Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Why I Like the Picatrix

For this article I assume you know what the Picatrix is, but for those of you who do not I will give a very brief description. Those in the 200 level class can skip ahead.
The Picatrix is a book thought to be first compiled in the 9th Century CE in Arabic under the title Ghayat al-Hakim, The Goal of the Wise (or Aim of the Sage depending on your translation) from, the text claims, over 200 other books. It remained in Arabic until 1256 when it was translated into Latin and Spanish by scholars in the court of Alfonso, King of Castile. The Latin version bears the title Picatrix and is essentially a book of astrological magic, working with spirits associated with the planets and stars, through the use of talismanic objects called "images". The word Picatrix shows up in the book itself as the name of a contributor, the name of the author, and the name of the book. The copy and version I refer to the most is the translation of the Latin Picatrix by John Michael Greer and Christopher Warnock (2010).
My well loved copy of the Latin Picatrix

The Picatrix was a book that came to me a little over three years ago. I first heard about it on a podcast by Poke Runyon, The Hermetic Hour, and picked it up soon after. I was initially intrigued because it was described as a manual for talisman making and using images in magic. As an artist this really piqued my curiosity. I was (and still am) excited to make pieces of art with a magical dimension to them.
Also at the time I was floundering a bit magically. I was looking for an alternative to the traditions of the Victorian Era; Thelema, The Golden Dawn, Gardenarian Witchcraft. In terms of practice, none of those have ever sat quite right with me for various reasons. Most of the material I could find that purported to teach magic were based on these foundations. And, being a hermit, I definitely wanted to be solitary which meant figuring out everything on my own. The Picatrix was the first book I had found that had Hermetic style magic without heavy influence of Christianity or Hebrew Qabalah.
The Picatrix was the book that got me off the proverbial Armchair.
I like the Picatrix because it is different; different from almost all contemporary books on magic (or magick) and a different way of thinking about cosmology. I generally glaze over when discussion of the Tree of Life comes up.
I like the Picatrix because it is complex and cryptic. After three years I am just now feeling like I am getting a grip on the material. Part of the attraction is that it is deliberately written cryptically in riddles and illusions. The text, in fact, explicitly states this fact. There are blinds and fake-outs that may or may not be accurate. There are vague descriptions, code words and phrases, and beautifully written imagery. Things are not necessarily what they seem.
I like the Picatrix because it is not dogmatic. There is a lot of room for the magician to use his or her own imagination. There is also no set morality and workings for manipulation and destruction are next to workings for prosperity and good will.
I like the Picatrix because it is spirit based. I am of the school of thought that magic works through the agency of spirits (as opposed to the two other camps, that magic works by the agency of the magician's will or through the ability to move "energy" in the universe). I don't do magic to get stuff or, as it is stated elsewhere, to get paid and laid. I do magic to explore subtle realms and communicate with spirits. Picatrix fits this attitude well, at least for me.
Lastly, I like the Picatrix because it is not a beginner text. It is a book that I'm sure I will continue to explore for years.

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