthesis figures, but Albus is left out, the figure of pure Water.  Coincidentally, we have the inverse of Albus, Puer, as the synthesis of Jupiter, the figure that has everything but water.  In fact, with the exception of Via, all the planetary synthesis figures lack Water entirely as an element.

What we’re building up to is an understanding of a geomantic understanding of the planets (including the pair of Nodes together as a “planet” in its own right, at least for the sake of the model here) by seeing what happens when we add—synthesize—the two figures of a planet.  As opposed to simply looking at the different way a planet can express its energy, what we’re arriving at is a geomantic symbol of the core nature or tension of that planet, and how that nature relates to other planets as well.

With that in mind, let’s take a deeper dive into this and see how this plays out for each pair.  While I’m sure there’s more to be said than just a simple paragraph about each synthesis pair, this should be enough to get started for the sake of contemplation and meditation on the figures.  Note that the focus here is on the synthesis figure, irrespective of the order in which the synthesis takes place (e.g. Albus + Coniunctio and Coniunctio + Albus both add up to Rubeus equally).

Moon: Populus + Via = Via

This one is almost too easy, given that this is the only synthesis of planetary figures that yields a figure of the same planet as its components.  However, we should consider why that synthesis figure is Via and not Populus.  Via is the figure of change, and that is fundamentally the nature of the Moon: the Moon is in a constant state of flux, never appearing the same from one night to the next in its raw appearance.  As the fastest of the seven planets, the Moon constantly shifts between signs and lunar mansions on a scale completely beyond all the other planets, which is why the Moon symbolically has her planetary joy in House III.  However, more than that, Via is the one figure that has all four elements present and active; in astrology and astrological magic, the Moon is the planet that gathers up the light of all the other planets and can act as a stand-in for any other planet as necessary.  As the lowest of the planets, the Moon is also the closest planet to Earth, the realm of totally manifested reality, and thus the Moon is closest to the realm of the elements themselves.  In this light, Via is almost boringly obvious as the figure that relates to the essence of the Moon.

Mercury: Albus + Coniunctio = Rubeus

I suppose it’s super fitting, given that Mercury is generally considered a mutable planet harmonious with the element of Air, that the two Mercurial figures of Albus and Coniunctio add to form the figure whose sole active element is Air: Rubeus.  However, Rubeus is generally a hot and dangerous figure, one of deceit, treachery, lies, theft, and confusion—but are these not also things that trickster Mercury is known for?  We praise Mercury as being the planet of communication and commerce, travel and trade, language and science, and all this is true, but if a planet can bestow something, it can just as easily corrupt or deny those things, too: if Mercury grants a strong mind, it can also grant a weak or debilitated mind, or one that’s so strong that it becomes a deadly weapon in its own right (cf. “the pen is mightier than the sword”, and spilled ink can lead to spilled blood).  Further, we should never ignore the mythological aspects here of Hermēs being the slayer of Argos, in some myths by beheading with a golden sword, in others by bludgeoning with a rock, through with a scheme of trickery and plotting involved in such a thing, and ultimately to rescue (steal) Iō from Hēra.  If Albus is the mind at its most refined and noble, then Rubeus is the mind at its most raw and corrupt; it’s perhaps a good thing that Hermēs is the messenger of the gods acting on their behest rather than his own, since if Hermēs were to take his power into his own hands rather than using it on behalf of Zeus and the other gods, as the Homeric Hymn to Hermēs suggests, his greatest inclination is to lie, cheat, steal, deceive, and hoodwink all others endlessly for his own selfish gain.  We should remember that the mind is not just a tool but a power unto itself, and without harnessing that power and refining it through wisdom and morality, that power will serve itself more than anything else in ways that are cruel, crude, despicable, and destructive.

Venus: Puella + Amissio = Tristitia

Now this is an odd one: the figures of Venus add up to the figure of Saturn, Sorrow.  Off the bat, my first thought is that Saturn has its exaltation in Libra, a sign of Venus, but that’s not saying much about why Tristitia would be the synthesis figure for Venus.  There is also the notion that, to me at least, I associate Venus most strongly with the element of Water, and each of the elements has a particular motion associated with it: Air expands and Earth contracts, Fire goes upward and Water goes downward—and Tristitia is a figure of downwards motion, yet that too doesn’t seem to hit on the connection here all that well.  There’s something about the raw, simple power of pure Earth that turns the volatile passion of Amissio into the stabilized harmony of Puella: the feeling of having enough, the knowledge that everything is going to be alright, the blessing of experience and memory, the ability to dull or blunt emotional pain (whether one’s own or that of another).  All of these things are Earthy, sure, but none of these things strike me as Sorrowful.  But there is something here: all these things come about as the result of labor.  The fields and the forest may be abundant and fruitful, sure, but what good is all of that if you do not toil in the fields to ensure a harvest, or wander in the fields risking cuts and bites to pluck berries and mushrooms?  Venus, in all its splendor, is not a planet known for its labor, but there is a deeper, more profound labor going on behind the pretty face, whether done up for a night out or marred by tears from a bad night: there’s a profound emotional labor going on, either in the process of it that causes emotional volatility or as a result of it that produces emotional stability.  Venus, as a primary symbol of femininity, is also a symbol of childbirth, and how arduous and painful can that be, filled with tears and groans and moaning?  Tristitia is a profound figure that makes things alright in the end, but the process of that can be hard and long—but always results in pleasure, once the clouds clear from the skies.

Sun: Fortuna Maior + Fortuna Minor = Via

The other synthesis pair of figures that yield Via, it’s somewhat surprising to find that the figures of the Sun synthesize into a figure of the Moon.  After all, if Via is all about change, what do we make of this since we know the Sun to be a symbol of perfection and eternity itself?  We should still remember that even if the Sun itself is perfect and timeless, how the Sun relates to the Earth is not: the Sun rises and sets and itself marks the most fundamental change in the world, that of the day-night cycle, as well as that of the seasonal cycle as the Sun gradually moves above and below the celestial equator along the ecliptic.  Heck, think of the neopagan concept of the Wheel of the Year that discusses the various solar events of solstices, equinoxes, and zodiacal midpoints and how this tells an agricultural story of the birth, growth, triumph, fall, death, and rebirth of the Sun.  We should also note the reference in PGM XII.201ff (the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual) to “yours is the processional way of Heaven”, referring most likely to the starry road of the ecliptic—and what is Via if not literally a road?  Rather than Via indicating change itself as it does for the Moon, for the Sun, Via instead indicates the process of change rather than the thing that undergoes change: while the roads we take in life take their toll, the roads themselves remain themselves and do not themselves go anywhere.  So too does the Sun show the road that we take, season in and season out, year in and year out, and even though the Sun will always remain the Sun, we constantly change as we follow the Sun throughout the times of life.

Mars: Puer + Rubeus = Carcer

The first of two synthesis pairs that yield Carcer, this pair of the figures of Mars shows a bold hero facing the endlessly tumultuous battle, the stoic soldier fighting against a raving berserker.  The notion of Carcer here is that of being locked into battle, a constant and neverending struggle of violence from which one cannot escape.  This is the figure that demonstrates the endless drive to break through and break free despite the utter impossibility of doing so (cf. the prisoner unfairly imprisoned who constantly plots and works their way out of prison) as well as the endless anger and frustration of trying to break free from that which binds oneself: we shouldn’t forget that Fire is present in Carcer, too, after all!  On top of this, Carcer is the figure of separation, which is the crucial action of Mars: the fundamental purpose of a blade is to cut, which divides one thing from another (whether a rope bridge spanning a chasm or the blood from its body).  In struggle, Mars separates one person/side/thing from another, yet the person/side/thing that is separated from the other will always be locked into a struggle with it, whether the struggle of imprisonment, of war, or of life and death itself.  While we might consider Puer to be a sword and Rubeus a battleaxe, Carcer would then be a sort of shield, another thing that cuts off one from another without doing much to resolve that separation.

Jupiter: Acquisitio + Laetitia = Puer

Now this is a fun one: the two Jovial figures adding up to a Martial one.  Why should two otherwise beneficial figures that lead to happiness—material and financial on the one hand, emotional and spiritual on the other—lead to something that so easily ruins happiness?  Crucially, there’s always too much of a good thing, and if any planet exemplifies the idea of “too much”, it’s Jupiter.  Jupiter is the planet of expansion, but to expand requires force, and Zeus, as king of Olympos, has all the force in the world to wield, whether for weal or for woe: there is nothing that can withstand the might of Zeus.  More than that, when we have good things, we want more good things, and that want, if not tempered by wisdom, can become a corruption of them, as acid (a Martian thing!) dissolves lesser metals.  Acquisitio’s desire for wealth can become insatiable greed, and Laetitia’s desire for hope and success can become reckless daring.  Jupiter is pure power, and that power is to make things more Jupiter through force, one way or another.  After all, how often do kings and rulers in our own world resort to the application of force, oftentimes brutal, whether against their own people or others, in order to satisfy their needs for resources, space, or the fulfillment of their state’s ambitions?  If the nature of a king is to rule, then the underlying ability that allows that king to rule is the application of force.

Saturn: Tristitia + Carcer = Laetitia

Just as it’s somewhat surprising to find that the figures of the Sun yield a figure of the Moon, it’s also weird to see the figures of Saturn synthesizing into a figure of Jupiter, doubly so since Laetitia is the reverse of Tristitia.  Structurally speaking, this synthesis is a lot like what’s going on with the Mercurial figures (an axial figure plus a pure elemental figure), and in that light, seeing how we took a heavily mythological twist to that analysis, perhaps it’s fitting to bring up that Kronos was once a benevolent, almost Jovial king during the Golden Age when humanity “lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them…”.  It is true that Saturn is the planet is melancholy, depression, toil, labor, old age, decrepitude, and the like, but that’s just its effects from our side: consider that once you strip away everything else that is unessential baggage (a la one’s Saturn return), that which remains is the pure essence of the thing, and this itself is freedom and a kind of joy unto itself, a revealing of truth from the deception of incarnation.  Plus, Saturn is the highest of the planets in the heavens, and Laetitia is the figure of upwards motion, indicating Saturn’s top position above all, closest to Divinity and showing the way to true joy where old age and death no longer have any power or presence.  The way to such a destination is fraught with endless problems and terrible toil, just as the course of the afterlife in Egyptian thought through the Duat, but so long as you hold true to the course and can survive everything thrown at you, your ultimate destination is a place of eternal joy, not of emotion but beyond all emotion.

Nodes: Caput Draconis + Cauda Draconis = Carcer

The second of two synthesis pairs that yield Carcer, the two figures of the lunar nodes here don’t show the struggle and separation side of Carcer, but rather show the other aspect of this figure as a cycle.  Consider the ouroboros, the symbol of eternity of the snake swallowing its tail, an apt symbol for the combination of the Head and Tail of the Dragon: the cycle of beginning and ending is an eternal one, for when one thing ends, another must begin, and where one thing begins, another must have ended.  This is the eternal cycle of creation and destruction, the cycle of life and death itself, the cycle of saṃsāra into which we are constantly born time and time again whether as reincarnation or as rebirth.  The only way to break out of the prison of the world is to break the world itself; the only way to escape creation is to cease being created and to cease participating in creation entirely.  After all, in many religions and cosmologies, the world has a fundamental start point and a fundamental end point, but these are often outside time itself.  In this, Carcer represents not just the cyclical creation/destruction of the cosmos, but also the walls that separate that which is inside creation from that which outside it entirely; this is the dragon in the ninth heaven, above the fixed stars themselves within creation but still below the domain of God outside creation.

Genius in the Picatrix: Associations of the Four Powers

Last time, we started talking about a particularly interesting bit of the Ġāyat al-Ḥakīm, the “Goal of the Wise”, sometimes just known as the Ġayah, but definitely better known in the West as the Picatrix, most likely written in Arabic sometime in the middle of the 11th century CE. Everyone knows the Picatrix, everyone loves the Picatrix; it’s a fantastic text of astrological magic, and among the earliest of true grimoires in Europe. Although focused on what we’d nowadays call stellar image magic, the creation of astrological talismans bearing magical images and scenes made under particular stellar configurations, the text is famous for its wide inventory of bizarre magical concoctions and confections for a variety of purposes, its lengthy invocations to the planetary spirits, and its preservation of older pagan practices from the Hermetists, Sabians, Nabataeans, and various other Mediterranean peoples. It is not, however, a particularly theurgical text on the whole, even though it contains a wealth of information on philosophy, spiritual and cosmic frameworks, and the like in how and why magic works the way that it does. Yet, in book III, chapter 6, we encounter an interesting section on the “Perfect Nature”, a sort of guiding spirit or genius, originally encountered by Hermēs Trismegistus himself. The last post discussed what we would need to do to prepare for the ritual of communing with Perfect Nature; if you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

At this point, we know we need to have the altar set up in a particular way: a bowl of butter/walnut oil/sugar/honey candy in the middle, four pint-sized pitchers of wine around the altar, and four pitchers of a particular kind of fat around the altar as well: almond oil in the east, walnut oil in the west, butter in the south, and sesame oil in the north. There’s more prep to be done beyond this, but I want to take a second to look at the symbolism hidden here and to expand on that a bit, because I’ll bet that the order that the containers of oil and butter are presented in the text (almond oil in the east, walnut oil in the west, butter in the south, and sesame oil in the north) is probably important.

Remember earlier how we drew dichotomies between the four spirits of Perfect Nature, with Meegius/Tamāġīs and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs as one dichotomy (perception vs. interaction) and Betzahuech/Baġdīswād and Vacdez/Waġdās as another (substance vs. essence)? In the order of Meegius/Tamāġīs, Betzahuech/Baġdīswād, Vacdez/Waġdās, Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs , this would suggest that we’d put Meegius/Tamāġīs in the east, Betzahuech/Baġdīswād in the west, Vacdez/Waġdās in the north, and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs in the south, which doesn’t fit the dichotomy scheme when thought about in terms of directions. But the Picatrix also notes that of these four spirits, there are “three spirits in matter” which are “coadunated in perfect contemplation”, suggesting that Vacdez/Waġdās (the spirit of contemplation) is set apart from the rest. We should note that, of the four containers that have non-wine substances in them, three have oil and one has butter, and that the butter is given third in the order of the containers, just as Vacdez/Waġdās is given third in the order of the list of names and contemplation given in the list of powers. So, perhaps we got our dichotomies wrong: perhaps it’s Vacdez/Waġdās and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs that are in a better dichotomy of contemplation and labor (i.e. spiritual work vs. physical work), and Meegius/Tamāġīs and Betzahuech/Baġdīswād in another of sense and object (that which perceives vs. that which is perceived). This makes sense to me, and seems to have the altar arrangement going for it as well.

This means that we can give directional associations to the four powers of Perfect Nature, too, to the rest of our correspondences:

Power Power Direction Fat
Meegius/Tamāġīs Senses East Almond oil
Betzahuech/Baġdīswād Objects West Walnut oil
Vacdez/Waġdās Contemplation South Butter
Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs Labor North Sesame oil

And, if we tie this back into our revised vignette of Hermēs Trismegistus obtaining the four powers of Perfect Nature from the four corners of Heaven, then we know which direction to face for each individual power, which could come in use for other works, but about which book III, chapter 6 of the Picatrix says nothing. These associations could certainly be explored more, but it’s not so important for the present ritual—though, as noted before, the Moonlit Hermit does use these direction associations loosely for a daily invocation of the names of the Perfect Nature.

Also, if Vacdez/Waġdās is associated with the butter and Betzahuech/Baġdīswād with the walnut oil, then what should we make of the candy made from butter and walnut oil that takes prime position in the center of the altar? This makes the confection a mixture of the spirit of contemplation (Vacdez/Waġdās) with the spirit of “things to which spirit is attracted”; this confection, then, becomes something like a symbol of Alpha and Ōmega of Perfect Nature combined. Consider it this way: we proceed from pure contemplation (Vacdez/Waġdās) through the senses (Meegius/Tamāġīs) effected by the hands (Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs) onto an object (Betzahuech/Baġdīswād). It’s probably no surprise that this confection has four ingredients, though such a confection made from almond, sesame, and walnut oils with butter alone probably wouldn’t be particularly tasty; it’s likely that the sugar and honey are supposed to be stand-ins for the almond and sesame oils (and thus incorporating Meegius/Tamāġīs and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs into the confection as well), but I’m not sure how that might be. The many grains of sugar could be thought of like the many small grains of sesame seeds and the sweetness of almonds like honey, or perhaps the pits of dates (the fruit of which would be more common to make sugar in the Old World before the cash crop of sugarcane came about) were thought of as almonds and the thick viscosity and dark color of sesame oil like honey. It’s unclear to me, but in thinking about this, I’m fairly confident in claiming that the four containers of fats around the altar represent the four spirits of Perfect Nature separately, and the confection in the middle represents their union. Also remember that the one candle we have in the ritual is to be set amidst this candy, the symbolism likely being the divine light of God filling the works of Perfect Nature.

I suppose there’s also something else that’s symbolic to note here regarding the use of butter. Of the four containers of fats, three of them are plant-based oils (sesame, almond, and walnut), but the last one of butter is animal-based. It’s not like other plant-based oils were unknown or unused—after all, consider olive oil or sunflower oil—which suggests that the use of an animal-based fat is important here. And, of all the animal-based fats, it’s not a normal fat, like lard or suet or tallow, the production of which involves killing the animal (and there’s plenty of that in the Picatrix). Rather, butter comes from milk, which is taken from an animal (cow, in this case) while it’s still alive and which itself encourages life. This is probably a sign that it’s living animals that are prioritized above plants (animal-based fat as opposed to vegetable-based fat), just as the internal is prized above the external (the power of contemplation vs. the other powers).

Beyond the above, there’s not a whole lot we might dig out as far as correspondences or associations might go for these four powers, nor is there a lot in terms of directional associations in the Picatrix to begin with; you might occasionally see “face south for this planet” (but all planets, if viewed from the northern hemisphere, would be in the southern parts of the sky if they’re above the horizon) or “go to the eastern side of a river” for a particular ritual, but that’s about it. Except, of course, for a beautiful image from book IV, chapter 3 of the Picatrix. There’s a whole lot more in this chapter in the Arabic Picatrix (and in the Atallah/Kiesel translation) than are in the Latin Picatrix (and thus the Warnock/Greer and Attrell/Porroca translations), but the title of this chapter in the Latin Picatrix is about the knowledge and secrets of the Chaldaeans…yet it’s really more about Egypt. A specific place in Egypt, no less, a special city that it calls Adocentyn, a city founded by Hermēs Trismegistus—but which in modern Egyptian Arabic is called El-Ashmunein. Those who are familiar with this place know it as a real modern city based on the ancient ruins of Khemenu, or Hermopolis Magna, the famous City of Thoth. The Picatrix gives us a lively description of this (Warnock/Greer translation):

[Hermēs Trismegistus] also it was who built, in the east of Egypt, a city twelve miles in length, in which he built a certain citadel that had four gates in its four quarters. At the eastern gate he put the image of an eagle, at the western gate the image of a bull, at the southern gate the image of a lion, and at the northern gate he built the image of a dog. He made certain spiritual essences enter into these, which used to speak in voices that issued from the images; nor could anyone pass through the portals without their permission. In that city he planted certain trees, in the midst of which he set up an arbor that bore the fruits of all generation.

At the summit of the citadel he caused to be built a certain tower, which attained a height of thirty cubits, and on the summit of it he commanded to be put a sphere, the color of which changed in every one of the seven days. At the end of the seven days it received the color it had at first. Every day, that city was filled with the color of that sphere, and thus the aforesaid city used to shine every day with color.

Around that tower, in a circle, water abounded, in which many kinds of fish used to live. Around the city he placed diverse and changing images, by means of which the inhabitants of the city were made virtuous and freed from sin, wickedness, and sloth. The name of this city was Adocentyn. Its people were most deeply learned in the ancient sciences, their profundities and secrets, and in the science of astronomy.

A pretty nifty place, if you ask me. The Atallah/Kiesel translation, following the Arabic, gives other details, too, but the Latin Picatrix has basically the same information as far as the city itself is concerned, although this city appears in a number of different Arabic texts, all with mostly the same structure but slightly different details from text to text. Given that we’re taking a Picatrix-centric approach, we’ll stick with what we have in the Picatrix. What I want to point out here, though, are three things:

  • This city is built by none other than Hermēs Trismegistus (or founded or otherwise centered on him, at any rate, given the historical connection to Thoth)
  • There are four gates, each with a different animal facing a different direction
  • The central citadel of the city is a tower that shifts colors every day, one color per planet for that day, to fill the whole city with light

Of the four animals used to watch over the gates to the city of Adocentyn, three should look intensely familiar to students of Abrahamic religion and modern Hermetic lodge-based systems: the four living creatures of Ezekiel 1. These are the seraphim, and seen as sacred bearers of the throne of God with four faces, that of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Later in the New Testament, Revelation 4:6-8 describes similar creatures, which are associated with the Four Evangelists (Matthew as man, Mark as the lion, Luke as the ox, and John as the eagle). Admittedly, it is somewhat hilarious to see a dog replace the station of man, but the similarities here cannot be denied. Bear in mind, too, that Hermēs took on another form as Hermanubis, the cynocephalic deity who was also related to the worship of Hermēs and Thoth, and also that the dog is a holy animal associated with Thoth along with the ibis and the baboon.

Consider what this gives us as far as the vignette of Perfect Nature, though, made all the stronger by both this and the holy city of Adocentyn/El-Ashmunein/Khemenu both being associated with Hermēs Trismegistus! We now have something directional and symbolic to latch on to for our four powers of the Perfect Nature, giving the following:

  • Meegius/Tamāġīs, the Eagle of the East
  • Betzahuech/Baġdīswād, the Bull of the West
  • Vacdez/Waġdās, the Lion of the South
  • Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs, the Dog of the North

Now, I don’t mean to say that these four powers are four individual spirits, as we discussed earlier; though some might interpret the Picatrix to say so, I think that’s a misreading of the text, and that these are four attributes, powers, skills, or abilities that the spirit of Perfect Nature can give us access to. After all, to use the Adocentyn image, the gate is not the city, but the gate provides access to it—and Hermēs as ruler of the city did empower each statue with its own presence, if not entity, to protect the city and permit only those who sought permission to enter. Besides, not only were these statues guards, however, but in other Arabic works describing the city, according to Okasha El-Daly’s Egyptology: The Missing Millennium, these were statues of “priests holding scrolls of scientific works”, and whoever wanted to learn a science “went to its particular statue, stroked it with his hand and then stroked his breast, thus transferring the science to himself”. I like the sound of this, personally.

But consider: the four living creatures (substituting man with dog) have long-standing elemental associations, too. Their use in the Golden Dawn and other modern Hermetic lodge-based magical systems is well-known, to be sure, but we even find such an association going back at least as early as Agrippa himself (book II, chapter 7), giving the lion to Fire, the eagle to Air, the man to Water, and the ox to Earth. These can also be seen as the four fixed signs of the Zodiac, with the lion as Leo, the eagle (via the constellation Aquila) to Scorpio, the man to Aquarius, and the ox to Taurus—and it’s in these four signs that many pagans and neopagans celebrate those famous cross-quarter days as approximations of the midpoints of these signs. (And, based on my own planning of geomantic holy days, this means we could also give Adam to the Bull of the West, Enoch to the Lion of the South, Hermēs to the Eagle of the East, and Daniel to the Dog of the North based on their shared zodiacal correspondences, but this is neither here nor there.)

Now, granted, we’d have to pick between the directional correspondences and those to the living creatures (Fire is given to both the East and to the Lion, but here we have the Lion in the South), but let’s stick to the symbolic association first, since we know our directions are set from our altar setup. We also know, from such texts as the Asclepius and other parts of the Stobaean Fragments in the Hermetic canon, that the Egyptians considered the land of the world to be like a body, with the head in the south, the legs and feet in the north, the right side of the body in the east, and the left side of the body in the west. This means we can tie in the four powers of Perfect Nature to the elements and parts of the body as well:

Power Power Direction Symbol Element Body Fat
Meegius/Tamāġīs Senses East Eagle Air Right side Almond oil
Betzahuech/Baġdīswād Objects West Bull Earth Left side Nut oil
Vacdez/Waġdās Contemplation South Lion Fire Head Butter
Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs Labor North Dog Water Legs and feet Sesame oil

Looking at the elemental correspondences we’ve built up by means of the animals associated with the directions for the four powers, it makes sense why these powers would have these elements:

  • The power of pure contemplation (Vacdez/Waġdās) is given to Fire, the holiest and noblest of the elements that ties us directly to the divine source of all illumination, that of the Divine. This is the purely internal power of Perfect Nature, and the one that all the other powers serve and assist with—just as the Lion is the king of all beasts. Just as we pointed out earlier with this power being associated with the only animal-based substance on the altar (butter) being more important than the rest, just as the Lion is king of the beasts, so too is contemplation king of the powers. Appropriately, although the heart was considered supreme in Egyptian thought, this is given to the head being in the South, fitting for the internal power of the mind alone.
  • The power of sense (Meegius/Tamāġīs) is given to Air. Like the Eagle from up high perceiving all around, this is the ability to spiritually perceive and know the various spiritual presences, entities, powers, influences, and impulses in the world. It is, after all, the very air that transmits sights, sounds, and perceptions from the thing perceived to the thing doing the perceiving. And, like the Eagle, once we perceive something we need, we can dive down to the river to pluck what we need, interacting with it, which leads to…
  • The power of labor (Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs) is given to Water. On the face of it, this is a little weird, as dogs are not really aquatic animals. But Water is known to link, conjoin, and commute all things—water, after all, is the universal solvent, in which all things can be mixed. The dog, too, is a beast of burden and a beast of labor, which protects us, guides us, warns us, and helps us in our ways. Likewise, being in the North, the Egyptians would have recognized this as the legs and body of the world—limbs for labor, indeed.
  • The power of objects (Betzahuech/Baġdīswād) is given to Earth, which is pretty obvious. This is the power of the material substances we work, understanding them, their properties, and their uses in our work. Just as the bull (the only herbivore of these four animals) is focused on and grazes on the produce of the Earth, this is the one power that’s entirely external and based most on the study and observation of the world itself. If we use the right hand to reach out to perceive what’s out there in the world, then we use the left hand to hold things and get a sense for what we have and can make use of.

(And, to offer a variation on the geomantic progenitor assignment, we could use these elemental associations instead of their zodiacal ones given above to instead give Enoch to the Eagle of the East, Hermēs to the Dog of the North, and Daniel to the Lion of the South, with Adam remaining for the Bull of the West. Personally, based on the actual powers alone, I’d be more symbolically inclined to give Hermēs to the Lion in the South, Enoch to the Eagle in the East, Daniel to the Dog in the North, but I can see arguments for and against any of these associations. Still, again, this is neither here nor there.)

And yes, I am aware that the use of the four animals above is perhaps particular to the Picatrix. As others before me have noted, this story of a sacred city of Hermēs Trismegistus appears a fair bit in various Islamic and Arabic occult texts, sometimes not even related to the city of el-Ashmunein/Khemenu itself but to another city, with variations on the animals. However, considering that our focus here is on the Picatrix alone, I feel like we can handily tie together these two chapters neatly into one overarching symbolic gesture.

Now, I want to be clear about this: I’m still sticking to my understanding that these four powers are not spirits unto themselves, and even if the name of Perfect Nature is referred to in a fourfold way, I don’t think that the Perfect Nature is at all separate from these four entities, and that the fourfold name of Perfect Nature is really just one name with four parts. However, in making these associations with the four gate-guards of Adocentyn, it might not be a bad idea to treat each power as a power unto itself for the purposes of meditation or spiritual work, understanding that they’re all four different aspects of the abilities of Perfect Nature, a la the Moonlit Hermit’s daily practice of calling on “the four spirits of Perfect Nature”. Personally, I’d be most inclined to recite the whole fourfold name of Perfect Nature on the misbaḥa (Islamic prayer beads) 99 times, once in each direction, but that’s just me. I suppose, given the imagery, we could face east and intone or vibrate each name, visualizing each beast manifesting in its proper direction around us, and at the end recite all four names together as the spirit of Perfect Nature (or otherwise an illuminating, enlightening ray from Heaven) descending upon us. This bears some similarities to the whole image of the City of Adocentyn, but we’ll talk about that soon enough.

Anyway, while I’m certain there’s more that could yet be said about further associations of the four powers of Perfect Nature, we are getting off-track here all the same. This was a nice detour to take, and I’m glad I was able to talk about some of the symbolic associations we could make to the four powers, but let’s be honest—even some of this feels like a stretch to me. I like the idea of it all to link the four powers to the four guardians of Adocentyn, with a relationship to one’s Perfect Nature being a sort of spiritual construction of an internal Adocentyn, but so much of this is so circumstantial and hypothetical. Still, even as that may be, it’s useful to consider to expand upon some of our conceptions of these ideas and to link them to other symbols to rely on.

At any rate, we were in the middle of preparing ourselves and our ritual area for the actual rite of communion with Perfect Nature. We’ll actually get to that next time, so stay tuned!

Genius in the Picatrix: Analyzing the Vignette and the Names

Last time, we started talking about a particularly interesting bit of the Ġāyat al-Ḥakīm, the “Goal of the Wise”, sometimes just known as the Ġayah, but definitely better known in the West as the Picatrix, most likely written in Arabic sometime in the middle of the 11th century CE.  Everyone knows the Picatrix, everyone loves the Picatrix; it’s a fantastic text of astrological magic, and among the earliest of true grimoires in Europe.  Although focused on what we’d nowadays call stellar image magic, the creation of astrological talismans bearing magical images and scenes made under particular stellar configurations, the text is famous for its wide inventory of bizarre magical concoctions and confections for a variety of purposes, its lengthy invocations to the planetary spirits, and its preservation of older pagan practices from the Hermetists, Sabians, Nabataeans, and various other Mediterranean peoples.  It is not, however, a particularly theurgical text on the whole, even though it contains a wealth of information on philosophy, spiritual and cosmic frameworks, and the like in how and why magic works the way that it does.  Yet, in book III, chapter 6, we encounter an interesting section on the “Perfect Nature”, a sort of guiding spirit or genius, originally encountered by Hermēs Trismegistus himself.  The last post introduced Perfect Nature and its four spiritual powers; if you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

So, let’s go back to that vignette of the pit and Hermēs Trismegistus encountering Perfect Nature.  Probably the biggest thing to note here is how Perfect Nature introduces itself, coming to Hermēs Trismegistus in a dream, offering a solution to Hermēs’ problem.  Upon asking who he is, Hermēs is given the response of “I am Perfect Nature”.  This, as Warnock and Greer have noted along with many other people before, is starkly reminiscent of the introduction to Book I of the Corpus Hermeticum, in which Hermēs Trismegistus meets Poimandrēs (Copenhaver translation):

Once, when thought came to me of the things that are and my thinking soared high and my bodily senses were restrained, like someone heavy with sleep from too much eating or toil of the body, an enormous being completely unbounded in size seemed to appear to me and call my name and say to me: “What do you want to hear and see; what do you want to learn and know from your understanding?”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I am Poimandrēs,” he said, “mind of sovereignty; I know what you want, and I am with you everywhere.”

I said, “I wish to learn about the things that are, to understand their nature and to know god. How much I want to hear!” I said.

Then he said to me: “Keep in mind all that you wish to learn, and I will teach you.”

Similar indeed!  There’s an interesting reversal here, though: in the Corpus Hermeticum, Hermēs first wishes to explore, then Poimandrēs appears, introduces himself, and teaches Hermēs, but in the Picatrix, Hermēs first wishes to explore, then Perfect Nature appears, teaches Hermēs, and introduces himself.  It’s a small difference, and probably not all that important, since the end result is the same: Poimandrēs/Perfect Nature then commits to teaching Hermēs Trismegistus all that he wishes to know.

When it comes to the vignette in book III, chapter 6 of the Picatrix, well…the whole thing is a little weird.  Why should Hermēs put himself “above a certain pit that was very deep and very dark, from which a certain impetuous wind blew”?  He did so to “understand and draw forth the secrets of the workings of the world and of its qualities”, but what about this pit would be helpful for that?  We could interpret this literally, sure, but it might make more sense to interpret it figuratively.  The Chronos Speaks blog has a lovely article about this Picatrix chapter, concluding that:

This in mind, Hermes’ mysterious description of the method of contacting Perfect Nature starts to make a lot more sense. The “deep pit” is sleep itself which drags one down into the oblivion of unconsciousness if we are not successful in achieving lucidity, the “impetuous wind” is the mental noise that prevents both sleep and lucidity (and which seems to get much stronger at the critical point), the “candle” is the light of awareness itself, and the “glass lantern” that protects awareness from being blown out is the recitation of the names of the Perfect Nature itself.

It’s not a bad way to think about this whole thing, and the post above connects the notion of lucid dreaming, sleeping, and other forms of sleep-based magic in Islamic spiritual practices.  Thus, it may well be that the pit itself is not a literal pit, but Hermēs Trismegistus trying to enter a state of lucid dreaming or other trance state in order to explore the cosmos (which is also a notion attested at several points in the Corpus Hermeticum involving the travels of the soul), and that the dream in which Perfect Nature appears to Hermēs is either a separate vision in the same dream or another trance revelation entirely.

I should also note that it’s the Chronos Speaks blog post above that tipped me off as to an origin and meaning for the four names.  As noted above, “Meegius Betzahuech Vacdez Nufeneguediz” is a corruption of Arabic “Tamāġīs Baġdīswād Waġdās Nūfānāġādīs”, but it’s likely that this itself is a corruption of other, older words.  In a footnote, Franz Rosenthal’s translation of Ibn Khaldūn’s Muqaddimah, when Ibn Khaldūn talks about “dream words” in the Picatrix, suggests that this set of barbarous words or divine names are definitely non-Arabic, and Rosenthal hypothesizes that this may well be an Aramaic phrase.  The specific section in which Rosenthal mentions this is when Ibn Khaldūn talks about “dream words”, specifically relating to the Picatrix (emphasis in bold mine):

In the Ghayah [i.e. the Picatrix] and other books by practitioners of magic, reference is made to words that should be mentioned on falling asleep so as to cause the dream vision to be about the things one desires. These words are called by (the magicians) “dream words” (al-halumah). In the Ghayah, Maslamah [the reported author of the Picatrix] mentioned a dream word that he called “the dream word of the perfect nature.” It consists of saying, upon falling asleep and after obtaining freedom of the inner senses and finding one’s way clear (for supernatural perception), the following non-Arabic words: tamaghis ba’dan yaswadda waghads nawfana ghadis. The person should then mention what he wants, and the thing he asks for will be shown to him in his sleep.

A man is said to have done this after he had eaten but little and done dhikr exercises for several nights. A person appeared to him and said, “I am your perfect nature.” A question was put to that person, and he gave the man the information he desired.

With the help of these words, I have myself had remarkable dream visions, through which I learned things about myself that I wanted to know. However, (the existence of such dream words) is no proof that the intention to have a dream vision can produce it. The dream words produce a preparedness in the soul for the dream vision. If that preparedness is a strong one, (the soul) will be more likely to obtain that for which it is prepared. A person may arrange for whatever preparedness he likes, but that is no assurance that the thing for which preparations have been made will actually happen. The power to prepare for a thing is not the same as power over the thing (itself). This should be known and considered in similar cases.

[And] God “is wise and knowing.”

In his footnotes to this section, Rosenthal suggests that Ibn Khaldūn’s transcription of “tamaghis ba’dan yaswadda waghads nawfana ghadis” should be read as Aramaic “tmaggesh b’eddan swadh waghdhash nawmtha ghadhesh”, which Rosenthal proposes to mean “you say your incantations at the time of conversation, and the accident of sleep happens”.  While there are certainly cases of barbarous words, divine names, and magical phrases that certainly have an Aramaic origin (e.g. one of my PGM favorites, ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ), there are others that are only claimed as such without any real evidence to back it up (e.g. ABRACADABRA).  While I don’t have enough knowledge of Aramaic to say one way or other, and granted that Rosenthal is a respected authority on Aramaic and I’m not inclined to dispute him, I think it’s extremely hilarious that an Aramaic phrase that basically amounts to “Imma do the thing” becomes an Arabic magic phrase for doing the thing.

Going back to the vignette, what about the bit about Perfect Nature teaching Hermēs Trismegistus about the particular image, i.e. talisman, that he is to dig out of the pit to still the “impetuous wind” that blows within it?  Since the Picatrix is largely a collection (some might even say compendium) of various images to make for a variety of purposes and under a variety of powers, we’d expect something to come up to calm winds or something.  Yet, searching through the Picatrix, there’s not a lot in there that deals with winds specifically, and not a lot that deals with the weather generally, either.  Yet we find the phrase “impetuous winds”, virtually the same phrase, in a later invocation of the planet Venus from book III, chapter 7 (the famous chapter with all those, erm, long-winded planetary invocations), specifically “a prayer to Venus for love”—yet this is just an invocation, and no image is given for this work.  The only wind-related talisman that we really find in the Picatrix, however, is the famous Mirror of the Seven Winds (book IV, chapter 7).  This mirror lets one “gather men, winds, spirits, demons, the dead and the living, and all will obey you and be at your command”, as it grants “power over winds, men, and demons, and they will come obediently to you”.  It’s certainly an interesting and powerful apparatus of magic, to be sure, but I have my doubts about this, since I don’t see much of an actual tie-in here; as a result, I don’t believe the Picatrix preserves what the actual talisman is that Perfect Nature told Hermēs to recover.

But there’s something else here that bugs me about this whole vignette and the association of this being a metaphor for a deep state of sleep, at least as the Chronos Speaks post describes it as a pit “which drags one down into the oblivion of unconsciousness”.  In fact, the whole notion of a pit here is weird.  In almost every case in extant Hermetic literature, Hermēs Trismegistus is focused on ascent rather than descent.  Consider a number of cases from the Corpus Hermeticum (Copenhaver translation, emphasis in bold mine):

Once, when thought came to me of the things that are and my thinking soared high and my bodily senses were restrained… (book I, chapter 1)

…To this Poimandres said: “First, in releasing the material body you give the body itself over to alteration, and the form that you used to have vanishes. To the demon you give over your temperament, now inactive. The body’s senses rise up and flow back to their particular sourcesThence the human being rushes up through the cosmic framework…And then, stripped of the effects of the cosmic framework, the human enters the region of the ogdoad; he has his own proper power, and along with the blessed he hymns the father. Those present there rejoice together in his presence, and, having become like his companions, he also hears certain powers that exist beyond the ogdoadic region and hymn god with sweet voice. They rise up to the father in order and surrender themselves to the powers, and, having become powers, they enter into god. This is the final good for those who have received knowledge: to be made god.  (book I, chapters 24 through 26)

You whom we address in silence, the unspeakable, the unsayable, accept pure speech offerings from a heart and soul that reach up to you. (book I, chapter 31)

[God] filled a great mixing bowl with [Nous] and sent it below, appointing a herald whom he commanded to make the following proclamation to human hearts: “Immerse yourself in the mixing bowl if your heart has the strength, if it believes you will rise up again to the one who sent the mixing bowl below, if it recognizes the purpose of your coming to be.” (book IV, chapter 4)

But those who participate in the gift that comes from god, O Tat, are immortal rather than mortal if one compares their deeds, for in a mind of their own they have comprehended all—things on earth, things in heaven and even what lies beyond heaven. Having raised themselves so far, they have seen the good and, having seen it, they have come to regard the wasting of time here below as a calamity. They have scorned every corporeal and incorporeal thing, and they hasten toward the one and only. (book IV, chapter 5)

For none of the heavenly gods will go down to earth, leaving behind the bounds of heaven, yet the human rises up to heaven and takes its measure and knows what is in its heights and its depths, and he understands all else exactly and—greater than all of this—he comes to be on high without leaving earth behind, so enormous is his range. (book X, chapter 25)

There are other bits scattered throughout the Hermetic canon, but these suffice to say that the spiritual approach and focus of Hermēs Trismegistus is focused on going up, not going down.  What, then, are we to make of this weird pit above which the Hermēs Trismegistus of the Picatrix stands?  I don’t disagree that this vignette takes place in a state of dream or trance, especially given the evidence from Ibn Khaldūn’s Muqaddimah.  But the symbolism here doesn’t much fit with the broader trends of Hermetic imagery; this isn’t to say that that the Picatrix is part of the classical Hermetic canon, at least as far as I reckon it, but it’s still perplexing how such a fundamental change in spiritual and symbolic direction would take place.

I propose, instead, that we turn the whole thing on its head, and quite literally so.  Take the image of the vignette, of Hermēs standing on top of a deep pit, and turn it upside down: either Hermēs standing at the bottom of a deep pit or, better yet, at the rock-bottom of the Earth looking up into the vault of Heaven.  If we take this latter image of Hermēs not looking down into the Earth but up into Heaven, the whole vignette suddenly becomes exactly we’d otherwise expect to see in a classical Hermetic text.  We can rethink the vignette accordingly:

  • Hermēs Trismegistus wanted to understand and draw forth the secrets of the workings of the world and of its qualities, and so put himself underneath the open sky, unknowably profound and full of darkness, within which impetuous and violent winds blew.  He could not pierce the darkness of the sky, and whenever he tried to gaze into it with the light of flame, the flame was put out by the winds.
  • In a dream, Perfect Nature came and told Hermēs to protect the candle from the wind in a lamp so that the wind will not extinguish it.
    • Seeing how encased lamps are a truly ancient invention, I’m surprised that this had to be pointed out to Hermēs.  However, this is also symbolic, as the Chronos Speaks blog points out.  By using the candle as one’s awareness, Hermēs trying to ascend into the heavens without preparation and protection, shutting himself off from the violent passions of the world and the influences of fate produced by the planets.
  • Upon reaching the highest heights of Heaven, Hermēs is to obtain a secret power which will still the violent winds of the skies, which will allow Hermēs to remove the candle from the lamp and hold it once more.
    • We can’t rightly use the notion of “digging out a talisman” when you’re literally as far from things to dig from as possible, but the notion of obtaining a secret power upon attaining the summit of the firmament isn’t that uncommon a notion.  If we were to think of this as an actual talisman, we could consider it to be something like the Mirror of the Seven Winds, the Sigillum Dei Aemeth, etc.
    • Something that the Chronos Speaks blogpost didn’t bring up was this crucial part: that, in the original vignette, the image that Hermēs digs up from the pit would allow him to put out the winds as well as remove the candle from the lamp to “hold the light there”—or, according to Atallah/Kiesel, “it will also light up the rest of the place”.  There’s this notion of separating and protecting the candle before rejoining with it again, of separating out and protecting one’s awareness before rejoining with it and letting it spread to all things, a sort of solve-et-coagula as well as expansion of consciousness and divine presence process going on here.
  • With the winds having been stilled and the light now free from the lamp fully illuminating all things, Hermēs should then obtain from the four pillars of Heaven (or, alternatively, the four corners of the World) the secrets of the world and the generation of all things, that which holds Heaven and Earth together.

This inverted scene of the vignette of the Picatrix becomes much more conformable to and understandable within the context of the usual body of Hermetic texts, no weird descent required.  So, where did this descent story come from?  Without knowing more about the background of the Picatrix or older versions of the Liber Antimaquis/Kitab al-Isṭamāḵis to reference, it’s hard to say.  One possibility could be that this is a way to relegate Hermēs Trismegistus to a mere pagan philosopher, keeping him focused on descent and the secrets of this world as opposed to the true divine secrets of God in Heaven within an Abrahamic or Islamic context, regardless whether this story was invented for the Picatrix or whether it relies on an older ascent story that was at some point inverted to become a descent story.  It’s not beyond the pale, I suppose, but given how much of pagan practice the Picatrix bluntly and outright preserves, even with the usual warnings of merely presenting this for the sake of knowledge while advising the faithful reader to turn away from them as idolatry, I doubt that such an inversion would have originated with the author of the Picatrix itself.

It’s also interesting to note how the vignette of Hermēs having to dig four more times in the pit—or, rather, look to the four pillars of Heaven/four corners of the World—after he obtains the talisman that stills the winds.  Knowing that there are four powers of Perfect Nature from the last post, it’s likely that this is a metaphor for each of those powers being developed one after another, all under the tutelage and protection of Perfect Nature itself.  This would suggest that before one can develop the four powers necessary to magic—the power of labor, the power of objects, the power of sense, the power of contemplation—we must first obtain the guidance of Perfect Nature.  In many ways, this is highly reminiscent of the Holy Guardian Angel from the Abramelin operation, where you first work to obtain knowledge and conversation with your Holy Guardian Angel, and only then proceed to the binding of the rulers of Hell and other sacred works.  After all, at the very start of this chapter, the Picatrix says that “nothing in this science can be perfected [i.e. completed] unless the virtue and disposition of the planets are inclined towards it by their own nature”, and it’s the role of the Perfect Nature to assist in doing just that.

While I’m sure there’s more that could be said or analyzed about the vignette, I feel like this is good enough for us to continue.  After all, this isn’t the entire vignette; the main part of this whole scene about Hermēs Trismegistus interacting with Perfect Nature is with Perfect Nature detailing a particular ritual to commune with it.  We’ll start talking about that next time.