First, let me say that there are obviously many different types of talismans and many different approaches to them. We are only dealing with astrological talismans here, talismans that are ensouled with astrological spirits. Also we are working in a very traditional Western, pre-1700 context.
Even traditional astrologers had different paradigms for how astrology and astrological magic worked. Al-Kindi, for example, wrote a book called On the Stellar Rays that attributed the power of the planets, and in fact, all things to the fact they emitted spiritual rays. Mind you these are not x-rays, or light or some other form of matter and energy, these are spiritual rays, but this is a very congenial explanation for moderns.
The second approach is that epitomized by Plotinus, who writes in his Enneads "Are the Stars Causes?" Ennead II, Tr 3, that the stars are not causes, but since all things are part of the One, one can read events through the stars. In other words the cycles of the planets and stars very clearly indicate the underlying spiritual cycles that govern all material things.
Finally, the third traditional approach, might be termed the magical approach. Here the spirits of the stars, planets, etc., are seen as spiritual entities, with personalities that can be interacted with.
All of these traditional approaches interacted and overlapped. Picatrix, in particular, mentions all three at various points. As a predictive astrologer, I tend towards the second approach, of the common cycles of Heaven and Earth, but as an astrological magician, I am increasingly pulled towards the third, the magical approach.
In fact, I could take this a bit further and say that my approach is increasingly that of a celestial priest. When you go to a temple or shrine in Japan, for example, you can buy talismans which the priests have created/consecrated. Talismans aren’t their primary purpose, the function of the priests, however, more devotional and more focused on serving the spirits and assisting people in their spiritual path. This is certainly the direction I would like to move in.
Ok, so following the magical approach, what is it that we do when we create a talisman? Where does its power come from?
Let’s look at perhaps the most modern style of magic, Chaos magic. The closest to a talisman in this style of magic is the sigil,
“A sigil can be thought of as an original artistic creation, produced by conceiving a sentence that expresses a magical intent, and converting that sentence into a pictorial representation. The point is to obtain an image that can carry the intent past the psychic censor and into the subconscious mind, where it becomes magically effective. He goes on to say, The great advantage of sigil magic is that no particular belief-set is needed to work with it; there are no discarnate entities to summon, no deities to appease, no invisible rays to emanate from your solar plexus, (unless you want to create them yourself as a meta-belief device).” www.coven-of-cythrawl.com/chaos_magick.htm
Magical power in Chaos magic, therefore derives from the individual, a very modern attitude!
Traditional astrological magic is based on a worldview where, while an individual has their own personal magical power, most magical powers lie outside the individual. Cornelius Agrippa, in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy, speaks of three worlds, the material, the celestial and the divine world. Astrological magic, therefore comes from the celestial world, intermediate between the material and divine.
Using our third traditional approach, therefore, the power of astrological magic comes from the astrological spirits. Picatrix says, “By sages, magical images are called talismans…To work victoriously he makes it with mathematical proportions and influences, and uses celestial writing. These images are made from their proper substances in order that they might receive the aforementioned influence, and this is done at appropriate times. By suffumigation they are strengthened, and spirits are drawn into these images.” Picatrix Bk I ch 2.
Let’s examine this a bit further. How is it exactly that spirits are drawn into talismans? One way is epitomized by the Goetia and similar grimoires, which command the spirits and use superior power, often divine names and the will of the magician to imprison the spirits.
I follow a different, more devotional approach. Similarly Ficino speaks of making talismans working with the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World, as a collective spirit containing all of the celestial spirits through, “daemons [spirits] being attracted and gifts from the ensouled world and from the living stars. Again let no man wonder that Soul can be allured as it were into material forms, since she herself has created baits of this kind suitable to herself, to be allured thereby and she always and willingly dwells in them. There is nothing in this whole living world so deformed that Soul [of the world] does not attend it, that a gift of the Soul [of the world] is not in it. Three Books on Life, Bk III ch 1.
Astrological spirits ensoul our talismans because the talismans are made at the correct time for the spirit, are of appropriate materials, images and designs and because we very politely and repeatedly request that they enter the talisman. Finding our request fitting and proper, they ensoul the talisman.