The Twelve Irrational Tormentors and the Ten (or Seven) Rational Powers

Lately I’ve been reviewing some of my first real spiritual texts as part of my practice that I first began to familiarize myself with years ago: the Corpus Hermeticum.  These books, being a homegrown Egyptian manifestation of what could be considered Hellenic theurgic philosophy (either as Stoicizing Neoplatonism or Neoplatonizing Stoicism), are some of my favorite texts, amounting to my own “bible” as it were.  Granted, it’s been some time since I’ve last seriously sat down with them, and since I’ve been discussing parts of it with a colleague of mine, I figured it was high time to get back into chewing on them so I’m not just talking out of my ass when it comes to classical Hermetic philosophy and theurgy.  It’s a deeply rewarding practice, after all, and study is something that we can never truly finish; it always helps to review, reread, and rethink things from time to time.

There are essentially four versions of the Corpus Hermeticum that I consult:

  1. Clement Salaman, The Way of Hermes: New Translations of the Corpus Hermeticum and the Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius.  Inner Traditions, 2004.  This is the most readable and accessible version of the Corpus Hermeticum, in my opinion, and also includes the Definitions of Hermēs Trismegistus, which was the focus of that massive blog project I did back in late 2013 that inspected all 49 definitions.  (I should probably review some of those one of these days.)
  2. Brian Copenhaver, Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation, with Notes and Introduction.  Cambridge University Press, 1995.  This is the version of the Corpus Hermeticum I started with, and though it’s not as accessible as Salaman’s translation, it’s still a very good translation all the same, and gives a slightly more critical and academic approach.
  3. G. R. S. Mead, The Corpus Hermeticum.  Thrice Greatest Hermes, vol. 2.  London, 1906.  Available in the public domain on Gnosis.org.  This is the most popular one that most people know and have used for over a hundred years, and though it has some Theosophical biases, it’s still a surprisingly good translation, even if the prose is overwrought.
  4. Walter Scott, Hermetica: The ancient Greek and Latin Writings which contain religious or philosophic teachings ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus, vol. 1.  Clarendon Press, 1924.  Though the translation isn’t considered good, Scott includes critical editions of the actual Greek text of the Corpus Hermeticum as well as the Latin of the Asclepius, so this is pretty useful for that reason alone.

If you want to read something better than the Kybalion, which would basically be anything and everything, I’d recommend the Corpus Hermeticum.  (NB: Kybalion delendum est.)

Anyway, I was flipping through the Corpus, refreshing some of the things I knew and being reminded of the things I’ve forgotten.  It was in book XIII, where Tat asks Hermēs Trismegistus for help in attaining divinity and, eventually reaches it, that I found something fascinating that I must have skipped over before.  Whether it’s due to my engineering training or my love of Buddhist text, it’s when things appear in lists that I snap to attention, and Hermēs describes a list of twelve “Hermetic sins of the body” that keep us ensnared in darkness and ignorance, as well as ten “Hermetic virtues of the soul” that free us from darkness and ignorance.  Fascinated by these lists, I dug in, and I started matching them up to a few other parts of the Corpus Hermeticum I know, the results of mulling over which I wanted to share.  I’ll let you, dear reader, pick your own preferred version of the Corpus Hermeticum and read (at minimum) books I and XIII on your own, which I recommend you do so before continuing with this post.

Ready?  Good.  So, as Hermēs states in book XIII, we have these twelve “irrational tormentors of the body” (ἄλογα τιμωρία τῆς ὕλης, áloga timōría tês húlēs).  The specific word being used here is technically τιμωρία, timōría, literally “retribution” or “vengeance” or even “punishment”, but usually translated here as “tormentor” or “torturer”.  Collectively, they all arise fundamentally from irrationality, the true lack of reason (which is emphasized in the Corpus Hermeticum as being divine, as it is truly Λόγος, Lógos, “the Word”).  Hermēs lists these tormentors as below; I give both the Greek term used in Scott along with the various translations that Salaman, Copenhaver, et al. have provided for these terms.

# Greek Salaman Copenhaver Mead Scott
1 ἄγνοια Ignorance Ignorance Not-knowing Ignorance
2 λύτη Sorrow Grief Grief Grief
3 ἀκρασία Intemperance Incontinence Incontinence Incontinence
4 ἐπιθυμία Lust Lust Concupiscence Desire
5 ἀδικία Injustice Injustice Unrighteousness Injustice
6 πλεονεξία Greed Greed Avarice Covetousness
7 ἀπάτη Deceit Deceit Error Deceitfulness
(or being deceived,
i.e. error)
8 φθόνος Envy Envy Envy Envy
9 δόλος Treachery Treachery Guile Fraud
10 ὀργή Anger Anger Anger Anger
11 προπέτεια Recklessness Recklessness Rashness Rashness
12 κακία Malice Malice Malice Vice
(or malice)

Of course, though these are the main tormentors of the body that we have to deal with, Hermēs notes that “besides these there are many others”, but these seem to be the major ones that either rule lesser tormentors or which themselves are the causes or predecessors of others.  Together, they “compel the inner man who dwells in the prison of his body to suffer through his senses”.  Hemēs is explicit, too in giving each of these a zodiacal association, even if he doesn’t say which belongs to which sign: “this tent of the body through which we have passed…is composed from the zodiac and this consists of signs, twelve in number; the body is of one nature and appears in every form; it exists to lead man astray”.  I think a simple association could be drawn up such that the first tormentor listed, “ignorance”, be given to the first sign Aries, the second “sorrow” to Taurus, the third “intemperance” to Gemini, and so forth.  It’s not exactly clear to see how each of these might be matched up with their corresponding sign, like why Aquarius should be linked to Recklessness in this way, but we’ll just accept it for granted for now.

But all hope is not lost for us!  Though these tormentors of the body plague us and trap us, “these tormentors depart one by one from the man who receives God’s mercy”, which manifests itself as ten “powers of God” (δυνάμεις θεοῦ, dunámeis theoû) that cleanse the body and soul of the twelve (and more) irrational tormentors:

# Greek Salaman Copenhaver Mead Scott
1 γνῶσις θεοῦ Knowledge of God Knowledge of God Gnosis of God Knowledge of God
2 χαρα Experience of Joy Knowledge of Joy Joy Joy
3 ἐγκράτεια Self-control Continence Continence Continence
4 καρτερία Steadfastness Perseverance Steadfastness Endurance
5 δικαιοσύνη Justice Justice Righteousness Justice
6 κοινωνία Generosity Liberality Sharing-with-all Unselfishness
7 ἀλήθεια Truth Truth Truth Truth
8 ἀγαθός Supreme Good the Good the Good Good
9 ζωή Life Life Life Life
10 φώς Light Light Light Light

Moreover, each of the powers (or at least most of them) correspond to a specific tormentor that it specifically chases out or conquers.  Using the Salaman translations of the tormentors and powers:

Tormentor Power
Ignorance Knowledge of God
Sorrow Experience of Joy
Intemperance Self-control
Lust Steadfastness
Injustice Justice
Greed Generosity
Deceit Truth
Envy Good, Life, Light
Treachery
Anger
Recklessness
Malice

Note that the last three powers, the Good with Life and Light, seem to act as a triune force, because once Truth arrives, “the Supreme Good arises”, and Life and Light come together with it, and together they chase out the “torments of darkness” (τιμωρία τοῦ σκότος, timōría toû skótos).  Hermēs says that Life and Light are specifically united together, and “this unity is born from spirit”; this echoes what Poimandrēs told Hermēs back in book I of the Corpus Hermeticum: “the truth is: light and life is God and Father, whence Man is begotten”.

With all ten powers present, “spiritual birth is complete…and by this birth we have become divine”.  These are all given by the mercy of God, which quells the torments of the bodily senses, and one who has these powers “knows himself and rejoices”; these ten powers “beget the soul”.  There’s some Pythagorean influence here in how these are described: Life and Light together form a unit, a henad (the number One), and the henad is the source of the decad (the number Ten), and “the Henad contains the Decad” while at the same time “the Decad [contains] the Henad”.  If we consider “spirit” here to be fundamentally the spirit of God, then we can consider this to be equivalent or identified with the power of the Good itself, from which come Life and Light, and from those two all the other powers derive.  This dimly kinda recalls how I plotted out the ten spheres onto the Tetractys as part of my Mathēsis stuff, with “the Supreme Good” being simply the Monad at the top, Light being the right-hand sphaira of the Dyad (the sphere of the fixed stars, the active power) and Life being the left-hand sphaira (the sphere of the Earth, the passive power):

At the same time, note that we have two systems going on here: a system of twelve (the tormentors) and a system of ten (the powers).  We start off by specifically linking one tormentor to one power, but after the first seven pairs, the last five seem to get jumbled together.  Hermēs says that “among the signs…there are pairs united in activity”, and notes that recklessness is inseparable with and indistinguishable from anger.  Copenhaver notes that, in this light, four of the twelve tormentors can be considered as two pairs broken up; if this is so and they are reduced into units, such as anger and recklessness into a combined tormentor, then we go from twelve tormentors to ten, but we don’t know what the other pair is (perhaps envy and treachery?).  If that were the case, and if we consider the sequence of introducing Good and Life and Light to be reversed given a descent of the Dyad from the Henad, then we might come up with the following scheme:

Tormentor Power
Ignorance Knowledge of God
Sorrow Experience of Joy
Intemperance Self-control
Lust Steadfastness
Injustice Justice
Greed Generosity
Deceit Truth
Envy and Treachery Light
Anger and Recklessness Life
Malice Good

That being said, I don’t know if I trust that specific scheme; Copenhaver notes that such an understanding of some of the tormentors isn’t agreed upon.  After all, though it’s definitely not contemporaneous with this, we can bring in a bit of Qabbalah here to justify keeping the systems of twelve tormentors and ten powers separate rather than forcing them onto the same scheme of ten.  Recall that the lower seven sefirot of the Tree of Life are considered underneath the Veil of the Abyss that separate the upper three sephiroth (Keter, Ḥokmah, Binah) from the lower seven (Ḥesed, Geburah, Tiferet, Neṣaḥ, Hod, Yesod, Malkut).  The upper three sefirot, then, are considered a trinity unto themselves that, from the perspective of everything below it, act as a unity.  Not to equate the sefirot of the Tree of Life here with what Hermēs is talking about, but it does offer an interesting possible parallel to how we might consider how these powers function and upon what.

By that same token, however, this means that the last five tormentors of the body (envy, treachery, anger, recklessness, and malice) seem to function differently than the first seven, in that the first seven have a distinct power of God that chases them out while the latter five are only chased out by the highest attainments of powers of God themselves, and that indistinctly.  In a way, this brings to mind part of book I of the Corpus Hermeticum, when Hermēs is communing with Poimandrēs, who tells Hermēs about “how the way back [to Nous, i.e. the Divinity of the Mind] is found”.  In this part of book I, there’s this notion of heavenly ascent through the seven planetary spheres, where one gives up a particular force (vice? tormentor?) associated with each of the planets.  Using Salaman’s translation of this section as a base, and giving the alternative translations of Copenhaver, Mead, and Scott for each of those forces:

First, in the dissolution of the material body, one gives the body itself up to change.  The form you had becomes unseen, and you surrender to the divine power your habitual character, now inactive.  The bodily senses return to their own sources.  Then they become parts again and rise for action, while the seat of emotions and desire go to mechanical nature.

Thus a man starts to rise up through the harmony of the cosmos:

  1. To the first plain [of the Moon], he surrenders the activity of growth and diminution;
    1. Copenhaver: “increase and decrease”
    2. Mead: “growth and waning”
    3. Scott: “the force which works increase and the force that works decrease”
  2. To the second [of Mercury], the means of evil, trickery now being inactive;
    1. Copenhaver: “evil machination”
    2. Mead: “device of evils”
    3. Scott: “machinations of evil cunning”
  3. To the third [of Venus], covetous deceit, now inactive;
    1. Copenhaver: “illusion of longing”
    2. Mead: “guile of desires”
    3. Scott: “lust whereby men are deceived”
  4. To the fourth [of the Sun], the eminence pertaining to a ruler, being now without avarice;
    1. Copenhaver: “arrogance of rulers”
    2. Mead: “domineering arrogance”
    3. Scott: “domineering arrogance”
  5. To the fifth [of Mars], impious daring and reckless audacity;
    1. Copenhaver: “unholy presumption and daring recklessness”
    2. Mead: “unholy daring and rashness of audacity”
    3. Scott: “unholy daring and rash audacity”
  6. To the sixth [of Jupiter], evil impulses for wealth, all of these being now inactive;
    1. Copenhaver: “evil impulses that come from wealth”
    2. Mead: “striving for wealth by evil means”
    3. Scott: “evil strivings after wealth”
  7. And to the seventh plain [of Saturn], the falsehood which waits in ambush.
    1. Copenhaver: “deceit that lies in ambush”
    2. Mead: “ensnaring falsehood”
    3. Scott: “falsehood which lies in wait to work harm”

Then, stripped of the activities of the cosmos, he enters the substance of the eighth plain with his own power, and he sings praises to the Father with those who are present; those who are near rejoice at his coming.  Being made like to those who are there together, he also hears certain powers which are above the eighth sphere, singing praises to God with sweet voice.  Then in due order, they ascend to the Father and they surrender themselves to the powers, and becoming the powers they are merged in God.  This is the end, the Supreme Good, for those who have had the higher knowledge: to become God.

This final part of what Poimandrēs tells Hermēs in book I touches on what Hermēs and Tat discuss in book XIII once Tat receives the ten powers and attains divinity:

T:  Then, o Father, I wish to hear the hymn of praise which you said was there to be heard from the powers, on my birth into the eighth sphere.

H: I will recite it, o son; just as Poimandrēs revealed the eighth sphere to me.  You do well to make haste to free yourself from the tent of the body, for you have been purified.  Poimandrēs, the Nous of the Supreme, gave me no more than what has been written, being aware that I should be able to know all things by myself and to hear what I wanted to hear, and to see all, and he charged me to create works of beauty.  Wherefore the powers in me sing also in all things.

This follows with the Secret Hymn, or what I call the Initiatory Hymn of Silence.  Though some aspects of what Poimandrēs told Hermēs differs from what Hermēs is telling Tat, the fundamental process is the same: we either give up or chase off the irrational forces of matter and flesh that ensnare us and shroud us in ignorant darkness, and what remains after that (or what we replace with them) are the divine powers that enable us to return to a truly divine state.  This is what Hermēs tells Tat earlier on in book IV:

T: I also wish to be immersed in Nous, o father.

H: If you don’t hate your body, son, you cannot love your Self.  If you love your Self, you will have Nous, and having Nous you will partake of knowledge.

T: Why do you say that, father?

H: For, son, it is impossible to be governed by both, by the mortal and by the divine.  There are two kinds of beings, the embodied and the unembodied, in whom there is the mortal and the divine spirit.  Man is left to choose one or the other, if he so wishes.  For one cannot choose both at once; when one is diminished, it reveals the power of the other.

There’s this notion in the Corpus Hermeticum of a spiritual (re)birth that happens when we reject the irrational powers of the body and seek (or, as a result of rejecting the tormentors, are given) the rational powers of God, a process of spiritual ascension through forsaking the material, which we can perform while still embodied so long as we retract our awareness away from the senses and perceptions of the body.  In other words, by letting go of the body (even while still possessing it, or rather, being possessed by it), we grasp onto the Good.  This shouldn’t be interpreted as some sort of banally gnostic, simplistically dualistic world-hating, but as a simple understanding that focusing on the body keeps us in the body and away from God.  (There’s a lovely essay, Agrippa’s Dilemma: Hermetic ‘Rebirth’ and the Ambivalences of De Vanitate and De occulta philosophia by Michael Keefer, that I recommend for reading on this point, especially regarding Cornelius Agrippa’s own Christian interpretation of this Hermetic approach to salvation.)

And what of the torments?  How do they actually torment us?  Consider what Poimandrēs tells Hermēs when they discuss those who do not have Nous:

As for those without Nous—the evil, the worthless, the envious, the greedy, murderers, the ungodly—I am very far from them, having given way to the avenging spirit, who assaults each of them through the senses, throwing fiery darts at them.  He also moves them to greater acts of lawlessness so that such a man suffers greater retribution, yet he does not cease from having limitless appetite for his lust nor from fighting in the dark without respite.  The avenging spirit then puts him to torture and increase the fire upon him to its utmost.

It’s not that the Hermetic deity is a jealous or vengeful god that those without Nous should be deprived from people, since the lack of Nous isn’t really much more than being immersed in the darkness of matter and not living a life that focuses on the light of spirit.  As material beings that are born, we must also die, and so long as we focus on being material, we must and deserve to die, but once we strive for immaterial immortality, we begin to attain Nous.  By identifying with the material, we suffer material conditions, but by identifying with the spiritual, we enjoy spiritual ones; in a cosmic sense, “you are what you eat”.  In this sense, it’s not that Poimandrēs actively wants us to suffer, but that suffering is part and parcel of being material; for as long as we strive to be material, we suffer, and the more we try to be material, the more we suffer.  The “avenging spirit”, in this case, isn’t really a distinct devil or demon, but the torments of the body itself; the phrase used here is τιμωρῷ δαίμονι (timōrôy daímoni), with “avenging” (τιμωρός, timōrós) being fundamentally the same word as “torturer” (τιμωρία) from above.

What’s interesting now, at this point, is how we now have two models of irrational forces: a set of seven that are associated with the planets according to Poimandes, and a set of twelve that are associated with the zodiac signs from Hermēs, and there isn’t a clean match between them for us to link one set to the other.  There are some similarities, sure; the seventh zodiacal torment of Deceit (or, perhaps better, Error) is much like the seventh planetary force of falsehood; the sixth zodiacal torment of Greed is basically the sixth planetary force of evil striving for wealth, and so forth.  But there are also differences; it’s hard to see how the second zodiacal torment of Sorrow is at all like the second planetary force of evil machination.  Except that the word translated as “sorrow” for the second zodiacal torment is λύπη lúpē, which technically refers to pain of body or mind and is also related to the Greek verb λυπέω lupéō, with meanings including “grieve”, “vex”, “distress”, “feel pain”.  In this, if we consider this to be a mental anguish, we might bring to mind the temperament of melancholy, which can lead to states of mind including depression, fear, anxiety, mistrust, suspicion, and deeper cogitations; all these can definitely be linked to “evil machinations”, which was classically considered a symptom of being too melancholic.  Likewise, it’s not easy to immediately link the first zodiacal torment of Ignorance with the first planetary force of increase and decrease, but as Tat complains to Hermēs in book XIII:

T: I am dumbstruck and bereft of my wits, O father, for I see that your size and features remain the same.

H: In this you are deceived.  The mortal form changes day by day, with the turning of time it grows and decays, its reality is a deception.

T: What then is true, Trismegistus?

H: The untroubled, unlimited, colorless, formless, unmoving, naked, shining, self-knowing; the unchanging Good without a body.

So, maybe the seven planetary forces described by Poimandrēs really are the first seven of the zodiacal torments of Hermēs, just phrased in another way for another audience.  This lends some credence to the notion from above that the last five of the zodiacal torments really are of a different set or nature; after all, if Hermēs admits to Tat that there are far more torments than just the twelve he named, maybe Hermēs was just naming more than strictly necessary to show that the way is long and hard, beset by so many torments.  Yet, once we chase out the first seven, the others follow suit, because “upon the arrival of Truth, the Supreme Good arises…the Supreme Good, together with Life and Light, has followed upon Truth, and the torments of darkness no longer fall upon us, but conquered; they all fly off with a rush of wings”.  In this, the final five zodiacal torments could simply be called “darkness”, all chased off by Light (which is unified with Life and the Good).  And, fundamentally, regardless whether we take a planetary approach (being ruled by the wandering stars) or a zodiacal approach (being ruled by the fixed stars), the world of matter is governed by celestial forces that we need to break free of or give back what they force upon us.

Also, note that there are interesting differences in how Hermēs describes the attainment of the various powers of God: Hermēs says that knowledge of God and experience of Joy “come to us”, while he summons self-control, steadfastness, justice, generosity, and truth, and once truth “arrives”, the triune powers of Good-Life-Light “arise”.  Given that truth “arrives” after Hermēs summons it, and that the knowledge of God and experience of joy similarly arrive, it stands to reason that Hermēs also calls on those first two powers as well.  In effect, we have the first seven powers of God which we call or summon, and the last three which arise on their own without being summoned, instead following the summoning of truth.  In this, it seems like we only truly need to work to call forth (or reach towards) the first seven powers of God; once we have those seven, you attain the last three as a natural result.  This is effectively like breaking past the Veil of the Abyss in a Qabbalistic sense; sure, there’s always more work to be done (after all, “before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water”), but once you’ve made that jump, there’s truly nothing left stopping you.  Once you break into the eighth sphere from the seventh, it’s just a matter of time (“in due order”, according to Poimandrēs) of further elevation and ascension.

And, true enough, this isn’t the last we see of these powers that chase off the torments.  At the end of Book XIII, Hermēs passes onto Tat the Secret Hymn, what I call the Initiatory Hymn of Silence.  After Tat has been reborn through the ten divine powers that Hermēs describes and becomes one in Nous, Tat requests Hermēs to sing the “hymn of praise” that is sung by the holy entities of the eighth sphere to God.  Hermēs does so, though he “had not thought to impart [it] so easily”.  Hermēs instructs that it should be said outdoors “under the clear sky” facing the south at sunset, and east at sunrise.  After Hermēs begins the hymn proper, the hymn follows more-or-less the same format of the powers that Hermēs earlier referred to that themselves sing to God:

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

Though it might have passed as high-brow yet pop spiritual philosophy back in the day, the Corpus Hermeticum really is a fundamental work for Western spiritual practices, and is fundamentally useful and instructive in matters of theurgy.  What we see above is a sort of plan or map for attaining divinity through theurgic practices, by means of purifying the senses and purging the soul of material influences so as to become a freer, truly immortal power of God ourselves.  By taking the accounts of Hermēs into consideration, we can figure out how we stand in terms of our bodies and souls, what we need to focus on to continue along our spiritual paths, and how we can maintain ourselves in a matter of right and proper living through right and divine reason.

EDIT (2019-07-30): So it turns out the excellent Reverend Erik put up his own post touching on this same topic, tying it into other practices and parallels in other traditions, back in September last year.  Go check it out for more information on this wonderful topic!

Mythos and Stories as Models of Practice

Lately, I’ve been fiddling around with Python and LaTeX scripts again.  For those who aren’t as inclined to computers, the former is a very flexible, extensible programming language of no small fame, while the latter is a type of language used to format, typeset, and compile documents (sorta like what HTML and CSS are for webpages).  I use Python for all my short, little, experimental research things, like calculating certain astronomical/astrological phenomena or doing a brute-force search of all 65,536 possible geomantic charts for particular patterns, minimums, or maximums of certain qualities.  Meanwhile, I use LaTeX for all my document needs, mostly for ebooks but also for letters, résumés, and other things in lieu of a normal word processor like OpenOffice or Microsoft Word (because I’m a crazy fool who loves the commandline and raw power over convenience and ease).

The main impetus for this bout of hobby programming that’s been going on this week is so I can make a full calendar in LaTeX that spans from June 23, 2009 through June 23, 2047, complete with dates of eclipses, lunar phase changes, seasonal start and midpoint dates, and zodiacal ingresses of the Sun.  It’s hard to find that sort of data over such a wide span of time, and much more difficult than that to find it in an easily-obtainable format that I can use for LaTeX compilation.  To that end, I wrote the scripts to calculate all the astronomical information from scratch (Jean Meeus’ “Astronomical Algorithms” is a godsend of a book for this, so do get yourself a copy for reference) and formatted the output just the way I needed it.  It’s not exactly an exciting feeling to realize that it’s easier to just code and test all the algorithms yourself than trying to find the data you need online, but after two long days of coding, the profound feeling of accomplishment can’t be easily described (except, of course, as “fucking awesome and thank god that’s over”).

For what end would I take on this crazy project, you might ask?  Because this unusual span of time is the 69th cycle of 38 years of the Grammatēmerologion, the lunisolar grammatomantic calendar I devised that associates the days of the lunar months, the lunar months themselves, and the lunisolar years with the letters of the Greek alphabet for use in ritual grammatomancy and, more broadly, my nascent theurgic practice of mathesis, a new kind of Hermetic theurgy I’m developing that refocuses on Pythagorean, Platonic, and Neoplatonic influences before introduction of qabbalah.  It’s been a bit since I’ve done any mathetic work, given the whole house-buying/house-moving of 2016 and the Year in White of iyaworaje that went on through most of 2017, but I’m preparing slowly to pick it up again.  Since a daily observation of the letter of the day is a practice I found great use with, I wanted to have an actual calendar to reference instead of having another one of my scripts calculate it for me each and every morning.  (This also means I’ll be getting back to my Daily Grammatomancy posts I was doing for a while over on my Facebook page, so if you haven’t liked it yet, please head on over and do so!)  So, yanno, it’s the little gains that help give a sturdy foundation for this sort of work.

The thing is, though, that I’m not setting out to develop this whole new practice and system for its own sake, or for the sake of being able to say “look at me, mister high muckety-muck of my own sandcastle!”.  I want a way to explore the Neoplatonic and Hermetic cosmos without having to rely on the procrustean bed of qabbalah that we can’t seem to escape from, purge, or ignore; Hermeticism and Neoplatonism existed before and did fine without it, and even if qabbalah brought in excellent insights and models and frameworks for the two philosophies to expand with (and it most certainly did!), after a certain point, those same models and frameworks can become a hindrance.  If nothing else, taking another look with another system can breathe a breath of fresh air into these things, and allow for opening up new doors and avenues to cosmic exploration, theurgy, and spiritual development.

Going through my old posts and notes on what I’ve already set up is incredibly useful, but I see something clearly now that I didn’t before (time is great for providing experience, after all, no matter how much we might think we have some at the time).  Consider one of my favorite quick rituals, the Blessing of the Vessel, first discussed in this 2015 post, which I use as a way for generating a sacred elixir to partake of the blessing of the Divine.  This ritual works quite well on its own, though it uses some pretty arcane Judaeo-Coptic symbolism.  However, if I were to make a mathetic variant…I ran into a mental wall trying to figure that one out.  Sure, I could just replace the names of the angels or godforms, but…that seems hollow to me.  While swapping out related concepts from one system to automagically transform it into a new system is definitely a thing, like using a Celtic or Hellenic deities instead of the four archangels to make more pagan forms of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, I personally find the practice distasteful and it never seems to work as fully, as cleanly, or as effectively as the original ritual in its own context with its own appropriate entities and names.  Moreover, I couldn’t think of anything comparable to the symbols and metaphors used in the Blessing of the Vessel that could be seen in Hellenic mythology off the top of my head, which…

That reminded me of that post I wrote not too long ago about how the rituals we use are means of reliving myths.  La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, more commonly known as Santería, is a perfect example of this.  All the ceremonies we participate in, all the things we wear, all the offerings we make, all the songs we sing, and so forth are established not just by tradition, but by the precedents laid out for us in the mythological stories that undergird the entire religion.  In this case, as in many religions and systems of faith, “myth” here doesn’t just mean a fairy-tale, but a narrative that explains how things become into the world and why we do certain things in a certain way.  The mythos of a religion, then, is the collective story of the cosmos from the point of view of that religion; to participate in the religion is to participate in the eternal telling-retelling of that mythos, where we are both a member of the audience as well as an actor on the stage.  Every religion is like this: Christianity retells the story of Christ’s sacrifice through the Eucharist, which is an eternal event that is played out in discrete instances that participate in the eternal truth of Jesus’ sacrifice; Judaism retells the story of the covenants of God with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and Aaron and the Exodus through the Passover Seder and the various mitzvot they maintain; Buddhism describes the paths to nirvana through the practices of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and how we are to understand the Noble Eightfold Path as well as all the discrete, different practices that can more quickly help us achieve our goal; Santeria tells through all the odu and all the pataki about the exploits of the orishas and how they impact our lives and what we can do about the problems through the rites and rituals that the orisha laid down so long ago, and so on.  Even in magic, we use stories that undergird our work: Solomonic magicians take on the role of Solomon as primordial gōes, reiki masters take on the role of their initiators going back to Usui-sensi to ply their work, Greek necromancers take on the role of those heroes like Odysseus who went down to the land of the dead and came back alive, and so forth.  These aren’t just simple stories we tell to children; these are the archetypal foundations of ideology, worldview, culture, faith, and interaction that our societies and civilizations are built upon and grow around.

So, what then of mathesis?  I realized that, though I have the basic ideas of Hermetic theurgy within a Pythagoreansim-centered Neoplatonic framework down and a handful of basic tools and methods at my disposal, I lack a story, a myth that explains what the whole goal is and how spiritual practices and methods should be established.  It’s these stories that not only provide inspiration for new methods to grow and develop, but also point to some of the dangers I might face and flaws I might find in myself along the way, as well as the remedies and precautions to take for when I do face them.  Without such a story, all I’m really doing is bumbling around in the dark repeating the same acts over and over with no purpose.  I can liken this to an actor on a stage reciting the same soliloquy extemporaneously with neither context nor play; no matter how excellently they might recite it, it has no meaning or purpose except to practice the ability of recitation for its own sake.  It’s only when such a soliloquy takes place in the proper context of a play that it has meaning.  All these practices of purification, meditation, contemplation, initiation, and whatnot don’t mean anything if they don’t have an overall story to fit into.  Like a collection of pieces to build furniture from IKEA, if you don’t know what you’re doing and have no instructions to fit everything together, that collection is going to remain nothing more than a pile of bits and odds and ends that don’t do anything except allow for someone to play at a frustrating adult version of Legos.

Now, I should say that I’m not trying to distill mathesis down to any one myth, any one story that we know of from ancient Greece.  I’m not suggesting that I’m doing that, or that I should do that.  I’m really talking about something more archetypal and fundamental than any one story, something that takes place time and time again in individual stories.  Consider what Leo Tolstoy (or Dostoyevsky, or John Gardner, or others) once said: “all great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town”.  This is the kind of archetype I’m talking about: a fundamental action that takes place.  Just how the Iliad is an example of the classical “war epic” while the Odyssey is one of the “journey epic”, and how the Aeneid is an example of both, and all of which take place in greater and larger cycles of epics and sagas, each with their own stories and subplots that collectively describe how things come to be, what is the sort of high-level framework “saga” that mathesis might adopt as its underlying mythos?  That’s an interesting thing for me to ponder as a model for mathesis.

After all, consider that we can use the word “model” in terms of “framework”, but also in the sense of “role model”.  What sort of character am I playing out by working in this way?  What sort of tribulations, conflicts, issues, problems, predicaments, and crises might I face?  Where might I look towards for help and succor?  To what end do I play out this role, and how does this role pick up and start again (reincarnate, rebirth, renew) in another iteration of the story?  After all, the idea of “role model” is played out quite heavily in occult and spiritual work in terms of godforms; the Catholic priest takes on the role of Jesus when he lifts up the host and say “this is my body”, the Vajrayana Buddhist takes on the role of their yidam in meditation, the Golden Dawn initiate takes on the role of any number of Egyptian gods for a given ritual, and so forth.  In adopting a role, we take on the strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and powers of that form we take; consider the Headless Rite, where the primary mechanism is to become Akephalos, the Headless One, to command the forces of the cosmos for exorcism or banishing or conjuration.  Not only do models inform us what our views of the cosmos will be like, but models also inform us how we act within that cosmos and what our abilities and limitations are.

This isn’t to say, of course, that we can’t, don’t, or shouldn’t live by our own stories; of course we can, and we must!  While there’s definitely truth to Ecclesiastes 1:9—”what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun”—there’s a difference between the fundamental archetype which is mythos and the discrete, concrete instantiation of a a story that falls under that mythos.  Like with the whole “two stories, journey or arrival” quote from above, consider that, at least under the “journey” header, we have such disparate and varied stories such as that of The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, Pokémon, and the Odyssey are all such stories.  Under the broader notion of Proto-Indo-European religion, which formed the basis for many of the pagan religions across Europe and some parts of Asia and the Near East, there are high-level archetype stories of divine horse twins, a sky father, a dawn goddess, and a hero slaying a dragon; take a look, dear reader, at Celtic, Greek, Roman, Slavic, Vedic, Nordic, and other Indo-European myths and you’ll find countless stories that relate to them, oftentimes many iterations of a single story with different variations.  We each have our own story, each of which is unique, and all of which play into the archetypes of the cosmos both as processes and actors.

Come to think of it, that’s one of the things that I think we as occultists tend to neglect.  It’s…it’s at least an issue, but I’m unsure whether it’s a full-blown problem, that so many of us lack contexts for the things we do.  Like the actor reciting a preset soliloquy extemporaneously without context, many of the practices we have are so distanced and removed from the theologies, cosmologies, and philosophies that gave birth to them, and we’re at a loss without understanding that collective context.  I mean, sure, the Headless Rite will still work for you whether or not you understand the currents of Egyptian, Christian, Jewish, Greek, gnostic, academic, priestly, and folk influences that collectively gave rise to that ritual and its place in the broader understanding of Greco-Egyptian magical praxis and theory, but knowing all the rest of that does significantly help attune oneself better to the ritual, not just by understanding where it came from, but also the role of the ritual, the magician who invokes Akephalos, and Akephalos itself.  To put it in modern terms, consider chaos magic with its notion of paradigm shifting.  You can pick up any ritual and make it work, sure, but if you can’t paradigm shift between them, you can’t get the most out of any given ritual you perform because you aren’t immersed in the fundamental contexts (the mythos) that allow for that ritual to work.

This is most dangerous for eclectic practitioners that don’t belong to any one tradition or practice except “what they feel like, a bit of this and a bit of that”; without a coherent, cohesive, connective mythos that undergirds their worldviews, philosophies, cosmologies, and so on, I find it extremely rare that anything of what they do even comes close to the power and efficacy of someone who has a mythos and has truly integrated themselves and everything they do into that mythos.  A mythos as model, then, provides both a skeleton and a skin for one’s practices: a skeleton to arrange and structure one’s practices together, and a skin to separate out what belongs to it and what does not, filtering things in to and out from one’s system of practices.  Without a mythos, you’re just a jumble of things that you do, some of which may have an immediate use but no overarching purpose; a set of practices without a mythos is no more than a jumble of IKEA parts without instructions that may or may not combine together to form a useful bit of furniture, and even then only if you stumble upon the right combination and order of doing so.  If you’re just interested in performing and knowing how to perform individual acts for individual needs, more power to you, but if you’re looking for purpose and direction and how all these things you do can lead to you it, then you’re going to need a mythos to understand how all these things you do play into it.

It’s because of this that I’m so interested in setting up a new kind of Hermetic theurgy with Neoplatonic philosophy divested from qabbalah.  The central mythos is the same both with and without qabbalah, sure, but the stories that play out would be different.  A different story means different actors, different problems, different predicaments, different crises, different climaxes, different resolutions, different conclusions, even if it all fits into the same mythic pattern.  With each new difference comes new insights, new abilities, new techniques, new practices that can be developed, refined, and applied, yielding new ways to understand the cosmos and ourselves.  Mathesis and qabbalah might both be mirrors made of the same stuff that reflect reality, but they’d present it from different angles, with different views, colors, shadows, and understandings of the thing to be reflected.

Qabbalah works for Hermeticism, to be sure, but almost all that we do is part of the same Hermetic story.  I want to tell a new story, and see where else I might end up.  What story will mathesis tell, I wonder?

Mathetic Exercise: Light-bringing Breath

Today, while making an offering to Apollo, he (if you’ll forgive the pun) shed some light on a bit of mathetic practice.  I’m still dusting off some of the tools and prayers I was working on, but he’s given me some ideas to work with.  While he’s still pretty stoic and detached in his approach to me, he’s generously helped me begin the process of refining and applying some of the things in mathesis I’ve been wanting to develop.  Of this, in addition to the usual daily mathetic stuff I would be doing, he’s given me a breathing exercise to do.  I don’t know if you’ve seen this one particular GIF around the Internet recently, but it suddenly popped in my mind when I asked him what should be done.

8d06cda5f63ac5e3b8e004587547fb72

So, I took that idea, hashed it out a bit with Apollo, and applied it.  It fills a need I wasn’t aware I needed, but it makes complete sense in retrospect, especially with some ideas I’ve gotten from the late Neoplatonic philosopher and theurgist Iamblichus as of late.

Before we get into the exercise, though, let’s go over a bit of geometry.  We all know the Tetractys, right?  We all know the Tetractys.

Tetractys

One of the many mathematical interpretations of the Tetractys is that it can represent the first four dimensions of geometry, starting with with the zeroth dimension:

  1. A single point, with neither length nor breadth nor depth.  No measure, only location.
  2. Two points, forming a straight line segment with length.  With a line segment, we can identify an infinite line extending in two directions: forward and backward.
  3. Three points, defining a triangle with length and breadth, together known as area.  With a triangle, we can identify an infinite area (a plane) extending in four directions: forward and backward, left and right.
  4. Four points, defining a tetrahedron with length and breadth and depth, together known as volume.  With a tetrahedron, we can identify an infinite volume (a space) extending in six directions: forward and backward, left and right, up and down.

Dion Fortune in her Mystical Qabalah (chap. 28, para. 25) says as much, in more sephirotic terms:

The point is assigned to Kether;
the line to Chokmah;
the two-dimensional plane to Binah;
consequently the three-dimensional solid naturally falls to Chesed.

We can see this using the ten sephiroth of the Tree of Life by dividing it up into four groups of points: one (Kether), two (Chokmah and Binah), three (Chesed, Geburah, Tiphareth), and four (Netzach, Hod, Yesod, Malkuth).  Such a diagram illustrates this idea of emanation in both a geometric way as well as a qabbalistic way.

A11p12fig10.1

In a Hermetic, Neoplatonic, Iamblichian, Pythagorean, or whatever sense, the Monad (a.k.a. Kether, the Source, whatever) is the fundamental principle that defines and underlies everything that exists.  (Whether it’s a distinct entity/non-entity/process is something of a debate in the blogosphere and I don’t presume to get into it here.)  Looking at the Tetractys, the Monad is the first step in the process of manifestation: from the Monad comes the Dyad, from the Dyad the Triad, and from the Triad the Tetrad.  The Tetrad is what gives us body and form, but it comes from a higher principle, and that principle comes from a higher one, and so forth.  If we really want to bring change from above down to here, we have to give it form in some sense, or we have to align some part of our being with the process of bringing power from the Source to us.

However, although four points identifies the minimal solid there can exist, we are far more than just four points.  Yes, we are a combination of fire and air and water and earth, but not in equal measures, nor in a regular fashion.  Our bodies are animal, but our spirit partakes in something of the Divine; in order to better make our lives and bodies more appropriate to interacting with the divine, we should try to induce a slightly different body in ourselves that makes ourselves more divine.  For the Neoplatonic Iamblichus, this is the form of the sphere, the most ideal solid there can be, and the body of the heavenly entities.  A sphere is not a tetrahedron, but they are both bodies.  We don’t want to be content with a tetrahedron, as we’re already far too complex to abide in it, but we want to get to a sphere.  In one sense, going from a tetrahedron to a sphere is nothing, after having gone and passed through the point, line, and shape in order to get a form; in another, going from a tetrahedron to a sphere is the most daunting thing of all, as we go from one point to two to three to four is one thing, but to go from four to an infinite number of points is daunting, to say the least.

In addition to all this, it’s known that part of the theurgic practices of Iamblichus involved a process of “light” and filling oneself up with it, which we can also see in other theurgic rituals, like that of the Mithras Liturgy from PGM IV.475-834.  In that, we find the following:

Draw in breath from the rays [of the Sun], drawing up 3 times as much as you can, and you will see yourself being lifted up and ascending to the height, so that you seem to be in midair.  You will hear nothing either of man or of any other living thing, nor in that hour will you see anything of mortal affairs on earth, but rather you will see all immortal things.  For in that day and hour you will see the divine order of the skies…

…So stand still and at once draw breath from the divine into yourself, while you look intently…

The whole Mithras Liturgy is a spiritual astral travel-type of initiation, where one ascends into the heavens and deals directly with the gods and guards of heaven.  However, important to this ritual is an act of ritualized breathing, where one breathes in rays of light or the breath of the divine, and in doing so changes or alters one’s nature or consciousness.  This is also similar to the Howl of Orpheus rite I found a bit ago, with its own special type of breathing and bellowing.  Breathing in divine light is not just the light of a particular planet or a star or fire, but to breathe in the light of the Divine itself, that of the Monad, the fundamental essence that undergirds all things that exist.

So, let’s put this all together into a coherent ritual, shall we?

  1. While sitting or standing, breathe out completely, from the head to the toes, completely exhaling all breath from the lungs.  Make a popping sound to expel all breath once the normal exhale is done.
  2. Breathe in deeply from the toes to the head, picturing a point of Light in your heart.  Hold the breath for four counts, then exhale completely, this time with a hissing sound towards the end.  Maintain the point of Light in your heart as you keep your lungs empty for a few counts.
  3. Breathe in deeply, picturing the point of Light in your heart splitting into two points, one at the crown of your head and one at the soles of your feet, connected by a line of Light rising from the feet, through the spine, to the head.  Hold the breath for four counts, then exhale completely with a hissing sound.  Maintain the line of Light in your body as you keep your lungs empty for a few counts.
  4. Breathe in deeply, picturing the line of Light extending by another point from its middle into a triangle that envelops your body, aligned side-to-side through your body, with its base at your feet and its apex at your head.  Hold the breath for four counts, then exhale completely with a hissing sound.  Maintain the triangle of Light through your body as you keep your lungs empty for a few counts.
  5. Breathe in deeply, picturing the triangle of Light extending by another point from its center into a tetrahedron, with its base at your feet and its apex at your head, completely enveloping you inside.  Hold the breath for four counts, then exhale completely with a hissing sound.  Maintain the tetrahedron of Light through your body as you keep your lungs empty for a few counts.
  6. Breathe in deeply, maintaining the pyramid of Light around you, as you hold the breath, exhale completely, and hold your lungs empty several times.  Silently call out to the Divine Source until you can form some sort of connection, until you can sense the Source of the Light that has been forming within and around you this whole time.  Repeat this step until you have sensed it and formed a connection with it, then continue.
  7. With the lungs completely empty, breathe in deeply, but this time, breathe in the Light from the Source.  As you do so, picture the pyramid around you swelling up slowly, bulging at its sides, until it becomes the shape of a perfect sphere that completely surrounds you.  Repeat this step until you can form a stable, perfect sphere of Light.
  8. Once you’ve formed a stable sphere of Light that surrounds you completely, let your image of yourself dissolve and merge into the sphere, becoming one with it, letting the sphere become your entire body.  Maintain this mental state as a form of meditation as long as desired.
  9. When finished with the meditative sphere of Light, let the image of your body form from the Light within the sphere, maintaining the boundary of the sphere around you as a shield or shell.  Exhale slowly with another popping sound to finish.

Emanation in Qabbalah versus Mathesis

So, in the meantime of developing the Tetractys of Life and starting to use more Pythagorean and classical Neoplatonic ideas in my studies of the occult, I think I’ve finally found a word that accurately captures what I want to name this system.  The broader system in Hermeticism and Western occulture is qabbalah (or Jewish kabbalah or Christian cabala, to use different spellings to indicate different traditions).  All these words have the same root in Hebrew: קַבָּלָה‎, meaning “tradition” or “reception”.  I’ve been using a Greek transcription of this word, καμπαλα or “kampala”, to describe my Pythagorean-Neoplatonic system, but this is still basically the same word, and I’m developing it to a point where it doesn’t really fit into the qabbalistic scheme anymore.  After thinking about the thing I’m developing and going through some Greek dictionaries, I think I’ve found a word to name this new system of occult thought: μαθησις, or “mathēsis”, which means “the act of learning” or “obtaining knowledge”.  This word is related to our word “mathematic“, which itself comes from Greek meaning “scientific, disposed to learn”, itself from Greek μαθημα, or “that which is learnt”.  While this Tetractys of Life and everything are things to be learned, sure, they’re all tools to learn more.  Hence, the broader system I want to call is appropriately mathēsis, a term that’s been used before in the pre-modern and modern Western world by philosophers such as Descartes and Leibniz to describe a hypothetical universal science modeled on mathematics.  And, well, since Pythagoras established that everything is number and (in our modern sense) mathematical, this isn’t too bad a term.  To that end, I’ve gone through and labeled all the Towards a Greek Kabbalah posts (which are their own blog project in their own right) under the category of mathesis.

Alright, so, labels and terms are out of the way.  I want to talk about emanation in mathēsis and how it compares to qabbalah, because there’s a critical difference between the two that really should be understood.  While I originally set out to develop a qabbalah-like system based on Greek mathematical and grammatomantic principles that essentially shared the same ideas, I ended up with a much different beast of a cosmology than I had anticipated.  For instance, consider the idea of emanationism, where successively more complex forms of existence and reality develop or flow forth both within and from a higher and more primitive source.  This is distinct from creationism, where things are made as they are without successive steps by an external creator, and from materialism, where things come about from other things without a metaphysical origin.  The idea of emanationism is replete throughout many forms of the occult, not least in both Pythagorean, Neoplatonic, and mystic Jewish thought.  It can be seen in both the kabbalistic Tree of Life as well as in this new mathetic Tetractys of Life, but not in the same way.

For instance, consider the Tree of Life in qabbalah.  There are ten sephiroth, each assigned a particular number from 1 to 10 and descending from the top to the bottom.  Each sephirah represents a different attribute or aspect of the one God, or a different way God expresses his will.  There exists a particular set of paths, collectively termed the Lightning Bolt Path, that hits each sphere in sequence from Kether to Chokmah to Binah all the way down to Malkuth.  This describes the emanation of the cosmos from God in successive forms, ultimately culminating in our existence down here on Earth.  This also ties in (or perhaps founded?) the notion of an Idea of God descending through the many spheres of Heaven, hitting each planet in turn, building up more form and density until it hit our lowest Earth-plane, finally becoming a manifest Thing.  There is one Source and one Goal, clearly marked out with clearly defined stages in between.

The Tetractys of Life also describes emanation, but not in the same way.  Like the Tree of Life, there are ten spheres or units, each representing an aspect of creation in a different manner.  Like the Tree of Life, there is one Monad at the top, the undifferentiated and divinely simple source of all things.  Like the Tree of Life, the Tetractys of Life describes an emanatory or development of creation from the top down.  However, that’s where the similarities end.  Instead of having each sphere on the Tetractys represent a different emanation or stage in existence, the Tetractys shows emanation based on the rank of the Tetractys; instead of going One-Two-Three-…-Ten, it goes Monad-Dyad-Triad-Tetrad.  In other words, there are only four stages of emanation in the Tetractys compared to the ten in the Tree.  The emanatory dyadic principles of Light and Dark  occur simultaneously and as two parts of a whole, not in a sequence.  They are different, but they are in a kind of super-alchemical marriage as One, since they both come from One.  Likewise, the emanatory triadic reagents of Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur occur simultaneously as a result of the marriage between Light and Dark, as do the emanatory tetradic substances of the four elements from the harmony of the three reagents.  And, from these four substances, all of material creation is made.

Why is this significant?  Because we have different notions of a “starting point” when working with the Tree and with the Tetractys.  With the Tree, we can all safely agree that we’re down here in the tenth sephirah of Malkuth, and it’s our job to rise through the sephiroth in the reverse order compared to how we got here.  With the Tetractys, however, there is no single starting point; our starting point is below the Tetractys, in the unnumbered and implied pentad of all the things that exist, the symbol of which is the pentagram and which represents the Divine Proportion (φ).  In that sense, our starting point is below the Tetrad working within as a Pentad, itself not represented on the Tetractys.  The Tetractys is the source of life but is not itself life in the same sense that the Monad is the source of existence but is itself neither existence nor nonexistence.  We must first understand how the Pentad comes forth from the Tetrad, then the Tetrad from the Triad, then so forth back to the Monad.

tetractys_pentad

So, rather than thinking of each of the ten spheres in the Tetractys as a separate stage of emanation, it’s more proper to understand mathetic emanation as occurring in four stages (divine simplicity, differentiation, system, embodiment) compared to the qabbalistic ten.  And, within each stage, there are different forces at work that represent how that emanation of the cosmos takes place.  While the Tetractys of Life illustrates the different types of forces within each rank of the Tetractys, this is only an ideal representation, much as the Bohr representation of atoms is convenient to understand ideal spatial relationships between an atom’s nucleus and electrons, but in reality the electrons move in indeterminate electron clouds where either the speed or location of a subatomic particle may be known but not both at the same time.  In other words, Light and Dark take place at the same time and interchangeably within the Dyad, as do the three reagents within the Triad, as do the four elements within the Tetrad.  We may find it easy to focus on one element, reagent, or principle at the same time, but this is a hyperfocused and ultimately false distinction that isn’t true on a fundamental level.  That said, on a fundamental level, everything is already part of One and is One, much as the distinction between the sephiroth in qabbalah is only apparent from the point of view of the Created and not of the Creator.

So why am I clarifying the notion of emanation when studying mathesis in using the Tetractys of Life?  Because it requires a different sort of understanding of the cosmos than what we’re used to thinking based on the Tree of Life in qabbalah, which is arguably the starting point for much of Western occultism today.  Why does this matter?  Because I ran into the practical problem of trying to assign numbers from 1 to 10 to each of the spheres in the Tetractys.  I wanted to link the spheres on the Tetractys to the sephiroth in some way, or find some sort of numerical sequence for the forces in the Tetractys, so I could link these spheres to other types of magical technology and techniques.  For instance, consider magic squares, the qameas of the planets.  If the planet Saturn is corresponded to the sephirah of Binah, and Binah’s number in the order of emanation is three, then three is the qabbalistic number of Saturn.  Thus, the magic square or qamea of Saturn is a 3 × 3 grid of numbers from 1 to 9 (or 3²), upon which we can plot qabbalistic names and sigils of various spirits and concepts related to the sphere of Saturn.  I personally like the use of magic squares in magic, and I wanted to find a particular way to develop a set of magic squares to each of the forces in the Tetractys of Life.  However, after a good amount of reflection and late-night thinking, I couldn’t find a way to suitably number the spheres on the Tetractys outside their non-sequential lambdoma numbering.  Because I can’t (yet?) think of a way to sequentially number the spheres in the Tetractys, this makes it cut off from systems such as qabbalah and much of qabbalah-influenced magical tech; at the same time, trying to force on a numbering system like this seems ill-advised, like trying to square the circle when the two cannot be done except at a higher level.

In this case, if we have a collection of points that themselves are unordered, are we up Styx creek without a paddle?  Not at all.  The use of algebra and arithmetic weren’t the preferred means of mathematics back in Pythagorean thought, but rather geometry.  And, understanding the four ranks of the Tetractys to refer to geometric forms, we have a 0-dimensional figure as the Monad (a single point), a 1-dimensional figure as the Dyad (two points form a line), a 2-dimensional figure as the Triad (three points form a plane or a triangle), and a 3-dimensional figure as the Tetrad (four points form a solid or a tetrahedron).  Geometry, then, might be a better route to go to understand the various forces represented within each rank of the Tetractys than number squares or knocking on an altar a particular number of times.  The Tetractys is slowly but surely showing me a new way to understand the cosmos and how to apply myself within it and to it both theurgically and thaumaturgically; what new tech it’ll lead me to, I don’t yet know, but I’m excited to find out.

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: First Swirlings

A few weeks ago, I made a post about an idea about working with a Greek style of Hermetic qabbalah, tentatively calling it kambala (Greek way to write out qabbalah from Hebrew) or to Paradedomenon (lit. “that which is handed down”).  The idea, I claim, is an interesting one: in the absence of Hebrew kabbalah, is it possible to make a Hellenic style of emanationist cosmological magic and theology that works with the Greek letters as magical units and entities in their own right?  Asked another way, could there conceivably be such a thing as a Greek qabbalah?  So I started thinking about it, and I first went and looked up translations of the names of the sephiroth and the like from Hebrew into Greek, and started translating other names into Greek as well, and also rewriting the magic number squares of the planets using Greek letter-numerals to develop new planetary spirit names.

Now I’m thinking I was going down the wrong path and need to start fresh without using the Tree of Life, or even using Jewish kabbalah at all.

I mean, what is Jewish kabbalah?  It is a deep, powerful, multifaceted, beautiful system of Jewish mysticism that can deliver one great, perhaps infinite, knowledge and power through the proper use of its system, but it’s still at its heart a Jewish system.  Thus, it is Jewish, and geared towards those who are Jewish: not only by blood (as tradition would have it), but also by culture (having the means and faculties available to a proper Jew) and definitely by religion and religious studies.  Kabbalah is really only meant for those who are prepared to study it, which requires a deep and thorough study of the Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, Mishnah, and so many other aspects of Jewish religion and how it ties into Jewish life.  For all intents and purposes, to get the most out of kabbalah, you have to be Jewish.  You don’t necessarily have to be a Jew (unless you’re so hard-core traditionalist that only the first-born son of a kabbalist can learn it from his rabbi father), but you definitely have to be Jewish in order to properly study kabbalah.  Anything less, and you’re not going to be able to use it as much as it can or ought to be.

As for me?  Sure, I can claim descent as a Jew, but I’m about as Jewish as an Olive Garden is Italian, which is to say “hahaha not really”.  Sure, I can say the berakhah for Chanukah, and that’s about it.  I’ve never had my bar mitzvah (even though my father has idly wondered that we should probably get ours done eventually at the same time), and it’s more likely that I’ll be baptized into Christianity before having a bar mitzvah.  I’ve only read the Old Testament in English, not even in the proper order of the books that the Tanakh would have; I don’t maintain kosher standards of purity or cleanliness (especially not with the occasional use of blood rum), and I can’t even read or speak Hebrew.  In all honesty, for me to properly study kabbalah, I’d need to learn Hebrew, get bar mitzvah’d, and undergo what’s likely to be many years of studying before I even read properly about the sephiroth.  Which is why I’m not, nor will I ever, learn about Jewish kabbalah outside a few books by Aryeh Kaplan.

But of course, that’s not the only way to study the Tradition.  What about Hermetic qabbalah (this time with a Q)?  I’ve been making good use of that, to be sure, as have many others in the Golden Dawn, Thelemite, and other modern Hermetic movements, and heck, even in a good number of neopagan movements I’ve seen that are influenced by Gardnerian Wicca and the Golden Dawn.  While I’d argue that the heart of Hermetic qabbalah and Jewish kabbalah is the same (it provides a means to understand the source of an emanationist panentheist cosmos by means of a cosmological Abrahamic structure), the study of the two nearly couldn’t be further apart.  And, to be honest, after mulling it over some, I’m not sure Hermetic qabbalah is even recognizably able to achieve the same goal as Jewish kabbalah.  My good friend the Rev. Michael Strojan has compared Jewish kabbalah to a beautiful rose garden maze leading to a unique spiritual experience of the mind of God in creation, while Hermetic qabbalah is a far more rational, utilitarian cosmological mapping.

In fact, when a Hermeticist tends to refer to “qabbalah”, they’re usually referring to the specific teaching of the Tree of Life, the linking of the ten sephiroth with 22 paths in a particular geometric array.  In Hebrew, this is known as the upright arrangement of the sephiroth, or “yosher”, which is one way to view the sephiroth; the other is “iggulim”, or “circles”, viewing the cosmos as a series of nested circles with God on the outside and Malkuth in the innermost circle.  I’ve seen a similar way to represent the sephiroth before in Hermetic qabbalah, but only as an introduction to emanationist principles and never for serious magic or prolonged study.  While the paths of the Tree of Life are important, they’re usually grossly understudied in favor of the sephiroth themselves; I’ve seen plenty of people talking about scrying the spheres but next to nobody about scrying the paths, and I admit that I’m guilty of this, too!  It’s nearly all about corresponding things to the ten spheres, and that’s about it.  Consider Yesod, the ninth sephirah: Yesod is associated with the first heaven, which coincides with the sphere of the Moon, so anything lunar can be corresponded to Yesod.  That’s nearly about it in Hermetic qabbalistic framework, it’d seem, unless I’m missing a large amount of the cultural movement and study of the thing.  I’m aware that many Hermeticists have gone in much deeper study of the sephiroth and the paths, but I wouldn’t call them a majority.  To most magicians who use Hermetic qabbalah, they only use it as a system of correspondences.

More than that, however, for a non-Jew, even a learned Neoplatonic theosopher and magician, to attempt their own study of kabbalah can come off as something insincere.  I mean, as non-Jews (and I’m including myself de facto in that group), we’re not raised Jewish, we celebrate different holidays, we’re not studied in the traditions and text that Jewish kabbalah builds upon.  While it’s certainly possible to get a lot out of the system, we won’t be able to fully plumb the depths of the system without having all those other things under our belt.  And while it’s certainly allowed to study any and all knowledge and teachings out there on the subject, it’s still a subject that’s pretty much not meant for most of us.  Even in traditional kabbalistic teachings, many Jews couldn’t learn it, which is why we have the Sacred Magic of Abramelin, since (chapter 9, my emphasis):

This wisdom hath its foundation in the high and holy Qabalah which is not granted unto any other than unto the first-born, even as God hath ordained, and as it was observed by our predecessors. Thence arose the difference, and the truck or exchange between Jacob and Esau; the primogeniture being the Qabalah, which is much nobler and greater than the Sacred Magic. And by the Qabalah we can arrive at the Sacred Magic, but by the latter we cannot have the Qabalah. Unto the child of a servant, or of an adulterer, the Qabalah is not granted, but only unto a legitimate child; as occurred in the case of Isaac and Ishmael; but the sacred wisdom through the mercy of God all can acquire, provided that they walk in the right path; and each one should content himself with the gift and grace of the Lord. And this must not be done out of curiosity, and with extravagant and ridiculous scruples, wishing to know and understand more than is right; seeing that temerity is certainly punished by God, who then permitteth him who is presumptuous not only to be turned aside out of the true way by the Second Causes, but also the demon hath power over him, and he ruineth and exterminateth him in such a manner, that we can only say that he himself is the sole cause of his own ruin and misery. It is certain that the Old Serpent will attempt to contaminate the present book with his venom, and even to destroy and lose it utterly, but O Lamech! as a faithful father I entreat thee by the true God who hath created thee and all things, and I entreat every other person who by thy means shall receive this method of operating, not to be induced or persuaded to have any other sentiment or opinion, or to believe the contrary. Pray unto God and ask him for his assistance, and place all thy confidence in him alone. And although thou canst not have the understanding of the Qabalah, nevertheless the holy guardian angels at the end of the six Moons or months will manifest unto thee that which is sufficient for the possession of this Sacred Magic.

Is there a means for us to study divinity and obtain power and knowledge thereby?  Of course!  The Word of God is something all humans with ears can hear (as much of my 49 Days of Definitions project indicated), but not every word is meant for us.  There are many words out there for us to understand the Word; they are all the Word, but not using the same words.  In a Hermetic sense, kabbalah is a form of Logos for the Jews who are able and allowed to study it.  So, while a Hermetic qabbalah with roots and liberal borrowing from the Hebrew kabbalah is not improper, strictly speaking, it does seem like trying to borrow a prayer in another language to another divinity and speaking it aloud with a bad accent to your own.  To be terse, the more I look at it, the more Hermetic qabbalah looks like cultural appropriation, and knowing how rife much of the Golden Dawn material was with culturally appropriated techniques and technology, this isn’t too surprising.

Besides, while Jewish kabbalah is definitely Jewish, it’s not entirely Jewish.  It’s apparent that there was much cross-pollination between Jewish and Neoplatonic thought back in the days of the Roman Empire, especially after the Jewish Diaspora after the destruction of the Second Temple, and it was only then did the Hebrew alphabet begin to be used as numbers in addition to letters, a notably Greek practice that had already been in place for centuries, along with the Greek practice of isopsephic exegesis in interpreting words as numerical strings and linking them to numerological concepts and other words by means of isopsephy.  Heck, even the Hebrew word “gematria” has its origins in Greek “geometria”.  It might reasonably be said that what is today Jewish kabbalah is a combination of Greek Neoplatonist philosophy and isopsephic techniques combined with the native Jewish Merkava and Hekhalot mystic techniques.  This was used, then merged again with other European thought as the centuries passed, so that kabbalah borrowed and reborrowed other philosophies just as it was borrowed and reborrowed from.  As a magician in the vein of Neoplatonism, I can definitely see much that I resonate with in kabbalistic thought and practice, but the system takes place in a context that is sufficiently different from my own that it’s difficult for me to penetrate it without my entering into that context itself.

In that light, recontextualizing kabbalah into Hermetic qabbalah wholesale just isn’t the best way to go about it, and to develop an even further-detached system as a Hellenic or Greek kabbalah based on the Hermetic qabbalah would be even less effective.  While such a Greek kabbalah would be great for my own practice and context, being much more familiar with Neoplatonic, Stoic, and even some Pythagorean philosophy (which is really the root of much of this, anyway), trying to base it on the already “debased” (to exaggerate the sense) Hermetic qabbalah would be like a game of Translation Party.  And, just like with proper English-to-Japanese translation, you need to have a good sense of the language, structure, and system you’re trying to build things into based on the ideas and thoughts you already have instead of trying to go through a predetermined middleman system with its own rules already in place.  In order to create a Greek kabbalah, I’d need to start fresh from first principles.  Scrying the Tree of Life in a Greek framework isn’t the only work that has to be done, but the creation of a new map of the cosmos and new paths, developing an understanding more fitting to my own context instead of that of a different religion and tradition, is all necessary.

In other words, I hope you stay tuned as I work towards a Greek kabbalah.  This will be a series of posts over the coming month exploring all the aspects I consider necessary to build such a system, so I hope you follow along.

Greek Words and Names for a Greek Qabbalah

Lately, based on my grammatomantic research, I’ve been looking more into using Greek as my go-to magical language.  Despite the prevalence of Greek ideas, theology, mythology, and philosophy rife throughout a lot of occulture, there’s surprisingly little that I can access in English when it comes to the work I’m interested.  Either things go full Renaissance Hermetic, when Latin was the main working language of things, or full Hermetic Hebrew, due to the influence of the Golden Dawn and traditional qabbalah.  To that end, I know of the Greek gods and their myths, and I use the gods’ names for the planets, and I have a few Greek-origin terms and prayers here and there, but little else.  Seeing how more and more of my practice is turning towards the northeast Mediterranean rather than the Near East or western Mediterranean, I figured that I should get all my terms and words in order to allow for more fluent use of Hellenic and Greek terms.

For instance, take the planets.  In the past, I’ve referred to them by the names of the Greek gods they’re associated with, which isn’t wrong; after all, the planets were often considered to be the physical bodies of the gods themselves.  That said, it turns out there are another set of names used to refer to the planets themselves, which are properly the planetary titans.

  1. The Sun, associated with the god Apollo, is given to the titan Hēlios
  2. The Moon, associated with the goddess Artemis, is given to the titan Selēnē, also called Mēnē
  3. Mercury, associated with the god Hermes, is given the name Stilbon
  4. Venus, associated with the goddess Aphrodite, is given to the titans Eōsphoros (Morning Star) and Hesperos (Evening Star)
  5. Mars, associated with the god Ares, is given the name Pyroeis or, lesser used, Mesonyx
  6. Jupiter, associated with the god Zeus, is given the name Phaethōn
  7. Saturn, associated with the titan Kronos, is given the name Phainōn

So, let’s start from the beginning.  Just as the Hebrew Tree of Life has ten sephiroth (sing. sephirah), the Greek Tree has ten sphairai (sing. sphaira, “sphere”) or arithmoi (sing. arithmos, “number”).  Each of these has a name of its own, modeled after the names of the Hebrew Tree.  While Michael Strojan has his own naming system, the one I’ve seen first was given in Stephen Flowers’ Hermetic Magic, and written about at length by the Confraternity of the Rose Cross (albeit in a long-winded and sometimes purposefully obtuse series of articles).  Those names are:

  1. Arkhē, “First Principle”
  2. Sophia, “Wisdom”
  3. Noesis, “Understanding”
  4. Doxa, “Glory”
  5. Dynamis, “Power”
  6. Agathōsynē, “Goodness”
  7. Nikē, “Victory”
  8. Megalōsynē, “Greatness”
  9. Themelion, “Foundation”
  10. Basileia, “Kingdom”

And, of course, just as the missing sephirah Da`ath means “Knowledge”, the equivalent missing sphaira is Gnōsis, meaning the same.

Similarly, just as each Hebrew sephirah has its own corresponding name of God, so too does each individual sphaira.  However, while a simple translation of each could be done, much as in the same way as the names of the sphairai were made, I thought it more appropriate to look through both the Old and New Testaments, as well as a bit of Gnostic literature here and there, to compile a list of names of God and ascribe them to the sphairai based on numerological connections as well as their semantic resonance with their corresponding Hebrew names.  As many of the names are technically imperfect Greek without an article or predicate noun applied, they’re given in parentheses.

  1. (ho) Ōn, “He who Is”
  2. (ho) Ēn, “He who Was”
  3. (ho) Erkhomenos, “He who Is to Come”
  4. (ho) Theos, “(the) God”
  5. Iskhyros (ho Theos), “(God is) Strong”
  6. Athanatos (ho Theos), “(God is) Immortal”
  7. Pantarkhos (ho Theos), “(God is) All-Ruling”
  8. Pantokrator (ho Theos), “(God is) All-Mighty”
  9. Pantosōmatos (ho Theos), “(God is) In All Bodies”
  10. (to) Alpha kai (to) Ōmega, “(the) First and (the) Last”

The names were developed by dividing the Tree of Life into four groups based on the familiar triads: the supernal (or first) triad consisting of the first three sphairai (1, 2, 3), the middle (or second) triad consisting of the next three (4, 5, 6), the lower (or third) triad consisting of the next three (7, 8, 9), and the final sphaira (10) left alone in its own group.  Based on these, I found names of divinity used in pagan, Hermetic, Hellenic Jewish, and Christian traditions, and associated them in particular groups that fit together well.

  • The supernal triad got its names from the Revelation of John (Revelation 1:8), reflecting the eternality (existing outside of time) and sempiternality (existing within all of time) of God.  Technically, the first two godnames are variations on the Greek verb “to be” (present participle and imperfect, respectively, of eimi), while the third is a form of “to come” (present participle of erkhomai).  This draws a distinction between sheer Presence undifferentiated by time (Ōn) and Presence that stirs and changes over time (Ēn), while the third becomes that which brings about change (Erkhomenos).  This distinction is reflected in the astrological correspondences of these sphairai, with the first being pure Light (Infinity), the second being Light that has moved in space (stars), and the third being a planet that moves and introduces change below it (Saturn).
  • The Trisagion Prayer formed the basis for the divine names for the middle triad, with the fourth sphaira (associated with Jupiter and Zeus, already recognized as “the” God) given to Theos, the fifth sphaira (associated with Mars and Ares, thus power and strength) given to Iskhyros, and the sixth sphaira (associated with Sol Invictus and, especially, Jesus Christ himself) associated with Athanatos.  Further, Theos and Iskhyros tie in with their corresponding Hebrew names, El and Elohim Gibor, respectively.  Also, the use of Theos can be appended to any sphaira godname after the fourth sphaira, since all the following names (with the exception of that of the tenth) are all technically adjectives, with “God” being the noun that they apply to in the sense of “God is Strong” or “God is Immortal”.  The fourth sphaira is conventionally held to be the beginnings of solid reality after the Fall from Divinity (cf. the Abyss), separating the eternal/sempiternal Presence of Divinity (Mind) from itself into a distinct Person of Divinity (God).
  • The names in the lower triad share the same omnipresent qualities, as well as being the epithets for Isis, Hermes, and the Universe respectively in pagan and Hermetic traditions.  Further, the Hebrew names for the seventh and eighth sephiroth, YHVH Tzabaoth and Elohim Tzabaoth, are similar in the notion of God presiding over the entirety of heaven and the heavenly hosts.  The use of Pantosōmatos comes from the Corpus Hermeticum (V.10) in referring to God “beyond all name, unmanifest, most manifest, of no body, of many body, of every body”, and the notion of linking the Moon (sphaira 9, Themelion) with bodies, corporeality, and manifestation is not a new one, since all things that exist lower than the Moon must pass through the Moon and contain some of its essence in it, especially when the Hebrew name for the corresponding sephirah is Shaddai El Chai, or “Almighty God of Life”.
  • The use of Alpha and Ōmega for the tenth sphaira comes from the description of Jesus/God from Revelation 1:8 and used throughout that book, which I found appropriate as the tenth sphaira is the World, containing every essence of every other plane of existence in itself as well as being the final sphaira reflecting the first, just as the English phrase “from A to Z” would be, and especially so as Alpha represents the Moon and Ōmega the planet Saturn in their esoteric meanings, encapsulating all the heavens between them.

That said, the names of God associated with the sphairai aren’t that important, except maybe in conjurations following Solomonic practice, since the sphairai themselves bear names of God.  After all, the sphairai are emanations of God and given titles of God, and it’s likely that the attribution of divine names to the sephiroth in Hermetic qabbalah developed from another tradition.  After all, most of the names of God given to the Hebrew sephiroth are, well, holy names not meant to be taken in vain or even spoken aloud, and it was more likely that magicians using them would prefer to use titles of God given to the sephiroth rather than names of God directly that they shouldn’t even write without several ablutions, much less speak aloud.  I’m starting to think that the correspondence of these set of divine names to the sephirah was an outside tradition tacked onto qabbalah, probably under the influence of Western Solomonic or goetic magic that used divine names like nobody else’s business.  When using one of these divine names in, say, a conjuration, the names for sphairai 5 through 10 would be reversed, so instead of “Iskhyros ho Theos” (God is Strong), it’d be “ho Iskhyros Theos” (the Strong God).  Greek is weird.

One thing I don’t feel comfortable with, at least just yet, is making a new set of Greek spirit names, especially those for the angels.  It can’t be escaped that much of Hermetic magic is based on Abrahamic lore, such as those of the angels, and so many of the names are going to remain Hebrew in origin; thus, Michael will remain Michael (though spelled in Greek as Mikhaēl) and so forth.  Likewise, the names of the planetary intelligences and spirits are based on Hebrew gematria principles, and so couldn’t be easily translated into Greek.  However, at least one set of angelic names can be translated: those of the choirs, or taxiarkhies.  Even then, though, those with explicitly Hebrew names (viz. Seraphim and Cherubim) would remain in Hebrew, but the rest wouldn’t, even though several of the names are really similar in English because much of Christian doctrine comes from, you guessed it, Greek.

  1. Serapheim, Seraphim
  2. Kheroubeim, Cherubim
  3. Thronoi, Thrones
  4. Kuriotētes, Dominions
  5. Dynameis, Powers
  6. Exousies, Virtues
  7. Arkhes, Principalities
  8. Arkhangeloi, Archangels
  9. Angeloi, Angels

One of the keys to developing new spirit names, especially for those of the planets, would be to recreate the qameas, or magic squares, of the planets.  The sigils for the planetary spirits and intelligences are based off the magic squares for their respective planets, and since the letters of the Hebrew script double as numbers, it would be possible to redraw the magic squares using Greek letters instead of Hebrew.  Since these names are all based on numerological principles and founded on the numbers associated with the planets, new names can feasibly be drawn up for these entities based on numerology (one of the few useful instances I’ve found of the craft, but I digress).  However, while redrawing the magic squares in Greek letters is easy, finding acceptable names of planetary spirits and intelligences that adhere to the same numeric values as the Hebrew names is not, since there are far more permutations of letters that would add up to the same value than I can calculate off the top of my head.  A good amount of work would be needed to develop a set of names and see which would work for the spirit and intelligence of each sphaira, not to mention figure out whether an “intelligence of intelligences” or “spirit of spirits” would be needed for spheres like those of the Moon and Venus.

At this point, there’s really little else than to make a new set of tables of correspondences a la Cornelius Agrippa’s Scales, replacing Hebrew godnames and the like with native Greek ones where appropriate, and honestly there’s already a lot done for me that I don’t need to do again (thank you, Stephen Skinner).  That and, of course, a hellish amount of scrying, pathworking, and exploration to really see what needs doing, patching up, and evaluating to see what’s actually needed for theurgy and thaumaturgy.  I’m thinking I might have to go with what Kalagni of Blue Flame Magick did a while back, scrying up a new style of Tree of Life on my own Starry Path.  I was thinking I was going to go that route anyway, using my grammatomantic lunar calendar to set certain days to scry the paths of the Greek Tree of Life, but now that I’m realizing how big an effort this is going to be, it’s certainly not going to be a short-term project.

One final thing, though: what would this new system be called?  Kabbalah or qabbalah (I use the K to signify the Jewish practice and Q the Hermetic one) is still a Hebrew word itself, meaning “receiving” or “tradition”.  The Greek Wikipedia article uses the word “kampala”, with “kabbala” as an alternate spelling.  Going by the meaning of the word, I think “(to) Paradedomenon” (that which is handed down) isn’t too far off the mark; “kampala” would be the shorthand name for the system as a transliteration of the Hebrew.  But of course, since clearly nobody speaks Greek (including myself, which I should eventually get around to fixing), “Greek kabbalah” would be the most easily accessible name for the system.

Oh, and for those of you who keep tabs on my Facebook, you’ll notice I posted an interesting photo about Greek kabbalah.  We’ll get into that more later on; I’ve got plenty to write about it for those who’re interested in a Neoplatonic/Pythagorean kinda thing.

The Sash of Powers, or a Fancy New Magical Thingie

So, beading and jewelry making has been a recent hobby of mine ever since my good friends in some ATRs got me hooked on them.  The use of colored seed beads and semiprecious (or precious!) stone beads really opens up a lot of avenues for occult crafting and designing.  After all, my carcanets aren’t too bad an innovation, reducing the need for drawing intricate pentacles and expanding on the powerful uses and correspondences of color to various forces.  Still, although having beaded necklaces to represent the forces is nice, I decided one night to make something fancy, something grand, something awesome with these supplies I have on hand.  To that end, I ended up making a large beading project, what I fancifully call the Cingula Potestatum, or the Sash of Powers:

Sash of Powers

It’s a pretty long thing, worn as a sash over one shoulder and down the opposite hip, measuring about 6′ 6″ in length total, which is a surprisingly good fit for someone my height.  I could, of course, wrap it three times around my neck and wear it as an exceptionally elaborate necklace, but having a sash in ceremonial work is surprisingly comforting and empowering.  Basically, the sash represents all the powers I work with: the celestial, supercelestial, subcelestial, elemental, abstract, and divine powers of the cosmos, world, and universe.  After all, other magicians use the lionskin belt from Golden Dawn-style Solomonic work for much the same purpose, and finding ways to jazz up my white ceremonial robe and indicating the powers I call upon is always something I enjoy and support.

The design for the sash can be broken down into seven major sets representing different levels of manifestation or cosmic power in the Hermetic paradigm I work within, each set being separated by a particular kind of bead; the major sets use gold/blue tiger’s eye (solar/lunar or light/dark), the zodiac signs use labradorite, the planets use onyx, the elements use bone, the banners use quartz, and the geomantic figures use dark agate.  I also threw on some skull and eye beads at the end with a crucifix to mark this as an instrument and sign of life, death, wisdom, protection, and holiness; a pentacle of Solomon, or the grand hexagram of Solomon, would work equally well.

  1. The Prime Mover (white, clear, 10 pairs)
  2. The Fixed Stars (silver, grey, 12 pairs)
  3. The Zodiac Signs
    1. Aries (white, red, 6 pairs)
    2. Taurus (emerald, green, 6 pairs)
    3. Gemini (bright orange, orange, 6 pairs)
    4. Cancer (ruby, purple, 6 pairs)
    5. Leo (gold, yellow, 6 pairs)
    6. Virgo (black, orange, 6 pairs)
    7. Libra (white, green, 6 pairs)
    8. Scorpio (black, red, 6 pairs)
    9. Sagittarius (gold, blue, 6 pairs)
    10. Capricorn (ruby, black, 6 pairs)
    11. Aquarius (bright orange, black, 6 pairs)
    12. Pisces (emerald, blue, 6 pairs)
  4. The Seven Planets
    1. Saturn (black, maroon, 3 pairs)
    2. Jupiter (blue, purple, 4 pairs)
    3. Mars (red, orange, 5 pairs)
    4. Sun (yellow, pink, 6 pairs)
    5. Venus (green, orange, 7 pairs)
    6. Mercury (orange, purple, 8 pairs)
    7. Moon (purple, blue, 9 pairs)
  5. The Four Elements
    1. Fire (red, green, 4 pairs)
    2. Air (yellow, purple, 8 pairs)
    3. Water (blue, orange, 20 pairs)
    4. Earth (black, white, 6 pairs)
  6. The Creator: The Twelve Banners of the Tetragrammaton (white forIod, yellow for Heh, red for Vav, black for final Heh in groups of 4 as needed)
    1. IHVH
    2. IHHV
    3. IVHH
    4. HVHI
    5. VHIH
    6. HHIV
    7. VHIH
    8. VHHI
    9. VIHH
    10. HIHV
    11. HIVH
    12. HHVI
  7. The Creation: The SixteenGeomantic Figures (white for active elements, black for passive elements in groups of 4 as needed)
    1. Via
    2. Cauda Draconis
    3. Puer
    4. Fortuna Minor
    5. Puella
    6. Amissio
    7. Carcer
    8. Laetitia
    9. Caput Draconis
    10. Coniunctio
    11. Acquisitio
    12. Rubeus
    13. Fortuna Maior
    14. Albus
    15. Tristitia
    16. Populus

The color choices and number of beads might need a bit of explaining.  The geomantic figures use white and black, fitting enough for their binary and abstract nature, using the order of the beads to indicate the figure (e.g. white-black-white-black is Amissio).  The planetary beads use the Queen and King scale colors of their corresponding sephiroth in as many sets as corresponds to their sephiroth, so Jupiter (associated with Chesed, the fourth sephirah) gets four blue beads alternating with purple beads.  The elemental beads are similar, using the flashing colors of the elements, with the numbers coming from the number of sides of their corresponding Platonic solids (fire/tetrahedron/four, air/octahedron/eight, etc.).  The zodiacal beads use two sources for the colors: the first color given in each set comes from Agrippa (book I, chapter 49), though each color represents two signs; the second color comes from the Queen scale of the sign’s ruling planet.  Thus, Agrippa’s color for Aries and Libra is white, and Aries is ruled by red Mars and Libra by green Venus, so Aries is white and red while Libra is white and green.  I made the Agrippa colors a little brighter or flashier (using reflective red or ruby beads instead of solid red) to help differentiate the beads a bit more.  The pairs of the zodiacal beads come out to 6, each pair representing 5° of that particular sign.  The colors for the sphere of the Prime Mover and of the Fixed Stars as a whole come from the Queen scale of the Tree of Life, though instead of using light blue beads for Chokmah I used clear grey beads; instead of using sets of 1 and 2 for these spheres, respectively, I used 10 (1 × 10) and 12 (2 + 10) since I wanted some substance there, and also since these numbers also work well for their corresponding forces.  The Twelve Banners simply used four earthy colors, representing the faces of Divinity apparent to us down here throughout creation.

Of course, no bit of ceremonial regalia is complete without an accompanying prayer, and the grander the regalia, the grander the prayer, amirite?  Trying to come up with a prayer that hits all the forces that this sash represents, however, would take a lot of doing, except there’s actually something that’s already been written up that fulfills this purpose.  Many of my readers will be familiar with the Circle of Art from the Lemegeton Goetia, especially the version that Crowley and Mathers produced.  This Circle has, around the space where the magician stands, a series of words that are basically the correspondences of the ten sephiroth of the Tree of Life.  Crowley and Mathers “explained” these names, not as a series of correspondences, but rather as a series of prayers to be said when writing out the names.  In effect, the prayers consecrate the circle by connecting the circle and the magician to the sephirah being invoked through the prayers.

Lemegeton Circle of Art

 

Since this Sash of Powers represents, in a more colorful fashion, all the same forces as the Lemegeton Circle of Art, I figured I may as well appropriate the prayers for my own purposes, adding on a bit more to invoke the corresponding angels of the forces invoked.  The resulting set of prayers for the sash then becomes something like this:

God Almighty, God Omnipotent, hear my prayers and the cries of your servant N.!  You, whose dwelling is in the highest heavens, the great King of Heaven and all the Powers therein, and of all the holy hosts of Angels and Archangels, hear the prayers of thy servant who puts his whole trust in You.  Let the holy Angels command and assist me at this and all times; command thy holy Angels above and below the fixed stars to assist and aid thy servant that I may command all the spirits of the air, fire, water, earth, and hell so that it may tend unto Your glory and Man’s good.  O God who is with us, be always present with me; strengthen me and support me both now and forever in these mine undertakings which I do as an instrument in Your hands, o God of Hosts.  Great God, governor and creator of all the planets and the hosts of heaven, command them by Your almighty power to be now present and assist me, your poor servant, both now and forever.  Most Almighty, eternal, and ever-living Lord God, command thy seraphim to attend to me now at this time to assist me and defend me from all peril and danger.  O Great God of Hosts, all-seeing and almighty God, be present with me both now and forever, and let Your almighty power and presence ever guard and protect me at this present time and forever. Great God of Hosts, let Your almighty power defend me and protect me both now and forever.  Come and expel all evil and danger from me both now and forever.  O great God of all wisdom and knowledge, instruct thy poor and most humble servant by thy holy cherubim.  Direct me and support me at this present time and forever.

God Almighty, God Omnipotent, hear my prayers!  May your holy angels of the stars, planets, and elements Metatron, Iophiel, Malkhidael, Asmodel, Ambriel, Muriel, Verkhiel, Hamaliel, Zuriel, Barbiel, Advakhiel, Hanael, Cambriel, Barkhiel, Tzaphqiel, Tzadqiel, Kamael, Michael, Haniel, Raphael, Gabriel, Sandalphon, Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raziel attend to the work of your servant.

May the angelic choirs of the Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Powers, Virtues, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels attend to the work of your servant.

May the seven archangels Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael, Jehudiel, Barachiel, and Sealtiel who stand before the August Throne attend to the work of your servant.

May Your holiest of holy Names resound throughout all creation, and may all creation of Your divine hand be at mine own to aid me in this work.

Is the use of this sash traditional?  Yes and no; there are parallels between other magical practices, such as that of the bandera of Palo Mayombe, elekes of Santeria, the lionskin belt of the Golden Dawn, the stole of Christian priests, and the like.  It’s certainly its own kind of innovation, but it’s one that makes sense, especially as a kind of badge of office when presenting myself to spirits in formal ritual, or if I ever get together and form a temple with others (a laughable notion!).  Still, making use of this kind of crafting is just ongoing development of the spiritual work and work I’m doing.  Who knows?  It may even become part of a new tradition handed down over time.