On Repurposing Ritual Parts for New Practices

This PGM train won’t stop, at least, not yet.  I hope you’re not bored of this talk of the Greek Magical Papyri, dear reader, because there’s so many awesome things about it, not least for its historical value in understanding some of the origins and foundations of Western magical practice as we know it today and how their rediscovery continues to shape it in modern occulture, but because of all the wonderful techniques they contain.  And just think: what we have in Betz’s famous translation is still only a fraction of what’s still out there, both discovered and undiscovered, translated and untranslated.

So, I meant to have this post out shortly after the ritual writeup of the Royal Ring of Abrasax was put up, but then the last post happened where I also introduced it, so…whoopsie.  Anyway, this ritual, PGM XII.201—269, describes the consecration of a kind of ring of power, “useful for every magical operation and for success”, which it claims is constantly sought after by kings and other types of rulers.  In a sense, this particular ring can act as a general phylactery or protective charm against spirits in magical works and conjurations as well as a charm for success, victory, and fortune in all of one’s endeavors.  In some sense, it can be considered something resembling a conceptual forerunner of the Ring of Solomon known to later magicians; this isn’t to say that PGM XII.201—269 is an ancestor of the Ring of Solomon, but it indicates a transition of magical rings and how they evolved from simple empowerment and fortune charms into phylacteries and guarantors of magical success.  If you haven’t seen my write-up and analysis yet, it’s up under the Occult → Classical Hermetic Rituals menu.  Take a look!  It’s a fine example of a solid Graeco-Egyptian consecration ritual which can be seen as a kind of forerunner to later Hermetic and Solomonic ones.

The reason why I’ve been looking over this ritual is because Gordon White over at Rune Soup used this ritual as his (only) group exercise for his recent 2018 Q2 course on the PGM.  It’s an excellent course, as I’ve mentioned before, especially as it focuses less on the actual rituals present in the PGM and more about the background, context, development, and general methodology behind them.  Of course, it’s not like Gordon only wanted to just talk about them, but he wanted to get people up and running with them in a sensible way that involves some measure of rigor and spiritual connection.  For that purpose, Gordon set up a group exercise for those participating in the course to recite a portion of PGM XII.201—269 as a kind of semi-self-initiation before other PGM work.  As to how, specifically, Gordon accomplishes this, I recommend you head over to Rune Soup to check out the members section and go through his course material.  It’s worth the small cost of admission, I claim.  Just because the course is finished doesn’t mean you can’t perform the self-initiation ritual at any time you want or need, especially now that a current-connection has already been established in the same way by quite a number of other magicians.

Gordon explains his reasoning for adapting this ritual for this purpose at the end of the first module of the course.  Essentially, the author (or compiler) of these parts of the PGM texts was, in all likelihood, an actual Egyptian initiated priest who moonlighted as a magician-for-hire.  Because of his initiated status, he had access and license to work with the gods and spirits found in the PGM in such a way that we never can at this point, or at least, not in the same way; those initiations and lineages are long since vanished, and there’s no way to achieve the exact same status as our original author friend; as I’ve discussed before, lineage can make a world of difference when it comes to starting out at the same point of power based on initiation and lineage or the lack thereof.  To that end, Gordon set up a specially-modified form of PGM XII.201—269 as a sort of quick self-initiation into the powers and currents of the PGM to make our future PGM work that much more effective, serving as an introduction to the PGM powers.  Without performing such a self-initiation, it’s possible that we can get some results out of doing PGM work, but not necessarily to the same extent without a formal introduction, for which Gordon’s modified PGM XII.201—269 serves decently enough for any beginner to PGM-style magic.  Plus, it benefits from the fact that it’s a comparatively simple ritual (at least in Gordon’s modified form) without onerous barbarous names of power, which can be terrifying for those new to the PGM.

The Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual is not a particularly complex or difficult ritual to do; sure, there’s a bit of animal sacrifice involved, but that’s nothing that we can’t work with, either by actually bleeding the required birds or by making a sincere and appropriate substitution (I go over one such method in my write-up for those who are unable or unwilling to perform such a sacrifice, and for more information, check out my last post).  The main hymn of it is rather beautiful, but it also struck me as familiar, and I wasn’t entirely sure why that was the case.  It was some of the footnotes from Betz that tipped me off; part of the hymn was annotated with a reference to PGM XIII.734—1077, which titles itself the Tenth Book of Moses, from which the Heptagram Rite comes (along with its smaller variant the Calling of the Sevenths, aka Heptasphere).  The preliminary invocation of the Heptagram Rite (at least in its Major form that I’ve written about) is basically the entirety of the main hymn of the Royal Ring of Abrasax, just fleshed out with more barbarous names of power, including close variants of the same barbarous name that the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual centers around.  This was fantastic to discover on its own, that these two PGM sections from different papyri could be tied together in this way, but there was another part to discover; the end of the Tenth Book of Moses (after the Heptagram Rite is discussed) introduces a consecration for a particular kind of phylactery that, itself, bears many parallels to the consecration ritual of the Royal Ring of Abrasax.  So, not only do we have a near-identical prayer in these two PGM sections, but we even have a rough match of a consecration for a charm of power and protection!  Finding two such similar rituals in close proximity within the same PGM would be one thing (a la the Eighth Book of Moses from PGM XIII.1—343, 343—646, and 646—734), but this is an even more important realization.  It either indicates that both papyri were compiled or written by the same author, or that two separate authors had the same source for almost the same procedures; I’m not sure which is more likely, but both are exciting things.

However, the parallel parts between PGM XII.201—269 and PGM XIII.734—1077 are separated by quite a lot of content, and what’s present in one is not used in the same way as it’s used in the other.  The near-identical hymn that’s present in both is used for two radically different rituals: in PGM XII.201—269, it’s used as part of a consecration of a charm, and in PGM XIII.734—1077, it’s used as part of (what is essentially) a theurgic ritual.  It’s an interesting example of using the same ritual act or performance for different ends, especially because it’s in the source text of the PGM which we all admire and love.  What this indicates to me is that there’s an implicit acknowledgment that certain things can be used in different ways, a kind of magical upcycling or repurposing of techniques.  This isn’t particularly uncommon; after all, consider the PGM-style framing rite I put out a few days ago.  The vast majority of that is slapped together from a variety of PGM sources, picking and choosing this and that to come up with a more-or-less unified whole.  Heck, one of the sources I picked some techniques from, PGM IV.930—1114 (the Conjuration of Light under Darkness ritual) itself has the markers of being slapped together from two different rituals for different purposes brought into a more-or-less unified whole.  What I did to come up with my framing rite may not sit well with PGM-focused grimoire purists, but it’s solidly within the same tradition and following the same meta-methodology that’s present within the PGM itself.

Consider our modern use of PGM V.96—172, the Headless Rite.  Originally, it was intended as a simple exorcism, but thanks to the innovations of Aleister Crowley, it was adapted into a theurgic self-empowerment and self-elevation ritual, and the way he did it allows for further customizations to be made.  Where Crowley changed “deliver NN. from the demon that restrains him” to “hear me and make all spirits subject unto me” (a reuse of one of the last lines of the ritual), other adaptations can be made to the Headless Rite that can turn it from an exorcism ritual into a banishing, empowering, or theurgic ritual:

  • Exorcism: “Deliver NN. from the demon that restrains him!”
    • Here, NN. is the name of the person to be exorcised.
    • This is the original “rubric” as used in the PGM version of the text, since this was originally intended as an exorcism ritual.
  • Banishing: “Deliver me, NN., from any and all demons, death, defilement, illness, impurity, infirmity, pain, plague, or poison that restrains me!”
    • Here, NN. is your own name.
  • Empowering: “Subject to me all spirits so that every spirit whether heavenly or ethereal, upon the earth or under the earth, on dry land or in the water, of whirling air or rushing fire, and every spell and scourge of God may be obedient to me!”
    • This is the version used in Liber Samekh, which is just a more fleshed-out version of the charge used for donning the coronet, as discussed below.
  • K&CHGA: “Send to me my neverborn friend and guardian, my supernatural assistant, my agathodaimon, my holy guardian angel!  Send to me the spirit NN. whose duty it is to guide, lead, assist, and protect me through this and all lives!”
    • Here, NN. in this case refers to the name of the guardian angel, if known.  Otherwise, omit the use of a name entirely and refer to the guardian angel generally.

Consider also our modern use of the Orphic Hymns, especially those for the planets.  One of my good colleagues suggests that the original use of the Orphic Hymns were that they were to all be sung in succession as a kind of diagnostic theurgic rite so as to call out specific divinities that might be affecting someone at a given time, and not necessarily that individual hymns were to be used on their own.  Yet, magicians have been using them for centuries as individual prayers for individual entities outside their original contexts; consider what Cornelius Agrippa has to say about them in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy (book I, chapter 71):

Besides, with the divers sorts of the names of the Stars, they command us to call upon them by the names of the Intelligencies, ruling over the Stars themselves, of which we shall speak more at large in their proper place. They that desire further examples of these, let them search into the hymns of Orpheus, then which nothing is more efficatious in naturall Magick, if they together with their circumstances, which wise men know, be used according to a due harmony, with all attention.

After all, most people in the modern Hermetic/astrological magic scene (especially those who work outside the Golden Dawn and similar systems) are familiar with the use of the Orphic Hymns for the planets and use them in their rituals, whether as a kind of daily adoration of the ruling planet of the day or as part of a chant for the consecration of a planetary talisman during an election of that planet or for other purposes.  For instance, as a gesture of worship to Hermēs, I recite his Orphic Hymn whenever I enter a post office, no matter the day or time; this is certainly a modern adaptation of the use of such a prayer, and one that wouldn’t fit into any classical scheme except the broadest notions of “general worship”, but it goes to show that bits and pieces of ritual and religious texts can be used in ways that may not have been anticipated by their original authors, yet work well all the same for their new purpose.

In a similar vein, consider the use of the Psalms of the Old Testament.  These were originally devised as songs for worship, celebration, and religious meditation, yet parts of them have been in use in a variety of religious rituals and ceremonies; consider the Asperges Me, a few lines of Psalm 51 that’s recited in some Catholic Masses as well as in folk ceremonies of purification.  Heck, consider the wide and deep practice of psalm-based magic, where particular psalms are recited, either on their own or accompanying other ritual acts such as dressing and lighting candles.  A good example of a similar type of Old Testament-based magic is that of Draja Mickaharic’s Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets, where Mickaharic describes how to use individual verses of the minor prophetical books from the Old Testament for a variety of magical ends, including one chapter where every verse from an entire book can be used magically.  This is definitely magical repurposing on a whole new level, and yet is so firmly grounded and founded in classical magical meta-methodology that it’s hard to see how deep these foundations have been dug.

The trick when repurposing bits and pieces of extant ritual and texts, as always, is to be smart about it.  Cherry-picking without care or caution can get you into a lot of trouble real quickly, because not all individual parts of rituals can be extracted or extrapolated for different use.  For instance, the Conjuration of Light under Darkness is absolutely a conjuration ritual, combined from a lamp divination spell and a theophanic ritual.  However, at a large scale, the Conjuration as a whole cannot be adapted to the conjuration of other entities generally, like how the Trithemian rite of conjuration I use can be used for angels, natal genii, genii loci, and so forth with the right adaptations; instead, it’s pretty specifically geared to the conjuration and communion of one entity.  However, particular parts of this ritual may be used outside of it; I chose the Light-Retaining Charm and the Dismissal of Light, specifically, which kind of come as a set, since if you use one, you need the other.  My whole dismissal prayer I use is cobbled together from two different PGM sources (PGM I.262—347 and PGM VII.930—1114) which work well when mixed together due to overlap of particular phrases, and the fact that they do the same thing.

The compatibility and extensibility of particular techniques, and at what level and for what purpose, is important to consider when trying to pick and pull things together.  This can be difficult with PGM stuff, given the use of barbarous names of power; in general, we don’t know what they mean, and so we don’t know if we’re calling on something generally by their use in a given situation or if we’re calling on something particularly specific for a specific function.  Moreover, we don’t know whether what we’re calling is compatible only with its original context and not with the repurposed one we’re putting it to.  What makes things dicey is that we can’t just omit the barbarous names of power, either; consider Zoroaster’s injunction #155 from the Chaldaean Oracles, “change not the barbarous Names of Evocation for-there are sacred Names in every language which are given by God, having in the Sacred Rites a Power Ineffable”.  The words have power, which is why we say them; to remove the words is to remove the power, and to change the words is to change the power.  Better to use them than not, where present, unless you know precisely what you’re doing and how to get around it.  That’s why one of the reasons it took me so long to cobble together a PGM-style framing rite from off-the-shelf PGM pieces, because I needed to make sure that they were either naturally general enough to be used, or could safely be made general while still being effective as well as compatible with the other parts I was using.

The reuse of the hymn to the Agathos Daimōn between the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual and the Major Heptagram Rite presents us with a unique opportunity, then, to see how one particular magical technique can be repurposed and even reworded; note that the Royal Ring of Abrasax version of the hymn contains far fewer barbarous names, indicating that—perhaps—not all of those are needed here for this purpose, or their use would have been more appropriate to a theurgic ritual rather than a consecration ritual, or that their use was not needed at all for the sake of praising and honoring the Agathos Daimōn.  Noting how the same prayer can be used in different rituals, it’s also easy (and, I’d argue, fruitful) to think how the prayer can be used in other contexts, such as in a daily prayer routine alongside other PGM-derived prayers like PGM IV.1115—1167 (the Hymn of the Hidden Stele, which has no purpose stated either as a header or as part of this section of the PGM) or PGM IV.1167—1226 (the Stele of Aiōn, which works as both a powerful prayer generally as well as being “useful for all things; it even delivers from death”).

When going about cobbling together from parts of other rituals (PGM or otherwise), I would recommend to a few questions to bear in mind to make sure you’re on the right track:

  1. Have you studied or, even better, performed the original ritual you’re choosing parts from to get an intimate understanding of what it does, both as a collection of ritual parts and as a unified whole?
  2. What is the nature of the original rituals, both as a whole and as parts, and how does it compare with the goal of the new ritual, both as a whole and as parts?
  3. What entities are being called upon in the original ritual, and do they conflict with other entities from other original rituals?
  4. Does the part of the original ritual being chosen require something else to be done with it, or can it stand alone on its own?
  5. Can the part being chosen from the original ritual be picked up and used as it is, or does it require modifications to wording or performance?
  6. Does the original ritual use barbarous or divine names of power?  Does the intent behind them in the context of the original ritual work for a different use?
  7. Can the charge or purpose of the part being chosen from the original ritual be modified or generalized while still keeping true to the power of the original ritual?
  8. Is taking a part from an original ritual really needed?  Is that part serving an actual use or function within the cosmological and methodological understanding of the new ritual?
  9. Is a new ritual being put together from parts of original rituals necessary, or will an original ritual suffice, either with or without modifications to charges, commands, or ritual implements?

There is value in knowing and understanding the dozens, hundreds of rituals in the PGM, or in any system or tradition or collection of magical works, and accomplished magicians can pull any ritual they need from their handbooks or private collections to accomplish anything they need or want.  However, there is at least as much value in being able to understand the parts of those same rituals, know what works, know what can be extended or abridged or adapted, and being able to whip something up (big or small) from parts off the shelf that’s at least as effective because they know how to plug certain ritual actions into each other.  The trick is being smart about it and knowing what can—and should—plug into what.

On Elemental Assignments of the Geomantic Figures

It’s a constant joy for me to see the discussions on the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook, and it’s not just because I enjoy wielding power as an admin over scores of people.  Seeing people contribute geomantic charts and offer community feedback on them, as well as being able to read different perspectives on symbols and techniques used in geomancy, helps me out as much as it does anyone else; while I may be good at geomancy, and no matter how long I practice it or delve into its mysteries, I still consider myself a student in the art, because there’s always more to learn and appreciate.  After all, with only 16 figures to represent the multiple myriads of people, things, circumstances, and events in the cosmos, there’s a lot to unpack in the art.

Occasionally, someone will ask a question about geomancy that will get me to my proper computer to type a proper response, which would be burdensome on my phone.  Recently, someone asked just such a question, and this time about one of the bits of geomantic systems I really enjoy discussing: that of the elemental rulerships of the figures.  The forum member was in a state of confusion about how the elements were assigned to the figures, what the difference was between inner and outer elemental rulerships, and whether these rulerships had any system at all behind them or whether they were just spurious and irrelevant.  You can bet your last coin I gave a response to this, especially to that last part of the question.

First, let’s talk about the inner versus outer element.  This is a distinction I’ve only ever seen in John Michael Greer’s out-of-print book Earth Divination, Earth Magic (1999) and his later and more up-dated The Art and Practice of Geomancy (2009).  In short, the outer element of a figure is the element of the sign of the Zodiac he associates with a geomantic figure, while the inner element is more closely tied to the nature and elemental structure of the figure itself.  From “The Art and Practice of Geomancy” (pp. 33 and 34, emphasis his):

One of the four elements is considered to be the inner element of the figure.  In every case but one—Populus, which has no manifest elements at all—the inner element is a manifest element, marked by a single dot.  The inner element is also called the ruling element, and it stands for the elemental pattern that the figure expresses most intently.  Pay attention to the ruling elements in divination and you’ll have a useful key to the way the events that are predicted or analyzed in a divination unfold in daily life. …

Each figure also has an outer element, which relates to the flow of elemental energies through the sixteen figures in their traditional sequence…  In a few cases this element is the same as the inner element, but usually it’s different.  The outer element shows how the figure expresses itself in the world around it, while the inner element shows what kind of power is in the figure itself.  Fortuna Major, for example, has Fire as its outer element, which represents its power to reshape the world in a favorable way.  The figure’s inner element, however, is Earth, which means its power comes not from rushing around, but from establishing itself solidly and letting everything else move around it.

And again from “Earth Divination, Earth Magic” (pp. 26—27):

Each of the figures contains all of the elements, as we’ve seen, but in geomantic tradition one or another element also has a dominant role in each figure.  There are at least as many ways of assigning the elements to the figures in this way as there are for linking the figures with the Zodiacal signs.  Two of them seem to work well in divination.  The first of these simply uses the elements that correspond to the Zodiacal signs just given.  This set, which I have called the “outer elements” of the figures, has much to do with the way the geomantic figures express their energies in practical terms. …

The second set of elemental correspondences comes from the geomancer and magician Cornelius Agrippa, who provided several different systems but labeled this one an “esoteric arrangement.”  I have found that it does a good job of summarizing the dynamics of the elemental structure of each figure, and it can be thought of as the ruling element within each figure.  I have made one change in the system as Agrippa gives it; he assigned Laetitia to Air and Rubeus to Fire, but I have reversed these in order to bring the inner element and the elemental structure into harmony.

Just to be clear about what JMG is referencing from Agrippa, the following is taken from Of Geomancy, found in Cornelius Agrippa’s Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy:

Now we proceed to declare with what Planets these Figures are distributed; for hereupon all the propriety and nature of Figures and the judgement of the whole Art dependeth: Therefore the greater and lesser Fortune are ascribed to the Sun; but the first or greater Fortune is when the Sun is diurnall, and posited in his dignities; the other, or lesser Fortune is when the Sun is nocturnall, or placed in lesse dignities: Via, and Populus that is, the Way, and People are referred to the Moone; the first from her beginning and encreasing, the second from her full light and quarter decreasing; Acquisitio, and Laetitia which is Gaine, Profit; Joy and Gladness are of Jupiter: But the first hath Jupiter the greater Fortune, the second the lesse, but without detriment: Puella, and Amissio are of Venus; the first fortunate, the other as it were retrograde, or combust: Conjunctio and Albus are both Figures of Mercury, and are both good; but the first the more Fortunate: Puer and Rubeus are Figures ascribed to Mars; the first whereof hath Mars benevolent, the second malevolent: Carcer, and Tristitia are both Figures of Saturn, and both evill; but the first of the greater detriment: the Dragons head, and Dragons tayle doe follow their owne natures.

And these are the infallible comparisons of the Figures, and from these wee may easily discerne the equality of their signes; therefore the greater and lesser Fortunes have the signes of Leo, which is the House of the Sun: Via and Populus have the signe of Cancer, which is the House of the Moone: Acquisitio hath for his signe Pisces; and Laetitia Sagitary, which are both the Houses of Jupiter: Puella hath the signe of Taurus, and Amissio of Libra, which are the Houses of Venus: Conjunctio hath for its signe Virgo, and Albus the signe Gemini, the Houses of Mercury: Puella and Rubeus have for their signe Scorpio, the House of Mars: Carcer hath the signe Capricorne, and Tristitia Aquary, the Houses of Saturne : The Dragons head and taile are thus divided, the head to Capricorne, and the Dragons taile adhereth to Scorpio; and from hence you may easily obtaine the triplicities of these signs after the manner of the triplicities of the signes of the Zodiak: Puer therefore, both Fortunes, and Laetitia do govern the fiery triplicity; Puella, ConjunctioCarcer, and the Dragons head the earthly triplicity: Albus, Amitia, and Tristitia, doe make the Airy triplicity: and Via, Populus, and Rubeus, with the Dragons taile, and Acquisitio do rule the watry triplicity, and this order is taken according to the course of manner of the signes.

But if any one will constitute these triplicities according to the nature of the Planets, and Figures themselves, let him observe this Rule, that Fortuna major, Rubeus, Puer, and Amissio doe make the fiery triplicity: Fortune minor, Puella, Laetitia and Conjunctio triplicity of the Ayre: Acquisitio, the Dragons taile, Via, and Populus doe governe the watry triplicity; and the earthly triplicity is ruled by Carcer, Tristitia, Albus, and the Dragons head. And this way is rather to be observed then the first which we have set forth; because it is constituted according to the Rule and manner of the signes.

This order is also far more true and rationall then that which vulgarly is used, which is described after this manner: of the Fiery triplicity are, Cauda, Fortuna minor, Amissio, and Rubeus: of the Airy triplicity are, Acquisitio, Laetitia, Puer, and Conjunctio: of the watry triplicity are, Populus, Via, Albus, and Puella: And Caput, Fortuna major, Carcer, and Tristitia are of the earthly triplicity.

They doe likewise distribute these Figures to the twelve signes of the Zodiak, after this manner, Acquisitio is given to Aries; Fortuna, both major and minor to Taurus; Laetitia to the signe Gemini; Puella and Rubeus to Cancer; Albus is assigned to Leo, Via to Virgo; the Dragons head, and Conjunctio to Libra; Puer is submitted to Scorpio; Tristitia and Amissio are assigned to Sagitary; the Dragons taile to Capricorne; Populus to Aquarius; and Carcer is assigned the signe Pisces.

As it turns out, Agrippa gives three separate ways to associate the elements with the geomantic figures:

  • The first is given at the end of the second paragraph, where Agrippa associates the elements to the figures based on the sign of the Zodiac he gives them.  This largely matches with JMG’s outer element, but note that Agrippa doesn’t give the figures to the signs in a modern planetary method, e.g. giving Cauda Draconis to Scorpio instead of Sagittarius, or Laetitia to Sagittarius instead of Pisces.
  • The second is given in the third paragraph, where Agrippa associates the elements to the figures “according to the nature of the Planets and Figures themselves”, and is not present in JMG’s books.  While Agrippa does not explain the elemental nature of the planets in this text, it doesn’t match with the elemental associations he gives in either book I, chapters 23—29 or book II, chapter 7 of his Three Books of Occult Philosophy.
  • The third is given in the fourth paragraph, where Agrippa gives a “vulgar” system which matches up with JMG’s inner element, noting the swap between Rubeus and Laetitia to Air and Fire, respectively, as JMG noted.

The simultaneous use of two systems of elemental attribution for the figures is an innovation by JMG, and is found nowhere else in the geomantic literature; in almost all cases, a given book on geomancy describes only one system of elemental attribution, and it’s usually the “vulgar” one that Agrippa gives; only after Agrippa’s time do we start to see the rise of the sign-based system.  Interestingly, it’s this same “vulgar” system that Agrippa gives in book II, chapter 48 of his Three Books of Occult Philosophy, with no mention of either the sign-based attribution of the elements or the planet-based attribution of the signs, indicating he either had a change of heart or that Of Geomancy (and the Fourth Book generally) was a spurious text that was only published under his name.

To show which systems were used where in the European geomantic literature, I went through some of my books and texts and came up with the following table showing which author used what elemental rulership system for the figures:

Figure Agrippa
Sign-based
(1655)
Agrippa
Planet-based
(1655)
Agrippa
Vulgar
(1655)
John
Heydon
(1663)
John
Case
(1697)
Robert
Fludd
(1687)
Christopher
Cattan
(1591)
Populus Water Water Water Water Water Water Water
Via Water Water Water Water Water Water Water
Albus Air Earth Water Air Air Water Water
Coniunctio Earth Air Air Earth Earth Air Air
Puella Earth Air Water Air Air Water Water
Amissio Earth Fire Fire Earth Earth Fire Fire
Fortuna Maior Fire Fire Earth Fire Fire Earth Earth
Fortuna Minor Fire Air Fire Air Air Fire Fire
Puer Fire Fire Air Fire Fire Air Air
Rubeus Water Fire Fire Water Water Fire Fire
Acquisitio Water Water Air Fire Fire Air Air
Laetitia Fire Air Air Water Water Air Air
Tristitia Air Earth Earth Air Air Earth Earth
Carcer Earth Earth Earth Earth Earth Earth Earth
Caput Draconis Earth Earth Earth Earth Earth Earth Earth
Cauda Draconis Water Water Fire Fire Fire Earth Fire

In general, including other texts like Pietro d’Abano’s Geomantia (1544) and the anonymous 15th century ce Lectura Geomantiae, geomantic authors typically use Agrippa’s “vulgar” system.  John Case in his “The Angelical Guide Shewing Men and Women Their Lott or Chance in this Elementary Life” uses Agrippa’s sign-based elemental system, though without using Agrippa’s planet-based sign system (instead, Case uses a modified form of the zodiacal attribution system of Gerard of Cremona).  John Heydon in his Theomagia uses Agrippa’s sign-based system (book I, chapters 19 through 21) with some modifications that bring it in line with what’s commonly used in modern times (book I, chapter 5), and upon which the geomantic texts of the Golden Dawn are based.  Interestingly, late though it is, Franz Hartmann’s The Principles of Astrological Geomancy (1889) preserves the older “vulgar” system.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much in the way of older sources; what little I have of Hugo of Santalla’s 12th century ce work on geomancy doesn’t mention the elements; Thérèse Charmasson’s “Recherches sur une technique divinatoire: la géomancie dans l’Occident médiéval” (1982) mentions an Arabic method of assigning the figures to the elements, which matches up with the “vulgar” system for the most part with some changes, though I don’t know the provenance of her source for this specific system (with the six figures that don’t match in italics):

  • Fire: Laetitia, Puer, Populus, Fortuna Maior
  • Air: Rubeus, Caput Draconis, Coniunctio, Acquisitio
  • Water: Albus, Via, Cauda Draconis, Amissio
  • Earth: Tristitia, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Puella

So much for where JMG’s outer vs. inner system came from.  As already mentioned before on this blog, I use the same inner elemental system JMG uses, including the Laetitia/Rubeus elemental swap, as I find that it’s an elegant system that reflects the underlying overall element that represents a geomantic figure; with the exception of Populus, the ruling element of a figure will be active/manifest/present in that figure.   Not only do I find that such a system accurately represents the nature and expression of that figure, the same system also allows for a secondary sub-ruler to be assigned, so that each figure has a primary ruler and a secondary ruler, such that e.g. Amissio is primarily Fire and secondarily Water.  This is an innovation of my own that I have found nowhere else in the geomantic literature, and I find that it helps to give some more insight into the symbolism and nature of the figures.

The only thing I can’t rightly answer regarding the inner element system is the historical attribution of Laetitia to Air and Rubeus to Fire.  I agree with JMG that these two should be switched so as to bring the elements active in these figures in accord with their overall ruling element, and I can’t rightly say why they Laetitia was given to Air and Rubeus to Fire in so many older texts.  It’s a possibility that, perhaps, JMG and I are in the right and this is how the system was originally, but a typo early on got propagated from one text to the next, though that notion seems far-fetched even to me, even if similar typos and mixed-up attributions have happened and been propagated as widely and as long as that (e.g. a common such swap is that of the names of Puer and Puella in texts while keeping the rest of their significations the same, even in Fludd).  If the inner element system was not originally based on the elemental structures of the figures themselves, then I’m at a loss to describe what they would be based on unless it was a Septuagint-like miracle that the interpretations of the figures were so closely aligned to the elemental structures of the figures for so many past geomancers for so long.  In any case, the elemental structure-based system of ruling elements that I use and that JMG uses for his inner elements works well, and has a definite logic and reason for it.

That said, however, I do not use two simultaneous systems of overall ruling elements as JMG uses his inner and outer element systems.  In general, I have three issues with the use of an “outer element” system like how JMG describes it.  The simplest is that I find that it confuses the rulership system of the figures to have two co-ruling elements of a figure.  Unlike having a primary and secondary ruler, JMG has two rulers that are to be used in different contexts, but his distinction between those contexts doesn’t make sense to me.  The notion of a figure expressing itself externally differently from how it expresses itself doesn’t sit well with me, because a figure is single and simple; it doesn’t have an indoor voice and outdoor voice, or comfy at-home pants versus a dressed-up suit for the office; to me, a figure is a figure, and it expresses how it is in the way it is by the virtue of what it is.  Coniunctio’s nature, for instance, is about connection and conjunction and meeting and discussion, all of which are inherently airy things; it doesn’t do so with a mind to bring about earthy results, nor does it become an earthy figure when put next to anything else.  To have two “modes” for interpreting the figures here leads to confusion more than it does clarity, and I haven’t found it to be worth the trouble.

The second issue I have is that JMG’s outer element (or Agrippa’s sign/planet-based assignment) system is reliant on a “man in the middle” between the geomantic figures and the elements we’re trying to associate them with.  Rather than associate the figures directly with the elements, we first assign them to the signs of the Zodiac, and then link the signs of the Zodiac to the elements.  The outer element system has us taking two steps to get to our destination (figure → sign → element) rather than just one step (figure → element), and given the choice between a direct versus indirect assignment method, I’ll always take the direct one.  It’s a slippery slope to take indirect associations, especially when you increase the number of steps, because then you end up Liber 777ing everything to link everything to everything else, which becomes a muddled mess.  Here it’s not so bad, but even still, if you have a direct association available, I’d consider that to be inherently more worthy of consideration than any indirect one.

The third issue I have is the most practical: there are multiple ways of assigning the geomantic figures to the zodiac signs, and therefore there would be multiple ways to assign an outer element to the figures.  While the Agrippa- or Heydon-style method of assigning the figures to the zodiac signs is common in modern practice, even into the modern age, the older system of Gerard of Cremona (which is ultimately based on an early assignment of the figures to the 28 mansions of the Moon) is still seen, and I find that this latter system is much more effective in divination and analysis of the figures than the Agrippa/Heydon method (which itself is based on the assignments of the planets to the figures).  The elements of the signs from the Cremona system do not match with the Agrippa/Heydon system, even if it is a valid “outer element” system according to the reasoning JMG gives; were I to talk about outer elements with someone else who used the Agrippa/Heydon zodiacal system without saying what system I used, this would lead to confusion and bickering that “Albus is a watery figure!” “You’re wrong, it’s an airy one!” “Nuh-uh!” ad nauseam.  By using the inner element system, we sidestep such issues in discussion entirely, as well as reducing the number of systems we’d need to pay attention to; plus, as I’ve mentioned before, using an outer element system at all doesn’t seem particularly worthwhile to me even on its own merits.

So, to summarize all the above, some TL;DR points:

  • Inner element vs. outer element is a distinction only JMG uses.
  • Use the inner element system to understand the rulerships of the figures.
  • The outer element system doesn’t matter (at best) and can get you in trouble (at worst).

Now, all that said, let me answer that last question the forum member on Facebook asked: are such associations irrelevant?  By no means!  Each system of correspondences and attributions to the figures gives us deeper insights into how the figures represent the myriad things of the cosmos and how they play out in interpretation, as well as revealing to us their deeper spiritual meaning on their own.  For the vast majority of such correspondences, each is grounded in deeper systems of logic and reason that tie geomancy into broader systems of occult knowledge; only in a handful of cases are they spurious, and they’re either shown to be wrong with a bit of experimentation and analysis, or are shown to be valid through analysis of repeated results that show a trend to be followed, which can then be used to further enhance and empower the overall system of geomancy as we have it.  Only in a very few cases would something like divine revelation or unverified personal gnosis come into play, and it’d still be recommended to test them out both in divination and against existing systems of correspondence before putting them into practice.

For something as large-scale and encompassing as the elemental rulerships of the figures, especially since it’s based on a thorough analysis of the nature of each figure interpretatively as well as structurally, I would consider this to definitely fall on the relevant and not-spurious side of things, especially given how useful the system is to the analysis of each figure, both as a cosmos unto itself as well as a factor in a divination reading with the other figures.  And, even if you do like using the outer element system, I can only argue against it so much; even if I have my own thoughts and opinions on the subject, I must still admit and agree that it’s important to understand the different associations of the figures regardless of author or method so to get an encompassing understanding of how the figures have been understood across the centuries, and then based on your own experience and studies, pick one that works best for you.

On Geomantic Figures, Zodiac Signs, and Lunar Mansions

Geomantic figures mean a lot of things; after all, we only have these 16 symbols to represent the entire rest of the universe, or, as a Taoist might call it, the “ten-thousand things”.  This is no easy task, and trying to figure out exactly how to read a particular geomantic figure in a reading is where real skill and intuition come into play.  It’s no easy thing to determine whether we should interpret Puer as just that, a young boy, or a weapon of some kind, or an angry person, or head trauma or headaches, or other things depending on where we find it in a chart, what’s around it, what figures generated it, and so forth.

Enter the use of correspondence tables.  Every Western magician loves these things, which simply link a set of things with another set of things.  Think of Liber 777 or Stephen Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Tables or Agrippa’s tables of Scales; those are classic examples of correspondence tables, but they don’t always have to be so expansive or universal.  One-off correspondences, like the figures to the planets or the figures to the elements, are pretty common and usually all we need.

One such correspondence that many geomancers find useful is that which links the geomantic figures to the signs of the Zodiac.  However, there are two such systems I know of, which confuses a lot of geomancers who are unsure of which to pick or when they work with another geomancer who uses another system.

  • The planetary method (or Agrippan method) assigns the zodiac signs to the figures based on the planet and mobility of the figure.  Thus, the lunar figures (Via and Populus) are given to the lunar sign (Cancer), and the solar figures (Fortuna Major and Fortuna Minor) are given to the solar sign (Leo).  For the other planet/figures, the mobile figure is given to the nocturnal/feminine sign and the stable figure to the diurnal/masculine sign; thus, Puella (stable Venus) is given to Libra (diurnal Venus) and Amissio (mobile Venus) is given to Taurus (nocturnal Venus).  This system doesn’t work as well for Mars (both of whose figures are mobile) and Saturn (both of whose figures are stable), but we can say that Puer is more stable that Rubeus and Amissio more stable than Carcer.  Caput Draconis and Cauda Draconis are analyzed more in terms of their elements and both considered astrologically (not geomantically) mobile, and given to the mutable signs of their proper elements.
  • The method of Gerard of Cremona is found in his work “On Astronomical Geomancy”, which is more of a way to draw up a horary astrological chart without respect for the actual heavens themselves in case one cannot observe them or get to an ephemeris at the moment.  He lists his own way to correspond the figures to the signs, but there’s no immediately apparent way to figure out the association.

Thus, the geomantic figures are associated with the signs of the Zodiac in the following ways according to their methods:

Planetary Gerard of Cremona
Populus Cancer Capricorn
Via Leo
Albus Gemini Cancer
Coniunctio Virgo Virgo
Puella Libra Libra
Amissio Taurus Scorpio
Fortuna Maior Leo Aquarius
Fortuna Minor Taurus
Puer Aries Gemini
Rubeus Scorpio
Acquisitio Sagittarius Aries
Laetitia Pisces Taurus
Tristitia Aquarius Scorpio
Carcer Capricorn Pisces
Caput Draconis Virgo Virgo
Cauda Draconis Virgo Sagittarius

As you can see, dear reader, there’s not much overlap between these two lists, so it can be assumed that any overlap is coincidental.

In my early days, I ran tests comparing the same set of charts but differing in how I assigned the zodiac signs to the figures, and found out that although the planetary method is neat and clean and logical, it was Gerard of Cremona’s method that worked better and had more power in it.  This was good to know, and I’ve been using Gerard of Cremona’s method ever since, but it was also kinda frustrating since I couldn’t see any rhyme or reason behind it.

The other day, I was puzzled by how Gerard of Cremona got his zodiacal correspondences for the geomantic figures, so I started plotting out how the Zodiac signs might relate to the figures.  I tried pretty much everything I could think of: looking at the planetary domicile, exaltation, and triplicity didn’t get me anywhere, and trying to compare the signs with their associated houses (Aries with house I, Taurus with house II, etc.) and using the planetary joys of each house didn’t work, either.  Comparing the individual figures with their geomantic element and mobility/stability with the element and quality of the sign (cardinal, fixed, mutable) didn’t get me anywhere.  I was stuck, and started thinking along different lines: either Gerard of Cremona was using another source of information, or he made it up himself.  If it were that latter, I’d be frustrated since I’d have to backtrack and either backwards-engineer it or leave it at experience and UPG that happens to work, and I don’t like doing that.

Gerard of Cremona wrote in the late medieval period, roughly around the 12th century, which is close to when geomancy was introduced into Europe through Spain.  Geomancy was, before Europe, an Arabian art, and I remembered that there is at least one method of associating the geomantic figures with an important part of Arabian magic and astrology: the lunar mansions, also called the Mansions of the Moon.  I recall this system from the Picatrix as well as Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy (book II, chapter 33), and also that it was more important in early European Renaissance magic than it was later on.  On a hunch, I decided to start investigating the geomantic correspondences to the lunar mansions.

Unfortunately, there’s pretty much nothing in my disposal on the lunar mansions in the geomantic literature I know of, but there was something I recall reading.  Some of you might be aware of a Arabic geomantic calculating machine, an image of which circulates around the geomantic blogosphere every so often.  Back in college, I found an analysis of this machine by Emilie Savage-Smith and Marion B. Smith in their 1980 publication “Islamic Geomancy and a Thirteenth-Century Divinatory Device”, and I recall that a section of the text dealt with that large dial in the middle of the machine.  Turns out, that dial links the geomantic figures with the lunar mansions!

However, I honestly couldn’t make heads-or-tails of that dial, and neither could Savage-Smith nor Smith; it dealt with “rising” and “setting” mansions that were out of season but arranged in a way that wasn’t temporal but geometrical according to the figures themselves.  Add to it, the set of lunar mansions associated with the figures here was incomplete and didn’t match what Gerard of Cremona had at all.  However, a footnote in their work gave me another lead, this time to an early European geomantic work associated with Hugo Sanctallensis, the manuscript of which is still extant.  A similar manuscript from around the same time period, Paris Bibliothèque Nationale MS Lat. 7354, was reproduced in Paul Tannery’s chapter on geomancy “Le Rabolion” in his Mémoires Scientifiques (vol. 4).  In that text, Tannery gives the relevant section of the manuscript that, lo and behold, associates the 16 geomantic figures with 21 of the lunar mansions:

Lunar Mansion Geomantic figure
1 Alnath Acquisitio
2 Albotain
3 Azoraya Fortuna Maior
4 Aldebaran Laetitia
5 Almices Puella
6 Athaya Rubeus
7 Aldirah
8 Annathra Albus
9 Atarf
10 Algebha Via
11 Azobra
12 Acarfa
13 Alhaire Caput Draconis
14 Azimech Coniunctio
15 Argafra Puer
16 Azubene
17 Alichil Amissio
18 Alcalb
19 Exaula Tristitia
20 Nahaym Populus
21 Elbeda Cauda Draconis
22 Caadaldeba
23 Caadebolach
24 Caadacohot
25 Caadalhacbia Fortuna Minor
26 Amiquedam
27 Algarf Almuehar
28 Arrexhe  Carcer

(NB: I used the standard Latin names for the figures and Agrippa’s names for the lunar mansions, as opposed to the names given in the manuscript.  Corresponding the mansion names in the manuscript to those of Agrippa, and thus their associated geomantic figures, is tentative in some cases, but the order is the same.)

So now we have a system of 21 of the 28 lunar mansions populated by the geomantic figures.  It’d be nice to have a complete system, but I’m not sure one survives in the literature, and one isn’t given by Tannery.  All the same, however, we have our way to figure out Gerard of Cremona’s method of assigning the zodiac signs to the geomantic figures.  Each sign of the Zodiac is 30° of the ecliptic, but each mansion of the Moon is 12°51’26”, so there’s a bit of overlap between one zodiac sign and several lunar mansions.  As a rule, for every “season” of three zodiac figures (Aries to Gemini, Cancer to Virgo, Libra to Sagittarius, Capricorn to Pisces), we have seven lunar mansions divided evenly among them.  If we compare how each sign of the Zodiac and their corresponding geomantic figure(s) match up with the lunar mansions and their figures from Tannery, we get a pretty neat match:

Zodiac Signs and Figures Lunar Mansion and Figures
1 Aries Acqusitio 1 Alnath Acquisitio
2 Albotain
3 Azoraya Fortuna Maior
2 Taurus Fortuna Minor
Laetitia
4 Aldebaran Laetitia
5 Almices Puella
3 Gemini Puer
Rubeus
6 Athaya Rubeus
7 Aldirah
4 Cancer Albus 8 Annathra Albus
9 Atarf
10 Algebha Via
5 Leo Via
11 Azobra
12 Acarfa
6 Virgo Caput Draconis
Coniunctio
13 Alhaire Caput Draconis
14 Azimech Coniunctio
7 Libra Puella 15 Argafra Puer
16 Azubene
17 Alichil Amissio
8 Scorpio Amissio
Tristitia
18 Alcalb
19 Exaula Tristitia
9 Sagittarius Cauda Draconis
20 Nahaym Populus
21 Elbeda Cauda Draconis
10 Capricorn Populus 22 Caadaldeba
23 Caadebolach
24 Caadacohot
11 Aquarius Fortuna Maior
25 Caadalhacbia Fortuna Minor
26 Amiquedam
12 Pisces Carcer
27 Algarf Almuehar
28 Arrexhe Carcer

If you compare the figures for the zodiac signs, in the majority of cases you see the same figures at least once in a lunar mansion that overlaps that particular sign.  There are a few exceptions to this rule, however:

  • Fortuna Maior and Fortuna Minor are reversed between Gerard of Cremona’s zodiacal system and Tannery’s mansion system, as are Puer and Puella.  I’m pretty sure this is a scribal error, but where exactly it might have occurred (with Gerard of Cremona or before him, in a corrupt copy of Gerard of Cremona, or in Tannery’s manuscript) is hard to tell.
  • Populus, being given to mansion XX present in Sagittarius, is assigned to Capricorn.  If we strictly follow the system above, we get two geomantic figures for Sagittarius and none for Capricorn.  To ensure a complete zodiacal assignment, we bump Populus down a few notches and assign it to Capricorn.

And there you have it!  Now we understand the basis for understanding Gerard of Cremona’s supposedly random system of corresponding the signs of the Zodiac to the geomantic figures, and it turns out that it was based on the lunar mansions and their correspondences to the geomantic figures.  This solves a long-standing problem for me, but it also raises a new one: since we (probably) don’t have an extant complete system of corresponding the lunar mansions to the geomantic figures, how do we fill in the blanks?  In this system, we’re missing geomantic figures for mansions VII, XI, XII, XVIII, XXII, XXIII, and XIV (or, if you prefer, Aldirah, Azobra, Acarfa, Alcalb, Caadaldeba, Caadebolach, Caadacohot, and Caadalhacbia).  All of the geomantic figures are already present, and we know that some figures can cover more than one mansion, so it might be possible that some of the figures should be expanded to cover more than the mansion they already have, e.g. Rubeus covering mansion VI (Athaya), which it already does, in addition to VII (Aldirah), which is currently unassigned.

This is probably a problem best left for another day, but perhaps some more research into the lunar mansions and some experimentation would be useful.  If an Arabic source listing the geomantic figures in a similar way to the lunar mansions could be found, that’d be excellent, but I’m not holding my breath for that kind of discovery anytime soon.

Mathetic Analysis of Agrippa, the Elements, and the Planets

When I got my start in Hermetic magic a few years back, I began with Fr. Rufus Opus’ texts, which basically took Cornelius Agrippa and ran with it.  To be fair, this is an excellent way to start a study of Renaissance-Modern Hermetic occultism, since Agrippa can arguably be said to be the grandfather-text of all modern neopagan and Hermetic books you find in bookstores nowadays.  His three volume (or four, if you count the spurious collection published after his death) compendium of knowledge talked about literally everything that could be talked about when it came to the occult lore and theory of his day.  It’s so important that I and many others still, almost half a millennium later, still reference it frequently and thoroughly, especially his highly usable tables of correspondence.

One of his most useful is the Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7), where Agrippa gives a list of everything that can be broken down into four categories, such as the four evangelists, the four elements, the four archangels, the four rivers of Hell, and so forth.  It’s important here to notice that Agrippa assigns the eight spheres of the cosmos (seven planets plus the fixed stars) to the four elements in the following way:

  • Fire: Mars, Sun
  • Air: Jupiter, Venus
  • Water: Saturn, Mercury
  • Earth: Fixed Stars, Moon

He doesn’t explain in this section why he associates the planets the way he does, but he does so earlier in the series (book I, chapters 23 to 29).  Agrippa describes in these chapters the qualities, natures, correspondences, and associations of each of the seven planets in detail, including their overall natures:

  • Sun: “lucid flame”
  • Moon: “the Earth, then the Water, as well as that of the Sea, as of the Rivers and all moist things”
  • Saturn: “Earth, and also Water”
  • Jupiter: “Air”
  • Mars: “Fire, together with all adust, and sharp things”
  • Venus: “Air, and Water”
  • Mercury: “Water, although it moves all things indistinctly”

So, while Agrippa may give us a clean and organized way to elementally look at the planets in his Scale of Four, the more thorough description of the planets complicates things.  Jupiter is definitely Air, and the Sun and Mars are definitely Fire, and if Mercury is any one thing then it’d be Water (either in spite of or because of how it “moves all things indistinctly”).  Agrippa then goes on to claim (when combined with the Scale of Four) that the Moon is more earthy than watery, Saturn is more watery than earthy, and Venus is more airy than watery.  Based on how he describes things in book I and then how he classifies them in book II, I’d say there’s something more to the picture here.

Going back to the same Scale of Four, Agrippa gives four “qualities of the celestial elements”, which are:

  • Fire: Light
  • Air: Diaphanousness
  • Water: Agility
  • Earth: Solidity

These four qualities relate to the elements in a high, celestial, almost rarefied way; it’s like what the corresponding quality is among superterrestrial and nonelemental entities.  Fire, after all, gives off light; Air allows things to be seen clearly; Water allows things to move swiftly; Earth allows things to be solid or (and?) slow.  Thus, it makes sense for the light-giving Sun to be given to Fire, and clear-yet-bright Jupiter to Air.

Looking at the planetary organization to the elements given in the Scale of Four, notice how Agrippa organizes the planets.  Going from the Earth to Fire, we have the farthest sphere of the heavens (Fixed Stars) going down to the next farthest (Saturn), then the next (Jupiter), then the next (Mars); at this point, we start back with Fire and go back down to Earth, starting with the Sun, then to Venus, then to Mercury, then to the Moon.  By combining our descriptions of the elements with those of the celestial qualities, we get the following:

  • Fixed Stars: outer, Earth, Solidity
  • Saturn: outer, Water, Agility
  • Jupiter: outer, Air, Diaphanousness
  • Mars: outer, Fire, Light
  • Sun: inner, Fire, Light
  • Venus: inner, Air, Diaphanousness
  • Mercury: inner, Water, Agility
  • Moon: inner, Earth, Solidity

The fact that these eight spheres share four elements among them in two equal and organized groups is something that was pointed out to me by the good Pallas Renatus, and he mentioned that the outer spheres tend to have these celestial qualities “veiled” or “muddled”, while the inner spheres have these qualities “clear”.  In other words, compare the Sun and Mars: they’re both ruled by/ruling Fire, though Agrippa describes the Sun as a “lucid flame” (clear light) while Mars is “Fire, together with all adust [dark]” (veiled light).  However, I can’t find where this notion of veiling comes from, and the system doesn’t always hold; Jupiter would seem to be the version of clear diaphanousness compared to the moist Venus’ veiled diaphanousness, but that’s just me.

So why am I talking about all this?  Because I want to explain why I have the planets arranged on the Tetractys of Life the way I do.  If you recall, I have the planets associated mostly the same as Agrippa, but with a few changes:

Planet Mathesis Agrippa
Fixed Stars Earth
Saturn Earth Water
Jupiter Air
Mars Fire
Sun Fire
Venus Water Air
Mercury Water
Moon Earth
Spirit Air

Most of the planets are the same in both Agrippa’s text and in my system of mathesis, but a few have changed.  Saturn in my system of mathesis is associated with Earth, not Water; Venus is Water, not Air.  To me, Saturn has always been described as cold and dry, which describes the quality of Earth, and I’ve never understood the notion of Saturn being watery except on an intellectual level; going deeper in any way has only ever led me to consider or realize Saturn as being dark, dry, lifeless earth.  This has been borne out by my visions and planetary work with the planet, and even though Agrippa gives Saturn to Water, he also describes it as earthy with many of the other correspondences (black bile/melancholy, heavy thing, black stones, terrestrial or subterranean animals, etc.) all line up with Saturn being earthy more than watery.  Venus, on the other hand, has always struck me as far more watery than airy, though (like any good sexual partner) she can go either way.  The mythological birth of Venus is from the remains of Sky (air) falling into Ocean (water); she rules both phlegm (water) and blood (air).  Speaking on a more meta-elemental level, I suppose it’s this ability of hers to shift between Air and Water that makes her more watery overall.

Further, the system of mathesis specifically recognizes Spirit as a force (a quasi-element between true elements and true planets), while Agrippa doesn’t really recognize it in this schema although he does talk about the quintessence at length (book I, chapter 37).  In the Tetractys of Life, I’ve given Spirit over to Air to pair with Jupiter as a “planet” on its own terms, though I admit this feels a smidge forced to me, even though it’s convenient.  Besides, considering Spirit as airy does indeed work; Spirit is the breath, the vital and invisible (diaphanous) essence that transfers celestial influence into terrestrial bodies.  It works.

While I don’t consider the Fixed Stars to really have their own element (since there’s no Greek letter that refers to it and because its position in the Tetractys of Life is too high up), I think that the Fixed Stars being fiery would be a better match than them being earthy despite my earlier thoughts on the matter.  The Fixed Stars are certainly earthy when compared to the Infinite Light and Unmanifest Monad, but to everything else lower than them, the Fixed Stars are definitely fiery for me.  Still, the Fixed Stars are on a whole different level than the elements, and they themselves are paired with Mundus, or the World (as opposed to the element of Earth).  Mundus doesn’t have a corresponding letter, either (although the element of Earth does), so I don’t think it’s proper to assign the World an element; likewise, the Fixed Stars don’t have their own element.  If anything, Mundus would be Earth and Stellae would be Fire, but in their own dyadic rank, any comparison with the elements would be strictly metaphorical.  Likewise, it’d be hard to assign elements to the triadic Reagents of Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur, though they’d go to Earth, Water, and Fire respectively.  This ties in with their astrological interpretations as Moon, Mercury, and Sun.

So what does that say about the element of Air?  Look at how we just described the elements in the different ranks of the Tetractys: we have all/no elements in the Monad; Fire and Earth in the Dyad; Fire, Water, and Earth in the Triad; and Fire, Air, Water, and Earth in the Tetrad.  Air is the last element to be formed in this understanding, arising only as a distinct force with a distinct metaphor.  In other words, Air has no direct or clean correspondence to any higher force.  Despite its loftiness and diaphanousness, it is the last of the elements to “come out” of the Tetractys, and although it’s by no means the densest, it’s the most complex of them all.  This matches up with our confusing hexagram paths in the Tetractys of Life, which allow for transfer between different levels of manifestation (up or down the Tetractys) as well as for transfer between different levels of activity (left or right on the Tetractys) in a way that the horizontal Water paths or diagonal Fire/Earth paths don’t allow.  Air allows for complete and dynamic change rather than natural evolution (Fire and Earth) or transference/mutation (Water).

Agrippa has some interesting things to say about the element of Air, as well (book I, chapter 6).  Emphasis is my own:

It remains that I speak of the Aire. This is a vitall spirit, passing through all Beings, giving life, and subsistence to all things, binding, moving, and filling all things. Hence it is that the Hebrew Doctors reckon it not amongst the Elements, but count it as a Medium or glue,joyning things together, and as the resounding spirit of the worlds instrument. It immediately receives into it self the influences of all Celestiall bodies, and then communicates them to the other Elements, as also to all mixt bodies: Also it receives into it self, as it were a divine Looking-glass, the species of all things, as well naturall, as artificiall, as also of all manner of speeches, and retains them; And carrying them with it, and entering into the bodies of Men, and other Animals, through their pores, makes an Impression upon them, as well when they sleep, as when they be awake, and affords matter for divers strange Dreams and Divinations…Also, when certain appearances, not only spirituall, but also naturall do flow forth from things, that is to say, by a certain kind of flowings forth of bodies from bodies, and do gather strength in the Air, they offer, and shew themselves to us as well through light as motion, as well to the sight as to other senses, and sometimes work wonderfull things upon us, as Plotinus proves and teacheth. And we see how by the South wind the Air is condensed into thin clouds, in which, as in a Looking-glass are reflected representations at a great distance of Castles, Mountains, Horses, and Men, and other things, which when the clouds are gone, presently vanish…

In this sense, Air is the element that fills all things, but that requires that there first exist things to be filled.  The presence of Air is predicated on the presence of space (which itself must be filled by Air) and on the presence of solid bodies.  The presence of bodies, of course, is predicated on there being at least Earth (for solidity of body), Fire (for spiritual reality and motion), as well as Water (growth and change).  The three elements of Fire, Earth, and Water must exist first before Air can exist; although Air does not come from these three, it can only come about once these three already exist.  Moreover, it works upon itself in a way that the other elements don’t.  Looking back at the Tetractys of Life, the paths of Water, Earth, and Fire all go in certain directions but never back to their beginning, while the paths of Air go in cycles, constantly changing upon itself in a loop like a convection cycle of hot and cold or moist and dry air.

While my interpretation of the planets and elements is slowly drifting further from Agrippa, the Golden Dawn, and Hermetic qabbalah than I originally thought it might, it’s also leading me into a new direction with mathesis becoming its own full system instead of something merely derivative from Qabbalah with names and symbols swapped out for others.  As Pallas Renatus had mentioned to me before, the Tetractys of Life and system of mathesis generally has internal consistency going for it, which is no bad thing; that much of my analysis points to new truths within something still experimental shows promise to my mind.  As I delve deeper into mathesis and possibly drift farther from qabbalah, I figure that the more I can explain differences between the two in a solid Hermetic framework, the better off I’ll be.  This is just part of that effort.