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.


Search Term Shoot Back, September 2015

I get a lot of hits on my blog from across the realm of the Internet, many of which are from links on Facebook, Twitter, or RSS readers.  To you guys who follow me: thank you!  You give me many happies.  However, I also get a huge number of new visitors daily to my blog from people who search around the Internet for various search terms.  As part of a monthly project, here are some short replies to some of the search terms people have used to arrive here at the Digital Ambler.  This focuses on some search terms that caught my eye during the month of September 2015.

“what are the corresponding planet of each mansion of the moon” — In the system I learned it (I’m unsure if there are others), there are 28 lunar mansions that cover the 360° of the Zodiac.  The first lunar mansion starts at 0° Aries, and is given to the Sun.  From there, the lunar mansions are given to the planets in the weekday order: Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn.  Since there are 28 mansions and 7 planets, this cycle repeats four times, so that the Sun begins at the same zodiacal position that the cardinal signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn) do.

Planetary attributions of the Lunar Mansions

“the seven days conjuration” — A conjuration done over seven days, a period where you do seven conjurations in seven days, what?  Be a little more specific.  There are works like Pietro d’Abano’s Heptameron, literally meaning “a period of seven days”, referring to the planetary conjurations one can best perform on each of the seven days of the week; we find a similar text in the Munich Manual.  Alternatively, you could do the usual conjuration ritual, such as Trithemius’ rite, and conjure each of the seven planetary angels on your own across the seven days of the week; this is the basis for Fr. Rufus Opus’ Seven Spheres book, and his occasional project Seven Spheres in Seven Days.  It can get a little rough, especially with a crazy mundane schedule, but it’s worth it.

“which month,day and hour is the spirit of jupiter” — It…this doesn’t, I can’t.  Unless you’re talking about a particular zeitgeist, the spirit of Jupiter abides as long as the planet and its planetary sphere does, so…yeah.  The spirit of Jupiter can always be contacted regardless of the time, but there are some times that are better than others, and for this we use the system of planetary days and hours.  For instance, the planetary day of Jupiter is Thursday, and there are planetary hours of Jupiter scattered regularly throughout the week, so if you can get something set up on a planetary day and hour of Jupiter, it’ll be all the better.  As for months, this gets a little less regular.  Our system of months tracks the procession of the Sun through the Zodiac, more or less, but we don’t care about the Sun as much as we care about Jupiter, so we’d like to know when Jupiter is particularly strong in the Zodiac.  This can get into a whole talk about electional astrology, which is beyond the scope of this entry, but suffice it to say that you should check an ephemeris and read up on William Lilly’s books to figure out when Jupiter itself will be powerful.

“can you give back eleke” — First off, I don’t know why I keep getting hits on Santeria stuff on this blog, as it’s hardly ever germane to the usual stuff that goes on.  But…so, from what I gather, receiving your elekes is a ritual available to anyone with a godparent in Santeria, and is one of the important steps one takes in the process of initiation into the priesthood.  These are like your formal introductions to the orisha of those elekes, and…I have a hard time understanding why you’d want to give them back.  They’re yours, and yours alone.  Giving them back or intentionally losing them seems, to my mind, like a massive slap in the face to the orisha to whom you’ve been introduced.  If you didn’t want elekes, unless you were only a child without agency when you received them, then you shouldn’t have gone through the ritual to get them, but…I mean, hey, it’s your life.  They won’t interfere with anything, but if you don’t even want that much, go ahead.

“hermeticism homosexuality” — Bear in mind that the idea of homosexuality (yes, the mere concept of it) is recent, dating back only to the 1800s.  There is nothing ancient about homosexuality as a concept, and while we may read homosexuality into older works or storied relationships, it is folly to think that ancient peoples may have thought of themselves as inherently preferring one sex/gender to the other.  Sexuality was something that one did, not what one was (much like the guys who claim straightness but keep hooking up with dudes on Craigslist, no homo).  As a philosophy or branch of occult fields, there is nothing prohibiting or encouraging homosexuality in Hermeticism; depending on the context, homosexuality can be as much a hindrance or a help as much as heterosexuality is, and both same-gender sex as well as different-gender sex have their place.  Are they interchangeable?  I’m not convinced one way or the other on that, but I can’t see why they wouldn’t necessarily be, even though they may have different mechanics physically and spiritually.

“hermetic laws on gender and transgender people” — Like with the above search term, there’s no real connection or law that connects the occult philosophy of Hermeticism to things like gender, especially modern notions of gender that go beyond the simple gender binary that has stuck around humanity for thousands of years.  And no, although the Kybalion talks about the “laws of polarity” or gender or whatnot, that shoddy text is distinctly not Hermetic, and should not be considered as such for this topic.  For everything I’ve seen that matters in Hermetic magic, what gender you identify as does not matter, nor does the sex your body has.  If a specific item or body part is called for from a particular sex of a human, animal, or plant, I think it’s better to use that particular sex rather than think that the sexes are completely interchangeable; just as straight sex and gay sex have different powers, so too (as I see it) do male and female bodies.  Still, from the perspective of who can or can’t do magic, gender has no role to play in it.

“mercury as a cock with a human head” — Usually, in the Mediterranean, we find humanoid bodies with animal heads, like those of Egypt.  The Greeks tended to frown on these zoocephalic gods, preferring their strictly anthrophomorphic gods like Apollo or Serapis.  However, even with some of the more bizarre gods, like the human-torsoed cock-headed snake-legged Abrasax, we tend to find that the body is human and the head is animalian.  I know of no representation of a rooster with a human head as a representation of Mercury or Hermes, but perhaps you mean a phallus?  In which case, the word you’re thinking of is “herm“.

“massive cock painting” — I prefer photographs, myself, and I prefer GIFs more than those.  There’s a whole subreddit for that, too, you know!  I’d link to it, except that I’m writing this post at work, and….yeah.

“fuck a golem jod he vau he” — Please don’t fuck a golem.  The only way to turn a golem off is to kill it, at which point you turn sexy-divine lithokinesis into necrogeophilia, and that gets really weird.

“is using corse salt for protection godly or not?” — Well, you won’t find circles of salt described in the Bible, to be sure, but then, neither will you find lots of what the Catholic Church does, either.  That said, the Church uses salt in its consecration of holy water, as there’s some virtue in salt that helps to sanctify or cleanse stuff spiritually.  Plus, it has lots of use dating back hundreds of years, if not millennia, as a means of protection from spiritual harm.  It’s up to you to judge how godly that may be, but I’m on the side that it’s quite alright to do so.

“what happens if i summon spirits good” — You did it!  You summoned a spirit.  Congratulations!  Now, I hope you thought this part out, but…why did you summon a spirit?  To what end?  Anyone can pick up a phone and call a number; what’re you going to talk about?  What will you ask for?  That’s the real part of summoning that nobody seems to think about ahead of time, and the whole point of the act.  Why bother establishing contact with a spirit if you have nothing to talk about?

“symbols on solomons wand” — In book II, chapter 8 of the Key of Solomon, we find described the method to create the Wand and Staff, which involves inscribing the symbols from the Key onto the wand in the day and hour of Mercury.  Joseph Peterson on his Esoteric Archives gives a lot of Hermetic wand lore, and in his notes on the Key of Solomon, he believes that the symbols from the Key are nothing more than corrupted Hebrew for “AGLA + ON + TETRAGRAMMATON”, the same names used on the wand in Trithemius’ ritual of conjuration.  I used both the Solomonic symbols and the Trithemian names on my own personal Wand of Art, and while I’m not entirely convinced that they’re supposed to be the same thing, they do have similar feels to their power.

Ebony Wand Design

“bath soap by geomancy figure spell” — While geomancy and magic get along great, I’m less sure about things like herbs and physical supplies used with the geomantic figures; the most I’ve seen geomantic figures used in magic is by turning the figures into a sigil that can be used to augment other works.  However, by using the elemental, planetary, and zodiacal attributions to the geomantic figures, we can get a reasonably good idea of the herbs and materials needed to make a soap or wash for each figure, such that if we wanted to be empowered by the figure of Puer, we’d make a soap using warming, spicy, woody, Martian herbs and inscribe the figure or a sigil of the figure into the soap before using it in the shower.  I suppose it could be done reasonably well this way.

“names of all seven archangels including rose” — I’m not sure what set of archangels includes the name “Rose”, unless you’re a diehard Whovian who has a special place in their cosmology for the 10th Doctor’s companion.  For me, the seven archangels of the Orthodox tradition are Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Barachiel, Jehudiel, and Sealtiel.

“items to put on a sagiterian prayer alter” — Please note that you put things on an altar, but change them when you alter them.  This misspelling never fails to get on my nerves.  As to the actual search term, the idea of setting up an altar or shrine to a constellation is…unusual, though not entirely out of reason.  Normally, when worship of celestial bodies is called for, it’s directed to the seven planets, hardly ever to the fixed stars, and much less any particular constellation of the Zodiac (notable exceptions being stars like the Behenian stars, the Pleiades, and so forth).  I suppose, if you wanted to set up a particular shrine to honor the constellation and god of Sagittarius in a standard modern Western fashion, you could use colors associated with the qabbalistic path of Samekh (= Temperance = Sagittarius), which are blue, yellow, green, and dark vivid blue; Jupiterian symbols and effects, such as a scepter, a battle-crown, bay and palm leaves, and so forth; symbols that relate directly to the sign, such as statues of centaurs and bows and arrows, and things that relate to the goddess Artemis; etc.  Setting it up facing the north-north west would be appropriate, or setting it up to face the east and working with it when the sign Sagittarius rises.  Making offerings in sets of 6 is appropriate, as the letter Samekh has the gematria value of 60.

On Geomantic Figures, Zodiac Signs, and Lunar Mansions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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