Here’s two of the images that I put into my sketchbook today, instead of writing. They’re both connected with the magical tradition of the Nakhshatras, or Indian/Arabic images associated with the Moon.
According to Arabic ideas of astrology, the Moon’s course through the sky is divided into 28 Mansions or districts. Each has an image or picture associated with it, and it was these images which helped influence Renaissance magic in Italy and Spain and France; this type of magic was also popular in Germany, as I understand it.
From making these two, and experimenting with some of the other images, I think that it’s fair to say that the 28 Mansions and their related images are a curriculum in drawing.
The Mansions are just one set of telesmatic images within Renaissance magic. There’s a similar set of images associated with angels and the demons, and the 12 signs of the Zodiac, and within the Zodiac a parallel set of 36 images representing the Decans. The Decans are three 10°-wide windows in each sign of the Zodiac that have their own interpretations and meanings… but these images are ALSO part of the Renaissance resurgence of the classical Art of Memory that I’ve recently worked with.
Why is it a drawing curriculum?
Well, the apprentice magician was supposed to get a book with this information, called a grimoire or grammar, and from it he or she would receive instructions on what to do and how to do it. The recipes for the medicines and potions contained ingredients that would be dangerous to work with, and in some cases outright poisonous. What would seem safe? The instructions on manufacturing talismans and dosing them with incense smoke. How did one manufacture a talisman? By drawing a picture. How did one draw the picture, by copying it? No.
By imagining it. The student ‘wizard’ or magician had to read a written description of the image, and then, based on that written description, produce a relevant image. The description of the left image is “A man writing letters” or “a man holding scrolls”. (This reminded me of many images of early Christian art, showing the four gospel authors seated at desks, writing). The image on the right is described as “a man holding a scale.”
So… now our theoretical apprentice magician has produced twenty-eight images or pictures of men and women doing various sorts of activities. He produced them rapidly — Each image must be drawn during a roughly-24-hour long period, when the Moon is in the right part of the sky. He does so at a basic level of skill, but presumably not perfectly. He does not get the magical results he wants — but the last few images he created are much better than the first few he produced. He starts the process again, and re-draws his images. The magical results are still not good, but! Our artist has successfully produced three months of practice images of a standard list of themes. Perhaps at the same time that he works on the Mansions of the Moon, he attempts the Decans, or the Angelic images. His drawing talents improve… He decides to take his sketchbook into the streets to look for live versions of people doing the activities indicated in the magical textbook. He becomes an observer of real people. He makes real drawings of people doing the real activities described in the magical book. His artwork becomes better. He gets noticed. His work is admired. He wins commissions, finds a lover, becomes an advisor to kings and princes, and eventually finds a tutor in magic… even though he does not need tutoring in magic.
He has found his own magic.
Suddenly, the Renaissance makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it?
The fifteenth and sixteenth Mansions of the Moon are supposed to represent two of the three signs that grant powers in business.