Evolution of Magic
MAGIC is the practical application of a false conception of natural laws, or the supposed manifestation of human will and power over the supernatural. In its primeval sense it is the religion of the Magi, that is Persian dualism. In reality, as generally accepted, it is theurgia, or the working of miracles and wonders. Any custom or doctrine that has been current in every age and among every people, though of course in various stages of development, is a legitimate subject of study, because, as Professor Max Müller says, we “ learn what man is by learning what he has been.” Magic, which is like fairy-lore, since we find the same elements in both throughout the world, has been an important factor in all faiths, from the worship of the elementary spirits of Accad-Chaldeans to African fetichism (in which it indeed constitutes religion), or to those phases of modern religions which still countenance rites of exorcism. It therefore deserves all the careful attention of a cultus phenomenon. If we studied Chaldean sorcery, savage devil - worship, Thessalian witchcraft, or mediæval magic as isolated phenomena, we would only be shocked by the strength of the human tendency to superstition ; but each considered relatively, and assigned to its proper position in the history of mental evolution, acquires a new signification, and we recognize in it a power which, like Mephistopheles, though willing evil, produced good. Magic nourished the spirit of inquiry, it familiarized its followers with the forces and elements of nature, and it finally proved that study of the material by means of the supernatural was vain and futile. Not till students had tried to master the secrets of the universe by theory, and had therein failed, could they absolutely know that objective knowledge must be based on facts. Modern scientists and philosophers are the descendants of the alchemists, astrologists, and mystics. They also seek the Gnosis, or philosopher’s stone; and if they have approached a step nearer the goal, it is only because their predecessors prepared the way for them.
Magic had its beginning in devil-worship. Savages in all countries fear demons and wicked sorcerers before they think of a good God, many of them, indeed, looking down with contempt upon a supreme being who could be friendly to them, just as boys sneer at a too indulgent school-master. As Dean Swift says, whereas our desires prompt us to pray, the wild Indian is oftener put upon his knees by his fears. Hence religion in its primitive manifestations is pure magic, and nothing but magic, consisting, as we still find it in surviving forms of primeval Shamanism, in exorcisms or propitiations of evil spirits. So long as men’s own actions and impulses are the only law they know, they, like children, attribute human feelings and intentions to all substances, animate and inanimate, and even to the natural elements. There is no actual difference between the logic of the child who beats the floor because, when he fell on it, he bumped his head and that of the savage or ignorant Christian who maltreats and drowns the statue of a god or saint because his prayers have not been answered. The human struggle for existence is at first as severe as that of the lower animals, and before a man can worry himself as to his future destiny he must concern himself about the present. Before he seeks to provide for his soul, he must overcome the obstacles that lie in the way of his body ; and, his associative powers being in their infancy, his manner of accomplishing this is illogical. Priests among savages are magicians, because their authority rests on imaginary and dreaded power. They are supposed to control the elements, to send health and disease, and to give both life and death, some savages saying that if there were no wizards then would men live forever. Thus, they are honored as the holders of the keys to human happiness and prosperity. Butler says truly in Hudibras, —
Of being cheated as to cheat; ”
for, in proportion as there are men ready to invent absurd reasonings, credulous people show their willingness to accept their absurdities. Primitive magicians invest sticks and stones with supernatural power, and their followers at once place all their faith therein; they declare that screams and noises as of Bedlam let loose will influence and banish the demons, and the people celebrate religious ceremonies which consist of yells and dances, contortions and gesticulations. In primitive magic there may be a germ of the transcendental philosophy of the mystics, who could only describe the infinite as diametrically opposed to the finite. If savages shrink before shadows, then must shadows or spirits cower before substances, their fear increasing in proportion as these are lifeless or soulless. Man lives in a world of noise ; hence the land of shadows is, as New Zealanders believe and European poets sing, a silent one, and at the beating of drums, the blowing of whistles, the ringing of bells, and the shouting of human voices the evil spirits are bewildered and vanquished. There is a very beautiful and strange South Sea poem, reminding one of a picture by Carpaccio, and which, like Salis s poem of The Silent Land, describes the invisible world as one of utter stillness.
The oldest and most exhaustive system of magic of which we have accurate records, and therefore the most important, is the Chaldean, which M. Francois Lenormant says is “ like the last words of the most learned system of the ancient magic of the primitive ages founded upon a belief in the spirits of nature.” Its origin was not Semitic, but Turanian, it being the religion of the Accads, the aboriginal inhabitants of Chaldea. Accadian magic, as we know it, had reached a higher development than that which has its roots entirely in devil-worship. It was based on the earliest barbarous dualism, and relied upon beneficent powers who could successfully oppose the demons. It marks the transition stage from the deification of evil as the one supreme cause to the conception of two coequal powers, or the personification of good and evil acting as combatants in an everlasting duel. At first this Accad or Turanian magic was unquestionably a mere polydæonic devil-deprecation, in which there was little heed of a benevolent “ over-soul,” and very great fear of innumerable malevolent under-souls, who worked, as Hermes Trismegistus says in Poemander, among the down-borne elements of God. But when it became systematized in the sacred books, it contained the germs of Persian magism. It held that all disease, pestilence, fam ine, drought, in fact all the ills that flesh is heir to, were not the work of demons, but the actual demons themselves. A man stricken down with the fever was not merely attacked by the wicked Namtar, but was possessed by him. Friends and enemies from the supernatural world agreed in this one point: that they were never moved by supplication and prayer, but conferred benefits and withdrew troubles only when forced to do so by the influence of magic. Powerful as they were, they became “ weak as water, and they “ trembled like leaves,” before the irresistible might of charmed drinks, magical knots, and enchanted stones, and they were always mastered by the recital of certain conjurations and incantations. The magicians who wrought the spells necessarily became the rulers of the people. The Chaldeans believed in the occult and mystical virtues of numbers quite as firmly as cabal is ts and Pythagoreans, and in many of their conjurations the demons are addressed as “ the seven,” this number being, as Cornelius Agrippa declares, the “ most potent of all, as in good, so in evil.” The Chaldeans’ demonology included phantoms and spectres, nightmares and vampires, succubi and incubi and all the other ghastly horrors which follow the demons like the human vultures who come in the train of the regular army. The people held, as Paracelsus did later, that the world is as full of spirits as the air is of flies in summer, and they therefore were obliged to protect their every thought, word, and action with talismans and charms. Though only divine magic is countenanced by the sacred books, there is sufficient reference to the “ evildoer and the malevolent man ” to prove that Chaldean sorcerers, in their making of magic philters and medicines, in their basilisk glances, in their curses, baneful as the breath of the Dragon in the old English ballad, and in all their application of the black art., did in no wise differ from the sisterand brotherhood of other countries and other ages. “ C’est partout com me chez nous ! ” It is everywhere as with us, and men play the same tricks the world over.
Chaldean magic gives the clew to that of all Turanian races. There is a startling affinity between the Accadian cultus and the old religion of the Finns, though of course the effect of climate on creeds and superstitions is apparent. The Finnish sorcerers were supposed to control the whole spiritual world. Demons and gods were equally their accomplices. They could bring the dead back to life, change their shape at will, and work miracles through the power of amulets and talismans and the charm of certain words and names. Their incantations and spells were so strong that not even the gods could resist them, and to this day mariners tremble before the wiles of these wizards. Lemminkaïmen, the most terrible of the mythic magicians, is the favorite hero of Finnish poetry. Never were siren strains in Grecian waters, nor the " magical singing ” of a Lurlei in Northern streams, as deadly and destructive as was his song. Like Faust, he played strange tricks on the guests at a convivial party. He came into their midst, and after he had sung, the most accomplished singers could only bring forth ridiculous sounds, even as in the Welsh Mabinogion the minstrels in the king’s hall were confounded by Taliésin.
The superstitions of the Altaic races, among whom Shamanism prevails, correspond to those of the ancient Chaldeans and Finns. Whether the peculiarities of mankind are transmitted, or spring up sporadically in different countries, is the problem which now concerns ethnologists. This question is particularly important in regard to Turanian magic. In the religion of the red Indians we find a sorcery exactly like that of Siberia. We may assume that it came to North America through the medium of the Eskimo, the proof being that pow-wowing, as it approaches Alaska, becomes distinctly Shamanic, or Central Asian. The Chinese priests who are supposed to have gone to California in the fifth century are termed by some Buddhists, by others Shamans. In the latter case they could have been the means through which the Indians obtained their sorcery. The identity of Central Asian Shamanism with Accadian magic can be boldly assumed. What cannot be so easily solved, and what I propose to others to explain, is the extraordinary resemblance between African sorcery and Shamanism, or between Obeah and Pow-wow. We have in both the idea that disease is an evil spirit, which is to be drawn out by the use of the drum and the whistle, with screams and fumigations. In both there is the same divination by bones, the same belief in the increased magical power of the Shaman, medicineman, and wizard after death, the same reliance upon the efficacy of bits of charmed stone or metal, the same noisy combats with demons, and altogether an almost exact resemblance of rites and superstitions. The Jews, who borrowed their magic from Persians and Chaldeans, may possibly have transmitted it to the Africans by way of Abyssinia. This is a mere conjecture, but it is not without plausibility. Voudouism is the direct continuance of native African magic, and is therefore Shamanic in its principles. It considers only the antithesis of God in evil spirits, and busies itself with acting through or upon them. It employs as its agents all that is startling, coarse, vicious, and offensive in humanity. Whatever is strikingly repulsive to vulgar natures is made use of by the Voudou to affect the imagination. The most unnatural crimes are urged, and many varieties of poison are resorted to, simply to produce a result that will seem magical. If we compare this with what travelers tell us of magic in Africa, we will find that its native sorcery and Voudouism are the same. It is precisely the magic that would appeal to the most brutal savages, and is one and the same in principle, though not in practice, as the black witchcraft of mediæval Europe. If we could accept what several recent ethnologists have attempted to prove, that all mankind had a common origin from a race that came from the lands now submerged in the Atlantic or the Indian ocean, we should incline to believe that these branches of magic had a common origin, following the generally adopted belief that the first race must have been barbarous.
The next stage in the evolution of magic is typified in Persian magism, which in its fundamental tenets was pure dualism. In this system independent agencies, separately ruling the elements, were replaced by two distinct and paramount principles of good and evil. A universal law of order was recognized as governing the universe, against which, however, incessant warfare was carried on by a spirit of contradiction and evil. To oppose this was the duty of the magi, who, notwithstanding their enlarged conception of the infinite, were still very ignorant of the real nature of the objective world, and were firm in their faith in the occult properties of things. Zarathustra himself was honored as a magician, whose mission had been to conquer Angro-Maniyus and his hosts by throwing upon them magical stones. He was represented as the prince of sorcerers, a mighty maker of charms, and, according to tradition, he originated the cabala, and could make gold from the seven metals. At his coming nature had rejoiced, for he was the restorer of harmony to the world. The great Ahura-Mazda, who was not invulnerable to attacks of magic, feared at first lest Zarathustra should enlist in the service of the enemy, and, as if he were an ordinary mortal, secured his alliance by a sacrifice of Homa. The priests, or magi, were astrologers and soothsayers, and claimed that they could bring fire down from heaven and heal the sick, but in their magic we can perceive the dawn of science. The primitive Reign of Terror was over, and men began to breathe freely. The recognition of a supreme law of order, the principal merit of their cosmic theory, made the magi understand that the winter storm and the summer sunshine were not at the command of capricious spirits, and made them feel that before shells and stones, names and numbers, could be converted into amulets and charms they, the distributers of them, should seek to discover the secret of their mystic power. They not only tried to read the future and understand the past by the movements of the stars, but they studied and closely observed the heavenly bodies, in order to learn why this was possible. If they reasoned from unsound premises, they at least encouraged the spirit of inquiry. They had started on the right path, but the world was still young, and that which is poetry and romance to us then constituted philosophy and science. The students of old would be the poets and dreamers in the modern world. At this point in the history of magic, the poetic element became one of its chief inspirations, as fear had been in its earlier manifestations. Just as birds fly and fish swim by instinct, so there have always been men who, by a strange sensitiveness, enter into closer sympathy with nature than is possible to the majority of mankind. We see this to-day in the Romany of the roads and the gypsy of society ; in the olden time such men passed for seers and prophets. They not only affected to be, but they really were, wiser than their fellow beings. Voices spoke to them from the winds and the waves, and the rocks and the woods kept no secrets from them. They could see and hear many things to which other men were blind and deaf. It was not enough for them to know that flowers were richly scented and that birds sang sweetly. It seemed to them, as it did later to Heine, that “ perfumes are the feelings of flowers,” and they longed to understand the language of the birds, and to hear the music of the spheres. This love of nature is the foundation of the legends recorded in the folk-lore of every country, in which the hero, like Finn-ma-Coul after he had tasted the magic salmon, was initiated into the speech of all living things, and it is the origin of those fairy tales in which children talk with flowers and birds. It was this spirit of poetry, this strong love for life in its human relations, which made magic such a powerful factor. While spiritual speculations drew men from the study of their own world, magic held them to it with a strong spell, and thus promoted the sense of humanity, and led to the possibility of exact knowledge. These are its principal virtues, and they are first clearly displayed in the astrology and learning of the magi.
In Egypt religion was based on a supreme unity, and magic was steeped in mysticism. Whereas, in the Iranian dualism, good and evil were rival powers, and there was but a faint allusion to a time to come, when Angro-Maniyus would finally perish, in the Egyptian mythology Set was an inferior being, who had already been vanquished in the struggle with Osiris. Goodness was represented as victor in the primeval conflict. While the Persian magi, like Martha in the Bible, busied themselves about the things of this world, the Egyptian priests thought more of the world to come. It is true they were soothsayers, diviners, and healers of the sick, and that Hermes Trismegistus had revealed to them, with other magical knowledge, the art of converting base metals into gold and precious stones ; but the greater number of their amulets, spells, and incantations were meant to serve as safeguards for the souls of the deceased. While the Accadian charms were directed against elementary spirits, and their object was temporal gain or relief, the Egyptian magical formulas commanded the gods, and their aim was the salvation of the human spirit, and not the body. The souls of the wicked, before they reached their final punishment, which was annihilation, were condemned to wander many years, tempting the souls of the good during their underground pilgrimage, and as ghosts and vampires harassing the living. The saved, on the other hand, were by prayer and penance identified with the gods, and it was to secure this identification, and guard against the attacks of the damned, that magic was necessary. Tremendous occult virtue was ascribed to names and the repetition of certain prayers, and the scarabei on which the priest - magicians had inscribed spells were held in the same veneration and respect as the Sacred Heart scapular and Gospel of Saint John are now by Catholics, or as pieces of metal and bone are by fetich - worshipers. Egyptian magic fell into that error which has characterized all Oriental thought. At a certain point in civilization the Oriental nations have paused, and have remained stationary for ages, because they have depreciated the real, and exaggerated the importance of the unreal. In countries where the climate is warm, the soil fertile, and men can subsist on a minimum of food and with the scantiest garments, the ease of physical life prompts philosophers to study only the soul or vital principle, and to make contemplation their one method of study. When magic ceased to be necessary as bodily armor, it became the stronghold of the spirit. The Egyptians did not seek their occult knowledge through the senses, for these, they taught, were deceivers ; but they declared that truth could only be obtained through faith and prayer. As well might Cæsar or Napoleon have gone forth to conquer the world without their armies as a man try to understand the philosophy of life without using his body as a channel of information. Magic in Egypt was too involved in mysticism to develop into more logical systems of inquiry.
In the doctrines of the cabalists there is a strange blending of primitive magic borrowed from Chaldeans with' mysticism derived from Egyptian sources. The cabala does not indicate a definite degree in the growth of magic, but denotes an intermediate period, when lofty thoughts and absurd superstitions grow side by side, just as satyrs and types of brute godhead wander through the same forests with fair dryads, and it is the link which connects the magic of the primitive civilizations with the occult philosophy of the new culture. It bridges over the distance in time between Hermes Trismegistus and Cornelius Agrippa. It assumed a first cause, which was unknowable because the finite can never grasp the infinite. From this source emanated ten intelligences or spheres, of which En-Saph, the first, was a pantheistic spirit. They joined the unknown to the known or to the objective world, and an ideal chain linked together all created things. As everything comes from the divine essence, according to the cabala, then nothing in itself is evil; and here there is a tremendous stride beyond the dualistic conception, as if there had lived mental giants in those days. Evil is the temporary eclipse of good, and Satan is an ephemeral being, who in the end returns into the one pervading spirit. Man is the most perfect of all creatures ; he is the microcosm, or little world, in which God, the macrocosm, recognizes himself. The cabalists taught the doctrine that has been the leading belief of all mystics, namely, that by meditation and abstraction from earthly cares and affections man could become incorporated with divinity. But with this transcendentalism there flourished silly superstitions, wild fancies as to the occult properties of insignificant substances, and bold confidence in the wizard-like qualifications of the learned. The rabbis were wonderful magicians who could create men and melons, cure disease, cast out devils, and make cakes which gave to the eaters the power of prophecy. They ascribed as great a virtue to the proper names of things as Walter Shandy, Esq., did to the proper names of persons, and though they turned from graven images in horror they actually adored written names. Most of their spells were worked through the efficacy of words and sentences, either spoken or written. Francis Barrett, a modern occult philosopher and faithful follower of the cabala, writes in all due sincerity : “ The virtue of man’s words is so great that, when pronounced with a fervent constancy of mind, they are able to subvert nature, cause earthquakes, storms, and tempests. I have, in the country, by only speaking a few words, and using some other things, caused terrible rains and claps of thunder.” This was the usual manner in which the rabbis wrought their miracles, but they performed spiritual wonders through the efficacy of numbers, since, they said, while figures affect the body, numbers influence the soul.
Magic in the East bade fair to lead mankind into that folly which, according to tradition, precipitated the Greek philosopher Thales into a pit. While gazing up at the celestial spheres, magicians and mystics were forgetting that star-gazing was only possible to those who had a firm footing on the earth. This error was counterbalanced by the healthy human tone given to occult speculations by Western Aryans. In Greece there was indeed the blackest of black witchcraft. There were witches and wizards and Strange rites and deadly herbs, before which Demeter and Phœbus Apollo were as helpless as lambs led to the slaughter. Gods, both native and foreign, were subject to the commands of the witches of Thessaly. Sun and moon, night and day, obeyed their orders, as they had those of Joshua in the Valley of Ajalon. The thunders of Zeus rolled and roared unbidden by him, and the terrible demogorgon, chained to the nethermost point of hell, felt the magic spells. But Thessalian witchcraft was the survival of an aboriginal cultus, and genuine Hellenic magic was based on a higher and healthier cosmic theory than the Egyptian, though it was never so mystical. Evil occupied a subordinate position in Greek mythology. There was no arch-demon, of the Satan-Ahriman type to create it, and poets accounted for its existence by legends like that of the box of Pandora. In their daily life the Greeks well-nigh forgot gods and spirits. Religion with them was not a necessity, as it was in the demonhaunted Orient. It was rather a relaxation, and magic was not so much a preventive of pain and adversity as it was a furtherance of pleasure and prosperity. Its principal spheres were divination and medicine, the two most practical branches of occult science, and its miracles were wrought under the influence of music, poetry, and perfumes. The poetical stimulant of magic has usually found, among every people, expression in music. Metus enim mortis musiea depellitur ” (Even the fear of death is dispelled by music), says the Latin proverb, and savages and civilized men alike have succumbed to its charms. David drove the evil demon from Saul by his song and harp-playing. In Lydia the islands, at the first sounds of the trumpet, came sailing to the middle of the sea, where they danced in a mystic dance. The Danish minstrel could by his enchanted music make men mad. The Piper of Hamelin spirited away rats and children by the melody of his magic pipe. We have already seen the power of the Finnish sorcerer’s singing. In Greece music was more than an adjunct ; it was the very soul and life of magic. Apollo was god of soothsaying, music, and medicine, as if to show that prophecy and the art of healing were impossible save through the spells of sweet sounds. Orpheus united the most perfect music to powerful magic, and all nature thrilled with the melody of his poetry. Therpander and Arion, of Lesbos, and Ismenia, of Thebes, cured the sick by the divine medicine of music, and the philosophers Democritus and Theophrastus affirmed its sovereign sway. The walls of Thebes rose to the sound of the lyre, and sirens won men’s souls by their melodious voices. In all Greek magic we find a strong reliance upon human force and physical influence, and a borrowing of power from sensuous rather than from spiritual sources. Its main excellence lay in the triumph of physical over speculative methods.
But it was among the Norsemen that magic acquired the highest standard and evolved the truest philosophy. The Scandinavians gave no elaborate explanation of the origin of earthly evils, and their religion was crude, but it taught the efficacy of work and human activity. When Odin, the allfather, the inventor of magic arts, sought his knowledge, he, though a god, had to work for it. Before he could lull the sea and still the tempest, quench the raging fire, raise the dead, and win a damsel’s favor, he had been obliged to hang nine nights on a wind-rocked tree, an offering of himself to himself, while with a spear he wounded his body, and, wailing, learned the “ potent songs nine.” When a Northman wanted anything, he must always obtain it by his own exertions. He could never sit still, as prophets of old did in the desert, and wait for the birds of the air to come and feed him. The magicians, feeling this, declared that their spells and charms could only be acquired by courage, will, industry, and self-reliance. Magic among a semi-barbarous people, ignorant of science, could go no further. The Scandinavian surpassed all other systems in that one point in which Eastern magic was wanting. In the East the body was looked upon as an incumbrance, and occult knowledge could only be gained by mental abstraction alone. In Greece there was the consciousness of the importance of developing the bodily faculties, and the senses were recognized as the means to magical learning. But in the North there was added to this consciousness the certainty that man must labor and toil and make sacrifices before he could lay claim to either physical or mental supremacy. Their philosophy foreshadowed the modern doctrine that “ it is only in actions that we truly live, and by our actions that we can truly know ourselves.”
There have always developed with the magic authorized by religion a sorcery dragged down by the ignorant to their own level and a higher or illuminated form. In all progress there are cases of revival, survival, and deterioration. Popular magic was a medley of old superstitions outgrown by wiser men, and a misconception of established beliefs. Spirits and demons adapted to the comprehension of the peasant classes become fairies and imps. Consecrated prayers are exchanged for meaningless formulæ. Soothsayers and prophets are replaced by garrulous old women, while every simple occurrence is fraught with strange portent. This mixture of tradition and religion is often colored by romance and poetry, but it has as little influence upon the development of culture as children’s sham battles have upon the fate of a country in time of warfare. It corresponds to the types of retrogression in the animal kingdom.
On the other hand, the magic of the illuminated was always far in advance of the national creed. The feeling which a rich man gratifies by pâté de foie gras and champagne is au fond the same as that which the wild Australian satisfies by a handful of maggots or tree worms. The difference is one of degree, and not of kind. And therefore it happens that with the emotional appetites the desire for power over the mysterious forces of nature, which at first gives birth to Mumbo Jumbos and Ndàs, at a later period produces an Iamblichus or a Paracelsus. Illuminative magic worked miracles by drawing power from God, or the unknown principle. By knowledge
by initiatory ceremonies, by the juxtaposition of corresponding elements, it supposed man could partake of divinity itself. Union with the godhead was the leading doctrine of Neoplatonists and mediæval mystics, but the former were eventually more influenced by magical devices than by Greek philosophy, and their pure ideals degenerated into bitter rivalry of Christian miracle-working; while the latter, fired with the fever of alchemy, vainly sought the philosopher’s stone. Like Faust, they tired of the futility of philosophy, and devoted themselves to magic. Instead of vain discussions as to the nature of celestial, intellectual, material, and occult properties, they manufactured homunculi and uprooted mandrakes.
The magic of Christian Europe was not a new development, but a gathering together of every variety that had preceded it. It was essentially a system of eclecticism. The mysticisms of Asia and Judea were united to the philosophy of Greece and the legends of Scandinavia. The church borrowed the dualistic theory from Persia, and added to its arch-demon evil spirits from every quarter of the globe. To resist their attacks required all the magic artillery of the church militant. Terrible conjurations and anathemas were the weapons of the priests, and charms and amulets multiplied rapidly. The success of religion was made to depend on miracles. The lame walked, the sick were healed, and the dead arose from their graves. The summer sun was courted by letters addressed to saints and angels, and the storm was banished by blessed candles and the sign of the cross. Holy men were by spiritual sorcery marked with the stigmata, while others, by the purity of their devotion, were held suspended in the air during their prayers. Nothing was done by natural means. The people, crushed and down-trodden by the clergy, paid them in their own coin, and gave them miracle for miracle. They made compacts with the devil, who initiated them into the secrets of the black art. They learned to make ointments, by the application of which they went sailing through the air. They could blight the crops and cattle of their neighbors by one glance, and could milk their cows without moving beyond the four walls of their huts; they killed trees and injured children by praising them, and, deadliest crime of all, attended midnight meetings of witches and wizards, to which they went mounted upon goats and broomsticks. Finally, they appeared greater than Satan and his hosts. The Malleus Maleficarum, the orthodox authority on the subject, declares that the witches were worse than the devil, and Burton writes in the Anatomy of Melancholy, “ You have heard what the devil can do of himself; now you shall hear what he can perform by his instruments, who are many times worse (if it be possible) than he himself, and who to satisfy their revenge and lust cause more mischief.” In other words, the devil is not so black as he is painted, and it is the sorcerer who raises the storm and rides the whirlwind. It is charming to prove that man outdoes the devil in wickedness.
The learned despised the cruelty and ignorance of clerical magic, but were themselves the slaves of occult science. They concocted the elixir vitœ, by which they preserved their youth and lived forever. They made gold and silver, cured diseases, and interpreted dreams and presages. With Manfred they
The nights of years in sciences untaught
Save in the old time.”
And here let it be recorded to their honor that while Popes and priests were inveighing against cleanliness, as if it had been the unpardonable sin ; while the ladies in Spain were forbidden by clerical edict to wash themselves, and saints reveled in dirt from which almost any animal would have recoiled, the occult philosophers declared that man was only fitted for union with God by a pure mind and clean body, and that without cleanliness magic was an impossibility. Mediæval mystic magic really consisted of the cabala, with much Arab magic lore, grafted on Northern thought, and received its full expression in Paracelsus and the Rosicrucians. The secrets of the Brothers of the Rosy Cross have never been entirely revealed, but they seem to have consisted of a knowledge, or a color of knowledge, of science far beyond their age joined to those doctrines of Cabal is ts, Neoplatonists, and Gnostics which treat of the spirits tilling the universe. It was through familiarity with these they imagined they could perform wonders. Paracelsus, too, confused valuable discoveries with cabalistic mysticism, but, were it for nothing else, we must respect him for his firm belief in the perfectibility of man. The human active element of the North gradually threw the quiescent supernaturalism into the background. But even as Samson in his last great labor was stronger than he had ever been before, so magic in the Western world ruled with its mightiest sway just before its overthrow.
After the Reformation and the Renaissance, with the progress of science and the rise of rationalism, the influence of magic began to decrease, though it was far from being destroyed. Witches and wizards were tried and burned at the stake as late as the eighteenth century. Swedenborg and his followers refilled the air with spirits, and in the beginning of our own century there were symptoms of an ardent revival of the old credulities. Men like Barrett wrote volumes to testify to their adherence to the “ hidden knowledge,” and quite gravely and seriously recounted their own experiences in miracle-working; while strange rumors were current of peasants finding their way through mysterious passages to underground chambers, where studentphilosophers, vying in point of age with the early Jewish patriarchs, were discovered, surrounded by their books and mystic appliances. We of to-day boast much of our clear mental vision: but while the horns, hoofs, and tail of the devil are still realities to many ; while the souls of the departed are interviewed by spiritualists, and clairvoyants and astrologers can make fortunes by reading the future, we cannot throw our stones of derision and contempt at the Medeas and Cassandras of Greece, or the Sir Urians and Volunds of mediæval Europe. Though we are so wise, our pond is still haunted.
We argue that as science becomes perfected we will know the raison d'âtre of all that is inexplicable in the universe. This may be, but we are still far from a state of perfect illumination. Whether the human mind can really ever attain to the consciousness of absolute knowledge, — can comprehend the “ where, what, and whither of the power which gives the impulse to evolution,” — no man can tell. But, until the unknown is made known to us, there will be mysteries in nature and in man, and phenomena as truly miraculous to us as, to use Carlyle’s simile, the artificial production of an icicle would have been to the King of Siam. But — and here lies the difference between the old and the new supernaturalism — while mystics and magicians claimed that they could perform miracles through the occult properties of things, we recognize the folly of attempting to make practical use of a force of which we know nothing, either as to its origin or the laws by which it works. The wiser man grows, the more willing he is to confess his ignorance.
In these remarks magic has been treated solely with regard to its past influence on culture. A very interesting inquiry would be whether there is really such a thing, and in what does it consist ? How is it that a Pacific Islander in robust health will die in a few hours from taboo ? How does the poet compose ? How is it that faith or delusion affects every sense ? As I could not venture on such a land of doubt, I will dismiss the subject with an extract from an article on it by Charles G. Leland : —
“ As it is unwise to deny anything, it would not be wise to deny the possibility of a theurgia, such as has never been conceived. Poetry and magic, as Ennemoser claims, sprung from the same source ; if we believe that science is preparing the world for such an era of art and poetry as it never knew before, it will of course also bring forth a stupendous magic. Physiology declares that ' there are, unknown to us save as guessed from effects, the most important modifications in the molecular activities of nerve-element and changes in its chemical composition.’ Eye memory is capable by culture of putting before us, like real pictures, all we have ever seen, or all we wish to see. By a training within the reach of all, any one may remember volumes where he now remembers lines ; it is even possible to revive, by an effort of will, tastes, scents, sounds, and feelings to a degree which would seem literally marvelous to us now. And beyond all this, and greater than this, lies what even so accurate and sober a reasoner as Maudsley 1 describes as the wonderful organizing power which cometh from afar, within which lies hidden that which may be intuitively revealed to consciousness as absolute knowledge, and the possibility that the nature of the mysterious power that inspires evolution may, by a flash of intuitive consciousness, be made manifest to the mind in the process of its own development. It is impossible to really master any one late first-class work on physiology, and not feel that we are on the verge of discoveries which will result in marvels which can be strictly classed as magical.”