History Of Paganism: Classical Beginnings

Apolonius of Tyana is probably the most famous classical magician, little is known about him, according to Philostratus he was member of the Pythagorean School, preaching asceticism, spiritual enlightenment achieved through work, training, self-control and self-denial, believed in reincarnation and in personal soul and was against violence. He travelled the known world, even to India, where he met a lot of powerful magicians. He is said to have performed many miracles, like dematerializing and materializing, curing sick with a touch of the hand and rising people from the dead. After the death of Apolonius, the people from Tyana raised him a temple, and there is a legend that the ghost of Apolonius appeared to a Roman centurion when he tried to conquer Tyana.

Apuleius is born in the North African Roman colonies about the first century AD. He is chiefly remembered for his book Metamorphosis, better known as the Golden Ass. His second book Apologia de Res Magia we obtain some more information about his magical works. The book was his defense used in court against the accusation that he married a rich widow using his magical abilities. The accusers are of course the widow’s relatives who don’t want to see the widow’s money going to Apuleius. In his Apologia, Apuleius not only defends himself and is proclaimed innocent by the court, but he also shows his great knowledge of magic. He, among the first, divides magic into harmful and useful, i.e. black and white, and shows how magic can be used for curing and beneficial goals. In his next work De Daemonum Socrates, Apuleius discusses the existence of gods and demons, as well as the ways to communicate with them.

Modern Magic

The revival of magic is usually taken to begin in 1855-56 with the printing of the Eliphas Levi’s books “The Dogma of the High Magic” and “The Ritual of the High Magic.” Many books, long forgotten on library shelves, are re-discovered and studied with zeal. New books, with new ideas on the subject of Magick would be written as a result of this renewed interest.

The end of 19th century is also marked by the creation and destruction of the “Golden Dawn,” probably the most influential magical order in Europe. Although the order lasted for only 20 years, some of its successors orders and their influences are still active today.

Charles Leland (1824-1903) published a book in 1899: Aradia: Gospel of the Witches. Leland was the founder of the Gypsy Lore Society, editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin, and a prolific author and folklorist. Aradia deals mainly with the Goddess Diana. It is presented as an ancient document which recorded the doctrines of La Vecchia Religione (The Old Religion) — Italian witchcraft. Leland claims to have received the information from an Italian strega (sorceress) named Maddalena. How much of this is a valid account of La Vecchia Religione is anyone’s guess. However, the book played a significant role in the later development of modern-day Neopaganism.

Margaret Murray (1863 – 1963) Authored The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The God of the Witches. These books promoted the concept that some of the Witches who were exterminated by Roman Catholics and Protestants during the “Burning Times” (circa 1450-1792) were remnants of an earlier, organized, and dominant pre-Christian religion in Europe. Her writings have not been well received by anthropologists. However, they were very influential in providing background material for the Neopagan traditions.

Gerald Gardner (1884 – 1964), a British civil servant, who: has written that he joined an existing Wiccan Coven in 1939, taking the (then) usual vows of secrecy persuaded the coven to let him write a book in 1949 about Wicca in the form of a novel, High Magic’s Aid. He carefully revealed a few of the Old Religion’s beliefs and the historical persecutions that they endured. He added many rituals, symbols, concepts and elements from ceremonial magick, Freemasonry and other sources to “flesh out” the coven’s beliefs and practices, most of which had been long forgotten. He wrote Witchcraft Today in 1954 in which he described additional details about the faith. His other book The Meaning of Witchcraft which described in detail the history of Wicca in Northern Europe.

According to Gardner, Wicca: began in prehistory, as ritual associated with fire, the hunt, animal fertility, plant propagation, tribal fertility and the curing of disease. It later developed into a religion which recognized a Supreme Deity, but realized that at their state of evolution, they “were incapable of understanding It” . Instead, they worshipped what might be termed “under-Gods”: the Goddess of fertility and her horned consort, the God of the hunt. They continued their predominately Moon based worship, even as a mainly Sun-based faith of priests, the Druids, developed and evolved into the dominant religion of the Celts. By this time, Celtic society had gradually spread across Northern Europe into what is now England, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland etc. They never formed a single political entity, but remained as many tribes who shared a common culture and religions, surviving the Roman, Saxon, and Norman invasions by going underground.

During the ‘Burning Time’, pagans and witches suffered major loss in numbers during the active Christian genocides, which continued into the 18th Century, but had reached a low ebb by the middle of the 20th century. It is worth pointing out that many of those accused of witchcraft and subsequently burned or hung (which was the usual outcome in England) were probably not witches or pagans.

Doreen Valiente (1922 – 1999)

Title page from Aradia, or the Gospel of the W...

Title page from Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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