History of Occultism (I): the ideas of Antiquity


Occultism, as such, can be considered to have its beginnings in the Renaissance, a time in which scientific knowledge was imposed, and in parallel all the pseudoscientific or at least not empirically demonstrable development continued for discussions or events in which science did not seem to enough. The definition of something like "occultist", however, we do not have it until the 19th century. It is at that moment when the esoteric-occult differentiation becomes more valuable, the first being spiritual and the second more practical, although on many occasions they will have interchangeable meanings and practices. It is also in the 19th century when a greater creation of secret orders takes place and the occult manifests itself somewhat more openly through literature.

But occult practices, that is, the development of rituals with more specific purposes than superior or future knowledge, that is, with more material purposes, draw on popular grimoires, medieval and Renaissance studies, and above all, from the idea of a pagan age in which magic was much more pure and open. This is largely untrue. On the one hand, one must take into account the existing confusion between pagan religions and magical acts, many of which were prohibited in various cultures before the advent of any monotheistic religion. A Roman or Celtic sacrifice is not necessarily magical, as far as its definition goes. Part of the blame for these visions is due to literary romanticization, especially medieval. On the other hand, the archeology of the time, where any finding is charged with greater mysticism and secrecy than at present, also fulfilled its role of dissemination without strict scientific control - although they cannot be blamed, given the chain of findings between Egypt and Greece, to magnify and extrapolate these discoveries.

Occultism, esotericism and magic have always been intertwined. It is understandable that the same thing was done at this time and the fascination for ancient civilizations played a stellar role in the beginnings of the history of occultism as such. However, occultism also defines itself as that which remains or must remain lat. "occultus", concealed. It is, after all, almost a carbon copy of gr. esotericisms, hence their definitions are so confusing.


Despite how confusing it may be, it is not news that Egypt is the great mother of Western occultism. Already among the ancients themselves there was an enigmatic vision of their gigantic temples, their divinities and sacred doctrine. It had the same effect on subsequent rediscoveries. The difference between their religion and magic was not taken into account, perhaps because in ancient Egypt it was not a persecuted practice, rather, difficult and reserved in many cases. Within the religious aspect, he called attention to the way in which practically all of this was focused on the idea of death and Amduat, the afterlife, as well as the multiple parts into which they considered that the soul was divided. It seems that so much knowledge could not have arisen from the human mind - which is detracting from it. The Book of the Dead, -whose real name is The Book of the Day Out- has been taken by many, like the occultist Henri Durville (1753), for an initiation text, instead of a religious compilation.

The number of magical texts intended for protection in the afterlife left no doubt either of the fear they inspired or of the efficacy attributed to them. The attractive hieroglyphics, displayed on all the walls of the buildings, were considered protection marks, spells, and although many of them are, many others are simple narratives of the life of the pharaoh or of the specific events that had taken place year after year. anus. But the writing, taken for cryptic and symbolic, despite having been deciphered by Champollion (1822), continued to be complex and enigmatic for the vast majority. And there is even more, because in Egypt the inherent power of words in themselves was clear: abstraction, voice, expression as a form of creation, something shared with monotheistic religions but of greater archaeological antiquity.

In Egypt there was also the dream interpretation and priestly magic, magic (heka) as such, and not as a misinterpretation of a religious act. The Kher-Heb or priest/divine scribe/magician had a specific formation destined to the protection of the Pharaoh, an incarnated deity to whom the destiny of the people over whom he reigned was tied. The training was perhaps what was the distinctive element of occultism: it was not popular, superstitious magic, a residue of something archaic, but something so complex that it required a tailored study and perfected praxis. In addition, archaeoastronomy was highly mythologized at the time, before the comparison of the solstices or certain fixed stars in other structures of other cultures was demonstrable.

Non-priestly magic, however, was not easy either. The non-hieroglyphic writing, hieratic and demotic, was no less complex or interesting. Wooden tablets against the evil eye or amulets and talismans, much simpler and full of syncretism, and thus much more complex to understand at first glance, delighted mystics and occultists, who saw here how magic Ritual was accessible to everyone to some degree. Perhaps this was what promoted the ritual magic of occult orders, such as those led by Crowley, to be based on - although reconstructed for the taste of the time - the solemn Egyptian rituals. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that Crowley made an initiation trip to Egypt and it was in Cairo where the Aiwass spirit supposedly revealed to him the secrets that he would teach later.

> Greece and Rome.

Cradle of Western civilization, the Greco-Roman world is far from the tranquility and order that they always evoke. Their religions were determined by a very interesting complexity and geographical variety, which on the one hand were open to the expansion and modification of their cults, and on the other hand entailed strict control and limitation. Magic in this area, as has been mentioned on previous occasions, was persecuted, and it is only because of monotheistic religions that their religious acts may have been confused with magic. In addition, the magic that could be detected in those places is the one that Christianity later relegated, until today, to the field of popular superstition and esotericism. Here we would find magic of knots, chants, execrations and curses, as well as protections, amulets, talismans and counter-spells, as well as traditional medicine, together with an endless accumulation of knowledge about the countryside, the climate and the stars that, far from being magical, are a clear sample of the observation of rural people, in order to abandon their vision of ignorance.

But among the magical aspects within the Greek and Roman religion, until not long ago highly mythologized, there are aspects not accepted by Christianity such as divination: the oracles in Greece, the Etruscan haruspices and the Roman Sibyl provoked admiration and attraction for what was considered a more "logical" religion. So much so that in apocryphal texts of the Sibyl of Cumae, the Roman prophetess, prophecies about the arrival of the Christian Messiah were introduced. The observation of birds or extraordinary events as divine signs were curious to them, in the idea of a pre-established destiny, but slightly manipulable by earning divine favor. Oneiromancy and astrology also played important roles in philosophical thought, and it was through the Greco-Roman world where, for occultism, greater importance was given to the influence that these disciplines received from the Chaldean tradition.

On the other hand, much of what was known about Egypt prior to the interest aroused by the excavations came from the Hellenistic world, from Roman rule, and even through Byzantine filters. That is to say, Egypt was already influenced by the vision and mixture of elements from other cultures that had been surprised before.

>The Chaldeans

Although the Oracles have demonstrated their mystical doctrine, it cannot be denied that the influence of the entire Mesopotamian East would affect, not only the Chaldean tribe, but also the vision that the ancient Greeks and Romans had of them. Taken by the best astrologers, and coming from the Persians the definition of the magoi, this being the definition of the three wise men who visit the newborn Jesus in the gospel of Saint Matthew, the Zigguratts gained admiration as observatories, even being compared to the Tower of Babel. From Ancient Mesopotamia, not only from the Chaldeans, their calendar has been greatly admired, pending each astronomical event and with almost daily predictions, along with planetary and zodiacal links.

The predictions of meteorological aspects or great earthly events, based on the mirror of the celestial, together with the interpretation of dreams and physiognomy, were his strong points. Likewise, they shared with the Romans the observation of the flight of birds and the inspection of the guts of animals, among other multiple mancias, which were their specialty: philomancy or divination by the leaves of the trees and their sound, or hydromancy that Psellos mentions.

Undoubtedly the greatest contribution that the Sumerian-Babylonian world has made to the esoteric mentality has been demonology. His influence has affected the separation of the exorcistic method from the Judeo-Christian method, as well as offering a new theistic vision of all the divinities presented in the Hebrew Old Testament reconverted into demonic beings.

Finally, as the first notions that the Chaldeans had were the distortions of the Greco-Romans, together with the testimony of the Julians in their Oracles, loaded with initiation symbolism, the discovery of all the occult sciences that surrounded this Middle Eastern tribe opened the doors for scholars of all kinds to a less disrupted field of study.

> Judeo-Christianity

Last but not least, Judaism and Christianity, as religions that remained in the West, were responsible, not only for the wildest criticism of magic and witchcraft, often confused with paganism, but to transmit many other practices that, with the revival of critical sciences and later occultism, were revalued. Among them are prophetism and miracles, but also divination -the Urim and Tummim or by blunt arrows-, invocations to God or angels, sacrificial liturgies, terafim - figurines similar to Roman lares, small protective idols of families-, in addition to the numerous mentions of foreign rites. Solomon, like nabhi, that is, direct recipient of divine words, as were his father David, Moses or Abraham, the first, was a figure that over time would become an icon of the magician, both by legend of the ring and his control over demons, as well as the Biblical rejection of his acceptance of foreign cults - which undoubtedly, in any case, says a lot about him as a ruler, since he accepted and assimilated neighboring cultures instead of confronting them .

After some dark times, not only for religious reasons, as is sometimes claimed, but for wars, climatic changes and social evolutions, it will be from the Middle Ages, with copyists, and when the Arabs lend their translations of ancient works, when esotericism gains strength in society, until reaching the Renaissance and its explosion of knowledge of all kinds, but under the distorted visions that we have presented here.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada - pietrocarracedo@gmail.com


- Daxelmüller, C. Historia social de la magia. Herder, 2009

- Gérin Ricard, L. Historia del Ocultismo. La Otra Realidad. Barcelona, 1961

- Riffard, P. Diccionario del esoterismo, Alianza Editorial, 1987 Madrid

-Servier, J. (dir.) Diccionario crítico de esoterismo, Akal, 2006, Madrid.

Related posts:
> Magicology (I):daemonic magic and magia naturalis
> Greek Magical papyri (I)
> Greek Magical papyri (III). Subjugation practices
> Egyptian Talismans
> The punishment for Magic in Ancient Rome.
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