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Sunday, 19 December 2010

Three kinds of magic...or is it four?

In 1510 Cornelius Agrippa wrote a three-volume treatise entitled Occult Philosophy and sent it to Abott Johannes Trithemius for approval. Trithemius' response was that Agrippa should be cautious,
"lest ye be trod under the oxen' feet, as oftentimes happens."
The manuscript was not published for another two decade.

Agrippa divided magic into three main systems:
"Naturall, Mathematicall and Theologicall."
The first kind -Natural magic derives from the natural world of herbs and stones, that occult virtues can be obtained by studying the correspondences and relationships between existing things.

My understanding of this world is encoded in symbol and metaphor. My knowledge of atoms: the planetary electrons spinning in shells with measurable location and direction (but not both!) around the solid protons and their inert companions, the neutrons is just a dreaming.

And a dreaming is *the best theory* an ephemeral web of links that seem to work; made of pictures that describe what is going on under the surface...when what is actually happening cannot be seen.

I personally do not get why the electrons spin so fast that they do not fall into the proton-neutron core; but there are whole chemistry sets of cat-crackers steaming away cooking complex hydrocarbons and this alone proves that the theory works correctly enough to be useful. And being useful is all that matters when the goal is to keep the wheels spinning. The pursuit of understanding and knowledge continues in research laboratories, then the knowledge is forged into machines...

Agrippa's second kind of magic is mathematical: the magical properties of stars and planets and numbers. Mathematical magic "mathesis" was based on Pythagorean mystical philosophy, that number is God's hidden symbolic language of creation.

I know and love it best in the virtual worlds of computer gaming.

Here endeth my first lesson on Natural and mathematical magick!

Agrippa's third category of magic was 'Theological'. As Agrippa seems to be using Pythagorean systems, then Iamblichus who recorded Pythagorean Doctrines sometime before AD 333 provides us with a definition of theological magic 'theurgia': a divine work which sought to raise the consciousness of the practitioner so that it contacted the highest form of the divine.
"When the soul has been united with the various parts of everything in turn, and with all the divine powers which pervade them, then the soul is brought to the undivided creator and is entrusted to his keeping"

De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum (On the Mysteries of the Egyptians)
This view corresponds somewhat with a contemporary understanding of the uni(meta)verse as a hologram. The sacred view is that this world and all the elements within, plus human souls are emanation from the divine. Theurgy is a process of return to the original condition of being -to God.

The Kabbala and Buddhism are both 'schools of theurgy'. Buddhism is a method of taking apart and then reassembling the phenomenal, everyday world; a process of assimilating all aspects of the mind hidden until meditation reveals them. The three vehicles of Buddhism suit three differing temperaments: the Hinayana for those who like things to be black and white and do well with rules. The Mahayana for those who need candles, pictures, and wish to be better people. The Vajrayana, for those whose minds respond well to metaphor and symbol.

The practice of placing one's mind in the mind of God is called Guru yoga.

But, if that is all there was too it surely there would never have been any witch hunts? Who could object to natural magic or mathematics when they result in medicines and machines or even to Guru Yoga, if Guru yoga is just a device to make people behave in a better, more integrated way?

The Vajrayana and Kabbala are paths that lead through the realms of angels and demons because the non-physical entities guard the gate to other levels of reality. Only by summoning the entities associated with that level, one may ask their permission to enter their realm.

If the primary purpose of magic is the attainment of various goals by consorting with spirits, angels, daemons and so on. And if there is no concept of 'integration' because we are -with Agrippa- still four hundred years away from Freud, Jung and any kind of psychological understanding of personality. And if the goal is not transcendent ie union with God, but seen to be material gain, such as getting someone into bed, or winning the lottery and people die because of love potions, or in mysterious circumstances, and if necromancy is involved! The intellectuals may see nothing wrong, but The Daily Mail readers of the three times and ten directions still to this day know otherwise.

Therefore Agrippa's division of magic into three forms ignores the bad associations the word magic acquired mainly I think, during the Roman era.

Witchcraft during Roman time was the key symbol for representing disruption of law and inversion of natural forces. Plutarch had written of the nature of demons, there were oracles (and who knew how those things work...it was said to be under the rule of the god Apollo, but who knows). Old women, especially 'Thessalian' women were a device much used by authors, starting with Horace and his witch Canidia.
But oh, by all the gods in heaven, who rule the earth and human race, what means this tumult? And what the hideous looks of all these [hags, fixed] upon me alone? I conjure thee by thy children (if invoked Lucina was ever present at any real birth of thine), I [conjure] thee by this empty honor of my purple, by Jupiter, who must disapprove these proceedings, why dost thou look at me as a step-mother, or as a wild beast stricken with a dart? While the boy made these complaints with a faltering voice, he stood with his bandages of distinction taken from him, a tender frame, such as might soften the impious breasts of the cruel Thracians; Canidia, having interwoven her hair and uncombed head with little vipers, orders wild fig-trees torn up from graves, orders funeral cypresses and eggs besmeared with the gore of a loathsome toad, and feathers of the nocturnal screech-owl, and those herbs, which lolchos, and Spain, fruitful in poisons, transmits, and bones snatched from the mouth of a hungry bitch, to be burned in Colchian flames.
The name witch comes from the word for screech-owl: striges which became low Latin for "witch." and the sacrifice of young boys, or the ripping of un-born babes from their mother's wombs de rigour for necromancy.

The witch's original name -Medea- may have come from Greek mythology, but the true horror of her was created in Roman fiction.

Lucan writes:
For when the famous druidess Medea, daughter of Aeëtes king of the Colchians, came with Jason son of Aeson into Greece, she found in the land of Thessaly, although she was the chief witch of the world, much more than her witchcraft and druidic spells and poisonous herbs. The places on the globe wherein the Science of magic was most common, namely, the city of Memphis, and the land of Egypt, Babylon and the countries of the Chaldees, were all exceeded by the Thessalian witches. For they used to work their magic spells on the mundane elements, so that their own shapes were not left upon them. They used to lengthen the night and shorten the day as they wanted. They used not to leave the air or the firmament in its own power, for when they desired they would stop the firmament from its mundane course. They would bring thunders and storms into the air, and rainy clouds and darkness over the sun at the time when his lightnings were manifest and his rays were clear.
Lucan, a Roman poet: born November 3, 39 AD – died April 30, 65 AD continues:
Now although in the land of Thessaly there was many an evil witch reverenced in that art, one witch was there who surpassed them all and to whom all used to yield recognition and authority. A lath of a blue-haired hideous hag was she: Erictho her name, a sage of witchcraft she. Wizards' inventions, and new spells were made by herself on every day. She used to visit hell and the fields of the river Styx and the abodes of Pluto king of hell whenever she desired. Her dwelling and her habitation and her couch were in clefts of rocks and in cavernous holes of the earth and in tombs of the dead.

She frequented no assembly nor city nor human dwellings out of them, unless the darkness of mist or rain or night should have come. She culled and gathered her poisonous herbs and her magical gear throughout the districts that were near her. And the ploughed corn-field or the meadow untilled, on which she used then to tread, its grass or its corn would not grow for a long time afterwards. She never used to demand prophecy save from the demons of hell. These would answer her forthwith at the first spell; and they durst not wait for the second spell from her.
Lucan's witch Erictho pursues her craft out of a pure love of doing evil.

From Lucan's poem Bellum Civile, Erictho either dances in the charnal ground as a Hindu tantrika, or is an old woman dragged to the stake to be burned. Erictho stalks the edges of the imagination at the end of the film [REC].

Back to myth, but myth as dreaming.
2800 years ago the best theory to explain why some regions of the earth reek of sulphur, boil and rumble, erupt with liquid fire or have the unsettling qualities we associate with toxic fumes (thinking now of Avernus as the lake without birds) was the presence of a terrible creature imprisoned deep under the ground. The image given to us from from Norse/Anglo-Saxon myth is of caves containing fire breathing dragons guarding treasure. The Great Old Ones, spoken of in Hesiod's Theogeny and cast down by Zeus were prisoners, and something worse than dragons. They could never be described as beautiful; doing battle with them would be for the sake of survival, to prevent them crawling up out of the ground to wreck terror and vengeance on mankind. Hesiod describes 'unshapen hulks', some with fifty heads growing from their shoulders, a hundred arms with boundless strength and terrifying power.

Hesiod was a weaver of tales, spinning Mesopotamian theogony stories into Greek, as the Vikings wove Greek myth into theirs.

The difference is that Hesiod's theogony explained geological processes. There was proof in the bubbling mud pools and on the slopes of Etna that the battle between Zeus and the Titans had taken place. But far from making people keep away, people were drawn to these sites. Hesiod's  Theogony provided an explanation as to how Apollo was obliged to remove the python from Delphi - for the earth hid such horrors- but it doesn't explain why the priestess of the python gave oracles to for tell the future.

Something has gone missing in the understanding of how these places were used.

All this came to an end in 393 AD, when the emperor Theodosius I ordered decrees that spelt the end for Delphi and all other sites to cease operation, effectively making the Catholic Church and Nicean Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire.