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PGM IV. 154-285: Invocation of Typhon

February 25, 2015

The invocation to Typhon (lines 180-209) is the crux of the initiation rite into the magical system of PGM IV. 154-285. As we have discussed previously, this is literally the rite of passage that the candidate must complete prior to engaging in the Evocationary Bowl Scrying practices. It is through this initiation that the practitioner gains the spiritual authority necessary to call forth the gods and the spirits of the dead to visible appearance.[1]

In an attempt to fully comprehend the text and to some extent personalize it,  I decided to return to the original Greek and translate it myself.[2]  This was more of a personal endeavor as the English translation in the Betz edition is very good.[3] However, I did come across some sections and words that I believe could have been translated differently to better capture the intent of the original Greek within the context of the ritual. Moreover, the process of translating the text forced me to examine every single word and has given me a much better understanding of the purpose and structure of the invocation.  Many thanks to my friends in the Facebook PGM Study Group who guided me towards some amazing resources and gave great insights regarding the translation from ancient Greek.[4][5]

The scribe of PGM IV. 154-285, indicates that by means of this rite, the candidate will “attached [them]self to Helios.” This is a rather odd statement given the Typhonian nature of the invocation, but it will make sense later when we delve into the text. The invocation in Greek is as follows (original line breaks indicated by a single pipe ‘|’, unclear letters within square brackets ‘[]’, nominae magicae in bold):

Κραταιὲ Τυφῶν, τῆς ἄνω | σκηπτουχίας σκηπτοῦχε καὶ δυνάστα, θεὲ θεῶν, | ἄναξ αβεραμενθωου (λὀγος), γνοφεντινάκτα, | βρονταγωγέ, λαιλαπετέ, νυκταράπτα, ψυχ[ρ]ο|θερμοφύσησε, πετρεντιυάκτα, τειχοσεισμο|ποιέ, κοχλαζοκύμων, βυθοταραξοκίνησε, | Ἰωερβήτ αυ ταυϊ μηνι · ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ σύν σοι | τὴν ὅλην οἰκυμένην ἀνασκαλεύσας καὶ ἐξευ|ρὼν τὸν μέγαν Ὀσιριν, ὅν σοι δέσμιον προσή|νεγκα. ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ σύν σοι συμμαχήσας τοῖς θεοῖς |(οἱ δέ · πρὸς τοὺς θεούς)· ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ κλείσας οὐρα|νοῦ δισσὰς πτύχας και κοιμίσας δράκοντα τὸν | ἀθεώρητον, στήσας θάλασσαν, ῥεῖθρα, ποταμῶν | νάματα, ἄχρις οὖ κυριεύσης τῆσδε τῆς σκηπτου|χίας. ὁ σὸς στρατιώτης ὑπὸ θεῶν νενίκημαι, | πρηνὴς ῥέριμμαι μηνίδος εἵνεκεν κενῆς. | ἔγειρον, ἱκετῶ, τὸν σόν, ἱκνοῦμαι, φίλον καὶ μ[ή] | με ῥίψῃς χθονοριφῆ, ἄναξ θεῶν αεμιναεβαρωθερρεθωραβεανιμεα. δυνάμωσον, ἱκετῶ, | δόσ τε μοι ταύτην τὴν χάριν, ἵν᾽, ὅταν τινὰ αὐτῶν | τῶν θεῶν φράσω μολεῖν, ἐμαῖς ἀοιδαῖς θᾷττον | ὀφθῇ μοι μολών. ναϊνε βασαναπτατου | εαπτου μηνωφαεσμη παπτου μηνωφ · | αεσιμη · τραυαπτι · πευχρη · τραυαρα · πτου|μηφ · μουραι · ανχουχαφαπτα · μουρσα · | αραμει · Ἰάω · αθθαραυϊ μηνοκερ · βορο | πτουμηθ · ατ ταυϊ μηνι χαρχαρα · πτου|μαυ · λαλαψα · τραυϊ τραυεψε μαμω | φορτουχα · αεηιο ϊου οηωα · εαϊ αεηι | ωι ιαω αηι αι ιαω.

¤ The Invocation ¤

Mighty Typhon, scepter-bearing almighty power and sovereign, god of gods; Lord 


Disturber of the dark, bringer of thunder, sender of storms, lighting flasher of the night! You are the one who exhaled the cold and the heat. Stone-shaker, wall-breaker earth-quaker, boiler of the waters. You are the one who stirs the depths to motion,


I am he who searched the entire world to find the great Osiris, whom I brought you bound. I am he who together with you allied with the gods (others say against the gods); I am he who shut heaven’s double door and put to sleep the unseen serpent, who at the edge of you kingdom, stopped the sea, the streams, and the flowing rivers. But, as your soldier, I was defeated by the gods and was cast face down on account of empty wrath. Awaken me, I beseech you, I implore you, friend; do not leave me here cast upon the earth, o lord of gods:


Fill me with power, I beg you, grant me this grace, that whenever I call upon any one of the gods, they come to me swiftly and appear visibly before me.






¤ Analysis of the Invocation¤

The voces magicae conveniently divide the invocation into four  sections. The first calls upon Typhon by name and defines his magical role in this rite and in the entire magical system of PGM IV 154- 285. Typhon is identified as σκηπτουχίας (‘Scepter-bearing’, or ‘Staff-bearing’), a title indicating a supreme degree of spiritual authority, and an epithet shared only with Apollo in the magical papyri (PGM II. 82, PGM II. 98).  To drive the point home,  Typhon is identified as θεὲ θεῶν (‘god of gods’).

This understanding of Typhon is unique to the traditions of the PGM. Here he is a deity endowed with the authority and power generally ascribed to the demiurgic godheads such as the Semitic YHVH, Canaanite Baal, or Gnostic IAO . Yet he remains as a manifestation of the primordial volatile and chaotic forces of the universe, having much more in common with the Ophion and Chronos serpents of the Orphic traditions than the Typhon ‘monster’ of the Olympic mythologies. [6]

Typhon is called forth as ABERAMENThÔOU, an epithet we discussed previously that is  used in the PGM and in later gnostic traditions to denote the lord of the waters and master of cosmic forces.[7] The complete palindromic formula is:



 This is the first of the voces magicae in the passage and marks the transition into the next stage of the invocation. The magical names Aberamenthôou and Lerthexana also appear together in the Demotic Leiden Papyrus (Col. XXIII.) in a spell calling forth the syncretic Typhon-Set. Additionally, a nearly identical version of this formula occurs in PGM I. 262-347, a spell to invoke Apollo.  The name Aberamenthôou  is very important within the context of the rite because it now identifies Typhon specifically with the element of water; both metaphorically – as in the cosmic waters of the sky, and literally – as in the waters of the sea. The epithets that follow clearly continue this association.

Greek Translation Notes
γνοφεντινάκτα ‘Disturber of the Dark’ γνοφος – ‘darkness’, “dark”; τινακτως – ‘shaker’, ‘disturber’.
βρονταγωγέ ‘Bringer of Thunder’ βρονταω – ‘thunder’ γςγε-‘guide’, ‘leader’, ‘bringer’.
λαιλαφετης ‘Sender of Storms’ λαιλαφετης – ‘Storm-Sender’.
νυκταράπτα ‘Lighting flasher of the night νυκτανγηεσ – ‘shining at night'; στραπτω- ‘lightnings’ , ‘lighten’, ‘flash’.
ψυχροθερμοφύσησε ‘One who exhales the cold and the heat’ ψυχρος – ‘cold'; ψυχροτης -‘coldness’, ‘cold'; θερμος – ‘hot'; θερμοτης – ‘heat’ φυσις – ‘origin’, ‘nature’, ‘powers'; φυσαω – ‘to blow'; φυσησις – ‘blowing upon coals’.
πετρεντιυάκτα ‘Stone-shaker’ πετρεν – ‘rocks’, ‘stones'; τινακτως – ‘shaker’, ‘trembler’, ‘agitator’, ‘disturber’.
τειχοσεισμοποιέ ‘Wall/Earth-quaker’ τειχος – ‘wall'; σεισμοποιος – ‘causing earthquakes'; σεισμος – ‘shaking’, ‘earthquake’.
κοχλαζοκύμων ‘Boiler of the waters’ κοχλαζω – ‘of boiling water’.
βυθοταραξοκίνησε ‘one who stirs the depths to motion’ βυθιος – ‘in the deep'; ταραξις – ‘confusion'; ταρακτης -‘disturber'; εκταραξις – ‘agitation'; κινησε – ‘set in motion’, ‘movement’.

While these can be translated in a myriad of ways, they all retain the common meaning of being directly related to violent and choatic aspects of nature in motion. Specifically, the manifestation of storms and earthquakes. These are generally associated with the olympian Poseidon who – interestingly enough – is entirely absent from the PGM. These attributes also bring to mind the Babylonian storm deity Hadad who we discussed in PGM IV. 154-285: A complete Magical System as one of the first deities associated with the magical practices of Evocationary Bowl Scrying.

Following these epithets of Typhon, the next magical name to be spoken is:


Ἰω ερβήτ αυ ταυϊ μηνι

IÔ ERBÊT and the cognate IÔ ERBÊTh is a divine name used throughout the PGM in magical formulae associated with Typhon, Set and the syncretized Typhon-Set. [8] Ἰω, while a name for the moon, is also used in the context of a sudden call, as if saying ‘look’ or ‘hail’, and as such ERBÊT is the operative word. Ερβήτ does not mean anything in Greek; however, in Hebrew  הר בית, translates to ‘mountain house.’ Given Typhon’s association to mountains in mythology, and our discussion in PGM IV 154-285: Phylactery of 100 Letters, this deserved a mention.[9] I have not found much regarding AU TAUI MÊNI, other than a reference to an obscure Babylonian deity and the phonetic spelling of the Egyptian words Aw (measure of space/time), tAwy (‘two lands’, i.e. Egypt), and mHn.I (‘O serpent spirit!’) .[10]

It may be interesting to look further into the possible Egyptian phonetic sounds of AU TAUI MÊNI as in the context of this invocation, these voces magicae herald the next stage of the rite that is very clearly influenced by Egyptian cosmology. It is in this segment that the candidate aligns himself with Set as the one who “searched the entire world to find the great Osiris, whom I brought you bound.”  Needless to say, this is a reference to the capture and murder of Osiris. What is different here, is that Set is acting on behalf of a greater power, and according to the text this power is the primordial Typhon. While it is well documented that in the Hellenic world Set and Typhon were often synonymous and even syncretized into one as Set-Typhon;   the scribe of PGM IV. 154-285 is very clear in distinguishing the primordial “lord of gods”, Typhon, from the anthropomorphic god who performs the deeds associated with Set. In this context, the candidate by self-identifying with Set is thereby becoming a suitable vessel to receive the power of Typhon.

Next,  the candidate states that together with Typhon they ‘allied with the gods (others say agains the gods).” The parenthetical contradiction highlights the duality of Set’s role; who according to this papyri was acting in accordance with the gods; a role that has been misunderstood by “others.” The idea is that the murder of Osiris was a necessary act in order to bring further life to the Nile and continue to evolve Egypt from a land of gods, to one of men. This is the principle represented by both Typhon and Set as that fundamental chaotic and destructive force that is essential to the continual motion of nature and the cosmos. Again, I am stressing the importance of motion as I did earlier,  because according to this rite the true enemy of man, cosmos and the gods is stasis.

ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ κλείσας οὐρανοῦ δισσὰς πτύχας και κοιμίσας δράκοντα τὸν  ἀθεώρητον, στήσας θάλασσαν, ῥεῖθρα, ποταμῶν νάματα, ἄχρις οὖ κυριεύσης τῆσδε τῆς σκηπτουχίας. [11]

‘”I am he who shut heaven’s double door and put to sleep the unseen serpent, who at the edge of you kingdom, stopped the sea, the streams, and the flowing rivers.”

Δράκοντα τὸν  ἀθεώρητον (‘the unseen serpent’) is an epithet of Apep (Apophis) common in the magical literature; [12] he is the serpent that Set must defeat daily in order to ensure the perpetual motion of the sun and cycles of the universe. Here the candidate is referencing Set’s role in the Egyptian Book of the Dead where he figures as a prominent protector of the solar barque.[13]

According to Spell 111 in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, at midday the course of the sun is threatened by the serpent Apep  who in one gulp swallows the waters of the cosmic stream effectively bringing the solar barque to a halt. Set declaring himself “the Great of Magic, son of Nut” defeats the serpent  that threatens the death and dissolution of the sun. As a result, Apep regurgitates all that he has swallowed and the cosmic waters continue to flow.  This act ensures the that the cosmos will remain in motion for another day and averts the return to the static state of non-existence. [14]

The lines in the invocation to Typhon perfectly echo this narrative, even in the choice of language – Set “put[s] to sleep” the serpent in the PGM and “close[s] thy eye” in the Book of the Dead. The στήσας (‘stopping’, ‘made to stand’) of the bodies of waters in the invocation describe Apep’s swallowing of the cosmic stream, an act that directly opposes Typhon’s power over the cosmic waters and role of maintaining nature in motion. The temporal synchronicity should not be overlooked as this cosmic battle occurs near noon, when the sun is at its zenith, the same time that the scribe of PGM IV 153-285 indicates that this ritual should take place. It is at this hour, as the sun reaches the apex of its journey and Set defeats the serpent threatening the preservation of daily order, that the candidate through self-identity with Set has effectively “attached [them]self to Helios.”

Yet, ‘on account of empty wrath’ (μηνίδος εἵνεκεν κενῆς), Set was vilified and was ‘cast face down’ (πρηνὴς ῥέριμμαι). It is from this desolate and prostrated position that the candidate petitions Typhon, his ‘friend’ and ‘lord of gods’ to elevate him. The word ἔγειρον is translated in the Betz edition as ‘raise up'; however, it is more commonly used in the context of ‘awakening’, ‘arousal’ and even to be ‘raised from the dead.’ In this sense it is the request for a spiritual awakening and rebirth from the darkness implied by one ‘cast face down’ on the ground and literally experienced by the candidate who is wrapped in a burial shroud and blindfolded during this ritual.

This is followed by the voce magicae:



Like the Aberamenthôou formula, this too is palindromic.  Variations of this palindrome appear in three other spells of the PGM (together with the Aberamenthôou formula) and in also in invocations associated with Typhon, Set, or Apollo. [15] The meaning of this formula eludes me at this moment, I firmly believe that as with the other formulae in this invocation it has either Semitic or Egyptian origins. One can perhaps make out Hebrew words such as אמן (amen, ‘truth’),  and ברר (‘bright’, ‘purify’, ‘purge’). More compelling, are the potential Egyptian phonetic representations of ia (‘arise’, ‘ascend’), minA (‘hither’, ‘here’), bA (‘possessing soul’), rW (‘lion’), and tr (‘respect’, ‘pray’, ‘worship’). Αεμιναε being a phonetic spelling of ‘arise/ascend here’  (ia minA) in Egyptian seems quite relevant within the present context.[16]

The text that follows should resonate familiar with those of us who have worked with medieval and renaissance grimoires (as indeed so would the entire structure of the invocation). It is here that the practitioner asks to be empowered so that they may have the authority to call forth the gods and spirits and that they respond and come swiftly and visibly. Presumable after performing the invocation three times (according to the scribe), the practitioner will receive a clear sign that they have been imparted the spiritual authority from the ‘lord of the gods.’

The invocation ends with a voce magicae  of forty names. As with the 100-later name,  the Egyptian words approximated by the phonetic sounds of the voce magicae are surprisingly quite relevant within the context of the rite. Particularly pA.dw/pt.dw (‘the mountain’, ‘sky mountain’) and the imperative mi (‘come!’), both of which we previously discussed in the context of Typhon’s 100-letter name. [17] The frequent occurrence of  μην (Egyptian mHn, ‘coiled one’ or ‘serpent spirit’) and μαυ, μου, and μω (Egyptian mw, ‘water’) are also very much inline with the rest of the invocation. The words are grouped into sections as indicated by the half-stop punctuation sign (·) in the original Greek papyrus.   And, as with the previous post, I reiterate that there is no way to properly translate these words and what I present is purely speculative.

Greek Phonetic Egyptian  Notes
ναϊνε nn – ‘hither’ An invocation (‘hither’) to either Osiris (‘beautiful soul of Abydos’), or Typhon (‘Sky-Agressor’) for protection.
βασαναπτατου ba – ‘soul'; san – ‘beautiful'; AbDw – ‘Abydos'; tw – ‘you'; pt – ‘sky’, ‘heaven'; Adw – ‘agressor'; bsA – ‘protect'; n – ‘to’, ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’
εαπτου iaH – ‘moon'; ia – ‘praise'; pA.dw – ‘the mountain'; pt.dw - ‘sky mountain’ Similar to the 100-letter name, praising ‘the mountain’/’sky mountain’. Here the ‘serpent spirit’ (either Typhon or Apep) is mentioned twice. Also, μηνωφαεσμη may have meaning in Greek as a reference to the light of the moon, or a revealing light (as in φαεσιμβροτος, ‘bring light to mortals’).
μηνωφαεσμη mHn – ‘the coiled one’, ‘serpent spirit'; -‘he/his/him';  as-‘summon'; mi-‘come!’
παπτου -‘the sky mountain’
μηνωφ mHn – ‘the coiled one’, ‘serpent spirit'; f-‘he/his/him’
αεσιμη aS – ‘summon'; mi – ‘come!’ ‘Come, I summon you!’
τραυαπτι tr – ‘pray’, ‘respect’, ‘worship'; aAw -‘greatly’, ‘great'; pt-‘sky’, ‘heaven'; I-‘O!’, ‘me’ ‘O worship-able, great of heaven’
πευχρη pXr - ‘to surround’, ‘enclose’, ‘revolve’, I-‘O!’,’me’ Perhaps, a petition to be enveloped by deity.
τραυαρα tr – ‘pray’, ‘respect’, ‘worship'; aAw -‘greatly’, ‘great'; ra-‘sun’, Re Praise and reverence to the sun (Re)
πτουμεφ pA.dw – ‘the mountain'; pt.dw-‘sky mountain'; mi-‘come!'; f-‘he/his/him'; Another invocation (‘come!’) to he of ‘the mountain’
μουραι mw – ‘water'; ri – (enclitic particle); also, could be a reference to μοῖραι , the Fates ‘the waters’, possible a reference (or even intentional pun) to the Moirai , the Greek Fates.
ανχουχαφαπτα an -‘beautiful’, ‘magnificent'; kkw – ‘darkness'; wk- ‘night'; kk – ‘dark'; afA – ‘devour'; pt- ‘sky’, ‘heaven'; A- (enclitic particle) Perhaps a reference to Typhon as ‘the magnificent devourer of the darkness of the sky’ (compare to γνοφεντινάκτα, ‘Disturber of the Dark’, or νυκταράπτα, ‘Lightning flasher of the night’ )
μουρσα mw – ‘water'; ri – (enclitic particle) ‘the waters’
αραμει ar – ‘ascend’, ‘mount up’, ‘penetrate'; mi – ‘come!’ ‘come, ascend!’
Ίάω IAO IAO Divine Name
αθθαραυϊ A – ‘tread'; a – ‘region'; at = ‘house’, ‘chamber';  dwAt – ‘netherworld'; dwA – ‘worship’,’praise'; r awy – ‘gate’, ‘limit'; rHwy – ‘the Two Companions/Combatants’ (joint epithet of Horus & Set); Potentially a reference to the joint worship of Horus & Set as ‘the Two Companions/Combatants’, maybe a celebration of their victory over Apep (‘night serpent’?). However, this could also be praise towards the ‘serpent spirit of night’ (Typhon) at the ‘gate of the netherworld.’
μηνοκερ mHn – ‘the coiled one’, ‘serpent spirit'; wk-‘night'; r-‘to’, ‘at’, ‘from’ (preposition)
βορο br -‘eyes'; bw – ‘place'; bAw- ‘power'; souls of dead’, ‘deed of power'; rw – ‘lion'; ra -‘sun’, Re An invocation to the ‘power of the sun’, potentially, also calling forth ‘the mountain.’
πτουμηθ pA.dw – ‘the mountain'; pt.dw -‘sky mountain'; mi – ‘come!'; t – ‘you’,’your’
ατ At – ‘moment’, ‘striking-power’, ‘time'; at – ‘house’, ‘chamber’ Various possible meanings. The reference to the Festival of Khoiakh is interesting given the narrative of the invocation. Additionally, may be a reference to the violence (‘striking power’, ‘rage’) of the ‘serpent spirit’.
ταυϊ tawy – ‘two lands’ (Egypt)
μηνι mHn – ‘serpent spirit’, I – ‘O!’
χαρχαρα Xar – ‘rage'; kA Hr kA – ‘Festival of Khoiakh’ (celebration of the finding of Osiris’ body); ra – ‘sun’, ‘Re';
πτουμαυ pA.dw – ‘the mountain'; pt.dw -‘sky mountain'; mw – ‘water’ More references to ‘the mountain’ and ‘water’. Possibly indicative of three regions ‘sky’, ‘mountain’, ‘water’.
λαλαψα “L” sound not found in ancient Egyptian, alternate pronunciation of “R”according to some scholars. λαλα means to babble or croak in ancient Greek,  such as λάλαξ (‘babbler’, ‘croaker’).
τραυϊ tr – ‘pray’, ‘worship god’, ‘respect'; wi – ‘I’, ‘me’ Possibly a petition to deity to be ‘initiated’ into the ‘splendor’ of the ‘nightly waters’. A reference perhaps to the cosmic mysteries. In context, such a petition is a suitable way to end the invocation prior to the vowel formulae that follow.
τραυεψε tr – ‘pray’, ‘worship god’, ‘respect'; wi – ‘I’, ‘me'; bs -‘initiate into’, ‘reveal a secret’, ‘instal’, ‘enter'; bsi – ‘flow forth of water’
μαμω mAA – ‘see’, ‘look upon'; mAa – ‘nightly’, ‘really'; mw -‘water’
φορτουχα fAw-‘magnificence’, ‘splendor'; rT-‘now, but'; wk-‘night'; A-(enclitic particle)
αεηιο AEÊIO Vowel formulae
ϊου ΙΟΥ
οηωα OÊÔA
εαϊ ΕΑΙ Vowel formulae
αεηι AEÊI
ωι ÔI
ιαω IAÔ
αηι AÊI
αι ΑΙ
ιαω IAÔ


  1. For an overview and introduction the magical system see PGM IV. 154-285: A complete Magical System.
  2. Original greek from Karl Preisendanz (trans. & ed.). Papyri Graecae Magicae Die Greiechischen Zauberpapyri. (Berlin: Verlag und Druck Von B.G. Teubner, 1928).
  3. Hans Dieter Betz (ed). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation: Including the Demotic Spells (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992).
  4. LSJ, Middle Liddle, Slater, and Autenrieth lexicons referenced from the Perseus Digital Library:
  5. Luis Muñoz Delgado’s LMPG referenced from:
  6. See Daniel Ogden. Drakon: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. (Oxford University Press, 2013). Also, see The Eternal Chronos and Teli – Apep: Celestial Serpents and references.
  7. See Aberamenthô in the PGM and references.
  8. See PGM II. 64-183, PGM III. 1-164, PGM IV. 286-295, PGM IV. 2145-2240, PGM V. 1-53, PGM XII. 365-75, PDM xiv. 675-604[PGM XIVc. 15-27], PGM XXXVI. 1-34, PGM XXXVI. 69-101, PGM XLVI. 4-8, PGM LVIII. 15-39, PGM CXVI. 1-17.
  9. See PGM IV 154-285: Phylactery of 100 Letters and references.
  10. Meni is a Babylonian deity of fate worshipped along with Gad by the early Hebrews in Babylon.
  11. Both Betz’ and my translation of  ἄχρις οὖ κυριεύσης τῆσδε τῆς σκηπτουχίας greatly oversimplify the text (‘edge of your kingdom’, or ‘Were’er you rule this realm’ in Betz); a proper translation would be along the lines of “edges of your scepter-bearing rulership.” Regardless, the idea is that the Apep serpent resides at the edges or fringes of Typhon’s (as “god of gods”, “lord of gods”, and Aberamethou) domain of rulership/influence.
  12. See glossary in Betz. pp 332.
  13. Set (Suty) figures as a prominent protector of the solar barque and the soul of Osiris and the deceased. See spells 32, 39, 108 and 111 in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
  14. “Then after midday he [Apophis serpent] will turn his eyes agains Re. Then a stoppage will take place in the bark……Then Suty (Seth) will hurl a spear of metal against him and cause him to disgorge all that he swallowed. Then Seth will pit himself agains him and say a spell:’Fall back before the sharp metal that is in my hand. I stand against thee, that the core be true. O Farseer, pray close thy eye and veil thy head, that I may cross. Fall back before me, for I am male. Veil thy head and cool thy upper lip, for if I stay sound thou stayest sound. I am the Great of Magic, son of Nut; my magic power has been given me against thee..'” (Spell 111, Egyptian Book of the Dead)
  15. See PGM I. 262-347, PDM xiv. 675-694[PGM XIVc. 15-27] , and PGM LIX. 1-15.
  16. Raymond O. Faulkner. A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian. (Griffight Institute, 1962). Online Resources: and Ancient Egyptian Dictionary[pdf]
  17. See PGM IV 154-285: Phylactery of 100 Letters.

PGM IV 154-285: Phylactery of 100 Letters

January 27, 2015

In the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM) the term ‘phylactery’ describes an object that is worn by the practitioner as protection from the gods, daemons and other spirits. Unlike amulets and talismans, a phylactery is only worn during magical rituals and was not intended for daily use.[1] This form of ritual protection is very common in the PGM and it continued to be used into the later medieval and renaissance grimoires where they were called lamens; the most iconic of these is perhaps the Pentacle of Solomon from the Lesser Key of Solomon.[2]

As we discussed in the introduction to PGM IV 154-285: A Complete Magical System, the scribe of the letter describes a phylactery used to protect the practitioner while in the presence of the gods and spiritual energies of the rituals.

There is also the protective charm itself which you wear while performing, even while standing: onto a silver leaf inscribe this name of 100 letters with a bronze stylus, and wear it strung on a thong from the hide of an ass.

- PGM IV. 257-260

The “name of 100 letters”  is given by the scribe earlier:


But you are not unaware, mighty king and leader of magicians, that this is the chief name of Typhon, at whom the ground, the depths of the sea, Hades, heaven, the sun, the moon, the visible chorus of stars, the whole universe all tremble, the name which, when it is uttered, forcibly brings gods and daimons to it…

-PGM IV. 239-247

Typhon_PhylacteryI took some creative liberty in making my phylactery. For one, I chose to use a large silver medallion instead of a the fragile silver leaf to give it  more weight and substance.  I also engraved the 100-letter name within an Ouroboros. The use of an Ouroboros in protective amulets and charms is quite common in the PGM,[3] thus I felt this was an appropriate addition.

Regarding the name itself, the scribe made it a point to verify that his transcription contains “(a hundred letters).” Typhon, Hermes, and a syncretized Helios-IAO demiurge are the only deities in the papyri of the PGM explicitly associated with names of one hundred letters.[4] In the numerical-mysticism of the Pythagorean school, one hundred is a manifestation of Unity (1, 10, 100,etc.). Perhaps there is further symbolism to consider in that it is Unity expressed in three digits, given the importance placed on the number three in both Egyptian and Pythagorean thought and indeed in most magical traditions.[5] Of note is that from very early on Typhon was described as having 100 serpent (or drakon) heads, and among his epithets is hekatonkaranos (‘hundred-headed’).[6]

The scribe records the 100-letter name divided into fourteen distinct words. I suggest that there may be numerical significance to this as  well. Fourteen is the number of nights between new and full moon. In other words,  the amount of time it takes for light to fully encompass and to fully vanish from the surface of the moon. The importance of the moon in magical work is universal; in this specific papyrus it is apparent in the metal specified for the phylactery (silver) and the observation of the appropriate lunar phase for the initiation rite. [7]

The power that manifests as the waxing and waning moon represents the same force that carries the sun across the sky from sunrise to sunset; it is the power that guides life from birth to death and  ensures the cyclic nature of the cosmos. By nature this is a chaotic force that brings darkness and destruction, it is a potent magical energy that the Graeco-Egyptian magicians identified with Typhon.[8]

Looking at the 100-letter name, only a few words can be made out that make any sense in Greek. These are χαρα (chara) and χωρα (chora), which mean ‘delight’ and ‘country’ respectively. These don’t seem relevant within the context of the rite. Hebrew produces a few more meaningful matches with words such as Ach (‘brother’, ‘brazer’, or ‘fire pot’) and Chor (‘hollow’, ‘hole’, and root of ‘noble’). Yet the matches are still unconvincing. The prevailing sounds of Ch, ChÔ, and ÔCh, likely indicate words of Egyptian origin.[9] As suggested by Betz and others, ChÔCh appear to be the Greek phonetic rendering of Egyptian kk and kkw, words that mean ‘dark’ and ‘darkness'; particularly,  a darkness at liminal times such as prior to birth or twilight.[10]

After the various Ch sounds, the next most common sound is PTOU that occurs five times in the 100-letter name and five more times in the other incantations of PGM IV 154-285. Outside of invocations involving Typhon, the only other  instance of this sound is in the divine name NIPTOUMI employed in spells associate with Helios.[11] Ptou does  not mean anything in Greek, aside from being the phonetic spelling of a spitting sound. This in itself may have some meaning in the context of the PGM as hissing, popping and spitting sounds are common techniques used as apotropaic devices to resonate with specific spiritual energies.

Of greater importance to our discussion is that ptou is the phonetic spelling of of the Egyptian word pA.dw , ‘the mountain,’ and also be pt.dw, ‘sky mountain.’[12] Typhon, as with many deities associated with storms, was from the earliest times connected to mountains; he was compared to them in size, inhabited them, and even used them as weapons agains Zeus. By the 5th C BCE., Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound writes that Zeus entombed Typhon beneath Mt. Etna. Later retellings of the battle between the giants and the olympians, such as from the 2nd C. Bibliotheca, describe Typhon moving between  the prominent mountains of the Mediterranean, Asia Minor and North Africa prior to meeting his final fate at Etna.[13] Given the antiquity and persistence of these mythological accounts, the Graeco-Egyptian magicians would have undoubtably been aware of the connections between Typhon and the prominent mountains of the region.

Typhon’s 100-letter name does produce a certain coherency when examined in the context of what we know of the ancient Egyptian language. Aside from the words kk, kkw (‘dark’, ‘darkness’) and pA.dw (‘the mountain’), the other words we can extract with some frequency are Ax (‘spirit’), ka (life-force, will, ‘soul’), ra (‘sun’, or Sun God), and mi (‘come!’, an imperative statement). Together they permit one to speculate that the name may have in fact been an invocation to raise the spirit of Typhon from the depths of the mountains.

As a full disclaimer, I want to be clear that I am not stating that these are the direct translations of the nominae magicae. These are merely suggestions based on sounds that correlate with certain Egyptian words, and there can be many ways to look at the same word. For example the start of the 100-letter name, αχχωρ could be Ax-wr (aspirated ‘ah’) or axx-wr (spoken ‘ah’). Each of these has a different meaning, Ax-wr could mean ‘Great spirit’, while axx-wr literally translates to consume-great, or perhaps ‘great consumer’  (incidentally, an appropriate epithet for Typhon). There are vast possibilities, and lets be honest, this is all speculative; nonetheless,  the synchronicity between the potential Egyptian words and the symbolism of Typhon is highly suggestive and does merit further study.

Nomina Magicae Egyptian [14] [15] [16] [17]

Ax-wr or axx-wr

Ax – ‘spirit’, as a verb ‘become a spirit’, ‘shinning one’

axx – ‘evaporate,’ ‘consume’

wr – ‘great’, ‘great one’


same as above



Ax – See above

Ax-Ax – ‘stars’, ‘starry night’



pA.dw – ‘the mountain’

mi – ‘come!’ (imperative)



ka – ‘soul’, lifeforce

kkw - ‘dark’, ‘darkness’



ka – ‘soul’, lifeforce

ra – ‘sun’, Sun God

kk - ‘dark’



ka – ‘soul’, lifeforce

pA.dw – ‘the mountain”

mi – ‘come!’ (imperative)



kkw/kk – ‘dark’, ‘darkness’

ra – ‘sun’, Sun God

ka – ‘soul’, lifeforce



pA.dw – ‘the mountain”

mi – ‘come!’ (imperative)



 mi – ‘come!’ (imperative)

kk – ‘dark’, ‘darkness’

pA.dw – ‘the mountain”



 ka – ‘soul’, lifeforce

ra – ‘sun’, Sun God

kk – ‘dark’, ‘darkness’

pA.dw – ‘the mountain”



ka – ‘soul’, lifeforce

kkw - ‘dark’, ‘darkness’



 ka – ‘soul’, lifeforce

ra – ‘sun’, Sun God

kkw – ‘dark’, ‘darkness’

πτεναχωχευ  ??



  1. Stephen Skinner. Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic. (Singapore: Golden Hoard Press, 2014). pp. 163-167.
  3. Skinner. pp 79 – 87. Also, see PGM I. 42-195, PGM XII. 201 – 269, PGM XII. 270-350 and  PGM XXXVI. 178-187.
  4. For Typhon see PGM IV. 154-285 and PGM IV. 1331-1389. For Helios-IAO see PGM IV. 1167-1226, and for Hermes see PGM V. 459-489.
  5.  Richard H. Wilkinson. Meaning in Many: The Symbolism of Numbers (Thames and Hudson, 1994).
  6. See and references therein.
  7. See PGM IV 154-285: A Complete Magical System.
  8. Stephen Edred Flowers (ed). Hermetic Magic: The Postmodern Magical Papyrus of Abaris. (York Beach, ME: Weiser Books, 1995). pp. 94.
  9. Skinner. pp. 46.
  10. Hans Dieter Betz (ed). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation: Including the Demotic Spells (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992). pp. 333. (BAINChÔÔÔCh reference in appendix) See also notes 14, 15, 16.
  11. PGM IV. 2145 – 2240, PGM VII. 1017-26, PGM XXXVI. 211-30,  and PGM I. 232-47.
  12. Martin Bernal (ed). Black Athena: Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization; Volume III: The Linguistic Evidence. (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2006). pp. 497.
  13. See and references therein.
  14. Raymond O. Faulkner. A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian. (Griffight Institute, 1962).
  15. Online Resources: and Ancient Egyptian Dictionary[pdf]
  16. Antonio Loprieno. Ancient Egyptian: A Linguistic Introduction. (UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
  17. Additional pronunciation notes:

PGM IV 154-285: A complete Magical System

January 10, 2015

This is the first post, on a series of posts I intend to make on PGM IV 154-285, “Nephotes to Psammetichos letter concerning bowl divination.”[1] The intent here is to introduce the passage and discus it as a complete and workable system of magical practices. Future posts will delve deeper into the individual rituals of the passage and document my personal progress.

As the title suggests, the passage is in the form of a letter from a magician to a pharaoh of Egypt. Psammetichos (Psamtik in Egyptian) was the name of three pharaohs from the 26th dynasty (664-525 BC).[2] However, there is little doubt that this surviving papyrus is much later as most papyrologist agree that the manuscript likely dates to the early fourth century CE.[3] The attributed provenance to the pharaoh was more than likely an attempt by the Graeco-Egyptian scribe to stress the antiquity of this practice.  Indeed, as we will see,  there are practices and techniques in this rite that would have been undisputedly ancient by the time that PGM IV was written.

Regardless of the true origin of the letter, the scribe makes great promises as to what the magical practice recorded can achieve:

Nephotes to Psammetichos, immortal king of Egypt. Greetings. Since the great god has appointed you immortal king and nature has made you the best wise man, I too , with a desire to show you the industry in me, have sent you this magical procedure which, with complete ease, produces a holy power. And after you have tested it, you too will be amazed at the miraculous nature of this magical operation. You will observe through bowl divination on whatever day or night you want, in whatever place you want, beholding the god in the water and hearing a voice from the god which speaks in verses in answers to whatever you want. You will attain both the ruler of the universe and whatever you command, and he will speak on other matters which you ask about.

- PGM IV. 154-168

Despite these grandiose claims, this passage was identified by Betz as simply one of the many “bowl divinations” of the PGM, a categorization that has been accepted by most modern scholars and practitioners. However, two points need to be addressed regarding this view.

The first is that labeling these rites as divinatory is overly simplistic and incorrect.[4] This misnomer resulted from a literal and modern understanding of Lecanomancy from the  Greek λεκάνη ( ‘dish’, ‘pan’, or ‘bowl’) and μαντεία (‘divination’). Today divination is generally understood to be a passive and receptive process, such as the methods used by Nostradamus of gazing into a bowl and allowing images of the future to appear in the darkness. The “bowl divinations” in the PGM are in fact very different  in that they are  proper evocations of deities, spirits, and the dead. The bowl contains the medium (usually water and/or oil) in which the summoned entity manifests. Such a scrying technique is analogous to  the use of dark mirrors and crystal balls in the evocation practices of the later medieval and renaissance grimoires. To call this a divination would be like calling Trithemius’ The Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals , or John Dee’s Enochian explorations,  a practice of crystal ball divination. While yes, foretelling of future events could result from such communication with deity and spirit it is only one aspect of what can be achieved. Consequently, Skinner in Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic identifies these practices as “Evocationary Bowl Scrying”, a terminology that I am adopting since it better reflects the nature of these rites. [5]

Secondly, PGM IV 154-285  is a  rather complex – and amazingly complete – set of rituals,  only one of the rituals deals with with Evocationary Bowl Scrying. In fact, we can quantify this numerically since a mere 33 of the 131 lines are dedicated to the practice, accounting for only 25% of the text! When this is seen in context with the rest of the passage, it becomes apparent that recording an Evocationary Bowl Scrying practice was not the sole intent of the scribe.

As with all the rites of the PGM, examination of the headwords can lead to a better understanding of the intended magical practice.[6] In our letter to Psammetichos, the expected headword λεκανομαντια (lekanomenateia) is preceded by the unique phrase ισοθεον φυσεως κυριενσας , roughly translated as “make equal to the original gods in power.” [7] This is quite a claim and is unlike any of the other Evocationary Bowl Scrying rites of the PGM. Clearly, the intent of this rite is not only to evoke entities into the bowl, but more importantly to bestow upon the magician the spiritual authority necessary by which to summon the gods themselves. And to be blunt, without this authority – equated with the power of the primordial gods – the magician would be left staring hopelessly into nothing more than a bowl of liquid.

So how does one obtain this authority? The scribe informs us that this is done as follows:

You will succeed by inquiring in this way: First, attach yourself to Helios in this manner: At whatever sunrise you want (provided it is the third day of the month), go up to the highest part of the house and spread a pure linen garment on the floor. Do this with a mystagogue. But as for you, crown yourself with dark ivy while the sun is in mid-heaven, at the fifth hour, and while looking upward lie down naked on the linen and order your eyes to be completely covered with a black band. And wrap yourself like a corpse, close your eyes and, keeping your direction toward the sun begin these words.

- PGM IV. 169-179

Dionysus wearing the ivy crown

Dionysus wearing the ivy crown

The practitioner is instructed to use a linen garment as a burial shroud (“wrap yourself like a corpse”), is deprived of the sense of sight via a blindfold and is crowned with an ivy crow. While laurel and olive leaf crowns are quite common and used in the images and cults of various Hellenic deities, only Dionysus – whom the Greeks associated with Osiris [8]-  is consistently depicted wearing an ivy crown; the evergreen vine being a symbol of this twice-born god and of the mysteries of life after death.[9] These three elements constitute the symbolic structure of the ritual : 1) the metaphorical death represented by the burial shroud, 2) the spiritual journey into the darkness of the blindfold,[10] and  3) the the ivy crown of the reborn living god. Together they echo the mythic narratives of the solar hero and the canonical literature of the living, dying, and resurrected god.[11]

In practice, this is the test that the practitioner must complete in order to be initiated into the world of spirit and gain the necessary spiritual authority to call upon the gods and the dead as this papyri promises.  It is analogous to a shamanic soul journey into the spiritual and ancestral realm to make initial contact with a spirit guide.[12]  Only with and through this initial knowledge and connection to spirit  can one begin to wield the power necessary to perform true acts of magic, be it healing, divination, or evocation.

Indeed, after the practitioner assumes the role of the recently deceased they in effect, become a candidate for spiritual illumination and initiation. Playing on the double meaning of the Greek verb τελευτᾷν (‘to die’ and ‘to be initiated’), Plutarch writes ” to die is to be initiated.”[13] At this point the candidate recites a long incantation calling upon the power of Typhon and waits for a sign of the “divine encounter.”

Prayer:”O mighty Typhon, ruler of the realm Above and master, god of gods, O lord ABERAMENThÔOU (formula), O dark’s disturber, thunder’s bringer, whirlwind,  Night-flasher, breather-forth of hot and cold, Shaker of rocks, wall trembler, boiler of The waves, disturber of the sea’s great depth, IÔ ERBÊT AU TAUI MÊNI, I’m He who searched with you the whole world and Found great Osiris, whom I brought you chained. I’m he who joined you in war with the gods I’m he who closed heaven’s double gates and put to sleep the serpent which must not be seen, Who stopped the seas, the streams, the river currents Were’er you rule this realm. And as your soldier I have been conquered by the gods, I have  Been thrown face down because of empty wrath. Raise up your friend, I beg you, I implore: Thrown me not on the ground, O lord of gods, AEMINAEBARÔThERREThÔRABEANIMEA, O grant me power, I beg, and give to me This favor, so that, whensoe’r I tell One of the gods to come, he is seen coming Swiftly to me in answer to my chants, NAINE BASANAPTATOU EAPTOU MÊNÔPhAESMÊ PAPTOU MÊNÔPh AESIMÊ TRAUAPTI PEUChRÊ TRAUARA PTOUMÊPh MOURAI ANChOUChAPhAPTA MOURSA ARAMEI IAÔ AThThARAUI MÊNOKER BORO PTOUMÊTh AT TAUI MÊNI ChARChARA PTOUMAU LALAPSA TRAUI TRAUEPSE MAMÔ PhORTOUChA AEÊIO IOY OÊÔA EAI AEÊI ÔI IAÔ AÊI AI IAÔ.”

After you have said this three times, there will be this sign of divine encounter, but you, armed by having this magical soul, be not alarmed. For a sea falcon flies down and strikes you on the body with its wings, signifying this: that you should arise. But as for you, rise up and clothe yourself with white garments and burn on an earthen censer uncut incense in grains while saying this:

“I have been attached to your holy form. I have been given power by your holy name. I have aquired your emanation of the goods, Lord, god of gods, master, daimon. ANThThOUIN ThOUThOUI TAUANTI LAÔ APTATÔ.”

Having done this, return as lord of a godlike nature which is accomplished through this divine encounter.

- PGM IV 179-221

A full examination of this incantation is beyond the scope of today’s post, but we can clearly see that it is intended to align the practitioner to Set as both murder of Osiris and protector of the Sun barque.[14] As opposed to the exoteric mythologies of the religious cults and institutions of the Hellenic world, the Graeco-Egyptian magicians did not shun the deities of chaos and darkness; instead, they drew upon them to empower their magic. This is clearly seen in the number of spells of the PGM that call upon Typhon, Set, and the syncretic Typhon-Set not as the demonized antipode of good and order, but as  source of raw unbridled power to be channeled by the magician.[15] There is a  distinct science of spirit amongst the ancient magical traditions, a desire to identify, classify and name all the forces of nature outside any moral implications such deity may have had in the exoteric myths of the state religions. Consequently, all the forces of nature whether understood by the uninitiated masses as ‘good’ or ‘evil’, became part of the magician’s arsenal of power.

Thus, employing the power of Typhon to “attach yourself to Helios” was not a contradiction, but rather a powerful focal point of orientation to the mythic narrative of the solar deity who is slain and reborn as living god. The initiate not only aligns to the solar deity, but to the primordial energies of the entire cosmic narrative. As the headwords of PGM IV 154-285 suggest, this rite is designed to initiate the practitioner and to “make equal to the original gods in power.” Indeed, upon completion of the ritual, the practitioner arises as a “lord of a godlike nature.” This initiation rite is without a doubt the primary ritual of PGM IV154-285 both in importance and in size, spanning 53 lines and thus about 40% of the text.

Following this ritual and the subsequent offering of uncut incense to Helios, the practitioner – now an initiate into this magical system – has the ability to call upon all spirits and gods using the Evocationary Bowl Scrying method described below.  This is a stand alone rite, and as the scribe mentions can be employed by the initiate who now wields the required spiritual authority at any time and for any reason.

Inquiry of bowl divination and necromancy. Whenever you want to inquire about matters, take a bronze vessel, either a bowl or a saucer, whatever kind you wish. Pour water: rainwater if you are calling upon heavenly gods, seawater if gods of the earth, river water if Osiris or Sarapis, spring water if the dead. Holding the vessel on your knees, pour out green olive oil, bend over the vessel and speak the prescribed spell. And address whatever god you want ask about whatever you wish, and he will reply to you and tell you about anything. And if he has spoken dismiss him with the spell of dismissal, and you have used this spell will be amazed.

The spell spoken over the vessel is: “AMOUN AUANTAU LAIMOUTAU RIPTOU MANTAUI IMANTOU LANTOU LAPTOUMI ANChÔMACh ARAPTOUMI, hither to me, O NN god; appear to me this very hour and do not frighten my eyes. Hither to me, O NN god, be attentive to me because he wishes and commands this AChChÔR AChChÔR AChAChACh PTOUMI ChAChChÔ ChARAChÔCh ChAPTOUMÊ ChÔRAChARAChÔCh APTOUMI MÊChÔChAPTOU ChARAChPTOU ChAChChÔ ChARAChÔ PTENAChÔChEU” (a hundred letters).”

But you are not unaware, mighty king and leader of magicians, that this is the chief name of Typhon, at whom the ground, the depths of the sea, Hades, heaven, the sun, the moon, the visible chorus of stars, the whole universe all tremble, the name which, when it is uttered, forcibly brings gods and daimons to it. This is the name that consists of 100 letters. Finally, when you have called, whomever you called will appear, god or dead man, and he will give an answer about anything you ask. And when you have learned to your satisfaction, dismiss the god merely with the powerful name of the hundred letters as you say, “Depart, master, for the great god, NN, wishes and commands this of you.”  Speak the name, and he will depart. Let this spell, mighty king, be transmitted to you alone, guarded by you unshared.

-PGM IV. 222-256

The primary element that we want to point out in the context of this post is the use of Typhon’s great name of a hundred letters. Again,  like in the initiation rite, the power of Typhon represents that primordial force capable of altering universal order  and destroying the boundaries between the realms of the living and of the dead. This is precisely the power needed to call forth a deity or the spirit of the deceased.

However, such power should not be wielded without the proper precautions. The scribe informs us that a phylactery in the form of a lamen is to be worn around the practitioner’s neck to presumably protect from the presence of the gods and the potentially destructive power of the Typhonic energy.

There is also the protective charm itself which you wear while performing, even while standing: onto a silver leaf inscribe this name of 100 letters with a bronze stylus, and wear it strung on a thong from the hide of an ass.

- PGM IV. 257-260

This is a common technique in the PGM, both to use a phylactery to protect the magician from the evoked gods, and to include the description of the phylactery after the evocation ritual. [16] Such a phylactery when hung over the neck lays over the heart of the practitioner. We may find parallels in the protective qualities of the lamens found in later grimoires, Dee’s Enochian system, and the use of priestly breastplate of the Hebrews.[17]

Lastly, the scribe includes a final ritual. This one is designed to call upon Typhon and petition the deity to aid the practitioner.

Divine encounter of the divine procedure: Toward the rising sun say: “I call you who did first control gods’ wrath, You who hold royal scepter o’er the heavens, You who are midpoint of the stars above, You, master Typhon, you I call who are the dreaded sovereign over the firmament. You who are fearful, awesome, threatening, You who’re obscure and irresistible and hater of the wicked, you I call, Typhon, in hours unlawful and unmeasured, You who’ve walked on unquenched, clear-crackling fire, You who are over snows, below dark ice, You who hold sovereignty over the Moirai, I invoked you in prayer, I call, almighty one, that you perform for me whatever I ask of you, and that you nod assent at once to me and grant that what I ask be mine (add the usual) because I adjure you GAR ThAIA BAUZAU ThÓRThÓR KAThAUKATh IAThIN NA BORKAKAR BORBA KARBORBOCh MO ZAU OUZÓNZ ÓN YABITH, mighty Typhon, hear me, NN, and perform for me the NN task. For I speak your true names, IÓ ERBÉTh IÓ PAKERBÉTh IÓ BOLChOSÉTh OEN TYPhON ASBARABÓ BIEAISÉ ME NERÓ MARAMÓ TAUÉR ChThENThÓNIE ALAM BÉTÓR MENKEChRA SAUEIÓR RÉSEIODÓTA ABRÉSIOA PhÓThÉR ThERThÓNAX NERDÓMEU AMÓRÉS MEEME ÓIÉS SYSChIE ANThÓNIE PhRA; listen to me and perform the NN deed.”

- PGM IV. 261-285

Here the scribe presents us with an all encompassing prayer leaving the petition up to the practitioner to fill in according to the desired intent(“NN task”, “NN deed”). I believe that such a prayer can be used as part of a daily practice to attune the practitioner to the magical system described in the letter. Such a prayer would function in the same vein as the daily prayer from the Arbatel (Aphorism 14) where prior to the invocation of the Olympic spirits the magician petitions the Abrahamic god to teach and initiate him into the mysteries. [18]

As with the other rites preserved in PGM IV 154-285, this prayer is designed to align the practitioner to both the sun and to the raw unbridled energy of Typhon. As explained earlier, the Graeco-Egyptian magician would not have seen a contradiction here, but rather a source of power that results in the cosmic balance of the rising and setting sun. This echoes the importance placed on the principle of countermovement in other practices of the PGM. [19]

Moreover, this technique is not a new or unique concept. The use of a deity representing primordial chaos and one representing the sun and order would have been an ancient formula by the time this rite was written. Indeed, the very first record we have of a practice of Lecanomancy is in the Babylonian Ritual Tables dating to the 7th Century BCE.[20] Here, nearly a millennia before the writing of PGM IV 154-285 , the magician is instructed to invoke Šamaš, the Babylonian solar deity of order and light,  and Hadad, the storm deity of the primordial waters.  The Babylonians themselves were convinced of the antiquity of such practices, attributing them to the antediluvian king Emmeduranki who was said to have learned the art directly from the gods.[21] Thus, as perhaps was the original intent of the scribe of PGM IV, we can clearly see that despite the papyrus most likely not being a transcription of a letter to an ancient pharaoh, the practices laid out within had undoubtedly very ancient roots.

We have reached end of this introduction to PGM IV 154-285. In summary what we have is a complete magical system analogous in structure to some of the later medieval and renaissance grimoires. The following table displays the multiple sections of the passage that we have briefly touched upon, each of these can stand alone as an individual rite or practice. Together; however, they compose a workable system complete with a daily prayer, a protective phylactery to wear, a ritual of initiation, and method for evoking and communicating with spirit and deity.

Section Lines % of Passage
Introduction 154-168 11%
Initiation Rite 168- 221 41%
Evocationary Bowl Scrying Rite 222-256 26%
Creation of Phylactery 257-260 3%
Sunrise Rite: Prayer & Petition 261-285 19%



  1. Hans Dieter Betz (ed). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation: Including the Demotic Spells (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992). pp. 40-43.
  2. David P. Silverman. Ancient Egypt. (Oxford University Press, 2003).
  3. Pieter W. van der Horst. The Great Magical Papyrus of Paris (PGM IV) and the Bible. In A Kind of Magic: Understanding Magic in the New Testament and Its Religious Environment. (A&C Black, 2007).
  4. Stephen Skinner. Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic. (Singapore: Golden Hoard Press, 2014). pp. 246.
  5. Skinner. pp. 246 -247.
  6. Skinner. pp. 51-52.
  7. Skinner pp. 250.
  8. According to both Plutarch and Herodotus, Dionysus was the Greek name for Osiris and several PGM spells reveal and implicit association between Dionysus and Osiris in both symbolism and eucharistic practices.
  9. Eleni Pachoumi. The Greek Magical Papyri: Diversity and Unity. (Doctoral Thesis, Newcastle University, 2007) pp. 42-44.
  10. See Black of Isis for a discussion on the use of blindfold in rituals of initiation.
  11. René Guénon. Symbols of Sacred Science. (Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2004). Also, Joseph Campbell. The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, 3rd edition, Phil Cousineau, editor.(Novato, CA: New World Library, 2003). and Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).
  12. Mircea Eliade. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004). Also, Michael Harner. The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing (New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1980). and references within.
  13. Plutarch. Fragments also see Albert G. Mackey.The Symbolism of Freemasonry (1882).
  14. The phrase “closed heaven’s double gates and put to sleep the serpent which must not be seen,” is a reference to Set defeating Apep in the twelfth hour of the journey of the solar barque. Apep is referred to as the “serpent which must not be seen” several times throughout the PGM. See appendix in Betz. 
  15. Stephen Edred Flowers (ed). Hermetic Magic: The Postmodern Magical Papyrus of Abaris. (York Beach, ME: Weiser Books, 1995). pp. 94.
  16. Skinner. pp. 163-166.
  17. Skinner. pp. 165 & 203. Also,
  19. See Countermovement in Hermetic Magic.
  20. Ritual Tablets 15-25 quoted in Skinner. pp. 247.
  21. Wilfred G. Lambert. The Qualifications of Babylonian Diviners. In Festschrift für Rykle Borger zu seinem 65. (Groningen, NE: Styx, 1998).

Vowel Sounds in the PGM

December 26, 2014

alphabetic_cosmicThe pronunciation of the divine names, nomina barbara, or voce magicae of western ritual magic can be a hotly debated subject. Many will argue that proper pronunciation of these magical formulae is not critical and that it is the intent behind the word that empowers the rite. Indeed, the power of intent is indisputable; however,  there is also the essential vibrational quality of sound that I believe is as important as the intent, if not more.

Frequencies of sound are literally waves of vibrating energy and thus can have a very tangible physical, mental, and magical effect. In rituals and ceremonies throughout the world, sound is used as a transformational force to alter consciousness and to raise ambient energy. This has been something studied extensively in shamanic ritual practices but for some reason has not received as much attention in western magical traditions.[1]

In Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic, Dr. Skinner shows that the magicians of the PGM placed a tremendous amount of importance on the sounds of magical words. As more research is done into the ‘untranslatable’ words of the PGM, the more apparent it becomes that the scribes were interested in preserving the phonetics of Egyptian and semitic ‘words of power’ over their translated meaning. [2] As such, it would seem that the Graeco-Egyptian magicians believed that proper pronunciation of the magical formulae was instrumental to the success of the magical rite.

Within  the magical papyri there is one spell (PGM V. 1-54)  that preserves an extremely rare attempt by the scribe to teach the reader how to pronounce certain vowels. Since many of the formulae in the PGM consist of long string of vowels and vowel permutations, this passage is a unique and valuable resource for the modern practitioner of Graeco-Egyptian magic.[3]

the “A”  with an open mouth, undulating like a wave; [A, α]
the “O” succinctly, as a breathed threat. [O, ο]
the “IAÔ” to earth, to air, and to heaven. [ΙAΩ, ιαω]
the “Ê” like a baboon; [Η, η]
the “O” in the same way as above; [O, ο]
the “E” with enjoyment, aspirating it, [Ε, ε]
the “Y” like a shepherd, drawing out the pronunciation. [Υ, υ]

PGM V. 24 – 30

Both the sounds for Alpha (A/ A, α) and Omicron (O /O, o) are straight forward and correspond with the generally accepted Koine and the older Attic pronunciation.[4] We can identify these as a open-long vowel sound for Alpha (as in father) and a short vowel sound for Omicron (quicker than the in or).

Skinner notes that since the second “O [is the] same way as above,” both Omicron  and Omega (Ô/Ω,ω) should be pronounced the same.[5] The assumption here is that the scribe mistakingly included a second Omicron instead of an Omega. However, the scribe did not make a mistake. It is clear that these vowels reference the nine-lettered magical formula that ends the incantation on line 23 of the same papyri, which indeed contains two Omicrons and the exact sequence of vowels (AOIAÔ ÊOEY).  In the context of the PGM, Omega and Omicron would have most likely represented two different vowel sounds; a fact indicated in various other spells that not only speak of seven vowels, but also of seven unique sounds.[6]

Thus, while this passage is a great reference for how some ancient Greek vowels of the PGM may have been pronounced it does not provide any insight into the vowel sounds of Omega nor Iota (I / I,ι). The scribe, does however, give us a spatial dimension in regards to these vowels in the context of the IAÔ formula, something we will return to shortly. Most scholars of ancient Greek indicate that Iota was pronounced very much like modern Greek (as ee in see) and Omega was a longer form of Omicron (as the aw in saw, in Koine Greek it was more rounded as in or). [7]

This brings us to Eta (H, η) which the scribe says should be pronounced like a baboon. This is a long guttural and shrill ‘eh’ sound (as if holding the a in day). If, like me, you don’t happen to live in a area with a healthy baboon population, I suggest you do a quick search to find  a video on youtube on baboon vocalizations. Epsilon (E, ε) is an aspirated shorter sounding ‘eh’ (as in get), a sound that can be created by following the scribes instructions and quickly aspirating ‘eh’ while smiling.

Lastly, the scribe completely baffles us in stating that Upsilon (Υ, υ) should be pronounced “like a shepherd.” Perhaps, this is one of those sounds that may have been common in the pastoral lands of the hellenic world, but today has very little meaning. Among other sounds the scribe may be referencing the sound of a panpipe or a shepherd’s flute, or perhaps even the deep bark of Molussus shepherd dog.[8] In this context, perhaps it is best to assume that the scribe was giving more of an indication on how to draw out the sound of the vowel than the actual sound. Unlike modern Greek where Upsilon is pronounced exactly like Iota, it is believed that the sound in classical and hellenic times was more similar to the French ‘u (as ou in you but tending towards the sound ‘ee-you’).[9]

Drawing from these base vowel sounds we can start to examine their vibration qualities . This is accomplished by ordering the seven vowels according to their average frequency and pitch.

Seven Vowels arranged in a scale of  Average Frequency 

Vowel IPA [10]  Avg. Frequency [11] PGM V. 1-54 Instructions
I , ι [i]  1963 Hz “to earth”
E , ε [e] 1782 Hz “with enjoyment, aspirating it”
H , η [ε: 1617 Hz “like a baboon”
A , α [a] 1566 Hz “with an open mouth, undulating like a wave” | “to air”
Υ , υ [y:] 1492 Hz “like a shepherd, drawing out the pronunciation.”
O , ο [ŏ] 1074 Hz “succinctly, as a breathed threat”
Ω , ω [o:] 1074 Hz “to heaven”

Seven Vowels arranged in a scale of  Average Frequency 

Frequency is a measure of vibration, thus this also correlates with how we experience the sound physically. Higher frequency and therefore higher pitched sounds resonate in our heads while deep base tones resonate in our basal and sacral region.

There is an apparent inversion when comparing the resonant pitch of the vowels to how the scribe indicates that the IAÔ formula should be spoken. The ‘natural’ directionality based on where the vowels physically resonate, would be Iota – Above and Omega – Below. However, the practitioner is instructed to employ the complete opposite directionality by vibrating the high-frequency Iota vowel below, and the low-frequency Omega above.

This inversion, I believe is an intended magical technique. It is analogous to the use of countermovement in other rituals of the PGM as a means to draw and center power from the unification and balance of two antipodal poles.[12] Vibrating the IAÔ formula “to earth, to air, and to heaven” has the effect of reflecting the natural tonal frequency of sound. It is as if the magician is directing the power of the heavens downward while elevating earth energy up. The intersection and thus point of tension and balance of these two polarities is the body of the practitioner; and more precisely the harmonic breath of Alpha.

While it may be impossible to fully reconstruct the sounds of these ancient formulae, I believe that there is still much more practical knowledge we can learn by making our best attempts to pronounce the words a precisely as possible. Not only do we uncover additional levels of meaning when we examine the sounds, but we are also tapping into the specific spiritual-acoustic technology used by the Graeco-Egyptian magicians of the PGM.


  1. Michael Harner. The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing (New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1980). pp 64- 68.
  2. Stephen Skinner. Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic. (Singapore: Golden Hoard Press, 2014). pp 91-95.
  3. The mention and spelling of Sarapis (syncretism of Osiris-Apis), as opposed to the older variant Oserapis in this spell indicates that this papyrus dates to a later Hellenic period. Perhaps this passage indicates a necessity to preserve (or rediscover) the ancient sounds of the vowels at a time when the Greek language itself was changing.
  4. Joscelyn Godwin.The Mystery of the Seven Vowels.(Phanes Press,1991). Also see: and references.
  5. Skinner. pp 102 (see note).
  6. See PGM XII 270-350, PGM XIII. 734 -1077, and PGM XXI. 1-29.
  7. See note 4.
  8. A panpipe or flute produces a melodic sound that can be drawn out beautifully; however, the pitch can range from low to high and thus can represent a multitude of pronunciations. The now extinct breed of Molussus dog was a large mastiff-like dog used throughout hellenic antiquity for protecting and herding sheep. Its modern ancestors today include the various Mountain Dog breeds such as the modern Greek Shepherd . The bark of the modern decedents of the Molussus dog  are a deep and drawn out wuuuuuuuuf sound maybe indicating the pronunciation of Upsilon as much deeper and closer to [u].
  9. See note 4.
  10. IPA symbols for vowels obtained from: and Long(o:)or extra-short (ŏ) vowel lengths deduced from descriptions in PGM V. 1-54
  11. Average Frequency calculated as an average of the primary F1, F2, and F3 formats of the vowel sounds. Frequency values for these formats from: and
  12. See Countermovement in Hermetic Magic.

Aberamenthô in the PGM

December 19, 2014

gravure dore bible - jesus marche sur les eauxThis post, as many do,  began as a series of notes regarding the use of the magic name Αβεραμενθω (“Aberamenthô”) in the PGM. I was surprised to discover that references to this name appear outside the PGM as well. In the gnostic manuscript Pistis Sophia and the untitled work in the Askew Codex, Aberamenthô is used as an epithet of Jesus when performing miracles. Scholars have proposed that the name is a combination of the hebrew phrase abyr mym (“power of the waters”) and the deity Thoth.[1] Indeed, some gnostic studies suggest that it came to represent a syncretic form of Jesus and Hermes-Thoth as masters of the cosmic currents. [2] Fossom and Glazer argue that Aberamenthô signified “Lord of the waters and [of] the formulas controlling the cosmic powers”; however, it does not appear to have been an inherent title to any one particular deity.[3] A point corroborated in the magical papyri, where the formula is spoken together with the names of various deities including Apollo, Hermes, and Typhon-Set.

Numerically, αβεραμενθω contains ten letters and enumerates to 1013 – for what its worth, this is the same as Σαβαωθ (“Sabaoth”), αρχαγγελος (“archangel”), βασιλευσομεν (“reign”),  δενδρων (“tree”), and ευχη (“vow”, “prayer”, or “curse”) among others.[4] Without a doubt there is a deep rabbit hole to explore regarding the mystery of these ten letters alone; however, my interest is in how the name is used in the PGM. In particular, I want to know what to do when instructions state to speak or write the ” ABERAMENThÔOU (formula)” such as in PGM IV. 154-285 and PGM V. 1-53. To sort this out, I tabulated all the spells I could find in the PGM that contain some mention of the formula.

PGM/PDM Spell Formula as Written  **spaces added for comparison**
PGM IV. 154-285 ABERAMENThÔ OU(formula)
PGM V. 1-53 ABERAMENThÔ OU (formula)

Without access to the original documents there is only so much we can deduce from the translations. The different variations of the formula can range from intentional alterations of meaning to errors on the part of the translator or even the original author; for example the twelfth letter in PGM LIX. 1-15 is “Y” whereas all the others have  “U.” This could have easily been an error in transcribing a capital upsilon (“Y” in Greek) in place of the “U” used to denote the sound.

I’m certain that the first twelve letters are ABERAMENThÔ OU (αβεραμενθωου). Likewise, the last twelve letters should be UO ÔThNEMAREBA (υοωθνεμαρεβα). As has been pointed out by others, there is definitely a palindromic element to this formula.[5] Given the aforementioned explanation of the name as signifying “lord of waters”, a reflection of the name upon itself is therefore symbolically appropriate.

Two of the spells have a theta (θ, Th) immediately following these first twelve letters (PGM II 64-183 & PGM CXXVIa. 1-21). This results in one of the variant spellings of Thoth (Θωουθ, ThÔOUTh) appearing in the formula. Putting that theta aside, the papyri all agree with the next six letters LERThEX (λερθεξ). If we maintain the notion of a palindrome, we would expect to find either XEThREL (ξεθρελ) or XEThREL Th (ξεθρελθ) reflected on the right side. Indeed, this appears to be the case with only a few minor exceptions. It should be noted that the only place where the additional theta appears in the right side of the formula is PGM CXXVIa. 1-21 and this fragment was missing the bracketed section which was a later extrapolation by the translator.

According to the glossary in the Betz edition of the PGM, the formula should contain the two additional thetas and thus the explicit name of Thôouth.[6] However,  none of the surviving examples include the theta in the right side of the formula, and only two of the nine have it at the left! I would venture to say that it does not belong in the formula, and the magical phrase to use is:




  1. Jarl Fossum and Brian Glazer. Seth in the Magical Texts. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 100 (1994) 86–92. (
  2. Roelof van den Brock. Gnostic Religion in Antiquity. (Cambridge University Press, 2013). pp 69 -70.
  3. See Fossum and Glaszer pp 92.
  5. See references within Fossum & Glazer.
  6. Hans Dieter Betz (ed). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation: Including the Demotic Spells (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992). p 331.

Black of Isis

December 5, 2014

The Black of Isis is a magical cloth mentioned in two rituals of initiation and three oracular spells in the PGM. It is generally understood to be a linen cloak (or piece, thereof) used to dress the effigies of the goddess.[1] Our goal in this post is to better understand the use and significance of this Black of Isis in the PGM and within the magical traditions of the Graeco-Egyptian world. We will examine the goddess herself, the spells in the PGM that employ this magical linen, and the ritual use of such linens in the initatic traditions dedicated to the mysteries of Isis. 

PGM/PDM Spell Description Usage
PGM I. 42 – 195 Spell to Invoke and Acquire an Assistant Blindfold
PGM IV. 154-285 Initiation rite for necromancy and divination. Blindfold
PGM VII. 222 – 249 Ritual to obtain a Dream Oracle Wrap around hand & neck
PGM VIII. 64-110 Ritual to obtain a Dream Oracle Wrap around hand & neck
PGM CII. 1-17 Ritual to obtain a Dream Oracle Wrap around hand & neck

Isis Magic PGM

¤ Isis – Queen of Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld  ¤

Isis initiating Nefertit via the "Opening of the Mouth"

Isis initiating Nefertari. Opening of the Mouth Ceremony (c. 1200 BCE)

Isis first appears in the Pyramid Texts (c. 2350–c. 2100 BCE) where she is integral to the protection and funerary rites of the dead pharaoh. Through the spread of the Osirian cult and Heliopolitan cosmogony, Isis becomes one of the most venerated deities of the ancient world. [2] As the mother of Horus, she nurtures and protects  the living; as consort to Osiris, she rules the underworld and protects the dead. With one foot in each world;  Isis navigates the rhythms of nature and is the patroness of healing and magic. Among her many names  are “mistress of magic”, “the sorcerous”, “healer”, “psychopomp”, and “she who initiates.”[3]

The goddess emerged as the archetypal image of the divine feminine and a tutelary spirit of initiation  into the mysteries of life, death, and rebirth.[4] By late antiquity (c. 2nd C. – 6th C. A.D.), the cult of Isis had become one of the most important and widespread mystery cults of the Graeco-Roman world. Shrines and evidence of her worship spread across most of the European continent, the Arabian peninsula, Asia minor, and even into Britain.[5]

2nd C Graeco-Roman Statue

Roman Statue of Isis. (c. 100 AD)

 Of particular interest regarding the Black of Isis, is that her garments – and those associated with her priests and idols – were considered to be imbued with exceptional magical powers as if made from the very fabric of the cosmos.[6] In a spell titled Oracle to Kronos (PGM IV. 3086-3124), the practitioner is instructed to wear a “garb of a priest of Isis” as a protective measure despite no other mention of her in the rite.[7] Apuleius, a 2nd Century writer and initiate into the mysteries of Isis, writes:

But what obsessed my gazing eyes by far the most was her pitch-black cloak that shone with a dark glow. It was wrapped round her, passing from under the right arm over the left shoulder and fastened with a knot like the boss of a shield. Part of it fell down in pleated folds and swayed gracefully with knotted fringe around the hem. Upon the embroidered edges and over the whole surface sprinkled stars were burning; and in the center a mid-month moon breathed forth her floating beams.

- Apuleius. Metamorphoses. Book XI. [8]

Not surprisingly, for the Hermetic magicians, the Black of Isis as an  object associated with the garments of the goddess would have been endowed with  immense cosmic and spiritual power.

¤ Black of Isis in Dream Oracles  ¤

For the ancient Egyptians, the process of entering and navigating  one’s own subconscious in a meditative, dream, or trance state was equated with the journey through the underworld of the dead.[9] Just as the Sun entered the underworld as it set in the west, so too the human soul would visit this realm as the body drifted into the darkness of sleep.  As the queen of the underworld, Isis’ authority and influence naturally extended to this domain of dreams.

The Dream Oracles are a class of spells found in the PGM designed to obtained prophetic messages from the spirit world while asleep.[10]  For our purposes we will examine PGM VII, PGM VIII, and the fragments of PGM CII. Despite coming from different sources, these not only share the use of the Black of Isis but also hint at a common ritual methodology.

Take a black of Isis and put it around your hand. When you are almost awake the god will come and speak to you, and he will not go away unless you wipe off your hand with spikenard or something of roses and smear the picture with the black of Isis. But the strip of cloth put around your neck, so that he will not smite you.

-PGM VII. 229 – 234

On your left hand draw Besa in the way shown to you below. Put around your hand a black cloth of Isis and go to sleep without giving answer to anyone. The remainder of the cloth wrap around your neck.

- PGM VIII. 64-69

Unfortunately,  PGM CII. 1-17  is extremely damaged, but enough of the fragments are decipherable to see that it is clearly following the same practices:

…over [the lamp] …. your hand, and [when you are almost awake] the god [will come and speak to you, and…][…and smear the picture with the black of Isis…] Put [ the strip of cloth…]

- PGM CII. 1-17 [frag. E, D, C]

These spells instruct the practitioner to make a sigil or drawing of the oracular deity on their hand (In PGM VIII. 64-110, this deity is Bes).  The hand is then wrapped with the “black of Isis”, and the rest of the cloth is hung around the neck like a shawl. PGM VIII. 64-110 is more specific, indicating that the  left hand should be used.[11] The rest of the ritual follows the standard pattern of dream oracle spells in the PGM.  The practitioner is instructed to light an oil  lamp and then recite a formulaic incantation over it prior to going to sleep.

Interestingly, none of these dream oracles mention any invocation or prayer to the goddess; nor indeed is any specific mention of her name made outside the “black of Isis.” Similar to the Oracle to Kronos (PGM IV. 3086-3124), the power consecrated within the linen itself provides all the authority and protection necessary to interact with the spirit world.

¤ Black of Isis as Ritual Blindfold  ¤

Aside from the dream oracles, there are two other spells that mention a Black of Isis and both employ it as a ritual blindfold. These spells are unique  in the PGM as they are the only ones that mention the use of a blindfold simultaneously with the ability to “see” a deity. Unlike other spells of the PGM and many of the Medieval grimoires of magic, their is no claim or desire to evoke to external physical appearance; rather, much like the dream oracles, these spells address an inner spiritual landscape.

…. [and say] the first of spell of encounter as the sun’s orbit is disappearing…with a [wholly] black Isis band on [your eyes], and in your right hand grasp a falcon’s head…

- PGM I. 42 – 195

But as for you, crown yourself with dark ivy while the sun is in mid-heaven, at the fifth hour, and while looking upward lie down naked on the linen and order your eyes to be completely covered with a black [Isis] band. And wrap yourself like a corpse, close your eyes, and keeping your direction toward the sun, begin these words….

- PGM IV. 154-285

Native American Blindfolded in Ritual Dance.

Native American Blindfolded in Ritual Dance.

The practice of ritual blindfolding is well documented in the initiation ceremonies of the Graeco-Roman Mysteries and in modern Freemasonry.[12]  Modern scholarship will point out the symbolism between the darkness and the “womb” of rebirth and other such philosophic concepts; however, the practical application is often overlooked.

Shaman Headdress from the Aleutian Islands

Shaman Headdress from the Aleutian Islands

Whether in Asia, Siberia, Africa, Australia or the Americas we find ethnographic and historical records of native shamans wearing ritual headpieces, masks and blindfolds to obstruct physical sight (at least partially, in the case of some masks). This sensory deprivation technique helps induce the altered states of consciousness necessary to make soul journeys and interact with the spirit world. Such practices are nearly universal in the indigenous shamanic traditions across our planet.[13]

The blindfold is an article of shaman’s gear. A Samoyed shaman carries a kerchief “with which to blindfold his eyes so that he can enter the spirt world by his own inner light.” [14]

Similar to the dream oracles, the use of the blindfold represents a chthonic journey within the subconscious realms. Through removing the physical sense of sight, such rituals teach the ability to “see” with the other senses; it is a form of initiation into the world of spirit consistent with the core shamanic teachings of countless native traditions.[15]

¤ The Black of Isis  ¤

The spells of the PGM indicate that the Black of Isis was a ritual linen used in rites pertaining to inward initiation and interaction with the spirit world. We should by now have a good idea of how such a magical implement was used by the Hermetic practitioners; however, we are still missing the context as to how it was obtained.

According to Plutarch, whose Moralia provides an invaluable insight into the cultic practices of Isis and Osiris worship, the statue of Isis was robed in many colors, each representing some aspect of her multi-faceted nature.[16] This must have been unique to the goddess since he points out that other statues such as that of Osiris only had robes of one color. As such, the garment from which the black of Isis was made would have been dedicated to one specific aspect; an aspect that Plutarch describes in the following passage:

As the nights grow longer, the darkness increases, and the potency of the light is abated and subdued. Then among the gloomy rites which the priests perform, they shroud the gilded image of a cow with a black linen vestment, and display her as a sign of mourning for the goddess, inasmuch as they regard both the cow and the earth as the image of Isis; and this is kept up for four days consecutively, beginning with the seventeenth of the month…The things mourned for are four in number: first, the departure and recession of the Nile; second, the complete extinction of the north winds, as the south winds gain the upper hand; third, the day’s growing shorter than the night; and, to crown all, the denudation of the earth together with the defoliation of the trees and shrubs at this time. [17] 

- Plutarch. Morelia. 39.

These long dark nights begin after the autumnal equinox and continue through winter solstice, when the sun is  “reborn.”  In the Nile valley, this dry season brings forth a necessary and vital period of transitional “death”; as the waters of the river recede a rich, black, and ridiculously fertile soil is exposed on the banks.  Because of this alluvial soil, agriculture in the Nile valley flourished and civilization thrived; this  is what gave the land of Egypt its ancient name, Khemet , the “Black Land”!  From this darkness the spirit of the land was renewed and with it came the emergence of new life.[18]

The Black of Isis is thus  dedicated and attuned to this period of spiritual gestation marked by long nights, the waning moon, and the black earth of the recessed Nile.[19]  It is a symbol of potential rebirth after death, the Omega principle prior to re-becoming Alpha, and the nigredo  stage in the alchemical transmutation of consciousness. It a theme that we see over and over again in traditions of spiritual initiation.[20] For a Hermetic magician, the act of donning the black of Isis would have been an immediate spiritual, emotional and mental connection to everything represented by the “mourning of the goddess”; a direct conduit into the magical current of the chthonic realm and the metaphorical death preceding spiritual illumination.

For us modern Hermetic magicians, the lack of functioning cult centers dedicate to the goddess means that we are left having to create and consecrate our own Black of Isis. Hopefully, this post has provided a better understanding of how this ritual cloth was used and what it symbolized in the context of the Graeco-Egyptian magical traditions. Plutarch’s description of the “gloomy rites” quoted above provides the necessary framework and timing to formulate an appropriate consecration rite to transform a piece of linen cloth to a veritable Black of Isis. For those of us with that path in mind, Plutarch provides us with these wise words that should both warn and inspire us:

…having a beard and wearing a coarse cloak does not make philosophers, nor does dressing in linen and shaving the hair make votaries of Isis; but the true votary of Isis, is he who, when he has legitimately received what is set forth in the ceremonies connected with these gods, uses reason in investigating and in studying the truth contained therein.

- Plutarch. Morelia. 3.

  1. Hans Dieter Betz (ed). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation: Including the Demotic Spells (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992).
  2. R.E. Witt. Isis in the Graeco-Roman World. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1971).
  3. See the FiercelyBrightOne blog  and references therein. 
  4. Matvin W. Meyer. The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts. (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999).
  5. R.E. Witt. Isis in the Graeco-Roman World. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1971).
  6. David Ulansey. The Transfiguration, Cosmic Symbolism, and the Transformation of Consciousness in the Gospel of Mark. Journal of Biblical Literature (110:1 [Spring 1991] pp. 123-5).
  7. Note also the synergy between Isis and Kronos and their planetary associations (Moon & Saturn) as symbols of the Alpha-Omega cycles of life. See  Moon: The Hook of Consciousness.
  8. Jack Lindsay (trans.). Apuleius: The Golden Ass (Bloomington, IN: Indiana Univ. Press, 1962).
  9. Earle de Motte. Egyptian Religion and the Mysteries. (Xlibris Corporation, 2013 ).
  10. For both the Greeks and the Egyptians before them, dreams were prophetic messages from the spirit world. Consequently, the ability to “dial in” to a specific deity to shed light on life situations or important decisions would have had very advantageous and  practical applications in day to day life. The variation and number of dream oracle spells in the PGM and PDM is a testament to their popularity  throughout the Graeco-Egyptian world.
  11. While speculative, it seems appropriate to use the non-dominant hand since this is a rite to passively receive information. Furthermore, according to Apuleius, the black cloak was draped over the left shoulder of the goddess.
  12. Robert Lomas. The Secret Science of Masonic Initiation. (Weiser Books, 2010).
  13. Michael Harner. The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing (New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1980).
  14. Richard J. Kohn. Lord of the Dance: The Mani Rimdu Festival in Tibet and Nepal. (SUNY Press, 2001) p. 152.
  15. Michael Harner. Cave and Cosmos: Shamanic Encounters with Another Reality (North Atlantic Books, 2o13).
  16. Passages from Plutarch’s Isis and Osiris are from Bill Thayer’s translation available here:*/
  17. Plutarch. Morelia. 39.*/B.html
  18. Byron E. Shaffer, etal. Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991).
  19. Note since the Egyptian religion lunar calendar began with the New Moon. The seventeenth of the month corresponds to three days after the Full Moon and synchs the ritual to the waning period of the moon.
  20. See A-Ω: Greek Vowels and the Chaldean Planets.

Countermovement in Hermetic Magic

November 28, 2014

For many Western Magical traditions and followers of the Northern Pagan and Neo-Pagan paths, clockwise motion is considered a positive and creative force, while counterclockwise is negative and destructive. This belief stems from an attempt to harmonize with the natural rhythm of our sun; which in the northern hemisphere moves clockwise as it rises in the east reaches midday in the south and sets in the west. For these traditions positive energy is invoked clockwise and negative energy banished counterclockwise. Consequently, magic circles – the iconic sacred space of such traditions – are cast “sunwise” to protect those within.


This fundamental observation of the natural world and desire to harmonize with it, speaks to the earliest shamanic practices of indigenous northern traditions.  However, it is important to understand that these concepts of directionality are only relevant within the cosmological perspective of the people in these latitudes. As we mover closer to the tropics, the celestial pole shifts closer to the horizon and the solar arc moves higher overhead, becoming less and less clockwise. At southern latitudes, “sunwise” is counterclockwise.

British Isles & Northern Europe (50º Latitude) Mediterranean & Northern Egypt (30º Latitude)
Lat55 Lat35
Southern Egypt (20º Latitude) South Africa (-30º Latitude)
Lat21 Lat-25

Despite linking to universal principles, the use of directionality in magic and ritual is and will always be a matter of perspective. Because of this, it can provide unique glimpses  into the foundational cosmology and orientation of a tradition.

The rituals and spells of the Graeco-Egyptian traditions as preserved in the PGM suggest that these Hermetic magicians did not follow such “sunwise” traditions. This may comes a surprise to those of us familiar with the 19th Century Hermetic lodge magic that adopted northern practices alongside the symbols and namesake of the Graeco-Egyptian magicians.  However, the proof is in the papyri. There are numerous spells in the PGM that are in complete opposition – in terms of directionality – to the expected solar correspondences.[1]  For example, we find a binding and destructive spell with the names of power written clockwise around the talisman (PGM V.304-369); and a protective amulet (PGM VII. 579-590) with the names of power written counterclockwise.


This distinctly Graeco-Egyptian paradigm  of directionality is further uncovered when we look at how the spells and rituals of the PGM address the cardinal points. These points are only mentioned in two types of texts: 1) The invocation of a deity, or 2) Instructions for defining ritual/sacred space.

The table below summarizes all the spells in the PGM (and PDM) that explicitly mention the four cardinal points.

PGM Spell Type Order Directionality
PGM II. 64-183 Invocation North – South – West – East Cross
PGM IV. 2145-2240 Invocation West – East – South – North Cross
PGM IV. 3172 – 3208 Ritual Space East – South – North – West CW | CCW
PGM VIII. 1-63 Invocation East – West – North – South Cross
PGM XIII. 343-645 Ritual Space East – South – North – West CW | CCW
PGM XIII. 734-1077* Ritual Space East – North – West – South CCW
PGM XIII. 734-1077* Ritual Space East – South – West – North CW
PDM XIV. 239-295 Invocation South – North – West – East Cross

* In PGM XIII. 734-1077, the “casting” of ritual space occurs in two phases (CCW then CW), see below.

From the order in which the quadrants are listed, we can determine directionality.  We find that they are honored and addressed  clockwise (East-South-West-North),  counterclockwise (East-North-West-South), and crossing or combining clockwise and counterclockwise motion. However, there is distinct grouping of directionality that suggests a formalized system depending on the intent of the operation.

Invocations to deity hail the quadrants in a crossed manner by pairing opposite directions. This is a common formula in magical incantations used to bring into focus the tension and point of unity between two antipodal concepts; in terms of opposite directions, that focus is always the center. It is a very effective ritual technique.

“Come to me! You who are master above the earth and below the earth, who look to the west and the east and gaze upon the south and the north, O master of all, Aion of Aions!”

- PGM IV. 2195

The second grouping consist of the practices used to define and activate ritual space; these are the “circle casting” rites of the Graeco-Egyptian magicians.  There are only three distinct examples in the PGM, yet they all employ both a combination of clockwise & counterclockwise motion!

 In a ceremony for a dream oracle (PGM IV. 3172-3208), and in the closing rite of PGM XIII. 343-646, the practitioner addresses the cardinal points clockwise from east to south, then crosses over to the north before moving counterclockwise to the west. In the Opening Rite of the Heptagram (PGM XIII. 734-1077), two complete 360º circles are made first counterclockwise then clockwise. The instructions in the papyri are unmistakable in informing the practitioner to rotate in both directions. [2]

Luckily, the Corpus Hermeticum has preserved the cosmological  context behind such practices. In Book II,  Hermes explains the philosophy behind this principle of countermovement  to Ascelpius.  [3]

Hermes – …All that is moved is not moved in what is moved, but in what is unmoved. The mover is still; it is impossible for Him to be moved.

 Ascelpius – How then, O Trismegistus, are these things here moved to those which move them? For you have said that the planetary spheres are moved by the fixed stars.

Hermes – It is not the same movement, O Ascelpius, but a movement in the opposite direction, for they are not moved in the same way but in a way opposite to each other. This countermovement has a point for its movement that is Fixed.

- Corpus Hermeticum, Bk.

And, again in the next chapter:

For countermovement is the bringer of stillness. Now the planetary spheres are moved in the opposite direction to the fixed stars. They are moved by each other in opposition. They are moved round their opposite by a point which is fixed and it cannot be otherwise…

Corpus Hermeticum, Bk. II.viii

Those who have practiced these rituals, can attest to the resulting stillness that is evoked by the equilibrium of the two motions.  When performed properly, there is a tangible sensation of being in the calm center amidst a storm of energy. This sensation becomes even more pronounced when the practice is aligned to the motions of the heavens.

The explanations in the Corpus Hermeticum revolve (pun, fully intended) around a “fixed point” – the pivot around which all celestial bodies appear to rotate. This is the celestial pole, and indeed it is here where the principle of movement and countermovement is best exemplified.

As Hermes states in Bk. II.vii, while the sun and planets rotate daily around the pole in one direction (movement) , the stars rotate in the opposite direction (countermovement) completing one full rotation every year. This is the geocentric expression of  the base  heliocentric motions of our planet; the daily rotation of the Earth and her annual orbit around the Sun. Movement and countermovement exemplified as transcendent principles.


The celestial pole deserves much more exploration in the Hermetic magical traditions than it has received to date; it is a gateway to many mysteries. In its ever so slight counterclockwise rotation around the ecliptic pole (~ 1º every 72 years) it unveils yet another cycle of countermovement, the 25,950-year precessional cycle.[4] This cycle manifests as the constellation of Draco (from Gk. δρακον,  “giant serpent”) slowly slithering clockwise around the celestial pole.[5] Throughout the ancient world, the knowledge of this cycle was seen as a tremendous source of esoteric power as it represented a power greater than the visible planets and “fixed” stars and far beyond the confines of the human experience.[6]

In the spatial-spiritual landscape of the Hermetic magicians,  the celestial pole would be seen as nothing less than a direct portal to celestial divinity. As such,  it is fitting that in the Heptagram Opening Rite – a ritual concerned with orientation – the polar divinity is invoked directly:

“Inspire form your exhalation (?), ruler of the pole, him who is under you; accomplish for me the NN thing.”

- PGM XIII. 843

Perhaps, this was the intent of countermovement in the ritual practices of the PGM. Not necessarily a specific manifestation of a single countermovement cycle, the universe is resplendent with such examples; but rather orienting the practitioner towards the equilibrium and unity of the celestial pole as a source of stability and power by which to approach the deeper mysteries of our cosmos.

The circular movement is a movement around that point governed by that which is still, for revolution round that point prevents any digression; digression is prevented, if the revolution is established. Thus the movement in the opposite direction is stabilizing and is fixed by the principle of countermovement.

Corpus Hermeticum, Bk. II.viii


    1. Hans Dieter Betz (ed). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation: Including the Demotic Spells (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992).
    2. Tony Mierzwicki. Graeco-Egyptian Magick: Everyday Empowerment (Stafford, UK: Megalitica Books, 2006). Mierzwicki goes into far more details regarding the motions of these rites.
    3. Brian P. Copenhaver (ed). Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation, with Notes and Introduction (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
    4. See The Eternal Chronos & Sun:Ignis Centrum.
    5. See Teli-Apep: Celestial Serpents.
    6. David Ulansey. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries: Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World ( Oxford University Press, 1991)
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