All Siblings, Orphans We

As I’ve encouraged others to do so before, I have a little ancestor shrine of my own.  Because of my training and experience as a spiritist (specifically in the Afro-Cuban and heavily Congo-flavored brand of espiritismo rather than the “scientific spiritism” of Alan Kardec proper), I maintain what I call a bóveda, literally a “vault” (as in either the vault of a church or the vault of a tomb—either sense is appropriate), which is a table covered in a white tablecloth, a number of glasses of water (one larger than the rest at the center), a candle, and photos of my ancestors or images and trinkets for my spirit guides and other assisting spirits of the dead in my life.  I keep it clean, I refill the glasses every so often with filtered water, I clean the glasses once a month (or once a season if I get lazy), I buy fresh flowers for it every time I go to the grocery store, and the like.  Every morning when I wrap up my usual daily prayers over at my Hermetic shrine and after I do anything else in my temple room for the morning, I’ll always greet my bóveda and salute all the spirits of the dead in my life, familial or otherwise, and offer a short prayer for our communal and universal ascension, enlightenment, and empowerment.

The opening and closing of this short little daily chat (more like a check-in, I suppose) I have with them is basically a small back-and-forth.  To open up:

Me: “May the peace, mercy, blessing, grace, light and power of God be with you all.”
Them: “And with you.”
Us: “Amen.”

And to close:

Me: “May the peace, mercy, blessing, grace, light and power of God be with us all.”
Them: “Forever and ever.”
Me: “World without end.”
Us: “Amen.”

It’s a simple way for my dead and I to pray together.  After all, while much of my other practice has me offering prayers to a deity or enshrined spirit, with the dead at my bóveda, it’s a little different; it’s less me praying to them, and more us praying together.  To that end, while some of the prayers I recite are just me reciting it for their benefit, other prayers are ones where there’s a sort of cycle and flow between me and them, as if we’re reciting things in unison or alternating lines of a prayer.

In addition to my daily and monthly/seasonal stuff I do with them, I’ll also sit down once a week (usually Sunday or Monday evenings) and have an actual “liturgy” with them, so to speak, where I’ll light several candles, give them incense, and recite a litany of prayers while also having a good in-depth conversation about whatever it is I need to know or whatever it is I need them to know, to do work, to plan ahead, and the like.  It’s here that I’ll expand on the prayers that get recited, some of which are just me reciting them and taking the lead on the prayers, but there are also points at which I’ll let them pray, which can take one of two forms.  Sometimes it’s just sitting at the bóveda and listening to them in silent contemplation, but other times it’ll be a specific spirit who stands up and leads a prayer which I’ll tune in more closely and verbalize physically, following their lead.  Not only do I find this a good way to practice “mediumship-lite” or “mini-channeling” skills, but it also helps me bring myself closer into attunement and intimacy with these spirits while also facilitating the prayers they themselves wish to have said in the exact ways they say them.

It was one such prayer that one of my dead recited a few days ago, and the language and sentiments expressed were…well, it’s not something I would come up with or which I’d contemplate, but it moved me to a few tears.  While I can’t get the language right after the fact (think of how difficult it is to capture the beauty of an extemporaneous, ejaculatory prayer made on the spot fright from the heart after you’ve said it), I would like to capture some of what was said to share with others.

O God, look upon us, your children,
as all human creatures are your children, and so are we—
but, behold! siblings of each other as we are,
we are but orphans, lost in this world,
huddled around a single candle in a darkened church
shivering from cold, holding onto each other for warmth.
And yet, in this dark and cold church, even should none else gaze upon us,
we huddle around this single flame and draw the warmth of life from it,
we hold onto each other and draw the hope for life from one another.

Yea, though we are but orphans, we are yet your children,
and this whole world is still your church,
and even should we march out of this place—and we shall, and we will, according to your design—
still we would yet find you, and be found by you.
Even should none else look upon us, we implore you—and you do, and you will, according to your mercy—
to look with favor upon us, to offer us succor of the heart and the soul,
that we might always have nourishment for ourselves, sharing it with each other.
O God, look upon us, your children, all siblings we,
and though orphaned in the world, that we may return to you as our home.

Prayers like this don’t go on for particularly long; between my other obligations and stamina for long durations of channeling, my spirits have the good sense and grace to make their prayers punctually and sharply and then yield the time back to me so we can move on with what we need to do.  Even if something like this were to go on longer, I’m not sure how much I’d be able to meaningfully keep up with, much less recount after the fact.  And yet, parts of this prayer, the imagery involved in it—I mean, while I can’t really prove it, I claim that this is evidence that this isn’t stuff coming from me, but from them.  And they, in their many years of both life and death, have plenty of experience to draw on, not only from older liturgical and prayer traditions but also from their own lives and scenes that they beheld or, indeed, lived through.

And here, in this prayer that one of my spirits recited (one of my spirit guides, I should note, not one of my ancestors), we see this beautiful but heart-breaking notion: this world is hard, and all we have at the end of the day is each other and God.  Sure, to borrow a line from George R. R. Martin, “the night is long and full of terrors”, but so is the day.  The same plant that might offer fruit might also offer thorns; the same animal that might give milk and fur might also give hooves and horns.  This world is, for better or worse, a world apart from us, and despite whatever we might do to make it more hospitable to us, it is under no obligation to do so.  On top of that, there are always other people in the world who wouldn’t treat us as kindly as we might treat them, who wouldn’t help us as we might try to help them.  The world is hard, and it’s easy to become lost, to feel lost, to feel forsaken, as if the suffering we go through is all that we have to look forward to.

And that’s just not true, because no matter how hard things might be, there are people looking out for us—each other—and even if we might feel lost in this world, we still have Divinity to orient ourselves by and to head towards.  Even if a single candleflame can only give off but so much heat, it helps us all the same, does it not?  It reminds us that, even in the darkness, there can still be light, and even in the cold, there can still be warmth.  And it’s not like this is something limited to “this dark and cold church”; after all, such a church is still part of the wider world, and such a church is also a symbol for the whole world.  Whether we leave the cold, dark church of our inward despair to rejoin with the warm, bright world of the comfort and ease that others can provide us, or whether we leave the cold, dark world of humanity to rejoin in the warm, bright heaven of God, either way, we must always remind ourselves to keep on, to not give up our light and our life, to hold onto each other as we hold onto hope itself.  After all, no matter how alone we might feel in the world, so long as we have each other and God, then we’ve got all we need to get by.  “No man is an island”, after all, and it’s not like Divinity is closed off to anyone, either.

I had originally planned to put out this post on Monday or Tuesday, but life got in the way and I ended up putting this off a few days longer than I wanted.  Because I said that I wanted to share the prayer that my spirit guide shared with me, they said that it’d be okay, so long as I did so; I hadn’t yet (before now), and they kept reminding me.  If I had gotten this out sooner, I might have recalled more of the language used or the meaning that it held in that moment, but I hope that this suffices for at least a few of us who might benefit from such a thing.  I don’t share this as some sort of formal prayer to recite or implement as part of a prayer routine, but rather, as a prayer and contemplation for all to remind us that—as the days get shorter and nights get longer, as the temperatures drop and the clouds come for those of us in the northern hemisphere—there’s never truly darkness if we hold onto even the barest glimmer of Light.

On Learning How to Imagine

Like the last post, here’s another great question that came in over email:

Here’s a question about something that hindered me in my Hermetic training: what is visualization? Is it imagining an image in your mind? How do you do it? And how do you know you’re doing it correctly? When ever I try to visualize, I try to picture the thing or event in my head, but I have never been able to consistently keep a mental image for more than five to ten seconds.  Am I doing it correctly?  Do you have any tips or guide on how to visualize?

My reply:

So, “visualization” is a more specific method of the more general term “imagination”.  When you use your imagination, you come up with images—and despite how we often use the term, “images” aren’t necessarily sight-oriented things.  An image is, more generally, a representation of simulation of something within the mind without any direct or immediate input from your physical senses.

Thus, if you were to imagine, say, an apple, there’s lots to simulate within your mind: the color of an apple (a hue ranging from pale green to a deep red), yes, and its shape (round), but also the texture of it (waxy and cool on the outside, slick and sandpaper-like on the inside), the scent of it (fresh, acidic, tart), the weight of it, and so forth and so on.  Note how little of this is “visual”: there is a visual component to it to be sure, but there are a whole bunch of other components to it as well that combine to come up with a complete image that goes far beyond merely what an apple looks like.  When a lot of modern books talk about “visualization”, they’re fundamentally just talking about “imagination”, but because most people (about 65%) are visually-oriented people (i.e. they rely primarily on sight to build and approach the world as opposed to hearing or smell as primary senses), “visualization” works as a term for most people, but you have other senses, too, so you should use them all, even if one or more are stronger than the others.

How do you imagine something correctly?  If the image is something you’ve experienced before (like an apple), consider how well the imagination matches up with your memory of the same thing.  If the image isn’t something you’ve experienced before, you can’t rely on memory, but you can mentally extrapolate from other things and make a good guess.  It’s like dreaming in a way: not everything we dream is merely a remix of things we’ve experienced.  So long as you’re imagining something to an appropriate or desired level of detail, you’re imagining it “correctly”.

As far as making an image in your imagination last more than a few seconds: it just takes practice.  Keep working at it, practicing on small things for a short time, then small things for a longer time, working your way up to big things for a short time to big things for a longer time.  Over time, you’ll find that not only will you be able to hold an image in your mind indefinitely (so long as you don’t break concentration!), but you’ll also be able to imagine things in far more elaborate and complex detail.  Start with simple pencils and apples (small everyday objects), then move to larger everyday objects that have more parts involved (computer desks or cars), then to even larger objects (a room of a house, a whole house, a whole parcel of property with a house on it), and so on.  If it’s hard at first, you’re in good company; this is a skill that requires practice and training, and despite the overwhelming prevalence of “visualization” in a lot of modern occult texts and guides, in many traditional cultures and practices, something of this kind was often considered an *advanced* practice rather than a beginner’s one.

Likewise, doing things that build up your skill of concentration is something that goes hand-in-hand with this.  In our modern world filled with endless stimuli to keep us busy or distracted, between 280-character tweets or 30-second TikToks or news chyrons flowing endlessly from one topic to the next to YouTube commercials playing in endless varying loops breaking up longer videos every few seconds, so much of the world around us gears us to instant gratification, talking-heads syndromes, and the like.  Resist that.  There’s no one way to build up your concentration, but learning what a distraction is and how it trains/conditions your mind to expect certain things or react to certain inputs is an important part of it, as is eliminating distractions in your life, setting yourself to the discipline of doing one thing for an extended period of time without looking at your phone or other tabs in your browser, meditation, going for extended walks, and the like.  One way I like to suggest doing this is to take a non-cellphone timer, put your cellphone on silent and away, and sit down to read a book for some length of time (5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.).  It doesn’t matter what the book is (and, honestly, the more boring it is the better); the point is to just sit down and read it without letting your mind wander off.  That itself is concentration, which is basically a form of mental stamina and discipline that we all have to cultivate.

I should note at this point that there is the phenomenon of aphantasia, which is the inability to imagine things.  It’s not well-studied, but there are a number of people (maybe between 1% and 5% of the general population) who claim that they just can’t imagine stuff, neither with visualization nor any other mental “sense”.  You don’t seem to be in this category by your own admission, but even for aphantasic people, there are other approaches to magic and mysticism that simply don’t rely on it (the use of dream that a number of aphantasic people report they have, recalling memory, etc.).  However, the use of the imagination to construct mental objects and worlds is a useful skill for anyone who isn’t aphantasic, so do give yourself the time to develop it as a skill.

I’ll be honest: how often do I use imagination in magic or ritual?  It depends, but…it’s hard to sort out sometimes what’s my “imagination” (as in something I’m actively constructing) versus what I’m getting from other inputs (like spirits putting an image into my mind).  For daily prayer, making offerings, or divination, imagination doesn’t really come into it at all.  For contemplating and delving deeply into a topic, notion, or semantic field (e.g. the spiritual world of a planet or element), imagination is used hugely.  When working with spirits…it’s complicated, since I’m not really sure what’s clearly on either side of my-imagination vs. its-image something might be on, because the imagination (as I consider it) is the faculty by which I sense (and make sense) of spiritual realities.  I genuinely don’t know how conjuration of a spirit works for someone who is aphantasic without resorting to tools like yes-no divination to ascertain whether a spirit is present or not, or how strongly someone might translate imagination into physical senses (e.g. someone getting physical sensations like goosebumps or temperature fluctuations in their body around spirits and translating that into spiritual information).

I admit, it’s hard for me to consider what the world would be like for an aphantasic person, because I’ve always had an active and busy imagination for as long as I can remember.  At the same time, I also recall actively diving into imagined, imaginative worlds as a child, playing with imaginary friends, reading fantasy stories and extrapolating from them to continue the story further in my mind with me taking the role of a character, and the like.  Because of that, I don’t consider my imaginative skills to be something inborn, but rather something cultivated and practiced, for much the same reason that someone taking music lessons as a child and just playing around with instruments generally ends up becoming a musician without music being some sort of inborn ability.  Imagination is a skill like so many others, and as a result, requires practice and cultivation in order to become useful beyond a few seconds or beyond a glimpse or so.

In today’s world of modern media where so much is already just given to us (movies, TV, YouTube, TikTok, video games, augmented reality, virtual reality, etc.), it’s a skill that can easily be forsaken because of (shall we say) platform redundancy; why bother imagining things and constructing your own world when you can have a whole world just delivered to you through your already-inborn physical senses?  At the risk of saying what doesn’t need to be said due to its obviousness, I don’t think that’s a useful approach for mages and mystics—or anyone really.  After all, to live just in someone else’s worlds is to give up the right to build and live in your own, which I strongly feel is a matter of self-expression and self-fulfillment.  For most people who are surrounded by constant media, their own skills of imagination can easily become attenuated or enervated, just like how learning a language in a non-immersive environment and never having a chance to use it outside book exercises can make it difficult to understand or apply that language.

Imagination is a skill.  At least for those who have the capacity for it, it needs to be developed, built up, cultivated, and maintained just like any other.

To Keep On Keeping On

It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at or used CuriousCat (remember all those posts and tweets from back in the day?), but that doesn’t mean I stopped replying to questions generally.  Whether it’s on Discord or over email or on Facebook or whatever, I still try to keep myself open to discussion, explanation, and sharing ideas or notions when people ask.  And, recently, two people pinged me on two different platforms separately with basically the same question: how do I deal with doubt and disbelief in my spiritual life?

Phrased one way (on Discord):

A question about faith: a lot of what I have read is about awakening to the understanding of the Truth, but do you ever struggle with faith itself?  Like, do you ever have days where you wake up and doubt everything you’ve read, and wonder if it isn’t all just a comfort to soothe the human condition?  And what helps you in those moments?

Phrased another way (over email):

How do you deal with doubt and belief?  I’ve been an on-and-off practitioner of the Hermetic path, but I have always had doubt and lack of belief that any of this is real, whether I’m wasting my time studying this or whether I’m a fool for believing in magic. How do I deal with these doubts?

When multiple people ask me separately the same question all at once, I think that’s a good thing to discuss publicly, because chances are they’re not the only ones with such questions.

As I read it, the questions I were asked above got the same answer, which I’ll share below:

The easy and short answer is that I don’t do anything to deal with these issues, and that nothing really helps with concerns about doubt or lack of faith—nothing, at least, beyond just carrying on.  For me, these moments of doubt or struggles I might have with faith (and I do absolutely have them from time to time) are little more than passing moods; nothing renders me unshakably confident in these things beyond just going back to the texts and reminding myself of why I’m doing this at all, and what got me here to begin with.

Like, the whole point of me doing all of this <waves vaguely> is because, ultimately, I’m not convinced. I’m here to find out and experience all this stuff for myself, to show to myself that this stuff is experientially real. Hermēs Trismegistos doesn’t preach “believe or perish”, after all; he teaches “believe and find out” (a similar notion to the saying “trust but verify”). And so far, so much of what I’ve seen, read, and done in a Hermetic context has worked and shown itself to be basically as Hermēs discusses it that I have good reason to believe the rest (for the most part) is good, too. I just need to keep going to see for myself.

When it comes to magic specifically, sure, I occasionally doubt the efficacy and meaning of what it is I’m doing. And then I go back to the stories I’ve heard from others about their successful workings, and I go back to my own experiences that have shown me incontrovertibly that this stuff works and that I’m not just making it up. (I mean, everything is made up to one degree or another. What matters isn’t whether something is made up and real, but rather whether something is made up and works.)

While it’d be great to have an unshakeable faith in this stuff with a level of confidence that flatly doesn’t permit doubt, I don’t think I’m at that level yet (though I am working towards it). Much like my own sensitivity to what other people think of me, over time, concerns of that nature just diminish and eventually go away. I don’t have to do anything about it, so long as it doesn’t keep me from actively doing what I need to do along my own spiritual path and journey; doubts and fears like this only become a problem if they actively get in my way from practicing. And, really, “practice” is what all this is really about: we don’t call it the Great Work for nothing! We’re constantly working at it, and we’re constantly practicing it to get better at it. So long as we keep that up, we’re doing just what we need to do.

I know it can get hard at times, but let’s be honest: we wouldn’t be doing it if it were easy.  This isn’t to say that we should be suffering all the time, but this is just part of the challenge we have to work through and work past.  The only thing to do is to keep doing it.  The Work is easy in good times, to be sure, but it actually becomes work in the hard times, and that’s what matters.  We labor and toil, and eventually we reap and we feast, but if you don’t do the work, you don’t get the rewards.  It can feel hopeless at times, but even though hope is what often gets us through the day, having hope isn’t the point; the point is to just do the work, come what may.

A Little Discourse On Apianus’ Cosmological Diagram

Okay, so, this thing:

A lot of people who’ve been around in Western occulture or astrology have probably encountered this image before in one context or another (it’s even appeared before on my own blog in a discussion about Ashen Chassan’s implementation of the Trithemian conjuration ritual and again when I discussed the Hermetic tormentors in CH XIII), and so many of us are familiar with this image to one degree or another.  True, it’s a really neat depiction of a Renaissance version of the geocentric Ptolemaic model of the solar system and cosmos, but there’s other stuff going on in it that I really want to explore and explain.

To start with, where does this image come from, and what specifically does it depict?  This illustration of the celestial spheres was originally made by the German humanist, mathematician, astronomer, and cartographer Petrus Apianus (anglicized as Peter Apian) in his 1524 work Cosmographia.  Apianus depicts this “scheme of the divisions of the spheres” for his second chapter, “on the motion of the spheres and the division of the heavens”.  At the center of the image we have the Earth, depicted as a circle of seas and land (corresponding to the elements of Water and Earth), surrounded by a sphere of clouds (Air) and that by flames (Fire). Outside the Earth, in successively larger concentric circles, we have the seven celestial spheres for the seven planets following the usual Chaldaean ascending order: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn.  Skipping to the outermost edge of the whole thing (the eleventh “sphere”, as it were, though it’s really more like the infinitude beyond the spheres as a whole), we have “the Empyrean Heaven, Dwelling-place of God and of all the Chosen”. This is divine infinity beyond all the spheres, unlimited and unbounded and unmoving, under/within which all creation exists.  All straightforward stuff for most people, I suppose.

But it’s the stuff between the heaven of Saturn and the empyrean heaven that trip up a lot of people: the eighth, ninth, and tenth spheres.  To head off such speculation at the pass: no, it’s nothing qabbalistic or sephirothic in any meaningful sense (Apianus doesn’t appear to have been interested in such stuff).  Each of these circles in Apianus’ diagram all have the twelve signs of the Zodiac in them, but they’re respectively described as “the eighth heaven of the firmament”, “the ninth crystalline heaven”, and “the tenth heaven, the first cause”.  While all being zodiacal, they’re all somehow…different?  On top of that, they’re not all aligned with each other, only the eighth heaven has little stars in it, and the ninth heaven has this weird quartered-circle symbol at the ends of the sectors for Virgo and Pisces.  So what’s going on here, exactly?

Welcome, dear reader, to the funtime of medieval astronomy and cosmology!

Let’s start with the tenth sphere, the Primum Mobile (“First Mover”).  Ironically, despite being the most distant finite sphere of all (finite at least in comparison to the truly infinite empyrean heaven surrounding it), this is probably the easiest for us to approach.  The Primum Mobile is the outermost sphere and rotates endlessly, setting all things underneath/within it into motion as well, much like if you spin a pitcher of water, the water inside the pitcher itself won’t spin immediately but is set into motion by the spinning of its container.  In the old geocentric model of the cosmos, the Primum Mobile rotates constantly, performing one complete rotation every 24 hours, moving clockwise from the East to the South to the West to the North all the way back to the East.  According to Apianus, there exists precisely one and only one star in this tenth heaven.  Which star?  He doesn’t say and it’s not wholly clear to me, though if I were to leap to an assumption, I’d say that it’d be the northern pole star α Ursae Minoris (aka Polaris), given how this star was historically and culturally reckoned to be the axis (literally the “pole”) of rotation of all the heavens.

Let’s skip over the ninth heaven for a moment and take a look at the eighth heaven called the “firmament” in Apianus’ diagram.  This heaven is what contains the background stars of the nighttime sky that don’t wander around from night to night, month to month, or year to year.  This is why we call such stars “fixed stars”, as opposed to the “wandering stars” (ἀστέρες πλανῆται asteres planētai) of the planets (whose motion is defined according to their own heavens).  It’s because the eighth heaven of the firmament contains the fixed stars that Apianus’ diagram has all these stellated figures in this circle.  As for the motion of the eighth sphere, Apianus describes it as being subject to the motion of the tenth sphere such that they move all at once as the tenth sphere does, which is why the night sky as a whole rotates around the Earth once per 24-hour period.  Easy enough, I guess.

Between the eighth and tenth spheres is the ninth, described as “crystalline or aqueous” by Apianus (though just labelled as “crystalline” in the diagram).  First, what we can pick out is those two quartered circles.  Although they occur at the ends of the sectors for Virgo and Pisces, they’re really intended to be between these signs and the ones that follow to mark the equinoxes: the September equinox (occurring at the end of Virgo and the start of Libra) and the March equinox (occurring at the start of Aries and end of Pisces) respectively.  As for the motion of this heaven, Apianus says that the ninth heaven “vibrates” (trepidat), which causes the fixed stars in the eighth heaven to move forward and backward.  This would make no sense to modern folk today, but what Apianus is describing was a feature of older forms of astronomy: trepidation, a sort of oscillation in the precession of the equinoxes.  While an obsolete theory nowadays, trepidation has its origins as far back as the 4th century CE and was popular generally from the 9th to 16th centuries (putting Apianus roughly at the end of that period).

First, let’s back up a bit and talk about precession of the equinoxes (and yes, the ancients knew about axial precession all the way back in the 2nd century BCE).  Imagine a top, like the child’s toy: you pick it up, you give it a twist, and it spins around on its point upon a flat surface until it loses enough momentum to keep itself balanced.  At first, when the momentum is fast, the top stands upright, but as it continues, it eventually develops a kind of “wobble”, such that the axis of rotation is no longer precisely upright but ends up rotating on its own in a circle.  As the axis itself wobbles and rotates around, it causes the whole top to rotate in a different way on top of its already ongoing rotation around the axis, including the relative position of where such rotation around its axis “starts”.  This is what is meant by “axial precession”, and when it’s applied to the Earth as a whole, we call it “precession of the equinoxes” because it’s what causes the whole of the background sky to appear to “rotate backwards” relative to its daily regular motion—which includes the equinox points where the ecliptic (the Sun’s path around the sky) crosses the celestial equator.  The axis of the Earth precedes in a complete loop roughly once every 26000 years (currently 25772 years given our current observed rate of precession).

The theory of trepidation, on the other hand, suggested that the rate of the precession of the equinoxes was not a constant rate, but varied and could go either forward or backward.  In the original theory from the classical era, reversing its direction every 640 years or so.  Thus, given a rate of precession of 1° every 80 years, after 8° (thus 640 years), the precession would reverse into procession, such that the equinoxes would move forward eight degrees for the next 640 years, then reverse again, and so forth.  In later and more popular models from the medieval period (especially in Islamic astronomy), trepidation was more of a smaller, less-rigid variation that added to the motion of precession, where the oscillation provided by trepidation occurred over 7000 years, causing the precession of the equinoxes to take place over 49000 years rather than 26000.  It’s this later model that Apianus was describing and subscribed to when he says that the ninth heaven “trepidates”.

Interestingly, the ninth heaven (at least in Apianus’ model) was starless.  While the eighth sphere was full of fixed stars (all conceived of as being roughly the same distance away from the Earth in this geocentric model) and the tenth having just its one sole star (Polaris?), the ninth is a void having nothing in it—except, perhaps, the “waters which were above the firmament” (Genesis 1:7).  Apianus using this biblical model to describe the distant heavens would explain his description of the ninth heaven as being “aqueous”, and would moreover suggest that the wobbling of trepidation could be accounted for by the ripples and waves occurring in such celestial waters.

So there we have it!  We’ve finally knocked out what those intermediate heavens are in Apianus’ famous cosmological diagram, situated between the planetary heavens and the ultimate divine one.  While some of this might be a new thing for some, when placed in its own historical context, all of this is the natural development and expected evolution of a Renaissance take on the geocentric Ptolemaic cosmic model, depicted in a beautifully concise diagram.

But there’s still one issue left: why do the zodiacal sectors not line up in those eighth, ninth, and tenth heavens?  If you look at the eighth and ninth spheres, they line up exactly at Aries and Libra (the equinox points), but they seem to diverge slightly (starting at the east-north-east part of the diagram) before converging again (at the opposite, west-south-west part).  I have honestly no explanation for this beyond it being an artistic whoopsie; after all, sometimes considerations of space and communicability (in the form of the stellated figures and the circle labels) make accuracy and precision a secondary concern.  I feel like there should be a better reason than that, but I haven’t honestly found one beyond it just being something handmade in a constrained space.

But then there’s the dramatic mismatch between the zodiacal sectors of the eighth and ninth heavens with that of the tenth heaven, which can’t possibly be just a slip.  The tenth heaven has Aries starting at the due east point of the diagram, while the eighth and ninth heavens have it starting to the northeast.  What gives?

Well, using my handy-dandy free-to-use planetary observer software Stellarium for the year 1524, we can see exactly what’s going on:

The bright slightly-slanted orange line is the ecliptic, with the faint orange grid of lines being the ecliptical coordinate grid based off it to look at points in the night sky.  The bright more-slanted blue line is the celestial equator (which divides the sky into a “north” part and “south” part).  The ecliptic intersects with the equator at two points, which is where we call the equinox points.  In this case, the image above is centered on the March equinox point, where the ecliptic goes from being below the celestial equator (on the right) to above it (on the left).  The small squiggly faint blue lines in the background indicate constellations, and as you can see, the March equinox point is hanging out somewhere in Pisces, with Aries to the left and Aquarius to the right.

It should be remembered at this point that Western astrology (and historical astronomy, for that matter) has been founded on the notion of a “tropical zodiac”, which is to say a zodiacal system comprising twelve equal 30° segments of the night sky (according to the ecliptic) where the starting point of it (0° Aries) aligns with the March equinox point (where the ecliptic crosses to rise above the celestial equator).  Thus, we consider the segment from 0° to 30° of the ecliptic to be the sign Aries, from 30° to 60° Taurus, from 60° to 90° Gemini, and so on through from 330° to 360° (o°) to be Pisces.  The issue here—as many of my astrologer friends on Twitter are tired of hearing—is that this notion of “sign” doesn’t match up cleanly with the actual physical constellations of the night sky.  Although the constellations were more-or-less aligned with the signs once upon a time, due to precession of the equinoxes, the constellations began drifting “forward” from the signs while the signs drifted “backwards” from the constellations.  Again, precession here was something known to older astrologers from a very early date, so this came as no surprise to any of them—and it’s precisely this mismatch that Apianus is documenting between the eighth/ninth heavens and the tenth heaven.

Thus, in Apianus’ diagram, the tenth heaven’s zodiacal sectors represent the tropical zodiac (aligned to the seasons and the ecliptical crossing of the celestial equator), while the eighth and ninth heavens represent the actual constellations and stars of the sky (which would be a sidereal zodiac, literally “according to the stars” as opposed to according to ecliptical intersections).  This is why the equinox markers (those quartered circles) are placed in Pisces and Virgo in Apianus’ diagram (because technically we have those equinoxes occur while the Sun is in one sign according to the tenth heaven but in another constellation according to the eighth/ninth), and why the Aries sector of the eighth/ninth heavens in Apianus’ diagram start in the northeast rather than th eeast, just as it does celestially if you consider the March equinox point to be due (celestial) east.

Also, one more note: yes, it’s true that while the tropical zodiac doesn’t align with the constellations, neither does the sidereal zodiac.  In both of these zodiacal systems, we’re working with signs, not constellations, and a sign is defined as being a 30° segment of the ecliptic.  The tropical and sidereal zodiacs are identical in every regard except for one: at what point along the ecliptic it should start as being o° Aries.  The tropical zodiac defines this to always be the intersection between the ecliptic and the celestial equator, but the sidereal zodiac…well, it’s a little more complicated.  The sidereal zodiac aims to be closer to the constellations by using what’s called an ayanāṃśa to account for the precession of the equinoxes, and there are a number of different ones in use with some more popular than others (resulting in what’s technically a number of sidereal zodiacs rather than just one).  The issue with even this sidereal approach, however, is that the actual constellations themselves that lend their names and symbolism to the signs don’t neatly align with this equal-segments-of-30° approach.  Some signs are much shorter than 30° (as short as Scorpio’s 6°), some signs much larger (as large as Virgo’s 44°), and there’s even that dumb stupid notion of there being a “thirteenth sign” (Ophiuchus) because its constellation is considered close enough to the ecliptic to make it count (it doesn’t).

Courtesy of this article from Kosmic Mind, here’s a depiction and comparison of the tropical zodiac (inner circle), rough sidereal zodiac (middle circle), and the constellations (outer circle):

Apianus’ diagram makes use of a sidereal zodiac for the eighth and ninth heavens but a tropical zodiac for the tenth heaven, but does not bother with trying to use the constellations themselves (because they weren’t ever really used except perhaps in classical Babylonian or otherwise ancient Mesopotamian times).

Anyway, I thought this was all pretty neat to consider and learn about.  While we today all understand, given the advances of astronomy and physics we’ve had over the past five centuries since Apianus’ time, that a heliocentric model of our solar system is a more accurate descriptor of what’s going on, the geocentric model is still what we intuitively “see” and “feel” from our perspective down here on Earth.  It’s for that reason, coupled with the various and varied religious and cultural traditions that we inherit, that the geocentric model likewise helps us for innumerable spiritual endeavors and systems, too.  I mean, as a comparison, consider the following diagram, produced by Walter Scott in volume 3 of his Hermetica, page 374 in his discussion of the sixth Stobaean Fragment (SH 6):

SH 6 talks about the decans and their relationship to the signs and how their energies affect us down here, and in the course of such a discussion, we end up with a cosmological model again consisting of ten spheres: with the Earth in the center, there’s the seven planetary heavens around that, the eighth heaven of the Zodiac, the ninth heaven of the decans, and then the outermost heaven that wraps around everything.  In this fragment, Hermēs describes the heaven of the decans to be “in between the circle of the universe and that of the zodiac, dividing both circles”, and that the decans “buoy up, as it were, the circle of the universe and define the shape of the zodiac”.  Hermēs describes here also the motion of these heavens with each other, with the tenth heaven whirling constantly, the ninth heaven slowing it down and throttling it, and the planets being whirled around and accelerated by the motion of the decans; in this, the decans move both the planets as well as the outermost sphere of the cosmos itself.  It’s certainly not the same model as what Apianus was describing over a thousand years later, but there are certainly commonalities as both share in a common geocentric Ptolemaic ancestor, and both aim to describe the cosmos according to what we can see and observe down here on Earth.

Notably, we should also remember that what Apianus was getting at wasn’t so much to describe a spiritual reality of the cosmos, but rather a scientific one according to the science of his time.  His Cosmographia is an incredible and well-designed work, and besides the fascinating woodcarved illustrations also included little movable dials and tools that allowed readers to interact with the illustrations to learn about cosmology, geography, cartography, and other sciences.  As a result, it’s been argued that such a work as his not only facilitated better understanding of such topics popularly, but also spurred on the field of amateur astronomy precisely by equipping people with the basic tools they needed, preparing for and facilitating the later scientific revolutions that were to come.  However, even if his aim was more purely “scientific” in the modern sense of the word, we can’t neglect that such sciences are just one part of our lives, with the physical aspects to be integrated with the spiritual, which would also go a ways in explaining why Apianus’ cosmological diagram depicting the various heavens is so popular in occult discussions even today.  (And which also lends itself to some rather beautiful modern pieces of art as well.)

And yes, as the astrologer and geomancer Eric Purdue (yes, the same one who recently translated Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy afresh and correctly into modern English!) took the opportunity to reiterate on Twitter: the signs lie outside the stars, and we shouldn’t conflate signs with constellations.

The above post was originally a thread on Twitter, which you can read here but which I’ve reformatted and expanded into a proper blog post.  Although I made it earlier this summer and then promptly forgot about it, a conversation on one of the Discord servers I’m on reminded me that I wrote about it, so I figured that I may as well make it a bit more visible and readable.