Blessing of the Vessel
September 11, 2015 Leave a comment
In addition to Betz’s version of the Greek Magical Papyri, which is as indispensable to me as a good copy of Agrippa’s books, there’s another text I often reference when trying to find good source material from about the same time period of the early first millennium CE from the southeast Mediterranean. Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power (1994) by Marvin Meyer and Richard Smith is an excellent text that uses more Coptic spells than Greek or Demotic, and although there’s some minor overlap between Meyer and Betz, there’s a hefty amount that’s only in this text. I find that Fr. Michael Cecchetelli has also pulled or incorporated stuff into his Book of Abrasax from the same texts as are present in Meyer, so it’s a good text to read through. It’s not formatted as nicely as Betz has done his version of the PGM, but it’s workable all the same.
One ritual from this text caught my eye recently as I was going through and rewriting my enchiridion, just to see if there was anything in it that I could use that I hadn’t already seen or glossed over. Labeled as “Cairo, Egyptian Museum 49547”, it’s an ostracon (inscribed potsherd) described in Meyer as a “spell invoking Bathuriel and other heavenly powers”. It’s got a distinct liturgical tone to it, and though it’s a manifestly Christian text, it also draws on Egyptian, Jewish, and Gnostic traditions. It’s not particularly long and doesn’t seem to have any specific application, nor is there a ritual framework in which to apply it (because of course not), but it’s a good thing I’ve been experimenting with as of late.
I found another copy of the same text in an online publication, which you can find here; it’s far more academic and, accordingly, has far more footnotes and commentary to incorporate, and its author, the Mormon scholar Hugh Nibley, concludes that it’s far more than just a blessing of a cup. Rather, he describes it as a Christian variant of the Egyptian Books of Breathing, funerary texts used to enable people to survive in the afterlife, similar to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Granted that Nibley translated and understood these texts with a Mormon agenda and interpreted this as an early Christian variant of the Mormon “prayer circle”, but he might be onto something interesting with that idea.
With that, here’s my interpretation and ritualization of the text. Instead of going with Nibley’s rather stretched idea of the ritual as a thing of ennoblement or ascension of the dead in a prayer circle, I use the ritual as a more direct and obvious choice of blessing a vessel (like the Chalice) for holding the blessings of God and partaking of them in liquid form. If you’re not doing anything else at sunrise, this is a good ritual to use first thing in the morning to prepare yourself for the day, or when preparing for some other holy act to confer blessing or initiation.
At sunrise, prepare a clean glass, chalice, or other vessel you can drink from. Prepare an amount of either pure, clean water or holy water mixed with wine. Use an amount that you can drink entirely in three, four, or five reasonably-sized gulps (three for the Trinity, four for the four directions, five for the five wounds of Christ), plus another dallop of water. Set it in the middle of an altar or other clean surface, oriented towards the sunrise. If desired, set on the altar a single white candle oriented to the East or four white candles, one for each of the four directions, as well as incense (preferably frankincense and/or myrrh) burning.
Begin by making the Sign of the Cross at each of the first six invocations:
+ Hail, El Bathuriel, who gives strength, who gives voice to the angels!
+ Hail, Adonai!
+ Hail, Eloi!
+ Hail, Abrasax!
+ Hail, Iothael!
+ Hail, Mizrael, who has looked upon the face of the Father in the power of ΙΑΩ!
Place both hands over the vessel.
I adjure you by the first seal, placed upon the body of Adam.
I adjure you by the second seal, placed upon the members of Adam.
I adjure you by the third seal, which marked the vitals and the breast of Adam when he was cast down to become dust, until Jesus Christ takes him by the hand in the embrace of his Father.
Raise both hands up to heaven.
The Father has raised him up!
He has breathed in his face, He has filled him with the breath of life!
Send to me your breath of life, unto this true and faithful vessel!
Amen, amen, amen!
Sousa, sousa, sousa!
I covenant with you by the three cries which the Son uttered on the cross: Eloi Eloi Sabaktani, “God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Holy, holy, holy!
Hail, David, the forefather of Christ, he who sings praises in the Church of the First-born of Heaven!
Hail, David, the forefather of the Lord, of the joyful ten-stringed lyre, the joyful one who sings within the the sanctuary!
Hail, Harmosiel, who sings within the veil of the Father! They repeat after him, those who are at the entrances and those who are upon the towers.
When the Tribes of the Twelve Worlds hear what he says, they joyfully repeat after him:
Holy, holy, holy! One holy Father!
Amen, amen, amen!
At this point, face inward and recite the Lord’s Prayer or some other exaltation of God in silence. Place the dominant hand above the cup, and raise the left one in adoration of heaven.
Hail Arebrais in Heaven and Earth!
Hail, o Sun!
Hail, you twelve little children who cover the body of the Sun!
Hail, you twelve vessels filled with water! They have filled their hands; they have scattered abroad the rays of the Sun, that they may not burn up the fruits of the field.
Fill your hands, pronounce your blessing upon this vessel!
Pick up the cup. In a clockwise motion, face the four directions and present the cup to the four directions with the cup up high in front of you.
Hail, you four winds of Heaven!
Again, face the four directions and present the cup to the four directions with the cup at chest level in front of you.
Hail, you four corners of the Earth!
Face the altar, holding the cup above your head in front of you.
Hail, you hosts of Heaven!
Hold the cup at chest level in front of you.
Hail, you Earth of the inheritance!
Raise the cup high above your head.
Hail, o Garden of the Saints of the Father!
Pour out just a small amount of water before you. Drink the water from the cup in slow, measured gulps. Holding the cup at your chest, take as many deep breaths as you had gulps of water, letting the water inside you fill your entire presence, turning into light that fills your spirit, becoming brighter with each breath. Place the cup down on the altar.
One Holy Father +
One Holy Son +
One Holy Spirit +
The ritual is complete. If desired, follow up by singing hymns or psalms of praise, practice the Hymns of Silence, or perform some other empowerment ritual to build upon this.
Now, the ritual is designed above with one person in mind drinking from a single vessel. If more people are present, a large bowl may be used, with all participants taking a cupful for themselves and practicing the ritual motions starting at “Hail Arebrais…”, drinking the liquid in unison at the end; I envision the ritual leader performing the initial few parts on their own, with everyone reciting the ritual once everyone has their own cup.
Alternatively, the use of the word “vessel” here is ambiguous; sure, it can refer to a drinking vessel like a cup or bowl, but it could also refer to a human being; instead of blessings from heaven filling a liquid, it could refer to the Holy Spirit filling a human. This is, after all, the fundamental idea underlying both the idea of saints as well as of prophets, the word for which in Hebrew indicates hollowness or being hollowed out to hold the voice of God. It bears experimentation to use this ritual without an actual cup, using oneself as the vessel to be reborn and filled with heavenly power and presence.
A few notes on the text itself:
- The text begins with a Tau-Rho sign (not the usual Chi-Rho), similar to an ankh. Meyer presents this as a cross, although Nibley says that this is supposed to be closer to an ankh than a cross.
- The use of the name “Bathuriel” is odd; I wasn’t able to find particularly much online besides that it’s the moniker used for several gamers. What I was able to find was that this is a name used in a few Gnostic texts to refer to God the Father, so when the text begins “Hail, El Bathuriel…”, it might be considered an epithet of God. Nibley’s derivation of the name comes from Hebrew Bait-suri-el, or “the house of my strength is God”. In other texts, this name is described as the “Great Power” or “Great True Name” of God.
- Adonai and Eloi aren’t surprising appellations of God to find here, being Hebrew/Aramaic for “my Lord” and “my God”, respectively. Abrasax, however, seems to be an appellation of God as well, not his own entity; this use of the name gives a distinct solar power to the God of this ritual, but also as divine mystagogue.
- Mizrael (or Mistrael) may be considered an angel here, but as the embodiment of the divine authority of God, enabling him to see the true face of God behind the veil.
- “Sousa, sousa, sousa” isn’t translated from the original text, but given the context, it could be an ejaculatory cry for help, recalling the Greek σωζε or σωσαι, meaning “rescue”.
- The use of Jesus’ cry “Eloi, eloi, elema sabaktani” (more canonically written “Eloi eloi lema sabachthani“) is a hugely popular phrase to use in many of the Coptic spells I’ve seen, including the translation of it into the language of the source text. The original text had it in a very corrupt form on its own: “Eloi, eloi, ahlebaks atōnē“.
- Harmosiel is another angelic entity, the one who sounds the trumpet of the presence of God and shares with Mizrael the privilege of beholding the face of God behind the veil.
- In my view, the “Tribes of the Twelve Worlds” as well as the “twelve little children” and describe the twelve Zodiac signs and their embodiments as the twelve tribes of Israel.
- The name “Arebrais” is lacking in full in Meyer (present as “Ab[…]ais”), but present in Nibley. I instinctively filled the name as “Ablanais”, under the influence of the word ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ, but to each his own, I suppose.
- The description of the “twelve vessels” with water that scatter the rays of the Sun to preserve vegetation is noted by Nibley has having a more mundane task than representing the high angels of the Zodiac; he describes them like the atmosphere and its moisture scattering the harmful rays of the Sun that would cause harm to living creatures. This is a distinctly modern understanding, perhaps, but not a terrible way to see it.
- “Garden of the Saints of the Father” could also be interpreted as “Authority of the Saints of the Father”, as the same word works for both. Nibley notes that the garden is the sanctified inheritance of the saints, and the authority as that with which the saints have been invested.