My review of Liana Saif’s The Arabic Influences on Early Modern Occult Philosophy has been uploaded into the Review section – click on the thumbnail below to read it:
Five windows light the cavern’d Man; thro’ one he breathes the air;
Thro’ one, hears music of the spheres; thro’ one, the eternal vine
Flourishes, that he may recieve the grapes; thro’ one can look.
And see small portions of the eternal world that ever groweth;
Thro’ one, himself pass out what time he please, but he will not;
For stolen joys are sweet, & bread eaten in secret pleasant.
(W. Blake, Europe A Prophecy)
Light plays a crucial role in Traditional astrology. And here I am not only thinking of light emanating from the sun, making the seven planets of Traditional astrology visible to the naked eye. First and foremost I am talking about the light of creation, or divine light, of which our sunlight may be seen as an important but distant relative. Light has long been recognised as a most important factor in many cosmologies and creation myths.
One typical example is the Lightning Flash of Creation depicted on the Tree of Life:
Here the divine light emanates from the void beyond Kether to manifest the physical Earth (Malkuth), passing through all the other sephirot on the way. This process of creation has to be seen outside of time and space as it creates time and space itself.
Another cosmological model is the Tetraktys:
John Dee states in his Monas Hieroglyphica, published in 1564:
Besides, the kabbalistic extension of the Quaternary according to the common formula of notation (because we say one, two, three, and four) is an abridged or reduced form of the Decad. This is because Pythagoras was in the habit of saying: 1+2+3+4 make 10.
With this quote, Dee shows his knowledge of Plato’s cosmology and the Tetraktys. The triangle of Ten is nothing else but the depiction of the creation of the universe. The Monad, the point at the top of the triangle, splits into two, implying that creation can only be a division in the first place. Here we see the division of the One into Two, light and darkness, male and female (2). The next step after this scission is addition (1 + 2 = 3) and after this addition the first multiplication (2 x 2 = 4 ) takes place. This process of creation can be expressed as 1+2+3+4 equals 10.
At this level Ten, manifestation begins in the form of the four elements. These four elements, Fire, Air, Water, and Earth are the building blocks of everything tangible. Each of them consists of two of the four basic principles hot, cold, dry, and moist. These four elements are sometimes called the Cross of Matter.
To see how the divine light permeates creation, we can turn again to John Dee and his Monas Hieroglyphica, wherein he states:
As is evident from the sixth theorem, FOUR right angles can be considered to be in our Cross, and the preceding theorem teaches that the sign of the Quinary can be attributed to each one of them, the right angles of course being arranged in one way, but maintaining another position. The same theorem explains the production of the hieroglyphic symbols of the number FIFTY. Thus, it is very clear that the Cross generally denotes the Denary; and that in the order of the Latin alphabet, it is the twenty-first letter (whence it was the case that the wise ones called the Mecubalists signified the number twenty-one with the same letter); and finally, it can be considered very simply to be seen as one sign, no matter what kind of, and how much, other power it has. From all of these things together, we see it can be concluded by means of a very good cabbalistic explanation that our Cross can signify to initiates, in a remarkably shortened way, the number TWO-HUNDRED-FIFTY-TWO. Namely, FOUR times FIVE, FOUR times FIFTY; TEN; TWENTY ONE; and ONE, add up to TWO-HUNDRED-FIFTY-TWO; which number we can deduce in still two other ways from our previous statements. Thus we recommend to cabbalistic Tyrians that they scrutinize this same number, studying it in such a brief space, concluding the varied, skillful production of this Master Number to be worthy of the consideration of philosophers. I will not conceal from you here another memorable initiator to the mysteries. Our Cross having suffered itself to be divided into two different letters, and as earlier we considered their numerical virtue in a certain way, we will now compare in turn their verbal power with that cross, because from this may be born LVX (LIGHT), a Word we perceive with the highest admiration, finally and magisterially through the harmony and agreement of the Ternary in the unity of the word.
Dee clearly shows the all-encompassing importance of the divine light, being manifest in the elements and shining through all the worlds.
Having established the four elements, representing the different combinations of the four qualities, we can have a look at the next level, the zodiac. Here we find our four elements in three different modes. We call them ‘moveable’, ‘fixed’ and ‘mutable’, but other systems may recognise these modes as ‘sattwa’, ‘rajas’ and ‘tamas’, or ‘sal’, ‘mercury’, and ‘sulphur’. This leads us to the 12 signs of the zodiac, which, together with their mundane counterparts, the mundane houses, are the representation of all of creation.
We have seen how the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 are symbols of the creation of the world, resulting in the wheel of the zodiac (3 x 4). If we move one step further into the world of manifestation, we find that the number 5 is the number of the planets used in the tradition, except the lights (sun and moon). Together with the sun and the moon, the number of the planets increases to 7 (3 + 4). John Dee shows this perfectly in his Monas Hieroglyph.
Being the source of everything, the monad divides, adds and multiplies in the constant creation of the universe. Although unknowable, it is essentially pure. Only when manifestation takes place, the essence splits into several different parts. This can be compared to light, splitting into the colours of the rainbow when shining through a prism. We may note here that a prism is of triangular shape, another indicator for the threefold nature of creation.
Our seven planets, being in a more manifest stage on the path of creation, symbolise these seven parts of divine light or essence. As these planets exist on the material plane and therefore change their positions in time and space, the astrologer can find out how well their essential natures are expressed at any given point. This is known as essential dignity or debility.
The illustration here shows the table of essential dignities of the planets published in William Lilly’s Christian Astrology, 1659, 2nd edition.
By assessing the level of essential dignity of each planet, the astrologer tries to establish how much of their essence, or their individual part of the divine light, is available at a particular moment in time. This information enables the astrologer to give accurate judgment.
Sue Ward’s web log entry about the Primary Problem with Venus, which is supplemental to her recommended presentation God, the Universe and Everything, raised the important issue of the intrinsic interconnectedness between astrology and the glyph of the cabalistic Tree of Life. Some of the readers of my web log may know that this glyph was extensively used by magical orders of the 19th and 20th century, but what is of interest here is the importance of this knowledge to traditional astrologers and especially to William Lilly.
Ramon Lull (1232 – 1315) was the first writer and philosopher who introduced the Cabala to the West. He was followed by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463 – 1494), who studied the Cabala as well as the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus; they became known as the Hermetic Mysteries. Mirandola believed he could, through the revelations of the Cabala, unify Christianity with the teachings of Plato and Pythagoras.
John Dee (1527 – 1608), the famous astrologer and mathematician of the Renaissance condensed all his knowledge into one glyph, the Monas hieroglyph.
It is said that his writings on astrology, Cabala and the hermetic arts buildt the foundations of the 17th century Rosicrucian movement.
In 1614 a manuscript with the title Fama Fraternitatis: The Declaration of the Worthy Order of the Rosy Cross was anonymously published in Germany, followed by Confessio Fraternitatis and The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, in 1615 and 1616. These manuscripts were drawing their information from a range of sources, including John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica. His glyph was to be found on the front page of the Fama Fraternitatis. The publication of these books triggered the beginnings of a vast Rosicrucian movement in Europe. William Shakespeare was linked to the movement and important personalities like Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole identified themselves as Rosicrucians.
We know that Ashmole and William Lilly were both deeply interested in all aspects of the hermetic arts and especially in the writings of John Dee. As Sue has so rightly pointed out in her presentation, it was this spiritual bond that made the friendship between these two men possible. But can we be sure that Lilly knew about these secrets and used them in his astrology? As in many cases, the thorough study of his masterpiece, Christian Astrology, provides us with an answer, as Lilly writes:
“It is a recieved, general Rule amongst those Artists that know the Cabalistic Key of Astrologie, that if one Planet be the Lord of the ascendant and twelfth house….” (CA, p464)
This quote shows that, at least in my opinion, Lilly knew about the cabalistic correspondences and used them in his daily work, if the necessity arose to do so. Another revealing piece of information can be found in Lilly’s Merlinus Anglicus Ephemeris for the year 1680, where he writes:
“But We must owne the assistance of our Friend Mr. Henry Coley herein; of him We have had experience for several Years past, and to him shall communicate many Secrets in Art, not know to the Vulgar Astrologer;…”
I hope I could outline how cabalistic teachings were integrated in the Western Mystery Tradition and became an intrinsic part of the lore. Astrologers like William Lilly were well versed in the symbolism through their studies of the hermetic arts. For them astrology was only one expression of the mysteries which enabled them to get closer to the Divine.
A depiction from the Syriac New Testament, Vienna 1555, illustrates this beautifully.