Saturday, 18 August 2012

Magic as Sui Generis


Theodor von Holst, The Wish, 1840.

However, ignoring for a moment the scholarly arena of understanding and representation, and instead seeking a path to dwell deeper into the occult dialectics of the arcane matrimony of the macrocosm and microcosm, it becomes apparent, and not always in a logical and pleasant fashion, that more is to be whispered, unveiled, and conjured in regards to worldviews and conditions of experience pertaining to the occult as a general designation. These can refer to correspondences and phenomena that remain elusive to mundane states of consciousness, an ignorance of the potential of the unseen forces of the cosmos, and positivistic passivity. Hence, the designation of the ‘occult’ can be employed as a fluid yet decisive category indicating both the theory and practice of specific fields of discourse involving a particular human awareness and performance within a worldview characterised by a resistance to the dominance of either sterile logic or doctrinal faith. Despite the occult referring to vast array of grammars, what establishes occult paradigms with a unique character are the emic recognitions of degrees of established or willed relationships between seen and unseen realities, and the experience of them linked through a matrix of sympathetic and antipathetic correspondences, which in itself is clearly echoed in the Hermetic axiom, “That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above, corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing”.[1] These correspondences, charged and vibrating with the pure forces of the cosmos, resonate and naturally manifest within nature as an ensouled state of being reflecting the idea of psychê kosmou of Platonic thought and the anima mundi within the awareness of magia naturalis during the Renaissance period. In the following, these are recognised and mediated through an active imagination corresponding to the mundis imaginalis, which is at times the initial point of departure and fundamental impetus for all esoteric workings collaborating with exoteric gestures. The final revelations can be experienced as a metamorphôsis of inner and outer experiential dimensions.  The experience of these elements of occult theory and practice manifest when an embodied altered state of consciousness[2] is initiated, either temporarily or in a state of a fluctuating continuum, and hasan intrinsically subjective and sensory quality that is embodied and intuitive rather than purely reflective and intellectual, although the reflective and intellectual may be engaged with the intuitive and the embodied as there is no radical opposition.”[3] This can also be translated as gnôsis, indicating ‘true knowledge of what is’ in contrast to mere sense perception, implying the act of knowing instead of just acquiring knowledge.  Hence, gnôsis can be understood as a specific modality of consciousness, a breaking down of the barriers of the rational mind. Through gnôsis, the ‘knower’ therefore becomes immersed in the mundus imaginalis, and in terms of occult theory and practice the individual or individuals actively engaged become the focal point of the unification of the corresponding relationship between the finite and the infinite.

The arena in which what is whispered, unveiled, and conjured in regards to worldviews and conditions of experience pertaining to the occult as a general designation can be located within the sui generis category of ‘magic’ as a participatory worldview manipulated as an instrument by the active person through the execution of the art and science of ritual as an extension grounded in the belief in magical powers within the self and other. The purpose of this is to impose the human will on the self and the other, activating the embodiment of an altered state of consciousness in the endeavour to align the self with the corresponding ritual intent of understanding, connecting, and influencing the other.




[1] Quoted in Nicki Scully, Alchemical Healing: A Guide to Spiritual, Physical, and Transformational Medicine, 2003, page 321.
[2] This can be understood as a shift in perception from a mundane state of consciousness, yet not ignoring the effects of unmediated occult participation within the mundane sphere of awareness and activity.
[3] Susan Greenwood, The Nature of Magic: An Anthropology of Consciousness, 2005, page 5.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Angels and Daimons in the Greek Magical Papyri

Richard Dadd, Come Unto These Yellow Sands, 1842.


Apart from the gods, parehdroi are also identified with angels and daimons, whose presence is frequent in the Greek Magical Papyri. In a generic sense, angels and daimons are a class of beings who are intermediate, apparently, between gods and humans. These spiritual beings, in the sense that they do not have a human physical location and limitations, are subordinate to the gods. They are found in the air, on the earth, in the waters, and in the sea. Daimons can also be the spirits of the dead. However, some passages in the Greek Magical Papyri refer to the gods as ‘daimons’. For example, in PGM IV. 460 Helios Horus is referred to as “daimon of restless fire.” There are two rites which present the nature and purpose of angels and daimons assuming the form of a parehdros. The first rite, which is called 'The spell of Pnouthis, the sacred scribe, for acquiring an assistant',[1] the parehdros is characterised as an angelos, which means ‘angel’, and at times this characterisation is interchangeable with theos, a ‘god’, without having any special connotations. This is clearly evident from the following passage of the rite:

And this is spoken next, “Hither to me, king, I call you, god of gods, mighty, boundless, undefiled, indescribable, firmly established Aion. Be inseparable from me this day forth through all the time of my life.” Then question him by the same oaths. If he tells you his name, take him by the hand, descend and have him recline as I have said above, setting before him part of the foods and drinks which you partake of. And when you release him, sacrifice to him after his departure what is prescribed and pour a wine offering, and in this way you will be a friend of the mighty angel. When you go abroad, he will go abroad with you; when you are destitute, he will give you money. He will tell you what things will happen both when and at what time of the night or day. And if anyone asks you, “What do I have in mind? Or what has happened to me? Or even what is going to happen?” Question the angel, and he will tell you in silence. But you speak to the one who questions you as if from yourself. When you are dead, he will wrap up your body as befits a god, but he will take your spirit and carry it up into the air with him. For no aerial spirit which is joined with a mighty assistant will go into Hades, for to him all things are subject. Whenever you wish to do something, speak his name alone into the air and say, “Come!” And you will see him actually standing near you. And say to him, “Perform this task” and he does it at once, and after doing it he will say to you, “What else do you want? For I am eager for heaven.” If you do not have immediate orders, say to him, “Go lord”, and he will depart. In this fashion, then, the god will be seen by you alone, nor will anyone ever hear the sound of his speaking, just you yourself alone. And he will tell you about the illness of a man, whether he will live or die, even on what day and at what hour of the night. And he will also give you both wild herbs and the powers to cure and you will be worshipped as a god since you have a god as a friend. These things the mighty assistant will perform competently. Therefore share these things with no one except your legitimate son alone when he asks you for the magic powers imparted by us. Farewell.[2]

This angel and parehdros, whose magical name provided in the rite is “Souesolyr phthē moth,”[3] is revered as a “mighty angel,”[4] “a mighty assistant,”[5] and “god of gods.”[6] The sovereignty of this mighty angel and parehdros is reinforced in lines 130-131, “And the gods will agree with him on all matters, for apart from him there is nothing.” At one point the magician addresses a spell to Helios and Selene as an adjuration of the assistant but no words or phrases actually imply that the parehdros is subordinate to Helios and Selene.

In the second rite, the 'Lunar Spell of Claudianus and ritual of heaven and the north star over lunar offerings',[7] the angel has a subordinate status who obeys the commanding spell of Selene. This radical difference in status is also emphasised by the fact that the angel or daimon acting as the parehdros is never referred to as a ‘god’. The spell begins with instructions for the magician to create a pleonasm from which he is to mould an image of Selene, make a shrine of olive wood that should not face the Sun, dedicate it with lunar ointments and preparatory rites, and finally to proceed with the spell. The spell consists of the magician asking Selene to send forth one of her angels or daimons to act as a parehdros for the magician by reciting:

I call upon you, mistress of the entire world, ruler of the entire cosmic system, greatly powerful goddess, gracious daimon, lady of night, who travel through the air, PHEROPHORĒ ANATHRA... OUTHRA. Heed your sacred symbols and give a whirring sound, and give a sacred angel or a holy assistant who serves this very night, in this very hour, PROKYNĒ BAUBŌ PHOBEIOUS MĒE, and order the angel to go off to her.[8]

The magician at this point is to continue the spell by reciting:

Mistress, send forth your daimon from among those who assist you, one who is leader of night, because I adjure you by your great names, because of which no aerial or infernal daimon can ignore you, MESOURPHABABOR BRAL IĒŌ ISI Ē  Come to me just as I have summoned you, ORTHŌ BAUBŌ NOĒRE KODĒRE SOIRE SOIRE ERESCHIGAL SANKISTĒ DŌDEKAKISTĒ AKROUROBORE KODĒRE SAMPSEI; hear my words and send forth your daimon who is appointed over the 1st hour, MENEBAIN; and the one over the 2nd hour, NEBOUN; and the one over the 3rd hour, LĒMNEI; and the one over the 4th hour, MORMOTH; and the one over the 5th hour, NOUPHIĒR; and the one over the 6th hour, CHORBORBATH; and the one over the 7th hour, ORBEĒTH; and the one over the 8th hour, PANMŌTH; and the one over the 9th hour, THYMENPHRI; and the one over the 10th hour, SARNOCHOIBAL; and the one over the 11th hour, BATHIABĒL; and the one over the 12th hour, ARBRATHIABRI, so that you may do this for me.[9]

The interesting feature of this spell is the uncertainty regarding which angel or daimon will execute the magician’s request. Although it is likely that the magician will expect the angel or daimon ruling over the hour the spell is executed to attend to his biding, this remains unclear.

The ritual uncertainty as to which entity will become the parehdros appears in the rite called the 'Powerful spell of the Bear[10] which accomplishes everything',[11] where the parehdros is referred to as a daimon but is not identified with a daimon of a dead person. In many cases, parehdroi are identified with the daimons of the dead but I must stress that they are not acknowledged as merely being normal spirits of the dead, but instead a being of different and interchangeable status.[12] In this spell the daimons are referred to as “assistants of the great god, the mighty chief-daimons,”[13] but as in the case of the rite of the 'Lunar Spell of Claudianus and ritual of heaven and the north star over lunar offerings', the magician is unaware of which of these faceless and subordinate spirits will do his bidding. However, the daimon invoked to perform the ritual duty of a parehdros in PGM I. 1-42 is none other than the mighty Agathos Daimon, the ‘Good Daimon’. This Agathos Daimôn is Agathodaimon, who was the beneficent spirit, protector god, and guard of the city Alexandria. Agathodaimon was a Hellenistic merging of a popular serpent god with the Egyptian god Shai. Although the magical name of the parehdros is “Arbath Abaōth Bakchabrē,”[14] it is not clear whether the magician is immediately equating the parehdros with the Agathos Daimôn or if it is merely a title, as the parehdros is also equated with Orion and Anubis confusing the applied identity. However, it is truly a powerful entity and not subordinate like the daimons of the 'Powerful spell of the Bear which accomplishes everything'. As the text states:

Come to me... who cause the currents of the Nile to roll down and mingle with the sea, transforming them with life as it does man’s seed in sexual intercourse, you who have established the world on an indestructible foundation, who are young in the morning and old in the evening, who journey through the subterranean sphere and rise, breathing fire, you who have parted the seas in the first month, who ejaculated seeds into the sacred fig tree of Heliopolis continually.[15]



[1] PGM I. 42-195.
[2] PGM I. 164-194.
[3] PGM I. 161.
[4] PGM I. 173.
[5] PGM I. 181.
[6] PGM I. 164.
[7] PGM VII. 862-918.
[8] PGM VII. 880-886.
[9] PGM VII. 891-907.
[10] This spell, like many in the Greek Magical Papyri, invokes the astral constellation of Arktos.
[11] PGM IV. 1331-1389.
[12] This is apparent in PGM IV. 1367 where the parehdros is mentioned as tartaroforos, which means ‘guarding Tartaros’.
[13] PGM IV. 1349-1350.
[14] PGM I. 36.
[15] PGM I. 31-36.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Magic, Participation and Causality


Peter Paul Rubens, The Head of Medusa, 1618.

A defining essential characteristic of magic that must identified when studying it and may yield further research possibilities, is magic’s capability to adapt and transform itself under the impact of unfavourable worldviews, and finally seek ways and references to legitimise the theory and practice of magic. However, despite these attempts on behalf of magical practitioners, I concur at times that in regards to the persistence of the reality of magic within contextual arenas of performance and legitimation under the auspicious gaze of unfavourable worldviews, such as the those pertaining to secularisation in the modern world, “practices and strategies of legitimation does not even begin to address the question why contemporary people would wish to practice occultist magic in the first place.”[1] In response to this Hanegraaff relates to an adaptation and updating in some respects of Lévy-Brühl’s concept of ‘participation’, endeavouring to present the essence of magic as being natural for it to survive a process of disenchantment.

The defining feature and effect of ‘participation’ is summarised by Tambiah,

Participation… signified the association between persons and things in primitive thought to the point of identity and consubstantiality. What western thought would think to be logically distinct aspects of reality, the primitive may fuse into one mystic unity… This sense of participation is not merely a (metaphorical) representation for it implies a physical and mystical union.[2]

The nature of participation seems to resist attempts of rationalisation, with Lévy-Brühl emphasising the ‘primitive mind’ remaining indifferent to intervening mechanisms and modern culture embracing the notion of causality. However, drawing upon the inconsistency of such as divide, Evans-Pritchard wrote that “it is not so much a question of primitive versus civilised mentality as the relation of two types of thought to each other in any society, whether primitive or civilised, a problem of levels of thought and experience.”[3] Following from this Evans-Pritchard concludes that we fail to rationally grasp participation as it remains aloof to precise intellectual reflection, and rightly emphasised that the crucial point is that,

Primitive man does not, for example, perceive a shadow and apply to it the doctrine of his society, according to which it is one of his souls. When he is conscious of his shadow he is aware of his soul… In the same way, a primitive man does not perceive a leopard and believe that it is his totem-brother. What he perceives is his totem-brother.[4]

Despite the avoidance of intellectualist perceptions within paradigms of participation, Hanegraaff argues that participation still requires a more radical non-intellectualist interpretation, with participation being recognised as “a spontaneous tendency of the human mind. As such, it is an immediate and irreducible datum of human experience, which neither permits nor requires further explanation but has to be noted simply as fact.”[5] Recognising how scholars, such as Tambiah,[6] have placed ‘participation’ against ‘causality’ as two defining orientations to the religious worldviews, one can identify that instrumental causality does not necessarily have to be in opposition to participation if one can recognise that it must primarily be distinguished from the ideological character of instrumental causality as a field of discourse established as the dominant symbolic system in Western society, and which can be described as the endeavour of establishing a complete worldview based upon a set of theories claiming exclusive truth and sufficiency with respect to all dimensions of reality. Hence, instrumental causality, like participation, must be construed as “a spontaneous tendency of the human mind: the tendency to suspect things that happen in the world to be the result of material causation, and to explain events in this manner.”[7]




[1] Wouter J. Hanegraaff, ‘How magic survived the disenchantment of the world’, in Religion, 33: 4, 2003, page 371.
[2] Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, Magic, science, religion, and the scope of rationality, 1990, page 86.
[3] E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Theories of Primitive Religion, 1965, page 91.
[4] E. E, Evans-Pritchard, Theories of Primitive Religion, 1965, pages 107-108.
[5] Wouter J. Hanegraaff, ‘How magic survived the disenchantment of the world’, in Religion, 33: 4, 2003, page 374.
[6] See Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, Magic, science, religion, and the scope of rationality, 1990, pages 105-110.
[7] Wouter J. Hanegraaff, ‘How magic survived the disenchantment of the world’, in Religion, 33: 4, 2003, page 375.