Thursday, October 16, 2014

Treasures of the Earth (Part One.)

If we're to make heads or tails of the practice of Treasure Magic (and the many intersections it has with other topics, which range from pacts with fairies to Katabasis practices) then we ought to begin by establishing that it involves three topics (in order of utility):

1. Initiatic descents “Into the Earth” to deal with the Powers therein.
2. The discovery of the occulted nature of the sympathetic links between material components and magical practices, and the discovery of those materials.*
3. Discovering literal, buried treasures such as treasure troves of gold.

Between the Late Medieval and the Early Modern Period, these practices existed at all levels of social class. They appear in the Grimoires; they were occasionally practiced by lower class magicians, and they were used as tropes by charlatans to deceive the easily gullible. This last type of action comes into view with the memoirs of Cassanova:

In chapters XXI and XXII of his memoirs, he recounts how he initially planned to rip off and seduce members of a family during one of his adventures, and creates a story about how he will get rid of spirits guarding treasure under their home. The entire episode goes awry when a fearsome storm strikes as he's performing his “magical” rituals, and he becomes convinced that the Wrath of God is upon him for his plan to seduce one of the daughters of the family. He ends up deciding not to seduce her, and that the entire episode was a bad idea.

But outside the rogues – of which there were many – there were individuals who we might conclude were sincere in their practices, whether it was for the discovery of literal troves of treasure or an attempt to make a pact with a fairy or spirit who would help them discover such things.

The Initiatic Descent / The Initiatic Ascent of the Spirit

At the tale end of the chapter wherein Reginald Scot discusses creating hazel wands for the act of money digging – a problem he claims has beguiled many a man – he briefly notes that there are “sundry receipts” for what we now call flying ointments that may be used when treasure is discovered. Flying ointments infact belong to a category of spellcraft we might call “catalepsy spells” or “soporific spells.” They date back to antiquity: when Circe drugs Odysseus's companions with wine in
The Odyssey we are certainly seeing a mythical version of catalepsy spells. They appear in the Papyri Demoticus Magicae (PDM hereafter):

Another, if you wish to make a man sleep for two days: mandrake root, 1 ounce, water and honey, 1 ounce, henbane, 1 ounce, Ivy, 1 ounce. Yo should grind them with a lok-measure of wine. If you wish to do it cleverly, you should put four portions to each one of them with a glass of wine; you should miosten them from morning to evening, you should clarify them; and you should make them drink it. [It is] very good.”
- PDM xiv. 716-24, (Another) “To Cause Evil Sleep.”

Sometime between late antiquity and the medieval period, these forms of spells began to be used on oneself rather than one's enemies. How precisely this occurred is something I have yet to work out. But flying ointments, soporific (“sleep inducing”) candles, and the like became both a part of folklore and magical practices. In the context of Treasure Magic rites, they are used to procure the powers of Spirit Flight and enter the Otherworld. Outside this context, they were still used on others, however. In Germany there was a tradition of creating “Thieves' Lights.” These were candles made from the fingers of unbaptized children, which allowed the user to “see in the dark,” “open all locked doors,” and even reduce those that saw them to sleep. Perhaps the best known form of this is one of the variants of the Hand of Glory, which Ingoldsby discusses in The Nurse's Tale:

“Open, lock,
To the Dead Man's knock!
Fly, bolt, and bar, and band!
Nor move, nor swerve,
Joint, muscle, or nerve,
At the spell of the Dead Man's hand!
Sleep, all who sleep! -- Wake, all who wake!
But be as the dead for the Dead Man's sake!

Now lock, nor bolt, nor bar avails,
Nor stout oak panel thick-studded with nails.
Heavy and harsh the hinges creak,
Though they had been oil'd in the course of the week.
The door opens wide as wide may be,
And there they stand,
That murderous band,
Lit by the light of the Glorious Hand,
By one! – by two! – by three! ”
- Tom Ingoldsby, The Hand of Glory.

While these talismans could certainly be put to criminal use – and indeed were associated specifically with criminal forms of magic, not to mention the outright criminality of witchcraft – they were also Treasure Magic talismans. This comes into view when we look at the other variant of the Hand of Glory, which is a shaped form of the Mandragora Officinarum that was treated as a familiar spirit, given a house, and fed regularly. (For more information, see this entry.) If it received money, it would double it and effectively keep one from being poverty stricken.

Used in the context of the
initiatic descent, they would render one unconscious and allow one to interact with the spirits that guarded the Treasures of the Earth. Here again the idea that they could “unlock any door” points to the power of Spirit Flight, as one could pass through physical doors and the like “as if one was a ghost” without anyone being the wiser (except the spirits, that is, unless measures were taken)!

But this only accounts for some of the “ritual technology.” We also need to deal with the myths that fed into the practice, and the way they influenced it. During the Medieval period, there arrived in Germany, France, Spain and Italy groups of individuals who had been trained by the Church in clerical knowledge, but lacking a realistic use for these skills instead took to traveling widely. They were called the Clerici Vagantes, or “Wandering Scholars,” or “Traveling Scholars,” or simply as “vagrants.”

By the 16
th and 17th centuries, they began claiming something quite odd. They claimed that they had been “to the Venusberg,” or to the (hollow) Mountain of Venus, seen fantastic sights therein, and returned with abilities that could both baffle and delight. In part, they are probably a huge part of the reason for the dispersion of myths and stories surrounding the Mountain of Venus. They wore yellow nets in place of cloaks, and for a small bit of coin would promise to influence the price of crops, to perform exorcisms against storms and hail, and even raise the specters of the “Furious Horde” (see also “Wild Hunt”) an extremely ancient Indo-European form of spirit procession that often involved a deity (Venus, Hekate, the Queen of the Fairies, Odin, Wodan, and many, many others) and the souls of dead warriors.

They would not be noteworthy were it not for the fact that other references to the Mountain of Venus arise out of Germany. There is at least one witch trial in which it occurs: the trial of Diel Bruell in the 17
th century. Poor Diel – and he is indeed poor – had suffered the loss of his family, and fallen asleep on a New Years Eve. He dreamed that he had traveled to the Mountain of Venus, where he saw – just as the Clerici Vagantes had claimed to have seen – the Goddess of the Mountain, swarms of the dead in procession, a priest (probably a Necromancer), and many other things. He was executed for the practice of witchcraft in 1632 CE, and buried outside the church yard.

The tales of the Mountain of Venus entered Germany from Italy. They typically involved a fellow named Tannhauser, a fallen “minstrel Knight” or Minnesinger, who fell from Christianity and entered the Mountain of Venus voluntarily, where he became her companion. After a falling out with the Goddess, Tannhauser was believed to have left the Venus Mount and sought to be absolved of his sin by the Pope. This – highlighting the antagonism between Germanic Christianity and Catholicism – he was denied by the Pope and he eventually returned to stay with Venus forever in her Hollow Mountain Paradise.

Now during this era tales of entering hollow mountains, or hollow hills, and finding a paradise were not unknown. As an example, Jakob Grimm felt that the attribution of Venus in the story was a false one. He believed that the story was a simple alteration of a story wherein an lady Elf seduced a knight to come and live with her within the hollow hills of paradise. He was both right and wrong.

The tales trace back to Norcea where the Mountain of the Sibyl (which had long been associated with the practice of necromancy) was believed to exist. Arnold von Harff (1471 CE – 1505 CE) visited it during his travels:
Here at Noxea [Norcea] we heard tell of Dame Venus' Mount,” he begins, and ingenuously adds: “Since in our country so many wonderful things are told about it I prevailed upon my companions that they do me the favor to go a few miles out of the way to see this mountain out from Noxea and came to a little place called Arieet... Thence we went to a village called Norde. Close by lies Dame Venus' Mount, at one end of which is a castle. I quickly got acquainted with him and told him in Latin how we were minded to see the Mount of Dame Venus since in our country so many wonders were told about it. The castellan began to laugh at me and entertained us well that evening. In the morning early he rode with us to the mountain. In it were hewn holes as in the Vackleberch or at Triecht; from these the town and castle had been built. I accompanied him into these holes. I could see nothing there except that some of them were fallen in and some were still open. With the castellan we then left the mount and he took us to the castle as his guests, where he entertained us during noontime. After noon he rode with us up to the top of this mountain. Here was a small quiet lake. By it stood a little chapel, like a place of worship, and inside was a small altar and there, as he related to us, in earlier times when the art of necromancy was still abroad in the world, its devotees came and conjured up the devil and practiced the black art. So soon as this happened there always arose from the waters of the little lake a cloud which descended in a thunderstorm, drenching the whole land thereabouts for six leagues so that there was no grain there that year. Now the people would no longer suffer this and made complaint to the owner of the castle. He immediately had erected an upright gallows between the chapel and the lake and forbade that any one should ever practice necromancy any more upon the altar. Whoever did so was hanged on the gallows. The castellan gave us this account and then said he know of nothing else concerning the place, whereupon we took our leave of him and went to Fossata to our rightful road. This castle lies nine leagues from Noxea.”
- Philip Stephen Barto, Tannhäuser and the Venusberg. (1913 CE. P. 25)

Furthermore a fellow named Antoine de la Sale had attempted to enter the Venusberg, as well. He drew a picture of the mountain, which I've posted many times, but is worth showing here:
The most alarming part of all of this is that we can also connect the descent into the Sibyllenberg (“Mountain of the Sibyl”) to the Fairy Sibylia rite found in Reginald Scot's
Discoverie of Witchcraft. In fact, some of the ritual actions taken during the rite are done to avoid the more unpleasant aspects of the myths of the Mountain of Venus and the Mountain of the Sibyl: one first acquires the aid of one of the Restless Dead, and then employs that spirit to bring the “virgin Fairy Sibylia” to the magician. This is done precisely to avoid becoming trapped in the fairy's world: the very fate that happened to Tannhauser himself. In this case, the ritual is one of “Ascent:” the Fairy is brought forth out of the Underworld, or the Otherworld of the Fairies, rather than one venturing inside that world.

This isn't anything new. In the Catabasis myths and rites of antiquity, the spirits that existed in the Underworld were thought to be capable of holding one there. In fact, with nothing more than a gesture, a ghost was believed to be able to trap one within the Underworld
while their body was still ostensibly alive. Venturing into the Underworld was a capacity that only those who “knew how to make their way” could perform:
Parallels in the Greek catabasis literature, however, show that the phrase points to a situation in the netherworld, where visitors must expect sudden attacks by underworld demons in charge of the punishments. Protection against such attacks is advisable for those who dare enter the land of Hades, whether as visitors or on that last journey of the soul. […]
Such situations in which a frightful demon “comes close” are known from the catabasis myths. Plutarch's myth of Thespesius, De sera num. 567 A, provides a good example. At the crucial moment of his trip to the nether-world, Thespesius's friendly guide has suddenly disappeared, and approaching are "certain others of frightful aspect, who thrust him forward, giving him to understand that he was under compulsion to pass that way" (that is, to the place of punishment).”
- Hans Deiter Betz, Fragments of a Catabasis Ritual in a Greek Magical Papyrus.

The ritual that Betz refers to is
PGM LXX. 4 – 25, which contains apotropaic spells against ghosts when they approach. In them, the magician identifies as Hekate and proceeds to declare a series of symbols most likely first shown to him or her during initiatic rituals (“Ereschigal, virgin, bitch, serpent, wreath, key, herald's wand, golden sandal of the Lady of Tartarus”) followed by proceeding to speak Voces Magicae (“magical words”) to the spirit to ward it off and keep it from carrying one away to be judged in the Land of the Dead while still alive. Adding to this, one also had to be able to navigate in that place. Normal sense of direction was muddled, and normal associations of colors were tricky. (For example, see the White Cypress referenced in certain Orphic tablets.)

The desire to ward off the wrath of the dead during such descents also appears in the
Grimorium Verum, in a Treasure Magic rite in which Cerberus (who helps the magician navigate the terrain of the Otherworld, thereby making movement easier) – as ordered by Lucifer – leads one to treasure. There one encounters the guardian spirit of the treasure:

Your steps on his, you will arrive near the treasure, where the shade of a dead person will be waiting, namely, the person who hid the treasure, and he will want to fling himself on you. It will quickly be necessary to trace a circle with the wand and throw a coin, and shout to the shade:

Hitherto you shall come, and shall go no further! I will it, I command it, Amen!

Later, the author of the ritual warns:
“You must beware not to turn, and especially not to face any noise behind you, or beneath your feet, or to your sides, because flashing the air with lightning, and making the earth tremble, are all part of the trickery of the shade of the dead one, to make you lose your chance to obtain the treasure.
It is necessary, therefore, that you arm yourselves with courage, and not let yourselves be caught up with their fears, for the spirit will take you back to the place where you first invoked it, to convene for a second pact.
(Grimorium Verum, Peterson translation. “For the Discovery of a Treasure.” P. 67 – 69.)
Here we see an explicit reference to the capacity of the magician to achieve this act, not through his or her “will,” but rather through their alliance with Superior Spirits of the Otherworld. Without the initiatic aspcts of the Pact, one is sure to fall prey to the power of ghosts, or to the powers of the Rulers of the Otherworld. Only with them at one's side, can one successfully hope to enter their world and move about with freedom. And even then, one cannot look back and be caught up in fear (like Orpheus was when he failed to free his beloved wife). This shows a clear line of practice from deep antiquity (the Myths of Orpheus, and the sorcerous act of not looking back) and the Early Modern and Late Medieval Periods, where these ideas extended to the domain of fairies and the dead.

* The
defense of those materials, such as when the Benandanti made Otherworld descents and then “fought witches” to defend the fertility of the crops is something which ties in to the overall subject, but is not an explicit aspect of most Treasure Magic rites.


faoladh said...

OK, you've convinced me to look further at the treasure spirit materials. I missed the Cerberus reference in the Verum, and that is a very interesting thing to me. Do you know of any other canines involved in such rites?

Ian said...

Nicely done. If you ever feel like pushing the temporal horizon of this backward and the geographic horizon a little further outward, I can't help but think something like Dina Katz's The Image of the Netherworld in Sumerian Sources would be right up your alley.

Here is a link to a review of it with a summary of its materials.