Monday, March 7, 2011

A Glimpse into the Past

Many esoteric schools contend that a "golden age" of magick took place at some point in the distant past. From the legends of Atlantis to those of the Hollow Earth to those of the time before Noah's flood, the idea is the same. At some point in history a society existed in which magick was practiced more openly and effectively than it is today. Over the course of my life I've spent a lot of time researching various fringe theories including those of the "golden age," and I've been forced to conclude that there is no evidence out there suggesting that they are anything more than stories. Some are perhaps based on historical events, such as the tale of Atlantis possibly being derived from that of the volcanic eruption that nearly destroyed the island of Thera, but while the civilization of the Minoans was grand for its period it were nowhere near as advanced as some New Agers claim the Atlantean civilization must have been.

The real historical past is filled with accounts that describe the persecution of those suspected of practicing magick, much like what goes on around the world today in societies with widespread fear of paranormal practices. Magick has been deeply hated by religious authorities around the globe, and much of that hatred remains. Despite this uncomfortable fact, I think it's safe to say that if a "golden age" of magick has ever existed its time is now, at least in the developed world. Today we can post blog articles and correspond openly about our experiences before a potential audience of millions without fear of harm or reprisal by our neighbors. We can share information, models, and experiments in a way that would have seemed unimaginable to the secret societies of old that jealously guarded their esoteric teachings, and engage in peer review that helps move our discipline forward rather than allowing it to stagnate.

As a reminder of the troubled times hundreds of years ago when persecution awaited anyone accused of magical practices, the Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care of Manchester has recently published online the diary of English Puritan Nehemiah Wallington, which includes firsthand accounts of witchcraft trials and executions from the middle of the seventeenth century.

The document reveals the details of a witchcraft trial held in Chelmsford in July 1645, when more than a hundred suspected witches were serving time in Essex and Suffolk according to his account.

"Divers (many) of them voluntarily and without any forcing or compulsion freely declare that they have made a covenant with the Devill," he wrote.

"Som Christians have been killed by their meanes," he added.

Of the 30 women on trial in Chelmsford, 14 were hanged.

Wallington also recounts the experiences of Rebecca West, a suspected witch who confessed to sleeping with the devil when she was tortured because "she found her selfe in such extremity of torture and amazement that she would not enure (endure) it againe for the world." Her confession spared her.

The diaries themselves can be viewed here. When I last checked the link the site was reporting problems with the image collection, perhaps because of heavy network traffic, but hopefully the diaries will be available again soon. They really are worth a read, if nothing else to remind us of how far we've come as a society since then and how lucky we all are to be practicing magick today rather than in 1645.

UPDATE (3/10/2011): I checked the site this morning and it looks like the problems are resolved and the diaries are back online. Enjoy!

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