Stoicheia

The esoteric use of letters has an ancient history, and extends far past the well-known use of gematria and isopsephy that is popular.  In the classical era, the use of the Greek alphabet led to many advances in mathematics and the occult, including connections with the Qabbalah and astrology.  One important method of this is called stoicheia, or “elements”, which I’ve only seen attributed in Stephen Flowers’ “Hermetic Magic: The Postmodern Magical Papyrus of Abaris” but claims to be used widely in the classical Hermetic tradition.  It attributes each letter of the Greek alphabet four things:

  • a shape (the actual drawn letterform)
  • a sound (the vocalized utterance of the letter)
  • a number (used in isopsephy)
  • a force (a planet, sign, or element)

These four qualities, these four elements or stoicheia, are all very tightly linked with each other.  The influence of Pythagoreanism in mathematics allowed for vibrations in the air that produced sound could be ascribed to numbers, and each note or harmony was assigned to a different heavenly sphere or star at the time of creation.  The letterforms were taken, ultimately, from the ancient Egyptians by way of Phoenician and proto-Semetic writing, and the Greeks held the Egyptians to be among the wisest of the wise in the world.  In this way, the four elements of a given Greek letter are tightly connected with each other, and so a given interpretation of a word in the Greek script can be interpreted in four different ways.

The occult use of stoicheia focuses on that last element, that of forces.  In the Greek alphabet, there are 24 letters (not including the archaic digamma, qoppa, and sampi).  In the occult, there are seven planets, five elements (including aether), and twelve signs in the Zodiac.  Adding them up, we get 24.  The occultists of yore were able to ascribe each of these to a different force on a one-to-one basis in a way that makes sense.

The oldest of these attributions are those of the planets.  The Greeks, Copts, and other Hermetic magicians are well-known for having attributed the seven vowels of the Greek alphabet to the seven visible planets and their spheres.  The attribution of these letters can be seen throughout the PGM and ancient Greek forms of Qabbalah, especially in certain holy names and voces magicae.  In this system, the attributions are:

  • Α, alpha, for the Moon
  • Ε, epsilon, for Mercury
  • Η, eta, for Venus
  • Ι, iota, for the Sun
  • Ο, omicron, for Mars
  • Υ, upsilon, for Jupiter
  • Ω, omega, for Saturn

Going to the elements next, there are two systems in use for this, but I prefer one that makes a bit more phonological sense.  In the Greek alphabet, there are five consonants that are different from the rest.  Although letters like beta or gamma are “simple” and are composed of only one phoneme, letters like “phi” or “ksi” are composed of several phonological units (letters like phi, theta, and khi were originally aspirated or “breathy”, and not the soft sounds we now have in modern Greek).  The attributions for the planets in this system are:

  • Θ, theta, for Earth
  • Ξ, ksi, for Water
  • Φ, phi, for Air
  • Χ, khi, for Fire
  • Ψ, psi, for Aether or the Quintessence

The rest of the letters, the “simple” consonants, are twelve in number and are ascribed to the signs of the Zodiac in order around the ecliptic:

  • Β, beta, for Aries
  • Γ, gamma, for Taurus
  • Δ, delta, for Gemini
  • Ζ, zeta, for Cancer
  • Κ, kappa, for Leo
  • Λ, lambda, for Virgo
  • Μ, mu, for Libra
  • Ν, nu, for Scorpio
  • Π, pi, for Sagittarius
  • Ρ, rho, for Capricorn
  • Σ, sigma, for Aquarius
  • Τ, tau, for Pisces

So, we end up with the following table that describes the different stoicheia of all the letters of the Greek alphabet:

Letter Pronunciation Planet Element Sign Number
Α [a(ː)] (ah) Moon 1
Β [b] Aries 2
Γ [ɡ] Taurus 3
Δ [d] Gemini 4
Ε [e] (eh) Mercury 5
Ζ  [zd] Cancer 7
Η [ɛː] (ayh) Venus 8
Θ [tʰ] (breathy t) Earth 9
Ι [i] (ee) Sun 10
Κ [k] Leo 20
Λ [l] Virgo 30
Μ [m] Libra 40
Ν [n] Scorpio 50
Ξ [ks] Water 60
Ο  [o] Mars 70
Π  [p] Sagittarius 80
Ρ  [r] Capricorn 100
Σ  [s] Aquarius 200
Τ  [t] Pisces 300
Υ [y(ː)] (German ü) Jupiter 400
Φ [pʰ] (breathy p) Air 500
Χ [kʰ] (breathy k) Fire 600
Ψ [ps] Aether 700
Ω  [ɔː] (awwh) Saturn 800

Now, using this table isn’t that hard.  Take the holy name ΙΑΩ, for instance, which is spelled iota-alpha-omega.  This name is composed of the letters representing the Sun, the Moon, and Saturn, and has the value 1 + 10 + 800 = 811.  Altogether, it refers to all the power present in the heavenly spheres, from the furthest reaches of Saturn to the innermost reaches of the Moon.  Indeed, ΙΑΩ is often seen as a shorthand for the longer formula ΑΕΗΙΟΥΩ (1294) or even ΑΕΕΗΗΗΙΙΙΙΟΟΟΟΟΥΥΥΥΥΥΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ (8425), which represents all the forces of all the planets.

You can even apply this to other words as well to get interesting meanings, and is a good recourse when isopsephy doesn’t return useful results on its own.  One of my favorite magical words is ΑΚΡΑΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΙ (or ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ in its more common PGM form).  Here, we start to get into more interesting combinations, where we can combine planets with signs or elements and see what results.  In this case, we go pairwise:

  • ΑΚ, alpha-kappa, Moon in Leo
  • ΡΑ, rho-alpha, Moon in Capricorn
  • ΜΑ, mu-alpha, Moon in Libra
  • ΧΑ, khi-alpha, Moon with Fire
  • ΜΑ, mu-alpha, Moon in Libra
  • ΡΙ, rho-iota, Sun in Capricorn

It doesn’t matter whether a given syllable is vowel-consonant or consonant-vowel, so ΑΚ and ΚΑ would both resolve to Moon in Leo.  Analyzed using stoicheia, the word might be interpreted as “the heat of the Sun rises up from the cold foundations of the heavens to be filtered through the light of the Moon with and over others, to be turned into pure Fire in its manifestation”.  Indeed, this word comes from a Hebrew phrase meaning “take off the wards” so as to exact one’s Will in the world without restraint or impedance from any kind of interference.  Its lunar qualities help in the manifestation and focusing of energies from the heavens down into our sphere, but the real force comes from the Sun hidden down in the nadir of the celestial sphere burning upwards towards us.  Since there is no central letter to act as a fulcrum, the central pair of letters, ΑΧ, indicates that this word is closely associated with elemental Fire.

Another example is the Greek rendition of the Hebrew name for god, “Tzabaoth”, which is ΣΑΒΑΩΘ:

  • ΣΑ, sigma-alpha, Moon in Aquarius
  • ΒΑ, beta-alpha, Moon in Aries
  • ΩΘ, omega-theta, Saturn with Earth

In this case, the strength and force of the world arranges itself into directed legions across different peoples.  The word’s meaning in Hebrew, meaning “hosts” or “armies”, can easily be linked to this type of analysis.

Taking another name, let’s try a person’s name.  A common female name, and one well known throughout the world, is ΜΑΡΙΑ, Maria.

  • ΜΑ, mu-alpha, Moon in Libra
  • ΡΙ, rho-iota, Sun in Capricorn
  • ΙΑ, iota-alpha, Sun with Moon
  • Α, alpha, Moon

In this case, we don’t have an easy pairwise distribution of letters, so we can extend that iota across two pairs or keep it with the rho and let the final alpha stand alone on its own.  Here, we have images of compassion for others with support (Moon in Libra) while ruling from the earth (Sun in Capricorn); indeed, Mary is often seen with snakes, chthonic but salvific symbols known throughout the Mediterranean world.  The strong emphasis of that final Moon shows the motherly and generative qualities associated with the name.  The midpoint between Capricorn and Libra, where the Sun and the Moon might meet each other equally, is astrologically the same point that the Pagan festivals of Samhain or Beltane, the point of separation by death of the God from the Goddess (Mary being divorced from her Son by crucifixion) or the point of their reunion (both being assumed into Heaven).

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28 Responses to Stoicheia

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  3. Andrew says:

    Now THAT is some first rate thinking.

  4. Eoin Keith Boyle says:

    When dealing with Enochian/Angelical letter essences, which uses a similar pairing-off, the pairs work toward the center as the odd-one-out. MARIA, then, would be MA-R-IA: (Libra Moon) + (Sun Moon (conjunction?)) working through Capricorn.

    Just a possible alternate approach.

  5. Osiris says:

    awesome, but where are your sources?

    • polyphanes says:

      The first paragraph says so: “I’ve only seen attributed in Stephen Flowers’ “Hermetic Magic: The Postmodern Magical Papyrus of Abaris” but claims to be used widely in the classical Hermetic tradition.” All the same, this works, and it does bear resemblance to the attribution of the letters in Hebrew to the elements, planets, and signs.

      • Zargathaxaraphontes says:

        Stephen Flowers is not a source… That’s like citing Diane Paxton! What are Flowers’ sources, is the real question.

        • polyphanes says:

          Unfortunately, what I’ve said above is as much as I can say. I don’t have the book on hand anymore (I need to get another copy), but even when I had it I don’t recall him saying what his sources were for this bit of information (I may be wrong, but the word here is “recall”). It’s not in any of the PGM texts I know of except for the vowels being commonly attributed to the planets, and I haven’t seen it elsewhere. I can only comfortably cite Flowers for this, and even if he “made it up” it’s certainly a workable system of attributing different forces to the Greek alphabet.

        • Lurly Lurker says:

          It’s explained on pages 125 – 127 of the book, and it;s on Scribd – it has to do with the Alexandrian tree of life but I;d refer you to Flowers’ own words as he typed them, rather tyhan accidental “chinese whispers” of trying to sum it up in a comment form. :)

          But he does have classical sources, footnoted on p126.

          • Lurly Lurker says:

            PS D’oh – fat finger typoes! While I’m here I’ll just say that Flowers has a way of hiding his most staggering info in plain sight by underplaying it, at least that’s how I read him. But those are the pages to read to see his sources, and how he summarised them to these conclusions anyway.

          • polyphanes says:

            I may have found another source, if not a more recent one: Cornelius Agrippa lists a table of correspondences for the letters of the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin scripts in book I chapter 74. He uses the opposite order of Greek vowels to the planets (Moon = Omega instead of Moon = Alpha), but otherwise the system is the same. I don’t know where Agrippa got this, though, and I don’t know how old the system is. Still, it works, which is the important thing.

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  15. Which makes ΙΑΧΩΣ equal to Sun-Moon-Fire-Saturn-Aquarius, which is so enlightening that I should not be looking at it at work :-)

    Much of this is available in Skinner, too, but I like the way you organized it.

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  22. Thank you so much for this. Did you notice that is possible to use your system to generate magical words?

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