Magicology (III): The two sides of the same coin


With most accuracy, Daxelmüller (1993) named one of the sections of his work Social History of Magic as "Jano's Head" . As we could see on the first part of these articles, magic was divided by origin, actions and goals in two big groups: magia naturalis and magia daemoniaca, one was good and the other mostly evil. This caused -from a scientific point of view- that most of the good and useful magic was not used.

At the beginning of the Modern Age, many were aware of this duality and they searched for the way to rise magical discipline at the same level of the other useful sciences. In addition, the three sciences considered as essential ones were physics, maths and theology, mater scientiarum, a name that obtained more from power than from belief. Anyway, magic was inside these three disciplines so it could be considered as a science itself. This argument was included in Middle Ages, a time where the functions of magic were well defined and this made it just and fair but in the other hand, it made it illegitimate and punishable. Astrology kept a respectable status inside the courts besides its persecution in public life. Was this because of the presence of astrologists in the Bible?

Why was a bad thing to behold the work of the Creator, which showed a perfect order and the destiny of His creatures written on His project?

This was the very first type of lawful magic, one of the six types that Heinrich Solter (1648) exposed in Wittemburg as places in which magia naturalis was not only lawful but worthy of respect as a branch of physics.

The second type of magic study was the one that was in nature, transformation and transmutation shared by wizards under their animal and demonic metaphors. However is also found with the example of the transfiguration or transubstantiaton.

The third type is related to the power of word or image. Was not God the one who created throught Word, was not the Lógos (gr. Word, speaking) the first thing? Is not the act of contemplation a way to knowledge?

Fourth and fifth classifications gather creation of figures that alter the state of what they are or represent. They can be curses or votive offerings that represent signals for the deity or presents and grattitude.

The sixth and last is Cabala, not only as a philosophy and theological magic but also as the secret and hidden power which comes from divine knowledge.

Music is a new exception, aknowledge before and after in the work of Rudolf Otto Lo santo (1980) as a key enlightened element useful to know what lies beyond sensitive world, analyzed by Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680). Once more this held dualism and because of that it ended under the same impartial trial: reason and objective. The transmitting vehicle between high and low classes could become not only the teacher of the town but critic and politic.

It is clear inside this group that we were talking about the hidden features by nature or by divine decision of each element of Creation. These features can be divided between good or bad actions which in the other hand they are moved by the ethic between the one who makes it and the person judging. Knowledge and acknowledge by both parts of the magical act and the word would avoid magia naturalis to be confused with its counterpart at a moral level. In cases of popular knowledge as incantations, amulets and superstitions, it was not so clear and the good magic was again related only to high classes. It made sense since they were the only people able to access education but also the lessons. Nevertheless, they also found their studies interrupted at the moment something reminded a religious comparative inside a magical place. Despite of being treated as a product of God or submitted to His will, or near the neoplatonic philosophy. It is the case of Pietro Pomponazzi (1462-1525) who believed all the power of miracles came from magia naturalis. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486-1535) was considered a magician in his age. His most known book and the most criticized was De Occulta Philosophia where he exposed a neoplatonic synthesis between Christianism and magic. It gave him world fame, good and bad, despite in his work there is no ritual practice in that way.

Several detractors were 'trapped' in their own dissertations, as Giovanni Pico della Mirandolla (1463-1494) when he rejected astrological predestination with no denial of his own perception of magic, a philosophy of nature. Others discredit more the magic but they liked Cabbala thinking they were not related.

Later on, during XVI and XVII centuries, existing magical treatise were gathering in grimoires as Key of Solomon or Picatrix, which was requested by the very king of Castille, Alphonse X the Wise. These grimoires were collections of treatises as Elementa Magica of Pietro D'Abano, or the spiritual and pharmacological work from Arnau of Vilanova.

Is in Renaissance where the concept of esotericism rises as a cultural category. Because of that, besides of its relation with magic and once its both aspects are defined, esotericism did not stop working at the same time with theology and philosophy as a way to know the outside, invisible and wonderful. But penalties and threats for heresy ended once more in need to practice. Even those things similar to magic in a hidden way. The advances in sciences are colliding with religion and magic with no defense possible.

Secrets societies begin to appear slowly. These had their scientific aspect, also religious, spiritual, philosophical and metaphysical and esoteric as well as academic status. The Rosicrucian Order is one of them and it contains allegoric elements, almost mythical as those which say the orders were founded by Biblical people as well as initiation and secrecy. Illuminati order was originated in XVIII century, today those called Illuminati follow their example.

We must have in mind the culture boom, or reinterpretation that was Romanticism for these orders and the rediscovering of esoteric culture. With no prestige whatsoever, magic turns to be attractive to those who search for ancient evocations in legends and fantasy and in the true essence of the human feeling. In XIX century, these orders were still common but they went a step forward and occultism started.

Occultism can be distinguished from esotericism by its natural concept. While esotericism deals with nature, included magic by different types, occultism -term made by Eliphas Lévi in 1856 in his Dogma and High magic ritual (Dogme et rituel de la Haute Magie)- is not only about belief and esoteric hidden practices, but also study and public spreading. This philosophical and cultural thinking made many neopagan trends be self-included as occultism not only because of practices but thinking and philosophy. Modern meaning of esotericism can be named as occultist when is well organized. However, as Pierre Riffard appoints (1983), while an occultist can self identify as esoteric, he would be non compatible with occultism since this is focused on psicological, vital, personal issue, while esotericism is about spiritual and universal issues. Basically, pure initiation and study are opposed besides in the common mind they can be interchangeable concepts. We must not forget that until certain point, occultism has really given back esotericism its value and so its place among the beliefs. Nevertheless, it also has caused a totum revolutum of practices from every nature and place that make harder the final analysis of sciences and hidden arts.

The current research of magic remains open to the public through direct esoteric teachings or from the most reflexive study but in both cases we will find the same disadvantage: antiquity. Every spiritual movement searchs for the roots of human being, going back in ancient studies and practices. With that, magic evolution only obtains attention from its historical name, or we could say 'trend'. Mircea Eliade (1976) mentioned esoteric reborn, first as an opposite culture, then as a trend. Then as restoration movements under a clan, a tribe or an order. As we have seen, there is rejection among esoteric and occultist organizations against the open exposition of their knowledge, as astrology or other mancies, ritual magic, while they move at a traditional religious level. Both follow the most ancient tradition, transforming it by their will, spoiling the original value and provoking their practices were not worthy to be studied until now. 

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -

- Daxelmüller, C. Historia social de la magia. Herder, 2009
- Flores Arroyuelo, F. Diccionario de supersticiones y creencias populares, Alianza Editorial, Madrid, 2000
- Larner, C. Witchcraft and Religion: The politics of popular Belief, B. Blackwell, Oxford, 1984
- Stewart P. J.; Strathern, A. Brujería, hechicería, rumores y habladurías, Akal, Madrid, 2008
- Thomas, K. Religion and the Decline of Magic, Penguin Books, Londres, 1973

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