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Saturday 24 March 2012

The Seven Penitential Psalms & Their Purpose in The Grimoires.

After listening to a fascinating talk by David Rankine at the Occult Conference in Glastonbury U.K. last week on Saturday, I decided to purchase from David and Sorita's Avalonia stall that they had at this event; “The Book Of Gold, Le Livre D'Or” A 17th century magical Grimoire of Amulets, charms, Prayers, sigils and spells using the Biblical Psalms of King David. By David Rankine and Paul Harry Barron. This is a wonderful book giving examples of simple magical spells using the Psalms mainly for the non-spiritual mundane reasons of everyday wants and desires for benevolent or malefic purpose; from blessing your house to stopping fishermen catching any fish!

After having a good look through this book it inspired me to write about the Seven Penitential Psalms, which are found (and sometimes just a verse from one of them) in some of the Grimoires; such as; “The Heptameron”, “The Key of Solomon the King”, “Of the Art Goetia” from The Lesser Key of Solomon, “The Goetia of Dr Rudd”, “Sepher Shimmush Tehillim” (found in The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses). “The Enchiridion of Pope Leo III”, “The Veritable Key of Solomon”, “Hygromanteia”, “The Book Of Gold”, and “The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet”.

The Seven Psalms are; 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. In the Septuagint their numbering slightly changes to; 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, and 142. For this article to avoid any confusion, the former numbering shall be used.

Traditionally these Seven Psalms are used during each day of Lent as a focus on penance for the forgiveness of sins, and ends at Easter when Christ's resurrection from the dead is celebrated. It is no wonder that they can be found to take on a similar role within the Grimoires, mainly for the forgiveness of sins as a type of confession prior to magical work of conjuration or invocation,

For example in “The Veritable Key of Solomon” the magician is told to recite five psalms while casting the circle, one of these being Psalm 51, called "Miserere". Also on page 340, “Concerning the Fast, Care and Observations”, where it says after reciting the confession three times the master is to say: “Purge me, Lord, with hyssop and I shall be cleansed; wash me and I shall become whiter than snow”. (Psalms 51:7). This verse is often used in the Grimoires for purification purposes of either the circle, or of the magician when washing him or herself with water. The whole of Psalm 51 is used in “The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet” on page 128 in the section : “How you shall work to have sight and conference with one Good Angel ”, as the first of three Psalms used to prepare the magician prior to the prayer to call the angel. And again in “The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet” on page 229 in the section : “An Experiment of A Spirit called Bealphares” Psalms 51 is said three times before the circle is blessed with Holy water, and the conjuration to call the spirit commences.

Why is the forgiveness of one's sins an important prerequisite for the ceremonial operations of the Grimoires? To answer this we need to look at what “sin” means from the magical/occult perspective, which we shall be able to do by looking at the spiritual/esoteric interpretation of the scriptures. This will enable us to understand the spiritual nature of specific verses used in the Penitential Psalms.

To start us off is Psalms 6:5 : “For in death there is no remembrance of thee; in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” (King James Bible)

For in death's realm there is no thought of thee, and who can praise thee in the world below?” (James Moffatt translation)

For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?” (English Standard Version)

There is only a slight difference between these translations, being that they either mention the grave, or the underworld, but, they do all point to the fact that God is not thought of, or remembered by the dead. So here is a quote from the writings of Plato that will shed a little light of knowledge and understanding upon this verse, as indeed it will also do upon many other verses found in the Scriptures about the dead!

Who knows whether being alive is being dead and being dead is being alive. Perhaps in reality we are dead. Once I even heard one of the wise men say we are now dead, and that our bodies are our tombs” (Gorgias 492e – 493)

This is probably one of the most lucid explanations in Plato's writings that reveals the esoteric interpretation of “death” as it was used in ancient Greece by the initiates of the Mystery schools, and those divinely inspired writers who have also used it in the scriptures. For “we” are the “dead” that are written about in the scriptures, not the physically dead, but the spiritually dead! Because we roam around the darkness of this world, plagued by the stresses and strains of everyday life that keep us from knowing the light (gnosis) of spiritual affairs! Just like God said to Adam and Eve about the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden: “Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die”(Genesis 3:3).

If we now return back to the concept of “sin” with an understanding of “death” as a metaphor for the living who are “spiritually dead”, we shall start to understand a lot more about how the concept of sin was originally meant to be understood, and why the forgiveness of sins is an important prerequisite for the magical operations found in the Grimoires.

Lets look at the words of St Paul: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death ” (Romans 7:5). And again: “For the wages of sin is death: but the gift of God is eternal life ” (Romans 6:23). And also: “Even when we were dead in sins ” (Ephesians 2 :5).

These Biblical statements, and in particular the last two quite clearly imply that sin causes death. This only makes sense when death is understood in the metaphorical sense as explained above, which is also confirmed by Paul when he says: “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death” (Romans 7:9-10), and : “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin ” (Romans. 7:25).

It is perfectly clear in these words of St. Paul, quoted above, that when the command came to incarnate into matter, his spiritual self dies, while the laws of the flesh cause sin to come alive.

The law of God is the spiritual law that applies to the higher spiritual nature, while the law of sin is the natural law that applies to the lower animal nature, otherwise known as spirit and matter. This is exemplified with these verses : “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” (1Corinrhians 15:44). “The first man is of the earth, earthly: the second man is the Lord from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:47).

In the Scriptures the aspects of the lower nature are always described in an allegorical way as afflictions of disease, disabilities, sorrow, suffering, and sometimes even crime or wickedness. As is explained in one of the Penitential Psalms : “My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness. I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease: and there is no soundness in my flesh” (Psalm 38:5-7). And : “But I, like a deaf man, do not hear; And I am like a mute man who does not open his mouth. Thus I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs.” (Psalm 38:13-14).


Penitential Psalm 102: 19-20 says: “For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the LORD behold the earth: To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death

Could the above be any clearer that the earth is a prison for the dead! There is another lucidly clear passage in the writings of Plato that also confirms this:

Thus some say that the body (soma) is the tomb (sema) of the soul, on the grounds that it is entombed in its present life, while others say that it is correctly called 'a sign' ('sema') because the soul signifies whatever it wants to signify by means of the body. I think it is most likely the followers of Orpheus who gave the body its name with the idea that the soul is being punished for something, and that the body is an enclosure or prison in which the soul is securely kept (sozetaai)-as the name 'soma' itself suggests-until the penalty is paid ” (Cratylus 400c) 

Lets clarify what has been revealed so far in this article. When the soul incarnates into matter the divine spiritual part dies, and the soul comes under the jurisdiction of the natural law of the lower animal nature, which is allegorically called “sin”. Interestingly the name of the ancient Assyrian Moon god is also called “Sin”, and according to Christian doctrine when we fell from grace we are said to come under the law of sin in the sub-lunar sphere of earth. Once imprisoned in the body and subjected to the laws of the lower nature, the soul is said to be in sin because the soul loses its memory of its divine origin, and its sight of spiritual development.

Therefore, it is the transcendence of the lower nature that the magician seeks to gain through the forgiveness of his or her sins. This is why a devout purification process is used in the grimoires, especially so with evocation rituals of infernal spirits, because one is to be spiritually pure when dealing with these forces, or else the magician can all to easily be led astray from the pursuit of spiritual endeavours,
by the infernal forces. Just as it describes in Penitential Psalm 143:3-4 : 

For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead: Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate”.

So apt are these Psalms at expressing contrition that, as he lay dying in A.D. 430, St. Augustine asked that a monk write them in large letters near his bed so he could easily read them” 
  ( In the grimoire known as “The Enchiridion of Pope Leo III” which has been recently translated into English by Michael Cecchetelli, and published by Scarlet Imprint, it mentions psalm 125, although not one of the Seven Penitential Psalms, what it says about it is still interesting nonetheless : “Saint Augustine calls this Orison truly penitential, because it is useful for the dead, above all the other psalms” (Crossed Keys page 113). This statement about Augustine's view of psalm 125 is most intriguing because it suggests that he understood the allegorical meaning of “death” as it is used in the Bible. This has to be what it implies, because it makes no sense if interpreted to apply to actual deceased people, otherwise it would mean that everyone who physically dies is automatically viewd as sinful and has to seek penitence. And after all, does the Christian Church not teach that salvation is sought in this life through the forgiveness of our sins so that one may gain entry into heaven after one physically dies!

It just so happens that Saint Augustine was one of the early Church Fathers that favoured the allegorical interpretation of the scriptures, and; “was also heavily influenced by Stoicism, Platonism, and Neo-platonism, and particularly by the works of Plotinus”.(Wikipedia Augustine of Hippo).


As Easter draws near and Christians prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Christ from the dead, do bear in mind what has been said in this blog entry as you read this last quote that I shall leave you with, and it will need no explanation.
"Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life: For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection ". (Romans 6:4-5)   And as our spiritual nature starts to grow and shine as the Sun increases in light, I bid thee a happy Spring Equinox!