Why Study Ancient Magick?

by Mike Sententia on April 7, 2012

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Today, I’m going to ask a question I’m genuinely curious about. But I could imagine an aggressive skeptic asking this pejoratively. So, I’m asking a favor: Remember that’s not me.

Frater RO recently talked about the Golden Dawn having magick from the first through third centuries. Which makes me ask:

Why care about 1st-3rd century magick?

I mean, if you try to heal someone with 2nd century medicine, you know what happens? They die.

If you try to cross the ocean with 2nd century boats, you know what happens? You get lost and die.

Publishing your ideas, moving across the country or creating a gear using 2nd century technology is roughly a million times harder and slower than it is today. You know why? Because technology compounds, science is awesome, and we’re better at altering the physical world today than we were 2000 years ago.

So, why seek ancient magick? What’s the point?

You’re probably expecting me to explain how ancient magicks are better, and why we should all explore what people did 2000 years ago. But I don’t have an answer. If you pressed me, I’d say that people exploring ancient magick are looking in the wrong places (assuming they want effective results, rather than historical art or something).

But there seems to be a lot of mages basing their art in the ancient world. So I’m curious — genuinely, respectfully curious, not “curious” as a euphemism for “an excuse to poke you with annoying questions.” Maybe there’s something I’m missing.

Thanks.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Dark Arckana April 7, 2012 at 12:42 PM

That’s a very good question. As someone who is very interested in reconstructing Ancient Magik, I think I can help. The fact is, Modern Magik is *not* necessarily better. In fact, much of what is called “Magik” nowadays, is not really Magik at all but just sexed up psychology. Furthermore, The Golden Dawn is not Ancient Magik. The fact is, the burning of ancient libraries such the Library of Alexandria and the book burnings of the Middle Ages are much higher in number than we take for granted. Everything that was left was only spared because it was either well-hidden or because it was modified into a Judeo-Christian system, where the Judeo-Christian God and Angels were responsible. Should we have had these tomes left over, the history of Magik as well as the history of science (technically, Science is a fragment of Magik) would be much different. Archaeological evidence proves conclusively that the Ancient Egyptians had access to a light bulb long before Thomas Edison invented it. In Ancient Greece were found pinhole cameras and even a computer. Cities made of stone and natural materials take a lot of patience and engineering. By the time the Scientific Revolution came about, the culture of Magik users was thought to be annihilated completely with the exception of the Judeo-Christian works, which were, quite frankly full of B.S.

In between the Christian libel of Magik as being “evil” and the Atheists (most of which who embrace Scientism as their dogma) who consider it to be a sign of insanity and superstition, the practice of Magik is suffocated from all sides and this affects the course it takes in its development. The purpose of understanding Ancient Magik is to find out what a full Magikal System is like, prior to this stifling constriction. When Magik was allowed to compound and build up freely instead of having to be apologetic to fundamentalists tight wads.

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Mike Sententia April 9, 2012 at 6:22 AM

Well, I’m not sure about the ancient lightbulb and the other details, but that’s a really interesting point about seeing magick from a time when basically all of society practiced it. Thanks.

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Yvonne April 7, 2012 at 1:47 PM

I think that there is a little historian in all of us, and we want to know how our ancestors thought and did things, even day-to-day stuff. Have our mental and emotional selves really change over 1000, 2000 or more years? I also think that doing ancient/older magickal rituals places us in a powerful lineage and allows us to tap huge egregoires if we are aligned correctly. I must agree with you, however, especially with respect to healing magick: modern technology, and all that that entails, has much more to offer, IMO.

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michael April 7, 2012 at 6:42 PM

People are slaves to tradition and the illogically believe that because something is old it’s better.

I never understood people who were into ancient knowledge… It doesn’t make any sense. Our ability to test and separation BS from fact is so much higher now.

I think that magick has the worst track record of all modalities of change. I think NLP, hypnotists, qigong, yoga, and energy psychology have much better results of creating positive change. Of course, western medicine blows magick out the water.

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Andrew April 8, 2012 at 11:36 AM

Because modern mages are often terrible at things that ancient mages could do easily. For instance, sure everyone knows about the laws of similarity and contagion, but I can only think of one instance where I’ve seen a ritual that used either effectively. For some reason modern mages don’t learn how to use them, they just learn about them and never both to master their use. And it’s not that their being subtle or that it’s there but not obvious, it’s not being used properly. Another thing modern mages don’t use well at all is incantations. Just look at the GMP and the Sumerian systems to see wonderful examples of effective incantations, the kind I have yet to see used by modern mages.

Modern mages often have misconceptions that ancient mages didn’t, they just had different ones. You can’t have the idea of magic being a shift in probability when the concept of probability didn’t exist. Pretty much anything can be worded as a shift in probability, but probability doesn’t exist as a force in the real world, it’s merely a description. Therefore, ancient mages would focus on other means to achieve their results, means which may have been more effective.

Because the systems of today tend to be a screwy mess that are very hard to truly understand. Take Enochian, ignoring the fact that the instructions are incomplete, in order to understand the fundamental principles you need to understand Bruno, and in order to understand Bruno you need to be able to work the Lullian arts. Yet how many people have read Lull? Pretty much nobody, even though almost all renaissance magic is based on his work in some way. Which means that they can’t understand Bruno, and they can’t understand Dee. Aside from the mechanics of how Lull changed how magic was practiced, he also invented a method of using ultimate causes in order to prove metaphysical hypotheses, which helped later mages develop and actually understand their own theories and systems.

Because ancient mages were often better mages than those of today. Brain plasticity is a real thing with a real impact, people today in general are less capable of thinking about things from multiple perspectives, remembering, and critical thinking and each for a different reason (in order: multi-purpose tools, writing everything down and the internet). Ancient mages had fewer magical tools, more restriction on their practices (though not when it came to getting animal parts) that they had to be more creative in how they got what they wanted. So when ones studies an ancient magic, they also see the creativity and genius that went into it and how the creators decided to try to get what they wanted.

Most modern magic systems aren’t actually modern. Thelema, Enochian, Chaos, Spare and to a degree (though less than some) Golden Dawn all have but a few direct influences. These systems were influenced by Kabbalah, Goetia, Christianity or the ideas of their creators alone. In comparison, there hasn’t been a major system to arise since the development of the internet made the spread of information simple, fast and easy. Most mages just do their own thing or use one of the modern systems, a lot of magic done today is derived from a great variety of sources. Just like ancient magic. The later Greek magic for instance was an amalgamation of the magical ideas of the entire Mediterranean world. Renaissance magic was a mix of Kabbalah, Hermetics, Islam, Greek and Roman magic and thought, Christianity and Lull. This is a principle that goes beyond Europe, in the ancient world, as great many magical systems were complete mixtures. In China, every time they got conquered their magic changed a bit. The mages of Baghdad had influences from all over the world brought along the silk road and the Muslim trade routes. These ancient magics did not see comparable variety until the development of the internet made it easy, which makes them more useful in many ways for modern mages than so called modern systems. These ancient systems will have more ways of accomplishing goals, will draw from a variety of spirits, will be less authoritative and may bear more similarities to the structure of the practices of modern mages and thereby be easier to understand.

There has to be at least a couple of good reasons in there to study ancient magic.

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Ananael Qaa April 8, 2012 at 2:46 PM

I would say that the reason you study ancient magick at all is to see if you might have missed something worth investigating.

There are essentially two ways in which disciplines develop. The first is the scientific method, which is generally how modern people investigate phenomena. The second is the proto-scientific or organic process found in old disciplines like herbalism. Instead of following a formal scientific process of investigation, these disciplines develop their lore through a sort of sifting process – if something works, it tends to be kept, and if something doesn’t, it tends to be discarded. The two problems with this method are (1) it’s much slower than formal scientific investigation and (2) if a mistake slips into the system it can be hard to eliminate.

The weakness of the scientific method, on the other hand, is that you have to start out asking the right questions. To stick with the example of herbalism, many drugs have been discovered precisely because local lore suggested that they could be used to treat certain conditions. Armed with this information, scientists were then able to put together controlled studies to determine whether or not the active compound in the herb really worked and if so how effective it was.

As with pharmaceutical research, you can look at the techniques and methods used by ancient magicians and then subject them to more scientific investigation to try and determine how effective they are. So there’s a value in that sort of study even if you’re someone like me who prefers modern methods.

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JP Alcala April 9, 2012 at 3:41 AM

Learning about Ancient Magick is like doing scientific research. If you know what has been established in the past, it could save you a lot of time on trying to figure out something that’s already been proven. It can then shift your focus from discovering to improving, which can then lead to more discoveries.

In all my years of research, I’ve came to believe that the old magicians were, in some ways, like scientists. One of the differences would be the tools that we need to do research are already in us. We either tap those tools, or develop new ones.

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Am April 9, 2012 at 8:03 AM

I think Ananael pretty much hit it on the head. For instance Mike, I know you focus a lot on healing. From the little that I know of your magic, it seems like your practice correlates to in some ways eastern healing methodologies. Investigations into Tia-Chi and Qigong might yield further insights into your magic. Additionally, that investigation might augment some of your current practices.

Investigating the history of eastern healing techniques can also lead to understanding how current healing practices are being approached, like Therapeutic Touch. I know there is a big movement for Therapeutic Touch aides in hospitals as well as empirical studies on success rates of Therapeutic touch with patience. Therapeutic touch has come a long way (I believe it was first started in the seventies) and the practices have changed over continuous study and observation.

I find that many people practicing magic tend to throw empirical evidence out with the bath water. Old tends to equate to better and I can understand how the confusion is formed. For instance, Calculus is old … Like Issac Newton 1700’s old. Algebra is even older! We still use them today and it’s required information if you want to advance in mathematics. These subjects have been tested by plenty of scholars to be found true and accurate. Even today there are scholarly papers published on these subjects. The same can’t be said for Magic. As a community we haven’t tested the validity of the older systems in a purely empirical process (and if we have I haven’t seen it yet.) Yet the magic community tends to regard the older teachings in the same light as the older sciences we still use without the supporting evidence.

Does that mean all of the older systems are rubbish? I would say that’s inconclusive. I tend to agree with you, in the sense that saying ancient magic is better is like saying solving a quantum equation with an abacus is better. The older systems are wonky and clumsy, like an abacus. They supposedly got the job done, but is it as efficient as what we created today? I personally think not.

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Mike Sententia April 9, 2012 at 5:50 PM

Awesome discussion everyone. Thanks for all the ideas. My wrap-up is here:

https://magickofthought.com/2012/04/why-study-ancient-magick-part-2/

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