Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Meditating on the Greek Letters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For vowels:

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

For  simple stop consonants:

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

For simple continuing consonants:

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

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

For vowels and consonants:

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

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

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

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

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About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

5 Responses to Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Meditating on the Greek Letters

  1. Pingback: Meditation Exercise on the Tetractys | The Digital Ambler

  2. Pingback: Basic Daily Practices of Mathesis | The Digital Ambler

  3. Pingback: Meditating on the Abacedarian Ancient Words of Power | The Digital Ambler

  4. friend says:

    You may already be aware of it, but I thought you would be interested in this piece on the symbolism of the Greek alphabet, it is translated from Coptic:

    http://themathesontrust.org/library/mysteries-of-greek-alphabet

  5. Pingback: Honoring Venus on the Great Day of Gamma | The Digital Ambler

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