The Magician from the Waite-Trinick Tarot

Notes on the Catechism’s Statements on Divination, Astrology, and Magic

Another set of notes I wrote a few years ago, this time on the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s statements on divination, astrology, and magic. I remembered these notes and decided to publish them here after spending the last couple of weeks thinking about the Christian doctrine of theosis and how it relates to the Western esoteric tradition (specifically the Golden Dawn tradition) — namely, as the West’s equivalent to the Eastern tradition of hesychasm.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church forbids divination, which it defines as the desire to “unveil” the future in an effort to gain control over events or other human beings (2116). But Christian astrology, as defined by medieval theologians like St. Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas, consists rather of utilizing astrological knowledge to understand the influences of cosmic powers and principalities upon human beings and upon the material world. As fallen, these powers impinge upon and in some cases distort the will of God that God’s creatures are meant to uphold — all creation joined harmoniously in a choir of praise to glorify the Creator — as if, in the image of St. Albert, the divine light of the empyrean has been distorted by its journey through the cosmic spheres of the heavens prior to reaching us on earth. (Rereading this years later, in the light of the Golden Dawn tradition, the parallels here between St. Albert’s Dionysian light mysticism and the Magic of the Light of the G.D. are really clear.)

The Christian use of a horoscope or a Tarot reading, then, is not an attempt to predict the future or to gain knowledge for the purpose of controlling others, but to discern the influence of the fallen powers and principalities (understood as cosmic archetypes) on people and history. It gives us knowledge of the present, not the future — and we have the free will in Christ to mold our future according to the will of God, in defiance of the powers.

The Catechism also forbids magic and sorcery (2117), but its definition of magic is essentially confined to Goetic magic — “attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others.”  The evocation of spirits, mostly demonic, for the purposes of worldly desires (secret knowledge, the discovery of hidden treasure, etc.) is only one form of ceremonial magic. I agree with the Catechism that a magician cannot tame an “occult power” by sheer force of will without in some sense becoming captive to that power.

The purpose of transcendental magic — of theurgy — is something else entirely. Christian theurgic magic is a form of practical mysticism which attempts, through the aid of material things (sacramentals) and symbolic words and gestures (vocal and contemplative prayers), to further the Christian’s quest to attain the Beatific Vision and to participate in the redemption of the cosmos wrought by Christ the Repairer. If cosmic powers are invoked in the course of this transcendental magic, they are only invoked for the purposes of purification or appropriate veneration (dulia), not domination or worship (latria).

Physical objects are used in such operations as sacramentals, in the sense that all of the forms of material creation derive a certain lumen from their Creator, the “Father of lights” (James 1:17) or, in scholastic terminology, the “first brightness” (Aquinas). Such objects — as “temporal ‘traces’” of the divine forms (to use Radical Orthodox theologian John Milbank’s phrase) taken from the “great book of creation” of which the Catechism speaks in its section on meditation — serve to assist the Christian in achieving the “required attentiveness” for mystical prayer (Catechism 2705), the required purity to receive the Divine Light.

Christian theurgy is thus the opposite of the will-to-power magic that characterizes traditional Goetia, which is the only form of magic actually condemned by the Catechism. Theurgy is a dynamic method of attaining theosis, likeness or union with God, as is clear in the best examples of the Western esoteric tradition — such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Image at the top is the Magician from the Waite-Trinick Tarot (1917-1923).

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