Chapter 7

I t is unnecessary to examine in detail the mistakes—in ecclesiastical
language, the heresies—into which men have been led by a feeble, a deformed,
or an arrogant mystical sense. The number of these mistakes is countless;
their wildness almost inconceivable to those who have not been forced to
study them. Too often the loud voices and strange declarations of their
apostles have drowned the quieter accents of the orthodox.

It seems as though the moment of puberty were far more critical in the
spiritual than it is in the physical life: the ordinary dangers of
adolescence being intensified when they appear upon the higher levels of
consciousness. In the condition of psychic instability which is
characteristic of his movement to new states, man is unusually at the mercy
of the suggestions and impressions which he receives. Hence in every period
of true mystical activity we find an outbreak of occultism, illuminism, or
other perverted spirituality and—even more dangerous and confusing for the
student—a borderland region where the mystical and psychical meet. In the
youth of the Christian Church, side by side with genuine mysticism
descending from the Johannine writings or brought in by the Christian
Neoplatonists, we have the arrogant and disorderly transcendentalism of the
Gnostics: their attempted fusion of the ideals of mysticism and magic.
During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance there are the spurious mysticism
of the Brethren of the Free Spirit, the occult propaganda of Paracelsus, the
Rosicrucians, the Christian Kabalists; and the innumerable pantheistic,
Manichean, mystery-making, and Quietist heresies which made war upon
Catholic tradition. In the modern world, Theosophy in its various forms is
probably the most widespread and respectable representative of the occult

The root idea from which these varied beliefs and practices develop is
always the same; and, since right doctrine is often most easily defined by
contrast with its opposite, its study is likely to help us to fix more
precisely the true characters of mysticism. Leaving therefore the
specifically mystical error of Quietism until we come to the detailed
discussion of the contemplative states, we will consider here some of those
other supernormal activities of the self which we have already agreed to
classify as magic: and learn through them more of those hidden and
half-comprehended forces which she has at her command.

The word “magic” is out of fashion, though its spirit was never more widely
diffused than at the present time. Thanks to the gradual debasement of the
verbal currency, it suggests to the ordinary reader the production of
optical illusions and other parlour tricks. It has dragged with it in its
fall the terrific verb “to conjure,” which, forgetting that it once
undertook to compel the spirits of men and angels, is now content to produce
rabbits from top-hats. These facts would have little importance, were it not
that modern occultists—annoyed, one supposes, by this abuse of their ancient
title—constantly arrogate to their tenets and practices the name of
“Mystical Science.” Vaughan, in his rather supercilious survey of the
mystics, classed all forms of white magic, alchemy, and occult philosophy as
“theurgic mysticism,” [306] and, on the other side of the shield, the
occultists display an increasing eagerness to claim the mystics as masters
in their school. [307] Even the “three-fold way” of mysticism has been
adopted by them and relabelled “Probation, Enlightenment, Initiation.” [308]

In our search for the characteristics of mysticism we have already marked
the boundary which separates it from magic: and tried to define the true
nature and intention of occult philosophy. [309] We saw that it represented
the instinctive human “desire to know more” applied to suprasensible things.
For good or ill this desire, and the occult sciences and magic arts which
express it, have haunted humanity from the earliest times. No student of man
can neglect their investigation, however distasteful to his intelligence
their superficial absurdities may be. The starting-point of all magic, and
of all magical religion—the best and purest of occult activities—is, as in
mysticism, man’s inextinguishable conviction that there are other planes of
being than those which his senses report to him; and its proceedings
represent the intellectual and individualistic results of this
conviction—his craving for the hidden knowledge. It is, in the eyes of those
who really practise it, a moyen de parvenir: not the performance of illicit
tricks, but a serious attempt to solve the riddle of the world. Its result,
according to a modern writer upon occult philosophy, “comprises an actual,
positive, and realizable knowledge concerning the worlds which we denominate
invisible, because they transcend the imperfect and rudimentary faculties of
a partially developed humanity, and concerning the latent potentialities
which constitute—by the fact of their latency—the interior man. In more
strictly philosophical language, the Hermetic science is a method of
transcending the phenomenal world and attaining to the reality which is
behind phenomena.” [310]

Though fragments of this enormous claim seem able to justify themselves in
experience, the whole of it cannot be admitted. The last phrase in
particular is identical with the promise which we have seen to be
characteristic of mysticism. It presents magic as a pathway to reality; a
promise which it cannot fulfil, for the mere transcending of phenomena does
not entail the attainment of the Absolute. Magic even at its best extends
rather than escapes the boundaries of the phenomenal world. It stands, where
genuine, for that form of transcendentalism which does abnormal things, but
does not lead anywhere: and we are likely to fall victims to some kind of
magic the moment that the declaration “I want to know” ousts the declaration
“I want to be” from the chief place in our consciousness. The true “science
of ultimates” must be a science of pure Being, for reasons which the reader
is now in a position to discover for himself. But magic is merely a system
whereby the self tries to assuage its transcendental curiosity by extending
the activities of the will beyond their usual limits; sometimes, according
to its own account, obtaining by this means an experimental knowledge of
planes of existence usually—but inaccurately—regarded as “supernatural.”

Even this modified claim needs justification. For most persons who do not
specialize in the eccentric sciences the occultist can only be said to exist
in either the commercial or the academic sense. The fortune-teller
represents one class; the annotator of improper grimoires the other. In
neither department is the thing supposed to be taken seriously: it is merely
the means of obtaining money, or of assuaging a rather morbid curiosity.

Such a view is far from accurate. In magic, whether regarded as a
superstition or a science, we have at any rate the survival of a great and
ancient tradition, the true meaning of whose title should hardly have been
lost in a Christian country; for it claims to be the science of those Magi
whose quest of the symbolic Blazing Star brought them once, at least, to the
cradle of the Incarnate God. Its laws, and the ceremonial rites which
express those laws, have come down from immemorial antiquity. They appear to
enshrine a certain definite knowledge, and a large number of less definite
theories, concerning the sensual and supersensual worlds, and concerning
powers which man, according to occult thinkers, may develop if he will.
Orthodox persons should be careful how they condemn the laws of magic: for
they unwittingly conform to many of them whenever they go to church. All
ceremonial religion contains some elements of magic. The art of medicine
will never wholly cast it off: many centuries ago it gave birth to that
which we now call modern science. It seems to possess inextinguishable life.
This is not surprising when we perceive how firmly occultism is rooted in
psychology: how perfectly it is adapted to certain perennial characteristics
of the human mind—its curiosity, its arrogance, its love of mystery.

Magic, in its uncorrupted form, claims to be a practical, intellectual,
highly individualistic science; working towards the declared end of
enlarging the sphere on which the human will can work, and obtaining
experimental knowledge of planes of being usually regarded as
transcendental. It is the last descendant of a long line of teaching—the
whole teaching, in fact, of the mysteries of Egypt and Greece—which offered
to initiate man into a certain secret knowledge and understanding of things.
“In every man,” says a modern occultist, “there are latent faculties by
means of which he can acquire for himself knowledge of the higher worlds . .
. as long as the human race has existed there have always been schools in
which those who possessed these higher faculties gave instruction to those
who were in search of them. Such are called the occult schools, and the
instruction which is imparted therein is called esoteric science or the
occult teaching.” [311]

These occult schools, as they exist in the present day, state their doctrine
in terms which seem distressingly prosaic to the romantic inquirer;
borrowing from physics and psychology theories of vibration, attraction,
mental suggestion and subconscious activity which can be reapplied for their
own purposes. According to its modern teachers, magic is simply an extension
of the theory and practice of volition beyond the usual limits. The will,
says the occultist, is king, not only of the House of Life, but of the
universe outside the gates of sense. It is the key to “man limitless” the
true “ring of Gyges,” which can control the forces of nature known and
unknown. This aspect of occult philosophy informs much of the cheap American
transcendentalism which is so lightly miscalled mystical by its teachers and
converts; Menticulture, “New” or “Higher Thought,” and the scriptures of the
so-called “New Consciousness.” The ingenious authors of “Volo,” “The Will to
be Well,” and “Just How to Wake the Solar Plexus,” the seers who assure
their eager disciples that by “Concentration” they may acquire not only
health, but also that wealth which is “health of circumstance,” are no
mystics. They are magicians; and teach, though they know it not, little else
but the cardinal doctrines of Hermetic science, omitting only their
picturesque ceremonial accompaniments. [312]

These cardinal doctrines, in fact, have varied little since their first
appearance early in the world’s history: though, like the doctrines of
theology, they have needed re-statement from time to time. In discussing
them I shall quote chiefly from the works of Eliphas Lévi; the pseudonym
under which Alphonse Louis Constant, the most readable occult philosopher of
the nineteenth century, offered his conclusions to the world.

The tradition of magic, like most other ways of escape which man has offered
to his own soul, appears to have originated in the East. It was formulated,
developed, and preserved by the religion of Egypt. It made an early
appearance in that of Greece. It has its legendary grand master in Hermes
Trismegistus, who gave to it its official name of Hermetic Science, and
whose status in occultism is much the same as that occupied by Moses in the
tradition of the Jews. Fragmentary writings attributed to this personage and
said to be derived from the Hermetic books, are the primitive scriptures of
occultism: and the probably spurious Table of Emerald, which is said to have
been discovered in his tomb, ranks as the magician’s Table of Stone. [313]
In Gnosticism, in the allegories of the Kabalah, in theosophy, in secret
associations which still exist in England, France, and Germany—and even in
certain practices embedded in the ceremonial of the Christian Church— the
main conceptions which constitute the “secret wisdom” of magical tradition
have wandered down the centuries. The baser off-shoots of that tradition are
but too well known, and need not be particularized. [314]

Like the world which it professes to interpret, magic has a body and a soul:
an outward vesture of words and ceremonies and an inner doctrine. The
outward vesture, which is all that the uninitiated are permitted to
perceive, consists of a series of confusing and often ridiculous symbolic
veils: of strange words and numbers, grotesque laws and ritual acts,
personifications and mystifications. The outward vestures of our religious,
political, and social systems—which would probably appear equally irrational
to a wholly ignorant yet critical observer—offer an instructive parallel to
this aspect of occult philosophy. Stripped of these archaic formulae,
symbols, and mystery-mongerings, however, magic as described by its
apologists, is found to rest upon three fundamental axioms which can hardly
be dismissed as ridiculous by those who listen respectfully to the
ever-shifting hypotheses of psychology and physics.

(1) The first axiom declares the existence of an imponderable “medium” or
“universal agent,” which is described as beyond the plane of our normal
sensual perceptions yet interpenetrating and binding up the material world.
This agent, which is not luminous and has nothing to do with the stars, is
known to the occultists by the unfortunate name of “Astral Light”: a term
originally borrowed from the Martinists by Eliphas Lévi. To live in
conscious communication with the “Astral Light” is to live upon the “Astral
Plane,” or in the Astral World: to have achieved, that is to say, a new
level of consciousness. The education of the occultist is directed towards
this end.

This doctrine of the Astral Plane, like most of our other diagrams of the
transcendent, possesses a respectable ancestry, and many prosperous
relations in the world of philosophic thought. Traces of it may even be
detected under veils in the speculations of orthodox physics. It is really
identical with the “Archetypal World” or Yesod of the Kabalah—the “Perfect
Land” of old Egyptian religion—in which the true or spirit forms of all
created things are held to exist. It may be connected with the “real
world” described by such visionaries as Boehme and Blake, many of whose
experiences are far more occult than mystical in character. [315] A
persistent tradition as to the existence of such a plane of being or of
consciousness is found all over the world: in Indian, Greek Egyptian,
Celtic, and Jewish thought. “Above this visible nature there exists another,
unseen and eternal, which, when all things created perish, does not
perish,” says the Bhagavad Gita. According to the Kabalists it is “the seat
of life and vitality, and the nourishment of all the world.” [316] Vitalism
might accept it as one of those aspects of the universe which can be
perceived by a more extended rhythm than that of normal consciousness.
Various aspects of the Astral have been identified with the “Burning Body of
the Holy Ghost” of Christian Gnosticism and with the Odic force of the
old-fashioned spiritualists.

Further, the Astral Plane is regarded as constituting the “Cosmic Memory,”
where the images of all beings and events are preserved, as they are
preserved in the memory of man.

“The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard

The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky”—

all are living in the Astral World. There too the concepts of future
creation are present in their completeness in the Eternal Now before being
brought to birth in the material sphere. On this theory prophecy, and also
clairvoyance—one of the great objects of occult education—consist in opening
the eyes of the mind upon this timeless Astral World: and spiritualists,
evoking the phantoms of the dead, merely call them up from the recesses of
universal instead of individual remembrance. The reader who feels his brain
to be whirling amidst this medley of solemn statement and unproven fairy
tale must remember that the dogmatic part of the occult tradition can only
represent the attempt of an extended or otherwise abnormal consciousness to
find an explanation of its own experiences.

Further, our whole selves—not merely our sentient selves—are regarded as
being bathed in the Astral Light, as in the ether of physics. Hence in
occult language it is a “universal agent” connecting soul with soul, and
becomes the possible vehicle of hypnotism, telepathy, clairvoyance, and all
those supernormal phenomena which are the subject-matter of “psychical
research.” This hypothesis also accounts for the confusing fact of an
initial similarity of experience in many of the proceedings of mystic and
occultist. Both must pass through the plane of consciousness which the
concept of the “Astral” represents, because this plane of perception is the
one which lies “next beyond” our normal life. The transcendental faculties
may become aware of this world; only, in the case of the mystic, to pass
through it as quickly as they can. But the occultist, the medium, the
psychic, rest in the “Astral” and develop their perceptions of this aspect
of the world. It is the medium in which they work.

From earliest times, occult philosophy has insisted on the existence of this
medium: as a scientific fact, outside the range of our normal senses, but
susceptible of verification by the trained powers of the “initiate.” The
possessor of such trained powers, not the wizard or the fortune-teller, is
regarded as the true magician: and it is the declared object of occult
education, or initiation, to actualize this supersensual plane of
experience, to give the student the power of entering into conscious
communion with it, and teach him to impose upon its forces the directive
force of his own will, as easily as he imposes that will upon the
“material” things of senses. [317]

(2) This brings us to the second axiom of magic, which also has a curiously
modern air: for it postulates simply the limitless power of the disciplined
human will. This dogma has been “taken over” without acknowledgment from
occult philosophy to become the trump card of menticulture, “Christian
Science,” and “New Thought.” The preachers of “Joy Philosophy” and other
dilute forms of mental discipline, the Liberal Catholic “priest” producing
“a vast bubble of etheric astromental matter, a thought-edifice, ethereal,
diaphanous, a bubble which just includes the congregation—“ [318] these are
the true hierophants of magic in the modern world. [319]

The first lesson of the would-be magus is self-mastery. “By means of
persevering and gradual athletics,” says Eliphas Lévi, “the powers of the
body can be developed to an amazing extent. It is the same with the powers
of the soul. Would you govern yourself and others? Learn how to will. How
may one learn how to will? This is the first secret of magical initiation;
and it was to make the foundations of this secret thoroughly understood that
the antique keepers of the mysteries surrounded the approach to the
sanctuary with so many terrors and illusions. They did not believe in a will
until it had given its proofs; and they were right. Strength cannot prove
itself except by conquest. Idleness and negligence are the enemies of the
will, and this is the reason why all religions have multiplied their
practices and made their cults difficult and minute. The more trouble one
gives oneself for an idea, the more power one acquires in regard to that
idea. . . . Hence the power of religions resides entirely in the inflexible
will of those who practise them.” [320]

This last sentence alone is enough to define the distinction between
mysticism and magic, and clear the minds of those who tend to confuse the
mystical and magical elements of religion. In accordance with it, real
“magical initiation” is in essence a form of mental discipline,
strengthening and focussing the will. This discipline, like that of the
religious life, consists partly in physical austerities and a deliberate
divorce from the world, partly in the cultivation of will-power: but largely
in a yielding of the mind to the influence of suggestions which have been
selected and accumulated in the course of ages because of their power over
that imagination which Eliphas Lévi calls “The eye of the soul.” There is
nothing supernatural about it. Like the more arduous, more disinterested
self-training of the mystic, it is character-building with an object,
conducted upon an heroic scale. In magic the “will to know” is the centre
round which the personality is rearranged. As in mysticism, unconscious
factors are dragged from the hiddenness to form part of that personality.
The uprushes of thought, the abrupt intuitions which reach us from the
subliminal region, are developed, ordered, and controlled by rhythms and
symbols which have become traditional because the experience of centuries
has proved, though it cannot explain, their efficacy: and powers of
apprehension which normally lie below the threshold may thus be liberated
and enabled to report their discoveries.

“The fundamental principle,” says A. E. Waite, speaking of occult
evocations, “was in the exercise of a certain occult force resident in the
magus, and strenuously exerted for the establishment of such a
correspondence between two planes of nature as would effect his desired end.
This exertion was termed the evocation, conjuration, or calling of the
spirit, but that which in reality was raised was the energy of the inner man
; tremendously developed and exalted by combined will and aspiration, this
energy germinated by sheer force a new intellectual faculty of sensible
psychological perception. To assist and stimulate this energy into the most
powerful possible operation, artificial means were almost invariably used. .
. . The synthesis of these methods and processes was called Ceremonial
Magic, which in effect was a tremendous forcing-house of the latent
faculties of man’s spiritual nature.” [321]

This is the psychological explanation of those apparently absurd rituals of
preparation, doctrines of signs and numbers, pentacles, charms, angelical
names, the “power of the word” which made up ceremonial magic. The power of
such artifices is known amongst the Indian mystics; who, recognizing in the
Mantra, or occult and rhythmic formula, consciously held and repeated, an
invaluable help to the attainment of the true ecstatic state, are not
ashamed to borrow from the magicians. So, too, the modern American schools
of mental healing and New Thought recommend concentration upon a carefully
selected word as the starting-point of efficacious meditation. This fact of
the psychical effect of certain verbal combinations, when allowed to
dominate the field of consciousness, may have some bearing upon that need of
a formal liturgy which is felt by nearly every great religion; for religion,
on its ceremonial side, has certain affinities with magic. It, too, seeks by
sensible means to stimulate supra-sensible energies. The true magic “word”
or spell is untranslatable; because its power resides only partially in that
outward sense which is apprehended by the reason, but chiefly in the rhythm,
which is addressed to the subliminal mind. Symbols, religious and other, and
symbolic acts which appear meaningless when judged by the intellect alone,
perform a similar office. They express the deep-seated instinct of the human
mind that it must have a focus on which to concentrate its volitional
powers, if those powers are to be brought to their highest state of
efficiency. The nature of the focus matters little: its office matters much.

“. . . All these figures, and acts analogous to them,” says Lévi, “all these
dispositions of numbers and of characters [ i.e. sacred words, charms,
pentacles, etc.] are, as we have said, but instruments for the education of
the will, of which they fix and determine the habits. They serve also to
concentrate in action all the powers of the human soul, and to strengthen
the creative power of the imagination. . . . A practice, even though it be
superstitious and foolish, may be efficacious because it is a realization of
the will. . . . We laugh at the poor woman who denies herself a ha’porth of
milk in the morning, that she may take a little candle to burn upon the
magic triangle in some chapel. But those who laugh are ignorant, and the
poor woman does not pay too dearly for the courage and resignation which she
thus obtains. [322]

Magic symbols, therefore, from penny candles to Solomon’s seal, fall in
modern technical language into two classes. The first contains instruments
of self-suggestion, exaltation, and will direction. To this belong all
spells, charms, rituals, perfumes: from the magician’s vervain wreath to the
“Youth! Health! Strength!” which the student of New Thought repeats when she
is brushing her hair in the morning. The second class contains autoscopes:
i.e. , material objects which focus and express the subconscious perceptions
of the operator. The dowser’s divining rod, fortuneteller’s cards, and
crystal-gazer’s ball, are characteristic examples. Both kinds are rendered
necessary rather by the disabilities of the human than by the peculiarities
of the superhuman plane: and the great adept may attain heights at which he
dispenses with these “outward and visible signs.” “Ceremonies being, as we
have said, artificial methods of creating certain habits of the will, they
cease to be necessary when these habits have become fixed.” [323] These
facts, now commonplaces of psychology, have long been known and used by
students of magic. Those who judge the philosophy by the apparent absurdity
of its symbols and ceremonies should remember that the embraces, gestures,
grimaces, and other ritual acts by which we all concentrate, liberate, or
express love, wrath, or enthusiasm, will ill endure the cold revealing light
of a strictly rational inquiry.

(3) The dogmas of the “Astral Light” or universal agent and the “power of
the will” are completed by a third: the doctrine of Analogy, of an implicit
correspondence between appearance and reality, the microcosm of man and the
macrocosm of the universe the seen and the unseen worlds. In this, occultism
finds the basis of its transcendental speculations. Quod superius sicut quod
inferius —the first words of that Emerald Table which was once attributed to
Hermes Trismegistus himself—is an axiom which must be agreeable to all
Platonists. It plays a great part in the theory of mysticism; which, whilst
maintaining an awed sense of the total “otherness” and incomprehensibility
of the Divine, has always assumed that the path of the individual soul
towards loving union with the Absolute is somehow analogous with the path on
which the universe moves to its consummation in God.

The notion of analogy ultimately determines the religious concepts of every
race, and resembles the verities of faith in the breadth of its application.
It embraces alike the appearances of the visible world—which thus become the
mirrors of the invisible—the symbols of religion, the tiresome arguments of
Butler’s “Analogy,” the allegories of the Kabalah and the spiritual
alchemists, and that childish “doctrine of signatures” on which much of
mediaeval science was built. “Analogy,” says Lévi, [324] “is the last word
of science and the first word of faith . . . the sole possible mediator
between the visible and the invisible, between the finite and the
infinite.” Here Magic clearly defines her own limitations; stepping
incautiously from the useful to the universal, and laying down a doctrine
which no mystic could accept—which, carried to its logical conclusion, would
turn the adventure of the infinite into a guessing game.

The argument by analogy is carried by the occultists to lengths which cannot
be described here. Armed with this torch, they explore the darkest, most
terrible mysteries of life: and do not hesitate to cast the grotesque
shadows of these mysteries upon the unseen world. The principle of
correspondence is no doubt sound so long as it works within reasonable
limits. It was admitted into the system of the Kabalah, though that profound
and astute philosophy was far from giving to it the importance which it
assumes in Hermetic “science.” It has been eagerly accepted by many of the
mystics. Boehme and Swedenborg availed themselves of its method in
presenting their intuitions to the world. It is implicitly acknowledged by
thinkers of many other schools: its influence permeates the best periods of
literature. Sir Thomas Browne spoke for more than himself when he said, in a
well-known passage of the “Religio Medici”: “The severe schools shall never
laugh me out of the philosophy of Hermes [ i.e. , Trismegistus] that this
visible world is but a picture of the invisible, wherein, as in a portrait,
things are not truly but in equivocal shapes, and as they counterfeit some
real substance in that invisible framework.” Such a sense of analogy,
whatever the “severe schools” may say, is indeed the foundation of every
perfect work of art. “Intuitive perception of the hidden analogies of
things,” says Hazlitt in “English Novelists,” “or, as it may be called, his
instinct of the imagination, is perhaps what stamps the character of genius
on the productions of art more than any other circumstance.”

The central doctrine of magic may now be summed up thus:—

(1) That a supersensible and real “cosmic medium” exists, which
interpenetrates, influences, and supports the tangible and apparent world,
and is amenable to the categories both of philosophy and of physics.

(2) That there is an established analogy and equilibrium between the real
and unseen world, and the illusory manifestations which we call the world of

(3) That this analogy may be discerned, and this equilibrium controlled, by
the disciplined will of man, which thus becomes master of itself and of

We must now examine in more detail the third of these propositions—that
which ascribes abnormal powers to the educated and disciplined will—for this
assumption lies at the root of all magical practices, old and new. “Magical
operations,” says Eliphas Lévi, “are the exercise of a power which is
natural, but superior to the ordinary powers of nature. They are the result
of a science, and of habits, which exalt the human will above its usual
limits.” [325] This power of the will is now recognized as playing an
important part both in the healing of the body and the healing of the soul;
for our most advanced theories on these subjects are little more than the
old wine of magic in new bottles. The ancient occultists owed much of their
power, and also of their evil reputation, to the fact that they were
psychologists before their time. Effective methods of suggestion, recipes
for the alteration and exaltation of personality and enhancement of
will-power, the artificial production of hypnotic states, photisms,
automatism and ecstasy, with the opening up of the subliminal field which
accompanies these phenomena—concealed from the profane by a mass of
confusing allegories and verbiage—form the backbone of all genuine occult
rituals. Their authors were aware that ceremonial magic has no objective
importance, but depends solely on its effect upon the operator’s mind. That
this effect might be enhanced, it was given an atmosphere of sanctity and
mystery; its rules were strict, its higher rites difficult of attainment.
These rules and rites constituted at once a test of the student’s
earnestness and a veil guarding the sanctuary from the profane. The long and
difficult preparations, majestic phrases, and strange ceremonies of an
evocation had power, not over the spirit of the dead, but over the
consciousness of the living; who was thus caught up from the world of sense
to a new plane of perception. Thus, according to its apologists, the
education of the genuine occult student tends to awaken in him a new view
and a new attitude. It adjusts the machinery of his cinematograph to the
registering of new intervals in the stream of things, which passed it by
before; and thus introduces new elements into that picture by which ordinary
men are content to know and judge the—or rather their— universe.

So much for the principles which govern occult education. Magic
therapeutics, or as it is now called, “mental healing,” is but the
application of these principles upon another plane. It results, first, from
a view of humanity which sees a difference only of degree between diseases
of body and of soul, and can state seriously and in good faith that “moral
maladies are more contagious than physical, and there are some triumphs of
infatuation and fashion which are comparable to leprosy or cholera.” [326]
Secondly, it is worked by that enhancement of will power, that ability to
alter and control weaker forms of life, which is claimed as the reward of
the occult discipline. “All the power of the occult healer lies in his
conscious will and all his art consists in producing faith in the
patient.” [327]

This simple truth was in the possession of occult thinkers at a time when
Church and State saw no third course between the burning or beatification of
its practitioners. Now, under the polite names of mental hygiene,
suggestion, and psycho-therapeutics, it is steadily advancing to the front
rank of medical shibboleths. Yet it is still the same “magic art” which has
been employed for centuries, with varying ritual accompaniments, by the
adepts of occult science. The methods of Brother Hilarian Tissot, who is
described as curing lunacy and crime by “the unconscious use of the
magnetism of Paracelsus,” who attributed his cases “either to disorder of
the will or to the perverse influence of external wills,” and would “regard
all crimes as acts of madness and treat the wicked as diseased,” [328]
anticipated in many respects those of the most modern psychologists.

The doctrine of magic which has here been described shows us the “Secret
Wisdom” at its best and sanest. But even on these levels, it is dogged by
the defects which so decisively separate the occultist from the mystic. The
chief of these is the peculiar temper of mind, the cold intellectual
arrogance, the intensely individual point of view which occult studies seem
to induce by their conscious quest of exclusive power and knowledge, their
implicit neglect of love. At bottom, every student of occultism is striving
towards a point at which he may be able to “touch the button” and rely on
the transcendental world “springing to do the rest.” In this hard-earned
acquirement of power over the Many, he tends to forget the One. In Levi’s
words, “Too deep a study of the mysteries of nature may estrange from God
the careless investigator, in whom mental fatigue paralyses the ardours of
the heart.” [329] When he wrote this sentence Lévi stood, as the greater
occultists have often done, at the frontiers of mysticism. The best of the
Hermetic philosophers, indeed, are hardly ever without such mystical
hankerings, such flashes of illumination; as if the transcendental powers of
man, once roused from sleep, cannot wholly ignore the true end for which
they were made.

In Levi’s case, as is well known, the discord between the occult and
mystical ideals was resolved by his return to the Catholic Church.
Characteristically, he “read into” Catholicism much that the orthodox would
hardly allow; so that it became for him, as it were, a romantic gloss on the
occult tradition. He held that the Christian Church, nursing mother of the
mystics, was also the heir of the magi; and that popular piety and popular
magic veiled the same ineffable truths. He had more justification than at
first appears probable for this apparently wild and certainly heretical
statement. Religion, as we have seen, can never entirely divorce herself
from magic: for her rituals and sacraments must have, if they are to be
successful in their appeal to the mind, a certain magical character. All
persons who are naturally drawn towards the ceremonial aspect of religion
are acknowledging the strange power of subtle rhythms, symbolic words and
movements, over the human will. An “impressive service” conforms exactly to
the description which I have already quoted of a magical rite: it is “a
tremendous forcing-house of the latent faculties of man’s spiritual
nature.” Sacraments, too, however simple their beginnings, always tend, as
they evolve, to assume upon the phenomenal plane a magical aspect—a fact
which does not invalidate their claim to be the vehicles of supernatural
grace. Those who have observed with understanding, for instance, the Roman
rite of baptism, with its spells and exorcisms, its truly Hermetic
employment of salt, anointing chrism and ceremonial lights, must have seen
in it a ceremony far nearer to the operations of white magic than to the
simple lustrations practiced by St. John the Baptist.

There are obvious objections to the full working out of this subject in a
book which is addressed to readers of all shades of belief; but any student
who is interested in this branch of religious psychology may easily discover
for himself the occult elements in the liturgies of the Christian—or indeed
of any other—Church. There are invocative arrangements of the Names of God
which appear alike in grimoire and in Missal. Sacred numbers, ritual
actions, perfumes, purifications, words of power, are all used, and rightly
used by institutional religion in her work of opening up the human mind to
the messages of the suprasensible world. In certain minor observances, and
charm-like prayers, we seem to stand on the very borderland between magician
and priest.

It is surely inevitable that this should be so. The business of the Church
is to appeal to the whole man, as she finds him living in the world of
sense. She would hardly be adequate to this task did she neglect the
powerful weapons which the occultist has developed for his own ends. She,
who takes the simplest and most common gifts of nature and transmutes them
into heavenly food, takes also every discovery which the self has made
concerning its own potentialities, and turns them to her own high purposes.
Founding her external system on sacraments and symbols, on rhythmic
invocations and ceremonial acts of praise, insisting on the power of the
pure and self-denying will and the “magic chain” of congregational worship,
she does but join hands with those Magi whose gold, frankincense, and myrrh
were the first gifts that she received.

But she pays for this; sharing some of the limitations of the system which
her Catholic nature has compelled her to absorb. It is true, of course, that
she purges it of all its baser elements—its arrogance, its curiosity—true
also that she is bound to adopt it, because it is the highest common measure
which she can apply to the spirituality of that world to which she is sent.
But she cannot—and her great teachers have always known that she
cannot—extract finality from a method which does not really seek after
ultimate things. This method may and does teach men goodness, gives them
happiness and health. It can even induce in them a certain exaltation in
which they become aware, at any rate for a moment, of the existence of the
supernatural world—a stupendous accomplishment. But it will not of itself
make them citizens of that world: give to them the freedom of Reality.

“The work of the Church in the world,” says Patmore, “is not to teach the
mysteries of life, so much as to persuade the soul to that arduous degree of
purity at which God Himself becomes her teacher. The work of the Church ends
when the knowledge of God begins.” [330]

[306] R. A. Vaughan, “Hours with the Mystics,” vol. i. bk. i. ch. v.

[307] In a list published by Papus from the archives of the Martinists, we
find such diverse names as Averroes, St. Thomas Aquinas, Vincent of
Beauvais, and Swedenborg, given as followers of the occult tradition!

[308] See R. Steiner, “The Way of Initiation,” p. 111.

[309] Supra, pp. 70 seq .

[310] A. E. Waite, “The Occult Sciences,” p. 1.

[311] Steiner, “The Way of Initiation,” p. 66.

[312] See E. Towne, “Joy Philosophy” (1903) and “Just How to Wake the Solar
Plexus” (1904); R. D. Stocker, “New Thought Manual” (1906) and “Soul
Culture” (1905); Floyd Wilson, “Man Limitless” (1905). The literature of
these sects is enormous. For a critical and entertaining account, see C. W.
Ferguson, ‘The Confusion of Tongues.” (1929).

[313] It must here be pointed out that the genuine “Hermetica”—a body of
ancient philosophic and religious pieces collected under this general
title—are entirely unconnected with occultism. Cf. “Hermetica,” ed. with
English translation by W. Scott. 3 vols. 1924-8.

[314] A. E. Waite, a life-long student of these byeways of thought, gives,
as the main channels by which “an arcane knowledge is believed to have been
communicated to the West,” Magic, Alchemy, Astrology, the occult
associations which culminated in Freemasonry, and, finally, “an obscure
sheaf of hieroglyphs known as Tarot cards.” He places in another class “the
bewitchments and other mummeries of Ceremonial Magic.” (“The Holy
Kabbalah,” pp. 518-19.)

[315] For a discussion of the Gnostic and Theosophic elements in Blake’s
work see D. Surat, “Blake and Modern Thought” (1929).

[316] A. E. Waite, “Doctrine and Literature of the Kabbalah,” p. 48.

[317] I offer no opinion as to the truth or falsity of these “occult”
claims. For a more detailed discussion the reader is referred to Steiner’s
curious little book, “The Way of Initiation.”

[318] C. W. Leadbeater, “The Science of the Sacraments,” p. 38.

[319] Compare the following: “Imagine that all the world and the starry
hosts are waiting, alert and with shining eyes, to do your bidding. Imagine
that you are to touch the button now, and instantly they will spring to do
the rest. The instant you say, ‘I can and I will,’ the entire powers of the
universe are to be set in motion” (E. Towne, “Joy Philosophy,” p. 52).

[320] “Rituel de la Haute Magie,” pp. 35, 36.

[321] “The Occult Sciences,” p. 14. But references in Mr. Waite’s most
recent work to “the puerilities and imbecility of ceremonial magic” suggest
that he has modified his views. Cf. “The Holy Kabbalah” (1929), p. 521.

[322] “Rituel de la Haute Magie,” p. 71.

[323] “Rituel de la Haute Magie,” p. 139.

[324] “Dogme de la Haute Magie,” p. 361 et seq.

[325] “Rituel de la Haute Magie,” p. 32.

[326] “Dogme de la Haute Magie,” p. 129.

[327] “Rituel,” p. 312.

[328] “Dogma,” p. 134.

[329] “Histoire de la Magie,” p. 514.

[330] “The Rod, the Root, and the Flower,” “Knowledge and Science,” xxii.