Pole Lords and Northern Stars: The Seven Pairs of Divinities from the Mithras Liturgy

Okay, let’s continue.  In the last post, we introduced a funny thing from PGM XIII, the Eighth and Tenth Hidden Books of Moses that I’ve brought up before on this blog now and again.  This thing is the notion of Rulers of the Pole, a type of planetary rulership of a given day that doesn’t follow the normal weekday rulership we’re accustomed to.  There’s not a lot in PGM XIII that describes their use, but similar language is present throughout the PGM when we talk about things involving the Bear-related spells, i.e. the rituals and incantations associated with the northern constellations of Ursa Maior and Ursa Minor, which generally have lunar or Artemisian-type qualities.

This is all well and good, but it’s not really helping us with the whole Pole Ruler thing except giving us interesting detours, especially with the whole serpent thing; serpents are mentioned already in the doxology and cosmogony in the PGM XIII texts and don’t have a relationship to what we’re investigating here.  However, while I was looking through the PGM for other references to serpents and dragons, of course I’d also stumble upon the Mithras Liturgy, PGM IV.475—829.  There’s one particular section in it that definitely caught my eye, lines 264ff:

There also come forth another seven gods, who have the faces of black bulls, in linen loincloths, and in possession of seven golden diadems.  They are the so-called Pole Lords of Heaven, whom you must greet in the same manner, each of them with his own name:

“Hail, of guardiants of the Pivot, o sacred and brave youths, who turn at one command the revolving axis of the Vault of Heaven, who send out thunder and lightning and jolts of earthquakes and thunderbolts against the nations of impious people, but to me, who am pious and god-fearing, you send health and soundness of body and acuteness of hearing and seeing, and calmness in the present good hours of this day, o my lords and powerfully ruling gods!
Hail to you, the first, ΑΙΕΡΩΝΘΙ!
Hail to you, the second, ΜΕΡΧΕΙΜΕΡΟΣ!
Hail to you, the third, ΑΧΡΙΧΙΟΥΡ!
Hail to you, the fourth, ΜΕΣΑΡΓΙΛΤΩ!
Hail to you, the fifth, ΧΙΧΡΩΑΛΙΘΩ!
Hail to you, the sixth, ΕΡΜΙΧΘΑΘΩΨ!
Hail to you, the seventh, ΕΟΡΑΣΙΧΗ!”

Now when they take their place, here and there, in order, look in the air and you will see lightning bolts going down, and lights flashing, and the Earth shaking, and a god descending, a god immensely great, having a bright appearance, youthful, golden-haired, with a white tunic and a golden crown and trousers, and holding in his right hand a golden shoulder of a young bull: this is the Bear which moves and turns heaven around, moving upward and downward in accordance with the hour.  Then you will see lightning bolts leaping from his eyes and stars from his body.

Seven bull-faced youths.  Seven bulls, septem tritones.  We’re getting somewhere, and getting somewhere good!  Interestingly, Betz has a footnote that says: “in the Mithras mysteries, the seven grades of initiates were each under the tutelage of a planetary deity”, and refers to a chapter in Albrect Dieterich’s Mithrasliturgie (1910).  The relevant portion of that text where Dieterich describes these seven youths is as follows (in a crappy translation from the German into English):

Das wahrscheinlichste ist mir, daß bei Einführung der sieben Jünglinge mit Stierköpfen die Repräsentanten der sieben Sterne des großen oder des kleinen Bären mitgewirkt haben; denn die Ägypter dachten sich jedenfalls den großen Bären als Stier oder als Teil eines Stieres. Darüber habe ich gleich weiter zu handeln; wenn Mithras selbst, wie wir sehen werden, mit seiner Hand die Stierschulter, d. i. das Bärengestirn lenkt, so ist es sicher, daß die sieben stierköpfigen Gestalten, die die Achse des Himmels drehen, die sieben Sterne des kleinen Bären sind. Wie es zusammenhängt, daß für unsere Kenntnis gerade der große Bär als Stier oder Stierschenkel oder Schulterblatt eines Stieres gedacht war, kann ich nicht mehr erkennen… Sicher ist auf jeden Fall, daß die Πολοκράτορες die sieben Sterne des kleinen Bären sind.

The most probable thing is that when the seven youngsters with bull heads are introduced, the representatives of the seven stars of Ursa Maior or Ursa Minor are involved; because the Egyptians thought in any case Ursa Maior as a bull or as part of a bull. I have to act on it immediately; if Mithras himself, as we shall see, with his hand the bull’s shoulder, i.e. the Bear Star steers, so it is certain that the seven bull-headed figures, which turn the axis of the sky, are the seven stars of Ursa Minor.  As it is related, that for our knowledge just Ursa Maior was intended as a bull, thigh of a bull, or shoulder blade of a bull, I can no longer recognize… In any case, it is certain that the Polokratores are the seven stars of Ursa minor.

Now we’re getting somewhere, indeed!  Though precious little is known of the ancient Mithras cult, and though the Mithras Liturgy doesn’t really have an official connection with the Mithras cult, it’s folly to deny a connection between the two.  Manfred Clauss describes in The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and His Mysteries (2001) the seven grades and their most likely planetary associations, from what is likely the lowest rank to highest:

  1. Corax (Raven): Mercury
  2. Nymphus (Bridegroom): Venus
  3. Miles (Soldier): Mars
  4. Leo (Lion): Jupiter
  5. Perses (Persian): Moon
  6. Heliodromus (Sun-runner): Sun
  7. Pater (Father): Saturn

These can be seen and guessed at by the floor mosaic of the Mithraeum of Felicissimus in Ostia, where each grade is symbolically described through its attributes on the way to the focal devotional point of the temple: the Raven with the caduceus of Mercury, the Bridegroom with the circlet of Venus, the Soldier with the weapons of Mars, the Lion with the wreath and sistrum of the King and Queen of the Gods, the Persian with the Crescent and crescent sickle of the Moon, the Sun-runner with the torch and sun-crown and chariot-whip, and the Father with the shepherd’s staff, robes, and other implements of the leader of the cult.  It’s certainly compelling.

However, despite this floorplan of a sacred initiate-only space, it’s unclear whether the order given above really is the order to be considered official, especially given its apparent strangeness; there’s no way to draw a heptagram, for instance between these planets in this order that can get us anything we’ve seen before unless we were to swap a few things around.  That feels like bending things way too much for my comfort level, so let’s just set this initiation order aside.  What’s important is that we have a definite connection between the seven planets and the seven stars of Ursa Minor, each of which can be seen to be representative of one of the planets in an elevated state, each of which rules over the axial pole of rotation of the Earth itself from day to day.  Betz refers to the scholar Roger Beck on a particular zodiacal depiction at the Mithraeum at Ponza (first paper here, second paper here) which also give interesting insight on the role of Ursa Minor (and Ursa Maior) and the pole stars generally.  To summarize Beck’s findings and theories, it really does seem like the depiction of the stars of Ursa Minor really are about an “upwards and inwards” motion of theurgy, as “we pass from the planetary world of the zodiac to the realm of the Sun…and finally to the supreme god at the polar centre”, and that “in both it is a journey of refinement to orders of a higher spirituality”.  If we were looking for a reason to work with the Ruler of the Pole, this is a strong confirmation that our hunch earlier about the parallel with the Earlier Heaven/Later Heaven Sequence of the Ba Gua was on the right track.

At this point, it’s tempting to make that one final leap: linking the seven stars of Ursa Minor to the seven planets, giving the Pole Lords of PGM XIII the names of the seven bull-headed youths from PGM IV.  We’re so close, but we’re missing a definite connection of which youth (and name) is supposed to go with which planet.  Do we use Clauss’ hypothetical ranking of grades, from Mercury to Saturn?  Or do we use the heavenly order of the planets from the lowest heaven of the Moon to the highest heaven of Saturn?  Personally, I’m inclined to use the heavenly order, such that the name of the Moon when she is the Pole Lord is the name of the first bull-headed youth AIERŌNTHI, the name of Mercury as Pole Lord is MERKHEIMEROS, and so forth, but…something about this seems hollow, and I don’t get a confirmation gut-feeling like I normally (recklessly, haphazardly) do.  I’m not willing to bet on it, though I love the simplicity and convenience; something seems missing, even if it’s just confirmation.

If we know that the Pole Lords are the seven stars of Ursa Minor—and we do—is there another way we can consider an “order” to them?  There are two options I can think of: one going by distance out from the end of Ursa Minor and going inwards with the most polar of the stars at the end, or going by brightness by starting from the dimmest and going to the brightest of them.  If we go by distance along the constellation, we get:

  1. β Ursae Minoris, Kochab
  2. γ Ursae Minoris, Pherkad
  3. η Ursae Minoris, Alasco
  4. ζ Ursae Minoris, Ahfa al Farkadain
  5. ε Ursae Minoris
  6. δ Ursae Minoris, Yildun
  7. α Ursae Minoris, Polaris

If, instead, we were to go by the brightness of the stars:

  1. η Ursae Minoris, Alasco
  2. ζ Ursae Minoris, Ahfa al Farkadain
  3. ε Ursae Minoris
  4. δ Ursae Minoris, Yildun
  5. γ Ursae Minoris, Pherkad
  6. β Ursae Minoris, Kochab
  7. α Ursae Minoris, Polaris

Personally, I’m most inclined to think that Polaris itself is given to the quality of Saturn; note how Saturn is the ultimate grade in the Mithraic Mysteries given above, and Saturn is also the only planet that rules both the pole and the day on the same given weekday, as well as it being the highest and most distant of the planetary heavens.  Giving Polaris the final position of honor, I would be comfortable giving it the name of the seventh bull-faced youth, EORASIKHĒ.  That just leaves the remaining six.   It doesn’t seem like we can use traditional stare-lore here; there’s not much in the way about the planetary natures of this set of fixed stars, and many such fixed stars share in multiple planetary similarities.  It’s good to know that Ptolemy gives bright stars to Saturn with a hint of Venus mixed in (especially for Polaris), but that’s about it.

I’m reminded that Kochab and Pherkad are considered even by ancient Egyptians as “guardians of the pole star”, which makes sense as they’re the next two brightest stars in the constellation of Ursa Minor, but they also stand furthest away on the “dipper” part of the Little Dipper while Polaris stands at the tip of the handle.  I’m tempted to give these to the Sun and the Moon, respectively, as representative of their corresponding brightness in the planets; this would also mean that the corresponding planetary Greek vowels for the three brightest stars would be the same three vowels in that almighty name of divinity, ΙΑΩ.  That would mean Kochab gets the Sun, and Pherkad gets the Moon.  These two planets given to these two stars with Polaris given to Saturn collectively set up a pattern where we use the distance-along-the-constellation-lines method along with the weekday ordering of the planets, which gets us the following order and correspondence of names, such that Kochab gets the Sun, Pherkad the Moon, Alasco Mars, and so forth.

Heck, why stop there?  Just before the Mithras Liturgy introduces the seven bull-faced youths, it also introduces seven serpent-faced (!) virgin ladies:

After saying this, you will see the doors thrown open, and seven virgins coming from deep within, dressed in linen garments, and with the face of asps.  They are called the Fates of Heaven, and wield golden wands.  When you see them, greet them in this manner:

“Hail, o seven Fates of Heaven, o noble and good virgins, o sacred ones and companions of ΜΙΝΙΜΙΡΡΟΦΟΡ, o most holy Guardians of the four pillars!
Hail to you, the first, ΧΡΕΨΕΝΘΑΗΣ!
Hail to you, the second, ΜΕΝΕΣΧΕΗΣ!
Hail to you, the third, ΜΕΗΡΑΝ!
Hail to you, the fourth, ΑΡΑΜΑΧΗΣ!
Hail to you, the fifth, ΕΧΟΜΜΙΗ!
Hail to you, the sixth, ΤΙΧΝΟΝΔΑΗΣ!
Hail to you, the seventh, ΕΡΟΥ ΡΟΜΒΡΙΗΣ!”

With this, we have seven snake-headed women and seven bull-headed men.  The men represent the stars of Ursa Minor, and the women represent the stars of Ursa Maior.  We can use the same system, starting at the end of the cup of the Dipper and headed towards the tip of the handle, to associate planets and names to the stars of Ursa Maior.

However, there’s one thing that bugs me about this method being used for this: the name of the fourth lady of Fate, ΑΡΑΡΜΑΧΗΣ or ARARMAKHĒS, which Betz clarifies as being a likely corruption of Harmachis, or Horemakhet, “Horus on the horizon”.  Horus, as we all know, is one of the solar gods of the Egyptian pantheon, and Harmachis specifically represented the dawn and early morning sun.  If we give ARARMAKHĒS to the fourth planet in the weekday system, we’d give it to Mercury, but if we give it to the fourth planet in the heavenly arrangement, we’d give it to the Sun.  So, which do we follow?  Do we keep the same system we built up from before that leads us to the weekday order of the planets, or do we go with a possible etymological connection that can’t be verified to fall in line with the heavenly order?  Given the parallel nature of the snake-headed women of Ursa Maior and the bull-headed men of Ursa Minor and how they mirror each other (“now when they take their place, here [for the women] and there [for the men], in order”), they probably ought to use the same ordering system.  To be honest, the use of the name ARARMAKHĒS is a clue that tilts the system now in favor of the heavenly arrangement of planets, i.e. the “Seven-Zoned”.  This means that we’d give the following stars of Ursa Maior the planets and names of the seven snake-headed women as:

Number Star Planet Mithraic Name
1 α Ursae Maioris
2 β Ursae Maioris
3 γ Ursae Maioris
4 δ Ursae Maioris
5 ε Ursae Maioris
6 ζ Ursae Maioris
7 η Ursae Maioris

Further, because we’d want to use the same system for both the stars of Ursa Maior and of Ursa Maior, that means we’d scrap our weekday order of the planets as discussed above and use the heavenly arrangement of the stars, starting with Kochab as the Moon and Pherkad as Mercury to end with Polaris as Saturn.  This has the nice, pleasing benefit of being that oh-so-special Seven-Zoned arrangement PGM XIII loves so much, but also has a nice geometric arrangement: the closer you get to the pole along the constellated “path” of Ursa Minor from star to star, the higher the heaven you access according to its corresponding planet.

Number Star Planet Mithraic Name
1 β Ursae Minoris
2 γ Ursae Minoris
3 η Ursae Minoris
4 ζ Ursae Minoris
Ahfa al Farkadain
5 ε Ursae Minoris Mars ΧΙΧΡΩΑΛΙΘΩ
6 δ Ursae Minoris
7 α Ursae Minoris

I guess the association of the seven bull-faced youths in order to the seven planets according to the heavenly arrangement would work out well enough in the end, but it was good to actually use the map of the stars of Ursa Minor themselves to make a stronger argument for why that should be so.  I still like the idea of Kochab and Pherkad going to the Sun and the Moon, but on the whole, this system works nicer and cleaner, especially with the connections to the seven snake-faced virgins.  Plus, with the second brightest star being given to the Moon in this scheme, this gives a pleasant balance and return to how important the Moon is when talking about the northern, artic, Bear stars: the Moon represents the initial approach towards sensible divinity, and Saturn the final escape to intelligible Divinity.

This is making huge progress, but we’re not done yet.  Stay tuned, and we’ll talk more about how we might understand the nature, form, and function of these entities, especially when we pair it back to certain things back in PGM XIII.

Pole Lords and Northern Stars: The Ruler of the Pole and the Charms of the Bear

As it turns out, I do belong to other groups on Facebook than just the geomancy one I admin, and just like in that group, many of the discussions in other groups to which I belong are equally as fascinating and helpful.  One such group, the PGM Study & Practice Group, is focused on (mirabile dictu!) the study and practice of rituals and texts from the Greek Magical Papyri (or PGM, as many of my readers know).  I’ve shared some of my works and joined in some conversations there from time to time, and I find it a helpful resource to belong to.

Recently, I made a bit of a post myself, asking for help and experience from others in the group about a particularly interesting and particularly obscure point from PGM XIII, which is a truly fascinating bundle of texts that I’ve discussed before on my blog.  The post I made specifically discussed the nature, purpose, and function of the Ruler of the Pole from these texts:

PGM XIII, the Eighth and Tenth Hidden Books of Moses, uses an interesting device. Before the various spells of PGM XIII.1—343 and at the end of PGM 646—734, we’re given “the technique of determining which god is ruler of the celestial pole” using “The Seven-Zoned” method.

If the day is Sunday (day of Hēlios), the ruler is Selēnē.
If the day is Monday (day of Selēnē), the ruler is Hermēs.
If the day is Tuesday (day of Arēs), the ruler is Aphroditē.
If the day is Wednesday (day of Hermēs), the ruler is Hēlios.
If the day is Thursday (day of Zeus), the ruler is Arēs.
If the day is Friday (day of Aphroditē), the ruler is Zeus.
If the day is Saturday (day of Kronos), the ruler is Kronos.

In other words, however many days have elapsed in the week since Sunday, the further up in the celestial spheres you go. As Sunday marks the beginning of the week, so too does Selēne mark the first celestial sphere; as Saturday marks the end of the week, so too does Kronos mark the last celestial sphere.

My question is: what is this for?

The “celestial pole” is, almost certainly, the pole around which the Earth and all its heavens whirl around, commonly recognized to be Polaris, the North Star, and tail of Ursa Maior. However, PGM XIII doesn’t refer to a way of invoking or referring to the ruler of the pole, just that there apparently is one. In fact, nowhere else in the PGM is the word “pole” used in conjunction with planetary rulers; the only such thing I might be able to even tangentially relate to it is in PGM IV.930—1114, where it calls upon a form of Horus Harpocratēs in a conjuration of sorts by calling upon “you who are seated within the seven poles ΑΕΗΙΟΥΩ”, but this seems unrelated and more about the seven supports of the heavens (cf. PGM V.213—303, “The pole [of the sky] will be brought down…”). PGM XIII.1—343 does mention that the student should “learn who is the ruler of that day” along with the “[names of the] gods of the hours, then those set over the weeks”, but this again appears to be something different, like a different god for each day of the year.

So what are we actually recognizing by this “ruler of the pole” method? Are we saying that the North Star, and thus the immortal gate of heaven itself through which we ascend and address the gods, has a planetary affinity that shifts from day to day in a way separate from the planetary rulers of the day? Are we saying that the usual weekday reckoning of the planetary ruler of the day is a blind for a more magical, more woogity kind of planetary rulership of the days? Or is this referring to something we just don’t have extant in the texts anymore? Would you attach any significance to the fact that Saturn is the ruler of the pole as well as of the day on Saturday?

Unfortunately, my attempt at starting a discussion just garnered a lot of likes and not a lot of comments.  So, let me explain what little I understand and think of this particular aspect of this particular segment of the PGM.

Basically, PGM XIII gives us a table like the following that compares the ruler of any day of the week as we’d normally consider it to the ruler of the Pole on that given day.  No matter what the planetary ruler of the day is “in the Greek reckoning”, which is the system we’re most commonly used to in the West based on the planet that rules the first hour of the day starting at sunrise, PGM XIII says instead to recognize the planet that rules over the Pole according to the “Seven-Zoned” (also called “The Monad of Moses” in PGM XIII.646—734).

Weekday Planetary Ruler
Day Ruler
(“Greek reckoning”)
Pole Ruler
Sunday Hēlios Selēnē
Monday Selēnē Hermēs
Tuesday Arēs Aphroditē
Wednesday Hermēs Hēlios
Thursday Zeus Arēs
Friday Aphroditē Zeus
Saturday Kronos Kronos

The idea behind this organization appears to be that, as the week gets “older” and later, starting from Sunday all the way to Saturday, the Ruler of the Pole on that day gets “older” and higher in the heavens, starting with the Moon and going all the way until Saturn.  Thus, on the first day of the week (Sunday), the Ruler of the Pole is the first closest heaven (the Moon); on the second day (Moon), the second heaven (Mercury); and so forth.  It’s not a matter of picking, like, the midnight planetary hour on each day, as the order of the planets in the Seven-Zoned method doesn’t fit that result.  Plus, it might be significant that the only planet that overlaps its Pole Ruler day with its own weekday is Saturn.

There is a relationship that can be drawn between these too, however.  Recall the Planetary Heptagram that’s used to determine the order of the week by tracing the planets both in a circle as well as in an acute heptagram.  There are different ways we can draw it that end up with the same result, but this is the basic and traditional order:

If we start with the Moon at the top and work counterclockwise around in a simple circle outside the heptagram, we get the order of the planets ascending through the heavens (Moon, Mercury, Venus, &c.).  If we follow the heptagram around clockwise starting from the Moon, we get the order of the planets for the days of the week (Moon, Mars, Mercury, &c.).  Instead of using that heptagram, consider the following obtuse heptagram:

Here, if we start with Moon at the top and go around the circle clockwise, we get the order of the planets in the days of the week (Moon, Mars, Mercury, &c.), and if we follow the heptagram clockwise around starting from the Moon, we get the order of the planets ascending through the heavens (Moon, Mercury, Venus, &c.).  What we basically end up with is the exact inverse arrangement as before, we’re just flipping the arrangement around.  It might be argued that the author of PGM XIII considered the arrangement of planets for the days of the week to be a blind or corruption of a true order, that of the heavens, and by applying the same function that transformed the heavenly arrangement into the weekday arrangement just in reverse, we end up with a corrected, ideal, true order of the planets (kind of like the difference between the Earlier Heaven and Later Heaven sequences of the Ba Gua).

In fact, that comparison to the Earlier Heaven and Later Heaven sequences of the Ba Gua might not be a bad parallel.  If we consider the usual modus operandi of a magician of the PGM, if they’re not outright apotheotizing themselves into God, then they’re often initiating themselves to be their equals as, indeed, we’re doing in the rituals of PGM XIII.  Aiōn, which is basically the divinity being appealed to in this part of the PGM, is considered an eternal god of time, but who’s to say what “time” looks like to such an entity?  Our methods of reckoning time down here on Earth may not really apply “up there”, where another system entirely might be used.  In other words, the different arrangements of the planets apply on different scales of the cosmos: the weekday arrangement of planetary rulers of the day functions on a microcosmic, human level, while the celestial arrangement of the planets functions on a macrocosmic, divine level.  If (and this is a huge “if”) the author of PGM XIII was thinking in this way, then we’d want to appeal, entreat, and approach the gods on their own temporal terms rather than using our own human and worldly systems of planetary time-keeping.  It’s an idea, I suppose, but I have nothing to back it up.

So much for the method and a potential argument as to its function, I suppose.  Even assuming we understand its function, what about its purpose?  Why is it a thing?  Despite the importance of this table and method of determining the planet that rules over the Pole on any given day of the week, it’s not really that apparent why the Ruler of the Pole is supposed to be called upon.  There are exceedingly few references to such a pole in the PGM, and it doesn’t make much sense to interpret them on the same level as what we might find in PGM XIII.  There are a few such mentions, some of which are explicit and some of which are debatable:

  1. The invocation of Aiōn from PGM XIII.1—343, specifically lines PGM XIII.64ff, and again in a minor variant of wording and barbarous names from PGM XIII.570ff:

    I call on you, who are greater than all, the creator of all, you, the self-begotten, who see all and are not seen.  For you gave Hēlios the glory and all the power, Selēnē the privilege to wax and wane and have fixed courses, yet you took nothing from the earlier-born darkness, but apportioned all things that they should be equal. For when you appeared, both Order arose and Light appeared.  All things are subject to you, whose true form none of the gods can see, who change into all forms.  You are invisible, Aiōn of Aiōns.

    I call on you, lord, to appear to me in a good form, for under your order I serve your angel, ΒΙΑΘΙΑΡΒΑΡ ΒΕΡΒΙΡ ΣΧΙΛΑΤΟΥΡ ΒΟΥΦΡΟΥΜΤΡΩΜ, and your fear, ΔΑΝΟΥΦ ΧΡΑΤΟΡ ΒΕΛΒΑΛΙ ΒΑΛΒΙΘ ΙΑΩ. Through you arose the celestial pole and the earth. …

    I call on you, the creator of all, who are greater than all, you, the self-begotten god, who see all hear all and and are not seen.  For you gave Hēlios the glory and the power, Selēnē the privilege to wax and wane and have fixed courses, yet you took nothing from the earlier-born darkness, but assigned them equality [with it]. For when you appeared, both Order arose and Light appeared, and all things were arranged by you.  Therefore all things are also subject to you, whose true form none of the gods can see, who take different forms in [different] visions, Aiōn of Aiōns.

    I call on you, lord, that you may show me your true form. For under your order I serve your angel, ΑΝΟΓ ΒΙΑΘΙΑΒΑΡ ΒΕΡΒΙ ΣΧΙΛΑΤΟΥΡ ΒΟΥΦΡΟΥΜΤΩΡΜ, and your fear ΔΑΝΟΥΠ ΧΡΑΝΤΩΡ ΒΕΛΒΑΛΙ ΒΑΛΒΙΘ ΙΑΩ. Through you arose the [celestial] pole and the earth. …

  2. Ritual practice from lines PGM XIII.114ff and again from PGM XIII.671ff. Though the use of a god of a day in this context might refer to one of the gods of the individual 365 days of the year, the specific phrasing leads me to believe it’s discussing the Ruler of the Pole of the day.

    Accordingly, as I said before, when you have purified yourself in advance [through the last seven days] while the Moon is waning, at the dark of the Moon begin sleeping on the ground on a pallet of rushes.  Rising at dawn, greet Hēlios through seven days, each day saying first the [names of the] gods of the hours, then those set over the weeks.  Also [each day], learning who is the ruler of that day, keep after him, saying “Lord, on such-and-such a day, I am calling the god to the sacred sacrifices”—doing so until the eighth day.

    Accordingly, as I have said before, when you have purified yourself in advance [through the last] seven days while the Moon is waning, at the dark of the Moon begin sleeping on the ground. Rising at dawn, greet the Sun through seven days, each day saying first the [names of the] gods of the hours, then those set over the weeks. Also [each day], learning who is the ruler of that day, keep after him, saying “Lord, on such-and-such a day I am calling the god to the sacred sacrifices”—doing so until the eighth day.

  3. Sacrifice protocol from PGM XIII.376ff.  However, despite being a “ruler of the day in some sense”, what’s being referred to here probably refers instead to a ruler of one of the 365 days of the year, especially given its use along with gods of the hours, each with their own compulsive or restraining formula that we see traces of later in the Hygromanteia tradition.  This is different than the juxtaposition of the “ruler of that day” from the above section, because it’s separated from the gods of the hours which are bundled with the gods of the weeks.

    The tasting of the victims is done [in] this way: When you are ready to taste them, sacrifice the rooster, so that [the god] may receive lots of spirit, and at the point of tasting, call on the god of the hour and him of the day, so that you may have sponsorship from them.  For if you do not invoke them, they will not hear you, as being uninitiated.  Now you will find [the names of] the gods of the hours and those of the days, and the compulsive formula for each of them in the Key of Moses, for he set them out one by one.

  4. Invocation of Aiōn from PGM XIII.844ff:

    I call on you, eternal and unbegotten, who are one, who alone hold together the whole creation of all things, whom none understand, whom the gods worship, whose name not even the gods can utter.  Inspire from your breath, ruler of the pole, him who is under you; accomplish for me the NN. thing. …

This is basically all I can find in PGM XIII about the Ruler of the Pole, so as important as it might be for the text to point out how to determine the Ruler of the Pole, it’s apparently not that important except in how to address maybe one or two prayers and how to consider the temporal qualities of Aiōn on a day-to-day basis.  None of these few uses, most of which are limited to just references to Aiōn as being a generic ruler (or a sort of hyperstasis of the individual planets, a sort of planet-behind-the-planets or the very Platonic Idea of Planet itself?), give much of a hint of what we’re doing by invoking the Ruler of the Pole.

Let’s back up a bit, I suppose.  What, exactly, is the “Pole” being ruled over?  There are two possible candidates for this: the ecliptic pole (the pole of the planet of the ecliptic, the orbital path of the Sun as viewed from the Earth) and the axial pole (the pole around which the Earth itself rotates on a daily basis).  Though these two poles are similar, they are not identical; after all, the ecliptic is tilted slightly to the rotation of the Earth, which is why we have seasons.  The axial pole of the Earth is basically the North Star, Polaris, which is the tail of Ursa Minor, or the Litte Dipper.  On the other hand, the ecliptic pole of the Earth, along with all the other planets in the Solar System, lies further off in the nearby constellation of Draco.

This was the point of the only small conversation that my post in the Facebook group started, mostly by my good colleague Freeman Presson.  Freeman had the idea that, in a sense, every planet is conjunct the Pole by longitude in the same sense that, if you yourself are standing at the North Pole on Earth, any direction you face or travel will be south.  Because of this, every planet could be seen as being eternally in communion with the Pole, even if they’re separated by latitude.  However, someone else popped in to say that that’s not quite right, and that the pole of the ecliptic is not the same as the pole of the axial rotation of the Earth, and the two don’t really line up that well here.  It was something to consider at least, but it doesn’t really get us much of anywhere.

To be honest, I think it’s far more likely that it really is the axial pole of the Earth (the one that points to Polaris and Ursa Minor) it the one being referred to.  While I’m sure the ecliptic pole was known, there’s far more emphasis in the PGM on the use of the pole stars Polaris, Ursa Minor, and Ursa Maior, with many “bear charms” and other works with the northern stars.  Plus, it does help that both Ursa Minor and Ursa Maior both have seven stars each; indeed, the old Latin word for “north” is “septentrio”, from “septem triones” meaning “seven oxen” or “seven bulls”.  When we look at the Bear-related spells from the PGM, we get a better understanding of some of the power of this figure, or at least the station of this figure (bold text emphasizes similarities with the description of the Ruler of the Pole in PGM XIII):

  1. PGM IV.1275—1322 (“Bear charm which accomplishes everything”): I call upon you, the greatest power in heaven, in the Bear, appointed by the Lord God to turn with a strong hand the holy Pole, ΝΙΚΑΡΠΟΛΗΞ!  Listen to me, Hēlios, Phre!  Hear the holy prayer, you who hold together the universe and bring to life the whole world…ΘΩΖΟΠΙΘΗ, Bear, greatest goddess, ruling heaven, reigning over the Pole of the stars, highest, beautiful-shining goddess, incorruptible element, composite of the all, all-illuminating, bond of the universe ΑΕΗΙΟΥΩ ΕΗΙΟΥΩΑ ΗΙΟΥΩΑΕ ΙΟΥΩΑΕΗ ΟΥΩΑΕΗΙ ΥΩΑΕΗΙΟ ΩΑΕΗΙΟΥ, you who stand on the pole, you whom the Lord God appointed to turn the holy Pole with a strong hand
  2. PGM IV.1323—1330 (“Another [Bear charm]”): ΚΟΜΦΘΟ ΚΟΜΑΣΙΘ ΚΟΜΝΟΥΝ, you who shook and shake the world, you who have swallowed the ever-living serpent and daily raise the disk of the Sun and of the Moon, you whose name is ΙΘΙΟΩ ΗΙ ΑΡΒΑΘΙΑΩ Η, send up to me, NN., at night the daimon of this night to reveal to me concerning the NN. matter.
  3.  PGM VII.686—702 (“Bear charm”): Bear, Bear, you who rule the heaven, the stars, and the whole world; you who make the axis turn and control the whole cosmic system by force and compulsion, I appeal to you, imploring and supplicating that you may do the NN. thing, because I call upon you with your holy names at which your deity rejoices, names which you are not able to ignore…

The thing about many of these Bear charms is that they bear (heh) some semantic similarities and connections to the Hellenic goddess Artemis, due to the myth of her companion Callisto transformed into the constellation of Ursa Maior and the view that Callisto was seen to be an aspect or manifestation of Artemis herself.  From Artemis, connections can be drawn to Selēnē, the Moon, and from the Moon to the Egyptian god Thoth.  Yes, Thoth, who was considered by the Egyptians themselves to be a lunar deity (consider the fact that he is often depicted as wearing a lunar crown and that the crescent shape of the beak of the ibis recalls the shape of the crescent Moon).  Though epithets and praise names of this god are many, some of the more relevant ones are:

  • Who fashioned all things
  • Who made all that exists
  • Bull among the stars (remember the “seven bulls” of the northern stars!)
  • Who determines fate
  • Who glorifies the two eyes (yes, the eyes of Horus, but remember “you gave Hēlios the glory and the power, Selēnē the privilege to wax and wane and have fixed courses…”)
  • Governor of Ma’at (i.e. Truth or Fate) in heaven and Earth
  • Lord of heaven
  • According to whose word the Ennead acts

There are even some texts that give Thoth descriptions and praises in similar patterns and wordings to Akephalos, the Headless One of the Headless Rite.  While I’m not suggesting that Thoth is the Ruler of the Pole or the North Star here, I am suggesting that many of the same qualities of a pantokrator/cosmocrator/all-ruler god transfer over based on similar ideas and notions.  In other words, I’m definitely freestyling my correspondences and connections here, but rather than saying “X is Y”, I’m saying that “X is like Y”.

Anyway.  It’s also fascinating to see mentioned in PGM IV.1323—1330 that reference to “you who have swallowed the ever-living serpent”, which could, if we were to take a staunchly pro-stellar view, refer to the constellation Draco, which might be viewed as a sort of conquering of the ecliptical pole by the axial pole.  It could also relate, as Betz notes in a footnote to PGM IV.930—1114, to the serpent Apophis who daily attempts to devour the bark of Re.  Other references to serpents yields PGM VII.300, another lunar spell that also includes an ibis (!) and a reference to the explicitly lunar god Khonsu, has a particular “circled-ibis” phylactery:

ΣΑΧΜΟΥ ΟΖΟΖΟ, you the one who thunders, the one who shakes the heaven and the earth, the one who has swallowed the Serpent, hour by hour raising the disk of the Sun and surrounding the Moon, ΧΩΝΣΟΥ ΟΧΧΑ ΕΝΣΟΥ Ο ΒΙΒΕΡΟΗΣΟΣ.  Write on your left hand with myrrh ink these things surrounding the ibis.

Similar incantations also exist in PGM VII.359—369 (“Request for a dream oracle”).  PGM VIII.1—63, however, includes a neat little tidbit: an aspect of Hermēs called upon for a binding love spell, but the aspect of which is given the description “in the north you have the form of a serpent”.  Betz notes that this refers to the deity Uto or Wadjet, who is often found associated with the north.  This whole “conquering” or “swallowing of the serpent” could also refer, historically, to the slow shift of the North Star to Polaris in Ursa Minor from Thuban, α Draconis, from some two- to three-thousand years prior.  It’s an idea, I suppose.

This is fascinating, but we’re not where we need just yet to figure out what the Rulers of the Pole are or what they do.  We know that the Pole being ruled over has something to do with Polaris and the constellations of Ursa Maior and Ursa Minor, but that’s about it; we’re not seeing anything in PGM XIII or the Bear charms that are giving us a hint about these specific “rulers of the pole”.  But there are other hints in the PGM and from the classical world that can tip us off in the right direction; we’ll handle that in the next post.

On Repurposing Ritual Parts for New Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PGM Kyphi: On The Incense of the Eighth Book of Moses

Trying to come up with my PGM-style framing rite was pretty fun, I have to admit.  Scouring the entire PGM for things that fit a pattern I work in, trying to select the best or most appropriate verses to use to make sure they’re generic enough to not step on toes while still being specific enough to function for a purpose, and seeing what was really needed and what wasn’t as far as potential options go helped me get an even deeper realization of the abundant (yet never enough!) material available to us in the Greek magical papyri.

Still, there were some design decisions that I had to make about what to include and where.  In the end, I decided to make the framing rite as general and flexible as possible, making lots of things optional rather than just not having them in there (and being asked about it later, or forgetting myself where something might best be placed).  One of the ritual acts that I made optional was a general burning of incense, after the empowerment and just before the ritual proper around which the framing rite takes place.  Personally, I love the use of incense, and I don’t do many rituals without it; I typically find it to be an important, if not outright essential, part of ritual magic, and there are too many rituals in the PGM to count that use some sort of suffumigation or another.

The problem is, though, the use of incense generally outside of a ritual for its own sake.  Looking through the PGM, whenever incense is burned, it’s for a specific purpose, generally to bless a particular object or as an offering.  Incense doesn’t seem to be used for its own sake, whether as a general perfume, a spiritual resonance-tuning method (getting a place more into the “feel” of a particular sphere or spirit), or a method of blessing or purifying a space (a la smudging), which are all pretty common modern uses of incense.  Rather, the use of incense appears to almost always be used as an offering to some god or spirit, or as a suffumigation to bless a particular object under a particular god or spirit.  These acts are intrinsically and intimately bound up with specific rituals, and no one method seems to cover most of them; because of this, I decided against having a general incense burning before the ritual proper in the framing rite.

This doesn’t apply, however, to the final dismissal, where incense is burned, because the parts of the PGM where I pulled those prayers from do indeed call for incense, and it being a dismissal and thanksgiving offering to the spirits, the use of incense is appropriate.  Using that logic, it’s also quite possible and appropriate to make an introductory offering of incense to the same spirits, at least those of time and space (i.e. the Guardians of the Directions, the Lord of the Hour or Day or Sign, etc.) as well as to higher powers such as the Agathodaimon or Aiōn, but I’m also not entirely sold on doing that each and every time; after all, why eat dessert when breakfast has yet to be served?  (Hush, inner child.)

Anyway.  While looking through the PGM for topics and sections involving the use and types of incenses, I came across (once again) the Eighth Book of Moses, split and replicated in several forms in PGM XIII, sections 1—343, 343—646, and 646—734.  These sections precede the section PGM XIII.734—1077, which calls itself the Tenth Book of Moses, which is also the source of the Heptagram Rite (and, thus, the Calling the Sevenths or Heptasphere ritual that’s so common in modern PGM-forms of magic).  Taken all together, PGM XIII presents a fascinating self-initiatory form of magic coming into some of the highest and most glorious powers of the cosmos, and presents an interesting blend of Egyptian and Jewish priestly practices.  One of which is the use of incenses, described in the earlier parts of PGM XIII, which is used both as an offering substance for the divinity or divinities invoked in the ritual as well as an ingredient for consecrating particular inks and drinks in the ritual.

Seven types of incenses are described as proper to the seven planets:

  • Saturn: styrax (στύραξ)
    • Despite the common modern use of styrax (or storax) to refer to benzoin (Storax officinalis, storax or cowbell), this was most likely instead the resin of Liquidambar orientalis, oriental or Turkish sweetgum, a type of balsam which was well-known in classical and medieval times.  However, given the ambiguity of this term, either may be meant.
  • Jupiter: malabathron (μαλάβαθρον)
    • This is an older name for the leaves of Cinnamonum tamala, more commonly known as Indian bay leaf, tējapatta/tejpat/tejpata, tamalpatra, tamaala, vazhanayila, edana, pattai illai, or bagharakku in various Indian languages.
    • Betz also gives Cinammonum albiflorum as an option, but it seems like this is just a synonym for Indian bay leaf.
  • Mars: costus (κόστος)
    • Sassurea lappa, also known as saw-wort or snow lotus.  The dried root was an important and well-known trade item between Rome and India.
    • Currently listed as endangered, making it illegal to dig up the plant for export, so trade of this plant is highly regulated.
  • Sun: frankincense (λίβανον)
    • Boswellia sacra, our gold old friend.  Pretty straightforward here.  We all know and love this stuff.
  • Venus: Indian nard (νάρδος Ἰνδικός)
    • Nardostachys jatamansi, spikenard, which was a luxury item in the Mediterranean.
  • Mercury: cassia (κασία)
    • Cinnamonum cassia, the usual cassia or Chinese cinnamon.  The bark of the plant is as available today as it ever was, and most store-bought cheap “cinnamon” tends to be cassia, anyway.
  • Moon: myrrh (ζμύρνα)
    • Commiphora myrrha, the resin of the plain old myrrh.  No further explanation needed.
    • The spelling for this is weird, using an initial zēta instead of an initial sigma, but so it goes.  Likely explainable due to voicing from the following mu.

In addition, PGM XIII.1—343 says that one should “prepare sun vetch on every occasion”, meaning the “Egyptian bean”.  Here, it’s most likely referring to Vicia faba, or the simple fava bean, still a staple in Egypt to this day.  Another option might be bitter vetch, Vicia ervilia, which was domesticated before fava beans by about 1500 years, but I’m inclined to think that fava beans are meant here.  However, it’s unclear whether it’s the bean itself to be used or the leaves or flowers of the plant instead.

What strikes me as significant is how…Jew-ish all those materials are.  Like, obviously this is not a particularly canon rite that would have been done in the Temple at Jerusalem, but the whole Eighth Book of Moses is definitely appropriating Jewish elements heavily, far beyond just attributing the book to the prophet Moses.  Consider PGM XIII.230ff:

The initiation called The Monad has been fully declared to you, child.  Now I subjoin for you, child, also the practical uses of this sacred book, the things which all the experts accomplished with this sacred and blessed book.  As I made you swear, child, in the temple of Jerusalem, when you have been filled with the divine wisdom, dispose of the book so that it will not be found.

Betz includes a fantastically sharp footnote here for this paragraph: “pretentious hokum”.  Still, it’s indicative of how heavy Jewish influences are in this part of the PGM, and the incense list above indicates a distinct familiarity with priestly practices.  Consider Exodus 30:22—38, which discusses the recipes and uses for the holy anointing oil and the offering incense:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus, 500 shekels of cassia—all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil.  Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer.  It will be the sacred anointing oil.  Then use it to anoint the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law, the table and all its articles, the lampstand and its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand.  You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.

“Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me as priests.  Say to the Israelites, ‘This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come.  Do not pour it on anyone else’s body and do not make any other oil using the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred.  Whoever makes perfume like it and puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from their people.'”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices—stacte, onycha and galbanum—and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer.  It is to be salted and pure and sacred.  Grind some of it to powder and place it in front of the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you.  Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the Lord.  Whoever makes incense like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from their people.”

Note the ingredients of those two special substances: myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, cassia, stacte (most likely storax or styrax), onycha (most likely part of a sea snail or labdanum from Cistus creticus), galbanum (resin of Ferula gummosa), and frankincense.  We see some significant overlap between this part of Exodus and the incense materials given in PGM XIII.  To make matters even more interesting, consider the rabbinic literature of the Talmud: it expands the list of ingredients for the incense offering significantly from the Exodus list:

  1. stacte (understood as the sap of the balsam tree, i.e. styrax, but it could also refer to mastic from terebinth, Pistacia palaestina)
  2. onycha (to which was added Carshina lye and Cyprus wine for refining and steeping it)
  3. galbanum
  4. frankincense
  5. myrrh
  6. cassia
  7. spikenard
  8. saffron
  9. costus
  10. aromatic bark
  11. cinnamon

We know that the Talmudic literature and traditions go back to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, and so its beginnings would have been roughly contemporaneous with the PGM authors.  If the Talmudic/rabbinical recipe list given above can be considered something approximating or reflecting actual Jewish practice at the time of PGM XIII’s inception, then we basically have the entire list of incenses given in PGM XIII.  The only odd one to consider is malabathron, which is not listed in either the Exodus or Talmudic recipes; however, knowing that it’s considered close to cinnamon, which we lack in our PGM incense list (except as a phylactery or charm to wear around the neck—perhaps too precious or expensive to be burned?), it could be seen as a reasonable substitute for cinnamon, and some rabbinical scholars suggest that it could indeed have been used in place of actual cinnamon.

There are other Jewish influences in PGM XIII as well, such as how the ritual is to be done such that the 41 days of purification ends with the New Moon in Aries.  This is basically ensuring that you’re timing things to line up with Passover, which generally occurs around the Full Moon in Aries.  That said, the ritual as a whole is really more of a priestly Egyptian kind of magic with Jewish elements mixed in.  This reaches its pinnacle in the idea that one has to receive “the Name” from the “god who comes in” via the initiation; this is that god’s own True Name, which is sacred and powerful and is used in many of the works that follow the initiation in PGM XIII.1—343; this can be seen to also bring in some of the influence of the Divine Name of God, only permitted to be spoken aloud once a year by the high priest in the holy of holies of the Temple.

So much for the Jewish influences.  Anyway, we have seven materials to be used as planetary incenses.  PGM XIII also prescribes the use of “the seven flowers of the seven stars”, a mixture to be made from the flowers of:

  1. Marjoram (σαμψούχινον)
    1. Origanum majorana, sometimes called sweet marjoram or knotted marjoram to ensure it’s kept distinct from oregano which can sometimes be called “marjoram”.  Another species, Origanum onites (Cretan oregano or pot marjoram) could be substituted, but all indications point to it being marjoram proper.
    2. The word used here is not the usual Greek word for marjoram, but specifically a “foreign name”, while the usual classical Greek term would be ἀμάρακος (amárakos).
  2. Lily (κρίνινον)
    1. Betz gives “white lily”, though this is not mentioned in either Preisendanz or the original Greek.  Indeed, “white lily” would have been referred to by λείριον and not the word used in the PGM, while this word here refers to non-white lilies. I’m not quite sure what a good species would be, but so long as it’s a non-white true lily like Lilium chalcedonicum or Lilium martagon (Turk’s cap) or even Lilium bulbiferum (fire lily).
  3. Lotus (λώτινον)
    1. Lots of options here, but most likely is Nymphaea lotus, also called white lotus or Egyptian lotus (unsurprisingly), and was revered in ancient Egypt as a symbol and medicine of strength and power, though it could also be the blue Egyptian lotus, Nymphaea caerulea.
  4. Erephyllinon or herephyllinon (ἐρεφύλλινον)
    1. This name is unknown and nobody seems to be sure what this name refers to.  Preisendanz gives “Dichtlaubpflanze (?)”, literally “thick-foliage plant”, so he’s not sure, either, though he also gives a possible alternative ἑρπύλλινον “herpullinon”.  If I translated it right, this word refers to tufted thyme, Thymus caespititius, and unlike many of the other plants which come from the Near East or South Asia, this one is native to Iberia.  The author may instead be referring here to Thymus capitatus, conehead thyme or Persian hyssop, and is native to the Mediterranean and Turkey, so it’s possibly more likely.
  5. Narcissus (ναρκίσσινον)
    1. This is just daffodil, most likely the type species Narcissus poeticus.
  6. Gillyflower (λευκόϊνον)
    1. “Gillyflower” confused me, but Preisendanz gives “Goldlack” as the name in German, which refers to Erysimum cheiri syn. Cheiranthus cheiri, or common wallflower.
  7. Rose (ῥόδον)
    1. It’s…it’s rose.  If one wanted to get really particular, I’d recommend the Damask rose, Rosa × damascena, which seems to have been cultivated in the classical world and is prized for both its fragrance and flavor.

Though these seven flowers are said to be “of the seven stars”, no association is made explicit between these and the planets.  The order of the incenses might be temping to use as a correspondence, but there are two orders given both for the incenses and the flowers between PGM XIII.1—343 and PGM XIII.343—646, so I’m not comfortable linking them up that way.  It’s possible to deduce some planetary rulerships, but I’m unclear on what sources to use; most modern resources would give multiple flowers to Venus (lily, rose, narcissus, and thyme), leaving not many for the other planets.  For that matter, the planetary patterns of the incenses, too, are unfamiliar to modern magicians.  It’s possible that they would be mixed-up as a blind, but I’m disinclined to think so; what few blinds there are in the PGM are code-names for particular materia magica (e.g. PGM XII.401—444), but beyond that, it’d be odd for blinds to be introduced in what are little more than personal notes or examples that were never probably meant for public dissemination.  All told, I’m not sure we can clearly identify which flower goes with which planet, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s needed; unlike the incenses, there never seems to be a use for individual flowers, but they’re to be mixed up and used as a single substance.

According to the directions in PGM XIII.1—343, these seven flowers are to be taken 21 days “before the initiation” for processing.  The timeline given in the ritual suggests that a pre-initiatory period of sunrise salutes begins on the New Moon for seven days leading up to the initiation, which then would make the initiation occur on the First Quarter Moon.  21 days before this, then, would mean to gather the flowers on the day of or just before a Full Moon.  The text says that the flowers, once picked, are to be ground finely either in a white mortar or into a white incense (the Betz translation gives two options for this), then left to dry in the shade.  However, I’m not sure this makes sense; given the colors of the flowers, grinding them “into white incense” doesn’t seem likely or possible, nor does it make sense to grind them up before drying them if they need to be ground fine into anything except a paste or mush.  Still, perhaps that’s desired; if they are to be mixed up, perhaps making a single mass of them and letting them dry in the shade (protected from the light of the Sun and the Moon and other stars) could be more effective than letting the flowers dry out first then grinding them up into a powder.

The directions further on in PGM XIII.1—343 suggest that the the seven flowers was to be mixed with the appropriate planetary incense into a “bean”, a small nugget of incense, which was then to presumably be burned; later, the incense and the powder of the seven flowers is to be used when making ink for writing on a special tablet of natron before washing it off in wine and drinking the wine.  PGM XIII.343—646 suggests that, as a general initiatory incense, all seven of the planetary incenses were to be mixed with the the seven flowers, along with unmixed wine; additionally, the seven flowers are to be mixed with ink in the same way as before; though no reference is made here to using the incense as well for this purpose, PGM XIII.646—734 does say to use both the incense and the flowers for the ink.

The use of the flower powder and the incense for making ink is outside the scope of this post, since I want to focus on the process of making the incense.  As said above, the end of PGM XIII.1—343 says that the powder of the flowers is to be mixed with the incense and, presumably, sun vetch (fava beans) into nuggets of incense.  Making pellets like this is something I’ve done before, and was definitely done in the old world as well; while burning a combination of resins works, mixing them ahead of time along with a filler to produce more, thicker, or brighter smoke was often done as well.  However, some sort of liquid would be needed in order to steep and soften the resins and barks in order that they can be ground up; indeed, PGM XIII.646—734 says that, “having ground them all to a powder” (meaning both the flowers at minimum and likely also the incenses), one is to add “wine not mixed with seawater”.  This would moisten the incenses and flowers together, allowing them not only to be more fragrant and pungent, but also giving a bit of sugar to it as well, which would help the incense smoke more; the specific note of “not mixed with seawater” suggests that white wine would have been the preference, which would also line up with the Talmudic use of Cypriot or old white wine, dry and with a greater acidity, for the Temple incense.  The use of fava beans would then act as a binder and filler, giving the incense nuggets as a whole an earthy base to solidify on and would help stretch the use of scarce or expensive ingredients.

The process of soaking and mashing the ingredients, plus curing the nuggets once made (say, in a terracotta or clay container), would indeed take about three weeks, giving the magician enough time to have them ready by the time they were to be used.  What we end up with, essentially, is a type of PGM-specific kyphi, the sacred incense compound used in Egypt for both religious and medicinal purposes, which was also a blend of a variety of resins, flowers, barks, and so forth, many of which according to ancient authors are found in our ingredients above (and which, of course, have overlap with the incense and oil recipes given by the Book of Exodus which may also have been influenced by ancient Egyptian priestly practices).  Given the Egpytian priestly influence in PGM XIII, and the fact that we see the use of this incense both as a form of fumigation as well as a type of sacred medicine (when the ink used to write on the natron tablet is either licked off or washed off into wine and drunk), it’s clear that PGM XIII is really giving us a special type of Hermetic kyphi recipe.

Quantities, unfortunately, are missing from PGM XIII (as they often are from much of the rest of the PGM), so it’s unclear exactly how much of each incense or flower we should use, the ratio of incense and flowers to beans, and so forth, so some experimentation would be needed to come up with something that would resemble the incense of PGM XIII.  Off the top of my head (and I could be really wrong about it), I’d probably think a 2:1:3 ratio by weight would be appropriate for resins to flowers to beans, all having been soaked ahead of time in dry, strong white wine that is, of course, with no salt or salt water added.  Moreover, finding these ingredients can be hard; expensive perfumery is as expensive as ever, and while all the ingredients are still technically available, the fact that some of the ingredients (like costus and, increasingly, frankincense) are considered endangered makes getting hold of sufficient quantities exceptionally difficult.  It is possible to replace the use of raw resins and barks (and even the flowers, too!) with essential oils instead, which could then be used for both making incense (when mashed with fava beans soaked in wine) as well as making a PGM-style anointing oil.

I think I’ll keep an eye out for getting some more flowers later this summer.  It’s unclear how close to what the PGM author and I’ve described I can get, but it’s probably worth a shot.  Having a PGM-style temple incense (and maybe even an oil, if I were to go the essential oil route, or simply distill the resins and flowers into an oil without the wine and fava beans) could be useful, indeed.