Hermeticism, God, and the Gods: What God Is and Isn’t

Okay, so, picking up from last time where we opened up the problem of what to do about this whole God-versus-the-gods thing in the classical Hermetic texts and covering the fact that those texts readily admit the existence of many gods and encourages our worship of them to the point of it being an assumed expectation, we finally get to talk about where God fits into all of this.  Unfortunately for us, what makes this discussion complicated is the fact that the Hermetic texts use the same term, theos “god”, to refer to two very distinct concepts; besides that, there’s the fact that the intervening 1500 years of somewhat tense religious activity across every continent impacting billions of people and virtually every field of theology, philosophy, and spirituality has made the word “God” (singular, capitalized, as a proper noun) something of a loaded term for many.

Before we continue along these lines, let’s make a few terms clear first:

  • Monotheism: the belief that there is one and only one god.
  • Polytheism: the belief that there is more than one god.
  • Monism: the philosophy that all things are fundamentally one or single in origin, substance, or nature.
  • Dualism: the philosophy that all things are composed of fundamentally two origins, substances, or natures.
  • Non-dualism: the philosophy that all appearances of dualism are illusions, and that all things are ultimately inseparable and identical even if not the same.

And a few notes about the above terms:

  • Since the above terms fall into two categories (beliefs and philosophies), we can mix and match between the two categories; thus, we can have monist monotheism or dualist monotheism, monist polytheism or dualist polytheism, etc., but we can’t have “monist dualism” or “monotheist polytheism”, as those are contradictions in terms.
  • The terms of “monotheism” or “polytheism” above only signify a belief in how many gods there are.  They do not signify anything about practice or doctrine regarding the god(s) people holding such beliefs might engage with.
  • In addition to “monotheism” and “polytheism”, there are a lot of other terms that are often bandied about: atheism, nontheism, henotheism, pantheism, panentheism, megatheism, and so on, but we don’t need to get into them or use them for the sake of this post except as referenced below.
  • Non-dualism can refer to a philosophical stance regarding anything more or less than two fundamental things, and can thus technically refer to trialism, quadrialism, and so forth; however, generally used, non-dualism is similar to monism but which posits that “monism as opposed to dualism” is itself a kind of dualism.  It’s a subtle distinction that may or may not be meaningful, depending on the context, but can generally be understood in at least some (if not most) cases to be equivalent to monism—which is generally the case for Hermeticism.

Now, the issue that started this whole discussion was people coming upon the classical Hermetic texts, reading all this stuff about God, and coming away with the notion that Hermeticism must somehow be monotheistic.  By its literal definition, that is a false assessment, because Hermeticism espouses an explicitly polytheist worldview and spirituality: there are multiple gods.  Even if we were to bring in notions of “henotheism” (the worship of one god without denying the existence of others) or “monolatry” (the worship of one god while believing in many)—and I should note that many such notions and terms are entirely modern conceptualizations of religious approach to divinity that generally come from people with monotheist backgrounds—the classical Hermetic texts don’t just not deny the existence of multiple gods, but they affirm their existence, discuss their natures, and encourage us to their worship.  Again, none of this should be surprising: the Hermetic texts were written in a Hellenistic Egyptian cultural context, i.e. a polytheistic and pagan one, so we should expect to see things along those lines in texts produced in such a context.

So what of God?  For as much as the classical Hermetic texts talk about the gods and encourage our worship of them, the same texts spend far, far more time talking about God, revering God, worshipping God, devoting ourselves to God, elevating ourselves to God, and the like.  Likewise, for all the fervor Hermēs Trismegistos shows towards God in the texts attributed to him, for those used to Christian or Islamic religious writings, it’s not hard to see parallels or similarities between Hermeticism’s descriptions of God and how we ought to relate to it and how Christianity or Islam might do the same.  (We also have the added complication in that the vast majority of what we have extant under the heading of “classical Hermetic texts” is what survives the knife of time and the redactor’s pen—and that includes all the Christian compilers, editors, and copyists who saw fit to preserve Hermetic stuff precisely for their Christian similarities and compatibilities, despite and in spite of their pagan foundations, along with whatever marginalia or outright changes they introduced along the way from antiquity to modernity.)

To try to summarize the Hermetic conception of God is a challenge, and arguably an impossible one given the focus of Hermeticism being on theosophical gnōsis rather than theological epistēmē, but I suppose it’s warranted here, at least to a degree.  The “God” in Hermeticism, simply put, is not a god.  The gods certainly exist, but God is not a god; rather, the whole inciting impulse of the mysticism of Hermeticism is that God is beyond the gods.  In Platonic(ish) terms, this is The Good itself, but in more specific(ish) terms, “God” is that which is beyond all other things, the source and fount of existence of anything and everything both finite and infinite, that which never came to be but which eternally just Is.  In this, being the source and thus “creator” of things, “God” is also called “maker” (poiētēs) in CH XIV.4.  In fact, that section is a really neat way to think about what we call “God” in general:

What is dearer than a true father? Who is this father, and how shall we recognize him? Is it right to dedicate to him alone the name “god” or “maker” or “father” or even the three of them? “God,” because of his power? “Maker,” because of his action? “Father,” because of the good? He is power, certainly, since he is different from things that come to be, and he is activity in the coming to be of all things.

We also have CH II.12—17 which not only talks about how to refer to God, but also is clear about God being the origin of things without necessarily being those things itself:

Asklēpios: “What, then, is god?”

Hermēs: “God is what does not subsist as any of these since he is the cause of their being, for all of them and for each and every one of them that exists. And he has left nothing else remaining that is not-being, for all things are those that come to be from things that are, not from those that are not. Things that are not do not have a nature that enables them to come to be; their nature is such that they cannot come to be anything. Things that are, on the other hand, do not have a nature that prevents them from ever existing. […]

“God is not mind, but he is the cause of mind’s being; he is not spirit, but the cause of spirit’s being; and he is not light, but the cause of light’s being. Hence, one must show god reverence with those two names assigned to him alone and to no other. Except god alone, none of the other beings called gods nor any human nor any demon can be good, in any degree. That good is he alone, and none other. All others are incapable of containing the nature of the good because they are body and soul and have no place that can contain the good. For the magnitude of the good is as great as the substance of all beings, corporeal and incorporeal, sensible and intelligible. This is the good; this is god. You should not say that anything else is good or you will speak profanely, nor should you ever call god anything but ‘the good’ since this too would be profane.

“All use the word ‘good’ in speaking, of course, but not all understand what it can mean. For this reason, god is not understood by all. In their ignorance, they apply the name ‘good’ to the gods and to certain humans even though these beings are never able to be good or to become so. The good is what is inalienable and inseparable from god, since it is god himself. All other immortal gods are given the name ‘good’ as an honor, but god is the good by nature, not because of honor. God has one nature—the good. In god and the good together there is but one kind, from which come all other kinds. The good is what gives everything and receives nothing; god gives everything and receives nothing; therefore, god is (the) good, and the good is god.

“God’s other name is ‘father’ because he is capable of making all things. Making is characteristic of a father. […]”

Bearing in mind the implied Hermetic distinction between philosophical Good and moral goodness, we basically get a straightforward description in CH II here about “the God” being literally just “the Good” and vice versa, with nothing else coming into play with that, as well as a clear description (or, at least, as clear as it can be made) about how God is not like anything else, because God never “came to be”, God just always “is” (a distinction also seen in CH VIII.2, and which is also applied throughout the AH), and thus can be seen as an origin of things that come to be but is not itself any of those things.  Coming-to-be is a quality of things that have a sort of temporality or locality to them, but God is neither temporal nor local in the Hermetic texts; God is not even eternal, but is beyond eternity (and even eternality) itself (cf. CH XI.2), and is likewise beyond all space or place.  The same cannot be said of anything else, not even the gods, not even if they are eternal or ubiquitous, because even they still operate within those boundaries of eternality/temporality or locality that God is beyond.

Side note: this is why I like to introduce a technical distinction here in a Hermetic context between the verbs “to exist” and “to be”, where “to exist” applies to things that come-to-be but “to be” is just for that which does not come-to-be but is.  Thus, I can say that I exist, or that my desk exists, or that Hermēs exists, but not that I am in some fundamental way, or that my desk is; only God is, in this higher technical sense.  All this has the fun but nuanced result that I can, with a straight and honest face to everyone else’s surprise, say that “of course God doesn’t exist within Hermeticism”, because it is more accurate to say that God pre-exists rather than exists, since God is the very source of existence itself.  It’s a little in-joke with myself, I suppose.

Back to the topic at hand.  Wouter Hanegraaff in his Hermetic Spirituality and the Historical Imagination, as the book goes on, likes to refer to God as Pēgē, the Greek word for “font” or “spring” and which is used in a philosophical sense as a “source”.  Hanegraaff doesn’t outright abandon the term “God”, but he uses Pēgē repeatedly in a way that clearly refers to it, getting this term from a handful of references and fragments throughout classical texts, including Christian ones by Didymus the Blind and Cyril of Alexandria but also the Neoplatonic writings of Iamblichus.  In a way, at least to a good deal of modern folk, this is perhaps a better way to refer to the thing that the word “God” connotes in the Hermetic texts: not a god, but the source of godhood itself; not creation or even creating, but the source of creation and creating itself.  Thinking of God in the Hermetic texts with this term isn’t unlike some modern spiritual folk going after “Divinity” as an abstract concept rather than a particular divinity or concrete conception thereof.  It’s almost nontheistic as a means of surpassing any hang-ups or preconceptions one might have about any particular kind of theism or the entities such theisms might describe.  What this means is that, if we’re to understand the word “God” in a Hermetic concept, then it’s going to necessarily be something pretty different from what “God” means to most people today given a millennia or two of Abrahamic theologizing about it.

But that leads us to a problem: it’s not like the authors of the Hermetic texts, writing 2000 to 1500 years ago and building upon several centuries of Hellenistic philosophy and several millennia of Egyptian religiosity already extant to them, didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about God in other terms, so why did they use the term “God” at all?  If other terms like “the Good” or “the Source” were available, why did they consistently stick to using “God” so much throughout these texts?  If God is not a god, then why should we express reverence, piety, devotion, and worship to God as if God were a god?  If Hermeticism is so polytheistic, then what precisely are we doing here?

It’s at this point I’d like to make a bit of a statistics metaphor with the notion of topcoding and bottomcoding (which has nothing to do with flagging or identifying oneself on dating/hookup apps, I swear).  The Wikipedia article has a ready-to-go example right in the introduction:

In econometrics and statistics, a top-coded data observation is one for which data points whose values are above an upper bound are censored.

Survey data are often topcoded before release to the public to preserve the anonymity of respondents. For example, if a survey answer reported a respondent with self-identified wealth of $79 billion, it would not be anonymous because people would know there is a good chance the respondent was Bill Gates. Top-coding may be also applied to prevent possibly-erroneous outliers from being published.

Let’s say you run a survey on a small town about people’s most beloved-but-unpopular food choices, and you split up the responding demographic into various age groups: 4 and under, 5 to 14, 15 to 24, 25 to 45, 46 to 64, 65 to 75, 76 to 82, and so on.  Let’s say that, in this small town, there is only one person older than 90.  Let’s also say that in your survey, only one person responded that they liked beets as their beloved-but-unpopular food, and that respondent was 95 years old.  Congratulations!  You just identified the only person in the town who likes beets—and have just compromised their identity to the public at large, if you were to publish the data this way.  In order to preserve privacy, demographers and statisticians engage in a kind of censoring by “topcoding/bottomcoding” the extreme ends of a distribution (like age) through coalescing them into a larger unbounded chunk: thus, rather than splitting up the age demographic by decade from 50 to 100, you might go 50—60, 60—70, and 71+.  Even if you could feasibly split up that 71+ group into smaller chunks, you don’t so as to preserve anonymity and privacy.

In a way, even if the analogy doesn’t exactly fit, I like to think of the Hermeticist’s use of the term “God” to describe God as a sort of lexical topcoding.  The classical Hermetic texts already admit the reality and existence of the gods, even as them being the ultimate and supreme things that exist, beyond which there is nothing that could be said to exist.  The gods are, for the Hermeticist as they would be to anyone in a Greco-Egyptian religious context 2000 to 1500 years ago, the roots of existence and the creators of creation.  In that light, what could you call something that surpasses even them?  If the gods themselves give rise to everything, what could you call whatever gave rise to the gods themselves?  The term is already staring at us right in the face: you call it a god, or even (to assert its solitary uniqueness and its commonality to all the gods) “the god”—ho theos, conventionally translated in English without the definite article and with capitalization as a proper noun as “God”.  Moreover, this notion of the thing called “God” does not diminish the godhood or godliness of the gods, no more than the existence of a spring obviates or belittles the existence of the river that comes from it.

Likewise, if worship and reverence is to be given to the gods because that is what is right for our relationship with them, then wouldn’t that same also be given to God itself, too?  Well…sorta.  This is where it gets a little complicated, but we can get an inkling of the difference from the end of the Asclepius.  There, we see Hermēs & co. leave the sanctuary and the temple where Hermēs had been giving his divine discourse, and then went outside to pray to God.  (This specific scene change of leaving a temple, the domain of the gods, is itself highly suggestive.)  It was when they began to pray that Asklēpios had an idea that was poorly received by Hermēs:

…they were already saying their prayer when in a hushed voice Asclepius asked: “Tat, do you think we should suggest that your father tell them to add frankincense and spices as we pray to god?”

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

The giving of thanks, and that alone, to God as the only suitable sacrifice to God is suggestive here.  Besides the fact that the Prayer of Thanksgiving focuses on gnōsis itself being both a cause and act of thanks and that such thanks can be rendered through “mind, word, and knowledge”, we also see Hermēs giving “pure speech offerings” in his prayer from CH I.31—32, with praise and hymning being the means of sacrifice and worship given in CH XIII and Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth.  God is certainly to be worshipped and sacrificed to, but the type of sacrifice is not something material, like food or libation or incense, because God itself is not partial to these things or, indeed, anything at all.  The type of sacrifice suitable to God is, in a sense, God itself: to know God and to love God, just as God knows itself through creation, just as God loves itself through its images, just as God is.

Just as we call God “God” because it is beyond the gods and it makes sense to call anything at that level or higher “god”, it also makes sense that notions of reverence, devotion, and the like also apply, at least to an extent.  After all, if it is right and proper for us to develop relationships with the gods along these lines, and if we’re trying to get to a thing that surpasses the gods, then the same vehicle that takes us to the gods should suffice, at least in part, to get us beyond them.  However, just like how a shift in terrain might mandate a change in tire type or fuel type for a particular vehicle, we can’t use exactly the same methods or types of worship and reverence for God as we would the gods, but it’s still overall the same idea.  Thus, although Hermēs encourages us to worship and revere and show devotion to the God as well as to the gods, because the God is itself not a god, we cannot do the same things for the God as we would for the gods.

I admit, it’s a little complicated at this point, because although we’re not engaging in monotheism, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we are unless we keep the overall polytheistic framing of all of this in mind.  What we’re properly doing is engaging in a mysticism of monistic reverence, rather than a mysticism of monotheistic reverence.  That distinction is crucial, and is why conflating the two can lead one to mistake Hermeticism for some sort of weird “pagan monotheism” as well as letting it be adapted for properly monotheistic religious contexts.  We’ll get more into that next time.

Hermeticism, God, and the Gods: Expecting (and Finding) Polytheism

This post has been one I’ve been struggling to write for a while now.  Normally, when I get the feeling to write a post, it either comes out in the moment and I set it up to be posted on my blog, or it doesn’t come out and I just let it sit in my drafts folder as a post idea until it’s time to actually write it; I let the thing mature inside, as it were, until it’s good enough to come out on its own.  However, this topic is one that I’ve seen crop up time and time again on the /r/Hermeticism subreddit or on the Hermetic House of Life Discord server for literal months now, and every time it does, I remind myself again that I should get to this post.  It’s not for lack of trying that it hasn’t been written yet, and it’s not like I don’t have statements or opinions about the subject (they’re all actually fairly straightforward), it’s just…been difficult to actually put all that together in a post.  Maybe my approach to it has been wrong, and maybe my more natural writing style prefers to take a different approach.  Either way, this post is one that’s been a long time coming.

Let’s start with a question, then: what’s with all the talk of “God” (singular) in the classical Hermetic texts?  When a lot of people come to the Hermetic texts for the first time (whether as a scholarly student or a spiritual one), the way a lot of Hermetic texts read makes it sound like some sort of weird Christian knockoff (or, as some patristic Christian authors wrote, some sort of weird pagan prophetical anticipation of Christianity).  For some people, this isn’t so much a problem, especially in our largely monotheistic culture in the West or who are used to monotheistic approaches in the modern occult scene, but for many people nowadays who are looking for something more classical, pagan, or otherwise non-Abrahamic and polytheist, the language used in the classical Hermetic texts can be off-putting or outright disorienting.  This is especially confusing when there is talk of gods or temple worship in the Hermetica, but it’s not always clear for some about how to correlate all this with each other.

In part III of my Hermeticism FAQ, I opened up with an answer about whether Hermeticism is monotheistic or polytheistic:

Either or both, depending on your perspective.  It is true that the bulk of the Hermetic texts, especially the “philosophical Hermetica”, focus on a singular God as the One and the Good for the purposes of both cosmological structure as well as theosophical devotion, but it’s also true that the same Hermetic texts discuss the ensoulment of statues by the gods and encourage the worship of such corporeal gods as well as the many gods in heaven.  Whether one wants to consider there to be just one God and all other entities as angels subservient to this one God, or whether one wants to consider the One to be on an ontological level beyond the gods and the gods to have their own reality, Hermeticism may admit both or either perspective.  It is also helpful to consider the One to be a “god whom the gods themselves worship” or a “god beyond the gods”, a perspective that is evinced in magical texts from the same time period.

Now, I admit, when I was writing the FAQ, I was hedging on this point.  It is true that Hermeticism has been contextualized (if not practiced) for a good few centuries within monotheistic cultures, specifically Christian ones in Europe and Islamic ones in north Africa and the near or middle East.  In that time, our extant Hermetic texts from the classical period (and a good many others besides) have been preserved and transmitted through generations of copyists and redactors, also of a similarly monotheistic bent, and have likewise been picked up, read, and made use of by plenty of magicians, mystics, scholars, and detractors who also operate more-or-less from a monotheistic perspective.  The language of the Hermetic corpora, after all, does focus hugely on God, the One, however you want to call it.  As a result, this question gets asked frequently enough to start open that FAQ segment on doctrine to clear the airs.

All that said, make no mistake: Hermeticism, properly speaking, is a polytheistic form of mysticism.  It was produced by polytheists within a polytheistic culture, and does not just admit the existence of multiple gods, but actively encourages their worship.  It’s not just a matter of “you can worship the gods”, but “you should worship the gods”.  It’s just that the emphasis on Hermeticism as a specific kind of mysticism within a broader religious context (specifically a Greco-Egyptian polytheistic one) isn’t on the gods, but on God which, notably, is not a god itself and the notion of which does not diminish the divinity or godhood of the gods.  This last part is, admittedly, a little confusing, and the distinctions between monism and monotheism can get blurred depending on one’s preexisting notion of “God”, especially within an otherwise monotheistic context or coming from an otherwise monotheistic background.

So, yes, the gods.  The classical Hermetic texts make abundant notes that gods (plural) exist: throughout CH III, CH II.14—16, CH V.3, CH X.7 and CH X.22—25, CH XII.1 and CH XII.12 and CH XII.21, CH XIII.17, CH XIV.8, CH XVI.10—18, throughout the Asclepius (§4—7, 18—19, 22—23, 25, 27, 32, 37, 39), SH 11, SH 14, SH 21, and on and on.  And that’s just looking for the word “gods” (theoi in Greek), setting aside any oblique or opaque references to them, like “governors”, “powers”, or even “statues” (in reference to the divine idols or cult images as worshipped in temples).  The Hermetic texts don’t make much of a big deal about there being multiple gods because they fundamentally assume their existence, declaring them in passing almost as if the authors of the Hermetic texts took their existence for granted.  And why shouldn’t they?  These texts were written in Hellenistic Egypt during the early Roman Empire, by a polytheistic people in a polytheistic culture.  Given Walter Scott’s tentative dating of most of the Hermetic texts being written between the first and fourth centuries CE (most of them between the second and third), this was all largely before the persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire began, and written in an ancient bastion of civilization filled to the brim with temples that formed the institutional backbone supporting Egypt for literal millennia.  Although there was plenty of cultural and religious change starting with Alexander the Great’s colonization of Egypt, taking the Ptolemaic period into the Roman period, the underlying culture and civilization of Egypt was much as it ever was.  And all of this forms the backdrop for what is now the current scholarly consensus, established by the work of academic researchers Garth Fowden or Christian Bull or Wouter Hanegraaff, that the Hermetic texts (and classical Hermeticism more broadly) were produced in a quasi-priestly milieu, the texts either being written by Egyptian priests for a Greek-speaking audience or by their students in a more-or-less Hellenistic context, situating Egyptian religiosity amidst Greek philosophical inclinations.

And yet, when we read the Hermetic texts, all the above seems to be such a miniscule part of it all—because it is!  The vast majority, rather, is given to discussion about God (ho theos) in the singular, sometimes referred to as the Maker, the Father, the Good, the One, or so on; prayers of thanksgiving and praise pepper the Hermetic texts, as well as injunctions to show reverence and devotion to God.  Put beside each other, the polytheistic admissions above contrasted with this is enough to give someone whiplash, so what gives?  It’s not like the Hermetic texts are pulling a fast one on their readers, trying to get them to softly convert to some sort of monotheism, far from it.  There’s something a little more subtle happening here that requires a bit of extra historical and spiritual context, as well as a reminder of what “monotheism” actually is and how “monotheism” could be expressed in the cultural and temporal environment of the Hermetica.  And no, for what it’s worth, I don’t think that the Hermetic texts referring to ho theos is in reference to any specific god like Zeus or Amun, either, and how that might lead to any notion of henotheism, megatheism, or whatever.  There’s something else going on here, because (as I read it) God itself is something Else than what we might expect.

One of the issues that a lot of modern people wrestle with (and, let’s be honest, it’s a fair enough question) is what a “god” actually is.  We could talk all day about spirits generally, different kinds of spirits, how we might relate to entities on different levels of reality, and so on until the cows come home—but I wouldn’t try to define the term “god”, because the Hermetic texts don’t, either.  There is certainly talk of God and the gods, but there is never any strict discussion of what constitutes a god or what sets apart the gods from other kinds of spirits.  The notion of a god is something that is something assumed and otherwise implicit in the Hermetic texts, and to my understanding, it refers broadly to any powerful spiritual entity of a more refined or elevated nature than oneself that can or should receive worship and reverence and sacrifice, whether or not it is embodied.  In this light, the term “god” can be inclusive of the Cosmos itself, the planets and stars, heroes or deified teachers, divinized kings, the presiding entity of rivers or mountains, ensouled statues containing the presence of any of the above, and so on.  This is all still a rough definition, of course, but trying to get into the specifics of what is or isn’t a god isn’t the point of this post; at the end of the day, if you worship it, it’s a god.

And on that point, we can point to where the Hermetic texts instruct us or encourage us as to the worship of the gods, as in CH XVII, a dialogue between Tat and an unnamed king (though presumably Ammōn):

“…if you think about it, O king, incorporeals also exist among the corporeals.”

“What kind?” asked the king.

“Bodies that appear to be in mirrors seem incorporeal to you, do they not?”

“Yes, Tat, they do; your understanding is godlike,” said the king.

“But there are also other incorporeals: doesn’t it seem to you, for example, that there are forms that appear in body even though they are incorporeal, in the bodies not only of ensouled beings but of the soulless also?”

“You put it well, Tat.”

“Thus, there are reflections of the incorporeals in corporeals and of corporeals in incorporeals—from the sensible to the intelligible cosmos, that is, and from the intelligible to the sensible. Therefore, my king, adore the statues, because they, too, possess forms from the intelligible cosmos.”

CH XVII is a short fragment of a larger text that does not seem to be extant in its entirety anymore, although it does appear to be under the overall heading of Hermetic theology, i.e. discussions about God and the gods.  In this fragment, we see a bit of a logical argument that basically claims that statues of the gods are images of the gods, like the incorporeal reflection of a thing in a corporeal mirror, and so we should worship the statues of the gods—but why?  Because the gods themselves are to be worshipped.  The specific word used here is proskunei, which Copenhaver renders as “adore” but which is used more generally as “make obeisance to the gods”, “fall down and worship”, “prostrating oneself in reverence”, “do reverence towards”, and so forth; although one might try to split hairs and suggest a Christian-esque latria/dulia distinction, that’s not really seen much here using this word, especially when we have related words like proskunēia “act of worship” or proskunētēs “worshipper”.  What Tat (called a “prophet” in CH XVII, which itself is not just a general term but a title of a particular kind of ritual official in Egyptian priesthoods) is doing here is explicitly encouraging worship of the gods, not just generally but specifically towards cult images of the gods like the statues enshrined in temples.

Then there’s the Asclepius, which is abundant in its talk of the gods, and which was considered scandalous by patristic Christian writers (especially Augustine of Hippo in his City of God) for its explicit talk of how statues are ensouled and consecrated.  There are plenty of references towards worshipping the gods, like in AH 5 (“one who has joined himself to the gods in divine reverence, using the mind that joins him to the gods, almost attains divinity”) or AH 22 (“since he is conjoined to them in kinship, mankind honors the gods with reverent and holy mind; the gods also show concern for all things human and watch over them in faithful affection”), and the famous “Prophecy of Hermēs” from AH 24—29 talks at length about the horrible fate that will befall Egypt (and eventually the whole world) when humanity stops worshipping the gods.  However, when it comes to in-depth discussions of the gods, there are four main sections we can point out:

  • AH 19: a discussion of sensible gods (aisthētoi theoi) vs. intelligible gods (noētoi theoi), with the latter being heads-of-essences (ousiarchai) that produce all things throughout the cosmos
  • AH 23—24: just as God makes heavenly gods, humanity makes “temple gods who are content to be near humans”, i.e. the sacred statues that serve as cult images of the gods to which worship and sacrifice is directed so as to glorify, revere, and commune with the gods themselves
  • AH 27: a description of the functions of Jupiter and Jupiter Plutonius (Zeus, Zeus Ploutonios, and Korē in the Coptic AH from NHC VI,8) in creating and sustaining life in the world (which to me reads like interpretatio romana/graeca of Amun, Osiris, and Isis)
  • AH 37—39: how humanity came to learn of the hieratic art of ensouling statues with the presences of gods, the differences between heavenly gods (i.e. gods in their own domain which rule over universals) and earthly gods (i.e. the presences of the gods worshipped in temples via their cult images which rule over particulars)

The tone of the Asclepius here is nothing short of devoutly prescriptive: more than just raising the fact that the gods are worshipped, this text outright tells us that the gods are supposed to be worshipped, along with how and why we should do so.  In similar terms, though less prescriptive than descriptive, do we find Isis teaching Hōros in the Kore Kosmou (SH 23.65—68) about her role as a culture hero with Osiris to tame the savagery of the first humans on Earth by introducing, among other things, consecrated precincts and sacrifices for the ancestral gods, teachings regarding the gods, and a “perfect remedy in all of their prophets [so that] no future prophet who raised his hands to the gods would ever be ignorant” of divine truths and blessings to preserve good life on Earth.  Beyond even this, we also get Hermēs saying in SH 2A.14 that he “venerates and worships” (sebomai kaì proskunō—and note the use of that last word here!) the Sun (or, specifically, its truth/reality/existence).  While I could keep coming up with references like this, I’ve made my point: the classical Hermetic texts not only readily admit and recognize the existence of multiple gods (and, in some cases, elaborately detail and document them), but also explicitly encourage our worship of them.  The funny thing is with all this, though, is that the tone that these same Hermetic texts take, even in the above sections, seems to be an almost dismissive “of course you should do this, you fool, you absolute moron”.  Giving worship to the gods, after all, was something necessary for us to live happy and fruitful lives “down here”; as Hermēs says in AH 38:

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

Do not suppose that these earthly gods act aimlessly, Asclepius. Heavenly gods inhabit heaven’s heights, each one heading up the order assigned to him and watching over it. But here below our gods render aid to humans as if through loving kinship, looking after some things individually, foretelling some things through lots and divination, and planning ahead to give help by other means, each in his own way.

Through reverence, worship, sacrifice, hymning, and all the like, humanity is able to join with the gods in a way that is harmonious for the overall cosmos.  It allows us to be provided and cared for by the gods, it allows the gods to better abide with us and work with us in the world, and it allows both humanity and the gods to collaboratively maintain the right order of the whole cosmos that we are enjoined to perfecting.  To worship the gods is to maintain a right relationship with them as much as it is the whole of creation.  Likewise, earlier on in AH 9:

But I notice, Asclepius, that mind’s quick desire hastens you to learn how mankind can cherish heaven (or the things in it) and tend to its honor. Listen, then, Asclepius. Cherishing the god of heaven and all that heaven contains means but one thing: constant assiduous service. Except for mankind alone, no living thing, neither divine nor <mortal>, has done this service. Heaven and heavenly beings take delight in wonderment, worship, praise and service from humans. Rightly the supreme divinity sent the chorus of Muses down to meet mankind lest the earthly world lack sweet melody and seem thereby less civilized; instead, with songs set to music, humans praised and glorified him who alone is all and is father of all, and thus, owing to their praise of heaven, earth has not been devoid of the charms of harmony.

This bit of AH 9 comes immediately after Hermēs talking about all the other sciences and activities humans get up to in the world, including “agriculture, pasturage, building, harbors, navigation, social intercourse, reciprocal exchange”.  All of these things are what “preserves this earthly part of the world”, and that the world would be “incomplete” (and thus imperfected) without us engaging in these things.  Just as humanity is to tend to the world below through these mundane arts and sciences, so too are we to tend to the world above through more spiritual and religious ones.  Despite the importance (if not outright fervent glorification) Hermēs gives to all of this, he only really covers this in a surprisingly summary way before immediately moving onto other topics.

The overall feel of how the Hermetic texts talk about the gods and our worship of them is like it’s all a reminder rather than something revelatory—because, in the original context of Hermeticism, the reader would already be worshipping the gods (plural), and the actual revelation would be learning about God (singular).  That’s why the Hermetic texts spend so much time on God: as opposed to the gods more generally which everyone was already engaged with, the mystic (and monist) focus on Hermeticism is with this other thing that people aren’t so familiar with.  Being a good polytheist with an awareness of and reverence for the gods, in other words, is essentially a prerequisite for engaging with this new thing that all these texts attributed to Hermēs Trismegistos are trying to teach.

Let’s consider again the original context of the Hermetic texts.  As I mentioned before, Hermeticism arose in a polytheistic culture, specifically that of Hellenistic Egypt during the Roman Empire, but more specifically, based on the most recent academic analyses of the milieu in which these texts arose, it was in small, close-knit “communities” (such as they were) headed by a teacher with some number of students.  Unlike the centralized network of Egyptian temples (an ancient set of institutions in their own right), these groups were far more decentralized, even to the point of informality, likely within the home of the teacher or within an empty corner or room of local temples.  The teacher would likely have been either a career Egyptian priest interested in mysticism and skilled in particular hieratic arts, or otherwise one taught by them, blending Hellenistic philosophy with Egyptian religiosity in a way befitting the life and times of a post-Ptolemaic-now-Roman context.  In its original Greco-Egyptian environment, devotions and sacrifices to the gods would have been understood and performed as a given and would have provided the necessary religious and spiritual foundation for what would essentially be an “extracurricular activity”: the gods were already well-known, but having already approached them and having already understood their role in the lives of people in the world, those who would want “something more” would then seek out a teacher who could go beyond the exoteric into the esoteric.

Let’s get more into that stuff next time.

The Two Sons of `Iyān: Bird-Based Origins and Other Ideas for Geomancy

In yesterday’s post, we began looking into this funny little thing that the good Dr. Stephen Skinner mentioned in his 1980 book Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy, which was more recently updated and republished in 2011 as Geomancy in Theory & Practice.  When describing the Arabian origins of the art of geomancy, he mentioned a peculiar chant: “Ye two sons of ‘Iyan hasten with the explanation!”  It’s the identity and nature of the entities these were referring to that’ve puzzled me for going on ten years now, and unfortunately, Skinner never cited this statement anywhere.  After doing a bit of Arabic language hacking, we ended up with a proper spelling of the big name here to be `Iyān with the triliteral root `-Y-N (`ayn yā’ nūn), which ties it into the letter `ayn, the sixteenth letter of the Arabic script according to the Phoenician order (potential geomancy connection!), and thus to notions of eyes, sight, and vision (possible divination connection!).  We continued to dig a bit further, and we found several sources that talk about what Skinner did in his own books, though with about as much specificity, which wasn’t much.  However, we did begin to make some headway into understanding some of the first swirlings of geomantic practice and how it developed from earlier proto-geomantic practices in Arabaian and related cultures.  Today, we’ll pick up where we left off and keep investigating what `Iyān might refer to.

Though our discussion yesterday focused on the lines produced for geomantic (or proto-geomantic) divination, there were a few other references that we should investigate.  Going back to Lane for a moment, the entry for `Iyān mentions something about arrows.  Let’s bring that up again:

… اِبْنَا عيَانٍ means Two birds, (Ḳ, TA,) from the flight or alighting-places, or cries, &c., of which, the Arabs augur: (TA:) or two lines which are marked upon the ground (Ṣ, Ḳ) by the عَائِف [or augurer], by means of which one augurs, from the flight, &c., of birds; (Ṣ;) or which are made for the purpose of auguring; (TA;) then the augurer says, اِبْنَى عيَانْ اًسْرِعَا البَيَانْ [O two sons of `Iyán, hasten ye the manifestation]: (Ḳ,* TA: [see 1 in art. خط :]) in the copies of the Ḳ, اِبْنَا is here erroneously put for اِبْنَى : or, as some say ابْنَا عِيانٍ means two well-known divining arrows: (TA:) and when it is known that the gaming arrow of him who plays therewith wins, one says جَرىَ اِبْنَا عِيَانٍ [app. meaning The two sons of ‘Iyán have hastened; i.e. the two arrows so termed; as seems to be indicated by a verse cited in the L (in which it is followed by the words بِالشِّواء المُضَهُّبِ with the roast meat not thoroughly cooked), and also by what here follows]: (Ṣ, L, Ḳ, TA:) these [arrows] being called ابْنَا عِيانٍ because by means of them the people [playing at the game called المَيْسِر] see the winning and the food [i.e. the hastily-cooked flesh of the slaughtered camel]. (L, TA.)

Lane says that abnā `Iyān could refer to “two well-known divining arrows”, i.e. belomancy, which was known and practiced throughout Mesopotamia, Arabia, and the Near East dating back to ancient biblical times.  In this style of divination, the arrows used for divination were required to be fletched with feathers, at least for the sake of distinguishing them.  This also brings up the memory of the pre-Islamic god Hubal worshiped by the Quraysh tribe (the tribe of the Prophet Muḥammad himself) in the Ka`bah in Mecca (when it was still a pagan shrine) who performed acts of divination with arrows for his devotees.  However, what little is known of that method of divination was that Hubal used seven arrows, not two as Lane suggests.  Plus, from what I can find (especially from Robert Hoyland’s 2002 work Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam), there were several methods of belomancy:

  1. Using three arrows (one marked for “God commands it” or just as “do it”, one for “God forbids it” or as “don’t do it”, and one that was either left blank or marked as “not clear”), one would put them in a quiver on the back, and one would be randomly drawn.  The one that was drawn indicates the course to take; if the blank one was drawn, it was put back and another arrow was randomly drawn until an answer was obtained, or it was interpreted as “wait”.
  2. Using the same three arrows, they would be fired off, and the one that flew the furthest (or got closest to its target) indicated the answer.
  3. The arrows (perhaps the same three, or different ones?) were tossed or thrown in a certain way, and then interpreted based on the ways or the directions they fell.
  4. The seven arrows of Hubal:
    1. “Blood price”: When several people fought over who should pay blood-price, they drew lots and whoever drew this one would have to pay it.
    2. “Yes” and “No”: When they had a simple binary question, they drew lots until one of these two came up.
    3. “Water”: If someone wanted to dig for water, they cast lots containing this arrow and wherever it came forth they set to work.  (This seems unclear to me; perhaps onto a map, or into a field?)
    4. “Of you”, “Affiliated”, and “Not of You”: Whenever they wanted to circumcise a boy, make a marriage, bury a body, or make some sort of alliance or contract wit, or if someone had doubts about someone’s genealogy, they used these arrows to determine the specific relationship to someone.  “Of you” indicates that they belonged to the same tribe; “affiliated” that they were not of the same tribe but an ally of it; “not of you” that they were unrelated and unaffiliated.

None of this really comports with what we know about geomantic or proto-geomantic practice, whether from the sources Lane quotes or from Skinner’s research, unless we were to focus on the “Yes”/”No” style of Hubal-directed belomancy (which, well, it is a binary answer at least, which can be seen to tie into geomancy or proto-geomantic divination).  Plus, connections to Hubal and his divination cult seem to be a stretch; after all, Islam came about in Arabia around in the first half of the 600s ce, by which point the cult center of Hubal was effectively destroyed with the harrowing of the Ka`bah.  Even if we admit the likely possibility that there were proto-geomantic practices in Arabia at the time of the Prophet Muḥammad (and who’s to say that the earliest geomantic diviners didn’t use arrows to mark sand instead of using a simple staff?), an argument could be made that we’re looking at the wrong place for such a connection to geomancy.

Perhaps, instead, we should be looking towards the pre-Islamic gods of the sands of the Sahara rather than towards pre-Islamic gods of the Arabian peninsula.  After all, `Iyān doesn’t really seem to appear in the names of Arabian pagan religion, but it might in a Saharan one, perhaps even one with Egyptian, Canaanite, Hellenic, or Roman origins.  This is getting into some really weird and extraordinarily vague and far territory, though, and we don’t have a strong enough reason to get deep into any of it; there’s far too much variability if we widen our scope to all those other cultures, and it could well be a wild goose chase.

If not that, though, it could also be the result of the name of a spirit who wasn’t a god that was propitiated and propagated for calling upon in divination, much as how the Lemegeton duke Bune is now goetically synonymous with wealth magic, and whose name either happened to be close enough to `Iyān to be interpreted as such.  This is one possibility that my colleague and resident North African and Mediterranean traditions expert Arlechina Verdigris suggested, perhaps even a reuse of the name “John” as heard by Arabic ears (think how “John” is spoken by modern Spanish speakers, almost like “yohn” or “zhohn”), but in this context, that explanation seems a to stretch a bit too far, as “John” is usually rendered as يَـحـيٰى  Yaḥyā (especially by Arabic-speaking Muslims) or as يُوحَنَّا  Yūḥanna (especially by Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians), neither of which share much in common with the name `Iyān,  Plus, the name “John” as pronounced as such by English speakers would have been introduced only far too recently compared to the sources we’re looking at from before, considering the old origins of the chant in question.  That `Iyān could be the name of a spirit (jinn? ancestor?) or a pre-Islamic or otherwise pagan god from the Sahara or from Arabia is a possibility, but considering the variability of such names and spirits, and how so many spirit names are isolated to maybe a handful of magicians at most, I don’t know how likely this idea might be; my hunch is that it’s not, but at any rate, it’s not something that’s within my power to research, given my dearth of Arabic knowledge and Arabic materials to consult.

Okay, this line of questioning doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere without further resources that may or may not be available, so let’s backtrack a bit.  There’s one more thing we’ve yet to discuss when it comes to `Iyān and its two sons, and that’s the topic of birds.  According to Lane’s entry on `Iyān, the “two sons” ابْنَا عِيانٍ (abnā `Iyān) refers first to the practice of augury, and specifically the interpretation of omens that result from hearing or watching birds.  Lane goes on to say that the phrase “two sons of `Iyān” refers to the “two lines which are marked upon the ground by the augurer, by means of which one augurs, from the flight, &c., of birds”.  Consider what that actually means here, especially in the light of Lane’s entry for khaṭṭ: the abnā `Iyān, the “two lines or marks” that were made when engaging in geomantic or proto-geomantic divination, were produced by the tracks of birds, specifically “two birds…from the flight/alighting-places/cries of which the Arabs augur”.  That would explain why birds are mentioned alongside geomancy; rather than using augury or ornithomancy (divination by birds) generally, such as in ways that would focus on what the birds were or how they fly or in what direction, these proto-geomancers would focus instead on how birds land upon and walk across the sand.  In this way, proto-geomancers would inspect the tracks left by birds on the ground and tally them up two-by-two until one or two footprints, or sets of tracks, were left.

If that’s what’s really being suggested or reported by Lane here, then that could mean that the practice of making marks in the sand with a staff or wand would be a way to produce such omens on demand for augury-on-the-fly, no birds required.  And when you look at such tracks left in sand…

…it’s actually pretty believable as an origin for the original geomantic method of making figures.  And, tracing the development a bit further: from inspecting the marks left behind from birds, we began to make our own to inspect anytime we wanted; from tallying up two lines of marks, we went to four, and from four to sixteen; by clustering them together, we got the Mothers; by transposing them, we got the Daughters; by adding them together and using the same basic tallying technique, we got the rest of the figures of the chart.  With a bit of mathematical finagling, we can ensure that the Judge is always an even number, which, as we discussed in the previous post, would be significant to ensure a fair judgment to be produced, even if not strictly favorable for the querent and query.  (Image below from Dawat-e-Rohaniat.)

We may well be looking at the ultimate historical origin of geomancy here: a human-innovated practice of replicating bird tracks on sand and using fundamentally Arabian ornithomantic methods to interpret them.  If that’s the case, then geomancy, ultimately, is from birds.  Birds, little divine messengers from the skies coming down to Earth, instructing us in their language, then flying back off returning to Heaven once we don’t need to directly rely on them anymore.  It’s like we can hear echoes of this in the story of how the archangel Gabriel taught the art of geomancy to the prophets, the founders of geomancy—Adam, Daniel, Hermēs Trismegistus, or Enoch, according to the different historiolas we find in geomantic texts.



As intoxicating as it is to think that I figured out what the ultimate origin of geomancy might be, I have to admit that this is all really interpretive and hypothetical.  There’s not a lot going on here besides chaining some circumstantial evidence, unclear etymologies and definitions, and a good amount of interpretation on my part.  No matter how likely it might be that geomancy was derived from inspecting the tracks of birds on sand (which I think is pretty likely given all the above), we shouldn’t consider it verified fact.  Unfortunately, geomancy is sufficiently old and the evidence sufficiently sparse that the origins may well be lost in the sands of time, so to speak, and while the evidence is pointing towards an Arabian origin instead of a Saharan one, there’s still nothing here that conclusively shows its actual geographic origins in either Arabia or the Sahara; still, though I’ve favored the Saharan origin up until now, I’m starting to be more inclined towards the Arabian origin.  Even so, even if we want to accept this ornithomantic Arabian origin for geomancy, there’s a little more for us to consider to get a deeper insight into what could be going on here, so let’s continue.

What we’re missing now is a more solid connection between `Iyān and birds.  Taking specific birds a little bit further into consideration, I came across this massive list of Arabic names for birds, and I found the name العين al`ayn (I think?) which appears to share the same root as `Iyān, and which refers to Oriolus oriolus, the Eurasian golden oriole.  Lane does in fact discuss it in a related entry to our main topic on page 2269: “a certain bird yellow in the belly, [dingy, dark, ash-color, or dust-color] on the back, of the size of a [species of turtle-dove]”.  The golden oriole largely fits the bill for this.  There’s also the fact that it forms pair-bonds that last between breeding seasons, which would be a symbol of life and creativity, and would tie into the notion of even numbers being positive and odd numbers (a single, lone bird without a mate, or whose mate was lost) being negative.  So if we were looking for a…I guess, a patron/tutelary animal for geomancy, then based on all the above, this would be it:

Perhaps above any other kind of bird, it’d be the golden oriole that would be best-suited for making tracks in the sand for divination, and the lines of its tracks it left behind would be its “sons”.  In watching such a bird to cross tracks, we’d urge it to hurry up to make a sufficient number for our proto-geomancer to interpret it: “ye two sons of `Iyān, hasten with the explanation”.

The only problem with assigning the golden oriole to be an entity marked by `Iyān is that this bird isn’t really common to Arabic-speaking areas; its distribution is largely across almost all of continental Europe south of Scandinavia in the winter, and across central and southern Africa from Cameroon and points south in the summer.  As pretty of a bird and as appropriate though it might be based on the description in Lane,  I’m not wholly pinning this as being what `Iyān is referring to.  However, birds know no borders, and it’s also pretty true that they’d certainly have to pass through the Arabian peninsula and northern Africa during their migrations, and it does have its non-migratory homes in some Arabic-speaking areas that are just on the edge of the expected range of locations for the origin of geomancy, from the northwest edges of the Maghreb in the west to Mesopotamia in the east.  It’s nothing I’ll wage a bet on, but it’s certainly not nothing.

Regardless of whether the golden oriole is specifically tied to `Iyān, there’s definitely some connection between birds and either `Iyān specifically or divination generally.  I mean, that there should be one wouldn’t be terribly surprising, since the word for bird is طير ṭayur, and the classical term for augury or orthithomancy is تطير taṭayyir, which was extended to divination in general, just as we might use “augury” in a wide sense to refer to all divination.  Both of these words come from the same root of Ṭ-Y-R, referring to flying or taking off.  This recalls the notion of divining arrows from above being set loose to fly; as noted, they were required to be fletched with feathers, giving them a bird-like connection and, thus, giving them a distant or alluded-to tie-in to augury by birds.  And, further, fletching would also be needed to make them “fly”, which would tie them symbolically into the Ṭ-Y-R root.  Plus, as noted above, who’s to say that they wouldn’t use fletched arrows instead of a simple staff to make marks in the sand?  Divining arrows are divining arrows, no matter how you use them, after all, and it would give these proto-geomancers a stronger connection to deeper cultural practices of divination.  Perhaps we modern geomancers might consider using fletched arrows for marking sand, if we wanted to use wands at all for ritual divination!

While mulling this over, the wonderful Nick Farrell dug up an interesting article for me, “Some Beliefs and Usages among the Pre-Islamic Arabs, with Notes on their Polytheism, Judaism, Christianity, and the Mythic Period of their History” by Edward Rehatsek (The Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, volume XII, 1876, pp. 163-212).  This article mentions the same thing we’ve seen before in Skinner, Lane, and Abu Dāwūd, but Rehatsek specifically considers it alongside and mixed in with ornithomantic omens.  Consider specifically pp.172ff, emphasis mine:

Many things were believed to be unpropitious by the Arabs, whilst certain birds were also considered to portend evil, and others good.  When an Arab augur, who was called Zâjar (literally meaning ‘a driver away’, because by doing so the direction of the flight of a bird, from which nearly everything appears to depend, is ascertained), began his soothsaying operation, he drew two lines called eyes, as if he could by means of them observe anything he liked; and when he had through these perceived something unpleasant he used to say, “The sons of vision have manifested the explanation.”*  It is natural that birds which were known to settle on the backs of wounded camels and to hurt them should have been considered unlucky; such were the crow, and a kind of woodpecker, but the former was also considered so for another reason—namely, because it implied separation.  When a tribe strikes its tents and departs to new pastures, the crows alight on the spot of the abandoned encampment in search of food, and there is nothing passing in front, or crossing over from the right side to the left, and no beast with a broken horn or any other object more unlucky than a crow, but the omen was increased when it happened to sit on a Bán tree and pulled out its own feathers.  As the Bán tree also implies separation, the omen is taken from this signification, and applicable not only when a crow, but also when a dove, a bird of good luck, is perched on it; but poets like plays on words, and hence the lapwing, whose name is Hudhud, also indicates the direction Huda; whilst the eagle called U’káb, being nearly homophonous with U’kb, “the end”, and the dove Ḥamám with Humma, “it was decreed”, are on these accounts respectively considered to put an end to separation, and to imply that the meeting of friends is decreed.

* Arab. Prov. [Arabum Proverbia] tome i., p. 695, ابنا عيان اظهر البيان In the beginning of the operation they were also in the habit of addressing an invocation to these two lines, or eyes:— ابنا عيان اظهرا البيان “O sons of vision, manifest the explanation?”

We’re starting to tap into some of the symbolism behind even and odd here, and we can see that we were on the right track from before, but this time it’s made a bit more explicit; we might have considered that, perhaps, birds seen in pairs was considered a good omen in general, while a lone bird was considered bad, and that could still be the case especially for birds like the golden oriole that forms long-term pair-bonds, but now we’re tapping into deeper cultural lore about separation and number.  When the result of divination is even, then things are in pairs, considered fortunate because it suggests coming together or staying together (remember that the origin of the Arabic word for “even” ultimately comes from Greek for “yoked together”, as in marriage); when the result is odd, then it implies separation and being left alone (literally “wholly one”).  For a migratory, nomadic people living in a harsh environment, survival often depended on your tribe and not being left alone or being cast out, for which separation could truly mean an ill fate up to and including death by dehydration, starving, heat, or exposure; the same would go for humans from their tribes as it would for animals from their herds.  To consider it another way, if the marks being made in the sand are “eyes”, then in order to see clearly, we need to have two of them, since eyes naturally come in pairs (at least for us humans and many other animals).  If we end up with an odd number, then we’ve lost an eye, and cannot see clearly.

Up until this point, we’ve been largely been assuming `Iyān as the name for a distinct entity and the “two sons of `Iyān” to be lesser entities under it or the productions made by the entity, as if we’re supplicating spirits or asking for aid from them.  However, there’s the distinct and possibly likely chance that we’re on the wrong track entirely.  Given that “poets like plays on words”, Iyān (which Rehatsek translates as “vision” though “inspection” is a better term, but cf. the Greek suffix -manteia to mean both) isn’t really an entity at all, but just a poetic turn of phrase, a personification of the concept of divinatory investigation rather than a deification of it (which might be just a little too animist/polytheistic for observant Muslims).  Thus, rather than thinking of the “sons of `Iyān” to represent entities under a bigger entity like how the phrase “sons of God” refers to angels under the Divine, it might be better to think of “sons of `Iyān” to represent the extensions or productions of divinatory “eyes” through a process of divination so as to perform an “inspection” or investigation of a matter.  This would be like another Arabic turn of phrase seen in poetry, the “two sons of time” relating to the day and night, and how the “daughters of time” could represent the vicissitudes or afflictions that time imposes on us.  So, saying “sons of `Iyān” is basically saying “results of the inspection”, i.e. the outcome of the divination, which we would realistically want to hasten so as to get a proper answer.  In the context in which Skinner et alia are describing this chant used by an assistant towards the diviner, it could be a way to spur the diviner on into a sense of frenzy and frenetic urgency, helping them lose themselves in the striking of the earth to produce a truly divine result, which would afterwards then be tallied up, reduced down, and accounted for.

Yet…well, I want there to be some sort of spiritual entity behind `Iyān and their two sons.  It’s kinda one of the things I was hoping to find, but what evidence that I can find doesn’t really support that premise.  Is the possibility ruled out?  No, and far from it!  As mentioned above, there is a possibility (though a faint one, as I’d reckon it) that `Iyān may be a holdover deity from some pre-Islamic, tribal, or pagan religion or some other jinn, angel, or other spiritual entity, but opening up that research…well, my gut feeling is that there’s probably not a lot to find along those lines, especially considering the scope of that sort of research.  But, at any rate, there’s not enough evidence to support the idea that the chant “Ye two sons of `Iyān, hasten with the explanation” is an invocation of a spirit, but more of a metaphorical exhortation to the diviner.  If `Iyān is considered to be an entity at all, it’d likely fall in the same category as all the minor divinities in Greek religion, divinized concepts of things like health or fruit-bearing trees or the like that might have stories told about them but never actually received cult, worship, or ritual.  That seems to be the most likely result to me, as much as I find it a disappointment.  But, hey, we’ve learned quite a bit along the way all the same, and that’s still a great result for all of us!

…well.  I think we’re at the end of this discussion and line of research, honestly.  To summarize this little garden-path effort of mine:

  • Stephen Skinner, in his 1980 work Terrestrial Astrology, mentioned in passing a practice of some of the earliest geomancers (or proto-geomancers) where they would use the chant “O two sons of ‘Iyan, hasten with the explanation!”, though this comment was not backed up with a source or reference, and left me befuddled for ten years until recently.
  • By looking at rules of Arabic word derivation, we were able to deduce the proper spelling of this word, `Iyān, and link it to the letter `ayn, the sixteenth letter of the Phoenician script and all scripts that derived from it, including the Arabic script.  This word has the root `-Y-N which links it to notions of the eye, sight, and vision, and thus has connotations of divination, along with a numerological link to the 16 figures of geomancy and any 4×4 combination of the elements.  That the numerological value of `ayn is 70, and that its reduction from 16 → 1 + 6 = 7 is also a nice bonus, tying it to seven planets and all other things with the number seven.
  • `Iyān, as a word, means “inspection”, “a witnessing of events”, “a coming into sight/light”.  This word is a verbal noun of the verb ʿāyana, meaning “to inspect” or “to witness”, but also more broadly as “to investigate” or “to behold”.
  • While investigating the word `Iyān, we were able to find a text that discusses what Skinner did with a bit more depth, as well as comparing it to other sources that describe the same fundamental practice which is likely proto-geomantic rather than geomantic as we’d recognize it.
  • This proto-geomantic practice, with origins that are attested to be either pre-Islamic or early-Islamic, involves making two lines of marks in the sand, then reducing them two-by-two until either one or two points are left.  If two points, an even number, the result is considered favorable and good; if one point, an odd number, the result is considered unlucky and bad.
  • The word `Iyān is commonly mentioned in other texts as relating not to geomancy or proto-geomancy, or at least not just those things, but to augury and ornithomancy as well.  In addition to Arabian augurs interpreting the position, direction, motion, types, and actions of birds, they would also observe the tracks they produced on the sandy ground as meaningful for omens.
  • It was from using the tracks left behind by birds and counting them for an even or odd number of marks that likely formed the ultimate origin for the (proto-)geomantic practice of making marks in the sand to produce the same.
  • The (proto-)geomancers would make marks in the sand while in a frenzy or other kind of trance state so as to obtain the same divinatory virtue through their manmade marks as might be given more purely from the cosmos through the tracks of birds.
  • The (proto-)geomancers would consider the “two sons” to be the two lines of marks they made as “eyes” (`uyūn)  that “witnessed” (yu`āyinūna) the events, circumstances, and actors involved in the query put to divination, and the whole matter would be considered an investigatory “inspection” of the matter (`iyān).
  • Even numbers, by virtue of coming in or being arranged as pairs, culturally connoted being together or holding fast, a sign of good fortune, livability, viability, survivability, meeting, and support, and thus were seen as fortunate, positive, or affirmative answers in proto-geomantic divination.  Conversely, odd numbers, by virtue of standing alone, connoted loss, exile, abandonment, absconding, maiming, and other notions of separation, which ere considered to be unfavorable, negative, or denying answers.
  • Given the symbolism behind even and odd in Arabian (nomadic) culture, later geomantic practices may have innovated a specific use of not just bundling lines into figures, but processing the resulting figures in a certain way as to always end up with an even figure in the end (the Judge) so as to ensure that the total reading may be good in some light, even if not favorable, so as to ensure a fair and valid judgment.
  • `Iyān is likely not being referred to in the chant as a spiritual entity unto itself, but in a personified way as a figure of speech, commanding “the two sons of `Iyān” to be speedy in giving an answer, said to encourage the diviner to engage in the process of frenetic/ecstatic/trance-based divination speedily without delay or delaying.
  • There is a potential connection between (proto)-geomantic divination as `Iyān and the Eurasian golden oriole (al`ayn) based on their shared word roots, as well as the role birds played in providing the initial marks for this divination to be performed with, which could provide a preferred bird by which one can perform land-based proto-geomantic augury, or which provides a kind of tutelary animal for the practice, especially through the use of its feathers, which may be used and appended to the end of a divining staff/stick to form “arrows”, tying it into an older practice of Arabian and Mesopotamian belomancy.  The “arrows”, then, would take the role of the “two sons of `Iyān”, though this might be a reuse or repurposing of the chant for a more general divinatory purpose rather than one relegated to (proto-)geomancy.
  • There is a small possibility that `Iyān may well be the name of a pagan god or another spirit of divination and that the “two sons of `Iyān” are its facilitators or emissaries that bear out the message of divination from `Iyān, but this is more likely a misreading the chant from a animist or polytheist perspective that wasn’t historically used.

This post turned out a fair bit longer (almost four times the average length!) than I expected, so much so that I had to break it up into two already-long posts, so if you managed to get this far, then I thank you for sticking with me.  Honestly, though this little bit of research didn’t end up where I wanted it to (I was kinda hoping for an old, extant, and commonly-cited spirit to appeal to for divination within a geomantic milieu), I’m honestly glad because I’ve been able to piece together plenty of information that actually clarifies an academic problem I’ve been on-and-off dealing with for ten years.  Even if there’s no historical “who” behind `Iyān and their two sons, at least we now know the “what”, and that’s still immensely important and advances the state of geomantic research, at least a tiny bit.  And, hey, we’ve left the door open for further opportunities and exploration, both academic and spiritual, too:

  • If all that was desired was an odd or even result from marking tracks off two-by-two, then why were two sets of tracks inspected at a time instead of just one?  Two sets of tracks would get you two results; does this have a connection with geomantic dice that split up a single figure of four rows into two sub-figures of two rows?
  • Are there any specific birds besides the Eurasian golden oriole that might be especially important in making tracks on the sand which were used for (proto-)geomantic divination?
  • Does the Eurasian golden oriole play a role in any of the spiritualities, superstitions, or symbolisms of Near Eastern, Middle Eastern, or African traditions that we might ply for more information?
  • What New World birds might take the same ecological or spiritual role as the Eurasian golden oriole?
  • How, exactly, were just two lines of marks read by birds, or where did the custom come from of making/marking two lines instead of just one?
  • Are there any other animals that we might associate with geomancy through the name `Iyān or the root `-Y-N, whether birds or otherwise?
  • What other geomantic mysteries might be hidden within `ayn, the sixteenth letter of the Phoenician script which has a root numerological value of 7 (either through reduction from its normal value of 70 or by reducing its ordinal number 16 into 1 + 6 = 7)?  We noted an alphabetical connection with a handful of divine epithets of Allāh, including the famous one Al-`Alīm (“The All-Knowing One”), but what other roots that start with `Ayn might be significant, if any?
  • Unlikely though it is,`Iyān could still be the name of a spirit or non-/pre-Arabian deity.  If so, where does this entity come from, from what culture, what tribe, what area, and what would a more native interpretation of the name be?  What does this entity do, and who are its two sons?
  • Just because there hasn’t been a specific spirit-based use for the original chant “O ye two sons of `Iyān, hasten ye with the explanation!” doesn’t mean that there can’t be one ever.

Once more, my thanks to Dr. Amina Inloes, Nick Farrell, and Arlechina Verdigris for helping me with organizing my thoughts, refining my ideas, providing me with useful materials, and in general being wonderful people in my life.  May God and the gods bless you all.

A Devotional Questionnaire

Recently I was browsing the good Sannion’s blog, and he mentioned something about a polytheist meme that one of his colleagues had posted. Turns out, Galina Krasskova over at Gangleri’s Grove had posted a type of questionnaire to help with interfaith and cross-tradition discussion, specifically to “get the ball rolling” on discussing our own paths and practice. I thought it was a fascinating set of questions, so I decided to try my hand at answering them for myself. These types of probing questionnaires are nearly always helpful to clarify one’s own situation and view thereof, and this was no exception. While Galina is writing a full post for each answer to her 24 questions, I contented myself by condensing them to simple paragraphs unless necessary.

As I read it, Galina’s questionnaire was probably intended more for people in traditions with set names, such as “Asatru” or “Hellenismos”. I don’t really fall into any one category; I work with the Greek gods and am a priest of Hermes, and I work with the saints and angels of God and perform devotion to God as well as the Logos and the Pneuma. My work as a ceremonial Hermetic magician only complicates matters further, so I’m really sorta winging it in my life on my own amalgamating Hermetic path. That said, this gives me all the more reason to try to answer these questions for myself.

  1. What wealth have the divinities brought into your life?
    Oh jeez. The love of my life, a stable job with good pay, continued health, safe travels and journeys, abundant knowledge, good friends, an understanding and loving family that knows to give me space and distance, protection and safety, skill in crafting and engineering (software and otherwise)…it’s hard to list them all. I attribute what successes I have to the gods or to my talent (itself given by the gods) or to my friends (themselves led to me and I to them by the gods). What poverty and paucity I have is from not living my life right according to the gods, or misusing my talents in ways that the gods never intended me to.
  2. What does your tradition do to increase the power and flow of blessings?
    Prayer, right living and right mindsets, ritual to come to know the gods, sacrifice to please the gods, vows and offerings to exchange work with the gods, meditation to know what’s truly a blessing and what’s not or to know what I should ask for and what I shouldn’t ask for, and the like.
  3. How have the divinities helped you in times of adversity and violent upheaval?
    I can’t really say that they have, only because my life has been blessedly free of upheaval. What troubles I have, the gods preserve me with consolation, comfort, and talking things through; they give me aid and luck when I need it, and direction and strength if I call upon it. They’re kind to me, and I honor them for that. My life has been exceedingly lucky at just the right times, just when I need the help, and I thank them by living my life well and making good and proper use of the help they give me. In doing so, this keeps my life free from adversity and upheaval as much as possible, living the life I’m supposed to live and how I’m supposed to live it. The trials they give me are never more than I can bear, and they either exhort me to action or offer me the advice I need to surpass them. I have not yet been through a time when the gods have forsaken me, and I pray I never do.
  4. What are some of the ways that you communicate with the divinities?
    Divination, oracular media, watching for omens, prayer, and simply chatting with them as I would any dear and respected friend. Sometimes they’re always with me and able to communicate; sometimes I have to go to an altar or a shrine where their power is focused enough to communicate clearly. Sometimes I have to go through ritual in order to access them; sometimes I can ping them with a mere thought and they reply. Depends on the spirit.
  5. If you could travel anywhere on pilgrimage where would it be and what would you do?
    Probably Mt. Kyllini in Western Corinth, Greece, birthplace of Hermes, son of Zeus and Maia. I’d like to go mountain climbing there, perhaps find a cave where I can make some offerings in privacy, take some dirt or vines for the place for use in devotional tools and offerings back home, and get a good meal from local restaurants.
  6. What does it feel like when one receives inspiration from the divinities?
    It may not feel like much at all, really. Physically it might be felt like an uncharacteristic gleam in the eye, a sudden temperature change in the body, or a short blackout when suddenly you’re buying something you had no plans to purchase. Mentally, it might feel like a thought or good idea popping into the head, or a dim recollection of something you never knew you witnessed.
  7. What offerings do you make in your tradition and why?
    Depends on the spirit being offered something, really. I always light at least one candle, no matter who I’m offering something to, and almost always burn incense pleasing to the spirit (heather for Dionysus, frankincense for the angels, patchouli for the ancestors, etc.). Burnt offerings have always been held in high esteem, and it takes something firmly out of this world and gives it entirely to the spirits; it’s an efficient way to do sacrifice. Beyond that, I generally make offerings of alcohol, such as wine to the gods or rum to the ancestors, since these are volatile substances with a good spiritual kick in them (in several senses of the word). Devotional acts are also common, such as helping to pick up litter when performing a devotion to land spirit or acts of charity in the name of the saints, since it helps me make a change in the world using my own power and means when material offerings aren’t as needed. Whatever’s asked of me that I can give, I give; generally the spirits don’t ask for anything that would put me in too dire of harm, but when they say “jump”, it’s extraordinarily rare for me to ask anything else besides “how high”.
  8. What methods of inducing altered states of conscious does your tradition have?
    Hm…the two main sources for this in my practice are the Christian-Hermetic tradition and the more blatantly pagan one. In the former, choices are limited: fasting, meditation, and prayer can help build up to a state of ecstasy, though it can be slow-going at times. In the latter, pretty much anything goes, though a loosening of the mind is most easily achieved with wine or rum (or gin). There’s really nothing stopping me here from using drugs or states of trance obtained through relaxation, so anything goes so long as it works. I personally prefer a light buzz from wine or rum along with good-tasting tobacco. I’ve also noticed that drumming has a more powerful effect on me than I thought it would, so anything with a good and steady and (most importantly) loud beat can get me up and out easily, including a 4/4 timed dance song heavy on the bass.
  9. How does your tradition handle wrathful, savage and destructive divinities?
    My first inclination is to reply “carefully”, but who am I kidding? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was straight-up known for being a volcano unfortunately-underendowed Canaanite plains storm god who made a habit out of flooding the world and cursing those who dared eat a banana the wrong way. The apple didn’t far fall from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, either, with his son Jesus, who threw fits in public spaces and chased after economists with whips (which I find kinda endearing) and publicly mocked his followers for being dimwitted idiots (which didn’t change much after the Transfiguration and sending upon of the Holy Spirit). Dionysus, the good cousin to Jesus, had his epithets and images of the bull for a reason, and being the son of another thunder-god definitely knew how to cause chaos and turmoil where he went (and not in the orgiastic and ecstatic way, either). Honestly, the best way to deal with these types of divinities is to either not work with them at all and treat them as facts of life that must be worked with respectfully and honorably instead of conquered, or to placate them when possible and give them restraint and discipline. Mars in Orphic and Roman religion, after all, was both a god of war and a god of agriculture, using steel for swords as well as plows, and by propitiating him with good times (Venus and Bacchus, who could turn that down with sexy-strong Mars?), he would lay down the spear to aim for “gentle works” instead. Wrathful gods abound; they have their place, especially when wrath and “tough love” is needed. I’m not opposed to letting wrathful gods have free rein when it’s called for, but once their objective is attained, it’s time to let the wrath go by propitiation and sacrifice and thanksgiving.
  10. Have you encountered any obstacles as a result of your religion?
    Socially, no. I pass as pagan enough in pagan circles, magicky enough in magic circles, and Christian enough in Christian circles. One of my friends has commented that I have a type of personality and energy behind me that “delightfully meshes with but not of any particular force or religion”. When it comes to devotion, it’s all a matter of fulfilling my duties to my gods and my calling; sometimes it can be difficult, but they’re never insurmountable. Mostly these things involve me going out of my way to show them my devotion, doing something extra besides the usual offering of wine and honor. Of course, wine and candles and incense and altar gifts add up over time financially, but I make enough money where it’s just another expense that I live with contentedly like I would rent or a phone bill.
  11. What blocks to devotion have you had to overcome?
    Time constraints, primarily. Faith is easy, and experimentation too. I don’t need massive funds to maintain my work; a cup of wine here and there, a candle lit, and incense sweetening the airs is all I need to buy, and I can do my devotions on my bed as well as I can any full temple.
  12. What sort of festivals, memorials or seasonal observances do you keep throughout the year?
    Plenty. Primarily, the monthly ritual to Hermes I do on the fourth of the lunar month. I try to do a lunar ritual on the night of the Full Moon if the sky is clear, and a star ritual on the night of the New Moon likewise, but if the weather is bad, I skip it and wait for the weather to be clear on the following month. A few feast days here and there I hold extra prayers or offerings on, but nothing really tied much to the seasons.
  13. Have you ever found it difficult to uphold your end of a bargain with the divinities?
    Not really. What bargains I make, I make sure I can pay off, and I work out my terms of payment with the gods ahead of time before I agree to anything. The only issues I have are with timing, such as vowing to offer a bottle of wine on the day of my return from a trip but being too tired to actually do so; in these cases, I simply pay off the vow when I can and ask if there’s anything I can do to make up for the lost time. Beyond that, though, the gods haven’t asked me (yet?) for anything not in my reach or ability.
  14. What role does mystery play in your tradition?
    Many magicians follow the four rules of the Sphinx: to know, to dare, to will, to keep silent. that final part is about mysteries, things that one has to be initiated into in order to fully understand and reap the benefits of. Most of what I do would, technically, be considered a mystery: the initiations of the planets and elements and the stars, K&CHGA, knowing the abodes of the gods, and the like. Anything that is not apparent, anything esoteric is a mystery, and must be worked towards and into. To simply read or be told of something is just to know about it, but to live and experience it is to be initiated into the mystery. Some things I cannot know or do since I am not initiated into these things; if I’m to know or do them, I seek the initiation, like being baptized first before taking Christian communion or receiving an empowerment before reciting a particular Vajrayana mantra. Initiations and mysteries go hand-in-hand, if not the same hand itself, so it’s pretty important. Plus, if one doesn’t respect initiations and tries to go ahead and do something in the mystery anyway, that only leads to bad, at best cultural appropriation and at worst utter ruin due to hubris.
  15. What methods does your tradition employ for protection and the warding off of malign influences?
    The general rule I’ve found, no matter what tradition I look at, is that no matter how big something coming at you may be, always call on something bigger to come at it. Whether it’s calling on the Almighty to protect one from demons, Typhon-Set to bully the gods into a certain action, or a powerful angel to keep one safe at night, asking for the help of those you work with is the first thing you do. Having an extra set of eyes and hands to watch and guard your back in a world and life where everything is both seen and unseen, front-facing and backwards, is the most useful thing you can do. Building up power on your own and exercising it (daily energy work and physical training), relying on the world around us to protect ourselves (secure locks and strong oils), and the like are also vital to one’s protection. Banishing and cleansing are regular things I do for my living and work area, and I frequently keep up on my offerings to sweeten and propitiate the spirits I work with to keeping me and mine safe, as well as to put a good word in with the other spirits of the cosmos that I’m a cool guy and other spirits should be cool with me.
  16. What devotional goals have you set for yourself?
    Speaking abstractly, more work and action. I’m here to do my work, to do the magic, so to do anything else unrelated to that is me not doing my job. More specifically, I try to learn more about the gods I work with and engage in a deep, ecstatic relationship with those that are proper, or learn about the arts and skills and dedications of their crafts, or facilitate their influences and powers where they’re needed in the world. Even more specifically, this boils down to listening to the gods more, studying more about practices to them both ancient and new, and involving them in every aspect of my life where they’re called for. The converse of this is to get off my ass more, stop dicking around so much on the computer, and using my time more efficiently and effectively.
  17. What qualities should a leader in your tradition possess?
    Spiritually cool (clear-headed, not impulsive, unbiased, respectful, humble), able to communicate effectively (well-spoken and well-written), learned and educated in a wide variety of subjects both spiritual and material, experienced in ritual and crafting, able to improvise, possessing a strong memory, compassionate and empathic (able to deescalate tense situations, crisis manager, understanding of personal issues, perceptive). Just a few things I’d consider important.
  18. What does fertility mean to you?
    Being able to produce anything from oneself. Being a gay man with absolutely no interest in childbearing or childrearing (I would like a child one day, deep-fried), I don’t really have much to contribute to humanity or my family in means of bringing in new humans to the world, the mass of which I’m not a fan of generally. However, there’s a lot more to creation than mere procreation, and Venus (the planet of both) runs very strong in me. Writing, drawing, painting, woodcrafts, smithing, jewelry making, carving, engineering, code development, calligraphy, and the like are all things that require innovation and power to bring into the world; in each case, you’re making something new where there was nothing before. This is the true meaning of being a creator, just as Hermes Trismegistus has prayed: “o light of mind…o life of life…of womb of every creature…o womb pregnant with the Father’s nature…o eternal permanence of the begetting Father”. We all are capable of creating, and we all are capable of being filled with creation; even the most barren and infertile earth can be used to make clay. How we express that fertility, however, depends on our own inclinations, and not everyone is meant for human children.
  19. How do you incorporate movement into your worship?
    Not much. I might make some ritual gestures here and there, such as those for the elements or the planets, or kneel with arms orans before an altar. For other rituals, I might acknowledge the four corners by turning and greeting them, or draw out circles in the around. At free-standing shrines or monuments, I like to circumambulate them clockwise in respect several times before proceeding with anything more. Dancing doesn’t have a large part in my spiritual work, or at least not yet.
  20. Does your religion help you to be a better human being?
    Yes, but how depends on your notion of “human being”. To me, a true human (in the vein of Herbert’s Bene Gesserit) is someone who is fully aware of where they come from, where they’re going, and the divinity within them and in all other things; you can call this a bodhisattva, a prophet, a sanctus/a/um, Ipsissimus, whatever. This requires gnosis and full self-divinity that can only be realized through the Logos and the spiritual transformation that it delivers, but whether that Logos is given through Dionysus or Hermes or Christ or Buddha Shakyamuni is irrelevant, since they all give Logos in their own logoi. Being a “better human being” (kinder, more compassionate, more self-aware, more peaceful, etc.) follows as a result from that.
  21. Have you ever had dreams or visions sent by the divinities?
    Very rarely. Dreams are usually not my thing, and between having shoddy dream memory to begin with as well as not having enough time to sleep comfortably regularly, dreams are generally a poor way to contact me. Visions, on the other hand, are another thing; I’ll often be taken on vision-walks or impromptu scrying sessions when I’m at the altars of the gods or saints, and they’ll show me fascinating things that are often highly pertinent to what I’m doing in my life. Something out-of-the-blue that overwhelms me, though, hasn’t occurred yet.
  22. What customs are associated with the home and family in your tradition?
    Not much. I was raised in a mostly areligious household with very faint Jewish leanings, and we celebrated Chanukkah and Christmas (the latter more for family with no mention of religion). We didn’t do anything else in my family.
  23. When did it first dawn on you that the divinities are real?
    I can’t remember time when I didn’t think they were real. I’ve always had a magical perspective on the world, and the existence of spirits was just a piece to the puzzle that fit in quite nicely early on. As for my own divinities, I pretty much accepted their existence as a truth and fact as I studied the old myths and stories, just as the ancients might’ve. There was plenty of discovery once I really opened myself up to them, but their existence and reality was pretty much never in question.
  24. What have you inherited from your ancestors?
    Besides a bunch of antiques and hand-me-down knickknacks (I can hear them getting all huffy as I call them that, nyeh nyeh), my own life. I literally would not exist without my ancestors, their lives, and their works, so I owe my life and existence to my ancestors. This isn’t just those of my blood and kin, but also of my faith and traditions, so I consider my ancestors all those upon whom my life is based: my blood lineage; Hermeticists, Christians, Jews, pagans; Egyptians, Palestinians, Ukrainians, Russians, Greeks, Romans, Italians, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, Native Americans; computer scientists, mathematicians, astronomers, astrologers, geomancers, engineers, and so very, very many more. All of my blood in my veins comes from my family; all of my Works come from my traditions; all of my crafts come from my teachers; all of my thoughts come from my philosophies. More than any single ritual, possession, name, or title, the ability and knowledge of the things I do and can do are the most important and valued possessions I have from my ancestors.

Give the questions a try, yourself. Depending on your path (so much use of that word, “depend”), you might need to write more than me or less than me. I’d be excited to see what you guys say about your own work!