Category Archives: Reflections

From lead to gold

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Aurum nostrum non est aurum vulgi Rosarium philosophorum

I will propose you a similitude of gold. The ethereal heaven was shut from all men, so that all men should descend to the infernal seats, and be there perpetually detained. But Jesus Christ opened the gate of the ethereal Olympus, and has now unlocked the kingdoms of Pluto, that the souls may be taken out; when by the co-operation of the holy spirit in the virginal womb, the virgin Mary did by an ineffable mystery and most profound sacraments conceive what was the most excellent in the heavens and on the earth; and at length brought forth for us the saviour of the whole world, who out of his super abundant bounty shall save all who are able to sin, if the sinner turn himself to him. But she remained an untouched and undefiled virgin: whence mercury is not undeservedly compared to the most glorious saint the virgin Mary. For mercury is a virgin because it never propagated in the womb of the Earth and metallic body, and yet it generates the stone for us; by dissolving heaven, that is, gold, it opens it, and brings out the soul; which understand you to be the divinity, and carries it some little while in its womb, and at length in its own time transmits it into a cleansed body. From whence a child, that is, the stone, is born to us, by whose blood the inferior bodies being tinged are brought safe into the golden heaven, and mercury remains a virgin without a stain, such as is was ever before. Liber de Arte Chymica attributed to Marsilio Ficino

Nigredo

Before the Winter Solstice the primal matter has passed through the decomposition of Scorpio and Sagittarius and it has became black and still but inside the black matter the seed of gold is sleeping waiting to ferment under the increasing warmth of the fire. At the Winter Solstice the  Sun enters the sign of Capricorn, ruled by Saturn. The lead is the metal attributed to Saturn. It’s a bright silvery metal, very dense, soft and malleable. Therefore lead among metals is the symbol of the prime matter and of chaos from which the work of Nature produces the gold.

The rearing Capricorn

Ancient greeks thought that Earth was surrounded by the waters of Oceanus, the ocean stream at the Equator in which floated the habitable hemisphere. At Winter Solstice the Sun reaches the southern altitude on the horizon and then he starts again to climb up the sky. The sign which the Sun enter at Winter solstice, Capricorn, is depicted as a bicorporeal monster: half body, the lower one, is a tail of a fish; the upper half is the body of a goat. In this image is perfectly symbolized the double nature of the Capricorn which is partly plunged into the water of the Oceanus close to the equator but ready to climb the heights of the sky as a goat jumps up to the mountain top.

Zeus and the goat Amalthea

… then let us call to witness the priests of Cyprus who set up common altars to Helios and Zeus; but even before them let us summon as witness Apollo, who sits in council with our god. For this god declares: “Zeus, Hades, Helios Serapis, three gods in one godhead!” Hymn to the King Helios – Emperor Julian

amalthea

Amalthea feeding the infant Zeus

The ancient greeks also tell us the story of the Zeus’ birth. Since Cronus swallowed all of his children immediately after birth, her consort Rhea, Zeus’ mother, gave the infant Zeus to Amalthea to hide him from the voracious Cronus in a cave on a mountain in Crete and in exchange she gave to Cronus a stone wrapped to look like a baby. Amalthea, in Greek “tender goddess”, was the nurturer goat-nymph of Zeus.

The Cornucopia

The goat Amalthea fed Zeus with her milk but Zeus, even as a child, was powerful and full of strength and in playing with his nursemaid accidentally broke off one of her horns. Zeus gave to the broken horn the divine virtue to provide unending nourishment, as the foster mother had to the god.

As the Sun is born in the Cave of the World and nourished in Capricorn, so Zeus is born from Rhea and Cronus and nourished by the goat Amalthea in the cave of mountain Ida away from the danger of Cronus’ voracity. As the Christ is born in the cave from the Virgin Mary and is brought in Egypt, Khem, the black land, away from the envy of Herod who wants to kill him, so the seed of gold is born in the Nigredo of the primal matter and nourished by the gentle increasing fire untouched by the vitriolic solvents and it develop in the Philosophical Stone which is incorruptible and fixed. The Philosopher Stone, the Elixir or Projection Powder is the Cornucopia, the boundless Sommum Bonum.

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De stella magorum

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Adoration of the Magi – Gentile da Fabriano

 

Grant us your favour, My Lord,  show us this day your star,  the one once you showed to the Magi. The star that led the Magi to Christ, may lead us to Christ’s mysteries. Marsilo Ficino – De Stella Magorum

“Now these things never happened, but always are.” Sallustius – On the Gods and the World

The Star of the Magi

De Stella Magorum written in 1482 by Marsilio Ficino was probably one of the lectures held by the members of the Florentine Platonic Academy to the Compagnia de’ Magi (Fellowship of the Magi). In Florence, for all the fifteenth century, it was the brotherhood of the Magi (or “The Star”, referring to the star mentioned in the Gospel), that organizes every three years (since 1447 every five ) a solemn procession with sumptuous equipment in order to reenact the arrival of the three wise men in Bethlehem, in search of the Messiah King.

The first mention of this partnership is in a document from 1417, the year in which the Signoria of the Republic decides to subsidize the Compagnia de’ Magi, which gathered in the Florentine church of St. Mark of the Dominican friars. In the golden age of the Medici family, all members of that florentine family were part of the brotherhood, as well as people close to the Lords of Florence, as humanists Cristoforo Landino and Donato Acciaioli, the poet Luigi Pulci and, probably, the man of letters and canon of Santa Maria del Fiore Angelo Poliziano.

As a further demonstration of the veneration of the Medici to the Magi, is the Procession of the Magi, the famous and allegorical journey of the Three Kings, frescoed  by Benozzo Gozzoli in 1459 on commission by Cosimo, in the chapel of the palace of Via Larga. In the fresco some family members, including Giuliano and probably Lorenzo, appears in guise of depicted characters. Moreover, even when Cosimo retired to St. Mark monastery for religious meditations, he was housed in a cell with frescoes made by Fra Beatus Angelicus depicting the Magi.

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The Procession of the Magi by Benozzo Gozzoli

Marsilio Ficino was a neoplatonic philosopher and a priest and he was learned about astrology as well. In De Stella Magorum [1] he tried to investigate about the nature of the star of the Magi and to reveal the sky which watched over the distinguished nativity of the Savior.

The sermon leaves us surprised because it does not present the nativity of Jesus but instead it contains contradictory astrological elements about the Savior’s geniture from which it is impossible to determine the time of nativity used by Ficino to compose his oration. In fact he says firstly that

So, when Eastern astronomers, in December,  saw a comet rising in the beginning of Sagittarius, they judged it a benevolent apparition, because it shed golden rays, being of Sun nature; silver rays  because of Jupiterian nature, mixed rays because of Venusian nature. Jupiter too was in that moment  in the beginning of Sagittarius. The Sun, if we are right in calculations, was in the middle of the sign.  Maybe Venus, always near to the Sun, was in the last degree of the sign: likely this is the sky configuration at Jesus birth, in the month of December, if he was born after the first half of the night. In fact we read in the Gospel that while shepherds kept their night vigils, the Angel said: this day he  is born.

and right after he adds:

Considering Jupiter rising in the angle of the geniture, they judged the nativity very favorable; but sterile because of the Moon in the first facie of Virgo, being the stress on a virgin rather than a pregnant woman.

But this elements don’t occur neither in the nativity calculated for the traditional birth date of 25th December of the zero year at midnight nor for the time of the Jupiter Saturn conjunction before the nativity.

 

Probably Ficino purpose was not to describe the real nativity of Jesus but only to point out that the sky showed signs of the extraordinary event and that the wise astrologers were able to decipher those signs to forecast the new king’s birth. In fact Marsilio in the last part of his speech mentions to Virgo as the possible Jesus’ horoscope:

What we told about Sagittarius, because of calculation of someone’s else, could be in my opinion be told more rightly about Virgo and midnight. While Christ was born, necessarily one of the twelve signs was rising. I don’t know which sign I should give to the One is born from a Virgin, more than Virgo. And mostly the first facie of this sign. In fact every sign has three facies. In the first facie of the Virgo, like Albumasar states, Indians and Egyptians  have contemplated the image of a virgin girl, very beautiful, sitting, feeding a child. The rising of this facie agrees perfectly with  the child born from a Virgin, and if one well compute, the first facie of Virgo is rising in the month of December at midnight.

Jesus' Nativity

We already know that at midnight of 25th December is rising the first face of Libra and not of Virgo, as for sure Ficino knew, because it was previously pointed out by Cecco D’Ascoli and other astrologers and commentators. But the perfectly well-fitting symbolic image of the virgo with the child exerts a charm too powerful to be eluded.

The first decan of the Virgo was firstly mentioned by Albertus Magnus in Speculum Astronomiae when he reports a passage from the Introductorium of Albumasar:

Et ascendit in prima facie illius (scilicet Virginis) puella quam vocat Celchnis Darostal; et est virgo pulchra atque honesta et munda prolixi capilli,et pulchra facie, habens in mano sa duas spicas, et ipsa sedes supra sedem stratam et nutrit puerum, dans ei ad comedendum ius in loco qui vocatur Abril. Et vocat ipsum puerum quaedam gens Iesum, cuius interpretatio est arabice Eice…

that is

And in the first decan (of Virgo) there arises a girl who Celchnis calls Darostal; and she a beautiful, honorable, pure virgin with log hairs and a beautiful face, holding two ears of wheat in her hand; and she seats on a covered bench, and she nurse a male child, giving broth to him in a place called Abril. And a certain people call this child Jesus, which is translated as Eice in Arabic.

This symbolic image was the perfect argument to support the idea of stars as sign and not cause of events. The virgo and the child in the first facie of Virgo is the manifest sign, the epiphany of the birth of the Savior, the light that comes to the world.

As far as we keep meditating on De Stella Magorum we understand that Ficino’s speech is about the epiphany of the Light. His text is scattered with mark of that theophany of light. In his sermon Ficino presents the hypothesis that the star of the Magi was of supernatural origin, created by the angel Gabriel condensing the air to the extent that it was a sufficiently dense medium to make his light visible to humans. As he says:

But why did the Angel condense air? Because the light he was going to impress in the air could be perceived by the human eye. In fact a very rare substance always escapes to the eyesight. Where did he take the light to transmit to that body? From the light of his mind. In it in fact there is an invisible and intellectual light, which transmitted in the air, becomes visible; in the subtler air is visible to the Saints; in the denser, to the others too.

Adoration of the Magi - Giotto

Adoration of the Magi – Giotto

Ficino clearly states that Gabriel under the visible form of a star guided the Magi to the epiphany of the light of the Saviour.

And under the form of a star informed the students of stars, and through the light of the star, derived from the Sun he guided them towards the Sun.

The astronomers brought gold to the just born king , because they judged him having a Sun nature; with perfumed incense they indicated the grace of Venus, with myrrh they indicated  a life under the influence of Jupiter, unaware of putrefaction. In the same time these gifts are converged in another secret. In fact with the gold they helped him because he was a poor; with the myrrh they gave strength to the tender flesh; with the incense they perfumed the stable. The gave him the gold because he was a king; the incense because he was a priest, the myrrh because he was God.

The child, the Christ is the eternal Sun born to save the mankind,  the intelligible Sun which enlightens the intellect of every man. In the words of Ficino

Light which from Good is spread through all the spirits, is benefic. It grants us to direct towards the Good and quieten in it and makes possible we love the good and rejoice in it. Whatever particular good has with him the image of the good itself.

The Star and the Cave of the World

Says Matthew:

And there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Says Luke:

And it came to pass, while they were there, the days were fulfilled that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. And an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people:for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this is the sign unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

There is a tradition which tells us that the manger was a cave.

Icone of the Nativity - Bethlehem - Church of the Nativity

Icone of the Nativity – Bethlehem – Church of the Nativity

But looking at the cave where the new born Sun is placed and at the star hanging from the sky above the cave, the On the Cave of the Nymphs  of the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry comes in our mind.

Porphyry  reports a passage from the Homer’s Odyssey:

High at the head a branching olive grows
And crowns the pointed cliffs with shady boughs.
A cavern pleasant, though involved in night,
Beneath it lies, the Naiades delight:
Where bowls and urns of workmanship divine
And massy beams in native marble shine;
On which the Nymphs amazing webs display,
Of purple hue and exquisite array,
The busy bees within the urns secure
Honey delicious, and like nectar pure.
Perpetual waters through the grotto glide,  
A lofty gate unfolds on either side;
That to the north is pervious to mankind:
The sacred south t’immortals is consign’d.

And he comments:

That theologists therefore considered caverns as symbols of the world, and of mundane powers, is through this, mainifest. And it has been already observed by us, that they also considered a cave as a symbol of the intelligible essence; being impelled to do so by different and not the same conceptions. For they were of opinion that a cave is a symbol of the sensible world because caverns are dark, stony, and humid; and they asserted that the world is a thing of this kind, through the matter of which it consists, and through its repercussive and flowing nature. But they thought it to be a symbol of the intelligible world, because that world is invisible to sensible perception, and possesses a firm and stable essence. Thus, also, partial powers are unapparent, and especially those which are inherent in matter. For they formed these symbols, from surveying the spontaneous production of caves, and their nocturnal, dark, and stony nature; and not entirely, as some suspect, from directing their attention to the figure of a cavern. For every cave is not spherical, as is evident from this Homeric cave with a twofold entrance. But since a cavern has a twofold similitude, the present cave must not be assumed as an image of the intelligible but of the sensible essence. For in consequence of containing perpetually flowing streams of water, it will not be a symbol of an intelligible hypostasis, but of a material essence.

And he adds about the gates of the cave:

Theologists therefore assert, that_these two gates are Cancer and Capricorn; but Plato calls them entrances. And of these, theologists say, that Cancer is the gate through which souls descend; but Capricorn that through which they ascend. Cancer is indeed northern, and adapted to descent; but Capricorn is southern, and adapted to ascent. The northern parts, likewise, pertain to souls descending into generation. And the gates of the cavern which are turned to the north are rightly said to be pervious to the descent of men; but the southern gates are not the avenues of the Gods, but of souls ascending to the Gods. On this account, the poet does not say that they are the avenues of the Gods, but of immortals; this appellation being also common to our souls, which are per se, or essentially, immortal. It is said that Parmenides mentions these two gates in his treatise “On the Nature of Things”, as likewise that they are not unknown to the Romans and Egyptians. For the Romans celebrate their Saturnalia when the Sun is in Capricorn, and during this festivity, slaves wear the shoes of those that are free, and all things are distributed among them in common; the legislator obscurely signifying by this ceremony that through this gate of the heavens, those who are now born slaves will be liberated through the Saturnian festival, and the house attributed to Saturn, i.e., Capricorn, when they live again and return to the fountain of life. Since, however, the path from Capricorn is adapted to ascent, hence the Romans denominate that month in which the Sun, turning from Capricorn to the east, directs his course to the north, Januanus, or January, from janua, a gate. But with the Egyptians, the beginning of the year is not Aquarius, as with the Romans, but Cancer. For the star Sothis, which the Greeks call the Dog, is near to Cancer. And the rising of Sothis is the new moon with them, this being the principle of generation to the world. On this account, the gates of the Homeric cavern are not dedicated to the east and west, nor to the equinoctial signs, Aries and Libra, but to the north and south, and to those celestial signs which towards the south are most southerly, and, towards the north are most northerly; because this cave was sacred to souls and aquatic nymphs. But these places are adapted to souls descending into generation, and afterwards separating themselves from it.

We know that the star Sirius or Sothis, the star sacred to Isis, the most bright star in the sky, was used by Egyptians to determine the beginning of their calendar which was calculated by the helical rising of Sirius. This phenomenon occurred in the sign of Cancer in July around the beginning of the vulgar era. On the other hand in the middle of December the star Sirius made the midnight culmination.

The picture is complete. Here we contemplate the image of the Cavern of the World where the Sun born from the Virgo lies. The Star Sirius is shining over the Cavern in the middle of the night. The gate of the Cavern is open to all men to see the new born Sun rising up again in the sky through the door of Capricorn, the door of Gods, leading to the heavens. And we see the Magi, the wise men, who saw the star Sirius appearing at dawn before the Sun in the East at the beginning of the summer through the door of Cancer, the door of men, of generation and now after a long journey have reached their destination and under the culminating star can adore the child, the intellective principle, the immortal nous which starts to ascend to heaven again.

Therefore we can say with Saturninus Secundus Sallustius, friend of the Emperor Julian:

Now these things never happened, but always are. And intellect sees all things at once, but speech expresses some first and others after. Thus, as the myth is in accord with the cosmos, we for that reason keep a festival imitating the cosmos, for how could we attain higher order?

 


1 The complete translation of De Stella Magorum can be found in  Marsilio Ficino and the Star of the Magi: “De Stella magorum”

Felix Dies Natalis Solis Invicti

sol-invictus  May the rays of the Intellectual Sun, reborn brighter in those days in the visible form of the planetary Sun, banish e dispel the darkness in our Soul and bring the light of awareness and understanding to our intellect and heart.

Nothing recalls the nature of goodness more than light. Firstly, light appears very pure and very exalted in the realm of the senses. Secondly, of all things it is most easily and widely radiated in an instant. Thirdly, it harmlessly encounters everything and penetrates it very gently and pleasantly. Fourthly, it carries with itself a nourishing warmth, that cherishes all things, bestowing life and movement. Fifthly, while it is present and within everything, it is spoiled by nothing and mixed with nothing. Likewise goodness itself stands above the whole order of things, is spread very widely, and caresses and attracts everything. It forces nothing; like heat, it emanates love as its companion everywhere, by which every single thing is enticed from every direction and willingly admits of its goodness. Penetrating into the innermost parts of things, it mixes with none of them. Finally, just as goodness itself is inestimable and ineffable, so assuredly is light. For not one of the Philosophers until now has explained the following: that nothing anywhere is clearer than light; but that on the other hand nothing appears more obscure, just as goodness is both the most recognised of all things, and equally the least recognised. For this reason Iamblichus the Platonist finally came to refer to light as a certain active vitality and clear image of divine intelligence. The ray shining forth from the eye is itself the image of vision. So too perhaps is light itself the vision of the heavenly soul, or the action of vision reaching out to exterior things – acting from a distance, yet not leaving the heavens, but ever continuing there unmixed with external things, acting at once by seeing and by touching. At least we are used to speaking of light as a trace of universal light, offering itself to our eyes in a certain proportion; or indeed, as a vital spirit between the soul of the world and the body – but we have already said enough about this in the Theologia. So whenever in your studies you make a serious attempt to postulate that there are many angelic minds beyond heaven, like lights, whose ordering relates them both to each other and to one God, the father of all lights, what will be the point in pursuing your investigations down long winding paths? Just look up at heaven, I pray, Oh citizen of the heavenly realm, at that heaven whose manifestly perfect order so clearly declares God to be its creator. When you look upwards at heavenly things, the firmament immediately announces the glory of God and the works of his hands through the very rays of the stars, and through the aspects or inclinations of their eyes as they wander. Above all the Sun is most able to signify to you God himself. The Sun offers you signs, and who would dare to call the Sun false? Finally, the invisible things of God, that is to say, the angelic spirits, can be most powerfully seen by the intellect through the stars, and indeed even eternal things – the virtue and divinity of God – can be seen through the Sun.

De Sole, Marsilio Ficino

Nigro notanda lapillo

Last week a friend of mine told me that my teacher of classical astrology, Marco Fumagalli, has departed. He was very ill and during the last two years he couldn’t be present at any of the traditional astrology events here in Italy. He was the close friend and collaborator of Giuseppe Bezza in the traditional astrology association, Cielo e Terra. His contribution as teacher and expert of classical astrology was invaluable. He was a very clear, informative and attention holding lecturer and teacher using visual and computer aids to demonstrate and exemplify the concepts and teachings. He also worked for many years in the developing of a computer program, Phasis, suitable for traditional astrologer and especially for astrologer using the methods and teachings of Cielo e Terra.

Last year in Florence at the midday break during the first seminary of Giuseppe Bezza, Giuseppe told me, talking about his mission to decode and spread the tradition of classical astrology: “What otherwise can we do? This is my life and today my only thought goes to Marco who can not be with us”. A year to be marked by a black pebble, nigro notanda lapillo, Latins would say referring to this year during which the italian traditional astrology community has lost two so great personalities. My hope rests on the member of ‘Cielo e Terra’ association to preserve and continue  their teachings and work to honor the memory of Giuseppe Bezza e Marco Fumagalli.

Farewell

This late morning I received a phone call from a friend of mine who announced me that our master and teacher, Giuseppe Bezza, died. It was an expected yet surprising report. Our teacher was ill and we knew the seriousness of his illness. But we have still continued hoping him to get well soon and that we could see him again and listen to his wise, knowledgeable words. For me it has been like living again the moment when, as a student of his classical astrology course, I was told that the course was going to be stopped due to the teacher health condition. I felt at the same time both the incoming loss of his presence and guidance and his knowledge and science. So I know that his departure for friends and acquaintances and lovers of astrological studies is a great loss.

ImmagineI keep preserving in my mind the recollection of the meetings of a circle of friends and students around our teacher to attend the lesson about classical astrological techniques which took place in Florence last year during springtime. It was so cosy and warm to be among  friends in presence of our teacher, uplifted from our problems and daily duties like surrounded and nurtured by a ‘hortus conclusus’, a citadel of the spirit and science. To be part of something, to belong to: I know what it does mean.

Thank you dear master, i will never forget. May you reach the stars you studied and contemplated so long. Vale