On Tattoos of Spiritual Artifices

Recently on the endless stream of half-formed thoughts that keeps me sane in the office, which is to say Twitter, I was approached by someone who likes my work and thinks highly of it.  While I take this as a humbling and honoring thing, I was troubled by this as well, since they asked if it was a bad idea to take the Table of Practice design I developed based on Fr. Rufus Opus’ coursework and use it as a tattoo on their body.

Table of Practice

I told them bluntly that, yes, this is indeed a bad idea.  Why?  Because the Table of Practice pattern is a combination of spiritual geometry and sacred names that is put together in such a way so as to contain and manifest spirits; this is the point of the diagram.  To have this on their body would mean that, wherever they go, they risk having spirits collect on their tattoo with or without their knowledge and, worse, to give those spirits form and place in the world without actively working with them or even attentively or intentionally calling upon them.  These things happen anyway, which is why regular cleansings and baths and banishings and the like are so necessary, but to trigger that even more than it happens on its own and in a more dangerous way is a terrible, awful, no-good idea.  Worse, the person in question wanted to use this for spiritual protection, which is not the point of this design at all!  It can be used for containment and isolation, sure, but it is not primarily intended for that, and has way too many side-effects that make this a poor choice for a protection tattoo.

Put simply, this person was coming from a place of ignorance, a place which I hope I was able to help them out from.  The occult world is full of arcane geometries, obscure patterns, and unusual shapes that many a graphical artist would love to get their hands on or take credit for.  Add to it, so much of this stuff is just so cool-looking (and if you’re one of the vast majority of people who get into the occult, you got into it because it looks so freaking awesome).  There’s a heavy and high danger in this, though, because if you merely work with this stuff because it looks cool, you often overlook how powerful and grave and serious this stuff is.  It’s easy to forget that these things that appear so simple are in and of themselves so dangerous; a simple stray mark, a vowel pronounced with the wrong intonation, the wrong type of pepper used in incense, or such minor differences could honestly and hugely change how something works.  Just because something looks simple and straightforward doesn’t mean that it can be used in a simple and straightforward manner.

This stuff is called the occult, and the word “occult” means “that which is hidden”.  This stuff is not always apparent but always needs to be studied and mulled over for it to make sense and for it to click.  Picking something up and running with it is a bold move, and can easily cross over into folly; without a firm understanding of what you’re doing and to what end, as well as the construction of the tools and designs and artifices you’re using, you could really hurt yourself or those around you.  This goes double for tattoos of spiritual designs and artifices, because you’re literally and permanently transforming your body into an occult tool or a container for occult forces and entities; you need to take extra care when getting a spiritual tattoo because you may be biting off far more than you can chew.

The Golden Chain of Homer

A while back, I was flipping through one of my books on symbols (Symbols: Encyclopedia of Western Signs and Ideograms by Carl G. Liungman, an essential reference for anyone who works with or has work involving symbols and signs).  Though it spans all kinds of graphical symbols, it has a pretty large index of alchemical and occult symbols, which pleases me to no end.  Towards the back, I found this rather interesting symbol:

Golden Chain of Homer

This is called the Catena Aurea Homeri, or the Golden Chain of Homer.  It comes from a Renaissance alchemical text of the same name, edited by Anton Josef Kirchweger.  The text is a simple, almost modern introduction to the processes of alchemy (the first part can be found online), the intent of which is to produce the Quintessence:

From the sky it comes,
To the sky it rises,
and down to Earth it must come again,
eternally changing.

The Golden Chain of Homer is a symbolic representation of the process to make Quintessnce, also called the Philsopher’s Stone, or the completion of the Great Work (alchemical, theurgical, or otherwise, it’s all the same in the end).  In other words, it provides a From the top of the Chain to the bottom,

  1. A cross over a circle combined, set over a circle with a point in it.  The cross over a circle is the traditional symbol for Earth (as is the quartered circle), representing the precedence of matter (cross) over spirit (circle).  This is placed over the symbol for the Sun, the source of all light and Light, the representative of God in the planets.  Matter takes place over God, a confusion of process and manifestation.  Chaos.
  2. A circle with a line connecting its top vertex to its center.  The line represents the active, divine spirit descending from God into matter, but the process is incomplete.  Vital essence without a basis, pure Mercury.  Spiritual form needing though yet without body.
  3. A circle with a line passing through its vertical diameter.  The process of spirit has completed penetrating matter.  This is also the alchemical symbol for niter, also called nitrogen in modern chemistry, an essential vital substance that descends in the air from spirit.  This is spirit that has a body.  The masculine essence, light, the Logos, the active agent, also called Sulfur.
  4. A circle with a line passing through its horizontal diameter.  Spirit, having fully penetrated matter, now starts to become penetrated by matter. This symbol is also the alchemical symbol for salt, the essence of stability and solidity, the pure matter used in alchemical processes.  The female essence, darkness, the Anima Mundi, the passive agent.
  5. A quartered circle, also called the Sun Cross or Sun Wheel.  Matter has become totally permeated by spirit, and spirit by matter.  Niter and salt united.  Life in its totality and the union of material and spiritual forces.  Mankind.  The primary substance of all things that are manifested.  The prime material that can be worked in any direction for any purpose, the basis for Azoth.
  6. A circle with a line passing through its horizontal diameter and a line from its top vertex to its center.  Life, having become the complete union of matter and spirit, of salt and niter, now begins retracting itself from matter in its entirety.  The animal world that mankind separates himself from and rises above.  Volatile forces.
  7. A circle with a line passing through its horizontal diameter and a vertical line passing through the horizontal line not connected to the outer circle.  The rise of mankind to higher states of spirituality, not grounded by matter though still a part of it.  The plant world that mankind separates himself though makes use of.
  8. A circle with a line passing through its horizontal diameter and a line from its bottom vertex to its center.  The attainment of the Great Work, or of eternal life, by mankind, allowing himself to abide within the world of matter though not being a part of it anymore.  Freedom from material darkness.  The mineral world that mankind separates himself though rests upon.
  9. A circle with a line from its bottom vertex to its center.  Mankind begins the process of returning to his primordial state and reunion with God, retracting himself from the world of matter entirely, leaving behind the spheres of manifestation to return to the divine Source.  Pure spiritual essence, broken down into its most basic state, extracted from chaos.  Spiritual form without need for a body.
  10. A circle with a point in it, set over a cross under a circle combined.  This represents God (Sun, circle with central point) set over matter (circle and cross, but inverted to show Venus); matter has become completely at peace and subject to the rule of spirit, a state of divine love between Above and Below.  The return of mankind to God, the conjunction and reunion with the divine Source, the goal of the wise, the Quintessence, the Stone of the Philosophers.

Elements of Alchemy

Why am I talking about this out of nowhere?  Besides being an interesting alternative explanation of the Great Work from an alchemical perspective, almost like a chemical version of the Tree of Life, well…

Tattooing the Golden Chain of Homer

Okay, what they say about getting tattoos, “you can’t get just one”, is kinda true.  I started off with my caduceus and asclepian, and then due to timing I figured I may as well get this symbol engraved on my mortal coil.  My method of getting tattoos is that, as befits my Libran nature, I need to have balance: asymmetry here won’t cut it, so if I get a tattoo, it either needs to be centered (on the body’s midline) or balanced with something on the other side (caduceus on the left arm, asclepian on the right arm).  So, getting a large spine tattoo works pretty well for me.  That said, it hurt like a bitch; spine tattoos are notorious for being among the most painful, and the lower the tattoo went, the more painful it got.  It was actually more painful just off to the side of the spine than on the spine directly, but all the same, ouch.  (I don’t know why anyone would ever get a tramp stamp.)  Still, the tattoo was charged enough given my concentration and pain-focusing on it, which turned out really nicely.

Speaking of magic, I actually had a bit of help from the spirits for this.  The artist at Wild Style who tattooed the caduceus and asclepian on my arms had left, so I got a much more experienced tattoo artist with better machinery.  He had traced on the design from a stencil, and while I was lying on the bed waiting for him to finish preparing, I make a call out to my elemental and planetary allies to help me out with the impending pain and ordeal.  Out of nowhere, I get really anxious, uncommonly strong even for me, and just before he starts to turn on the tattoo gun, I get up and take a close look at the trace of the design on my back.  Turns out they had accidentally used the bottom half of the Chain for the top half (so that the chain went in stages 10-9-8-7-6-5-5-6-7-8-9-10 instead of the proper 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10), which I immediately pointed out and had them retrace it.  It was an honest mistake on their part, and they didn’t catch that the chain wasn’t just a reflection.  But at least it was caught, and I wasn’t nearly as anxious after that.  Props to my spirit friends for making me check the design out again before it was made permanent; I burned a tableful of candles the next day to all the spheres and spirits I work with as thanks.

Still, the tattoo hurt.  Even though I was in experienced hands (Tony Scientific, awesome dude) with a new tattoo gun that was both faster and less painful than older guns, it was still two hours in one sitting.  I think this will be my last tattoo for a while, once it finishes healing and gets touched up next month.  All told, though, the design turned out pretty damn good, and I’m very pleased with it.  As a dedication of myself to the Great Work and to the completion of the cosmos that I’m working towards, I don’t think this could get much better.  (Also enjoy one of the few nearly-naked vanity shots I’ll ever willfully post on the Interwebs.)

Golden Chain of Homer Tattoo

They call me “Ol’ Snake-arms”

I like to consider myself a fairly responsible young male adult (whatever the fuck that means), generally speaking.  I mean, I graduated high school with top marks, went to a good university for computer science and engineering, got a respectable job with the federal government, and am progressing slowly in my quest for cosmic apotheosis and power.  I make a car payment and have finished paying the vast bulk of my nontrivial college loans in two years, and am generally doing well in the world.  Life is good, dear readers.

Of course, because I’ve been such a good student, son, colleague, and laborer, I’m taking a few more liberties with my life than I have before.  For instance, I got my first piercings (all three of them on my ears) about eleven months ago in late January last year, and got my first tattoo back in October.  Well, the thing about me is that I like balance, so I couldn’t just have the one tattoo on just my left arm, so I went ahead and got a second tattoo in a similar style done on my right.  A few weekends ago in November, I got the rod of the healer god Asclepius, the asclepian, on my right.

The caduceus (left forearm, two snakes with wings) is the wand of Hermes, and has its origins in the staves used by heralds in ancient Greece.  Mythologically, Hermes was given a golden wand as a magic implement and cowherding crook by Apollo as a symbol of their friendship, but was later merged with the symbol for heralds which was a staff with white ribbons tied on it.  Over time, the ribbons became snakes, wings were added to show Hermes’ divine nature, and the symbol eventually became the astronomical/astrological glyph for the planet Mercury.  The symbol generally refers to commerce, deception, trickery, language, trade, travel, and magic.

The asclepian (right forearm, one snake) is the staff of Asclepius, though its origins are debated.  Asclepius was the founder of medicine in Greek mythology, a son of Apollo, and had such skill that he was able to even revive the dead; since this was against the natural order of things, Zeus had him killed, but established him as the constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, placed near Libra and Scorpio.  A special breed of non-poisonous snake associated with the god and was used in healing rituals, and also were allowed to live and breed in temples to Asclepius.  A related symbol is the nechushtan from Hebrew mythology, the bronzed serpent on a staff that Moses made at the Lord’s direction to heal the Israelites from poison while walking in the desert.

I wanted the tattoos to have a kind of art nouveau, art deco, hieroglyphic look, with the caduceus looking more arcane or stylized and the asclepian more natural and earthy.  The two were always designed as a pair, the caduceus on the left forearm and the aslcepian on the right, and were designed by one of my college friends.  The only modifications I really made to the designs were the size of them so that they’d fit proportionally, but the sun disk (dotted circle with hexagram) on the asclepian was a last-minute change I added myself to the design, since the asclepian looked a little off without it.  The sun disk more closely associates the symbol with the sphere of the Sun, since Apollo is the father of Asclepius, and gives the staff a more ethereal look that I can dig.

In healing the tattoos, I used two balms I made from beeswax, olive oil, and miscellaneous herbs.  I used herbs associated with Mercury for the caduceus, and herbs associated with the Sun for the asclepian.  I rubbed the balms into the tattoo as it was healing (after the initial peeling phase finished) while reciting the Orphic hymns to Hermes and Asclepius, respectively, and holding my planetary talismans of Mercury and the Sun.  I had them introduced to the angels governing those spheres and the gods associated with the symbols, as well, and both Hermes and Asclepius were highly pleased with the work.  They’ve both left a good imprint on my aura and astral self, which I’m totally okay with.  The caduceus has already been gone over once, and shouldn’t need touching up again for a good few years; I’m headed back to Wild Style in a few weeks to get the asclepian touched up, and maybe get something else done (another tattoo? another piercing?).

Also, it’s annoyingly common for people to mix up the two symbols: the asclepian is the proper symbol of medicine, seen on many ambulances, hospitals, and professional health organization logos, though the caduceus is also seen on many commercial health logos and healthcare products.  The caduceus is also used for American military medics, which is more a symbol of their speed of service than the kind of service they do.  Having these tattoos on my forearms is kinda helpful for correcting people; whenever people get them mixed up, I can now clothesline them with the proper arm.