This essay is a draft. It will change and may possibly disappear altogether, so don’t get too attached.
In magic, we talk about tables of correspondence. So, what do they look like? Usually, like this:
But also, like this:
A lot of people are used to them looking like this, too – especially if they get them online:
A correspondence is a connection between physical and mental realities, or between spiritual and physical realities. They’re the connection between two things on different planes of existence. A table of correspondence is a way of categorizing information – a map of interacting with another plane of existence.
We map matter to non-matter, physical to mental, spiritual, or divine, symbols to concepts.
So when “green” is used to represent wealth, we’re using a color as a symbol for an idea.
Where do Tables of Correspondence come from?
Unless you’re someone who really gets into the history of magic (we exist, we just don’t get out much, for obvious reasons), what’s most important to you is that your table works, not where it comes from. For example, the graphic about candles above doesn’t have a source or a citation, but most of the other information online about candle colors has the exact same information. These correspondences don’t come out of nowhere.
The tables of correspondence most modern magicians are familiar with are built from far earlier sources – which themselves were built from other sources. It’s hard to find what we’d consider a “primary source” of a table of correspondence, and it’s only possible to go back so far. Most magicians aren’t picking up Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy to look up a quick correspondence, no matter how dedicated they are. It’s just too tedious to page through a couple of hundred pages and then pull out the important bits from a wall of text.
Whether they realize it or not, practitioners are getting their tables of correspondence from books, even if the information is found online. If someone is directly trained in an initiatory tradition, their initiator or order will provide the table of correspondence used in that tradition. Odd are pretty good that the tables of correspondence are from one of just a few books: the classic 777, by Aleister Crowley, Stephen Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Tables, 776 1/2: Tables of Correspondence for Practical Ceremonial, by James A. Eshelman, and Bill Whitcomb’s Magicians Companion (which overlaps with Skinner’s content, but is organized in a different way and arguably more user-friendly).
These books have the information from earlier texts, but 1. in English and 2. organized in a way that’s easy to use.
If you want to know a little more about early tables of correspondence, there’s a brief overview on this site – Origins of Modern Tables of Correspondence.
How are Tables of Correspondence used?
We use tables of correspondence by subject – as in the examples, we use planets or colors. And then we use them as tools.
Maybe I want to attract wealth, so I use a table of correspondence to choose a candle color. If I want to be more specific, I’ll look at another table to determine which planet affects an idea like abundance, and a third table to see which day of the week is ruled by that particular planet. Finally, I will design my ritual knowing that I need to use a green candle on a Thursday (the day of Jupiter).
If you’ve looked through a lot of tables, you’ll have noticed something a little weird: many of them are different. That’s because these tables are intensely personal tools. The tables we “inherit” from books and initiators and our particular traditions are only as useful as their results for us. If my table says I need to do money work on Thursday, the day of Jupiter, but I view wealth as different than abundance, maybe I’ll want to do money work on Sunday, the day of the Sun. That’s not what my table of correspondence says to do, but it might be the most effective for me.
The more we learn about magic, the more we learn how intensely personal it is. What matters is that the table works for you, not what a 13th century astrological treatise says is the “right” planet to use. The tables we start with are not necessarily the tables we end up with – this is why it’s important to keep your own notes, and revise tables as you work.