On Shrine-hoarding

I’m starting to slowly get back into my temple again for small tasks, hopefully leading up to bigger ones in the future (time and energy permitting, of course, and with the usual caveat that I need to spend my time and energy wisely between work, religion, home, friends, and the like).  As I mentioned in the last post, I’m slowly going through some of the stuff I have, either things I’ve procured or things I’ve made, and am putting some of them up on my Etsy store for others to buy and, hopefully, use in their own works.  Old woodburned placards, prayer beads, necklaces, altar supplies, even some stones and the like are things I’m putting up because…well, let’s be honest, I don’t need them.  I like them plenty, but most of these things aren’t things I’ll miss if I get rid of them.  The really important, vital, or precious stuff is going to stay mine and stay used, but then again, that’s the distinction, isn’t it?  If I use it, or if I know that I actually will use it, then it stays; if not, then it goes.

There’s a difference between stockpiling supplies for future use and simply hoarding stuff.  Raw supplies, stones, dirts, herbs, bones, beads, resins, and the like are all ingredients towards the Work that can be used in any number of ways; those are things that I can always use more of, even if I’m not running low or using at the moment, because they can come in use at the drop of a hat.  Those are things that we should all endeavor to hoard, absolutely, and use as needed.  The other stuff, on the other hand…spare crystal balls, unconsecrated statuary, beaded or otherwise handmade crafts meant for tools but never used for anything more than decoration, or other things that were made for a purpose but never really fulfilled it according to my desires, all those are things that I really have no desire to hold onto except for the sake of sentimentality or beautification.

One of the major hurdles in getting back to my temple work is that, in the…seven or so years I had to set it up, I amassed quite a bit of stuff.  Not a household’s worth, by any means, but I have shrines for the seven archangels, the Virgin Mary, my own guardian angel, the Three Kings, Hermes, Apollo with Asklepios with Dionysos, Aphrodite with Hephaistos, Saint Expedite, and Saints Cyprian, Justina, and Theocistus.  I have a small shrine to Hestia in the living room, and Demeter lives outside.  I have altars for my work for my conjuration/planetary stuff as well as my Mathesis work, and a more recent shrine to the planetary divinity of Saturn.  And all those are things I’ve kept; there are a handful of shrines or altars or other special working areas I’ve set up before and took them down either due to them having completed their purpose or things just not working out how I had planned or wanted.  And then there’s my initiation into La Regla de Ocha Lukumí (aka Santería), where I have a bevy of orisha shrines to maintain and work with (and which I’m marked to receive even more).  If I didn’t have a full-time job with a nontrivial commute, I could swing the determination and discipline to maintain all of these shrines and altars and work, but…I do have a full-time job with a nontrivial commute, and I don’t have the time.   Quite honestly (and it hurts to admit this), all the shrines I have is more than I can actually handle to maintain or keep up with.

To clarify some of my thoughts, let’s start with a bit of a distinction.  For me, an altar is essentially a working space, not meant for worship or veneration as much as actual spiritual or magical works to be done.  Conjuration of spirits, consecration of items, sacrifice of something, establishing crystal/energetic grids, those are all things apt and appropriate for an altar.  I only really have two of those, and while I like to keep them set up and ready to go, I can collapse them and set them up again or change them as needed and as desired.  Then there are shrines, which are meant for the veneration of spirits, gods, saints, or other divinities; shrines serve as a sacred seat or home for a spirit, in my mind, and are a physical representation of the relationship one has with them.  In that sense, for me to evaluate the meaning and need of a shrine is to evaluate the meaning and need of the relationship itself with the spirit of the shrine.  And that itself requires dialog with those spirits, recalling what pacts and vows one has with them, respect for and from those spirits, and honesty with oneself.

This is where my distinction between auturgic and lineage-based work comes into play.  Lineage is easy: you sign up for a specific relationship with a spirit, you’re given a set of terms and conditions to follow, you’re handed the powers and tools you need from your initiator, and boom, you’re set.  Just follow the vows you’ve signed up for, over which you have no say in except to say “yea” or “nay”, and you’re good.  Auturgy, on the other hand, is both easier and much more difficult: you establish your own parameters, vows, pacts, and agreements, and you determine how things work; you need to build your own tools and power and relationships, which can’t be handed to you because there’s nobody to hand them to you.  Most of my work is auturgic in that sense; I’ve built my shrines, I’ve consecrated my statues and talismans, I’ve set up my own protocols and rhythms of prayer and sacrifice for these spirits, and so I have say in how and when and whether these shrines should be established.  On the other hand, my Santería work is lineage-based, so I can’t just up and give Oshún a metal case to live in because I think it’d be more convenient for me; Oshún has what Oshún is supposed to have, what she wants, and what I’m obliged to give her.  More than that, I can’t ignore or just not work with my orisha, as that’d go against the agreements I signed up for with them; I don’t have say in those pacts, and to ignore them is to violate them.  That’s one of the costs—and strengths—of lineage.

But for the shrines (and relationships) that are of my own desire and design…well, there’s the hard choice of whether I want to keep them around, and if so, what really needs to stay on them.  I’ve taken down shrines before; for instance, once upon a time I wanted to set up a shrine to Hades and Persephone as part of a Hellenic approach to working with the spirits of the dead.  It never really got off the ground, even though I had all the supplies and niche set up and everything, so down it went into a box (and, if you’re interested, I still have the unconsecrated Hades statue and offering bowl, in case anyone ever wants to buy it off me).  Then there’s an erstwhile tronco I set up to begin initial work with Quimbanda spirits; I was able to make contact, such as it was, once I had my consulta, but…I never really got anywhere with that, and I didn’t have much of a purpose to work with them given the other works I had going on, and so I worked with them to disassemble the baby-tronco I had and to dispose of their implements in a way they directed and agreed to.  Point is, I’m not ashamed to acknowledge the decline or absence of a sufficiently necessary or stable spiritual relationship to where a shrine is no longer needed, and carry that through.  But, just because I’m not ashamed, doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad about it; sometimes I feel like I failed in maintaining my agreements and plans, and other times I feel bad because I realize that the designs and purposes I had in developing something didn’t turn out the way I hoped for and have to accept that keeping a shrine set up without maintaining it isn’t doing me or the spirit any favors.  I have a few such shrines at home that I really need to talk with to see about just that.

But even then, even for the shrines that I do want to keep set up, there’s the notion of clutter and hoarding things.  I’ve seen some beautiful shrines by other occultists and priests online, and some even in person, where there are these beautiful, intricate, elaborate setups girded by chains and beads and all sorts of everything.  You know, the highly Instagrammable/Facebook viral share-worthy pictures, the ones that are actually done up in real life and not just a temporary setup for a shadow-cloaked shot in the light of a single candle’s flame.  I love the aesthetic, but…I’ve come to realize that I have neither the space nor the means to actually do that for myself, but more than that, I’ve come to realize it’s not my style, either.  I’ve decked out some of my shrines in the past, but I don’t need to live in a city of multiple Parthenons, where each shrine’s district is filled like a forest with votive offerings or whatnot.  Especially with the influence of Santería now, I see the simple elegance of just giving what’s enough and what’s needed for a shrine.  If a particular implement is needed for the functioning of the shrine or the use of the spirit within, by all means, give it!  But decorating it like a Mardi Gras parade and accumulating everything under heaven that even has a shadow of a tangential relationship to that spirit for the sake of having it be pretty is…well, it ends up collecting more dust than it’s worth.

A shrine doesn’t need much to be effective: an image or physical representation of the spirit, maybe a place to set lights or incense, maybe some implements or tools directly associated with them that one has a strong feeling (if not an explicit or confirmed directive) to provide, perhaps some supplies to be left in the care of the spirit until it can be used in workings with or without them.  Space is at a premium, after all, in my temple room and house, and a shrine doesn’t often need that much space.  Barring specific protocols or vows, anything else is probably just decoration for the sake of the devotee and not the divine.  To accumulate more and more of those latter accouterments is just…hoarding.  Having more shrines than you need is likewise hoarding.  Both of which eventually become a burden, both to maintain the cleanliness of even a single shrine as well as to maintain your relationships with those spirits, and unless you’re actually getting something out of that arrangement, perhaps it might be better to cut back, both on the shrines as well as the stuff within them.  After all, you don’t need to be a dragon to be a devotee, and we’re not often worshiping dragons that demand devotional donations.  (Of course, if you are, then different rules apply.)

That’s one of the reasons why I’m going through my temple and cutting back both on the shrines and the stuff within them.  If I’m not maintaining a relationship with a spirit, or if that spirit isn’t maintaining a relationship with me, then there’s no real need for a shrine; it’d be best to disassemble it respectfully and confer with the spirit on how and where their sacred things should be disposed of, or if they can be given to another to care for them.  (Yes, Justice, I’m aware, and I haven’t forgotten, forgive me my lateness!)  If the spirit still wants to stay and I don’t want to maintain the shrine, then an agreement can likely be brokered to pare down the shrine to a minimum, shrink it, or hold onto something to make a temporary shrine with later as needed; temporary shrines, set up on unused or other working tables, are a great way to carry out devotional work every once in a while that aren’t otherwise a full-time thing.  Otherwise, if the shrine really is to stay as a permanent installation, then I’d go through all the things on it, see what’s not necessary or essential to the shrine, and consult with the spirit on how and where to dispose of the other things that they’re okay with parting with, whether it should just be thrown out respectfully, sold, given as a gift, or used for another purpose.  It depends, and it’s a careful, sometimes heart-scouring process, but a necessary one that I need to go through.  There are some things I want to get rid of, honestly, but the spirits are adamant I keep, whether for their own use or for my own in working with them, and it requires honesty and openness to be aware of these things.

I suppose that clearing out my temple room (and the other sacred spaces in my house more generally), taking a thorough account of my spiritual relationships with my courts and pantheons, and seeing what I really need for my Work is the first step to really getting back to working with them all.  After all, I can’t go into my temple for single-minded work if I dread walking in due to all the reminders of the missed offerings, forgotten festivals, and dust gathered on them distracting me for the purpose I walked in for.  If I don’t want to be distracted, then I need to fix the distractions, and in order to do that, I need to fix my shrine situation accordingly in a way that is best for both me and them.  Only then can I be really sure about my Work, my physical and spiritual spaces, and my spirits and the relationships I have with them.  And, hey, in the process, if I uncover any goodies that I don’t need or want anymore, someone else might be lucky enough to get them for something they need or want.  Besides, I have future projects I want to plan, and should any of those require shrines or a permanent installation of some sort…well, I’ll have to evaluate if I need to give anything else up to make the time, energy, and space for it, and whether I really need to go down that route, if nothing else will do.

If you’re facing a similar situation, then it might be well for you to do a similar disassembly and decluttering of shrines and shrine stuff.  We can’t all be full-time priests tending to and taking care of all these temples of our own design; with our limited time and energy, we can only take care of what we must and what we really need to.  Be honest with yourself, and be honest with your spirits.  If you need to limit your practice to just one or two things, then let your temple or sacred spaces look and function accordingly.  Hoarding shrines may make us look cool and hardcore, but as many occultists learn at some point, we’re in this for more than just looking cool.  If you can manage that while also getting the Work done, awesome!  If not, then simplify and focus on the Work.  They say, after all, that simplicity is the highest form of elegance; some people, like myself, could do with taking that to heart.

Geomancy and Quintessence

I didn’t think I’d ever have to write a post on this particular topic, as I thought it was so obvious as to go without explanation.  However, as usual, the good people of the Internet have proved me wrong, and I’ve noticed a trend in my search hits that have prompted this post.  Uncharacteristically, it’ll be a short post, since there’s really not much to explain, but here goes:

The system of geomancy is incompatible with the notion of a fifth element, also called the quintessence or the force of Spirit.

That’s all.

It’s evident from the get-go that geomancy uses and relies on the four classical elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.  The structure of the geomantic figures themselves lend themselves well to this: a geomantic figure has four rows of either one or two dots, each row associated with a particular element, with one dot signifying that element as active or present and two dots signifying that it’s passive or absent.  The binary structure of geomancy, in addition, relies upon the exponentials of two, so 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.  This allows for four elements, not five, as five has no place in this system.  Going further, if you want to bring astrology into this, astrology likewise relies on four, not five, elements, just as it relies on twelve, not thirteen, signs of the Zodiac.  (No, Ophiuchus is not a zodiac sign.  Get over it.)

I’ve seen a trend of Tarot decks that have five suits instead of the traditional four, with the fifth suit dedicated to the force of Spirit.  I’ve also seen people try to incorporate a fifth element into systems that have no room or need for one, and geomancy is one such system.  It does not belong, especially as Spirit is not an element by nearly all forms of Hermetic reckoning, Golden Dawn material and derivatives notwithstanding.

I will certainly agree that Spirit is a force, absolutely, in the same sense that the elements and planets are forces, but I will not go further than that.  Spirit is something that is either or underlying all the other forces, a kind of ideal form of a force, or it is something that is lower than a planetary force and higher than an elemental force, something that separates the Spheres of the Elements from the Spheres of the Planets and Stars.  Yes, one can work with the force of the quintessence directly, although it is a different type of working than an elemental or planetary one, and its effects are realized through other forces that are already present; I’ve found that workings involving pure quintessential force magnify the other forces pertinent to a talisman, conjuration, or the like, but is nothing on its own in isolation from others.  This is a mystery that leads to very divine workings, yes, but in terms of manifestation magic or most Hermetic workings, Spirit isn’t a thing.  It’s not mentioned in Solomonic writings or the PGM or any number of other texts, including astrological and geomantic ones, because it’s not a thing like the other forces.

Okay, ending my curmudgeonly rant for the day.  Carry on.

You probably stink. Take a bath.

(Update 1/10/2018: Interested in more about this ritual?  Check out my more polished, fleshed-out writeup over on this page!)

Towards the end of last year, I visited some friends up in New England, one of whom is a Tata Quimbanda, or a Quimbandero priest.  It was fascinating to see how he worked, and the tradition of Quimbanda (about which I knew next to nothing beforehand) suddenly struck me as something potentially useful and interesting; I’ve since been reading about it and getting started in my own little layman way to build a relationship with the spirits I’ve been recommended to work with, my personal Exu and Pomba Gira and a few other spirits that go along with them.  This was all found out by means of a consulta, basically a Quimbanda check-up that determines what’s going on.  From what I noticed, they use the same divination system as in Palo or in Santeria with four shells, chamalongos, so I was able to keep up with what was going on despite the frequent use of Kikongo and Portuguese in prayers.  Thing was, pretty much every answer came up the same, the one that means “ask again”.  Usually when this happens, it means that there’s a lot of resistance or blockages in the situation, and the consulta was finished with the tata going “baths baths baths baths baths baths baths”.

So, clearly, I needed a bath.  Lots of them, actually.

According to the consulta, I have a bit of an infestation of kiumbas, which can be thought of as spiritual leeches or obsessive manes from the Roman tradition.  This happens, largely, when one isn’t cleaning off properly over a period of time and you get so spiritually icky that the ick starts to coalesce and latch onto you, or when you get into a dirty situation and don’t clean off immediately to get rid of the dirt.  And, truth be told, I haven’t been banishing a lot lately; I’ve been taking a daily ablution before the gods as all I usually need with the very occasional angelic banishing ritual I picked up from Fr. Rufus Opus years ago.  I do make a habit of washing off with a few things, like Florida water, after visiting graveyards or hospitals (which I’ve recently found out is a rule I should be following regardless), but beyond that, I generally don’t do a lot of deep and thorough cleansing.  I thought I didn’t need to, and I was wrong.

The tata had said that this is actually a common thing with a lot of ceremonial magicians as a part of the work we do.  Our main line of working involves working with spirits in different planes, notably conjuring spirits below (demons and shades) and spirits above (angels and planetaries), as well as spirits of this plane (elementals).  Kiumbas don’t necessarily belong to souls of the dead, but of any plane and of any type; they’re like aggregations of ick, and every plane has its own kind of ick.  Crossing the planes, calling down various forces, and the like brings down a lot more than just the spirit we’ve called, I’ve come to find, and over time they stick without proper banishing and cleansing, and calling down those same forces to get rid of the stuff they’re familiar with sometimes doesn’t do as thorough a job as they’re held to do.  They get rid of most of it, but not all of it.

And, honestly, I’ve noticed that since my jaunt to nine different graveyards in one night without properly cleaning off afterwards, several spiritual parties, a few workings here and there, and the like done clustered together last year, my practice and life has generally gotten “stuck”.  Problems were slow and subtle, but getting bigger without my conscious knowledge of it.  I found myself having less and less time for practice and more and more time for vain, petty shit.  At one point, a small detail blew up into almost a nervous breakdown for me, opening up a Pandora’s box of emotional baggage I thought I had chained and buried years ago.  So…yeah, I probably needed a bath to fix all that shit up.

To that end, I was recommended to start taking lots of spiritual baths and to keep taking them periodically.  Honestly, this is something I should have been doing all along, but before this consulta I had only taken one or two spiritual baths since I started practicing the occult back in 2011.  So, starting at the beginning of January, I dusted off my notes and combined mine with the herbs and recommendations from the tata, and begun a series of baths that will last me through the rest of January and which I’ll do at least once a month from here on out.

The manner of a spiritual bath I use involves repeated immersions in consecrated water designed to cleanse your body and spirit in combination with praying the Seven Penitential Psalms.  The whole process takes an hour to do at most, so be sure you can have that amount of time alone to yourself without being disturbed.

  • A tub full of hot water
  • A glass of holy water
  • A consecrated candle
  • A Bible (preferably a cheap one)
  • Holy oil or Abramelin oil
  • A clean white or lightly-colored towel
  • Clean white clothes
  • Optionally, some Florida water or Kölnisch Wasser and/or Van Van oil
  • Optionally, holy incense like frankincense
  • Optionally, an herbal wash prepared in a large bowl

The procedure:

  1. Before drawing the bath, take a shower first.  Be thorough and wash every part of your body, including the anus and feet.  Use shampoo, soap, body wash, or whatever you prefer, but be thorough.  Dry off as normal, preferably with an older towel or another cloth that isn’t the white towel.
  2. Draw the tub full of hot water.  While it’s filling, brush and floss your teeth, clean out your ears, and whatever personal hygiene activities you normally do.  If you choose, add in a few drops of Van Van oil and a small amount of Florida water or Kölnisch Wasser into the tub as it fills.  Also, if you want to finish the bath with an herbal wash, prepare it now in a bowl set aside with hot water.
  3. Set the candle somewhere above the tub in the bathroom.  Light it and consecrate the flame.  If you choose, light some incense and do the same.
  4. Take the glass of holy water (a shotglass will suffice) and pray over the water, pouring the holy water into the tub in a cross formation.  Pray the Our Father, Glory Be, and Hail Mary over the tub of water.
  5. Step into the tub and begin soaking in it.  Let your skin get used to the heat first before continuing.
  6. Immerse yourself completely in the water.  If you’re big and have a small tub, this may take several repositionings of the body and at least one dunk of the head.
  7. Pray the Asperges Me.  Before crossing yourself, take a handful of water so that you wash yourself with the tubwater as you cross yourself.
  8. Say slowly and firmly the first Penitential Psalm (Ps. 6) from the heart.  Use the copy of the Bible, but be sure not to drop it or get it wet in the water.
  9. Pray the Our Father, Glory Be, and Hail Mary.  Like before, before crossing yourself, take a handful of water so that you wash yourself with the tubwater as you cross yourself.
  10. Silently recount why you’re taking this bath: whatever transgressions you have done, whatever bad situations you have found yourself in, the problems in your life that have arisen, all the spiritual ick on your body, soul, spirit and mind.  Let them go into the water, dissolving into nothing while leaving you and your sphere clean.
  11. Repeat steps 7 through 10 for each of the other Pentitential Psalms (Pss. 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143).
  12. Stand up and begin draining the tub.  Pray from the heart that you be clean and cleansed in body, soul, spirit, and mind and freed from all pain, plague, poison, illness, injury, infirmity, death, disease, and defilement, and that you be made pure and perfect despite of and because of your imperfections.
  13. If you chose to make an herbal wash, get the bowl and pray over it that it accomplish whatever it is you want to accomplish with it (cleansing, empowerment, defense, etc.).  Pour it over your head slowly so that some liquid runs down the front of your body and some runs down the back, repeating the prayer the whole time.  With your hands, wash yourself from top to bottom with the wash, not forgetting the more sensitive and hard-to-reach parts of your body.
  14. Air dry from the bath.  Take the white towel and put it on the ground, in front of a fan or heater is ideal, and sit on it until you’re sufficiently air-dried.  If you can’t afford the time for this, dry off with the towel from the neck down, leaving the head to air-dry.
  15. Put on the clean, white clothes.  Take the holy oil and cross yourself on the forehead and back of the neck, praying Psalm 23.  This “seals in” the effect of the bath and insulates yourself a bit from external things until the effects of the bath are completely settled into your sphere.

That’s basically my procedure for taking a spiritual bath.  Yes, it’s a little long, and I do get a little faint from spending that much time in a hottub constantly praying and reimmersing myself, but it works.  The mental clarity and stability I have afterwards is hard to obtain in other ways, and it’s such a dramatic shift that for the first few baths I felt physically like shit but mentally awesome and brilliant.  Be careful if you have any medical condition that prevents you from spending so much time in a hot bath; adjust the heat if you need to.

Mathetic Analysis of Agrippa, the Elements, and the Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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