Yet Another Misbaḥa Prayer: the Thrice Holy Crown

Yes, another devotion that uses the misbaḥa, the prayer beads used in Islam and Arabic-speaking areas.  I’ve already discussed this twice before—once about my Crown of Gabriel, another for the Crown of the Dead and the other archangels—and it seems like I’m falling into an unimaginative yet productive pattern when it comes to coming up with new ones.  This one, however, is more like the original Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah, in that it’s a devotion to God and God alone rather than calling upon another spirit or devoted for the sake of a spirit.  And it’s kinda rooted in a Christian practice, too, that also happens to use a set of Christian prayer beads.

So, we know the format, right?  The misbaḥa is a set of 99 beads, split up into three groups of 33 with a separator between the sets, all strung along from a larger starting bead that isn’t itself counted.

Given that kind of framework, here’s the misbaḥa-based devotional I call the “Thrice-Holy Crown”:

  1. Recite once: “In the name of God, the Most Holy, whose mercy is endless.”
  2. On each of the first set of 33 beads, recite: “Holy God, have mercy on us.”
  3. On the first separator, recite: “Cleanse our sins, forgive our errors, heal our illness.”
  4. On each of the second set of 33 beads, recite: “Holy Strong, have mercy on us.”
  5. On the second separator, recite: “Before your glory do we bow in worship.”
  6. On each of the third set of 33 beads, recite: “Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.”
  7. Recite once: “Glory be to God, forever and ever.”

Simple, clean, effective.  It’s one I find myself increasingly using in my regular devotions alongside, but more commonly nowadays instead of, the standard Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah when I’m not using my misbaḥa for other devotions.  Honestly, I’m liking the use of the misbaḥa for being so generic, flexible, and amenable to any number of devotions or ways to use it, and I’m basically treating it as taking in spiritual oomph like how some esoteric Buddhists treat their malas.  Plus, a standard misbaḥa is large enough to be worn around the neck or wrist to keep it at ready access, as well as being large enough to be draped over or wrapped around something.  This, I’m finding, is coming in use as a spiritual technique to gird or surround or help imbue something or someone with a particular spiritual presence.  For instance, when I’m praying something special for Gabriel, I’ll pray the Crown of Gabriel misbaḥa prayer I have using the misbaḥa, then either wear it while doing my intense Gabriel works or wrap it around a candleholder that’s being used for a candle dedicated to Gabriel.  For things like that, my misbaḥa is fast becoming one of my favorite multipurpose spiritual tools I have in my temple.

The heart and ultimate origin of this devotion is that of the Trisagion, one of my favorite and most simple prayers:

Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

That’s it.  That’s literally all there is to it.  It’s simple, short, and effective, and though it comes from Christianity, it can be used as well for pretty much any deist practice.  The Trisagion is an ancient prayer, and the name itself literally means “thrice holy”—hence its Latin appellation, the Tersanctus, which has the same meaning.  The prayer is sometimes incorporated into a broader “Trisagion Prayer”, or appended to other liturgies, but it’s a common sight in many forms of older forms of Christianity.  There’s also the wonderfully-termed Anti-Trisagion, which is sometimes used as a replacement for the Trisagion proper, but of which there also exist several variants or options, such as:

Before your Cross we bow down in worship, Master, and we glorify your holy Resurrection.

As for where it comes from, though there exists a traditional miraculous origin story for it, it may well be a combination of the Kyrie Eleison prayer and supplication (“Lord, have mercy”) plus an expansion of the Sanctus prayer, originally the hymn of the seraphim to God from Isaiah 6:3:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts,
Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!

Personally, I change “who comes in the name of the Lord” to a more inclusive and atemporal “who comes, has come, and will come in the name of the Lord”, based on a more Orthodox version of the prayer, but that’s just me.

But back to the Trisagion, it’s…it’s just elegant and refined in its simplicity, and I find it a useful chant on its own.  Heck, that’s exactly what Greek and Russian Orthodox people use it for in conjunction with the Jesus Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

The way the Jesus Prayer and Trisagion come together in Orthodox and Eastern Christian devotions is through the komboskini or prayer rope, essentially the Eastern/Orthodox parallel to the Western/Catholic rosary or chaplet.  Rather than being beads strung on a string or chained together, the prayer rope is a rope held together with intricate knots that take the form of crosses upon crosses.  Prayer ropes typically have 100 knots, with separator beads at every 25, sometimes 10, knot; smaller prayer ropes, sometimes of 10 or 50 knots or even 33 knots, and larger prayer ropes of 150 or more knots, also exist.

With the prayer rope, the usual practice (from what I’ve seen) is to recite the Jesus Prayer once on each knot, and the Trisagion on each separator bead.  Of course, there’s no one way to use the prayer rope, just like there’s no one way to use the misbaḥa, but the Jesus Prayer and Trisagion together form a wonderful spiritual practice for mystics and monastics alike.

Of course, I’m trying to…I mean, “divest” or “distance” is correct but I feel like that’s overly harsh, and it’s not like I have any ill will or bitterness towards Christian prayers, yet…well, anyway, in any case, I am trying to keep my own Hermetic practice as generally deist as possible without relying on religion-specific references, such as to Christ or Mary or Muḥammad, hence all this reinventing-the-prayer-wheel work I’ve been doing lately.  And yet, it’s been profoundly useful and clarifying for me to do so, to focus on a Hermetic practice that’s set apart from Christian Hermeticism or Islamic Hermeticism.  Plus, it’s not like all prayers from Christianity or Islam or Judaism or what-have-you are bound up in those religions; the Lord’s Prayer, for example, is a lovely prayer no matter who you are or what you’re doing, in a way that can be set apart from the Hail Mary or the Glory Be.  And, of course, if you’re Christian yourself, you should make use of such prayers!  But if you’re not, there are definitely alternatives and other options available.

Anyway.  What I did was, given the neat three-fold division of the structure of the misbaḥa, I split the Trisagion up into three separate supplications, then used each supplication for each set of beads on the misbaḥa.  For the separators, I took inspiration from one of the supplications used in the Eastern Orthodox Trisagion Prayer liturgy (see bold text):

Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever unto the ages of ages.

All-holy Trinity, have mercy on us.
Lord, cleanse us from our sins.
Master, pardon our iniquities.
Holy God, visit and heal us for thy Name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever unto the ages of ages.

Our Father who art in heaven, &c.

So I took those three supplications and combined them into a single line for the first separator, “cleanse our sins, forgive our errors, heal our illness”.  Similarly, the second separator is based on the Anti-Trisagion given above.  It was the beginning and ending prayers that I was kinda torn on.  I mean, with Islamic prayers, everything is started with the Basmalah, the famous incipit of the Qur’ān and so many other practices and prayers:

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Heck, the words for “Most Gracious” and “Most Merciful”, raḥmān and raḥīm, both derive from the same root, R-Ḥ-M, with a general notion of mercy, compassion, loving-kindness, and the like.  So, I could have just started the Thrice-Holy Crown with that and have it be entirely appropriate (it lacks anything specifically Islamic in its wording, after all), but I decided on a different start.  I like to keep the same format of the Basmalah to start my own misbaḥa prayers, all starting with “in the name of God…” and ending in a way that’s more fitting for that specific misbaḥa devotion, so I decided to go with “in the name of God, the Most Holy, whose mercy is endless”.  The appellation of God as “Most Holy” reflects the underlying focus of the Trisagion on the holiness of God, and the “whose mercy is endless” comes from the (strangely optional) concluding prayer from the Catholic devotion of the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, another wonderfully potent and beautiful Christian devotion for the same purpose that I’m going for with my Thrice-Holy Crown (see bold text):

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself

The concluding prayer of the Thrice-Holy Crown, a simple “Glory be to God, forever and ever” is just a generic praise of God, my equivalent to the practice of tasbīḥ in Islam, which is nothing more than the recitation of “subḥānallāh” meaning “glory be to God”, though literally translated sometimes as “God is free/void” in the sense of having no errors, defects, faults, or flaws.  In fact, it’s this very same prayer in Islam that gives the foundation to the use of the Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah and to the misbaḥa generally—note the shared root there, S-B-Ḥ, referring to notions of glory or praise.

And there you have it!  At some point, once I refine some of my other misbaḥa “crown” prayers, I’ll end up compiling them into their own page.  For now, though, there’s already plenty else for me to do, but I did want to share this little thing I’ve been using for those who are amenable to using it.

Simple Thanksgiving Ritual

Thanksgiving is more than just a day of gluttony in the US; it’s a powerful ritual and act in its own right.  At its core, thanksgiving is just that: giving thanks, or being grateful.  We feel gratitude for a lot of things: gifts received, favors obtained, good work done on our behalf, and the like.  Many religions place a high emphasis on being grateful towards divinity, especially since so much of our work and our lives in general depend upon divinity for continuing and continuing support.  Offering our thanks for, or at the bare minimum recognizing, the help and spiritual substance we receive, often forms a crucial center of worship and devotion, which enables us to further recognize the aid and presence of divinity in our lives, which enables us to always treat the things we receive (our food, our homes, our work, our families, our lives, etc.) with respect just as we respect divinity, which further enables us to live better lives.  This is especially true for magicians, where we not only have divinity to work with but often innumerable spirits, angels, demons, saints, gods, and the like to tend to.  For any work done, payment and thanks should always be given in return; this not only sweetens the deal and solidifies the relationship between magician and entity, but also makes the magician more receptive to that spirit’s aid and presence in their lives.

One of my favorite thanksgiving rituals is elegantly simple; I’ve adapted it from Draja Mickaharic’s book Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets, a collection of rituals and spells based on verses selected from the Minor Prophetical books of the Old Testament.  This is a fantastic book to pick up with plenty to offer.  The following is one I’ve added onto slightly by adding some more prayers, but it’s very simple and takes all of five minutes to do.  Mickaharic says that this type of ritual is best performed often, since it not only makes one more receptive to divinity in their lives but also strengthens the connection with divinity and helps their ritual strength the more they give thanks.  It makes sense; by recognizing the source of the power we work with as magicians, we honor it, and by honoring the source of the power we work with, we enable ourselves to receive more of it.  Given the source of this ritual, it leans heavily to the Abrahamic/Judeo-Christian side with its prayers, but it’s still a good one to use for any who are open to it.

  1. Light three white candles set up in a triangle pointing away from you, preferably towards the east or to some image of the Divine.
  2. For each of the three candles, do the following:
    1. Recite aloud Jonah 2:9, “But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed.  Salvation is of the Lord.”
    2. Silently pray the Lord’s Prayer three times.
    3. Silently pray the Trisagion three times.
    4. Silently pray the following prayer three times: “Thank you very much for everything; I have no complaints whatsoever.”
    5. Silently focus gratitude on the candle flame for a brief moment.
  3. Recite aloud the Prayer of Thanksgiving.
  4. In your own words, offer your thanks and gratitude for all the things in your life: the people you know, the work you do, the luxuries you enjoy, the provisions you use, the home you inhabit, and the like.  Especially give thanks for any ritual, spiritual, or divine work that has been done in the recent past.

I like to perform this thanksgiving ritual once a week, on Sundays after my meditation, act of contrition, and usual prayers, but before any other ritual work such as energy work or banishing or offerings.  It helps focus myself for the rest of my magical work, giving my thanks for all the work I’ve done so far and preparing myself for the work I’ve yet to do.  Different spirits or gods get different types of thanksgiving rituals, depending on the spirit in question, but since this is directed to the Source and the All itself, it’s a very general and broad thing.

Breathing and Prayer

The breath, more than anything else, is one of those almost universal cultural constants between different spiritualities and philosophies.  In almost all cases, the breath is what gives life to animate creatures and distinguishes them from inanimate things: God breathed in life to Adam, Heshket breathed in ka to all those born in ancient Egypt which left at the time of death, the primordial Pangu gave his dying breath to be the air for all other beings, and the word for “breath” in many languages has connotations of the animating force in something alive (Latin spiritus, Greek pneuma, Chinese qi, Tibetan lung, Hebrew ruach, Sanskrit prana).  As far as the currency of ideas go, the relationship between breath, life, and spirit is a pretty big one.  This isn’t even getting into the idea of spirits existing on their own without a host body.

Except for those afflicted with Ondine’s Curse, the breath is an involuntary action much like our pulse or temperature regulations; unlike most other involuntary actions, however, the breath can be quickened, slowed, or otherwise controlled, giving it an interesting point in opening up the rest of the body and mind to us (taking deep breaths to calm the mind or relax the body, taking quick short breaths to work the mind and body up to a tense state, etc.).  It’s been said that the breath is like a mantra done 20,000 times a day, each and every day a person is alive, and mantras are powerful tools to influence the body, self, and world.  Why not combine the two?

Breathing excersizes combined with mantras, prayers, visualizations, or thoughts abound; I’m sure, dear reader, that you could think of at least four you’ve come across so far, and anyone with a copy of Jason Miller’s “The Sorcerer’s Secrets” knows another half-dozen.  One that I’m fond of was introduced to me by way of John Michael Greer’s “The Art and Practice of Geomancy” (a highly recommended text for anyone interested in that art of divination or magic), a technique called the fourfold breath:

  1. Breathe in for four counts.
  2. Hold for four counts without closing the throat.
  3. Breathe out for four counts.
  4. Hold for four counts without closing the throat.
  5. Repeat.

Simple, easy, and clearing.  Combining this with the Vase Breath technique (filling the lungs up from the bottom/diaphraghm up to the top of the chest, then clearing the lungs out from the top to the bottom), we get very slow, very deep, very strong breaths that help sharpen and focus the mind.  One iteration of this kind of breath for me takes about 30 seconds.  It’s a pretty intense breathing practice on its own, simple though it may be, and is a good start to a meditation or prayer ritual; I try to do it whenever I’m active to get more use out of my lungs and to gain better control over my breath and body.

But if the breath is a means of life and tool of the spirit, why not combine this kind of breathing technique with something else to get Work done?  One idea I picked up was from a documentary on Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain in Greece filled with a variety of monasteries and enclaves in the Greek Orthodox traditions.  That idea was to pray without ceasing (Thessalonians mumble:mumble), in that one should always be praying, always focused on matters of the spirit.  Well, if spirit is breath, and breath is something we already do all the time, merely focusing on the breath is a means to holiness and enlightenment; indeed, this is how the historical Buddha became enlightened, by simple meditation using his breath, easier than the ascetic practices his fellow mendicants were doing. 

However, the mind often wanders or is lead to wander, so it’s easier to have a mantra or short prayer in mind during breath to maintain focus.  One prayer I’ve recently taken to is the Trisagion (Tersanctus, or Thrice Holy), a Greek prayer used since Byzantine times:

Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός, Ἅγιος ἰσχυρός, Ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.
Agios o Theos, Agios ischyros, Agios athanatos, eleison imas.
Holy God, Holy strong, Holy immortal, have mercy on us.

It’s a simple prayer that I like and found myself chanting almost naturally, and I use it to sanctify an area after banishing.  The way I intone it, though, takes a bit of breath, and the pause for breathing kinda knocks me off my balance (more like a vibrated song and not doing mantra repetitions).  I decided recently to combine the Trisagion with the fourfold breath as a meditation exercise:

  1. Inhale, from the bottom of the lungs upward, focusing on the  phrase “Agios o Theos”.  As you inhale, know and see the grace and splendor of the Divine surround and fill you, inspiring you (literally, “breathe in”) with holiness and union.
  2. Hold the breath, focusing on the phrase “Agios ischyros”.  Just as the lungs are held and the breath sustained, so too does the force, might, and strength of God sustain the cosmos.  It is by that cosmic, universal Will that all things survive and protected, and that all things are directed and controlled.
  3. Exhale, from the top of the lungs downward, focusing on the phrase “Agios athanatos”.  As you exhale, consider that, although your breath passes out now as all things do when they expire (literally, “breathe out”), the One will always exist beyond all lifetimes and timeframes.
  4. Hold the lungs empty, focusing on the phrase “Eleison imas”.  As mankind here on earth, we often consider ourselves without grace or somehow separated from the Divine and sorely seek to reclaim it.  As natural as it is to breathe, though, the divinity and holiness of the One is always around us just as air and wind are around us, and all we need to do is do what is natural and take in that mercy and love of the Almighty. 
  5. With an empty spirit and pair of lungs, repeat.

It’s only slightly more complex than the original fourfold breath, and goes more by the prayer itself than counting, but it’s a simple meditation I’ve been doing on the commute or in my room in the evenings.  It’s a wonderful feeling, and helps absorb oneself in the eternal moment of now where we really are.