On the Third Book of the Corpus Hermeticum: Translation

It was back in middle school that I was first able to take foreign language classes.  I spent a semester learning French, but that never really hooked me; I switched to Japanese for the next semester, but unfortunately the teacher had to leave back to Japan, so in a scramble to keep us busy, my school brought in a Latin teacher to finish off the year in that subject instead.  I enjoyed both Japanese and Latin immensely, but I wouldn’t have the chance to take Japanese classes again until high school some years later.  Instead, I decided to stick with Latin, despite my mother’s confusion and mockery (“You’ll never use Latin, it’s a worthless thing to study!”).  I kept taking Latin through high school, including the AP level courses (taken as an independent study since I couldn’t otherwise fit the class into my schedule).  I didn’t take Latin in college, though I wish I had, had my schedule allowed for it; I switched back to Japanese for a few years until I had to give that up, too, due to my need to focus on my degree for computer science and software engineering.  But I never lost my love for Latin, or for ancient languages or linguistics generally.

Despite my mother’s claim that Latin would never be helpful for me, I’ve proved her wrong over the years, as it’s helped me immensely with my occult and spiritual research, given the abundance of stuff that’s still in Latin and hasn’t been formally translated yet, and given the fact that translators sometimes make interesting choices in their translation that don’t always bear out from the original text.  It’s also given me ample background in linguistic analysis, which helps in learning and understanding the syntax, grammar, and structure of other languages, even if those languages have a radically different structure than Latin does.  For instance, I’ve made plenty of references to Greek and a few references to Coptic on my blog before, and even though I’ve never studied those languages nor claim any formal competency in them, given a good dictionary and a good set of grammar tables and guides, I can get by enough to construct a few statements, even though I couldn’t write a full Greek phrase yet to save my life.  But, lately, I’ve been picking up ancient Greek more and more, which helps me just as much and for the same reasons as Latin.

Not that long ago, I mentioned how beautiful and meaningful I find Book III of the Corpus Hermeticum (CH III), entitled Ἐρμοῦ Ἰερός Λόγος, or “[the] Sacred Discourse of Hermēs” (though I prefer to translate Λόγος here as “Sermon”).  It’s a short text but a complete one, and one I’d recommend to those interested in traditional Hermetic texts to read first, as it kinda-sorta serves the same role in my mind as the Heart Sutra does for Mahayana Buddhism: a short synopsis that contains the biggest points of practice and purpose of the tradition.  This, like the rest of the Corpus Hermeticum, is written in Greek, specifically a kind of Koiné Greek that was spoken and written as a lingua franca across the Mediterranean during the Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire.  This is the Greek of the Septuagint and the New Testament, of the Middle and New Platonists, and of the Greek Magical Papyri themselves.  While my formal exposure to learning and translating classical Greek is limited, it’s probably time to change that, because I want to dig in more to the Hermetic canon generally and CH III specifically and really get at the meat and bones of it for meditation and contemplation, and doing that requires actually looking at the original Greek and…well, in order to get a better grasp of the texts, translate them (or at least CH III) myself.

Admittedly, I could probably have started learning how to translate Greek with an easier text.  Many scholars who’ve already translated CH III have noted that the text is corrupt in many ways, suffering from both lacunae and poorly-written Greek, indicating that perhaps the original author of CH III was not so competent in the language as we’d like.  Scott himself declares that CH III is “so corrupt as to be almost wholly meaningless” in its original state, and presents his own take on the text only after having “altered it with a free hand”.  Dodd commends Scott on his restoration of the text “extensively on an ingenious theory of the mutilation of the archetype”, but does not believe that “such drastic treatment is really necessary” and that, at times, Scott’s “reconstruction…departs too far from the [original] to carry conviction”.  Although a Hermetic text, it bears strong influence from the style and wording of the Septuagint with other Judaicizing elements, but it also shows a strong Stoic and Egyptian presence.  Even with all these influences, and perhaps because of them, the overall message of CH III falls neatly in line with other Hermetic texts, although presented from a different perspective.

Perhaps as a result of the corruption and confusion in CH III, different translators have rendered this book in different ways, sometimes drastically so.  To offer a comparison, here’s a list of some translators of the text (whether of CH III specifically or the Corpus Hermeticum generally), where I provide links to online references or to sources of the published translations themselves:

With that, let’s take a look at my translation of CH III, made possible through the generous help of the Perseus-Tufts online dictionary and whatever charts of declension and conjugation I could find on Wiktionary.  This text is broken down into four sections, for which I’ve provided my own translation based on the Greek given by Nock and Festugière.  Each section also includes my own notes explaining or justifying some of the choices I’ve made in the course of the translation; I did my best to stick to the text itself in the way it was given without emending the text as far as is possible, though such a literal approach could not always be done—and I’m in good company, it’d seem, based on previous translators’ notes.  Be gentle with me and forgiving with criticism of my shoddy work, dear reader; I’m still an unlearned amateur at Greek, after all.

1. Statements on God

[The] glory of all things is the God,
[who is both] [the] Divine and divine Nature.

[The] beginning of that which exists is the God,
[who is thus of] Mind, Nature, and Matter,
being Wisdom for [the] making known of the All.

[The] beginning is [that which is] the Divine,
[which is] Nature, Working, Necessity, End, and Renewal.

  • “[The] glory”: δόξα.  The author of CH III uses the article a lot less than I’d expect, so I make it explicit when he doesn’t by adding in “[the]” elsewhere in this translation when English would expect it to be used.  This use of the article may have some semantic meaning of importance, but I’m not sure.
  • “of all things”: πάντων, which might also be rendered as “of the All”, but we encounter πάντων in CH III several other times in a less grand sense; more on this shortly with ἁπάντων.
  • “[who is both]”: reading an implied copula together with the καὶ…καὶ formula that indicates “both…and”.  Interpreting καὶ θεῖον καὶ φύσις θεία as an explanation of what ὁ θεός is makes sense, as δόξα is in the singular; this word can also be interpreted as a plural, but specifically a plural feminine noun, and neither θεός nor θεῖον would agree with that.  So it is (the) God who is the glory of the All, and (the) God is both the Divine and the Nature, which is itself Divine.  This latter point, that Nature is also Divine as God is Divine, is one that’s hammered in both at the end of this section as well as at the end of CH III.
  • “[The] beginning”: ἀρχή, which some translate as “principle” or “origin” instead.  For thematic reasons to link this first section with the last one, I prefer “beginning” here.
  • “that which exists”: τῶν ὄντων, which could also be more interpreted as “all that is”.
  • “[who is thus of] Mind, Nature, and Matter”: ditto regarding the καὶ…καὶ formula.  This is given in the text as καὶ νοῦ καὶ φύσεως καὶ ὕλης, which would suggest that God is Mind and Nature and Matter, but Dodd agrees with Scott here in that this phrase should be in the genitive, καὶ νοῦς καὶ φύσις καὶ ὕλη, such that this would read “God is the beginning of that which exists, both of Mind and of Nature and of Matter”, and honestly, I’m inclined to agree with them.  The original phrase is grammatically correct, but Scott’s and Dodd’s translation using a genitive emendation makes more sense to me Hermetically.
  • “being Wisdom”: there’s no copula or identifier connecting ὁ θεός with σοφία here, so one could assume “[who is]” is implied by parallelism.  However, the final word of this statement ἁπάντων “of all” (more on that in a bit), is followed by ὤν, and while ἁπάντων ὤν could be translated “of all things”, but ὤν can also be a participle referring to God, which would render this phrase as “[God who is] being…Wisdom”, which makes grammatical sense even if it’s an awkward construction.  Whether we say “God is the being who is Wisdom for making known of all things” or “God is who is Wisdom for making known of all things”, the translation seems equivalent either way.
  • “making known”: δεῖξιν, generally “mode of proof” or “exhibition”, in the accusative in a way indicating teaching, revealing, or displaying something for a purpose.  I originally used “showing forth” here, which is more literal but less stylistically fitting for the rest of the text.
  • “of the All”: ἁπάντων here as opposed to πάντων above.  Given the rarity of ἁπάντων in CH III and how it intensifies πάντων, I’m rendering it here in a more dignified sense.
  • “[which is]”: ditto from above with “[who is both]” and “[who is thus of]”.
  • “End”: τέλος, though I like “Purpose” here as well.
  • It may be better to interpret the initial line of each of these statements as “of all things [which exist]” and “of [all] which exists” and “[of all which exists]”, maintaining parallelism between these three statements in this first section, interpreting partial presences of τῶν πάντων ὄντων to maintain thematic and stylistic continuity, though this is reading more into the original text than strictly necessary.  However, the last statement here lacks both πάντων as well as τῶν ὄντων, which may be meaningful on its own.

2. Account of Cosmogony

Lo: in [the] Abyss there was boundless darkness and water,
and delicate, intelligent Spirit,
existing by divine Power in Chaos.
Then, under [the] sand, out of [the] moist essence,
holy Light arose and [the] elements solidified,
so that all [the] gods might parcel out seed-bearing Nature.

While all was indefinite and unformed,
[all] that which was light was separated off to [the] heights
and [all] that which was heavy was grounded upon [the] moist sand,
the whole of them all separated and hung up by Fire to be carried along by Spirit.

And the heavens were seen in seven circles,
[the] gods being seen in the forms of [the] stars with their constellations,
perfectly filled each with their own gods.
The periphery was wrapped all around by Air
and carried along in a circular course by divine Spirit.

  • The first paragraph here is usually marked as the final paragraph of the first section, but it makes more thematic sense to group it in with this second section which otherwise discusses the creation of the cosmos.
  • “Lo”: ἦν, used like “behold”.
  • “delicate”: translating λεπτόν with other similar meanings like “peeled”, “fine”, “thin”, “weak”, “subtle”, or “small” to communicate a sense of fineness but fragility as well.
  • “under [the] sand”: translating ὕφ’ ἄμμῳ which Nock and Festugière obelize out. Some interpret this as marginalia or an external reference to “moist sand” below, especially as it seems absurd for Light to arise from the depths, unless you take into account the Benben myth of Egyptian cosmogony, which then makes total sense here as the birth of Atum from the primordial mound that arose from the boundless waters of chaos.
  • “so that all [the] gods might parcel out seed-bearing Nature”: καὶ θέοι πάντες καταδιερῶσι φύσεως ἐνσπόρου.  Emending καταδιερῶσι to καταδιαιρῶσι, this word seems to be usually translated in the middle voice in the sense of “distribute among themselves”, but the inflection here necessitates that it is in the active voice and subjunctive mood, requiring a different interpretation along the lines of division, separation, or distinguishing.  Nock and Festugière obelize φύσεως ἐνσπόρου, suggesting a potential break in the text and maybe something specific that was parceled out between καταδιερῶσι and φύσεως, but φύσεως ἐνσπόρου as a genitive phrase (“of seed-bearing Nature”) is likely a genitive of separation which would work well with καταδιαιρῶσι.  As a whole, this phrase suggests that in order for the gods to take their proper places and to make life, the elements needed to be made first, and that the gods separating out these elements fulfills part of their very purpose.
  • “hung up by Fire”: “hung up” here is ἀνακρεμασθέντων, “up-hanged”, and the initial ἀνα- seems to just be an intensifier, as κρεμασθέντων already indicates a notion of hanging (or, in the passive, being hanged) up.  Although a different word is used, a similar notion is present in the Hymn to the Great Mind from PGM V.459ff, where we see “you who suspended heaven” as πασσαλεύσαντα τόν οὐρανόν, with a specific notion there of “pinning” it up, like nails or pushpins hanging something up on a wall.  (ἀνα-)κρεμασθέντων, on the other hand, especially in the passive, was sometimes used to refer to hanging things up as a votive offering.
  • “carried along”: ὀχεῖσθαι from ὀχέω, literally “hold fast”, but in the middle voice here, more like “to be carried or borne”.  Copenhaver notes that Nock and Festugière use “véhiculé”, echoing both ὀχεῖσθαι here and ὀχούμενον below in this section as well as the word ὀχεία (“covering”, “holder”) or ὄχημα (“chariot”) used to describe the vehicle of the soul in its ascent as described used in other Hermetic and Neoplatonic texts.
  • “perfectly filled”: interpreting διηρθρώθη along the lines of “complete in detail”, as opposed to Copenhaver’s “corresponding to the gods contained in it”.

3.  Account of Zoogony and Anthropogony

Each god sent forth through their own power
that which was assigned to them.
Thus came to be [the] beasts—
[the] four-footed, [the] crawling, [the] water-dwelling, and [the] winged—
and every germinating seed, herb, and fresh shoot of every flower,
[having] the seed of rebirth within themselves.

They then cast the seeds for the generations of humans for [that they might have]:

  1. knowledge of [the] works of [the] Divine, and
  2. testimony of [the] workings of Nature.

And [they likewise made] great numbers of humans [for that they might have]:

  1. management of all things under Heaven, and
  2. recognition of that which is Good

So as to:

  1. grow in growth, and
  2. multiply in multitude.

And, through the course of [the] encycling gods,
[they created] every soul in flesh for [that they might have]:

  1. observance of [the] sign-seeding [acts] of Heaven,
  2. [observance] of [the] course of the heavenly gods,
  3. [observance] of [the] works of the Divine, and
  4. [observance] of [the] working of Nature

for [that they might have]:

  1. examination of that which is Good, and
  2. knowledge of [the] turbulent lots of divine Power

[for the gods made them so as] to:

  1. come to know [the] things of [the] Good and [the] things of [the] insignificant, and
  2. discover [the] arts of everything that is Good.
  • I broke out this section into a series of numbered lists to more clearly refer to particular points later on.  This whole section was basically given as (more or less) one long sentence, but through the miracles of modern punctuation, I’ve broken it out into more easily digestible sections and statements, especially given the exhortations or injunctions regarding the purposes and works of humanity.
  • “Thus”: just καὶ here, but I figured that this specific wording would help clarify it as a link between the previous and coming statements.
  • “the seed of rebirth”: Although this seems to relate most directly and specifically to the generation of vegetative life, I think this is better reflective of both the vegetative and animal life here. I also want it to link to human life below, though it seems difficult to do so, but this is an incredibly corrupt and difficult passage to translate that everyone seems to admit and recognize.
  • “they then cast the seeds for”: ἐσπερμολόγουν, a difficult word that on its own means something like “pick up/out seeds”, which doesn’t make sense here. Sometimes interpreted instead as “emit seeds”, but the inflection here doesn’t make a lot of sense to me any which way.  The ending itself here would make it seem like a kind of present participle, but only in the neuter singular, either nominative or accusative, and which could have it modify σπέρμα several words away for the overall effect of “having the seeding seeds of rebirth within themselves”, but that seems really kludgy.  We could interpret the following τάς as part of this word, making it ἐσπερμολόγουντας, which would make it an active participle in the feminine singular genitive or plural accusative, which doesn’t make it fit any easier within the sentence unless we match it with the feminine singular genitive παλιγγενεσίας “rebirth”, which is separated by only a few words (and maybe a lacuna or two), but τάς here already functions as the article for γενέσεις that follows, and trying to make the two into one word seems to be another kludgy thing that isn’t great.  Nobody seems happy with this word (or with several of the words and phrases that follow in this section). The common approach seems to be that of Dodd, who uses it to refer to the gods in beseeding the generations of humans (ἐσπερμολόγουν τε τάς γενέσεις τῶν ἀνθρώπων), perhaps with the original author also making a pun on λόγος, but this is also unlikely as λόγος otherwise appears nowhere in CH III (except the title, but the title may well be a later addition to refer to the text by name). There is the possibility of a connection with σπερμολογία, “babbling” or “gossip”, and σπερμολόγος as “one who picks up and retails scraps of knowledge, as an idle babbler”, which could be seen as both a pun on both λόγος and σπέρμα, as well as a dim echo of the Korē Kosmou where the bodies of humans are made from the leftover dried- but overly-reconstituted soulstuff of God. Although the translation here (with a pun on “cast” as both sowing seeds as well as speaking incantations in the Egyptian mythic sense a la Isis or Thoth) makes it seem that τάς γενέσεις τῶν ἀνθρώπων is a dative, it’s still an accusative phrase (“the generations of mankind”), but it’s unclear what else it could be the direct object of besides whatever ἐσπερμολόγουν is supposed to indicate.
  • “for [that they might have]”: reading an implied verb of possession here and below, given the use of εἰς with accusative nouns to suggest that humans are to exist for such a purpose or exist so as to possess such things.
  • “knowledge”: Many translators interpret γνῶσιν here as a verb (“that they might come to know”), but later instances of γνῶσιν in this section seems to function better as a noun (“seeking to know, “investigation”, “knowledge”) in the accusative case.  Reading γνῶσιν here as a noun can also function well, given that μαρτυρίαν (“testimony”, “evidence”) also reads better as a noun given in the accusative than as a subjunctive verb.
  • “testimony of the workings of Nature”: φύσεως ἐνεργοῦσαν μαρτυρίαν, which others translate as “be a working witness of Nature”.  Reading μαρτυρίαν as a noun and not a verb, however, would necessitate something like “have testimony…of Nature”.  ἐνεργοῦσαν seems to agree with μαρτυρίαν as either a plural genitive noun phrase or a singular accusative noun phrase, but “working testimony” doesn’t seem to work so well here.  Rather, I’d read this instead as a chain: that humans are to have testimony/evidence (μαρτυρίαν) of the workings (ἐνεργοῦσαν) of Nature (φύσεως), which then gives a neat parallel to having knowledge (γνῶσιν) of the works (ἔργων) of the Divine (θείων) from the previous statement.  This parallel is repeated further below in this section, though there with a singular noun ἐνεργείας instead of a plural participle ἐνεργοῦσαν.  In this sense, perhaps μαρτυρίαν is meant in the sense that humanity is to behold the workings of Nature by being witness to it, experiencing it, and undergoing it rather than merely observing it from a distance.
  • “great numbers of humans”: πλῆθος ἀνθρώπων, which Copenhaver translates as an injunction “to increase the number of mankind”, but the grammar here doesn’t match up with that. It makes more sense to interpret it in the same sense as τἀς…γενέσεις τῶν ἀνθρώπων above as well as πασᾶν…ψυχήν below.
  • “management”: δεσποτείαν which indicates “the power of a master”, but here I interpret as more a sense of tending or managing, almost in the agricultural sense of husbandry, which ties better into the use of seed-based imagery elsewhere in CH III.
  • “encycling”: ἐγκυκλίων would normally indicate “round” or “circular in shape”, but it can also be interpreted as “revolving/moving in a circle”, with the implied notion of recurrence or repeated things happening.
  • “observance”: κατοπτείαν, in the sense of “spy out”, “explore”, or “observe deeply”, but this is most likely a noun, not a verb, like δεσποτείαν above and γνῶσιν below. It’s possible that this could be a weird verb ending indicating that they are to survey Heaven, etc., but possible verb endings don’t match up with other possible-verbs here.
  • “sign-seeding [acts]”: τερασπορίας, a difficult word apparently otherwise attested, perhaps more literally translated “sowing/seeding of wonders/marvels/portents” (lots of references to seeds in CH III; perhaps the original author was raised as a farmer). In this inflection, it seems to be either in the singular genitive or the plural accusative, but it’s hard to see what this word might relate to. I find it easiest to interpret this as a somewhat out-of-place direct object of κατοπτείαν along with other things in this sentence, and interpreting οὐρανοῦ as the owner of it, the sense being that the actions and events in Heaven are what make portents, which matches up nicely with the astrological notion in the next line.
  • “for [that they might have]”: this set of following injunctions might seem to be part of the same preceding set as before, but to my mind, seeing a pattern of things given in pairs here in this section of CH III, this total list of six injunctions should probably be broken up into two blocks (one of four injunctions and one of two) or three blocks (each of two injunctions), and I went with the former choice.  The first block (or first two blocks) would be regarding the observance of the sign-seeding acts of Heaven and of the course of the heavenly gods, either along with or for the purpose of knowing the works of the Divine and the working of Heaven.  Breaking the last two injunctions out seems appropriate given the εἰς τε before the next two injunctions, suggesting that what goes before is to be established for what comes after, and given that what comes after uses a different structure and verbs/nouns.
  • “examination of that which is Good”: σημεῖα ἀγαθῶν, which doesn’t match the structure of the surrounding text, and which some consider faulty or unintelligible, as σημεῖα is a neuter plural word just meaning “signs”. Going with Dodd’s and Scott’s fix of σημείωσιν, usually “indication” or “notice”, but also “inference from” or “examination of” signs.
  • “[the] turbulent lots of divine Power”: μοίρης ὀχλουμένης, a difficult phrase to interpret that has been variously rendered, a genitive noun phrase with an active present participle in the middle voice for the verb “to move, disturb, roll along” or “to trouble, importune, irk” (with the root word ὄχλος meaning “crowd”, “throng”, “mob”, “trouble”).  Although θείας δυνάμεως comes first and there seems to be something like a break between that and μοίρης ὀχλουμένης, and with both phrases in the genitive, it makes sense to me to think of this θείας δυνάμεως as possessing μοίρης ὀχλουμένης, and interpreting μοίρης ὀχλουμένης as a genitive of charge. This, again, is likely another astrological thing for humans to be aware of, or perhaps an understanding of the acts of Fate and Necessity in general in the cosmos without them necessarily being astrological, something along the line of Copenhaver’s “the whirling changes of fair and foul” (which mixes this injunction with the next, which I prefer to keep separate).
  • “[For the gods made them so as] to”: The last two verbs in this sentence, γνῶναι “to come to know” and εὑρεῖν “to find/discover”, are in the aorist infinitive, unlike κατοπτείαν and γνῶσιν above, which are either verbs in the third person plural aorist subjunctive or nouns in the accusative indicating something for them to have or undergo. To me, this suggests that these last two items in this list are overall goals which are to be arrived at through the previous five. I’ve inserted this phrase to make that point clear.
  • “insignificant”: φαύλων, which can have meanings of “careless”, “cheap”, “slight”, “easy”, “ineffective”. Given the lack of distinction between grander notions of Good and Evil in CH III, although a possibility given its Judaicizing elements, translating the whole phrase here of ἀγαθῶν καὶ φαύλων as such seems out of place, so perhaps “that which is properly useful to know and that which is either improperly useful or properly useless to know” is a better way to interpret this phrase.
  • “arts”: δαιδαλουργίαν, more accurately rendered as “the skillful working” or “the cunning work”.
  • “arts of everything that is Good”: We could retranslate this and the previous statement, using an alternative translation of φαύλων, as “come to know the things of the effective and ineffective, and to discover the arts of all that is effective”. In other words, we’re to learn about the distinction between things that have value and things that do not, and having learned it, explore the uses and works of things that have value.
  • The last two pairs of injunctions have a different focus than the rest: rather than simply observing or witnessing the works of the Divine and of Nature, these last two involve mixtures or choices one is to make.  After all, consider ὀχλουμένης indicating “troublesome” but with an origin in “crowd” or “mob”, and how ἀγαθῶν καὶ φαύλων has a notion of separating out the good from the bad (or, perhaps, the effective from the ineffective).  There’s a sort of mirrored structure here: we have a notion of knowing what is Good and then discerning the mixed states of good and bad as Nature gives it to us, and then we sift through the mixed things that are good and bad, and having sifted we focus on using that which is Good.  After coming to know all the works of the Divine and all the workings of Nature and how they function internally, and being able to distinguish the things that are worthwhile and of value, one then applies that knowledge to actually sort out what’s worthy of attention and valuable in application from what isn’t.  This is what we might otherwise call wisdom, the “showing forth” or “making known” of all things, as mentioned in the first section, and the coming to know these things is the beginning of wisdom, which is mentioned in the fourth section.

4. Account on the Life and End of Humanity

[This is the] beginning of their living and becoming wise,
according to [their] lot from [the] course of [the] cyclic gods.
And [this is the beginning of their] being released,
leaving behind great memorials of [their] works of art upon the Earth,
and every generation of ensouled flesh,
and [every generation] of [the] sowing of fruit,
and [every generation] of every craftwork,
[all] for fame unto the obscurity of [the] ages—
[all] that is diminished will be renewed by Necessity
and by [the] renewal of the gods
and by [the] course of the measured wheel of Nature.

For the Divine is the whole cosmic combination renewed by Nature,
for the Nature is established in the Divine.

  • “[This is the] beginning of their”: ἄρχηται αὐτῶν, which for some is held as doubtful. Dodd has ἀρκεῖ τε αὐτοῖς “it is enough for them”, or alternatively ἀρχή τε αὐτοῖς “for them [this is the] beginning”.
  • “according to [their] lot”: interpreting πρός with μοῖραν as an accusative to indicate an organizing idea on the part of fate.
  • “cyclic gods”: κυκλίων θεῶν, although “circular gods” would be more accurate though perhaps less sensical, but κυκλίων doesn’t agree with anything else here. So, basically emending κυκλίων “circular” to κυκλικῶν “cyclic” instead, although an argument could be made for interpreting the gods as planetary spheres, both in the sense of the shape of the heavens themselves as well as the bodies that traverse them.  Same issue as with ἐγκυκλίων above in the previous section.
  • “leaving behind”: καταλιπόντες as an aorist active participle, combined with εἰς δ᾽ ἔσται in a future sense of purpose e.g. “for them to in the future be leaving behind”.
  • “[every generation]”: inserting this to maintain parallelism with accusative πᾶσαν γένεσιν “every generation” and genitive ἐμψύχου σαρκός “of ensouled flesh” and to clarify what the genitive noun phrases καρποῦ σπορᾶς “sowing of fruit” and πάσης τεχνουργίας “every craftsmanship” refer to as belonging.  I take all this to imply that there are three kinds of generation here that arise and pass away: human/animal life, vegetative life, and technological/artful man-made creation.
  • “[all] for fame”: ἐν ὀνόματι, literally “in name”, though with a common (especially biblical) use of ὄνομα for “fame” or “renown”.
  • “unto the obscurity of the ages”: interpreting ἀμαύρωσιν as an accusative of purpose (ἀμαύρωσις) rather than as a verb (ἀμαυρόω).  As a noun, ἀμαύρωσις is also a nice reference to astrology, being one name for House VIII, a so-called “unseen house” denoting (among other things) death and legacy. Interpreting χρόνων as owning ἀμαύρωσιν makes more sense to me.
  • “[all] for fame unto the obscurity of [the] ages”: interpreting this as belonging specifically to the memorials of the works of humanity but more generally to both such memorials as well as the generations of humanity/fruit/art generally.  Many authors interpret χρόνων as belonging to ἐν ὀνόματι, literally as “in the name of times” or metaphorically “in the fame of ages”, but I give it to ἀμαύρωσιν instead here; Dodd notes that a slight emendation here, adding εἰς so that it reads εἰς χρόνων ἀμαύρωσιν makes it fit a stylistic construction “of which this writer [of CH III] is excessively fond”, though taken in a slightly different sense, and translated as “they will have left great memorials as [a means of perpetuating] their name, pending their obliteration brought about by a lapse of time”.  I moved this whole phrase down after the “every generation” phrase sequence for thematic and stylistic reasons, though it properly follows the “great memorials” phrase.
  • “[all] that is diminished”: interpreting this as belonging specifically to the memorials of the works of humanity but more generally to both such memorials as well as the generations of humanity/fruit/art generally.
  • “renewal of the gods”: ἀνανεώσει θεῶν, which I read as indicating the renewal enacted by the gods upon the world, and not the renewal that the gods undergo themselves.
  • “is established”: καθέστηκεν as a verb with perfect tense, active voice, and indicative mood can still be used in the intransitive state with the sense of “set oneself down”, “settle”, “exist”, “be established”.  There’s some confusion over how to best present this: Dodd has “Nature consists in the Divine”, Scott “Nature has her being in God”, Copenhaver “Nature is established in the Divine”, Salaman “Nature is seated in God”.  I like Dodd’s translation, but this seems a bit further from the text than the rest.

Now, all that done, although I gave my (as far as was possible) exact and literal translation of CH III above, I’d also like to present a slightly more interpreted and stylized translation, as well.  Knowing what I know now about the text and its literal meanings, here’s how I might gently rephrase and tweak it in (somewhat devout) modern prose English, sacrificing accuracy and precision for an easier, more contemplative read.

The Sacred Sermon of Hermēs Trismegistus

1.1
The glory of all that is is God,
who is both the Divine and divine Nature.

1.2
God is the beginning of all that is:
that of Mind, that of Nature, that of Matter.
God is Wisdom for making the All to be known.

1.3
The Divine is the beginning of all that is:
Nature, Working, Necessity, Purpose, Renewal.

2.1
For in the beginning, in the Abyss,
there was boundless darkness and boundless water,
as well as intelligent yet delicate Spirit,
all existing in primordial chaos by divine Power.
But then, out from under the water and sand,
a holy Light arose, and the elements arose with it,
so that all the gods might measure out seed-bearing Nature.

2.2
And while all was yet indefinite and unformed,
the subtle was separated off to the heights
and the base was grounded upon the wet sand.
The whole of the All was separated and suspended by Fire,
carried along by Spirit.

2.3
Then could be seen the heavens in seven circles,
and the gods, too, in their starry forms with their constellations,
each one perfectly realized, all filled with their own gods.
The boundary of the All was encompassed by Air,
carried along in its circular course by divine Spirit.

3.1
Then each god sent forth that which was assigned to them through their own power.
Thus came to be all the animals—walking, crawling, swimming, and flying—
and every sprouting seed, herb, and fresh shoot of every flower,
all having the seed of rebirth within themselves.

3.2
Then the gods cast the seeds for the generations of humanity so that they might
know the works of the Divine and witness the workings of Nature.
In this, the gods made the multitudes of humanity
so that they govern all things under Heaven and recognize that which is Good,
all to grow in growth and multiply in multitude.

3.3
And through all their heavenly courses,
the encycling gods created every human incarnate—every soul in flesh—
so that they might consider in contemplation
the sign-seeding acts of Heaven, the courses of the heavenly gods,
the works of the Divine, and the workings of Nature;
in doing this, the gods made humans—every soul in flesh—so that they might
mark the Good and learn the twisted, twisting happenings of divine Power.
For the gods made humans—every soul in flesh—so as to
know that which is Good and that which is not,
and discover the skillful arts of everything that is Good.

4.1
This is the beginning of the living and becoming wise of humanity,
according to the destiny of each,
each derived from the heavenly courses of the encycling gods.
This is the beginning, too, of their being released,
each leaving behind great memorials of their works upon the Earth.

4.2
Every generation of ensouled flesh,
every generation of sowing fruit,
every generation of every craftwork,
all that is done for the fame of humanity until time itself forgets them—
all that is diminished shall be renewed
by Necessity, by the renewal the gods themselves give,
and by the course of the measured measuring wheel of Nature.

4.3
For the Divine is the whole amalgam of the Cosmos renewed by Nature,
and Nature is found and founded in the Divine.

As you might well note, I made the stylistic choice of taking the same fourfold breakdown of the sections above, and broke each down into three subsections each, for a total of twelve “verses” or statements.  In this, it—if I may make such a claim—looks like it was written as something like the Emerald Tablet, and with that breakdown of twelve verses into four groups of three, the prospects of its use in a zodiacal or yearly devotional cycle could be rather nice.  It’s an innovative idea, at any rate, but certainly not meant to suggest about anything from the text itself or about its author.

With that, I’ll get started on actually taking a deeper look at the text for the sake of exegesis, using my literal translation primarily and backed up by what better translators than me have said.  Stay tuned for that!

Summer update: Jailbreak the Sacred, the Salem Summer Symposium, and more!

I hope everyone’s been enjoying the Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration posts that have been going up lately!  There are still a few more to go, but in the meantime, I didn’t want you all to think that I was just relaxing taking a vacation (as much as I might want or need to).  Rather, things have been as busy as ever, between commuting and working and Working and writing and Writing and this and that and the other, and I wanted to take a quick moment to fill you guys in on some of the things that have been happening lately.

First, a few updates about the website structure.  I decided to go through my blog archives and make things a bit easier to navigate for some of the more fun or interesting posts I’ve made, and while there’s too much to outright do a whole highlight reel of posts, I have made a few new pages for ease of navigability and readability, including adding a few goodies to the Rituals pages from old posts that discussed some rituals I apparently forgot about.

  • The About page has been updated with links to all the different categories of posts (which are also accessible on the right side of the blog page, at least while using the desktop view of the website blog).
  • Several new pages have been added to the top navbar:
    • About → Geomancy Posts: an index of all the important posts I’ve done about geomancy, geomantic divination, geomantic magic, geomantic spirituality, and divination generally.
    • About → Post Series: an index of all the different multipart series of posts I’ve written about over the years, with a summary of each series and links to each of the individual posts in each series.
    • Rituals → Candle Blitzkrieg Blessing: a ritual that utterly fills a house or dwelling with divine light for the sake of blessing it.
    • Rituals → Dream Divination Ritual: a ritual to be done while the Moon is in your ninth house for dream divination, lucid dreaming, or other forms of dreamwork.
    • Rituals → Uncrossing of the Mouth: a ritual to uncross, unbind, and free the mouth from any maleficia, cross, or curse that has settled upon it so that you can speak freely and easily once again.
  • The page Rituals → Classical Hermetic Rituals → The Headless Rite has been (finally) updated, with much of the Greek being corrected, a full transcription of the Greek provided, and more information provided on carrying out the ritual itself.

Second, I was on another podcast!  The wonderful, amazing, and handsome astrologer Nate Craddock of Soul Friend Astrology started a podcast earlier this year, Jailbreak the Sacred, where he sits down to talk with leaders, thinkers, practitioners, and activists about the intersection of mainstream religion and alternative spirituality.  After all, as he says, “spirituality in the 21st century is only getting weirder from here on out, and there’s no better time to team up with people who have walked that path before”.  It’s a wonderful and refreshing thing to listen to, and there are some great speakers already in the lineup, and it’s an honor for me to be included among them!  We spent a good hour and more talking about the intersection of my magical and religious practices, what it’s like being an orisha priest in the Afro-Cuban tradition of La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, and how that impacts my philosophy, ethics, and morality in how I approach my life and Work.  Head on over to JTS and take a listen!  And, if you use iTunes, be sure to subscribe to JTS through that platform, too!

Also, for his patrons over on Patreon, there’s an extra bonus episode of Nate and I talking about geomancy, where I give a very rough-and-fast explanation of the origins of geomancy, and I read for Nate on the air and give a full explanation of what a geomancy reading with me is like on the spot.  You’ll also be able to listen in on a special prayer I’ve written for divination, what I call the Praise of the Lord of the Unseen, which has hitherto not been published anywhere (yet).  If you’re interested, help Nate with his podcast, pitch in $10 a month, and get access to this and all sorts of other goodies and bonuses Nate has for his subscribers!

Third, I’m really super excited to announce that I will be in Salem, Massachusetts in early-mid August this year to attend, present, do readings, and generally have fun at the Salem Summer Symposium!  This is the first major event of its kind hosted by the good folk at the Cauldron Black, with the main show of events lasting from August 7 through August 11, but with other activities occurring around the city of Salem as early as August 3.  I’ll be teaming up with the wonderful Dr Al Cummins for a Double Trouble Geomancy Power Hour on Friday, August 9 from 10am to 12pm, and later on that day I’ll be presenting on my own about my recent development in geomancy-centered theurgical practices from 4pm to 6pm.  Tickets are still available, and I heartily encourage those who are able to attend to do so; there’s a massive list of fascinating talks, presentations, workshops, and other delights for the eyes and heart and mind to partake in, and that’s besides just the social fun to be had in a spot of great renown in old New England!

Last but not least, I mentioned a bit ago that the Russian occult website Teurgia.Org is working on translating some of my writings and works into the Russian language.  They’ve done it again, this time translating my old post on Ancient Words of Power for the Directions (April 2013) into Russian on their website.  If you’re a speaker of Russian, go check it out!

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to say for now.  I hope the weather is treating you all well, and that the upcoming summer solstice (or winter solstice for those in the Southern Hemisphere) is blessed and prosperous for us all!  And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Select posts to be translated into Russian at Teurgia.Org!

Not too long ago, the good people at the Russian occult website Teurgia.Org contacted me asking if they could translate some of my articles, posts, and pages into Russian for their website.  Granted that I don’t speak Russian, but they seem to be a pretty excellent Russian-language resource for Hermetic practices, ceremonial magic, grimoires, and other occult and magical works, and have been around since 2009.  Specifically, they wanted to translate my Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios ritual into Russian for their website, and I agreed, and gave them permission to periodically translate some of my other posts and pages into Russian for their site, linking back here to the Digital Ambler.  To that end, they recently put up their translation over at this page on their website.  Over time, they may translate more posts of mine to make them more accessible to the wider non-Anglophonic world.

If you’re a speaker of Russian or know anyone who’s more comfortable learning occult stuff in Russian than English, tell them to check out Teurgia.Org!

Two new translations from Latin on medieval astrology!

While browsing through my computer for old files for something I was trying to look up, I came across some old translations that had been sitting there, untouched and unloved.  I meant to compile a few more and publish it as another ebook, but I don’t have the original book to translate from anymore (it’s a hard-to-find critical edition from a university library), so so much for that idea.  Instead of just letting them languish and gather electronic bit dust on my hard drive, I decided to polish them up a bit and let them shine on some distant server’s hard drive instead for the whole world to see.

These two translations are from the text Hermes Trismegistus, Astrologia et divinatoria (Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis 144C, Brepols: Turnhout, 2001), which is also the very same collection of manuscripts, texts, and other critical editions that gave me the Lectura Geomantiae and the Liber Runarum, medieval texts on geomantic divination and runic magical practice, respectively.  Now joining those two translations, I now present to you the following two:

  • Liber De Accidentibus (“The Book of Accidents”).  This translation consists of a collection of astrological aphorisms and rules about particular astrological arrangements or phenomena and how they may be used in forecasting, as in mundane or horary astrology.
  • De Amicitia vel Inimicitia Planetarum (“On the Amity and Enmity of the Planets”).  This translation describes a simple form of mundane astrology based on the planetary rulers of particular parts of the world and how their motions through the signs ruled by other planets impact or affect those areas of the world.

You can find these pages up under the site menu: Occult→ Liber Divinationis → (pagename), where I’ve also bundled the Liber Runarum page with them under the overall heading Liber Divinationis, or “The Book of Divination”.

I hope you enjoy, and maybe even find them useful in some small way!

Same Figures, but Different Names and Different Traditions

In addition to the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook that I admin, there are a few other groups out there that focus on geomancy.  I may or may not be a member of them, or I might have been at one point before leaving, but there’s one that I belong to that focuses on the Arabic style of geomancy, Ilm-e-Ramal (Geomancy).  What the Geomantic Study-Group is for Western geomancy, this group is for Arabic `ilm al-raml (the formal Arabic term for geomancy, literally “the science of the sand”, sometimes abbreviated to raml or ramal), and since I’d love to learn more about that style of geomancy, I decided to join in.  It’s not always easy, since many of the members use Urdu or Arabic as their primary language, but when there are English conversations, I try to follow along best I can.

One of the major issues in learning Arabic `ilm al-raml for an English speaker is, of course, terminology.  It’s only fair and expected that the users of a system built in one language would use that language to discuss it, but it still poses a stumbling block.  After all, geomancy has been practiced continuously in Arabic- and Urdu-speaking countries far longer than it was in Europe, and they’ve kept the system in their own ways.  Once I see what they’re doing and see certain words repeated in certain contexts, I can usually catch on and follow along, but the biggest impediment to discussing geomancy and `iln al-raml is the different names we have for the figures themselves.  It’s difficult for me to talk about the meanings of a given figure and compare it with what it means in `ilm al-raml when neither of us know which figure we’re supposed to be talking about, after all.

So, with that in mind, I decided to produce the following table that lists the names of the sixteen geomantic figures and their names in Western geomancy (in Latin and English, using their most popular form) and in Arabic `ilm al-raml (in Arabic and English, again using their popular form).  This is to help me out to learn the names of the figures better in Arabic contexts, as well as to help the students of `ilm al-raml learn the European names for Western contexts.  For other variants in these and other languages that have historically been used for geomancy, including Hebrew, Greek, Sudanese, and Malagasy, I’d recommend checking out Stephen Skinner’s book on geomancy, Geomancy in Theory and Practice, and his larger book on correspondences, The Complete Magician’s Tables.

Figure Latin Arabic Yoruba
Populus
People
جماعت
Jamaʿat
Group
Oyẹku
Via
Way
طريق
Ṭariq
Way
Ogbe
Albus
White
بياض
Bayaḍ
White
Oturupọn
Coniunctio
Conjunction
اجتماع
Ijtimaʿ
Meeting
Iwori
Puella
Girl
نقى
Naqi
Pure
Otura
Amissio
Loss
قبض الخارج
Qubiḍ al-kharij
Catching the outside
Ọsẹ
Fortuna Maior
Greater Fortune
نصرهّ الداخل
Nuṣraht al-dahkhil
Inside victory
Iwọnrin
Fortuna Minor
Lesser Fortune
نصرهّ الخارج
Nuṣraht al-kharij
Outside victory
Irosun
Puer
Boy
فرح
Farih
Happiness
Irẹtẹ
Rubeus
Red
حمره
Ḥumrah
Red
Ika
Acquisitio
Gain
قبض الداخل
Qubiḍ al-dakhil
Catching the inside
Ofun
Laetitia
Joy
ليحان
Layhan (or Ḥayyan)
Bearded
Ọbara
Tristitia
Sorrow
انكيس
Ankis
Reversal
Ọkanran
Carcer
Prison
عقله
ʿUqlah
Shackle
Odi
Caput Draconis
Head of the Dragon
عتبة الداخل
ʿAtabaht al-dakhil
Inner threshold
Ọsa
Cauda Draconis
Tail of the Dragon
عتبة الخارج
ʿAtabaht al-kharij
Outer threshold
Ogunda

Because I like using an Arabic transliteration system that uses diacritics for faithful romanization, it can be a little difficult to read the Arabic names, but the accented letters can be read as follows:

  • q sounds like a “k”, but further back in the throat.
  • ṭ, ṣ, and ḍ all sound like normal but with the back of the tongue further to the back and top of the throat.  However, in Urdu, ṭ and ṣ just sound like “t” and “s”, and ḍ just sounds like “z”.
  • ǧ sounds like a soft “g” or “j” (or like in the word “division”).
  • ḫ sounds like the “ch” in Scottish “loch“.
  • ḥ sounds like the “ch” in Scottish “loch” but a little smoother.
  • ʿ sounds like a very soft, whispered “h” sound, if pronounced at all.

So, “Bayaḍ” can sound like either “bah-yahd'”, or “bayz”, “Nuṣraht al-ḫariǧ” will sound like “nus-raht al-khareej”, and so forth.  Note that some of these names are not proper Arabic, and moreover, just like in Western geomancy, there are dozens of names used across the Arabophone sphere.  These are just one set that I’ve found common in geomancy groups online, and are the ones I’m trying to memorize.  Most of the other variants used are just that: variants, which are easy enough to pick up on.

Also, note that I’m using the standard planetary order of the figures in the above chart, which is fairly common for Western geomancers.  While Western geomancy doesn’t really prescribe a particular order as the order of the figures, Arabic geomancy has a set number of particular orders of the figures that are used for various divinatory purposes.  Probably the most common and canonical one is the dairah-e-abdah, which uses a kind of binary ordering, as seen in the following diagram (to be read from right to left):

While it may not seem like it makes much sense for me to make a single blog post doing nothing more than transliterating and translating a single set of Arabic names into English, given my penchant for long-winded exploratory posts, this is still an important first step in increasing Western geomancers’ understanding of Arabic `ilm al-raml as well as Arabic practitioners’ understanding of Western geomancy.  After all, it’s hard to make a journey if the door is still shut, and this helps open the door for both sides.

Now, you’ll notice that I’ve also included a third set of names, which are Yoruba for the figures as used in the sacred divination of Ifá.  I’ve included them for reference (both my own and other scholars of geomancy, especially those with a historical or academic eye), but I want to make something clear that I’ve only mentioned in passing before: Ifá is not geomancy, and geomancy is not Ifá.  Stephen Skinner talks at length about how the art of Ifá came about historically in his geomancy book, but the short of the matter is this: as geomancy traveled along the Arabic trade routes from its (likely) origin in the northern Sahara westward to Morocco and Spain, eastward to Palestine and Greece, and southward through Africa as far as Madagascar, it also traveled to West Africa where it was adopted and adapted by the priests and lorekeepers of the cultures living there.

While geomancy largely retained the same form and (mostly) the same interpretations everywhere else, it underwent dramatic changes and adaptations to the native Yoruba and Fon cultures in what is now Nigeria and Benin to become Ifá.  The form of the figures and several crucial aspects of geomancy were retained, but pretty much the entirety of the art was rebuilt from the ground up and grew apart into its own entirely-unique system.  As a result, although we as geomancers might recognize that Ifá has sixteen figures in the same format we’d consider them to be figures, almost nothing of what we know about geomancy applies to Ifá, and no assumptions should be made regarding any similarities besides the superficial appearance thereof.  To say it another way, if European geomancy and Arabic `ilm al-raml are sisters who grew up in the same house but then left to go their separate ways in neighboring cities, then Ifá is a distant cousin who grew up in an entirely different part of the country with little contact with the rest of the family.

As an initiate in La Regla de Ocha Lukumi (aka Santería), which also has roots in Nigeria and matured alongside Ifá in Cuba, Ifá is something I’m constantly surrounded by, especially since I belong to an Ifá-centric house that respects, utilizes, and incorporates Ifá and its priests (the babalawos and oluwos) in our ceremonies and lives.  While I understand the historical origins of Ifá from geomancy, I also have to understand and respect the mythological origins and religious context of its practice as its own thing.  And, like Santería itself, it’s an initiated tradition, and non-initiates are not taught or permitted to learn the secrets of Ifá; for various reasons, I am not and will likely never become an initiate in Ifá.  Unlike many Western systems including geomancy, where formal initiation is not really a Thing outside magical lodges and certain master-student systems, this might be something of a shock to my readers, but as it is, there is only so much of the external parts of Ifá that I can learn, and even less that I’m willing to share to people, even to those in Santería itself.  I caution my readers to avoid getting too studious of Ifá without considering proper initiation and study under a legitimate and respected babalawo.

Likewise, a similar word of warning for those Western geomancers who aspire to study Arabic `ilm al-raml and vice versa.  Unlike geomancy and Ifá, geomancy and `ilm al-raml are much closer in method, meaning, and use, and many things are easily translatable between the two systems.  However, caution should still be taken, because although they’re very close sister traditions where there are more similarities than differences, they are still different traditions where the differences still matter.  It’s much like the difference between Western astrology and Indian jyotiṣa astrology: same origin, same symbols, slightly different techniques of interpretation and shades of meaning of those symbols.  While some things are translatable between geomancy and `ilm al-raml, not everything is, and the two systems should still be respected as two separate systems.  Experience and study of both systems will show the diligent geomancer what can be brought over with no effort, what must be adapted from one system to the other, and what is unique and proper to one system and not the other.  Though they share the same origin and great similarities, enough time, space, and work has passed that have made the two sciences grow apart into their own unique systems.  Respect that, study the differences, and experiment accordingly.

Also, my thanks go out to Masood Ali Thahim, one of the multilingual good guys in the `ilm al-raml group on Facebook, who helped me with the Arabic spelling and transliteration of the names of the figures as used in `ilm al-raml.

Translation, Transliteration, and Greek Letter Magic

One of the more common sets of search terms I get on my blog, for some reason, involves how to write Japanese words, characters, or kanji in English, or whether there’s a Japanese to English alphabet conversion.  I mean, there are ways to write Japanese using the Roman script (which is what the English alphabet actually is), but it’s not translation, and people are stupid and don’t understand the basics of writing things in different languages well.  Let me clarify some linguistic terms:

  • Translation is the conversion of words with meaning from one spoken language to another.  For instance, to say the word “love” in Latin, you’d say “amor”, ερως in Greek, (“erōs”), and 愛 in Mandrain Chinese (pronounced “ài” with the voice falling slightly from a high level to a lower level).  The meaning is preserved although how it’s pronounced is not.
  • Transcription is the conventional means by which one writes a spoken language in a graphical, non-spoken medium.  For instance, for English, we use a variant of the Roman script as conventional, while Japanese uses a mixture of hiragana and katakana (syllabic scripts) combined with kanji (Chinese characters).  I could write English using Devanagari, the writing system most commonly used in India to write, say, Hindi, and it’d be a way of transcribing spoken English, although only people who use Devanagari could read it.
  • Transliteration is the conversion of written symbols from one writing system to another.  As opposed to translation, transliteration preserves the sound of a word while the meaning is not.  For instance, my name “polyphanes” in Roman script is written πολυφανης in Greek alphabet, ポリファニース in Japanese katakana, and полыфанис in Russian script.  The sound is preserved across each, although it has no meaning in any language but Greek (meaning “many appearances”).

It must be remembered that a writing system is not a language; a writing system is a means by which one transcribes a spoken language with a set of symbols that represent sounds or meaning, and a spoken language is a means by which one person orally communicates to another person.  However, the two are not the same; consider the status of Hebrew, German, and Yiddish.  “Hebrew” refers both to the spoken language used in Israel as well as the script used in, say, the Torah; “German” refers to both the spoken language used in Germany as well as a variant of the Roman script used to represent the same.  Yiddish, however, blends the two by using the writing system of Hebrew but the spoken language of German.  A German speaker can understand spoken Yiddish but could not read written Yiddish (because it’s written using the Hebrew script); a Hebrew speaker can not understand spoken Yiddish but can read written Yiddish aloud without understanding its meaning (because the Hebrew script is here transliterating German words that have no meaning in spoken Hebrew).  I gave an example about all this specifically with Japanese back in my January 2014 Search Term Shoot Back:

“japanese alphabet with english letters” — This is one thing I really don’t get; so many people have come to my blog looking for Japanese writing translated into English, when I’ve mentioned Japanese four times on my blog to date, and none were about transliterating Japanese into English.  First, Japanese does not use an alphabet; an alphabet is a system of writing that uses letters to indicate either consonants or vowels.  Japanese uses several writing systems, among them kanji (Chinese characters that are combinations of semantic, phonetic, and pictoral images drawn in a codified way) and the syllabaries hiragana and katakana.  A syllabary is a writing system that use letters to indicate syllables, often consonant-vowel combinations.  Thus, while English uses the two letters “k” and “i” to write the syllable “ki” (as in “key”), Japanese might use キ (in katakana), き (in hiragana), and any number of kanjifor the syllable depending on the context and meaning of the character; some might be 幾 (meaning “some” or “how many”), 氣 (meaning “energy” or “atmosphere”), 木 (meaning “tree”), 箕 (referring to the “winnowing basket” constellation in Chinese astrology), or any other number of kanji, all of which we would transliterate as “ki”.  So it’s not as easy as it sounds; not everything is an alphabet!

So why am I talking about writing systems and languages?  Because this is a fundamental distinction between writing systems and spoken languages, and it impacts mathesis and grammatomancy, and Greek letter mysticism and magic more generally, in an important way for many of us non-Hellenes.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the use of stoicheia is a valuable tool in mathesis and grammatomancy.  It’s like isopsephy, or Greek gematria, in a lot of ways, but instead of evaluating a word in Greek using number, we evaluate it using the forces of planets, zodiac signs, and elements.  For instance, if we wanted to use the Greek name ΜΑΡΙΑ, “Maria”, we’d say that it’s a mixture of the forces of Libra (Μ), Capricorn (Ρ), the Sun (Ι), and the Moon (Α), perhaps indicating a balance of masculine and feminine or receptive and active powers balanced through darkness turning into light.  It’s a useful tool, especially when interpreting barbarous words of power that are best or originally written in Greek, but we have a major stumbling block when we come to the use of non-Greek words and names that aren’t historically written in Greek.  After all, I only know of systems of stoicheia and isopsephy for Hebrew and Greek, and I generally distrust anything for the Roman script since it’s highly language-specific, yet most languages I work with tend to be written in Roman.  Thus, for me to get a meaning out of something normally written in Roman script or one of its descendants (English, French, Spanish, German, Swedish, etc.), I need to find a way to transliterate a non-Greek word into Greek script.

Consider my first given name, Samuel.  Samuel is a Hebrew name, originally written שְׁמוּאֵל (ShMVAL) and pronounced something more like “shmūwehl” originally.  However, in Latin, it’s written SAMVEL, and pronounced “sahmwel” as in modern Spanish.  In Greek, however, the name is written Σαμουηλ, or Samouēl and pronounced “samūīl”.  Since my name is natively a Hebrew one, I find a good argument to use Hebrew gematria and stoicheia for analyzing it, but since I also have a correspondingly clear way to write it in Greek, I can just as easily use Greek stoicheia and isopsephy for it.  However, the problem is that the meaning of the name is not preserved; in Hebrew, depending on your interpretation, the name means “God has heard” or “Name of God”, while in Greek it’s just a string of letters that’s pronounced “samūīl”.  If we were to translate the name, we’d end up with either Θεοκουσος (“Theokousos”) or Θεονοματιος (“Theonomatios”); these are straightforward translations of the name, and while we preserve the literal meaning of the name, we end up with radically different spellings, pronunciations, isopsephies, and stoicheias because the pronunciation, and thus the spelling, have changed.  So we can either go with the conventional spelling of Σαμουηλ, or we can go with the translation (properly “calque”) of Θεοκουσος, though I’m inclined towards the former, since a name is what you’re called, and the literal meaning of a word is often occluded by the importance of pronunciation (cf. all the barbarous words we use, which we don’t know the meaning of but we pronounce and intone them all the same for great effect).

Worse yet, the problem with my name is simple compared to many others, because Samuel is an old name in a well-known and well-translated/well-transliterated text in Greek from Hebrew.  Other languages, such as Chinese or Russian or parts of Africa, have no standardized way to transcribe names or words from their languages into Greek; the closest you can get is what best approximates the sound of it, unless you want to go the way of calquing things, which…honestly, if someone called me Theokūsos, I’d never respond to it as I would Samuel, so calquing is basically right out.  For many names in English, it can be easy, since Greek and English tend to share many sounds; for some languages like Chinese, this can be exceptionally difficult, since Chinese has many sounds that Greek does not, and the Greek alphabet isn’t equipped to handle the sounds or structure of Chinese spoken language.  (Worse, there’s no official means to transcribe Chinese using Greek, as there is with Hanyu Pinyin for Roman script, though there are some unofficial means to go from Hanyu Pinyin into Greek.)

Meditation on names is important; I claim that you don’t know yourself or where you’re going if you don’t know your own name, either given at birth or chosen at will.  And since I’m a big fan of using Greek to meditate on as a sacred or mystical writing system, then I like meditating on Greek letters if at all possible so as to understand what’s in a name.  It’s just that getting names into Greek, if they’re not already in Greek, can be difficult, especially for people like my Brazilian, Chinese, or Malaysian readers, especially if the language-to-be-transliterated-from doesn’t share the same sounds as Greek does, or as what the Greek alphabet is meant for.  However, there are some exceptions, and generally speaking what I do is this:

  • If the word is just a word and not normally used as a name or isn’t used as a name for a given entity, like discussing what a rose is, I’ll use the Greek word for it.  Thus, to talk about roses, I’d use the Greek word “rhodē” (ροδη).
  • If the name is natively a Greek name, like “Stephan” from Greek Στεφανος meaning “crown”, then I’ll use the Greek form of the name.
  • If the name is not natively Greek but has a corresponding form in old works like the Bible, like “Samuel” above, then I’ll use the Greek spelling of the name regardless of how the name is spelled or pronounced in the originating language.
  • If the name is not natively Greek, I’ll transliterate the name according to modern Greek rules of spelling and other conventions.  Thus, someone given the Chinese name Yuping (宇平),  I’d transliterate it as Γιουπιν, “Gioupin” pronounced “Yūpin”; the final “-ng” is typically written as “-ν”, since “ng” is a weird phoneme in Greek.
  • If the name is a common word, like a flower, I’ll typically use the phonetic spelling and not the Greek word.  Thus, if someone is named Rose in English, I’ll use the phonetic transliteration of Rhoūz (Ρoουζ) and not the corresponding Greek name Rhodē (Ροδη).

Transcribing a name or word from one spoken language (or written language!) into Greek can be difficult, since it requires a good understanding of what the letters actually sound like so as to prepare an accurate transliteration and transcription of the name or word.  However, once that’s out of the way, it’s then straightforward to understand the mystic meaning behind such a name using Greek letter mysticism via isopsephy and stoicheia.

Now, let’s say we’re comparing the names of two different people, say Stephen and Sarah.  Stephen is a native Greek name from Στεφανος, while Sarah is natively Hebrew spelled שָׂרָה (ShRH), yet we know it’d be spelled Σαρα since she’s a figure in the Old Testament.  Conversely, from Hebrew translations of the New Testament, we know that Stephen would be spelled סטיבן (STIBN) in Hebrew.  How do we go about comparing these two names?  Do we convert both names to one language, or do we mix-and-match based on the native language of each name?  When simply doing a run-of-the-mill analysis, I’d stick to the former when possible; I’d run a stoicheic and isopsephic analysis of Στεφανος in Greek, and a similar analysis of שָׂרָה in Hebrew and compare what results.  Thus, I’d reduce the name to what it mystically means on a stoicheic and numerologic level, and use that as my means of comparison:

  • The Greek name Στεφανος has the stoicheia Aquarius (Σ), Pisces (Τ), Mercury (Ε), Air (Φ), Moon (Α), Scorpio (Ν), and Mars (Ο).  It has the isopsephic value of 1326.
  • The Hebrew name שָׂרָה has the stoicheia Fire (Shin), Sun (Resh), and Aries (Heh).  It has a gematria value of 505.
  • Sarah has almost entirely fiery symbols, while Stephen is mostly air and water.
  • Although the number of Stephan is close to thrice that of Sarah, by reducing the value down by adding up the individual digits, we get 1 + 3 + 2 + 6 = 12 → 1 + 2 = 3 for Stephen and 5 + 0 + 5 = 10  → 1 + 0 = 1 for Sarah.  Alternatively, we ignore the powers of ten: for Stephen, we get Σ + Τ + Ε + Φ + Α + Ν + Ο + Σ = 200 + 300 + 5 + 500 + 1 + 50 + 70 + 200  → 2 + 3 + 5 + 5 + 1 + 5 + 7 + 2 = 30  → 3 + 0 = 3, and for Sarah, we get  5 + 200 + 300  → 5 + 2 + 3 = 1.

So, when we’re comparing two names against each other for the sake of a pure stoicheic and isopsephic analysis, I’d prefer to use the systems in place for the scripts in which a name is derived.  However, as I mentioned before, I only really trust the systems for Hebrew and Greek, and when possible, I prefer Greek; thus, if I were comparing Stephan and, say, Julius, I’d convert Julius to Greek as Ιουλιος and go from there.  And, even if I were analyzing a Hebrew name, I’d convert it to Greek anyway if I were using something like Christopher Cattan’s Wheel of Pythagoras or the onomatic astrology of Vettius Valens I mentioned last time; if there’s a Greek-specific system in place that I don’t have in place for another language, then I’ll convert any and all names into Greek for that system if I have to.

Thing is, however, that Greek (and Indo-European languages generally) tends to complicate things because of how it’s written and spoken.  There’s the whole problem of word endings: case and declension for nouns, and the voice, tense, mood, and the like with conjugation for verbs.  English, mercifully, has tended to drop those things out or simplify them dramatically from its Germanic ancestry, but Greek uses them heavily.  As a rule, when analyzing a word on its own, I tend to use the nominative case for nouns, and for verbs…well, I’m not great with Greek grammar too well just yet, and I haven’t decided how to approach that.  Still, because the ending of the words change based on how they’re used in a sentence, their letters change, and so too do their isopsephic values.  For uniformity, I just stick with the “plain jane” or “unmarked” endings.

New Ebook: Handbook of Saint Cyprian (and a lot of links!)

A while back, I was at my local botanica and looking through their baskets of prayer cards, pamphlets, and prayer books.  To my surprise, I found a small booklet written by Father Eliseo Porras Rojas of the Iglesia Ortodoxa de Latinoamerica in Bogota, Columbia; the name wasn’t important, nor was it even written in full in the booklet, but what caught my eye was that it was a novena to Saint Cyprian of Antioch along with Saint Justina.  I finally got around to translating it from Spanish, and I have to say that it’s certainly an odd novena.  Yes, it has prayers to be done over nine days, and there’s a place every day for you to make a request of the good Saints Cyprian and Justina, but it’s focused more on contemplation and meditation rather than on reciting prayers and making offerings.  It’s an unusual text, and I plan to try it out in the near future.

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve translated something from Spanish for Saint Cyprian.  He’s widely renowned (famously or infamously, depending on whom you ask) in Central and South America, and is called on primarily for defense against demons and black magic, and secondarily for love.  There’s plenty of material written in Spanish in pamphlets, prayer cards, or whole books, and much of it is out of reach of many Anglophones.  To that end, I’ve decided to gather a bunch of prayers I’ve found from botanicas and online and translate them into English into a new ebook, the Vademecum Cypriani, or “Handbook of Cyprian”, including four novenas and several other prayers that have never been translated before (or, if they have, I certainly can’t find reference to them), as well another prayer and the Chaplet of Saint Cyprian written by yours truly all combined into one document.  You can get a PDF copy for US$9.00 off my Etsy page at this link.  Go on and get it; it’ll be a useful thing to get, what with the Feast of Saint Cyprian coming up on September 26!

liber_cypriani

Of course, there are plenty of other prayers you can find to the good saint across the internet, and while I have them all copied down in my personal notes, I didn’t want to include them in the ebook, since…well, why should you have to pay for something you can find for free, and why should I profit off the creation of others without reason?  So, since I like sharing knowledge, here’s a list of links with prayers and other resources for the good saint that I’ve collected over the months:

Besides that, I highly recommend getting copies of Conjureman Ali’s Saint Cyprian: Saint of Necromancers and Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold’s Saint Cyprian & the Sorcerous Transmutation, both of which are available from Hadean Press for UK£3.00 and are fantastic resources for working with this good saint; Conjureman Ali’s book is a good worker’s introduction to setting up an altar and performing work with the saint, and Frisvold’s excellent exposition of Saint Cyprian concludes with a Quimbandero’s litany-esque prayer to Saint Cyprian.  Don’t forget the more expensive books that came out on Saint Cyprian earlier this year, too: Jake Stratton Kent’s excellent Testament of Saint Cyprian and José Leitão’s translation of the Book of Saint Cyprian are nothing to scoff at, and only add to the awesome corpus of literature on this saint.