Ceremonial Magic

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Ceremonial Magic

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Throughout the Witchcraft persecutions many high dignitaries of the Church openly practiced ceremonial magic, without fear of censure. The reason was that Witchcraft, as a religion, was heresy, while magic was viewed as simply a practice. Ceremonial magic was, in fact, a practice that required a great deal of knowledge (especially of Greek and Latin), sufficient time, and good financial backing. The people who had all three of these things, usually in some abundance, were the ecclesiastics. Many bishops, archbishops, even some of the popes, practiced ceremonial magic. Gerbert the Bishop, who later became Pope Sylvester II, was regarded as a great magician. Other practitioners included Pope Leo III, Pope Honorius III, Pope Urban V, Nicephorus Patriarch of Constantinople, the German Emperor Rudolf II, Charles V of France, Cardinals Cusa and Cajetan, Bernard de Mirandole Bishop of Caserta, Udalric de Fronsperg Bishop of Trent, and many others.

Ceremonial magic—also known as High Magic—is the practice of conjuring spirits, also known as entities, demons, or devils. Alphonsus de Spina stated in 1459 that there were 133,306,668 of these entities. This was "corrected" by Johann Weyer (1577) to 7,405,926 demons and 72 princes. Others also tried to count them, but came up with widely differing totals. Certainly there was a belief in a whole host of entities, all named and in a regular hierarchy, and each was thought to be an expert in a particular field. Depending upon what one wished for, the pertinent entity was conjured. For example, to be able to speak in tongues, Agares must be summoned. To learn astronomy and philosophy, Furcus must be reached. To destroy cities and prominent people, Raym is the one.

These entities were very unwilling to appear and obey and had to be threatened; the magician had to demonstrate his power over the spirit. To demonstrate his superiority, the magician would conjure with "words of power," usually using the names of god and of the angels and archangels, and the spirit was reluctantly forced to obey his commands.

The details of such rituals of the "Art Magic" were found in a book known as a


, from the Old French for "grammar." A number of these grimoires are extant in the libraries and private collections of Europe and America, although many seem to be no more than copies of copies. Some of the most notable grimoires are The Key of Solomon the King, The Lesser Key of Solomon, The Arbatel, The Heptameron, The Grimoire of Honorius, The Black Pullet, The Pansophy of Rudolph the Magus, and The Book of Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage.

A magician must do a great deal of preparatory work before he can start the conjuration. All the instruments must be made by the magician and constructed to an exacting formula. For example, wood for wands and the handles of knives must be cut from certain trees on specific days, in the hours of specified planets. Everything must be purified to the utmost, including the magician himself, through fasting, bathing, and prayer. The temple where the conjuration takes place must be carefully prepared and purified.

The Abra-Melin suggests that the magician's "age ought not to be less than twenty-five years nor more than fifty; he should have no hereditary disease, such as virulent leprosy; whether he be free or married importeth little." He must be dressed in special robes, prepared as carefully as the various instruments. He wears a crown of parchment and from his belt and around his neck hang amulets and pentacles. He operates within a large magic circle, carefully constructed and surrounded with the names of power. Outside the circle is a small triangle, also surrounded with names and words of power. Into this triangle will the entity be conjured.

The actual rituals to conjure the spirit are long and demanding, and frequently spoken in Latin or Greek. Exhortation after exhortation is made, and if the magician is successful, the entity will finally appear in the triangle. He often appears in terrible form, hoping to scare the magician out of his circle of protection. But if he appears, no matter his form, then he must obey the magician. Unfortunately it does not end there. When the conjurer has got what he wants, he then has to dismiss the entity, which is not always willing to leave. Again there are many exhortations and threats by the magician. Only when he is absolutely sure that the spirit has gone does the ceremonial magician dare leave his circle of protection.