On Orphic Hymns and Multiple Aspects of Gods

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

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

It makes sense to me, at least.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From that particular footnote, I glean two things:

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

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

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

De Geomanteia: Via (goes ever on and on)

Since one of my most favorite topics in occultism and magic is divination, specifically the divinatory art of geomancy, why not talk about that? I know a lot about it, and not many do, so let’s go with it. If nothing else, you’ll come away slightly more educated, and I’ll come away with something looking like productivity. With that in mind, let’s continue this little series of posts on geomancy, “De Geomanteia” (On Geomancy). This week, let’s talk about this figure:

Via

Via

This is the figure Via.  In Latin, its name means “Road”, which is pretty common in lots of other traditions, but can also be named as “journey” or “candle”.  If you (quite literally) connect the dots, you might come up with a figure that looks like a straight road leading off into the distance, a walking-stick, or a single solitary person.

First, the technical details of this figure.  It’s associated with the Moon waning and the astrological signs of Cancer or Leo, depending on whom you ask; due to its lunar qualities, it’s associated with the sephirah Yesod.  It has all elements active, and no elements passive, being the most dynamic, changing, and forceful geomantic figure of them all; due to its extremely changeable nature, it’s given as a whole to the element Water.  It’s an even figure with four points, the fewest possible number, relating to objective situations rather than internal or felt events.  It is a mobile and exiting figure, showing things to be dynamic, fast-moving, and fleeting in influence.  In the body, it signifies the stomach and digestive organs of the body.  Its inverse figure (everything this figure is not on an external level) is Populus, the People, showing that this figure is not stable, not plural, not motionless.  Its reverse figure (the same qualities of this figure taken to its opposite, internal extreme) is the same, Via itself, showing that this figure is the same from all points of view.  Its converse figure (the same qualities of this figure expressed in a similar manner) is also Populus, indicating that it is cyclical, internally whole, and representative of whole systems.  Via is the most dynamic figure in all of geomancy, and changes everything around it, from bad to good and good to bad, mobile to stable and stable to mobile.  It’s complete and utter change, represented by journeys and travels that do the same thing to those who wander them, and is fortunate whenever change, speed, travel, and journeys metaphorical or literal are desired.  Via is unfortunate when one desires stability, maintaining the status quo, keeping in one spot, and resting in known comforts.

Via is the ultimate symbol of change: from light into darkness, from brilliance into gloom, from joy to sadness, from freedom to despair, from truth to falsehood, from contentedness to terror, and all back again.  Via is our infinite reminder that nothing is without opposites or opposition, that everything that exists has two sides, two faces.  Imagine a road that goes on into the vanishing-point distance at infinity, with day on one side and night on the left, clear skies on one and storms on the other, fertile grasslands on one and barren rocks on the other.  The road is but a thin line that divides both, teetering on either side, partaking of both and being of neither.  All forces are in balance, constantly shifting, constantly taking from each other, constantly taking over at the expense of others; it is a complete and stably dynamic system, where change is the only constant.

Bad Moon Road

Via was historically considered to be the most powerful and significant of all the geomantic figures, especially in Arabic systems of geomancy, because Via is the only figure with all the elements: there is no passivity in Via, no receptivity, no motionlessness.  Via represents the combination of all forces, complete in itself, and is the most active and mobile of all the figures.  The pure force contained within Via creates a type of controlled chaos, a self-contained microcosm containing all forces constantly at work with and against each other, taking from the others while giving back to them.  Via is pure dynamic dynamos, power and upheaval in all ways.

Keep in mind that when two figures are added, the active element in one flips the activity or passivity in the other element, much as the XOR (exclusive or) function in logical systems.  Via, being entirely active, transforms entire figures into their logical opposites, or as I’ve been calling this whole time, their inverse.  Via plus Puer, the Boy, transforms him into Albus, the Old Man; Via plus Fortuna Maior, the Greater Fortune, transforms it into Fortuna Minor, the Lesser Fortune.  Via is the figure of complete change, and because of this, has been noted to be good with bad figures and bad with good figures.  After all, if you like or are used to how something is, you probably aren’t going to like its opposite.  It’s not a terrible figure, though, especially when such complete change is needed or desired.  Because of this power to completely change any figure (or state of the universe) into its diametric opposite, Via is seen as a powerful figure indeed.

The fluidity and dynamic motion that Via provides associates it closest with the element of Water.  Despite that Via has all elements active, its nature is complete change and transformation.  Fire burns up, Air flows outward, and Earth contracts inward, but only Water flows down and through itself (when it moves at all).  The constant change and motion that Via represents associates it with the water of rivers, historically used as major transportation routes and called “roads” themselves.  After all, when using such transportation, one can quickly change everything from one’s surroundings, states of being, plans, and emotional senses of self in short time.  Even the river itself changes; quoth Heraclitus, “you could not step twice into the same river, for other waters are ever flowing on to you”.

That said, the way and courses that roads lead to never change.  Although all roads lead to Rome, that’s all all they ever do: lead.  It’s the traveler and itinerants themselves that must go on the roads and change themselves, taking the suggestions from Via to transport and alter themselves along the road.  It’s up to the traveler to decide when, how, and where they change, living the change themselves.  What roads they take, which exits or forks they choose, when they travel, which people they travel with, which things they carry with them or leave behind, these are all choices travelers take when embarking on their journey, all of which will have repercussions on their journey, their surroundings, their destinations, and themselves.  In this case, it’s similar to the Moon, the planet that rules over Via: although the Moon is always the same and her course around the heavens, her shape continuously changes based on her state in her travels.  It’s a cyclic, controlled change, but it’s never the same, never stable, and never constant.

Via in a reading indicates change, often a reversal from what has normally been the case, a complete upheaval from the status quo of a situation.  Via often indicates traveling to obtain or carry something out or obtain something, especially if it also appears in the third house (local travel or commutes) or ninth house (distant travel, out of state or abroad).  Whenever change or journeying, in any sense, is desired, Via is fantastic; it’s a poor figure to find when keeping things the same or stable is desired, including one’s own position physically.  Via is good with bad figures and bad with good figures, but also indicates that things are unclear or are in the process of change so much that no clear or confident answer can be given.  Magically, Via can be used to induce chaos or change into a system, and is a good figure to make use of when traveling around and want to ensure that a trip can actually be made, though perhaps not with a fixed destination in mind.