Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ceremonial Magic

Because I’m writing about witches I’ve been consulting certain books like The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism by Raymond Buckland, a Wiccan High Priest. Among the entries is one on Ceremonial Magic – also known as High Magic – which, according to Mr. Buckland, is the practice of conjuring spirits, entities, demons, and devils. In 1459 Alphonsus de Spina alleged there were 133,306,668 of these entities. I don’t know who de Spina was but I’d be interested in how he came up with that number. Surely he can’t have counted them all individually, and if he did, I wonder if he was entirely sane when he was through. Anyway, depending upon what one wanted, the appropriate entity was called upon. ‘For example, to be able to speak in tongues, Agares must be summoned.’

Interestingly, this type of magic was practiced openly without fear of persecution because although Witchcraft as a religion was considered heresy, magic was simply a practice. Ceremonial magic also required a certain amount of knowledge, in Greek and Latin among other things, which meant that only those with education were likely to be practitioners.

The details of such rituals could be found in a book known as a grimoire (from the old French for ‘grammar’) and in order to be successful certain exact preparations had to made. For example, the wood for any wands or knives had to be cut from a specific tree on a specific day, ‘in the hours of specified planets.’ Everything had to be purified, including the practitioner, the site, and the protective circle within which one worked. Outside the circle was a small triangle, where the entity would be conjured and, hopefully held until it was no longer needed. Needless to say it would be very bad if there were a break in the triangle or the circle.

So, why am I telling you all this? Well, first I find it interesting and maybe you will, too. But also because these are the kind of details I like to include, details that give the story substance. After all, if I just tell you that a witch summons a demon what fun is that? But if I explain how, then it becomes a little more interesting, and a lot more real. Because details matter, and with them a story can truly come alive.


  1. It's one of the reasons Tolkien's works seem so real. They have all that detailed history that feels real. You're right also about it being interesting. It's a wonder anything got done with all those requirements, lol!

  2. Fascinating! The distinction between magic and witchcraft is really interesting. (And Alphonsus de Spina is a great character name!)


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