Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Necessary Synthesis #2 Agrippa's Synthesis

As contemporary practitioners of the authentic Hermetic arts of traditional astrology, alchemy and magic, we are caught between a rock and a hard place, or Scylla and Charybdis, for the classically educated. On one hand, if we stay in the modern atheistic/materialist worldview, generally unconsciously, we will inevitably distort and destroy any chance of truly understanding or applying Hermeticism, which entirely depends on the spiritual connection of all things stemming from their origin in the One. “But I’m not an atheistic/materialist!” A good test is the “sidereal” (actually constellational) versus Tropical Zodiac. If you find the constellation Zodiac compelling, your unconscious thinking is atheistic/materialist. This is not a disaster, just good to know!

For the newbie and student, the first step is to immerse yourself in the tradition, learn the authentic pre-1700 philosophy of Hermeticism and the pre-1700 techniques of astrology, alchemy and magic. Learn the methods, learn the rules at the same time working from the other end trying to grasp the ubiquity of the modern worldview and understand the traditional worldview.

One of my favorite methods for this stems from my legal training. In a legal brief or before a judge, you are expected to be able to cite an authority, typically a court case decided by an appellate court, statute or regulation to support your position. I have my students cite to specific sections of traditional sources, giving the title and page. This is a useful exercise since it keeps us from straying into modern thinking and methods.

However, this dependence on traditional methods and sources ends up being the second big problem for more advanced students or picky talisman buyers who require complete, 100% adherence to traditional sources. Ok, then what do you do when the sources contradict each other?

But let’s go further, the purpose of learning the rules is to immerse yourself in them and penetrate to the essence of the tradition. The rules themselves should be treated respectfully and are not tossed aside at some mythical level of mastery. Rather one understands the reasons behind them and when the rules occasionally contradict the essence of the tradition or the essence can be preserved if the ruled is not observed, then 100% adherence is not required.

While this is a process reserved for those with a mastery of the philosophy and practice of traditional astrology and astrological magic, let me give a concrete example showing how Agrippa worked with Picatrix within the tradition.

As is indicated by the Latin critical edition of Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy, (Brill, 1992) edited by Compagni, the source of the Mercury talismans in Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Book II, chapter 43 is Picatrix, Bk II, ch. 10.

We have recently finished translating Picatrix so we have those talisman descriptions available to us. Bk II, ch. 10 has two separate planetary sections, one is a listing simply of images of the planets according to various sources and the second section lists images plus the astrological conditions they are to be made under and
their effects.

Here is the first section of Mercury images:

The form of Mercury according to the opinion of the sage Beylus is the form of a young man with a beard with a dart in his hand. And this is its form.

The form of Mercury according to the opinion of Mercury is the form of a man with the head of a rooster sitting on a throne and his feet look like those of an eagle and in the palm of his left hand he has fire and under his feet are the signs stated before. And this is its form.

The form of Mercury according to the opinion of Picatrix is the image of a man standing erect and to his right side having wings that extend and on his left having a small rooster [?] in his right hand having a dart and in his left hand a round shell and on the middle of his head
the crest of a rooster. And this is its form.

The form of Mercury according to the opinion of the other sages is the form of a crowned nobleman, riding on a peacock in his right hand a reed pen and in his left having a book and his clothing is of many mixed colors. And this is its form.

Picatrix, Bk II, ch 10.

Here is the second section of Mercury images:

Image of Mercury. From the images of Mercury make the image of a baron seated on a chair with the head of a rooster and the feet of an eagle, and in his left hand fire and under his feet are the signs [figures in text] in the hour of Mercury, Mercury exalted and rising, in emerald, and if this stone is carried into a prison it liberates

From the operations of Mercury, when he rises, make this sign in his hour in emerald, and carrying this stone you will be served by scribes and notaries and all those who are the nature of Mercury.

From the operations of Mercury make the image of a lion in emerald or another image is the image of head of a lion, in the hour of Mercury, Mercury rising in Gemini, and above the head write a "A" and below the head a "D" and whoever has this image they will evade infirmities and fear and good things will be said of them.

Picatrix, Bk II, ch. 10

Now here are Agrippa's Mercury talismans from TBOP, Bk II, ch 43

Of the Images of Mercury.

From the operations of Mercury, they made an Image at the hour of Mercury, Mercury ascending in Gemini, the form of which was an handsome young man, bearded, having in his left hand a rod in which a serpent is twyned about, in his right carrying a dart, having his feet winged; They report that this Image conferreth knowledge, eloquence, diligence in merchandizing and gain; moreover to beget peace and concord, and to cure feavers; They made another Image of Mercury, Mercury ascending in Virgo, for good will, wit and memory; The form of which was a man sitting upon a chaire, or riding on a Peacock, having Eagles feet, and on his head a crest, and in his left hand holding a cock or fire.

By comparing Agrippa's talismans with his original source Picatrix, we can see that Agrippa is basically mixing and matching the various Mercury images listed in Picatrix. For example Agrippa’s first image is Mercury in Gemini, with a bearded young man and a dart, but Picatrix doesn’t specify a sign for the bearded young man with a dart. Of course Gemini makes sense being Mercury’s sign. Agrippa adds in a rod with a snake twined around it, but then this is the famous caduceus of Mercury, quite appropriate if not in Picatrix. Also Agrippa has the image with winged feet, again classic for images of Mercury, while Picatrix just says “winged”. Does this make feet wrong, hardly!

So Agrippa is neither inventing out of whole cloth, nor is he simply slavishly following the source, because this is clearly not necessary. He is inspired by Picatrix and adds in other appropriate, traditional elements.

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