Twelve, Ten, and Seven: Clarifying and Rethinking the Tormentors from CH XIII

So, this one has been stewing on my mind a bit.  Remember how, a bit ago, I brought up the notion of Hermetic “tormentors”?  It’s this notion from the Corpus Hermeticum (specifically Books I and XIII, or CH I and CH XIII, respectively) about how there are these irrational forces that work upon the body, and so influence and affect (impelling, but not compelling) the soul.  In CH I, Poimandrēs describes them to Hermēs in terms of the planets, where after death a human rises up through the planetary spheres and gives up a particular energy/activity to each planetary sphere from which that energy/activity derives: increase and decrease to the Moon, evil machination to Mercury, illusion of longing to Venus, and so forth.  CH XIII describes things a bit differently; rather than waiting until after death to release ourselves from these energies, the process of initiation and rebirth described there can be done in this life before death, but rather than there being seven such energies, there are twelve that Hermēs lists to Tat, but “under them are many more besides”.  When I brought up my discussion of these tormentors last time, I considered them in a planetary light, against the conventional reading of the text in CH XIII which makes them out to be zodiacal rather than planetary, and have interpreted them as such as well in later posts like the one I did about the Hermetic “sins” based on the 42 Negative Confessions of Egyptian afterlife beliefs.  This major disconnect, intentional as it was, was pointed out to me by Phainolis of Practical Theurgy, and I wanted to take another look at my logic with that.  The constant onslaught of 2020’s drama hasn’t given me a lot of time to do that, but now that I have a moment to breathe and reconsider things, I figure now’s as good a time as any.

So, let’s talk about the relationships between CH I and CH XIII at a high level first.  Both of these are important books in the corpora Hermetica (not just in the Corpus Hermeticum alone, but in all of the classical Hermetic literature available to us) because they center on this notion of spiritual…evolution, advancement, ascent, whatever you want to call it as a means of salvation and release from torment.  Torment is a result of the forces of fate that work upon the body, because the body is what is subjected to fate, because fate is a function of the created cosmos.  Because the body is a product of the cosmos, the body is subject to the forces of the cosmos; the soul, however, is not subject to the forces of fate because it has its origin above and beyond the creation of the cosmos.  Still, because the soul is wrapped up in the body, the body can inflict the soul with torment or misguide and mislead it; even though the soul is technically above the forces of fate, it can still be impacted by them because of its connection to the body.  Fighting this battle between the soul and the body to preserve the well-being and conscious immortality of the soul against the fatal inflictions of fate is emphasized in several places throughout the Hermetic literature, and both CH I and CH XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum discuss different approaches to this.

I also want to note that, for all the importance of the name and role of Poimandrēs in the Corpus Hermeticum, the name itself is only ever used in these two books.  CH XI can be thought of as a discussion between Poimandrēs and Hermēs, but there, it’s technically just “Mind”, not Poimandrēs by name.  It can be assumed that CH XI has a dialog between Poimandrēs and Hermēs, given the now-commonly-accepted idea that Poimandrēs means “Intelligence/Mind/Knowing of Ra” (from Coptic p-eime nte-rē or some variant thereof), but it’s still not explicitly said there (much like how the revelation of Poimandrēs in CH I isn’t given explicitly to Hermēs, but we assume that it is).  This puts CH XIII on a special kinship with both CH I and CH XI, being the only text in the Corpus Hermeticum that explicitly links both Hermēs and Poimandrēs together.  As far as the connection between CH I and CH XIII is concerned, we can safely assume that CH XIII was written as not just heavily influenced by but an outright descendant and development of the themes given in CH I.

As noted earlier, the final revelation of Poimandrēs to Hermēs in CH I describes the activities/energies of the planets, which the human being relinquishes as it ascends through the heavens back to the eighth sphere, “stripped of the effects of the cosmic framework”, where the human being (now just the pure soul unrestricted and unrestrained by the body or its influences and affectations) “has his own proper power”.  Classically speaking, the eighth sphere is seen to be the sphere of the fixed stars.  Although the process of salvation begins down here on Earth, the results and culmination of salvation only properly begins in the eighth sphere, once the planetary forces have been stripped away from the human being.  I say “begins” here in the eighth sphere, because Poimandrēs references even higher spheres:

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.

What might those higher regions be?  Stobaean Fragment 6 (SH 6) is a separate Hermetic text that talks about the sphere of the decans which resides between the outermost body of the cosmos (basically the Primum Mobile) and the sphere of the zodiac, and the sphere of the zodiac is mentioned as “the band of stars featuring animal-like shapes”.  Although some conceptions of the geocentric cosmos separate out the sphere of the fixed stars from the sphere of the zodiac properly (as in Petrus Apianus’ and Gemma Frisius’ famous depiction of the Ptolemaic geocentric cosmos, shown below, which separates out the eighth sphere of the fixed stars as the “firmament” and the ninth sphere of the Zodiac constellations themselves, presumably to account cosmologically and spiritually for precession), the older Hermetic texts don’t really seem to do this.

Because of this, we can assume that the Hermetic stance on this (at least given what’s in SH 6) is that the eighth sphere is the sphere of the fixed stars and constellations of the Zodiac proper, and the ninth sphere are a higher, more ideal division of space known as the decans, and above that is the Primum Mobile as the tenth and final sphere.

The phrase “cosmic framework” mentioned above in that excerpt from CH I is also used earlier in CH I, too, when the primordial man began to enter into creation (emphasis mine):

Having all authority over the cosmos of mortals and unreasoning animals, the man broke through the vault and stooped to look through the cosmic framework, thus displaying to lower nature the fair form of god.

And again when God set in motion the process of procreation of humans (emphasis mine):

Hear the rest, the word you yearn to hear. When the cycle was completed, the bond among all things was sundered by the counsel of god. All living things, which had been androgyne, were sundered into two parts—humans along with them—and part of them became male, part likewise female. But god immediately spoke a holy speech: “Increase in increasing and multiply in multitude, all you creatures and craftworks, and let him [who] is mindful recognize that he is immortal, that desire is the cause of death, and let him recognize all that exists.”

After god said this, providence, through fate and through the cosmic framework, caused acts of intercourse and set in train acts of birth; and all things were multiplied according to kind. The one who recognized himself attained the chosen good, but the one who loved the body that came from the error of desire goes on in darkness, errant, suffering sensibly the effects of death.

There’s this identity of “the cosmic framework”, understood to be the system of planets, with Fate in CH I, but I want to mention that this is Copenhaver’s translation; Festugière has “l’armature des sphères”, while the original Greek is ἁρμονία, or “harmony”, while the word “cosmic” isn’t present in the Greek.  This notion of the “harmony” can be understood, given the context, to refer to the whole working-together of the cosmos, which is a safe bet given the understanding and translation Festugière and Nock, but perhaps not.  However, CH I does say that the government of the “seven governors…[who] encompass the sensible world in circles” is called fate, so there is an explicit identity of the planets with fate in CH I.  Elsewhere, we see similar notions: SH 29 is a short poem entitled “On Fate” which talks about the activities and gifts of the planets, SH 12 says that “the stars are the instrument of Fate” and that “the stars serve Fate”, CH III (which we brought up at length not too long ago!) describes how the “wonder-working course of the cycling gods” enacts the work of the Divine and working of Nature, and CH XVI talks about how the daimones of the stars effect the powers and orders of those stars upon the body to afflict the soul.  The contexts of what “star” means in these various texts can differ, sometimes referring to the wandering stars (planets) or the fixed stars themselves, but the general agreement is that it’s definitely the planets that effect Fate, either with or without the influences of the fixed stars themselves, about which it’s more debatable from text to text.

Then we turn to CH XIII.  There, Hermēs tells Tat that he has “more than a few” tormentors, and that they are:

…twelve in number, but under them are many more besides…and they use the prison of the body to torture the inward person [i.e. the soul] with the sufferings of sense.

Later, Hermēs says that:

This tent—from which have also passed, my child—was constituted from the zodiacal circle, which was in turn constituted of entities that are twelve in number, one in nature, omniform in appearance.  To mankind’s confusion, there are disjunctions among the twelve, my child, though they are unified when they act.  (Recklessness is not separable from anger; they are indistinguishable.)

The tormentors as described in CH XIII, then, are (at least superficially) zodiacal in nature, as opposed to the planetary notion of them as given in CH I.  The “tent” image is one common in a number of Hermetic texts, referencing the body using an image of a makeshift shelter constructed from nearby, local elements that we pass into briefly and pass out of just as quickly, a brief lodging for the soul; the tent is subject to fate because it is made by the powers of fate.  Unlike other parts of Hermetic cosmological descriptions, fate here is a function not of the planets but of the zodiac.  This sentiment is also echoed in, for example, SH 6, where the decans are said to exert an energy upon the planets themselves and thus upon us, making the government fate more encompassing than just the revolution of the planets but of all things that are strictly underneath the Primum Mobile.  All the same, what’s known is that the various elements of creation from above work and effect the government of fate upon those things below.  Same notion as with the planetary model of fate, just expanded a bit higher up.  In that light, recentering the fixed stars instead of the wandering stars as being agents of fate, it follows that one should have a zodiacal model of tormentors instead of a planetary one.

But the description of the twelve tormentors in CH XIII is…muddled even by Hermēs’ own definition, and some translators would say outright mutilated looking at the text itself.  After all, Hermēs says that although different, some of them are inseparable from one another, and Copenhaver in his notes to this section says that “if four of the twelve vices constitute two disjunctions which act as unities” (like how recklessness and anger are), “the twelve become ten”.  Even if the second conjoined disjunction isn’t mentioned, that reduction from twelve to ten is an important thing to note here.  Although there are twelve named tormentors here in CH XIII, ten is an important number, because there are ten mercies or graces of God that come to purify the human from the tormentors: knowledge of God, joy, continence, perseverance, justice, liberality, truth, goodness, life, and light (or another variant translation for these words as I gave in my earlier post liked above).  Ten, as many know, is a holy number being the Decad from Pythagorean influence, a number of perfection and wholeness, and we can see such an influence present in this Hermetic text.  But what’s odd is that there’s no one-to-one mapping of all the mercies of God to the tormentors: the first seven(!) are given one-to-one for the first seven tormentors listed, and then “the good, together with life and light” which all come together after truth, vanquishes all the rest of the tormentors starting with envy (the eighth tormentor listed) at once.  This weird switch from going one-by-one to all-the-rest is jarring, frankly, as is the lack of complete development when it comes to how the disjoined tormentors still act as one in pairs.

What’s notable is that those last three mercies of God, goodness and life and light, are elsewhere praised throughout the corpora Hermetica time and again as being some of the highest attributes of God generally: God is the Good, and God is the source of life and light, being the Maker and the Mind that illuminates all minds.  There’s a palpable difference between the final three mercies in CH XIII of goodness, life, and light (which are more like attributes of God) and the other seven mercies listed (which are more like God-oriented energies or virtues that counteract the more base-oriented energies or vices).  There’s even a difference in how Hermēs introduces them: he summons to Tat the first seven mercies (or that they come to Tat) to vanquish the first seven tormentors, but upon the vanquishing of the seventh, “the good has been fulfilled”, and that “the good….has followed after truth [the seventh mercy]”.  After all, the way Hermēs describes it here, once the mercy of truth arrives to vanquish deceit, “the good has been fulfilled”, implying that there’s a completion, strongly suggesting that there are only seven mercies and the rest is just Divinity itself which can only be reached through the first seven mercies.

Although he lumps them all together immediately afterward referencing “the arrival of the decad”, there’s still a distinction drawn in the very natures of goodness, life, and light from the rest.  This difference, at least as far as life and light are concerned, is emphasized later on in CH XIII:

The decad engenders soul, my child. Life and light are unified when the number of the henad, of spirit, is begotten. Logically, then, the henad contains the decad, and the decad the henad.

Without goodness, life, and light, there are only seven mercies, and each of these mercies is known to act against one of the tormentors.  The rest of the tormentors get lumped together in a confused way, either through the cosmological description directly from Hermēs by his own admission or through the mangling of the text itself passed down through the ages, and the rest of the mercies have already been lumped together throughout the rest of the corpora Hermetica and even here, too.  What we clearly have is seven concrete mercy-tormentor pairs, and a mess of the rest on both sides of the equation.

In my earlier post about the Hermetic tormentors, I sorta devolved this zodiacal model in CH XIII down to a strictly planetary model more like what’s in CH I, which Phainolis called out as unusual, as I noted, and which does go against the conventional wisdom and academic understanding of what’s being discussed in CH XIII.  Let me be clear: it’s obvious that CH XIII is certainly attempting to come up with a twelve-fold zodiacal model of tormentors, and certainly describes the tormentors (and, thus, fate) in terms of the zodiac.  However, it doesn’t do so clearly or successfully, trying to come up with justifications that take twelve down to ten to match an idealized set of ten mercies, but which isn’t followed through well, either.  This ends up with only seven of the mercies being matched against seven of the tormentors explicitly, and the other three taking care of the other five, supposedly in the sense of one mercy of the last three for one of those lingering five tormentors, and one of the other two mercies in that set to go against a pair of tormentors.  There are plenty of ways one could conceive of a specific mercy-tormentor(s) pairing, but none of them seem particularly satisfying, as it’s not clear what relationship goodness, life, or light would have specifically with any one or pair of these last five tormentors, unlike the clean and clear relationship that the first seven mercies have with the first seven tormentors (e.g. knowledge and ignorance, joy and sorrow, justice and injustice).  Moreover, although it’s not a clean or clear one-to-one match, the order of the first seven tormentors given in CH XIII strongly resembles the tormentors given as the activity of the planets in CH I and in the same order, while also not showing any resemblance between the twelve tormentors here given and how they would relate to the twelve signs of the Zodiac.  The bit about how (some?) pairs of the tormentors here, though disjointed, act as one in order to bring the number twelve down to ten shows that the link between these tormentors and the zodiac signs is weak at best based only on a nominal link based on the number twelve, and that the numerology of twelve and ten seems to be held as more important than any actual zodiacal origination or connection.

I noted earlier that CH XIII seems to be a direct descendant and further development of the cosmological and soteriological movement first initiated in CH I, but it recenters the government of fate and its tormentors on the eighth sphere of the fixed stars rather than on the seven spheres of the planets, and tries to adjust its notion of tormentors accordingly from seven to twelve while also throwing in a Pythagorean or Gnostic notion of the holy Decad in for good measure by combining the numbers seven and three.  However, it just…doesn’t succeed in this.  To me, what this all looks like is that CH XIII is trying to come up with a zodiacal model of tormentors and fate based on an earlier (and much more stable and reliable) planetary model, but it falls short of actually doing so, and ends up only keeping the earlier planetary model clear, while handwaving away the rest.  The model of tormentor-vs.-mercy here along zodiacal lines is simply incomplete, and in the form given in CH XIII does not provide us with a meaningful system of understanding either the tormentors or mercies beyond the planetary sevenfold model already given in CH I.

Can there be a zodiacal model of twelve tormentors to supplant the planetary model of seven?  Sure!  But there are a few things that I’d like to see for such a thing: a clear link between a given tormentor and a specific sign of the Zodiac, a single mercy that vanquishes a single tormentor (so no combos of mercies against a single or multiple tormentors), and a clear link between a given mercy and its corresponding tormentor (e.g. justice vs. injustice).  Alternatively, we could do away with the notion of mercies vanquishing the tormentors and just have each sign provide a tormenting energy to humans that one needs to give up (as in the CH I model).  There’s no clear way to do either of these things while involving the number ten for the sake of having a holy Decad present in this process.  This is further evidence, to me, that the model of twelve kinda-sorta zodiacal tormentors in CH XIII was a half-baked idea that, although showing some promise and lifts the ultimate powers of fate up from the planetary level to the stellar level and reveals a Gnostic or Pythagorean presence in this text, wasn’t developed far enough in CH XIII to actually fulfill this framework.

Given the strong echo of a sevenfold planetary model of tormentors (and their vanquishing mercies) in CH XIII despite its attempt to build a zodiacal twelvefold model, and given the already noted presence of such a sevenfold planetary model (or at least its foundation without vanquishing mercies) in CH I, I would rather interpret the first seven tormentors and their corresponding mercies in CH XIII in a planetary model, and leave the rest out.  After all, Hermēs tells Tat in CH XIII that he already has “more than a few” tormentors, and that, although there are twelve he lists, “under them there are many more besides”.  The door is already open here to say that some tormentors are more minor than others, perhaps as specifications of the others, so using the same logic already present in CH XIII, it wouldn’t be hard at all to revert to a sevenfold model from a twelvefold one.  And, again, given the strong similarity the first seven tormentors from CH XIII bears to the list of planetary activities from CH I, it makes better sense to me to interpret them in a more planetary light, given how solid and present that model is in other Hermetic texts that involve elevation and initiation.

As an aside along these lines, besides CH I and CH XIII, the closest Hermetic text that discusses similar things is the famous Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth (D89) from the Nag Hammadi texts.  That text, too, involves a sort of initiation, as in CH XIII, as well as spiritual elevation and ascent, as in CH I.  There, Hermēs and Tat (presumably, given the context of D89) “have already advanced to the seventh, since [they] are pious and walk in [God’s] law[; a]nd [God’s] will [they] fulfill always”, and Tat has already been promised by Hermēs “that you would bring my mind into the eighth and afterwards you would bring me into the ninth”.  The whole cosmology of D89 is basically exactly that of CH I, while the process of initiation in life is lacking in CH I, while it is in CH XIII; conversely, both D89 and CH I lack a notion of mercies that vanquish the tormentors, which CH XIII has, though CH I has a notion of tormentors one gives up naturally that D89 lacks, and D89 has a general notion of mercy being bestowed by God that allows for elevation to happen.  CH XIII, it should be noted, lacks any notion of spiritual ascent through the spheres; it focuses entirely on the sphere of the fixed stars (and that only nominally), and instead focuses on a process of purification through the mercy of God to obtain a divine vision, while CH I and D89 focuses on a process of spiritual elevation through the spheres to obtain a divine vision.  However, there is a tantalizing bit in D89: after Hermēs and Tat proclaim that they “have already advanced to the seventh”, they also say that they “have walked in [the way of God], and [they] have renounced”…something.  There’s a short lacuna here, but whatever it is they renounced they renounced “so that [the vision of God] may come”.  J.P. Mahé reconstructs “evil” here, though others have “childhood” (cf. earlier in D89, “compare yourself to the early years of life; as children (do), you have posed senseless, unintelligent questions”).  It’s unclear, though it’s probably not a list of tormentors or vices, just a short one-word bit.  Still, the notion, however implicit and terse, is still here in D89, too.

Anyway, where does that leave us?  CH I and CH XIII both bring up a notion of fate-fueled tormentors that hinder the spiritual development and progress of the human soul due to the infliction of torment on the body, and CH XIII was definitely written with CH I in mind.  However, unlike the planetary sevenfold model of tormentors one has and then gives up in CH I, CH XIII tries to develop a zodiacal twelvefold model of tormentors that are vanquished by particular mercies bestowed upon us by the grace of God.  However, this twelvefold model in CH XIII isn’t fully developed even on its own terms and tries to involve a more Pythagorean/Gnostic decad-based model of salvation than one that is strictly zodiacal in nature, confusing different systems leading to a confused result.  Moreover, there’s strong evidence when comparing the two systems side-by-side that the twelvefold model in CH XIII was based on the earlier sevenfold model from CH I, which it hasn’t really departed from.  Although a superficial reading of CH XIII would lead one to think that this twelvefold model of tormentors and mercies is zodiacal, and though it attempts to flesh out such a system, it fails to do so, with the only concrete part of it being the earlier sevenfold model based on the planets.  It makes more sense to me, until such time as a better twelvefold model can be developed using CH XIII as a basis, to simply stick with the sevenfold model and to interpret the first seven tormentors and mercies as being more planetary than zodiacal in nature.  There’s enough in the corpora Hermetica as a whole to justify such a zodiacal, fixed star-based model of infliction and affectation of fate, and CH XIII likely shows that it was being developed and migrated to from an earlier planetary model but may not have been fully understood or fully developed at the time of its writing.  There can certainly be such a zodiacal  model of tormentors and mercies, but I don’t think the model given in CH XIII is complete or solid enough to use as it is, when the sevenfold planetary model is both older, better understood, and present even here in CH XIII even if not explicitly so.

A Simple Hermetic Prayer Rule

I’m not sure what a Hermetic parallel to Christian primitivism would be, especially given how little we know about actual Hermetic practices on-the-ground in the early part of the first millennium, but maybe something like this could be considered.

Like how I recently introduced a new prayer, the Praise of the Invisible and Invisible God based off Book V from the Corpus Hermeticum, I’ve been combing through other parts of the classical Hermetic corpus to come up with other prayers to recite.  What survives is largely philosophical, but there are occasional praises of God, exhortations of praise or prayer, and other exclamations of faith that dot the Hermetic literature.  We already pointed out a lengthy one from Book V not too long ago, but there are others, as well, and a few outright prayers, too, like the famous prayer from the end of Book I from the Corpus Hermeticum to the Prayer of Thanksgiving from the Asclepius, or the Perfect Sermon which also makes an appearance in the Nag Hammadi texts.  I’ve been experimenting with the explicit prayers that appear in the Hermetic canon, but I’ve even been coming up with others only based on it, even making my own kind of “Hermetic Mass” based on Book XIII (which talks a lot about the tormentors and blessings of the various spheres of the cosmos).

So far, as far as raw material to come up with new prayers goes, Book I is probably among the most fruitful.  It’s this very book of the Corpus Hermeticum that is named after Poimandrēs itself (though many translate this to “Shepherd of Men”, following Ralph Marcus, I favor a Coptic interpretation of this as “Reason of Sovereignty”), a testament of Hermēs Trismegistos himself when he obtained the divine vision of the creation of the cosmos and passage of souls, and how to achieve henosis both in this life and in the afterlife.  It’s at the end of this that Poimandrēs exhorts Hermēs to go forth and save the human race from the torments of their mortality (Copenhaver translation, and also note my italicized text in that last paragraph):

As he was saying this to me, Poimandres joined with the powers. Then he sent me forth, empowered and instructed on the nature of the universe and on the supreme vision, after I had given thanks to the father of all and praised him. And I began proclaiming to mankind the beauty of reverence and knowledge: “People, earthborn men, you who have surrendered yourselves to drunkenness and sleep and ignorance of god, make yourselves sober and end your drunken sickness, for you are bewitched in unreasoning sleep.”

When they heard, they gathered round with one accord. And I said, “Why have you surrendered yourselves to death, earthborn men, since you have the right to share in immortality? You who have journeyed with error, who have partnered with ignorance, think again: escape the shadowy light; leave corruption behind and take a share in immortality.”

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. When evening came and the sun’s light began to disappear entirely, I commanded them to give thanks to god, and when each completed the thanksgiving, he turned to his own bed.

Within myself I recorded the kindness of Poimandres, and I was deeply happy because I was filled with what I wished, for the sleep of my body became sobriety of soul, the closing of my eyes became true vision, my silence became pregnant with good, and the birthing of the word became a progeny of goods. This happened to me because I was receptive of mind—of Poimandres, that is, the word of sovereignty. I have arrived, inspired with the divine breath of truth. Therefore, I give praise to god the father from my soul and with all my might:

After this, Hermēs recites his famous prayer itself, which has been a staple of mine and many other Hermeticists’ practices, a beautiful bit of devotional speech and supplication.

It’s the latter two paragraphs there that I took another look at, and considered that those would be excellent to base a prayer on.  Consider: Hermēs reaches out to those who seek after Truth, and “sowed the words of wisdom among them, and they were nourished from the ambrosial water” (i.e. water of immortality), after which those same people give thanks to God.  And after that, Hermēs himself gives thanks for “what [he] wished” (or prayed) for: his bodily sleep became sobriety of the soul, his eyes’ closing became true vision, etc.  And then, because of all that, he gives his famous “Holy is God…” prayer, a kind of “Threefold Trisagion”.

So I sat with this a bit, extracted the important bits, compared the translations of Scott, Copenhaver, and Salaman along with the original Greek given in Scott, and, after a good bit of writing and rewriting, I came up with the following prayer:

Sow in me the words of wisdom, and nourish me with the water of immortality.
By this, for this, and for everything, I give unto you my thanks.

May the sleep of my body become the sobriety of my soul.
May the closing of my eyes become true vision of Truth.
May my silence become pregnant with the Supreme Good.
May my birthing of the Word become the generation of true wealth.

Let me be receptive to the Nous, the Sovereign Knowledge,
that I may be inspired by the divine breath of Truth,
that I may praise God with all my soul and all my strength.

This actually works fairly well, in my limited experience trying it out, as a prayer in its own right, especially before using before the Threefold Trisagion.  The thing is that it’s very much directed towards being used before one retires to bed at night, what with the references to sleep and closing one’s eyes, as well as the original context of the content being used before people “turn[ing] to [their] own bed[s]”.  If this is a prayer that would best be used in the evening before sleep, what about one in the morning when one rises from sleep?  Easy; note the italicized parts below:

Sow in me the words of wisdom, and nourish me with the water of immortality.
By this, for this, and for everything, I give unto you my thanks.

May the rousing of my body become the awakening of my soul.
May the opening of my eyes become true vision of Truth.
May my speech become fruitful with the Supreme Good.
May my birthing of the Word become the generation of true wealth.

Let me be receptive to the Nous, the Sovereign Knowledge,
that I may be inspired by the divine breath of Truth,
that I may praise God with all my soul and all my strength.

This also works well as a morning prayer unto itself, but again especially so when followed by the Threefold Trisagion.  But there’s something else we can add, as well: the Prayer of Thanksgiving from the Asclepius.  Note how in that penultimate paragraph above from Book I that, after Hermēs gives his teaching to people, he “commanded them to give thanks to god, and when each completed the thanksgiving, he turned to his own bed”.  This means that, after the first two lines of the two derived prayers above, we could recite the Prayer of Thanksgiving, then continuing with the rest of the prayer, then finished by the Triple Trisagion.

On top of all this, we can take inspiration from the last part of the Asclepius that gives instructions on prayer (Copenhaver translation):

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…

My big issue with this is turning to the south, since the Sun doesn’t set in the south, yet the Asclepius says to face the south while also saying one “should direct his gaze to that quarter” where the Sun is setting.  My guess would be that the use of “south” here was a mistranslation or mistransmission in the text, and it should say “west”, maybe “southwest” to reflect a more realistic setting of the Sun for places in the northern hemisphere, especially between the autumn and spring equinoxes—yet in Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum, Hermes tells this same thing to Tat before he imparts the Secret Hymn, the Initiatory Hymn of Silence (note the italicized part):

Be still, my child; now hear a well-tuned hymn of praise, the hymn of rebirth. To divulge it was no easy choice for me except that I do it for you, at the end of everything. Hence, it cannot be taught; it is a secret kept in silence. Therefore, my child, stand in the open air, face the south wind when the setting sun descends, and bow down in adoration; when the sun returns, bow likewise toward the east. Be still, child: …

So, yeah, we really should be facing the south for sunset/evening prayers.  In this light, keeping in mind the Egyptian context here of Hermetic texts, it makes sense: the Way of Truth of Hermēs Trismegistos is also a Way of Life, and the direction of the West was the direction of the lands of the dead, and so inappropriate for prayers of immortality to the immortal God.  (Why, then, the direction of North wasn’t used, the direction of immortality itself, is not something I’ve puzzled out yet, but I’m tired, so it can wait.)

In either case, let’s take inspiration from this for our prayer routine above.  In the morning (ideally at sunrise), we’d say the morning prayer (with Prayer of Thanksgiving in the middle and Threefold Trisagion at the end) facing the east, and in the evening again (ideally at sunset) with the evening prayer (again with the Prayer of Thanksgiving and Threefold Trisagion) facing the south (though, if one is in the southern hemisphere, one should probably face the north instead).  Following the practice given in Book XIII as noted above as well as in the Asclepius, prayers are best made “in open air” (cf. “as they left the sanctuary” in the Asclepius), starting from a standing position, and bowing during adoration (e.g. the Secret Hymn, the Threefold Trisagion, etc.); prayers with words should be said aloud, audibly if not in a low voice, while prayers without words would be said in silence.  If standing is not possible, kneeling would be fine, prostrating instead of bowing at the appropriate times; which is my own personal preference, especially if indoors, and even more so if meditation, contemplation, readings, or other prayers are to be said either before or after this.

So there’s that: a simple prayer rule for devotional Hermetic practice, derived entirely from the classical Hermetic canon.  Short, elegant, straightforward, earnest; what more could one want, even if only to start with as a seed for extended or more elaborate prayer practices of Hermetic theurgy and henosis?  It’s something otherwise detached from any other religion or spiritual practice, and, perhaps most importantly, uses the actual words of Hermēs Trismegistos for our own prayers, and to repeat those same words (or to use them in a similar way) for following the Way of Hermēs is a powerful practice, indeed.

Speaking of “following the Way”, there’s something else I was considering.  We used that excerpt from Book I of the Corpus Hermeticum to create those evening and morning prayers above, but we focused on the latter two paragraphs of the excerpt for that.  The first two paragraphs, on the other hand, take a distinctly different tone: that of a call to wake up, a call to the Way of Truth that Hermēs Trismegistos began to teach at the instruction of Poimandrēs.  Like Buddha going around from town to town with the call of “Anyone for the other side?” or the Islamic adhān calling Muslims to prayer, similar language could be used as a preliminary…perhaps not “prayer”, but reminder of what it is to follow the Way and why we should do so.  Though I doubt there are many communities that would need such a grand call, it could be useful before both individual or group practice before any major Hermetic theurgic undertaking, even (or especially) those that rely on heavier PGM-style magic and ritual.  To that end, I figured I’d end this post by sharing my rewrite of Hermēs’ original call, based again on comparing the older translations of Scott, Copenhaver, and Salaman amongst each other:

O all you children of mankind, o all you born of the Earth, o all who you have given yourselves over to drink and sleep in your ignorance of God! Make yourselves sober, cease your drunken sickness, end your bewitchment by unreasoning sleep! Why have you given yourselves over to death, since you have the power to partake of immortality? You who have wandered with Error, you who have partnered with Ignorance: think again, and repent! Be released from the darkness, take hold of the Light, take part in divine immortality, leave behind your corrupt destruction! Do not surrender to the way of death by your mockery or distance, but come, rise, and be guided on the way of life!

Hermetic Prayers to the Aiōn

Lately, I’ve been going back through some of my texts digging for more information on Hellenic and classical Mediterranean prayers to the One, sometimes known as Aiōn, the God of gods, ineffable and indescribable except by what we can see in our material and sensible world.  The Aiōn is not quite an elusive figure, since we see the same name pop up in the sense of both “eternity” as well as a deity of unbounded time and space, in distinction to Khronos, the god of limited and experienced time.  Aiōn was a notable figure in several mystery religions of the time, including Orphism and Mithraism, and even appears in some Pythagorean texts (or so I read).

One of the books I sometimes go to is G.R.S. Mead’s Hymns of Hermes, a cute little book that gives several hymns and prayers that Hermes Trismegistus gives in several Hermetic texts, such as the Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth as well as the Divine Poemander.  These forms of the prayers are not original, of course; Mead had a habit of very fancifully rewriting the prayers into a sort of modern English in the style of biblical prayers.  I can’t blame him; the book is from the early twentieth century, when many occult texts were being published widely for the first time and with a penchant for Egyptian exoticism and mysterious woogity.  That said, the book is a good one for picking out some “authentic” Hermetic prayers, and some even occur in the Nag Hammadi Scriptures, which lends it some credence towards this.

One such prayer, though, didn’t quite fit into the set of the others.  Mead described a prayer that was written in such a style as to easily fit quite into the Hermetic paradigm, and found in that most-beloved of texts, the PGM.  In comparing Mead’s version and that present in Betz’ version of the PGM (specifically PGM IV.1115), I noticed that Mead does away with the barbarous words scattered throughout the prayer and rephrases things in a way I find too fanciful.  I took the liberty of transcribing the prayer from the PGM with a few emendations of my own, but nothing as extreme as that of Mead, and reincluded the barbarous words.  It’s a fascinating prayer, and definitely one that deserves my attention:

Hail, whole cosmos of the aerial Spirit, ΦΩΓΑΛΩΑ
Hail, Spirit who extends from heaven unto earth, ΕΡΔΗΝΕΥ
Hail, Spirit who extends from earth which is in the middle of the cosmos unto the ends of the abyss, ΜΕΡΕΜΩΓΓΑ
Hail, Spirit who enters into me, convulses me, and leaves me kindly according to the will of God, ΙΩΗ ΖΑΝΩΦΙΕ

Hail, beginning and end of nature that cannot be moved, ΔΩΡΥΓΛΑΟΦΩΝ
Hail, revolution of untiring service by heavenly bodies, ΡΩΓΥΕΥ ΑΝΑΜΙ ΠΕΛΗΓΕΩΝ ΑΔΑΡΑ ΕΙΩΦ
Hail, radiance of the cosmos subordinate to the rays of the Sun, ΙΕΟ ΥΗΩ ΙΑΗ ΑΙ ΗΩΥ ΟΕΙ
Hail, orb of the night-illuminating, unequally shining Moon, ΑΙΩ ΡΗΜΑ ΡΩΔΟΥΩΠΙΑ
Hail, all spirits of the aerial images, ΡΩΜΙΔΟΥΗ ΑΓΑΝΑΣΟΥ ΩΘΑΥΑ

Hail to those whom the greeting is given with blessing, to brothers and sisters, to holy men and holy women!

O great, greatest, round, incomprehensible figure of the cosmos,
of heaven ΕΝΡΩΧΕΣΥΗΛ
in heaven ΠΕΛΗΘΕΥ
of the ether ΙΩΓΑΡΑΑ
in the ether ΘΩΠΥΛΕΟ ΔΑΡΔΥ
of water ΙΩΗΔΕΣ
of earth ΠΕΡΗΦΙΑ
of fire ΑΦΘΑΛΥΑ
of air ΙΩΙΕ ΗΩ ΑΥΑ
of light ΑΛΑΠΙΕ
of darkness ΙΕΨΕΡΙΑ
shining with celestial light ΑΔΑΜΑΛΩΡ
moist, dry, hot, and cold Spirit!

I glorify you, God of gods,
the one who brought order to the cosmos, ΑΡΕΩ ΠΙΕΥΑ
the one who gathered together the abyss at the invisible foundation of its position, ΠΕΡΩ ΜΥΣΗΛ Ο ΠΕΝΤΩΝΑΞ
the one who separated heaven and earth and covered the heaven with eternal, golden wings ΡΩΔΗΡΥ ΟΥΩΑ
the one who fixed the earth on eternal foundations ΑΛΗΙΟΩΑ
the one who hung up the ether high above the earth ΑΙΕ ΩΗ ΙΟΥΑ
the one who scattered the air with self-moving breezes ΩΙΕ ΟΥΩ
the one who put the water roundabout ΩΡΗΠΗΛΥΑ
the one who raises up hurricanes ΩΡΙΣΘΑΥΑ
the one who thunders ΘΕΦΙΧΥΩΝΗΛ
the one who hurls lightning ΟΥΡΗΝΕΣ
the one who rains ΟΣΙΩΡΝΙ ΦΕΥΓΑΛΓΑ
the one who shakes ΠΕΡΑΤΩΝΗΛ
the one who produces living creatures ΑΡΗΣΙΓΥΛΩΑ
the God of the Aiōns!

You are great, Lord, God, Ruler of the All!

This section in the PGM is only described as a “hidden stele” or “secret tablet”, without instructions on how to use it or a purpose other than it seems to be an adoration of Aiōn.  I’m okay with that, since it’s general enough to be put to many ends, and the use of the barbarous words can offer a meditative aspect to it, intoning the name and linking it to the aspect listed for each name.  While many of the attributes ascribed to Aiōn make sense, some are a little unclear.  In Platonic thought, it was thought that the One was a perfect being of perfect shape and form, and to Plato, the most perfect shape was the sphere, hence the description of Aiōn as “greatest, round, incomprehensible figure of the cosmos”.  Personally, I get a huge kick out of working with this prayer, and the names are something I want to revisit later in a more mystical or capital-P Powerful way; I make use of this prayer before any serious working nowadays, especially as a preface to the Headless Rite.

In the PGM, the prayer is followed by yet another stele (PGM IV.1167), this time with the purpose that it is “useful for all things; it even delivers from death”, with the ominous warning that one is to “not investigate what is in it”.  This prayer, too, is addressed to Aiōn, but appears to be more of a protective incantation than mere adoration.  It’s not given in Mead’s book, but it’s useful all the same, as I reckon it.  Presented is the prayer below, again with my minor emendations:

I praise you, the one and blessed of the eons and father of the world, with cosmic prayers.
Come to me, you who filled the whole cosmos with air, who hung up the fire from the heavenly water and separated the earth from the water.

Pay attention, Form, Spirit, Earth and Sea, to the words of the wise who know divine Necessity.
Accept my words as arrows of fire, because I am Man, the most beautiful creature of the God in Heaven, made out of spirit, dew, and earth.

Open, o Heaven; accept my words!
Listen, Helios, Father of the World!
I call upon you with your great name, you, the only one having the original element:

You are the holy and powerful name considered sacred by all the angels.
Protect me, N., from every excess of power and from every violent act.
Yea, do this, Lord, God of gods:
O Creator of the world, Creator of the cosmos, Lord, God of Gods:

I have spoken of your unsurpassable glory, you who created gods, archangels, and decans.
The ten thousands of angels stood by you and exalted the heaven, and the lord witnessed to your Wisdom which is Aiōn:
and said that you are as strong as he is.

I invoke your hundred-lettered name, which extends from the sky to the depth of the earth!
Save me, for you are always ever rejoicing in saving those who are yours!

I call upon you, the one on the gold leaf, before whom the unquenchable lamp continually burns, the great God, the one who shone on the whole world, who is radiant at Jerusalem, Lord!
I call upon you for your blessing, Lord!

Betz says that “this protective prayer presumes a section describing a gold lamella to be worn as a phylactery”, which “contained the hundred-letter name of the god and was worn as a protection against ‘every excess of power’ and the ‘very violent act'” mentioned in the prayer.  The notion of a name being 100 letters would’ve been important, and the final stanza of the prayer does say “the one on the gold leaf”, so it’s possible that such an instruction to the prayer might be omitted.  What’s interesting is that the two last strings of barbarous words are marked in the PGM as both having 100 letters each, though the final string only has 99 letters in it; the first string has 149, the second 108, and the third has 19, for comparison.  The style of the barbarous words is much more Egyptian in nature, and bears some in common with those found in the Headless Rite.  What’s even odder about this prayer is that it’s the only place in the PGM, according to Betz, is that Sophia (Wisdom) is identified with Aiōn.  This is an unusual thought, whether in Gnostic, Christianity, or other mystery traditions.  Further, despite the Egyptian Gnostic feel of the prayer, it even references the Jewish miracle of the undying light of the menorah in the Temple of Jerusalem, from whence the festival of Hanukkah comes.  Between the Jewish, Gnostic, and Egyptian influence (especially due to the reference to decans alongside angels), this latter prayer is a prime example of how syncretic and elastic Hermetic magicians could be in the old days.

Of course, not all the prayers that Mead lists were pared down so much.  One prayer that took me a bit of finding is one that Hermes Trismegistus taught to his son Tat, which Mead calls “the secret hymnody”, which is pretty much what it is, for it is “not taught but hid in silence”.  Hermes introduces it as an initiation, as it were, to Tat in Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum, titled the Secret Discourse on the Mountain.  This book focuses on the nature of rebirth, but also emphasizes the truth that only silence can tell (much as in the same way of the Hymns of Silence Hermes describes in the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth).  After some persuading, Hermes instructs Tat to recite it outside and bow down in adoration facing the south at the setting of the sun, and again at the rising of the sun facing to the east:

Let every creature in the cosmos give ear to this hymn.
Open, Earth!  Let every lock that holds the rains open to me!  Shake not, trees!
I am about to praise the Lord of Creation, the All and the One.
Open, heavens!  Winds, be still!
Let God’s immortal sphere receive my song.

For I am about to sing praise to the Creator of All,
who fixed the earth,
who suspended the heavens,
who parted fresh water from the ocean in lands inhabited and in the wild for the creation and sustenance of all mankind,
who ordained that fire shine for every use of gods and men.
Let us give praise to Him above the heavens, the founder of all nature.
He is the eye of Nous.
May He receive the praise of every power within me.

O powers within me, sing to the One and All!
All you powers, sing praise together at my bidding.
Divine Knowledge, illumined by you, I sing through you of the spiritual light and I rejoice in the joy of Nous.
Sing praise with me, all you powers!
Temperance, sing with me!
Justice, through me praise what is just!
Generosity, through me praise the All!
Truth, sing of the truth!
Good, praise the Good!
Life and Light, from you comes the praise and to you it returns.
I give thanks to you, Father, the strength of all my powers.
I give thanks to you, God, power of all my strength.
Your Word through me sings to you.
Receive all back through me by the Word, a spoken sacrifice.

Thus cry the powers within me.
They praise the All, they accomplish your will which comes forth from you and returns to you, being the All.
Receive an offering of speech from all beings.
O Life, preserve the All within us.
O Light, illuminate the All.
O God, inspire the All.
For Nous guides your Word, O spirit-bearer, o Creator of the world.
You are God.

All this your man proclaims through fire, air, earth, water; through spirit, through your creatures.
From you I have discovered eternity’s song of praise and in your will I have found the rest I seek.
By your will, I have witnessed this praise being sung.

To which Tat adds, with Hermes’ corrections and exhortation to use caution with his words:

To you, God, first author of generation, I, N., send these offerings of speech.  God, you are the Father, you are Lord, you are Nous, receive these words of mine as you will.  For by your will all things are accomplished through the Word.

This final prayer, though without barbarous words or names of power, is important in the Hermetic tradition since it represents a type of Hermetic initiation.  Once Tat, the most intuitive and spiritual of Hermes’ sons including the intellectual Asclepius and technical Ammon, is initiated properly into the seven spheres of the planets, he is finally able to join the eighth sphere, that of the fixed stars, that of Silence, and begin further work into direct realization of gnosis.  It’s only with the initiation, however, that Tat receives in properly communicating in the manner of this sphere that allows him to do this, as well as the similar initiation that Hermes gives in his Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth:

I call upon you,
who rules over the kingdom of power,
whose word is an offspring of light,
whose words are immortal, eternal, immutable,
whose will produces life for forms everywhere,
whose nature gives form to substance,
by whom souls, powers, and angels are moved,
whose word reaches all who exist,
whose providence reaches all who exist,
who produces everyone,
who has divided the eternal realm among spirits,
who has created everything,
who, being Self within Self, supports everything,
to whom one speaks in silence, being perfect, the invisible God,
whose image is moved when it is managed, and it is so managed,
who is exalted above majesty, mighty one in power,
who is superior to those honored!


Lord, grant us wisdom from your power that reaches us that we may relate to ourselves the vision of the Eighth and the Ninth.
Already we have advanced to the Seventh since we are faithful and abide in your law.
Your will we fulfill always.
We have walked in your ways and have renounced evil so your vision may come.
Lord, grant us truth in the image!
Grant that through your spirit we may see the form of the image that lacks nothing and accept the reflection of the Fullness from us through  our praise.

Recognize the spirit within us,
for from you the cosmos received soul,
for from you, the one unbegotten, the begotten came to be.
The birth of the self-begotten is through you, the birth of all begotten things that exist.
Accept these spiritual offerings from us which we direct to you with all our heart, soul, and strength.
Save what is within us and grant us immortal wisdom.

Then, after Hermes once more coaches Tat on how to hymn in silence and the two ecstatically praise God, Tat continues the hymn:

I shall offer up the praise in my heart as I invoke the end of the cosmos, and the beginning of the beginning, the goal of the human quest, the immortal discovery, the producer of light and truth, the sower of reason, the love of immortal life.  No hidden word can speak of you, Lord.  My mind wants to sing a hymn to you every day.  I am the instrument of your Spirit; Mind is your plectrum, and your guidance makes music with me.  I see myself!  I have received power from you, for your love has reached us.

O Grace!  After this, I thank you by singing a hymn to you.  You gave me life when you made me wise.  I praise you.  I invoke your name hidden in me!


You exist with spirit.
I sing to you with godliness.

The series of vowels given in these prayers are evidence of ecstatic glossolalia, but their varied nature indicates a collected power from their previous initiations with the seven planetary spheres, given the relationship of the seven Greek vowels to the seven planets.  Hermes concludes this discourse not with instructions of practice but with instructions to preserve the lesson he gave Tat through a detailed list of directions to engrave the prayer and discourse on turquoise steles, to be done when the planet Mercury is at 15° Virgo, the Sun is in the first half of the day.  The final set of instructions seems odd, I admit, but it attests to the holiness and permanence of the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, as many prayers to the Aiōn are throughout Mediterranean spirituality.