The Grammar of Magic

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Sigilium Dei Ameth-John Dee
Writing and magic have always been closely associated. The Egyptian God Thoth was thought to be  the inventor of writing and the patron of every magical art. The considerable cultural contact and resulting overlap over the centuries because of conquest and trade between Egypt, Greece and Rome led to the deities Hermes and Mercury who shared many of the same attributes as Thoth before they all further blended together, creating the composite figure that was to later a immeasurable influence in the history of ideas, Hermes Trismegistus. At a later date and further north in what Roman writers christened as Ultima Thule, Odin, was the God of Seid (Sorcery) and, as described in the strange scene where Odin sacrifices himself to himself in Havamal, the inventor of runes which it is suggested throughout Norse mythology as being an alphabet with an inherently magical purpose. Even in modern day English the connection remains; spell needs no explanation and a grimoire refers to grammaire which is a book of Latin grammar.

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Magic Square-Cornelius Agrippa
After the upheavals of the Reconquista and the subsequent Expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian peninsula in 1492, knowledge of Hebrew and Kabbalah spread across Europe and was greeted with enthusiasm in Neo-Platonic/Hermetic circles. They noted with approval certain similarities between their own thought and the Kabbalah (not surprising as they shared a common background in 4th century AD Alexandria, which appears to have been an Hellenised version of 60’s California, however the 16th Century philosopher-magicians  weren’t to know that). Even more importantly was that the Kabbalah espoused the view that Hebrew was the language of God and each letter of the alphabet was connected to God through a series of divine emanations. Here was the key to magical operations, to communicate with God and the Angels it was vital to have knowledge of Hebrew. And it wasn’t only erudite scholars that enjoyed the patronage of enlightened princes that believed that magic was more potent when written in Hebrew; popular cheap grimoires throughout the centuries are littered with pseudo-Hebraic characters, culminating in the infamous 6th and 7th Books of Moses in the 19th century. Also since the 18th Century a tradition has been established in relation to the Tarot that the twenty-two cards of major arcana correspond to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and it is common to find in the more esoterically inclined decks each card marked with its corresponding letter.

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Seal from The 6th and 7th Books of Moses
A differing occult tradition that begun with the Elizabethan mathematician, polymath and Magus John Dee is that the language of the angels had been a long time lost to man and had to be re-discovered before communication could be re-established. Undeterred with his lack of mediumistic talents he enlisted the roguish alchemist Edward Kelley in his scrying sessions that revealed the ‘Enochian’ language (so-called because Enoch was the last man to speak it) and later recorded their numerous conversations with the Angelic Hosts. Confidence is somewhat dented in Kelley’s supposedly disinterested motives when the angels suggest to him that it would be a good idea for Dee and Kelley to swap wives for a night; a proposal all parties eventually agree too. Aleister Crowley believed himself to be the re-incarnation of Kelley, a rare moment of self awareness for the Great Beast.

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Enochian Alphabet-John Dee

 

 

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78 thoughts on “The Grammar of Magic

  1. Interesting. Well, the wife swapping does seem suspect. There is a book I own that I’ve been meaning to get through. called, The Wisdom int eh Hebrew Alphabet, which goes into general meanings of the letters themselves and then various words. But since I don’t have a Hebrew keyboard here and you don’t know Hebrew (and of course, my own Hebrew is not great), it would be difficult to show you the characters and the meanings.

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    1. Well i like the idea that language and writing has a magical quality about it, after all it is the transformation of reality to fit your desire…i realise that all those pagan gods probably have a common source but it is interesting how they thought writing in itself was magical…oh where has all the magic gone

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      1. I agree 😦 Wouldn’t the Egyptians have had some of that magic in the hieroglyphics as well? Maybe you should read some 19th century magic tomes. There is a lot out there and they go into in depth discussions. It must be very interesting. Even when things are incorrect, it’s fascinating to see the points of view from earlier centuries. For example, I have a book from early 20th c which contends that these various tribes in Africa are the lost tribes of Israel because of customs they practice. But it’s really extremely unlikely if not completely wrong.

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      2. I am obviously interested in the subject and I have read alot of really terribly written and poorly argued books on the subject…i try to maintain an objectivity but also an empathy because with the dross comes alot of beautiful art and literature

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    1. No problem, I am glad you enjoyed. The story about the wife swapping is very funny. I was trying to show in this post the intimate relations by language and magical thinking, something we forget. But a bit of racy going ons with angelic intelligences never hurts

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      1. I’m not an enigma – I’m too deep for my own good this is usually tedious when I want to go on and on about something at midnight πŸ˜‰ I used to work for an occultesque bookstore, they sold a lot of Alistair Crowley, I thought the Tarot Deck by his muse Freda (forget last name) was exquisite. The ideas Crowley had were dismissed as being a prelude to Satanism but in truth he was also a great believer in astral projection and tantric sex via the idea of pyramid energy and this interested me greatly as it related a lot to energy work and the work of that psychologist who was killed by the FBI for what he knew .. so much of this information is suppressed or tarnished so people don’t really learn the value of it. I would agree – unless you know mythology you know nothing of what comes afterward it starts there.

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  2. Reminds me of the school of translators set up in Toledo by Alfonso X el Sabio. Part of the 12/13th Century Renaissance. Toledo had a reputation in those days for all sorts of magic. See the story of Don Illan in El Conde Lucanor. Great post and tickles the academic fancy.

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  3. Right, this is fascinating. I have very little knowledge on the subject, however…. Isn’t it interesting though how a diaspora often has the opposite of the intended effect? The spread of a culture rather than its downfall?

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    1. Well 1492 was a very important year in Spain… the multi-religious Iberian Peninsula become totally Catholic again, Ferdinand and Isabella United the various kingdoms founding the first proper modern nation state (yes they are that young) and funded Columbus. The expulsion of the Jews was a major event as they moved eastwards. Also with the destruction of the Moorish state, Islam underwent a regression. I should have stressed how Odin is linked to the whole Thoth/Hermes/Mercury complex, but I cover a lot of ground. The Books of Moses I mentioned were used around your neck of the woods. I like John Dee a lot.

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      1. Did we ever talk about The Years of Rice and Salt? A book that postulates what would have happened to the map of their world had Europe been wiped out by the plague and not become the great colonizers of the globe. The story is told from the perspective of a eunuch who gets reincarnated over and over again.

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      2. I think you did mention it… interesting… I often think about 1492… I love Spain and its morbid fascination with death… I think people have forgotten the value of a good death

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      3. I could get on board with a version of anarchy. Tear down the old system and start fresh when it stops working. Perhaps with some nonviolent modifications… peaceful revolution. There’s an oxymoron.

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      4. I know, I am kidding. I am enjoying it though and it would be nice to talk about it with a fellow reader. Roger has posted a page with discussion questions, I believe I will have to check it out. You know in my abundant free time…

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      1. i wish I knew more about it. The origin of language and especially the written word which for some cultures came so much later is really intriguing. It’s no wonder mystical and spiritual significance was placed on letters and symbols.

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      2. Hence the post. Writing is magic, all spells stress the importance of saying exactly the right words in the right order at the right time. Alchemy of the word as Rimbaud said. Full on mystic Cake… creativity seems to come from somewhere else because it does. That is why I try to never lose my daemon

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  4. Another great post, dear Cake …
    You are quite right as to how The Egyptian God Thoth could be related to Hermes, the Messenger of Gods.
    In Hellenistic Egypt, the Greeks recognised the congruence of their god Hermes with Thoth, egyptian God of Knowledge. Hence, the two gods were worshipped as one in what had been the Temple of Thoth in Khemnu, which the Greeks called Hermopolis.
    Hermes came to be regarded as the god of language, alongside Mnemosyne (the goddess of memory). This is a point I might probably consider for a future post (in May) and IΒ΄ll be linking back to this post too (and others to come if they are relevant, which I am sure they will be πŸ˜‰
    I enjoy learning about Kelley an the β€˜Enochian’ language. This is a very interesting theory: Does it mean that Language was reinvented?.
    As to that excerpt of your post which says: “The Kabbalah espoused the view that Hebrew was the language of God and each letter of the alphabet was connected to God through a series of divine emanations. Here was the key to magical operations, to communicate with God and the Angels it was vital to have knowledge of Hebrew”.—> that made me think of argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (I recently posted about his brief story TlΓΆn, Uqbar, Orbis, Tertius in case you want to take a look)… Borges has a great stroy called “The Aleph” (first letter of The Jewish alphabet). He basically reduces the universe to aleph … that takes life as physical space and corporeal existence. πŸ˜€ Thank you for sharing this excellent post…. Love & best wishes ⭐

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful and fulsome comment. Thank you for the further information regarding Hermes. The whole Dee/Kelley thing is a hoot, though the Enochian language is an intriguing idea. Dee thought that the prophet Enoch was the last human who could converse with the Angels and he tried to re-discover the language in their scrying sessions. Dee was a brilliant mathematician and scientist and invented the term British Empire. I love Borges, I have mentioned him in several posts and I have read your excellent essay. Borges was familiar with the Kabbalah and with several theories as well.

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  5. Ohh Mr cake. One should not read Cake while drinking. I do think I understood that, though it was tough. The wife swapping made me laugh out loud. Men. You have wide interests. You’re always fun to read.

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    1. Thank you Vic, I think the wife swapping is hilarious, I can imagine it, Kelley in the trance saying that the angels want them to swaps wife for the night and Dee being like…’Really?’. My interests are either wide or all over the place.

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      1. It’s good to have varied interests. I know, the wife swapping is so funny. Like, dude, that message was from your pants not the angels. πŸ˜‚

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      2. Btw, Mr. Cake, you have not stopped by in quite some time…I might start to think you don’t like what I post… πŸ˜‰

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