Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Arbatel Working


The Arbatel is a medieval treatise on how to live in harmony, ease, and intimacy with the energies of the Multiverse. Behind the Christian piety is a more ancient, Pythagoric and Neoplatonic spiritual paradigm that views the world as a multilayered place full of spiritual beings: some elemental, some celestial, some angelic, and some demi-godlike, archonic, or patriarchal.

At first glance the Arbatel is a simple of book about magic that seems to be an introduction to a more robust text that does not exist or does not exist anymore. Except for the suspicion that the Arbatel was written by an Italian mage, the author and original date that pen was put to paper are unknown. What we have of the text was commercially published as part of an anthology in 1575 in Basel, Switzerland, on one of the first printing presses. 

The Arbatel can be freely accessed at http://www.esotericarchives.com/solomon/Arbatel.htm thanks to Joseph H. Peterson who provides a side-by-side annotated version of the original Latin text and an English translation, published in 1655, by the 17th century Cambridge University scholar Robert Turner.

The subtitle of the Arbatel says that it is made of nine books or chapters (tomos), each of 7 parts (totaling 49 parts in all). But it seems as if the only  existing book is of the Arbatel is the first, titled the Isagoge, which the author explains means “Book of the Institutions of Magic.” It consists of “the most general precepts of the whole Art.” The other eight books are supposed to delve into:

● Microcosmic magic, which is described as being about how a person may gain wisdom and insight about purpose through contact with the “spirit and genius addicted to him from his nativity” (that is, an augoiedes or “guardian angel”).
● Olympic magic, which presumably delves deeper into how to work with the Olympic Spirits than what is presented in Septenary 3 of the Isagoge, and, thus, relates to planetary or astral magic.
● “Hesiodic and Homeric” magic, which claims to be about working with spiritual allies and benefactors, using the Greek term calodaemones, which is a synonym for eudaemone and also augoiedes, all more or less equivalent to “guardian angel.”
● “Romanic or Sibylline” magic, which, we are told, is about working with the tutelary spirits and lords that tend and govern planet Earth and is said to be similar to Druidic magic.
● Pythagoric magic, which relates to the sciences of physics, medicine, mathematics, alchemy, and other arts, we are told.
● Magic related to the work of the Neopythagorean Apollonius of Tyana (circa first century—a legendary person whose birth and miracle-working was suspiciously similar to that of another, far more popular legendary figure: Jesus of Nazareth). The magic referred to would be thaumatergy. The author of the Arbatel also notes that Appolonian magic is Microscosmic (about the individual self) but also gives a person powers over hostile spirits (presumably a reference to exoricism).
● Theurgic magic, described as “Egyptian magic” and “divine magic.”
● Prophetic magic, which is said to be “wisdom that solely depends on the word of God” and, given the jargon, may be a reference to Cabala, the medieval Christian variant of Kabala that was wholly absorbed into Western Occultism instead of Christianity.

Rather than being an incomplete book, it may be that all of the themes described above are really secretly layered into the book and waiting to be discovered like buried treasure. That is, the Arbatel may be an example of medieval steganography in which messages are encrypted and buried within "cover texts."

The Arbatel is most noted for its information about the Olympic Spirits. The Olympic Spirits are introduced in the third chapter of the Isogoge. The spirits are described as Governors associated with the seven classical planets named after Roman deities: Luna, Venus, Mercury, Sol, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This is the aspect of the Arbatel that modern and postmodern-era occultists focus on, somewhat overlooking a more pervasive, underlying message about working with the tutelary spiritual entities, the role of the Olympic Spirits as rulers of psychodynamic processes and fate, and the role of the Olympic Spirits as symbols of and archetypal structures that form the holographic Multiverse.

I took interest in the Arbatel in the spring of 2010 after stumbling upon an article by Nick Farrell in the spring issue of the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition. The article was titled Olympic Spirits: The Hidden Gods. It can be accessed online at http://www.jwmt.org/v2n18/olympic.html. Like Farrell and others who have explored the Arbatel, many questions arose about its meaning and application.

My background in Eastern spirituality influenced how I approached the Arbatel, which was openly, with an understanding that what I was attempting to access “out there” was an intimate part of myself or vice versa. So I dispensed with the more elaborate traditional ceremonial formalities regarding evocation and planetary magic derived from Solomonic and Late Modern-era Hermetic paradigms that others have applied when working with the document. See the Everything Arbatel Digest of Internet Links at http://seethingamongthesuits.wordpress.com/2009/10/12/everything-arbatel-digest-of-internet-links/ for an index of what is available about the Arbatel on the Web.  

I began what was to become the first phase of the work on Monday March 22, 2010, which serendipitously was the eve of that month’s new moon. This first phase of the project continued through to Sunday April 18. It consisted of daily evocation and meditation on one or another Olympic Spirit. The YouTube below is a distillation of this phase of the Arbatel working.

I posted the first month of my experiences on a blog.The posts garnered some interest, and I found myself being invited to join three other people in a group magical working related to the Arbatel. The first phase of this Working took place in May and the second in July 2010.

The group's focus was a part of the Arbatel that I had initially overlooked: The Seal of Secrets of the World described in aphorism 27, fourth septenary:

Make a circle, with A at the center, which is BCDE. At the East of the square is BC. At the North CD. At the West DE . At the South EB. Divide each of these quadrants into 7 parts so that there may be 28 parts total. Then divide each into 4 so that there will be 112 parts of the circle, as so many are the true secrets to be revealed. This circle divided in this manner is the Seal of Secrets of the world. Projecting from the center A, this is the invisible God in the entire creature. The Prince of the Eastern secrets is in the middle [of the Eastern quadrant] and has 6 Nobles, 3 on each side. Each of them, including the Prince, has 4 Nobles under him. In the same way, the [other] Princes and Nobles have their quadrants of secrets, with their four secrets.

My cohorts pointed out that the 28 parts that each quarter of the diagram is cut up into correspond with the mansions of the moon. The mansions of the moon are the daily moon phases that ancient esotericists across cultures were very much attuned to. Each phase of the moon, day-by-day in a 28-day cycle, carried with it a certain mood and theme that was thought to have a fateful effect on people’s lives. Activities had to be deftly synchronized with daily—and even hourly—planetary and lunar events. The early medieval Arabic magical book known as the Picatrix covers this in detail.

My cohorts and I feverishly pondered the Seal of Secrets and mansions of the moon hoping to alight on a grand revelation. We decided to gain insight by contacting the entities associated with the moon mansions through dream work, but thinking contacting the angels associated with the mansions too ambitious or risky, we opted to connect with the associated planetary rulers--the Olympic Spirits.

Before retiring, we would acknowledge the moon mansion of the day and its corresponding ruling planet/Olympic Spirit and perform whatever preparatory ritual we each saw fit to do. Then, as we were drifting into sleep, we would visualize the sigil of the Olympic Spirit .

We kept a group dream log on a secure, on-line site and also kept a lively discussion going through a now discontinued Google Wave application.

My experiences with the Arbatel and insights into the text are unique. They have been documented in the book The Seal of Secrets of the World Adventures in Astral Magic (available through amazon.com). Below is a somewhat clunky video of a presentation I gave about the Seal of Secrets at the biannual Metaphysical Forum held in New Haven, CT. A free, concise pdf download about the Arbatel  and Seal of Secrets can be accessed through the Sorcerers and Magi Website 


  1. I really look forward to reading your account of what was a very complex and life-changing working. I have to confess that I still can't really make sense of everything we experienced. The only thing that is truly clear to me is that we DEFINITELY made contact. Especially the aforementioned "professional artist". Her dream accounts just blew me away. You should ask her if you can mention her by name. She might be OK with that. And the "ceremonial magician" (who'd probably prefer to be referred to as Hermetic rather than Rosicrucian) is definitely not publicity shy, as long as you use his internet persona.

    --The Scribbler

  2. I would love to "out" everybody! You are right, Scribbler. Yes, the artist totally rocked. It took quite a while to make sense of it. Portals don't always lead to where we expect.

  3. I have a more general question pertaining to the Seal, as Overview. What is the relevance today of the "studies" assigned to the four quadrants? "The Oriental [Eastern] secret is the study of all wisdom; The West, of strength; The South, of tillage; The North, of more rigid life. So that the Eastern secrets are commended to be the best; the Meridian [Southern] to be mean; and the West and North to be lesser." I can understand the first one, coming from the perspective of "Eastern spirituality" myself. But the other 3 seem merely vague at best, and otherwise, reflections of an archaic economy and rigid (medieval) hierarchy; perhaps preoccupied with shows of "strength" such as knighthood & vassalage. I'm intrigued by the Seal itself, but would like to know how these quadrants offer a meaningful mirror of a "macrocosm" we can interface with today?

  4. Thanks for the response. First, we must understand that we are looking at a document that was written in code in the 16th century and was specifically directed toward people who had the same reference points as the author of the Arbatel. Interpreting literature—and even movies and other media—through contemporary reference points instead of in the original time- and culture-sensitive context is called “presentism.” We see this done pretty egregiously with the Bible, for example, in which persons who claim to take Bible passages “literally,” are just literally applying modern-day values and interpretations to Bible passages and not understanding or practicing what the lines of text mean in their original context in the culture and time they arose in. I think it might be very useful to both understand what a text like the Arbatel (or Bible or any antique book) means in the original context and ALSO manage to know how to reframe it for contemporary use. I explain in my book The Seal of Secrets that, for the author of the Arbatel—who may have been influenced by Roman and Orphic spirituality, the Eastern quarter might have been associated with Jupiter (wisdom), the South with Saturn (tillage, ie, cultivation), the West with Sol (strength), and the North with Luna (the material world). In Christianized medieval times, Greco-Roman gods were reframed as “planetary intelligences” in magical systems that were associated with angels. The angels associated with the Greco-Roman deities mentioned would respectively be Sachiel, Uriel, Michael, and Gabriel, which differ from the more traditional line-up adapted from Jewish Merkabah mysticism: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel. Medieval folk thought these angels protected the quarters of space. The author of the Arbatel is also referring to how to read the Seal of Secrets diagram here. The diagram is a calendar of sorts. Each quadrant relates to a season and I explain how the seal might be used if a person has an idea of where specific angelic and astral entities “live” in the Seal of Secrets mandala. The author of the Arbatel actually implies that using the Seal of Secrets as a calendar (the mansions of the moon) provides a certain form of knowledge (how to go about your business from day to day based on knowing what spirits are ruling that day and season) but that higher forms of knowledge are also to be discovered, which I think is the point of my book.

  5. Thank you for clarifying that! You rang some chimes for me with what you said about SACHIEL (JUPITER), from two other Western esoteric authors I've read: Jacob Boehme says an enlightened sense of dimension proceeds from a divinely-ordered “spirit in the brain” gently governed by the celestial planet Jupiter (“Morning-Redness”, chapter 25, 111); and George von Welling says in his book, "Opus Mago" that: "the divine glory regulated the world with all its spheres by means of seven great spirits of the throne; FIRST flowing as a smooth and calm motion of divine light through SACHARIEL, and then all the other great spirits IN THE ORDER of their standing. And it is also understood that SACHARIEL, the Spirit called JOVIS by the Greeks, ruled at the beginning of this creation, as well as at the time of our human genesis, managing to be the deliverer of all creatures. This was whom the Hebrews meant by GAD, or the Good Planet, on account of its qualities of excellence and bliss."
    It would seem highly appropriate then that the "genesis" of your (or Arbatel's) calendar-cycle is ALSO East-Jupiter-Sachiel. But is it a "fixed" season, such as Spring; or could one "begin" with the Eastern quadrant at the start of ANY monthly moon-cycle? (I'm mindful, of course, that we are already midway through Sagittarius, one of Jupiter's two annually-assigned "domains").

  6. Exacty, and much thanks for this dynamic dialog. So you can see how medieval Christian mystics--more of the Gnostic/Hermetic variant --were not completely cut off from the earlier paradigm but reframed the older deities as intelligences and angels. Many modern Christians don't understand this. They think that on a specific day and hour in year 0 CE, the world dramatically changed and believed exactly their particular modern albeit provincial interpretation of Christianity. The Seal of Secrets is a calendar and a mnemonic wheel. The calendar corresponds with the mansions of the moon in a 27-day cycle, but it also corresponds with the seasons, the zodiac, and the the "wheel of the year" (not in the modern pagan sense). And yes, it always begins in the East in April at the cusp of Aries. Now, there are angels associated with the lunar mansions, the days of the weeks, the months, and the zodiacal signs and this call all be plotted out on the Seal diagram. In fact, I know a young man who has been attempted to piece this together. We don't know what the actual scheme that the author of the Arbatel used. The names of various angels associated with this and that is found in the work of Cornelius Agrippa but the author of the Arbatel may not have necessarily been on the same page as Agrippa, who positioned himself as an archivist, not an occultist in his time. There are ceremonial magicians--such as Rufus Opus--who will do elaborate workings that involve specific timing and coordination of angelic energies cataloged as being relevant to that time and day. I think it may have some value for a time as a discipline--but that is not how I work. I aim to deal with the bigger "holographic" picture and although I am curious about breaking down the yantra of the Seal, the message I received while doing my own work with the Arbatel is that is of lesser importance than the bigger transcendental picture.

    1. I'm similar to you in that respect. While I've enjoyed translating several traditional Western esotericists, I've never assayed ceremonial magic per se; being more interested in the potential of the "magic circle" as a creative, mirroring device (rather than a ritual one). And perhaps that's where you're coming from as well, since you mention "yantras". My actual practice is Tibetan, which fulfills many needs while allowing for a relaxed indulgence of my "Mercurial" or Hermetic, i.e. Western curiosity. So I wish you the same joy with all of your perambulations!

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  8. Thank you for contributing to the conversation, Mr Keys. Who can possibly doubt that the fellow we call Jesus Christ did not change the face of history. And I believe the teachings of Christ and the Christ concept are profound, but I am one of those persons who suspects, based on historical evidence, that there is more to the development of the idea of Jesus Christ and Christianity than what we get from the New Testament.