I read When, Why, …If, which supposes itself to be a “thoughtful analysis of pagan ethics”. Now, there is a genre of Victorian books called Manners (Mannerisms in modern usage) and they were supposed to teach this sort of stuff. The chapters were usually numbered, the Manner was presented in the beginning in one or two sentences, and then the chapter explored the philosophy behind rule. You can still find this format of book in Christian and Islamic literature today, but predictably the chapter just cites a bunch of Holy Book verses. If we deprive the Manners of their foundation in the Holy Texts, there can be interesting discourse on their worth. This genre is Sophism, which is Greek rhetoric. Usually those books have the principal outlined, then they explore the value of the principal in one monologue and the second monologue tells you why it’s a bad idea. In other words, the Greek version tries to talk the read into the idea, and then tries to talk the reader out of the idea. Unfortunately the book discards both of these possible formats and just meanders for 200 pages. This might not be a problem (a Monologue is a thing, after all) but for an ethics book, its a poor showing.
One of the biggest rubs is how the author chooses to define things. Page 106 or so has “rape” defined as “any aggressive action which de-values a person”. The problem is that definition of “rape” isn’t the legal definition of rape. That also falls quite flat from a moral argument because her definition of rape is actually the definition of assault. From an application perspective, I could say that cutting someone off in traffic is “rape” because I aggressively drive and de-value their arrival at their destination over my own. The book makes several of these definitions for various topics and becomes a real slog to hold the authors definition of something in mind while trying to figure out their ethical argument. Another example is the chapter on “harm” cautions against peeling the bark off a tree just because someone is bored. Thats not “harm”, thats “mindfulness”. The “harm” chapter also defines all destructive actions as harmful to the universe and then backpedals from that assertion because “making way for something new” isn’t destruction. While perhaps philosophically sound, the idea is hurt because of the presentation and because the author doesn’t have clear separation herself between the concepts. The book could have used an editor.
You want the secret of the book? Empathy. The entire book hinges on “be empathetic” and there isn’t a single definition in the book that doesn’t use empathetic appeal.
I have been really interested in alchemy for awhile. Who doesn’t love making their own alcohol? Oh wait I think I’m confusing alcohol and something else. I strongly believe in making material parallels to magical operations. The Three Books of Occult Philosophy outline this extensively, but I suspect Agrippa was holding something in reserve because he never makes the jump to describing how he actually does alchemy to “distill virtues”. Big hint in the choice of words there, he knows what’s up.
To start doing alchemy, buy a distillation kit. It should have, at minimum, a flask and a condenser. I actually had to go back and learn the proper names for things because my alcohol reference is 100% from homebrewing. The condenser is the worm, the vapor goes into it and condenses. The kit from China is sufficient but make sure you know where the gasket aisle is at Home Depot. I’ll be sure to post the process as it gets rolling – the goal is to make some tinctures both to help out in evocation, but also to try out Agrippa’s occult influences.
The creation of the elixir is a fairly standard alchemical process – soak something in water, distill it, cut the heads (when the distillate tastes like… water), and the stuff you have distilled is the essential oil. Remove the solids, cook those to a white ash. Toss them into the essential oil. Boil the rest of the water down to a slurry, and combine.