This is a blog post about 'collyries', which I don't feel terribly bad about referring to as early modern magical cosmetics. I have frequent misgivings when Cool-Trying Historians attempt to excite interest in their topic by drawing clunky comparisons to some modern phenomenon ("hey fellow kids did you know books were, like, the iPads of medieval monastries?!") but, the thing is, these sorcerous 'confections' are fully designed to adorn the visage and literally empower and amplify the magic which comes out of faces. Gazing. Ensorcelling words. Enchanting breath. The evil eye. The look of love.
"Magical make-up" seems especially fair when we consider the mythic origins of cosmetics. In the Apocryphal Enochic materials, a particular fallen angel of the Grigori – the Watchers – is named as the explicit teacher of the violent and deceptive secrets of both weapons and cosmetics.
"And Azazel taught men to make swords and knives and shields and breastplates; and made known to them the metals [of the earth] and the art of working them; and bracelets and ornaments; and the use of antimony and the beautifying of the eyelids; and all kinds of costly stones and all colouring tinctures. And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they were led astray and became corrupt in all their ways." [Book of Enoch 8:1–3a]
This tutelary patron, Azazel, is blamed fairly extensively by the Enochic God: ‘The whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin.’ [Book of Enoch 2:8] Quite the reference for a curriculum vitae there.
So, 'collyries': a word describing magical preparations applied to the face, most typically the eyes. Thus, when Renaissance occult philosopher Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa warns of the power of sorcerous 'bindings', he offers some initial context for how these salves, pastes, and powders were considered:
'Now there are such kind of bindings as these made by Sorceries, Collyries, Unguents, love potions, by binding to, and hanging up of things, by rings, by charmes, by strong imaginations, and passions, by images, and characters, by inchantments, and imprecations, by lights, by sound, by numbers, by words, and names, invocations, sacrifices, by swearing, conjuring, consecrations, devotions, and by divers superstitions, and observations, and such like.'
Practically speaking, these collyries could come in the form of salves or washes. I am going to draw a line - however arbitrary - between the magic of beautifying or buffing oneself with compounds, and using these specialised magical preparations to imbue a 'magical expression' with greater potency. The former are employed to enchant oneself, whereas the latter I would argue enchant what one is throwing out, from evil side-eye to come hither glances. For instance, beyond this disclaimer, we will not consider the use of belladonna eye-drops - to widen the pupils and thus beautify the 'good lady' using them - despite these arguably being collyries, because they do not help with the "launching outwards" of a particular magical working, as much as they do glamour oneself. Likewise, the term 'collyrium' is sometimes used in medical herbalism to denote health-giving eye-washes and salves. I would also qualify these uses as internal 'buffs' like beautifying cosmetics. Now, this internal/external definitional divine falls apart in practice, I accept. If one is intending to stir the passions of lust in someone at a bar, we have two modes of looking: what we look like and how we look at them. For now though, if only for an artificial simplicity's sake (and brevity), I am going to concentrate on the latter. To reiterate for the herbalists: collyries can of course be employed to bolster health or affect one's physickal constituency, but for now we will content ourselves to consider those used to affect magical expression, especially gazing.
So how did such sorcerous eyeshadows and lipsticks work? In order to answer this we need to take a foray into understanding one of the underlying medical, occult, and cosmological models of the pre-modern magic: humoural theory.
But What Even Are A Humourals Theory
Humoural theory formed the central operative European medical model for (at least) one and a half millennia, surviving from ancient Greece well into the early modern period. It was simply one of the most historically embedded, best regarded and most widely used medical models in the early modern period. It charted typologies of personality and behavioural proclivities of emotional expression, and indeed emotional experience. As Nogah Arikha puts it, ‘humoural theory explained most things about a person’s character, psychology, medical history, tastes, appearance, and behaviour.’ [Nogah Arikha, Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours (New York: Harper Collins, 2007), xvii] It is proper to consider humoural theory as a magical principle concerning the organisation of the organic naturally magical cosmos, for the humours were considered the biological corollaries of the four classical elements.
Humoural theory posited substances (literally, ‘moistures’) that ‘controlled the whole existence and behaviour of mankind, and, according to the manner in which they were combined, determined the character of the individual.’ [Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky, and Fritz Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion, and Art (Nendeln: Kraus reprint, 1979), p. 3] Moreover, they linked humans and their environment in that they ‘corresponded, it was held, to the cosmic elements and to the divisions of time’. [Klibansky, Panofsky, and Saxl, p. 3] These cosmic elements, these 'originall grounds of all corporeall things' are of course understood by an occult natural philosophy of what Agrippa calls 'elementated world'. [Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy (London, 1651), 8] These classical four elements were corresponded to the humours: choleric Fire, sanguine Air, phlegmatic Water, and melancholy Earth.
As a brief but important note, the sanguine humour was often called 'blood', but the term could be used to refer to the actual sanguine humour, to the gross carrier liquid of all humours (which is why phlebotomy was thought to void all deleterious humours not just the sanguine ones). Sanguinity could even on occasion refer to 'subtle' sanguine vapours or aerial spirits in the body. Crucially also 'seed' (both male and female) and breastmilk were considered forms of rarified blood. Semen, especially, ‘as Galen had explained, was concocted out of blood’’[ Arikha, p. 164-5. For more on seed and blood, see Lesel Dawson, Lovesickness and Gender in Early Modern English Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 25-6, 85-6, 165-6, 209] This resulted in a further level of association ‘that those that are of a sanguine Complexion, are generally very Amorous’. [James Ferrand, Erotomania or A Treatise Discoursing of the Essence, Causes, Symptomes, Prognosticks, and Cure of Love or Erotique Melancholy (Oxford, 1640), p. 141] There is a rule-of-thumb that dictates that, in a way, prior to the wider acceptance and application of Paracelsian ideas about the organs, that all medical pathology was the study of malfunctioning or 'wounded' blood.
Humoural theory worked with connections between physiological and psychological affectivity in an incorporated and ensouled mind-body subject. It offered discourses for the distempers of the passions to be just as important to physical as to mental health. After all, at least potentially, ‘passions distemper the body, loose the spirits, ingender the humors, and produce diseases’ - moreover, ‘inordinate passion, is [itself] a most sharpe and violent disease: always dangerous and deadly…’ [M.I. Abernethy, A Christian and Heavenly Treatise: containing Physicke for the Soule (London, 1622), p. 264] This was no mere complaint about hysteria: 'the idea that heightened passion causes diseases and even death was common wisdom.’ [Michael MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety, and Healing in Seventeenth Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 181.]
The elements and their humours were apprehended by occult philosophers and astrologers (when those even were distinct personages!) through the elemental 'Triplicities': the four elementally-based groupings of the twelve signs of the zodiac, as when we refer to Aries, Leo and Sagittarius as 'Fire signs'. This created a greater degree of specificity of the elements and humours as apprehended in time, as when the Sun passed through these as the belt of zodiac revolved over the course of a year. What was time after all, mused Proclus (and, crucially, quoted Agrippa), but the movement of the celestial bodies? The wandering stars of the seven classical planets were also afforded elemental and humoural identities and associations, adding to the nuance of astrological diagnosis of humoural imbalances, and indeed to the range of astrological magical interventions, to either down- or up-regulate the humours of oneself or others, to balance or imbalance.
Such planetary humouralism and humoural planetary magic survives fossilised in idiomatic and figurative language to this day: we speak of people as saturnine, or mercurial, or having a sunny disposition, or even of lunacy itself. Such humoural theory did not simply set stringent "personality types", it articulated proclivities to particular experience and expression of passions. As one seventeenth-century passion theorist phrased the relationship, 'Passions ingender Humors, and Humors breed Passions'. [Thomas Wright, The Passions of the Minde in Generall (London, 1601), p. 64.] Such was the passional-humoural feedback loop of expression and habituation: a hot-headed angry Martial person not only lived in an angry world, but made themselves more likely to become angrier more easily. As we shall see, by the porous or "leaky" early modern self, such a choleric feedback might even extend its influence through and beyond the body, breath and speech of the angry person to begin to innervate and galvanise the natural choler of 'elementated world' around them. The angry person makes their world angrier. A stray furious look here, a bitter word there. Ripples in the imaginal fields of affect and contagion.
Express Your Bad Self
The power of the humours - like other occult virtues - could be stirred, gathered, directed and deployed through words and signifying representational images, even images conjured and fixated in the imagination. This was most easily performed with humours and passions by being somewhat predicated on concepts of plethora (excess): from ‘the common Proverbe, ex adundantia cordis os loquitur, from the abundance of the heart, the tongue speaketh’. [Wright, Passions, p. 78-79] One could not help venting humours and passions when one expressed oneself. This welling tide of humours motivates us to speak up or pull a face at all. Indeed, the ex-pressive as well as behavioural affectivity of the passions was founded on the notion of the impassioned ensouled mind-body complex producing and being subject to inordinate unbalancing excesses. Impassioned and passionate, one simply had to get the words out.
Facial expressions, and especially the eyes, were some of the primary means to read and diagnose impassioned states. Yet this very readability also made them an excellent means of transferring passions. The seductive glance conveys a magical image as potentially powerful as any Venusian talisman of a maid holding a comb and mirror. Not only was this because ‘the countenance is the Image of the same’ passion prompting and enacted by it, but due to the origins of affections in the soul; for ‘by the eyes as by a window, you may looke euen into the secret corners of the Soule: so that it was well sayde of Alexander that the eyes are the mirror or Looking-glasse of the Soule.’ [Helkiah Crooke, Mikrocosmographia: A Description of the Body of Man Together with the Controversies Thereto Belonging (London, 1615), p. 8-9] The eyes did not merely convey meaning, but affectivity: the signifier was also the signified. An angry look carried an affective seed of anger itself. Thus a magnifying glass could also be a mirror, and this sense of reflection has a deep occult significance, as the ‘Looking-glasse’ looked both ways. As ‘the Eyes wonder at a thing, they loue it, they desire it; they are the bewrayers of loue, anger, rage, mercie, reuenge: in a worde; The eyes are fitted and composed to all the affections of the minde; expressing the very Image thereof in such a manner’. [Crooke, Mikrocosmographia, p. 9. Emphasis added.] Again, “expression” was a literal as well as figurative term. To think of expressions in both behavioural and idiomatic light, malefic choleric expressions and their dangerous martial qualities are preserved in much modern idiom: the sharp tongue, bitter words, cutting remarks, seeing red, staring daggers.
A particular expression while gazing was not the only way to augment magically affective ‘overlooking’. The clearest example is that of ‘Collyries', magical salves to smear upon the eyes to magnify the effects of fascination. Here is Heinrich Agrippa on their potencies:
‘Collyries, and Unguents conveying the vertues of things Naturall, and Celestiall to our spirit, can multiply, transmute, transfigure and transform it accordingly, as also transpose those vertues which are in them into it, that so it cannot act only upon its own body, but also upon that which is neer it, and affect that by visible rayes charmes, and by touching it, with some like quality. For because our spirit is the subtile, pure lucid, airy, and unctuous vapour of the blood; it is therefore fit to make Collyries of the like vapours, which are more sutable to our spirit in substance, for then by reason of their likeness, they do the more stir up, attract, and transform the spirit. The like virtues have certain ointments and other confections.’ [Agrippa, Three Books of the Occult Philosophy, trans. 'JF' (London, 1651), p. 90]
Such 'Collyries' would be made from ‘the gall of a man’, which was the main depository of yellow bile, and thus powerful for strengthening choleric gazes. Consider the very phrase "having the gall": filling with fiery boldness. Such collyries could also be compounded from animal ingredients, such as ‘the blood of a lapwing, of a bat, and of a goat’. [Agrippa, Three Books, p. 134] These animal components were considered sources of appropriate occult virtue. One reason for this consideration was the idea that humours and passions were regulated by the rational faculties of the human soul, faculties that animals lacked. So the beasts of the earth were considered to express and even, in their use as spell components, enmatter unadulterated humours and passions. Raw feelings, to be marshalled and manipulated. Wolf parts were choleric, as their howling indicated. Cats were melancholy... as their howling also indicated. For more on this fascinating dimension to Shakespearean witches' brews, see Gail Kern Paster's 'Melancholy Cats, Lugged Bears, and Early Modern Cosmology: Reading Shakespeare's Psychological Materialism Across the Species Barrier', in Reading the Early Modern Emotions, edited by Paster, Katherine Rowe, and Mary Floyd-Wilson.
Now, I hope I do not need to state the importance of knowing the chemical and biological as well as magical affectivity of any materials you might chose to use in this manner. I do not wish to speak down to anyone by stating "do not rub random blood into your peepers". But, yknow, maybe don't. There are a wealth of herbs and other ingredients that contain the appropriate occult virtues to work as collyries that won't cause you problems. Consider adapting planetary correspondences for plant allies you already work: choleric humours respond to Solar and Martial virtues; phlegmatic humours to those of Venus and the Moon; jovial Jupiter is considered especially sanguine; and Saturn is well known as the ruler of melancholy. Again, to disclaim, I must strongly advice that if you are pregnant or might be pregnant, do not attempt any working, magical or medicinal, where you are taking herbs or other substances internally or through a mucous membrane like the eyes.
By these means of compounding humourally and passionally-charged materia, the humours expelled through the eyes and the passions expressed, vivified, and received were empowered and amplified by the virtues of these salves and eye-washes: for ‘such like passions also can magical confections induce, by suffumigations, by collyries, by unguents, by potions, by poisons, by lamps and lights, by looking-glasses, by images, enchantments, charms, sounds and music’. [Agrippa, Three Books, p. 135] Such magical eye-washes were not some half-baked tacked-on gimmick; they were as core a part of magical tool use as lamps, images, and incantations.
Yet amplifying the ejection of a sort of astral poison out of one's eyes was not the only use of such preparations. Agrippa goes onto to foreground the importance of sight and vision in terms of the all-too-real magic of the imagination:
'Now the sight, because it perceives more purely and clearly than the other senses, and fastening in us the marks of things more acutely and deeply, doth most of all and before others, agree with the phantastic spirit, as is apparent in dreams, when things seen do more often present themselves to us than things heard, or any thing coming under the other senses. Therefore, when collyries or eye-waters transform visual spirits, that spirit doth easily affect the imagination, which indeed being affected with divers species and forms, transmits the same by the spirit unto the outward sense of sight; by which occasion there is caused in it a perception of such species and forms in that manner, as if it were moved by external objects, that there seem to be seen terrible images and spirits and such like. So there are made collyries, making us forthwith to see the images of spirits in the air or elsewhere...' [Agrippa, Three Books, p. 134]
There is also a strong dimension by which collyries affected the imagination. For ‘when collyries transform visual spirits, that spirit doth easily affect the imagination’ either of oneself – in order to ‘make invocated spirits to be seen’ – or of others, in order to manipulate their senses and passions. (Those interested in magical preparations for seeing spirits might find this blog post compiling grimoiric instructions for such material useful.) These perceptual distortions of the magical gaze upon the overlooked’s imaginations could induce targets to ‘hear horrid, or delectable sounds’ making them ‘angry, and contend, nobody being present, and fear where there is no fear’. [Agrippa, Three Books, p. 134-5] Here occult passion manipulation is working directly on the imagination, through the inducement of impassioned hallucinatory states.
Lest this talk of imagination sound "too psychologising", we should bear in mind Agrippa is also clear that 'by divers rites, observations, ceremonies, religions and superstitions; all which shall be handled in their places. And not only by these kind of arts are passions, apparitions and images induced, but also things themselves, which are really changed and transfigured into divers forms...' The field-like qualities of the pre-modern magical imagination did not mean "it's all in your head". Rather, that something moving through your head (and heart!) - the tides of choleric boldness and anger, phlegmatic fear and hope, sanguine love and lust, and melancholy cogitation - flowed through us, into and out of the world, reminding and reanimating 'elementated' components of the responsive interconnected cosmos of their own natural magic. Nature itself could also be charmed, in this continually unfolding dance of attraction and rebuffing; the inhale and exhale of sympathia and antipathy expressing itself through the actions of a dancefloor or cast shade, variously as majestic and cutting as the turning celestial orbs spinning to the music of the spheres.