Brand New After
  1. As it is in Heaven

The first time man looked into the sky what did he think? The sun, stars and moon lived there, rain fell from there, day broke there and night returned there, thunder and lightning also—all phenomena he had no control over. The most curious of such early minds must have decided that in the world above our heads—the unseen one determining seasons, famine, fertility, etc.—there had to be a collection of beings or at least elemental forces with powers far greater than his. This is probably why in most myths about the origin of the world supreme beings come from heaven to earth, because certainly, the earth couldn’t have been established by itself. And if the Bible’s Old Testament is anything to go by, man’s first collective quest was to build a tower reaching into the heavens, an attempt to become gods themselves[1], considered by God as the height of insubordination, to which the right punishment was eternal confusion. Yet man continued to have his eyes trained on the heavens; even literally, before the invention of telescopes. So much so that when God’s own son, Jesus Christ, would be born the notice had to be put in the heavens as the star of Bethlehem, guiding the Magi to deliver their gifts, and saving the child from Herod who slaughtered children to keep his throne[2].

            It appears man has always considered himself central to the universe. “Central” here doesn’t refer to physical positioning as might be found, say, in Ptolemy’s geocentrism. Instead, it refers to the idea that man’s existence—even though man is immeasurably inferior—is important for the existence of the gods (King David once cried, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?[3]”). Yet, something else is worthy of note in this supposed centrality: the belief that in another world there exists similar activities, forms or forces as there is on earth and that to attain some kind of perfection or order of things, there has to be harmony or agreement with what happens or is the order in this otherworld.  

At first consideration, Bible philosophy might be mistaken for a simple “what exists here on earth shows us what is unseen.” For example, when Jesus of Nazareth, in teaching his disciples how to pray, says: “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.[4]” But when St. Paul considers the relationship between heaven and earth he goes further to relate the actual content or elements on earth to those of another world: “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.[5]” And also, when he says: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.[6]

St. Paul seems to think closer to Plato. We know that for Plato he believed in another world, a perfect one that was the World of Forms just like St. Paul believed that this world was “not made out of things which do appear.” But how about Ficino or even Bruno?

  • So it is on Earth

“Modern scholars are convinced that there are two kinds of magic,” writes Couliano[7], “Ficino’s ‘spiritual’ or ‘natural’ magic and the ‘demonomagic’ of Trithemius. This distinction is arbitrary and rests on no solid foundation. Since demons themselves are spirits without a body, they form the object of spiritual magic, like the ‘gifts of the animate world’ and the ‘gifts of living stars.’” Even though Ficino doesn’t go deep into demonology (because as Couliano writes “it is because he fears for his life.”), his ideas about magic are almost impossible to consider without thinking about numinousity and eventually, the heavens.

Magic and Astrology seem intrinsically linked for both Ficino and even Bruno. Ficino believed in “gifts of the animate world” and of “the living stars.” His definition of magic was “[technique that allows] men to attract, at favorable times, celestial presences through lower things corresponding to higher things.” Ficino’s Book of Life was in fact about how it is impossible to live right in this world without understanding the relationship between this world, its “animate elements” and the “living stars.” To live right, one has to be able to do things in accordance with and following the patterns of the “animate elements” and the “living stars.”  Also, large parts of Bruno’s ideas have images revolving around planetary bodies—Saturn, Mars and Jupiter alongside the Sun feature heavily in his thinking. Before both of them, Al -Kindi had already developed a theory of stellar radiations and had formulated a theory of the general conjunctions of planets and their influence on the fate of religions.

Man’s centrality (as said earlier, not physical location like in geocentrism but simply the fact that things were put in place around man, for man, to understand and therefore make use of) again comes into question when we consider both Ficino and Bruno. Ficino says[8] in Book of Life “Thus, as a man, you pursue and claim your human gifts, and not those proper to fish or birds, who get their own. You pursue, however, things which pertain to a certain star or demon, going into the flow proper to this star or demon, the way wood when it is doused with sulfur bursts into flame.” Why do they believe that by studying these outerworld movements we can attain some kind of power, perfection or understanding? Is it not an overestimation of man’s place in the cosmos to believe that he can access some otherworld power by aligning himself with things outside of himself that where placed there as gifts to be discovered and harnessed by him?

Couliano says[9]: “Ficino’s definition of magic is concise and clear: the purpose of magical maneuvers is to obtain far-off results by means of immediate causes, especially action upon higher things by the lower things that are their affinity and that serve as ‘lures’, ‘enticing’ them at favorable times.” Also, on Bruno, Couliano says: “To Bruno, matter is the substratum of the cosmos, and the cosmos is animate matter. The universe without the world’s soul, corporeal substance without incorporeal substance, are inconceivable. The only thing that changes is accidental form, external and material, whereas matter itself and substantial form, the soul, are “indissoluble and indestructible.” We can say that Ficino and Bruno’s magic systems (if we can call them that) depend on a Platonic view of the universe just like St. Paul’s faith system. Both magic systems need this view to formulate a procedure for looking at the world. It is also important that even though these worlds contain supernormal possibilities, it has to be relatable to man’s world, has to contain forms and elements that can be mapped to man’s world. How else could man exert any power beyond himself without help from a world in tandem with his but existing beyond himself?

[1] The Holy Bible, King James Version. (Gen. 11)

[2] The Holy Bible, King James Version. (Mat. 2)

[3] The Holy Bible, King James Version. (Psalms 8: 4)

[4] The Holy Bible, King James Version. (Mat 6:10)

[5] The Holy Bible, King James Version. (2 Cor 4: 18)

[6] The Holy Bible, King James Version. (Heb 11: 3)

[7] Couliano, Ioan P. Eros and magic in the Renaissance. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (1987)

[8] Ficino, Marsilio. The Book of Life. Connecticut: Spring Publications (1994)

[9]  Couliano, Ioan P. Eros and magic in the Renaissance. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (1987)

A Long House is a host of houses without walls. Think of citizens of a complex network of intuitions, hyper present, fearless in imagination, delivering revelations as questions.