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Monday, May 30, 2011

Psalm Magic

I've noticed increased interest, at least online, in biblical magic, especially that of psalm magic.  Possibly, this is due to a larger understanding (if not complete acceptance) of Christian and Jewish paganism by some pagans.  It could just be my own interest and developing personal practice, but I don't think that's all it is.  Psalm magic can be a deeply rewarding magical path to explore for those who are drawn to it.

Psalm Authorship and History
Illustration of Psalm 23 from The Sunday at Home

The biblical Book of Psalms, also known as the Tehillim in Hebrew, are a collection of poems or songs often attributed to King David.  There is no agreement to the authorship or history of the psalms however.  One theory that makes the most sense to me is that much like the bible itself the psalms were written by several authors spanning centuries, King David being the most prolific and celebrated.

Psalm and Candle Magic in Hoodoo

Hoodoo, also known as African-American conjure, has combined candle magic with psalms before the publication of any Wiccan or modern pagan candle magic book.  Candles weren't always used.  In fact, the practice of simply reciting psalms along with performing certain tasks for magical purposes may have been brought to America by a German Christian member of a religious community whose work on the subject was posthumously published in the 1700s as Secrets of the Psalms under the name Godfrey Selig.  This book influenced generations of African-American conjure (aka root) workers.  Selig was a Christian Kabbalist who believed the psalms contained seed sounds that when spoken could produce desired magical results.

In the first half of the 20th century, probably the 1930s, another book, The Master Book of Candle Burning:  How to Burn Candles for Every Purpose by Henri Gamache, would become a classic in using psalms with candle magic.  Interestingly, techniques for dressing candles often used in modern witchcraft are laid out in this book, though as mentioned earlier its publication predates others associated mainly with paganism and witchcraft.

Some would say that pagan practices influenced the Christians who influenced modern pagans.  Others would say these practices are Christian or more likely Jewish in origin.  While I find the study of the history fascinating, I admit that I'm content to develop my practice at this point and leave the arguments to others.

Why Psalms?

In reading through the psalms, you'll find verses on nearly every aspect of the human condition.  Probably the most famous is the 23rd psalm, which could be read as a petition for protection, prosperity, or as a statement of gratitude for all that God has given you.  The verse is thus (King James version):
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me lie down in green pastures.  He leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
No candles or magical oils needed really.  It's quite a powerful verse.  But it does lend itself to ritual magic whether it's used simply or in a more elaborate setting.

I believe Christopagans, Jewish Pagans, Christians or Jews would be most comfortable using the psalms in ritual magic, though I'm not going to step on anyone's personal practice if they don't identify as any of the above.  Magic is most effective if the magician is comfortable with and confident in the use of the language of the ritual, so anyone who feels a bit of a reflexive twinge with biblical terminology and concepts should consider that.  This also stems from monotheism, not the big bearded guy in the sky, but one creative force behind the universe.  Again, you don't have to hold this belief, but consider if you at least respect this tradition before you design rituals with psalms as the basis.

Some excellent resources for those interested in magic with Jewish and Christian origins are Modern Grimoire Magick:  Folk Magick and the Solomonic Path by Aaron Leitch, author of Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires and the more recent set of books on the angelical language of Enochian magic and Secrets of the Psalms:  The Kabbalistic Influence on Hoodoo by Catherine Yronwode, author of Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic:  A Materia Magica of African-American Conjure and proprietor of the Lucky Mojo Curio Co.  The books I mentioned above, Master Book of Candle Burning and Secrets of the Psalms are also good guides to get you started in psalm magic.

Sources consulted:

Jacobs, Louis [Rabbi in UK and contributor to My Jewish Learning].  The Book of Psalms:  Traditional & modern views of the Book of Psalms and the role of Psalms in Jewish Liturgy.  Accessed May 30, 2011.

Yronwode, Catherine.  See above link to Secrets of the Psalms.

 


© Trish Deneen

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