mysticism – etherbird (2024)

Part one of a four part investigation:

  1. Claims of (a magical) history.
  1. Claims of (a magical) reality.
  1. Claims of (secret magical) knowledge.
  1. Claims of (magical) power.
mysticism – etherbird (1)

For example, religion – in this case my own traditional religion, European Christianity – claims a number of things. With regards to history it claims that there was a man called Jesus. With regards to reality, he was born of a virgin, and returned from the dead. With regards to knowledge, all knowledge comes from the Lord, and so does all power. Theirs is the true history, absolute reality, ultimate knowledge, and power beyond all worldly power.

But, according to science the history of Jesus is vague and complicated. Being born of a virgin, and returning from the dead is impossible, if taken to be literal. Knowledge comes from study, experience, and the exchange of information. True knowledge must be tested before we take it to be valid. Last but not least, power is a social and political phenomenon, often linked to violence and resources.

I say this because it must be said over and over again.

But I also say it because the same rules of science should apply to magic, and if our understanding of magic is not going to be lost in superstition, I think we better apply them.

(Afterwards we may return to Christian magic in particular and find out more about what it is, and what it isn’t. But we must remember that there are all sorts of magic, not just our own – my own, or your own. Just like there are all sorts of religions too. Even all sorts of Christianities. The case for Universalism is weak. The topic is tangled.)

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  1. Claims of a Magical History.

There is a small yellow booklet from the organization Builders Of The Adytum. It’s called ”Highlights of Tarot” and it was written by Paul Foster Case. It was first published in 1931. My copy is from 1989. In it you’ll find a chapter on the history of the Tarot. I quote it:

“This strange pack of cards has no exoteric history prior to the fourteenth century. The oldest examples of TAROT designs preserved in museums were probably drawn about 1390. Occult tradition, however, places the date of its appearance at about the year 1200. This may surprise some readers of these pages who may have heard that the TAROT is an ancient Egyptian book. To all such it may be said that the question of the Egyptian origin of the TAROT has been carefully criticized by Mr. A. E. Waite in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot. He points out that the whole notion is rooted in certain statements made by Court de Gebelin (who wrote concerning things Egyptian in 1782, when there was no science of Egyptology), by Etteilla, a hairdresser turned fortune-teller, and by others who simply elaborated the assertions of these two. Among the latter was Eliphas Levi. This famous occultist certainly knew better, but he perpetuated the myth to conceal his undoubted knowledge of the true history of the TAROT.”

First is the word “exoteric”. A word that has no real use unless you’re a member of a secret club. It bypasses the science of history and tells you in one word that the “occult tradition” is superior in knowledge about the history of the Tarot. It also tells you that this history is part of a secret knowledge. Very soon the same booklet will also tell you that this history belongs to a spiritual reality, and that there are keys to spiritual powers hidden within the Tarot. So far the claims are almost reasonable, but why anyone then would go on to claim that a fellowship of “Enlightened Men” met in the city of Fez (sometime around the year 1200) to construct the Tarot cards based on “the Western Mystery system of numbers and letters afforded by the QABALAH, or Secret Wisdom of Israel, which had already been the framework for Initiation and taught orally to properly prepared aspirants for untold numbers of centuries both B.C. and A.D.” is beyond what I can tell you. Why Fez? Nevertheless that is what the booklet says.

If you wish to dive deeper into this particular rabbit hole, you can find more information here: https://www.bota.org/

And here: https://tarot-heritage.com/history-4/french-occult-tarot/

*

The next book I open is “Liber Null” by Peter J. Carroll, first issued in 1978, and published in 1987. On the opening page there is a diagram. “Diagram 1. The survival of the magical tradition.” It depicts a sort of family tree beginning with “Shamanism” and ending with the organization started by the author himself. The Illuminates of Thanateros. I quote:

“Such orders have at certain times openly called themselves the Illuminati; at other times secrecy has seemed more prudent. The mysteries can only be preserved by constant revelation. In this the IOT continues a tradition perhaps seven thousand years old, yet the Order in the outer has no history, although it is constituted as a satrap to the Illuminati. In the Order with no past there is nowhere to conceal the future from the present.”

Cryptic to say the least.

Still, there’s no doubt in my mind – speaking as a practitioner of magic – that the ritual contemplation of the Tarot, and the experiments born from Chaos Magic are profoundly valuable magical activities. I have practiced and studied both. What confuses me is the ongoing need to mystify the history of these activities. The actual history is no less wonderful. I actually think it’s more wonderful, and that’s why I’m writing this blog.

So to make sense of all this, I turn my attention to another book about magic, but this time it’s a scientific book. I open “Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft” by T. M. Luhrmann. It was first published in 1989. It’s still used in universities today. There is a particular chapter titled “The Creation of Mytho-Poeic History.” It’s well worth reading the whole thing, but I can’t quote all of it. So I’ll just quote this:

“In this context history can play the role of myth, the more effective for its ends because it carries an apparent validity which sheer invention lacks. Magicians are distinctly ambivalent about their historical claims. Most magical manuals assert the antiquity of magic and, more to the point, of the particular practice they endorse. They attribute the embarrassing paucity of the historical record to the self-protective secrecy in which the occult has been enshrouded.”

The fact that this was observed by a scientist at the time, and place, of this development tells us something. Since then many have observed this strange tendency within the Western Occult.

This essay has circled in on a very thin slice of history, between the years of 1978 and 1989 – a mere decade – in London, England.

I believe this time, and place, to be of great importance to the development of magical movements in the contemporary West, but like always in history, it’s just a starting point as good as any.

The phenomenon of a fabricated, mythologized, alternative history of magic is present from the earliest days of Western Occultism, and up to this day. Once you start looking for it, it’s everywhere.

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mysticism – etherbird (2024)
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