Book of Ceremonial Magic Part 1 Notes

All the notes for the first part of the Book of Ceremonial Magick, written by A.E. Waite in 1913.

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Chapter I: The Antiquity of Magical Rituals
Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3

Chapter II: The Rituals of Transcendental Magic
Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5

Chapter III: Composite Rituals
Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5 | Section 6 | Section 7

Chapter IV: The Rituals of Black Magic
Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5 | Section 6 | Section 7 | Section 8

Chapter I Section 1: The Importance of Ceremonial Magic

Waite begins his book by making a clear distinction between clinical psychology and occultism. The latter is meant to fill in the gaps that experts refuse to fill. Occultism is NOT a replacement for science, it is a supplement to it.

He lays out 4 ways people view Magick:

  1. The simple view
  2. The outsider's view
  3. The insider's view
  4. A mix of all 3
However, they can be condensed into 2 points of view: the people who practice Magick (aka Mystics), and the people who write history. He claims that people are a lot less interested in listening to what Mystics have to say because their words can't be used for profit, while the people who write history texts are only in it for the money.

History texts feed off each other, and in this sense, according to Waite, this makes them a lot less reliable.

If we take the magical literature of Western Europe from the Middle Ages and onward, we shall find that it is moderately large. Now, the acting principles in the creation of that literature will prove to rule also in its history; what is obscure in the one may be understood by help of the other; each reacted upon each; as the literature grew, it helped to make the history, and the new history was so much additional material for further literature.

History books are like playing a game of telephone: one person will release something revolutionary, and someone else will take the time to condense it and make it more accessible. But in turn, the condensing becomes the new "ground zero" for others, and they will build upon that instead of the original account of events. This is what has caused Magick and Occultism to get to the level it's at today.

There were, of course, many motive principles at work, for the literature and history of Magic are alike exceedingly intricate, and there are many interpretations of principles which are apt to be confused with the principles, as, for example, the influence of what is loosely called superstition upon ignorance; these and any interpretations must be ruled out of an inquiry like the present.

He also straight-up says some people are not "smart enough" to understand Occultism which is not super great:

Had Magic been focussed in the reading of the stars, it would have possessed no history to speak of, for astrology involved intellectual equipments which, comparatively speaking, were possible only to the few.

According to Waite, it takes a smart person to connect the supernatural with the mundane. I really don't agree with this because some people are genuinely not interested in this topic, and that doesn't make them dumb.

But what do I know.

He drives the point home that Occultism only survived because it separated itself from science. If it had tried to replace an existing science, his example is Alchemy replacing Chemistry, then it would have been ignored:

Had Magic centred in the transmutation of metals, it would never have moved multitudes, but would have remained what that still is, the quixotic hope which emerges at a far distance from the science of chemistry. We may take the remaining occult sciences collectively, but there is nothing in them of themselves which would make history.

People aren't as easily convinced of Occultism because it's not scientific. This still rings true today, but with the inclusion of other beliefs.

This reminds me of the Atheist joke "I don't say 'oh my god' I say 'oh my science' because you can prove science." It's a dumb joke, but this is evidence that it's not a new concept.

There was a time indeed when Ceremonial Magic threatened to absorb the whole circle of the occult sciences; it was the superior method, the royal road; it effected immediately what the others accomplished laboriously, after a long time. It had, moreover, the palmary recommendation that it was a conventional art, working by definite formulæ; above all, it was a process in words.

He's right: Ceremonial Magick used to be sexy. The inclusion of the Bible made it more accessible to people who were already familiar with it and people felt like they could make it their own, something they felt like they couldn't do with science. It's the perfect blend between religion and soft science.

I regard Ceremonical Magick as the starting point for modern Witchcraft and I'm not alone. I've read blog posts by Occultists who go so far as to suggest Witchcraft is a knockoff of Ceremonial Magick and therefore isn't a legit path. I don't agree with this simply because no matter what, ideas will evolve with the times in order to stay relevent. I view Witchcraft as a rebranding rather than a replacement; and it all started here.

Waite goes on to discuss the role of the Kabbalah in Ceremonial Magick. It's no secret that both Jewish and Christian literature form the foundation of this path, but because both are included, people are quick to let their biases get in the way. I think you know what I'm hinting at here.

[The Kabbalah] is treated either as a barren mystification, a collection of supremely absurd treatises, in which obscure nonsense is enunciated with preternatural solemnity ["out of the ordinary ceremony"], or it is regarded as a body of theosophy, written chiefly in the form of symbolism. [...] From the one it would follow that the Ceremonial Magic which at a long distance draws from the Kabalah, reproduces its absurdities, possibly with further exaggerations, or it is the subject-matter of the literature carried to its final results.

Oy vey. He says people either think Jewish Mysticism is nonsense or exaggerated influence.

Waite was a member of the Golden Dawn, a group that uses their own version of the Kabbalah called the "Hermetic Qabalah" (it's not so much a text but a doctrine). But this group claims they came first and that the Jewish Kabbalah came after the Hermetic Qabalah. I see this as an excuse to exclude Jewish people from Hermetic spaces, and I'm operating under the assumption that Waite also follows this line of thinking.

So, uh, that's a little concerning. He never outright claims the Jewish Kabbalah is wrong, but he sure likes to imply it's made up.

And then he leaves it at that and moves on.

In a word, Ceremonial Magic reflects mainly the egregious ambitions and incorporates the mad processes of mediæval sorcery--of the Sabbath above all.

In Occultism, the "Sabbath" means any time you set out to do ritual. However, groups like Wiccans and Pagans use the term "Sabbat" to mean any specific holiday.

Here, he means performing magick is more important than reading about it. I agree to an extent; I believe both reading and performing are equally as important to one another.

Whichever of the above views the reader may prefer to adopt, it will be seen that the net result as regards the Rituals is not generically different, that they are of literary and historical interest, but nothing further. For the occultist they will possess, from their associations, an importance which will be of no moment to another student.

He ends this section reminding the reader that books are for chumps and in order to really understand magick, you have to rely on yourself for meaning and trust the process. Copying what other people have written about is the "wrong" way to do it, and a lot of modern Occultists and Ceremoonial Magicians still share this sentiment. I don't personally hold this belief so strongly, but I can't say I disagree.

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Chapter I Section 2: The Distinction Between White and Black Magic

NOTE: before this section begins, I need to let you know that the terms "White Magic" and "Black Magic" are outdated and no longer used in Occult circles.

This is because these terms have developed a racist undertone to them; espeically the term "Black Magic". No, it's not because the word black is in there.

Essentially, "Black Magic" over time became a term for anything that was seen as "other" and to be generally avoided. What was to be avoided, you ask? Any form of Magick that non-white people practiced.

How many times have you seen Voudou be called "Black Magic"? Voudou is no different than any other form of Magick, it's simply that the practitioners are very selective about who can learn it properly and they tend to close off access to anyone who isn't family in any sense of the term. Because of this, many white practitioners weren't allowed into these circles and so it was given a label of "otherness".

Any form of Magick that the white man was allowed to learn about was given the label "White Magic". These were not the original intentded uses of the terms, but social definitions have more influence than the dictionary.

The new terms for "White Magic" and "Black Magic" are the "Left Hand Path" (focus on the self) and the "Right Hand Path" (focus on outside influences). Any form of Magick can have both Paths within it, these are no longer exclusive labels. The Left Hand Path (also shortened to LHP, the other RHP) has more social stigma around it, but it's seldom regarded as "evil" or "other" like Black Magic is.

With that said, let's get into the content.

According to Waite, here are what defines both Black and White Magick:

Black Magic

  1. Astrology
  2. Esoteric Medicine
  3. Alchemy
  4. Divination
  5. "the attempt to communicate with Evil Spirits for an evil, or for any, purpose."

White Magic
  1. "an attempt to communicate with Good or Evil Spirits for a good, or at least an innocent, purpose."

He then goes on to say he purposefully won't define what "Good" and "Evil" mean because reasons. He doesn't really say why.

The second half of this section is a nice big Nothing Burger. He doesn't even try to use definite terms and just kind of repeats the same point that Black and White Magic can exist together at the same time. It reads like a college student trying to reach the word count on their English essay.

And that's it. Short section. Mostly filler. Next!

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Chapter I Section 3: The Unprinted Literature of Ceremonial Magic

Luckily, Waite clearly exlains what this section is about right in the first paragraph:

So far as may be possible, the antiquity of individual Rituals will be determined in the course of their examination, but as this inquiry is based [...] upon the printed literature, because it is that only which has exercised a real influence, it may be well [...] to give some information regarding magical processes which have remained in manuscript, and are to be found only, or can at least be consulted only, in the public libraries of Europe.

This is basically his bibliography written out. He uses the abbreviation MS/MSS which means manuscript/manuscripts respectively.

He states that most of what he will be referencing comes from The Key of Solomon, but he categorizes his references into 3 categories. I'm not quite sure how these are divided up, but that's also because I haven't read these works. Maybe you will see the pattern here, reader!

Note: Waite uses outdated titles in his book. Below are the more recognizable names for the works in question. The links go to reliable websites to read the selected text. Enjoy!

Group 1 - Honorius

Group 2 - Sepher Raziel
Group 3 - Lemegeton
Other Books Mentioned
Note: I can't find a free resource for any of the books listed here, they're behind university paywalls. Don't worry about these, to be honest.
That's the end of the first chapter!

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Chapter II Section 1: The Arbatel of Magic

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Chapter II Section 2: Theosophia Pneumatica

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Chapter II Section 3: The Enchiridion of Pope Leo

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Chapter II Section 4: The Seven Mysterious Orisons

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Chapter II Section 5: Summary of Transcendental Magic

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Chapter III Section 1: The Key of Solomon the King

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Chapter III Section 2: The Lesser Key of Solomon

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Chapter III Section 3: The Pauline Art

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Chapter III Section 4: The Almadel

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Chapter III Section 5: The Fourth Book of Cornelius Agrippa

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Chapter III Section 6: The Heptameron

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Chapter III Section 7: The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage

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Chapter IV Section 1: The Grimorium Verum

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Chapter IV Section 2: True Black Magic

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Chapter IV Section 3: The Grand Grimoire

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Chapter IV Section 4: The Grimoire of Honorius

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Chapter IV Section 5: Minor and Spurious Rituals of Black Magic

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Chapter IV Section 6: The Black Pullet

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Chapter IV Section 7: Talismans of the Sage of the Pyramids

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Chapter IV Section 8: The Gold-Finding Hen

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