a word of advice: you may want to read my articles about “the philosophical renaissance in italy”, “the occult renaissance” and “the christian cabala” first to put things in a wider perspective and for background information. also i have more articles about the kabbalah which you may want to read first.
In my article about the Occult Renaissance I spoke about angel magic in the short pieces about Johannes Trithemius and John Dee. I wanted a deeper investigation of the subject to place these two in a wider context. The subject of angel magic proved to be more complicated than I thought. There seems to be a tradition, but on the other hand, many things seem to stand on their own and however there must be an ongoing tradition from times long past onward, there are gaps in the history as it came to us. Of course more recent happenings are better documented than ancient, but there are times that seem to lack magicians -or at least the mentioning of them- at all. I will try to follow a line and pick on certain subjects and persons on the way. No complete image, but at least you will have an idea.
The result is that for this article I did a wide-reaching investigation of angel magic, limiting myself to the ‘Jewish kinds’, since no doubt similar systems exist in eastern cultures and others as well. Still this ‘Jewish kind’ is extensive enough to force me to keep this article an overview and first introduction.
In different chapters I will speak about different subjects that at first sight seem to stand apart, but as you shall see, there is a lot of overlap between the different chapters, so you will get the same information a few times sometimes, but in different contexts.
Judaism and angel magic
For starters we have to go back to the times of Egypt and Babylon and also ancient China and India, civilisations in which religion and magic were two sides of the same coin. Not much information is available, but we know about the gods, angels and demons of these civilisations and will be able to understand the will of the people to form methods to try to protect themselves against harms. Interestingly enough there are scratches of information that for example in Egypt and Babylon they had tables with names of angels and demons that remained in the traditions that followed.
Some centuries Before Common Era (BCE), Gnostic sects lived in the Middle East and North Africa. Two sects are particularly interesting in our story, the Essenes and the Therapeuts. Both sects drew their information mostly from ancient Egyptian magic which has a lot of similarities with systems, names and the like that we will run into later in this article.
Gnostics made use of amulets and charms to please or keep away everyday (evil) spirits and had a whole legion of them. The techniques, systems, symbols, etc. kept developing and even though Gnosticism was burned down entirely by the upcoming Christian church, more Gnostic ideas survived than we may think at first glance.
Then we come to the Jews, the time before the well-known Exodus. The Jews fled from Egypt in the 13th centre BCE where they had lived since about 1750 BCE. Some had been in good terms with Egyptian priests and men like Moses have learned a lot from them, just as (Jewish) Gnostic sects would much later. This lead some investigators to conclude that Jewish mysticism found its source mainly in Egyptian magic. Personally I also find it very likely that during the (much later) time of the Babylonian exile (586-538 BCE) a lot of Babylonian magic was learned as well. A lot of names, spells and techniques seem to be traceable to Babylon and this short encounter between the two cultures seems the most plausible explanation for that to me.
Jewish folklore took over quite a bit of the Gnostic ‘folkloristic/magical’ elements, but two Jewish mystic traditions are particularly interesting for this article. The first is the Mercavah-tradition, the second the Hechaloth-tradition.
‘Mercavah’ means ‘chariot’, more in particular the throne-chariot from the vision of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1-28). The long period in which Mercavah-mysticism was at its peak was from 100 BCE to 1000 CE. The purpose of the mystic is to reach the throne-chariot of God. Mercavah-mysticism is closely aligned to the other tradition that I mentioned.
‘Hechaloth’ means ‘hall’ and refers to the seven halls that connect the seven heavens on the way up to the throne-chariot. Each hall is guarded by a giant who can only be passed when the mystic knows the specific passwords. Also the mystic has to prepare talismans and seals and learn charms and spells to protect him against evil spirits that try to lead him away from the path. The spirits should also be recognised and known by name in order to present the correct talisman and say the right prayer.
All this developed towards the Kabbalah of which a practical / magical (‘ma’asieth’) and speculative / theoretical / mystical (‘jehunieth’) version came into being. Practical Kabbalah mainly built further on the knowledge of names, seals and charms. The Kabbalist Eleazer of Worms (1165-1238) says that the first literature of the practical Kabbalah came to Italy in 917. It was taken there by the Babylonian (!) scholar Aäron ben-Samuel. Eleazer got the task to make Kabbalah available to a wider German public.
Kabbalah became a system in which the magical working of language (‘kawanah’ or ‘prayer’) became very important. More and more secret names of God and names of angels were sought in older literature, but also new were formed.
The angels brought a strange development. They were first seen as messengers from God who take messages both ways. First God was called upon for help, instructions, etc. but later it became more important to ‘know your angel’ and they even became more important than God himself.
Now I will make a jump back in history to tell you a bit more about some traditional names, but also traditional seals. Magic squares, they may seem a bit our of the context, but they sure are not!
Magic squares is a subject that will prove to be closely related with angel magic. They are extremely old and they were used in different cultures. Already about 3000 years ago magic squares appeared in China and later India and Iraq. Nowadays investigators think that in China there was one tradition (partly) based on the I Ching and the other tradition reached Mesopotamia via India. The squares have never been just mathematical games, but always regarded as magical and also it seems that they have been linked with astrology since the beginning. Mesopotamia is in our story the most interesting.
A magic square is a square with numbers. The line, columns and diagonals have the same sums. There is a link with astrology. Certain squares are linked with planets. These associations come from the Babylonians. They had the very simple vision that the smallest planet is the farthest away from earth and the largest the closest. The smallest planet gets the smallest square, so we come to the following order: saturn – square of 3; jupiter – square of 4; Mars – 5; Sun – 6; Venus – 7; Mercury – 8 and the moon – 9. I am talking about the simplest squares possible by the way, the squares with the lowest numbers.
Signs and sigils
Now we come to an interesting subject which explains why I started with the magic squares. Back to the Jews and especially their language. Let us have a look at the most simple square, that of Saturn:
The squares are the basis for the sigils of every planet. In the Saturn example this is very clear. A line following 1-2-3, a line through 4-5-6 and a line following 7-8-9. This gets more complex when the squares get more complex and the system is not always this simple (sometimes even unknown), so I will not go into the details of this process. Donald Tyson already did, in his appendix about magic squares in The Three Books Of Occult Philosophy of Agrippa (see bibliography below).
Besides a sigil, every planet has its own intelligences and spirits. There are well-known names and really strange ones. The sigils of these spirits you can also find within the squares. In Hebrew a letter is a letter and a number, so we can replace the numbers by letters of the Saturn square which gives the following result (DTB-GHZ-ChAV in our order):
the second image is the seal of “Agiel” intelligence of Saturn the third image is the seal of “Zazel” spirit of Saturn
The Saturn square counts 45 in total (all compartments together), so Saturn got an “intelligence” and a “spirit” with names that have a number-value of 45. The first is called “Agiel”, the second “Zazel”.
Not every Hebrew letter can be found in a square of three. The system of ‘Aiq Beker’ was come up with to solve this problem. 27 Hebrew letters (22 and 5 final letters) where grouped in 9 times 3 letters. The three letters can replace each other if needed. Then you simply follow the name of the spirit within the square to make the sigil. As simple as that!
The squares, sigils and signs are used to make talismans as we can see in the often depicted overview from Frances Barretts “The Magus” (1801), which on his turn, he took from the Clavicula Salomonis which will be spoken about later. Just an example:
There are also divine letters, seals and characters for every planet. I have no idea where they come from, but according to Agrippa (see later) they are derived from nature. Trunks, knots, roots, leaves, stones, etc. have been the inspiration for them (De Occulta Philosophia bk.1 ch.XXXIII).
More names and sigils
Many names of angels seem to be traditional and the highest Divinity also has more than one name. Lists with names of fallen angels can be found in early writings such as the Book of Enoch (about 200 BCE) (see VI:7+8). When even more names were needed, other Gnostic, early Jewish and Babylonian sources were used for inspiration. Also the Jews didn’t want to desecrate the name of God (YHVH) so thought of replacements. First various other names were come up with to still be able to call upon God magically, names of 4, 12, 42 and even 72 letters, all for the same Divinity. These names all came from the Thora, verses in which God is named or talked about, or His power is spoken off. Various methods were used to make new names, which I will come to shortly. And when the highest of high names eventually did slip into the magical manuscripts, it did in several forms! 12 Permutations can be made with 4 letters. 12 Names with the absolute highest power!
As mentioned before, angels tended to take over adoration, because they were the beings that could transport the messages to the right place in the heavenly court. The Jews had angels for literary anything. Every human has his angel, every animal, every plant, every blow of wind, every sparkle of light, every month, everything has its representative in the high planes. Many news names had to be invented for all these angels. The first method follows the structure of the traditional names of the archangels (Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, etc.), which was a root-word, with a ‘divine ending’: el, ya, or yahu. This is very clear with the 72 angels that were formed from the ’72 letter’ name of God.
This shem ha-mephorash is formed by writing three verses of Exodus (14:19-21) that each have 72 letters under each other, and the second in revered order. This way you get 72 times three letters under each other, 72 ‘names’, or one name of 72 words if you like. These 72 names of three letters with a divine ending, make 72 names of angels. This is only one method though.
Another one was simply combining two words or names for example by alternately writing a letter of each and saying that the result was a secret name of God (the words come from the Thora, of course).
Also you can always replace letters, either or not following rules of the ‘letter-game’ Temurah (systems of esoterically replacing letters). You can think of simply taking every following letter from the alphabet of an existing name, but there are more manners.
Another ‘letter-game’ Notaricon is also a method. By saying that every first (or second or last or middle) letter of word of a sentence makes word that says something about this sentence, holy names were formed of holy verses.
Then I can mention the third ‘letter-game’ Gematria. Every Hebrew letter is also a figure, so a word is also a number. Two words with the same numerological value are replaceable. A word or name with the same value as a divine name, is as divine as the original.
The last method that I want to mention is bluntly taking names from other cultures (often Greek in the Hellenistic times) and write these in Hebrew letters.
Strangely enough, as time would tell, magicians were not that interested in angels after all. By means of their names, the magician could get what he wanted, so when he knew the name and function, this was enough. All in all this ‘name-story’ is a strange one. Many names were taken from or inspired by Babylonian Djins, but the Babylonians didn’t make any ‘bastard-names’ (Marduk already had 50 names, why make other?), the Egyptians on the other side! A great many angels were known to the Egyptians, an angel for every month, week, day and even hour. Very interesting as we will see later. Much of this angelic system of the Egyptians was taken over by the Jews.
There were even magical books solely dedicated to the creation (or explanation) of new names. The Shimmush Tehilim (‘the (magical) use of the Psalms’) is one of these texts. It even opens: “the entire Thora is composed of names of God” and gives instructions how to find these and how the Psalms can be used magically.
A few problems occur as time passes. Several texts have long lists of names, for example those for the hours of the day. When book printing was not yet invented, these manuscripts were copied by hand. More than once this was conducted by people who were not magicians or even familiar with all these strange and unpronounceable (even in Hebrew!) names, so undoubtedly many have been copied incorrectly. Some scholars try to trace back the origins, but this is in many cases utterly impossible. It is therefore hard to tell how authentic the texts that we have today really are.
As we saw, the methods of making new holy names is endless and the number of Jewish holy names you hear about varies from a few tens to tenthousands. All with their own qualities, purposes, seals and ways of conjuring.
And about these seals I am again in doubt. I showed you that sigils of planets can be found in their magic squares, but it seems that the sigils of (arch)angels and spirits are just a given fact. I have examples of them in several books. Sometimes the names don’t correspond, but most of the time the sigils look similar enough to be regarded the same. I haven’t been able to find out from where they came. To me some look a bit like compilations of letters of an ancient alphabet, but others do not. Just a few examples to show you what I am talking about.
seal of the sun of Michael (Barrett) or Raphael (Solomon)
And now I will go to another subject in which most of what I spoke about before comes back.
Of the person Solomon (or Salomo(n)) we get two versions. He would have been the last of 72 monarchs who had the name ‘Suleiman’ (a title indicating royal power) who all ruled over the djins (Babylonian spirits). In another version Solomon was the son of King David, the first real king of the Jews, chosen by God. Solomon was the builder of the first Temple and comes back in many myths, legends and cultures. It is said that the devil tried to persuade Solomon to use his powers for evil purposes, but when Solomon turned him down, the devil put black magic spellbooks under Solomon’s throne to be found after his death. Lynn Thorndike (1882-1965) writes in her massive eight-volume work History of Magic and Experimental Science (1923-1958 chapter XLIX): “It was only natural that Solomon, regarded as the wisest man in the history of the world, should be represented in oriental tradition as the worker of many marvels and that in the course of time books of magic should be at tributed to him”. Some people even claim that the earlier mentioned Essenes and Therapeuts learned their magic from this great king.
‘Solomonic magic’ is a story of its own, but also it isn’t. People who are a little bit interested in medieval magic, will be familiar with The Key Of Solomon and The Lesser Key Of Solomon. These are by far not the only books ascribed to Solomon!
The oldest work ascribed to Solomon is The Testament Of Solomon. It is written in Greek and would first have appeared as early as the third century. It is written as a story told by Solomon himself and speaks about his contacts with angels, listing their names and functions. Many texts would follow, often quite similar in structure.
A large jump in history, but still filling the gap between the next texts I will write about is The Sword of Moses. This is a Hebrew manuscript that was probably written in the 10th century. Names, blessings and conjurations can be found in this short text.
Then I have to mention the Sepher Raziel, the book of the angel Raziel. It was said that Raziel delivered it to Adam immediately after Adam left Paradise. Later it was ascribed to Solomon and more later it was suggested quite convisingly that it is a compilation of texts, probably from the hand of Eleazer of Worms. Little can be said about the age of the original texts, but they seem to be from Jewish origin. The book contains seven parts dealing with almost every subject which angel magic is about: astronomy, the virtues of stones, plants and animals, the angels that rule the times of day and night, the angels that rule the parts of the earth, lists of names, seals and spells. What more does an angel magician want?
Well, more instructions? This is very possible, even within fairly short treatises. Let me turn to the well-known Clavicula Salomonis, the Key of Solomon that later became the Greater Key of Solomon, since it was followed by a smaller key (Lemegeton). The Key is a short text that is quite well available in translations nowadays (but the versions differ a lot). I have got a Dutch version (1981, but still available). You will get very detailed information of how to prepare yourself to study the Kabbalah, how to perform rituals, how to conduct them, how to get the right atmosphere and material and further on how to make the seals, sigils, talismans (to protect), pentacles (for one-time use), lists of angels ruling the hours of day and night and tables with information and drawings. Not always too helpful for us modern men, because parchment should be made from a virgin lamb ritually killed over a streaming source of bright water during special hours of the day, just to name an example. There are a lot of drawings in this book, but unfortunately without any explanation. This explanation you can sometimes find in later texts that I will come to later on. The second book deals with ceremonies.
A similar text from almost the same time (first half 14th century) is The Sacred Magic Of Abramelin The Mage, which is as specific about things as the Key. Abramelin is a German text, probably by Eleazer (again).
It is funny to see how much different manuscripts are alike, even those from different cultures. From the Arabian countries we have the Ghâyat al-Hakîm fi’l-sihr, or Picatrix (‘the aim of the sage’), as it is known in the West. It is ascribed the mathematician Maslamati ibn Ahmad al-Majriti (?-±1005) and was written in the tenth century. As early as 1256 there was a Latin translation. It is so much like ‘our’ Solomonic magic, that people have said that the Picatrix is a translation of the Key. Everything you can find in the previous mentioned books can be found in the Picatrix and a bit more too, since some versions are a bit longer.
My other example is from something completely different. Pope Honorius III (?-1227) wrote the Liber Juratus, also known as Liber Sacratus, but best known as The Sworn Book of Honorius. This text may very likely have inspired later medieval works with its long lists of angels in strange languages and three kinds of working with spirits: pagan (without control), Jewish (“in no wise work to obtain a vision of the deity”) and Christian (successful in such visions).
But let us first come back to Solomonic writings. In the Lesser Key and other writings you can see different chapters about what at first sight seem different kinds of magic. First there is the Ars Notoria or Notory Art (sometimes Ars Nova) “which seeks to gain knowledge from or communion with God by invocation of angels, mystic figures, and magical prayers” (Thorndike). This was the art that was revealed to Solomon by God himself. Second there is the Ars Paulina was “discovered by the Apostle Paul after he had been snatched up to the third heaven, and delivered by him at Corinth” (Thorndike). It is divided in three books, one speaking of the spirits of the day, one speaking of the spirits of the night and one speaking of the angels of the signs of the zodiac.
These chapters are often published without its context and there are other arts besides these. I have been thinking about whether or not to include these in this article. So far all magic was ‘good’, or at least called that way. A bit like the ‘spiritual magic’ in the Renaissance of my other articles which stands in contradiction to ‘demonic magic’ or black magic. The Key of Solomon, which has been the bases of many later magical texts, makes it very clear. The art is not for selfish purposes, can only be conducted by those pure and holy of heart, is about love and the good of mankind and thrives on the love of God. Other arts were derived here from, but less harmonic, black magic so to say.
The Lesser Key contains the following parts besides the ones I just mentioned: Goetia, Theurgia/goetia and (Ars) Almadel.
The first is the most ‘popular’ today, because of attention from the Golden Dawn (see later). According to Agrippa (also see later) it deals with unclean spirits, unlawful charms and the dead. The book Goetia speaks about the 72 infernal spirits that were conjured by King Solomon, giving their names, sigils and descriptions.
Theurgia is often placed contradictory to Goetia. Where Goetia is black magic, Theurgia is white. Agrippa -though- speaks about these two forms of magic in the same chapter of his De Incertitudine et Vanitate Scientiarum (‘about the uncertainty and vanity of all arts’ – 1527). Theurgia/goetia has 31 chapters, and will come back later.
Almadel is said to be an Arabic writer whose writings came before the Key of Solomon and may have been an influence to it. Trithemius (see later) even calls him the writer of the greater key. Agrippa doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to this book, but speaks about the writer in his first book about natural (good) magic. The book tells how Solomon obtained great wisdom of the angels that rule the four corners of the world. “Almadel” is also a wax square seal ordained with Kabbalistic symbols and names. The book tells you how to conjure angels and how they and their helpers appear to you, something we also see in the Key and other texts.
Johannes Heidenberg lived from 1462 to 1516, a time in which magic books were available and new were still written. We know Trithemius (after his birthplace Tritheim in Germany) mostly for a few of his numerous writings. Besides writing a lot of theological books, hagiographies (biographies of saints), prayers, etc., Trithemius had an interest in magic, or did he? He DID have a student that would be known as a magician: Agrippa (see later). Also he learned Greek and Hebrew from Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522) who we know from my Christian Cabala article. Still, in Trithemius’ tens of books and hundreds of letters, there isn’t really that much magic to be found, but referrals to magic in a few books would spell his name for the future.
Trithemius lost his father when he was very young. His mother remarried an illiterate and rigid man who didn’t allow him to learn to read and write. The youngster wanted to know everything that there is to know and at the age of 15, a youthful figure appeared in a dream. Trithemius got to choose between a tablet with writing and one with symbols. Wanting to be able to read the Bible, Trithemius went for the ability of language over symbols. After the vision it took him only a month to learn German and another few months to learn Latin in secret from his neighbour. At an early age he left his parentally house for a tour through Europe and learned various arts. When wanting to visit his parents after not having seen them for various years, Trithemius was surprised by a snowstorm and ended up in a very small monastery in Sponheim. Trithemius didn’t return home, but became monk and very soon, at the age of 23, abbot. He rebuilt the complex and enlarged the library with thousands of books which made Trithemius’ monastery a resort for humanist scholars. In his early forties he left the Sponheim monastery for one in Würzberg where he spent the last years of his life.
Trithemius saw himself as a good Catholic and initially everybody agreed. In the beginning of the 16th century Trithemius wrote most of his books and letters. His favourite concept was that of the Trinity. When his interest in magic grew, he said that the Trinity is the basis of all occult knowledge. Trithemius started to study number, order and measure which also led towards a Trinitarian concept: the three in One. In my article about the Occult Renaissance we saw that Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) did his best to keep his magic “natural” or “spiritual”. He didn’t want to reach for levels, which could also involve evil spirits. However Schumaker* keeps telling that Trithemius’ magic was natural magic, our abbot wrote about the levels of the seven planets and the stars: “it is necessary to step beyond this, so that the ascent may be prepared by the Trinity, the ascent to that harmony that is supercelestial, where nothing is material and everything spiritual.” (quote from Borchardt*) The way up is a 9-step ladder. You can debate about the fact whether this is ‘spiritual’ or ‘demonic’ magic, but one point speaks for the first: the 9-step ladder that Trithemius took from the system of the pseudo-Dionysius (the Areopagiet) (5th century BCE) of who he owned all surviving works in one manuscript. Magicians often refer to the pseudo-Dionysius, since he developed an advanced system of hierarchies of angels, which has nine levels. Trithemius translated several of the pseudo-Dionysius’ works from Greek to Latin and incorporated many Dionysian concepts in his own system. Like the early Italian Renaissance men (Ficino, Pico, etc.) Trithemius left out the Dionysian negative approach.
During the years Trithemius worked in silence, but always had visitors in his monastery. Also -as mentioned- he wrote a lot of letters to people all over Europe. In one letter Trithemius was talking big of his capabilities (communicate without speaking, learn people Latin in two hours, transfer messages to other places in the world, etc.). This letter was meant for Arnold Bastius, who didn’t get it since he died before the letter reached him. The letter fell in the wrong hands and you can guess what happened… Four years later (1503) a Frenchman Charles de Bouelles (or Bovilles | 1540-1570) paid his second visit to Trithemius and got to read his just finished Steganographia (see later). Back in France he spread the word that Trithemius was a demonic magician.
So what about these magical writings then? Besides a few texts against witches, at least three not very theological writings came from the hands of the good abbot: De Septem Secundeis, Polygraphiae (finished 1505 and published 1515) and the Steganographia.
Another magical work is ascribed to Trithemius: Veterum Sophorum Sigilla et Imagines Magicae (a book with magical seals and images – 1612), but some say that it is from long before Trithemius. It speaks of seals and talismans from different cultures, Solomonic/Judaic, Egyptian, Babylonian and the like.
The Steganographia is from Trithemius’ hands for sure and it is his best-known writing in magical circles. The work comes in three books. The first was finished in march 1500, the second a month later. The third book is a ‘clavis’ or key to the first two and was never completed. Trithemius soon found out that the book would bring him problems. He deleted the worst parts of it and never wanted it published. Still the Steganographia circulated as manuscript for a long time, until it was finally published in 1606. The ‘clavis’ followed in 1635.
Polygraphiae is about secret writing, Steganographia too, but then in the form of a ‘grimoire’, a book of black magic. The title of the last book says enough.
Where did Trithemius learn these arts? One man Trithemius considered as his “best and extraordinary teacher”, the mysterious Libanius Gallus. Libanius visited the monastery in 1495 and was in very good terms with a Majorcan group of mystics. This may explain how Trithemius knew about the works of the late Medieval writer Ramon Lull (1232-1316 see Occult Renaissance). What Trithemius exactly learned from Libanius is unknown to me, but some elements of the system of Lull found their way into Trithemius’ system.
Cryptography, Trithemius found a very old book in another monastery dealing with this subject. He was caught by the possibilities of it and started his own ciphering experiments. Things were combined to one as we will see later.
Also it seems that Trithemius read the Solomonic works that I have spoken about earlier, at least the second book of the Lemegeton, the part about Theurgia/Goetia. The text of it is closely followed by Trithemius in his Steganographia, even the angel-names are almost the same. The order of the chapters is different in Trithemius’ version, he starts with the four emperors of the corners of the world and then continues with the spirits under their command. I am sure that there are more versions of Theugia/Goetia which may explain this, but maybe Trithemius wanted to improve the original text.
T/G has 31 chapters for 4 emperors and 27 spirits. Each chapter tells you something about a spirit, gives its name and how many spirits of the day and night are ruled by it. Also a conjuration to invoke the spirit is given. Further there is a star in the beginning of the book in which the names of the angels are giving dividing them over the cardinal points. Trithemius does that a bit simpler, but the idea of his circle in 16 parts is the same. The Steganographia follows the structure of T/G. There are 32 chapters (one closing off), you get information about a certain spirit, but Trithemius is a bit more extensive. This is partly due to the purpose of his writing. In contradiction to T/G Trithemius doesn’t want to just conjure the spirit, but use it in a specific function and this is also the bridge to the other element of the Steganographia. You learn how to conjure a spirit with a strange “coniuratio” or “carmen” (song) in an unknown language. The spirit appears and you give it a secret message, in cipher! The recipient conjures the same spirit with another conjuration and receives your secret message. The conjurations are examples of the ciphers. When you encipher the codes, you get instructions of how to crack other ones, for example, one conjuration goes:
“Parmesiel oshurmy delmuson Thafloyn peano charustrea melany, lyaminto colchan, paroys, madyn, moerlay, bulre + atloor don melcour peloin, ibutsyl meon mysbreath alini driaco person. Crisolnay, lemon asosle mydar, icoriel pean thalmõ, asophiel ilnotreon banyel ocrimos esteuor naelma besrona thulaomor fronian beldodrayn bon otalmesgo merofas elnathyn bosramoth.”
You decode it by alternately reading a letter from alternate words, so you get “sum taly cautela it pryme lytore cuiuslybet diccionys secretam intencionem tuam reddant legenty”, which means something like that the message is hidden by backwardly writing a letter in the beginning of words (letters of the ‘plain text’ make words in the cipher, beginning in the back). How you encipher the code is told (also in code) in the opening sentence of chapter 1.
Commentators give different sentences. My copy of the original text has a sentence that would not lead to the given result. Some letters are different, some words are written separately. I made a few small modifications for the result above.
Some people have said that in this case the angel name “Parmesiel” indicates what kind of cipher it is. Others say that letters or numbers at the end of the code give that information, but there aren’t any. In any case, since Parmesiel has his own chapter, he doesn’t come back in the book later on. the Parmesiel code is also used with other angels’ summonings.
The Polygraphiae speaks only about ciphers, without the ‘dubious’ form and nobody has ever raised an eyebrow over that book. It has long tables with words representing letters, so an innocent prayer is actually a word. I will not speak about that here.
Then I have to say something about De Septem Secundeis (‘about the seven planetary gods’ – 1508) is an interesting book in the context, but still I will not speak too long about it. It gives a history of the world and explains how angels and spirits caused the events. Angels as mediators, does that mean that Trithemius thought that they could be used for selfish or non-selfish reasons?
You may wonder why Trithemius chose to use such dangerous subjects. He must have known about the inquisition, the wicked magicians of the past and how they were persecuted, the bad names of people like Agrippa, etc. so why while trying to be a good Catholic, use a magical book as the Lemegeton as source for his Steganographia or speak about the power of angels concerning the cause of history? Was he naive or did Trithemius really practise angel magic? I doubt we will ever know.
Henry Cornelius Agrippa from Nettesheim
Now I want to turn shortly to Trithemius’ student, who dedicated the first version (1510) of what would become his ‘magnus opus’ to Trithemius. De Occulta Philosophia libri tres (‘three books of occult philosophy’) is a massive compilation of (almost) all the occult sciences of Agrippa’s time (1486-1535). Almost naturally there are also parts dedicated to angel magic or Solomonic magic more in particular. Inspite of what you mostly hear about De Occulta Philosophia, it is not much of a practical magic book, but rather a theoretical summary and description of a great variety of subjects. Some info is nicely brought together in short chapter and tables, so it made and makes a good reference book, also for a practical magician. Shortly I will speak about angel magic in De Occulta Philosophia.
Book I deals with natural magic, ‘good magic’ so to say. Agrippa quickly mentions what things fall under which planet. Book II is about celestial magic, but Agrippa dedicates even less pages to angel magic here. Only the images of planets and constellations are given. So then to the third book about ceremonial magic. In chapter 16 Agrippa explains that there are three kinds of spirits: intelligences, spirits and angels. After this you will read about the nine orders of evil spirits (ch.18-20), their names (ch.24) and the making of angel names (ch.24). Also very nice Kabbalistic information in various chapters.
There is a book IV that was published post-mortem and which was probably not written by Agrippa himself. It is a complete ‘grimoire’ and links the Solomonic works with the first three books of Agrippa. Also it is much more practical than anything else of Agrippa. It speaks about names, characters, seals and appearances of spirits, how to conjure them and even the raising of the dead.
Dee (1527-1608) is a story of its own. He was the foremost occultist in Elizabethan England (Elizabeth I 1533-1603, reigned from 1558-1603) and studied a variety of arts. In my article about the Occult Renaissance I have given some general information about Dee, so here I will stick to the current subject.
Dee wanted to contact spirits to get answers to questions he had. He collected all the books he could find and was eagerly looking for the Steganographia for which he made a special trip to Antwerp (Belgium). Dee also had a few crystal balls (‘skry stones’) and a special room for séances. Because he proved to be unable to ‘skry’ himself, several people who were, were brought to Dee by his special deliverer. The only man who lived up to Dee’s expectations was Edward Kelly (Kelley) or Edward Talbot (1555-1595). The two have had a long and often difficult relationship, but in some ways fruitful.
In the first session Dee inquired about the authenticity of his Book of Sogya or Book of Enoch as Dee called it sometimes. It is a book in an unknown language (sometimes said Arabic), said to be delivered to Adam (this reminds of the Sepher Raziel of which the same is said). However Uriel confirmed the authenticity, only Michael could explain the language, tables and names. After this followed many years of communication with archangels, angels and other spiritual beings. Dee made notice of each and every session in his special diary of which much is still available. Dee asked a lot about everyday life and politics, but the most interesting part of “doctor Dee’s true and faithful relation with some spirits” is when he and Kelly received a system of angel magic. This was in sessions among the other ones, but sometimes during long days after each other. Dee not only received the language of the angels (“Enochian”, after the Book of Enoch?), but a whole system of preparations, ritual, keys/calling (conjurations), functions of angels, diagrams and tables.
Dee is told (through Kelly of course) that black magic was God’s punishment for the arrogance of mankind. It was time though, that good magic came back to the people and Dee understood that it was him who would reveal it to the world. It is presented as if Dee received a complete system of angel magic from the angels. This system is called “Enochian magic”, after the language that Dee received. The picture is slightly croaked though.
First we may not forget that Dee was very well read in magical texts and owned England’s biggest occult library. His skryer Kelly was a practising alchemist and however not as well read as Dee, he also knew his sources. Parts of Dee’s system and drawings have similarities with older manuscripts. His ‘Sigillum Dei Aemeth’ (see later) looks an awful lot like the one we can find in the Liber Juratus (13th century) that I spoke of earlier. Not all manuscripts of this text contain the diagram though, so maybe it was added later. After the example of Athanasius Kircher’s (1602-1680) Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1562)? And did Kircher copy it from Dee? Also Dee knew the Steganographia and the ‘original’ Theurgia/goetia too, just as the Honorius book and who knows what other medieval magical scriptures?
And there is another thing. It is quite obvious that Dee didn’t receive a complete system. He was promised things by the angels, but apparently they didn’t want Dee to actually put the art into practise and left essential gaps in the system which Dee was not always able to fill.
It is interesting to see the similarities of Enochian magic with ‘traditional’ angel magic. You may wonder whether the art was delivered to mankind long ago and degenerated and that it was Dee’s task to bring the system back to its original form. Also you may wonder if it were Dee and Kelly (who was a known forgerer) or maybe even Kelly alone made up the system or compiled it from texts they knew. In the case of Dee this doesn’t seem likely, he was too erudite. As for Kelly, he was probably not intelligent enough to come up with the massive amount of details. The real origin of Enochian magic will probably always remain a mystery.
Onto the system itself then. As mentioned, it is enormously complex and Dee spent hundreds and hundreds of pages with notes, workings-out, information received during the sessions, etc. I will limit myself to the most important parts of it.
To start with, Dee received instruments to be used in the magical workings. A ring and a crystal ball appeared from thin air. And a table of practise (see ‘the Holy table’ on the bottom of Occult Renaissance) should be made. Kelly saw it and had to describe it to Dee. You can imagine the problems Kelly had, when he had to describe the Enochian letters. The table is similar to some Solomonic writings by the way. On the table seven “ensigns of creation” had to be drawn, which are very complex talismans, impossible to describe. Further a wax ‘sigillum Aemeth’ (‘seal of thruth’) or ‘sigillum Dei’ (‘divine seal’) (remember the Almadel?) should be made and put on the table. This is again a very complex drawing containing names that had to be taken from magic squares (!) and a great number of letters and figures. On the back of the sigillum Aemeth comes a much simpler drawing of a cross and the name Agla, which is a Kabbalistic name, but not traditional (more like Christian Cabalist). The feet of the practitioner should rest on ‘seals of the angelic ministers’. A ‘holy lamen’ with no logic whatsoever had to be made from gold and hung around the neck. Smaller items had to be kept close, tables of kings and different kinds of furniture. The preparations are a task of their own, but this is not really different in Solomonic magic.
The order of the angels is described in the book De Heptarchia Mystica (‘about the mystical order of seven’ – 1582). Seven kings (one for each holy planet) have one prince each. Every prince has five nobles. This gives 49 names which again had to be drawn from letter-squares and can become as strange as “ergdbab”. Each prince also has 42 ministers for the hours of the day and night in six groups of seven. A part of De Heptarchia Mystica became a ‘grimoire’. With the information of the earlier parts of the books, you should be able to determine the right spirit of the days and hours and conjure it by the given seal. This part is very vague though and possibly not even meant to be clear.
An awful lot of weird names for a wide range of beings are drawn from squares. For some beings seals are given, some of which remind of Solomic seals, but other do not
Then another very complex element has to be spoken about, the watchtowers. Kelly skried a square table, divided in four parts for the four cardinal points. Each part on its turn is also divided in four parts and these too, but not in equal crosses, but in ‘Christian crosses’ so to say. A large number of letters can be found in the drawing, which make (again) a large number of names and sigils. This “great table” was delivered to Dee two times, but different and this happened with other tables as well! Every part of the table has a key to open one of the ‘gates of wisdom’. These keys may be the angel-names to be found in the table, which are the angels ruling over the parts of the world. There are good and evil angels, which all have their specific function for which the magician may want to conjure it.
However Dee was sometimes encouraged to write his own conjurations, he received 19 keys or calls for conjuring purposes. These are the well-known “Enochian keys” that we know from Aleister Crowley and which can even be found in the Satanic Bible of Anton LaVey. They are (of course) in Enochian, but since Dee also got English translations, it is possible to translate Enochian upto a certain point.
All in all too much to say about all this in a few lines. Donald Tyson devotes an entire work to the system of Dee, which you will find in the bibliography below.
To modern times
Dee died in the early 15th century. After him came another few magicians that formed the bridge to modern times. They are shortly mentioned in my Occult Renaissance article and not really interesting in this article. So I make a jump of almost two centuries to shortly mention the Englishman Francis Barrett. He compiled the book The Magus in 1801 from texts of Agrippa, Trithemius and Solomic works. His aim was to interest people to form a magical circle, but it is unknown if he succeeded. He book is a nice reference work, but does not say anything that hasn’t been mentioned before.
Not too long after Barrett a real renewed interest in esoteric matters arose. In the late 19th century the Theosophical Society was founded, making the West familiar with the esoteric systems of the East. Also the Western traditions weren’t forgotten though. Around the same time The Golden Dawn was founded in England. Surprisingly many old texts were made available by the founders of The Golden Dawn and interesting translations saw the light of day. Solomonic works, Jewish Kabbalist works and even Christian Cabalist works were translated and released. Especially from Solomonic magic and the system of Dee The Golden Dawn formed a complex magical system of its own. Half of the system of Dee is taken, with a lot of stress on the watchtowers, but then with four separate tables. The Enochian keys are used, but conjuring methods were mostly Medieval. Gaps in Dee’s system are filled, sometime ingenious, sometimes not. Other elements have been added to the system to form an own kind of magic. I haven’t studied the system of The Golden Dawn very thoroughly, but I just mentioned it to point to the ever-continuing line of angel magic.
And in the present time? Well, The Golden Dawn of course still exists, in a bit different form, but still. Offshoots have appeared in the cause of time, but most well known of course being Aleister Crowley and everything that came after him. Either or not in one of these ‘two modern traditions’ I want to mention three people who seriously deal with the systems of angel magic today. Benjamin Rowe, Joseph H. Peterson and Donald Tyson, all writers and practitioners.
On the internet I highly advise the internet page of Joe Peterson, which has texts online of about everything I spoke about, often in translation, sometimes in the original language. Visit www.esotericarchives.com for a massive amount of texts.
Also many texts can be found at www.sacred-texts.com. Look for ‘esoteric/occult’, ‘grimoires’ and ‘Judaism’.
Also very helpful are the “bibliographical surveys” of Don Karr. You will not get contentional information from him, but an overview of every single shred of information on texts about the subjects you are interested in. Click here and in this case look for “The Study Of Solomon Magic in English”. All pdf-files by the way.
Benjamin Rowe can be found online http://www.hermetic.com/browe
Concerning printed works
There seems to be one primary book for the Jewish part, and I happened to have used just that (I picked it fairly at random and later ran into a secondhand copy). It is not just available from Amazon, so you will have to have your library look around a bit. (I believe a new pressing is set for november 2003) It is a nice book, but only parts of it are useful.
Joshua Trachtenberg Jewish Magic And Superstition (1939)
For Solomonic books, see the article of Karr.
For Trithemius I used the book Johannes Trithemius (1462-1516) by Klaus Arnold (1971), also not available anymore.
A very big help was the article The Magus As Renaissance Man by Frank L. Borchardt, from the Sixteenth Century Journal number XXI, 1 (1990) and available online (http://www.duke.edu/~frankbo/pdf/magus.html).
Trithemius and Dee are dealt with in the alright book Renaissance Curiosa by Wayne Shumaker (1982), no longer available.
As for Dee, there is plenty to go on. Biographies are available (I have The Queen’s Conjurer of Benjamin Woollet (2001) (see my review).
Large parts of his magical diaries are to be found in the book Five Books of Mystery of John Dee by Joseph H. Peterson (2003) (see my review), but the most wonderful work speaking in detail about Dee’s system is Enochian Magic for Beginners by Donald Tyson (1997) in which Tyson also tried to fill the gaps. (see my review)
Again Tyson for Agrippa. Going on the translation of James Freake (from 1531), he made the magistral book Three Books Of Occult Philosophy, with a lot of extra info (see my review).
The Magus of Barrett is also still available and reviewed.