Sunday, October 4, 2015

Comments on the Picatrix. Book II, chapter 1

Let's keep talking about the Picatrix! Book II is a fascinating book of astrological and magical knowledge. One of the reasons I am so fascinated by this section is that at a few points the book says this is all symbolic and full of dissimilation. Riddles within riddles. In fact it is with this admonition that Book II begins.
(And, for the record, I am pulling from Greer & Warnock's translation of the Latin Picatrix.)
The wise who are endowed by nature with intelligence never cease nor neglect to seek and inquire that they might learn and understand the secrets of the sages, who sealed them up in their books and wrote them in hidden words, that the aforesaid might search them out by careful investigation until they arrive at what they desire; but those who are stupid and lacking in intelligence will never reach it or arrive at it.

Straight away the message is that this stuff takes work to understand. The book tells you flat out, the real message is hidden behind the words. Personally this gives me pause. Step up to the challenge or you'll never get it! Though perhaps I'm putting a little too much pressure on myself and I should simply keep in kind that much of the material is to be read figuratively.

Yet the motive that drives me proceeds from investigating magic and forbidden things, in which I prospered from the days of my youth.

In the footnotes of the G&W Picatrix there is a note that this line is a reference to the Bible, specifically Isaiah 47:12. It is curious to me that the author would make this reference since Isaiah, chapter 47 is a essentially a curse against astrology and magic. I take it as a thumbing of the nose at religious authority.
I studied Ptolemy's Centiloquium, in which it is said that all things in this world obey the celestial forms. Indeed all the sages agree in this, that the planets have influences and powers in this world, by which all things in it are made and transformed by the movements of the planets through the signs. For this reason sages understand that the foundation of magic is the movement of the planets.
This is the underpin of the entire work; that all of its magic is based on the interaction of the fixed stars, the planets, and the cardinal points of the astrological chart (ascendant, midheaven, descendant, nadir). This passage is reminiscent of Agrippa's  That No Divination Without Astrology Is Perfect (3BoOP, Book 2, Chapter 53). But of course we already knew that the Picatrix was a book of astrological magic. As we proceed we should also keep this in mind as one of the keys to the riddles and the figurative writing. To continue the quotes.
I wish to present the following example, which I learned from a certain sage who labored in this science, who stayed in Egypt in the royal palace. There also dwelt a certain youth who came from a region in India, and who had progressed far by much study in the aforesaid science. 
That sage said to me that, while he and this youth were talking together, they heard the voice of someone lamenting that he had been stung by a scorpion and was about to die. When he heard this, the youth took a piece of cloth from his purse, within which were seals that smelled strongly of incense. He instructed that one of these be given in a drink, and he would recover at once. The sage said that he rose up at once, desiring to learn more and find out the reason for this, received one of the seals from the youth's hands and gave it to the victim of the scorpion sting in a drink, as he had instructed; and at once the victim made an end to his cries of woe, and was saved.
This is a curious passage. It begins with "as an example". An example of what? Given the preceding paragraphs and their message of figurative speaking it is this speaking in code that we are presumably sampling.
First we have the scorpion which probably indicates the sign of Scorpio. Scorpio is a water sign and so the cure being in the form of a drink makes sense.
Also, after reading this page several times it occurs to me that it could just as easily be describing a mercy killing as a cure. The victim is given the drink and abruptly ceases his cries. Maybe, maybe not. I also find it interesting that the narrator takes the seal and produces the drink, not the youth from India. Is this significant? Probably but I haven't figured out how yet. Perhaps it is indicative of the passing of knowledge from teacher to student.
The sage said that he then inspected the seal, and saw that it had the figure of a scorpion on it.
This line is important because it tells us that the seal was not consumed in the process of making the drink suggesting it is probably made of wax with incense mixed in it.
When he asked the youth what had sealed it, the youth showed him a gold ring set with an engraved bezoar bearing the figure of a scorpion. The sage inquired of him what the figure was and by what secret influences it accomplished what I described. The youth answered that the figure was made when the Moon was in the second face of Scorpio, and this was the secret of the power of the ring. This is what the sage said to me. I then made a figure of the same sort at the prescribed time, with which I sealed and suffumigated seals like the one he described, and with them worked wonders at which everyone marveled.
Gold and bezoar stones are both items whose occult virtues lie in purity. Gold was the perfected metal, the metal that all other metals aspired to be. When a metal became gold it had achieved physical and spiritual perfection. Bezoars are masses that form in the digestive tracts of goats, sheep, and cattle. For hundreds of years bezoar stones were believed to be universal antidotes for all poisons. So your carved bezoar set in gold is a tool for removing impurities and poisons.
The Moon, of course, pours all the influences upon the earth from whatever her position is. When she is in Scorpio all works of magic are connected to the influence of that sign (or constellation if you prefer to work with sidereal astrology). The second face is the fixed face of Scorpio (as opposed to mutable or cardinal) and is strong with its influence. Later in Book II we learn that the second face of Scorpio is the face in which to make images that "drive away tarantulas and snakes from whatever place you wish". Presumably we can also add scorpions to the poisonous beasts we want to drive away.
So we have gold (spiritual purity) + bezoar (antidote) + 2nd face of Scorpio (drive away pests) = cure for scorpion stings. The attributes of Scorpio tell us what form the administering of the cure should take (as water).
I find it curious that the phase of the moon is not mentioned. I would suggest that one of the waning phases would be appropriate to a working of this nature.
This passage also gives us the basic, philosophic process for creating talismans. One starts with the purpose or goal of the talisman, then considers the material in support of the goal, and lastly considers the astrological configuration that will support the goal.
Let's continue.
For this reason you must realize and understand that no one can realize and understand the virtues and powers of the heavens in this little world unless they have studied the natural and mathematical quadrivium, and whoever is ignorant of these sciences will be imperfect in his knowledge of the movements of heaven, nor will he be able to understand them, nor draw to himself what he wishes, because the compositions and foundations thereof are drawn from these subjects. Whoever is ignorant of arithmetic and geometry will be unable to calculate the motions of the celestial bodies, nor their returns and transits, nor to grasp the motions of those things by which the understanding is formed in arithmetic and geometry.
Thankfully these days we have technology that does most of this calculation for us. But that's not to diminish the importance of arithmetic and geometry.
Similarly you must learn music to understand the numbers and proportions of things, and in what manner celestial things correspond in love and hatred with terrestrial actions, and why the effects of celestial bodies are more apparent in one earthly thing than another.
This is another interesting passage about the philosophy of astrological magic. It seems to me that what the author is describing is that each star, constellation, planet, and everything beneath them, on Earth, has a vibration, a frequency. Some of the frequencies are harmonious and strengthen each other, and some are disharmonious and cancel each other out. This is the Music of the Spheres as all the vibrations, like music, affect each other as they descend from the heavens to earth. All the aspects for each body affects its frequency. This is the model on which the early practitioners of this magic based their work.
Indeed, anyone who does not grasp these proportions lacks any understanding of how these effects come to be, nor will such a person be able to work out the correspondences between causes and effects or vice versa.
The events on Earth have reflections in the stars and the composition of the stars is reflected in the events on the Earth. How far do we take the solipsism in this instance? If I were to look at a astrological chart of this moment would the condition of my own circumstances be reflected there too? The answer is yes but it is modified by the conditions of my natal chart.
Likewise he who neglects the natural sciences will not be able to understand the process of generation and corruption, and their causes, because if he does not know these things, he will not be able to understand or apply the effects that celestial bodies have, or the powers they exert over terrestrial bodies. Similarly, one who is ignorant of metaphysics will be unable to learn or understand how celestial virtues are infused in some terrestrial places and not in others. Therefore it may be concluded that no one will be able to understand or apply this science perfectly except for one who learns its orders and foundations, which no one will be able to learn except a philosopher who has extracted everything from the parts of philosophy already named. For this reason no one will be able to attain to perfection in this science except for a perfect philosopher.
And this is good advice no matter what branch or style of magic one is endeavoring to practice. The lessons and pertinent knowledge go beyond the magic itself. Germ theory and Quantum Physics were unknown in their present states when the Picatrix was written but the knowledge of these sciences does not diminish the effectiveness of the Picatrix. In fact, this passage tells us, the wider the knowledge and understanding of the practitioner the more powerful that practitioner will be in its magic.
Learn all you can about everything. It all counts and everything in the world is a part of this magic in one way or another.

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