I mentioned briefly that the traditional assignation of metals and planets that circulates through much of the contemporary Anglo-magic scene isn’t the only one available; we have at least two Arabic variants readily available in the archive. This afternoon on a library lunch jaunt I had one of those little library angel moments and stumbled upon a book on the planetary connections made in the Mithras cult. Opening it, I found myself looking straight at yet another variant set of metal assignments.
I figured it might be worthwhile to list the various assignments I know of presently. It might be useful to think about regarding the cultural dimensions of spiritual categories. It might be useful to others around the effort to give magic a proper history. Heck, it might be useful for someone looking to take one of the variants out for a spin.
I am just going to list the planet and the metals, using abbreviations to note my sources parenthetically. I’ll list the common attributions derived from Proclus first, though I imagine many can recite them with ease.
PGPO=Planetary Gods and Planetary Orders in the Mysteries of Mithras by Roger Beck
GH=Gayat al-Hakim (the Arabic basis for the Picatrix; European Picatrix translations either deliberately or accidentally replace the original assignments with Proclus’s)
BPOM=Epistles of the Brethren of Purity: On Magic I trans. and ed. by Godefroid de Callataÿ and Bruno Halflants
Mercury: Quicksilver (also Electrum), Iron (PGPO), Lead (BPOM), ? (GH)
Venus: Copper, Tin (PGPO), Tin (BPOM), Gold (GH)
Mars: Iron, ‘Alloy used in coinage’ (Electrum?) (PGPO), Copper (BPOM), Copper (GH)
Jupiter: Tin, Bronze (PGPO), Quicksilver (BPOM), Crystal (GH)
Saturn: Lead, Lead (PGPO), Iron (BPOM), Iron (GH)
Sun: Gold, Gold (PGPO), Gold (BPOM), Gold (GH)
Moon: Silver, Silver (PGPO), Silver (BPOM), Silver (GH)
So, yes, clearly, if you are working with the moon and sun, there better be some silver and gold nearby. Otherwise, well, it’s all a bit more fluid. There are some interesting patterns, though, like Tin showing up for Venus both in PGPO and BPOM or the clear divide between European and Arabic sources regarding Saturn’s metal (lead or iron). The divide between quicksilver and crystal regarding Arabian Jupiter is, well, interesting in light of some African diaspora practices.
Just to put this in perspective: the PGPO assignments derive from the oldest archive (1st through 4th century CE), followed by Proclus’s work (5th century CE). The Arab material is significantly later, roughly contemporary with each other around the 10th century CE. They reference stellar cults without clear ties to Mithras or Proclus.
While we know that Proclus has influenced Arabic thinking, this suggests that some of that influence may be overstated. While Proclus provided a popular and well-known list of assignments, it may be a peculiar variation of a wider and more robust tradition regarding the planets. A good part of that tradition might rest in (oral) transmission. The Mithraeum could be one such avenue; we know the cult of Mithras got around.
Still, given what we know of the Persian roots of the Mithraic material, it seems more likely that the Mithraic and Arabic material diverge from a common Persian milieu (perhaps with roots to that lost city of magic linked above). Proclus’s could easily have derived his synthesis in reference to that milieu, or through a personal inflection of Mithraic models.
I would expect that there may be as-yet uncataloged variations still out there in the archives and that beyond these archival materials there was a still-wider variation in practices that was never recorded.
It would be useful on this point to compare the material with astrological material as developed in India and China, too. Some care taken in dating the material would go a long way to helping map potential points of diffusion…probably not my gig, though.