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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

English Spirit Magic Following the Reformation - Thoughts inspired by Dr. Francis Young

"Magical practitioners were disconnected from the stereotyped role of exorcist – a role no longer recognised by the Church of England after 1550 – and one fruitful line of enquiry might examine whether post-Reformation magicians relied less on confrontation and command and developed relationships with spirits instead." - Liturgical Change and Ceremonial Magic by Dr. Francis Young

Young makes this point to explain that there may be an element of reformation magic which is distinctly non-Catholic where as most protestant magic ends up having Catholic roots. Juratus suggests a shared relationship with the spirits. The magician achieves the beatific vision and therefore enters into a state similar to the angels and calls them by the shared virtue of loving creator in whose presence both he and the angels have stood. In earlier systems we see a shared status occur in the "Mithras" Liturgy in which the ceremony confers initiation into magical power by virtue of making the magician appear to be the same as the gods and spirits into whose plane he has been elevated. Contemporaneously the Merkavah also used a system of elevating the magician to the various planes of the angels and made him acceptable to move amongst them by giving him words, signs, and songs so that he might praise god in the same manner the angels of that world did. Therefore he would gain the powers of that heaven and the ability to call upon its spirits.

Young could mean that a relationship along the lines of a familiar spirit. This would be sensible with the relationship between familiar spirits and witches in later literature because as Young points out, much of what was ascribed to witches was really a protestant response to "popish necromancers." The Arbatel is clearly influenced by the reformation and introduces a close relationship with its spirits which is echoed in the Rabbi Solomon Key which treats the Olympic spirits are the familiar spirits of the planets. If we look to the earlier spirit texts such as the French Livre Des Esperitz we see spirits described as ruling legions but less readily described as providing familiars. Many texts we have which from more Catholic periods like the Heptameron don't seem to stress providing a familiar spirit. Certainly texts we have providing means for obtaining fairy familiars (Scott, Book of Oberon, Spells for Binding the Seven Fairy Sisters, Book of Treasure Spirits etc) fall within the purview of post-reformation or at least concurrent with reformation English magic.

So it's possible if a relationship with the spirits is less a matter of a theological underpinning of the ability to conjure spirits by way of relating the magician to the spirit so that some sympathy allows interaction and more a matter of establishing an ongoing working relationship based on an introduction this may seem reasonable.

The problems I see with this view are that we can find pre-protestant examples of establishing ongoing relationships with spirits, and even in most post-Reformation examples spirits are still called by coercive methods based on confrontation and command in order to initially obtain congress with spirits and then to “bind by oath” a familiar spirit who has been commanded in lieu of the spirit originally confronted and commanded. (The Arbatel being of notable difference from this).

The Abramelin, which while its provenance and religious context are debated, there are definite elements linking it to Askenazic Jewish magic, is clearly based around the idea of achieving familiar spirits. It dispenses with much of ritual magic but not by means of asserting popery as in Protestant texts. Further the level of ritual magic inherent in protestant texts, and likely the elements of image magic, would be equally condemned by Abraham the Jew as would those of popish, or Catholic, magic.

Continuing to earlier forms the Hygromanteia does not seem to focus on providing familiar spirits, but it still has methods which can be used for gaining or working with spirits in a manner similar to a familiar spirit or a helper spirit. Young also notes a shift from demons and angels, to fairies and the dead in post-Reformation magic, but again the Hygromanteia provides means for working with both.

The PGM of course provides examples of receiving helper spirits and daimons bound to service of the magician. As noted above the “Mithras” Liturgy which occurs in the texts now known as the PGM provides an ancient example of magic built around relating the magician to the hypostatic phase in which the spirits he wishes to entreat reside.

So both the idea of creating a sense of similarity between the magician and the spirits and, as Young notes, authority derived from the divine status of the magician by way of the divine virtue ascribed humanity by way of Christ's redemption of Mary and his assignment of her as mother and of the importance of Christs humanity, can be seen in earlier Catholic magic and also in pre-Christian or at least early first millenium magical practices and their related philosophies (Hermeticism and NeoPlatonism). The idea of working with a familiar spirit also appears in earlier pre-Reformation magic.

The idea that liturgical changes and appendant theological reform would bleed into changes in magic makes sense and creates a ready system for exploring a major period of history in conjunction with exploring an important period of magical literature. But it seems like at times changes may have been small and ideological and impacting appendent pieces of practice rather than sweepingly major reforms of magical practice. Young himself notes that many seemingly Protestant examples of magic are pulled from earlier Catholic magic and magical ideas.

The reduction of a focus on virginity and purification is interesting though.

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