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Thread: Origins of Ceremonial Magick

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    Origins of Ceremonial Magick

    I'm curious to the origins of ceremonial magick. I've heard myths of Solomon and Hermes, but nothing concrete. What are good resources?

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    Quote Originally Posted by rawrTigress View Post
    I'm curious to the origins of ceremonial magick. I've heard myths of Solomon and Hermes, but nothing concrete. What are good resources?
    Do you want factual background or legendary?
    Sidhe

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    I would like to expand my knowledge of both. I've research more of the legendary and am having trouble finding the more concrete factual evidence.

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    Hmm...well, the legendary parts are a lot easier to find.

    As far as the factual history...a good place to start is with reading on Jewish mysticism. Since a lot of ceremonial magick came out of Qabalah and Merkabah, knowing that history is at least a place to start. Also, it introduces important concepts like "pseudepigraphic writings," which make a lot of occult history make more sense. :D

    Also, reading up on Freemasonry gives a good history of the notion of a fraternal lodge.

    The book A Dark Muse, while not being perfect, does cover the major figures in occult history, including some of the lesser-known ones.

    Reading up on Gurdijeff, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, and Theosophy are also good places to start.

    It's 6:40 in the morning, so that's about all I can think of currently. If I get more notions as I wake up, I'll add them in.
    Sidhe

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    Thanks! That gives me a great place to start. I'll start delving in.

    As I'm reading your message, thoughts about origins in general have begun to come to mind. It's amazing how no matter what all these spiritual paths start with just a person. A person reaching out to the divine and trying to bring the spiritual concepts they discover into practice. I think it's quite beautiful how all the different paths out there can have such synchronicity and common themes to share. Saying the same things in different ways.... lol and that's my rant of the moment.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rawrTigress View Post
    I'm curious to the origins of ceremonial magick. I've heard myths of Solomon and Hermes, but nothing concrete. What are good resources?
    A huge topic. Let me try a little summary.
    Ceremonial magic draws primarily from the heritage of classical and hellenic magic - what one might call 'greco-roman'. This in turn inherited material from the Babylonians, the Egyptians and from centuries of practice before Classical Greece. However what comes into European tradition comes mainly from the Greeks, through the Roman era.

    'Magic' in the classical world is a whole topic unto itself. It's fair to say that magical practices took some of the forms and techniques of Hellenic Pagan religious ritual and re-applied them for personal goals. Incense, spoken incantation, correspondences and images were all a part of mainstream religion, and much of 'ceremonial magic' is drawn from those practices.

    More specifically, in the late classical times when Paganism was competing directly with Christianity a new formulation of Pagan religious ritual was created, called 'Theurgy'. Theurgy (means 'work with gods') was a major step toward privatization of religious ritual, as the public square became more Christian, and theurgic methods that became enshrined in early books of ritual magic. Theurgy drew on the form of metaphysical philosophy called Neoplatonism, and was concerned both with personal spiritual enlightenment and practical magical goals.

    Someone mentioned the Jews, and Jewish symbols and god-names were popular even among Greek magicians. Judean magic was greatly respected in the classical world, and mixed freely with greek and egyptian methods to create the synthesis we call 'greco-egyptian'. Greco-egyptian magic is pretty well-preserved in the manuscripts called the 'greco-egyptian magical papyri', which are readily avilable in translation. Incidentally, 'kabalah' as such, wouldn't be invented for another several hundred years, and owes as much to neoplatonism and theurgy as to Judean lore.

    So, in time the Christians won out in the Roman Empire, and Pagan ritual and magic was made illegal. This was a very gradual process, and we can still read books of Christian magic from the early centuries of the Christian Era. However greco-roman lore was preserved in the Arab world, even after the rise of Islam. Magic using planetary forces, contact with angels and djinni, etc, was well-preserved among early muslims, as one sees in the 'Arabian Nights' tales. Those sorcerers were using methods that would have been quite recognizable to a magician of Greece in 100 ce.

    Now, in the times from say, 500 ce to 1400ce or so, we find it rather more difficult to track ceremonial magic. It seems likely to me that forms of theurgic ritual survived in private. Maybe even temples or 'orders' of such magicians occurred on occasion. None are recorded. It's possible that small groups of Orphic mystery folks survived - some of them practiced theurgy, some a wilder form of worship that might be more about 'witchcraft' than ceremonial magic.

    By 1400 European scholars are recovering greco-roman materials from the Arabs. Books of theurgy are once again available, better preserved than anything we know of from the European middle ages. Scholars caught fire from them, and the tradition of renaissance magic was born. In many ways this was a true revival of a Pagan spark, as the gods of the planets became the object of painting and sculpture, and the newly revived spiritual science matched the reviving physical science of the renaissance. At this point it seems likely that various 'orders' and confederacies (or conspiracies - magic was still illegal) were created.

    By the 1600s we find speculative Masonry. The rituals and customs of medieval craft guilds, with their 'trade secrets', were used to preserve vaguely heretical teachings and magical practices. No matter how staid and antique the Masons may be now, for some while they did help to preserve and transmit occultism.

    In this same period - say, 1400 - 1700, most of the books we now refer to as 'the grimoires' were written. Drawing on older traditions and on the spate of occult writing, a grimoire attempted to lay out a basic, practical system of ritual magic by which the magician could speak with the spirits and gain various worldly and spiritual goals. The grimoires may seem complex to modern readers, but that's mainly because of their style and organization - in the end they are basic how-tos. The rituals of those systems owe nothing to Masonry, but are recognizably related to the rites preserved in the greco-egyptian papyri from 1500 years before.

    So by the time we arrive at the 19th century occult revival, that's what we have: Renaissance magic of planetary forces, angels and demons; grimoires that combine high-end spirit-contact formulas with basic 'spellbooks'; and Masonic style 'lodge ritual, which provided a group ritual format where the grimoires were mainly a solitary or very-small-group practice. It's from those roots that the famous Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn grew.

    Two difficult but vital books:
    The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation - Haz Dieter Betz
    http://www.amazon.com/Greek-Magical-...4079729&sr=1-1

    On the Mysteries - Iamblichus
    http://www.amazon.com/Mysteries-Egyp...4079782&sr=1-1
    (Don't be fooled by the presentation on that - this is Greek stuff)

    Three useful modern books
    Hermetic Magic: The Postmodern Papyrus of Abaris - Stephen Edred Flowers
    http://www.amazon.com/Hermetic-Magic...4080081&sr=1-1

    Geosophia: The Argo of Magic I & II - Jake Stratton-Kent
    http://www.scarletimprint.com/rouge_geosophia.htm
    A little pricey to get both volumes, but this is this year's stuff... some of the best new thinking on western magic and its sources.

    Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires: The Classical Texts of Magick Deciphered - Aaron Leitch
    http://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Magick...4080415&sr=1-2

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    What sidhe and Ian Corrigan said above is largely accurate. Its roots lay in the confluence of Jewish, Greek, Egyptian, and Babylonian mysticism during the Roman period. Early Hermeticism and Gnosticism are the most popular religious movements in the Roman era through which these were expressed, at least in Late Antiquity (the 200's to 500's CE). It is important to note that Jewish mysticism had just as big an impact on these movements as Hellenic mysticism and religion.

    After that, things get kinda muddy. These mystic viewpoints had some impact on Christian religious movements in the Middle Ages, which we can tell from the Paulicians in the 600's and the Cathars in the 1200's. And they carried some weight in Arab lands, from which they were revived in Western Europe by Jewish and Arab traders during the Crusades. But the popularity of the occult didn't become widespread until the Renaissance and Baroque periods, where Hermeticism and Platonism influenced Humanism, and later led to secret societies like the Rosicrucians and the Freemasons forming in the 17th and 18th centuries.
    These groups were really emphatic on ceremony and high magic, as opposed to folk magic or low magic. Which is funny, since their roots come from folk mysticism and ritual magic of the ancient Greeks and Hebrews. But I guess it was a way for them to feel special, different from the superstitious and folkloric common people. It was, after all, a movement guided by intellectuals and aristocrats during that time.

    Western Occultism kinda died down during the 18th century as the Freemasons became more secular; I say "kinda" because Freemasonry became more popular than ever during the late 18th century, but had dropped some of its Ceremonial Magic elements to become more inclusive and politically active. It revived intermittently during the 19th century before reviving big-time in the late 19th century. It seemed to reach its peak in the early 20th century, with Aleister Crowley as the most famed example of a Ceremonial Magician and mystic.
    Interesting to note is that this led directly to a revival of interest in paganism in general among intellectuals, especially archaeologists and anthropologists. Which, on one hand, led to the German Mysticism movement in the 1880's through the 1940's; and on the other led to more folk magic-oriented neopaganism, including Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft religion.
    Western occultism, including Ceremonial Magic, kinda dipped off by the 1940's. But it revived yet again in the 1960's, amidst the counterculture, and in the 1990's.
    Last edited by Louisvillian; December 30th, 2011 at 03:43 AM.

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