Friday, November 29, 2013

Hebrew based Celestial Alphabets and the Picatrix

My previous essay titled "Celestial Alphabets & Dream Questions" elicited a number of queries regarding correlations between the Arabic/Latin "Picatrix" and the Hebrew based "Magical Alphabets." Since I believe the topic is of interest to a wider readership, I thought I would respond publically. I should mention that I have devoted two chapters respectively to "Magic Squares" and Hebrew based "Magical Alphabets" in my "The Book of Seals & Amulets." In both instances I have presented a comprehensive and detailed investigation into the said subjects, having consulted the most primary sources I could lay my hands on.

Be that as it may, it is worth considering that there are several magical scripts, called Kolmosin (lit. “angelic pens”) or “ketav einayim” (“eye writing”), believed to be angelic alphabets. These are addressed in certain primary Hebrew magical manuscripts, [Tirshom, J. ben E.: Shoshan Yesod Olam, Bibliothèque de Genève: Comites Latentes 145, Genève; Zacutto, M.: Shorshei ha-Shemot, Hotzaat Nezer Shraga, Jerusalem 1999; etc.] as well as in a number of Latin texts.[Agrippa, H.C.: De Occulta Philosophia, 3 Vols., Apud Godfridum & Marcellum, Beringos 1550; Postel, W.: De Originibus seu de Hebraicae Linguae & Gentis Antiquitate, deque variarum linguarum affinitate liber, Apud Dionysium Lescuier, Paris 1538; Gaffarel, J.: Curiositez Inouyes hoc est Curiositates Inauditae de Figuris Persarum Talismannicis, Horoscopo Patriarcharum et Characteribus Coelestibus, Gothofredum Schultzen: Hamburg; Janssonio Waesbergios: Amsterdam 1676; Bartolocci, G.: Bibliotheca Magna Rabbinica, Vol. 4, Carlo Giuseppe Imbonati, Rome 1693; Müller, A.: Alphabeta ac Notae Diversarum Linguarum pene Septuaginta tum & Versiones Orationis Dominicae prope centum collecta olim & illustrata ab Andrea Mullero, Johann Lieberman, Berlin 1703.]

In some of the Latin writings it was surmised the angelic scripts were derived from the Samaritan alphabet. This claim is debatable, and the origins of these magical alphabets still remain obscure. It has been noted that whilst “in many discussions of Jewish magic these signs are often referred to as ‘Kabbalistic signs’,” “they are mostly non-Jewish in origins, and predate the rise of Kabbalah.” [Bohak, G.: The Charaktêres in Ancient and Medieval Jewish Magic in Acta Classica Universitatis Scientiarum Debreceniensis, Vol. 47, Univ Debreceniensis, Debrecen 2011.] In recent years it has been suggested that the "Magical Alphabets" listed in the writings of Cornelius Agrippa, were derived from the "Picatrix." [Bing, G.: “Picatrix” das Ziel des Weisen von Pseudo-Magriti, The Warburg Institute University of London, London 1962; Atallah, H.: Picatrix (Ghayat al-Hakim): The Goal of the Wise, edited by W. Kiesel, 2 Volumes, Ouroboros Press, Seattle 2002.] Whilst this text comprises delineations of amulets and talismans, and references to certain magical glyphs of similar format to some of those appearing in the “Heavenly Alphabets,” and some of which I have delineated in "The Book of Seals & Amulets," I have not found direct reference to any of the complete magical alphabets listed by Agrippa, most of these appearing in the earlier mentioned "Shoshan Yesod Olam."

It is however clear, as Moshe Idel noted, that the "Picatrix" had a “profound influence” on Renaissance magic,” [Walker, D.P.: Spiritual and Demonic Magic: From Ficino to Campanella, The Warburg Institute, University of London, London 1958; Yates, F.A.: Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Routledge & Kegan Paul, Henley-on-Thames 1964; Idel, M.: Kabbalah in Italy 1280-1510: A Survey, Yale University Press, New Haven 2011.] There are indeed direct correlations between certain magical glyphs appearing in both the "Picatrix" and Jewish magical literature. After all, the "Picatrix" was translated into Hebrew in an abbreviated format under the title “Tachlit he-Chacham” (“Aim of the Wise”), which is said to have “significantly influenced Jewish circles in the 14th and 15th centuries.” [Schwartz, D.: Central Problems of Medieval Jewish Philosophy, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden 2005.] This certainly suggests the "Picatrix" as a primary source in certain Jewish magical traditions, i.e. "Magic Squares"; certain Planetary Seals; etc.

1 comment:

Carlos Mills said...

Jacobus, Thank you for your excellent posts related to Kabbalah. I am reading most of them with special interest.
BTW:) I would like to suggest to move your bibliographical citations to the end of your posts to keep them more readable and fluent. Leave a reference number on the text and the bibliographical ref. at the end of the article under like a Bibliography header.
I hope you don't mind and take my suggestion as an improvement to your blog.
Best regards
Carlos Mills