“The Adocentyn Temple Almanac” Preferences Questionnaire

This is just a quick update for tonight, but for once, I’d like some input from you, my amazing and darling readers.

As some of you might recall or have seen me go on about on Twitter, I’ve been working on a bit of a fun project lately, an automated almanac project that I call “The Adocentyn Temple Almanac” (or TATA for short, because I’m cute like that).  This is a project where, using the well-loved Swiss Ephemeris codebase and typesetting the output with LaTeX into something nice, I can produce a customizable almanac document for (almost) any populated latitude, longitude, and altitude on Earth.  It’s my hope that this becomes a truly useful thing for people: after all, can you imagine having a customized astrological/astronomical almanac for your very own temple room in your house or communal space, specific for where you might actually stand and see the stars?  My plan is, in exchange for a modest fee, to produce this almanac (made custom for each person, with a preliminary check to see what information they’d like) as a high-quality PDF, which you can have on your mobile device or laptop as needed, or which you can send off to a printer to have a hardcopy for on-hand off-line reference in your own temple space.

I’ve been working on TATA on and off for a bit now, and I’ve gotten a lot of features built into it already (all of which can be turned on or off as a user might desire):

  • Sun ingress Zodiac signs and decans
  • Sun transit seasons and season midpoints
  • Moon ingress Zodiac signs and lunar mansions
  • Moon phases
  • First and last sightings of the Moon
  • Solar and lunar eclipse times
  • Lunar month day numbers
  • Decan day numbers (using my “rebalanced true degree method” I mentioned in an earlier post)
  • Rising sign and culminating sign windows
  • Rising, setting, culminating, and settling times for the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars
  • Planetary hours
  • Simple ritual windows

Even so, however, because I have a perfectionist streak and because I want this to be the best, most useful, and most flexible bit of software that I can make it, I need your help to figure out what else I should build into this!  After all, there are some things that I just don’t know whether they’d be popular or some things I just don’t know about in general, and there are other things that I do know about and haven’t yet developed because I don’t know how desirable they’d be.  For that, I need to turn to you—yes, you!—to let me know what you think.

If you’re interested in helping me out with, please fill out this questionnaire on Google Forms.  You’ll need a Google account to take it, but this way you can change your responses afterwards if you have a wit-of-the-stair moment and need to add in something later.  It should only take about ten to thirty minutes, depending on your speed of answering and thinking about possibilities, but do feel free to suggest in the questionnaire whatever you might like!  After you’ve taken it, please also share this post (or my post on Facebook or tweet on Twitter) to your magical, astrological, priestly, occult, or spooky friends to also get their input.  I’ll keep everyone updated, to be sure, as this is a project I hope to bring to light and made accessible for anyone interested before the end of 2020, so please be sure to get your answers in soon to help guide my continuing effort on TATA!

On Timing Daily Prayers to the Degrees of the Decans

I’ve had this idea in my head for prayer practice that revolves around the notion of cycles.  For instance, as part of my daily prayer practice, I’ve written a set of seven prayers, one for each of the seven days of the week, which I recite on an ongoing cycle.  They’re not necessarily planetary prayers, like you might find in the Hygromanteia or Heptameron, but they do have some planetary allusions and hints thrown into them.  The seven-day week, which is fundamentally a Mesopotamian invention, makes for a simple cycle of prayers, but I’ve been thinking about ways I could incorporate more cycles into my prayers.  For instance, a simple and short invocation for each of the days of a lunar month—with my Grammatēmerologion, my oracular Greek letter lunisolar calendar—based around the powers and potencies of each of the letters of the Greek alphabet, along with their spirits or gods, could be something fun to toy around with.  There’s lots of opportunities for this sort of practice:

  • the four turns of the Sun each day, a la Liber Resh (sunrise, noon, sunset, midnight)
  • the seven days of the week
  • the 24 planetary hours of a given day
  • the four (or eight) phases of the Moon (new, crescent, first quarter, gibbous, full, disseminating, third quarter, balsamic)
  • the 29/30 days of a synodic lunar month
  • the 28 days of a sidereal lunar month (a la the 28 lunar mansions)
  • the 30/31 days of a solar month (a la the 12 signs of the Zodiac)
  • the four seasons (solstices and equinoxes), perhaps also with the four cross-quarter days (midpoints between the solstices and equinoxes)
  • the 10 days of a decan
  • when a planet stations retrograde or direct
  • when eclipses occur
  • when a planet or star is seen at its heliacal rising or setting

There are lots of opportunities to engage in prayers linked to or with the natural cycles of the cosmos, many of which are fundamentally astrological in nature.  The idea of coming up with a large-scale overarching prayer practice that engages in such cycles, to me, would be a fantastic way to recognize these natural cycles, bring oneself into alignment with them, and tap ever more greatly into the power of these cycles, especially when certain cycles interact or sync up with each other.  By aligning ourselves with these cycles, we can not just make use of χρονος khronos “time” generally, but also καιρος kairos “the moment”, the fleeting opening of opportunity itself that allows us to do the best thing possible.  There’s this Hermetic notion—it’s hard to find the note I was referencing for it, but I’m pretty sure it’s in Copenhaver’s Hermetica or Litwa’s Hermetica II—that we rely on kairos in order to fully carry out the process of rebirth in the Hermetic mystical sense, and that would be determined by the processes of Providence, Necessity, and Fate along with the very will of God.

Along these lines, I wanted to come up with a new cycle of prayers for myself, one specifically for the decans.  Some might know these as faces, the 36 10° segments of the ecliptic, three to a sign of the Zodiac.  The decans are old, as in ancient Egyptian old, and play a part in the astrological prognosticatory and magical literature of the Egyptians, Arabs, Brahmins, and Hermeticists the world over.  We see them referenced in magical-medical texts going back to the classical period, and they also appear in such texts as the Picatrix as well as Cornelius Agrippa (book II, chapter 37).  Though they come up time and time again, they also take so many wildly different forms between traditions and texts, which is fascinating on its own merits.  We even see Hermēs Trismegistus himself talk about the decans and their importance in the Sixth Stobaean Fragment.  In that part of the Hermetic cannon, Hermēs explains to Tat that the decans belong to a celestial sphere between the eighth sphere of the fixed stars and the higher sphere of the All, being a backdrop to the very stars themselves, and thus higher than the constellations and signs of the Zodiac.  These decans exert “the greatest energy” on us and the world, and they drive “all general events on the earth: overthrows of kings, uprisings in cities, famines, plagues, tsunamis, and earthquakes”.  In other Hermetic texts, like the Sacred Book of Hermēs to Asclepius, the decans also rule over specific parts of the body and the injuries and illnesses that afflict them (which is a very Egyptian concept indeed that we see in purer forms of Egyptian religion and spiritual practice).

You can probably guess where I’m going with this: more prayers and a ritual practice dedicated to the decans.  This would consist of two parts:

  • An invocation of the powers of the decan itself, according to its specific form and name and virtues, to be done when the Sun enters that decan.
  • One prayer per each day the Sun is in a given decan, a set of ten prayers to be recited over a ten day decanal “week”.  Since the Sun spends about one day per degree, this means that each degree of a decan can be considered a separate day, and each day with its own prayer.

After some thinking, I was able to come up with a relatively straightforward set of prayers for the decans themselves at the moment (or the first sunrise following) the Sun’s ingress into them, but it’s the latter part I’m still struggling with.  I have ideas about what to base them on—the ten Hermetic virtues from the Corpus Hermeticum, the Pythagorean symbolism of the first ten numbers, and so forth—but coming up with those prayers is a slow process, indeed.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on a bit of a programming project, something to plan ahead and help me figure out what such a prayer practice would look like scheduled out.  This is basically what I was doing with my Grammatēmerologion project, coding up a variety of astronomical functions to calculate the various positions and attributes of celestial bodies for any given moment, and courtesy of SUBLUNAR.SPACE (whose online customizable almanac is an invaluable and deeply treasured tool for any magician nowadays), I was tipped off to a much easier and faster way to develop such astronomical programs: the Swiss Ephemeris codebase, of which I found a Python extension for even more flexibility.

And that’s when the problems started.  (Beyond the usual mishaps that come along with any nontrivial programming project.)

See, as it turns out, there are more days in a year than there are degrees in a circle—which means that while the Sun moves roughly one degree per day, it actually moves slightly less than one degree per day.  This is why we have 365 days (or 366 days, in leap years) in a year.  To the ancient Egyptians, they considered the civil solar year to only have 12 months of 30 days each, each month consisting of three decans, with a leftover set of five days at the end of the year, considered to be the birthdays of the gods Osiris, Horus, Set, Isis, and Nephthys.  These intercalary (or epagomenal) days were considered a spiritually dangerous and liminal time, but once those days were over, the calendar was brought back into sync with its proper cycle.  However, what I wanted to do is to come up with a 10-day cycle linked to the degrees of the Sun, which means I would have to deal with these epagomenal days throughout the year instead of bundled up all at the end.  My logic was simple:

  • Start counting decan day assignments (decan day-numbers) starting from the first sunrise after the March equinox (which is when the Sun enters 0° Aries as well as the first decan).
  • Judge the degree of the ecliptical position of the Sun based on sunrise of any given day.
  • Take the whole degree of the Sun (e.g. if 9.459°, then 9), divide by 10, take the remainder, and that’s your day in the cycle.  Thus, if o°, then this is our first day; if 1°, the second day; if 2°, the third day;…if 9°, the tenth day.  Thus, when we hit the next o° day, we start the cycle over.
  • If the whole degree of the Sun is the same as the previous day (e.g. 7.998° for today and 7.014° for yesterday), then this is an epagomenal day, and we say either no prayer at all or an eleventh special prayer not otherwise used except for epagomenal days.

A relatively simple method, all told.  Or so I thought.  When I actually ran the program, I noticed that there were not five epagomenal days (e.g. 1-2-3-4-5-X-6-7-8-9-10, where X is the epagomenal day) in the final count, but seven, which was…weird.  This would mean that there were 367 days, which would be wrong, except that there were 365 outputs.  It turns out that there were two skipped days (e.g. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-9-10, but no 8), one in early December and one in mid-February.  On top of that, although I expected the epagomenal days to be spaced out more-or-less equally throughout the year, they were all between early April and mid-September.  After looking into this, and making sure my code was correct (it was), what’s going on is this:

  • I made the mistake of assuming that the Sun moves at a constant speed each and every day of the year.  It doesn’t, for a variety of astronomical factors.
  • The Sun spends more time in the northern celestial hemisphere (about 185 days) than in the southern celestial hemisphere (about 180 days).
  • The Sun moves slower in winter around perihelion than in the summer around aphelion.
  • From winter through summer, the sunrise gets earlier and earlier, pushing the judgment-time of each day earlier and earlier, while in summer through winter, the reverse happens.

Talk about vexation: I had here what I thought was a perfectly reasonable method—and to a large extent, it is—yet which results in the cycle just skipping days, which I intensely dislike, since it breaks the cycle.  Without doubling up prayers on the skipped days, which I’d really rather like to avoid, it means that I couldn’t use this otherwise simple method to figure out a decanal 10-prayer schedule that would be in sync with the Sun.

After thinking about it some, I considered five different ways to associate the days to the degrees of the decans:

  1. The “Egyptian” method.  This is the most old-school and traditional, and mimics the behavior of the actual ancient Egyptian calendar: starting from the New Year, assign an unbroken cycle of days from day one to day ten 36 times.  This gradually becomes more and more unsynced as time goes on, but we throw in five or six epagomenal days at the very end to catch up all at once before the next New Year.  Simple, traditional, clean, but it’s really the worst of the bunch with the accumulating degree differences that get resolved all at once at the end of the year instead of periodically throughout the year.
  2. The “plan-ahead” method. Like the Egyptian”method, this is a pretty artificial way to allocate the days, but elegant in its own way, and spreads out the epagomenal days across the year more-or-less regularly.  We know that, at least for the foreseeable future, we’re going to deal with either normal years of 365 days or leap years of 366 days.  For normal years, we need to have five epagomenal days, so we insert an epagomenal day after the 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th, and 36th decans (or, in other words, every seventh decan not including the first).  For leap years, we need six epagomenal days, which we insert after the 6th, 12th, 18th, 24th, 30th, and 36th decan (i.e. every sixth decan).  Note that we judge a year to be a normal year or a leap year based on the Gregorian calendar year prior to a given March equinox; thus, for this method, we start assigning days from the March 2020 equinxo using the normal method because the prior calendar year, 2019, was not a leap year; we use the leap year method starting from the March 2021 equinox because the prior calendar year, 2020, was a leap year.
  3. The “true degree” method.  This is the method mentioned before: starting with the New Year at the March equinox, when the true degree of the Sun is exactly 0° and using sunrise at one’s location as the reference time, take the degree of the Sun and compare it to the degree at the previous day’s reference time.  If the degree is in the next whole number (e.g. 23.005° and 22.025°), the day proceeds to the next whole number; if the degree is in the same whole number (e.g. 23.985° and 23.005°), then it’s an epagomenal days.  The problem, as stated earlier, is that due to the varying speed of the Sun as the Earth travels between perihelion and aphelion (which also has the effect of the Sun spending more time in the northern celestial hemisphere than in the southern celestial hemisphere), we end up with more epagomenal days than expected around aphelion, and with days that are outright skipped around perihelion.  While the exact match of day to degree is appealing, it’s the skipped days that breaks cycles and which ruins the whole prayer system I was trying to devise.
  4. The “average degree” method.  This is a variation on the true degree method, only instead of using the Sun’s true position at the reference time on each day, we take a theoretical position of the Sun based on its average daily motion of 360.0°/365.2421897 days = 0.98564735989°/day.  Starting with the New Year at the March equinox, when both the true degree and average degree of the Sun is exactly 0°, using sunrise at one’s location as the reference time, take the theoretical average degree of the Sun (advancing it by the Sun’s average daily motion day by day at the reference time) and compare it to the degree at the previous day’s reference time, with the same epagomenal rule as before.  The benefit to this method is that it gets us the expected number of epagomenal days which are evenly distributed throughout the year without skipping any other days; the downside is that, as we get closer to the September equinox, the theoretical average position of the Sun drifts further away from the true position by as much as 3.780°, putting us three or four days out of sync with the true position.
  5. The “rebalanced true degree” method.  This is an extension of the true degree method above.  We start with the assignments of days to degrees as before, extra epagomenal days and skipped days and all, but we “rebalance” the days by removing some epagomenal days and reinserting them where we were earlier skipping days.  For every skipped day, we alternate between choosing the first and last of the epagomenal days.  So, if we have seven epagomenal days on year days 24, 59, 83, 105, 127, 151, and 182, and we have two skipped days on days 274 and 333, then we first remove the first epagomenal day from day 24 and reinsert it on day 274, and then the last epagomenal day from day 181 (was 182 before we removed the other one) and insert it on day 333.

So, five different methods of assigning days a decan day-number, one of which (the Egyptian method) being the most regular and artificial with the worst drift, one of which (the true degree method) being the most accurate and realistic yet which skips days entirely, and three other methods (plan-ahead, average degree, rebalanced true degree) that vary in terms of computational complexity and accuracy.  We know that the true degree method is the most accurate, so we can plot the various other methods against it to visually see how bad the drift is between it and the other methods.  In the following graphs, the true degree method is given in red, with the other method being compared to it in blue.  Epagomenal days are marked as having a decan day-count number of -1, hence the severe dips at times.  Where the blue and red lines are more in sync, the method is better; where the lines depart, the method gets worse.  The true degree method gives an epagomenal day in decans 3, 6, 8, 11, 13, 15, and 18, and if you look close enough, you can see the skip in the days towards the end of decans 27 and 33.

Just visually looking at these methods, we can see that all four methods start off the same for a little more than the first two decans, but after that, most of them begin to diverge.  The Egyptian method is worse in how often and by how much it diverges, with that nasty flatline of epagomenal days at the end, and the plan-ahead method doesn’t fare much better, either; note also how both of these methods end with epagomenal days for at least the final day of the year.  The average degree method doesn’t look too bad, though it does get worse around the September-October area of the year before it gets better again, eventually getting back in sync for the final three decans of the year.  By far the most pleasing and in-sync graph we see is with the rebalanced true degree method, which does vary a little bit but by no means as bad or as irregularly as the other methods; we have about five decans where they’re in sync, 22 where they’re one day off, and nine when they’re off by two days.

But, besides just looking at them with my eyeballs, how should I best compare the accuracy of all these methods?  What I settled on was a ratio between the day’s decan day-number according to a particular method and the true degree expected for the Sun for that day:

  1. If a given day is an epagomenal day, throw out the value entirely, and don’t factor it into calculations.
  2. For a given day reckoned at the reference time (sunrise on the March equinox for a given location), find the Sun’s true ecliptic position.
  3. Take the whole degree of the Sun (e.g. if 9.227°, 9).
  4. Divide the number from the previous step by 10 and take the remainder.
  5. Add one to the previous step.
  6. Divide a given day’s decan day-number by the previous step.

The shortcut to this method would basically be to divide the method’s decan day-number for a given day against the true degree method’s decan day-number, but I wanted to be sure I was getting the Sun’s true position here for mathematical rigor.  This ratio indicates the general percentage difference we expect; if the ratio is 1, then the given method’s decan day-number is what we’d expect; if more than 1, it’s ahead of what we expect; if less than 1, behind what we expect.

Doing some simple math on these ratios for these given methods gets us the following statistics (omitting the epagomenal days entirely), judged against the year from the March 2020 equinox through the March 2021 equinox (considered a normal year).  I calculated these results based on a prototype decanal calendar starting on March 20, 2020 at 11:12 UTC (the first sunrise after the spring equinox for my town’s given longitude) for 365 days.

Method Mean Median Min Max STD Variance
Egyptian 1.71222574 1 0.1 8 1.856253825 3.445678262
Plan-ahead 1.467144864 1.333333333 0.1 6 1.09989769 1.209774928
True degree 1 1 1 1 0 0
Average degree 1.351345416 1.166666667 0.1 5 0.9200161032 0.8464296301
Rebalanced true degree 1.211630551 1.2 0.1 3 0.5348857385 0.2861027532

In the 2020/2021 year, we can see that it’s the rebalanced true degree method that has the lowest standard deviation and variance, with the mean closest to 1.  This means that the rebalanced true degree method gets us the closest decan day-numbers to what the Sun’s actual position is on the whole, being at worst three days ahead (compared to the potential of being five, six, or eight days ahead with the other non-true degree methods).

For another look, we can also consider the leap year (according to our rule above) for the March 2021 equinox through the March 2022 equinox.  I calculated these results based on a prototype decanal calendar starting on March 20, 2021 at 11:13 UTC for 366 days.

Method Mean Median Min Max STD Variance
Egyptian 1.704857316 0.85 0.1 8 1.89868141 3.604991096
Plan-ahead 1.432609127 1.333333333 0.1 6 1.044951208 1.091923027
True degree 1 1 1 1 0 0
Average degree 1.338694885 1.2 0.1 5 0.8991436886 0.8084593728
Rebalanced true degree 1.142828483 1.142857143 1 2 0.3982472329 0.1586008585

We get even better results during leap years, it’d seem, at least based on this example alone; we’re only a max of two days ahead of the Sun’s true position, and we have even less variance and deviation than before.

If I were to go with any system of assigning a 10-day repeating cycle of prayers to the days to keep more-or-less in sync with the position of the Sun as it goes through the decans, I’d go with the rebalanced true degree method.  Still, even if it’s the most in sync, it’s not truly in sync, as there really isn’t such a system possible without skipping days due to the inconvenient misalignment of physical phenomena with discrete human systems of calendrics.  As SUBLUNAR.SPACE commiserated with me about on Facebook, as he found out when he was coding his own almanac program, the decans “do not like to be pushed into human patterns”, and that we really have to choose degrees or days, because we can’t have both.  In his almanac, he settled with marking things by the actual ingress, which was the common practice in the decan calendars of Ptolemaic times.  On top of that, as far as calculation goes, it’s among the more complicated, requiring manual rebalancing after figuring out the true degree day equivalences first for the whole year until the next March equinox; easy enough to do by a computer program, but tedious or outright difficult to do by hand.

For now, I’m going to content myself with marking the Sun’s ingress into the decans, and leave it at that.  For one, though I’d like to engage in a 10-day cycle of prayers aligned with the decans, and even though I have some sort of system in place to explore that, I still don’t have those damn ten (or eleven) prayers written up for them.  But, at least knowing what the schedule looks like is a start.

On the Dragon in the Ninth Sphere

There’s always plenty of research that goes on in my Work—as it probably should.  After all, much of my practice comes about from my own research, not just novel stuff through experiment but also through the experience of those who have gone before me.  In building upon the Work of others, I (and all others who do the same) get to stand on the shoulders of giants, and can reach up ever higher into the heavens.  So, even if you’re working in a strictly auturgic practice, unless you’re going a purely feral route where literally everything you do is based entirely and only on your own experiments and experience, you still owe a debt to those who have gone before you.  Of course, we can’t always rely on the works of the past to answer questions we have now, and given how things corrode and decay over time (as all things in the world do), we sometimes end up with more questions than answers.

A while back, I was doing research for the sake of coming up with my own prayers for the seven days of the week.  These prayers are specifically weekday prayers, not planetary ones, and were intended to be used more for devotional, almost liturgical purposes than for the sake of communing with the planets, but there are certainly some planetary hints scattered here and there among them.  Besides, many of the texts I was researching, like the Heptameron, explicitly link the days of the week to the planets—and why not?  It’s a useful system, after all, of simple magical timing, and though I didn’t want to make the planetary stuff an explicit focus of the prayers, it still factored in.  It was hard to avoid, at any rate, given that many of my sources did just this.  I ended up settling on a mixture of Islamic supplications to be said for the weekdays combined with a slew of other grimoiric sources, and after about eight months of using them, I find them to be a wonderful addition to my prayer practice.

One of those sources are the various versions of the Hygromanteia, aka the Magical Treatise of Solomon, an important landmark in the development of Solomonic magic and a strong influence in later Solomonic texts like the Key of Solomon.  The various manuscripts of this text date to the 1400s CE, and contain various bits of magical practice such as talisman creation, consecration of items and tools, a variety of different divinatory operations, and the like.  One of the more fun bits of these texts is an explicit description of the ruling angel and demon of each hour, not just of the 24 hours of the day but all 168 hours of the week, along with the best specific purpose to put to each hour (e.g. the fourth hour of Saturday is good for causing fights between lords and is presided over by the angel Abael and the demon Keriak).

There are plenty of other techniques and methods given in the Hygromanteia, but one of which is seen in only two manuscripts.  While I was flipping through my copy of Stephen Skinner’s Ioannis Marathakis’ excellent book on the subject that offers translations of various manuscripts of the Hygromanteia, there was an interesting section I came across about “the dragon in the ninth heaven”.  We’re all familiar by now with the notion of nested heavens in the geocentric view of the cosmos, with the Earth at the center, the seven planets in the seven heavens above the Earth, and the eighth heaven of the fixed stars above the planets, but I’ve been getting more and more interested in a ninth heaven above the fixed stars yet is not quite at the domain of God just yet.  After all, we know of such notions from classical Hermetic writings (e.g. the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth and a latter part of Book I of the Corpus Hermeticum that references it), but it’s never factored prominently in my own practice or cosmology until recently.  This also ties in with a few other draconic things I’m toying with in my own practice, and so I wanted to discuss some of these things a bit and bring up some questions that I hope to return to in the future.

In Marathakis’ book, it’s MS Atheniensis 1265 that gives us the most detail about this celestial dragon in general:

  • On the Head and Tail of the Dragon
    • The “star” called “Head and Tail” (referring to Caput Draconis and Cauda Draconis, aka the North Node and South Node of the Moon, found directly across from each other on the ecliptic at all times) moves along with Saturn.
    • The Head of the Dragon rules from the first hour of Saturday night for the next 24 hours until the first hour of Sunday night.
    • The Tail of the Dragon rules from the first hour of Sunday night for the next 24 hours until the first hour of Monday night.
    • Avoid traveling during the time of the Head of the Dragon, as this is a time of much trouble and danger.
    • Avoid traveling by land during the time of the Tail of the Dragon, as this is a time of bloodshed and murder.
  • On the Dragon in the Ninth Heaven
    • There is a single star in the otherwise starless ninth heaven, “in the likeness of a snake”, which surrounds this heaven completely.
    • There are four actions that can take place within this star: opening its mouth in a yawn, moving and clicking its tongue, shaking its tail, and quivering its middle parts.
      • Yawning signifies death, as “the Earth will receive human bodies” (in the sense of graves, especially mass graves, opening up like a hungry maw to be filled with corpses).
      • Clicking its tongue signifies war throughout the whole world, as “the tongue is sword-like”.
      • Shaking its tail signifies hunger taking place on the whole of the Earth.
      • Quivering its middle parts signifies great earthquakes.
    • To determine the action of the snake, observe its position for the solar year starting on the spring equinox.
      • The Moon in Cancer on the spring equinox is the snake yawning (indicating death).
      • The Moon in Leo on the spring equinox is the snake clicking its tongue (indicating war).
      • The Moon in Scorpio on the spring equinox is the snake quivering its middle parts (indicating earthquakes).
      • The Moon in Capricorn on the spring equinox is the snake rattling its tail (indicating hunger).

There’s also MS Gennadianus 45, which gives basically the same information as above, albeit in an abbreviated format, and with a switch: this manuscript says that the Moon in Scorpio is the snake shaking its tail (hunger) and the Moon in Capricorn is the snake quivering its middle parts (earthquakes).

Marathakis also identifies another manuscript, MS Atheniensis 115, as also talking about the predictions related to this dragon, but does not give a translation for this particular part , as he only gives excerpts of this manuscript in his book as it’s otherwise basically the same text as MS Atheniensis 1265.  However, he also identifies similar passages in the following manuscripts, all of which are in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and thus all of which are digitized online:

Unfortunately, my ability to read medieval Greek is poor, so I can’t really attest to what these other texts have, and whether they agree with MS Atheniensis 1265/115 or with MS Gennadianus 45.  Given the prominence and extra explanation of the Athens manuscripts, we’ll go with them.

So, seeing what we see from the Athens manuscripts, what can we note?

  • That the Head and Tail “moves along with Saturn” is an odd observation to make.  The nodes complete a revolution every 18.6 years, while Saturn makes a revolution every 29.4 years.
  • The sole star in the ninth heaven is somewhat ambiguous.  We might be inclined to interpret this as the lunar nodes generally, but this may also well be a reference to the constellation Draco or to its primary star Thuban (α Draconis).
  • The words “snake”, “serpent”, and “dragon” are all interchangeable as far as this goes, it’d seem.  They’re all fundamentally referring to the same thing in this case.
  • Personally, I like the MS Gennadianus 45 association of Capricorn relating to earthquakes (Capricorn being a sign of Earth) and Scorpio relating to hunger (since classically the constellation Scorpio was considered to be the body and tail of the Scorpion, with Libra being its claws).  But, without knowing the origin of this whole technique, it’s not clear whether this is a better-preserved version, or whether this sort of logic is just appealing though spurious on my part.

Beyond these observations, there’s an even more important one I want to make.  That the position of the Moon in these four zodiac signs only matters for Cancer, Leo, Scorpio, or Capricorn is weird; there’s not a lot tying these signs together, when we might expect an equal balance between all four elements from one of the three quadruplicities (cardinal, fixed, mutable).  However, note the ruling planets of these four signs: we have the two luminaries of the Sun (Leo) and Moon (Cancer), and the two malefics Saturn (Capricorn) and Mars (Scorpio).  The Sun and Moon are crucial for eclipses in general with respect to the lunar nodes, which were altogether considered dangerous, and the malefics are, well, the malefics.  It’d make sense, then, that we don’t see associations for calamities regarding the signs ruled by the benefics (Jupiter for Sagittarius and Pisces, Venus for Libra and Taurus) or for the neutral planet Mercury (Virgo and Gemini).

Even then, I don’t particularly think that the choice of calamity for these signs is necessarily planetarily-based.  I mean, consider that the “snake clicking its tongue” indicating war is given to solar Leo, when it would make more sense to be given to martial Scorpio.  Also, if it were planetary, why wouldn’t Aries also be a sign of the snake quivering its middle parts, or Aquarius rattling its tail?  Also, it’s weird to me that shaking the tail would be a sign of hunger and quivering the middle parts a sign of earthquakes; I mean, I get the quivering bit, sure, but seeing how the stomach and belly are in the middle part of the body, I feel like that’d be a more natural association for hunger, with the tail (being the foot) indicating earthquakes (also think of the loudness of the rattlesnake which can be associated with the din of buildings shaking and falling down).

Given the importance of the Moon here, we might consider that this is a relic of lunar mansion forecasting.  In that case, the most reasonable lunar mansions that could be found in these signs that make sense would be these:

  • Al-Ṭarf (12°51′ to 25°42′ Cancer)
  • Al-Zubrah (8°35′ to 21°25′ Leo) or Al-Ṣarfah (21°26′ Leo to 4°17′ Virgo)
  • Al-Qalb (8°34′ to 21°25 Scorpio)
  • Sa`du al-Bul`a (12°51′ to 25°42′ Capricorn)

It’s convenient that we can find lunar mansions in these signs that could generally be interpreted to be like the calamities these manuscripts suggest (especially Al-Qalb, the talismanic image of which is “an adder holding its tail above its head”, which is definitely a point in favor of Scorpio being the snake shaking its tail).  However, this could still just be a fancy coincidence, I suppose.

If we wanted to go with an even more stellar theory, we could inspect the ecliptical positions of the most important stars in the constellation, accounting for precession and star motion, but even then, that doesn’t get us much; even in the year 500 CE, Thuban (which we’d expect to be more to the middle or tail of the constellation) is in Leo, Rastaban (β Draconis) and Eltanin (γ Draconis) (both at the head of Draco) are around the cusp of Scorpio and Sagittarius, and Giausar (λ Draconis) as the tail star of Draco is at the end of Cancer.  While this doesn’t seem all too bad, we just don’t really see any specific star in Capricorn, or any part of the constellation at all in Capricorn (given that the head of Draco can be found at the Scorpio/Sagittarius cusp and its tail in Cancer, preceding through the signs through Leo).

Even if we put aside the issue of why we’re looking at these signs at all, why are we even looking at the Moon, considering the obviously known existence of the North and South Nodes of the Moon?  I mean, given the slowness of these points and their general destructive nature (or, if nothing else, a nature indicative of great change and upheaval), it’d make more sense to look at their position instead of the Moon.  At the same time, many of the texts that Marathakis references include plenty of timing for magical acts according to the Moon, based on its general zodiacal position or the particular day of the lunar month, sometimes on its own, sometimes as part of other placements (e.g. Sun in Virgo, Moon in Cancer) for talismanic work.  Plus, the lunar nodes move much more slowly through the Zodiac than the Moon (about every 1.5 years or a bit more than 18 months for the nodes to move one sign), and it’s not clear which node we should focus on, whether using either one (e.g. if either node is in a given sign) or just one, or whether we would split the nodes such that we’d account for Cancer and Leo (which describe more head-related actions) to Caput Draconis specifically and Scorpio and Capricorn (which describe more body- and tail-related actions) to Cauda Draconis.

Ah well.  There are too many questions here without enough information to answer them.  Instead, let’s take a more practical approach and consider what the next few years will look like according to this.  Looking ahead to this year and the rest of the decade:

  • March 19, 2020: Moon at 13° Aquarius
  • March 20, 2021: Moon at 16° Gemini
  • March 20, 2020: Moon at 29° Libra
  • March 20, 2023: Moon at 18° Pisces
  • March 19, 2024: Moon at 3° Leo
  • March 20, 2025: Moon at 6° Sagittarius
  • March 20, 2026: Moon at 20° Aries
  • March 20, 2027: Moon at 1° Virgo
  • March 19, 2028: Moon at 23° Capricorn
  • March 20, 2029: Moon at 26° Taurus
  • March 20, 2030: Moon at 11° Libra

Based on this, it seems that the solar year starting at spring equinox 2024 will be marked by war, and in 2028 by hunger (or earthquakes).  Or, I suppose, marked as exceptionally bad for those things.  I guess it’s something to keep an eye on, yes?

Colors of the Planets

The core components of much of the ritual I do is simple: a candle lit for God and prayer.  Everything else is, strictly speaking, optional.  Yes, even incense, especially when simply performing prayer and adoration of the Divine, as Hermēs tells his students towards the end of the Perfect Sermon:

[Asclepius said:] “Let us suggest to father, Tat,—what he did bid us do,—that we should say our prayer to God with added incense and with unguents.”

Whom when Thrice-greatest heard, he grew distressed and said: “Nay, nay, Asclepius; speak more propitious words! For this is like to profanation of [our] sacred rites, when thou dost pray to God, to offer incense and the rest. For naught is there of which He stands in need, in that He is all things, or all are in Him. But let us worship, pouring forth our thanks. For this is the best incense in God’s sight, when thanks are given to Him by men.”

So, really, even perhaps my candle lit for God, a sacred flame I have burning at my main shrine whenever I do any sort of temple work, could be considered extraneous; I prefer, following usual ancient practices, to always have a sacred lamp lit with a sacred fire, so that I never pray or work in darkness.  But, when performing pure theurgy, Hermēs suggests that prayer is the only required element—indeed, the only element that should be used.

But that’s really only applicable for God and the highest-of-the-high practices I engage in.  And there are a lot of other gods and practices I engage in, and other components, like incense, are pretty damn useful.

I don’t think I’m making a controversial claim for when I say that everything present in a ritual should be present to further that ritual’s application and efficacy; having extra elements or components there that either aren’t used or aren’t related to the ritual shouldn’t be there in the ritual itself.  This is far from encouraging minimalism, of course; with this maxim, you can get as complex and as complicated, as embellished and exaggerated as you like, by throwing in element after component or tool after supply into a ritual.  Sometimes, that can be extremely helpful; other times, not so much.  But this goes far beyond simply the choice or variety of incense and libation; everything in a ritual, down to the thread used to hem your robes (or sweatpants), can be engineered towards a particular ritual.  After all, if you want to take a more psychological or semantic approach to ritual, everything in a ritual is a symbol, and all symbols have meaning.  And color symbolism is huge in many kinds of occult and spiritual work.

With my renewed Hermetic practice I’ve been working on since the beginning of the year, I’ve been mulling over how I would want to make a new set of planetary talismans.  I have an old set from when I was doing Fr. Rufus Opus’ Red Work course, which I’ve used ever since, and have been solid tools in their own right.  Materially, they’re just halves of wooden craft yo-yos that I took apart; taking them apart left a hole in the underside of them, which I filled with the appropriate planetary metal, and after I did that, I woodburned the name and seal of the planetary angel and used the planetary characters from the Magical Calendar (originally(?) used for the Table of Practice from the Ars Paulina of the Lemegeton) around the sides.  The effect was pretty nifty, if I do say so myself.

For these talismans, I painted each talisman in an appropriate planetary color: purple for the Moon, orange for Mercury, green for VEnus, yellow for the Sun, red for Mars, blue for Jupiter, and black for Saturn.  Of course, “appropriate” here could be debated; the source for these colors is largely taken from Golden Dawn practice using their Queen scale of colors for the sephiroth of the Hermetic Tree of Life.  Of course, the Queen scale—perhaps the most commonly known and used—is just one of four scales; there’s also the King scale (indigo, violet purple, amber, clear pink rose, orange, deep violet, crimson), the Prince scale (very dark purple, russet red, bright yellowish green, rich salmon, bright scarlet, deep purple, dark brown), and the Princess scale (citrine flecked azure, yellowish brown flecked gold, olive flecked gold, golden amber, red flecked black, deep azure flecked yellow, grey flecked pink).  The link above gives an appreciable examples of all these colors (which, rather than being vague suggestions, were actually meant to be quite exact and specific), as well as for the other sephiroth and each of the paths on the Tree of Life.  Complicated, to be sure, but if nothing else, the Golden Dawn takes complication and turns it into an art form.  Plus, those who have ever read Alan Moore’s comic series Promethea (still a great primer on popular modern Western Hermetic mystery cosmology from a Golden Dawn/Thelemic standpoint) will find these colors for the planets incredibly familiar, as the artist specifically used these color scales for the sephiroth as Sophie Bangs (and Promethea) ascends through them from Earth/Malkuth to God/Kether.

But…well, I’m not a Golden Dawn magician.  Like, I’ve never done the LBRP, or any [LG][IB]R[PH] type of ritual, or a Middle Pillar, or whatever.  While these colors (or at least the Queen scale colors) are incredibly common, and incredibly useful, this surely can’t be the only magical color system for the planets, and while I don’t want to fix what’s not broken, I do want to try distancing myself from Golden Dawn stuff and see if other systems work, hopefully as well if not better.  To that end, I’ve been looking into what other options there might be in the usual magical literature we typically consult from the pre-Golden Dawn days, like Agrippa et al., and seeing what such color symbolism might already have been present in classical or antique times.

For the usual grimoires we might turn to, we can find color lists in the following texts:

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

Planet Key of Solomon Key of Knowledge Agrippa

Colors

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

I’m sure there are plenty of other Western Renaissance and medieval sources for attributing magical colors to the planets, but this is already lining up to be kinda uniform, and we can see how such a color system informed the Golden Dawn set—at least as far as the Queen scale is confirmed.  But the use of color symbolism for the planets is much older than this; it’s not like colors are a new thing for magicians or people generally.  As many of my readers know, using rituals and information from the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM) is one of my favorite things to do, so I thought about looking back to classical and pre-modern sources in the West for more information.  Happily and fortuitously, Tony Mierzwicki in his Graeco-Egyptian Magick has basically already done the work for us there.  I’ll summarize his findings and sources:

  • PGM CX.1—12, some sort of astrological divination that uses mineral or metallic objects: Sun, gold; Moon, silver; Saturn, obsidian; Mars, yellow-green onyx; Venus, lapis lazuli streaked with “gold” (pyrite); Mercury, turquoise (καλλάϊνος, literally “like a precious stone of a greenish blue”, turquoise or chrysolite, or even the famous blue-green Egyptian faïence); Jupiter, “a dark blue stone, but underneath of crystal” (“ὁ δὲ Ζεὺς ᾔτῳ κυάνου λίθου ὑπὸ δὲ κρυστάλλου”, possibly amethyst).  Mierzwicki gives the “apparent colors” for these planets then as: Sun, gold; Moon, silver; Saturn, black; Mars, yellow-green; Venus, blue; Mercury, blue-green; Jupiter, dark blue and clear (or indigo/dark puple and white).
  • Mierzwicki also matches PGM CX.1—12 with evidence from the seven-stepped zigurrats of Ecbatana and Khorsabad, according to Herodotus and archaeological evidence, respectively: gold/gold, silver/silver-grey, orange/orange, blue/blue, red/reddish-purple, black/black, white/white.  Mierzwicki gives these the planets Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter, respectively.

It’s important to note that red is generally a taboo color in PGM and Egyptian stuff generally, as it’s considered to be a color associated with Set, and thus Typhōn.  This is why so many PGM rituals call for “lamps that are not colored red”, and might explain the lack of red in the above PGM text, which appears to be currently the only one known that links particular colors (well, stones and minerals) to the planets.  However, scanning through the rest of the PGM for bits and pieces that are color-related, we can also get the following:

  • PGM XII.270ff:  heliotrope (green chalcedony with small spots of red jasper) for the Sun
  • PGM V.213ff: “costly green stone” (“σμάραγδον πολυτελῆ”, “expensive emerald”) for a scarab ring to speak with the Sun
  • PGM VI.2622ff: purple used to color a skin that encloses a phylactery for calling upon the Moon
  • PGM V.370ff: purple used for a cord to wrap up hair as a sacrifice to the Moon (well, really, Hermēs, but here meaning Thoth as a lunar god)
  • PGM IV.2891ff: white used for a dove as an offering to Venus
  • PGM IV.3209ff: white used for a saucer and wax for a saucer divination under Venus
  • PGM VII.478ff: white used for a dove, the droppings of which are used in a ritual to Eros, connected to Venus
  • PDM xiv.920ff and 933ff: white is the color of a stone called “foam of the moon”, like galbanum or glass

So, not a lot, as it turns out.  But at least we have something we can plot out in another table:

Planet PGM CX.1—12 Babylonian Other PGM
Saturn black black
Jupiter dark blue/purple and white white
Mars yellow green (or red) red
Sun yellow, gold yellow, gold green
Venus rich blue blue white
Mercury light blue-green orange
Moon white, grey, silver silver purple, white

Funnily enough, in the process of writing this post, one of my mutual followers on Astrology Twitter, @jaysunkei, posted a surprised tweet about planetary colors, especially that for the planet Mercury, which started off a whole bunch of conversations about different texts and traditions of colors, including those listed above:

The stuff posted in that Twitter thread gives us even more options to work with based on a variety of astrological sources as well as cultural ones (cf. David McCann’s article The Astrology of Color on Skyscript.co.uk and this article about colors and planets through different cultures and time periods):

Planet Picatrix Al-Biruni Ibn Ezra Lilly Sepharial
Saturn black, dark black, dark black, dark white, pale, ashy, black, dark black, dark
Jupiter green brown, white green purple
Mars red red red red red
Sun yellow orange red yellow, red, purple orange
Venus light blue, light green white, yellow light green light blue, light green, white light blue, light green
Mercury blue purple, mixed colors blue, grey, mixed colors blue, grey, pink, yellow
Moon orange, yellow blue, orange, yellow green, white green, orange, yellow, white green, orange, yellow, white

In the end, it looks like we have a lot of options to pick from, all based on different authors and time periods and cultures and styles of working, some more astrological than magical, others more magical than astrological, some more grounded in the Earth and some more grounded in Heaven.  There are a few commonalities, sure, and if I were to summarize some of the most common colors to make a “general” color scheme for the seven planets, I’d go with the following:

  • Saturn: black.  Everyone seems to be in agreement with this one, although this could be expanded to any super dark, dull color, more like a hue.
  • Jupiter: blue or purple.  Blue seems to be more common than purple, but both are considered “royal” colors, which fits in nicely with Jupiter’s significations.  Still, blue seems to be more common.
  • Mars: red.  This is pretty common across everyone, shockingly enough.
  • Sun: gold or yellow.  Gold, of course, is ideal for the Sun, but that’s more a metal rather than a color; a rich yellow, tending slightly more towards orange than green, would be better if a simple color is preferred.
  • Venus: primarily green, secondarily white.  Green seems to be more common than white (though “green” here is probably best described as a “light blue-green”, like teal, aquamarine, spring green, cyan, Persian green, jade green, or turquoise), though white is also a common option.  However, white can also be used for the Moon, so be careful here (more on this below).
  • Mercury: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  Mercury’s colors are all over the map, and I think the best way to describe Mercury’s color is “plaid”, meaning any set of mixed, changeable, shifting, or interwoven colors.  Barring that, however, orange seems to not be a bad choice, as this is sometimes considered to be a “muddled” or “mixed” color itself, compared to the more pure yellow or red.
  • Moon: silver or white.  Silver is preferred, but this is more a metal than a color, so the best way to describe this in terms of simple colors is just white.  However, white is also an option for Venus; if white is chosen for Venus, use silver for the Moon, and if white is used for the Moon, use green for Venus.

Lots of options, indeed, and of course the above isn’t exhaustive; there’re also Mesoamerican and Native American traditions, Chinese and Indian/Vedic systems, and other systems of astrology and magic out there that have their own color associations with the planets and stars, too.  But, even with this much, at least we can make things look nice for ourselves and our works.