The Charm of Arktos

(Update 1/9/2018: Interested in more about this ritual?  Check out my more polished, fleshed-out writeup over on this page!)

Tonight, as most celestially-minded people are aware, is the end of the peak period for the Perseid meteor shower.  It’s one of the more famous meteor showers, given the brightness of the meteors as well as the rate of shooting stars, between 60 and 100 meteors per minute.  It’s a fantastic time to go stargazing, especially if you have clear weather. And, of course, for the supernaturally-and-celestially-minded, it’s also a fantastic time for magic.

I’m not particularly big on using meteor showers for anything else besides making a wish, but I realized that tonight would be a fantastic time for an outside starry ritual to call on the stars themselves.  A storm just blew threw where I live, so the skies are clear and the air is bright, which is perfect for any magic calling on things higher up than us; the Moon is still mostly full, though waning, which is good for sending things out and away from us; the meteors bring tangible matter from the heavens to earth.  And, moreover, according to my lunisolar grammatomantic calendar, the lunar date of today is associated with the letter Pi, which I give ritually to the Olympian goddess Artemis.  Normally, I don’t have much of a practice with this goddess, not being a hunter, midwife, or young girl, but I realized that I have just the ritual that would mesh pretty well with her.  And, given the celestial atmosphere (literally and figuratively), it’s a good one to use tonight!

The following ritual is one I call the Charm of Arktos, taken from the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM VII.686).  The spell is an invocation to the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, known to the Greeks as Arktos, the Bear.  The bear was an animal sacred to Artemis, which links this ritual to her.  The constellation of Ursa Major is, as is famously known, formed in part by Polaris, the North Star, which was the direction the Egyptians associated with immortality (since the stars in the northernmost part of the sky never set under the earth, or into the underworld).  The ritual is fairly short and straightforward, and all you need to bring is offerings to the goddess; dates, wine, fresh (specially spring) water, and sharp floral or musky incense are perfect offerings for this.

On a night clear enough to see the stars (like tonight, hopefully!), go outside, preferably to a high place and face north to the constellation of Ursa Major, the Bear.  Raise your arms and call out to the stars:

Arktos, Artkos! Thou who rules over heaven, the stars, and the whole world! Thou who causes the axis to turn and governs the system of the cosmos by force and Anankē! I appeal to thee, imploring and supplicating you, that you do for me me this … because I call upon thee in thy holy names at which thy deity rejoices, names which thou art not able to ignore:

  • ΒΡΙΜΩ (BRIMŌ), earth-breaker, great huntress!
  • ΑΜΑΜΑ (AMAMA), well-bedded, Dardanian, all-seeing, night-running, attacking mankind, subduing mankind, summoning mankind, conquering mankind!
  • ΛΙΧΡΙΣΣΑ ΦΑΕΣΣΑ (LIKHRISSA PHAESSA), aerial one, strong goddess of Erymna, thou who art the song and dance, guardian, spy, delight, delicate, protector, adamant and adamantine, o Damnameneia!
  • ΒΡΕΞΕΡΙΚΑΝΔΑΡΑ (BREXERIKANDARA), most high, Taurian, unutterable, fire-bodied, light-giving, sharply armed!

Make your request as specified and ask that it be effected, that the Bear send away all evil and target all your enemies, reflect all bad luck and send you blessings, or other similar things.  Make your offering to the northern stars, and Artemis especially, and thank them for their work and their eternal, undying light.  Close the ritual as you like, then return indoors.

Even if you don’t do the ritual, I hope you can enjoy the stars tonight all the same!

The Sash of Powers, or a Fancy New Magical Thingie

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

Sash of Powers

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

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

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

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

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

Lemegeton Circle of Art


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, Definition 4

This post is part of a series, “49 Days of Definitions”, discussing and explaining my thoughts and meditations on a set of aphorisms explaining crucial parts of Hermetic philosophy. These aphorisms, collectively titled the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”, lay out the basics of Hermetic philosophy, the place of Man in the Cosmos, and all that stuff. It’s one of the first texts I studied as a Hermetic magician, and definitely what I would consider to be a foundational text. The Definitions consist of 49 short aphorisms broken down into ten sets, each of which is packed with knowledge both subtle and obvious, and each of which can be explained or expounded upon. While I don’t propose to offer the be-all end-all word on these Words, these might afford some people interested in the Definitions some food for thought, one aphorism per day.

Today, let’s discuss the forty-sixth definition, part X, number 4 of 7:

The immortal nature (is) the movement of the mortal nature, (as to) mortality, earth is its grave; (and) heaven (is) the place of the immortal.  The immortal came into being because of the mortal, but the mortal comes into being by means of the immortal.  Evil is a deficiency of the good, good (is) fullness of itself.

So, now that we know that all of nature exists within the body of Man, what can we say about what nature actually is?  We know that there are four elements: earth which forms the basis for material existence, water which helps to grow, fire which inhibits growth, and air which joins together (II.2,3,4,5).  We know that there are different groups of living creatures: heavenly beings with only soul and immortal bodies, stones with only mortal bodies, plants with mortal bodies and breath, animals with mortal bodies and breath and soul, and Man with mortal bodies, breath, soul, and Nous (IV.2), and each of those bodies is composed of some mixture of the elements (IV.1).  There are two fluidities, the female which receives things and the male which emits things, which are always at work in the world to cause increase and decrease (X.1).  So far, that’s all we know.

Now we start to read about the interaction of different natures and what those natures are.  For one, “the immortal nature is the movement of the mortal nature”.  Natures with immortality refer to heavenly beings, which we can say are gods, or more Hermetically, the planets and stars of the sky.  These are the beings that “have” and “adorn heaven” (IX.7), and as we might infer from the place of astrology in many occult sciences and philosophies, these are the things that influence anything and everything down below.  Indeed, the planets and stars are the movement of the life and natures on the world, giving them impetus to act in certain ways just as the soul moves the body.

Further, note how this definition makes a clear demarcation between things high up and things down below: “as to mortality, earth is its grave; and heaven is the place of the immortal”.  Human beings and all mortal life down here is relegated to the earth, since earth is “the receptacle of the dead” as well as “nurse of the living” (II.3).  On the other hand, the immortal creatures reside in heaven, forever there and never down here, just as humans do not ascend into heaven to be immortal; after all, “you do not have the power of becoming immortal; neither does, indeed, the mortal have the power of dying” (VIII.7).  The only means by which we can interact is the air, since “heavens and earth are united with each other by the air” (II.2).

So, what gives with the fact that the immortal beings move us mortal ones around?  After all, isn’t Man the one to own and manage the world (VI.1)?  Don’t we ourselves have the power of the gods and the heavenly beings (VIII.6)?  Well, yes, we do.  We have the power of leading ourselves around in a way that nothing else does; the immortal beings move the mortal things, and most mortal things would, as I read this, be influenced by and obey the immortal ones.  However, we who are Man don’t have to follow suit; we can be led around by the immortal beings, or we can move ourselves.  In either case, movement is still accomplished, but if we let other things push us around, we basically relinquish our control to them, and those other things may not have our best interests at heart.  If our soul wants us to do one thing, but our bodies are pushed around to do the opposite, that hurts us and we’re driven further from perfection, not closer to it.  Thus, we can resist the power of the immortal beings and choose our own path, though it may not be easy (and it’s often not in the face of actual danger or adversity provided by them).

So why have immortal beings at all?  To help us learn more about ourselves, the world, and God.  After all, “the immortal came into being because of the mortal”.  The immortal beings, with their nature, have their own things and experiences and worlds that we as Man need to learn from.  From them we learn immortality, rulership, power of motion over others, and the like; they came into being as the entire world came into being for us (VIII.6).  However, they still have influence over us, and it is by them (not the soul, or not just the soul, as we hypothesized in the last definition!) that move bodies around down here to create more bodies.  Thus, “the mortal comes into being by means of the immortal”.  While the soul is the maker of the body, the body is made by the soul by means of the immortal beings in heaven.  (This should sound familiar if you know emanationism in Qabbalah, where an Idea comes down from God through the sephiroth of the planets and stars down to manifestation here on Earth.)

Recall, though, that this isn’t the first mention of stars and astral influences in the Definitions.  Way back in VII.5, I mentioned these two little symbols that I couldn’t type, common symbols in Armenian manuscripts for glosses, but one meant “star” and the other meant “sinner”.  While the propensity and judgment of individual humans according to their soul’s “illness” and “passion” (IX.4) can lead them to choose certain actions, the motion of the stars and planets above can also lead us to do the same.  We can be moved by the stars, just as anything mortal down here can, if we let it.  Certain influences, thoughts, accidents, opportunities, and the like can all be presented to us to lead or move us in certain ways that our souls may agree with or cry out against.

After all, keep in mind that these heavenly beings may not have our best influences at heart; they are still in the world and thus of matter, and moreover, have no Nous (IV.2).  They are entirely worldly, and as such, they are evil just as anything material is (according to X.1).  Evil, as we’re aware, is “conspicuous” (X.1), and we know that not only is evil the opposite of good, but that evil “is a deficiency of good”.  Evil is a lack, that which is missing something.  A dark room is dark because it has no light; one is ignorant because they do not know something.  Evil is defined by what it lacks; this is why it’s so conspicuous.  Good, on the other hand, is “fullness of itself”; it is complete in itself, just as light shows things to be just as they are without changing or modifying them (II.6).  Good “bears no comparison”, and knowledge of something cannot be compared to knowledge of anything else; ignorance is simply lacking knowledge, while knowledge is knowledge.  It cannot be substituted with knowledge of anything else, nor can it be enlarged or decreased in any way.

So, about those planets, stars, gods, and heavenly beings?  While they may not be outright ignorance, they don’t have all knowledge, either.  They are without Nous, and so while they may exist as part of and within God, they are without knowledge of God and therefore without knowledge of the world or themselves.  This makes them ignorant, and thus possessing the quality of evil.  They lead us to potentially ignorant ends, unaware of the intelligible or non-worldly aspects of their actions, and can so lead us to stay trapped down here when we let them.  (This should now sound like the function of the archons in Gnosticism.)  With knowledge, we understand the entire world and all the influences and natures within; without, we get trapped and are moved to know only a select few things in a select few ways.

49 Days of Definitions: Part VII, Definition 5

This post is part of a series, “49 Days of Definitions”, discussing and explaining my thoughts and meditations on a set of aphorisms explaining crucial parts of Hermetic philosophy. These aphorisms, collectively titled the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”, lay out the basics of Hermetic philosophy, the place of Man in the Cosmos, and all that stuff. It’s one of the first texts I studied as a Hermetic magician, and definitely what I would consider to be a foundational text. The Definitions consist of 49 short aphorisms broken down into ten sets, each of which is packed with knowledge both subtle and obvious, and each of which can be explained or expounded upon. While I don’t propose to offer the be-all end-all word on these Words, these might afford some people interested in the Definitions some food for thought, one aphorism per day.

Today, let’s discuss the twenty-eighth definition, part VII, number 5 of 5:

God is within himself, the world is in God, and man in the world.  His (i.e. man’s) deficiency is ignorance, his plenitude in the knowledge of God.  ※ He says that evil (consists) in ignorance and good in knowledge ⍜.

A short definition to finish up this section!  The first part of this definition sounds awfully like the first definition from the third set, which said that “where heaven is, God is too, and where the world is, heaven is too”, and also that “God is in heaven, and heaven in the world”.  Here, we have some more relationships between God and the world: namely, that God is within himself, that the world is in God, and that Man is in the world.

That God is within himself should come as no surprise.  We already know that “nothing is uninhabited by God” (III.1), and that God is “the father of the intelligible” (III.4) while being intelligible himself (I.1).  In other words, God is God, all things are within God, and God is in all things; everything is a complete Whole, and that Whole is the All, the One, or God.  If you want to translate this into set theory of mathematics, we can say that God is a set that includes all things including itself.  From this, it logically follows that the world, which is a thing that exists, exists within God.  Man exists in the world, or at least the physical bodies of Man and the idea of Man; since these things exist in the world, and since they exist, and since the world exists within God, Man also exists within God.  This basically rephrases III.1 using some more terms about Man now that we’ve been talking about Man for some time.

As for Man, however, we have some more talking to do.  The last definition brought up the terms “good” and “evil”, and we said this about the two terms:

Turning towards God and rejoining with him, coming into the perfect “knowledge of the beings” and light of Nous, is therefore good; turning away from God and ignoring the impetus of Nous and the directions that would lead us to God is therefore evil.

The current definition talks about the deficiency and the plentitude of Man, or rather, wherein he is evil and wherein he is good.  “His plentitude is the knowledge of God”; this accords with what we said before.  We can tie this back further with the perfection of the soul, which is “the knowledge of beings” (VI.3), and this is effectively the knowledge of God.  After all, to know God is to know all the things within God, all the gods, all the worlds, and ourselves, and “know thyself” is among the most holy maxims ever uttered or written.  This is what is good for us to do.

If knowledge of God is good, and evil is the opposite of good, then the opposite of knowledge of God must be evil.  The opposite of knowledge is ignorance, and that is indeed what this definition says: “[Man’s] deficiency is ignorance”.  To not know God is evil, then, yet this is the state of us as we are; to know God, we must have Nous, and not all beings are accorded Nous consciously.  Does that mean we were born evil?  Not really, but kinda?  This is where the Gnostic and Neoplatonic strains of thought shows itself within Hermeticism: because we have a material body, we are at least in some way cut off from God.  Indeed, the past few definitions have talked about this, and it’s hard to come in contact with God while being in body.  Moreover, because we have a body, we have the capacity for good and evil, which simply don’t exist outside the physical, material realm of bodies and matter.  We can choose evil and thus choose to be ignorant; we can likewise choose good and thus choose to be knowledgeable of God.

But what about as we are in the world, as we were born?  When we were born, we didn’t know how to walk or control our poop, much less high philosophy and God.  But that’s okay, because we were still in possession of souls made in the idea of Man, and those souls we have provide us with the actions and movement to move us towards knowledge of God, so long as we listen and act accordingly.  Soul is movement, and even more than that, a “necessary movement” (II.1); we cannot help but act.  The soul can often be considered like water, which is always in motion; it will take the path of least resistance, one way or another.  If water is dammed up or blocked off, it will find a new path or simply overflow it.  There is no way to completely stop water without turning it into something else.  Likewise, with the soul, we are always compelled to act, though how we act is determined by our own conscious choices and may not always be what the soul would ideally prefer.

The last part of this definition basically says the same thing as the second sentence here, but makes it explicit that ignorance is evil, not just the deficiency of Man, and that knowledge is good, not just the plentitude of Man.  However, this is made awkward by the inclusion of two symbols, which I cannot replicate well on a computer.  I tried to find similar Unicode characters to represent them, and they indicate common concepts or abbreviations in medieval Armenian manuscripts: ※ means “star”, while ⍜ means “sinner”.  The footnotes provided by Jean-Pierre Mahé to the Definitions say that these are glosses provided by the scribe, and suggest some sort of connection between sin and stars.  The Corpus Hermeticum talks about such connections, and suggests that sins and evil come from the stars high up in the heavenly part of the world (chapter XVI, parts 13 through 16), though I won’t get into it here.  Suffice it to say that, because we have material bodies, we are at the whim of various influences that affect our bodies and, therefore, our souls.  Many of these influences come from the stars, the “living beings in heaven”, and cause us or lead us to act in certain ways.  Not all of these influences agree with what the Nous within our souls desires, and so may lead us into ignorant and evil actions.  This complicates our role and job down here, but it’s also part and parcel of living within a large and complex system.

By acting in a good manner and striving to know God, ourselves, and all other things, we can attain our “plenitude”, our fullness and grace, that allows us to achieve perfection.  Perfection is this very thing, and is moreover marked by the awareness of and reception of Nous into our bodies and souls, enabling us to be made closer to God as well as to the ideal humanity we should be anyway.  This is what we’re supposed to do, and it’s difficult, but it’s worth it; moreover, it’s what we’re driven to do when left to our own devices and free from detrimental influences that would cause us to act otherwise.  However, to attain our fullness of knowledge, we also have to use the full range of human experience and power; although different living creatures can only experience one type of world, humanity can explore all worlds, including those which are immaterial.  To know all things, we must know all the worlds, and transcend them to become more and better than we are in any one world.

Earth, Moon, and Stars

Cornelius Agrippa in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy (book I, chapter 8; book II, chapter 7) relates the four elements to the celestial objects, namely the planets, mostly because magicians like to figure out what can stand in for what in different contexts.  According to Agrippa, Earth is the element that basically allows all of Creation to be created (book I, chapter 5):

Now the Basis, and foundation of all the Elements, is the Earth, for that is the object, subject, and receptacle of all Celestiall rayes, and influencies; in it are contained the seeds, and Seminall vertues of all things; and therefore it is said to be Animall, Vegetable, and Minerall. It being made fruitfull by the other Elements, and the Heavens, brings forth all things of it self; It receives the abundance of all things, and is, as it were the first fountain, from whence all things spring, it is the Center, foundation, and mother of all things…It is the first matter of our Creation, and the truest Medicine that can restore, and preserve us.

Agrippa makes a connection between Earth and the Moon and the fixed stars, indicating how the element of Earth can be reflected in the skies.  I mentioned this briefly before, focusing mostly on the connection between elemental Earth and planetary Moon:

…the heaven of the Moon is the closest to Earth, making it the most dense of the seven planets.  As the most dense planet, it’s the last stop for an Idea coming from the sphere of the Prime Mover through the stars and the other planets to finally come into form; this is the sphere where something actually takes a materialized shape, even if it’s only illusory and ephemeral.  This is also shown since, as the fastest moving planet and the lowest rung on the ladder, it collects the rays and forces of all the other planets and influences above it, focusing them like a lens onto the Earth…Like the element of Earth, which takes form and receives the influences of the other elements, the Moon takes form and receives the influences of the other planets.

The connection between the terrestrial sphere of Earth and the celestial sphere of the fixed stars is a little more difficult for me to rationalize.  I suppose I’ve been going on the notion that, just as Earth is the most stable and immovable of the elements, so too are the fixed stars the most stable and immovable of the celestial objects referenced in magic.  After all, they don’t really move much (at an extremely slow rate, not counting the negligible effect the motion of the fixed stars have to each other), especially compared to the otherwise rapid motion of the wandering stars (a.k.a. planets).  Beyond that, I never really thought about it much.  I’ve got some other work before I get up and running with the sphere of the fixed stars, so I haven’t actually gone up to call Iophiel (or Raziel, depending on the text).

Recently, I was chatting with Auriel, the archangelic king of the sphere of Earth, and after the usual friendly chat, catching up over a glass of wine in a circle, and empowerment of myself and my sphere with the element of Earth, we sat down and started talking about what Earth is really like at length and in depth.  As usual, “as above so below” is a good rule to go by, and Auriel instructed me to take a look at the Tree of Life a little more closely, especially between the sephiroth of Malkuth and Kether.  For one, everything in the sphere of the Earth, the sephirah of Malkuth, has at least a little Earth in it; that’s why the elemental colors of Malkuth are “dim” or murky, to show that they’re not the pure elements in their ideal form.  Malkuth is the physical, material universe, the one that modern atheistic scientism holds is the only thing that exists.  On the other hand, Kether is unmanifest infinity, divinely simple in that everything that is, was, will be, isn’t, was never, can never, and may be is all One Thing.

Without Earth, nothing can have a material basis; it’s the only element that can’t combine on its own with itself, but can combine with itself through the use of other elements that it’s blended with.  Earth, for instance, can offer a basis for Fire to burn, a course for Air to flow over, or a container for Water to fill, but Earth cannot do anything with Earth on its own.  Because of this, it’s more than just convenience that everything on Earth is at least partially made of Earth, both sharing the same name.  Earth is the most malleable of elements, and takes the influence from everything above it.  Earth is the key to manifestation; without it, much like in the geomantic figure Cauda Draconis, everything passes away from and nothing can be brought into material reality.  Without Earth, the bottom drops out quite literally.

The highest sephirah is Kether, the Crown, which is basically the starting point for infinity from finite existence, the place where finite reality stops having an end and starts having no end and no limit at all.  Though it has the qabbalistic path number of one, and though I don’t have much experience to talk about it, I feel like this is somewhat misleading.  Although one is computationally the root of all numbers, Kether includes all things that exist as well as all things that don’t exist.  In that sense, Kether might be better termed i or something.  Things don’t really start to begin the process of manifestation until an Idea from the Infinite Mind, a Ray from the Infinite Light passes through the second sephirah called Chokmah, the sphere of the fixed stars.  There, something finally makes the jump from “possibility of manifestation” to “manifesting”, where things actually start to legitimately make the claim of existing.  The fall from grace, the first step of the Fool is just the first step in the Chain of Manifestation, but it’s still progress all the same.

The sphere of the fixed stars allows only rays of light that come from the sphere of the Prime Mover; these rays pass through the darkness of the Fool’s cliff and are filtered through the stars in constellations or particular regions of the sky, and appear to us down on Earth as starlight.  Without that filter to provide form, infinite possibility could never be whittled down to probable possibility.  It is this pure Light, filtered through the eighth sphere, that can take on shape or form or purpose later on based on its Idea above.  The fixed stars take on the influence and nature of the Light above it and pass it down into the world as the beginning of Creation.

The similarities between Kether and Chokmah, or the spheres of the Prime Mover and the fixed stars, with Yesod and Malkuth, or the spheres of the Moon and the Earth, now become apparent.  The Moon and Infinite Light both provide an imagined substance to be manifested in the realm beneath it; the Earth supplies a concrete, manifested form based on the imaged and astral form from the Moon, while the fixed stars supply a viable, manifesting Idea based on the unbound and divine Idea from the Source.  The difference between King and Kingdom lies in where and how things come to be.  Just as the fixed stars provide realization for an idea to manifest something at the beginning, Earth provides substance for form to manifest something at the end.  It’s this ability to turn undefined, vague things into clear(er), specific things that relates the fixed stars to the Earth.

At least, that’s my opinion for now.  Though much can be said of the stars and planets and elements in writing, especially in terms of theory and cosmology, working with magic is still a mystery: it requires working with and experience to really grok the whole shebang.  But I’ll go with Auriel’s guidance for now.

Getting Burnt by the Stars, part 4: Why, Daddy, Why?

Magic burns.  We’ve gone over that enough by now, I think; magic is difficult to do, and even more difficult to do properly.  There are lots of steps one can take (and should take and take and retake again regularly) to help manage the burn, you’re still going to get burnt.  And that’s okay, though it may not seem like it.  Besides, even though one can get burned pretty bad by making mistakes that are, in retrospect, pretty easy to avoid, there’s still going to be burning involved.  One might contrast these two kinds of burning as burning down and burning up, the difference between them being whether one is burning one’s resources for more burnable resources, or burning one’s resources for more rarefied, adamantine treasures.  I keep saying that doing magic and being burnt is worth it, but given the risks associated with it and how one can easily be burned down as one can be burned up, people might not be able to understand why doing magic is worth it.

In the Hermetic view of things, mankind was made in the image of God.  Quoth Hermes Trismegistus from the Divine Poemander:

But the Father of all things, the Mind being Life and Light, brought forth Man like unto himself, whom he loved as his proper Birth; for he was all beauteous, having the image of his Father.  For indeed God was exceedingly enamoured of his own form or shape, and delivered unto it all his own Workmanships. But he, seeing and understanding the Creation of the Workman in the whole, would needs also himself fall to work, and so was separated from the Father, being in the sphere of Generation or Operation.  Having all Power, he considered the Operations or Workmanships of the Seven; but they loved him, and everyone made him partaker of his own order.  And he learning diligently, and understanding their Essence, and partaking their Nature, resolved to pierce and break through the Circumference of the Circles, and to understand the power of him that sits upon the Fire.

This is the big guy up in the highest of all heavens, the Nous, the Great Mind, the Infinite and Almighty Divine Source of All Things, the One Thing, the First Father, but “God” is a convenient word to describe the dude.  In the beginning, God made mankind in his own image and form, which means that we took on pretty much all the qualities of our Father: we were created by the One who creates, so it’s literally in our blood and spirit to create as well.  Creation, then, is a holy and divine act, and when we create our children, our materials, our homes, our lives, our realities, we are ultimately performing a holy act, which can just as easily and conveniently be called “magic”.  Magic is, after all, causing a change in reality to conform to our will, and to cause something to happen is to create the event.

Anyway, so we have the ability to do magic from our divine source, and our license to do it is our birthright.  Once created, we left the nest from whence we were made to go create our own, and in the process encountered the Seven Spheres, other neighborhoods in our divine heavenly hometown; in exploring them, we found the seven planetary governors who happened to be real good friends with our father.  Since they like our father (being, you know, made and employed by him as well), they saw us as their little sibling and really worthy of pretty much everything they had, so they helped us learn how to operate in their own respective spheres and how to work with the things they work with.  Once we learned what we could from them, we said our goodbyes and headed onto the next stop, and so on and so on, and in the process kept learning more about ourselves as we learned more about the Source who created all this.  After all, if the Divine Almighty created all these spheres, then he’s a part of them too, which means we’re a part of them, which means we can work in and with them.

But then, we came across another neighborhood in the hometown:

And having already all power of mortal things, of the Living, and of the unreasonable creatures of the World, stooped down and peeped through the Harmony, and breaking through the strength of the Circles, so showed and made manifest the downward-born Nature, the fair and beautiful Shape or Form of God.  Which, when he saw, having in itself the unsatiable Beauty, and all the operations of the Seven Governors, and the Form or Shape of God, he smiled for love, as if he had seen the shape or likeness in the Water, or the shadow upon the Earth, of the fairest Human form.  And seeing in the Water a Shape, a Shape like unto himself, in himself he loved it, and would cohabit with it, and immediately upon the resolution ensued the operation, and brought forth the unreasonable Image or Shape.  Nature presently laying hold of what it so much loved, did wholly wrap herself about it, and they were mingled, for they loved one another.  And from this cause Man above all things that live upon earth is double: Mortal, because of his body, and Immortal, because of the substantial Man. For being immortal, and having power of all things, he yet suffers mortal things, and such as are subject to Fate or Destiny.  And therefore being above all Harmony, he is made and become a servant to Harmony, he is Hermaphrodite, or Male and Female, and watchful, he is governed by and subjected to a Father, that is both Male and Female, and watchful.

We ended up in the Sphere of the Earth, Malkuth, the Kingdom, the densest and most intriguing stop we’ve made so far in our celestial travels.  We finally saw a form of ourselves in our reflections here, and we thought it looked so cool that we ended up making a body for ourselves in this place which combines the essence of all the other places and spheres we’ve been to so far, and then some.   We ended up making our own body and started willfully inhabiting it, and since our body was made in our form and our form was made in the image of God, our body was also made in the image of God (though a little further removed).  Since everybody loves God, just as God loves everything, just so Nature herself (the power and force of the sphere of the Earth) fell in love with our bodies.  Nature then overwhelmed us in rapture, and we found ourselves in a beautiful love affair with Nature.  The thing is that, just like someone playing hooky from work to fool around all day at home, we ended up getting distracted and forgot about our duties, origins, and purpose in the cosmos.  We became so enamored by Earth that we became earthly instead of heavenly.

This itself isn’t a bad thing, but it does make things weird for us.  We ended up sticking around in our earthly bodies a little too long and forgot where we came from, what we’re capable of, and what we’re supposed to do.  We kept focusing and specializing with earthly, mundane things for so long that we forgot we knew anything else.  We lost sight of our childhood hopes and dreams and settled down in a place we shouldn’t settle down in at a time too early to settle down.  We became more animal than human.  And that’s not good for us.  However, we’ve been used to being here for so long that we’ve gotten comfortable being mundane and strictly material, when we’re really supposed to be more than that and, even if we choose to partake in mundane stuff, we’re not supposed to be utterly reliant on it.  And that’s where the pain of burning up comes in: in order to be heavenly, we have to get used to being heavenly again.  Since what lives up in the heavens are stars, we have to get used to being stars ourselves again.  Since stars are illustrious, powerful, and magnificent because of their burning, so too do we have to burn in order to shine like and outshine the stars themselves.

And that’s why getting burnt by the stars is a good thing, when done properly.  It’s like breaking an addiction: yes, we’re going to have to go through withdrawal, and yes, we may need an intervention or two along the way to make sure we’re on the right track and don’t relapse.  It’s going to suck, but the payoff is worth it, because it brings us back to our senses, it reminds us of who we are, and it helps us see what we can really do and accomplish.  It empowers us to do more spiritually with less materially, and in the process able to do more both spiritually and materially.  As creatures of the Creator, and as creators ourselves, it’s our job to create things that are better for us and the cosmos; this includes the creation of a more perfect, more splendid, and more kick-ass awesome physical reality, but it requires a knowledge of our heavenly, spiritual selves to do that.  In order to shine, we need to strip off the layers of dust and cruft that’ve accumulated long since before we were born; even though the initial polishing might be abrasive, the burnishing and blindingly bright effect will truly be a sight to behold.

Also, there’s a bunch more talk going on around the blogosphere this week about what the Great Work is and why we’re supposed to do it, which you might want to check out from Inominandum, Frater Rufus Opus (who keeps saying things), and Frater MC.  What I put above is my view, which is still in formation and is pretty by-the-book Hermeticism, but it ties in well with what I’m going through and what I’ve experienced, seen, heard, and read.

Getting Burnt by the Stars, part 3: Causes, Diagnosis, Prognosis, and Gnosis

Getting burnt by the stars, or by magic in general, is an inherent risk in working with magic.  That doesn’t mean nobody should do it; it’s risky like a gamble is risky, or construction is risky, or cooking is risky.  Magic is a profession, something one has to constantly apply themselves to and gain expertise in, making their work their Great Work.  It’s tricky, though, and there’s always more ground to cover; one’s life’s work lasts as long as their life does, after all, and no matter how thoroughly one may think they know something, there’s always something more.

One of the things I mentioned last time was that, once you have your foot in the gate of magic, you leave enough room for yourself to slip into the world of magic and for magic to slip into your own world.  Magic isn’t always a benevolent, cheerful, happy, peaceful thing; there are demons, malevolent forces, sociopathic trickster spirits, and powers inimical to the survival of humanity out there.  There are things that would love nothing more than to see everyone and everything you come in contact to burn, shrivel, rot, and crumble just for the hell of it.  That shit’s bad, and you need to watch yourself when you get anywhere near them or connected to them.  You need to erect defenses to keep that stuff out and keep yourself safe.  But even that’s not enough, because even the good forces out there can suck, too.  If only the universe were convenient enough to have such a plain dichotomy as to simply be “good stuff helps, bad stuff hurts” without any further nuance, then I wouldn’t be writing this post.  Then again, I’m writing this post, so there’s more to it. 

There’s this notion that anything terrestrial or chthonic is bad and anything celestial or heavenly is good.  Since this series of posts is about getting burnt by the stars, let’s focus on and refute the latter idea.  The more astral dirt you accrue by tracking it in from the higher spheres, or the more dust you bring in from inviting higher ups down into your house, the more confused and imbalanced things get down here and up there alike.  When you work in any plane higher (or lower) from our current one, we track in critters and particles of stardust that, frankly, don’t belong down here and cause more harm than help.  It’s like wandering around the world and returning home: the further out you go, the stranger dust you accrue back when you’re home again, the more potential you have to bring in bedbugs, unusual toxins or pollen, or contraband that could easily get you arrested.  These innocuous things, belonging properly to their home areas, don’t belong in your home.  You may get good use out of what you went abroad for, and may have learned a lot besides, but sometimes you don’t just leave tracks and take pictures.

In a similar manner, when you work among the stars, you’re working with the raw forces of creation itself, along with their attendant gods, angels, spirits, and armies.  While generally beneficial, their notion of celestial benefice is not often correlated with humane benefice.  They have their own concerns, cares, needs, and tasks to carry out that can just as easily correlate with human needs and concerns as it can cross them.  Going to those spheres, getting the forces you need, and learning about yourself from those spheres is good, but the more you work in a certain sphere or with a certain kind of spirit, the more like that sphere and the more like those spirits you and your own sphere become.  In moderation, as in everything else, this is a good thing, but no more.  And while you may think you know exactly what you’re taking, you may not exactly be careful with what you wish for, and get just a little more than you bargained for.  In small doses, the stardust and astral grime you accrue will wash off on its own, usually, but over time the dust accrues more and more and starts causing serious issues.

Say I want to work with the forces of Mercury more, so I do weekly invocations of the god Hermes, weekly conjurations of Raphael, wear orange, meditate on the symbols of Hod, and so forth.  Sure, I end up becoming more Mercurial, but there can be a point where it gets too much.  Sure, I think faster, but I end up thinking too much and become wrapped up in possibilities and what ifs more than practical considerations.  Sure, I’m more conversational with people, but I end up getting too inquisitive, talkative, and debate-oriented for people to comfortably deal with.  Sure, I can pick out more details and issues in things to better them, but I also become more hypercritical, micromanaging, and obnoxiously nearsighted with every plan I come across.  Sure, I can do more tricks of the hand and can start playing tricks on others, but I end up trying my hand at playful theft and get in major trouble for it at work.  Without a proper balance of forces, or without clearing out all the Mercurial dust that’s been accrued from overdoing the work, I end up becoming too Mercurial to a degree that I was never meant to be.

Another issue that comes from working amongst the stars is that they’re not always good.  There’s a notion in qabbalah of the qlippoth, the empty “shells” or “husks” of the sepiroth that show the negative polarities of their respective sepirah’s qualities, or conceal the true holiness of that sephirah as a distraction to lead people astray from their true paths.  It’s easy to flip from the Tree of Life to the Tree of Death, especially in Geburah (“Strength”) where strength without being tempered by mercy, justice, or magnanimity becomes mere destruction for its own sake.  Without balancing oneself on that fine ledge between too much of the good and falling over into the bad, one working amongst the stars will find themselves either burnt by falling into too much light or getting lost in the sphere without any light at all. 

Going back to the metaphor of working with the forces of Mercury, whose associated sephirah is Hod or “Splendor”, the qlippah or husk of Mercury is “Desolation”, as in fallen or failed creations in opposition to splendorous, complete ones.  Creations require complex, logical, and interdependent plans in order to succeed; plans that insist on independence from others, untested and bad theories, or without the proper planning or foresight are doomed to fail, no matter the amount of thinking that goes into it.  Splendor without effort becomes desolation, and the desolation of things that failed in the past hide the possibility of splendor of things as yet untried in the future.  Then again, dwelling too much in splendor keeps us at too high a level to deal with the day-to-day unsplendorous reality we actually live in.

Yet another cause of getting burnt by the stars is, well, they’re stars.  Stars are big, old, and powerful; they’re gods, or so close to gods that the distinction is superficial.  Stars and gods both are blindingly bright, scaldingly hot, and wholly dangerous.  Coming face-to-face with gods is a dangerous thing, because they don’t have or deal with human needs, frailty, or faults.  They’re gods, and they do what they want.  That said, they care for humanity, but being higher than us and immortal, they operate in completely different ways that, frankly, humanity doesn’t and can’t .  Bearing in mind that the whole point of the Great Work is to wholly rejoin the Divine as wholly divine ourselves, we’re still human with flesh and souls that can be burnt.  Coming face-to-face with a god is seen effectively as a death sentence, driving people mad in Lovecraftian stories or outright burning them up in the ancient Greek myths (cf. Zeus and Semele).  Gods revealing themselves in mundane form to mundane humans is okay, but when we go up to their level and see their true forms, we risk getting burnt due to the sheer power that we’re facing.  The more divine we become, the more of their real face we can stand to look at without burning, but until we reach that point, it’ll be a slow and gradual process of revelation.  Trying to skip ahead is deadly, like trying to bust into a mystery cult without going through the proper initiations.

Coming to know ourselves through magic, gnosis of the self, is our real goal here, but it turns out that the way to and through the stars is fraught with dangers.  There are four ways we can primarily get burnt: inadvertently tracking in excess effects from the star, intentionally overworking with a star, working misguidedly with a star, and coming too close to the star without the proper apotheosis.  Burning is essential to our growth, but it helps to learn how to triage the pain and deal with healing from it. How do we deal with these problems?  Respectively,

  1. Banish and cleanse.  When you go to work for something intensive, you go home and take a shower to refresh and keep yourself clean.  Just so, when you work with the stars, keep up a regular banishing practice for yourself, your working area, and your home.  You don’t have to banish immediately after every ritual, depending on the force in question, but you want to make sure you have all the forces and power you need and know about and no more.
  2. Moderate and ground.  Don’t overwork yourself, and don’t become addicted to any one force.  Throttle how much you work with a given force, and be sure to balance it out with other forces that work with it and direct that raw force elsewhere in your life.  Don’t forget to keep yourself grounded, because humans are meant to live in the sphere of Earth and not wholly in the sphere of something else.  Without grounding, we try to live like we’re part of another sphere down here, which hardly ever works well unless you really know how to handle the juice.
  3. Reflect and practice.  Once you bring your lessons and newfound power back to earth, be sure to figure out the best use for the things you’ve gained.  Going crazy over something just because you have the ability to do it doesn’t mean you should; just because people own guns doesn’t mean they should be using them to solve sales disputes in stores.  Recall why you needed that power and teaching in the first place, figure out the best uses for it, the ethics behind using it and when it’s proper and improper to do so.  Practice using the lessons and power you gained to prepare yourself for more, making sure you’re capable and responsible enough to use them before you attempt anything more dangerous to yourself or others.
  4. Pray and grow.  The only way to become divine enough to handle divinity in its pure, pristine, distilled form is to become divine ourselves.  That requires doing the entire rest of the Work, and aspiring to become divine ourselves through prayer, meditation, growing up as humans, and growing Up as gods.  Getting the help of the gods to bring us up to their level is something they’re often willing to do, but we need to have them allow us to do so first and go through the practice of actually building ourselves up first.

Working with the stars is a dangerous thing.  Still, it shouldn’t deter us from doing it, because the payoff is worth the risk.  The dangers inherent in working with the stars require a certain kind of fortitude, reflection, and maturity that grow with us over time, which help us deal with even more later on.  It’s often said that God doesn’t try us with what we can’t handle, but sometimes the price we pay for making a mistake is high just to teach us a lesson we won’t forget.  Being careful about what we step in, ensuring our steps are slow enough, watching our step in dangerous places, and being powerful enough to step up to Power Itself are things we need to be constantly vigilant of as magicians; messing up will result in getting burnt in one way or another, and triaging the burn afterwards is more painful than making sure we’re never burnt in the first place.  Magic is esoteric for a reason: it takes lots of practice to be competent enough to chat with the Divine Source itself, but it can be done.  It just takes Work, is all.