I’ve been off galavanting around at the Fellowship of Isis Convocation at the lovely Isis Oasis in Geyserville, CA. More on that in another post…but for now, let’s continue on with our discussion of Kheperu or Transformations.
Today I’d like to offer some more examples of the technique at other points in history.
We’ve seen how it appears in ancient Egypt—especially in the funerary texts, but remember, those texts were not solely for the dead. There are quite a number of the texts that specifically say that they are good for the living as well. Thus the magical technique of Kheperu isn’t just for the dead; it also benefits the living.
Now let’s follow Kheperu into other cultures. The first place we’ll look is in the Greek Magical Papyri. While these texts were written in Greek, they employ largely Egyptian magical techniques and the scholars who have studied them go so far as to say that the Greek magic can’t be explain except by Egyptian antecedents.
Kheperu in the Greek Magical Papyri
In this example, from a text often called the Mithras Liturgy, is a working for Divine communion and a holy vision of Mithras-Helios-Aion. It offers a striking example of how Kheperu was used. In the text, the ritualist acknowledges that it is impossible for a mere mortal to do the things he wishes to do. Therefore, he becomes the God and, no longer a mere mortal, he confidently asks to be received among the Deities:
. . . for today I am about to behold, with immortal eyes—I, born mortal from mortal womb, but transformed by tremendous power and an incorruptible right hand and with immortal spirit, the immortal Aion and master of the fiery diadems—I, sanctified through holy consecrations—while there subsists within me, holy, for a short time, my human soul-might, which I will again receive after the present bitter and relentless necessity which is pressing down upon me . . . Since it is impossible for me, born mortal, to rise with the golden brightnesses of the immortal brilliance, OEY AEO EYA EOE YAE OIAE, stand, O perishable nature of mortals, and at once receive me safe and sound after the inexorable and pressing need. For I am the son PSYCHON DEMOU PROCHO PROA, I am MACHARPH [. . .] N MOU PROPSYCHON PROE. (PGM V 475-829 )
As the working continues, the magician draws in “breath from the rays” and he feels himself being lifted into the air. Eventually, he finds himself among the Gods and declares “I am a star wandering about with you, and shining forth out the deep. . .” Like the Egyptian who after death is “joined to his star,” the magician in this text is also a star, a God in the company of Gods. As the vision continues, he sees many Deities and spirits.
As grandiose as the Mithras Liturgy is, there are many other examples, too, such as this one in which the intimacy between the magician and the God she invokes is simple and beautiful:
For you are I and I am you, your name is mine and mine is yours. For I am your image [. . . ] I know you, Hermes, and you know me. I am you and you are I.
Kheperu in Theurgy
There is a text called On the Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians which is attributed to Iamblichus, a highly influential Syrian Neoplatonist mage living in Egypt around 300 CE. On the Mysteries specifically addresses Kheperu, that is the “Form of the Gods”:
In all of theurgy, the magician maintains a dual aspect: one as a human, which keeps our natural place in the Universe; the other is supported by divine signs because it is connected with the Higher Powers; under their direction it moves harmoniously, and is indeed able to assume the Form of the Gods. In accordance with this distinction, the magician naturally invokes as Higher Beings the Powers of the Universe, since he who invokes them is human; yet he also commands these Powers, since by his arcane formulae he has assumed the sacred Form of the Gods.
Kheperu in Early Christianity
Kheperu is also found in early Christian texts. The majority of these texts are Coptic Christian texts from Egypt. It is no surprise that Egyptians were not about to give up this powerful, traditional method of connecting with the Divine just because the Deities now had different names. They merely made some adjustments.
This example is a prayer labeled as the prayer Jesus Christ uttered upon the cross and which the magician too now utters:
I am Jesus Christ. I took to myself a chalice of water in my hand and gave an invocation over it in the name of Marmaroi, the force standing before the father, the great power of Barbaraoth, the right forearm of Baraba, the cloud of light standing before Yao Sabaoth. So I poured by chalice of water down into the sea, and it divided in the middle. I looked down and saw a unicorn lying on a golden field, that is named Sappathai.
And here’s one for Mary:
Problems with Kheperu
With the institutionalization of Christianity throughout the Mediterranean and into Europe, the use of Kheperu in magic declines further. This is because, under the Christian Empire, there were at least three major problems with using the technique: the God problem, the form problem, and the magic problem.
The God problem is obvious. Since there was now supposed to be only one God (what about that Trinity thing?), all the other Gods—the Deities Whose names filled the traditional magical books—must be demons and devils. It was bad enough to speak Their names during an invocation, but it was worse still to claim to BE one of Them.
Magicians found it relatively easy to avoid these problems by using the theologically and politically acceptable Divine names. (Some papyri-type spells were secretly retained, of course, and the Deities turned into demons. We can find their rather pitiful remains in some of the Medieval grimoires.) Yet as time passed, most Western magicians were Christian themselves and naturally applied their own religion to their magic. To avoid claiming to be God, they could use less-direct types of Divine contact, such as quoting the Deities rather than explicitly claiming to BE Them, to empower their workings.
The form problem is a little more interesting. It concerns sacred images and the question of idolatry. Two of the great radical monotheisms, Judaism and Islam, specifically forbade the making of Divine images. The God of the Jews condemned the making of graven images and was not to be represented Himself. Islam too allowed no representation of its God. Catholic Christians found themselves in an interesting position, for while their churches and cathedrals were full of exquisitely beautiful Divine images, they still had to deal with the prohibition against idolatry—idol worship. Originally, this was directed against the use of Pagan sacred images. Because Pagans liberally employed sacred images in their worship, early Christian propagandists were able to redefine any Pagan worship as idol worship.
Then there was the considerable problem with magic itself. Like ‘idolatrous’ Pagan worship, magic employs images—lots of them. Symbolic images of the Deities reveal Their attributes. Talismanic images correspond to Divine energies and retain the energy invoked into them. Astrological images fill the literature. And envisioning or reading texts describing Divine images are used extensively in Kheperu. Paganism, idolatry, and magic shared the same heretical bed and were duly persecuted together.
Given all this, it is not hard to understand why the magical technique of Kheperu fell out of use and began to be lost.
But not entirely. One interesting place it survived was in exorcism, where the priest tells the indwelling demon: “It is not I who command you, nor my sins, O most unclean spirit, but the immaculate lamb, Jesus Christ Our Lord, the Son of God, commands you.” It survived in Renaissance magic. It survived in early Qabalah. It survived among some Christian mystics. And it survived in occultism. It was vital in the Work of early magical lodges and came into some forms of Wicca as Drawing Down the Moon (as we saw a couple posts ago) and from there into a more generalized Neo-Paganism. There are a lot more details to this history of Kheperu than I can provide here…but this gives you the bare bones of it.
Next time we’ll see how to use Kheperu in further developing our relationship with Isis.