Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Images in the Palace of Twilight

Rossetti's Mnemosyne. 1875 - 1876.

“Μνημοσύνην καλέω, Ζηνὸς σύλλεκτρον, ἄνασσαν,
ἣ Μούσας τέκνωσ’ ἱεράς, ὁσίας, λιγυφώνους,
ἐκτὸς ἐοῦσα κακῆς λήθης βλαψίφρονος αἰεί,
πάντα νόον συνέχουσα βροτῶν ψυχαῖσι σύνοικον,
εὐδύνατον κρατερὸν θνητῶν αὔξουσα λογισμόν,
ἡδυτάτη, φιλάγρυπνος ὑπομνήσκουσά τε πάντα,
ὧν ἂν ἕκαστος ἀεὶ στέρνοις γνώμην κατάθηται,
οὔτι παρεκβαίνουσ’, ἐπεγείρουσα φρένα πᾶσιν.
ἀλλά, μάκαιρα θεά, μύσταις μνήμην ἐπέγειρε
εὐιέρου τελετῆς, λήθην δ’ ἀπὸ τῶν δ’ ἀπόπεμπε.”

(“The consort I invoke of Jove divine,
Source of the holy, sweetly-speaking Nine;
Free from th' oblivion of the fallen mind,
By whom the soul with intellect is join'd:
Reason's increase, and thought to thee belong,
All-powerful, pleasant, vigilant, and strong:
'Tis thine, to waken from lethargic rest
All thoughts deposited within the breast;
And nought neglecting, vigorous to excite
The mental eye from dark oblivion's night.
Come, blessed power, thy Mystic's mem'ry wake
To holy rites, and Lethe's fetters break.”)
- Orphic Hymn to Mnemosyne, Titan Goddess of Memory. (Original Greek & Taylor Translation.)

The Palace of Twilight

This post is about the “Memory Palace,” a technique originally developed in antiquity to extend the powers of the memory to abnormal (“artificial”) – if not practically divine – potential. It was used by orators in Greece and Rome to memorize their often quite lengthy speeches, and to allow them access to vast swathes of information prior to the arrival of the printing press. During the Renaissance – and even after the printing press made access to written material a trivial concern – it was used to magicians for reasons both pragmatic and (as Francis Yates puts it) “mysterious.” I first encountered the
Memory Palace in Thomas Harris' Hannibal, in which there are scenes depicting the villainous Hannibal Lecter using his memory palace. At the age of 16, I thought that there was nothing more fascinating than the idea that one could travel in a completely “imaginary” space, as well as perform actions that would allow for further access to memory in real-time. As such, I very quickly sought to learn how to make my own Memory Palace and began using it. Later, while using the “Astral Temple” as described by various magicians and traditions of Western Magick, I began noticing that there wasn't a huge difference between the two. In fact, the Astral Temple described for use by Patrick Dunn in Postmodern Magic is easily correlated, if not conflated (there are a few key differences, but I see no proof those differences weren't used in the classical sense, either), with the Memory Palace.

The origins of these memory techniques, referred to in Latin as the
Ars Memorativa or Ars Memoriae (“Art of Memory”). It probably derives from Pre-Socratic (“Sophist”) philosophy, although Pre-Socratic philosophy was largely shattered by Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato. The Art of Memory holds a special place in the Pre-Socratic Trivium. Writing on McLuhan's thoughts regarding the Trivium and Quadrivium, Bill Kuhn's (in the last link) writes:
“The trivium and the quadrivium constitute what the ancients and later the medievals call the seven liberal arts. As Thomas Aquinas writes of them, 'these subjects are known as the trivium and quadrivium because by them, as if by certain roads, the eager mind enters into the secrets of philosophy.' The arts of the trivium are the arts whereby one comes to know and express things, the arts of language, or the Logos: grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. The quadrivium consists of the four classic disciplines of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.”
In this sense, Memory is always a key to utilizing and enacting the other aspects of the Trivium and Quadrivium. Thus the Memory Palace (which I am calling “The Palace of Twilight” more for poetic reasons than historical ones) allows access to the information places within it, so that the individual can draw upon this information at will. In fact Francis Yates, in The Art of Memory, writes (regarding Aristotle's thoughts):
Aristotle's theory of memory and reminiscence is based on the theory of knowledge which he expounds in is De anima. The perceptions brought in by the five senses are first treated or worked upon by the faculty of imagination, and it is the images so formed which become the material of the intellectual faculty. Imagination is the intermediary between perception and thought. Thus while all knowledge is ultimately derived from sense impressions it is not on these in the raw that thought works but after they have been treated by, or absorbed into, the imaginative faculty. It is the image-making part of the soul which makes the work of the higher processes of thought possible. Hence 'the soul never thinks without a mental picture;' 'the thinking faculty thinks of its forms in mental pictures;' 'no one could ever learn or understand anything, if he had not the faculty of perception; even when he thinks speculatively, he must have some mental picture with which to think.'”
(P. 32)

The
Memory Palace consists of these images, and maintains the use of them for the art of memory. Through texts like the Rhetorica ad Herennium these techniques were handed down from Antiquity and well into the Renaissance, where they were used by such august fellows as Giordano Bruno.


Loci: Places and Palaces.

The palace itself is a location, classically taken from a real and accessible place which could thus be memorized:

“A person with a relatively large experience can easily equip himself with as many suitable loci as he pleases, and even a person who thinks he does not possess enough sufficiently good loci can remedy this. 'For thought can embrace any region whatsoever and in it and at will construct the setting of some locus.' (That is to say, mnemonics can use what were afterwards called 'fictitious places,' in contrast to the 'real places' of the ordinary method.)”
- Francis Yates, The Art of Memory (P. 8)

Classically, it appears that 'real locations' were preferred to 'fictitious' ones because they allowed for easier memorization. Yates, at one point, notes that the individual moving slowly – step by painstaking step – through a building as if they were memorizing each minute detail was the Rhetorician. The
ad Herennium recommends (as does Cicero):
“Again, it will be more advantageous to obtain backgrounds in a deserted than in a populous region, because the crowding and passing to and fro of people confuse and weaken the impress of the images, while solitude keeps their outlines sharp. Further, backgrounds differing in form and nature must be secured, so that, thus distinguished, they may be clearly visible; for if a person has adopted many intercolumnar spaces, their resemblance to one another will so confuse him that he will no longer know what he has set in each background. And these backgrounds ought to be of moderate size and medium extent, for when excessively large they render the images vague, and when too small often seem incapable of receiving an arrangement of images.  Then the backgrounds ought to be neither too bright nor too dim, so that the shadows may not obscure the images nor the lustre make them glitter. I believe that the intervals between backgrounds should be of moderate extent, approximately thirty feet; for, like the external eye, so the inner eye of thought is less powerful when you have moved the object of sight too near or too far away.”
The first Memory Palace I ever maintained and used, as an example of Loci, was a delapidated mansion in a town that I grew up in. When I was eight years old, I snuck into it on a dare and after about thirty minutes of exploration fled when I was certain that the devil was coming for my “soul,” because I was a too-clever sinner. It is far more likely that I woke up a homeless fellow living inside it, but I was convinced during the encounter that it was the devil coming for me with terrifyingly loud stomps. It is also quite possible that it was my boyhood friends playing a prank on me. The sheer fear of the event left at least 90% of the mansion burned into my memory, and I quite often had nightmares later on which I was trapped in the place with some sinister, shadowy individual “coming for me.” Shortly after converting it into a Memory Palace and focusing logically on the events that transpired that night, I stopped having said nightmares and seem to have balanced it well enough for use.

I have subsequently added quite a few more locations for use, depending on what I'm doing and what information I'm storing. These include often visited – but rarely frequented – libraries, and a few other buildings besides. I use almost all of this
Loci with more regularity than most probably realize.


Imagines Agentes (Giving Images)

Once a suitable
Loci or Palace is found and created, it is equipped with statues or figures which are so vivid that they allow for easy recollection. To these images, symbolic details (and even symbolic language itself) may be applied. For the sake of this (somewhat) brief blog entry, we'll focus on their uses for memorizing aspects of occult correspondences. Since I don't use QBL, you will note a distinct lack of any reference to it. It is advised that those who use the 'Tree of Life' and QBL consider incorporating those aspects into their Memory Palace.* Just don't ask me for help with it, for the love of all that is Holy.

I have a specific room in one of my palaces – with a dome, upon which the planets and stars of the sky have been sketched – which is equipped with statues of the classical planetary rulers. This is not something I either invented, nor came up with by myself: Gordiano Bruno, in particular, mentions created just such spaces within one's memory palace.

Thus I have a statue for: Luna (Diana, Hekate, or Persphone work well, along with a number of other deities), Mercury (Hermes), Venus (Aphrodite), Sol (Apollo), Mars (Ares), Jupiter (Zeus), and Saturn (Kronos). This follows the Ptolemaic Order of the planets, which I use because it happens to be “Traditional.”

One of the easiest ways to establish such figures is to grab sculptures or busts of the respective deities and then alter them for use. To each of these statues is added, at the base that the statue stands upon (or upon their forehead) the planetary symbol for the relevant astrological body. More recently, I've been adding a garden or representations of plants associated with the relevant planets and rulers.**

Additionally, all of the statues are made of their traditional metals, either in their corroded state (minus the noble metals, which do not corrode) or in their original state. The metal associated with a given planet was traditionally taken from Alchemy, as well as the colors that correspond to the planetary body. An example for this is Venus: the metal commonly associated with Venus is Copper, which initially has a bright rosy tint to it, but when it corrodes or oxidizes turns to a deep green coloration. Thus one can either use one or both images on their Statue for the deity. Using both actually works quite well, as the clothing on the statue can remain the traditional color, while the extremities (arms/legs) of the statue can be the color the metal presents following their having been oxidized.

Thus we'd end up with a Statue of Venus:


Before it, a small garden within which are growing***

Violets:





Valerian:



And so on.

Before the statue is an offering basin, made from a beautifully crafted copper:



 and in which we place gleaming gems of Emerald:

Chunks of Coral:


And so forth...

Thus whenever I enter this area of my Memory Palace, I can immediately see the Order of the Planets, the statues of their rulers sitting beneath them, and then the items that they are sympathetically linked to. And so long as I maintain and use this room in my Memory Palace regularly, the recollection is almost instantaneous. They are further linked by the simple symbol of the Planetary body, such as that of Venus:



And even if I do not wish to fully enter that room within my mind and view it, I can recall the correspondence quite quickly simply by summoning into my mind's eye the symbol of the planet... Once these images are correlated together, it is quite hard to think of them quite as distinctly. The simple symbol brings to mind the statue, and then the offerings placed before it, and the plants growing and sprawling around it. We may even add, behind each of the statues, another garden environment in which grow trees and larger shrubs that are sympathetically linked to the relevant bodies.

Furthermore, within this room we may also perform evocations for the planetary rulers and 'give life' to the statues themselves, allowing for quite read and easy access to the planetary deity. Routine use of such techniques allow for discussions with the Planetary Rulers regarding what they do and how they work – and how we
ought to work with them – that anyone can perform, any time, even if they are in a space that is not conductive to ritual activity. In a very real way, the way we equip and use our Memory Palace allows for us to set in motion all later magical activities, to easily recall relevant details and sympathies linked to our magical work, all of which lying behind which is the extraordinary beauty and twilight “reality” of interior space.

By creating and maintaining the interior space of the
Memory Palace, we are creating profound linkages between our interior “mental world” and the exterior world upon which we act ritually.

For within the field of perception and the mind's eye, the two are always linked in extraordinary ways. But don't take my word for it: pick up a copy of Yates book, build your own, and see for yourself. Obviously, this will only interest those with visual memory as a primary faculty... But it is highly useful.

Be seeing you,

Faustilocks.


* Note: Unfortunately, this blog entry will not be long enough to get into every single detail, potential use, and aspect of the Ars Memoriae. I am focusing on pragmatic aspects versus other elements that – while useful – may distract blog readers new to the subject.
** One can either ask the plants, hunt down classical associations between the plants and the rulers in traditional texts (like Pliny's
The Natural Histories and Dioscorides De Materia Medica), or use the Doctrine of the Sympathies.
*** All of these correspondences have been taken from Agrippa. Many, if not all of them, can be found and easily referenced on Chris Warnock's Renaissance Astrology site.

2 comments:

Gordon said...

Very, very nice stuff.

Mine's dilapidated too. Except it's a defunct/hurricane-damaged Micronesian hotel.

Br Christopher said...

huh. ever since I was a teenager I always had this mental image of my entire memory being a well maintained filing cabinet, made of metal painted tan, with about 3 smoothly moving drawers that I could find everything I needed in. of course older things would be in the bottom drawer, while newer or more relevant things are in the top most cabinet. It almost sounds like I was doing the ars memoriae without even realizing it.