The documents within the Picatrix which describes the Lunar Mansions are texts of astrological magic, in particular the talismanic tradition, of which the Picatrix is the primary source. We might find talismans and amulets and fetishes of various kinds archeologically throughout history in periods much more antique than the Picatrix, which arrives in the medieval period, and we find instructions for such pieces’ constructions in such texts as the Greek Magical Papyri back in the classical era, although it is the Picatrix primarily who’s methods are explicitly astrological and complete as far as the protocols described. The PGM mentions astrology throughout, here and there, and there are components that are certainly astrological but buried in other terminology or referential shorthand, but only the Picatrix, much later and of a separate strand of cultural and traditional transmission altogether, describes how one might go about making specifically astrological talismans.
Image as seal
The approach Picatrix takes is one of image magic, which can be described as a subset of the natural magic which became very popular later in the renaissance. The image magic it employs within itself does not rely specifically on any agency or intelligence being employed other than to operate in the construction of the object at the correct timing, and to call upon the significations, names, symbols, archetypal associations of the celestial layer with which you wish to invoke and direct into the sympathetic material by way of surrounding said material, self and ritual workspace with an abundance of such sympathies and associated colors, costume, material, gesture and language so the particular virtue you wish to seat within the talisman flows and keeps correctly. The element which seals the deal is the image you inscribe on either metal or stone.
Who are we talking to?
All of this is well and good, although, despite listing lords or angels of the mansions by name, it doesn’t include any information about how one might call them. The planetary prayers listed in other sections are often elaborate and list-like breakdowns of everything the magician-author can think of that relates to the planet and all the names he knows to call each planetary body from varied culture and geography. This method can’t be applied so well to calling to the angels or lords of the mansions as we know nothing about them other than the list of electional directives included as the mansions’ only descriptions, or the talismanic operations described which seem to be a singled out electional directive transferred into a talismanic template. You might guess that the positive purpose talismans are using benefic elections and the destructive sounding talismans are using malefic elections, as previously suggested in the protocols earlier in the book. We might borrow protocols from Solomonic or Djinn conjuration manuals and see if the mansion lords respond to those methods of contact, but the tech is not specifically detailed within the Picatrix itself.
Kinds of magic and paradigmatic frameworks
This is not a mistake most likely, as conjuring demons and spirits was likely prohibited strictly where the Picatrix was collected and authored in time as well as geography. Therefor, the variety of image magic employed relies entirely on a mechanical, neoplatonic manipulation of reality’s natural laws which utilize the authority of higher beings (angelic, celestial, heavenly) to essentially press the virtue you want imbued into incorruptible material down where then the magician seals it with the image that depicts a combination of the result desired along with the sympathetic associations of the archetypes involved. The doctrine of signatures, central to the functioning of natural magic, which proliferated into the renaissance and early modern period ran with this neoplatonic logic up until the enlightenment when rationalist and materialist scientific models and methods were developed and backcasted previous assumptions as merely superstition. Where as natural magic ran on a theory of like attracts like, things being sympathetic attracting one another or things asympathetic repelling one another, and all of this cleverly hanging upon hermetic and astrological paradigmatic frameworks— low, folk, or village magic on the other hand, lacking in literacy in almost all cases called upon the miraculous for its functioning, and employed a mix of natural magic’s reliance on lapidaries, herbalism and physic with prayers and petitions to local spirits, saints or by contagion; the touching of one thing to another thing to impart its virtue from object to object, such as holy relics, the bones of honored dead with particular powers or abilities. This was not the high magic of theurgy, the raising of the spirit to higher states of being, of which the Picatrix in methodology descends, and is also not the monastic mysticism of 13th and 14th century Notae, prayers and meditations to increase the memory and mind as well as make it more receptive to holiness.
Mechanics or negotiation?
Of course, there is overlap here and there with any form of magic. We might find elements of the talismanic tradition in chaos magic’s making of sigils, elements of necromancy in the cult of the saints. Necromancy, divination or magic by the dead and nigromancy, black magic, became interchangeable terms through out the Solomonic period as these practices transitioned by various channels from antiquity, blending the circle drawing of jewish magic, with Egyptian stellar ceremonial timing and ideas of the human body parts corresponding to a haunted sky, as well as the funerary practices of indigenous Greek colonies, the “shamanic” roles of the ancient goens showing up in the grimoires and in the words of Agrippa as goetia. Particular fear and apprehension is observable from the classic period to the present around such practices and what kind of character might be up to calling forth various spirits and beings from this realm or that and from the living side of life or from death. But of all the forms of magic we see across the western tradition, it is in the “goetic” thread that there is mutual approach between the non human and the human directly, and dialogue and conversant engagement takes place.
What, Who or Where?
If we concern ourselves to imagine that there is more to the Lunar Mansions than a set of electional directives and neoplatonic talismanic protocols we might wonder who inhabits these places, as we can see the 36 decans very much inhabited in the Testament Of Solomon, and reflected into center grimoires; the KOS etc. 72 spirits in the much problematic roster later being a doubling of the 36 solar decans around the ecliptic. But what about the 28 places of the Lunar Cycle? If there are spirits inhabiting the lunar rhythms then who are they, where have they expressed themselves across the western magical tradition as well as in the classical world and even further back into prehistory? Are the mansions places that have quality like sky territory houses for the spirits? Landscapes in which populations of spirits naturally reside?
Where else can we find 28 places?
Jake Stratton-Kent has pointed out in his ‘Encyclopaedia Goetica’ that there is a certain Prayer to Mene, a goddess of months and syncretized to Hekate (PGM VII 756-94) which after invoking the waxing Moon from darkness to full in 14 successive sounds a list of animals ensues that is ended by cult objects of Hekate. Hekate is both a goddess of the Moon as well as magic and of beasts. Here we might have a list of animal images that harkens back to older similar lists and syncretized to Hekate in the old cultural center of Egyptian Thebes. The 1st 21 mentions on the list are animals and the last seven are objects and natural phenomena associated with the Goddess. This list may harken back to the animal marked lunar calendars of prehistory and be possibly an influence or at least hold parallel with other observations of lunar mansions and lunar mansion timing. Stratton-Kent also points to how the spirits listed in the Grimorium Verum, a particular late era blue grimoire collected from French and Italian manuscripts, equal 28 and likely their conjuration could be timed via lunar mansion observance. This Grimoire traveled to Brazil where it became one of the influences that wove into the African Traditional Religion of Quimbanda. Some personae populating Quimbanda have strong synchronized ties to the spirits of the Verum, and when the Picatrix list, the PGM list, the Verum, and the synchronized Quimbanda Exu are all laid side by side there are some very revealing parallels and inter-relations that span the material. Layers of significance and meaning leap out, and parallels to classical ideas and narrative shapes lend themselves freely. There seems to be a shape which is sculpted by the 28 days it takes the Moon to get around the ecliptic which allows 28 living landscapes of sky territory to be illuminated and pour forth into the sublunar realm.
See it or feel it?
We might think of the Sun as Apollo who becomes Chthonic at night, and travels the Underworld and projects what he sees there onto the sky. The stars of our firmament then are the spirits and the honored dead. The Moon passes through the stellar scape and has access to these beings as she moves through her own layer of the sky. We might find these places and feel them, engage with them, and perhaps with animals as guides, explore our experience of time more fully, in a state of higher saturation. When we key in to Jupiter, through timing and sympathy and invocation, and do Jupiter magic, all the Jupitarian things seem to ping and turn on for us, offer themselves up, as they’ve been effectively highlighted and sorted up to the top of the stack for us. With the Lunar Mansions it feels as though while the Moon is in one of the 28 places everything under the sky is simply submerged into a bath of that place, a liquid medium, accessible through our physical and emotional body. An impressionistic world of changeable meaning. A haunted world, and an inhabited world, of which the sky is a primary part.
Can we be in the image too?
From this more animist perspective the Lunar Mansions fill themselves in
naturally from the confluence of living history, active magic, textual tradition, and engagement with time, an elastic and ongoing conversation with the Moon which can serve to broaden and awaken what might be dormant within and between the lines of neoplatonic protocols. The image magic we engage with moving forward is one of living images, properly inhabited and dialoguing with our own imaginations. The natural magic we engage with is one that extends out of and even blurs the lines between materials we interact with, the time marked by the position of the Moon, the dreams that we have, the spirits that we meet, the images that we make, and the animals that guide us through the process, and remind us of their involvement in various myths and mysteries. A process of remembering, and making meaning from magic. Along the way we might get results, but we get more than that, we get to understand what’s happening, not by rational explanation, as that falters in the face of real phenomenon, but by feel, by body memory. Neoplatonism does barely any better at explaining magic as does modern science. Still today, as some of human’s first days on earth, metaphor and story work best; but stories that you are involved in and experiencing work the best of all.