Join me on September 10th, 2022 at 2:00 US EST time for a webinar entitled, “Lifting the Veil: An Introduction to the Western Esoteric Tradition.”
Over the very few years since creating Curio Esoterica, I’ve had many folks ask “Where do I begin? What does the word “esoteric” entail? What IS the ‘Western’ Esoteric Tradition?”
This webinar will focus on these — and similar— questions, offering an inroad for the curious, as well as deepening roots for those who already treading the path. Whether your interests are scholarly, practical, or cursory, this webinar will help ground the seeker by offering context and historical frameworks.
In one sense, this webinar will be an historical journey. It will highlight the birth and growth of the Western esoteric tradition, and survey its development through the ages and paradigms of Western culture.
In another sense, the webinar will explore the practices, beliefs, and characteristics of the tradition. — Who its formative and foundational figures are, how various locales and cultures shaped its trajectory, and how the tradition is carried out and transmitted in a practical manner.
Finally — and perhaps most importantly — this webinar will allow us a space to deconstruct our categorical notions of “West,” & “East” — highlighting how esoteric traditions of the globe fissure such categories. We will engage the dynamics of cultural and colonial encounters, offering a space to critique both the tradition itself, as well was the overarching cultural attitudes that shape (and are shaped by) it.
A reading list/bibliography will be included with webinar.
Via Zoom. Saturday, September 10th, 2022. 2:00-4:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern. Cost: $10.00 Limit: 99 seats
To access the webinar, please visit the link below. The link will redirect you to Eventbrite, a space where the webinar is hosted and purchased. Once purchased, the Zoom link may be accessed.
• “An alchemical adept carrying the vase of Hermes, which is inscribed “Let us go to seek the nature of the four elements”. Watercolour painting.” From a reproduction of the “Splendor Solis” manuscript. Via Wellcome Collection. PDM 1.0.
You can find an iteration of the V.I.T.R.I.O.L. abbreviation encircling an alchemical androgyne on this title page for Compendiolum de praeparatione auri potabilis veri, roughly Small Compendium on the Preparation of True Gold.
V.I.T.R.I.O.L. typically stands for “Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem,” or “Visit the interior of the earth, rectify what you find there, you will discover the hidden stone.”
In this case, the emblem is V.I.T.R.O.L.V.M., which contains a dual set of added terms, Veram and Medicinam:
“Visitando Interiora Terra Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem Verum Medicinam” or, “Visit the Interior of the Earth, rectify it, and you will find the hidden stone, the true medicine.”
This hearkens to a kind of panacea, or universal medicine. This is a quality we often associate with the Philosopher’s Stone. A panacea, as a universal medicine, is a kind of all-encompassing cure for all maladies. The Latin word comes from the Greek Πανάκεια, or Panakeia. This derives from Panakēs, or Pan-Akos, meaning “all-healing.” In Greek mythological frameworks, Panacea is the goddess of universal healing, whose four sisters are associated with Apollo and his arts.
The visual aspect itself depicts the Hermetic androgyne, a symbol of the conjunction of principles and forces in the cosmos. This is especially so in regards to depth psychological modalities, in which a conjunction simultaneously reconciles and then transcends opposing principles.
In the figure’s right hand, an emblem which is the Philosopher’s Stone itself in the guise of the triune Stone: Black, White, and Red. The Black Stone symbolizes the reconstitution or death of the earlier material into a vitalization. Next, the immature White Stone produces silver. Finally, a fully matured Red Stone produces gold.
In the other hand of the figure, what looks like an egg is held. The egg typically symbolizes the four elements and the quintessence. For many alchemists, it is the perfect metaphor for encompassing these qualities. The yolk, for example, represents the solar and fiery principle. The fertilized life within the egg itself represents the quintessence, which is constituted and fostered by the combination of the four traditional elements.
The Compendiolum is attributed to Eugenius Bonacina. ca. 1790. It comes from a Yale University Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library piece (Mellon MS 131) titled as an Alchemical miscellany. This miscellany is a series of “Two diverse cryptic alchemies written by one copyist and linked by two series of alchemical emblems. The first text, Philosophia hermetica, in Italian verse, is linked to Federico Gualdi. The second text, Compendiolum de praeparatione auri potabilis veri, is attributed to Marcus Eugenius Bonacina.”
Somewhat difficult to find biographical information An alchemy forum I discovered while researching Bonacina notes:
“Marcus Eugenius Bonacina (1570-1621) grew up in Italy, his father was a lawyer. He studied medicine in Milan. During the years 1618 – 1621 he lived in Moravská Tøebová (Märische Trübau), now in the Czech Republic, where he was invited by an important nobleman in Moravian politics, Ladislav Velen from Zerotin. M.E. Bonacina’s alchemical tractate Compendium de praeparatione auri potabilis veri was dedicated to his benefactor. There is another tractate written by him, and copies of both are in the National Museum in Prague.”
In Brian Cotnoir’s incredible work Alchemy: The Poetry of Matter, the emblem is examined at length. For framing and context, Cotnoir discusses the emblem in light of his exploration of the alchemical Green Lion and its identity as “our vitriol.”
In a chapter devoted to this search for the identity of the Green Lion — or Leo viridis— Cotnoir says: “In continuing our search for the Green Lion, “our vitriol,” we find some direction in the following emblem. The emblem appears in Basil Valentine’s Azoth, Published in Paris in 1659.”
Cotnoir’s depiction of the original emblem from Azoth can be seen here:
In the footnote for this passage, Cotnoir notes that:
“This emblem has been associated with the Emerald Tablet since 1588 and was joined to the text to elucidate or depict the teaching engraved on the Emerald Tablet. (S. Gentile and C. Gilly. Marsilio Ficino and the Return of Hermes Trismegistus.” Cotnoir goes on to point out, “These images also represented the Holy Roman Empire whose emblem is the double headed eagle, and Bohemia with the double tailed lion. This also illustrates how existing icons and images are appropriated to signify other meanings, perhaps parallel meanings”
In multiple sources, the emblem is captioned simply as the Tabula hermetica.
This following image is a page from the Alchemical and rosicrucian compendium (Mellon MS 28). The work is held at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library in New Haven, Connecticut, USA:
The vessel depicted in the image contains Hermes Trismegistus, who is displaying the symbols for the seven planetary metals of alchemy to a student. Moving from left to right, the metals are: Lead (Saturn) — Tin (Jupiter) — Iron (Mars) — Gold (Sun) — Copper (Venus) — Quicksilver (Mercury) — Silver (Moon).
A series of chains are shown tethering the metallic symbols to the book/tablet held by Hermes. Between each chain, a lettering spells out Prima materia, which term translates to “First Matter.” The Prima materia is the formless and chaotic underlying component from which the alchemical opus commences.
Various names and attributions have been given to the Prima materia. In Ruland’s 1612 alchemical dictionary, Lexicon alchemiae sive dictionarium alchemistarum, listings include “Metallic Entity,” “The Matter of all Forms,” “Pure and Uncontaminated Virgin,” “Chaos,” and “Chamber.” This language implies a substance or essence which precedes, and forms the inner base of, all other matter.
Within the alchemical tradition, similar notions of a formless and underlying substance have been developed by figures such as Paracelsus, whose Yliaster denotes a similar concept. Diana Fernando notes that:
“Accordingly, the first body, the Yliaster, was nothing but a clod which contained all the chaos, all the waters, all minerals, all herbs, all stones, all gems. Only the supreme Master could release them and form them with tender solicitude, so that other things could be created from the rest.”
Like in so much of alchemy, a teleological or evolutionary process is implied here. Whereas the whole potential of mineral and vegetable forms are already contained in the Prima materia or Yliaster, they must be properly coaxed out by a skilled adept. This is a fantastic example of a core alchemical notion: The Great Work assists in facilitating a drive towards development and evolution already inherent in nature. In this regard, Paracelsus likens the Yliaster to a fossil trapped in wood. One can think of this as an abstract or early-dimensional mapping of alchemical processes in potentia
Looking into the classical past — and outside of strictly alchemical traditions — we find the Greek idea of Arche (ἀρχή). Arche is a formative and substantive principle. The sense or meaning to which Arche translates is to that of “first cause,” “beginning,” etc. Later, it the term came to mean “first principle,” “first realm,” “place of authority,” or along related lines. Philosopher’s such as Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes helped to develop this idea. Like Paracelsus’ Yliaster, Arche also serves as a kind of template or potentiator of later processes and objects.
Later, in the early modern period, western philosophy concerned itself with notions of substance — a term meaning that which stands-under all manifested material. Associations to philosophical conceptions of substance mainly hearken to Spinoza and Locke. In both cases, substance resonates yet again with the idea of a formless or quality-free base which precedes and upholds all qualitative forms.
As a physical object, and descendant of the Prima materia itself, Mellon MS 28 is fascinating in its own right. The Beinecke catalog abstract describes the work as a “Manuscript on paper of a pietistic, mystical text in prose and verse, illustrated by a great variety of illustrations cut from manuscripts of smaller dimensions (plus some prints), and pasted in.”
Indeed, this image actually comes from an earlier manuscript entitled Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln (The Book with Seven Seals). Das Buch c.a. 1700 and anonymously attributed, can be found in MS 19 of the Manly P. Hall collection.
In turn, one can envision the Beinecke manuscript as a proto-version of an esoteric zine. I can imagine a particularly creative scribe or Rosicrucian punk getting his hands on some valuable old manuscripts and hacking them apart to create an entirely new, symbolically fresh, syncretic piece. Here the Green Lion (Leo Viridis) mingles with biblical verses, and images from various other works. Together they become acquainted with the Prima materia. It is a wondrous and heady manuscript.
Behold the work of engraver, illustrator, and printmaker Marta Polato. Polato is an Italian artist born in Padua and based in Venice. Her works capture the dance — both earthly and otherworldly — of European mythic traditions, herbal folklore, and esoteric currents. Like the flora they depict, Polato’s works emit a deep potency.
Polato is highly-versed in her media, and dedicates to it the kind of serious time and labor that engaged artistry commands. Ever oriented towards refining her techne, Polato is fully-conscious of form, content, and historicity. A 2021 graduate of the Biennium in Graphic Art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, her former student bio on the Italian art hub Giovani Artisti reads:
“… Her poetics have always brought out a passion for themes of the occult and esotericism, with a strong symbolic meaning through the most ancestral suggestions. The natural and symbolist element represent the pivots from which her graphic corpus develops, which branches out into the expressive means of engraving techniques and artistic drawing; with the prevalent use of black and white by means of a basically incisive sign, her work moves among the most archetypal images giving them a new identity — anchoring itself strongly to mythology, history, and poetry…
Polato was born in a town in the province of Padua, and has always been dedicated to the visual arts since childhood. She enrolled in the Modigliani Art School where she graduated in 2015 with the address of Figurative Design. In 2013 she came into contact for the first time with the engraving disciplines and the world of art printing at La Corte della Miniera in Urbino, an experience that would lead to her enrollment at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice in the School of Graphic Art under the chair of Professor Andrea Serafini. Here her artistic experience moves between various disciplines of graphics and printing, including: chalcography, xylography, screen printing and lithography; always progressing equally in the studies of the history of art, drawing, illustration and anatomy. In 2018 she obtained the 1st level Diploma in Graphic Art, choosing to extend her academic career in the two years of the same discipline. She also tries her hand with pure, self-taught, and amateur passion in digital and analog photography.
Dualities and liminal spaces abound in Polato’s work. They are interwoven among a rich and raw herbarium. Here, syncretic visions of vegetation, crucifixion, and sabbatic night flights commingle in a dark ecstasy.
The series in Polato’s body of work which embodies this most strongly is called Erbario suggestivo. Translated from Italian, it means suggestive herbarium. Erbario is a collection of fourteen works expressing the mythic dimensions of numerous flora. One such flora is the willow.
The 2019 work shown below is entitled Salix L. — the latin botanical name for the weeping tree. Salix L. was created with pen, china ink, and pencil.
Polato offers up an exposition on the themes of the willow. These themes are nested in the context of Celtic mythology and religious belief:
Polato offers up an exposition on the themes of the willow. These themes are nested in the context of Celtic mythology and religious belief:
“For the Celts the willow was considered a highly sacred tree. Similarly, in the Celtic tree alphabet (Ogham) it was associated with the number five, connected to the Great Mother. The Druids created woven baskets with willow branches, which would then contain the human sacrifices made at the full moon as a gift to the Goddess. This line between death and life (which unites the willow to other plants such as cypresses and poplars) is fueled by the fact that, in ancient times, there existed a belief of the willow killing its fruits due to the rapidity of their ripening post-bloom. This aura of mystery towards the plant informed many beliefs, such as the medieval — according to which the willow would be the seat of witches’ haunts; reached the foot of the tree to perform their spells. In this regard, writer Robert Graves analyzes the etymology of the English words “witch” and “wicked,” tracing them back to “willow.” We find it widely quoted also in the Old Testament, where it is an allusion to suffering in Egypt; it also seems that it was he, the willow, who supported Christ in a yielding due to the weight of the cross while walking up the slope to Golgotha.”
Polato’s depiction of willow lore highlights a universal quality to the tree. This quality lends itself to the deep syncretic vision emerging from Polato’s media. This depiction also engages the themes that Grave Willow emphasizes: The dialectics of life, death, and myth — as well as the slippery membranes between.
The second piece shown below is much starker. It is a 2019 etching entitled Salice — the Italian word for willow:
A stark duality is emphasized in Salice. The etched branch revels in a juxtaposition which drives this quality. Ever conscious of aspects related to uplift and renewal, Polato remarks, Non sembra poi così triste —
“It doesn’t seem all that sad.”
Another of Polato’s most striking images centers on the stately walnut tree. This work, entitled Noce, exudes the witching quality that marks much of Polato’s corpus:
Noce is the Italian word for the Walnut tree. Polato is ever loyal to her expositio of lore, and she asks us what the noce has to do with a caryatid, or Καρυάτις in ancient Greek. A caryatid is a pillar in the shape of a woman’s body used to support temples and other structures. In her own words, Polato provides an answer:
“What do the female statues called caryatids have in common with the walnut tree? The three daughters of the king of Laconia were pardoned by Apollo with the gift of clairvoyance, as long as it was used for good. Dionysus fell in love with one of the three, Caria, who reciprocated him. The jealous and curious sisters used the gift to learn more about their relationship; Needless to say, the god punished them by turning them into rocks…
…Caria died of pain, and Bacchus took pity on her and turned her into a fruitful nut. It is therefore up to Apollo’s sister, Diana, to tell the sad story to the Laconians; they erected in her honor a temple with columns with female features carved in walnut. For this reason, the plant was associated with the Great Pagan Mother. It also holds a strongly dichotomous symbology between death and life. Often these beliefs carry a precise botanical meaning: in fact, around the walnut there is no growth of other plants due to the substance that its roots secrete.”
Polato also contextualizes the piece with localities:
“In Benevento there is a story of a large walnut which attracted witches and demons on the night of St. John for wild parties and magical sessions. A bishop named Barbato in the seventh century tried to have him uprooted but to no avail; legend has it that the walnut grew back and the janare (witches in the Campania dialect) continued to find themselves in that area. The nocino liqueur is famous: on the solstice night only the women had the burden of removing the still green drupes, strictly with wooden tools (never in iron. This liqueur was considered a panacea, I pray of the magic of that night and far from the dismal vision attributed to the plant.”
Many artists are endowed with a noble modesty. Others possess an ability to let their work express many languages for itself. Some are true devotees of techne, constantly elevating their craft to the next sphere. Rarely does one find an artist who embodies all of these traits. Immersed in the folkloric traditions of her environs, Polato brilliantly communicates a spirit of time and place — a genius loci. I am honored to call her my friend.
Marta Polato can be found on instagram at:@__hedera__. She can also be reached at: email@example.com
In my life, an adoration of a book extends to every detail. The spirit of a book — as well as the genius loci of its author and publisher — is constituted in every facet of a design. This seems particularly the case with old occult books. Combine these dual fascinations and it is no surprise that I have an adoration for the embossed, debossed, stamped, and emblematic covers of old occult books.
With this in mind, take a look at this sigilesque emblem for the Occult Publishing Co. of Boston. The company imported and distributed Theosophical books around the New England area at the tail end of the 19th century. By way dispersion, they eventually made their way around the country. Unfortunately, not much can be found on this turn of the century purveyor of occult literature. The publishing itself was done by George Redway of London. The publisher was located on York Street at Covent Garden. This publishing provenance lends an international quality to the book, and allows one to assume that it made rounds throughout European occult circles.
The emblem depicts an image of ouroboros in which the meeting of the serpent’s head and tail is marked with a swastika. Inside, letters which abbreviate the company are overlapped into an emblem that serves as a kind of literary sigil. The detail is incredible — notice the scales of the serpent’s skin, and the horizontal lines marking the “P.”
As for curiosity regarding the title — The image comes from Harvard University’s Digital Collections and it is taken from the cover of an 1886 Franz Hartmann book entitled, Magic, White and Black, or, The Science of Finite and Infinite Life – Containing Practical Hints for Students in Occultism. The 228-paged book is a fairly well-known work on occult theory and practice.
The author, Dr. Franz Hartmann (1838-1912) was a German doctor and acquaintance of Madame Blavatsky. Hartmann served as chairman of the Board of Control for the Theosophical Society Adyar, and Magic, White and Black is dedicated to Blavatsky. Hartmann referred to her as a “genius.” Hartmann is also responsible for helping to popularize Theosophy and yoga in Germany.
Scholar Karl Baier considers Hartmann to be one of the most impactful and important theosophical minds of the era. In 1896, Hartmann founded a branch of the Theosophical Society in Germany. Theodor Reuss notes that Hartmann, along with German mystic Carl Kellner founded the order which would go on to become the Ordo Templi Orientis. For more, see Karl Baier’s Yoga within Viennese Occultism: Carl Kellner and Co (2018).
Other works in Hartmann’s catalog include a German translation of the Bhagavad Gita, a work on astrological geomancy, and what is perhaps his best-known work entitled Occult Science in Medicine
As far as the emblemata and embossments of occult books go, there is no shortage. Detailed works of art unto themselves, these emblems adorn books of every kind from the era. Keep your eyes open for more histories told through cover work…
Baier, Karl. (2018). Yoga within Viennese Occultism: Carl Kellner and Co. In Karl Baier, Philipp André Maas, Karin Preisendanz. Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Vienna University Press. pp. 395-396.
Behold this handsome pentacle from Clavicula Salomonis Regis : ex idiomate Haebreo versa. This work is attributed to Abraham Colorni. c.a. 1750-1799. The manuscript image comes from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania. The work is also known as UPenn Ms. Codex 1673.
The Kislak material summary aids in framing this manuscript. It reads:
“18th-century Latin copy of the Key of Solomon, a 16th-century magical handbook which includes instructions on subjects such as the conjuration of spirits (f. 11r), enchanting a piece of fruit with a love charm (f. 31v), extracting bat’s blood (f. 104v), the preparation of ink, paper or parchment for magical practices (f. 105r), and the use of knives, swords, and wands (f. 96v). The text is divided into two books and contains a complete list of contents for each book (f. iii recto, 113r).”
A fascinating provenance for the manuscript itself also exists, and is listed in the material record:
“Formerly owned by Charles Rainsford (British army officer, fellow of the Royal Society, and alchemist); bequeathed by Rainsford to Hugh Percy, Second Duke of Northumberland. Owned by the 2nd through 12th Dukes of Northumberland, ms. 584, Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, 1809-2014 (bookplate, inside upper cover; stamps throughout). Sold at auction at Sotheby’s (London), 15 July 2014, as part of Lot 411.”
According to Kislak, Colorni was a “Jewish Italian engineer, mathematician, inventor, and archaeologist born in Mantua. He served as an engineer at the courts of noblemen such as Alfonso D’Este, Duke of Ferrara and authored works on mathematics, ciphers, and translated the Key of Solomon from Hebrew into Italian.”
As for the uses of this pentacle, conclusions were difficult at first glance – Latin is a massive and unfortunate blind spot for me. Luckily, a community of esoteric practice and scholarship exists. I recently drew upon these community resources in order to roughly translate. With the help of some friends (credited below), we are able to discern the use for this talisman. The latin text roughly reads:
“If one is unexpectedly detained by fierce bonds, present this pentacle made in gold on the day and hour of the sun, from hollowed out/ excavated metal.”
One volunteer translator says that, in this instance, the sense of the word excarceratus means freed or releasedfrom prison/bond. So it’s likely there is a figurative element to this phrasing, one denoting a freed metal. In other words, free up some metal, free oneself (excavate). This quality clearly reveals a correspondence between the state of metallic freedom and the nature of one’s own personal liberation.
A similar pentacle may be found in this talisman against slavery & prison. Wednesday under Mercury, or Talisman contra l’Esclavage & le Prison. Mercredi sous Mercure. This pentacle comes from from Vol. II. Les Clavicules de R.Salomon, translated from Hebrew into French by M. Pierre Morissoneau, a “Professor of Oriental Languages and follower of Kabbalism.” The manuscript is dated c.a. 1795, and it comes from the Wellcome Library.
Wellcome’s translation of the manuscript description reads:
“The Key of Solomon… the whole enriched with a great number of mysterious figures of talismans, pentacles, circles, canderies and characters, with the method of composing them and a simple explanation of the principles of the occult science of the most famous necromancers who have lived from Solomon to the present enhanced with their most beautiful secrets. The talismans or characters of the twelve rings within which the Spirit is enclosed for all that one wants” Description via Wellcome library: “Illustrated with numerous pen-drawn magical figures, talismans, etc. in gold, silver and colours. In Vol. I the text is in red, black and green: in Vol. II the text is in similar colours, and facing the title-page is a folding figure of a magic Circle in red and green, the text in red. In both volumes there are historiated ornaments, vignettes, tail-pieces, etc., by the calligrapher who signs himself on the title-page of Vol. I ‘J. S. Fyot, ecrivain. 1796’.”
The text encircling the talisman reads: Dirupisti, Dominae, vincula mea : tibi sacrificabo hostiam laudis; & Nomen Dominae invocabo. Roughly “O Lord, Thou hast broken my bonds: I will sacrifice to thee the sacrifice of praise, and I will call upon the name of the Lord.” The phrase is sourced from Psalm 116.
There are a few instances of liberatory talismans and pentacles throughout the various versions of the Key of Solomon. These pentacles were likely used for instances of physical bondage and enslavement. Surely, one can find use for them in regards to mental or spiritual bondage as well. I will be keeping them in mind as I free myself from the ignorance of the Latin language. First, let them find the anarchists, freedom-fighters, the disenfranchised, bonded, and imprisoned.
This image shows the Göetic Circle of Black Evocations and Pacts as depicted in colorful detail from the January page of the Calendrier Magique. The Calendrier was created by Austin de Croze and Manuel Orazi in 1896. Only 777 original editions of this calendar were published.
The circle icon as it is depicted here may be originally found in Éliphas Lévi’s 1856 second volume of Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (Dogma and Ritual of High Magick). An A.E. Waite Translation was also published by Rider & Company in England, 1896. The book was published as Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual.
In the 2018 book, Magic Circles in the Grimoire Tradition, William Kiesel describes the details of the circle:
“Eliphas Levi’s version of the Circle of Pacts as it appears in his book Transcendental Magic and labeled as the ‘Goetic Circle of Black Evocations and pacts’. Levi’s very atmospheric description includes the use of the skin of a sacrificial victim as the physical basis of the circle pinned to the ground by four coffin nails. The head of a black cat, a human skull, a bat and goat horns are placed near the nail- heads all together forming the precincts of the circle. The vessel of fire, two candlesticks and a different monogram of Christ are evident here showing an emblematic relationship with the previous circles just mentioned. As an aside the monogram of Christ has been discussed as a class of axial symbol and thus reflects the theme of center and orientation already discussed.” (pg. 60)
In the 1856 second volume of Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, Éliphas Lévi himself says:
“All these hideous objects – though scarcely possible to obtain – having been collected, they must be arranged as follows: a perfect circle is traced by the sword, leaving, however, a break, or point of issue, on one side; a triangle is drawn in the circle, and the Pantacle thus formed is coloured with blood; a chafing-dish is placed at one of its angles, and this should have been included among the indispensable objects already enumerated. At the opposite base of the triangle three little circles are described for the sorcerer and his two assistants; behind that of the first the sign of the Labarum or monogram of Constantine is drawn, not with the blood of the victim, but with the operator’s own blood. He and his assistants must have bare feet and covered heads. The skin of the immolated victim must be brought also to the spot and, being cut into strips, must be placed within the circle, thus forming a second and inner circle, fixed at four corners by four nails from the coffin mentioned already. Hard by the nails but outside the circle, must be placed the head of the cat, the human or rather inhuman skull, the horns of the goat, and the bat. They must be sprinkled with a branch of birch dipped in the blood of the victim, and then a fire of cypress and alderwood must be lighted, the two magical candles being placed on the right and left of the operator, encircled with the wreaths of vervain. The formulae of evocation can be pronounced now, as they are found in the Magical Elements of Peter of Apono, or in the Grimoires, whether printed or manuscript. That of the “Grand Grimoire”, reproduced in the vulgar Red Dragon, has been altered wilfully and should be read as follows: “By Adonai Eloim, Adonai Jehova, Adonai Sabaoth, Metraton On Agla Adonai Mathon, the Pythonic word, the Mystery of the Salamander, the Assembly of Sylphs, the Grotto of Gnomes, the demons of the heaven of Gad, Almousin, Gibor, Jehosua, Evam, Zariatbatmik: Come, Come, Come !”‘ (pgs. 88-89)
These images are commonly called the “Circle of Pacts,” and similar images can be found in the Grand Grimoire and the Black Pullet. The first image contains text detailing the situation of practitioners, and contains the Greek-derived Christogram “JHS.” On the other hand, Levi’s circle is much more demonic, and contains no descriptive text other than the names Berkaial, Amasarac, Asaradec, & Akibeec.
Kiesel also notes that:
“The circles in Fig. 43 and 44 [showing the circle from the “Grand Grimoire and “Black Pullet” respectively] share several characteristics such as the central triangle flanked by candlesticks and a fire at the apex of the triangle. There are also designated places for the ‘Karcist’ and two Assistants. A possible speculative etymology of the word Karcist; ‘kar’ = cirque, or in the Latin; circ-us: circus = circle. Thus karcist would be one who employs circles. The circle from the Grand Grimoire also features a ‘Route du T’ or way to the treasure as well as containing the letters JHS, the first three in the Greek word for Jesus, employed here as a divine name intended for protection. The letters JHS are to be written along the base of the triangle so that, according to the Grand Grimoire, ‘the spirits cannot do you any harm.’ The other circle from the Black Pullet lacks the path to the treasure and is surrounded by sigils, astrological symbols and possibly corrupted Hebrew. These two circles are also referred to as ‘the Circle of Pacts’. In one of the most popular scenes in grimoire magic, the pact with Lucifuge Rofocale, the magician demands that the Spirit provide him riches and even threatens him with the divine names when he initially refuses. Once the spirit agrees to the request of the magician he makes demands of his own which constitutes the pact between them” (pg. 58)
The image below, for example, comes from from “Pseudo-Solomon” (Wellcome MS.4666). c.a. mid 18th century. French.
As for the calendar itself, Gallica BnF remarks that:
“The calendar was commissioned in 1895 from Manuel Orazi and Austin de Croze by Siegfried Bing for his gallery “L’art nouveau”. – Illustrated black background covers and 32 pp. : title, justification, frontispiece, phases of the moon, poem of the witch, as well as 24 pages corresponding to the 12 months of the calendar with lithographed text and illustration opposite, 2 planets table pages.”
The full version of CalendrierMagique can be found here.
• Kiesel, William. Magic Circles in the Grimoire Tradition. Ouroboros Press. 2018. Digital edition. Pgs. 60.
• Lévi, Éliphas. Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie. Rider & Company. 1856. pgs. 88-89. (Transcribed and converted to Adobe Acrobat format by Benjamin Rowe, January, 2002.)
The Bibliothèque nationale de France’s BnF Gallica digital collections are a treasure trove. Seemingly endless in their scope, they contain many overlooked gems. One such gem may be found in Charles Bétout’s costume designs for Henri Maréchal’s 1907 opera, Le Lac des Aulnes (The Lake of the Alders/Alder Lake). Gallica BnF describes the work as a “fairy ballet in two acts and five scenes.” The designs are created with with plume, aquarelle, and gouache. The opera itself was featured at the Opéra de Paris-Palais Garnier, 25 September, 1907. Luckily for the curious, the work is in the public domain.
Before examining the richly detailed designs, some background on the opera itself. Princeton University Library’s Blue Mountain Project Historical Avant-Garde Periodicals for Digital Research holds a digital copy of Revue Musicale, Volume 7 No. 23 from 1 December 1907. The Revue contains a written feature on the opera and its plot. It’s writer is a bit of a tough critic, even going so far as to call the costume design unharmonious. Regardless, it gives us some semblance of the opera’s plot and style. Roughly translated from French, it reads:
“The subject of this ballet is the rivalry of two magicians, one of whom takes the “children” of the first (butterflies, dragonflies, spirits of the air, etc., etc.) to compose his enchantments and his potions. But he has a daughter; his opponent has a son, and you can guess that this one is in love with that one. This love first attenuates, then complicates the hostility of the two wizards, one of whom, reduced to impotence, breaks his wand and rushes into the lake of Alders. Twilight of magic (as Wagner would say) and advent of love, such is the symbolic title that one could give to this poem. The whole thing seemed a little gray to me. In the first act, I noticed that the decor lacks unity; it seems to be made of pieces and pieces: the color is not of a harmonious tone, and, from the orchestra chairs, one can follow the maneuver of the two electricians who, without taking care to conceal their lanterns project somewhat brutal spots of color on certain parts of the scene. The second act, from a decorative point of view, is very superior. These observations could apply exactly to music. M. Maréchal’s score – Grand Prix de Rome in 1870 – is well written, but without original and striking character; it is of a rather slow inspiration, without sufficient romanticism, and which stays halfway, instead of reaching the charm of great fantasy. It makes frequent use of a theme of Schubert (ballad of the King of the Alders) which harmonizes little with the rest. In the second act, there are excellent things, among others a “choreographic episode”; but it was not necessary to announce on the program that this episode is “fugue”‘
Here is a photo of the French-language clipping from Revue:
As for Henri Maréchal himself, Oxford Music’s Grove Music Online lists his birth on January 22, 1842, and death on May 12th, 1924. He lived and died in Paris. Biographic detail is readily available on Maréchal. Oxford notes that:
“After studying literature, he began his musical training in 1859; later he studied with Massé and Chauvet at the Conservatoire. In 1867 he became chorus master of the Théâtre Lyrique and in 1870 won the Prix de Rome. He gained recognition with his ‘sacred poem’ La nativité in 1875, and the next year established himself in the theatre, where his real ambitions lay, with Les amoureux de Catherine, which reached its 100th performance in 1889 and was still being performed in the 1920s. In 1876 he wrote La taverne des Trabans, which was awarded the Mombinne prize but was not produced until 1881. He wrote six further operas, a ballet and incidental music and works in many other genres.”
Back to Bétout’s costume design. It seems appropriate to move roughly with the narrative described in Revue. First, then, are the designs for the feuding magicians – striking in their portrayal of posture and intensity:
As Revue notes, the first magician takes for his own need the elemental spawn of the second. Their depictions are awestriking and uniquely rich. Here they are in no particular order beginning with one of Huit papillons, or eight butterflies:
One of the more elemental designs features one of Six salamandres, or Six salamanders:
Undines abound as well in a gaggle of Huit, including Coryphées – the lead dancing performers within a ballet corps:
Sylphs and Undines are not the only magical figures present. Other characters in the opera include two additional Coryphées in the form of two witches – Douze sorcières:
Rather androgynous male witches also feature prominently in the opera designs:
The earthiest and most vegetal figures are Les filles du roi des Aulnes and Le roi des Aulnes – The daughters of the Alder King, and the King himself – all adorned in flora:
Bétout’s designs enrapture the viewer into a kind of pagan operatic trance. Alas, some reviewers of the era did not find the piece to be as vivid in sound and movement. Scholar Caddy Devinia echoes the words of critic Pierre Lalo, who said of the opera’s intelligibility:
“Could we not imagine simpler action, better suited to pantomime, the meaning of which could be more easily perceived? . . . The number of intelligible ballets is extremely small.”
For Lalo, the score was simply there. He continues:
“Is it [the music] bad? No. Is it good? No. It is proper, conscientious, restrained and moderate. It endeavours to follow the action closely, to express its events exactly. It is by a musician who knows his trade . . . and all that would be perfect, if only this music was alive. The misfortune is that the music is not at all alive.”
Do not let the laments of Lalo or the unharmonious critiques of Revue detract from the sheer appreciation that comes from imbibing these images. Like sipping absinthe in turn-of-the-century France, they intoxicate and provoke reverie.
The designs may be viewed in full via Gallica BnF. I’ve left a link below.
Bibliothèque nationale de France. [Le lac des aulnes : vingt maquettes de costumes / par Charles Bétout]. Bétout, (Charles (1869-1945). Dessinateur). Gallica BnF. Accessed 8 Feb. 2021.
Caddy, Devinia. Ballet at the Opéra and La Fête chez Thérèse in The Ballets Russes and Beyond: Music and Dance in Belle-Époque Paris. Cambridge Core. May 2012. pp 22-26. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139028189.003. Accessed 8 Feb. 2021.
Princeton University Library. Revue Musicale, La, Volume 7, Number 23, 1 December 1907. Blue Mountain Project Historical Avant-Garde Periodicals for Digital Research. Accessed 8 Feb. 2021.
An eccentric bit of occult history that will resonate with zinesters. What you see above is cover art for Liber lucis no. 3, Eald Cynren ( which I believe translates to Old Kin from Anglo-Saxon). Described as “A new exposition of the Law of Thelema,” this fanzine-esque series was created around 1972-1974 by Andrew Standish.
Seven volumes of Liber lucis exist, of which there are eight editions (7A & 7B). According to Standish, the series was, “Prepared according to the instructions of Master Therion 666, and by his son here proclaimed Master Amado 777.” To compliment this fascinating history, the pamphlet is also adorned with striking cover art.
Harvard University Digital Collections maintains all eight Liber Lucis editions, including Eald Cynren. The contents are not currently digitized, but the covers are available for viewing and can be see throughout this page.
According to Weiser Antiquarian, “Amado [Andrew Standish, 1930-2010], claimed to have been the illegitimate son of Aleister Crowley, and to have received occult training from the Beast, although these claims are universally dismissed by Crowley scholars. Regardless of the veracity of his claims he was an interesting character and committed occultist.”
In a critical review of Standish’s book The Secrets of Aleister Crowley, occult scholar and historian Gerald Suster writes:
“Amado claims in his book that Aleister taught him between the ages of 7 and 14: i.e.1937–1944. If so, why isn’t there a single mention of this vital matter in Crowley’s Diaries? There he [Crowley] records matters as trivial as the breaking of a tooth or the quality of his dinner: but he does not see fit to record meetings with an initiation of a son destined to be his successor.” According to Weiser Antiquarian, the “veracity” of Standish’s claims has been challenged “universally” within the realm of Crowley scholarship.
Besides his questionable genealogical claims to the Crowley bloodline, Standish is probably best known for Liber Lucis. Weiser also notes that Liber Lucis contains fanzine production values characteristic of the 1970s.
Weiser tells us that the publication’s eclectic esoteric offerings include “…various magical instructions and rituals, including pieces on sex magick, rune casting, personal rituals, séances, astral projection, etc. etc. Much amusing editorial content and several letters by Crowley (probably extracted from “Magick Without Tears).”
The rare book website viaLibri similarly notes that, “The Liber Lucis is a very 1970s production, including pieces on “The Amethystine Cycle of Exercises” (yoga), astral projection, “sex magick”, and rune casting.”
The cover art for Liber lucis is markedly serpentine. Thelemic iconography can also be spotted.
Liber Lucis is not the only pamphlet published by Standish. He also created a work entitled Hweol—A Divinitory Guide to the Life of Positive Occultism. Harvard Digital Collections maintains a copy of this work as well. The date is unlisted, but it is likely published c.a. 1975. Hweol, which means Wheel in Old English, appears to be a similar publication in both size and content. Hweol‘s cover depicts three solemn monks clutching candles as they stand on a firmament containing the edition’s title.
Another pamphlet in the Standish collection is entitled The Magus, though little is described in regards to material records, dates, or contents. A work entitled Liber Alba can also be seen floating around the web.
It appears that the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic maintains a collection of Liber lucis editions which include Hweol and The Magus. A link to the museum’s catalog entry can be found below. Other issues owned by the museum and unlisted by Harvard include Rad Tungol and hydels caeg- a key to the rituals of tid-boc.
Suster’s review (link below) seems to contain most of the sparse information found on the web regarding Standish. Suster had the opportunity to meet Standish/Amado himself in the mid-Seventies. Dissapointingly, Suster describes Liber Lucis as “…monumentallly boring.”
Suster’s own takes, which are likely fueled by his skepticism and personal impressions of Standish, do not diminish the value of the incredible Liber lucis cover artworks. These covers are unique pieces of occult iconography unto themselves – anything but “monumentally boring.”
Images via Harvard University Library’s Harvard Digital Collections. Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection. From Widener Library offsite storage. Used according to educational and artistic fair use criteria.