[NB] Of Planets, Trees, and Metals

I have been working my way through a translation of Diwan Malkuta Laita (Scroll of Exalted Kingship) that Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley published. The scroll is a liturgical guide to the consecration of new priests among the Mandaeans and is full of tightly-packed nuggets of their particular Gnostic cosmo-ontology. Considering it as a well-preserved piece of a dialogue with other Gnostic practices from antiquity has been very rewarding.

(I’m not saying it is just a well-preserved bit of dialogue, for it is part of a living Mandaean practice, too. I am, however, outside of that living practice, so for me it is most readily accessible as evidence rather than as testimony.)

The title of the scroll alone demarcates some of that interplay at a linguistic level. Diwan (scroll) Malkuta (Kingship) Laita (Exalted). Malkuta clearly sharing linguistic roots with Malkuth with the associations found in Kabbalism, while Laita shares roots with Laetitia and the associations found in geomancy.

It has made the linkages between Kabbalism and Gnosticism clearer. Buckley’s translation include several reproductions of the images from the scroll, several of which bear a striking resemblance to some of the oldest Kabbalistic images, with a circle divided into pie-shaped wedges serving as the seed from which a stylized tree emerges. Also of interest, the liturgy of this priestly initiation opens first with a short appeal to God followed by a recitation of the Mandaean alphabet, indicating that the tradition of sacred letters forms a key component of the Gnostic work. Moreover, at several points Buckley comments that part of the liturgy depend on word play, on the esoteric relationship between certain concepts and terms.

I want to share a more specific detail here because it suggests a system of correspondences for the double lines and trees. Prior to the entrada of the novice and his teacher into the Jordan River where an essential part of the consecration occurs, offerings are made to seven piles composed of material taken from trees. To each tree pile, a metal is offered. It looks something like this:

Gold is offered to Olive
Silver is offered to Quince
Iron is offered to Myrtle


Tin is offered to Citrus
Lead is offered to Pomegranate
Brass is offered to Sorb-apple
(Unidentifiable) metal is offered to Date palm

With the planets implied in this exchange, we have this fascinating image of trees as the intermediaries for the planets, perhaps even of the trees transmitting the planetary forces into the earth where they will generate metals which can then be prepared as offerings, with the offering to the trees completing a circuit joining heaven and earth. The relationship looks something like this:

Mercury-Date palm-(?)

The first three are set aside, privileged slightly in the list of offerings, suggesting something of the privilege given to the Sun, Moon, and Saturn as central pillar in my preferred model of the tree of life, which in turn suggests that you can identify a system of double lines composed entirely of trees.


3 thoughts on “[NB] Of Planets, Trees, and Metals

    1. Io

      Right–that is the association as it has made its way into a lot of the European magical traditions. There are a few variations in the pattern, the Arabic ones being the ones with which I am more familiar, and those join Lead to Mars and Iron to Saturn.

      We could complete the first set with Mars rather than Saturn, but that seems a little out of place since Mars lacks the ‘weight’ of Saturn, especially Saturn’s roots as an initiating planet (e.g., Mithras). It seems to me that Saturn ought to come before Mars in this sort of rite.

      Also, the Arabic texts sometimes cite Mandean (i.e, Sabian) thought as a source, suggesting to me that the Arabic associations may derive from Mandean sources. If that is the case, then it is likely the Saturn-Iron and Mars-Lead associations are more proper here.

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