Alcyone and Pleiades Talismans
In Greek legend they were known as the Seven Daughters of Atlas and Pleione; Alcyone, Celano, Maia, Merope, Taygete, Asterope (called the storm-pleaid) and Electra. The ancient Greeks referred to the Pleiades as the ‘sailing stars’ and designated their Oceanid mother Pleione the ‘sailing queen.’ In the origin story of how they became stars, Orion saw the seven sisters dancing and consumed by lust tried to capture them. The sisters cried out to Zeus to protect them and he turned them into doves, placing them in the sky. This story shares many similarities with Aboriginal Australian legends in which the Pleiades are often interchangeably described as female birds and women who are pursued by males, like the seven emu women who are chased by dingo men in the story of the Magara.
The stars of the Pleiades form Krittika, the third Nakshatra of Vedic Astrology. Ruled by Agni - the god of sacred fire and transformation - Krittika embodies great willpower, determination and tenacity. According to Dennis Harness in his book The Nakshatras, Krittika translates to "the cutters” and is called the “star of fire.” It holds the symbols of the flame and the blade which represents the power to burn and slice away the profane to reveal hidden and buried truths. It is through Krittika’s fires of purification that we are renewed and the spark of divinity ignited.
The Making of the Alcyone and the Pleiades Talismans
When I first began thinking about making the Pleiades talismans the lyrics “Give me your eyes so I might see/ the blind man kissing my hand” from the song Strange Day by the Cure repeated in my mind like a brainworm, a foreshadowing that set the tone for this working; a riddle in a song with the theme of sight and blindness. The Pleiades have long been connected to sight and spirit realms. This pervades in the astrological magic traditions in which they are known as one of the 15 magical Behenian stars and are said to aid the practitioner with spirit sight, occult knowledge and spirit contact.
I began working on the wax carving for these talismans just before the cross quarter day known as Beltane. I spent a few days working blind with the wax to see if a new image wanted to emerge before deciding to stick with grimoire tradition and create a Lamp which is identified as the image for Pleiades as found in the Bodelein Ms and subsequently Agrippa:
Under the constellation of Pleiades, they made the image of a little Virgin, or the Figure of a Lamp; it’s reported to increase the light of the eyes, to assemble Spirits, to raise Winds, to reveal secret and hidden things.
I spent many days carving and forming the wax piece during the spring cross-quarter period. This is the time when the veil thins and there is a verdant eruption of new and renewed life. While I was carving this piece the aforementioned song kept running through my head and so I decided to add the first line: “give me your eyes so I might see” to the talisman but in greek:
Δώσε μου τα μάτια σου για να δω
I carved these words into the back of the talisman and then removed them and repeated this process another 2 times. Finally I put sigil for the Pleiades over the place where I had written and covered the words. Next, I decided to create a fire emerging from the lamp as a feature of the talisman which would also contain the quartz gemstone. I wanted to make it organic yet filigree, drawing inspiration from Art Nouveau.
The fire feature of the talisman wasn’t pre-planned, instead it took its shape within the meditative process of making. I carved and shaped for days and at one stage of the process I was looking at what I was making and could see a dragon emerging within the organic shapes and decided to refine it. I was surprised with what I had created and was excited to be put to the task of figuring it out. My intention in my work is to let the creative process lead but to situate my work within a research based framework. In the academic arts this is called practice-led research and was one of my key takeaways from my Master of Fine Arts degree. It is a methodology that centers and elevates the artist's creative practice as being in itself a form of research.
Smith and Dean explain in Practice-Led Research, Research-Led Practice in the Creative Arts that: “The product of creative work itself contributes to the outcomes of a research process and contributes to the answer of a research question. Creative practice -- the training and specialized knowledge that creative practitioners have and the processes they engage in when they are making art -- can lead to specialized research insights which can then be generalized and written up as research.” I include this only to illuminate the way I approach my art/ magical practice/ witchcraft and how it applies in this situation where I find myself having created something unplanned and unexpected. Following this model my research was subsequently informed by the work. I had previously been deep in the mythology of the Seven Sisters and was needing to look for additional dragon/serpent Pleiades lore.
As luck (or I should say; the spirits have it) the information I was looking for came to me within a few days when I by chance found myself in a conversation with Katarina Pejović. She had been telling me about her work specifically focused on the zmaj dragons and serpents that are found in Balkan folklore and mentioned in passing their connection to the Pleiades. After relaying my experiences with the crafting of the Pleiades talisman Katarina shared two Balkan folk stories about the Pleiades serpents which she has given permission to share. I highly recommend her booklet released through Haedan press Balkan Folk Magic: Zmaj for an in depth exploration of the zmaj dragons and serpents.
“The first is translated as ‘The Serpent Bridegroom’ and exists in numerous versions throughout the Balkans, and can be found online in full in various collections of translated folk tales as recorded by Vuk Karadžić. In short, a queen who is unable to get pregnant prays to God to be given a child, “even if it ends up being a serpent”. In time, she indeed gives birth to a serpent (the term ‘zmija’ is often interchangeable in these stories with that of ‘zmaj’, with dragons and divine serpents both being seen as one and the same as the stars themselves). When he becomes of age, the serpent seeks to find a wife, and in time marries a young woman who promises to love him no matter his form.
When the woman becomes pregnant, her mother-in-law, the serpent’s own mother, becomes unable to resist her curiosity as to how the miracle of her pregnancy came to be. After badgering the young wife, the mother-in-law finally comes to learn that her son has a human form - and indeed, that this form is that of the handsomest youth in the land - which he exposes only to his wife at night when he sheds his serpent skin. Obsessed with the idea of discovering what her son looks like as a man, she convinces the young wife to hide his serpent skin when he next sheds it so that she can see his true form, and cast it out the window of their room in the castle.
When the serpent’s wife throws away the snakeskin, her mother-in-law, instead of hiding it, burns the full shed into a pyre, hoping that this will force her son to remain human. Instead, following much of the lore surrounding spirit lovers, this proves to be a token of divorce instead, and banishes the serpent from physical incarnation. The serpent’s wife is emotionally destroyed, begging forgiveness of her lord, but as he fades from this world all he is able to tell her is that she will not be able to give birth to their child without his touch, and that in order to find him she will need to travel the skies with shoes and a staff both made of meteorite.
Determined to find him again, the serpent’s wife proceeds on a shamanic journey through the sky in order to find him again. With the assistance of her meteorite shoes and staff, she hikes through the sky, flying in spirit to find the Mother of the Sun. The Mother takes pity on her, and reveals that while her son, the Sun Himself, has not seen her husband out during the day, the Moon might. Before she leaves, the Mother of the Sun grants her a golden loom and thread. This journey repeats with the Mother of the Moon, whose son again has not seen him out during the night, though they both send her off with a golden hen with golden chicks. Finally, the Mother of the Wind directs her to another kingdom where her husband has reincarnated in, and gives her a golden feather cloak. The Wind blows her to this new realm, and when she lands, she finds that both her shoes and her staff have shattered, fixing her to this new foreign land.
In this world, she discovers that her husband has been tricked into marrying a new empress, a witch whose power will serve as his new anchor to this world by their matrimonial pact. While this empress hungers for the serpent’s endless power, she does not appear to be particularly loyal to him, being more attached to her own greed. Our protagonist, on this front, hatches a plan to win him back.
Taking all her golden gifts, save for her cloak, she proposes to the empress that she would happily trade her golden riches away for the opportunity to “spend a night with her king” - something the witch happily accepts. Yet, not one to be bested, she feeds the serpent a sleeping potion before each night, so that his first wife is unable to communicate with him as she pleads him to wake to hear her apologies.
However, on the third night, when she is to trade away the cloak - the most coveted of her gifts - the serpent (in his human form) is alerted by one of his guards that for the past two nights, he had been "sleeping with another woman", and that she had been apologizing and crying to him all night but he did not wake to her pleads. Suspecting the witch is behind this he hides a sponge in his mouth to soak up the potion when she tries to feed it to him.
At last, on this final night, he remains awake. Hearing his wife's cries, he tearfully accepts her apology, and embraces her; his touch releasing the curse and allowing her to instantly give birth to their son: a golden-haired, golden-eyed half-dragon (zmajevit) hero. In many versions of this story, the tale ends here with the two of them returning to their world. In my favourite retelling, however, there is one final element: the wife pleads with the serpent to go home, but he reminds her that without his serpent shed he cannot take his mythic form again and return to their realm as an incarnate being. Instead, his wife removes her golden feathered cloak and places it over his shoulders. As it adheres to his skin, he changes shape before her, becoming a massive golden dragon. Taking her son in her arms, she mounts him, and they fly off to return to incarnate reality together.
In some versions of this story, their child is the first of seven, who became the Pleiades, or the first of five, and so the husband and wife both become two of the seven stars. This mirrors another famous dragon-related story known as the ‘Seven Little Vlachs’, being a nickname for the Pleiades themselves, in which a human hero becomes the adopted brother of five half-dragon (zmajevit) brothers through the auspices of their mother, an elderly dragon bride. Together, they rescue a princess who was captured by a seven-headed dragon (a tyrannical serpent seeking to marry her nonconsensually), and then themselves come to argue over who will be her new groom. Seeking the advice of the Mothers on who would be the most fit to marry the princess, the order reverses: the Mother of the Wind recommends they seek out the Mother of the Moon, who recommends the Mother of the Sun. Finally, the Sun’s Mother tells them that the person who would really know best and who they ought to ask the advice of is none other than their own Mother! The elderly dragon bride resolves the entire matter at once by adopting the princess as well, ensuring that all seven are siblings. It is said that during Orthodox St. George’s Day (May 6) and St. Vitus’ Day (June 28), the Seven Little Vlachs, the Pleiades, being the five dragon brothers, the young man, and the princess, are all absent from the sky, because they are returning to the Mothers in their realms to thank them for their advice.”
Everything about these stories sang to my soul. What is there not to love about dragons and serpents taking residence in the heavens as the Pleiades and meteorites used as tools for spirit flight? Katarina explains that “We can see this all over the folklore in which a female sorceress or bride of a serpent must construct shoes and a walking staff made of meteorites as well in order to visit the Pleiades or the Houses of the Mothers of the Sun, Moon, and Wind - three important goddesses in the folk magic.” Katarina explained that meteorites are also known to the Balkan people as being in themselves dragons for they are known to fall to earth as meteorites and lightning bolts.
I quickly became obsessed with meteorites and due to my interests in gemmology I found myself learning about the different subtypes and chemical compositions. I discovered that the most common mineral found in meteorites is iron with olivine being secondary. Iron is probably the first thing that comes to mind when we think of meteorites, olivine on the other hand is likely unfamiliar. It is a mineral silicate of iron and magnesium and is of particular interest to me because it has a crystal structure. When an olivine crystal grows large enough to be of gem quality it is called peridot or chrysolite; a gemstone that glows a brilliant green.
Peridot is the only gemstone found in meteorites, making it THE crystal of celestial origins but also chthonic too; for it is found in magnitudes deep within the earth. Called the “extreme gem” by the Gemological Institute of America, peridot is born of fire and brought to light. It is one of only two gems (diamond is the other) formed not in the earth’s crust like every other crystal, but in molten rock of the earth's mantle and is brought to the surface by the tremendous forces of earthquakes and volcanoes. Scientists have shown that the upper mantle is made up mainly of olivine- likely mostly peridot. This means that deep within the earth exists an Emerald Palace formed not of emerald but of peridot.
The pallasite meteorite is a subset of meteorite that contains peridot and iron in a matrix-like structure that looks remarkably like snake skin. Inspired by the folktales of meteorite assisting sorceresses in spirit flight - to go "up" and visit the celestial realms - I decided to procure some for myself. I collected many samples including a specimen container of tiny peridot crystals from the Admire meteorite that was used in these talismans.
While my interest in meteorite dragons and serpents was ignited by the Balkan zmaj folklore I have since found comparable tales (or evidence of such) from ancient cultures around the world. An example being the Aboriginal people of Australia to whom meteors are often associated with serpents. One of the world’s largest meteor impact sites is found in outback Australia and is known as Wolfe Creek crater. It is 850 x 900 meters in diameter and is estimated to be 300,000 years old. The area is home to the Djaru, who call the structure Kandimalal. I have sourced some stories related to this crater from an article in Archaeoastronomy: The Journal of Astronomy in Culture:
One story tells how one night, the moon and the evening star passed very close to each other. The evening star became very hot and fell to the earth, causing a brilliant, deafening explosion. This greatly frightened the Djaru and it was a long time before they ventured near the site, only to discover it was the spot where the evening star had fallen. Goldsmith reports that the Aboriginal Elder told him this story came from his grandfather’s grandfather, indicating it was handed down in its present form before the scientific identification of the crater. A Djaru Elder named Jack Jugarie (1927-1999) gave his account of the Wolfe Creek crater: “A star bin fall down. It was a small star, not so big. It fell straight down and hit the ground. It fell straight down and made that hole round, a very deep hole. The earth shook when that star fell down”
Speiler Sturt, a Djaru Elder from Billiluna, Western Australia, also illustrates the cosmic origins of Wolfe Creek crater: “That star is a Rainbow Serpent. This is the Aboriginal Way. We call that snake Warnayarra. That snake travels like stars travel in the sky. It came down at Kandimalal (Wolfe Creek). I been there.”
Rainbow Serpents are the primordial creator deities of the Aboriginal people, they are described to look like giant rainbow coloured flying serpents. In a popular Dreaming story from Cape York turned children's book, The Rainbow Serpent Gooriala is said to have shaped the country and when he eventually leaves the land he can be seen flying through the night sky as a shooting star.
If we revisit again the passage for the Pleiades in Agrippa, specifically the line “to increase the light of the eyes" we can also find an etymological connection with serpent/dragon lore. To increase light to the eyes is to be sharp-sighted. The ancient Greek word “Δράκων” for dragon literally translates to "sharp sighted"and is traditionally related to “δέρκομαι” meaning ‘to see’ and as we know serpent deities and spirits throughout history have been known as the keepers of mysteries and secret knowledge.
In The Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Agrippa outlines the process for making Behenian Fixed Star talismans as taking the herb and gemstone ascribed to the star and setting the gemstone into the ring (or pendant) at an elected time with the herb underneath. The herb I used for these talismans was fennel and the gemstone a cabochon crystal quartz. These were selected as per Agrippa who says the gemstone for the Pleiades is crystal (quartz) and the herb is fennel.
Fennel is native to the Mediterranean and was prized by ancient Greeks and Romans who used it as medicine and food. Fennel tea was believed to give courage to the warriors before battle and according to Greek mythology, Prometheus used a giant stalk of fennel to bring fire to humankind. Fennel is also one of the three main herbs used in the preparation of absinthe, the alcoholic spirit with the reputation of inspiring visions and dream-like states. Additionally Pliny the Elder suggests fennel is beneficial to sight, in this following passage he explains how serpents use fennel to stimulate the shedding of skin and sharpening of eyesight in spring, drawing the conclusion that what works for the serpent must also work for humans:
The snake, when the membrane which covers its body has been contracted by the cold of winter, throws it off in the spring by the aid of the juices of fennel, and thus becomes sleek and youthful in appearance. First of all, it disengages the head, and it then takes no less than a day and a night in working itself out, and divesting itself of the membrane in which it has been enclosed. The same animal, too, on finding its sight weakened during its winter retreat, anoints and refreshes its eyes by rubbing itself on the plant called fennel.
Fennel has been rendered famous by the serpent, which tastes it, as already stated, when it casts its old skin, and sharpens its sight with the juice of this plant: a fact which has led to the conclusion that this juice must be beneficial, also, in a high degree to the human sight. Fennel-juice is gathered when the stem is swelling with the bud; after which it is dried in the sun and applied as an ointment with honey.
In addition to using the techniques outlined by Agrippa. I also employed those of Ficino conveyed in Three Books on Life, Ficino explicitly says that it is the hammering and heating alone that activates and makes manifest the latent power within the material (metal):
This hammering and heating, if it happens under a harmony similar to that celestial harmony which had once infused power into the material, activates this power and strengthens it as blowing strengthens a flame and makes manifest what was latent before, as the heat of a fire brings to visibility letters previously hidden which were written with the juice of an onion; and as letters written with the fat of a goat on a stone, absolutely unseen, if the stone is submerged in vinegar, emerge and stick out as if they were sculptured. Yes, and just as the touch of the broom or the wild strawberry excites a dormant madness, then perhaps hammering and heating alone brings out the power latent in the material, if it is done at the right time.
I elected the heliacal rise (first visibility) of Alcyone in my location and completed this working over three elected windows which took place around 4 - 5am each day beginning on the 19th of June and culminating on the morning of midsummer/ the summer solstice. During the first election I placed fennel and Admire meteorite crystals under the crystal quartz cabochons and hammer-set the quartz cabochons. During the next election I completed the back where I had made a setting for a mati (evil eye charm) which acts as a door to a cavity within the talisman. I stuffed the cavity full of fennel seeds along with a small piece of meteorite and set the mati on top. On the final day I performed the final invocations.
After the election I used Carl Jung’s Red Book for bibliomancy and opened to this artwork created by Jung:
In this artwork we see a figure pouring the Aquarian life-waters onto a green lizard-like dragon that lays on the earth. Out of the dragon grows seven flowers and atop these flowers are the Kaberoi, a group of enigmatic chthonic deities. They were worshiped in a mystery cult closely associated with that of Hephaestus. In general Greek myth identifies the Cabeiri as divine craftsmen and sons or grandsons of Hephaestus.
Listen closely, for we will only tell you once–you must remember that the way back is the way through, and going through means that there is no way back.
Listen closely, for we will only tell you once–there is a city beneath the crust of the frozen earth, there is a city fathoms deep in the sky.
Listen closely, for we will only tell you once–in this city there is a palace made of emerald glass, iron, and olivine.
Listen closely, for we will only tell you once–in this palace there is an atrium, in this atrium there is a chalice.
Listen closely, for we will only tell you once–in this chalice there is an elixir, and it is the most prized thing in the palace.
Listen closely, for we will only tell you once–this elixir is for Seeing True, seeing as We Do, it is a milk which glows green-flamed and bright.
Listen closely, for we will only tell you once-and if one washes their face in this unctuous broth, they too will possess our Serpent’s Sight.
The Alcyone and Pleiades talismans are hand carved in hard jewelers wax, cast in sterling silver and set with a crystal quartz cabochon and a mati made of shell. Each talisman contains fennel seeds, rock and iron meteorites and peridot crystals from the Admire meteorite. The talismans hang on a sterling silver chain and come in a silk box.
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