Prisca Theologia

Hermes Trismegistus, floor mosaic in the Cathedral of Siena

This brief article is intended as an introduction to a much larger study of the relationship between enlightened wisdom versus narrow-minded dogma. In the process, I will focus on the Universal approach to religion as taught by Zoroaster and demonstrated by the extraordinary tolerance and benevolence of Darius I,  king of the Persian Achaemenid Empire.  The Persian Empire at this time included most West Asia, the Caucasus,  Thrace, -Macedonia, and Paeonia. It also reached the Black Sea coastal regions, the North Caucasus, and Central Asia

Darius was the author of the first bill of rights, was the liberator of the Jews, banishment of slavery and subscribed policy of noninterference with the religions of other groups.  This meant that the religion of Zoroaster had been spread through most of the known world. long before Alexander.

The Prisca Theologia is one of the most important ideas in the history of at least the last two millennia. This is true for a number of reasons. First and foremost it frees the mind to consider all sources of wisdom on an equal basis – without pre-conceived ideas. If we can allow that all religions might be called Pagan by somebody, even if they don’t match the definition. The most problematic religious beliefs are the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

A girl watches over her sheep and goats as they graze before one of the destroyed Bamiyan Buddhas.

The problem lies in an extraordinary and ingrained intolerance in virtually all forms of these religions. With particular reference to the last two, it is common for one sect to be at war with others, even though the differences in thought do not seem extreme enough to warrant the degree of conflict we see on an ongoing basis. Sufis have a reputation for deep and benign mysticism expressed through music and art, including dancing. Yet Sunni Muslims destroy their shrines in Pakistan and parts of Africa.

Afghanistan used to be a Buddhist country, but in the contemporary nation of Afghanistan, under the Taliban, saw fit to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas. The religious scholars could not distinguish art from idolatry. In my mind, the inability to distinguish shows a spiritual blindness. This paranoid mindset has dogged us through the centuries, sapped our creativity as well as our acceptance of other points of view and other values as well. It is both ironic and inevitable that these qualities have ultimately lead to a preference for atheism.and secularism.

The Abrahamic religions tend to take the position of ‘us and them.’ Certainly, something like astrology takes more than it’s fair share of abuse, even though all three Abrahamic religions support at least some forms of astrology. Rigid religious think has never been capable of expressing great creativity and closed minds are considered safe minds. If it could be shown that all true wisdom comes from a single source, we could no doubt diminish conflict. However, it is not true that all paths lead to Paradise. The latter is a New Age view which is patently false. We make little or no progress by pretending that all paths as laid down are the same, but we make the ultimate progress when we discover common roots and through the process of learning and inspired discernment, we can indeed find the pearl of great price. The metaphor of the pearl and also the that of the mustard seed show us what needs to be done.

If we turn the clocks back to the European Renaissance and the fortunate fall of Byzantium the means by which the opening of an inexhaustible mine of wisdom and inspiration became apparent.  The details of the various traditions will be spelled out in further articles, although some have already been covered in some depth.

The philosophy of Plotinus, a Neo-Platonist, is full of imagery – such as a fountain of light – that provide powerful insights into the nature of creation and the divine.  Plato himself, as well as Pythagoras, claimed connections with the Magi. Judaism would be almost unrecogbizable if the Zoroastrian influence was somehow removed.

Zoroastrian sky burial

The Hermetic Philosophy is so radically compatible with neo-Platonism, Pythagoreanism, Gnosticism, mystical Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism, that it can come as no surprise that Marsilio Ficino put everything else aside to translate the Hermetica – this included putting some of the translations of Plato aside to focus on the translation of the new prize. This is highly significant because Ficino’s ultimate creation was his Theologia Platonica. He was fascinated by what was alleged to be Plato’s astrological chart. it would be exceedingly difficult to find anyone with a greater devotion, some would say obsession with all things Platonic.

Recently, I had the good chance to come upon a paper on the subject of the Hermetica. The author was clearly well versed in the many traditions that shadow or are informed by the tradition. I had only recently written a modest piece on Zoroastrian magic.  Ficino is usually studied with an understanding of his fascination with the prisca theologia or “ancient theology,” the doctrine that asserts that a single, true theology exists, was drawn from a common divine source. The term appears to have been first used by  Ficino.  Nevertheless, I’m not sure that it is well understood how right Ficino really was!

There are essentially two sources of knowledge regarding the date of Zoroaster and the first revealed monotheistic religion. The first is Greek. It tells us he was born in about 6,000 b.c. The second is also Greek and places him at around 600 n.c. The latter appears to be a fairly arbitrary date prior to the invasion of Alexander the Great. There is no actual evidence for the latter date whatsoever. The earlier date was the one accepted by Plato, Pythagoras and others who clearly had contact with magi and Zoroastrians. What we lack in incontrovertible facts, we have in abundance the testimonies of ancients and the unmistakable similarities that point us to a single source. I admit that this requires a willing suspension of disbelief, but the usual alternatives are not available. If we consider the earlier date, then the earliest Hindu writings and the person of Abraham may be considered as deriving from Zoroastrianism.  It has been said that Abraham and Sara are Ram and Saraswati. We may never know and that is part of the point.

Cristian Violatti provides an excellent and concise account of the arguments for an earlier date from classical; sources: “The dates of Zoroaster are also discussed by some classical authors. Herodotus, who we would expect to deal with this issue, does not mention Zoroaster. Plutarch estimated that Zoroaster lived 5,000 years before the Trojan War; the ancients believed that the date of the Trojan War was 1184 BCE (according to Eratosthenes’ estimations), which would make 6184 BCE a date consistent with Plutarch’s opinion. In the 3rd century CE, Diogenes Laertius, based on a claim of Xanthos of Lydia (a contemporary of Herodotus), places Zoroaster’s life 6,000 years before Xerxes’ military campaign against the Greeks, which took place in 480 BCE. Thus, according to Diogenes, 6480 BCE was the time when Zoroaster lived.” (Ancient History Encyclopedia).

One of Ficino’s most brilliant students was a young scholar named Pico della Mirandola. He is most famous for his Oration on the Dignity of Man In it, he addresses ‘the fathers’ – representative of the religious and moral establishment  — with a fiery, eloquent and extraordinarily erudite oration. He was just 22 years of age,  The flowering of the Italian Renaissance was in some respects more impressive that the Classical culture it wanted to emulate. It was like a precious bloom that fell as a result of its own weight.

Girolamo Savonarola

It is necessary here to make a mercifully short digression. The world that had meant to be a renaissance of the Platonic Academy and more was to fall by way of a very stupid, possibly psychotic priest named  Girolamo Savonarola (Italian: [dʒiˈrɔːlamo savonaˈrɔːla]; 21 September 1452 – 23 May 1498). He was an Italian Dominican friar and preacher active in Renaissance Florence. He gained a reputation prophecy and was clearly strongly charismatic. He was obsessed with the destruction of secular art and culture. He managed to terrify Florence to such an extent that its citizens jettisoned books and magnificent works of art on the original bonfire of the vanities. He managed to get the population to turn on itself. Sexuality was demonized and creativity suspected of evil intentions. Whenever and wherever these thoughts become dominant, death of all kinds is at hand. Creativity and sexuality are part of a healthy life.

Not for the last time in history, reason, creativity, and passion were swapped for mortification of the flesh, morbid and delusional fears, mixed with paranoia and absurd accusations (read projections). A salivating lunatic, barking mad as he obviously was, convinced the mobs that he was a holy man. Eben Pico succumbed. Savonarola effectively snuffed one the greatest flourishings of art and culture. It seems particularly ironic that his central prophecy was that a second Darius would come from the North and restore Christianity. When the French king invaded, he saw that as proof that his prophecy had been genuine.

The Middle Persian word ʾhlmn’ (Ahreman) in Book Pahlavi script. The word is traditionally always written upside down as a sign of contempt..

The most tragic element here is that there was an early chance for Christianity to take its place as a cherished expression of the prisci theologia, confident enough to stand without wanting to see everyone else fail. The ensuing years saw the fracturing of the Church, a Reformation that for the most part only made things worse, while inadvertently creating the perfect soil for nutty extremists who saw witches behind every tree. The cult of accusation is always evil. It always seeks a guilty verdict no matter what. A decent Christian or Zoroastrian would see the evil for what it was. The witch hunts didn’t only target witches. It was an easy way to appropriate land and wealth while inflicting the most awful suffering. We see this same spirit at work today.

The ugly religion of Savonarola and his ilk would be considered symptomatic of dark forces and druje in Zoroastrianism.: Jayaram V points out that “Angra Mainyu is the architect of evil, the anti-God principle, who represents evil, untruth, arrogance and death and subjects people to torment once they come under his influence, Ahura Mazda created the twin spirits, the good Spenta Mainyu and the other named Angra Mainyu or Ahirman.”  (Zoroastrianism, The Battle Between Good and Evil).

Some years ago, when Pakistan acquired the atomic bomb, I recall a young man in Islamabad stating “the Christians have the bomb, the Hindus have the bomb and now the Muslims have the bomb.’ The celebrations around this event were quite extraordinary, but my first thought was that this young man and many others. saw the world as being divided up by religions – not as a matter of choice, but as a matter of birth. Hindus were not like Muslims. This kind if thinking should have extinguished itself centuries ago, but in fact, it is strong and unlikely to reverse anytime soon. It’s obvious that the world is still reeling under the weight of massively scaled conflicts. These conflicts are migrating and attempts at multiculturalism on a grand scale fail largely due to religious intolerance.

The beginning of wisdom might be a revisiting of Ficino’s vision with both a mystical and a practical eye.  Ficino was an ordained priest. He was the mentor of Botticelli, Raphael, a score of poets, scholars, and philosophers. He had part of his villa painted with astrological images. His medical knowledge was commendable. It isn’t easy to understand that before Ficino, all but a few, relatively unimportant works by Plato and none of the Corpus Hermeticum was available to the west  His wealthy patrons arranged for the purchase of valuable greek texts that survived the fall of Constantinople. Intellectual and scholarly life before and after Ficino were entirely different.  Italian scholars finally had what they needed to revive something of the Classical world.

[Raphael, School of Athens, fresco, 1509-1511 (Stanza della Segnatura, Papal Palace, Vatican) Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker, Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.]

Nevertheless, the Judeo Christian heritage wasn’t something to be ignored and Pico had no qualms about Moses imbibing from the same source as Hermes. This was most easily done by reference to the Kabbalah. It is however surely noteworthy that Moses is not a central character in the co,[osition. Aristotle was no longer the last Classical word and the mystical quality of Plato became the preferred mode. The famous painting of The Academy shows Aristotle pointing toward the Earth while Plato points to the Heavens. This point in time was the first in which a prisci thelogia could have realistically been envisioned since antiquity.

In 1320 Dante Alighieri completed his Divina Commedia one year before he died. He was considered progressive insofar as he wrote literature in the vernacular. Beyond that, he lived in a Latin world, minimally touched by Greek thought. He had a degree of sympathy with only one Pagan and that was Virgil, a fellow poet and a Roman one at that. Most tellingly, Virgil plays an increasingly small role in

Dante Alighieri

the Comedia after leaving the Inferno. By the end of the people, he is given no voice at all. The Roman Catholic Church must have had the sense of perfect dominion in Europe, even it was threatened on other fronts. As in the works of Chaucer, there is a sense of Europe under a fairly comfortable siege. The notion os a Universal religion or a Prisci Theologia could not have found a footing during those times. A simple comparison of the two periods yields a great deal of insight into the massively expanded view of the late 15th Century.

Let’s take one more example. Dante had placed Guido Bonnati in the Inferno in Canto XX.  He was to be eternally punished for seeking to see the future, in keeping with Dante’s ideas of Divine Retribution. Fortune Tellers and Diviners have their heads on backward and their eyes are full of tears. These are the souls who, on Earth, tried to see too far ahead of them, and thus will spend eternity forever looking behind with blurred vision. Following the teachings of the papacy, the theme of religion is broached, because the papacy did not approve of sorcery in any form.” This is the most perverse hatred and fear of vision. That such a punishment could be considered either wise or just is abundantly symptomatic of a religious view putrid to the core. .

Ficino, on the other hand, was an ordained priest who practised astrology and astrological medicine. He could hold to the Christian faith while being a mage and drawing inspiration from several Pagan sources. It needs to be said that Ficino didn’t need to mention the historical Jesus in his Theologia Platonica, which would rule him out as a Christian in the minds of some. Ficino was so well protected from attacks by extraordinarily wealthy and powerful patron, including ones in the church itself, that we can imagine that a blind eye might have been turned towards his eccentric life.

However, it was by no means that cut and dried. For the most part, the upper echelons of the Church were as enamored with Ficino’s circle of artists, philosophers, magi, statesmen and poets as the Medici themselves. It was a period of extraordinary learning. Latin scholars had been common since Rome itself, but greek ideas, texts, and the language enriched theology to the point that Marsilio Ficino could write The Theologia Platonica in the first place. Logos and Word were interchangeable, except that the word logos has both more specific and more general meanings. Consider this phrasing: “Grant us your favour, My Lord,  show us this day your star,  the one once you showed to the Magi. The star that led the Magi to Christ, may lead us to Christ’s mysteries.” De Stella Magorum

The figure who embodies the greatest number of traits and qualities of this magical Prisci Thelogia was Zarathustra. But how could he be distinguished from Hermes Trismegistus? We know that what the Renaissance scholars were reading was probably a third-century work. However, reading the essence of the Hermetica, it takes no imagination to see Zoroastrian elements as well as Pythagorean and Platonic ones. At this point in history, this ought to come as no surprise. But one of the greatest pitfalls to knowledge has been the weird insistence of linear time and inevitable progress.

There are many interesting twists and turns on the theme of Prisca Theologia. A good example is to be found in Michelangelo’s Bacchus. The unnamed writer at writes:

Mechelangelo – Baccus

“The statue of Bacchus was commissioned by the banker Jacopo Galli for his garden and he wanted it fashioned after the models of the ancients. The body of this drunken and staggering god gives an impression of both youthfulness and of femininity. Vasari says that this strange blending of effects is the characteristic of the Greek god Dionysus. But in Michelangelo’s experience, [the] sensuality of such a divine nature has a drawback for man: in his left hand the god holds with indifference a lionsksin, the symbol of death, and a bunch of grapes, the symbol of life, from which a Faun is feeding. Thus we are brought to realize, in a sudden way, what significance this miracle of pure sensuality has for man: living only for a short while he will find himself in the position of the faun, caught in the grasp of death, the lionskin. ”

What the patron had understood as an image of lewdness and inebriation, is subtly turned on its head, as it were. The creative process has brought into play to reveal that the Michelangelo of the Pieta and the Sistine Chapel are not so far removed from the theme of Dionysius or Baccus.

The traditions of Platonism, Hermetical, Qabala, Pythagoreanism and Zoroastrianism, all describe a universe in which humanity has the freedom to choose and create. All of these and other traditions integrate the reading of the heavens. In the next part of this article. I would like to address the consequences of a history of the western world that has mostly ignored the contribution made to augury and astrology itself by the cultures of Northern Europe – in particular, that of the Druids

De Divino Furore – Albecht Durer & Marsilio Ficino

Melencolia I (B. 74; M., HOLL. 75)*engraving *24 x 18.8 cm*1514

The case of Albrecht Durer’s engraving, known as Melancholia I has left many scholars ultimately confounded. This article doesn’t pretend to answer all questions surrouding this work of art. However to the best of my knowledge nobody has actually looked at the humours of Durer and Ficino from a Traditional astrological perspective. That is to say that the humours are discerned by astrological delineation. The question of what they actually meant by the Divino Fuore and how it relates to melancholia is complex.

The dictionary definition of Melancholy is fairly straightforward. Melancholia (from Greek μελαγχολία – melancholia, “sadness”, literally black bile),[See Lidell & Scott’s Greek- English Dictionary in the Files section] also lugubriousness, from the Latin lugere, to mourn; moroseness, from the Latin morosus, self-willed, fastidious habit; wistfulness, from old English wist: intent, or saturnine. secondly ,in contemporary usage, is a mood disorder of non-specific depression, characterized by low levels of both enthusiasm and eagerness for activity.

We know of Durer’s relationship with Marsilio Ficino and have ample evidence he was familiar with the ideas found in Three Books of Life. He was also familiar with the work of Cornelius Agrippa. Ficino complains of, and lists remedies for, what he refers to as scholarly melancholy: a leaden preponderance brought on by an excess of black bile. The gravitas required of great scholars, artists and intellectual therefore comes at a price. The remedies are either Solar or Jupiterian, so we have a number of choices ranging from amethyst to aloe and the company of fair women.

Albrecht Durer’s Melancholy angel is something of a sphinx and has resisted definitive explanation for several decades.  It’s claimed by many scholars that the work is a self-portrait of the artist.. The idle tools, symbolic repesentations of the Liberal Arts, the bat, the oppressive lifelessness is dramatically contrasted by the angel’s eyes that seem to imply a kind of frenzy coming out of the darkness.

In a letter to Peregrino Agli, Ficino, speaks of a particular kind of frenzy

It does not look up to the heavens, for in its black prison it is shuttered by night. But when those whose spirit is drawn away and freed from the clay of the body first see form and grace in any one, they rejoice, as at the reflection of divine beauty. But those people should at once recall to memory that divine beauty, which they should honour and desire above all; as it is by a burning desire for this beauty that they may be drawn to the heavens. This first attempt at flight Plato calls divine ecstasy and frenzy. I have already written enough about that frenzy which, I have said, arises through the eyes. (The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, Volume 1)

Detailed iconographic interpretation is to be found in abundance. But many scholars have either missed the obvious or else known too little of the nature of Syncetic Neo Platonism in the time of Ficino and Durer.  However,

Durer Self Portrait at Age 26 - Detail

Durer Self Portrait at Age 26 – Detail

in 1923 Erwin Panofsky and Fritz Saxl published their findings on the sources of Melancholi I In the former’s biography, The Life and Art of Albrecht Durer (1943),  Panofsky concluded that the engraving “is in a sense a spiritual self-portrait of Albrecht Durer.”


Nativity – Albrecht Durer

The writer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art writes :

Melancholia I depicts the intellectual situation of the inspired artist and is thus, by extension, a spiritual self-portrait of Dürer.

In medieval philosophy, everyone was considered to be dominated by one of the four humors. In practise however, there is usually a combination.

Melancholy is associated with black gall, was the least desirable of the four, and melancholics were considered most likely to succumb to insanity. Renaissance thought, however, also linked melancholy with creative genius; thus, at the same time that this idea changed the status of this humor, it made the self-conscious artist aware of the terrible risks that came with his gift.

The theory of the Humours is at least as old as Hippocrates and  developed by Galen. The humours were at the core of medicine and indeed the understanding of why people are they way they are prior to the Elighhtenment. Chaucer introces charcaters as being of a particular humour as an indication of personality. The Humours also had Universal significance because they were the children of the four elements.

Albrecht Dürer Adorazione dei Magi

Albrecht Dürer Adorazione dei Magi

Durer created many self portraits of himself, and in more than one he is appears in the traditional likeness of Christ.

In tradition,  the Magus bringing gold to Jesus was an old, grey haired man named Melchior. In Durer’s Adoration of the Magi we find the artist looking resplendent, first in line with the gift of gold. Gold was the most important antidote to the destructive form of melancholy according to Ficino. He gave it Jupiterean as well as Solar significance. It’s no coincidence that Duere has painted himself in this way.

When comparing this to the other self portraits, the resemblance is striking.What we know of the Melancholic humour from classical points of view are the qualities of cold and dry and of being the heaviest element, Earth.

There is no obvious reason from a classical point of view why the humour would take on this singular role as bringing on a divine frenzy or melancholy madness. – a madness so powerful it could destroy its human vessel or raise him to the level of demiurge.

If we refer to Durer’s chart it will readily be seen that it is not Melancholic in the classical sense at all. It is decidedly Sanguine.

If we are looking for an oppressive Saturnine presence in the chart, it is not to be found in any extraordinary degree. Here we have an otherwise unafflicted Saturn under the beams.

Mercury is parallel Aldebaran and conjunct Algol. Saturn is also conjunct Aldebaran. The meaning of Algol is The Ghoul, the demon and beheadings. Aldebaran  is associated with blindness as well as being the eye of God. Saturn is in the Decanate of Jupiter, Term of  Mercury and in favourable Sect.

Jupiter is separated from the square to Saturn and will soon be trine. Mercury disposits the Sun and the Ascendant is in Leo.This chart fits a

Marsilio Ficino - Portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci'

Marsilio Ficino – Portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci’

remarkably developed intellect, but not a melancholic. in the classical sense.

Ficino - Nativity

Ficino – Nativity

We have some choices to make. We can claim that Durer is merely posing, garnering key ideas from thinkers such as Ficino and expressing them artistically… or that he was a megalomaniac who couldn’t stop painting himself. However, it is most likely that Durer and Ficino are pointing to something else altogether. I would however suggest there is a grain of truth in all three assumptions. What is increasingly apparent is that the the Melancholic state of the artist or scholar is not identical as the element itself.

When we turn to Ficno’s chart the first thing most will notice is that Saturn is sitting right on the Ascendant. It’s a partile conjunction. Saturn is however dignified The Moon is in an applying Trine to Venus. The Sun is in a loose but applying square to Saturn. The Sun and Mercury in the Ninth House bestows a deep and religious focus. Mercury is direct and clear of the beams.

Both Saturn and Jupiter are in Hayz. The chart Alumuten is Mars.  The Hour of the Nativity is Saturn. Jupiter is Lord of the Tenth and Eleventh House.

When we delineate the chart, we find the Humour is Sanguine, a light humour with none of the characteristics of Melancholy. Melancholy is about 15% and Choleric one third.The charts shows the almost unprecedented support Ficino enjoyed in his writing of Theologia Platonica, his translations of Plato and the Hermetica. He was well taken care of by enormously wealthy Medicis and spent plenty of time sharing ideas with the greatest minds of his generation.

In short, he doesn’t seem like the first candidate for what we might call major depressive disorder or melancholia. The mere fact that he was so extraordinarily productive testifies to that. Once again, let look at this from the point of view of a Renassance Magus

Cornelius Agrippa write in his comprehensive Three Books on Occult Philosophy:

[the melancholy humour] when it is stirred up, burns and stirs up a madness conducing to knowledge and divination, especially if it is helped by any celestial influx, particularly of Saturn … By melancholy saith [Aristotle], some men are made as it were divine, foretelling things to come, and some men are made poets.


Jupiter – Magic Square

So it’s not a questioin of Humours in the classical sense, it is specifically Saturn and Agrippa leaves us with the strong impression that one can induce, by stirring it up. I’m reminded of Hermes or Mercury in Botticelli’s Primavera. He appears to be strirring the either with a wand. Given Botticelli’s close relationship to Ficino, this might offer some context.

To add to this theme, there is the question of the magic square in Melancholia It has been called the Jupiter square because of the numerical values. The sum 34 can be found in the rows, columns, diagonals, each of the quadrants, the center four squares, and the corner squares (of the 4×4 as well as the four contained 3×3 grids). This sum can also be found in the four outer numbers clockwise from the corners (3+8+14+9) and likewise the four counter-clockwise.

The more the engraving is studied, the more it becomes clear that the angel is not fettered in any way other than by the sheer weight of gravitas. Jupiter is regarded as the antidote to Saturn in Ficino’s system. I beelieve thre are levels of meaning in this work that may forever evade us, but the relationship between Melancholia and the kind of genius Plato discusses saturates its significance.


Leonardo Da Vinci as Plato – Detail of Raphael’s Academy of Athens

This state of divine possession – the Dyonysian artist Intellectual as both man and god was not foreign to the Renaissance imagination. And this did in fact lift the status of poetry and music to heights hitherto unknown since Classical times. Music could embody divine qualities and have the effect raising the soul to a similar ecstatic union through sympathetic magic or resonance. Sympathetic magic is at the core of Ficino’s thinking.

Aristotle wrote : those in whom the bile is considerable and cold become sluggish and stupid, while those with whom it is excessive and hot become mad, clever or amorous and easily moved to passion or desire, and some become more talkative. But many, because this heat is near to the seat of the mind, are affected by the diseases of madness or frenzy, which accounts for the Sybils, soothsayers, and all inspired persons. (Problems 30.1, translation in J. Radden OUP, 2000

To look for a strongly Melancholic humour in the normal sense is to miss the point. Earth is Cold and Dry. To conjure heat near to the seat of the mind to induce inspiration from the same source is an act of remarkable chemistry – the work the Magi such as Pico speaks of in his Oration on the Dignity of Man. But in simple terms, this “black bile” of the Earthy Element is fuel for the wise. It’s not the element itself, it’s what’s done with it.

Although not quite in the same context, there is some correlation between brilliance and what Winston Churchill refered to as “being in the jaws of the black dog.”  When the humour overwhelms, quagmire ensues. But when turned to fuel, genius is unleashed. I leave Plotinus with the last word:  In reference to the power of the stars, he suggests it lies in the human ability to perceive their patterns as analogy  “the wise man is the man who in any one thing can read another” (Enneads II.3.7 trans. S. Mackenna).