An Alternative System of Stoicheia

Far be it from me, a ceremonial magician, to take something simple without introducing some complexity or confusion into it.

In continuing and reviewing my mathesis and Greek language-based mysticism research, there’s one modern book that’s invaluable to my studies: The Greek Qabalah (1999) by Kieren Barry.  Barry’s scholarship is excellent, and he wrote the book as a hybrid between pure academicism and applicability for occultists and magicians, so it’s highly accessible for most people but with plenty of inroads for deeper analysis.  Of course, I’d love to read Franz Dornseiff’s “Das Alphabet in Mystik und Magie” (1925) since it has plenty more raw information, but that’s all in German, and alas, nope.  Anyway, Barry’s book is a good start, and it’s one of the original influences that led me to go against the “Alexandrian Tree of Life” and start over fresh.  From chapter 6 (emphasis mine)

On the evidence we have seen, it is plainly incorrect to state that there are only a few correspondences to the letters of the Greek alphabet along the lines of those found much later in the Hebrew Qabalah.*  It is also anachronistic, as well as completely pointless, to attempt to project Hebrew Qabalistic symbolism onto the Greek alphabet, or to imagine anything so historically impossible as an “Alexandrian Tree of Life,” as has been done.*…

* (48) See for example, S. Flowers, Hermetic Magic (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1995), a forgettable mixture of historical fact and personal fantasy.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I claim that when a scholar is throwing those kind of footnotes at you in an academic work, you prolly dun’ fucked up.  But I digress.

So, of course, Barry mentions the property of stoicheia in several parts as he begins to discuss the mystical associations of the letters with other well-known forces or powers in the cosmos; the seven planets are a given, as well as all the permutations and wing- or heart-shaped formations of letter triangles that are formed from having rows of letters with slowly increasing or decreasing numbers of letters in each line.  However, the system of stoicheia Barry shows is much different than the one I use when it comes to the association of letters with the planets and elements.  Not that it matters much to me; I’ve gotten used to my system, and I’ve gotten good results from using it, but just in case anyone wants to start a meaningless argument with me saying that my way isn’t the only way, lemme preempt that and discuss what Barry talks about.  First, if you’re forgetful or unclear on what my system of stoicheia is like, read more here.  I honestly don’t know how far back the system I uses goes, but it’s at least as old as Cornelius Agrippa (book I, chapter 74); if it’s not any older than this, at least I know it works and makes sense to me.

The Greek words for the five elements are ΓΗ (earth), ΥΔΩΡ (water), ΑΗΡ (air), ΠΥΡ (fire), and ΑΙΘΗΡ (rarefied air, ether, spirit).  Note that there are only five consonants used between all of these words: Γ (used only in γη), Δ (used only in υδωρ), Π (used only in πυρ), Θ (used only in αιθηρ), and Ρ (used in all except γη, but the only one used in αηρ).  Thus, we can associate each of these five consonants with the five elements:

  • Gamma with Earth
  • Delta with Water
  • Rho with Air
  • Pi with Fire
  • Theta with Spirit

This method of assigning the letters to the elements, which I call the acronymic method (though this isn’t a true acronymic method), seems to have more truck in really old antique and classical systems than the phonologic method I use, which is based on the comparatively recent Cornelius Agrippa.  However, since the system of vowels connected to the seven planets remains the same in both the phonologic and acronymic systems, we can also complete this system of stoicheia by associating the other letters to the zodiac signs in the same way.  Thus, Beta in both the phonologic and acronymic methods is given to Aries, but in the phonologic system Taurus is given to Gamma (the next simple consonant), while Taurus is given to Zeta in the acronymic method (since Gamma is given to Earth, Delta to Water, and Epsilon to Mercury).

There’s also another method of stoicheia introduced by the classical Hellenic astrologer Vettius Valens, who associated the entire Greek alphabet to the 12 signs of the Zodiac.  This doesn’t assign letters to the planets or elements themselves, just the Zodiac, and since we have 24 letters and 12 signs, the associations are very straightforward: start with Alpha and Aries and continue on to Pisces associated with Mu, then Nu with Aries again until Omega with Pisces again.  This was used in a system of “onomatic astrology”, less astrology than numerology-like stoicheic interpretation of names, where yes/no divination on a matter involving multiple people can be performed based on how their names compare based on number and stoicheia.  Perhaps eventually I’ll get around to finding more about this, as there exist similar things at least as far back as the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM XII.351) and at least as recent as Christopher Cattan’s “The Geomancy”, but we’ll see.

So, if we compare these three systems of stoicheia (the full phonological stoicheia, full acronymic stoicheia, and zodiac-only stoicheia), we get the following system:

Letter Full Stoicheia Zodiac-only
Stoicheia
Phonologic Acronymic
Α Moon Aries
Β Aries Taurus
Γ Taurus Earth Gemini
Δ Gemini Water Cancer
Ε Mercury Leo
Ζ Cancer Taurus Virgo
Η Venus Libra
Θ Earth Spirit Scorpio
Ι Sun Sagittarius
Κ Leo Gemini Capricorn
Λ Virgo Cancer Aquarius
Μ Libra Leo Pisces
Ν Scorpio Virgo Aries
Ξ Water Libra Taurus
Ο Mars Gemini
Π Sagittarius Fire Cancer
Ρ Capricorn Air Leo
Σ Aquarius Scorpio Virgo
Τ Pisces Sagittarius Libra
Υ Jupiter Scorpio
Φ Air Capricorn Sagittarius
Χ Fire Aquarius Capricorn
Ψ Spirit Pisces Aquarius
Ω Saturn Pisces

So, how does this impact my work with mathesis or Greek letter magic (grammatomageia as opposed to grammatomanteia)?  Well, not much.  It’s like the use of different house systems for astrology or different ways to assign the figures from the Shield Chart to the House Chart in geomancy; it’s just a different way of using the same tools and the same symbols.  While the system overlaps for 1/3 (8 of 24) of the Greek letters, the system is notably different.  But, if the only thing that really changes is what forces we associate them to, then the only thing that really changes is, maybe, the association of letters to the odoi of the Tetractys.  Remember, we assigned the letters to the paths based on their stoicheia.  The path of Taurus is still going to be the path of Taurus, the path of the Moon is still going to be the path of the Moon, and so forth; it’s just that, in my system, the path of Taurus is given the letter Beta, but in the acronymic stoicheic system, it’d be given the letter Zeta.  The letters alone change on the paths, as well as any tangential associations the paths receive based on the shapes and non-stoicheic associations of the letters; otherwise, the structure is pretty much solid.  Then again, like I said, I’ve gotten good results with my phonologic stoicheic system, so I see no reason to switch.

And no, I’m not going to redraw up that lettered Tetractys picture again for this.

As for Valens’ zodiac-only stoicheic system?  That’s almost neither here nor there; it’s geared for a different purpose, although it is one that’s interesting and bears further exploration.

Suitable Jewelry for Magic, Spirits, and Forces

As many of my readers and followers on Twitter and Facebook are aware, one of the most important things I craft for my personal practice are pieces of jewelry I wear in honor of the spirits or as talismans of particular forces.  This goes far beyond the lamens used in conjuration or Solomonic rings, but include what I’ve come to call carcanets, beaded necklaces and bracelets with colors, stones, and metals that resonate well with a particular spirit.  I started making them to have simple wearable talismans of planetary and elemental forces that wouldn’t attract too much attention or be too bulky to carry around, but I ended up making more for some of my gods and spirits, and then more for other people based on custom needs.  On Facebook, The Professor from the blog Traif Banquet noted that she’s seen me make many different types of carcanets and was interested in how I pick the colors and patterns for each, and how I consecrate them and use them in ritual work.  Of course, I was headed to a theme park that day to support the local LGBT community, so it wasn’t quite the time for such a discussion then and there, but I decided to oblige anyway and write a fuller explanation of what exactly I do.

So, what is a carcanet?  Physically speaking, a carcanet is ritual talismanic jewelry made from beads that sometimes incorporate precious and semi-precious stone or metal or wood or bone, sometimes religious items like saint medallions or crosses, and sometimes other items that is worn to derive the blessing, presence, and aid of a particular spiritual force or entity.  I make mine from artificial twine and seed beads and make them into necklaces and bracelets, though there’s nothing saying you have to use the same materials I do.  I use artificial twine because it’s sturdy and resistant to breaking, though elastic cord or leather can be useful too on occasion.  Each carcanet is attuned and consecrated to a particular force or spirit, and the colors, materials, and patterns on the carcanet indicate exactly what that attunement is and to whom or to what it’s consecrated by or under.

For instance, consider my Sash of Powers, something I made a while back for use in standard Western ceremonial work, which contains representations of all the forces used in Western ceremonial magic based on the Golden Dawn and Agrippan materia.  This is worn across one shoulder and drapes down to the opposite hip, since it’s far too long to wear as a necklace or bracelet.  Among other forces, the Sash of Powers contains the 24 forces that we use in mathesis and, for that matter, most of the Western mystery tradition, and the colors I use for this tend are those I tend to use in most of my work:

Sash of Powers

  • Four elements: I use the system of flashing colors that the Golden Dawn instituted.  Thus, I use red (primary) and green (secondary) for Fire, yellow and purple for Air, and blue and orange for Water.  They didn’t really have flashing colors for Earth that I can find, instead using the “muddled” colors associated with the sephirah Malkuth (black, citrine, olive, russet), so instead I use black (primary) and white (secondary).
  • Spirit: I’ve never really considered this an element proper (as my mathesis stuff shows), though it can be considered an element or a planet or any other force based on the need.  Because of this, it’s hard to give a color for pure Spirit; I tend to use pure white, clear, pearlescent, or rainbow for Spirit.  If we consider Spirit to be the realm of the fixed stars (i.e. Chokmah), then some combination of silver, clear grey, or light blue might work; if we consider it pure divinity (i.e. Kether), then white and clear would work.
  • Seven planets: I use the system of Queen and King scales of the Golden Dawn, so black and crimson for Saturn, blue and purple for Jupiter, red and orange for Mars, and so forth.
  • Twelve signs of the Zodiac: I never liked the scales of the Four Worlds the Golden Dawn uses for the paths of the Tree of Life, from which we can get  colors for the twelve Zodiac signs.  Instead, I use a combination of the Queen scale of the Golden Dawn for the ruling planet of the sign as well as the colors that Agrippa gives for the sign (book I, chapter 49).  Thus, as an example, consider Aries and Libra.  Agrippa gives white as the color for both these signs, while the corresponding Queen scale of the ruling planets are red for Aries ruled by Mars and green for Libra ruled by Venus.  Thus, Aries has red and white, and Libra has green and white as its colors.  I tend to differentiate the Agrippan zodiacal colors from the Queen scale planetary colors by using a slightly brighter, more reflective, or metallic variant (so a reflective clear red instead of a flat red), but it’s not necessary.

Of course, the Sash also has a few other things marked on it, including the 12 Banners of the Names of God and the 16 geomantic figures, but those aren’t forces, per se.  These are less colors to be used with forces and more representations of more complex things that can vary.  Geomantic figures, being ultimately related to the Earth, use white and black as the colors of the element of Earth (with a white bead noting an active line and a black bead a passive line in a geomantic figure); I used white, yellow-gold, black, and brown to represent the four letters of the Tetragrammaton put in their different permutations, but I’m not sure that it matters for this how or which colors to use.

Of course, I don’t make carcanets and the like for just pure forces.  The major focus of what I make nowadays is for individual spirits, gods, saints, and the like, and that’s where creativity and research really come into play.  Unfortunately, most of the Western tradition (especially books like the Lemegeton) focus on the use of certain kinds of metals or woods and less on colors than I’d like, so I have to branch out and be a little more innovative to figure out what colors go with what spirit.  However, the way I tend to settle on colors follows a pattern:

  1. Traditions of the spirits takes precedence; if there’s a body of lore or worship built up around something, I’ll likely start with those colors, if not just use those colors.  For instance, it’s tradition that Saint Cyprian of Antioch’s colors are generally perceived to be black, purple, white, and red, so nearly all my Saint Cyprian gear has black, purple, and white on it (red I tend to reserve for specific workings or subsume it into purple, perhaps settling on a compromise of wine or dark red).  The archangels of Christianity often have their own color symbolism, especially in icons from the Orthodox tradition, so I might use the colors most commonly seen on their robes or in their icons, like light blue and pink for Sealtiel.
  2. Association with the forces described above can play a role in deciding colors.  For instance, I work with Hephaistos, the blacksmith god of the Greeks, except there’s so little known about Hephaistos’ cult back in the day that I have no tradition to go on.  However, Agrippa in his scale of 12 (book II, chapter 15) helpfully gives an association between the 12 Olympian gods (including Hestia and excluding Dionysus) and the 12 signs of the Zodiac.  There, Hephaistos is associated with the zodiac sign of Libra, and my colors for Libra are white and green, so good colors to use for Hephaistos can include white and green, as well.
  3. Asking the spirit themselves for colors they like can also work well.  This generally requires being in tune and in good standing with the spirit to get that kind of information about, and it might require divination or light trancework to get a good set of colors that works well, but overall asking the spirit themselves for what colors they like can be hugely helpful.  However, no two people may arrive at the same colors for the same spirit, based on their relationship with them.  For instance, my Hermes altar uses orange as the primary color (since I started off conflating the god Hermes with the planet Mercury, which isn’t too hard a leap to make), but my ritual necklace I have for him uses bone-white, brown, light blue, and gold beads based on a color scheme he gave me.
  4. Syncretism of different traditions can be informative as well.  If it’s alright with the spirit, looking at other traditions not native to them can help me pick what colors to use.  Going back to Hephaistos, I asked if it was alright if I looked at another tradition with a huge repertoire of color symbolism: Santeria.  The elekes and collares of Santeria are color-coded necklaces that indicate which orisha one has received, and although the ATR I’m in (yes, I’m an initiate in one) doesn’t have colors of its own, our spirits in that ATR are happy with using the same colors as Santeria (since they’re basically cousins of each other, much as how Roman and Greek gods are mythological cousins).  In Santeria, the blacksmith god Ogun has the colors black and green, so with the permission of Hephaistos, I also use black and green for some of my works in conjunction with white and green derived from Hephaistos’ association with the zodiac sign of Libra.  This can be tricky, however, and you need people on both sides to agree that the use of another traditions’ colors is alright, especially if you happen to live in an area with a large number of that other tradition who might confuse you for one of them.

As a rule, I like to have at least two colors on the carcanet.  To be honest, this keeps the thing from being visually boring; I dislike having a single solid color unless it’s required for a spiritual purpose, kind of like the Santerian orisha Obatala having his eleke being pure white.  That said, most spirits tend to have a multitude of powers, fields, strengths, and things they rule over; the different colors I use reflect those different responsibilities and dominions.  Too many colors can be confusing, however; I usually stick between two and four colors per carcanet, but sometimes more if there’s a specific need for it or if the spirit itself is associated with having many colors.

Beyond the colors of beads themselves, most of my carcanets and the like often make use of precious and semi-precious stone and metal beads, and those are much better attested in the Western traditions generally.  Of course, color symbolism is important in picking these, too, as well as the specific resonances of the stones or metals or whatnot.  For instance, red stones tend to be ruled by Mars in general, though carnelian, ruby, and fire agate all have slightly different feels that may make them better for some forces or spirits instead of others.  The minerals and chemicals within the stones themselves, too, can be important, which can link them together with metals.  For instance, one of my favorite green stones is malachite, which contains a high amount of copper that gives it its bright green color.  Copper and green are both associated with Venus, which makes this an excellent Cytherean/Venereal stone suitable for the planetary force as well as the goddess Aphrodite.

Once I have the colors figured out, then it’s time to figure out the patterns.  The most straightforward and simple pattern, assuming two colors, is to alternate the colors of beads one by one (so red, black, red, black, red, black…).  Personally, I hate this system, and I try to stay away from it as much as I can.  I generally figure out patterns based on numbers sacred to the spirit.  For instance, Saint Cyprian’s sacred number is 9, so the patterns I use tend to involve 9 in some way; one such carcanet I made for him has nine black beads, three wine beads, one white bead, one clear bead, one white bead, and three more wine beads for a “set” of 18, or 2 × 9, and I’ll repeat this as many times as necessary to get a carcanet of suitable length.  My mathesis carcanet (yes, I even made one for that) has ten white beads followed by one gold bead, since 10 and 1 are sacred numbers in mathesis and Pythagoreanism.  My Venus carcanet has two sets of seven green beads separated by a tiger’s eye bead, two sets of seven gold beads separated by a green aventurine bead, and a set of 14 (2 × 7) beads that alternate green and gold.  Making the patterns can be tricky, but usually I have a good idea in my head before I launch into stringing the beads.  On occasion, I’ll decide a few sets into the carcanet that the pattern isn’t good and I’ll start over, but they’re generally close to what I had in mind.

Of course, crafting the carcanets and the like is only half the process; the other half is consecration.  Just like how the colors and patterns may change based on the purpose, the means of consecrating the carcanet will also change.  Generally speaking, however, consecration falls into two different methods.  Both methods first start off with ritually washing the carcanet off in holy water to cleanse and prepare it for future blessing, and both tend to involve anointing with oil and suffumigation in incense, but beyond that, they’re different:

  • Force carcanet consecration: A carcanet that’s a talisman of a force (e.g. Water, Mercury, or Taurus) is consecrated by conjuring the angel associated with the force (e.g. Gabriel, Raphael or Asmodel, respectively) at an appropriate time, generally during an appropriate planetary day and hour or when the zodiac sign in question is rising or culminating during the waxing moon.  I’ll charge the angel in the appropriate godname and office to consecrate, sanctify, dedicate, bless, and empower the carcanet to serve for me a powerful talisman and connection and link to the force in question, that it may radiate the same force into my sphere that I may call upon and direct it at will and in my need.  I’ll suffumigate it in the incense burning for the conjuration and anoint it with an appropriate oil if desired and if I have one.  You know, the usual.  After the conjuration, I’ll set the carcanet on top of the lamen of the angel wrapped around a candle to continue and complete the charge of the carcanet.  Once the candle burns out, I’ll often (but not always) conjure the angel again and thank them for helping me consecrate the carcanet, charging them to seal the power into the carcanet and make it a powerful tool and instrument for my work.  This completes (and, usually, overdoes) the consecration.
  • Spirit carcanet consecration: A carcanet that’s dedicated in the honor and blessing of a spirit, on the other hand, takes a slightly different route.  Instead of turning the carcanet into a simple talisman, it becomes more of a devotional offering to be worn in the honor and service of a particular spirit.  Yes, it still accomplishes the result of bringing the blessings of a particular force into my life, but this way it’s less that it’s being filled with a particular power or motion and more that it’s bringing the attention and blessings of a particular spirit.  In this way, I’ll go up to the spirit, make offerings to them at a time good or convenient for them, and formally dedicate the carcanet as an offering to them to be worn in their honor and devotion.  I’ll often anoint the carcanet in oil or their offering drink (wine or water, usually), drape the carcanet on the image or statue of the spirit or wrap it around a prepared candle, and I’ll ask that they consecrate, sanctify, dedicate, yada yada the carcanet to their own blessings and purpose.  After leaving the carcanet on their altar or shrine for a week, I’ll make another offering to them thanking them for the carcanet’s blessings and wear it during certain times to obtain their blessing and in their honor as a kind of votive action.

Now that I think about it, the methods for consecrating them for a force via an angelic conjuration and for a spirit by dedication aren’t that different; it’s just two variations of the same idea, really.  Plus, depending on the carcanet and spirit/force it’s consecrated under, I may maintain its power in different ways, sometimes by anointing it with oil or “feeding” it with other sundry liquids, sometimes by praying over it, sometimes by letting it sit out in sunlight or moonlight.  It all depends.  The carcanet is a general ritual tool that, even though the material basis looks the same being made out of twine and glass, its spiritual essence and use may vary wildly.

Speaking of, how are these things used?  It’s pretty simple: you wear them.  That’s it.  I’ll often say a short blessing or invocation of the spirit or force to which a carcanet is dedicated or consecrated under when I don one, and I’ll say a prayer of thanks and blessing when I remove one, but that’s about it.  Seed beads are often too small for my big fingers to manipulate, so I don’t bother with using them as prayer tools but rather as part of spiritual regalia, armor, and connection when I need it.  On occasion, I’ll make a chaplet or set of prayer beads large enough to be worn, and in those cases the carcanet doubles as a prayer instrument, but this is the exception and not the norm for me; such prayer carcanets tend to use stone and metal beads more than seed beads, so the way I make them tends to differ a little bit since my options are usually more limited.

And yes, if you’re interested, I do take custom commissions for carcanets and can make them to your specifications or based on my own interactions with the gods and spirits.  If you like, contact me or send me a message through my Etsy shop and we can hash something out.

Crossroads and Stairwells

Many magicians in many traditions hold crossroads to be sacred or magical spaces.  Think about it: a crossroads is where several paths meet and intersect each other.  At a crossroads, you’re able to go in any direction, not just along the same path you were taking to get there.  This can be a place of decision or of opportunity; the letter upsilon in Greek (Υ) was known as the “philosopher’s letter”, since it has the form of a fork in the road, which is also represented in the word “dilemma”, literally meaning “two ways to go”.  Hermes and Hekate were known to be deities of the crossroads, especially of four-way or three-way roads (quadrivium or trivium in Latin, respectively).  Exu, Eleggua, Legba, Lucero, Nkuyu, and the like are all African diasporic deities for the same thing.  Crossroads are places of opportunity, being able to go in any direction, but they’re also places of liminality, being between places entirely.  Consider the famous location “Four Corners”, a place where four large states in the US meet at a grand crossroads.  Closer to where I live, there’s a notable (and terrible) place called “Seven Corners” which is a seven-way (!) crossroads.  You can get the gist of where I’m going with this.

But we have lots of other places that can be considered liminal as well.  Anything that is used to transfer or lead us from one place to another without being in any one place itself can be considered a crossroads of sorts, and I had the idea recently that stairwells fulfill this function as well as any intersection of roads or hallways.  After all, in a stairwell, you’re able to go between different floors or levels, able to take one road or another that are superimposed atop each other.  We often consider the world to have four directions, or that we travel only along two axes, but we often neglect to remember that there’s a third dimension we live in as well.  Two roads can occupy the same X and Y coordinates, after all, but they may be going in opposite directions; being on either one, you’d never know about the other, but stairwells and floor interchanges make this possible.

I propose that stairwells can be used as a crossroads in magical practice, with pretty much the same ideas and powers as the usual crossroads would have.  However, the crucial difference is in directionality of the “crossroads”.  In a standard intersection of roads, one can go into any direction on this plane; in a stairwell, one can go onto any plane in the same direction.  It’s an interesting difference to note, and although the purposes for which one may choose to use a stairwell versus a crossroad may be a little different, the idea is the same.

Stairwells have always intrigued me.  Some of the prettiest hotels and office buildings with the most elaborate hallways and baroque elevators have the simplest, barest, most architecturally brutal stairwells I’ve ever seen.  In fact, I’ve always considered the quality of a building’s stairwell to be a mark of craftsmanship; how wide is it, what materials are used, what pipes and wires are exposed, what kind of lighting is present, and the like.  I’ve always had an affinity for these kinds of access structures, the dank and dirty, claustrophobic, gritty, often ignored tunnels and chambers and stairwells that actually set the structure for a building.  All multi-story buildings need stairwells, after all; elevators, escalators, and everything else is mere decoration.  Besides those who want to take the stairs for health, few people ever actually use stairwells except in emergencies and emergency drills.  I’ve always found them subtly exciting, like being in someplace I shouldn’t because nobody else goes there, a kind of pit-of-the-stomach adventurous nervousness, despite their commonality and prevalence, especially when you ascend or descend to a level of the stairwell that you know you don’t or shouldn’t have access to.

Note that I’m not talking about staircases here; while they fulfill the same purpose, staircases are often open, decorated, and part of the public part of a building, and they act more like a hallway between two (and only two) floors.  Escalators do the same thing, for that matter, and when an escalator breaks it devolves into a staircase; no big change there.  But stairwells are different from staircases.  Stairwells are towers within buildings, a small tunnel going vertically up and down that connects all floors of a building to the same room, the same trek; you’re going nowhere when it comes to the cardinal directions, and yet you’re still going somewhere when it comes to the sky and earth.  Throw in the natural spiral, quadrated or not, that stairwells must of necessity have, and you have cycles, patterns, and vortices that connect the different vertically-arranged planes of physical existence.

Elevators, too, are different from stairwells.  Sure, they both have the same purpose of ferrying one from one physical height to another, but there’s another crucial difference: you can’t get stuck in a stairwell, but if you’re stuck in an elevator, heavens help you.  If you’re stuck between floors, you’re SOL until the elevator comes back online or someone tries to yank you out.  You can’t get stuck in a stairwell unless all the exits are blocked off (which is unlikely in most cases), but elevators can stop at any point.  Plus, elevators literally box you in and while they ferry you from one floor to another, they don’t have the same power as crossroads; that’d belong more to the elevator shaft.  It’s like being in a car at a crossroads; yeah, the car can take you through the crossroads in any direction, but the car itself is not the crossroads.

The only problem is that a stairwell in a building is often like having a crossroads on an island: the amount of distance you can travel once you leave is confined.  With the island crossroads, you’re going to have to turn back once you hit the shore, and you’ll eventually hit the same crossroads again.  With the stairwell, you’re going to have to go back down if you went up or vice versa.  Likewise, if there’s only one crossroad on the island, or if there’s only one stairwell in a building, you’re going to be stuck with that one and only place.  Stairwells are symbols of liminality, but they’re constrained by the building they’re in.  However, within that building, the stairwell is golden, just as that one crossroads is golden within that island.  Work with what you got, after all; whether you’re traveling vertically or horizontally, so long as you’re in a place that connects to other places, you’re good to go.

So, the next time you want to work magic in your office building and your building distinctly lacks a four-way intersection of hallways, try heading to the nearest staircase and leaving something in a corner of a platform between floors.

On Mathetic Purification

Put simply, mathesis is theurgy, literally “god-working”.  While this can mean several things, the sense I use it is in the sense of elevating oneself to the level of the gods and beyond to henosis, a mystical union with the Monad, the Source, the Good, the All, God, or whatever you want to call It.  The whole purpose of mathesis is to perfect the self both in body, soul, spirit, and mind, and in that sense it takes mathesis as one would a spoonful of medicine to encourage healing and health.  After all, in Agnosis we are trapped in a disease of ignorance, but it is by Gnosis that we begin the process of healing ourselves.  If we falter in Gnosis, we lapse back into Agnosis, much as one relapses into disease if one forgets to take their medicine or skips their physical therapy or exercise.  It’s hard, but it’s worth the effort.  The purpose of mathesis is seen in many Hermetic or Hermetic-related disciplines from the spiritual alchemy of the Rosicrucians to the theoretical kabbalah of the Jews, and to that end we have plenty of Work to do.

However, in order to engage in the practice of theurgy, we need to prepare ourselves for engaging with the gods and the forces of divinity.  This is no light task; while some people can just easily walk up to a temple and go “sup”, being on that casual level of entering into the presence of the gods is difficult.  Often enough, not only are we trapped in Agnosis, but we’re just simply too dirty to engage in their presence.  The gods, after all, hate miasma and flee it as we’d flee the plague, and we incur miasma in any number of ways.  Christians, similarly, have their notion of sin, which impedes the progress one makes to Christ and inhibits the spiritual medicine of the Eucharist.  In these traditions, as in many others, there’s a process of purification involved to prepare ourselves to walk more properly into the presence of the gods.  In the ancient Hellenic practice, one would lustrate themselves with khernips as well as living in a proper manner of piety as well as making the right sacrifices in the right way; in Christian practice, one would anoint themselves with holy water and holy oil, undergo confession and penance, and carry out good works in addition to partaking in the Eucharist.  Even the low-down dirty ATR I’m involved with has their purification and purging practices which need to be undergone before major initiations, if for nothing else than to prepare the body to receive something Bigger.

There’s a similar role that purification has in mathesis, as well.  During the ritual of initiation, one has to undergo the Mathetic Rule of Observance to help direct the body and mind to live in a proper way, and the ritual itself involves a cathartic freeing of the self from ignorance as well as purifying the scene with lustral water.  Add to it, one should always be spiritually washed before engaging in mathetic practices, hence the role of making and using khernips on a daily basis.  Even though the daily use of khernips helps raise our standards of spiritual hygiene and keeps us there, however, on occasion khernips simply isn’t going to be enough.  After all, sometimes a stain can be gotten rid with a cloth damp with water wiped once or twice, but sometimes it requires lye, bleach, and a lot more effort.  If we want to undergo the process of mathetic theurgy, then we need to make sure we’re in a suitable state at all times, or as often as we can, to engage with the forces of divinity, and if we’re in such a state that khernips itself doesn’t wash away our stains, then we need something stronger.

Thus, mathesis should have a heavy-duty purification ritual, something like a banishing ritual as used by magicians (e.g. the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram/Hexagram) and something like a healing ritual (e.g. the Christian Anointing of the Sick) as used by other religions.  The question is, how would we formulate such a purification ritual?  To have one purify themselves is possible, though it’s preferred to have one already pure to perform the purification.  Since there’s no Matheteion or association of Mathetai set up just yet, a self-purification will have to do for the time being for those of us who want to engage in mathesis.  The idea and reason for a self-purification is the same; much as we call upon Hermes as mystagogue when there’s no initiator into mathesis for a candidate, we need to call upon a god to act as καθαρτης (kathartēs, purifier) for us in the stead of a human priest or purifier.  For that, instead of turning to Hermes, we call upon his half-brother Apollo, the unparalleled god of purification and himself the god of καθαρσις (katharsis, purification or purgation of miasma), which is accomplished through the ritual of καθαρμος (katharmos, the ritual of purification).

The role of Apollo here is pretty much straightforward.  As a solar god, he shines his light and burns away the darkness, dispelling shadows as easily as he does lies; he illuminates and enlightens, not only with his solar chariot or oracles, but even spiritually so, as lies and deceit incur a kind of miasma on ourselves.  Plus, he’s the father of Asklepios, the god of healing and healer of gods, men, souls, and heroes; Asklepios takes care of the physical body, while Apollo takes care of the spiritual self, and both tie in together holistically to ensure a proper life and lifestyle.  Moreover, Apollo concerns himself with the health and well-being of humankind, while Asklepios concerns himself with the health and well-being of individual humans.    However, Apollo is notably connected with katharmos, especially caused by murder, because he himself underwent purification as a result of killing the Python at Delphi before he set up his oracle there and so that he could be pure enough to do so and to purify others as Apollo Katharsios.  The Pythian herself, all her priests, and all her supplicators purified themselves in a similar manner to Apollo, by bathing in a special spring and suffumigation with barley.

One of the more dramatic instances of Apollo’s concern with the well-being of humankind via purification is the role he plays for Orestes in Aeschylus’ triology Oresteia; there, Orestes kills his mother Clytemnestra who had killed his father and her husband Agamemnon who himself had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia.  Having incurred the miasma of killing his own blood (his own mother!), Orestes is pursued by the Furies to Delphi to be purified by Apollo, who himself had helped Orestes carry out the vendetta-driven matricide so as to finally put the generational curse of Pelops and Tantalus to rest.  By bringing peace back to House Atreides (yes, the same one in Frank Herbert’s Dune, no less, though there’s more drama going on there a few tens of thousands of years after this point in history), Apollo helps not only Orestes but also all of Greece by introducing, with Athena’s help, the jury trial.  A little convoluted, but that’s what you get for involving the Far-Shooter into things.

However, Apollo plays a special part in mathesis for us beyond having a significant mythologic role in Greek paganism.  Apollo, after all, is the half-brother of Hermes, and Hermes’ best friend after they made peace over the whole cow-stealing incident, and the two team up often enough in a godly bromance in many myths and practices.  However, looking at Apollo another way, we find that he’s claimed to be the father of Pythagoras of Samos himself, you know, the dude who founded Pythagoreanism, one of the core traditions that mathesis has.  And, as we all know, Pythagoras had a major spiritual hard-on for purification, issuing lots of vows and rules one should undertake to make sure they’re spiritually and mentally and physically fit enough for engaging in his philosophical and theurgic practices.  My own Mathetic Rule itself is based on his stuff, too, and helps one purify the body and mind slowly.  By calling on Apollo Katharsios in a ritual katharmos, however, we can further engage the purificatory practices of the god and of mathesis.

While I won’t yet release my ritual of mathetic katharmos, the idea is fairly straightforward.  First we undertake the Mathetic Rule of Observance for several days, at least one day but preferably four or ten depending on the level of miasma incurred, along with regular physical therapy or exercise to get the body working again in a proper way.  After this period, we take a special ritual bath; lacking water from the Castalia Spring at Delphi, we use a batch of khernips made especially for this purpose and in a slightly different way from our daily-use khernips, something that packs a powerful purgative and purificatory punch.  After undressing and physically cleaning ourselves off, this special khernips (as icy-cold as one can stand it) is poured over the body while prayers are said to Apollo Katharsios and while a special incense of bay laurel and other herbs and plants is burning to surround oneself.  After air-drying, one dresses in all white and spends some time in contemplation of their actions, especially those that incur miasma; this is sort of a devotional conversation-cum-introspection to dig deep as to why thekatharmos was needed in the first place and how one can live better so as to avoid the cause and need for it again.  Readings of the Delphic Maxims, Golden Verses of Pythagoras, and similar texts can have a calming and directive influence on the mind to inculcate a better life.  Based on the reason for miasma, a special offering might be made to Apollo to act as a type of payment, votary, or personal sacrifice so as to help one overcome the miasma fully both internally and externally.  In this way, we develop a holistic treatment of purification: physical fasting and hygiene, religious cleansing and purgation, and spiritual counseling and guidance.  Having a trained therapist or priest playing the role of kathartes in the stead of Apollo Katharsios would help, especially to offer one a confidential and objective opinion on things, though that’ll have to wait until there’re more trained mathetai to do so.

This katharmos ritual isn’t something to be undertaken lightly, and it operates in a different way than simple lustration with khernips (χερνιμμα, khernimma) or an energetic/spiritual banishing ritual .  Those latter two types of ritual wipe away the spiritual grime we accrue through our day-to-day actions, like dust on a mirror; we can’t help but incur miasma through our daily lives, though we’re naturally in a pure (ish) state that these rituals help us return to time and again.  These simple rituals, as well, can help one in getting rid of harmful or negative spirits that cling on for energy or emotions, and keep them safe from them for a time.  However, katharmos operates on a different level; there are things that make us so impure, so jarred, so off-balance that we can’t easily return to our natural state of purity through the normal means, or we have let our day-to-day minor miasmas congeal into something that dominates our lives and prevents us from taking the steps necessary on our own to help ourselves.  The fasting with the Mathetic Rule helps begin the process of change in the body, the cleaning of the body prepares the soul, the ritual bath purifies the spirit, and the counseling elevates the mind in a holistic manner that gives us a total reset in every level of our body.  The presence and blessing of Apollo Katharsios helps initiate these changes and sees them through, and while I wouldn’t consider this an energetic ritual, the changes made are such that the energies of the body (either in the vague sense of subtle forces or winds or in the sense of processes of change and action) are altered, redirected, and purified to resume working in a proper way.

Of course, by the same token, the katharmos ritual is pretty heavy-duty and not something one could do on a regular basis.  I mean, you could, but generally speaking it’s not needed unless you’re, like, murdering someone every week or your family is having a child every month. Mathetic katharmos is going to be a high-grade thing, several steps above the daily or pre-ritual khernimma.  As of right now, there’s little place for a middle ground between the two.  Either:

  • You’re fit for ritual.
  • You’re not fit yet but can become fit with khernimma.
  • You’re not fit yet and khernimma won’t help without katharmos.

Khernimma is the general cleansing ritual for mathesis, not quite a banishing but accomplishing many of the same goals.  Sprinkling khernips around a room can do the banishing as well as cleanse other people, which in the majority of cases is all that’s needed to ritually prepare a space; however, just as katharmos accomplishes what khernimma cannot, perhaps a heavy-duty banishing or exorcism ritual for a space or place can be called for in the future.  This would perhaps fall under a different god’s jurisdiction, say Ares or Zeus, since it’s less that the area needs to be purified and more that it needs to be emptied of spiritual malignance; the area would be purified just fine if the spirits there would let it happen, but the spirits must be removed first.  Katharmos, then, deals with the person, while khernimma can be used for people and places; perhaps a ritual for εκβολη (ekbolē, throwing out/banishment) could be written in the future for dealing with places or even things.

While Apollo makes sense and is definitely useful in calling upon for katharmos, I’m wondering whether there’s a way or even a reason to mix Hermes into this.  At first glance, that wouldn’t fly; purification is definitely associated with Apollo and Delphi, and Hermes swore an oath to never go near the houses of Apollo.  Then again, we’re not necessarily involving ourselves with making a temple of Apollo, just calling on him for his help, and since our work is heavily influenced and guided by Hermes, he should have some hand in all this.  Although we do find the occasional votive offering given to Hermes in sacrifice for healing or helping one out from a tight spot, the vast majority of votive dedications are nothing related to this, more often connected to gymnastics, wrestling, marketing, and the like.  However, two things come to mind about Hermes that I picked up on from the Hermes/Mercury conference earlier this year: Hermes both gives speech and takes it away (mentioned on day one), and Hermes is the god of banter, cajoling, and “heart-cutting” words (day two).

  • By giving his scepter to someone, Hermes bestows the power to speak; by taking it away, he takes away their ability to speak.  Hermes is the god of both speaking and silence, and has been known to silence or put to sleep any dangers to his travels and exploits so as to preserve himself.  Speech and travel are intimately connected in Hermes, as is knowledge and motive, and we have to experience the same as we travel along the Gnosis Schema.  If we fall off, our journey is stopped and we’d do best to shut up and stop getting ourselves into more trouble; the longer we hold onto that scepter of speech, the more we mislead ourselves, and the more evident it becomes that Hermes needs to take it back so we’re lead back to the path we should go on instead of the one we’ve found ourselves on.
  • Hermes is the god most closely associated with hilarious, vulgar, obscene, and disturbing humor, all falling under the word κερτομον (kertomon, heart-cutting).  While we don’t need to go to the level of Hipponax, such humor points out cruelly and pointedly our flaws, our pretentions, our pride, and anything that makes us hilarious to others as well as to the gods themselves (and seeing a god laugh isn’t usually a sign of benevolent mirth).  Without paying attention to the heckling, groaning, and popcorn-tossing vulgarity of the gods, and especially Hermes, we sometimes get wrapped up in ourselves and either blithely ignore the miasma we’re incurring or puff ourselves up in overmodest wailing of how terrible we are.  We need to lighten up without making light of our situation, and the best way we can do that is by cutting to the heart of the matter and telling it how it is, often with a bit of humor.

To that end, this mathetic katharmos ritual can be done for anyone as a stand-alone ritual as they need it, but mathetai would need another ritual to be done afterward to ensure that they’re brought back spiritually and gnostically to the place they should be at, letting Hermes reorient them to the Path they should be on and keeping them from getting lost any longer.  At that point, the caduceus of speech and gnosis can be spiritually “returned” or renewed back to the mathetes, entrusting them once more with the authority to continue on the Gnosis Schema.  Of course, all this should be coupled with a good dose of hilarity and good-natured poking fun at yourself; the best medicine is laughter, they say, and Hermes can definitely pull that off as the god of heart-cutting wise-cracking and snarky comedy.  In addition to the kathartes who’d carry out the katharmos ritual, there should be someone else there to make sure things don’t get too serious or too out-of-hand with the purgation while, at the same time, pointing out objectively and offensively what it was they did and how easy (perhaps) it is to not fuck up.  By shedding a candid, common light on the situation, Hermes can also help us reorient ourselves through blunt and snarky comments, which helps to bring a bit of realism to our lives and to our situations in general.  After all, every tragedy play in ancient Greece was followed up by a hilarious and crude satyr play to lighten the mood and make sure the audience wouldn’t leave the festival sour and dour.  Likewise, the mathetes shouldn’t leave the ritual without being returned to good health, good life, and good humour; if the mathetes feels worse off or guilty for having needed and undergone katharmos, then the ritual wasn’t worth it or it was done badly.  Hermes Kertomios can help us laugh at ourselves while being cruelly instructive, and can help jeer us back into the Work we need to be doing.