On Making the House Chart from the Shield Chart

I never expected this blog to hit its 800th post, but here we are.  It’s a good milestone to meet, and one for which I’m proud!  And for this post, well…this is one of those cases where I know I’ve written about the subject before, but this is a subject that I think deserves to be written more clearly and explicitly, because I have some Thoughts and Opinions on the subject, and the subject has come up several times in the past few weeks between different groups of people that keeps it on my mind.  So, get ready, dear reader, because we’ve got a rant ahead of ourselves to make to make a point about a particular subject in geomancy.

The subject in question?  How to construct a geomantic House Chart from its corresponding Shield Chart.  As for why we’re spending almost 6000 words on the subject, well…let’s begin, shall we?

The idea here is simple: given a Shield Chart with its sixteen figures, the latter twelve (composed of the Daughters, Nieces, and Court figures) being generated from the first four Mothers according to the usual rules of geomancy, we take the first twelve of those figures (the four Mothers, the four Daughters, and the four Nieces) and plop each into one of the twelve houses of a House Chart.  In this way, not only do we have the benefit of using the usual set of techniques for the Shield Chart, but we can use the grammar of an astrological horoscope to interpret the figures, as well, interpreting each figure as being in a particular house.  The question arises—and, I should note, only for those in modern European/Western practices of geomancy—about how to go about putting, arranging, and allotting the figures into the House Chart.

The traditional method, as John Michael Greer has said in his books on geomancy, is “simplicity itself”.  Simply give the figures of the Shield Chart to the houses of the House Chart in the order that we traditionally make them: the four Mothers go into the first four houses, the four Daughters into the second four houses, and the four Nieces into the last four houses:

Mothers Daughters Nieces
First House I House V House IX
Second House II House VI House X
Third House III House VII House XI
Fourth House IV House VIII House XII

Easy, simple, straightforward.  Not only is this easy, but it’s also the oldest and most traditional method that we see across the vast majority of all geomantic texts classical and modern—and not in just European geomancy, but in other forms of geomancy, as well.  Although the notion of a House Chart separate from the Shield Chart, or at least the notion of drawing and presenting the figures in a horoscope-type format either in addition to or instead of the traditional Shield Chart layout, certainly seems to be a European thing, we see certain positions of figures in a Shield Chart described in the same language and significations of the twelve houses where we’d otherwise expect them, such that the First Daughter talks about children and games (House V), the Second Niece regarding kings and judges (House X), and the like.  We see it in Arabic and Persian geomantic texts as much as we do Latin and French ones, and we even see the same system at play in a variety of African geomantic systems, including Malagasy sikidy, which although it has developed in its own unique way is still recognizably geomancy.  Even one of my noble academic colleagues, the good and brilliantly-learned Dr. Matthew Melvin-Koushki, who has gone over many dozens of pre-19th century Persian and Arabic geomantic works, hasn’t seen evidence yet to the contrary, and I’ve only ever seen this traditional association and allotment in any pre-modern (and most modern) such texts I can get my hands on and in any discussion with my Middle Eastern and South Asian geomancer colleagues.  It would seem that the use of the language or grammar of the twelve astrological houses of the horoscope has been used from a super early date in the practice of geomancy, if not going back to the very origins of the art itself, and has been used the whole world over for a thousand years.  If there’s any one house allotment system to use based on tradition, popularity, or commonality, it’s this one.  It’s quite accurate to say that the first twelve positions of the Shield Chart (or “fields”, as I’ve elsewhere called them) really are and have the same meaning as the twelve houses of a horoscope, quite as they are.

The venerable Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, however, has different thoughts on the matter.  In his (possibly spurious) Of Geomancy, usually bundled with his Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, he first talks about the traditional method of allotting the figures from the Shield Chart to the House Chart as we would otherwise expect:

And these 8 Figures do make 8 Houses of Heaven, after this manner, by placing the Figures from the left hand towards the right: as the foure Matres do make the foure first Houses, so the foure Filia doe make the foure following Houses, which are the fift, sixt, seaventh, and eighth: and the rest of the Houses are found after this manner; that is to say, out of the first and second is derived the ninth; out of the third and fourth the tenth; out of the fifth and sixth the eleventh; and out of the seventh and eighth the twelfth: By the combination or joyning together of two Figures according to the rule of the even or uneven number in the remaining points of each Figure.

But then Agrippa brings up another notion:

And this which we have declared in the common manner observed by Geomancers, which we do not altogether reject neither extoll; therefore this is also to be considered in our judgements. Now therefore I shall give unto you the true Figure of Geomancy, according to the right constitution of Astrologicall reason, which is thus.

As the former Matres does make the foure Angles of an House, the first maketh the first Angle, the second the second Angle, the third maketh the third Angles, and the fourth the fourth Angle; so the four Filiae arising from the Matres, doe constitute the foure succedent Houses; the first maketh the second House, the second the eleventh, the third the eighth, and the fourth maketh the first House: the rest of the Houses, which are Cadents are to be calculated according to the Rule of their triplicity; that is to say, by making the ninth out of the first and fifth, and the sixth our of the tenth and second, of the seventh and eleventh the third, and of the fourth and eighth the twelfth.

Although Agrippa notes that the “common manner observed by the Geomancers” is what should arguably be used (a valid interpretation of “therefore this is also to be considered in our judgments”, and which he simply accepts without praise nor disdain), he himself uses a different method, which is to give the four Mother figures to the four angular (or cardinal) houses, which are Houses I, IV, VII, and X—or, rather, to Houses I, X, VII, and IV, in that order.  Although the numbering of houses in the House Chart proceeds counterclockwise from the Ascendant, Agrippa allots the figures in clockwise order, because this is the direction of the passage of the Sun: House I represents the eastern horizon where the Sun rises, House X the zenith of the skies where the Sun is found at midday, House VII the western horizon where the Sun sets, and House IV the nadir of the skies where the Sun is found at midnight.  Once the Mothers are put in the angular houses, the Daughters are then put in the succedent houses, again clockwise (so Houses II, XI, VIII, and V, in that order).  So far, so good, right?

What would then follow, as logic should dictate, is that the the remaining Nieces into the cadent houses, again clockwise (so Houses III, XII, IX, and VI, in that order)—but Agrippa breaks from the usual method here.  Instead of giving the Nieces to the House Chart, Agrippa simply makes new figures entirely:

  • House III (which would be the First Niece) is instead the sum of the figures from Houses VII and XI (Third Mother and Second Daughter)
  • House XII (which would be the Second Niece) is instead the sum of the figures from Houses IV and VIII (Fourth Mother and Third Daughter)
  • House IX (which would be the Third Niece) is instead the sum of the figures from Houses I and V (First Mother and Fourth Daughter)
  • House VI (which would be the Fourth Niece) is instead the sum of the figures from Houses II and X (Second Mother and First Daughter)

This is “according to the Rule of their triplicity”, which is to say that the figures in a cadent house are produced from the sum of the figures of the angular and succedent houses in that same triplicity, i.e. element.  Thus, House VI, which is associated with the mutable earth sign of Virgo, is produced from the sum of the figures from House II (associated with the fixed earth sign Taurus) and House X (associated with the cardinal earth sign Capricorn).  This is what we see in Agrippa’s example chart (the original version in Turner has errors, but Tyson’s version is corrected), where we see Laetitia in House VI.  The corresponding Shield Chart has Cauda Draconis as the Fourth Niece, but there is Acquisitio in House II and Puer in House X, and Acquisitio + Puer = Laetitia.  Also note how the Shield Chart has Populus as the Third Niece, but Populus does not appear in the House Chart at all.

Broken out into triplicity arrangements, what we see is this (with the expected Niece placements noted in strikethrough text):

Fire
Triplicity
Earth
Triplicity
Air
Triplicity
Water
Triplicity
Angular
Houses
First
Mother
House
I
Second
Mother
House
X
Third
Mother
House
VII
Fourth
Mother
House
IV
Succedent
Houses
Fourth
Daughter
House
V
First
Daughter
House
II
Second
Daughter
House
XI
Third
Daughter
House
VIII
Cadent
Houses
Third
Niece
House
IX
Fourth
Niece
House
VI
First
Niece
House
III
Second
Niece
House
XII
I + V II + X VII + XI IV + VIII

Let’s be clear here: what Agrippa is doing in his House Chart construction is that he’s taking a huge leap away from the traditional practice of geomancy, and instead taking a heavily astrologized and inventive approach to coming up with a House Chart.  In eschewing the Shield Chart, Agrippa’s really only making use of geomantic process and symbolism without actually performing geomantic divination properly; his method is an offshoot and derivative of geomancy, not a mere variation of it.  It’s like how Gerard of Cremona’s On Astronomical Geomancy is neither proper geomancy nor is it proper astrology, but a novel mix halfway between the two that becomes its own thing, a form of sortilege with astrological symbolism in an astrological grammar produced by geomantic processes.

What’s interesting here is that I’ve never really seen Agrippa’s exact approach put into practice by…well, anyone, really.  This method of developing a House Chart by putting the Mothers into the angular houses, Daughters into the succedent houses, and Nieces…well, rather, the sum of particular pairs of Mothers and Daughters into the cadent houses according to their shared triplicity is not something I’ve encountered in any other geomantic text besides this one (possibly spurious) text by Agrippa.  It could be that Agrippa may have obtained this method from some innovative geomancer before his time, but I can’t find any record or hint of that; to my mind, it’s more likely that Agrippa himself was the innovator of this method of developing a House Chart based on (but not making use of the entirety of) a Shield Chart by only using the “original” points from the Mothers, which were transposed (but not fundamentally altered) into the Daughters, then using his own astrological reasoning to complete the House Chart using geomantic addition but not the usual addition algorithm from the Shield Chart.  Why?  Well, we can take a guess, from his Second Book of Occult Philosophy, chapter 53, “that no Divination without Astrology is perfect”:

We have spoken in the foregoing Chapters of the divers kindes of Divinations: But this is to be noted that all these require the use and rules of Astrology, as a key most necessary for the knowledge of all secrets; and that all kinds of Divinations whatsoever have their root and foundation in Astrologie so, as that without it they are of little or no use; yet Astrological Divination, in as much as the Celestials are causes and signs of all those things which are, and are done in these inferiors, doth give most certain demonstrations by the situation, and motion onely of Celestial bodies, of those things which are occult or future; of which we shall in this place speak no further, since of this Science huge Volums have been wrote by the Ancients, and are everywhere extant.

…Also Geornancy it self the most accurate of Divinations, which divines by points of the earth, or any other superfices, or by a fall, or any other power inscribed, doth first reduce them to Celestial figures, viz. to those sixteen which we above named, making judgement after an Astrological manner, by the properties and observations thereof: and hither are referred all natural Divinations by lots whatsoever, the power whereof can be from no where else then from the heaven, and from the minde of them that work them. For whatsoever is moved, caused or produced in these inferiors, must of necessity imitate the motions, and influences of the superiours, to which, as to its roots, causes, and signs it is reduced, the judgement whereof is shewed by Astrological Rules.

Even though Agrippa puts geomancy on a level above other forms of divination (mostly sortilege), he still subjects it to astrology and claims that it works because of astrology, and that only when “making judgments after an Astrological manner”.  Agrippa is not content to let geomancy be geomancy as geomancy always was, but to essentially subjugate it and make it obey his understanding of astrological concepts applied to something that isn’t astrological in nature.  It’s true that geomancy does (or, more accurately, can) take a hefty amount of influence from the grammar and symbolism of astrology, but geomancy was still always its own thing from the get-go.  It would seem that Agrippa disagrees, and he attempted to “correct” it by making it as astrological as possible by eschewing the figures of the Shield Chart in chart of his own form of generation of figures in the House Chart.

Generally, when people construct a House Chart along Agrippa’s ideas, they’ll put the Mothers and Daughters into the House Chart just as Agrippa does, starting in House I and House II respectively and proceeding clockwise from there, but then they’ll put Nieces in the cadent houses clockwise starting in House III, not add together the figures of that cadent house’s triplicity mates together to come up with a new figure.  What they end up with is this method:

Mothers Daughters Nieces
First House I House II House III
Second House X House XI House XII
Third House VII House VIII House IX
Fourth House IV House V House VI

It bears remembering that Agrippa just doesn’t use the Nieces at all, although others say he does—notably, Franz Hartmann in his 1889 book The Principles of Astrological Geomancy, where he presents it along with the traditional method but seems to prefer this faux-Agrippa method over the traditional one.  I’m not certain whether Hartmann was the first to attribute this allotment method to Agrippa, but it is the earliest reference I’ve seen yet, and it’s not like there was all that much geomantic material being published between 1700 and 1900.  Stephen Skinner in his Geomancy in Theory and Practice (and in his older Terrestrial Astrology) simply calls this the “esoteric” method, but what’s clear is that when people say they’re using the Agrippa-style method of house allotment, they’re not actually using what Agrippa proposes to do, which is to eschew the Nieces in favor of cardinal and fixed triplicity sums of figures for the cadent houses.  For this reason, I’m going to start calling this the “faux-Agrippa” method from here on out, though Skinner’s “esoteric” method sounds pleasant enough.  Skinner calls it this because:

It has often been said that the correct method of allocation is the real secret of geomancy which has never been published. Even Aleister Crowley, who was in the habit of ‘telling everything like it is’, admitted that a major key had been left out of his explanation of the technical side of astro-geomancy. That key was the House allocation system. Amongst the systems outlined in this book is the major key which was omitted.

The “esoteric” allotment method had probably “never been published” (except in Hartmann and potentially a few other contemporaneous or slightly earlier geomancers whose works I don’t have access to, should any exist) because it was never actually a thing until someone said it was, as well as the fact that there was no allocation because the figures were already in their own houses according to their own logic and thus didn’t need any such allocation, but here we are anyway.  I should also note that Aaron Leitch discusses this method in a 2006 article on geomancy on his website.  However, Hartmann’s book, although still being published even in our modern day, probably doesn’t have as much reach as Leitch’s website does nowadays, so between Leitch’s webpage and the books of both Hartmann and Skinner, it’s likely that this is how the faux-Agrippa method became so (relatively) widespread in modern times.

The underlying rationale of the faux-Agrippa method is basically the same as that of Agrippa’s true method.  Basically, the Mothers get assigned to the angular houses because, being the first, they must therefore also be the strongest figures of the whole chart; the Daughters, being generated from the Mothers, have some strength but are less strong than the Mothers, and so get assigned to the succedent houses as being not the strongest but also not the weakest houses; the Nieces (if present at all), being made last, have the least strength, and so go to the cadent houses as the weakest of the houses.  I have several issues with this rationale:

  • I’ve never seen it mentioned in any geomantic text of a notion of strength or power between the Mothers, Daughters, and Nieces.  To be sure, there is a notion of age and seniority given the names for these groups of figures, but I’ve never seen it expressed in this way before in any other geomantic text outside those influenced by Agrippa.  It even runs counter to some African practices of geomancy, where the Nieces are looked at as restraining influences on their parent Mothers or Daughters, suggesting an equality of power even if not in rank.
  • The first two Nieces are formed from the addition of pairs of the Mothers, and the second two from the addition of pairs of Daughters.  If the Daughters are formed from the points of the Mothers, and if the Daughters are weaker than the Mothers because they proceed from them, then it would follow that the first two Nieces should have a power on par with that of the Daughters as a whole, while the second two Nieces are weaker than either the first two Nieces or the four Daughters.  But we don’t see that borne out here, either.  In Agrippa’s true system, where the Nieces are formed from addition of one Mother and one Daughter each, I suppose one could argue that such a figure could be conceived as being weaker than either, but it could also be argued to being the figure of average strength between the two, weaker in power than the Mother involved yet stronger in power than the Daughter involved—and this view is more true to the geomantic notion of addition, especially as seen in the Court with the Judge and Witnesses.
  • The points of the Daughters are the exact same points of the Mothers, just transposed 90° to be read from right to left instead of from top to bottom.  I would argue that, although we procedurally draw out the Daughters after the Mothers, when we make the four Mother figures from scratch, we’ve already made the Daughters at the same time by reading the points in a non-consecutive order.  In that light, the Daughters are neither weaker nor younger than the Mothers.
  • Most importantly (and disastrously), the new houses of the figures gives them different meanings and contexts than what their own positions have always had in the rest of extant geomantic practice (i.e. according to the traditional allotment).  This is a massive departure from normative practice that I simply do not trust because the positions of the figures in the Shield Chart are already the houses of the House Chart; to shuffle them around is like looking at a horoscope, seeing a planet in a house you don’t like, and randomizing the houses for a more intellectually pleasing but empirically unfounded arrangement.  Either we’re giving each figure a dual context of interpretation which complicates things, or we’re replacing the natural context of interpretation of figures with one with a non-geomantic system which stands to break things.
  • We also see this echoed in the technique of company, which is intimately connected to the geomantic triads. Company is described as only being formed between odd-even houses of the House Chart, never even-odd ones (so Houses I and II or Houses III and IV, etc., but never Houses II and III). Although this is not explained, this makes the most sense when you consider that these pairs of houses are also the pairs of figures in the Shield Chart that add up together to form a third figure, as in the triads (e.g. First Mother and Second Mother, Third Mother and Fourth Mother, etc.).  To use an angular-based allotment method like what Agrippa or faux-Agrippa would do would break the structural logic undergirding company entirely.

But we’re not done yet!  There’s yet another method of allotting figures from the Shield Chart to the House Chart, which is also definitely a modern innovation: that of the Golden Dawn and, from it, of Thelema, both of which use Agrippa’s underlying rationale but expressed in a different way.  In the Golden Dawn’s Zelator 1°=10° grade, which contain instructions in the art of geomancy, as well as in the Thelemic Liber Gaias sub figurâ XCVI, the student is instructed to allot the figures of the House Chart to the Shield Chart in this manner:

Mothers Daughters Nieces
First House X House XI House XII
Second House I House II House III
Third House IV House V House VI
Fourth House VII House VIII House IX

What’s going on here is that, like Agrippa, the Golden Dawn method of assigning the figures from the Shield Chart to the House Chart gives the Mothers to the angular houses and the Daughters to the succedent houses, but unlike Agrippa, they give the Nieces to the cadent houses.  Moreover, the Golden Dawn doesn’t start allocating the figures with Houses I and II and proceeding clockwise around the chart like Agrippa does, but they start with Houses X, XI, and XII and proceed counterclockwise around the chart.  Although I can’t find an explanation of why the Golden Dawn does what it does against what Agrippa does or what long-standing geomantic tradition does, there are a few things that occur to me here:

  • They allot the figures to the houses in a counterclockwise direction in the flow of the houses themselves, which are counted counterclockwise from House I.  This is also, when considered from modern European languages, a form of “reading from right to left”, which is much like how the figures are generated in the Shield Chart.
  • They start allotting the figures in House X, the angular house associated with Capricorn, the cardinal sign of Earth.  This would then be the “earthiest” of the angular houses according to its zodiacal association (the logic of which has a number of faults), which would then be seen as most fitting for geomancy, “seeing by earth” and thus an elementally Earth-based form of divination—which is why geomancy is taught in the Zelator 1°=10° grade, itself associated with the element (and planet) Earth on their Hermetic Tree of Life.

I guess they have a logic, even if it’s not one I’d go with.  For one, assigning a natural zodiac sign to the houses has always been a debatable thing, and it’s only in modern times (especially with the rise of the 12-letter alphabet linking signs with houses and planets, which is not exactly a good thing) that we see it so accepted as a default fact.  For two, if any house is particularly earthy, I’d say it’s House IV, not House X, because House IV literally represents earth and land, while House X represents the sky itself.  I see the logic of saying House X is earthy because of Capricorn, but that logic is so shaky compared to the meaning of the houses themselves.  That being said, it is true that the Golden Dawn geomantic process does heavily involve the invocation of the planetary spirits to perform divination, and as celestial entities, perhaps House X might not be a bad choice for that, being closest to House IX.  I guess it’s something, I suppose.

So, with that, we have four house allotment methods: the traditional method, the true Agrippa method, the faux-Agrippa method, and the Golden Dawn method.  Let’s compare them all alongside each other:

Traditional True Agrippa Faux-Agrippa Golden Dawn
First Mother House I House I House I House X
Second Mother House II House X House X House I
Third Mother House III House VII House VII House IV
Fourth Mother House IV House IV House IV House VII
First Daughter House V House II House II House XI
Second Daughter House VI House XI House XI House II
Third Daughter House VII House VIII House VIII House V
Fourth Daughter House VIII House II House II House VIII
First Niece House IX N/A House III House XII
Second Niece House X N/A House XII House III
Third Niece House XI N/A House IX House VI
Fourth Niece House XII N/A House VI House IX
Houses VII + XI N/A House III N/A N/A
Houses II + X N/A House VI N/A N/A
Houses I + V N/A House IX N/A N/A
Houses IV + VIII N/A House XII N/A N/A

Now, with all that done, let’s make a bit of a survey.  Between all the geomancers who have published works under their name or who have published works associated with their name whose books I have access to, who uses what methods? For this, I’m looking at my own library of geomantic works both modern and old, as well as whatever traditional and Renaissance materials I can find on Google Books and Archive.org and other websites, and giving (sometimes approximate) dates of publication or evidence where possible for each author:

  • Traditional
    • Les Cross (2012)
    • Richard Webster (2011)
    • John Michael Greer (c. 2000-2010)
    • Jeanne-Odile Nory de Trebourg (1995)
    • Joël Jacques (1991)
    • Jean-Paul Ronecker (1991)
    • Angele-Marie Cacciaguerra (1989)
    • Henry Drummond Wolff (1908)
    • Abu Hali ben Omar (1704)
    • John Case (1697)
    • Johann Andreas Schmidt (1695)
    • Robert Fludd (1687)
    • John Heydon (1663)
    • Le Sieur de Peruchio (1657)
    • Henri de Pisis (1638)
    • Jean de la Taille de Bondaroy (1574)
    • Christopher Cattan (1558)
    • Pietro d’Abano (c. 1550)
    • Al-Fakini (1535)
  • No distinct House Chart drawn out as such, but interpretations follow the traditional allotment method:
    • Mathilde Sanoda (1993)
    • Gisèle and Gilbert Jausas (1993)
    • Philippe Dubois (1987)
    • Hadji Khamballah (1985)
    • Alain le Kern (1978)
    • Bartholomeo di Roca (Cocles) (1549)
    • Lectura Geomantiae (c. 1400s)
    • Martin of Spain (c. 1310)
  • Agrippa
    • Agrippa (c. 1600)
  • Faux-Agrippa
    • Aaron Leitch? (2006)
    • Priscilla Schwei and Ralph Pestka (1990)
    • Franz Hartmann (1889)
  • Golden Dawn
    • Nick Farrell (2009)
    • Aaron Leitch (2006)
    • Nigel Pennick (1995)
    • Israel Regardie (c. 1937), Chic and Tabitha Cicero (1998), and other Golden Dawn folk
    • Aleister Crowley (c. 1909) and other Thelema folk

Now, I’m not saying that this is an exhaustive survey of every geomantic work written from 1300 onward—I’d love to be so thorough, but I only have access to what I have access to—but I think I’ve made my point clear: it’s not until the late 19th century do we start seeing an angular-based allotment method gaining traction popularly, whether the faux-Agrippa or the Golden Dawn/Thelema methods, and all that’s rather late in the game of geomancy, indeed.  Further outside of Agrippa-influenced or Golden Dawn-influenced modern Western (especially Anglophone) contexts, basically every other geomancer across either all or the vast supermajority of the extant geomantic literature published or written in Europe and everywhere else in the world has always and ever used the traditional straightforward method, from the earliest texts right up into the modern day.  And even then, the traction such angular-based allotment methods do gain is still overwhelmed and overshadowed by the sheer popularity and commonality (and, I argue, the correctness) of geomancers even in our modern era.  However, because of the popularity of the Golden Dawn and Thelema as vehicles for promulgating their (withered and misunderstood) forms of geomancy along with a (perhaps undue) focus on Agrippa’s work as being representative of then-contemporary geomantic practice (which it isn’t), this trend of using angular-based allotment methods persists.

In that 2015 post I referenced at the start of this one, I made the claim that “the Golden Dawn, esoteric, and other ways of allotting the figures from the Shield Chart to the House Chart are suboptimal for use in geomancy”, which I still absolutely claim, but I refrained from calling them wrong.  At this point, I’m no longer going to hedge: the angular-based allotment methods (Agrippa, faux-Agrippa, and Golden Dawn) are not mere variations but outright deviations and lapses from normative and standard geomantic practice that has been practiced the world over for close to a millennia.  I understand that some geomancers do use these methods, and their results work; good for them!  After all, magic works best in practice, not always so in theory.  But let’s be clear that what they’re doing is definitely not common practice (nor should it be!) whether as a deliberate choice or out of ignorance.  I’ve seen, both firsthand myself from my own experiments and according to the reports of others who have used angular-based allotment methods before switching to the traditional method, that the angular-based methods just don’t work as well, as clearly, or as cleanly as the traditional method.  I’m not saying you can’t get an answer out of a House Chart that uses an angular-based method, but it’s like trying to travel with a map that’s upside-down, printed backwards, and torn up into chunks; why make this more difficult than it needs to be?  You still can end up where you want to go, but the process is going to be much more difficult and is much more error-prone than otherwise.  This is likely a reason (and let’s be honest, one of many reasons) why so many students of the Golden Dawn get so frustrated with geomancy and why they so often leave it for other forms of divination.

We know from the actual textual evidence that either all or the vast majority of non-European texts as well as the earliest European geomantic texts never historically considered a separate “House Chart” in geomancy; for them, the geomancy chart was just the geomancy chart, full stop.  The distinction between Shield Chart and House Chart only began to arise in Renaissance European texts as a way to make a geomantic chart more astrological-looking for the sake of convenience, whether for applying certain astrologically-influenced techniques easier at a glance or for the sake of being easy on the eyes for astrologers learning geomancy.  But even then, drawing out the House Chart in addition to or instead of the Shield Chart never actually sought to change the fundamental meanings of the positions of the figures in the Shield Chart: the First Mother was always talking about the querent, the Second Mother about their wealth, the Fourth Mother their home and inheritance, the First Daughter their children, and so forth.  This understanding of the positions of the figures in the Shield Chart, even with the possibility of it being introduced shortly after the original development of geomancy, has been with us for so long that it’s basically fundamental to the practice of geomancy.  It’s only after European texts start drawing out the House Chart that some people—basically just Agrippa, at least until the past 150 years—sought to astrologize geomancy more and more to the point of breaking that identity of the positions of the figures from the Shield Chart and reorganizing those meanings.

In the course of geomancy’s withering over the centuries, with much of the nuance lost from the Court of the Shield Chart and more emphasis placed on the twelve houses of the House Chart, later geomancers who were so far removed from the height of the art (basically the Golden Dawn) ended up making this subjugating of geomancy to (bad) astrology worse by introducing further deviations of their own.  After all, if you forget that the importance of the sixteenth figure of the Sentence, the sum of the Judge and the First Mother, which talks about the effect of the situation as a whole (the Judge) directly on the querent themselves (the First Mother), then what’s to stop you from thinking about the First Mother as anything but the querent?  And if you forget that the Right Witness naturally talks about the querent and their whole side of the situation, and the Left Witness about the quesited and whatever’s facing the querent, then what’s to stop you from thinking of the four Mothers of discussing other things besides the first four houses of the House Chart, a.k.a. the so-called “personal/individual houses”, and the four Daughters as the second four houses, a.k.a. the “interpersonal/relational houses”?  Using the angular-based methods of house allotment breaks all this, and leads to unclear and broken answers arrived at with bad and broken geomancy.  It doesn’t mean you can’t get an answer out of such a chart, but just because a broken clock is right twice a day doesn’t mean the clock is working, either.

As I’ve said before and as I constantly tell to students of geomancy, the House Chart is (and must be!) the same chart as the Shield Chart, with the same figures containing the same meaning and the same message.  This sometimes-common notion of the Shield Chart “contradicting” or “confusing” the House Chart is a modern one, and no pre-modern geomancer ever seemed to really have that problem, because for them, the Shield Chart was inherently the House Chart and vice versa.  The positions of the figures in the Shield Chart have, and have always had, the meanings of the houses as and where they are, and breaking that association of field with their associated house meanings they’ve had for a thousand years to suit an external astrological model of assigning undue importance to some figures over others by apparently misunderstanding what they are is bad geomantic practice.  While I previously considered the different house allotment methods to be like different house systems used in astrology (e.g. Placidus, Porphyry, Regiomontanus, whole sign, etc.), the more I think about it, the more I think that comparison doesn’t hold; as opposed to reasonable ways to reckon where the boundaries of houses fall in an astrological horoscope, what we see here with these deviant (not just variant) house allotment systems is far worse and more damaging to the art of geomancy than quibbling over trigonometrical best practices, and more like trying to mistakenly use a thirteen-sign sidereal zodiac in Hellenistic astrology, because the IAU obviously knows what they’re talking about when it comes to astrology.

Before I’m decried as trying to stifle the innovation and expansion of geomancy into better and more expansive forms, let me be clear: there are absolutely ways to innovate, invent, expand, and develop this art without breaking the fundamental logic and practices that have been around since the very beginnings of the art.  Yet, the use of these deviant house allotment systems definitely breaks that logic and goes against these fundamental practices and associations we’ve had since the start.  To that end, I do not and cannot recommend the use of other house allotment methods besides the traditional, because the traditional method is literally already baked into the Shield Chart: the Houses already are the Fields and vice versa, and the House Chart already is the Shield Chart and vice versa.  The traditional house allotment method isn’t just the best one to use out of several—it’s really the only logical and sensible one to use.

Happy 800th post!  We made it!  Now go forth, and do better and more well-informed geomancy.

On Banishing, and an Angelic Banishing Ritual

I have to say, Curious Cat is a blast, you guys.  While I’ve been on Twitter since I graduated college in 2010, and though it’s always fun (and sometimes hilariously aggravating) to interact with people on there, there’s not a lot of room for anonymity, and you can’t always send people direct messages if you don’t follow them or if someone’s turned DMs off.  Enter Curious Cat, a platform that syncs up with Twitter and Facebook to let you ask people questions, even (and especially) anonymously.  Since I started using it, I’ve been fielding a lot more questions, ranging from the utterly surreal to bawdily sexual and everything in-between.  Given my focus on magic and the occult, a lot of people ask me questions pertaining to, well, magic and the occult, and it’s been great!  Sometimes I can’t answer due to things that just can’t or shouldn’t be discussed publicly, and other times I can’t answer because I simply don’t know enough about a given topic to give an answer, but at least I can say as much.  Sometimes, though, I might have too much of an answer, and there’s a 3000 character limit for my replies.

One of the recent common things I’ve been asked is on the topic of banishing.  Banishing as a ritual unto itself is a mainstay of many forms of Western magic, especially due to the influence of the Golden Dawn and its Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, and its Thelemic variant the Star Ruby.  Quoth Chic and Tabitha Cicero in their Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition:

This simple yet powerful cleansing ritual can be used as a protection against the impure magnetism of others.  It is also a way to rid oneself of obsessing or disturbing thoughts … we feel that the Neophyte needs to concentrate solely on the banishing form, since s/he has a tendency to light up on the astral and unknowingly attract all manner of Elementals at this early stage of the Work. It is far more important for the Neophyte to know how to banish rather than to invoke. Anyone can attract an Elemental or an energy. Getting rid of the same can be more difficult.

And that’s really what banishing’s about, isn’t it?  It’s a kind of ritual-centric cleansing that gets rid of bad spiritual stuff.  Consider the etymology of the word “banish”:

banish (v.)
late 14c., banischen, “to condemn (someone) by proclamation or edict to leave the country, to outlaw by political or judicial authority,” from banniss-, extended stem of Old French banir “announce, proclaim; levy; forbid; banish, proclaim an outlaw” (12c., Modern French bannir), from a Germanic source (perhaps Frankish *bannjan “to order or prohibit under penalty”), from Proto-Germanic *bannan (see ban (v.)). The French word might be by way of Medieval Latin bannire, also from Germanic (compare bandit). The general sense of “send or drive away, expel” is from c. 1400. Related: Banished; banishing.

To banish is, literally, to put out of a community or country by ban or civil interdict, and indicates a complete removal out of sight, perhaps to a distance. To exile is simply to cause to leave one’s place or country, and is often used reflexively: it emphasizes the idea of leaving home, while banish emphasizes rather that of being forced by some authority to leave it …. [Century Dictionary]

When we banish, we purge a person (e.g. ourselves), an object (e.g. a magical tool or supply), or a space (e.g. a temple or a bedroom) from all malevolent, harmful, or otherwise unwanted spiritual influences, whether they’re entities in their own right (e.g. obsessive spirits or spiritual leeches), spiritual energies that aren’t necessarily conscious on their own (e.g. pollution or miasma), or maleficia that’s been cast upon you (e.g. curses or hexes).  Thus, a banishing ritual is a type of spiritual cleansing or purification that gets rid of all this, or at least helps loosen it to make getting rid of it easier.

The thing about banishing rituals is just that: they’re a ritual, and more often than not, they’re explicitly and only rituals.  They use ritual gestures and words to induce this effect, often without the use of physical cleansing supplies such as holy water, incense, or the like.  Yes, many banishing rituals can incorporate these things, but it might be more helpful to think of banishing rituals as a subset of cleansing practices more generally.  Cleansing can take many forms: ablution with lustral water (e.g. khernimma), taking a spiritual bath (e.g. my Penitential Psalms Bath, bathing in a sacred spring or river, or any other number of spiritual bath mixes like the white bath or another kind of herb bath), “cleaning off” with holy water or Florida Water or eggshell chalk or some other physical substance known to have spiritually purifying properties, suffumigating with incense (or smudging, if you do that sort of thing respectfully), and the like.  Sometimes these processes have ritual involved with prayers or specific motions, and sometimes not, where you just wipe yourself down and call it a day.  In the end, though, all these practices serve fundamentally the same purpose: to get rid of bad spiritual stuff.

What we commonly see in the Western ceremonial magic scene is less of a reliance on physical aids to purification and more of a reliance on ritual approaches to the same that often don’t use physical aids, where we use ritual and ritual alone to cleanse ourselves.  This is especially notable for those who are influenced by the Golden Dawn in one form or another, where the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (LBRP, or as my godfather fondly calls it, Le Burp) has spawned any number of variations for any number of pantheons and practices.  However, that doesn’t mean that the LBRP is the only such possible banishing trick we have; there are simpler ones out there, such as Fr. Osiris’ AL-KT Banishing that I’ve incorporated into some of my own works.  Still, the idea is the same: rather than abluting, suffumigating, or other physical approaches to spiritual purification, there are also ritual approaches that don’t use physical means to achieve the same thing.

I agree fully and readily that banishing rituals are useful, because I think spiritual purification is important and necessary for our work as mages and spiritually-inclined people.  When we’re spiritually filthy, it’s harder to think clearly, harder to work well, and harder to keep ourselves hale and whole, while it also makes it easier for us to get distracted, get caught up by life’s problems, and get things messed up easily.  Though spiritual purification, we remove obstacles in our paths or make it easier for us to remove them, but that’s far from being the only benefit!  Purification also prepares us spiritually to become something better and different than we already are, because in purifying ourselves, we not only remove negative spiritual influences that have an external source, but also negative spiritual influences that come from ourselves internally.  In dealing with those, we make ourselves fit and meet to work better and more effectively, sure, but we also prepare ourselves to better accept the powers and blessings of the entities we’re working with.  Purification can be thought of as an aspect of the albedo part of alchemy, where we reduce ourselves to our core essence through removal of all impurities so that we can begin the process of integration from a fresh, clean start.  In this, purification—and thus banishing—are crucial for our work as mages.

But here’s the thing: I don’t like a ritual-focused approach to purification.  Banishing absolutely has its place, but I also claim that physical methods to purity has its place, too.  After all, for all the spiritual stuff we do as magicians and priests and diviners, we’re also incarnate human beings with physical bodies and physical problems.  If we start with the body and work spiritually, we fix the problems we have in the here and now and also loosen and dissolve the problems we have upstream, so to speak.  Not only that, but I find that there are some things that a banishing ritual doesn’t work well to resolve, but which cleansing works done physically do.  And, of course, the reverse applies, too: there are some things that cleansing works done physically don’t resolve, but which banishing rituals do.  Both are needed.  And, moreover, you can do both at the same time, working physical elements into a banishing ritual or ritualizing a cleansing done physically.  You don’t have to do one then the other separately, unless that’s what you want to do.

Personally?  I cleanse (meaning I use physical means to spiritually purify myself, as opposed to “clean”, which is just physical cleaning without a spiritual component) far more often than I banish.  There are times when I will do a proper banishing, sure, but it’s less and less common than a simple dusting with cascarilla or washing myself with holy water, which I do pretty much daily.  Let’s face it: I’m out in the world, dealing with people and their demons, wandering hither and fro through any number of clouds of miasma, and pick up more stuff when I’m out physically in the world than I do in my temple, where, through the protections I have and the safeguards I take, there’s far less that I pick up except that which I try to let in.  I’m not saying I’m impervious to spiritual stuff I attract through the aether, far from it, but I am saying that there’s a lot more that I pick up from just being out in the physical world.  For that reason, I find myself physically cleansing myself far more often than I ritually cleanse myself.  If I were less guarded and less protections up, I’d be banishing more than I am.  But, again, that isn’t to say that I don’t banish.  After all, there’s that whole “purification to readily accept better blessings and good influences” bit I mentioned above, which is one of the reasons why the LBRP is such a mainstay of Golden Dawn practices: it not only keeps you pure, but it prepares you in some pretty profound ways that are utterly necessary for progression within their system of magic.  Those who don’t work Golden Dawn magic or who aren’t in the Golden Dawn system don’t benefit from that, but they can still use it all the same for their own purification needs.

I’m not a Golden Dawn magician, and I’ve never really cared for the LBRP.  While I could use it and get what I needed out of it, it’s not really a thing that I need to do.  Instead, what I use, when I do need a ritual purification that doesn’t rely on physical methods, is something I learned from Fr. Rufus Opus.  Back in the day when he was still teaching his Red Work series of courses (which he’s long since stopped, partially because of his joining the A∴A∴ and partially because he condensed the Green Work section into his book, Seven Spheres), in the very first lesson of the first part of the courses, he introduces a banishing ritual that’s basically a heavily pared-down and modified Trithemian conjuration ritual.  Yes, Johann Trithemius’ Drawing Spirits Into Crystals, that one!  The format is basically the same with many of the same prayers, and calls on the seven planetary angels and the four elemental princes of the world to purify yourself.

I also want to make a note about just that last bit, too.  Fr. RO introduced this ritual as a way to help the beginner purify their sphere, sure, which is great, but he’s using fundamentally the same ritual to banish as we do to conjure the spirits themselves.  More than that, we’re half-conjuring the spirits that are later called upon in the Red Work series of courses to purify the sphere of the magician.  By the use of this ritual, Fr. RO is doing the same thing for his Red Work students as the Golden Dawn did for their initiates with the LBRP: we’re getting used to the fundamental ritual tech that we’ll eventually be expanding upon, and we’re getting slowly acquainted and in tune with the very same angels and spirits that we’ll be working with heavily once we get to that point.  This banishing ritual cleanses the sphere of the magician, sure, but it also prepares the magician for when they start actually working.  Fr. RO never said all this in Black Work 1, nor did he need to; those who would never progress further would still get something useful, and those who would progress further would be slowly prepared for bigger and better results later on far beyond mere purification.

Now, I’m not going to replicate Fr. RO’s original ritual.  Instead, I’m going to share my variant, which I developed slowly over my studies in his Red Work courses years back, and which better matches my own ritual practices; plus, not that there’s anything wrong with this, but the original ritual uses some Christian imagery and language that I don’t much care for anymore, and which I’ve replaced with equivalent deist, Solomonic, or Hermetic language instead.  I’ve also added some visualizations that, though they appeared naturally for me (especially once my spiritual perception became refined and which made sense later on in the course), they can be helpful for those who want them; they’re not necessary, but they can still be useful, especially for beginners.  The only two extra things that might be desired for this ritual are holy water and a wand; both are good to have, but neither are strictly necessary.  The holy water can be used as a preliminary ablution, while the wand is good for tracing a circle and conjuring the presence of the angels generally, but the holy water can be omitted if desired and the wand can be replaced by using the index finger (or the index and middle finger together, if desired) of the dominant hand.  Incense of a purifying and uplifting nature, especially frankincense, may be burned, but it’s absolutely not required for this.  This ritual may be done at any time as necessary or desired, and though it can be done anywhere, it’s best done in a quiet and safe place.

  1. Take a moment to relax and breathe deeply a few times.
  2. Stand to face the East.
  3. If desired, cleanse yourself with some holy water.  You can wipe your forehead and hands, you can make the small three Signs of the Cross on the forehead and lips and heart with the thumb, or you can make one large Sign of the Cross with the thumb and index finger and middle finger on your head, heart, and both shoulders (left to right or right to left, depending on whether you want to go with a Catholic Christian approach, or an Orthodox Christian or qabbalistic approach).
  4. Recite:

    You have cleansed me with hyssop, o Lord; you have washed me whiter than snow.

    O God, author of all good things!  Strengthen me that I may stand fast without fear through this dealing and work.  Enlighten me, oh Lord, so that my spiritual eye may be opened to see and know the works of your hand.

  5. Holding a wand in your dominant hand, or otherwise using the index finger of the dominant hand, trace a circle on the ground around you clockwise starting in the East.  While doing so, recite:

    In the name of God, the Holy, the Almighty, the Light, I consecrate this piece of ground for my defense, so that no evil spirit may have power to break these bounds prescribed here.  Amen.

  6. Conjure the seven planetary angels.  Recite:

    In the name of God, the Holy, the Almighty, the Light!  From the seven heavens above I conjure you, you strong and mighty angels of the seven planets.  Come forth, here to this place and now at this time: Tzaphqiel of Saturn, Tzadqiel of Jupiter, Kamael of Mars, Michael of the Sun, Haniel of Venus, Raphael of Mercury, and Gabriel of the Moon.  Come forth in answer to my call; be with me here, and fill this place with your presence!

    As you do so, visualize the presence of the angels appear around you or the symbols of their planets, starting from behind you to your right and appearing counter-clockwise, with Michael directly in front of you to the East.

  7. Conjure the four elemental angels.  Recite:

    In the name of God, the Holy, the Almighty, the Light!  From the four corners of the Earth I conjure you, you strong and mighty angels of the four elements.  Come forth, here to this place and now at this time: Michael of Fire, Uriel of Earth, Raphael of Air, and Gabriel of Water.  Come forth in answer to my call; be with me here, and fill this place with your presence!

    As you do so, visualize the presence of the angels appear around you or the symbols of their elements, starting in front of you and appearing clockwise, with Michael in the East in front of you, Uriel in the South to your right, Raphael in the West behind you, and Gabriel in the North to your left.  Visualize them a little closer to you and a little below the planetary angels, who stand behind them and a little above them.

  8. Recite:

    Tzaphqiel!  Tzadqiel!  Kamael!  Michael!  Haniel!  Raphael!  Gabriel!
    Michael!  Uriel!  Raphael!  Gabriel!

    Oh you blessed angels gathered, let no spirit nor ill intent nor any scourge of man bring harm to me.  Cleanse now the sphere of this magician; cleanse my body, my soul, my spirit, and my mind of all defilement, all impurity, and all filth.  Let no evil spirit nor pollution nor leech nor any unclean thing here remain.

    Lord, your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.  Make clean my heart within me, and take not your holy spirit from me.

    Amen.

  9. Let yourself become purified with the power and presence of the angels conjured around you.  Feel them washing you with their light and their power, permeating you and passing through you in all directions to remove from you all pollution, harm, and any and every baneful influence.  Stay in this state as long as desired.
  10. Release the spirits. Recite:

    O Lord, I thank you for the hearing of my prayer, and I thank you for having permitted your angels to appear unto me.

    O you angels of the seven planets and you angels of the four elements, I thank you for your presence.  You have come as I have called, and you have aided me as I have asked.  As you have come in peace, so now go in power.

    Amen.

  11. If desired, untrace the circle drawn on the ground with the same implement as before (wand or finger) in a counterclockwise direction, again starting in the East.  Whether or not the circle is untraced, when ready to leave, simply step out of the circle, preferably stepping forward towards the East.

With that specific arrangement of angels of the planets and elements around you, what you’re doing is essentially recreating the arrangement of angels on the Table of Practice used in the Rufus Opus-specific variant of the Trithemian conjuration ritual.  In this case, the angels present aren’t being used to set up a conjuration of the self or anything like that, but rather instead used as a kind of cosmological arrangement of powers upon the magician and their sphere.  It’s a subtle thing, but an important one; again, this ties into the subtle conditioning of banishing to prepare the magician for bigger and better things to come, as well as training the magician in the tools, arrangements, organization, and ultimate cosmology of the practices they’ll later engage in.

So, that’s it.  A simple and straightforward approach to using the planetary and elemental angels for purifying the sphere of the magician with all their powers at once in a balanced, efficient, and effective way.  Are there variants?  Of course!  For instance, the original format of the ritual called on the four elemental kings of the Earth itself: Oriens of the East, Paimon of the West, Egyn of the North, and Amaymon of the South.  If you’re comfortable working with these entities, then by all means, use them!  For those who prefer an angel-only approach, use the four archangel names instead.  There’s good logic for calling on the kings rather than the archangels, especially in that they’re a lot closer to us as incarnate beings than the angels are or ever have been, and so can be called on instead for a better and more incarnation-specific way to purge the sphere of unhelpful or harmful influences.  However, I still prefer to call on the angels for my own reasons.

In addition to calling on the seven planetary angels and the four elemental angels (or kings), you can also call on the twelve zodiacal angels as well: Malkhidael of Aries, Asmodel of Taurus, Ambriel of Gemini, Muriel of Cancer, Verkhiel of Leo, Hamaliel of Virgo, Zuriel of Libra, Barbiel of Scorpio, Adnokhiel of Sagittarius, Hanael of Capricorn, Kambriel of Aquarius, and Barkhiel of Pisces.  This, again, is a cosmological influence from my own, bigger Table of Practice that I personally use nowadays; you’d arrange them so that Malkhidael is aligned to the East, along with Michael of the Sun and Michael (or Oriens) of Fire, and go counterclockwise from there.  You’d conjure them before the planetary angels, using similar language.  However, this is overkill, in my opinion; what’s really necessary are the seven planetary angels and the four elemental archangels/kings.
And there you have it!  A clean ritual for a clean spirit.  What about you?  What sorts of banishing rituals do you use, dear reader?  Do you stick to more physical cleansings and baths, do you take a ritual-centric approach to ritual and spiritual purity, or do you use both?  What techniques, tips, or tricks might you be willing to share?  Feel free to share in the comments!

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: First Swirlings

A few weeks ago, I made a post about an idea about working with a Greek style of Hermetic qabbalah, tentatively calling it kambala (Greek way to write out qabbalah from Hebrew) or to Paradedomenon (lit. “that which is handed down”).  The idea, I claim, is an interesting one: in the absence of Hebrew kabbalah, is it possible to make a Hellenic style of emanationist cosmological magic and theology that works with the Greek letters as magical units and entities in their own right?  Asked another way, could there conceivably be such a thing as a Greek qabbalah?  So I started thinking about it, and I first went and looked up translations of the names of the sephiroth and the like from Hebrew into Greek, and started translating other names into Greek as well, and also rewriting the magic number squares of the planets using Greek letter-numerals to develop new planetary spirit names.

Now I’m thinking I was going down the wrong path and need to start fresh without using the Tree of Life, or even using Jewish kabbalah at all.

I mean, what is Jewish kabbalah?  It is a deep, powerful, multifaceted, beautiful system of Jewish mysticism that can deliver one great, perhaps infinite, knowledge and power through the proper use of its system, but it’s still at its heart a Jewish system.  Thus, it is Jewish, and geared towards those who are Jewish: not only by blood (as tradition would have it), but also by culture (having the means and faculties available to a proper Jew) and definitely by religion and religious studies.  Kabbalah is really only meant for those who are prepared to study it, which requires a deep and thorough study of the Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, Mishnah, and so many other aspects of Jewish religion and how it ties into Jewish life.  For all intents and purposes, to get the most out of kabbalah, you have to be Jewish.  You don’t necessarily have to be a Jew (unless you’re so hard-core traditionalist that only the first-born son of a kabbalist can learn it from his rabbi father), but you definitely have to be Jewish in order to properly study kabbalah.  Anything less, and you’re not going to be able to use it as much as it can or ought to be.

As for me?  Sure, I can claim descent as a Jew, but I’m about as Jewish as an Olive Garden is Italian, which is to say “hahaha not really”.  Sure, I can say the berakhah for Chanukah, and that’s about it.  I’ve never had my bar mitzvah (even though my father has idly wondered that we should probably get ours done eventually at the same time), and it’s more likely that I’ll be baptized into Christianity before having a bar mitzvah.  I’ve only read the Old Testament in English, not even in the proper order of the books that the Tanakh would have; I don’t maintain kosher standards of purity or cleanliness (especially not with the occasional use of blood rum), and I can’t even read or speak Hebrew.  In all honesty, for me to properly study kabbalah, I’d need to learn Hebrew, get bar mitzvah’d, and undergo what’s likely to be many years of studying before I even read properly about the sephiroth.  Which is why I’m not, nor will I ever, learn about Jewish kabbalah outside a few books by Aryeh Kaplan.

But of course, that’s not the only way to study the Tradition.  What about Hermetic qabbalah (this time with a Q)?  I’ve been making good use of that, to be sure, as have many others in the Golden Dawn, Thelemite, and other modern Hermetic movements, and heck, even in a good number of neopagan movements I’ve seen that are influenced by Gardnerian Wicca and the Golden Dawn.  While I’d argue that the heart of Hermetic qabbalah and Jewish kabbalah is the same (it provides a means to understand the source of an emanationist panentheist cosmos by means of a cosmological Abrahamic structure), the study of the two nearly couldn’t be further apart.  And, to be honest, after mulling it over some, I’m not sure Hermetic qabbalah is even recognizably able to achieve the same goal as Jewish kabbalah.  My good friend the Rev. Michael Strojan has compared Jewish kabbalah to a beautiful rose garden maze leading to a unique spiritual experience of the mind of God in creation, while Hermetic qabbalah is a far more rational, utilitarian cosmological mapping.

In fact, when a Hermeticist tends to refer to “qabbalah”, they’re usually referring to the specific teaching of the Tree of Life, the linking of the ten sephiroth with 22 paths in a particular geometric array.  In Hebrew, this is known as the upright arrangement of the sephiroth, or “yosher”, which is one way to view the sephiroth; the other is “iggulim”, or “circles”, viewing the cosmos as a series of nested circles with God on the outside and Malkuth in the innermost circle.  I’ve seen a similar way to represent the sephiroth before in Hermetic qabbalah, but only as an introduction to emanationist principles and never for serious magic or prolonged study.  While the paths of the Tree of Life are important, they’re usually grossly understudied in favor of the sephiroth themselves; I’ve seen plenty of people talking about scrying the spheres but next to nobody about scrying the paths, and I admit that I’m guilty of this, too!  It’s nearly all about corresponding things to the ten spheres, and that’s about it.  Consider Yesod, the ninth sephirah: Yesod is associated with the first heaven, which coincides with the sphere of the Moon, so anything lunar can be corresponded to Yesod.  That’s nearly about it in Hermetic qabbalistic framework, it’d seem, unless I’m missing a large amount of the cultural movement and study of the thing.  I’m aware that many Hermeticists have gone in much deeper study of the sephiroth and the paths, but I wouldn’t call them a majority.  To most magicians who use Hermetic qabbalah, they only use it as a system of correspondences.

More than that, however, for a non-Jew, even a learned Neoplatonic theosopher and magician, to attempt their own study of kabbalah can come off as something insincere.  I mean, as non-Jews (and I’m including myself de facto in that group), we’re not raised Jewish, we celebrate different holidays, we’re not studied in the traditions and text that Jewish kabbalah builds upon.  While it’s certainly possible to get a lot out of the system, we won’t be able to fully plumb the depths of the system without having all those other things under our belt.  And while it’s certainly allowed to study any and all knowledge and teachings out there on the subject, it’s still a subject that’s pretty much not meant for most of us.  Even in traditional kabbalistic teachings, many Jews couldn’t learn it, which is why we have the Sacred Magic of Abramelin, since (chapter 9, my emphasis):

This wisdom hath its foundation in the high and holy Qabalah which is not granted unto any other than unto the first-born, even as God hath ordained, and as it was observed by our predecessors. Thence arose the difference, and the truck or exchange between Jacob and Esau; the primogeniture being the Qabalah, which is much nobler and greater than the Sacred Magic. And by the Qabalah we can arrive at the Sacred Magic, but by the latter we cannot have the Qabalah. Unto the child of a servant, or of an adulterer, the Qabalah is not granted, but only unto a legitimate child; as occurred in the case of Isaac and Ishmael; but the sacred wisdom through the mercy of God all can acquire, provided that they walk in the right path; and each one should content himself with the gift and grace of the Lord. And this must not be done out of curiosity, and with extravagant and ridiculous scruples, wishing to know and understand more than is right; seeing that temerity is certainly punished by God, who then permitteth him who is presumptuous not only to be turned aside out of the true way by the Second Causes, but also the demon hath power over him, and he ruineth and exterminateth him in such a manner, that we can only say that he himself is the sole cause of his own ruin and misery. It is certain that the Old Serpent will attempt to contaminate the present book with his venom, and even to destroy and lose it utterly, but O Lamech! as a faithful father I entreat thee by the true God who hath created thee and all things, and I entreat every other person who by thy means shall receive this method of operating, not to be induced or persuaded to have any other sentiment or opinion, or to believe the contrary. Pray unto God and ask him for his assistance, and place all thy confidence in him alone. And although thou canst not have the understanding of the Qabalah, nevertheless the holy guardian angels at the end of the six Moons or months will manifest unto thee that which is sufficient for the possession of this Sacred Magic.

Is there a means for us to study divinity and obtain power and knowledge thereby?  Of course!  The Word of God is something all humans with ears can hear (as much of my 49 Days of Definitions project indicated), but not every word is meant for us.  There are many words out there for us to understand the Word; they are all the Word, but not using the same words.  In a Hermetic sense, kabbalah is a form of Logos for the Jews who are able and allowed to study it.  So, while a Hermetic qabbalah with roots and liberal borrowing from the Hebrew kabbalah is not improper, strictly speaking, it does seem like trying to borrow a prayer in another language to another divinity and speaking it aloud with a bad accent to your own.  To be terse, the more I look at it, the more Hermetic qabbalah looks like cultural appropriation, and knowing how rife much of the Golden Dawn material was with culturally appropriated techniques and technology, this isn’t too surprising.

Besides, while Jewish kabbalah is definitely Jewish, it’s not entirely Jewish.  It’s apparent that there was much cross-pollination between Jewish and Neoplatonic thought back in the days of the Roman Empire, especially after the Jewish Diaspora after the destruction of the Second Temple, and it was only then did the Hebrew alphabet begin to be used as numbers in addition to letters, a notably Greek practice that had already been in place for centuries, along with the Greek practice of isopsephic exegesis in interpreting words as numerical strings and linking them to numerological concepts and other words by means of isopsephy.  Heck, even the Hebrew word “gematria” has its origins in Greek “geometria”.  It might reasonably be said that what is today Jewish kabbalah is a combination of Greek Neoplatonist philosophy and isopsephic techniques combined with the native Jewish Merkava and Hekhalot mystic techniques.  This was used, then merged again with other European thought as the centuries passed, so that kabbalah borrowed and reborrowed other philosophies just as it was borrowed and reborrowed from.  As a magician in the vein of Neoplatonism, I can definitely see much that I resonate with in kabbalistic thought and practice, but the system takes place in a context that is sufficiently different from my own that it’s difficult for me to penetrate it without my entering into that context itself.

In that light, recontextualizing kabbalah into Hermetic qabbalah wholesale just isn’t the best way to go about it, and to develop an even further-detached system as a Hellenic or Greek kabbalah based on the Hermetic qabbalah would be even less effective.  While such a Greek kabbalah would be great for my own practice and context, being much more familiar with Neoplatonic, Stoic, and even some Pythagorean philosophy (which is really the root of much of this, anyway), trying to base it on the already “debased” (to exaggerate the sense) Hermetic qabbalah would be like a game of Translation Party.  And, just like with proper English-to-Japanese translation, you need to have a good sense of the language, structure, and system you’re trying to build things into based on the ideas and thoughts you already have instead of trying to go through a predetermined middleman system with its own rules already in place.  In order to create a Greek kabbalah, I’d need to start fresh from first principles.  Scrying the Tree of Life in a Greek framework isn’t the only work that has to be done, but the creation of a new map of the cosmos and new paths, developing an understanding more fitting to my own context instead of that of a different religion and tradition, is all necessary.

In other words, I hope you stay tuned as I work towards a Greek kabbalah.  This will be a series of posts over the coming month exploring all the aspects I consider necessary to build such a system, so I hope you follow along.