Some of you already know I’ve been tied up in a massive experiment the past nine months, one of the primary reasons I haven’t been writing on this blog. If you want a picture of what this experiment entails, imagine a synthesis of the medieval and renaissance conjuration Manuals, assembly-level programming, folk-magic notions of “reward and punishment” based on an entity’s performance, ruthless examination of every angle/process/vector of manifestation, implementation of the “gear-wheels of the universe” epiphany I had 11 years ago, and hard-line empiricism expressed as an absolute emphasis on physical results.
(I’m a firm believer that if you’re not interested in physical-world results, you have no business messing with magic in the first place. Go pick up a copy of The Three Ages and take up mysticism instead!)
In short I’m completely relearning of how to do magic from the micro-level upwards – with intent to get to what makes the “subatomic” level of magical work tick – and it may be another decade before I’m able to write about the entire project with any kind of systematization or detail.
One of the components of that experiment is that of “planetary hours,” which have seen other implementations throughout history. The most commonly-used scheme is that based on “sundial time,” where the number of minutes from sunrise to sunset is divided by 12, leaving the operator with the length of one “day hour” (the number of minutes after sunset are likewise divided by 12 to produce the length of a “night hour”). The first hour of the day is the same as that day’s planet, and the planetary hours are then computed from that point in descending order as per the Ptolemaic System: Saturn-Jupiter-Mars-Sol-Venus-Mercury-Luna.
Divergent Planetary Hour Schemes
Every occultist knows this, and online calculators for planetary hours exist to reduce the amount of work that goes into planning one’s operations. So far all well and good, except this is not the only system used for calculating hours. The least divergent system can be seen in the Heptameron of pseudo-Pietro d’Abano, which affirms the 12-hour system and assigns to each the angels of the hour’s planet, while also giving a set of 24 angel-names that are “fixed” to each hour: 12 for each hour of the day, and 12 for each hour of the night. (The full tables with explanation are given in Chapter 25.)
If the Heptameron is the least divergent, then perhaps the most divergent example can be found in the Book of Abramelin, in which Abraham the Jew calls the usual method an “gross error:”
O! how gross an error! Hear and tell me when it is that a Planet hath the greatest force in the Elements; whether when it is above or when it is below your Horizon or Hemisphere? We must however avow that it is more powerful when it is above, because being below it hath no power save according unto the Will of God. Why then, even further than this, should we attribute unto a Planet a Day and Hour, if during the whole period of such Day it appeareth not above the Horizon!
(Book 2, Chapter 6)
He then goes on to tell us a planetary day is the entire time a planet is above the horizon, while to him the planetary hour constitutes the time when the planet is directly overhead, and that there may be several planetary days and hours happening all at once:
When the Planet beginneth to appear upon the Horizon then doth its Day begin (whether it be Light or Dark, Black or White), and until it hath passed its elevation its Day lasteth until it riseth anew, and after that it hath set its Night endureth; so that as well in the Days of the Sun as in those of the Moon and of the others, the Days of all the Planets be mingled, only that one commenceth sooner than another, according to which nature they be mingled together in the Celestial Signs. Now it is requisite that I should tell unto you what be the Planetary Hours! Know then that each Planet hath only an hour during the which it is very powerful, being over you and above your head, that is to say when it is in the Meridian. Then, naturally, will sometimes arrive the Hours of two Planets together and beginning at the same moment; they then produce an effect according unto the nature, quality, and complexion of these stars. But all this only hath power in natural things.
I have not attempted this method, and admit that while I can see where this looks and sounds better “on paper” or “in my head,” but cannot speak to how it works in practice. On the bright side, astronomy is our friend and websites exist to tell us which planets will be visible in the sky from a given location (I’m honestly not sure if the author’s referring to whether the planets are visible overhead, or to their locations on a horary chart).
Another method, which attempts to support the “traditional” system but present it another way, is given by Mathers in his introductory material for The Key of Solomon the King, in which he gives a table of angels ruling the hours “from Midnight to Midnight.”
Mathers’ tables are known to probably everyone reading this post, so I won’t reproduce them here. I will however quote Mather’s notes on the use of his table, because it shows his interest at converting away from “sundial time” and towards what I call “clock time:”
Supposing the student wishes to discover the properties of the hour from 12 to 1 O’clock p.m. on a Tuesday, let him look in the ‘Table of the Planetary Hours,’ and having found the hour marked 1 in the column headed’ Hours from Midnight to Midnight,’ he will see in the column headed ‘Hours from Sunset to Sunset,’ on the same line the figure 8, showing it to be the eighth hour of the day; and in the column headed Tuesday, the name Mars, showing that it is under the dominion of the planet Mars.
Elsewhere in the same paragraph:
Similarly it will be found that the hour from 10 to 11 p.m. on Saturday is the sixth hour of the night, under the dominion of the Sun, that its Magical Name is Cäerra, and that the Angel Michael rules it; while Saturday itself is under the dominion of the Archangel Tzaphqiel, of the Angel Cassiel, of the Planet Saturn, and that the Metal Lead and the Colour Black are applicable to it.
What we find remarkable here is that rather than the variable-length hours humanity has used for most of its history, Mathers is referring strictly to the consistent 60-minute hour that we know and love today, and furthermore refers specifically to the hours delineated on the face of a clock.
For somebody like me who doesn’t use a sundial, this may look like an excellent conversion. However if we interpret Mathers’ midnight-to-midnight chart exactly as his notes dictate (i.e. the hour “6” actually means from 5a.m. to 6a.m.), then we find he made the mistake of assigning his angels an hour early (he has the day beginning at Lauds, when it actually begins at Prime; we’ll cover this later on).
Lastly but not least, there is a diagram in Bodleian Library MS e. Mus. 173, presented to us in Daniel Harm’s Of Angels, Demons, and Spirits, which gives yet another method of planetary hours:
The above diagram contains the usual twelve day-hours and twelve night-hours, but notice that instead of referring to sunrise or sunset (Latin ortus and occassus, respectively), the diagram labels its hours before noon and after noon, with ante meridiem and post meridiem being the exact source of our modern abbreviations “a.m.” and “p.m.” This effectively gives us a chart of planetary hours ranging from midnight to midnight, rather than from sunrise to sunrise.
(Caution: the word meridies, -ei also translates as “south,” which corresponds to the sun’s position at noonday; I’ve always thought this double-meaning to be a reference to the sun casting shadows northward at high noon. But I want to point out that absent the author explaining that table in the manuscript, my conclusions could very well be wrong!)
Now this is the point where somebody may object that “clock time” is out-of-step with the cycles of nature, and ditto for not counting time beginning at sunset or sunrise; for example we already know “clock noon” doesn’t exactly match “solar noon” and few modern clocks time their hours to the exact minutes of sunrise or sunset. My own response is that experimenting with “clock time” has brought me results just as effectively as when I experimented with “sundial time,” but has the added benefit that we can plan our working-times ahead with as much ease as learning our multiplication tables.
What I’ve Been Doing
So here’s the system I’ve been using for the past month, with equal effect. It’s adapted from Mathers’ table and is keyed to the Canonical Hours, with Prime and Vespers set at 6a.m. and 6p.m., respectively, reflecting sunrise and sunset around the equinoxes if we ignore Daylight Savings Time (“DST”). In fact speaking of DST, we would do well to subtract an hour from what our clock says when DST is in effect (though my first choice would be to abolish DST altogether).
You may also notice I keyed this chart to the “canonical hours,” or the hours at which the Divine Office is traditionally prayed. The observant reader may dispute my placing of Matins at 1am rather than midnight or 2am (as the Rule of St. Benedict tells us), but that’s to account for the variation of time on some schemata. The same could be said for Lauds (which I’ve seen at 3am or at the hour before dawn), and Compline (which I’ve seen at either 8 or 9pm). Please bear in mind these are used as guidelines and not hard-and-fast rules, but also note that the “sundial time” for the Divine Office has also given way to “Clock Time” well before the Second Vatican Council and the new “Liturgy of the Hours” promulgated under Laudis Canticum.
Hours and Days
A further note on another thing I’ve learned through experimentation: the relationship between hours and days. Now this is a part where I’ve received pushback in private conversations, but what I’ve found is that while the hour relates to the purpose of one’s work (most occultists would agree), it’s the day that relates to the context of the working!
For example, an operation to attract money would be done on a Jupiter hour during a Friday, as the hour relates to prosperity while the day (Venus) relates to attraction. I’m not unique in at least intuiting something like this, as the Heptameron even tells us toward the end of Chapter 23:
The Spirits of the Air of Friday are subject to the West-winde; their nature is to give silver: to excite men, and incline them to luxury…
Interestingly, in the proceeding chapter (22) we read the following about Thursday:
The Spirits of the Air of Thursday, are subject to the South-winde; their nature is to procure the love of woman; to cause men to be merry and joyful; to pacifie strife and contentions; to appease enemies; to heal the diseased, and to disease the whole; and procureth losses, or taketh them away.
My original sense of timing, found in the Libri Artum system, was to work at midnight on the day whose planet matched the working (or at 1am during Daylight Savings Time). My sixteen-year old self knew nothing of planetary hours at the time, or of calculating hours the way they’d appear on a sundial instead of a clock, or any of what the manuals or grimoires had to say on the subject. I got busy, did my first working, and within two days the statutory rapist I was working against was removed from my friend’s life, packed his bags, and left for Florida. That was all the confirmation I needed to know I was on the right track!
Later when I found out about the idea of “planetary hours,” it was the “midnight to midnight” chart in Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic, and I misread the times completely. Rather than realize the Hour-and-Day matched at Prime, I took the chart to mean the planet-and-day matched at 1am, 8am, 3pm, and 10pm – i.e. Hour of the Sun would be at 1, 8, 3, and 10 on Sunday (much like the above diagram from MS e. Mus. 173!) – and practiced that way for years without my results suffering.
More recently, when experimenting with the planetary hours as traditionally configured, or according to the chart I devised, I still find no obstacles in my work. Even during the first week of this experiment, when I forgot to adjust for Daylight Savings Time!
All of this leads me to believe the division of planetary hours is arbitrary in nature, and no one system is objectively better than another. I’m at the point of taking it or leaving it, even though the experimentation is not yet finished and I won’t be rendering a full verdict until after the beginning of the new year.
My final word: I’m not writing this to gore anyone’s sacred cattle or tell them what they’re doing is wrong. As with anything else I’ve written, I am sharing only what I’ve found works for me; if it works the same way for you, then that’s awesome! Stick to the method that works best for you, just know there are other systems out there that can work just as well and feel free to experiment if you find yourself so moved.