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Ars Notoria: The Little Ritual of the Saffron and Rosewater Tea

Updated: Jul 30, 2023

“Specifically, on that very Friday, at the dawn of the day, you must take up your four [laurel] leaves, and with saffron mixed with rosewater in some new vessel [which is made as a hot tea], you must write [the four names of the angels who govern the notory art using the saffron paste and quill pen onto the four leaves, a single name for each leaf] . . . Having done these things in this way, fill your cup from the clear, pure, and clean water, and take the first leaf on which you wrote the first name and place it in the cup, and with the fingers strongly rub the leaf with water on that side on which the name is written in such a way that no vestiges of the name remain behind . . . [allowing the saffron and occult virtues of the angels to dissolve in the water, and then do this same thing with the other three leaves] . . .Having completed these, you must take the cup, and with great devotion, drink a little from that water, and after the drink you say once, “Teach me goodness, discipline, and knowledge, because I have believed in your commandments [Psalms 119:66, Hebrew letter teth, (NRSV)].”

--- Ars Notoria, Section 126e Gloss (my translation from the Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon, Inner Traditions, 2023)

The Ars Notoria instructs the operator to conduct a little ritual of drinking a saffron and rosewater tea as part of the greater ritual procedure in preparation for obtaining scholastic knowledge by petitioning the angels. The little ritual of drinking the saffron and rosewater tea is an integral part of the operator’s morning ritual, and by drinking this concoction, the operator infuses his or her own body and spirit with the essential elements to attract the angels and draw their favor. I classify the little ritual under phase 2: the three-day opening ritual procedure in my book. The little ritual is featured in Version A2 manuscripts as part of the “capitulum penultimum (penultimate chapter)” and Version B manuscripts as part of the glossed section called “the compendium.” Although the Ars Notoria does not clearly state it, it implies that the saffron and rosewater drink should be made as a hot tea. This only makes sense when one decides to make the concoction. The hot water is used to bleed out the color from the roses and activate the saffron’s aroma and color. The saffron’s color is needed as the “ink” with which to write upon the laurel leaves. Furthermore, adding the leaves to the tea would activate its health benefits to aid in digestion, as the operator will be fasting. Rosewater has antioxidants, which help reduce stress and boost one’s mood. Saffron is also a mood enhancer, promotes learning, and improves memory. Here I will explain how to conduct this little ritual, including its timing, required materials, the making of the tea, and provide a brief commentary.

The Making of the Saffron and Rosewater Tea

The little ritual must begin on the thirteenth day of the fifteen days of penitence which I mark as phase 1. The thirteenth day must also be a Friday, and it preferable that that Friday is close to a new moon, which begins phase 3. The finer details of timing the greater ritual is thoroughly explained in my book, Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon (Inner Traditions, 2023).

The little ritual requires four laurel or bay leaves, a new glass cup, saffron, organic dried rose petals,[1] clean water, and a new writing instrument such as a quill pen. For the making of the rosewater, you will also need a heating element such as a stove and a large pot with a lid for cooking the dried rose petals. It is also preferrable to use ice and a small stainless-steel bowl to fit inside the large pot in order to distill the essence of the dried rose petals. For preparing the saffron, you will need the pot, clean water, and a mortar and pestle. In practice, it makes more sense to prepare the saffron before making the rosewater.

Directions for Preparing the Saffron and Laurel Leaves

Step 1: Take a pinch of saffron threads (0.03g) and soak them in tepid water overnight. This will draw the flavor and color out of the saffron; it will emit a strong aroma when ready.

Step 2: Crush the saffron threads using a mortar and pestle.

Step 3: Place the saffron in hot water for 10 to 20 minutes, but do not boil.

Step 4: Store saffron in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. It has a shelf life of about 2–3 years.

Step 5: Gather enough laurel leaves to last the entire duration of the greater ritual. Dried bay-laurel leaves last one to three years and are best stored in a sealed container. The Ars Notoria says you may substitute laurel leaves for either date palm or olive leaves, but these do not make sense mythologically speaking (explained further below). Also, it does not seem practical to have to throw away the laurel leaves and get new ones for every drink, as the operator will be drinking this concoction quite regularly for an extended period of time. The Ars Notoria’s recommendation to use new laurel leaves every time seems very purist in my opinion.

Ritual prep: When you are ready to make the concoction, take a new quill pen, dip it in a pool of heated saffron, and write the angel names upon the laurel leaves, one name per leaf. The four names of the four ruling angels of the notory art are (in order): Hagnadam, Merabor, Hamiladei, and Pesiguaguol.

Directions for Making the Rosewater

Option A (the preferred method)

Step 1: Place the rose petals inside the pot and pour in enough water to cover them. Set the small stainless-steel bowl in the center of the pot. Elevate the bowl such that the rim is higher than the water level.

Step 2: Cover the large pot with its lid upside down. Bring it to a boil.

Step 3: Once the water is boiling, place the ice on top of the lid. Condensation will drip into the stainless-steel bowl, leaving pure rose water. Reduce heat to a simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the small bowl is full of rose water. Add more ice as needed, ensuring there is still enough water over the rose petals.

Step 4: Pour rose water into a drinking glass. Add the saffron water. Optionally, add a little sugar or fruit juice to make the tea more palatable.

Ritual prep: Ideally, the saffron and rosewater tea would be made first thing in the morning. After having written the names on the laurel leaves with the saffron “ink”, use your fingers to rub the saffron off the leaves into the rosewater, thereby dissolving the saffron and the occult virtues of the angelic names into the rosewater. Drink once in the morning, and then recite Bonitatem, etc. (i.e., Psalm 119:66 (NRSV)) four times. Then pray and carry on according to the greater ritual procedures of the Ars Notoria.

Option B

Another option for preparing the rose water is to simply boil the rose petals in a pot, and then strain out the rose petals (use a strainer), pouring the rose water into a drinking glass. However, this method does not produce pure rose water.

This recipe makes one-serving-size cup of tea (500 ml) and its shelf life is about one month. Store rosewater in a dry, cool place; it can be refrigerated for a longer shelf life. Also, it can be poured in ice trays and kept frozen.

The Lore behind the Saffron and Rosewater Tea

Saffron comes from the crocus flower that originated in parts of Asia Minor, Iran, and Persia. Islamic expansionists brought it to the Byzantine Empire via the Silk Road. Therefore, saffron would likely have been imported to northern Italy were the Ars Notoria arose in the late twelfth or early thirteenth centuries. Saffron is a highly prized spice, and its cultivation is laborious, making it very expensive.

Rosewater is created through the distillation of rose petals in steaming water. Pure drinkable rose water is made by adding the distilled essence to water. It has a Persian origin and has also reached the medieval Byzantine Empire via the Silk Road. The tenth-century Persian physician, Avicenna (980–1037), prescribes rosewater for medicinal uses, which are described in the fourth book of his Canon of Medicine. Knowledge of cultivating roses comes from the tenth-century book collection of agricultural lore known as the Geoponika, which was dedicated to Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus in Constantinople. The Geoponika was compiled from earlier sources and adapted for the Byzantine gardener.[2] Because of rosewater’s pleasant fragrance, it was used for handwashing at grand feasts, and physicians would prescribe it to treat ailments.[3] Rosewater’s popularity grew and eventually reached Europe during the Crusades. This timing is relevant, though circumstantial, to the advent of the Ars Notoria as the Venetians sacked Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade.

The idea of writing upon plant leaves for magical purposes is an ancient world practice, and the Greco-Egyptian magic tradition is especially relevant to the Western tradition.[4] The Geoponika tells the Greek myth of Apollo and Daphne, and how Daphne was transformed into a bay tree. Apollo is the god of the sun and light, prophecy and truth. Astonished at the sight of Daphne as a tree, Apollo took a sprig of bay leaf, crowned himself, and thus from that time the plant became a symbol of divination. The Geoponika points out that both Apollo and the bay tree are of a hot, fiery nature and so are hated by demons who take flight at the sight of them. Diviners are said to burn laurel leaves in order to prognosticate about future events.[5] This mythological lore agrees well with the astrological prescriptions recorded in the Ars Notoria (section 147) for when it is favorable to learn certain subjects, as many of the prescribed zodiac signs are of a hot and fiery nature, and much of the learning for these subjects is recommended during the summer months. Saffron and red roses are warming colors, which further suggest that the fiery element will help spark and ignite the operator’s mind for optimal learning. Thus, the little ritual of drinking the saffron and rosewater tea carries a fiery element for illuminating the mind and spirit of the operator right as the Sun dawns upon the earth, providing a great start to an operation of angelic magic and the art of memory.

Photo credit: Steve Oser.

[This article is an expansion upon a passage from my Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon (Inner Traditions, 2023).]

This digital edition by Matthias Castle, Copyright 2023. All rights reserved.

Please do not copy this text to your website, or for any purpose other than private use.

Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon translated by Matthias Castle, published by Inner Traditions International and Bear & Company, © 2023. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of publisher.

[1] Never use commercially grown roses as the chemicals and pesticides will go into the drinking water; only use organic or homegrown roses. This information is provided for educational purposes only. Readers who choose to pursue these directions do so entirely at their own risk, and are urged to use discretion, to be aware of the potential risks involved in these directions, and to consult with the appropriate professionals before making any attempt to follow through on these directions. I am not responsible or liable with respect to any loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused by reading or following any of the instructions in this blog entry or my book. [2] Geoponika: Agricultural Pursuits, vol. 2, trans. Thomas Owen (London, 1806). [3] Adamson, Melitta Weiss. Food in Medieval Times, Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004. [4] See the Greek Magical Papyri, PGM 1.232–47. Betz, Hans Dieter, ed. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells, 2nd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. [5] Geoponika: Agricultural Pursuits, 2.11.2.

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