Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Necessary Synthesis #3 Leopold's Talismans

If we wish to practice traditional astrology we need to stay within the tradition. This is less of a moral judgment than simply one of keeping our labels straight. We do not wish, as my mentor in magic Robert Zoller said, to be flying under “false flags” calling ourselves traditional astrologers because we like the sound of it and consciously or more likely unconsciously practicing modern astrology.

As we have explored in earlier posts, we face the delicate task of being true to the essence of the tradition without blind and slavish adherence to every jot and tittle of every traditional text.

We can perhaps say that we have begun to master the essence of traditional astrology by when we have followed our traditional sources carefully and delineated, say 500 charts or created 100 astrological talismans using only traditional methods. At this point we can begin to see through the letter of the rules to the essence.

Let’s look at an example. What follows are a literal and then a “synthesized” version of a translation from a passage in Leopold of Austria’s “Compilatio scientie astrorum” Compilation of the Science of the Stars, dating to about 1271. This passage is included in F J Carmody’s “The Astronomical Works of Thabit b. Qurra” (Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1960) at 172-3.

First here is a literal translation of the passage by our own John Michael Greer,

For having the love of somebody, make an image of the one whose love you want to acquire on the day and hour of Jupiter, under the ascendant of the nativity or question; a fortune ascending, and (a fortune) the lord of him (the ascendant,) and keep the malefics away from it; let the lord of the tenth be a fortune. And let it be joined with the lord of the ascendant, with corporeal reception or a good aspect, and name the image you make with the name by which that person is known; put another image with the first so that they embrace each other, and wrap in a clean cloth. And (what you did) with the lord of the first image, (do) to both images; the power is not in the metal of which they are made or the wax or clay, because the observation of the ascendant suffices with the conditions you should keep in mind.

Next, here is my “synthesized” translation,

In order to have the love of someone, make images for the acquisition of love in the day and hour of Jupiter under the Ascendant of the nativity [of the person whose love you wish] or of a horary question [regarding this person]; with a fortune rising and the Ascendant ruler fortunate; and remove malefics from the Ascendant; and make fortune the ruler of the 10th house and unite it with the ruler of the Ascendant with bodily reception or a good aspect, and name the image with the name of the person for whom it is made; and place the second image with the first image and cause them to be embracing and place them in clean cloth. And the lord of the first image is lord of both; the power is not in the metal out of which they are made or wax or clay, because it is enough to observe the Ascendant and be mindful of it when creating [talismans].

Ok, let’s look at the changes I made. First of all, the literal translation says “make an image” while I say “make images”. This is because later in the paragraph it makes a big deal out of a second image and making the two images embrace each other. This is a key part of the whole talisman creation process because embracing images cause the targets to embrace. The literal translation even says to do the same with the second image as the first!

Next another key is basing the election for these images on a natal chart or a horary. As we can see in De Imaginibus, we use the natal chart of the target or a horary that gave us a favorable outcome concerning them. The problem is that the literal translation goes on to say that you should make a fortune ruling the Ascendant. The fortunes are Jupiter and Venus, they rule Sagittarius, Pisces, Taurus and Libra. So what if the natal chart of your target has Capricorn rising? I have substituted “make the lord of the Ascendant fortunate” This preserves the concept of fortunating the Ascendant, which is what having a benefic rule it does, while also preserving the ability to focus the power of the talisman on the target. Similarly, making the lord of the 10th a fortune limits the signs that can rise, so I make a similar adjustment there.

We can see that the “synthesized” translation does not do anything that goes outside the usual traditional practice and in fact, it resolves the confusion the literal translation causes while still giving a recipe for a powerful talisman.

Translation, in fact, is an excellent analogy about how we need to approach traditional sources, even in English. Translation is an art, it cannot be done word for word, and we must balance fidelity to the literal words of the original with creating a translation that is meaningful to us, but still faithful to the original.

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.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Necessary Synthesis #1 Flowers' Hermetic Magic

Hermetic Magic by Stephen Flowers is subtitled “The Postmodern Magical Papyrus of Abaris”

I was definitely prepared to dismiss this as another frothy New Age production with the term “hermetic” used as a synonym for esoteric, occult or simply “cool”. Instead Flowers does a good job of outlining the true history of classical Hermeticism, explaining its mixed Greek and Egyptian roots, its subsequent history, cosmology, Hermetic gematria and the operative magical use of Hermeticism in the Greek Magical Papyri.

I’m not wild about the term “postmodern” which already has a current definition that to my mind doesn’t fit how Flowers uses it, because postmodernism is still atheistic/materialistic. On the other hand, what should we call the worldview that is necessary for astrology, alchemy and magic? A bit of a conundrum! Flowers is entirely correct, however, in pointing to a change from the modern worldview as a prerequisite for true contemporary Hermeticist.

I also wasn’t wild at first about the “Epistle of Abaris” which is Flowers’ own creation of a Hermetic text. Then I realized that this was totally traditional! Flowers’ epistle is certainly within the mainstream of Hermetic thought and one would not balk at it if it was part of a newly found ancient Hermetic manuscript.

Ultimately, I realized that basically any problem I had with Hermetic Magic stemmed from bad vibes off of the “postmodern” title. In point of fact, this is a very good introduction to the history, theory and practice of magic within classical (1st to 4th centuries AD) Hermeticism. Flowers points to all the key sources, the Corpus Hermeticum, the Greek Magical Papyri, which you can then read in the original. Ultimately, I think that Flowers’ approach, seeing the origin of Hermeticism in synthesis and then immersing oneself in pre-modern Hermeticism and then finally producing a new synthesis, within this tradition, is the correct approach.