As we’ve discussed, almost all civilizations have had observation of the stars as part of their culture. Many of these cultures have described the night sky as a dome, sphere, or flat surface moving above the earth, because that is exactly what it looks like. If we imagine that you could see the stars 24 hours a day, you would basically watch them rotate above you, as if they were on a dome. The center of this dome is right near the star Polaris, which is the North Star, so the other stars basically turn “around” it. Even over the course of a night the stars will rotate visibly around the North Star. With a long exposure camera you can confirm this for yourself.
Our ancestors of course noticed this, and they also noticed that there were five clearly discernable stars that did not move in harmony with the other stars. They moved of their own accord, sometimes in harmony with each other, sometimes not.
There were dubbed the “wandering stars” as they wandered freely against the backdrop of the “fixed” stars. These 5 wandering stars, with the sun and the moon, became the 7 divine lights that were clearly special because they moved freely in contrast with all other lights in the heavens. You most likely know these wandering stars as planets. In fact, the word planet comes from the Greek words for wandering star. The current theory about the planets is that they are spheres that orbit around the sun and reflect its light, but for most of human history a geocentric model was used. It was also believed that these wandering stars emitted light: consider that in the night sky, they look just as bright as the stars – which are themselves supposedly just as bright, if not brighter, than the sun.
The five classical planets known to our ancestors were Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – essentially the first five planets in our current model of the solar system, excluding the earth. In Western occult we refer to the sun and moon as planets, bringing the total number of planets to seven.
A quick note on the names of the sun and moon is in order. Many planets are said to have moons, our moon is called Luna. Other planets in other solar systems might have their own suns, our sun is named Sol. So Sol and Luna are proper names just like Jupiter and Mercury whereas sun and moon are just nouns like the word planet. You may see the words Sol and Luna used in occult texts or here, now you know.
These seven classical planets are another key concept in Western occult. It is just as essential as anything else we’ve covered so far.
Many things are divided into seven in Western occult. There are the seven days of the week, the seven planets, the seven tones in our musical scale, and many other examples. In fact, when Issac Newton designed our breakup of the color spectrum, he broke it into seven colors for this reason. This is the rainbow most people are familiar with: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. To modern eyes the inclusion of blue and indigo seems redundant: Newton most likely would have been thinking of “blue” as our “cyan” and “indigo” as a deep blue.
The seven planets are the most pure expression of this sevenfold division of spiritual and physical energies. In fact, this sevenfold division may be closer to your everyday life than you think. Our week of seven days has one day for each of the classical planets, starting with Sun-day and Moon-day. We will discuss this shortly. For now, I’d like to introduce the seven classical planets and explain the title of this chapter, “The Heptarchia”.
This word, Heptarchia, means “seven rulers”. It is easy to remember because hept- is a prefix that means seven (like a heptagon), so its just like the word monarch. “Mon” is one, “arch” is ruler, so a monarch is the one ruler. In this word, “Hept” replaces “mon” to create a word that means “seven rulers” (one could conceivably have a triarchy, or a pentarchy, etc.). The heptarchia are the seven classical rulers of the heavens, the seven classical planets we’ve discussed.
During this short description of them I’ll be using and describing their glyphs. Later on, we’ll discuss the the esoteric symbolism and deeper meaning of the planetary glyphs. For now I’ll just be giving you a cursory overview of each planet and its nature so that you have some ground to stand on as we move forward. A book could easily be written on each of the planets, just think of this as me giving you a foot in the door. As you progress in this text it would be wise to look at other people’s interpretations of the concepts we discuss, I can obviously only give you my own perspective.
Most modern people, when learning about the heptarchia, basically imagine the inner rings in our current model of the solar system. I would encourage you to not do this. Imagine yourself on the earth, watching the planets and lights in the sky.
The “correct” order of the planets in this system is often called the “Chaldean order of the planets”, although the Chaldeans are most likely not the first ones to have ordered them in this way. The Chaldeans were a group of people living around Babylon for the first half of the first millennia BC (~10th to 6th centuries BC) though of course, it is always more complicated than this.
Soon this will be very clear.
The Chaldean order of the planets ranks them in terms of apparent speed, starting with the moon, which appears to move the fastest. The order of planets that we generally think of is the same (Mercury, then Venus, then Mars (skipping Earth), then Jupiter, then Saturn), except the sun is dropped in between Venus and Mars, as its apparent speed is faster than Venus but slower than Mars. So ultimately, its the moon, Mercury, Venus, the sun, Mars, Jupiter, then Saturn. You may also see it in reverse order, as in the chart above.
This order of the planets has many advantages, so the sooner you start thinking in these terms, in my opinion, the better. Plus, conceptualizing the order of the planets from the standpoint of a viewer on earth puts you as the main character in our cosmological model. We’re going to try and model things in terms of your actual life and day to day experience as much as possible.
[Next Chapter: The Moon, coming soon]