These are fun questions because it gives us a chance to share notes when they come up.
“Phergoph, how do magic squares work?”
Hermetic.com has a fairly good article on the history of the magic square. That takes us up to the Middle Ages. Agrippa writes down a bunch of the squares in the third book but then he takes a bizarre detour where he doesn’t bother to explain the math. This is what leads to most of the confusion in anyone studying magic squares – because Agrippa copies them improperly. In Tyson’s Three Books, he goes through the math and corrects some of them. I also attempted to work out some of the squares by hand from the opposite direction and quickly figured out Agrippa’s squares not only are poorly copied, but they are also nonsensical. No application of math I could find will trace something like a sigil of a planet or intelligence. My copy of the Three Books has several tries scribbled into the margins. Using Agrippa’s sigils but not his numbering has had decent effects for me, but not the wow factor that evocation does, which leads me to believe Agrippa’s squares are “too far out” to be useful, or the doubt from proofing them has crept into my psyche. I would love to see “fixed” squares.
So that brings us nicely to the next topic – could they be sigils? Well sure, but the classical sense of them is obviously lost. Sigils as we think of them today are something like bindrunes, if we want to import antiquity, or they are based off magic squares. To make a sigil from a magic square in a classical sort of workflow, the process would be to calculate the value of the intention using something like gematria or a number from something like the Black Arts or Sepher Sapphire. Once you have a number, you can do it the hard way, or cheat. (I cheat, except that the classical magic square requires an odd number, which is an important tip for why Agrippa’s squares are messy). If I run the word “love” through the calculator, I see it equals 775 in Hebrew, 324 in English, and 54 in Simple. Cherry picking “simple” for reduction, it equals 9 (5+4). The magic square generator gives us a grid, and then we would connect 12, 15, 22, and 5 to spell L O V E and that would generate the sigil.
That’s how magic squares are used in isolation. If you said “Phergoph this smacks of bullshit” you would be right. It’s underachieving and there’s little art to it, but the SATOR square has been attributed to everything from preventing miscarriages to putting out fires to miraculous healing. Magic squares in antiquity were simply loved just because they looked neat. This gives us two directions to go – squares can be reduced to sigils and we can go down the rune path with something like the Alphabet of Desire which is really just English bindrunes, or I think there’s new ground to be broken in the spirit of old grimoires. In the picatrix, for instance, there are instructions to make a talisman or amulet during a fortunate time from a sympathetic material. It would be much better to roll some influences together using ideas from Agrippa, etc than to wing it like above, but the version outlined above it how people have been doing it since antiquity and would be familiar to Oriental magic.
Right, so using standard ritual format we all know and love, take into account the phase of the moon, the mansion of the moon, the lunar day, and the day and hour of the planet. This is ceremonial magic 101. Since we want LOVE (as eros) in our example, we want to work in Venus. If we just took the number of the sphere, it would be 7. Be aware that while odd numbered squares can be generated, there’s no easy way to make even numbered squares. Fortunately we live in the age of Sudoku, and since we’re only concerning ourselves with the planets, it’s pretty easy to find even-nominal squares. I usually spot check them picking a horizontal, vertical, and diagonal column at random. Basically follow the instructions above for putting down the square on virgin paper, connecting 12, 15, 22, and 5, and your talisman is made and captured the day and hour.
But a snag! What if we want to make a talisman for “stability”, and use saturn? That’s 19, 20, 1, 2, 9, 12, 9, 20, and 25! “Those numbers don’t exist on the kamea!” For that, the classical example is from Jewish Gematria, where the letters are numbered from 1-9, then from 10-90, then from 100-600. Adding those numbers together always produces a three digit number, and that three digit number is 7-3-1, which becomes the sigil. Carved into lead on the day and hour, it would be a fine thing to have!