Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 18, Vol. 2. Vernal Equinox 2010
Olympic Spirits: The Hidden Gods
by Nick Farrell
In the 3=8 ritual of the Golden Dawn the candidate was shown a diagram of the seven Olympic Spirits. The diagram was considered important but no reference was made to it in the Golden Dawn outside a 5=6 paper by Sam Mathers which was a cut and paste effort from traditional sources. While the person who wrote the Cipher manuscripts had an idea that the Olympic Spirits were important, the information as to why seemed to have passed the Golden Dawn by, and their function was left to the role of passively working on the candidate's sphere of sensation during the 3=8 ritual. In modern Golden Dawn Orders which take their rites from the “black book” the Olympic Spirits are not even accorded that dignity. They had been dropped completely by the Bristol temple, which provided Regardie's rituals, and have been lost from what many people consider traditional Golden Dawn.
When creating the diagrams for the Magical Order of the Aurora Aurea we restored those that were missing and I was left puzzled as to why the creator of the Cipher documents considered them so important. In the Golden Dawn tradition being shown a diagram is an initiation to the powers that are behind it. Why was it so important that Olympic Spirits were used at all? They appeared to be just other names for planetary spirits, of which the Golden Dawn used the Hebrew versions taken from Agrippa. Why would they be given at 3=8 which is the Water grade of Mercury and Hod? Researching these questions resulted in some surprises which made the Olympic Spirits a lot more important to the Western Mystery Tradition and the Golden Dawn.
The Olympic Spirits make their first appearance in a ritual magic handbook called the Arbatel of Magic which was bundled together with the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy of Cornelius Agrippa in the 16th century. It was translated into English from Latin by Robert Turner and seems to be very similar to other magical works of the time. Most of the book is based around wise sayings or Aphorisms which are more just wise occult proverbs and mostly religious such as:
Live to thyself, and the muses, avoid friendships with the multitude, be thou covetous of time, beneficial to all men. Use thy gifts, be vigilant in thy calling and let the word of God never depart from your mouth.
Then, in the middle of all the sort of exhalations you would expect to hear at a school prize or a Sunday School lecture you get some fairly hardcore comments about Magic. Fitting about as snuggly as an elephant in your refrigerator in the heart of the Arbatel are a few pages about the Olympic Spirits. Like many occult writings they do not tell you anything, but give you the clues to find out everything.
The Arbatel tells us that Olympic spirits inhabit the firmament which was the air and regions of space that held the stars together. The job of these spirits is to “declare Destinies, and to administer fatal Charms, so far forth as God allows them”.
The Arbatel goes out of its way to say that the Olympic Spirits have total control over the world and can do what they like, provided they do not upset God who is the guide of all things. This is to remind the reader that really it is god that does everything.
Each spirit was assigned a planet and they had total control over them. There are seven different governments of the Spirits of Olympus and they are appointed the whole of the universe to be governed. They divided up the universe into 186 provinces. 186 is the Gematria of Golgotha and the phrase “The heavens declare the glory of YHVH” in Psalm 19.1. This gives you the idea that they are the great matter builders of the universe. This makes them literally the ground that the Cosmic Christ is crucified upon.
The names of the Olympic Spirits are Aratron, Bethor, Phaleg, Och, Hagith, Ophiel, and Phul. But these are 'titles' and a means to approach them. The Arbatel says that each spirit, when approached, will tell you their true name. However these are unique for every person and only will last for 40 years, perhaps because each force changes over time and after a 40 year cycle it is so different that it can't be called the same thing any more.
Each of the Spirits are given various tasks. Aratron for example can make you invisible or cure baldness, Bether can make medicines. The Arbatel says that each of them rules those things that are ascribed to the planets, which has made many people believe they are just another name for the planetary spirit. However they are also attributed rulerships of periods of time and are responsible for whole epochs of history, which is very un-spirit like. Also the Arbatel says each of the seven can move through all the elements, something impossible to a planetary spirit which is limited to the element of the planet.
Reading the Arbatel more questions arise than are given answers. But the process of asking provides a picture of these beings which makes them more Godlike. Firstly since this is a late medieval document we must understand what is meant by the term 'spirit'. In the Golden Dawn we are taught that in a planetary hierarchy we have God, Archangel, Angel, Intelligence and spirit. Spirits are the least possible to control and must always be approached through the other three hierarchies. However it is clear that the Olympics are supposed to be approached directly and will send minions to do their bidding. They are not 'spirits' in that sense. But in the late medieval period everything that was not God or material was considered a spirit. We have John Dee calling Aniel a Spirit for example and she was an archangel. So why the term Olympic? There can only be one meaning for this during the Late Medieval period and that was that they were the beings that inhabited Mount Olympus.
It seems that in looking at the names of the spirits, or becoming focused on their planetary nature we missed that by calling them Olympic, the Arbatel was implying they were the seven main Greek gods that dwelt on Mount Olympus. These would be Apollo, Selene, Ares, Hermes, Zeus, Aphrodite and Chronos. These were named by the Romans as Sol, Luna, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. Notice that we are NOT talking about the planets, but the God that rules the planet, just like the Arbatel says.
The Arbatal makes a clear division between the Olympic spirits and the divine. In doing so it would be following the line that Christians had taken up to that point, that the Olympic spirits were minor when it came to the spectacular unity which was God.
Thus it is tempting to suggest that the Olympics were just a blind for the pagan Gods of the Greeks and Romans. The 'secret names' of the Gods and Goddesses were accessed through the Christian religion without them having to worry about the accusation that they might be worshipping pagan gods. But this would only be part of the story.
The Ancient Greeks had a habit of classifying all gods and goddesses using their system. Every time they encountered a new God or Goddess they worked out which one was closest to their system. Thus we find the Jews being told that they worshipped Zeus because their God tended to sit on mountains and lob thunderbolts. The Ancient Egyptian Thoth was called Hermes because he represented writing and the Celts’ worship of Alator was associated with Ares. But equally it could also be applied to the more obscure Greek gods and goddesses. So for example Athena was a form of Zeus, Dionysus was another expression of either Apollo, or Venus. The fact was that all Gods and Goddesses of religion could be placed under seven broad headings which loosely fitted within the planets.
Keeping this idea moving, the so called Monotheistic exoteric religions also could be placed in this seven-fold category. If Judaism fits into Jupiter then Christianity does quite nicely as a Solar cult. But then we start to notice that when a religion fragments it often becomes a different expression. The puritan Christianity of the 17th century was very much Chronos, while the happy-clappy 'born-again' Christians in many respects act like a Venus cult. Early Pauline Christianity was practically a Venus love cult when it was first established, but when it became an official Roman religion became similar to worship of Selene with her virginal priests worshipping Mary. Similar 'pagan' fragmentation may be found in the Muslim religion. Note that I am not saying that monotheists are worshipping these gods by name, but are approaching religion through a similar approach to the worshippers of that pagan god.
If the inventors of the 'Olympian Spirit' system had coded the pagan deities, it is clear that the names were not that important. They do not say the 'Zeus' or 'Ares' seal, they have different, more occult, names. It might have been because they feared that they would be persecuted, but during this period of history it was becoming acceptable to look at Pagan symbols if hidden under an appropriate Christian cloak. But it is possible that they were saying something a little more heretical.
Although God is One Thing it expresses itself in seven different ways as it passes into matter. These make up all the Gods that rule the earth.
When the One Thing moves from Tiphareth to Netzach it makes a great division into Seven. This is why the magical image of Netzach is the Seven Lamps.
In Cabbalah there is an order of Angels called the Elohim. These are sometimes identified with being Archangels and collectively they are also a name of God. These are incredibly important because in Genesis the Elohim say “Let us make man in our own image.” The connection to the Elohim with our Olympic Spirits becomes clear when we realise that Elohim is the Hebrew word for “Gods”.
It is a common misconception that the Jewish people did not believe that there were other Gods. In their early form they believed in other Gods they just thought YHVH was better. Later as their religion evolved into something more monotheistic they thought EVERYTHING was God so the other Gods were simply an imperfect expression of YHVH and should not be worshipped before him.
It would seem then that both in Greece and the Middle East the “Gods” create man. The Greeks also knew that their Gods were very human and that in many ways mirrored human weaknesses and glory and they too believed that we were the image of the Olympic gods.
Just as white light is divided into seven colours, violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red, by a crystal, so is the real religion of unity split into seven aspects. In the Eastern-Influenced system of Alice Bailey they were called Rays, and I thought there might be an interesting correlation between the two systems. Alas Bailey's system is a little muddled when it comes to the planets and the colours system lacks the symmetry of the GD and its basic planetary ones which is here.
The seven rays did not spring from Bailey. They are her impression of a tradition that goes back to Ancient Greece. When Zeus takes the bull-form known as Taurus in order to win the heart of Europa his face "gleams with seven rays of fire." The idea of seven rays appears in the Mysteries of Mithras and Dionysus, the Chaldean Oracles. The Gnostics and others worshipped a God of Seven Rays. However it is not clear what these rays were. They were often seen as an expression of the sun. But the idea of Olympic spirits places a different spin on them. If the seven rays are the seven archetypal Gods from which all religion is based, then all our attempts to find God through them are chasing shadows. The Olympic Spirits are fragments of the Divine Unity, as we are, and therefore must be bought together in the mind of the Magician as part of the journey home. They also provide us with direct control of planetary power. According to the Hermetic work Isis to Horus :
Seven wandering stars are there which move in the spheres before Olympus' Gate... To these stars the human race is committed. We have within us Mene, Zeus, Ares, Paphie, Kronos, Helios and Hermes. By this means are we destined to draw from the living Aether of the Kosmos our tears, mirth, anger, our parenthood, our conversation, our sleep and every desire.
Religion is a vital part of the development of any Magician. In the Outer Order we are introduced to an officer called the Hegemon who carries the mitre-headed sceptre which she says “represents religion which guides life”. The Hegemon is the incarnation of the forces of balance – Maat so she is saying that by balanced use of religion you can be carried through the Outer Order.
So why is our religion not balanced? Simply because each person is born with one or more rays predominant and so they are naturally drawn to one Olympic spirit over another. If you look at your astrological chart you will see that some planets are weak and others cancel each other out so you are left with one or two predominant rays. As you begin your religious quest you will first be drawn to that Olympic Spirit that is closest to those rays. Society often dictates what religion is available but each of the bigger ones is capable of containing with their 'church' all rays. A Christian who is on the Och ray will be drawn to those churches which emphasis death and resurrection. Those who like lots of psychic experiences, such as speaking in tongues will probably head to the Churches where the Phul ray is predominant.
Everyone is trying to find that Olympic spirit which is predominant in their creation and when they find it they will get an appropriate set of rules and guidelines for living in the universe which was created by the Gods.
What is perhaps tragic is that with the fall of Christianity within Western society, many people have lost touch with the various Olympic Spirits. As such they have lost their spiritual guidance and are feeling a bit lost. Some managed to find the same spirits behind the masks of other religions but until a new modern religion replaces the Church then people will have to keep looking. It is probably for this reason that the neo-paganism movement has managed to gain so much ground. Worshippers are returning to the Olympic Spirits almost directly and finding that they have something to say.
However each ray is in itself unbalanced and subject to corruption. Solar religions tend to end up killing people, usually through a Leonine arrogance that they are completely right. Lunar religions end up castrating people either physically or metaphorically. Mercurial religions often play mind games, Saturnian religions are big on guilt and so on. But for most ordinary people the mystical power they provide is what they need to live out their life on earth. As the Arbatel says the Seven spirits decide people's destinies.
That should read “ordinary people”. The magician is different. Their destiny is not to worship the Olympic spirits but to balance them in themselves and then move on to attain a unity with the God who expresses itself through the seven rays. This balancing act is probably what was suggested by the Gnostic idea of Aeons. When you die you face each of the Olympic Spirits. If you have mastered all of them you are permitted to go on your journey into the reality of the universe. How do you master them? You take the lessons and spiritual guidance they have to teach you.
Firstly you have to find out which ray and therefore which Olympic Spirit you are attached to. Firstly it should be the predominant planet in your chart. So take for example this nameless person.
Leo Sun (in the first house)
With the Sun in the first house and in its favoured sign of Leo it is very strong. Mars in Libra, Pisces in Saturn, Mercury in Leo are not well placed and therefore weak. Jupiter is strong as is Venus. Therefore the main Olympic spirit will be Och although the person will be influenced also by Bether and Hagith.
In this chart Mars in Leo would be the strongest but being in the 12th house it is blighted. The expansive Jupiter would not like the conservative Taurus. Saturn would not like the expansive Leo and Mercury is also weak. This leaves the Sun, Venus and the Moon as the strongest although neither are particularly obvious. Looking at the persons chart however we see that the Moon is not blocked by any bad aspects and actually is in a trine and sextile with the Sun. It would mean then that their Olympic Spirit would be the Phul although Och and Hagith would be also involved.
What does this mean in terms of the religion that both these cases would follow? The first case would look for a religion that followed solar cycles of death and rebirth. The religion would probably have a healing angle and may follow the ideas of re-incarnation. The second person would be attracted to a more mystical and psychic religion where feminine roles were more important and sexuality was sublimated. But for both of these people if they followed just their primary Olympic Spirit they would be badly imbalanced and fortunately have back-ups in their subsidiary rays. It is probably fair to define the fundamentalist in any religion as one who only sees one Olympic Spirit. If either of these two were occultists it would be important for them to work with and understand those Olympic Spirits which are blighted in their charts. Their natural tendency will be to manifest Och or Phul so they must work consciously to involve the others.
Symbols of the Olympic Spirits
The Olympic Spirits are the archetypes of ALL religions, not simply Greek or Roman. We are given their sigils, or signatures but the limited information on them also gives us symbols connected to them. These are often repeated which means that there are holes in the system but they seem to root themselves in more pagan deities. Reading through the list, which come from Dr Rudd's Treatise on the Nine Hierarchies of Angels, it is possible to see them as similar to the descriptions of Celtic standards which were carried into war. They might be the images that are associated with the Olympic Spirit from the earliest time – the Totem animals and symbols behind the seven primal spirits. It is a nice idea, but unfortunately totally unproveable. It is also possible to see the symbols of the older Greek and Roman gods.
A bearded King riding a dragon
A King with a sword drawn riding a stag
A King riding a Wolf
A King riding a Lion
A King with sceptre riding a Camel
A King riding a bear
A King like Arthur riding on a Doe
Seals of the Olympian Spirits
Unlike the seals of the planetary spirits, which are based on magic squares, the seals of the Olympic spirits are a complete mystery. All but the seal of Ophiel are based on horizontal and vertical lines. Ophiel is more like a lightning flash. Phul appears to have departed slightly from the square boxes of the other Sigils and relies on a curved line which might represent a luna crescent.
One of the more interesting ideas, which fits into the context of this paper, is that the symbols are primal and are connected to the same symbols used to denote gods in stone age iconography.
The figure of Och for example could be a symbolic shorthand for the sun showing three rays emerging from it, or it could represent the solar stag with its horns. Unfortunately this is unlikely as one of the most important symbols in cave paintings and carvings is the spiral and these characters are all linear. If it represents the sun with three rays then the symbol has become corrupted as there is an important lateral line to the figure. Likewise the Stag is not an animal associated with this figure. The Stag is associated with Phalec and the antler motif can be imagined, but it is a little dubious.
Generally then, it is better to see these symbols as links to the primal power of which we have no intellectual knowledge yet.
The colours of the seals are based on the colours of the ray associated with them, which is tied to the colour of the planet.
Approaching the Olympic Spirits
The Arbatel gives fairly simple methods of approaching the spirits. You should get up at sunrise on the day assigned to the Olympic Spirit and say a prayer of request. The Prayer is:
Omnipotent and eternal God who has ordained the whole of creation for your praise and glory and for the salvation of man, I beseech you to send your spirit N.N. Of the Order of the Sun who shall inform and teach me those things which I shall ask of him or that he may bring me medicine against the dropsy &c. Nevertheless not my will but thine be done through Jesus Christ thy only Begotten Son our Lord, Amen
There is a warning that you should not talk to the spirit for longer than an hour unless he is the Spirit that is linked to you.
For as much as you came in peace and quietly and have answered my petitions I have give thanks to God in whose name you came. Now may you depart in peace to you abode and return to me again when I call you by your name or your Order or by your office which is granted from the Creator, Amen.
This is all basic and standard stuff. However if it were performed literally it would not work either. It is as if the writer of the Arbatel having given some detail about the Olympic Spirits had given up trying to tell any other details. But there are clues even here about what to do.
To call any of the seven lamps you have invoke the single light that is behind them.
The writer invokes the Omnipotent and eternal God who organised the whole of creation. The Elohim were creators but they were working under contract. This tallies with the 5=6 oath which requires you to invoke the highest power first.
Then it gets confusing as the Arbatel gives you the example of an unnamed Solar spirit being called to provide medicine for Dropsy. Surely the Arbatel has told you that the Solar Spirit being called is Och. If another spirit is intended then this means that the procedure is missing a few steps.
After invoking the light behind the lamps you must then invoke the Olympic Spirit while staring at the seal.
This can be done by vibrating the name of the Spirit and then step through the tablet into Olympic plane. You should find yourself close to a temple or some other form of religious hardware. You might find that the temple is generic and there are statues of many different gods and goddesses that manifest its ray or it might only appear as one. There you can approach the Spirit and ask :
The question is how you should approach the Spirits. If they are gods do they demand worship? One of the interesting things about early so-called pagan religion was that it was very matter of fact. There is little indication of a mystical expression outside the Mystery religions. Everyone knew the gods existed, they also sought to placate them with respect and doing the right rituals. If something went wrong with society, or a family then it was important to find out which gods had been insulted and attempt to placate them. But the feeling was that if you were pious the gods and goddesses left you alone and sometimes did you a favour. The Mystery religions were the first to take gods out of that cycle and look for a more intimate relationship.
The Olympic Spirits are like the One Thing on a lower arc. They are fragmented aspects of its Power. However I have yet to see any proof that the One Thing demands worship. There is little in the way of logic that suggests that a being so vast and multi-dimensional gets anything out of being told how wonderful it is. Humans might feel that power and want to express it, but it is not a necessary part of the equation. In fact the rational occultist might not want to do even that. Jewish religion treats the idea of worshipping fragments of God, just as humans, Gods, Angels with horror. Thus it is more likely that the Olympic spirits want to be understood and have willing assistants in the destiny of creation.
Next you should ask for a spirit (which may be a godform) who will provide you with what you want.
Then in the name of the Olympic Spirit you should ask for that Godform to manifest with what you desire. You could even use the seal of the Olympic spirit to call it.
Olympic spirits are 'gods' and cannot be ordered about.
The magical system of Olympic spirits gives you a way of asking the universe for something they are not ordering about. You cannot threaten them or do anything which is a standard tool of grimoire magic. You are getting in touch with one of the prime religious motivators in the universe and the most powerful source of magic. However they act according to their own will and according to their own plans. In some cases they will not give you want you want, and in other cases they will let you have it even if it is not a good idea. Gods are like that.
The form of magic will be religious
My own experience, and the experience of other magicians that have invoked the Olympic Spirits are that they feel much like an intense religious experience. Your invocations have to be emotional and almost mystical in your approach. Lots of appropriate candles, chanting and perhaps the odd sing song. In some ways they are the most simple and approachable magical experience you can have. In other ways they are hardest to archive.
The Olympic Spirits and their spirits
Obviously the above list is just a start and some of the bigger gods and goddesses could appear under different Olympic Spirits. Isis could appear in several different slots depending on what she was doing. This is not because the Olympic spirit was mixed at any point but simply because early religions often swallowed other religion's mythology. Paul's version of Christ can fit under most Olympic spirits.