Magic: image magic

Sara Mastros over at Traif Banquet asked me about my work with Jason Miller’s chapbook on Advanced Planetary Magic.  When the ebook first came out, I was deeply into Planetary magic (and still am, to some degree.  I was doing a lot with the Planetary Hours at the time.  One of the components of Jason’s work is the development of new sigils/seals for the planets in cooperation with artist Matthew Brownlee. Another portion of the work is the development of a set of Calls for each of the forty-nine planetary hours — for example, a Sun hour on a Satur(n)day, or a Moon hour or a Saturn hour on a Wednesday, or a Moon hour on a Sunday.

I thought Jason’s chapbook was brilliant. It’s still worth getting, if you’re interested in the idea of working with the astrological hours.

The whole idea of expanding magic beyond simply using the astrological hour, to include a poetic form (strong on alliteration rather than my own preference for rhyme and meter [such as in the Mansions of the Moon or the Sun’s Paces), and structuring the times more particularly and deliberately, struck me as a useful innovation in magic.

But it lacked an important component — namely, the images of the hours, which serve as the talismanic images that hold the representation of each hour  and serve to give it form.

Consider the Picatrix, that medieval grimoire of magic and astrology.  Each of the Mansions of the Moon there, each of the Behenian stars, each of the Decans of the Zodiac, is accompanied by a description of a picture.  Each of these pictures serves as a link between the energies or forces of that astrological period, and the present world.  To create the image when a particular planet is in the right part of the sky, is to awaken the energies of that time period, and make them work for you.  The image serves as a doorway and a window — an icon, if you will, into that astrological period’s applications and capacities.

Setting Up For Scrying

And so, I set out to scry the astrological hours, one at a time, over several months — not to write poetry, which Jason had already done — but to identify the images associated with each of the astrological hours as he had called them in his Calls.

I feel that I got great results. Gradually, I composed them in a Moleskine notebook, of the sort called a Japanese album that breaks out into a folding screen.  First, I worked out all of the geometry for each of the forty-nine pages — a Gothic/Ogival window on each page, with two upper lancets for the signs of the planet as Jason and Matthew had newly composed them.  Below the window, in large text, was the name of the hour, the vowels to be chanted to awaken the call, and then the text of the call below that.

You’ll note that I have cut off the text of Jason’s Hour-Calls… that’s copyrighted material, and you’ll have to buy his book to get those calls. Fortunately, it’s a cheap eBook (and mine are even cheaper).

The Scrying Work

The scrying has gone forward in about six steps, more or less as follows:

  1. Recite the Jason Miller Hour-Call during the appropriate astrological Hour, with its vowel-sounds and appropriate music playing, ideally when the planets of the Hour and Day were in a favorable position; Sit with the energies of the astrological Hour for a period of time, and wait for an idea of the relevant image to form
  2. Then, ask the Intelligences to show me the correct image of the Hour.  Upon seeing a tableau of sorts of the image, I then recorded in my own words a verbal description of the image, and confirmed that image with the Intelligences of the Hour; I then thanked the Intelligences of the Hour for the vision or identity of the image; and closed the Call with the sounding of the vowels again.
  3. Wait until the same Hour came around again, and sketch a rough outline in pencil of the image of the Hour. Perform the Call while studying the roughed-out image. Wait for a sense of approval (and in some cases, disapproval) from the Intelligences of the Hour, and either erase the extant rough-out and begin again, or keep it for next time.
  4. Return in a successive week at the same Hour, and generate a more detailed sketch of the image of the astrological Hour, or erase and begin again.
  5. Return in yet another week to the same Hour and ink the image’s pencil outlines into these sketches.
  6. In a few cases (not shown here), return in the same Hour in another week to color the image and so activate it most forcefully.

In Jason Miller’s sequence, of course, each planetary hour on a given day has particular purposes.  I’ve found, from a magical perspective, that it’s been quite easy to energize these Hours at successive strength-levels with the a) roughed-out sketch, b) detailed pencils, c) the inked image, and d) the colored, inked image.  Each action makes the picture stronger and more forceful.  Linked to the text below, and to the actual sounding of the Call, the image becomes a full-fledged app of the energies of that astrological hour.

But there is another benefit, too — both less magical and more so.

Image Magic


If you survey the modern literature of magic in some detail, from the Golden Dawn to the current witchcraft revival, there’s a curious hole in modern magical training.  It has to do with Image Magic, and particularly with the magic of image-making.

Images change our minds in ways that the written word can’t.  I’ve had conversations with fellow educators about the power of the image — in both static and moving/video forms — to ‘infect’ and ‘attack’ our unconscious minds in ways that the written word either doesn’t, or simply can’t.  How many of us have had the experience of reading a book, and unconsciously conjuring the image of the scene we’re reading?  A good many of us, I’m sure.  How many of us have later seen the movie made from the book, and found that we can no longer conjure our own personal image from the book, but find only the scene from the movie?  A good many of us, I’m sure.

And then, of course… how many of us have found that bits and pieces of movies and tv shows have made their way into our dreams?  That’s pretty deep.  In the movie, What the Bleep Do We Know? a man tells the story of putting a picture of a nice house on a vision board, losing track of the vision board for a while, and then pulling it out… only to have his son notice that the picture of the house on the vision board is the same house that they’re currently living in. I’ve had the experience, myself, of dreaming myself aboard the Enterprise, or the Millennium Falcon, or in Hogwarts… not the places of my imagination, but the places of someone else’s imagination.

It’s not for nothing that the lodge organizations of old, whether the Grange or the Knights of Pythias or the Golden Dawn, taught as much through the establishment of scenes and tableaux on a stage or in the center of the lodge, as through boards of pictures that held relevant scenes intended to teach the story of the organization on a mythic level.

Nor is it the case that modern schools — mystery or otherwise — do much to teach image magic.  You can go to film school (Gordon did, and look at how much magical imagery he uses) or you can study art or graphic design, of course… but a good many people will deny and deride you if you try.

The business world is starting to catch on, of course.  In business, you can study sketchnoting with Mike Rohde or visual thinking with Dave Gray— but again, the idea that imagery can carry magical weight… Well. That idea doesn’t have much currency in modern occultism, which is a shame.  There’s a few practitioners here and there, but not many. They don’t advertise, mostly… and most of us are too hung up on word-magic to pay it much mind.

The Secrets of the Image-Makers

img_7164If you consider the instructions on image magic in Picatrix and other sources, they’re not particularly helpful. The text will simply say, “make the image of a man in coitus with a woman”, for example, or “make the image of a dog biting its own tail” or “make the image of a viper coiled on itself with its tail higher than its head.”

These are all real descriptions, by the way, of actual images from the Mansions of the Moon chapters.  There’s no explanation of how to do it, only when and for what magical purposes.  You’re left the task of figuring out how to draw those things for yourself (or sculpt them, or carve them, or what have you).

But the Arabic and Mesopotamian and Mediterranean authors of these texts were trying to preserve a tradition of image-making and image-magic, that was either outright-banned in Jewish tradition and in the emergent Muslim tradition, or co-opted into religious icon making in eastern Christianity (and statuary of the saints in western Christianity).  There were plenty of people who knew how to draw in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, but not what to draw.  And later, the only way that anyone would draw anything at all was with a primitive style and limited color palette in the margins of a medieval book about medical astrology, or a bestiary, or a gospel… where it’s beautiful, of course, but almost-unnoticed at the same time.

You have other options, of course.  Visit Pinterest and type in “drawing tutorials”. Here, I’ll do it for you. It’s possible to call up all sorts of reference guides to how to draw.  You’re not starting from scratch like a medieval monk would have, trying to learn image-magic from a forbidden book.  You have the ability to start with hundreds if not thousands of references.

Of course, your first efforts will be terrible.  Mine were, and remain so.  You could say that I’m a dabbler (though that’s not entirely accurate, either).  Your hand won’t know what your mind wants it to do; you won’t know how to move your hand to produce this or that arc, that line, the shape of a woman’s breast, the positioning of an elbow or an arm.  Don’t worry, even so.  The Intelligences of the Hours, or of the Mansions, aren’t worried about the quality of your line-work or shading. They want to see if you’ll make the image for them. What is it that Gordon said a long time ago? “The spirits don’t want a cathedral; they want you to build them a cathedral.” Maybe I don’t have the quotation quite right — but the idea is sticky, really: a cathedral here creates a certain kind of shape in the spiritual realms, a certain protuberance in the landscape there, that makes our activity, our reality, manifest to them in those other places.

And so it is with image magic.  When we make the images here, good or bad, they carry a certain resonance, or create a certain protuberance if you will, over there.  Those images are sticky to us, too, if well-executed enough — there are scenes from the old Star Trek or from the more recent Hobbit movies that still stun and awe me, months and decades later.

Images change who we are.

So. Learn to draw. Learn to make magic with your drawing.  Learn to work with the spirits and intelligences that make our drawings sticky and transformative.  It take a long time to get good… but that’s the core secret of the image-makers, really, whether they’re advertisers on Madison Avenue or film directors in Bollywood or painters in some backwater artists’ colony in some cheap town in Michigan: when you align your images with magical truths, your audience will be transformed.

A Small Warning, too…

There’s a reason that most magical schools don’t teach this kind of magic, of course… our modern world runs on it, even as we disrespect the artists who create it.  Magazines, movies, pictures, Vines, Instagrams, Facebook… images capture our attention and mediate it into spirit realms even as the image itself transforms our own modes of thought.  You are being magicked, right now…  And learning to make image magic is one of the few ways to develop an immunity to this magic used against you.

Think of learning to draw as being a ‘ground and center’ exercise for the modern age.  It’ll help you think more clearly, it will ward you against other kinds of hostile image magic, and it will give you a business-ready tool for working in the modern world.

Don’t underestimate the power of image magic, either. Ever.

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