There were actually Church councils convened at various times to prohibit the practice of occultism. Among these were the Council of Agde of the Languedoc in southern France, in 506, which pronounced sorcerers (and vampires!) excommunicated. There were further such councils, such as the Council of Orleans in 541 and the Council of Narbonne in 589, all towards the same general end of fighting the sorcerers. From this short list we can see that the struggle between the Church and the magicians has been going on for quite some time (especially in France!). In addition, we have anecdotal evidence of individual priests being censured—or worse—for involvement in the occult arts, such as Father Pierre Aupetit of the town of Fossas in Limousine, who was burned at the stake for performing the Black Mass; and Father William Stapleton, who was arrested as a magician in England during the reign of Henry VIII.
Indeed, the Knights Templar—no strangers to the crusades or the exotic mysteries of the Middle East—themselves were accused of devil-worship and all kinds of blasphemous and heretical acts. The day of their arrest throughout Europe is still remembered today, for it fell on Friday, October 13, and thus gave us the superstition that Friday the thirteenth is unlucky. Yet the Templars had themselves taken the same vows as any priest or monk: poverty, chastity, and obedience, all in service to the Catholic Church. The name of the devil they were supposed to worship—Baphomet—became the magical name of the twentieth century’s most famous occultist: Aleister Crowley.
Thus, the Church has held many councils and published many orders concerning occultism, magic, and the like. At the same time, highranking clergymen including several Popes were known to have been heavily involved in the study—and sometimes the practice—of the occult arts. Therefore, it is not so unlikely on the
face of it that a Pope would have once authored a grimoire, for as we have seen, the Church has a public face and a private one. It is as much a secular institution as a sacred one, and the pursuit and maintenance of power can be accomplished by spiritual methods as well as mundane conspiracies.
Let us, then, examine the Grimoire of Pope Honorius III to see how a priest may summon— the Devil.
No one knows quite when the discipline known as “ceremonial magic” had its origins. Magic, as it is generally understood by anthropologists and historians of religion, is universal and its practices can be detected in virtually every ancient culture, and among societies living in relative isolation, in the Amazon rain forest as easily as the jungles of Borneo and the Australian outback. Our earliest written records of magic can be found in the cuneiform tablets of ancient Sumer and Babylon, and in the Coffin Texts of ancient Egypt. Magic was practiced in China long before the birth of Confucius, and in India millennia before the birth of the Buddha. Spells, charms, and incantations are known to every
culture on earth: whether to ward off evil and sickness, or to encourage fertility and wealth.
Ceremonial magic, however, is a complicated evolution of the more primitive forms. As such, its goals are not always easy to discern. Where the shaman or medicine man (or woman) might be concerned with harvests and the hunt, or ridding a tribal member of sickness, or even in observing the right times for the performance of sacrifices, the ceremonial magician is concerned with less mundane affairs. The ceremonial magician wishes to evoke spiritual forces to visible appearance, to travel to astral realms, to commune with the ineffable; and this is done according to very precise instructions, written down in what are known—in the West—as grimoires.
A grimoire is a magician’s manual, a handbook containing specific rituals for specific ends. It is like a cookbook: if you don’t already know how to boil water or crack open an egg, it is not very useful and you can make mistakes. A grimoire does not pretend to teach magic, but only to be used as a guide for the accomplished magician.
The training of a magician may take place within the ranks of a secret society dedicated to magic, such as the famous Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn: a British occult society of the
nineteenth century that numbered among its initiates such luminaries as W. B. Yeats, the Nobel prize winning poet, and such tenebraries as Aleister Crowley, the magician some have called the “wickedest man in the world.” In this society, magicians were instructed in the very basic elements of their art and trained through a series of degrees, each one demanding greater intellectual study as well as greater capability in the demonstration of occult powers.
Prior to the existence of such groups as the Golden Dawn, however, training in occultism could be had only at the feet of an acknowledged master. Perhaps some of the Masonic lodges numbered a magus or two among their membership; but by far the individuals credited with the greatest potential for magical accomplishment were Catholic priests.
It is difficult to realize in this day and age the utilitarian nature of the priesthood in ancient times. A priest was supposed to be able to cast out the devil in the rite known as exorcism; thus, the priest was credited with supernatural power from the very start. What better instruction could one receive in the ars magica than in a Catholic seminary? And what use was a parish priest who could only celebrate Mass and tell his parishioners that every evil that befell them was
“God’s will”? In the days before science, before modern medicine—both human and veteri-
nary—there had to be recourse to spiritual forces in order to effect mundane goals. Priests prayed for abundant harvests, for an end to the plague, or that a hostile enemy force would pass them by. The ritual known as the “laying-on of hands,” which was used to ordain priests, was also used to heal the sick.
As science increasingly became the savior of modern humanity, the role of the priest became less that of the village shaman and more that of the village psychiatrist, as the priest began to concern himself more with the salvation of the souls of his flock than with the health of their bodies or the status of their crops. This development, however, did not take place until relatively recently. Until the nineteenth century, Catholic priests were believed to be possessed of supernatural powers that could change the relatively sordid reality of the European peasant and his quotidian existence.
Catholic priests could make magic.
A glance at the more famous grimoires of the last three hundred years or so will demonstrate a common factor: spirits, both evil and good, are summoned and controlled using the names of God, the angels, and the saints. The sign of the Cross is used throughout these texts, as are Biblical quotations, familiar prayers such as the Our Father and the Hail Mary, and liturgical procedures common to the Mass, such as the use of incense, candles, and vestments. The Western European ceremonial magician, if he is not a priest, is at least pretending to be one.
Thus, when the Grimoire of Pope Honorius made its appearance it was, if not a genuine Papal grimoire, at least an honest example of what all the other famous grimoires pretended they were not: a manual of occultism intended for use by clergymen.
THE BLACK MASS
While the average person living in the Middle East or Europe could make use of charms, talismen, amulets, and the like, their creation was usually reserved for persons considered spiritually adept: holy men and women who were believed to have some special connection with the gods or God, either through their piety or through demonstrations of their supernatural abilities. This belief—as ancient as the earliest written records of civilization—continues to the present day in the phenomenon of such mystics as Padre Pio in Italy, whose stigmata (bleeding from wounds identical to those believed to have been suffered by Christ on the cross) was an indication that he had supernatural abilities, and that praying to him (or being touched by him) would cause the cure of illness. Today, thousands still travel to Lourdes every month in the expectation of a miraculous cure at this shrine to the Virgin Mary. It is easy to see that these pilgrims are not making the journey to become spiritually enlightened, but to rid themselves of the burden of physical, organic disease.
Indeed, Jesus in the Gospels performed miracles of healing, of raising from the dead, and of casting out demons. “All these and greater you shall do,” he said to his disciples (John 14:12). He also walked on water, calmed the seas, and fed multitudes with a handful of loaves and fishes, and in the end—according to canonical scripture—he raised himself from the dead and ascended bodily into heaven. Thus, the average Christian could be forgiven if he or she expected similar wonders to be performed by parish priests.
In order to understand the degree to which Catholic priests felt pressure to accommodate these desires, we must realize that Christianity was not the native religion of Europe. It was a Middle Eastern import, a competitor to the cult of Mithra, which had been embraced by many Romans during the time of the Empire. As what was originally a Jewish cult, early Christianity inherited a legacy of Jewish occultism and mysticism as well as practices and beliefs that were current among the Gnostics and other Middle Eastern sects and cults. In fact, until about the tenth century A.D., Europe was a battleground of several different versions of Christianity as well as native pagan cults that had dominated the region for millennia.
The Celts, for example, notorious fighters, worshipped a variety of gods and goddesses. What we know of their religion, and particularly of the Druid priesthood, is subject to the mists of memory, with little written record of them that was not due to what we can find in the Gallic Wars of Caesar or, later, the vicious propaganda of the Church. The Nordic peoples had an extensive array of deities from Odin to Thor to Freya. The Slavic peoples had a coherent mythology as well, one that was driven underground and eradicated by the Church and especially under the banner of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, the evangelists—some would say “colonizers”—of Eastern Europe.
Later, European Christianity would be influenced by the Crusades and, most notably, by the Order of the Knights Templar: an Order of militant monks who had taken the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and had many contacts with Islamic clerics and members of other Middle Eastern sects. These contacts (and their legendary ability at banking and moneylending) led to their eventually being suppressed by both Church and State in the fourteenth century when they were accused of worshipping a devilish idol with the name “Baphomet” and of trampling on the cross during their initiation ceremonies. The influence of the Templars did not disappear, however, but continued to grow, and it is said provided the inspiration for the creation of the Masonic orders a few centuries later. As the Templars were considered to be enemies of the Church—even though they had taken oaths to defend it, and did so gallantly in the Holy Land—so too were the Freemasons considered hostile to the Church, leading to several Papal pronouncements against them. It is this nexus of secret societies and the Church that provided the fertile soil for books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code; but we are getting ahead of our story.
What we know about the native peoples of
Europe and their gods prior to the arrival of Christianity was that the usefulness of any pagan priesthood was directly related to its ability to protect its tribe, and that meant everything from healing sickness to predicting harvests . . . to summoning the gods to ensure victory in battle. The relationship of humans to their gods was an interdependent one: the gods were just as interested in seeing their worshippers thrive as the worshippers were serious in their sacrifices and incantations. With the coming of the Church, the emphasis shifted from a relationship that was mutually dependent to one in which the people were wholly dependent upon—and in a kind of servitude to—God. This new God made no promises, except the relatively ambiguous one of eternal life in the hereafter. His symbol was the crucifixion: a body torn and bloody and hanging on a cross. To the more cynical of the Europeans, this was probably as good a God as one could hope for in a world gone mad with plague, war, and famine: a God that promised existence would be better after death. It also explained a great deal: the world was a mess because people had ignored the one True God. After all, what had the worship of the pagan gods actually provided, except more of the same? The nagging suspicion, the inherent paranoia, that the Church provided in the form of such concepts as original sin, venial and mortal sin, and the sacrament of confession—in which one revealed one’s most intimate misdeeds to a hopefully anonymous priest—contributed to an increased sense of servitude among the population.
But in the villages and along the country highways, among the farmers and herders and peasants, the old ways died hard. These were the people of the countryside, the paganus: the Latin word from which we get the term “pagan.” While the worship of a relatively effete and intellectual God caught on in the cities and urban areas where worship of warrior deities like Thor would have been awkward and inappropriate—due to the density of the population and its reliance not on the spoils of war, but on trade, commerce, and contracts—the worship of the gods of the hunt, of the crops, of fertility, and of war continued apace in the paganus. In addition, the Catholic Church itself had both political and economic power, granted to it initially by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century A.D. and expanded and developed ever since. A centralized power, the Church imitated the old Roman Empire even down to its official language, Latin: the tongue of the Legions that had subdued most of Europe during the time of the Caesars.
Thus, in the first millennium A.D. there was some resistance to the new religion, and this resistance increased exponentially the further the people were from the Church’s power base in Rome. To counteract the psychological resistance of the rural pagans, the Church took over pagan shrines and built churches in their place, thereby having the best of both worlds. The pagans continued to worship at the ancient sites, but had to pass through the heavy bronze doors of the Catholic cathedrals to do so. In addition, the pagan calendar was largely coopted for use by the Church. Ancient European holidays such as Samhain and Saturnalia became, respectively, Halloween and Christmas. The fertility festival of Beltane, April 30, became the eve of the feast of the Virgin Mother. The pagans still held onto Beltane as their own, however, and it became famous to readers of Bram Stoker’s Dracula as Walpurgisnacht: the night when witches gathered at the top of Mount Brocken in Germany to hold their blasphemous rites. The Maypole, traditional phallic symbol of fertility, is still in use in Europe on this holiday.