Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Review of Roos 'Magic Coins' and 'Magic Squares'

Review of ‘MAGIC COINS’AND‘MAGIC SQUARES’:The Discovery of Astrological Sigils in the Oldenburg Letters, ANNA MARIE ROOS, Notes Rec. R. Soc. 20 September 2008 vol. 62 no. 3 271-288

Roos Article in pdf

Dr Roos is a scholar specializing in English astrological magic and talismans in their terminal phase, the late 17th century. Her article, "Magic Coins and Magic Squares" contains an interesting series of drawings of astrological talismans from a late 17th century letter. It is always useful to see actual examples of talismanic design.

The result of this ultra-specialization in such a late period of astrological magic and a focus on printed works, clear from the article's footnotes, are some significant errors. Firstly most works on astrological magic circulated only in manuscript. Frank Klassen lists several hundred manuscripts of astrological magic, while only a few books on astrological magic were ever printed before the modern era. A focus on printed material misses most of the extant corpus on astrological magic.

Secondly, errors detectable by a careful perusal of even printed sources have crept into the article. For example on page 276 figure 3(b) Roos states, "On the reverse we see the Verchiel angelic symbol, followed by the sign for Regulus,and the cabala symbol for Leo."

In fact, what Roos describes as the sign of Regulus is the standard symbol for Leo, a fact which is made obvious by examining figure 5, also described as the sign of Regulus, again clearly the standard Leo symbol. What Roos describes as the "cabala symbol of Leo" is, in fact, the standard symbol of Regulus. See Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Bk II, ch 52.

The symbol of Regulus is also not a symbol derived from cabala or planetary squares. Agrippa's source was the manuscript Hermes on the 15 Fixed Stars which circulated widely in the Middle Ages and Renaissance and thus is Hermetic, not Cabbalistic in origin. See the Latin critical edition of Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy (Brill, 1992) at 377 for Agrippa's source and on my website for a translation of Hermes on the 15 Fixed Stars.

In fact the origin of the fixed star symbols is most likely in Greek and Latin charakteres used on defixiones, standard classical magical objects consisting of writing on lead tablets. See eg, Gager, Curse Tablets and Binding Spells, (Oxford, 1992) at 8, specifically citing Picatrix.

But the most egregious error is the statement that, "the concept of having astrological images on sigils is exclusive to the Christian Latin West." Roos at 274. This is simply wrong. Roos even cites Picatrix, the leading astrological text in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, see footnote 29, but apparently has little idea of its significance or provenance. Picatrix, known in Arabic as the Ghayat al Hikam, the Goal of the Wise, was composed in Arabic circa AD 1000 and represents one of many scientific, philosophical, astrological and magical works translated into Latin so that the developing European civilization of the Middle Ages could learn from the advanced Islamic civilization of the Middle East.

The Islamic civilization in turn drew on many sources for astrological magic in particular from the Sabians of Harran, who were renowned as scientists, astrologers, magicians, mathematicians and makers of precision instruments. The most famous work of astrological magic of the Harranian Sabians was De Imaginibus "On Images" written by Thabit Ibn Qurra. Both Picatrix and De Imaginibus while widely circulated in Europe were never published. It is clear from a careful review of all sources that European astrological magic and astrology was almost exclusively externally derived.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Not Just Good/Bad: The Nodes & Retrogradation

One of the trends that is very clear in traditional astrology and Western astrology, which incidentally is contrary to the myth of "progress" is the tendency towards loss of nuance and loss of technique beginning in the Middle Ages, accelerating into the Renaissance and reaching almost catastrophic proportions with modern astrology.

One way in which this loss of nuance expresses itself is in the tendency to use the simple classification of every astrological factor as simply "good" or "bad". One of the canards flung at traditional astrology by modern is that it calls certain planets, fixed stars, etc., malefic. Perish the thought! Yet despite this criticism modern astrology regards void of course Moon or retrograde Mercury in the starkest and wholly negative terms.

Even when it comes to the malefics, traditional astrology has a more nuanced view. As the Centiloquium, the 100 Aphorisms attributed to Ptolemy says,

"In election of days and hours, make use of the two malevolent planets Saturn and Mars; for even so doth the expert physician use poison moderately for cure of man."

Aphorism 10.

Thus even the malefics have their uses. Being too close to the Sun, known as combustion, for example, is considered in general to be a severe affliction. However, the medieval Italian astrologer Guido Bonatti says,

"And when [the Moon] is under the rays of the Sun she signified secrets and things that have been hidden, and also she signifies matters that must be hidden; wherefore, at that time it is good to manage things that must be hidden and do those things which we wish to conceal from people before the Moon should be separated from the the Sun, but to be sure, at the time after she is separated from the Sun, [we must do] those things which we want to be hidden before she goes out from the Sun's rays."

Liber Astronomiae, Book III (Arhat ed.) page 38.

So even dealing with malefic/benefic qualities, traditional astrology uses a nuanced approach. But this simple good/bad distinction is only one tool in the fully stocked traditional kit.

The Nodes of the Moon and retrogradation provide another interesting comparison using the increase/decrease comparison. The 10th century Arabic astrologer Al-Qabisi, known to Europeans as Alcabitius, writes in his Introduction to Astrology that the North Node of the Moon, known as the Head of the Dragon, is considered benefic, but that some say it has the nature of increase, so it increased the positive qualities of benefics and the negative qualities of malefics.

Similarly he says that the South Node or Tail of the Dragon is a malefic, but that some say it has the quality of decrease, decreasing the positive qualities of benefics, but also decreasing the negative qualities of malefics,

"Thus it is said that the Head is a benefic with the benefics and malefic with the malefics; the Tail is a malefic with the benefics and a benefic with the malefics."

Introduction to Astrology, (Warburg 2004) ch 2, sections 45-48, p 88-9.

Similarly with retrogradation, normally considered an affliction, but the astrological magic grimoire the Picatrix says,

"When [Saturn] is retrograde, however, he signifies misfortune, debilities or infirmities, prisons and evils suffered in all things, and if he enters into aspect with any other planet, he weakens it and damages all the qualities of the other planet. If he is retrograde and you ask him for something, what you seek will come about with delays and miseries and great labor. If he is retrograde in any of his dignities, his maledictions are augmented and increased; while if he rises in his powers and dignities, then he will be easier and gentler."

Picatrix, Bk III, ch. 7, quoted in Secrets of Planetary Ritual

So following the logic of Picatrix, being retrograde and afflicted would lessen the severity of the affliction. Interesting!

Traditional astrology ultimately is about synthesis, using all of the chart factors in relation to each other to see through the chart and find the unified pattern of the situation that the Heavens reveal. Just as reality is complex and nuanced, so too must be any system that attempts to make accurate and precise prediction.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Talismans for Planets Afflicted in the Natal Chart

I wanted to talk about the issue of using planetary talismans when the chosen planet is seriously afflicted in your natal chart. Seriously afflicted means basically being in fall or detriment, or combust or retrograde without significant dignity.

Picatrix says that if planet is strong in your natal chart that you will have a stronger effect if you invoke it or make its talisman.
Picatrix Bk I ch 5, page 42 Greer & Warnock translation

Similarly Picatrix indicates that if a planet is strong in the chart of the creation of a talisman,

The most important point (of which you should take diligent care) is that you should see that the planet is in good condition and quality, and remote from infortunes, because when he is like this, he is like a man of good will and a lively heart and a great and ample mind, and if another person seeks something from him, he cannot find it in himself to deny the petitioner. When the same planet is retrograde in his course or cadent from the angles, he is like a man full of anger and ill will, who is most ready to deny a petition.

Picatrix, Bk III ch 7, from Secrets of Planetary Ritual, page 12

Looking at general electional practice in traditional astrology, the dignity or debility of planets in the natal chart affects elections. William Ramesey in Astrology Restored/Astrologia Restaurata says,

But note (as aforesayd) that if a malevolent Planet be significator in any thing in the Radix [literally root, ie natal chart], you must fortify it, and not think the making a fortune: viz. Jupiter or Venus (which are but generally so) significators, will be beneficial: for it will often prove contrary : for all men are not ruled by Jupiter and Venus; neither (as I say) are they always fortunes: for accidentally they may be infortunes: and when they are Lords of the eighth, twelfth and sixth, they are occasions of sickness, poverty, imprisonment, mischief and death as effectually as Saturn or Mars;

For every Planet must doe the office whereunto it is ordained: and so by the same rule may Saturn and Mars be fortunes, and so they are to those they chiefly rule, and to such things as are properly under their dominion either naturally or accidentally;

Astrology Restored 123-4.

On the other hand, I have seen people with afflicted planets in their natal charts get good results from the talismans of these planets. So what I would say is that if a planet is afflicted in your natal chart, that this is a red flag. You need to do some additional divination and perhaps experiment with a paper talisman before trying anything more powerful. This is even more important with Saturn & Mars talismans since the energy of the malefics can be hard to take even when dignified.

However, just because you decide not to work with the talismans of the planets doesn't mean you can't work with their energy. You can do meditation and invocation at astrologically appropriate times and you can do planetary charity. Planetary charity involves making an oath to a planet to give their charity and then giving a person or charity ruled by the planet a donation on the planetary hour and day of the planet. For Saturn, give a homeless person a donation on Saturday at Saturn hour. Whatever you do however, make the oath your first priority. Don't vow and then blow off the charity!

More on Astrological Talismans