Crappy Greek in the Star Ruby?
As noted elsewhere on this website, I am a fan of the writings of occultist Aleister Crowley. However, no matter how enamored one may be about any given author, doubt and scrutiny should always be invoked when reading. This is especially relevant in the occult world, where “scholarship” can be a very tenuous concept.
As a younger lad, I would commonly perform Crowley’s ritual known as The Star Ruby. Those of you who are Thelemically oriented should be rather familiar with it. Those who are not, however, can glimpse it here. You will note that the ritual is written in what appears to be Classical Greek.
Last year, I decided to take two semesters of Classical (Attic) Greek at a local college, and though I did not expect Crowley to be specifically fluent in the language, I certainly did not expect him to make such basic and seemingly careless mistakes.
To demonstrate this, we will take merely the opening line of the ritual, the commonly quoted “APO PANTOS KAKODAIMONOS”.
Crowley, and the subsequent commentators of this ritual regularly translate this phrase as the powerful command: “Away every evil spirit!”
This is entirely wrong.
First of all, the word “apo” — “away” — is not a command, but a preposition that denotes placement, as in “she is away from the keyboard” or “I am away from my phone at the moment”. Like English, a verb is needed to properly denote where or how one goes “away”. Said verb is nowhere to be found.
No problem! Classical Greek has plenty of instances where verbs are not needed in a sentence. These instances tend to adopt one of two rules:
a.) A verb in a previous sentence is implied in the current sentence, or
b.) The default “to be” verb is implied. (he/she/it is, usually).
Since there is no previous sentence to refer to, we have to imply the “to be”. So “apo” in this case means “he/she/it is away (from here)”.
Now we may look at the rest, the “PANTOS KAKODAIMONOS”, which is supposed to mean “every evil spirit”, and it does. Well, sort of.
Ancient Greek has these things called declensions. Those of you who have taken Latin before should be familiar with the concept. For those who have not, allow me to elaborate a bit.
If you have ever attempted to learn a romance language, you have been forced to conjugate verbs. In Italian, for example, the verb “vivere” or “to live” changes depending upon who happens to be “living” in the sentence. “I live” would be “vivo”, “you live” would be “vivi”, “we live” would be “viviamo”, etc. Spanish, French, and quite a few other languages follow a similar framework. Declensions are very much like that, but instead of verbs one is ostensibly conjugating nouns and adjectives, each according to their grammatical role within a sentence.
Lets say that in Classical Greece my name would be “Anthonos”. Now, if I was the subject of a sentence like: “Anthonos walked to the store”, my name would remain unchanged (known also as the Nominative Case). However, if you decided to punch me, making me the object of a sentence (Accusative Case), my name would be modified to “Anthonon”, as in “The random reader punched Anthonon”. Same noun, but a different case in the zany world of declensions.
“Pantos Kakodaimonos” is in what is called the Genitive Case of the declension system, also known as the possessive case. For example, if I was holding a lemon and one wanted to denote that it was my lemon in a Greek sentence, my name would yet again be modified, this time to the Genitive Case. “The lemon Anthonou”, would basically mean “The lemon of Anthony” or “Anthony’s lemon”.
Therefore “Pantos Kakodaimonos” translates to “of every evil spirit”, or denotes that the mysterious thing that happens to be “away” (“apo”) actually belongs to every evil spirit. Therefore our “APO PANTOS KAKODAIMONOS” appears to translate to something like:
a.) “it of every evil spirit is away”, or
b.) “something belonging to every evil spirit is elsewhere”, or
c.) “every evil spirit’s thingy isn’t here”
I think you get the idea.
If Crowley had done a bit more homework, he might have begun his ritual: “PHEUGE PAS KAKOS DAIMON!”, or something similarly appropriate.
© Anthony Teth, 2015.