I am not an astrologer. I don’t have the temperament for it. But that’s not to say that I don’t think timing is important when it comes to magic. And whereas the idea of having an election explained to me by a professional astrologer fills me with dread, I actually rather enjoy the poetry and artistry of working with the planetary hours. There’s a hot take or two in here. If you are already familiar with the notion of planetary rulers of hours and days you can happily skip the first section.
Days of the week have been assigned planetary rulers since time immemorial, and often named after them. It is fairly uncontroversial to assign the days of the week as follows:
If you’re coming at this from a magical perspective, it’s easy to forget that this is not just an invention of medieval grimoire magicians. The connection of days of the week to planets is deeply engrained across numerous times and cultures. Further grimoire reading then teaches us that the days are divided into hours. But these are not hours in the modern sense of a fixed period of time. Instead, each period of daylight (sunrise to sunset) is divided into twelve, as is each period of darkness (sunset to sunrise). This gives us the basic pattern of twenty-four hours, but as the days and nights lengthen and shorten through the seasons, so the length of an hour also changes. It is easy to assume that this too is an invention of magicians but I have written elsewhere on this site about how it was also a fairly standard way of proceeding with working out the time in western cultures at least until the invention of the first mechanical clocks.
So the first hour of the daylight, beginning at the moment of dawn, is given the same planetary ruler as the day. So dawn on Monday will always be the beginning of an hour of the Moon and so on. Then the hours are given to each of the planets in turn throughout the hours of daylight and darkness, in the order: Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury: over and over. The maths of this means the dawn hour of the next day is correct, without breaking the order of progression. Thus there are three of four recurrences of hours governed by a particular planet in each twenty-four hour period.
Numerous grimoires have a few paragraphs explaining the above. (Spare a thought for those living in a time before mechanical clocks, let alone before computers, when working all that out for a particular day would require some intimidating maths.) But then we get to the fun bit. A number of grimoires follow up their explanation by assigning to every hour throughout the week, a thing or group of things which a particular hour is ‘good for’. So, the Hygromanteia for example takes on the first few hours of Friday (Venus) as follows:
1st Venus (dawn): Make a talisman concerning love and affection
2nd Mercury: For Matchmaking
3rd Moon: Good for everything
4th Saturn: Obstacles of love
5th Jupiter: For gifts and pleasant conversations
These tables extend to cover every hour of the week. (These quoted ones are from the 16th century Monacensis MSS.) In The Key of Solomon the matter is covered like this “The Days and Hours of Venus are good for forming friendships; for kindness and love, for joyous and pleasant undertakings, and for travelling.” The Key gives every planet a paragraph like this which contains many of the things you will find in a list of ‘planetary attributes’ in a 101 magic book today. Things get a little more interesting further down the page: it goes into detail about what it considers the hours alone are good for. So, for example, “The Hours of Venus are furthermore useful for lots, poisons, all things of the nature of Venus, for preparing powders provocative of madness: and the like things.” Again, all the planets have a similar paragraph. The ‘hours’ paragraphs are rather more subtle. The attributes given to the planetary influences over the hours make perfect sense in terms of how we understand those planets, but they are perhaps a little more refined.
My hot-take about all this as it appears in the grimoires is that this reads to me like UPG. I am pretty convinced that back in the day there were just as many armchair magicians as there are now: those who enjoyed reading and studying magic (and copying it out into further books) but who rarely actually drew a circle on the ground or consecrated a magical weapon. My hunch is that the long lists in the Hygromanteia for example are the work of one magician who has the principles down and has actually done the work, but that later copyists have rarely tested it out until eventually it is translated and printed and distributed by Llewellyn Books. From time to time we see in the manuscript tradition changes being made suggestive of someone actually trying things and finding they don’t work, or that there is a better combination. On the whole, though, the transition into print, with the all the sense of permanence that goes with that, lends an air of authority to grimoires like this which belies the fact they are often the working notes of a very few magicians, not canonical texts. I am not criticising anyone in that centuries-long process. I am merely noting that I think these long lists of what to do on a particular hour and day should be treated more like poetry than an instruction manual. I think every magician should have their own list which is created from both meditation on the nature of various planetary powers, and experimentation to see if their ideas to that end actually work.
I love meditating on the combinations of hour and day. I’ve created a two very quiet rules for the way I go about this. We are looking to create a list of “The Hour of X on the Day of Y is good for…” statements.
- The day comes first. I understand the ruler of the day to be the main influence in deciding how to use a particular hour. The ruler of the hour is the colour, the gloss, the poetics on top of the ruler of the day.
- The hours change with the light. There are often three or four hours ruled by the same planet in any one day. What makes the first hour of Mercury in the day different to the fourth? I have found it makes sense to bring a little darkness into the hours as the day goes on. The hour closest to the dawn will use the hour-ruler’s brightest and best attributes. By the end of the night, the dark-side comes out to play.
If we go back the Hygromanteia quoted above, it is easy to see perhaps how some of those ‘good for’ statements have been conceived. Venus/Venus at dawn is straight up love magic, nothing fancy, just the whole power of Venus bent towards matters of love and affection. In the second hour, however, Mercury/Venus: the main attribute is still love and relationships but add in a little of the intelligence and tricksiness of Mercury and it makes perfect sense that matchmaking would be a good project in this hour.
So, here’s the game. We take some of the grimoire lists, we find a few good books or websites that have a deeper than usual understanding of the planetary powers, we mix in our own wisdom and sense of poetry and wonder and we write our own lists. This is a practical venture. There are 168 hours in a week and, let’s be honest, most of us don’t have that much magic to do! Nor, probably, did the people who wrote the grimoires. But that’s not to say we can’t test these out. This is a part of my own list. Obviously, it reflects my own concerns and lifestyle:
The Day of Venus
- Venus All the love.
- Mercury For writing love poetry.
- Moon Love’s hurts healed. Release from harmful relationship patterns.
- Saturn For strong boundaries in relationships. Discovering ancestors.
You can see that these first few hours of the day are all sweetness and light really. If we skip to the end now of the same day:
- Saturn For sowing discord between lovers. Succubi/Incubi
- Jupiter For multiple partners.
- Mars For a strong sex-drive.
- Sun For revealing secret relationships
- Venus For compelling love. For love that breaks things.
- Mercury For sex work. For queer desire.
- Moon The pains of unspoken love. Taboos. For mixing poisons.
These lists are always going to be a mixture of things tried and untried but what I like to do is once in a while to notice (from the app on my phone) what the hour/day combo is and to come up with an understanding of what that might be good for. I will then create a small piece of magic, usually a sigil, but it could be any kind of spell, and fire it off at that time and see, in the doing, if it feels like I may have got the poetics of the combination right.
For example, just the other day I saw it was the Hour of the Sun on the Day of Mars. I had been pondering weather magic and so I was soon crafting a sigil ‘I am watching summer storms’. Now, it was the middle of a heatwave here at the time, so this was hardly an attempt to shift probabilities on a cosmic-scale. Nonetheless, that night I was woken by flashes of lightning and roaring thunder right above the house and discovered that my weather app had changed its forecast to show storms as likely for the whole of the following day. I’m taking that as a win. And I can write in my own list ‘Good for lightning’. It may be that in the future I will look at that and understand it more metaphorically. Perhaps on that hour I will cast a spell/sigil to make something happen with lightning speed.
It’s possible, of course, to weave in other influences too such as the phase of the moon, even the weather, and that can be enjoyable like mixing paint colours: up to the point where the result is always mud brown.
There are those who are capable of sensational electional astrology who can whip up a time and date for a particular operation on the back of a napkin, but these people are few and far between. They are certainly fewer than the people who think they can do that. I find planetary hour timing to be potent, subtle and manageable and actuall rather enjoyable.