Let’s Recommend: “On the Heavenly Spheres”

It’s been a while since I wrote a recommendation post, so I figured why not break that streak with what I think is the best book on astrology you’re likely to find.

Photograph of the cover of "On the Heavenly Spheres" by Helena Avelar and Luis Ribeiro.

On the Heavenly Spheres by Helena Avelar and Luis Ribeiro is, as its subtitle says, a treatise on traditional astrology. Specifically, this is traditional, Western astrology which consists of techniques and concepts as practiced and understood in Europe from the Hellenistic era through the sixteen hundreds.

It’s the astrology of the middle ages and the renaissance. The stuff John Dee used to select the date of Elizabeth I’s coronation, and the stuff William Lilly wrote about in the first English-language textbook on astrology.

Simply put, it’s the heart and soul of Western astrology, and On the Heavenly Spheres does a fantastic job of presenting it. It includes traditional interpretations of the planets, signs, houses, and aspects just as you’d expect, but it also goes into incredible detail on a number of astrology’s finer points. Concepts such as sect, hayz, occidental and oriental planets, and countless others are introduced and explained in detail.

And it’s that level of detail which raises one of the two issues you might find with this book. At only around 270 pages, On the Heavenly Spheres is extremely “information dense.” Topics are introduced, discussed at length, then the authors move on assuming you have absorbed the material. This makes the book an invaluable resource, but it also might make it a little less friendly for the beginner.

Simply put, this book requires work. It demands to be read more than once, and you’ll likely find yourself referring back to it over and over again.

The second issue is less of a problem and more an intention. This is a book on traditional astrology, and the authors are both very clear on this, as well as very exclusionary of “modern” astrological contributions. The most obvious example of this is an appendix in the back of the book which criticizes the use of the outer planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.

That may put some readers off, particularly if they’re coming from a purely modern background, but Avelar and Ribeiro’s arguments are worth reading.

And, at the end of the day, you’re ultimately free to take them or leave them.

No matter what your astrological background, though, I can’t recommend this book more highly. It absolutely belongs on the shelf of everyone who is serious about astrology.

Let’s Recommend: “The Chaos Protocols”

I’ve rambled a bit about chaos magic before, and at the risk of doing so again, let me recommend a book about it!

Cover of "The Chaos Protocols"

Gordon White’s The Chaos Protocols, published in 2016, is one part chaos magic and one part socio-economics. If this sounds like a strange combination, I can only guess you’re new here.

If you’ve always kept your magic and your politics firmly separated, now more than ever is the time to entangle them.

One of the ideas I’ve come to have about magic, is that it is principally a tool for the marginalized. With a few notable exceptions (particularly along the Levi-Mathers-Crowley trunk of the family tree), magicians in “the West” are more likely to come from the underclasses of society than from its upper crust. Whether you’re talking about witches, cunning folk, root workers, or fortune tellers, the magically-inclined have historically been outcasts.

Or, at least, that’s how they’re usually treated by “fine, upstanding folks,” until the need for their services arises.

And this makes sense, when you think about it. If you’re a member of the ruling elite, and you hold all of the economic and political power, there’s no need to take your grievances to the crossroads.

This is much less true if you happen to belong to the “wrong” ethnicity, gender, or class. When you have little if any material or social currency, and no practical way to beat your oppressors, the “supernatural” might be the only ally you’ve got.

Magic isn’t a tool for the Powers That Be. It’s a tool to be used in spite of them, if not against them.

In The Chaos Protocols, Gordon White lays out the case that the socio-economic systems presently dominating the globe simply weren’t made for our benefit. Rather, thanks to a decades-long marketing campaign by the elite, we’ve been fooled into buying into a pack of economic lies, and trapped ourselves in a cage.

And breaking out of that cage should be the first order of business for the budding magician.

Now, to be fair, I don’t agree with everything in this book, and you’d probably do well to hit up some solid works on anarchist economic theory once you’ve gotten through the material. I do agree with most of it, though, and it had me Googling housing costs and inflation rates for half a night, so there’s that.

Oh, and if you do decide that cutting a deal at the crossroads is your best bet after reading this book, it’s got a ritual for that, too.

Let’s Recommend: “Tarot: The Open Reading”

I’m pretty sure you could fill a modest public library with nothing but books on the Tarot, and new books on the subject come out monthly. In my humble opinion, most of them are fairly derivative and not very interesting. One notable exception to this is the late Yoav Ben-Dov’s book Tarot: The Open Reading.

Cover of "Tarot: The Open Reading"

Written as a companion to Ben-Dov’s deck, the CBD Tarot de Marseille, this book is an exceptional introduction to the traditional, Marseille Tarot. It’s also a good introduction to the looser, more intuitive style of Tarot reading which some of the more “Hermetically-inclined” readers may have struggled with.

There’s a long and growing debate between people who assigned fixed or “traditional” meanings to Tarot cards, and those who prefer to “let the cards speak” in the moment. I’ll save wading into that blood-drenched kiddie pool for another post, but I will say that if you begin your Tarot career in the fixed meanings prison, it can be frustratingly hard to break out of it later on.

Once “Death = Transformation” gets in your head, it tends to lock the door and throw away the key.

Tarot: The Open Reading is like a hacksaw slipped into a birthday cake. There are excellent write-ups of all the cards, giving you “fixed meanings” galore, but the way they are presented, and the way the tie directly into the images on the cards, lets you cut through the bars and get out into the open.

And, as the title of the book implies, the “open reading” is the whole point. It’s all about knowing the question, looking at the cards on the table, and seeing the answer unfold like a stage performance.

This book, and Ben-Dov’s approach, has probably influenced my own Tarot practice more than any others I’ve read in recent years. It’s helped me shed a few of my more annoying Tarot reading “bad habits,” and I keep going back to it. I read and re-read his text, and find myself still having “Aha!” moments when I least expect them.

If you don’t have it already, I highly recommend buying a Marseille deck, picking up this book, and taking them both for a spin.