Black Magic
Black magic as practiced in medieval times may be defined
as the use of the supernatural knowledge of magic for evil purposes;
the invocation of diabolic and infernal powers to blind
them as slaves and emissaries to man’s will; in short, a perversion
of legitimate mystical science. While black magicians certainly
existed, there is every reason to believe that the majority
of the reports of the spread of black magic were simply polemics
against idealogical and personal enemies. Thus, members
of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn accused Aleister
Crowley of practicing black magic while Crowley complained
that black magicians had perverted his system.
The existence of the black art and its attendant practices can
be traced from the time of the ancient Egyptians and Persians,
from the Greeks and Hebrews, to the period when reports of
black magic were most numerous, during the Middle Ages,
thus forming an unbroken chain. In medieval magic may be
found a degraded form of popular pagan rites—the ancient
gods had become devils, their mysteries orgies, their worship
sorcery.
Some historians have tried to trace the areas in Europe most
affected by these devilish practices. Spain is said to have excelled
all in infamy, to have plumbed the depths of the abyss.
The south of France next became a hotbed of sorcery, branching
northward to Paris and the countries and islands beyond,
southward to Italy, finally extending into the Tyrol and Germany.
Many diseases, including catalepsy, somnambulism, hysteria,
and insanity, were attributed to black magic. It followed
that curative medicine was also a branch of magic, not a rational
science, the suggested cures being such fantastic treatments
as incantations and exorcisms, amulets and talismans of precious
stones, medicines rendered powerful by spells and philters
and enchanted drinks. The use of herbs and chemicals,
which later became the foundation of modern curative science,
then had more enchanted and symbolic significance when they
were first prescribed by magicians.
Folk history surely exaggerated its intimations that the followers
of the black art swarmed everywhere. The fraternity had
grades from the pretenders, charlatans, and diviners of the
common people to the various secret societies and orders of
initiates, among whom were kings, queens, popes, and dignitaries
of church and state. In these advanced levels, knowledge
and ritual were carefully cherished and preserved in manuscripts,
some of which still exist. These ancient grimoires, variously
termed the Black, the Red, the Great Grimoire, are full
of weird rites, formulas, conjurations, and evocations of evil
malice and lust in the names of barbaric deities; charms and bewitchments
clothed in incomprehensible jargon; and ceremonial
processes for the fulfillment of imprecations of misfortune,
calamity, sin, and death.
The deity who was worshiped and whose powers were invoked
in the practice of black magic had many names the
Source and Creator of Evil, Satanas, Belial, the evil, a debased
descendent of the Egyptian Set, the Persian Ahriman, the Python
of the Greeks, the Jewish Serpent, Baphomet of the Templars,
the Goat-deity of the Witches’ Sabbat. He was said to have
the head and legs of a goat and the breasts of a woman.
His followers called him by the names of forgotten deities
as well as the Black One, the Black He-goat, the Black Raven,
the Dog, the Wolf and Snake, the Dragon, the Hell-hound,
Hell-hand, and Hell-bolt. His transformations were unlimited,
as is indicated by many of his names; other favorite and familiar
forms were a cat, a mouse, a toad, or worm, or again, the
human form, especially a young and handsome man as he
would appear on his amorous adventures. The signs by which
he might be identified, though not invariably, were the cloven
hoof, the goat’s beard, cock’s feathers, or the ox’s tail.
In the Devil are embedded ancient mysteries and their symbols,
the detritus of dead faiths and faded civilizations. The
Greek Pan with the goat limbs masquerades as the Devil, also
the goat as emblematic of fire and symbol of generation, and
perhaps traces of the Jewish tradition where two goats were
taken, one pure, the other impure, the first offered as sacrifice
in expiation of sin, the other, the impure burdened with sins
by imprecation and driven into the wilderness, in short, the
scapegoat. In the Hebrew Kabala, Satan’s name is Jehovah reversed.
He is not a devil, but the negation of deity.
Beneath the Devil’s sway were innumerable hordes and legions
of demons and spirits, ready and able to procure and
work any and every evil or disaster the mind of man might conceive
and desire. In one grimoire, as presented in Francis Barrett’s
The Magus, it tells of nine orders of evil spirits, these being
False Gods, Lying Spirits, Vessels of Iniquity, Revenge led by
Asmodeus, Deluders by the Serpent, Turbulents by Merigum,
Furies by Apollyon, Calumniators by Astaroth, and Tempters
by Mammon. These demons again are named separately, the
meaning of each name indicating the possessor’s capacity, such
as destroyer, devastator, tumult, ravage, and so forth.
Each earthly vice and calamity was personified by a
demon—Moloch, who devours infants; Nisroch, god of hatred,
despair, fatality; Astarte, Lilith, and Astaroth, deities of debauchery
and abortion; Adramelek, of murder, and Belial, of
red anarchy.
According to the grimoires, the rites and rules are multifarious,
each demon demanding special invocation and procedure.
The ends that might be obtained by performing the rites are
indicated in such chapter headings as these ‘‘to take possession
of all kinds of treasure,’’ ‘‘to live in opulence,’’ ‘‘to ruin possessions,’’
‘‘to demolish buildings and strongholds,’’ ‘‘to cause
armed men to appear,’’ ‘‘to excite every description of hatred,
discord, failure, and vengeance,’’ ‘‘to excite tempest,’’ ‘‘to excite
love in a virgin, or in a married person,’’ ‘‘to procure adulteries,’’
‘‘to cause enchanted music and lascivious dances to
appear,’’ ‘‘to learn all secrets from those of Venus to Mars,’’ ‘‘to
render oneself invisible,’’ ‘‘to fly in the air and travel,’’ ‘‘to operate
underwater for twenty-four hours,’’ ‘‘to open every kind of
lock without a key, without noise, and thus gain entrance to
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prison, larder, or charnel-house,’’ ‘‘to innoculate the walls of
houses with plague and diseases,’’ ‘‘to bind familiar spirits,’’ ‘‘to
cause a dead body to revive,’’ ‘‘to transform one’s self,’’ ‘‘to
transform men into animals or animals into men.’’
These rites were classified as divination, bewitchments, and
necromancy. Divination was carried out by magical readings of
fire, smoke, water, or blood; by letters of names, numbers, symbols,
or arrangements of dots; by lines of hand or fingernails;
by birds and their flight or their entrails; by dice, cards, rings,
or mirrors. Bewitchments were carried out by means of nails,
animals, toads, or waxen figures and mostly to bring about suffering
or death. Necromancy was the raising of the dead by evocations
and sacrilegious rites, for the customary purposes of
evil. These rites might take place around pits filled with blood,
in a darkened and suffocating room, in a churchyard, or beneath
swinging gibbets, and the number of ghosts so summoned
and galvanized into life might be one of legion.
Regardless of desired outcome the procedure usually included
profanation of Christian ritual, such as diabolical masses
and administration of polluted sacraments to animals and
reptiles; bloody sacrifices of animals, often of children; of orgiastic
dances, generally of circular formation, such as that of the
Witches’ Sabbat.
For paraphernalia and accessories the sorcerers scoured the
world and the imagination and mind of man and bent all
things, beautiful or horrible, to their service. Because different
planets were believed to rule over certain objects and states and
invocations, such would be of great potency if delivered under
the planets’ auspices. Mars favored wars and strife, Venus love,
Jupiter ambition and intrigue, Saturn malediction and death.
Vestments and symbols proper to the occasion were
donned. The furs of the panther, lynx, and cat added their
quota of influence to the ceremonies. Colors were also observed
and suitable ornaments. For operations of vengeance, the robe
had to be the hue of leaping flame, or rust and blood, with belt
and bracelets of steel, and crown of rue and wormwood. Blue,
green, and rose were the colors for amorous incantations; black
for encompassing death, with belt of lead and wreath of cypress,
amid loathsome incense of sulphur and assafoetida.
Precious stones and metals also influenced spells. Geometrical
figures, stars, pentagrams, columns, and triangles were
used; also herbs, such as belladonna and assafoetida; flowers,
honeysuckle, being the witches’ ladder, the arum, deadly nightshade,
and black poppies; distillations and philters composed
of the virus of loathsome diseases, venom of reptiles, secretions
of animals, and poisonous sap, fungi, and fruits, such as the
fatal manchineel, pulverized flint, impure ashes, and human
blood. Amulets and talismans were made of the skins of criminals
wrought from the skulls of hanged men, ornaments rifled
from corpses and thus of special virtue, or the pared nails of an
executed thief.
To make themselves invisible, it is said that sorcerers used
an unguent compounded from the incinerated bodies of newborn
infants mixed with the blood of nightbirds. For personal
preparation, the sorceror fasted for 15 days, then got drunk
every five days, after sundown, on wine in which poppies and
hemp had been steeped.
For the actual rites the light came from candles made from
the fat of corpses and fashioned in the form of a cross; the bowls
were made from skulls, those of parricides being of greatest virtue;
the fires were fed with cypress branches, with the wood of
desecrated crucifixes and bloodstained gibbets; the magic fork
was fashioned of hazel or almond, severed at one blow; the ceremonial
cloth, was to be woven by a prostitute, and around the
mystic circle were the embers of a polluted cross. Another potent
instrument of magic was the mandragora, unearthed from
beneath gallows where corpses were suspended, tied to a dog.
The dog was then killed by a mortal blow, after which its soul
was to pass into the fantastic root, attracting also that of the
hanged man.
Widespread belief in black magic pervaded the Middle
Ages. Machinations and counter-machinations engaged church
and state, rich and poor, learned and ignorant. In persecutions
and prosecutions, the persecutor and judge often met the same
fate they dealt to the victim and condemned. In this dreadful
phantasmagoria and procession can be found the haughty
Templars, the blood-stained Gilles de Laval, the original of
Bluebeard, Catherine de Medici the Marshals of France, as
well as popes, princes, and priests. Literature divulges traces of
black magic in weird legends and monstrous tales, in stories of
spells and enchantments. The tale of Dr. Faustus recounts his
pact with the Devil, his pleasures and their penalty when he
must forfeit his soul to Hell. Traces exist in lewd verses and
songs. Infernal influence is seen in pictures, sculptures, and
carvings decorating palaces and cathedrals; the Devil’s likeness
peeps out from carven screen and stall, and his demons appear
in gargoyles grinning and leering from niche and corner and
clustering beneath the eaves.
The atmosphere of superstition and fevered imagination coexisted
with religious dogma and repression. The great witchcraft
manias flourished from the Middle Ages onward. The
thousands of innocent men, women, and children who were
brutally tortured and executed have left a deep stain on the
church. (See also Black Mass; Evocation)
Sources
Cavendish, Richard. The Black Arts. New York G. P. Putnam’s
Sons, 1967.