BODY & SOUL – Harnessing the Renaissance Magic of Marsilio Ficino
by Debra Moolenaar
Open your life to soul. Take control of your thoughts and emotions. Align them with the heavens, and you could you literally realign the energies surrounding you here on earth. By changing your frame of mind, you’ll make different choices. You can beat those empty feelings that fuel compulsions like excessive eating, drinking, or shopping.
If you’re seeking happiness, Renaissance astrologer and magician Marsilio Ficino believed that happiness comes with the good things in life – health, wealth, position, and power – to name a few. But having them isn’t enough. They must be desired, acquired, and used with wisdom.
Do this, he says, through natural magic. Because soul works through symbols and images, you absorb planetary rays through food, music, talismans, and medicines that correspond to, or vibrate in sympathy with, the planetary energies you need. Imagine two violins. Sympathetic vibration occurs when two strings are tuned to the same pitch. When one is plucked, the other will sing out in ‘in sympathy’. Take care of soul and it will take care of you. In this regard, soul is a quality rather than a quantity. It’s an intensity of experience. It’s best to speak of ‘soul’, rather than of ‘a soul’. Other words for soul might include daemon or muse.
Ficino (1433-1499) was the consummate Renaissance man. He was a physician, musician, priest, astrologer, mystic, and vegetarian. As the protégée of Cosimo de Medici, one of the most powerful men in Renaissance Europe, Ficino’s work had a profound effect on the direction of the Italian Renaissance and on European thought in general.
But Ficino was more than a scholar and philosopher. He was also an accomplished magician. He didn’t just contemplate the good life, but made it happen with help from soul. Because Ficino believed that the good life lies in a ‘well-tempered’ life – lived in harmony with the heavens, by following his lead, your goal is to become ‘as celestial as possible’ through soul.
Cultivating soul is like getting a liberal arts education. It isn’t about making money, but about developing personal values. When you move through life from this deeper place with insight into your personal nature, all else falls in line.
Your good life starts with the idea that the universe moves in ordered cosmic harmony according to a divine plan. If, as Ficino believed, soul, with help from the planets and all things celestial, sows the seeds of this divine plan into the material world through archetypal energies resembling rays, then wisdom, your key to happiness, comes from absorbing as many different rays as possible.
It’s the quality of objects – the shapes, sounds, colours that speak to soul. There’s a psychological element too. For example, if you want to cultivate solar energies, you use sun-related paintings, sculpture, jewellery, household furnishings, clothes, or even houseplants to keep solar attributes in the forefront of your mind.
In Ficino’s solar system, there were only seven planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto had yet to be discovered). To thrive, soul needs exposure to each. You shouldn’t ignore the more challenging ones like Mars and Saturn and concentrate solely on the easy ones like Venus and Jupiter. Remember the goal is to lead a balanced well-tempered life. One way to accomplish this might be to focus on the planetary energies associated with each day of the week. The connection between the planets’ names and the days of the week is ancient. It appears in many languages. For example, Sunday is the Sun’s day, Monday the Moon’s day, Tuesday is Mar’s day, Wednesday is Mercury’s day, Thursday is Jupiter’s day, Friday is Venus’ day, and Saturday belongs to Saturn.
The Sun symbolizes the qualities – insight and imagination – that are uniquely human. Thus solar energy is associated with consciousness, rational thought, and the pursuit of truth and honour. The Sun’s healing powers are unrivalled. To cultivate solar energies, avoid all things sad and dusky. Instead, take care to warm your heart with cordial and joyful things. Overexposure to the sun can dry you out, so use it with caution.
Cultivate solar energies through solemn music, all things gold coloured, nutmeg, heliotrope, myrrh, honey, crocus, corn, cinnamon, aloes, lions, swans, beetles, and chickens. Visualize a king on a throne in a yellow garment, along with a raven and the form of the sun.
Light is prized above all else. ‘Nothing recalls the nature of goodness more than light.’ Plato compared the Sun to God himself, and Ficino agreed, teaching that man could best know the virtue and divinity of God through the light of the Sun.
You can learn to make informed choices about which specific energies you want. For example, if you were tired or disappointed, you’d call upon Jupiter and the Sun to give you a lift. If you were annoyed, you’d ask Venus to tame your anger. You could also invoke particular planetary powers to assist with current astrological transits.
Some planets work well together while others do not. For example, the bright beneficial power of the Sun and Jupiter mix easily to good effect. But Saturn and Jupiter are natural enemies and counterbalance each other. Everything in moderation! All the planets have both positive and negative effects. It’s important to avoid too much of a good thing.
The Moon’s endless monthly cycles of death and rebirth are clearly visible to the naked eye. In earlier times, farmers would plant when she was waxing and harvest when she was waning. Along with Venus, the Moon signifies the procreative force and is associated with the human body and all natural processes. Observe the lunar cycle. It’s an important guide to auspicious rhythms – especially when performing magic and healing. Because of her associations with birth, the Moon is the key to making ideas and fantasies become real. Knowing ‘when’ to do something is as important as knowing ‘what’ to do.
The lunar cycle reminds you to hounour your downtime. Just as there’s a time to sow and reap, there’s a time to lay fallow. How can anything survive running at top speed twenty-four hours a day – seven days a week? Instead, live in sync with the Moon’s cycles, beginning projects with the new moon, harvesting them with the full moon, and winding down with the waning moon. You’re ready to start again! Cultivate lunar energies through things that are white, moist, green, silver, as well as through crystal, pearls, and silver marcasite. Visualize a beautiful girl seated on a dragon or a bull. She has horns on her head, and serpents above her head and under her feet.
Mars is the God of War. He signifies anger, violence, bitterness, and all types of aggression. But he also signifies courage and, according to Ficino, he fortifies the soul. Cultivate Mars through materials that are fiery or red, red brass, sulphurous things, iron, and bloodstone. Visualize a man armed and crowned.
Mercury is a natural-born interpreter and, in ancient myth, he was the god of communication. He knows there are multiple meanings behind even the simplest of objects, and his job is to connect you with them. Mercury’s quick and bright, so if you need insight, turn to him. But he’s also duplicitous. Functioning as the trickster, he forces you to see things differently. For example with dreams, images of one thing prompt understanding of something completely different. Mercury stimulates your curiosity – but doesn’t deliver answers. He leaves that to you. Cultivate mercurial energies through tin, silver (especially quicksilver), silver marcasite, agate, glass (especially yellow mixed with green-emerald), clever animals such as monkeys and dogs, and people who are eloquent, sharp, and versatile. Visualize a winged man wearing a crested cap and multi-colour robe. He has eagle’s feet and is seated on a throne holding a reed in his right hand, a cock in his left.
Jupiter is the mind and spirit of the universe supporting all civilized aspects of humanity including culture, religion, philosophy, and law. Ficino called Jupiter the ‘helping father’ because he transforms our imaginative visions into the realities of collective living. Jupiter brings joie de vivre and carefree enjoyment of life, strengthening and moderating all things with which he associates. He’s always beneficial and brings luck in all matters. Jupiter can make Venus more sweet, and Saturn less sour. Ficino often spoke of using Jupiter in conjunction with other planets to counteract, temper, or magnify them. Cultivate Jupiter’s power with jacinth, crystal, wine, sugar, white honey, peppermint, peacocks, and the colours of sapphire, rich purple, gold mixed with silver, and green. Visualize a man crowned, sitting on an eagle or dragon, and wearing a gold robe.
Venus is the Goddess of Love, and Ficino suggested there are two kinds of love, human and divine; Venus expresses both. Like Plato, Ficino believed that the sight of sensuous bodily beauty arouses an appreciation of divine beauty. Thus Venus is not just to be admired, but to be used for spiritual growth as well. Along with the Moon, Venus signifies the natural and procreative force. She presides over the lush green fertility of spring. She confers a prosperous life making you fruitful and happy. But Venus has a dark side as well. So many myths caution against the dangers of staying wrapped in her seductive pleasures for too long, that you should take these warnings to heart. Cultivate Venus through corneolus (a flesh-like stone thought to stop the flow of blood), coral, turtles, turtledoves, pigeons, and through all things gay, festive, and pleasurable. Modesty forbade Ficino from revealing a full list of correspondences. Visualize a young woman dressed in yellow and white, holding apples and flowers in her hand.
Saturn is associated with death and misfortune and, because he constrains movement, you’ll naturally meet him when ill or depressed. Dark moods and melancholy aren’t usually welcome, yet Ficino believed they were vital to provide time and space for contemplation. In Ficino’s world, Saturn marked the boundaries of the solar system thus reminding you that all things on earth must come to an end. As the highest and most exalted of the planets, Saturn encourages you to move beyond the material world to higher ground – to the heavens and the true home of soul. Because Saturn is rooted in tradition and he’s a natural builder, you can call upon him when facing hard work or serious study. As the ruler of stability and perseverance, he can give you the strength to achieve your goals. Cultivate Saturnian energies through all things earthy, dusky, and leaden, as well as through smoky jasper, lodestone, cameo, solemn music, sapphire, and gold. Visualize an old man dressed in a dusky robe, sitting on a high throne or dragon. His head is covered with a dark linen cloth and he’s raising his hands above his head, holding a sickle or some fish.
What happens once you’ve become ‘as celestial as possible’? How do you use your gifts and achievements wisely? You could start by envisioning yourself, as did Ficino and his contemporaries, as an integral part of a comprehensive totality, and focusing your efforts not just for yourself, but for the greater good of all and the glory of God.
Regarding the way to happiness, Ficino wrote In a letter to Cosimo de Medici, “…for thus our soul becomes most like to God, who is wisdom itself. According to Plato, in this likeness consists the highest state of happiness.”