Magic: The Daily Orphic Hymns

a circular 17th century engraving showing 72 names of G-d, their relationship to the Hebrew alelphbet and other philosophical concepts.

As a side note, I think I’m going to use the attached image as the key image for all of my posts about Palace of Memory techniques; it’ll take me a while to retro-fit all prior posts with this image, but I’ll be working on it.

In my last post, I noted that I’d created a cycle for reciting the Orphic Hymns on a 31-day cycle, so that it was possible to read through the whole of the surviving corpus (as translated by Thomas Taylor) in a single month. That idea led to couple of interested people contacting me privately, and asking me how on earth one should do that. Is it even a good idea, they asked, to conjure or invoke that many spirits, in that short a time?

It’s a good question, really. And the answer is, I’m not sure. As I noted in that previous post, there seems to be a natural initiatory structure to the Orphic Hymns, in that reading them silently is different than reading them aloud; reading them aloud is different than reading them to an audience, and reciting them from memory (either alone or to an audience), is different than any of those things previously mentioned. It’s thus possible to imagine a gradual initiatory process, of first reading silently on one’s own, and then aloud in the solitude of one’s own room, before gradually taking on the challenges of “playing out” in your local bardic circles, or even committing the poem to memory to wow a crowd at a fire circle some night.

I’m not sure that it’s a good idea to summon or invoke that many spirits in a month, I admit — unless one plans to keep going, and do it the next month, of course. And the next. And the next. These forces, these personae, do have a tendency to not pay attention to spam emails, crank calls or telemarketers — and that’s what you are to them, with the added disadvantage of being from a different and lesser species to a god — but they do like to catch up with friends who call once a month (and that’s not such a bad attitude to have with live, human friends either, come to think of it).

So learning to work with the Orphic Hymns (or the Neo-Orphic Hymns, or the Mansions of the Moon, or the Decans of the Zodiac) requires a level of commitment beyond simply giving a poem the once-over. All the same, there are glimmers in the air, shimmerings on the veil, when we choose to engage with a given poem for the first time. It ripples and trembles, revealing in part the shape of the thing behind the veil — us, to them; or them, to us.

So, then, how do we practice this? In part it comes back to the Entrant’s Exam for the Bardic course I’m developing: practice memory arts, memorize some specific things, and develop some skill with a given body of material, regardless of whether or not you want to do things a different way.

For me, that set of work that has to be done, is this. In the mornings, the following poems are said as close to dawn as possible, certainly within the first astrological hour. In this way, the reader/reciter gets attuned to the celestial cycle of the seven visible planets, and to the flow of time as measured by the planets. The reader/reciter also becomes familiar with a body of poetry that many are already using for both magical and spiritual purposes in their planetary devotions.

  • Mondays: VIII, to the Moon (p. 16)
  • Tuesdays: LXIV, To Mars (p. 64)
  • Wednesdays: XXVII, To Mercury (p. 33)
  • Thursdays:  XIV, to Jupiter (p. 24)
  • Fridays:  LIV, To Venus (p. 52)
  • Saturdays:  XII, to Saturn ( p. 22)
  • Sundays: VII, to the Sun (p. 15)

However, attuning to the energies of the stars and planets is not really enough. Some care has to be taken to attune to the Earth, as well — you don’t want to be completely untethered from gravity’s grace, especially when this is the only planet that we know of that can support life like ours. Better to hold on. So, a “terrestrial” cycle may be added, as well, by reading the following poems on the days of the week in the evenings:

  • Mondays: IX, To Nature (p. 17)
  • Tuesdays: XXV, To the Earth (p. 31)
  • Wednesdays: XVI, To Neptune  (p. 25)
  • Thursdays:  LXXXV, To the Oineiroi (p. 82)
  • Fridays: X, To Pan (p. 19)
  • Saturdays: LXVII, To Health (p. 61)
  • Sundays: XXXIX, To Ceres (p. 43)  

So, look at that. You’ve got fourteen poems that you’re going to recite at least once a week for, say, a year. Chance are pretty good that those poems (reciting them fifty-two times or so) are going to get memorized first. These poems aren’t so much carefully chosen as thematic — they’re hooking you into currents both orderly and wild, flows both celestial and terrestrial, civilized and chaotic.

But numerically, they’re scattered through the text: Three of the poems are in the first ten, and another seven are in the first forty poems (of 86), and the remaining four are in the decades of the fifties, sixties (2 here), and eighties.

So the challenge is stepped — you have a lot more poems to learn at the beginning, but a lot more opportunities to check off landmarks as complete at the beginning; in the middle part of the work of improving memory, there are fewer landmarks but still some. At the end, there’s a relatively pathless land — but by that point you should have clarity about how to memorize these poems, AND you should discover that you have tricks for memorizing them faster and committing them to memory more rapidly and cleanly.

So what is the order of recitation? Far be it from me to steal Theoi.com’s traffic from them; you’ll have to establish your content list from them or from Sacred Texts or from some other source on your own. But the order of the poems (read day-by-day) is as follows:

  1. Day 1
    • Morning: 0. To Musaeus, 1. to Prothyraea
    • Evening: 2., to Night
  2. Day 2
    • Morning: 3., to Heaven; 4., to Fire
    • Evening: 5. To Protogonus; 6., to the Stars
  3. Day 3
    • Morning: 7. To the Sun
    • Evening: 8. To the Moon
  4. Day 4
    • Morning: 9., To Nature
    • Evening: 10., To Pan
  5. Day 5
    • Morning: 11., To Hercules
    • Evening: 12., To Saturn; 13., To Rhea
  6. Day 6
    • Morning: 14., to Jupiter; 15., To Juno
    • Evening: 16., TO Neptune; 17., To Pluto
  7. Day 7
    • Morning: 18., To Thundering Jove
    • Evening: 19., To Jove the Author of Lightning; 20., To the Clouds
  8. Day 8
    • Morning: 21., To the Sea; 22., To Nereus
    • Evening: 23., To the Nereids; 24., To Proteus
  9. Day 9
    • Morning: 25. To the Earth
    • Evening: 26., To the Mother of the Gods
  10. Day 10
    • Morning: 27., To Mercury
    • Evening: 28: To Proserpine
  11. Day 11
    • Morning: 29., To Bacchus
    • Evening: 30., To the Curetes; 31., To Pallas; 32., To Victory
  12. Day 12
    • Morning: 33., To Apollo
    • Evening: 34., To Latona; 35., To Diana
  13. Day 13
    • Morning: 36., To the Titans
    • Evening: 37., To the Curetes
  14. Day 14
    • Morning: 38., To Corybas
    • Evening: 39., To Ceres
  15. Day 15
    • Morning: 41., To Mises
    • Evening: 42., To the Seasons
  16. Day 16
    • Morning: 43., To Semele
    • Evening: 44., To Dionysius Bassareus
  17. Day 17
    • Morning: 45., To Liknitus Bacchus
    • Evening: 46., To Bacchus; 47., to Sabasius
  18. Day 18
    • Morning: 48., To Ippa; 49., To Lysius Lenaeus
    • Evening: 50., To the Nymphs
  19. Day 19
    • Morning: 51., To Trietericus
    • Evening: 52., To Amphietus Bacchus; 53., To Silenus Satyrus
  20. Day 20
    • Morning: 54., To Venus
    • Evening: 55., To Adonis
  21. Day 21
    • Morning: 56., To the Terrestrial Hermes; 57., To Cupid (or Love)
    • Evening: 58., To the Fates
  22. Day 22
    • Morning: 59., To the Graces; 60., To Nemesis
    • Evening: 61., to Justice
  23. Day 23
    • Morning: 62., To Equity; 63., To Law
    • Evening: 64., To Mars; 65., To Vulcan
  24. Day 24
    • Morning: 66., To Esculapius; 67., To Health/Hygeia
    • Evening: 68., To the Furies
  25. Day 25
    • Morning: 69., To the Furies; 70., To Melinoe
    • Evening: 71., To Fortune; 72., To the Daemon, or Genius
  26. Day 26
    • Morning: 73., To Leucothea; 74., To Palaemon
    • Evening: 75., To the Muses
  27. Day 27
    • Morning: 76., To Mnemosyne, or the Goddess of Memory; 77., To Aurora
    • Evening: 78., To Themis
  28. Day 28
    • Morning: 79., To the North Wind
    • Evening: 80., To the West Wind
  29. Day 29
    • Morning: 81., To the South Wind
    • Evening: 82., To Ocean
  30. Day 30
    • Morning: 83., To Vesta
    • Evening: 84., To Sleep
  31. Day 31
    • Morning: 85., To the Divinity of Dreams
    • Evening: 86., To Death

Phew! That was a lot of typing. Would have been easier to copy-paste, I suppose, but that wouldn’t have fixed the knowledge of the material in mind as clearly as typing it up. Or of writing it by hand, either (which is what I did in the first place).

So now, you can follow along at home, if you wish. You too can be moved by these poems in some fashion — and you can decide if you’re you’re going to rush through like a spam marketeer, or work through them in a stately and slow way, each time planning to return again to the labor. It’s your choice, of course.

Setting out deliberately to this work will, in the long run, yield more satisfying results and greater clarity of mind, and a more suitably impressive set of skills and knowledges, as well as deeper understanding. If you choose to walk this path, be methodical and deliberate and careful… it leads to some interesting places.

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