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Picatrix, Mysterious Book of Soyga & All You Need to Know About Ancient Magic

Interested to know about ancient magic? Read on!

Holy Conversations: The Impact of the Mysterious Book of Soyga

The Book of Soyga , or the Aldaraia sive Soyga vocor, was written in the sixteenth century as a possible treatise on magic. The illustrious occultist John Dee of the court of Elizabeth I owned one of only two known copies, perhaps one of the reasons why it serves pertinent to research on Renaissance magic and alchemy.

Not unlike his own work on the Enochian, or Angelical, alphabet, the Book of Soyga appears to contain another sort of alphabet—possibly a variation of Hebrew with alchemical symbols encoded within. Recovered in 1994 after having been missing for the four hundred years between when Dee allegedly sold it for cash and his death in 1608, the book is considered one of the most perplexing volumes from the sixteenth century.

Written in Latin, the Book of Soyga is not as easily translatable as one would hope. Although it does not appear that Dee ever successfully deciphered the coded book, current historians and decoders have translated the Latin, discovering an overall theme around which the book was written. It appears to discuss beliefs of Renaissance magic and identifies various angels and demons, as well as depicting an unusual alphabet and multiple streams of backwards words.

Additionally, it is teeming with numerical symbols that leave many scholars to believe the book has something to do with the Christian Cabala, a text written from the Jewish Kabbalah with a Christian perspective. (While the purpose of the Cabala varies, it is essentially a set of teachings that illuminate the way in which infinity interacts with the mortal world, depending on one’s particular traditions). These factors individually make the purpose of the text very elusive—it is only because its author wrote partially in Latin that an emphasis on astronomy, alchemy, angels, and elements can be understood. Further than this, however, the symbolic, numerical, and specific alchemical comments within the text still remain shrouded in mystery, as certain figures cannot properly be translated or deciphered.

The Book of Soyga is made up of 36 tables (or sections), within which there are numerous topics.  The fourth section, for instance, discusses the four primary elements—fire, air, earth, and water—and how they were spread throughout the universe.  The fifth discusses the medieval humors: blood, phlegm, red bile, and black bile.  The astrological signs and the planets are written about in lengthy detail, each sign pertaining to a specific planet (i.e., Venus and Taurus), and then Books 26 begins a long description of “The Book of Rays”, intended “for the sake of understanding the universal evils.”

‘The Four Temperaments’ by Charles Le Brun (Wikimedia Commons). The temperaments Choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic were believed to be caused by an excess or lack of any of the four humors.

‘The Four Temperaments’ by Charles Le Brun ( Wikimedia Commons ). The temperaments Choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic were believed to be caused by an excess or lack of any of the four humors.

John Dee and Edward Kelley came to understand the importance of the text during one of their long spiritual conferences when Dee himself requested of the angels whether the book sitting on a shelf in his large home library was of any particular value.  The pair allegedly came to communicate with the angel Uriel, his patronage that of the seven Catholic sacraments and poetry, and Uriel expanded Dee’s knowledge on the Book of Soyga .  Uriel is noted to have claimed that the text relates to the time before time—it references the age when Adam lived, before the creation of Eve and the Fall of Man.  However, Uriel went on to state that only the archangel Michael, God’s warrior against evil and sickness, could accurately interpret the work. 

According to John Dee, only Archangel Michael could decipher the true meaning of the Book of Soyga

According to John Dee, only Archangel Michael could decipher the true meaning of the Book of Soyga ( Wikimedia Commons )

Scholars of Dee’s work and the occult believe that the Book of Soyga heavily influenced Dee and Kelley’s work on Enochian magic.  One can see many great similarities between Dee’s work on the Monas Hieroglyphica and the Enochian language, and the elements within the Book of Soyga —not the least of which being the fashion in which both texts were recorded .  It would therefore be an immense mistake to believe that, although the Book of Soyga is a mystery, it was overlooked as it lay on a shelf in Dee’s library.  It is entirely possible that the book influenced his work far more than currently realized and far more than can presently be understood without the aid of a proper translation of both the Enochian language and the Book of Soyga 

Picatrix: The Ancient Arabian Book of Astrology and Occult Magic

The Picatrix is an ancient Arabian book of astrology and occult magic dating back to the 10 th or 11 th century, which has gained notoriety for the obscene natural of its magical recipes. The Picatrix, with its cryptic astrological descriptions and spells covering almost every conceivable wish or desire, has been translated and used by many cultures over the centuries, and continues to fascinate occult followers from around the world.  

The Picatrix was originally written in Arabic, titled Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm, which translates to “The Aim of the Sage” or “The Goal of the Wise.” Most scholars believe it originated in the 11 th century, although there are well-supported arguments that date it to the 10 th. Eventually, the Arabic writings were translated into Spanish, and eventually into Latin in 1256 for the Castilian king Alfonso the Wise. At this time it took on the Latin title Picatrix. It is composed of both magic and astrology. One highly influential interpretation refers to it as a “handbook of talismanic magic.” Researcher David Pingree calls it “the most thorough exposition of celestial magic in Arabic” and describes the Picatrix as “Arabic texts on Hermeticism, Sabianism, Ismailism, astrology, alchemy and magic produced in the Near East in the ninth and tenth centuries A.D.”

A page from the Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm (Picatrix)

A page from the Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm (Picatrix). ( alchemical diagrams )

The Picatrix is divided into four books:

  • Book I – “Of the heavens and the effects they cause through images made under them”
  • Book II – “Of the figures of the heavens in general, and of the general motion of the sphere, and of their effects in this world”
  • Book III – “Of the properties of the planets and signs, and of their figures and forms made in their colors, and how one may speak with the spirits of the planets, and of many other magical workings”
  • Book IV – “Of the properties of spirits, and of those things that are necessary to observe in this most excellent art, and how they may be summoned with images, suffumigations and other things”

Each books contains several chapters. A small sampling of the contents of these chapters is: magic and its properties; the works of the planets, sun, and moon; the order of natural things; stones appropriate for each planet; figures, colors, garments, and incenses of the planets; confections of the spirits of the planets, and of averting harmful workings, and magic of miraculous effect, and the foods, incense, unguents, and perfumes that ought to be used to work by the spirits of the seven planets; how the vigor of the spirit of the Moon is drawn into things here below; and how incenses of the stars ought to be made, and certain compounds needed in this science. Some say that the division of the book into four parts indicates that it originated from the writings of students who were taking notes during a lecture, although this is merely speculation.

One element that has contributed to the notoriety of the Picatrix is the obscene nature of its magical recipes. The gruesome concoctions are intended to alter one’s state of consciousness, and may lead to out-of-body experiences, or even death. Ingredients include: blood, bodily excretions, brain matter mixed with copious amounts of hashish, opium, and psychoactive plants. For example, the spell for “Generating Enmity and Discord” reads:

Take four ounces of the blood of a black dog, two ounces each of pig blood and brains, and one ounce of donkey brains. Mix all this together until well blended. When you give this medicine to someone in food or drink, he will hate you.
(from Picatrix: The Goal of the Sage, translated by John Michael Greer).

The Picatrix focused on astrology, and viewing the future with the intention of controlling or improving it. There are dozens of spells to bring about desired outcomes, which involve taking certain steps that consider the positions of cosmological phenomena. For instance, the spell to place love between two people reads:

Fashion two images with the 1st face of Cancer rising, and Venus therein, and the Moon in the 1st face of Taurus in the eleventh house. And when you have made these images, join each to the other face to face and bury them in the house of the other . And they will care for each other and have an enduring love between them.
from The Picatrix Book I, Chapter 5 , translated by Robert Thomas).

Examples of spells include those to win the heart of another, find lost treasure, safeguard travelers, bring friendship, increase crops, expel rodents, increase wealth, health the sick, and many others.

Artist’s illustration in a version of the Picatrix

Artist’s illustration in a version of the Picatrix ( classical astrologer )

One researcher, Martin Plessner, has suggested that one of the translators of the Picatrix may be responsible for establishing a medieval definition of a scientific experimental method, including the formation of a hypothesis, then the arranging of conditions under which that process may be created in accordance with the hypothesis, and the justification or refutation of the hypothesis. The creation of this method may have occurred as one passage was translated from Arabic to Hebrew. Plessner notes “neither the Arabic psychology of study nor the Hebrew definition of the experiment is rendered in the Latin Picatrix. The Latin translator omits many theoretical passages throughout the work.”

While the Picatrix is an ancient document, it is highly representative of themes that have evolved throughout human history. A fascination with magical powers existed in ancient cultures, and still plays a prominent role in society today. This can both be found as a fascination, or something that elicits extreme fear, such as the fears that led to the Salem Witch trials and executions. The Picatrix remains today as a fascinating example of an ancient text of astrological magic.


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