Ceremonial magic (ritual magic, high magic or learned magic) encompasses a wide variety of long, elaborate, and complex rituals of magic. The works included are characterized by ceremony and a myriad of necessary accessories to aid the practitioner. It can be seen as an extension of ritual magic, and in most cases synonymous with it. Popularized by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, it draws on such schools of philosophical and occult thought as Hermetic Qabalah, Enochian magic, Thelema, and the magic of various grimoires. Ceremonial magic is part of Hermeticism and Western esotericism.
The term originates in 16th-century Renaissance magic, referring to practices described in various Medieval and Renaissance grimoires and in collections such as that of Johannes Hartlieb. Georg Pictor uses the term synonymously with goetia.
James Sanford in his 1569 translation of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's 1526 De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum has "The partes of ceremoniall Magicke be Geocie, and Theurgie". For Agrippa, ceremonial magic was in opposition to natural magic. While he had his misgivings about natural magic, which included astrology, alchemy, and also what we would today consider fields of natural science, such as botany, he was nevertheless prepared to accept it as "the highest peak of natural philosophy". Ceremonial magic, on the other hand, which included all sorts of communication with spirits, including necromancy and witchcraft, he denounced in its entirety as impious disobedience towards God.
Starting with the Romantic movement, in the 19th century, a number of people and groups have effected a revival of ceremonial magic.
Among the various sources for ceremonial magic, Francis Barrett's The Magus embodies deep knowledge of alchemy, astrology, and the Kabbalah, and has been cited by the Golden Dawn, and is seen by some as a primary source. But according to Aleister Crowley, perhaps the most influential ceremonial magician of the Modern era, much of it was cribbed from Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy.
Eliphas Lévi conceived the notion of writing a treatise on magic with his friend Bulwer-Lytton. This appeared in 1855 under the title Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, and was translated into English by Arthur Edward Waite as Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual.
In 1861, he published a sequel, La Clef des Grands Mystères (The Key to the Great Mysteries). Further magical works by Lévi include Fables et Symboles (Stories and Images), 1862, and La Science des Esprits (The Science of Spirits), 1865. In 1868, he wrote Le Grand Arcane, ou l'Occultisme Dévoilé (The Great Secret, or Occultism Unveiled); this, however, was only published posthumously in 1898.
Lévi's version of magic became a great success, especially after his death. That Spiritualism was popular on both sides of the Atlantic from the 1850s contributed to his success. His magical teachings were free from obvious fanaticisms, even if they remained rather murky; he had nothing to sell, and did not pretend to be the initiate of some ancient or fictitious secret society. He incorporated the Tarot cards into his magical system, and as a result the Tarot has been an important part of the paraphernalia of Western magicians. He had a deep impact on the magic of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and later Aleister Crowley, and it was largely through this impact that Lévi is remembered as one of the key founders of the twentieth century revival of magic.
Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (or, more commonly, the Golden Dawn) was a magical order of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, practicing a form of theurgy and spiritual development. It was probably the single greatest influence on twentieth century Western occultism. Some aspects of magic and ritual that became core elements of many other traditions, including Wicca, Thelema and other forms of magical spirituality popular today, are partly drawn from the Golden Dawn tradition.
English author and occultist Aleister Crowley often introduced new terminology for spiritual and magical practices and theory. For example, he termed theurgy "high magick" and thaumaturgy "low magick". In The Book of the Law and The Vision and the Voice, the Aramaic magical formula Abracadabra was changed to Abrahadabra, which he called the new formula of the Aeon of Horus. He also famously spelled magic in the archaic manner, as magick, to differentiate "the true science of the Magi from all its counterfeits."
The practice of ceremonial magic often requires tools made or consecrated specifically for this use, which are required for a particular ritual or series of rituals. They may be a symbolic representation of psychological elements of the magician or of metaphysical concepts.
In Magick (Book 4), Part II (Magick), Aleister Crowley lists the tools required as a circle drawn on the ground and inscribed with the names of god, an altar, a wand, cup, sword, and pentacle, to represent his true will, his understanding, his reason, and the lower parts of his being respectively. On the altar, too, is a phial of oil to represent his aspiration, and for consecrating items to his intent. The magician is surrounded by a scourge, dagger, and chain intended to keep his intent pure. An oil lamp, book of conjurations and bell are required, as is the wearing of a crown, robe, and lamen. The crown affirms his divinity, the robe symbolizes silence, and the lamen declare his work. The book of conjurations is his magical record, his karma. In the East is the magick fire in which all burns up at last.
A grimoire // is a record of magic. Books of this genre, are records of magical experiments and philosophical musings, giving instructions for invoking angels or demons, performing divination and gaining magical powers, and have circulated throughout Europe since the Middle Ages.
It is common belief that magicians were frequently prosecuted by the Christian church, so their journals were kept hidden to prevent the owner from being burned. But it is also a well-known fact that church and the rabbi keep records of demonic activity and exorcism too in their own magical records which were used for similar record keeping. Some claim that the new age occultism is a sham and borrowed heavily from these old record books by the religious. Such books contain astrological correspondences, lists of angels and demons, directions on casting charms, spells, and exorcism, on mixing medicines, summoning elemental entities, and making talismans. Magical books in almost any context, especially books of magical spells, are also called grimoires.
Enochian magic is a system of ceremonial magic centered on the evocation and commanding of various spirits that was the magical exploration made by an English occultist Dr. John Dee. It is based on the 16th-century writings of Dr John Dee and Edward Kelley, who claimed that their information was delivered to them directly by various angels. Dee's journals contained the Enochian script, and the table of correspondences that goes with it. It claims to embrace secrets contained within the apocryphal Book of Enoch.
- Davies, Owen (2003). Cunning-Folk: Popular Magic in English History. London: Hambledon Continuum. Page ix.
- Charles G. Nauert, Jr., Magic and Skepticism in Agrippa's Thought, Journal of the History of Ideas (1957), p. 176
- Colquhoun, Ithell (1975) The Sword of Wisdom. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.
- Phillips, Julia (1991) History of Wicca in England: 1939 - present day. Lecture at the Wiccan Conference in Canberra, 1991.
- (Crowley, Magick (Book 4), p. 47)
- Crowley, Aleister. Magick (Book 4).