On the Megaloschema

Today, as many of my readers in the West are probably aware, is Good Friday as reckoned by Western Christianity as the annual holiday that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the fifth day of Holy Week and the first of the Paschal Triduum leading up to Easter Sunday, which properly celebrates the resurrection of Christ, the most important holy day in the Christian calendar. I don’t need to get into the specifics of this holiday and celebration, given its huge importance in the rites of Christianity specifically and Christian-influenced Western culture generally, nor do I really celebrate this holiday. After all, I’m not baptized as a Christian, nor was I raised as one, nor do I profess it myself as my religion. Indeed, although Christianity has a huge influence on my own magical practices, especially where saints and angels are concerned, my recent spiritual practices are taking me in my own Hermetic deist way apart from the usual stuff of Christianity. Still, that’s not to say that I’m entirely abandoning the Christian influences, at least where they’re appropriate. And today, on the commemoration of the Passion of Christ, I’d like to talk a bit about one of my favorite pieces of Christian graphical design: the Megaloschema, the Great Schema.

Properly speaking, this design is one found in Eastern Christianity, especially Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox practices, and generally reserved for use as a special vestment given to monks who have attained a high degree of spiritual accomplishment and retraction from the world, for whom the title “Megaloschemos” is given. It’s a profound mark of spirituality, and comes at no small cost or effort to those who have earned the rite, with some sects only giving it to monks and nuns on their deathbed. Plus, let’s be honest: those who wear it look like a wizard’s sartorial wet dream.

It’s also densely packed with symbolism, all tied to the Passion of Jesus Christ, the climax of the trials and tribulations that Christ faced at the end of his earthly life that led up to the Resurrection. Although the standard emblem of Christianity is the simple Cross (more properly, a crucifix, which is a cross plus the body of Christ), which acts as a reminder of the sacrifice of the Son of God for the sake of the salvation of the world, the Megaloschema is the Cross plus quite a bit more.

My good friend and colleague Michael Lux of Necromantic Matters tipped me off to the design a few years back, and I simply fell in love with it: the dense layers of symbolism, the almost cosmological patterning of the elements arranged on it, and the use of Greek acronyms and initialisms to add even more meaning to it immediately appealed to me, and so I appended it to my then-primary shrine, dedicated to my worship of God and the veneration of the seven archangels. It fit nicely, at least, nestled under some of the chaplets I made for them to give a bit of balance.

As my practices have shifted more and more away from Christianity, however, I found that I was using this particular shrine less and less, and when I started to reorganize and clean up my temple space, shrines, and altars after my Year in White in 2017 and again more recently at the end of 2018 and the start of this year, I realized that, even though I don’t have as much personal adoration of the Cross anymore, I still adore the use of the Megaloschema. I kept that little, dinky cutout where it was. By necessity, it was dinky; I couldn’t find a good high-resolution image of it anywhere except for other variants of the pattern that didn’t have as much detail or as many elements on it, so I kept it at the small size that it was.

Well, when I redid my temple space, I moved around a few shrines and cleaned up some other things. One of the things I moved around was my shrine to the Hieromartyr of Antioch, Saint Cyprian of Antioch with Saint Justina and Saint Theocistus. Originally, I had drawn a somewhat elaborate pattern in chalk on the wall above and behind the shrine, consisting of a Cross, a skull-and-bones, a cauldron, a crozier, and other images relevant to the work I was doing at the time with St. Cyprian. I don’t have a good picture of the specific design I drew, but you can see parts of it in this one picture I took of the shrine during the Days of the Cyprians from 2018:

When I cleaned my temple space up, I decided to wipe off the chalk drawing from the wall (it was getting faded anyway) and rotated the shrine around so that it faced a new direction. The shrine looked fresher and cleaner, but I still wanted something along the lines of the chalk pattern I had set up, now that the space was a bit clearer. At that moment, I realized that the Megaloschema would have been perfect for the Cyprian shrine; after all, still being a publicly-venerated saint in Eastern Christianity and definitely fulfilling the qualities that a monastic would have that would permit them the use of the Megaloschema, it seemed appropriate enough, especially given how symbolically rich—and, frankly, how just simply magical—the design is. Yet, as before, I couldn’t find a design that was clear enough or high-resolution enough for the shrine.

So I made one.

This is pretty packed with symbolism, so let’s break it down into its individual components:

  • The True Cross, the instrument of the execution of Christ upon which Christ was killed by the world and, in so doing, conquered the death of the world
  • The tilted beam on the Cross, tilted up to the right of Christ signifying the ascension of the thief on his right to Heaven
  • The Title of the Cross placed on top, put up to mock Christ
  • The crown of thorns used to crown Christ, encircling the four nails used to pierce the body of Christ
  • A darkened sun, indicating the eclipse that occurred at the moment of the death of Christ
  • A moon with three stars, indicating the three days Christ died, descended into Hell, and returned at his Resurrection
  • The Holy Lance, the spear of Longinus that pierced the side of Christ
  • The Holy Sponge on a reed of hyssop, used to give Christ vinegar to drink (most likely not vinegar-vinegar but posca, a diluted vinegar-wine drink consumed regularly by soldiers, lower-classes, and the poor)
  • The rooster, facing away from the Cross, being the cock that crowed three times for the denials of Peter
  • The column, to which Christ was fastened and flailed 39 times
  • The ladder used by Joseph of Arimathea, the man who assumed responsibility for burying Christ, to bring the body of Christ down from the Cross
  • The pitcher used to wash the body of Christ, and also that which he used to wash the feet of his disciples
  • The Holy Chalice, or the Holy Grail, used by Christ at the Last Supper
  • The hammer used to fix the nails into the body of Christ
  • The pincers used to remove the nails from the body of Christ
  • The flail used on the body of Christ
  • The skull and bones, being those of Adam, the First Man, buried at Golgotha where Christ was crucified

There are other items that could be included, based on the traditional items associated with the Passion of Christ collectively known as the Arma Christi, but I found the above to be enough and all fairly traditional based on the versions of the Megaloschema I could find.

And, of course, the Greek letters (note the use of the lunate sigma, Ϲ, in the image above, instead of the usual sigma, Σ, in the descriptions below):

  • ΘΕΟΣ (Θεός) — Literally just the word God
  • ΟΒΤΔ (Ο Βασιλεύς της Δόξης) — The King of Glory
  • ΙΣ ΧΣ ΝΙΚΑ (Ιησούς Χριστός Νικά) — Jesus Christ conquers
  • ΤΤΔΦ (Τετιμημένον Τρόπαιον Δαιμόνων Φρίκη) — Honored trophy, dread of demons
  • ΡΡΔΡ (Ρητορικοτέρα Ρητόρων Δακρύων Ροή) — A flow of tears more eloquent than orators
  • ΧΧΧΧ (Χριστός Χριστιανοίς Χαρίζει Χάριν) — Christ bestows grace upon Christians
  • ΞΓΘΗ (Ξύλου Γεύσις Θάνατον Ηγαγεν) — The tasting of the Tree brought Death
  • ΣΞΖΕ (Σταυρού Ξύλοω Ζωήν Εύρομεν) — Through the Tree of Life have we found Life
  • ΕΕΕΕ (Ελένης Εύρημα Εύρηκεν Εδέμ) — The discovery of Helen has uncovered Eden
  • ΦΧΦΠ (Φως Χριστού Φαίνοι Πάσι) — The Light of Christ shines upon all
  • ΘΘΘΘ (Θεού Θέα Θείον Θαύμα) — The vision of God, a divine wonder
  • ΤΣΔΦ (Τύπον Σταυρού Δαίμονεσ Φρίττοσιν) — Demons dread the sign of the Cross
  • ΑΔΑΜ (Αδάμ) — Literally just the name Adam
  • ΤΚΠΓ (Τόποσ Κρανίου Παράδεισος Γέγονε) — The place of the Skull has become Paradise
  • ΞΖ (Ξύλον Ζωής) — The Tree of Life
  • ΠΑΓΗΔΤΠ — The first letter of the seven sayings of Jesus Christ on the Cross:
    • Πάτερ, ἄφες αὐτοῖς, οὐ γὰρ οἴδασιν τί ποιοῦσιν. — “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
    • Ἀμήν σοι λέγω σήμερον μετ’ ἐμοῦ ἔσῃ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ. — “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
    • Γύναι, ἴδε ὁ υἱός σου· Ἴδε ἡ μήτηρ σου. — “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” (John 19:26-27)
    • Ἠλὶ ἠλὶ λεμὰ σαβαχθάνι;— “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)
    • Διψῶ. — “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
    • Τετέλεσται. — “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
    • Πάτερ, εἰς χεῖράς σου παρατίθεμαι τὸ πνεῦμά μου. — “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Despite the beauty and dense symbolism of this severe symbol of the Passion, the Megaloschema is really only limited to Eastern Christian practices; it’s not really found in Western Christianity. That is, except for one surprising icon: the Icon of the Seven African Powers, more commonly known as Las Siete Potencias Africanas, a fun amalgamation of Christian Passion- and saint-related imagery mixed in with African orisha syncretism:

Around the edge of the icon are seven different saint images for the seven most popular orisha from Yòrubá and Lukumí orisha religion. Starting at the lower right corner and going clockwise from there, they are:

Interestingly, these seven saint images (given in oval shapes, much like Roman Catholic saint medallions) are bound together by a chain with seven tools hanging from the bottom of them: a machete, hammer, spear, hoe, pickaxe, rake, and shovel. The chain and all these tools are associated with Ogun, the Blacksmith Warrior, the God of Iron and God in Iron, whose domain includes all metal and all implements of metal. (He’s also my own tutelary orisha to whom I’m primarily ordained.) Ogun plays a crucial role in orisha religion, too, and the subtle opposition between Shango (as Saint Barbara) at the top and the tools of Ogun at the bottom is a fun nod to their intense relationship.

In the center of all the saints and the chain with tools is the image of Jesus Christ on the Cross with a ladder, a spear, a sponge on a rod, a sword, a pitcher, dice, a skull, a lantern, a column, a flail, a rooster, a darkened Sun, and other implements of the Arma Christi. Although Jesus Christ is given the name Olofi (a term used in Lukumí for the cosmocrator and creator orisha, i.e. God), we have fundamentally the same exact setup and iconography as the Megaloschema of Eastern Christianity in this icon of heavily-syncretized Western Christianity. It’s a delightful mashup of names and symbols that appeals to me, even if I don’t much care for the art style that’s commonly used in Western Christian iconography. Yet, it’s also incredibly confusing and amazing how the Megaloschema got blended in with African diasporic syncretized Christianity in the New World; since I don’t actively work with the specific folk traditions that produced this image, I’m honestly not sure how this particular icon of the Seven African Powers came about. It might be something fun to research one day, especially since I’m already in orisha religion as it is.

These are just some of my thoughts on this Good Friday; I had the idea to write a post about the Megaloschema for some time now, but it didn’t seem to come together until this morning, fittingly enough. For all of my Christian readers, rejoice, for soon your Lord will be risen! For all my other readers, I hope you have a wonderful start to your weekend.

Also, PSA: don’t forget that today is the Feast of Saint Expedite! Go honor our good friend who loves to help us quickly, quickly, immediately, immediately, crushing the demon that cries “tomorrow, tomorrow!” and holding the divine power of Today, today! Get him a poundcake, some wine, some cigarettes, some dice, and some flowers to honor this good saint who wards off procrastination and who helps speed us on our way speedily.

Also, another PSA: today, April 19 2019, the weather for the United States has quite a bit of rain headed our way on the East Coast as well as in the Pacific Northwest. This is an excellent day to put out your bins, basins, bowls, buckets, and all other rainwater collection instruments you might have, since today is not only Good Friday and the Feast of Saint Expedite, but also a full moon (exact at 7:12 am Eastern US time this morning); such a confluence of dates is pretty rare, so take advantage of it all! Beyond just simply being rainwater, with all its normal spiritual uses, today’s rainwater would have exceedingly strong spiritual powers, potencies, and uses for quite a number of ends. Be safe when you’re traveling and commuting today, and collect that rainwater!

Geomantically Forecasting the Weather

Divination is the art and practice of obtaining knowledge about unknown things, and every culture in every area in every era has developed their own forms for it.  As I’ve mentioned before, divination relies on both intuition and technique, though the amounts of each varies between different styles of divination.  On the purely intuitive side, we have prophecy, being possessed by spiritual beings to communicate, and straight-up clairvoyance and clairsentience, things that just happen through purely spiritual means with no tools or symbols necessary.  Somewhere in the middle, we have methods that interpret omens that are collected through a methodical way, such as the shuffling and setting out of Tarot cards, analysis of the motions of the planets in astrology, and the generation of charts of geomantic figures.  Generally, divination is considered a spiritual practice, so we often consider intuition (the spiritual component of this method of obtaining knowledge) to be a necessary component of divination, with technique helping us to focus and sharpen our intuition.

However, this doesn’t preclude us from using purely technique-based methods to learn about the unknown, either, and this is where entirely nonspiritual people will happily join in on prediction.  Methods that use mathematical or physical models, rely on extrapolation from historical data, and guessing at the interplay of different factors based on likelihood are all purely technique-based methods of “divination”, such as economic forecasts or the prediction of planetary motion based on astronomical models.  This type of prediction is the most commonly accepted nowadays, given the general lack of spirituality in our modern culture, and one of the most common things we use to predict with these technique-only prediction methods is the weather through meteorological models and forecasting.  Sure, it can be vague at times, and distant meteorological events can be near impossible to predict, but it has a pretty high rate of success especially in the short term.

Of course, you don’t need to be a meteorologist to predict the weather, and proper divination systems have their own means to determine the weather of future time periods.  This makes sense, since the weather is among the most important factors shaping our daily lives for years at a time.  Farmers rely on weather to grow their crops; sailors rely on weather to sail safely; commuters rely on weather to know to bring an umbrella or just take the subway.  The weather is a vital part of our lives, and divination can step up to the plate quite nicely to predict the weather just as any Weather Channel or NOAA forecast can, and can be even more useful to get a good picture of the weather months in advance when meteorological models are essentially useless.

Geomancy, especially, is quite nice at predicting weather.  In the astrological house of a geomantic reading, the weather is assigned to house X, the house of the midheaven.  This house spatially represents the zenith of the Sun in the sky, and the sky generally, so it makes sense that the weather is given to this house.  To figure out what the weather will be on a given day, or more generally for a week or any other timeframe, simply inspect the figure in house X.  The two main qualities of the figure to check for are element and stability.  The elements within the figure, and the overall element of the figure generally, indicate the general type of weather; the stability of the figure (stable or mobile) indicate whether the weather will stay the same throughout the day or whether it will change.

Generally speaking the figures indicate the following types of weather:

  • Populus: Very rainy, cool
  • Via: Good, but rain likely
  • Albus: Wholesome, little to no rain, cool and calm
  • Coniunctio: Unwholesome due to rain, little to no wind
  • Puella: Fair but rainy at times, warmer than otherwise
  • Amissio: No rain, clear and breezy, temperate
  • Fortuna Maior: Excellent, wholesome
  • Fortuna Minor: Fair and hot turning to bad
  • Puer: Fair, clear, wholesome, tending to hot
  • Rubeus: Windy, unwholesome, tending to coolness
  • Acquisitio: Clear, fair
  • Laetitia: Clear and bright, calm, hot
  • Tristitia: Cold, dark, shadowy, dry
  • Carcer: Not good, unwholesome, dry
  • Caput Draconis: Clear, wholesome, cool
  • Cauda Draconis: Bad, wet, stormy, unwholesome

Of course, you’d need to take in the time of year and climate into account depending on the timeframe and location of the weather forecast.  For instance, a cold day in Seattle is different from a cold day in Houston, just as a cold day in January is different from a cold day in July.  Precipitation, too, should be factored in as different types depending on location and climate; rain in a place where subfreezing temperatures are common can be well-expected to fall as snow rather than showers.  Weather is not the same as climate, of course, and climate is generally known ahead of time.  The climate and location of the place to be forecasted will help provide a context that can help whittle down the general types of weather indicated by the figures.

A note about the list above: some of the figures are mentioned as “wholesome” or “unwholesome”, and this goes back to an older idea that the weather and airs generally have substantial effects on our health and well-being.  Wholesome weather is that which is good and healthy for us: neither too dry to suck the moisture from our lungs, nor too wet to weigh us down with extra moisture, nor too hot to burn and overly excite us, nor too cold to freeze us and keep us hunkered down.  Unwholesome weather has a higher chance of making us feel unwell, out of breath, slow in mind and body, and the like.  It goes back to the system of humours, where the human body is dominated by the four bodily fluids of yellow bile or choler (Fire), blood (Air), phlegm (Water), and black bile or melancholy (Earth).  Keeping ourselves healthy requires keeping a balance of these humours, which can be influenced by food, drink, music, and the weather, amongst other things.  Unwholesome weather has a higher chance of something extreme happening or provide conditions for us to get too wrapped up in one element or another that can cause us to be unwell.

Asking what the weather will be like is a simple enough question, but asking how and whether it will affect parts of our lives is quite another.  This is where other rules of geomancy come into play, such as that of perfection.  For instance, if you want to know whether the weather will impede your progress on a long-distance road trip, throw a chart and see whether houses X (weather) and IX (long-distance travel) perfect.  If they do, the weather will cause problems; if they don’t, the weather won’t be an issue no matter what it is.  Further, in charts like this, if the figure in house I (the querent) as well as that of house X perfect with house IX, then the weather will impede the journey but the querent will make the trip anyway; if house X perfects with house IX and house I but house I doesn’t perfect with house IX, then the weather will impede the journey so much that the querent won’t make the trip at all because of the weather.  If none of the houses perfect, then the weather won’t affect the journey, but the querent won’t make the journey anyway.

Because we often want to know about how the weather will affect our plans in our lives rather than just what the weather is itself, weather predictions are some of the most common to use multiple significators in the chart besides house I and house X.  Other houses for geomantically forecasting the weather include:

  • House III: Local events, short-distance travel
  • House IV: agriculture, land, crops and harvests
  • House V: rivers, parties, growth of biennial/perennial plants (and plants generally)
  • House IX: long-distance travel, seas, ships, planes
  • House XI: get-togethers, work outings, well-being of friends or social groups, annual plants

John Michael Greer notes in The Art and Practice of Geomancy that house V should be inspected for rain, though the logic for this confuses me.  Perhaps it’s just to confirm the likelihood of rain as described by house X, but I’ve never needed such a confirmation.  His rule is that you check to see whether one or both of the figures in house X and house V are moist (Air and Water); if both are, rain is certain; if only one is, rain is uncertain but possible; if neither are, rain is not predicted.

Probably the most memorable experience I had using weather forecasting with geomancy was to predict the weather on my college graduation day.  For years before my own graduation, graduation day was always marked by rain, oftentimes heavy enough to move ceremonies indoors, and when my college campus was already packed to capacity, this was a hard thing to coordinate at the last minute!  Several months before my graduation, I ran a chart to determine what the weather would be like on my own graduation day, and the figure I got was Fortuna Minor.  The interpretation I got would be that the day would start off good but turn bad later on, so yes, it would rain, but after graduation itself was over with (which was scheduled in the late morning, anyway).  Graduation day came around, and the forecast from NOAA was to be clear for the whole day, and it started of bright, clear, and also exceptionally warm for a late May morning; we were thankful for our mortarboards and the orientation of the events to keep the sun out of our faces.  Later on during the program-specific ceremonies, however, it began to cloud up, and it began to rain just as I finally took off my cap and gown and headed home to drop off my diploma.  Exactly as I expected: it started off good and ended with rain after graduation itself was done.  Not bad for a few dots.