College of the Magic  Arts


Magical Treatises
a little history

Copyright © 2002 Miskatonic University Press/ yankeeclass.com, all rights reserved


From Butler's Ritual Magic (pp. 16-17) quoting a fourth or fifteenth century papyrus:
"Keep yourself pure for seven days, and then go on the third day of the moon to a place which the receding Nile had just laid bare.  Make a fire on two upright bricks with olive-wood, that is to say thin wood, when the sun if half-risen, after having before the sunrise circumambulated the altar....Decapitate an immaculate pure-white cock, holding it in the crook of your left elbow....Hold the cock fast by your knees and decapitate it with no one else holding it.  Throw the head into the river, catch the blood in your right hand and drink it up.  Put the rest of the body on the burning altar and jump into the river.  Dive under in the clothes you are wearing, then stepping backwards climb on to the bank.  After that take the gall of a raven and      rub some of it with the wing of an ibis on your eyes and you will be consecrated."

"This is the holy operation for winning a familiar spirit....He will perform at once any commission you may give him.  He will send dreams, he will bring you women and men without need for material link; he will remove, he will subdue, he will hurl winds up from the bosom of the earth; he will bring gold, silver, bronze and give it to you, if you need it; he will also free from bonds the prisoner in chains, he opens doors, he renders you invisible, so that no human soul can see you; he will bring fire, carry water, bring wine, bread, and any other food you want; oil, vinegar, everything except fish, as many vegetables as you want; but as for pork, you must never command him to bring that."

From Cockayne (3:9) on a remedy against swelling:

"Take a root of lily, sprouts of elder, and leaves of leek, and scrape them very small and pound them thoroughly, and put them [in] a thick cloth and bind [it] on [the swelling]"

Late 13th century Latin collection attributed to Albertus Magnus under the title the 'Secreta Alberti' or the 'Liber aggregantionis' was translated into the early modern period into English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.  The book has some 200 formulas

"To know whether your wife is chaste.  To be made invisible.  To burn someone's hand without using fire.  To make a perpetual, inextinguishable fire.  To divine the future. To start a fire [using a lens].  To make an incombustible garment [using asbestos]. 
     To make a sleeping man tell you what he has done.  To make a rainbow appear [using a prism].  To generate love between to people.  To make men seem headless.  To make men seem to have dog's faces. To make men seem to have three heads.  To see what others cannot.  To understand the speech of birds.  To make a man impotent.  To make a lamp that makes any man holding it fart until he sets it down.

Some variations on what is listed in magic books.

          1. Ritual and incantations that were not part of divine worship; evocation of powerful names; words, sounds gestures, character, and symbols.
          2. Applications and mixing of natural substances where the ingredients, the recipes, or the effects were unusual or generally unknown.
          3. Mechanical contrivances whose workings were hidden or not generally understood.
          4. Sleight-of-hand and other illusionistic manipulations, including the use of mirrors and lenses
          5. any other generally striking effect a person might create in which the causes were not recognized by others.

Isidore of Seville in his great 'Etymologiae' of the early seventh century provided a sinister portrait of magicians that was widely quoted and paraphrased well into the twelfth century: 

"Magi are those who are popularly called malefici or socrcerers on account of the great magnitude of their crimes.  They agitate the elements, disturb men's minds, and slay merely by force of incantations without any poisoned drink" (Etymologiae 8:9).

The following is from chapter 67 of De ortu scientiarum (1250), where Robert Kilardby is closely dependent upon chapter 15 of Hugh of St. Victor's Didascalicon:

Magic is not accepted as part of philosophy since it teaches every iniquity and malic; lying about the truth and truly causing injury, it seduces men's minds from divine religion, it prompts them to the cult of demons, it fosters corruption of morals, and it impels the minds of its devotees to every wickedness.

By the thirteenth century, people were beginning to drop away the magical and mirraculous fascades.  Albertus Magnus explained the Three Magi in his 'Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew": "For magi are great men according to the etymology. . . . And the Magi are not sorcerers as some wrongly claim.  For a magus is different from the astrologer, the enchanter, the sorcerer (or necromancer), and the other types of diviner, since properly a magus is only a great man who, having knowledge of all necessary things...  sometimes produces marvels or gives advance notice of them."  He, rather than condemn magi, explained that their knowledge came from nature and was praiseworthy.  Much of this change came from the Arabic influences. 

The De radiis (attributed to the ninth century Islamic scholar al-Kindi) a major naturalistic theory of magical effects analyzes all forms of rations that transmit influences through space, including astral influence and the effect of one mind on another.  This 'Book on Radiations or the Theory of Magic, argues that it is naturally flowing celestial influence, when properly tapped by magicians, the produces the unusual effects.  Al-Kindi's naturalistic theory allows no place for demons and for this reason evoked critical responses from certain quarters.  But the Latin translation (made in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century) was widely dispersed in manuscripts and influenced many writers including Roger Bacon (13th), Nicole Orsems (14th) and John Dee (16th). 

 The anonymous Picatrix (sometimes wrongly attributed to al-Majriti).  Translated to Spanish by Alfonso the Wise of Castile in 1256.  It presents magic as an applied science.  It offers this definition of magic in the second chapter:

We call by the name necromancy all the things done by which the senses and spirits are brought to marvelous effects. ... Necromancy is divided into two parts, theory and practice.  Its theory is the knowledge of the positions of the fixed stars...,      of the form of the heavens, and of the means by which they project rays onto the self-moving planters. ...  And in this [theoretical part] is comprehended all of what the ancient sages related concerning the choosing of hours and seasons for the work      of images [namely, talismans]. ... And words, too, are a part of necromancy since speech has itself the necromantic power. ...  Practice consists in the compounding of the three natures [animal, vegetable, and mineral] with the power of the influence of the fixed stars.

The third Arabian work which effected the Middle Ages was the Secretum secretorum, purportedly a letter from Aristotle to Alexander on kingship and ethics.  Probably written in the 10th century, it grew into am important encyclopedia of learning, science, and wise counsel.  Its tenth discourse on the occult sciences includes recipes, material on talismans, herbs, and stones, as well as the theory of magic and the powers of he planets.  Over 500 Latin manuscripts of this work are extant and translations in Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, Italina, Spanish, and Welsh and even Russian.  Roger Bacon produced a well-knonw glossed version of this book.

As natural philosophy flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries, it began to explain what had previously been know as magic effects.  Albert Magnus thought that the Pharaoh's magician's staves were simply the instance of worms coming from rotted wood.  Roger Bacon's explanation of the evil eye (fascinatio) employed concepts from the newly recovered Aristotelian texts and the newly available philosophy of al-Kindi and Avicenna (Ibn Sina). 

Albert Magnus played down demons, Thomas Aquinas played them up.  Siger of Brabant, said magical effects derived entirely from heavenly bodies controlled by the magician's scientific knowledge having nothing to do with demons. 

Nicole Oresme (the famous French mathematician and bishop, fl late 14th cent.) elaborated his theory of the configuration of qualities in order to explain a wide range of magical processes, including sympathetic action, attraction and repulsion at a distance, the power of enchanters' words and songs, and fascinatio.  He also began the move to distinguish between what was truly magical (or natural) from that which was illusionary.  He used the excuse that God's miracles were less common now than in Biblical times. 

From the Renaissance to the seventeenth century views of magic began to split.  One looked at the artifice, the illusion, and the mechanisms behind these.  This died with the rise of Galileo, Descartes, Boyle, and Newton.

The other direction was the powers of the mind.  This was especially prevalent in fifteenth century Italy.  Their concern was the power of the mind over externatl things.  Led by Ficino, and derived largely from the Platonic and hermetic texts as well as Al-Kindi and Picatrix.  This moved into the mysticl magic religions.

The question comes down to what is the difference between magic and science?  Magic appeared as the common man's ignorance of the existence of natural laws that any man could control.  Magic also included in its scope, those natural laws of the universe that may never, even today, be understood by any human beings, such as the nature of death, the origin of the universe, the existence of a thinking being greater than mankind.  Are these last questions mystical or are they just not yet understood?   Ignorance and the desire to hide it, often produce a strange form of fiction.  Anything not understood is believed to be supernatural.  And in an attempt to understand these supernatural things, fictional theories are presented.  That trees grow must mean they have a soul and spirit.  That the sun crosses the sky, it must be the chariot of a god, shining brilliantly.  That I often lose a sock means there must be gremlins in the house.  That I don't know how the universe started, there must be a god or gods who do know.  Then again, there are at any given time, three views of what is impossible and miraculous: the view of the common man, the view of those at the pinnacle of scientific knowledge, and the view of those of religious and judicial knowledge who must determine the ethics of events.

FROM Colin Wilson's The Occult: 

Actually in the 16th century the quality of magical texts fell off.  The Church was losing her hold on the people.  The age of science was approaching.  An intelligent, cultured country gentleman named Reginald Scot wrote 'The Discovery of Witchcraft' in the 1580's; he took the point of view of a throrough-going sceptic who declared that 'all spiritualistic manifestations were artfully impostures' and that witches were an invention of the Inquisition.  Some of his anecdotes are ribald and delightful--as, for example, the story of a young man who was unfortunate enough to lose his sexual member while fornicating.  He went to a witch, who told him she know of a tree in which there was a nest of spare penises. 'And being in the top of the tree, he took out a mighty great one and showed the same to her, asking her if he might have the same.  Nay, qouth she, that is our parish priest's tool, but take any other thou wilt. ...'  The nest, apparently, contained twenty or thirty tools, lying in provender--undoubtedly oats--upon which they fed.  'These are no jests,' Scot says seriously, 'for they be written by ... judges.'  King James I called the book 'damnable,' and wrote his 'Demonologie' to refute it; but even with a king's name to recommend it, the book never achieved the popularity of Scot's work.  And, in the long run, James I had to agree with Scot since his passion for witch interrogation found mostly fraud and illusion.  In the last years of his reign, witchcraft trials almost ceased.

A copy of the King James I "Demonologie" can be found in the Miskatonic University Library

Check out stories of Simon Magus in the apocryphal ACTS OF PETER and in the pseudo-Clementine writings, with further elaborations in the Didascalia and the Apostolic Constitutions.

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