By Chris Bennett on March 23, 2019
CANNABIS CULTURE – “…the Indian cannabis has so many functions and the Indians use it mostly in their incense mixture that is used in the temples and some people prefer it more then the dregs of the wine and Yanbushath said it is also called the Chinese seed.”
–Ghayat AlHakim* [translation from (Hashem Atallah, 2002) edition]
The Ghayat AlHakim was a medieval Arabic Grimoire which is said to have inspired one of the foundational documents of the Western magickal tradition, the Picatrix. With an excellent new translation hitting the press, Picatrix: A Medieval Treatise on Astral Magic, it seems like an ideal time to discuss this drug filled grimoire.
A certain avenue of the occult use of cannabis from the Mid East into Europe, came through the Ghayat AlHakim, ‘The Goal of the Wise’, which was an Arabic grimoire thought to have been written sometime between the 10th and 11th century. During the 13th century reign of King Alfonso ‘the wise’, it was translated into Spanish and then Latin, and from there forward it became known in Europe by the title, Picatrix and served as one of the founding documents of the Western magical tradition. Too controversial to ever have made it to the printing press prior to the 20th century, The Picatrix was passed around secretly, in sought after hand written manuscripts. Considering this mode of transmission, it is not surprising that there are number of differences between the Arabic Ghāyat al-hakīm and surviving European versions of the Picatrix, and it seems likely in copying, some things were lost, and some added by each additional transcriber, but over all there is enough in common to identify their relationship. These variations continued as the grimoire was hand transcribed for each new edition.
The Ghayat AlHakim
Besides the Latin and Arabic versions of The Picatrix, there were medieval Hebrew translations as well, identifying interest in the grimoire among Jewish Kabbalists. “There are two Hebrew versions of the most important composition on magic, the Ghayat al-Hakim or Picatrix.”(Idel, 1992). The most important of the two was translated from the Arabic , and is known as Takhlit he-Hakham, later versions were translated from the Latin or Spanish versions of the grimoire. “Three Hebrew translations of Picatrix have been preserved in Italian manuscripts written at the end of the fifteenth and and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries” (Idel, 1992).
The Picatrix is comprised of 4 books with detailed instructions in the arts of Astrology, Talismanic magic, and contacting the Astral Realm. The author of the Picatrix claimed to have been put together from the works of over two hundred “ancient sages”. Influences from the ancient texts of Egypt, India, Persia, Assyria, Chaldea, Greece and others have been noted, and exotic ingredients from China, Africa, India and other locations can be found, indicating the metropolitan culture from which it was created. As David Pingree notes in his essay Some of the Sources of the Ghāyat al-hakīm, it is an “Arabic texts on Hermeticism, Sabianism, Ismailism, astrology, alchemy and magic produced in the Near East in the ninth and tenth centuries A.D.” (Pingree, 1980). An obviously important text of Islamic magic, it provides modern readers with an idea about some of the occult beliefs and practices of esoteric Islamic groups such as the Ismailis, and sufis, whom we have already been discussing for their use of hashish. As the text was translated in 13th century Spain it is also worth noting that, at the time, hashish “was also openly consumed in Southern Spain until that country’s reconquest by Isabella the Catholic and the reestablishment of the firm grip of the Roman Catholic Church” (Nahas, 1985).
The original authorship of the Ghayat AlHakim and thus the Picatrix has long been a matter debate. The Latin manuscript’s prologue refers to “the wise philosopher, the noble and honored Picatrix” and it is generally thought he named the book after himself. A number of medieval sources claimed that the name ‘Picatrix’, was a poor translation of Hippocrates, although this association has long since been dismissed, as Hippocrates appears on the pages of the Picatrix as “Ypocras”. Others have claimed that the Arabic grimoire was written by Maslama ibn Ahmad al-Majriti (an Andalusian mathematician), an association thought to have been first made by made by the 14th century alchemist al-Jildaki, however, this authorship as well has since been called into question.
Modern scholarship has since traced the work to the 10th century figure Abu l-Qāsim Maslama b. Qāsim al-Qurṭubī, (shortened to ‘Maslama’) who also compiled a text on alchemy, the Rutbat al- Ḥakīm, (The Rank of the Sage) and confirmation of this identity, has recently come through the discovery of two medieval Arabic manuscripts that were missed by earlier researchers, which refer to Abu l-Qāsim Maslama b. Qāsim al-Qurṭubī as the author. Maslama was described by Ibn al-Faradi was “a man of charms and talismans”, and other sources have described him as a ‘magician and charmer’, and a ‘Cordoban alchemist’. The identity of Maslama, may also be the source of the name ‘Picatrix’, through “a kind of cross linguistic pun” (Atrell, 2016). The Arabic word ‘m-s-l’ which relates to the name Maslama, means ‘to sting’ and thus the Spanish translator rendered this as Picatrix, a variant of the Latin word picator, which means means “one who stings or pricks” (Thomann, 1990).
Making no real distinction between white and black magic, the spells and recipes of this medieval grimoire blurred the lines between, what would later be divided into the high and low magical traditions. Alongside the use of such substances as mandrake, hellebore, opium, cannabis, datura and other psychoactive substances, can be found the ritual use of human remains, the blood of man and animal, semen, excrement and other foul ingredients. In certain recipes, some extremely toxic substances are included, and it has been suggested that this may have been a means used by the author of the Picatrix, to separate the wise from less worth aspirants. “Such ploys would have certainly reinforced the notoriety concerning the use of magical grimoires like the Picatrix” (Attrell, 2016).
Both the Arabic and Latin version are concerned with talismanic astro-magic induced by aromatic fumigants, some inhaled through a ‘hollow cross’ with precise directions and varied ingredients… Translations of Arabic texts… offer a context of supernatural plants and shamanic practices that evidence a continued use of psychoactive incenses as a catalyst into trance or ecstatic states. (Dannaway, 2009)
Recipes for elixirs, ointments, pills and incenses abound in the Picatrix, some being used to treat illness, others to cause harm, and still others, for seeing visions and contacting the astral realm. Although, cannabis, opium and other substances appear throughout the pages of the Picatrix, the identification of these substances in this medieval grimoire, has “hitherto received little attention from the scholars of medieval magic” (Attrell, 2016).
The most highly active and dangerous substances used in the Picatrix come from the family of solanaceous plants, such as Mandragora officinarum and Hyoscyamus niger which are infamous for their uses in European witchcraft… Mandrake and Henbane, like Datura Stramonium (jimsonweed, devil’s trumpet, or thorn-apple) or Atropa Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade), are known to provoke bizarre delirium, nightmarish hallucinations, out-of-body experiences and ‘flights.’ (Attrell, 2016)
Opium appears more readily than cannabis in the Picatrix, and includes medicinal references (“breast milk with opium brings sleep to the feverish and insomniacs”) as well as magical. One rather gruesome magical recipes calls for a recently removed human head, placed in a large jug with 8 ounces of opium, with equal parts human blood and sesame oil, to be sealed and slow cooked! The author of the Picatrix wrote “that there were many marvels in that oil, and the first is that it allows you to see whatever you want to see.” Another recipe calls for the magician to “Take a human penis, and chop it into pieces, and stir in powdered opium”![As translated in (Warnock & Greer, 2015)]. Others recipes call for opium to be mixed with other psychoactive substances henbane seeds, nutmeg, calamus, wormwood, along with more mildly psychoactive ingredients, some for aid in producing smoke, like frankincense, myrrh and saffron, which aided in producing a more pleasant smelling smoke, and that was likely needed considering the use of blood, and other items like “the head of a black cat”.
Dan Attrell, one of the two translators for the most recent English edition of the Picatrix, has written on the role of drugs in the medieval grimoire, and he notes that :
Like the initiate of a pre-literate culture’s shamanic rites, the sage who spent months planning his work, collecting animal, mineral, and botanical ingredients, and charting out the right astrological hours to perform his work, was doubtless assisted – in certain cases – with achieving what he desired through the help of psychoactive substances. The substances required for certain spells in the Picatrix are often demanded in such high quantities that a powerful mind-altering experience would have been inevitable for the practitioner suffumigating with it. In these dreamy (or delirious) states, the planetary spirits cascaded down into the mind of the adept who straddled the realm of common experience and the abstract realm of forms hidden within the subconscious. (Attrell & Porreca, 2018)
The main method of using these substances, was through “suffumigation” i.e. through burning incenses and other means of creating smoke. As the author of the Picatrix wrote of this method: “Great miracles and great effects, according to the Hindus, are in suffumigations, which they call calcitarat, and with them are worked the effects of the seven planets. These suffumigations ought to be used according to the nature of the planet to which the petition corresponds.”[As translated in (Warnock & Greer, 2015)] Quoting Hermes Trismegistus, the author notes elsewhere that “Rituals performed with suffumigations and prayers are more effective than those in which suffumigations are lacking or the will is divided “ (Attrell & Porreca, 2018)
This ritual fumigation required the magician to often stand over the burning fumes of the preparation and inhale the smoke in a enclosed space, and from some of the ingredients and amounts used of these substances, we can be sure a ritual intoxications was received. “The purpose of most suffumigation magic in the Picatrix is for the sake of contacting the planetary spirits. When the adept wished to speak with a planet, he dressed himself in robes dyed with the colours of his chosen planet, he chose its hours, he prayed its prayers, and he suffumigated with its ingredients” (Attrell, 2016). The ingredients varied depending on the planetary aid which was invoked, and not all ingredients or recipes were composed of psychoactive substances.
In regards to celestial deities, the use of opium was used in an invocation to the Sun, whereas the use of cannabis appears in two magical operations which appeased the Moon. Here, considering what we have seen about the influence of the Zoroastrian tradition in the Islamic world, along with evidence of the survival of the Haoma cult up into 19th century Syria, one could speculate that this association between cannabis and the moon, may be a remnant of the celestial deities association with Soma/Haoma. In the Picatrix’s Book 4 chapter 2, which ideals with moon magic, we find two recipes that involve cannabis. However,these 2 recipes only appear in the Latin and Spanish versions of The Picatrix, and can not be found in the surviving Arabic version of the Ghayat AlHakim:
How one can speak with the spirits of the Moon, and first, when she is in Aries. When you wish to attract the virtue and power of the Moon when she is in Aries, at the hour when she is completely risen, because that is better and more useful for your petition; in that very hour, put on a crown and go to a green and watery place near the banks of a running river or running water. Take with you a rooster with a divided crest, which you will behead with the bone of another rooster, as you must not in any way touch that rooster with iron. Turn your face to the Moon, for this is a very great secret among them [Chaldeans, and Egyptians]. Put in front of yourself two iron thuribles full of burning coals, in which you should cast successively grains of incense, so that smoke rises up toward the Moon. Then stand upright between the censers and say: ‘You O Moon, luminous, honoured, lovely, who with your light shatters the shadows, you ascend in your rising and fill every horizon with your light and beauty. I come to you humbly, seeking wealth, for which I humbly ask you.’ Here state your petition. Then take ten steps forward, always looking at the Moon, and repeating the aforesaid words. Carry one of the thuribles with you, into which you should cast four ounces of storax.
Then burn your sacrifice, and draw the following figures on a leaf of cannabis* with the ashes of the sacrifice and a small amount of crocus. Then burn the leaf. At once, as the smoke rises, you will see before you the figure of a handsome man dressed in the finest clothes, standing between the thuribles, to whom you should address your petition, and it will be fulfilled by him. At any time after this, when you wish to ask something of him, repeat the working just given, and the aforesaid form will appear to you and answer your questions.” [As translated in (Warnock & Greer, 2015).]
Although the above recipe gives no real indication of an amount of cannabis that could be inferred for psychoactive effects and “it must be admitted that this could be a sheet of hemp (like hemp paper), but it’s ambiguous” (Attrell, 2016). However, elsewhere copious amounts of cannabis resin can be found. As Dan Attrell has noted“The blood of a stag, an animal governed by the Moon since antiquity, is ground together in a marble mortar with over a pound of hashish (which today might be valued on the streets at around $5,000). The user of this particular suffumigation is instructed to put the mixture into a censer, set it alight, then stand above it whilst making prayers and sacrifices to the Moon, and only then would the “servant of the Moon” (Lune servus) appear” (Attrell, 2016). As The Picatrix itself records:
When the Moon is in Pisces and you wish to draw upon her strength and power, take 1⅕lbs. of cannabis resin and the same amount of plane tree resin and mix them together. Extract these resins while the Sun is in Virgo and Mercury is luminous and advancing directly. Grind them up in a marble mortar. When this is done, add 4 oz. of mastic gum, 2 oz. each of amber and camphor, 1 oz. of alkali and 10 oz. of sarcocolla. Blend everything very well, to which you should add ½ lb. of the blood of a stag decapitated with a bronze knife. When everything has been blended together, place it in a glass container. Go to a running spring, and position the glass vessel on its outer lip. Next, take a censer, and set it on a stone in the middle of the spring’s waters such that the censer be entirely surrounded by water. Then, light a fire in it. Once it is lit, open the mouth of the glass container and empty out the container into the fire little by little until the whole thing has poured out into the fire. Next, make your sacrifice. The servant of the Moon will appear to you, to whom you should state your request. It will be led to its effect. [As translated in (Attrell and Porreca, 2018)].
In regards to the use of blood and narcotics in this invocation recipe, and throughout the Picatrix, it is worth noting the comments of Franz Hartmann, the German occultist and a founding member of the Ordo Templi Orientis :
Various means have been adopted to suspend the discriminating power of will and render the imagination abnormally passive, and all such practices are injurious, in proportion as they are eflicacious. The ancient Pythoness attempted to heighten her already abnormal receptivity by the inhalation of noxious vapours… others use opium, Indian hemp, and other narcotics, which not only suspend their will and render their mind a blank, but which also excite the brain, and induce morbid fancies and illusions.
…The fumigations which were used at former times for the purpose of rendering reason inactive, and allowing the products of a passive imagination to appear in an objective state, were usually narcotic substances. Blood was only used for the purpose of furnishing substance to Elemental’s and Elementaries, by the aid of which they might render their bodies more dense and visible. (Hartmann, 1893).
The idea that sacrificial smoke was a sort of food for demons, goes considerably far back. “Zosimos holds the view that the daimons which inhabit the upper regions of the world are nourished by the smoke of sacriﬁce, and so are dependent upon the offerings of human worshippers. There is an implication that the airy bodies of these daimons are actually replenished by the sacriﬁcial vapours, question that seems to have been debated in theurgic circles” (Fraser, 2004). Zosimos has also referred to the use of cannabis in magical infusions.
It should be noted that the choice of a location where the incense “censer,… [is]on a stone in the middle of the spring’s waters such that the censer be entirely surrounded by water” would have offered some interesting light reflection opportunities that would have likely, played well with the fire and thick smoke of the hashish and other ingredient infused incense. Putting all supernatural explanations aside, along with the effects of the fire light playing off the water and smoke, clearly, the chemical effects of the smoke alone from these substances, would increase any potential for Pareidolia, which refers to a psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists, i.e., as in seeing images in smoke, the same smoke that provided the source of inspiration. This is an ancient, time tested and proven technique of magic.
Smoke filled Invocations
Besides noting the role of smoke in giving the ability of entities to take form in such invocations, Hartmann also identified the continued use of narcotic fumigations in Europe for these same purposes. As we shall by the Renaissance period, this shamanic technique of magic was considerably widespread, and references similar to those of the Picatrix appeared in a number of grimoires, but some discussion of this here, helps to better understand the context of the Picatrixaccount.
There is not much doubt the procedures of ritual magic are likely to cause hallucinations. The magician prepares himself by abstinence and lack of sleep, or by drink, drugs and sex. He breathes in fumes which may affect his brain and senses. He performs mysterious rites which tug at the deepest, most emotional and unreasoning levels of his mind… Through all this he concentrates on a mental picture of the being he hopes to see. It does not seem at all unlikely that at the high point in the ceremony he may actually see it. (Cavendish, 1967)
This view of magical incense was also shared by 19th Century researchers. As Joseph Ennemoser, explained in Geschichte der Magie, (1844), (which came out in English as the History of Magic, in 1854):
The …vapours by which the priests of old became ecstatic, or which were used upon the oracles, may be classed among the narcotics…
….Other preparations —by incense… — have been known and handed down from the most remote ages in Asia, Egypt, and Greece ; and it appears that they were thence transferred, partly by early migrations, partly by the Crusades, to Europe…
…the methods of producing the magical states at; will and artificially are here of ancient date and universal knowledge. Of narcotic substances, opium, hemp, and deadly nightshade, we find the most accurate accounts, and they are still in use among the modem Persians, Moslems, and Arabs. Theurgy even contained the art of communicating with Spirits and of subjecting them. Thus the nature of the vision often shows that they are produced by artificial means… (Ennemoser, 1844/1854).
In Fiends, Ghosts and Sprites, including an account of the origins and nature of belief in the Supernatural (1854), John N. Radcliffe echoed these views:
….the subsequent intoxication induced by the inhalation of powerful narcotic vapours – an intoxication which, as… in the example of haschish, is peculiarly apt to the development of hallucinations – will sufficiently account for the illusion of the smoke of the chafing-dish presenting any figure which the mind desires to see.
….The action of the narcotic vapour alone was sufficient to induce hallucinations….
….The use of intoxicating and stupifying drugs doubtless contributed also to the development of those ideas of strange and wonderful transformations and anomalies of form with which the legends and romances of Oriental and European nations teem. … (Radcliffe, 1864)
The Picatrix and the Western Magical Tradition
Due to not unfounded views of its ‘diabolical’ nature, to be caught with the Picatrix in the medieval period, would have resulted in accusations of witchcraft and heresy and likely a trial by the Inquisition. The Picatrix, was listed among the most abominable works of Nigromancia, or divination by means of daimonic conjuration, by Johannes Hartlieb in his mid 15th century work, Das puch aller verpoten kunst, ungelaubens und der zaubrey puch aller verpoten kunst, ungelaubens und der zaubrey, ‘The Book of all Forbidden Arts, Superstition and Sorcery’ (which has also been noted for containing the oldest known description of witches’ flying ointments). References to the Picatrix can also be found in the Steganographia, ‘Secret Writings’, a work on ‘angelic magic’, (1500) and the later Antipalus Maleficiorum, ‘The Enemy of Witchcraft’, (1508) both of which were authored by Johannes Trithemius (1462-1516) a German Benedictine Abbot and occultist, whose students included the famous occult figures Agrippa and Paracelsus. Despite this diabolical reputation, this books influence on the European and occult traditions can not be understated.
Despite these warning, The Picatrix, was in circulation in Europe, from the 13th century forward, and passed through many hands. Interestingly, we may be able to detect its influence on some very important occult figures, and the use of the psychoactive plants involved seems to have been a part of this transmission. Notably in this regard, are the the alchemist, Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541) (Paracelsus) and the theologian and occultist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) (Agrippa) both of whom were students of Johannes Trithemius (1462-1516) who made reference to the Picatrix, in 2 works, indicating its potential availability in this period, and both can be connected with the use of some of the potent psychoactive ingredients referred to in Picatrix, for magickal uses, as I have shown in Liber 420. We can be sure that Trithemius circulated hand written copies of his manuscripts among his most talented students, and that the reference to the Picatrix in regards to invocation of angels in Book 2 of his Steganographia, ‘Secret Writings’, a work on ‘angelic magic’, (1499; published 1606) stirred the interest of his students, as much as the warnings in the later Antipalus Maleficiorum, ‘The Enemy of Witchcraft’, (1508; but not published until 1605), made them wary of being caught with a copy of the manuscript.
“One of the most significant contributions of recent Renaissance scholarship has been the recognition of the considerable impact of magic on Renaissance thought…. the literary traces of Picatrix are discernible in the writings of several central thinkers such as Giordano Bruno and Tommaso Campanella….” (Idel, 1992).
The Picatrix and The Necronimicon
It has also been loosely suggested that the Picatrix may have played a role in pulp fiction horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s conception of the Necronimicon, ‘The Book of Dead Names’:
In his ‘Cthulhu Mythos,’ H.P. Lovecraft created The Necronimicon, a fictional book of the occult that appeared in several of his stories. Lovecraft introduced Abdul Alhazred, the ‘mad Arab,’ in his 1921 story ‘The Nameless City,’ and The Necronimicon in his 1922 tale ‘The Hound.’ He married the two in his 1926 classic, ‘The Call of Cthulhu,’ in which he revealed hat Abdul Alhazred, an opium and hashish user, had written Al Azif, as the book was supposedly known in Arabic. The author’s fictional 1927 treatise, ‘The History and Chronology of the Necronimicon,’ led many readers to believe that the tome was genuine. (Lamberson, 2001).
Adding to Lovercraft’s mythos of the Necronimicon, and claims of its authenticity was the 1977 publication of a book that claimed to be the authentic version of ‘The Necronimicon’ through an anonymous figure known as ’Simon’, which was written in a manner and style that are in some ways similar to the Picatrix and other grimoires, and ancient books of magic. This styling caused occultist Owen Davies to deem it a “well constructed hoax” (Davies, 2010).
As the authors of one of the modern translation of The Picatrix have noted, claims of connections between the Necronimicon and Picatrix “gains a certain degree of credibility from the remarkable parallels between the two works. Like the Necronimicon, Picatrix was first written in Arabic, translated into Latin in the thirteenth century, and circulated superstitiously among Europeans occultists for centuries thereafter. Both books contain detailed instructions for rituals meant to call down inhuman powers from what we would now call outer space, and include malefic magical workings of terrific power” (Greer & Warnock, 2010). Such similarities are ever present, as Simon’s Necronimicon records: “ I learned of the powers of the astral Gods, and how to summon their aid in times of need. I learned, too, of the frightful beings who dwell beyond the astral spirits, who guard the entrance to the Temple of the Lost, of the Ancient of Days, the Ancient of the Ancient Ones, whose Name I cannot write here.” – Necronimicon (Simon, 1977).
Their is also a profound similarity in the style of the sigils in both works, and most importantly in relation to this tome, the use of certain drugs in the tale. The ingredients of the Mad Arabs incense is listed as “olibanum, storax, dictamus, opium and hashish” and all but dictamus can be found on the pages of the Picatrix, (and conceivably it too could be there under another name).
Simon’s Necrominicon describes the Mad Arab’s discovery of a “strange grass”, in what one can only conclude is veiled reference to cannabis:
In my solitary ceremonies in the hills, worshipping with fire and sword, with water and dagger, and with the assistance of a strange grass that grows wild in certain parts of MASSHU, and with which I had unwittingly built my fire before the rock, that grass that gives the mind great power to travel tremendous distances into the heavens, as also into the hells, I received the formulae for the amulets and talismans which follow, which provide the Priest with safe passage among the spheres wherein he may travel in search of the Wisdom. – Necronimicon, (Simon, 1977).
Interestingly, as we have seen with reference to cannabis, which was used in invocations of the moon, there seems to be a similar connection between this grass and the moon in Simon’s Necronimicon.
Now, there are Two Incantation to the Ancient Ones set down here, which are well known to the Sorcerers of the Night, they who make images and burn them by the Moon and by other Things. And they burn them by the Moon and by other Things. And they burn unlawful grasses and herbs, and raise tremendous Evils, and their Words are never written down, it is said. But there are… – Necronimicon, (Simon, 1977).
The list of “Ancient Ones” in the hymn that follows, includes a number of Mesopotamian deities, and seems to pay special homage to Ishtar, whose cult did in fact use cannabis. As Assyriologist Erica Reiner noted “the herb called Sim.Ishara’armoatic of the Goddess Ishtar,’ …is equated with the Akkadian qunnabu, ‘cannabis’… and also calls to mind the plant called ki.na Istar” (Reiner, 1995)
One who seems to have taken the stories of the Necronimicon quite literally, is M. Kienholz, who worked in the Spokane Police department for 18 years. In her book Opium Traders and Their Worlds, she ties the controversial grimoire with the 16th century magician John Dee, who she describes as “was Queen Elizabeth’s special agent” and his notorious scribe Edward Kelly a “charlatan and alchemist”, further suggesting Dee as a likely candidate for advising “the British to deal in opium”. In reference to the Necronimicon, she wrote that “While in Prague in 1586, Dee and Kelly searched out and plagiarized a copy of Necronimicon by Abdul Alhazred of Yemen, who developed a kind of incense containing ‘olibanum, storax, dictamus, opium and hashish’” (Kienholz, 2008). Although Kienholz’s claims don’t seem particularly credible, a case for Dee and Kelly’s use of psychoactive substances in their ritual scrying has been made.
For more on the role of cannabis and other drugs in the Magickal tradition, check out Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal Herbs and the Occult.