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.