Posters for magic shows must create high expectations for enigma and mystery. They appear dazzling with a surrealist mixture of bizarre humour and a promise of a dark and spiritual journey. They often depict a demonic figure whispering into the ears of the magician. Sometimes the little ogres are lined up and bowing reverentially to the magician. The designers use these diabolical creatures to convey the idea that the magician is receiving occult instructions from the infernal realms.
The word "magic" is derived from Magus (plural Magi, from Latin, via Greek μάγος from Old Persian maguš), who is a member of an ancient Persian clan specializing in cultic activities. The best known Magi are the Wise Men from the East in the Bible. An important constituent of magic, alchemical process, according to Zosimus of Panopolis, the foremost of the Hellenistic alchemists, who lived at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth century AD, “is the Mithraic Mystery, the incommunicable Mystery.” A combination of Zurvanite Zoroastrianism and “Chaldean” or Babylonian astrology and magic was brought to the Greeks of Asia Minor, with the advancing Persian armies in the sixth century BC, that contributed to the emergence of Greek “philosophy” and the Orphic cult of Dionysus. In the Hellenistic Age, it was the continuing presence of numerous Magian influences at the city of Alexandria in Egypt, with the inclusion of Greek philosophy, that contributed to the outgrowth of Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, and Hermeticism.
|The Witches' Sabbath Hans Baldung (called Hans Baldung Grien) (German, Schwäbisch Gmünd (?) 1484/85–1545 Strasbourg (Strassburg))
Although these Magi were regarded as the great founders of the art, the practitioners of alchemy in Hellenistic times turned to Hermes, said to have been a great ancient Egyptian sage. Zoroaster, explained Zosimus, agreed with Hermes that men could raise themselves above Fate, but he took the way of magic, while Hermes, on the other hand, took the way of philosophy. Pliny the Elder, believed, that Osthanes, the “Prince of the Magi”, was the person most responsible for the introduction of magic into Greece. Osthanes, mentioned Pliny, was the first person to write a book on magic “and nurtured the seeds, as it were, of this monstrous art, spreading the disease to all corners of the world on his way. Osthanes was chiefly responsible for stirring up among the Greeks not merely an appetite but a mad obsession for this art.” (Pliny, Natural History, XXX: 8) It is said that after the Persian emperor's defeat at Salamis, Osthanes remained behind in Greece to become the teacher of the philosopher Democritus, an Ionian philosopher, born in 460 BC. The reputed author of seventy-two works, Democritus had apparently also visited Babylon to study the science of the “Chaldeans”, of which he is to have written on the subject. He summed up the results of his investigations in a Chaldean Treatise, another tractate was entitled On the Sacred Writings of Those in Babylon, and as a result of his visit to Persia, he wrote Mageia.
Gnosticism and the Hermetic creeds shared with it a belief in the descent of life or spirit through different levels or stages down to the earthly level. They sought to find the way aloft again, not merely by philosophical reasoning, but by agnosis, acknowledge that was the gift of revelation. As part of the Stoic heritage, together with the vast amount of folklore and magical recipes which were given afresh force in the light of Stoic concepts, these creeds, like Neoplatonism itself, had a profound sense of the complex interrelationships and correspondences inside the organic or vital (pneumatic) whole -- while at the same time they suffered from an intense sense of loss, of an agonising division that cut across the face of life. It was precisely, indeed, the dialectic of these two opposed positions which gave such strength and fascination to the period's dreams, fantasies, deep insights, comprehensions. Alchemy was richly apart of this world, torn by many of the same contradictions, but with a secured ifference. Alone it clung, despite confusions and ambiguities, both to the belief in varying levels and structures, and to the Stoic position that the psyche was material, that there was a mutual penetration of soul and body, of physis and the world of plants, of hexis and the world of inorganic matter. It consistently saw all the more solid or specific elements as permeated and held together in the infinite network of pneumatic tensions. (Jack Lindsay,The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt, 1970:1-23)
However, it was the prehistoric man, living in a dangerous world, where many cosmic events were unexplained, who probably started thinking of "magic". They expressed their bewilderment in terms of drawings and carvings. Perhaps when they saw that they can paint an animal they thought of magic. It was indeed magical that one can represent the three dimensional reality with some simple lines on a flat surface. Ancient Egyptians believed that all of creation was animated in various degrees. It was by "magic" that the creation was turned into being. Thus, magic was more ancient, and consequently more powerful, than the gods themselves
I am one with Atum when he still floated alone in Nun, the waters of chaos, before any of his strength had gone into creating the cosmos. I am Atum at his most inexhaustible - the potence and potential of all that is to be. This is my magic protection and it's older and greater than all the gods together! Book of the Dead, New Kingdom
The Canaanite culture originated at the same time as the Babylonian culture out of the chaos surrounding the Semitic Amorite invasion / infiltration of Sumeria beginning around 2,200 BC. By the time cultural stability was restored around 1800 BC the Babylonians existed in Mesopotamia while the Canaanites (Phoenicians) existed along the Mediterranean. Tablets describing the Canaanite gods including BAAL were found in the ruins of the Canaanite city of Ugarit (also known as Ras Shamra) located on the modern coast of Lebanon. These tablets were dictated by the chief priest of Ugarit to a scribe between 1375 and 1345 BC. The city itself was destroyed around 1200 BC by the Sea Peoples at nearly the same time that the Israelites emerged into history. The BAAL Fertility Story begins with some gods complaining to EL that BAAL does not have a great house like themselves. EL then allows BAAL to build a house on the god's mountain Zaphon.
Then BAAL opened a slit in the clouds, BAAL sounded his holy voice, BAAL thundered from his lips . . . the earth's high places shook. . . . So BAAL was enthroned in his house. "No other king or non-king shall set his power over the earth. I will send no tribute to EL's son DEATH, no homage to EL's darling, the hero. Let DEATH cry to himself, let the darling grumble in his heart; for I alone will rule over the gods; I alone will fatten gods and men; I alone will satisfy earth's masses."For some reason (part of the tablet is missing) DEATH convinces BAAL to become his vassal and come to the underworld where BAAL is killed. Unknown god speaking - We arrived at the pleasant place, the desert pasture, at the lovely fields on Death's shore. We came upon BAAL: he had fallen to the ground. BAAL the conqueror has died; the prince, the lord of the earth, has perished.
The virgin ANAT left; she headed toward SUN, the gods' torch; she raised her voice and shouted: "Message of the bull, EL, your father, the word of the kind one, your parent: 'SUN, the furrows in the fields have dried, the furrows in EL's fields have dried; BAAL has neglected the furrows of his plowland. Where is BAAL the conqueror? Where is the prince, the lord of the earth?'" And SUN, the god's torch replied: "Pour sparkling wine from its container, bring a garland for your relative; and I will look for BAAL the conqueror." And the virgin ANAT replied: "Wherever you go, may EL protect you.The SUN apparently using the magic in the garland revives BAAL who then must fight to leave the underworld.
And EL the kind, the compassionate, replied: "who among the gods can expel the sickness, drive out the disease?" . . .But none of the gods answered him. Then EL, the kind, the compassionate, replied: "My sons, sit down upon your thrones, upon your princely seats. I will work magic, I will bring relief: I will expel the sickness, I will drive out the disease."
Exod. 7: 10. So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. 11. Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: 12. Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs. 13. Yet Pharaoh's heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said.In the early Jewish tradition Jehovah, as an ineffable name, was the source of "magic" power. According to a Rabbinic tradition the real pronunciation of Jehovah ceased to be used at the time of Simeon the Just, who was, according to Maimonides, a contemporary of Alexander the Great.The true Divine name was used only by the priests in the sanctuary who imparted the blessing, and by the high-priest on the Day of Atonement. There are many Jewish parables that involve the use of hidden name of God to alter the world in ways that could be described as magic. The supernatural activities are common occurrences in Talmud and other sources that are ascribed to many rabbis. Many of them could recite a secret name of God and ascended into heaven to meet Him and His angels. One Jewish sage is credited with creating a man by reciting various names of God.
Demogorgon is first mentioned by a scholiast of ca 350-400 AD, who was writing glossary annotations into the margins of Statius's Thebaid. This gloss by an otherwise unknown Christian named Placidus is attributed to Lactantius Placidus in the manuscripts and in the earliest printed editions of Statius' works (Venice, 1483 and 1494); as a result, the writer has been misidentified with Lucius Caelius Firmianus Lactantius and other Christian authors by enthusiastic modern demonologists. The name Demogorgon is introduced in a discussion of book IV line 516 of the Thebaid, which mentions 'the supreme being of the threefold world' (triplicis mundi summum); in a mystical passage that seems to show Jewish influence, as it mentions Moses and Isaiah); the author says of Statius, Dicit deum Demogorgona summum ('He is speaking of the Demogorgon, the supreme god', or perhaps 'He is speaking of a god, the supreme Demogorgon'). Prior to this, there is no mention of the supposed "Demogorgon" anywhere by any writer, pagan or Christian.
In the Early Middle Ages, Demogorgon is mentioned in the tenth-century Adnotationes super Lucanum, a series of short notes to Lucan's Pharsalia that are included in the Commenta Bernensia, the "Berne Scholia on Lucan". By the late Middle Ages, the reality of a primordial "Demogorgon" was so well fixed in the European imagination that "Demogorgon's son Pan" became a bizarre variant reading for "Hermes' son Pan" in one manuscript tradition of Boccaccio's Genealogia Deorum gentilium ("Genealogies of the Gods":1.3-4 and 2.1), misreading a line in Ovid's Metamorphoses. After Boccaccio Demogorgon is mentioned as a "primal" god in quite a few Renaissance texts, and impressively glossed "Demon-Gorgon," i.e., "Terror-Demon" or "God of the Earth." The French historian and mythographer Jean Seznec, for instance, now spots in Demogorgon an allusion to the Demiurge ("Craftsman" or "Maker") of Plato's Timaeus. For a remarkable early text actually identifying Ovid's Demiurge (1/1, here) as "sovereign Demogorgon," see the paraphrase of Metamorphoses I in Abraham France, The third part of the Countesse of Pembrokes Yuychurch (London, 1592), sig. A2v."
Starting in the 8th century, Sefer Yetzirah and the Heichalot texts began to make inroads with European Jewry. From the 12th century, kabbalistic groups began to spring up throughout Europe and some of them were so secret that almost no one knew of them. Modern scholars have documented the existence of some of these small mystical brotherhoods, for instance, "Iyun Circle," and "Unique Cherub Circle." Of the more well-known Kabbalistic groups, the German Pietists, held a place of prominence during the 13th century and group members were almost all from a single family of academics, the Kalonymus family. This family's origins were in the French and German Rhineland. Isaac the Blind (1160-1235) who wrote the classical Kabbalistic was the leader of the influential Provencal schools who studied not only Jewish, but also early Greek, and Christian Gnostic writings, as well as the writing of a Sufi sect at Basra, the Brethren of Sincerity. Another key figure in early kabbalistic development was the 14th century Spanish scholar Abraham Abulafia of Saragossa. Said to have been of messianic proportions, Abulafia traveled the Middle East and North Africa and returned with certain yogic techniques of posture, breathing, and rhythmic prayer, and introduced them to his disciples in a new kabbalistic structure.
|Savonarola Being Burnt at the Stake, Piazza della Signoria, Florence, detail of the fire, Italian School, Museo di San Marco dell'Angelico, Florence, Italy
Leviticus 20:27, A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. (KJV), Leviticus 20:27Exodus and Leviticus, two Old Testament books that make up part of the "Law of Moses" and the primary history of the Jewish people, were written in the sixth century B.C by a Jewish writer—whose name we do not know. The books, which include the passages quoted above that assume the existence of witches and urge that they be killed, were most likely written in what is present-day Iraq during the reign of Evil Merodach, a dark time of Jewish exile, around 560 B.C. The author was most likely a priest, and might have been assisted in his work by other priests and scribes.
It is from Arab Spain that the West gets much of its knowledge of Alchemy, and Ritual Magic, the sisters of Kabbalah. Together, these three schools formed the basis for Hermetic philosophy and practices as mentioned in the early Rosicrucian manifestoes: the Fama Fraternitatis, the Confessio Fraternitatis, and The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz. For many students of mysticism, the pilgrimage to these schools was as great and as dangerous as their forbearers had made to the temples of Egypt and Persia. Raymond Lull, Arnold of Villanova, and the famed French mystic, alchemist, and Rosicrucian Nicolas Flamel, bookseller turned patron of cathedrals, all received their initiations into the Hermetic sciences, of which Kabbalah is a part, in Spain and brought it to the rest of Europe.
|Witches burnt in Derneburg in 1555, German School, Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, France / Archives Charmet
|Witches celebrating, by Hans Weiditz from Dr. Johann Geiler von Kaysersburg's Die Emeis. Printed by Johann Grüninger. Strassburg, 1517
|Satan (Pluto) holding court for newly annointed witches. From Gerard d'Euphrates' Livre de l' histoir & ancienne cronique. Printed by E. Groulleau. Paris 1549.
|The Devil carrying a witch off to hell., From Olaus Magnus' Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus. Rome 1555
|Witches' Brew. From Abraham Saur's Ein Kurtze Treue Warning (A Short, True, Warning). Printed at Frankfurt, 1582.
|The Witches Sabbath, engraved by Bernard Picart (1673-1733), 1732
In mid 1400, many adherents of Catharism, fleeing a papal inquisition launched against their alleged heresies, had migrated into Germany and the Savoy. Torture inflicted on heretics suspected of magical pacts or demon-driven sexual misconduct led to alarming confessions. Defendants admitted to flying on poles and animals to attend assemblies presided over by Satan appearing in the form of a goat or other animal. Some defendants told investigators that they repeatedly kissed Satan's anus as a display of their loyalty. Others admitted to casting spells on neighbors, having sex with animals, or causing storms. The distinctive crime of witchcraft began to take shape. In 1484 Pope Innocent announced that satanists in Germany were meeting with demons, casting spells that destroyed crops, and aborting infants. The pope asked two friars, Heinrich Kramer (a papal inquisitor of sorcerers from Innsbruck) and Jacob Sprenger, to publish a full report on the suspected witchcraft. Two years later, the friars published Malleus maleficarum ("Hammer of Witches") which put to rest the old orthodoxy that witches were powerless in the face of God to a new orthodoxy that held Christians had an obligation to hunt down and kill them. The Malleus told frightening tales of women who would have sex with any convenient demon, and kill babies. (The friars asked, "What is to be thought of those witches who collect...as many as twenty or thirty members together, and put them in a bird's nest or shut them up in a box, where they move themselves like living members and eat oats and corn?") Over the next forty years, the Malleus would be reprinted thirteen times and come to help define the crime of witchcraft. Much of the book offered hints to judges and prosecutors, such as the authors' suggestion to strip each suspect completely and inspect the body to see whether a mole was present that might be a telltale sign of consort with demons, and to have the defendants brought into court backwards to minimize their opportunities to cast dangerous spells on officials.
The 16th century cabalist Rabbi Low of Prague(1513-1609), is said to have used his powers to create a Golem from clay in order to protect his people from persecution in the ghettos of Prague. Golem is a shapeless man in Jewish tradition, who resembles a human being , often created from day or mud, and endowed with life through the use of magical spells.
During the Middle Ages, Europeans believed strongly in magic. Almost all Europeans believed in its power. At the same time they also thought it was sinful. At that time alchemist (chemists) searched for two very valuable substances, the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life. The philosopher's stone was believed to change iron, lead, and other metals into gold. The elixir of life was a miraculous substance that could cure diseases and lengthen life.
The Whispering Demons
When the art of magic became part of the entertainment of the masses who still were enchanted by the idea of supernatural, there appeared a demand for posters to attract people to the show. The mischievous little whispering demons were first appeared in 1894 in Harry Kellar's publicity poster. Kellar was known as America’s greatest magician and illusionist from the 1890s to his retirement in on May 16, 1908 with his last show at Fords Theater in Baltimore. He handed over the mantle of America's Greatest Magician to Howard Thurston who had the largest travelling Vaudeville magic show for the time, requiring more than eight entire train cars to transport his props across the country. Thurston used the image of whispering demons in a number of his posters, and was perhaps the most responsible for making them the trademark of a magic show.
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