Many people studying magic and astrology depend upon reference books and tables of correspondences—especially early in their studies before details are memorized and internalized. Among practitioners of magic, a fairly standard set of numerological and chromatic correspondences are the established consensus for the seven traditional planets.
You may be familiar with these, seen here in the table below:
||Purple or Blue
||Yellow or Gold
||“Mixed Colors,” Orange or Brown
||Gray, Silver or White
I would like to be conservative and polite by noting that these are only one of multiple sets of planetary correspondences which are at variance with each other; but in all forthrightness, I am certain that the preceding list is almost completely wrong, with only a few exceptions. I am not referring to the four scales used in the Golden Dawn system of magic, nor the confusion regarding what Mercury’s “mixed colors” actually mean or whether Jupiter’s proper color is purple or blue. The problem is much more fundamental than that.
Essentially, for practicing magicians almost everything you know about astrology and planetary magic is wrong. Dead wrong.
The upshot of this is that magicians have been using this table of correspondences unquestioningly for several hundred years and almost consistently failing to conjure wealth from Jupiter, love from Venus, wisdom from Mercury, and so on. Frustrated, they have often drifted away from the astrological foundations of much of Western Hermeticism, or have stubbornly persisted for the rest of their lives uncertain what they have been doing wrong.
None of them were stupid. They simultaneously had too much faith in the infallibility of the authors of the manuals of magic which they had access to, and insufficient understanding of the actual history of how these correspondences developed—or to be blunt, devolved.
Understanding how we got from a series of correspondences which were mostly correct to ones which seem almost designed to fail has a long and winding history going back over two thousand years of misunderstandings, religious supersessionism, economics, the availability of textile dyes, and even a prized species of snail.
I’ve studied the interactions of magic and astrology in an intensive way since 2001 and have become one of the most prominent experts on the subject, so I realize this is a very bold and controversial declaration. I’ve become a somewhat well-regarded amateur historian on the subject; so while there is an amount of speculation in reconstructing this history, it is an informed and reasonable conjecture.
It also has one additional virtue helping validate my reconstructed descent of planetary correspondences: the colors and numbers that I have unearthed work far better than the more familiar ones. I believe that readers of this blog who experiment with them will come to similar conclusions.
Unpacking my discoveries will probably stretch several blog posts, and I’d rather you follow my reasoning and insights before providing you the corrected table. I also would like to use this as an opportunity to explain some contexts in how these planetary lists were meant to be used, and some significant misunderstandings about these which have been undermining students of magic for several centuries.
The Problem Is Revealed
For me, the journey goes back nearly 20 years to when I was actively researching how to integrate magic and astrology. In order to understand how I came to these discoveries requires an autobiographical interlude which has been a long time coming.
I was a latecomer to belief in astrology for various reasons, but certain highly frustrating events a few years earlier convinced me that planetary transits could cause a great deal of personal mayhem. A major project I and several friends initiated during highly adverse astrological conditions resulted in an entire year of betrayals, mysterious bad luck, unforeseen expenses, illnesses, and near-universal exhaustion and bitter regrets. The project was able to be saved in the end, but the sheer difficulty of it all forced the previously-skeptical me that astrology was something I could no longer ignore or scoff at.
I was aware that magic had worked in tandem with astrology for centuries, and was astonished to discover that almost nothing was available in print on how to turn predictions of doom into opportunities to flourish. Magicians are by nature obsessed with achieving the impossible, and the fatalism of astrology seemed to be antithetical to the hopeful and ambitious character of the practice of magic. Even traditional depictions of wizards often had them wearing robes covered in the symbols of astrology, so it was obvious to me that I was missing some very important bridge between two temperamentally incompatible fields of knowledge.
The majority of material on modern astrology itself was frustrating, full of slippery language about the function of nearly every foundational component of the horoscope. Nearly every book left me more perplexed than the last, leaving me very concerned that my skepticism should not have been directed at astrology itself, but at its current leading voices. I accumulated multiple shelves of books on the topic which after I began studying traditional astrology have only accumulated dust. And deservedly so. Modern astrology is very bad at providing concrete answers and clarity about almost everything, and clarity is precisely what I was looking for.
The available material on planetary magic was almost exclusively derived from the output of Victorian lodge magic, such as the Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis, and the Aurum Solis. The astrology of these fraternal orders was utilized as a set of universal archetypes and symbols used for the spiritual development of the initiate, not to remediate adverse horoscopic conditions. Sometimes planetary imagery was incorporated into practical rituals, but these rituals were seldom truly astrological in nature. Many of these groups claimed to routinely raise the initiate above the influences of astrological vicissitudes, thus rendering the study of the horoscope a spiritual hobby like palmistry rather than something essential.
Nevertheless, I did have a few resources which were useful starting points. I had Francis Barrett’s The Magus, Henry Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn, and Mather’s edition of The Greater Key of Solomon. All of them taught me many useful things, but not how to solve the puzzle which was driving me through all of this.
I began experimenting with planetary candle magic. Dressed candles were originally established through the tradition of Hoodoo generations earlier, but in New York City the practice was popularized in the largely Caucasian Western Esoteric community through occult shops. Creating some version of a dressed candle was thus a foundational practice for nearly anyone learning practical magic in the area during the 80s and 90s. Candle magic of this flavor wasn’t consistently powerful, but candles cost pennies and a dressed candle could be sold for $10 and up. This was understandably pushed heavily by nearly all the local occult shops in order to stay in business. Candles were engraved, dressed with essential oils, sprinkled with glitter, and sometimes passed through incense smoke in front of the customers. It was partially entertainment, like a teppanyaki grill at a Japanese restaurant, but it served to teach customers how to do the same at home. I was friendly with many of the owners and employees at these shops, so I knew the procedures especially well.
My starting point was to use the conventional planetary colors for the selection of my candles for dressing as offerings, and prepare them during the appropriate Planetary Hour or Day. When this proved entirely unsuccessful, I used a variation of the Golden Dawn Hexagram Rituals (which are used to invoke the planets) upon the candles to give them a boost of power. I found some interesting unconventional uses for the Hexagrams in the process, but the candles were producing results which were just as disappointing. I could not tell whether any results were the results of false attribution and the placebo effect or any magic causing changes, and that is always a bad sign.
Completely frustrated, I began to experiment with the cycles of time itself. I had found a copy of Estelle Daniels’ book Astrologickal Magick at a local shop and thought it might be what I had been looking for. The book was a potpourri of notions on how to blend magic and astrology; most of it was unhelpful or even slightly dangerous, but gems were scattered within. It introduced to me a clearer notion of astrological timing and that of Essential Dignity by way summarizing some of the work of pioneering traditional astrologer J.Lee Lehman.
Daniels wrote that one could bring about superior outcomes when a planet was transiting the Signs of its Rulerships, which was one of many types of Essential Dignity–zones of power for individual planets as they moved through the Zodiac. Furthermore, a lesser-known type of Sign placement was Exaltation, which was sometimes more powerful with the timing of magic.
So, I began to experiment with creating and lighting dressed candles when they were, as astrologers say, in Sign. Much to my surprise, the results were almost the same when planets were in Rulerships; but strange and intriguing outcomes proceeded from making and lighting planetary candles when present in their Exaltations. In spite of this, the results were not very powerful and highly unreliable; but I could tell that finally something was going on which could not be attributed to mere coincidence and wishful thinking.
Necessity Is The Mother Of Opportunity
The eureka moment was, strangely enough, the result of my highly precarious financial situation.
I had a bad employer who would pay me a variable amount of money at a seemingly random moment, but I had no better options at the time. My solution was to adapt by buying up bulk goods whenever I was paid and subsisting on them until the next check. Thus for a few years I lived out of boxes of canned food, stacks of books to read at my leisure, and most importantly glass encased novena candles that I would purchase by the dozen at local thrift stores.
Inevitably I would time things poorly, and I would run out of something. As I was experimenting with elected planetary candles, I would run out of candles of a necessary color when the corresponding planet was in Sign or Exaltation. Out of desperation, I crossed my fingers and used whatever color candles I had available. As my use of planetary candles increased and the length between paychecks seemed to stretch longer, improvisation correspondingly increased and a pattern emerged.
Planetary candles which used colors that were quite different from the traditional correspondence tables frequently worked better than those which were traditional. I burned hundreds of these candles, and was baffled and intrigued. I was still using very primitive electional techniques by the standards I use today, but I began to track which colors worked best with each planet. The only conclusion I could come to was that the traditional color scheme was wrong; the correct color scheme remained elusive.
I tried using the colors of the Signs rather than the planets; that was not the pattern. I tried comparing the colors with those of the configurations of my personal horoscope; again, this was not consistent. Nor was it anything to do with the Exaltations. I was mystified.
That’s when I realized that astrology was fundamentally broken. If even the proper colors of the planetary correspondences were incorrect, then all of our assumptions about the meaning of the planets were questionable.
At this point my exasperation and disgust turned into excitement. Because I finally saw this as an opportunity. I had begun to worry that I was incompetent; solving magical puzzles usually didn’t take me nearly so long. Now I realized that I had been misinformed.
Finding out where the misinformation had originated and the correct correspondences became a personal mission; a mission which has led to the discoveries of the remaining posts in this blog series.
I hope that you will join me on a wild ride through the history of magic, astrology, and much else.