Eidetic Flowerings: Ars Notoria and Heretical Memory


The following diagrams from Ars notoria, sive Flores aurei are fascinating because they distantly resemble alchemical vessels or grimoiric circles. Rather, they are a diagrammatical series of names, tools, and incantations structured to solidify knowledge through eidetic memory — mnemonic devices. In particular, these devices aided students with the transmission of liberal arts knowledge. Scholar Stephen Skinner and Daniel Clark note the magical quality of “rapid” learning that was induced by these tools. In this sense, Ars notoria does not fall into the criteria which typically define a grimoire — no summoning of demons or planetary pentacles against enemies.

This manuscript of the Ars notoria is attributed to Apollonius of Tyana c.a. 1225. Apollonius of Tyana was a Greek philosopher from Tyana in Cappadocia, a region of what is now modern Turkey.

The work can be translated to the Notary Art, or The Art of Magic or Golden Flowers. The Ars notoria is the oldest piece of the Lemegeton, though some figures like A.E. Waite chose to omit it from their own inclusions. Waite neglects it wholeheartedly in his work The Book of Ceremonial Magic.

The French Benedictine monk John of Morigny further developed the structure of the Ars notoria in his Flowers of Heavenly Teaching (Liber florum celestis doctrine). Flowers included descriptions of John of Morigny’s own mystical experiences, various figurative devices for sharpening prayer and contemplation, devotional pieces, and even accounts of his own meetings with demonic entities. The central locus of these features is a text called the Book of Figures. John of Morigny ultimately re-wrote Flowers multiple times in accordance with the Virgin Mary’s approvals — her visions were revealed to Morigny at Chartres during the turn of the 14th century C.E.

Thus the book was altered in order to appease not only the Virgin, but also various “barking dogs” who lamented its figures as being too necromantic in their scope. Later versions of the work were famously burned in Paris, while surviving copies bear testament to their users personalized practice in the form of alterations and inscriptions.

In The Prologue to John of Morigny’s Liber Visionum: Text and Translation, Claire Fanger and Nicholas Watson provide a concise summary of this battle and its ensuing book burning:

“The Liber visionum or Liber florum celestis doctrine is an attempt to reconcile the goals of a condemned medieval ritual magic text, the Ars notoria, with late-medieval Catholic Christian orthodoxy. The text was written in stages between 1304 and 1317 by John, a Benedictine monk from the monastery of Morigny who spent his school years at Chartres and later studied briefly at Orléans. Despite its protestations of its own orthodoxy and attempt to position itself in a positive way among the “apocrypha fidei,” the text was condemned as heretical and sorcerous (according to an entry in the Grandes Chroniques de France), and a copy burned at Paris in 1323.”

There is a story to be told here about the transmission of esoteric tools & knowledge. An immense respect is owed to the adaptivity of these writings — works in continual existence to this day. Ars notoria‘s own iterations and attempts to ease heretical tensions show that such knowledge can survive the worse: book burnings, deadly accusations, and purges of the otherwise unorthodox. The continual presence of works like Ars notoria points to a world in which heretical and unorthodox tools can persist in the worst of times. Esoteric knowledge is resilient.

The images shown in this article are from Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, where Ars notoria can be found digitized. I’ve left a link below.


• Apollonius (Tyanensis?), Ars Notoria, Sive Flores Aurei. General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. and Witten, Laurence C. and Pachella, Richard. Alchemy and the Occult: A Catalogue of Books and Manuscripts from the Collection of Paul and Mary Mellon. Volume Three: Manuscripts, Mellon MS 1.

• Fanger, Claire & Watson, Nicholas. The Prologue to John of Morigny’s Liber Visionum: Text and Translation. Esoterica vol III, Pg. 108. http://esoteric.msu.edu/VolumeIII/pdf-folder/MorignyIntro.pdf. Accessed 10 Feb 2021.

• Fanger, Claire. Rewriting Magic. Penn State University Press. 2015. Ch. 4.

• Skinner, Stephen & Clark, Daniel. Ars Notoria: The Grimoire of Rapid Learning by Magic. Golden Hoard Press. 2019.

• Waite, Arthur Edward. The Book of Ceremonial Magic, Pt I, Chapter III, Sec 2: “The Lesser Key of Solomon.” London, 1913

One thought on “Eidetic Flowerings: Ars Notoria and Heretical Memory

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s