Notes on the Heart Sutra

Slightly different track for today’s post.  A handful of people know that I have a deep respect and appreciation for Buddhism, especially the Thai Forest and Japanese forms of the religion/philosophy.  It was one of the first alternative religious traditions I was ever exposed to, and something I’ve taken more than a passing fancy in studying on my own; had I more time and energy and resources, I’d dedicate myself a lot more to it seriously than I can, but alas, my path is slightly different and does not (yet) allow for it.  Still, it’s always got a high place in my heart, and recently I’ve been dwelling on one of my favorite texts in the entire Buddhist canon: the Heart Sutra.  It’s a deep abiding not-quite-joy to recite and to meditate on, and given its popularity, I figure I may as well recognize it here.  Sure, it’s a slight departure from the usual Hermetic stuff on this blog, but I never claimed to stick to any one particular track, and I think bringing this up to most people’s awareness would do them and the general occulture some minor amount of good.

There have been endless translations of the Heart Sutra into any number of languages, but a problem is that it really is a summary overview of so much of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy and teaching that it can almost be considered a CliffsNotes-type of sutra; unpacking everything would pretty much necessitate a full exploration of Buddhist thought, which is just a little out of the scope of this blog.  I find that the one by Jayarava (provided in 2013 on his blog) is particularly excellent for modern readers, but below is another one based on the one available on Wikisource that I’ve modified for diction and clarity, with links to any possible Buddhist reference for terms or concepts that I can manage:

The Great Sutra of the Heart of Perfection of Wisdom

When the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara was practicing the profound perfection of wisdom, he examined the five aggregates of existence and saw that they were all empty of all suffering and affliction.

Śāriputra, form is not different from emptiness, and emptiness is not different from form.  Form itself is emptiness, and emptiness itself is form.  Sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness are also such as this.

O Śāriputra, all experienced phenomena are empty: not created, not destroyed, not dirty, not pure, not increasing, not decreasing.  This is because in emptiness there is no form, sensation, perception, volition, or consciousness.  There is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or thoughts; no form, sound, scent, taste, sensation, or dharma; no field of vision, up through no realm of thoughts.  There is no ignorance nor end of ignorance, even up to and including no old age and death, nor end of old age and of death.  There is no suffering, its accumulation, its elimination, nor path.  There is no knowledge and no attainment.

Because there is no attainment, bodhisattvas rely on the perfection of wisdom, and their minds have no obstructions.  Since they have no obstructions, they have no fears.  Because they are detached from perverse delusions, their ultimate result is the release from suffering.  Because all buddhas abiding in the past, present, and future rely on the perfection of wisdom, they attain the highest-possible perfect awakening.

Therefore, know that the perfection of wisdom is a great spiritual charm, a great brilliant charm, an unsurpassed charm, an unequaled charm.  It can truly remove all afflictions.  This is true and real, this is no lie.  Speak the charm of the perfection of wisdom; the charm is spoken thus:

GATE GATE PĀRAGATE PĀRASAṂGATE BODHI SVĀHĀ

The Heart of Wisdom Sutra

So what does this all mean?  In many ways, the Heart Sutra is an ultra-condensed form of Mahayana Buddhist teaching, and the earlier/original versions of the text don’t even have the usual context set and setting.  The slightly longer form establishes the frame for the discussion of the Heart Sutra like this: at one point in time, the Buddha was gathered with a great community on the mountain of Vulture’s Peak (Gṛdhrakūṭa), east of the ancient city of Rājagṛha (modern Rajgir in India) .  Amidst all the monks, the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (also known as Guan Yin, Kannon, or Chenrezig) was practicing Prajñāpāramitā.  The Buddha himself entered a deep state of meditation and awareness, and by his powers, induced his disciple Śāriputra to approach Avalokiteśvara and ask the bodhisattva how one should go about practicing Prajñāpāramitā.   Avalokiteśvara then replied with the above sutra, describing what Prajñāpāramitā and how to practice it.  At this point, the Buddha himself left his state of meditation to praise Avalokiteśvara on the discourse, and that both he and every possible buddha ever approves of it, and then everyone lived happily ever after.

So what is Avalokiteśvara saying?  Basically, everything is empty.  This isn’t to say that everything is nothing a la nihilism, but that everything that exists or that is experienced is simply a construct.  Every entity does not exist as a thing-in-itself, concrete and independent from the rest of reality and existence, but that every possible thing lacks an intrinsic identity, quality, or existence.  Everything exists because of everything else that has gone before it so that it can be constructed; it is “empty” only so far as regards an independent nature.  My coffee cup on my desk, for instance, only exists because:

  • I bought it to exist in my life
  • I put it where it is for it to exist on my desk
  • The materials for it were harvested by other people
  • The processes to craft it were handled by other people
  • I, the harvesters, and crafters were all born and nourished by the actions of other people, who in turn were born and nourished by the actions of yet other people, ad infinitum
  • The materials for the coffee cup and all possible nourishment were generated/recycled through natural meteorological, geological, and cosmological forces

In other words, there is no part of this coffee cup that exists on its own without the input, causes, actions, or reactions of everyone and everything else that has gone before it; it is empty of “itself”, because there is no “self”.  There is no “being”, only “interbeing”; nothing is independent, because everything depends on everything else.  That is emptiness, generally speaking, and Avalokiteśvara describes the aggregates of existence (five skandhās) as all being empty: material form of objects, the sensory experiences of objects, the sensory and mental processes that registers and perceives objects, the mental actions and constructions triggered by objects, and the consciousness, awareness, and discernments we make involving objects.  All of these things are empty, no one of them existing apart from each other or the objects themselves, and for that matter anything else that exists in the cosmos.  But, going beyond that, Avalokiteśvara describes all phenomena as empty, as well.  The exact word here is dharma, which we usually mean as “law” or “doctrine” (as in Buddhism or Hinduism itself), but its meaning is wide enough to capture all possible phenomena, all monads or atoms, as empty.  It is out of these dharmas that the skandhās themselves are made, so if an object is the result of the processes and phenomena that developed it, then each process and phenomenon itself is likewise the result of other dharmas that developed it.  Thus, there is no thing, neither local or temporal nor material nor procedural, that exists apart of anything else.  Everything is the result of the interplay of everything else; there is nothing intrinsic to anything, no law nor self nor quality nor idea.  It is Heraclitus’ παντα ρει (“everything flows”) taken to its logical extreme.

Again consider, however, my coffee cup.  Speaking less philosophically, it is currently empty of drink, and yet it is not empty at all, since it is volumetrically full of air.  By pouring coffee into the mug, I have not really “created” coffee, but simply transformed the location of coffee from the coffee pot to the mug; I have not destroyed the air inside the mug, but instead displaced it.  I did not do this as its own divinely-inspired, pure-of-need action, but I poured coffee because I wanted coffee and needed something convenient to drink it from.  Because the act of pouring coffee took place within the greater context of my life, the act cannot be considered on its own but as an aggregate formed from everything else in my life, as well as an aggregate forming my life itself; there is no true “start” or “end” to the act of pouring coffee, just as there is no “start” or “end” to the existence of coffee itself; it is formed from water and coffee beans and heat, yes, but at what point do these stop being separate things that have never been coffee and start becoming a single thing that is only coffee? At what point does coffee no longer stay coffee but becomes something else that was never coffee?  These questions have no answer, because there is no intrinsic “coffee” to consider.  Thus, there can be no purity or contamination of coffee, just a series of phenomena and experiences and aggregates that collectively make something that I can give the label of “coffee” to for the time being.  As Avalokiteśvara says, “not created, not destroyed, not dirty, not pure, not increasing, not decreasing”.

It then follows that literally all of Buddhist thought—the five skandhās themselves, the eighteen dhātus of objects/sense faculties/consciousness that operate through the skandhās, the twelve nidanas of causes and effects that provide the basis for birth and rebirth in this world of suffering, the Four Noble Truths that the Buddha himself declared upon his enlightenment, even the notion of knowledge or wisdom itself or the ten bhūmis or stages of achieving them—are all empty.  All of it.  Everything is empty, therefore the whole religious philosophy and practices within it of Buddhism must all likewise be empty.  There is nothing intrinsic to Buddhism that makes it Buddhism, holy, special, or powerful; it’s the result of everything else and is the cause of everything else just as much as everything else is.  It’s not that it’s nothing, but that it’s part and parcel of everything, just as much as everything else is.  In other words, it’s reaffirming and emphasizing the teaching of Buddhism in its own terms, and because of this, the whole notion of Prajñāpāramitā (which is basically the wholesale realization of the foregoing and the insights and awareness it provides) is what gets bodhisattvas to where they’re trying to go.  If nothing has its own independent qualities, then nothing can be considered intrinsically scary.  If nothing can be scary, then there is nothing to fear.  If there is nothing to fear, then there is nothing to escape or hide from.  If there is nothing to escape or hide from, there is nothing to lie about.  If there is nothing to lie about, then there is nothing to be deluded about.  If there is nothing to be deluded about, then there is nothing stopping you from being free of suffering and illusion.  And, if you can be free from suffering and illusion, then there’s nothing stopping you from achieving the whole goal of the whole shebang: complete, utter, total enlightenment.  You’re already there, because there is no such thing as getting there, you just haven’t realized it yet, because you haven’t seen how empty you are yet or how empty your world is yet.

In other words, Prajñāpāramitā—the perfection of wisdom itself—is the full realization and insight of emptiness.  By this and this alone, everything else in the bodhisattva path of awakening follows.  The Heart Sutra recalls this very thing, to remind us that awareness of emptiness is the perfection of wisdom, and that by its recitation, we gird ourselves with the strength and compassion of wisdom itself for the sake of liberation.

So, onto chanting it.  The Heart Sutra, as can be seen above, is a pretty short text, if not one of (or the most) shortest in the Mahayana Buddhist canon.  For this reason, it’s a favorite for people to chant as an entire thing, and it’s not uncommon for it to be chanted daily at monasteries or temples across the world.  Current academia on the origins of the Heart Sutra suggest that it was originally composed in Chinese, and then back-translated into Sanskrit (or the hybrid Buddhist Sanskrit that was in use for many such texts, which is not properly Sanskrit as such).  The Chinese text is what was disseminated throughout Asia, and though it was historically recited in any number of local languages, they all rely on the same fundamental Chinese text using their respective Sinitic methods of recital; I prefer the Sino-Japanese style of reading this text mostly because I can actually trust and understand Japanese phonology.  The transcription below comes from Andrew May’s website, modified for diacritics and organization; note that hyphens link multi-character words together, and are generally (but not always) limited to Sanskrit-derived names or words (e.g. Han-nya-ha-ra-mi-ta for Sanskrit Prajñāpāramita, or Sha-ri-shi for Śāriputra).  In general, one syllable matches one character, though some characters are two syllables (e.g. 厄 “yaku”).

摩訶般若波羅蜜多心經 MA-KA HAN-NYA-HA-RA-MI-TA SHIN GYŌ
觀自在菩薩行深般若波羅蜜多時 KAN-JI-ZAI BO-SATSU GYŌ JIN HAN-NYA-HA-RA-MI-TA JI
照見五蘊皆空度一切苦厄 SHŌ KEN GO UN KAI KŪ DO IS-SAI KU YAKU
舍利子色不異空空不異色 SHA-RI-SHI SHIKI FU I KŪ KŪ FU I SHIKI
色即是空空即是色 SHIKI SOKU ZE KŪ KŪ SOKU ZE SHIKI
受想行識亦復如是 JU SŌ GYŌ SHIKI YAKU BU NYO ZE
舍利子是諸法空相 SHA-RI-SHI ZE SHO HŌ KŪ SŌ
不生不滅不垢不淨不增不減 FU SHŌ FU METSU FU KU FU JŌ FU ZŌ FU GEN
是故空中無色無受想行識 ZE KO KŪ CHŪ MU SHIKI MU JU SŌ GYŌ SHIKI
無眼耳鼻舌身意無色聲香味觸法 MU GEN NI BI ZE SHIN I MU SHIKI SHŌ KŌ MI SOKU HŌ
無眼界乃至無意識界 MU GEN KAI NAI SHI MU I SHIKI KAI
無無明亦無無明盡 MU MU MYŌ YAKU MU MU MYŌ JIN
乃至無老死亦無老死盡 NAI SHI MU RŌ SHI YAKU MU RŌ SHI JIN
無苦集滅道無智亦無得 MU KU SHŪ METSU DŌ MU CHI YAKU MU TOKU
以無所得故菩提薩埵依般若波羅蜜多 I MU SHO TOKU KO BO-DAI-SAT-TA E HAN-NYA-HA-RA-MI-TA
故心無罣礙無罣礙故無有恐怖 KO SHIN MU KEI GE MU KEI GE KO MU U KU FU
遠離一切顛倒夢想究竟涅槃 WON RI IS-SAI TEN DŌ MU SŌ KU GYŌ NE-HAN
三世諸佛依般若波羅蜜多 SAN ZE SHO BUTSU E HAN-NYA-HA-RA-MI-TA
故得阿耨多羅三藐三菩提 KO TOKU A-NOKU-TA-RA SAM-MYAKU-SAM-BO-DAI
故知般若波羅蜜多 KO CHI HAN-NYA-HA-RA-MI-TA
是大神咒是大明咒 ZE DAI JIN SHU ZE DAI MYŌ SHU
是無上咒是無等等咒 ZE MU JŌ SHU ZE MU TŌ DŌ SHU
能除一切苦真實不虛 NŌ JO IS-SAI KU SHIN JITSU FU KO
故說般若波羅蜜多咒即說咒曰 KO SETSU HAN-NYA-HA-RA-MI-TA SHU SOKU SETSU SHU WATSU
揭帝揭帝般羅揭帝般羅僧揭帝菩提薩婆訶 GYA-TEI GYA-TEI HA-RA-GYA-TEI HA-RA-SŌ-GYA-TEI BŌ-JI SO-WA-KA
般若心經 HAN-NYA SHIN GYŌ

I translated whatever technical terms I could in the above translation, but there’s the notable exception about the final set of words.  This is generally considered a mantra, and mantras aren’t generally translated; their potency generally is said to lie in the actual sound and vocalization of them and less in any meaning, but Jayarava’s translation of the mantra here has it as “gone, gone, gone over, gone over to the other side, awake, svāhā” (where “svāhā” is a typical end to a mantra, literally meaning “well said” but used to mean something like “all hail”, “so be it”, or “amen”).  He’s also gone over the mantra in a more in-depth manner elsewhere, and notes that the descriptions of the mantra as great, brilliant, unsurpassed, and unequaled are usually epithets for the Buddha, and thus liken or equate the mantra itself to the Buddha, but that it’s less a mantra and more of a dhāraṇī or vidyā, in either case something more akin to a spell or magical invocation.  Thus, I’ve translated it above with the word “charm”, based on how the word is used for similar “words of power” sequences in more Western texts like the PGM (which, it would seem, would be a translation that even Jayarava might agree with).  In any case, the mantra-dhāraṇī-vidyā-charm-spell would be pronounced /gəte gəte pɑːrəgəte pɑːrəsəⁿgəte bod̪ʱi sʋɑːhɑː/ or, for a less IPA-based approach, “guh-tay guh-tay pah-ruh-guh-tay pah-ruh-sahn-guh-tay bohd-hee swah-hah”, if you wanted to use the proper Sanskrit pronunciation, though again, any vulgate language that the whole sutra is recited in would use its corresponding Sinitic readings of the characters 揭帝揭帝般羅揭帝般羅僧揭帝菩提薩婆訶, which were used in early/middle Chinese to transcribe the Sanskrit sounds themselves.

An excellent rendition of this text in Japanese is that of the Sōtō Zen monk and teacher Taisen Deshimaru, who in this particular recording leads a group of Buddhists in reciting the sutra.  The recording opens up with a brief bell meditation, recites the sutra three times at an increasingly fast but rhythmic pace, and concludes with  a slow recitation of different texts after the 7:26 mark:

I share this all not just because it’s been on my mind lately and I wanted to have some sort of outlet for it, but because it reminds me, in a grand sense, that we’re all in this together.  There is nothing that you’ve done that hasn’t affected me, nor vice versa; there is nothing that exists that hasn’t impacted the existence of anything else.  There’s another saying about emptiness: “if it exists, then one speck of dust exists; if it doesn’t, then the whole cosmos doesn’t either”.  We’re all here because each and everyone one of us is here; everything that is happening (or has, or will) is happening because, with, by, and for us, endlessly and continuously, just as we exist/happen for the sake of everything else.  As Ghandi (actually) said, “all the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body; if we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change”.  

In other words, be good or be good at it.  The entire cosmos is literally riding on it.

(also oh my god Kalagni I’m so sorry if I bungled any of this, please fix anything that’s broken)

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Search Term Shoot Back, June 2014

I get a lot of hits on my blog from across the realm of the Internet, many of which are from links on Facebook, Twitter, or RSS readers.  To you guys who follow me: thank you!  You give me many happies.  However, I also get a huge number of new visitors daily to my blog from people who search around the Internet for various search terms.  As part of a monthly project, here are some short replies to some of the search terms people have used to arrive here at the Digital Ambler.  This focuses on some search terms that caught my eye during the month of June 2014.

“what does it mean to trace the grid from the center crystal to each other crystal using a wand or your fingers show picture” — …I mean, I feel like the idea is pretty explanatory.  Center to crystal 1 to center to crystal 2…to center.  Do you really need more guidance than this?  You already described the method.

“saint cyprian wand” — I’ve never seen something like this, save for maybe the blasting rod of the Grimoirum Verum that forms part of the Book of Saint Cyprian.  The good saint himself is usually pictured with a crosier and a book, though as a magician himself he was likely familiar with the use of wands in the classical and early medieval Mediterranean.  Heck, his crosier itself could be seen as a type of wand, being associated with wisdom, spiritual authority, and guidance, all attributes commonly given to the wand.  Still, a modern wand for use in Cyprianic workings isn’t a bad idea.  Necromantic materials would be of use: an ebony or iron wand packed with graveyard dirt and capped with smoky quartz or jet, engraved with holy symbols and names, perhaps buried for a week at the head of the grave of a priest or magician during the New Moon, fed with the blood of a black chicken or goat.  Not a bad idea at all.

“how to use saturn seals in “key of Solomon”” — If you merely read the book (book I, chapter 19), many sections tell you how to use it.  Generally, you show a pentacle unto a particular spirit like how the FBI flashes a suspect their badge (Saturn pentacles I, II, III, IV, V).  Some of them cause some change in the world by their mere existence and construction and should be kept for future use as a ritual tool, similar to a wand but used to “fire off” work into the cosmos generally (pentacles II, IV, VI, VII).  When a pentacle is not being used, it should be kept hidden and safe, or it should be enshrined on an altar with other magical tools, perhaps reconsecrated every week or so with candle and oil and incense.

“stones in sash black magic santeria” — …do people still consider Santeria to be “black magic”?  Really?  It means “way of the saints”.  It’s about as far you can get from “black magic”, and I’ve written about my thoughts on the term itself elsewhere.  As far as I’m aware, Santeria doesn’t really use sashes, though I’ve seen some massive elekes and collares that are used in limited ritual purposes, but those are all nearly entirely colored glass beads.  Also, I’ve seen sashes of fruit for newly made iyawos.  Beyond that, I can’t think of a Santeria sash, though I’m admittedly no expert in Santeria.  Sashes are sometimes used in other traditions, like the bandera of Palo Mayombe, but that’s a different thing and, again, is nearly entirely glass beads.  Stones might just be a personal flourish.

“h0w t0 consecrate oil with psalm 72” — I wasn’t familiar with this psalm before I wrote this post, but I like it!  Take some good, clean oil and pray over it fervently; that’s all you need to do to consecrate anything, really; the incense, candles, and hoopla of ritual can help but aren’t strictly necessary.  Psalm 72, specifically, sounds beautiful for blessing, dominating, and prosperity work.

“top 10 conjuring rituals real” — What, as if there’s a Buzzfeed list of magic rituals full of spooky GIFs?  C’mon, dude, get your act together.  There’s no such top-ten list of “real” rituals; any ritual that works is real, and different people often get different rituals to work for them.  Once you get the experience of a few conjuration rituals, you can start doing them on the fly with spirits you have a good connection with.

“seal of sealtiel angel” — Unfortunately, even though I’ve been making weekly offerings to Sealtiel the Archangel for a brief time now, I haven’t done much more than that and engaged the archangels in conversation, like I would in a conjuration.  I mean to in the near future, but I haven’t yet.  I don’t know of a seal for the angel, so you might want to stick with making a sigil based off the letters in his name a la chaos magic or by using my Greek Sigil Wheel idea.  Sealtiel often bears a thurible as his badge of office, so you might start with that if you want an image.

“how to use saturn to create prosperity” — Er, that’s not usually Saturn’s job.  Prosperity is usually in line with Mercury and Jupiter, the planets of exchange and expansion generally,

“autobiography of st. jehudiel”, “biography of saint sealtiel”, etc. — Seeing how these are angels who have never technically lived, it’s hard to have a biography of them, since a biography is an account of, you know, a life.  They’re immortal beings who serve the will of God directly; they don’t have lives like we think of them, and they don’t exist apart from God.  Also, an “autobiography”?  Not only does that assume a life of an angel, it also assumes they write and can communicate to us in language.

“horus demon god of sun sygils” — Much of this makes no sense to me on a conceptual level.  First, to spell the word as “sygils” means you’re probably in Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth (or however it’s misspelled) or just some middle-schooler who wants to be all dark and powerful.  That isn’t done with extra “y”s and the metal umlaut, you know.  As for Horus, yes, he’s a god of the Sun, but in no sense is he malefic or demonic.

“locating lost thing by star power” — What, are you Sailor Moon?  There are astrological and geomantic methods of finding lost objects, but unless you’re a Sailor Scout or one of the Three Wise Men, you’re not going to find anything directly through the stars themselves.

“most deadly buddhist mantras” — …I don’t think you understand the point of Buddhist mantras.  There might indeed be powerful spells and mantra-like charms in some distant and extant traditions of magic and applied Buddhism, but none I know that would kill a target or the user.  That tends to go against the Precepts, anyway, but you know, expedient means and all that shit.

“effects of reading saint cyprian book” — In my case, you’ll’ve learned Spanish and published a translation in English (hint: go buy my cheap ebook on Etsy!).  Supposedly, if you read the Book of Saint Cyprian, either front to back or back to front (I forget which), you end up summoning the Devil.  That didn’t happen in my case, and he might’ve just gotten confused with my flipping around randomly through the book.

“how to aproach the abramelin ritual if you already know your guardian angel” — Honestly, if you have contact with your HGA, why do the Abramelin ritual?  The meat of the matter is getting contact with your HGA, after which you go through and bind evil spirits from messing with you in the future.  Once you have your HGA, you can do anything, basically.  I know some friends who are going through the Abramelin as an initiation requirement in some groups, but that’s not the real use of the Abramelin, as I see it.

“is the word geomancy in the bible” — Nope.  Geomancy likely kicked off in the Sahara Desert around 900 or 1000 AD, well after the Bible was written (especially the Old Testament).  However, if you read that the Bible has a prohibition on divinatory arts generally, then that would include geomancy; if you read the Bible supporting the act of divination, then that also includes geomancy.  The word itself is coined more recently than the Bible, as is the art, so you won’t find biblical references to it, although some traditions hold that geomancy was given to the prophet Hermes Trismegistus, Adam, Idris, Daniel, Jesus, or Mohamed to discover more of the secrets of God, so it depends on what you consider meaningful.

Search Term Shoot Back, January 2014

I get a lot of hits on my blog from across the realm of the Internet, many of which are from links on Facebook, Twitter, or RSS readers.  To you guys who follow me: thank you!  You give me many happies.  However, I also get a huge number of new visitors daily to my blog from people who search around the Internet for various search terms.  As part of a monthly project, here are some short replies to some of the search terms people have used to arrive here at the Digital Ambler.  This focuses on some search terms that caught my eye during the month of January 2014.

“honoring hermes on fourth day of the month” — One tidbit about Hermes is that he was born in the tenth month of the lunar year (starting with the first new moon after the summer solstice, so sometime in April) on the fourth day of the lunar month (four-ish days after the New Moon).  The religious practices of Attic Greece, where Athens was and thus where most of our knowledge about ancient and classical Greece is focused, celebrated a bevy of gods on their “monthly birthdays”, as evidenced by what we know of their calendar (which forms the basis of my lunisolar grammatomantic calendar).  Thus, a monthly public ritual was performed for Hermes on the fourth of every lunar month in ancient Athens, which is the day I use as well for my monthly Hermaia ritual.  For example, yesterday was the new moon, so today is the first day of the lunar month; the fourth day would then be this coming Monday, February 3, when I celebrate the next monthly Hermaia.

“letter a in shorthand”, “short hand alphabet”, “shorthand in english alphbet”, etc. — I get a lot of talks about shorthand, and my posts on the personal shorthand I’ve devised as a type of private cursive are among the most popular posts on this blog.  That said, I think it’s important to realize that shorthand is just cursive writing taken to its logical extreme.  Normal handwriting, or “print”, is meant to be formal and clear; cursive (from Latin currere, “to run”) is meant for faster, more fluid writing.  Shorthand is handwriting sped up to keep up with speech as it happens; because it can be difficult to maintain a congruence between spoken sounds and sometimes convoluted rules of spelling, most stenographic systems use phonetic methods of writing as opposed to normal ways of spelling.  A few such systems used in the Anglophone world are Pittman and Gregg, which can be found on this page at Omniglot.  My style of shorthand differs in that it’s meant to preserve the orthographic spelling of English while being fast to write; in that sense, it’s much more a cursive than a shorthand, which is often more a style of abbreviated symbolic writing than proper orthographic writing.

“orgone pot leaf” — I…uh?  I know doing a lot of drugs can lead you into some weird places, but…what?  I mean, I suppose you could use cannabis leaves to make an orgone accumulator, being an organic substance that attracts orgone, but why waste good weed?

“what periodof the day does the ruling archangel of the planet start?” — I don’t your English understand quite so.  Angels can be said to rule over particular hours of the day based on the planetary hours, and Trithemius gives a list of them in his ritual.  As always, planetary hours are based on your local latitude and longitude, since it relies on sunrise and sunset times, and may not be calculable at extreme latitudes due to the extreme brevity or complete lack of solar daytime and nighttime.

“what does each geomantic figure mean?” — You may be interested in checking out my series of posts on geomancy, De Geomanteia, where I go over what each geomantic figure means in a Western geomantic-divinatory framework.

“the magical value of mem in the hebrew alphabet” — Ah, the occult study of letters!  Normally I work with Greek, but knowledge of Hebrew letters and their occult significations is also highly regarded in modern Hermetic magic, especially given the influence of the Golden Dawn.  Mem is the 13th letter of the Hebrew script, with a phonetic value of /m/ and two written forms mem and mem sofit; the former is given the gematria value of 40 and the latter the value of 600, though 40 is the more important value to know.  Cornelius Agrippa gives it the magical correspondence of the Zodiac sign Virgo, though the Golden Dawn (based on other qabbalistic works) give it the association of the element Water.  Going by the Kircher Tree of Life used by the Golden Dawn and Thelema, Mem is associated with the Tarot card trump XII, the Hanged Man, as well as path 23, between Geburah and Hod on the Pillar of Severity.  Its form is said to come from the Egyptian hieroglyph for water, and its name from the Phoenician word for the same, and is associated with the Greek letter mu and Latin/Cyrillic letters em.

“can a pentacle really charge an object” — Er…it depends, really.  To “charge” something implies the use of what what’s known as the “energy model” of magic, where magic works due to some ethereal, nonphysical energy that can be directed around to achieve occult ends.  If we “charge” something, we consider it to be filled with an energy, much as we charge batteries.  To that end, I suppose you could say that some pentacles, when properly made, become a source of a particular energy or are themselves charged with an energy, and can then (if designed in a certain way) give that charge to other objects.  Not all pentacles are designed to do this, though; some pentacles are used to attract love, which isn’t charging any kind of object.  Further, this only makes sense if you use the energy model of magic, which is a pretty modern framework; the more traditional framework is the “spirit model”, where magic works due to the action of and interaction with spirits.  In this model, a pentacle might be a place of habitation for a spirit or receive its blessing to attain a certain end, and using the pentacle essentially sends the spirit out to change something out in the cosmos.  It’s not so much a matter of “charging” as it is “spirit-action”, so it depends on your worldview and which model you think works best at a given moment.  Generally speaking, though, and to prevent any more use of semantic sophistry, yes, a pentacle can charge an object given that that’s what the pentacle was designed to do.

“can labradorite be used for grounding” — I wouldn’t suggest it.  My thoughts on labradorite associate it most with the sphere of the fixed stars, along with the Sun, Moon, and Mercury.  It’s a very stellar, astral type of stone, and I use it for work with Iophiel as well as with pure Light.  Grounding suggests bringing things in the body outward and literally grounding it out, like an electrical charge, so it helps to calm and make the body more mundane, more earthy, more relaxed, and less charged.  Labradorite, on the other hand, I’ve found works for subtle charging generally or strong empowerment with stellar or lucid force, so it would not be good for grounding.

“geomantic wizard” — At your service.

“the hexagram of ifa” — As a prefatory disclaimer, I know little about ifá besides what I’ve learned from Western geomancy and its history.  Ifá is the great geomantic tradition of the Yoruban people based in Nigeria, often seen in the West nowadays closely allied with Santeria communities.  Ifá uses the same sixteen figures as Western geomancy, though with different names and meanings; however, unlike Western geomancy that uses four Mothers to generate 65536 charts, ifá diviners (often called “babalawo” or “father of secrets”), only use two figures to generate 256 readings.  That said, each of the 256 readings has about a Bible’s worth of knowledge, stories, prohibitions, rules, situations, and the like that can be ascribed to it, all of which for all the combinations must be memorized by heart.  It’s an intense system, and one that has my highest respect.  That said, I know of no part of ifá that uses any sort of hexagram; the figures themselves have four rows of one or two marks each, and the figures are not arranged in any form of hexagram or six-figure arrangement.  You may be getting ifá confused with the Chinese I Ching, which does have hexagrams instead of tetragrams.

“concave golden dawn pentacle” — My Golden Dawn-style pentacle is just a flat wooden disc I got at a Michaels that I woodburned, colored, and customized to my ends.  Now, I’m no expert on Golden Dawn regalia or paraphernalia, so I’m unsure about the precise needs or designs of these things.  That said, if I recall correctly from my days sneaking into my older brother’s neopagan stuff long ago, Donald Michael Kraig had offered this design idea in his Modern Magick.  His idea was that the pentacle, the Elemental Weapon of Earth, was used to both collect the forces of Earth as well as act as a shield for protection.  If we use rays of light as a metaphor, if we use a flat mirror, we reflect the light away from the source; if we use a convex mirror (one that bulges outward), only a small portion gets reflected at the source; if we use a concave mirror (one that sinks inward), nearly all the light gets reflected back at the source.  Thus, if we use a concave pentacle, anything unwanted sent towards us gets reflected back at the source; plus, it acts to “collect” the energy of Earth with its bowl-like shape, much as the chalice “collects” the energy of Water.

“is ritual and invocation one and the same?” — No; an invocation is a type of ritual, but there are many types of ritual.  There are many types of ritual, some of which I’ve classified before in my own admittedly-arbitrary system.  Sometimes you may want to get rid of something (banishing or exorcism), which is the opposite of bringing something in or up (invocation or evocation), though either type of ritual may involve the other (clearing out a space for something to be brought in, or invoking a higher power to drive something away forcefully).

“is orgone bunk?” — God, how I wish it were, yet I know from my experiments with orgone that it’s actually useful magical tech.  It just seems like such BS because of its modern pseudoscientific quackery language, but it’s actually pretty good stuff when applied and understood from a less forcedly-modern scientific manner.  It’s like how people often used to phrase theories and explanations of magic based on electricity (Raphaelite 1800s occultism) or magnetism (Franz Bardon) or quantum physics (modern New Age swill); the theories offered simply don’t line up with what’s physically happening, and betray a deep misunderstanding of the actual physics involved with electricity, magnetism, quantum physics, etc.  However, when it’s removed from this sort of stuff, orgone fits right in with an energy-based model of magic, not unlike the use of ki/qi in Eastern systems of energy manipulation.  So, no, orgone is not bunk, though it certainly can be seen that way when viewed from the way Wilhelm Reich wanted it to be viewed.

“digital phylactery” — This one puzzled me a bit; I have information about a phylactery of mine I made before, but I don’t quite know what a digital phylactery is.  Then I realized that I use several of them, based on modern advances with Buddhist prayer wheels.  A prayer wheel is a device used in prayer or meditation that rotates; the rotating object is a chamber that contains a written prayer, like a mantra or holy image, that when spun generates the same effect as having said that mantra or seen that holy image.  Usually, the paper inside contains many hundreds or thousands of repetitions of that mantra or prayer, so one spin of the prayer wheel would be equivalent to saying that mantra as many times as it was written.  Consider that we use computers with hard disks, pieces of cylindrical or circular hardware that store data written on it and that spin at speeds of as much as or exceeding 15000 RPM.  Data written on hard disks is the same as any other data just using a different writing system, theoretically, so having a mantra or prayer in a text file spinning on a hard disk can be used immensely well.  Thus, you might consider saving a text file with a prayer, mantra, bitmap image of a holy image or shrine, on any computer you work with or own that has a hard drive (solid-state drives are another matter).  For instance, I have prayers to XaTuring (yes, I still occasionally do a minor thing or two with that patron god of the Internet) saved in my home directory as invisible files on the UNIX servers I use at work, as well as on my personal Linux machines.  You might set up your own server that contains nothing but a RAID array of prayer text files spinning up and down at regular intervals, which could easily suffice as a high-grade digital phylactery.

“how to conjure demon wordpress” — I’m unsure whether this is asking about how to conjure the demon known as WordPress (one unknown to me) or how to conjure a demon by means of WordPress, and since I know nothing of the demon called WordPress (and I’m pretty fond of the platform), I assume it must be the latter.  I mean, there is the one time I made a post in thanks to and in homage of the elemental demon Paimon, but that’s not really a conjuration.  You might have the conjuration text along with an image of the demon’s seal stored on a hard drive to use the “digital phylactery” idea from above, and draw a Solomonic triangle or Table of Practice on the hard disk or put the entire computer within one, or you might use a consecrated computer where you write WordPress blog posts within conjurations of a demon as a running liber spirituum.  I dunno, really.

“japanese alphabet with english letters” — This is one thing I really don’t get; so many people have come to my blog looking for Japanese writing translated into English, when I’ve mentioned Japanese four times on my blog to date, and none were about transliterating Japanese into English.  First, Japanese does not use an alphabet; an alphabet is a system of writing that uses letters to indicate either consonants or vowels.  Japanese uses several writing systems, among them kanji (Chinese characters that are combinations of semantic, phonetic, and pictoral images drawn in a codified way) and the syllabaries hiragana and katakana.  A syllabary is a writing system that use letters to indicate syllables, often consonant-vowel combinations.  Thus, while English uses the two letters “k” and “i” to write the syllable “ki” (as in “key”), Japanese might use キ (in katakana), き (in hiragana), and any number of kanji for the syllable depending on the context and meaning of the character; some might be 幾 (meaning “some” or “how many”), 氣 (meaning “energy” or “atmosphere”), 木 (meaning “tree”), 箕 (referring to the “winnowing basket” constellation in Chinese astrology), or any other number of kanji, all of which we would transliterate as “ki”.  So it’s not as easy as it sounds; not everything is an alphabet!

“using pewter in orgonite” — Pewter is an inorganic material, not having organic sources, so in orgonic terms it’d be used in orgone systems to repel orgone.  You could also use lead, mercury, arsenic, or cyanide (provided it comes from an inorganic source!) equally well, especially so if you like wasting your life on orgonite (which, unlike orgone, is bunk as far as I can reckon.  Pewter is a blend of metals, any generic cheap greyish alloy, so because of its mixed material it’s assigned to the planet Mercury, if that makes any difference in the waste of materials that is orgonite.

Humility versus Modesty

One of the areas where I catch flak as a ceremonial magician is that people constantly assume I’m some kind of spiritual control-freak.  It’s true, lots of Solomonic literature makes use of perilous heavy-handed conjurations against demons and the like, but that’s not the kind of work I often find myself faced with.  I mean, far be it from me to grab Astaroth or some Old One by the tentacles and whip them around the planes to get me a lil’ more coin in my purse.  I’d rather go the route of respect and honor, which is just as much an exchange of effort as anything else and even more effective in the long-term.  Working in a framework of respect involves being humble when needed, but the notion of humility is something that not a lot of people understand.  I suppose magicians have this problem extra-bad, and it’s not unwarranted that I hear tell of haughty magicians whose photos are in the dictionary under “hubris”.

As in many religions, humility is seen as a virtue, usually meaning a recognition of oneself, one’s talents, one’s skills, and one’s accomplishments, with nothing (good or bad) added and nothing (good or bad) removed.  Similar definitions exist across cultures, but that’s the general idea.  I like to use its etymology (as always) to help me clarify what it means; in this case, the word has its origins in the Latin word humus, meaning “earth”.  Humility is the state achieved by being brought low, down to the earth, or with your feet on the ground.  It’s often seen as diametrically opposed to pride, which I don’t quite agree with, because pride is often needed to drive one on to act.  There are also times when I find some expressions of humility to be ungainly debasing or badly humiliating that achieve nothing but hurt or harm, so it might be helpful to break these two words out into four: humility and modesty, pride and boastfulness.

To me, pride and humility are very similar concepts.  Pride is recognition of all that you are and can be or do; humility is recognition of all that you are and have done in the grand scheme of things.  In other words, these things are statements of truth.  Boastfulness or hubris, on the other hand, and its inverse of modesty are essentially lies we tell to ourselves or others.  Boastfulness is the lie we tell to make ourselves to be more than we actually are; modesty is the lie we tell to make ourselves less than we actually are.  I ended up with this four-way distinction by combining my two favorite sources of religious and spiritual philosophy, Buddhism and Hermeticism.

In my early days in studying religion, I was really into Theravada Buddhism.  It’s a simple, elegant, and effective tradition of Buddhism that was easy enough for a middle schooler to read into and understand the basic tenets of.  I recall reading somewhere (but I can’t seem to find it anymore) that, once upon a time, Buddha was confronted by someone who thought he wasn’t being humble at all.  The Buddha in the old sutras did often expound on how difficult, how rare, how unfathomable the thing he did (complete and total enlightenment) was in the grand scheme of things, even though he frequently told his students to give up exaggerating and lying and boasting of all kinds.  After all, if the Buddha could obtain enlightenment, everyone could, so it couldn’t be as rare as he said so!

Not so, replied the Buddha.  If enlightenment were as common as his prosecutor was suggesting, then other people would be following those teachers and the Buddha would just be another arhat.  The Buddha was recounting a fact that there hadn’t been anyone like him in quite some time, that there wouldn’t be anyone like him for another stretch of time, that the road he took to get to his point was not easy, that he had in fact accomplished a miraculous release from samsara.  He was also recounting that anyone could, in theory, accomplish this, and he was teaching a method that other people could accomplish to attain the same states.  After all, the Buddha was human, too, and as such indicates that all humanity can obtain enlightenment.  Whatever the Buddha did, anyone else can do; that they haven’t indicates how difficult it was.  What the Buddha was not doing was lying about his attainment, neither overstating what he was doing or making himself out to be some cosmic savior and redeemer of all things that exist (though he would have liked to, I’m sure), nor was he making the path out to be easy or kind to people and making himself seem like a weak or intellectually simple person.

In other words, he was humble about his attainment, but he wasn’t being modest about it.  Lying goes against the Five Precepts of Buddhism, which includes exaggeration of any kind, be it for one’s own sake (boasting) or against one’s own sake (modesty).

Granted, modesty does mean “to keep due measure” or “freedom from self-exaggeration”, or a synonym of humility, but often enough it’s used to belittle oneself and make one seem less than they are.  Consider a woman’s beauty, which is often kept regulated in many cultures: I’m against head-coverings, face-veils, and the like because it turns a beautiful form into a shapeless blob so that they won’t tempt men with their sultry ways and sex-radiating hair.  Less severely, consider a servant before his king.  Let’s say that this servant is an expert in several fields of engineering, but due to his stature before the regent, he can’t discuss his accomplishments or expertise without being directly prompted, and even then he has to defer to the excellence of the king.  He’s making himself to be less than he is for the sake of modesty, which reduces his worth instead of increasing it unless the king is somehow made to know of the servant’s actual expertise.

As for pride?  Pride is accepting that we have accomplished and learn things, and that we can accomplish and learn yet more.  It’s something that keeps us going and something that helps us establish our value and rank in the world.  As opposed to Buddhism, Hermeticism informs my notion of pride.  It’s bad to be prideful, or literally “full of it”, but it’s no bad thing to be proud of oneself.  After all, humanity has an important role to play in the world, both for the spirits and for our fellow mankind, and it’s just as important to realize that we’re awesome.  In the Hermetic view, we’re considered the children of God/the gods and, as such, given permission and ability to interact with and communicate with our older sibling spirits, if not outright granted authority to act over them and the world around us.  It’s bad to lord it over other spirits (a la boastful Solomonic invocations), but as children of the gods, it’s also our job to manifest, create, order, and reckon the cosmos according to our roles in it.  And, as the angel Michael once told me, when something in the cosmos does not do their job and their job needs to be done, we need to make them do it.  Qabbalistically, humankind is seen as the angelic choir of Malkuth, meaning that it’s our job to maintain and uphold the order and functionality of this material world of ours and its connections to the worlds and cosmos around us.

It’s a fine line to walk between pride/humility and boasting/modesty.  Often enough, I err on the side of caution and go into modest-mode, since the lying incurred by that rings a little less harmful than the lying incurred by boasting.  Still, I often get on some of my friends’ nerves by being humble to the point of modesty, but that could just be the culture I find myself in which finds more value in pride than humility.  I frequently comment on how awesome and fantastic (in the senses of awe and fantasy) the things I do are, but I always back it up with how little I feel I’m actually doing, coupled with how little I’ve been studying and practicing this stuff.  As of this writing, I’ve only been at my Hermetic stuff for just over two years, and my geomancy stuff at six or so.  These are not long periods of time, and even though I had a head start and good resources to work with, I know that other people with less than me in any sense can make just as good progress just as fast as me.  People trust me with the messages and forecasts I deliver with divination, and I try my hardest to get it right with them, despite that the techniques I use are barely occult or arcane at all.  The stuff I do as a service for the world is important and needed, which I’ll do when there are no others to do the work, which I’ll help when there are, and which I’ll teach when there aren’t any yet but there are those willing to learn.

That’s both my humility and my pride.