Reflection and Deflection of Light in this Testamentum Fraternitatis fourteenth chapter. Are they intriguing optical hints hidden behind a superstition that cannot maintain the claims?
This article has been rewritten after having double checked my original source for it, i.e. Thesaurus Thesaurorum Rosa et Aurea Crucis published by Agape-Prometeo (a miscellaneus of MS. Cod SN 2897 in the Vienna Nationalbibliothek, with the MS full title Testamentum Der Fraternitet Rosæ et Auræ Crucis, als gewisse Extases oder geheime Operationes, wodurch das Mysterium eröffnet an unsere Kinder der Weisheit göttlicher Magie und englischer Cabbalae. I.W.R. Anno 580 and MS Thesaurus Thesaurorum Fraternitatis Roseae et Aureae Crucis kept in Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart) with the translation from a mix of the Ms. mentioned above Wien and Ms. Darmstadt ( Thesaurus Thesaurorum à Fraternitate Roseae et Aureae Crucis Testamento Consignatus et in Arcam Foederis repositus suae Scholae Alumnis et Electis Fratribus. Anno MDLXXX 1580) found in the comprehensive french translation Thesaurus Thesaurorum et Testamento Roseae et Aureae Crucis published by Sesheta, 2016. I soon noticed differences, starting with the chapter title, which is the Agape-Prometeo version, “How a mage can make artificial mirrors from metal through the constellation”. In contrast, the same chapter on Sesheta’s version appeared as “ How a mage can prepare a metal through the constellation”. This might not be that different, though, since apparently, both versions come to preparing mirrors unless the described mirrors are only symbolic.
I have kept the text according to my previous translation from Agape-Prometeo’s version, just putting the new, and not identical, parts in square brackets. As we shall see, the differences only lie in the apparatus description concerning the rending diagrams, the white background apparatus scheme extracted from Agape-Prometeo’s, and apparently from Ms. Wien. In contrast, the grey background scheme comes from Sesheta’s version of Ms. Darmstadt, thus the parts into square brackets.
Text: “If you want to make a mirror which, according to the constellation, gets all the people who walk past your house to enter your room [ all the people who are present in the room where the mirror is], do the following: melt a mirror from the electro [electrim], as taught in the divine magic, in the following way: when the Sun is rising during the full Moon, melt it and polish with the triple earth, then finish up polishing with a deerskin so that it becomes very shiny. Remember: the mirror should be cast as a concave, 1/4 cubit wide, then get another one cast while the Sun is rising, three days before full Moon on Saturn hour; cast it flat, 1/4 cubit wide and 1/4 cubit high, polish it well on one side; then you need to prepare another mirror of impeccable pure white glass 1/4 cubit wide and 1/4 cubit high. When you get all those mirrors, make a machine of hardwood, it is very important that all the fissures are well closed, and it has to be built following the drawing instruction below.
A is the concave mirror of the apparatus, which will throw the passer-by completely in A and should be oriented towards the room [ A is the concave mirror of the apparatus which will cast the passer-by in a very visible way as if he will walk towards the room ]. B is the inferior mirror [ the one from which spirits go up to the metal mirror, and this metal window of the room is the reflection of the window E; it too has to be 1/4 cubit wide and 1/4 cubit high].
C is the one from which the spirits ascend to the other metal mirror and from B in the room in full-size through-hole E, which has to be 1/4 cubit wide and 1/4 cubit high. Also, D has to be as wide as the hole facing the street [ D is the window which has to be as wide as window E, which gives on the street].
Put this apparatus in a dark place in your room so that the hole that should face the street is located at half man’s height against the wall; put the apparatus in front of the hole so that the hole of the apparatus is just before the hole to the street where people walk [ Put this apparatus in a dark place in your room so that the window through the wall, which gives on the street, is on half man’s height. Place the apparatus in front of the window on the street].
When someone goes by, this person will be completely introduced into the room and pass you by. If you want, you can make fun of him, call him, and talk about whatever you like, and the person in the street will think that someone is calling him, turn around, and having seen nobody, he will anxiously go on. When he goes by again, repeat your words, and he will stop again, turn around, and give an answer, and you will be able to hear him in your room and give a counter-answer. If you want to get the person into trouble, get up and slap the shadow in your room behind the ears, and the person will run for his life screaming as he will think that evil is going to fool him around and a ghost is passing by in the street. Our old were often making those jokes, scaring the nasty people. Warned and directed to pray, those people have been enlightened, repented, converted, and started a new life. When our old had an enemy, they frightened him till he stopped to answer back. They took hold of a birch wood stick and beat wild the shadow in the room, saying these words: “I suggest you go away and make peace with your enemy; otherwise, when you will get back here again, I will do you this and that…” to frighten the person, and later they would turn into good friends, and the beaten man would come over and told all the story about how the nasty enemy beat him. Others instead were temperamental and proud; they wanted to resist in the street, but when they realized that in that way, they would be beaten even more and heard someone telling them that there was no one around, they started to run for their life. It would be best if you only listened to the adventurous things they told you later. But the less brave people were falling on the ground, half dead.
In case a woman was going by, the mirror would have shown her figure; if she was virtuous, the mirror would have shown just the person; if she was a Catain (maybe from french “Catin”, prostitute), the mage could have taken a basin full of water, after having called her as if he was her devotee, if she answered, one could throw cold water just on the shadow. She would have started to scream, thinking of being next to die of drowning, acting as if she had ford the water. After having done two or three steps, she would have seen to have been fooled around and would start to run, wringing wet, getting in shame. The people in the street would have run after her asking her what had happened, and she would have answered that the evil had made fun of her; more than once, those persons were converted. Yes, with that apparatus, one can achieve wonderful things, but mind letting anybody see it, as all happens with the help of the stars. Since here we need neither Figures nor incantations. Here again, you can see the hidden Almighty. Mind to keep to the first rule, that’s to say not to abuse this thing and not to offend God or your neighbor; you must act instead to increase God’s honor and the happiness of your neighbor and ensure that nobody gets damaged.”
Our scientific forma mentis makes us try to compare the magic box to known technologies, ancient and modern. But, even if with some resemblances with dark rooms and holographic devices, the machine room is still significantly different. To our eyes, it may just appear as a superstitious trick. In that case, maybe something unsaid is implied. The Ms. Wien scheme drawing represents a box with no other resemblances to ancient dark rooms except for an entry hole. The entry hole is too wide to narrow the entering beam of light. The apparatus doesn’t need an optical lens to straighten up the image; here, the beam is only subjected to a mere process of reflection and deflection on a concave mirror first and then on two other flat mirrors ( one of those has to be pure white) to exit through a large hole eventually. But, very likely, only light can be delivered to the exit, not the exact image in front of the entry hole. In the Ms. Darmstadt scheme drawing, the number of optical stations may suggest a similarity with a modern holographic device. Still, the latter requires more light sources than a single one. So also, this apparatus seems useless to our modern tech optical needs and any other ancient optical device but to roughly reflect and deflect light. So what might it be used for, whereas it can hardly give life to the optical magic phenomenon it claims to produce?
Might this Testamentum Fraternitatis fourteenth chapter instead hint at a system that facilitates the usage of solar, lunar, or stellar beams in Alchemy? That’s a conjecture of mine. Strictly speaking, optical lenses are tied to refraction and magnification, while mirrors are to reflection and deflection of light.
At the end of the box description, the author says, “all happens with the help of the stars”, which thing also the term ‘constellation‘ in the title would suggest. This sentence may be interpreted in many ways. Still, the fact remains that we cannot operate without observing a specific astronomical code, so it is wise not to underestimate the possibility that the apparatus could ‘extract‘ or ‘condense‘ particular beams from particular sky conditions.