De Regnis: Approaching Spirits, Offerings and Sacrifices, Identification and Authentication

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

Today’s selection will be on the topics of approaching spirits, offerings and sacrifices to the spirits, and spirit identification and authentication.

On Approaching the Spirits

Respect and permission should be the rule to approach, interact with, and work with spirits. In short, if one respects the spirits, the spirits will respect them. This will not always be the case,of course, especially given some instances of particularly offensive spirits or spirits who have been specifically sent out to cause harm. However, even in these circumstances, working with respect and permission is often better than reckless vitriol and domination.

Respect towards a spirit can be effected in many ways, but generally the Golden Rule applies to spirits just as it would humans and animals. The crucial difference is that things that happen to humans, such as death or disease, do not happen to spirits or happen in ways hard for humans to comprehend. If a spirit reaches out to someone, it suggests that the spirit has learned about the person enough to engage in communication. It is similarly proper for magicians and all spiritual workers to learn about a spirit they wish to contact before trying to make contact. Learn about the tradition the spirit comes from, the languages and prayers and songs used to contact the spirit, the traditional offerings and acceptable sacrifices to be made to them, what the spirit finds appealing or desirable, and so forth. Such learning is a mark of respect to the spirit, which generally makes the spirit more amenable to working with a magician and hearing them out. Similarly, any vows,promises, or offerings made to the spirit should be held and followed through. Contact with the spirit, once made, should be continued in an agreeable time frame such as once a week, once a month, or so; simply dropping off the radar and ignoring the spirit is a mark of disrespect.

Imagine two people approaching a third. One of the two people is someone the third has known for decades, a good friend from youth whom the person knows is honorable and trustworthy. The other person is someone the third has met only yesterday, and though the person may have heard rumors, they are effectively still strangers. If the third person were asked to lend money to each of the others, the person would be more likely to lend money and more of it to the friend rather than the stranger due to the relationship built up between the person and the friend. Likewise, it is important to build up a relationship with the spirits based on respect, honor, trustworthiness,and the like. Although magicians often seek vassals or servant spirits for their work, respectful magicians seek to befriend rather than control spirits, since it provides them with something much more important than a servant: an ally. Servants perform work because they are ordered to; allies perform work because they want to.

Similarly, seeking permission from spirits is important to understand their capabilities and whether a particular action is the best action for all those involved. The notion of license from the spirits is another matter of respect, but also connects to the matter of what one is cosmically allowed to do. Indeed, many matters of trespassing, breaking prohibitions, theft, or similar crimes against spirits and the places and things they hold sacred can easily be avoided or eliminated entirely by asking for permission. Instead of making an adventure through a known haunted forest, ask for permission first to enter; instead of simply taking a pretty stone from an ancient tree, ask for permission to take it; instead of calling on an angel or a god to smite one’s enemies, ask first to see whether they will deign to do so. By acting out of pride and self-importance, magicians often neglect to ask for permission from the spirits and gods of the world. Asking for permission first ensures that we will be held in line according to our station without overstepping the boundaries laid for us or for others.

To ascertain whether one has received permission, always be sure to ask. Either through a simple yes-or-no divination method invoking the spirits or communing with the spirits directly,there are many methods available depending on the spirit to communicate and see whether one should or should not do something. This should not be regulated to every minute and single action, however; not all things require the permission of the spirits, such as brushing one’s teeth or making silent prayers in a particular location. However, anything that might infringe upon the hospitality, respect, and honor of the spirit should be questioned. After building respect and honor with the spirits, some magicians may find that spirits generally or specifically are more inclined togive permission to more things; this is a mark of trust upon the magician, which should be kept sacrosanct and unbroken if possible.

Building respect with one spirit tends to build up respect with many spirits, especially those similar to the ones already respected. Much as humans have their own social networks and cliques,spirits communicate and interact amongst themselves in myriad ways, sometimes as family and sometimes as enemies. Spirits talk, and spirits let other spirits know when a particular human is notable or remarkable for good or for ill. By respecting one spirit, rumors and news of one’s respectability spreads, which makes it easier for spirits to trust them. This also works in the reverse: if one disrespects a spirit or makes vows that are never upheld, other spirits also know about this and may decline to ever work with the magician.

There are times when spirits themselves are unable to uphold the vows and bargains they make, or lie to magicians, or even act offensively against humans and the world. Spirits who habitually lie, deceive, and cause harm should be avoided since they cannot be trusted. Spirits who fail in a single task or are unable to bring results despite a history of having good results should be forgiven and inquired about why they might have failed or how other things might have affected them. Keep in mind that all the rules of respect and permission that apply for a magician towards a spirit also apply for a spirit towards a magician: if one is harmed or acted against without permission given,the harmful spirit should be reprimanded or punished, especially if the harm was caused without prior warning or need. In these cases, it helps to appeal to higher powers, such as patron deities or strong spirit allies, to act on one’s behalf in addition to using one’s own measures to fight against and punish the spirit.

On Offerings and Sacrifices

An important part of building relationships and working with spirits is the process of making offerings, commonly known as sacrifice. In sacrifice, a Latin word meaning “to make holy”, an object, substance, or action is given and dedicated to a spirit; the thing given to them is effectively theirs. The nature of a sacrifice can vary based on tradition, the means of the sacrificer, and the desires of the spirit in question, and can range from a bottle of alcohol to a whole animal roasted in a special fire to a simple song sung in public or private. Games thrown in the honor of a spirit,certain ordeals of the flesh or spirit, whole lands or properties, and poems or books written with a special mention of a spirit can also suffice. The honor given to a spirit can take many forms, and care should be taken that offerings are given properly.

Typically, only deities receive sacrifices, while other spirits are given offerings. Just as the distinction between a deity and a spirit is merely a functional one, so too is the distinction between sacrifices and offerings. Some spirits eschew offerings entirely or find them unusual and unwarranted,such as angels who work merely to carry out the will of the spirit employing them. Other spirits require offerings like payment in exchange for any work to be done. Deities, being worthy of worship and sacrifice, may require or demand sacrifices so as to be worshiped properly.

The first step to learning what to give to a spirit is to learn more about them. Whether one learns about a spirit from old myths or traditional resources involving them or whether one asks the spirit directly, this constitutes an act of respect to further the relationship between somebody and a spirit. After discovering what a spirit generally likes, the sacrificer should ask whether a particular offering is to their tastes. After this, the sacrificer should make or procure the offering and officially dedicate it to the spirit. How this might be done is up to the sacrificer, but is often influenced by tradition and practices made by other institutions or cultural groups. If no such tradition exists or survives, then the sacrificer is more or less free to innovate and create a new ritual to make the offering.

Not all offerings are equally good for all spirits. Some spirits prefer a particular type of alcohol or no alcohol at all; some spirits prefer blood sacrifice of animals or the entire animal itself, while others may prefer bloodless non-animal sacrifices entirely. Such preferences are often deduced from tradition and mythology, but one can always ask the spirit to see whether something is preferred or not. Offering something to a spirit that does not wish that thing offered is often seen as a sign of disrespect, even done unknowingly; an example might be to sacrifice the sacred animal that represents a spirit to the spirit itself. This is similar to giving someone bouquet of flowers grown and pulled from their own garden, though this may not always be the case. Care should always betaken to ensure that a particular sacrifice is both appropriate and desired to a spirit, since a spirit may demand different things depending on the circumstance or aspect of the spirit.

It is important to note that once something has been given to a spirit, it cannot be taken back or simply replaced with something else. The act of dedication, another Latin word meaning“having been given”, is permanent, and it is considered a high offense to steal anything from a spirit; moreover, stealing or removing something that one has already given to a spirit is a dire sign of disrespect and untrustworthiness. Spirits tend to rightfully harm or otherwise punish those who steal from them, even if it was an unknowing act. If anything is to be removed from a spirit’s possession, permission should always be obtained and any conditions the spirits impose on the removal, use, and replacement should be followed through.Despite these warnings, one should not attempt to make needless or extraneous offerings to the spirits. Once accustomed to receiving a certain amount or repetition of offerings, spirits will continue to expect them implicitly; making offerings is a sign of a relationship between magician and spirit, and to overdo it is to raise the relationship to someplace the magician may not want.Giving something extraordinarily rare to a spirit may similarly change the preferences of the spirit to similar things, narrowing the availability of offerings down significantly. Spirits should be given offerings as rewards, while gods should be given sacrifices as due honor. Even the devout warriors of ancient Sparta made comparatively meager sacrifices to their gods so that they would always have something to offer, in stark comparison to the lavish Athenians who gave bombastic offerings and rituals.

On Spirit Identification and Authentication

Unlike humans, whose appearance and identification others can immediately verify based on sight and appearance, spirits require refined technique and discernment to understand who and what they might actually be. Calling upon a spirit can be a dangerous act in its own way, since it can attract the attention of any local spirit who happens to hear the call, and not all spirits have the best intention of the caller at heart. Just as human systems for communication, commerce,and intelligence have systems of protection and authentication set up to prevent undesired or unwarranted access, working with the spirits should be similarly protected to prevent undesired spirits from interfering.

Every spirit has two primary markers of identification: a name and a seal. The seal is essentially the sigil, mark, or glyph that represents the spirit. The two form a pair, and are identical with the spirit in every way. In other words, where the name is spoken or seal is written, the spirit itself is there as well. The name and seal of a spirit may be considered the audible and graphical “bodies”of a spirit, much as their presence may be considered their ethereal one. A spirit may have multiple names and seals, but only one name and one seal will ever be the spirit’s true name and seal. With the knowledge of a spirit’s name and seal, the spirit may be called upon and worked with, even to the point of commanding and controlling the spirit. Although many texts, including this one, list the names and seals of some spirits, other spirits may have another preferred name or seal entirely different from the one publicly known.

Knowledge of the spirit’s name and seal is crucial to ensuring that a spirit being worked with is the spirit called upon. In some cases, trickster or deceiving spirits will try to fool a magician into thinking that the spirit is someone else, either for harmless fun or for malicious intent. Although work at properly consecrated or dedicated altars, especially those for deities, tends to permit only the proper spirits called due to the consecration and sacredness of the altar, other work can some-times bring in wandering spirits or tricksters. In such cases, every spirit worked with must undergo authentication to truly know whether a spirit present is the spirit desired. Calling on the spirit to swear by some holy order or name of the Divine that they are who they say they are is a crucial act that should precede any other work or communion with a spirit. Have the spirit say its name and reveal its seal, or have them swear by the seal known to the magician that their own seal is the seal known. By doing this, one can reduce the likelihood of undesired spirits and tricksters. Although some spirits may take offense at having to undergo authentication, spiritual allies tend to understand why this is done.

The first act of working with a new spirit should be to obtain its name and seal. If the name is not known, the name should be asked for and written down; often, the language or writing system used to write the name is a choice left up to the magician, but this should be carefully selected and kept consistent throughout working with a spirit. Thus, if a spirit’s name is written in Hebrew, it should be written in Hebrew for the rest of the work with the spirit. Based on the name, a sigil maybe obtained as might any other word or name, but often the spirit has a separate seal that they prefer over the use of a sigil. In addition to asking for the spirit’s name, the seal of the spirit should also be obtained, with the image mentally or otherwise received used for as long as one works with the spirit. Some spirits have their names and seals change over time, similar to their appearance or manifestations, though this usually only happens for elemental or other low spirits. Thus, then name and seal should be reevaluated for use every so often according to the work with the spirit, especially if one has not engaged in work with the spirit in some time.

On Shrine-hoarding

I’m starting to slowly get back into my temple again for small tasks, hopefully leading up to bigger ones in the future (time and energy permitting, of course, and with the usual caveat that I need to spend my time and energy wisely between work, religion, home, friends, and the like).  As I mentioned in the last post, I’m slowly going through some of the stuff I have, either things I’ve procured or things I’ve made, and am putting some of them up on my Etsy store for others to buy and, hopefully, use in their own works.  Old woodburned placards, prayer beads, necklaces, altar supplies, even some stones and the like are things I’m putting up because…well, let’s be honest, I don’t need them.  I like them plenty, but most of these things aren’t things I’ll miss if I get rid of them.  The really important, vital, or precious stuff is going to stay mine and stay used, but then again, that’s the distinction, isn’t it?  If I use it, or if I know that I actually will use it, then it stays; if not, then it goes.

There’s a difference between stockpiling supplies for future use and simply hoarding stuff.  Raw supplies, stones, dirts, herbs, bones, beads, resins, and the like are all ingredients towards the Work that can be used in any number of ways; those are things that I can always use more of, even if I’m not running low or using at the moment, because they can come in use at the drop of a hat.  Those are things that we should all endeavor to hoard, absolutely, and use as needed.  The other stuff, on the other hand…spare crystal balls, unconsecrated statuary, beaded or otherwise handmade crafts meant for tools but never used for anything more than decoration, or other things that were made for a purpose but never really fulfilled it according to my desires, all those are things that I really have no desire to hold onto except for the sake of sentimentality or beautification.

One of the major hurdles in getting back to my temple work is that, in the…seven or so years I had to set it up, I amassed quite a bit of stuff.  Not a household’s worth, by any means, but I have shrines for the seven archangels, the Virgin Mary, my own guardian angel, the Three Kings, Hermes, Apollo with Asklepios with Dionysos, Aphrodite with Hephaistos, Saint Expedite, and Saints Cyprian, Justina, and Theocistus.  I have a small shrine to Hestia in the living room, and Demeter lives outside.  I have altars for my work for my conjuration/planetary stuff as well as my Mathesis work, and a more recent shrine to the planetary divinity of Saturn.  And all those are things I’ve kept; there are a handful of shrines or altars or other special working areas I’ve set up before and took them down either due to them having completed their purpose or things just not working out how I had planned or wanted.  And then there’s my initiation into La Regla de Ocha Lukumí (aka Santería), where I have a bevy of orisha shrines to maintain and work with (and which I’m marked to receive even more).  If I didn’t have a full-time job with a nontrivial commute, I could swing the determination and discipline to maintain all of these shrines and altars and work, but…I do have a full-time job with a nontrivial commute, and I don’t have the time.   Quite honestly (and it hurts to admit this), all the shrines I have is more than I can actually handle to maintain or keep up with.

To clarify some of my thoughts, let’s start with a bit of a distinction.  For me, an altar is essentially a working space, not meant for worship or veneration as much as actual spiritual or magical works to be done.  Conjuration of spirits, consecration of items, sacrifice of something, establishing crystal/energetic grids, those are all things apt and appropriate for an altar.  I only really have two of those, and while I like to keep them set up and ready to go, I can collapse them and set them up again or change them as needed and as desired.  Then there are shrines, which are meant for the veneration of spirits, gods, saints, or other divinities; shrines serve as a sacred seat or home for a spirit, in my mind, and are a physical representation of the relationship one has with them.  In that sense, for me to evaluate the meaning and need of a shrine is to evaluate the meaning and need of the relationship itself with the spirit of the shrine.  And that itself requires dialog with those spirits, recalling what pacts and vows one has with them, respect for and from those spirits, and honesty with oneself.

This is where my distinction between auturgic and lineage-based work comes into play.  Lineage is easy: you sign up for a specific relationship with a spirit, you’re given a set of terms and conditions to follow, you’re handed the powers and tools you need from your initiator, and boom, you’re set.  Just follow the vows you’ve signed up for, over which you have no say in except to say “yea” or “nay”, and you’re good.  Auturgy, on the other hand, is both easier and much more difficult: you establish your own parameters, vows, pacts, and agreements, and you determine how things work; you need to build your own tools and power and relationships, which can’t be handed to you because there’s nobody to hand them to you.  Most of my work is auturgic in that sense; I’ve built my shrines, I’ve consecrated my statues and talismans, I’ve set up my own protocols and rhythms of prayer and sacrifice for these spirits, and so I have say in how and when and whether these shrines should be established.  On the other hand, my Santería work is lineage-based, so I can’t just up and give Oshún a metal case to live in because I think it’d be more convenient for me; Oshún has what Oshún is supposed to have, what she wants, and what I’m obliged to give her.  More than that, I can’t ignore or just not work with my orisha, as that’d go against the agreements I signed up for with them; I don’t have say in those pacts, and to ignore them is to violate them.  That’s one of the costs—and strengths—of lineage.

But for the shrines (and relationships) that are of my own desire and design…well, there’s the hard choice of whether I want to keep them around, and if so, what really needs to stay on them.  I’ve taken down shrines before; for instance, once upon a time I wanted to set up a shrine to Hades and Persephone as part of a Hellenic approach to working with the spirits of the dead.  It never really got off the ground, even though I had all the supplies and niche set up and everything, so down it went into a box (and, if you’re interested, I still have the unconsecrated Hades statue and offering bowl, in case anyone ever wants to buy it off me).  Then there’s an erstwhile tronco I set up to begin initial work with Quimbanda spirits; I was able to make contact, such as it was, once I had my consulta, but…I never really got anywhere with that, and I didn’t have much of a purpose to work with them given the other works I had going on, and so I worked with them to disassemble the baby-tronco I had and to dispose of their implements in a way they directed and agreed to.  Point is, I’m not ashamed to acknowledge the decline or absence of a sufficiently necessary or stable spiritual relationship to where a shrine is no longer needed, and carry that through.  But, just because I’m not ashamed, doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad about it; sometimes I feel like I failed in maintaining my agreements and plans, and other times I feel bad because I realize that the designs and purposes I had in developing something didn’t turn out the way I hoped for and have to accept that keeping a shrine set up without maintaining it isn’t doing me or the spirit any favors.  I have a few such shrines at home that I really need to talk with to see about just that.

But even then, even for the shrines that I do want to keep set up, there’s the notion of clutter and hoarding things.  I’ve seen some beautiful shrines by other occultists and priests online, and some even in person, where there are these beautiful, intricate, elaborate setups girded by chains and beads and all sorts of everything.  You know, the highly Instagrammable/Facebook viral share-worthy pictures, the ones that are actually done up in real life and not just a temporary setup for a shadow-cloaked shot in the light of a single candle’s flame.  I love the aesthetic, but…I’ve come to realize that I have neither the space nor the means to actually do that for myself, but more than that, I’ve come to realize it’s not my style, either.  I’ve decked out some of my shrines in the past, but I don’t need to live in a city of multiple Parthenons, where each shrine’s district is filled like a forest with votive offerings or whatnot.  Especially with the influence of Santería now, I see the simple elegance of just giving what’s enough and what’s needed for a shrine.  If a particular implement is needed for the functioning of the shrine or the use of the spirit within, by all means, give it!  But decorating it like a Mardi Gras parade and accumulating everything under heaven that even has a shadow of a tangential relationship to that spirit for the sake of having it be pretty is…well, it ends up collecting more dust than it’s worth.

A shrine doesn’t need much to be effective: an image or physical representation of the spirit, maybe a place to set lights or incense, maybe some implements or tools directly associated with them that one has a strong feeling (if not an explicit or confirmed directive) to provide, perhaps some supplies to be left in the care of the spirit until it can be used in workings with or without them.  Space is at a premium, after all, in my temple room and house, and a shrine doesn’t often need that much space.  Barring specific protocols or vows, anything else is probably just decoration for the sake of the devotee and not the divine.  To accumulate more and more of those latter accouterments is just…hoarding.  Having more shrines than you need is likewise hoarding.  Both of which eventually become a burden, both to maintain the cleanliness of even a single shrine as well as to maintain your relationships with those spirits, and unless you’re actually getting something out of that arrangement, perhaps it might be better to cut back, both on the shrines as well as the stuff within them.  After all, you don’t need to be a dragon to be a devotee, and we’re not often worshiping dragons that demand devotional donations.  (Of course, if you are, then different rules apply.)

That’s one of the reasons why I’m going through my temple and cutting back both on the shrines and the stuff within them.  If I’m not maintaining a relationship with a spirit, or if that spirit isn’t maintaining a relationship with me, then there’s no real need for a shrine; it’d be best to disassemble it respectfully and confer with the spirit on how and where their sacred things should be disposed of, or if they can be given to another to care for them.  (Yes, Justice, I’m aware, and I haven’t forgotten, forgive me my lateness!)  If the spirit still wants to stay and I don’t want to maintain the shrine, then an agreement can likely be brokered to pare down the shrine to a minimum, shrink it, or hold onto something to make a temporary shrine with later as needed; temporary shrines, set up on unused or other working tables, are a great way to carry out devotional work every once in a while that aren’t otherwise a full-time thing.  Otherwise, if the shrine really is to stay as a permanent installation, then I’d go through all the things on it, see what’s not necessary or essential to the shrine, and consult with the spirit on how and where to dispose of the other things that they’re okay with parting with, whether it should just be thrown out respectfully, sold, given as a gift, or used for another purpose.  It depends, and it’s a careful, sometimes heart-scouring process, but a necessary one that I need to go through.  There are some things I want to get rid of, honestly, but the spirits are adamant I keep, whether for their own use or for my own in working with them, and it requires honesty and openness to be aware of these things.

I suppose that clearing out my temple room (and the other sacred spaces in my house more generally), taking a thorough account of my spiritual relationships with my courts and pantheons, and seeing what I really need for my Work is the first step to really getting back to working with them all.  After all, I can’t go into my temple for single-minded work if I dread walking in due to all the reminders of the missed offerings, forgotten festivals, and dust gathered on them distracting me for the purpose I walked in for.  If I don’t want to be distracted, then I need to fix the distractions, and in order to do that, I need to fix my shrine situation accordingly in a way that is best for both me and them.  Only then can I be really sure about my Work, my physical and spiritual spaces, and my spirits and the relationships I have with them.  And, hey, in the process, if I uncover any goodies that I don’t need or want anymore, someone else might be lucky enough to get them for something they need or want.  Besides, I have future projects I want to plan, and should any of those require shrines or a permanent installation of some sort…well, I’ll have to evaluate if I need to give anything else up to make the time, energy, and space for it, and whether I really need to go down that route, if nothing else will do.

If you’re facing a similar situation, then it might be well for you to do a similar disassembly and decluttering of shrines and shrine stuff.  We can’t all be full-time priests tending to and taking care of all these temples of our own design; with our limited time and energy, we can only take care of what we must and what we really need to.  Be honest with yourself, and be honest with your spirits.  If you need to limit your practice to just one or two things, then let your temple or sacred spaces look and function accordingly.  Hoarding shrines may make us look cool and hardcore, but as many occultists learn at some point, we’re in this for more than just looking cool.  If you can manage that while also getting the Work done, awesome!  If not, then simplify and focus on the Work.  They say, after all, that simplicity is the highest form of elegance; some people, like myself, could do with taking that to heart.

Geomancy and Quintessence

I didn’t think I’d ever have to write a post on this particular topic, as I thought it was so obvious as to go without explanation.  However, as usual, the good people of the Internet have proved me wrong, and I’ve noticed a trend in my search hits that have prompted this post.  Uncharacteristically, it’ll be a short post, since there’s really not much to explain, but here goes:

The system of geomancy is incompatible with the notion of a fifth element, also called the quintessence or the force of Spirit.

That’s all.

It’s evident from the get-go that geomancy uses and relies on the four classical elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.  The structure of the geomantic figures themselves lend themselves well to this: a geomantic figure has four rows of either one or two dots, each row associated with a particular element, with one dot signifying that element as active or present and two dots signifying that it’s passive or absent.  The binary structure of geomancy, in addition, relies upon the exponentials of two, so 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.  This allows for four elements, not five, as five has no place in this system.  Going further, if you want to bring astrology into this, astrology likewise relies on four, not five, elements, just as it relies on twelve, not thirteen, signs of the Zodiac.  (No, Ophiuchus is not a zodiac sign.  Get over it.)

I’ve seen a trend of Tarot decks that have five suits instead of the traditional four, with the fifth suit dedicated to the force of Spirit.  I’ve also seen people try to incorporate a fifth element into systems that have no room or need for one, and geomancy is one such system.  It does not belong, especially as Spirit is not an element by nearly all forms of Hermetic reckoning, Golden Dawn material and derivatives notwithstanding.

I will certainly agree that Spirit is a force, absolutely, in the same sense that the elements and planets are forces, but I will not go further than that.  Spirit is something that is either or underlying all the other forces, a kind of ideal form of a force, or it is something that is lower than a planetary force and higher than an elemental force, something that separates the Spheres of the Elements from the Spheres of the Planets and Stars.  Yes, one can work with the force of the quintessence directly, although it is a different type of working than an elemental or planetary one, and its effects are realized through other forces that are already present; I’ve found that workings involving pure quintessential force magnify the other forces pertinent to a talisman, conjuration, or the like, but is nothing on its own in isolation from others.  This is a mystery that leads to very divine workings, yes, but in terms of manifestation magic or most Hermetic workings, Spirit isn’t a thing.  It’s not mentioned in Solomonic writings or the PGM or any number of other texts, including astrological and geomantic ones, because it’s not a thing like the other forces.

Okay, ending my curmudgeonly rant for the day.  Carry on.

You probably stink. Take a bath.

(Update 1/10/2018: Interested in more about this ritual?  Check out my more polished, fleshed-out writeup over on this page!)

Towards the end of last year, I visited some friends up in New England, one of whom is a Tata Quimbanda, or a Quimbandero priest.  It was fascinating to see how he worked, and the tradition of Quimbanda (about which I knew next to nothing beforehand) suddenly struck me as something potentially useful and interesting; I’ve since been reading about it and getting started in my own little layman way to build a relationship with the spirits I’ve been recommended to work with, my personal Exu and Pomba Gira and a few other spirits that go along with them.  This was all found out by means of a consulta, basically a Quimbanda check-up that determines what’s going on.  From what I noticed, they use the same divination system as in Palo or in Santeria with four shells, chamalongos, so I was able to keep up with what was going on despite the frequent use of Kikongo and Portuguese in prayers.  Thing was, pretty much every answer came up the same, the one that means “ask again”.  Usually when this happens, it means that there’s a lot of resistance or blockages in the situation, and the consulta was finished with the tata going “baths baths baths baths baths baths baths”.

So, clearly, I needed a bath.  Lots of them, actually.

According to the consulta, I have a bit of an infestation of kiumbas, which can be thought of as spiritual leeches or obsessive manes from the Roman tradition.  This happens, largely, when one isn’t cleaning off properly over a period of time and you get so spiritually icky that the ick starts to coalesce and latch onto you, or when you get into a dirty situation and don’t clean off immediately to get rid of the dirt.  And, truth be told, I haven’t been banishing a lot lately; I’ve been taking a daily ablution before the gods as all I usually need with the very occasional angelic banishing ritual I picked up from Fr. Rufus Opus years ago.  I do make a habit of washing off with a few things, like Florida water, after visiting graveyards or hospitals (which I’ve recently found out is a rule I should be following regardless), but beyond that, I generally don’t do a lot of deep and thorough cleansing.  I thought I didn’t need to, and I was wrong.

The tata had said that this is actually a common thing with a lot of ceremonial magicians as a part of the work we do.  Our main line of working involves working with spirits in different planes, notably conjuring spirits below (demons and shades) and spirits above (angels and planetaries), as well as spirits of this plane (elementals).  Kiumbas don’t necessarily belong to souls of the dead, but of any plane and of any type; they’re like aggregations of ick, and every plane has its own kind of ick.  Crossing the planes, calling down various forces, and the like brings down a lot more than just the spirit we’ve called, I’ve come to find, and over time they stick without proper banishing and cleansing, and calling down those same forces to get rid of the stuff they’re familiar with sometimes doesn’t do as thorough a job as they’re held to do.  They get rid of most of it, but not all of it.

And, honestly, I’ve noticed that since my jaunt to nine different graveyards in one night without properly cleaning off afterwards, several spiritual parties, a few workings here and there, and the like done clustered together last year, my practice and life has generally gotten “stuck”.  Problems were slow and subtle, but getting bigger without my conscious knowledge of it.  I found myself having less and less time for practice and more and more time for vain, petty shit.  At one point, a small detail blew up into almost a nervous breakdown for me, opening up a Pandora’s box of emotional baggage I thought I had chained and buried years ago.  So…yeah, I probably needed a bath to fix all that shit up.

To that end, I was recommended to start taking lots of spiritual baths and to keep taking them periodically.  Honestly, this is something I should have been doing all along, but before this consulta I had only taken one or two spiritual baths since I started practicing the occult back in 2011.  So, starting at the beginning of January, I dusted off my notes and combined mine with the herbs and recommendations from the tata, and begun a series of baths that will last me through the rest of January and which I’ll do at least once a month from here on out.

The manner of a spiritual bath I use involves repeated immersions in consecrated water designed to cleanse your body and spirit in combination with praying the Seven Penitential Psalms.  The whole process takes an hour to do at most, so be sure you can have that amount of time alone to yourself without being disturbed.

  • A tub full of hot water
  • A glass of holy water
  • A consecrated candle
  • A Bible (preferably a cheap one)
  • Holy oil or Abramelin oil
  • A clean white or lightly-colored towel
  • Clean white clothes
  • Optionally, some Florida water or Kölnisch Wasser and/or Van Van oil
  • Optionally, holy incense like frankincense
  • Optionally, an herbal wash prepared in a large bowl

The procedure:

  1. Before drawing the bath, take a shower first.  Be thorough and wash every part of your body, including the anus and feet.  Use shampoo, soap, body wash, or whatever you prefer, but be thorough.  Dry off as normal, preferably with an older towel or another cloth that isn’t the white towel.
  2. Draw the tub full of hot water.  While it’s filling, brush and floss your teeth, clean out your ears, and whatever personal hygiene activities you normally do.  If you choose, add in a few drops of Van Van oil and a small amount of Florida water or Kölnisch Wasser into the tub as it fills.  Also, if you want to finish the bath with an herbal wash, prepare it now in a bowl set aside with hot water.
  3. Set the candle somewhere above the tub in the bathroom.  Light it and consecrate the flame.  If you choose, light some incense and do the same.
  4. Take the glass of holy water (a shotglass will suffice) and pray over the water, pouring the holy water into the tub in a cross formation.  Pray the Our Father, Glory Be, and Hail Mary over the tub of water.
  5. Step into the tub and begin soaking in it.  Let your skin get used to the heat first before continuing.
  6. Immerse yourself completely in the water.  If you’re big and have a small tub, this may take several repositionings of the body and at least one dunk of the head.
  7. Pray the Asperges Me.  Before crossing yourself, take a handful of water so that you wash yourself with the tubwater as you cross yourself.
  8. Say slowly and firmly the first Penitential Psalm (Ps. 6) from the heart.  Use the copy of the Bible, but be sure not to drop it or get it wet in the water.
  9. Pray the Our Father, Glory Be, and Hail Mary.  Like before, before crossing yourself, take a handful of water so that you wash yourself with the tubwater as you cross yourself.
  10. Silently recount why you’re taking this bath: whatever transgressions you have done, whatever bad situations you have found yourself in, the problems in your life that have arisen, all the spiritual ick on your body, soul, spirit and mind.  Let them go into the water, dissolving into nothing while leaving you and your sphere clean.
  11. Repeat steps 7 through 10 for each of the other Pentitential Psalms (Pss. 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143).
  12. Stand up and begin draining the tub.  Pray from the heart that you be clean and cleansed in body, soul, spirit, and mind and freed from all pain, plague, poison, illness, injury, infirmity, death, disease, and defilement, and that you be made pure and perfect despite of and because of your imperfections.
  13. If you chose to make an herbal wash, get the bowl and pray over it that it accomplish whatever it is you want to accomplish with it (cleansing, empowerment, defense, etc.).  Pour it over your head slowly so that some liquid runs down the front of your body and some runs down the back, repeating the prayer the whole time.  With your hands, wash yourself from top to bottom with the wash, not forgetting the more sensitive and hard-to-reach parts of your body.
  14. Air dry from the bath.  Take the white towel and put it on the ground, in front of a fan or heater is ideal, and sit on it until you’re sufficiently air-dried.  If you can’t afford the time for this, dry off with the towel from the neck down, leaving the head to air-dry.
  15. Put on the clean, white clothes.  Take the holy oil and cross yourself on the forehead and back of the neck, praying Psalm 23.  This “seals in” the effect of the bath and insulates yourself a bit from external things until the effects of the bath are completely settled into your sphere.

That’s basically my procedure for taking a spiritual bath.  Yes, it’s a little long, and I do get a little faint from spending that much time in a hottub constantly praying and reimmersing myself, but it works.  The mental clarity and stability I have afterwards is hard to obtain in other ways, and it’s such a dramatic shift that for the first few baths I felt physically like shit but mentally awesome and brilliant.  Be careful if you have any medical condition that prevents you from spending so much time in a hot bath; adjust the heat if you need to.

Mathetic Analysis of Agrippa, the Elements, and the Planets

When I got my start in Hermetic magic a few years back, I began with Fr. Rufus Opus’ texts, which basically took Cornelius Agrippa and ran with it.  To be fair, this is an excellent way to start a study of Renaissance-Modern Hermetic occultism, since Agrippa can arguably be said to be the grandfather-text of all modern neopagan and Hermetic books you find in bookstores nowadays.  His three volume (or four, if you count the spurious collection published after his death) compendium of knowledge talked about literally everything that could be talked about when it came to the occult lore and theory of his day.  It’s so important that I and many others still, almost half a millennium later, still reference it frequently and thoroughly, especially his highly usable tables of correspondence.

One of his most useful is the Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7), where Agrippa gives a list of everything that can be broken down into four categories, such as the four evangelists, the four elements, the four archangels, the four rivers of Hell, and so forth.  It’s important here to notice that Agrippa assigns the eight spheres of the cosmos (seven planets plus the fixed stars) to the four elements in the following way:

  • Fire: Mars, Sun
  • Air: Jupiter, Venus
  • Water: Saturn, Mercury
  • Earth: Fixed Stars, Moon

He doesn’t explain in this section why he associates the planets the way he does, but he does so earlier in the series (book I, chapters 23 to 29).  Agrippa describes in these chapters the qualities, natures, correspondences, and associations of each of the seven planets in detail, including their overall natures:

  • Sun: “lucid flame”
  • Moon: “the Earth, then the Water, as well as that of the Sea, as of the Rivers and all moist things”
  • Saturn: “Earth, and also Water”
  • Jupiter: “Air”
  • Mars: “Fire, together with all adust, and sharp things”
  • Venus: “Air, and Water”
  • Mercury: “Water, although it moves all things indistinctly”

So, while Agrippa may give us a clean and organized way to elementally look at the planets in his Scale of Four, the more thorough description of the planets complicates things.  Jupiter is definitely Air, and the Sun and Mars are definitely Fire, and if Mercury is any one thing then it’d be Water (either in spite of or because of how it “moves all things indistinctly”).  Agrippa then goes on to claim (when combined with the Scale of Four) that the Moon is more earthy than watery, Saturn is more watery than earthy, and Venus is more airy than watery.  Based on how he describes things in book I and then how he classifies them in book II, I’d say there’s something more to the picture here.

Going back to the same Scale of Four, Agrippa gives four “qualities of the celestial elements”, which are:

  • Fire: Light
  • Air: Diaphanousness
  • Water: Agility
  • Earth: Solidity

These four qualities relate to the elements in a high, celestial, almost rarefied way; it’s like what the corresponding quality is among superterrestrial and nonelemental entities.  Fire, after all, gives off light; Air allows things to be seen clearly; Water allows things to move swiftly; Earth allows things to be solid or (and?) slow.  Thus, it makes sense for the light-giving Sun to be given to Fire, and clear-yet-bright Jupiter to Air.

Looking at the planetary organization to the elements given in the Scale of Four, notice how Agrippa organizes the planets.  Going from the Earth to Fire, we have the farthest sphere of the heavens (Fixed Stars) going down to the next farthest (Saturn), then the next (Jupiter), then the next (Mars); at this point, we start back with Fire and go back down to Earth, starting with the Sun, then to Venus, then to Mercury, then to the Moon.  By combining our descriptions of the elements with those of the celestial qualities, we get the following:

  • Fixed Stars: outer, Earth, Solidity
  • Saturn: outer, Water, Agility
  • Jupiter: outer, Air, Diaphanousness
  • Mars: outer, Fire, Light
  • Sun: inner, Fire, Light
  • Venus: inner, Air, Diaphanousness
  • Mercury: inner, Water, Agility
  • Moon: inner, Earth, Solidity

The fact that these eight spheres share four elements among them in two equal and organized groups is something that was pointed out to me by the good Pallas Renatus, and he mentioned that the outer spheres tend to have these celestial qualities “veiled” or “muddled”, while the inner spheres have these qualities “clear”.  In other words, compare the Sun and Mars: they’re both ruled by/ruling Fire, though Agrippa describes the Sun as a “lucid flame” (clear light) while Mars is “Fire, together with all adust [dark]” (veiled light).  However, I can’t find where this notion of veiling comes from, and the system doesn’t always hold; Jupiter would seem to be the version of clear diaphanousness compared to the moist Venus’ veiled diaphanousness, but that’s just me.

So why am I talking about all this?  Because I want to explain why I have the planets arranged on the Tetractys of Life the way I do.  If you recall, I have the planets associated mostly the same as Agrippa, but with a few changes:

Planet Mathesis Agrippa
Fixed Stars Earth
Saturn Earth Water
Jupiter Air
Mars Fire
Sun Fire
Venus Water Air
Mercury Water
Moon Earth
Spirit Air

Most of the planets are the same in both Agrippa’s text and in my system of mathesis, but a few have changed.  Saturn in my system of mathesis is associated with Earth, not Water; Venus is Water, not Air.  To me, Saturn has always been described as cold and dry, which describes the quality of Earth, and I’ve never understood the notion of Saturn being watery except on an intellectual level; going deeper in any way has only ever led me to consider or realize Saturn as being dark, dry, lifeless earth.  This has been borne out by my visions and planetary work with the planet, and even though Agrippa gives Saturn to Water, he also describes it as earthy with many of the other correspondences (black bile/melancholy, heavy thing, black stones, terrestrial or subterranean animals, etc.) all line up with Saturn being earthy more than watery.  Venus, on the other hand, has always struck me as far more watery than airy, though (like any good sexual partner) she can go either way.  The mythological birth of Venus is from the remains of Sky (air) falling into Ocean (water); she rules both phlegm (water) and blood (air).  Speaking on a more meta-elemental level, I suppose it’s this ability of hers to shift between Air and Water that makes her more watery overall.

Further, the system of mathesis specifically recognizes Spirit as a force (a quasi-element between true elements and true planets), while Agrippa doesn’t really recognize it in this schema although he does talk about the quintessence at length (book I, chapter 37).  In the Tetractys of Life, I’ve given Spirit over to Air to pair with Jupiter as a “planet” on its own terms, though I admit this feels a smidge forced to me, even though it’s convenient.  Besides, considering Spirit as airy does indeed work; Spirit is the breath, the vital and invisible (diaphanous) essence that transfers celestial influence into terrestrial bodies.  It works.

While I don’t consider the Fixed Stars to really have their own element (since there’s no Greek letter that refers to it and because its position in the Tetractys of Life is too high up), I think that the Fixed Stars being fiery would be a better match than them being earthy despite my earlier thoughts on the matter.  The Fixed Stars are certainly earthy when compared to the Infinite Light and Unmanifest Monad, but to everything else lower than them, the Fixed Stars are definitely fiery for me.  Still, the Fixed Stars are on a whole different level than the elements, and they themselves are paired with Mundus, or the World (as opposed to the element of Earth).  Mundus doesn’t have a corresponding letter, either (although the element of Earth does), so I don’t think it’s proper to assign the World an element; likewise, the Fixed Stars don’t have their own element.  If anything, Mundus would be Earth and Stellae would be Fire, but in their own dyadic rank, any comparison with the elements would be strictly metaphorical.  Likewise, it’d be hard to assign elements to the triadic Reagents of Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur, though they’d go to Earth, Water, and Fire respectively.  This ties in with their astrological interpretations as Moon, Mercury, and Sun.

So what does that say about the element of Air?  Look at how we just described the elements in the different ranks of the Tetractys: we have all/no elements in the Monad; Fire and Earth in the Dyad; Fire, Water, and Earth in the Triad; and Fire, Air, Water, and Earth in the Tetrad.  Air is the last element to be formed in this understanding, arising only as a distinct force with a distinct metaphor.  In other words, Air has no direct or clean correspondence to any higher force.  Despite its loftiness and diaphanousness, it is the last of the elements to “come out” of the Tetractys, and although it’s by no means the densest, it’s the most complex of them all.  This matches up with our confusing hexagram paths in the Tetractys of Life, which allow for transfer between different levels of manifestation (up or down the Tetractys) as well as for transfer between different levels of activity (left or right on the Tetractys) in a way that the horizontal Water paths or diagonal Fire/Earth paths don’t allow.  Air allows for complete and dynamic change rather than natural evolution (Fire and Earth) or transference/mutation (Water).

Agrippa has some interesting things to say about the element of Air, as well (book I, chapter 6).  Emphasis is my own:

It remains that I speak of the Aire. This is a vitall spirit, passing through all Beings, giving life, and subsistence to all things, binding, moving, and filling all things. Hence it is that the Hebrew Doctors reckon it not amongst the Elements, but count it as a Medium or glue,joyning things together, and as the resounding spirit of the worlds instrument. It immediately receives into it self the influences of all Celestiall bodies, and then communicates them to the other Elements, as also to all mixt bodies: Also it receives into it self, as it were a divine Looking-glass, the species of all things, as well naturall, as artificiall, as also of all manner of speeches, and retains them; And carrying them with it, and entering into the bodies of Men, and other Animals, through their pores, makes an Impression upon them, as well when they sleep, as when they be awake, and affords matter for divers strange Dreams and Divinations…Also, when certain appearances, not only spirituall, but also naturall do flow forth from things, that is to say, by a certain kind of flowings forth of bodies from bodies, and do gather strength in the Air, they offer, and shew themselves to us as well through light as motion, as well to the sight as to other senses, and sometimes work wonderfull things upon us, as Plotinus proves and teacheth. And we see how by the South wind the Air is condensed into thin clouds, in which, as in a Looking-glass are reflected representations at a great distance of Castles, Mountains, Horses, and Men, and other things, which when the clouds are gone, presently vanish…

In this sense, Air is the element that fills all things, but that requires that there first exist things to be filled.  The presence of Air is predicated on the presence of space (which itself must be filled by Air) and on the presence of solid bodies.  The presence of bodies, of course, is predicated on there being at least Earth (for solidity of body), Fire (for spiritual reality and motion), as well as Water (growth and change).  The three elements of Fire, Earth, and Water must exist first before Air can exist; although Air does not come from these three, it can only come about once these three already exist.  Moreover, it works upon itself in a way that the other elements don’t.  Looking back at the Tetractys of Life, the paths of Water, Earth, and Fire all go in certain directions but never back to their beginning, while the paths of Air go in cycles, constantly changing upon itself in a loop like a convection cycle of hot and cold or moist and dry air.

While my interpretation of the planets and elements is slowly drifting further from Agrippa, the Golden Dawn, and Hermetic qabbalah than I originally thought it might, it’s also leading me into a new direction with mathesis becoming its own full system instead of something merely derivative from Qabbalah with names and symbols swapped out for others.  As Pallas Renatus had mentioned to me before, the Tetractys of Life and system of mathesis generally has internal consistency going for it, which is no bad thing; that much of my analysis points to new truths within something still experimental shows promise to my mind.  As I delve deeper into mathesis and possibly drift farther from qabbalah, I figure that the more I can explain differences between the two in a solid Hermetic framework, the better off I’ll be.  This is just part of that effort.

Plato’s Timaeus and the Tetractys of Life

At this point, it’s becoming plain to see that the occult system of mathesis, including the Tree of Life, goes beyond Neoplatonism right into the teachings of Pythagoreanism.  While I’m not annoyed at this per se, I am annoyed because Pythagoreanism is one of those things I haven’t studied too well before.  There’s plenty on Neoplatonism, sure, and plenty more on Hermeticism, but on Pythagoreanism itself, all I know is that it had a huge effect on later philosophical and mystery traditions and that’s about it.  That said, that’s basically the thrust of the academic and historical record of what we know; when we get into pinpointing exactly what in those later traditions had their roots in Pythagoreanism, it’s hard to say, since we have so little original source material on Pythagorean practices and beliefs.  So, all this Tetractys of Life stuff is half read from summaries of Pythagorean thought and half made up based on my own experiences and knowledge.  I have no idea if any such Tetractys of Life has been developed before, but then, I don’t suppose it matters at this point if it did.

One of the texts I’ve read before, obtuse as it was, is the Timaeus of Plato.  Plato, that awesome student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, wrote a number of books using Socrates himself and many other Greeks of his day as his mouthpieces, exploring various aspects of philosophy.  Of course, philosophy back in classical Greece had a much wider scope than modern philosophy; back then, it was focused on understanding how to live well, with questions of existence and ontology coming in second (or so I see it).  Plato is known for many of his works, especially his Republic, wherein he talks about the ideal city-state ruled by a philosopher-king.  Other works of his focus on things of arguably smaller scope, but the Timaeus is an exception to this.  This text talks about nothing less than the creation of the cosmos itself and how the structure of the cosmos is perfect in every way, and how everything that happens is directly attributable to the harmonies and ordering of the cosmos.  It’s a fascinating read, though the famous Roman writer Cicero himself claimed that he never was able to understand it.

While Plato is known for founding the philosophical school of Platonism, plenty of Pythagorean thought can be found in his texts because of course.  The Timaeus itself is the prime example for this, when the character of Timaeus explains the creation of the cosmos by the Demiurge, the World Creator.  Timaeus opens up his discourse with an important question distinguishing…something:

First then, in my judgment, we must make a distinction and ask, What is that which always is and has no becoming; and what is that which is always becoming and never is? That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason is always in the same state; but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in a process of becoming and perishing and never really is.

Timaeus is setting the argument up for distinguishing the eternal, uncreated, and absolute from the temporal, created, and ephemeral.  Things that are, in other words, are unchanging and immutable, never becoming anything different from what they already are.  Things that become, however, are made to become and do not become on their own, since that would imply a power over their own selves.  Things that become can be perceived by sense and opinion, the lower faculties of the human entity, while things that are cannot be perceived yet they can be known by intelligence and reason, the higher faculties of the human entity.  (If this is sounding an awful lot like the stuff from the 49 Days of Definitions, it should!)  In other word, there is a dualism between that which is the Creator and that which is the Created, where the Creator is eternal and absolutely true and can never be directly perceived and where the Created is temporal and can be perceived without an underlying basis in reality.  Why can’t that which is become anything else?  Because that would imply that there is more than one absolute.  The creator, here, is the Good, the One, the Whole, or God, a single entity who created all other things.  Because everything else was created, it cannot be the creator, yet it comes from the creator.  The creator itself, however, was alone in this, since there is only one Good.  (Why?  It’s in other works of Plato, but if everything that becomes is due to a creator, the creator itself is uncreated, so there logically follows that there is only one creator, since there’s nothing to create the creator.  I guess.  Kinda.)

A little later on, Timaeus explains the nature of the things that become, that which is created, in terms of their physical bodies:

Now that which is created is of necessity corporeal, and also visible and tangible. And nothing is visible where there is no fire, or tangible which has no solidity, and nothing is solid without earth. Wherefore also God in the beginning of creation made the body of the universe to consist of fire and earth. But two things cannot be rightly put together without a third; there must be some bond of union between them. And the fairest bond is that which makes the most complete fusion of itself and the things which it combines; and proportion is best adapted to effect such a union. For whenever in any three numbers, whether cube or square, there is a mean, which is to the last term what the first term is to it; and again, when the mean is to the first term as the last term is to the mean-then the mean becoming first and last, and the first and last both becoming means, they will all of them of necessity come to be the same, and having become the same with one another will be all one. If the universal frame had been created a surface only and having no depth, a single mean would have sufficed to bind together itself and the other terms; but now, as the world must be solid, and solid bodies are always compacted not by one mean but by two, God placed water and air in the mean between fire and earth, and made them to have the same proportion so far as was possible (as fire is to air so is air to water, and as air is to water so is water to earth); and thus he bound and put together a visible and tangible heaven. And for these reasons, and out of such elements which are in number four, the body of the world was created, and it was harmonised by proportion, and therefore has the spirit of friendship; and having been reconciled to itself, it was indissoluble by the hand of any other than the framer.

Timaeus explains that the two major aspects of a physical body is that it is visible (able to be seen) that it is tangible (able to be touched).  These are provided by the elements of fire and earth, respectively, but here we come into a problem.  Any two properties can only ever be joined together by a third intermediate quality, so that the three become a harmony.  That would suggest there to be three elements, but interweaving mathematics into this proto-alchemical description of physical bodies, there need to be four in order for bodies to be a solid.  Remember that, in geometry, a single point is only ever a single point; two points define a line; three points define a form (a triangle); four points define a solid (a tetrahedron).  If each element is like a point, then if we only had three elements, we would all be living in Flatland, but since we’re three-dimensional beings, we need four elements.  Thus, we need two medians between fire and earth, which become air and water.  Fire is linked to water by the mean of air; air is linked to earth by the mean of water.  Thus, every individual body consists of these four elements which provide it with earthy tangibility and fiery visibility, linked together by the qualities bestowed upon them by air and water.  While Timaeus does not give what these qualities are, we can see in Agrippa (book II, chapter 7) that air gives bodies the ability to be heard and water the ability to be tasted or smelled (the two are similar in nature).  We can treat each of these qualities as an interplay between the soul and the body: fire allows other bodies to be perceived in a soulful way by the soul (only indirect contact), air to be perceived in a bodily way by the soul (indirect contact over a distance), water to be perceived in a soulful way by the body (indirect contact in close proximity), and earth to be perceived in a bodily way by the body (direct contact).

As for the soul, Timaeus backtracks a bit and goes on to explain that bodies were given souls, but that souls were made before the body.  After all, the body moves because of soul, so soul must rule over the body:

Whereas he made the soul in origin and excellence prior to and older than the body, to be the ruler and mistress, of whom the body was to be the subject. And he made her out of the following elements and on this wise: Out of the indivisible and unchangeable, and also out of that which is divisible and has to do with material bodies, he compounded a third and intermediate kind of essence, partaking of the nature of the same and of the other, and this compound he placed accordingly in a mean between the indivisible, and the divisible and material. He took the three elements of the same, the other, and the essence, and mingled them into one form, compressing by force the reluctant and unsociable nature of the other into the same. When he had mingled them with the essence and out of three made one, he again divided this whole into as many portions as was fitting, each portion being a compound of the same, the other, and the essence.

So we know that the soul is made in a different way than the body and with different materials.  Instead of using the four elements, Timaeus claims that the soul is made from two parts, the indivisible and the divisible, or “the nature of the same and of the other”.  Sameness and Difference, then, are the two qualities of the soul, but as we saw above, any two properties can only be joined by means of a third, and Timaeus gives us that as “the essence”, or Existence.  Sameness, Difference, and Existence are the qualities of the soul, which can be described as the quality that makes an object A the same as object B, that makes A different than B, and that makes A come to be at all.  Because the soul is not a body, the soul does not require a fourth substance, and is satisfied with only three properties, much as a triangle defined by three points forms the foundation for the tetrahedron with four.

From this, Timaeus describes the actual creation of the world in a weird and numerical way:

And he proceeded to divide [the creation] after this manner: First of all, he took away one part of the whole [1], and then he separated a second part which was double the first [2], and then he took away a third part which was half as much again as the second and three times as much as the first [3], and then he took a fourth part which was twice as much as the second [4], and a fifth part which was three times the third [9], and a sixth part which was eight times the first [8], and a seventh part which was twenty-seven times the first [27]. After this he filled up the double intervals [i.e. between 1, 2, 4, 8] and the triple [i.e. between 1, 3, 9, 27] cutting off yet other portions from the mixture and placing them in the intervals, so that in each interval there were two kinds of means, the one exceeding and exceeded by equal parts of its extremes [as for example 1, 4/3, 2, in which the mean 4/3 is one-third of 1 more than 1, and one-third of 2 less than 2], the other being that kind of mean which exceeds and is exceeded by an equal number. Where there were intervals of 3/2 and of 4/3 and of 9/8, made by the connecting terms in the former intervals, he filled up all the intervals of 4/3 with the interval of 9/8, leaving a fraction over; and the interval which this fraction expressed was in the ratio of 256 to 243. And thus the whole mixture out of which he cut these portions was all exhausted by him.


This entire compound he divided lengthways into two parts, which he joined to one another at the centre like the letter X, and bent them into a circular form, connecting them with themselves and each other at the point opposite to their original meeting-point; and, comprehending them in a uniform revolution upon the same axis, he made the one the outer and the other the inner circle. Now the motion of the outer circle he called the motion of the same, and the motion of the inner circle the motion of the other or diverse. The motion of the same he carried round by the side to the right, and the motion of the diverse diagonally to the left. And he gave dominion to the motion of the same and like, for that he left single and undivided; but the inner motion he divided in six places and made seven unequal circles having their intervals in ratios of two-and three, three of each, and bade the orbits proceed in a direction opposite to one another; and three [Sun, Mercury, Venus] he made to move with equal swiftness, and the remaining four [Moon, Saturn, Mars, Jupiter] to move with unequal swiftness to the three and to one another, but in due proportion.

Timaeus explains, using what is now famously known as Plato’s Lambda, how the universe itself was created according to a system of musical harmonies.  Suffice to say that the Demiurge took two “strips” of reality, one made from the even numbers in Plato’s Lambda and the other made from the odd numbers, and joined them together in the form of a giant Khi (Χ), bending them around into circles to form a sphere.  The outer circle is given the property of Sameness, while the inner one the property of Difference.  The inner circle of Difference, moreover, was divided into seven segments, each associated with the spheres of the seven planets who move at different rates.  The outer circle of Sameness, however, all move at the same rate; this then becomes the sphere of the fixed stars.  Linking the two heavens together is a connection at their nexus, which we can assume to be the nodes between the ecliptic (where the planets, Sun, and Moon move in the skies) and the celestial equator (where the stars all move along around the Earth).  The circle of the Same (the sphere of the fixed stars) is kept as one indivisible unit, much as the One itself is; the circle of the Different (the spheres of the planets) are divided, emphasizing their created nature and focus on manifestation and embodiment.

So why all the Platonic and Pythagorean claptrap?  Because, as fate would have it, all this from Timaeus reinforces the structure I have on the Tetractys of Life relating the elements and reagents:

Alchemical Tetractys

At the top, we have the Monad, the One, the Good, the uncreated creator of all things.  At the bottom, we find the four elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire.  Water, as we said before, is the mean between Earth and Air, and Air itself is the mean between Water and Fire.  These four elements create a physical body with the capacity to be seen, heard, smelled/tasted, and touched.  The body, moreover, is built upon the soul, which itself is composed of three qualities: Sameness, Difference, and Existence, which allow the soul to distinguish these things in the cosmos.  We see three reagents: Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur.  We can link these three reagents with the three properties of Difference, Existence, and Sameness, respectively, based on Plato’s Timaeus.  After all, in using Plato’s Lambda, we’ve already established that we’re using the same notions of “left” and “right” in terms of directions down and from the Monad, and the Demiurge (saith Timaeus) “he carried round [the motion of Sameness] by the side to the right, and the motion of the diverse diagonally to the left”.  This assigns Salt the property of Difference, and Sulfur the property of Sameness.  This gives Mercury the property of Existence, which links Sameness and Difference.

Admittedly, it’s at this point that I started freaking out, thinking back on other definitions of Salt and Mercury.  After all, isn’t Mercury traditionally assigned to be the cold and moist counterpart to hot and dry Sulfur?  Yes, but these two reagents alone require a basis to work upon, which is Salt, the materia upon which other forces can act.  Salt, much as Plato describes elsewhere in terms of the element Earth, can only ever be Salt; it can be acted upon, compounded, and transformed, but anything that exists will always be Salt, though in a different form than before.  Timaeus describes, further, that when the Demiurge made the soul, he “mingled [the three properties] into one form, compressing by force the reluctant and unsociable nature of [Difference] into [Sameness]”.  Difference is hard to mix in with anything, and in order to do it the Demiurge required something to blend it in with Sameness.  So, while Mercury and Sulfur might be opposite, they’re not opposite in the same way that Sulfur and Salt are.  The alchemical perspective here is a bit unclear, and the planetary associations of the Moon, Mercury, and the Sun seem to work better.  However, Salt is literally an “other”, unable to work in the same way as Sulfur or Mercury, but which can be worked with Sulfur by means of Mercury.

Confused?  I am, too, a little.  But basically, the Timaeus tells us that Mercury is what allows Sameness and Difference to co-exist since Mercury is what allows for Existence.  If everything were Sulfur/Sameness, everything would follow the active principle and would have no body; everything could only be visible and joined together in an infinite oneness.  If everything were Salt/Difference, everything would follow the passive principle and could not be seen; everything could only be touched and distinguished through spatial location.  In order for the soul to bridge the gap between space and awareness, it must relate to both in a manner that Sulfur can work and Salt can be acted upon.  Said another way, the three principles of Existence, Sameness, and Difference allow the soul to determine what actually exists, what is the same as itself, and what is different from itself.  The soul, not being a body, recognizes the body as the most different from itself, while the soul itself is made in the image of the Monad, and so is natively inclined towards making.  Thus, the Salt which is used in producing bodies is Difference, and Sulfur which produces bodies is Sameness.  This is how the principles of Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur work together to form the foundation of elemental substance.  This logic reassured me, since I had the momentary worry of freaking out that I had mis-constructed my Tetractys of Life by putting Salt and Mercury in the wrong spheres on the Tetractys.  Rereading Timaeus, however, and a few other alchemical texts, leads me to believe that this is alright and ties in alchemical theory with Pythagorean cosmology (which, admittedly, isn’t something that should probably not be done as whimsically as I’m doing here).

So Timaeus describes the Monad, the Tetrad of elements, and the Triad of reagents (albeit in an abstract manner).  What about the Dyad?  Timaeus talks a lot about the One, the Three, and the Four, but not much about a Two, at least not explicitly.  Implicitly, however, the whole discourse is about the relationship between the Creator and the Created, that which Is and that which Becomes, the Original and the Copy.  Continuing the very first quote up above, where Timaeus explains the difference between that which Is and that which Becomes:

And in speaking of the copy and the original we may assume that words are akin to the matter which they describe; when they relate to the lasting and permanent and intelligible, they ought to be lasting and unalterable, and, as far as their nature allows, irrefutable and immovable-nothing less. But when they express only the copy or likeness and not the eternal things themselves, they need only be likely and analogous to the real words. As being is to becoming, so is truth to belief.

In the beginning, there is only the Monad; we cannot yet call it the Creator because there is nothing Created.  We cannot truly call the Monad as existing, because there is nothing that is not existing; we obviously cannot call the Monad becoming, not just because it cannot become as created things become, but because nothing is becoming.  Before the Monad creates, there is only ever the Monad, and all dichotomies and distinctions and differences are moot.  Once the Monad creates, however, there is suddenly Creator and Created; as the Monad creates, it creates in its own likeness, providing Sameness; as it provides Sameness, it provides Light to see that which is the Same.  Thus, we have Monad producing Creating force producing Sameness producing Visibility, or Monad producing Light producing Sulfur producing Fire.  At the same time, however, the Monad has also produced the Created, which is different from the Monad; this Difference then provides Tangibility.  Thus, the Monad also gives forth the force of being Created or Darkness, which produces Difference or Salt, which produces Tangibility or Earth.  Sameness and Difference require the mean of Existence to facilitate further creation between the two, which is to say that Sulfur and Salt require the intermediary of Mercury.  Visibility and Tangibility require two intermediaries of Audibility and Taste to create a body, which is to say that Fire and Earth require the intermediaries of Air and Water.

In all this, we finally have a completion: Monad, Dyad, Triad, and Tetrad.  We can see that the Tetrad relates to bodies, and the Triad to souls.  The Monad, being the source, can be called God, pure Intellect, or Mind.  So where does that place the Dyad?  I claim that the Dyad relates to the spirit.  Just as the soul dwells within the body to animate it, the spirit dwells within the soul to…what?  Timaeus tells us:

The soul, interfused everywhere from the centre to the circumference of heaven, of which also she is the external envelopment, herself turning in herself, began a divine beginning of never ceasing and rational life enduring throughout all time. The body of heaven is visible, but the soul is invisible, and partakes of reason and harmony, and being made by the best of intellectual and everlasting natures, is the best of things created. And because she is composed of the same and of the other and of the essence, these three, and is divided and united in due proportion, and in her revolutions returns upon herself, the soul, when touching anything which has essence, whether dispersed in parts or undivided, is stirred through all her powers, to declare the sameness or difference of that thing and some other; and to what individuals are related, and by what affected, and in what way and how and when, both in the world of generation and in the world of immutable being.

And when reason, which works with equal truth, whether she be in the circle of the diverse or of the same—in voiceless silence holding her onward course in the sphere of the self-moved—when reason, I say, is hovering around the sensible world and when the circle of the diverse also moving truly imparts the intimations of sense to the whole soul, then arise opinions and beliefs sure and certain. But when reason is concerned with the rational, and the circle of the same moving smoothly declares it, then intelligence and knowledge are necessarily perfected. And if any one affirms that in which these two are found to be other than the soul, he will say the very opposite of the truth.

The body is moved by soul; the soul is moved by reason.  Reason deals with Sameness and Difference, but soul consists of these as well as Existence.  Reason exists on a higher level than soul does, which allows to reconcile directly the forces of Creating with Created without need for a mediator.  Reason is not Existence; reason is the relationship that reconciles Creator and Created, the intermediary between the Monad and the Triad.  Reason works outside the circles of Sameness and Difference, closer to God than the fixed stars themselves are.  Thus, the Dyad is reason, or spirit, that which moves the triadic soul as the soul moves the tetradic body.  These concepts are replete throughout nearly all later philosophical and occult works, even being repeated in Cornelius Agrippa’s Scale of Four almost verbatim.

While I had a few inklings about the concepts I wanted to explore on the Tetractys based on where I’ve already been and what I’ve already done, I admit that my reading list has not been exhausted like it should have been before I proposed to embark on making a new occult system.  Rereading the Timaeus should have been one of the first things I did, and here I am finally going over it and finding more ways to explain the system I’m developing in a way that I should have explored beforehand.  While the Tetractys of Life is, indeed, likely a thing that’s been made before, it probably was only done in florid 2500-year-old language without the help of Adobe Illustrator, so at least I can innovate in some way.  At this point, I’m finding more and more data and knowledge to back up my structures and plans for exploration, and I can’t say I’m displeased about that.  Fine-tuning and tweaking, especially to the paths, will still be needed, but I can rest certain that the overall structure is good to go.

Constructing a Lamen for Conjuration

Recently, I had someone ask me for help in creating a lamen for use with the Trithemian conjuration ritual.  While the original text doesn’t go into details about it, it says that “the pentacle may be either wrote on clean virgin parchment, or engraven on a square plate of silver and suspended from thy neck to the breast”.  In other words, the lamen used in conjuration is a type of pentacle or talisman worn, and this talisman is associated with the spirit to be conjured by writing the name and seal of the spirit upon the lamen.   It’s very similar to wearing the seal of the demon to be conjured according to the Lemegeton Goetia, so the idea is the same, though its execution is a little different.

For one, the lamen used in this conjuration has thirteen names of God written around the edge; I’ve explained these names in an earlier post.  Within the names of God is the name of the spirit, its seal, a hexagram, and at least four pentagrams.  The original form of the lamen, say for the angel Michael according to Trithemius and Fr. Rufus Opus, has it follow the general pattern:

Lamen of Michael, angelic governor of the Sun

Here, the name of the spirit is written twice, once in Hebrew (Celestial, in this case) outside and above the hexagram, and once in Roman script inside the hexagram with the seal, with four pentagrams surround the hexagram.  Why four?  It’s unclear, but we have a strong hint from Cornelius Agrippa (book IV, chapter 10) (emphasis mine)

Now the Lamen which is to be used to invoke any good spirit, you shall make after this maner; either in metal conformable, or in new wax, mixt with species and colours conformable: or it may be made in clean paper, with convenient colours: and and the outward form or figure thereof may be square, circular, or triangular, or of the like sort, according to the rule of the numbers: in which there must be written the divine names, as well the general names as the special. And in the centre of the Lamen, let there be drawn a character of six corners (Hexagonus); in the middle whereof, let there be written the name and character of the Star, or of the Spirit his governour, to whom the good spirit that is to be called is subject. And about this character, let there be placed so many characters of five corners (Pentagonus), as the spirits we would call together at once. And if we shall call onely one spirit, nevertheless there shall be made four Pentagones, wherein the name of the spirit or spirits, with their characters, is to be written. Now this table ought to be composed when the Moon in increasing, on those days and hours which then agree to the Spirit. And if we take a fortunate star herewith, it will be the better. Which Table being made in this manner, it is to be consecrated according to the rules above delivered.

So it seems like the spirit in the hexagram isn’t actually the spirit we conjure, but rather the ruler of the spirit.  So, if we were to call upon Nakhiel, the intelligence of the Sun, we still have Michael’s name and seal in the hexagram and the name and seal of Nakhiel in all four pentagrams.  If we were to call upon the intelligence Nakhiel, spirit Sorath, and three angels from the choir of Virtues, we’d have five pentagrams around the hexagram, each with a different name and seal according to the spirits we summon.  Considering the size of the lamen, this gets way too complicated way too fast.  It’s easier to simply deal with the spirit ruling over the sphere we’re coming in contact with and have them in the conjuration to bring the other spirits we wish to commune with.  For some reason, though, there should always be at least four pentagrams.  Why?  It’s never really said, but the number four has plenty of oomph in it, so maybe it’s just a numerological thing; it’s unclear.

So why do we have the name of the spirit both in Hebrew and in Roman outside and inside the hexagram?  It’s never really said, and both I and Donald Tyson (who published an updated version of Agrippa’s Books of Occult Philosophy with notes and commentary) think this is an error, or at least unnecessary duplication.  In either case, the name should be the same no matter what script you use.  If one uses Hebrew on the outside and Roman on the inside, the names should accord given the writing system they’re written in, only using Roman script inside the hexagram and some other script outside.  I think they should be different scripts, so if the script used originally for the spirit was Roman, you might consider the use of Theban script outside the hexagram.  It gets real crazy real fast, admittedly.

Because of the confusion with the designs, between the number of pentagrams to use and what names should go where and written in which writing system, I decided to come up with my own version of the lamen, based more on Solomonic and Goetic practice.  This was a while back, and I wrote a post about it before, but my versions have worked fine and clear for me.  For example, contrast the following lamen of Michael to the prior one:

Lamen of Michael, angelic governor of the Sun

The differences between this lamen style and the Trithemian one aren’t that many, really, but they’re important:

  • The name of the spirit is written in another ring around a central circle using only one language most appropriate for the spirit
  • Always use six pentagrams around the arms of the hexagrams, points facing outward.
  • No Romanization of the spirit’s name.
  • Center hexagram is embiggened and centered in the central circle.
  • Godnames rotated 90° so that El is aligned at the top.

To reduce confusion, I only write the name of the spirit once around the hexagram and pentagrams, using the inside of the hexagram for the spirit itself and leaving the pentagrams blank.

One thing that can be clearly deduced from Agrippa and Trithemius is how to make the lamen.  For timing, the lamens are to be made while the Moon is waxing in a planetary day and hour appropriate to the spirit.  Thus, lamens for spirits of the Sun should be made on Sundays in an hour of the Sun, those of Mars should be made on Tuesdays in an hour of Mars, and so forth; this is pretty simple, and fairly basic as far as talismanic creation goes.  As for materials, this is where you can really go crazy; I use heavy fancy résumé paper, color the border with gold leaf, and color the insides of the stars and hexagrams according to that planet’s associated colors per the Golden Dawn color rules.

New Lamen Collection

I use simple circles for my lamen designs, though I’ve made other sets before that use different polygons whose number of sides accord with the numbers of the planets, e.g. a triangle for Saturn, a pentagon for Mars, and a nonagon for the Moon.  I use a circular shape since I have a circular wooden picture frame I modified to act as a lamen holder, but having your lamens be punched with a hole in the top is also totally workable.  Instead of paper, you might use parchment, or you might go really fancy and use colored wax made with essential oils of herbs associated with the planet, or go all out and make silver, gold, or other metallic lamens that accord with the planet.  While this isn’t strictly necessary (I haven’t had problems using even plain uncolored copy paper lamens), it’ll help over time to strengthen the contact between you and the spirit, but so would putting more effort with a simpler construction.  Of course, if the spirit isn’t planetary or doesn’t really care, you can use whatever method you want for making the lamen so long as it works for the spirit.

So what about the seals inside the hexagrams themselves?  It’s easy to find seals for Lemegeton goetic demons or the angels of the planets, but what about the seals for some arbitrary spirit?  It can get awkward, I admit, if you only have a name and no seal.  One route you can go by is using some sort of sigil generator to make a seal for the spirit based on its name; if the name is in Hebrew, you’d use the Golden Dawn Rosy Cross sigil wheel, and if it’s in Greek, you might try my own sigil wheel for the Greek alphabet based on stoicheiometric principles.  If the spirit is associated with a particular planet, you might use the qamea (magic square) of that planet to generate the names, which is how Agrippa gets his seals for the planetary intelligences and spirits (book II, chapter 22).  If you have any familiarity with modern magic techniques, you might make a simple sigil based on the letters themselves a la chaos magic.  Alternatively, you might not use any seal for the spirit at all, but actually ask for a seal directly from the spirit themselves; this is my approach to them, and how I got my seals for the elemental archangels.

Don’t forget that, despite their role in conjuration, lamens are simply talismans, and should be made according to the same rules and upheld to the same maintenance you’d use for other talismans.  These talismans will help link you to the spirit and its sphere to aid in conjuration, communion, and communication, and so should be made with that spirit and sphere in mind.  Although it’s traditional to wear the lamen in conjuration, I’ve seen some magicians (including Fr. Rufus Opus in his more modern style of conjuration) just use a metal talisman placed on the Table of Practice itself, so you still have freedom to experiment here.  Make the lamen with the spirit you want to communicate with in mind, following a simple premade layout for names and seals, and you’ll be good to go.  You might want to wear it, place it on the conjuration circle itself under the scrying medium, or simply set a candle atop it; so long as you use the lamen, you’ll be bringing the spirit down for conjuration.