Questions on Demon Summoning and Catholicism

In response to The Green Butterfly, the mysterious “Paul” asks:

But why does it have to be Mass? Can’t Lutherans or Baptists consecrate green butterflies as well as Catholics? And if the butterfly is consecrated, why would it call up a demon–isn’t that the opposite of what consecrated things generally do?

I’ll go for the bonus and see if I can answer both questions in the same argument.

In the Western world – more properly, going back to the Assyrians and Babylonians – dealing with demons has been considered in terms of exorcism.  If a person is being bothered by an evil spirit, the shaman/priest/magician uses words, acts, and objects seen in that culture as sacred to cause it to leave the person alone.  If you’ve seen The Exorcist, this should make sense to you.

Nonetheless, from one perspective, exorcism is simply getting the demon to do what the holy individual want it to do.  If that person can make it go away, then logically, they should also be able to compel it to arrive, or to convince it to perform a service.  The Testament of Solomon seems to be a crucial work in this history.  Solomon gains the ability to free his servant boy from the depredations of a demon and goes on to imprison the inhabitants of Hell and force them to work on the Temple.  The goal is control, and the means are the same.  It also allowed magicians who came under fire to point to Jesus and the apostles as role models.

(This isn’t to say that more friendly methods of contacting spirits didn’t appear in other sources, usually relating to pagan rituals or dealing with angels.  Still, for demons, control was seen as the paramount issue.)

For over a millennium, the dominant religious paradigm in the West was Roman Catholicism.  This ensured that much of the ritual for controlling demons followed the methods of that faith, with Judaism coming in a close second.  In addition, many magicians were also clerics, both due to their comprehension of Latin works on magic and their ability to perform blessings and exorcisms.  Thus, much magical practice came to reflect Catholicism’s ceremonies and milieu.  The Church did not approve of these practices and tried to stamp them out when it was convenient, but they continued due to their appeal and ties to the dominant ideology.

With the Reformation came a desire to break with Catholicism, politically, theologically, and symbolically.  One method of distinguishing the reformers was their insistence on a strict interpretation of the Bible and an emphasis on the priesthood of all believers.  Much of the power of the priesthood, the blessed objects, the Latin Mass, and other trappings that separated the clergy from believers were rejected as superstitious trappings.

A common rhetorical technique for Protestant reformers, then, was to associate Catholic practices with those of magic.  Magic was already disapproved of as meaningless actions that did no one any good, and linking Catholic ritual to it discredited it in turn.  Catholic writers didn’t have much of an opportunity to return the favor; Protestant theology largely left the believer on his or her own, devoid of the blessings, angels, saints, contemporary miracles, and other structures on which magic could be hung.

As time went on, the authors and editors of grimoires followed the same links with Catholicism, suggesting that demons appeared as monks and that monks held secret books of magic in their monasteries.   Just as magic had been attributed to Jews when they were a mysterious minority, it was now laid at the foot of Catholics.  It didn’t hurt that magic is often very traditional, and thus references to Catholic tradition continued to turn up in the grimoires for centuries thereafter.

Does that answer your questions, Paul?

Published in: on March 30, 2009 at 12:01 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’ll run the risk of seeming even more of a word geek pedant and add that exorcism can translate to ‘causing to swear an oath out of’

    the original Greek roots were Ex – “out of” and horkizein – “cause to swear” (an oath – the noun of which being ‘horkos’).

    The original Greek exorkizein would have meant something close to ‘bind by an oath.’

  2. Good post on the thinking behind such practices. It’s rather common, since the butterfly can be viewed as a magical implement in the ritual, for masses to be said over ritual objects. In the Key of Knowledge, for example, after completing the knife of the work it’s placed somewhere that ten masses will be said over it.

  3. Maybe Harms is right after all 🙂

    Maybe not

  4. Thanks Dan, that’s really interesting, and certainly answers my question.

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