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Occult Virtue-Homework!

The classical understanding of the word virtue differs in important ways from the modern meaning of the word. Proper understanding of the word as it is meant by the classical authors, in particular Henry Cornelius Agrippa, is extremely important if we are to lift the deeper meaning from the classical texts.

Occult Virtue is extremely important in the classical view, and seems to have occupied for our forebears some of the same territory that modern concepts like "energy" and "vibration"  do in the current popular magica lingua. It is so important, in fact, that it is the first thing addressed in Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy. He gives the Key to Astrological Magic on the very first page of the first Chapter of the first Book, saying:

"Hence it is that they seek after the virtues of the elementary world, through the help of physic, and natural philosophy in the various mixtions of natural things, then of the celestial world in the rays, and influences thereof, according to the rules of astrologers, and the doctrines of mathematicians, joining the celestial vertues  to the former: moreover, they, ratify and confirm all these with the powers of the divers  intelligencies, through the sacred ceremonies of religion." Agrippa von Nettesheim, Heinrich Cornelius. "Three Books of Occult Philosophy" 1531, as translated by James Freak and edited and annotated by Donald Tyson, 2005  pp 3.

If the modern practitioner isn't careful, he/she can easily miss the importance of what was said in the above paragraph; the archaic style of the language makes casual reading dangerous. Understanding that virtue refers to the spiritual quality/energy of a given force, or to a particular spiritual force,  it becomes clear that we've been given the basic formula for the practice of celestial magic. Agrippa, in plainspeak, is saying that the Magician seeks out the virtue of the celestial world through the "rays" according to the rules of Astrology, and joins those rays to "mixtions of natural things" through sacred ceremony. That the celestial powers are discovered through observing the Heavens and joined to physical things through holy action and intent. It's also important to note that virtue is also found in the "mixtion of natural things"; Agrippa is saying that naturally occurring things contain virtue, referring to natural philosophy as the key to extracting that virtue of the elementary world, which in this case I understand to refer to our own physical world. To materia, the roots, herbs and minerals used in the various magical practices of the Western Tradition, such as Hoodoo and Druidry. It also can be understood from this statement that the celestial virtues are joined to natural things whose virtue has been discovered with natural philosophy. It isn't a huge leap to determine that the Magician uses materia of similar virtue, that is harmonious with the celestial virtue, in order to obtain it's use.


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