Saturday, 8 September 2012

Planetary characters in Vital s Sefer HaPeulot

I ve recently came into possession of a little known series of planetary characters found in one of Chaim Vital s little known manuscript works called Sefer HaPeulot, through the ever-surprising help of Rabbi Cohen.

(Pending editing. manuscript information)

He manifested his doubt upon their relation to other characters found on traditional segulot and his suspicion of a tradition more linked to the Sefer Mafteah Shlomo,  due to the lack of circle-ended figures which is the subject of his current studies.

I would like to further strengthen his suspicion and attempt to forward a possible Arabic origin of the seals.
As far as I know there are no practical directions connected to the seals, but an educated guess would be that they were engraved on rings or metallic medals made according to the astrological disposition of the planet in question.

I have three reasons to believe they are of Arabic descent:

-most of the image magic works featuring the septenary of planets are not purely Jewish in nature, but almost entirely Arabic. As there are some evidences about a Jewish tradition of seals and sigils, found in  Shoshon Yesod Olam, Sefer Even HaShosham and a number of Genizah fragments, I will not claim complete certainty here on account of my lack of information, but most of the seals in Jewish amulets are quite dissimilar from our set, while Arabic treatises abound in almost the same type of seals. Not a farfetched claim when we consider Vital s journeys to Egypt and long term studies in Safed and Damascus, where Arabic image magic would have flourished. 

 -the repertoire of the signs is about 28 or 29 recurring symbols (give or take one as a margin of error caused by faulty copying) which lends us to believe the characters are simply names written in a magical alphabet. I will compare the existing alphabets of Arabic origin used in talismans from my collection, including the ones found in the treatise of Ibn Wahshyyah, and communicate my findings.
-the characters themselves have common symbols with other Arabic series of characters, one of the most striking being with the alphabet or secret characters of the Tahatil names. I will append illustrative material as shortly as possible.

These are the seven character lines in question, cleaned up and enhanced for further study. Once again, many thanks to Rabbi Yosef Cohen for his most cordial help in identifying the attributions.


Seals of Saturn

 Seals of Jupiter

 Seals of Mars

 Seals of the Sun

 Seals of Venus

 Seals of  Mercury

 Seals of the Moon

In my future studies and comparative charts, I will refer to this series of characters as Vital. Each series will be coded with a three letter sigla for the planet (Vital.Sol.,  Vital.Lun., Vital.Mrs., Vital.Mrc. and so forth), while the symbols themselves will be numbered as they appear from right to left. As an example, sign Vital.Mrc.1 appears in quite a number of Arabic charms




As seen in figure 2, it s not a mere cross with crooked circles, but two elongated syllables in Arabic (Hah), crossed one upon the other.  In our series, the vertical line forms the syllable HAH and the horizontal line forms the syllable MU or perhaps HU.


  1. You probably already know this, but the main manuscript of Shoshan Yesod Olam (Comites Latentes 145; formerly called Sion Segre Amar 145 and Sassoon 290) has recently been digitised and placed online by the Bibliothèque de Genève. You can view all 673 pages online as high resolution scans:

  2. thank you so much, no I wasn t aware of this. As an expert on Arabic magic, would you say the planetary seals could be of Arabic origin? I found a number of alphabets with shared characters, but not one to fully make sense. Odds are we might never find one. I believe the morphology clearly indicates an Arabic.

  3. Many Arabic talismanic designs mimic Kufic script by attaching their symbols to a horizontal baseline, which isn't the case here. To me, Vital's planetary characters look like composites - the crossed Hah symbols are (as you observe) almost certainly Arabic in origin, the "+" type symbols (Byzantine crosses) are plentiful in Christian ceremonial magic, while the circles and lunette characters date back to Late Antique magic. The remaining characters (especially the zig-zag ones) bear some resemblance to Arabic letters or cursive Arabic script, but more closely resemble symbols from Ibn Wahshiyya's "ancient alphabets." The way each planet is represented by a string of symbols does suggest a "word," so I agree with your idea that the name of each planet may have been written out using one or more magical alphabets.

  4. I believe the horizontal lines are attached to numeric marks, expressing a specific number obtained by Ilm Al-Huruf. Indeed, that is not the case. The fact you agree with my hypothesis eases my mind on one hand, and drives me further to find out if there is any possibility to decipher it, on the other. Ibn Wahshyyah is not the only source I have to check. here are numerous alphabets in Kitab al-Burhan Fi al-Istila'a a'a al-Jan, in the Diwan al-Ifrit and in the treatise hosted by Princeton whic I believe you know:

  5. Thanks for the link, Mihai, I don't think I'd seen that one before. It would be a breakthrough if you were able to decrypt the planetary symbol series, but I suspect they won't yield their secrets easily.

    Looking at the symbols again today, it strikes me that the two designs at left of the Seal of Mercury look like they might have originally been an Arabic كو (ku) or Persian گو (gu). The resulting glyph could still have become a member of a secret alphabet, of course, so that it no longer connected with its original sound and meaning (if any) by the time it reached Vital.

    The "angle shapes" (Sun, Moon) could orginally have been Greek capital lambdas that have become rotated anticlockwise.

  6. Glad to be of service. I have a few others if you re interested, including a few versions of the Shams Al Maarif. The Mercury characters I wanted to note but for some reason I forgot, but it s more likely to be a Lam or something else, from what I know the most popular form of of the initial Kaf even in naskh was not angular as we see today, but very curvy and S like. I believe you know what I speak of. I ll look for the alphabets more when I get the chance but bottom like, Vital s characters are undoubtedly Arabic, this we can agree upon.