Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Tetractys as Cosmic Framework

Alright, so now we understand the Greek letters as symbols of many things: zodiac signs, planets, elements, numbers, body parts, and any number of gods, images, and other concepts.  All this is in addition to their use as instruments of written language as glyphs and of spoken language as sounds and names.  While we’ve come a long way, we’re still only setting out our basic tools for further analysis.  We know of the Greek letters as units, single entities representing a single set of symbols.  To use them, we have to start seeing these letters as relationships, transferring and communicating information and power between other units.  It’s like a single word, such as “my” or “the”, being understood, but without meaning until it’s used in a sentence when it indicates relationships and distance between and among other concepts.  Within a word, letters act as relationships between the letters before and after it, but is there anything else bigger that we might have the letters act as a relationship between?

This is where we start thinking about things cosmically and from an emanationist perspective, and, to be honest, I have some catching up to do on Hermetic and Neoplatonic philosophical language to describe it accurately.  Suffice to say that, like Jewish kabbalah and Hermetic qabbalah, Greek kampala also describes the creation of the cosmos in a series of stages, but not necessarily in a clearly-ordered and sequential manner like the sephiroth do.  Rather, it is through providing multiple levels of understanding of the cosmos that we can better understand it.  The Greeks loved to divvy up stuff into smaller stuff, the foundation of the problem-solving technique “divide and conquer”, and that continues here.  With that, I propose we use the geometric diagram of the tetractys, the holy diagram of Pythagoras: Tetractys   The tetractys is a diagram consisting of four rows of points, each row having an increasing number of points starting at one and ending at four, arranged in an equilateral triangle.  This was considered to be the foundational blueprint for all of creation according to that mathematical and mystic hero of Greek thought, and was mathematically significant: it combined the Monad (unity), Dyad (two), Triad (three), and Tetrad (four) into a single unit.  These four numbers, representing the One, Power or Differentiation, Harmony, and Cosmos, compose all the things of the universe, as 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10, the unity of a higher order, or the Decad.  All of these numbers were holy to the Pythagoreans, but ten most of all; given its fourfold structure, this diagram was called the Tetractys, and sometimes referred to by the Greek letter Delta (Δ).  The Pythagoreans saw it as so holy that they prayed to it and glorified it:

Bless us, divine number, thou who generated gods and men! O holy, holy Tetractys, thou that containest the root and source of the eternally flowing creation! For the divine number begins with the profound, pure unity until it comes to the holy four; then it begets the mother of all, the all-comprising, all-bounding, the first-born, the never-swerving, the never-tiring holy ten, the keyholder of all.

And, further, the Pythagoreans swore by the tetractys itself:

By that pure, holy, four lettered name on high,nature’s eternal fountain and supply,the parent of all souls that living be,by him, with faith find oath, I swear to thee.

The tetractys was considered to represent the fourfold nature of creation in eleven different ways, according to Iamblichus in his “Life of Pythagoras”.  Essentially, a single Monad (God, the Good, etc.) created a Duality of Two, which then created a Harmony of Three, which then created an Ordering of Four; by the interaction of these different forces, both within their own groups and across other groups, all other things are made.  In fact, by interpreting each row (with its difference) in different ways, we obtain something resembling Cornelius Agrippa’s Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7):

  1. According to the composition of numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4
  2. According to the multiplication of numbers: a point (0-dimensions), a side (1-dimension), a square (2-dimensions), a cube (3-dimensions)
  3. According to magnitude: a point (0D), a line (1D), a plane (2D), a solid (3D)
  4. According to simple bodies: fire, air, water, earth
  5. According to figures: pyramid, octahedron, icosahedron, cube
  6. According to things rising into existence through vegetative life: seed, length (shoot), breadth (leaf), depth (trunk)
  7. According to communities to form nations: individual, household, street, city
  8. According to judicial power: intellect, science, opinion, sense
  9. According to parts of the animal: rational, irascible, epithymetic (that which desires good), physical body
  10. According to the seasons of the year: spring, summer, autumn, winter
  11. According to the ages of man: infancy, youth, adulthood, senescence

The tetractys even helped to guide the Pythagorean musical system by taking ratios of the rows of dots:

  1. Rows 4 and 3, 4:3, perfect fourth
  2. Rows 3 and 2, 3:2, perfect fifth
  3. Rows 2 and 1, 2:1, octave
  4. Rows 1 and 1, 1:1, unison

In fact, so influential was the use of the Tetractys in Greek thought that it even influenced philosophical schools hundreds of years afterwards, even Jewish kabbalah and Hermeticism.  This can even be seen in one representation of the Tetragrammaton, the four-lettered name of God, represented in a tetractys-like form: Tetragrammaton Tetractys Plus, having ten units inside, parallels can be drawn between the tetractys and the Tree of Life, or ten sephiroth.  Dion Fortune in her “The Mystical Qabalah” even drew a comparison between the fourfold Tetractys and the first four sephiroth on the Tree of Life, especially with regards to the tetractys as demonstrator of physical space:

The point is assigned to Kether; the line to Chokmah; the two-dimensional plane to Binah; consequently the three-dimensional solid naturally falls to Chesed.

In terms of the four parts of the body, it might be better to restate tetractys #9 above (according to the parts of the human) in Agrippan terms as the Mind, Spirit, Soul, and Body.  These four parts of the human are that which links us to the divine (Mind, row 1), that which allows us to reason and intellectually understand the world (Spirit, row 2), that which feels and moves (Soul, row 3), and that which is moved and is felt (Body, row 4).  It is by the unification and purification of these four parts of the body do we practice ascension through and beyond ourselves back to the One, but that’s another topic for another day.  Suffice it to say that, through the cultivation and increasing of virtues in the four parts of ourselves, we ascend the Tetractys and the multiple parts of the world we find ourselves connected to.  If you want, give the excellent Summary of Pythagorean Theology by Apollonius Sophistes a read in the meantime, since that’ll be a huge thing for us later on.

The study and meditation of the Tetractys will become bigger and bigger later on, especially once we view it as a kampalic cosmic map much in the way that the Tree of Life functions for kabbalah and qabbalah.  As yet, we’ll leave the individual units of the tetractys unnumbered and unmarked, letting the structure speak for itself.  To let it do so, meditate on the structure and form of the tetractys, offering it the same devotion and glory the old Pythagoreans themselves would have done so.  Hold the image in your mind, and relate all the parts of the cosmos to its structure: the fourfold nature of things resulting from a threefold harmony resulting from a twofold differentiation resulting from a single Source.  To say much about the tetractys at this point would be premature, so I’ll leave it as an introduction on its own as a symbolic representation of what’s to come: first a seed, then a shoot, then a leaf, then a trunk.

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Symbolism of the Greek Letters

From before, a letter has four parts: a name, a glyph, a sound, and a meaning.  The first three were discussed last time, along with a basic set of meditations to get us familiar with the first three of these parts.  We didn’t discuss the final part of the letters, however, which is the meaning of the letters.  Unlike the name, glyph, and sound for a letter, of which there tends to be only one of each, there are many layers of meaning for each letter: numerical, astrological, divine, oracular, Phoenician, Greek, and more.  This is what makes the divination system of grammatomancy so powerful, in that a whole world of knowledge can be unlocked with a single letter.  So, even though the meaning of a letter is the fourth part, there are many parts to the meaning of a letter.

What are some of those meanings?  Honestly, if I had to indicate all the meanings of the letters, this blog post would become a whole blog in and of itself, so I’ll simply list a few sets of meanings along with links or links to books for further reading, though my ebook on grammatomancy lists many of them:

  1. Numerical:  my page on isopsephy and gematria, Kieran Barry’s The Greek Qabalah
  2. Astrological: my page on stoicheia, Agrippa’s table of letters (book I, chapter 74, though I reverse how he arranges the planets to the Greek vowels)
  3. Oracular: Apollonius Sophistes’ Greek Alphabet Oracle
  4. Divine: a post linking the Greek gods to the letters for purposes of a lunar grammatomantic ritual calendar

Honestly, with all that down, we already have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, but there’s another way to give meanings to the Greek letters: their original Phoenician names, and Greek words related to the letters.  Even the Greeks were aware, to an extent, of the Phoenician origin of their alphabet, which doesn’t diminish its importance in the least for our purposes.  After all, the Phoenician script was the origin of many of the world’s writing systems (especially if you buy the argument, as I do, that it formed the origin of the Brahmic script in India, which connects it even to the Far Eastern Korean).  The diagram below shows Phoenician in the center column, Hebrew to the right of Phoenician and Arabic to the right of that, and Greek to the left of Phoenician and Latin to the left of that.  Letters of different scripts in the same color boxes show the origin of the letter, while arrows show derivations of other letters.

Origins of Letters from Phoenician


Phoenician script has 22 letters, the same 22 as modern Hebrew; there’s a 1-to-1 mapping between those two scripts.  The Ionian Greek script, however, got rid of three of the letters (digamma/waw, qoppa, san/sampi), added four (phi, khi, psi, omega), and moved the position of the derived form of Waw (which became Upsilon) further back in the alphabet.  Each of the Phoenician letters had their own name, many of which provided the names for their corresponding Greek letters.  These names referred to, in many cases, earlier Egyptian hieroglyphs or related words that provided a basis for what the letter looked like.  Many of these names were maintained in Greek, often in derived forms, such as Alpha from ʾĀlp, Bēta from Bet, Gamma from Gimel, and so forth.  For the Greek letters that have Phoenician origins, either in name of the letter or its form, their Phoenician meanings might include the following:

Letter Phoenician Meaning
Α ʾĀlp Ox
Β Bet House
Γ Gimel Throwing stick weapon, camel
Δ Dāleth Door
Ε He Window
Ζ Zayin Weapon, sword
Η Ḥeth Wall, courtyard, thread
Θ Ṭēth Wheel, good
Ι Yōdh Hand, finger
Κ Kaph Hand, palm of a hand
Λ Lāmedh Goad
Μ Mēm Water
Ν Nun Fish, serpent, whale
Ξ Simketh or Sāmekh Fish, tent peg, prop support
Ο ʿAyin Eye
Π Mouth
Ρ Rēš Head
Σ Form from Šin
Name from Simketh
Τ Tāw Mark, cross
Υ Wāw Hook
Φ Form from Qōph Back of the head, sewing needle, eye of a needle, monkey
Ω Form from Omicron

Of course, by the time the Ionian Greek script was adopted and spread throughout Greece, many of the letter forms were so far removed from their Phoenician counterparts (if any existed) that many of these meanings became meaningless or detached from the letters.  However, the Greeks themselves often found new symbolism for the names, often from a variety of sources.

  • Words or names that started with the letter itself
  • Images or concepts that bear a resemblance to the shape of the letter
  • Words that bear a strong resemblance or things that have a connection to the name of the letter
  • Assigning a letter to parts of the body, starting with Alpha at the head and going down to Mu at the feet, then starting again from Nu at the feet and going back up to Ōmega at the head (cf. the Body of Sophia)
Letter Meaning
Initial letter Graphical Importance Body
Α  Man, air, Apollo  Beginning, invention, source, God  Head
Β  King, help  Duality  Neck
Γ  Earth, birth  Shoulders and hands
Δ  God, ten  Breast
Ε  Build  Justice, Apollo  Diaphragm
Ζ  Life, Zeus  Back
Η  Hera  Belly
Θ  God, death, Mars  The world/universe  Thighs
Ι  Jesus, jot, single  Line, perfection, Rod of Moses  Knees
Κ  Lord, Caesar  Lower legs
Λ  Lion  Ratio, progression  Ankles
Μ  Mary, myriad  Middle  Feet
Ν  Feet
Ξ  Ankles
Ο  Circle, heaven  Lower legs
Π  Father, fire, five, Mars  Knees
Ρ  Thighs
Σ  Savior  Belly
Τ  Cross, crucifix  Back
Υ  Son  Moral choice, dilemma  Diaphragm
Φ  Voice, sound  Breast
Χ  Time, Christ  World soul, cross  Shoulders and hands
Ψ  Psyche, soul  Holy Spirit  Neck
Ω  Ocean, Orion  End  Head

You’ll note that I’ve started to include Abrahamic and Christian references; this is intentional, and not simply me copying entries blind from Kieran Barry’s “The Greek Qabalah”.  After all, as a Hermeticist, I’m not opposed to including Christian or Jewish references here (despite my trying to distance myself from Jewish kabbalah); rather, including them reaches back and allows for more access to much of Renaissance and Medieval development of Hermeticism as well as its classical and pagan origins.

So, where does all this leave us?  Between the graphical shapes and names of the letters, along with their oracular meanings, divine connections, numerical and isopsephic connections, and astrological or planetary or elemental connections, we have whole worlds of meaning for each of the letters.  These can all be incorporated into the meditations on the letters by visualizing or contemplating on them while intoning or repeating the letters.  The images and symbolism of the letters, coupled with their pronunciation, will further open up more doors in exploring the worlds and meanings of the letters and how they affect the world through their presence and, by their presence, the will and presence of the gods and God.

In fact, speaking of doors, let me share a method of scrying I like to use for deeply exploring a particular symbol.  Once the meanings and symbolism of the letters in all their complexity and layers have been learned and reviewed, and after meditating briefly to calm and clear the mind but before leaving the meditative state, I visualize a doorway with a particular symbol inscribed on it.  In our case, that symbol would be one of the letters of the Greek alphabet.  Knock on the door, mentally intoning the letter itself, and open it up.  Everything inside is a representation and symbol connected to that original symbol; explore the world, perhaps calling on the genius or spirit of the symbol to guide you or to send you a guide, or calling on your own HGA or personal tutelary spirit to guide you through it.  Explore the world as deeply as you care to, and when you’ve decided you’ve had enough, take the same route back through the world, passing by all the things you passed by before, and exit the same way you came.  Close the door, clear the mind again, and exit the meditative state.  I’ve used this skill to great efficacy before, notably on my meditations on the geomantic figures and the elemental archangelic kings, and it can be adapted to any number of symbols.  Using this method with the Greek letters can increase one’s deeper knowledge of them by exploring the deeper symbolism and worlds behind the letters which wouldn’t be apparent from simply reading up on their symbolism, and can indicate other symbols not listed above as well as connections to other letters that might not be apparent.  Further, the technique can be augmented by having it take place in one’s astral temple, or astrally projecting into the world itself.

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Meditating on the Greek Letters

So, if the gods reveal themselves by signs and omens, and those signs are the basis of the Greek letters, then the gods reveal themselves by means of the Greek letters.  This isn’t that big a stretch; after all, there is grammatomancy, that awesome divination system (which I strongly recommend buying the ebook I put out for it for more information on the Greek letters in magic, hint hint) where the Greek letters themselves are messages.  Plus, the Greek letters are also associated with number, which is the foundation for the creation of the cosmos according to Pythagoras, so if the gods didn’t make the universe by means of the Greek letters, then the Greek letters can certainly indicate how they did so by means of number.  Even if we don’t worship the gods or engage in explicit theurgy (which we really should be doing anyway), even coming to a deep understanding of the Greek letters themselves, on their own terms, as their own entities, will still help us achieve a deep understanding of the cosmos approximating or equalling a full theurgic understanding of the cosmos.

The question then becomes “how should we go about understanding the Greek letters”?  Well, let’s say that there are four parts to a letter:

  1. Name, the word by which we refer to a letter, such as “alpha”, “beta”, etc.
  2. Glyph, the graphical sign that refers to a letter, such as Α/α, Β/β, etc.
  3. Sound, the sound the letter produces, such as [a], [b], etc. (Knowing IPA is helpful for this part.)
  4. Meaning, the occult and esoteric meaning of the letter

The first three parts are fairly straightforward, barring regional and temporal variants in the Greek script.  For the purposes of kampala, I’m going to be using what’s been considered the Greek alphabet in use for the past 2400 years, the classical Ionian script, adopted by the archon Eucleides in 403 BC in Athens and quickly standardized across the rest of Greece shortly thereafter.  This script has the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet we’re all familiar with in the same forms we’re all familiar with, and has been roughly unchanged since their adoption.  Their pronunciation has shifted slightly in accordance with basic phonological laws over the millennia, but this is to be expected and isn’t that great an issue.

So, with that, let’s take a look at the Greek alphabet.  There are 24 letters, which are:

Letter Name Sound
Greek Roman Greek English Classical Modern
Α A αλφα alpha a, aː a
Β B βητα bēta b v
Γ G γαμμα gamma g ɣ ~ ʝ
Δ D δελτα delta d ð
Ε E εψιλον epsilon e e
Ζ Z ζητα zēta zd, dz, z z
Η Ē ητα ēta ɛː i
Θ TH θητα thēta θ
Ι I ιωτα iōta i, iː i
Κ K καππα kappa k k, c
Λ L λαμβδα lambda l l, ʎ
Μ M μυ mu m m
Ν N νυ nu n n
Ξ X ξει xi ks ks
Ο O ομικρον omicron o o
Π P πει pi p p
Ρ R ρω rhō r r
Σ S σιγμα sigma s s
Τ T ταυ tau t t
Υ U, Y υψιλον upsilon y, yː i, f ~ v
Φ PH, F φει phi f
Χ KH, CH χει chi χ ~ ç
Ψ PS ψει psi ps ps
Ω Ō ωμεγα ōmega ɔː p

Note that some of the English names for the Greek letters simplify the vowels a bit, such that Π is “pi” in English, not the more accurate classical “pei”, though in Modern Greek it’s “pi”.  Also, where there’re different possible ways to write the letter out, those are given in the table; for instance, Χ can be written as “ch” or “kh” (I prefer the latter, personally).

The thing about the number 24 is that it has a lot of factors and a lot of ways to be split up or multiplied by equally convenient numbers, which makes it mathematically appealing; for instance, 24 × 15 = 360, or 4 × 6 = 24.  Since there are 24 Greek letters, there are different ways to split them up in different ways.  I personally prefer a 7/12/5 schema: seven vowels, twelve “simple” consonants (which themselves are broken into seven stop and five continuing consonants), and five “complex” consonants.  This schema has important symbolic meaning, but let’s focus on the phonetic parts for now:

  • The seven vowels (letters that produce a clear vocal sound) are pretty straightforward: Α, Ε, Η, Ι, Ο, Υ, Ω
  • Simple stop consonants are those which are produced from one action in the mouth and stop the airflow completely: Β, Γ, Δ, Κ, Π, Τ
  • Simple continuing consonants are those which are produced from one action in the mouth but can be vocally continued: Ζ, Λ, Μ, Ν, Ρ
  • Complex consonants are those which are produced from two actions in the mouth: Θ, Ξ, Φ, Χ, Ψ

Pronouncing the vowels can be a little tricky for some people, but it’s still easy.  Alpha, Epsilon, Iōta, and Omicron produce the same sounds you’d expect in English: “ah”, “eh”, “ee”, “oh”.  Upsilon is a little tricky; it’s like the combination of “ee” and “oo”, but a good example of the sound is the French “u” or German “ü”.  Ēta and Ōmega, to make the distinction simple, is that they were lengthened versions of Epsilon and Omicron.  I don’t mean that the sound changed (though it did in later varieties of Greek) except in how long you pronounced it.  So an Epsilon is “eh”, and Ēta is “ehhhh”.  That’s really basically it, though it ended up where Ēta had a sound only slightly closer to “ei” (between “bed” and “bait”) than “eh”, and Ōmega was more like a deeper “auh” (“thought”) than “oh”.

As for consonants, when I say “simple” versus “complex”, compare Tau and Thēta.  They both classically made a “t” sound, but the difference was that Tau was a simple unaspirated and nonbreathy “t”, while Thēta produced an aspirated (breathy) “t”.  It’s the difference between “water” (a nonbreathy “t”) and “tin” (a breathy “t”).  Thēta, Phi, and Khi are all aspirated, while their unaspirated versions are Tau, Pi, and Kappa.  The other complex letters, Xi and Psi, are combinations of two simple consonants: Kappa and Sigma for Xi, and Pi and Sigma for Psi.  The other simple consonants are pronounced the same way you’d pronounce them in English, bearing in mind the difference between aspirated and unaspirated consonants (try being aware of when you’re producing a breathy sound in the future).

Why am I spending so much time over the basics of Greek pronunciation?  Because this is going to be key for understanding the meaning of the letters in a meditative and contemplative way.  Sure, the letters have their own symbolism based on their shape and meaning, which we’ll talk about more another time, but I want to offer a method to meditate on the letters by means of their sounds.  This is similar to the use of seed syllables in varieties of Tantric Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as the use of speaking certain names of God with different vowels in Jewish kabbalah.  By truly, deeply vibrating, intoning, and focusing all of the body and mind on pronouncing the sounds of the Greek letters, we attune ourselves to them and begin to open up deeper mysteries of the letters.  However, there are many different ways to start this, so I propose the following methods:

For vowels:

  1. Intoning a single vowel.  Example: ΑΑΑΑΑΑ
  2. Intoning a sequence of vowels with a breath between each.  Example: ΑΑΑΑΑΑ   ΕΕΕΕΕΕ
  3. Intoning a sequence of vowels once.  Example: ΑΑΑΑΑΑΕΕΕΕΕΕ
  4. Intoning a sequence of vowels, cycling through the vowels themselves.  Example: ΑΑΑΕΕΕΑΑΑΕΕΕ
  5. Any of the above at different vocal pitches, such as at a high pitch then a low pitch

For  simple stop consonants:

  1. Making the consonant once, breathing out afterwards.  Example: B
  2. Making the consonant multiple times within a single breath with no sound.  Example: B B B B B
  3. Making the consonant multiple times within a single breath with an unstressed vowel.  Example: B B B B B (buh buh buh buh buh)

For simple continuing consonants:

  1. Making the consonant once, breathing out afterwards.  Example: Λ
  2. Making the consonant once, prolonging it within a single breath.  Example: ΛΛΛΛΛΛΛ
  3. Making the consonant multiple times within a single breath.  Example: Λ Λ Λ Λ Λ Λ
  4. Making the consonant multiple times over several breaths, continuing it on a single breath.  Example: ΛΛΛ ΛΛΛ ΛΛΛ ΛΛΛΛ
  5. Any of the above at different vocal pitches, such as at a high pitch then a low pitch

For a complex consonant, any of the making the consonant once but prolonging the complexity.  Example, ΞΣΣΣΣΣΣΣ, or Θ breathing out completely.  The other simple continuing consonant meditations should also be done with these, as well.

For vowels and consonants:

  1. Making the consonant with one vowel to prolong it.  Example: ΒΑΑΑΑΑΑΑ
  2. Making the consonant several times with different vowels with a breath between each.  Example: ΒΑΑΑΑΑΑ ΒΕΕΕΕΕΕΕ ΒΗΗΗΗΗΗΗ
  3. Making the consonant several times with different vowels within a single breath.  Example: ΒΑΑΑΒΕΕΕΒΗΗΗ
  4. For simple continuing consonants or complex consonants, prolonging the consonant followed by the vowel.  Example: ΞΣΣΣΣΣΑΑΑΑ or Θ…ΑΑΑΑ (exhaling halfway before making the vowel with a weak unstressed vowel, like “t-hhhuhhh-ahhh”)
  5. Any of the above with vowels coming to a stop with a consonant with no sound following.  Example: ΑΑΑΑΑΑΒ
  6. Any of the above with vowels coming to a stop with a consonant with an unstressed vowel following.  Example: ΑΑΑΑΑΑΒ (ahhhhhbuh)
  7. Any of the above at different vocal pitches, such as at a high pitch then a low pitch

And, perhaps it’s understated, but even intoning the name of a single letter (e.g. “ΑΛΦΑ”) is worthwhile, too, and I’d consider it to be the most complex of these basic meditative exercises.  Once one becomes comfortable with all the meditations on all the letters (and a good combination of consonants and vowels), the next logical step is to meditate on whole words in the same way.  This method produces mantras out of each and every letter in the Greek alphabet, as well as every combination of them, in a variety of ways to acclimate one to their pronunciation and use later in the study of kampala.  At the beginning, it might be preferred to use combinations of vowels and consonants in order (so alpha-bēta, alpha-gamma, alpha-delta, etc.) before jumping around the alphabet.

While pronouncing the letter, it also helps to give the mind something to focus on; I suggest the shape of the letter itself.  Either the capital or lowercase letter could be used; for the purposes of kampala, they’re treated the same, though all analyses are given based on the capital letter.  Visualizing the letter itself is simple, since none of the letters are particularly complex glyphs, and visualization exercises abound on the Internet.  As you breath in, let the mind clear; as the letter is pronounced, let the letter shine brightly in the mind; as the letter’s sound goes away or is breathed out, let the letter dim until only an afterimage or thought-echo is left in the mind until the breath is emptied out.

How much time should be spent on this?  As with anything, as much as you want to, and as much as you can.  I personally find it useful to sync up daily letter meditations, doing different letters and letter combinations based on the grammatomantic letter of the day of the lunar month, so I meditate on Kappa on Kappa-day, Omicron on Omicron-day, and so forth.  (I’ll be making increasing use of that grammatomantic lunar calendar throughout this kampala project, since it spreads things out nicely and regularly for me.)  This is a good way to get introduced to basic meditation on the letters, but you’ll notice that we haven’t talked about the meaning of the letters yet at all.  That’s coming up soon, and it’ll give us more things to meditate on when we do letter meditation in the future, but for now, keep it basic and get busy, since now we begin working our way into the emerging mysteries of kampala.

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Mythology of the Greek Letters

If we’re to really get anywhere with this Greek kabbalah, or kampala, then we need to start from the basics.  And, as an engineer, for me the basics often consist of the tools I’m going to use in order to build myself up more.  Theory and theology are great and all, but it’s hard to read a book if you don’t know how to read.  I claim that, in pursuing the goal of creating a system of kampala, it’s important to start out from the basics if we want to start from first principles.  Put bluntly, if the universe is made from number as Pythagoras claims, than it’s possible to gain an understanding of the universe by means of number.  And, if Greek letters stand for numbers, then it’s likewise possible to understand the universe by means  of Greek letters.  Add to it, the number of numbers is, well, infinite (infinitely and uncountably infinite, to be exact), while the Greek letters are finite; yet, the Greek letters can represent all numbers.  Since we’re finite beings ourselves, it helps us to use a finite set of symbols to gain understanding, not least infinity itself.

So, the Greek alphabet.  I claim it’s a useful tool, and not just for the purposes of grammatomancy and isopsephy, either.  I won’t harp on those topics just yet, though, nor do I want to talk about what the letters are or how to pronounce them or how they developed from Phoenician or how they developed as numbers.  You can read all that on your own without much context or debate.  What I really want to talk about is the mythology behind the letters, where they came from in a divine sense according to what we already know.  According to Hyginus in his Fabulae, #277:

The Parcae, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos invented seven Greek letters – A B H T I Y.
Others say that Mercury invented them from the flight of cranes, which, when they fly, form letters.
Palamedes, too, son of Nauplius, invented eleven letters; Simonides, too, invented four letters – Ó E Z PH; Epicharmus of Sicily, two – P and PS.
The Greek letters Mercury is said to have brought to Egypt, and from Egypt Cadmus took them to Greece. Cadmus in exile from Arcadia, took them to Italy, and his mother Carmenta changed them to Latin to the number of 15.
Apollo on the lyre added the rest.

Thus, we have several groups of letters along with who invented them:

  • Moirai (7): Α, Β, Η, Τ, Ι, Υ, ?
  • Palamedes (11): Γ, Δ, Θ, Κ, Λ, Μ, Ν, Ξ, Ο, Ρ, Σ, Χ
  • Simonides (4): Ω, Ε, Ζ, Φ
  • Epicharmus of Sicily (2): Π, Ψ

The list is somewhat confusing, since the translation (and a Latin copy of Hyginus) give variations depending on the source of who invented what letters or how many.  The list above has the Moirai inventing seven letters but only listing six.  Something’s not adding up here, but that’s what crappy penmanship and scribery will get you over the centuries.  Besides, this is only one myth, and there are many; Herodotus in his Histories claims that Cadmus, a Phoenician prince, brought a Phoenician alphabet to the Greeks.  Herodotus and others note that ancient Greek (and this was ancient even for them) was written using identical letters to those of Phoenician scripts of the time, though over time the Greek alphabet had diverged and grown unique in its own use.  Other historians cast doubt on Herodotus, claiming the Greek script had a Euboean, Eretrian, or other Greek origin; others yet claimed that calling them “Phoenician letters” was a misnomer since, even if the Phoenicians brought them to Greece, they themselves got their letters from other nations, specifically Syria according to Diodorus Siculus.  As it would turn out, Herodotus was closest to the factual history of the matter.  This is why Hebrew and Greek share a common origin, because they both pull their alphabets from Phoenician, though their mythologies may say differently on the matter.

Unlike Egyptian or Hebrew mythology, the Greeks as a whole didn’t have that many myths for where their alphabet came from; either Cadmus the Phoenician gave it to Greece, or the Fates and Hermes contributed to the alphabet along with mortals.  That doesn’t change the fact that the Greeks had and appreciated their writing system, though, and if any mythological non-mortal origin must be traced to the letters, then it’s from two sources: the Moirai, goddesses of fate, as well as Hermes, communicator and messenger of the gods.  The Moirai were Klōthō, Lakhesis, and Atropos, the three white-robed goddesses who, respectively, spun the thread of life from her distaff onto her spindle to begin life, measured the thread to determine how long a life should be, and cut the thread of life to end it once it was fully measured out.  Their name itself refers to “part” or “lot”, similar to one’s fate or destiny or the allotment of length of life.  However, their collective name can be more broadly interpreted to refer to everything that fell as one’s lot in life: glory, happiness, grief, death, and the like, which are all unexpected and fall to chance and fate.  Sometimes, even, the three Moirai are represented as the single goddess Moira, who subsumes all their functions into an abstract concept, of whom Zeus is the occasional personification.  In terms of writing, however, that the Moirai developed several letters for our use indicates that the ability to write gives us the ability to understand and work with what falls to us; writing not only comes from the divine but allows us to learn more about them.

As for Hermes, well, what needs be said about him that many of us don’t already know?  He’s the communicator and messenger between the gods, traveling across all worlds doing their bidding, and especially from our world to the heavens to communicate our desires and prayers and sacrifices to the gods themselves. He’s the god of all communication and the post, and thus over writing and many of its related arts such as mathematics, science, engineering, programming, and so forth.  However, his association with this is not given in his Homeric hymn, but developed as a result of his function as messenger and courier.  The myths do associate him with divination through signs, such as birdflight and other chance omens, which themselves are messages.  In this light, letters are messages from the gods always telling us more about the world as well as of the gods themselves.  Letters, coming from the shapes of birds and other omens, all have their own messages to speak in addition to the message they spell out as a whole.

Unlike in Hebrew, where the world was literally created by means of the Hebrew script (which the Jews think God gave to mankind in exactly the same curvy square-script form they use today, which I find…odd), the Greeks had no such conception; there are plenty of other cosmogonies in Greek mythology, but none involve language per se or even as an important tool; abstract gods generate other gods either by themselves or in copulation with another.  Instead, the use of writing is a constant transaction between us and the cosmos; every letter of every message is significant in always communicating to us the will and desire of the gods, as well as correlating all the things in our life to what happens to and because of us.  This is a huge idea; this means that if the will of the gods are in their messages, and their messages are in the letters, then they are effectively within and staring at us from the letters.  As we write letters, we communicate the will of the gods by means of the things we write since they use each letter independently and in tandem with each other to communicate their will to the rest of the cosmos.  While the letters may not be the building blocks of the world, they are vital to its constant functioning and maintenance.