Hymns and myths are great when you have them. However, for a lot of earlier cultures, such as the Mycenaean or even Celtic cultures, recorded mythology may be in short supply. What we know of these ancient cultures comes, in large part, from the devotional images which they left behind.
A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words.
Or, if you like, an image is worth a thousand hymns. In a few different magickal traditions I can think of, including the Golden Dawn tradition, Thelema, and even some branches of Wicca, the creation (and sometimes wearing) of a strongly imagined image, called a god form, is a central and powerful part of practice.
While these unseen images are produced by the imagination, they are connected, at least tangentially, to the power of a deity. Once created, these images take on an independent life, of sorts, and strongly affect the unconscious minds and random chance occurrences that happen to be around them.
Without delving into great detail, I can tell you that the Z1 document, written by a group called RR et AC (also called the “inner Order” of the Golden Dawn), identified such images as being foundational to successful initiation, in a metaphysical sense.
You can read more here: The Z1 Document, which was probably secret at some point in the recent past.
The more general term, of course, is “telesmatic image.” This term is less misleading when we get to images of things other than gods, such as the Chayot Ha Kodesh (the actual Hebrew name for what the Golden Dawn tradition mistakenly calls “Kerubim” — The Eagle, Lion, Man and Ox), or the four Archangels.
Let’s be clear: The Chayot and Egyptian gods do not come from the same culture. Thus, coming from Greek culture, rather than Egyptian or Hebrew, should create no barrier to using this technique. Likewise, I do not think that it is necessary or even appropriate to use Egyptian godforms to represent Greek deities. Rather, we can simply formulate images based upon statues, pottery shards, amphoras and the like. Indeed, adopting this as a part of mystical Hellenic practice could, in fact, turn those silent images into powerful invocations.
Why To Do It
In a monotheistic religion, you have one deity that represents the entire cosmos. It is literally impossible to lose track of some fundamental part of the universe. You just do your thing, worship that god, and trust that you are equally acknowledging all facets of the human experience as well as the natural world.
In a polytheistic faith, however, you run a significant risk of accidentally failing to honor some aspect of reality. In fact, in Athens, there was a temple dedicated to the unknown god. (Pseudo-Lucian, Philopatris, 9.14) This makes a great deal of sense. We are discovering aspects of reality all the time. At the same time, we are forgetting aspects of reality, ones that we might do better not to forget.
In most cases, the best way for us to connect to an authentic manifestation of a deity is to focus our mind on a hymn written about them. By comparing the written sources, we can obtain insight into the nature of a deity, and possibly even consider what they might mean to us in modern times.
In very ancient times, however, as well as in very modern ones, followers did not and do not write their experiences of the gods down, and thus, not all deities have mythology that exists in a written form. We do have images, and using those images, we CAN have experiences of those gods which, in turn, will allow us to create the mythology that is missing. I say a lot about that in another article.
I am a great believer in the idea that new mythology should be rooted in as much existing tradition as there is. Where no tradition exists, however, or where the tradition leaves blank spaces, that is our cue to create, and to work to keep the tradition fresh and relevant. Images are as powerful as words, and the visual symbolism speaks to the unconscious mind. Through these images, we can be connected to the part of the universe which these deities once represented.
You might argue that the new mythology that we write won’t be authentic, but will anything we innovate in the Americas ever be seen as traditionally Greek? No. Don’t be stupid. Even your carefully constructed “Old Stones, New Temples” approach will not, in a million years, be viewed as being as authentically Greek as the most half-assed, made-up nonsense cooked up by The Supreme Council of Ethnic Hellenes.
In the same way, however, that we can learn more about the nature of Hellenic deities by examining Roman sources, Thracian sources, and Etruscan sources, someday, scholars will look back on what we are doing as a distinct and valid tradition, casting light on Hellenic deities. The extent to which our work insightfully expounds upon the traditional sources will define us, as a movement.
I really believe that. If someone writes a hymn to Hekate, or explains the internet in terms of a myth featuring Hephaestos and Hermes, and no other such hymn exists anywhere, then that will become the definitive version, provided that it captures the human imagination and resonates with the unspoken truths of the human soul, rather than being some Mary Sue fan fic about how awesome the author is.
Gods are eternal principles that you need to share with all of humanity. If you want your words to endure, you have to write something without making it an outlet for every lurid fantasy you’ve ever had about them.
That said, mythology can’t be written without inspiration, and it is still very difficult to write unless you have either a very good imagination, or something somewhat mythological has happened to you.
The ritual, which follows, for crafting a conduit to a deity based on an image, has been created with the aim of facilitating inspiration, and encouraging mythological experiences. So long as you have a strong image and the name of the deity (or at least a descriptive title), you will be able to connect with that deity and live the mythology that you can’t read about.
How To Do It…
Step 1: Choose An Image or Images
For Greek deities, at least, you’ll have a few choices for all but the most obscure deities. I recommend looking into the historical context of the image, because it will help you to better understand the manifestation you ultimately get.
To the right, I have an image of Hekate that I particularly like. In this case, the image is Roman, but styled after a Greek original. It is important to understand that not all images of Hekate are three headed. The earliest images of Hekate have only a single form. It is my opinion that her three-formed depiction alludes to her role as a goddess of intersections.
Much to do is made about Mother-Maiden-Crone, but Hermes has the epithet “Trikephalos” or “Three-Headed” and no one suggests anything similar about him. Also, Hekate is also sometimes depicted with four heads, rather than three.
Here, we see a tall, lean goddess with a slightly sad, resolute visage, expressing compassion. She wears a Phrygian cap (also worn by Hermes in some depictions) which exudes rays of light, alluding to her epithet “brightly coiffed.” (Homeric Hymn to Demeter #2)
To the Romans, the Phrygian cap was a symbol of liberty.
In this depiction, she is not holding a torch, largely because her arms are not fully depicted. This is, however, a very common thing for her to be depicted with.
I could work with this image as-is, simply allowing the arms to fill themselves in. More than likely, however, I will want to craft a derivative image which include a torch, dagger and key, symbols found in other images of Hekate that are not depicted here.
Color is also important to consider. Statues in Greece were painted. Even if they weren’t, it is important to consider the difference between color images and simple stone. If we want to imagine these deities as things that can move and speak, envisioning a solid block of stone carved into a human shape just won’t do.
Hekate, of course, despite her gentle visage, is a Chthonic deity. Her torch, held up in the subterranean darkness, inspires me to use a color scheme that includes black, red, orange and yellow. Unless we are told otherwise, it is safe to assume that Greek deities are blonde. As a general rule, men are depicted as dark skinned, and women are described as “white armed” or painted with very white skin. There are all kinds of incredibly sexist reasons behind this, but for the time being, I feel very secure with an image of Hekate that involves white skin and blonde hair.
Step 2: Memorize the Image.
For this bit, it really does help to have a simplified image. My art skills aside, you can see that I’ve added arms, and all of the requisite symbols are present. What is ultimately important, however, is finding an image that sticks in your head.
For me, keeping the color palette vibrant but limited really helps.
However, everyone’s mind works a little differently. You might like the idea of a composite image, but have a very different idea about what colors correspond to what deity. You may find that a simple attic red figure style image works better for you. You may prefer a completely unaltered image that was historically used in worship. That’s fine. Any kind of easily visualized image will work.
Step 3: Imagine the Image in Real Space
This is the tricky part. I promise that it gets easier with practice, though.
– First, start by closing your eyes and visualizing your image.
– Imagine the image moving. Sitting, standing, smiling, frowning, turning around. You will probably find, as you do this, that certain things are easier to imagine than others. Don’t force anything. In fact, if the image seems to take on a life of its own in your mind, you are doing very well.
– Next, open your eyes, and study your space. Tidy, uncomplicated areas are easiest. An empty room with two chairs is ideal, but who has one of those these days?
– Close your eyes and imagine the room in as much detail as you can.
– Open your eyes and see where your mental vision differs from what is actually there. You may need to look at the space and imagine it a few times to get it right.
– Now, imagine that you are in that room, and imagine your image being in that room.
– Imagine the figure stepping out of the two dimensional image and into your space. Imagine the deity in that space. Invite them to sit or stand with you.
– Lastly, and here is the tricky part, open your eyes and merge what you are seeing in your head with what you are seeing with your physical eyes. Imagine that the deity is physically in the particular space where you mentally imagined them.
Step 4: Empower the Image
In the Greek Magical Papyri, a trope which emerges is the power of the Greek Alphabet, and the vowels in particular.
Often, the seven vowels are arranged in a pyramid pattern: One Alpha, Two Epsilons, Three Etas, and so forth.
Think of how you create a table. You start with a simple idea: table. In fact, no matter how many of them you plan to build according to the same plans, the table, in your mind, is a single table.
As you develop the idea, it acquires more adjectives: a height, a width, a depth, a material.
By the time you finish, not only are there likely to be several such tables, but each table will be replete with its own unique descriptors: one with a nick on the leg from where a toddler scraped it with a quarter, another with a watermark on the top from where someone put down a coffee mug, and so on.
All things begin in relative simplicity, and acquire complexity. Even a whiskey becomes more complex as it ages in a barrel. This pyramid schema for the vowels reflects the way that things are created.
For some people, the truth of the above stated principle implies the existence of a creator deity, or the concept of the entire universe existing in primal unity in some place outside of time, but I don’t think that this necessarily follows. Certainly, many scientists agree that life began on Earth as single celled organisms, and developed into more complex forms over time, but they don’t argue the existence of primal unity, or a creator, or any other theological belief based on that provable fact.
Most deities have more than a single aspect. Hekate has seventeen that I can think of off the top of my head. Yet she is a single deity. Her aspects are unified in her godhead, but yet, she manifests to many different people, simultaneously, in many different places, and in many different ways. Her identity is unity, her manifestation, complexity.
By expressing this understanding, and by generally putting a lot more effort into the calling, we connect more deeply to the deity in question, and imbue our connection to the deity with a great deal more form as well as weight. It is this form and weight that can help us to connect others to our deities.
In a sense, what we are manifesting is not the deity himself or herself, but rather, a conduit to the deity which can then be accessed by all people.
– Begin by visualizing the letters over the energy centers of the image, as shown above.
– Start at the top. Intone (sing, or say in a loud and extended way) the sound of the letter Alpha, which is “Ah.” Follow immediately by pronouncing the name of the deity in a similar way.
– Strengthen your visualization of the top of the deity’s head.
– Move down to the next energy center. Intone the sound of the letter Epsilon, which is “Eh,” twice. Follow each intonation of the vowel immediately by intoning the name of the deity.
– Strengthen your visualization of the deity’s eyes.
– Move down to the next energy center. Intone the sound of the letter Eta, which is “Ay,” three times Follow each intonation of the vowel immediately by intoning the name of the deity.
– Strengthen your visualization of the deity’s mouth and ears.
– Move down to the next energy center. Intone the sound of the letter Iota, which is “Ee,” four times. Follow each intonation of the vowel immediately by intoning the name of the deity.
– Strengthen your visualization of the deity’s arms and hands.
– Move down to the next energy center. Intone the sound of the letter Omicron, which is “Aw,” five times. Follow each intonation of the vowel immediately by intoning the name of the deity.
– Strengthen your visualization of the deity’s torso.
– Move down to the next energy center. Intone the sound of the letter Upsilon, which is “Euh,” six times. Follow each intonation of the vowel immediately by intoning the name of the deity.
– Strengthen your visualization of the deity’s thighs.
– Move down to the next energy center. Intone the sound of the letter Omega, which is “Oh,” seven times. Follow each intonation of the vowel immediately by intoning the name of the deity.
– Strengthen your visualization of the deity’s calves and feet.
– Finish by touching each of the centers with your hand, and inscribing a circle, clockwise, on the ground under their feet.
This procedure can be done in advance of a ritual to prepare a space. Take your time with it, and do not forget to breathe in between intonations.
In my opinion, it is perfectly safe to leave the conduit open. It is not possible for you to force the deity to use a conduit, nor is any deity so foolish as to use it in a way that will harm someone.
These conduits tend to have staying power, and so, once established, you should only need to re-touch the image every now and again.
If, however, you find that the conduit is simply too intense for the space you have put it in, if you need your own “mortal space” back, or if you want to put a different conduit in the same physical location, you can remove it by retracing the circle at the feet of the deity counter-clockwise, and intoning the vowels in reverse order (from Omega to Alpha) without the deity’s name, and imagining those specific areas of the image dispersing.
Be sure to conclude the dispersal of a conduit with some kind words, or perhaps a libation offering, and in general, no matter how frustrated you might be, try not to make your dispersal read like the note penned (or crayoned) in red, in the graphic from lolwall.
What To Do With Your Conduit
So, this is great and all, but besides connecting to the deity, which you can probably do through much simpler means, what can you do with this?
– Set it up a few days before a group invocation to get a signal boost
– Place it in an area where you should like to see mythological happenings take place, then stand back and watch the fun.
– Consecrate a temple space to that deity.
– Place it in the room before an initiation for stronger and better results
– Meditate with it to get inspiration for creating hymns, stories and artwork
– Let the deity decide. Could be interesting.