Fabulous Fire

Fire Magic

Fire is the element of heat and light associated with transformation.

It symbolizes civilization – wisdom – fellowship –

fertility – rebirth – and passion.

There are close connections with the sun.

Fire brings comfort and illumination.  But this powerful energy can

also be furious, painful, and destructive.

Bruce Springsteen’s Magic

MAGIC

(Bruce Springsteen)

I got a coin in your palm,
I can make it disappear.
I got a card up my sleeve,
Name it, and I’ll pull it out your ear.
I got a rabbit in the hat,
If you wanna come and see.
This is what will be.
This is what will be.

I got shackles on my wrists,
Soon I’ll slip and I’ll be gone.
Chain me in a box in the river,
And I rise up in the sun.
Trust none of what you hear,
And less of what you see.
This is what will be.
This is what will be.

 

magic

I’ll cut you in half,                                                                                                                                                                I got a shiny saw blade.                                                                                                                                                   All I need’s a volunteer,
I’ll cut you in half,
While you’re smiling ear to ear.
And the freedom that you sought,
Drifting like a ghost amongst the trees.
This is what will be.
This is what will be.

Now there’s a fire down below,
But it’s coming up here.
So leave everything you know,
Carry only what you fear.
On the road the sun is sinking low,
Bodies hanging in the trees.
This is what will be.
This is what will be.

And here’s The Boss himself:

Abracadabra!

  • Abracadabra is the famous magical word that is still used today by stage conjurers.
  • It may have derived from an ancient Jewish cure for sickness that went:

Ab Abr Abra Abrak Abraka

Abrakal Abrakala Abrakal

Abraka Abrak Abra Abr Ab

  • Another theory is that it came from the followers of Basilides who worshipped a god called Abraxas.   He ruled the 365 days of the year. The 7 letters of his name may represent the 7 astrological planets that control fate.
  • The first recorded use of Abracadabra was made by Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, who was the doctor of the Roman Emperors Caracalla, Geta, and Severus.  In 208 AD he accompanied Emperor Severus on his expedition to Britain.
  • The word was used as a healing charm set out like this:

Abracadabra

  • These letters were written on paper and tied around the patient’s neck with a length of flax.  After 9 days the charm was thrown backwards over the shoulder into an east-moving stream.  As the words shrank away, so did the fever.
  • According to Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year (1722) people thought the Black Death was caused by an evil spirit taking possession of the body.  A similar Abracadabra spell was used to ward of the sickness using the power of magic.
  • Many favorite charms were written in pyramid form.  These amulets would be worn on the body, kept under the bed, or placed in a box and hidden somewhere about the home.

Sources:

Man, Myth and Magic.  “Abracadabra” (London: Purnell, 1970)

Wikipedia. “Abracadabra,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abracadabra

Kit’s Crit: Magic In Western Culture (Brian P. Copenhaver)

Copenhaver

Magic In Western Culture: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment (New York: Cambridge UP, 2015)

Brian Copenhaver’s Magic In Western Culture traces occult beliefs From Antiquity to the Enlightenment.  His study starts in Ancient Iran, Greece, and Rome, and moves through the early Christian Church to the influential thinkers of the Renaissance.  Magic is treated as a tradition that derives from classical philosophy, as Copenhaver examines why European intellectuals “repudiate magic in the Enlightenment, after having previously accepted it for more than two millennia” (xiii).

Copenhaver suggests that before the Enlightenment most educated Western people believed in magic – a tradition handed down from Herodotus.  But the early Catholic Church claimed any supernatural activity in The Bible was the result of divine miracles (not earthly magic), which created little problem until Thomas Aquinas insisted that if there were heavenly angels there must also be hell’s counterparts – demons.  Thereafter, devils were seen as tempting the faithful with magic powers and turning them into witches.   This belief persisted into the Middle Ages and beyond.

As further medical advances were made, traditional magic was superseded by new therapies – regimen, pharmacy, and surgery.  Doctors of Physic practiced a natural philosophy whereby physical treatment (not ritual or religious) aimed to produce the correct mix of humors in the body.

During the Renaissance, natural philosophy gradually gave way to mechanical science, particularly after the invention of the telescope and microscope.  Men like Descartes favored reason, method, and metaphysics over occultism, but this was not a clear-cut process.  Isaac Newton, for example, spent much of his scientific career as an alchemist searching for the Philosopher’s Stone, and was later called “the last of the magicians” (288).  But over the centuries, magic gradually succumbed to the dual pressures of religion and science until it fell out of fashion with the European intellectuals.

Magic In Western Culture is a dense, scholarly book, lightened in part by the rich illustrations.  Copenhaver has sifted through the murky realms of early belief to piece together a well-researched, cohesive analysis of the occult tradition.  His section on Newton is particularly fascinating.  I also enjoyed the references to Shakespeare’s plays that highlight the intersection between intellectual development and common folklore.

If you have an academic or historic interest in the rise and decline of magic you will find this book an impressive read.  Highly recommended!

Magic Or Medicine?

Magic Or Medicine?

Doctors / Physicians

Doctor   Hans Brock der Altere (c. 1584)

Throughout history, people have consulted doctors to diagnose and treat their ailments, but educated physicians were rare, expensive, and often dangerous. There was no understanding of how germs spread disease.  Indeed, well into the seventeenth century practitioners still followed Galen’s Greek notion that the body was made up of four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile – and when one of these fluids got out of balance the body fell sick.  Leeches and blood-letting were common practices because fevers were thought to originate from having too much blood in the body.

Barber-surgeons

Quack  Franz Anton Maulbertsch (c. 1785)

The first barber-surgeons were monks who aided parishioners in their monasteries.  They often advocated a heavy dose of fasting and prayer to accompany their herbal remedies.

Later on, barber-surgeons  were found on battlefields tending the wounded.  In the age before anesthetics, surgery was considered a lowly occupation and these quacks performed many of the procedures that physicians refused to do, including barbaric amputations, teeth-pulling, enemas, and blood-letting for those who could not afford a physician.

Apothecaries

Apothecary

If a person knew what was wrong and merely required a cure, they could visit the apothecary.  These were early pharmacists who made medicines, salves, and potions, and also gave out advice on surgery and midwifery.  Their tonics consisted of herbs, minerals, animal parts, urine, honey, and a variety of fats.

Cunning Men and Wise Women

Cunning Folk

If you could not afford any of the above, a cure might be found with a folk-healer.  Cunning men and wise women used magic, prayer, herbal lore, and family experience to tackle the everyday ailments of the townsfolk, villagers, farmers, and their livestock.  They were cheaper than apothecaries and could be paid by trading goods instead of money.  The cunning folk also provided an array of services for specific problems that could be dealt with very discretely – contraceptive powders, abortion, love potions, impotence cures, and poisons.

Some of the more unfortunate – or unpopular – cunning folk got caught up in the witch hunts that swept across Europe throughout that period.  But when people began realizing these healers were not only useful, but necessary, new regulations appeared that differentiated between good magic and bad.  Lighter sentences were handed out – time spent in the pillory or jail – and capital punishment was only awarded to witches – those in league with demons, who conjured up devils or committed murder.

By the end of the Seventeenth Century extensive advancements had been made.  William Harvey discovered how the heart controls blood circulation in the body; Ambroise Pare made important breakthroughs for treating war wounds; Marcello Malpighi invented the microscope; and the first blood transfusions were carried out at the Royal Society in London.  But it took a great many years for these advancements to permeate throughout England.  In the meantime, the common people continued to pray and turn to the wise women for help!

 

Love Potions

Night hearts

The topic for this Valentine’s week is love potions!  What are they made from?  Who uses them?  Do they work?

In Wicked Enchantments, Joyce Froome describes an array of magical charms used throughout the ages and recorded in the Museum of Witchcraft in Cornwall, England.  These include: sticking a certain number of pins into an apple or onion while chanting a rhyme; specific astrological symbols engraved on a box as a love talisman; carrying henbane root to make you appear more attractive; piercing knotted cords with pins; throwing salt on the fire while reciting a chant on three consecutive Fridays;  melting a wax heart over a hot tile while casting a charm that will bind the lover to your will;  and pushing pins in the sleeve with a prayer for each one so you will dream of your future spouse.  And quoting from The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus, Froome explains that a typical magical drink contained items such as periwinkle, houseleek,  and earthworms!

Candle hearts

Over the centuries love potions have appealed to young women in search of a husband; those who’ve lost their sweethearts and wish to lure them back; lovers in search of willing bed partners; and insecure people needing outside support, especially when they’ve already been rebuffed.  Cunning folk were only to happy to oblige and had a fifty-fifty chance of providing satisfaction, though of course they were conjuring up sexual allure and attraction, rather than genuine love.

There is some scientific research suggesting that modern-day “love potions” may actually affect human mood  – for example, those based on odors containing jasmine, rose, and vanilla.  Smells can trigger pheromones and create longing, attraction, or remind the person of happy erotic memories from their past.  Several products on the market contain chemical pheromones which supposedly make the wearer sexually irresistible.  Likewise, in the time before Viagra, certain herbs were used to increase the blood flow and stimulate arousal.  But did they really work?  What do you think?

Source:

Froome, Joyce. Wicked Enchantments: A History of the Pendle Witches and Their Magic (Lancaster: Carnegie, 2010)