Monday, March 07, 2016


The Science of the Magi

Papus liked to divide his books into three parts. First the theory.  Then principles for putting the theory into practice. And finally examples of actual practice. After which there might be a number of Appendices on various topics. His Treatise on Practical Magic is no exception.

Those who move on from his elementary introduction are, however, in for a shock, for the next chapter plunges into erudite theorising. It is in fact not by Papus himself but reprinted from l’Apodictique Messianique by Hoëné Wronski (1776-1853) a tragic figure who wrote a number of abstruse works of esoteric philosophy that few could understand and others didn’t want to. Latterly a friend of Eliphas Levi, he died of starvation when faced with the prospect of selling former published works as waste paper in order to pay for publishing new ones. A computer buff before his time, he also invented a kind of encyclopaedic machine, the remains of which ended up in a junk shop until discovered and kept as a curio by Eliphas Levi.

Obviously high on Papus’ list of esoteric pioneers, Wronski’s encyclopaedic review of the different forms of magic makes for challenging reading even though Papus claimed that differences from his own ideas were so slight as to be not worth mentioning. By no means a plagiarist, for he always acknowledged his sources, but with all the demands on his time along with his sense of missionary urgency, Papus did not believe in doing his own writing if he could use someone else’s. A trait which, in other areas, made him a formidable organiser of other peoples’ talents.   

However, passing on from Wronski to his own description of the inner constitution of the human body and its correspondences with the natural world, we can begin to appreciate the relevance of his medical studies, and his esoteric approach to them, which was in terms of  a triplicity, with an overriding fourth. Thus (i) the head, (ii) the torso above the diaphragm, and (iii) the torso below the diaphragm –  which are embraced and overseen by a higher form of consciousness.

The lower torso corresponds anatomically to the digestive organs, physical form expression, and the domain of sensation and instinct. The upper torso corresponds to the chest, heart and lungs, physical vitality and the domain of emotion and higher feelings. The head corresponds  to the back of the head, prolonged by the spine, to nervous force and the domain of  intellect and collection of knowledge.

 Whilst enveloping these centres like an angel’s wings are the functions of the brain with the five senses and organs of expression as its servants. In other words a Higher Self.

 Papus liked to refer to an early Platonic idea of people being originally created only as heads, to which body and limbs were later added by celestial powers to give them a means of physical expression. Somewhat bizarre imagery if taken literally but that can be aligned with traditional symbol systems such as the Tree of Life.

Papus indeed launches off into many directions from here on – which makes his book hardly one to recommend as a ‘do-it-yourself’ guide to the aspiring beginner. And one point he acknowledges that for serious progress to be made, enrolment with a responsible initiatory group is probably essential. Indeed he did much in the course of his life to establish or encourage such organisations and became involved with a considerable number.

There was also a kind of middle way provided by the Groupe Indépendant d’Études Ésoteriques (or G.I.E.E.)  he had founded in 1889, that had grown in size and influence until this same year of 1892 saw publication a 60 page booklet about it – La science des mages et ses applications théoriques et pratiques. (‘The Science of the Magi and its theoretical and practical applications’. We have already mentioned it in SOH No 4).

Published by Louis Chamel at the Librairie du Merveilleux for 50 centimes, and described as “a little résumé of occultism”,  it covers in a tenth of the space the essence of the overblown Traité Méthodique de Magie Pratique. Not that the latter does not have its value as an old curiosity shop with its considerable detail on elementary astrology, planetary talismans, country magic, love charms, and even how to win a lottery by means of kabbalistic numerology and imagery in dreams - with the proviso however, that one should not attempt to gain personally from the operation!

So we probably do best to concentrate our attention on the smaller book, which tells us that occult science taught in the ancient sanctuaries was divided into four main subjects. The study and handling of elemental beings and forces, or Alchemy. The study and handling of astral forces, or Magic. The study and handling of the occult forces within man, or Psychurgy. And the study of the forces of the Empyrean, or Theurgy. But that nowadays the remnants of these teachings had been put to work under the names of Magnetism, Hypnotism, Spiritualism, Telepsychism, Telepathy, Psychometry and Sorcery.

By special breathing exercises we can accumulate nervous energy within ourselves, spiritualise it by prayer, and by the will project it beyond ourselves. The nervous tension brought about by the exercises produces a condition in which a part of the astral body exteriorises and can act at a distance. This action corresponds to that of the Hindu Fakirs and the Magic of the ancients. But in the majority of cases with modern mediums and movement of objects at a distance the process is either partly or completely unconscious.

The phenomena are analogous to those of a magnet acting on metallic objects at a distance or even through other material substances. But here the magnet is replaced by a human being, and the astral body takes the place of the magnetic field.  Cures by ‘animal magnetism’ are produced by the action of the astral body (or fluid) of a human being on the physical or astral body of another. The power was described in the 16th century by Cornelius Agrippa in his chapter on Sorcery.

The process can be carried out either by astral images or by Elementals. In the first case, a particular stimulation puts the evoker into a state of semiconscious somnambulism, that is to say opens his eyes to the astral. Practically all modern instances are of this type.

In some villages one still finds ‘sorcerers’ capable of producing serious phenomena, having conserved fragments of ancient practical occultism, concentrated by a will brooding in solitude,  manipulating magnetic and psychic fluids with much power. {Note, an excellent example is to be found in my translation of Paul Sédir’s ‘Initiations’ in the account of a Breton werewolf. XX – ‘Invisible Enemies’. G.K.}

The sorcerer is to the occultist what a workman is to an engineer. The workman knows how to perform a task according to rules he has learned in the workshop but does not understand  the theoretical principles behind them. The engineer, on the other hand, would be capable of establishing the rules that guide the workman but might be at a loss if called upon to do the job himself!  The equivalent in the esoteric field a self styled expert incapable of producing  phenomena.

Ceremonies and symbols accumulated in ritual provide elementary procedures for engaging the human will, and the employment of magical weapons and evocative words of power are directed at action on the astral and the beings who populate it. A magical operation consists of obtaining consciously and without a medium contacts obtained by spiritualists and others in their séances.

In this a part of the astral body of the operator(s) is projected to establish a point of application in the substances disposed in advance for this effect. In which the operator must never lose consciousness, for then he or she would no longer be a practising occultist but a passive subject or unconscious medium.

In sum, practical occultism demands a series of very serious efforts based on a profound knowledge of the occult forces of Nature and of Mankind. The more one studies it the more one realises that there is nothing that opposes positive teachings of our present knowledge. The forces studied are analogous to magnetism and electricity with animal intelligence thrown in as well, the generators of the forces being living beings rather than machines or physical apparatus. There are new proprieties and new methods of experimentation; but nothing of this is supernatural for anything that exists must be natural.  

The sorcerer who collects plants at midnight on the mountain, pronounces strange words and makes bizarre gestures is no more alienated than the locomotive that whistles and jets forth fire on the railway track. The locomotive is a generator of physical forces. A magician is another kind of generator – of higher forces – and  in full control of  himself or herself.

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