Medieval Precursors

Nevill Drury

in Stealing Fire from Heaven

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780199750993
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894871 | DOI:
Medieval Precursors

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This chapter gives an exploration of the most significant elements that have shaped modern Western magic: the medieval Kabbalah, the Hermetic tradition, Alchemy, and the Tarot. The Kabbalah provided modern magical practice with its central motif—the Tree of Life—a multiple symbol encompassing ten spheres, or sephiroth, with interconnecting paths. The Kabbalistic Tree delineates the spiritual terrain accessed by the practicing occultist in the quest for transcendence. The Hermetic tradition and the spiritual aspects of medieval Alchemy have also been influential. Hermetic mageia, or high magic, sought to provide humanity with access to the inner workings of Nature and the cosmos—man could not only come to know God but could also become a type of god himself—while Alchemy affirmed, as the Hermetic texts had similarly conveyed, that the Universal Mind is indivisible and unites all things in the material universe. Various precious metals provided a metaphor for the process of personal transformation—gold symbolized the highest development in Nature and came to personify human renewal, or regeneration. Finally, within the context of modern Western magic the medieval Tarot has been employed primarily as a meditative device, rather than as a tool of prophecy. In the nineteenth century, French occultist Eliphas Lévi suggested that the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana—the mythological cards of the Tarot—could be directly attributed to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and he linked them in turn to the interconnecting paths on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Lévi’s proposal was taken up by members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and has influenced magical practice ever since.

Keywords: Kabbalah; Hermetic tradition; Alchemy; Tarot; the Tree of Life; Kabbalistic Tree; Nature; prophecy; Eliphas Lévi

Chapter.  5796 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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