Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Magic: My Fear Is For Those Who Fear Him (Eliphas Levi)

      For a great number of readers Magic is the science of the devil – even as the science of light is identified with that of darkness.  We confess boldly at the outset that we are not in terror of the devil.   “My fear is for those who fear him,” said St. Teresa.  But we testify also that he does not prompt our laughter and that the ridicule of which he is often the object seems to us exceedingly misplaced.  However this may be, it is our intention to bring him before the light of science.  But the devil and science – the apposition of two names so strangely incongruous – must seem to have disclosed the whole intent in view.  If the mystic personification of darkness be thus dragged into the light, is it not to annihilate the phantom of falsehood in the presence of truth? Is it not to dispel in the day all formless monsters of the night? Superficial persons will think so and will condemn without hearing.  Ill-instructed Christians will conclude that we are sapping the fundamental dogma of their ethics by decrying hell; and others will question the utility of combating error in which, as they imagine, no one believes longer.  It is, therefore, important to enunciate our object clearly and establish our principles solidly.

      We say, therefore, to Christians that the author of this book is a Christian like yourselves.  His faith is that of a catholic strongly and deeply convinced; for this reason he does not come forward to deny dogmas, but to combat impiety under its most pernicious forms, which are those of false belief and superstitionHe comes to drag from the darkness the black successor of Ahriman, in order to expose in broad day his colossal impotence and redoubtable misery.  He comes to make subject the  age-long problem of evil to the solutions of science, to uncrown the king of hell and bow down his head at the foot of the crossIs it not virginal and maternal science -- that science of which Mary is the sweet and luminous image – destined like her to crush the head of the old serpent?


NOTE:  I greatly enjoy reading Eliphas Levi's History of Magic in the kinetic A.E. Waite translation, but I would like to say that I object to the image of crushing "the head of the old serpent."  There are many serpents I like and admire.  Leave serpents alone.  There are enough human malefactors about.


  1. Curtis,

    Interesting reflections, at this moment.

    We don't need the devil or formless monsters to scare the dickens out of us in the dark.

    We've got ourselves, our fellow humans, and the world we all of us have apparently made together.

    Or perhaps not together... but apart is even scarier.

    I hate to contemplate it, this darkness, this negative human creation.

    (Maybe that's why I am always never sleeping.)

  2. Whenever I think of the line btw good and evil, I think of that Solzhenitsyn quote--not sure how it goes exactly but it is something like--we all want to cut out evil, but to do so we would have to first take a knife to our own hearts. I will have to find the quote . . .

  3. I'm pleased this "reached" you both. I originally picked up Levi's book during college at the old Samuel Weiser shop (the world's most tolerant bookseller, I thought, until I endured painful raised eyebrow scrutiny one day when inquiring about the works of "Sir" George King, founder of the Aetherius Society) in Greenwich Village. I'd read that The History of Magic was important to the Surrealists and I thought I should acquaint myself with it. When I finally did, years later I found that it had great value in ways I hadn't expected. A songwriter and cartoonist I like, Peter Blegvad, once observed in an interview that: "The goal of all my work is essentially the same: demonstrating that magic is real or that reality is magic, by paying attention, and finding compensation or consolation for what is essentially a tragic existence. Or something like that." One of the great things about Blegvad's art is that, although he has mostly lived in the UK since he was a teenager (his European artist parents moved back to Europe from the US so that their kids could avoid the Vietnam draft), he's still an identifiably American artist. I sometimes wonder how he feels about the dire state we find ourselves in these days, on the cusp of this holiday season. But I'm mostly keeping you and yours in mind this Thanksgiving and wishing you the very, very best. Now -- back to my enjoyably silly movie -- Music and Lyrics. It's really good. Curtis