On Blessings

Lately, I’ve been thinking of things going on in my life, or that have happened in my life, and started to call the good ones (like, the really good ones) “blessings”.  It’s something that I’ve heard some of my older or elder friends say, too, about some of the nicer things in life, and…it’s weird.  Before initiation into Santeria, I would never really have used the word “blessing” to describe a good thing that happens.  Awesome, fantastic, or great, perhaps, but “blessing” was weird for me to think of it that way. Now, it seems a lot more natural; perhaps it’s just a shift in the crowd I run with and adopting the terminology, but seeing how I was already running with them before, something must have clicked into place for this sense of the word “blessing” to click for me.

Let’s recap, I suppose. From my Western religious or magical viewpoint that I’d assume is more-or-less common (but I could be wrong!), a blessing is a ritual act where something or someone is blessed.  For instance, a Catholic priest can bless a saint medallion (or any number of other things), and oftentimes perform a light or simple exorcism of a person which can also count as a blessing.  Other priests in other traditions and religions generally follow suit, with the overall goal to instill a force or presence of holiness or divinity in a material vessel, animate or not.  For many of the same reasons, many of the enchanting or consecrating acts magicians do can also be considered blessings; heck, the language we use is often identical to those used in the Church, if not taken directly from their liturgies and rituals, with much the same effect (though issues of apostolic succession and the lack thereof can subtly change or weaken the end result).

We can look at the word “blessing” in two etymological ways: the first, using the Germanic word family of bless, blood, and blót, and the second using the Latin word family of benedicere.  In the former, we have an original word coming from Germanic paganism of “marking with blood”, leading to the term blót, a sacrifice, and blót-hus, “house of worship” or “temple”.  By using the blood of sacrificed animals, the divine figures of worship, the place of worship, and the worshipers themselves would be instilled with the special powers contained within; there are conceptual parallels between this and the Old Testament use of sacrificed oxen and bulls in the Temple, as well as the literal bloodbath Moses gave to the Hebrews as he came down from the Mount.

In the second sense, we have the far more bland Latin term benedicere, literally meaning “to speak well” or “to say good things”.  However, in the Christian sense, consider that Jesus Christ is the Word of God, the Logos; to speak good things upon someone is to literally cast the power of God upon them for good ends and with good means.  This builds upon the more fundamental Abrahamic understanding of a blessing (all of which ultimately come from God) to the effect that to be blessed is to be favored and approved by God.  This ties into the otherwise unusual statement “Blessed are you, Lord our God” (how almost all Jewish blessings, or berakhot, begin); after all, how could God be blessed, if God gives all blessings?  It’s because being the source of blessings is indistinguishable from the quality of being blessed; both the blessing and the blessor are identical.

So much for etymologies and definitions.  When it comes to using the word, I’ve pretty much limited myself to using it in a ritual or prayerful context.  I would suppose that, as a technical matter, only priests (who have a valid and legitimate connection to their deity and who are licensed and authorized to do so by such a connection) can actually bless an object, person, event, or space.  Laity and other non-priestly clergy who lack that connection can pray for the blessing of something, while magicians can…well, I don’t want to say “consecrate” (literally “to make sacred”, which overlaps heavily with “blessing”), but perhaps “enchant” or (one of my more favorites, thanks Kalagni and Deb et al.) “enwoogify” or “bespooken”.  As a matter of technical correctness, only priests can bless; even if what magicians do is effectively the same thing in result, the mechanics and source of the result is sufficiently different to warrant another term.

But…well, consider what the laity do in this context: they pray for blessings upon someone else.  It’s what I never really put much consideration into before now, but when someone prays for your well-being, your happiness, your prosperity, your safety, your success…those are the blessings they pray for, which are their blessings to you.  Absent any other ritual, divine connection, or other woogity, that act is the lay equivalent of blessing someone, by appealing to the source of blessings to bestow its blessings.  That is their magic, their means of plying their connection, their gift to you.  Again, while them “blessing” you isn’t necessarily a proper use of the term, just as with a magician enchanting for some effect, the effect is ultimately equivalent.

That sort of realization is, in some sense (and in addition to being with people who use that term just as a thing), what led me to start widening my use of the term “blessing”, and why it finally made sense to call good things that happen “blessings”.  When we, as magicians, carry out a ritual for some end, do we not consider ourselves successful when that very thing comes to pass?  Of course we do; we might find ways to improve upon our results for future workings, but we consider the success a validation of our work, our connections to spirits, and ourselves.  Similarly, when we pray for something, do we not consider ourselves having been heard by God or the gods when what we pray for comes to pass?  Heck, we even say that they “answer our prayers”, just as they would a phone call or question.  Thus, if we pray for a blessing, and our prayers are answered, then we would then, logically, say that we have been blessed.

I’ve long held that magicians should pray just as much as anyone else, if not more so; in the types of magic I work, prayer is part and parcel of the whole shebang.  In my own prayers, besides those of adoration of divinity, I pray for guidance, enlightenment, fortitude, progress, compassion, companionship, wisdom, intelligence, understanding, protection, purpose, purity, and so much else.  For myself and for many other people, the most common things we pray for are good health, long life, prosperity, happiness, and peace.  There are hundreds of classifications and categories of blessings out there (just look up the endless kinds of berakhot that Jews are supposed to recite upon basically anything happening), but the big ones are things we all want in our lives, which are fundamental to a universal human notion of “a life well-lived”.

So, when something good happens that furthers me along in a way I’ve prayed for, or that someone else has prayed for me, or that just happen because *gestures vaguely upwards*  I should celebrate it and be grateful for it, just as I’d celebrate myself when something I’ve been magicking for comes to fruition.  Good things that happen (and I mean with a capital G, not just the little g good things) are blessings, whether or not I or anyone else has asked for them.  It’s such a simple concept, really; I’m kind of embarrassed that I never understood it before, but I get it now.  Maybe it’s preconceived notions that Good Things just happen coincidentally (which is otherwise a notion I’ve long since abandoned), or that Good Things happen so rarely (when so much that happens is actually Good, even if it’s not good on a microcosmic level), or something else that kept me from seeing…I dunno, a more profound awe in things.

Of course, recognizing that something is a blessing is only one part of the equation; being grateful for it and not taking it for granted are others to follow through with.  After all, when we get something we ask for from someone as a gift, we graciously and gratefully thank them, if not exchange a new gift for them; when we work with people or spirits whom we commission to do work for us, we pay them for their services.  To simply take without giving is selfish and greedy, and degrades the entity doing something for us into a slave, while taking without appreciation treats them as a machine.  For the Good Things that happen to us, we must be grateful that divinity either heard our prayers and saw fit to grant them, or that divinity for the sake of divinity favored us with the Good Things, but more than that, we must never take such blessings of Good Things for granted.  But then, how do you pay back a god?  In the ways that gods want, of course.  I would fain speak for divinities without them chiming in, but the general ways that I see acceptable across the board would be to make the most of the blessings given to you to further your own development, to help others with their own development, adoration of divinity for its own sake by means of your blessing, and to simply live a good/Good life for the sake of divinity, for the sake of the world, and for your own sake.

A blessing isn’t just a one-time good thing, like a slice of cake.  It’s more than a simple result of spiritual labor or material gift.  It’s a foundation, a building material to continue constructing and instructing our lives in the best ways we’re able to, and with which we can help others build theirs.  We just need the humility to ask for these materials, the knowledge of how to implement them, and the wisdom of when to use them, but even these we can inculcate in ourselves, both as practice we cultivate and blessing we seek.

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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?

A Shrine to Lord Saturn

This year, both I and my husband turn 28.  It helps that we’re only born, like, six weeks apart, so our natal charts aren’t too dramatically different from each other’s, at least for the slower-moving planets out there.  This is especially the case for Saturn, which we both have in Sagittarius and dignified by both face and term.  It’s a weird place for Saturn to be, but it’s not a terrible spot for either of us.  This is a good thing, as we’re ramping up to face our first Saturn return together at pretty much the same time, which is awesome and awful.

What is a Saturn return?  Roughly every 30 years (29 years, 5 months, 15 days to be exact), Saturn returns to the same place it was when you were born.  As Saturn gets closer and closer to this position, people start feeling these effects a little early, some as early as 27.  The effects tend to drop off soon after the return is made exact, so the range for feeling the effects of this first Saturn return transit usually goes roughly from when you’re 28 to 31, or three years.  The second time happens from ages 56 through 59, and the third from 84 through 87.  Some very few people ever get to experience a fourth Saturn return, but that’s neither here nor there.  Unlike other planetary returns, Saturn returns are most notable as being fundamental shifts from one stage to another in a person’s life: the first Saturn return marks either the midlife crisis or one’s final ascension into adulthood, the second return one’s passage into senescence, and the third return one’s preparation for death.  In general, how one adapts and responds to one’s return lays out how well or poorly one’s life will go through the next return.

So what is it like during a Saturn return?  Essentially, Saturn becomes the dominant theme of your life, and its energy and power suffuses every day of the transit.  Think: Saturn is the planet of final cosmic justice, restriction, obligation, limitation, scarcity, famine, depression, poverty, disease, and darkness.  By the same token, however, think about the idea of the thick cell wall of prisons or monasteries: sure, they keep one isolated and trapped, but by the same token, they also keep one safe and sound from anything going on outside.  Saturn shows us our limits, where those limits are to be obeyed without question, and where those limits can be pushed back or knocked down.  Saturn is a planet of atrophy, but it is also one of soundness; one might be thinner, but one becomes stronger in the process.  Saturn returns force us to confront ourselves and our own blown-up ideas of ourselves, and deflates us down to a shriveled, wrinkled mess.  In the process of everything we think we are and everything we think we need being taken away from us, however, we find out what it is we’re truly made of and what we truly need to survive on.  Once we know the bare minimum of what we can do and what we can survive on, we can build ourselves up once more in a proper way to truly come into our own.  Saturn return is a time of refinement through intense trial that we cannot escape or delay.  Jobs we think we love get taken away from us, lovers we think we can’t live without leave us, homes we think we will own for the rest of our days get burned down or sold from under our feet.  If you’ve ever asked for “take away everything that hinders me and holds me back”, Saturn return does this in fucking spades.  No need to do a cut-and-clean spell if you don’t want to; if you just wait long enough, the cosmic clockwork of the solar system will make it clear that it’ll happen one way or another.  Saturn is the cosmic judge who takes stock of everything you are and everything you do, and when Saturn comes home, he is going to clean house.

So, faced with this insurmountable trial of fate and gravity, how do I plan on surviving these next few years?  Most people become assholes and fight against it, or depressed and mope about it lamenting their inevitable fate that happens to each and every one of us.  Those are awful ways, and not what I consider to be the easy and proper way: by welcoming it, embracing it, and giving respect and honor where they’re due by setting up a shrine to regularly confront and propitiate the forces, energies, entities, and god of Saturn.  By working with the forces of Saturn, we can better integrate them into our lives, accepting the trials that come to us easier and forewarned that they will happen, acknowledging our pain and actively reaching for our own refinement, treating this as a time of tough cosmic love rather than cruel hellish fate.

With that in mind, let’s do a brief bit of some Liber 777-type research on Saturn.  For the sake of expanding our symbol set and connecting the dots together, what’re some of the attributes we can find about this planet in the Western magical literature?

  • Names in classical languages:
    • Latin: SATVRNVS
    • Greek: Κρονος (Kronos, the god/spirit of the planet), Φαινων (Phainōn, the titan/body of the planet)
    • Hebrew: שבתאי (Shabbathai)
    • Arabic: زُحَل (Zuḥal)
    • Persian: کیوان (Keyvan)
    • Sanskrit: शनि (Śani)
    • Egyptian: herukapet (Ḥeru-ka-pet, also known as Horus the Bull)
    • Sumerian: cuneiform |TUR.DIŠ| (Genna)
    • Babylonian: (Kayyamaanu, written as UDU.IDIM.SAG.UŠ or as above in Sumerian)
    • Chinese: 土星 (Mandarin Tǔxīng, Cantonese tou2 sing1, Middle Chinese /tʰuoseŋ/, Japanese dosei, Korean toseong)
  • Spirits and entities associated with it:
    • Angelic governor: צפקיאל (Tzaphqiel), often rendered into Latin as variants on the name Cassiel
    • Picatrix angel: Isbil (Arabic original), Heylil (Latin translation)
    • Olympic spirit: Aratron
    • Planetary intelligence: אגיאל (Agiel)
    • Planetary spirit: זאזל (Zazel)
    • Choirs:
      • Agrippa: אראלים (Aralim)
      • Pseudo-Dionysus: Thrones
    • Zodiacal angels:
      • הנאל (Hanael, angel of Capricorn)
      • כאמביאל (Cambiel, angel of Aquarius)
    • King of the Jinn:
      • Name: ميمون (Maymon, the Auspicious One)
      • Nickname: ابا نوخ (Abba Nuh̬, the Father of Rest)
    • Heptameron Spirits:
      • Angel: Cassiel
      • Angel of the Air: Maymon Rex
      • Ministers: Abumalith, Assaibi, Balidet
      • Wind: Africus (southwest)
    • Lemegeton Goetic Rank: Knight (only one spirit of this rank, Furcas)
    • Deities associated with Saturn:
      • Sumerian: Ninurta, Ninmah
      • Babylonian: Adar, Nintu, Tiamat
      • Persian: Zurvan
      • Phoenician: Asherah
      • Egyptian: Sobek
      • Gnostic: Yaldabaoth
      • Greek: Kronos
      • Roman: Saturnus, Lua
      • Etruscan: Vetis, Veiovis
      • Hindu: Śaniścara
  • Qabbalistic correspondences:
    • Numbers: 3, 15, 45
    • Shape: Triangle
    • Sephirah: Binah
    • Sephirothic colors: Crimson, black, dark brown, grey flecked pink
    • Path: #32 (the World, connecting Yesod-Malkuth or Moon-Earth)
    • Path colors: Indigo, black, blue-black, black rayed blue
    • Godname: יהוה אלוהים (YHVH Elohim)
    • Hebrew letter: ת (Tav, 400)
    • Greek letter: Ω (Ōmega, 800)
    • Weekday: Saturday
    • Zodiac signs:
      • Domiciles: Capricorn, Aquarius
      • Exaltation: Libra
    • Geomantic figures: Carcer, Tristitia, Cauda Draconis
  • Religious concepts:
    • Deadly Sin: avarice/greed
    • Heavenly Virtue: generosity
    • Hermetic Virtue: silence
    • Hermetic Vision: The Vision of Sorrow
    • Apostles: Simon the Zealot (Capricorn), Jude (Aquarius)
    • Prophets: Enoch, Samuel, Nahum (Capricorn), Habakkuk (Aquarius)
    • Judges: Elon (Capricorn), Abdon (Aquarius)
    • Theological Figure: The Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene
    • Weekday archangel: Selaphiel or Sealtiel, the angel of prayer to God and who presides over the priesthood
    • Psalms for Pentacles (KJV): 72:8-9, 109:18, 18:7
  • Materials and substances:
    • Metals: lead, black iron, pyrite
    • Stones: onyx, sapphire, brown jasper, chalcedony, lodestone, sulphur, antimony, jet, turquoise, magnesium, all dark and weighty and earthy minerals
    • Plants: white daffodil, asphodel, dragonwort, rue, cumin, hellebore, benzoin, mandrake, cyprus, opium, pine, cypress, black fig, hemlock, yew, myrrh, sesame, aconite, cactus, cocoa, datura, spurge, fennel, male fern, lichen, mos, lungwort, soapwort, weeping willow, tobacco, pomegranate, ivy, orchis root, thistle, coconut, ramthorn, spikenard, galbanum, asafoetida, euphorbium, colophony, stammonia, rhubarb,
    • Animals: ape, cat, hog, mule, camel, bear, mole, donkey, wolf, hare, mole, dragon, basilisk, toad, serpents, scorpions, ants, mice, vermin, cranes, ostriches, peacocks, screech-owl, horned owl, bat, lapwing, crow, quail, eel, lamprey, dog-fish, tortoise, oysters, cockles, sea sponges, cuttlefish
    • Parts of the body: skin, bones, spleen, knees, lower legs, right foot, right ear, right eye, left hand, excretory system, mouth, intestines, bladder, genitals
    • Other organic substances: soma, civet, musk

And, to top it off, a gallery of various Saturn-related seals, sigils, symbols, and signs from all the stuff collected across my blog:

With that said, I now present to you how we combined so much of all of the above into our household’s Shrine to Lord Saturn.

Shrine to Lord Saturn

The primary color of the shrine is black (the primary/Queen color of the planet) accented by crimson (the secondary/King color), accented by a pale Solar gold.  Within the shrine is a particularly pretty (to my mind) metallic print of Saturn eclipsing and illuminated by the Sun.  Surrounded by a the fabric canopy and lengths of chain is a custom talismanic art I made that concentrates the images and seals of Saturn together in a coherent way.  This artwork combines, again, all of the symbols, seals, sigils, numbers, names, spirits, intelligences, angels, and characters of Saturn together, with very subtle nods to the zodiac signs Capricorn and Aquarius (the domiciles of Saturn), Libra (its exaltation), and Sagittarius (where my and my husband’s natal Saturns are) and Aries (our housemate’s natal Saturn).  Additionally, there are three written statements on there: the Sanskrit mantra to Lord Shani, a Greek invocation to Phainōn and Kronos, and a Latin invocation to Saturnus:

  • Sanskrit: ॐ शं शनैश्चराय नमः (Om Śaṃ Śanaiścaraya Namah, “Hail to the great name of Shani”)
  • Greek: ΙΩ ΦΑΙΝΩΝ ΙΩ ΚΡΟΝΕ ΙΩ (“Hail, Phainon! Hail, Kronos! Hail!”)
  • Latin: IAVE SATVRNE MAXIME NITIDE SEVERE IA (“Hail, great, bright, grave Saturn, hail!”)

I had originally planned to do this in stark black and white, but I opted instead to use a blend of silver, gold, white, and a few basic colors to suit the characters or needs.  All told, this painting forms a sort of all-around “map” to the powers and resonances of Saturn.

Talismanic Saturn Painting

The focal point of the shrine table is the oil lamp in the middle.  In Indian astrology, devotees of Lord Shani burn sesame oil in honor of the god, so I figured I can incorporate the same.  I got a traditional ceramic oil lamp glazed in dark brown and dark blue, both colors associated with Saturn, and filled it with cooking-grade sesame oil mixed with three drops of myrrh essential oil.  Here I’m using a simple cotton thread wick, but normally I’d use a linen strip or a cotton ball, rolled out flat, pressed into a thicker cloth-like sheet, written upon with sacred symbols of Saturn in consecrated ink, and twisted back lengthwise into a wick.  I placed the lamp on a wooden placard I made that has the symbol of Saturn in the middle of a large hexagram, surrounded by the symbols of the other six planets in each of the triangular wings of the hexagram.  Around the symbol of Saturn in its central hexagon, and on the outside of each of the triangles, I inscribed the characters of the seven planets from Agrippa (book I, chapter 33) and wrote around the whole thing the name Κρονος in Greek.  Each of the planetary symbols are colored in the usual planetary color, as are their characters.  The word Κρονος, the symbol and characters of Saturn are all filled in silver, while the surrounding circle and the hexagram itself are all filled in gold.  Everywhere else on the placard is covered in black.  I also added on the name of God “Elohim” written in ancient Phoenician script around the edge, split into six characters and colored for the six non-Saturn planets.  On the underside is the name IHVH, again written in Phoenician and colored in gold, around the edge, surrounding a 3 × 3 grid.  I originally was going to have the nine numbers of Saturn etched in here, but my woodburner failed me for good; what I plan to do is draw in a word-sigil on the qamea of Saturn to tune our rituals to a specific need, such as “stability” in times of chaos or “wisdom” when preparing for a ritual.

The reason why I made this planetarily all-inclusive placard, instead of one that just focused on Saturn, is that this would be used for a household shrine for both my use and that of my husband and our housemate.  While I’ve done the Work necessary to simply launch deeply into a planetary energy and come out unscathed, my husband and our housemate haven’t, and even though respecting and honoring Saturn would be good for all of us, there is a notable risk for them to be overloaded by Saturnine energies that could easily overwhelm and devour them.  To that end, I decided to balance out the light of Saturn that we would shine in our house by making a kind of planet-specific Table of Practice that would act to balance out and harmonize all the planets, focusing and building up to Saturn.  Thus, we first light six small candles, one on each of the triangles around the placard, and briefly invoke each planet before lighting the oil lamp for Saturn in the middle, which precedes the rest of our usual offering.

In addition to the crafts above, I also have a three-footed iron censer for burning incense, usually myrrh, placed atop an old Saturn magic square I made, woodburned and painted in gold and black, to the right of the lamp.  I’ve also incorporated and enshrined, in an unseen way not visible from the pictures above, the powerful Saturn talisman I made back in 2011 (almost five years ago to the day, holy crap!).  All this combined, we have a simple yet elegant Saturn shrine that, from the get-go, already brims with dark stellar power.  Over time, we will probably add more talismans, charms, statues, or pieces of Saturnine art, but this is good for now.

We present small glasses of offerings to Saturn: one of pure water, and three small bowls of a dry offering mix made from rock salt, black rice, black gram, and black mustard seeds.  We place these to the left of the oil lamp placard, while we burn incense in the censer.  We then take some time to recite the Orphic Hymn to Saturn (hymn #12), or, if we’re feeling more adventurous, the Picatrix Invocation to Saturn (book III chapter 7, one version as used here for my Saturn talisman consecration).  Alternatively, we might use the Heptameron Conjuration for Saturday or the equivalent from the Munich Manual (see this page) for a more directed purpose rather than a general laudation of Saturn, or we might just be cool and intone the vowel ōmega and offer a more personal prayer to Saturn.  We do this all every Saturday during one of the daytime hours of Saturn, if possible, usually the midday hour, as that’s the time we’re all most likely to do this together.  Barring that, due to scheduling or whatnot, we might do our own thing with a smaller offering.  We let the candles burn out on their own, and we let the oil lamp burning for at least as long or until it starts to sputter.  We let our offerings sit for a whole week, and then clean off the shrine before we make offerings the next Saturday.  We each clean off with our bowl of dry offerings, pour it into the water, and dump the whole thing out into the road.

Besides all these offerings we plan to make weekly and regularly, there’s so much else we can do to honor Saturn in our lives.  Saturn rules over all disabled people, especially those who are crippled, diseased, or handicapped in some way, as well as vagrants, the homeless, and in low social stations and in menial jobs.  Working for their sake, paying them respect, and making donations (especially in groups of three or in amounts of multiples of three) is a good way to get on Saturn’s good side, as well as making fasts in his honor.  It goes without saying that respecting Saturn in our daily lives is also of paramount importance, including not saying disrespectful or joking things about the god.  We still plan to be realistic about his awful, detrimental effects, but we’re not going to blow them out of proportion; Saturn is, after all, the planet of perspective.  Saturn, given the day of Saturday, is also associated with Shabbat and the Jews; observing a set of shabbat-like restrictions regularly is also a way to show one’s devotion to the planet and its spirits.

I’m honestly pleased I was able to set this shrine up, and I’m very happy with how it all turned out.  At the first invocation, I felt that usual Saturnine heaviness seeping into my bones, like wearing multiple heavy Siberian winter coats without the heat, but this time it lingered on the back of my neck and around my ears.  It’s good to finally give Saturn the respect he deserves and has deserved in my life; truly, Saturn now lives in our home, though I specified that this shrine would be set up for three years, with only the possibility of it remaining up longer.  We’ve enshrined Saturn to help facilitate the integration of his energies into our lives during our Saturn return periods, so that Saturn helps us and does not hurt us, so that Saturn gives us succor and not suffering.  He’s still a heavy, grave, serious planet and a malefic no matter what, but he is just as able to give blessing as much as he can dole out curses.  Here’s to hoping we only see his good side, with his bad eye turned and kept turned far away from us.

Do you worship or have a devotional arrangement with Saturn, in any of his incarnations among the world’s religions?  How do you pay your respects to the planet or the spirits associated with it?

On Equal Exchange

Recently, I was confronted by someone who thought I was crazy for charging for geomancy readings.*  He himself is a diviner, but finds it displeasing that I insist on being paid for divination.  I won’t get into why (it’s ultimately a matter of culture and tradition), and suffice it to say that it’s not a debate I want to continue here.

My rule here is simple: if you do work, you deserve to get paid for the work.  Yes, I know it’s a recurring issue in Western occultism, especially in the New Age community, where I see different versions of the same thing:

  • “It’s a divine gift, and so you shouldn’t charge for it.”  It’s a divine gift I have the capability for logic, speaking, and writing, and I get paid for those all the same.  It’s a divine gift that I have an able body that can carry heavy loads, and I get paid for that all the same.  It’s a divine gift that I have a talent for understanding and working with computers, and I get paid for those all the same.  Divination and ritual are no different.
  • “You shouldn’t get the mundane mixed up in the spiritual.”  There’s no fundamental distinction between the spiritual and mundane; they’re all part of the world we live in, and my spiritual work is fully invested in my mundane life and vice versa.
  • “People won’t value it if they pay for it.” They value the help of doctors and lawyers who get paid, yes?  They value the roads and buildings made by engineers who get paid, yes?  Conversely, I see people tossing pirated PDFs around and disparaging bootleg copies of music and movies; they’re not paying the creators, and I see a lot more disrespect and a lot more devaluing when people get stuff for free than when they pay for it.    Getting stuff for free very nearly always leads to people taking you for granted, and even just outright ignoring you because “oh, this dude was free, and I can get more and other free opinions anyway”.
  • “People won’t know if you’re telling the truth if they pay you.” Trust is a thing that has to be built and earned, I agree, but I hope that I’ve done that enough by this point.  If you can’t trust me, then why are you even bothering coming to me?  It’s part of my own schpiel that I am committed to telling you whatever I see, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, and I commonly remark on how down-to-earth geomancy is with its oft-dire, sometimes-heavy news.

Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.  Each ritual act I do is informed and based on a decade of study; when you ask me for something, you call on my expertise.  Each ritual act I do takes time, supplies, and energy; when you ask me for something, you take up my resources.  Each ritual act I do is done with the intent of good success, good strength, and good character; when you ask me for something, I am beholden to carry out my charge to you.  For these reasons, I request payment.  If you do not pay, I’m giving you things that I have rightfully earned to keep and am under no obligation to share with you, and I have no guarantee that you’ll value what I give you, which is doubly a waste from my point of view.

Now, I’m not so stone-hearted that I cannot make exceptions.  I do!  For those who are truly destitute, for those who have nothing to give, for those who can barter or trade in other ways, I’m more than willing to reconsider my terms, but in the end, it has to be an equal exchange.  We live in a culture where buy-one-get-one-free deals are a common thing, where we’re accustomed to getting stuff for free, where we can just slide by on pirated PDFs instead of buying actual books, where we take for granted the thousands of years and generations that went before us to get us to where we are today; in some ways, we’re taught that money or trade in any form (χαιρε Ερμη!) is evil and inherently unspiritual, but that’s so far from the truth that it’s ridiculous.  I don’t stand for that, and I urge you to do the same.

Additionally, I am not so greedy that I overcharge.  I have my own standards and rates, and I know where my limitations lie.  I know my peers, what my skill level is among them, and what they charge for the same amount of work.  I will gladly direct you to someone who can help if I know that I cannot or will not.  I try to be as fair as I can to both you and to myself, so that you’re not overpaying for what I give to you, and I’m not overcharging for what you get from me.  In general, I charge less for things I’m not great at, and I charge more for things I am great at, though I still try to make it fair.  If it’s not equal in both directions, then it’s not equal, period.

 

* Just to let you know, yes, I am still doing geomancy readings!  Please contact me for more information; I may not have the listings up on my Etsy anymore for readings, but I still do them through September this year.  Once October comes, I’ll be taking an extended break from doing readings for people that will last for some time, so if you have any questions you’d like clarified, you only have a few months left from me to get them out of the way!  Otherwise, I can direct you to a number of other excellent geomancers and diviners who can help you out at least as much as I can.  As always, I charge US$20.00 per query, but we can hash out what you need during our consultation.  I’m also free for Skype/Google Chat consultations, too!