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The importance of Egypt to contemporary magical practitioners

(A collection of posts from the SASM elist)

As a magician & amateur Egyptologist I don't find it surprising that Egyptian magic is
so influential on the western mystery tradition. I suppose I'd also say it figures
muchly in GD* because it is so effective. Not surprisingly Egypt was famous in the
classical world as the "most advanced" of magical cultures and internal evidence
backs this up. There is hardly any technique in magick of the modern period that
doesn’t have a precedent in Egypt e.g.: wax image spell, encircling,
cardinality, and importance of colours especially red,

The earliest "graded course of magick" / the Corpus Hermeticum - is essentially a

summary of the Egyptian magical religion of its time - and has an Egyptian context -
for example Hermetic texts are found at Nag Hammadi (in Egypt). The earliest
grimoires have an Egyptian connection (See Testament of Solomon) and often
continue to make reference to their source e.g. Goetia says the spirits speak in the
Egyptian tongue, Abramelin has Egyptian authorship etc., Important aspects of
Kabbalah originate in Alexandria, an Egyptian city, Kabbalah also seems to
incorporate many Egyptian religious concepts.

Some of this is obscured by the fact that Egypt was colonised by Greece and later
Rome. It is also the historical "contrary" of Israel which perhaps contributes to its
erasure from intellectual history, the famous closure of its temples and
suppression of its ancient language -

There is a prophesy in the CH that after the destruction of "The temple of the world"
the Egyptian magical religion will one day rise again in the west - and this is part of
the purpose of modern magic. For written work may I tentatively recommend material
on my portal and indeed my books

But then again some, such as Christopher Lehrich view "Ægypt is a pretty myth, and
one that still resonates with a great many people in this (post)modern age." And
that ....there is no provable connection between Kabbalah and Ancient Egypt. And
that “The connections between such grimoires as the Solomonic keys, which are
clearly of Medieval and not ancient origin … and have no ties to Ancient Egypt.”

Which makes me think the above views "might" fall in the category of the
reductionist of Egyptian magical religion and indeed reflect the old classical bias that
still exists in some classics departments but is become less common in Egyptology
where there is much new research -

I think its maybe the kind of thing that needs more discussion in a forum such as ours
which is trying to make a new start in study of magick-

Not all grimoires are medieval as recent studies, including Owen Davies’, show -
although I think he makes a small error where he talks about nature of late Egyptian
religion but that doesn't negate his general thrust. Most seem to agree that the
Testament of Solomon is late classical and certainly incorporates Egyptian theories
e.g.: the decanal spirits
Here's an interesting lecture on the dating of TOS:

The flowering of QBL may well be the middle ages but although its not really my
area - I thought its origins were in the late classical world - including Alexandria ? I
can certainly recognise Egyptian elements in it - and AFAIK it's own foundation myth

cites the sojourn of the Hebrews in Egypt - I.e. Joseph and his brothers; Moses the
Egyptian etc??

But then again there are still those who insist that it’s all about “an exotic culture
[Egypt] receiving projections - the Greeks and Romans 'projected' magical virtues
onto Persian and Jewish culture in the same way, but the elements of magical practice
were not necessarily even foreign. They maintain that the Egyptian elements of the
Corpus Hermeticum are just local colour and are mostly outweighed by those of
Babylonian and Greece.

And yes it is true that Greeks & Romans projected an image onto the Egyptian priests
- which they in turn adopted - as it enabled them to earn a living as magical
practitioners at a time when normal ways of earning a livelihood were restricted by
their colonial masters - previous scholarship tended to use this to argue there that's all
there is - i.e. the exotic persona but nothing more - which seems to me reductionist
and steadily proved wrong by new research see for example Jacco Dieleman "Priests,
Tongues and Rites" - I think many modern commentators may have subconsciously
adopted this classical bias . . .

For a definitive summary of Egyptian magical techniques see Robert Ritner

"Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical practice" which includes the material on
encircling and circumambulation in Egyptian magick - a good example of which is
the ubiquitous image of the cartouche - in which the name of the king is encircled as a
protection etc

The CH is indeed a synthesis but there are many strong arguments for a substantial
Egyptian component - (whereas it used to be argued there was NO Egyptian
component whatsoever apart from a bit of local colour). New editions and new
discoveries of Hermetic texts have tended to underline the Egyptian context - the
material on the decanal spirits being the Egyptian contribution to astrology, the
centrality of the sun, the material on activating statues and fetishes, the prophesy and
indeed the whole philosophy of language (see again Dielemann, and Garth Fowden,
David Frankfurter et al)

Yes indeed the Testament of Solomon is written in Greek and is a synthetic text - the
argument is whether it is contemporary with the PGM (Papyri Graecae Magicae – a
ancient “grimoire” or “Book of Shadows”) rather than some sort of medieval forgery,
and whether is has any authentic Egyptian magical components. A “testament” as in
“will” is an Egyptian technique with a long pedigree and certainly Ring Spells, like
those it contains are common in Egyptian magick. But the section on decanal spirits,
thought perhaps an interpolation, is a very characteristic Egyptian text.
Perhaps the Egyptian component that features in many later grimoires shows
continuation of a tradition - given the Egyptian context of the earliest grimoires and
indeed Hebrew magick (Cairo Geniza)? QBL has strong Neo-Platonic elements for
sure but Neo-Platonism is itself reliant upon Egyptian wisdom, so for example
Iamblicus claimed to be been taught by Egyptian priests and discusses their
philosophy and magick - i.e. it’s the same source.

The PGM is indeed a compilation of magical texts from various sources, the magical
library of an Egyptian priest from Thebes who was fluent in all the languages used -
shows that the reputation for the Egyptian mages was no mere exotic thing but
based on their grasp of the subject. (See again Jacco Dielemann)

Some may dislike the idea of Egypt as a colony, first of Persian, then Greeces and
later Rome. We’ve been taught that Greece & Rome were great, civilising empires;
the antecedents of our own “great” British or French empires?

Even so many modern studies have recognised that the Greeks operated a system of
"apartheid" in Egypt - yes the native Egyptians initially welcomed Alexander the
Great - but what was the alternative? We can say they had a love / hate relationship
with the Greeks who were marginally better than the Roman - So for example the
early Christians successfully exploited the Egyptian hatred of the Greeks, associating
it with the demonised god Seth (at that stage associated with foreigners) - I think the
background to this is in David Frankfurter - if anything the modern obsession would
be to assume countries enjoy being part of great empires such as Greece & Rome and
its modern avatar the British or French.

I think we can all agree that there are lots of streams that flow into modern magick -
including all the stuff that surfaced in the renaissance & before but also the new
material post Napoleonic wars etc, My interest happens to be in the Egyptian current -
which has only really been fully revealed post Golden Dawn and more than justifies a
modern practitioner's "obsession".

Feb. 2010