November 30, 2008 by Nina Gryphon
The Picatrix (also known as “The Goal of the Wise”) is a renowned book of astrological magic, translated for the first time into English by a practicing astrologer (Chris Warnock) and a magician (John Michael Greer). It was written in Arabic around the 10th century, and translated into Latin in the 13th century. The original author is anonymous, but it is quite possible that the book was written in the Arab world of al-Andaluz, which was fascinated with astrology, magic, and philosophy. The fact that al-Andaluz was relatively lax in its observance of Islamic law, which strictly prohibits dealings with magic, points to a fertile ground for a text such as this.
The Picatrix is for advanced astrologers only, specifically those comfortable with electing horoscopes. This is only half of the work, as the reader is then expected to fashion talismans during the elected moment. Not being a seasoned talisman maker, I cannot attest to the efficacy of the Picatrix talismans, but there is something here for everyone: Charms for love, the founding of cities, business and trade, the safe escape of convicts, and stopping gossip. It is important to note that this is a “limited review edition” of a finalized version that will come out in the next year or so. This means that the cover and layout of the preview is very basic, but serviceable. The most important point is that the translation was done by a knowledgeable astrologer for an astrological audience, and is therefore very clear and easy to read. The same is not true of other English translations of the Picatrix.
Contents & Structure
This edition of the Picatrix contains the first two books of the entire four-book text. First, there is a prologue by the translator, appended to that of the author. The prologue describes the author’s purpose in writing the book, stating that the wisdom of the past has at last been revealed in this book “to reveal the highways and byways of this science.”
Book I, On “the nature of the heavens and the effects caused by the images [talismans] in them.”:
The first book of the Picatrix starts with theoretical and philosophical chapters. These contain a fascinating discussion on the nature of magic, and its connection to astrology, which is seen as a kind of bridge through which one must pass to create magical effects in the physical world. Then, we are introduced to the 28 Lunar mansions, and other conditions of the Moon to be learned before electing horoscopes. In Chapter 5, the author gives a list of talismans and their electional “recipes,” which is the heart of Book I. The final two chapters of Book I continue the explanatory and theoretical theme from the earlier chapters.
Book II, On “the figures of heaven and the motion of the eighth sphere [of the stars], and their effects on this world:”
The first chapter exhorts the would-be astrological magician to learn the classical Pythagorean sciences before approaching magic: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The author means the esoteric aspects of these disciplines, rather than assuming that one’s mastery of 1+1=2 qualifies one as a classical arithmetician.
Then, we get two chapters devoted to basic astrological concepts, such as the nature of the Moon, and some electional precepts. This section presents the basics of electional astrology in a practical, succinct manner, and it would be useful to all astrologers interested in this field, not just magicians.
The following few chapters expand on the “why and how” of astrological magic and the universe, including the relative strength of the planets and the fixed stars, the relationship of the four elements and similar topics.
There follows a short chapter with some talismanic glyphs, evidently based on magic squares (the ones where the numbers are arranged to add up to the same number horizontally, vertically, and diagonally). The next chapter lists the planetary affinities of stones and metals, and the talismanic images associated with the planets and their seals. For instance, one image of Mars “is the form of a crowned man with an inscribed sword in his right hand.”
The last two chapters discuss the images associated with the astrological decans, and the kinds of talismans best for each. So, if you wish to increase the milk given by your goats, make a talisman in the second face of Capricorn. These recipes are nothing if not down-to-earth.
The Picatrix is a classic in the magico-astrological field, and, most likely, in the Top Ten Banned Books of All Time list. The Greer/Warnock translation is excellent; clear and non-intrusive, their easy prose does a complex, very niche topic justice at last. The cost is steep for a 140-page paperback, but presumably this is because of the small number of printed copies. Yet, a would-be astrological mage might consider this a low price to pay for lessons in controlling the very fabric of space-time (cue dramatic music). Let us join the anonymous author in hoping that the book “might come only into the hands of the wise…and that whatever will be done by its means be performed for good and in the service of God.”
The Latin Picatrix, Books I and II
By: Anonymous (author), and John Michael Greer and Christopher Warnock, trans.
The Renaissance Astrology Press, 2008
54.95 USD, with 9.95 USD shipping (paperback), 74.95 + 10.95 for the hardcover.
Available at RenaissanceAstrology.com