De Regnis: On Principles of Practice and Regular Practices

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

Today’s selection (and the last!) will be on the topics of the principles of magical practice and regular practices.

On Principles of Practice

Dealing with the raw forces of creation, the elements, the planets, the stars, and other spiritual entities is dangerous, though rewarding. By interacting with these forces, magicians risk being overwhelmed by them without proper and regular practice and maintenance. Laying the foundation of daily practice to stabilize, sanctify, and secure one’s life cannot be overstated in importance;though it may not be glamorous or immediately rewarding, and though it may take considerable time and effort all on its own, regular practice is a crucial aspect of a magician’s life. Several principles can help guide a magician to developing a regular, consistent, and strong foundation in living magically.

Sanitize. Keep your entire sphere clean and cleansed, from the basest material components to the highest intellectual and divine ones. Air out your house, vacuum your carpets, sweep the floorboards, dust the fan blades, wash the car, light the candles, burn the camphor, sprinkle the holy water, clean all the things. Asperge yourself with holy water or other cleansing agents frequently.Do regular banishing and force balancing on yourself. Recleanse and reconsecrate your tools,talismans, and ritual space every so often. The more astral dirt you accrue by tracking it in from the higher spheres, or the more dust you bring in from inviting higher ups down into your house,the more confused and imbalanced things get down here and up there alike. Keep yourself, your surroundings, your tools, and your mind clean, cleansed, and clear.

Learn. You can do nothing if you know nothing. Read any and all books you can find on magic,philosophy, religion, spirituality, mathematics, literature, mythology, archaeology, linguistics, folktraditions, fiction ancient and new, science, engineering, history, economics, crafting, and more.Take classes in whatever you have an interest in, whether related to magic or not. Talk withfriends about their hobbies, experiences, stories, advice, warnings, hopes, dreams, fears, and desires.Expanding your mind also expands the potential horizons you can explore, no matter how innocuousor trivial something may seem. Harbor no biases on what you read, study, or discuss; keep an openmind and admit anything with practical merit. Go on roadtrips to see new things. Walk in big citiesto see new faces and fashions. Read blogs with political opinions opposite yours yet are well-writtenand reasoned.

Protect. If you have one foot in the door to get into the mysteries, you also leave the door ajar for ethereal enemies to attack you. Keep yourself safe. Set up barriers, shields, or guards around your house. Make protective charms, phylacteries, or enchanted trinkets to keep on yourself. Find out what force you best resonate with and manipulate it to act as a shield around you. Always keep an eye out for anything awry or ominous. Create magical or ritual weapons to call on or call up when needed. Create magical oils or incenses to keep out bad things and keep in good things. Be mindful of barriers, boundaries, and circles that have already been erected. Leave gossip, dangerous places, and risky situations be instead of looking for bad stuff to happen.

Breathe. Breathing is the source of life down here, and aspiration shares the same root with “inspiration” and “spirit”. By knowing, feeling, and controlling the breath one can control voice level, speech and diction, blood flow, thought patterns, and ultimately the entire being tied into material reality just as one is into spiritual reality. Breathing is the crux of meditation, and meditation is the crux of knowing yourself, which is the holiest injunction humanity has. Breathing,just breathing, is magical in and of itself; breathing is what animates us, ensouls us, and keeps us alive and living. Breathing is the foundation of magic, and breathing must be known, understood,and integrated constantly with oneself in order to progress.

Pray. Humans, powerful as they are, were never meant to be alone in any sense of the word, nor can they accomplish their goals on their own. People need help, and prayer is how humans can obtain it, especially from the divine. Pray for guidance, for patience, for mercy, for compassion, for humility, for forgiveness, for health, for sight, for knowledge, for wisdom, for authority, for power, for light, and in that order. Pray the Source, the gods, the angels, the celestials, the elementals, the dead, and each other for their blessings, advice, guidance, alignment, unity, and boons. Pray to know how to use the blessings and boons given to us to the best of abilities and for the best result for all of us. Pray with praise, pray with emotion, pray with silence. Pray with your entire body,soul, spirit and mind. Pray every day, pray several times a day. Pray.

Stay healthy. Humans are amphibious, both spiritual and physical. Magic is largely focused on the spiritual, but it always needs to bring the spiritual and astral down into the material and physical. Be sure you do not neglect your body, because the body the primary and only vehicle you have to work magic, and the one tool you will always have with you in the world. Get enough sleep every night. Go to bed at the same time every night. Get enough to eat every day, but no more. Eat the proper things in the proper amounts. Shower, wash your hair, brush your hair, brush your teeth, floss your teeth, exfoliate, deodorize. Get at least half an hour of light physical activity every day. Expose yourself to the elements once every so often. Go outside and enjoy the sunlight,moonlight, starlight, wind, mist, clouds, rain, rivers, oceans, dirt, trees, and animals. “Healthy”has its roots in the same word as “whole” and “holy”, and you need to stay whole physically in order to spiritually progress wholesomely.

Get dirty. Actually go out into the world and remind yourself that you are still a physical,material being that has physical, material needs. Everything in moderation, including moderation:get sick, get drunk, get high, get rich, get poor, get happy, get sad, get angry, get lonely, get loved.You are a human being to experience human life, and without that experience you will have failed at your birth’s purpose. Getting yourself meshed in human life, living in the world while not wholly of it, helps keep things in perspective and shows the power of the cleansing, cleaning, Light-bearing work you do. Getting dirty helps us realize that even dirt is pure and holy, that nothing is truly separate from the Source from which it came.

Do it. Complain however much you like or complain not at all; magic and life are going to suck no matter what. That does not change the fact that you are a magician to do magic. Do it. Do it now. There is no other way, time, or place to do it. Just do it.

On Regular Practices

Based on these principles, a magician should develop a strict regimen of practice that is carried out each and every day. It cannot be overstated or overemphasized how important and crucial it is fora regimen and routine of regular practice to be developed; this is the beating heart of the Great Work. Just as a musician must study music theory and practice for years, or an engineer technology and science rigorously for as long, before reaching mastery, so too must regular practice be both regular and practiced. This is the way magicians refine their skills as well as themselves, both in this world and in all others.

Upon creating a regular practice, one should endeavor every day to carry it out without fail. Even though this is ideal, however, sometimes life throws the machine of practice out of balance:people get sick, family emergencies occur, mundane matters must temporarily take importance,and so forth. Sometimes a little bit more sleep is needed, or one simply and honestly forgets to carry out one’s tasks for the day. This is alright, and no cause for inflicting punishment on oneself.In such cases when a set routine is broken, all that is required is to continue it where one left off. Failure and change is destined to happen in life, and the notion of success in a system where failure is inevitable is to keep trying and keep going after every failure. This dedication and willingness to keep up one’s routine and practice is the core ethic of the Work, just as the routine itself is the praxis of it.

Further, there are limitations to regular practices that have been set. Although it is good to keep oneself to a set practice, it is not necessarily as good to keep the same practice forever.As magicians grow and evolve in their spiritual and cosmic lives, some practices cease to become useful, while others can suddenly hold more importance never before considered. Every so often,but not too frequently, one should reevaluate oneself and one’s spiritual progress, understanding which practices are of use, which were of use but no longer, and what new practices might become of use or are interesting enough to pursue. Upon investigation and conferring with resources and other advisers, one should change one’s practice, add to it, or remove unhelpful acts to keep one spiritually fresh and constantly evolving.

To illustrate the notion of regular practice, a simple routine of daily rituals might look like the following:

Daily morning practice: ablution with holy water and ritual cleansing, prayers to the Almighty (adoration, intercession, requests for guidance and power), prayers to any powers or patrons one allies with, general offering of water and incense to local spirits and ancestors, at least thirty minutes of meditation, simple energy work.

Daily evening practice: at least twenty minutes of meditation, simple energy work, reflection on the day’s events, prayers to the Almighty and other powers (confession, intercession, protection, thanksgiving).

Weekly practice: thorough banishing and cleansing of one’s sphere, offering to one’s spiritual allies, divination of any pressing questions and the coming week, contemplation of a magical symbol.

Monthly practice: thorough banishing and cleansing of one’s home and local environment, divination for the coming month, reconsecration of one’s tools, consecration of holy water and other supplies used in magical workings.

Yearly practice: special feast days or festivals, offerings to one’s dead heroes or ancestors, pilgrimages to one’s hometown or spiritual focus, analysis of one’s progress in the past year, changes to one’s practice.

In addition to regular practice, having a regular space dedicated to practice is essential. Setting up a corner of one’s bedroom to act as a spiritual center, or using a spare room or insulated large shed for the same, will suffice to set up a temple for spiritual work. At least two focuses for spiritual work should be erected: a shrine at which one can comfortably kneel for devotional work and prayers, and a waist-high altar for operations, spiritual work, and conjuration. This area should be kept clean and pure, especially if kept in a bedroom or other public space where other people visit.

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Emanations of Creation on the Tetractys

Realizing that the tetractys is pretty much the glyph I want to use for kampala wasn’t an immediate realization.  I know I wanted something like the Tree of Life from kabbalah with its ten sephiroth so nicely arranged, but of course I didn’t want to appropriate it either without making sure it was what I needed.  However, I recalled that the tetractys was another glyph of ten units that could easily describe the creation of the world, so I immediately switched to that.  One part of the problem was solved; the next was how to arrange the emanations of creation on the tetractys itself.  If the tetractys is a combination of ten units arranged into four rows, then there should be a way to describe the emanation of creation to each unit on the tetractys in an ordered way.  Since the system of emanation I’m most familiar with involves the ten heavens (Earth, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Stars, and the Source-God-Good), I decided to try my hand at arranging them in a way similar to how they’re arranged on the Tree of Life, in a top down and ordered manner.  Thus, if we assign the spheres of the cosmos to the units of the tetractys starting at the top and going down, left-to-right within a row, we get an image like this:

Naive Planetary Tetractys

Simple and straightforward.  However, there are significant problems with this.  Sure, God is at the top, which fits the nature of God as Monad or Unity.  The sphere of the fixed stars and that of Saturn are directly below, which is much like the positioning of their respective sephiroth of Chokmah and Binah on the Tree of Life.  Beyond that, though, things get weird; the Sun is off to one side instead of in the center where it probably should be in this system, and Earth is way over in the bottom right corner of the tetractys.  Honestly, nothing on this setup looked appealing to me, especially since it conflicted with other planetary relationships I had already known and studied, or even allowed for the possibility of.  This was too bizarre to feel “right” in any sense.

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the method I should’ve used.  Let’s try another way, starting from a different perspective.  Part of the tetractys’ appeal was due to its mathematical applications, one of which is known as Plato’s Lambda, or the Lambdoma, so named because it takes the form of a lambda (Λ).  In Plato’s Timaeus, which is his treatise on Pythagorean cosmology, he describes the creation of the cosmos by a Demiurge by taking “strips” of creation and applying two mathematical sequences to it, the geometrical series based on 2 and the geometrical series based on 3.

Lambdoma

If we start at 1 at the top and go left to 2, we keep doubling the next number in the sequence, so 1 becomes 2, 2 becomes 4, and 4 becomes 8.  If we start at 1 at the top and go right to 3, we keep tripling the next number in the sequence, so 1 becomes 3, 3 becomes 9, and 9 becomes 27.  The left side is a sequence of even numbers, and the right a sequence of odd numbers.  The Pythagoreans considered even numbers female or passive and odd numbers male or active, which we can still see vestiges of in modern numerology (cf. the Tarot, where trump I is the Magician and II the High Priestess).  However, 1 was neither odd nor even, so 2 was the first even number and 3 the first odd number, hence their use in starting their progressions.  If we fill in the blanks, so to speak, in the Lambdoma with extra numbers based on the Tetractys, where a new number is the product of the two numbers above it, we get 6 in the third row (being the product of 2 × 3), and 12 and 18 in the fourth row (2 × 6 and 6 × 3, respectively):

Filled Lambdoma

The original lambdoma has seven numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 8, and 27.  Three of these are odd, three are even, and one is neither odd nor even.  The number seven recalls the seven planets, and I’ve seen a system of dividing the planets where three are in one category, three are in another, and one is in neither group.  This is called sect, which refers to whether a planet is more powerful in the sky or under the earth either in the daytime or at nighttime.  This is a type of polarity much like femininity or masculinity of a planet, and the planets are divided into three groups like this:

  • Diurnal: Sun, Jupiter, Saturn
  • Nocturnal: Moon, Venus, Mars
  • Hermaphroditic: Mercury

If diurnality is equitable to masculinity and nocturnality to femininity, then diurnal planets can be ascribed to odd numbers and nocturnal planets to even numbers.  The Sun and Moon are the most diurnal and nocturnal, respectively, with Jupiter and Venus following them, and Saturn and Mars following them.  Mercury, being neither diurnal nor nocturnal, adapts to either; it can be given a value of 1 in the lambdoma.  Thus, if we use the original lambdoma to plot the seven planets, we get a figure like this:

Planetary Lambdoma by Sect

However, that still leaves three slots in the tetractys to be filled in, and having everything come from Mercury at the top isn’t quite true, especially when Mercury can obtain a sect depending on whether it rises just before or just after the Sun.  Thus, if we move Mercury down to where 6 is in the completed lambdoma (the combination of an even and an odd number, suitable for Mercury), we have an empty slot at the top for the Monad.  This leaves two more slots at the bottom, which can be reserved for the Earth in slot 12 (2 × 2 × 3, more female than male) and the Stars in slot 18 (2 × 3 × 3, more male than female):

Filled Planetary Lambdoma

While this arrangement makes sense, having the Earth and Stars in the same row as Saturn and Mars still didn’t feel right, and trying to draw connections between everything felt wrong.  Mercury being in the middle, being the communicator of the gods and a middling connecting force, felt right, as did the Moon on the left side and Sun on the right, but this doesn’t agree with the standard emanationist models I’m used to.  After all, shouldn’t the sphere of the fixed stars, the ultimate barrier between this world and God, be higher than the Sun and Moon?  Should the Sun and Moon, luminaries though they might be, be representative of the two principles of Duality?  I was stumped, honestly.  Further, Plato in the Timaeus groups the planets into two groups based on their relative speed: three that move roughly together (Sun, Venus, Mercury) and four that move with unequal motion to the first three and amongst themselves (Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn).  This was in the same section as the use of the lambdoma and mathematical progressions of 2 and 3, so surely a better grouping could be made that would exemplify this.

It was at this point that I started getting a headache and an odd itch on my back, and not just any itch, but something that didn’t feel too physical.  I recalled what I had on my back: the Golden Chain of Homer, a tattoo that symbolically describes Man’s creation from and evolution to God using alchemy.  It was when I realized that the Chain is a sequence of ten stages that I facepalmed and reinspected this tattoo I got a while back and thought it so important to be inscribed onto my mortal coil.  I reread the book available to me on the Golden Chain, and that’s when I found this description of principles:

Elements of AlchemyWould you look at that?  It’s an organization of different alchemical principles: four elements, three reagents, two principles, and one source.  Arranged in a one-two-three-four pattern, a tetractys.  Who’d’ve thunk it, really.  The realization that my tattoo was a key to the system I’m working on gave me a sort of nauseating tremble, but that’s revelation for you, I suppose.

So, maybe my trying to base a Tetractys of Life on planetary principles right off the bat was misguided; perhaps I should start from here, since this pretty much points out the path ahead.  If, instead of using planetary principles to describe sequential emanation through the tetractys, I use the notion of different stages of development in different levels of manifestation, perhaps a more reasonable tetractys layout could be found.  The diagram above needed some tweaking, however; Nitrum (Male, Light) and Fire were on the left side, while Salt (Female, Darkness) and Earth were on the right, and the Lambdoma has the two sides switched so that the left side was feminine and the right side masculine.  Further, Mercury was on the male side when I feel it would more properly be in the middle, since (to me) Sulfur speaks more forcefully than Mercury, and mercury more than Salt.  I’ve also seen other diagrams presenting Mercury to be completely feminine and Salt to be in the middle, so it would seem like these principles are still up for debate in alchemical terminology.  To my mind and for my analysis, I’m establishing Mercury as between the purely active reagent and purely passive reagent.  So, taking these alchemical principles together, I developed the following alchemical tetractys:

Alchemical Tetractys

Note that in this diagram, the Sun symbol stands for Light, Activity, or Masculinity, and the Moon symbol stands for Darkness, Passivity, or Femininity, not their corresponding planets.  Mercury stands for the alchemical reagent of Mercury, but we’ll get to more on that in a bit.

Okay, so now it might be more possible to assign the planetary spheres of the cosmos to the tetractys based on their corresponding alchemical forces.  Obviously, the Monad would stay the Monad, and alchemical Mercury would likely best remain planetary Mercury.  I didn’t like having the Sun and Moon remain representatives of the two principles of Light and Dark, but instead decided that they’d fit better as the alchemical reagents of Sulfur and Salt, respectively.  In this way, we have the most Light of the planets, the most Dark of the planets, and the hermaphroditic Median of the planets, all together in the same row.  This left six spheres left: the four Planets, Earth (or Mundus, to differentiate it from the element Earth), and the Stars.  To me, having Mundus and the Stars represent the principles of Darkness and Light, or Female and Male, made more sense than using the Moon and the Sun; there’d be the lowest and passive receptacle of creation, compared to the highest and most ethereal initiator of creation.  Thus, Mundus and Stars became the two principles at top.

This left the last four nonluminary planets to be given to the four elements.  Saturn, being the darkest and coldest of the planets, seems fitting to be the natural progression from the Moon on the left (more feminine), so Saturn would be attributed to the element Earth.  Likewise, Mars would be given to Fire, since Mars is the hottest of the planets and befits a more masculine progression from the Sun.  This leaves Venus and Jupiter, the former of which is cooler than Jupiter according to Agrippa (book I, chapter 26 and chapter 28), even though they’re both airy planets (book II, chapter 7).  Assigning Jupiter, a diurnal and masculine planet, and Venus, a nocturnal and feminine planet, to either Water or Air was something of a sticking point for me, since I could argue for either arrangement with a variety of reasons.  I originally put Venus as Air to be paired with Mars as Fire, and likewise gave Jupiter to Water to be paired with Saturn as Earth.  However, I realized that it’d be a better arrangement to have Venus as Water and Jupiter as Air, since although they’re equally moist in elemental terms, Venus is cooler than Jupiter, and since Venus is nocturnal, it had more in common with the Moon than the Sun; the converse case applied with diurnal Jupiter and the Sun.

So, in the end, after assigning the spheres of the cosmos to the tetractys based on alchemical principles, the Tetractys of Life is starting to have actual form:

Planetary Alchemical Tetractys

(Note that, in this diagram, the alchemical representation of a sphere is in the upper-right half, and the planetary representation is in the lower-left half.  The Mercury symbol, however, stands for both alchemical and planetary Mercury, and “Monad” represents, well, the Monad.  The pentagram represents the sphere of the fixed stars, because typing takes up too much space, like my blog.)

It’s an interesting layout, but I like it.  It represents another view of emanation that isn’t necessarily sequential but, in a sense, simultaneous; in the beginning, there is only God (Monad), but as soon as there’s Differentiation (Heaven and Mundus), there’s Process (Sulfur, Mercury, Salt) as well as Substance (Fire, Air, Water, Earth).  Each of these forces can be related to a planetary sphere, but it’s not in a sequential order as in the Tree of Life.  For instance, in kabbalah, the Lightning Bolt Path descends from God to the Fixed Stars to Saturn to Jupiter all the way down to Earth.  On this tetractys, the Monad could descend into the Fixed Stars, but then into the Moon, Mercury, Sun, or maybe even Saturn or Jupiter, or even directly to Earth.  It’s hard to assign a type of sequence to this tetractys, and indeed, even considering all possible paths that could be drawn on this setup between the spheres, it’d be impossible to draw a path that connects all the spheres in a direct sequence without passing through other spheres disrupting the order.  Perhaps that’s a good thing, depending on the paths we assign and take and what the paths themselves mean.

Speaking of sequences, is there a way to sequentially number the spheres on the tetractys?  In a simple way of ordering them from 1 to 10, not really; for convenience, I number them from top to bottom, left to right, such that the Monad is 1, Mundus is 2, Stars is 3, and so forth to Mars being 10.  It makes more sense to use the Lambdoma numbering, personally, which is what I plan to base further exegesis and analysis on in the future, but for now, we’ll refer to the spheres on the tetractys by their alchemical or planetary assignment.

So, with all this at our fingertips and our disposal, what can we meditate on now?  Plenty more, as if we needed more (we always do).  Between the relationships that the tetractys indicates to all other things in existence, or the process of coming into existence, we now also have processes and principles that guide our meditations.  We have relationships between principles, reagents, and elements with the planets, as well as with notions of masculinity/activity/light and femininity/passivity/darkness as well as with number and mathematics.  Most importantly, we now have destinations between which we can start creating paths, and assigning to them the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet to tie those into our process of emanation and creation.  We’ll talk about paths on the Tetractys of Life next.