Magic, as explained by its adepts, the traditional science of the secrets of nature, embracing all knowledge and constituting the perfection of philosophy; also the art of exercising preterhuman powers by means of occult virtues and spiritual agencies. Among the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Egyptians, Hindoos, Bactri-ans, Medes, and Persians, all the higher kinds of knowledge were confined to the priests, who not only exercised the sacerdotal functions, but attended to the healing of the sick and to the preservation of the secrets of religion and of philosophy, including theology, medicine, and astronomy. These priests were either princes or the counsellors of princes, and were called magi, wise men or philosophers. Magic originally signified only the knowledge possessed by the priest (mag or magus), but was used at a very early period to designate all occult science, natural or supernatural, including enchantment and any extraordinary operations like those pertaining to alchemy. Later it was applied by the vulgar to all necromancy and witchcraft.
But the adepts in magic claim that the sorcerer or practiser of the black art differs from the true magician as the charlatan from the master of the art; and Paracelsus inveighs against such as rank true magicians with conjurers, necromancers, and witches, " those grand impostors who violently intrude themselves into magic, as if swine should enter into a fair and delicate garden." Cornelius Agrippa reckons several different kinds of magic, but these are generally reduced to two: white or divine magic, or magic within its proper province, and black or infernal magic, to which belongs chiromancy, the evil eye, the command of the elements, the power of transforming human beings into animals, etc. In white magic the devil devotes himself to the magician; in black, the magician devotes himself to the devil. The arts of magic are founded upon a pretended system of the universe, and have their root in astrology. Besides the four elements, fire, air, earth, and water, each with diverse potential characteristics, a fifth essential and superior element is introduced, variously called the astral light, the soul of the world, and the primum mobile, which is the grand arcanum of transcendental magic, the tetragrammaton of the Hebrews, the Azoth of the alchemists, and the Thot of the gypsies.
By this element, which abounds in the celestial bodies and descends in the rays of the stars, every occult property is conveyed into herbs, stones, metals, and minerals, making them solary, lunary, jovial, saturnine, mercurial, etc, according to the planetary influences. Everything human is represented in it, according to the Platonic notion, as Agrippa maintains, that everything below has a celestial pattern. In it thoughts are realized, and images of past persons and things preserved, so that spectres may be evoked from it and the mysteries of necromancy accomplished. Separated and extracted from matter, it is the philosopher's stone and the elixir of youth. To have command of this element, to direct its currents, and to discern its moving panorama, is the highest attainment and the incommunicable secret of the magician. To reveal it is to lose it; to impart it even to a disciple is to abdicate in his favor. The higher professors of magic have claimed that it demands superior intelligence enlightened by the severest study, a dauntless courage and an unbending will, and discretion, devotion, and habitual silence undisturbed by the temptations of the world.
The terrors of initiation into ancient mysteries and medieval magical rites were designed to test and prove the strength and daring of the candidate. The man who has demonstrated his fearlessness amid conflagration, shipwreck, tempest, and darkness, terrifies the salamanders, undines, gnomes, and sylphs into obedience, and can then evoke them from the fire, water, earth, and air by various modes of divination called respectively pyromancy, hydromancy, geomancy, and aeroman-cy. The magician should be impassible, sober, chaste, disinterested, inacessible to prejudice and terror, and without physical defect. He should not live exclusively in his laboratory, with his Athanor, elixirs, and crucibles. The intense mental concentration required by every magical operation should be followed by a period of repose. It is claimed that a traditional key to magical arts has been preserved from the time of Solomon, its use being permitted only to the highest priests and to the elite of the initiated. This key is a hiero-glyphical and numeral alphabet, expressing by characters and numbers a series of universal and absolute ideas. The celebrated word abracadabra formed the magical triangle of pagan theosophers, to which extraordinary virtues were attributed.
It symbolizes the whole magical science of the ancient world. The trident of Paracelsus was believed by him to have all the virtues which the Cabala attributed to words, and which the hierophants of Alexandria ascribed to the abracadabra. A complete knowledge and mastery of nature is the transcendent claim of magic. To know things secret and future, to command the elemental spirits, to heal the sick, to provide charms and talismans which shall mysteriously sway the will of others, render one's self invulnerable, and raise tempests, to constrain the devil into service, to evoke the dead, to possess the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life, are the usual objects of magical arts. The highest success can be attained only by the most disinterested purposes and the most unswerving devotion. Thus those who have been believed to possess the secret of making gold, as Nicolas Flamel, passed lives of poverty and privation, while they made princely distributions of wealth. - The practice of magic is traceable to the East, where it still remains in vogue. It is proscribed in the books of Moses, which recognize several distinct kinds as practised by the heathen nations.
It played an important part in the religious doctrine and ritual of the Persians; and when the Jews returned from the Babylonish captivity, they brought back Persian ideas with them, and practised in secret the arts which the law forbade. The Greeks, who borrowed the name from the Chaldeans, applied it to all divinations and thaumaturgy. The influence of magic may be traced in the legends of Prometheus, Sisyphus, AEetes, Circe, and Medea. The Romans were thoroughly imbued with it, and had implicit faith in their auguries and divinations; and the mythologies of the Germans, Slavs, arid Celts show the influence of similar ideas. Christianity renewed the Mosaic interdiction of magical arts, ascribing their marvels to malignant spirits. The crusaders regarded magic as the peculiar ally of the infidels in their struggle with the soldiers of the cross. In later times a controversy grew up in the church whether magic practised under celestial influences, and with laborious study and research, was lawful; and among some of the most famous reputed practisers of the art were men high in the church.
In the 14th century magic rose into repute as a lawful art, and sovereigns maintained magicians at their courts; but public opinion was generally against them, and those of the highest pretensions were apt to be classed with those who had dealings with the devil. Though the legitimacy of magic was disputed, its reality as an art and a science was scarcely doubted down to the 18th century. It has still in Europe a few learned and respectable professors and adepts, while throughout the Mohammedan and pagan world its reality is almost universally admitted, and its professors are still numerous. Among its famous adepts and writers are Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Arnoldus de Villa Nova, Raymond Lully, Nicolas Flamel, Pico della Mirandola, Basil Valentine, Pietro Pomponaz-zi, Theophrastus Paracelsus, Cornelius Agrip-pa, Dr. Faustus, Michael Nostradamus, Jerome Cardan, Andrea Ca3salpinus, Tommaso Campanela, John Dee, Jacob Horst, Robert Fludd, Athanasius Kircher, Jacques Gaffarel, William Lilly, Daniel Defoe, and in the present century Eliphas Levi. - For the discipline and ceremonies of the art, as now maintained, see Eliphas Levi, Dogme et rituel de la haute magie (2 vols., Paris, 1856). For various information on the subject, see Horst, Von der alten und neuen Magie Ursprung, Idee, Umfang und Geschichte (Mentz, 1820); Grasse, Bibliotheca Magica et Pneumatica (Leipsic, 1843); Ennemoser, Geschichte der Magie (2d ed., Leipsic, 1844; translated into English by William Howitt, London, 1854); Salverte, Des sciences occultes (Paris, 1829; English translation by A. E. Thompson, London, 184C); J. C. Colquhoun, "History of Magic," etc. (London, 1851); M. Scheie De Vere, "Modern Magic " (New York, 1873); and Francois Lenormant, La magie chez les Assyrians, etc. (Paris, 1874).