(Version 1.0, 12/09/2017)
Every since my discovery of the missing formula in the Stele of Jeu papyrus and its torn edge with the vowel annotation, I've been obsessing over the seven vowels and their use in the PGM (1) and excessively diving into heaps of articles and books about the topic.
My left brain keeps insisting "There's gotta be a system or pattern!" while my right brain keeps smiling, saying "it's all just about the harmonic sounds, dude!".
Anyways, this post serves as a (growing) public collection of my notes about "the shudderful names" and to some extend also the "barbarous words" and how and if they are related to the single spells they are part of.
The Alphabet in Mystic and Magic
The best attempt of an academic analysis of the seven vowels I have found so far is in a German book from 1925 called "Das Alphabet in Mystik und Magie" by Franz Dornseiff.
In Chapter II §3 the author lists examples of the vowels and in which context they were used in different papyri and gnostic texts. He states that the prayers that contain vowel variations are addressed to the following Egyptian deities: Isis, Osiris, Thoth-Hermes, Sarapis, Harpocrates-Chnuphis. More than to the Egyptian gods they are used in prayers to the Jewish/Christian god JHVH/IAÔ and in a few cases to the Archangels. Other deities are Helios, Aion, Abrasax, but mostly Apollon and Hekate.
He talks about the directionality of the vowels and the way they are supposed to be pronounced according to the PGM. Ne also notes, that the vowels are used more at the end of invocations than at the beginning, as most powerful magical words. Dornseiff points out that the source of these vowels is most probably to be found in Egyptian theurgy. He presents the two often used quotes by Demetrios and Nicomanchus (see below) and pinpoints the beginning of the use of vowel variations to the end of the 19th dynasty (around 1150 B.C.).
One probable reason for the vowel combinations is the magical practice of seeking a deity's "real name" beyond their given name that ususally does not come close to their true essence in a limited human alphabet. He also notes that one should not forget that not all magicians were pious idealists, some also made up gibberish on the fly, because they had paying customers.
He refers to a paper by his colleague A. Harnack who alleged that the rows of vowels could be a "dialect" of the "convulsive languages" ("speaking in tongues") and that they need to be ecstatically vibrated.
What follows is a list of use cases of different vowel variations, that they are written in triangle shapes, or cycling through them forwards, backwards, and so on and so forth. He does not offer any conclusion about the vowel use at the end of his chapter about this topic, but in general Dornseiff notes that evidence against a randomly used gibberish and for a system is the fact that a lot of the voces magicae including the vowels are often accompanied by an explicit comment about how many letters long they are. Often these numbers refer to the stars: 7 (planets), 12 (zodiac), 28 (mansions of the moon), 36 (decans) or kabbalistic numbers 12, 42, 72. Sometimes they are palindromes, in other cases written in triangle or other shapes (wings, grapes, heart).
Books & Documents
- Das Alphabet in Mystik und Magie" by Franz Dornseiff
- Kieren Barry, "The Greek Qabalah"
- Joscelyn Godwin, "Mystery of the Seven Vowels"
- Patricia Cox Miller, "In Praise of Nonsense"
- Joachim Śliwa, "From the world of gnostic spells. The ιαεω ‑palindrome"
The Seven Vowels
The Seven Greek Vowels symbolised the seven heavens, or Planets, whose harmony keeps the Universe in existence, each vowel having seven different methods of expression corresponding with a certain Force, the correct utterance of these letters and comprehension of the forces typified being believed to confer supreme power, bringing success in all enterprises and giving complete control over all the powers of darkness.
(William T. Pavitt & Kate Pavitt, 1922, The Book of Talismans, Amulets and Zodiacal Gems, 2nd edn., Rider & Son, London, p.65.)
Greek letters became hieroglyphs, [...] while Egyptian hieroglyphs could be ‘spoken’ in Greek; Egyptian priests claimed Greek vowel sounds as the divine inheritance of Thoth, while Greeks turned the same vowel sounds into the visual insignia of cosmic forces.
(Frankfurter, 1994, “The Magic of Writing and the Writing of Magic.” From p.211)
The Greek initiates also recognized a fundamental relationship between the individual heavens or spheres of the seven planets, and the seven sacred vowels. The first heaven uttered the sound of the sacred vowel Α (Alpha); the second heaven, the sacred vowel Ε (Epsilon); the third, Η (Eta); the fourth, Ι (Iota); the fifth, Ο (Omicron); the sixth, Υ (Upsilon); and the seventh heaven, the sacred vowel Ω (Omega). When these seven heavens sing together they produce a perfect harmony which ascends as an everlasting praise to the throne of the Creator.
(Manly P. Hall. Secret Teachings of All Ages (New York, NE:Tarcher/Penguin, 2003))
Sound and Harmony
[...] if all existing things were tunes, they would have been a number, but a number of quarter-tones, and their essence would not have been number; and the one would have been something whose substance was not to be one but to be the quarter-tone. And similarly if all existent things had been articulate sounds, they would have been a number of letters, and the one would have been a vowel. And if all existent things were rectilinear figures, they would have been a number of figures, and the one would have been the triangle. And the same argument applies to all other classes.
(Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book X, Part 2)
There are seven vowels, seven strings to the scale, seven Pleiades. . . and seven heroes who attacked Thebes . . . [The Pythagoreans] also assert that xi, psi and zeta are concords . . . because there are only three double consonants, and . . . there are three concords. . . . And they point out that the interval from alpha to omega in the alphabet is equal to that from the lowest note of a flute to the highest, whose number [twentyfour] is equal to that of the whole system of the universe.
(Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book N, 1093a-b, in H. Treddenick (trans.), (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962), pp. 300-301)
And the tones of the seven spheres, each of which by nature produces a particular sound, arc the sources of the nomenclature of the vowels. These are described as unpronounceable in themselves and in all their combinations by wise men since the tone in this context performs a role analogous to that of the monad in number, the point in geometry, and the letter in grammar. However, when they are combined with the materiality of the consonants just as soul is combined with body and harmony with strings—the one producing a creature, the other notes and melodies—they have potencies which are efficacious and perfective of divine things. Thus whenever the theurgists are conducting such acts of worship they make invocation symbolically with hissing, clucking, and inarticulate and discordant sounds.
(Nicomanchus of Gerasa, "Manual of Harmony")
The seven strings of the magic lyre gave out, as they sounded, vibratory numbers corresponding to the astral waves of the seven planets. The Hierophant applied, for his musical purposes, the mechanism of the cosmic vibrations, and it was thus that at the propitious moment, he proceeded to the animation of the transvitalized phantasm of the Pharaoh. To capture the astral influx of planetary life, and to transfuse it into the mummy, the Hierophant made the seven notes resonate magically: A, G, F, E, D, C, B; according to a slurred ternary rhythm which repeated like a charmed circle.
Then the atmosphere of the tomb was animated by lines of subtle energies, and the prodigy of an extraordinary condensation of cosmic life manifested by the rhythmic palpitations of the supervitalized air.
The astral waves became more and more condensed, so as to form a wondrous fluidic spiral, the shape of the magic vortex of protection and animation whose center was the mummy itself. At that instant, the Hierophant intoned the incantation of astral life and fixed it, following the law of magical correspondences, in the breast of the mummy, whose phantasm was animated by an inextinguishable flame: and the miraculous existence of the Pharaoh's double would last as long as the land of Egypt.
(Fidèle Amy-Sage, "Le secret de la sépulture d'un Pharaon")
Sound is a form of energy. Different vibrations of sound cause varying energy levels. Your state of consciousness can be changed by your own vibrational rate. You can also obtain visions of the gods and shape-shift [...]. When sound is used as a mantra, your concentration, visualization, and power during magic can be accelerated. The rate of vibration in your pronunciation of words and names changes energy molecules. Every cell of a thought, emotion, plant, animal, person, and all that is visible and invisible, vibrates, because every atom of every molecule within a cell is energy. All that is animate and inanimate consists of energy. The human voice produces two different sound qualities: consonants and vowels. Each quality releases and enhances the energy of your consciousness and therefore empowers your divination or magic work.
(Eleanor L. Harris and Normandi Ellis "Ancient Egyptian Magic")
Gematria and Isopsephy
For the monad, therefore, as being beneficent, they assert that there are consequently names ascending, and beneficent, and masculine, and carefully observed, terminating in an uneven number; whereas that those terminating in the even number have been supposed to be both descending, and feminine and malicious. For they affirm that nature is made up of contraries, namely bad and good, as right and left, light and darkness, night and day, life and death. And moreover they make this assertion, that they have calculated the word Deity, (and found that it reverts into a pentad with an ennead subtracted). Now this name is an even number, and when it is written down (on some material) they attach it to the body, and accomplish cures by it. In this manner, likewise, a certain herb, terminating in this number, being similarly fastened around (the frame), operates by reason of a similar calculation of the number. Nay, even a doctor cures sickly people by a similar calculation. If, however, the calculation is contrary, it does not heal with facility. Persons attending to these numbers reckon as many as are homogeneous according to this principle; some, however, according to vowels alone; whereas others according to the entire number. Such also is the wisdom of the Egyptians, by which, as they boast, they suppose that they cognise the divine nature.
(Egyptian Theory of Nature; Their Amulets, Refutation of All Heresies (Book IV), Chapter 44, Hippolytus)
the inhabitants give attention to every branch of learning and especially to astrology; and they use letters which, according to the value of the sounds they represent, are twenty-eight in number, but the characters are only seven, each one of which can be formed in four different ways
(Iambulos Island, Diodorus Siculus, Book II, pg. 37)
"There is no mystery which is more excellent than these mysteries on which ye question, in that it will lead your souls into the Light of the lights, into the regions of Truth and Goodness, into the region of the Holy of all holies, into the region in which there is neither female nor male, nor are there forms in that region, but a perpetual indescribable Light. Nothing more excellent is there, therefore, than these mysteries on which ye question, save only the mystery of the seven Voices and their nine-and-forty powers and their ciphers. And there is no name which is more excellent than them all, the name in which are all names and all lights and all powers.
"Who then knoweth that name, if he cometh out of the body of matter, nor smoke nor darkness nor authority nor ruler of the Fate-sphere nor angel nor archangel nor power can hold down the soul which knoweth that name; but if it cometh out of the world and sayeth that name to the fire, it is quenched and the darkness withdraweth.
"And if it sayeth it to the demons and to the receivers of the outer darkness and their rulers and their authorities and their powers, they will all sink down and their flame will burn and they will cry out: 'Holy, holy art thou, most holy of all holies.'
"And if one sayeth that name to the receivers of the wicked chastisements and their authorities and all their powers and also to Barbēlō and the invisible god and the three triple-powered gods, straightway if one will say this name in those regions, they will all fall one on another, will be undone and destroyed and cry out: 'O Light of all lights, which is in the boundless lights, remember us and purify us.'"
(Of the highest mysteries and of the great name, Pistis Sophia, Book V, Ch. 143)
Iota, the Universe came out; Alpha, they will turn them; Omega, will become the completion of all completions.
(Jesus quote, G . Horner (trans.), "Pistis Sophia" ( London : Macmillan, 1924), p. 180.)
But these are the names which I shall give from the Boundless One downwards. Write them with a sign, that the sons of God should be manifested from this place onwards. This is the name of the Deathless One AAA ΩΩΩ . And this is the name of the sound by which the Perfect Man was moved III. But these are the interpretations of the names of these Mysteries. The first is AAA. Its interpretation is ΦΦΦ . The second is MMM or ΩΩΩ . Its interpretation is AAA. The third is ΨΨΨ . Its interpretation is OOO. The fourth is ΦΦΦ . Its interpretation is NNN. The fifth is AAA. Its interpretation is AAA. He who is upon the throne is AAA. This is the interpretation of the second AAAA AAAA AAAA. This is the interpretation of the whole name.
(G. Horner (trans.), Pistis Sophia, p. 62)
Yea, yea, for I adjure you in the name of the 7 letters that are tattooed on the chest of the father, namely, A 7 (times), E 7 (times), E 7 (times), I 7 (times), O 7 (times), U 7 (times), O 7 (times), yea, yea, that you obey my mouth, at this moment, before it passes and another one comes in its place, and you appear to me in a vision that is not frightening, through the power of the holy father.
(Spell to obtain a good singing voice, London Oriental Manuscript 6794)