On Repurposing Ritual Parts for New Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An upcoming geomancy course by the splendid Dr Al Cummins!

What with all the recent influx of traffic from my hilarious geomantic chat with the wonderful Gordon White yesterday on Rune Soup, I figured that this is as good a time as any to mention that there’s a series of online geomancy courses coming up in October this year by Dr Al Cummins hosted by those dastardly handsome purveyors of materia and magic Wolf & Goat.  I name-dropped Al in the podcast yesterday, but let me say a bit more about him in case you’re woefully unfamiliar.

Dr Al, as you might know, is one of the most excellent academic-minded magicians of our time; he literally has a PhD in English magic, necromancy, and history, and has quite a bit more than a fancy bit of paper to back himself up with.  Amongst many other things, he’s also one of the foremost geomancers I can think of, and I can say without hesitation that he’s one of the few to legitimately give me a hard run for my money.  In addition to co-hosting Radio Free Golgotha, he’s also the author and publisher of several modern works on various topics in the occult, ranging from astrology to Cypriana and everything in-between.  If I am, as Gordon says, “luminously bright”, then Al is brilliantly stellar.  Plus, he has that luxuriously dulcet Commonwealth accent which just makes you feel like you’re being cherished and educated at a proper university; there’s nothing bad about any of this.

If you’re interested in signing up for the good doctor’s geomancy courses, time is running out!  You can either choose the two-part Sunday classes (three hours each on October 1 and 8) or the four-part Tuesday classes (1.5 hours each on October 3, 10, 17, and 24); either way, the cost is the same (US$80) and the same information will be given in both; this course will also pave the way for future, more advanced courses on deeper geomantic technique and sorcery.  Spots are limited, so if you’re interested, hop on soon!  For more information, go to the Wolf & Goat page on the class, and just follow the instructions.  Personally speaking, I’ve signed up for the Sunday classes already, and I’m excited to hear the good doctor speak on all these topics geomantical.

I was on a podcast!

Yanno how fleeting and excellent college hookups are?  That’s basically what it was like this week with the wonderfully crazy Gordon White over at Rune Soup.

First off, I am incensed and appalled at the man because, in my quest to learn more about the Arbatel and similar works, I finally signed up to take his lectures on the history, development, and use of grimoires (which come bundled with the rest of his premium membership stuff, like forums, etc.).  For one, there’s apparently an old, early proto-grimoire called the Kyranides which is a handbook of various magical things you can do with herbs, stones, animals, and whatnot…all categorized by the Greek alphabet.  I had never even heard of this before, despite that it apparently was the most dangerous book to own for a solid 500 years or so in Europe; this gives my Mathesis stuff a whole new realm of data to work and play with, and I’m utterly fuming I hadn’t come across it yet.  Second, like, dude.  It’s Gordon.  He’s good, that should come as no surprise, but I didn’t expect this all to be that good.  This is quite literally a “shut up and take my money” kind of moment for me.

ANYWAY

So he and I were BSing (as we are wont to do) on Twitter, and he asked me to talk on his podcast.  So I did, and the results can be found over at his blog.  An excellent time to be had by all, wherein we talk about geomancy, PGM, weird family stuff, and how awful people are generally; do give it a listen.