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.” The intent here is to introduce the passage and present 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). 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. 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. 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. 
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. 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.”  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
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 – 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. 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, 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.
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. 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.” 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. 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. 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.  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.
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. 
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. 
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. 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. 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|
|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%|
- Hans Dieter Betz (ed). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation: Including the Demotic Spells (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992). pp. 40-43.
- David P. Silverman. Ancient Egypt. (Oxford University Press, 2003).
- 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).
- Stephen Skinner. Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic. (Singapore: Golden Hoard Press, 2014). pp. 246.
- Skinner. pp. 246 -247.
- Skinner. pp. 51-52.
- Skinner pp. 250.
- 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.
- Eleni Pachoumi. The Greek Magical Papyri: Diversity and Unity. (Doctoral Thesis, Newcastle University, 2007) pp. 42-44.
- See Black of Isis for a discussion on the use of blindfold in rituals of initiation.
- 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).
- 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.
- Plutarch. Fragments also see Albert G. Mackey.The Symbolism of Freemasonry (1882).
- 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.
- Stephen Edred Flowers (ed). Hermetic Magic: The Postmodern Magical Papyrus of Abaris. (York Beach, ME: Weiser Books, 1995). pp. 94.
- Skinner. pp. 163-166.
- Skinner. pp. 165 & 203.Also, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3668-breastplate-of-the-high-priest
- See Countermovement in Hermetic Magic.
- Ritual Tablets 15-25 quoted in Skinner. pp. 247.
- Wilfred G. Lambert. The Qualifications of Babylonian Diviners. In Festschrift für Rykle Borger zu seinem 65. (Groningen, NE: Styx, 1998).