The Elements of Sacred Magic

Once again, Tomberg points out a potential pitfall along the path: vainglory or pride may be involved in the desire to exercise power over one’s neighbor. Hence, the question of the legitimacy about magic must be raised. First, he gives the example of Peter’s curing of the paralytic in Jesus’ name. This is a moral act of sacred magic because it meets three conditions:

  1. The goal is a healing
  2. The means was based on the essence of Jesus Christ
  3. The source was Jesus, not Peter personally

There is yet a fourth factor that distinguishes the cure from a miracle pure and simple, to wit, Peter was necessary as the intermediary. So this thought leads to a deeper meditation on the meaning of the Incarnation. Tomberg refers to Redemption as the supreme act of Divine Magic, but that does not explain why the Incarnation was necessary for that to occur. That is, why did the Logos have to become the Man-God in order to accomplish the Redemption?

After dismissing some other opinions, which is clear enough, Tomberg explains that the Incarnation, as an act of love (recall “magic is the act of love”), requires the perfect union in Love between two distinct and free wills: the divine and the human. This, then, is the key to Sacred Magic. He then makes the remarkable claim that the work of Redemption is comparable only to the creation of the world.

Hence, miracles require two united wills. Miracles are then due to a new power which arises each time the two wills become united. This union then is precisely what Tomberg means by Sacred Magic.

Tomberg offers yet another, simpler definition of magic: the power of the invisible and the spiritual over the visible and the material. Peter’s cure was sacred magic because it did not depend on his will alone but on the union of his will with the divine.

The consequence is to be doubly happy, since sacred magic serves both what is above and what is below. This confers on Sacred Magic its legitimacy.

The Role of Dogma

Tomberg insists that he has no intention to overturn revealed dogmas, but in Hermetic fashion he deepens our understanding of it. For example, in the first two arcana, there are the dogmas of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin, and the New Birth. Here, there are the dogmas of the Incarnation and the Redemption.

Traditionally, Scripture has been understood on four levels: from the literal historical understanding to the mystical understanding. The mystical level does not supersede the literal level, so it is a “both-and”, not an “either-or”. As history, the Incarnation refers to the historical manifestation of the Logos as the God-Man Jesus at a particular time and place. That is known through faith since we can have no personal experience of it.

However, on the mystical level, it refers to the union of the divine and human wills within us, analogous to the Incarnation of the Logos. That is not known through faith, nor from reasoning about it as we would, for example, know Pythagoras’ Theorem. Rather, it is a direct intuitive knowledge, what he calls “gnosis”. The fact that I am writing about this does not mean I possess this knowledge as personal gnosis. As a matter of fact, apart perhaps from some saints, this union is not permanent so we probably do not have a constant sense of gnosis about it. As for the path to achieve that union, Tomberg refers to St. John of the Cross with the three stages: purgative, illuminative, and ultimately unitive.

Considering the high opinion Tomberg had of Vladimir Solovyov (or Soloviev), it is useful to consider what the latter wrote in the Lectures on Divine Humanity. The influence on Tomberg is clear, although Tomberg takes things even deeper. For example, Solovyov mentions the night conversation with Nicodemus in a similar way to Tomberg. His view of the Incarnation is also helpful. The goal of the Incarnation is theosis, or the spiritualization of the material world.

Although he does not use the word “magic”, the intent is the same. The effect of the Redemption is the real regeneration of man, not the satisfaction of some legal tort. The idea of Regeneration is the integral element of Martinism.

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The Subtle Rules the Dense

The Third Arcanum of the Empress is that of sacred magic. There are three kinds:

  1. Sacred Magic. The magician is the instrument of divine power
  2. Personal Magic: The magician himself is the source of the magical operation.
  3. Sorcery: The magician is the instrument of elemental or other unconscious forces

The fundamental principle of all magic is this: The subtle rules the dense.

The subtlest is the superconscious or divine consciousness, which is symbolized by the Empress. From that, we get this sequence:

Superconsciousness ⇒ consciousness ⇒ force ⇒ matter

It is worth pausing at this point to consider what this means. Man’s position in that sequence is the second one of “consciousness”. When man’s consciousness is united to the divine, then sacred magic is possible. Tomberg will provide several examples later in this letter.

If man applies magical techniques without reference to the divine, then he is at the level of personal magic. We see this today in the new age section of bookstores under topics such as the “law of attraction”, “new thought”, “manifest your destiny”, and so on. These all recommend know magical practices such as visualizations, control of one’s thoughts, meditations, performing rites, and so on. However, they lack two things. First of all, they can only be personal magic, since the divine will has no place in it. To the contrary, God, the Spirit, or the “universe”, often used interchangeably, are usually regarded as higher forces that can be manipulated for one’s own interests and satisfactions. Hence, you will find advice on how to manifest a new car, found money, better relationships, a great job, even parking spaces. Perhaps you may be thinking there is nothing “wrong” about desiring to improve one’s life. Nevertheless, that is not at all what these Letters are intended to encourage.

The second fault is that they use these magical techniques without understanding their theoretical bases. Hence, they are used randomly and mostly ineffectively. This is not to deny that that there are groups in the world who do indeed understand the proper magical operations, which they use for their own benefit. However, they are not satisfied merely with a new car, but rather with great wealth and power. These groups know how to use the mass media for the purposes of manipulation. At this point, personal magic may be veering into sorcery, where human consciousness is bypassed and lower forces take control for their own purposes apart from any personal desires.

In his youth, Valentin Tomberg wrote a review of the book The Angel of the West Window by Gustav Meyrink. The story is about the Elizabethan era magician John Dee, who, although certainly quite knowledgeable in the magical arts, used them for material ends, specifically the expansion of the British Empire. In his evocations and séances, Dee came under the spell of a spirit, or psychic residue, named Bartlett Greene. Tomberg describes it:

Bartlett Greene spun around Dee an imperceptible web whose threads drew him on throughout his long life. It was a though he were a marionette directed by an unseen hand. Only in old age, broken in body and spirit, did Dee finally see the web of deception for what it was; and, as he lay dying he turned toward the East.

Initially, Dee thought he had contacted the “surprisingly beautiful figure of the Green Angel” and followed its guidance. Only later did Dee recognize the “angel” as a demonic being and that behind the Green Angel and Bartlett Greene there was a secret brotherhood at work. Tomberg recommended this book quite highly for anyone interested in such topics.

Sacred magic is legitimate and its purpose is the sublimation of nature. Specifically, Tomberg agrees with with Josephin Peladan’s definition of magic as the “art of the sublimation of man.”

This is part of the passage from Peladan’s book that I will translate here:

Magic is the art of the sublimation of man, no other formula is worth anything. Sublimation occurs on oneself, in idea and in act; it is necessary to be sublime in order to think rightly, and to think rightly in order to act in the light.

I can only promise you that the result is proportional to the effort. … in order to satisfy my conscience, I unite the Catholic ideal and the magical ideal! The soulish (animique)  adoration and the intellectual adoration of God: piety and mystery.

Is mystery above piety? Yes, if piety serves as its base. For this is the most important point of my teaching: magic is not compatible with dishonesty.

On another book, Peladan wrote that one “throws the eagles of one’s desires to the wind” because happiness “Raised to the level of an ideal, freed from the negative aspects of oneself and of things … is the sole triumph of this world.”

There is a lot packed into that statement and it is worthwhile meditating on it. What would it mean to be freed from those negative aspects? How is happiness raised to the level of an ideal?

There are some clues from Papus’ two definitions:

  • Magic is the science of love
  • Magic is the application of the strengthened human will to accelerate the evolution of the living forces of nature

The second definition is actually the means by which the aim of magic is attained and love is the strengthened human will.