The core components of much of the ritual I do is simple: a candle lit for God and prayer. Everything else is, strictly speaking, optional. Yes, even incense, especially when simply performing prayer and adoration of the Divine, as Hermēs tells his students towards the end of the Perfect Sermon:
[Asclepius said:] “Let us suggest to father, Tat,—what he did bid us do,—that we should say our prayer to God with added incense and with unguents.”
Whom when Thrice-greatest heard, he grew distressed and said: “Nay, nay, Asclepius; speak more propitious words! For this is like to profanation of [our] sacred rites, when thou dost pray to God, to offer incense and the rest. For naught is there of which He stands in need, in that He is all things, or all are in Him. But let us worship, pouring forth our thanks. For this is the best incense in God’s sight, when thanks are given to Him by men.”
So, really, even perhaps my candle lit for God, a sacred flame I have burning at my main shrine whenever I do any sort of temple work, could be considered extraneous; I prefer, following usual ancient practices, to always have a sacred lamp lit with a sacred fire, so that I never pray or work in darkness. But, when performing pure theurgy, Hermēs suggests that prayer is the only required element—indeed, the only element that should be used.
But that’s really only applicable for God and the highest-of-the-high practices I engage in. And there are a lot of other gods and practices I engage in, and other components, like incense, are pretty damn useful.
I don’t think I’m making a controversial claim for when I say that everything present in a ritual should be present to further that ritual’s application and efficacy; having extra elements or components there that either aren’t used or aren’t related to the ritual shouldn’t be there in the ritual itself. This is far from encouraging minimalism, of course; with this maxim, you can get as complex and as complicated, as embellished and exaggerated as you like, by throwing in element after component or tool after supply into a ritual. Sometimes, that can be extremely helpful; other times, not so much. But this goes far beyond simply the choice or variety of incense and libation; everything in a ritual, down to the thread used to hem your robes (or sweatpants), can be engineered towards a particular ritual. After all, if you want to take a more psychological or semantic approach to ritual, everything in a ritual is a symbol, and all symbols have meaning. And color symbolism is huge in many kinds of occult and spiritual work.
With my renewed Hermetic practice I’ve been working on since the beginning of the year, I’ve been mulling over how I would want to make a new set of planetary talismans. I have an old set from when I was doing Fr. Rufus Opus’ Red Work course, which I’ve used ever since, and have been solid tools in their own right. Materially, they’re just halves of wooden craft yo-yos that I took apart; taking them apart left a hole in the underside of them, which I filled with the appropriate planetary metal, and after I did that, I woodburned the name and seal of the planetary angel and used the planetary characters from the Magical Calendar (originally(?) used for the Table of Practice from the Ars Paulina of the Lemegeton) around the sides. The effect was pretty nifty, if I do say so myself.
For these talismans, I painted each talisman in an appropriate planetary color: purple for the Moon, orange for Mercury, green for VEnus, yellow for the Sun, red for Mars, blue for Jupiter, and black for Saturn. Of course, “appropriate” here could be debated; the source for these colors is largely taken from Golden Dawn practice using their Queen scale of colors for the sephiroth of the Hermetic Tree of Life. Of course, the Queen scale—perhaps the most commonly known and used—is just one of four scales; there’s also the King scale (indigo, violet purple, amber, clear pink rose, orange, deep violet, crimson), the Prince scale (very dark purple, russet red, bright yellowish green, rich salmon, bright scarlet, deep purple, dark brown), and the Princess scale (citrine flecked azure, yellowish brown flecked gold, olive flecked gold, golden amber, red flecked black, deep azure flecked yellow, grey flecked pink). The link above gives an appreciable examples of all these colors (which, rather than being vague suggestions, were actually meant to be quite exact and specific), as well as for the other sephiroth and each of the paths on the Tree of Life. Complicated, to be sure, but if nothing else, the Golden Dawn takes complication and turns it into an art form. Plus, those who have ever read Alan Moore’s comic series Promethea (still a great primer on popular modern Western Hermetic mystery cosmology from a Golden Dawn/Thelemic standpoint) will find these colors for the planets incredibly familiar, as the artist specifically used these color scales for the sephiroth as Sophie Bangs (and Promethea) ascends through them from Earth/Malkuth to God/Kether.
But…well, I’m not a Golden Dawn magician. Like, I’ve never done the LBRP, or any [LG][IB]R[PH] type of ritual, or a Middle Pillar, or whatever. While these colors (or at least the Queen scale colors) are incredibly common, and incredibly useful, this surely can’t be the only magical color system for the planets, and while I don’t want to fix what’s not broken, I do want to try distancing myself from Golden Dawn stuff and see if other systems work, hopefully as well if not better. To that end, I’ve been looking into what other options there might be in the usual magical literature we typically consult from the pre-Golden Dawn days, like Agrippa et al., and seeing what such color symbolism might already have been present in classical or antique times.
For the usual grimoires we might turn to, we can find color lists in the following texts:
- Key of Solomon (book I, chapter 18)
- Key of Knowledge (book II, chapter 22)
- Multiple sets of colors from Cornelius Agrippa:
Plotting them out and comparing them, we can get a color table like the following:
|Planet||Key of Solomon||Key of Knowledge||Agrippa
|Agrippa Planets||Agrippa Clothes|
|Jupiter||celestial blue||green||sapphire, “airy colors”,
green, clear, purple, darkish, golden,
mixed with silver
|Mars||red||red (“vermilion”)||red, burning/fiery/flaming colors,
violet, purple, bloody/iron colors
|Sun||gold, yellow, citron||rich yellow (“saffron”),
|gold, saffron, purple, bright colors||yellow or
|Venus||green||azure, violet||white, pale colors,
ruddy between saffron and purple
|white and shining,
|glittering||mixed and changing|
|Moon||silver or argentine earth||white
|“fair” (pale white)||green, silver|
I’m sure there are plenty of other Western Renaissance and medieval sources for attributing magical colors to the planets, but this is already lining up to be kinda uniform, and we can see how such a color system informed the Golden Dawn set—at least as far as the Queen scale is confirmed. But the use of color symbolism for the planets is much older than this; it’s not like colors are a new thing for magicians or people generally. As many of my readers know, using rituals and information from the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM) is one of my favorite things to do, so I thought about looking back to classical and pre-modern sources in the West for more information. Happily and fortuitously, Tony Mierzwicki in his Graeco-Egyptian Magick has basically already done the work for us there. I’ll summarize his findings and sources:
- PGM CX.1—12, some sort of astrological divination that uses mineral or metallic objects: Sun, gold; Moon, silver; Saturn, obsidian; Mars, yellow-green onyx; Venus, lapis lazuli streaked with “gold” (pyrite); Mercury, turquoise (καλλάϊνος, literally “like a precious stone of a greenish blue”, turquoise or chrysolite, or even the famous blue-green Egyptian faïence); Jupiter, “a dark blue stone, but underneath of crystal” (“ὁ δὲ Ζεὺς ᾔτῳ κυάνου λίθου ὑπὸ δὲ κρυστάλλου”, possibly amethyst). Mierzwicki gives the “apparent colors” for these planets then as: Sun, gold; Moon, silver; Saturn, black; Mars, yellow-green; Venus, blue; Mercury, blue-green; Jupiter, dark blue and clear (or indigo/dark puple and white).
- Mierzwicki also matches PGM CX.1—12 with evidence from the seven-stepped zigurrats of Ecbatana and Khorsabad, according to Herodotus and archaeological evidence, respectively: gold/gold, silver/silver-grey, orange/orange, blue/blue, red/reddish-purple, black/black, white/white. Mierzwicki gives these the planets Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter, respectively.
It’s important to note that red is generally a taboo color in PGM and Egyptian stuff generally, as it’s considered to be a color associated with Set, and thus Typhōn. This is why so many PGM rituals call for “lamps that are not colored red”, and might explain the lack of red in the above PGM text, which appears to be currently the only one known that links particular colors (well, stones and minerals) to the planets. However, scanning through the rest of the PGM for bits and pieces that are color-related, we can also get the following:
- PGM XII.270ff: heliotrope (green chalcedony with small spots of red jasper) for the Sun
- PGM V.213ff: “costly green stone” (“σμάραγδον πολυτελῆ”, “expensive emerald”) for a scarab ring to speak with the Sun
- PGM VI.2622ff: purple used to color a skin that encloses a phylactery for calling upon the Moon
- PGM V.370ff: purple used for a cord to wrap up hair as a sacrifice to the Moon (well, really, Hermēs, but here meaning Thoth as a lunar god)
- PGM IV.2891ff: white used for a dove as an offering to Venus
- PGM IV.3209ff: white used for a saucer and wax for a saucer divination under Venus
- PGM VII.478ff: white used for a dove, the droppings of which are used in a ritual to Eros, connected to Venus
- PDM xiv.920ff and 933ff: white is the color of a stone called “foam of the moon”, like galbanum or glass
So, not a lot, as it turns out. But at least we have something we can plot out in another table:
|Planet||PGM CX.1—12||Babylonian||Other PGM|
|Jupiter||dark blue/purple and white||white||—|
|Mars||yellow green (or red)||red||—|
|Sun||yellow, gold||yellow, gold||green|
|Moon||white, grey, silver||silver||purple, white|
Funnily enough, in the process of writing this post, one of my mutual followers on Astrology Twitter, @jaysunkei, posted a surprised tweet about planetary colors, especially that for the planet Mercury, which started off a whole bunch of conversations about different texts and traditions of colors, including those listed above:
The stuff posted in that Twitter thread gives us even more options to work with based on a variety of astrological sources as well as cultural ones (cf. David McCann’s article The Astrology of Color on Skyscript.co.uk and this article about colors and planets through different cultures and time periods):
|Saturn||black, dark||black, dark||black, dark||white, pale, ashy, black, dark||black, dark|
|Sun||yellow||orange||red||yellow, red, purple||orange|
|Venus||light blue, light green||white, yellow||light green||light blue, light green, white||light blue, light green|
|Mercury||blue||purple, mixed colors||—||blue, grey, mixed colors||blue, grey, pink, yellow|
|Moon||orange, yellow||blue, orange, yellow||green, white||green, orange, yellow, white||green, orange, yellow, white|
In the end, it looks like we have a lot of options to pick from, all based on different authors and time periods and cultures and styles of working, some more astrological than magical, others more magical than astrological, some more grounded in the Earth and some more grounded in Heaven. There are a few commonalities, sure, and if I were to summarize some of the most common colors to make a “general” color scheme for the seven planets, I’d go with the following:
- Saturn: black. Everyone seems to be in agreement with this one, although this could be expanded to any super dark, dull color, more like a hue.
- Jupiter: blue or purple. Blue seems to be more common than purple, but both are considered “royal” colors, which fits in nicely with Jupiter’s significations. Still, blue seems to be more common.
- Mars: red. This is pretty common across everyone, shockingly enough.
- Sun: gold or yellow. Gold, of course, is ideal for the Sun, but that’s more a metal rather than a color; a rich yellow, tending slightly more towards orange than green, would be better if a simple color is preferred.
- Venus: primarily green, secondarily white. Green seems to be more common than white (though “green” here is probably best described as a “light blue-green”, like teal, aquamarine, spring green, cyan, Persian green, jade green, or turquoise), though white is also a common option. However, white can also be used for the Moon, so be careful here (more on this below).
- Mercury: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Mercury’s colors are all over the map, and I think the best way to describe Mercury’s color is “plaid”, meaning any set of mixed, changeable, shifting, or interwoven colors. Barring that, however, orange seems to not be a bad choice, as this is sometimes considered to be a “muddled” or “mixed” color itself, compared to the more pure yellow or red.
- Moon: silver or white. Silver is preferred, but this is more a metal than a color, so the best way to describe this in terms of simple colors is just white. However, white is also an option for Venus; if white is chosen for Venus, use silver for the Moon, and if white is used for the Moon, use green for Venus.
Lots of options, indeed, and of course the above isn’t exhaustive; there’re also Mesoamerican and Native American traditions, Chinese and Indian/Vedic systems, and other systems of astrology and magic out there that have their own color associations with the planets and stars, too. But, even with this much, at least we can make things look nice for ourselves and our works.