Another System of Elemental Affinities for the Geomantic Figures

There’s not a lot of modern geomantic literature out there, it’s true.  Most geomantic stuff written is decisively pre-modern (a good deal of which is already digitized and free to access by anyone!), and the rest of it that is modern is…well, sometimes it’s hit or miss, though there are more winners among the lot than not.  Still, compared to the endless books put out on Tarot or astrology or runes or playing cards, there’s just not a lot out there as far as geomancy books are concerned.  But, interestingly enough, it turns out that the French have been quite busy with geomancy in the 20th century.

Unlike modern Anglophone publications on geomancy, of which there really haven’t been all that any, I’ve got at least a dozen books stacked on my desk, all published in the 20th century in French, some more scholastic or academic than others, some more pop-divination or pop-occult than others.  It’s honestly refreshing in many ways, though not nearly so surprising in others; after all, the French are well-known for having colonized much of Africa and large parts of the Middle East, and I’m positive that their colonialism and imperialism fed into their anthropological and cultural studies of many of the places that they situated themselves and took over.  Without putting a silver-lining spin on it, this research does help Western understanding of African and Arabic styles of geomancy, and has led to plenty of texts being written in French on geomancy, deriving information from both the Western European tradition as well as the African and Arabic traditions of the art.

Much of the French geomantic literature is pretty standard stuff that you’d find in any other geomantic text, but there are a lot of surprising finds, too.  Some of the more outré topics I’ve invented or delved into (e.g. geomantic emblems or geomantic magic squares) were already known to and explored by French geomancers, which is an incredible relief to me—it means that I’m not the only crazy one in the room, and I don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel when I can see what else has already been written about it—or some of the really obscure finds I’ve had to piece together were already well-described and known to the French (e.g. the traditional assigning of the geomantic figures being based on an older system of associations to the lunar mansions) but perhaps the one most startling thing about many (but not all) French geomantic texts is the system of elements they use to describe the elemental rulerships and affinities of the figures.  As we all know, the geomantic figures are composed of different combinations of the four classical elements, but each figure is also generally aligned with one particular element as a whole.  Which element that would be is based on one of two systems, an older and more pervasive one that appears based on which elements are active or passive in a figure (e.g. Albus given to Water) and a slightly more recent one based on the planetary-based zodiacal rulerships of the figure (e.g. Albus given to Gemini because it’s a Mercury-ruled figure).  Heck, I’ve even come up with a theoretical association of my own, also based on the elemental structure of a figure but less symbolic and more based on what cancels out and what’s left after that (though I don’t myself use this one).

But this particular system so common in so many French geomancy texts is different.  Like the traditional elemental system and my own innovative theoretical one, this French system is also structural, but it’s not really based on which individual elements are active or passive in a figure.  Rather, it’s based on the dot patterns of the upper two lines of a figure.  Consider the qura`ah (or qirrah), the spindle-dice so commonly used in and associated with Arabic and Persian geomancy:

As I’ve mentioned before, a pair of these spindle-dice are used together to generate four Mother figures all at once: you take both, spin the blocks on each spindle, and slap them down together on the table, and you read pairs of blocks, one from each spindle.  So, in the image above, the four Mothers that would result from that particular arrangement of spindle-dice are Caput Draconis, Acquisitio, Caput Draconis, and Albus.

Geomantic figures are essentially binary numbers (base-2): you have four rows, each row having one or two dots, giving you a choice of sixteen figures (2⁴ = 16).  However, you could also consider the geomantic figures as quarternary numbers (base-4), too: rather than considering individual rows, you look at the upper two rows and bottom two rows together.  In this way, rather than a single row being one of two options (single point or dual point), you get a pair of rows that has one of four options (4² = 16: single-single, single-dual, dual-single, dual-dual).  If we break down a geomantic figure into two pairs of rows rather than four individual rows, we can consider what the symbolism of a pair of rows means.

What these French geomancies do is give a different elemental association to the points found in pair of rows:

  • Single-single (shaped like a vertical line, :, e.g. the upper part of Fortuna Minor): Fire, a single flame burning upwards.
  • Single-dual (shaped like an upwards-pointing triangle, , e.g. the upper part of Puella): Water, something that pours out and expands downwards.
  • Dual-single (shaped like a downwards-pointing triangle, , e.g. the upper part of Caput Draconis): Air, something that rises and expands upwards.
  • Dual-dual (shaped like a square, , e.g. the upper part of Albus): Earth, the stability of the level plane.

EDIT:  Okay, I don’t know what’s going on, but apparently the dot patterns don’t show up in text right on all computers.  On some computers it displays as described, but on other computers it displays where the Earth four-point square is set to Air, the Water upwards-triangle is set to Earth, and the Air downwards-triangle is set to Water.  I don’t know how to resolve that or why that happens.  The content of the post is right, but the dot characters here may not be depending on your platform, browser, etc.

Some texts go further and try to relate these point-arrangements to the I Ching—which I don’t agree with due to a lack of any significant connection historical or otherwise—saying that single-single Fire is given to old Yang, dual-single Air to young Yin, single-sual Water to young Yang, and dual-dual Earth to old Yin.  Whatever.  I don’t agree with a Chinese or I Ching-based origin of geomancy, as there’s already plenty of evidence suggesting that geomancy originates in Arabia, and even if not, I’d still favor a north African origin anyway.  What connections there are between geomancy and I Ching, I find, are entirely superficial, and it didn’t help that European missionaries didn’t know what else to call fēng shuǐ besides “geomancy”, leading to centuries of misnaming and misunderstanding.  Just like with the pips of dominoes and the points of geomancy (as I brought up a bit ago), just because things look kinda similar doesn’t mean that they share a common origin.

Back to the topic at hand.  This is an interesting way to adapt the four-element symbolism to the simple shapes produced from two, three, or four points put together.  Admittedly, I find it a little weird, since I’d normally be inclined to give the single-dual upwards-pointing triangle to Air and dual-single downwards-pointing triangle to Water, but I get where this symbolism is going from; after all, Water is associated with downwards motion and Air with upwards (or at least sideways) motion, and I’d want to look at the shapes these points make from the perspective of direction rather than expansion, but I get it.

That’s the whole basis for this elemental symbolism.  To find the elemental association of a particular figure, simply look at the upper two lines of a figure, and that point arrangement gets you the ruling element of that figure.  That’s all there is to it.  Thus:

  • Fire figures (upper two lines single-single): Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Fortuna Minor
  • Air figures (upper two lines dual-single): Caput Draconis, Coniunctio, Acquisitio, Rubeus
  • Water figures (upper two lines single-dual): Puella, Amissio, Carcer, Laetitia
  • Earth figures (upper two lines dual-dual): Fortuna Maior, Albus, Tristitia, Populus

Far less common than this, though, some texts will also look at the bottom two rows of a figure in the same way to get a sub-element, such that Via is Fire-on-Fire, Albus is Earth-on-Water, and so forth, but that’s super uncommon—but, then, so is the notion of sub-element or secondary elemental rulers in general (even if I make heavy use of such symbolism).  Most texts simply leave the association at one element based on the upper two rows, and that’s about it.  Still, because I’m fond of tables and charts, we can come up with a simple such table that plots out which figure belongs to which primary (upper) and secondary (lower) elemental structures:

Upper
Fire
(:)
Upper
Air
(⸪)
Upper
Water
(⸫)
Upper
Earth
(⸬)
Lower
Fire
(:)
Via Caput
Draconis
Puella Fortuna
Maior
Lower
Air
(⸪)
Cauda
Draconis
Acquisitio Carcer Tristitia
Lower
Water
(⸫)
Puer Coniunctio Amissio Albus
Lower
Earth
(⸬)
Fortuna
Minor
Rubeus Laetitia Populus

I suppose the symmetry of the figures would be better preserved if I swapped around the Air and Water rows and columns, but I rebel at that, personally, so whatever.

As far as how to use such a system of elemental affinities and rulerships, I mean, it’s the same as any other: they can be used as a basis for meditating upon and contemplating the figures, understood in relationship to other figures, compared in terms of elemental strengths or weaknesses based on what’s around it or where it’s placed in a chart, and the other usual uses; in that, it’s just another system of elemental rulerships available for the figures, just like any other.  What I can’t really figure out, however, is where this system came from.  It doesn’t appear in any older European or Western text I’m aware of, and only seems to appear in most (but not all) French texts, suggesting a common language-bound origin—and, given the French history of colonialism and imperialism in areas where African and Arabic traditions of geomancy were practiced, might have just such an origin.  Plus, the use of pairs of rows in a figure does neatly echo the use of spindle-dice, which were historically only found in the Middle East and South Asia, further suggesting an Arabic practice—though maybe not an utterly ancient one, since the spindle-dice were not there from the beginning of the practice and I don’t recall seeing any row-pairwise analysis of figures brought up in any of the texts I’ve glanced over.

Now, back in the days from the old Geomantic Campus Yahoo! Group days, I swear I saw some image of some North African instance of geomancy that gave these same row-pairwise associations of the elements (like there was a tarp up in the background of a reading being done with some diagrams, including linking the four elements to the Tetragrammaton), but looking back through the group (before the old archives of all Yahoo! groups vanish in a few days), I can’t seem to find anything along those lines, so maybe I saw such a thing somewhere else.  I know I’ve come across such a thing a long time ago, but at the time I didn’t think much of it, so I don’t have any notes or references to such a system.  (If anyone knows the picture, direct me to it, as I’d be greatly appreciative.)  And, as I’ve said, most—but not all—of these modern French geomancy texts seem to share this system, and it really only seems to be French geomancy texts that do this.  To me, this indicates a single, common origin that spread outwards from there within the Francophone geomanticulture (hey, we have “occulture”, why not “geomanticulture” too?).  Happily, many French geomantic texts include a bibliography, so it’s not terribly hard to track down such texts.

From what I can see, this system of elements likely happened at some point between 1940 and 1986.  I give these two dates because these are the years of publication for the famous French occultist, Mason, and Martinist Robert Ambelain, who published La Géomancie Magique in 1940 and La Géomancie Arabe in 1986; in the former, he gives the usual older European (pre-Agrippa) form of elemental assignments to the figures, but in the latter, this row-pairwise one.  However, earlier texts than La Géomancie Arabe use this system, too, like in the 1978 La géomancie: un art divinatoire by Alain le Kern.  So, probably somewhere around the 1950s, this new method of assigning elements came into the French geomanticulture (the word’s sticking with me now), and may well have an Arabic origin or, more likely, a North or Northwest African origin.  Beyond that, I can’t currently tell.

Still, it’s a nifty system.  Another method to think about, for those who find a logic in it.

I upgraded to Ko-fi Gold with plenty of new bonuses, so check it out!

It’s been about two years since I signed up for Ko-fi as a way to take donations for the Digital Ambler.  It’s a simple thing, really; like Patreon, Kickstarter, or Gofundme, Ko-fi is a simple way to support artists or other content creators.  As I said when I got a Ko-fi, the Digital Ambler is free and I plan to keep it that way; between my day job that pays me an actual salary, my divination and consultation services, the ebooks I sell, and the occasional crafting commission I take on, I earn myself a little extra pocket change while also supporting the operating costs of my website and Zoom account, to say nothing of my occult supplies and books and ongoing lessons and classes.  Ko-fi is just a simple way for people to chip in with an Internet-based tip jar and support me and the things I do and write about, so if you don’t need a reading or want an ebook of mine but still want to help support me, this is the way to do it—by buying me a symbolic coffee.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Well, after considering it for a while, I recently upgraded to Ko-fi Gold, which gives me some pretty neat ways to do some nifty things with the platform.  Besides the aesthetic changes that Ko-fi lets me make (color of the page, changing the base donation price from $3 to anything else, changing “coffee” to anything else, etc.), one neat thing is the ability to take commissions, which…I mean, for me, I’m really kinda getting away from taking on physical crafts anymore, due to the time and energy that it takes that I often just don’t have anymore.  (When I do get in the mood, I’ll probably make them as once-off things and just slap them up on my Etsy for whoever wants it first.)  However, “commissions” here can be a pretty broad thing, so I’ve also put up my own services of divination and consultation up through Ko-fi over there as “commissions”, which you can pay by PayPal (just as you would on my website directly) or by credit card through Stripe.  So that’s pretty nifty.  I’ve even put up a few services as tests over there; I might try out temporary services through Ko-fi, since it’s easier than putting them up through WordPress directly, so if they seem to work well for me and for others, I’ll put them up on my website directly if it seems workable.  Besides my usual divination and consultation offerings, I’ve currently got two other services up on Ko-fi for those who would be interested:

  • Prayer Requests:  Need an extra push from a kind hand? As a mage and priest, I’m happy to offer my ritual services to make prayers, make requests, or make offerings on your behalf. If you need something special to help get you over the edge, then this could be just the thing for you.  Can also set lights, make offerings to ancestors and spiritual courts, and offerings to the Greek gods as requested.
  • Domino Readings: Puzzled by what to do? Need a simple forecast for the coming month or year? Got questions about what’s going on in your life? Divination using the fortune-telling art of reading the dominoes. At their simplest, only a single domino needs to be drawn, but if desired, another one or two may be drawn for more information, but never more than three at a time.

So if you’re interested in either of those services, take a look!  I’m offering them for a fair price for now to see how popular they might be, but if they seem to be desired, I’ll refine the process (and the price a bit) and move them over to my main website’s Services page.  In the future, when I try out an experimental service, it’ll go up on Ko-fi first, and I’ll mention it on my website.

Something else that Ko-fi Gold lets me do—or, rather, lets you do—is the ability to make a recurring monthly subscription, based on multiples of the base “coffee” donation of $3 (which isn’t a number I plan to increase).  Unlike Patreon, Ko-fi is a pretty simple platform, so there are no tiers or anything.  If you find yourself regularly turning to the Digital Ambler for my blog posts, writings, articles, and the like, then consider this a way to help out for the help and entertainment you yourself might be getting!  Of course, I write for the joy and love of it, and even a simple once-off donation is more than enough to make me grovel in appreciation—so of course there’d be something in it for you, dear reader, if you were to put in a monthly recurring donation.  Ko-fi Gold lets me make supporter-only content through their platform, which I think is a pretty nifty thing, don’t you think?

So, tell you what.  I need practice with domino fortune-telling and divination reading (which is one of the reasons why I’m putting that up as a test service through my Ko-fi commissions), and I kinda miss the days when I used to do my Daily Grammatomancy over on my Facebook page years ago.  With that in mind, here’s my plan to start with:

  • Around the start of every month (or maybe around the New Moon?), I’ll do a general reading forecast for the coming lunar month, with the forecast shared up on Ko-fi, available only to monthly subscribers.  It could be with dominoes, it could be with geomancy, it could be with grammatomancy; I may change it up, or I may settle into using one system more than others.  We’ll see!
  • Around the latter part of every month, I’ll set up a general Zoom chat for me and my readers to hang out, chat, and discuss whatever’s on your mind, a sort of hour-long-or-so private radio show kinda thing.  The exact date, link, and password will be sent out through Ko-fi only to monthly subscribers.

Of course, these are just a few things I have in mind for now.  Ideally, this would start in January 2020, assuming I get at least one recurring supporter through Ko-fi by the end of the month (or, rather, December 26, when there’s a New Moon—and also an annular solar eclipse).  While I’ll always keep writing for the Digital Ambler, I think it’d be nice to give something special for those who want to keep me aloft, and I’d be happy to consider different things to do for my supporters (group prayer requests, communal offerings, weekly forecasts, in-depth lessons on a particular aspect of magical practice, excerpts of my books and private projects, etc.) if they’re suggested and seem popular enough.

Also, one last thing: do you yourself have a Ko-fi and have been eyeing a Ko-fi Gold account for yourself?  It’s only US$6/mo, but if you use this referral link you can get yourself a 10% discount for the subscription to Ko-fi, which helps put a bit of money in my own pocket, too!  Since Ko-fi doesn’t take a fee out of supporter’s donations and commissions, Ko-fi is entirely supported through donations itself as well as through Ko-fi Gold subscriptions, so by upgrading to Gold, you yourself can help support the platform for endless artists and content creators.  This is a really neat, hassle-free, ethical website that I enjoy supporting, and it does good work for a lot of people.  Consider upgrading today!

Colors of the Planets

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:

Plotting them out and comparing them, we can get a color table like the following:

Planet Key of Solomon Key of Knowledge Agrippa

Colors

Agrippa Planets Agrippa Clothes
Saturn black black black, earthy,
leaden, brown
dull blue black
Jupiter celestial blue green sapphire, “airy colors”,
green, clear, purple, darkish, golden,
mixed with silver
pale citrine blue
Mars red red (“vermilion”) red, burning/fiery/flaming colors,
violet, purple, bloody/iron colors
fiery red red
Sun gold, yellow, citron rich yellow (“saffron”),
green
gold, saffron, purple, bright colors yellow or
glittering red
yellow, gold
Venus green azure, violet white, pale colors,
eye-catching colors,
ruddy between saffron and purple
white and shining,
or red
white, green
Mercury mixed colors yellow-orange
(“eggyolk”)
glittering mixed and changing
Moon silver or argentine earth white
(“white lead”)
“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
Saturn black black
Jupiter dark blue/purple and white white
Mars yellow green (or red) red
Sun yellow, gold yellow, gold green
Venus rich blue blue white
Mercury light blue-green orange
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):

Planet Picatrix Al-Biruni Ibn Ezra Lilly Sepharial
Saturn black, dark black, dark black, dark white, pale, ashy, black, dark black, dark
Jupiter green brown, white green purple
Mars red red red red red
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.

End of a Decade

So, here we are at the end of 2019, all of us headed into a new decade in less than thirty days. It seems to be all the rage on Twitter and Facebook to do an end-of-decade recap, so I figured I may as well pitch in with mine. This was originally going to be a tweet thread over on my Twitter, but it turns out that Twitter won’t allow threads over a certain maximum number, and 2010—2019 was…well, quite the decade for me, and I wanted to do it justice as some of the most formative years of my life to this point. So, let’s try this over here on this, my beloved website and blog, that has seen me through all these years and, God and gods willing, many more years to come. Now that I’ve written all this, it’s…kind of astounding everything that’s happened to me, for me, by me, and with me over just the span of ten years, how much I’ve changed, how so much has happened that I would never have dreamed of happening.

Ten years ago, at the end of 2009, I was wrapping up my penultimate semester in undergrad at UVa. (I still have old photos from my old laptop, long since sold off, of me in the 24-hour library studying and partying with friends.) That semester was the most difficult and credit-intense of them all; the semester after that was the easiest and most fun of them all. I wrote my undergraduate thesis for my B.S. in computer science on using software metrics and variable name uniqueness to predict bugs, and how software engineers are awful at using metrics for actually engineering their products.

There was an unfortunate issue with an unofficial subletter we had in my apartment who, while the rest of us were out of town for winter break 2009—2010, ended up exploding the fireplace (and damn near destroying the rest of the apartment) while drunk and drugged up. He and one of his friends thought it would be a good idea to have a fire in the fireplace and start throwing shit into it: potatoes, bottles of cleaning products, rolls of toilet paper, cans of food…and one can of chickpeas was built exceptionally sturdy, and failed spectacularly. None of us, especially our landlady, were thrilled about that. We were finding bits of charred potato, melted bottles, and ash across the place for weeks. He dropped off the face of the map, but we were able to track down his family’s contact information and pass it along to our landlady for restitution.

While I had begun my blog, “The Digital Ambler”, early in 2010, I didn’t really do much with it. It was originally a devotional space for XaTuring, the Great Worm, god of the Internet. It fell stagnant and quiet for a while. I got Twitter and deleted Facebook in the spring of 2010, around the time when I graduated college. Cesspool that it is, I’ve met some amazing people on Twitter since that time, many of whom have become lifelong friends in the process.

I was living with my then-boyfriend (who graduated one year earlier) at the time. We were together for less than a year after this; we moved in together upstate after I graduated, then we broke up and he went to be with someone else. He moved out, and I had the place all to myself for about a year—while he was still paying, no less, for his share, which was great for me, and gave me the space I needed to eventually begin my magical and spiritual practices. (It also gave me the wonderful time to just be home naked all the time without a concern in the world.)  We met about two years earlier at our rival college through the furry community, ultimately through my ex, who was on-and-off-again president of the furry club; through them, I met the local furs upstate where I moved and made friends with them, too, even after my breakup.

It was in the final weeks of my last semester at college, literally during the study period before finals, that I got my job acceptance call with the federal government. I was skipping down the hallway to my Proto-Indo-European Linguistics study session in joy. The job was slow-going, but eventually the work picked up for me. It was quiet and enjoyable.

By this time, I was already good with geomancy, having studied and practiced it for about two or three years by this point. The Geomantic Campus Yahoo! group was alive and well at this point. For a long while, I had only wanted to just be a diviner, keeping magic well out of it, but…well, in 2011, after finally settling down into the idea of Actually Doing Magic, I had the choice between one of three alternatives. After doing a reading for myself, I got into Fr. Rufus Opus’ “Red Work” course, and I restarted my blog as a place for my Hermetic research and rambling. I didn’t stop writing or let the blog stagnate this time—or, at least, not for as long.

Through my furry friends in the area, I met a particularly fascinating magical practitioner and priestess. She put me in contact with others, and by them through others, and by them through others. Abundant adventures ensued, as well as a few visits to some tattoo and piercing parlors: I got a caduceus on my left forearm, a Rod of Asclepius on my right forearm, the Golden Chain of Homer on my spine, and several piercings in my ears and one under my lip. I’ve yet to get any more, but I’m looking forward to it when I can; I’ve only had to take out my labret piercing (it was wearing down the gum on my lower teeth), and while I later got nipple piercings, I took those out too and never bothered putting them back in.

My mother’s mother passed away in late spring 2012. The worst part of it all was the long trip to my ancestral state for her funeral—and watching my brother blab on in his eulogy about her lung cancer, which she had kept secret from others all this time (hilariously enraging my mom in the process). My mother still has yet to go through all her records and files, but she’s making progress again.

Looking back on it and given how complete it was (though never as complete as he set out for it to be), I would say that Fr. Rufus Opus’ “Red Work” course has two main objectives: contact with your holy guardian angel/supernatural assistant, and induction into the eighth sphere of the fixed stars. I accomplished the first objective in early summer 2012.

Lots of adventures with furries and magicians and pagans in this time. I miss a lot of it, debauched and dramatic as it sometimes was. I still get to hang out periodically with some of those friends, but it’s a lot less common nowadays. Those adventures, stupid as they sometimes were, were at least memorable enough to provide some much-needed learning experiences, not just about magic, but also myself. Through some of my magical contacts, I began doing readings and teaching an occasional class at a local new age/occult shop.

After a weird amount of online dating and hooking up, I met a new boy towards the latter half of 2012; we met through OkCupid after rating each other highly, and we commented on the weird grammar used in the automatically-generated message it sent out. I was attracted to his profile because of his impressive back tattoos (large arachnidian-demonic wings). He later admitted that he did a bit of a candle spell to find someone—he got a candle from the same new age store I did readings at, on a day when I was teaching a class. He recognized my voice when we went out for the first time and got drunk at an Irish pub down the street from me. It’s also because of the boy that I got a Facebook again, to prove to his friends that I actually exist. It’s been useful in other ways since, too, especially for creating and maintaining the Geomantic Study-Group I admin. Lots of other social connections, too, as it turns out.

Through my branching internet and magical friends, I learned of a mages’ convention a few states north. Great antics were had, even if I don’t remember them all; I learned that drunken prophecy was a Thing for me (who knew?). It was at this convention that I not only got to meet Fr. Rufus Opus in person (as well as Jason Miller and a bunch of others), but I also got to meet the man who would become my bromancer, my partner-in-crime in the occult, with whom I’m still excellent friends. (At one point I even shoved God into his head, which was fun. Neither of us remember that event clearly.)

It was around this time, in 2013-ish, that I began working on a draft for a textbook on geomancy. Also this year, the husband and I spent a lot of time with our first godfamily and spiritual community in another state, people I met through my earlier contacts. Lots of fun times were had and lots of learning. I also learned that I look pretty good with a buzzcut.

In the autumn of 2013, there was a lengthy government shutdown, which put me on temporary enforced vacation. I used that time wisely, constructed a fantastic ebony Wand of Art (the wood itself a gift from a friend), and, after more than a week straight of heavy conjurations, achieved the second objective of the “Red Work” course: induction into the eighth sphere of the fixed stars. It changed everything for me.

The boy and I moved in together in early 2014 with another friend. I still miss that house with its abundant fields, problematic though it was in the long term. Because of the distance involved and how much further I moved away, I had to stop going to the new age store I was doing readings at; I want to visit again, but the time never seems to be there. The housemate eventually moved out when she got into a relationship of her own, and though she and the boy are good friends, she doesn’t come around much anymore. In fact, many of the friends we had in the area in common we haven’t seen much; they were all really tight when they lived together, but I guess time is an amazingly busy knife for so many people.

In the summer of 2014, I made a trip back down to my alma mater for an academic conference, “Tracking Hermes/Mercury”. I was probably the only non-academic attendee, but that was fine. It was great to be back, even just for a short while.

The pleasant times the boy and I had with our out-of-state godfamily all blew up horrifically in our faces in late 2014; I’m still bitter about it, honestly, so it’ll be for the best if I never have to cross paths with them again. That blowup with the erstwhile godfamily really started at that year’s mages’ convention in the autumn. I never went back after that, and the convention itself fell apart not a few years later. Oh well. Memories are memories, sweet and hollow as they are.

Towards the end of 2014, I did a month-long magical working, in which I made the most rookie mistake ever: I didn’t actually read the full ritual text in detail that I was going to work from. It was…a harsh learning lesson, and it brought up and opened up a lot of things for me that I thought I had locked, chained, and cast down to the bottom of the ocean. Some things you just can’t escape or hide your head in the sand from; it’s a lesson I’m still learning. I suppose it was still a successful operation, though I question whether I would have done it if I actually had read the text itself beforehand.

I took my first step (well, a lot of them, really) into Lukumí (Afro-Cuban orisha religion, aka “Santería”) in 2015, receiving my Warriors, Hand of Orunmila, ilekes, and Olokun throughout the year. My godfather turned out to be one of the people I had met through that magical practitioner from before; his godsister, the boy’s godmother. I still find it hilarious how the furry community ultimately got me into this religion.

In summer 2015, I took a new job offer to be a team lead in a different program, same building and agency, right down the hall. It was a year of suffering; I developed panic attacks in an utterly horrific office that I could not fix. It was a mess of micromanagement, poor coordination, and a terrorized staff. It was awful.

In autumn 2015, the boy became the husband. We had already been headed that way for some time, but plans fell through, we couldn’t get the money scrounged up in time, and we just decided to leave it be. But then the gods themselves intervened and brought everyone and everything together at the right time, on the very day we wanted in the exact context we wanted, for us to get married anyway. I had no intention of visiting my (not-yet) godmother’s house to get married, but it happened anyway.

At the end of 2015, our landlord told us he was going to sell the place we were living in, so we had four months to GTFO. Thus began months of house-searching and freaking out. We were pushing right up into the limit—and over it. But we made it, and me, my husband, and our new housemate bought a house together at the start of summer 2016. After months of chaos and anxiety, this worked out exceedingly well and in our favor in so many ways—sometimes as if it were by magic or divine intervention. (Imagine that.) Now we just need to keep improving it, fixing what was leftover from the previous owners, and making it more livable and sturdy for as long as we’ll be here for it.

In summer 2016, after exactly one year in that horrible team lead job, I left it and went back to my old job. I’ll always be grateful to my supervisor for helping me get back there; I’m perfectly happy with my team, my work, my workload, and my position where I am, and though it was helpful to get that team lead experience (and a pay bump), I’m glad it’s over with. I’m happy being at the top of the career ladder and quite content with my position where I am; sure, the money from being a team lead or supervisor might be nice, but it’s not worth the stress of the position, nor is it worth giving up the work I already enjoy so much. Looking back, it seems like my work life has been the most stable thing about my life, which is frankly surprising.

In autumn 2016 (coinciding with his and my Saturn Return), my husband and I went to Cuba to be initiated fully into La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, him as a priest of Oshún and me a priest of Ogún. Everyone got giardia in the process, but I was the only one who didn’t have to take Cipro to get over it. (I also learned that dairy and intestinal parasites don’t mix too well. At least I didn’t have to worry about caloric blowback from those milkshakes on the way back.) I lost 15 pounds from our Cuba diet and our gastro-intestinal affliction, but I also gained a new life, a battery of orisha, and such divine guidance and support that I cannot but be honored and humbled by it all every day.

That began one year and one week of wearing only pure white clothing, every day, all day, inside and outside, publicly and privately. Not a lot else happened publicly or otherwise due to religious restrictions for our initiatory year; mostly just quiet processing. It was rough, but it was also worth it. I understand now what other priests say when they say they’d go through the entire process all over again, hard though it is to believe. There was some nasty drama during the year, however; our house didn’t explode, but our household nearly did. The Year in White is never easy, and it’s never the same for any two given priests. We made it, by the grace of God and the gods. I gained those 15 pounds back over the course of the year.

My father’s mother passed away in 2017. I can’t be sad about it; the woman basically won at life in every regard. She had a quiet and easy death in her 90s surrounded by family, after living through World War II, being married three times, inheriting a business fortune, traveling the world, and even having a short stint with the Jewish mafia. She’s earned not just a good rest but a whole throne and pavilion just for herself in the afterlife.

Since coming out of my Year in White in autumn 2017, it’s just been a lot of learning, studying, practicing, writing, experimenting, divining, casting, praying, meditating, and on and on. Routines get set up, fall apart, and set up again. Projects come up again and again, and some even get worked on enough to actually make it somewhere. The Work never really ends, thank God and the gods. There’s never a dull moment, even in the downtime.

Our husband’s cat Isis, which he had for over a decade, whom we took in from his grandmother’s in 2016, fell ill and died in early 2018. It was…hard, especially for him. She’s in a decorated resin canopic jar now, watching over us and the house. We got a new cat later that summer. Well, I should say, he wanted to get a cat, and I ended up getting one. Nephthys is…well, she’s a cat. And, more recently, thanks to the husband’s mother, she has a new brother now, Set, whom she is not yet a fan of. (At all.) It’s a process. My husband recently pointed out that Nephthys is much like him in personality, while Set is more like me. And Set is very much his cat. (Funny how that works. And yes, the husband picked all three names for the cats.)

I took on students this past year in 2019; it’s not my first time having a student, but this is the longest and most thorough arrangement I’ve ever had, and helps me as much as it helps them. It also gives me a good way to experiment and check in on some of the stuff I myself do. Not to make them my guinea pigs, of course, but it does point out to me better ways to teach and instruct some of the things that I myself have been taught, or that I’ve had to teach myself.

I was invited to speak at another magical conference up north this past summer; it was a great time, and I already look forward to this next year’s. I just need to figure out what the hell I want to propose to talk about this time! In fact, this whole summer was weirdly high-profile for me, getting to meet a bunch of big names from across the country.

After being in credit debt since 2013, the husband and I finally finished paying all of it off this year. We’re finally able to start saving money—and up our monthly allowances. Still need to keep a tight rein on our spending, but that shouldn’t be too difficult at this point. Besides, our credit scores are high enough that we can get most anywhere we need. (And sure, I’ve taken out a loan or two since then, but those are household expenses, so I’m not half as worried about them.)

Over the past decade, I’ve gained a bit of weight and I smoke more than I did in college, and though I don’t drink as much as I did, I’m not as physically active as I was, either. I’ve done things that I would have thought impossible for me, and though I didn’t set out of college with some big overarching plan or design for how I wanted my life to be, if you had told me that this would be my life as I took off my graduation gown, I would have laughed in your face. I’ve met countless people, some of whom I’ll probably never meet again and others with whom I look forward to meeting again time and time again. I’ve traveled to places that I thought were only stories, and I’ve done things that I would have considered to belong in the realm of fables. Heck, somehow, after writing more words than are in all the Harry Potter books put together, I’ve even ended up making a small name for myself in the occulture, which is as shocking to me as anything else. Sure, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve stepped on toes, and I’ve fucked up, yes, but I’ve also grown a bit, or at least I think I have. All told, I look forward to everything this next decade has to bring. If this past decade has been any indication, then things should only get better from here. When I raise my glass for this upcoming New Year, I’ll be sure to raise it, my voice, and my spirit for all that has gotten me here and all those who walked this road with me, whether or not they’re still at my side.

And yes, the geomancy book is still in progress.

Dominoes and Orisha

This summer was a lot more writing-filled than I would ever have anticipated, and not just because of the whole Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration thing, either. (I’ll stop harping on it eventually.) Really, this year was more surprising than not in a lot of ways, and one of the things I ended up getting myself into was, of all possible things, domino fortune-telling. Like…that one really did catch me off-guard, not least because I’m kinda terrible at actually playing the game. What started it all was, back on Curious Cat earlier this year, I was asked about the connections between dominoes and geomancy; since both geomantic figures and dominoes are composed of combinations of points, there’s gotta be a connection there between them, right? Nope! I have never once encountered any connection to dominoes in any geomantic text I’ve ever come across, whether traditional or modern, and I couldn’t think up any connection between them, either. I charted the different dot-patterns and tried to fit the dominoes with geomantic figures, and I just couldn’t come up with anything. They’re just too different to make simple comparisons with, and there’s not a lot else to go on. It just goes to show that just because different things kinda-sorta superficially look the same doesn’t mean that they’re connected at all.

And that’s where I intended to leave dominoes. Except…I didn’t. In fact, I pretty much outright couldn’t. Something snagged my attention hard to dominoes, and so I began researching domino fortune-telling. It might have been a spirit guide or ancestor of mine waiting for just such an opportunity, or it might have been something genuinely instinctive and curious in myself. Either way, this was something that I couldn’t simply drop, and I ended up taking it quite a bit further than was probably reasonable, but whatever.

It started with my recalling an old hand-me-down book from my brother’s neopagan days, Ray Buckland’s 1992 Secrets of Gypsy Fortunetelling, which had a brief section on dominoes. I dug the book out from the back of my dusty shelves, and started there. It seemed straightforward enough: each of the 28 bones of a double-six set of dominoes has a particular set of omens associated with it, along with meanings particular to the suits (the number of pips on either end of a bone) and weights (the total number of pips on a bone). There didn’t seem to be a lot to it, and there wasn’t a lot there to begin with. So, not being satisfied with just one book, I started to see what else was out there. Skip ahead a few months: 50 books later and half as many websites in several European languages, I ended up compiling over 150 pages of notes for the various interpretations of the bones, how they seemed to shift and turn and twist over the decades, what different authors seem to have thought about their own takes, and the like. These notes ended up getting transformed into a book format, which is now at over 200 pages and which will go to print once I finish getting a few other things wrapped up with it.

I should note that domino fortune-telling isn’t that old a practice. The earliest text I can find that describes this system of domino fortune-telling is from 1873, Mehemet Ali’s Oriental Interpretation of Dreams. This text gives a simple one-line interpretation for the 28 bones of a double-six set of dominoes, and these interpretations were later copied, sometimes vertabim from one text to another, sometimes expanded from one whole sentence to one whole paragraph. Now, I’m not ruling out the possibility of domino fortune-telling being in earlier texts or having an earlier origin than the early 1870s, but I have noticed that this type of dream-interpretation/pop-divination book (and there are dozens of examples on both sides of the Atlantic!) doesn’t include sections for dominoes before 1873, but they almost all did after 1873. (Side note: many of these texts include sections on playing card divination, numerology, astrology, and palmistry, but none include anything about geomancy, or at least, none in any reasonable way beyond the simplest of look-up tables, like in the 1884 Napoleon’s Oraculum and Dream Book, and even there, there’s no connection between dominoes and geomancy.) Even if we want to give the origins of domino fortune-telling an earlier date, we just don’t have the evidence to make it too early. After all, dominoes were only introduced into (or invented in, depending on your historical approach) Europe, specifically France and Italy, in the 1700s, reaching England and Germany only in the later part of that century, and spreading from there into the Americas after that. So, if it seems that the art of domino fortune-telling is young, then that’s because it is, because dominoes themselves are young in the West.

An interesting thing I noticed was that, as domino fortune-telling texts came over into the Americas, a particular subset of modern Spanish texts with Caribbean or Latin American origins all seemed to share a common trend not seen in other domino texts: links between dominoes with the orisha, West African deities carried over into the Caribbean and Brazil through the slave trade, with one of the most famous branches of orisha religion being a Cuban one, La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, also known as Santería. Myself being an initiated priest of Ogún in this religion, I was intrigued by this. Sure, dominoes are a huge thing in the Caribbean, and Cubans are known to start outright jihad over the game (sometimes friendly, sometimes not), but to see dominoes prescribing ritual solutions or suggesting things about orisha alongside the traditional interpretations of dominoes caught me off-guard. Sure, it’s not a lot of information along these lines, but it does exist in a handful of texts and sources, so that got me wondering how this mash-up came to be. This led to a separate strain of research alongside the rest of my domino fortune-telling investigations.

Now, bear with me here, dear reader. I know there are a few unknowns here, and I know that I’m still young in Lukumí, so there’s plenty that I don’t know. But something about the mash-up between dominoes and orisha just doesn’t smell right or feel right to me, so let me explain why. If I’m wrong, then I look forward to being educated better on it by those who know better than I do.

The thing about Lukumí (and orisha religion in general) is that, for all its own innovation and adaptations it’s had to undergo in order to survive under oppression and slavery, it’s still a comparatively rigid and closed system; it is in many ways as much an institution and religion as the Roman Catholic Church. After all, the word “regla” indicates “rule”, like the Benedictine Rule for monks in Catholicism, in the sense of there being a defined set of protocols and practices that must be followed in order for something to be considered legitimate within the bounds of orisha religion (or at least a particular type of orisha religion, like Brazilian Candomblé, Yoruba Traditional/Isheshe, Trinidadian Shango Baptist, etc., all of which have slightly different sets of protocols). This is founded on the pacts that we humans in the initiated priesthoods of orisha have made and established with orisha, and which are propagated as part of initiation into these priesthoods: if you’re a priest, you’re held to those pacts, and if you’re not in those pacts, then you’re not a priest. Within these pacts is regla; outside these pacts is…well, not a lot of note, really. To operate outside of these pacts is to operate outside regla, which isn’t looked upon favorably and wherein lies danger. This might sound like gatekeeping, but as an initiated priest myself, it’s literally my job to gatekeep: priests are the ones who maintain these pacts with orisha, and until the day comes when there are no more living priests of the orisha, these pacts will be maintained and must be defended. Orisha worship is a living and vibrant tradition, not something to be reconstructed (like Nordic, Hellenic, or Celtic practices) or approached on a whim based on something neat you read in a book that one time. To work within orisha religion is to initiate, study, train, and follow the practices and customs of your lineage based on the pacts that founded them; unlike other modern pagan or non-Abrahamic practices available in the West, orisha religion isn’t a DIY build-from-the-ground-up practice you can just do as you like with. You don’t have to initiate to worship orisha, but you do have to initiate to “work with” them (which is a turn of phrase that I find increasingly off-putting, but which I think gets my point across here).

Similarly, unlike many forms of popularly-practiced paganism, Lukumí doesn’t lend itself to free-wheeling syncretism due to the importance of maintaining these pacts and regla; you can’t just up and say that Ogún speaks through this particular Tarot card or that Oshún problems are indicated given a particular astrological transit, because neither Tarot nor astrology have any connection to orisha. Yes, there is (limited) syncretism in Lukumí, developed according to a Lukumí-specific logic, and those are valid and legitimate to varying extents depending on who you’re talking to, especially when you factor in an old-world style of Catholic saint devotion a la interpretatio Graeca. But syncretism has its limits, and when it comes to communicating with orisha or discerning their actions and recommendations, there are certain sanctioned forms of divination that are accepted by both orisha and their priests, e.g. dilogún (reading with sixteen cowrie shells), obi (reading with four pieces of coconut meat or kola nut), or Ifá (its own thing). If something isn’t sanctioned, then it’s not regla; if it’s not regla, it’s not legitimate; if it’s not legitimate, it can’t be trusted; if it can’t be trusted, it shouldn’t be used. And, well…dominoes just aren’t sanctioned for orisha-related divination, just like Tarot or runes with orisha.

There are only a small number of websites that talk about “el quenkén”, supposedly the term for (Lukumí-specific) orisha-centric domino reading based on a similar game played in Nigeria (about which I can find nothing). Unlike other topics involving either dominoes or orisha, websites about orisha-centric domino divination are really scarce, which itself suggests that this just isn’t a “thing”. In print, there are only three texts I can find that talk about this topic, the earliest being Luis Manuel Núñez’ 1989 Santeria: A Practical Guide to Afro-Caribbean Magic; the other two texts, Juan Garcia Cortez’ The Osha: Secrets of the Yoruba-Lucumi-Santeria Religion in the United States and Americas and Carlos G. y Poenna’s The Yoruba Domino Oracle, both published in 2000, offer further developments and explanations of orisha-related domino reading, often directly echoing Núñez. All three texts include the same basic information as the non-quenkén traditional domino texts, just with an added orisha flair. That there are only three texts on this topic, all of which are incredibly modern, compared to the dozens of books about obi, dilogún, and Ifá that go back a hundred years or more, gives me even more cause for concern. Further, there’s an interesting trend between these three texts:

  • Núñez’ text introduces domino reading by saying that dominoes “are not as respected or trusted as the formal oracles” of obi, dilogún, or Ifá, and many of the domino interpretations include directions to “throw [obi]” to confirm something with a particular orisha or to “go see a Santero or Babalawo” for further investigation and reading with dilogún and Ifá, respectively.
  • Cortez’ book, which mixes legitimate practices with illegitimate ones and which includes errors that would only be known to those who are properly initiated, doesn’t include the outright disclaimer that dominoes aren’t as trusted or respected as the sanctioned oracles, but he admits that he “was lucky enough to inherit [this method of reading] from my father’s Santeria book”. This rings odd to me, since Lukumí is primarily an oral tradition where one learns from observation and practice, not books. Moreover, like Núñez, many of these domino interpretations also say to go to a properly-initiated priest for further investigation.
  • y Poenna’s book says that reading with dominoes “is an explicit divination system that has been used for many years in the Yoruba tradition” (based on my research and the accounts of my elders, this statement is a total fabrication), but also says that “they are only helpful for people who are leading stable lifestyles” (what of people who have unstable ones and need stability?) and that “they are not usually read when someone is in a huge crisis” (what good of it, then?), and “often refer the querent to additional divinations using” obi, dilogún, or Ifá. It claims that “domino divination has its roots in the various earth-based systems of geomancy” (it isn’t) and that “it is possible that dominoes themselves were originally created as a means of geomantic divination” (they weren’t) but also that the practice “traces its origin to the Yoruba oracle of Ifa” (it doesn’t). Again, many of the bones instruct the reader to go to a “Pardon” or “Pi de Santo” (horrific misspellings of “padrino” and “pai de santo”, respectively, though the latter term is properly Brazilian and not Spanish or Cuban), or to a babalawo.

The evidence from the above texts speaks loudly to me: orisha-centric domino reading is inherently considered to be incomplete due to the necessary reliance on other diviners and other systems of divination and, fundamentally, cannot be trusted as a form of communication with and from orisha like what these texts otherwise claim. There are indeed times when a sanctioned oracle in Lukumí can redirect you to another priest to get more information, but these situations are well-understood and backed up by the logic of these systems; dominoes, however, do not appear to have such sanction, and it seems like it’s an intrusion into orisha religion, or at least Afro-Caribbean orisha religious culture. Domino fortune-telling on its own outside orisha religion has never had such warnings of “go to a card reader” or “do not trust this oracle more than this other older one”, but it’s only within the context of orisha religion that we see such warnings. That’s pretty telling to me that dominoes aren’t sanctioned, aren’t regla, aren’t legitimate, and aren’t trustworthy in the context of orisha-related practices. This isn’t to say that dominoes aren’t useful for divination and fortune-telling (they most certainly are!), or that diviners who also happen to be olorishas can’t use them for divination (they most certainly can!), just that dominoes should not be read in this particular way with these references to orisha, sacrifices, and the like. In other words, domino reading in general is fine, but orisha-centric domino reading is not.

Now, there is the possibility that maybe, just maybe, orisha-centric domino divination was really carried on from older Yoruba sources and used as a form of communication with orisha by some legitimate priests, weird as it may sound to us nowadays. Or, alternatively, it could feasibly have happened that this was an innovation that was invented and adopted by some legitimate priests and considered to be legitimate within their own small communities, just not a wide-spread or well-known one, and that nobody in my lineage and nobody that I’m in contact with can vouch for it due to an absence of knowledge. This kind of thing can and does happen; there are Lukumí lineages in eastern Cuba that do things incredibly differently than in western Cuba, there are legitimate differences in approach and practice between metropolitan and rural practitioners, and those who are unfamiliar with these differences can err out of ignorance and incorrectly say that different practices they’re not aware of must be illegitimate outright, even when they’re actually legitimate. This sort of unfortunate accusation can and does happen, and it can cause harm to many people when it does. So, I’m not 100% ruling out the possibility that maybe, just maybe, dominoes were used by someone in Lukumí-style orisha religion as a means of communication with orisha with good intent. But, doing what I can do to find out as much as I can find, that honestly doesn’t look like that’s the case. Orisha religion (whether in the Caribbean, Latin America, or West Africa) is much older than dominoes, what records exist about orisha-centric domino reading are all super modern, and none of the respected and well-informed elders I can contact are aware of it. While I won’t mistake evidence for proof, what evidence I have doesn’t speak well for this.

It really would be fascinating to use dominoes for communicating with orisha and obtaining their advice, but there’s no real evidence that orisha-centric domino divination is any older than I am, and judging by the accounts of my elders, there seems to be no legitimate history behind the practice. Granted, my elders are only human, but they have 30, 50, or more years in the religion with their own elders, families, and friends; heck, there’s one example saying that orisha-centric domino reading isn’t valid written by a well-known elder priestess of Yemonja all the way back in December 2005. Orisha-centric domino divination really does seem to be no more than an unsanctioned invention in trying to use the gods and sacred advice of one initiation-restricted religion in an open, unrelated practice. After all, Núñez, Cortez, and y Poenna all agree that, unlike reading obi, dilogún, or Ifá, reading dominoes is not restricted to the priesthood, but without training (which only comes about as part of initiating into the priesthood), non-initiates wouldn’t know how to interpret what orisha is properly saying and what to prescribe because of it beyond the little they have written in their books, especially when compared to the encyclopedic amounts of knowledge and lore reached through dilogún or Ifá. I mean, when you’re trying to get religious guidance and advice, you should want an initiated, respectable, trained priest who has the power, authority, license, and expertise to prescribe ritual and religious solutions, and who knows why and when such things should be prescribed.

Let’s be honest, even from a practical standpoint: no non-initiate has any business pulling the 0-3 domino from the boneyard and telling anyone (according to Núñez) that “you need to feed Eleggua a white rooster on Monday and do what Eleggua tells you to do”, especially if they themselves don’t have an Eleggua, have never thrown obi, or have never sacrificed a bird before. On top of the fact that non-initiates have no license or authority to speak on behalf of orisha, there are other things wrong with just saying even that much that non-initiates wouldn’t be aware of, especially without any particular cause or need pointed out in the reading beyond the most vague of indications, which the nature of domino reading doesn’t really get at to the same depth, breadth, or length that dilogún or Ifá would. It’s exactly like if someone whose own spiritual education doesn’t extend any further than a few meet-ups at the local new-age store were to get the Tarot of the Orishas and start doing readings “with orisha” and telling people “Oshún is on the Ace of Cups here in your querent spot in the spread, so Oshún clearly owns your head”. It just doesn’t work like that, because dominoes (with pretty much complete certainty) don’t and can’t speak for orisha, just as Tarot doesn’t and can’t speak for orisha.

If, dear reader, orisha-centric domino reading is indeed a non-sanctioned invention of popular spirituality that takes orisha from its original sanctioned context, as all the evidence I can find suggests it is, then this would be a good example of appropriation.

Now, as I said, it could still be that orisha-centric domino reading was preserved from an earlier Yoruba tradition (incredibly unlikely) or (questionably) invented either by initiates in Lukumí or by those who were not initiated yet adjacent to initiates (and who probably didn’t want to get into the hassle of properly initiating into the religion, as was/is seen with some spiritual workers who did/do prescribe orisha-related things without initiation). Still, it’s possible for people of the same overall culture to appropriate from a subset of that culture when things proper to that subset are not open to others outside it. So, while this isn’t necessarily outright cultural appropriation, it is religious appropriation. And, yes, it is true that Lukumí does grow and evolve and adapt, within particular parameters and following a particular logic, just as any living tradition does—but this just ain’t it, chief. The absolute most that dominoes might be able to indicate along these lines is that something is up with some part of your own private, priestly, or orisha practices and you might want to get that checked out, but that could apply to any sort of spiritual influence around you, not just or simply orisha (and there are many more influences around us than just them at any given moment), nor would it talk at all in the same way with the same authority, legitimacy, and clarity how dilogún or Ifá might actually talk. Dominoes might be able to speak more to (or even for) other spirits you work with, venerate, or worship, especially if they agree to it, but orisha aren’t in that category. This is, in some ways, much like how espiritismo (the Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Caribbean forms of Kardecian Spiritism) interplays with Lukumí: orisha do not and cannot talk in a misa espiritual (basically a séance), but non-orisha spirits associated with them (e.g. deceased priests or culture heroes) can touch on orisha-related things just as they could non-orisha-related things. Still, espiritismo does not and cannot stand in for divinatory or oracular message from orisha, even if some of the mechanisms seem similar, because orisha belong to a closed religion in which espiritismo has no part; the same goes for dominoes. To cross that line is to enter into intrusion into a closed, initiation-locked system and to appropriate from it.

Of course, by my own admission, I don’t think the whole history of the practice of orisha-centric domino reading can be reliably known with such a paucity of sources, and I am still young in the religion as a whole, and thus still learning quite a bit! But, from everything I can see, know, hear, and learn? Bringing something like domino fortune-telling that has no legitimate origin in regla into it (or, rather, taking things out of it for use by non-initiates with already-not-regla domino fortune-telling in the role an initiate would be expected to play within regla) is effectively appropriating and misusing the religion and divination system both. Orisha-centric domino reading does not appear to have a longstanding practice despite (a very few) claims of it being “old”, nor does it have a theological backing to support its use with orisha. And to those who say that it does, I reply: show me the odu in which the dominoes are born and that orisha can speak through them as they would the cowries, and show me your lineage of teachers (not books) who teach this method of divination, because if there is such an odu and if you have such a lineage, I’d love to know about it to properly, happily, and quickly correct my views and this post.

Barring a miraculous discovery of some truly-secret low-key divinatory practice that doesn’t properly fit into Lukumí yet validates what Núñez, Cortez, and y Poena write about the topic—and I honestly don’t think such a revelation is ever going to happen—mixing dominoes with orisha is not something I can support, nor is it something any legitimate initiate or non-initiate can really use in orisha-related or domino-related practices because of the gross disservice it does to the religion and the gross misunderstandings it makes to domino fortune-telling. And, honestly, I really hesitated whether to make known these authors and book titles. I only bring up these texts to indicate the sources I’m talking about, but I emphatically and strongly discourage the reader from reading them, both to protect what legitimate information is contained therein from those who are not initiated (and, likewise, to protect the noninitiate from them), and to prevent the various mistakes in these books from spreading further. However, on top of these books already being published, cat yronwode’s Throwing the Bones: How to Foretell the Future with Bones, Shells, and Nuts encourages readers to check out y Poenna’s book, which I think is irresponsible and dangerous out of ignorance, even if meant helpfully, so I may as well be explicit here about these books to offer some sort of correction in the public record. What’s most troubling is that at least two of the above authors, if not all three, have or at least claim initiation into Lukumí, so I’m not sure where their information is really coming from or what lineages they represent. But, based on the knowledge and accounts of my elders whom I trust, I can’t find anything legitimate or historical about this practice within the context of orisha religion.

Domino fortune-telling is something which I gladly accept, study, encourage, and am myself beginning to practice—it’s just that I should (and will) only do so responsibly outside Lukumí, not within it. There has never been too much information behind it, but I’ve been able to develop a really strong and widespread body of information for each of its symbols, which is fantastic to make it a really helpful and usable system of divination, but it’s just not on the same level as legitimate forms of divination of orisha religion. And that’s okay! It doesn’t have to be, since the focus isn’t for communicating with orisha anyway. I think that’s the best way to go about it, both for myself and for others. So, for my readers who are likewise interested in domino fortune-telling: the core stuff is good and useful, just set aside anything that mixes it with orisha. And, for my readers who are interested in orisha religion: don’t pay attention to anyone who says they’ll do an orisha reading for you with anything less than legitimate methods.

Thoughts on Fr. Rufus Opus’ “Seven Spheres”

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.

In theory.

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:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Jupiter
Mars
Sun Venus
Mercury
Moon (Saturn)

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.

On the Blessing of Peace

While I don’t like to talk about the specifics of it too much except with people I trust, I do and maintain a regular daily prayer routine.  More than just a daily ritual routine (including meditation, energy work, and the like), I use a particular format that I use where I say several prayers in a particular order and format every day, accompanied with particular ritual gestures or offerings or the like.  (At least, on days when I actually get my ass down to my temple room and do my work, but that’s becoming easier and easier as of late, thank God and the gods.)  The penultimate prayer is one I use as a general…I don’t know if “offering” is the proper word to describe it, but I suppose a blessing upon all the powers, all my ancestors, all those in my life (whether living, dead, or otherwise).  Specifically, it’s a sort of litany-blessing of peace, where I pray for the peace of God to be upon whoever.  And the final line of that prayer is this:

Glory be to God, from whom there is no higher blessing than peace.

I finish this “Sending of Peace” prayer up with a variant of the “Prosperity for All” prayer by Śrı̄ Vēthāthiri Mahaṛṣi.  My own variant (“Prayer for the Peace of the World”) goes like this:

May the whole world know and enjoy
good health, long life, prosperity, happiness, and peace.
Peace in the body, peace in the soul, peace in the spirit, and peace in the mind!
O God of peace, let there be peace and peace and peace and peace!
Let your divine peace reign supreme over the whole world,
that there might be peace forever and ever
at all times, on all days, in all places, in every heart, for everyone, everywhere.
Amen.

Silently, I finish it up with the same “Glory be to God…” line from above, again reminding myself (and, through the prayer, the whole world) that “there is no higher blessing than peace”.

Originally, these prayers didn’t include this line; I wrote my “Sending of Peace” prayer without it, and I never included it in the “Prayer for the Peace of the World” originally, even after I adapted Śrī Vēthāthiri Mahaṛṣi’s prayer; the statement just kinda…started falling out of my mouth, as it were, and it ended up becoming part of these prayers in my prayer routine.   Which is fine, honestly: I think that it’s a beautiful way to close out these prayers of peace, but thinking of it…why would I even say this, or think this, or feel this?  I mean, it does feel right, but why?  Like, what with my Hermetic stuff, you’d think that the ten (or seven) rational powers of God would be blessings unto themselves—which they are—culminating with life, light, and goodness, and peace is nowhere to be found in that list.  So why would peace be the highest possible blessing?

Let’s back up a bit, and consider the origin of the word “peace”.  Etymologically:

mid-12c., “freedom from civil disorder,” from Anglo-French pes, Old French pais “peace, reconciliation, silence, permission” (11c., Modern French paix), from Latin pacem (nominative pax) “compact, agreement, treaty of peace, tranquility, absence of war” (source of Provençal patz, Spanish paz, Italian pace), from PIE root *pag- “to fasten” (which is the source also of Latin pacisci “to covenant or agree;” see pact), on the notion of “a binding together” by treaty or agreement.

It replaced Old English frið, also sibb, which also meant “happiness.” Modern spelling is 1500s, reflecting vowel shift. Sense in peace of mind is from c. 1200. Used in various greetings from c. 1300, from Biblical Latin pax, Greek eirēnē, which were used by translators to render Hebrew shalom, properly “safety, welfare, prosperity.”

Other words derived from this same Proto-Indo-European root *pag- include: pact, propagate, pole (as in a stake or post), pale (in the old sense of a fence of pointed stakes used for marking boundaries), pagan (in the sense of someone being from the rural districts marked off by boundaries), page (a small sheet of paper, originally fastened to something else, but also a young man of a lower social order preparing to be a knight, from the same rural-indicative origin as pagan above), peasant (someone from the rural countryside), fang (in an Old English sense of prey, booty, spoils, “things taken or seized”), and even travail (to work or to toil through suffering, from an original Latin tripalis, an instrument of torture with three stakes).

In all these words derived from the root *pag-, there’s this notion of things being held together by sticking them into or onto something else, or things marked off because of something held together in common.  Peace, then, might seem a bit weird, but consider the etymology above: it’s closely related to the Latin for “to [make a covenant]”; peace, then, is the state of people who have entered into a covenant with each other, binding them and holding them fast together.  And this meaning isn’t just in Latin, either; the Greek name for peace (and the name of a goddess, too!), Εἰρήνη Eirēne, comes from the Greek verb εἵρω eirō, “to fasten together, esp. in rows or by string”.

This is all well and good, but let’s be honest: this emphasis on peace in my prayers (pace Śrī Vēthāthiri Mahaṛṣi) is definitely coming from an Abrhamic and Semitic influence: consider how Muslims constantly pray for “peace and blessings upon the prophet Muḥammad and his family”, how the standard Hebrew greeting for someone is shalom `alekhem and Arabic as-salāmu `alaykum, both meaning “peace be with you” (with the return greeting, “[and] upon you be peace”, being `alekhem shalom and wa-`alaykum as-salām, respectively).  The Sh-L-M triliteral root is abuntant in many Semitic languages, and unlike the Indo-European origins of the word “peace” that indicate things being bound together, the Sh-L-M root for these Semitic words for “peace” indicate something that is whole, complete, accepted, safe, intact, unharmed.  (And, just as Eirēne is the name of a Greek god, this Semitic root provides the name of an ancient Canaanite god, Shalim, the god of dusk and the Evening Star, after whom Jerusalem itself was named, the connection here being that evening and dusk was the completion and wholeness of the day.)

For us Indo-European (especially Germanic and Anglophone speakers), the closest etymological correspondence to the Sh-L-M trilteral root would be the Proto-Indo-European root *kailo- (“whole, uninjured, something of good omen”), which has given us such words as: whole, hale, health, holy, hallow.  Though this does kinda have overlap with the Sh-L-M root, it also overlaps with the Semitic Q-D-Sh triliteral root, which indicates something sacred, holy, pure, or clean (e.g. Hebrew qodesh “holiness” and miqdash “temple”, Arabic al-Quds “The Holy One” and al-Ard al-Muqaddasa “the Land of Holies” referring to Jerusalem and all its shrines).  This root is especially important when reciting a berakhah in Judaism, those endless blessings said when performing a mitzvah or enjoying something, when many of them begin: “blessed are you, o Lord our God, King of the World, who has sanctified us with his commandments…” (barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha`olam, asher qid’shanu b’mitzvotav…).  So there’s this notion here that links holiness and sanctification through the Jewish commandments of the Torah (which, by the by, is also called the Covenant, Hebrew brit, also meaning “alliance”).

We end up with this fourfold root here that ties this all together: Proto-Indo-European *pag- (fasten, bind) and *kailo- (whole, holy) and Semitic Sh-L-M (peace, accepted) and Q-D-Sh (holy, pure).  It’s between the confluence of these four things that we can get an idea of what the notion of peace really means from a spiritual standpoint: peace is an agreement and alliance between parties, one that ensures the well-being and health of all such parties, and one whose nature is sacrosanct and inviolable.  Sure, peace is the absence of violence and war, sure, but from the perspective of our work with Divinity, peace is both holiness and wholeness, being both healthy and hallowed.  Peace is the completion and fulfillment of all the other blessings, and the foundation for them all, and the obligations we enter into so as to have peace are those we enter into with Divinity, which then provides us with the peace we seek as we seek for others to have it as well by entering into peace with them.

Consider the twelve tormentors and ten powers according to the Corpus Hermeticum from the post I wrote earlier this summer.  Peace isn’t in the list of the powers (knowledge of God, joy, self-control, steadfastness, justice, generosity, truth, good, life, light) that resolve the tormentors, whether twelve in CH XIII (ignorance, grief, intemperance, lust, injustice, greed, deceit, envy, treachery, anger, recklessness, malice) or seven in CH I (increase and decrease, evil machination, covetous deceit, domineering arrogance, unholy daring and rash audacity, evil striving after wealth, ensnaring falsehood), but…what if peace is above the rest, a sort of meta-blessing that provides for all other blessings to develop, abide, and spread out?  I mean, consider the Semitic greeting of “peace be on you”: if you have peace, then you don’t have problems, because peace is the absence or the resolution of problems.  If you have peace in the body, then you don’t have physical problems of illness or injury; if you have peace in the soul, then you don’t have emotional distress; if you have peace in the spirit, you don’t have nagging worries or disturbed thoughts; if you have peace in the mind, then you don’t have confusion of divinity or spiritual blockages.  And, hell, what do we say about people who have passed away from a rough life into death?  “May they rest in peace.”

If you have problems, then you don’t have peace; if you have peace, you don’t have problems.  I mean, consider that so much in this world is violence, war, combat, and conflict: conflict between your cells and invasive cells produces illness, conflict between your person and other people produces fighting, conflict between your desires and the desires of another causes emotional distress, and the like.  This world is generated through violence, it’s true, but it’s our job to resolve that violence to find and produce peace, the resolution of problems, violence, and conflict, whether on a small scale of cells or a large scale of civilizations, whether on a small scale of emotions or a large scale of divinity.  To hope, wish, pray, and work for peace is to resolve the problems we face in the world whatever they might be or however they might come about.  We can consider this in terms of the Hermetic tormentors and powers: to pacify (literally “to make peaceful”) the tormentor of ignorance is to bring about the power of knowledge of God, and to have knowledge of God eliminates the torment of ignorance, which brings about peace; to pacify lust is to bring about steadfastness, and to have steadfastness eliminates lust, which brings about peace; and so on for all the tormentors and powers.

In this light, peace is both the means to blessing and a blessing unto itself, but it’s not like other blessings like prosperity or health.  Sure, prosperity resolves poverty, health resolves illness, and the like, and all those things lead to peace, but only when all problems are resolved can total, complete, and full peace be obtained.  Thus, to wish for such peace upon someone is to inherently wish for the resolution of all their problems in every way.  At the same time, the presence of a smaller, incomplete peace in one way helps bring about other smaller peaces in other ways: if you’re sick and poor, having health can help you resolve being poor faster, just as being prosperous can help you regain health faster.  Every little bit of peace we get helps bring about more peace, and the blessing of peace itself is all encompassing of everything else we do.  In praying for a small peace for ourselves, we bring about bigger peace for ourselves; in praying for peace for ourselves, we bring about peace for others; in praying for peace for the world, we bring about peace for ourselves.  Peace is, in many ways, the origin as well as the result of all other blessings.  In this, it precedes and fulfills everything else we do and work for and pray for, every other kind of well-being, every other kind of problem resolution, every other kind of abating of torment, whether for ourselves or for others.

So pray for peace: peace for yourself, peace for your ancestors, peace for your family, peace for your community, peace for your teachers, peace for your students.  Pray for peace: peace for those whom you love, peace for those whom you know, peace for those whom you don’t know, peace for those whom you despise.  Pray for peace: peace for everyone in this world, peace for everyone in other worlds, peace for everyone who has ever lived, peace for everyone who has ever died, peace for those who live eternally and never die.  Pray for peace: peace of body, peace of soul, peace of spirit, peace of mind.  Pray for peace, that there might be peace in every way for everyone.  Pray for peace so that there can be peace—and, having prayed for it, work to bring it about, becoming peace for others and obtaining peace for yourself.  That is the pact we make when we pray for peace: make peace and become peace to have peace.

Glory be to God, from whom there is no higher blessing than peace.