Clarifications on Terms for Symbols

It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine when people badly use terms in an occult context.  To be fair, different traditions may use certain terms in particular ways that are specific to that particular tradition, which may or may not differ from normal use.  Other groups treat some terms completely interchangeably when, strictly speaking, the terms signify different things.  Generally, however, there’s not much rigor in how people use specific terms, and end up misusing them (through their own ignorance and confusion) or abusing them (to intentionally mislead or annoy others).  I’d like to clear up a few things and offer some of my definitions for particular terms used in an occult context, this time focusing specifically on terms used for different types of symbols.

For any of these terms, “symbol” is the highest-level term I can think of for any of these following terms.   If you’re not sure what kind of symbol a particular thing is, just say “symbol”.  Everyone understands that.  Not everyone understands what a particular person means by “sigil” or “rune”, however.  Granted, these words are given with my personal definitions, and again, may not be those used by other traditions.  However, for the sake of having a regular inventory of words with specific, unambiguous meanings, here’s how I use these particular things.

Glyphs are symbols used to indicate a basic thought or sound.  In other words, a glyph is much like a written-down word.  Individual letters communicate sounds; individual numerals communicate numbers; individual Chinese characters communicate sounds or concepts or words; the glyphs for the planets, zodiac signs, elements, and alchemical concepts communicate those things and only those things.  Glyphs are essentially a generalized notion of a letter in an alphabet; they are characters in a writing system that includes letters, numbers, punctuation,  labels, and so forth.  Glyphs may or may not be used in an occult context; for instance, these words you’re reading right now are composed of glyphs (letters and punctuation of the English alphabet), but so is an astrological chart (the symbols used to denote the planets and Zodiac signs) or a computer science textbook (punctuation and numerals and diagrams to indicate logical connections or mathematical operations).  Glyphs may be used one at a time (using the symbol for the Sun) or in combination with other glyphs (multiple letters to spell out a name).

Seals are symbols that are invented as a complete unit or are received from a spirit.  Seals cannot be decomposed into more basic things, but are a whole unto themselves.  They are symbols that are not generated according to a particular rule or composed according to sacred geometry.  They are simply abstract symbols that refer to something.  Importantly, especially in my own work, seals are “revealed” or given unto someone by a spirit or person to refer to themselves; seals are an abstract “body” to give an idea a graphical or visual form.  Consider the symbols used to refer to spirits in the Lemegeton Goetia; these are not composed of more base units or other symbols, but are whole things unto themselves.  These are seals, and often have no origin besides “this is what I was shown to use and has no rhyme or reason beyond that”.  Seals are to constructed diagrams what barbarous words of power are to words in the dictionary; they may not have any communicable meaning that us humans can understand, but they work.

Sigils are symbols that are constructed according to a particular algorithm.  Think of the standard way of creating a letter-based sigil according to Agrippa (book III, chapter 30) or as used in modern chaos magic, or like with my own shorthand system.  Alternatively, consider the sigils used for the planets with their planetary intelligences and spirits from Agrippa (book II, chapter 22), which are lines drawn over the qameas of particular planets and playing connect-the-dots with the gematria values of individual letters of a name or word.  Sigils are symbols created according to a defined set of rules (combine these letters, connect these numbers on this qamea, etc.).  They are not always artistically made, although the algorithms used to generate a sigil may have some leeway for style and innovation.  A painting may incorporate sigils, but a sigil is not made of pictures; a sigil is a geometric, abstract form composed or generated from glyphs.

Runes are letters of the writing systems used for Germanic languages prior to the introduction of the Roman script.  In other words, runes are no more than letters of a particularly old style of European alphabet.  These can be classified, generally speaking, into two families: the Scandinavian futhark (both Elder and Younger, together used between the 2nd and 11th centuries) and the Anglo-Saxon futhorc.  There were medieval runes used in some astrological contexts, but generally runes stayed out of Hermetic and Western ceremonial stuff.  However, a particular alphabet known as Darlecarlian runes was in use until the 20th century in a small province in Sweden, but this was certainly the exception to the historical abandonment of runic writing.  There are other systems of writing and symbols that are runiform, such as Old Turkic and Old Hungarian, but these bear only a superficial resemblance to Germanic runes, and are not technically runes on their own as they belong to a different writing system, culture, and geographic area.

Pentagrams are five-pointed stars.  That’s it.  Nothing more than that.  You can only really draw a pentagram one way, regardless of orientation.

Hexagrams are six-pointed stars . Again, nothing special here, but there’s a bit more complexity.  The Star of David is nothing more than a hexagram composed of two overlapping equilateral triangles, which is what’s usually meant by “hexagram”.  The unicursal hexagram is another type, though it’s not original to Crowley by any means; the mathematician Blaise Pascal depicts it in one of his works from 1639.  The “elemental hexagrams” shown in the Key of Solomon (book I, chapter 3) are not, strictly speaking, hexagrams (with the exception of one); they are configurations of two triangles each that do not, necessary, combine to form a proper hexagon.

Pentacles are not stars.  They are not necessarily pentagrams, nor are they necessarily hexagrams.  Pentacles are more of a system of symbols that work together in unison for a particular goal; they are something usually, but not always, more elaborate than a sigil and are not necessarily combined in an algorithmic way.  Consider the pentacles from the Key of Solomon (book I, chapter 18), or the Elemental Weapon of the Earth as used in the Golden Dawn, or the protective lamen with the pentagram and extra symbols used in the Lemegeton Goetia, or that used in the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano.  Pentacles are, essentially, the physical version of a graphic design composed of one or more symbols, often including letters and names, and arranged in a method more akin to sacred geometry than algorithmic combining or tracing.  Pentacles are tangible objects, things you can hold and touch and wear.  All pentacles are talismans, although not all talismans are pentacles.  For instance, a talisman engraved in a circular stone may have the design of a fish surrounded by Hebrew words can be considered a pentacle, but a talisman of a stone fish with words engraved on it is not a pentacle.  Pentacles are generally round, flat objects such as a circular piece of paper or a metal disc that have a design engraved, painted, drawn, or otherwise inscribed upon it as a graphic design of a system of symbols.  Pentacles are not oddly-shaped things like carved statues or rings or wands, despite its talismanic properties or designs on them.  Although the words “pentacle” and “pentagram” are related and were originally used interchangeably, the word “pentacle” started to be used for any magical talisman in the form of a pentagram or hexagram starting in medieval French.  An alternate etymology combines this with an older French word for pendant, pentacol or pendacol, or something worn around the neck.  Indeed, most pentacles are typically worn around the neck as lamens, which is probably the most correct use of this word in my opinion, but can easily be expanded to other (typically circular and flat) objects with a system of magical symbols inscribed upon it.

Tetragrammaton (more properly the Tetragrammaton) is another word for the four-letter name of God, Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh or Yahweh or Jehovah or whatnot.  The word is Greek and literally means “the thing of four letters”.  It is a title to refer to the sacred name of God, akin to the Hebrew haShem “the Name”, but is often used in Hermetic and Solomonic work as itself as a sacred name of God.  However, this is nothing more than a word composed of individual letters; the word “Tetragrammaton” does not refer to any pentacle or other occult design.

49 Days of Definitions: Part V, Definition 1

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

Today, let’s discuss the eighteenth definition, part V, number 1 of 3:

(Reasonable) speech is the servant of Nous.  For what Nous wants, speech in turn interprets.  Nous sees everything, and eyes all corporeal (things).  And yet Nous does not become an observer for the eyes, but the eyes for Nous.

The last set of definitions investigated the different types of living beings, and most significant among them is Man.  Man has a body, so Man is a living being.  Further, Man has soul and spirit, enabling Man to grow and move of its own accord.  Because it increases and decreases according to the element of earth within its body, Man can die, so it is mortal and not immortal.  We know that living beings with body, soul, and spirit also have voice, but Man has this in addition to Nous.  This distinction from IV.1 is important, and the clarification between living beings with voice with Nous and living beings with voice without Nous now becomes apparent.

For one, “reasonable speech is the servant of Nous”.  Thus, Nous as God or Nous as possessed by Man enables any living being or entity or non-entity to be reasonable; Man is, after all, a reasonable entity (I.1, IV.1).  Now we find that speech, which is made possible by voice that animals and Man possess, serves Nous, and above all reasonable speech.  This is made a little more clear in the Greek word logos, meaning many things, but among them speech, reason, discourse, order, logic, science, knowing, and many other things.  The concept of logos is pretty complex and has been used in many traditions and philosophies, but suffice to say that here it refers to the power of languge and utterance.

However, not all utterance is reasonable.  Animals, for instance, utter many different kinds of sounds and patterns of sounds in a way that modern biologists and zoologists would classify as language, but this is a pretty far cry from how humans communicate using their utterances.  We can get by using grunts and cries, it’s true, but that’s still a marked change from the language used to describe, say, Hermetic philosophy.  It’s by this sort of high-minded “reasonable” speech that Man makes use of when he uses Nous, since reasonable speech serves Nous and not Man.  This also implies that all reasonable speech, used everywhere and by any human, also serves Nous; after all, Nous is with each member and entity belong to Man, which connects all of us to the Nous itself that is God.

Continuing the definition, this makes sense: “what Nous wants, speech in turn interprets”.  Thus, whatever Nous desires to happen, this is made clear and reasonable (and, thus, intelligible in a way unique to humanity) by the power of reasonable speech, by the power of logos.  The idea of reasonable speech, or what we might call the Word, is what enables Nous to act.  Consider the first words of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.  Word and Mind go together very tightly.  The relationship between Nous and Logos was clarified by Hermes in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter 9, part 1):

Now sense and thought do seem to differ, in that the former has to do with matter, the latter has to do with substance. But unto me both seem to be at-one and not to differ—in men I mean. In other lives sense is at-oned with nature, but in men thought. 

Now mind doth differ just as much from thought as God doth from divinity. For that divinity by God doth come to be, and by mind thought, the sister of the word (logos) and instruments of one another. For neither doth the word (logos) find utterance without thought, nor is thought manifested without word.

When “speech in turn interprets” what Nous desires, this allows Nous to make its intelligibility known to those who can reason.  Man reasons due to the presence of Nous within Man.  Thus, Nous can communicate with Man through Logos, and vice versa.  However, this is often done by means of Logos itself, since Nous contacting Nous doesn’t really work, since Nous is Nous.  Reasonable speech is what bridges the gap between intelligibility and sensibility; it’s what allows things from outside heaven without body to communicate and interact with things inside heaven with body.  All things are part of God, but it’s impossible to sense what is not sensible.  Speech allows such a thing to happen; speech is an important intrinsic mechanic that allows the different parts of God to work in harmony with each other.  Voice is a sensible thing; reason is an intelligible thing.  Combining both to obtain reasonable speech allows both to interact, and allows the intelligible to become sensible.

The next part of the definition essentially makes a comparison to drive this point home using sight and observation.  Consider that “Nous sees everything”; after all, “God is Nous” (I.4), “nothing is uninhabited by God” (III.1), and “every move of soul is perceived by Nous” (II.2).  Thus, all things both in heaven and out of heaven are seen by Nous, or God.  However, the eyes that living beings have can only see that which is “corporeal”, i.e. sensible since sensible things possess bodies of some sort.  The set of observable things is greater than and includes the set of visible things; for instance, Nous can perceive soul, which is invisible (I.3), but living beings cannot see soul.  This is made extra powerful by the fact that light is what reveals visible things (II.6), and the eyes react to light in order to witness or observe a visible thing; however, being visible requires something to be sensible, and that which is only intelligible cannot be seen, i.e. the bodiless and intelligible God.  Thus, in this sense, Nooic observation is to corporeal sight what reasonable speech is to utterance: that which involves Nous is broader and more transcendent, and that which serves to aid Nous.

However, the definition clarifies that “Nous does not become an observer for the eyes, but the eyes for Nous”.  What this means is that Nous does not exist to observe for the sake of the eyes; Nous and observation are not the result of seeing.  Intead, seeing is a means by which the Nous observes.  The eyes serve the Nous; the Nous does not serve the eyes.  In another sense, this also means that the eyes cannot see the Nous or by means of the Nous, but the Nous can see both eyes and by the means of the eyes.  Hermes said as much in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter 7, part 2):

No ear can hear Him, nor can eye see Him, nor tongue speak of Him, but [only] mind and heart.

What this means for speech is that Nous uses speech to further the aims and desires of the Nous; Nous can use logos itself, the concept behind speech, as well speak as any word.  However, those who speak cannot do the same to Nous: those who speak cannot speak Nous for their own benefit, nor can they directly speak of the Nous, nor can they speak pure logos itself, though it manifests in reasonable speech.  Reasonable speech comes about as a result of Nous, but Nous does not come about as a result of reasonable speech, just as observation of the intelligible does not come around from sight of the visible alone.  Consider what Hermes taught Asclepius regarding his own words in the Corpus (chapter 9, part 10):

My word (logos) doth go before [thee] to the truth. But mighty is the mind, and when it hath been led by word up to a certain point, it hath the power to come before [thee] to the truth.  And having thought o’er all these things, and found them consonant with those which have already been translated by the reason, it hath [e’en now] believed, and found its rest in that Fair Faith.  To those, then, who by God[’s good aid] do understand the things that have been said [by us] above, they’re credible; but unto those who understand them not, incredible.

There, Hermes has used his reasonable speech of logos to serve the Nous in bringing Asclepius forward to it.  However, the mind (Nous) is more powerful than words, and words serve the mind only up until a certain point, when the mind is able to act and work directly instead of by servants or media such as words.  The Nous works in the world by means of Logos, just as a wealthy landowner uses his servants to work outside or even within his land; however, only when the servants bring something to his attention and presence directly does the landowner work directly.  This requires the servants to work for the landowner, and not vice versa; the landowner speaks, and things are done.  Thus, the Nous employs Logos, and things are accomplished.  Hermes was indeed employed by the Nous, through the guide of Poemander, to spread the word to guide others to Nous (chapter 1, part 27):

Why shouldst thou then delay? Must it not be, since thou hast all received, that thou shouldst to the worthy point the way, in order that through thee the race of mortal kind may by [thy] God be saved?

The comparison with sight and eyes in this definition brings up another interesting thought to my mind here.  With sight, we have two components: the act of seeing (sight) and the faculty of seeing (the eye).  The two are very tightly coupled; the eye sees, because that’s what the eye does.  In a sense, the eye is embodied sight.  Similarly, there’s Nous and Logos, the Mind and Word; the Mind makes Word because that’s what the Mind does.  Thus, the Mind is a kind of divine Word, since it is what it does.  This brings to mind the phrase “I am what I am” from Exodus, the reply of God given to Moses when asked for the divine name: “EHYEH ASHER EHYEH” (aleph-heh-yod-heh aleph-shin-resh aleph-heh-yod-heh).  However, if we change the “Y” in the second “EHYEH” from a yod to a vav, we get “EHYEH ASHER EHWEH”.  As it turns out, there’s a grammatical relationship between “EHWEH” (aleph-heh-vav-heh) and “YAHWEH” (yod-heh-vav-heh), the Tetragrammaton, the ineffable name of God in the Torah; this holy name has a meaning something similar to “I make to be” or “I create”.  Thus, the hypothetical name “EHYEH ASHER EHWEH” can be interpreted as “I am what I do” (using the obscure Hebraic root heh-vav-heh).  Thus, the One who is what it is is also what it does; this is both faculty and act at once.  The Mind spoke the Word in the beginning to create, and since the faculty and the act are one because God is what God does, the Mind is the Word.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Ring of Solomon +2

I went to a party back in January to celebrate Thor conquering the ice giants to drive back winter.  Fantastic party, and it’s held every year by one of my Nordic pagan friends who brews his own mead.  I lost a few hours of that night, but otherwise it was SO awesome.  Well, I ended up meeting someone particularly interesting at that party who knows the host through several different scenes in the area.  I noticed the tattoo sleeve on her arm, which incorporates alchemical symbols; I asked about them, and she replied with the four Powers of the Sphynx (to know, to dare, to will, to keep silent).  Immediately I knew I was talking to someone genuine, and heavens above and hells below she’s awesome.  Spagyrist, Mesoamerican occultist, stonecarver, and silversmith.  She knows her shit and has been at it for a long time.

Well, the silversmithing bit caught my interest.  Although I’m decent with wood and pyrography, the metal stuff she makes is fantastic (she showed me several impressive rings and a pendant-knife she made “out of boredom”).  This stuff is well beyond my capability to make, and for some of the more detailed items I need, I’d rather have something professionally and nicely made by someone who knows what their doing (required purification, occult virtues, planetary timing, etc.). I commissioned her for a Solomonic ring based on the one I was currently using.  That one was made of hematite worn on the pinkie, and the design was the one based off on this post at The Occult and Magic: a Star of David, Michael, and Tzabaoth written on the outside and the Tetragrammaton written on the inside.  I interpreted the three-circle design of the Ring of Solomon from the Lemegeton to be representative of using the outer, top, and inner sides of the ring, instead of a circular plate on the ring.  I used a dremel tool to engrave the letters in.  It was passable.  She noticed it and complimented its power (she said it had a distinct “back the fuck off” note), but the material used for it and the energy didn’t quite match up.

All the more reason, then, to get a new and better ring.  The design was to look mostly the same: the Tetragrammaton on the inside of the ring, with the names Tzabaoth and Michael on the outside with a Star of David which, if possible, would be circumscribed with a circle and a dot in the middle.  If she wanted to be fancy, I suggested she could engrave the Star of David on a topaz and set that on the ring.  Graphically, the design looks like this:

And, given that, this is what I ended up with:

This.  Is.  Incredible.  A silver band with Hebrew letters and a beautiful clear sunstone, with a dotted hexagram underneath it.  Very, very nice touch.  Since she understands the significance and importance of timing, we were originally going to go with a particularly powerful solar election back on March 25th, but we both dropped the ball on that, so she was going to try and get it done during a Sunday on a solar hour.  My assumption is that the ring is a solar instrument of magic, hence the timing.

Well, instead, this past weekend, she was kicked out of bed on Sunday with something telling her to get the ring done at noon that day, and she did; by the time she finished, it had a definite warmth that almost burned her skin.  She told me it was finished, and I was somewhat confused about the timing: the day of the solar eclipse? Sun conjunct balsamic moon?  Sun conjunct Algol?  Sun peregrine?  For a solar talisman of protection, it seemed that she couldn’t’ve picked a worse election.  I had my doubts, but was going to keep the ring either way: if the election defeated the defensive purpose of the ring, then I was going to keep it as a Trojan Horse-esque gift for someone I particularly dislike; if it worked, or if I could get the proper powers to make it work, I would keep it and use it as it’s meant to be used.  After all, what good is a line of defense if it’ll just buckle or, worse, backfire?

However, upon putting the ring into my hand, it felt positively comforting and strong, like a welcomed last gasp of air or a bright light at the end of the tunnel to see everything with.  And, upon wearing it (a perfect fit!), I felt a strong presence wrap around me, and my friend said that I went positively glowing.  Since this isn’t the kind of power my friend normally interacts with, and the fact that she was pretty much made to do it as a matter of capital-letter Inspiration, I’m pretty sure this ring is good to go.  Besides, what else is magic for, if not to bypass and surpass the natural circumstances and mechanics of the cosmos to Get Shit Done?  Of course, I’m still going to run a few tests, readings, and analyses on the thing to make sure it’s good to go, and if so, have it undergo a proper solar consecration of its own (probably using a dab of Abramelin oil and a wash of Goldschläger); she left it intentionally “unsealed” so I could work my own magic on the thing, which was kind of her.  I’m very confident that this thing will become a fast friend of mine, in terms of ritual tools and generally cool things to have.

I mean, come on.  I HAVE A FUCKING MAGIC RING.  I am officially living in an RPG.

The silversmith, Raven Orthaevelve, is always interested in furthering her business and skills and is willing to take commissions, especially with magical, occult, or other ritual items.  Her prices are very affordable, especially considering the quality and skill she employs in making really detailed or difficult stuff.  You can contact her at orthaevelve@gmail.com if you’d like to ask her for something, or look at her Etsy page.  Really, she’s fabulous.  Plus, she’s practically dying to make jewelry, knives, and other tools specifically for magical use, and she really does know her shit.  Get in contact her and commission her for stuff; you won’t be disappointed.  Plus, if she gets enough commissions from magicians to pay for it, she’ll be able to get a set of Hebrew stamps for metalworking that’ll really make her stuff impressive for our kind of crowd.

Also, right after I commissioned her for the ring, I found this little thing on Amazon.  For those among us with a more Christian persuasion, this would be a perfect premade substitute for a Solomonic ring.  However, I’ve noticed with other rings that the material it’s made of (tungsten carbide) has some interesting effects in that it helps work as a natural shield for the wearer as well as a blinder on the wearer.  YMMV.