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The Art and History of Talismans

Lecture recorded for the Golden Dome School on 4/10/21, register for the class here to view the playback!

Talismans exist at the nexus between art, magic, astrology, ritual, adornment, cosmology, theology, divination, psychology, philosophy and folklore. Before the Scientific Revolution, these disciplines were intimately connected in esoteric literature. Astrology and science, magic and medicine, prayers and spells — unlike today, the boundaries between these practices were loose, and studying (or practicing) the talismanic arts is one way to re-enchant one’s personal connection to the larger, fluid cosmic whole today.

This class will be both a theoretical as well as practical overview of talismans, and primarily, their connection to astrology and magic. We will cover the origins of astrology in ancient Babylon and Egypt, the co-evolution of magic and medicine in the Corpus Hermeticum, the codex of magical spells in the Greek Magical Papyri, and the work of three Medieval and Renaissance philosophers: Al-Kindi, Henry Cornelius Agrippa, and Marsilio Ficino. Recounting this history will take us through the deep recesses of the esoteric past, including...

Ancient Babylon, where the careful observance of the nightly movements of the seven visible planets and stars became the basis of time-keeping, astronomy, astrology. Observance turned to ritual, ritual turned to myth, and the zodiac as we know it today was born.

Ancient Greece, where the Greek Magical Papyri emerge in the 2nd century, a codex of magical spells, formulae, and rituals, with instructions for creating amulets and talismans like the one seen above. Everything from prophetic dream invocations, to love charms, to magical pest control is covered in this mysterious collection, which helped to lay the foundations for Western Esotericism.

Ancient Mesopotamia, where we find a collection of “Incantation Bowls” — talismanic pottery created by ancient Jewish mages with spells written in a spiral script, often meant to trap the demons drawn inside. These bowls were discovered buried underneath homes of those who commissioned them, which is why they are preserved in rare form today.

Byzantine Europe, where the talisman of Charlemagne, which is purported to have a piece of the True Cross enclosed within it, survived many changes of hands. Allegedly, a bone fragment of Charlemagne's right arm was added to it in 1804, when the Bishop of Aachen in Germany snuck it in as a thank-you to Empress Josephine, (wife of Napoleon) for the safe return of certain relics which had previously been confiscated during the French Revolution.

Medieval Europe, when centuries of magical texts reached European hands through the translation of ancient Greek, Hebrew and Arabic texts into Latin. This contributed to a flowering of occult art, including this fresco depicting the 36 decans of the zodiac (middle frescoe) in the Palazzo Schifanoia, in Ferrara, Italy.

19th century Talismanic manuscript

ABRACADABRA Charm from Ancient Greece

Participants will also receive a practical guide to talismanic creation... Details below to sign up!

The Art and History of Talismans

Where: The Golden Dome School's online class portal

When: 4/10/21 at 5:13 pm

Registration link: here (participants who can't make it live will receive a playback link)


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