Thursday, October 6, 2016
The Black Art and Occult Sciences in Antiquity by C. J. S. Thompson 1897
The Black Art and Occult Sciences in Antiquity by C. J. S. Thompson 1897
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To make a thorough analysis of this interesting subject, and trace the origin of magic, would take much more space than we have at our command; and we can only mention a few of the many forms which may be grouped under the head of the occult sciences, and those especially which had any connection with the alchemists. There is little doubt that most of the alchemists were students, if not practitioners, of magic or some of its branches.
The antiquity of magic is very great; and we have record of magicians and wise men in early Jewish times, as well as the magic formulæ of the Vedas in India, as handed down to us in the religion of the Hindoos. Moreover, magic was practised by the Chaldeans, of whom a certain tribe devoted their energies to studying the occult sciences. Pliny tells us of the dealings in the supernatural in the time of Homer, and other writers record that magic was also known to the Etruscans and Assyrians at a very early period. As time rolled on, the different forms of magic practised became specialised, according to their several natures. For instance, there were Astrology and Oneiromancy, which comprised the various forms of divination; Theurgy and Goetry, the art of evoking good or evil spirits; Necromancy, by means of which communication was held with the dead; and Sorcery, which exercised its power by the influence of dreams.
The longings after the supernatural and unknown felt by the great ignorant masses brought forth individuals in plenty to take advantage of their credulity. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the occult sciences were openly taught in the universities and schools, and 200 years later reached the zenith of their influence; and practitioners of astrology and the black arts abounded and flourished throughout Europe.
The professors of Oneiromancy were those who divined or interpreted dreams, and founded their traditions in the art from its being in accordance with the Scriptures. The explanation of dreams also did not go counter to the doctrines of the Church, and so the cult found many believers among all classes of society. It was denounced by Pope Gregory II. as a detestable practice; but this did not prevent it being largely employed in forecasting the future.
Arnauld de Villeneuve, who wrote a work on the subject in the thirteenth century, gives a certain code by which those who practised it worked.
Whoever dreamt that his hair was thick and carefully curled would soon become wealthy. If anything was wrong with the hair, evil was betokened. It also foreshadowed harm if a wreath was worn composed of flowers that were not in season. Other codes signified that to dream of the eyes, related to children; the head, to a father; the arms, to brothers; the feet, to servants; the right hand, to the mother, to sons, and to friends; and the left hand, to the wife and daughter. Another method was founded on the theory that whatever was dreamt of, the antithesis or opposite would follow in life. From this we have probably the saying common to-day, “dream of a wedding and it is a sign of a funeral”. According to many old writers there was scarcely any important event in the middle ages which was not announced by a dream.
The day before Henry II. was struck by the blow of a lance during a tournament, Catherine de Medicis, his wife, dreamt that she saw him lose one of his eyes. Three days before he fell by the knife of Jacques Clément, Henry III. dreamt he saw the royal insignia stained with blood and trodden under foot by monks and people of the lower orders.
Henry IV. also, before he was murdered by Raveillac, it is said, heard during the night his wife Marie de Medicis say to herself as she woke, “Dreams are but falsehoods!” and when he asked her what she had dreamt, she replied, “That you were stabbed upon the steps of the little Louvre!” “Thank God it is but a dream,” rejoined the king.
The necromancers, who were supposed to be able to conjure up spirits and raise the dead, were accounted on a somewhat higher plane than the interpreters of dreams. They also based their authority on the Old Testament. The nature of the art was gruesome and awe-inspiring, and there is little doubt many dark deeds were perpetrated by those who practised it. One method of evocation was to kill a child and place its head upon a dish surrounded by lighted candles; the desired spirit was supposed to enter this ghastly object and speak through its mouth. Sometimes the spirit simply consisted of some muttered words from behind a curtain in a dark cellar; another method was to cause the appearance of a sepulchral figure out of smoke or vapour, which would indicate by gesture and reply to questions asked. To evoke a dead man’s spirit, it was necessary to go to the grave at midnight with a companion who bore a candle in the left hand and a crystal stone in the right, the conjurer holding a hazel wand with the name of God written on it, and repeating the words:—
“Tetragrammaton + Adonai + Agla + Craton +”
Then striking three times on the ground, with a prayer he commanded the spirit into the stone, when it appeared in the shape of a child.
The conjurer often wore a girdle of lion’s skin with the name of God written on it, and the Solomon’s circle he described with a bright knife, on the blade of which were written certain mystic words. Necromancy gradually merged into sorcery, which has occasionally come to the surface in comparatively recent years.
Chiromancy, the art of divining or foretelling future events from marks on the palm of the hand, was also practised in antiquity, but in mediæval times it was strongly opposed by the Church. The practice is supposed to have been brought into Europe from the East by the Bohemians in the early part of the fifteenth century. This art eventually merged into astrology, which exerted the greatest influence of all the occult sciences.
The antiquity of astrology is very great, it having been originated by the Chaldeans, and was thought by some of the Jews to have been a method by which the Creator could communicate with His people. The art itself was based on astronomy, and, like alchemy, was the beginning of the study of real natural science. The teller of the stars was not only supposed to foretell forthcoming misfortunes to individuals, but also to forecast the destinies of kings and empires.
The belief in its power was so great that it became the fashion among royal personages of the sixteenth century to keep their own special astrologers, who were lodged easy of access and loaded with honours and wealth. These men were mostly astute Jews well versed in the science of their time, and by means of their supposed powers they often played a very important part in the political affairs of the nation. Thus in the fifteenth century Rovigo, an astrologer of eminence, who is said to have perfected the astrolabe, was attached to the Court of King John II. of Portugal; and Simon Pharès figured at the Court of France in the time of Charles VIII. We must not forget to mention Cosmo Ruggieri, the Florentine astrologer and the confidant of Catherine de Medicis; also the celebrated Nostradamus, astrologer and trusted adviser of Charles IX. This extraordinary man played a prominent part in the history of his time, and was supposed to practise magic and alchemy as well as the healing art. He was consulted by the king in all positions of difficulty, and it is said became immensely wealthy. He died in 1566 at Salon, after having written several notable works.
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