Planetary Influences of Every Order: Occult Correspondences by Way of the Rose

Curio

I have found that, although certain plants have distinct planetary rulers, each planetary influence is present in some form in every plant. The noble rose is perhaps the choice example here. Similarly, in  his work The Witching Herbs, Harold Roth uses the rose as a framework for understanding ruling planetary influences. I wish to take Roth’s example a bit further and describe how all of the planetary influences might be discerned beyond the rulers alone. Along the way, the notion of any one plant ruling altogether is challenged.

Consider the most apparent influences one usually finds upon observing the rose: the petals and scent. One quickly turns their perception to the sweet scent of the rose, as well as its pleasing visual appearance. In turn, a Venusian influence can be gleaned: these qualities are usually concerned with matters of love, passion, romanticism, and intimacy. Roses are often gifted as a sign of affection, and their scent is used in attractive perfumes and aromatics. Because of these elements, primary via tradition — and immediately evident via perception— the rose can be said to be ruled by Venus.

However, the rose has secondary planetary qualities as well. Many of these are apparent in the flower’s slightly less-evident features. Consider the protective thorns of the rose. These barbs of embattlement encompass the influence of Mars upon the rose. Mars, which rules matters of battle, protection, defense, and war, is perfectly embodied in these protective tools. Therefore, while often not the primary perceptual feature of the rose, nor the feature which is always chiefly utilized, their presence still implies a Martial quality. Because of this secondary nature, Mars may be seen as not ruling the rose, yet it still exerts a strong influence upon the plant.

What can be said of the other planetary influences of the rose?

If we continue to look at the subtler and still less evident qualities of the rose, we find deepening influences. The rose is a perennial plant, meaning it lives for roughly three or more years. In a separate work entitled Curating the Magical Garden: Considerations of Life Cycle in the Magical Use of Plants, Harold Roth notes the Saturnine influences of perennial plants: The long haul expenditures of energy, lengthy life cycles, “stable” qualities, and deep-rootedness of these plants relates to Saturnine associations.

Saturn consummately embodies the notion of time, especially the slower and leaden cycles of perennial herbs. In matters of both growth and cultivation itself, perennials require patience and persistence. Perennials also tend to extend their rootedness deeper into the ground, implying an ability to thrive in the underworld. Here, a Saturnine influence is also evident: the underworld, as the space of the dead, serves as the deep origination of perennials. The dark soil, composed of “dead” matter, is of Saturnine provenance.

Annuals, while also rooted in this material (albeit less deeply), are much more solar and focused on the upper world. As Roth notes, these annuals tend to expend much more energy on sexual reproduction via seed production. Perennials, on the other hand, often reproduce asexually from within the realm of the underworld — by extending new growth via sprawling roots, for example.

However, annuals may still be Saturnine in their own way. It only takes some imaginative work with form, content, poesis, and language to discern this. For example, even annuals grow from the deathly materia of the soil. Therefore, it is not a quality unique to perennials alone. A playfulness is required here that, once attained, can help one see the various planetary influences played out in any plant.


Roth makes another planetary observation about perennials by noting their expansiveness. Here, the influence of Jupiter reigns. Jupiter, who rules matters of abundance, expansiveness, and growth can be said to reign over the growth patterns of perennials like the rose. The pure abundance of the roses features, depending on variety, genus, etc. may also contribute to this quality. Consider high yields and multitudinous flowerings for example.

Next, contemplate Mercurial influences. Insofar as the rose communicates matters of love, affection, apology, and gratitude, Mercury can be said to exert its influence on the rose. The nature of the rose as an object of emotional transmission meets its end through the means or mode of Mercurial force.

In other words, whereas the symbolic expression of Venusian affection is the end goal of the gift of a rose, the features that transmit such a message are Mercurial: lovely red petals and sweet scents carried on light and air. Here, the medium itself serves as an extension of the plant itself. The air which carries its scent, for example, commingles with the aromatic chemicals of the rose itself and fuses them into the Mercurial influence. In this way, the rose extends beyond itself, and one is even reminded of the famous Marshall McLuhan axiom that “The medium is the message.” 

Finally, one must consider the Solar and Lunar influences of the rose.

In this regard, the photosynthetic influences of the Sun  in the growth of any plant garners a solar influence. The energy from our nearest star helps the plant develop into the being that we know as embodied all the aforementioned qualities. In a way, the Sun “rules” every plant insofar as their sheer existence is predicated on its energy!

As for the Moon, the lunar influence is bound up in the same energy that rules the tides: The moon’s gravity affects the fluids and subtle energies of the rose (or, again, any plant), causing it to wax and wane with various intensity. To the extent that any plant is used for matters or uses of magic, intuition, and occult properties, it can be said to have lunar influences. The moon rules these matters of magic and enchantment.


In light of all this, one can see how the initial notion that Venus truly rules the rose has been called into question. Which influence can be said to truly rule the rose? Are petals and scents really the primary qualities encountered upon a meeting with the rose?

To a certain extent, this is purely contextual: How is one chiefly utilizing the plant and its properties? If roses are cultivated purely for their use in aromatic essences or philtres, surely Venus rules. But for the rose that is used to form a natural barrier or bramble among the garden, its scent and petals of less importance, than perhaps Mars does rule. If anything, it rules this particular rose plant used for bramble and border.

Again, these influences can be discerned in numerous ways through close engagement with any plant. As mentioned, all it takes is a bit of imaginative/imaginal thinking and a degree of poetic modality. 

It was said previously that these qualities are just one of the many ways one can learn deep occult principles from the herbs themselves — How elemental forces, ruling and secondary planetary energies, etc. interact to inform and reify various qualities. This dynamic can be mapped onto objects and processes beyond plants, including metals and minerals, human relationships, and even social or political systems.

Roth notes that planetary and elemental forces are not one-dimensional or literal embodiments of fire, lunar force, etc. Rather, they function as an occult poesis that describes various energetic streams. These streams often function dynamically and relationally to create particular effects

Try to cultivate some playful insight into the next plant you come across? How is it Jupiterian — does it have an expansive quality in any way? Perhaps its scent is powerful to the point of maintaining an expansive quality.

These practices help us to not only know the plant allies more intimately, but also to reify and reinforce occult frameworks like ruling planetary forces. If all else fails, simply ask the plants themselves. You may be surprised at how the answer resonates through the wild patch or garden.




Bibliography:

Roth, Harold. Curating the Magical Garden: Considerations of Life Cycle in the Magical Use of Plants. From CLAVIS vol. 4. Three Hands Press. 2016.

Roth, Harold. Curating the Magical Garden: Considerations of Life Cycle in the Magical Use of Plants. From CLAVIS vol. 4. Three Hands Press. 2016.Roth, Harold. The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden. Red Wheel/Weiser. 2017.

Images (in order of appearance):

• From Thesaurus Thesaurorum. (Wellcome MS4775). c.a. 1725 (?). Various authors. Via Wellcome Library. Via Wellcome Library. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk. @wellcomecollection. Unless otherwise stated, all content on the site is © The Wellcome Trust and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 [https://wellcomecollection.org/works/nc2fz6ee]

• Rose flowers (5 varieties). Coloured engraving by H. Fletcher, c. 1730, after J. van Huysum. Huysum, Jacob van. 1730. Via Wellcome Library. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk. @wellcomecollection. Unless otherwise stated, all content on the site is © The Wellcome Trust and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 1.0[https://wellcomecollection.org/works/h5v3tuh5]

• A flowering rose (Rosa species). Coloured lithograph, c. 1850. Via Wellcome Library. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk. @wellcomecollection. Unless otherwise stated, all content on the site is © The Wellcome Trust and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Public Domain Mark (PDM) [https://wellcomecollection.org/works/we7pgehw/images?id=mchdzfdk]

• Dog rose (Rosa canina): flowering stem, leaf and fruit. Coloured engraving, c. 1829, after J. Sowerby. Sowerby, James. Via Wellcome Library. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk. @wellcomecollection. Unless otherwise stated, all content on the site is © The Wellcome Trust and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 1.0[https://wellcomecollection.org/works/nakmdb86/items]

Panacea: An Alternative V.I.T.R.I.O.L. Emblem

Curio

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 a conjunction which 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.”

Close detail of the emblem

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.

A full article on the various iterations of the Vitriol emblem, as well as deeper meanings, can be found for free at the Curio Esoterica website here.

Onward with the Great Work!

Bibliography:

Bonacina – L’oro potabile. Alchemy Discussion Forum. 17 February, 2008.
https://www.alchemydiscussion.com/view_topic.php?id=102&forum_id=2&jump_to=821

• Cotnoir, Brian. Alchemy: The Poetry of Matter. Khepri Press. 2018.

• Helvetius, John Frederick. Golden Calf. Outlook Verlag. 2020. (17th Century).

Image Credits:

• Gualdi, F. (0 C.E.). [Alchemical miscellany][Illustrations, Manuscripts]. https://collections.library.yale.edu/catalog/2040592.

Dreamworld’s Sun • Mugwort, Dream, & the Green Path

Curio

“Mugwort is like the sun’s shining in the dreamworld.” — Harold Roth

In his book Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism, Daniel A. Schulke expounds on the Path of Embodiment (Eνσωμάτωσησ • Ensomátosis). Schulke says:

“To embody a plant mystery is to become it, to ‘make flesh’ of its teachings by living them as reality. We observe that certain plants assimilate and emanate specific powers, not only from the symbolism that humans have applied to them, but through their behavior, morphology, ecology, and chemistry… Through the Pathway of Embodiment, the herbalist understands that each plant represents attributes or powers to which he or she may be apprenticed, and thereby assimilate, a kind of totemism.”

In turn, Schulke suggests a committed plant practice entailing singular and focused devotion, study, usage, and kinship-development with a single plant. Ideally, this takes place over the course of a year — particularly, a year in alignment with the natural life-cycle of the plant itself. Involved are the acts of ingestion, prayer, observation, entreaty, petition, cultivation, etc. This should occur on a daily basis. The notion behind such green union — Schulke harkens to Hieros-Gamos — is deep transmission and integration of green gnosis through a singular tutelary source. Such knowledge can then be used broadly, outside of the context of the single plant alone. On top of this, kinship — as with any relationship, and especially so with plant spirits — requires initial contact, acquaintance, and bond formation. This cannot occur overnight.

My copy of Daniel A Schulke’s “Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism.” Three Hands Press. First edition hardcover. 2017.

In light of my personal deep reading of Schulke’s work, I have decided to select this pathway as an inroad to the study of occult herbalism. As earnestly as I can, I have been working with, embodying, and using a readily available and common plant for my region. I am speaking of Artemisia Vulgaris, or Mugwort. On top of the praxis of Mugwort allyship, the herb has many folkloric and witching associations that serve as nodes of entry for understanding my craft more deeply. I have been grateful to have bestowed much wisdom from the honorable Artemisia itself, and I have also been initiated to the deeper mysteries plant knowledge as an whole.

This, in many ways is an onus of the Path of Embodiment: Through pointed study of a single herb, more may be revealed about the entire herbal realm than could with the shallower but quantity-laden study of many plants at once.

Common Mugwort botanical illustration. Via Harvard University Digital Collections.

Mugwort is an herb that thrives in liminal spaces. It tends to grown along waysides and trails, ditches and outcroppings. Apropos is the large patch of Mugwort I found growing at a four-way crossroads within my local state park. As Corinne Boyer notes in Under the Bramble Arch: A Folk Grimoire of Wayside Plant Lore and Practicum, these spaces are fonts of real and symbolic power. With this in mind, understand that these liminal spaces manifest in the physical realm as well as the subtle realm of dreams and mantic vision.

Mugwort and her sister, Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). VIa Wellcome Library digital archives.

Consider American Poet and ethnobotanist Dale Pendell when he says, “As dreams are the healing songs from the wilderness of our unconscious — So wild animals, wild plants, wild landscapes are the healing dreams from the deep singing mind of the earth.”

Now consider how these physical landscapes produce plant allies that actually allow us to transverse the very dream landscape of the psyche that Pendell relates to the worlds of the wild.

In his book The Witching Herbs Harold Roth describes the powerful dreamwork uses of Mugwort. Mugwort assists in dream recall. This, like many magickal assistance, has a payoff — the important aspects of dream and vision may be better recalled, but all the white noise, floating psychic debris, irrelevant material, etc. is also recalled. In turn, the wise will be keen learn the art of sifting.

Roth also describes the elemental forces of Mugwort, later relating them to this particular quality of dream recall. A dynamic quality is present: Mugwort is ruled by the element of fire (🜂). The herb embodies the projective, fiery Yang of traditional Chinese medicine. However, Mugwort also has a lunar (☽) quality, which informs its provenance as a dream herb. The plant is sacred to Artemis, its Latin namesake (Artemisia vulgaris).

Traditionally, Mugwort is picked at Midsummer, the liminal space where the light and dark halves of the year meet. Likewise,Mugworts meets us at the crossroads of the light half of waking consciousness and the dark half of the dreaming. Roth says: “The very yang/Sun quality of these herbs fits with how mugwort so much lightens sleep that all dreams are remembered. Mugwort is like the sun’s shining in the dreamworld.”

“Chart of the three hand yang channels, Chinese woodcut… Channel chart, woodcut illustration from Cai ai bianyi (The Mugwort Gatherer’s Companion), published in 1805 (10th year of the Jiaqing reign period of the Qing dynasty). In this image, the paths of the three hand yang channels in the outer aspect of the hand and arm are represented by lines on a schematic outline drawing. From left to right, they are the small intestine channel of hand taiyang, the sanjiao (Triple Burner) channel of hand shaoyang, and the large intestine channel of hand yangming.” Via Wellcome Library digital archives.

These qualities are just one of the many ways one can learn deep occult principles from the herbs themselves — How elemental forces, ruling and secondary planetary energies, etc. interact to create qualities like dream recall. Mugwort teaches us how the fiery aspect manifests in the lunar and nocturnal dream world in the form of shining a light of remembrance, or dream recall.

Consider a plant like Belladonna (Atropa belladonna). Whereas the Saturnine (♄) associations of disorientation, lost time, and even possible death experienced under Belladonna’s influence, a Mercurial (☿) aspect is also present in the visionary quality of the experience. Belladonna’s presence in the historical witches’ flying ointment also hearkens to mercurial notions of travel and flight. Which planetary aspect rules, then? For Roth, this is dependant in many instances on context and praxis. In the case of Belladonna,the plant is definitely Saturnine in its rulership. Yet, to the extent that Belladonna is used for its visions or sabbatic flights, it can be considered to be ruled by Mercury in this instance.

The point here is not to fossilize planetary rulership into absolutes. Rather, it is to understand how occult forces are dynamic and adaptive. The plants, Roth says, teach us the nature of correspondence in a way that our best-loved and relied-upon planetary tables cannot.

From Thesaurus Thesaurorum. c.a. 1725. Via Wellcome Library digital archives.

Roth takes these qualities a step further by expounding on how the herbs themselves can work in conjunction. He uses Vervain, which produces brightly vivid dreams, as a potential co-worker with Mugwort.

“Look, for instance, at the way mugwort — which, in different places is connected to Fire — is also connected to Moon, from the lunar goddess Artemis to its physical effect of helping one remember dreams. This hints at interesting possibilities in terms of interactions between vervain and mugwort. Does mugwort help us remember the vivid dreams that vervain tea can engender? This is an area ripe for witches’ experimentation.”

My own experiences with Mugwort have bestowed me deep engagement with dream recall. Mugwort’s propensity towards dream recall has bestowed me with the capacity to tease out the most mantic facets of my nocturnal visions. I think about this as a symbiosis — a shared space in which the Mugwort spirit, or consciousness, commingles with my own. This is a sacramental moment of communion with the herb. It must be respected, not simply instrumentalized as as a petrified effect born out of molecular reaction.

The Mugwort patch found on my above-described hike.

When I consider all of this I find myself asking, what can such praxis allow us to return to the green realm, and to the working herb itself? Here, the wisdom of the green path teaches one to give back to the herbs rather than simply asking oneself “what can I gain from this herb and its use.” The corollary here is “What can I give the herb?” Proper respect, cultivation, respect for herbal taboo, and offering all serve as inroads for this act.

Pendell himself expressed that it was the plants that gave us consciousness. To the extent that this is true, the plants are like green gods, whose own consciousness is the Secret Fire from which we derive our own flame of awareness. To acknowledge this is to be oriented to an ethics inherent in green path. It is a calling to give back, celebrate the vegetal world, respect and care for plant allies, and transform green gnosis into service towards all living beings.


Bibliography:

• Boyer, Corinne. Under the Bramble Arch: A Folk Grimoire of Wayside Plant Lore and Practicum. Troy Books. 2020.

• Roth, Harold. The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden. Red Wheel/Weiser. 2017.

• Pendell, Dale. Pharmako/Poeia. Mercury House. 1995.

• Schulke, Daniel A. Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism. Three Hands Press. First edition. 2017.

Image Credits:

Chart of the three hand yang channels, Chinese woodcut. From Cai ai bianyi (The Mugwort Gatherer’s Companion). 1805. Image via Wellcome Library. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk. @wellcomecollection. Unless otherwise stated, all content on the site is © The Wellcome Trust and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Public Domain Mark 1.0.

• Composite Family Artemisia vulgaris (Common Mugwort). c.a. 1895-1935. Image via Harvard University Digital Collections [https://digitalcollections.library.harvard.edu/catalog/gra00006c01407]

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and wormwood (Artemisia absinthium): entire flowering plants. Coloured etching by C. Pierre, c. 1865, after P. Naudin. Image via Wellcome Library. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk@wellcomecollection. Unless otherwise stated, all content on the site is © The Wellcome Trust and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Public Domain Mark. [https://wellcomecollection.org/works/haady8r9]

Thesaurus thesaurorum (Wellcome MS4775). c.a. 1725 (?). Image via Wellcome Library. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk@wellcomecollection. Unless otherwise stated, all content on the site is © The Wellcome Trust and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. [https://wellcomecollection.org/works/nc2fz6ee]



Tethered to the Prima Materia

Curio

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:

Full from page from Alchemical and rosicrucian compendium.


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.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2021-05-04-at-11.50.31-pm.png
Detail from Alchemical and rosicrucian compendium.

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.

Detail from Alchemical and rosicrucian compendium.

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.”

In turn, one can envision the manuscript as a proto-version of an esoteric zine. Indeed, Brian Cotnoir’s own contemporary alchemical zines (which I’ve written about) draw upon a similar cut-and-pasted image/text style. Such zines are — as Mellon MS 28 — assembled from primary sources, secondary images, triune copies of copies, and so forth. This DIY quality of assemblage is the hallmark of a zine. Surely MS 28 fits such criteria.

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 verses from the Book of Corinthians. Together they become acquainted with the Prima materia. It is a wondrous and heady manuscript.

Onward with the Great Work….



Bibliography:

[Alchemical and Rosicrucian compendium (selected pages)]. (0 C.E.). [Bookplates, Drawings, Hand coloring, Illuminated manuscripts, Illustrations, Intaglio prints, Marginalia, Watercolors (Paintings)]. https://collections.library.yale.edu/catalog/2037856.

Fernando, Diana. Alchemy: An Illustrated A to Z. Blandford. 1998. pp. 181

Artist Feature • Marta Polato: Tree Lore from the 2019 “Erbario Suggestivo” series

Curio

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…

Marta Polato

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.

Salix L.

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:

Salice

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:

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Noce

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.”

Noce detail (with shading)

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: marta.polato@hotmail.it

Recently, Marta became associated with Grave Willow, a creative canopy for a closely-bound group of musicians and artists.

Images via Marta Polato © Reproduction strictly prohibited.

Atropos’ Nightshade • Death ♄ and Vision ☿

Curio

As the baneful and Beautiful Lady of the flowering Solanaceae family, Belladonna emits whispers both pernicious and visionary. Belladonna commands reverence, respect, and caution. She is known by the wise for her role as an agent of the Unguentum sabbati — the flying ointment of the witches Sabbath.

The Solanaceae are also called the Nightshades. In formal Latin botanical terms, the Beautiful Lady is called Atropa belladonna, and her namesake is Atropos — the eldest of the three Moirai, or Fates. Death is the dominion of Atropos. Whereas the other two sisters Clotho and Lachesis weave and measure, Atropos severs the living threads of mortals

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Hesiod identified Atropos’ genealogical locus as a daughter of Erebus and Nyx (Darkness and Night), and a sister of Thanatos and Hypnos (Death and Sleep). Clement of Alexandria called Atropos “The Inflexible One.” Similarly, Atropos means without turn. Here, clear parallels can be drawn between Atropos, Belladonna, and the likewise reaping and rigid planetary influences of Saturn (♄). Yet, there is a Mercurial (☿) and visionary quality also associated with the Beautiful Lady.

In his 1995 work Pharmako/Poeia, ethnobotanist and poet Dale Pendell offers a diagrammatic map of what he calls the Poison Path:

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Later in Pharmako/Gnosis — his third book in the Pharmako trilogy — Pendell locates Belladonna on the pathway of Daimonica. Like her tropane cousin Datura, Belladonna lies between the nodes of what Pendell calls Thanatopathia and Phantastica.

Whereas the Saturnine associations of the Thanatopathic realm herald dissociation, death, and notions of “killing time,” the Mercurial teachers of the Phantastica realm purvey “…numinous wheeling dynamos,” phantasmagoric imagery, and visionary messages.”

The language employed in this essay should make it obvious that Belladonna is extremely toxic. In fact, it is one of the most toxic plants — not just among the cornucopia of traditional witching herbs, but all together. Her effects are enacted through a series tropane alkaloids which include Atropine, Scopomaline and Hyoscine. Belladonna is an anticholinergic, meaning she inhibits the parasympathetic nervous system, This system is responsible for delegating and balancing the body’s unconscious activities like heart oscillation. Her toxic symptoms are myriad: increased heart rate, dermatitis, blurring of vision, confusion, etc.

Yet, the deadly Belladonna has also been used in numerous visionary contexts. The tropane alkaloids described above also cause delirium and powerfully vivid hallucinations. Belladonna’s use in traditional forms of the Unguentum sabbati feels intuitive.

In 2012, Pendell offered up an essay for Three Hands Press which focused on Belladonna. The work, entitled For the Beautiful Woman, draws upon Pharmako/Gnosis. In the essay, Pendell writes:

“The pharmacological properties of belladonna were well known to educated physicians. And from a handful of cases, we know that commoners experimented with them also. Greasing a broomstick with a belladonna flying ointment, and applying it between the legs would surely be effective—all the tropane alkaloids are readily absorbed transdermally. Beyond that the story gets more dreamlike…”

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Pendell frames the discussion of visionary plant use within in the context of witch-hunts and persecutions. Pendell writes:

“In one case a monk sat with a woman who claimed that she flew with the Devil after applying the unguent, in order to assure her that it was all a delusion and that she had never left the room. Others seemed to think that if one believed one were flying with the Devil, that was devilish enough. Most of the witchcraft trials, however, had nothing to do with psychotropic plants — the accusations, like they are everywhere in the world where such things occur, had to do with things like the evil eye or envy, with pettiness. Arthur Miller seems to have caught it close to the mark.”

For Pendell, these persecutions emerge out of impoverished and marginalized social realities foregrounding the Inquisition, Reformation, Counter-Reformation, etc.

Envy, impoverishment, pettiness, and social unrest have all driven folks to give their neighbors up to authority. This has been shown countless times through the spiral of history.

Yet in the context of plant knowledge, I believe there is another facet to these persecutions. This facet is embodied by the Beautiful Lady — for Belladonna calls into question the tremendously powerful relationships between death and vision, bane and beauty, Thanatopathia and Phantasica.

Consider how that which kills may also heal by way of vision or medicine. Consider how that which is beautiful on the surface maintains an unseen ugliness creeping below. Consider how the dreaming is one step away from the everlasting dream of death itself.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is belladonna22.jpg

These relationships are fonts of power. They are liminal spaces, crossroads, and hedges. but they are also spaces of profound misunderstanding and fear. I believe this line between death and vision — so closely tread by those wise to the poison path — helps constitute the heart of historical drives towards persecution. Such is this fear, that even a cursory association with plant knowledge may be grounds for inquisition. This sentiment is true even in modernity. Pendell envisions a court case in which the evidence against him reveals: “He owned a lot of books on drugs.”

Where the wise know that the dose makes the poison, the uninitiated see only a precarious dance with death. Those that fear, reject, and repress death will likewise fear this dance — along with the poison that whirls the dancer into motion.



Bibliography:


Clement of Alexandria. The Exhortation to the Greeks. The Rich Man’s Salvation. To the Newly Baptized. Translated by G. W. Butterworth. Loeb Classical Library 92. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA. 1919, pg 52-53.

Köhler, Hermann Adolph Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen in naturgetreuen Abbildungen mit kurz erläuterndem Texte” or Köhler’s Medicinal Plants in Lifelike Illustrations with Brief Explanatory Texts. 1887. Image via Biodiversity Heritage Library. Work in public domain. https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/10836#page/3/mode/1up

Mann, Johan Gottlieb. Deutschlands wildwachsende Arzney-Pflanzen. 1828. Louisiana Digital Library via Loyola University (Monroe Library’s Special Collections and Archives). New Orleans, LO. https://louisianadigitallibrary.org/islandora/object/loyno-p16313coll20:collection

Pendell, Dale. “For the Beautiful Woman: Deadly Nightshade, ‘Atropa belladonna’ – Pathway: Daimonica.” Three Hands Press. 30 December, 2012. Excerpt from Pharmako/Gnosis. Mercury House. 2005.

Pendell, Dale. Pharmako/Poeia. Mercury House. 1995.

X. Miscellaneous Belladonne (atrope belladonna) (trés vénéneuse.) : etched poster. Undated. Via Harvard University’s Harvard Digital Collections. https://digitalcollections.library.harvard.edu/catalog/hou02925c01814

Emblems and Embossments Pt I • The Occult Publishing Co.

Curio

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.

Occult Publishing Co. Emblem

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.

Via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

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…



Bibliography:


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.

Hartmann, Franz 1838-1912 author. Magic, white and black, or, The science of finite and infinite life containing practical hints for students in occultism. London :: George Redway, 1886. Via Harvard Digital Collections. https://digitalcollections.library.harvard.edu/catalog/99003956901020394

Visions of V.I.T.R.I.O.L.

Curio

As an acquaintance once pointed out to me, a fascination with esoterica naturally implies a concern with hidden details, minute features, and the multiplicities of symbolic meaning. In my own life, this emerges as a series of intense dives into a given subject. These dives are bolstered —if not fueled entirely—by my own neurological “divergences.” For some, this may translate to a tediousness and borderline obsession with minutia. In spite of this, many of the deepest esoteric truths I’ve known have emerged from this space.

So… I thought it would be engaging to closely examine imagery of a famous alchemical emblem, exploring some of its various appearances and iterations through an accompanying text. The emblem — often called Tabula Smaragdina Hermetis, or Tabula Hermetica (Hermetic Tablet)— is a complex and fascinating image. It is a symbol that appears often in alchemical imagery. I’ll travel in a non-linear order through the various appearances the emblem makes.

I believe these images are best supplemented with a text. For this task, I’ve chosen a work I recently engaged with a deep reading. The book is Brian Cotnoir’s incredible Alchemy: The Poetry of Matter. In The Poetry of Matter, Cotnoir examines the chosen emblem 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 shows us the following version of the emblem:

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. For the sake of this article, I will call it the vitriol emblem. Before moving onward with Cotnoir’s survey, it will be enlivening to delve into some primary sources for the emblem.

Let’s begin with the emblem from pg. 52 of Basil Valentine’s Les dovze clefs de philosophie de Frere Basile Valentin … or, The Twelve Keys of Brother Basil Valentine. Here is the image:

This digitized version comes from Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The manuscript is known as Mellon Alchemical MS 82. Note the slight variations from the first image — the two small spheres on the bottom are reversed, for example.

Basil Valentine is likely a pseudonymous name for a single, or a handful of, German authors. Some have gone as far as to claim that Basil Valentine was a “seventeenth-century hoax,” noting his absence from the rolls of the era. Therefore, it cannot be said with complete certainty who the author of the Azoth truly is. Scholars have pointed to German salt manufacturer Johann Thölde as the author of at least one title.

Yale lists Thölde as one of the manuscript’s creators in the material records for the manuscript. As of my current research, this image appears to be the earliest published appearance of the emblem. Whereas Cotnoir dates his incarnation of the emblem to 1659 by way of the 1976 Genova: Edition Anatatique of Azoth, ou Le Moyen du Faire L’Or caché des Philosophiques, this Yale manuscript is dated to 1624. This bolsters Cotnoir’s assertion that the emblem was in use prior to the Azoth from at least 1588.

The emblem shows itself again, well over a century from the previous image. This time it appears on pg. 80 of Das Buch der Weissheit zum langen Leben und vollkommenen Reichthum, roughly The book of Wisdom for long Life and complete Wealth. This manuscript also comes from the Beinecke Library. The German manuscript — called Mellon MS 152 — is dated c.a. 1790. A definitive author is unlisted.

In the manuscript, this version of the emblem is captioned, “Die hermetische taffel — Tabula Hermetica,” which translates to “The hermetic table.” A caption further above is hard to make out, but reads along the lines of “…fundament of world and universe…” This manuscript is extremely well preserved and the image easy to examine. Again, one can spot the differences from the previous emblems. For example — the pointed hands are missing on this version, while previously uncolored spheres now mark the emblem with a deep reds and blacks.

Still, commonalities abound. These are noted by Cotnoir. Recall that his analysis of the emblem is embedded in the context of the alchemical Green Lion. Of the emblem, Cotnoir says:

“We see in the upper center a goblet surrounded by the symbols for the seven planets/metals. The goblet stands on Mercury with the Sun and Moon both pouring something into the goblet. The Moon is on the right and the Sun on the left, with Venus and Jupiter beneath the Moon and Saturn and Mars beneath the Sun. In the center of the emblem is a ring that is linked to two shields. The shield on the right bears a double tailed lion rampant, perhaps the Green Lion, and the shield on the left shows a double-headed eagle…”

Flashback to Basil Valentine. Here is a close-up of the emblem from a 1660 edition of Les Dovze Clefs…:

Again, pay mind to the slight differences of each image, as the intricacies do not always match. Cotnoir goes on to say:

“Linked between these two shields and hanging from them is a third smaller shield emblazoned with a seven-pointed star. Surrounding this smaller shield are three objects. The object on top of the stellar shield is the Orb of the earth, on the left of the shield is an armillary sphere showing the equator and the ecliptic, and the object on the right represents the heavens…”

As a stylistic point, note again that these spheres appear reversed in both editions of Les Dovze Clefs. Cotnoir continues:

“…There are also hands emerging from the clouds between the cluster around the ring. Finally, around the circumference of the emblem us inscribed the following: Visita Interiora Terrae, Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem, which, roughly translated, means, “enter into the earth, rectify and you will find the hidden stone.” The first letters of the motto spell out V.I.T.R.I.O.L.”

So finally, V.I.T.R.I.O.L. makes its appearance as the textual ligament connecting the symbols of Leo viridis and our vitriol emblem.

Even more iterations of the vitriol emblem exist. The following colorful image of the emblem comes from Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer, aus dem 16. und 17. Jahrhundert. Drittes und letztes Heft, or Secret figures of the Rosicrucians, from the 16th and 17th centuries. Third and last issue. The work is dated c.a. 1785-1788, and is sourced from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries Digital Collections.

There is a long German text under the image which I am unable to translate. However, a search for “Geheime Figuren,” will lead one to many results containing a rather lengthy but gorgeous poem from translated from Figuren explicating the symbolism in verse. The following translation comes from the Confraternity of the Rose Cross website. The beginning section reads:

“This picture, plain and insignificant in appearance, Concealeth a great and important thing.
Yea, it containeth a secret of the kind That is the greatest treasure in the world.
For what on this earth is deemed more excellent Than to be a Lord who ever reeketh with gold,
And hath also a healthy body, Fresh and hale all his life long,
Until the predestined time That cannot be overstepped by any creature.
All this, as I have stated, clearly Is contained within this figure.
Three separate shields are to be seen, And on them are eagle, lion, and free star.
And painted in their very midst Artfully stands an imperial globe.
Heaven and Earth in like manner Are also placed herein intentionally,
And between the hands outstretched towards each other Are to be seen the symbols of metals.
And in the circle surrounding the picture Seven words are to be found inscribed.
Therefore I shall now tell What each meaneth particularly
And then indicate without hesitation How it is called by name.
Therein is a secret thing of the Wise In which is to be found great power.”

Cotnoir’s culminating explanation sheds a tremendous deal of light on this poem:

“What is of interest here is the center shield with the star, the orb above it and the motto, all of which point to antimony, or more precisely top stibnite, an ore of antimony. The orb is the symbol for earth and for the metal antimony The shield below displays a star, the form that highly purified antimony takes, called by alchemists the star regulus of antimony. The motto has many levels of interpretation, one of which suggests taking earth, that is, antimony, and entering into it and purifying it, is the way to the philosopher’s stone and is another example of alchemy as ascent through descent. The rampant lion on the shield could be the green lion and the double-headed eagle on the left could be animated mercury. So going from left to right, we have the raw ore of antimony, the Green Lion purified to become the regulus, the pure heart of the lion (that is pure antimony, called the star regulus of antimony) and then ending with the animated mercury represented by the double eagle head. The anagram V.I.T.R.I.O.L. reinforces connection with the green lion through the original statement of Morenius That the “Green lion is glass.” Celestially speaking, Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo, is the heart of the Lion. So if Regulus is the heart, stibnite, raw antimony ore, is the lion itself”

From Yale University’s Alchemical and Rosicrucian Compendium

According to Cotnoir, this notion of “ascent through descent” permeates the entire Hermetic philosophy. Through it, our Lion is identified as raw antimony ore. The vitriol emblem itself reveals this through its varied yet consistent symbolism. While these symbols are captivating to appreciate in and of themselves, a deep knowledge of their meanings lends something valuable to one’s own practice — It transmutes appearances into understandings. Static forms transform into dynamic processes, and alchemy is enacted.

Cotnoir’s Alchemy: The Poetry of Matter is deeply fascinating, allowing one to approach alchemy with what feels like a fresh perspective. My copy occupies a space high on my main shelf. Drawing sharp distinctions between operative alchemy and the psychological aspect, next to nothing is said regarding Jungian interpretations. While the Green lion up until this point has been revealed by Cotnoir in its chymical guise, the book goes on to explore its deeper meanings and representations. To list them all here would be to detract from the book itself. Rather, I encourage readers to engage The Poetry of Matter for themselves.

In the book, Cotnoir describes alchemical practice as a “dialogue with matter,” in which physical work with matter refines and acts upon perception. The processes of consciousness and spirit. In this sense, according to Cotnoir, alchemy is like music – music serves as a perfect symbol and metaphor for notions of something like “uplift,” but it is also rooted in actual practice, mechanics, and the physical “manipulation of matter.”

I discovered through Ouroboros Press, the publishing effort of William Kiesel. It is directly available through Cotnoir’s own Khepri Press. Various fine editions are available ranging from collector hardcovers to hardy-bound paperbacks.

Writing in the About section of Khepri Press’s website, Cotnoir himself says, “Khepri Press was started in 2014 as a place to organize and distribute my work. It is a very small press dedicated to alchemical book arts. Some of this work is publishable and others may exist only in manuscript or object form – alchemical results or talismans.”

The general biography on Khepri’s page “Brian Cotnoir is an alchemist, artist and award-winning filmmaker. Author of The Weiser Concise Guide to AlchemyThe Emerald Tablet, and Alchemical Meditations, he is currently writing his next book, Alchemy: The Poetry of Matter. He has presented seminars and workshops around the world on various aspects of the alchemy.”

Khepri Press’ website can be found here.

Look here for a previous feature on one of Cotnoir’s alchemical zines.



Bibliography:

[Alchemical and Rosicrucian Compendium (Selected Pages)]. 0AD. https://collections.library.yale.edu/catalog/2037856.

Basilius Valentinu, Gobille, Jean, fl. 1659-1690, engrave, Tholde, Johannes. Les Dovze Clefs De Philosophie De Frere Basile Valentin … Traictant de la vraye Medecine Metalique Plus l’Azoth, ou le moyen de faire l’Or cache des Philosophes. Tradvction Francoise. 1660. https://collections.library.yale.edu/catalog/2037990.

Basilius Valentinus, Thoelde, and Johann. Les Dovze Clefs De Philosophie De Frere Basile Valentin … Traictant De La Vraye Medecine Matalique. Plus l’Azoth, Ou Le Moyen De Faire l’or chaché Des Philosophes. Tradvction Francoise. Chez Ieremie et Christophle Perier, a la grand Salle du Palais, ioignant les Consultations, 1624. https://collections.library.yale.edu/catalog/2038037.

Cotnoir, Brian. Alchemy: The Poetry of Matter. Khepri Press. 2018.

Courtis, Jack. Interpretation and Explanation of the Tabula Smaragdina Hermetis in Commentaries on the Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians of the 16th and 17th Centuries. Cofraternity of the Rose Cross. 1998. https://www.crcsite.org/rosicrucian-library/secret-symbols-guide3/

Das Buch Der Weissheit Zum Langen Leben Und Vollkommenen Reichthum. 0AD. https://collections.library.yale.edu/catalog/2037876.

Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer, aus dem 16ten und 17ten Jahrhundert: aus einem alten Mscpt. Zum erstenmal ans Licht gestellt: erstes -[drittes] Heft Altona: J.D.A. Eckhardt, in Commission in der Heroldschen Buchhandlung in Hamburg, 1785-[1788]
3 v. in 1 : col. illus. ; 40 cm. http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/HistSciTech.GeheimeFiguren

Occvlta philosophia : von den verborgenen philosophischen Geheimnussen der heimlichen Goldblumen vnd lapidis philosophorum, was derselbige, vnd wie zu Erlangung dessen zu procediren, aussführlicher Bericht in einem philosophischen Gespräch verfasset : sampt der Schmaragd Taffel, Paraboln, symbolis, vnd 18. sonderbaren Figuren der hochberühmten Philosophen Hermetis Trismegisti vnd F. Basilii Valentini durch welche diese Kunst der philosophischen Goldblumen vollkomlich erkläret an Tag gegeben. Gedruckt zu Franckfurt am Mayn : Durch Johann Bringern. 1613. https://archive.org/details/occvltaphilosoph00herm

Stillman, John Maxson. Basil Valentine, a Seventeenth Century Hoax. Popular Science Monthly. 1912.

Le Lac des Aulnes: The Entrancing Costume Designs of a French Fairy Opera

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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:

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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:

18. Le magicien;
19. Le magicien;

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:

9. Huit papillons. Sujets;

One of the more elemental designs features one of Six salamandres, or Six salamanders:

7. Six salamandres, 1er acte. Élèves;

Undines abound as well in a gaggle of Huit, including Coryphées – the lead dancing performers within a ballet corps:

17. Huit ondines. Coryphées;

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:

5. Douze sorcières. Coryphées;

Rather androgynous male witches also feature prominently in the opera designs:

Sorcières, hommes. MM. Pausalet ?, Baptiste, Beaucoubart;
3. Sorcières, hommes. MM.
Sorcières, hommes. MM. Richaume, Lewi ?, Huygh;

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:

Les filles du roi des Aulnes, Mlles Trouhanova, L. Mante, L. Piron;
 13. Le roi des Aulnes;

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.



Bibliography:

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.

Trevitt, J. Maréchal, (Charles) Henri (opera). Oxford Music Online – Grove Music Online. https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.O903056 Accessed 8 Feb. 2021.

Links:
BnF Gallica:
https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8455852g.r=sorciere?rk=686698;4

Cambridge Core:
https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/ballets-russes-and-beyond/ballet-at-the-opera-and-la-fete-chez-therese/C4334892FF811590113EC3551863B59C/core-reader

Oxford Music:
https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-5000903056

Princeton:
https://bluemountain.princeton.edu/bluemtn/?a=d&d=bmtnabj19071201-01.2.2.3&

Was Crowley’s Proclaimed Son a Zinester? Liber lucis

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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.

Liber lucis no. 1

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.” 

Liber lucis no. 2

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.

Liber lucis no. 3

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.”

Liber lucis no. 4

The cover art for Liber lucis is markedly serpentine. Thelemic iconography can also be spotted.

Liber lucis no. 5
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Liber lucis no. 6
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Liber lucis no. 7A
Liber lucis no. 7B

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.

Hweol—A Divinitory Guide to the Life of Positive Occultism

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.

The Magus

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.”



Credits:

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.

Resources:

Harvard Search:
https://digitalcollections.library.harvard.edu/catalog?utf8=%E2%9C%93&search_field=all_fields&q=aleister+crowleyl_fields&q=aleister+crowley

AbeBooks Liber Alba:
https://www.abebooks.com/book-search/author/AMADO-CROWLEY:-ANDREW-STANDISH-MASTER-AMADO-777-ALEISTER-CROWLEY:-RELATED-WORKS-?cm_sp=brcr--bdp--author

Archive.org Wayback image of Gerald Suster’s review:
https://web.archive.org/web/20081019055419/http://www.montaukproject.com/_disc1/000021d3.htm

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic catalog:
https://museumofwitchcraftandmagic.co.uk/library/5634-liber-lucis/

ViaLibri:
https://www.vialibri.net/years/books/10307373/1972-crowley-aleister-crowley-amado-liber-lucis

Weiser Antiquarian:
https://www.weiserantiquarian.com/pages/books/60002/master-amado-777-aleister-crowley-related-works-amado-crowley-andrew-standish/liber-lucis-a-new-exposition-of-the-law-of-thelema-prepared-according-to-the-instructions-of-master?soldItem=true