Occult or natural magic – things from nature gained magical properties either through power from celestial bodies – stars/planets or because of sympathy/antipathy to something – e.g. liver shaped leaves promote health of the liver. Also animistic belief that natural things have spirits within them – e.g. Mandrake root that looks like a man.
Divination one of most important aspects of magic.
12c onwards – philosophers began to differentiate between natural and demonic magic – William of Auvergne (1180-1249) and Albertus Magnus (1200-1280)
Examples of Natural Magic
Remedy for epilepsy: put a deerskin strap around the patient’s neck while they are having a seizure then one ‘binds’ the sickness to the strap “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and finally one buries the strap along with a dead man. The sickness is transferred to the strap and then to the realm of the dead where it can harm no one living.
For demonic possession a priest should speak into the afflicted person’s ear a mixture of Latin, garbled Greek and gibberish: “Amara Tonta Tyra post hos firabis ficaliri Elypolis starras poly polyque lique linarras buccabor uel barton vel Titram celi massis Metumbor o priczoni Jordan Ciriacus Valentinus.”
Or alternatively for possession take three sprigs of Juniper, douse them three times with wine in honour of the Trinity and place them on the possessed person’s head without their knowledge.
To ward off sorcery carry the plant Artemisia on one’s person.
Adjuration against a speck in the eye:
“Thus I adjure you, O speck, by the living God and the holy God, to disappear from the eyes of the servant of God N., whether you are black, red, or white. May Christ make you go away. Amen. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Magical element is to personify the speck.
If suffering from a worm in a tooth – write the following on one’s cheek: “rex, pax, nax in Cristo filio suo”
To ensure keen eyesight anoint one’s eyes with bat’s blood.
Plants with liver-shaped leaves might promote health of the liver.
Keen sight of the vulture might cure eye ailments if wrapped in skin of a wolf and hung around the patient’s neck. – examples of sympathetic magic.
Cure illness by taking a bone from an unbaptized baby to a crossroad, burying it there, and saying various prayers and formulas on the sport over nine days.
Contraception for a woman: take ashes from the burnt hoof of a female mule, mix them with wine, and drink them.
Love magic – reciting incantations over herbs, lotions for hands and faces to arouse men’s affections, melting a wax image and compared to the desired man’s heart.
Unofficial exorcists could be harmful to clients – who might be tortured with cold water, strangled or beaten with switches.
Mandrake recommended for afflictions of the eyes, wounds, snakebite, earache, gout, baldness and other complaints. Oak and vervain and diverse uses. Healing properties could be ascribed to different parts of an animal – e.g. vulture – skull wrapped in dearskin for headaches, brains mixed with unguent and stuffed in the nose for head ailments, kidneys and testicles cure impotence if they are dried out, pulverised and administered in wine.
Taboos for collection of ingredients:
Ashes from burnt ravens effective against gout and epilepsy but only if birds are taken live from the nest, carried without touching the ground or entering a house and burned in a new pot.
One should go out barefoot or in silence when picking a herb, or abstain from sexual contact before gathering herbs.
Iron should not be used to dig up herbs.
Vulture should be killed with a sharp reed, not a sword, and before decapitation the killer should say “Angel Adonai Abraham, on your account the work is completed”
Exorcisms and Adjuration
Adjuring a cyst: “May you be consumed as coal upon the hearth. Ma you shrink as dung upon a wall. And may you dry up as water in a pail. May you become as small as a linseed grain, and much smaller than the hipbone of an itch-mite, and may you become so small that you become nothing.
If a person is seized by a demon take a piece of parchment and write on it the sign of the cross and the opening of the gospel according to John. Then scrape the words off the parchment into a bowl and give the scrapings to the afflicted person to drink with holy water. A second or third potion maybe necessary. The ‘charm’ is on good authority as it was taught to a possessed person by a demon.
A longer exorcism, more similar to standard Christian rites (+ shows where the exorcist should make the sign of the cross over the afflicted person):
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen. I conjure you, O elves and all sorts of demons, whether of the day or of the night, by the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the undivided Trinity, and by the intercession of the most blessed and glorious Mary ever Virgin, by the prayers of the prophets, by the merits of the patriarchs, by the supplication of the angels and archangels, by the intercession of the apostles, by the passion of the martyrs, by the faith of the confessors, by the chastity of the virgins, by he intercession of all the saints, and by the Seven Sleepers, whose names are Malchus, Maximianus, Dionysius, John, Constantine, Seraphion, and Martiamanusm, and by the name of the Lord + A + G + L + A +, which is blessed unto all ages, that you should not harm nor do or inflict anything evil against his servant of God N., whether sleeping of waking. +Christ conquers + Christ reigns + Christ commands + May Christ bless us + [and] defend us from all evil + Amen.”
Another conjures all elves or evil spirits that may have power over the patient, and calls on God’s saints to cast out the accursed elves into the eternal hellfire that is prepared for them. Implores Jesus to send his blessing so that these wretched elves will no longer harm the patient in heard or brain, nose, neck, mouth, eyes, mouth etc. He commands Heradiana, the “deaf-mute mother of malignant elves” to depart.
Amulets – plants or parts of animals
Talismans – have words written on them. E.g. Bernard Gordon (d. 1320) a noted medical authority believed could ward off epilepsy by carrying names of the biblical magi on one’s person written on a slip of parchment.
Another – write the names of God on one’s person to protect against fire, water, arms and poison.
Most famous device:
Can be read same backwards – said to be anagram for opening words of Lord’s prayer – paternoster, with a and o – alpha and omega added in twice.
Sorcery = harmful magic
Amulets left under bed or threshold to do harm – e.g. bundles of noxious powders, faeces, wood from a gallows.
Image magic – wax doll pierced with pins.
Fear that the eucharist would be stolen from church and used for sorcery – e.g. a woman kissing a man with the host in her mouth would increase his love for her.
Aphrodisiacs – soak wool in blood of a bat and put it under the woman’s head while sleeping; testicles of stag or bull, or tail of a fox; put ant eggs in her bath will arouse her so violently that she will willy-nilly seek intercourse; “write pax + pix + abyra + syth + samisic” on a hazel stick and hit a woman on the head three times the kiss her immediately she will fall in love.
From dreams, from the call of birds, from palms, from astrology, from thunder.
Lucky and unlucky days of the year.
Telling the future often seen as demonic because knowledge of future events was a power of demons.
Astrology often used at court to determine when rather than what to do.
Means of drawing down power of heavenly bodies through magical symbols and artefacts. Thomas Aquinas in On the Occult Works of Nature describes how this is done and also how it is done naturally through the properties of certain plants etc.
Example of astral magic: image of scorpion made while Scorpio in ascendant and then buried – to rid that place of scorpions – from a 9th century Arabic text.
Picatrix – most prevalent work of astral magic – translated from Arabic source. Demonstrates how to channel power of the heavens. Includes praying to the planets.
Albertus Magnus – Book of Secrets
Contained various types of magic, but not technical astrology or alchemy – a popularized version.
How to speak the Language of birds
Take the heart of a hoopoe and the tongue of a kite, place in honey for three days and nights and place under your tongue.
2 thoughts on “Natural Magic”
Real question, how many of these pseudo-mystical folk remedies might have some element or property that actually helps with the condition that it is supposed to? Ive heard mandrake root has a high amount of alkalines, which causes constriction of skin to remove boils, sores, and the like, though at major cost to skin tissue.
I think that’s a really interesting question. Of course they wouldn’t have know about the alkalines and put any positive outcomes down to magical properties. Another side to it is that people are still using remedies – homeopathic remedies etc – that haven’t been proven by medical research to have benefits, but of course perhaps they haven’t been studied adequately.