The Nine of Swords, heavy with difficult imagery, is the Tarot card associated with the Second Decan of Gemini, which covers 10° to 20° of that sign. In 2021, the Sun was in Gemini I from May 30th to until the morning of June 10th. The sign of Gemini is ruled by Mercury, and its second Decan is governed by Mars.

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The Nine of Swords

These last few Swords pips don’t really get any more comfortable. In fact, they get darker and darker. The Nine of Swords depicts a nighttime scene with the subject sitting up in bed, apparently wracked with anxiety, terror, or grief. The black, black wall behind them could be an endless quagmire of darkness, but the most important feature here is that there are seven bold swords hanging there. While the hilts are all visible, the points vanish off to the right somewhere.

RWS Nine of SwordsBefore we get too far into the meaning of this card, I would like to draw your attention to some interesting details in this card’s art. First, on the side panel of the bed in the lower left, we see an intricately carved frieze that seems to depict two figures either playing or fighting among some trees. Next, the bedspread has very interesting designs on it! The roses are easy to pick out, but the blue panels, if you look closely, are covered in needlework depicting a variety of astrological symbols. Mars, the ruler of this Decan, sits in the subject’s lap, while Mercury, the ruler of this sign, hangs down nearer the floor. But they are not alone; take a closer look and see what you can spot.

The anguish depicted in this card is very difficult – an uncomfortable image and a crappy feeling to experience. This is one of those cards that is awkward to explain in a reading for a client, just as much as it is troubling to deal with when reading for yourself. I tend to look at the Minor Arcana in sequences, and as a suit climbs from Ace to Ten, at the same time, it descends further through the worlds of emanations to material reality.

Through this lens, the Nine of Swords is about elements in the Intellectual Realm nearing the first stages of material manifestation. Here, the pure intellect of the Swords begins once more to mix with the other elements. Ideas face reality, and suddenly there is a reckoning. What is the cost of your current path? What do you need to destroy in order to create? Almost every act of creation ends up having a price tag, and sometimes that price is difficult to bear.

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Our Decan Walk has finally entered the sign of Gemini. The Eight of Swords is the card associated with the First Decan of Gemini, which covers 0° to 10° of that sign. In 2021, the Sun was in Gemini I from May 20th to May 30th. The sign of Gemini is ruled by Mercury, and its first Decan is governed by Jupiter.

Are you enjoying the Decan Walk series? Do you want to read more? My Patreon subscribers get access to all of my Decan Walk articles in full. I believe it will be helpful to share with my audience and supporters the nature of my experience – successes, failures, and everything else! If you are not yet a Patreon supporter and would like to get the full Decan Walk experience, you can sign up at this link.

The Eight of Swords

Well, I warned you last time that the Swords are not the most cheerful of cards. How could they be? They are all about pointy things that are crafted specifically to hurt people.

When you approach the Rider-Waite-Smith version of this card just on face value, it’s bleak. The landscape is marshy and barren. The sky is grey and colorless, and off in the distance is a craggy mountain topped by a castle that seems distant and uncaring. The main character is bound and hoodwinked and surrounded by eight swords, which are presumably sharp.

This card had me in a quagmire of writer’s block for a while. I couldn’t think of anything clever to say about it. I read the entry for the Eight of Swords in Coleman Stevenson’s Dark Exact Tarot Guide, which provided me with a burst of inspiration, but even that fizzled. It wasn’t until I pulled the card from the Rota Tarot deck and really took a look that it hit me: it’s the Hod trap!

I don’t believe I’ve ever written about it before, but there is a concept in Hermetic Qabalah that each of the sefirot has an aspect that acts as a challenge that you must conquer before properly assimilating that sefirah and moving up the Tree of Life. Hod is the sefirah of intellect, logic, memory, and knowledge – a good match for the Swords. The Eights are all associated with Hod, which makes the Eight of Swords a particularly hairy card when interpreted through the lens of Hermetic Qabalah. I have often mused that the challenge of this sefirah, which I call the Hod trap, is to be so bound up in the mind, so bound up in intricacies and trying to be smart, that you can’t move forward.

Once I realized this, I realized what I wanted to say about this card. It is indeed about being bound up in thought. It is not necessarily a card of self doubt. The dangers this card warns of could be quite real. The problem is that you can never have enough information to navigate those dangers. The Eight of Swords whispers to you constantly that maybe one more piece of information will be the bit that shows you the safe passage through all threats and perils. But it will never come. That’s the trap of this card, what you need to avoid.

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Anything but the Kybalion with Nicholas Chapel

Nicholas Chapel is a Minneapolis-based ceremonial magician and professional hacker. He has been practicing magic for more than 20 years. While he graduated with a major in religious studies and a minor in philosophy, academia did not keep him; he landed instead in the world of IT, ultimately becoming a professional hacker on a cybersecurity red team.

If his name seems familiar, it may be because he is the author of the well-known 2013 paper, “The Kybalion’s New Clothes: An Early 20th Century Text’s Dubious Association with Hermeticism,” which served as important source material for both Sam Block and me when writing our articles about the Kybalion. However, like the rest of us, Nicholas Chapel is not here to discuss the Kybalion; we are here to talk about real occultism.

In this episode, we discuss the parallels between hacking and magic in several contexts. First, we look at the nature of hacking, malware, and information security from a magical context. Then, we dive into information in the occult, and how Trithemius, Agrippa, and other early modern magicians used cryptography and steganography in their work.

Third Eye Sundays with Coleman Stevenson

This is a special episode in which I am interviewed about Tarot by Coleman Stevenson of the Dark Exact. This episode is part of the Third Eye Sundays Lunch Session series.

Each month, Third Eye Sundays welcomes a rotating panel of intuitive professionals (tarot and oracle readers, psychics, energy workers, etc.) as well as other creatives, counselors, and wisefolk to answer YOUR urgent questions live on Zoom!

Coleman is the author of three collections of poems: Light Sleeper, Breakfast, and The Accidental Rarefication of Pattern #5609, several books about the Tarot including The Dark Exact Tarot Guide, and a book of essays on creativity accompanying the card game Metaphysik. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications such as Seattle Review, Mid-American Review, Louisiana Literature,, and the anthology Motionless from the Iron Bridge.

Enroll now in my new class, Tarot and the Art of Memory: The Major Arcana!

The powerful images of the Tarot are a perfect accompaniment to the Art of Memory. This class teaches how to use the Art of Memory in conjunction with the Major Arcana of the Tarot in multiple ways. You will learn how to use the memory seals of Giordano Bruno to memorize the Major Arcana and their occult correspondences. You will also learn how to use the Major Arcana to create a memory seal of your very own.

This class is excellent for both beginning and intermediate students of Tarot. Beginners will learn new techniques for memorizing and internalizing the rich meanings of the Major Arcana. Intermediate and advanced Tarot readers will learn techniques allowing them to enrich their knowledge of these cards through correspondences and image magic.

This class will be held on Monday, June 28th, 2021 at 6:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time. Enrollment is based on a sliding scale from $10 to $25. If you can’t make it, sign up for the Arnemancy newsletter to be notified when it is available for watch-on-demand later. Click here to enroll or use the form below!

If you want to catch up on Tarot classes, make sure to check out Tarot and the Art of Memory: The Minor Arcana, now available as an on-demand video!

Our next stop on the Decan Walk is the third face of Taurus. The Seven of Pentacles is the card associated with the Third Decan of Taurus, which covers 20° to 30° of that sign. In 2021, the Sun was in Taurus III from May 10th to May 20th. The sign of Taurus is ruled by Venus, and its third Decan is governed by Saturn. This is the last Decan of Taurus; next we move into Gemini and some exceeding cheerful Swords cards.1

Are you enjoying the Decan Walk series? Do you want to read more? My Patreon subscribers get access to all of my Decan Walk articles in full. I believe it will be helpful to share with my audience and supporters the nature of my experience – successes, failures, and everything else! If you are not yet a Patreon supporter and would like to get the full Decan Walk experience, you can sign up at this link.

The Seven of Pentacles

RWS Seven of PentaclesHere at the end of Taurus, our first earth sign, we come across another very earthy card. Of course, all of the Pentacles are cards of elemental Earth, but here we see it spelled out very plainly. The man in this card is a gardener or a farmer, and he has been working the earth. His plants stand before him, overflowing with sweet, sweet pentacles. However, he doesn’t look as though he is having a great time. He looks bored or exhausted. Apparently this card is hard work.

Sevens are cards about obstacles. When you are lucky, the obstacles are things to be confronted and overcome easily. Sometimes the obstacles exist in your mind or heart. But the Pentacles are never that abstract. This card is about an obstacle in the material world. Unfortunately, it is not an obstacle that can be pushed aside. The material world is not just about matter and space; it is also about time. This card speaks of hard work over time. It is about perseverance, endurance, and toil.

I don’t usually look at this card in a really negative manner, though. I usually read it as a card that promises, “You shall reap what you sow.” Hard work brings benefits and rewards. The cards around it could offer different messages, though, such as a warning that you will need to work hard even if failure awaits you. This is one of those aspects of the sevens; they present the obstacles or warn about roadblocks, but they do not tell you what awaits beyond them.

This card is also about getting your hands dirty. The work needs to be yours. Just as the farmer must pick up the spade and work until he is exhausted, so must you take a hands-on approach to your own obstacles. While this might seem like an annoyance, it also means that the fruits of your labor will be the result of your own efforts and endeavors. The machine is being powered by your own blood and sweat. It fits well with the nature of the suit of Pentacles.

Taurus III: Saturn and Venus

We are wrapping up Taurus, but here in the physical world, at least in my part of the world, it is still a very earthy time. Working in the soil doesn’t really get to stop, I suppose.

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  1. They are not cheerful. 

The Picatrix Decans cards were created for a couple of different purposes, one of which is to act as physical talismans, empowered as phylacteries or charms to be carried or placed to exude magical effects. There are a multitude of potential procedures to activate and empower the talismans. Every practitioner has their own way of doing things, myself included, but the Picatrix gives us clues and a few stepping stones to help guide an outline of a possible ritual.

Election Timing

The decan talismans are described in Book 2, Chapter 11 of the Latin Picatrix. This chapter, near the end, gives us specific instructions on picking an election time.

Interestingly the Greer and Warnock translation of this passage differs from the Atrell and Porreca translation. In Greer and Warnock we have:

When you make any of the images of the faces described above, make them in a material appropriate to the planet that rules the face; then the work will be as we have said – that is, if you make the image when the corresponding planet is present in that face, then the work will be perfect and it will manifest in the world. If it happens that the Sun is rising in the hour of the planet or combines its force with it in a way that you desire, the work will be stable and strong.

The same sentence in the Atrell and Porreca translation reads:

When you craft any of the images with the faces mentioned above, do it with the material suited to the planet that rules the face. Then, if the image was made with that face’s planet, that process will be complete and manifest in the world. If perchance the Sun were in the ascendant in the hour of that planet or it had another desirable combination with him, then its effect would be more stable and stronger

So we learn that our decan talisman will be “perfect” or “complete” (most ideal) when the planet is in the decan it rules and the Sun is on the ascendant in the hour of that planet. This suggests dawn workings on the day of the planet in question. Additionally, the Moon and the particular planet should be placed in a way that supports the specific purpose of your talisman: afflicted for malefic works and well aspected for benefic.

And while this is the best case scenario, elections may need to be done with less than ideal astrological weather. In my opinion, the next best option would be to have the planet in a place of strength while still adhering to the day and hour of the planet. In this case I think it would be best to treat the decan like a fixed star election, having the decan on the ascendant or the midheaven at the time of the working with the Moon in an aspect that supports the working.

Making The Image

Picatrix Decan cardsIn the spirit of full transparency, you should know that when I made the images for the Picatrix Decans card deck, I paid little attention to the astrological weather at the time. Nor was the actual printing of the cards set to an elected time. For many reasons the prospect of doing so was difficult to nearly impossible.

Still, the Picatrix tells us to “make” the image at the elected time. The most straight forward thing to do would be to make a new talisman in an appropriate material at the appropriate time. If you have my Picatrix Decans cards or look forward to getting them, however, they are technically already made.

How can we make something that is already made? I have a few suggestions. The first is to reprint the image from an electronic version at the elected time. Depending on the level of technology at one’s disposal this may or may not be an easy prospect. The next idea is the one I consider the second best to creating the talisman from scratch at the elected time and that is to write or draw on the card itself. The surface of the Picatrix Decans cards readily takes ink from a ball point pen or a Sharpie marker and the color of the ink can be chosen to correspond with the planet in question. Appropriate markings would be outlines of the principle elements in the picture, words of intent, spirit names, and sigils — similar to hoodoo-style card magic. The drawback of this method is that the card is permanently marked.

My third suggestion is to use an oil infused with plants or items with the appropriate planetary correspondences. The card can be anointed with the oil, which can be drawn into a sigil or a word with a brush or one’s finger. You should keep in mind, however, that the oil can easily transfer to other surfaces and could turn into a bit of a mess. Some kind of envelope or pouch to hold it after ritual might be a good idea, especially if one intends to carry it around. The advantage of this method is that the card itself is not damaged and therefore could be “decommissioned” and then reconsecrated for another purpose later.


Talisman consecration in the Picatrix demands suffumigation of the object at the time of its empowerment. That is, the talisman must be passed through the rising smoke of incense while saying words and prayers and employing visualization.

Ultimately the decan talismans are planetary talismans and so an incense appropriate to the particular planet is indicated. I would go one step further, however, and modify the incense to reflect the element of the sign. In this way an incense for Aries I, Mars in a fire sign, would be slightly different from Scorpio I, Mars in a water sign. The Picatrix gives many formulas for incenses.

Ritual Outline

Gather the necessary ritual items, which may vary depending on your personal practice. At the minimum, this should include incense and incense burner (a thurible or censer), at least one candle which is either white or of a color corresponding to the planet in question, the object that is to be the talisman, and any implements needed to “make” or mark the talisman.

Note that this ritual will require you to own a copy of the Picatrix. Since the English translations of the Picatrix are copyrighted, we cannot reproduce most of the exact wording for the ritual here.

At the elected time, facing east:

  1. Prepare yourself and the space as per your practice.
  2. Bless the candle and light it. Bless the charcoal and light it.
  3. Recite the Invocation of Perfect Nature (Picatrix, Book 3, Chapter 6).
  4. Remain facing east and speak the following names while visualizing light as specified:
    • “Meegius” envision a light before you
    • “Betzahuach”, envision a light behind you
    • “Vacdez”, a light to your right
    • “Neufiniguidez”, a light to your left
  5. Finally, say: “Spirits of Perfect Nature, watch over and guide me in this operation.”
  6. Put the incense on the coals.
  7. Invoke the spirits of the planets from the Latin Picatrix Book 3, Chapter 9. As each is invoked envision them in their place; above, below, right, left, front, behind, within (motion) and without (uniting).
  8. Recite the prayer to the particular planet from the Latin Picatrix, Book 3, Chapter 7. Include the angel of the planet.
  9. Make your talisman or mark the talisman card with appropriate words, sigils, and drawings while stating your petition.
  10. Pass the talisman through the smoke of the incense while calling on the planet to fulfill your request. Envision any gures in the image as animated or alive and moving. Envision the planetary spirits of the directions blessing and/or entering your talisman. Envision the object glowing with the power of the particular planet.
  11. Thank the planet, its angel, and its directional spirits.
  12. Let the incense burn out. Snuff the candle without blowing it out.
  13. Close your space as per your tradition.

Later, when placing the talisman, invoke the planet, its angel, and its spirits and repeat the petition. It is also a good idea to periodically make offerings to the planet and remind them of your talisman.

This is, of course, the bare minimum ritual outline and with a little creativity a rite can be made more elaborate and specific depending on one’s needs and style.

Decommissioning a Talisman

A talisman can be decommissioned or disempowered once its purpose has been fulfilled or if one needs its influence to abate and cease. To disempower a talisman it needs to be at hand. Therefore if it is something that has, for example, been hidden it needs to be retrieved.

Ideally one calls upon the planet and its spirits to tell them the talisman is no longer needed. This should be accompanied by incense appropriate to the planet. Traces of the previous intent should be obliterated. If the object is permanently marked or is constructed in such a way as to be for only one purpose, it should be destroyed and disposed of. Burning, burying, or casting into a large body of water are all traditional. If the talisman is not permanently marked it should be cleansed. Washing with blessed or owing water is traditional as is burying for a time and then retrieving it.

Timing the decommissioning of a talisman at a New Moon is advised.

J Swofford is an artist, magician, and astrologer living and working in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. You can find more of his work at The Moonlit Hermit and his Etsy shop.

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Continuing on the Decan Walk, we have reached the second face of Taurus. The Six of Pentacles is the card associated with the Second Decan of Taurus, which covers 10° to 20° of that sign. In 2021, the Sun was in Taurus II from April 30th to May 10th. The sign of Taurus is ruled by Venus, and its second Decan is governed by the Moon.

Are you enjoying the Decan Walk series? Do you want to read more? My Patreon subscribers get access to all of my Decan Walk articles in full. I believe it will be helpful to share with my audience and supporters the nature of my experience – successes, failures, and everything else! If you are not yet a Patreon supporter and would like to get the full Decan Walk experience, you can sign up at this link.

The Six of Pentacles

RWS Six of PentaclesThis card follows on the heels of the Five of Pentacles, where the main characters seemed to be in pretty serious trouble. My first thought on seeing the Six of Pentacles in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot is that perhaps the beggars are the same characters. They struggled through the snowy landscape in the previous card, only to emerge and find charity from a merchant or judge of some sort.

But let’s take another look at that merchant. Why is he carrying scales? The scales are a symbol of justice, so what could that mean in this card? Justice is one of the four cardinal virtues, and like the rest of them, it is a difficult one to interpret briefly. One aspect of justice is the belief that everybody should get their due without distinction. We should all feel like we live in a just and upright world.

While perhaps the merchant is trying to bring Justice or balance to the world, his motives might be something else completely. As I have said in the past, all sixes are cards of love. We can see this in The Lovers of the Major Arcana, but also in every six in the Minor Arcana. Since the suit of Pentacles deals with the material world, what is a better way of showing love than sharing material goods? In this card, the Merchant shares coins. But the Six of Pentacles can be about sharing anything physical and material, from money to a place to sleep to a nourishing meal.

In this sense, I usually interpret the Six of Pentacles as a card of Charity, one of the Theological Virtues and a virtue that in its purest form represents a sense of universal love and benevolence. But maybe Charity works well with Justice. All of us are owed our portion of universal love, just as all of us owe universal love to each other. The balance could be a symbol of universal love and Charity as evidenced by sharing resources, materials, and food with those around you.

We should also look at the Major Arcana associated with this card, which we can find by examining the astrological aspects: Taurus and the Moon. In the Major Arcana, these are represented by the Hierophant and the High Priestess, two related cards that play on opposites of each other. They both are about secrets and mysteries, but while one unlocks the gate, the other conceals secrets. T. Susan Chang writes about these cards, “The difference between the High Priestess and the Hierophant can be summed up in two words: esoteric and exoteric.”[^1]

The Second Face of Taurus

Moving into the Second Face of Taurus still feels like the vibrant, living part of Spring. I visited some friends in their massive backyard garden and received new plants and winter vegetables. I have cucumbers and a tomato plant growing on my front porch, now. Petals have fallen from many trees, leaving new buds and growth. This emphasis on the earthly aspect of Taurus – for we should keep in mind that Taurus is the sign of fixed earth – shows in the symbolism around the Decan.

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The Moon and Stars with Ryhan Butler

Algol, Procyon, Antares! Exaula, Algafra, Caaddebolach! In this episode, I am overjoyed to welcome back astrologer Ryhan Butler, who discusses the use of the fixed stars and lunar mansions in astrological magic. Ryhan is great to talk to about this topic, because he can start off with very practical advice about elections and results based on his own experience, then launch into the history behind astrological concepts. We certainly learned this in his previous podcast appearance when we discussed astrological aspects.

When we were planning this episode, Ryhan characterized planetary astrological talismans as “special event” magical operations. Finding a good election for the planets is difficult, time consuming, and relatively rare. The fixed stars and lunar mansions, however, are very quick and easy to elect for, and lend themselves better to more immediate thaumaturgical needs.

The fixed stars and lunar mansions

This diagram shows the fixed stars, lunar mansions, and signs of the zodiac. It was created by Ryhan Butler himself!

After listening to this episode, make sure to explore the wealth of instructional material that Ryhan provides on his website, Medieval Astrology Guide, and check out his YouTube channel for regular updates on upcoming elections.


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Finally, finally, we have escaped the Martial Aries and arrived at the much more pleasing and comfortable first Decan of Taurus. This sign is ruled by Venus, and this decan runs from 0° to 10° Taurus, which in 2021 was from the 19th of April to the 29th of April. Each decan also has its own planetary ruler, and Taurus I is ruled by Mercury. This means that in this Decan, we have an interesting combination of Mercury and Venus.

As a reminder, my Patreon subscribers get a more in-depth look into my Decan Walk experience. I believe it will be helpful to share with my audience and supporters the nature of my experience – successes, failures, and everything else! If you are not yet a Patreon supporter and would like to get the full Decan Walk experience, you can sign up at this link.

The Five of Pentacles

Five of Pentacles in the Rider-Waite-SmithEach Decan is also associated with a Tarot card, and the card here is the Five of Pentacles. This is a notably shocking card, because in the Rider Waite Smith deck, the characters in this card are not having a good time. One is on crutches, the other struggling. They appear to be beggars or paupers, definitely down on their luck. And they are walking through heavy snow in front of a stained glass window that gives the impression of a church.

The church itself is lit from within. It would appear welcoming if there was a door, but instead our beggars are trudging along through the snow outside the building. Have they been refused entry? Does the church only offer temporary shelter? Why aren’t they inside where it is warm?

Fives are cards of renewed motion after the stasis or pause offered by the Fours. They don’t always indicate difficulty, but the renewed motion in the Pentacles suit does indicate that something in the material world is moving again, and it is apparently not easy. Something in the material world has failed. Perhaps money has run out, perhaps a change in location is necessary. Maybe our paupers are on the move because they finally had to face a material hardship that they were either unwilling or unable to face.

Unfortunately, life is filled with obstacles and challenges that we have to face and cannot run away from. This card is about that. The Five of Pentacles says that it’s time to stop dodging a problem in the material world. You can no longer avoid the hardship you’ve been trying to get away from. In fact, there is a message in this card that lets you know that the way to face this hardship is to go through it. You must have the long, cold journey through the snow. There is no stopping at the warm and inviting sanctuary, even if it would have you.

The First Face of Taurus

This Decan is ruled by Mercury, a planet associated with communication and moving very quickly. But Taurus is ruled by Venus, so perhaps there is something in this Decan about emotional communication. There are, of course, images associated with this card.

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