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, October 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 October 2014.

“the ‘talisman’ used in the ritual. your name will be written 9x around the diagram using your own blood.” — I don’t know of any such talisman that requires instructions like this, though depending on the size of the talisman, I will say that that would appear to be a significant amount of blood.  When using blood in ink, especially your own, I suggest taking a few drops (maybe a certain number of drops depending on planetary hours, qabbalistic symbolism, or the like) and mixing it into dragon’s blood ink or some other sacred ink you have prepared.  That way, you don’t go dizzy from losing too much blood, and you can buff out the potency of blood with particular herbs.  Just be careful when you tap yourself for blood: be clean, use sterilized needles or blades (preferably non-reusable and disposed of in a sharps bin), be careful that you don’t cut on an artery,sanitize the area to bleed from first, clean up afterwards, use a fresh bandage, aim carefully with the blood, and the like.  And, given that the ink and the talisman has your own blood on it, be very careful that you don’t lose the stuff; you don’t want others to get ahold of your own bodily fluids, after all.

“things to ask a geomancer” — Putting my geomancer hat on for a second, well, what do you want to know?  Geomancy is a pretty awesome divination system that I’ve been practicing for years, and it’s helped me countless times in my work and spiritual development.  In my opinion, however, geomancy is best for queries that are clear (no confusion or ambiguity), concise (pared down to the fewest words needed), and concrete (about a single actionable topic that isn’t abstract), and ideally can be answered in a binary sense (yes/no, should/shouldn’t, etc.).  Beyond that, ask whatever you want.

“making natron for egypt project with baking soda and washing powder?” — I actually wrote about this waaaaay back when, when I was just starting to get involved with Hermetic magic.  If it’s any indication, this was when my blog was still hosted on Blogspot.  So, natron is this nifty powder that’s like supersalt and can be used for embalming, desiccation, and making protective circles, and it’s formed from a mixture of sodium chloride (salt), sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and sodium carbonate (washing soda).  While salt and baking soda are easy to find, it can be a little more difficult to find washing soda in your local supermarket, and isn’t strictly necessary if you can’t find it.  I make natron (I’ve really only made the one batch, since I use so little of it) by crushing all the dry parts up into a fine powder and mix it well.  You could make a solution out of them in water and dry it out, but natron is so absorbent that you’d need to use an already spotless pan to hold it in and put it in the oven on high for a week; leaving it out in the open would just keep the natron moist since it’d absorb moisture from the ambient air, and in my humid house where we grow carnivorous plants, that ain’t gonna work.  I just suggest grinding it to a fine powder and storing it in an airtight jar.

“ghost rituals” — Yes, I’m sure there are occultist ghosts who have free time just like I do, and I’m sure they have their own rituals and ceremonies.  I don’t know what they are, however.  I might ask my ancestors to see what they’re up to in the afterlife, maybe get some advice from them in my own works.

“best planetary hours for working out” — It’s true, you can use planetary hours to time pretty much anything to get more out of it.  For working out, exercising, and physical training generally, I’d go with hours of Mars and hours of the Sun, which should get you three or four windows of 45 minutes to 2.5 hours a day, depending on where you live and what time of year it is.  However, some of these hours are at ungodly o’ clock in the morning or really late in the evening, so you may not be able to get to a gym or it may not be safe to go outside during some of these hours.  To be honest, the best time for working out is an hour you set each day every day and get into a routine of it.  You don’t need magic for physical goals like this, though it can certainly help.  Don’t let timing factors influence your goals for a healthier, fit life.

“is barachiel archangel recognized in the catholic church” — Alas, not anymore.  Back in 2002, the Vatican banned all veneration of any angel not named in the Bible, i.e. any angel that wasn’t Michael, Gabriel, or Raphael.  Any other named angel, they claim, could lead to deviation from Catholic doctrine and too permissive of “new age spiritual practices”.  This isn’t new for them; back in the eighth century, Pope Zachary banned the veneration of Uriel on the grounds that the angel did not exist, because he wasn’t mentioned in the Bible, either.  Now, this only applies to the Catholic church; the Orthodox church has a much more permissive view on angels, and in fact venerates seven archangels.  Of course, the names and functions of those archangels may not always coincide with those popularly known, but whatever.

“can we place organite and a crystal grid by each other” — I mean, you can, but given how I consider orgonite (note the proper spelling) to be worth less than a well-timed dump, I don’t think putting a chunk of the crap near a crystal grid would do much.  You can involve the orgonite into the crystal grid, sure, but at that point, why not just use a lump of peat coal or of simple quartz instead?  To be honest, if I knew that putting orgonite and crystal grids near each other could cause some sort of violently explosive reaction, I’d be hawking that shit all over the place in the hopes that nobody would be googling for orgonite ever again.

“petition an angel using his seal” — While the most recommended use of an angelic seal is to conjure the angel, you don’t need to straight-up call them down into a crystal and converse with them and charge them with an action if you don’t want to go that far.  You might adopt something like what the Queen of Pentacles does with “goetic conjurework”, by drawing out the seal of the angel on both sides of a piece of paper, writing the name of the angel on one side and your petition on the other, then lighting an appropriately-dressed candle on top of that.  Alternatively, you could use the seal of the angel as a focus for meditation to attune yourself to them and allow for a slow-growth, natural form of contact to eventually come to you.  Be aware that, in Hermetic theory, the symbol of a spirit is, in a sense, the presence of the spirit; the spirit is where the seal is, so wherever the angelic seal is drawn, so too will the angel be.

“pompeii penis sandals” — To be fair, if you look at any Roman archaeological site and especially Pompeii, you’ll note that the ancients loved them some good ol’ fashioned phalluses.  An erect penis, no less, was the standard shingle for any brothel back in the day; charms to ward off the evil eye were often in the form of flying penises (some with a penis of its own!); anything from oil lamps to gambling tokens to warning signs were ithyphallic in nature.  That said, I’ve never heard of “penis sandals” before from a Roman culture, much less one from Pompeii, and some googling of my own isn’t helping.  So, uh, sorry.

“the japanese alphabet that they use nowadays in English” — They don’t use Japanese writing in English.  We use the English writing system (a derivative of the Roman system) for English.  That’s why it’s, you know, called English.  Japanese, on the other hand, uses the Japanese writing system, and it’s used for a handful of other languages, such as Ainu and Ryukuan, all of which are Japonic in nature, but none of which are found outside the Japanese archipelago.  Now, if you’re wondering what Japanese writing is and how it works, first note that it’s not an alphabet, and that alphabets are not synonymous with writing systems generally.  Second, Omniglot is your friend when you have questions about writing systems.  Third, Japanese writing is actually composed of three separate systems: a syllabary used for native Japanese speech, a syllabary used for onomatopoeia and foreign words, and a system of Chinese and Chinese-derived characters.

“best florida water to bless my house” — Surprisingly enough, there are numerous different brands of Florida Water out there.  By far the most common and the most popular is Murray & Lanman, which you can usually find in any botanica, though botanicas will often have lesser-quality brandless or store-brand types available as well.  Oddly, Florida Water is also popular in China, and I’ve been able to find a few bottles of the stuff in some places in the DC Chinatown area, but ohmigawd they’re shitfully terribad and smell like baby powder and rotten fruit, specifically the Butterfly and Liushen brands (at least in my honest opinion).  Of course, my friends and I make our own Florida Water, and you can find my recipe on this older post of mine.  My other friend uses a bit of laundry blueing and more lemongrass, so his Florida Water smells like Fruit Loops and is delicious, and a tad closer to the Murray & Lanman stuff, though ours are still distinctly different from the brand name.  All the same, Florida Water is an amazing eau de cologne, though I would suggest you mix the stuff with holy water to bless a house properly, if not just use holy water.  Florida Water can help brighten a room or cleanse someone off, but for real blessing, you want real holiness.

“what can i engrave on a blade to be able to slay demons” — Happily enough, you can find out here on the page I made about my ritual sword.  Be aware, though, that slaying demons can be bad for your health, since demons do tend to fight back and are nontrivial to slay.  Besides, what did demons ever do to you?  Don’t be a douchebag.  Talk it out first, maybe share a drink or five over a Circle of Art.  Who knows, maybe some good demon sex could be just what you need!

“hga vs other gods” — Now this is a pretty interesting comparison to make.  Generally speaking, the Holy Guardian Angel (HGA) is not a deity in the traditional sense of the word.  The term itself was coined by Abraham of Worms in his Sacred Magic of Abramelin, although the concept of guardian angels generally goes back to late classical Mediterranean times in Abrahamic traditions, if not much earlier. In the Judeo-Christian scheme, the HGA is definitely not on the same level as God or the Trinity, and is under the ranks of the archangels and the four Holy Living Creatures, to be sure, though whether he belongs to a particular choir is up for debate (though the Ars Paulina would suggest that he’s of a choir no lower than the Powers or the angels of the fifth heaven).  The HGA has sometimes been linked to the Agathos Daimon of the ancient Greeks and the Genius of the Romans, though with a more cosmic or divine purpose than just watching over the well-being of the human they look after.  There is some similarity with the HGA and tutelary deities generally, and these tutelary deities are often called Zeus or Hera, or in Latin Jove and Juno (depending on the gender of the human), but I feel like these are different entities, personally.  To be extraordinarily brief on the subject, the HGA watches over a human and guides them to divinity and their divine purpose, helping them by clearing out obstacles and providing an impetus for action where needed.  Whether that intersects with other gods’ responsibilities is up to the other gods.

“ithyphallic devil” — I’m down to go down on one.

“chaplet of st. chamuel” — So, as I’ve mentioned before, there are lots of different sets of archangels.  The system of seven archangels I use is that of the Orthodox Church: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel (who are common to nearly all sets of seven archangels), as well as the lesser-known Barachiel, Jehudiel, and Sealtiel.  However, in Catholic and Hispanic countries, another set of seven archangels are known, which are described by the Christian author Pseudo-Dionysus the Areopagite: the same big four as before, but with Jofiel/Jophiel, Zadkiel, and Chamuel/Samuel.  It’s hard to map one set of archangels to another, since their roles tend to differ as well as their names.  However, I did find in one painting at a local botanica the names of the Orthodox angels mapped to those of Pseudo-Dionysus, and in it Chamuel was linked to Barachiel.  Whether this holds up in practice, I’m not sure, but if you’re interested, use my chaplet to Barachiel and see how the angel responds.  I don’t work with the angels of Pseudo-Dionysus, however, so this is up for experimentation.  According to at least one (not entirely) reputable resource, Chamuel is the angel presiding over relationships and all the love and trauma they bear.  This isn’t quite in line with the role of the angel Barachiel, who presides over blessings and bounties, so I’m not sure what a chaplet of St. Chamuel would look like.

“i want to know where you live, what your apartment? how much time do you devote a day of prayer? text” — …wow, creeper.  You don’t get to know that.  I do devote at least an hour a day to prayer and meditation, however, and would prefer to do more if it weren’t for commuting, martial arts practice, sleep, and my office job.  None of which you get to know when and where I do it.

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.