Mathetic Pathworking of the Tetractys

Alright, time to actually talk practice again.  The past few posts were heavy on number theory, but the end of the last post touched on how it impacts our traversal of the Tetractys and how we can start thinking of numbers in terms of how we can actually use them for our spiritual progression.

So, disclaimer, guys: although this post is going to be on pathworking, astral/clairvoyant exploration, and similar topics, I make no claims to being an expert on this.  Although pathworking is not something foreign to me, it’s something that I underutilize in my work, if not outright ignore, even though I recognize the usefulness of it.  I’m geared more towards physical ritual, but astral exploration is something I’d like to get more into.  To that end, Tetractyean pathworking, yay!

The idea behind pathworking is actually fairly simple, and I’ve employed it before when doing meditations on the geomantic figures waaaay back in the day, but also more recently when meditating on the letters of the Greek alphabet.  The technique I use for “astral contemplation” is straightforward:

  1. Sit or lie in a comfortable position.  Clear the mind and regulate the breath.
  2. Visualize the symbol to be contemplated as clearly as you can.  Focus on the symbol becoming as real as possible in the mind.
  3. Vizualize a door, gate, veil, or curtain on which the symbol is written, engraved, embroidered, or whatever.  Let the symbol to be contemplated mark the gate as the entry to the “world” of that symbol.  You might picture the same door each time, or let the door form on its own around the symbol.
  4. Once both the symbol and the gate are fully realized in the mind, open the gate (or have it open) and step through it.
  5. Explore the world of the symbol.  Take note of all you perceive, and interact with the world as desired.
  6. When ready to leave, exit the world by taking the same path backwards, passing by each thing that was encountered on the way in until you reach the gate.
  7. Exit through the gate back into your own headspace, and close the gate.
  8. Visualize the gate dissolving into the symbol itself so that only the symbol remains.
  9. Visualize the symbol disseminating into one’s own sphere to as to retain the power and lessons learned from the contemplation.

You can use this with any set of symbols, from the seals of spirits to the geomantic figures to the planetary sigils from Agrippa to Greek letter or Tarot cards.  It’s a very malleable process that doesn’t rely much on ritual, if at all, though it can certainly be augmented by it through the use of mind-enhancing incenses, consecrated candles or oils, preliminary chants, and the like.

However, what this process best benefits from is preliminary study of the symbol.  What is the symbol’s name?  What spirits is it associated with?  What planets, elements, animals, plants, stones, forces, stars, and numbers is it associated with?  What mythic figures from different religions does it connect to?  In other words, it’s a vital, crucial part of the process to understand the correspondences of the symbol first.  You don’t need to see how they all interact with each other; I can hardly tell you how or why the twelve tribes of Israel are associated with the Zodiac signs the way they are, but they’re there for a reason.  It’s the astral exploration and contemplation that help with understanding the subtle interactions of everything, and give one a deeper knowledge of the symbol by means of experience.

So, let’s review our map, the Tetractys with the paths of letters.  As before, there are two main sets of paths, the Gnosis Schema with its Mitsubishi-like turns, and the Agnosis Schema with its hexagram-hexagon set.

The difference between the Gnosis and Agnosis Schemata involve the kind of force associated with each schema, as well as what sphairai they reach.  The Gnosis Schema is based on the twelve signs of the Zodiac, one step for every sign, as the student travels around the Tetractys.  The Agnosis Schema, on the other hand, contains the non-zodiacal forces: the seven planets and the four elements plus the quintessence of Spirit.  This is where one can get trapped in the cycles of this world, buffeted around by the archons and cruel fate; the Gnosis Schema, on the other hand, indicates the natural, fluid, smooth passage through all aspects of the cosmos up to and including purest Divinity, where we take the reins of our chariot and proceed on our true path to accomplish our One Thing.


Let’s focus first on the twelve paths of the Gnosis Schema.  Each path has an associated letter, and each letter with a sign of the Zodiac.  If we use Agrippa’s Orphic Scale of Twelve, we already have a wealth of symbolic knowledge on each path, to say nothing of what Liber 777 or other books of correspondence can get us.  However, the number 12 isn’t strictly given to the Zodiac, even in Hellenic reckoning.   There’s also the notion of the Twelve Labors of Heracles (of which the Thelemites have a fascinating view), and some medieval alchemists considered the Great Work to be composed of twelve stages, such as the Gates of George Ripley or the Keys of Basil Valentine.  All these can be considered as a single group, quest, set of paths, tasks, or transformations required to traverse the entirety of the Tetractys by means of the Gnosis Schema.

What of the Agnosis Schema, then?  The Agnosis Schema isn’t just one set of forces; in fact, according to how things are set up on the Tetractys, we can divvy these twelve forces up into three groups of four.  The first set, known as the Ideal forces, are the four elements themselves: Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.  The second set, the Empyrean set, are the two luminaries, the planet Mercury, and the quasi-element quasi-planet quasi-force Quintessence, aka Spirit.  The third set, the Ouranic forces, are the other four non-luminary planets of Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  The four elements and the seven planets all have their usual correspondences (cf. Agrippa’s Scale of Four and Scale of Seven plus, like, literally everything else written in the Western and Near Eastern occult corpus for 5000 years, give or take a millennium), but it’s that last force of Spirit that kinda confuses things a bit.  Spirit wasn’t really considered a separate force way back when; sure, as there are five Platonic solids mentioned in Plato’s Timaeus, there was a notion of a fifth…something out there, but it wasn’t considered to be an element like how Fire or Water was.  Nor was it a visible object in the night sky like the planets or stars, however Plato claims that this force decorated the entire cosmos.  I claim that Spirit is best seen as a median between the elements and planets, or a substrate underlying any other force out there, a type of non-materialized metaforce required for the materialization of anything else.  It’s like how, in order for an object to exist, there must exist a space for it to be present.  That kind of thing.  You can figure out the rest.

However, in addition to the zodiacal, planetary, and elemental forces, each path on the Tetractys is given one of the 24 Greek letters (indeed, this was really the whole impetus for having the paths to begin with).  Each Greek letter can be viewed in different ways.  The first three of these are fairly mundane: the name, the glyph, and the sound of the specific letter, all of which are given on a post way back when I first started considering the Greek letters as a vehicle for theurgy.

Okay, so.  At this point, I’d normally provide a table listing all the correspondences I’ve just mentioned to recap them all, but…the format of my blog would have this table run off the column of this text into the wild unknown, and gods only know what havoc it’d wreak on any number of RSS feeds, so I’m going to refrain from doing so this once.  I mean, if you wanted a table of correspondences that big, just get a copy of Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Tables.  Maybe, one day, I’ll publish my own focusing more on the Greek letters than Hebrew, but that’s not now.  Instead, go ahead and take a gander at all the links I’ve posted above and feed your hungry mind on the connections of the paths to the letters and to the forces and to everything else.

Why study all this?  Because the more information that is accessible to us in our minds, the more tools we’re providing our spirits for when we begin astral exploration and contemplation of these symbols.  It’s a commonly-heard refrain in some circles that “the limits of my language are the limits of my world” (cf. Sapir-Whorf hypothesis); if you don’t have an appropriate symbol set to work with, you can’t communicate, hold onto, or receive information that could use those symbols.  The more symbols we become familiar with, the more our minds and spirits have to work with, which expands the possibilities of vision and clairvoyance.  After all, it’s as my favorite comic seer Dominic Deegan says:

When a seer looks into a crystal ball and spouts some cryptic message, it’s not because second sight is inherently mysterious.  It’s because the seer doesn’t know what he’s looking at and he’s probably disguising his ignorance with cliché mysticism.  To master second sight you must have knowledge, which is found in books, which is why we have so much required reading for this class. (January 5, 2007)

Second sight is hard.  It requires a solid knowledge of history, politics, religion, arcane theory and even geography to really be of any use.  Otherwise it’s just looking at pictures. (January 11, 2007)

Study hard, kids. That’s important, no matter what you do in the occult.

Okay, so, say you’ve got a good grasp of the symbols, correspondences, associations, and affiliations of the letters with everything else.  What now?  We tap into that with pathworking, which is ritualized contemplation within a specific theurgical context.  Taking into account what’s commonly done in Golden Dawn and related orders, we would first mentally place ourselves within a particular sphaira as its own separate “temple”, envisioning a path leading to it (the one we used to enter) and other paths leading away from it (the possibilities of egress from the temple along the other paths).  Taking Alex Sumner’s brief discourse on qabbalistic pathworking, there are several steps to this process (rephrased from Sumner’s approach):

  1. Preparation of the physical temple and the pathworker.
  2. Visualization of the origin of the pathworking.
  3. Invocation of the forces of the path to be worked.
  4. The departure onto the path from the origin.
  5. The vision of the path.
  6. The arrival from the path unto the destination.
  7. The return to the world and normal consciousness.

Now, we can’t simply replace all the qabbalistic elements with mathetic ones; in many cases, I simply haven’t developed all the same things, and in others, I have no need to.  However, the underlying idea is the same, and many of the same methods can be adapted to this.  The important part that needs to be figured out first, however, is…where exactly do we start?

The whole point of undergoing initiation into the Gnosis Schema is to bring us from wherever we might be on the Agnosis Schema to the central sphaira on the Gnosis Schema.  Before that point, we don’t know where we are or how we got there; we need to be brought to a point of balance so as to be able to grow from that point, rather than trying to catch our bearings while we’re lost adrift on stormy seas.  After initiation, we find ourselves at the central sphaira, which has six paths leading to it all, all equally spread apart.  Thus, we begin at the sphaira of Mercury, and thence proceed onward to the path of Beta, which leads us down to the sphaira of Jupiter/Air.  We repeat the process time and again, periodically returning to Mercury, and continue along our paths.

So, if we begin at Mercury, how do we envision a “temple” or world for this sphaira?  That…well, I don’t really know what it would look like.  I do not know whether I can slip in my own visions of the planetary sphere of Mercury, and I doubt I could very easily, though it might make sense.  I do not know if the image I already have in mind can work, since I haven’t actually gone and explored what this sphaira looks like yet (to my own great shame).  But, if I were pressed to come up with a simple (if not simplistic) view based on what we already know and what we’ve already developed, I suppose we could always go with this little imagining I came up with:

Around you is a forum, a marketplace, filled with stalls and tents and shops all around you.  For some, these stalls are each manned and staffed with heaps of all sorts of foods, spices, riches, and goods; for others, the marketplace is deserted and dilapidated, with it looking more like a shantytown full of ghosts.  In either case, you stand at the center of three roads crossing each other in six directions.  The sky has the usual weather, the air balmy and breezy, and the road is full of dust sweeping in from each of the roads to the center where you now stand.  At the very center of the marketplace, in the exact middle of this six-way crossroads, stands a tall brazier atop a round altar.  This brazier has a fire lit of pure white gold flame, gently warming but weak.  Each road is lined with stalls and shops, though they start becoming fewer and farther between the further you look down each road.  Looking down one of the roads in the direction of the morning sun, you see at the far end of it, where the shops and buildings and tents give way to grass and rocks and dirt roads, a tall stone arch glittering in the light of the sky.

As you walk down this path, the bustle and business of the marketplace (or, alternatively, the whispers of wind and loose tentcloth) die down to silence, almost in anticipation of you reaching the arch.  As you get closer to the arch and further from the tents, you see that the arch leads onto a bridge crossing a deep chasm, heading off around you to both the left and the right.  The whole marketplace is on a large island, cut off from the surrounding lands yet connected by means of these six arches and their bridges wide enough to carry travelers, merchants, pilgrims, warlords, princes, paupers, and others of all kinds and nations.  Yet, these bridges are all but empty.  Beyond, however, you can see a whole new world through the arch, hearing all sorts of new voices and sounds, yet somehow it was not apparent to you until you looked through the arch itself.

The arch is elaborate, delicately engraved with repetitive motifs echoing long-lost languages that yet look familiar to you, mixed in with baroque depictions of cities, wars, crops, livestock, wildlands, gods above and below, and so many other scenes that could never be descried except at close distance, and at a close enough distance, you see all these patterns forming an infinitely-detailed fractal building upon and within itself endlessly.  At the very top of the arch, you see that the whole arch has been engraved with the ancient Greek letter Β; under it, suspended by gilded iron chains, is a brightly-gleaming lantern.  It has not been lit, though you can tell from the slow way it sways that it is full of oil and ready to be ignited at a moment’s notice.  Just above where the flame would be is a rope, tied to both columns supporting the arch, and from that rope a gate that, although fine and delicately-wrought, prevents you from passing through the arch proper.

Light the lamp and let its light beckon to those who would seek to enter, guided and amplified by the white gold flame in the crossroads.  Burn the rope, and bring down the gate.  Open the path to this new road and to this new world.  Leave the town as you are, and return when you are not.

…a bit of fancy prose, sure, but why not?  I don’t have much else to go on at the moment.  Besides, when I do get around to actually exploring the central sphaira, I’ll be able to get a better vision of the place and use that as the preliminary setup for a “mathetic temple”.  The use of the “gate blocking the arch” bit was to show that one cannot simply proceed immediately without doing work to earn the right of passage upon the path; in the Golden Dawn style of pathworking, each path had its own guard that needed to be appeased or tested first before one could go along the path.  Similar things should apply here, I figure, though the methods of testing would likely be different.  Plus, I might actually become inspired enough to give the damn thing its own proper name and title, as opposed to just calling it the “central sphaira” or “sphaira of Mercury”.


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.

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