Bygone Beliefs by H. Stanley Redgrove

Scanned by Charles Keller with OmniPage Professional OCR software = coordinate covalent bond. = subscripted #. = superscripted #. {} mark non-ascii characters. “Emphasis” _italics_ have a * mark. @@@ marks a reference to internal page numbers. Comments and guessed at characters in {braces} need stripped/fixed. Footnotes have not been re-numbered, however, are moved to
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

Scanned by Charles Keller with OmniPage Professional OCR software

<.> = coordinate covalent bond.
<#s> = subscripted #.
<#S> = superscripted #.
{} mark non-ascii characters.
“Emphasis” _italics_ have a * mark. @@@ marks a reference to internal page numbers. Comments and guessed at characters in {braces} need stripped/fixed. Footnotes have not been re-numbered, however, [#] are moved to EOParagraph. The footnotes that have duplicate numbers across 2 pages are “a” and “b”. “Protected” indentations have a space before the [Tab]. EOL- have been converted to ([Soft Hyphen]). Greek letters are encoded in brackets, and the letters are
based on Adobe’s Symbol font.
Hebrew letters are encoded in brackets.



_Alle Erfahrung ist Magic, und nur magisch erklarbar_. NOVALIS (Friedrich von Hardenberg).

Everything possible to be believ’d is an image of truth. WILLIAM BLAKE.



THESE Excursions in the Byways of Thought were undertaken at different times and on different occasions; consequently, the reader may be able to detect in them inequalities of treatment. He may feel that I have lingered too long in some byways and hurried too rapidly through others, taking, as it were, but a general view of the road in the latter case, whilst examining everything that could be seen in the former with, perhaps, undue care. As a matter of fact, how ever, all these excursions have been undertaken with one and the same object in view, that, namely, of understanding aright and appreciating at their true worth some of the more curious byways along which human thought has travelled. It is easy for the superficial thinker to dismiss much of the thought of the past (and, indeed, of the present) as _mere_ superstition, not worth the trouble of investigation: but it is not scientific. There is a reason for every belief, even the most fantastic, and it should be our object to discover this reason. How far, if at all, the reason in any case justifies us in holding a similar belief is, of course, another question. Some of the beliefs I have dealt with I have treated at greater length than others, because it seems to me that the truths of which they are the images–vague and distorted in many cases though they be–are truths which we have either forgotten nowadays, or are in danger of forgetting. We moderns may, indeed, learn something from the thought of the past, even in its most fantastic aspects. In one excursion at least, namely, the essay on “The Cambridge Platonists,” I have ventured to deal with a higher phase–perhaps I should say the highest phase–of the thought of a bygone age, to which the modern world may be completely debtor.

“Some Characteristics of Mediaeval Thought,” and the two essays on Alchemy, have appeared in _The Journal of the Alchemical Society_. In others I have utilised material I have contributed to _The Occult Review_, to the editor of which journal my thanks are due for permission so to do. I have also to express my gratitude to the Rev. A. H. COLLINS, and others to be referred to in due course, for permission here to reproduce illustrations of which they are the copyright holders. I have further to offer my hearty thanks to Mr B. R. ROWBOTTOM and my wife for valuable assistance in reading the proofs.
H. S. R.

BLETCHLEY, BUCKS, _December_ 1919.

PREFACE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiii 1. SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF MEDIAEVAL THOUGHT . . . . . . . . . 1 2. PYTHAGORAS AND HIS PHILOSOPHY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 3. MEDICINE AND MAGIC. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 4. SUPERSTITIONS CONCERNING BIRDS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 5. THE POWDER OF SYMPATHY: A CURIOUS MEDICAL SUPERSTITION . . 47 6. THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 7. CEREMONIAL MAGIC IN THEORY AND PRACTICE . . . . . . . . . . 87 8. ARCHITECTURAL SYMBOLISM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .111 9. THE QUEST OF THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE. . . . . . . . . . . .121 10. THE PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMICAL DOCTRINE. . . . . . . . .149 11. ROGER BACON: AN APPRECIATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .183 12. THE CAMBRIDGE PLATONISTS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .193

{the LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS are incomplete and raw OCR output!}

PAGE 46. Symbolic Alchemical Design from Mutus Liber (1677) . PLATE: 25, to face p.176
47. Symbolic Alchemical Design illustrating the Work of Woman, from MAIER’s Atalanta Fugiens . . . ,, 26, ,, 178 48. Symbolic Alchemica Design, Hermaphrodite, from MAIER’s Atalanta Fugiens. . ,, 27, ,, 180 49. ROGER BACON presenting a Book to a King, from a Fifteenth Century Miniature in the Bodleian Library, Oxford . . .,, 28, ,, 184 50. ROGER BACON, from a Portrait in Knole Castle . . ,, 29, ,, 188 51. BENJAMIN WHICHCOTE, from an engraved Portrait by ROBERT WHITE ….30…194
52. HENRY MORE, from a Portrait by DAVID LOGGAN, engraved ad vivum, 1679 . . . ,, 31, ,, 198
53. RALPH CUDWORTH, from an engraved Portrait by VERTUE, after LOGGAN, forming the Frontispiece to CUDWORTH’s Treatise Concerning Morality (1731) ,, 32, ,, 3~




IN the earliest days of his upward evolution man was satisfied with a very crude explanation of natural phenomena–that to which the name “animism” has been given. In this stage of mental development all the various forces of Nature are personified: the rushing torrent, the devastating fire, the wind rustling the forest leaves–in the mind of the animistic savage all these are personalities, spirits, like himself, but animated by motives more or less antagonistic to him.

I suppose that no possible exception could be taken to the statement that modern science renders animism impossible. But let us inquire in exactly what sense this is true. It is not true that science robs natural phenomena of their spiritual significance. The mistake is often made of supposing that science explains, or endeavours to explain, phenomena. But that is the business of philosophy. The task science attempts is the simpler one of the correlation of natural phenomena, and in this effort leaves the ultimate problems of metaphysics untouched. A universe, however, whose phenomena are not only capable of some degree of correlation, but present the extraordinary degree of harmony and unity which science makes manifest in Nature, cannot be, as in animism, the product of a vast number of inco-ordinated and antagonistic wills, but must either be the product of one Will, or not the product of will at all.

The latter alternative means that the Cosmos is inexplicable, which not only man’s growing experience, but the fact that man and the universe form essentially a unity, forbid us to believe. The term “anthropomorphic” is too easily applied to philosophical systems, as if it constituted a criticism of their validity. For if it be true, as all must admit, that the unknown can only be explained in terms of the known, then the universe must either be explained in terms of man–_i.e_. in terms of will or desire–or remain incomprehensible. That is to say, a philosophy must either be anthropomorphic, or no philosophy at all.

Thus a metaphysical scrutiny of the results of modern science leads us to a belief in God. But man felt the need of unity, and crude animism, though a step in the right direction, failed to satisfy his thought, long before the days of modern science. The spirits of animism, however, were not discarded, but were modified, co-ordinated, and worked into a system as servants of the Most High. Polytheism may mark a stage in this process; or, perhaps, it was a result of mental degeneracy.

What I may term systematised as distinguished from crude animism persisted throughout the Middle Ages. The work of systematisation had already been accomplished, to a large extent, by the Neo-Platonists and whoever were responsible for the Kabala. It is true that these main sources of magical or animistic philosophy remained hidden during the greater part of the Middle Ages; but at about their close the youthful and enthusiastic CORNELIUS AGRIPPA (1486-1535)[1] slaked his thirst thereat and produced his own attempt at the systematisation of magical belief in the famous _Three Books of Occult Philosophy_. But the waters of magical philosophy reached the mediaeval mind through various devious channels, traditional on the one hand and literary on the other. And of the latter, the works of pseudo-DIONYSIUS,[2] whose immense influence upon mediaeval thought has sometimes been neglected, must certainly be noted.

[1] The story of his life has been admirably told by HENRY MORLEY (2 vols., 1856).

[2] These writings were first heard of in the early part of the sixth century, and were probably the work of a Syrian monk of that date, who fathered them on to DIONYSIUS the Areopagite as a pious fraud. See Dean INGE’S _Christian Mysticism_ (1899), pp. 104–122, and VAUGHAN’S _Hours with the Mystics_ (7th ed., 1895), vol. i. pp. 111-124. The books have been translated into English by the Rev. JOHN PARKER (2 vols.1897-1899), who believes in the genuineness of their alleged authorship.

The most obvious example of a mediaeval animistic belief is that in “elementals”–the spirits which personify the primordial forces of Nature, and are symbolised by the four elements, immanent in which they were supposed to exist, and through which they were held to manifest their powers. And astrology, it must be remembered, is essentially a systematised animism. The stars, to the ancients, were not material bodies like the earth, but spiritual beings. PLATO (427-347 B.C.) speaks of them as “gods”. Mediaeval thought did not regard them in quite this way. But for those who believed in astrology, and few, I think, did not, the stars were still symbols of spiritual forces operative on man. Evidences of the wide extent of astrological belief in those days are abundant, many instances of which we shall doubtless encounter in our excursions.

It has been said that the theological and philosophical atmosphere of the Middle Ages was “scholastic,” not mystical. No doubt “mysticism,” as a mode of life aiming at the realisation of the presence of God, is as distinct from scholasticism as empiricism is from rationalism, or “tough-minded” philosophy (to use JAMES’ happy phrase) is from “tender-minded”. But no philosophy can be absolutely and purely deductive. It must start from certain empirically determined facts. A man might be an extreme empiricist in religion (_i.e_. a mystic), and yet might attempt to deduce all other forms of knowledge from the results of his religious experiences, never caring to gather experience in any other realm. Hence the breach between mysticism and scholasticism is not really so wide as may appear at first sight. Indeed, scholasticism officially recognised three branches of theology, of which the MYSTICAL was one. I think that mysticism and scholasticism both had a profound influence on the mediaeval mind, sometimes acting as opposing forces, sometimes operating harmoniously with one another. As Professor WINDELBAND puts it: “We no longer onesidedly characterise the philosophy of the middle ages as scholasticism, but rather place mysticism beside it as of equal rank, and even as being the more fruitful and promising movement.”[1]

[1] Professor WILHELM WINDELBAND, Ph.D.: “Present-Day Mysticism,” _The Quest_, vol. iv. (1913), P. 205.

Alchemy, with its four Aristotelian or scholastic elements and its three mystical principles–sulphur, mercury, salt,–must be cited as the outstanding product of the combined influence of mysticism and scholasticism: of mysticism, which postulated the unity of the Cosmos, and hence taught that everything natural is the expressive image and type of some supernatural reality; of scholasticism, which taught men to rely upon deduction and to restrict experimentation to the smallest possible limits.

The mind naturally proceeds from the known, or from what is supposed to be known, to the unknown. Indeed, as I have already indicated, it must so proceed if truth is to be gained. Now what did the men of the Middle Ages regard as falling into the category of the known? Why, surely, the truths of revealed religion, whether accepted upon authority or upon the evidence of their own experience. The realm of spiritual and moral reality: there, they felt, they were on firm ground. Nature was a realm unknown; but they had analogy to guide, or, rather, misguide them. Nevertheless if, as we know, it misguided, this was not, I think, because the mystical doctrine of the correspondence between the spiritual and the natural is unsound, but because these ancient seekers into Nature’s secrets knew so little, and so frequently misapplied what they did know. So alchemical philosophy arose and became systematised, with its wonderful endeavour to perfect the base metals by the Philosopher’s Stone–the concentrated Essence of Nature,–as man’s soul is perfected through the life-giving power of JESUS CHRIST.

I want, in conclusion to these brief introductory remarks, to say a few words concerning phallicism in connection with my topic. For some “tender-minded”[1] and, to my thought, obscure, reason the subject is tabooed. Even the British Museum does not include works on phallicism in its catalogue, and special permission has to be obtained to consult them. Yet the subject is of vast importance as concerns the origin and development of religion and philosophy, and the extent of phallic worship may be gathered from the widespread occurrence of obelisks and similar objects amongst ancient relics. Our own maypole dances may be instanced as one survival of the ancient worship of the male generative principle.

[1] I here use the term with the extended meaning Mr H. G. WELLS has given to it. See _The New Machiavelli_.

What could be more easy to understand than that, when man first questioned as to the creation of the earth, he should suppose it to have been generated by some process analogous to that which he saw held in the case of man? How else could he account for its origin, if knowledge must proceed from the known to the unknown? No one questions at all that the worship of the human generative organs as symbols of the dual generative principle of Nature degenerated into orgies of the most frightful character, but the view of Nature which thus degenerated is not, I think, an altogether unsound one, and very interesting remnants of it are to be found in mediaeval philosophy.

These remnants are very marked in alchemy. The metals, as I have suggested, are there regarded as types of man; hence they are produced from seed, through the combination of male and female principles–mercury and sulphur, which on the spiritual plane are intelligence and love. The same is true of that Stone which is perfect Man. As BERNARD of TREVISAN (1406-1490) wrote in the fifteenth century: “This Stone then is compounded of a Body and Spirit, or of a volatile and fixed Substance, and that is therefore done, because nothing in the World can be generated and brought to light without these two Substances, to wit, a Male and Female: From whence it appeareth, that although these two Substances are not of one and the same species, yet one Stone doth thence arise, and although they appear and are said to be two Substances, yet in truth it is but one, to wit, _Argent-vive_.”[1] No doubt this sounds fantastic; but with all their seeming intellectual follies these old thinkers were no fools. The fact of sex is the most fundamental fact of the universe, and is a spiritual and physical as well as a physiological fact. I shall deal with the subject as concerns the speculations of the alchemists in some detail in a later excursion.

[1] BERNARD, Earl of TREVISAN: _A Treatise of the Philosopher’s Stone_, 1683. (See _Collectanea Chymica: A Collection of Ten Several Treatises in Chemistry_, 1684, p. 91.)



IT is a matter for enduring regret that so little is known to us concerning PYTHAGORAS. What little we do know serves but to enhance for us the interest of the man and his philosophy, to make him, in many ways, the most attractive of Greek thinkers; and, basing our estimate on the extent of his influence on the thought of succeeding ages, we recognise in him one of the world’s master-minds.

PYTHAGORAS was born about 582 B.C. at Samos, one of the Grecian isles. In his youth he came in contact with THALES–the Father of Geometry, as he is well called,–and though he did not become a member of THALES’ school, his contact with the latter no doubt helped to turn his mind towards the study of geometry. This interest found the right ground for its development in Egypt, which he visited when still young. Egypt is generally regarded as the birthplace of geometry, the subject having, it is supposed, been forced on the minds of the Egyptians by the necessity of fixing the boundaries of lands against the annual overflowing of the Nile. But the Egyptians were what is called an essentially practical people, and their geometrical knowledge did not extend beyond a few empirical rules useful for fixing these boundaries and in constructing their temples. Striking evidence of this fact is supplied by the AHMES papyrus, compiled some little time before 1700 B.C. from an older work dating from about 3400 B.C.,[1] a papyrus which almost certainly represents the highest mathematical knowledge reached by the Egyptians of that day. Geometry is treated very superficially and as of subsidiary interest to arithmetic; there is no ordered series of reasoned geometrical propositions given–nothing, indeed, beyond isolated rules, and of these some are wanting in accuracy.

[1] See AUGUST EISENLOHR: _Ein mathematisches Handbuch der alten Aegypter_ (1877); J. Gow: _A Short History of Greek Mathematics_ (1884); and V. E. JOHNSON: _Egyptian Science from the Monuments and Ancient Books_ (1891).

One geometrical fact known to the Egyptians was that if a triangle be constructed having its sides 3, 4, and 5 units long respectively, then the angle opposite the longest side is exactly a right angle; and the Egyptian builders used this rule for constructing walls perpendicular to each other, employing a cord graduated in the required manner. The Greek mind was not, however, satisfied with the bald statement of mere facts–it cared little for practical applications, but sought above all for the underlying REASON of everything. Nowadays we are beginning to realise that the results achieved by this type of mind, the general laws of Nature’s behaviour formulated by its endeavours, are frequently of immense practical importance– of far more importance than the mere rules-of-thumb beyond which so-called practical minds never advance. The classic example of the utility of seemingly useless knowledge is afforded by Sir WILLIAM HAMILTON’S discovery, or, rather, invention of Quarternions, but no better example of the utilitarian triumph of the theoretical over the so-called practical mind can be adduced than that afforded by PYTHAGORAS. Given this rule for constructing a right angle, about whose reason the Egyptian who used it never bothered himself, and the mind of PYTHAGORAS, searching for its full significance, made that gigantic geometrical discovery which is to this day known as the Theorem of PYTHAGORAS–the law that in every right-angled triangle the square on the side opposite the right angle is equal in area to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.[1] The importance of this discovery can hardly be overestimated. It is of fundamental importance in most branches of geometry, and the basis of the whole of trigonometry–the special branch of geometry that deals with the practical mensuration of triangles. EUCLID devoted the whole of the first book of his _Elements of Geometry_ to establishing the truth of this theorem; how PYTHAGORAS demonstrated it we unfortunately do not know.

[1] Fig. 3 affords an interesting practical demonstration of the truth of this theorem. If the reader will copy this figure, cut out the squares on the two shorter sides of the triangle and divide them along the lines AD, BE, EF, he will find that the five pieces so obtained can be made exactly to fit the square on the longest side as shown by the dotted lines. The size and shape of the triangle ABC, so long as it has a right angle at C, is immaterial. The lines AD, BE are obtained by continuing the sides of the square on the side AB, _i.e_. the side opposite the right angle, and EF is drawn at right angles to BE.

After absorbing what knowledge was to be gained in Egypt, PYTHAGORAS journeyed to Babylon, where he probably came into contact with even greater traditions and more potent influences and sources of knowledge than in Egypt, for there is reason for believing that the ancient Chaldeans were the builders of the Pyramids and in many ways the intellectual superiors of the Egyptians.

At last, after having travelled still further East, probably as far as India, PYTHAGORAS returned to his birthplace to teach the men of his native land the knowledge he had gained. But CROESUS was tyrant over Samos, and so oppressive was his rule that none had leisure in which to learn. Not a student came to PYTHAGORAS, until, in despair, so the story runs, he offered to pay an artisan if he would but learn geometry. The man accepted, and later, when PYTHAGORAS pretended inability any longer to continue the payments, he offered, so fascinating did he find the subject, to pay his teacher instead if the lessons might only be continued. PYTHAGORAS no doubt was much gratified at this; and the motto he adopted for his great Brotherhood, of which we shall make the acquaintance in a moment, was in all likelihood based on this event. It ran, “Honour a figure and a step before a figure and a tribolus”; or, as a freer translation renders it:–

“A figure and a step onward Not a figure and a florin.”

“At all events, as Mr FRANKLAND remarks, “the motto is a lasting witness to a very singular devotion to knowledge for its own sake.”[1]

[1] W. B. FRANKLAND, M.A.: _The Story of Euclid_ (1902), p. 33

But PYTHAGORAS needed a greater audience than one man, however enthusiastic a pupil he might be, and he left Samos for Southern Italy, the rich inhabitants of whose cities had both the leisure and inclination to study. Delphi, far-famed for its Oracles, was visited _en route_, and PYTHAGORAS, after a sojourn at Tarentum, settled at Croton, where he gathered about him a great band of pupils, mainly young people of the aristocratic class. By consent of the Senate of Croton, he formed out of these a great philosophical brotherhood, whose members lived apart from the ordinary people, forming, as it were, a separate community. They were bound to PYTHAGORAS by the closest ties of admiration and reverence, and, for years after his death, discoveries made by Pythagoreans were invariably attributed to the Master, a fact which makes it very difficult exactly to gauge the extent of PYTHAGORAS’ own knowledge and achievements. The regime of the Brotherhood, or Pythagorean Order, was a strict one, entailing “high thinking and low living” at all times. A restricted diet, the exact nature of which is in dispute, was observed by all members, and long periods of silence, as conducive to deep thinking, were imposed on novices. Women were admitted to the Order, and PYTHAGORAS’ asceticism did not prohibit romance, for we read that one of his fair pupils won her way to his heart, and, declaring her affection for him, found it reciprocated and became his wife.

SCHURE writes: “By his marriage with Theano, Pythagoras affixed _the seal of realization_ to his work. The union and fusion of the two lives was complete. One day when the master’s wife was asked what length of time elapsed before a woman could become pure after intercourse with a man, she replied: `If it is with her husband, she is pure all the time; if with another man, she is never pure.'” “Many women,” adds the writer, “would smilingly remark that to give such a reply one must be the wife of Pythagoras, and love him as Theano did. And they would be in the right, for it is not marriage that sanctifies love, it is love which justifies marriage.”[1]

[1] EDOUARD SCHURE: _Pythagoras and the Delphic Mysteries_, trans. by F. ROTHWELL, B.A. (1906), pp. 164 and 165.

PYTHAGORAS was not merely a mathematician. he was first and foremost a philosopher, whose philosophy found in number the basis of all things, because number, for him, alone possessed stability of relationship. As I have remarked on a former occasion, “The theory that the Cosmos has its origin and explanation in Number . . . is one for which it is not difficult to account if we take into consideration the nature of the times in which it was formulated. The Greek of the period, looking upon Nature, beheld no picture of harmony, uniformity and fundamental unity. The outer world appeared to him rather as a discordant chaos, the mere sport and plaything of the gods. The theory of the uniformity of Nature–that Nature is ever like to herself–the very essence of the modern scientific spirit, had yet to be born of years of unwearied labour and unceasing delving into Nature’s innermost secrets. Only in Mathematics–in the properties of geometrical figures, and of numbers–was the reign of law, the principle of harmony, perceivable. Even at this present day when the marvellous has become commonplace, that property of right-angled triangles . . . already discussed . . . comes to the mind as a remarkable and notable fact: it must have seemed a stupendous marvel to its discoverer, to whom, it appears, the regular alternation of the odd and even numbers, a fact so obvious to us that we are inclined to attach no importance to it, seemed, itself, to be something wonderful. Here in Geometry and Arithmetic, here was order and harmony unsurpassed and unsurpassable. What wonder then that Pythagoras concluded that the solution of the mighty riddle of the Universe was contained in the mysteries of Geometry? What wonder that he read mystic meanings into the laws of Arithmetic, and believed Number to be the explanation and origin of all that is?”[1]

[1] _A Mathematical Theory of Spirit_ (1912), pp. 64-65.

No doubt the Pythagorean theory suffers from a defect similar to that of the Kabalistic doctrine, which, starting from the fact that all words are composed of letters, representing the primary sounds of language, maintained that all the things represented by these words were created by God by means of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. But at the same time the Pythagorean theory certainly embodies a considerable element of truth. Modern science demonstrates nothing more clearly than the importance of numerical relationships. Indeed, “the history of science shows us the gradual transformation of crude facts of experience into increasingly exact generalisations by the application to them of mathematics. The enormous advances that have been made in recent years in physics and chemistry are very largely due to mathematical methods of interpreting and co-ordinating facts experimentally revealed, whereby further experiments have been suggested, the results of which have themselves been mathematically interpreted. Both physics and chemistry, especially the former, are now highly mathematical. In the biological sciences and especially in psychology it is true that mathematical methods are, as yet, not so largely employed. But these sciences are far less highly developed, far less exact and systematic, that is to say, far less scientific, at present, than is either physics or chemistry. However, the application of statistical methods promises good results, and there are not wanting generalisations already arrived at which are expressible mathematically; Weber’s Law in psychology, and the law concerning the arrangement of the leaves about the stems of plants in biology, may be instanced as cases in point.”[1]

[1] Quoted from a lecture by the present writer on “The Law of Correspondences Mathematically Considered,” delivered before The Theological and Philosophical Society on 26th April 1912, and published in _Morning Light_, vol. xxxv (1912), p. 434 _et seq_.

The Pythagorean doctrine of the Cosmos, in its most reasonable form, however, is confronted with one great difficulty which it seems incapable of overcoming, namely, that of continuity. Modern science, with its atomic theories of matter and electricity, does, indeed, show us that the apparent continuity of material things is spurious, that all material things consist of discrete particles, and are hence measurable in numerical terms. But modern science is also obliged to postulate an ether behind these atoms, an ether which is wholly continuous, and hence transcends the domain of number.[1] It is true that, in quite recent times, a certain school of thought has argued that the ether is also atomic in constitution–that all things, indeed, have a grained structure, even forces being made up of a large number of quantums or indivisible units of force. But this view has not gained general acceptance, and it seems to necessitate the postulation of an ether beyond the ether, filling the interspaces between its atoms, to obviate the difficulty of conceiving of action at a distance.

[1] Cf. chap. iii., “On Nature as the Embodiment of Number,” of my _A Mathematical Theory of Spirit_, to which reference has already been made.

According to BERGSON, life–the reality that can only be lived, not understood–is absolutely continuous (_i.e_. not amenable to numerical treatment). It is because life is absolutely continuous that we cannot, he says, understand it; for reason acts discontinuously, grasping only, so to speak, a cinematographic view of life, made up of an immense number of instantaneous glimpses. All that passes between the glimpses is lost, and so the true whole, reason can never synthesise from that which it possesses. On the other hand, one might also argue–extending, in a way, the teaching of the physical sciences of the period between the postulation of DALTON’S atomic theory and the discovery of the significance of the ether of space–that reality is essentially discontinuous, our idea that it is continuous being a mere illusion arising from the coarseness of our senses. That might provide a complete vindication of the Pythagorean view; but a better vindication, if not of that theory, at any rate of PYTHAGORAS’ philosophical attitude, is forthcoming, I think, in the fact that modern mathematics has transcended the shackles of number, and has enlarged her kingdom, so as to include quantities other than numerical. PYTHAGORAS, had he been born in these latter centuries, would surely have rejoiced in this, enlargement, whereby the continuous as well as the discontinuous is brought, if not under the rule of number, under the rule of mathematics indeed.

PYTHAGORAS’ foremost achievement in mathematics I have already mentioned. Another notable piece of work in the same department was the discovery of a method of constructing a parallelogram having a side equal to a given line, an angle equal to a given angle, and its area equal to that of a given triangle. PYTHAGORAS is said to have celebrated this discovery by the sacrifice of a whole ox. The problem appears in the first book of EUCLID’S _Elements of Geometry_ as proposition 44. In fact, many of the propositions of EUCLID’S first, second, fourth, and sixth books were worked out by PYTHAGORAS and the Pythagoreans; but, curiously enough, they seem greatly to have neglected the geometry of the circle.

The symmetrical solids were regarded by PYTHAGORAS, and by the Greek thinkers after him, as of the greatest importance. To be perfectly symmetrical or regular, a solid must have an equal number of faces meeting at each of its angles, and these faces must be equal regular polygons, _i.e_. figures whose sides and angles are all equal. PYTHAGORAS, perhaps, may be credited with the great discovery that there are only five such solids. These are as follows:–

The Tetrahedron, having four equilateral triangles as faces.

The Cube, having six squares as faces.

The Octahedron, having eight equilateral triangles as faces.

The Dodecahedron, having twelve regular pentagons (or five-sided figures) as faces.

The Icosahedron, having twenty equilateral triangles as faces.[1]

[1] If the reader will copy figs. 4 to 8 on cardboard or stiff paper, bend each along the dotted lines so as to form a solid, fastening together the free edges with gummed paper, he will be in possession of models of the five solids in question.

Now, the Greeks believed the world to be composed of four elements–earth, air, fire, water,–and to the Greek mind the conclusion was inevitable[2a] that the shapes of the particles of the elements were those of the regular solids. Earth-particles were cubical, the cube being the regular solid possessed of greatest stability; fire-particles were tetrahedral, the tetrahedron being the simplest and, hence, lightest solid. Water-particles were icosahedral for exactly the reverse reason, whilst air-particles, as intermediate between the two latter, were octahedral. The dodecahedron was, to these ancient mathematicians, the most mysterious of the solids: it was by far the most difficult to construct, the accurate drawing of the regular pentagon necessitating a rather elaborate application of PYTHAGORAS’ great theorem.[1] Hence the conclusion, as PLATO put it, that “this [the regular dodecahedron] the Deity employed in tracing the plan of the Universe.”[2b] Hence also the high esteem in which the pentagon was held by the Pythagoreans. By producing each side of this latter figure the five-pointed star (fig. 9), known as the pentagram, is obtained. This was adopted by the Pythagoreans as the badge of their Society, and for many ages was held as a symbol possessed of magic powers. The mediaeval magicians made use of it in their evocations, and as a talisman it was held in the highest esteem.

[2a] _Cf_. PLATO: The Timaeus, SESE xxviii–xxx.

[1] In reference to this matter FRANKLAND remarks: “In those early days the innermost secrets of nature lay in the lap of geometry, and the extraordinary inference follows that Euclid’s _Elements_, which are devoted to the investigation of the regular solids, are therefore in reality and at bottom an attempt to `solve the universe.’ Euclid, in fact, made this goal of the Pythagoreans the aim of his _Elements_.”–_Op. cit_., p. 35.

[2b] _Op. cit_., SE xxix.

Music played an important part in the curriculum of the Pythagorean Brotherhood, and the important discovery that the relations between the notes of musical scales can be expressed by means of numbers is a Pythagorean one. It must have seemed to its discoverer–as, in a sense, it indeed is–a striking confirmation of the numerical theory of the Cosmos. The Pythagoreans held that the positions of the heavenly bodies were governed by similar numerical relations, and that in consequence their motion was productive of celestial music. This concept of “the harmony of the spheres” is among the most celebrated of the Pythagorean doctrines, and has found ready acceptance in many mystically-speculative minds. “Look how the floor of heaven,” says Lorenzo in SHAKESPEARE’S _The Merchant of Venice_–

” . . . Look how the floor of heaven Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold: There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’s” But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins; Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”[1]

[1] Act v. scene i.

Or, as KINGSLEY writes in one of his letters, “When I walk the fields I am oppressed every now and then with an innate feeling that everything I see has a meaning, if I could but understand it. And this feeling of being surrounded with truths which I cannot grasp, amounts to an indescribable awe sometimes! Everything seems to be full of God’s reflex, if we could but see it. Oh! how I have prayed to have the mystery unfolded, at least hereafter. To see, if but for a moment, the whole harmony of the great system! To hear once the music which the whole universe makes as it performs His bidding!”[1] In this connection may be mentioned the very significant fact that the Pythagoreans did not consider the earth, in accordance with current opinion, to be a stationary body, but believed that it and the other planets revolved about a central point, or fire, as they called it.

[1] CHARLES KINGSLEY: _His Letters and Memories of His Life_, edited by his wife (1883), p. 28.

As concerns PYTHAGORAS’ ethical teaching, judging from the so-called _Golden Verses_ attributed to him, and no doubt written by one of his disciples,[2] this would appear to be in some respects similar to that of the Stoics who came later, but free from the materialism of the Stoic doctrines. Due regard for oneself is blended with regard for the gods and for other men, the atmosphere of the whole being at once rational and austere. One verse–“Thou shalt likewise know, according to Justice, that the nature of this Universe is in all things alike”[3]–is of particular interest, as showing PYTHAGORAS’ belief in that principle of analogy–that “What is below is as that which is above, what is above is as that which is below”–which held so dominant a sway over the minds of ancient and mediaeval philosophers, leading them–in spite, I suggest, of its fundamental truth–into so many fantastic errors, as we shall see in future excursions. Metempsychosis was another of the Pythagorean tenets, a fact which is interesting in view of the modern revival of this doctrine. PYTHAGORAS, no doubt, derived it from the East, apparently introducing it for the first time to Western thought.

[2] It seems probable, though not certain, that PYTHAGORAS wrote nothing himself, but taught always by the oral method.

[3] Cf. the remarks of HIEROCLES on this verse in his _Commentary_.

Such, in brief, were the outstanding doctrines of the Pythagorean Brotherhood. Their teachings included, as we have seen, what may justly be called scientific discoveries of the first importance, as well as doctrines which, though we may feel compelled–perhaps rightly–to regard them as fantastic now, had an immense influence on the thought of succeeding ages, especially on Greek philosophy as represented by PLATO and the Neo-Platonists, and the more speculative minds–the occult philosophers, shall I say?–of the latter mediaeval period and succeeding centuries. The Brotherhood, however, was not destined to continue its days in peace. As I have indicated, it was a philosophical, not a political, association; but naturally PYTHAGORAS’ philosophy included political doctrines. At any rate, the Brotherhood acquired a considerable share in the government of Croton, a fact which was greatly resented by the members of the democratic party, who feared the loss of their rights; and, urged thereto, it is said, by a rejected applicant for membership of the Order, the mob made an onslaught on the Brotherhood’s place of assembly and burnt it to the ground. One account has it that PYTHAGORAS himself died in the conflagration, a sacrifice to the mad fury of the mob. According to another account–and we like to believe that this is the true one–he escaped to Tarentum, from which he was banished, to find an asylum in Metapontum, where he lived his last years in peace.

The Pythagorean Order was broken up, but the bonds of brotherhood still existed between its members. “One of them who had fallen upon sickness and poverty was kindly taken in by an innkeeper.Before dying he traced a few mysterious signs [the pentagram, no doubt] on the door of the inn and said to the host: `Do not be uneasy, one of my brothers will pay my debts.’ A year afterwards, as a stranger was passing by this inn he saw the signs and said to the host: `I am a Pythagorean; one of my brothers died here; tell me what I owe you on his account.’ “[1]

[1] EDOUARD SCHURE: _Op. cit_., p. 174.

In endeavouring to estimate the worth of PYTHAGORAS’ discoveries and teaching, Mr FRANKLAND writes, with reference to his achievements in geometry: “Even after making a considerable allowance for his pupils’ share, the Master’s geometrical work calls for much admiration”; and, “. . . it cannot be far wrong to suppose that it was Pythagoras’ wont to insist upon proofs, and so to secure that rigour which gives to mathematics its honourable position amongst the sciences.” And of his work in arithmetic, music, and astronomy, the same author writes: “. . . everywhere he appears to have inaugurated genuinely scientific methods, and to have laid the foundations of a high and liberal education”; adding, “For nearly a score of centuries, to the very close of the Middle Ages, the four Pythagorean subjects of study–arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music–were the staple educational course, and were bound together into a fourfold way of knowledge–the Quadrivium.”[1] With these words of due praise, our present excursion may fittingly close.

[1] _Op. cit_., pp. 35, 37, and 38.



THERE are few tasks at once so instructive and so fascinating as the tracing of the development of the human mind as manifested in the evolution of scientific and philosophical theories. And this is, perhaps, especially true when, as in the case of medicine, this evolution has followed paths so tortuous, intersected by so many fantastic byways, that one is not infrequently doubtful as to the true road. The history of medicine is at once the history of human wisdom and the history of human credulity and folly, and the romantic element (to use the expression in its popular acceptation) thus introduced, whilst making the subject more entertaining, by no means detracts from its importance considered psychologically.

To whom the honour of having first invented medicines is due is unknown, the origins of pharmacy being lost in the twilight of myth. OSIRIS and ISIS, BACCHUS, APOLLO father of the famous physician AESCULAPIUS, and CHIRON the Centaur, tutor of the latter, are among the many mythological personages who have been accredited with the invention of physic. It is certain that the art of compounding medicines is extraordinarily ancient. There is a papyrus in the British Museum containing medical prescriptions which was written about 1200 B.C.; and the famous EBERS papyrus, which is devoted to medical matters, is reckoned to date from about the year 1550 B.C. It is interesting to note that in the prescriptions given in this latter papyrus, as seems to have been the case throughout the history of medicine, the principle that the efficacy of a medicine is in proportion to its nastiness appears to have been the main idea. Indeed, many old medicines contained ingredients of the most disgusting nature imaginable: a mediaeval remedy known as oil of puppies, made by cutting up two newly-born puppies and boiling them with one pound of live earthworms, may be cited as a comparatively pleasant example of the remedies (?) used in the days when all sorts of excreta were prescribed as medicines.[1]

[1] See the late Mr A. C. WOOTTON’S excellent work, _Chronicles of Pharmacy_ (2 vols, 1910), to which I gladly acknowledge my indebtedness.

Presumably the oldest theory concerning the causation of disease is that which attributes all the ills of mankind to the malignant operations of evil spirits, a theory which someone has rather fancifully suggested is not so erroneous after all, if we may be allowed to apply the term “evil spirits” to the microbes of modern bacteriology. Remnants of this theory (which does– shall I say?–conceal a transcendental truth), that is, in its original form, still survive to the present day in various superstitious customs, whose absurdity does not need emphasising: for example, the use of red flannel by old-fashioned folk with which to tie up sore throats–red having once been supposed to be a colour very angatonistic to evil spirits; so much so that at one time red cloth hung in the patient’s room was much employed as a cure for smallpox!

Medicine and magic have always been closely associated. Indeed, the greatest name in the history of pharmacy is also what is probably the greatest name in the history of magic–the reference, of course, being to PARACELSUS (1493-1541). Until PARACELSUS, partly by his vigorous invective and partly by his remarkable cures of various diseases, demolished the old school of medicine, no one dared contest the authority of GALEN (130-_circa_ 205) and AVICENNA (980–1037). GALEN’S theory of disease was largely based upon that of the four humours in man–bile, blood, phlegm, and black bile,–which were regarded as related to (but not identical with) the four elements–fire, air, water, and earth,– being supposed to have characters similar to these. Thus, to bile, as to fire, were attributed the properties of hotness and dryness; to blood and air those of hotness and moistness; to phlegm and water those of coldness and moistness; and, finally, black bile, like earth, was said to be cold and dry. GALEN supposed that an alteration in the due proportion of these humours gives rise to disease, though he did not consider this to be its only cause; thus, cancer, it was thought, might result from an excess of black bile, and rheumatism from an excess of phlegm. Drugs, GALEN argued, are of efficiency in the curing of disease, according as they possess one or more of these so-called fundamental properties, hotness, dryness, coldness, and moistness, whereby it was considered that an excess of any humour might be counteracted; moreover, it was further assumed that four degrees of each property exist, and that only those drugs are of use in curing a disease which contain the necessary property or properties in the degree proportionate to that in which the opposite humour or humours are in excess in the patient’s system.

PARACELSUS’ views were based upon his theory (undoubtedly true in a sense) that man is a microcosm, a world in miniature.[1] Now, all things material, taught PARACELSUS, contain the three principles termed in alchemistic phraseology salt, sulphur, and mercury. This is true, therefore, of man: the healthy body, he argued, is a sort of chemical compound in which these three principles are harmoniously blended (as in the Macrocosm) in due proportion, whilst disease is due to a preponderance of one principle, fevers, for example, being the result of an excess of sulphur (_i.e_. the fiery principle), _etc_. PARACELSUS, although his theory was not so different from that of GALEN, whose views he denounced, was thus led to seek for CHEMICAL remedies, containing these principles in varying proportions; he was not content with medicinal herbs and minerals in their crude state, but attempted to extract their effective essences; indeed, he maintained that the preparation of new and better drugs is the chief business of chemistry.

[1] See the “Note on the Paracelsian Doctrine of the Microcosm” below.

This theory of disease and of the efficacy of drugs was complicated by many fantastic additions;[1] thus there is the “Archaeus,” a sort of benevolent demon, supposed by PARACELSUS to look after all the unconscious functions of the bodily organism, who has to be taken into account. PARACELSUS also held the Doctrine of Signatures, according to which the medicinal value of plants and minerals is indicated by their external form, or by some sign impressed upon them by the operation of the stars. A very old example of this belief is to be found in the use of mandrake (whose roots resemble the human form) by the Hebrews and Greeks as a cure for sterility; or, to give an instance which is still accredited by some, the use of eye-bright (_Euphrasia officinalis_, L., a plant with a black pupil-like spot in its corolla) for complaints of the eyes.[2] Allied to this doctrine are such beliefs, once held, as that the lungs of foxes are good for bronchial troubles, or that the heart of a lion will endow one with courage; as CORNELIUS AGRIPPA put it, “It is well known amongst physicians that brain helps the brain, and lungs the lungs.”[3]

[1] The question of PARACELSUS’ pharmacy is further complicated by the fact that this eccentric genius coined many new words (without regard to the principles of etymology) as names for his medicines, and often used the same term to stand for quite different bodies. Some of his disciples maintained that he must not always be understood in a literal sense, in which probably there is an element of truth. See, for instance, _A Golden and Blessed Casket of Nature’s Marvels_, by BENEDICTUS FIGULUS (trans. by A. E. WAITE, 1893).

[2] See Dr ALFRED C. HADDON’S _Magic and Fetishism_ (1906), p. 15.

[3] HENRY CORNELIUS AGRIPPA: _Occult Philosophy_, bk. i. chap. xv. (WHITEHEAD’S edition, Chicago, 1898, P. 72).

In modern times homoeopathy–according to which a drug is a cure, if administered in small doses, for that disease whose symptoms it produces, if given in large doses to a healthy person—seems to bear some resemblance to these old medical theories concerning the curing of like by like. That the system of HAHNEMANN (1755–1843), the founder of homoeopathy, is free from error could be scarcely maintained, but certain recent discoveries in connection with serum-therapy appear to indicate that the last word has not yet been said on the subject, and the formula “like cures like” may still have another lease of life to run.

To return to PARACELSUS, however. It may be thought that his views were not so great an advance on those of GALEN; but whether or not this be the case, his union of chemistry and medicine was of immense benefit to each science, and marked a new era in pharmacy. Even if his theories were highly fantastic, it was he who freed medicine from the shackles of traditionalism, and rendered progress in medical science possible.

I must not conclude these brief notes without some reference to the medical theory of the medicinal efficacy of words. The EBERS papyrus already mentioned gives various formulas which must be pronounced when preparing and when administering a drug; and there is a draught used by the Eastern Jews as a cure for bronchial complaints prepared by writing certain words on a plate, washing them off with wine, and adding three grains of a citron which has been used at the Tabernacle festival. But enough for our present excursion; we must hie us back to the modern world, with its alkaloids, serums, and anti-toxins– another day we will, perhaps, wander again down the by-paths of Medicinal Magic.


“Man’s nature,” writes CORNELIUS AGRIPPA, “_is the most complete Image of the whole Universe_.”[1] This theory, especially connected with the name of PARACELSUS, is worthy of more than passing reference; but as the consideration of it leads us from medicine to metaphysics, I have thought it preferable to deal with the subject in a note.

[1] H. C. AGRIPPA: _Occult Philosophy_, bk. i. chap. xxxiii. (WHITEHEAD’S edition, p. 111).

Man, taught the old mystical philosophers, is threefold in nature, consisting of spirit, soul, and body. The Paracelsian mercury, sulphur, and salt were the mineral analogues of these. “As to the Spirit,” writes VALENTINE WEIGEL (1533–1588), a disciple of PARACELSUS, “we are of God, move in God, and live in God, and are nourished of God. Hence God is in us and we are in God; God hath put and placed Himself in us, and we are put and placed in God. As to the Soul, we are from the Firmament and Stars, we live and move therein, and are nourished thereof. Hence the Firmament with its astralic virtues and operations is in us, and we in it. The Firmament is put and placed in us, and we are put and placed in the Firmament. As to the Body, we are of the elements, we move and live therein, and are nourished of them:–hence the elements are in us, and we in them. The elements, by the slime, are put and placed in us, and we are put and placed in them.”[1] Or, to quote from PARACELSUS himself, in his _Hermetic Astronomy_ he writes: “God took the body out of which He built up man from those things which He created from nothingness into something . . . Hence man is now a microcosm, or a little world, because he is an extract from all the stars and planets of the whole firmament, from the earth and the elements, and so he is their quintessence…. But between the macrocosm and the microcosm this difference occurs, that the form, image, species, and substance of man are diverse therefrom. In man the earth is flesh, the water is blood, fire is the heat thereof, and air is the balsam. These properties have not been changed but only the substance of the body. So man is man, not a world, yet made from the world, made in the likeness, not of the world, but of God. Yet man comprises in himself all the qualities of the world…. His body is from the world, and therefore must be fed and nourished by that world from which he has sprung…. He has been taken from the earth and from the elements, and therefore, must be nourished by these…. Now, man is not only flesh and blood, but there is within the intellect which does not, like the complexion, come from the elements, but from the stars. And the condition of the stars is this, that all the wisdom, intelligence, industry of the animal, and all the arts peculiar to man are contained in them. From the stars man has these same things, and that is called the light of Nature; in fact, it is whatever man has found by the light of Nature…. Such, then, is the condition of man, that, out of the great universe he needs both elements and stars, seeing that he himself is constituted in that way.”[1b]

[1] VALENTINE WEIGEL: “_Astrology Theologised”: The Spiritual Hermeneutics of Astrology and Holy Writ_, ed. by ANNA BONUS KINGSFORD (1886), p. 59.

[1b] _The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of_ PARACELSUS, ed. by A. E. WAITE (1894), vol. ii. pp. 289-291.

It is not difficult to discern a certain truth in all this, making allowances for modes of thought which are not those of the present day. The Swedish philosopher SWEDENBORG (1688-1772) reaffirmed the theory in later years; but, as he points out,[2] the reason that man is a microcosm lies deeper than in the facts that his body is of the elements of this earth and is nourished thereby. According to this profound thinker, FORM, spiritually understood, is the expression of USE, the uses of things being indicated by their forms. Now, the human form is the highest of all forms, because it subserves the highest of all uses. Hence, both the world of matter and the world of spirit are in the human form, because there is a correspondence in use between man and the Cosmos. We may, therefore, call man as to his body a microcosm, or little world; as to his soul a micro-uranos, or little heaven. Or we may speak of the macrocosm, or great world, as the Grand Man, and we may say that the Soul of this Grand Man, the self-existent, substantial, and efficient cause of all things, at once immanent within yet transcending all things, is God.

[2] See especially his _Divine Love and Wisdom_, SESE 251 and 319.



AMONGST the most remarkable of natural occurrences must be included many of the phenomena connected with the behaviour of birds. Undoubtedly numerous species of birds are susceptible to atmospheric changes (of an electrical and barometric nature) too slight to be observed by man’s unaided senses; thus only is to be explained the phenomenon of migration and also the many other peculiarities in the behaviour of birds whereby approaching changes in the weather may be foretold. Probably, also, this fact has much to do with the extraordinary homing instinct of pigeons. But, of course, in the days when meteorological science had yet to be born, no such explanation as this could be known. The ancients observed that birds by their migrations or by other peculiarities in their behaviour prognosticated coming changes in the seasons of the year and other changes connected with the weather (such as storms, _etc_.); they saw, too, in the homing instincts of pigeons an apparent exhibition of intelligence exceeding that of man. What more natural, then, for them to attribute foresight to birds, and to suppose that all sorts of coming events (other than those of an atmospheric nature) might be foretold by careful observation of their flight and song?

Augury–that is, the art of divination by observing the behaviour of birds–was extensively cultivated by the Etrurians and Romans.[1] It is still used, I believe, by the natives of Samoa. The Romans had an official college of augurs, the members of which were originally three patricians. About 300 B.C. the number of patrician augurs was increased by one, and five plebeian augurs were added. Later the number was again increased to fifteen. The object of augury was not so much to foretell the future as to indicate what line of action should be followed, in any given circumstances, by the nation. The augurs were consulted on all matters of importance, and the position of augur was thus one of great consequence. In what appears to be the oldest method, the augur, arrayed in a special costume, and carrying a staff with which to mark out the visible heavens into houses, proceeded to an elevated piece of ground, where a sacrifice was made and a prayer repeated. Then, gazing towards the sky, he waited until a bird appeared. The point in the heavens where it first made its appearance was carefully noted, also the manner and direction of its flight, and the point where it was lost sight of. From these particulars an augury was derived, but, in order to be of effect, it had to be confirmed by a further one.

[1] This is not quite an accurate definition, as “auguries” were also obtained from other animals and from celestial phenomena (_e.g_. lightning), _etc_.

Auguries were also drawn from the notes of birds, birds being divided by the augurs into two classes: (i) _oscines_, “those which give omens by their note,” and (ii) _alites_, “those which afford presages by their flight.”[1] Another method of augury was performed by the feeding of chickens specially kept for this purpose. This was done just before sunrise by the _pullarius_ or feeder, strict silence being observed. If the birds manifested no desire for their food, the omen was of a most direful nature. On the other hand, if from the greediness of the chickens the grain fell from their beaks and rebounded from the ground, the augury was most favourable. This latter augury was known as _tripudium solistimum_. “Any fraud practiced by the `pullarius’,” writes the Rev. EDWARD SMEDLEY, “reverted to his own head. Of this we have a memorable instance in the great battle between Papirius Cursor and the Samnites in the year of Rome 459. So anxious were the troops for battle, that the `pullarius’ dared to announce to the consul a `tripudium solistimum,’ although the chickens refused to eat. Papirius unhesitatingly gave the signal for fight, when his son, having discovered the false augury, hastened to communicate it to his father. `Do thy part well,’ was his reply, `and let the deceit of the augur fall on himself. The “tripudium” has been announced to me, and no omen could be better for the Roman army and people!’ As the troops advanced, a javelin thrown at random struck the `pullatius’ dead. `The hand of heaven is in the battle,’ cried Papirius; `the guilty is punished!’ and he advanced and conquered.”[1b] A coincidence of this sort, if it really occurred, would very greatly strengthen the popular belief in auguries.

[1] PLINY: _Natural History_, bk. x. chap. xxii. (BOSTOCK and RILEY’S trans., vol. ii., 1855, p. 495).

[1b] Rev. EDWARD SMEDLEY, M.A.: _The Occult Sciences_ (_Encyclopaedia Metropolitana_), ed. by ELIHU RICH (1855), p. 144.

The _cock_ has always been reckoned a bird possessed of magic power. At its crowing, we are told, all unquiet spirits who roam the earth depart to their dismal abodes, and the orgies of the Witches’ Sabbath terminate. A cock is the favourite sacrifice offered to evil spirits in Ceylon and elsewhere. Alectromancy[2] was an ancient and peculiarly senseless method of divination (so called) in which a cock was employed. The bird had to be young and quite white. Its feet were cut off and crammed down its throat with a piece of parchment on which were written certain Hebrew words. The cock, after the repetition of a prayer by the operator, was placed in a circle divided into parts corresponding to the letters of the alphabet, in each of which a grain of wheat was placed. A certain psalm was recited, and then the letters were noted from which the cock picked up the grains, a fresh grain being put down for each one picked up. These letters, properly arranged, were said to give the answer to the inquiry for which divination was made. I am not sure what one was supposed to do if, as seems likely, the cock refused to act in the required manner.

[2] Cf. ARTHUR EDWARD WAITE: _The Occult Sciences_ (1891), pp. 124 and 125.

The _owl_ was reckoned a bird of evil omen with the Romans, who derived this opinion from the Etrurians, along with much else of their so-called science of augury. It was particularly dreaded if seen in a city, or, indeed, anywhere by day. PLINY (Caius Plinius Secundus, A.D. 61-before 115) informs us that on one occasion “a horned owl entered the very sanctuary of the Capitol; . . . in consequence of which, Rome was purified on the nones of March in that year.”[1]

[1] PLINY: _Natural History_, bk. x. chap. xvi. (BOSTOCK and RILEY’S trans., vol. ii., 1855, p. 492).

The folk-lore of the British Isles abounds with quaint beliefs and stories concerning birds. There is a charming Welsh legend concerning the _robin_, which the Rev. T. F. T. DYER quotes from _Notes and Queries_:–“Far, far away, is a land of woe, darkness, spirits of evil, and fire. Day by day does this little bird bear in his bill a drop of water to quench the flame. So near the burning stream does he fly, that his dear little feathers are SCORCHED; and hence he is named Brou-rhuddyn (Breast-burnt). To serve little children, the robin dares approach the infernal pit. No good child will hurt the devoted benefactor of man. The robin returns from the land of fire, and therefore he feels the cold of winter far more than his brother birds. He shivers in the brumal blast; hungry, he chirps before your door.”[2]

[2] T. F. THISELTON DYER, M.A.: _English Folk-Lore_ (1878), pp. 65 and 66.

Another legend accounts for the robin’s red breast by supposing this bird to have tried to pluck a thorn from the crown encircling the brow of the crucified CHRIST, in order to alleviate His sufferings. No doubt it is on account of these legends that it is considered a crime, which will be punished with great misfortune, to kill a robin. In some places the same prohibition extends to the _wren_, which is popularly believed to be the wife of the robin. In other parts, however, the wren is (or at least was) cruelly hunted on certain days. In the Isle of Man the wren-hunt took place on Christmas Eve and St Stephen’s Day, and is accounted for by a legend concerning an evil fairy who lured many men to destruction, but had to assume the form of a wren to escape punishment at the hands of an ingenious knight-errant.

For several centuries there was prevalent over the whole of civilised Europe a most extraordinary superstition concerning the small Arctic bird resembling, but not so large as, the common wild goose, known as the _barnacle_ or _bernicle goose_. MAX MUELLER[1] has suggested that this word was really derived from _Hibernicula_, the name thus referring to Ireland, where the birds were caught; but common opinion associated the barnacle goose with the shell-fish known as the barnacle (which is found on timber exposed to the sea), supposing that the former was generated out of the latter. Thus in one old medical writer we find: “There are founde in the north parts of Scotland, and the Ilands adjacent, called Orchades [Orkney Islands], certain trees, whereon doe growe certaine shell fishes, of a white colour tending to russet; wherein are conteined little liuing creatures: which shells in time of maturitie doe open, and out of them grow those little living things; which falling into the water, doe become foules, whom we call Barnakles . . . but the other that do fall vpon the land, perish and come to nothing: this much by the writings of others, and also from the mouths of the people of those parts….”[1b]

[1] See F. MAX MUELLER’S _Lectures on the Science of Language_ (1885), where a very full account of the tradition concerning the origin of the barnacle goose will be found.

[1b] JOHN GERARDE: _The Herball; or, Generall Historie of Plantes_ (1597). 1391.

The writer, however, who was a well-known surgeon and botanist of his day, adds that he had personally examined certain shell-fish from Lancashire, and on opening the shells had observed within birds in various stages of development. No doubt he was deceived by some purely superficial resemblances–for example, the feet of the barnacle fish resemble somewhat the feathers of a bird. He gives an imaginative illustration of the barnacle fowl escaping from its shell, which is reproduced in fig. 12.

Turning now from superstitions concerning actual birds to legends of those that are purely mythical, passing reference must be made to the _roc_, a bird existing in Arabian legend, which we meet in the _Arabian Nights_, and which is chiefly remarkable for its size and strength.

The _phoenix_, perhaps, is of more interest. Of “that famous bird of Arabia,” PLINY writes as follows, prefixing his description of it with the cautious remark, “I am not quite sure that its existence is not all a fable.” “It is said that there is only one in existence in the whole world, and that that one has not been seen very often. We are told that this bird is of the size of an eagle, and has a brilliant golden plumage around the neck, while the rest of the body is of a purple colour; except the tail, which is azure, with long feathers intermingled of a roseate hue; the throat is adorned with a crest, and the head with a tuft of feathers. The first Roman who described this bird . . . was the senator Manilius…. He tells us that no person has ever seen this bird eat, that in Arabia it is looked upon as sacred to the sun, that it lives five hundred and forty years, that when it becomes old it builds a nest of cassia and sprigs of incense, which it fills with perfumes, and then lays its body down upon them to die; that from its bones and marrow there springs at first a sort of small worm, which in time changes into a little bird; that the first thing that it does is to perform the obsequies of its predecessor, and to carry the nest entire to the city of the Sun near Panchaia, and there deposit it upon the altar of that divinity.

“The same Manilius states also, that the revolution of the great year is completed with the life of this bird, and that then a new cycle comes round again with the same characteristics as the former one, in the seasons and the appearance of the stars. . . . This bird was brought to Rome in the censorship of the Emperor Claudius . . . and was exposed to public view…. This fact is attested by the public Annals, but there is no one that doubts that it was a fictitious phoenix only.”[1]

[1] PLINY: _Natural History_, bk. x. chap. ii. (BOSTOCK and RILEY’S trans., vol. ii., 1855, PP. 479-481).

The description of the plumage, _etc_., of this bird applies fairly well, as CUVIER has pointed out,[2] to the golden pheasant, and a specimen of the latter may have been the “fictitious phoenix” referred to above. That this bird should have been credited with the extraordinary and wholly fabulous properties related by PLINY and others is not, however, easy to understand. The phoenix was frequently used to illustrate the doctrine of the immortality of the soul (_e.g_. in CLEMENT’S _First Epistle to the Corinthians_), and it is not impossible that originally it was nothing more than a symbol of immortality which in time became to be believed in as a really existing bird. The fact, however, that there was supposed to be only one phoenix, and also that the length of each of its lives coincided with what the ancients termed a “great year,” may indicate that the phoenix was a symbol of cosmological periodicity. On the other hand, some ancient writers (e_.g_. TACITUS, A.D. 55-120) explicitly refer to the phoenix as a symbol of the sun, and in the minds of the ancients the sun was closely connected with the idea of immortality. Certainly the accounts of the gorgeous colours of the plumage of the phoenix might well be descriptions of the rising sun. It appears, moreover, that the Egyptian hieroglyphic _benu_, {glyph}, which is a figure of a heron or crane (and thus akin to the phoenix), was employed to designate the rising sun.

[2] See CUVIER’S _The Animal Kingdom_, GRIFFITH’S trans., vol. viii. (1829), p. 23.

There are some curious Jewish legends to account for the supposed immortality of the phoenix. According to one, it was the sole animal that refused to eat of the forbidden tree when tempted by EVE. According to another, its immortality was conferred on it by NOAH because of its considerate behaviour in the Ark, the phoenix not clamouring for food like the other animals.[1]

[1] The existence of such fables as these shows how grossly the real meanings of the Sacred Writings have been misunderstood.

There is a celebrated bird in Chinese tradition, the _Fung Hwang_, which some sinologues identify with the phoenix of the West.[2] According to a commentator on the ‘_Rh Ya_, this “felicitous and perfect bird has a cock’s head, a snake’s neck, a swallow’s beak, a tortoise’s back, is of five different colours and more than six feet high.”

[2] Mr CHAS. GOULD, B.A., to whose book _Mythical Monsters_ (1886) I am very largely indebted for my account of this bird, and from which I have culled extracts from the Chinese, is not of this opinion. Certainly the fact that we read of Fung Hwangs in the plural, whilst tradition asserts that there is only one phoenix, seems to point to a difference in origin.

Another account (that in the _Lun Yu Tseh Shwai Shing_) tells us that “its head resembles heaven, its eye the sun, its back the moon, its wings the wind, its foot the ground, and its tail the woof.” Furthermore, “its mouth contains commands, its heart is conformable to regulations, its ear is thoroughly acute in hearing, its tongue utters sincerity, its colour is luminous, its comb resembles uprightness, its spur is sharp and curved, its voice is sonorous, and its belly is the treasure of literature.” Like the dragon, tortoise, and unicorn, it was considered to be a spiritual creature; but, unlike the Western phoenix, more than one Fung Hwang was, as I have pointed out, believed to exist. The birds were not always to be seen, but, according to Chinese records, they made their appearance during the reigns of certain sovereigns. The Fung Hwang is regarded by the Chinese as an omen of great happiness and prosperity, and its likeness is embroidered on the robes of empresses to ensure success. Probably, if the bird is not to be regarded as purely mythological and symbolic in origin, we have in the stories of it no more than exaggerated accounts of some species of pheasant. Japanese literature contains similar stories.

Of other fabulous bird-forms mention may be made of the _griffin_ and the _harpy_. The former was a creature half eagle, half lion, popularly supposed to be the progeny of the union of these two latter. It is described in the so-called _Voiage and Travaile of Sir_ JOHN MAUNDEVILLE in the following terms[1]: “Sum men seyn, that thei ben the Body upward, as an Egle, and benethe as a Lyoun: and treuly thei seyn sothe, that thei ben of that schapp. But o Griffoun hathe the body more gret and is more strong thanne 8 Lyouns, of suche Lyouns as ben o this half; and more gret and strongere, than an 100 Egles, suche as we ben amonges us. For o Griffoun there will bere, fleynge to his Nest, a gret Hors, or 2 Oxen zoked to gidere, as thei gon at the Plowghe. For he hathe his Talouns so longe and so large and grete, upon his Feet, as thoughe thei weren Hornes of grete Oxen or of Bugles or of Kyzn; so that men maken Cuppes of hem, to drynken of: and of hire Ribbes and of the Pennes of hire Wenges, men maken Bowes fulle strong, to schote with Arwes and Quarelle.” The special characteristic of the griffin was its watchfulness, its chief function being thought to be that of guarding secret treasure. This characteristic, no doubt, accounts for its frequent use in heraldry as a supporter to the arms. It was sacred to APOLLO, the sun-god, whose chariot was, according to early sculptures, drawn by griffins. PLINY, who speaks of it as a bird having long ears and a hooked beak, regarded it as fabulous.

[1] _The Voiage and Travaile of Sir_ JOHN MAUNDEVILLE, _Kt. Which treateth of the Way to Hierusalem; and of Marvayles of Inde, with other Ilands and Countryes. Now Publish’d entire from an Original MS. in The Cotton Library_ (London, 1727), cap. xxvi. pp. 325 and 326.

“This work is mainly a compilation from the writings of William of Boldensele, Friar Odoric of Pordenone, Hetoum of Armenia, Vincent de Beauvais, and other geographers. It is probable that the name John de Mandeville should be regarded as a pseudonym concealing the identity of Jean de Bourgogne, a physician at Liege, mentioned under the name of Joannes ad Barbam in the vulgate Latin version of the Travels.” (Note in British Museum Catalogue). The work, which was first published in French during the latter part of the fourteenth century, achieved an immense popularity, the marvels that it relates being readily received by the credulous folk of that and many a succeeding day.

The harpies (_i.e_. snatchers) in Greek mythology are creatures like vultures as to their bodies, but with the faces of women, and armed with sharp claws.

“Of Monsters all, most Monstrous this; no greater Wrath God sends ‘mongst Men; it comes from depth of pitchy Hell: And Virgin’s Face, but Womb like Gulf unsatiate hath, Her Hands are griping Claws, her Colour pale and fell.”[1]

[1] Quoted from VERGIL by JOHN GUILLIM in his _A Display of Heraldry_ (sixth edition, 1724), p. 271.

We meet with the harpies in the story of PHINEUS, a son of AGENOR, King of Thrace. At the bidding of his jealous wife, IDAEA, daughter of DARDANUS, PHINEUS put out the sight of his children by his former wife, CLEOPATRA, daughter of BOREAS. To punish this cruelty, the gods caused him to become blind, and the harpies were sent continually to harass and affright him, and to snatch away his food or defile it by their presence. They were afterwards driven away by his brothers-in-law, ZETES and CALAIS. It has been suggested that originally the harpies were nothing more than personifications of the swift storm-winds; and few of the old naturalists, credulous as they were, regarded them as real creatures, though this cannot be said of all. Some other fabulous bird-forms are to be met with in Greek and Arabian mythologies, _etc_., but they are not of any particular interest. And it is time for us to conclude our present excursion, and to seek for other byways.



OUT of the superstitions of the past the science of the present has gradually evolved. In the Middle Ages, what by courtesy we may term medical science was, as we have seen, little better than a heterogeneous collection of superstitions, and although various reforms were instituted with the passing of time, superstition still continued for long to play a prominent part in medical practice.

One of the most curious of these old medical (or perhaps I should say surgical) superstitions was that relating to the Powder of Sympathy, a remedy (?) chiefly remembered in connection with the name of Sir KENELM DIGBY (1603-1665), though he was probably not the first to employ it. The Powder itself, which was used as a cure for wounds, was, in fact, nothing else than common vitriol,[1] though an improved and more elegant form (if one may so describe it) was composed of vitriol desiccated by the sun’s rays, mixed with _gum tragacanth_. It was in the application of the Powder that the remedy was peculiar. It was not, as one might expect, applied to the wound itself, but any article that might have blood from the wound upon it was either sprinkled with the Powder or else placed in a basin of water in which the Powder had been dissolved, and maintained at a temperate heat. Meanwhile, the wound was kept clean and cool.

[1] Green vitriol, ferrous sulphate heptahydrate, a compound of iron, sulphur, and oxygen, crystallised with seven molecules of water, represented by the formula FeSO4<.>7H2O. On exposure to the air it
loses water, and is gradually converted into basic ferric sulphate. For long, green vitriol was confused with blue vitriol, which generally occurs as an impurity in crude green vitriol. Blue vitriol is copper sulphate pentahydrate, CuSO4<.>5H2O.

Sir KENELM DIGBY appears to have delivered a discourse dealing with the famous Powder before a learned assembly at Montpellier in France; at least a work purporting to be a translation of such a discourse was published in 1658,[1] and further editions appeared in 1660 and 1664. KENELM was a son of the Sir EVERARD DIGBY (1578-1606) who was executed for his share in the Gunpowder Plot. In spite of this fact, however, JAMES I. appears to have regarded him with favour. He was a man of romantic temperament, possessed of charming manners, considerable learning, and even greater credulity. His contemporaries seem to have differed in their opinions concerning him. EVELYN (1620-1706), the diarist, after inspecting his chemical laboratory, rather harshly speaks of him as “an errant mountebank”. Elsewhere he well refers to him as “a teller of strange things”–this was on the occasion of DIGBY’S relating a story of a lady who had such an aversion to roses that one laid on her cheek produced a blister!

[1] _A late Discourse . . . by Sir_ KENELM DIGBY, _Kt.&c. Touching the Cure of Wounds by the Powder of Sympathy . . .rendered . . . out of French into English by_ R. WHITE, Gent. (1658). This is entitled the second edition, but appears to have been the first.

To return to the _Late Discourse_: after some preliminary remarks, Sir KENELM records a cure which he claims to have effected by means of the Powder. It appears that JAMES HOWELL (1594-1666, afterwards historiographer royal to CHARLES II.), had, in the attempt to separate two friends engaged in a duel, received two serious wounds in the hand. To proceed in the writer’s own words:–“It was my chance to be lodged hard by him; and four or five days after, as I was making myself ready, he [Mr Howell] came to my House, and prayed me to view his wounds; for I understand, said he, that you have extraordinary remedies upon such occasions, and my Surgeons apprehend some fear, that it may grow to a Gangrene, and so the hand must be cut off….

“I asked him then for any thing that had the blood upon it, so he presently sent for his Garter, wherewith his hand was first bound: and having called for a Bason of water, as if I would wash my hands; I took an handfull of Powder of Vitrol, which I had in my study, and presently dissolved it. As soon as the bloody garter was brought me, I put it within the Bason, observing in the interim what Mr _Howel_ did, who stood talking with a Gentleman in the corner of my Chamber, not regarding at all what I was doing: but he started suddenly, as if he had found some strange alteration in himself; I asked him what he ailed? I know not what ailes me, but I find that I feel no more pain, methinks that a pleasing kind of freshnesse, as it were a wet cold Napkin did spread over my hand, which hath taken away the inflammation that tormented me before; I replied, since that you feel already so good an effect of my medicament, I advise you to cast away all your Plaisters, onely keep the wound clean, and in a moderate temper ‘twixt heat and cold. This was presently reported to the Duke of _Buckingham_, and a little after to the King [James I.], who were both very curious to know the issue of the businesse, which was, that after dinner I took the garter out of the water, and put it to dry before a great fire; it was scarce dry, but Mr _Howels_ servant came running [and told me], that his Master felt as much burning as ever he had done, if not more, for the heat was such, as if his hand were betwixt coales of fire: I answered, that although that had happened at present, yet he should find ease in a short time; for I knew the reason of this new accident, and I would provide accordingly, for his Master should be free from that inflammation, it may be, before he could possibly return unto him: but in case he found no ease, I wished him to come presently back again, if not he might forbear coming. Thereupon he went, and at the instant I did put again the garter into the water; thereupon he found his Master without any pain at all. To be brief, there was no sense of pain afterward: but within five or six dayes the wounds were cicatrized, and entirely healed.”[1]

[1] _Ibid_., pp. 7-11.

Sir KENELM proceeds, in this discourse, to relate that he obtained the secret of the Powder from a Carmelite who had learnt it in the East. Sir KENELM says that he told it only to King JAMES and his celebrated physician, Sir THEODORE MAYERNE (1573-1655). The latter disclosed it to the Duke of MAYERNE, whose surgeon sold the secret to various persons, until ultimately, as Sir KENELM remarks, it became known to every country barber. However, DIGBY’S real connection with the Powder has been questioned. In an Appendix to Dr NATHANAEL HIGHMORE’S (1613-1685) _The History of Generation_, published in 1651, entitled _A Discourse of the Cure of Wounds by Sympathy_, the Powder is referred to as Sir GILBERT TALBOT’S Powder; nor does it appear to have been DIGBY who brought the claims of the Sympathetic Powder before the notice of the then recently-formed Royal Society, although he was a by no means inactive member of the Society. HIGHMORE, however, in the Appendix to the work referred to above, does refer to DIGBY’S reputed cure of HOWELL’S wounds already mentioned; and after the publication of DIGBY’S _Discourse_ the Powder became generally known as Sir KENELM DIGBY’S Sympathetic Powder. As such it is referred to in an advertisement appended to _Wit and Drollery_ (1661) by the bookseller, NATHANAEL BROOK.[1]

[1] This advertisement is as follows: “These are to give notice, that Sir _Kenelme Digbies_ Sympathetical Powder prepar’d by Promethean fire, curing all green wounds that come within the compass of a Remedy; and likewise the Tooth-ache infallibly in a very short time: Is to be had at Mr _Nathanael Brook’s_ at the Angel in _Cornhil_.”

The belief in cure by sympathy, however, is much older than DIGBY’S or TALBOT’S Sympathetic Powder. PARACELSUS described an ointment consisting essentially of the moss on the skull of a man who had died a violent death, combined with boar’s and bear’s fat, burnt worms, dried boar’s brain, red sandal-wood and mummy, which was used to cure (?) wounds in a similar manner, being applied to the weapon with which the hurt had been inflicted. With reference to this ointment, readers will probably recall the passage in SCOTT’S _Lay of the Last Minstrel_ (canto 3, stanza 23), respecting the magical cure of WILLIAM of DELORAINE’S wound by “the Ladye of Branksome”:–

“She drew the splinter from the wound And with a charm she stanch’d the blood; She bade the gash be cleans’d and bound: No longer by his couch she stood;
But she had ta’en the broken lance, And washed it from the clotted gore
And salved the splinter o’er and o’er. William of Deloraine, in trance,
Whene’er she turned it round and round, Twisted as if she gall’d his wound.
Then to her maidens she did say
That he should be whole man and sound Within the course of a night and day.
Full long she toil’d; for she did rue Mishap to friend so stout and true.”

FRANCIS BACON (1561-1626) writes of sympathetic cures as follows:–“It is constantly Received, and Avouched, that the _Anointing_ of the _Weapon_, that maketh the _Wound_, wil heale the _Wound_ it selfe. In this _Experiment_, upon the Relation of _Men of Credit_, (though my selfe, as yet, am not fully inclined to beleeve it,) you shal note the _Points_ following; First, the _Ointment_ . . . is made of Divers _ingredients_; whereof the Strangest and Hardest to come by, are the Mosse upon the _Skull_ of a _dead Man, Vnburied_; And the _Fats_ of a _Boare_, and a _Beare_, killed in the _Act of Generation_. These Two last I could easily suspect to be prescribed as a Starting Hole; That if the _Experiment_ proved not, it mought be pretended, that the _Beasts_ were not killed in due Time; For as for the _Mosse_, it is certain there is great Quantity of it in _Ireland_, upon _Slain Bodies_, laid on _Heaps, Vnburied_. The other _Ingredients_ are, the _Bloud-Stone_ in _Powder_, and some other _Things_, which seeme to have a _Vertue_ to _Stanch Bloud_; As also the _Mosse_ hath…. Secondly, the same _kind_ of _Ointment_, applied to the Hurt it selfe, worketh not the _Effect_; but onely applied to the _Weapon_….. Fourthly, it may be applied to the _Weapon_, though the Party Hurt be at a great Distance. Fifthly, it seemeth the _Imagination_ of the Party, to be _Cured_, is not needfull to Concurre; For it may be done without the knowledge of the _Party Wounded_; And thus much hath been tried, that the _Ointment_ (for _Experiments_ sake,) hath been wiped off the _Weapon_, without the knowledge of the _Party Hurt_, and presently the _Party Hurt_, hath been in great _Rage of Paine_, till the _Weapon_ was _Reannointed_. Sixthly, it is affirmed, that if you cannot get the _Weapon_, yet if you put an _Instrument_ of _Iron_, or _Wood_, resembling the _Weapon_, into the _Wound_, whereby it bleedeth, the _Annointing_ of that _Instrument_ will serve, and work the _Effect_. This I doubt should be a Device, to keep this strange _Forme of Cure_, in Request, and Use; Because many times you cannot come by the _Weapon_ it selve. Seventhly, the _Wound_ be at first _Washed clean_ with _White Wine_ or the _Parties_ own _Water_; And then bound up close in _Fine Linen_ and no more _Dressing_ renewed, till it be _whole_.”[1]

[1] FRANCIS BACON: _Sylva Sylvarum: or, A Natural History . . . Published after the Authors death . . . The sixt Edition_ ù . . (1651), p. 217.

Owing to the demand for making this ointment, quite a considerable trade was done in skulls from Ireland upon which moss had grown owing to their exposure to the atmosphere, high prices being obtained for fine specimens.

The idea underlying the belief in the efficacy of sympathetic remedies, namely, that by acting on part of a thing or on a symbol of it, one thereby acts magically on the whole or the thing symbolised, is the root-idea of all magic, and is of extreme antiquity. DIGBY and others, however, tried to give a natural explanation to the supposed efficacy of the Powder. They argued that particles of the blood would ascend from the bloody cloth or weapon, only coming to rest when they had reached their natural home in the wound from which they had originally issued. These particles would carry with them the more volatile part of the vitriol, which would effect a cure more readily than when combined with the grosser part of the vitriol. In the days when there was hardly any knowledge of chemistry and physics, this theory no doubt bore every semblance of truth. In passing, however, it is interesting to note that DIGBY’S _Discourse_ called forth a reply from J. F. HELVETIUS (or SCHWETTZER, 1625-1709), physician to the Prince of Orange, who afterwards became celebrated as an alchemist who had achieved the magnum opus.[1]

[1] See my _Alchemy: Ancient and Modern_ (1911), SESE 63-67.

Writing of the Sympathetic Powder, Professor DE MORGAN wittily argues that it must have been quite efficacious. He says: “The directions were to keep the wound clean and cool, and to take care of diet, rubbing the salve on the knife or sword. If we remember the dreadful notions upon drugs which prevailed, both as to quantity and quality, we shall readily see that any way of NOT dressing the wound would have been useful. If the physicians had taken the hint, had been careful of diet, _etc_., and had poured the little barrels of medicine down the throat of a practicable doll, THEY would have had their magical cures as well as the surgeons.”[2] As Dr PETTIGREW has pointed out,[3] Nature exhibits very remarkable powers in effecting the healing of wounds by adhesion, when her processes are not impeded. In fact, many cases have been recorded in which noses, ears, and fingers severed from the body have been rejoined thereto, merely by washing the parts, placing them in close continuity, and allowing the natural powers of the body to effect the healing. Moreover, in spite of BACON’S remarks on this point, the effect of the imagination of the patient, who was usually not ignorant that a sympathetic cure was to be attempted, must be taken into account; for, without going to the excesses of “Christian Science” in this respect, the fact must be recognised that the state of the mind exercises a powerful effect on the natural forces of the body, and a firm faith is undoubtedly helpful in effecting the cure of any sort of ill.

[2] Professor AUGUSTUS DE MORGAN: _A Budget of Paradoxes_ (1872), p 66.

[3] THOMAS JOSEPH PETTIGREW, F.R.S.: _On Superstitions connected with the History and Practice of Medicine and Surgery_ (1844), pp. 164-167.



THE word “talisman” is derived from the Arabic “tilsam,” “a magical image,” through the plural form “tilsamen.” This Arabic word is itself probably derived from the Greek telesma in its late meaning of “a religious mystery” or “consecrated object”. The term is often employed to designate amulets in general, but, correctly speaking, it has a more restricted and special significance. A talisman may be defined briefly as an astrological or other symbol expressive of the influence and power of one of the planets, engraved on a sympathetic stone or metal (or inscribed on specially prepared parchment) under the auspices of this planet.

Before proceeding to an account of the preparation of talismans proper, it will not be out of place to notice some of the more interesting and curious of other amulets. All sorts of substances have been employed as charms, sometimes of a very unpleasant nature, such as dried toads. Generally, however, amulets consist of stones, herbs, or passages from Sacred Writings written on paper. This latter class are sometimes called “characts,” as an example of which may be mentioned the Jewish phylacteries.

Every precious stone was supposed to exercise its own peculiar virtue; for instance, amber was regarded as a good remedy for throat troubles, and agate was thought to preserve from snake-bites. ELIHU RICH[1] gives a very full list of stones and their supposed virtues. Each sign of the zodiac was supposed to have its own particular stone[2] (as shown in the annexed table), and hence the superstitious though not inartistic custom of wearing one’s birth-

. Month (com-
Astrological mencing 21st Sign of the Zodiac. of preceding
Symbol. month). Stone.

Aries, the Ram . {} April Sardonyx. Taurus the Bull . {} May Cornelian. Gemini the Twins . {} June Topaz. Cancer, the Crab . {} July Chalcedony. Leo, the Lion . . {} August Jasper. Virgo, the Virgin . {} September Emerald. Libra, the Balance . {} October Beryl. Scorpio, the Scorpion {} November Amethyst. Sagittarius, the Archer {} December Hyacinth (=Sapphire). Capricorn, the Goat . {} January Chrysoprase. Aquarius, the Water- {} February Crystal. bearer
Pisces, the Fishes . {} March Sapphire.(=Lapis lazuli).

stone for “luck”. The belief in the occult powers of certain stones is by no means non-existent at the present day; for even in these enlightened times there are not wanting those who fear the beautiful opal, and put their faith in the virtues of New Zealand green-stone.

[1] ELIHU RICH: _The Occult Sciences (Encyclopaedia Metropolitana_, 1855), pp. 348 _et seq_.

[2] With regard to these stones, however, there is much confusion and difference of opinion. The arrangement adopted in the table here given is that of CORNELIUS AGRIPPA (_Occult Philosophy_, bk. ii.). A comparatively recent work, esteemed by modern occultists, namely, _The Light of Egypt, or the Science of the Soul and the Stars_ (1889), gives the following scheme:–

{}=Amethyst. {}=Emerald. {}=Diamond. {}=Onyx (Chalcedony).

{}=Agate. {}=Ruby. {}=Topaz. {}=Sapphire (skyblue).

{}=Beryl. {}=Jasper. {}=Carbuncle. {}=Chrysolite.

Common superstitious opinion regarding birth-stones, as reflected, for example, in the “lucky birth charms” exhibited in the windows of the jewellers’ shops, considerably diverges in this matter from the views of both these authorities. The usual scheme is as follows:–

Jan.=Garnet. May =Emerald. Sept.=Sapphire, Feb.=Amethyst. June=Agate. Oct. =Opal. Mar.=Bloodstone. July=Ruby. Nov. =Topaz. Apr.=Diamond. Aug.=Sardonyx. Dec. =Turquoise.

The bloodstone is frequently assigned either to Aries or Scorpio, owing to its symbolical connection with Mars; and the opal to Cancer, which in astrology is the constellation of the moon.

Confusion is rendered still worse by the fact that the ancients whilst in some cases using the same names as ourselves, applied them to different stones; thus their “hyacinth” is our “sapphire,” whilst their “sapphire” is our “lapis lazuli”.

Certain herbs, culled at favourable conjunctions of the planets and worn as amulets, were held to be very efficacious against various diseases. Precious stones and metals were also taken internally for the same purpose–“remedies” which in certain cases must have proved exceedingly harmful. One theory put forward for the supposed medical value of amulets was the Doctrine of Effluvia. This theory supposes the amulets to give off vapours or effluvia which penetrate into the body and effect a cure. It is, of course, true that certain herbs, _etc_., might, under the heat of the body, give off such effluvia, but the theory on the whole is manifestly absurd. The Doctrine of Signatures, which we have already encountered in our excursions,[1] may also be mentioned in this connection as a complementary and equally untenable hypothesis.

According to ELIHU RICH,[2] the following were the commonest Egyptian amulets:–

1. Those inscribed with the figure of _Serapis_, used to preserve against evils inflicted by earth.

2. Figure of _Canopus_, against evil by water.

3. Figure of a _hawk_, against evil from the air.

4. Figure of an _asp_, against evil by fire.

PARACELSUS believed there to be much occult virtue in an alloy of the seven chief metals, which he called _Electrum_. Certain definite proportions of these metals had to be taken, and each was to be added during a favourable conjunction of the planets. From this electrum he supposed that valuable amulets and magic mirrors could be prepared.

[1] See “Medicine and Magic.”
[2] _Op. Cit_., p. 343

A curious and ancient amulet for the cure of various diseases, particularly the ague, was a triangle formed of the letters of the word “Abracadabra.” The usual form was that shown in fig. 19, and that shown in fig. 20 was also known. The origin of this magical word is lost in obscurity.

The belief in the horn as a powerful amulet, especially prevalent in Italy, where is it the custom of the common people to make the sign of the _mano cornuto_ to avoid the consequence of the dreaded _jettatore_ or evil eye, can be traced to the fact that the horn was the symbol of the Goddess of the Moon. Probably the belief in the powers of the horse-shoe had a similar origin. Indeed, it seems likely that not only this, but most other amulets, like talismans proper–as will appear below,–were originally designed as appeals to gods and other powerful spiritual beings.

\ ABRA / \ ABRA |
\ ABR / \ BRA |
\ AB / \ RA |
\ A/ \ A |
\/ \ |

[1] See FREDERICK T. ELWORTHY’S _Horns of Honour_ (1900), especially pp. 56 _et seq_.

To turn our attention, however, to the art of preparing talismans proper: I may remark at the outset that it was necessary for the talisman to be prepared by one’s own self–a task by no means easy as a rule. Indeed, the right mental attitude of the occultist was insisted upon as essential to the operation.

As to the various signs to be engraver on the talismans, various authorities differ, though there are certain points connected with the art of talismanic magic on which they all agree. It so happened that the ancients were acquainted with seven metals and seven planets (including the sun and moon as planets), and the days of the week are also seven. It was concluded, therefore, that there was some occult connection between the planets, metals, and days of the week. Each of the seven days of the week was supposed to be under the auspices of the spirits of one of the planets; so also was the generation in the womb of Nature of each of the seven chief metals.

In the following table are shown these particulars in detail:–

Planet. Symbol. Day of Metal. Colour.

Sun . {} Sunday Gold Gold or yellow. Moon . {} Monday Silver Silver or white. Mars . {} Tuesday Iron Red.
Mercury {} Wednesday [1]Mercury Mixed colours or purple. Jupiter {} Thursday Tin Violet or blue. Venus {} Friday Copper Turquoise or green. Saturn. {} Saturday Lead Black.

[1] Used in the form of a solid amalgam for talismans.

Consequently, the metal of which a talisman was to be made, and also the time of its preparation, had to be chosen with due regard to the planet under which it was to be prepared.[1] The power of such a talisman was thought to be due to the genie of this planet– a talisman, was, in fact, a silent evocation of an astral spirit. Examples of the belief that a genie can be bound up in an amulet in some way are afforded by the story of ALADDIN’S lamp and ring and other stories in the _Thousand and One Nights_. Sometimes the talismanic signs were engraved on precious stones, sometimes they were inscribed on parchment; in both cases the same principle held good, the nature of the stone chosen, or the colour of the ink employed, being that in correspondence with the planet under whose auspices the talisman was prepared.

[1] In this connection a rather surprising discovery made by Mr W. GORNOLD (see his _A Manual of Occultism_, 1911, pp. 7 and 8) must be mentioned. The ancient Chaldeans appear invariably to have enumerated the planets in the following order: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon– which order was adopted by the mediaeval astrologers. Let us commence with the Sun in the above sequence, and write down every third planet; we then have–

Sun . . . . Sunday.
Moon . . . . Monday.
Mars . . . . Tuesday.
Mercury. . . . Wednesday.
Jupiter . . . . Thursday.
Venus . . . . Friday.
Saturn . . . . Saturday.

That is to say, we have the planets in the order in which they were supposed to rule over the days of the week. This is perhaps, not so surprising, because it seems probable that, each day being first divided into twenty-four hours, it was assumed that the planets ruled for one hour in turn, in the order first mentioned above. Each day was then named after the planet which ruled during its first hour. It will be found that if we start with the Sun and write down every twenty-fourth planet, the result is exactly the same as if we write down every third. But Mr OLD points out further, doing so by means of a diagram which seems to be rather cumbersome that if we start with Saturn in the first place, and write down every fifth planet, and then for each planet substitute the metal over which it was supposed to rule, we then have these metals arranged in descending order of atomic weights, thus:–

Saturn . . . Lead (=207).
Mercury . . . Mercury (=200). Sun . . . . Gold (=197).
Jupiter . . . Tin (=119).
Moon . . . . Silver (=108).
Venus . . Copper (=64).
Mars . . . . Iron (=56).

Similarly we can, starting from any one of these orders, pass to the other two. The fact is a very surprising one, because the ancients could not possibly have been acquainted with the atomic weights of the metals, and, it is important to note, the order of the densities of these metals, which might possibly have been known to them, is by no means the same as the order of their atomic weights. Whether the fact indicates a real relationship between the planets and the metals, or whether there is some other explanation, I am not prepared to say. Certainly some explanation is needed: to say that the fact is mere coincidence is unsatisfactory, seeing that the odds against, not merely this, but any such regularity occurring by chance–as