Medieval Magic
In the belief of the medieval professors, the science of magic
conferred upon the adept power over angels, demons (see demonology),
elementary spirits, and the souls of the dead, the
possession of esoteric wisdom, and actual knowledge of the discovery
and use of the latent forces and undeveloped energies
resident in man. This was supposed to be accomplished by a
combination of will and aspiration, which by sheer force germinated
an intellectual faculty of psychological perception, enabling
the adept to view the wonders of a new world and communicate
with its inhabitants.
To accomplish this magic, the ordinary faculties were almost
invariably heightened by artificial means. The grandeur of the
magical ritual overwhelmed the neophyte and quickened his
senses. Ceremonial magic was a spur to the latent faculties of
human psychic nature, just as were the rich concomitants of religious
mysticism.
In the medieval mind, as in other periods of human history,
it was thought that magic could be employed both for good and
evil purposes, its branches being designated ‘‘white’’ and
‘‘black,’’ according to whether it was used for benevolent or
wicked ends. The term ‘‘red’’ magic was also occasionally employed,
as indicating a more exalted type of the art, but the designation
is fanciful.
White magic to a great extent concerned itself with the evocation
of angelic forces and the spirits of the elements. The angelology
of the Catholic Church was undoubtedly derived from
the ancient faith of Israel, which in turn was indebted to Egypt
and Babylon. The Alexandrian system of successive emanations
from the eternal substance evolved a complex hierarchy of angels,
all of whom appear to have been at the bidding of the magician
who was in possession of the Incommunicable Name, a
concept deriving from that of the ‘‘Name of Power’’ so greatly
used in Egyptian magic.
The letters that composed this name were thought to possess
a great measure of occult significance, and a power which
in turn appears to have been reflected upon the entire Hebrew
alphabet (see Kabala). The alphabet was endowed with mystical
meaning, each of the letters representing a vital and creative
number. Just as a language is formed from the letters of its alphabet,
so from the secret powers that resided in the Hebrew
alphabet were magical variations evolved. [Comparable concepts
existed in esoteric Hinduism (see AUM).]
There are many species of angels and powers. More exalted
intelligences were conjured by rites to be found in the ancient
book known as the ‘‘Key of Solomon the King,’’ and perhaps
the most satisfactory collection of formulae for the invocation
of the higher angels is that included in the anonymous Theosophia
Pneumatica, published at Frankfurt in 1686, which bears
a strong family resemblance to the Treatise on Magic by Arbatel.
The names in this work do not tally with those that have been
already given, but as it is admitted by occult students that the
names of all unseen beings are really unknown to humanity,
this does not seem of such importance as it might at first sight.
It would seem that such spiritual knowledge as the medieval
magus was capable of attaining was insufficient to raise him
above the intellectual limitations of his time, so that the work
in question possesses all the faults of its age and type. But that
is not to say that it possessed no practical value, and it well illustrates
the white magic of medieval times. It classifies the names
of the angels under the title of ‘‘Olympic or Celestial Spirits,’’
who abide in the firmament and constellations they administer
inferior destinies and accomplish and teach whatever is portended
by the several stars in which they are insphered. They
are powerless to act without a special command from the Almighty.
The stewards of Heaven are seven in number—Arathron,
Bethor, Phaleg, Och, Hagith, Ophiel, and Phul. Each of them
has a numerous host at his command, and the regions in which
they dwell are 196 in all. Arathron appears on Saturday at the
first hour and answers for his territory and its inhabitants, as
do the others, each at his own day and hour, and each presides
for a period of 490 years. The functions of Bethor began in the
fiftieth year before the birth of Christ until 430. Phagle reigned
till 920 C.E.; Och till the year 1410; Hagith governed until
1900. The others follow in succession.
These intelligences are the stewards of all the elements, energizing
the firmament and, with their armies, depending from
each other in a regular hierarchy. The names of the minor
Olympian spirits are interpreted in diverse ways. Generically,
they are called ‘‘Astra,’’ and their power is seldom prolonged
beyond 140 years. The heavens and their inhabitants come voluntarily
to man and often serve even against the will of man,
but come much more if we implore their ministry.
Evil and troublesome spirits also approach men through the
cunning of the devil, at times by conjuration or attraction, and
frequently as a penalty for sins. Therefore he who would abide
in familiarity with celestial intelligences should take pains to
avoid every serious sin. He should diligently pray for the protection
of God to vanquish the impediments and schemes of
Diabolus, and God will ordain that the devil himself shall work
to the direct profit of the worker in magic.
Subject to divine providence, some spirits have power over
pestilence and famine; some are destroyers of cities, like those
of Sodom and Gomorrah; some are rulers over kingdoms,
some guardians of provinces, some of a single person. The spirits
are the ministers of the word of God and of the church and
its members, or they serve creatures in material things, sometimes
to the salvation of soul and body, or, again, to the ruin
of both. But nothing, good or bad, is done without knowledge,
order, and administration.
It is unnecessary to follow the angelical host further here, as
it has been outlined elsewhere. Many preparations, however,
are described by the author of the Theosophia Pneumatica for the
successful evocation of these exalted beings. The magus must
ponder during his period of initiation on the method of attaining
the true knowledge of God, both by night and day. He must
know the laws of the cosmos, and the practical secrets that may
be gleaned from the study of the visible and invisible creatures
of God. He must further know himself, and be able to distinguish
between his mortal and immortal parts, and the several
spheres to which they belong.
Both in his mortal and immortal natures, he must strive to
love God, to adore and to fear him in spirit and in truth. He
must sedulously attempt to find out whether he is truly fitted
for the practice of magic, and if so, to which branch he should
turn his talents, experimenting in all to discover in which he is
most naturally gifted. He must hold inviolate such secrets as are
communicated to him by spirits, and he must accustom himself
to their evocation. He must keep himself, however, from the
least suspicion of diabolical magic, which has to do with Satan,
and which is the perversion of the theurgic power concealed in
the word of God.
Medieval Magic Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
1008
When he has fulfilled these conditions, and before he proceeds
to the practice of his art, he should devote a prefatory period
to deep contemplation on the high business he has voluntarily
taken in hand, and must present himself before God with
a pure heart, undefiled mouth, and innocent hands. He must
bathe frequently and wear clean garments, confess his sins, and
abstain from wine for the space of three days.
On the eve of operation, he must dine sparely at noon and
consume only bread and water for the evening meal (remembering
that prior to modern refining techniques that bread was
a very substantial food). On the day he has chosen for the invocation,
he must seek a retired and uncontaminated spot, entirely
free from observation. After offering up prayer, he compels
the spirit he has chosen to appear. By this time he should have
reached a state of awareness in which it is impossible that the
spirit should remain invisible to him.
On the arrival of the angel, the desire of the magus is briefly
communicated to him, and his answer is written down. No
more than three questions should be asked, and the magician
then dismisses the angel to his special sphere. Besides having
converse with angels, the magus also has power over the spirits
of the elements and may choose to evoke one or more of them.
To obtain power over the salamanders, for example, the
‘‘Comte de Gabalis’’ of the Abbé de Villars was largely concerned
with the elementals and prescribed the following procedure
‘‘If you would recover empire over the salamanders, purify
and exalt the natural fire that is within you. Nothing is required
for this purpose but the concentration of the Fire of the World
by means of concave mirrors in a globe of glass. In that globe
is formed the ‘solary’ powder, which being of itself purified
from the mixture of other elements, and being prepared according
to Art becomes in a very short time a sovereign process
for the exaltation of the fire that is within you, and transmutes
you into an igneous nature.’’
There is very little information extant to show in what manner
the evocation of elementary spirits was undertaken, and no
ritual has survived that will acquaint us with the method of communicating
with them. In older writers, it is difficult to distinguish
between angels and elementary spirits; the lower hierarchies
of the elementary spirits were also frequently invoked by
the black magician. It is probable that the lesser angels of the
older magicians were the sylphs of Paracelsus, and the more
modern professors of the art.
The nineteenth-century magus Éliphas Lévi provided a
method for the interrogation and government of elementary
spirits, but he did not specify its source, and it was merely fragmentary.
It is necessary, he claimed, in order to dominate these
intelligences, to undergo the four trials of ancient initiation,
and as these are unknown, their room must be supplied by similar
tests. To approach the salamanders, therefore, one must
expose himself in a burning house. To draw near the sylphs he
must cross a precipice on a plank, or ascend a lofty mountain
in a storm; and he who would win to the abode of the undines
must plunge into a cascade or whirlpool.
The air is exorcised by the sufflation of the four cardinal
points, the recitation of the prayer of the sylphs, and by the following
formula
‘‘The Spirit of God moved upon the water, and breathed
into the nostrils of man the breath of life. Be Michael my leader,
and be Sabtabiel my servant, in the name and by the virtue
of light. Be the power of the word in my breath, and I will govern
the spirits of this creature of Air, and by the will of my soul,
I will restrain the steeds of the sun, and by the thought of my
mind, and by the apple of my right eye. I exorcise thee O creature
of Air, by the Petagrammaton, and in the name Tetragrammaton,
wherein are steadfast will and well-directed faith.
Amen. Sela. So be it.’’
Water is exorcised by the laying on of hands, by breathing
and by speech, and by mixing sacred salt with a little of the ash
left in an incense pan. The aspergillus is made of branches of
vervain, periwinkle, sage, mint, ash, and basil, tied by a thread
taken from a virgin’s distaff, with a handle of hazelwood which
has never borne fruit, and on which the characters of the seven
spirits must be carved with a magic awl. The salt and ashes of
the incense must be separately consecrated. The prayer of the
undines should follow.
Fire is exorcised by casting salt, incense, white resin, camphor,
and sulphur therein, and by thrice pronouncing the
three names of the genii of fire Michael, Samael, and Anael,
and then by reciting the prayer of the salamanders.
The Earth is exorcised by the sprinkling of water, by breathing,
by fire, and by the prayer of the gnomes. Their signs are
the hieroglyphs of the bull for the gnomes who are commanded
with the magic sword; of the lion for the salamanders, who are
commanded with the forked rod, or magic trident; of the eagle
for the sylphs, who are ruled by the holy pentacles; and finally,
of aquarius for the undines, who are evoked by the cup of libations.
Their respective sovereigns are Gob for the gnomes, Djin
for the salamanders, Paralda for the sylphs, and Necksa for the
undines. These names, it will be noticed, are borrowed from
folklore.
The ‘‘laying’’ of an elementary spirit is accomplished by its
adjuration by air, water, fire, and earth, by breathing, sprinkling,
the burning of perfumes, by tracing on the ground the
star of Solomon and the sacred pentagram, which should be
drawn either with ash of consecrated fire or with a reed soaked
in various colors, mixed with pure loadstone.
The conjuration of the four should then be repeated, the
magus holding the pentacle of Solomon in his hand and taking
up by turns the sword, rod, and cup, this operation being preceded
and terminated by the kabalistic sign of the cross.
In order to subjugate an elementary spirit, the magus must
be himself free of their besetting sins, thus a changeful person
cannot rule the sylphs, nor a fickle one the undines, an angry
man the salamanders, or a covetous one the gnomes. (The formula
for the evocation of spirits is given under necromancy.)
The white magician did not concern himself as a rule with
such matters as the raising of demons, animal transformations,
and the like, his whole desire being the exaltation of his spiritual
nature, and the questions put by him to the spirits he evoked
were all directed to that end. However, the dividing line between
white and black magic is extremely ambiguous, and it
seems likely that the entities evoked might be deceptive as to
their nature.
Sources
De Villars, L’Abbé de Montfaucon. Comte de Gabalis. Paris,
1670. Reprint, London Old Bourne Press, 1913.
The Greater Key of Solomon. Translated by S. L. MacGregor
Mathers. London George Redway, 1888.
Lévi, Éliphas. The History of Magic. London William Rider,
1913. Reprint, New York Samuel Weiser, 1971.
———. Transcendental Magic. London George Redway,
1896. Reprint, New York Samuel Weiser, 1970.
Shah, Sayed Idries. Oriental Magic. London Rider, 1956.
———. The Secret Lore of Magic. London Frederick Muller,
1956.
Waite, Arthur E. The Book of Ceremonial Magic. London William
Rider, 1911. Reprint, New York Bell, 1969.
———. The Holy Kabbalah. London Williams & Norgate,
1929. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1960.
Walker, D. P. Spiritual and Demonic Magic From Ficino to
Camperella. South Bend, Ind. University of Notre Dame Press,
1975

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