Solar Sapphires, Planetary Antipathies, and Substitutions
The Picatrix, De Radiis Stellarum, and Three Books of Occult Philosophy are closest to broad textbooks of this tradition of astrological magic, but they are not meant to be used entirely by themselves. Both canonical texts of astrological magic and their partners, the manuals of traditional astrology, repeatedly state that the student must go beyond a mere rote understanding of formulae and considerations. The following step is the internalization of celestial functions, then a series of flashes of insight revealing why things are as they arranged, and finally the integration of the practitioner into their proper spiritual hierarchy by the attainment of Perfect Nature and the maximization of their unique potential.
Authors are quite evasive about the aforementioned epiphanies for good reason; they allow teachers to recognize genuine insights arising from their better students that stand apart from the shallow mimicry that is the hallmark of pseudo-intellectualism, and they protect the secrets of the art from immature people who are at high risk of abusing it. The Science of Images has reputed power within it so vast that it can collapse entire civilizations if deployed with precision and ill intentions. Based on some of my experiences, I am certain that this is no idle boast. Some of the difficulty is deliberate in these texts, because of the gravity of that power falling into the wrong hands. It was the reasonable hope of the guardians and transmitters of this tradition that intellectual mastery developed roughly in tandem with emotional stability and personal responsibility.
Nevertheless, this has led to an incredibly steep learning curve for mastery of Scholastic Image Magic for modern students. Some of this is accidental and needs to be remedied, and some of this is very appropriate. As an example of the latter, it’s critically important that a student be fully immersed in the traditional worldview, and at least provisionally set aside the modern worldview, so they may navigate deeply within this paradigm. This commentary is, I hope, an additional guide through one of the more important winding passages deeper into the heart of this complex system of magic and mysticism.
Let us begin with something highly counterintuitive and use it as a pretext to dive into some of the more practical and mystical secrets of the operations of celestial magic.
Solar Sapphire Talismans
During the latter Solar talismanic election I covered in the preceding post, I alluded to a second set of talismans which were created at the same time. In addition to the bloodstones, I created two sapphire talismanic rings and a loose gemstone sapphire talisman. The herbs when applicable and suffumigations were identical. One of the rings is mine, and one ring and the loose gemstone will eventually be sold to clients or given to friends.
The inspiration for this talismanic project came from Eric Purdue’s masterful new translation of Cornelius Agrippa’s Book One of Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Agrippa frequently has long lists of gemstones, materials and animals which belong to the various celestial hierarchies but less frequently highlights the particular powers attributed to each within that particular hierarchy’s context. Agrippa gave very special attention to the gemstone he calls heliotrope that we believe is modern bloodstone, but also gave great attention to a gemstone called hyacinth in the J.F. translation. Eric Purdue, I believe correctly, provisionally identified hyacinth as modern sapphire. And with it come a list of powers which only apply in a Solar context; they are only activated when made into Solar talismans.
“Sapphires also have a solar virtue against poisons and pestilential vapors. When carried [the person] is rendered safe and acceptable, brings wealth and talent, and strengthens the heart. When held in the mouth, [sapphires] exceedingly cheer the mind.” –TBOC, Agrippa I:23, Eric Purdue trans.
Before I break down the rather long and fascinating list of powers attributed to Solar sapphire talismans, I must make mention of something of which most traditional (and Vedic) astrologers and readers of medieval lapidaries are quite aware. Sapphires have an extremely ancient and strong association with the planet Saturn, vastly more than the Sun. The association between sapphires and Saturn is so strong that due to what appears to be a confusion with lapis lazuli, the latter is associated with Saturn among other planets—sapphire appears to mean blue stone in Sanskrit and lapis lazuli means the same in Latin. Though the Sun and Saturn do rule a few things in common, such as the metal gold and kingship, they are in most other ways complete opposites. There’s nothing obviously Solar about sapphires; they are hard and usually dark stones—an obvious choice for the harsh, implacable, and dim Greater Malefic. Materials having multiple rulerships are not unusual, but this instance stands apart.
The Secrets of Antipathy
So is it a mistake? I’m quite sure it isn’t. It’s a phenomenal example of celestial antipathy which is described in Picatrix in more general terms about talismans which attract and repel animals.
“The effects upon animals are twofold—that is, one is to gather them and increase their number, and the other is to disperse and repel them. These are appropriate for different times, as they involve different motions—that is, there is a time for gathering and growth, and a time for dispersing and repelling. This may be considered under the heading of the opposition of degrees. In stones a certain supreme secret is hidden, that is, when any animal—that is, if you want it to depart—is hot in its nature, the stone ought to be cold; if the animal is moist, the stone ought to be dry, and vice versa. From this it should be understood that if you wish vipers and wasps to flee, the work ought to be done in cornelian and diamond and the like; but if they are cold by nature, such as scorpions, beetles, flies, lice, and things similar to them, work with hot stones such as malachite and crystal, and in bronze and gold and the like.
“This is for the working to make them flee. Workings to draw and increase them ought to be done with things that are harmonious and pertinent to them, as in working with vipers, you should work with gold and bronze and similar things. All this happens because of the harmony of complexion, the direction of movement, and the diversity of conjunctions and substances. The figure and form ought to be in the form and figure of the animal for which it is made, as a figure for mice in the shape of a mouse, one for serpents in the shape of a serpent, or one for scorpions in the shape of a scorpion.” –Picatrix IV:4, Greer-Warnock trans.
When Picatrix uses phrases like “a supreme secret” it’s not just talking about talismans that act as mosquito repellant. It’s an attempt to draw the discerning reader to a very important general principle that can be applied to a much wider set of circumstances. Picatrix uses language like this in other sections, such as the chapter on the manufacture of the thirty-six talismans of the Faces, to hint at a fairly radical reinvention of Neoplatonic cosmology that I have lectured upon previously. It is a test, an attempt to challenge the reader to learn a deeper lesson that is both mystical and extremely useful.
One of the concepts Picatrix describes elsewhere is what it sometimes calls reception; the capacity of a material to absorb celestial rays of a particular type. Some materials are receptive to the rays of many hierarchies. Emerald is receptive to Spica, Jupiter, Mercury and Moon. Silver is highly receptive to nearly every hierarchy because of the virtually ubiquitous and special role of the Moon in talismanic elections. Others are mostly inert, like clay and to a lesser extent human flesh. (Clay talismans really do not work, and in spite of the obvious allure talismanic tattoos aren’t especially viable.)
Parallel to reception is temperament or temperateness; in modern expressions, the capacity for something to manifest normalcy in contrast with manifestations which are abnormal and disruptive. Jupiter is the most temperate planet and usually signifies positive normalcy and health, and Mars is probably the least temperate planet and usually signifies disruption and injury. Materials belonging to each of these hierarchies often share these attributes, but can increase or decrease them or channel them in a particular direction.
Related to the preceding are sympathy and antipathy; some materials attract and repel species based upon their inner natures. But what Picatrix is hinting at is that it isn’t just animals that can be attracted by gemstones of one type and repelled by another, but also types of people, and finally even types of events. That’s where it gets really interesting.
And that is how we return to sapphires.
Analyzing the Solar Virtues of Sapphires
Solar sapphire talismans have the following powers:
- They neutralize poisons.
- They protect against contagious diseases i.e. “pestilential vapors.”
- They render the bearer safe from harm.
- They render the bearer inoffensive and pleasant.
- They attract riches.
- They magnify skills.
- They grant courage and health or “strengthen the heart.”
- They act as antidepressants, especially if sucked upon.
Now you can tell why I prize these talismans at least as much as the bloodstone ones I created along with them. Fame, glory, constancy, invisibility, and restored youth are really great but the eight powers listed above are possibly even more valuable for the average person.
What’s even more interesting is what these powers tell us about sympathy and antipathy in celestial magic.
Generally speaking, the Sun is not the planet one would expect a cure for poisons from; that’s more often associated with Jupiter. The Sun is nearly as temperate as Jupiter and they both grant vigorous health and presumably a resistance to contagions. The Sun often can accomplish the works of Mars and vice versa, so the Sun can protect—especially from witchcraft and evil spirits. The Sun co-rules gold, which for most of history was currency and thus can attract riches. The increase of skills may make sense because the Sun is fiery and fire quickens as it illuminates. The Sun definitely can grant courage and often is associated with the heart. Finally, the Sun can certainly act as an antidepressant; St. John’s wort has been known to be ruled by the Sun since at least medieval times because of this property. However, in spite of a temperate planet endowing a quality of normalcy, the Sun is less associated with blending in than standing out; often in a highly aggressive manner. The Sun is the king, and the king likes to conquer.
I believe there’s something else at work here:
- Saturn rules poisons
- Saturn rules contagious diseases.
- Saturn rules infirmity.
- Saturn rules ugliness and things which are essentially unpleasant.
- Saturn rules poverty and desperation, in spite of the co-rulership of gold.
- Saturn rules senility and stupefaction.
- Saturn rules fear and cowardice.
- Saturn rather famously rules melancholia.
I think what makes far more sense is that the function of a Solar sapphire talisman is to ward against many of the negative attributes of Saturn, because of the fundamental disagreement of natures between the hierarchies of the Sun and Saturn. The Sun is hot; Saturn is cold. The Sun governs all that is light and bright; Saturn rules all that is dark and shadowy.
It’s a fantastic example of how one can use the materials of a dissimilar hierarchy to neutralize the negative effects of a planet or star. And it’s one of the greater secrets of this system of magic.
The seven traditional planets often have peculiar relationships with each other, as illustrated in the 45 aphorisms that are said to be derived from the Secretum Secretorum:
“38. The Sun abhors those things that pertain to Saturn, and the things that pertain to the Sun are abhorrent to Saturn.” –Picatrix IV:4
There’s a long list of substitutions and antipathies in this chapter that are less pertinent, but must be memorized to attain mastery in this art. There are no shortcuts on this one.
This system of planetary pairings appears in the passages on planetary petitions as well.
“If you find yourself in contemplation and sorrow, or in melancholy or grave illness, in anything just named, or in any thing that has already been mentioned as belonging to Saturn, and you ask for something that belongs to his nature, you may seek it from him in the manner we describe below, and you may also help yourself in your petition by means of Jupiter. The essence of all these petitions is that you should not seek anything from any planet unless it belongs to his dominion…
“Seek from Mars what is consistent with his nature, such as petitions against soldiers, officials, fighters, and those who busy themselves with warlike acts; and on behalf of friends of kings, and those who destroy homes and citizens, and do evil to humanity, killers, executioners, those who work with fire or in places such as stables, litigators, shepherds, thieves, companions on the road, liars, traitors, and the like. Similar, ask him concerning infirmities of the body from the groin downwards, and also for phlebotomy, accumulation of gas, and the like. In these latter petitions you may also help yourself with Venus, for the nature of Venus dissolves what is closed up by Mars, and repairs what he damages…
“Seek from Venus all things that pertain to her, such as petitions of women, boys, and girls, daughters, and generally everything pertaining to the love of women and carnal copulation with them, art, vocal and instrumental music, telling jokes, and all those who give themselves over to worldly pleasures, those who engage in vices, male and female servants, brides and grooms, mothers, friends, sisters, and all those similar to them, and in these petitions you may also help yourself with Mars.” –Picatrix III:7
It also should be observed at this point that Jupiter and Saturn are oppositional in nature but are (slightly counterintuitively) “friends” with each other. The same is true of the hierarchies of Mars and Venus. The cliché of opposites attracting is reflected in celestial symmetries or harmonies. I believe that this system of substitutions using planets of oppositional nature but mutual amity goes even further than what Picatrix states explicitly. It says that Jupiter can substitute for Saturn but not the reverse; it may be a somewhat reasonable assumption, however. To learn more about planetary substitution, we must look elsewhere.
For that, we turn our attention to the other Luminary: the Moon.
The Moon Serves the Sun
In Picatrix II:10 there’s a wonderful miscellany of planetary talismanic recipes, one of which I’ve made but never quite understood until fairly recently.
“If, under the influence of the Sun, you write the figures below in a sedina stone with the Sun rising in the first face of Leo, whoever carries this stone will be protected against the lunar illnesses that come from the combustion of the Moon.”
Combustion (a close conjunction of a planet with the Sun) is deemed to be the worst planetary affliction according to William Lilly and is generally accepted as such in traditional astrology, with some uncommon exceptions. The combustion of the Moon is especially dire; it often signifies death and destruction in elections, and a variety of challenging health concerns in natal charts.
The more conventional suggestion would be to use a talisman of an afflicted planet in a person’s natal chart as a remedy, but here we see something very different. Here the suggestion is to double-down on the influence of the Sun. It seems counterintuitive because the Sun is overwhelming the native’s Moon, but it is logical if the Sun and the Moon have a similar relationship as Jupiter and Saturn have, and Mars and Venus mutually share in the petitional instructions cited above.
Indications that this is the case between the Sun and Moon are scattered throughout Picatrix.
(As I am writing this, Echo & The Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” just began to play on Pandora. Everything is connected.)
“The Nabatean sages have said that the power and works of the heavens and stars are from the Sun originally, and this is because they see and understand that the Moon helps him (that is, as much as is in her power), while the Sun does not need her effects, nor those of the other planets; and similarly, the five other planets follow the Sun in their effects and obey and are humbled by him, and proceed in their aforementioned effects according to the dispositions of the Sun. In the same way, according to their opinion, all their effects are primarily rooted in the Sun, and the other six planets help him by their effects. Similarly, the fixed stars are the Sun’s handmaidens, and serve, obey, and are humbled by him, and while they help him with their effects, this is not because of any need that he has of them.” –Picatrix III:8
“Our sages say likewise that the virtue of the fifth quality [the Moon in a perfected conjunction with the Sun] has a similar effect to the effect of the Sun, and this is a very great thing and a noble quality. They say that all composite bodies receive from this the virtues that they ought to have, nor should it be understood from the foregoing that the Moon causes virtues and workings differing from those of the Sun; rather, the Moon reveals the Sun’s influence and brings forth works accomplished by the Sun; nor do these appear until the Moon manifests those things that were previously concealed, and illuminates what had previously been in obscurity.” –Picatrix II:3
One of the ways Picatrix conceals secrets of talismanic magic is by describing electional considerations and the composition of talismans and suffumigations in what superficially appear to be abstract cosmological relationships. To a person immersed in the worldview espoused by the author, ultimately there is no difference between these things; or at least there is a profound sympathy.
What Picatrix is saying here is pretty radical.
While most talismanic and petitional elections depend strongly upon the condition of the Moon and to some extent the planet on or ruling the Ascendant, if a major significator in the election is the Sun the role of every other planet is greatly diminished. The manifestation might be subtler with a weak Moon, however. In theory, one could create a benevolent Solar talisman even if the Moon was afflicted catastrophically. I personally wouldn’t take that chance unless it were an emergency, but in the earlier of the two Sun in Aries elections I described in the last post the Moon was slightly afflicted. It is because of Picatrix that I felt this was inconsequential.
This is a special case regarding the Sun and the Sun only. Tropical astrology is not heliocentric; it is geocentric. But it is what I call heliophilic. It gives a very special significance to the role of the Sun, and it has powers unique among all the planets. It is not merely the strongest planet—something seldom stated in canonical texts because it really is taken for granted—but it has a central role in the cosmos as the bringer of order, the primary source of visible and astral light, the liminal mediator between the world of Forms and the Sublunar sphere, and of the four seasons that sustain all life. Thus, through the Sun, the equinoxes and solstices define the positions and properties of the Zodiacal Signs and the essential architecture of the universe and time itself.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this somewhat serpentine journey through the world of Scholastic Image Magic which started with Agrippa’s Solar sapphires, has taken us through the complex relationships of planetary pairings, and finally to the fundamental supremacy and centrality of the Sun. Traditional celestial magic conceals a lot of secrets of both a practical and spiritual nature, and as we solve the puzzles it sets before us in the canonical sources, the aspiration is that our own personal disjointedness is transformed into a more coherent spiritual being.
I’m cheating a little by letting you in on some of the glimpses of the treasures that I’ve uncovered. I’m hoping that you’ll forgive me for bending the rules a little; that you’ll return the favor someday to myself and others, and that you’ll use this knowledge wisely.
No one can perfect any of the works of traditional astrological magic without passing on some of the illumination that one receives, much like the Sun illuminates each of the planets and they transmit their light and fill all of their hierarchies with vitality and power. It’s more than a metaphor; it’s the essential connection between consciousness and cosmos that produces magic and our experience of reality itself.