A Fishy Story to Tell

Eh, sure, why not, let’s write a bit of Hermetic prose fiction as a morality fable, shall we?  It’s been a bit since my last such bit, after all.

So, one of the people I engage with a lot about Hermeticism is known to me on the Hermetic House of Life Discord server as well as the /r/Hermeticism subdreddit as “Sigismundo Celine” (whom I affectionately refer to as just “Sigis”).  Not too far back, with the help of a few other HHoL colleagues, he launched the Way of Hermes website as an online class that teaches about the doctrines and practices of classical Hermeticism, as well as his own blog (which replaced his earlier “Wisdom of the Son of the Circle” website).  Every now and then, he’ll share a new post on it, some of which gets some neat discussions started on the Discord server or on the subreddit.

A bit ago, he shared a new post, The Story of Tat and Ammon, a little bit of fiction that serves as a moral instruction, featuring a few characters we know and love from the Hermetica.  It’s a neat story, and I encourage you all to check it out.  Of course, being the critic I am, I offered a few thoughts and questions to it of my own in the subreddit discussion Sigis made for it.  Some of the issues I raised were more about literary criticism than anything else (I felt that some parts of the story were disjointed or didn’t follow from one idea to another), other issues about showing the proper respect to the dramatis personae in question (since, even if they’re depicted in the Hermetica as humans, we should still bear them in mind as highly revered “heroes” of a sort, if not the gods they were considered as in Greco-Egyptian culture in Hellenistic times), and other issues about keeping such a story in line with the (admittedly scant) lore we have involving Tat, Ammōn, and the rest from the extant Hermetic texts (e.g. who’s a student of whom).

Despite my criticisms and critiques, I appreciate what Sigis is trying to do here. In his own words:

If we want to breath life into the old hermetic texts and make hermetic spirituality a vibrant tradition, we should not be afraid to experiment a little and expand on the “old stuff”. Have fun with it. Our interaction with the texts need not only to be to analyze and scrutinize them. Yes, that is important, but there is more we can do.

Part of what makes a living tradition come to life is that people engage with it as something living: as one saying goes, “tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire”.  Even so, as we tend to such a flame, we should still take care and be skillful about how we go about tending to that flame, so that we might not accidentally put it out or let other things catch on fire in the process.  There are lots of ways for us to engage with a living tradition, but it while we do the work of being handed something that we might hand it down again, we should keep the thing being handed down intact and in at least as good a condition as we received it (if not better).  Part of what makes “the Hermetic tradition” Hermetic, after all, is that they didn’t seek to make new things for the sake of newness, but rather to build on older work and expand it in a way that fleshes it out and continues that work.  It can be a fine line to walk between making something informed by tradition and merely making something derivative of it, after all!  And yet, I’d still rather even that latter if it means someone else can encounter this stuff in a way that they hadn’t before, if at all.  As Sigis says, “there is more we can do”.

To that end, Sigis challenged me to “try to add something new” to all this Hermeticism stuff.  I would have thought that all my commentary, exegeses, analyses, and frameworks over the years that build upon the Hermetica to flesh it out and build it up would have qualified, but Sigis specifically dared me to be a little more creative and inspirational and a little less academic and analytical.  Now, I’m not often one to teach children, and so I’m not often one to use fables or stories as instructional tools outside of brief metaphors to illustrate a point; I find there to be plenty to talk about and learn from in more direct ways that engage with our higher mental functions that don’t need to focus on mere moral guidance for people.  But hey, it has been a while since I’ve done much creative writing, so why not?  After all, it’s no good for a hobby-reader to only read nonfiction, and I have been getting more into the fantasy novels I love again with my recent Christmas gift of an e-reader, so let’s give it a shot.

Taking into account my own criticisms and critiques, I decided to try my own hand at the vignette Sigis wrote as a story prompt.  Maybe I might get around to writing other stories, if ever the mood strikes me to distract me from the other work I do, but if I were to go about envisioning how a young and haughty Ammōn became a student of Hermēs Trismegistos because of a chance meeting with Tat while fishing…

Once upon a time and once upon an era, there was (and there wasn’t) a bustling city in the middle of Egypt on the banks of the Nile River. In that city, amongst the many households there, there lived two fathers, each of whom had a son. One father was a pious and humble scribe, a devotee of the mysteries of Thōth, and someone who loved his son dearly and as much as he did the gods. The other father was a wealthy and proud merchant who didn’t much care for the gods at all—or for his own son, for that matter, beyond what coin he could bring him in the market. Each of these boys learned much from their respective fathers, both in terms of profession as well as way of life.

One morning, as the Sun began its climb above the eastern horizon, both of the boys each decided to go to the banks of the Nile to fish. The scribe’s son just wanted a fish or two to feed himself and his father for dinner that night, while the merchant’s son wanted to catch as much fish as he could as a game and maybe to sell with his father to increase their already massive wealth. The scribe’s son, upon approaching the river, made a quiet prayer to Sobek for luck and safety with catching fish, while the merchant’s son loudly pushed right past him mid-prayer and set himself down unceremoniously on the riverbank. Both sons started fishing, and by the time the Sun started to sink towards the western horizon, the scribe’s son had only just caught one very small fish that he quickly put in a bucket of water for the way home, while the merchant’s son caught a whole pile over the course of the day that he threw into a dry basket, some of which were already starting to die and rot.

Not paying attention to the smell coming from his basket, the merchant’s son saw the meager catch in the bucket of the scribe’s son, and mocked him for his lack of skill with fishing—”look at how much better my catch was than yours!”—and for his wasted faith in the gods—”I didn’t bother praying, and yet I got so much more fish!”. The scribe’s son merely shrugged and gave thanks to the gods and to the Nile for what he had all the same, and that at least he and his father would have something to eat; he looked silently at the massive pile of dying fish of the merchant’s son, he felt bad for the bounty of the river that was already going to waste. The scribe’s son couldn’t hide the sudden rumble of his belly, though, at which the merchant’s son gave a smug smirk, carelessly picked up all his fish, and turned away. Both sons went on their ways back home to their fathers, ate according to their custom, then went to bed.

Unbeknownst to the boys, a spirit that lived in the waters of the Nile was watching them that day, and took careful note of their actions and behaviors towards the river and each other.  Having seen enough from both to know where each was headed in life, the spirit rose up from their own bed and visited both of the sons in their dreams.  To the scribe’s son, the spirit appeared with a kind smile, surrounded by a fresh mist, and with beauty glowing in their eyes.  They said:

Peace upon you! Look at you, hungry from toil, but so eager for knowledge and reverence, too. You eat from the hand of your blessed father who works in a noble profession and who follows a divine path, and this path will be your salvation. If you stay on your current path, you will be taken care of in body and soul forevermore! If you leave this path to follow another, you will lose everything and yourself. Remain with your father, do not take another father as your own, and you will continue on your path to the House of Life and the boundless realm of Light that awaits you after you reach the end. Heed my warning, and do good henceforth!

However, to the merchant’s son, the spirit appeared with bared teeth, dripping with a rancid stench, and fire burning in their eyes.  They said:

Shame upon you! Look at you, fat with wealth, and so full of yourself in every way. You eat from the hand of your wicked father who works in a miserable profession and who follows a cursed path, and this path will be your destruction. If you stay on your current path, you will be forsaken in body and soul forevermore! If you leave this path to follow another, you will gain everything and yourself. Leave your father, take the father of the boy you scorned as your own, and you will begin on your path to the House of Life and the boundless realm of Light that will await you after you reach the end. Heed my warning, and do good henceforth!

The next morning, each son arose from his bed, their dreams fresh in their minds. While the scribe’s son happily began his usual routine under his father’s watchful care, the merchant’s son frantically packed up all his belongings—the bare necessaries in a small sack and everything else of value in two large bags—and left his father’s house with nary a glance from his father. Running to the local temple, he donated everything in one large bag, and then went immediately to the scribe’s house, begged forgiveness from the son for his behavior from the prior day, and presented everything in the other large bag as a gift to the scribe’s household with a plea to join it as the scribe’s adopted son. The scribe praised Thōth and the gods for a new son to join his house that day and to learn the way he could teach, and he took the merchant’s son in as his own. From that day forth, the two boys were as brothers, and the scribe was a loving father to both of them. The merchant’s son left his haughty and godless life to live a humble and pious one in the way of Thōth and the gods instead.  Never again would he let the bounty of the world around him go to waste, make light of another’s plight or work, or let his pride or greed dominate him and his actions.  As he gave up his distracting belongings of this world in two ways, he likewise sacrificed his emotional drive and physical desire to serve for a better and higher end; true to the Nile spirit’s warning, he left the cursed path that he started on and joined his new brother on the divine path that leads all who take it to true Goodness.

In time, that scribe who took him in would become a great teacher, not merely of the sacred art of writing but also of divine mysteries, and would become known to all people through his teachings as “Hermēs Trismegistos”. His natural son, Tat, would likewise follow in his father’s path as an initiate and a mystagogue.  His adopted son, Ammōn, would not only become an initiate of these mysteries to learn all that he could from Hermēs and the rest of his sons and students, but would also go on to become a just and noble king of the land, encouraging all others to follow just and noble ways of life.  After his life ran its course, Ammōn was revered with the dignity of a god that even the Nile itself would smile upon.

They all lived well, and because of them, may we all live well, too!

Hermetic Prayers to the Aiōn

Lately, I’ve been going back through some of my texts digging for more information on Hellenic and classical Mediterranean prayers to the One, sometimes known as Aiōn, the God of gods, ineffable and indescribable except by what we can see in our material and sensible world.  The Aiōn is not quite an elusive figure, since we see the same name pop up in the sense of both “eternity” as well as a deity of unbounded time and space, in distinction to Khronos, the god of limited and experienced time.  Aiōn was a notable figure in several mystery religions of the time, including Orphism and Mithraism, and even appears in some Pythagorean texts (or so I read).

One of the books I sometimes go to is G.R.S. Mead’s Hymns of Hermes, a cute little book that gives several hymns and prayers that Hermes Trismegistus gives in several Hermetic texts, such as the Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth as well as the Divine Poemander.  These forms of the prayers are not original, of course; Mead had a habit of very fancifully rewriting the prayers into a sort of modern English in the style of biblical prayers.  I can’t blame him; the book is from the early twentieth century, when many occult texts were being published widely for the first time and with a penchant for Egyptian exoticism and mysterious woogity.  That said, the book is a good one for picking out some “authentic” Hermetic prayers, and some even occur in the Nag Hammadi Scriptures, which lends it some credence towards this.

One such prayer, though, didn’t quite fit into the set of the others.  Mead described a prayer that was written in such a style as to easily fit quite into the Hermetic paradigm, and found in that most-beloved of texts, the PGM.  In comparing Mead’s version and that present in Betz’ version of the PGM (specifically PGM IV.1115), I noticed that Mead does away with the barbarous words scattered throughout the prayer and rephrases things in a way I find too fanciful.  I took the liberty of transcribing the prayer from the PGM with a few emendations of my own, but nothing as extreme as that of Mead, and reincluded the barbarous words.  It’s a fascinating prayer, and definitely one that deserves my attention:

Hail, whole cosmos of the aerial Spirit, ΦΩΓΑΛΩΑ
Hail, Spirit who extends from heaven unto earth, ΕΡΔΗΝΕΥ
Hail, Spirit who extends from earth which is in the middle of the cosmos unto the ends of the abyss, ΜΕΡΕΜΩΓΓΑ
Hail, Spirit who enters into me, convulses me, and leaves me kindly according to the will of God, ΙΩΗ ΖΑΝΩΦΙΕ

Hail, beginning and end of nature that cannot be moved, ΔΩΡΥΓΛΑΟΦΩΝ
Hail, revolution of untiring service by heavenly bodies, ΡΩΓΥΕΥ ΑΝΑΜΙ ΠΕΛΗΓΕΩΝ ΑΔΑΡΑ ΕΙΩΦ
Hail, radiance of the cosmos subordinate to the rays of the Sun, ΙΕΟ ΥΗΩ ΙΑΗ ΑΙ ΗΩΥ ΟΕΙ
Hail, orb of the night-illuminating, unequally shining Moon, ΑΙΩ ΡΗΜΑ ΡΩΔΟΥΩΠΙΑ
Hail, all spirits of the aerial images, ΡΩΜΙΔΟΥΗ ΑΓΑΝΑΣΟΥ ΩΘΑΥΑ

Hail to those whom the greeting is given with blessing, to brothers and sisters, to holy men and holy women!

O great, greatest, round, incomprehensible figure of the cosmos,
of heaven ΕΝΡΩΧΕΣΥΗΛ
in heaven ΠΕΛΗΘΕΥ
of the ether ΙΩΓΑΡΑΑ
in the ether ΘΩΠΥΛΕΟ ΔΑΡΔΥ
of water ΙΩΗΔΕΣ
of earth ΠΕΡΗΦΙΑ
of fire ΑΦΘΑΛΥΑ
of air ΙΩΙΕ ΗΩ ΑΥΑ
of light ΑΛΑΠΙΕ
of darkness ΙΕΨΕΡΙΑ
shining with celestial light ΑΔΑΜΑΛΩΡ
moist, dry, hot, and cold Spirit!

I glorify you, God of gods,
the one who brought order to the cosmos, ΑΡΕΩ ΠΙΕΥΑ
the one who gathered together the abyss at the invisible foundation of its position, ΠΕΡΩ ΜΥΣΗΛ Ο ΠΕΝΤΩΝΑΞ
the one who separated heaven and earth and covered the heaven with eternal, golden wings ΡΩΔΗΡΥ ΟΥΩΑ
the one who fixed the earth on eternal foundations ΑΛΗΙΟΩΑ
the one who hung up the ether high above the earth ΑΙΕ ΩΗ ΙΟΥΑ
the one who scattered the air with self-moving breezes ΩΙΕ ΟΥΩ
the one who put the water roundabout ΩΡΗΠΗΛΥΑ
the one who raises up hurricanes ΩΡΙΣΘΑΥΑ
the one who thunders ΘΕΦΙΧΥΩΝΗΛ
the one who hurls lightning ΟΥΡΗΝΕΣ
the one who rains ΟΣΙΩΡΝΙ ΦΕΥΓΑΛΓΑ
the one who shakes ΠΕΡΑΤΩΝΗΛ
the one who produces living creatures ΑΡΗΣΙΓΥΛΩΑ
the God of the Aiōns!

You are great, Lord, God, Ruler of the All!

This section in the PGM is only described as a “hidden stele” or “secret tablet”, without instructions on how to use it or a purpose other than it seems to be an adoration of Aiōn.  I’m okay with that, since it’s general enough to be put to many ends, and the use of the barbarous words can offer a meditative aspect to it, intoning the name and linking it to the aspect listed for each name.  While many of the attributes ascribed to Aiōn make sense, some are a little unclear.  In Platonic thought, it was thought that the One was a perfect being of perfect shape and form, and to Plato, the most perfect shape was the sphere, hence the description of Aiōn as “greatest, round, incomprehensible figure of the cosmos”.  Personally, I get a huge kick out of working with this prayer, and the names are something I want to revisit later in a more mystical or capital-P Powerful way; I make use of this prayer before any serious working nowadays, especially as a preface to the Headless Rite.

In the PGM, the prayer is followed by yet another stele (PGM IV.1167), this time with the purpose that it is “useful for all things; it even delivers from death”, with the ominous warning that one is to “not investigate what is in it”.  This prayer, too, is addressed to Aiōn, but appears to be more of a protective incantation than mere adoration.  It’s not given in Mead’s book, but it’s useful all the same, as I reckon it.  Presented is the prayer below, again with my minor emendations:

I praise you, the one and blessed of the eons and father of the world, with cosmic prayers.
Come to me, you who filled the whole cosmos with air, who hung up the fire from the heavenly water and separated the earth from the water.

Pay attention, Form, Spirit, Earth and Sea, to the words of the wise who know divine Necessity.
Accept my words as arrows of fire, because I am Man, the most beautiful creature of the God in Heaven, made out of spirit, dew, and earth.

Open, o Heaven; accept my words!
Listen, Helios, Father of the World!
I call upon you with your great name, you, the only one having the original element:

You are the holy and powerful name considered sacred by all the angels.
Protect me, N., from every excess of power and from every violent act.
Yea, do this, Lord, God of gods:
O Creator of the world, Creator of the cosmos, Lord, God of Gods:

I have spoken of your unsurpassable glory, you who created gods, archangels, and decans.
The ten thousands of angels stood by you and exalted the heaven, and the lord witnessed to your Wisdom which is Aiōn:
and said that you are as strong as he is.

I invoke your hundred-lettered name, which extends from the sky to the depth of the earth!
Save me, for you are always ever rejoicing in saving those who are yours!

I call upon you, the one on the gold leaf, before whom the unquenchable lamp continually burns, the great God, the one who shone on the whole world, who is radiant at Jerusalem, Lord!
I call upon you for your blessing, Lord!

Betz says that “this protective prayer presumes a section describing a gold lamella to be worn as a phylactery”, which “contained the hundred-letter name of the god and was worn as a protection against ‘every excess of power’ and the ‘very violent act'” mentioned in the prayer.  The notion of a name being 100 letters would’ve been important, and the final stanza of the prayer does say “the one on the gold leaf”, so it’s possible that such an instruction to the prayer might be omitted.  What’s interesting is that the two last strings of barbarous words are marked in the PGM as both having 100 letters each, though the final string only has 99 letters in it; the first string has 149, the second 108, and the third has 19, for comparison.  The style of the barbarous words is much more Egyptian in nature, and bears some in common with those found in the Headless Rite.  What’s even odder about this prayer is that it’s the only place in the PGM, according to Betz, is that Sophia (Wisdom) is identified with Aiōn.  This is an unusual thought, whether in Gnostic, Christianity, or other mystery traditions.  Further, despite the Egyptian Gnostic feel of the prayer, it even references the Jewish miracle of the undying light of the menorah in the Temple of Jerusalem, from whence the festival of Hanukkah comes.  Between the Jewish, Gnostic, and Egyptian influence (especially due to the reference to decans alongside angels), this latter prayer is a prime example of how syncretic and elastic Hermetic magicians could be in the old days.

Of course, not all the prayers that Mead lists were pared down so much.  One prayer that took me a bit of finding is one that Hermes Trismegistus taught to his son Tat, which Mead calls “the secret hymnody”, which is pretty much what it is, for it is “not taught but hid in silence”.  Hermes introduces it as an initiation, as it were, to Tat in Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum, titled the Secret Discourse on the Mountain.  This book focuses on the nature of rebirth, but also emphasizes the truth that only silence can tell (much as in the same way of the Hymns of Silence Hermes describes in the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth).  After some persuading, Hermes instructs Tat to recite it outside and bow down in adoration facing the south at the setting of the sun, and again at the rising of the sun facing to the east:

Let every creature in the cosmos give ear to this hymn.
Open, Earth!  Let every lock that holds the rains open to me!  Shake not, trees!
I am about to praise the Lord of Creation, the All and the One.
Open, heavens!  Winds, be still!
Let God’s immortal sphere receive my song.

For I am about to sing praise to the Creator of All,
who fixed the earth,
who suspended the heavens,
who parted fresh water from the ocean in lands inhabited and in the wild for the creation and sustenance of all mankind,
who ordained that fire shine for every use of gods and men.
Let us give praise to Him above the heavens, the founder of all nature.
He is the eye of Nous.
May He receive the praise of every power within me.

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

Thus cry the powers within me.
They praise the All, they accomplish your will which comes forth from you and returns to you, being the All.
Receive an offering of speech from all beings.
O Life, preserve the All within us.
O Light, illuminate the All.
O God, inspire the All.
For Nous guides your Word, O spirit-bearer, o Creator of the world.
You are God.

All this your man proclaims through fire, air, earth, water; through spirit, through your creatures.
From you I have discovered eternity’s song of praise and in your will I have found the rest I seek.
By your will, I have witnessed this praise being sung.

To which Tat adds, with Hermes’ corrections and exhortation to use caution with his words:

To you, God, first author of generation, I, N., send these offerings of speech.  God, you are the Father, you are Lord, you are Nous, receive these words of mine as you will.  For by your will all things are accomplished through the Word.

This final prayer, though without barbarous words or names of power, is important in the Hermetic tradition since it represents a type of Hermetic initiation.  Once Tat, the most intuitive and spiritual of Hermes’ sons including the intellectual Asclepius and technical Ammon, is initiated properly into the seven spheres of the planets, he is finally able to join the eighth sphere, that of the fixed stars, that of Silence, and begin further work into direct realization of gnosis.  It’s only with the initiation, however, that Tat receives in properly communicating in the manner of this sphere that allows him to do this, as well as the similar initiation that Hermes gives in his Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth:

I call upon you,
who rules over the kingdom of power,
whose word is an offspring of light,
whose words are immortal, eternal, immutable,
whose will produces life for forms everywhere,
whose nature gives form to substance,
by whom souls, powers, and angels are moved,
whose word reaches all who exist,
whose providence reaches all who exist,
who produces everyone,
who has divided the eternal realm among spirits,
who has created everything,
who, being Self within Self, supports everything,
to whom one speaks in silence, being perfect, the invisible God,
whose image is moved when it is managed, and it is so managed,
who is exalted above majesty, mighty one in power,
who is superior to those honored!


Lord, grant us wisdom from your power that reaches us that we may relate to ourselves the vision of the Eighth and the Ninth.
Already we have advanced to the Seventh since we are faithful and abide in your law.
Your will we fulfill always.
We have walked in your ways and have renounced evil so your vision may come.
Lord, grant us truth in the image!
Grant that through your spirit we may see the form of the image that lacks nothing and accept the reflection of the Fullness from us through  our praise.

Recognize the spirit within us,
for from you the cosmos received soul,
for from you, the one unbegotten, the begotten came to be.
The birth of the self-begotten is through you, the birth of all begotten things that exist.
Accept these spiritual offerings from us which we direct to you with all our heart, soul, and strength.
Save what is within us and grant us immortal wisdom.

Then, after Hermes once more coaches Tat on how to hymn in silence and the two ecstatically praise God, Tat continues the hymn:

I shall offer up the praise in my heart as I invoke the end of the cosmos, and the beginning of the beginning, the goal of the human quest, the immortal discovery, the producer of light and truth, the sower of reason, the love of immortal life.  No hidden word can speak of you, Lord.  My mind wants to sing a hymn to you every day.  I am the instrument of your Spirit; Mind is your plectrum, and your guidance makes music with me.  I see myself!  I have received power from you, for your love has reached us.

O Grace!  After this, I thank you by singing a hymn to you.  You gave me life when you made me wise.  I praise you.  I invoke your name hidden in me!


You exist with spirit.
I sing to you with godliness.

The series of vowels given in these prayers are evidence of ecstatic glossolalia, but their varied nature indicates a collected power from their previous initiations with the seven planetary spheres, given the relationship of the seven Greek vowels to the seven planets.  Hermes concludes this discourse not with instructions of practice but with instructions to preserve the lesson he gave Tat through a detailed list of directions to engrave the prayer and discourse on turquoise steles, to be done when the planet Mercury is at 15° Virgo, the Sun is in the first half of the day.  The final set of instructions seems odd, I admit, but it attests to the holiness and permanence of the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, as many prayers to the Aiōn are throughout Mediterranean spirituality.