Al-Ṭabarānī, On Speaking with the Planets’ Spirits

1 Introduction

Book 3, chapter 7 of the great Arabic compendium of astral magic, the Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm (better known in English by its Latin title Picatrix), contains a number of what we might call devotional rituals, in which the planets are given offerings and called upon in prayers or adjurations. One of the half-dozen texts used there to represent this Ṣābiʼan (pagan) practice is a treatise by a certain al-Ṭabarī (not the al-Ṭabarī), an astrologer who claimed to be basing his work on the practices of “the leaders of the pagans and the servants of the temples”; in reality, it was most likely the work of a Muslim only loosely basing himself on earlier Arabic treatises of the same kind, few of them really written by pagans, but many claiming to teach their secrets (which, in the classical period, were quite in fashion among Islamicate intellectuals).

It so happens that, while the Arabic of this work is lost except for the quotations in the Ghāyah, there is still a complete version of the text in Latin translation, edited by David Pingree (off-site link) on the basis of a single surviving manuscript. In this version, the name of the astrologer appears as al-Ṭabarānī rather than al-Ṭabarī, and the attribution of the contents to the pagans is suppressed, replaced by a more neutral reference to “the ancients”. Here, I translate this Latin version. I leave it to the reader to compare this version with the text as preserved in the Ghāyah. The <intertitles> and division into numbered sections are mine.

2 Translation

Here begins the Book about Speaking with the Spirits of the Planets.

(pr) Abū al-ʿAbbās al-Ṭabarānī (Abuelabec Altanarani), a certain philosopher and astrologer, spoke about what he found in the books of the ancients:


(1) In the beginning of this book, we shall speak about the praise of the seven spirits of the seven planets. Therefore, whoever should wish to speak with any of the seven spirits, in order to request or inquire anything from it, let them do this not carelessly but solemnly (devote), not as an experiment or for any silly of mocking purpose, but only for such a purpose as they wish to accomplish in fitting with a great operation. And otherwise, (the spirit) will not give ear to the speaker; but it might strike them with a grave weakness.

(2) And because fumigations are necessary for this book, as for other divine matters, we shall speak about these first (before the invocations). So, when necessity weighs on someone to the point that they are greatly injured by it, it is first nessecary for them to observe the nature of the planet they wish, and whether the present topic is suited to the nature of the planet. And then they shall hold their mind fixed on their purpose, and they shall be filled with help of divinity.

<matters pertaining to each planet>

(3) But first, we shall speak about the matters pertaining to Saturn. Thus, all old men and things pertaining to them, the perfect, the workers and cultivators of the earth, and seeds, those in chains, malices and similar things are attributed to Saturn. And these things are requested from him, as will be taught afterwards. And if not, the effect will not follow.

(4) To Jupiter, perfect, wise and powerful men pertain, and likewise the lords of feasts, councils, laws, wisdom or arts; good, weapons, buying, wealth, wisdom and similar things. Things pertaining to Jupiter are asked from him, as pleases each spirit.

(5) Mars is asked about wars, quarrels, murders, fires, and all bloodshed and similar things pertaining to Mars. And it must be noted that every evil that is sent through Mars is restored through the benevolence of Venus.

(6) The Sun is asked, with the greatest devotion, in regard to kings, lords and other potentates, and about the most weighty matters.

(7) Venus is asked in regard to every womanly and female thing, the adornment of women, song, play, laugh and care for clothing, delight, food, drink and similar things. And in those things in which Venus agrees with Mars or another, they shall both be asked at once.

(8) Mercury, in regard to philosophy and all science, wisdom, doctrines and disciplines, all books, and with regard to writings, pictures, sculptures and eloquence.

(9) The Moon is asked in regard to legates, messengers, inspectors (? delatores) of letters, mandates and orders, to streets, roads, movements and movable goods, and about rivers, mills, wheels and ships, and with regard to children at nursing age and nurses.


(10) Whoever desires to speak with Saturn, […]

(11) And before […]

(12) For there are also fumigations attributed to Saturn. […]

(13) When they fumigate, this address shall not be left unspoken: “O brilliant spirit of this star, whose name is great, and whose rule is also very great, being in the degree of your exaltation! And o you, Saturn, cold and dry and hazardous and evil one, and truth-telling in everything, you who are above all virtues and revolve slowly! And you assign all evil to every human, as much as is the power of your nature, from which all delight and joy are removed. You crafty and also honest wise one and aged one, also working with evilness in all things, assigning good to the good and evil to the evil, to the extent as that is in accord with the nature (qualitas) of your existence. I pray of you, great father, by the great name of your creator and by your alacrity, that you may come to me and reveal to me the truth about all things I ask you.”

[O fulgens huius stellae spiritus, cuius nomen est magnum, cuius quoque regnum maximum est, in gradu tuae exaltatonis existens! Et o tu, Saturne, frigide et sicce et lubrice et male et in omni re viridice, tu qui es super omnes virtutes tardeque incedens! Et tu es attribuens omni homini omne malum, quantum ad vim tuae naturae est, a quo omnis delectatio et gaudium ablata est. Tu etiam subdole atque honeste sapiens, senex et in omni malitia laborans, bonis bonum et malis malum tribuens, quamvis hoc secundum qualitatem tuae existentiae. Deprecor te, pater magne, per nomen creatoris tui magnum et per alacritatem tuam ut huc ad me venias et de omnibus que interrogavero mihi verum indices.]

(14) […]

(15) […]


(16) […]

(17) The fumigations of Jupiter: […]

(18) And Jupiter […]

(19) And during the fumigation, this address shall be spoken:

[O domine benedicte, calide et mollis, temperate, formose, sapiens, domine veritatis et fidei, quem necesse est timere, cuius voluntas est ampla, qui omnia recto ordine disponis, qui etiam omnibus habundanter quae necessaria sunt eis tribuis et largiris, qui etiam in omnibus perseveranter adiuvas, cuius natura bona in fide stabilitate perdurat! Deprecor te, pater, per naturas tuas bonas et tua facta bona ut quaecumque te interrogavero mihi absque dubio rationabiliter respondeas.]

(20) When these things are finished, they shall bow down his face in adoring the creator; and the image of Jupiter responding to the questioner will appear.


(22) […]

(23) The fumigations […] And it shall be fumigated in a censer while saying:

[O domine bone, sicce et calide, qui omni impleris audacia et sanguinem etiam fundis, qui omnem masculum adeuntem doctrina adimples, qui es omnis mali et maleficii dominus et interfectionis, qui omne mendacium adimples et malum, qui etiam arma queris et multum timeris! Precor, te, pater, per bonitatem naturae tuae ut quae a te voluero interrogare mihi veraciter facias.]

(24) Then the practitioner (actor) shall adore God, as is it said; and the image of Mars responding will appear.



(26) The fumigations are crocus, […] And it shall be fumigated in a censer together with this address:

[O domine calide et sicce, omne lumen mundo praebens, qui es in omnibus benignus et quasi mulier verecunda et regina, formosus et mundissimus et spientissimus, qui omnem fidem tenes, cuius etiam regnum semper durabit, cui omnes aliae stellae cum a te ellongantur statim ad te revertuntur; etiam antequam ad te appropinquant in lumine tuo illas comburis. Quinque in medio situs circulos omnes spirituum lumine magno relucere facis. Tu etiam quasi domina et regina in omnibus spiritus alios lumine tuo superas. Et quando aliquem respicis, spiritum proficis ei; quando vero tibi coniungitur, noces ei; cuius circuli magnitudo humano ingenio comprehendi non potest.]

(28) Then the practitioner (actor) shall adore God as is said, and they shall ask what they need to; and […]



(30) The fumigation in it shall be: […] together with this address:


[O domine mollis, frigida et temperata, cuius fulgorem nullus plenarie prospicere potest, quae etiam inter ceteros spiritus bona et bene creata es, quae etiam es domina ridens totius pulchritudinis, scilicet auri et omnis rei pretiosae et omnis delectationis et ludi et cantus! Tu etiam es totius veritatis domina et omnis concordiae et delectationis, cuiusque proprietas est vinum et libidinem exercere; et omni ludo gaudes. Mihi huic loco angelum unum mitte me non deterrentem, sed quaecumque interrogavero ad tuam naturam pertinentia manifesta detegentem.]

(32) Then they adore the creator by prostration; and the image of Venus talking with them will appear.


(33) If someone wishes to ask Mercury, […]

(34) In it there shall be a fumigation: […] And they shall be mixed together and fumigated in the censer, together with this address:


[O domine bene eloquens et sapiens et in omnibus perficere intelligens omnia quae scientiae vel scripturae pertinent, qui etiam diceris sapientissimus in omibus quae a caelo superiori usque ad terram continentur, et qui raro gaudes, et qui omni pecuniam acquirere volenti smeper non proficere sed magis cupis nocere, et mercatoribus noces! Tu, domine totius scientiae et in illa quasi subdole, cuius naturam numquam humana ratio potest concipere nec in verbis explicare quoniam cum spiritibus bonis bonum et cum malo malum operaris; cum masculis masculus, cum feminis femina, cum diurnis diurnus, cum nocturnis nocturnus, naturam tuam permiscens omnibus naturam tuam scire volentibus in ratione animi inmittis in errorem, et cum quibus permistus fueris secundum naturam eorum operaris. Esto mihi praesto et placatus ut, quandocumque te amicum cum devotione interrogavero, mihi vultu placido respondeas et sis mihi praesens, propitius, adiutor et defensor et rector post Deum et a Deo dante te mihi. Et respondeas mihi semper in omni quaestione mea, et satisfacias mihi citissime et verissime.]

(36) And this shall be done on the day of Mercury (Wednesday) and in his hour, when he is in a good (astrological) location, in some dignity of his, free from evil (planets).

(37) And they shall adore God the creator while bowed down to the earth; and (the spirit) shall come as it is said.


(38) If someone wants to ask the Moon, […]

(39) Fumigant of the Moon: […] And […]


[O domine scientiae et mollis, temperate, rex formosissime et in fide semper constans, cuius natura delectationem et gaudium non despicit! Tu, domine, cui omne mandatum et mandati nuntius subiectus est, consiliorum doctor, inter septem spiritus concordiam et rectitudinem tenens, cuius interpositio lumen aliorum spirituum obfuscat—tua autem cum aliquo illorum coniunctio malitiam mali aufert et boni benevolentiam auget. Cum ergo omnium illorum sis primus, te tota mentis devotione suppliciter rogo ut quaecumque interrogavero mihi manifeste dicere non retardes.]

(41) And prostrate, they shall worship God; and (the spirit) will come.