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The Chaldæan Oracles



In the extant fragments of our Oracle-poem the Supreme Principle is characterized simply as Father, or Mind, or Mind of the Father, or again as Fire.

Psellus, however, in his commentary, declares that the Oracles hymned the Source of all as the One and Good (K. 10); and there can be little doubt that in the circle of our poet, the Deity was either regarded as the “One and All” - according to the grand formula of Heraclitus (fl. 500 B.C.), who had probably to some extent already “philosophized” the intuitions and symbols of a Mago-Chaldæan tradition - or, as with so many Gnostic schools of the time, was conceived of as the Ineffable.

Cory, in his collection of Oracle-fragments, includes (C. I) a definition of the Supreme which Eusebius attributed to the “Persian Zoroastrian.” This may very well have been derived from some Hellenistic document influenced by the “Books of the Chaldæans,” or “Books of the Medes,” and may, therefore, be considered as generally consonant with the basic doctrine of our Oracles. As, however, Kroll rightly omits this, we append it in illustration only:

He is the First, indestructible, eternal, ingenerable, impartible, entirely unlike aught else, Disposer of all beauty, unbribable, of all the good the Best, of all the wisest the Most Wise; the Father of good-rule and righteousness is He as well, self-taught, and natural, perfect, and wise, the sole Discoverer of sacred nature-lore.



If, however, we have no excerpt bearing directly on the Summum Mysterium, we have enough, and more than enough, to support us in our conjecture that it was conceived of in our Oracles as being itself beyond all words, in a fragment of eleven lines which sets forth the supreme end of contemplation as follows:

Yea, there is That which is the End-of-understanding, the That which thou must understand with flower of mind.

For should'st thou turn thy mind inwards on It, and understand It as understanding “something,” thou shalt not understand It.

For that there is a power of [the mind’s] prime that shineth forth in all directions, flashing with intellectual rays [lit., sectors].

Yet, in good sooth, thou should'st not [strive] with vehemence [to] understand that End-of-understanding, nor even with the wide-extended flame of wide-extended mind that measures all things - except that End-of-understanding [only].

Indeed there is no need of strain in understanding This; but thou should'st have the vision of thy soul in purity, turned from aught else, so as to make thy mind, empty [of all things else], attentive to that End, in order that thou mayest learn that End-of-understanding; for It subsists beyond the mind.

(K. 11; C. 163, 167, 61, 62, 166)

The “That which is the End-of-understanding” is generally rendered the Intelligible. But to noēt6n, for the Gnostic of this tradition, in this connection signifies the Self-creative Mind, that is, the Mind that creates its own understanding.

It is both the simultaneous beginning and end, or cause and result of itself; and thus is the end or goal of all understanding. It has, therefore, to be distinguished from all formal modes of intellection; the normal mind that is conditioned by the opposites, subject and object, cannot grasp it. So long as we conceive it as object, as other than ourselves, as though we are “understanding ‘something,’” so long are we without it. It must be contemplated with the “flower of mind,” by mind in its “prime,” that is, at the moment of blossoming of the growing mind, which rays within and without in intellectual brilliance, both penetrating its own depths and becoming one with them.

“Flower of mind,” however, is not the fruit or jewels of mind, though it is a power of fiery mind, for flowers are on the sun-side of things. To understand “with flower of mind” thus seems to suggest to catch, like petals, in a cup-like way, with the kratēres or deeps of mind, the true fiery intelligence of the Great Mind, as flowers catch the sun-rays, and by means of them to bring to birth within oneself the fruit or jewels of the Mind, which are of the nature of immediate or spiritual understanding, that is to say, the greater mind-senses, or powers of understanding.

The fragment seems to be an instruction in a method of initiating the mind in understanding or true gnosis - a very subtle process. It is not to be expected that the normal, formal, partial mind can seize a complete idea, a fullness, as it erroneously imagines it does in the region of form; in the living intelligible “spheres” there are no such limited ideas defined by form or outline; they are measureless.

In this symbolism flame and flower are much the same; flame of mind and flower of mind suggest the same happening in the “mineral” and “vegetable” kingdoms of the mind-realms. The mind has to grow of itself towards its sun. Most men's minds are at best smouldering fire; they require a “breath” of the Great Breath to make them burst into flame, and so extend themselves, or possess themselves of new regenerative power. Most men's minds, or persons, are unripe plants; we have not yet brought ourselves to the blossoming point. This is achieved only by Heat from the Sun. A blossoming person may be said to be one who is to know how to form fruit and regenerate himself.

In this vital exercise of inner growth there must be no formal thinking. The personal mind must be made empty or void of all preconceptions, but at the same time become keenly attentive, transformed into pure sense, or capacity for greater sensations. The soul must be in a searching frame of mind, searching not enquiring, that is to say synthetic not analytic. Enquiry suggests penetrating in to a thing with the personal mind; while searching denotes embracing and seizing ideas, “eating” or “digesting” or “absorbing” them, so to say; getting all round them and making them one's own, surrounding them - it is no longer a question of separated subject and object as with the personal and analyzing mind.



The whole instruction might be termed a method of yoga or mystic union (unio mystica) of the spiritual or kingly mind, the mind that rules itself - rāja-yoga, the royal art proper. But there must be no “vehemence” (no “fierce impetuosity,” to use a phrase of Patañjali's in his Yoga-sūtra) in one direction only; there must be expansion in every direction within and without in stillness.

The “vision” of the soul is, literally, the “eye” of the soul. The mind must be emptied of every object, so that it may receive the fullness. It becomes the “pure eye,” the æon, all-eye; not, however, to perceive anything other than itself, but to understand the nature of understanding - namely, that it transcends all distinctions of subject and object.

And yet though the Reality may be said to be “beyond the mind,” or “without it,” it is really not so. It may very well be said to be beyond or transcend the personal or formal mind, or mind in separation, for that is the mind that separates; but the Intelligible and the Mind-in-itself are really one. As one of the fragments says:

For Mind is not without the That-which-makes-it-Mind; and That-which-is-the-End-of-Mind doth not subsist apart from Mind.

(K. 11; C. 43, 44)

Both these hyphened terms represent the same word in Greek, usually rendered the Intelligible. The Oracle might thus be made to run: “For Intellect is not without the Intelligible, and the Intelligible subsists not apart from Intellect.”

But this makes to noēt6n the object only of understanding; whereas it is neither subject nor object, but both.



The Father is the Source of all sources and the End of all ends; He is the One Desirable, Perfect and Benignant, the Good, the Summum Bonum, as we learn from the following three disconnected fragments.

For from the Paternal Source naught that's imperfect spins [or wheels].

(K. 15; C. 9)

The soul must have measure, rhythm, and perfection, to spin, circulate or throb with this Divine Principle.

The Father doth not sow fear, but pours forth persuasion.

(K. 15; C. 10)

The Father controls from within and not from without; controls by being, by living within, and not by constraining.

Not knowing that God is wholly Good. O wretched slaves, be sober!

(K. 15; C. 184)

Compare with this the address of the preacher inserted in the Trismegistic “Man-Shepherd” treatise:

O ye people, earth-born folk, ye who have given yourselves to drunkenness and sleep and ignorance of God, be sober now!

(H., ii 17)

And also the Oracle quoted as follows:

The soul of men shall press God closely to itself, with naught subject to death in it; [but now] it is all drunk, for it doth glory in the Harmony [that is, the Sublunary or Fate Spheres] beneath whose sway the mortal frame exists.

(K. 48; C. 83)



How the Divine Simplicity conditions its self-revelation no fragment tells us. But in spite of Kroll's scepticism, I believe the Later Platonic commentators were not wrong when they sought for it in the riddle of the triad or trinity.

The doctrine of the Oracles as to the Self-conditioning of the Supreme Monad may, however, perhaps, be recovered from the passage of the Simonian Great Announcement quoted in our last little volume (pp. xx ff). This striking exposition of the Gnosis was “philosophized” upon a Mago-Chaldæan background, and that, too, at a date at least contemporaneous with the very origins of Christianity, as is now, I think, demonstrated with high probability (H., i 184). The passage is so important that it deserves re-quotation; but as it is so easily accessible, it may be sufficient simply to refer the interested reader to it.

Centuries before Proclus this tripartite or triadic dogma was known to the Greeks as pre-eminently Assyrian, that is Syrian or Chaldæan. Thus Hippolytus, commenting on the Naassene Document, in which the references to the Initiatory Rites are pre-Christian, writes:

And first of all, in considering the triple division of Man [the Monad or Logos], they [the Naassenes] fly for help to the Initiations of the Assyrians; for the Assyrians were the first to consider the Soul triple and yet one.

(H., i 151)

In the same Document the early Jewish commentator, who was in all probability a contemporary of Philo's in the earliest years of the Christian era, gives the first words of a mystery-hymn which run: “From Thee is Father and Through Thee Mother” (H., i 146); and it might be added: “To Thee is Son.” This represents the values of the three “Great Names” on the Path of Return; but in the Way of Descent, that is of cosmogenesis, or world-shaping, their values would differ. Curiously enough one of our Oracles reads:

For Power is With Him, but Mind From Him.

(K. 13; C. 16)

Power always represents the Mother-side (the Many), the Spouse of Deity (the Mind, the One), and Son is the Result, the “From Him” - the Mind in manifestation. Hence we read of the Father, or Mind Proper, as becoming unmanifested or withdrawn, or hidden, after giving the First Impulse to Himself.

The Father withdrew Himself, yet shut not up His own peculiar Fire within His Gnostic Power.

(K. 12; C. 11)

“His own peculiar Fire” seems to that which characterizes the One Mystery as Father, or creative. He withdrew Himself into Silence and Darkness, but left His Fire, or Fiery Mind, to operate the whole creation. May not this throw some light on the meaning of the obscure mystery-hymn at the end of the Christian Gnostic Second Book of Ieou?

I praise Thee . . .; for Thou hast drawn Thyself into Thyself altogether in Truth, till Thou hast set free the space of this Little Idea [? the manifested cosmos]; yet hast Thou not withdrawn Thyself.

(Carl Schmidt, Gnost. Schrift., p. 187)



In the first passage from the Simonian Great Announcement, to which we have referred above (p. xx), the Great Power of the Father is called Incomprehensible Silence, and, as is well known, Silence (Sigē) was, in a number of systems of the Christianized Gnosis, the Syzygy, or Co-partner, or Complement, of the Ineffable. Among the Pythagoræans and Trismegistic Gnostics also Silence was the condition of Wisdom.

Though there is no verse of our Oracle-poem preserved which sets this forth, there are phrases quoted by Proclus (K. 16) which speak of the Paternal Silence. It is the Divine “Calm,” the “Silence, Nurturer of the Divine”; it is the unsurpassable unity of the Father, the that-concerning-which-words-fail; the mind must be silenced to know it - that is, to “accord with” it (K. 16; C. 12, 5).

Proclus in all probability had our Oracles in mind when he wrote:

For such is the Mind in that state, energizing prior to energizing [in the sensible world], in that it had in no way emanated, but rested in the Father's Depth [i.e., its own Depth], and in the Sacred Shrine, held in the Arms of Silence, “Nurturer of the Divine.”

(C. 12)

Silence is known through mind alone. While things are objective to one, while we are taught or told about things, they cannot be real. The Great Silence on the mind-side of things corresponds with the Great Sea on the matter-side of things; the latter is active, the former inactive; and the only way to attain wisdom, which is other than knowledge, is to “recreate” or regenerate oneself. Man only “knows” God by getting to this Silence, in which naught but the creative words of true Power are heard. He then no longer conceives formal ideas in his mind, but utters living ideas in all his acts - thoughts words, and deeds.

The Fatherhood is equated by Proclus (K. 13) with Essence (ousίa), or Subsistence (hyparxis); the Motherhood with Life (zōē) or Power (dynamis); and the Sonship with Operation or Actuality (enérgeia). These philosophical terms are, of course, not the names used in the Oracles, which preferred more graphic, symbolic and poetical expressions.



Thus Mind “in potentiality” is the “Hidden Fire” of Simon the Magian (who doubtless knew of the “Books of the Chaldæans”), and the “Manifested Fire” was the Mind “in operation,” or Formative Mind. As The Great Announcement of the Simonian tradition has it:

The hidden aspects of the Fire are concealed in the manifest, and the manifest produced in the hidden . . .

And the manifested side of the Fire has all things in itself which a man can perceive of things visible, or which he unconsciously fails to perceive; whereas the hidden side is everything which one can conceive as intelligible, or which a man fails to conceive.

(Hipp., Ref., vi 9-11)

And so in our Oracles, as with Simon, and with Heraclitus, who called it “Ever-living Fire,” the greatest symbol of the Power of Deity was called “Holy Fire,” as Proclus tells us (K. 13). This Fire was both intelligible and immaterial and sensible and material, according to the point of view from which it was regarded.



The fiery self-creative Energy of the Father is regarded as intelligible; that is, as determined by the vital potencies of Mind alone. Here all is “in potentiality” or hidden from the senses; it is the truly “occult world.” The sensible, or manifested, universe comes into existence by the demiurgic, or formative, or shaping Energy of the Mind, which now, as Architect of matter, is called Mind of Mind, or Mind Son of Mind, as we have Man Son of Man in the Christianized Chaldæan Gnosis. This is set forth in the following lines:

For He [the Father ] doth not in-lock His Fire transcendent, the Primal Fire, His Power, into Matter by means of works, but by energy of Mind. For it is Mind of Mind who is the Architect of this [the manifested] fiery world.

(K. 13; C. 22)

"Works” seem here to mean activities, objects, creatures - separation. This Father, who is wholly beyond the Sea of Matter, does not shut up His Power into Matter by in-locking it in bodies, or works, or separate objects, but energizes by means of some mysterious abstract and infinite penetration - thus laying down as it were the foundations of root-form, the ground-plan so to speak, the nexus of the first Limit; this makes Matter to assume the first beginnings of Mass. As soon as the Father, or Mind of all minds, has. made this frame-work or net-work of Fire, Mind of Mind is born; and this Mind is the Fiery Cosmic Mind, which by contacting Matter in its first essential nature generates the beginnings of the World-Body and of all bodies. This is the work of Mind of Mind.

So also we find the Supreme addressing Hermes in “The Virgin of the World” treatise as:

Soul of My Soul, and Holy Mind of My own Mind

(H., iii 104)

And again in another Trismegistic fragment we read:

There was One Gnostic Light alone - nay, Light transcending Gnostic Light. He is forever Mind of Mind who makes that Light to shine.

(H., iii 257)

For as our Oracles have it:

The Father out-perfected all, and gave them over to His second Mind, whom ye, all nations of mankind, sing of as first.

(K. 14; C. 13)

Intelligible Fire has the essence of all things for its “sparks” or “atoms.” “Out-perfected” seems to mean that the Father of Himself is the Complement or Fulfillment of each separate thing. In a certain mystic sense, there are never more than two things in the universe - namely, any one thing which one may choose to think of, and its complement, the rest of the All; and that completion of every imperfection is God.

The contention of the Gnostics was that the nations worshipped the Demiurgic or Fabricative Power of the Deity as His most transcendent mystery; this, they contended, was really a secondary mode of the Divine Power as compared with the mystery of the ineffable Self-determination of the Supreme.

A volume might be written on the subject, with innumerable quotations from Jewish and Christian Gnostics, from Philo and the Trismegistic writers, and from early Orientalist Platonists such as Numenius. The Father, as Absolute Mind, or Paramātman, perfects all things; but when we distinguish Spirit and Matter, when we regard the mystery from our state of duality, and imagine Matter as set over against Spirit, then the administration of Matter is said to be entrusted to Mind in operation in space and time; and this was called Mind of Mind, Mind Son of Mind, or Man Son of Man.



This Mind of Mind is conceived as dual, as containing the idea of the Dyad, in contrast with the Paternal Mind which is the Monad - both terms of the Pythagoræan mathēsis or gnōsis. His duality consists in His having power over both the intelligible and sensible universe. This is set forth in our Oracles as follows:

The Dyad hath His seat with Him [the Father]; for He hath both - [both power] to master things intelligible [or ideal], and also to induce the sense of feeling in the world [of form].

(K. 14; C. 27)

Nevertheless, there are not two Gods, but one; not two Minds, but one; not two Fires, but one; for

All things have for their Father the One Fire.

(K. 15; C. 13)

The Father is thus called the Paternal Monad.

He is the all-embracing [lit., wide-stretching] Monad who begets the Two.

(K. 15; C. 26)



In connection with this verse we may take the following two verses of very obscure reading:

From both of these [the Monad and Dyad] there flows the Body of the Three, first yet not first; for it is not by it that things intelligible are measured.

(K. 15; C. 34)

This appears to mean that, for the sensible universe, the Body of the Triad - that is, the Mother-substance - comes first as being the container of all things sensible; it is not, however, the measurer of things intelligible or ideal. It is first as Body, or the First or Primal Body, but Mind is prior to it.



The Three Persons of the Supernal Triad were also called in the Oracles by the names Once Beyond, Twice Beyond and Hecatē; when so called they seem to have been regarded by the commentators as either simply synonyms of the three Great Names, or else as in some way the self-reflection of the Primal Triad, or as the Primal Triad mirrored in itself, that is in the One Body of all things.

It is difficult to say what is the precise meaning of the mystery-names Once Beyond and Twice Beyond. If we take them as designations of the self-reflected Triad, it may be that Once Beyond was so called because it was regarded as Beyond, not in the sense of transcending, but as beyond the threshold, so to say, of the pure spiritual state, or, in other words, as raying forth into manifestation; and so also with Twice Beyond. They paralleled the first and second Minds of the Primal Unity.

Hecatē seems to have been the best equivalent our Greek mystics could find in the Hellenic pantheon for the mysterious and awe-inspiring Primal Mother or Great Mother of Oriental mystagogy.

This reflected Trinity seems to have been regarded as the Three-in-one of the Second Mind. The Later Platonist commentators seem to have in general equated these names with their Kronos, Zeus and Rhea; while an anonymous commentator earlier than Proclus tells us that Once Beyond is the Paternal Mind of all cosmic intellection; Hecatē is the ineffable Power of this Mind and fills all things with intellectual light, but apparently does not enter them; whereas Twice Beyond gives of himself into the worlds, and sows into them “agile splendours," as the Oracles phrase it (K. 16, 17). All this is a refinement of intellectual subtlety that need not detain us; it is foreign to the simpler mysticism of the Oracles.



Hecatē is the Great Mother or Life of the universe, the Magna Mater, or Mother of the Gods and all creatures.

She is the Spouse of Mind, and simultaneously Mother and Spouse of Mind of Mind; she is, therefore, said to be centered between them.

'Mid the Fathers the Centre of Hecatē circles.

(K. 27; C. 65)

She is the Mother of souls, the In-breather of life. Concerning this cosmic “vitalizing,” or “quickening,” or “ensouling” (psychōsis), as Proclus calls it, three obscure verses are preserved:

About the hollows beneath the ribs of her right side there spouts, full-bursting, forth the Fountain of the Primal Soul, all at once ensouling Light, Fire, Æther, Worlds.

(K. 28; C. 38)

If the “hollows beneath the ribs” is the correct translation (for the Greek seems very faulty, no matter what license we give to poetic imagery), it would appear that Hecatē, the Great Mother, or World-Soul, was figured in woman's form. Hecatē is, of course, as we have already remarked, not her native name (nomen barbarum), but the best equivalent the Greeks could find in their humanized pantheon, a bourgeois company as compared with the majestic, awesome and mysterious divinities of the Orient.

This was the cosmic psychōsis; the mixture of individual souls was - according to the Trismegistic “Virgin of the World” treatise, and as we might naturally expect - of a somewhat more substantial, or plastic, nature. In this treatise we read:

And since it neither thawed when fire was set to it (for it was made of Fire), nor yet did freeze when it had once been properly produced (for it was made of Breath), but kept its mixture's composition a certain special kind, peculiar to itself, of special type and special blend - (which composition you must know, God called psychōsis . . .) - it was from this coagulate He fashioned souls enough in myriads.

(H., iii 99)

It was probably in the mouth of the Great Mother that our poet placed the following lines:

After the Father's Thinkings, you must know, I, the Soul, dwell, making all things to live by Heat.

(K. 28; C. 18)

In the mystery of regeneration also, as soon as the conception from the Father takes place - the implanting of the Light-spark, or germ of the spiritual man - the soul of the man becomes sensible to the passion of the Great Soul, the One and Only Soul, and he feels himself pulsing in the fiery net-work of lives.

But why, it may be asked, does the great Life-stream come forth from the Mother's right side? The fragments we possess do not tell us; but the original presumably contained some description of the Mother-Body, for we are told:

On the left side of Hecatē is a Fountain of Virtue, remaining entirely within, not sending forth its pure virginity.

(K. 28; C. 187)

We have thus to think out the symbolism in a far more vital mode than the figurative expressions naturally suggest. And again:

And from her back, on either side the Goddess, boundless Nature hangs.

(K. 29; C. 141)

This suggests that Nature is the Garment or Mantle of the Goddess-Mother. The Byzantine commentators ascribe to every Limb of the Mother the power of life-giving; every Limb and Organ was a fountain of life. Her hair, her temples, the top of her head, her sides or flanks, were all so regarded; and even her dress, the coverings or veilings of her head, and her girdle. Whether they had full authority for this in the original text we do not know. Kroll considers this “fraus aperta” (K. 29); but the Mother of Life must be A1l-Life, one would have naturally thought, and one verse still preserved to us reads:

Her hair seems like a Mane of Light a-bristle piercingly.

(K. 29; C. 128)

Damascius speaks of her crown; this may possibly have been figured as the wall-crown or turreted diadem of Cybelē (Rhea), in which case it might have typified the “Walls of Fire” of Stoic tradition.

Her girdle seems to have been figured as a serpent of fire.

The Great Mother is also called Rhea in the Oracles, as the following three verses inform us:

Rhea, in sooth, is both the Fountain and the Flood of the blest Knowing Ones; for she it is who first receives the Father's Powers into her countless Bosoms, and poureth forth on every thing birth [-and-death] that spins like to a wheel.

(K. 30; C. 59)

The “Knowing Ones” are the Intelligences or Gnostic Thoughts of the Father. She is the Mother of Genesis, the Wheel or Sphere of Re-becoming. In one of her aspects she is called in the Oracles the “wondrous and awe-inspiring Goddess,” as Proclus tells us. With the above verses may be compared K. 36, C. 140, 125 below.



The statement of Hippolytus that the Assyrians (i.e., the Chaldæans) “were the first to consider the soul triple and yet one" is borne out by several quotations from our Oracle-poem:

The Mind of the Father uttered [the Word] that all should be divided [or cut] into three. His Will nodded assent, and at once all things were so divided.

(K. 18; C. 28)

The Father-Mind thought “Three," acted “Three." Thought and action agreed, and it immediately happened.

An apparent continuation of this is found in the lines which characterize the Forth-thinker as:

He who governs all things with the Mind of the Eternal.

(K. 18; C. 29)

This fundamental Triplicity of all things is “intelligible,” that is to say, determined by the Mind. The Mind is the Great Measurer, Divider and Separator. Thus Philo of Alexandria writes concerning the Logos, or Mind or Reason of God:

So God, having sharpened His Reason (Logos), the Divider of all things, cut off both the formless and undifferentiated essence of all things, and the four elements of cosmos which had been separated out of it [sci., the essence, or quintessence], and the animals and plants which had been compacted by means of these.

(H., i 236)

We learn from Damascius also that, according to our Oracles, the “ideal division” (? of all things into three) was the “root (or source) of every division” in the sensible universe (K. 18; C. 58}. This law was summed up as follows:

In every cosmos there shineth [or is manifested] a Triad, of which a Monad is source.

(K. 18; C. 36)

It is this Triad that “measures and delimits all things” (K. 18; C. 8) from highest to lowest. And again:

All things are served in the Gulphs of the Triad.

(K. 18; C. 31)

This is very obscure; but perhaps the following verse may light on the imagery:

From this Triad the Father mixed every spirit.

(K. 18; C. 30)

In the first verse “Gulphs” are generally translated by “Bosoms," and “are served” by “are governed”; but the latter expression is a technical Homeric term for serving the wine for libation purposes from the great mixing-bowl (kratēr) into the cups, and the mixing, or mingling or blending, of souls is operated, in Plato, in the great Mixing-bowl of the Creator. These gulphs are thus mother-vortices in primal space.

The “Three” is the number of determination, and therefore stands for the root-conditioning of form, and of all classification. But if the “Three” from one point of view is formative, and therefore determining and limiting, from another point of view, it endows with power; and so one of our Oracles runs:

Arming both mind and soul with triple Might.

(K. 51; C. 170)

In the original, “triple” is a poetical term that might be rendered “three-barbed”; if, however, it is to be connected with Pythagoræan nomenclature, it would denote a triple angle - that is to say, presumably, the solid angle of a tetrahedron or regular four-faced pyramid.

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