Papus - A Methodical Treatise on Practical Magic
Having produced an Elementary Treatise on Occult Science and done his best to provide a Kabalistic philosophy behind it, it is only natural to expect Papus to have moved on to its more practical elements. This occurred in 1892 with his Traité Méthodique de Magie Practique (Methodical Treatise on Practical Magic) which in typical fashion tended to grow bigger and bigger over the years – in fact like its predecessor it first appeared entitled more humbly as an ‘Elementary Treatise’. The edition I happen to have (called the 11th) was printed in 1983 (apparently after being out of print for half a century) and runs to 639 pages with evidence of additions as late as 1910.
He announces magic to be as legitimate as any other science but one that is devoted to the study and control of the hidden forces of Nature. Also that his book has no other purpose than to serve as an introduction to Eliphas Levi’s Rituel de la Haute Magie, (aka part two of Transcendental Magic), that had been criticised for not being practical enough, though only by those who do not understand it.
Before getting down to the traditional accoutrements of practical magic which take up most of the book, he attempts to describe the process of magic in as direct and elementary a way as possible, using an example from the East.
There are in India individuals called fakirs who are able to manipulate hyperphysical forces by the force of their will. A number of witnesses have described presenting a fakir with a seed of their choice, along with a pot full of earth. This is placed on the floor before the fakir, naked apart from a loin cloth and turban, who sits cross legged before it, fixes his gaze and extends his arms toward it, and appears to fall into a cataleptic trance. He remains in this state for an hour or two, during which time the seed sprouts and the plant grows to a metre or more in height, and if the experiment is continued for three or four hours will begin to bear flowers and fruit.
What has happened here? According to Papus the fakir’s will has activated a force within the plant to produce a year’s growth within a few hours. A force that can only have one identity – natural organic life! The fakir has acted upon the life sleeping within the plant, awakened its vital forces and put them in motion, provoking degrees of activity greater than is generally perceived in nature.
Has he performed a supernatural act? Not at all. He has precipitated and exaggerated a natural one. He has performed what seems like a magical action by the force of his will, but nothing that goes against the laws of nature.
Which leads Papus to make the somewhat surprising affirmation at the end of the book that THE SUPERNATURAL DOES NOT EXIST.
Apart from wanting to justify occult powers before a possibly nervous or unsympathetic general public Papus was at this time still very much the scientist, asserting that anything that occurs can only happen in accordance with natural law. It is called magic only because the natural law expressed has not yet been understood.
He had reason in later life to amend this denial of the supernatural after meeting Nizier Philippe, whom he came to recognise as his ‘spiritual master’, but at this time he was still very much the bright medical student specialising in the study of hypnosis at the St Antoine and La Charité hospitals in Paris, testing the theories of the German naturalist Baron von Reichenbach that animated beings and some magnetic materials gave off energies visible to sensitives, called Odic force.
Trying to keep things simple, he goes on to elaborate the theory of magic in psychological terms with the analogy of a horse-drawn cab. (We are still in a pre-automotive age!)
The cab driver represents intelligence and the human will, – otherwise called the DIRECTING PRINCIPLE – that governs the whole vehicle.
The cab represents matter, which is inert but which carries all – and functions as the MOVED PRINCIPLE.
The horse represents force, acting on the cab, directed by the driver, that moves the whole system. It is the MOVING PRINCIPLE and at the same time the INTERMEDIARY between cab and driver. The link that joins and supports that which rules. That connects matter to the will.
So in practice, the driver is the human will, the horse is life, identical in its cause and effect within all animate beings, the intermediary without which the will could no more act on matter than the driver could move his cab if one took away his horse.
However, is it enough just to know this in order to be a magician? Alas, no! Not until one has learned how to drive. The difference between the practice of magic and occult science is that the first is practical while the second is theoretical. To expect to perform magic without knowing occultism is to expect to drive without having been taught how.
But if magic, being practical, is an applied science, to what is it applied?
The answer is the Will. The directing principle, the driver of the system.
And to what is the will applied? Never directly to matter. That would be like the driver sitting in his seat shouting at the cab while the horse is still in the stable.
The operator must therefore apply the will, not directly to matter, but to that which modifies matter, which in occult science is called the Formative World, the astral plane. Or that Eliphas Levi called the Astral Light.
Although if we refuse to believe it exists, then of course we will have little chance of working with it!