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             An Introduction To The Hermetic Art Of Memory
                          John Michael Greer
                     Part One: The Uses of Memory
   In the current occult revival, the Art of Memory is perhaps the
   most thoroughly neglected of all the technical methods of
   Renaissance esotericism. While the researches of the late Dame
   Frances Yates and, more recently, a revival of interest in the
   master mnemonist Giordano Bruno have made the Art something of a
   known quantity in academic circles, the same is not true in the
   wider community; to mention the Art of Memory in most occult
   circles nowadays, to say nothing of the general public, is to
   invite blank looks.
   In its day, though, the mnemonic methods of the Art held a
   special place among the contents of the practicing magician's
   mental toolkit. The Neoplatonic philosophy which underlay the
   whole structure of Renaissance magic gave memory, and thus
   techniques of mnemonics, a crucial place in the work of inner
   transformation. In turn, this interpretation of memory gave rise
   to a new understanding of the Art, turning what had once been a
   purely practical way of storing useful information into a
   meditative discipline calling on all the powers of the will and
   the imagination.
   This article seeks to reintroduce the Art of Memory to the modern
   Western esoteric tradition as a practicable technique. This first
   part, "The Uses of Memory," will give an overview of the nature
   and development of the Art's methods, and explore some of the
   reasons why the Art has value for the modern esotericist. The
   second part, "The Garden of Memory," will present a basic
   Hermetic memory system, designed along traditional lines and
   making use of Renaissance magical symbolism, as a basis for
   experimentation and practical use.
   The Method And Its Development
   It was once almost mandatory to begin a treatise on the Art of
   Memory with the classical legend of its invention. This habit has
   something to recommend it, for the story of Simonides is more
   than a colorful anecdote; it also offers a good introduction to
   the basics of the technique.
   The poet Simonides of Ceos, as the tale has it, was hired to
   recite an ode at a nobleman's banquet. In the fashion of the
   time, the poet began with a few lines in praise of divinities --
   in this case, Castor and Pollux -- before going on to the serious
   business of talking about his host. The host, however, objected
   to this diversion of the flattery, deducted half of Simonides'
   fee, and told the poet he could seek the rest from the gods he
   had praised. Shortly thereafter, a message was brought to the
   poet that two young men had come to the door of the house and
   wished to speak to him. When Simonides went to see them, there
   was no one there -- but in his absence the banquet hall collapsed
   behind him, killing the impious nobleman and all the dinner
   guests as well. Castor and Pollux, traditionally imaged as two
   young men, had indeed paid their half of the fee.
   Tales of this sort were a commonplace in Greek literature, but
   this one has an unexpected moral. When the rubble was cleared
   away, the victims were found to be so mangled that their own
   families could not identify them. Simonides, however, called to
   memory an image of the banqueting hall as he had last seen it,
   and from this was able to recall the order of the guests at the
   table. Pondering this, according to the legend, he proceeded to
   invent the first classical Art of Memory. The story is certainly
   apocryphal, but the key elements of the technique it describes --
   the use of mental images placed in ordered, often architectural
   settings -- remained central to the whole tradition of the Art of
   Memory throughout its history, and provided the framework on
   which the Hermetic adaptation of the Art was built.
   In Roman schools of rhetoric, this approach to memory was refined
   into a precise and practical system. Students were taught to
   memorize the insides of large buildings according to certain
   rules, dividing the space into specific loci or "places" and
   marking every fifth and tenth locus with special signs. Facts to
   be remembered were converted into striking visual images and
   placed, one after another, in these loci; when needed, the
   rhetorician needed only to stroll in his imagination through the
   same building, noticing the images in order and recalling their
   meanings. At a more advanced level, images could be created for
   individual words or sentences, so that large passages of text
   could be stored in the memory in the same way. Roman rhetoricians
   using these methods reached dizzying levels of mnemonic skill;
   one famous practitioner of the Art was recorded to have sat
   through a day-long auction and, at its end, repeated from memory
   the item, purchaser and price for every sale of the day.
   With the disintegration of the Roman world, these same techniques
   became part of the classical heritage of Christianity. The Art of
   Memory took on a moral cast as memory itself was defined as a
   part of the virtue of prudence, and in this guise the Art came to
   be cultivated by the Dominican Order. It was from this source
   that the ex-Dominican Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), probably the
   Art's greatest exponent, drew the basis of his own techniques.4
   Medieval methods of the Art differed very little from those of
   the classical world, but certain changes in the late Middle Ages
   helped lay the foundations for the Hermetic Art of Memory of the
   Renaissance. One of the most important of these was a change in
   the frameworks used for memory loci. Along with the architectural
   settings most often used in the classical tradition, medieval
   mnemonists also came to make use of the whole Ptolemaic cosmos of
   nested spheres as a setting for memory images. Each sphere from
   God at the periphery through the angelic, celestial and elemental
   levels down to Hell at the center thus held one or more loci for
   memory images.
   Between this system and that of the Renaissance Hermeticists
   there is only one significant difference, and that is a matter of
   interpretation, not of technique. Steeped in Neoplatonic thought,
   the Hermetic magicians of the Renaissance saw the universe as an
   image of the divine Ideas, and the individual human being as an
   image of the universe; they also knew Plato's claim that all
   "learning" is simply the recollection of things known before
   birth into the realm of matter. Taken together, these ideas
   raised the Art of Memory to a new dignity. If the human memory
   could be reorganized in the image of the universe, in this view,
   it became a reflection of the entire realm of Ideas in their
   fullness -- and thus the key to universal knowledge. This concept
   was the driving force behind the complex systems of memory
   created by several Renaissance Hermeticists, and above all those
   of Giordano Bruno.
   Bruno's mnemonic systems form, to a great extent, the high-water
   mark of the Hermetic Art of Memory. His methods were dizzyingly
   complex, and involve a combination of images, ideas and alphabets
   which require a great deal of mnemonic skill to learn in the
   first place! Hermetic philosophy and the traditional images of
   astrological magic appear constantly in his work, linking the
   framework of his Art to the wider framework of the magical
   cosmos. The difficulty of Bruno's technique, though, has been
   magnified unnecessarily by authors whose lack of personal
   experience with the Art has led them to mistake fairly
   straightforward mnemonic methods for philosophical obscurities.
   A central example of this is the confusion caused by Bruno's
   practice of linking images to combinations of two letters. Yates'
   interpretation of Brunonian memory rested largely on an
   identification of this with the letter-combinations of Lullism,
   the half-Cabalistic philosophical system of Ramon Lull
   (1235-1316).5 While Lullist influences certainly played a part in
   Bruno's system, interpreting that system solely in Lullist terms
   misses the practical use of the combinations: they enable the
   same set of images to be used to remember ideas, words, or both
   at the same time.
   An example might help clarify this point. In the system of
   Bruno's De Umbris Idearum (1582), the traditional image of the
   first decan of Gemini, a servant holding a staff, could stand for
   the letter combination be; that of Suah, the legendary inventor
   of chiromancy or palmistry, for ne. The decan-symbols are part of
   a set of images prior to the inventors, establishing the order of
   the syllables. Put in one locus, the whole would spell the word
   The method has a great deal more subtlety than this one example
   shows. Bruno's alphabet included thirty letters, the Latin
   alphabet plus those Greek and Hebrew letters which have no Latin
   equivalents; his system thus allowed texts written in any of
   these alphabets to be memorized. He combined these with five
   vowels, and provided additional images for single letters to
   allow for more complex combinations. Besides the astrological
   images and inventors, there are also lists of objects and
   adjectives corresponding to this set of letter-combinations, and
   all these can be combined in a single memory-image to represent
   words of several syllables. At the same time, many of the images
   stand for ideas as well as sounds; thus the figure of Suah
   mentioned above can also represent the art of palmistry if that
   subject needed to be remembered.
   Bruno's influence can be traced in nearly every subsequent
   Hermetic memory treatise, but his own methods seem to have proved
   too demanding for most magi. Masonic records suggest that his
   mnemonics, passed on by his student Alexander Dicson, may have
   been taught in Scots Masonic lodges in the sixteenth century;7
   more common, though, were methods like the one diagrammed by the
   Hermetic encyclopedist Robert Fludd in his History of the
   Macrocosm and Microcosm. This was a fairly straightforward
   adaptation of the late Medieval method, using the spheres of the
   heavens as loci, although Fludd nonetheless classified it along
   with prophecy, geomancy and astrology as a "microcosmic art" of
   human self-knowledge.8 Both this approach to the Art and this
   classification of it remained standard in esoteric circles until
   the triumph of Cartesian mechanism in the late seventeenth
   century sent the Hermetic tradition underground and the Art of
   Memory into oblivion.
   The Method And Its Value
   This profusion of techniques begs two questions, which have to be
   answered if the Art of Memory is to be restored to a place in the
   Western esoteric tradition. First of all, are the methods of the
   Art actually superior to rote memorization as a way of storing
   information in the human memory? Put more plainly, does the Art
   of Memory work?
   It's fair to point out that this has been a subject of dispute
   since ancient times. Still, then as now, those who dispute the
   Art's effectiveness are generally those who have never tried it.
   In point of fact, the Art does work; it allows information to be
   memorized and recalled more reliably, and in far greater
   quantity, than rote-methods do. There are good reasons, founded
   in the nature of memory, why this should be so. The human mind
   recalls images more easily than ideas, and images charged with
   emotion more easily still; one's most intense memories, for
   example, are rarely abstract ideas. It uses chains of
   association, rather than logical order, to connect one memory
   with another; simple mnemonic tricks like the loop of string tied
   around a finger rely on this. It habitually follows rhythms and
   repetitive formulae; it's for this reason that poetry is often
   far easier to remember than prose. The Art of Memory uses all
   three of these factors systematically. It constructs vivid,
   arresting images as anchors for chains of association, and places
   these in the ordered and repetitive context of an imagined
   building or symbolic structure in which each image and each locus
   leads on automatically to the next. The result, given training
   and practice, is a memory which works in harmony with its own
   innate strengths to make the most of its potential.
   The fact that something can be done, however, does not by itself
   prove that it should be done. In a time when digital data storage
   bids fair to render print media obsolete, in particular,
   questions of how best to memorize information might well seem as
   relevant as the choice between different ways of making clay
   tablets for writing. Certainly some methods of doing this
   once-vital chore are better than others; so what? This way of
   thinking leads to the second question a revival of the Art of
   Memory must face: what is the value of this sort of technique?
   This question is particularly forceful in our present culture
   because that culture, and its technology, have consistently
   tended to neglect innate human capacities and replace them where
   possible with mechanical equivalents. It would not be going too
   far to see the whole body of modern Western technology as a
   system of prosthetics. In this system, print and digital media
   serve as a prosthetic memory, doing much of the work once done in
   older societies by the trained minds of mnemonists. It needs to
   be recognized, too, that these media can handle volumes of
   information which dwarf the capacity of the human mind; no
   conceivable Art of Memory can hold as much information as a
   medium-sized public library.
   The practical value of these ways of storing knowledge, like that
   of much of our prosthetic technology, is real. At the same time,
   there is another side to the matter, a side specially relevant to
   the Hermetic tradition. Any technique has effects on those who
   use it, and those effects need not be positive ones. Reliance on
   prosthetics tends to weaken natural abilities; one who uses a car
   to travel anywhere more than two blocks away will come to find
   even modest walks difficult. The same is equally true of the
   capacities of the mind. In Islamic countries, for example, it's
   not at all uncommon to find people who have memorized the entire
   Quran for devotional purposes. Leave aside, for the moment,
   questions of value; how many people in the modern West would be
   capable of doing the equivalent?
   One goal of the Hermetic tradition, by contrast, is to maximize
   human capacities, as tools for the inner transformations sought
   by the Hermeticist. Many of the elementary practices of that
   tradition -- and the same is true of esoteric systems worldwide
   -- might best be seen as a kind of mental calisthenics, intended
   to stretch minds grown stiff from disuse. This quest to expand
   the powers of the self stands in opposition to the prosthetic
   culture of the modern West, which has consistently tended to
   transfer power from the self to the exterior world. The
   difference between these two viewpoints has a wide range of
   implications -- philosophical, religious, and (not the least)
   political -- but the place of the Art of Memory can be found
   among them.
   From what might be called the prosthetic standpoint, the Art is
   obsolete because it is less efficient than external data-storage
   methods such as books, and distasteful because it requires the
   slow development of inner abilities rather than the purchase of a
   piece of machinery. From a Hermetic standpoint, on the other
   hand, the Art is valuable in the first place as a means of
   developing one of the capacities of the self, the memory, and in
   the second place because it uses other capacities -- attention,
   imagination, mental imagery -- which have a large role in other
   aspects of Hermetic practice.
   Like other methods of self-development, the Art of Memory also
   brings about changes in the nature of the capacity it shapes, not
   merely in that capacity's efficiency or volume; its effects are
   qualitative as well as quantitative -- another issue not well
   addressed by the prosthetic approach. Ordinarily, memory tends to
   be more or less opaque to consciousness. A misplaced memory
   vanishes from sight, and any amount of random fishing around may
   be needed before an associative chain leading to it can be
   brought up from the depths. In a memory trained by the methods of
   the Art, by contrast, the chains of association are always in
   place, and anything memorized by the Art can thus be found as
   soon as needed. Equally, it's much easier for the mnemonist to
   determine what exactly he or she does and does not know, to make
   connections between different points of knowledge, or to
   generalize from a set of specific memories; what is stored
   through the Art of Memory can be reviewed at will.
   Despite our culture's distaste for memorization, and for the
   development of the mind generally, the Art of Memory thus has
   some claim to practical value, even beyond its uses as a method
   of esoteric training. In the second part of this article, "The
   Garden of Memory," some of these potentials will be explored
   through the exposition of an introductory memory system based on
   the traditional principles of the Art.
   Notes for Part 1
   1. Yates, Frances A., The Art Of Memory (Chicago: U. Chicago
   Press, 1966) remains the standard English-language work on the
   2. Bruno, Giordano, On the Composition of Images, Signs and Ideas
   (NY: Willis, Locker & Owens, 1991), and Culianu, Ioan, Eros and
   Magic in the Renaissance (Chicago: U. Chicago Press, 1987) are
   3. The brief history of the Art given here is drawn from Yates,
   op. cit.
   4. For Bruno, see Yates, op. cit., ch. 9, 11, 13-14, as well as
   her Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Chicago: U.
   Chicago Press, 1964).
   5. See Yates, Art of Memory, Ch. 8.
   6. Ibid., pp. 208-222.
   7. Stevenson, David, The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland's
   Century (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1988), p. 95.
   8. See Yates, Art of Memory, Ch. 15.
                    Part Two: The Garden of Memory
   During the Renaissance, the age in which it reached its highest
   pitch of development, the Hermetic Art of Memory took on a wide
   array of different forms. The core principles of the Art,
   developed in ancient times through practical experience of the
   way human memory works best, are common to the whole range of
   Renaissance memory treatises; the structures built on this
   foundation, though, differ enormously. As we'll see, even some
   basic points of theory and practice were subjects of constant
   dispute, and it would be impossible as well as unprofitable to
   present a single memory system, however generic, as somehow
   "representative" of the entire field of Hermetic mnemonics.
   That is not my purpose here. As the first part of this essay
   pointed out, the Art of Memory has potential value as a practical
   technique even in today's world of information overload and
   digital data storage. The memory system which will be presented
   here is designed to be used, not merely studied; the techniques
   contained in it, while almost entirely derived from Renaissance
   sources, are included for no other reason than the simple fact
   that they work.
   Traditional writings on mnemonics generally divide the principles
   of the Art into two categories. The first consists of rules for
   places -- that is, the design or selection of the visualized
   settings in which mmemonic images are located; the second
   consists of rules for images -- that is, the building up of the
   imagined forms used to encode and store specific memories. This
   division is sensible enough, and will be followed in this essay,
   with the addition of a third category: rules for practice, the
   principles which enable the Art to be effectively learned and put
   to use.
   Rules for Places
   One debate which went on through much of the history of the Art
   of Memory was a quarrel over whether the mnemonist should
   visualize real places or imaginary ones as the setting for the
   mnemonic images of the Art. If the half-legendary classical
   accounts of the Art's early phases can be trusted, the first
   places used in this way were real ones; certainly the rhetors of
   ancient Rome, who developed the Art to a high pitch of efficacy,
   used the physical architecture around them as the framework for
   their mnemonic systems. Among the Hermetic writers on the Art,
   Robert Fludd insisted that real buildings should always be used
   for memory work, claiming that the use of wholly imaginary
   structures leads to vagueness and thus a less effective system.1
   On the other hand, many ancient and Renaissance writers on
   memory, Giordano Bruno among them, gave the opposite advice. The
   whole question may, in the end, be a matter of personal needs and
   Be that as it may, the system given here uses a resolutely
   imaginary set of places, based on the numerical symbolism of
   Renaissance occultism. Borrowing an image much used by the
   Hermeticists of the Renaissance, I present the key to a garden:
   Hortus Memoriae, the Garden of Memory.
   The Garden of Memory is laid out in a series of concentric
   circular paths separated by hedges; the first four of these
   circles are mapped in Diagram 1. Each circle corresponds to a
   number, and has the same number of small gazebos set in it. These
   gazebos -- an example, the one in the innermost circle, is shown
   in Diagram 2 -- bear symbols which are derived from the
   Pythagorean number-lore of the Renaissance and later magical
   traditions, and serve as the places in this memory garden.2 Like
   all memory places, these should be imagined as brightly lit and
   conveniently large; in particular, each gazebo is visualized as
   large enough to hold an ordinary human being, although it need
   not be much larger.
   The first four circles of the garden are built up in the
   imagination as follows:
   The First Circle
   This circle corresponds to the Monad, the number One; its color
   is white, and its geometrical figure is the circle. A row of
   white flowers grows at the border of the surrounding hedge. The
   gazebo is white, with gold trim, and is topped with a golden
   circle bearing the number 1. Painted on the dome is the image of
   a single open Eye, while the sides bear the image of the Phoenix
   in flames.
   The Second Circle
   The next circle corresponds to the Dyad, the number Two and to
   the concept of polarity; its color is gray, its primary symbols
   are the Sun and Moon, and its geometrical figure is the vesica
   piscis, formed from the common area of two overlapping circles.
   The flowers bordering the hedges in this circle are silver-gray;
   in keeping with the rule of puns, which we'll cover a little
   later, these might be tulips. Both of the two gazebos in this
   circle are gray. One, topped with the number 2 in a white vesica,
   has white and gold trim, and bears the image of the Sun on the
   dome and that of Adam, his hand on his heart, on the side. The
   other, topped with the number 3 in a black vesica, has black and
   silver trim, and bears the image of the Moon on the dome and that
   of Eve, her hand touching her head, on the side.
   The Third Circle
   This circle corresponds to the Triad, the number Three; its color
   is black, its primary symbols are the three alchemical principles
   of Sulphur, Mercury and Salt, and its geometrical figure is the
   triangle. The flowers bordering the hedges are black, as are the
   three gazebos. The first of the gazebos has red trim, and is
   topped with the number 4 in a red triangle; it bears, on the
   dome, the image of a red man touching his head with both hands,
   and on the sides the images of various animals. The second gazebo
   has white trim, and is topped by the number 5 in a white
   triangle; it bears, on the dome, the image of a white
   hermaphrodite touching its breasts with both hands, and on the
   sides the images of various plants. The third gazebo is
   unrelieved black, and is topped with the number 6 in a black
   triangle; it bears, on the dome, the image of a black woman
   touching her belly with both hands, and on the sides the images
   of various minerals.
   The Fourth Circle
   This circle corresponds to the Tetrad, the number Four. Its color
   is blue, its primary symbols are the Four Elements, and its
   geometrical figure is the square. The flowers bordering the
   hedges are blue and four-petaled, and the four gazebos are blue.
   The first of these has red trim and is topped with the number 7
   in a red square; it bears the image of flames on the dome, and
   that of a roaring lion on the sides. The second has yellow trim
   and is topped with the number 8 in a yellow square; it bears the
   images of the four winds blowing on the dome, and that of a man
   pouring water from a vase on the sides. The third is unrelieved
   blue and is topped with the number 9 in a blue square; it bears
   the image of waves on the dome and those of a scorpion, a serpent
   and an eagle on the sides. The fourth has green trim and is
   topped with the number 10 in a green square; it bears, on the
   dome, the image of the Earth, and that of an ox drawing a plow on
   the sides.
   To begin with, these four circles and ten memory places will be
   enough, providing enough room to be useful in practice, while
   still small enough that the system can be learned and put to work
   in a fairly short time. Additional circles can be added as
   familiarity makes work with the system go more easily. It's
   possible, within the limits of the traditional number symbolism
   used here, to go out to a total of eleven circles containing 67
   memory places.3 It's equally possible to go on to develop
   different kinds of memory structures in which images may be
   placed. So long as the places are distinct and organized in some
   easily memorable sequence, almost anything will serve.
   The Garden of Memory as described here will itself need to be
   committed to memory if it's to be used in practice. The best way
   to do this is simply to visualize oneself walking through the
   garden, stopping at the gazebos to examine them and then passing
   on. Imagine the scent of the flowers, the warmth of the sun; as
   with all forms of visualization work, the key to success is to be
   found in concrete imagery of all five senses. It's a good idea to
   begin always in the same place -- the first circle is best, for
   practical as well as philosophical reasons -- and, during the
   learning process, the student should go through the entire garden
   each time, passing each of the gazebos in numerical order. Both
   of these habits will help the imagery of the garden take root in
   the soil of memory.
   Rules for Images
   The garden imagery described above makes up half the structure of
   this memory system -- the stable half, one might say, remaining
   unchanged so long as the system itself is kept in use. The other,
   changing half consists of the images which are used to store
   memories within the garden. These depend much more on the
   personal equation than the framing imagery of the garden; what
   remains in one memory can evaporate quickly from another, and a
   certain amount of experimentation may be needed to find an
   approach to memory images which works best for any given student.
   In the classical Art of Memory, the one constant rule for these
   images was that they be striking -- hilarious, attractive,
   hideous, tragic, or simply bizarre, it made (and makes) no
   difference, so long as each image caught at the mind and stirred
   up some response beyond simple recognition. This is one useful
   approach. For the beginning practitioner, however, thinking of a
   suitably striking image for each piece of information which is to
   be recorded can be a difficult matter.
   It's often more useful, therefore, to use familiarity and order
   rather than sheer strangeness in an introductory memory system,
   and the method given here will do precisely this.
   It's necessary for this method, first of all, to come up with a
   list of people whose names begin with each letter of the alphabet
   except K and X (which very rarely begin words in English). These
   may be people known to the student, media figures, characters
   from a favorite book -- my own system draws extensively from
   J.R.R. Tolkien's Ring trilogy, so that Aragorn, Boromir, Cirdan
   the Shipwright and so on tend to populate my memory palaces. It
   can be useful to have more than one figure for letters which
   often come at the beginning of words (for instance, Saruman as
   well as Sam Gamgee for S), or figures for certain common
   two-letter combinations (for example, Theoden for Th, where T is
   Treebeard), but these are developments which can be added later
   on. The important point is that the list needs to be learned well
   enough that any letter calls its proper image to mind at once,
   without hesitation, and that the images are clear and instantly
   Once this is managed, the student will need to come up with a
   second set of images for the numbers from 0 to 9. There is a long
   and ornate tradition of such images, mostly based on simple
   physical similarity between number and image -- a javelin or pole
   for 1, a pair of eyeglasses or of buttocks for 8, and so on. Any
   set of images can be used, though, so long as they are simple and
   distinct. These should also be learned by heart, so that they can
   be called to mind without effort or hesitation. One useful test
   is to visualize a line of marching men, carrying the images which
   correspond to one's telephone number; when this can be done
   quickly, without mental fumbling, the images are ready for use.
   That use involves two different ways of putting the same imagery
   to work. One of the hoariest of commonplaces in the whole
   tradition of the Art of Memory divides mnemonics into "memory for
   things" and "memory for words." In the system given here,
   however, the line is drawn in a slightly different place; memory
   for concrete things -- for example, items in a grocery list --
   requires a slightly different approach than memory for abstract
   things, whether these be concepts or pieces of text. Concrete
   things are, on the whole, easier, but both can be done using the
   same set of images already selected.
   We'll examine memory for concrete things first. If a grocery list
   needs to be committed to memory -- this, as we'll see, is an
   excellent way to practice the Art -- the items on the list can be
   put in any convenient order. Supposing that two sacks of flour
   are at the head of the list, the figure corresponding to the
   letter F is placed in the first gazebo, holding the symbol for 2
   in one hand and a sack of flour in the other, and carrying or
   wearing at least one other thing which suggests flour: for
   example, a chaplet of plaited wheat on the figure's head. The
   garments and accessories of the figure can also be used to record
   details: for instance, if the flour wanted is whole-grain, the
   figure might wear brown clothing. This same process is done for
   each item on the list, and the resulting images are visualized,
   one after another, in the gazebos of the Garden of Memory. When
   the Garden is next visited in the imagination -- in the store, in
   this case -- the same images will be in place, ready to
   communicate their meaning.
   This may seem like an extraordinarily complicated way to go about
   remembering one's groceries, but the complexity of the
   description is deceptive. Once the Art has been practiced, even
   for a fairly short time, the creation and placement of the images
   literally takes less time than writing down a shopping list, and
   their recall is an even faster process. It quickly becomes
   possible, too, to go to the places in the Garden out of their
   numerical order and still recall the images in full detail. The
   result is a fast and flexible way of storing information -- and
   one which is unlikely to be accidentally left out in the car!
   Memory for abstract things, as mentioned earlier, uses these same
   elements of practice in a slightly different way. A word or a
   concept often can't be pictured in the imagination the way a sack
   of flour can, and the range of abstractions which might need to
   be remembered, and discriminated, accurately is vastly greater
   than the possible range of items on a grocery list (how many
   things are there in a grocery store that are pale brown and start
   with the letter F?). For this reason, it's often necessary to
   compress more detail into the memory image of an abstraction.
   In this context, one of the most traditional tools, as well as
   one of the most effective ones, is a principle we'll call the
   rule of puns. Much of the memory literature throughout the
   history of the Art can be seen as an extended exercise in visual
   and verbal punning, as when a pair of buttocks appears in place
   of the number 8, or when a man named Domitian is used as an image
   for the Latin words domum itionem. An abstraction can usually be
   memorized most easily and effectively by making a concrete pun on
   it and remembering the pun, and it seems to be regrettably true
   that the worse the pun, the better the results in mnemonic terms.
   For instance, if -- to choose an example wholly at random -- one
   needed to memorize the fact that streptococcus bacteria cause
   scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, and streptococcal sore throat,
   the first task would be the invention of an image for the word
   "streptococcus." One approach might be to turn this word into
   "strapped to carcass," and visualize the figure who represents
   the letter S with a carcass strapped to his or her back by large,
   highly visible straps. For scarlet fever -- perhaps "Scarlett
   fever" -- a videotape labeled "Gone With The Wind" with a large
   thermometer sticking out of it and an ice pack on top would
   serve, while rheumatic fever -- perhaps "room attic fever" --
   could be symbolized by a small model of a house, similarly
   burdened, with the thermometer sticking out of the window of an
   attic room; both of these would be held by the original figure,
   whose throat might be red and inflamed to indicate the sore
   throat. Again, this takes much longer to explain, or even to
   describe, than it does to carry out in practice.
   The same approach can be used to memorize a linked series of
   words, phrases or ideas, placing a figure for each in one of the
   gazebos of the Garden of Memory (or the places of some more
   extensive system). Different linked series can be kept separate
   in the memory by marking each figure in a given sequence with the
   same symbol -- for example, if the streptococcus image described
   above is one of a set of medical items, it and all the other
   figures in the set might wear stethoscopes. Still, these are more
   advanced techniques, and can be explored once the basic method is
   Rules for Practice
   Like any other method of Hermetic work, the Art of Memory
   requires exactly that -- work -- if its potentials are to be
   opened up. Although fairly easy to learn and use, it's not an
   effort-free method, and its rewards are exactly measured by the
   amount of time and practice put into it. Each student will need
   to make his or her own judgement here; still, the old manuals of
   the Art concur that daily practice, if only a few minutes each
   day, is essential if any real skill is to be developed.
   The work that needs to be done falls into two parts. The first
   part is preparatory, and consists of learning the places and
   images necessary to put the system to use; this can be done as
   outlined in the sections above. Learning one's way around the
   Garden of Memory and memorizing the basic alphabetical and
   numerical images can usually be done in a few hours of actual
   work, or perhaps a week of spare moments.
   The second part is practical, and consists of actually using the
   system to record and remember information. This has to be done
   relentlessly, on a daily basis, if the method is to become
   effective enough to be worth doing at all. It's best by far to
   work with useful, everyday matters like shopping lists, meeting
   agendas, daily schedules, and so on. Unlike the irrelevant
   material sometimes chosen for memory work, these can't simply be
   ignored, and every time one memorizes or retrieves such a list
   the habits of thought vital to the Art are reinforced.
   One of these habits -- the habit of success -- is particularly
   important to cultivate here. In a society which tends to
   denigrate human abilities in favor of technological ones, one
   often has to convince oneself that a mere human being, unaided by
   machines, can do anything worthwhile! As with any new skill,
   therefore, simple tasks should be tried and mastered before
   complex ones, and the more advanced levels of the Art mastered
   one stage at a time.
   Notes for Part 2
   1. See Yates, Frances, Theatre of the World (Chicago: U. of
   Chicago P., 1969), pp. 147-9 and 207-9. [back to text]
   2. The symbolism used here is taken from a number of sources,
   particularly McLean, Adam, ed., The Magical Calendar (Edinburgh:
   Magnum Opus, 1979) and Agrippa, H.C., Three Books of Occult
   Philosophy, Donald Tyson rev. & ed. (St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1993),
   pp. 241-298. I have however, borrowed from the standard Golden
   Dawn color scales for the colors of the circles. [back to text]
   3. The numbers of the additional circles are 5-10 and 12; the
   appropriate symbolism may be found in McLean and Agrippa, and the
   colors in any book on the Golden Dawn's version of the Cabala.
   The Pythagorean numerology of the Renaissance defined the number
   11 as "the number of sin and punishment, having no merit" (see
   McLean, p. 69) and so gave it no significant imagery. Those who
   wish to include an eleventh circle might, however, borrow the
   eleven curses of Mount Ebal and the associated Qlippoth or
   daemonic primal powers from Cabalistic sources. [back to text]

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