Lilinah's Introduction to Magic
The Near East is a part of the world in which writing goes back many thousands of years. The earliest known writing systems developed there. While magic includes the use of objects directly and symbolically, in the ancient Near East the word, written as well as spoken, is featured prominently in ritual and magic. But sounds also contained power. There exist many examples in the Greco-Egyptian magical papyri, in which names of non-Greek and non-Egyptian deities are invoked, as well as long strings of vowel sounds, which may have served a purpose similar to the Indian mantra, to transport the chanter into an extra-ordinary state of being or to impart power and energy to the magical spell or ritual.
In a number of creation myths, vibration sets the cosmos in motion. The Hebrew example of God speaking a word and the word becoming light is probably best known, but in a Hindu creation myth, the sound of the vina, a stringed instrument, is the source. A way of creating power for religious or magical is by tuning in to the Primal Vibration. One method for doing this is the use of sound. Sound is vibration. How we perceive it or use it depends on the orderliness of the tones and their relationships to each other. One well-known example is the use of Hindu Mantra. But in any culture, chanting repeatedly serves an auto-hypnotic function. Of course, before sound is breath, as in Prajna Yoga or one Egyptian creation story, so both breathing and making sound go together, and it is often useful for the magic worker to practice breathing exercises, both to improve one's ability to produce sound and sense vibrations, but also because breathing alone can also raise energy.
Here is a Sound-Vibration Exercise, which, although it has no apparent relationship to the Ancient Near East, is useful to the magical practitioner for both producing and sensing vibrations. Although my teacher was not certain of the source, she thought it came from Dane Rhudyar, who was an important forerunner of many contemporary spiritual movements, as well as an Astrologer and Composer of 20th Century Art music.
A SOUND-VIBRATION EXERCISE
Take several very deep breaths all the way down to your diaphragm.
Now, as you make each sound, direct the vibration of the sound to the specified part of the body:
ee - head
Notice a stimulation which can be considered Chakra-like. Actually, many of these sounds are chanted in ancient Helleno-Egyptian spells. Since it is known that there was contact with India, it is conceivable (although unprovable) that there was indeed a Chakra-like vibratory principle involved in the ritual chanting.
The three main components of music are rhythm, melody and harmony, which probably entered the musical vocabulary in that order. Most cultures make use of all three, although one may be more important than the other two, or one may be less important than the other two. I will deal with rhythm, possibly the most important for our purposes, last.
Chanting often consists of producing sound on one pitch only, or with a very limited set of pitches as the words may be of primary importance. Variation of pitch was considered frivolous in Christianity in the Early Medieval Period (the Dark Ages). Gradually variation in pitch was added at end of line. Eventually members of the Church developed theological reasons why particular pitches went with particular sounds or words. A good example is Catholic plainsong. Another example, although perhaps hard to find is the chanting of various religious texts by priests of such religions as Zoroastrianism. (While this religion arose in ancient Persia, few practitioners remain there today; the largest community of Zoroastrians is in Western India.) Much Native American spiritual singing is quite chant-like, with one pitch being used for some time before moving to another. Notice the stimulation within your own body of the different vibratory rates of different pitches.
As variations in pitch became considered more "interesting," singing moved from chanting on a sustained pitch or limited sets of pitches, to involving more and more variation of pitch. When you sing a familiar song all by yourself, you are usually singing the melody. In some musical styles, melody is more important than harmony, and any variations produced when multiple instruments or singers are performing together happen because the individuals are varying the melody, not because they are producing sounds in harmony, as what is considered harmony within a culture has specific rules about what are considered appropriate and inappropriate sound combinations.
Examples of melody having precedence over harmony occur in many cultures of the Near East and South Asia. This is especially easy to hear in the introductory parts of classical Persian and Indian music, when the musicians are establishing the mode without any rhythm. In many, certainly not all, African cultures, rhythm is most important, followed by melody. In such cultures usually the singers are all singing in unison, except, perhaps, for a leader or soloist, who sings a variant line or improvises on the melody.
Certainly harmony is more interesting to listen to than just one unvaried pitch of chanting and adds additional interest to melody, especially when the rhythm is relatively simple. Singing in harmony is easiest and most comfortable for Western Europeans and most Americans in the interval of a 3rd or a 5th (e.g., 3rd: C and E; 5th: C and G). This is not necessarily the case in some other cultures, but it is what most of us hear and comfortably fall into. Next comes the 4th (ex: C and F). Singing harmony is an especially important feature of Western music, although it is less important in many other cultures, especially where rhythm is of primary importance. Harmony is a lesser feature of contemporary Near Eastern music, and possibly little used or non-existent in the ancient past, when rhythm and chant had precedence, followed by melody. But as we are familiar, even comfortable, with harmony, if more than one magic worker is present, it can add to the power of the ritual or spell.
THE IMPORTANCE OF RHYTHM
Humans are conditioned to respond to particular rhythms. The first rhythm of which each of us was aware was our mother's heartbeat. The spiritual use of rhythm, especially drumming, is common to cultures the world over. Different rhythms are capable of arousing different sensations and emotions in humans. In Western music, rhythm has been the simplest musical element, lagging behind melody and harmony, except in some folk cultures, notably of Eastern Europe which experienced Near Eastern influence from the Turkish Ottoman Empire, or until the 20th Century in formal composed music. Rhythm has often confined to 4/4 (March, Reel, and Strathspey time), 2/2 (Cut, Quick or Polka time), 3/4 (Waltz or Lullaby time), or 6/8 (Celtic Jig time), and one rhythmic pattern was followed throughout an entire musical piece. A notable exception is the Irish Slip Jig, unusual in Western European music being in 9/8. (If you know of other well-known examples of "odd" times in Western European music, send me e-mail.)
Living examples of cultures with important rhythmic aspect include: Native American drumming, which is usually accompanied by chanting or singing, and frequently dancing; Indian (South Asian) dance in which certain patterns are associated with certain deities or specific forms of a deity; Near & Middle Eastern drumming, much of which, while no longer spiritual, arose in religious situations (as for belly dancing - but the spirituality behind it is now being reclaimed). Probably the best known is in African and Afro-diasporic religions, again with particular rhythmic patterns for particular deity aspects. Rhythm instruments played a big role in Ancient Near Eastern music. Many illustrations of people, and sometimes even animals, playing musical instruments abound. In common use were cymbals, finger cymbals (yes, in ancient Ugarit they were called "zil"), rhythms sticks (like clavÈs), wooden clappers of various forms (in Egypt, made of wood shaped like forearms with hands), shakers (such as the Egyptian sistrum), tambourines, hand drums, frame drums, and large drums. There are also melodic instruments - flutes and reeds, lyres and harps.
It is important to notice the effects of language: how you hear and what you hear - sound, pitch, music, rhythm, and the sense of physical vibration in the body. Words allow us to have concepts: If you have a word for it, you can think about it. Before you learned to speak, how did you think? Mostly in images. It is also useful to know other languages: to get some idea of the different ways of thinking evident in the grammar, word order, expressions of time. Frequently the relationships between words reflect the relationships within a culture of humans to each other, as well as humans to the world around them. Words are Tools. It is ever important to remember this, because words often feel like such a part of oneself, unlike objects. And because humans' words as so powerful, they can also harm, as in the power of the curse or hex.
In English, when we are first learning words, we usually start with nouns, although this is not necessarily the case in other cultures and languages. It is common in many cultures that when persons changes status in society, they get new names. This change of name can change one's perception of who one is, and others' perceptions of who one is. An example in many magical systems: Knowing others' secret names is a mark of trust.
People's names, the matrix of their character and personality, were considered useful in deciphering their fate, in the form of divination known as Onomancy. For example, to determine which of two competitors would triumph, calculate the numerical values of their names, and divide them by nine. If the two were of the same type, ethnicity, trade, education, etc., the one whose name after the operation left the larger balance, was the superior. If they were dissimilar in type, then the smaller balance denoted the successful one.
The Power of Languages
Some languages are considered magical by their very nature. This is especially true of languages of dead/conquered cultures (Sumerian, Egyptian, Hebrew, Classical Greek, Latin, Sanskrit). In addition, language has power because of psychological effect on the user. Among the Greeks, foreign names of power were often used, such as Adonai from Hebrew and Ereshkigal, the Sumerian underworld goddess. In the Graeco-Roman period in Egypt, many names of foreign deities or spirits are found in magic spells. The magicians using these spells may not have known who these foreign entities were, only that these "barbarous words" were great names of power.
For modern rituals, we must choose what language to use. You may choose to use a language related to the mythos being used, both for authenticity and for effect. Or you may choose your own language, so all participants can understand what is being said. One compromise is to have the ritual in your own language with just enough foreign words for special, and magical, effect. The issue here is one of trading impact for clarity and comprehesibility. There are other ways to do this in practice:
The choice will depend on who is doing the ritual and with or for whom.
Using Magical Languages
Other features of choices involving words include using magical languages, after all, they have acquired power through generations of use, like an egregore. Thus, your use of word or language links you with all previous users. An example from more recent times would be Enochian, apparently invented by John Dee, astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, and "popularized" by Aleistair Crowley. For writing there are a wide range of "magical alphabets," from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, most of the based on Hebrew (such as "Crossing the River" and "Angelic"), and Theban, not originally an alphabet for Wiccans or Witches but of Ceremonial and Grimoiric Magicians.
For ancient Near Eastern work, you might like to use a book/ dictionary of Proto-Semitic, which i understand was published in 1991, but which i haven't seen. If you desire to use Ancient Near Eastern ritual and magic forms but are uncomfortable with a non-European language, or if you are only using a European system, you might consider Proto-Indo-European for concocting magical names/ words. Several proto-Indo-European dictionaries have been produced, although the linguistic theory keeps changing, so it is impossible to be "perfect." Some of these proto-Indo-European dictionaries are parts of regular American English dictionaries, best known being the American Heritage Dictionary.
Third, you may choose to use words and sounds that have a particular effect on your own personl internal programming - You the Thinker effecting You the Magician
Bear in mind, that liturgical languages originally were the common tongue (Sumerian, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Coptic). For example, the Semitic peoples of Mesopotamia continued to use Sumerian, a non-Semitic language, in their liturgy, long after the Sumerian culture had ceased to exist. For an example closer to home, Latin in the Christian, eventually Catholic, Church, was used originally because it was common; but by the Late Middle Ages it was no longer the common tongue. The Church's belief that it was somehow a magical language can be seen in the Church's condemnation of the use of vernacular language for the liturgy - saying a prayer, for example, in one's native tongue - could get one accused of Witchcraft or Satanism! Yet Latin was NOT the language of Christ - that was Aramaic; nor was Latin the language of the early church - that was Greek.
Numbers are a special form of Word. Among the Mesopotamians, odd numbers are apotropaeic, that is, they protect one from harm or evil, while the use of even numbers risks contagion and attack by demonic, spirit, or magical forces. Seven is the most powerfully magical of numbers, for it is the number of planets, of days of week, of levels of worlds (sky, mundane earth, underworld). Three and multiples of three are the next most potent numbers. Five isn't bad either, but significantly less important. Generally, one is dealing with single-digit prime numbers.
I read a story, i can't remember where, about a fellow in old Mesopotamia, who went out drinking one evening. He had one tumblerful, and then another. But he couldn't leave the inn after two - it would be unlucky. So he had a third, but it tasted and felt so good that he had a fourth. By this time, he wasn't counting so well, so he left... and was almost immediately attacked by evil spirits. So remember, if you have to have one more for the road, make sure it's an odd number. (Personal note: Please do not drive inebriated, not even if you think you "can handle it." It wasn't quite the same back in the old days when you had an ox-cart - no matter how bad a driver you were, the oxen wanted to survive...)
The importance of number can be manifested in ritual as:
These are only a few examples of the many possibilities.
How can we make our language sound more effective? One suggestion is to study poetry, particularly those forms with specific patterns and structures. As Jerome Rothenberg says in his marvelous book Technicians of the Sacred, "What is true of language in general is equally true of poetry and of the ritual systems of which so much poetry is a part."
SOUND IN POETRY
First, one must also be aware of The Sounds of Words. Look for Onomatopoeia, that is, words which sound like what they mean. Or listen for Musical Effects: choose words because they sound harsh or smooth, heavy or light.
A second important techniques is the use of Repetition of Sounds.
RHYTHM IN POETRY
Poetry also makes use of Rhythm, which in the technical language of poetry is termed Meter. Meter can be rather complex, referring to the order of accented & unaccented syllables. Repeated rhythmic structure can be quite compelling, like drumbeats or heartbeats. For meditation, however, one would probably prefer to use less rhythm, more sound/melody. For a guided visualization, rhythm might be useful, depending on the purpose.
Speaking is an important way of invoking the power of letter, word, or number. In ritual, this includes reciting myths, poems, or parts of holy scriptures; incantations; chants; prayers; even nonsense syllables considered to be imbued with power. A famous Babylonian protective formula goes:
With Shamash before me, (Sun god = day)
This may look a bit familiar to those who use an angelic protective formula, but the above no doubt predates it. Obviously a formula of great staying power.
Writing is an obvious way to invoke the power of the word to us today, we who are literate due to mandatory schooling. But until the advent of the alphabet, developed by the Canaanites/ Phoenicians, it was a rare person who was literate in ancient times. The very act of writing itself could appear magical. The average person was illiterate and would pay a literate priest, magician, or scribe for their mysterious ability to write. Important magical writings would include prayers and protective formulae, powerful names or words, and magically potent letters and numbers. Written powerful names or textual passages could be enclosed in metal or leather containers and worn somewhere on the body, the written word having power even if the possessor could not read it.
Spells as a Form of Programming
When you speak, write, or perform a spell, you are identifying something you want to do or you want done, especially by putting a name to it, or, if you don't want to say true names, use circumlocutions or euphemisms, often opposite in meaning. Or, as in sympathetic magic, you have a thing which is linked to the object of the spell, and what you do to that thing is considered to happen to the object of the spell. The most important effect is that this activates your energy and directs it towards your goal. Of course, you are also trying to augment your power with those forces which you have called upon, invoked (or incited) during your ritual. A major purpose of a spell is to build power and energy and help direct it from its source to its goal.
One important method is to utilize the effect of redundancy and invocation. One example common to poetry and folksong is the refrain, a part of the poem or lyric that is repeated at regular intervals. (In popular songs, this is commonly called the "chorus"). By repetition, you strengthen the spell. You can also induce a light trance, which can make the magic more effective.
Second, say the spell while doing something "special":
Third, you can use a relevant myth - synopsize it to shorten it - or a part of a myth. This works by analogy, or precedence. For example, "As You the deity did this, so do this other act (which you the magician want done)."
Fourth, you may choose to perform a Symbolic Act or Mimesis, involving the Principle of Imitatation, in which the magic worker mimes or imitates the desired action. This usually also involves the Principles of Sympathetic Magic:
First, the Principle of Homeopathy - items associated with or symbolic of the object of the spell or of the powers involved or invoked are used to identify or carry out the spell- this is sometimes shortened to "like affects like" or "as above, so below" or "an effect resembles its cause."
Second, the Principle of Contagion - materials once in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after physical contact has been severed and are used in the magical action.
Of course these are highly simplistic categories, and magic may be much more complex, but they are a good place to start conceptualizing.
I bind X
Fifth, you can use a Question and Answer formula, each question concerning a part of the spell - "Will this come to pass?" - and the answer affirming - "Yes, this will come to pass." OR - "Will N do this?" "Yes, N will do this" - where N is the name of the deity or spirit entity invoked, saying in effect that they will carry out the goal of the spell
Sixth, you may choose to bind someone or something to an impossible condition. But watch out! This is common in folktales, myths, legends - and the one who is bound can often find a way out of it. Examples include: if the binding specifies not day or night, then it can be at dawn or dusk; if the binding specifies one not born of woman, then the person may be born by Cesarean; if the binding specifies on neither land nor sea, then it can take place on the shore with water lapping around one's ankles; etc.
Seventh is a Written spell consumed by magician or client. But see the suggested precautions!
One example: eat the paper it is written on. Use common sense - lots of nasty chemicals are used in paper production - you might consider Southeast or East Asian edible "rice paper" which is specifically to be used in cooking from an Asian food market, not rice paper from a paper store. OR you can write your spell on a slice of bread, a spring roll wrapper, a slice of cheese. If it is a few short words, inscribe them in a piece of fruit or on a carrot. Then eat your words!
A second example, common in Hellenic Egypt: Write the spell on paper, put the paper in liquid (water) so the ink dissolves, then drink the liquid. Again, use caution: most inks are harmful, even poisonous! Write with edible food coloring (not really good for you, but less harmful than ink) - you can use a toothpick for this. Or use a coloring extracted from food stuffs without harmful chemicals, such as beet or berry juice, blood from a piece of meat. Or take a tip from traditional artists of the past, but don't use dangerous artist colors. Tempura paint is egg based - so you could put food coloring in a PASTEURIZED egg-product from the supermarket (don't use raw egg from home - it may contain potentially deadly Salmonella bacteria). Casein paint is milk based, so you could take powdered milk, make a thick paste with a little water and add food coloring. Obviously, if you are allergic to egg or milk, don't use these - stick with foodstuffs to which you are not allergic.
Whatever you use for edible paper or ink, you will need a scrupulously clean dip pen - which consists of a metal nib from a stationery or art supply store fitted into an appropriate handle. Or you can use a scrupulously clean feather quill (you'll need to read up on how to make a quill pen) or a reed pen from an art supply store. As soon as you've written your spell, wash you pen VERY carefully. If you plan to use it again, you don't want any foodstuffs left to spoil and become a potential source of hazardous bacteria.
Eight, the magic worker speaks over burning incense, then the magic worker, or the person for whom the spell is being worked, breathes the incense smoke. Obviously, don't do this if you or your client are allergic to the burning substance, are asthmatic, or have any respiratory ailment, unless you are certain of the medicinal benefits of the herbs you're burning. This was a common practice in Mesopotamia, especially for purification, healing, and exorcisms.
Nine, use Visualization/ Pathworking: Describe in detail what is supposed to happen. For example, for healing, describe/visualize the current ailment, then describe/visualize it getting better.
Ten, you can return something to its source. For example, count up to 11 then back down ("You have one, I have two," etc. then back down to "I have one, you have none")
Eleven, and sometimes quite satisfying, is to use Obscenity or insult to repel evil spirits. This is often done in ancient magical practice. If nothing else, "cussing out" the source of ill probably makes the spell caster or patient feel better.
Twelve, do not forget the efficacy of simple Prayer. The ancient people would often just direct their own deep and heart-felt words to the deity associated with the problem or solution, or to the deity to whom they were dedicated.
What ever your choice, you can make Use of special sounds, singing or chanting, and speaking rhythmically. Of course, one can even say your spell as you would speak ordinarily. Depending on state of mind, focus, etc., this can be just as effective, but perhaps less fun.
Finally, be sure to use positive statements. This is especially important in spells. Don't use negatives. Don't say "I don't want X," say "I want Y"
The typical Ancient Near Eastern spell was highly formulaic, that is, it follow a particular pattern in its construction. Although there are differences from one culture to another, there is a form which is nearly common among cultures in the ancient Middle East and will serve us today as a good general format, especially for beginners.