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Friday, July 9, 2021

Thoughts on the Stele of Jeu While Pulling into My Favorite Pizza Place

The refrain which Mathers set in place in his Bornless Ritual in lieu of the various apotropaic statements in the Stele of Jeu the Hieroglyphist is a pretty catchy, easy to memorize conjuration.


As most people reading this will know, it’s not the way the original is set up. Mathers sets this repetition up over and over, so that each time you go through a series of divine names you reiterate this intention. But it isn’t the way the original is set up.


The original has commands like “delivery him from the spirit who restrains him,” “listen to me and turn away this daimon,” or “save the soul.”


The Mathers version shits the focus by reiterating over and over the incantation:


“Hear me and make all spirits subject unto me so that every spirit of the Firmament and of the Ether, upon the Earth and Under the Earth, On Dry Land and In the Water, of Whirling Air and of Rushing Fire, and every spell and scourge of God may be obedient unto me.”


The translation by D.E. Aune provides the text which inspired Mathers’s refrain translated as such:


“Subject to me all daimons, so that every daimon whether heavenly or aerial or earthly, or subterranean or terrestrial or aquatic, might be obedient unto me and every enchantment and scourge which is from God.”


The two texts are pretty different.


I think we usually think about how the repetition of Mathers’s version, and how it doesn’t match the original highlights how the Mathers text is a departure from the source material. I don’t think we talk much about what the differences highlight or what this portion tells us about magic. This is unfortunate, because both the comparison and the text itself tell us some interesting things.


The Mathers version repeats the “Hear me” adjuration several times throughout, essentially in conjunction with each series of divine names. It takes the form of a conjuration through the link to these names in the sense that all spirits in all places and all powers and acts of divine force are bound to the will of the magician.


When viewed as a prayer or ritual for achieving identification or communion with one’s divine self or the genius appointed over the magician with the understanding that a strong connection with this spiritual faculty or power will result in the ability to command spirits it makes sense that the prayer should focus on this concept as its main goal rather than the apotropaic elements found in the original.


Crowley’s use of the invocation as a preliminary to the Goetia of Solomon could make sense in this light. The Ars Goetia does not rely on the magician calling upon God prior to working. Coming from a Golden Dawn background Crowley could have seen this as a way of engaging that standard Solomonic step of the conjuration process.


The original presents this in conjunction with a formula to be written on papyrus and made into a paper crown. The magician adorns themselves with the paper crown on which the formula has been written and then says the “Subject to me all daimons (spirits)…” passage.


This is presented as a preparation for the ritual rather than something done throughout the ritual.


The Stele is used to constrain and remove a vexing spirit. By having spirits of all manners made subject to the magician before he begins he is able to command the vexing spirit since it too would be made subject to him.


The main goal of the Stele is the subjugation and removal of the vexing spirit and thus the authority and power to remove the spirit and the imprecation to remove the spirit and provide relief are the elements routinely repeated, though in varied manners, throughout the Stele.


The focus is one of the core differences between the two rituals – and in effect and manner that diverge enough that one might view them as two rituals; but again there are differences in wording in this passage as well as similarities which are illustrative.


The Mathers version lays out a cosmography or spirit ecology, as does the traditional version. As presented by Mathers we come to understand that the world is divided into certain regions or spaces and spirits reside in each of these.


The Firmament is given first as it is the highest of these. It might be interpreted as heavenly, or it might be interpreted as the starry dome between the heavens and the material world. If taking it as the latter this suggests that the spirits of the heavenly spheres, or the starry realms might be subject to the magician but those spirits beyond that space amid the waters beyond the firmament forming the heavenly space of the creator, are not subject to the magician or to this spell.


The Ether comes next. Mathers would have understood this likely in terms presented by Levi, and taken the Ether as the Astral Light, or the uniting spiritual space between things and just beyond the perceptible reality.


Upon the Earth and Under the Earth divides the world into terrestrial and chthonic spaces and notes that spirits in both spaces are subject to the magician. Elemental spirits, intelligences, earth bound spirits, nature spirits etc. fall within the spirits upon the earth. Under the Earth might include devils, the dead, and a host of other spirits. The Golden Dawn’s treatment of the wide array of spirits was fairly limited and I can only imagine that Mathers’s imagination and grasp of the wide world of spirits is accurately reflected in what spirits the Golden Dawn touched upon.


Upon the earth we find the world further divided into dry land, water, whirling air, and rushing fire. Mathers definitely adds poetry which is not present in D. E. Aune’s translation, and which I then assume may not have been in the original. This divide gives the spirits upon the earth into four elemental kingdoms. This might have been viewed in a medieval light, with the elements forming four aires differing in density and altitude, each being inhabited by spirits of a different character. More likely, this was taken in a classical or Paracelsian light with elemental beings who were formed of the particular natures of the elements inhabiting and shaping the physical elements. This would tie to the elemental kings found in the Knowledge Lectures and the Paracelsian elementals which the Golden Dawn took from Levi.


Aune’s rendering paints a similar but different picture of spirit ecology.


Those spirits which appear in the heavens are not given with any terminology which separates the heavens as a particularly special place distinct from the more natural spaces in which we find spirits. Nor are the heavens given with terminology which divides one heaven from another. We don’t have a distinction between heavens and ether, so there is not an idea of a heavenly realm and then within the world a separate spiritual reality distinct from the material or perceptible reality.


The heavens are perhaps more imminent rather than the emanant heaven in Mathers.


The elemental spaces and the chthonic spaces are presented together rather than in a separate clause. Again, this suggests a lack of severe distinction. What is below the ground is still part of the world rather than a wholly separate world in this context. This mirrors that the heavens are also presented in the same clause as the elemental spaces and are likely contiguous with the material world rather than distinct therefrom. With this in mind it is plausible that the spirits were seen as imminently real and present rather than remotely present with influence echoed into our world as we often see in later spiritologies.


The elemental spaces do not include fire. This lack of fire indicates that these are not elemental spaces but rather the three spaces common to ancient thought. The land, the sea, and the sky, with the space beneath the land and the space beyond the sky included. The character of the spirits considered might change when we do not consider them of a nature or composition related to the elements but rather nymphs and spirits living in the waters, those running through fields and trees, and those inhabiting the winds and clouds.


While the purpose of the two rituals differs – Mathers looks to achieve a divine status to command spirits generally, the Hieroglyphist seeks to alleviate affliction caused by a spirit; elements of their operation are similar.


“He is the Lord of the Gods, He is the Lord of the inhabited world, He is the one whom the winds fear…” – tr. Aune.


“This is the Lord of the Gods: This is the Lord of the Universe: This is He Whom the Winds fear.” – tr. Mathers.


Both work by way of calling upon authority of the biggest divine or spiritual force possible to command other spirits. Both use a host of divine names to either suggest the totality of divine authority and therefore the highest authority, or perhaps to use enough names that the secret and powerful true name of this God is likely included amongst them.

To an English speaking reader one might interpret “He is” as speaking objectively, describing this spirit, and “This is” subjectively, and speaking as the spirit. Sometimes pronouns might be translated either as a subjective or a demonstrative pronoun, so I would assume that this is the difference here. Both spells go on to speak as the powerful spirit and claim identification with the spirit so that the magician can act on that spirit’s authority.


In that regard, calling on a powerful divine spirit and self-identifying therewith, the two rituals are the same.


This is also an example of that method of magic existing in ancient resources. We have examples throughout the PGM where the magician claims a connection to the mythology of the spirit or god as a way of establishing friendship so that the spirit or god acts in the magician’s favor while commanding other spirits (this is common in spells involving Set-Typhon.) In this case the magician utilizes some element of that…he claims to know the secret name, he claims to be the god’s prophet who the God has already given power and secrets to, he claims to be the messenger serving the God. His initial imprecation for the god to listen to him is based on the idea that he holds a particular status and deserves the god’s attention because of that. This then evolves into stoking up the god by describing how powerful he is and chanting his names until the magician is finally ready to pull the big guns out and say “hey, actually, I AM you.”


The overall pattern of the ritual is exemplary of this approach to magic, in addition to showing us that it is one of the ways spirit magic was worked historically.


It also illustrates that the idea of commanding a spirit because a bigger stronger spirit is on your side is not a late addition to magic.


Sometimes we look at anything that might be bullying or aggressive spirit work as something stemming from a Christian worldview. If we look to older Pagan magics we’ll find that you befriended spirits, you worshipped the bosses of the spirits and befriended them, and then used your relationship with those bosses to establish new friendships and get them to trade with you and do business with you.


Sure, this is a good way to do magic and sometimes in some cases it works, and we can see some historical modes of working that way both in Pagan and in Christian contexts.


We also see threats, escalations, bindings, leveraging authority and power of divine rulers, of enemies of the spirit, or terrifying monsterous spirits throughout ancient magic in various parts of the ancient world.


The vexing spirit here isn’t removed because you’re buddies with Ossoronophris, and Ossoronophris is buddies with Orias, and he introduces you to Orias, and you become buddies, and you show Orias that instead of eating the food of or sucking the blood of the chief masons’s son he should just bro-out with you at Chili’s because you’re all friends now. The vexing spirit is removed because the God of the Void is inhabiting you and he rules the entire universe and he commands the spirit out with his divine scourge. This God hates evil, he makes lightning flash, and thunder roll, and his mouth is literally on fire.

This spell is an act of aggression.


But it’s a spell which is a reasonable act of aggression. The spirit present is doing something bad.


The spell is aggression, but it isn’t violence. There is no chain of the spirits here. We aren’t cursing and burning the vexing spirit, or the spirits being subjected to us.


It’s more walk loudly, and also have a big stick, and flex some muscles, and everyone will decide working with you is the way to go.


Going back to the differences between Mathers and the Hieroglyphist, there is an element of this authority and potential for violence which differs.


The way Mathers renders the translation he says:


“Hear me and make all spirits…and every spell and scourge of God…obedient unto me.”


God’s ability to work in the world and his ability to project wrath upon any force which disobeys are being subjected to the magician along with the spirits. Essentially, if spirits do no listen, the magician possesses God’s arsenal to use to make spirits listen.


Aune presents it as:


“every daimon…might be obedient unto me and every enchantment and scourge which is from God.”


The way it is rendered here, the enchantments and scourges of God are still in God’s possession, but the spirits will be obedient to them. Those powers are not made obedient to the magician but are highlighted as something present which could force obedience if needed.


Since the magician has called upon this god, and even identified therewith, the tools God has to command spirits are on the magician’s side.


To me it would seem that in one instance, the divine power to enforce divine authority is taken by the magician as his own weapon, he might use those directly upon his goals or he might command spirits, or he might use them to command spirits.


In the other instance, the magician has God in his corner, and if the magician can’t command the spirits God is there to command them and those divine tools for force as present to ensure that the spirits follow the magician’s command.


The difference might feel subtle, but I don’t think it is. Particularly if we consider that the Mathers version is intended to be used repeatedly to achieve a maintained state of connection and authority.


The question of what the original intention was would have to be seen by looking at the Greek. Unfortunately, when I did my degree in Classics I focused on Latin and Rome so I can’t address the peculiarities of Greek. In Latin, there are certainly ways in which a statement might result in the translator rendering the word order in different ways which could have this kind of change in meaning. The determination would be are “spell and scourge of god” direct objects which are being made subject to the magician or are they indirect objects co-equal to the magician to whom the spirits are made subject.


My purpose here isn’t so much to get into whether or not Mathers’s translation is right or wrong, or whether or in what ways Aune’s translation is better. I imagine Mathers took liberties with his translation. He seems to do that consistently, and that would have been the norm at the time in which he was working. On some level, the job of the translator is to render the piece into a way suited to the contemporary reader’s capability and stylistic elements may factor into that.


My intention is more to look at how the differences tell us about the magic being worked, and what Aune’s translation suggests about ancient magic working on the presumption that Aune is rendering a fairly accurate translation.

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