On Repurposing Ritual Parts for New Practices

This PGM train won’t stop, at least, not yet.  I hope you’re not bored of this talk of the Greek Magical Papyri, dear reader, because there’s so many awesome things about it, not least for its historical value in understanding some of the origins and foundations of Western magical practice as we know it today and how their rediscovery continues to shape it in modern occulture, but because of all the wonderful techniques they contain.  And just think: what we have in Betz’s famous translation is still only a fraction of what’s still out there, both discovered and undiscovered, translated and untranslated.

So, I meant to have this post out shortly after the ritual writeup of the Royal Ring of Abrasax was put up, but then the last post happened where I also introduced it, so…whoopsie.  Anyway, this ritual, PGM XII.201—269, describes the consecration of a kind of ring of power, “useful for every magical operation and for success”, which it claims is constantly sought after by kings and other types of rulers.  In a sense, this particular ring can act as a general phylactery or protective charm against spirits in magical works and conjurations as well as a charm for success, victory, and fortune in all of one’s endeavors.  In some sense, it can be considered something resembling a conceptual forerunner of the Ring of Solomon known to later magicians; this isn’t to say that PGM XII.201—269 is an ancestor of the Ring of Solomon, but it indicates a transition of magical rings and how they evolved from simple empowerment and fortune charms into phylacteries and guarantors of magical success.  If you haven’t seen my write-up and analysis yet, it’s up under the Occult → Classical Hermetic Rituals menu.  Take a look!  It’s a fine example of a solid Graeco-Egyptian consecration ritual which can be seen as a kind of forerunner to later Hermetic and Solomonic ones.

The reason why I’ve been looking over this ritual is because Gordon White over at Rune Soup used this ritual as his (only) group exercise for his recent 2018 Q2 course on the PGM.  It’s an excellent course, as I’ve mentioned before, especially as it focuses less on the actual rituals present in the PGM and more about the background, context, development, and general methodology behind them.  Of course, it’s not like Gordon only wanted to just talk about them, but he wanted to get people up and running with them in a sensible way that involves some measure of rigor and spiritual connection.  For that purpose, Gordon set up a group exercise for those participating in the course to recite a portion of PGM XII.201—269 as a kind of semi-self-initiation before other PGM work.  As to how, specifically, Gordon accomplishes this, I recommend you head over to Rune Soup to check out the members section and go through his course material.  It’s worth the small cost of admission, I claim.  Just because the course is finished doesn’t mean you can’t perform the self-initiation ritual at any time you want or need, especially now that a current-connection has already been established in the same way by quite a number of other magicians.

Gordon explains his reasoning for adapting this ritual for this purpose at the end of the first module of the course.  Essentially, the author (or compiler) of these parts of the PGM texts was, in all likelihood, an actual Egyptian initiated priest who moonlighted as a magician-for-hire.  Because of his initiated status, he had access and license to work with the gods and spirits found in the PGM in such a way that we never can at this point, or at least, not in the same way; those initiations and lineages are long since vanished, and there’s no way to achieve the exact same status as our original author friend; as I’ve discussed before, lineage can make a world of difference when it comes to starting out at the same point of power based on initiation and lineage or the lack thereof.  To that end, Gordon set up a specially-modified form of PGM XII.201—269 as a sort of quick self-initiation into the powers and currents of the PGM to make our future PGM work that much more effective, serving as an introduction to the PGM powers.  Without performing such a self-initiation, it’s possible that we can get some results out of doing PGM work, but not necessarily to the same extent without a formal introduction, for which Gordon’s modified PGM XII.201—269 serves decently enough for any beginner to PGM-style magic.  Plus, it benefits from the fact that it’s a comparatively simple ritual (at least in Gordon’s modified form) without onerous barbarous names of power, which can be terrifying for those new to the PGM.

The Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual is not a particularly complex or difficult ritual to do; sure, there’s a bit of animal sacrifice involved, but that’s nothing that we can’t work with, either by actually bleeding the required birds or by making a sincere and appropriate substitution (I go over one such method in my write-up for those who are unable or unwilling to perform such a sacrifice, and for more information, check out my last post).  The main hymn of it is rather beautiful, but it also struck me as familiar, and I wasn’t entirely sure why that was the case.  It was some of the footnotes from Betz that tipped me off; part of the hymn was annotated with a reference to PGM XIII.734—1077, which titles itself the Tenth Book of Moses, from which the Heptagram Rite comes (along with its smaller variant the Calling of the Sevenths, aka Heptasphere).  The preliminary invocation of the Heptagram Rite (at least in its Major form that I’ve written about) is basically the entirety of the main hymn of the Royal Ring of Abrasax, just fleshed out with more barbarous names of power, including close variants of the same barbarous name that the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual centers around.  This was fantastic to discover on its own, that these two PGM sections from different papyri could be tied together in this way, but there was another part to discover; the end of the Tenth Book of Moses (after the Heptagram Rite is discussed) introduces a consecration for a particular kind of phylactery that, itself, bears many parallels to the consecration ritual of the Royal Ring of Abrasax.  So, not only do we have a near-identical prayer in these two PGM sections, but we even have a rough match of a consecration for a charm of power and protection!  Finding two such similar rituals in close proximity within the same PGM would be one thing (a la the Eighth Book of Moses from PGM XIII.1—343, 343—646, and 646—734), but this is an even more important realization.  It either indicates that both papyri were compiled or written by the same author, or that two separate authors had the same source for almost the same procedures; I’m not sure which is more likely, but both are exciting things.

However, the parallel parts between PGM XII.201—269 and PGM XIII.734—1077 are separated by quite a lot of content, and what’s present in one is not used in the same way as it’s used in the other.  The near-identical hymn that’s present in both is used for two radically different rituals: in PGM XII.201—269, it’s used as part of a consecration of a charm, and in PGM XIII.734—1077, it’s used as part of (what is essentially) a theurgic ritual.  It’s an interesting example of using the same ritual act or performance for different ends, especially because it’s in the source text of the PGM which we all admire and love.  What this indicates to me is that there’s an implicit acknowledgment that certain things can be used in different ways, a kind of magical upcycling or repurposing of techniques.  This isn’t particularly uncommon; after all, consider the PGM-style framing rite I put out a few days ago.  The vast majority of that is slapped together from a variety of PGM sources, picking and choosing this and that to come up with a more-or-less unified whole.  Heck, one of the sources I picked some techniques from, PGM IV.930—1114 (the Conjuration of Light under Darkness ritual) itself has the markers of being slapped together from two different rituals for different purposes brought into a more-or-less unified whole.  What I did to come up with my framing rite may not sit well with PGM-focused grimoire purists, but it’s solidly within the same tradition and following the same meta-methodology that’s present within the PGM itself.

Consider our modern use of PGM V.96—172, the Headless Rite.  Originally, it was intended as a simple exorcism, but thanks to the innovations of Aleister Crowley, it was adapted into a theurgic self-empowerment and self-elevation ritual, and the way he did it allows for further customizations to be made.  Where Crowley changed “deliver NN. from the demon that restrains him” to “hear me and make all spirits subject unto me” (a reuse of one of the last lines of the ritual), other adaptations can be made to the Headless Rite that can turn it from an exorcism ritual into a banishing, empowering, or theurgic ritual:

  • Exorcism: “Deliver NN. from the demon that restrains him!”
    • Here, NN. is the name of the person to be exorcised.
    • This is the original “rubric” as used in the PGM version of the text, since this was originally intended as an exorcism ritual.
  • Banishing: “Deliver me, NN., from any and all demons, death, defilement, illness, impurity, infirmity, pain, plague, or poison that restrains me!”
    • Here, NN. is your own name.
  • Empowering: “Subject to me all spirits so that every spirit whether heavenly or ethereal, upon the earth or under the earth, on dry land or in the water, of whirling air or rushing fire, and every spell and scourge of God may be obedient to me!”
    • This is the version used in Liber Samekh, which is just a more fleshed-out version of the charge used for donning the coronet, as discussed below.
  • K&CHGA: “Send to me my neverborn friend and guardian, my supernatural assistant, my agathodaimon, my holy guardian angel!  Send to me the spirit NN. whose duty it is to guide, lead, assist, and protect me through this and all lives!”
    • Here, NN. in this case refers to the name of the guardian angel, if known.  Otherwise, omit the use of a name entirely and refer to the guardian angel generally.

Consider also our modern use of the Orphic Hymns, especially those for the planets.  One of my good colleagues suggests that the original use of the Orphic Hymns were that they were to all be sung in succession as a kind of diagnostic theurgic rite so as to call out specific divinities that might be affecting someone at a given time, and not necessarily that individual hymns were to be used on their own.  Yet, magicians have been using them for centuries as individual prayers for individual entities outside their original contexts; consider what Cornelius Agrippa has to say about them in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy (book I, chapter 71):

Besides, with the divers sorts of the names of the Stars, they command us to call upon them by the names of the Intelligencies, ruling over the Stars themselves, of which we shall speak more at large in their proper place. They that desire further examples of these, let them search into the hymns of Orpheus, then which nothing is more efficatious in naturall Magick, if they together with their circumstances, which wise men know, be used according to a due harmony, with all attention.

After all, most people in the modern Hermetic/astrological magic scene (especially those who work outside the Golden Dawn and similar systems) are familiar with the use of the Orphic Hymns for the planets and use them in their rituals, whether as a kind of daily adoration of the ruling planet of the day or as part of a chant for the consecration of a planetary talisman during an election of that planet or for other purposes.  For instance, as a gesture of worship to Hermēs, I recite his Orphic Hymn whenever I enter a post office, no matter the day or time; this is certainly a modern adaptation of the use of such a prayer, and one that wouldn’t fit into any classical scheme except the broadest notions of “general worship”, but it goes to show that bits and pieces of ritual and religious texts can be used in ways that may not have been anticipated by their original authors, yet work well all the same for their new purpose.

In a similar vein, consider the use of the Psalms of the Old Testament.  These were originally devised as songs for worship, celebration, and religious meditation, yet parts of them have been in use in a variety of religious rituals and ceremonies; consider the Asperges Me, a few lines of Psalm 51 that’s recited in some Catholic Masses as well as in folk ceremonies of purification.  Heck, consider the wide and deep practice of psalm-based magic, where particular psalms are recited, either on their own or accompanying other ritual acts such as dressing and lighting candles.  A good example of a similar type of Old Testament-based magic is that of Draja Mickaharic’s Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets, where Mickaharic describes how to use individual verses of the minor prophetical books from the Old Testament for a variety of magical ends, including one chapter where every verse from an entire book can be used magically.  This is definitely magical repurposing on a whole new level, and yet is so firmly grounded and founded in classical magical meta-methodology that it’s hard to see how deep these foundations have been dug.

The trick when repurposing bits and pieces of extant ritual and texts, as always, is to be smart about it.  Cherry-picking without care or caution can get you into a lot of trouble real quickly, because not all individual parts of rituals can be extracted or extrapolated for different use.  For instance, the Conjuration of Light under Darkness is absolutely a conjuration ritual, combined from a lamp divination spell and a theophanic ritual.  However, at a large scale, the Conjuration as a whole cannot be adapted to the conjuration of other entities generally, like how the Trithemian rite of conjuration I use can be used for angels, natal genii, genii loci, and so forth with the right adaptations; instead, it’s pretty specifically geared to the conjuration and communion of one entity.  However, particular parts of this ritual may be used outside of it; I chose the Light-Retaining Charm and the Dismissal of Light, specifically, which kind of come as a set, since if you use one, you need the other.  My whole dismissal prayer I use is cobbled together from two different PGM sources (PGM I.262—347 and PGM VII.930—1114) which work well when mixed together due to overlap of particular phrases, and the fact that they do the same thing.

The compatibility and extensibility of particular techniques, and at what level and for what purpose, is important to consider when trying to pick and pull things together.  This can be difficult with PGM stuff, given the use of barbarous names of power; in general, we don’t know what they mean, and so we don’t know if we’re calling on something generally by their use in a given situation or if we’re calling on something particularly specific for a specific function.  Moreover, we don’t know whether what we’re calling is compatible only with its original context and not with the repurposed one we’re putting it to.  What makes things dicey is that we can’t just omit the barbarous names of power, either; consider Zoroaster’s injunction #155 from the Chaldaean Oracles, “change not the barbarous Names of Evocation for-there are sacred Names in every language which are given by God, having in the Sacred Rites a Power Ineffable”.  The words have power, which is why we say them; to remove the words is to remove the power, and to change the words is to change the power.  Better to use them than not, where present, unless you know precisely what you’re doing and how to get around it.  That’s why one of the reasons it took me so long to cobble together a PGM-style framing rite from off-the-shelf PGM pieces, because I needed to make sure that they were either naturally general enough to be used, or could safely be made general while still being effective as well as compatible with the other parts I was using.

The reuse of the hymn to the Agathos Daimōn between the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual and the Major Heptagram Rite presents us with a unique opportunity, then, to see how one particular magical technique can be repurposed and even reworded; note that the Royal Ring of Abrasax version of the hymn contains far fewer barbarous names, indicating that—perhaps—not all of those are needed here for this purpose, or their use would have been more appropriate to a theurgic ritual rather than a consecration ritual, or that their use was not needed at all for the sake of praising and honoring the Agathos Daimōn.  Noting how the same prayer can be used in different rituals, it’s also easy (and, I’d argue, fruitful) to think how the prayer can be used in other contexts, such as in a daily prayer routine alongside other PGM-derived prayers like PGM IV.1115—1167 (the Hymn of the Hidden Stele, which has no purpose stated either as a header or as part of this section of the PGM) or PGM IV.1167—1226 (the Stele of Aiōn, which works as both a powerful prayer generally as well as being “useful for all things; it even delivers from death”).

When going about cobbling together from parts of other rituals (PGM or otherwise), I would recommend to a few questions to bear in mind to make sure you’re on the right track:

  1. Have you studied or, even better, performed the original ritual you’re choosing parts from to get an intimate understanding of what it does, both as a collection of ritual parts and as a unified whole?
  2. What is the nature of the original rituals, both as a whole and as parts, and how does it compare with the goal of the new ritual, both as a whole and as parts?
  3. What entities are being called upon in the original ritual, and do they conflict with other entities from other original rituals?
  4. Does the part of the original ritual being chosen require something else to be done with it, or can it stand alone on its own?
  5. Can the part being chosen from the original ritual be picked up and used as it is, or does it require modifications to wording or performance?
  6. Does the original ritual use barbarous or divine names of power?  Does the intent behind them in the context of the original ritual work for a different use?
  7. Can the charge or purpose of the part being chosen from the original ritual be modified or generalized while still keeping true to the power of the original ritual?
  8. Is taking a part from an original ritual really needed?  Is that part serving an actual use or function within the cosmological and methodological understanding of the new ritual?
  9. Is a new ritual being put together from parts of original rituals necessary, or will an original ritual suffice, either with or without modifications to charges, commands, or ritual implements?

There is value in knowing and understanding the dozens, hundreds of rituals in the PGM, or in any system or tradition or collection of magical works, and accomplished magicians can pull any ritual they need from their handbooks or private collections to accomplish anything they need or want.  However, there is at least as much value in being able to understand the parts of those same rituals, know what works, know what can be extended or abridged or adapted, and being able to whip something up (big or small) from parts off the shelf that’s at least as effective because they know how to plug certain ritual actions into each other.  The trick is being smart about it and knowing what can—and should—plug into what.

De Regnis: Breathing, Intonation, and Prayer

Although most of my writing is visible and accessible through my blog and my ebooks, there are a bunch of writing projects that I don’t necessarily intend for public release.  When I was recently going through my old documents folder on my computer, I found a writing project I had intended to be a compendium of Hermetic and Neoplatonic knowledge, guidance, and advice that would serve to document my understandings and work as a textbook unto itself, both for my benefit and any who might come after me.  This project, De Regnis or “On Kingdoms”, got pretty far along before it got abandoned, though parts of it serve as seeds or are outright cannibalized for some of my other works.  Though I have no plans to continue writing this text, I want to share some of the sections I wrote that can act as a useful introduction to some of the practices of Hermetic magic in a modern context.  My views and practices and experiences have grown considerably since then, but perhaps it can help those who are just getting started or are curious about how to fortify their own practices and views.  If you have any views, comments, suggestions, or ideas on the topics shared in this post, please feel free to share in the comments!

Today’s selection will be on the topics of breathing, intonation, and prayer.

On Breathing

Proper breathing involves the use of the nose to both inhale and exhale, as well as extending the abdomen instead of the chest when filling the lungs. These are important traits to get the most use from the lungs without being too abrasive or rough on the respiratory system. Most of the capacity for air in the lungs is toward the bottom, but expanding the chest to fill the lungs concentrates the air toward the top where the lungs make less use of the air. By extending the abdomen slightly instead of the chest, one can take deeper, longer breaths that fill the lungs up more completely. A deep, complete breath fills up the lungs from the bottom to the top, expanding the abdomen first and then the chest; when exhaling, the top of the chest is pulled in first, emptying out the lungs from top to bottom. Using the nose to inhale helps clean the air flowing into the lungs from the outside while moisturizing it to keep from drying out the lungs; similarly, using the nose to exhale keeps more moisture within the body. Using the mouth to breathe is nearly always poor practice except when large amounts of air are needed quickly.

The basic means of controlling one’s breath is to be aware of the process of breathing itself. To begin, sit comfortably with the back straight, with the legs cross comfortably atop each other as on a cushion or with the feet flat on the floor and thighs parallel to it as in a chair. While breathing slowly but steadily and comfortably, divert the mind to pay attention to how the chest rises and falls, how the abdomen extends and contracts, how the lungs feel when full and empty, how the nose inside feels when air flows through it, how the outside of the nose and upper lip feels when air moves across it, how the air smells, how the air tastes, and so forth. Importantly, one should be aware of breathing itself, not the process, memories, or sensations experienced as a result of breathing. Breathing should be, at least initially, maintained as an exercise in awareness and not in contemplation or to be used as a foundation for other thoughts. When other thoughts beside the act of breathing intrude, let them go, put them away for later, but return to the act of breathing. Breathing with awareness should be practiced for at least five minutes a day every day for a beginner, working up to ten, then twenty, then indefinitely.

Once the ability to breathe simply and with awareness has been established, practice the fourfold breath technique. To start, clear out the lungs by making a short, popping, “p-p-p-p-p” sound with the mouth, expelling the lungs of all air. This done, breathe in for four counts (second, heartbeats, or whatever unit of time feels comfortable), hold the breath for four counts, exhale completely over four counts, and hold the lungs empty for four counts. Try not to shut off the throat or nose when holding the lungs full or empty of air. Although one is encouraged to count mentally to four in the beginning, the rhythm of breathing in the fourfold breath should become natural and without the need to mentally time the breath. Attempt to perform the fourfold breath exercise with awareness as before. Repeat the process for at least five minutes a day every day until it can be maintained indefinitely.

On Intonation

Intonation is the act of using the voice to project oneself forcefully, clearly, and intentfully. Those who are trained in singing, public speaking, or neurolinguistic programming may already under-stand such an act, but most people know only how to use their voice to speak, whisper, and yell.While these methods of using the voice have their place in ritual, intonation is the use of the entire body to speak aloud and not simply the voice and mouth.

Although speaking is essentially a physical process, the use of the voice to speak also involves two other magical skills: breathing and the mental ability to produce words and ideas. Voice is the ability to combine the two into a single process, taking the spirit and mind and transforming them into a perceptible physical sensation. This gives these things form and communicates them to other people, something that mere thought alone or mental projection cannot accomplish except in the most adept of spiritual workers. Not only can the combined use of breath and thought communicate to other people, but the spiritual component of the two can do the same for spirit sand immaterial, nonphysical entities. Just as people can be snapped to attention and commanded,so too can forceful and correct use of intonation bring about change and command in the spiritual realms of the cosmos.

Intonation has the effect of vibration on the body and diaphragm, and is indeed called “vibrating” words or sounds by some groups of magicians. It is similar to the act of singing, where one uses both the throat, chest, and belly to project the voice. To practice this, sit or stand straight and practice deep breathing for a short while. Once the breath is regulated, extend the arms out to the sides, take a deep breath and project the sound “ah” from the belly. Let it reverberate from you,slowly at first until it spreads up through your chest, then through the arms to the fingers, then out through the mouth. Hold the voice steady, letting no vibrato give a warble to the voice; control the voice. Do this at a low singing voice first, then try it again with a slightly louder voice, then a quieter voice. Try it later with a slightly higher pitch, then a lower pitch. Repeat this process over several days until the sound “ah” can be intoned at any level of loudness and pitch that you can naturally make without causing a sore throat or hoarseness.

Once the sound “ah” can be intoned well, repeat the process with other sounds. First attempt other vowels: “eh”, ”ee”, “oh”, “augh”, “oo”, and so forth. Once these are mastered, attempt simple consonants with vowels: “kah”, “gah”, “tah”, “dah”, “lah”, “rah”, “sah”, “zah”, and so forth with other consonants and with other vowels. Repeat the process with disyllabic words, then longer words. After some practice, any word will be able to be intoned easily but forcefully.

On Prayer

Prayer is the act of calling out and invoking the attention, aid, and power of another entity upon which one relies. Generally, this is to higher beings such as saints, gods, or God, but is essential to communication with any divine or spiritual entity. Prayer may also be done with oneself as a guide or method of meditation or contemplation, focusing inwardly to the soul instead of outwardly to the spirits. Either way, prayer is a method of communication and communion with the divine.

Prayer may be done spoken or silent, alone or in a group, standing or sitting. However, it is generally good practice to pray alone and either kneeling or standing, with the hands clasped, pressed together, or outstretched. In practice, this is similar to or performed identically as contemplation,except on a practice or offering to the Divine or a particular aspect of it. Absorbing oneself in prayer is key to coming in true contact with the Divine. Prayer may be performed off of a set prayer memorized or written down, or it may be spontaneous and come from the heart; set prayers may be preferred for repeated rituals, while spontaneous prayer is better for contemplation and communion in the moment itself with the Divine. The location of prayer is similarly performed at the same place, such as in a temple or at a particular altar, or it may be made as one walks and travels around in the world. The means by which one prays can be intensely personal or highly communal with others, either controlled and rehearsed or free and ecstatic. Even if a prayer is rehearsed and read aloud from a set written text, however, prayer should always come from the heart and meant with the mind, never simply being read aloud for its own sake.

The Twenty-Eight Faces of Mēnē

The devil of every author hit me the other day when I released my ebook on the Grammatēmerologion, the lunisolar calendar system I developed for associating the days of the lunar months to the letters of the Greek alphabet for my Mathesis work.  Every author can sympathize: within hours of my having made the damn thing public, I found something that would have been an excellent addition to incorporate into the text.  Damn shame, that.  Ah well, live and learn; besides, after actually thinking about it, I couldn’t find a way to incorporate that information neatly into the text anyway.  I’ll write about it here instead, for those who are interested.

To give some backstory, I’d like everyone to know that I first came across grammatomancy—the Greek alphabet oracle that assigns each of the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet to an oracular statement of advice or wisdom—from the Biblioteca Arcana, a treasure trove of pagan, occult, and theurgic resources in a Hellenic current as maintained by Apollonius Sophistes, better known as John Opsopaus.  I took the information from his site, reworked it a bit, expanded on it, and that’s how I got to my current form of grammatomancy, which kickstarted my whole Mathesis thing.  Well, Opsopaus put out a book last year, The Oracles of Apollo: Practical Ancient Greek Divination for Today, which I encourage many of my readers interested in Hellenic and Greek system of occult works to check out.  In that book, he lists a set of image-symbols to link to each of the Greek letters, as well as an ancient source for where he got them, such that the image of the ox is given to Alpha, the vulture to Bēta, and so forth.  Excitedly, I dashed off to check out the source, which of course is the Greek Magical Papyri.  What I found immediately brought to mind my beloved Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios ritual from PGM IV.1596—1715, except as a lunar parallel to that, with equally as little information in the PGM itself and with equally as much potential for expansion.

PGM VII.756—794, simply titled “Prayer”, is like the Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios in that all we have is the spoken text to be used for the ritual without any instructions or directions to use it.  The prayer consists of a reasonably short invocation to the moon goddess Mēnē (MHNH) under the power of the great divinity known throughout the PGM and many other magical texts for the past two thousand-some years, Iaō (ΙΑΩ).  However, again like the Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios, we get some special good insights into how we might think of or perceive the Moon as a sacred entity with many faces, forms, or approaches.  It’s not as complete as the Hēlios rite in that we don’t get names or specific blessings, but instead we get a set of 28 sacred images and 14 sacred sounds.

Below is my rendition of the prayer text, with minor edits to formatting and spelling:

I call upon you who have all forms and many names, double-horned goddess MHNH, whose form no one knows except him who made the entire world, ΙΑΩ, the one who shaped you into the twenty-eight shapes of the world so that they might complete every figure and distribute breath to every animal and plant, that it might flourish, you who grow from obscurity into light and leave light for darkness.

And the first companion of your name is silence,
the second a popping sound,
the third groaning,
the fourth hissing,
the fifth a cry of joy,
the sixth moaning,
the seventh barking,
the eighth bellowing,
the ninth neighing,
the tenth a musical sound,
the eleventh a sounding wind,
the twelfth a wind-creating sound,
the thirteenth a coercive sound,
the fourteenth a coercive emanation from perfection.

Ox, vulture, bull, beetle, falcon, crab, dog,
wolf, serpent, horse, she-goat, asp, goat, he-goat,
baboon, cat, lion, leopard, fieldmouse, deer, multiform,
virgin, torch, lightning, garland, a herald’s wand, child, key.

I have said your signs and symbols of your name so that you might hear me, because I pray to you, mistress of the whole world!
Hear me, the stable one, the mighty one,
ΑΦΕΙΒΟΗΩ ΜΙΝΤΗΡ ΟΧΑΩ ΠΙΖΕΦΥΔΩΡ ΧΑΝΘΑΡ ΧΑΔΗΡΟΖΟ ΜΟΧΘΙΟΝ ΕΟΤΝΕΥ
ΦΗΡΖΟΝ ΑΙΝΔΗΣ ΛΑΧΑΒΟΩ ΠΙΤΤΩ ΡΙΦΘΑΜΕΡ ΖΜΟΜΟΧΩΛΕΙΕ ΤΙΗΔΡΑΝΤΕΙΑ ΟΙΣΟΖΟXΑΒΗΔΩΦΡΑ

The final block of barbarous words, transcribed into Roman script:

APHEIBOĒŌ MINTĒR OKHAŌ PIZEPHYDŌR KHANTHAR KHADĒROZO MOKHTHION EOTNEU
PHĒRZON AINDĒS LAKHABOŌ PITTŌ RIPHTHAMER ZMOMOKHŌLEIE TIĒDRANTEIA OISOZOKHABĒDŌPHRA

The ritual is then concluded with that wonderfully vague direction so common in the PGM: “add the usual”.

One of the things Opsopaus describes about the ritual is that it gives 27 symbols of the Moon, which can be likened to the 27 main days of the lunar month (between the Noumenia and the Hene kai Nea, the first and last days of the month, just on either side of the New Moon itself).  To get 27 symbols instead of the 28 listed above (as in Betz), Opsopaus combines the symbols “multiform” and “virgin” into “multiform virgin”, which is to say the image of Hekate with three faces.  This is a reasonable leap to make; after all, the final set of symbols after that of the deer are all classically associated with Hekate, especially in the PGM.  Still, this is in disagreement with the Betz translation, which clearly distinguishes “multiform” and “virgin” as separate.  Additionally, by bringing the number of symbols down to 27, Opsopaus gets all seven Hekatē-related symbols together in the same seven-day week of the Moon.

However, I disagree with such a combining of “multiform” and “virgin” into a single symbol of “multiform virgin”.  Betz gives 28 symbols, and the prayer explicitly says in the introductory part “the twenty-eight shapes of the world so that they might complete every figure and distribute breath to every animal and plant”.  Plus, though Hekate is often reckoned as being a maiden-virgin, there are stories and myths where she gives birth to Kirke and Medea.  If we’re talking about multiple forms here, then, it makes more sense to me to consider “multiform” (i.e. triple-faced) and “virginal” as two separate faces of the Moon.  Even then, however, with 28 symbols, I couldn’t find a way to link them all to the letters of the Greek alphabet, which has either 24 letters (omitting the obsolete letters Digamma, Qoppa, and Sampi) or 27 (including the obsolete letters).  Given that 28 seems to be the more solid number to go on for this ritual, I’m hesitant to actually associate these symbols to the Greek letters, and would instead consider it its own separate symbol set; this is why I decided against trying to go back and include this information in my Grammatēmerologion text, and instead write about it here as its own separate thing.

So much for the 28 symbols given in the ritual; what of the fourteen “signs”, the sounds that the ritual gives?  Moreover, why fourteen?  I’d liken each of these to the stages of the Moon in terms of her brightness or lack thereof, such that on the first fourteen days of the lunar month (from New to Full), we’d associate that fullness of the Moon with that particular sign, and on the second set of fourteen days, the signs would be given in reverse order.  In other words, if we were to plot them out, we’d get a table like the following:

Day Sign Symbol
1 Silence Ox
2 Popping Vulture
3 Groaning Bull
4 Hissing Beetle
5 Cry of Joy Falcon
6 Moaning Crab
7 Barking Dog
8 Bellowing Wolf
9 Neighing Serpent
10 Musical Horse
11 Sounding wind She-goat
12 Wind-creating Asp
13 Coercive Goat
14 Coercive emanation from perfection He-goat
15 Coercive emanation from perfection Baboon
16 Coercive Cat
17 Wind-creating Lion
18 Sounding wind Leopard
19 Musical Fieldmouse
20 Neighing Deer
21 Bellowing Multiform
22 Barking Virgin
23 Moaning Torch
24 Cry of Joy Lightning
25 Hissing Garland
26 Groaning Herald’s wand
27 Popping Child
28 Silence Key

It’s tempting to think that the symbols are associated with the signs in some way, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  It’s equally tempting, at least for me, to shift some of the symbols around to match up with their signs, at least in the first 14-day period, such that e.g. horse matches up with neighing, or garland with “cry of joy” (in terms of a wedding garland or other celebratory crown).  Perhaps the orders of the signs and symbols could be experimented and toyed around with, and see if the order actually matters as given or if we could swap some of them around.  There might also be correspondences that could arise from mapping the two symbols together based on their shared sign, but I’m unsure about that; that could be slightly bigger a leap than I currently realize.

So, that’s the prayer and some beginning information on the contents thereof.  I have plans on expanding it into a full, multiply-repeated ritual a la the Twelve Faces of Hēlios ritual, perhaps one that actually spans a lunar month, building up the symbols day by day and actually using the signs in the ritual as a means of focusing concentration and power…even though some of them don’t seem like actual sounds one could make, except as soundless spiritual vibrations that would cause spiritual effects.

In the meantime, what I would recommend (and what I plan on trying out for my own first attempt) is to perform the ritual on the last day of the lunar month before or on the New Moon, the Greek Henē kai Nea also known as Hekatē’s Deipnon, between sunset and sunrise, probably at solar midnight when the Moon is directly underfoot.  Face the North, and light three white candles; if you’re using an altar, these would be arranged in an upwards-pointing triangle towards the North, but if you’re not using a candle, you could use three candles put together in the same configuration on the ground before you or three candles arranged in a triangle around you in a large-enough “circle” to stand in and move about.  With the usual offerings you’d bring to a ritual of the Moon or to a Deipnon of Hekatē, arrange and make use of them as usual: food offerings, libations of dark wine, incenses, and so forth.  Recite the ritual as given above, making the associated sounds physically and/or spiritually (when appropriate) after their enumeration, and visualizing a circle of the symbols around you as you recite each symbol, starting from the North and going clockwise from there.  After the recitation of the barbarous names, give your charge to the Moon goddess Mēnē, and recite the barbarous names once more.  Conclude the ritual with your thanks, then leave the candles to burn out on their own.

A variant of this ritual that springs to mind immediately is, instead of doing the ritual on the New Moon, perform the ritual at the Full Moon instead, outside where you can see the Full Moon, when the Moon is highest in the sky.  Face the Moon, and arrange the candles in a downwards-pointing triangle instead of an upwards-pointing one.  Use the same process as above, perhaps beginning or concluding with my normal Full Moon invocation from the PGM.

Now to get the time and supplies and purpose arranged for such a ritual experiment, then getting a more elaborate system built up.  The next New Moon is just over two weeks away, after all.

On Orphic Hymns and Multiple Aspects of Gods

After making public my recent text on the Grammatēmerologion, the lunisolar calendar system I use for my Mathesis work, I’ve decided to go ahead and make another text for myself.  This latter text is something I don’t plan on making available, since it’s little more than a compilation of oracular verses, wisdom texts, and hymns; due to the copyrighted nature of some of the translations (even if I’m changing them heavily to reflect something I find more fitting based on alternative translations from the original Greek), I don’t think I can or should make this public, as it’d probably put me on uncomfortably thin ice that I don’t care to skate on.  If you’re interested in some of these original texts, here are some references for you to check out:

The reason for my compiling this new text is that…well, basically, I don’t like having books in my temple space.  It’s a personal quirk of mine, but if I can avoid it, I prefer to have my books on my bookshelves where the rest of them are, so that if I need to reference them, I can just reach out and grab one rather than have to enter my temple space unnecessarily.  For instance, I’ve had Dervenis’ Oracle Bones Divination stashed with my Greek stuff because it’s the text I use for astragalomancy, or Greek knucklebone divination; it’s been down there for quite some time, so it’s ended up picking up that faint incense smell common to books gotten from New Age stores.  I haven’t removed it from the Greek shrine area because I keep using it there, though at the cost of when I want to reference it, I typically put it off because I don’t like fiddling with my shrines if I’m not actually going to work with the shrines or, at least, not in a state of purity.  Now, by compiling my own text, I can print out a copy of what I need, store it in a binder, keep the binder in the temple, and move the book to its proper place back on the bookshelf.  I plan on also keeping a binder-copy of the Grammatēmerologion for much the same purpose, too.

It makes sense to me, at least.

One of the things I plan on including in this new binder-text are a selection of the Orphic hymns (Ὀρφικοί Ὕμνοι)—you remember those, right?  They’re the hymns that were commonly associated with the religious sect of Orphism in the classical age, and were further attributed to their mythological founder Orpheus.  Though they have mythological origins dating back to prehistory, it’s more likely that they were written anywhere from the 6th century BCE to the 4th century CE.  Among many other esoteric, ritual, magical, and religious texts, the Orphic Hymns have withstood the test of time as an inventory of some 90-ish (depending on how you count them) prayers that invoke the various gods, goddesses, and spirits of the Greek spiritual cosmos.  I’ve used them countless times both in my magical works as well as my religious offerings, and even Agrippa has great things to say about them when he discusses the power and virtues of prayers and hymns used as incantations both for religion and for magic (book I, chapter 71, emphasis mine):

Besides the vertues of words and names, there is also a greater vertue found in sentences, from the truth contained in them, which hath a very great power of impressing, changing, binding, and establishing, so that being used it doth shine the more, and being resisted is more confirmed, and consolidated; which vertue is not in simple words, but in sentences, by which any thing is affirmed, or denyed; of which sort are verses, enchantments, imprecations, deprecations, orations, invocations, obtestations, adjurations, conjurations, and such like. Therefore in composing verses, and orations, for attracting the vertue of any Star, or Deity, you must diligently consider what vertues any Star contains, as also what effects, and operations, and to infer them in verses, by praising, extolling, amplifying, and setting forth those things which such a kind of Star is wont to cause by way of its influence, and by vilifying, and dispraising those things which it is wont to destroy, and hinder, and by supplicating, and begging for that which we desire to get, and by condemning, and detesting that which we would have destroyed, & hindered: and after the same manner to make an elegant oration, and duly distinct by Articles, with competent numbers, and proportions.

Moreover Magicians command that we call upon, and pray by the names of the same Star, or name, to them to whom such a verse belongs, by their wonderfull things, or miracles, by their courses, and waies in their sphear, by their light, by the dignity of their Kingdome, by the beauty, and brightness that is in it, by their strong, and powerfull vertues, and by such like as these. As Psyche in Apuleius prayes to Ceres; saying, I beseech thee by thy fruitfull right hand, I intreat thee by the joyfull Ceremonies of harvests, by the quiet silence of thy chests, by the winged Chariots of Dragons thy servants, by the furrows of the Sicilian earth, the devouring Wagon, the clammy earth, by the place of going down into cellars at the light Nuptials of Proserpina, and returns at the light inventions of her daughter, and other things which are concealed in her temple in the City Eleusis in Attica. Besides, with the divers sorts of the names of the Stars, they command us to call upon them by the names of the Intelligencies, ruling over the Stars themselves, of which we shall speak more at large in their proper place.  They that desire further examples of these, let them search into the hymns of Orpheus, then which nothing is more efficatious in naturall Magick, if they together with their circumstances, which wise men know, be used according to a due harmony, with all attention.

But to return to our purpose. Such like verses being aptly, and duly made according to the rule of the Stars, and being full of signification, & meaning, and opportunely pronounced with vehement affection, as according to the number, proportion of their Articles, so according to the form resulting from the Articles, and by the violence of imagination, do confer a very great power in the inchanter, and sometimes transfers it upon the thing inchanted, to bind, and direct it to the same purpose for which the affections, and speeches of the inchanter are intended. Now the instrument of inchanters is a most pure harmoniacall spirit, warm, breathing, living, bringing with it motion, affection, and signification, composed of its parts, endued with sence, and conceived by reason. By the quality therefore of this spirit, and by the Celestiall similitude thereof, besides those things which have already been spoken of, verses also from the opportunity of time, receive from above most excellent vertues, and indeed more sublime, and efficatious then spirits, & vapors exhaling out of the Vegetable life, out of hearbs, roots, gums, aromaticall things, and fumes, and such like. And therefore Magicians inchanting things, are wont to blow, and breath upon them the words of the verse, or to breath in the vertue with the spirit, that so the whole vertue of the soul be directed to the thing inchanted, being disposed for the receiving the said vertue. And here it is to he noted, that every oration, writting, and words, as they induce accustomed motions by their accustomed numbers, and proportions, and form, so also besides their usuall order, being pronounced, or wrote backwards, more unto unusuall effects.

In my work, I typically use Thomas Taylor’s 1792 English translation, which are arguably among the most well-known and are useful in magic for their rhyming and well-metered format, though Apostolos Athanassakis put out a new translation in 2013 which is arguably more literal and faithful to the original Greek.  I’ll also take the opportunity to point out that Sara Mastros of Mastros & Zealot: Witches for Hire is making a new set of translations, as well, which you can check out on her Facebook page.  HellenicGods.org has the original polytonic Greek texts for the hymns as well, which are useful in their own times and needs.  All the same, regardless what translation or style you use, the Orphic Hymns have power that truly have withstood the test of time; I highly encourage you to use them, if you’re not yet doing so, or at least give them a read-over a few times, as they give period-appropriate descriptions of the gods the Hellenes and other Mediterranean peoples worshiped and invoked.

One of the things about the Orphic Hymns might confuse people is that there are sometimes multiple hymns for the same god; for instance, Zeus has three, Dionysos has four, Hermes has two, and so forth.  Each hymn, however, is clearly labeled as being distinct; Taylor gives the ones for Zeus as To Jupiter, To Thundering Jove, and To Jove the Author of Lightning, or in their respective traditional Greek appellations, Zeus, Zeus Keraunios, and Zeus Astrapaios.  Though these are all Zeus, what gives with the different prayers?  The idea lies in something called epithets and aspects of the gods, which was easily understood in Hellenic times but may not be as easily understood to us modern folk.  Basically, a single deity could reveal themselves in any number of ways, or take on special offices and patronage in certain circumstances that they wouldn’t necessarily take on otherwise, and each of these aspects had a different epithet to distinguish that specific instance of the god, and often had different temples as well.  For instance, Poseidōn is the lord of the seas, to be sure, but there’s also Poseidōn Sōter (who keeps people at sea safe), Poseidōn Asphaleios (the averter of earthquakes), and Poseidōn Hippios (creator and tamer of horses).  Poseidōn is Poseidōn is Poseidōn, but you wouldn’t go to Poseidōn Hippios to ask for no earthquakes in the coming year.  You can kind of think of it like how Mary mother of God is also Our Lady of Good Counsel, Our Lady of Navigators, Our Lady Undoer of Knots, or any other number of titles based on specific miracles she works or in particular places where she’s appeared; another modern parallel is the notion of caminos or “roads” of the orisha in Yoruba or Yoruba-derived religions like Lukumí.

For me, the idea of having multiple aspects of a god that can be approached separately isn’t hard to understand, but what does bring up an interesting problem is how to make use of some of these approaches in a modern system.  For instance, in my Mathesis work, I associate each of the letters of the Greek alphabet to an element, a planet, or a sign of the zodiac according to the rules of stoicheia.  It would be great, then, to have a deity presiding over each letter to approach that deity specifically for the blessings and wisdom of that specific letter.  However, there are overlaps between some of these sets of attributions.  For instance, Zeus is the god of the planet Jupiter as well as (according to Agrippa’s Orphical Scale of 12 in book II, chapter 14) the zodiacal sign Leo.  Moreover, using Empedoclēs as a guide for associating the gods to the elements (clarified by the ever-wonderful help of John Opsopaus), Zeus is also given rulership over the element of Air.  In this case, we have three separate patronages under one god, which could be considered three mathetic aspects of Zeus.  Not all the gods have this quality of having multiple stoicheic patronages, but a few of them do:

  • Aphroditē: ruler of the planet Venus and the zodiacal sign Taurus
  • Hermēs: ruler of the planet Mercury and the zodiacal sign Cancer
  • Hēra: ruler of the zodiacal sign Aquarius and the element Earth (according to Empedoclēs)
  • Zeus: ruler of the planet Jupiter, the zodiac sign Leo, and the element Air (according to Empedoclēs)
  • Arēs: ruler of the planet Mars and the zodiacal sign Scorpio

Unfortunately, of these gods, only Zeus has three separate Orphic hymns, and Hermēs only has two (one of which is for Hermēs Khthonios, or Underworld Hermēs, which I find most apt astrologically to represent Mercury retrograde).  This is also complicated by the fact that some stoicheic forces are associated with multiple entities I recognize that could be approached by, some of which have Orphic hymns and some don’t (those that do are linked in the list below):

  • Earth: Hēra,
  • Mercury: Stilbōn, Hermēs (when Mercury is direct), Hermēs Khthonios (when Mercury is retrograde)
  • Venus: Eōsphoros (when Venus sets before the Sun), Hesperos (when Venus sets after the Sun), Aphroditē
  • Mars: Pyroeis, Arēs
  • Jupiter: Phaethōn
  • Kronos: Phainōn

All this is made more complicated by the fact that the footnotes from Taylor can be both helpful (in understanding the writing of the Hymns) as well as confusing (for us outside a strictly Orphic system), such as in a footnote from the hymn for :

According to Orpheus, as related by Proclus, in Tim. p. 292. Earth is the mother of every thing, of which Heaven is the father. And the reader will please to observe, that, in the Orphic theology, Rhea, the mother of the Gods, the Earth, and Vesta, are all one and the same divinity, considered according to her essential peculiarities.

From that particular footnote, I glean two things:

  1. That the notion of aspects of gods is indeed something we should respect and understand in our modern practice, and even might be considered to apply at higher levels where individual un-epitheted deities may be aspects of a yet higher one (such as Rhea, Hestia, etc. of the Earth-Mother).
  2. That my attribution of the Sphairai of the Dyad according to my Mathetic Tetractys of Life to Heaven and the Earth is a solid one.

There’s also the issue of how far I want to go in associating some of the other entities of the Hellenic cosmos to the stoicheic forces based on what’s present in the Orphic Hymns.  For instance, there’s a hymn To Fire, but this is more accurately “To Aithēr”, and aithēr is a whole lot more than just fire, both cosmically and religiously; do I want to equate the two for the purposes of stoicheic associations?  What about Water with Okeanos, or Air with the hymns to the North, South, and West Winds?  Do I want to give Pan to Spirit, along with Dionysus, or should I give that slot (or both) to Nature instead?

So what does this all mean, and where does this all leave us?  For one, I doubt that any Orphics of the classical period managed to pass on their cult to the modern day, so I don’t think we have any living experts on the tradition to clarify some of the specific purposes of the Orphic Hymns to us, especially where one deity is given multiple hymns, sometimes according to multiple epithets and sometimes not, and even where epithets are given, they’re often exceedingly obscure (but if there are any, please feel free to hit me up, I’d love to ask you some questions).  For another, I’m reminded that my ideas for associating the letters of the Greek alphabet to the Hellenic theoi and daimones still need some refining, either so that I end up with only one entity per letter, find a single epithet or aspect of an entity that has multiple letters for each letter, or a neat system that can accommodate multiple entities per letter.    For yet another, given Taylor’s footnotes, I have quite a bit to read of Proclus and some of the other Neoplatonists so as to fortify my knowledge and make better-informed decisions about some of these associations.  This isn’t to say I’m looking to set the map in stone from the get-go without deeply exploring the terrain first, but that I’m trying to plan my best first attempt at exploration based on the knowledge and resources available to me.