Astrology And Magic

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Already, with the pharmacopoeia, we are straying into the field of magic, which always lay close to medicine. In the magical papyri, mainly from the second century BCE to the fifth century CE, our chief primary sources for magic, we find reference to correspondences. For instance, the seven flowers of the planets, and seven precious stones representing the planets, are mentioned.47 There are presumably other analogical procedures which determine timing.

Munich Manual Demonic Magic

Figure 23 Figures of the thirty-six decans from a manuscript.

Here are the instructions for healing gout by a magical amulet, in a papyrus in the Egyptian vernacular Demotic:

Another amulet for the foot of the gouty man: You should write these names on a strip of silver or tin. You should put it on a deerskin and bind it to the foot of the man named, on his two feet: 'THEMBARATHEM OUREMBRENOUTIPE / AIOXTHOU SEMMARATHEMOU NAIIOU, let NN whom NN bore, recover from every pain which is in his knees and two feet.' You do it when the Moon is in Leo.48

The precise way in which the analogy works is uncertain. Perhaps Leo controls the feet in the melothesia system of the writer. In the following recipe, more detailed requirements for timing have symbolic associations of obvious relevance.

A contraceptive, the only one in the world: Take as many bittervetch seeds as you want for the number of years you want to remain sterile. Steep them in the menses of a menstruating woman. Let her steep them in her own genitals. And take a frog that is alive and throw the bittervetch seeds into its mouth so that the frog swallows them, and release the frog alive at the place where you captured him. And take a seed of henbane, steep it in mare's milk; and take the nasal mucus of an ox, with seeds of barley, put these into a [piece of] leather skin made from a fawn and on the outside bind it up with mulehide skin, /and attach it as an amulet during the waning of the Moon [which is] in a female sign of the zodiac on a day of Saturn or Mercury. Mix in with the barley grains cerumen from the ear of a mule.49

The waning of the Moon is associated with the decline of fertility, as we saw in Chapter 4, and the choice of a female sign of the zodiac can be accounted for on the grounds that we are dealing with gynaecology. Saturn's coldness and dryness, or indeed even his age, can be seen as opposed to fertility, and Mercury may simply be here as representing instability. In another Demotic spell to call up a god, it is stipulated that it should be done opposite the Great Bear (the Plough) on the third day of the lunar month.50

In such cases the astrology only enters into the timing of the making of the amulet. Gems are often found with a combination of magical words or symbols with astrological images, and it may be that here we are dealing with amulets, as instructions in the spells sometimes stipulate engraving.51 Where there is a single zodiac sign, we could see it as simply the birth sign of the wearer, worn as a lucky charm, but since some signs are commoner than others, it may be that these are worn for healing purposes, or as phylacteries, to ward off disease, chosen according to some system of melothesia. In the case of depictions of the Scorpion, clearly a common choice, it may be the association with the genitals in a common melothesia which provides the clue. A phylactery worn to protect the genitals aimed to ward off the evil eye, which was thought to threaten the penis in particular.52 (Little attention was paid to the female genitals in this context.) On a yellow-brown jasper, there is found a ten-footed Scorpion, surrounded by the Ram and the Bull, the Balance, the Sun and the Moon. On the reverse are a palm and a sign for a chrism, and the legend, 'Keep away from the unjust man and fear will not come near you.' This could be a condensed horoscope (see Plate 13a).53 Another jasper, red in this case, shows a woman's head with a crescent on it, turned to a Crab with ten feet, to the Crab's right five lines: ns/as/ne/ iat/nn. It seems to be astrological, as Cancer is the Moon's house (see Plate 13b).54 A grey agate has the inscriptions Barkaba and lao, the version of the Jewish name for God found often in the papyri together with seven stars and two arrows, perhaps referring to Sagittarius. On the reverse, the word Adone is between a star and a crescent, over two arrows, with the name Abrasas, a version of the solar magical deity whose name is 365 in numerical form (see Plate 13c).55

There are two versions of a magical papyrus which offer a simple horary astrological scheme, setting out the appropriate times for different sorts of spells:

Orbit of the Moon: Moon/in Virgo: anything is rendered obtainable. In Libra: necromancy. In Scorpio: anything inflicting evil. In Sagittarius, an invocation or incantations/to the sun and moon. In Capricorn: say whatever you wish for best results. In Aquarius: for a love charm. Pisces: for foreknowledge. /In Aries: fire divination or love charm. In Taurus: incantation to a lamp. Gemini: spell for winning favour. In Cancer: phylacteries. Leo: rings or binding spells.56

But astrological entities recur as deities in the spells too. Most important are the Sun and Moon, which are frequently invoked. For instance, to summon the Moon, after keeping pure for three days, and waiting for the fifteenth day, you need to put on green and black eye-paint, and stand on your roof, reciting a spell seven or nine times until she appears.57 The decans are also often addressed by their names, which are Egyptian in origin.58 Instructions are given to inscribe all the signs of the zodiac with cinnabar, together with their magical names, on each leaf of a laurel-branch, to be slept on as part of the procedure for divining from a dream.59 One long initiation ritual contains two sets of instructions, supposedly from the 'eighth book of Moses', for finding which god—i.e. which of the seven planets—is ruler of the celestial pole. There is a simple table by which the planet ruling the day in the Greek reckoning can be matched to another planet in the list entitled 'The Seven-Zoned', which gives the answer. Here astrological methods seem to be bypassed in favour of magical ones, and this is also the case with instructions for calling up a god in order to cast an horary horoscope. Once the god has arrived:

He speaks with you truthfully with his mouth opposite your mouth concerning anything you wish. When he has finished he will go away again. You place a tablet for reading the hours upon the bricks, and you place the stars upon it, and you write your business on a new roll of papyrus, and you place it on a papyrus. It sends your stars to you whether they are favourable for your business.60

We saw in Chapter 3 that by the time of the Christian Empire, divination and magic had been assimilated, and were treated as one and the same crime. It was the Christian Tertullian in the second century who said: 'We know that magic and astrology are closely related.'61 In fact, magic cannibalised astrology in the same way as it cannibalised religions, including Christianity. But there were reasons for those interested in astrology to turn to magic if they were not inclined to accept the predictions offered. The claims that the individual destiny was decided at birth did not stop those who saw the stars which were authors of their fates as being manipulable. This is clearest in the instructions for calling up an unspecified god:

Now when the god comes in do not stare at his face, but look at his feet while beseeching him, as written above, and giving thanks that he did not treat you contemptuously, but you were thought worthy of the things about to be said to you for the correction of your life. You, then, ask, 'Master, what is fated for me?' And he will tell you even about your star, and what kind of daemon you have, and your horoscope and where you may live and where you will die. And if you hear something bad, do not cry out or weep, but ask that he may wash it off or circumvent it, for this god can do everything. Therefore, when you begin questioning, thank him for having heard you and not overlooked you.62

Here we have exactly the opposite of the Stoical resignation held up as an ideal in Vettius Valens, for instance, where the message would be 'Do not cry out or weep, because you cannot change anything.' According to the account of Proclus, the fifth-century CE Neoplatonist, Petosiris was a model to astrologers in attempting to control the goddess Necessity.63 But then Proclus had an interest in theurgy, a version of magic involving calling up the gods. Later on in the same text as the one cited above, the all-powerful god is commanded rather than being humbly worshipped. A whole cosmology is envisaged, in which astral forces are subject to this god, and thus ultimately to the magician:

Come to me, you.ruler of all, who breathed spirit into men for life, whose is the hidden and unspeakable name...at whose name even the daemons, when hearing, are terrified, whose is the Sun.and the Moon.—they are unwearied eyes/ shining in the pupils of men's eyes—of whom heaven is head, ether body, earth feet, and the environment water, the Agathos (Good) Daimon...Yours is the eternal processional way/in which your seven-lettered name is established for the harmony of the seven sounds [of the planets] which utter their voices according to the twenty-eight forms of the Moon.Yours are the beneficent effluxes of the stars, the daemons, and Fortunes and Fates, by whom is given wealth, good old age, good children, good luck, a good burial...Come into my mind and my understanding for all the time of my life and accomplish for me all the desires of my soul. For you are I, and I, you. Whatever I say must happen, for I have your name as a unique phylactery in my heart.Also be with me always for good.. .yourself immune to magic, giving me health no magic can harm, well-being, prosperity, glory, victory, power, sex appeal.

This is something like the Gnostic cosmos. However, instead of initiation into the true Gnosis, freeing the devotee from the negative influences of the stars, in this case the magician takes control of the divine power which controls all the positive influences of the stars, in order to enjoy them. Magic, like Gnostic or Hermetic cosmologies, is yet another creative use of astrology. A few ingredients are stirred into a complex mixture, which includes an amalgam of Greek, Jewish and Egyptian religion. The elements change in the new context, so that the meaning they have in the astrological milieu is eclipsed. We find a lunar spell associated with the goddess Aphrodite-Ourania, Heavenly Venus in Greek, but in origin probably the Phoenician Astarte, and subsequently the Punic Tinnit, and finally the Dea Caelestis (heavenly goddess) in Rome. To add to the variety of associations, it is Aphrodite-Selene who is addressed, a being who combines the Greek names for Venus and the Moon, but in the Egyptian context is the goddess Hathor. Here she represents the constellation of the Bear. But she presides over the same matters as the astrological Venus or the Greco-Roman goddess, as the spell reveals:

I call on you, Mistress of the entire world, ruler of the entire cosmic system, greatly powerful goddess, gracious [daemon], lady of night, who travel through the air, PHEROPHORE ANATHRA...OUTHRA. Heed your sacred symbols and give a whirring sound, [and] give a sacred angel or a holy assistant who serves/this very night, in this very hour, PROKYNE BAUBO PHOBEIOUS MEE, and order the angel to go off to her, NN, to draw her by the hair, by her feet; may she, in fear, seeing phantoms, sleepless because of her passion for me and her love for me, NN, come to my bedroom.64

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