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THE ANTIQUITY OF MAGICAL RITUALS
§ 1. The Importance of Ceremonial Magic.
The ordinary fields of phychological inquiry, largely in possession of the pathologist, are fringed by a borderland of transcendental experiment into which pathologists may occasionally venture, but it is left for the most part to unchartered explorers. Beyond these fields and this borderland there lies the legendary wonder-world of Mysticism, Magic, and Sorcery, a world of fascination or terror, as the mind which regards it is tempered, but in either case the antithesis of admitted possibility. There all paradoxes seem to obtain actually, contradictions logically coexist, the effect is greater than the cause, and the shadow more than the substance. Therein the visible melts into the unseen, the invisible is manifested openly, motion from place to place is accomplished without traversing the intervening distance, matter passes through matter. There two straight lines may enclose a space; space has a fourth dimension, and further possibilities beyond it; without metaphor and without evasion, the circle is mathematically squared. There life is prolonged, youth renewed, physical immortality secured. There earth becomes gold, and gold earth. There words and wishes possess creative power, thoughts are things, desire realises its object. There, also, the dead live, and the hierarchies of extra-mundane intelligence are within easy communication, and become ministers or tormentors, guides or destroyers, of man. There the Law of Continuity is suspended by the interference of the higher Law of Fantasia.
But, unhappily, this domain of enchantment is in all respects comparable to the gold of Faerie, which is presumably its medium of exchange. It cannot withstand daylight, the test of the human eye, or the scale of reason. When these are applied, its paradox becomes an anticlimax, its antithesis ludicrous; its contradictions are without genius; its mathematical marvels end in a verbal quibble; its elixirs fail even as purges; its transmutations do not need exposure at the assayer's hands; its marvel-working words prove barbarous mutilations of dead languages, and are impotent from the moment that they are understood; departed friends, and even planetary intelligences, must not be seized by the skirts, for they are apt to desert their draperies, and these are not like the mantle of Elijah.
The little contrast here instituted will serve to exhibit that there are at least two points of view regarding Magic and its mysteries—the simple and homogeneous view, prevailing within that charmed circle among the few survivals whom reason has not hindered from entering, and that of the world without, which is more complex, more composite, but sometimes more reasonable only by imputation. There is also a third view, in which legend is checked by legend and wonder substituted for wonder. Here it is not the Law of Continuity persisting in its formulae despite the Law of Fantasia; it is Croquemetaine explained by Diabolus, the runes of Elf-land read with the interpretation of Infernus; it is the Law of Bell and Candle, the Law of Exorcism, and its final expression is in the terms of the audo-da-fé. For this view the wonder-world exists without any question, except that of the Holy Tribunal; it is not what it seems, but is adjustable to the eye of faith in the light from the Lamp of the Sanctuaries; in a word, its angels are demons, its Melusines stryges, its phantoms vampires, its spells and mysteries the Black Science. Here Magic itself rises up and responds that there is a Black and a White art, an art of Hermes and an art of Canida, a Science of the Height and a Science of the Abyss, of Metatron and Belial. In this manner a fourth point of view emerges; they are all, however, illusive; there is the positive illusion of the legend, affirmed by the remaining adherents of its literal sense, and the negative illusion which denies the legend crassly without considering that there is a possibility behind it; there is the illusion which accounts for the legend by an opposite hypothesis, and the illusion of the legend by an opposite hypothesis, and the illusion of the legend what literature will prove to rule also in its history; have been disposed of, there remain two really important questions—the question of the Mystics and the question of history and literature. To a very large extent the first is closed to discussion, but, so far as may be possible, it will be dealt with a little later on. As regards the second, it is the sole concern and purpose of this inquiry, and the limits of its importance may therefore be shortly stated.
There can be no extensive literatures without motives proportionate to account for them. If we take the magical literature of Western Europe from the Middle Ages and onward, we shall find that it is exceedingly large. Now, the acting principles in the creation of which reaffirms itself with a distinction. When these what is obscure in the one may be understood by help of the other; each reacted upon each; as the literature grew, it helped to make the history, and the new history was so much additional material for further literature. There were, of course, many motive principles at work, for the literature and history of Magic are alike exceedingly intricate, and there are many interpretations of principles which are apt to be confused with the principles, as, for example, the influence of what is loosely called superstition upon ignorance; these and any interpretations must be ruled out of an inquiry like the present. The main principles are summed in the conception of a number of mysterious forces in the universe which could be put in operation by man, or at least followed in their secret processes. In the ultimate, however, they could all be rendered secondary, if not passive, to the will of man; for even in astrology, which was the discernment of forces regarded as peculiarly fatal, there was an art of ruling, and sapiens dominabitur astris became an axiom of the science. This conception culminated or centred in the doctrine of unseen, intelligent powers, with whom it was possible for prepared persons to communicate; the methods by which this communication was attempted are the most important processes of Magic, and the books which embody these methods, called Ceremonial Magic, are the most important part of the literature. Here, that is to say, is the only branch of the subject which it is necessary to understand in order to understand the history. Had Magic been focussed in the reading of the stars, it would have possessed no history to speak of, for astrology involved intellectual equipments which were possible only to the few. Had Magic centred in the transmutation of metals, it would never have moved multitudes, but would have remained what that still is, the quixotic hope of chemistry. We may take the remaining occult sciences collectively, but there is nothing in them of themselves which would make history. In virtue of the synthetic doctrine which has been already formulated, they were all magically possible, but they were all subsidiary to that which was head and crown of all—the art of dealing with spirits. The presumed possession of the secret of this art made Magic formidable, and made therefore its history. There was a time indeed when Ceremonial Magic threatened to absorb the whole circle of the occult sciences; it was the superior method, the royal road; it effected immediately what the others accomplished laboriously, after a long time. It had, moreover, the palmary recommendation that it was a conventional art, working by definite formulae, a process in words.
It was the fascination of this process which brought men and women—all sorts and conditions of both—to the Black Sabbath and to the White Sabbath, and blinded them to the danger of the stake. It was the full and clear acceptation of this process as effectual by Church and State which kindled the faggots for the magician in every Christian land. Astrology was scarcely discouraged, and if the alchemist were occasionally tortured, it was only to extract his secret. There was no danger in these things, and hence there was no judgment against them, except by imputation from their company; but Magic, but dealing with spirits, was that which made even the peasant tremble, and when the peasant shakes at his hearth, the king is not secure in his palace, nor the Pope at St. Peter's, unless both can protect their own. Moreover, in the very claim of Ceremonial Magic there was an implied competition with the essential claim of the Church.
The importance of Ceremonial Magic, and of the literature which embodies it, to the history of the occult sciences being admitted, there is no need to argue that this history is a legitimate and reasonable study; in such a case, knowledge is its own end, and there can be certainly no question as to the distinguished influence which has been exercised by the belief in Magic throughout the ages. In order, however, to understand the literature of Magic, it is necessary to obtain first of all a clear principle of regarding it. It will be superfluous to say that we must surrender the legends, as such, to those who work in legends and dispute about their essential value. We need not debate whether Magic, for example, can really square the circle, as magicians testify, or whether such an operation is impossible even to Magic, as commonly would be objected by those who deny the art. We need not seriously discuss the proposition that the devil assists the magicians to perform a mathematical impossibility, or its qualified form, that the circle can be squared indifferently by those who invoke the angel Cassiel of the hierarchy of Uriel and those who invoke Astaroth. We shall see very shortly, as already indicated in the preface, that we are dealing with a bizarre literature, which passes, by various fantastic phases, through all folly into crime. We have to account for these characteristics.
The desire to communicate with spirits is older than history; it connects with ineradicable principles in human nature, which have been discussed too often for it to be necessary to recite them here; and the attempts to satisfy that desire have usually taken a shape which does gross outrage to reason. Between the most ancient processes, such as those of Chaldean Magic, and the rites of the Middle Ages, there are marked correspondences, and there is something of common doctrine, as distinct from intention, in which identity would more or less obtain, underlying them both. The doctrine of compulsion, or the power which both forms pretended to exercise even upon superior spirits by the use of certain words, is a case in point. In approaching the Ceremonial Magic of the Middle Ages, we must therefore bear in mind that we are dealing with a literature which, though modern in its origin, embodies some elements of antiquity. It is doubtful whether the presence of these elements can be accounted for on the principle that mankind in all ages works unconsciously for the accomplishment of similar intentions in an analogous way; a bizarre intention, of course, tends independently to be fulfilled in a bizarre manner, but in this case the similarity is so close that it is more easily explained by the perpetuation of an antique tradition, for which channels could be readily assigned. There is one upon the face of the literature, and that is the vehicle of Kabbalistic symbolism.
There are two ways of regarding the large and still unknown literature which embodies the Kabbalah of the Jews, and these in turn will give two methods of accounting for the spurious and grotesque processes which enter so extensively into Ceremonial Magic. It is either a barren mystification, a collection of supremely absurd treatises, in which obscure nonsense is enunciated with preternatural solemnity, or it is a body of symbolism. The first view is that which is formed almost irresistibly upon a superficial acquaintance, and there is not any need to add that it is the one which obtains generally in derived judgments for here, as in other cases, the second-hand opinion issues from the most available source. The alternative judgment is that which prevails among the real students of the literature. From the one it would follow that the Ceremonial Magic which at a long distance draws from the Kabbalah, reproduces its absurdities, possibly with further exaggerations. Two erroneous views have issued from the other—an exaggerated importance attributed to the processes in question on the ground of their exalted connections, and—this however, is rarely met with—an inclination to regard them also as symbolical writing.
There is no ground for the criticism of the first inference, which follows legitimately enough, and is that which will be most acceptable to the majority of readers. Those who value Kabbalistic literature as a symbolism, the inner sense of which is or may be of importance, but see nothing in the processes of Ceremonial Magic to make them momentous in their literal sense or susceptible to interpretation, will be tempted to dismiss them as mediaeval and later impostures, which must be carefully distinguished from the true symbolical tradition. In either case the ceremonial literature is disdainfully rejected.
There is, however, yet another point of view, and it is of some moment, as it connects with that question of the Mystics about which it has been already observed that very little has transpired. All students of occultism are perfectly well aware of the existence in modern times of more than one Mystical Fraternity, deriving, or believed to derive, from other associations of the past. There are, of course, many unaffiliated occultists, but the secret Fraternities exist, and the keys of mystic symbolism are said to be in their possession. From a variety of isolated statements scattered up and down the works of professed occultists in recent years, it is possible to summarise broadly the standpoint of these bodies in respect of Ceremonial Magic. There is no extant Ritual, as there is no doctrine, which contains, or can possibly contain, the secret of mystical procedure or the essence of mystic doctrine. The reason is not because there is, or can reasonably be, any indicible secret, but because the knowledge in question is in the custody of those who have taken effectual measures for its protection; and though, from time to time, some secrets of initiation have filtered through printed books into the world at large, the real mysteries have never escaped. The literature of Magic falls, therefore, under three heads: (a.) The work of adepts, stating as much as could be stated outside the circle of initiation, and primarily designed to attract those who might be ripe for entrance. (b.) The speculations of independent seekers, who, by thought, study, and intuition, sometimes attained valuable results without assistance. (c.) Travesties of mystic doctrine, travesties of mystic intention, travesties of mystic procedure, complicated by filtrations from the superior source.
Most Ceremonial Magic belongs to the third class; the first, by its nature, is not represented; the second only slightly. In a word, Ceremonial Magic reflects mainly the egregious ambitions and incorporates the mad processes of mediaeval sorcery—of the Sabbath above all. The additional elements are debased applications of certain Kabbalistic methods, seering processes current among country people, and fantastic attempts to reduce magical legends to a formal practice.
Whichever of the above views the reader may prefer to adopt, it will be seen that the net result as regards the Rituals is not generically different, that they are of literary and historical interest, but nothing further. For the occultist they will possess, from their associations, an importance which will be of no moment to another student. It is desirable that they should not be undervalued because they have exercised an influence, and they are memorable as curiosities of the past; but it is more desirable still that the weak and credulous should be warned against acting like fools.
§ 2. The Distinction between White and Black Magic.
Having considered the possible stand-points from which the Rituals may be regarded, we come now to the distinctions that are made between them, and, first and foremost, to that instituted between White and Black Magic. The history of this distinction is exceedingly obscure, but there can be no question that in its main aspect it is modern, that is to say, in so far as it depends upon a sharp contrast between Good and Evil Spirits. In Egypt, in India, and in Greece, there was no dealing with devils in the Christian sense of the expression; Typhon, Juggernaut, and Hecate were not less divine than the gods of the over-world, and the offices of Canidia were probably in their way as sacred as the peaceful mysteries of Ceres.
Excerpted from THE BOOK OF BLACK MAGIC by Arthur Edward Waite. Copyright © 2013 Arthur Edward Waite. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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PART I THE LITERATURE OF CEREMONIAL MAGIC
CHAPTER I The Antiquity of Magical Rituals
CHAPTER II The Rituals of Transcendental Magic
CHAPTER III Composite Rituals
CHAPTER IV The Rituals of Black Magic
PART II THE COMPLETE GRIMOIRE
CHAPTER I The Preparation of the Operator
CHAPTER II The Initial Rites and Ceremonies
CHAPTER III Concerning the Descending Hierarchy
CHAPTER IV The Mysteries of Goetic Theurgy According to the Leaser Key of
Solomon the King
CHAPTER V Concerning the Mystery of the Sanctum Regnum, or the Government
of Evil Spirits; Being the Rite of Conjuration According to the Grimorium
CHAPTER VI The Mysteries of Infernal Evocation According to the Grand
CHAPTER VIII Miscellaneous and Minor Processes
Posted March 5, 2003
This book is not an instruction manual on how to practice evil. The author, in fact, debunks magic. The book is divided into two parts: the first discusses the history of grimoires in Europe and the author debunks black magic practices, the second part is actual text from some of these grimoires and is somewhat tedious reading. Yet, students of religion and history will find it an interesting historical document.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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