When it comes down to performing rites of magick1 with specific purposes in mind, a method that has been in persistent use since the Middle Ages is that of planetary hours. Whether one’s rites are to be angelic2, demonic3, thanateric4, theurgic5, or otherwise, timing appears to be a crucial factor in the success of said rites. Nearly all of the old grimoires paid close attention to rite timing in one way or another, and many such as the Goetia and the Heptameron utilized the system of planetary hours that I am about to explain.
Now, when I say “planet”, I am meaning one of the “Seven Holy Planets” of tradition, which included the Sun and the Moon. Perhaps “Seven Heavenly Bodies” would be more appropriate, but I think you get the idea. Back in the old days there were no telescopes worth a damn, therefore Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are not included in the list. The list is as follows:
Pay close attention to the order above, since we will get back to that later on in this essay. Simply, the order is derived from the perceived movement of said heavenly bodies from the earth, going from slowest to fastest, i.e. Saturn the slowest and Moon the fastest. Those familiar with Qabalah will note that the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life follow the exact same pattern – starting with Binah/Saturn down to Yesod/Moon.
As many of you might know, each day of the week was seen to be ruled over by one of these planets.
Sunday – The Sun (duh!)
Monday – The Moon
Tuesday – Mars
Wednesday – Mercury
Thursday – Jupiter
Friday – Venus
Saturday – Saturn
English-speakers have a bit of trouble with some of these since our words for the days in question have been taken from barbarized versions of Germanic/Norse god names, as opposed to romance languages that tend to use the name of the Roman god/planet in question (example: Tuesday/Mars in Italian is known as “Martedi”, Wednesday/Mercury is “Mercoledi”, etc.). Tuesday in English, however, came from “Tyr’s Day”, a Germanic/Norse war god comparable to the Roman god Mars. Wednesday came from “Woden’s Day” (i.e. Odin), Thursday was “Thor’s Day”, and Friday “Freya’s Day”.
The occultists would furthermore break up the day and the night into twelve sections each. These are not merely the typical twelve hours of AM and PM, but a different set of divisions that depended upon the times of sunrise and sunset.
The “Day Hours” would start at sunrise, and the first “hour” would be ruled by the day’s planetary ruler, and the subsequent rulers would follow the above pattern of movement. The “Night Hours” would begin at sunset but would follow the pattern established at dawn. For example, the first hour starting at sunrise on a Tuesday would be ruled by Mars. The next hour would be ruled by the Sun. The next, Venus, etc. When one has reached the Moon, the pattern starts from the top with Saturn and continues the established loop. Check out the pattern for a typical Tuesday below.
1st Hour (Day) – Mars
2nd Hour (Day) – Sun
3rd Hour (Day) – Venus
4th Hour (Day) – Mercury
5th Hour (Day) – Moon
6th Hour (Day) – Saturn
7th Hour (Day) – Jupiter
8th Hour (Day) – Mars
9th Hour (Day) – Sun
10th Hour (Day) – Venus
11th Hour (Day) – Mercury
12th Hour (Day) – Moon
1st Hour (Night) – Saturn
2nd Hour (Night) – Jupiter
3rd Hour (Night) – Mars
4th Hour (Night) – Sun
5th Hour (Night) – Venus
6th Hour (Night) – Mercury
7th Hour (Night) – Moon
8th Hour (Night) – Saturn
9th Hour (Night) – Jupiter
10th Hour (Night) – Mars
11th Hour (Night) – Sun
12th Hour (Night) – Venus
If you’ll note, the next planet in the pattern would be Mercury, which just so happens to be the ruler of the dawn (1st) hour of Wednesday. This is actually a pretty simple way to check your work, for if you go through the entire pattern, and find yourself with an incompatible dawn hour (say, Venus at dawn on a Saturday), you will know that you have messed up somewhere along the way.
Dividing the hours up is really the only tricky part, and will involve some basic math. You will want to grab a calculator for the next step, and you will need to know the time of sunrise and sunset on the day in question.
I am writing this essay in Providence, Rhode Island on Thursday the 6th of October, 2011. At this location, the sun rose at 6:48 AM today and shall set at 6:19 PM. There are plenty of online databases that will tell you the times of sunrise and sunset for your area, but if those fail, there’s always checking a local newspaper.
(Warning: Basic Math thus beginneth. Thou hast been warned!)
Since the sun rises at 6:48 AM and sets at 6:19 PM, we are given approximately 11 hours and 31 minutes of daylight to work with. In minutes alone, we have 691 minutes all together (11×60=660. 660+31=691). We then divide this number (691) by 12 and yield 57.58. Therefore, each “Day Hour” will be approximately 57.58 minutes long.
The night hours are calculated in a similar manner. Since there are 1440 minutes in a full 24 hour period (24×60=1440), we merely subtract the number of day minutes (691) from 1440 to yield 749. We then divide 749 by 12 and get 62.42 minutes. Therefore, each “Night Hour” will be approximately 62.42 minutes long. A way to check your math is to add the Day Hour length to the Night Hour length. If the two numbers together do not add up to 120, something is amiss in your calculations.
From here, it is merely a matter of addition to figure out the rest. The first Day Hour begins at sunrise (6:48 AM), and will end 57.58 minutes later. To add this easily, we add 48 and 57.58 together, yielding 105.58, and then subtract 60, which gives us 45.58. So our second Day Hour begins at approximately 7:46 AM. For the next hour, we follow the same process. 45.58+57.58=103.16. Subtract 60 and we have 43.16. Our next day hour thus begins at 8:43 AM. This process is then repeated until sunset. It is important to keep using the decimal integers in your calculations to keep them accurate (i.e. 43.16 as opposed to merely 43) since numbers can vary somewhat considerably after a few calculations. If done correctly, your list should look like the one below. Since these calculations are for Thursday, our first hour is ruled by Jupiter.
1st Day Hour 6:48 – 7:46 – Jupiter
2nd Day Hour 7:46 – 8:43 – Mars
3rd Day Hour 8:43 – 9:41 – Sun
4th Day Hour 9:41 – 10:38 – Venus
5th Day Hour 10:38 – 11:36 – Mercury
6th Day Hour 11:36 – 12:33 – Moon
7th Day Hour 12:33 – 1:31 – Saturn
8th Day Hour 1:31 – 2:29 – Jupiter
9th Day Hour 2:29 – 3:26 – Mars
10th Day Hour 3:26 – 4:24 – Sun
11th Day Hour 4:24 – 5:21 – Venus
12th Day Hour 5:21 – 6:19 – Mercury
You will note that the last minute if our 12th hour coincides perfectly with the time of sunset. This is another way to check your work. If your final Day Hour does not end at sunset, you messed up somewhere, and need to go back to the beginning. (Note: No whining allowed.)
The night hours, as you might have guessed, follow the same pattern, only with 62.42 being our target number of minutes. Starting with 19 (or, more specifically, 18.96), we add 62.42 and get 81.38, then subtract the 60 and get 21.38. So, our 2nd Night Hour will begin at 7:21 PM. Continue the process and we get:
1st Night Hour 6:19 – 7:21 – Moon
2nd Night Hour 7:21 – 8:24 – Saturn
3rd Night Hour 8:24 – 9:26 – Jupiter
4th Night Hour 9:26 – 10:29 – Mars
5th Night Hour 10:29 – 11:31 – Sun
6th Night Hour 11:31 – 12:33 – Venus
7th Night Hour 12:33 – 1:36 – Mercury
8th Night Hour 1:36 – 2:38 – Moon
9th Night Hour 2:38 – 3:41 – Saturn
10th Night Hour 3:41 – 4:43 – Jupiter
11th Night Hour 4:43 – 5:46 – Mars
12th Night Hour 5:46 – 6:48 – Sun
We now have the planetary hours (both day and night) starting at dawn on October 6th, 2011 for Providence, RI. Note how our 12th night hour ended precisely at 6:48 AM, that is, the time of Sunrise. This is (you guessed it) yet another way to check if your calculations are accurate. However, keep in mind that sunrise the next day may be a minute or two earlier/later, depending upon the time of year. Note also that the next planetary ruler after our 12th Night Hour will be Venus – precisely the ruler we need for dawn on a Friday. Our table is perfect.
So now what?
You see, each planet, to the old school occultists, represented a series of correspondences. For example, the planet Mars “ruled” over things concerning war, exercise, strength, power, and martial endeavors. The planet Mercury “ruled” things like languages, learning, intelligence, and thievery. Venus ruled creature comforts, parties, sexual liaisons and the like.
Say a typical renaissance occultist (we’ll name him Tim) wished to cast a spell in order to procure a new lover. Tim would probably wait until Friday (the day of Venus) to cast his spell, and would perform it during one of the hours of Venus. He would also probably consecrate a sigil or magical square of Venus, burn incenses considered sacred to Venus, and possibly even wear something green to help “seal the deal”. Were Tim more interested in learning a new language as quickly as possible, he would probably do things on a Wednesday during an hour of Mercury, wear orange, etc.
For those of you who follow the works of Peter J. Carroll, the planetary hour system coincides perfectly with the 8 colors of magic:
Black – Saturn
Blue – Jupiter
Red – Mars
Yellow – Sun
Green – Venus
Orange – Mercury
Purple – Moon
Octarine – Whatever’s clever, baby!
We will be talking more about planetary correspondences, qabalah, rite-timing and the like in future essays. Please stay tuned.
1 Aleister Crowley insisted upon spelling “magic” with an additional “k” in order to distinguish Hermetic spell-casting/psychological self hypnosis techniques from sleight-of-hand/stage illusions. Qabalistically speaking, he changed a 5-letter word (representing the microcosm) to a 6-letter word (representing the macrocosm).
4 From “Thanateros”, a term coined by Peter J. Carroll, one of the progenitors of modern chaos magic. Carroll noted that the two primary motivating factors of humanity seemed to be fear of death and sex drive, so he combined the words “Thanatos” (Death) and “Eros” (Sexual Love).