The ancient occult sciences retain their power to entrance us even in this age of science and skepticism. In contemporary stories, nailing a few elements of magical lore into the solid timber of realism can provide the essence of a fantasy plot.  From the most primitive tribes to the most sophisticated modern city, mankind believes in magic.  We mutter spells (knock on wood), curse in holy names, conduct miniature rites (throwing spilled salt over a shoulder).  So, too, in al times and places, both professional and amateur wizards, witches, shamans and magicians attempt to discover magic’s secrets.


Magic differs from religion primarily in intent: religion is an appeal to the gods; magic attempts to force their aid.  The nature magic of pagan religion goes back to prehistoric times.  The word “magic” probably derived from the Greek word magein, the science of the priests of Zoroaster (Assyrian/Bablonian), or from megas, Greek for “great.”  Early Middle Eastern civilizations created a divide between the high magic of the priests and the low magic of the people, which persists to this day.  The Chaldeans refined and shaped astrology, oracles practices from holy temples, and harvest rites became public functions.  But less exalted magicians practicing in small towns, the countryside or the neighborhood, offered inexpensive protection against the Evil Eye, explained dreams, foretold the future and sold amulets, talismans and other magic wares.

Ancient Babylonian and Egyptian magic systems were among the earliest known, already thousands of years old when Athens flourished in 400 B.C. or the Caesars reigned in A.D. 1, and many of their secrets are still sought. The mystery religions of ancient Greece and Rome, themselves descended from the savage primitive rituals of harvest and hunt, degenerated into the magic of the Middle Ages, which the Christian church condemned as witchcraft.  At the same time, the Church appropriated pagan holidays and a pantheon of saints, many borrowed from the Olympian collection of ancient gods and goddesses.  As religions succeed each other, they often demonize their predecessors.  Old Testament Hebrews made demons of hell of Babylonian, Egyptian and other Middle Eastern deities, both male and female.  The magician practicing black craft depends upon who tells the story: most of us are familiar with the version of Moses versus the Pharaoh’s magicians in Exodus (they turned their staves to snakes; Moses turned his into a bigger snake, which ate theirs).  In the Egyptian version, according to witchcraft researcher Margaret Murray, “the wise priest of Egypt defeats the miserable foreign sorcerer whom he had saved from the water when a child.”

European magic before the Crusades remained largely a hodgepodge of ancient religions and surviving folk magic. Following the Crusades, oriental theories and practices modeled on those practiced by the Sufis, Byzantines and Moors of Spain created European high magic.  Secret societies and secret sorceries flourished, based on Alexandrian Neoplatonic ideas, the Hermetic books and the Hebrew Kabbalah.  Basic principles included the Hermetic tablet’s injunction: “As above, so below”; the idea that everything in the universe is associated through a series of secret connections between numbers, letters, the heavens, the elements (earth, air, fire, water) etc.; and the conviction that one could magically tap the infinite creative power of the universe.  The refined development and application of the magician’s imagination played an active role in medieval ritual and high magic.

At all times and places, however, the low magic of necromancers, who called upon the spirits of the dead, invoked hosts of demons and peddled love potions and talismans, coexisted with both established religion and ceremonial high magic. During the medieval era, both deeply superstitious and religious in a way difficult for most people to imagine today, some magicians practiced a black art that was essentially a desecration of Christian rites, symbols, liturgy, biblical passages and holy sites.  Muslims who practice black magic do the same thing with Islamic religion.  These practices survive today, but should not be confused with pagan witchcraft, or Wicca, which are revivals of the ancient world’s mystery religions (Rome, Egypt, Babylon, Greece) and have nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity.

The Force

All magic shares certain general features. The concept of mana, a magical force in virtually everything, has been called the “mother idea of magic.”  This idea of a universal force latent in all creation is common to primitive peoples: mana is called manitou, pokunt and wakan by various American Indian tribes; ancient Perusvians called it huaca; in Mexico, it is called nagualism; and in Lake Tanganyika, it is called churinga or boolya.  Larry Niven wrote a series of popular novellas speculating that this force, which our mythology and legends suggest was once much more powerful than it now seems, could be used up.  He called the first story, When the Magic Goes Away.  Story ideas lurk everywhere in this material.

The ability to tap this magical force, or mana, is almost always extremely limited. Everywhere, tradition binds magic, ruling its access and use, and magical power traditionally lies in the knowledge of spells and rites.  Sometimes it is invested in the person of the wizard.  The rules of magic are limited, but it has many classes of practitioner.

Two Worlds

Most magical systems assume there are two worlds.  One is the material, everyday, mundane world of reality in which experience and practical knowledge work.  The other is a supernatural world, usually accessible only through a medium, the wizard/witch/wise one.  Primitive man, for instance, nearly always recognized a natural and supernatural order.  He applied knowledge of soils and planting times or where the fish or game were found, but performed magic to ensure good weather and protect himself from accidents.

Magicians attempt to control the unknown: the weather, abundance of crops or hunt animals, the course of a love affair or the outcome of a battle. Magic gives a house sturdiness after it is built with conventional means.  Magical rites promote an abundant crop, but seeds are still planted.


The principles of sympathy (homeopathy and contagion) and antipathy guide virtually all human magic. They are widely applied in language, actions and even the magician’s “inner state” or thoughts.

Sympathetic Magic

Sympathetic magic relies of the ancient idea that if one thing resembles another, the two are magically connected. The two principle types of sympathetic magic are: homeopathy (like affects like) and contagion (things once in contact, even tenuously, retain a connection even though widely separated).

Sympathetic principles affect all aspects of magic. Words of a spell draw upon this principle.  Strong things are mentioned to impart strength; fast things are cited to impart speed.  To make a household sleep like the dead, the magician uses grave dirt or the bones of the dead, placing them on the roof or in the home of intended victims.  The magician cures “yellow” jaundice by banishing yellow.  He paints the patient yellow then washes the color away.  He brings in yellow birds then shoos them away.  Antipathy is also used.  Other colors drive out the yellow; the patient drinks water mixed with the hair of a red bull and sits on the skin of a red bull.

Imitation of successful hunts, fishing expeditions and harvests form the basis of many primitive rituals. African tribal and American Indian dances mimic the animal and the hunter and their interplay.  Prehistoric cave paintings in Ariege, France, show a man clothed in a stag’s skin with antlers on his head.  A prehistoric Egyptian carved slate shows a man disguised as a jackal.  Shamans, wizards and magicians throughout time have relied upon animal familiars, vision quest guides and totems.

In planting societies, dancers poked the ground with sticks imitating real plants, a movement you still see some in European country dancing. Ritual movement and dancing played multiple roles in magic ranging from tribal celebrations and occasions to solo dance by shamans.

The sympathetic principle governs performance of rites. If a wizard intends to magically harm a person with his wand or staff by “pointing” in the direction ofhis enemy, he must emotionally and even intellectually believe and feel he is thrusting the wand as a sword into the enemy’s belly and twisting it.  He must “act” as if performing an actual stabbing.  The similarity of one’s actions in a magical rite to the same actions in real life is an important part of making the magic work.  Thus, sympathetic relations may involve color, sound, meaning, physical resemblance and the state of the magician’s mind and attitude.

Homeopathy.  The most common type of sympathetic magic is homeopathy.  Homeopathy means like affects like.  Some call it imitative magic.  A magician might administer a potion that includes animal liver to a patient with liver pain.

Homeopathy is the basis for making an image of an enemy and sticking pins in it to cause him or her pain, discomfort or death, one of the most widely practiced forms of magic. One of the earliest records of this charm is in the trial of women and officers of the harem of Rameses III in Egypt in 1100 B.C. – they made images of the Pharaoh with magical incantations.  Familiar to us in the form of the voodoo doll, the practice of making stone, wood, cloth or wax images and puppets in the likeness of enemies was practiced by the ancient Greeks, who inherited much of their magic from the Egyptians and other Middle Eastern regions.  Northern American Indians draw figures of a person in sand, ashes or clay, then poke the image with a sharp stick, shoot an arrow into it or run a needle through its head or heart.  Peruvian Indians mixed fat with grain to form images of people they wanted to harm, then burned the effigy on a road the victim traveled.  A Malay version includes nail parings, hair, eyebrows, spittle – enough pieces of the intended victim to represent the whole body – and combines them with bee’s comb wax in a figure scorched over a fire for seven nights while saying: “It is not wax that I am scorching/It is the liver, heart and spleen of (victim’s name) that I scorch” (from Frazer’s The Golden Bough).

Making images can work for good as well as evil. In Sumatra, a barren woman holds a wooden doll of a child in her lap to encourage one to grow in her womb.  Ins ome cases, the father of a large family recites spells while the woman holds a cotton doll toher breast; in others, a wizard enacts a mock birth with a large stone tied to his stomach.

Homeopathic magic resembles the pretend games of children, often right down to the sincerity of the pretending, whichis necessary to make the magic work. Magicians sometimes resort to “tricks” intended to convince others of their power, the belief necessary to working their “real” magic.

Contagion.  Contagion is the concept that anything once in contact with something else retains a magically useful connection to that thing even if the two become widely separated.  Often contagion combines with imitative and homeopathic principles in spells and rites.  A wizard making an image of an enemy would want items once in physical contact with the person: nail clippings, hair, teeth, clothing.  Today, superstitious (or careful) people still guard their nail and hair clippings, pulled teeth and intimate apparel.  One occult author recalls her mother “keeping a jar full of my nail clippings from infancy on.”

Contagion can work to the good of the practitioner, too. Placing an extracted tooth where a mouse or rat could get it would impart the strength of the rodent’s teeth to its former owner when gnawed.  In many parts of the world, the umbilical cord and the afterbirth are thought to retain such a powerful connection to the child even after removal that what happens to them may determine the child’s entire fate.  If properly preserved – buried in the sand, for example – the child will be prosperous; if not, he will be doomed.  Or to make a child a good climber or hunter, the umbilical cord might be hung from a tree.

Frazer notes the “relation… believed to exist between a wounded man and the agent of the wound.” Melanesians, for example, keep an arrow that wounded a warrior in cool leaves to combat wound, inflammation.  His enemy, meanwhile, knowing he inflicted the wound, drinks hot, burning juices and chews irritating leaves to inflame it.  He twangs his taut bow strings to pain the wounded enemy.  This belief led to the widespread idea that to keep a human or animal wound from a blade or puncture from becoming infected, one must clean and oil the knife, scythe or nail that caused the harm.  This idea is based on the notion that blood on the weapon continues a connection with blood in the body.

In the New Hebrides, obtaining a cloth someone used to mop his sweat gave the wizard the power of death over the hapless victim. The magician would wrap the cloth with leaves and twigs of a specific tree and burn them.  In Prussia, it was thought that if you couldn’t catch a thief, you could snatch a piece of his clothing and make him sick by beating it.

Less tangible connections also offer magicians the power of contagion. In Mecklenburg, Germany, it is believed that driving a nail into a man’s footprint will make him lame.  A German hunter might drive a coffin nail into an animal’s footprint, believing it will hobble a quarry.  Many American Indian and African tribes follow similar customs, throwing dirt from an animal’s tracks in the air to bring the quarry down, or placing charms on the tracks to magically slow or cripple the beast.

In France, a witchhunter might follow a suspect and drive a knife into her footprint, thinking that if she is a witch, she will not be able to move until the knife is withdrawn. In Bohemia, a peasant girl might plant a marigold in earth she dug from the footprint of a man she loves, hoping love will bloom with the flower.  The ancient Greek Pythagoreans recommended smoothing away the impression of your body when you rise from bed as a precaution against magic, so even the most tenuous connection could be magically useful.

Antipathetic Magic

Antipathy is what some anthropologists call benevolent charms or the white magic that overcomes black. Holy water drives away devils, for example.  A sounding bell does the same.  A silver bullet slays a werewolf, and a vampire cannot see himself in the mirror because of its silver backing.  Red berries or thread, because of their bloody color, counter witchcraft.  Garlic repels vampires.  Making the sign of the cross or other protective gestures drives off demons as do protective talismans.  These examples act in antipathy, or counter to, evil or black magic.

Taboos.  Taboos prevent magical contamination.  Magic, particularly among primitive peoples, whether African, Polynesian (such as the Maori of the previous chapter) or American Indian, is a highly practical affair.  Generally, they are protection against the unknown.  Taboos restrict contact between the tabooed person (a king, a woman during childbirth, a warrior before his first battle) and others.  They require purification or protective rites, often including bathing, shaving the head, marking of the body by a magician, incense, fire or water.

Touching a king, his clothes or his food is often taboo among primitive peoples. Warriors going to their first (or first several) battles are taboo, often in the same manner as menstrual women are against scratching the head or any other part of the body with fingers, sexual abstinence and, minimal handling of food and their containers.  The seclusion sometimes requires a man to build a separate hut for a bride in childbirth.

Taboos surround contact with strangers, with both sides performing obligatory rites: fire and incense greet them to drive away evil spirits; the visitor may carry lighted sticks or bark for the same purpose; on returning home, a traveler must bathe and visit a shaman/magician for cleansing, which frequently includes receiving a visible mark on the forehead or otherwise highly visible spot.

Taboos on eating and drinking may be particularly rough on kings, who take extraordinary precautions. The mouth may be a door to the soul, and food, which comes into contact with preparers and may not be completely consumed, may easily be magically (or actually) acted upon.  Taboos force eating meals behind locked doors to prevent the soul’s escape and being hidden from view, even in public, where, in some primitive societies, a cloth is held up to shield a king taking his meal.  Since, by sympathetic contagion, the leftover food one leaves or the dishes one eats from retain a connection to the consumer, leftovers (even bones) are burned, buried or thrown into the sea to prevent sorcerers from obtaining them.  A sorcerer keeps his eyes open for such refuse, particularly bones of birds, animals or fish consumed by people.  He can concoct deadly charms with them.

A primitive might eat many animals or plants in order to share in their qualities, for example, eating a rabbit to gain speed or an elk to gain strength, but he must not eat others so as not to share them.

Sympathetic and homeopathic principles govern many taboos: boys of a fishing tribe are forbidden to play cat’s cradle lest they entangle their hands in fishing nets as adults; warriors may not eat a cock that died while fighting, lest the same happen to them. Woman at home during the hunt often face many taboos, such as being forbidden to kill any male animal while the warrior is gone or he may die.

Mourners or others who have contact with: the dead; people leaving and entering houses; women at childbirth as well as menstruation; those who kill another person; hunters and fishers, who must propitiate the animal spirits just as warriors must propitiate the ghosts of their dead enemies, are all heavily tabooed.


Anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942), who identified many of these common features, said all magic has one of three functions: to produce, protect or destroy.

Magicians, wizards and so on, accomplish these ends via three elements. They are:

  1. Spells, incantations, invocations, enchantments (what is said)
  2. Actions taken: rites, procedures, gestures, use of magic tools (what is done)
  3. Conditions of the practitioner, which requires precise, arduous preparation and might include:
    Purification by fasting
    Meditating in solitude
    Staring into flames
    Inhaling smoke
    Ingesting drugs
    Enduring pain
    Intense sweating


After ritual self-purification, the magician recites the spell, almost always accompanied by an action or tie that is intended to carry the magic to its intended object. Usually continued and unbroken attention to the proper state of mind is necessary for the magician’s powers to work.  In higher magic, a trained imagination brought to intense concentration may be required.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the elements of the magical act:

Spells, Incantations, Invocations, Enchantments

The first element of magic is what is said. Words themselves retain a magical ability to affect us even in our enlightened era.  Many people still have difficulty in separating their reactions to words from their reaction to what the words symbolize.  Cursing involves invoking the names of deities, saints or devils: holy names or their devilish counterparts, whether in causal speech or magic spells.

The spell is associated so strongly with magic that in some primitive societies, the word for magic and the word for spell are the same. Usually a spell must be spoken exactly, without the slightest deviation from text and with proper pronunciation or intonation.  Everywhere, the spoken part of a magic act is of supreme importance.

Spell books, such as the grimmores of the Middle Ages, required debilitating purifications on the magician’s part, extreme care in making tools and letter-perfect recitation f enormous lists of words of power, holy names and turgid prose. Among Polynesians, a single slip airing the most sacred ritual might cause the death of the practitioner by supernatural causes.  Spells are governed by tradition rather than creativity.  Altering a spell defuses its magic.  Ancient Egyptian magic, hike, worked through spoken formulas that had to be recited exactly as proscribed at a particular place and time.  Egyptians credited mispronounced words with all instances of magical failure.

The language of spells relates directly to an associated ritual and desired effect. To confer speed to a canoe, for instance, a spell cites birds on the wing, the lightness of a seagull of water, the floating ability of certain woods, onomatopoeic words that sounds like speed.

Spells use cryptic, archaic language; lists of ancestral names, holy names, demon names and spirit names; and stories of mythological events, all in precise order and pronunciation, often known only to an elite group of initiates. The difficulties of meeting the stringent requirements for preparation and performance were cited as reasons why magic failed to work.  In one of the most moving fantasy short stories of the mid-1970s, Tom Reamy’s award-winning “San Diego Lightfoot Sue,” a forty-five-year-old woman falls in love with a teenage Kansas lad and wants him to see how she looked at fifteen.  The daughter of a witch, she performs a rite that goes wrong.  Witnesses see only a green fire that consumes her – virtually the only fantasy element in the story.  The archetypal power of this stuff works even in small fictional doses.  A single magical idea that spells are dangerous to the magician if not performed properly continues to inspire tales in every medium.

The need for exactness in spells and rites supplies a basis for much humor in modern fantasy with mistakes responsible for all sorts of consequences, from the humorous sort practiced by Samantha’s senile aunt on TV’s “Bewitched,” to the gruesomely macabre. Humor, fantasy and horror often compliment each other in fiction, perhaps because our human reaction to horror and the fantastic is often nervous laughter.  In fiction, certain authors always made a living combining humor and horror, and humor and fantasy.  At least two twentieth-century cartoonists, Gahan Wilson and Charles Addams, never strayed far from their successful mix of the two.  Film and TV scripts combine fantasy, horror and comedy in an almost distinct genre in which the fantasy element – a genie, ghost, witch, magician – serve entirely comical purposes (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer; “I Dream of Genie”; Death Becomes Her).  So don’t be overly surprised if the Grim Reaper in your story turns out to have a sense of humor.

Black and White Magic

Magic in all times has served both positive and negative purposes, which are sometimes referred to as white magic and black magic. Magic itself is neutral; it is the application to which it is put that characterizes it.  In the case of Christian, Islamic or other religious “black magic,” official church rites are often reversed, as in the Black Mass or saying the Lord’s Prayer backwards.  Necromancy – calling upon the spirits of the dead – is also characterized as black magic.

When one religion succeeds another, as Christianity has pagan worship of multiple gods and goddesses, the priests, wizards or wise men/women of the former (paganism) are characterized as witches and black magicians by the current religion. (Many of the gods and goddesses became Christian saints, and pagan festivals became Catholic holy days.)  Hebrew tribes worshipping their God, Yahweh (later Jehovah), did the same to the many Babylonian, Persian, Egyptian and other Middle Eastern deities, going so far as the make devils of former deities such as Baal.

The black magic of the medieval era, with its grimmores and their impossible-to-fill requirements, is generally considered silly by modern magicians. But at the same time, magicians practice various high-magic systems imported from the East, where they mix oriental ideas with those surviving from pagan times.  (We’ll cover this in greater detail later.)

Rituals, Rites and Wrongs

Nearly all spells are accompanied by actions. These “rites” generally require the same exactness on the performer’s part as the reciting of spells.  The main purpose of a rite is to carry the magic of the spell to its desired object.

Rituals are ceremonial acts for religious or sacred purposes. They have various, frequently overlapping purposes: to placate, propitiate, supplicate, honor, obey or call forth the gods, goddesses, spirits or demons; to initiate passage into adulthood, entrance into a secret society or entrance into a mystical vocation such as magician or shaman (all three may be ecstatic in nature, requiring taking drugs, fasting, lonely ordeals in the wilderness or jungle, pain, sleep deprivation and other means of altering consciousness); to mark transitions or passages; to encourage fertility, healing or cleansing; to protect home, family, children or warriors; to banish wrongdoers.

Elements of Ritual. The elements of ritual vary according to the type of magic practiced.  Those required for ritual and ceremonial magic are covered in more detail in that section.  Among the common features of ritual in all magic are:

  • Reciting holy names, the names of God, spells, chants or prayers
  • Dancing and other movement, particularly ritualized postures and gestures
  • Costumes, masks, fetishes
  • Incense, smoke, candles, fires
  • Offerings, sacrifices
  • Feasting or fasting
  • Purifications
  • Use of sacred objects, relics, tools, images, symbols

Ceremonial rituals include making the familiar magic circle, and within it, the triangle of the art. Magicians must remain inside the circle or lose their protection from the entities they summon.

Meditative Magic

Meditation is an element of magic from the shamanism of primitive tribes to the most esoteric ceremonial magic. It is used to cleanse the body, mind and soul, and to connect to the creative force of the universe through altered consciousness.  Meditating on the Tree of Life forms an important aspect of Kabbalah.

Some magical systems, such as Hawaiian Huna and Islamic Sufi, actually do their primary work through meditation and associated mental activity – imagination, visualization and concentration. This might be achieved through self-deprivation of food, sleep or company; drumming; drugs; or dancing.

In Sufi practice, whirling is one way to achieve an ecstatic state in which magic of a psychic nature can be performed. Since Sufis who follow pious poverty are called “dervishes”; those who spin their trances are called “whirling dervishes.”  Fantastic literature and poetry from Rumi to Arabian Nights are cited as “quintessential Sufi texts.”  Since each Sufi adept teaches from his own system, no single Sufi approach to mysticism exists.  Orders included not only the Whirling Dervishes, but also the Howling Dervishes, Shaven Dervishes and Silent Dervishes.  Islamic black magic works much the same as Christian-inspired black magic: holy objects, places, garments, symbols, rituals and the Koran are desecrated, recited backwards or otherwise profaned for dark magic purposes.


Ritual magic is the performance of ceremony to obtain material and spiritual power. Ceremonial magicians may follow one of two paths.  In one path, the magician spends years of study and preparation learning the secrets of the Kabbalah, the Hermetic books or a master’s teaching, until he learns to discipline his will and imagination, leave his physical body and work magic on the “astral plane.”

This astral plane holds in hidden planes, worlds of beauty and awesome terror. It is a literal twilight zone containing the highest dreams and darkest nightmares.  The shaman travels there in a vision quest or to fight demons making a tribemate ill.  They mystic ascends there after disciplining  and training his imagination and will.  All of the higher occult experiences occur here.  The geography of this astral world and means of access to and travel through it supplies the material taught by many esoteric schools of occult science.

The magician ascends the multiple planes by various rituals, but one must be fit to receive these teachings. Magicians map out some areas in this unimaginably vast territory, describing inhabitants, their living space, the language they speak.  The student ascends the planes as he rises in grade, and learns the spells, names of guardian angels, smells, colors, and other symbolic aspects of the planes.  He learns which demons inhabit the plane, which he defends against with the proper protective spells and rituals.

The simplest method of astral out-of-body travel is through visualization training. The student begins by relaxing, in a prone position and imagining his astral body rising from his physical body.  With training, visualization is intensified until the magician’s consciousness transfers to the astral “watcher.”

Other methods, such as meditating on the paths of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, follow a specific protocol and traveling unprepared or leaping ahead of one’s knowledge is considered dangerous and foolhardy.

Eliphas Levi’s volume, Dogma and Ritual of High Magic (1856), proved hugely influential on the modern practice of this type of ritual, leading directly to the Order of the Golden Dawn and many other schools of modern ceremonial and ritual magic. The tendency of modern magic, however, has been to bring various systems of magic and occult science together in a synthesis that combines multiple schools.  While not true of all modern magicians, many dispense with the more complicated requirements of traditional ceremonial magic in favor of simpler but no less volatile systems.

Following the second path, a ceremonial magician may draw his magic circle, his pentagram of two triangles and call forth deities, spirits, demons and the dead following directions from a grimmore or magic texts such as the medieval The Key of Solomon, which names hundreds of Greek, Roman, Egyptian and various other gods, demons and spirits.  The paraphernalia required to follow this path and the preparations of the magician are described in arduous detail in spell books.  But this concept did not originate in the Middle Ages.  Works from the great library of Assurbanipal reveal that grimmores full of spells were common fifteen centuries earlier.  Babylonian gimmores included Utukki limnuli (evil spirits), Labartu (hag-demons) and ceremonial texts such as the Maklu, which contained eight tablets of incantations and spells against wizards and witches (making images of their enemies and destroying them in a major element).  Another sixteen tablets on exorcism of evil spirits names demons, goblins and ghosts.

This style perhaps reached its highest development when MacGregor Mathers (a Golden Dawn member) translated into English The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage, allegedly a fifteenth-century guide but more likely an eighteenth-century work.  It did away with most complicated ritual and paraphernalia required by European ceremonial magic.  Abramelin magic supposed the material world is created by evil spirits that the magician can control after he attains the help of his guardian angel.  (This is an ancient magical idea.  The Golden Dawn magicians believed the magician’s “guardian angel” was actually his own true self.)  Discovering this, the magician can force the spirits – (which may be recognized as materialization of archetypal ideas inside his mind or aspects of himself – to do his bidding.  The book includes a large number of magic squares, letter arrangements that represent and empower the magician’s wishes.  Abramelin magic fascinated Aleister Crowley, who warned that is was extremely dangerous to use without proper preparation.

Both paths may be dangerous to the life and soul of inadequately prepared magicians. One practicing magician says, “It’s like a dark force and a good force.  The dark force, calling up demons, is quicker, but you pay a toll.  It’s dangerous and costly to the magician spiritually.  The other path, meditating on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, say, is slower, but still dangerous if you do not do it right.”

Both paths also evolved from ideas already old in Egypt when written down in ancient Greece. The occult sciences proceeded from these ancient moorings in sympathetic magic, the study of stars and rites for the Egyptian dead, to the Neoplatonic ideas of Plotinus of Alexandria in A.D. 233, who sought “the ideal reality which exists behind appearances.”  This idea – similar to Plato’s concept of elementary ideas, hence the “Neoplatonic” lable – led Plotinus and his followers, Porphyry, Iambilichus and Proclus, into out-of-body magical practice where they encountered gods and demigods, malignant daemons and genii.  While in an ecstatic, meditative, out of-body state achieved through austere living and careful preparation, the Neoplatonists believed evil genii and daemons might pursue and capture them if the philosopher/magicians did not escape by returning to their physical bodies.

Gnostics, who sought gnosis, or secret knowledge, further developed and refined Neoplatonic and other oriental magical ideas.  Simon the Magus, mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible, was a Gnostic magician (and the Bible relates only the canonical Christian version of his story).  Gnostics were declared heretical by the Catholic church as it solidified its accepted theology.

The Hermetica

The Hermetica, according to occult tradition, is forty-two books written by various authors, but attributed in a convenient fiction to Hermes Trismegistus, “Thrice Greatest Hermes,” a combination of the Greek god and Egyptian god of wisdom, Thoth. The secret knowledge in thse works are dense with occult symbolism.  Their basic idea suggests that the universe is a whole and is connected via a complicated system of correspondences, which is the import of the statement from the Hermetic work, the Smaragdine Tablet: “As above, so below.”  Legend says the Hermetic books contained fragments of the magic secrets of ancient Greece and Egypt, which were originally contained on books lost when the library of Alexandria burned, destroying much of the collected knowledge of the ancient world.  They include The Divine Pymander and the Vision, which mix esoteric thought from dynastic Egypt with instructions for the spiritual development of the soul.

Medieval Magic

European high magic kept a low profile after mainstream Christianity conquered the West in the fourth century. The thirty-sixth Canon of the Ecumenical Council at Laodicea in A.D. 364 forbids priests and clerks to become magicians, enchanters or astrologers.  It was merely the first of many canons to follow forbidding various magical practices as the Church decided that magic and Christianity were largely incompatible.  Most magic practiced in Europe prior to about the twelfth century was the nature religion based on herbs and stones, the moon and stars, and cultural superstition or remnants of the ancient mystery religions.  The Church regarded both as witchcraft or black magic.

When the Crusaders returned from the Middle East, they brought with them oriental ideas of theosophy (from the Greek, theos, meaning “god” and sophia, meaning “wisdom”) that claims one can know the nature of the deity absolutely through proper preparation, study and ritual.  Magical systems in the Middle East, practiced by the Byzantines, the Moors of Spain and the Arabs, drew upon the Alexandrian Neoplatonic ideas.  Paracelsus and Agrippa together virtually outlined medieval high magic principles between them.

Paracelsus (born in 1493 near Zurich) wrote several tomes outlining his complex ideas, which first outlined the astral body and the planets, and preached the importance of the willed imagination. “It is possible,” he wrote, “that my spirit, without help of my body, and through an ardent will alone, and without a sword, can stab and wound others.  It is also possible that I can bring my adversary into an image and then fold him up and lame him at my pleasure.  Resolute imagination is the beginning of all magical operations.”

The primary influences of Agrippa were due to the stories told about his own adventurous life. He was born Agrippa von Nettesheim, Henry Cornelius (1486-1535).  A German soldier, physician, alchemist, astrologer and magician, Agrippa knew eight languages and traveled Europe widely as a soldier and in service to noble patrons.  His defense of magic, De occulta philosphia (1531), and the tales surrounding his life (he made enemies freely, particularly among the medieval monks) made him one of the major features who contributed to the medieval fascination with high magic.  Agrippa regarded magic as “the true road to communion with God,” linking his mysticism to Neoplatonic ideas and modern magic alike.


Very early on, mankind recognized the power of the animals that shared the earth, and the ability to “talk to the animals” became a skill of shamans and magicians worldwide. Many tribes, peoples and societies trace their origins to a founding totem animal, often associated with a god, and hold that animal sacred.  Animal powers are often invoked through dances imitating their movements and musical instruments imitating their cries.

Acquiring an animal guide or familiar is important in many kinds of magic and spiritualism.   The Native American sought his animal spirit guide during a vision quest while alone in the wilderness, or on a spiritual journey assisted by hallucinogenic drugs, such as peyote.  Western magicians gained the aid of a familiar through meditation and invocation, wearing masks and practicing shape-shifting.

Alligator or Crocodile: aggression, survival, reason (Egypt)

Ant: ground-minded, hard worker, wisdom (Muslim); sacred to harvest goddesses

Ass or Donkey: stubbornness, obstinacy, symbol of opposites; sacred to Greek god Dionysius

Bat: good fortune, great happiness (China), rebirth, guardian of the night, cleanser, guide to past lives

Bear: power, adaptability, knowledge of the healing power of herbs, brings balance and harmony on the astral plane

Beaver: builder, gatherer, concentration, harmony in group work

Bee: purity, queenship, wearer of veils

Boar: courage, protection; fertility; symbol of the Lord of Earth; sacred to the Greek god Adonis, the Hindu god Rudra and the Egyptian god Set

Buffalo or Bison: sacredness, fertility, abundance, symbol of spirit

Bull: fertility, strength; association with many gods and used in rituals in many religions or cultures including Egyptian (the Apis and Serapis cults), Cretan (the Minos cult), Celtic, Sumerian, Hindu and Mithraic

Butterfly: metamorphosis, carefree, transformer, love (China)

Cat: a strong protector, seer of spirits, independent and self-assured, seeking for hidden information, shape-shifter; sacred to Egyptian goddess Bast and Pasht

Cow: love, abundance, nurture, contentment; represents goddess in many religions

Coyote: prankster, shape-shifter, illumination, opportunist, insightful, playful

Crane: solitude, independence, intelligence, astral travel to learn deeper mysteries

Crow: trickery, boldness, prophecy, shape-shifter, keeper of the sacred law, omen of change

Deer: see Doe, Stag

Doe or Hind: gentleness, loving-kindness, swiftness, alertness, bearer of messages

Dog: loyalty, companionship, keep hearing and tracking skills, a guard from approaching dangers

Dolphin: kindness, playfulness, link to ocean

Dove: communication through spirit; messenger to spirit world; peace, gentleness, love

Dragonfly: flighty, carefree

Eagle: connection to the Creator, divine spirit, wisdom, swiftness, keen sight

Elephant: confidence, patience, removal of obstacles, ability to learn

Elk: strength, agility, freedom, sensual passion

Ermine: purity

Fish: abundance, prosperity, harmony; loving companions or children

Fox: cunning, provider, intelligence, stealthy, able to make fools of pursuers

Frog: transformation, resurrection (Egypt), link to water element, beginning of new cycle; sacred to Heccate

Goat: wild energies, removal of guilt, independence.  Associated with Hindu Agni; Sumerian Marduk; Palestinian Ba’al; Greek Dionysius, Athene and Pan; Norse Thor; Christian Satan

Goose: new beginnings, happy family life

Grasshopper: nobility (ancient Greece)

Hare or Rabbit: alertness, nurturing, hidden teachings, intuitive knowledge, transformation

Hippopotamus: birth of new ideas, righteous anger, protection of the family

Horse: stamina, mobility, strength, companion for astral travel

Hummingbird: messenger, able to stop time, happiness, love

Jackal: seeker of mystical knowledge, explorer of past lives; sacred to Egyptian god Anubis, “Opener of the Way”

Leopard, Panther or Cougar: leadership, courage, swiftness, perseverance, gaining confidence for astral travel

Lion: strength, courage, energy, royalty, family ties

Monkey: ingenuity, clever solutions; sacred in China and Japan; symbol of Egyptian god Thoth

Moose: headstrong, unstoppable strength, longevity, shared joy, wisdom in solitude

Mouse: secrets, shyness, ability to remain inconspicuous, attention to details, stealth, trust, innocence

Otter: finding inner treasure, gaining wisdom, enjoyment of life, a trickster, sacred in ancient Peru and to the Celtic god Cernunnos

Owl: wisdom, truth, patience, keen sight, guide to the underworld, clairvoyance

Peacock: all-seeing awareness, dignity, sacred to the Roman goddess Juno

Pelican: self-sacrifice

Phoenix: resurrection, renewal

Pig: see Sow, Boar

Porcupine: minds own business, trust in spirit, guards privacy; to Native Americans, a symbol of faith and trust

Quail: good luck, courage, victory

Ram: virility, fertility; sacred to Celts and Muslims; symbol of Indian fire god Agni and Phoenician god Baal

Rat: symbol of fertility and wealth in China

Raven: trickster, teacher, hoarder, spirit messenger, change in consciousness, help with divination

Salamander or Lizard: understanding dreams, mental creativity, transformation

Salmon: instinctive, persistent, determined, spiritual knowledge

Scarab: Egyptian beetle, symbol of the sun and creation

Scorpion: keeper of the house of the dead, revenge

Seahorse: confidence, grace

Sheep: timidness, ability to keep your balance; see also Ram

Snake: transformation, shrewdness; symbol of rebirth, immorality; associated with many gods

Sow: female pig associated with the Crone goddess, deep earth magic, knowledge of past lives

Spider: creativity, weaver of pattern of life in both ancient Mediterranean and Pueblo Indian mythology

Squirrel: preparing for the future, foresight, warning, changes, spiritual watchdog

Stag: Lord of the underworld, understanding of the cycle of death and rebirth

Stork: carrier of souls, fertility

Swallow: bird of springtime, flowering and love

Swan: grace, balance, innocence; symbol of the Muses and Valkyries

Thunderbird: Native American bird of lightning, bringer of rain and other heavenly gifts

Tiger: swift action, strength and willpower in a difficult situation; associated with gambling, the wind and the elements in the Orient

Turtle: creative source, self-contained, long life, patience, spiritual shield, relaxation

Vulture: carriers and defenders of the dead, prophecy

Whale: wisdom, music, long life, telepathic abilities, provider

Wolf: loyal, successful leader on the astral plane, hunting and seeking, strong protection

Wren: sacred bird of the Druids, form of the Fairy Queen


Legend said Agrippa always traveled with a familiar in the shape of a large fearsome black dog.  He paid his bills with money that looked normal but later turned to worthless shell.  Agrippa, it was said, used a magic glass to view distant times and places, once spying his mistress weeping over the absence of another lover.  One of the most famous stories says a boarder in his home convinced Agrippa’s wife to let him enter the learned man’s museum.  The boarder found a book of spells and began to read.  He ignored a knock on the door and went on reading.  Finally, a demon burst through the door and asked why he had been summoned.  Terrified, the boarder could not answer and the demon strangled him.  Agrippa returned at the moment and, fearing he would be charged with the boarder’s murder, persuaded the demon to return him to life.  People saw the boarder walk through the marketplace, and after he died when the demon spell wore off, they thought he did so of natural causes.  Agrippa’s life is a prime example of the power of stories to heighten the power of a magician, for he was actually a relatively harmless alchemist/astrologer with a wide correspondence that accounted for his worldwide knowledge others attributed to his magical familiar.


Rosicrucian Brotherhood

A Rosicrucian Brotherhood published a series of pamphlets in Germany between 1614-1616 claiming to have mystic secrets. Many doubt whether any seventeenth-century Rosicrucian Brotherhood ever existed, but it became fashionable among those who styled themselves magicians to imply they knew Rosicrucian secrets.  Modern Rosicrucian groups have only a tenuous link with those of the past.  Within the occult community, many believe if such a group existed, then only a few adepts passed on whatever secrets they possessed orally to a few who succeeded them, and so on. Some people who claim to be Rosicrucians say they are doing exactly that.

The nineteenth-century Rosicrucians are particularly interesting. The English Rosicrucians (formed in 1866) included three founding members of the most famous modern magical society, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and were mostly occultists.

French Rosicrucians were mostly artists and literary men. The Grand Master of the Rose-Croix in 1885, Josephin Peladan, was a novelist, and the order was important among the Symbolist movement of bohemian poets, painters and magicians.  Peladan, who called himself Sar (“king” in Assyrian) Merodack (a character in one of his novels), and his associate Marquis Stanislas de Guaita together created the Ordre Kabbalistique de la Rose-Croix.  These two found themselves embroiled in a magical battle with the novelist J.K Huysmans, author of the novel about decadent French black magic, La Bas, and with the Abbe Boullan, a former Catholic priest and magician.  Boullan, investigated by the Church for unholy and carnal cures of nuns, murdered a child and practiced sexual mysticism of an unpleasant sort.  Stanislas de Guaita stayed with the Abbe in 1886 and left with the text of one of Boullan’s magic rituals.  Soon afterward, Boullan suffered several heart attacks, which he blamed on sorcery by de Guaita.  When Huysmans visited Boullan during work on his novel about magic in nineteenth-century fin de seicle Paris, he found him conducting magical rites directed against de Guaita.  A letter condemning Boullan to death by “the fluids” arrived while Huysmans was there, and he thought himself under attack by magic as well.

Huysmans returned to Paris and accused de Guaita of magical murder, but was challenged to a duel, apologized and retracted the statement. De Guaita, a decandant, sinister character wrote several lengthy works on magic.  His own experiments included heavy drug use – hashish, morphine and cocaine – and he died young and blind.

The Freemasons

Although the Freemasons trace their legendary lineage to the architect of Solomon’s temple, who was killed by workmen because he would not reveal the secret “word of God hidden in the temple structure,” they were the remnants of a medieval stonemasons guild until the mid-1800s.  The secret initiation rite, however, dramatizes the story of Hiram Abiff, the architect skilled in bronze work sent by the King of Tyre to Solomon to work on his temple.  Masonic initiates die as Hiram and are reborn as Masons in a ritual drama some trace to the Egyptian mystery school of Isis and Osiris, who also fell to thugs and were resurrected.  Followers of the Isis cult were called “the widow’s sons,” and Masons are the “sons of the widow.”

Sufi mystics believe the architects of Solomon’s temple were Sufis who incorporated holy words of God as numeric equivalents in its measurements, so an Arabic influence seems likely. The Saxon king Aethelstan (A.D. 894) brought Masonry to England after learning it from Spanish Moors.  No one knows why, but the stonemasons guilds, who initially kept the techniques of their craft secret, began admitting “speculative” members.  The first important speculative member was Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), an astrologer, kabbalalist, alchemist and Rosicrucian, among other things.

Speculative freemasonry adopted the tools of the craft as symbols (the square, compass, plumb line and level), grades (Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, Master Mason), rules of secrecy and member recognition methods from the medieval guilds. Members wear white leather aprons like those builders once wore.  Blue and Gold are the ritual colors.  Meetings are held in lodges or temples decorated with Masonic symbols and with checkered black-and-white floors, which symbolize man’s dual nature.  Two important Masonic symbols appear on the back of the U.S. dollar bill: the Great Pyramid of Giza and the all-seeing eye of the great architect associated with Horus, son of Isis and Osiris.  Numerous American Founding Fathers were Masons, including John Hancock, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

During botht he eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Masonic groups were infused with mysticism by the German Rite of Strict Observance; the French groups were inspired by the Comte de St. Germain, who performed ancient rituals, and the Egyptian rites of Count Cagliostro. The Ancient and Accepted Rite of the Thirty-Third Degree evolved from these.  Only Master Masons are allowed to reach for these higher states, which they say leads to “a mystic union with God.”  The Vatican condemned anyone joining a Masonic Lodge to excommunication in 1917, and the Greek Orthodox church condemned it in 1933, calling it reminiscent of heathen mystery cults.

Levi’s Laws of Magic

Despite the increasingly scientific and materialistic world view during the eighteenth-century Age of Reason, the nineteenth century saw a revival of interest in ritual magic. It began with Francis Barrett’s The Magus, or Celestial Intelligence, published in 1801.  The man who virtually created the mindset for modern magic, however, was Eliphas Levi, who penned Dogma and Ritual of High Magic in 1956.

Levi outlined what he called the”three fundamental laws of magic.” Levi’s first law stated that human will was a force as material as steam or a “galvanic current.”  Levi maintained that all the tools of the magic art – geometrical figures, candles, incense – served only, but necessarily, to concentrate the magician’s will.

Levi’s second law posits the existence of astral light, a mystic medium like either scientists once thought existed in the vacuum of space. Some magicians believe they have access to all that ever happened or will happen from the so-called “Akashic Record,” in this astral domain.  Madame Blavatsky, the famous founder of the Theosophical Society, claimed to “read the astral light” to draw upon the Askashic Record.

Levi’s third and most important law updates the medieval and Hermetic idea that correspondences exist between the macrocosm, the universe, and the microcosm, or individual person. The soul of man, Levi said, is the “mirror of the universe.”

Levi said anything present in the universe is also present in the person and can be invoked through a knowledge of the correspondences: a force personified as Hermes corresponds to wisdom. The magician can call up this cosmic force into his own soul or call down the force and project it into a magic triangle, where it materializes if a “material basis” such as bloodor incense is provided.  These personifications of cosmic force generally are archetypal and include deities, demons and spirits of all times and places.

The Golden Dawn

The Order of the Golden Dawn was founded in 1886-1887 by Dr. William Wynn Westcott, a London coroner, Samuel L.M. Mathers, an “eccentric pseudo-Highlander of no identifiable occupation,” and Dr. William Woodman, a physician. The membership and teachings of the Golden Dawn exerted a powerful influence on all of the following magical movements and, indeed, has never been equaled.  Its members included not only Crowley and W.B. Yeats, but later, classic fantasy writers Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood.  Magicians such as Mathers and A.E. Waite reintroduced the tarot to magical practice and, along with Crowley, codified and modernized occult practice, sewing many threads into one complex fabric.  The Golden Dawn established a magic school complete with examinations.  The Golden Dawn tradition continues in England where two temples survive.

Among other activities, the Golden Dawn added a fourth law to Levi’s, that of the trained imagination, which they felt necessary to direct willpower. The Golden Dawn also expanded Levi’s correspondences into an elaborate system that, according to the Encyclopedia of the Unexplained (edited by Richard Cavendish), connected “every Egyptian, Greek and Roman God, every spirit named in The Key of Solomon, and other medieval grimmores, every name in the Jewish and Christian Angellologies, to the twenty-two paths and sefiroth of the Kabalistic Tree of Life.  To each of them were attributed colors, animals, precious stones, scents, magical formulae and so on.”  To evoke the proper force, the magician looks up a table corresponding to it and designs his ritual to fit.  Cavendish includes a lush description of a Golden Dawn ceremony following this system in which four magicians stood inside an octagon drawn in orange-yellow chalk.  A lamp burning olive oil and snake fat was at each octagon angle.  Outside the figure was a triangle where the spirit should appear.  Incense of mercury smoldered in a censer.  A mercurial “hell-broth” bubbled in a cauldron heated by an alcohol lamp that contained a preserved snake.  The mercurial spirit was supposed to form from the mercury smoke.  Florence Farr, the magician, spoke:

“Accept of us these magical sacrifices, prepared to give Thee body and form … the heat of the magical fire is my will enabling Thee to manifest Thyself in pleasing form before us…” and she went on to name which of the magical elements formed which parts of the spirits as another magician threw that element into the cauldron and Farr invoked a magic word. One of the participant’s papers included a parchment allegedly consecrated by “being placed on the spirit’s head after he materialized.”

Many Golden Dawn members freely used various drugs. (Crowley eventually became a heroin addict.)  They fought amongst themselves over a variety of matters.


Foretelling the future always formed a significant part of a magician’s job. Reading omens, the stars, the cards, a palm or bumps on a head; casting runes, yarrow stalks, dice, bones, coins or sticks; peering into crystal balls, teacups or animal innards; and talking to spirits, the dead and psychics via telephone hotlines, all have the single purpose of glimpsing the future.

Many of the oldest and most developed branches of the magician’s art involve divination, among them astrology, tarot, I-Ching, casting the runes and prophet (psychic) predictions. Signs and portents of the future are everywhere for the knowledgeable and talented oracle – in the air, earth, fire, water, sticks, stones and bones.

Below, we list the best-known and many lessor-known methods of divination with a brief description. Their very number and variety illustrates the importance of this field of magical practice.

Aeromancy: Divination from the air and sky, such as cloud shapes, comets or sky color. Comets in particular inspired prophets of ancient and modern times.

Alectryomancy: A black hen or white gamecock pecks corn grains from a circle of letters forming words or names that the prophet interprets. Recite the alphabet at daybreak, noting those letters that coincide with a rooster crowing.

Aleuromancy: Fortune cookies. Answers to questions rolled in dough and baked.  Random choice comes true.

Alomancy: Fortune-telling by salt. Throwing some over your shoulder to avoid bad luck and other modern superstitions are reminders of this ancient practice.

Anthopomancy: Prophecy through human sacrifice.

Arithmancy: Divination through the use of numbers.

Astrology: Divination by the positions of the heavenly bodies.

Augury: Interpreting signs and omens, but also fortune-telling in general.

Austromancy: Divination by reading the direction and force of the winds.

Axiomancy: An axe answers questions by its quivers when hacked into a tree.

Belomancy: Tossing or balancing of arrows.

Bibliomancy: Divination with books opened randomly, and many other methods.

Botanomancy: Burning tree leaves and branches.

Capnomancy: Interpretation of smoke rising from a fire.

Cartomancy: Divination with cards.

Causimomancy: Studies how objects burn in a fire. An object that burns slowly or not at all indicates good tidings.

Cephalomancy: Reading the head of a donkey, goat or other animal.

Ceraunoscopy: Divination from thunder and lightening.

Ceroscopy: Interpreting the bubbles that form when hot wax is poured in water.

Chiromancy: Divination by reading the lines of the hand. Combined with chirognomy, or reading the shape and structure of the hand, we get modern palmistry.

Cleromancy: Casting lots using stones, sticks or other objects.

Clidomancy: Dangling a key that answers questions by turning one way to say yes, another way to say no. Only one of many forms of radiesthesia, where any object on a string or chain may be held between two fingers and questioned.  If the dangling object circles, it means yes.  If it goes back and forth, it means no.  Different movements are sometimes assigned to yes and no, but the principle remains the same.

Crominiomancy: Divination from onion sprouts. (It’ll bring tears to your eyes.)

Crystallomancy: Scrying, or crystal gazing.

Cyclomancy: Fortune-telling via a turning wheel.

Dactylomancy: A dangling ring answers questions. Another form of radiesthesia.

Demonomancy: Demon-aided future seeing.

Dendromancy: Studying oak or mistletoe parts for signs.

Geloscopy: Divining the future from laughter. For happy wizards only.

Gyromancy: People walk in a circle and spell the prophecy by marking where they stumble.

Haruspicy (also Hieromancy, Hieroscopy): Prophecy by inspecting the innards or sacrificed animals.

Hippomancy: Interpreting the neighing and hoof stamping of horses.

Hydromancy: Divination by interpreting the color, flow, ripples and other shapes in water. Led to tea reading.

Ichthyomancy: Fishing for clues to the future (examining fish entrails, that is).

Lithomancy: Precious colored stones are spread on a flat surface with the brightest color indicating the future: red – happiness in love; yellow – disaster; purple – sadness; black or grey – misfortune; green – hope realized; blue – good luck. Colored beads may be used.

Margaritomancy: Pearls under a pot (it is said they bounce if a guilty person approaches).

Meteroromancy: Telling the meaning of meteors, which have long been considered potent omens.

Moylbdomancy: Foretells future events by interpretation of hissing molten lead.

Myomancy: Omens made by the sounds or signs of mice.

Oculomancy: Determines events by looking deep into your eyes.

Oinomancy: Like hydromancy, except wine is the liquid examined for future omens.

Oneiromancy: The interpretation of dreams.

Onychomancy: Symbols and signs revealed by sunlight on fingernails.

Oomantia, (also Ooscopy, Ovimancy): Inspecting eggs for omens and signs, a quite ancient divinatory technique.

Ophiomancy: Serpents used for divination.

Ormnithomancy: Birds and their actions tell the tale.

Pegomancy: Spring water and its bubbles are used for divination.

Pessomancy: Signs seen in pebbles.

Phyllorhodomancy: Ancient Greek practice of slapping rose petals against the palm and judging the future by the loudness of the clap.

Psychometry: Obtaining impressions from physical objects.

Pyromancy: Fortune revealed by interpreting flames.

Rhabdomancy: Use of a wand or stick to divine the future. It led to radiesthesia.

Rhapsodomancy: Divination with a book of poetry that is randomly opened; the passage read as an omen or guide.

Sciomancy: Spirits tell the future.

Sideromancy: Studying the shapes of straws burned on a hot iron.

Sortilege: Casting lots (sticks, runes, dice, stones, coins).

Spodomancy: Signs read in cinders, ashes and soot.

Stichomancy: Random opening of a book in hopes the passage will portend the future.

Tephramancy: Burning tree bark and reading the signs in the ashes.

Tiromancy: Examining cheese for omens and signs.

Xylomancy: Divining from the size and shape of pieces of wood randomly collected, or burning the pieces and observing which flame first.


One effective way to create a magical world of your own is to think of yourself as a folklore collector in that world. You will probably not include all of your background material in your actual writing, but even what you do not use will help give your work a solid suspension system – a way to help reader suspend disbelief while they are in your fictional world.

Remember that stories – as legends, mythologies or anecdotes – invest virtually every item and action of a magician’s, wizard’s or witch’s repertoire with meaning and power. The stories themselves are frequently part of a wizard’s secret knowledge, which he passes on only to initiates.  Other stories are tribal property, but no less holy, honored and valued.

The Handbook of Folklore, by Charlotte Burne, suggests questions folklore collectors ask about any society’s magic art. Writers creating fantasy worlds should do the same.  For example:

  • What are the names for magic users (wizards, witches, charmers, magicians, shamans)?
  • Are stories told about famous magicians?
  • Are magicians male, female or both?
  • What rewards does a magician receive for success?
  • Is the magician punished for failure?
  • Does the magician do good (white) magic or evil (black) magic or both?
  • Are a society’s good magicians and evil magicians separate individuals, such as the sorcheleur and desorcheleur of the Channel Islands?
  • How does a magician attain his power (initiation; instruction; inheritance; preparation through fasting; solitude; trance or drug states; or direct transfer from another magician, deity, demon or spirit)?
  • What is the magician’s social and/or political status? (In most primitive societies, the magicians are accorded status second only to the chief; however, in some they are accorded respect while alive, but are buried in the follow of a dead tree or otherwise ignominiously disposed of after death.)
  • Do the wizards/magicians form a craft, guild or society?
  • Do they assemble secretly and meet with demons or other spirits?
  • Are the magicians members of an outcast group, such as Gypsies, or do they belong to the tribe or community?
  • Is any country, area, district or people particularly powerful?
  • What are a wizard’s powers?
  • Are a magician’s powers general, or specific and limited?
    Powers the magician/wizard/witch/sorcerer might have:ProphecyDivination

    Controlling the weather


    Laying or countering curses

    Making amulets, talismans or both

    Conducting public and/or private rituals

    Exorcising demons

    Shape-shifting into animals, spirits, shapes or things

    Travel through the air

    Raising or stopping storms

    Causing earthquakes

    Becoming invisible

    Calling up demons or spirits

    Talking to demons, spirits, deities or the dead

    Kidnapping souls

    Transforming men into beasts

    Avenging injury

    Causing illness or death

    Affecting others’ bodily functions

    Bringing rain to crops, fish to nets or game to hunters

    Making a house solid, safe and stable

    Giving swiftness to a canoe

    Making charms to win a lover, harm and enemy, protect from harm, confer beauty, bring good fortune

    Making an arrow, dart, spear, knife or other weapon hit its intended target

    Protecting against bad fortune

    Providing a bountiful harvest

    Inflicting pain or injury

    Giving skill in war, games or the hunt

    Calling up or repelling spirits or demons

  • Does the magician have animal familiars? If so, which animals? Is the magician identified with a certain animal? How does the magician acquire an animal familiar or guide?

Magical Rites

Continue to imagine yourself as a folklorist collecting data in your imaginary world, and ask these questions regarding the rites your world’s wizards/witches/ magicians may conduct:

  • What is the what, when, where, how and why in each case?
  • Are the rites performed in public or secretly?
  • What is their purpose?
  • How are the magicians and his/her assistants dressed? What apparatus is present?
  • What is the meaning and purpose of each item?

Preparations for Rites

purifying ceremonies (sweat lodge, fasting, meditation, vision quest)

divining omens

drawing magic pentagrams or circles


Are gestures used, such as the two-fingered “horns” or the sign of the cross?

Does the magician dance?

What symbolic gestures are used, such as tying and untying knots to symbolize binding or loosening?

Sounds Made in Magical Rites

Chanting, singing, muttering

Percussion: drums, hollow logs, gourds

Rattles, bull-roarers, rainsticks

Flutes, bells, stringed instruments (often one to three strings as in the berimbau or kora)

Spells, magic words, formulas

Recited names

Materials Used

Blood, entrails, eyes, feathers

Other human or animal body parts

Roots, herbs, flowers, other vegetable matter

Air, water, fire





At all times, folklorists are cautioned, “Note the colors, numbers, odors in the rites.” One national magazine editor told his assistant, “You can always spot amateur stories.  There’s no smell in them.”  Scent is often an integral part of magical rites and ceremonies in the following forms and more: incense, herbs, fire, smoke, alchemical reactions, sweat, blood, burning candles.

Magical Practices

The folklorist visiting your world would also want to know which magical practices are used to:

Kill enemies

Injure enemies

Blight crops

Injure domestic animals

Harm others’ property

Make themselves or others invisible

Cause sleep

Bring luck in games, sports, business, life in general

Avert evil in travel

Protect houses, animals, crops; property from theft, sorcery, fire, the weather

Preserve beauty, loyalty, marital fidelity or wealth


“As above, so below” expresses a basic tenet in the world of magic. Astrologers study the movement of stars and planets to determine their relationship to events on our planets.  Many stories are written in the stars.

Astrologer and magician once meant the same thing in the ancient Middle East, where Chaldean astrologer/magicians guided state affairs.  As recently as the Reagan administration, astrologers have been called on for the same services right here in the U.S.

Today, practicing magicians use astrological lore to determine the best times to cast spells and make amulets. For instance, a spell to gain love might be performed on Friday (the day of the week ruled by Venus), when the planet was in a favorable aspect in a favorable sign (Libra, Taurus or Pisces).  An amulet made of copper, a metal sacred to Venus, might be used.  A spell for prosperity, on the other hand, would best be cast on Thursday (Thor or Jupiter’s Day) using tin.

Our current system of astrology derives from the Chaldean and Babylonian systems as revised by Greek, Renaissance, Victorian and New Age sages. Based on twelve signs associated with constellations on the ecliptic (the path of the sun and moon across the sky), the system organizes a number of correspondences that can prove helpful in designing a fictional character.

Using astrological aspects as the basis for character development, a writer can create conflict within a particular character through an affliction or malefic influence in the chart. A passive Cancer with Gemini rising, for instance, might seem to have a dual personality and suffer from periodic rages, thanks to a poorly aspected moon in Taurus.  Other planets might add further complications.  Or, simply read the appropriate horoscopes in books or papers.

An author of Star Trek novels and her own science fiction series said she learned to characterize by reading Linda Goodman’s book, Sun Signs, a popular treatment of astrology.  The conflicting character traits of those born under astrology’s sun signs suggest many a story.

Placing each planet within a chart and its relationship to all the others provides a powerful way to analyze (and design) a personality. Major attention is usually focused on the characters’ sun signs, moon signs and rising signs.

Comets and asteroids play important parts both in an astrological chart and in the actual history of a planet. For example, a comet is the source of the destructive “thread” that threatens Ann McCaffrey’s world of Pern.  In the earth’s history, the appearance of a comet has traditionally marked an important event – the birth of a hero – or warned of an impending disaster – plagues, famines, wars or the deaths of kings.

Exploring New Worlds

Fantasy writers add an extra element of reality to their works by working out the details of the astrology and astronomy of the worlds they create. J.R.R. Tolkien’s work provides an excellent example of the use of the heavens in fantasy fiction.  The stars of Elbereth and Earendil serve as visible reminders of the distant past, still remembered by the elves of Middle Earth.

The following are some options in designing the heavens of a fantasy world:

  • Use the stars of Earth, either the familiar constellations of the current day, or one of the systems used by other “star-struck” cultures, such as the Mayan, Polynesian, Chinese or Native American.
  • Use the stars of Earth, giving them new names, histories, meanings and associations.
  • Create a new planetary system and star field for the fantasy world.

Traditional astrology is based upon the stars and planets as observed from our world. In designing the heavens of a fantasy world, consider these elements:

The Primary Star.  The primary star is the fantasy world’s sun.  Determine: its name, color and classification (red giant, white dwarf); its close neighbors (is it a two-star system?); its behavior (periodic sunspots, pulsations); whether the star is seen as the center of the system or the planet itself is considered the “center of the universe.”

Other Planets.  Planets closer to the primary appear as “morning” and “evening” stars, rising close to dawn and sunset.

“Fixed Lights.”  Stars seem to remain relatively fixed in position.  The brightest stars are usually named and included in constellations that reflect specific dates in the year: the Egyptians based their year on Sirius, marking the annual Nile river flood; the Hopi base their ceremonial calendar on the Pleiades.

Satellites or Moons.  Besides creating the tides, the Earth’s single moon played a determining part in measuring the length of the year.  The lunar year varies from twelve to thirteen months before the moon repeats its journey across the star field.  More moons would create a more complex situation.

The Length of the Planet’s Year.  This is the time it takes a planet to circle its star.  Our current solar calendar, dividing the year into twelve months of varying length, evolved from the earlier lunar year.  Its advantage is that it “fixes” the seasons, so that the same events and weather occur at the same times each year.  Many religious calendars remain at least partially oriented to the moon.

The Pole Star(s). The axis of the earth points north and south toward “still” spots that do not rotate as most stars seem to. The North Star (Polaris) is currently the pole star of the northern hemisphere.  Because the axis of our planet wobbles, the pole star changes, a phenomenon known as precession of the equinoxes.  This precession divides the history of the earth into cosmic ages of about 2,150 years each.  We’re currently leaving the Age of Pisces for the Age of Aquarius.  The earliest horoscopes were most likely cast in the Age of Taurus, some six thousand years ago.

The Galaxy.  The Milky Way, our spiral-armed galaxy, appears in the summer sky as a foggy white ribbon.  Many cultures associated it with the milk of a moon cow goddess.

Astronomical lore accumulates throughout history, much of it remaining in language as folk sayings or adages. Two examples:

  • When two full moons occur in the same month, it’s called a “blue moon.” This is the origin of the saying, “once in a blue moon.” [It gets people to follow winners to give it to its violent “folk”.]
  • The forty days following the helical rising of Sirius, the Dog Star, are called “dog days,” usually the hottest days of the year.

Other Astrological Systems

Although our present-day twelve-sign astrological system has deep roots – its based on the Babylonian base twelve numerical system, which was used for all sacred calculations – other systems are possible. Inscriptions indicate that the ancient Babylonians originally recognized eighteen zodiac signs.  Some historians contend that the twelve-sign system was originally a thirteen-sign system in some cultures, such as the Celtic/Druid, and was suppressed when solar religions replaced lunar religions in much of the western world.  James Vogh, in Arachne Rising, suggests Arachne, the Spider, as the missing sign of the zodiac, positioned between Taurus and Gemini and associated with the constellation Auriga.  Other cultures have configured the stars differently, seeing different constellations and different truths.

Extensive information on the star system and astrology of these cultures can be found in anthropological works or, in some cases, current nonfiction books. Here’s a brief rundown on the general form of some of the systems developed by other cultures.

Chinese.  Chinese astrology placed emphasis of divining the future and determining the proper times to act.  The twelve animal signs familiar from restaurant place mats come from a system based on the orbit of Jupiter, which takes about twelve years to orbit the Sun.  The twelve signs are the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit or Cat, Dragon, Snake or Serpent, Horse, Sheep or Goat, Monkey, Cock, Dog and Pig or Boar.  Each sign lasts a full year and begins on the second new moon after the winter solstice, which is the generally accepted New Year in Asian countries and usually falls in late January or early February.  Works on Chinese astrology delineate the qualities of each sign and compatibility between signs.  The much older Chinese system based on the phases of the moon assigns each day to one of twenty-eight named lunar mansions, each regarded as favorable or unfavorable for certain activities.  The twenty-eight are grouped into four categories, each with seven mansions: the Green Dragon of spring, beginning with each new moon, followed by the Black Tortoise of winter, the White Tiger of autumn and the Red Bird of Summer.

Olmec. Beginning with the Olmec civilization (circa 600 B.C.), Central American societies followed sophisticated astrological systems based on the number 13 and 20. Each of twenty signs, called tonally by the Aztec, ruled a single day; another cycle of thirteen ran concurrently, so each day had both a name and a number that provided a key to personality and the analysis of events.  Thirteen cycles of twenty days made up the 260-day astrological year.  Longer cycles were based on the Jupiter/Saturn 7,200-day cycle (twenty tun, the 360-day civil ear), called a katun.  A creation epoch included 260 katuns, about 5,125 years, one-fifth of a precession cycle.  The Harmonic Convergence of 1987 signaled the beginning of the last katun of the fifth (and final) cycle of creation, according to Mesoamerican calculations.  Some writer is bound to pick up on this great plot idea for a millennial novel.

Astrological systems can also be based on completely imaginary planets. Uranian astrology, for instance, posits the existence of eight hypothetical “trans-Neptunian” planets: Cupido, Hades, Zeus, Kronos, Appolon, Admetos, Vulcanus and Poseidon.

Other Uses for Astrology

Though today astrology is mostly used for personal prediction, character analysis and relationship compatibility study, other societies have used the study of the stars and planets for a variety of purposes. To:

  • answer a question, using a chart cast at the moment the question is asked (horary astrology)
  • determine the best time to carry out a particular activity – marriage, planting, beginning journeys, opening businesses (electional astrology)
  • predict and guide the course of nations
  • predict natural disasters
  • predict economic cycles (astroeconomics)
  • diagnose and suggest treatment for disease
  • choose the best time to plant and harvest crops
  • diagnose and treat emotional or behavioral problems (astrotheraphy)
  • predict the weather (astrometeorology)

Besides birth, or natal charts (cast from the moment a child takes its first breath), other charts can be cast for important occurrences in an individual’s life:

  • so-called death charts, calculated on the time of a person’s death
  • decumbiture charts, calculated for the moment one goes to bed at the start of an illness
  • compatibility charts, which overlay two natal charts to determine how they will relate, either in love or business



Published by:

Andrea Nicola Dodgson

I'm a R.o. Buddhist. And a U.N. Theatre tutor where I own all the Ethnography businesses as birth certificates. Involves exclusively getting my Equipment out of Disney, MGM, Universal, Times Warner, 20th Century Fox, Sony, Pixar, Columbia, and Paramount to do it against my/U.N. birth certificates. I want all my equipment.. #Solidarity

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