Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Perfect Nature, part 1

I'd like to ramble on a bit about chapter 6 of book 3 of the Picatrix. This is the section that contains the details of a working for making contact with spirits named the Spirits of Perfect Nature. It also describes the actual working method for the entire system of magic in the book. I believe it is one of the most important chapters in terms of working the magic of Picatrix. Let's begin a detailed look at this chapter.

The first notable thing is that this passage, while somewhat different in its elements, appears in both the Latin Picatrix (G&W) and the Arabic Ghayat al Hakim (Atallah). For this discussion I will be drawing from the Latin, Greer and Warnock translation.

Nothing in this science can be perfected unless the virtue and disposition of the planets are inclined toward it by their own nature. This is what Aristotle says, in the Book of Antimaquis where he says: Perfect Nature fortifies those who philosophize, and strengthens their intellect and their wisdom, so that in all their works they may quickly attain fulfillment.
The chapter begins with an admonition that the magic of the Picatrix can only be learned if the planets are inclined. Then the next sentence tells us that the fortitude of the magician is strengthened by Perfect Nature. In Pingree's Latin edition the name is natura completa. While my Latin is terrible it would appear that in this context "perfect" means complete, full, highest, finished.

Together these sentences are saying that Perfect Nature not only aligns the disposition of the planets toward the magician but also helps the magician in learning and understanding the magic. One of the manifestations of Perfect Nature, as noted in the footnotes of the G&W Picatrix, is a sort of Poimandres figure from the Hermetica, or spiritual assistant figure from the PGM.

Everything belonging to this science, however, the wise concealed according to their degree, so that no one except a philosopher would be able to uncover it. They taught all knowledge and the subtleties of philosophy to their disciples before revealing to them the work of the spirits of Perfect Nature. They gave to the spirits of Perfect Nature these four names: Meegius, Betzahuech, Vacdez, Nufeneguediz, which are the four parts of the spirits of Perfect Nature named above. When those sages wished to speak about Perfect Nature, they called them by these four names, which signify the powers of Perfect Nature.
This paragraph begins with another reminder that the meat and true meaning of things written about magic are concealed and written in riddle and code. The word "however" in the first sentence makes the meaning "even though you may have the assistance of Perfect Nature, everything is well hidden". By extension, it is safe to assume that this includes the material in the Picatrix itself.

Then we are introduced to the Spirits of Perfect Nature themselves; Meegius, Betzahuech, Vacdez, Nufeneguediz. If I am reading this paragraph correctly these four names not only describe the names of the spirits themselves, but also the parts of Perfect Nature and the powers of Perfect Nature. This suggests that Perfect Nature is to be thought of a a unity, a single thing that is composed of four parts and each of those parts has its own name and "assignment".
As an aside, I am still trying to research the derivation or meaning of each of the names but as of yet have found nothing. I have much more to say about these guys a little later.

 Hermes, however, said: When I wished to understand and draw forth the secrets of the workings of the world and of its qualities, I put myself above a certain pit that was very deep and dark, from which a certain impetuous wind blew; nor was I able to see anything in the pit, on account of its obscurity. If 1 put a lit candle in it, straightway it was extinguished by the wind.
This is a very curious passage and strikes me as metaphorical. In this context Hermes is presumably Hermes Trismegestus, apparently one of the sources from which Picatrix was compiled. Standing over a pit of wind seeking answers to the world's mysteries seems like a description of the Oracle at Delphi. For those of you who are unaware, it has been suggested that the Oracle at Delphi was able to attain her prophecies and visions from hallucinogenic gasses which issued from a small chasm in the floor of the chamber, over which she would stand. In this case, instead of being a source of vision, however, the wind is an impediment to knowledge as is the darkness of the pit. Would it be a mistake to imagine that it is the mind of the magician that is being discussed here? This was all written hundreds of years before Jung wrote his theories of the unconscious but it seems that is what is being described. The darkness of the pit is the obscurity of the unconscious or the "other side" of the spirit realm. The candle is the meditating and seeking consciousness of the magician. The impetuous wind could then be understood as the chattering of the conscious mind, always interrupting and disrupting concentration.

            Then there appeared to me in a dream a beautiful man of imperial authority, who spoke to me as follows: "Put that lit candle in a lantern of glass, and the impetuosity of the wind will not extinguish it. You should lower the lantern into the pit, in the middle of which you should dig; thence you may draw forth an image by which, when you have drawn it forth, the wind from the pit will be extinguished, and then you will be able to hold the light there. Then you should dig in the four corners of the pit, and from there you may draw out the secrets of the world and of Perfect Nature, and its qualities, and the generation of all things." 
Presumably this beautiful and imperious man is a manifestation of Perfect Nature who comes in a dream vision to help Hermes to figure out how to extract answers from this pit. As the figure arrives in a dream, is it too much of a stretch to consider the entire episode, the pit, the lantern, the wind, as a dream?

In this passage we also have another presentation of the number 4. The Picatrix is replete with the concept of correspondences. In another section of the book it explicitly states that natural groups of four (elements, seasons, moon phases, directions, humors, etc.) are related and correspondences can be drawn between the various groups. For example earth, winter, black bile, melancholy, the New Moon, and the southern direction can all be said to draw upon the same qualities.

So now we have 4 spirit names and 4 corners of the pit. This is the first indication that the names of Perfect Nature correspond to the compass directions.  There are more explicit examples later.

From the four corners of the pit are drawn the secrets of the world (macrocosm, above) and of Perfect Nature (microcosm, below). Also "its qualities" with "it" being somewhat ambiguous and perhaps referring to both the world and Perfect Nature as one "it".

I asked him who he was, and he replied: "I am Perfect Nature if you wish to speak to me, call me by my proper name, and I will answer you." I asked him them by what name he was called, and he answered me, saying, "By the four names mentioned above I am named and called." I asked him next at what times I should call him, and how I should make the invocation.
Here again we are reminded that Perfect Nature is a unity of four parts. Here it is made clear that the Spirits of Perfect Nature are invoked using the names Meegius, Betzahuech, Vacdez, Nufeneguediz. Because of this and because of the importance I put on this chapter I have developed a practice of invoking the names as part of a daily practice.

He said: "When the Moon is in the first degree of Aries, be it by day or by night, whenever you wish, 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. Take four pitchers (each of which should have a capacity around one pint). Into one of them put cow's butter, into the second nut oil, into the third almond oil, and into the fourth sesame oil. Then take four more pitchers of the same size, and pour wine into them. Then make a composition of nut oil, butter, honey, and sugar. 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 full 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. Then take the other four pitchers; first put the one full of almond oil to the east, then the one full of nut oil to the west; the one full of butter goes to the south, and the one full of sesame oil to the north. Then take a burning candle and put it in the midst of the table. Then take two thuribles full of burning charcoal, into one of which you shall put frankincense and mastic, and into the other aloes wood.
"When all this is done, stand upright on your feet facing the east, and invoke the four aforementioned names seven times. When you have invoked them seven times, speak as follows:
"T 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 1 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 may be made like the hearts of the ancient sages.'" He then said: "And when you have done the foregoing working in the aforesaid way, you will see me."
This working is described in the Book of Antimaquis. The ancient sages used to perform this working every year for the sake of their spirits, so that they might put in order their Perfect Natures. When this was done, they used to feast together with their friends on whatever on the table was nearest to them.
In this part of the chapter we have the actual Ritual of Perfect Nature itself. The ritual not only tells how to call upon the spirits and what they enjoy as offerings it also gives us a structure of correspondences.

East- Meegius, almond oil, front (standing facing East)
West- Betzahuech, nut oil, back
South- Vecdez, butter, right
North- Nufeneguediz, sesame oil, left

What we do not have, however, is the elemental correspondences that fit this structure. It is tempting to use the compass directions to facilitate that line of thinking but I am prevented from doing so for two reasons. First, I have yet to find evidence in the pages of the Picatrix for such. It can, however, be inferred using the Zodiacal wheel. Each of the first actions happens toward the East and the rite is to be performed when the Moon is in the first degree of Aries. Therefore it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that Fire is in the East and attributed to Meegius. This would make Betzahuech and the West attributed to Air (Libra), Vacdez and the South as Earth (Capricorn), and Nufeneguediz as North and Water (Cancer). But so far this is simply a theory until I gather more evidence.
The Second reason I am cautious to set elemental attributions to the directions is because there are various schools that all suggest theirs is the correct way and all differently.
In my favor, however, both Jake Stratton-Kent and Henry Cornelius Agrippa attribute the elements to the directions as I have suggested here.

This is a good place to break our discussion into smaller bits. This first section has much valuable information. There is an equal, if not more, valuable information in the second half.

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