The Hidden Magical Properties of Chess

“I Reap all the Wealth”:

The Hidden Magical Properties of Chess

by Tracy R. Twyman
May 2003


While researching the origins of chess for Charles Freeman, I came across an elderly woman with a fascinating (if completely unprovable) story to tell. She claimed to possess inside knowledge of an ancient board game, unknown to modern historians, upon which our current game of chess is based. She says that she learned this shortly after her father’s death, from reading the internal documents of a secret society to which he belonged. Even more fascinating is the purpose to which this “game” was set. For the object of this competition is to bring one’s desires into existence via alchemical transformation, and the opponent against which one competes is not another player, but the very laws of the universe. And according to this anonymous informant 1, the battle between the white and black pieces on the chessboard is merely a recreation of a far more ancient battle which occurred in the far distant past – a battle recorded in the mythology as the “War in Heaven”, which lead to the Fall of Eden. The name of this game: Ageio.

Before we get into the rules of play, it would be good to go into some of the bizarre “history” of the Fall of Eden which my unusual informant bestowed upon me. As she tells it, the lands known as “Eden” and “Nod” in the Bible were real kingdoms that existed in the antediluvian world, part of a far-reaching empire that covered the entire Middle East, Asia Minor, Transcaucasia, Central and South Asia, and even parts of modern China. In fact, she claimed that Nod once stood where the Aegean Sea is now, between modern Greece and Turkey, while Eden lay where the Persian Gulf is now. (This contradicts the Biblical assertion that Nod lay “to the East of Eden”, but I didn’t press her about it.) Eden had originally been the capital of this empire, and the empire itself was sometimes also referred to generally as “Eden”, but after the death of Adam, the first emperor, a dispute arose between Adam’s two sons, Cain and Seth, over who that title would pass on to. (According to my informant, the Biblical figures of Abel and Seth were in fact the same person.) Cain, the first-born and rightful ruler of the empire, temporarily moved the capital of the empire to Nod so that he could run his government without any interference from his brother.

But much to his surprise, Seth took Cain’s absence from Eden a an opportunity to seize control of the historic capital for himself. He gained the allegiance of the “10 Kings of Eden” who ruled over the ten kingdoms of the empire, lands encompassing what are now modern Iran, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, etc. These kings were all descendants of Adam, some of them sons of Cain himself, and this Cain saw as the ultimate slap in the face.

Yet there were more insults on the way. Upon the death of Adam, his body had been reverently placed inside of a box called the “Ark”, and shortly afterwards, when his wife Eve died, her body was placed there as well. To call the Ark a “box” is perhaps an understatement, for as my informant tells me, the Ark also held all of the royal treasures of the empire, including a stone which was said to have fallen from Heaven, and which was used as a coronation stone – a symbol of the emperor’s divine right to rule. With the help of the 10 Kings of Eden, Seth seized the Ark and declared himself the “Moloch”, or Supreme King – the Emperor. This was tantamount to a formal declaration of war against Cain, and the battle began.

The war was bloody, and massive. The armies consisted of millions. They swarmed across mountains and valleys like teeming hordes of insects, armed with swords and axes, hacking each other to pieces. In the end, the armies of Cain prevailed. The rebellious kings of Eden fell one by one, and the self-declared “Moloch”, Seth, was publicly beheaded, with Cain watching over the procedure himself. But the destruction had been massive, and Cain’s victory was bittersweet. When he discovered how thoroughly the Royal Ark of Treasures had been defiled by the kings of Eden (who even went so far as to desecrate Eve’s body), Cain was filled with an uncontrollable anger. The people of the Edenic empire, he felt, had betrayed him, had failed to show loyalty to their true lord and emperor, and had allowed usurpers to profane the sacred Ark. All Cain wanted to do was wipe the slate clean.

The story so far, though wild indeed, had at least stayed within the real of the scientifically possible. But now it slipped into the realm of the metaphysical. For as my informant states, Cain now set about to utterly annihilate the land that had betrayed him. In an act that can only be described as a magical conjuration, Cain summoned up the powers of destruction. While the exact case and effect of what occurred apparently has not survived the ages, the memory of the Fall of Eden is preserved in legends found throughout the world. A massive flood took place, the proverbial “Deluge”, covering the entire empire. With this, along with widespread earthquakes, both Nod and Eden sank beneath the waves, never to return.

As the waters began to rise, Cain immediately regretted what he’d done. Hoping to preserve what he considered to be the most essential aspects of civilization, Cain gathered up his remaining family, including a large population of youths, and placed them on board a huge ocean vessel capable of withstanding the disaster. Along with the essentials, Cain also took on board the Ark containing Adam, Eve, and the stone from Heaven. Thus was born the myth of Noah’s Ark, which in Talmudic literature is said to have carried Adam’s body. After a lengthy period, the ship finally washed up on dry land, at the crest of a mountain located in modern Turkey. Slowly, civilization was reborn.

It was the survivors of the Deluge (called the “Wrath of Cain”) who supposedly spawned the tribe of conquerors known to history as the “Aryans”, and they went to re-civilize almost all of the lands formerly contained in the Edenic empire. (The ancient city of Ur and the modern nation of Iran are both named after them.) My source claims that, in ancient times, the Aryan empire was called “Dohir”, which she says means “the Fallen Land”, and the 10 Fallen Kings of Eden were referred to in legend as “the Dohir Kings.” 2  While I have not been able to find such a translation for the word “Dohir” anywhere else, it is interesting to note that the capital of Qatar is called “Doha”, and sits on the edge of the Persian Gulf, where the sunken land of Eden supposedly lies. And in one of the Aryan kingdoms of Dohir, in a land located in modern Afghanistan, my informant tells me that the descendants of Cain invented a game that would recreate, on a symbolic level, the battle between Cain and the Dohir Kings. But this was no ordinary game. As my source states, the chess-like game of Ageio contains within it the same power used to conjure the “Wrath of Cain.” This is the power of the Holy Grail, or the Stone from Heaven contained within the Ark. If properly played, Ageio can purportedly bring any desire to fruition via magical operations.

Ageio is in many ways a simple game, requiring nothing more than a regular chess set and a collection of 36 coins, such as pennies. Ageio derives its name from the tokens that are played on the 36 inner squares of the board, which are called “Agei.” Originally these tokens were red on one side and black on the other, but coins work just fine, as any binary system will do. It is fitting to use coins anyway, because the concept of Agei is strongly connected with that of money. According to my informant, Agei can also be referred to as “bucks” or “goat money”, and they were used as actual currency in ancient times. In the play of the game, they represent the “fortune”, or desired outcome which the ritual of the Ageio game is supposed to bring about. They are, as my informant states, symbolic representations of the “Sangreal”, or “Holy Grail”, the power of the Stone which can turn lead into gold, or any existing situation into the desired one.

Each row or column of six Agei coins represents a hexagram in the ancient Chinese divination system known as “I-Ching”, a system my source claims is much older than historians think. The name “I-Ching” is, she says, related etymologically to “Agei”, and the translation of the word “I-Ching”, which supposedly means “Book of Changes”, is appropriate, since the function of the Agei in the game is to transform. Before starting the game, the players arrange the Agei according to I-Ching patterns that together represent the desired outcome of the game – the spell you wish to cast. One should be careful to make sure that the hexagrams formed by the columns don’t cancel out those formed by the rows, and that all of the concepts represented harmonize with the intended goal in an interlocking matrix of symbols. Therefore the setting up of the game board requires a great deal of forethought, which, among other things, serves to focus the players’ attention on the task at hand, a necessary element of all ritual magic.

The inner 36 squares, combined with the Agei, form what is called in Ageio the “second square”, the inner board, which informant tells me is where the “real power” of Ageio lies. At opposite ends of the second square are placed the “tenats”, the chess pieces, all of which are the same as in modern chess, minus a knight and a pawn on either side. The tenats are placed not on the squares of the board, but on the “points”, where the grid lines intersect. When properly arranged, there should be a row of Agei in-between the row of pawns and the row of court pieces on each side. They are set up in almost the exact same way as in modern chess. The order of the court pieces is as follows (from left to right): Rook, Bishop, Knight, King, Queen, Bishop, Rook. As in modern chess, the white pieces are placed on the side with the white square in the upper-left-hand corner.

I was surprised to find that some of the squares on the board have names, although these names are not written on the board and have a merely symbolic significance. These are the names of the Dohir Kings, and their placement on the board, which may seem random at first, actually represents in some manner the places where these kings finally “fell” in the ancient Edenic battle. The ten names are thus: Dashod, Feary, Binom, Laudpa, Maya, Peod, Goaad, Tenji, Titin, and Tezetecel. Their location in the board is demonstrated in a diagram on the following page.

As for the play of the game itself, the rules are almost identical to modern chess, with a few notable exceptions. The tenats, as previously stated, move from point to point, not from square to square. Pawns can move vertically, but when capturing another pawn, they must move horizontally. And there is no “queening” of pieces when they reach the other side of the board. But the most flagrant difference between chess and Ageio is in the goal of the game itself. For Ageio is not a competition so much as a ritual, and the challenge is to make the play of the game conform to the ritual as closely and as elegantly as possible.

Unlike modern chess, the ideal outcome of an Ageio game is always the same: the white must triumph over the black, the good over the evil. The rebellious Dohir Kings and their Moloch, Seth must be defeated by Cain and his armies. Not only that, but the defeat must take place in a prescribed way. The black king must be “killed” by the white king himself, just as Cain saw to Seth’s execution personally. And the white king must end the game on the exact same square upon which the black king began the game. This is symbolic of Cain retaking the rulership of Eden after his brother’s death, and it must be accomplished before the game is over, even if it must happen after the black king is killed. In modern chess, the game ends when the loser’s king is placed in “check”, and can no longer make any moves that will take him out of check. Thus the losing player in effect “surrenders”, and it is not necessary for the winner to take the loser’s king, since he has already won. But Ageio is not so chivalrous. The ritual sacrifice of the black king (for that is what it is) must go through, and afterwards, if he is not already there, the white king must continue to move one square at a time, until he reaches the black king’s starting square. At this point the black team, which has already lost, has no more moves, and the moves of the white king after the death of the black king are purely for symbolic purposes.

There are other criteria which must be met before the killing of the black king can commence, again for symbolic reasons. For one thing, all of the rooks must be sacrificed on both sides at some point in the game, for as my informant stated, “all castles fall” in the battle for supremacy over the empire. When bishops are taken, they must be taken by the opponent’s queen only, and each side must lose at least one bishop before the end of the game. The significance of this was not explained to me.

Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of Ageio is that it is at once a game with two opposing sides, and at the same time, it is a game in which one is essentially defeating oneself, for even though it is played with two opposing players, their ultimate goal is the same. The true opponent of both players, my source tells me, is reality itself, the very laws of the universe that prevent you from having the thing that you want. The Agei pattern represents the thing that you want, and your goal is to manipulate the game pieces into playing out a prescribed ritual that will cause the universe to make your wish come true. When you succeed in playing the game according to the ritual, you succeed in “gaining the Agei”, as my informant phrased it. The key to gaining the Agei, or getting what you want is, she says, to “accept defeat”, for “when you accept defeat, reality cannot win.” God is apparently an existentialist.

There is just one further step to completing a ritual game of Ageio, and that is to actually “gain the Agei” by collecting the fortune that you have won. Immediately after the white king kills the black king, and “claims his throne” by advancing to the last square, the player representing the white side (who should also represent the person or group casting the spell) gathers up the Agei tokens and, stating his name, exclaims: “I reap all the wealth!” According to my source, this is what the Dohir Kings proclaimed when they seized the Ark and its contents, and Cain said the same thing when we finally regained them after defeating his brother. My source says that one must always repeat this phrase upon successfully completing a game of Ageio, no matter how hokey it may seem, as part of the ritual. By doing this, you demonstrate your faith that the outcome you desire will indeed occur. She even suggests placing the coins in your wallet and spending them within the next few days, again as a show of faith, as though you’ve already received your asked-for blessing from the universe and are freely returning it.

The way Ageio works, it seems almost impossible to lose, as long as you plan out the moves each side will make prior to playing, and stick to the ritual. But what if you should fail to plan properly, or accidentally make the wrong move? Then, my informant says, “reality wins.” Your fate will be decided by the “Wheel of Fortune.” Not only that, but you have blown your opportunity, for she tells me that once you have played a game to obtain a certain fortune, any further attempts to gain that fortune will be fruitless.

For the most part, my informant’s story cannot be confirmed. It is a fascinating story, and certainly has a sense of internal logic to it. Furthermore, many of the elements of the story do correspond to elements found in world mythology, especially, of course, the biblical and apocryphal Jewish legends. When carefully examined, the story of Seth does indeed appear to be a continuation of the story of Abel, and there appears to have been an attempt to write Cain out of the Bible after the supposed death of his first brother, even though, in apocryphal stories, he goes on to found a royal dynasty and a number of grand ancient city-states. Furthermore, the story of the rivalry between Cain and his brother seems to be replicated in other mythologies from around the world, like, for instance, the story of Osiris and Set, who are described as actually having fought a war with each other. There are also obvious correlations between the Ageio story and the story of the Fall of Atlantis, or of the War in Heaven with the legendary Watchers of The Book of Enoch.

One of the most interesting possibilities to consider is that the “Fallen Kings of Eden” known as the “Dohir Kings” in my informant’s tale may be linked mythologically with the “Fallen Kings of Edom” discussed in biblical and apocryphal legend. These were the “Children of Before” who “ruled before there were kings in Israel.” They are called the descendants of Esau, the rival brother of Isaac (which appears to be yet another recapitulation of the story of Cain and Abel), and they were the enemies of the Israelites throughout the Old Testament. In Goetic magic they are linked with the forces of chaos, and the Qlippoth or “Kingdom of Shells” which is the cabalistic Tree of Death. Amazingly, in this system, there are exactly ten of these “Dukes of Edom”, or “Demon Kings”, and they are part of an empire ruled by – guess who? – Moloch! The Golden Dawn system of magic also makes use of the Kings of Edom, and specifically links them with the Fall of Eden, as well as with the 10 horns of the Dragon discussed in St. John’s Revelation. While the kingdom of Edom is portrayed in the Bible as a real, historical nation concurrent with the ancient kingdom of Israel, the story of the Dohir Kings caused me to wonder if the mythological elements attributed to the Fallen Kings of Edom weren’t based on a legend much older.

Another interesting hypothesis to ponder is whether it is possible that the word “Ageio” could be derived from the same etymological roots as Egypt (which used to be spelled “Aegypt”), the Aegean Sea, and even Asia, which is what my source suggests. After all, these were among the lands that were supposedly once contained within the empire of Eden, and later conquered by their descendants, the Aryans, the purported inventors of Ageio. They also conquered parts of China, where a version of chess is known to have been played at a very early time. It is notable that the Chinese also invented I-Ching, which is used in Ageio and which sounds very much like “Agei.” Furthermore, the place where my source claims Ageio was invented, modern Afghanistan, is also a popular candidate among some scholars for the birthplace of chess.

My informant’s claims are also consistent with the notion held by many chess historians that the game was derived from an ancient form of divination, and linked with the esoteric. Many people believe that chess is a perpetuation of an old and secret tradition of occultism. Several authors have linked chess with the mysteries of the Holy Grail, and some have suggested that it contains the formula for alchemical transformation. Could this be the true hidden heritage of chess? My curious informant certainly seems to think so.

There is yet another intriguing hypothesis that came to mind shortly after hearing the story of Ageio. The term “casting a fortune” is always associated with divination, and yet the word “fortune”, when used by itself, is associated with wealth. This is, in a sense, fitting, since chance, represented by the Wheel of Fortune, is the essential element in divination as well as in gambling, an attempt to gain wealth. Thus, many techniques used in divination are also used for gambling. But it would now seems that, is in the case of Ageio, the same symbolic elements used in divination (in this case, I-Ching hexagrams, formed by Agei tokens) can also be used for conjuration, or casting a spell. In Ageio, the spell you are casting is represented symbolically as money, and indeed, wealth is what most people would probably use the powers of Ageio to obtain. Even in alchemy, the objective is the creation of gold. It would seem that “casting a spell” and “casting a fortune” may at one time have meant the same thing.

To many of you, these claims may seem wholly improbable. Even if you can swallow this revision of biblical history, you probably find yourself doubting the existence of the “magical properties” of chess. But it is said that chess is an invaluable exercise for the power-hungry and ambitious, “the Royal Game”, as it is called. And if you could achieve even one of your goals just by acting out a miniature ritual, wouldn’t you? I would. I think anyone would. After all, you have nothing to lose but your doubt, and everything to gain.