Symbolism of the finger combinations in the ritual practice
The question about which fingers should be involved in the rituals of the Pentagram - both in the “Small” and the “Big”, or the so-called “Higher” - is the subject of continued discussion, probably since the design of these rites by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the 19th century.
Of course, all the recommendations regarding which fingers and which hands should be used in the ritual should never become an absolute rule and we don’t mean to dictate somebody’s personal Magical work and control over how one folds his fingers prepares to do the cross, draws symbols and signs, or takes a magic implement from the altar.
However, it is quite useful to consider these recommendations in order to take them into account, and on the basis of existing knowledge to accept or to reject certain recommendations in practice.
So, the first thing that makes sense to discuss is the correspondence system of the fingers and the hands themselves, adopted by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn:
“Chesed and Gevurah form the hands. Hands represent the ability to perform practical actions and they end with the symbols of the Four Elements and the Spirit:
Thumb – Spirit
Ring finger - Fire
Index Finger - Water
Pinky - Air
Middle finger – Earth’’
Recommendation to use the index finger of the left hand in the Sign of Silence of the Order of the Golden Dawn is derived from this system of correspondences, because this is how the forces of Water of Chesed are activated, since the fingers of the right hand are associated with a sharper and more powerful action, and the fingers of the left with the action of the elements of Water. However, there is a disclaimer in the same system that this Sign can be performed with any finger of the left or right hand (although the protective properties of the index finger of the left hand are most powerful), and that if there is no suitable magic tool handy, sigils and pentagrams can be drawn with any finger of the right or left hand, depending on the magician’s goal.
In the same time, it is also recommended to use the index finger of the right hand to draw the Kabbalistic Cross and the Pentagram in the Ritual. This recommendation may be not very clear initially, but it becomes clear if you remember that the right hand is connected with the Sefira Gevurah (which is connected in turn with Mars). Thus, the use of the index finger of the right hand when writing symbols in the Banishing Rituals, including the Pentagram Ritual, activates the power of the Waters of Gevurah, the so-called “purifying waters”, since one of the functions of Sefira Gevurah is to cleanse something from the old, obsolete and useless. But that is certainly not all. The Waters of Gevurah, or the "Waters of Power", is also symbolically associated with the myth of Achilles.
In the first version of the legend associated with the birth of Achilles, Hephaestus's furnace is mentioned, in which Achilles's mother, Thetis, wanting to deify Achilles (and to make him immortal) lays him by holding his heel. Hephaestus can definitely be attributed to the category of deities of the Hellenic pantheon, correlated with the Sefira Gevurah.
According to the second version of the legend, which Homer does not mention, but which is contained in the ancient epos, Achilles’s mother, Thetis, wanting to test whether her son is mortal or immortal, was going to dip him in the boiling water after birth, just as she did with her former children, but this time her husband Peleus opposes it. Later stories tell that Thetis, wanting to make her son immortal, immersed him in the waters of Styx or, alternatively, into the fire, so that only the heel for which she held him remained vulnerable.
Thus, in this legend, we see the Waters which give him Force or invulnerability. And these Waters are often confused with Fire, since ancient authors had no unanimity on this issue. This allows us to draw a parallel with the Fiery Waters of Purification, the Burning Force of Mars, et cetera. A thoughtful researcher will have enough knowledge of mythology to find further correspondences and to develop this topic.
So, the use of the right index finger is symbolically connected with this mythological plot: passing through Spiritual Cleansing (Catharsis), and moreover, gaining Spiritual Invulnerability (not in a vulgar meaning).
For the Sign of the Incoming, it is recommended to use all fingers (which is natural), or those that correspond to the nature of the operation:
“[...] Standing as described above in the form of God, and raising your mind to reflect on Kether, and visualizing the sphere of the White Light above your head, take the Step hitting the ground and raise your hands high above your head, as if would you like to touch Kether. When the Step is completed, do not lower the hands, but stretch forward. With a sharp movement, direct them horizontally at eye level, turning your palms down, straightening your fingers and pointing them to an object that you want to energize or transform. At the same time, lower your head so that your gaze is directed exactly between the thumbs and the rays from the eyes and fingers intersect on the subject that you wish to work with. If any of these rays deviate from the target, the effect will weaken. Perfect in this way, the Gesture is a symbol of colossal attacking power and projection of the willpower, and it should be used in all cases when a powerful impact is necessary (especially when charging talismans and operations like that). Usually all fingers should be straight; but if any specific effect is needed, you can stretch out only the fingers corresponding to the goal, and hide the rest in your palms. ”
However, some commentaries on these recommendations allow only the visualization aspect. Also, many groups formed after the crisis in the Golden Dawn prefer to use the thumb of the right hand to draw all the symbols and signs of all rituals and operations. This idea is based on the materials that were published by some of the members of the Order, but they are lacking the completeness of information justifying the fact that the thumb is connected with the Spirit, and the continuity of the Tradition. There is logic and common sense in such reasoning, but only as long as this approach does not become a dogma imposed on all members of the group.
Next, let’s discuss an interesting but little-known version of folding the fingers for the creating of signs in the Pentagram Ritual, authored by Arthur Edward Waite, a Martinist, Freemason, creator of the Tarot deck, member of the Golden Dawn Order and a connoisseur of Kabbalah.
In his version of the "Opening of the Temple in the Light" in the Neophyte Initiation Ceremony of the Amended Statute of the Golden Dawn Order, which he himself lead after the internal feuding of the original Hermetic Order, Waite gives the following recommendations for the completion of the Pentagram Ritual at the very beginning of the ceremony:
“Members of the Order put on their distinctive emblems on the ribbons of prescribed colors. The Ceremonial Master helps with the outfits of the High Ministers. After this is done solemnly and in awe of sacred silence, the Venerable Overseers proceed to cleanse the Temple as follows: with the thumb, forefinger and middle finger of the right hand, the Hierophant seals his forehead and says:
ATEH. (Seals the chest and says:)
MALKUTH. (Captures the right shoulder and says:)
VE GEBURAH. (Captures the left shoulder and says:)
VE GEDULAH. (Joins palms in front of the chest and says:)
(LE OLAHM. AMEN.)
(He performs the above mentioned actions mainly in order to purify himself - only after that he will be worthy to complete the purification of the Temple. Moreover, he should be facing the east. All those who are present also face the east.)
(The Hierophant draws a banishing pentagram in the east using an inverted Scepter or Wand. Then he points the Wand to the center of the pentagram and pronounces, slowly and distinctly, the Holy Name.) [...] ”
According to Waite’s recommendations, the thumb, index and middle fingers of the right hand should be used when drawing the Kabbalistic Cross. This, of course, is making one to think that Waite probably borrowed this way of blessing himself with the Cross from the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition. Moreover, such associations naturally arise in a person born and raised in Russia.
Let us briefly recall the concept justifying the Orthodox Christian way of using the triple finger combination in the sign of the Cross:
“The union of the first three fingers means the unity of God in the three faces - the Holy Trinity, and the other two fingers pressed to the palm of the hand are the two Christ natures.
However, our study will be incomplete unless we put forward another version of the source from which Waite borrowed the triple finger combination for the Kabbalistic Cross in the Pentagram Ritual.
From the biography of Waite, as well as from many of his works, it is clear that he was very actively and vividly interested in the Rosicrucianism, and the Rosicrucian Order. And, of course, with this interest he could not ignore the founders of Western Occultism, such as Martinez de Pasqually, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin and Jean-Baptiste Villermose, and the doctrine of Traditional Initiation transmitted from them, known under the general name "Martinism". Waite’s interest in Martinism is evidenced by his various works devoted to the history of Martinism and some elements of symbolism.
In the fundamental, and, unfortunately, the only work of Pasqually, “A Treatise on the Reintegration of Creatures in Their Initial Qualities and Strength, Spiritual and Divine,” one can find the most interesting directions for this study:
“We can judge the power of man even by his palm. The different fingers of our hand indicate the following: the middle finger symbolizes the soul, the thumb means good spirit, the index finger indicates good intelligence (benevolent mind, according to Baal-Hiram). As for the other two fingers, they symbolize demonic spirit and intellect (mind, according to Baal-Hiram). The human palm gives us a clear idea that a person has emerged (in the sense of how he was created by God, approx. Baal-Hiram) in order to always be aware of demonic forces and to confront him. "The power of man is much higher than the power of a demon, since he can oppose three good spiritual forces to two weak demonic forces."
In the directions of Pasqually, we again see a hint of the preference of the triple finger combination, although no explicit instructions for the use of such folding of fingers are given. However, it should be admitted that if Waite borrowed this finger combination from various sources for his practice and for recommendations in the Amended Charter of the Golden Dawn, then it was more the work of Pasqually rather than the traditions of the distant Eastern Christian church.
In any case, the version with triple finder combination is logical and justified, including in the Golden Dawn Tradition, through the correspondences given above (Thumb - Spirit, Index finger - Water, Middle finger - Earth). In the theoretical lecture it is said:
“It can be noted here that the Christian Sign of Blessing, which is performed with the thumb, forefinger and middle finger extended together and with the ring finger and little finger pressed to the palm of the hand, is also the statement of the Triad Osiris - Isis - Nephthys (or Spirit - Fire - Water).”
Apparently, three points of the palm, which are formed when the three-fingers are folded, are meant to be: the thumb (always extreme), the ring finger (extreme with respect to the extended index and middle fingers), and the index finger, which becomes extreme when the index, middle and thumb fingers are folded together.
It should be noted here that the blessing in the Eastern Christian churches is different from the custom of the blessing in the Western Catholic Christian churches. In Orthodoxy, it is customary to bless with the addition of fingers in the notarikon of the Name “Jesus Christ” - “IC” “XC”:
But actually, this point of view does not change the essence of the symbolism developed by the Golden Dawn, and moreover, it supplements and gives food for thought about the possibility of Mystical use and such finger combination.
Author of the article © Baal-Hiram 330/660/950 Ancient and Primitive Rite of Memphis-Misraïm, 2012
Translated into English from Russian by © Viktoria Polikarpova & Ankit Sinha, 20.09.2019