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A Concise History of the Black Artsâ?"and Those Who Dared to Practice Them
By Robert Masello
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Robert Masello
All rights reserved.
BLACK MAGIC AND SORCERY
I hereby promise the Great Spirit Lucifuge, Prince of Demons, that each year I will bring unto him a human soul to do with as it may please him, and in return Lucifuge promises to bestow upon me the treasures of the earth and fulfill my every desire for the length of my natural life. If I fail to bring him each year the offering specified above, then my own soul shall be forfeit to him.
Signed_____________________[Invocant signs pact with his own blood.]
"The Complete Book of Magic Science," unpublished manuscript in the British Museum
In the West, he has gone by many names. Magus, sorcerer, wizard, magician. We know him best as a figure in a long robe, bespangled with stars, wearing a pointed hat and a long white beard, wielding a magic wand. He is the master of the occult world and its invisible forces, able to call up storms, cast spells, defy nature, and make all things do his bidding.
But the true origins of the magus lie in the East, in the ancient empire of Persia.
There, the magi, or wise men, were the high priests, the interpreters of the wisdom of Zoroaster. Our word "magic" is derived from their name. They were revered for their profound learning and for their gift of prophecy; rulers consulted them on everything from matters of personal health to great affairs of state. In their own temples, built on the highest mountaintops, the magi made the search for truth their chief aim; to that end, they studied the sky and the stars and made sacrifices to the elements. Because they believed in the transmigration of souls, they generally abstained from eating any kind of meat.
The wise men who brought their gifts to the infant Jesus were magi from the Orient: named Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, they were, according to some theologians, master astrologers who, after following the star to Bethlehem, abandoned their pagan beliefs. (And, if legend is to be believed, their bones are now interred in Cologne Cathedral.)
Over the centuries, and with the gradual decline of the Persian empire, the wisdom of the magi made its way westward. Soldiers who survived the Crusades brought back with them news, and bits of arcane lore, from the eastern lands; trade routes were forged and frequently traveled among the Mediterranean nations. What the magi had begun, European magicians quickly adopted and developed. But they added to it their own mystical precepts and philosophy, culled from the Jewish Cabbala and early Christian theology. It was a curious but potent brew, a mix of alchemy and chemistry, metallurgy and medicine, astrology, anatomy, divination, metaphysics. It was all things thrown together, an amalgam out of which the magicians hoped to extract answers to all things mysterious. "Magic," Paracelsus wrote, "has power to experience and fathom things which are inaccessible to human reason. For magic is a great secret wisdom, just as reason is a great public folly."
Each man, it was believed, was a miniature cosmos, replicating in his own constitution the natural order and affected, at the same time, by the larger universe he inhabited—the motions of the planets and stars, the winds that blew and the rain that fell, the changing of the seasons. The magus, it was thought, could work his wonders in two ways. First, by controlling and directing his own inner forces, he could project his will and desires outward, influencing the actions of others. At the same time, he could call down, or invoke from the outside, powers and intelligences that he could then use to effect his own aims. Agrippa von Nettesheim, one of the greatest magicians of the sixteenth century, described the magus as one "who has cohabited with the elements, vanquished Nature, mounted higher than the heavens, elevating himself to the archetype itself with whom he then becomes co-operator and can do all things."
Eliphas Lévi, sometimes called the last of the magi, wrote in 1855 The Doctrine and Ritual of Magic. In it, he offered anyone wishing to pursue the occult some critical advice: "To attain the sanctum regnum, in other words, the knowledge and power of the magi, there are four indispensable conditions—an intelligence illuminated by study, an intrepidity which nothing can check, a will which nothing can break, and a discretion which nothing can corrupt and nothing intoxicate. TO KNOW, TO DARE, TO WILL, TO KEEP SILENCE—such are the four words of the magus."
But success could prove dangerous. Even if the magus met all the requirements, both personal and professional, he could still find himself in deep trouble. If, for instance, he summoned up infernal forces that he was not able to control, either through the strength of his imagination or through his magical techniques, he ran the risk of being overpowered by them. The spirits of the dark were never noted for their charity. In the batting of an eye, the magus could lose his life and, if he really wasn't careful, his immortal soul to boot.
THE SACRED CIRCLE
The circle has always held great meaning for magicians and mystics, philosophers and priests, alchemists and astrologers. The simple act of drawing a circle around something or someone was often considered a means of protecting it from outside forces of evil. If someone fell ill in ancient Babylon, a circle was drawn around the sickbed to defend the patient from the demons who were presumably preying upon him; in medieval Germany, Jews did the same when a woman was giving birth, just to make sure no mischievous spirits got into the act. When Roman emissaries were sent to deliver news (or ultimatums) to foreign rulers, they drew a circle around themselves with the base of their staff to symbolize that they should be immune from retribution. Even prehistoric societies revered the circle, as the circular stone monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury attest.
Why? What gives the circle such a powerful reputation? In part, it is the figure's simplicity; the circle is, at once, capable of circumscribing anything and everything, and at the same time it contains nothing. At its center it is a hole. Over time, and in many disparate cultures, the circle has become a symbol of the unity, the oneness, of all things, a single line that seemingly has no beginning and no end, a figure that can suggest everything from the eternal to the idea of perfection.
Alchemists used a symbol they called the ourobouros. A circle formed by the image of a dragon or a serpent swallowing its own tail, this mystical symbol sometimes carried the Greek phrase En to Pan, or "All is One." Using the kind of numerology at which alchemists were so skilled, they counted the three words in the Greek phrase, the seven letters of which the words were comprised, and then added them together to get 10—a number that itself was thought to mean "all things." Not only does 10 mark the completion of the primary numbers, it is also made up of a 1 and a 0; add a 1 and a 0 and what you get, again, is a 1. Many a learned treatise was written to elaborate on all this.
Magicians used the circle for a couple of different reasons. On the one hand, by drawing a circle and remaining inside it, the magician thought it would be easier to marshal and concentrate his powers. The circle would keep the unseen energies from running off every which way. But more important, the circle would also provide a protective barrier against the infernal forces his incantations might summon up. The demons outside could gibber and rail, but as long as the magician—and in some cases his assistant—stayed inside the magic circle, all dangers could be kept at bay.
If, that is, the circle had been done right.
Though the recipe differed in many details, the general instruction remained fairly consistent. The circle was drawn on the floor or in the dirt (a wooded glen was often a good choice of locale) with the tip of a sword, a knife, a staff. Sometimes charcoal or chalk was used. A French grimoire from the 1700s suggested the circle should be fashioned from strips of skin, cut from a young goat, and secured to the floor with four nails pulled from the coffin of a dead infant.
It was also important when drawing the circle to do so in the appropriate direction. If it was drawn in a clockwise manner, or deasil, it was designed to perform feats of white, or good, magic. If it was drawn counterclockwise, its purpose was malign. Going to the left in this way was called widdershins, a word derived from an Anglo-Saxon phrase that meant "to walk against." The sun went from east to west, from right to left, and anything that went in the opposite direction was thought to be moving against nature and, consequently, against the powers of good.
As to size, nine feet was generally considered the proper diameter of the outer circle, with another, smaller circle—eight feet in diameter—drawn inside it. In that narrow space between the rims of the two circles, the magician placed various holy objects and talismans that were thought to ward off evil forces. He might put crosses there, a bowl of pure sanctified water, and plants like vervain (which demons supposedly hated). But most important of all, he had to make sure the circle was completely closed. Any little gap, and an enterprising creature could weasel its way in, possess his immortal soul, and cart it off to the infernal regions.
The magician himself had so much to do it's a miracle he could ever remember it all. Among other things, there was a host of sartorial requirements. The standard garb, or pontificalibus as it was called, included a long robe made of black bombazine, to which two drawings on virgin parchment were attached, depicting the two seals of the earth. Under this outer robe, a ceremonial apronlike vestment known as an ephod was worn; the ephod, which was held up by two shoulder straps, was made of fine, white linen. Around his waist the magician wore a wide, consecrated girdle inscribed with magical words; on his feet, shoes decorated with crosses; on his head, a sable silk hat with a high crown. In his hands, the sorcerer held a wand and a Bible, either written or printed in the original Hebrew. So accoutred and equipped, he was ready to start his incantations.
Standing safely inside the inner of the two magic circles, and within the smaller triangle that was often demarcated inside of that, the magus was as protected as he could be from the demonic forces he was about to unleash. Which was just as well, since their return was heralded by the most dreadful and harrowing sounds—shrieks and growls, anguished cries, and angry barking. Long before they could be seen, the spirits and demons ranted and raved at the perimeter of the circle, trying to scare the daylights out of the magician and persuade him to abandon his nefarious scheme.
If that didn't work, they took on visible shapes, also designed to intimidate and terrify. They appeared as lions and tigers, belching flame, snarling and snapping and clawing. If the magician faltered in his resolve, if—God forbid—he picked up his robes and tried to make a run for it, he'd be ripped to pieces the moment he left the confines of the circle. But if he was stalwart, if he held on to his Bible and his wits, and continued uninterrupted to repeat the necessary conjurations, the demons would eventually be drawn close to both the outer circle and the innermost triangle and settle down; they would shed their beastly shapes and reconfigure themselves as naked men of a peaceful demeanor.
At this point, the magician could relax a little, but not a lot. For although the spirits had taken on a gentle appearance and were for the moment behaving themselves, they were still an antagonistic force, lying in wait for their first opportunity to sow doubt or fear in the mind of the sorcerer or trick him into doing something stupid. His best bet was to make his demands of them, or ask for the information he sought, as quickly as possible, while his strength and senses were intact.
As soon as that was done, as soon as he'd gotten what he was after, he could begin the rituals prescribed for dismissing the spirits. As these rites were performed, the spirits would regress, going backward through all the same stages and transformations that had announced their coming, until they vanished in a sulfurous cloud.
Then, and only then, could the magician safely poke his toe outside the confines of the sacred circle.
According to a celebrated account from eighteenth-century England, an Egyptian fortune-teller named Chiancungi made a fatal mistake. On a bet, he accepted the challenge of summoning up a spirit named Bokim. He drew the magic circle and installed himself and his sister Napula inside it. Then he went through all the necessary steps and recitations—to no apparent avail. Nothing showed up. He tried to conjure the spirit, over and over again, until he gave up in disgust and stepped outside the magic bounds. The moment he did, he and his sister were set upon and crushed to death by the invisible spirit, which had been silently lying in wait for them the whole time.
PENTAGRAM AND HEXAGRAM
In addition to the magic circle, there was another sacred shape that provided the magician with a powerful measure of protection—and that was the pentagram. A five-pointed star, the pentagram was to be drawn around the rim of the larger circle and again just inside it. Demons, it was thought, had an inborn fear and loathing of the pentagram.
Why? With demons, it's never easy to say why they felt or behaved the way they did. But according to some early theologians, the five points of the pentagram stood for many things that demons, unnatural creatures that they were, felt a quite natural aversion to—the living, breathing world of nature, for one. The five points could be thought to represent the four elements of which the world was believed to be composed—earth, air, water, and fire—plus the quintessence of them all. Or the four points of the compass and its center. Or the five wounds inflicted on the body of Christ. Or—and this was considered very significant—man himself. With arms and legs extended, a human being could be viewed as a five-pointed star (the head being the fifth point), and man was often said to be the embodiment, the microcosm, of all of nature. And what could be more repulsive than that to a creature of the dark, bent on destroying order and goodness at every opportunity?
If, however, a magician wished to issue a clarion call to the forces of evil, the pentagram was good for that, too. All that he had to do was turn it upside down, so that its two lower points were now on top, symbolizing the reversal of the natural order and pointing upward like the Devil's horns: "It is the goat of lust," the magician Eliphas Lévi wrote, "attacking the heavens with its horns." This particular configuration was also known as the Goat of Mendes, because the inverted star roughly resembled the shape of a goat's head. When used for such black and nefarious purposes, the pentagram was sometimes called the footprint of the Devil or the sign of the cloven hoof.
Excerpted from Raising Hell by Robert Masello. Copyright © 1996 Robert Masello. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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