Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Rite of Perfect Nature, part 3

Thoughts on the Rite of Perfect Nature
 This is a photograph of a mixture of butter, brown sugar, honey, and olive oil. These are the (modified) ingredients that make up the confection that sits in the middle of the table of offerings for the spirits of Perfect Nature in the rite described in Book III, Chapter 6 of the Picatrix, in both the Latin and the Arabic versions. 

I have said before in this blog that I believe Perfect Nature to be a central concept to learning the ritual format of the Picatrix. I have also already described how I developed a repetitive rite that invokes the four names of Perfect Nature. But what I've never done is the actual Rite of Perfect Nature as it is described in the Picatrix. I really have no idea why I waited so long to try it. It is one of the most explicit things expanded upon in the text. It is almost like being a tourist in one's own town. It was so easy to get to I never bothered to. But let us put excuses aside and look critically at the Rite with an eye toward performing the Rite the next time the Moon enters the first degree of Aries in a few weeks. 

It is interesting to compare the Rite in the Latin Picatrix (Greer & Warnock translation) and the Arabic Ghayat Al-Hakim (Hashem Atallah translation). The passages are nearly identical but the differences in how the translators interpreted their respective sources helps to firm up some of the ambiguous details of actually performing the Rite. Let's look at it line by line. I'll designate the line from the Picatrix with P and the lines from the Ghayat Al-Hakim with G.

G: When the Moon comes down to the level of the Head of Aries at any time in either day or night.

P: When the Moon is in the first degree of Aries, be it by day or by night, whenever you wish, 

These lines are just about the same but they can certainly be interpreted differently. The Head of Aries could indicate the entire first Mansion of the Moon, Alnath. The Moon would be in the first Mansion somewhere between 16 and 25 hours or so, depending on the speed of the Moon at that time. That is certainly a much longer time than the Moon would take to enter and pass through the first degree of Aries, roughly two hours. I like the specificity of the two hour window so I think I'll stick with that. I am choosing to interpret "by day or by night" to mean that the Moon's position in the zodiac is the most important consideration when figuring out the timing of the ritual. And things like planetary hours or other astrological weather is much less important.

G: Enter a clean house and put a table at the eastern corner of the house on a step higher than the ground.

P: go into a house that is clean and splendid, in one corner of which you should put a raised table on the floor, toward the eastern side. 

A clean house, or a clean and splendid house, is one that is prepared. I am interpreting this to indicate that the ritual area should be formally cleaned, blessed, and consecrated. I find the detail of needing to be indoors a curious one. It is for this reason, among others, that suggest to me that this rite is best thought of as internal to the magician performing it. 

The table is a little more ambiguous and could open to interpretation. I suspect anything from a footed tray to a dining room table would be appropriate. It needs, however, to be raised from the ground. We could interpret this to mean it needs to be up off of the ground if you had a dirt floor, in which case most modern buildings would suffice, or it needs to be higher than the regular standing level of the floor, in which case one could put something under the feet of the ritual table similarly to how John Dee described his ritual table, using seals made of wax, paper, wood, or something else separating the table from the floor. 

G: Then take four cups; each cup has to be able to hold a whole pound. 

P: Take four pitchers (each of which should hold one pint). 

This is pretty straight forward. I would submit, however, that the volume may be open to adjustment. Just as the incense recipes have some incredible amounts listed (6 ounces of scorpion brains?) so too the amounts of offerings might be similarly adjustable. I suspect I will use vessels smaller than a pint. 

G: Then fill these cups with four different oils. Fill the first cup with almond oil, the second with butter, the third with walnut oil, and the last with vinegar oil.

P: Into one of them put cow's butter, into the second nut oil, into the third almond oil, and into the fourth sesame oil.

The lists are nearly the same and can be blended to give us almond oil, butter, walnut oil, and sesame oil. This is helpful since nut oil is ambiguous and I have no idea what vinegar oil is. Grape seed oil? 

Does the order matter much? Does there need to be a prep area in addition to the ritual area?

G: Then take another four cups the same size of the first ones and fill them with alcohol.

P: Then take four more pitcher of the same size , and pour wine into them.

Again, quite straight forward. And as my oil cups will be smaller than a pint I think it will be good that the wine cups are the same size. I'll keep that consistent.  

G: Then make a candy made of walnut oil, butter, and lots of sugar, it needs to be sweet and heavy on oil. 

P: Then make a composition of nut oil, butter, honey, and sugar.

This is the composition in the photo at the beginning of this post.  The consistency of it was creamy like the blended sugar and butter of a cookie recipe, definitely not a candy. Perhaps less butter and more sugar and then compressed like maple candy. I knew this would take experimentation so I'll need to try again. Another detail worth noting is that I chose brown sugar as opposed to refined white sugar. Turbinado or some other unrefined, raw sugar would also work. 

G: Then take these eight cups and the candy and a glass vessel. First put the glass vessel in the middle of the table and put the candies on top of it, then put the four cups of alcohol around it facing the cardinal points starting with the east, west, north, and south. 

P: Take the eight pitchers and the mixture you have made, and a glass vessel; put this latter in the center of the table, and put the composition you have made into it. Next put the four pitchers of wine at the four quarters of the table, arranging them in the following way: the first pitcher in the east, the second in the west, the third in the south, and the fourth in the north.

So we take everything from the prep area to the ritual table and start setting it up. The first thing is an empty glass vessel in the middle of the table. Then the candy or butter goo goes into it. Then the cups of wine are set on the table in a specific, cruciform order. The Latin and the Arabic versions differ in the order of directions. I think this is significant if one were to try to equate the names of Perfect Nature with each of the cardinal directions. I've been working from the Latin Picatrix order for several years so I will stick with that. 

As an aside I would like to mention that this cruciform, quincunx model is mentioned several times in the Latin Picatrix. In many cases it sets the magician performing the operation at the figurative center of the universe, approaching the divine. It has a similar function here, I think, and reinforces my belief in its central importance to understanding the magic of the Picatrix. 

G: Then you start with the oils first the almond oil to the east on the same pattern of the alcohol cup, then the walnut oil next to the west, the butter to the north and last the vinegar oil to the south.

P: Then take the other four pitchers; first put the one full of almond oil in the east, then the one full of nut oil in the west; the one full of butter goes in the south, and the one full of sesame oil to the north. 

I think it is significant that the position of the butter stays consistent in each of the systems. This reinforces my supposition that direct correspondences can be drawn between the names of Perfect Nature, the directions, and the offerings. 

G: Then take a candle and light it and put it in the middle of the vessel.

P: Then take a burning candle and put it in the midst of the table.

The candle goes to the table already lit. It is put either right in the middle of everything, which is symbolically interesting, or it simply goes on the table near the middle. If it isn't in the middle of the confection bowl then it should probably be toward the east. In my opinion the candle plays dual roles in this rite. On the one hand it represents consciousness, the divine consciousness of God, the consciousness of the magician, and the consciousness of the spirit of Perfect Nature, all at the same time. On the other hand it too is an offering to the spirits of Perfect Nature as a unity. The candle is for all of them and as all of them partake of it they are conjoined in the symbol of the flame.  

G: Then take two braziers full of coal, then burn in one of them Kandar a good smelling glue and in the other one burn aloe wood.

P: Then take two thuribles full of burning charcoal, into one of which you shall put frankincense and mastic, and into the other aloes wood.  

The use of two braziers raises more questions for me than answers them. Why are they separate? Are they on the table with the rest of the offerings or no? And, if so, where should they be placed in relation to everything else? 

And perhaps I am making too much of the little detail that the charcoal comes to the table already burning, just like the candle, but it tickles at the back of my mind as potentially significant. 

Kandar is a type of high quality frankincense and mastic could be a good smelling glue so the ingredients correspond between the two versions. 

So now everything is on the table. I think it might look a little something like this. 

G: Then stand and face the east and repeat seven times Tamaghees Baghdiswad Waghidas Nufanaghdees

P: When all this is done, stand upright on your feet facing east, and invoke the four afrementioned names seven times. [Meegius, Betzahuech, Vacdez, Nufeneguediz]

The instruction to stand in this part is what led me to suggest a low, tray-like table. I also wonder where the magician should be standing. Presumably one stands in the west since the table is just about against an eastern wall. 

I think it is appropriate to envision each of the spirits in their place at the table as their name is being invoked. 

G: Then say after that: "I call you, you High and Powerful Spirit of Spirits, the Wisest of all Wise, Intelligent of all Intelligence, Knowledgable with the World's Knowledge, answer me and come to me and get me close to your knowledge, make me as wise and powerful as you are, let me understand what I do not understand, let me see what I cannot see and protect me from ignorance, forgetfulness, and cruelty and make me like the Forefathers of Wisdom the ones that had intelligence, wisdom, attentive awareness and understanding in their hearts, let all that live in my heart and never depart from it."

P: When you have invoked them seven times, speak as follows: "I call to you, O strong, potent, and exalted spirit, because from you proceed the knowledge of the wise and the understanding of the intellect, and by your virtue the desires of the wise are accomplished, that you may respond to me, and be present with me, and unite with me your powers and the virtues that accompany you, and strengthen me with your knowledge so that I may understand that which I do not understand, and know that of which I am ignorant, and see that which I do not see; and remove from me all blindness, turpitude, forgetfulness, and infirmity; and lift me up to the degree of the ancient sages (those, indeed, whose hearts were filled with knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and cognition), and affix the aforesaid things in my heart, so that my heart might be like the hearts of the ancient sages."

And here is the petition the magician makes to the Spirit of Perfect Nature. 

There are two very important themes that I think bear mentioning about this petition. First, in both versions the spirit is addressed in the singular. It is tempting for me to think of Perfect Nature in terms of four individual intelligences but this is a reminder that the goal is to contact a singular spirit that is individual to the magician themselves. 

The second big thing I think is important is that the magician implores Perfect Nature to align them with the lineage of ancient magicians that came before. This is a request to learn directly from the spirits with Perfect Nature as the conduit or medium. In fact, both versions of the Picatrix mentions who is "the first to work with spirits" and would presumably be one of the ancient sages to contact and learn from. In the Latin Picatrix the name is given as Caraphzebiz, in the Arabic Kirfisayis; phonetically very similar. 

The petition could certainly be modified as the magician deems fit. 

G: Then the spirit said if you do that then you will see me.

P: And when you have done the foregoing working in the aforesaid way, you will see me.

This is the end of the detailed ritual procedure in both books. They each go on to suggest that the planet that rules a persons nativity will affect the manifestation of the teachings of Perfect Nature. I hesitate to put any kind of interpretation on this until I experience it myself. 

Both books then go into talking about seeing with a spiritual eye, contemplations, and looking within which I interpret to mean that a period of meditation and visualization is the next step. After that one would give thanks to God and to the Spirit of Perfect Nature and the Rite would be ended. The candle would be snuffed and the offerings left for some time, maybe a couple of days, and then ritually disposed of. 

The big outstanding question I have is if any of the offering should be consumed by the magician performing the Rite. I could see reasons for both yes and no. Perhaps this will be one of my first questions to the spirit. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Lunar Mansion Notes: Achaya

The Mansion of Achaya runs from 4° 17' of Gemini until 17° 8' of Gemini. For me locally on the west coast of the United States the Moon will be in this Mansion from 11:35AM today, November 2nd, 2020, until tomorrow, November 3rd, at 1:52PM. That's more than 26 hours in this Mansion which is rather slow. The Moon enters this Mansion with her light waning and in a trine aspect with Venus in Libra. These factors together would suggest workings of gentle separation which might take a while to accomplish but will be long lasting. Or perhaps destroying something or someone with too much of something they love or that gives them pleasure. The influence of Venus in one of her signs lends positivity to a slow and darkening Moon. 

The indicator star for this Mansion is Alhena which is in the feet of the Gemini twins. 

image from Sky Guide

Alhena was called The Mark or The Brand and represented an owner's mark on a camel or a horse. In this way there are connotations of possession and claims of ownership associated with this Mansion, but with bonds of love. It would not be inappropriate to extend the symbol of ownership from a brand to a wedding ring. Lovers exclaiming, "I am yours, you are mine," is the flavor of this Mansion. Alhena itself is a bright, white star giving it connotations of pride and strength though modern astronomers say that Alhena is in the first stages of dying.

The Spirit of Achaya is Nederayhe. In Nederayhe's beneficial aspect it is said to put love between two people and improve hunting in the country. Given the connotations of The Mark it would seem this love is more an emotional bond than lustful attraction. It is the bond of The Twins in the depths of the soul.

In Nederayhe's wrathful aspect they are said to destroy cities and besiege them with armies, to allow the enemies of kings to exact revenge, to destroy crops and trees, and to make medicines ineffective. I would argue that a possible connecting thread between all these is violations of trust leading to a slow destruction by figurative starvation or suffocation. The Twins betray each other in the destructive magic of this Mansion. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Lunar Mansion Notes, Alcalb

 Today, October 17th, 2020, the Moon is in the Mansion Alcalb. Alcalb sits fully within the sign of Scorpio, from 8° 36' to 21° 25'. The image of this Mansion is a serpent with its tail above its head. The serpent, along with the eagle and the scorpion, is one of the traditional symbols of the sign of Scorpio. Its gesture, with its tail above its head, is similar to that of a scorpion and suggests an innately defensive posture. 

The spirit of Alcalb is Egrebel. In its beneficial aspect Egrebel can be called to take away fevers and infirmities of the belly, to guard a house from serpents and hurtful beasts, to build buildings that are strong, and to free captives from incarceration. Or as Christopher Warnock states in his book, The Mansions of the Moon, to 'seize' poisons and render them ineffective. Certainly poisons are the province of both scorpions and serpents. 

In its wrathful form Egrebel can be called upon to conspire against kings, to get vengeance upon enemies, and to separate friends. Again these have poisonous connotations but are used in offense. 

The indicator star for this Mansion is Antares in the constellation Scorpio.

Image from SkyGuide

 It is known as the Heart of the Scorpion. Its ruddy color puts it on par with the planet Mars in terms of effect. The name Antares could be interpreted as Ant-Ares, an alternative Ares as god of war (Mars). This is apparently how Ptolemy saw it. Mars is the traditional ruler of Scorpio.

According to R.H. Allen, in his Star Names and Their Meanings, Al Kalb was considered a fortunate Mansion. Offering defense against hidden dangers and the effects of poisons.

Together these elements suggest to me that the this Mansion is best suited to addressing or using poison in the sense of pervasive or systemic destruction, either in defense in the beneficial aspect or in offense in its wrathful aspect. The planet Mars would have an amplified effect, for good and for ill, aspecting the Moon when she is in this Mansion. 

The symbol of water is strongly enforced in the connotations of this Mansion. Scorpio is a water sign and the undulating serpent has a fluid affect. Infirmities of the belly, presumably from something ingested, and the way poison spreads through the blood also reinforce the watery image of this Mansion. 

Potential variations in the talismanic image of this Mansion clearly lie in the gesture and condition of the serpent. Is it attacking or is it defending? Is it hidden or is it plain? These decisions in composing the   image will be central to its effect in accordance with the intent of the talisman. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

I Am An Imperfect Mage

This post is an ice breaker. It seems I have so many of these, mea culpas about neglecting some part of my practice and this blog, as I break through the intimidation of the blank page and the gulf of time from the last post. This post is really a way for me to absolve myself of the sin of sloth. I offer you this absolution too, if you need it. Let us not be stopped by lapses in ritual purity. Let us rise above the guilt of missed offerings and held back teachings. Let us gnash the gristle of the spirit world in our teeth and remember that it is not regular, it is not pretty, and my mouthful is different from your mouthful.

In spiritual pursuits there is no such thing as a waste of time.   

Spirits are stirring, fires are burning. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Thoughts on Image Magic

Image magic, it turns out, is a subject much more vast than I had initially thought. Naively I thought I had a firm grip on what it was and what it entailed. Once I started to drill down and think about it in detail I realized that I had more questions than answers. One of the reasons for the subject to unfurl in greater and greater complexity is simply the vagueness of the word "image" itself. I remember in my younger days when I first heard that the act of writing was once considered a magical act. It surprised me that something so ubiquitous and common was imbued with the power to change reality and was once considered extremely dangerous and therefore inappropriate for the general public. Similarly it is hard to imagine that images have magical properties when I am surrounded by images in the culture in which I am immersed.

It is precisely this ubiquity that presents some difficulty in my understanding ideas about image magic. I have little doubt that there will be things that are too obvious for me to see. The gulf in contexts between myself now and some of the formative cultures integral to the development of image magic will also be challenging for my understanding. Neither of these challenges is insurmountable and the more I talk out these ideas, the more the proverbial puzzle pieces will fit together. I will make mistakes and I will hold on to mistaken assumptions so feel free to point these out to me as you see them. 

I have lots of ideas swirling around in my head about image magic. I am going to draft some of them out on this blog in no particular order. Let's work out some of these ideas together. What is image magic? What are the ways it was traditionally practiced and how is that the same or different from contemporary practice? What does image magic teach us about spirit communication and magic in general? What can we learn by examining the concept closely? How does it work? What are its limits? Who were the ones before us and what do we know of their methods?

To start with a purely arbitrary point chosen mostly at random, let's consider something the Picatrix tells us about image magic. It says that image magic is inextricably linked to the constellations and the 8th Sphere of Heaven (Book I, chapter 4). Does this mean that image magic outside the context of astrology doesn't exist? I don't think it does. Of course this runs counter to the idea that everything has its astrological correspondences and analogues but I think that I should try to not conflate the two ideas. The discipline of astrology is not the only possible source of images appropriate to image magic. Having said that, however, it is hard for me to truly conceive of a range of 10,080 (and probably more) separate images and how they may contain the full continuum of human experience. Perhaps what I should do is to make a postulate that astrology is a rich source of images but is not the only one. I am leaning toward the idea that one's imagination is the only real limit to what form an image takes. 

There are other sources of imagery in addition to astrology. The Greek Magical Papyri, the I Ching, tarot, mythology, and even popular, contemporary culture all have elements that can easily lend themselves to image magic. How then does one choose or invent an image to use in magic? This is going to be a subjective choice and dependent on the practitioner and their goals. The Latin Picatrix gives us a clue about making images in Book III, Chapter 5 where it says, "For example, if you wish to make an image for battles or to conquer and terrify enemies [make the image] of a lion or a snake." This is presumably based on the correspondences familiar to the author of the Picatrix, essentially a lion or snake is a symbol of physical danger. The thousand details of what this snake or lion might look like will be based on the intent of the magic, what spirits (like the planets, for instance) might be involved, and the media used (a painting, a sculpture, a performance, and so on). All of these decisions need to made in such a way as to support the intent of the image. 

Ultimately the depiction of an image in image magic is meant to create an emotional response. Our hypothetical lion-in-battle image will be quite different if it is meant to impart bravery, deadliness, leadership, or intimidation in the enemy. If it is done well a quick glance at the image will remind me of the intent, my bravery or how intimidating I am. This emotional response is a major part of the efficacy of an image. The Picatrix tells us this as well when it suggests that one of the essential elements of making magical images is a strong belief in its power. The more we can bolster this belief with emotion the stronger the magical effect will be. 

So let us end this little post by stating three postulates we have formed about image magic.

1. Emotional attribution is a strong part of the efficacy of image magic.
2. Images that can potentially be used in image magic are infinite and are shaped depending on the intent of the magician.
3. The Picatrix and other books of magic are rich sources of images but are not the limit of possible images. 

We will test these assumptions and postulates as I continue to form my ideas about image magic, adding to and subtracting from the list as we go. The postulates will be used to form hypotheses which will in turn be tested with experimentation. 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Difference Between a Sigil and an Image

It may seem like a strange question, as they are clearly different things, but what is the difference between a sigil and an image? As a contemporary magician who is deeply invested in the Picatrix and how it fits within the greater philosophies of modern occultism, this distinction is an important one. I have a few thoughts on the matter and a few unresolved questions as well.

First off, let's define each of these concepts.
A sigil is generally considered to be a symbol, a graphic representation of an idea or an identity. Probably the most well know sigils are the symbols of the astrological sign. But sigils are everywhere in contemporary culture. The grimoires are full of sigils representing all manner of spirits, of the planets, of angels, and of demons. Many logos of corporations would also qualify as a sigil. Indeed almost all letters and written words in various alphabets, singly or in artistic combinations, can be sigils. They can be simple, like the symbols of the astrological signs, or incredibly complex, like mandalas composed of Arabic calligraphy. To me, the defining characteristic of a sigil is its design being rooted in the magic of writing. The sigil making process of A.O. Spare is a perfect crystallization of this idea. A common phrase of intent is reduced to a single symbol that still retains some of the features of the shapes of the Roman alphabet.  A sigil is almost no different from an ideogram. It is only the application of magical intent that separates them.

An image, on the other hand, is much more abstract. An image is a scene, like a picture, or an object, like a sculpture. Any inclusion of symbols, letters, or words are secondary to the greater depiction of the image. Religious icons and tarot cards are probably the most well known types of image magic. But images too can have a range of complexity; from stick figure like representations on the cave walls at Lascaux to a series of comic books by Grant Morrison. Artists use image magic all the time with the visual arts, theater, and cinema to make changes in themselves and in society. Advertising, whether in print, on TV, or over the internet, is all image magic. It works by tapping into the emotional, unconscious parts of the mind. Whenever one sees a picture of some kind it sparks a cascade of allusions and connections in the viewer. Meaning is built through the inherent cultural connotations of the objects, gestures, and characters depicted.

So why does it matter? Why should we care about the distinction between sigils and images? First, and most importantly for me, an understanding of image magic is a necessary part of learning the magic of the Picatrix. There are a few examples of sigils in my copy of the Latin Picatrix, symbols to drawn for the execution of some spell or other. But there are many more examples of images. The Decans, the Planets, the Mansions of the Moon all have descriptions of images that depict them. These images are important as a way to understand the character and the nature of the astrology and spiritual connotations of these concepts. But more than that, images can be used to make contact with the entity depicted. An image is a representation of that spirit. To be in the presence of the image is to be in the presence of the spirit.

Making images, inventing them, is one of the important facets of image magic that the Picatrix teaches. I have found this practice to be fundamental to my understanding of various concepts of not only the Picatrix but other grimoires as well. I have posted many of my efforts on this blog. Art making is a powerful way to learn about a subject. Concentrating, digging deeply into concepts, and carefully considering details are all highly instructive ways to learn about spiritual concepts.

I would suggest that widespread art making on occult subjects and entities is the next big phase of the proliferation of occult information and ideas. The texts and the information is all out there now. It is widely discussed and practiced. But what does one do with the accumulation of all the subjective, personal experiences? Passing on that knowledge through abstract means like art and literature turns it into a road sign for others on the path to spiritual enlightenment through the Mysteries. It renders inarticulate ideas in a way that can be absorbed, if not understood.

Having said all that I do have a few questions for contemplation.
Are sigils and images two ends of a continuum or are they two entirely separate things?
Where do hieroglyphics fit into these ideas? Mayan hieroglyphs in particular are intriguing to me when trying to parse the difference between images and sigils.
Is there a form of either sigils or images that could be confused with the other? In other words, when does the distinction become murky or they overlap in some way?

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Creation Is Your Birthright

Creation is your birthright.
You, yes you.
The act of creating and the products of that creation belong to you. It is your power.
It is the gift from God that you be one step removed from divine power.
Your consciousness is able to conceive and produce all manner of things that have myriad impacts across the whole universe.
You can create.
And, in creating, you make your mark and stake your claim thereby bringing the entire universe into your influence.
Writing, making images, making offerings, these have immense impacts not always readily apparent. The ripples of their influence suffuse not only the culture in which you find yourself, but all of creation.
I call you to action.
Keep making and building despite judgments by yourself or others. The very act of making is God working through you.
It is your birthright.