Cannabis, the Herb of Saturn

Cannabis, the Herb of Saturn

CANNABIS CULTURE – Alchemist, like magicians, were deeply influenced by the Kabbalah and Hermetic arts, and this included astrology. Every conceivable plant, animal, metal and mineral, was given to the dominion of the planets above. Cannabis, in this case appears with other psychoactive plants,  in a number of alchemically influenced herbals, and magical texts, under the dominion of Saturn. As Dr. William Sharp lamented, in trying to distinguish the history of medicines from magical potions, in the 19th century.

Every kind of virtue has been attributed superstitiously to the action of drugs. They have been given with incantations of every character. They have been worn as amulets and charms of every form, and of every material. And these things have been done in all ages, and in every country, to avert or to remedy disease. Alas! that such a method of discovering the action of drugs should have existed, should still exist in the world. It is cheeked only where, and so far as, the influence of pure Christianity is felt.

We may dismiss the further consideration of it here; but we should not do so without a blush: for we may well blush for the ignorance, for the folly, and for the sin which all such practices reveal.

They have been viewed astrologically.

For many centuries a belief has been maintained that the action of drugs is under the government of the sun, moon, and stars.

All the details of this misbelief are given with perfect good faith, and with entire confidence, so lately as the middle of the seventeenth century, in one of the most popular medical books of the time—by “popular” I here mean among medical men; this is the Pharmacopaeia of John Shroder. (1656). From the ninth chapter of this celebrated book “De influentiis Stellarum”—a book, let me again observe, received and used by the orthodox physicians of the time—we may learn the puerile story of the “star-gazers.”

short extract will show the character of the statements :—

“Saturn is a malignant planet; it is diurnal, masculine, extremely cold; a friend of Mars, and an enemy to all the rest (of the planets). It corresponds to the little world of the spleen.”

“Things medicaments) under the influence of Saturn are plumbum, antimonium, aconitum, cannabis, agnus castus, opium, sabina, &c.”

“Jupiter is a benevolent planet ; it is moderately warm, &e. It corresponds to the liver.”

“The things (medicaments) under the influence of Jupiter are stannum, argentum, berberis, mentha, quercus, symphitus, &c.”

“Mars is a planet extremely hot and dry, &c.”

The things (medicaments) under the influence of Mars are cinnabar, arum, carduus, plantsgo, urtica, &c.

And so through the planets, and also through the twelve signs of the zodiac.

These fancies having been received and assented to by the profession until times so recent, it is not wonderful that they still survive in “Culpepper’s Herbal.”

This starry method of discovering the action of drugs is wholly destitute of proofs; indeed, it rests upon the wildest conjectures. It may be dismissed without hesitation, notwithstanding its prevalence and popularity, as altogether erroneous and wrong. (Sharp, 1876)

Now, wether we share Sharp’s disdain for such astrological association, is neither here nor there, that this was a popular view among the alchemically and magically minded, may lead to some interesting associations. In this regard, it is important to remember that “The alchemists… spoke a secret language and concealed their secrets in peculiar forms or symbols,  and that they used a great number of pseudonymous words… the alchemists say again and again that one must not take their words literally, that the real meaning is quite different, it is only expressed as it is to deceive the stupid and so on….” (Jung, 1941).

The 16th and 17th Flemish alchemist Johann Isaac Hollandus, who was familiar with plant alchemy wrote of a “quintessence of saturn” in A Work of Saturn. “My child shall know, that the Stone called the Philosopher’s Stone, comes out of Saturn. And therefore when it is perfected, it makes projection as well in mans’ Body from all Diseases, which may assault them either within or without, be they what they will, or called by what name soever, as also in the imperfect Metals.”

From an alchemical perspective, Saturn is of great importance as it is the border between personal, and transpersonal, or cosmic, powers. The Black Crow is the symbolic messenger of Saturn, symbolizing the Black Phase of alchemical transformation, sometimes referred to as The Dark Night of the Soul. In relation to psychoactive substances and what they can bring to the table in the spiritual process, in regards to shamanic like concepts of symbolic “Death and Rebirth” this seems like the perfect planetary host.

Mylius, Philosophia reformata (1622, The eclipse of the Sol niger in the negredo

Nicholas Culpepper’s herbal, first published in 1652, in reference to cannabis, states that “it is a plant of Saturn”. This Planetary dominion is also given in William Lilly’s Christian Astrology, (1647) which includes known hallucinogens such as “ Woolf-bane,… Hellebore the white and black, Henbane, …Mandrake, Poppy, Nightshade” and other plants. We see this planetary association still in use centuries later, in a list of “Planetary Correspondences used by Cagliostro and his Contemporaries” that included “hemlock…, nightshade, [and]hemp”(Faulks & Cooper, 2016). Familiar with such references, the respected German anthropologist and  ethnopharmacologist, Christian Ratsch, has noted:

In the alchemical tradition hemp… was… numbered among the Saturnian plants, together with mandrake…, henbane…, the opium poppy… [etc.] all of which distinguish themselves because they are able to alter consciousness, that is transform the spirit.  It must be assumed that the alchemists of medieval times, for example Agrippa…, were aware of the psychoactive effects of hemp… so,… as an “elixir”… hemp transcends time, the alchemist can have an experience of immortality. (Ratsch, 1998)

Such a state of consciousness, would be ideal for an aspiring seer to see visions.  In reference to “what are the powers of the soul to which the Planets answer” in his Second Book of Occult Philosophy, Cornelius Agrippa placed  the “Receptive on Saturn”, and it would be the “receptive” that one would want for an oracular state. He refers to the divine “frenzy [Phrensie] which leads us to wisdom and revelation, especially when it is combined with a heavenly influence, above all with that of Saturn”, and through this “some men have become divine beings, foretelling the future like Sybils” (Agrippa, 1510)*. According to Agrippa, one of the  means of achieving “frenzy”, included “secret confections, by which the spirits of their God did infuse vertue, make the soul rise above the mind, by joyning it with dieties [deities], and Demons” (Agrippa, 1533). Through such means Agrippa taught that one can “learn the secrets of divine matters… the laws of God, the angelic hierarchy, and that which pertains to the knowledge of eternal things and the souls’s salvation”*. To suggest some sort of entheogen is indicated, seems plausible.

*from the translation in (Yates, 1999)

In relation to this, in Marijuana Medicine, Ratsch cites Agrippa regarding Saturn, in a quote that is reminiscent of the classical black obsidian stone style of magic mirror, that would be used later by John Dee, and imagery of occult entities such as Baphomet, as well as the magnetized discs sometimes infused with cannabis and other drugs used by 19th century occultists. “Of the operation of Saturn, when this planet would ascend, the ancients would depict on a so-called magnet stone an image of a man with the face of  a stag and the feet of a camel, who sat on a a stool or dragon, and who held a sickle in the right hand and an arrow in the left….” (Agrippa)*.   “Both The Picatrix and Agrippa cite three different saturnine spirits carrying a sickle or scythe…” (Decker, 2013). Which is interesting as the Scythe takes its name from the Scythians and was the traditional tool for harvesting cannabis. The name Saturn is said to come from the Latin, serere meaning to ‘sow’ or ‘plant’. I should note that, although Ratsch refers to Agrippa in relation to Saturn and cannabis, that the listings of cannabis under Saturn, takes place in Astrological Herbals centuries after his time, and although Agrippa did ascribe various astrological powers to various herbs, I know of no direct reference to cannabis from him in that regard, but I can appreciate Ratsch’s speculation.

*as quoted in (Ratsch, 1998).

Saturn seems to play a particularly interesting role in the symbolism in this beautiful alchemical woodcut reproduced in Christian Ratsch’s Marijuana Medicine, and described as an: “Alchemical illustration of a water pipe. The man shown drawing from the pipe sees a typical vision in the ascending smoke. But what is the smoke pouring from the ‘lion’s-mouth’? (woodcut, Bibliotheque de Geneve)” (Ratsch, 1998). One of the really interesting thing about the image as it appears in Ratsch’s book is that the circle of Serpents, or geese heads, emerging from the hearts, referred to by Ratsch, as the “vision in the ascending smoke”. Ratsch does not mention, this same serpent/heart coming from the smoke, appears in an illustration from  Basil Valentine’s The Ninth Key, as part of an image for Saturn. Unfortunately, Ratsch does not provide any other information on this image, it took me  considerable effort to track it down, so I could understand it in its original context, which in the end was a rather unsatisfying quest….

What I am assuming is the original use of this illustration, is from Johannes Stephan Kestler’s Physiologia Kircheriana Experimentalis, (1680), where it is used to describe the flow of smoke through a water pipe, and the text explicitly refers to tabaci folia, ‘tobacco leaves’ as to what is being smoked. Although water-pipes are believed to have originated as cannabis pipes, they were soon used for tobacco as well, and this is the case with this illustration. Adding to the disappointment, the image of Saturn is not in the original, but was borrowed from the Illustration in Valentine’s work by who ever did the graphics for Ratsch’s book, and added too it, with no reference to the addition, and even a comment on the picture that describes the image in the smoke as if it was part of the original. (The same image was used for Issac Assimov’s  A short History of Chemistry, with some variations.) I was kind of heartbroken to learn this was not a cannabis image as has been suggested.

A 16th-century Grimoire, referred to in C.J. Thompson’s Mysteries and Secrets and Magic, (1927) offers instructions for the contraction os a magic ring dedicated to Saturn,  and made of the planet’s metal, lead, and to be used for receiving oracles. The instructions call for Cannabis or other narcotic plants under the dominion of Saturn are to be used in its construction, for further magnetizing it with the Saturn’s prophetic power:

Write or engrave thereon ye name of ye angell Cassiel, then fumigate it. Then being so prepared, put it on thy finger as thou art entering into thy bed sand speak no word to any person, but meditate thereon. If thou wilt complete the ring, truly, ye shall put a piece of ye rooteof some special herb governed by Saturn and put it under ye stone of a signet, as for example a little root of dragon or dragon-wort, or of black hellebore or hemp, upon which puts some little onyx stone or sapphire, or lapis lazuli, but onyx is best, but let it first be made and engraved, and make ye mood to cast it, and all finished in due time with name of ye angel of Saturn.*

Thomas and Rebecca Vaughan’s Aqua Vitae:NonVitis has a recipe that advises “Press out the juice of the Saturine herb, and evaporate it, so that you have its purest earth” (Vaughan, 1741). The editor of the republication of this work, Donald Dickson adds in reference to “Saturine herb”:  “According to Ruland Lexicon, 375, a ‘Vegetable Matter from which the Hermetic Philosophers know how to extract their Mercury’” (Dickson, 2001). As well Under the heading “universal Oil” Vaughan has: “Take animating Saturine herb from the plain or from the hills. Distill with the heat of the ashes, and separate the water from the oil. Rectify the oil by itself, and it will extract doors and quintessences from the spices and any flower whatsoever, etc.” (Vaughan, 1741).

Carl Jung, notes the significance of the term Saturn, in the works of the 16th century alchemist Heinrich Khunrath, who was a student of Paraclesus.

The old sixteenth century alchemist KHUNRATH wrote…about the necessity of the secret: “The age of Saturn is not yet, in which everything that is private shall become public property: for one does not yet take and use that which is well-meant and well done in the same spirit.”

Khunrath means that the age of Saturn has not yet dawned. The great question is: What is the age of Saturn?

It is in the future for Khunrath, and he is evidently of the opinion that an age will dawn when it will be possible to reveal this secret openly. In his days the thing, which was so “well-meant”, was not accepted or understood. But he believes this will improve in the age of Saturn. Obviously the question is: what does Khunrath mean by the age of Saturn? The old alchemists were of course also astrologers, and thought in an astrological way. Saturn is the ruler of the sign of Aquarius, and it is quite possible that Khunrath meant the coming age, the age of Aquarius, the water carrier, which is almost due now. It is conceivable that he thought mankind would be changed by that time, and would be able to understand the alchemists’ mystery. We can only leave this as a question mark. (Jung, 1941).

Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Eternae
Heinrich Khunrath
Published: 1609

Khunrath’s workshop as depicted in his Amphitheater of Eternal Wisdom (1604).  Lynn Osburn identified some of the Latin inscriptions in this illustration, as well as noting other potential elements hidden in this alchemical mandala. Above the open doorway near the  centre of the image is written “While sleeping, watch!” “In the left foreground before the tent is a large censor with smoke billowing forth from it.  In the smoke is written in Latin, ‘ascending smoke, sacrificial speech acceptable to God’” (Osburn, et. al., 1995)

‘To the right of the centre is laboratory equipment and high above everything else alone near the ceiling beams is a curious seven-leafed chandelier that is out of perspective compared to the converging lines in the beams. The chandelier looks more like a seven-fingered marijuana leaf with a flame at the tip of every finger.  The only other flame in the engraving is in the tent itself.  The plaque below the flame in the tent says “Happy is the one who follows the advice of God.” On the cross beam above the seven-fingered marijuana-leaf chandelier is written “Without the breath of inspiration from God, no one finds the great way.”

….Khunrath declared the entrance to eternal wisdom could be gained “Christiano-Kabalically, divino-magically and even physio-chemically.” He revealed the secret transforming substance was a red gum, the “resin of the wise .”  Concerning the nature of the Stone Khunrath wrote: “[The] Cabalistic habitaculum Materiae Lapidis was originally made known from on high through Divine Inspiration and special Revelation, both with and without instrumental help, ‘awake as well as asleep or in dreams.’”  Khunrath said that one could “perfectly prepare our Chaos Naturae in the highest simplicity and perfection” through a “special Secret Divine Vision and revelation, without further probing and pondering of the causes…. .” (Osburn, et. al.,  1995).

That cannabis, or other drugs could have been intended for the tent, is made completely plausible through Khunrath’s association with Paracelsus, and knowledge of the works of Agrippa. It is also likely that a alchemist of this calibre would have had access to the Picatrix, which explicitly describes such use, and other magical grimoires by this time also called for fumigation with psychoactive substances, and some of these were also known to have been in the hands of famous alchemists of the that time. We also know that later alchemists were practicing fumigation with psychoactive substances through the works of Eckhartshausen, who will be discussed in Chapter 20, and who seemed to have taken the plants he used, from those prescribed by Agrippa for raising the dead. This opens up some intriguing interpretations for other alchemical images as well. Khunrath was considered by Frances Yates to be a link between the philosophy of John Dee and Rosicrucianism, which was basically an alchemical guild, and which does in some points in history, as we shall see later, have a number of interesting connections with cannabis. Khunrath also claimed to have been in the possession of the “green lion”: “I have visited many lands, and had speech of many learned men. I have seen the Green Catholic Lion, and the Blood of the Lion, i.e., the Gold of the Sages, with my own eyes, have touched it with my hands, tasted it with my tongue, smelt it with my nose. By its means I have cured many whose life was despaired of” (Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom, 1605).

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The anonymous 16th century alchemical engraving known as “the expulsion of demons” could be seen as a fumigation ritual with the initiates sub-conscious content being expelled in the rising smoke and fumes. With the collection of medicines on the back shelves, mortar and pestle and other items we clearly see evidence of an alchemical laboratory.

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We find this association with Saturn still in use in the works of  the German Dr. Heinrich Arnold Krumm-Heller (1876 – 949) the occultist, Rosicrucian, Ordo Templi Orientis member, and founder of Fraternitas Rosicruciana Antiqua (FRA), a traditional Hermetic order in Brazil. In Del Incienso a la Osmoterapia (1934) ‘From Incense to Osmotherapy’, Krum-Heller lists under Saturn, “Aconite (Aconitum napellus l.), Pansy (Viola tricolor), Belladonna (Atropa belladonna l.), Menbrillo (Cydonia vulgaris l.), hemp (Cannabis saliva l.), Cress (in Chile), bag of Shepherd (in Spain), Capsella bursa pastoris Moench), hemlock (Conium maculatum)…” (Krumm-Heller, 1934). As well in Germany around this same time we see the rise of the Fraternitas Saturni, a German occult group that was particularly devoted to the use of cannabis, mescaline and others substances, even going so far as to provide such, mail order to their members. In Fraternitas Saturni documents pertaining to the preparation of “Philters, Potions, Fumigants, Witches and Elixirs”, and proceeding instructions for a “Extractum arabicum canabis” the initiate is instructed that when the “plants are cut, and only the flowering tops. They are processed immediately… in the hour of Saturn” (Wolther, 1978)

Further, Cannabis was used by some of the most noted alchemists of history, and references to it appear in the writings of Zosimos. Avicenna, Paracelsus, Rabelais and others. The magickal and alchemical use of cannabis and other plants, led from alchemy to chemistry, and the birth of the halls of science.

Excerpted from Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal Herbs and the Occult

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