Secret Writing

Trithemius’ crypto-magical work Steganogaphia has been calling to me over the last year or so, but I hadn’t the time to really dig up a copy. This work existed in manuscript form since approximately 1500, and had its first printing in Frankfurt in 1606. Many of the English language versions, and even Latin versions by British hands, contain only the first and third (of three) chapters, somewhat inexplicably but ultimately as a result of the source text in the British Library consisting only of these. Fortunately, Google Books comes to the rescue with a full 1608 edition, being a copy of the digital version from the Bavarian State Library. (Their stamp is clearly visible.)

At any rate, I expect to start transcribing it shortly. Once that’s complete, I’ll start thinking about translation, but one daunting task at a time…

My interest in this work stems from John Dee’s own interest, as well as a personal fascination with Trithemius as a part of the early Renaissance’s intellectual debate on the various forms and functions of magic – as well as the surrounding doctrinal debate.

Dee famously writes William Cecil in 1563 that a thousand crowns had been offered for Steganographia to no avail, but he had finally managed to obtain a copy while traveling on the continent. What I didn’t know until a bout of insomnia had me researching at two in the morning was that Dee’s manuscript copy of Steganographia has survived and is in the National Library of Wales as Peniarth MS 423D – also now digitized and available! This MS has only recently been recognized as being in Dee’s handwriting, and how it got back to Wales is unknown (at least to me). The reference material on the website gives a short overview of Daniel Huws’ work on this recognition.

I look forward to comparing this with the 1608 printed edition, given that Dee’s manuscript copy predates it by 45 years. If anyone is aware of any older copy, let me know!

Mr. Spencer’s Cube

I was re-reading Crowley’s Initiated Interpretation of Ceremonial Magic in the front matter of his 1904 edition of Goetia for something around the seven hundredth time yesterday. In it, he mentions “Mr. Spencer’s Projected Cube”, something I had never taken the time to research. Until, well… yesterday.

First, I did know that it referred to Herbert Spencer, the eminent philosopher and ardent evolutionary proponent of the Victorian Era. In doing some further digging, the reference made is to Spencer’s The Principles of Psychology, Volume Two, in a section entitled “Transfigured Realism”. It describes the potentially distorted relation between the perceived and the perceiver, where the shadow of a cube is projected against a cylindrical surface. [pp. 494-499]

The cube, in the analogy, represents the actual object being perceived, while the cylinder is the perceiving consciousness. The shadow of the cube, whose form is distorted and elongated against the receding edge of the cylinder, represents the perception of the object. So, in short, nothing perceived is necessarily as it seems! Metaphysics at its finest.

Crowley mentions Spencer’s cube explicitly in reference to the seals of the spirits, which presumably represents the “shadow/perception” of the spirit, if I am to read it correctly. I don’t know if I agree with the analogy, but there it is nonetheless.

Kill Me!

The OTO Grand Lodge released a news statement recently that sheds light on a particular verse in Liber CCXX, better known as Liber AL vel Legis, or The Book of the Law. (You will want to scroll down to “Archival News” for this particular topic.) There are a lot of great updates in this particularly long posting, but the one that has garnered the most attention is the receipt of a complete Holy Books of Thelema that belonged to Crowley, and later Thomas Windram.

In that book, there is a versification of the Stele of Revealing that appears in The Book of the Law, III:37, where in the manuscript there is a penciled note (included after the original authorship but in Crowley’s hand), that states he should complete the verse up to the line “…fill me!” The trouble is that the versification reads “kill me!” and not “fill me!” It appears, based on the recently discovered copy of The Holy Books of Thelema in which there is also a penciled annotation, that the line should have read “…kill me!” after all, and that Crowley simply – and apparently without reference? – did not remember the line correctly in Liber Legis manuscript note. However, it’s the note that stuck when it came to publication of The Book of the Law, with “fill” instead of “kill”.

This discovery brings up some interesting questions, but I agree with the current authoritative stance that “kill” is the correct rendering of the text. It is definitely the versification given in The Equinox of the Gods, and  it seems most likely that Crowley did not recall the exact phrase in a one-off note. Since the idea was to complete the verse at a later time, the inclusion of the passage itself is most important, not necessarily the marginalia. Had the annotation been made at the time of writing, it might hold more weight for me as a purposeful correction, but it was not. Chalk it up to prophetic error.

For those of you kind enough to have purchased The Concordance of the Holy Books of Thelema, all of the proceeds of which go to USGL, incidentally, this means striking verse III:37 from page 248 and adding it to the bottom of 258 under “kill”. For those of you that have not yet obtained a copy, there are more available, so you should definitely purchase one and then make the correction.

Happy Three Days

I would like to wish everyone a joyous Three Days of the Writing of the Book of the Law, and the culmination of the holy season for Thelemites across the world.

Over the last year, I was able to acquire a very nice copy of the 1936 edition of The Equinox of the Gods, which includes loose leaf folios of the manuscript in facsimile. Today being the last of the three days, I was reading through the manuscript leaves of the third chapter. One of the first things I noticed in the facsimile is that the stain present on the first folio of chapter three is not present, having occurred some time after that publication.

Obscured by this stain, but clearly present on the first page of the folios included in The Equinox of the Gods, is a smudge over the letter “d” of “hardly” at the line “…deal hardly with them.” It’s an ink smudge that could only have occurred when the ink was wet, and therefore at the time of writing, meaning it’s an impression made by Crowley’s hand. I don’t know if this has been noted previously, and I have to presume I’m not the first to observe it, but I thought I would pass it along as it struck me as interesting. I thought at first it might have been a partial finger print, but it does not appear to be the case here, and would not make sense given the accelerated pace of writing evidenced by the manuscript and Crowley’s own account. It is more likely a pressing of a knuckle or some other external part of the hand.

BOTL III:1

So, there’s some trivia.

Happy Holidays. :)

Vinculum Confusium

So, here I am on another goose chase.  In researching some of the conjurations of Goetia, I have considered the well-known comparison between those verses in English and the Latin conjurations given in de Abano’s Heptameron. I then read Frank Klaasen’s excellent book Transformations of Magic: Illicit Learned Magic in the Later Middle Ages and Renaissance at the recommendation of Dan Harms, whose expectations were right on: it’s a fantastic read. In it, Klaassen mentions the presence of a “Vinculum Spirituum” in Additional MS 110, which I happen to have, but had never caught the presence of a section by that name. It’s a manuscript I had been keen to get my eyes on, since it’s listed in sequence along with a manuscript of Solomonic pentagrams and a certain Offices of Spirits[1] in Trithemius’ catalog of necromantic works, Antipalus Maleficiorum. These three manuscripts, listed in sequence, would seem to form the core of what has now become Goetia, but it’s not sure what’s become of them, nor can I say with certainty that they were actually what became Goetia.

I digress…

Going through Additional MS 110, I did indeed find fragments of an “Incipit Primus Vinculum Spirituum”, as well as a full “Incipit Secundus…” In haste, and through no small amount of turbulence (as I happened to be on a plane at the time), I transcribed the bulk of each and was only too happy to touch down at Boston/Logan. Something was bothering me, though… it was familiar. Too familiar, it turns out. Picking up a copy of Heptameron on my return home, I flipped to the conjurations, and there it was: the text that was in Heptameron was nearly the same text listed in Additional MS 110 under the title Vinculum Spirituum. So, this leaves a few possibilities, none of which I can even begin to speculate about – but of course, I will anyway.

It is possible that Heptameron was the source of the material in Additional MS 110, and that the author put the conjurations down as a general “spirit’s chain” – which is the meaning of “vinculum spirituum”, incidentally – and did not mean the manuscript by that name. I am not sure I buy that, but it could have happened. Secondly, it is possible that the author did mean the actual Vinculum Spirituum, and was purposely copying that text into what became Additional MS 110. I can more easily buy that, and not just because I want it to be so. The reason for this is that the incipit is different. Heptameron notes the second spirit’s chain as simply “An Exorcism of the Spirits of the Air”[2]. While this is the English version of the title, and may have been a redaction, the sense is more generic.

Here is the text from Vinculum Spirituum Primum (Additional MS 110:):

Per potentissimum et corroboratum nomen dei El forte et admirabile ego impero tibi exorcizo et conjuro te spirituum presentis thesauri custodem cuiuscunque fueris ordinis, potestatis, generis aut virtutis, per eum qui dixit, fiat, et facta sunt…

And now as given in Heptameron:

Nos facti ad imaginem Dei, & ejus facti voluntate, per potentissimum et corroboratum nomen Dei, El, forte et admirabile vos exorcizamus [N] & imperimus per eum qui dixit & factum est…

The remainder of both texts goes on to list a number of Biblical patriarchs in concert with Divine names used to great effect, with no small parallel to the Second Conjuration of Goetia. So, was that conjuration based on Heptameron, on Vinculum Spirituum, or is the stemma more complex? (Yes, most likely.) It is possible that the conjurations in Heptameron and Goetia share a common ancestor in Vinculum Spirituum as a separate and self-contained work, or that there is a pre-existing lineage from Heptameron to Vinculum Spirituum, or vice versa, that somehow led to the conjurations of Goetia. At this point, I am really not sure and have to spend more time comparing them all. I think there are significant differences in each worth noting.

And people wonder why I drink…

[1] There are actually two “Offices of Spirits” listed in the work, apparently different treatises of similar nature. Of course, I published a later manuscript of one of them not long ago, available through Teitan Press.

[2] I reference here the Robert Turner translation (mostly) into English as published by Oroborous Press.

A Slightly Overdue Book

When I was a young lad in my college days at Oxford… okay, well, not Oxford, but the University of Maine… I checked out a book of magic titled “A Treatise on Angel Magic” from the Fogler Library (not to be confused with the Folger Library). I had already at this point begun studying the topic, as all the cool kids did in high school, and found this particular work fascinating. As an eclectic grimoire, its contents would both baffle and astound me for years. It was the book that started me out in earnest upon the pursuit that has been at the core of my intellectual and philosophical wanderings ever since.

I turns out that this particular volume was from a limited edition of 250 hand-bound leather copies from the reasonably-well-known Magnum Opus Hermetic Sourceworks series by Adam McLean. (Being leather bound is part of what made it so cool.) The contents are from a Harley MS in the British Library composed by the illustrious Dr. Rudd, and to this day I have no idea what Rudd was trying to do with some of his Goetic-Enochian tables.

At some point, this fell into my schoolthings, and eventually my library. I knew it was there, and knew that at some point it should return to its home.

Over the last weekend, I found myself traveling to my alma mater for the first time in a long time, and brought the book along to finally return it – sixteen years overdue. I informed the head librarian that I had to return an overdue book, which did not seem to phase him, then told him how overdue. After a pause of consideration, he laughed and became interested in the book itself. I told him a bit of the provenance, and while he did not once suggest there was going to be a late fee, I did offer a signed copy of my last book The Offices of Spirits as compensation for having it out so long. He noted that he would repair some of the binding of  the Treatise and include it in their special collections going forward.

The whole affair was actually a lot of fun, but moreover I feel that I have cleared a debt both to myself and to anyone else at the college interested in occultism. While the contents are hopelessly muddled, there are some fantastic excerpts from a number of traditional works. (A Treatise on Angel Magicis now available as a paperback edition, in case you are interested, as it is a very interesting manuscript.) It got me to take the first step out of theory and into practice, and for that I will always be indebted.

Observing the Lunary Sphere

I was doing some research recently that I thought would be interesting to share, and I use the term “interesting” loosely. Several manuscripts on a variety of topics note that operations should be performed during the waxing phase of the moon, and only on even numbered days of that period. Goetia is a perfect example of this (from MS Sloane 3825):

Thou art to observe first ye Moones age for ye working. The best dayes are when ye [Moon] is 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 or 14 dayes old, as Salomon sayeth, and no other dayes are profitable &c.

While I cannot determine a suitable answer to why only the even days, aside from the remaining days being “odd” and therefore unsuitable, the first half of the moon’s phases – the waxing phase – does make sense in the idea that one is working during an increase of light and potency as opposed to a decrease. Seriously, though… the even days? I’ve got nothing.

The highly influential Picatrix also speaks to this waxing phase as well, from which work I expect the injunction in Goetia may have originated:

The state and condition of the Moon is good when she is increasing by light… nor is she regarding Mars by any aspect, because when the waxing Moon beholds Mars, this is considered to be a great affliction of the Moon, and when she beholds Saturn while waxing, this is a grave affliction.

Some treatises as well note that the moon should not be “combust”, which as we shall see is precisely what Picatrix was speaking about with respect to Saturn and Mars. When I originally encountered this term some years back, I thought it might refer to the reddish hue of the moon that occurs such as during the famed “harvest moon” in all its red-orange glory. This could be seen as the influence of the ill-tempered and destructive Mars, which is actually close to the case, but not for reasons of color.

It was Picatrix again that noted the idea of combustion:

… and that [the Moon] not be in the Via Combusta, which is most to be guarded against – that is, between the eighth degree of Libra and the third degree of Scorpio…

Wait a minute – combustion had to do with a specific astrological period? Okay… but why?

More information was obtained through the early and influential astrologer Al-Beruni, in his exceptionally long-titled workThe Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of Astrology:

The combust way is the last part of Libra and the first of Scorpius. These two signs are not congenial to the sun and moon on account of the obscurity and ill-luck connected with them, and because each of them is the fall of one of the luminaries. They also contain the two malefics, the one by exaltation (Libra, Saturn), the other by house (Scorpius, Mars). The peculiarity however which has [been] given the name [combustion] is that the exaltation of Saturn is near, the fall of the sun being on the one hand and that of the moon on the other, while the adjacent parts of both signs are occupied by terms of Mars.

Now I had a better view of why this period was so detrimental. Let’s step through each part. Firstly, neither the Sun nor the Moon work well with Saturn or Mars, for which I am sure there are reasons stated as absolute fact so long ago that they became canon. I’ll take it at face value, because as with all things of this sort, the further back you go the more you have to accept that someone, somewhere, a long time ago, thought it made sense and everyone went along. Salomon sayeth’d it.

So, let’s pick this apart, because there is a lot going on.

The “fall of the luminaries” – the luminaries being the Sun and Moon – is the opposite of their exaltation: nineteen degrees Aries and three degrees Taurus, respectively. That puts the Sun’s fall or “dejection” at nineteen degrees Libra, and the Moon’s at three degrees Scorpio. What this means is that the Sun and Moon are at their weakest states, opposite their strength in the earlier part of the Zodiac.

This is coupled with the exaltation of the adversarial Saturn at twenty-one degrees Libra, meaning not only that the Sun (especially) and Moon are weak, but Saturn is approaching the height of its potency. It is also coupled with Mars moving into its own house, which is to say that it enters Scorpio, which sign is ruled by Mars. So, Mars is right at home, and while not in its exaltation, is still pretty damn comfortable and ready to wreak havoc.

Lastly, you have the “terms”, which are inequal periods of the signs attributed to planets… and wouldn’t you know that Mars rules both the latter part of Libra and first part of Scorpio?

All of this comes together to create what amounts to an astrological catastrophe! You have the spheres considered most influential to magical work in their weakest state, and their adversarial planets in very strong positions on top of that.

I found this all to be pretty interesting, though it is likely old news to some – I never claimed to be much of an astrologer. Guess what? That period of combustion during which you should never work? It’s coming right up! It might be a good time for that magical retirement you’ve been planning… Then again, it’s exactly the time you’re supposed to finish the Abramelin Operation and start conjuring all those demons to do your bidding, so who knows!

 

Doktor Faust

Recently, Dan Harms posted about the Bavarian State Library having Faust’s Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis online as digital scans. He posts the steps to navigate to the images via the online catalog, which always seem like they are purposely obtuse to thwart would-be researchers like myself that are not yet privy to their arcane secrets. There is an option to download PDF versions of the text, provided they are for personal use, which of course I did. Note that this appears to be a 1849 German edition based on the original 1505 publication, so it is not an original first edition copy.

Faust is of course the infamous figure said to have sold his soul to the devil – Mephistopholes, to be specific – in pursuit of knowledge, whose life became the source of much folklore and subsequent artistic treatments. Not reading German at all, beyond a few words here and there, it was fairly quick reading to scan for anything I might recognize. It probably took me two to three hours, which in and of itself made me stop to consider exactly how I was choosing to spend my time. However, it was somewhat fruitful in that it touched on a few tangents with which I have been interested as of late.

Firstly, there is a great amount of detail around demonology, which should not be surprising given the popular conception of Faust as having sold his soul. Page 26 of the first book contains a listing of the four demon kings of the cardinal directions (or “winds”), given as Urieus [sic: typo or mistranscription of Uriens], Paymon, Egyn, and Amaymon. These of course match those given in The Offices of Spirits (whose source is ultimately Folger MS V.b.26), as well as in Livre de Espirits (Trinity MS O.8.29), and other manuscripts. They are given differently in Goetia, save for Amaymon. Page 28 also makes note of the three great infernals, Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Satan, in the same order as Offices and many other manuscripts, as well as Astaroth and Beherit (Berith).

Quite interesting was the discovery of a version of the hexagonal Seal of Solomon in the Book V (p. 18), which is dedicated to sigils, that is the same variant as found in Heptameron (also known asThe Magical Elements) by Abano. There is also a variant of the Sigillum Dei (Book V, p. 100), that mirrors some of the earlier traditional variants of that seal, such as the one given inThe Sworn Book of Honorius. (In other words, not John Dee’s version of the seal.)

I have not yet begun to dig much deeper, but thought I would at least continue to pass the informaiton along, so if you are interested, you can begin your own foraging…

 

 

Review: Clavis Arcana Magica

Frederick Hockley is getting more and more attention these days, and rightly so. I was fortunate to have written the introduction of one of Hockley’s manuscripts, The Offices of Spirits, which (if you will indulge me the shameless self-promotion) is also available from Teitan Press, the publisher of the work at hand, Hockley’s Clavis Arcana Magica.

Alan Thorogood’s introduction to the previously unpublished manuscript is well-written and concise, giving a history of Hockley’s magical practice and background – what little of it is known – that sets the stage for the context of the work. Often regarded as a prolific if not exceptional crystallomancer (one who calls spirits into crystal balls or mirrors), Hockley was, like John Dee before him, perfectly miserable at the practice. He thus employed a scryer, in this case Emma Louisa Leigh, for his workings. Sadly, she would die in 1858 at the age of twenty, but appears to have been the seeress for these sessions.

While no internal reference is available, Thorogood dates the manuscript to approximately 1856. It has a wonderfully Egyptian-themed gilt cover and spine with a transcription of the manuscript along with a facsimile in Hockley’s as-always brilliantly careful and legible hand. The manuscript covers everything from obtaining a suitable crystal or mirror for scrying to operations and discussions on necromancy in the true sense, a capacity to speak with the dead that was at the heart of the contemporary Spiritualism movement.

The contents themselves remind me quite strongly of Dee’s work, a magical practice still based in tradition but which has clearly taken a personal turn from the more well-worn path of the Renaissance influences that formed the corpus of Hermetic literature. In fact, if you had laid the names SOL, TARUOM, MANBET, ADA and ELTESMO before me, I would have suggested they were from Dee’s Enochian and not Hockley’s work at all! The end of the work even includes a name in “Angelic Language”, something also strongly connected with Dee’s philosophical corpus.

There are a number of magic seals and circles containing various names given unto him by his Crowned Angel, a name and function that conjures up (pun intended) echoes of the “Holy Guardian Angel” of modern occultism. Similar to Dee as well, most or all of these are difficult to decipher or deconstruct beyond taking them at face value. This should not be understood as a detraction from the work, but a parallel to similar practices that have been widely adopted. To me, it shows that he had at this point begun to formulate his own personal magical system: the hallmark of both the adept and the delusional. In this case, given Hockley’s expertise and depth of knowledge in the field, I obviously side with the former.

This excellent and intriguing work is available as a limited edition of 650 hardbound copies from Teitan Press.

Review: In the Center of the Fire

Wasserman’s In the Center of the Fire: Memoirs of the Occult, 1966-1989 strings together like a fantastic rough and tumble road movie, an occult version of Easy Rider. Wasserman lays it bare; everything – personal, professional, sacred and profane. A long time advocate of the practice of keeping a magical diary, the work clearly shows the fruits of Wasserman’s careful notes in reconstruction.

Yes, it does appear that I have been on an O.T.O. history kick as of late, though this is partly due to a number of new books released in and around that topic. It started with Kaczynski’s Forgotten Templars, followed with the Collected Writings of Phyllis Seckler (Vol. 2) by Shoemaker, Peters, and Johnson, and finally Wasserman’s In the Center of the Fire. Interestingly, Kaczynski’s work is about the pre-Crowley era of O.T.O, Phyllis Seckler’s time intersects a late and post-Crowley era, and Wasserman’s completes the trinity with the re-emergence of the O.T.O. in its modern form. So, between the three, you get a great view of the history of the Order from a number of different viewpoints. I highly recommend each of them – but we are here to discuss the latter.

There were a number of threads that resonated strongly with me. Most so was his insight into the Motta/Weiser trials that solidified the (for lack of a better word) legitimacy of the late Grady McMurtry as the head of the Order. Moreover, his reminiscence of Weiser’s bookstore and Donald Weiser himself were heartwarming. (I still remember my oldest son pulling at Donald Weiser’s beard as a youngster when I would visit in the bookshop!) All of this while detailing various publishing efforts, his own personal struggles, and the evolution of Tahuti Lodge of OTO, makes for a very entertaining read.

To the point: James Wasserman was there. He was there, man. I found it a fantastic read to peek (perhaps just a bit) into a historical period in the emergence of the modern OTO, a time that few speak about even now. I felt like I was given the opportunity to be a fly on the wall in a number of these pivotal moments, and I thank him for that.