Marsilio Ficino and the Gift of the Magi

Magorum medicina pro senibus: the Gift of the Magi from Marsilio Ficino’s De vita longa 

 

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“The Magi, observers of the stars, came to Christ, guide of life, under the guidance of a star, bringing as a gift the precious treasure of life: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Those three gifts were to be dedicated to the Lord of the Stars, representing three Lords of Planets: namely gold, the most temperate of metals, representing the temperament of Jupiter; incense, fragrant with heat and smell, representing Sun, sacred to Phoebus; myrrh, finally, that stabilizes and preserves the body, to represent Saturn, the firmest of all the planets. So come here, all of you, old men, by the wise Magi, who bring to you as well the life producing gifts, with which, according to tradition, they once paid homage to the author of life. Come again, you old, who endure with fatigue the weight of your old age. Come then also all of you, anguished by the fear of old age that approaches striding. Accept with joy, I pray, the gifts of life. Take, then, two ounces of incense, one of myrrh, and half dram of gold pounded to leaf; pound the three things together and collect them in pills, immersed in the golden quality of wine; prepared the confection at the appropriate time, when Diana rejoices at the propitious look of Phoebus or Jupiter. After that, take a small portion of such a treasure to the rise of each aurora, watering it with a small sip of wine, except in time of summer heat, when it’s better to drink rose water. And if anyone of you has reason to fear the heat at any time, then add to the confection some myrobalan, of the chebula or emblica species, for a weight equal to that portion of gold, frankincense and myrrh. This preparation will undoubtedly defend the humor or natural moisture from putrefaction; this will even avert its dispersion; this will comfort, strengthen, reinvigorate you in the three spirits: natural, vital and animal; finally, this will alert the senses, sharpen the wits, preserve the memory.”

We took this chapter of Marsilio Ficino‘s De Vita Libri Tres, whose first release dates back to 1489, from the edition edited by Albano Biondi and Giuliano Pisani in 1991. To understand the content and the character of the work, just scroll the index: Book I De vita sana,  or the health of those who are dedicated to the letters; Book II, De vita longa, or how to prolong life; Book III De vita coelitus comparanda , or the way to acquire life from heaven.

This passage is a good example of how Ficino tries to promote the classical tradition and astrological methods without irritating the Church. Actually, too often we see him grasping at straws, trying to squeeze demons and deities of the classical world into Christian doctrine, but is this not what has been done with  Egyptian tradition by the nineteenth-century occultists who still have so many followers nowadays? We must recognize that even in the Victorian era it was not easy to take positions unpopular with the Church, and therefore we can easily forgive Ficino, that for his passion for the Magic Arts risked the fire.

The ingredients

If we consider the material properties of the substances, frankincense and myrrh are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well, often in combination, basically to remove stagnation and stimulate the circulation of qi. As for the myrobalan, all its varieties bear fruits used primarily as a purgative to refresh the bowels, both in Western and Eastern traditional medicines.

Our version

For our part, we think that the Gift of the Magi can be a wonderful support, both within Nei Dan and in a strictly mystical practice, not necessarily Christian. Our practical suggestion is to replace the gold leaf with a tincture, both in the preparation of the compound and adding a few drops in the wine when taking the potion, and to forget about the myrobalan. If there are symptoms of internal heat, you need to treat them separately: why should you add a purgative to a Solar potion? Instead of building the astral aspects of the Mystic Remedy , you reduce it to a vulgar chemical medicine – and think about how much of the Ancient Traditions is today used as an ordinary remedy .

The solar nature of this compound and its inescapable mystical connotations make it an excellent material support to sustain long life practices, but above all to strengthen the astral aspects by sublimating the corruptibility of bodily substances: solar and unalterable Gold, incense rising to Heaven, myrrh from embalming rites, red wine as a symbol of blood. In the logic of Inversion, we recommend taking it at Midnight, to ignite the newborn Yang and ride its rise.

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The Magi in the mosaics of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

Happy Epiphany

 

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