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Marsilio Ficino
Christopher Warnock, Esq.
Marsilio Ficino: Magic, Astrology & the Planetary Hours

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Most important, the Cosmos is itself an animal more unified than any other animal, the most perfect animal...

Marsilio Ficino,
Three Books on Life

Marsilio Ficino: Magic, Astrology & the Planetary Hours


This quest for harmony and sympathy between heaven and earth is at the core of one of the most interesting traditional uses of the planetary hours: Marsilio Ficino's Three Books on Life. Ficino was a seminal figure in the Italian Renaissance, president of the Florentine Platonic Academy, commentator and translator of Plato, Plotinus, numerous Neoplatonic works and at the urging of Cosimo de Medici, the Corpus Hermeticum. In Three Books on Life Ficino is concerned with what we moderns might term "holistic" health, particularly for scholars and intellectuals, who being ruled by Saturn are subject to melancholia and related physical afflictions.

Man at the Mercy of the Four Elements
[B]ecause both Mercury who invites us to investigate doctrines, and Saturn, who makes us persevere in investigating doctrines and retain them when discovered, are said by astronomers to be somewhat cold and dry...just like the melancholic nature according to physicians. And this same nature Mercury and Saturn impart from birth to their followers, learned people, and preserve and augment it day by day.
Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life [Florence, 1489] Kaske & Clarke, trans., Tempe, AZ: Medieval and Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1989, p.113.
We might think that the remedy for the overly cold and dry melancholic might be the warm and moist Venus, but Ficino warns that, "...if we should wish to uplift awhile and otherwise console a person who is too occupied by Saturnine contemplation or oppressed with cares, and should attempt it by the Venereal act, games and jokes, as a cure through opposites, our effort would be futile..." Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life, p. 217. Ficino continues, "No, the best discipline is to recall to the mean those declining to either side through certain pursuits and remedies of Phoebus [the Sun] and Jupiter, who are the middle planets between Saturn and Venus." Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life, p. 217.
Thus Ficino prescribes that the melancholic scholar take physical exercise in Jupiter's day and hour and when the planet is otherwise astrologically strong and use Jovial things such as silver, jacinth, topaz, coral, crystal and beryl. The melancholic should look at green and airy colors, drink wine, and eat sugar and white honey. Ficino aims for moderation in body and mind, suggesting that melancholics entertain thoughts and feelings that are especially Jovial, that is, steadfast, composed, religious and law-abiding and to keep company with men of this kind-men who are sanguine, handsome and venerable. Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life, p. 249.

Talismanic Magic


Ficino notes that the virtues of the planets are not only contained in natural things, but can be artificially collected in images and talismans. "For a long and happy life, they made an image of Jupiter in clear or white stone. It was a man crowned, sitting on an eagle or a dragon, made in the hour of Jupiter, when he was fortunately ascending in his exaltation." Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life, p. 337.
This looked suspiciously like magic to the Catholic hierarchy of the day. Judging from comments made to me at the 1998 ARHAT Traditional Astrology conference, it is no more acceptable to many modern astrologers. In fact, Ficino's holistic astrological medicine goes to the very core of the difference between a modern, scientific world view and the medieval or Renaissance world view used in traditional astrology. For many modern scientists and their astrological contemporaries, the connection between the heavens and earth is psychological and symbolic. Generally they recognize no actual causative connection between the planets and events or persons below. Hamaker-Zondag says of the psychological astrologer, "Using the heavens as an analogy, he has constructed a symbolic language. He has gazed into the sky to find patterns in which to embody the archetypal entities welling up from deep inside him, patterns he recognized as the most accurate expression of his experiences and feelings." Karen Hamaker-Zondag, Psychological Astrology, p. 15.
In the generally accepted scientific world view, if any causal connection is recognized between the heavens and earth, it is usually explained as the result of matter or energy, i.e. quantifiable material forces. Some modern astrologers have sought proof of astrology which would take the form of magnetic fields or some other form of cause and effect based on matter or energy. Thus far evidence of a material connection sufficient to explain why a multitude of astrological techniques work has proven elusive.
For Ficino, the heir to the Neoplatonic and Hermetic traditions, the sympathy and interconnection of all of reality is paramount. "Most important, the cosmos is itself an animal more unified than any other animal, the most perfect animal..." Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life, p. 251. While Ficino does not deny the influence of material connections or the efficacy of what might be termed the "placebo effect", his vision of the sympathy of all reality further embraces the spiritual interlinking of all things in the Universe. Thus the connections seen by Ficino are not just symbolic and material, but also spiritual.

The World Soul


The Body and Soul of Man
Just as man has a soul, so the Universe has the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World, "...she is equally connected with everything, even with those things at a distance from one another, because they are not at a distance from her." Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life, p. 243. Yet we are not merely the passive recipients of astrological influences exerted through the Anima Mundi. As the heavens exert influences and effects upon us, so we, in turn, can exert influences upon other things in the Universe through the medium of the World Soul. Ficino explains how these spiritual connections can be controlled astrologically and used to affect mind and body. Ficino writes that the Anima Mundi contains the seminal reasons of all things and thereby fashions every individual thing in existence. "[L]et no man wonder that [the World] Soul can be allured by material forms, since she herself has created baits of this kind suitable to herself, to be allured thereby, and she always and willingly dwells in them." Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life, p. 244-5.
Thus, Neoplatonic and Hermetic philosophy ultimately explains Ficino's use of the planetary hours. The more Jovial things, for example, that can be gathered together, at a time when Jupiter is astrologically strong, which includes its planetary day and hour, the stronger and more concentrated the Jovial effect through the medium of the World Soul, bringing the melancholic patient back into the harmony that is natural to both the body and to the heavens.


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Copyright 2000-2001, Christopher Warnock, All Rights Reserved.
Originally Published in The Mountain Astrologer.