Saturday, May 30, 2009

Picatrix on the Decans or Faces

One of the more intriguing parts of the ancient astrological magic grimoire Picatrix are the sections on the talismans of the faces/decans. These are ancient 10 degree subdivision of the signs, with 3 decan/faces in each sign and 36 total. We have a variety of different traditional sources that list talisman image descriptions for each face. Agrippa, for example, lists his face images at Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Bk II, ch. 37. Very odd and interesting they are, too!

I decided to take a closer look at what the Picatrix had to say about the faces in Book II, chapter 11. After listing the images of the faces (clearly Agrippa's list derives from these) Picatrix says,

"And know that what has been said before [concerning] the faces of the signs is a great secret of great benefit that cannot be understood by many students of astronomy unless they are intelligent, acute and subtle at extracting the root of [what is] profound.

And this is because one planet has the power to impede the effects of another planet, and the power of a term is more powerful than the power of a face and the power of a face is more powerful than the power of a sign."

Picatrix Bk II, ch. 11

This seems rather odd. The usual ranking of essential dignities in traditional astrology is sign (+5), then exaltation (+4), triplicity (+3), term (+2) and then face (+1). One of my favorite essential dignity cites is from Lilly on the face which he says, " almost like a man ready to be turned out of doors, having much adoe to maintaine himself in credit and reputation: and in Genealogies it represents a Family at the last gasp, even as good as quite decayed, barely able to support it self." Christian Astrology, 103.

However, when we look at Al-Biruni, the 10th century Islamic astrologer he notes the usual arrangement, but says,

"It is related than an authority in this subject assigns 30 to the lordship of the ascendant, 20 to exaltation, 10 to lordship of face, 5 to that of term, 3 1/2 to that of triplicity, 4 1/2 to that of the hour, and finally to the Sun or Moon whichever is the lord of time, as much as the lord of the ascendant...This is the practice of the Astrologers of Babylon and Persia, who regard the lordship of the face as very important."

Book of Instruction, section 494.

Picatrix continues,

"And this is because it is natural for one to advance over another, as water extinguishes the heat of fire, and fire carries off the coldness of water, and water moistens the dryness of earth, and earth dries up the moistness of air.

And this is, because of their qualities when they in turn unite and are pure, the strongest will conquer and prevail, and if many qualities join in turn, the strongest will be able to conquer entirely. And if they are equal in their powers and effects, their work and effect will have a mixed nature.

And if there is one quality that is very abundant in its own remote place, its perfection is diminished and consumed in the same way that that health, after it is most strong, produces illness, and at the time when fruits are ripe and ready to be harvested they fall off of the tree, and the little snake destroys and kills the great snakes, and small and tiny worms when they join together kill a serpent, and the powerful is weakened by the weak according to his nature. You should carefully consider what we have said."

Picatrix Bk II, ch. 11.

Now this passage is even more intriguing. One chain of thought that it sets off in me is that of the rhythm of the cycles that are constantly occurring in the Heavens. We can see these patterns in the stars fairly clearly if we cast off the modern world view that looks upon astrology as illogical and irrelevant. It is harder to see the reflection of the Heavens in earthly events because Matter resists the imposition of the Divine and Celestial forms and because, if the cycles are unfolding in our own lives, they often go in patterns that our ego dislikes. It seems unfair, it shouldn't be this way, how can this be happening to me? But as Seneca puts it, Ducunt volentem Fata, nolentem trahunt. "Fate guides the willing and drags the unwilling."

So our task is first to see the cycles occuring, then to go with them.

The passages about the weak weakening the strong are even more intriguing. It sounds very Taoist to me.

"Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water; But for attacking the hard and strong, there is nothing like it! For nothing can take its place. That the weak overcomes the strong, and the soft overcomes the hard, This is something known by all, but practiced by few"

Tao teh ching, Stanza 78

This next Picatrix series seems to me to give us a way to work with
the cycles, while still accepting them. We do not oppose the strong as it strengthens, but wait until the strong exhausts itself. We exhaust the strong with the weak.

"What is in the end to be shrunken, begins by first being stretched out. What is in the end to be weakened, begins by first being made strong. What is in the end to be thrown down, begins by first being set on high. What is in the end to be despoiled, begins by first being richly endowed. Herein is the subtle wisdom of life: the soft and weak overcomes the hard and strong."

Tao teh ching, Stanza 36.

More on Picatrix

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