Monday, April 16, 2012

The Greater Key of Solomon is Wrong!

I had a rather aggravating phone call today from a person who berated me for not following every jot and tittle of the Greater Key of Solomon, repeatedly beating me over the head with not using tin for Jupiter talismans, not using the Greater Key's astrological conditions, etc.

I made the mistake of saying that tin would make a very bad talisman (it's very brittle, thin and light, think tin can! Yeah, that would be nice as a talisman) and trying to discuss the problems with the astrological conditions in the Greater Key. No point really since the caller HAD READ IT IN THE GREATER KEY!!!!! My explanations just sounded like excuses.

Upon reflection I realized I should have just said, "the Greater Key is WRONG!" That answer has the twin virtues of be so blasphemous as to cause the armchair dilettante mage to immediately hang up and of being quite true.

This is particularly true of the Mathers translation. Let's start with the planetary hours table on page 7 of the introduction. "It is for this reason that thou wilt see in the following tables to what Planet and what Angel each hour is submitted...." There are listings for each day of the week with the planets in the Chaldean Order, so far so good. Then there is a column that says "hours from Sunset to Sunset" which is rather confusing because there is no explanation that these are not the usual 60 minute standard hours. Complete confusion, however, is introduced by the next column that says, "Hours from midnight to midnight" From the table it looks as though these hours correspond to planetary hours. Not at all! Midnight is not used in the planetary day and hour system, just Sunrise and Sunset. Mathers takes these somewhat confusing tables and makes a complete botch of it, saying for example, "Supposing the student wishes to discover the properties of the hour from 12 to 1 o clock on Tuesday..." page 7. Nope, sorry, completely utterly wrong! Planetary hours are not the standard 60 minute hours, except just on the equinoxes. They vary depending on the locality and on the time of year. Even something as simple as planetary hours is misunderstood and misapplied in the Mathers editorial comment to the Greater Key.

We continue. The Greater Key has a very elaborate consecration ritual. I have noticed despite the tendency of some to insist on exactly following the Greater Key as far as the materials or timing of the making of pentacles, that once they get the pentacle nobody is doing the complete Greater Key ritual with the special shoes and wand cut in an instant with a silver blade, etc., etc. That apparently is dispensable. In any case, this is a honking great ritual and though it's a bit bossy and dominating to the astrological spirits, more than I tend to prefer would likely be quite effective if one was willing to expend the very considerable time and energy necessary to do it.

However, when it comes to astrological timing, the Greater Key is somewhat contradictory. In Book I, chapter 8, the magician is advised that the pentacles of all the planets should be made on Mercury day (Wednesday) and Mercury hour, with the Moon in an air or earth sign, as well as waxing and on an even day after the New Moon. In addition, colors are given for the pentacles and the instructions make clear that the pentacles are to be constructed of paper and the design written on them. However, in Book I, chapter 18, of the Greater Key of Solomon the standard planetary metals are listed and the magician advised to make the pentacles in the day and hour of the planet itself. Paper is listed as an alternative material.

Making a Sun or Jupiter pentacle on Mercury day and hour is frankly bizarre, and is not supported by any other traditional source. Uniformly Picatrix, for example, has Venus talismans made on Venus hour, Sun talismans on Sun hour and so on. Furthermore, we can see that the author of the Greater Key was a typical magician and not really well versed in astrological magic. These are not full chart elections, as listed in Picatrix or Thabit Ibn Qurra, but rely primarily on planetary day and hour with a few additions like the Moon's sign or phase.

This limited astrological timing just doesn't cut it, planetary day and hour is simply not sufficient. For example, later in 2012 Jupiter will go into Gemini, his detriment, a very serious affliction. If you make a Jupiter talisman with Jupiter seriously afflicted, even if it is Jupiter day and hour you risk disaster. I did this once and immediately started losing large amounts of money until I deconsecrated the talisman. But according to the Greater Key this should have been a wonderful time for a Jupiter talisman, any Jupiter day or hour will do.

The use of specified materials is particularly vexed. Here is the standard planetary metals assignment

Saturn = lead
Jupiter = tin
Mars = iron
Sun = gold
Venus = copper
Mercury = mercury
Moon = silver

The Greater Key substitutes for Mercury, "mixed metals" Well that's a bit more practical than trying to engrave a talisman on a metal that is liquid at room temperature. But you still don't want a solid tin Jupiter talisman (tin is too brittle and lightweight for a talisman) or a lead Saturn talisman (toxic). Frankly I suspect that paper/parchment was much more often used than metal for pentacles, for just these practical reasons.

Of course there are other planetary metal lists, Agrippa in Three Books of Occult Philosophy Bk II, ch. 22 says lead for Saturn, silver for Jupiter, with specialized Jupiter uses for red coral, Mars has iron and for specialized uses, cornelian and red brass, Sun, gold, Venus has silver again and for specialized uses, brass, Mercury has silver, tin, yellow brass, virgin parchment and Moon, silver.

Picatrix Bk II, ch. 10 has Saturn with iron and gold, Jupiter, lead (!!!), Mars, ruby, Venus, red brass, Mercury, mercury, tin, and Moon silver.

Picatrix Bk III, ch 7, says Saturn is lead, Jupiter, tin, Mars, bronze, Sun, gold, Venus gold/silver alloy, Mercury, fixed mercury, Moon, silver.

But even if you use the "canonical" planetary metal list you are missing the point, the power of the talisman is not in the metal out of which it is made and the point of a talisman is not to look pretty or please your aesthetic sense, these are points of contact with powerful spiritual beings! It's a nice bonus to use the appropriate metal ruled by the planet. It is simply not necessary however and only a small part of the magical charge comes from the materials. Ritual and timing are the true key. And the Greater Key itself supports this. After all, the Greater Key says that the pentacles can all be made out of parchment, just with different colors and designs. Why can't they all be made out of vellum, or wood or silver or bronze and with varied designs? The answer I got from my irate caller, "You can't because that's not what the Greater Key says"

In fact the real answer is that the power of an astrological talisman comes primarily from the carefully elected time of its making and the consecration to the appropriate spirit. Materials are much less significant.

As Thabit Ibn Qurra says, "you should begin to work on the image [i.e., talisman], that is, by means of casting it in the form you have made from gold or silver or copper or lead or tin. It does not matter of which of these metals the image is made, because its health and strength require nothing else; it is perfected by the exactness of the ascendant alone." De Imaginibus, Chapter V.

Renaissance Astrology pentacles don't follow the Greater Key exactly and we do this because following the true full chart traditional astrological methodology provides a much more powerfully charged talisman. We don't use the traditional metals because it simply isn't necessary for a powerful talisman.

Practical Tips for Incense

The choice of incense is a big topic. A good start for planets are my planetary rulership pages. If a planet or fixed star, for that matter, rule a substance you can use it as incense. Just watch out that it isn't poisonous or creates noxious smoke when burned.

Let me talk about a bit about practical use of incense. The key with incense is first USE IT! Making sure that you do invocations with incense at all, is more important than what kind you use. I find that when I recommend incense that clients can be so worried about getting the wrong kind or making some kind of mistake that they don't do the invocation at all. You don't have to get mastic gum resin for Jupiter or rosehips for Venus, though the planets appreciate the effort, you can use standard stick incense.

Now, if you are allergic to incense, don't feel like this is a disaster either. I've had clients use a vaporizer or aroma therapy style oils instead. Or punch up the candles, use a number of them, rather than just one, if you can't use incense. Another option is using a tiny amount of incense. That's what I tend to do, just one or two beads of frankincense or mastic. My sinuses can't handle the huge clouds of incense that seem to the norm among ceremonial magicians. A third option is smokeless or rather more realistically low smoke incense.

Here's the smokeless incense page at Scents of Earth, a company which a client just turned me on to

I got a box of the Baiedo Bikou Kobunboku Smokeless and I really like this. I use this for my Buddhist altar, half a stick and we don't even notice the smoke or incense at all.

This does look like a good source for traditional incense, here's the
Scents of Earth main page One thing I am particularly into is the special Japanese charcoal

Here's the big size of Japanese charcoal, but I like the small size charcoal, which I cut in two for my super minimal incense use.

You have to use charcoal for authentic resin incense like frankincense (it comes in these little beads). You need an incense burner, charcoal, tongs (charcoal is HOT!!!) and the incense beads. Pick up the charcoal with the tongs, light the edges in a candle till they are glowing red and then place the charcoal in the burner. Then put the beads of incense on the charcoal. I put the incense burner on a glass plate and I NEVER LEAVE BURNING CANDLES or INCENSE UNATTENDED!!! I don't care how magical it is, I don't care if people have left candles in their bathtub or oven unattended, this is a VERY BAD IDEA!!!!

The great thing about the Japanese charcoal, as opposed to the standard round version you get at hoodoo shops or botanicas is that the Japanese charcoal doesn't spark like crazy.

Another excellent source for incense is Harry at Alchemy Works.

Cleaning Talismans

I had a rather amusing e-mail the other day. A client was very concerned that the talisman they had bought had [big pause for effect] TURNED BLACK!!! This would be very, very worrisome if this was not the natural effect of moisture and air on silver and bronze, it's called tarnish.

Now, that's not to say that tarnish can't be telling us something. I find with protection talismans, for example, if someone is throwing malefic magic at you, that your protection talismans can tarnish faster than normal. Don't however, start getting paranoid over this, since it could just be that you're wearing them in a humid room!

So, not surprisingly, lots of clients ask me, "how should I clean talismans?" Good question! Silver talismans you can use silver polish on. Be careful with our really old style talismans with the flat finish on the background that you don't scrap or scratch the finish. This is why we phased that style out, because I don't want even an occasional scratch.

But this question becomes more difficult now that we have added bronze talismans. "How do you clean bronze?' Well, you don't want to use Brasso or other cleaners intended for outdoor brass and bronze like signs or fittings, because these cleaners are abrasive.

What I've found and this works great for gold, silver and bronze is the Sunshine cloth. This is a soft cloth impregnated with cleaning
solution. You can get the Sunshine cloth at Amazon or just google search them.

Lost Items Horaries?

I had a poster ask for a free lost animal horary. I first mentioned that there is a difference between a free reading on a discussion group and a professional reading. But it really wasn't a pitch for my services, however, as regards lost item horaries. Lost item horaries are VERY difficult for me, I have a low success rate with them. Lost cat horaries I have a better record with for some reason.

Lost items are an area in horary where there don't seem to be any hard and fast rules. Every source seems to be different and even within sources like Lilly or Griffin's Astrological Judgment Touching Theft (& lost item) the rules are wildly contradictory at times. Some astrologers, however, were real geniuses at lost items. Look at Lilly and his lost fish! Christian Astrology, 397-8. Frawley also seems to be good at lost items, judging from the examples in his books.

My view is that when the rules start getting contradictory, but some astrologers get great results we are dealing with a "psychic" area. What do I mean by this? Some modern astrologers can get astonishingly accurate results, but then when they try to explain how they got them from the chart you can't follow them and they can't teach their method. Essentially they are using the chart like a tarot deck, I ching, crystal ball, etc., as a preliminary jumping off point to accessing their own innate psychic ability.

Traditional astrology does use what you can variously term intuition, judgment or psychic ability. However, the normal traditional process is to first delineate the chart, see what possibilities the chart indicates and then use your intuition to pick among the possibilities indicated by technique. The psychic is able to jump immediately to the prediction with a minimum of technique.

Thus in my view, lost items, timing and location, are three areas with contradictory rules, that are more "psychic" that say a marriage or job horary. Or maybe that's just a long winded excuse for why I'm not that good at lost items!