History of Magick

The history of Magick and its origins is steeped in legend and hidden in antiquity. There are few written sources, and those that exist are generally obscure, casting light upon rather than informing directly. It is important that you are knowledgeable to at least essence of history of Magick because that can help not only inform but guide you. There are many paths to learn Magick, and there is never a right, nor a wrong way to do so. I have attempted to set you on a journey by narrating how Magick evolved in different eras and cultures.

Magick in the prehistoric times

You might have come across the general perception that state sacrificing, eating human and animal parts and invocation will grant one supernatural or enhanced physical power, know that those sources date back to prehistoric times. The people of these times thought that if you eat the heart of a bear, you will be strong and big as that bear. These were merely primal aspects of the people of those early times, but it is an important stepping stone for the origins of Magick. If we focus on actual proof, we can refer to the Egyptian pyramid texts and the Indian Vedas, specifically the Atharvaveda known as the "knowledge of Magick formulas". These contains a number of charms, sacrifices, hymns, and use of herbs. It addresses topics including constipation, disease, possession by demons, and the glorification of the sun.

The prototypical "magicians" were a class of priests who were highly learned and advanced in knowledge and crafts. This knowledge was likely mysterious to others, giving them a reputation for sorcery and alchemy. The ancient Greek mystery religions had strongly magical components, and in Egypt a large number of magical papyri have been recovered. Dating as early as the second century B.C.E., the scrolls contain early instances of spells, incantations, and magical words composed of long strings of vowels, and self-identification with a deity. The roots of European magical practice are often claimed to originate in such Greek or Egyptian Magick, but other scholars contest this theory, arguing that European Magick may have drawn from a generalized magical tradition, but not from Egyptian Magick specifically.

In Europe, the Celts played a huge role in early European magical tradition between 700 B.C.E. and 100 C.E. Celtics known as Druids served as priests, teachers, judges, astrologers, healers, and more. Rituals were often connected with agricultural events and aspects of nature; trees in particular were sacred to the Celts. Over time, the Celtic beliefs and practices grew into what would become known as Paganism, mixed with other Indo-European beliefs, and became part of a set of beliefs and practices that were known collectively as "witchcraft." These practices included the concoction of potions and ointments, spell casting, as well as other works of Magick.

Magick in the Middle Ages

The middle ages were the times when the catholic church was in charge of everything. When Europe was converting to Christianity, religious practices and beliefs were often appropriated and christianized. Christian rites and formulas were combined with Germanic folk rituals to cure ailments. Christian relics replaced amulets, and tales were told of the miracles these relics brought. Churches that housed these relics became places of pilgrimage. These facts are very important because they bring light to how Christianity basically stole many aspects that belonged to Magick practitioners. The church stole traditions and practices, and then they killed the people they stole it from.

Magick coexisted, often uneasily with Christian theology for much of the early middle ages. By the fifteenth century, magicians were persecuted, as magical rites and beliefs were considered heresy, a distortion of Christian rites to do the devil's work. Magick practitioners were accused of ritualistic baby-killing and of having gained magical powers through pacts with the devil. Despite this condemnation of such practices, a great number of Magick formulas and books from the middle ages suggest that it was practiced by people in many parts of the world. Charms, amulets, divination, astrology, and the magical use of herbs and animals existed, as well as higher forms of Magick such as alchemy, necromancy, astral magick, and more advanced forms of astrology. Magick also played a role in literature; most notably in the Arthurian romances, where the magician Merlin advised King Arthur. Grimoires, books of magical knowledge, like The Sworn Book of Honorius, provided instructions on the conjuring and command of demons.

Magick in the Renaissance

The Renaissance was a time where Magick had just started being appreciated again. It saw a resurgence in occultism, which was saturated with the teachings of hermeticism along with Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism, has formed the basis of most western occult practices. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, a German born in 1486, was an author that wrote a lot on Magick and occultism. He was widely known with readers from all over the world for his work De Occulta Philosophia (Occult Philosophy). He was an opportunist who mixed with royalty, founded secret societies, and went to debtor's prison. Even before his death, stories circulated about his prowess as a black magician, some of which were used by Goethe as inspiration for the title character of his play “Faust”. He was one example of people starting to “exploit” magick and witchcraft.

Even though Magick had started to shine again during this time, the tide of the industrial revolution had come. With that, it brought the rise of scientism, in such forms as the substitution of chemistry for alchemy, the dethronement of the Ptolemaic theory of the universe assumed by astrology, and the development of the germ theory of disease. These developments both restricted the scope of applied Magick and threatened the belief systems it relied on. Additionally, tensions roused by the Protestant reformation led to an upswing in witch-hunting, especially in Germany, England, and Scotland.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

In 1888 a highly secretive organization was created with the purpose of practicing influence on the western Magick practices. It was founded by freemasons William Westcott, William Woodman, and Samuel Mathers who named it ‘The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’. It was a well organized institution with defined hierarchy systems. Mathers spent a long time translating medieval grimoires, writing material that combined Egyptian Magick, Greco-Egyptian Magick, and Jewish Magick into a single working system. The Order taught astral travel, scrying, alchemy, astrology, the Tarot, and geomancy. Unfortunately the members got power hungry and started attempting to develop their personality to achieve a god-like status. However, they made the mistake of doing that through the manipulation of energies by their own will and imagination. This made each their ego grow rapidly and which led to breaking off their structure in the order. Members started arguing, creating schism and even magickal battles allegedly took place between Mathers and Crowley.

It was in 1903 that William Butler Yeats took over leadership and granted the group a new name ‘The Holy Order of the Golden Dawn’, by giving the group a more Christian-inspired philosophy. However, the flame that was once strong, had started to fade away. Shortly after in 1914 there was little to no interest about the order and the whole organization was shut down.

Magick in the 20th century

The twentieth century was the time when Magick had it resurgence. Practitioners experienced a huge revival of magical interest, particularly with the advent of neopaganism. People who never heard about Magick, suddenly wanted to be a part of it. One might argue that this was the time when Magick was completely acknowledged by the general public. Additionally the practitioners experienced a huge overflow of literature they could use and even find communities to practice with. During this period Crowley wrote a number of works on Magick and the occult, including the well-known “Book of the Law”. This introduced his concept of ‘Thelema’. The philosophy of Thelema is centered around one's "True Will" that attempts to achieve the proper life course through Magick. Thelemites follow two main laws: "Do what thou wilt," and "Love is the law, love under will". Crowley also advocated ritual and astral travel, as well as keeping a "magical record," of magical ceremonies performed.

Magick in New Age

It was in 1951 when England repealed the last of the witchcraft acts, which had previously made it against the law to practice witchcraft in the country. It was a man by the name Gerald Gardner that was considered and referred to as the "father of modern witchcraft". He was a fiction author. However, it was in 1954 when he published a non-fiction book titled “Witchcraft Today” where he stated that modern witchcraft is a surviving part of ancient pagan religions. The book got popular with seasoned practitioners and even people who did not really practice Magick. They were inspired to form covens and other intimate associations that were dedicated to practicing the craft. In this time period "Gardnerian Wicca" was firmly established and widely accepted by people and is greatly appreciated to this day.

It was between the time period in the 1960s that Magick gained interest from various countercultures, like the hippies whose members showed interest in divination and other occult practices such as astrology. Magick also became a vital part of various branches of Neopaganism and other Earth religions. One example is the huge appreciation for the worship of the Goddess which was launched by feminists inspired by the Gardenian Wicca. Another sphere of interests where Magick has left its mark is the new age movement.

As you can see Magick has origins dating back to pre-historic times and despite all attempts to bury it has only evolved and grown stronger with time.

In the next post we dive into the different forms of magick being practiced around the world ranging from the most popular to the most arcane.

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