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Magic & Christianity

In the unparalleled text of Christian mysticism of the 20th century, Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism (Anonymous; corrected translation by Robert Powell, 2002, Tarcher/Putnam), Christian activity is split into four categories relating to the Tetragrammaton:

  • Mysticism = Y
  • Gnosticism = H
  • Magic/Art = V
  • Hermetic philosophy/traditional doctrine = H final

So it can be seen right at the outset that magic can be an integral part of a Christian life. It will help, of course, if we define our terms that we avoid some semantic conflicts from the start. To quote from the source cited above:

Magic, art and giving birth are essentially analogous and pertain to the same category of projection or exteriorisation of the inner life. The Church dogma of the creation of the world ex nihilo, i.e. the projection from “nothingness” of forms and matter which are conferred with a life of their own, signifies the divine and cosmic crowning of this series of analogies. The doctrine of creation ex nihilo is the apotheosis of magic. Its essential statement is, in fact, that the world is a magical act. (pg. 46)

Thus, we see magic described in terms of both art and giving birth. These analogies are vital to understanding the role of magic in the individual life of the magician, and especially that of the Christian magician (not to mention the insight gained by the analysis into the roles of art and childbirth for some).

For both passionate mothers and artists, it is nigh impossible to explain in intellectual terms not just the desire but the need to bring something into the world. Whether it be a human life or a sculpture imbued with a soul of its own, this act of creation is not something which can be forever circumvented without serious consequences. Ask a would-be mother about the incessant, even painful, “ticking of the biological clock”, or a creatively blocked artist about the emotional, mental, and even physical tension, torsion, and discord produced by a dry spell.

None of this is to say that every woman is called to motherhood, nor that everybody with the slightest creative streak must be an aritst; not everybody is called to be a magician either. I am simply using our Unknown Friend’s analogies to describe the calling to magical practice which some of us feel.

As “people of the Book”, Christians read that “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27 NRSV; the word translated ‘them’ is actually better rendered ‘him’, indicating that each individual human is in some sense male and female.) To a Hermetic, this message is doubly significant; if we are each created in the image of the Elohim (God/dess; a strange Hebrew word with connotations of both maleness and femaleness, as well as plurality), that means that in a sense we possess a reflected measure of the creative power of They who created us in Their image. Whatever else we take this verse to mean, it at least indicates that we, as humans, partake in some special sense in the glory of the Divine Persons, To the Christian Hermetic, it is only insofar as we participate with God in the continuous act of creation (for Genesis is a constant act of love, not a once-and-for-all construction job) that we are exercising our proper and appropriate authority through magic. Yet,

With respect to autonomous magic, i.e. magic without mysticism and without gnosis, it necessarily degenerates into sorcery or, at least, into a pathological, romantic aestheticism. There is no “black magic”, but rather sorcerers groping in the dark. They grope in the dark because the light of gnosis and mysticism is lacking. (ibid, pg. 43)

Not that one man’s experiences proves anything, but I can attest to this point from the bowels of my own history.

Magic and prayer are often compared to one another in occult literature. This comparison is in most ways a false one stemming from a common misunderstanding of prayer. There are, in fact, multiple types of prayer, some more important than others. A Christian (or those of other faiths, for that matter) can very well have a rich and full prayer life without every uttering what are known as “intercessory prayers.”

Intercessory prayers, or petitioning prayers, are what most people equate with the word “prayer” itself; these are prayers requesting that God intervene (or “intercede”) on our behalf in the natural proceedings of the universe. Through these prayers do we ask for healings to be enacted, for jobs to be obtained, for relationships to be mended. As a Christian, I will be the last to deny the potential of this sort of prayer; as disconcerting as it may be for our rational minds, we do not in fact live in a deistic “closed system” universe. God is not an absentee landlord, nor an aloof watchmaker, but a passionate Artisan and (dare I say) lovestruck Fool who never removes Himself from His word and play. In the words of Paul, “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.'” (Acts 17:28 NRSV)

Even intercessory prayer, though, bares little relation to magic. In magic, we work upon the substance of the universe from within the universe itself, while with intercessory prayer, we petition God to act upon the universe on our behalf to accomplish something beyond our power to achieve. This is an important point of Christian spirituality and occult metaphysics worth contemplation.

The final question to be answered is that of magical abuse. Two of the greatest objections to the practice of magic are that it tends to produce in us the sin of pride, and the related problem that it seems to diminish our sense of needing God and thus reduces our spiritual concerns to a set of formulae rather than the relational spirituality required in Christianity. In answer, I turn again to our Unknown Friend:

No, dear Unknown Friend, possession by the will-to-power or the will-to-glory makes neither the personality nor its greatness. The “sheep” in the language of love of the Master [Jesus] signify neither the “great personality” nor the “little personality”, but simply the individual soul which lives. He wants the soul to live without danger and to have as intensive a life as God has destined for it. The “sheep” is the living entity, surrounded by dangers, which is the object of divine care. Doesn’t this suffice? Is there too little brilliance and glory here? Is this too feeble and image to be able to arrive at, for example, a magician evoking good and evil spirits? […] The powerful magician, the artistic genius, the profound thinker, and the radiant mystic certainly merit all these qualifications and perhaps still greater ones, but they do not dazzle God. In the eyes of God they are dear sheep to him; in his consideration of them he desires that they shall never go astray and that they shall have live increasingly and unceasingly. (ibid, pp. 38 & 39)

With apologies to my reader for the long quotation, I believe that the point is ably made: magic, like art, philosophy, science, and a million other activities, is a skill and perhaps a talent with multifarious applications in life, but a wise person will always keep an eye toward God and thereby avoid building a personal Tower of Babel on the shifting sands of ego and personal accomplishment. Magic’s greatest use then, in accordance with Christ’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:31 NRSV), is the same as all other God-granted skills, abilities and talents: to aid ailing humanity and to proclaim the love and grace on which our whole universe is founded.

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