The Bornless Ritual

  1. Introduction (this page)
  2. Interlinear Text
    1. Part one: Title through Section E (Earth)
    2. Part two: Section F (Spirit) through Section Gg (The Attainment)
    3. Part three: The Rubric and Marginal Text
  3. Free Translation
  4. Bibliography

Introduction

The “Bornless Ritual” is well known in the Western Mystery Tradition.  Those familiar with it generally know it from the “Preliminary Invocation of the Goetia” and Liber Samekh in Aleister Crowley’s corpus.

The original source of the ritual is from a papyrus now in the British Library.  The document is known variously as London Papyrus 46, or as PGM V (that is a Roman numeral and not an alphabetic index), PGM standing for Papyri Graecae Magicae, “the Greek Magical Papyri”.  The papyrus itself contains a variety of magical operations; the Bornless ritual comes from lines 96–172.

This (evolving) document is an interlinear translation of the ritual, and I have attempted to compile and assess several scholarly approaches to questions about the ritual, as well as provide some answers of my own.

The Ritual’s Original Name and Purpose

The ritual is frequently referred to as the “Bornless” invocation because that word is used to render the title given throughout to the invoked god: ακεφαλε.  The proper meaning of the word is “Headless”.  It seems that authors have interpreted “Headless” as meaning “without beginning”, therefore “never born”, therefore “bornless.”

The ritual is originally designed for the exorcism of an evil spirit; it seems that the invocation of the god is not intended as an end in itself (which it is in Liber Samekh) but as a means to exorcizing the evil spirit, giving the magician power over any opposition (s)he may encounter in the process.

Interlinear Format

The interlinear translation is divided into four rows:

  1. a transcription of the original Greek;
  2. a simple English guide to how this Greek would have been pronounced in the 4th century, to which the manuscript has been dated;
  3. a translation of each individual word, or short phrases for the sake of brevity when the components of the phrase are easily distinguished (for example, και επιγειος is translated together as “and upon the earth”, trusting the reader to recognize which word means what);
  4. and finally a free English translation of that portion.

Section Titles and Breaks

For convenience in reading, I have broken down the sections of the ritual approximately as Crowley did in Liber Samekh, although the MS. includes rubrics at the end, and does not use the “Hear me, and make all spirits …” refrain after each set of magical names; instead, it has phrases like “deliver him” more suited to the ritual’s original function as an exorcism.

Likewise, I have used Crowley’s section headings for those sections he provides.  The ritual’s title and rubric have been headed as well, though they do not appear in Liber Samekh.

Crowley’s labeling of the initial invocation as “The Oath” is idiosyncratic, as the magician does not take any apparent oath, merely identifying his god and himself.  “The Attainment” however does seem appropriate for the section in which he identifies himself as the god.

Line Numbering

The ritual, with its title and rubric, starts at the beginning of line 96 and ends partway through line 172 of the papyrus.  (There are other rituals before and after the Bornless Ritual on the same papyrus.) Before each section’s interlinear translation I have quoted the text line by line in Greek.

The marginal notes at the top of the last page of the ritual are not counted as part of the line numbering.  This is standard practice in publications of the papyrus.

Transcription Notes

  • The scribe has written Sigma in its lunate form (ϲ) rather than its classical forms (σ, ς). I have chosen (after Kenyon and Goodwin) to use the classical forms because of their greater familiarity to readers of Greek.  The exception I have made is when I quote Preisendanz’s transcription, in which he uses the lunate form.
  • Words properly written with iota subscript (like τῷ, κενῷ in “the empty spirit”) are not indicated as such in the MS. I indicate such words with an underlined Iota (“τωι, κενωι“) in the interlinear translation, but not in the line-by-line copy, for assistance in deciphering grammar while remaining true to the style of the manuscript.  I remind the reader less familiar with Greek that iota subscripts are generally silent, and the pronunciation guide reflects this.
  • In the line-by-line copy, when a line ends cleanly but in the middle of a word, a tilde (~) will be placed in the Greek text to indicate that the word is broken there; this break is not indicated in the original papyrus and is for the convenience of our reader.  The interlinear translation does not include line numbers.
  • The phrase ton deinon (“so-and-so”, “a certain person by context”) is used as a “blank” for where the magician might insert a client’s name: “Deliver Shawn from this demon”.  In the MS, the ton is written out, but deinon is abbreviated by a sign consisting of a Delta (Δ) on top of an Iota (Ι).  I have indicated this in my Greek transcription by writing “τον ΔΙ”, with the capital letters rather than the lowercase I am using elsewhere.
  • In a number of cases, the scribe has omitted one or more letters, but has drawn a bar over a letter which was written to indicate that the word has been abbreviated.  In the interlinear version I will put a bar over the letter indicated and include, parenthetically, the letters implied by it, also under the bar.  For example, “πα(ν)τα” signifies that the word παντα was written as πατα.  In the line-by-line copy I will not include the parenthetical letters, but remain true to the original in the papyrus.
  • In a number of other cases (such as with the letter Stigma for the number “6”), the scribe has drawn a bar over one or more letters but has not apparently indicated missing letters.  In such a case, I will draw the bar but there will be nothing parenthetical.
  • If a set of letters is generally accepted as an abbreviation for another word (as ζωγρ for ζωγραφου), no footnote is provided, but in the interlinear version only, the missing letters are provided in parentheses: “ζωγρ(αφου)”.
  • Greek letters in square brackets have been interpolated by scholars to fill lacunae, particularly in magical names. See footnotes for details.

Pronunciation of Magical Names

Throughout this ritual are divine/magical names and words that, in most cases, lack translation. A problem arises given the pronunciation of 4th century Greek.  The letters Β/β (beta) and Δ/δ (delta) are particularly difficult. In Classical Greek they were pronounced as “B” and “D” in English. But by the 4th century, they were reaching their pronunciations in modern Greek, in which Beta is pronounced like English “V” and Delta is pronounced like the sound “ð”, which is the voiced version of “th” in the English words the, there, then (contrasted with Theta, which is the unvoiced version in thin, think).

We do not know for certain if the scribe was writing any particular magical name according to its actual sound as he knew it in the 4th century, or according to traditional, more archaic spellings. Therefore, throughout this document, I give the 4th century pronunciation in the pronunciation row (directly below the Greek), and more conventional spellings used by modern occult writers (which tend to use the original B and D values of the letters) in the English words row. Lacking more information, the reader has to decide for themselves how the names should be pronounced.

Footnotes

Footnotes in the interlinear translation follow each section and numbering begins again with each section.

German Translation

Translations from German quotations (in Preisendantz and Reitzenstein) are my own.

Next page: Interlinear Translation of the Ritual