Over time, more and more people have turned to Fr. Rufus Opus’ (Fr. RO for short) book of planetary magic, Seven Spheres (SS), which was put out by Nephilim Press back in 2014. Although not everyone might care for his writing style or approach to magic, Fr. RO does give people a taste in SS of what non-Golden Dawn Hermetic magic is and can be, providing a back-to-basics Hermetic cosmology largely outside (but still playing nice with) Hermetic Qabbalah and a way to directly interface with the planetary angels through conjuration in his own variant of the conjuration method in The Art of Drawing Spirits Into Crystals (DSIC) attributed to Johann Trithemius (which, if you’re still not familiar with it yet, you could do worse than reading my analysis of the whole thing). Fr. RO has been working this system for a while, at least since 2006 when his blog Head for the Red was started, and began building up his own approach to planet-centric theurgy using DSIC around that time, eventually beginning to teach his system through the RWC system. Eventually, he stopped admitting new people into the RWC, took some of the content from it, reworked it a bit, and published SS. So, even though people can no longer get access to the RWC as it was (though, again, there are some who continue to provide it!), SS was intended as the more mass-available release of that, which Fr. RO (so I would assume) considers to be the distillation of the RWC.
As one of his active students at the time in his Red Work Course (RWC, which I now disseminate myself, along with a handful of others he’s licensed to do the same), I was excited for the book, and heartily threw my encouragement behind it, even on my own blog—and, coincidentally enough, exactly five years ago to the day. Now, looking back five years later, for myself and SS? I cannot truthfully say that I’ve actually worked SS. What I can say I’ve done is the magic in RWC, which includes everything in SS and much, much more. I have done everything in SS, oftentimes verbatim, just not according to SS. By the time SS was published, I was already “done” with my planetary inductions through his Planetary Gates rituals, which was basically the entirety of the Green Work segment of RWC—heck, I was already “done” with RWC, having accomplished all that it set out to do and setting me properly on my own path with the techniques in RWC providing the bedrock for my road to be built. Since I started studying under Fr. RO in 2011, I’ve done things according to his instructions as well as experimented with twisting them, breaking them, or outright replacing them with other methods that sometimes work better, sometimes not, sometimes just as well with different means.
I give this introduction and apology because, I’ve been thinking about SS as of late, and I want to share my thoughts about it. It’s not a bad text and there’s a lot of good stuff in there, to be sure! But I have a few significant issues with it that I find jarring enough—and dangerous enough—that I want to make some of my thoughts known for others to be aware of based on my own experiences and continuing education beyond RWC/SS. Mostly, these issues keep being raised by a lot of people who keep asking me the same questions on Curious Cat or by email or in consultations with me regarding the system of magic presented in SS, and I keep having to reply to them over and over, so perhaps by writing a post about it, perhaps I can save us all a bit of time.
Perhaps the most overarching issue I have with SS is that many people take it to be a beginner’s text on magic, when I can’t really consider it to be such. For many people, SS is their first glimpse of planetary magic or planetary conjurations (as evidenced by how often SS is brought up on /r/planetarymagic), and that’s fair! Until the publication of SS, while obviously planetary magic abounds in the Western mystery tradition as a whole, there wasn’t a lot so easily or famously accessible that didn’t involve dragging yourself through Golden Dawn curricula or simpler “call on this planet to achieve X” spells and rituals. SS provides many people with a more encompassing method of working with the planets and their ruling spirits in a more profound and potent way, providing self-initiations (what I now prefer to call “induction”) into the planetary spheres. However, SS is just not written for beginners, even if that’s what Fr. RO may have had in mind. Though Fr. RO may have distilled his RWC content into SS, in my opinion, he went way too far; RWC was a whole course of Hermeticism and magical practice that really did start you from scratch, while SS doesn’t do nearly as much, nor does it provide for a strong foundation to properly train people for conjuration, spiritual contact and communication, spiritual hygiene, ritual practice, or the like. SS basically assumes you already have it and that you already have decent enough visionary skills to perceive spirits. For this and other reasons, while RWC provides a true beginning for beginners in magic, SS doesn’t; thus, SS simply doesn’t qualify as a beginner’s text. As a result, those who actually are beginners often find themselves skipping quite a few steps in the process to get to the Gates rituals Fr. RO describes in SS, which he had previously saved for the last phase of RWC.
More specifically, though, what I consider to be the most damaging aspect of SS from a methodological point of view to my mind is the time allotted for the schedule of conjuration and the process of planetary induction. Fr. RO explains his conjuration schedule at the start of the “Ritual Planning” chapter:
It’s possible to go through the seven spheres in seven days, and it’s actually a lot of fun. I’ve done it, and so have several of my friends and colleagues. It can release a lot of power way too quickly, though, and it’s really not very safe. I mean, when the forces that result in a complete transformation of your life are all moving at once, it can get…uhm, not fun. Overwhelming. One might burn out, in fact.
As a result, the approach I recommend is paced a little more slowly. If you follow the schedule I lay out below, it will take five weeks to go through all seven spheres. This is still a pretty heavy pace for most folks, and it will completely transform your life.
The table below shows how the schedule will fall on the calendar. You begin in Jupiter on a Thursday, and you finish in Saturn on a Saturday. This schedule gives you about four days of rest between each right, and a little time to integrate the forces into your sphere and get used to them. At the same time, it doesn’t give you enough time to finish materializing the forces you’ve released. It keeps them in the formative state throughout the whole series of rites. This is useful in making sure the current released in Jupiter is then woven through the other spheres to all aspects of your life.
He follows this with a table that looks like the following:
So, according to SS, you’re supposed to conjure the planetary angel of each planet for the first time in a span of five weeks, giving yourself four days of rest between conjurations. This is a kinder (though still rough) approach than going through the seven spheres in seven consecutive days, which he and others (myself included) have done. So, Fr. RO doesn’t recommend doing seven spheres in seven days, but rather seven spheres across five weeks.
Even as a kinder approach, that’s still fucking insane.
Fr. RO is no newbie magician. By the time he published SS, he was already working the DSIC system for at least eight years (the earliest posts on his blog in 2006 reference Trithemius and DSIC), and had plenty of other experience with a variety of magical practices before that. For all his flaws, perceived or actual, the man is at least competent in what he can do. For him, going through a five-week cycle (or even a seven-day cycle!) of conjurations is straightforward and simple, but he wasn’t writing SS for himself: he was writing SS for other magicians, and many of those magicians don’t have nearly the amount of experience, stamina, spiritual hygiene skills, or practical know-how that Fr. RO and his circle of friends have. To ask them to put themselves under that kind of spiritual duress, to me, is more than “a pretty heavy pace”, it’s outright dangerous. And that’s the “kinder” approach he offers!
He talks a bit more about the expected results of doing this five-week ordeal:
Overall, it will take approximately six to weight weeks to perform the rites and have them all begin to really change your life. By the sixth week, you will find that everything has become more intense, obstacles in your way have vanished, and that you’ve gone through more personal, spiritual, and mental growth than you have in years. By the eighth week, the forces you’ve released will be materializing and being grounded in your kingdom. You’ll find the physical results of the mental and spiritual growth making themselves “real” to you.
It might take a while to get back to a sense of normal. It will happen though. When it does, and you’re feeling safe, secure, and happy with how things are going in your life, consider starting the cycle yet again. There is always more to learn in each sphere.
I cannot, in good conscience, recommend anyone to undergo such a rapid process like this unless they’re already well-acquainted with the powers of the planets and already skilled at conjuration and other magical practices. I’ve done my fair share (and sometimes continue to do so) of rushing through things, but let my burned hands be an indication here: there is no need to rush like this. The planets will always be there, and you have time to go through them at a more reasonable, sensible pace—and there’s no reason to not give yourself as much time as you need to properly acclimate and adjust to these influences. While I understand the urge to just dive right in, well, consider an actual 12′ deep pool. You wouldn’t dive into the deep end without already knowing how to swim, right? So if you’re not able to swim in magical works, or even how to tread water, why on God’s green Earth would you do the same with this? Don’t do this.
When you begin the process of induction into a planetary (or elemental, or zodiacal…) sphere, you’re opening yourself up to a whole new realm of powers, entities, forces, and influences into your life. Depending on your own planetary inclinations (which you can get a feel for based on your natal horoscope), you might find some of these to be easier than others, but none of them are ever truly easy. You’re opening yourself up to the literal gods of heaven and telling them “okay, come on in, do your thing!”. To just outright throw wide the doors isn’t leaping from the frying pan into the fire, it’s going from your lead safety suit into the nuclear reaction chamber itself. It’s dangerous, even for the experienced, to push yourself so hard like this without giving yourself enough time to rest, recuperate, review what you did and where you made mistakes, acclimate to the new changes in your life, adjust to the powers in your life that weren’t there before, and just overall heal from the ordeal. To rush that process is like not giving yourself enough rest after pushing yourself too hard at the gym: you stand to break yourself and seriously injure yourself in the process.
Also, from another practical standpoint? Fr. RO only follows the system of planetary day and hour. He ignores any other kind of astrological or zodiacal timing; that’s not uncommon for a lot of people in the Solomonic tradition as opposed to the astrological tradition, where such timing is more important (especially according to Francis Barrett himself, where he uses outright elections of the planets to time his conjurations). However, something important I feel he leaves out is to at least consider the Moon. At least for the purposes of this kind of planetary work, I think the phase of the Moon is critical for what we’re trying to achieve regardless of the specific planet. While you could go crazy with it, the simple observation of whether the Moon is waxing (New to Full) or waning (Full to New) is sufficient. Use the waxing Moon to bring things into the world (which is great for conjuring to a strong or even manifest appearance, talisman consecrations, blessings, etc.), and use the waning Moon to send things out of the world (better for diminishing things and some kinds of curse work, sure, but also for theurgy and spiritual initiations/inductions, since you’re the one being sent out of this world into higher ones). So, rather than just using planetary day and hour (and of the two, the hour is far more important than the day), I think it’s also important to observe the Moon as well. However, the Moon is only waxing for two weeks at a time and waning for another two weeks; doing the seven spheres across five weeks mixes the two up and can get you uneven results from your work.
So, all that said, here’s my recommendation as for timing:
- In the day and hour of the planet while the Moon is waxing, conjure the angel of the planet and ask them to bring their influences into your life. This gives you a good start to understand what that planet does in your life and world and sphere. Ask for their presence and guidance, assistance in bringing themselves into your life, and whatever else you might need. If you don’t get contact, try the conjuration again in another appropriate hour, but only while the Moon is waxing. You want the waxing help of the Moon here to bring that angel down into our world so you can get a better connection.
- Once you make contact and have formed that connection in that first conjuration, spend the next two or six weeks getting used to that infusion of planetary energy to acclimate to it, not conjuring anything else or focusing on any other force in a major way (except in cases of emergency).
- After two or six weeks (six weeks is better), perform another conjuration of the angel of that planet in its day and hour but, importantly, with the Moon waning. This time, review the past bit of time since you made that first contact, and ask for initiation/induction into the sphere of that planet, opening the Gate, entering into that sphere, and the like. The first conjuration formed a connection so you can get a taste of what that planet does; this second conjuration provides the initiation/induction into that sphere to more deeply integrate yourself with it, and it with you.
- Spend at least a month after this conjuration taking notes, observing changes, and getting used to the planetary forces.
- After that, perform another conjuration of the angel of the planet; it doesn’t matter so much what the phase of the Moon is in so long as you can use it. Check up on yourself with the angel, see what else you’re missing, explore through the gate of that planet some more, do some more work however you need, and lock those forces in.
This is a much slower process of conjuration-based initiation, sure, taking from one to three months per planet, yielding an overall timeframe of 7 to 21 months. Sure, you could speed it up if you felt it necessary, or if a particular planet was easy enough to integrate into your sphere, or if you wanted to be faster just to be faster. I favor more cautious routes nowadays, and there’s no harm in that; after all, there’s no rush, so why rush it? And this is on top of the practice you need to get in before you even start working with the planets, too! To simply give SS to a beginner when it’s not a beginner’s text and tell them “go through all seven planets in five weeks, seven days if you wanna, good luck, have fun”…while I see what Fr. RO was trying to achieve by this, and while I get the enthusiasm in making people better ASAP, I just can’t recommend this approach to anyone unless they’re absolutely sure about it, especially if they don’t have an actual teacher or mentor guiding them and nurturing them through the process. And a book, by its very nature, cannot do that.
So much for time and scheduling. There’s another specific issue I have, though, and that’s with the order of planetary work itself. Fr. RO has a well-known bias towards the planet Jupiter; it wouldn’t surprise me to find out if he had an exceedingly dignified Jupiter in his horoscope, or one that was significantly bolstered by the placement of his Sun. In addition to being one of the founding members of the Gentlemen For Jupiter, Fr. RO simply loves the planetary force and blessings of Jupiter. He places a huge emphasis in his magical work and philosophy around the notion of divine kingship, and builds his approach to reclaiming our divine heritage and spiritual immortality according to the philosophies of Hermēs Trismegistus from there. And it’s not a bad approach! I think we could all do with the reminder that we are children of God, endowed with the faculties and functions of God incarnate as humanity on Earth in a way that other spirits may not necessarily have the capacity for.
Now, I’m not one to yuck someone else’s yum, and I understand that we all have favorite planets, kinds or styles of working, and inclinations. What one person likes, another person may not like; what one person is good at, another person may not be. That’s natural and fair, so I’m not going to knock Fr. RO’s stringent and zealous focus on Jupiter here and elsewhere. What I question, however, is starting the whole process of planetary induction with Jupiter. I get where Fr. RO is coming from: according to him, in order to (re)claim your status and heritage as a divine king, you must first be anointed as such, and that comes about in the sphere of Jupiter. But in my view, all the planets confer that, and all the planets represent royalty and rulership in different ways. Fr. RO says as much, too, in SS, so it’s not like we can argue on that point, but I don’t think just up and starting with kingship for the sake of kingship is the best start without the proper context and training for it. Yes, magic can and ought to be used to make our lives better in every possible way, that’s true, but kingship and royalty and rulership over your life is a long process, and I don’t think it should simply passed into from the get-go.
Personally, I don’t think everyone is meant to be a king; while we are all children of God made in his image (which is something true even from a Hermetic stance), I think Fr. RO’s emphasis on the divine heritage of humanity being inherent kingship is somewhat off the mark. Yes, we are always children of God, but not necessarily kings of men—and to rule your life is not necessarily to be a king of it. I think this is a point that is easily missed: kingship isn’t about rulership. To me, kingship is about the highest form of servitude and service that there can be; while a king might have power over their people, a king is also ultimately the servant to provide for the well-being of their people. This is definitely included in the purview of Jupiter, to be sure, being the planet of righteousness and grace and mercy! But this kind of noble service is often overlooked or forgotten, especially if you just up and start with Jupiter in a mania. This is something that must be worked for and slowly understood, building up to the ability to properly serve others order to rule oneself.
From a more practical standpoint? Jupiter is pretty high up there in the heavens, and there are five other planets lower than Jupiter that are closer to us, and thus easier to access. For magicians, and especially those new to conjuration and spiritual communication, I don’t find Jupiter to be a good planet to start with. Instead, I recommend to start with the Moon, being the closest planetary sphere to us on Earth, and work our way up from there to Mercury, then to Venus, the Sun, Mars, and then to Jupiter and Saturn. This is a properly theurgical approach of elevation and ascension through the heavens, as opposed to an arguably thaumaturgical descent and materialization down through the heavens into our world. I mean, theurgy can absolutely be done “downwards” just as thaumaturgy can be done “upwards”, but for the sake of practicality, starting with the Moon makes the most sense to me. This is especially the case for those whose psychic and visionary skills aren’t well-developed yet, as the Moon naturally rules over both. By getting a firm foundation in the sphere of the Moon, it becomes easier to build up from there and reach into the higher heavens. Additionally, the Moon is known to gather and collect the light of all the other planets, and so interfaces with them all in a way that no other planet does. By starting with the Moon, not only do we develop a strong lunar foundation for ourselves, but we also naturally get a small taste or a whiff of every other planet in the process.
Now, Fr. RO released the original Gates ritual texts (e.g. Gate of Jupiter, Gate of Mars, etc.) on his blog in 2011, and did in fact start with the Gate of Jupiter. However, in the Green Work section of the RWC, the first Gate text he intended for his students to take was, in fact, the Gate of the Moon; though he never makes this explicit, it suggests that he intended the Moon-upwards approach in RWC as opposed to the Jupiter-downward approach he gives in SS. This ties into the same approach for the conjurations of the elemental angels (which he completely omits in SS), where you start with Earth (the lowest element) and work your way up to Fire (the highest element). This is the approach I would most recommend more than anything.
But, also? Saturn. Fr. RO, in my opinion, gravely disrespects Saturn and its crucial role for us all, especially as magicians, and especially as a planet of magic, the occult, and mystery itself. This ties into the earlier concern about the order of conjuration, where Fr. RO starts with Jupiter, works his way down to the Moon, and ends with Saturn. Except…he doesn’t actually end with Saturn. Note the table of ordering the conjurations above. Fr. RO explains this:
Note that Saturn is in parentheses. That’s because it should be considered optional. You don’t need to go to Saturn until you feel completely and fully integrated as the King of your personal Kingdom. You shouldn’t go to Saturn until you need to expand the borders of your Kingdom.
Saturn is not optional. Period, point blank, full stop. Saturn is as necessary as any and every other planet. To ignore Saturn is to throw yourself into imbalance, become overweeningly arrogant and proud, focus too much on expansion and exuberance in a state of frenzy and mania, and can inflict some serious issues in your life. Saturn is the planet of restraint and moderation, the planet of boundaries and borders. I get that a lot of people are scared of Saturn, being the greater malefic and all, but honestly? All the other planets can be at least as malefic as Saturn. To my mind, Saturn rules the things that are naturally inimical to human desire, but that doesn’t make them any less necessary or divine. To use Fr. RO’s kingdom analogy, Saturn is the walls that ring round your kingdom, and holds everything in. For Fr. RO, these walls should be expanded as much as you can when you’re capable of doing so. And yes, Fr. RO does note that “walls support the roof, the dam stores the water, and the bones provide the support that lets us live as more than amorphous blobs”. Fr. RO says quite a lot, actually, about the helpful and crucially, critically necessary role of Saturn in our lives and our Work—yet says here that Saturn is “optional”. Even considering his understandable caution with Saturn and its spirits, I cannot agree with this statement. Do not skip Saturn. Never skip Saturn, just as you would never skip any of the other planets.
Sigh. I think I’ve griped enough. All in all, SS isn’t a bad book to work, but it’s not one for beginners, that’s for sure. While I get Fr. RO’s rationale for structuring it the way it is, in my own experience and in comparison with some of the other systems I work, I still have issues with how SS presents the Work to be done. In my opinion, his RWC content, from which the majority (but not all!) of SS was plucked, was and continues to be better for beginner and experienced magicians alike, especially in introducing them slowly and more fully through all the forces of the Hermetic cosmology. For that reason, I’m happy to share the RWC content for those who ask, or redirect them to those who teach them more formally. SS has its place in our modern magical literature, but I think we need to be clear about what that place is.