Diapason (ricercares) wrote,

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The Astral Bell

The research that Dan Harms and I pursuing into the 19C Rosicrucian and Spiritualist Frederick Hockley is turning up all kinds of interesting things, which we hope to present formally at some point. One of the things of greatest personal interest that we've come across is Somerset surgeon John Beaumont's An Historical, Physiological and Theological Treatise of Spirits ... Containing An Account of the Genii or Familiar Spirits (1705). This is a lengthy tract dealing with historical and contemporary accounts of the personal genius, or daemon (- English Heretic may be interested to know that he also reproduces the confessions of the witches Hopkins interrogated at Manningtree and Mistley). Obviously the notion of genii, particularly the genii locorum, is integral to much of the creative work I've been doing in the last seven years so I'll hopefully be delving into this work for some future postings, but, since this weblog takes its name from an antique text on the art of bell-ringing I thought it would be appropriate to present some material on magical bells.

Beaumont himself believed that he had experienced second sight, claiming that for several months two spirits in the form of three-foot brown women lived with him, and others would often come calling round for them. Furthermore, he once asked a visiting spirit who came in the form of a young boy and rung a bell in his ear for its name: Ariel, the spirit replied. Eventually his visitors turned against him, threatening to kill him if he revealed their whereabouts or slept. After four sleepless nights Beaumont eventually took a stand against his visitors and slept soundly, ignoring their threats. It's interesting to read these accounts of an obviously intelligent and well educated man having relations with such spirits, features of which overlap significantly with some of the accounts of ghosts, spirits and fairies presented by Emma Wilby as possible evidence of genuine visionary experiences in accounts of witchcraft from the 16th and 17th centuries, as indeed do many of the second-hand anecdotes recounted by Beaumont which are rich in contemporary folk- and magical lore.

Returning to the subject at hand, chapter seven of Beaumont's work deals with the relation of the genii to the sense of hearing, to which he appends the following curious magical-alchemical material from Paracelsus:

I shall conclude this Chapter, with a Relation somewhat in this kind from Paracelsus; tho' how far Spirits may be concern'd in the Matter, I shall not determine.

He begins the Sixth Book of his Archidoxes, thus. No Man can deny but Compositions of Metals, may Work wonderful things in Supernaturals, which may be made good by many Proofs, as I shall clearly shew beneath; for if you Compound all the Seven Metals in a due Order and fit time, and melt them together, as it were into one Mass, you will have such a Metal, in which all the Virtues of the Seven Planets are joyn'd together; you will find all these Virtues in that one Metal, which we call Electrum. And beneath he writes; you must know that our Electrum (which is Compounded of the Seven Metals) drives away all evil Spirits; for in our Electrum, the Operation of the Heav'ns, and Influences of the Seven Planets are stor'd up. Therefore the Ancient Persian Magi, and the Chaldaeans found out and perform'd many things by its means. I cannot here conceal a very great Miracle, which I saw wrought by a Spanish Necromancer, who had a Bell not exceeding two Pounds Weight, which, as often as he rung, he could cause to appear about him many Spirits and Spectres of various Kinds; for when he pleas'd, he drew some Words and Characters on the inward surface of the Bell, and afterwards, if he rung it, a Spirit presently appear'd in any Form he would have him: By the sound also of the said Bell he could draw to him also, or drive from him many other Visions and Spirits, and even Men and Beasts; as I saw with my Eyes many of these things done by him: But as often as he would undertake some New thing, so often he renewed his Words and Characters; but he would not reveal to me the Secret of these Words and Characters; though deeply considering the thing my self, I, at length, casually found it; which I shall not here disclose: but I plainly enough observ'd, there was more Importance in the Bell than in the Words, for the Bell was certainly made of our Electrum. So far Paracelsus.

I may here note, That some Persons have told my self, that they have seen a constellated Plate here in London, made of such Electrum, which, if put under a Man's Pillow at Night, will make him hear Heavenly Musick.

The description of the magical bell immediately made me think of something I'd seen a few years back at the Henry Moore Institute, which in 2005 showed and exhibition of bronze from the collections of Emperor Rudolph II. Among the objets d'art on display was a curious bell, supposed to have been cast in electrum magicum. The exterior, shown here, was embellished with florid images of the celestial powers, while - if my memory does not mislead me - there were magical sigils on the interior.

Later I was to find similar bells of electrum magicum mentioned in connection to Girardius parvi lucii libellus de mirabilibus naturae arcanis (for necromantic experients) and discussed in some detail in L. von H.'s Magia Divina (for angelic experiments), while one is employed in the Faustian Magia Naturalis to coerce devils to reveal the whereabouts of buried treasure. In one of the 'Solomonic' works (appearing in Sloane 3847), the bell replaces the trumpet and is rung toward the east before the magician begins his invocations.

Personally the most interesting item above is Beamont's note about the 'constellated plate'. Perhaps there is an element of 'suggestion' here, relating to the phenomenon of auditory hallucinations that often occur when one is in the hypnagogic state preceding sleep (for further anecdotes on this see Sacks' Musicophilia, Mavromatis' Hypnagogia, Zusne and Jones' Anomalistic Psychology, and so on). The story of the constellated disc also reminds me of the commonly recounted belief that Tibetan singing bowls are composed of an alloy of seven metals. Whether there is truth in this notion, which is often banded about in New Age circles, I am unsure, but it indicates that the fascination with the notion of electrum magicum as having peculiar and magical resonant qualities continues to the present day. Perhaps the connection between Tibet and the magical alloy can be traced at least as far back as Crowley's Liber 860, an account of a 1908 Parisian magical retirement, which mentions a Tibetan bell apparently cast in electrum magicum along with its striker of human bone. This same bell is also mentioned in Liber 418 (17th Aethyr) and described in detail in Book Four, which sounds something like a description of a Ting-sha cymbal:

This Bell summons and alarms; and it is also the Bell which sounds at the elevation of the Host
It is thus also the 'Astral Bell' of the Magician.
The Bell of which we speak is a disk of some two inches in diameter, very slightly bent into a shape not unlike that of a cymbal. A hole in the centre permits the passage of a short leather thong, by which it may be attached to the chain. At the other end of the chain is the striker; which in Tibet, is usually made of human bone.
The Bell itself is made of electrum magicum, an alloy of the 'seven metals' blended together in a special manner. [...] The sound of this Bell is indescribably commanding, solemn, and majestic. Without even the minutest jar, its single notes tinkle fainter and fainter into silence. At the sound of this Bell the Universe ceases for an indivisible moment of time, and attends to the Will of the Magician. Let him not interrupt the sound of this Bell. (II.14. The Bell, p.111, Symonds-Grant ed.)

[I]n experience no bell save His own Tibetan bell of Electrum Magicum has ever sounded satisfactory to the Master Therion. Most bells jar and repel. (III.9. Of Silence and Secrecy, p.199, Symonds-Grant ed.)


Tags: alchemy, beaumont, bells, crowley, electrum magicum, genii, hockley, hypnagogia, magic, paracelsus, singing bowls, ting-sha

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