Doing The Devil’s Work Or Conjuring Christianity’s Cabala?

Alex de Borba

Alex de Borba

In our bid to disrupt everyday assumptions, writings nowadays classed as “devilish” tend to trade in the unusual and the unexpected. Most of the articles we publish evoke an uncanny atmosphere; many portray extreme situations, and some include elements of surrealism. All in all, this historical and alternative cultural oddness has generated social comparisons with subversive, extreme and nihilistic art forms such as absurdist theatre, film noir, downhearted music, grimoire literature from ancient to contemporary alternative countercultures. Howbeit, so far very little has been written that refute society’s “devilish” argument if we examine the origins of the occult and its relationship with Christianity’s Cabala, and most importantly, why now?

It has come to our attention that misguided audiences decipher some our publishings as “the devil’s work,” therefore, stigmatising the nature of our research without entirely acknowledging what sprawls behind their own religious faith. Many may argue that our occasionally unsettling illustrations and publishings regarding early articles correlate with a non-coincidental commonality with art-horror explained by existentialism’s preoccupation with the interstitial nature of the self. Further, it is argued that, in order to meet the challenge of publishing articles at an academic level, involves an accommodation of these features of the existential condition within our thriving identity, and in so doing it appears abnormal to others.

In which regards to our “devil’s work,” one must agree that from a historian’s point of view, when discussing the occult, there is admittedly a deep relationship of Cabala to said magic, alchemy and occultism, it is also of the utmost importance to address its relationship to Christianity. Evidently, many of the European scholars of the Renaissance were Christians who had inherited an Aristotelian worldview that was being challenged by scientific progress and the new humanism. British historian and professor Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (January 15th, 1953 – August 29th, 2012) of Western Esotericism at the University of Exeter, in the United Kingdom — best known for his authorship of various scholarly books on esoteric traditions — once said that; “The growing interest in nature and the sensible world, together with the foundation of the universities and secular study, created an intellectual space within which Platonism and the Hermetica could be received in the Latin West.”

When by mere coincidence, Renaissance scholars closely observed the Jewish Kabbalah, they initially recognised its value only insofar as it supported their own Christian perspectives. Rather than being Christian occults, they were Christian humanists who were essentially inspired in discovering more about the universe and man’s place in it. Although in the Jewish culture they believed they had found another important layer of divine truth, this was not the only place that they were looking for ancient wisdom: Egyptian cultures, the Hermetic treatises, etcetera. At the time, the Jewish were deemed as having once had the keys to the ancient mysteries, which they had misunderstood and misrepresented. The general Christian perspective towards the Talmud and all that came from it was, therefore, one of rejection and hatred, and the Christian belief was that after the ‘New Testament;’ “Jewish culture was destined to decline and stagnation.” This directed to a focus on the use of the Jewish Kabbalah to demonstrate to Jewish (and Muslims) the ultimate truth of Christianity.

The Italian philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (February 24th, 1463 – November 17th, 1494) claimed in one hundred and eighteen of his ‘900 Theses’ that the Jewish doctrine was proof of the truth of Christianity. He introduced his seventy-two ‘Cabalist Conclusiones’ as “confirming the Christian religion from the foundations of Hebrew wisdom.” In the fifth kabbalistic thesis of his ‘Cabalist Conclusiones’, he wrote: “Every Hebrew Cabalist, following the principles and sayings of the science of the Cabala, is inevitably forced to concede, without addition, omission, or variation, precisely what the Catholic faith of the Christians maintains concerning the Trinity and every divine Person, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola thus valued his Hebrew and Cabalist studies so profoundly because he understood them to give him a fuller understanding of Christianity, affirming the divinity of Christ and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The dialogue between Christian and Jewish scholars at the time was thus a Christian endeavour at the missionary movement aimed at the Jewish, “while the Jews for their part usually regarded the Christian adaptation of their doctrines as expropriation and distortion.” It has also been shown, though, that it was Jewish converts to Christianity during and prior to the fifteenth-century who set the stage for this dialogue, especially with their interpretation of kabbalistic texts regarding the nature of the Trinity. The kabbalistic tradition made it easier for these converted Jews to come to terms with Christian doctrine by “finding essential doctrines already revealed in Jewish mystical thought.”

It was common for Christian Renaissance scholars to have persuaded the Jewish community to serve as their Hebrew and Kabbalah tutors, and the interest rapidly developed in the midrashic exegetical methodologies and hermeneutical procedures in the Hebrew scriptures, which did not have a counterpart in Christianity. The study and interpretation of Christian scripture were done through the translated form of the scriptures — mainly Latin. The semiotic meaning — the only meaning transmitted in translation — was, therefore, the only meaning available for interpretation of scripture in most cases. In contrast to this, the Hebrew scripture was studied and interpreted in its primitive language, which was regarded as the primordial divine language — a part of the infinite divine wisdom itself, with creative power and inexhaustible meaning. This was a new oracle for the Christian Cabalists. The numerous transmutations of the Hebrew alphabet became a centre of their speculations. This flexibility in interpretation and the ease with which new meanings can be attributed were essential factors in the temptation which kabbalah held for the Renaissance humanists.

This new adaptation of the Jewish tradition legitimised the Renaissance scholars’ belief in magic as a dominant power in the universe by connecting it with an ancient, Biblical source. Prior to this discovery of the kabbalistic power of language, it was troublesome to defend the use of magic to Christian authorities as a legitimate method of searching for answers to questions about God’s creation. Even wedded to the Kabbalah, however, the new Christian magic was not invulnerable. The talismanic magic of Italian philosopher Marsilio Ficino (October 19th, 1433 – October 1st, 1499) and his use of tangible Gods as a sort of medical therapy grounded him in difficulties with theologians.

The position of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola was less tenable since, by harnessing Cabala to natural magic, he allowed magic to reach the heights of the supercelestial world of divine and angelic powers — the realm of the Church. In his Orphic conclusions, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola speaks of the “hymns of David” (the Psalms) as powerful incantations for Cabalistic work and the hymns of Orpheus as of value for natural magic.

He thus equates a Cabalist singing a psalm to a natural magician intoning an Orphic hymn. This connection was enough to make some theologians uncomfortable, but Giovanni Pico della Mirandola assuredly and boldly withstood the wedlock of Magia and Cabala. “Far from being magics in which a Christian must not dabble, they are, on the contrary, magics which confirm the truth of his religion and lead him into a greater spiritual awareness of its mysteries.” Both Catholic and Protestant theologians remained unconvinced. The Christian outcry of alarm against the increase in magical practices increased in intensity throughout the sixteenth-century. The Magi — word used by the Zoroastrianism or Zoroaster to define Magic — defended themselves by insisting upon the difference between benign natural magic and demonic magic, claiming to work only with higher spiritual powers, the angels, not demons.

Even German physician Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, (September 14th, 1486 – February 18th, 1535) who seems to be referencing both angels and demons, uses religious magic terminology and pretensions so that it remains difficult to see what his true motivations were. In the case of English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occult philosopher and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I, John Dee (July 13rd, 1527 – December 1608), the magical actions took place in a religious atmosphere and were preceded by a period of silent prayer and concluded with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. John Dee claimed to be “an honest Christian philosopher” and to be seeking God’s holy mysteries with the help of his good angels. In John Dee’s case, he claimed not to be invoking the angels himself to do his bidding, but rather humbly petitioning God to send them as messengers of wisdom and aid.

In truth when it relates to myths, legends, and various religions, devils and demons are evil or harmful supernatural beings. Devils are generally regarded as the adversaries of the gods, while the perception of demons ranges from mischief makers to powerful destructive forces. In many religions, devils and demons stand on the opposite side of the cosmic balance from gods and angels. Although devils and demons have been portrayed in many different forms, they are usually associated with cultural mischief, interesting sources of investigation and deeply equated with Christianity.

Further encouragement and ancestral knowledge are required prior to dogmatise our publishings as “the devil’s work,” which we may, however, paraphrase as “an attempted to convey to a gathering within humanity a body of teachings which will help them take the next evolutionary step forward while looking back at its origins, whatever those may be, and in truth, history.”

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