The ritual of drawing down the Moon is an action meant to capture and use for magical purposes the energy of the nightly star, Mediatrix, and a theurgical act whose purpose is divine possession. Plato informs us in one of his famous dialogues, Gorgias, that the Thessalian witches were pulling the Moon down by offering as a sacrifice the eye or one of their children. Plutarch recalls Aglaonike, also a Thessalian, who used her astronomical knowledge to predict a lunar eclipse and make women believe that because of her magical powers, the Moon was drawn down and hidden from view. About Proclus it is said in his biography written by Marinus of Samaria that he used a iunx (a whirligig) to draw the Moon down, that he healed a young woman and that he could summon the clouds for rain, thus revealing his status as an initiate.
In Greek Magical Papyrus, a collection of magical texts from the 4th century, we find the following procedure described as mageia: “I whirl the wheel for you; the cymbals I don’t touch … The Moirai throw away your endless thread, unless you check my magic’s winged shaft. ” The spindle, the wheel, the spinner are part of the arsenal of those who practice magic, being associated with the destiny and the heavenly vault on which the divinities invoked wander.
The poet Ovid in the Heroines (Heroides) puts in Hypsipyle’s mouth a reproach addressed to Jason who had been helped by Medeea, the daughter of the witch Circe: “She is one to strive to draw down from its course the unwilling moon, and to hide in darkness the horses of the sun”. In Metamorphoses Medeea herself proclaims “Luna, do I draw from the sky”, alluding to the same ritual for which it was mentioned by Hypsipyle.
One of the consequences of this ritual is the deposition on the plants of a foam that resembles the dew and is called aphroselenon, a substance prized both by the alchemist Zosimos who used it to transform silver into gold, and by the witch Erictho in rituals of necromancy, emphasizing the ambivalent nature of the lunary essence.
In the tarot Sola Busca, the most mysterious set of Renaissance cards, the number XII Carbone illustrates in pictures what until now we have only found in literary sources. The character, a man dressed in red, purple and green, holds in his right hand a cup that ends with a leg (spindle and wheel) and which reflects the Moon from above. In the middle of it a bunch of burning herbs completes the nightly tableaux, and the man’s beard is ritually soaked in the liquid of the cup, referring to the symbolism of the sexual act.
The surrealist artist Remedios Varo, whose paintings evoke her fascinating inner universe and the attraction to the occult and magic, created in 1960 the painting “Nacer de nuevo”, whose central theme is the reflection of the Moon in a bowl in the middle of a table with 6 legs and 6 sides. The number 12 evokes the 12 zodiac signs and the 12 months of the year, sending to the repetition of this enigmatic ritual to fix in the body and in the sublunar, material world, the divine energeia that brings inspiration, prophecy and grace.
Painter Jake Baddeley, whose art focuses on contemporary symbolism and imaginary realism, has titled his canvas “Drawing down the Moon” thus showing his interest in mageia, “the world’s oldest religion” (Eliade).
“Come, moony-lamp, with chaste and splendid light,
Shine on these sacred rites with prosp’rous rays,
And pleas’d accept thy suppliants mystic praise”.
Bibliography: Drawing down the Moon: Magic in the ancient greco-roman World by Radcliffe G. Edmonds III, 2019
Drawing down the Moon by Jake Baddeley (www.jakebaddeley.com)