When God Says No: On God and the Angels

Yes, another post from Curious Cat.  It’s honestly a great way for people to reach out to me, and it gives me a ready store of ideas for posts to write about.  (I’ve been asking for comments on my website, Facebook, and Twitter for ages for when people would like to ask questions, but people either just don’t do that or don’t generally trigger a post-writing reaction.)  Plus, according to Human Design (which my blessed sister studies and practices), I’m a so-called “manifesting generator” type, who responds well to being asked questions in order to produce and effect wonderful things.  But unlike other posts about things that come from questions on Curious Cat, this post is gonna be a little different; we’re going to discuss a common thread that ties together several different questions that were asked, all largely pertaining to angels, their role in the cosmos, how we interact with them, how we’re permitted to interact with them, and what their relationship is to God.  To give a brief summary of the questions asked and my replies to them:

  • Where do angels come from, and what are they?  God made them to carry out his will in infinitesimal slices of divine presence, made discrete and distinct to govern over specific things, entities, events, or phenomena of the cosmos.  Angels have no free will; by definition, their will is the will of God and vice versa, so that they act strictly and solely in accordance with, for, by, and to God.
  • If angels have no free will, then when we invoke or conjure an angel and commission it with a request, it can only fulfill this request if God wills it? Yes!  All the conjurations we do in the Western Hermetic and Solomonic tradition of higher entities, if we’re not taking the rather old-school approach of assuming divine power ourselves and browbeating the cosmos into complying with our (temporarily-assumed) divine will, is to supplicate God through prayer to reveal that he send his angels to us in his name for his honor and glory.  Thus, when we call on an angel, we’re essentially asking God to graciously give his permission for the angel to be sent to us, because God’s will and God’s will alone is what allows all things to happen; how much more this is the case, then, for entities whose sole purpose is to perfectly and only fulfill the will of God!
  • What sort of behavior do angels hate?  It depends on what they’re the angel of, but in general, angels don’t really “hate” because they don’t really do emotion, since they’re the embodiments of and agents for the will of God.  In that sense, angels “hate” anything that goes contrary to the will, design, aims, and goals of God—and, by extension, all that we do that goes against our True Will, which is nothing more or less than the will of God that is right and proper for us to will and accomplish in our lifetimes.
  • How can we discover our True Will if we’re unaware of it?  This is nothing short of the first half of the Great Work; the second half is fulfilling it.  And there is nothing harder or higher than to know and do what it is what we truly Will.  This is exactly the same thing as knowing the purpose God has established for us in life.
  • Why do angels hate emotion, then? Angels don’t hate emotion; they just don’t have it, or at least in any meaningful way that we might recognize as emotion.  We might perceive or interpret them to be acting emotionally, but that’s only because we ourselves are human and thus emotive creatures, while angels are utterly devoid of humanity and completely above and beyond our level, at least or especially where emotions are concerned.  Angels don’t have free will; they don’t even roll or blink their (innumerable) eyes without God willing it.
  • If an angel is being difficult, how do we complain to its manager?  If an angel is being difficult, it’s not because the angel is acting wily or being a punk for the sake of being a punk.  If an angel declines to do something, it’s because God declines to permit that thing from occurring; it’s not that the angels decide against it, but God decides against it.  That’s why, when we pray in conjuration for an angel to appear, we pray that God grant that it should happen (see above).  If something doesn’t happen, then there’s a reason for it; we either must work towards it so that we’re ready and proper for it in the eyes of God, or we must pray for the right thing to occur, whether it involves the conjuration and commissioning of an angel to do something or whether we should do something else entirely that would be better for us to do.
  • If God is unwilling to help us, would intervention from other deities from other traditions or pantheons help instead? Maybe, but if God’s decided against it, then there’s probably a good reason for that. It could be that you should look elsewhere for help, such as from another god or using another set of spirits or practices entirely to get the same thing done rather than by directly appealing to the Highest, but it could also be that you’re asking for the wrong thing entirely or that it’s not meant for you, whether now or at all. That’s where divination is crucial for magicians: it helps us plan out what we can do, but more than that, whether we should do something. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, and if you shouldn’t, you should learn the reasons why. In other words, don’t go shopping around for a second opinion when you already got The One Opinion To Rule Them All. Keep to the principle of “move, or move me”.
  • But when it comes to other gods, don’t they also share power over our reality as well?  Absolutely!  But for all their greatness and grandness and power, they’re not as great or grand or powerful as the cosmocrator God behind them all. And that’s okay, because they don’t need to be, and it’s often better to work with them directly if you’re in such a tradition than to work with the behind-the-scenes all-ruling One, because they’re more accessible. But there are limits in place that even they can’t argue with, because they’re not in charge of literally everything like God is.

All this ended up with me saying this from that last question in the series, which I want to specifically quote with a special emphasis on one particular line:

God (and I use that term in a very general, very high-and-behind-the-scenes way as in Hermetic theology/philosophy), more often than not, doesn’t really established hard and fixed prohibitions so long as something fits (or is, at least, tolerated and permissible) within the grander scheme of things.  Even the biggest events and problems in our lives are less than specks of dust compared to the grandness of all creation, and accordingly, there’s not too much that really conflicts with the overall overarching design of God; there’s more than one way to skin a cat. But when God says “no” through the creation of the cosmos, there’s no angel, demon, ghost, or god that will say “yes”. If God says “no”, then you should find out why that might be the case and act accordingly, because more often than not, it’s with your own best interests in mind. Again, this is where divination is important, because it will tell you what’s going on, whether you can do something, and whether you should do something.

Now, there’s a lot to unpack in all of this, because I didn’t necessarily summarize everything, and Curious Cat, for all its usefulness, isn’t great for truly nuanced discussions, what with its 3000 character limit on replies, and it’s easy to get some parts of the above misunderstood.  Plus, there are things that I’m hinting at in some of my replies that really need to be said explicitly, but just couldn’t fit reasonably in the above replies within the constraints of Curious Cat.  First, let me preface this by saying that I’m coming from a position that’s largely Hermetic and Neoplatonic and fundamentally emanationist-monist within a polytheistic framework, and I recognize that not all systems of theology, cosmology, or philosophy operate on these principles—but there are still quite a number that do.  Since I’m the one being asked these questions for my opinions, and since this is my own blog, these are my thoughts on all of this.

At the core of it all, the theme of all these questions is what role God has to play in our Work, whether or not we’re monotheistic or monist, and how we relate to God in that sense.

First, what exactly is this God we’re talking about?  Coming from a Hermetic standpoint, God is the ultimate underlying authority and entity that created and creates the whole cosmos.  Without getting into the nitty-gritty of Hermetic philosophy (I did a good-enough job of that in my 49 Days of Definitions blog series from 2013 regarding the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”), God is both the end result of spiritual development and the ultimate source of all things that exist, don’t exist, might exist, etc.  Everything else that exists does so within God as part of God.  It may be said that God is fullness itself; instead of merely saying that all things exist within God, it can also be said that all things are God, and since God is all things, God is All.  However, since God is still one divinely simple entity, God is also One, and thus All is One.  God is the Platonic Good, the summum bonum of the philosophers, the object of highest knowledge and importance that is the forerunner and producer of all other objects.  God is also the Monad, the One, that which is alone in itself, made by itself endlessly (i.e. unmade), making all things, coming first; it is the one Source of all things, creating all things within itself yet never being made from anything besides itself, never taking away from itself into less nor multiplying itself into more.  God, further, encompasses all things; not only is God fully immanent in all of creation, but God also transcends all of creation, too.  Everything is permeated with divine essence, but everything is also intrinsically connected to each other and to God by it as well.

Where does that put us, as human beings?  All beings, human and otherwise that are not God are finite; they are not infinite, unending, immovable, or the like, since these are qualities that belong only to God.  Something that is finite has an end; it is defined, or set in by boundaries.  The maximum extent of these boundaries can be called something’s capacity, and nothing that is finite can exceed its own capacity.  Thus, everything that exists that is not God has a certain way of existing up to a certain point, whether it be in quantity or quality or good or evil; these things cannot act outside or beyond that point, because then it would exceed its own capacity.  A being’s capacity is, essentially, its destiny; a being does what its nature is designed to do, which is to fulfill its own capacity, but which it cannot exceed, because that would be going past what its destiny necessitates.  This is essentially our power: to fulfill our capacity, to fulfill our fate, and we have the choice of doing good or evil in a Hermetic sense, to fulfill our fate or to not fulfill it.  And that’s huge!  But, despite all this power we’re entitled to have, we’re not omnipotent; for example, our nature as humans is to die; we are mortal, after all, and the nature of things with material bodies is to die eventually.

What about other entities that aren’t human beings, such as angels or gods that are distinct from capital-G God?  They’re entities in their own rights, to be sure, and have their own capacities, natures, and roles to play.  But they’re still finite, no matter how much power they have.  Whatever something is according to its nature, that is going to be how it will be for that being.  These entities still have power, but they still exist as finite entities within creation; thus, they are still not God.  Rather, it’s God who establishes their natures and capacities, and it’s the role of those entities to fulfill them however they so choose.  Being higher than us and made of more subtle stuff and without the distractions and darkness of incarnate bodies, they also see more and know more than we do, and are necessarily closer to God than we are down here.  All the same, however, they cannot exceed their own capacities, either.

Now, I know that this might seem a little…appropriative, as if I’m trying to fit every possible tradition or religion into a single monist framework.  In a sense, yeah, because that’s what Hermeticism is, and it’s fundamentally one of the ways that Neoplatonic philosophy regards the hierarchy and workings of the cosmos.  To be sure, there isn’t just one Neoplatonism, and I’ll admit that my own philosophical background is amateurish, but it’s a thing I’ve seen and considered time and again and, simply, the framework works.  While I believe in God, I also believe in a plurality of many other gods; they’re all real, and often with varying powers, domains, personalities, temperaments, preferences, and the like.  And yet, they exist as part of creation just like I do, which is why approaching them works.  Yet, as a Hermeticist, I also recognize the existence (such as it is) of a God of gods, a God behind all creation, both within and without.  This is effectively the same God as that of Abraham or Muḥammad as well as of Hermēs Trismegistus, as well as Olodumare of the Yòrubá and Lukumí, as well as the God of the gnostics and the Good of the philosophers.  One can still be a monist without being a monotheist or monolatrist.  Even if you disagree with that approach to divinity and divinities (and I know of at least several who would with very good reasons!), accept the premise of it for the purposes of this post.

When it comes to angels, the word itself literally means “messenger” in Greek (ἄγγελος ángelos), and the notion of it in Abrahamic religions comes from the Hebrew מלאך mal’ākh meaning, again, “messenger”.  More than just being a bearer of the messages of God, however, angels are more like ambassadors, emissaries, or functionaries of God: they accomplish the will of God in every possible way, fulfilling it by governing, ruling, directing, and instructing different parts of the cosmos, essentially acting as the limbs of God and extensions of the will of God.  If we want to take the “messenger” idea a bit further in a way that comports with both Hermeticism and Christianity, consider the role of the Word; after all, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word is God”.  The “Word” of Christianity does refer to Jesus Christ, sure, but it’s also the Logos of the Hermeticists, the rational and intelligible principle that allows God (as the Nous, or Mind) to allow the cosmos to function.  In that sense, angels are messengers of the Word of God; where they bear the Word, they fulfill the will of God.

The thing about angels is that they are still only messengers; they speak the Word of God, but that is all they can speak, for that is their capacity and nature.  Angels, as extensions of the will of God, have no free will of their own; their whole purpose is to effect the will of God in the creation God made.  Whatever an angel “wants” to do is identical with what God wills; their will is inherently God’s will.  That’s why, among many other things, we can’t command an angel to do anything, because that’s equivalent to commanding God to do something, which is so far outside our finite and human capacity and capabilities that it’s laughable.  Angels cannot and do not do anything that God does not command them to do, but “command”, though a familiar concept to us coming from a Jewish, Christian, or Islamic background, isn’t really what’s happening between God and the angels; rather, God speaks his Word, and the angels bear that Word to wherever they’re going to accomplish whatever that Word is.  Angels are almost machine-like in that sense; they exist for the sole purpose of “serving God” by fulfilling the will of God.

In terms more suited to Renaissance Hermeticism, angels are “intelligences”, spiritual entities under the rule of God that guide and direct the manifestation of the forces of the cosmos.  Every force, entity, place, planet, and thing in the cosmos has its own presiding or governing angel, which can be worked with through devotional, magical, or some other kind of spiritual means.  Thus, consider Tzaphqiel, the angel of Saturn; this angel is the “governor” of that planet, and serves to establish the power, roles, functions, motions, and works of Saturn in all things in the cosmos.  Tzaphqiel, as an angel, bears the Word of God in a way that focuses on the Logos as it pertains to Saturn.  If we want to bring more Saturn power into our lives or throttle it back from our lives, we can work with Tzaphqiel to do just that.  But what if Tzaphqiel says “no”?

This is basically what a lot of these questions on Curious Cat are getting at.  Let’s step aside for a bit and consider something else for the moment: where does the nature of angels in relation to God leave us in angelic magic, whether through prayers or conjurations?  It cannot be denied that working with angels is often incredibly effective for any number of ends, and is a staple of European folk religion and folk magic as well as Hermetic, Solomonic, and other kinds of magic generally in both the West and the East.  Obviously, we don’t worship angels—that’d be idolatry, and an insult to both the angel and God—but we do venerate them and honor them, especially when thanking them or calling upon them.  But the thing is that, when we call upon them, there’s something that’s really common in much of Western magical literature that we need to carefully consider: we don’t command the angels to appear, but we ask for them to appear.  Moreover, we don’t ask the angel to appear, but we ask God that the angel appear for us.  And there are very good reasons for that.

Consider the specific conjuration prayer from Johann Trithemius’ Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals.  For clarity, let me use my own slightly reworded version, and note the specific phrasing of the prayer in the emphasized sections:

In the name of the blessed Tetragrammaton, I call upon you, you strong and mighty angel Michael, if it be the divine will of the most holy God that you take the shape that best shows your celestial nature, and appear to me visibly here in this crystal, and answer my demands in as far as I shall not transgress the bounds of divine mercy by requesting unlawful knowledge, and that you graciously show me what things are most profitable for me to know and do, to the glory and honor of his divine majesty, who lives and reigns, world without end.  Amen.

Lord, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Make clean my heart within me, and take not your holy spirit from me.

O Lord, by your name I have called Michael; suffer him to administer unto me, and that all things may work together for your honor and glory, and that to you be ascribed all might, majesty, and dominion.  Amen.

O Lord, I thank you for the hearing of my prayer, and I thank you for having permitted your spirit to appear unto me.  Amen.

For another example, consider the orison from book II, chapter 12 of the Book of Abramelin:

O Lord God of Mercy … Sanctify me also with the oil of thy sanctification, wherewith thou hast sanctified all thy prophets; and purify in me therewith all that appertains unto me, so that I may become worthy of the conversation of thy holy angels and of thy divine wisdom, and grant unto me the power which thou hast given unto thy prophets over all the evil spirits. Amen, amen.

Another example, the prayer from septenary II, aphorism 14 from the Arbatel of Magic:

O Lord of heaven and earth, Creator and Maker of all things visible and invisible; I, though unworthy, by thy assistance call upon thee, through thy only begotten Son Jesus Christ our Lord, that thou wilt give unto me thy holy Spirit, to direct me in thy truth unto all good. Amen.

Because I earnestly desire perfectly to know the Arts of this life and such things as are necessary for us, which are so overwhelmed in darkness, and polluted with infinite humane opinions, that I of my own power can attain to no knowledge in them, unless thou teach it me. Grant me, therefore, one of thy spirits, who may teach me those things which thou would have me to know and learn, to thy praise and glory, and the profit of our neighbor…

Then again, the invocation to call forth angels from the Ars Almadel (language cleaned up to be made more readable for modern readers):

O you great, mighty, and blessed angel of God, NN. … I, the servant of the same your God entreat and humbly beseech you to come and show unto me all the things that I desire of you, so far as in office you can or are capable to perform if God permit to the same.  O you servant of Mercy, NN., I entreat you and humbly beseech you … to inform and rightly instruct me in my ignorant and depraved intellect, judgment, and understanding, and to assist me both in both this and in all other truths that the almighty Adonai, the King of Kings and the Giver of all good gifts, shall in his bountiful and fatherly Mercy be graciously pleased to bestow upon me.  Thus, o you blessed angel NN., be friendly unto me and work for me, so far as God has given you power in office to perform, whereunto I move you in power and presence to appear that I may sing with his holy angels: o mappa la man, hallelujah!  Amen.

I think the message I’m getting across is clear here.  Granted, not all grimoires in the Solomonic or Hermetic tradition use this kind of phrasing, especially when we’re dealing in a more goetic fashion where instead of pleading for God to grant his permission of such-and-such a phenomenon happening, we simply assume that God has given us his authority to make things happen, thus all the perilous threats that Solomonic magicians are known to use.  But how do we actually know or make sure we have that authority, or how do we know whether God will grant us permission?  Consider the very first line of the Key of Solomon (book I, chapter 1): “Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel, hath said that the beginning of our Key is to fear God, to adore him, to honor him with contrition of heart, to invoke him in all matters which we wish to undertake, and to operate with very great devotion, for thus God will lead us in the right way.”

Heck, I think the Key of Solomon is an excellent text to discuss here.  Julio Cesar Ody (of famous occult-lampooning fame), if I recall correctly (and I hope he corrects me if I’m wrong!) has remarked before that people treat the Key of Solomon as something to pilfer and take extracts from, rather than treating it like a full initiatory system of magic unto itself.  And when you look at it…yeah.  It really is far more than just a collection of works and talismans to be made with good prayers to be used for consecrating three dozen and more tools and pentacles.  Consider that the recitation of psalms is a huge part of they Key of Solomon; why would that be the case?  Because the Psalms are fundamentally songs that are used to praise God for his power and  beneficence, creation of the world, and miracles and favors done for mankind generally and for the sake of Israel specifically.  They can take the form of laments, thanksgiving, praisegiving, celebration, or pleas for help, and their study and recitation is common in Judaism and Christianity for imparting wisdom and cultivating grace and an elevated spirituality in accordance with the will and command of God.  Yes, the specific psalms used in the rituals of the Key of Solomon do bear relation to the things being consecrated at times, but it’s a constant practice of keeping ourselves spiritually in line with the will of God, which, when used with the actual prayers of the rituals themselves, produce an all-around feat of holy work.  Consider the first prayer from book I, chapter 5:

O Lord God, holy Father, Almighty and Merciful One who has created all things, who know all things and can do all things, from whom nothing is hidden, to whom nothing is impossible!  You who know that we do not perform these ceremonies to tempt your power, but that we may penetrate into the knowledge of hidden things.  We pray to you, by your sacred Mercy, to cause and to permit that we may arrive at this understanding of secret things of whatever nature they may be by your aid, o most holy ADONAI, whose Kingdom and Power shall have no end unto the Ages of the Ages. Amen.

Fundamentally, working divine magic is just prayer, just supplications to the Divine—to God—that certain things happen, not for the simple reason that we want it to happen, but that it be capital-G Good and ordained by God that it should happen.  That’s really all there is to it.  You might want to use so many words as all the excerpts above show, perhaps to inflame yourself with prayer to reach a more powerful or ecstatic state of working, or you might use less, if you can manage to get as much intent and focus out from fewer words.  Either way, this sort of magic is just prayer.

In this light, what happens when we pray for something and it doesn’t happen?  There could be several explanations:

  • What we’re praying for isn’t permissible within the design of God. It could be that what you’re asking for just isn’t possible, realistic, or appropriate for the world that God has established.  God could look at you and say “you’re being unreasonable here, focus on what’s realistic”.  I could pray to grow wings so that I can fly around the skies, but it’s not going to happen according to the laws of human physiology and basic physics in this world, which were designed according to the will and plan of God.  It could happen on other planes where one’s form isn’t so rigidly fixed, but it’s not going to happen here.  Likewise, if you pray for the consecration of a particular talisman for a particular end and it doesn’t end up consecrated, it’s because God sees that what you’re asking for isn’t permissible within the overall scheme of things that God has set up for us, perhaps due to the nature of what you’re asking (e.g. a talisman to shoot fireballs out of our hands) or due to the ramifications it might have (e.g. it could set off a chain reaction that would end up butting up harshly against things God already has in store for the cosmos).
  • What we’re praying for isn’t for us to receive. It could be that what you’re asking for is good, noble, and proper, but you’re not the right person to request it or have it.  God could look at you and say “this is a good idea, but it’s not for you to work on, so ask for  something else”.  Not everyone is going to be good at everything; I’m no fighter or doctor, so while I might pray for skill in battle or for success in a lucrative medical career, these things aren’t in my life path.  Trying to force them, so long as it doesn’t go against the will of God for me, could get some success, but it could also just as easily happen that trying to go down those paths would end up with me being stymied, frustrated, and blocked at every turn.  These are signs from the cosmos itself that I’m not on the right path and that I’m barking up the wrong tree.  Instead, I should learn what my path truly entails and focus on that; it might not be easy (it rarely is!), but it will be successful in a way that would go far beyond things that I’m not meant to do.  Thus, if you’re praying for something to happen and it doesn’t happen, it’s could be because that thing isn’t for you to have in your life because it won’t help you and could easily harm you.
  • What we’re praying for is something that we can receive eventually but which we’re not ready to receive now. It could be that what you’re asking for is good, noble, and proper, and it’s proper for you to have those things, but you’re not ready to have it yet.  God could look at you and say “you’ve got the potential, but you aren’t at the right state of development for it right now, so keep working at it”.  In other words, you’re on the right track, but it’s above your station; one day, if you keep on the right track, you’ll get there.  Consider the notion of knowledge and conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel; coming in contact with this divine spirit often involves an ordeal because it’s a direct link to God, and quite simply, not everyone is ready for it.  They all have their own guardian angels, to be sure, but they might not be able to truly comprehend the power and, thus, the accompanying responsibility of the conscious company of that spirit yet.  They need to refine themselves through cultivating virtue and abandoning vice until they reach a certain stage of spiritual development.  Receiving those things we pray for earlier than when it’s appropriate for us could very easily cause us and those around us harm at worst or just distractions and delays at best.

How do we know whether a prayer of ours will be granted?  This is where divination comes into play.  Divination is important for magicians of all kinds, not just because it’s a useful and profitable skill to bring in clients and to spy on people, but because it shows us the way for our own Work.  By divination, we can figure out what’s going on and what the appropriate ways are to handle it; as part of that, we can see not just whether we can do a particular ritual for a particular end, but whether we should do it (or, in the words of the good and most reverend Bishop Lainie Petersen, whether it’s wise for us to do it).  If a reading indicates that we can do something but that we should not do it, then it’s within our power to do the thing but it’s not the best use of our power to do it.  If a reading indicates that we can not do something but that we should do it, then it’s not within our power yet to do the thing and that we need to focus on cultivating that power however necessary in order to do it.  And, if a reading indicates that we can not do something and that we also should not do it, then it’s neither in our power nor our best interests to do the thing.  The answer to can-or-can’t ultimately lies with us, but the answer to should-or-shouldn’t lies with God.

We’ll pick up on this tomorrow when we get more into the notion of what “should” really means here, because this is touching on what role the will of God plays for us in our lives.

On Pride and Humility

Not that long ago, someone on Curious Cat asked me a pretty good question, and it’s something that’s been sitting with me for a while now:

People constantly complain about ‘baby witches’ and the inefficacy/infantilization of mainstream pop-culture “magic” on Witchblr, but on the other hand, instead of behaving like the mature and levelheaded adults they purport themselves to be, these Super Serious Traditional Ceremonial Magicians tend to be extremely rude, condescending, narcissistic and outright boorish in their treatment of others.

It’s like they’re reenacting outcast goth teen fantasies of being Powerful Darksided Magicians able to kill their enemies in a fingersnap. I mean, is this a prerogative in becoming a devoted and serious practitioner of magick? Because if so, I proudly throw in the towel.

While some questions I can answer on my phone on the go, there are others that I’d rather sit down with at a proper keyboard, think about for a bit, and type up a better thought-out answer than not.  This was one such question, and in reply, I said:

There’s a reason why so many religions prescribe humility as a virtue to be cultivated. And I know that I, myself, can lack it at times, though I try to keep it a focus for myself, too.

No, there’s no prerogative to being a pompous, prideful, supercilious bastard when it comes to magic. But when you have people getting into occult stuff—and it occurs as much with witches as it does with ceremonial magicians, even if ceremonial magicians have a reputation for it—it’s easy to get carried away when we start realizing all the power we now have access to. Fr. Rufus Opus (who at least admits that he’s overly cocky now and then) warns against “Insufferableprickitis” or “Moses-off-the-mount syndrome”, where we finally think that we truly Get It and have all the keys to the power of the Almighty. Even if it’s true, you don’t want that newfound radiance to be so overbearing and annoying that you treat other people like they’re utterly unenlightened and fools for not yet being on their level.

Everyone, no matter what field or hobby or profession or culture, thinks that they’re better than others or that they have a better way of doing something. It’s good to take pride in your accomplishments, whether it’s in software engineering or publishing anthologies of poetry or in plying the forces of the cosmos for theurgy and thaumaturgy, but it’s not okay to disparage or despise others because of those accomplishments.

There’s also an undercurrent of “oh you’re doing this because it’s popular now”, too. Big whoop. Fads come and go. If they’re meant for it, they’ll stick with it, and if not, they won’t, regardless of what mean things are said to them.

Plus, you’re reading stuff on the internet. It’s extraordinarily too common for people to get huffy and enraged and self-aggrandizing on the internet. Relax, take a deep breath and a step back, and don’t let people get to you that way, whether you’re the recipient of that kind of talk or just a witness to it. Let your work, instead, focus on making yourself better, sharing (but not enforcing) the skills you have according to your means and ability and desire, and making the world a better place.

It’s true that many occultists—myself included—can be on the pompous, arrogant, egotistical, and pretentious side, and it’s an especially common accusation lobbed at ceremonial magicians, and not without due cause.  The way I see it, there are two main influences going on here:

  1. Occultists (including witches) in general are liable to feel this way.  When you’re presented with a materialistic world and find a non-materialistic way to bend or break the rules without getting into trouble, i.e. magic, you’re going to feel powerful, and that realization will lead you to get a bit puffed-up, especially when other people say that what you do is impossible or frowned upon.  The thrill of doing stuff that society says you can’t and shouldn’t be doing can be exhilarating.
  2. When we say “ceremonial magicians”, we typically refer to those in Hermetic and Solomonic styles of magic, where we call down immense forces of the cosmos or call up demons and devils of all kinds, often with imperious threats and provocations in order to make sure that the cosmos hears us and, more than that, obeys us.  I mean, just look at the prayers in the Lemegeton Goetia, the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano, or the rituals of the Munich Manual.  The modus operandi of browbeating the world to obey us is a common one, even going back to classical mystery traditions and the rituals of the PGM two thousand years ago and more.

I’m sure there are other reasons, too, but those are the two big ones that occur to me.  Another thing that I mentioned in my answer above is, simply, that we’re on the Internet, and it’s easy to say a lot of things without repercussions like getting punched in the face or spat on or having a drink thrown at you because there’s an element of anonymity and facelessness that lets us feel more righteous and dignified than we properly have a right to be most of the time.

Being overweeningly proud is a problem, to be sure, but it’s not one that’s necessarily limited to ceremonial magicians, or to occultists in general, but to a lot of people in the world.  Pride is, after all, considered to be one of the seven deadly sins (and by some accounts, the most serious of them all), but I think it’s important to recall what pride is.  A proper kind of pride is akin to greatness of soul and magnanimity, bound up with nobility and goodness of character; it’s possible to take pride in the things we’ve done, placing value and greatness on our accomplishments or abilities, and it’s good to do this within reason.  Taking too much pride, however, tends to vanity, self-worship, vainglory, narcissism, and all-around hubris, and that’s where the danger comes into play.  Hubris, in the classical sense, is having pride beyond what is deserved to be proud of, which leads to ill-treating others for one’s own satisfaction and gratification.  And that’s a real problem which was truly fitting of punishment direct from the gods themselves, a notion that was carried on in Christianity to this day.

Thus, this is where humility comes in.  Though it can be used to mean having a low self-regard or feeling unworthy, it’s also a recognition of our place in the cosmos, how little we are, and that we should be selfless compared to selfish.  Consider the etymology of the word itself:

humility (n.)
early 14c., “quality of being humble,” from Old French umelite “humility, modesty, sweetness” (Modern French humilité), from Latin humilitatem (nominative humilitas) “lowness, small stature; insignificance; baseness, littleness of mind,” in Church Latin “meekness,” from humilis “lowly, humble,” literally “on the ground,” from humus “earth,” from PIE root *dhghem– “earth.” In the Mercian hymns, Latin humilitatem is glossed by Old English eaðmodnisse.

In other words, to be humble is to be down-to-earth in a way that reminds you that you are of the earth.  Yes, Hermeticism has much to say about us having divine origins and that we’re made in the likeness of God and all that, sure, and all that’s all well and good, but let’s be honest: as human beings, part of us is divine, but being human is being human, living on the Earth and living in Heaven.  Heck, the word “human” itself has the same ultimate origin as the word humility:

human (adj.)
mid-15c., humain, humaigne, “human,” from Old French humain, umain (adj.) “of or belonging to man” (12c.), from Latin humanus “of man, human,” also “humane, philanthropic, kind, gentle, polite; learned, refined, civilized.” This is in part from PIE *(dh)ghomon-, literally “earthling, earthly being,” as opposed to the gods (from root *dhghem- “earth”), but there is no settled explanation of the sound changes involved. Compare Hebrew adam “man,” from adamah “ground.” Cognate with Old Lithuanian žmuo (accusative žmuni) “man, male person.”

To be properly human is to be humble.  Yes, we all belong to God and it is to God our souls will return, but our bodies are made from dust, and to dust our bodies shall return.  We have to remember and set ourselves apart from the gods and spirits we work with, because we are incarnate, mortal, and finite as opposed to discarnate, immortal, and infinite.  We have to remember that we are humans, and have far more in common with other humans and the human world we live in than with the spirits and their non-human world.  For that reason, we need to remain humble, not only to avoid reaching too far past our proper station as humans, but also to avoid putting ourselves on too high a pedestal above other humans.  We have to take care of ourselves, recognizing that no matter how much we might be capable of, we are only capable of but so much.  As Tzadqiel, the angel of Jupiter, once told me long ago:

You see those stars?  They’re kings, just like the Sun here.  They rule over their parts of the sky, their worlds.  They are small and distant, however, and they are not kings here.  As they travel their light to other places, they cease to become kings and become equals or even less to the places they travel.  They rule only over what they rule, and no more.  Just so do you rule only what you rule, and you do not rule over everything, even though you may think you do.  You will one day become as a star, but even stars are outshone by the ones higher and brighter than them, especially the highest Light.

Humility is a virtue even in the greatest kings.  Humility is the beginning of greatness.

Now, it’s important to distinguish humility from modesty, because the two are vastly different.  As I wrote about back in 2013, humility is more being meek in the facts of a situation, while modesty is more about understating something to the point of reverse exaggeration, and that’s essentially lying against oneself.  But I also brought up that there’s a similarity between (proper) pride and humility: (proper) pride is recognition of all that you are and can be or do, while humility is recognition of all that you are and have done in the grand scheme of things.  Pride is accepting that we have accomplished and learn things, and humility is accepting that we can accomplish and learn yet more.  To be properly proud as well as humble is to be honest and truthful about yourself to the world in the world you live.  Boasting, on the other hand, is having too much pride, the lie we tell to make ourselves seem more than we actually are; modesty, likewise, is the lie we tell to make ourselves seem less than we actually are.

I bring up all this because I want to bring up one of my favorite prayers today, the Litany of Humility.  I think I first brought it up on my blog in another post from 2013, where I meditated on what might make me special, but more importantly, how my being special doesn’t make anyone else less special.  This prayer, as seen in a number of Christian, and especially Catholic, texts, is often attributed to or outright claimed to be written by the 19th/20th century Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, although it doesn’t seem like he actually wrote it.  Instead, the real origin of the Litany seems to be lost to history—a fitting end, I suppose, for one who prayed for no glory of the world, instead giving their work to the world freely.  At any rate, the Litany of Humility isn’t like the usual litanies of the Christian Church, at least, not like those commonly used in the formal liturgies like the Litany of the Saints; while it can be used liturgically, it reads and feels more like a personal plea and a way to remind oneself of the good things we should aim towards and the bad things we should aim away from.

While I originally used the standard modern Christian version in my prayer practice, reciting it at least once a week for a good long while, as my practice has shifted, I’ve been less and less…I don’t want to say “comfortable”, but less inclined to call on explicitly Christian names and phrases when I can avoid it in favor of more general deistic language.  Plus, it’s been a long time since I’ve recited or read it (dropping out of a regular practice will do that to you), so I think it’s time to take another look at it.  While I still think the original Christian version is an excellent one that we should all bear in mind, I also think it’s worthwhile to make it more usable by others who aren’t Christian.  To that end, I sat down with it and amended it somewhat for my own personal use, and thought I might share it for others to consider using in their use, should they so desire.  Below is the variant I use now that basically keeps the same text, with a slightly different opening and a different invocation for each request.  Rather than being Jesus-centric, e.g. “from the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus”, I’ve substituted every invocation of Jesus with simply “o Lord”.  This way, the prayer is more accessible to those within a more broadly Abrahamic, deist, or non-Christian Hermetic practice.  The sentiment is the same: we invoke God and pray that we might begin to possess the virtue of humility while shedding from ourselves the vice of pride.

O Lord, hear my prayer, and grant me, I beg you,
the blessing to be humble of heart,
the power to crush my pride,
and the grace to master myself that I may more fully serve you.

From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being preferred, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, o Lord.

From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being rebuked, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being maligned, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, o Lord.

That others may be loved more than me, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than me, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may grow and I diminish in the opinion of the world, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than me, provided that I might become as holy as I should, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.

Amen.

I think it’s important to remember all that being proud entails, and what being humble necessitates.  That goes for both ceremonial magicians and witches, both occultists and scientists, and all people, especially myself.  I’ve come a long way since those posts in 2012 and 2013 when I discussed these things before, but I know that I’ve only come but so far, and there’s still so much for me to do, and no matter how far I might reach, there are still yet others who are (properly and well-deservedly) better than me.  It’s all I can do to do all I must do, and that’s for the best.  I’m happy to have recalled this prayer up, because I think it’s high time for me to reincorporate it back into my prayer routine regularly again.  Perhaps there are others who might find it useful, too.

A PGM-Based Jewish Hermetic Prayer of the Patriarchs

It’s fascinating to see what you can find when you dig through your old notes and drafts.  Interesting insights that slipped your mind, funny stories you’d want to tell again, and wonderful accomplishments that remind you of better times and better techniques than what you may have slipped into using.  But, perhaps most fun to find?  Unfinished drafts and projects that you couldn’t finish for one reason or another at the time, but have since come into the right knowledge and tools to do just that.  This post is one such example of that happening, and I’m glad to finally share it with you, dear reader, after so long.

As many of my readers know, the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM) is such a wonderful collection of texts that have, somehow, miraculously survived to our care in the modern day.  It’s on the same level as the Nag Hammadi Scriptures or the Dead Sea Scrolls, but which focuses instead on the so-called “practical Hermetica”, the spells, rituals, ingredients, and ritual processes of theurgy and thaumaturgy as used by actual living mages and priests from roughly 100 CE to 500 CE, largely residing in that philosophical-academic-spiritual orgiastic environment of Alexandria, Thebes, and other parts of Hellenic Egypt.  It’s important to remember, though, that the PGM isn’t just a single “grimoire”, but rather a collection of smaller grimoires, notes, tablets, and other texts from a variety of magicians that happened to be clustered together under a single volume.  There’s quite a lot of variation in there, and if different entries seem counterintuitive or contradictory to each other, that’s because they are.  It’s not proper to treat the PGM as “a single text”, but rather a collection of numerous texts that happened to be collected over the centuries and only recently compiled into a single volume (specifically, the Betz version of the PGM, though Preisendanz’s texts, volumes one and two, is still considered the earlier and other major version).

Although many of the fun rituals that are more commonly known come from the earlier PGM entries, such as the Headless Rite from PGM V or the Heptagram Rite from PGM XIII, the Betz version of the PGM has over 130 sets of PGM texts, including a number of Demotic ones, too.  Not all of them are well-preserved, and some are incredibly fragmented with extensive lacunae, but there are still plenty of gems in some of the lesser-known texts.  One such text is PGM XXIIb.1—26, headlined as the Prayer of Jacob.  The term used for “prayer” in the headline, προσευχή, can also be used to refer to a temple or sanctuary, especially of the Jews, so perhaps a better headline for this might be, if we can be granted a bit of translator’s license here, the “Holiness of Jacob”.  Given its structure and its placement, the attribution is (as it almost always is) spurious, but the fact remains that it’s primarily a Jewish, or at least heavily Judaically-inspired, prayer with some Gnostic elements as well as some elements of Merkabah and Heikhalot literature or proto-literature.

In any case, it’s mostly complete, but isn’t wholly so due to the large number of lacunae.  Most of the lacunae appear in the strings of barbarous words, though when looking at the actual text, the size and location of these lacunae become clearer, offering hints of what may have gone into them.  After all, the whole section is only 26 lines of text long, and the rest of the PGM is replete with invocations, strings of godnames, and a variety of other clues that can help fill in some of the lacunae in the text.  One of my earlier projects from a number of years ago (2013, according to the original draft post) was going to attempt a reconstruction and repair on this entry, but I didn’t really know where to go or how to attempt it, and so I just left it to get buried in the drafts folder.  But now that I’m a little older and a little more comfortable with this project, I want to try tackling it again.

To start with, this is what the original entry looks like in Betz:

O Father of the Patriarchs, Father of the All, Father of the [cosmic] power,
[Creator of all], … , creator of the angels and archangels, creator of the [saving] names!

I invoke you, Father of all powers, Father of the entire [cosmos] and of all creation inhabited and uninhabited, to whom the [cherubim] are subjected [who] favored Abraham by [giving the] kingdom [to him] … hear me, O God of the powers, o [God] of angels [and] archangels, [King]…

ΛΕΛΕΑΧ … ΑΡΩΑΧ ΤΟΥ ΑΧΑΒΟΛ … Ο … ΥΡΑΜ ΤΟΥ … ΒΟΑΧ ΚΑ … Θ … ΡΑ … ΧΑΧ ΜΑΡΙΡΟΚ … ΥΡΑΜ … ΙΘΘ ΣΕΣΟΙΚ, he who sits upon [holy] Mount Sinai;
… Ι … ΒΟ … ΑΘΕΜ … , he who sits upon the sea;
… ΕΑ … ΒΛ … Δ … Κ … Ε … ΘΗΣ … ΠΑΡΑΧΘΗ … , he who sits upon the serpentine gods;
The [god who sits upon the] Sun, ΙΑΩ, he who sits [upon] … ΤΑ … Ω … Ι … Χ!
He [who sits] upon the … ;
[He who sits upon] the … ΜΑ … ΣΙ, ΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΛΟΥΛΗΛ … Μ!
… ΧΙΡΕ … ΟΖ … Ι … resting place of the cherubim
to the ages of ages, God ΑΒΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΘΙΑΩΘ [ΣΑΒΑΩΘ] ΑΔΩΝΑΙ star … and ΒΡΙΛΕΩΝΑΙ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ ΧΑ … ΑΩΘ the Lord of the All.

I call upon you who give power [over] the Abyss [to those] above, to those below, and to those under the earth; hear the one who has [this] prayer, O Lord God of the Hebrews, ΕΠΑΓΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ, of whom is [the] eternal power, ΗΛΟΗΛ ΣΟΥΗΛ.  Maintain the one who possesses this prayer, who is from the stock of Israel and from those who have been favored by you, O god of gods, you who have the secret name ΣΑΒΑΩΘ … Ι … Χ, O god of gods, amen, amen!

You who produce the snow, who presides over the stars,  who live beyond the ages, who constantly traverse the cosmos, and who cause the fixed and movable stars to pursue all things by your creative activity, fill me with wisdom.  Strengthen me, Master!  Fill my heart with good, Master, as a terrestrial angel, as one who has become immortal, as one who has received this gift from you, amen, amen!

This entry, further, is ended with a single direction: recite it seven times facing north and east.  I interpret this as meaning northeast, which would have been the direction of Jerusalem (or other places in Israel) from most places in Egypt, but there are other rituals in the PGM and other texts of that time like the Sepher haRazim that discuss how to conjure or pray to the powers of the Sun towards the East in the daytime or towards the North at nighttime, so it could be a synthesis of that, too.  I lean towards the Jerusalem theory, personally.

For reference, here’s the original Greek transcription as given in Preisendanz, taking his corrections and emendations as a given and putting the barbarous words and godnames, or the letters that are presumed to be parts of such, in capital letters:

Προσευχὴ Ἰακώβ.

Πάτερ πατριὰρχῶν, πατὴρ ὅλων, πατὴρ δυνάμεων τοῦ κόσμου, κτίστα παντὸς …
κτίστα τῶν ἀγγέλων καὶ ἀρχαγγέλων, ὁ κτίστης ὀνομάτων σωτηρικῶν
καλῶ σε, πατέρα τῶν ὅλων δυνάμεων, πατέρα τοῦ ἄπαντος κόσμου και τῆς
ὅλης γενέσεως καὶ οἰκοθμένης καὶ ἀοικήτου, ᾡ ὑπεσταλμένοι οἱ χερουβίν, ὅς
ἐχαρίσατο Ἀβραὰμ ἐν τῷ δοῦναι τὴν βασιλείαν αὐρῷ
ἐπακοθσόν μοι, ὁ θεὸς τῶν δυνὰμεων, ὁ θεὸς ἀγγέλων καὶ ἀρχαγγέλων, βασιλεύς …
ΛΕΛΕΑΧ … ΑΡΩΑΧ ΤΟΥ … ΑΧΑΒΟΛ … Ω … ΥΡΑΜ ΤΟΥ … ΒΟΑΧ ΚΑ
Θ … Ρ Α … ΧΑΧ. ΜΑΡΙΟΚ … ΥΡΑΜ … ΙΘΘ ΣΕΣΟΙΚ …
ὀ καθήμενος ἐπὶ ὄρους ἰεροῦ Σιναΐου Ι … ΒΟ ΑΘΕΜ
ὀ καθήμενος ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης … ΕΑ … ΒΛ … Δ … Κ … Ε … ΘΗΣ
ΠΑΡΑΧΘΗ … ό καθήμενος ἐπὶ τῶν δρακοντείων θεῶν, ὀ θεὸς καθήμενος ἐπὶ τοῦ
Ἡλίου ΙΑΩ, ὁ καθήμενος ἐπὶ … ΤΑ … Ω … Ι … Χ, ὁ καθήμενος ἐπὶ τοῦ … θε …
… ΜΑ … ΣΙ ΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΛΟΥΗΛ … Μ … τὸν κοιτῶνα χερουβὶν … ΧΙΡΕ … ΟΖ … Ι …
εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰῶνων θεὸς ΑΒΡΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΘΙΑΩΘ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ, ἀστραπηφόρε
καὶ ΒΡΙΛΕΩΝΑΙ ΑΔΟΝΑΙ ΧΑ … ΑΩΘ, ὁ κύριος των ὅλων. Ἐπικαλουμαί σε, ἐπὶ χάσματος δὸντα
δύναμιν τοῖς ἄνω καὶ τοῖς κάτω καὶ τοῖς ὑποκάτω τῆς γῆς. Ἐπὰκοθσον τῷ ἔχοντι τὴν
εὐχήν, ὁ κύριος θεὸς τῶν Ἑβραίνων, ΕΠΑΓΑΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ, οὗ ἡ ἀέναος δύναμισ, ΕΛΩΗΛ
ΣΟΥΗΛ. Διόρθωσον τὸν ἔχοντα τὴν εὐχὴν ἐξ τοῦ γένους Ἰσραὴλ καὶ τῶν
χαριζομένων ὑπό σοθ, θεὲ θεῶν, ὁ ἔχων τὸ κρυπτὸν ὄνομα ΣΑΒΑΩΘ
… Ι … Χ. Θεὸς θεῶν, ἀμήν, ἀμήν, ὁ χιόνα γεννῶν, ἐπὶ ἀστέρων ὑπὲρ αἰώνων καὶ ἀεὶ διοδεύων καὶ ποιῶν τοὺς
ἀπλανεῖς καί πλανωμένους ἀστέρας διώκειν τὰ πάντα τῇ σῇ δημι-
-οθργίᾳ. Πλήρωσόν με σοφίας, δυνάμωσόν με, δέσποτα, μέστωσόν μου,
τὴν καρδίαν ἀγαθῶν, δέσποτα, ὡς ἄγγελον ἐπίγειον, ὡς ἀθάνατον
γενὰμενον, ὡς τὸ δῶρον τὸ ἀπὸ σοῦ δεξάμενον, ἀμήν, ἀμήν.

Λέγε ἐπτάκις πρὸς ἄπρκτον καὶ ἀπηλιὼτην τὴν προσευχήν τοῦ Ἰακώβ.

Happily, at least this part of PGM XXIIb (P. 13895 in the Staatliche Museen in Berlin) has been digitized, but between the lacunae and the faintness of the ink in places, it’s still awfully hard to read, even if we can get a sense for how long some of the barbarous words should be.

We can kind of get a notion for how many letters are missing from the lacunae, based on the width of the letters generally in this otherwise cleanly-written papyrus, as well as some of the other notable gaps, but it also makes it clear how much of Preisendanz guessed at some of the barbarous words, too.  Incorporating Preisendanz’ bracket and blank notations and comparing with the above, we get something like this for the parts that really catch our interest for the lacunae, where the underscores indicate the relative amount of letters that are missing which may or may not be barbarous words:

ΛΕΛΕΑΧ____ΑΡΩΑΧ ΤΟΥ__ΑΧΑΒΟΛ [Ω]_______[ΥΡΑ]Μ ΤΟΥ___ΒΟΑΧ ΚΑ__________
Θ__ΡΑ_______ΧΑΧ.  ΜΑΡΙΟ[Κ]____ΥΡΑΜ_________ΙΘ Θ_______ΣΕΣΟΙΚ________
ὀ κ[α]θ[ήμενος] ἐπὶ ὄρους ἰ[εροῦ Σ]ιναΐου_________Ι_ΒΟ______ΑΘΕΜ__________
[ὀ] καθήμενος ἐπὶ τῆς θα[λάσσ]ης _ΕΑ___ΒΛ______Δ_Κ________Ε_ΘΗΣ_________
ΠΑΡΑΧΘΗ_ ό καθήμενο[ς ἐπὶ] τῶν δ[ρα]κοντ[είων] θεῶν, ὀ [θεὸς καθήμε]ν[ο]ς [ἐπὶ τοῦ]
[Ἡ]λίου ΙΑΩ, ὁ καθήμε[νος ἐπὶ]_____ΤΑ_Ω_Ι___Χ, ὁ [καθήμ]εν[ος ἐπὶ τοῦ]__θε____
__ΜΑ__ΣΙ ΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΛΟΥΗΛ_____Μ__[τ]ὸν [κ]οιτῶνα χε[ρο]υ[β]ὶν____ΧΙΡΕ___ΟΖ_______Ι _

[κ]αὶ ΒΡΙΛΕΩΝΑΙ [Α]ΔΟΝΑΙ ΧΑ___ΑΩΘ, ὁ κ[ύρ]ιος των ὅλων. Ἐπικαλουμαί σε, ἐ[πὶ χ]άσ[μα]τος δὸντα

_Ι_Χ. Θεὸς θεῶν, ἀμήν, ἀμήν, ὁ χιόνα γεννῶν, ἐπὶ ἀστέρων ὑπὲρ αἰώνων καὶ ἀεὶ διοδεύων καὶ ποιῶν τοὺς

My original goal, a few years ago, was to try to see what barbarous words would fill in these gaps through a combination of comparative analysis between this and other PGM entries, as well as through straight-up divination and trancework. But I realized, after looking at these lacunae, that it’s not possible to figure out what might just be a barbarous word and what actually might be legitimate Greek, and Lord knows my Greek is awful at best.  Some of the natural impulses I have, like replacing ΧΑ___ΑΩΘ with ΧΑΧΒΑΡΑΩΘ by adding in a few letters (in bold) to make it sound fairly appropriate based on what we see elsewhere in the PGM, make sense, but then there are others that just wouldn’t go along with that, or where there’s just not enough available to sensibly reconstruct, especially when we don’t know whether, for instance, ΚΑ__________ (in the first line) is a barbarous word (it probably is!) or one of the almost 5000 Greek words (according to Perseus-Tufts) that start with kappa-alpha.  My original approach just wasn’t going to work in any way I was going to be comfortable with or competent at, which is why I put this project off for so long.

Skip ahead a few years.  This prayer caught my attention again, so I decided to do some actual research in academic literature about it to see what might turn up.  As it turns out, there’s a bit of commentary here and there about this particular entry of the PGM, and of them, that in Pieter W. van der Horst and Judith H. Newman’s Early Jewish Prayers in Greek is an excellent one, especially about the purpose of this prayer:

“As one who has become immortal”: Goodenough assumed that the reciter of the prayer becomes angelic and immortal as a result of  saying the prayer: “Through knowing it and using it, the devotee has become an angel upon earth, an immortal, and has received the final ‘gift,’ which would seem to be the supreme mystical gift, participation in divinity.” Goodenough’s phrase “participation in divinity” begs the question of what that experience would mean exactly in the context of this prayer and cannot be answered on the basis of this prayer alone but rather within the context of angelic transformation within the Jewish and Graeco-Roman traditions. …

The final line of the prayer contains instructions to recite the prayer seven times. The number seven was of course of symbolic importance. The final line is governed by aorist middle participles which agree with the aorist imperatives. This would indicate that at the moment God fills the petitioner with wisdom, empowerment, and good, he or she becomes an angel and receives these as God’s gift. Some ambiguity remains as to when the transformation was thought to occur, whether it is during the process of repetition that the reciter is transformed into an immortal angel or if the one offering the prayer must wait until the seventh round of repetition and thus the ritual is entirely complete. The directions of north and east suggested by the rubric are understood by Reimund Leicht to be a “clear hint that it was conceived of as an invocation of Helios-Yao-Yaoil at night,” but this is a problematic claim because our prayer is addressed not to Helios-Yao, but to the God of Israel who is enthroned above Helios-Yao.

There’s also a wonderful paper by Reimund Leicht on the entry, too: Qedushah and Prayer to Helios: A New Hebrew Version of an Apocryphal Prayer of Jacob.  Although Leicht is concerned with a different “Prayer of Jacob”, he touches on this one from the PGM, too, and compares it to other entries in the PGM as well as to other prayers from the Jewish and Christian traditions much later:

In this point, our Prayer of Jacob is very similar to the PGM Prayer of Jacob (PGM XIIb). Although both texts largely differ, they have crucial elements in common: Both are prayers directed to Yaô, the creator of the world, and both adapt motifs of the celestial throne with the cherubim (PGM XXIIb 8). The two sentences “(You who) give power ov[er (the) cha]sm (to those) above and those below and those under the earth” and “[He] who is upon (the) stars abo[v]e (the) ages” remind us of the adaptation of Is 6:3 in 2:20 (fol. 2a/13 f.). Finally, the request for “wisdom” (XXIIb 17) is not very far removed from our Prayer of Jacob. The instruction to “say the prayer of Jacob seven times to (the) North and East” (PGM XIIb 20) is a clear hint that it was conceived of as an invocation of Helios- Yao-Yaôil at night.*  These similarities are certainly not sufficient proof of a direct dependency, but they can be taken as hints that the two prayers may be rather remote relatives.

* The North is the place where the sun is at night and in the East it rises.  For an invocation of Helios at night from the North cf. Sefer ha-Razim IV/43; for an invocation of the sun from the East cf. PGM XIII 254.

So, we have this wonderful little prayer that, although the majority of it is there, there are some gaps that make it just barely unfit for use.  That’s where looking at other entries from the PGM comes in.  Although the Prayer of Jacob might be unique in the PGM, some of its phrasing, barbarous words, invocations, and supplications are not, and we can find some strikingly similar examples in other parts of the PGM and other texts:

  • PGM XXXV.1—42: another Judiacally-inspired prayer, addressed to God or an agent/angel of God for power and favor, notable for its similar list of “who sit over…” attributions
  • PGM V.459—489: “Another way” to “loosen shackles, makes invisible, sends dreams, [and is] a spell for gaining favor”.  Again, with heavy Jewish influences, including the barbarous words ΒΑΡΟΥΧ ΑΔΩΝΑΙ ΕΛΩΑΙ ΑΒΡΑΑΜ, which can be easily read as Hebrew for “Blessed be my Lord, the God of Abraham” (“barukh ‘Adonai, ‘Eloah ‘Abraham”).
  • PGM IV.1227—1264: “Excellent rite for driving out daimons”, another Judaically-influenced but also Christianically-influenced prayer of exorcism, with references to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with the Christian Trinity.
  • PGM XII.270—350: “A Ring, a little ring for success and favor and victory”.  A ring consecration ritual with a lengthy prayer including a long string of barbarous words with references to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, though this shows far more Egyptian influence than anything else.
  • PGM III.1—164: “The ritual of the cat”, a lengthy and highly syncretic quasi-grimoire with some Jewish and Abrahamic elements.

Based on these texts, what I did was basically synthesize parts of them together, using the incomplete Prayer of Jacob as given in PGM XXIIb as a base, and overlaying it with parts from other prayers that fit well, especially those with similar purposes as the Prayer of Jacob.  After a few rewrites, reorganizations, and slight additions to the text for flow and content, what we end up with is a new prayer.  As a result, however, due to how badly preserved the barbarous words are from the original text, sometimes I went with replacing them entirely from another source rather than trying to see what might fit in the right places.   Now, I’m not exactly a fan of swapping out one set of barbarous words for another—Tobias over at Sublunar Space and I have discussed doing that and how it can lead to some disastrous consequences—but some of these entries are so similar to the Prayer of Jacob in approach and style that I think we can do so safely here, so long as we’re smart about it.

However, there’s a weirdness here; in all the texts that have a similar list of barbarous words, or a similar arrangement of qualities such as “you who sit upon X”, including PGM XXXV.1—42 and the Beirut phylactery for Alexandra daughter of Zoē (cf. D. R. Jordan, “A New Reading of a Phylactery from Beirut”, ZPE 88, 1991, pp.61-69), it would seem like these refer to different spirits or angels of particular things rather than attributes of God, yet the Prayer of Jacob from PGM XXIIb treats them as just that: attributes and names of God.  There’s definitely a tradition of prayers going on here, but it would seem that the Prayer of Jacob is an outlier in how it treats these lists of names and dominions.  That said, when we read “you who have the secret name ΣΑΒΑΩΘ”, with ΣΑΒΑΩΘ being a rendition of Hebrew Ṣabaot or “Hosts” referring to the innumerable angels…well, it kinda makes sense, either which way, at least to the mind of the practical Hermeticists of the PGM.  The fact that the same structure and form of prayer is present in a number of unrelated sources is significant, but equally so is the vast disparity between the divine names used.  It’s my hunch that the names are less important than the structure, and as such, the sets of names can largely be interchangeable with each other.  It’s not an ideal situation, but it does allow us some wiggle room for experimentation, and given that the barbarous words are so incomplete and damaged in PGM XXIIb, we can’t really use them anyway—but I claim that we can use those from near-identical prayers elsewhere with as good a result.

As a result of all the above and my own tweaks, I won’t call what I ended up with a “Reconstructed Prayer of Jacob” like I originally intended, because what was “reconstructed” is so different from PGM XXIIb.1—26 to the point where I can’t honestly say that it’s a reconstruction.  However, the underlying text, organization, and purpose of the prayer is identical, so what I’ll call it instead is the “Prayer of the Patriarchs”, a Jewish-Gnostic Hermetic prayer with notions of solar piety that seeks for incarnate divinization of the self as a theurgical practice in line with the Jewish mystical practices of Merkabah and Heikhalot:

In the name of ΣΕΜΕΣΕΙΛΑΜ who is above all the heavens!
I call on you who sit in the first heaven, ΜΑΡΜΑΡ
I call on you who sit in the second heaven, ΡΑΦΑΗΛ
I call on you who sit in the third heaven, ΣΟΥΡΙΗΛ
I call on you who sit in the fourth heaven, ΙΦΙΑΦ
I call on you who sit in the fifth heaven, ΠΙΤΙΗΛ
I call on you who sit in the sixth heaven, ΜΟΥΡΙΑΘΑ
I call on you who sit in the seventh heaven, ΚΑΧΘ
by the power of ΙΑΩ, by the strength of ΣΑΒΑΩΘ,
by the garment of ΕΛΟΗ, by the might of ΑΔΩΝΑΙ, by the crown of ΕΙΛΩΕΙΝ!
Protect me from every daimōn and every power of daimones and from daimonia and from all pharmaka and katadesmoi!

O Father of the Patriarchs, of the All, of the powers of the cosmos!
O Father of the angels and archangels, of the redeeming names, of all the powers!
O Father of the whole cosmos and all creation, both uninhabited and inhabited!
O Father to whom the cherubim and seraphim are subjected!
O Father who showed favor to Abraham by giving the kingdom to him!
O God of the angels and archangels, o King of kings, o Lord of lords!

O King of Heaven, ΑΡΣΕΝΟΦΡΗ
O Possessor of righteousness, ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ
O gracious God, ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ
O Ruler of nature, ΣΑΝΚΑΝΘΑΡΑ
O Origin of the heavens, ΣΑΤΡΑΠΕΡΚΜΗΦ
ΑΘΘΑΝΝΟΥ ΑΘΘΑΝΝΟΥ ΑΣΤΡΑΦΑΙ ΙΑΣΤΡΑΦΑΙ
ΠΑΚΕΡΤΩΘ ΠΑΚΕΡΒΙΩΘ ΗΡΙΝΤΑΣΚΛΙΟΥΘ ΕΦΙΩ ΜΑΡΜΑΡΑΩΘ
You who sit upon the holy mount, ΣΙΝΑΙ
you who sit upon the snow, ΤΕΛΖΗ
you who sit upon the sea, ΕΔΑΝΩΘ
you who sit upon the serpents, ΣΑΕΣΕΧΕΛ
you who sit upon the Sun, ΙΑΩ
you who sit upon the Abyss, ΒΥΘΑΘ
you who sit upon the rivers, ΤΑΒΙΥΜ
you who are ΒΙΜΑΔΑΜ who sit upon the fiery throne of glory, borne by Abriēl and Lūēl;
you who are ΧΑΔΡΙΥΜ who sit in the midst of ΧΑΔΡΑΛΛΟΥ upon the resting place of the cherubim and seraphim as they praise you,
you who are the Lord of the Heavenly Host,
you whose name is blessed and holy unto the ages of ages!
The Lord ΣΑΡΑΧΑΗΛ of Bil`ām,
the God who made Heaven and Earth and all within it,
the Lord of the All!

I call upon you, you who give power over the Abyss
to those above the Earth, to those upon the Earth, and to those below the Earth!
Hear your servant who prays to you in your name with your names!
O Lord God of the chosen people, God glorious unto the ages of ages,
to whom is eternal might, God who is God of all gods!
Rectify your servant who gives unto you this prayer,
make straight him who is of your people,
maintain him who is of those who have received your favor, o God of gods!
O Lord God, Lord of Hosts, blessed are you forever,
o God of ‘Adam, o God of Shet, o God of ‘Enosh,
o God of Qeynan, o God of Mahalal’el, o God of Yared,
o God of Ḥanokh, of God of Metushelaḥ, o God of Lemekh, o God of Noaḥ,
o God of ‘Abraham, o God of Yiṣḥaq, o God of Ya`aqob, o God of gods,
you who have the secret name ΣΑΒΑΩΘ!

O you who are upon the stars and above the ages,
o you who brings forth snow and constantly traverse the entire cosmos,
o you who make the stars and planets marshal all things by your creating power!
Fill me with wisdom and empower me, o Lord,
fill my heart with good, o Lord,
that I might become your angel in this world,
that I might become immortal in your wisdom,
that I might be given a share of your strength and power,
that I might be shown your favor and peace,
that I might receive this gift from you!
Amen.

And, as an alternative, another version that omits the barbarous words entirely, replaces some of the more obscure magical terms with more common ones, and uses the more common English spellings of the Hebrew names used in the prayer:

In the name of the Eternal Light who is above all the heavens,
I call on you, angels of the seven heavens,
by the power of God,
by the strength of God,
by the garment of God,
by the might of God,
by the crown of God!
Protect me from every spirit, every power, every phenomenon, every spell, and every curse!

O Father of the Patriarchs, of the All, of the powers of the cosmos!
O Father of the angels and archangels, of the redeeming names, of all the powers!
O Father of the whole cosmos and all creation, both uninhabited and inhabited!
O Father to whom the cherubim and seraphim are subjected!
O Father who showed favor to Abraham by giving the kingdom to him!
O God of the angels and archangels, o King of kings, o Lord of lords!

O King of Heaven!
O Possessor of righteousness!
O gracious God!
O Ruler of nature!
O Origin of the heavens!
You who sit upon the holy mount,
you who sit upon the snow,
you who sit upon the sea,
you who sit upon the serpents,
you who sit upon the Sun,
you who sit upon the Abyss,
you who sit upon the rivers,
you who sit upon the fiery throne of glory, borne by Abriel and Luel;
you who sit upon the resting place of the cherubim and seraphim as they praise you in the midst of your glory,
you who are the Lord of the Heavenly Host,
you whose name is blessed and holy unto the ages of ages!
The Lord of Balaam, the God who made Heaven and Earth and all within it, the Lord of the All!

I call upon you, you who give power over the Abyss
to those above the Earth, to those upon the Earth, and to those below the Earth!
Hear your servant who prays to you in your name with your names!
O Lord God of the chosen people, o God glorious unto the ages of ages,
to whom is eternal might, o God who is the God of all gods!
Rectify your servant who gives unto you this prayer,
make straight him who is of your people,
maintain him who is of those who have received your favor, o God of gods!
O Lord God, Lord of Hosts, blessed are you forever,
o God of Adam, o God of Seth, o God of Enosh,
o God of Kenan, o God of Mahalalel, o God of Jared,
o God of Enoch, of God of Methushelah, o God of Lamech, o God of Noah,
o God of Abraham, o God of Isaac, o God of Jacob, o God of gods!

O you who are upon the stars and above the ages,
o you who brings forth snow and constantly traverse the entire cosmos,
o you who make the stars and planets marshal all things by your creating power!
Fill me with wisdom and empower me, o Lord,
fill my heart with good, o Lord,
that I might become your angel in this world,
that I might become immortal in your wisdom,
that I might be given a share of your strength and power,
that I might be shown your favor and peace,
that I might receive this gift from you!
Amen.

Most of the changes, especially in the barbarous names, come from other PGM sources; while the Prayer of Jacob from PGM XXIIb is the most important part of the Prayer of the Patriarchs, the initial invocation of the angels of the seven heavens came from PGM XXXV and the Beirut phylactery (the PGM section in question lacks an angel for the seventh heaven), and the godnames preceding the “You who sit over…” invocations came from PGM XII.  Besides those, the only other major structural change is the addition of the full lineage of pre-Flood Patriarchs, from Adam to Noah, then ending with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  I personally like doing this, because it implies a descent of divinity and spiritual heritage from the first man down to the forebears and founders of the Israelites and Jewish people.  Although none of this is in the Prayer of Jacob proper (I mean, if it was said by Jacob, then we wouldn’t expect to find his own name used in his own prayer praisingly), we do see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob put together in other sections of the PGM.  By throwing in the pre-Flood Patriarchs, I though I would be able to tap more into the raw divinity that they had from a time immemorial.  Additionally, from PGM XXXV.1—42, I also added in the prophet Balaam, a contemporary of Moses and the only non-Israelite prophet in the Old Testament.  The inclusion of Balaam is significant, because God made Balaam, a non-Israelite and thus not one of his chosen people, a prophet so that the non-Israelites couldn’t say “if only we had our own Moses, we would be as pious as the Israelites”; more than that, Balaam was blessed with the gift to know the exact moment God became angry or wroth, a deep and emotional intimacy which no other prophet or creature was given.  By including Balaam among the patriarchs here, we’re able to include Jewish heritage as well as non-Jewish heritage, giving us a bit more wiggle room for those who aren’t Jewish or even Noahide in their lifestyle.

Still, there are a few other changes I made here and there, and there’s one interesting bit in the original phrasing that I intentionally changed.  Betz has one of the supplications as “Maintain the one who possesses this prayer, who is from the stock of Israel”, which I changed to “rectify the one who gives unto you this prayer”.  There are three things going on here:

  • I changed “who is from the stock of Israel” to “who is of your people”, making the prayer a bit more general for people who aren’t of Jewish descent to use while still establishing the mage as a person of God, godly in his works and faith, regardless of their Jewish birth heritage in favor of their Hermetic spiritual inheritance.  However, for mages who actually are Jewish, I would recommend the original phrasing instead of my correction.
  • I changed “who possesses this prayer” to “who gives unto you this prayer”.  The Betz translation, taking a cue from Preisendanz, would suggest that this whole prayer might not be recited at all, but instead written as an amulet like many of the other charms and ritual apparatuses of the PGM, but this goes against the ritual instructions at the end of this part of PGM XXIIb, so I don’t think it’s meant to be written and carried around (though doing so wouldn’t hurt, if you were to go the extra mile).  One alternative is to write down the first two paragraphs of the prayer as an amulet, while reciting the rest; that might be one possible breakdown, though I think it’s still better to recite the whole thing, with “possession” here meant metaphorically rather than literally.
  • Really interesting here is the use of the word “maintain” here, which in Greek is διόρθωσον, the aorist imperative form of διορθόω, which literally means “make straight”, in the sense of correction, revision, amending someone, reconciling, redeeming, or restoring to order.  The word has a medical connotation, too, of setting broken bones back in place, as noted by Phillip J. Long over at Reading Acts.  Instead of using “maintain” which doesn’t really have many of those connotations, I opted for “rectify”, which literally means “make right” or “make straight”, and gives more of those connotations of διορθόω.

Then there are the barbarous names ΕΠΑΓΑΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ and ΗΛΟΗΛ ΣΟΥΗΛ.  Though I’m not in the habit of leaving out barbarous words, I did I just that here, rendering them instead as “God glorious unto the ages of ages” and “God who is God of all gods”, respectively.  Though these can definitely be left as barbarous words, I think these ones can actually be translated.  As to how I translated them and why:

  • ΕΠΑΓΑΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΝ: There are a few Greek words that start with έπαγα- that all have to do with glory, exulting, or dignity, and I think this might be a synthesis of a Greek word with the Hebrew godname ‘El, literally “glorious ‘El” or “glorious God”.  ΑΛΑΜΝ, on the other hand, is strange, but van der Horst and Newman in their commentary on this prayer instead read its as “ALAMAN”, which they consider to be a corruption of Hebrew “`olam” or “`olamim”.  This word is common in the berakhot of Jewish practice, where every blessing begins “barukh atah ‘Adonai ‘Eloheinu, melekh ha-`olam…” or “blessed are you, my Lord, our God, king of the world…” or, alternatively, “…sovereign of the universe…” or even “…ruler of the cosmos…”.  However, in its plural form, `olamim can also mean “eternal” or, more poetically, “ages of ages”, and van der Horst and Newman note that ‘El `Olam would mean “God of Eternity”, suggesting also that we should read this as ΕΠΑΓΑ ΗΛ ΑΛΑΜΑΝ.  Thus, I translated these divine names as “God glorious unto the ages of ages”.
  • ΗΛΟΗΛ ΣΟΥΗΛ: Unfortunately, I’m not as clean here as with the above names, but I don’t want to read them as barbarous words, either.  If we break this up into ΗΛ Ο ΗΛ ΣΟΥ ΗΛ, then we could read it as “God, the God, your God” or “God, the God of you, God”.  ΗΛΟΗΛ is a weird theophoric name; although well-formed, like Μιχαηλ or Σαμουηλ, we don’t often see two divine elements put together, especially the same element, in the same name.  If we break this up into several words, then we can get a reasonable Greek construction: Ἠλ ὁ Ἠλ, literally “God, the God”.  Likewise, we can break up ΣΟΥΗΛ into σου Ἠλ, the second person singular genitive pronoun (i.e. “your”) and God.  It all comes together as “God, the God of you, God”, which implies a divinity-within-divinity or divinity-upon-divinity.  For clarity, and to imply a kind of hierarchy, I’m translating these as “God who is God of all gods”.  It’s not an exact translation, but I’m comfortable in its meaning.

And one more note: the barbarous word ΣΕΜΕΣΕΙΛΑΜ used at the start of the prayer is rendered as “Eternal Light” in the version without barbarous words.  This is due to rendering the word as Hebrew “shemesh `olam”, or “sun of the world” or “sun of eternity”.  This is translated as “Eternal Light” to avoid too heliocentric a focus of the prayer, despite the Prayer of Jacob’s and related prayers’ heliocentric theurgical focus, but bears an equivalent meaning.  This isn’t really used in any of the source texts I was working with, but it’s a word I like using with a beautiful and appropriate meaning, so I used it in a place that seemed useful for it.

And…that’s it.  This is a project that was delayed for almost six years, but I’m glad to finally remove that entry from my post drafts folder, and to present it publicly.  Now to say it seven times facing northeast.  (Or whatever direction faces Jerusalem, I suppose.)

More Misbaḥa Prayers: Crown of the Dead, along with Crowns for Michael, Raphel, and Uriel

I’ve been working under a bit of a deadline recently for one of my own projects.  I’ve mentioned before, sometimes subtly and sometimes (probably most of the time) not, that I’ve been developing a new practice, a kind of devotional-spiritual-magical geomantic practice.  It’s been taking more and more shape, pleasantly enough; prayers, feasts, celebrations, lunar observances, and an upcoming thing which I’m calling the Days of Cultivation: 16 days of fasting, abstinence, prayer, meditation, and a generally intensified spiritual practice.  I mentioned the idea back when I brought up a sort of geomantic calendar of sorts a few months ago.  Having established that the first full day of spring after the vernal equinox in March would be established as a Feast of Gabriel and also the geomantic/solar new year, I also brought up the idea of two more events: a Feast of the Blessed Dead set 17 days before the Feast of Gabriel, and the sixteen days between them being the Days of Cultivation:

I actually feel pretty comfortable with this novel arrangement. Though there are five main feasts that would be celebrated, which would be an odd number for geomancy, it’s really more like four feasts of the Progenitors plus a special feast that they all center around. They could be balanced by adding in the other three feasts of the archangels to yield a constant and balanced eight feasts per year, sure, peppered with the other feasts throughout the year for the other saints and days taken from Catholic (or Orthodox) tradition. For me, though, it suffices to have these primary five (really, four plus one) feasts to act as holy days for a devotional geomantic practice. I can easily envision having lead-up days, such as one to four days of fasting immediately prior to the feasts of the Progenitors or four to sixteen days of fasting, studying, and praying leading up to the feast of Gabriel at the spring equinox, too, which would also work to deepen and focus devotional practices. Heck, we could give these fancy terms, too, like “Days of Cultivation” for the period leading up to the feast of Gabriel…

…What about a day or feast to recognize the blessed dead, whether familial or spiritual, by blood-lineage or tradition-lineage? Again, you could use All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days for this, or other culturally-appropriate Day of the Dead-type holidays; for specific ancestors, you could use their birthdays or their deathdays. Though, given the above system, I think we could do one better. Those Days of Cultivation, the days of fasting and study and prayer leading up to the geomantic new year and the Feast of Gabriel? Why not make the day before that dedicated to the dead? After all, it’s because of them that all this we have can come to pass, and by “starting” the Days of Cultivation with them, we give them their proper due and respect as we would begin our own period of intensive study and prayer and preparation for the New Year. So, that means that the Feast of the Blessed Dead would be 17 days before the Feast of Gabriel

Well, this year, according to the rules set in that post, the Feast of Gabriel is slated for Thursday, March 21, which means the sixteen days prior would be the Days of Cultivation, which means that the day before those start would be the Feast of the Blessed Dead.

Which is today.

I’ve been slowly building up this whole practice, and though I have most of the feasts established in how I want to recognize them—at least for the four archangels, because prayers and rites to recognize the four progenitors Adam, Enoch, Hermēs, and Daniel stubbornly refuse to come together in any way—the last major feast for me to come up with something was that of the Blessed Dead.  After piecing together something that I’m pretty proud of, based on other ancestor veneration practices I use or with which I’m familiar, there was one more thing I felt like I should add: a set of repetitive prayers.  Specifically, something using prayer beads.

I adore the use of the Catholic Chaplet of the Dead, but it doesn’t fit into the overall practices I’m developing, which are more Hermetically theist rather than being Christian, Jewish, or Islamic (though acknowledging the debt I have to all those faiths and practices that have their origin in them).  Plus, it…it doesn’t last that long, and the most awkward parts of it are the reciting of the first three prayers.  It wouldn’t work for what I wanted to do, so I did the next best thing: I wrote my own set of prayers for use with prayer beads.  I already brought up the misbaḥa in a previous post, the Islamic prayer beads of 99 beads broken up into three sets of 33, which is most commonly used for the famous Tasbīḥ Fātimah (In the name of God the Most Merciful the Most Gracious ×1, Glory be to God ×33, Praise be to God ×33, God is Great ×33, there is no God but God ×1), but for which I also developed the Crown of Gabriel, a specific devotion I wrote for the archangel Gabriel based on the Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur’ān.  So, knowing that the misbaḥa can be used in any number of ways, and knowing that I can write prayers for it, I decided to write one for ancestor veneration and prayers for the dead.

Thus, on this day of the Feast of the Blessed Dead, I’d like to present to you a new misbaḥa devotion, the Crown of the Dead.

  1. At the beginning, recite once: “In the name of God, the Lord of the World, the True Judge.”
  2. On of the first set of 33 beads, recite: “May God give … unbounded mercy.”
  3. On the first separator, recite: “O God, for all the evil … have done in life, overlook it and forgive them in death.”
  4. On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite: “May God give … eternal rest.”
  5. On the second separator, recite: “O God, for all the good … have done in life, increase it and honor them in death.”
  6. On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite: “May God give … perpetual light.”
  7. At the end, recite once: “May … find peace on the wings of the divine presence of God.”

At each ellipsis, you can dedicate the recitation of the Crown of the Dead to a specific person (e.g. “May God give John son of Elizabeth unbounded mercy” or “May God give Jane Doe eternal rest”), or to all the dead generally (e.g. “May God give all the blessed souls of the dead perpetual light”.  Thus, the Crown of the Dead may be performed for a specific person who has passed away or for the benefit of all the dead.

There are basically four influences on the construction of the Crown of the Dead:

So, pretty nifty, I think.  Simple in its execution, powerful in its meaning, and flexible in its use.

At this point, my little prayerbook-in-development now listed three prayers (Dead, Gabriel, and the Tasbīḥ Fātimah) for the misbaḥa instead of just two, which actually made it worth a section of its own.  But why should I stop there?  After all, I’ve gotten some experience writing chaplets for archangels before, so why not try coming up with other misbaḥa-based prayers for the other three archangels that this system would celebrate, Michael and Raphael and Uriel?  Truth be told, I didn’t originally want to or plan to; I was going to use the Crown of Gabriel as a general preface practice for all the angelic celebrations, because this practice is largely Gabriel-centric.  However, when thinking about it and trying to arrange the celebrations right, they just…it didn’t fit.  Not that that should be surprising, but I ended up buckling and coming up with three more misbaḥa practices for the other archangels, named (oh-so-creatively!) the Crown of Michael, the Crown of Raphael, and the Crown of Uriel.

The Crown of Michael:

  1. At the beginning, recite once: “In the name of God, the Most Holy, the Lord of the Heavenly Host.”
  2. On of the first set of 33 beads, recite: “Holy Michael, defend us in battle.”
  3. On the first separator, recite: “O God, come to my assistance.”
  4. On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite: “Protect us against the snares and wickedness of evil.”
  5. On the second separator, recite: “O God, make haste to help me.”
  6. On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite: “There is none like unto God but God.”
  7. At the end, recite once: “Save us, o Lord, and grant us the defense of your angels.”

The Crown of Raphael:

  1. At the beginning, recite once: “In the name of God, the Living, Eternal, and Faithful King.”
  2. On of the first set of 33 beads, recite: “O God, may Raphael lead me to health.”
  3. On the first separator, recite: “Holy Raphael, o cure of all diseases! Come to my aid, o terror of all demons!”
  4. On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite: “O God, through health, lead me to virtue.”
  5. On the second separator, recite: “Holy Raphael, o guide of all paths! Come to may aid, o friend of all travelers!”
  6. On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite: “O God, through virtue, lead me to victory.”
  7. At the end, recite once: “Blessed are you, o God, Lord of creation, who bestows good things upon the unworthy and has bestowed upon me every goodness.”

The Crown of Uriel:

  1. At the beginning, recite once: “In the name of God, the One Light of all creation.”
  2. On of the first set of 33 beads, recite: “O flaming sword cutting darkness and deception!”
  3. On the first separator, recite: “God willing, holy Uriel, enlighten me in my dark understanding.”
  4. On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite: “O scales of justice proving truth and fairness!”
  5. On the second separator, recite: “God willing, holy Uriel, enlighten me in my dark understanding.”
  6. On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite: “O abundance of the garden nourishing all the world!”
  7. At the end, recite once: “Glory to God and all his deeds, for all that he does is good.”

There are a variety of influences here, ranging from Jewish blessings to Catholic prayers to calling on the general symbolism of the angels and their powers and patronages.  Personally, while I’m set on the Crown of the Dead and the Crown of Michael, the Crown of Raphael and the Crown of Uriel don’t seem quite finished to me yet; there seem to be some subtle differences in how they’re currently written versus the others that I’m not comfortable with, so those are up for some refining, but I still think they’re quite usable on their own.  I haven’t had much of a chance to actually work them—yet—but I’m excited to give them a swing.

I’m really warming up to the use of the misbaḥa as a general prayer tool.  There are (usually) no overt symbols of faith attached to it, and I like the number of beads and the forms it has, plus the general beauty of them compared to so many rosaries I’ve seen before.  Plus, its simplicity and flexibility allows it to be used for any number of devotions and prayer rules, even if a bit of ingenuity needs to be used to come up with them.  For instance, most chaplets for the angels and saints are done on so-called niner chaplets, chaplets that consist of nine beads; a straightforward, though laborious, way to apply chaplet prayers to a misbaḥa is simply to repeat each prayer 33 times instead of just once, going over the misbaḥa three times total for a series of 9 × 33 = 297 invocations.  Definitely worth taking one’s time, I suppose, or one could just apply separators to every 11 sets of beads, so that each invocation is repeated 11 times instead of just once or 33 times.  Plus, with masābiḥ (I think that’s the proper Arabic plural, even though I’m not 100% certain, because I don’t want to use the Anglicized plural of misbaḥas), they’re large enough to be worn comfortably as a necklace, just like a mala might be, and about the same length, too.  I find wearing them to be important, especially immediately after reciting one of the prayers above, like for Gabriel or Michael; I’m not just calling them “crowns” for nothing, after all.

Reviewing and Renewing my Offering to All Spirits

Recently, a friend of mine asked if I could share with him one of my old documents, a digitization of my vademecum that I keep with me as my own personal prayer book and handbook for ritual and ceremony.  I had designs to digitize it and maintain a cleaner, more organized version of it, but I never really got that off the ground.  Still, it did serve as an excellent resource for all the stuff I didn’t want to copy by hand into my vademecum, and I’m glad I kept it up for as long as I did, because I apparently forgot about it sometime in, like, 2014.  It had honestly and completely skipped my mind entirely until my friend reminded me of it, so I dug through my Documents folder and, would you believe it, look at all this awesome stuff I was amassing.  (Including a bunch of recipes that I’m personally thrilled to remember again, thank God and the gods.)

One of the entries in my vademecum is an old prayer I was using at the time for a general offering to the spirits.  Not just for a specific spirit, not for a fill-in-the-blank template, but as an honest offering to all spirits of incense and water.  I wrote about it on my blog back in 2012, and gave my general framework for it then and the prayer as I had it then.  According to what I wrote (you’d be surprised what you forget over six years), at the time I was in the habit of generally making “this offering as the first offering I do after my prayers to the Almighty, so that any other spirit I call upon afterwards can also partake of the offering as they come into the area of the altar”.  I apparently stopped this practice at some point, and six years later, I can certainly recall why and why I might not recommend this practice as commonly or frequent as I once would have.

To start with, this prayer and offering practice was influenced by my friends taking Jason Miller’s Strategic Sorcery class, who shared some of their tech with me.  (If you noticed similarities between my phrasing of things and the phrasing of Strategic Sorcery offering prayers, well, now you know where it came from.)  Jason Miller talks about why we would make such offerings in a recent post of his on generating sorcerer’s luck, when he specifically talks about making daily and widespread offerings:

Not just to specific spirits, but widespread offerings. We use four classes in Strategic Sorcery, but it is good enough to just make an offering to the spirits of the air, land, and underworld where you live. Pour some libarion, light some incense. Do it every day.  Do. It. Every. Day. Not feeling receptive” today? Not feeling “into it”? Not “in the right headspace”? Do it anyway. It’s not about you.  Take care of the spirits and the spirits will take care of you. Shit will start to work out almost as if the universe is conspiring with you. 1000 unnamed helpers from the land in which you live often outweigh the influence of the Archdemon that you spent 3 hours conjuring.

In a general sense, I agree with Jason, because making offerings is a way to build a relationship with the spirits.  It’s like a quote I shared on my Facebook recently, attributed to the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry: “We offer sacrifices to the gods for three reasons: that we may venerate, that we may give thanks, and that we may implore from them things necessary and avert from ourselves things evil”.  By making offerings to the spirits—light, incense, libation, food, blood, song, art, prayer, energy, what have you—we build a relationship with the spirits we engage with, nourish them, strengthen them, and fortify our connection to them.  It’s a wonderful thing to do, whether you think of yourself as a mage or a priest or just as a spiritually thoughtful and considerate person, no matter where you live or what you do.  By showing respect and offering tribute to the higher entities of the cosmos and nourishment to the lower ones, we build up our spiritual networks that we can call upon for any number of ends.

And yet…well, I can’t help but feel anymore that such general offerings, without some limitation or focus or modification to one’s environments, can just as easily be deleterious to one’s safety and stability, or cause other problems that need to be resolved.  Case in point, in fact the very case that got me to scale back these sorts of offerings to begin with: one time I was making my normal prayers in my old apartment, and…something just felt off.  Not wrong, but like there was something there that shouldn’t be, something there that was stuck awkwardly.  It took me a bit to catch on, but there was a spirit stuck in my window.  Like, not trapped in the windowpane, but a spirit that was stuck half-in half-out through my window, like a big dog that tried to get through too small a pet door.  I was caught off-guard when I turned my gaze towards the poor spirit that got stuck there, and the conversation we had basically clarified what happened: it heard my offering prayer and wanted to partake, but something about the protections I had set up on my property had prevented its access inside, while at the same time it was drawn to partake in the offerings within that same property.  This ended up causing an inadvertent trap for the spirit, and it could neither fully enter nor leave as it had gotten so stuck within the property’s spiritual boundaries.  I ended up punching a hole in the protections to the place, gave it offerings of its own, and sent it on its way, but it got me thinking: in my generosity, I was making a banquet for all sorts of spirits, not all of which would normally be permitted entry to my property given my protections, and yet I wasn’t making the right allowances for them.  On top of that, I was also reminded that for those same spirits who were able to partake, how would I be able to keep my property clean and cleansed, and how could I get those spirits to mosey on out if they got too used to enjoying regular offerings to me, without providing any other benefit?

Consider: our resources, supplies, time, and energy are inherently limited.  We might have access to infinity through whatever choice and selection of divinity we work with and call upon, but our capacity to accept and disperse them is limited.  We only have so many hours in the day, we only have so many cups for offerings, we only have so many sticks of incense we can spare, we only have so much attention we can devote to our necessities and chores and obligations.  There’s also the classical notion that we should always give enough, but not too much, so that we might always have something to give, and indeed, my own practices have long since shifted to making offerings only when necessary, and even then, only making the necessary offerings.  This helps prevent certain spirits from getting spoiled and taking us for granted, and it also helps keep me in check so that I don’t get worn out or resentful from always giving so much for the mere sake of giving.  And even then, not all spirits are worth making offerings to; while all spirits are worthy of existence and respect, just like people are, not every spiritual person needs to truck with every spirit.  Some spirits are harmful for us to work with, and some spirits are just those that offerings shouldn’t be received by our hands; I know that, even despite my own good intentions, some spirits find my mere presence harmful, while they might find the presence of my friend more acceptable and so could more easily accept offerings from them.

I understand Jason’s point of view; after all, he’s very much a tantric sorcerer and Buddhist, and in that system, offerings should be widespread, general, and for all sentient beings in all levels of the world.  Really, the systems of offerings he teaches are a kind of very lite chöd, which is wonderful and easy enough for people to pick up and practice without too much danger, so long as they’re diligent about it (and isn’t that really the whole problem right there?).  But in my worldview and practice, that’s not the case; there are some spirits that we simply don’t have any business dealing with or making offerings to, there are some spirits that take us for granted, and there are some spirits that we’re simply not the best ones to make offerings from them even if they want/need them and even if we want to give it to them.  Rather, it’s generally better to at least have an idea of who it is you’re making offerings to, enter into some sort of relationship with them, and gradually build up to making offerings through completion and fulfillment of vows, making offerings for special occasions, and then if the relationship proves itself to be beneficial for the both of you, then making regular offerings.  But even then, there’s also the risk of attracting spirits that we don’t necessarily want around us after the fact; making general offerings can pick up nasty, unwelcome, or harmful spirits who see the offering as a good free meal and then might help themselves to more without you wanting them to, but hey, you’re the one who invited them to begin with.

By no means am I saying that you shouldn’t making offerings for the benefit of all sentient spirits, or for spirits generally, but what I am saying is that you need to be smart about it.  The way I was doing it was wrong, because it ended up being harmful for some spirits that wanted to partake but couldn’t break through the protections I had on my house properly for such a meal, and I know that others who make such offerings often also pick up unwanted spirits that linger around them and cause them more problems down the line that need to be taken care of through banishing and exorcisms that necessarily are harsher than they otherwise would have been.  You need to be careful when making offerings in such a general, widespread format: you need to make sure the door is open enough for them to enter, you need to make sure you keep yourself clean and your place cleansed, and you need to make sure your guests don’t overstay their welcome.  If you can manage all that, you’re set, but figuring out how to do that is part of the problem, isn’t it?  Truth be told, I can easily pick out what went wrong in my earlier practices, and my own mistakes and missteps.

To that end, I took another look at that old offering prayer of mine.  I like the idea, sentiment, and underlying purpose of it, but now that I’m a little older and a little more experienced and wary, there are some changes I’d make to the thing, including the wording of the prayer itself (my writing skills, I like to think, have improved with time).  So, I made the changes, and I’d like to present my updated prayer and methodology here.  One of the most important changes I made to the prayer was that I stopped beckoning the spirits to come to me, so no more “come, all you spirits” again and again; this prevented a need for spirits to try to come to me or enter into my property, because part of the prayer dedicates the offerings to specifically flow out from their place of offering into the rest of the cosmos, so that really, the offerings would come to them rather than the spirits having to come to the offerings.

For this ritual, you will need a simple cup of clean, fresh water and either one stick or three sticks of some generally-pleasing incense.  The water should be left unmixed with anything, though may be sweetened with a drop of honey or rosewater if truly desired; the cup itself is best one dedicated to spiritual work, and better dedicated solely for this specific kind of general offering, but this is not necessary so long as it’s been cleaned and cleansed after each use.  For incense, frankincense is always a good option, but scents like sandalwood, benzoin, sweet or mild musk, jasmine, rose, amber, and the like are also plenty fine; avoid anything too strong, potent, sharp, bitter, or sour.  Blended incenses are perfect, so long as they’re pleasantly fragrant enough without being overpowering.  You don’t need to use sticks, although I find them convenient; if you prefer to go with loose incense, feel free.  Although I like having a candle burning during all my prayers and spiritual work, with an exorcism and/or blessing said over it, it’s not necessary for this offering, as it’s not something being offered to the spirits themselves, although you may find it helpful just in case.  Other offerings, such as food, flowers, candles, and the like may also be set out, but those are entirely extra and unnecessary.  In this case, it’s better to keep the offering simple, short, and clean.

Ideally, this offering would take place in a neutral area, such as an outdoors place not on your own property, or in a place that is not otherwise bounded by spiritual protections belonging to some specific person or ruling entity.  Ideal places for this would be a park, field, crossroads, beach, or some other place that cannot be said to belong to anyone.  It is inadvisable to perform this offering in a place that is controlled by someone else, such as a sacred precinct, church, a place known to be claimed by a particular divinity or spirit, or someone else’s property.  Otherwise, it may be performed in your own home or on your own property, though you may need to ward and protect yourself accordingly to permit the offering to pass from the property without allowing anything baneful to enter in by the same way.  Depending on how you feel afterwards, you may want to follow up this offering with banishing to make sure nothing sticks around that shouldn’t.

When ready, wash your hands, set the cup of water and the incense out on a clean surface, whether on the ground or on a low table or other elevated surface.  Light the incense and let it begin rising through the air.  Hold your arms out, palms upward and out as in the orans gesture and recite the prayer aloud to the spirits:

Hear me, all you spirits, by whatever name you take, by whatever form you take!
Hear me, all you spirits, before, behind, beside, below, or above me who call you!
Hear me, all you spirits, of the north and the south, of the east and the west!
Hear me, all you spirits, within or above the Heavens, upon or under the Earth!
Hear me, all you spirits, with whom I hold favor or disfavor!
Hear me, all you spirits, who owe me debt or to whom I owe debt!
Here do I call to you, wherever you may be: partake of this my offering!
I dedicate to you now this water and this incense as offerings to you;
I give you these offerings freely and joyfully, and ask that you accept them in the same,
as symbols of my thanks, love, goodwill, honor, respect, trust, and joy for you
for your own benefit and peace, that I too might have benefit and peace.

Dip your fingers of your dominant hand (or the hand you prefer to use to give offerings with) into the water and scatter it around you to your front, back, and either side.  Visualize the water to rise up and flow out from the cup outwards as a constant fountain, especially through and beyond the spiritual boundaries of your own property if it is done there.  Resume the orans gesture, then recite the next part of the prayer:

Accept now this water, fresh, clean, and sweet,
that it may refresh you, cleanse you, and cheer you.
Let this water nourish you how it you need it best,
whether as golden rivers of nectar or as boiling seas of blood.
Let this water swell and surround you and the common ground we share,
that we may understand and console each other, comfort and soothe each other.
Let this water overflow this vessel and wash over all that exists,
reaching the uttermost shores of the cosmos in all directions,
that all spirits may partake of this my offering.

With the same hand as before, place it palm-down in the incense smoke, then lift your hand in one swift motion to draw the smoke upwards, then fan it away from you with the same hand seven times.  Visualize the incense to rise up and fill the entire cosmos with its plumes of pure fragrant smoke, especially through and beyond the spiritual boundaries of your own property if it is done there.  Resume the orans gesture, then recite the next part of the prayer:

Accept now this incense, sacred, whole, and pure,
that it may satisfy you, strengthen you, and fortify you.
Receive this incense as you how you need it best,
whether as abundant forests of fruits or as burning mountains of flesh.
Let this incense rise up and fill your beings, your hearts, and your minds,
that we may understand and know each other, hear and see each other.
Let this incense be compounded upon itself a myriad myriad times,
rising up and filling the entire cosmos with its sweet smoke,
that all spirits may partake of this my offering.

Maintain the orans gesture and conclude the prayer:

If I hold favor with you, then let this offering strengthen us and be a mark of alliance and friendship.
If I hold disfavor with you, then let this offering reconcile us and be an expression of apology to you.
If you owe me debt, then let this offering be a symbol of my faith and trust in you.
If I owe you debt, then let this offering be repayment towards its ultimate fulfillment.
Come and take your fill of these offerings, of this water and of this incense!
As you take your fill of these offerings, remember me who gives them to you!
Let this offering aid you in your work; let this offering sate you and please you!
Let this offering of goodwill be taken in goodwill, of peace in peace, of love in love
for your own benefit and peace, that I too might have benefit and peace.
If you came here to me in peace, so now return to your home in peace;
if you reside peacefully with me, so too abide peacefully with me.
Take your fill of this offering and continue in your work,
in the Holy Light of the Creator of us all.

Let the incense burn out completely; you can enter into a period of contemplation or chanting other prayers, if you want to be present for the rest of the offering, or you may take a brief leave and return later.  Once the incense burns out, the offering may be formally drawn to a close. If possible, scatter the incense ash into the wind and pour out the water onto the ground; if done indoors, these may be disposed of in a trash bin and a sink respectfully.  Resume the orans gesture, then recite the next part of the prayer:

The water I poured for you is drained, the incense I burned for you is spent.
The offering I made for you is given, the offering I made for you is complete.
May this offering be pleasing and fit for all spirits where they are,
that they may be at peace, and be at peace with me.
May no ill-will remain, may no malice remain,
but only peace and peace and peace and peace.
All you spirits who have come to me to partake in this offering,
as you have come in peace, so now go in peace.
Go now with my peace, go now with my blessing, and go now to your work,
in the Holy Light of the Creator of us all.

The offering is complete.

Brilliant Call of Light

Finally, all those 2019 yearly readings I did are done!  Thank you, everyone, for letting me divine for you.  I hope that they’re helpful for you all, and that they continue to be helpful and, yanno, accurate enough to be worth the cost.  In letting me divine for you, I’m enabled to learn more about geomancy, refine my practices and understanding, and become a better geomancer, diviner, and counselor.  It’s a privilege to be able to do this for you.  Thank you!  Also I cannot begin to describe how wonderful it is to see my email inbox empty once more, and also to be able to relax again.  This has been several weeks of nearly non-stop readings, so a lot else has had to go on the back burner in the meantime.  But now that I’m able to breathe again without the weight of having to do readings on my shoulders, I’m getting back to it again.

As I noted in my recent post on how the notion of divine Light and geomancy can be tied together, I’ve been inspired to write a bunch of prayers for a new kind of devotional practice that I seem to have struck gold with.  Many have already been written, and at this point there’s not a lot more to truly come up with (except for one stubborn section that I’m drawing blanks on, so maybe that one just isn’t ready to be written yet).  The ones I’ve already written are undergoing edits and tweaks the more I use them and recite them, picking out things that could flow better, removing things that don’t seem to fit, and adding things that bring everything together.  I’m really pleased with how all these are turning out, and the ones I’ve been using a lot are quickly becoming part of my usual practices.  Repetition and routine, after all, make for some of the best tests of practice and prayers.

That said, most of these prayers are not ones I’m comfortable sharing; they’re either too new and fresh and untested and unedited, or they just…don’t seem right for truly public access, at least not yet.  Some of them I really would like to keep secret, but others don’t give me that same vibe, and instead can and should be spread and used by many.  One such prayer is one I’d like to post today; it seems and feels to be in a more-or-less final form, and I’m happy with how it flows, rolls, and resounds.  This, especially, is a direct result from those numerological revelations of the Islamic name of God an-Nūr (the Light) from that older post, and a straightforward application of those ideas into a concentrated prayer.

I present to you the Brilliant Call of Light:

God is Light,
and God is the Light,
and God is the Light of Light,
and God is the Light upon Light,
and God is the Light within Light,
and God is Light.

God is Light,
the sudden Glimmer of inspiration,
the revealing Flash of insight,
the bright Flame of knowledge,
the wondrous Lamp of divinity,
and God is Light.

God is Light,
the Light that enables the eye of the mind to see
that which is true and real,
that which is hidden and obscured,
that which is forgotten and ignored,
and God is Light.

God is Light,
the fierce and burning flare of Light,
undeniable, unstoppable, unassailable,
a brilliant blast that radiates in all directions
to destroy and conquer all that would dim it,
and God is Light.

God is Light,
shining forth from its single Source,
flowing out like a mighty river from a quiet spring
into every crack of every door, wall, window, and mind
filling every corner, niche, space, and thought
and God is Light.

God is Light,
the Light that makes the unseen to be seen,
that makes the hidden to be revealed,
that makes the unknown to be known,
that makes the forgotten to be remembered,
and God is Light.

God is Light,
the Light of all action,
the Light of all reaction,
the Light of all inaction,
the Light of all interaction,
and God is Light.

Be here, o God, for only you can be anywhere and everywhere!
Shine forth, o God, your light into this space and into me!
Illuminate my eyes, my ears, my nose, and my mouth with your light!
Fill my body, my soul, my spirit, and my mind with your Light!
My every emotion, my every thought, my every sensation be permeated with your Light!
Your radiant, brilliant, revealing Light floods this place through me,
and no darkness nor shadow nor dimness nor obscurity can here remain!
In every crack and crevice, in every nook and cranny,
around every corner, behind every wall, into every entrance, within every space,
let your holy, divine, pure, true Light shine forth!
Nothing can escape the reach and splendor of your Light,
for all the cosmos you created is filled with your Light!

In your Light am I embraced, protected, guided, and lifted
from darkness into light, from despair into hope,
from filth into purity, from deception into truth.
In your Light no darkness can linger,
In your Hope no despair can continue,
In your Purity no filth can remain,
In your Truth no deception can endure.
In your Light may this space and all within it be embraced, protected, guided, and lifted
that neither evil darkness, nor wicked despair,
nor harmful filth, nor corrupt deception may abide here any longer.

Grant, o God, o God of Light, o God who is Light,
Light of the Mind, Light of the World, Light of all Creation,
that as we rejoice and praise the goodness of your Light and you who are Good
that we may also rejoice and praise the goodness in the light of others
that we may all become Good as you.

Amen.

The first part of a prayer is a kind of meditation that enforces and reinforces the notion of how truly poweful, beautiful, and intricate the notion of Light is in all its ways, and how Light in this case is one of the things that God is, indeed a true quality and behavior and power of God.  The second part is an invocation and call of Light to fill oneself, through oneself their environment, and through that environment the whole world with that divine Light, eradicating darkness, wickedness, and all that would stop or impede or dim or darken that Light.  In effect, it can serve as a purification and banishing of oneself and one’s environment.

May this prayer serve you well, and bring a little more Light into your life.

On Prayer Beads, Devotions to Gabriel, and a New Way of Doing Just That

I think that, as of this moment…god, how many sets of prayer beads do I have in my temple room? Seven chaplets for the archangels I made myself, one rosary each for Mary the Theotokos and for Saint Cyprian of Antioch and for my ancestor shrine, a chaplet of Saint Cyprian of Antioch I designed myself, an Orthodox Christian prayer rope, a set of tiger’s eye prayer beads I made for solar work (specifically for a variant of my Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios), a set of labradorite prayer beads I made for my Holy Guardian Angel, a chaplet for Hermēs based on the work of the good Dr. Jeffrey S. Kupperman (yes, that one, the one with the book! he put out a wonderful novena rule and chaplet for Hermēs not too long ago), and a set of Islamic prayer beads (misbaḥa) for my ancestor shrine for one of my spirit guides. All told, that makes 16 different sets of prayer beads scattered throughout my temple, though admittedly I don’t use all of them; sometimes they’re there more for the shrine’s sake or the use of the spirits rather than my own. I used to have a rosewood mala for my old Buddhist stuff, but I’ve since gifted that away to a friend who can put it to better use since there’s nothing more for me to do along those lines or practices.

What? I like the convenience, customizability, and attractiveness of prayer beads. They’re useful, they’re tangible, they let the body focus on one thing and allow the mind to focus on another in a semi-autonomous way.

Well, lately, as part of my burgeoning geomantic devotional practice, I’ve been getting more interested in Islamic prayer methods. Credit where it’s due: Islamic devotional practice, prayers, and supplication frameworks are amazing. There’s a massive body of beautiful, poetic, and wonderfully specific literature-cum-prayer rules of endless supplication after supplication after supplication, and it’s at once dazzling and daunting. Now, I’m not a Muslim, nor have I intention to convert given…all the other obligations I have and some theological differences, but I cannot deny the beauty and profundity of how they approach divinity through prayer. As you might have guessed, there’s also a method of prayer with Islam’s own kind of prayer beads: the misbaḥa, also known as tasbīḥ. The word has its origins in the word subḥa, meaning “glory”, as in the phrase Subḥāna-llāh, “Glory be to God” (the recitation of which is also called Tasbīḥ, just as the recitation of the phrase Allāhu ‘akbar, “God is Great”, is called Takbīr).

Misbaḥa are easy to understand: they’re made of 99 beads, with two separators that stand out in some way to break the counting beads up into three sets of 33 beads each. The “head” or “tail” (depending on how you look at it) typically has a long, cylindrical bead, plus some other number of beads for keeping track of iterations of going through the entire thing. Other misbaḥa are made with other numbers, some as few as 11 beads or sometimes 33 broken into three sets of 11, but others used in some religious orders can have as many as a thousand beads. Some misbaḥa have a slidable marker to further mark off particular sets of beads, such as for holding one’s place or when reaching a particular count desired (e.g. 40 is a common number found in Islamic devotional repetitions).

Probably the most popular way, or at least one of the most popular and acclaimed ways, of using misbaḥa is through the method known as the Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah, the method ascribed to Fāṭimah, the daughter of the Prophet Muḥammad. The method is simple:

  1. On each of the first set of 33 beads, recite the Tasbīḥ: Subḥāna-llah (“Glory be to God”).
  2. On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite the Taḥmīd: Alḥamdu li-llāh (“Praise be to God”).
  3. On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite the Takbīr: Allāhu ‘akbar (“God is Great”).

Unlike rosaries or chaplets in the Christian tradition, note how the separators don’t have associated prayers or anything said on them; they’re just used solely as markers to switch up prayers. There are variations of this method, too, of course; some say to recite the Takbīr first followed by the Taḥmīd and the Tasbīḥ in that order, some say to recite the Takbīr 34 times instead of 33 times, some say to conclude by reciting the first part of the Shahāda (Lā ‘ilāha ‘illā-llāh, “there is no god but God”), but the general method is fundamentally the same. It is recommended for the observant to perform this devotion immediately after every compulsory prayer, but the original story behind the Prophet giving it to his daughter also recommends saying it before one retires for sleep.

Discussing this with one of my Muslim colleagues online, this is just one method of using misbaḥa; there are countless ways to use them, such as for reciting individual attributes or names of God (of which there are, of course, a conventional set of 99 in Islam), reciting particular verses of the Qur’ān over and over, and the like. The possibilities are endless, apparently.

So, of course, this got me thinking: while I, too, can use the Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah devotion, is there a way I could use this venerable tool in a way specifically geared for my own needs? Of course there is. The Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah practice is wonderful on its own, and doesn’t require one to be a Muslim to use it; after all, the supplications involved in it are pretty basic and can work for anyone with an Abrahamic, Hermetic, or just plain deist bent, and it’s a clean and straightforward practice that doesn’t involve a lot of preliminary setup, education, or training. It’s effective, I’ll absolutely grant it that. But if there are other ways to use misbaḥa, why not also try something else as well for a more specific purpose than just worship, hesychasm, and henosis?

There being three sets of 33 beads reminded me of the Chaplet of Saint Gabriel the Archangel from Catholic devotions, which is constructed with a lead chain of three beads linked to a ring of 33 beads broken into three sets of 11 beads with one separator bead between each set.

  1. Lead bead 1: “Heavenly Father, through the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel, may we honor the incarnation of your divine Son.”
  2. Lead bead 2: “Mother of our Savior, may we strive always to imitate your holy virtues and respond to our Father, ‘be it done unto me according to thy Word’.”
  3. Lead bead 3: “Archangel Gabriel, please praise our Father for the gift of his Son praying, one day, by his grace, we may all be one.”
  4. On each of the beads in each set of 11: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
  5. On each of the two separator beads: “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus.”

Simple and straightforward. It wouldn’t be a stretch to simply expand the repetitions from three sets of 11 for a total of 33 to three sets of 33 for a total of 99 (33 being a sacred number for Christians, being the number of years Jesus was alive when he was crucified). I could definitely use misbaḥa for Gabriel-based devotions, which is good given the importance of Gabriel being the angel of revelation to the prophet Daniel as well as to Elizabeth, Mary, Muḥammad, Enoch, and so many others, and given the fact that Gabriel is the angel who taught the founders of geomancy their art. However, I didn’t feel like the Catholic approach here—although totally workable—felt appropriate for either my own devotional needs or for use with the misbaḥa.

So, I scoured some verses of Scripture in which Gabriel was either directly present by name or directly being referenced from the Tanakh, the Bible, and the Qur’ān, and in the end, I developed a new method of repetition-based devotions to God through his archangel, a method I’m tentatively calling the “Crown of Gabriel”, to be used on a standard misbaḥa of 99 beads:

  1. At the beginning, recite once: “In the name of God who created me.”
  2. On of the first set of 33 beads, recite: “May God fill me with his grace.”
  3. On the first separator, recite: “God willing, teach me, o Gabriel, mighty in power, revelations to be revealed.”
  4. On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite: “May God be with me.”
  5. On the second separator, recite: “God willing, come forth, o Gabriel, to give me understanding and insight.”
  6. On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite: “Do unto me according to his word.”
  7. At the end, recite once: “My Lord is the Most Generous.”

The specific supplications come from four verses of Abrahamic scripture, one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and two from the Qur’ān, all of which are associated with Gabriel in one way or another:

  • Daniel 9:22 (the clarification of the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks):

    And he [Gabriel] informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding.

  • Luke 1:28—38 (the Annunciation):

    And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured [full of grace], the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

  • Qur’ān, Sūrah An-Najm, 53:1—10 (which describes the appearance of Gabriel to the prophet, with connections to the star Sirius):

    By the star when it descends, your companion [Muhammad] has not strayed, nor has he erred, nor does he speak from [his own] inclination. It is not but a revelation revealed, taught to him by one intense in strength, one of soundness. And he rose to [his] true form while he was in the higher [part of the] horizon. Then he approached and descended and was at a distance of two bow lengths or nearer. And he revealed to His Servant what he revealed.

  • Qur’ān, Sūrah Al-`Alaq, 96:1—5 (the very first revelation to the Prophet by Gabriel):

    Recite in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clinging substance. Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous, who taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not.

For my own needs, I didn’t keep the exact wording from scripture as the Chaplet of Saint Gabriel does; rather, I tweaked them to be more specific to me, that God might teach, fill, and guide me through his angel in a personal way appropriate to me and me alone. Unlike the usual method of Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah and like the Chaplet of Saint Gabriel, I did include prayers for use on the separator beads; originally, I had those supplications for the separator beads and the supplications done at the first and last swapped (so that you’d start with “God willing, teach me…” and end with “God willing, come forth…”), but I felt like swapping them was better so that the whole thing could start off with an invocation of God of sorts—not the proper and usual Basmala (bi-smi-llāhi ar-raḥmāni ar-raḥīm, “in the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful”), but something that works as well and follows the same structure.

Also, what’s nice is that, even though the Crown of Gabriel is designed for a misbaḥa, it can still be used on a regular Chaplet of Saint Gabriel, reducing the number of repetitions of the main supplications from 33 to 11. As for what to recite on the three lead beads, one might add in generic prayers (the Sanctus, the Trisagion, etc.) for all three to be followed with the initial supplication of the Crown of Gabriel, or one could break out the initial supplication into three by incorporating the Basmala as well:

  1. “In the name of God, the Most Compassionate!”
  2. “In the name of God, the Most Merciful!”
  3. “In the name of God, who created me!”

And, on the joint of the chaplet and lead beads, recite the Our Father, just to keep things moving.

Up till now, my angelic devotions largely focused (and will still focus!) on the archangel Michael and my own holy guardian angel. However, I cannot deny the huge role Gabriel necessarily plays in the religions that recognize the archangels at all, as well as in the mythological origins and continued practices of geomancy. Granted that all the archangels work together in a synaxis (basically, where you call on one, you’re basically getting the whole set together no matter what), it’s clear I need to amp up my own devotional practices to Gabriel. I think the Crown of Gabriel method should suffice nicely for that, while also being a way to increase my own intuitive abilities as a diviner in the process. God willing, of course.