The word magic comes from one of three Greek terms, megus meaning ‘great’, magein, which is a reference to Zoroastrianism or magoi, the name of an Irainian Median tribe known to the Greeks and recognized for their magical prowess. Magic can generally be described as a seeking to control events and to cause certain things to come about. Most of us understand magic as divided into two groups – Black and White but magic in itself is neither good nor evil except by intent. In essence, magic is neutral.
The Ancient mindset…
Magic is as old as humanity itself. The ancients believed in both God and magic, which they considered to have been taught to man by God. In olde magic, it was not God that was dealt with but less important spiritual beings who were believed to exist as helpers or assistants carrying out God’s plan. The conjurer or magician did not “ask” for assistance of these beings but rather ordered or demanded assistance. He did so in complete confidence that these entities could not refuse him because he had been given power over them by God. Even though Magic differed greatly from religious practice it had two parts much like religions – ritual and doctrine. The ritual was the actual ceremony performed and the doctrine contained the beliefs upon which the ritual(s) were based.
Words that constituted incantations were extremely important to the magicians of olde. It was the base of the magician’s power in getting spiritual forces to carry out his bidding. Armed with the special power of the right words, this special knowledge gave the magician unlimited power.
And what of the power of words? Consider this quote from occultist Don Papon:
“In Christianity and Judaism, the name of God was kept in secret in the belief that if you knew the name you would then have power to compel God to do your bidding. Because of this tradition, the word Jehovah was never written out in Jewish manuscripts. If this idea seems strange to you, call someone’s name as he walks away from you: you will find that he stops and turns towards you. In that very instant, you exhibited ‘power” over him, did you not?”
As all words used by a magician focused magical power there were several stipulations when choosing the correct words:
- The “sound” of the word had to capture and encapsulate the type of magic performed.
- When logging magical words into a personal grimoire, it was thought to be best to encode the words by writing them backwards.
- A word used too often was believed to lose its potency and power.
- Words used by other magicians were avoided as only personal words created a magician were powerful to that magician.
- Words had to be used in the appropriate manner such as singing, chanting, shouting, whispering or simply spoken vehemently.
Example of a simple banishing spell (by Deborah Blake):
Banish now with spell and will
Banish now with Spirit's grace
Banish now with magick's power
All that's wrong and out of place
Banish now with water's rushing
Banish now with earth's strong might
Banish now for once and all
That which stands against the light
Banish now with fire's heat
Banish now with blowing air
Banish now with root and stone
Pain and illness and despair
Banish all that is not working
Banish all that holds me back
Banish all that seeks to harm me
As I light this candle black
A handbook of magic that provided instructions was and still is known as a grimoire which is French for "grammar book." Technically although any handbook of magic could be called a grimoire, the term originally applied specifically to to texts descended from King Solomon. Most grimoires were written in the 17th and 18th centuries and their popularity extended into the 19th century. They mainly circulated in France and Italy. A grimoire served as a record of spells, evocations, ritual and procurements complete with directions. The actual material was heavily derivative of Hebrew magic and mystical lore including the names of powers, duties of spirits both daemonic and angelic and the names of God. Some grimoires were sourced in Hellenistic Greek and Egyptian magical texts as well as Latin lore. Here is a list of famous grimoires:
- Key of Solomon (also called Greater Key of Solomon and the Clavicle of Solomon)
- Lemegeton or Lesser Key of Solomon
- Testament of Solomon (Greek)
- Grand Grimoire (French)
- Grimorium Verum (French)
- Fourth Book (Henry Cornelius Agrippa)
- Grimoire of Honorius (16th century, first published in Rome 1629)
- Arbatel of Magic (Latin published in Switzerland 1575)
- Theosophia Pneumatica (German 1686)
- Heptameron (Peter of Abano, Italy 1316)
- Little Albert (1772)
- Enchiridion of Pope Leo
- Book of Sacred Magic of Abra-Melon the Mage (1458)
- True Black Magic (Magician Toscraec, 1600s)
- Black Pullet (Egypt 1740)
- Red Dragon (1522)
- Transcendental Magic (attributed to Eliphas Levi, published 1896)
- Book of Black Magic and Pacts (A.E. Waite, 1898)
Magical scripts or secret language was scribed encoded. The magical alphabets were thought to be celestial and given as a gift to adepts.
One of the most well known celestial alphabets in history is the 16th century Enochian Alphabet attributed to occultist and astrologer Dr. John Dee and his psychic associate Edward Kelly.
Dee was a respected scholar in his day but Kelley was a man of ill repute with a well known shady past but with equally well known genuine psychic ability. Dee had confidence in Kelley's abilities and their association lasted for seven years.
Dee’s interest in “angelic magic” began after reading Steganographia by Abbot Trithemius around 1553. His communication with angels began in October of 1581. These were troubled times for Dee who suffered from strange dreams. He was also kept awake by strange knockings throughout the house. It was almost as though certain spirits were trying to contact Dee rather than the other way around.
Dee originally worked with a medium by the name of Barnabas Saul who claimed to see angels in a crystal ball. Dee however was neither convinced nor satisfied with Saul’s work and dismissed him. In 1582, Dee met Edward Kelley - a strange young man of 27 who had been a student but who never acquired a degree. Kelley had been convicted of forgery and was known to engage in necromancy and other magical rituals.
Dee and Kelley held hundreds of séances mainly in England and Poland. In 1583 Kelley allegedly made contact with the Angel Uriel who prophesized the attempt of invasion of England by Spain and also the death of Mary Queen of Scots. These prophecies came to pass in 1587 and 1588. Uriel claimed Enochian was the language spoken in the Garden of Eden and further linguistic teaching ensued. In April of 1587, an angel calling herself Madimi contacted Dee and Kelley with instructions that the two should swap wives. This disturbed Dee who felt that “devils” were impersonating angels and he was reluctant to listen. Madimi it seems was rather persuasive and on May 22 the swap occurred. The event put a great strain on the relationship between Dee and Kelley and they parted ways. Dee gave up his magical practices and returned to England where he died in poverty in 1608. Kelley died abroad under “mysterious circumstances.”
To the ancients, all things that existed had a spiritual and material essence. Everything in creation was also interconnected so magic was believed to exert forces on probabilities manifesting them into the realm of matter. To the Ancient magicians, the only difference between a living thing and that which “appeared not to live” was a difference in spirit. Everything had a spirit. Man was believed to have a spirit and a soul and thus stood above and transcended all things. Man had greater mobility and the opportunity for self consciousness was paid homage by all that was lesser than he yet when it came to magic man had rules. The actions of man were governed by laws and sub-rules in magical doctrine:
The Law of Sympathy states, “A mysterious or spiritual link exists between any thing in the world and any one or more of its parts.” (i.e. a tree and its leaves.)
- Rule of Parts – Even though something is no longer connected to something else, one disconnected part can still affect the other part.
- Rule of Contagion – An article that is close to a person such as a prized personal possession forms a connection to that person and that person can be influenced by another person who steals or becomes in possession of the article by performing magic on it.
The Law of Imitation states, “Because there is a spiritual link between any thing in the world, one can cause spirits to imitate certain acts thereby producing certain phenomena. (i.e. pouring water over an unclothed virgin produced rain.)
- Rule of Three – Evil magic that is cast will rebound on its castor threefold.
On its own, the circle is a powerful symbol standing for strength, union, protection and eternity. A Magic Circle signifies all these things and has the added benefit of being “charged” by various rituals. With hundreds of variations and hundreds of different purposes, it would be impossible to explore every method used in casting the circle but, in general, to the Ancients a Magic Circle demarcated a holy space which protected one from negative forces on the outside and it also facilitated communion with spirits and deities. The Ancient belief that was once inside the circle, transcendent levels of consciousness could be achieved while stepping outside the circle during a ritual meant destruction and possible demise at the hands of other-worldly spirits.
Size, Age and Physique counted…
In some of the older beliefs a practitioner of magic was thought to be more powerful if the age of the magician ranged from 22-26 and then from 30-55. Gender did not matter but fair-haired magicians were thought to be the most powerful especially if they had full lips. A “magical name” was also important especially for the newly initiated and it could be changed as the magician’s status and knowledge grew more powerful.
Numbers, Seals, Signs and Seasons…
Numbers, seals, signs and seasons were important factors in harnessing power. Magicians often relied on the Magic Squares or Kamea whose numbers were keyed into the vibrations of the known planets Sun (animation/Sunday), Moon (transforming/Monday), Mercury (Healing/Tuesday), Venus (affecting/Friday), Mars (defending/Thursday), Jupiter (bringing justice/Wednesday) and Saturn (altering time). These were often incorporated into sigils and amulets of great power. They also might be drawn into the Magic Circle depending upon the intent of the magician. The sigils of Fixed Zodiac signs of Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius were nearly always incorporated into magical works because they were considered the signs of power and strength (and still are considered so).
The Northern constellations, Draco, Cancer and Gemini were thought to have useful associations with spells for protection, dissolution and communication. The Southern constellations Capricorn, Scorpio and Centaurus were thought to have useful associations with spells cast for healing, transformation and intellectualism.
The Cardinal Points of direction, north, south, east, west, and the elementals, Fire, Earth, Air and Water also factored heavily. Associations to the Moon, planetary hours and days helped the magician choose the right time to cast and conjure. Magical objects were generally made from whatever was available usually leather, wood, bone or horn as these could be easily engraved. Those magicians who had the means were lucky and could procure objects cast in silver. Items of gold were very scarce but thought to be extremely powerful due to the high vibration attributed to gold.
Betwixt and Between…
“Magic is the knowledge that teaches the practical application of the lowest forms of nature to the highest laws of spirit.” ~ Occultist Franz Bardon
According to paranormal and mystical author Rosemary Ellen Guilley, magical phenomena exists in the realm of liminality which she identifies as “a blurred borderland that is neither in the material world nor the spiritual world, but in both simultaneously.” She further extrapolates, “Change, transition and transformation are conditions that are conducive to psi and supernatural. Magic ritual – and ritual in general – exposes the ordinary, predictable world to the instability of the luminal world. Strange things happen. The luminal world is considered to be a dangerous, unpredictable one. Individuals such as magicians thus are dangerous because they work in this uncertain world. As adepts they are themselves the agents of change and even chaos."
The art of magic has taken many paths throughout history. Egyptian magic, which included spell casting, divination, Necromancy, dream sending, the making of amulets and talismans, and medical magic has probably had the most important effect upon the development of Western magic. Greek and Roman magic dealt strongly with channeling and ‘sourcing’ of a variety of entities – deities, daimones, celestial intelligences and the dead. The Greeks were especially interested in destiny and paid great homage to oracles and to the condition of Fate as designated by the stars in a horoscope. It was the Greeks who ‘personalized’ astrology by applying the art to the personality of man. Jewish magic adopted and adapted the magical practices of the Canaanites, Babylonians, Egyptians and eventually Hellenistic/Gnostic influences. They believed magic (among other things) was taught to humans by angels known as the Watchers who had fallen from the grace of God. Christian magic emphasized nature such as herbal lore. It also placed emphasis on mystical names.
There are as many different types of magic and combinations of magic as there are magicians with different intent. Among them are Black Magic (malevolent), White Magic (positive), Gray Magic (justified using curses), Ceremonial Magic (ritualistic), Chaos Magic (1960s, Austin Osman Spare, ritualistic and evocative), Liber Null (black arts and altered states of consciousness), Composite Magic (combination of religious influences), High Magic (ceremonial aimed at spiritual enlightenment), Folk Magic (traditional spellcasting and remedies), Practical Magic (applied and psychic), Ritual Magic (Western occult discipline of high ceremonial magic), Sympathetic Magic (distant through connection) and Transcendental Magic (transcendental ritualistic).
Time marches on…
Alchemy entered the mainstream in Europe about the 12th Century. Western alchemy is based upon Hermetic philosophy which states that cosmic forces govern all things in creation and the material world. In essence, the microcosm reflects the macrocosm. In medieval Europe, alchemy was part of medicine and was used not just for curatives but also for any substances that would restore or lengthen life. “True Alchemy” is considered a spiritual pursuit and is concerned with human perfection through enlightenment. True Alchemy was practiced by esoteric orders and brotherhoods such as the Rosicrucians and Freemasons and these groups influenced the development of ritual magic.
The 17th century ushered in a new fangled thing called “science” which explained the events of the world by a popular new set of laws. The interest in magic waned and by the 18th century its prominence was only seen in personal or folk practices. The 19th century brought a revival of magic and with it an array of colorful characters including Eliphas Levi and Gerard Encausse known as “Papus” AND orders such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn which was founded by the Rosicrucians and Freemasons who were familiar with Eastern philosophy as taught by the Theosophical Society. Considerable contribution was made by the infamous Aleister Crowley and his Thelemic Magic. Whenever the word magic is seen being spelled as magick it is because of Aleister Crowley who preferred to spell the word that way in order to distinguish it from the lower forms of magic such as sorcery and spell casting. In the 20th century, magical occult teachings were carried on by "adepts" such as Franz Bardon, William Gray and Israel Regardie. Ceremonial magic literally went underground until the latter part of the 20th century with the upsurge of "new religions" such as Wicca and Paganism. It now seems as though the route of magic has come full circle within its own cycle.
Is magic actually at the root of science? Are contemporary inquiries and methods such as alternative healing, psychical research, quantum physics and chaos theory all based in the rudiments of magic? I’ll leave that up to you reader but it seems it is a small world after all.
So mote it be!