Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Aaron Leitch, author of several books, including Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, The Angelical Language Volume I and Volume II, and Essential Enochian Grimoire.
The Western Mystery Tradition is quite steeped in Biblical literature and imagery. Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Rosicrucianism, Masonry, the Golden Dawn, and Thelema have extremely close ties to the Christian spiritual tradition. (This is not to be confused with the political co-opting of Christianity from about the second century CE onward.) Not to mention my beloved Solomonic grimoires, which are most certainly an expression of medieval Christian mysticism. Even indigenous forms of witchcraft and folk magick around the world now bear the stamp of Christian influence (though these are cases where Christianity was merely adopted into an existing worldview, rather than overwhelming and replacing it). We can see this especially in places like Africa and South America, where Catholic forms of witchcraft are quite common.
The question of magick among these traditions arises every so often. Usually, it is asked by newcomers who feel a calling to practice the arts of magick, but have been raised with the belief that it is directly proscribed by their religion. Their fear is very real—they worry if delving into the arts will result in the loss of their immortal soul. I remember worrying about that myself, from time to time, a long time ago. No matter what I thought intellectually, there was still a young child inside of me asking: “But what if we’re wrong? What if everything I’ve been taught is true and I’m going to have to explain to God someday why I became a witch before He sends me to suffer in Hell?” After all, I could only be a witch for a few decades at best, but I could burn in Hell for eternity!
Yes, I got over that—and yes, the intellectual learning helped a lot. (When you know the history of how Christianity actually got its strange ideas, they are easier to put into perspective.) However, this isn’t an issue that only affects insecure newbies who have yet to shake the programming of their upbringing. In fact, there is a literary component to this problem that is a bit harder to ignore. You see, that Bible that so many of us like to use as a magick book in its own right (and, never doubt for one second that it *is* a magick book) actually tells us that magick is evil and must never be practiced. Since you folks are most likely predominantly Pagan, you’ve probably had some of these passages quoted at you before:
Exodus 22:18: You shall not permit a sorceress to live.
Deuteronomy 18:9-12: When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.
Leviticus 20:27: A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.
Leviticus 20:6: If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.
Micah 5:12: And I will cut off sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes;
2 Kings 17:17: And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.
Leviticus 19:26: You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes.
Revelation 21:8: But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
It looks like the Bible is exceedingly clear on this point, and believe me the above is only a scratch on the surface of Biblical admonitions against witchcraft, sorcery, divination, etc. Perhaps those of us with more experience under our belts have ceased to fear being cast into the “lake that burns with fire and sulfur” for the offense of making a talisman and holding a conversation with a disembodied spirit. However, it still leaves us with a pretty big issue: We use a book that clearly outlaws the use of magick for magickal purposes. We elevate the book to a position of occult authority—drawing on its passages (such as the Psalms) in our own workings. I’m not suggesting that occultists who draw upon the Bible are “Bible thumpers” who take the book as absolute fact, but we do accept its mythological authority within our traditions.
For example: the Bible depicts two angels sitting down with Abraham to break bread. Because of these passages, we know that angels will accept bread as offerings. We accept it as a spiritual truth because it is in The Book. Likewise, when calling upon angels to aid us in our daily lives, we often make reference to deeds they performed in the Bible (or the Apocrypha)—as if those events really happened and we therefore expect the angels to do the same for us.
Therefore, can we simply ignore the fact that the same book stresses, over and over again, that magick is an abomination to the same Divinity we invoke in the Psalms? Isn’t it highly likely that Divinity will be offended that we are calling it for something in which it has clearly stated it wants no part?
In order to answer that question, let us take another close look at the Bible itself. We certainly cannot dismiss the fact that the scribes and prophets who penned the Biblical literature were deeply concerned about people using magick, and were doing everything in their power to steer folks away from the practice. However, when the prophets weren’t writing about how evil their Pagan neighbors were, what exactly were they doing?
Exodus 7:10-12: And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the Lord had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.
Exodus 7:20: And Moses and Aaron did so, as the Lord commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood.
Exodus 8:6: And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.
Exodus 8:17: And they did so; for Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.
Exodus 9:10: And they took ashes of the furnace, and stood before Pharaoh; and Moses sprinkled it up toward heaven; and it became a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast.
Exodus 9:23: And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground; and the Lord rained hail upon the land of Egypt.
Exodus 10:13: And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land all that day, and all that night; and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts.
Exodus 10:22: And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days.
Exodus 14:21: And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
Exodus 17:5-6″ And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee … thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.
Exodus 17:9-11: And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.
Numbers 17:6-8: And Moses spake unto the children of Israel, and every one of their princes gave him a rod apiece, for each prince one, according to their fathers’ houses, even twelve rods: and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. And Moses laid up the rods before the Lord in the tabernacle of witness. And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.
Numbers 21:9: And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
Joshua 6:20: So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.
1 Kings 17:21-22: And [Elijah] stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.
2 Kings 6:5-6: But as one was felling a beam, the axe head fell into the water: and he cried, and said, Alas, master! for it was borrowed. And the man of God said, Where fell it? And he shewed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and the iron did swim.
Judges 6:36-38: And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.
So what do we see in these passages? Why, we see the prophets using magick—a lot. They command the elements of nature; break the laws of physics; and perform healing, divination, and much much more. If I said the previous list of Biblical proscriptions against magick was “merely scratching the surface,” then the above list of Biblical miracles is the very tip of a massive iceberg of examples of Biblical magick. And that list only covers a portion of the Old Testament, so I haven’t even touched the subjects of Jesus, the Apocrypha, nor the volumes upon volumes of Biblical legends (Hebrew: midrashim) in which every Biblical patriarch is depicted engaging in this kind of prophetical magick. (See, for example, Legends of the Bible by Louis Ginzberg.)
What we can gather from all of this is not really surprising. Throughout history, political types have been fanatically and proudly hypocritical. Just as we see today: when someone wants a right or freedom removed, they only want it removed from you, not from themselves. Anti-abortion activists rarely see any problem with quietly getting one for a young family member who has made a mistake. Anti-gay activists are—nearly universally—practicing homosexuals in private. Those who scream that welfare is destroying our country are the first to sign up for public assistance when they need it—all the while still proclaiming that it is wrong for anyone else to accept it. It’s not right for you, but hands off my personal freedoms!
The prophets who wrote the Bible were no different. They were political types, and their writings were politically motivated. At the time, there really was no separation between “Church and State”—and the writings we see in the Bible were more about political power than spirituality. A large part of their political power rested in their ability to perform the role of Shaman for the king and his people.
And they didn’t like competition.
Therefore, much space in the Bible is wasted on rants against the evils of sorcery, necromancy, and divination—even though the same authors were performing all of it themselves. It was ok for them to do, you see, but it was not ok for you—at least unless you joined their group and got their stamp of political approval. Then your magick became “miracle”— which we all know is entirely different than sorcery.
Our thanks to Aaron for his guest post! Visit Aaron Leitch’s author page for more information, including articles and his books.