Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 12, Vol. 2. Vernal Equinox 2007

Appendix I: Some Brief Thoughts on John Dee’s Tuba Veneris

by Phil Legard

Libellus Veneris Nigro Sacer, or Tuba Veneris, may well be said to be a minor text of the ritual magic tradition. However, in spite of its dubious attribution to John Dee, brevity and obscurity I believe it to be most worthy of study. It appears to be a perfect example of the employment of the system of magical correspondences between planets, numbers, herbs and sigils that flourished during the Renaissance after the work of Agrippa. It is also an enigmatic work – the language used in the rituals appears to be unique to the text, as is the concept of the Black Venus, whose image adorns the title page with an almost archetypal resonance.

Whether the Tuba Veneris is the work of John Dee or not, I will let the reader decide. As will be indicated below, there are some similarities. There is a similar fascination with number and even the possibility of it being a cryptographic text in a similar vein to Trithemius’ Steganographia (another interest of Dee’s). The book makes passing reference to ‘lifting hidden treasure,’ another of Dee’s pursuits. Finally the book is dated June 4th, 1580, London. From his Private Diary it seems that Dee was indeed in London at that date. This is also one year before his experiments with angels and Edward Kelly would begin.

The Black Venus
The title page depicts the figure of Venus standing on an appropriately verdant piece of land, adorned by a black and red cloak. In one hand she holds a scroll bearing her seals, in the other a trumpet – the chief magical implement employed in the ritual that follows.

Elsewhere in the work, the author refers to this picture as “a certain image representing the figure of this planet [Venus].” This is an important indication of the author’s relationship with Venus. The Venus being referred to in the text is not the goddess of pagan civilization, but a talismanic image – an expression of the influence of the planet Venus. Control over the daemons of Venus occurs through the agency of Anael, the angel of the Venereal sphere, rather than via the goddess, who is never explicitly referred to. This approach seems reminiscent of Ficino’s relation to the Orphic Hymns, which were sung to attract stellar influence, rather than to attract the favour of the pagan divinities to who they were originally composed.

Similar planetary images may be found in Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy and the Picatrix, amongst other sources.[1] Although many sources refer to the talismanic image of Venus as being a maiden[2] none of the common sources describe an image of Venus as having a black mantle, nor any of the other implements she is shown with in the Tuba Veneris frontispiece. The appellation of ‘Black Venus’ is a mystery – it may indicate the stygian nature of the daemons involved, or the fact that the ritual is to take place at night. Perhaps it is derived from the cult epithet of Aphrodite Philopannyx – “Night-loving,” or “Lover of all the night”. This epithet occurs in the Orphic Hymn to Aphrodite, which the author would have known the Latin translation if he was at all familiar with the work.[3] Additionally, in his Guide to Greece composed in the second century AD, Pausanias mentions an Aphrodite Melaina – the “Black Aphrodite” – so called “due to the fact that men do not, as the beasts do, have sexual intercourse always by day, but in most cases by night.”[4]

One of the most striking aspects of the Tuba Veneris are the numerological characteristics. The text is dominated by instances of the number six. Although the number seven is most often associated with Venus, the author has obsessively structured his work around the number six: the seal is six-sided, there are six daemons and the circle is six feet in diameter, and so on. The only other magical text with a comparable numerological obsession is the Heptarchia Mystica – a magical work undoubtedly by Dee, which uses a sevenfold scheme throughout. However, the Tuba Veneris goes further than the Heptarchia in its meticulous employment of number.

The notion of six as a Venereal number is recorded in Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy. In his discussion of the numbers ascribed to the gods ‘by the Pythagoreans’, Agrippa states:

The number six, which consists of two threes, as a Commixtion of both sexes, is by the Pythagoreans ascribed to generation, and marriage, and belongs to Venus, and Juno.[5]

By "a Commixtion of both sexes" Agrippa is pointing out that six is either the multiplication of the first "masculine" number (three) and the first "feminine" number (two), or that it is the addition of those numbers with number one, which was considered sexless – the monad, or unit, template for all other numbers. This Pythagorean notion of odd numbers as masculine and even numbers as feminine was recorded in part five of Aristotle’s Metaphysics:

…there are ten principles, which they arrange in two columns of cognates-limit and unlimited, odd and even, one and plurality, right and left, male and female, resting and moving, straight and curved, light and darkness, good and bad, square and oblong.[6]

It’s worth noting that this system of binary correspondences, along with Theon of Smyrna’s writing on the quaternary are the ancient templates for the systems of occult correspondences that flourished in the Hermeticism of the Renaissance. Most notable among these the tables in Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy (1531) and the later collection of magical correspondences, derivative of Agrippa, presented in de Bry’s Magical Calendar (1620).

The number three seems to play a part of secondary importance in the text. For example, with the exception of Amabosar, the daemons mentioned in the text have names consisting of three syllables – the possible significance of which will be explained in a moment.

Classical Influence
The influence of the Renaissance rebirth of classical learning is profoundly marked in the text, setting it apart from the Medieval Judeo-Christian atmosphere of earlier grimoires. For example, the author specifies that the Seal of Venus should be engraved upon Cyprian copper, an allusion to the classical myth that Aphrodite was born at sea and came ashore at Cyprus.[7]

Furthermore, the author demonstrates his classical learning during the consecration of the magical book, or Liber Spirituum, for which he has composed three verses in the Sapphic style. Despite the author seeming to pay little heed to the prosody of the Sapphic form, and one of the lines being too long, this verse is still something of a novelty in the realm of grimoire literature, which usually prefer more utilitarian forms of writing. Since Sappho was best known for her erotic lyrics, the Sapphic verse-form would be appropriate for Venereal ritual.

In the light of this, perhaps there is a numerological significance for the name Amabosar having one more syllable than the other, three-syllable, daemon names. This means that the total number of syllables in the daemonic names comes to 19 (3+3+3+3+3+4). 19 multiplied by 6 is 114 – the number of syllables in three Sapphic verses. This may, however, be coincidence – such are the difficulties of analysing works of this nature.

Relation to Other Magical Literature
The influence of earlier grimoires and magical practices is also evident. The Book of the Spirits, or Liber Spirituum, is mentioned in the Key of Solomon amongst others. However, the author’s description of the book has similarities what the process described in The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, attributed to Agrippa. Both the Tuba Veneris and the Fourth Book mention the Liber Spirituum as containing the names, invocations and seals of the spirits. Agrippa also mentions binding the book between two curious talismans, presumably indicative of divine power over the spirits.[9] The author of the Tuba Veneris suggests using the "character" (probably the double-sided hexagonal seal) of Venus on the book, presumably with a similar purpose in mind.

The author’s instruction to bury the magical implements "in the earth next to the powers of flowing water," until such time as they are required is significant – it is an instruction to put the items in a place of Venereal influence. Agrippa provides a list of places which are ascribed to the planets, amongst them:

To Venus, pleasant fountains, green Meadows, flowrishing [flourishing] Gardens, garnished beds, stews [brothels] (and according to Orpheus) the sea, the sea shore, baths, dancing-places, and all places belonging to women.[9] (my italics)

The association of water with Venus again harkens back to the classical mythology surrounding the birth of Aphrodite – the goddess was born from foam when Uranus’ genitals were cut off and cast into the sea by his son, Kronos.[10]

As with the Liber Spirituum, the trumpet is not a unique ritual device, but is found elsewhere in ritual magic literature. One is used in the Key of Solomon as a preparation for the conjuration of the spirits, where it is blown to the "four quarters of the Universe". Similarly, the Seal of Venus is analogous to the Pentacle of Solomon employed in the Goetia. In both the Goetia and Tuba Veneris, the magician wears the pentacle while carrying out the ritual operations. Also both texts employ the use of heat in conjunction with the sigil of a spirit as a form of torture to encourage it to appear, or to discipline it if unruly.

The circle too is typical of the bulk of grimoire literature, containing three bands with the following words derived from Judeo-Christian formulae:

(e.g. "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews", or I.N.R.I.)

The circle is divided into four quarters, its fourfold nature reflected in the use of the names of the four angels of the cardinal points and the four evangelists. Interestingly the order of the names do not correspond to the orders given in Agrippa or in other sources with which I am familiar. For example, proceeding clockwise from the north, De Bry’s Magical Calendar gives the orders Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Michael for the angels and the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for the evangelists. It seems as though the names attributed to the south and west have been exchanged for some reason.

Many of the ingredients used by the author can be traced back to the work of Agrippa, or further to Liber Juratus. The fumigation contains elements all found in book I, chapter xxviii of Occult Philosophy, while the dove, a feather of which is used to write the Liber Spitiuum, is associated with Venus in Agrippa’s table of correspondences for the number seven.[11]

It seems probable that another of the sources which the author consulted was some variant on the Magical Calendar, published by Theodor de Bry in 1620, which was mentioned above. The calendar is a synthesis of Agrippa’s magical correspondences and other material from Paracelsus, pseudo-Agrippa and manuscripts contemporary with those authors. The calendar presents a set of seven very interesting seals relating to the planets, which seem to increase in complexity as they progress from Saturn to Luna.

Fig. 1. Planetary seals from the de Bry Magical Calendar (1620)[12]

The Seal of Venus prescribed in the Tuba Veneris contains a version of the sigil enclosed on the heptagon above, along with the sigil of the angel Anael as described in the Heptameron and the Liber Juratus. As an aside it may be worth noting that the Liber Juratus, which is the earlier of these sources (13C) seemingly refers to the sign as being that of all the Venereal angels, rather than specifically belonging to Anael.

Fig. 2. The sigil and signs of the angel of Venus, from Turner’s translation of the Heptameron (1654)[13]

The Seal of Venus also contains signs described by the Magical Calendar as "characters of the planets". These characters were created by connecting the dots that compose each of the sixteen figures of Geomancy. The characters of Venus, corresponding to the Geomantic signs of Puella and Amissio are imprinted on the Seal of Venus, along with a third uncertain character. This character may be a miscopied version of Amissio, missing the upper dot, or it may indicate the Geomantic sign of Conjunctio, usually attributed to Mercury. The latter theory seems doubtful since the extant lists of planetary characters do not have any matching sigils for Conjunctio. Additionally instances of the character relating to Amissio being miscopied are not unknown, for example The Key of Solomon preserved in Lansdowne 1203 misses the dot above the main body of the character.[14]


Fig. 3. Geomantic signs relating to Venus and their symbolic renderings.

The Geomantic signs also find their way into the sigils of the six daemons, along with the other elements that compose the Seal of Venus, such as the astrological symbols for Venus and her related constellations – Taurus and Libra.

Magia Ordinis
There is one magical text with some very similar attributes to the Tuba Veneris. It is a very short work entitled Magia Ordinis, attributed to one Johannes Kornreutheri (Johann Kornritter), an Augustinian Prior. The date of authorship is allegedly 1515, although the entry for the manuscript version held by the Wellcome Institute dates it to the early 18th century.[15]

Some of the methods presented are strangely familiar. As in the Tuba Veneris, the circle is made using virgin parchment. A white dove is mentioned, but this time its blood is used, rather than just a feather! Most tantalizingly, of the five spirits dealt with in Magia Ordinis, two have curiously familiar names:

Tuba Veneris
Magia Ordinis
Amabosar Azabhsar
Mephgazub Mebhhazubb

Each spirit also has an associated seal and invocation in an unknown language, however these are completely different from those of the Tuba Veneris, as a comparison:

Tuba Veneris
Magia Ordinis
Mephgazub! Mephgazub! Mephgazub! Samanthros Jaramtin Algaphonteos Zapgaton Osachfat Mergaim Hugal Zerastan Alcasatti Mephgazub! Mephgazub! Mephgazub! Heliwath chaloi sebwo Kigim gemina dileber Tametudh Sedim in Dumach Suzeges Kaessil time hames gud Kose puditnegh Logelatz chineren so sizen.

Fig. 4. Comparison of the seals and invocations of Mephgazub/Mebhazubb.[16]

A possible Steganographic text?
This we’ll turn to one of the most enigmatic aspects of the text. The sigils of the daemons are accompanied by their conjurations – strings of "barbarous" words, which seem unique to the text. There are none of the familiar formulae of Judeo-Christian magic in these conjurations. Perhaps this is the "language that is not typical and is indeed unknown to us mortals," which the author mentions in his preface – an angelic tongue. Dee was of course notorious for his work with angels and the codification of the "Enochian" language.

There is, however, also the possibility that the conjurations are a cipher – an example of Steganographia, or "Hidden Writing", an area in which Dee was also particularly interested and the study of which went in and out of vogue during the course of the Renaissance.

There are some parallels that may be drawn between the Tuba Veneris and Trithemius’ Steganographia – a work which Dee had a deep interest in and went to great lengths to procure, which he did in 1562. Both works use invocations consisting of seemingly made-up words. Also, the works give little indication of the particular talents allocated to each spirit, instead speaking about them in general terms. The Tuba Veneris tells us that the spirits are useful in the following ways:

…for lifting hidden treasures, for Navigating, Trade, war, and other ways likewise where the Spirit can be of service to you. Practice and experience will teach a lot.

These are all areas to which cryptography may be applied, as well as magic. Trithemius applies his Steganographic "spirits" (e.g. modes of ciphering secret messages) to similar situations. For example: a prince planning the overthrow a city turns to the Steganographic spirits in order to aid him; a discoverer of treasure wishes to notify trustworthy friends to help him remove it; and so on.[17]

However, attempts to apply the cryptographic techniques of Trithemius’ Steganographia to the mysterious conjurations in the Tuba Veneris have been unsuccessful. If the conjurations are not examples of cryptography then it is possible that they may have been derived by some kind of mechanical method for purely magical purposes. An example of such a technique would be a table of words or letters that creates permutations of a single word (as detailed in the various Cabalistic tables for discovering the names of astrological spirits in Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy).[18] There is also a curious relationship between the number of syllables in each conjuration, tabulated here, which may provide some clue to the inner workings of the grimoire:

Syllable Count
Amabosar 41
Belzazel 42
Alkyzub 44
Falkaroth 45
Mephgazub 46
Mogarip 47

Possibly the above does indicate a numerological or cryptographic mystery here to be solved – or perhaps these words are indeed unknown to us mortals.

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AGRIPPA, H.C. 1651. Three Books of Occult Philosophy, translated by J.F., edited by Donald Tyson. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.

ARISTOTLE. Metaphysics. Internet Classics Archive, retrieved on March 9, 2007. Available:

GUTHRIE, K.S., 1987. The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes Press.

MCLEAN, A, 1995, Database of Alchemical Manuscripts – Wellcome Instituted. Retrieved on March 9, 2007. Available:

MCLEAN, A., 1994. The Magical Calendar. Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes Press.

PETERSON, J. (ed.), n.d. The Veritable Clavicles of Solomon. Retrieved on March 9, 2007. Available:

TAYLOR, T., 1792. The Hymns of Orpheus. Retrieved on March 9, 2007. Available:

TRITHEMIUS, J., n.d. Steganographia, translated by Christopher Upton, edited by Adam McLean. Edinburgh, Scotland: Magnum Opus Hermetic Sourceworks.

TURNER, R., 1654. The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy. Kila, MT: Kessinger Publishing.



[1] For example, Agrippa, II.xxxvii-xliv.

[2] For example, Agrippa, II.xlii.

[3] For an example of this in translation see Taylor, Hymn 55.

[4] This reference from:

[5] Agrippa (1651), II.xxi.

[6] Aristotle, Metaphysics, part v.

[7] For an account of this, see Hesiod, Theogony, lines 185-195.

[8] Turner, pp.57-8.

[9] Agrippa, I.xlviii.

[10] Hesiod, Theogony, lines 185-195.

[11] Agrippa, II.x.

[12] McLean 1994, pp.62-74.

[13] Turner, p.99.

[14] See the section entitled ‘Caracteres de Venus’ in Peterson. Helpfully this also shows a comparison with the de Bry sigils.

[15] McLean, 1995.

[16] Taken from an electronic copy of Magia Ordinis – unkown provenance (probably from F.W. Lehmberg (ed.) CEREMONIAL-MAGIE I: 22 Hauptwerke mittelalterlicher Magie). No longer online.

[17] Examples from Trithemius, chapters V and XI.

[18] Agrippa, III. Xxvii.

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