Hello, all. We hope you’ve been well. Sfinga and I have been busy in the past few months with a number of new magical operations and workings, her with witchcraft, the Tuba Veneris, and Quimbanda, and myself with astrological magic and my own projects with the Goetia. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking lately about how astrology informs my practice as a ritual magician, and decided to write a short post expressing my thoughts on their relationship.
Before even delving into the practical virtues of astrology in terms of talismans and the like, I think that first and foremost we must discuss its cosmological scope. I think a lot of modern magicians as a whole have a tendency to forget the prime importance of cosmology and how it impacts our practice. In fact, this is one of the biggest boons one obtains through the practice of Astrological Image Magic (and astrology in general) in that it provides a solid cosmological grounding and foundation from which to conduct one’s workings. It’s true that today there are those who will call to the Four Kings or their equivalent spirits in their capacity as rulers of the cardinal airs (even if I think calling to them so casually and informally is a bizarre choice of action given their status and power – not to mention malicious bent), and you would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t experimented with some kind of practice based around the Heptameron (which of course, divides its spirits into planetary divisions). Yet overall there is a lack of cosmological awareness with respect to the unifying principles in which these spirits function within the western magical mindset. We know this planet is like this, and that star is like that—but the way in which they interact with each other, the web of interweaving relationships between them and the world view that emerges from these relations is all too neglected.
For a premodern magician, this was not a problem, as their very literal world was one and the same as this conception. It was the world they inhabited and worked within and it was also the world in which the spirits lived alongside them. On the other hand, the vast majority of us today (especially those raised in urban Anglo-Protestant backgrounds, in which I count myself) exist in a disenchanted, materialist world centered around mechanistic attitudes and principles. We fail to immerse ourselves in the world of spirits, claiming to be animists yet rarely behaving in any such way as one might find in other, even Christian cultures, especially the Catholic and Orthodox ones where indigenous animist attitudes have been far more preserved and inculcated. And for those of us for whom literate ritual magic (grimoires) makes up our predominant practice, or even only practice—this is where the problem begins.
During the early days of the occult revival, the previous dominant cosmology of (literate) magical practitioners in Western Europe (which can be defined in an overly simple way as a blend of Christian Platonism and astrology, in addition to regional “folk” beliefs) was upturned by three main factors. The first was that the scientific advances throughout the last few hundred years meant that, in the eyes of an increasingly materialist scholarly elite, the previous geocentric model and the “spheres” (among other things) were now scientifically redundant and moreover incorrect. Of course, while this is true for the physical descriptions of our solar system, these observations do not necessarily negate the spiritual principles upon which these ideas rested and were founded upon. After all, without a conception that the virtues of the planet are mirrored in us, and that we possess sparks or emanations of the light of these celestial bodies that resonate with their true forms, much of pagan theurgy we find in the PGM goes completely out the window.
The second was that at the time of the occult revival, we saw the overturning of the sophisticated belief systems of the early modern and medieval period. These world views came to be replaced by the Golden Dawn’s Hermetic Kabbalah, Theosophy, and even the materialistic, atheistic mindset that many people today still think is compatible with a healthy magical practice. Finally, the industrial revolution itself cemented the status of materialism in modern society.
The result of these three changes in combination meant that we “lost our roots” along the way; centuries of spiritual and intellectual research into the nature of the world and its spiritual make up were ultimately replaced by either the scientific model (whose influence we can see in myriad occult traditions in the latter half of the 20th century); Rosicrucian and Hermetic Kabbalah; or by the Theosophical model. None of these models really gave us the vibrant and living world populated by spirits that we once had. It has in a sense, created a distance between us and the spirits. Note that the context which I am speaking to of course is the Protestant, western, and indeed Anglo-American setting. The impact of Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, and the like in areas such South America is entirely different, given the presence of Catholicism and existing syncretic indigenous, African, and other spiritist cultures.
But how does this relate to the manner in which Astrological Image Magic and spirit trafficking operate? Well, all things occur within a framework. My issue is not over cosmology in the sense of having a preference for one over the other. After all, most magicians have multiple worldviews and cosmologies that they operate within depending on their initiations and core practices. Rather, it is the damage done to the practice of medieval and early modern ritual magic that I am attempting to highlight. To give an example: Stephen Skinner has mentioned that the reasoning behind the use of certain suffumigations in conjuring spirits is to enable them to take shape here in our world. This is far from a new idea; Paracelsus makes this point about the Elemental creatures, in that they exist in their “chaos” (that is to say, their proper element). Just as humans breathe air and walk about in the air as if it was empty space, so it is the same for the Gnomes with the earth, the Undines with water and so on. Thus when a human is entirely submerged in water, he drowns, meanwhile the same is true for the Elemental creatures—a nymph who predominantly lives in water would suffer in the air according to Paracelsus. Skinner has picked up on this, however if you were to ask many a Western practitioner who proudly boasts of his “spirit model” practice (as if the bare minimum is impressive), you’ll hear him tell you about it using terms he’s heard someone in an entirely different practice use to describe it, rather than drawing on the ideas that informed its original usage and technique.
So, what about Astrology? Well, when we conjure a planetary spirit directly, rather than tapping into the occult virtues of its planet itself first, we may indeed find that the spirit can do things for us. Yet there is an accompanying difficulty depending on the actual state of its planet. Let us say that the planet is in bad condition; it might be in its domicile, a fortune yet could also be besieged by Saturn and Mars, and even in the 12th House. This is a very serious affliction indeed. Imagine, if you will, a King in his castle—he is wealthy and his food supply is considerable. However, his castle is surrounded by a rebel army. In this situation, you definitely wouldn’t want to tap into the raw occult virtues of the planet itself, since it is negatively afflicted. Instead, you might want to call a spirit subordinate to that planet directly. (Speaking in terms of personal experience, I’ve found that you really don’t need to be astrologically perfect in your timing when working with subordinate spirits, as they are more used to navigating the distance between our world and theirs). However, this does not mean that it is the best possible situation, nor that it doesn’t have an impact on what it is we are trying to achieve. The planet is besieged, so the spirit might come down and agree to help us, but a number of things in the very chain of manifestation are going to be affected by the astrological and thus cosmological situation.
For starters, the condition of the planet itself means that the spirit is limited in what it can do—its home is currently competing with and being suppressed by the two malefics, which will inevitably influence how the spirit comes down and appears to us when it manifests. Similarly, with its home in disarray, the resources at the spirit’s disposal are also limited. In addition, many or even most spirits are easily influenced by the environment in which they dwell. They don’t live in a vacuum—the space around them is influencing them just as they influence it. Imagine approaching a military engineer (because if the planet is besieged then it is in effect in a state of war) who is in the middle of a firefight, and asking him to help you get a job or fix your car. The spirit is in poor condition to fulfill your request, not to mention it would likely manifest in a way that is less friendly than usual, as he is currently preoccupied. His home is in turmoil and he is in the midst of trying to defend it.
Does this mean we shouldn’t call on the planetary spirits at all when the stars are not aright? Not necessarily. The example I gave was an extreme and somewhat uncommon affliction, but as magicians we should be able to rectify problems like this. We aren’t just astrologers, after all, and we need to be equipped so that we can handle situations like these. For example, if we called the above spirit in order to rectify its problematic condition, we might begin by removing all the Saturnian and Martial influences in the room to prevent the occult virtues of the spirits from clashing; we can burn fumigations (even better if they were made on a good election!) that will explicitly pacify the spirit and calm it whilst also strengthening it, and so on. Even then, the condition will still not be ideal, but we as magicians should be able to navigate such situations, just as we ought to be able to make use of ideal ones when they arise (even if we only use them to consecrate and store the powers of a star or planet for use at a later date). This especially is why an understanding of cosmology is so important in early modern ritual magic; we need that understanding in order to navigate these affairs properly. The planetary spirits of the grimoires exist within this cosmology, and we need a map if we want to know our way around their world. If we don’t understand something then we can even ask the locals (i.e. the spirit themselves, so that they may teach us more about their world and their ways), but ultimately it’s always best to come conversant and prepared.
When we better understand our cosmological inheritance, we become more confident in our own systems, and do not need to run around begging for validation from other traditions. For whatever reason, there’s a common tendency among many western occultists in ever looking outside in order to prove our worth or correct ourselves. Pasting over the cosmology of another practice/tradition/belief over our own context, just because we do not understand our own, tends most often towards aimless syncretism—a polite word for colonialism. The divination practices, ritual techniques, and spirits of our systems do not need to be constantly compared to ATRs, for example, for them to be “valid”. This is not to say that no comparisons should ever be made, rather that they are best left in the hands of those with initiations and practices in both, so that they might arise organically and informed by the teachings of their lineages and traditions directly.
The difficulties faced by those who practice western ritual magic, such as the distance between the worldview of pre-modern practitioners and we contemporary ones, will not be solved by copy-pasting practices that are only tangentially, if at all, related. I’d argue correction is to be found through introspection followed by adjustment within the confines of the same tradition—we need to look inwards, at our own sources, and deal with the difficulties that accompany understanding them before anything else. We do this by practicing the grimoires themselves, reading our primary source exegetes, and engaging directly with the spirits, asking them questions and learning from them above all, whilst simultaneously researching the historical context from where our texts arose. We don’t need absolute precision with respect to historical accuracy; it is after all not only impossible but far from the point, for we are magicians and not historical re-enactors stuck in the past. We live in an occult Renaissance where books, translations, tools, candles, and all the rest have never been more easily accessible, with some of the rarest materia available at just the click of a button on the Internet. This is age is an exciting opportunity to refine our practice and improve it in light of our globalized, connected world, so let’s not let ease of access overwhelm our desires to know more and be ever more precise.