Genius in the Picatrix: Ritual Prep and Setting the Altar

Last time, we started talking about a particularly interesting bit of the Ġāyat al-Ḥakīm, the “Goal of the Wise”, sometimes just known as the Ġayah, but definitely better known in the West as the Picatrix, most likely written in Arabic sometime in the middle of the 11th century CE.  Everyone knows the Picatrix, everyone loves the Picatrix; it’s a fantastic text of astrological magic, and among the earliest of true grimoires in Europe.  Although focused on what we’d nowadays call stellar image magic, the creation of astrological talismans bearing magical images and scenes made under particular stellar configurations, the text is famous for its wide inventory of bizarre magical concoctions and confections for a variety of purposes, its lengthy invocations to the planetary spirits, and its preservation of older pagan practices from the Hermetists, Sabians, Nabataeans, and various other Mediterranean peoples.  It is not, however, a particularly theurgical text on the whole, even though it contains a wealth of information on philosophy, spiritual and cosmic frameworks, and the like in how and why magic works the way that it does.  Yet, in book III, chapter 6, we encounter an interesting section on the “Perfect Nature”, a sort of guiding spirit or genius, originally encountered by Hermēs Trismegistus himself.  The last post went on at length analyzing the meaning of the vignette of Hermēs Trismegistus encountering Perfect Nature; if you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

So, after the vignette, or rather as part of it, Perfect Nature introduces itself to Hermēs Trismegistus.  But he doesn’t just stop there (Warnock/Greer translation):

I asked him who he was, and he replied: “I am Perfect Nature; if you wish to speak to me, call me by my proper name, and I will answer you.” I asked him them by what name he was called, and he answered me, saying, “By the four names mentioned above I am named and called.” I asked him next at what times I should call him, and how I should make the invocation.

At this point, Perfect Nature describes a ritual to Hermēs Trismegistus to be done to invoke the Perfect Nature as a form of divine communion.  According to the Picatrix, which itself claims that all this is according to the Kitab al-Isṭamāḵis/Liber Antimaquis, “the ancient sages used to perform this working every year” (the Atallah/Kiesel translation says “once or twice a year”) “for the sake of their spirits, so that they might put in order their Perfect Natures”.  The Picatrix also goes on to say that Aristotle himself claims that this allowed the ancient sages to have “his proper virtue infused into him by exalted spirits, by whose powers their senses were closed, their intellects opened, and sciences revealed to them”, and that “this virtue was conjoined with the virtue of the planet ruling the radix of the nativity” (i.e. one’s ruling planet, the almuten of one’s natal chart) “so that the virtue thus co-created in them strengthened them and gave intelligence to them”, and that in this way the sages “helped themselves in their knowledge and understanding, and the increase of their business and possessions, and guarded themselves from the plots of their enemies, and did many other things”.

Warnock and Greer make an important observation at this point in their translation:

This entire passage is reminiscent of the Poemandres, the first dialogue of the Corpus Hermeticum, in which Hermes has a conversation with a similar spiritual being.  The ritual that follows is of great interest; it seems to bridge the gap between classical rituals for evoking a guardian spirit, of the sort found in the Graeco-Egyptian magical papyri, and early modern rituals for the same purpose such as the famous Abramelin working.

Based on the ritual that follows and everything we already know about the Perfect Nature, I’m absolutely in agreement with them.  Perfect Nature is already being presented through the vignette as an actual spirit one can interact with, and is described as a sort of spirit that neatly fills the role of genius, tutelar, agathodaimōn, or guardian angel.  What’s interesting about the Picatrix, however, is that it also breaks out the single entity of Perfect Nature into its four works of Meegius/Tamāġīs, Betzahuech/Baġdīswād, Vacdez/Waġdās, and Nufeneguediz/Nūfānāġādīs, each corresponding to a particular power—or individual spirit, if you choose to interpret the Picatrix that way.  In either case, Perfect Nature is both one and many: a single entity with distinct powers, or a single entity as a collective of four spirits.  I lean towards the former interpretation, as discussed earlier.

According to the Latin Picatrix and its translations, the ritual to commune with Perfect Nature is to be done when the Moon is in the first degree of Aries (i.e. between 0°0’0″ Aries and 0°59’59.999…” Aries); it does not matter whether the ritual is done during the daytime or nighttime, so long as the Moon is in this degree of Aries.  On average (and this can vary incredibly depending on the specific speed of the Moon at this time, based on where the Moon’s apogee/perigee is relative to the first degree of Aries), this gives you a window about 110 minutes long on average, or a little less than two hours, once every 28-ish days.  This also puts the Moon starting a new sidereal cycle, coinciding with:

  • The first lunar mansion, An-Naṭḥ (Alnath), which is good “to go on a journey, so as to travel safely and return in good health…to place discord and enmity between husband and wife, and between two friends so that they become enemies, and to sow discord between two allies…to cause servants to flee” (book I, chapter 4), as well as “for destruction and depopulation” (book IV, chapter 9).
  • The first face/decan of Aries, “a face of strength, high rank and wealth without shame” (book II, chapter 11), which makes one to be “always victorious in battle, litigation and controversy and gain what they wish, and are never defeated; and…to hinder the milk of beasts and destroy their butter” (book II, chapter 12).

Granted, these observations are really more for making talismans in the vein of stellar image magic than anything connected to the present ritual, although the notions of “going on a journey safely and in good health” along with “strength, high rank, and wealth without shame” and victory without defeat are always nice suggestions, too.  What matters most is that the Moon is in the first degree of Aries; if you wanted to put a nice touch on it, you could aim for this to coincide with a planetary hour and/or day corresponding to the planet that governs you, or have a sign of that planet rising or culminating, but these are secondary concerns at best.  However, in the Atallah/Kiesel translation of the Arabic Picatrix, the phrasing is given somewhat differently: “when the Moon comes down to the level of the Head of Aries at any time in either day or night”.  This might be a poetic or idiomatic way of saying the same thing the Latin Picatrix is saying (“cum Luna in primo gradu Arietis fuerit in die vel in nocte”), but it could be interpreted in other ways.  For instance, knowing that the first lunar mansion is associated with the star β Arietis (Sheratan, the lower/first horn of Aries), we could do away with signs and lunar mansions entirely and link the entire ritual to the conjunction of the Moon with this star, ignoring the effects of precession.  Still, I think the simple explanation here is the easiest and most straightforward: the ritual is to be done in that brief window of time when the Moon is in the first degree of Aries.

Taking a step back, now that we know when to do the ritual, what about preliminary purification or other spiritual preparations to be made ahead of the ritual?  Although the Picatrix doesn’t really say much about this, it does say that the philosopher Tintinz the Greek (طمطم الهندي Ṭumṭum al-Hindī in the Arabic Picatrix, a name known to students of geomancy as a student of Hermēs Trismegistus) claims that “one who desires to perform this work ought to abandon all intention and contemplation concerning other things, because the root and foundation of all these workings consists of contemplations” (see above about the role of contemplation as the main vehicle for empowering images), and that either the philosopher Caraphzebiz (in the Arabic Picatrix, كرفسايس Karafsāyis?) or his student Amenus (in the Latin Picatrix, who is not mentioned in the Arabic Picatrix as far as I can tell), likewise says that (Warnock/Greer translation):

…any sage who wanted to work magic, and preserve himself with the powers of the spirits, ought strictly to give up all cares and all other sciences beside this one, because when all the senses and the mind, and all contemplations about other things, are strictly turned to magic, it may be acquired with ease; and since many assiduous contemplations are appropriate to this science of magic, the magician must wrap himself in these, rather than being wrapped around any other things.

In other words, yeah, works of purification and other preliminary preparations of the mind, spirit, soul, and body should be undertaken before this ritual, even if only to refine the focus and desire of the person who undertakes it.  This is especially backed up by what Ibn Khaldūn says in the Muqaddimah:

A man is said to have done this after he had eaten but little and done dhikr exercises for several nights. A person appeared to him and said, “I am your perfect nature.” A question was put to that person, and he gave the man the information he desired.

So, based on this, I would suggest engaging in a period of fasting accompanied by works of steadfast devotion and sincere prayer, especially the repetition of divine names or chants (perhaps including the Four Names of Perfect Nature as well?), at least for three days leading up to the ritual, but more preferably seven or longer, perhaps even for a full lunar month starting from the previous time the Moon entered the first lunar mansion.

Before or during this preparatory period, gather together the following supplies:

  • Almond oil
    • If one has an allergy to nuts, substitute with a neutral oil not otherwise listed here.
  • Walnut oil
    • Warnock/Greer and Attrell/Porreca both only say “nut oil” based on the Latin “oleum nucum”, but Atallah/Kiesel specify “walnut oil” for دهن الجوز duhn al-jawz.  The word there can mean nut generally, but it is used specifically for walnuts as well.
    • If walnuts are a no-go, use another nut-based oil that is not almond oil that’s sweet and good for baking or in cooking desserts, like hazelnut or macadamia nut.
    • If one has an allergy to nuts, substitute with pine nut oil.
  • Sesame oil
    • Atallah/Kiesel say “vinegar oil”, and I have no idea what they mean by that.  Perhaps a thick, reduced vinegar, like a balsamic vinegar?
    • The Arabic phrase used for this is دهن الخل duhn al-ḵall, which does literally mean “oil of vinegar”, and is called for in another part of the Picatrix (book III, chapter 11, “that you may appear in the form of any animal you wish”), where, again, the Latin Picatrix renders this as “sesame oil”.  There are also other Latin works based on Arabic works that do seem to regularly translate sesame oil for “oil of vinegar”.
    • The confusion here is between دهن الخل duhn al-ḵall (oil of vinegar) and دهن الحل duhn al-ḥall (oil from whole sesame seeds).  In Arabic script, the difference is of the presence or absence of a single dot, which can confuse the two meanings.  In general, it seems that the use of “vinegar” here is a typo in the Arabic, given how common it was across the Mediterranean to translate this phrase as “sesame oil” into a variety of languages by different translators.
    • I suppose, however, that one could make an argument that this is something more alchemical than anything else (a la “oil of egg” or “oil of gold”), but this seems unlikely to me.
    • I would most recommend sesame oil (reading it as duhn al-ḥall), as it makes the most sense in this context, though if the vinegar approach were taken (reading it as duhn al-ḵall), this would probably be implied to be balsamic vinegar.
  • Cow’s milk butter
    • I’d recommend unsalted butter, personally.
    • Although there exist non-dairy butter substitutes, I cannot recommend their use due to the symbolic importance of this having come from a living creature (more on that later).
    • In the case of an extreme allergy to dairy, I might recommend the use of shea butter or cocoa butter, but only as an extremely limited case.
  • Wine
    • Atallah/Kiesel just say “alcohol”, though the word used in the Arabic Picatrix is خمر ḵamr, wine.  However, no specific type of wine is mentioned in the Latin Picatrix or its translations.  My personal preference would be a semi-dry white wine, and barring that a light sweet red wine, but that’s just me.
  • One large glass serving dish
    • A large low glass bowl would be perfect for this, even better if it had a separation in the middle (a la a chips-and-dip serving platter).
  • Eight glass pint-sized pitchers or tumblers
    • Each of these holds the wine, oil, or butter.  Warnock/Greer say that each of these pitchers “should have a capacity of around one pint”, while Attrell/Porreca and Atallah/Kiesel both say that these pitchers should be big enough to hold one pound of the wine, oil, or butter.  Checking WolframAlpha, making these to be pint-sized containers does in fact check out.
    • However, that assumes we know exactly which “pound” is intended for use.  One avoirdupois pound (standard in the modern US) is 453.6 grams which is equivalent to 497mL or 16.8 fl oz, but there are other definitions of pound out there historically, too, and may be closer to what was intended in the original Picatrix (using olive oil as a neutral base for unit conversion and comparison here):
      • Roman pound, equivalent to 328.9 grams (360mL, 12.2 fl oz)
      • Byzantine gold pound, which was originally 327.6 grams (359mL, 12.1 fl oz) but decreased over time to about 319 grams (349mL, 11.8 fl oz)
      • Byzantine silver pound, equivalent to 333 grams (365mL, 12.3 foz)
      • Byzantine oil pound, equivalent to 256 grams (280mL, 9.48 fl oz)
    • Based on these, I’d personally go with the Byzantine oil pound, which means instead of using pint-sized (16oz) pitchers, one needs more like 10oz containers, so a little more than half that size, about the size of a standard disposable styrofoam cup or a little more than halfway of a Solo cup.  I think this is fine, especially as almond oil or walnut oil can be expensive.
    • No material for these pitchers is specified, though I’d recommend glass to match the large serving dish above and the symbolism of the glass lantern in the vignette.
  • Sugar
    • Date palm sugar would be best if you wanted to go for cultural or historical accuracy.
  • Honey
  • Coal
  • Incense blended or compounded from frankincense and mastic
    • Atallah/Kiesel say “kandar, a good-smelling glue”.  From what I can find, this is actually a Persian term that just refers to frankincense, but probably high- or top-grade milky-white frankincense.  However, a gloss in the footnotes says that either a part of this phrase that references what to use (بالكية والكندر) is either just frankincense or is frankincense and mastic.  I’d go with using both.
  • Aloeswood (aka oudh or agarwood)
  • One tall candle
  • Two braziers for burning incense
  • A table

Before the ritual, physically clean and spiritually cleanse the ritual area so that it may be made “clean and splendid”.  Although the Picatrix says “house” here, this should better be understood to mean one’s temple space or ceremonial chamber—though cleaning and purifying the whole house where this would take place certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Once the ritual area has been appropriately cleaned and cleansed, prepare the altar.  On the eastern side of the ritual area, set up a table (a card table, coffee table, etc. would be perfect for this).  The Warnock/Greer translation says “a raised table”, the Attrell/Porreca translation “a table raised from the ground”, and the Atallah/Kiesel translation “a table…on a step higher than the ground”.  What we’re looking at is a table set on a dais or other low platform, with the dais probably no more than a foot in height.  For comfort’s sake, I’d recommend the dais be a little larger than the table itself, but not too much so.  An impromptu platform made from bricks, a piece of plywood supported by some low cinderblocks, or the like would be perfect.

Before setting up the altar, a particular kind of sweet confection must be made with butter, honey, walnut oil , and sugar.  Based on the Latin and Latin-translated Picatrix alone, this may look like a sweet whipped creation, much like a buttercream frosting.  Atallah/Kiesel, however, say that this is “a candy” (later, “candies”, suggesting less a mass of substance and more parceled-out bits of it) made with “lots of sugar” and that “it needs to be very sweet and heavy on oil”.  Rather than buttercream frosting, what this may mean is to aim for something closer to toffee or butterscotch candy.

The altar should have the following things on it:

  • One pint-sized pitcher of almond oil, set towards the east on the altar
  • One pint-sized pitcher of walnut oil, set towards the west on the altar
  • One pint-sized pitcher of cow’s milk-based butter, set towards the south on the altar
    • This could be solid or melted or something else; given the presence of liquid oils for the other three such containers, melted butter or even clarified butter may be meant here.  My preference would be for whipped or otherwise non-compacted butter.
  • One pint-sized pitcher of sesame oil, set towards the north on the altar
  • Four pint-sized pitchers of wine, one placed to each of the four directions on the altar
    • These may be placed immediately to the side of the containers of the oils and butter along the edge of the table, or just beside them closer to the center, or with the pitchers of wine on the outside and the pitchers of oil and butter on the inside.
  • A glass dish filled with the candy/confection made from cow’s butter, walnut oil, honey, and sugar, placed in the center of the altar
    • No description of the containing dish is given beyond “glass”, but to my mind, simple clear glass would be best; the other containers for wine and oil would best be made of the same material, ideally even in a matching style.
    • Clear a space in the center of the dish to hold the candle later, if at all possible.

I suppose, of course, that one could also cover the table with a tablecloth; I’d recommend a white linen cloth that hangs down generously around the table, but that’s just me.  None is mentioned in the original text, so we’d be fine without it.

In addition to preparing the ritual space and the altar, we also need to prepare two braziers or censers, one to burn a mixture of frankincense and mastic (or just frankincense, maybe? per the Arabic Picatrix), the other to burn aloeswood, but the Picatrix does not say where to put these things.  If free-standing braziers are to be used (which seems to be the best practice here), I would put the one with frankincense and mastic to the north of the altar and the one with aloeswood to the south, at least three feet away on either side, depending on how much space one has available.  If smaller censers are to be used, they may be put on platforms of their own (milk crate-sized boxes would be perfect, or taller standing pillars if you wanted to be fancy) in the same positions.  Other options for using smaller censers could be to put them directly on the altar itself (I’d recommend keeping to the north/south positioning halfway between the cups and the dish) or underneath the altar directly on the dais (which I don’t find likely or recommended here at all).  The brazier approach, or otherwise keeping the censers off and away from the altar, seems to be the most reasonable.

Unlike other parts of the Picatrix that specify the metal to be used for the censers (e.g. book IV, chapter 2), no description of the material is given, so it probably doesn’t matter.  Simple braziers, made from a steel or iron bowl or chafing dish to hold the coals and incense and supported on metal or wooden legs as a tripod, or otherwise simple small censers, would really be best, especially given the simplicity of the ritual as a whole.  However, if you wanted to customize this aspect of the ritual setup for yourself based on other Picatrix practices for your own ruling planet, the metals from book III, chapter 7 would be good to observe:

  • Saturn: iron
  • Jupiter: tin
  • Mars: bronze or brass
  • Sun: gold
  • Venus: electrum (gold and silver alloy)
  • Mercury: “fixed mercury” (mercury alloy)
  • Moon: silver

If you wanted to go the extra mile, you could also make a special censer for yourself based on the instructions given in book III, chapter 5.  Such a censer would be best used for works with a particular planet, to be made with that planetary metal in the form of a hollow cross, open at the top to allow smoke to exit, and with the container for the coal/wood/fire and the incense underneath such that all the smoke of the incense would flow up through the cross and out the top.  This also has the beneficial symbolic association of smoke rising up a single channel, in the sense of rising up from a pit or straight up to Heaven in our inverted vignette.  Again, this is almost certainly and entirely unnecessary for the present ritual, but the Picatrix does have quite a lot of tech to share.  For reasons that we’ll get to later, a more general metal or material rather than one specific to any given planet might be better; better to keep it simple.

And yes, of course, for those who are operating on a budget and cannot afford braziers/censers, frankincense/mastic resin, and aloeswood (whether as whole wood chips or as powder), using self-igniting stick or cone incense is also acceptable.  It’s definitely better to go with loose incense on coals, especially as stick and cone incense tends to be compounded with fillers and other scents, but it’ll work for those who need it to work.

All this is a lot to talk about the initial ritual prep, but there’s still more to talk about along these lines, not to mention the ritual itself.  That’ll be in the next post, so stay tuned!

On Geomantic Cycles

A while back on the Facebook community I manage for geomancy, the Geomantic Study-Group, someone had posted a proposed method to obtain four Mother figures for a geomantic reading based on the time and date of the query.  The poster based this proposal off of the Plum Blossom method of I Ching, where (as one of several possible formulas) you take the date and time and numerologically reduce the numbers to obtain trigrams; in a sense, such a method could theoretically be done with geomantic figures, and so the poster called this a type of “horary geomancy” (though I’m reluctant to use that term, because it’s also used by Gerard of Cremona to come up with a horary astrological chart by geomantic means, as well as by Schwei and Pestka to refer to geomancy charts that have horary charts overlaid on top).  He proposed three methods, but they all revolved around using the time of the query in astrological terms.

The proposed idea went like this:

  1. Inspect the planetary ruler of the hour of the query.
  2. Inspect the planetary ruler of the weekday of the query.
  3. Inspect the planetary ruler of the Sun sign of the query.
  4. Inspect the planetary ruler of the year of the query.
  5. Transform the planets above, “taking into account rulerships by day or by night”, into geomantic figures, which are used as the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Mothers for the resulting chart for the query.

Seems straightforward enough!  I mean, I’m already familiar with the basics of horary astrology, I keep track of date and time cycles according to Greek letters, and I’ve flirted with using the Era Legis system of timekeeping as proposed by Thelema, and it’s even possible to extend the planetary hour system into planetary minutes and even seconds; having a geomantic system of time, useful for generating charts, seems more than fitting enough!  Besides, there’s already a system of geomantic hours based on the planetary hours which can probably be adapted without too much a problem.

I was excited for this idea; having a geomantic calendar of sorts would be a fantastic tool for both divination and ritual, if such a one could be reasonably constructed, and better still if it played well with already-existing systems such as the planetary week or planetary hours.  That said, I quickly had some questions about putting the proposed method from the group into practice:

  1. What about the assignment of Caput Draconis and Cauda Draconis?  Do we just occasionally swap them in for Venus/Jupiter and Mars/Saturn, respectively, and if so, how?
  2. Each planet has two figures associated with it; how do you determine which to pick?  “Taking into account rulerships by day or by night” isn’t always straightforward.
  3. How do we determine the planetary ruler of a given year?
  4. Is it possible instead to use the already existing cycles, such as the geomantic hours of Heydon, the rulerships of the lunar mansions, or the Cremona-based or Agrippa-based rulerships of the signs?

When I raised these questions (and a few others), I didn’t really get anything to clarify the method, so this particular conversation didn’t go anywhere.  This is unfortunate, because these pose some major problems to using a strictly planetary-based method of coming up with a geomantic cycle:

  1. The issues in assigning the nodal figures to the planets is the biggest issue.  They simply don’t quite “fit”; even if you reduce the 16 figures into pairs, it’s hard to get eight sets mapped into seven planetary “bins”.  We see this quite clearly when we look at Heydon’s geomantic hours, where the nodal figures are sometimes given to the benefic or malefic planets (though I can’t determine a method), and on Saturdays, two of the hours of the Sun are replaced by the nodal figures (which is, itself, shocking and may just be a typo that can’t be verified either way).  Unless you expand a cycle of 24 hours or seven days into a multiple of 8 or 16, you’re not going to end up with an equal number of figures represented among the planets.
  2. Given that each planet has two figures (ignoring the nodal figure issue from before), you can decide that one figure is going to be “diurnal” and the other “nocturnal”, or in planetary terms, “direct” or “retrograde”.  Different geomancers have different ways to figure out which of a planetary pair of figures are one or the other, so this might just be chalked up to individual interpretation.  Still, though, when would such a diurnal/nocturnal rulership actually matter?  Finding the figure for a planetary hour, using diurnal figures for diurnal hours and nocturnal figures for nocturnal hours?  Finding the figure for a weekday, using the diurnal figure if daytime and the nocturnal figure if nighttime, or alternating whole weeks in a fortnightly diurnal-nocturnal cycle?  Determining what figure to use if the Sun is in Leo or Cancer?
  3. Multi-part problem for the issue of finding the “planetary ruler of a year”:
    1. By inspecting the mathematics of the different kinds of planetary cycles that are established in the days of the week and the hours of the day, we can extend the system down into the minutes of the hours and the seconds of the minutes.  However, scaling up can’t be done along the same way; what allows for the planetary hours to work is that 24 does not evenly divide by 7, nor 60.  Because there’s always that remainder offset, you get a regularly repeating set of planets across a long system that, when aligned with certain synchronized starting points, allows for a planetary ruler of a given hour or day.  However, a week is exactly seven days; because there is no remainder offset, you can’t assign a planet ruling a week in the same way.  If you can’t even cyclically assign a planetary ruler to an entire week, then it’s not possible to do it for greater periods of time that are based on the week.
    2. There is no method of cyclically assigning a planetary rulership to a year the way we do for days or hours.  The poster alluded to one, but I couldn’t think of one, and after asking around to some of my trusted friends, there is no such thing.  You might find the ruler of a given year of a person’s life, or find out what the almuten is at the start of a solar year at its spring equinox, but there’s no cyclical, easily extrapolated way to allocate such a thing based on an infinitely repeating cycle.
    3. We could adopt a method similar to that in Chinese astrology: use the 12-year cycles based on the orbit of Jupiter, which returns to the same sign of the Zodiac every 11.8618 years (or roughly every 11 years, 10 months, 10 days).  In such a system, we’d base the planet ruling the year on the sign where Jupiter is found at the spring equinox.  This is both a weird import into a Western system that isn’t particularly Jupiter-centric, and is not quite exact enough for my liking, due to the eventual drift of Jupiter leading to a cycle that stalls every so often.
    4. It’s trivial to establish a simple cycle that just rotates through all seven planets every seven years, but then the problem becomes, what’s your starting point for the cycle?  It’s possible to inspect the events of years and try to detect a cycle, or we can just arbitrarily assign one, or we can use mythological calendrics (a la Trithemius’ secondary intelligences starting their rulerships at the then-reckoned start of the world), but I’m personally uncomfortable with all these options.
  4. Different existing cycles, different problems for each:
    1. John Heydon’s geomantic hours from his Theomagia (which are the first instance I can find of such an application of the planetary hours) are a mess.  Even accounting for how he reckons the figures as “diurnal” or “nocturnal” and their planetary rulers, the pattern he has breaks at random points and I can’t chalk it up necessarily to being typos.  Additionally, there are 168 hours in a week, but this doesn’t evenly divide into 16, meaning that within a given week in Heydon’s (quite possibly flawed) system of geomantic hours, some figures will not be given as many hours as others.  If we went to a fortnight system of 14 days, then we’d end up with 336 hours which is evenly divisible by 16 (336 hours ÷ 16 figures = 21 hours/figure), but Heydon doesn’t give us such a system, nor have I seen one in use.
    2. The system of lunar mansions from Hugo of Santalla’s work of geomancy ultimately formed the basis for the system of zodiacal rulerships used by Gerard of Cremona (which I’m most partial to).  However, of the 28 mansions, seven have no rulership, and five are duplicated (e.g. mansions 25, 26, and 27 are all ruled by Fortuna Minor).  Moreover, this system of attribution of figures to the mansions is apparently unrelated to the planetary rulership of the lunar mansions (which follow the weekday order, with the Sun ruling mansion 1).  It may be possible to fill in the gaps by closing ranks, such that the unruled mansion 7 is “absorbed” by Rubeus which already rule mansion 6.
    3. There’s another system of lunar mansion rulership assigned to the figures, described by E. Savage-Smith and M. Smith in their description of an Arabian geomancy machine relating to directional correspondences, which uses the similarities between graphical point representation of the figures and certain asterisms of lunar mansions to give them their correspondence.  However, it is likewise incomplete, moreso than Hugo of Santalla’s assignments, and is likely meant as a way of cementing geomancy into Arabic astrological thought (though the two systems do share three figure-mansion correspondences, but this might just be coincidental overlap).
    4. Hugo of Santalla’s system of lunar mansions and geomantic figures was eventually simplified into a set of zodiacal correspondences for the figures, such as used by Gerard of Cremona.  I like this system and have found it of good use, but Agrippa in his On Geomancy says that those who use such a system is vulgar and less trustworthy than a strictly planetary-based method, like what JMG uses in his Art and Practice of Geomancy.  Standardizing between geomancers on this would probably be the riskiest thing, as geomancers tend to diverge more on this detail than almost any other when it comes to the bigger correspondences of the figures.
    5. Even if one were to use Agrippa’s planetary method of assigning figures to the signs of the Zodiac, you’d run into problems with the whole “diurnal” and “nocturnal” classification that different geomancers use for the figures, which is compounded with the issue of nodal figures.  For instance, according to Agrippa, Via and Populus are both given to Cancer; Carcer and Caput Draconis are given to Capricorn; and Puer, Rubeus, and Cauda Draconis are all given to Scorpio.  I suppose you might be able to say that, given a choice, a nodal figure is more diurnal than the planets (maybe?), but how would you decide what to use for Scorpio, if both figures of Mars as well as Cauda Draconis are all lumped together?

In all honesty, given my qualms with trying to find ways to overlay planetary cycles with geomantic ones, I’m…a little despairing of the notion at this point.  The systems we have to base geomantic cycles on are either irregular or incomplete, and in all cases unsatisfactory to my mind.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I have heard that some geomancers have used the geomantic hours to good results, but I’ve also heard that some geomancers can get the methods of divination for numbers and letters to work; in other words, these are things that everyone has heard of working but nobody seems to have actually gotten to work.  And, I suppose if you don’t think about it for too long and just take it for granted, perhaps you can get the geomantic hours to work!  After all, I’ve found good results with Hugo of Santalla’s figure-mansions correspondences, even if they’re incomplete and unbalanced, without anything backing them up.  (I never denied that over-thinking can be a problem, much less a problem that I specifically have.)

Further, I’m not saying that geomantic cycles don’t exist; they very likely do, if the elements and the planets and the signs all have their cycles in their proper times.  The problem is that so much of these other cycles we see are based on fancier numbers that are either too small or infrequent (4 elements, 7 planets) or don’t evenly divide into 8 or 16 (like 12 signs, 27 letters in an alphabet), or they simply don’t match up right.  For instance, it would be possible to create a new set of geomantic hours where each figure is present in turn over a course of 16 hours, then repeat the cycle; this leads to returning to the same figure at the same hour of the day every 48 hours, starting a new cycle every third day.  This doesn’t match up well with a seven-day week, but rather a cycle of two weeks (as hypothesized above, since 14 days = 336 hours, and 336 is divisible evenly by 16).  However, such a system would break the correspondence between planets and figures because of the “drift” between cycles of 16 and 7.

So…in that line of thinking, why not rethink the notion of geomantic cycles apart from tying them to planetary ones, and start from scratch?

We’re accustomed to thinking of magical cycles in terms of seven planets, but we could just as easily construct cyclical time systems in terms of four (which can be divided four ways within it), eight (divided into two), or sixteen units.

  • Consider the synodic period of the Moon, which can be said to have eight phases: new, crescent, first quarter, gibbous, full, disseminating, third quarter, and balsamic.  We could attribute each phase two figures, and then sync the cycle to, say, the new moon (when the Sun and Moon are in conjunction) or to the first quarter moon (when the Sun sets as the Moon is directly overhead), giving a synodic month 16 geomantic “stations” each lasting about 1.85 days.
  • Those with a neopagan background are used to thinking of the year as an eight-spoked Wheel, where the year is divided by eight sabbats, which are four quarter days (equinoxes and solstices) and four cross-quarter days; each period between one sabbat and the next could be split into a geomantic “season” lasting roughly 22 or (sometimes) 23 days long.
  • Alternatively, a year of 365 days can be broken up into 22 “months” of 16 days each, leading to 352 days, meaning three or four intercalary/epagomenal days at the end of the year or spread around for, say, the quarter days.
  • Within a single day from sunrise to sunrise, we can divide the day into four segments (morning, afternoon, evening, and night) divided by the stations of the sun (sunrise, noon, sunset, midnight), and each segment can be further subdivided into four geomantic “hours”, leading to a total of 16 geomantic “hours” within a day which would, assuming a day of equal daytime and nighttime, have each “hour” equal to 90 minutes.
  • Years can be broken down into cycles of four years, every fourth year requiring a leap day; this could lend itself to a cycle of 16 years (one geomantic figure per year), or even to a cycle of 64 years (comprising 16 leap days), each of which can be used as a way to define larger-time cycles.

Such a four- or eight-fold division of time and space isn’t unheard of; we commonly reckon a year (at least in most Western Anglophone countries) as having four seasons, the Greeks broke up cycles of years into four-year Olympiads, the ancient Romans divided up the night into four watches (while using twelve hours for the daytime), and there are discussions of a Hellenistic system of astrological houses called the octotopos/octotropos system which uses eight houses instead of the usual 12, so it’s possible to dig that up and rework it to accustom a geomantic method where the number 16 could be applied to work better than mashing it onto a system where the number 7 is more prominent.  That said, finding such a system that’s thoroughly based on 4, 8, or 16 is difficult, as it’d be pretty artificial without including the moon (which repeats in patterns of 12 or 13) or whole number divisors of 360, and considering how thoroughly cultural transmission/conquering has established the 12-month year across most of the world, often obliterating and subsuming earlier systems that may not have left much of a trace.  But, again, if we’re gonna just up and make one from scratch, I suppose it doesn’t need to be grounded in extant systems, now, does it?  Even if it’s artificial, if it’s a cycle that works, such as by associating the different motions of the sun and sensations of the day with the figures, or by linking the changes in the seasons with the figures, then that’s probably the more important thing.

Unlike my older grammatomantic calendars, where the order of the letters provided a useful guide to how the system should “flow”, the geomantic figures have no such inherent order, but can be ordered any number of ways (binary numeral equivalence, element and subelement, planetary, zodiacal order by Gerard of Cremona or by Agrippa, within one of the 256 geomantic emblems, the traditional ordering of odu Ifá which we shouldn’t ever actually use because this isn’t Ifá, etc.).  Or, alternatively, new orders can be made thematically, such as a “solar order” that starts with Fortuna Maior at sunrise, continues through the figures including Fortuna Minor at sunset, and so forth.  This would be a matter of experimentation, exploration, and meditation to see what figure matches up best with what part of a cycle, if an already existing order isn’t used as a base.

I do feel a little bad at not offering a better alternative to the problem that the original poster on Facebook posed, instead just shooting it down with all my own hangups.  Over time, I’d eventually like to start building up a geomantic calendar of sorts so as to try timing things for geomantic spirits and rituals, but that’ll have to wait for another time.  Instead, going back to the original problem statement, how can we use time to come up with four Mothers?  Well, perhaps we can try this:

  1. Consider four lists of geomantic figures: binary (B), elemental (E), planetary (P), and zodiac (Z).  Pick a list you prefer; for this method, I recommend the simple binary list (Populus, Tristitia, Albus…Via).  Enumerate the figures within this list from 0 to 15.
  2. Look at the current time and date of the query being asked.
  3. Take the second (1 through 59, and if the second is 0, use 60), minute (ditto), and hour (1 through 23, and if 0, use 24).  Add together, divide by 16, and take the remainder.  This is key 1.
  4. Take the day of the year (1 through 365 or 366), divide by 16, and take the remainder.  This is key 2.
  5. Take the year, divide by 16, then take the remainder.  This is key 3.
  6. Add up all the digits of the current second, minute, hour, day, and year.  Divide this number by 16, then take the remainder.  This is key 4.
  7. For each key, obtain the corresponding Mother by finding the figure associated with the key in the list you choose.

So, for instance, say I ask a query on September 25, 2017 at 9:34:49 in the evening.  According to the method above, starting with the actual math on step #3:

  1. Since 9 p.m. is hour 21 of the day, 49 + 34 + 21 = 104.  The remainder of this after dividing by 16 is 8, so K1= 8.
  2. September 25 is day 268 of year 2017.  The remainder of 268 ÷ 16 is 12, so K2 = 12.
  3. The remainder of 2017 ÷ 16 is 1, so K3 = 1.
  4. 49 + 34 + 21 + 268 + 2017 = 2389, and the remainder of this after dividing by 16 is 5, so K4 = 5.
  5. Using the binary list, (K1, K2, K3, K4) = (8, 12, 1, 5), which yields the Mother figures Laetitia, Fortuna Minor, Tristitia, and Acquisitio.

While this is not a perfect method, since the number of days in a year is not perfectly divisible by 16, the possibilities of each figure appearing as a Mother are not exactly equal to 1/16, but the process is decent enough for pretty solid divination based on time alone.  Instead of using purely date/time-based methods, you could also use the birth information of the querent alongside the date and time of the query, use the figures for the current geomantic hour/lunar mansion/Sun sign of the Zodiac, or numerologically distill the query by counting the number of letters or words used or by using gematria/isopsephy to distill and divide the sum of the content of the query.  So, I a method like what the original poster was proposing could certainly work on strictly numerical principles alone, just not on the astrological or planetary cyclical methods proposed.

As for geomantic cycles, dear reader, what do you think?  If you were to link the geomantic figures to, say, the phases of the moon, the eight “spokes” of the neopagan Wheel of the Year, or the flow of light and darkness across a day reckoned sunrise-to-sunrise, how would you go about creating such a cycle?  Have you used the geomantic hours, and if so, have you run into the same problems I have, or have you used them with good effect, in lieu of or in addition to the normal planetary hours?

Directions of the Geomantic Figures

Recently, someone commented on one of my geomancy-related pages asking about the directions associated with the geomantic figures. I’m…actually surprised I don’t have a post written about that, and it’s a good topic, so I figured I’d oblige and discuss that briefly. Like with anything, there are more than one set of correspondences that can be used, depending on what source you’re working from or what techniques you’re using, but it’s not like that’s anything new to someone who’s familiar with the corpus of knowledge for geomancy.

Probably the most straightforward way is to associate the directions with the four elements, as given by Cornelius Agrippa (book II, chapter 7), and use the elemental rulers of the geomantic figures from that. This results in a simple association:

Direction Element Figures
East Fire Laetitia, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Amissio
South Earth Tristitia, Caput Draconis, Carcer, Fortuna Maior
West Air Rubeus, Puer, Coniunctio, Acquisitio
North Water Albus, Puella, Via, Populus

Easy enough, and this is the system I prefer to use myself. However, I know of at least one other cardinal direction association in Western literature, and this one comes from the great English geomancer Robert Fludd. Question 21 in book IV of his 1687 work Fasciculus Geomanticus talks about a method to lost or hidden objects. I have a whole post already discussing this topic, but I figured I’ll quote and translate this particular section from Fludd in full for its own sake, as it offers its own take on finding such things:

Question XXI.
Where might the lost thing lie or be hidden?

The first is given to the querent, the tenth to the thing, and the fourth to the place under consideration.

In addition, another way to know the place of the hidden thing: consider by the fourth figure in which part of the world the thing may be in. That area is divided from the East to the West [and] from the South to the North, for there the thing will be found, which the fourth figure will demonstrate. And if that area is too large for the sudden discovery of the hidden thing, it is necessary to again divide that part into four other parts, and so often it is known until what time the place may be sufficiently small for the quick discovery of the hidden thing, and the fourth figure will always be the demonstrator of the place in this manner.

Or, rather, a place is divided into four parts, namely into the East, West, South, and North. Next, look upon the fourth figure, especially of what element it might be. For if it is of the Air, this indicates the Eastern part, if of fire the South, if of Water the North, if of Earth the West. For example:

  • East: Laetitia, Acquisitio, Puer, Coniunctio ([figures of] Air)
  • South: Rubeus, Fortuna Minor, Amissio, Cauda Draconis ([figures of] Fire)
  • West: Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Tristitia, Carcer ([figures of] Earth)
  • North: Populus, Via, Amissio, Albus ([figures of] Water)

When, therefore, you find the fourth, where the thing may be found, you will make a new judgment, and similarly judge by the fourth house as before. Then, the indicated area is again divided into four equal parts; this method is repeated until the place is reduced into a small or confined space.

While Fludd’s and my elemental associations for the figures differ slightly, the idea is the same: associate the elements with the directions, and use the elemental rulers of the geomancy figures as a basis for knowing their directions. Another thing to note is his manner of associating the elements with the directions; I haven’t seen this specific manner of associating directions with the elements before, but I have written about different ways to correspond the elements with the directions and how it works for someone internally to their own system. I prefer the Agrippa-style correspondences, based on the celestial directions of the four cardinal signs of the Zodiac, but your mileage and preferences may vary. Use the system most appropriate to you.

Another similar system that we know of comes from Arabic geomancy, where we have the following diagram from Arabic MS 2697 from the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris:

Originally used as a method to find water, the idea is fundamentally the same:

  • East: Carcer, Puella, Fortuna Maior, Tristitia
  • South: Acquisitio, Caput Draconis, Rubeus, Coniunctio
  • West: Amissio, Via, Albus, Cauda Draconis
  • North: Populus, Laetitia, Puer, Fortuna Minor

According to E. Savage-Smith M. Smith in their Islamic Geomancy and a Thirteenth-Century Divinatory Device (1980), they describe the method used for this (p. 66):

… Near the location where the item is thought to be, the geomancer is told to make a tableau and then to count how many waters are in it (i.e. to count the figures having a single dot in the third rank and to multiply this number by three). If less than eight there is nothing there; otherwise, the geomancer should proceed to make a new tableau, after marking the directions of the compass on the ground. He then counts all the elements in the tableau, multiplying the number of single dots in each rank by the value of the rank [ed. note: 1 for fire, 2 for air, 3 for water, 4 for earth]. the sum is then divided by 128, the remainder divided by 16, that remainder divided by 9, and finally that remainder divided by 4. If one is left the direction is east; if two, west; if three, north; and if four south. The geomancer then faces that direction and draws a square on the ground and follows the same procedure to produce a new tableau, and the numerical process is repeated until one, two, there, or four is left. Then the geomancer looks a the Mother in the tableau which corresponds to this remainder and locates that figure in the square diagram in the manual … The corresponding position on the square which he has drawn on the ground in front of him determines where the object is. If it is buried, then the depth can be determined by knowing that the element of fire is assigned the depth of a finger, air the depth of the breadth of a hand, water the length of a cubit, and earth the length of a human body. The geomancer then looks at the figure of the Mother which was found to be the indicator, counts the ranks containing only one dot, and adds up the corresponding lengths. Then, using a certain ordering of the figures known as the “taskīn of the letters”, he finds the figure that occupies the same position in the taskīn that the Mother occupied in the tableau. He counts the ranks of that figure which contain a single dot and adds the corresponding lengths. Finally, he finds the sum of the number obtained from the Mother and the number found from the figure in the taskīn. This is the depth at which the object is located.

Definitely an interesting method of finding lost objects, especially when they might actually be buried in the desert, but again, the fundamental idea is the same as Fludd’s (if not a little more ritualized). Elsewhere in the text, Savage Smith and Smith give another association of the geomantic figures with the directions, this time based on their connections with the lunar mansions (though one that I have a hard time wrapping my head around, and which doesn’t look at all similar to the one inherited by Europe):

Direction Season Lunar Mansion Type Figure
East Spring 4 Rising Laetitia
16, 17 Setting Caput Draconis
6 Rising Acquisitio
7, 8, 9 Rising Coniunctio
South Summer 3 Setting Fortuna Minor
20 Rising Populus
5 Setting Rubeus
21 Rising Puella
West Autumn 4 Setting Tristitia
16, 17 Rising Cauda Draconis
6 Setting Amissio
14, 15 Both Carcer
North Winter 3 Rising Fortuna Maior
13 Both Via
5 Rising Albus
21 Setting Puer

Savage-Smith and Smith go on at length about this system of lunar mansions and how they relate to rising and setting along, but that’s outside the scope of the current post.

Now, in addition to all that, John Michael Greer in his Art and Practice of Geomancy (2009) gives get another set of associations, this time by associating the 16 geomantic figures with the 12 houses of the House Chart, and using the directions for each house. This uses the minor directions (e.g. east-northeast) and can give much more fine gradations in directional guidance, which is excellent for navigation:

House Direction Figure
1 E Puer, Cauda Draconis
2 ENE Fortuna Maior, Fortuna Minor
3 NNE Albus
4 N Populus, Via
5 NNW Rubeus
6 WNW Tristitia
7 W Puella, Caput Draconis
8 WSW Laetitia
9 SSW Coniunctio
10 S Carcer
11 SSE Amissio
12 ESE Acquisitio

That said, I don’t know where JMG got this set of associations from (or I forgot). At first glance, they seem tied to the planetary-zodiacal correspondence and linking the signs of the Zodiac to the houses, such that Puella is considered associated with Libra due to its association with Venus, and Libra is the seventh sign, then Puella should be given to the seventh house. Though JMG uses this planetary-zodiacal correspondence, I prefer the one given by Gerard of Cremona; again, your mileage and methods may vary. Beyond that, though, I’m not certain where this specific geomantic association came from, and it only seems very loosely tied to the planetary-zodiacal correspondences of the figures.

Hope that helps! Personally, I prefer to use the simple elemental rulerships of the figures as the key to corresponding directions with them, at least where geomancy and its symbols are considered primary. For instance, if I’m doing a ritual that uses the geomantic figures as the primary symbols I’m working with, I’ll face the direction associated with that figure’s elemental ruler; if I’m doing a geomantic reading, I’ll use that same direction in location/direction-related queries. If, however, I’m performing a ritual where the planets or zodiac signs are primary, I’ll face the direction of that celestial thing and use the geomantic figures (if I use them at all) facing that direction. Context, I suppose, is everything, but for the purposes of divination and geomantic ritual, simpler is better.

On the Arbatel’s Seal of Secrets

So as I work towards the end of a year of interesting spiritual obligations, I’m beginning to get back to some of my projects I had to put on hold about this time last year.  One of those projects is that of the works of the Arbatel, described in the eponymous text the Arbatel: of the Magic of the Ancients, a 16th century text that presents a body of very religious and devout occult wisdom and practice that famously introduce the seven Olympic spirits (Aratron, Bethor, Phaleg, Och, Hagith, Ophiel, and Phul).  However, while these spirits are fairly well-known, less understood and talked about is its Seal of Secrets and what the Arbatel actually preaches about wisdom that can be learned through occult means.  I’ve been mulling this particular diagram over the past few days, and it’s not the most straightfoward or clearly-explained thing in the text.

So, let’s start from the basics.  The Fourth Septenary of the Arbatel focuses on secrets, starting with aphorisms IV.22 and IV.23:

IV.22: We call that a secret, which no man can attain unto by humane industry without revelation; which Science lieth obscured, hidden by God in the creature; which nevertheless he doth permit to be revealed by Spirits, to a due use of the thing it self. And these secrets are either concerning things divine, natural or humane. But thou mayst examine a few, and the most select, which thou wilt commend with many more.

IV.23: Make a beginning of the nature of the secret, either by a Spirit in the form of a person, or by vertues separate, either in humane Organs, or by what manner soever the same may be effected; and this being known, require of a Spirit which knoweth that art, that he would briefly declare unto thee whatsoever that secret is: and pray unto God, that he would inspire thee with his grace, whereby thou maist bring the secret to the end thou desireth, for the praise and glory of God, and the profit of thy neighbour.

Aphorism IV.24 then lists three sets of seven secrets, classifying them into the greatest secrets, the medium secrets, and the lesser secrets, each focusing on a different kind of goal or aim ranging from the divinely sublime to the mundane and temporary.  Arbatel also says that the greatest secrets are those that “a man of an honest and constant minde may learn of the Spirits, without any offence unto God”, a qualifier not given to the other two, suggesting that the greatest secrets are the ones that are innately of God and for God and that the others are more easily inclined to lead away from truth and divine works.  In general, the secrets listed here fall more-or-less in line with the powers claimed by magicians in countless other texts: healing of all illnesses, knowing God and truth, longevity, the obedience of spirits, the transmutation of metals, excellence in all sorts of arts and sciences, and so forth.  By dividing them up into greater, middle, and lesser, however, we get a clear sense of priority from the Arbatel, encouraging us to focus more on the most beneficial, kind, and holy works and less so on the more mundane or “contemptible” ones.

Moving on to aphorism IV.27, the Arbatel then discusses a particular diagram that it calls the Seal of Secrets:

Make a Circle with a center A, which is framed by a square BCDE.  At the East let there be BC, at the North CD, at the West DE, and at the South EB. Divide the Several quadrants into seven parts, that there may be in the whole 28 parts: and let them be again divided into four parts, that there may be 112 parts of the Circle: and so many are the true secrets to be revealed. And this Circle in this manner divided, is the seal of the secrets of the world, which they draw from the onely center A, that is, from the invisible God, unto the whole creature.

This is a simple geometric construction telling us, basically, to make a circle bounded by a square, with the circle divided up into seven divisions, and each division divided further into four sections, for a total of 4 × 7 × 4 = 112 sections.  Some versions of the Arbatel include such a diagram, which I’ve reproduced below without the letters or labels but includes the division-level boundaries, but it could be technically written to be constructed in a more simple way as well with all the lines converging without inner boundary circles:

Continuing from the above, the Arbatel then begins describing the function of the divisions and sectors of the seal:

The Prince of the Oriental secrets is resident in the middle, and hath three Nobles on either side, every one whereof hath four under him, and the Prince himself hath four appertaining unto him. And in this manner the other Princes and Nobles have their quadrants of secrets, with their four secrets.

But the Oriental secret is the study of all wisdom; The West, of strength; The South, of tillage; The North, of more rigid life. So that the Eastern secrets are commended to be the best; the Meridian to be mean; and the West and North to be lesser.

(A note on the word “noble” here: Peterson in his modern translation of the Arbatel uses the word “governors” to describe these six subordinate spirits, while the original Latin uses the word “satrap”, a Persian term originally describing provincial governors but later adapted to refer to leaders who act as surrogates for larger world powers.  I adore the word “satrap”.)

The division of each direction into seven rulers, with one dominating Prince and six Governors under him, is fairly straightforward, and also that each ruler presides over four secrets unto himself.  What’s peculiar is that each direction is also given to have a quality of secret: the East for the greatest secrets, the South for the middle, and the West and North for the lesser.  Though not explicitly stated, it’s pretty much certain to me that the secrets here are meant to refer to the greater, medium, and lesser secrets given before in aphorism IV.24.  However, this seems to break the neat one-to-one regularity we would expect to see here, as we see elsewhere in the Arbatel; why should one set of secrets be given to two quadrants?  Peterson in the preface to his translation of the Arbatel says:

…[f]or symmetry, it is tempting to speculate that the seven lesser secrets listed—those of strength—are actually sought from the west, while the north secrets—those of harshness—are destructive and are not explicitly mentioned.

If Peterson is right, and I’m greatly inclined to think that he is, then that means that there are actually four sets of secrets: the greatest, the medium, the lesser, and a fourth unmentioned set of seven secrets that are focused on destruction, harm, and violence.  If the greatest secrets are those that can be learned “without any offence unto God”, while the medium and lesser secrets are more tempting to lead away from and offend God, then the unmentioned secrets are those that are most likely to veer too close or outright into what the Arbatel considers cacomagy or “evil magic”, which are doomed to offend God and should be avoided to the point where they are not even listed in the text.  The works of the lesser secrets would instead be recommended to replace those of this hypothetical unmentioned set, if only to direct the reader of the Arbatel to maintain a good life without temptation of evil.

Anyway, following this in the same aphorism, the Arbatel describes a twofold purpose of this diagram, one as a divine revelation and the other as a mere mnemonic device:

The use of this seal of secrets is, that thereby thou maist know whence the Spirits or Angels are produced, which may teach the secrets delivered unto them from God. But they have names taken from their offices and powers, according to the gift which God hath severally distributed to every one of them. One hath the power of the sword; another, of the pestilence; and another, of inflicting famine upon the people, as it is ordained by God. Some are destroyers of Cities, as those two were, who were sent to overthrow Sodom and Gomorrha, and the places adjacent, examples whereof the holy Scripture witnesseth. Some are the watch-men over Kingdoms; others the keepers of private persons; and from thence, anyone may easily form their names in his own language: so that he which will, may ask a physical Angel, mathematical, or philosophical, or an Angel of civil wisdom, or of supernatural or natural wisdom, or for any thing whatsoever; and let him ask seriously, with a great desire of his minde, and with faith and constancy and without doubt, that which he asketh he shall receive from the Father and God of all Spirits. This faith surmounteth all seals, and bringeth them into subjection to the will of man. The Characteristical maner of calling Angels succeedeth this faith, which dependeth onely on divine revelation; But without the said faith preceding it, it lieth in obscurity.

Nevertheless, if any one will use them for a memorial, and not otherwise, and as a thing simply created by God to his purpose, to which such a spiritual power or essence is bound; he may use them without any offence unto God. But let him beware, lest that he fall into idolatry, and the snares of the devil, who with his cunning sorceries, easily deceiveth the unwary. And he is not taken but onely by the finger of God, and is appointed to the service of man; so that they unwillingly serve the godly; but not without temptations and tribulations, because the commandment hath it, That he shall bruise the heel of Christ, the seed of the woman. We are therefore to exercise our selves about spiritual things, with fear and trembling, and with great reverence towards God, and to be conversant in spiritual essences with gravity and justice. And he which medleth with such things, let him beware of all levity, pride, covetousness, vanity, envy and ungodliness, unless he wil miserably perish.

In one way, the Seal of Secrets is a sort of divine cosmogram that shows how the spirits presiding over the secrets of the cosmos are produced and how they govern, with a ruling prince of spirits presiding in the center of each direction with three noble subordinate rulers on either side.  Though it has a divine purpose and origin, the Arbatel also concedes it may be used as a mnemonic device merely and only to remember how the spirits that exist apart and away from the Seal function and how they’re organized.  In either way, though, it seems that Arbatel suggests a distinct catalog of 196 secrets and their corresponding spirits.

With all that said, the Arbatel is lacking in actually explaining the deeper use or purpose of the Seal.  It’s likely because the Arbatel is essentially an incomplete work; of the nine books it describes, only the first is extant, which is what we actually call the Arbatel today, though it calls itself the Isagoge, “which in fourty and nine Aphorisms comprehendeth, the most general Precepts of the whole Art”.  To me, the Arbatel raises more questions about the Seal and the secrets it describes than it answers.  So, what’s the deal with dividing the Seal up in the way that it does?  What first came to my mind was to compare the 4 × 7 = 28 divisions of the circle in the Seal of Secrets to the 28 Mansions of the Moon that survive in Western magic, as given by the Picatrix and Agrippa:

However, despite the use of 28 divisions, I don’t think there’s actually a connection (though I’d like there to be).  The 28 Mansions start with Alnath at 0° Aries, which is exactly celestial east.  However, the eastern quadrant of the Seal doesn’t have a well-defined “start”, and given the lack of elaboration in the text as well as the construction of the Seal itself, it would seem that the corresponding eastern point would fall smack-dab in the middle of the central division of the eastern quadrant, the seat of the Prince of Wisdom in the East according to the Seal of Secrets.  That doesn’t seem to lend itself well to associating each ruler of secrets to a single Mansion of the Moon.

That said, we do know that each Mansion of the Moon is given to a particular set of talismans, works, and properties that are used in astrology and astrological magic, each with its own presiding angel.  If we can’t allocate the 4 × 7 = 28 rulers of secrets into the Mansions of the Moons, what about the 7 × 4 = 28 secrets they rule over themselves within a single quadrant?  It could be conceived that each of the secrets ruled over by a direction’s Prince and six Governors could be allocated to a single Mansion of the Moon, giving us more insight into what each of those secrets could be, recalibrated for each direction and its corresponding kind of secret: thus, the rightmost secret of the Prince of Wisdom in the East would be given to the same Mansion (13, Alhaire) as would the same secret of the other Princes, but with Alhaire directed to Wisdom in one instance or to Strength in another, depending on the Prince being worked with.

While this is reasonable, I also don’t find it likely.  While I’m no expert on Paracelsus (who was either a large influence on the Arbatel or who founded the overall school and body of work the Arbatel builds upon within Renaissance Hermeticism) and given that much of his work is lost, I don’t think the Mansions of the Moon would have figured prominently in his or derivative works, so any actual association between the Mansions of the Moon and the rulers of secrets or the secrets themselves based only on the fact that they share the number 28 is tenuous at best; indeed, Peterson doesn’t even mention it in his version of the Arbatel.  That said, I’m still investigating that with the help of friends who are more well-versed in Paracelsian stuff than I am.  However, given that the lunar mansions weren’t really that important a topic in Western astrology or astrological magic since their introduction in the 12th century, I’m not holding my breath for such a connection.

Still, there’s another way to consider how to understand what the multitude of secrets are and their nature.  Consider how the text associates the directions with the four types and four sets of secrets, including Peterson’s hypothetical “unmentioned” set for the North and “a more rigid life”:

Secret Set
East Wisdom Greatest
South Tillage Middle
West Strength Lesser
North Harshness Unmentioned

Something to note is that the strength of the secrets—greatest to lesser and then to unmentionable—follow the path and light of the Sun, which rises in the East, culminates in the South, and sets in the West (at least from the point of view of an observer in the Northern Hemisphere, which makes sense for a book published in Switzerland during the Renaissance).  We know, from aphorism III.21, that the first hour of the day (sunrise) is the most appropriate time to conjure the Olympic spirits, and would be considered the strongest time of day; thus, the East is given the greatest secrets, and the strength descends from there as the Sun’s light grows older.  However, the Sun only rises at (more or less, accounting for time of year) due east, though the eastern quadrant of the Seal of Secrets covers the area from the northeast to the southeast.  If we associate due east with proper sunrise, then this means the three governors to the north of the Prince in the East are about the dawn, the time of early morning when the sky begins to brighten but before the Sun rises.  Likewise, the Prince in the West would be given to sunset, and the governors to the north of that Prince are dusk, the time of evening after the Sun sets but while the sky still has some light in it.  This means that the Prince of the South would be given to high noon, and the Prince of the North to midnight.  Note how the three sets of secrets listed explicitly in the Arbatel are then associated with the times of day when it’s light outside; the dark period of the night, after dusk and before dawn, would then be given to the unmentioned set of secrets.  This spatial-temporal reckoning of daylight with the secrets makes sense, at least to me, such that the secrets that should be revealed are made so by the light of the Sun, and those that shouldn’t remain occluded by the dark of the night when the Sun’s light is gone from the sky, in addition to the usual connections between darkness, nighttime, evil, wickedness, and so on.

Even still, though, there’s much about this Seal that remains unexplained, especially when considered alongside the system of the seven Olympic spirits in the text.  For instance:

  1. Do the four quarters of the Seal have a connection to the four elements that we’d normally see based on their connections to the directions?  If so, can we make use of those connections within the system of secrets within the Arbatel?
  2. Do the seven rulers within a quarter have any connection to the seven planets, or do there just happen to be seven for an unrelated reason?  If there is a planetary connection, which of the seven planets would be the prince of the direction, and who would be the governors under him, and in what order?
  3. Should we consider the seven Olympic spirits to “have their place” among the spirits in the Seal of Secrets, or should we consider a distinct Seal of Secrets for each planet, such that each of the seven planets have their own set of greatest, medium, lesser, and unmentioned secrets?
  4. Are the spirits described in the Seal of Secrets to be conjured alongside or independently of the Olympic spirits?  If so, then what is the purpose of the Olympic spirits within the system of secrets described in the Arbatel?  If not, then again, what’s the connection between the prince/rulers within a direction (or across all four directions) with the planets and their Olympic spirits?
  5. Do the seven rulers each have their own take on the seven secrets associated with that direction, or is it one of the secrets within the set per ruler?  If the former, what distinguishes the specific rulers’ takes on each secret, and do they have other providences, perhaps by relating to the other systems of magic described at the beginning of the Arbatel?  Or, alternatively for the former, are the four secrets under each ruler unrelated and given in addition to the big secrets given within the set associated with the direction?  If the latter, does this actually mean that there are four approaches to each secret within a set given by the Arbatel?
  6. What does the Arbatel mean when it says that the secrets of the South are for “tillage” or “culture”, referring to agriculture or cultivation, and how does this actually relate to the middle secrets which are more associated with the results described in books like the Liber Juratus or Ars Notoria?
  7. What does the Arbatel mean when it says that the secrets of the West are for “strength”, when the lesser secrets are more associated with mundane affairs and success in worldly matters?
  8. If Peterson is right and there is a fourth unmentioned category of secrets, the unmentioned ones for the North, how do they relate to “a rigid life”, and what are they?  If he’s wrong and the lesser secrets really are allocated to both the West and the North, then what distinguishes their spirits and the secrets they rule over?

Some of these questions might have answers based on other hints elsewhere in the Arbatel.  For instance, at the end of aphorism III.17 which contains the information about the seven Olympic spirits, there are the “most general precepts of this secret”; the fourth precept here says that “in all the elements there are the seven Governours with their hosts”, suggesting that the Olympic spirits or the planets they preside over are present in each of the four elements, and thus in the four directions, and that that there is some connection between the seven rulers in each direction and the seven planets with their Olympic spirits.  Later, in the invocation of the Olympic spirits given in aphorism III.21, there’s the statement “…beseech thee that thou wouldst send thy Spirit N.N. of the solar order…”, which indicates that there are multiple spirits of the Sun that can be worked with, not just Och which is the only named solar spirit given in the Arbatel; otherwise, why make the name general but the order definite here as an example?  This may suggest that while Och presides over all works of the Sun, there could be four rulers of secrets set under Och (one for each direction and set of secrets).  As for the fourfold division of secrets under each ruler of secrets in the Seal, note that aphorism VII.49 lists four kinds of good sciences: knowledge of the word of God, knowledge of the government of God through his angels, knowledge of natural things, and wisdom in humane things; these might be hints as to the ways a secret may be known or effected, though since this doesn’t mirror exactly the corresponding evil sciences, this might not necessarily be the case (though a case could be made for this, since even though there are seven evil sciences given, three of these are more states of manners of practice rather than actual works of science, so there could be still four corresponding evil sciences to match the four for the good ones).

Of course, all the above must be understood knowing that I haven’t yet worked with the Olympic spirits themselves, but in the near future, I plan to make that one of my big project priorities.  Perhaps that will help shed some more light on the secrets hidden yet within the Arbatel.