The Romance of Sorcery: The Famous Exploration of the World of the Supernatural (Tarcher Supernatural Library)

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9780399169205: The Romance of Sorcery: The Famous Exploration of the World of the Supernatural (Tarcher Supernatural Library)

Long out of print, this classic survey of magic and the occult clearly explains centuries of mystical rituals and practices—part of the new Tarcher Supernatural Library.

This guide distills generations of magical practice, witchcraft, and other occult interests across cultures and centuries into a single, enchanting volume.    

 Written for laymen and practitioners alike, The Romance of Sorcery simply and readably outlines the history of magic—from ancient Egypt to John Dee to Madame Blavatsky—showing how both Wiccan practice and witches in popular culture came to be.

The first three titles released in Tarcher's Supernatural Library are Ghost Hunter (by Hans Holzer), Romance of Sorcery (by Sax Rohmer) and Isis in America (by Henry Steel Olcott).

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward (1883-1959), who wrote under the name Sax Rohmer, was the British mystery, horror, and action novelist behind the Fu-Manchu series of books.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Preface

Although would-be explorers of the occult continent may be numbered only by the employment of seven figures, it is notable as a curious fact that the world’s master Magi have been neglected by popular biographers. Lives of all the great sorcerers there are, certainly, from Zarathustra to Éliphas Lévi, but without exception, so far as I am aware, these are designed for the use of the student: they are not for every man.

Fictionists have dipped into the magical pages, but lightly and warily. If we except some of the novels of Lord Lytton (who was an initiate, deeply versed) and the stories of Mr. Algernon Blackwood, to whom we are indebted for an account of a “Witches’ Sabbath” little short of clairvoyant, I believe there is no piece of purely imaginative writing which can be regarded as the work of an Adept, or even of a serious student.

In the following pages, then, I have endeavoured to bring out the red blood of the subject, and have treated the various episodes with which I have had to deal in the same manner that I should treat the episodes of an ordinary romance. Whilst those curious to learn more of the arts of sorcery have not been neglected, above all I have placed, and have aimed at satisfying, the reader who opens this book in quest of entertainment.

The section “Sorcery and Sorcerers” will be found to contain some passages from Francis Barrett and from Dr. Wynn Westcott’s valuable translation of one of Lévi’s most extraordinary works. Neither of these authors will be familiar to the general reader, and I have borrowed freely in both directions. Their writings are illuminative, and should be considered, if only in brief, by any one who hopes to comprehend the aims of the sorcerers, as set forth in The Romance of Sorcery.

It may be asked of me why certain characters have been included here and others omitted. I can only say that I have sought for variety. To my decision to include a life of Nostradamus I was guided, in some degree, by the existence of a very general misapprehension regarding this great and wonderful man; also by the fact that hitherto no complete life has appeared in the English language. Madame H. P. Blavatsky I have introduced, after much consideration, because certain phenomena associated with her activities come legitimately within the scope and limit of sorcery. I have dealt with these phenomena, but have not attempted, in so limited a space, even to outline her whole career.1

At the time that I was engaged upon the section “Apollonius of Tyana,” an admirable edition of Philostratus’s work, translated by Mr. F. C. Conybeare, M.A., was added to the Loeb Classical Library. This lightened my labours, for the only other English version is that of E. Berwick, published in 1809. The freshness and freedom of Mr. Conybeare’s rendering make quite delightful reading, compared with the severely staid manner of the former writer.

I have to acknowledge the generous assistance offered to me by M. Homolle of the Bibliothèque Nationale, and the untiring labours of M. Lejay Jean, of the same institution. Not only has M. Lejay aided me in my quest of material, but he has completed those inquiries regarding Cagliostro’s house in the Rue Saint Claude and other matters which lack of time forced me to abandon.

A portion of the chapter “The Elementals” (“Sorcery and Sorcerers”) is included by courtesy of the Globe, and at this place I must also acknowledge indebtedness to my friend Dr. R. Watson Councell for the freedom of his library. Of inestimable assistance, too, has been the exact knowledge of old French, and of old French history, which Mr. Fred W. Winter has placed at my disposal. The sections “Nostradamus” and “Sorcery and the Law,” in particular, owe much to his scholarly attainments.

Finally, the adept guidance of Mr. Arthur N. Milne has been as that of a pharos in a night-storm, lacking which I could scarce have hoped to make safe harbourage.

S. R.
Herne Hill,
January 31, 1914.

Chapter I

Sorcery and Sorcerers

I. THE VEIL

There was a Door to which I found no Key;

There was the Veil through which I might not see:

Some little talk awhile of ME and THEE

There was—and then no more of THEE and ME.

To-day is notable for a curious change in Western thought, or, properly, in a phase of Western thought, more appreciable by churchmen, theosophists, and other students of the Unseen than by the laymen. I refer to a growing discontent with, and a falling away from, revealed religion. It is an age of groping; and whereas one who stumbles onward in the mist nearly always strays from the broad highway into the bypaths that lead to the meres, some may strike a fair and narrow road and emerge upon the mountain top.

Of guides to these divers fairways there are many, some of honesty unimpeachable if poor pilots, others masters of their craft but slaves to greed. Apollonius of Tyana was one of the former; Cagliostro, possibly, belonged to the latter class. No man who has proclaimed himself potent to raise the Veil has ever lacked disciples; no man tendering such a claim ever shall, certainly not in this miracle-hungry century.

“What seek ye?” demands the Adept.

Comes a chorus from poor purblind humanity:

“To bridge the gulf!”

But over this gulf floats a mist, beyond the mist hangs a Veil. Has any man, braving the mist, ever thrown a bridge, however frail, across to the shadow bank? Honest weighing of the evidence would certainly make it appear that so much has been accomplished. With what result? With the result that the intrepid explorer has obtained a closer view of the Veil.

Now, all exploration of this kind unavoidably leads us into the realms of magic. These are extensive, certainly, and offer prospects more startlingly dissimilar, as we look to right or left, than any tract in nature, not excepting the famous Yellowstone Park. And modern occultism has not made more easy the way; it has accomplished little beyond the coining of a number of new terms. Sorcery, I think, covers them all. Father Henry Day, S.J., speaking at Manchester, advanced a similar opinion, but classed all magic as Black, when he said:

“The Church condemns the new form of modern spiritism as she condemned the old superstitions. They are identical with devil worship, with black magic, with the necromancy of the past. Whatever may be said of the pretensions of the spiritism of the day, the Church regards it as the continuation of Satan’s revolt against God.”

His words are characteristic of the unchanging attitude of the Church of Rome towards magical practices; and, in so far as they warn would-be dabblers to refrain from sorcery, they are of value. The dangers of magic are not chimerical, but very real.

Magical arts in the modern mind are curiously associated with the East—and particularly with Egypt. An inspection of the advertisements of the large body of professional seers will enable you to bear me out in this. Every nation has its superstitions; but, excepting the African medicine-man, and his counterpart among almost every primitive people, for the practising sorcerer proper we must go East. The palmists and crystal-gazers of Europe and America are no more than imitations of the Oriental original.

Whilst the word Sorcery has always seemed to me to be singularly elastic, it suggests to my mind an impression identical with that conveyed by Magic, with which I take it, in general, to be synonymous. Therefore, by sorcery I understand, and intend to convey, all those doctrines concerning the nature and power of angels and spirits; the methods of evoking shades of departed persons; the conjuration of elementary spirits and of demons; the production of any kind of supernormal phenomena; the making of talismans, potions, wands, etc.; divination and crystallomancy; and Cabalistic and ceremonial rites.

It may, perhaps, be said that no people has cultivated sorcery more assiduously than did the Chaldeans. The elaborate formulæ relating to demonology and possession which have been deciphered from the cuneiform, testify to the flourishing state of wizardry in Chaldea. But the elaborate and in many cases beautiful magic rituals formulated by the Egyptians for some reason possess a greater fascination for the modern student. Their system, indubitably, was more complete than any before or since.

Within the limits of this work it would be impossible even cursorily to scan the subject of sorcery in all its developments and in the guises lent to it by various nations. Therefore, I shall confine myself as closely as possible to those phases which we should bear in mind when we stand upon Calypso’s island with Apollonius of Tyana and witness his translation from Rome; when we disturb the ghostly studies of Nostradamus, seated upon his prophetic tripod; when we intrude upon Count Cagliostro’s Lodge of Isis, and, perceiving the beautiful Countess and thirty-six neophytes in puris naturalibus, retire in modest confusion.

I propose, now, to compare certain passages in The Tales of the Magicians (from Flinders Petrie’s Egyptian Tales) with others in The Thousand and One Nights, in order to show that the traditions to this day regnant in the East have a genealogy which more often than not first started from the soil of Egypt.

In “Anpu and Bata” (Egyptian Tales) Bata is represented as placing his heart on the topmost flower of an acacia tree. By his heart is meant his hati—that is, more properly, his soul. This he did so that he could not be killed unless the tree were cut down. When the latter calamity occurred, the hati was found in a seed, which, being placed in a cup of water, expanded, and, his body reviving, he drank the water. He then changed into a sacred bull, which was sacrificed; but two drops of its blood fell upon the ground, and these contained the hati or soul of Bata. They grew into two trees, which were cut down, but the hati passed into a shaving from one of them.

I shall invite you, next, to watch with me an encounter between rival sorcerers (actually, a sorceress and an ’efreet) from The Thousand and One Nights, noting the curious analogies between the forms, animal and vegetable, into which the hati, or soul, retreats during the conflict. The episode will be found in “The Story of the Second Royal Mendicant.”

The daughter of a certain King, who was acquainted with the secret arts, challenged “the ’Efreet Jarjarees, a descendant of Iblees,” to mortal encounter, and, “taking a knife upon which were engraved some Hebrew names, marked with it a circle in the midst of the palace. Within this she wrote several names and talismans, and then she pronounced invocations, and uttered unintelligible words; and soon the palace around us” (I quote the Royal Mendicant) “became immersed in gloom to such a degree that we thought the whole world was overspread; and lo, the ’Efreet appeared before us in a most hideous shape, with hands like winnowing-forks, and legs like masts, and eyes like burning torches; so that we were terrified at him. The King’s daughter exclaimed: ‘No welcome to thee!’—at which the ’Efreet, assuming the form of a lion . . . rushed upon the lady; but she instantly plucked a hair from her head and muttered with her lips, whereupon the hair became converted into a piercing sword, with which she struck the lion and he was cleft in twain by the blow; but his head became changed into a scorpion. The lady immediately transformed herself into an enormous serpent, and crept after the execrable wretch in the shape of a scorpion, and a sharp contest ensued between them, after which the scorpion became an eagle, and the serpent, changing to a vulture, pursued the eagle for a length of time. The latter then transformed himself into a black cat, and the King’s daughter became a wolf, and they fought together long and fiercely, till the cat, seeing himself overcome, changed himself into a large, red pomegranate, which fell into a pool; but, the wolf pursuing it, it ascended into the air, and then fell upon the pavement of the palace, and broke in pieces, its grains becoming scattered, each apart from the others, and all spread about the whole space of ground enclosed by the palace. The wolf, upon this, transformed itself into a cock, in order to pick up the grains, and not leave one of them; but, according to the decree of fate, one grain remained hidden by the side of the pool of the fountain. The cock began to cry, and flapped its wings, and made a sign to us with its beak; but we understood not what it would say. It then uttered at us such a cry that we thought the whole palace had fallen down upon us; and it ran about the whole of the ground, until it saw the grain that had lain hid by the side of the pool, when it pounced upon it to pick it up; but it fell into the midst of the water, and became transformed into a fish, and sank into the water; upon which the cock became a fish of a larger size and plunged in after the other. . . .”

II. THE BIRTH OF SORCERY

A Hair perhaps divides the False and True;

Yes; and a single Alif were the clue—

Could you but find it—to the Treasure-house,

And peradventure to THE MASTER, too—

The persistent tradition that the secret lore of the Egyptian priests was written in certain “books” finds some slight confirmation in “Ahura’s Tale,” from the second series of Egyptian Tales; for therein the Book of Thoth is thus described:

“He wrote it with his own hands and it will bring (raise) a man to the gods. To read two pages enables you to enchant the heaven, the earth, the abyss, the mountains and the sea; you shall know what the birds of the sky and the crawling things are saying. . . . And when the second page is read, if you are in the world of ghosts, you will grow again in the shape you were on earth. . . .”

The Brahmins, visited by Apollonius of Tyana, would seem to have possessed such a book, and the great sage himself claimed powers almost identical with those conferred by the Book of Thoth. But, concerning the latter, we read:

“This book is in the middle of the river at Koptos, in an iron box; in the iron box is a bronze box; in the bronze box is a sycamore box; in the sycamore box is an ivory and ebony box; in the ivory and ebony box is a silver box; in the silver box is a golden box, and in that is the book. It is twisted all round with snakes and scorpions and all the other crawling things . . . and there is a deathless snake by the box.”

The Harris Papyrus has references to similar magical books (nor must we overlook The Book of Dzyan, which Madame Blavatsky claimed to possess), but none of these ancient manuscripts affords us much help in tracing the origin of sorcery. That the Egyptian priesthood conserved the art through many generations, that we are indebted to them for their preservation of the traditions, is almost indisputable. But whence was their knowledge derived? Research along ordinary lines has failed to enlighten us upon this point.

I shall venture, then, ...

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