Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life: Book Three--On Obtaining Life from the Heavens [De vita coelitus comparanda]

(a) ...This shop of ours displays various antidotes, drugs, fomentations, ointments, and remedies, according to the differing mental capacities and natures of men. If in some way they happen to displease you, pass over these, by all means, but do not for that reason repudiate the rest. Finally, if you do not approve of astronomical images, albeit invented for the health of mortals--which even I do not so much approve of as report--dismiss them with my complete permission and even, if you will, by my advice. At least do not neglect medicines which have been strengthened by some sort of heavenly aid, unless perhaps you would neglect life itself. For I have found by long and repeated experience that medicines of this kind are as different from other medicines made without astrological election as wine is from water. For example, there was an infant who was born half dead in the eighth month from conception at Florence in the month of March, at night when Saturn, retrograde, was ascending; by this sort of care the child seemed almost to be brought back to life rather than preserved by me, or rather, by God; and he has lived in good health now for nearly three years.... In all things which I discuss here or elsewhere, I intend to assert only so much as is approved by the Church.

(b) ...the World-soul possesses by divine power precisely as many seminal reasons of things as there are Ideas in the Divine Mind.... And if in the proper manner you bring to bear on a species, or on some individual in it, many things which are dispersed but which conform to the same Idea, into this material thus suitably adapted you will soon draw a particular gift from the Idea, through the seminal reason of the Soul... And so let no one think that any divinities wholly separate from matter are being attracted by any given mundane materials, but that daemons rather are being attracted and gifts from the ensouled world and from the living stars. Again, let no man wonder that Soul can be allured as it were by material forms, since indeed she herself has created baits of this kind suitable to herself, to be allured thereby, and she always and willingly dwells in them. There is nothing to be found in this whole living world so deformed that Soul does not attend it, that a gift of the Soul is not in it. Therefore Zoroaster called such correspondences of forms to the reasons existing in the World-soul divine lures and Synesius corroborated that they are magical baits. [c.1]

(c) ...If you want your body and spirit to receive power from some member of the cosmos, say from the Sun, seek the things which above all are most Solar among metals and gems, still more among plants, and more yet among animals, especially human beings; for surely things which are more similar to you confer more of it. These must both be brought to bear externally and, so far as possible, taken internally, especially in the day and the hour of the Sun and while the Sun is dominant in a theme of the heavens. Solar things are: all those gems and flowers which are called heliotrope because they turn towards the Sun, likewise gold, orpiment and golden colors,... amber, balsam, yellow honey,... the swan, the lion, the scarab beetle, the crocodile, and people who are blond, curly-haired, prone to baldness, and magnanimous. The above-mentioned things can be adapted partly to foods, partly to ointments and fumigations, partly to usages and habits. You should frequently perceive and think about these things and love them above all; you should also get a lot of light. [c.1]

(d) Always remember that through a given affect and pursuit of our mind and through the very quality of our spirit we are easily and quickly exposed to those planets which signify the same affect, quality, and pursuit. Hence, by withdrawal from human affairs, by leisure, solitude, constancy, by theology, the more esoteric philosophy, superstition, magic, agriculture, and by sorrow, we come under the influence of Saturn. We come under the influence of Jupiter by civic occupations...; of Mars, by anger and contests; of the Sun and of Mercury, by the pursuit of eloquence, of song, of truth, and of glory, and by skill... This is the rule common to the human species. The specific rule for an individual would be to investigate which star promised what good to the individual at his nativity, to beg grace from that star rather than from another, and to await from any given star not just any gift and what belongs to other stars, but a gift proper to that one.... [T]he Arabic writers... prove that by an application of our spirit to the spirit of the cosmos, achieved by physical science and our affect, celestial goods pass to our soul and body. This happens from down here through our spirit within us which is a mediator, strengthened then by the spirit of the cosmos, and from above by way of the rays of the stars acting favorably on our spirit, which not only is similar to the rays by nature but also then makes itself more like celestial things. [c.2]

(e) The philosopher teaches that, in order to capture the power of any of the stars just mentioned, one should take its stone and herb and make a gold or silver ring and should insert the stone with the herb underneath it and wear it touching [your flesh]. Do this when the Moon passes the star or looks at it with a trine or sextile aspect, and when the star itself is passing the midheaven or the Ascendant. But I, indeed, would compound the things which pertain to stars of this sort in the form of a medicine rather than of a ring, applied internally or externally, waiting, of course, for the aforesaid proper time...in brief, if rings of this sort have any power from on high, I do not think that it pertains so much to the soul or to our gross body as to the spirit, which is affected in this way or that as the ring is heated little by little, so that it is made firmer or clearer, stronger or milder, more austere or more joyful. These influences pass over completely into the body and somewhat into the sensual part of the soul which quite often gives in to the body. But insofar as they promise that the rings are useful against daemons or to acquire the favor of rulers, this is either a fiction or deduced from the fact that they make the spirit fearless and firm, or in the other case gentle, amiable in serving, and complaisant. [c.8]

(f) Let us by no means ever attempt anything forbidden by holy religion. Moreover, in performing any work let us hope for and seek the fruit of the work principally from Him who made both the celestials and those things which are contained in the heavens, who gave them their power, and who always moves and preserves them. [c.8]

(g) Certainly those wonderful therapies which doctors trained in astrology are able to perform through medicines composed of many things--i.e., powders, liquids,unguents, electuaries--seem to have in themselves a more probable and obvious explanation than do images: first, because powders, liquids, unguents, and electuaries, made at the right time, receive celestial influences more easily and quickly than the harder materials form which images usually are made; second, because once impregnated with celestial influences, they are either taken internally and converted into our very selves, or at least when applied externally they stick closer and finally penetrate; third, because images are constructed of only one or a very few materials, but medicines can be made of as many as you like. For instance, if a hundred gifts of the Sun or Jupiter were scattered throughout a hundred plants, animals, etc., and you discovered them and were able to compound them and work them up into one form, in this you would actually seem already to possess completely the Sun or Jupiter. [c.11]

(h) As soon as I had explored these things [astral images] thus far, while I was still a youth, I greatly rejoiced, and I planned to engrave a lodestone as best I could with the figure of the celestial Bear when the Moon was in one of her better aspects with it and then to suspend it from my neck with an iron thread. Then at last, I was hoping, I would share in the power of that constellation. But when I had explored further, I found in the end that the influence of that constellation is very Saturnine and Martial. I learned from the Platonists that evil demons are mostly Northern, which even the Hebrew Astronomers confess, placing harmful Martial daemons in the North, propitious and Jovial ones in the South. I learned from the theologians and Iamblichus that makers of images are often possessed by evil daemons and deceived...

(i) They [the ancients] made images against disease, discord, and captivity when [the Moon] was positioned from the twelfth degree of Capricorn to its twelfth degree. When she was positioned from the twelfth degree of Capricorn to its twenty-fifth degree, they made images against lassitude and prison. In the position from the fourth degree of Pisces to its seventeenth degree, they made images for curing diseases, for profits, for companionship, for increasing the harvest. And in other positions they very often used to contrive other images in their vain curiosity. I enumerate only the ones which savor not so much of magic as of medicine. For even the medicine I suspect to be mostly vain. [c.18]

(j) ...it would be safer to trust oneself to medicines than to images; ...the things we said cause celestial power in images can have their efficacy rather in medicines than in images. For it is possible that, if images have any power, they do not so much acquire it just at the moment of receiving a figure as possess it through a material naturally do disposed; but if an image eventually acquired something when it was engraved, it obtained it not so much through the figure as through the heating produced by hammering. This hammering and heating, if it happens under a harmony similar to that celestial harmony which had once infused power into the material, activates this power and strengthens it as blowing strengthens a flame and makes manifest what was latent before, as the heat of a fire brings to visibility letters previously hidden which were written with the juice of an onion; and as letters written with the fat of a goat on a stone, absolutely unseen, if the stone is submerged in vinegar, emerge and stick out as if they were sculptured. [c.18]

(k) ...if anyone uses hellebore according to medical rules and is strong enough to tolerate it, then, by the resulting purgation and by its occult property, he changes somehow the quality of his spirit, the nature of his body, and in part also the motions of his mind; and he is, as it were, rejuvenated so that he seems to be well-nigh reborn. Whence the story- -Medea and the magicians used certain herbs to restore youth; myrobalans do not so much restore as preserve it. Astrologers think that propitious images have a similar power, by which they somehow change the nature and behavior of the wearer; restore him to a better state, so that he becomes now almost another person; or at least preserve him in good health for a very long time. They say that harmful images, however, possess against the wearer the force of hellebore that has been taken in a measure exceeding medical rules and the patient's capacity--a poisonous and deadly force. Moreover, they say that images fashioned and directed for the ruin of some other person have the power of a bronze and concave mirror aimed directly at him, so that by collecting rays and reflecting them back, at close range they completely incinerate him, and even at long range they make him blind. From this has arisen the story or belief which supposed that by the machinations of astrologers and the witchcraft of magicians, people, animals, plants can be planet-stricken and waste away. I do not quite understand, however, how images have any force upon a distant target, but I suspect that they have some force on the wearer. Yet I do not think that they have the sort of force that many suppose--and what they do have is caused by the material rather than the figure--and (as I said) I prefer medicines to images by far. [c.20]

(l) ...it is my opinion that the intention of the imagination does not have its power so much in fashioning images or medicines as it does in applying and swallowing them. And so if anyone, as they say, wears an image which has been properly fashioned, or certainly if anyone uses a rightly made medicine, and yearns vehemently to get help from it and believes with all his heart and hopes with all his strength, he will surely get a great deal more help from it. [c.20]

(m) ...they [the astrologers] hold that certain words pronounced with a quite strong emotion have great force to aim the effect of images precisely where the emotion and words are directed. And so, in order to bring two people together in passionate love, they used to fashion an image when the Moon was above the horizon and was coming together with Venus in Pisces or Taurus, and they followed many precise directions involving stars and words which I will not tell you, for we are not teaching philters but medicine . It is however more likely that an effect of this sort is achieved either by Venereal daemons who rejoice in such deeds and words or by daemons who are simply deceivers. [c.21]

(n) ...remember that song is a most powerful imitator of all things. It imitates the intentions and passions of the soul as well as words; it represents also people's physical gestures, motions, and actions as well as their characters and imitates all these and acts them out so forcibly that it immediately provokes both the singer and the audience to imitate and act out the same things. By the same power, when it imitates the celestials, it also wonderfully arouses our spirit upwards to the celestial influence and the celestial influence downwards to our spirit. Now the very matter of song, indeed, is altogether purer and more similar to the heavens than is the matter of medicine. For this too is air, hot or warm, still breathing and somehow living; like an animal, it is composed of certain parts and limbs of its own and not only possesses motion and displays passion but even carries meaning like a mind, so that it can be said to be a kind of airy and rational animal. Song, therefore, which is full of spirit and meaning--if it corresponds to this or that constellation not only in the things it signifies, its parts, and the form that results from those parts, but also in the disposition of the imagination--has as much power as does any other combination of things [e.g., a medicine] and casts it into the singer and from him into the nearby listener. It has this power as long as it keeps the vigor and the spirit of the singer, especially if the singer himself be Phoebean by nature and have in his heart a powerful vital and animal spirit. [c.21]

(o) ...a prayer, when it has been suitably and seasonably composed and is full of emotion and forceful, has a power similar to a song.... we are not now speaking of worshipping divinities but of a natural power in speech, song, and words. [c.21]

(p) Someone... will say: Marsilio is a priest, isn't he? Indeed he is. What business then do priests have with medicine or, again, with astrology? Another will say: What does a Christian have to do with magic or images? And someone else, unworthy of life, will begrudge life to the heavens. ...Christ, the giver of life, who commanded his disciples to cure the sick in the whole world, will also enjoin priests to heal at least with herbs and stones, if they are unable to cure with words as those men did before. But if those things are not sufficient, he will command them to compound them with a seasonable breath of heaven and apply them to sick people. For with the same breath of heaven by which he incites animals everywhere, each to his own medicine, even so does he provide most abundantly for the life of all.... ...Marsilio is not approving magic and images but recounting them in the course of an interpretation of Plotinus. And my writings make this quite clear, if they are read impartially. Nor do I affirm here a single word about profane magic which depends upon the worship of daemons, but I mention natural magic, which, by natural things, seeks to obtain the services of the celestials for the prosperous health of our bodies. This power, it seems, must be granted to minds which use it legitimately, as medicine and agriculture are justly granted, and all the more so as that activity which joins heavenly things to earthly is more perfect. From this workshop, the Magi, the first of all, adored the new-born Christ. Why then are you so dreadfully afraid of the name of Magus, a name pleasing to the Gospel, which signifies not an enchanter and a sorcerer, but a wise priest? For what does that Magus, the first adorer of Christ, profess? If you wish to hear: on the analogy of a farmer, he is a cultivator of the world. Nor does he on that account worship the world, just as a farmer does not worship the earth; but just as a farmer for the sake of human sustenance tempers his field to the air, so that wise man, that priest, for the sake of human welfare tempers the lower parts of the world to the upper parts... Lastly, there are two kinds of magic. The first is practiced by those who unite themselves to daemons by a specific religious rite, and, relying on their help, often contrive portents. This, however, was thoroughly rejected when the Prince of this World was cast out. But the other kind of magic is practiced by those who seasonably subject natural materials to natural causes to be formed in a wondrous way. Of this profession there are also two types: the first in inquisitive, the second, necessary. The former does indeed feign useless portents for ostentation... This type, however, must be avoided as vain and harmful to health. Nevertheless the necessary type which joins medicine with astrology must be kept.

Selections extracted from Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life: A Critical Edition and Translation with Introduction and Notes, by Carol V. Kaske and John R. Clark (Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1989).

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