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Agrippa: Occult Philosophy

This may be off-topic or right-on, depending on your perception:
This is generally to Jim Reeds and his specific understanding of the subject, but since Christmas is upon us, and I practice the tradition to a degree,  (not wholly limited by my devout belief in Human Secularism), I also offer my brief discourse in these matters to the population at large, for it is the understanding of ourselves that leads to toward the future prosperity of mankind.  The corpus of this work will be in print soon enough, and I invite criticism or comment prior to that publication.  I've left out the "Ars Memoriae" in this dissertation as a unique discovery, but I will add it as a supplement to this post for your perusal.  Merry Christmas to all.


Knowing your interest in historical cipher and the history of cipher, I thought I’d add to my brief presentation of Agrippa’s “Ars Memoriae” system by providing you with a few Trithemian connections you might find interesting.  It just may be that even with your decipherment of book 3 of Trithemius’ Steganographia, we haven’t yet closed the book on Trithemian systems!  Here’s something for your keen intellect to ponder while you enjoy the holidays – a gift of thought, if you will.

In addition to Agrippa’s system based on “Ars Memoriae” which I recently recovered from his first two books of Occult Philosophy and presented to you in short form, there is the matter of his third and later book to be dealt with.  My copy of this book presently exists only in English, but while I wait for the Latin version to arrive I thought I’d give you a Christmas present by demonstrating but a few of the connections between this book and those of Trithemius and deVigenere.

Given what I know of Agrippa’s first two books, my suspicions are easily aroused concerning the third book, but Agrippa offers up to his readers additional grounds for suspicion, lest any reader remain in doubt:

“How great writings are there made of the irresistable power of the Magical Art, of the prodigious Images of Astrologers, of the monstrous transmutations of Alchymists, of the blessed stone, by which, Mydas-like, all metals that were touched are presently transmuted into Gold, or Silver, all which are found vain, fictitious, and false, as often as they are practised according to letter.  Yet such things are delivered, and writ by great and grave Philosophers, and holy men, whose traditions, who dare say are false?  Nay, it were impious to think that they were lyes.  There is therefore another meaning then what is written in letters, and that is vailed with divers mysteries, and as yet clearly explained by none of the Masters, and which I believe no man can attain by reading of books only, without a skilfull, and faithfull master, unless he be divinely illuminated, as very few are.”

We become aware that “mysteries” are hidden in works throughout the ages, which can be revealed only by a skillful and faithful master, which is not a matter to be questioned.  The question is the nature of concealment and the methods by which these secrets may be extracted.  Agrippa puts himself forth as such a master in numerous statements, and numerous times mentions that what he is revealing is a secret of the “ancients”.  It is left to us to discern the nature of the secret.  He calls his work “Alphebetary and Mathematical”, terms that when placed together in a modern sense raise the spectre of cryptography.  Agrippa makes numerous statements about the nature and seclusion of the work presented, but most can be summed up by these two statements, presented in true Trithemian fashion:

(of the construction and concealment of the work:)

“but let him accuse himself, who understandeth not our writings; for they are obscure, and covered with divers mysteries, by the which it will easily happen, that many may erre and loose their sense; therefore let no man be angry with me, if we have folded up the truth of this science with many Enigmaes, and dispersed it in divers places, for we have not hidden it from the wise, but from the wicked and ungodly, and have delivered it in such words which necessarily blind the foolish, and easily may admit the wise to the understanding of them.”[the "Ars Memoriae" was hidden in such a fashion.]

(of the content of the work and its traditional method of transmission:)

“But that the sincere truth lying hid under these things, is committed to the perfect only, not by writings, but by word of mouth, and that this is that Alphebetary and Arithmetical Theology which Christ in private manifested to his Apostles.”

A statement made in a letter to a friend demonstrates the division of the work between the first two books and the third, a division I have discovered and demonstrated to be true:

“But as for those books which you have of mine which were made in my youth, the two former of them were deficient in many things, the third is wholy imperfect, and contains but a certain Epitome of my writings.  But I will (God willing) set forth the whole work,  being made entire, and revised, reserving the key thereof for most intimate friends only, one whereof you need not at all question but that I reckon you.”

While my mind is already suspicious of cryptographic allusions in this third manuscript by cause of my observations made in the first two books, I am also aware that no secret remains a secret, and if there is any truth in my presumption that Agrippa had cryptology in mind when he wrote this work, that proof would become evident in works written by colleagues and later authors who were privy to the information.  Here I present but a brief portion of that proof, for your liesure.

The first suspicion of cryptographic intent is to be found in a device printed in Vigenere’s voluminous “Traicte des Chiffres” and again reprinted in Selenus.  This device consists of four lines drawn in such a fashion as to divide a square into nine parts, precisely the fashion of the ancient game now called “tic-tac-toe”.  In each of the nine squares is written three letters of the alphabet.  To represent a character of the alphabet, one draws the form of the square and a conciliatory note to distinguish which of the three letters is intended from that square.  Afterwards the squares may be connected together to form unintelligible symbols.  Agrippa illustrates the identical device and its similar use under the guise of forming sigils from the names of angels.  The “latinizing” of the device by Vigenere cannot mask its form and operation, that being virtually identical to the form expressed in Agrippa.

There are also several tables cabalistic to be found in Agrippa’s third book, all written with Hebrew characters in traditional fashion, adding to their obscurity it would seem.  It’s what Agrippa says of these tables that is of importance to the connectivity I seek:

“Abbas Tritemius writ to Maximilian Cesar a Special Treatise concerning these, which he that will thoroughly examine, may from thence draw great knowledge of future times.  Over the twelve Signs set these, viz. over Aries Malchidael, over Taurus Asmodel; over Gemini Ambriel; over Cancer Muriel; over Leo Verchiel; over Virgo Hamaliel; over Libra Zuriel; over Scorpio Barchiel; over Sagittarius Advachiel; over Capricorn Hanael; over Aquarius Cambiel; over Pisces Barchiel.”

In one fell swoop Agrippa firmly connects his work to Trithemius, intimates the secret intent of his diagrams, and verifies the authenticity of the 12 Trithemian modes that went unprinted until Selenus, adding that Trithemius' dedication of the unprinted work was to Emperor Maximilian.  (No small piece of history).  This angelic sequence may also be extracted from one of Agrippa’s tables, giving us an idea that Trithemius may have also used a systematic method of extraction for the order of other angel names used in his books of steganography and polygraphy.  (As I have discovered in Agrippa, the angel names may have no meaning in Hebrew, but when transliterated to Greek or Latin characters by the alphabet presented in the “Ars Memoriae” scheme, the meaning readily becomes apparent through another language.  Something to consider with Trithemius – linguistic methods of concealment, as it were.)

Extracting these 12 angel names also verifies Agrippa’s consonantal order of the Hebrew characters according to the alphabet of his “Ars Memoriae” system, the first of several demonstrations that Trithemius was working off the same set of tables and identical philosophical system as that presented in the manuscripts of his friend, Agrippa.

While the Hebrew representation is somewhat obscure to the modern reader, Agrippa makes it clear that his intent is for the reader to broaden his horizon somewhat:

“Of this calculatory Art Alfonsus Cyprius once wrote, and I know who els and also fitted it to Latine Characters; [read: Trithemius] But because the letters of every tongue, as we shewed in the first book, have in their number, order, and figure a Celestial and Divine originall, [relating to the alphabet of the “Ars Memoriae”] I shall easily grant this calculation concerning the names of the spirits to be made not only by Hebrew letters, but also Chaldean, and Arabick, Aegyptian, Greek, Latine, and any other, the tables being rightly made after the imitation of the presidents.” [“presidents” in Agrippa’s meaning relate to the alphabetical division of consonants and vowels as represented by the zodiac, the planets, and the elements.]

Agrippa presents a table titled “The Right Table of the Commutations”, which is the Hebrew version of Trithemius’ now famous and historical polyalphabetic table in the Latin alphabet.  The table written in reverse is entitled “The Averse Table of the Commutations”, and may be found in Latin form in both Porta and Vigenere.  Presented as cabbalistic tables they are indeed mysterious, but working the angelic names through the tables sheds some light on their operation.

Another set of tables demonstrates a jump in cryptographic philosophy – “The Table of the Combinations of Ziruph” and “The Rational Table of Ziruph” are identical in operation to those submitted by Abram Colorno in his “Scotographia Italica”, and touched on by Vigenere.  That both Colorno and Agrippa saw these as cryptographic instruments makes one reconsider the age of the systems being described.

Two other tables that I find of extreme interest in connection to outside authority and substantiation are the tables which separate the Hebrew alphabet, the first into the signs of the planets (vowels) and the second into the signs of the zodiac (consonants), following Agrippa’s alphabetic scheme presented in his “Ars Memoriae” system.  Vigenere presents examples of enciphering with only vowels, and presents the “planet” table in Latin characters and Latin order with the planetary signs being removed.  This correlation between tables may be passed off to coincidence, if it weren’t for Vigenere’s representation of the table of  the “zodiac”!

In this instance Vigenere does something that cannot escape notice.  He presents his table in Latin characters and without the planetary signs, even reducing the columns from 12 to 11 for some unexplained reason.  What Vigenere DID NOT do was change the order of the Hebrew alphabet to match the order of the Latin alphabet.  Vigenere presents his Modified table in the EXACT order of the Hebrew characters as they are represented in Agrippa’s manuscript.  While it’s not my intent to build a case for plagiarism,  it does appear that Vigenere attempted to conceal his source when presenting these systems for consideration.  The lack of mention of the original author can easily be attributed to the veil of secrecy Agrippa demands of his disciples and Vigeneres' desire to honor that demand.  It should not be forgotten that some of these mechanisms had already filtered their way into Porta's understanding and printed works, though if he understood their origin, he did an extremely good job of concealing that fact.

What I present to you here in the spirit of shared interests is but a glimpse at the many and various correlations the works of Agrippa represent, establishing a solid link between the cabalistic and esoteric art, and those instruments that are ascribed to the birth of modern cryptography and our understanding of the art of “alphabetical and mathematical” concealment.  Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy may represent the “missing link”, the “keystone” document that fills an historical void of the progression of thought and learning as it relates to the art of cryptography and science.  His writings draw much older and much forgotten manuscripts into the light, causing us to view them in His new light, as works of cryptography, with hidden intent.   One can only hope, but perhaps we have just stumbled onto the playing field of the “secrets of the ancients”, and if so, we may find that our history of science and discovery may have many chapters still left unwritten.

There is a substantial quote to be made here from Agrippa relating to these matters, but I either cannot find it or cannot sort it out from the hundreds of markings I’ve made on his pages.  It tells us that he is the light and the way, and the guide to what we seek, that only through his eyes may we attain the secrets of the “ancients”.

I have demonstrated to you in short and abbreviated discourse the information to be received from Agrippa’s writings, the content of which he admits and affirms in many and various places.  What I cannot tell you is how far these revelations move back the hands of time in regard to what we consider “cryptographic”.  Is it possible that we may discover secrets hidden in polyalphabetic cipher as far back as 350 C.E.?  Were digraphic systems understood and in operation as far back as 300 B.C.E.?  Your guess is as good as mine.  In light of these revelations our collective understanding may be in need of slight modification.

What is certain is that Agrippa’s works will serve as a major connection between ancient and modern ideals and concepts.  How far back in time this carries us is limited only by our imagination and our willingness to accept that something great remains to be discovered in the writings and teachings of our ancestors, no matter how distant.

As always, comments are appreciated.  Merry Christmas.



(The ARS MEMORIAE as an addendum:)

In his Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Agrippa went to great lengths to
describe a system by which the very words one writes convey a message,
saying that this message could be read even if the manuscripts were
translated into any one of the three primary languages, Greek, Hebrew, and
Latin.  Portions of the system are scattered across the three books for
concealment, and it is only when you diagram all the things said in the
books that the system reveals itself.

Agrippa uses an alphabet that is reprinted by Vigenere, Porta and Selenus,
and also used by Trithemius.  This relates the alphabet mnemonically to the
12 zodiac signs, the 7 planets, the 4 elements and the spirit (soul). Zodiac
is consonant, planets are vowels, and the remaining letters are the elements
and the spirit.  Their order appears just as they were taught in the seven
sciences of the time, and the entire system is based on the mnemonic
teaching that was so prevelant:

B aries
C taurus
D gemini
F cancer
G leo
L virgo
M libra
N scorpio
P sagittarius
R capricorn
S aquarius
T pisces
A saturn
E jupiter
I mars
O sun
U venus
I  (cons.) mercury
V (cons.) moon
K earth
Q water
X air
Z fire
H spirit

Parts of the body are also mnemonically presented from their order of
teaching in medicine, and assigned influences from the zodiac, the planets,
and the elements.  Names of birds, plants, animals, etc. are also assigned
these celestial virtues and remembered in their order against this scale.
(see Pliny)  In fact, if you go back to the teachings of the "ancients", you
will find an order prevalent in the books, probably because there were few
textbooks and it was important to remember things in an order that allowed
for easy retention.

Agrippa takes this mnemonic teaching one step further.  As an example,
Saturn has the lapwing as its bird, the cuttlefish as its fish, the mole as
its mammal, lead as its metal, onyx as its stone, the right foot as a body
part, the right ear as its head part, and the color of blue, with many more
distinctions to be found in the texts relating to Saturn.  Saturn also
equates to the letter A.

Agrippa's system is based on his observation that when you write the word
"lapwing" you are also representing the letter A.  When you write the word
"lead" you are also saying the letter A, etc.  So if I were to write:

"He has the grace of a lapwing, the swiftness of a cuttlefish, and the
cunning of a mole, but his right ear has all the tone of a leaden vessel,
and his right foot knows not how to command the dance." I would have just
written the letter A six times in a row.  This is the simple version alluded
to in book one.

Agrippa is well versed in the mnemonic art of teaching, and he knows that
all things have three aspects of consideration, those being the physical,
the intellectual, and the spiritual (or other words similar to these that
divide things by three virtues.)  To expand his system he takes these
aspects into account, demonstrating that the metal "lead" can signify three
different letters, depending on its aspect.  So if we use the words in order
of aspect, using the phyical meaning first, the intellectual meaning second,
and the spiritual meaning lastly, or whatever order you may wish to
establish, we can expand our vocabulary to hundreds of words from the seven
sciences and still be
able to write our epistle with ease.  He notes that you can use any form of
the word as long as the root of the word is maintained.

It is said by Agrippa that this is how the alchemists hide their true
formulae in voluminous allegorical works.  That is no small statement!
Vigenere calls the alphabet "alchemical" without further comment, which may
be an acknowledgement of Agrippa's claim.

I hope this is of some small use to you in your consideration of history,
and I would appreciate any comments you may have on this.