Black Magic as practiced in mediaeval times may be defined as the use of supernatural knowledge for the purposes of evil, the invocation of diabolic and infernal powers that they may become the slaves and emissaries of man's will; in short, a perversion of legitimate mystic science. This art and its attendant practices can be traced from the time of the ancient Egyptians and Persians, from the Greeks and Hebrews to the period when it reached its apogee in the Middle Ages, thus forming an unbroken chain; for in mediaeval magic may be found the perpetuation of the popular rites of paganism—the ancient gods had become devils, their mysteries orgies, their worship sorcery.
Some historians have tried to trace the areas in Europe most affected by these devilish practices. Spain is said to have excelled all in infamy, to have plumbed the depths of the abyss. The south of France next became a hotbed of sorcery, whence it branched northwards to Paris and the countries and islands beyond, southward to Italy, finally extending into the Tyrol and Germany. In Black Magic human perversity found the means of ministering to its most terrible demands and the possible attainment of its darkest imaginings. To gain limitless power over god, demon and man; for personal aggrandizement and glorification; to cheat, trick and mock; to gratify base appetites; to aid religious bigotry and jealousies; to satisfy private and public enmities; to further political intrigue; to encompass disease, calamity and death—these were the ends and aims of Black Magic and its followers.
So widespread, so intense was the belief in the Powers of Evil that it may truly be said the Devil reigned supreme, if the strength and fervor of a universal fear be weighed against the weak and wavering manifestations of love and goodwill, peace and charity enjoined by religion in the worship of God.
Under the influence of this belief the world became to the mind and imagination of man a place of dread. At set of sun, at midnight, in twilight of dawn and eve, the legions of evil were abroad on their mission of terror. A running Stream, a lake, or thick forest, held each its horde of malevolent spirits lying in wait for the lonely wayfarer, white the churchyard close to the House of God, the place of the gallows away from the habitation of man, the pestilential marsh, wilderness and mysterious cavern, the barren slopes and summits of mountains, were the dread meeting-places of the Devil and his myrmidons, the scenes of their infamous orgies, the temples of their blasphemous rites.
And the night was troubled by evil and ominous winds blowing from the Netherworld, heavy with the beating of the innumerable wings of the birds of ill-omen presaging woe; the darkness was faintly lit by the flitting phosphorescent forms of sepulchral larvae, waiting to batten on the souls and bodies of man; of stryges infesting the tombs and desecrating the dead; of incubi and succubi surrounding the homes of the living to bring dishonor and madness to sleeping man and woman and beget monstrous and myriad life; of ravenous vampires in search of victims for their feast of blood. Moon and stars might illumine the darkness, but in their beams were spells and enchantments, in their rising and waning the inexorable workings of Fate, while against their light could be seen the disheveled or naked forms of warlock and witch passing overhead to their diabolical Sabbaths. The familiar happenings and actions of life might be nothing but the machinations of sorcery— to eat and drink might be to swallow evil; to look upon beauty in any form, the sesame to malign influence; to laugh, but to echo infernal mockery and mirth. In this fruitful soil of superstition and grotesque ignorance, Black Magic sowed and reaped its terrible harvest of evil, persecution, madness and death. Such a state of mind must, of necessity, have induced a weakness of will and imagination specially prone to the influence of hypnotic suggestion by a stronger will, and even more ready to fall an easy prey to self-hypnotism, which must have often been the result of such an atmosphere of foreboding and dread. The simplest ailments or most revolting diseases, catalepsy and somnambulism, hysteria, and insanity, all these were traced to the power of Black Magic, caused through the conjurations of sorcery. It followed that curative medicine was also a branch of magic, not a rational science, the cures being nothing if not fantastic in the last degree —incantations and exorcisms, amulets and talismans of precious stones, metals or weird medicaments rendered powerful by spells; philtres and enchanted drinks, the cure of epilepsy by buried peach blossoms, and though the use of herbs and chemicals has laid the foundation of the curative science of today, it was more for their enchanted and symbolic significance that they were prescribed by the magicians.
History shows us that the followers of the Black Art swarmed everywhere. In this fraternity as in others there were grades, from the pretenders, charlatans and diviners of the common people, to the various secret societies and orders of initiates, amongst whom were kings and queens, and popes, dignitaries of church and state, where the knowledge and ritual were carefully cherished and preserved in manuscripts, some of which are extant at the present day, ancient grimoires (q.v.), variously termed the Black, the Red, the Great Grimoire, each full of weird rites, formulae and conjurations, evocations of evil malice and lust in the names of barbaric deities; charms and bewitchments clothed irr incomprehensible jargon, and ceremonial processes for the fulfillment of imprecations of misfortune, calamity, sin and death.
The deity who was worshipped, whose powers were invoked in the practice of Black Magic, was the Source and Creator of Evil, Satanas, Belial, the Devil, a direct descendant of the Egyptian Set, the Persian Ahriman, the Python of the Greeks, the Jewish Serpent, Baphomet of the Templars, the Goat-deity of the Witches' Sabbath. He was said to have the head and legs of a goat, and the breasts of a woman.
To his followers he was known by many names, among these being debased names of forgotten deities, also the Black One, the Black He-goat, the Black Raven, the Dog, the Wolf and Snake, the Dragon, the Hell-hound, Hell-hand, and Hell-bolt. His transformations were unlimited, as is indicated by many of his names; other favorite and familiar forms were a cat, a mouse, a toad, or a worm, or again, the human form, especially as a young and handsome man when on his amorous adventures. The signs by which he might be identified, though not invariably, were the cloven hoof, the goat's beard, cock's feathers, or ox's tail.
In all his grotesquery are embedded ancient mysteries and their symbols, the detritus of dead faiths and faded civilizations. The Greek Pan with the goat limbs masquerades as the Devil, also the goat as emblematic of fire and symbol of generation, and perhaps traces of the Jewish tradition where two goats were taken, one pure, the other impure, the first offered as sacrifice in expiation of sin, the other, the impure burdened with sins by imprecation and driven into the wilderness, in short, the scapegoat. In the Hebrew Kabala, Satan's name is that of Jehovah reversed. He is not a devil, but the negation of deity.
Beneath the Devil's sway were numberless hordes and legions of demons and spirits, ready and able to procure and work any and every evil or disaster the mind of man might conceive and desire. In one Grimoire it tells of nine orders of evil spirits, these being False Gods, Lying Spirits, Vessels of Iniquity, Revenge led by Asmodeus, Deluders by the Serpent, Turbulents by Merigum, Furies by Apollyon, Calumniators by Astaroth, and Tempters by Mammon. These demons again are named separately, the meaning of each name indicating the possessor's capacity, such as destroyer, devastator, tumult, ravage, and so forth.
Again each earthly vice and calamity was personified by a demon, Moloch, who devours infants; Nisroch, god of hatred, despair, fatality; Astarte, Lilith and Astaroth, deities of debauchery and abortion; Adramelek, of murder, and Belial, of red anarchy.
According to the Grimoires, the rites and rules are multifarious, each demon demanding special invocation and procedure. The ends that may be obtained by these means are sufficiently indicated in the headings of the chapters: To take possession of all kinds of treasure; to like in opulence; to ruin possessions; to demolish buildings and strongholds; to cause armed men to appear ; to excite every description of hatred, discord, failure and vengeance; to excite tempests; to excite love in a virgin, in a married person; to procure adulteries; to cause enchanted music and lascivious dances to appear; to learn all secrets from those of Venus to Mars; to render oneself invisible; to fly in the air and travel; to operate under water for twenty-four hours; to open every kind of lock without a key, without noise and thus gain entrance to prison, larder or charnel-house; to inoculate the walls of houses with plague and disease; to bind familiar spirits; to cause a dead body to revive; to transform one's self; to transform men into animals or animals into men.
These rites fell under the classification of divination, bewitchments and necromancy. The first named was carried out by magical readings of fire, smoke, water or blood; by letters of names, numbers, symbols, arrangements of dots; by lines of hand or finger nails; by birds and their flight or their entrails; by dice or cards, rings or mirrors.
Bewitchments were carried out by means of nails, animals, toads or waxen figures and mostly to bring about suffering or death. In the first method nails were consecrated to evil by spells and invocations, then nailed crosswise above the imprint of the feet of the one who is destined for torment. The next was by selection of some animal supposed to resemble the intended victim and attaching to it some of his hair or garments. They gave it the name and then proceeded to torture it, in whole or part according to the end desired, by driving nails, red-hot pins and thorns into the body to the rhythm of muttered maledictions. For like purpose a fat toad was often selected, baptized, made to swallow a host, both consecrated and execrated, tied with hairs of the victim upon which the sorcerer had previously spat, and finally buried at the threshold of the bewitched one's door, whence it issued as nightmare and vampire for his undoing.
The last and most favored method was by the use of waxen images. Into the wax was mixed baptismal oil and ash of consecrated hosts, and out of this was fashioned a figure resembling the one to be bewitched. It was then baptized, receiving the persons name in full; received the Sacraments, and next subjected to curses, torture by knives or fire; then finally stabbed to the heart. It was also possible to bewitch a person by insufflation, breathing upon them, and so causing a heaviness of their will and corresponding compliance to the sorcerer.
Necromancy was the raising of the dead by evocations and sacrilegious rites, for the customary purposes of evil. The scene of operation might be about pits filled with blood and resembling a shambles, in a darkened and suffocating room, in a churchyard or beneath swinging gibbets, and the number of ghosts so summoned and galvanized into life might be one of legion.
For whatever end, the procedure usually included profanation of Christian ritual, such as diabolical masses and administration of polluted sacraments to animals and reptile?; bloody sacrifices of animals, often of children; of orgiastic dances, generally of circular formation, such as that of the Witches' Sabbath in which undreamed-of evil and abominations, all distortions and monstrosities of reality and imagination took part, to end in a nightmare of obscene madness.
For paraphernalia and accessories the sorcerers scoured the world and the imagination and mind of man, bending all things, beautiful or horrible to their service. The different planets ruled over certain objects and states and invocations, for such were of great potency if delivered under their auspices. Mars favored wars and strife, Venus love, Jupiter ambition and intrigue, Saturn malediction and death.
Vestments and symbols proper to the occasion must be donned. The electric furs of the panther, lynx and cat added their quota of influence to the ceremonial. Colors also must be observed and suitable ornaments. For operations of vengeance the robe must be the hue of leaping flame, or rust and blood, with belt and bracelets of steel, and crown of rue and wormwood. Blue, Green and Rose were the colors for amorous incantations; whilst for the encompassing of death black must be worn, with belt of lead and wreath of cypress, amid loathsome incense of sulphur and assafoetida.
Precious stones and metals also added their influence to the spells. Geometrical figures, stars, pentagrams, columns, triangles, were used; also herbs, such as belladonna and assafoetida; flowers, honeysuckle, being the witches' ladder, the arum, deadly nightshade and black poppies; distillations and philtres composed of the virus of loathsome diseases, venom of reptiles, secretions of animals, poisonous sap and fungi and fruits, such as the fatal manchineel, pulverized flint, impure ashes and human blood. Amulets and talismans were made of the skins of criminals, wrought from the skulls of hanged men, or ornaments rifled from corpses and thus of special virtue, or the pared nails of an executed thief.
To make themselves invisible the sorcerers used an unguent compounded from the incinerated bodies of new-born infants and mixed with the blood of night-birds. For personal preparation a fast of fifteen days was observed. When that was past, it was necessary to get drunk every five days, after sundown, on wine in which poppies and hemp had been steeped.
For the actual rites the light must be that of candles made from the fat of corpses and fashioned in the form of a cross; the bowls to be of skulls, those of parricides being of greatest virtue; the fires must be fed with cypress branches, with the wood of desecrated crucifixes and bloodstained gibbets; the magic fork fashioned of hazel or almond, severed at one blow; the ceremonial cloth to be woven by a prostitute, whilst round about the mystic circle must be traced with the ember of a polluted cross. Another potent instrument of magic was the mandragore to be unearthed from beneath gallows where corpses are suspended, by a dog tied to the plant. The dog is killed by a mortal blow after which its soul will pass into the fantastic root, attracting also that of the hanged man.
The history of the Middle Ages is shot through with the shadows cast by this terrible belief in Black Magic. Machinations and counter-machinations in which church and state, rich and poor, learned and ignorant were alike involved ; persecutions and prosecutions where the persecutor and judge often met the fate they dealt to the victim and condemned—a dreadful phantasmagoria and procession where we may find the haughty Templars, the blood-stained Gilles de Laval, the original of Bluebeard; Catherine de Medici and Marshals of France; popes, princes and priests. In literature also we find its trace, in weird legends and monstrous tales ; in stories of spells and enchantments; in the tale of Dr. Fatutus and his pact with the Devil, his pleasures and their penalty when his soul must needs pass down to Hell in forfeit; we may find its traces in lewd verres and songs. Art, too, yields her testimony to the infernal influence in pictures, sculptures and carvings, decorating palace and cathedral; where we may find the Devil's likeness peeping out from carven screen and stall, and his demons made visible in the horde of gargoyles grinning and leering from niche and corner, and clustering beneath the caves.
Did You Enjoy This Article? Share It With Your Friends
Shop at the
New Age Store