We have now to grapple with the most criminal abuse to which magical sciences can be put, namely, venomous magic, or, rather, sorcery. Let it be here understood that we write not to instruct but to warn. If human justice, instead of punishing the adepts, had only proscribed the nigromancers and poisoning sorcerers, it is certain, as we have previously remarked, that its severity would have been well placed, and that the most severe penalties could never be excessive in the case of such criminals.
At the same time it must not be supposed that the right of life and death which secretly belongs to the magus has always been exercised to satisfy some infamous vengeance, or some cupidity more infamous still; in the middle ages, as in the ancient world, magical associations have frequently struck down or destroyed slowly the revealers or profaners of mysteries, and when the magic sword has refrained from striking, when the spilling of blood was dangerous, then Aqua Toffana, poisoned nosegays, the shirt of Nessus, and other deadly instruments, still stranger and still less known, were used to carry out sooner or later the terrible sentence of the free judges.
We have said that there is in magic a great and indicible arcanum, which is never mentioned among adepts, which the profane above all must be prevented from divining; in former times, whosoever revealed, or caused the key of this supreme secret to be discovered by others through imprudent revelations, was condemned immediately to death, and was often driven to execute the sentence himself.
The celebrated prophetic supper of Cazotte, described by Laharpe, has not been hitherto understood. Laharpe very naturally yielded to the temptation of surprising his readers by amplifying the details of his narrative. Everyone present at this supper, Laharpe excepted, was an initiate and a divulger, or at least profaner, of the mysteries. Cazotte, the most exalted of all in the scale of initiation, pronounced their sentence of death in the name of illuminism, and this sentence was variously but rigorously executed, even as several years and several centuries previously had occurred in the case of similar judgments against the Abbé de Villars, Urban Grandier, and many others.
The revolutionary philosophers perished as did Cagliostro deserted in the prisons of the Inquisition, as did the mystic band of Catherine Theos, as did the imprudent Scroepfer, constrained to suicide in the midst of his magical triumphs and the universal infatuation, as did the deserter Kotzebuë, who was stabbed by Carl Sand, as did also so many others whose corpses have been discovered without any one being able to learn the cause of their sudden and sanguinary death.
The strange allocation addressed to Cazotte when he himself was condemned by the president of the revolutionary tribunal will be readily called to mind. The Gordian Knot of the terrible drama of ‘93 is still concealed in the darkest sanctuary of the secret societies; to adepts of good faith, who sought to emancipate the common people, were opposed adepts of another sect, attached to more ancient traditions, who fought by means analogous to those of their adversaries: the practice of the great arcanum was made impossible by unmasking its theory.
The crowd understood nothing, but it mistrusted everything, and fell lower still in its discouragement; the great arcanum became more secret than ever; the adepts, checkmated by each other, could exercise their power neither to govern others nor to deliver themselves; they condemned one another to the death of traitors; they abandoned one another to exile, to suicide, to the knife and the scaffold.
I shall be asked possibly whether equally terrible dangers threaten at this day the intruders into the occult sanctuary and the betrayers of its secret. Why should I answer anything to the incredulity of the inquisitive? If I risk a violent death for their instruction, certainly they will not save me; if they are afraid on their own account, let them abstain from imprudent research—this is all I can say to them. Let us return to venomous magic.
In his romance of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas has revealed some practices of this ominous science. There is no need to traverse the same ground by repeating its melancholy theories of crime; describing how plants are poisoned; how animals nourished on these plants have their flesh infected, and becoming in turn the food of men, cause death without leaving any trace of poison; how the walls of houses are inoculated; how the air is permeated by fumes which require the glass mask of St. Croix for the operator; let us leave the ancient Canidia her abominable mysteries, and refrain from investigating the extent to which the infernal rites of Sagana have carried the art of Locusta.
It is enough to state that this most infamous class of malefactors distilled in conjunction the virus of contagious diseases, the venom of reptiles, and the sap of poisonous plants, that they extracted from the fungus its deadly and narcotic properties, its asphyxiating principles from datura stramonium, from the peach and bitter almond that poison one drop of which, placed on the tongue or in the ear, destroys, like a flash of lightning, the strongest and best constituted living being.
The white juice of sea-lettuce was boiled with milk in which vipers and asps had been drowned.
The sap of the manchineel or deadly fruit of Java was either brought back with them from their long journeys, or imported at great expense; so also was the juice of the cassada, and so were similar poisons; they pulverised flint, mixed with impure ashes the dried slime of reptiles, composed hideous philtres with the virus of mares on heat and similar secretions of bitches; they mingled human blood with infamous drugs, composing an oil the mere odour of which was fatal, therein recalling the tarte bourbonnaise of Panurge; they even concealed recipes for poisoning in the technical language of alchemy, and the secret of the powder of projection, in more than one old book which claims to be Hermetic, is in reality that of the powder of succession.
The Grand Grimoire gives one in particular which is very thinly disguised under the title of Method for Making Gold; it is an atrocious decoction of verdigris, arsenic, and sawdust, which, if properly made, should immediately consume a branch that is plunged into it and eat swiftly through an iron nail.
John Baptista Porta cites in his Natural Magic a specimen of Borgia poison, but, as may be imagined, he is deceiving the vulgar, and does not divulge the truth, which would be too dangerous in such a connection. We may therefore quote his recipe to satisfy the curiosity of our readers.
The toad by itself is not venomous, but it is a sponge for poisons, and is the mushroom of the animal kingdom. Take, then, a plump toad, says Porta, and place it with vipers and asps in a globular bottle; let poisonous fungi, fox-gloves, and hemlock be their sole nourishment during a period of several days; then enrage them by beating, burning, and tormenting them in every conceivable manner, till they die of rage and hunger; sprinkle their bodies with powdered spurge and ground glass; then place them in a well-sealed retort, and extract all their moisture by fire. Let the glass cool; separate the ash of the dead bodies from the incombustible dust, which will remain at the bottom of the retort.
You will then have two poisons—one liquid, the other a powder. The first will be fully as efficacious as the terrible Aqua Poffana; the second, in a few days’ time, will cause any person, who may have a pinch of it mixed with his drink, to become, in the first place, wilted and old, and subsequently to die amidst horrible sufferings, or in a state of complete collapse. It must be admitted that this recipe has a magical physiognomy of the blackest and most revolting kind, and sickens one by its recollections of the abominable confections of Canidia and Medea.
The sorcerers of the middle ages pretended to receive such powders at the Sabbath, and sold them at a high price to the malicious and ignorant. The tradition of similar mysteries spread terror in country places, and came to act as a spell. The imagination once impressed, the nervous system once assailed, and then the victim rapidly wasted away, the very dread of his relatives and friends insuring his loss.
The sorcerer or sorceress was almost invariably a species of human toad, swollen with long-enduring rancours. They were poor, repulsed by all, and consequently full of hatred. The fear which they inspired was their consolation and their revenge; poisoned themselves by a society of which they had experienced nothing but the refuse and the vices, they poisoned in their turn all those who were weak enough to fear them, and avenged upon beauty and youth their accursed old age and their atrocious ugliness.
The mere operation of these evil works, and the fulfilment of these loathsome mysteries, constituted and confirmed what was then called a compact with the devil. It is certain that the worker must have been given over body and soul to evil, and justly deserved the universal and irrevocable reprobation expressed by the allegory of hell.
That human souls could descend to such an abyss of crime and madness must assuredly astonish and grieve us; but is not such an abyss needed as a basis for the exaltation of the most sublime virtues? and does not the depth of infernus demonstrate by antithesis the infinite height and grandeur of heaven?
In the North, where the instincts are more repressed and vivacious; in Italy, where the passions are more diffusive and fiery, charms and the evil eye are still dreaded; the jettatura is not to be braved with impunity in Naples, and persons who are unfortunately endowed with this power are even distinguished by certain exterior signs.
In order to guard against it, experts affirm that horns must be carried on the person, and the common people, who take everything literally, hasten to adorn themselves with small horns, not dreaming of the sense of the allegory.
These attributes of Jupiter Ammon, Bacchus, and Moses are the symbol of moral power or enthusiasm, so that the magicians mean to say that, in order to withstand the jettatura, the fatal current of instincts must be governed by a great intrepidity, a great enthusiasm, or a great thought.
In like manner, almost all popular superstitions are profane interpretations of some grand maxim or marvellous secret of occult wisdom. Did not Pythagoras, in his admirable symbols, bequeath a perfect philosophy to sages, and a new series of vain observances and ridiculous practices to the vulgar? Thus, when he said: “Do not pick up what falls from the table; do not cut down trees on the great highway; kill not the serpent when it falls into your garden,” was he not inculcating the precepts of charity, either social or personal, under transparent allegories? When he said: “Do not look at yourself by torchlight in a mirror,” was he not ingeniously teaching true self-knowledge which is incompatible with factitious lights and the prejudgments of systems?
It is the same with the other precepts of Pythagoras, who, it is well known, was followed literally by a swarm of unintelligent disciples, and, indeed, amongst our provincial superstitious observances, there are many which indubitably belong to the primitive misconception of Pythagorean symbols.
Superstition is derived from a Latin word which signifies survival. It is the sign surviving the thought; it is the dead body of a religious rite. Superstition is to initiation what the notion of the devil is to that of God.
This is the sense in which the worship of images is forbidden, and in this sense also a doctrine most holy in its original conception may become superstitious and impious when it has lost its spirit and its inspiration.
Then does religion, ever one, like the supreme reason, change its vestures and abandon old rites to the cupidity and roguery of priests dispossessed and metamorphosed by their wickedness and ignorance into jugglers and charlatans. We may include among superstitions those magical emblems and characters, of which the meaning is no longer understood, which are engraved by chance on amulets and talismans.
The magical images of the ancients were pantacles, i.e., kabbalistic syntheses. Thus the wheel of Pythagoras is a pantacle analogous to the wheels of Ezekiel; the two figures contain the same secrets, and belong to the same philosophy; they constitute the key of all pantacles, and we have already discoursed concerning them.
The four beasts, or, rather, the four-headed sphinx of the same prophet are identical with an admirable Indian symbol which we have reproduced in this work, as having reference to the great arcanum.
In his Apocalypse, St. John followed and elaborated Ezekiel; indeed, the monstrous figures of his wonderful book are so many magical pantacles, the key of which is easily discoverable by kabbalists.
On the other hand, Christians, rejecting science in their anxiety to extend faith, sought later on to conceal the origin of their dogmas, and condemned all kabbalistic and magical books to the flames.
To destroy originals gives a kind of originality to copies, as was doubtless in the mind of St. Paul when, prompted beyond question by the most laudable intention, he accomplished his scientific auto-da-fé at Ephesus.
In the same way, six centuries later, the true believer Omar sacrificed the Library of Alexandria to the originality of the Koran, and who knows whether in the time to come some future Apostle will not set fire to our literary museums, and confiscate the printing-press in the interest of some fresh religious infatuation, some newly accredited legend?
The study of talismans and pantacles is one of the most curious branches of magic, and connects with historical numismatics. There are Indian, Egyptian, and Greek talismans, kabbalistic medals coming from the ancient and modern Jews, Gnostic abraxas, occult tokens in use among the members of secret societies, and sometimes called counters of the Sabbath; so also there are Templar medals and jewels of Freemasonry.
In his Treatise on the Wonders of Nature, Coglenius describes the talismans of Solomon and those of Rabbi Chaël. Designs of many others that are most ancient will be found in the magical calendars of Tycho-Brahé and Duchentau, and should have a place in M. Ragon’s archives of initiation, a vast and scholarly undertaking, to which we refer our readers.