Lecture recorded for the Golden Dome School on 4/10/21, register for the class here to view the playback!

Talismans exist at the nexus between art, magic, astrology, ritual, adornment, cosmology, theology, divination, psychology, philosophy and folklore. Before the Scientific Revolution, these disciplines were intimately connected in esoteric literature. Astrology and science, magic and medicine, prayers and spells — unlike today, the boundaries between these practices were loose, and studying (or practicing) the talismanic arts is one way to re-enchant one’s personal connection to the larger, fluid cosmic whole today.

This class will be both a theoretical as well as practical overview of talismans, and primarily, their connection to astrology and magic. We will cover the origins of astrology in ancient Babylon and Egypt, the co-evolution of magic and medicine in the Corpus Hermeticum, the codex of magical spells in the Greek Magical Papyri, and the work of three Medieval and Renaissance philosophers: Al-Kindi, Henry Cornelius Agrippa, and Marsilio Ficino. Recounting this history will take us through the deep recesses of the esoteric past, including...

Ancient Babylon, where the careful observance of the nightly movements of the seven visible planets and stars became the basis of time-keeping, astronomy, astrology. Observance turned to ritual, ritual turned to myth, and the zodiac as we know it today was born.

Ancient Greece, where the Greek Magical Papyri emerge in the 2nd century, a codex of magical spells, formulae, and rituals, with instructions for creating amulets and talismans like the one seen above. Everything from prophetic dream invocations, to love charms, to magical pest control is covered in this mysterious collection, which helped to lay the foundations for Western Esotericism.

Ancient Mesopotamia, where we find a collection of “Incantation Bowls” — talismanic pottery created by ancient Jewish mages with spells written in a spiral script, often meant to trap the demons drawn inside. These bowls were discovered buried underneath homes of those who commissioned them, which is why they are preserved in rare form today.

Byzantine Europe, where the talisman of Charlemagne, which is purported to have a piece of the True Cross enclosed within it, survived many changes of hands. Allegedly, a bone fragment of Charlemagne's right arm was added to it in 1804, when the Bishop of Aachen in Germany snuck it in as a thank-you to Empress Josephine, (wife of Napoleon) for the safe return of certain relics which had previously been confiscated during the French Revolution.

Medieval Europe, when centuries of magical texts reached European hands through the translation of ancient Greek, Hebrew and Arabic texts into Latin. This contributed to a flowering of occult art, including this fresco depicting the 36 decans of the zodiac (middle frescoe) in the Palazzo Schifanoia, in Ferrara, Italy.

19th century Talismanic manuscript

ABRACADABRA Charm from Ancient Greece

Participants will also receive a practical guide to talismanic creation... Details below to sign up!

The Art and History of Talismans

Where: The Golden Dome School's online class portal

When: 4/10/21 at 5:13 pm

Registration link: here (participants who can't make it live will receive a playback link)

“All transits and progressions will start to express their energy, or effect, at the deep levels of the unconscious. The first indication of this may occur in the dream world as ideas and energy bubble up to levels of consciousness.” — Bernadette Brady, “Predictive Astrology: The Eagle and the Lark”

Venus/Aphrodite love charm, hematite, 3rd c CE

I’ve been observing the connections between the movements of the planets and my dreams for the past several months, and have noticed a particular connection between the movements of Venus and my dreams ever since I made a Venus talisman earlier this year, when transiting Venus was in the sign of Pisces. The energy of Venus finds easy expression in the two signs that she rules: Taurus, which is oriented towards the material and sensual pleasures; and Libra, which is oriented towards mental and intellectual pleasures. But Pisces is the sign where Venus is traditionally considered to be Exalted, a watery and boundless domain where Venus is said to express her full range of sensual, artistic and relational harmonies.

Venus in Pisces talisman: paint rags and juniper berries cast in wax

I wanted to capture and make permanent a bit of Piscean Venus energy with a talisman because my natal Venus is in Aries, which is traditionally considered to be in the sign of its detriment. Here, Venus’ relationship to the body and all of its incarnate pleasures is a bit more contentious. This is because the natural energy of Venus to receive pleasure is slightly uncomfortable in the sign of Aries, which, being ruled by Mars (the God of War), is more focused on outward action and the independent pursuit of one’s desires. My Venus is wearing a chainmail suit and, placed in the 6th house of physical health and daily routine, is stuck in line to get the flu shot at CVS.

Venus in domicile with Libra and Taurus (left), Venus in detriment with Aries and Scorpio (right), from "Introduction to Astrology" by Abu Ma'shar, 1403

In late April, I had a Venus return — this is when transiting Venus comes back to its position in your natal chart (once every 19 months or so), and themes related to your natal Venus are emphasized. Because I’d been tracking Venus’ movements in the sky alongside my dreams, I paid attention for any Venusian themes to emerge. Around this time, I had a dream whose connection to Venus was not immediately obvious: in this dream, my identity was Phosphorus — as in, I just was Phosphorus. I had my same human form, but I wore bright neon clothing and continuously danced around, perfectly at ease and joyously celebrating my identity as this bright and glowing substance. Knowing nothing about phosphorous other than having a faint recollection that it’s some sort of rock, a Wikipedia search quickly revealed its Venusian connection:

“The name Phosphorus in Ancient Greece was the name for the planet Venus and is derived from the Greek words (φῶς = light, φέρω = carry), which roughly translates as light-bringer or light carrier."

Venus Phosphorus with sign of Venus (left) and Scorpio (below), Agate, 16th c.

In other words, phosphorous is a glowing rock, and when it was discovered in Ancient Greece, it was named after the brightest “star” Venus (the planets were called “wandering stars” before it was discovered that they were in fact, planets.) Because Venus is visible in the morning for the first half of her synodic cycle, and is visible in the evening for the second half of her synodic cycle, the early Greeks believed these to be two different astronomical bodies. Venus’ appearance as a morning star was called Phosphorus, while her appearance as an evening star was called Hesperus. Later Greeks concluded that they were in fact a single astronomical entity, and the mythology of Phosphorus and Hesperus were absorbed into one goddess: Aphrodite, later to be known as Venus.

(Note: sometimes you will see the word Lucifer in place of Phosphorus, because this is the literal Latin translation for “light-bringer” — but it’s not to be confused with the Devil.)

White phosphorus

It’s quite simple to spot how Venus appears in your own chart just by looking at it: if Venus is behind the Sun in zodiacal order (for example, if Venus is in Aries and the Sun is in Taurus) then you have a morning star Venus; if Venus is ahead of the Sun (for example, if your Sun is Aries and Venus is in Taurus) then you have an evening star Venus. Even though we now know these two faces of Venus emanate from the same astronomical body, the quality and meaning of Venus can vary depending on her morning or evening star status. In “An Astrological Study of Psychological Complexes”, Dane Rudhyar elaborated on their differences:

“Venus Lucifer, as morning star ‘rising ahead’ of the Sun, refers to a type of emotional activity which might be said symbolically to run ahead of the self…It describes a person who goes out to meet the world (and especially other human beings) with an eager expectancy as if life itself depended upon the results of the meeting… The individual ‘feels’ situations and persons in an act of almost immediate ethical judgment. They are good or bad — for him and at that particular time. He acts as he feels he must act, and there often emanates from him a strong contagion of feelings, a ‘warmth of feelings.’

Venus Hesperus and Venus Phosphorus by Evelyn De Morgan, 1882

Venus, as evening star, is a symbol of feeling after the act; that is, of the type of emotion which results from and is a judgment upon an action having been performed…The judgment is either esthetical (it considers the value of the relationship between all significant factors in the case) or legalistic (thus according to traditional standards and precedents). Indeed many persons with Venus rising after the Sun may be highly emotional, but this emotionality is not as spontaneous and immediate as when Venus is morning star in a birthchart.”

The tradition of seeking insight from dreams is not only a feature of modern psychotherapy, but one that dates back to Ancient Greece, where patients suffering from illness would practice dream incubation. The sick in search of healing made pilgrimages to various healing temples called Asclepions. There, they slept on temple floors in hopes of being visited by Asclepius, the god of medicine, and being cured or having the cure revealed to them in their dream. The patients made careful records of their dreams until a “symptoma”, a coincidence with the dream of a priest occurred. When both the priest and the patient had the same dream, the patient was considered to be cured, often with overt and immediate physical relief.

Asclepius and his serpent-entwined staff, red Jasper, date unknown

Records preserved from these ancient healing temples illustrate the healing dreams of many thousands of patients. In one instance, a crippled man was healed because Asclepius appeared to him in a dream, circumambulated him three times in a horse-drawn chariot, and then let the horse trample on his paralyzed limbs. This man left the temple with the power of his limbs restored, and no medical treatment was given. In place of the principle of causality we find that of analogy, the idea that like is cured by like, which later became the basis of homeopathy (poison = remedy).

In my own natal chart, Venus is a morning star. Why would she appear to me in a dream, with me assuming her (veiled) identity as a morning star? Perhaps this was a gentle reminder from the goddess of love to not disparage any of her forms — whether she appears in detriment, fall, domicile or exaltation — the sign she inhabits in any one natal chart is perfectly right for that individual. Maybe my talisman conjured her, only to be reminded that she’s exactly the kind of Venus that I need, in detriment or not. Whether it was the talisman or simply my receptivity, perhaps Venus appeared this way in my dream to show me that these planetary archetypes can teach us, and transmit knowledge to us, if we pay attention. Perhaps we don’t need to travel to the Asclepions and sleep on the temple floors as the ancient Greeks did. Perhaps we can court this divine intercession in our dreams, with talismans, invocations, or simply a willingness to listen.

Cosmic Advice Corner is a place where newsletter subscribers can submit questions for me to answer using astrology and tarot, and their identity remains anonymous.

Reader Question:

“Since quarantine started, I’ve been experiencing coincidences or synchronicities all the time. They’re frequently small things, like I’ll be driving and hear a song on the radio, then go into a store and hear a cover of that song, or the same specific but seemingly random subject will come up in conversation through multiple people. But sometimes they’re more significant, like when we had an earthquake in Los Angeles in September of 2020. It happened around midnight, and the next morning, in my half-awake state, I thought of an old friend from high school who I hadn’t seen or spoken to in many years. I wanted to read about the earthquake, so I went to the LA Times — which I normally don’t read, but I figured they would have local coverage of it — and halfway through the article, this friend from high school is quoted giving an anecdote about her experience of the earthquake (she also lives in LA.) These kinds of things seem to be happening with steady frequency, so I wonder what’s happening? Not “what is god trying to tell me”, but more so: am I just being more perceptive, or is there some larger pattern happening? Essentially, what is happening and why?”

Birth data: August 27, 1988, 5:21 AM, Culver City, CA

Dear Reader,

Synchronicity, as you likely know, is a term coined by Carl Jung (who also used astrology for most of his career) to express the concept that significant physical and psychological coincidences are connected by an a-causal (but not meaningless) principle. The meaning behind a synchronous event can be found in its archetypal quality — that is, each experience holds a correspondence to one or multiple archetypes, which are essentially autonomous forces that operate through human consciousness and external events. So we could try to discern which archetypal forces might be showing up through the specific topics that come up, but it sounds like you are less concerned with the content of the coincidences and more interested in why they are happening at all.

In your birth chart, you have Mercury (the planet related to communication and thinking) and the Sun (your core essence) in analytical, detail-oriented Virgo, which suggests you’re naturally oriented towards clear, rational and practical thinking. It makes sense that you’d be feeling confused about experiences which are hard to rationally make sense of. When I look at your transits (how the current planets are effecting your natal chart) I see that Neptune and Chiron (both in Pisces) are both traveling through your 8th house which, among other things, is associated with hidden dimensions of life and experiences which push you to new psychological depths. Chiron is squaring your natal Neptune, and is also squaring your natal Chiron (this is known as “The Chiron Square” and it happens only twice in a lifetime — this is your first.)


Before I get into the meaning of these transits, I’ll give some background on who these celestial bodies are. Neptune rests at the boundary between the large outer planets and a field of icy, Pluto-like stones called Trans-Neptunian Objects (or TNOs). Like the other planets, Neptune’s physical position in the universe mirrors its function in our psyche: it can be likened to the outermost layer of the personality, that which separates the individual identity from a feeling of one-ness with all that is. Astrologer Steven Forrest describes Neptune as the window through which our consciousness peers at the cosmos, and the window through which the cosmos peers back at us. It’s the planet most commonly associated with mysticism, creativity, and inspiration. Neptune laughs in the face of categories, boundaries, and the individualistic drive for achievement that defines capitalism — it wants to connect us with the intangible and the numinous. Because of this orientation towards oneness, it’s also associated with confusion, fantasy, and a kind of fog that obscures reality. Chiron (named after a mythological Centaur) is an asteroid known as the “wounded healer,” and represents how you grow towards wholeness by alchemizing the gifts within your wounds. With Chiron in a challenging aspect to Neptune, this process of grappling with the unknown and possibly questioning your own beliefs can feel uncomfortable and even painful. The Chiron Square represents a healing process of sorts, where events and experiences may urge to redefine your outer life so that it better reflects your inner life.

Leonora Carrington, And Then We Saw The Daughter of the Minotaur, 1953

I understand your hesitancy around ascribing too much meaning to seemingly random events. There’s a certain type of magical thinking in which everything is a message or a sign, and it all connects to some larger narrative, and this can lead to dangerous outcomes — we can see this kind of logic operative in many of the conspiracy theories that are so prevalent today. I mention this not because I think you’re in any danger of conspiratorial or delusional thinking, but because knowing about these kinds of cultural stories can make it harder to embrace nuance, mystery and liminality without fear of “going too far.” I think it’s important to be aware of these things while simultaneously allowing yourself to explore what these experiences might mean for you personally. If you were to read them symbolically, what would they say? Perhaps it’s significant that this event occurred on the night of an earthquake — could it correspond to a shifting of the tectonic plates of your consciousness?

Perhaps you might be open(ing) to the idea that meaning is not merely a product of the human mind, but that it is extant in the world. Rather than prompting you to create a narrative from their details, maybe these experiences are instigating some deeper shift within you, which re-arranges your fundamental conceptions about the way reality works. In many ways, astrology — or how the movements of the planets correspond to our inner and outer lives on Earth — is essentially the study of synchronicity. If astrology works according to regular, observable correspondences (and not due to physical effects like gravitational pull) then we might suppose that reality itself contains a metaphorical structure — and that meaning can exist apart from our ideas about it, or even our ability to perceive it.

Richard Tarnas’ book Cosmos and Psyche is the culmination of a decade-long research project on astrology, specifically planetary cycles and their corresponding manifestations in culture throughout history. In it’s opening chapter, Tarnas — who began his study of astrology decades ago as a materialist skeptic — argues for the re-enchantment of the modern mind:

“For is it not an extraordinary act of human hubris — literally, a hubris of cosmic proportions — to assume that the exclusive source of all meaning and purpose in the universe is ultimately centered in the human mind, which is therefore absolutely unique and special and in this sense superior to the entire cosmos? To presume that the universe utterly lacks what we human beings, the offspring and expression of that universe, conspicuously possess? To assume that the part somehow radically differs from the whole? To base our entire worldview on the a priori principle that whenever human beings perceive any patterns of psychological or spiritual significance in the nonhuman world, any signs of interiority and mind, any suggestion of purposefully coherent order and intelligible meaning, these must be understood as no more than human constructions and projections, as ultimately rooted in the human mind and never in the world?

This, therefore, has become the looming question of our time: What is the ultimate impact of cosmological disenchantment on a civilization? What does it do the human self, year after year, century after century, to experience existence as a conscious purposeful being in an unconscious, purposeless universe? What is the price of a collective belief in absolute cosmic indifference? What are the consequences of this unprecedented cosmological context for the human experiment, indeed, for the entire planet?”

Leonora Carrington, Fort Lauderdale, 1942

Do you feel like we exist in an “unconscious, purposeless universe”? Perhaps this belief is increasingly at odds with your own personal experiences. I say this not in an attempt to convince you of anything, because not one of us mortal beings can know the Truth. Your analytical mind (Mercury in Virgo) may desire a straightforward explanation, but the work of Neptune is to dissolve binaries and constructs. Neptune tugs at our fundamental need to feel a part of something larger — to imagine ourselves as continuous with all that is. Can you guard yourself against the inflationary, illusory potential of Neptune, while also holding space for inexplicable or mysterious events? The challenge with any Neptune transit is to integrate your growing sense of openness to the Great Mystery, without retreating to escapism or disillusionment. One of the best things astrology can offer you or anyone is the ability to perceive the larger cycles at play in your life — because when you can clearly see the terrain, you can pick the appropriate route. Aligning with the timing of your own life takes patience and work, because our personal planetary cycles do not always align with our desired time-lines. But I’ve also learned, through struggling against my own Neptune challenges, that trying to dissipate fog with a sword doesn’t clear the fog. I am not pleased to report that there is an aspect of surrender which is key to navigating Neptune, and that may be one of the most difficult things for our tender egos to sustain.

I mentioned in the beginning that Neptune is in the sign of Pisces, and historically, Neptune-in-Pisces transits have coincided with significant spiritual renewal and upheaval across many different cultures. During its last transit through Pisces (1847-1861), and immediately following its discovery, there was a massive collective shift in North America and Europe towards personal mysticism. In 1850, almost half the US population was a member of Spiritualist church, and groups would regularly gather in homes to communicate with the dead via elaborate seances.

Left: Georgiana Houghton, Flower of Samuel Warrand, 1862; Right: Georgiana Houghton, Spiritualist medium and artist (1814-1884)

And so we find ourselves in the midst of a Neptune-in-Pisces transit today, the first since its discovery, which spans from 2012-2026. Today, we’re more likely to find “baby witches” hexing the Moon on Twitter from their bedrooms than groups of people gathering to perform seances. In our increasingly fractured society, technology, the pressures of capitalism, and fear of viral contamination have pushed many of us to feel increasingly isolated — and at the same time, these very same forces have also highlighted the urgency of new forms of interdependency. Neptune leaves its mysterious fingerprints on the collective’s relationship to spirituality, and so we’re likely in a period of sea change, again.

When Neptune entered Pisces in 2012, NASA scientists discovered the Heliopause, which is essentially the boundary of our solar system. This boundary is defined by the Sun’s influence — its light, gravity, magnetic field, and solar wind. Light and gravity emitted from the Sun do not actually stop, but solar wind behaves differently — when it hits the Heliosphere, it creates a bubble-like region of gas. Here it begins to move slower than the speed of sound, and merges with the surrounding Interstellar Medium (essentially, a gaseous starry expanse), and this place is called Termination Shock (exemplified below with a running water and a drain).

As discoveries of the outer planets (Neptune, Uranus and Pluto) have each mirrored new discoveries about human consciousness, we might assume that the Heliopause, too, presents us with new territory in understanding our minds. That the Heliopause was discovered with a probe, and not a camera, seems significant: indicating, perhaps, that what is out there (and therefore in here) can as of now only be indirectly sensed, and not directly seen. The new paradigm suggested by Neptune in Pisces, and corresponding with the discovery of a new region of astral geography, implies that we may be entering novel territory that we likely cannot yet see or describe, but somehow sense or feel its presence. This notion of feeling or sensing something before it can be proven mirrors the way Neptune operates, and it suggests the wisdom of widening our capacity to faithfully imagine something before it can be birthed into being.

The Hanged Man from the Scapini Medieval Tarot Deck, which has a correspondence to Neptune