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Magic's Sinister Origins

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,alt.pagan.magick,alt.paranormal.spells.hexes.magic,alt.witchcraft,talk.religion.newage
From: nagasiva 
Subject: Magic's Sinister Origins (was Magical Aims ...)
Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2002 22:06:40 GMT

50020810 VII om

"Greg Wotton" :
>>>> "Know, Dare, Will, Silence. "
>>>> "We profess only to heal and that gratis."
>>>> Perhaps you have not heard of these two maxims...

> described by academics like Kieckhefer, "magic"
> gets its etymological origin in as condemnatory a
> lexicon as does "Satanism". it is only through time
> that it assumes (often rebellious or egotistical) 
> positive forms.... 

since I've just analyzed Kieckhefer's "Magic in the 
Middle Ages" and extracted its philosophic method for our 
consideration, I want to expand on his arguments on the 
origins of the term "magic" for the purpose of adding an 
academic dimension to a study of magic rivalling that of 
Carus and JBRussell for the contextual origins of "satan" 
in a consideration of the subject of Satanism:

	In classical antiquity, the word "magic" applied 
	first of all to the arts of the magi, those
	Zoroastrian priests of Persia who were known to
	the Greeks at least by the fifth century B.C.
	Some of them seem to have migrated to the
	Mediterranean world. What, precisely, did these
	magi do? Greeks and Romans generally had imprecise
	notions of their activities: they practiced
	astrology, they claimed to cure people by using
	elaborate but bogus ceremonies, and in general
	they pursued knowledge of the occult. Whatever
	they did, however, was by definition "the arts
	of the magi," or "the magical arts," or simply
	"magic." From the outset, the term thus had an
	imprecise meaning. Because the magi were
	foreigners with exotic skills that aroused
	apprehension, the term "magic" was a deeply
	emotional one, rich with dark connotations. Magic
	was something sinister, something threatening.
	When native Greeks and Romans engaged practices
	similar to those of the magi, they too were
	feared for their involvement in magic. The term
	extended to cover the sinister activities of
	occultists whether foreign or domestic.
	 Richard Kieckhefer, "Magic in the Middle Ages",
	 Cambridge University Press, 1995; p. 10.

later the term 'sorcery' would come to mean something similar
in communities in which 'magic' had become assimilated as
something which could be positive. the same is true with the
division between "necromancy" and "spiritualism" or "spiritism",
which etymologically may be equated on the basis of usage but
the tone of their application were typically polar opposites.

compare the writings of authors like Augustine and Roger Bacon,
identifying "magic" as something demonic or entirely fraudulent,
whether or not they held something comparable to be possible
but used different terms to describe it.

> ...[Richard Kieckhefer] has focussed on negative aspects of 
> occultism such as the confessions and activities surrounding 
> witch trials (compare Pennethorne Hughes, who apparently 
> inspired Gardner to express his 'investigation results' 
> creating Wicca) and the content of grimoires of necromancy 
> (his focus on examining magic between 500-1500 CE through 
> the lens holding magic as arising out of the powers of 
> demons or occult powers in nature is refreshing and logical).
> he's due out with a book soon (if not already available)
> "A Necromancer's Manual From the Fifteenth Century" that
> promises to be quite astounding.

his examination of Medieval magic uses the method of
examining the apparent or presumed origin of the powers
utilized by the magician(s) (particularly distinguishing
the magical as from demon power and the occult powers of 
nature rather than from neutral or positive spirits or 
from some divinity, such as a God). he contrasts this with 
the method of attempting to identify the intended force of 
the magical action (coercive or supplicatory; the former 
being magical, the latter being religious, comparably). 
his use of the term 'invoke' is ambiguous throughout,
rather than specific and technical (as contrasting it 
with the comparable 'evoke', which he doesn't use). 

here's his text on the matter:

	In this book, then, the term "magic" will be used
	for those phenomena which intellectuals would
	have recognized as either demonic or natural magic.
	That which makes an action magical is the type of
	power it invokes; if it relies on divine action or
	the manifest powers of nature it is not magical,
	while if it uses demonic aid or occult powers in
	nature it is magical.

	There is an alternative way of defining magic, which
	focuses on the intended force of an action, rather
	than the type of power invoked. This way of conceiving
	magic has its roots in sixteenth-century religious
	debate and gained currency in anthropological writings
	of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
	According to this approach, the central feature of
	religion is that it *supplicates* God or the gods, and
	the main characteristic of magic is that it *coerces*
	spiritual beings or forces. Religion treats the gods
	as free agents, whose good will must be won through
	submission and ongoing veneration. Magic tries to
	manipulate the spirits -- or impersonal spiritual
	forces seen as flowing throughout nature -- 
	mechanically, in much the same way one might use
	electricity by turning it on or off. From this
	perspective, the border between religion and magic
	becomes difficult to discern. A person who tries to
	coerce God by using rituals mechanically can be seen
	as practicing magic; indeed, sixteenth-century
	Protestants charged that this was precisely what
	Roman Catholics were doing. In recent years even
	anthropologists have tended to put little stock by
	this pat distinction, but in the general reading
	public it remains so deeply entrenched that many
	people see it as the natural meaning of the terms.
	 Kieckhefer, Ibid., pp. 14-15.

he goes on to explain why this latter perspective on magic
is "unhelpful" in examining Medieval contexts: 

	a) remnant sources don't unambiguously indicate how
	   mages conceived of their actions

	b) coercion and supplication probably weren't
	   sufficiently distinguished to make this useful;
	   he gives prayer similar ambiguity, using as an
	   example the fact that the New Testament contains
	   assurances that "Christ had promised to do
	   anything that his followers requested in his name
	   (John 14:14)" [Kieckhefer, Ibid., p. 15.]

	c) the lack of data makes action-category unclear

	d) the intentions of the magicians and religious
	   were probably ambiguous in themselves
and maintains the value of identifying magic with demonic
and occult power sources instead as a helpful criterion.
that he begins with statements about the condemnatory
origins of the term 'magic' in history lends support for
his method, and makes the development of the term itself
comparable to 'satan' as it originates as a negative
('adversary') within Jewish culture, eventually arriving 
in modern Satanism as a positive identifier (today's 
magicians similarly self-identify with positive intent). 

> why *aren't* magicians rich, if they can achieve their desires?
> the response "who says they aren't?" introduces the possibility
> of both transplanting the character of 'magician' to those who
> have determinedly achieved their objectives regardless of whether
> they have used symbolism and rite to get there; it also makes it
> possible, as has been shown above, to flux the meaning of 'rich'
> so as to shift the perception of magicians' results to one less
> evidently verifiable and assessed (because it [pertains to their 
> subjective state rather than something empirical]).
> the presumed axiom, 'that they can achieve their desires' is often
> the subject of dispute amongst mystics for whom abstention and
> purification practices must precede or stimulate empowerment and
> therefore results. i.e. the response is that their power is somehow
> restrained to certain standards or objectives.

theurges are typically adoring of this principle, because it proceeds
from their axiomatic presuppositions about the role and power of the
God whose power they have been licensed to utilized toward whatever
ends the God deems moral and valuable.

the Christian legends of magicians like Simon Magus include Simon's
enviousness over the Christian God's licensing, even including
condemnatory criticism of their attempting to "purchase the secrets 
of the Mass". it is made clear subsequently that the God can dictate 
who can and who cannot employ these (ritual) secrets. Christian 
legends of Simon have this power "turned off" by Peter, the 
authorized God-representative and protagonist of the God of the 
storyteller. Neo-Gnostic alternatives of course describe a kind of
religious rivalry spun by later Christian expositors to demonize
Simon Magus as an interloper on the God's authorized formulae.

that these stories *are* legends is clear based on the repeated
theme to be found surrounding legends of other non-Christian
magicians (e.g. any number of the 'Masters' lauded by MPHall and
company, such as Apollonius of Tyana) and their apparently temporary 
ability to direct the same power (or employing something natural, 
which is said by the theurges to be interruptable by enlisting the 
power which is presumed to underly and create that natural world
-- thus enabling Peter to "bring Simon down" from magical flight
and continue to demonstrate his own theurgical miracles).

incidentally, once we leave these theurgic, as compared to
thaumaturgical, considerations behind then we can begin to 
understand what Kieckhefer has identified within a Medieval
context as a projection of demonic sourcing (based on the
predominantly clerical counter-currents) *over the top of
natural magicians* due to religious biases in today's world:

	Recognizing the threat of demonic magic in the 
	underworld, they would spontaneously project that
	model on to humbler magicians. To justify and
	promote their repression of popular [largely
	natural] magic they imagined not only a demonic
	element in this magic, but a conspiracy of demon-
	worshipers. Between the magicians and their
	opponents lay a wide perceptual chasm.
	 Kieckhefer, Ibid., p. 201.

and I suggest that this projection continues to this day,
sometimes manipulated and twisted into beneficent or ordeal-
oriented magical enterprises (modern Witchcraft religion, 
Satanism, sorcery, etc., covered by my own ideas of the
Great Martyrdom Cult). it is this context of religious bias 
which inspires academics *like* Kieckhefer to put some 
distance between themselves and the practitioners of magic, 
so as to remain an unimpeachable source on the subject 
(of history and anthropology generally).

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