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An Excerpt from Lenormant’s Chaldean Magic, Contrasted with Egyptian Magic

“After having put the reader in the way of comparing for himself the Egyptian and Chaldean magical formula, there is no need for me to pursue further the marked difference between the two systems, for this is evident to all students. The fundamental beliefs and ideas of magic superstition in Egypt and Chaldea were as different in their character as were the forms of their incantations.

In the Egyptian documents we perceive no trace of those elementary spirits, some good and some bad, endowed with a distinct personality, which Chaldeans believed to have been spread all over the world, the objects either of propitiatory incantations or the most terrible exorcisms.

On the other hand, the Chaldeans in no way entertained the idea of being able to elevate a man into a kind of demigod by means of their formulae, and of identifying him with the greatest personages of the celestial hierarchy.

Neither did they pretend that those formulae had any power to command the gods or to compel them to obey. Their magic belonged to the intermediate spiritual state, and there its powers were displayed.

If they required the help of the supreme gods, that was to be obtained by means of prayers and supplications; and not by compulsion; indeed, and we shall refer to this idea again, even their prayers were not all powerful to accomplish the desires of the suppliant unless they were presented to the gods by a mediator.

True indeed there was a supreme name which possessed the power of commanding the gods, and exacting from them a perfect obedience, but that name remained the inviolable secret of Hea.

The initiated need never hope to attain to such an awful height of knowledge as he might in the Egyptian system. In exceptionally grave cases he besought Hea, through the mediator Silik-mulu-khi, to pronounce the solemn word in order to reestablish order in the world and restrain the powers of the abyss.

But the enchanter did not know that name, and could not in consequence introduce it into his formulae, even although they were tested to remain for ever concealed in mystery.

He could not obtain or make use of it, he only requested the god who knew it to employ it, without endeavoring to penetrate the terrible secret himself.

The primitive simplicity of the incantations of Chaldean magic strikes us forcibly when we compare them with those of the Egyptian magic, and this fact gives to them a stamp of greater antiquity.

Every thing is expressed very clearly and simply without any attempt at obscurity, or premeditated complications. The belief in spirits is seen there in its most ancient and perfect form, without any philosophical refinement as to the divine substance, without a single trace of mysticism, and above all without any allusions to the vast number of mythological legends which fill the Egyptian formulae, and render them perfectly unintelligible without a voluminous commentary.

It is easy on the contrary to understand the magical formulae in the Accadian language, which were preserved in Chaldea until the breaking up of the sacerdotal schools on the borders of the Euphrates, and which Ashurbanipal had copied for the royal library in Nineveh about the VIIth century, BCE.

They contain no mysteries, and the sacerdotal secret, if there were one, consisted in the precise knowledge of the exact terms of the incantations, sacred from their antiquity, and no doubt also from the idea that they were of divine origin.

The formulae were the work of a people who possessed as yet no esoteric doctrines and no mystical initiations; amongst whom the science of magic consisted simply in a practical acquaintance by the priests with certain rites and words, by means of which they fancied themselves able to establish a communication with the world of spirits, whilst at the same time their conception of those spirits difference from the popular superstitions only by a little more systematic regularity in their position, hierarchy and privileges.

It is for this reason that the Accadian magic preserved, even during the centuries of the greatest splendor of Babylon and Assyria, the appearance of extreme antiquity and the spirit of the earliest ages, by the side of the learned religion which sprang up later in the same places, and which accepted the existence of this magic by placing in the canon of its sacred books the old Accadian incantations, and giving a place, though indeed an insubordinate one, in its theological system to the genii who were invoked in these incantations.

At the bottom, as we shall see, magic was not separated in Chaldea from the religion of the historical centuries; it was a new twig from an entirely different plant which was grafted for good or for evil upon the trunk from the time that its existence was recognized, and tolerated instead of being annihilated.

But facts oblige us to see in it also the remains of an earlier religious system, of a still rudimentary and coarse naturalism, which arose from the ideas of a primitive population belonging to a race entirely different from that among which the Chaldaic-Assyrian religion existed.

In the civilization which gradually spread over the borders of the Tigris and Euphrates from the fusion of the Sumerians, and the Accadians, the Semit-Kushites and the Turanians, religion and magic were peaceably united, although they originated in the two opposing elements of the people.

This I think will be made evident by placing the doctrines of the magic books which were originally written in the Accadian language, and the discovery of which we owe to Sir Henry Rawlinson, in comparison with those of the later official religion and of the public worship, as they appear in many documents.”

François Lenormant, Chaldean Magic, “Contrasts between the Accadian and Egyptian magic,” Chapter VIII, 1878, pp. 107-110. Originally published as La Magie Chez Les Chaldeens, 1847.

Malkhuth, Mystery of All Mysteries

“Most significant in this regard is a passage of his Sefer ha-Hokhmah, a commentary on the mystical forty-two-letter name of God. In a text on the tefillin of God, which are composed of the prayers (tefilloth) of Israel, it is said of the crown (‘atarah), which by these prayers ascends from below to rest upon God’s head then to be called Aktariel, in thoroughly kabbalistic language:

“For the tefillah sits at God’s left like a bride by a bridegroom, and she is called the king’s daughter, sometimes she is also called, according to her mission [to those here below] daughter of the voice [the talmudic expression for the celestial voice that mortals sometimes hear]. Of this Solomon said [reinterpreting Proverbs 8:30]: And I was Shekhinah by him, and the name of the Shekhinah is ‘ehyeh [I was] and the word next to it [in the verse] can also be explained, according to the Targum, as “she became great.”

For she is called the king’s daughter because the Shekhinah is with him in his house and it is to this that reference is made [in Ps. 91:1] to the dwelling in the shadow of shaddai [sel, “shadow,” being taken here in the sense of ‘esel, “by”] which means: He has a shadow which is called “by him” and this is the tenth kingdom, malkhuth, and it is the mystery of all mysteries. And we know that the word sod, mystery, can be interpreted [by the method of letter-mysticism] as the word malkhuth.

On every side of the Shekhinah are the crowns of royalty. And she herself is 236,000 myriads of parasangs long [that is, she is the theophany of God upon his throne, as described in the Shi’ur Qomah]. . . . And she directs the world and is named angel of God by virtue [of this her] mission, but with her no separation [from God] takes place.

And of this the verse [Exod. 23:20] said: I am sending an angel before you. This is the Shekhinah. And it is in this sense that the sages explain the verse [Num. 16:4]: Moses fell on his face, that is, because the Shekhinah was [there], he prostrated himself before God. That is why the prophets saw the Shekhinah, which is emanated, as it is said in Sefer Hekhaloth that the Shekhinah dwells beneath the cherub, and [originally] angels and men saw it.

But when the generation of Enoch sinned, the Shekhinah ascended heavenward. As for the Creator and Master of the Shekhinah, he is hidden from all and has neither measure [as in the Shi’ur Qomah] nor likeness, and no eye saw him. . . . And this is the mystery of the crown and the mystery of the Shekhinah, and whoever has this knowledge has a part in the world to come, inherits both worlds, and is saved from the judgment of Gehenna and he is beloved above and cherished below.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 184-5.

On Mummification

MAGICAL CEREMONIES.
“IN the preceding pages we have seen how the Egyptians employed magical stones or amulets, and magical words, and magical pictures, and magical names, in the performance of deeds both good and evil; it remains to consider these magical ceremonies in which the skill of the magician-priest was exerted to its fullest extent, and with the highest objects, that is to say, to preserve the human body in a mummified condition, and to perform the symbolic acts which would restore its natural functions.

When we think of the sublime character of the life which the souls of the blessed dead were believed to lead in heaven with the gods, it is hard to understand why the Egyptians took such pains to preserve the physical body from decay.

No Egyptian who believed his Scriptures ever expected that his corruptible body would ascend into heaven and live with the gods, for they declare in no uncertain manner that it remains upon the earth whilst the soul dwells in heaven.

But that the preservation of the body was in some way or for some reason absolutely necessary is certain, for the art of mummification flourished for several thousands of years, and unless there was some good reason, besides the observance of conservative custom and traditional use, why it should do so, king and priest, gentle and simple, and rich and poor, would never have burdened their relatives and heirs with the expense of costly funeral ceremonies, and with the performance of rites which were of no avail.

At first sight, too, it seems strange to find the Egyptians studying carefully how best to provide the dead with a regular supply of sepulchral offerings, for when we come to think about it we notice that in arranging for the well-being of the dead nothing whatever was left to chance.

For example, a papyrus will contain several prayers and pictures with appropriate formulæ, the object of each of which is to give the deceased meat and drink; any one of these would have been enough for the purpose, but it was thought best in such an important matter to make assurance doubly sure, and if there was the least doubt about the efficacy of one Chapter one or more of the same class were added.

Similarly, the tendency of the natural body after death being to decay, the greatest care was taken in mummifying its various members, lest perchance any one of them should be neglected accidentally, and should, either by the omission of the words of power that ought to have been said over it, or through the lax performance of some ceremony, decay and perish.

The Egyptian declared that he was immortal, and believed that he would enjoy eternal life in a spiritual body; yet he attempted by the performance of magical ceremonies and the recital of words of power to make his corruptible body to endure for ever.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 182-4.

Budgeting for the Afterlife

“And in the CLXXXIXth Chapter he prays that he may not be obliged to drink filthy water or be defiled in any way by it. The rich man, even, was not certain that the appointed offerings of meat and drink could or would be made in his tomb in perpetuity: what then was the poor man to do to save his ka from the ignominy of eating filth and drinking dirty water?

To get out of this difficulty the model of an altar in stone was made, and models of cakes, vases of water, fruit, meat, etc., were placed upon it; in cases where this was not possible figures of the offerings were sculptured upon the stone itself; in others, where even the expense of an altar could not be borne by the relatives of the dead, an altar with offerings painted upon it was placed in the tomb, and as long as it existed through the prayers recited, the ka did not lack food.

Sometimes neither altar, nor model nor picture of an altar was placed in the tomb, and the prayer that sepulchral meals might be given to the deceased by the gods, which was inscribed upon some article of funeral furniture, was the only provision made for the wants of the ka; but every time any one who passed by the tomb recited that prayer, and coupled with it the name of the man who was buried in it, his ka was provided with a fresh supply of meat and drink offerings, for the models or pictures of them in the inscription straightway became veritable substances.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 106-7.

MAGICAL PICTURES AND FORMULÆ, SPELLS, ETC.

“FROM what has been said above it is clear that the Egyptian believed it possible to vivify by means of formulæ and words of power any figure made in the form of a man or animal, and to make it work either on behalf of or against his fellow man.

Besides this, he believed greatly in the efficacy of representations or pictures of the gods, and of divine beings and things, provided that words of power properly recited by properly appointed people were recited over them. If this fact be borne in mind a great many difficulties in understanding religious texts disappear, and many apparently childish facts are seen to have an important meaning.

If we look into the tombs of the early period we see painted on the walls numbers of scenes in which the deceased is represented making offerings to the gods and performing religious ceremonies, as well as numbers of others in which he is directing the work of his estate and ruling his household.

It was not altogether the result of pride that such pictures were painted on the walls of tombs, for at the bottom of his heart the Egyptian hoped and believed that they were in reality representations of what he would do in the next world, and he trusted that the words of his prayers would turn pictures into realities, and drawings into substances.

The wealthy Egyptian left behind him the means for making the offerings which his ka, or double, needed, and was able to provide for the maintenance of his tomb and of the ka chapel and of the priest or priests who ministered to it.

It was an article of faith among all classes that unless the ka was properly fed it would be driven to wander about and pick up filth and anything else of that nature which it found in its path, as we may see from the LIInd Chapter of the Book of the Dead, in which the deceased says, “That which is an abomination unto me, that which is an abomination unto me let me not eat. That which is an abomination unto me, that which is an abomination unto me is filth; let me not eat of it instead of the cakes [which are offered unto] the Doubles (kau). Let it not light upon my body; let me not be obliged to take it into my hands; and let me not be obliged to walk thereon in my sandals.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 104-6.

Passing the Gates of the Seven Celestial Palaces

“… precisely these ideas were affirmed in the heart of an esoteric discipline within the Jewish tradition, and not only among Jewish heretics, even though the role of the pagan planet-angels is here assumed by other archons.

These archons threaten the ecstatic visionary at the gates of the seven celestial palaces, and—entirely in keeping with the doctrines of various gnostic writings of the same period—can only be overcome and compelled to permit him to pass by the display of a magic “seal,” through the recitation of hymns, prayers, etc.

One can still discern plainly the relation to late Jewish apocalyptic writings, whose ideas evidently form a plausible transition to both Jewish monotheistic Gnosticism and the heretical Gnosticism that tended toward dualism.”

–Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, 1987, p. 22.

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