An excerpt from the recently released book, The Dark Wind: Witches & The Concept of Evil by Gary R. Varner.
The use of magic is not confined to pagan religions, Satanists or New Age followers. Magic has been an accepted part of traditional Christianity since the Christian religion began. However, it is a matter of perspective with Christians viewing the use of magic and spells as works of the Devil rather than as an acceptable religious act, and so the magic and spells used are classified and defined as liturgy and acts of God.
“During the first few centuries of our era,” noted George Luck, “Christians were not expressly forbidden to practice magic.” (1) During and after the fifth century the Church did take a more active role to condemn the use of magic and St. Augustine argued that magic could only be performed with the help of demons. In fact, much of the Christian literurgy was used in early “medical” handbooks to cure illness. One such handbook, the Wolfsthurn book, “recommends not only Christian prayers but also apparently meaningless combinations of words or letters for their medical value. At one point it says to copy out the letters ‘P.N.B.C.P.X.A.O.P.I.L,’ followed by the Latin for ‘in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ For demonic possession, the book recommends that a priest should speak into the afflicted person’s ear the following jumble of Latin, garbled Greek, and gibberish:
‘Amara Tonta Tyra post hos firabis ficaliri Elypolis starras polyque lique linarras buccabor uel barton vel Titram celi massis Metumbor o priczoni Jordan Ciriacus Valenntinus.’” (2)
A similar handbook called the Munich manual was written in Latin by someone who was probably a member of the Catholic clergy. The book gives instructions on summoning demons with magic circles, commanding spirits and forcing them to return to their hellish homes once they were no longer required. Kiechhefer reports that the author advisers his readers that they will need wax images of people that they wish to afflict along with rings, swords and other ritual items. He also requires, for some spells, a sacrifice be made to the evil spirits and the use of burning herbs to act as magical incense. (3)
As Keith Thomas notes, the Church was rather possessive of those things it considered “legitimate” magic:
“So long as theologians permitted the use of, say, holy water or consecrated bells in order to dispel storms, there was nothing ‘superstitious’ about such activity; the Church…had no compunction about licensing its own brand of magical remedies.” (4)
Today many of these “magical remedies” have survived in the form of prayer, incantation, holy water, sacred incense, bells, set rituals and holy books.
“While ordinary parish priests may have dabbled in medicine,” writes Kieckhefer, “they were more likely to practice other forms of magic.” (5)
One form of magic that the priests were called upon to use was for the fertility of fields. Taking a whole day, the priest, before sunrise, would dig four clumps of soil from each of the four sides of the affected field. He would then sprinkle a mixture of holy water, oil, milk and honey on the clumps of earth along with herbs and fragments of trees. He would then recite, in Latin, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Prayers would then be said. After the prayers the four clumps of earth were taken back to the parish church where four masses were sung over them. Before the sun set the clumps were removed to the field where they were spread over the field with the fertile power given to them would result in a good crop. (6)
The difference between pagan spell-craft and magic and that employed by the Christian Church is simply a matter of terminology. Christian magic is referred to as “ritual power” and acceptable while perhaps identical rituals by other peoples are “witchcraft” and “sorcery.”
Ancient Christian spells that have been documented include, among others, such things as healing spells using the Gospel of Matthew, spells invoking Christ for protection against illnesses, protective spells that invoke the sun, spells for healthy childbirth, erotic attraction spells, spells to make a woman pregnant, spells for men to attract a male lover, curses to make a man impotent, spells to obtain a good singing voice, spells to silence a dog, and spells using voodoo dolls. All of these have long been associated with witchcraft; however, they are all Christian spells dating from the first to the 12th century CE. (7)
The Church’s implements of worship were viewed as powerful amulets. “Wax blessed on the feast of the Purification,” notes Kieckhefer, “was thought effective against thunderbolts. Ringing of church bells could safeguard the parish form storms. …Long sheets of parchment or paper, inscribed with prayers and then rolled up, could protect their bearers against sudden death, wounding by weapons, the slander of false witnesses, evil spirits, tribulations, illness, danger in childbirth, and other afflictions.” (8)
The spells used by Coptic Christians, according to David Frankfurter, “demonstrate that the lines between ‘magic,’ medicine, and religion that are customarily assumed in modern conversation simply did not exist” (9) to the practitioners during that time.
For the Christian magician and his client it was important to incorporate as much of the official Church liturgy as possible “by ritually appealing to powers that are acknowledged and venerated by the temple or the church, often doing so with the very gestures, articles, and language…” (10)
The use of magic and spells in Christianity increased during the Renaissance when “magic was used as a means to bring higher angelic forces down to the ordinary world.” (11)
Magic has always been an integral part of Christianity and continues today in Catholicism. Protestant sects, however, have always rallied against magic and this attitude is one of the basic tenants of the Protestant faith, which resulted in the Reformation and the attempted destruction of Catholicism. Under Protestant rule during the Reformation, Christians were forbidden to undertake such “magical” practices such as “…casting holy water upon his bed…bearing about him holy bread, or St. John’s Gospel…ringing of holy bells; or blessing with the holy candle, to the intent thereby to be discharged of the burden of sin, or to drive away dreams and fantasies; or…putting trust and confidence of health and salvation in the same ceremonies.” (12)
It is ironic that the Protestants viewed the Catholic Church as Satanic when the Catholic Church was responsible for the witch trials in the first place. A 16th century woodcut of a Protestant caricature of Pope Alexander VI shows him as a demon. It is interesting to note, however, that the Catholic nations had a much less intense witch-hunt than Protestant nations. Some scholars have suggested that beliefs in witchcraft and the resulting slaughter was due to the Reformation and the religious struggle that it caused.
1. Luck, George. “Witches and Sorcerers in Classical Literature” in Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 1999, 158.
2. Kieckhefer, Richard. Magic in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1989, 4.
3. Ibid., 6.
4. Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. London: Penguin Books 1973, 303.
5. Kieckhefer, op cit., 58.
7. Meyer, Marvin W. and Richard Smith, ed. Ancient Christian Magic. Princeton: Princeton University Press 1994.
8. Kieckhefer, op cit. 78.
9. Frankfurter, David. “Healing Spells” in Meyer, Marvin W. and Richard Smith, ed. Ancient Christian Magic. Princeton: Princeton University Press 1994, 79.
10. Ibid., 80.
11. Greenwood, Susan. The Encyclopedia of Magic & Witchcraft. London: Hermes House 2005, 28.
12. Ibid., 140