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The man who writes books on a Thelema that no beast shall divine. Founding member of Ordo Astri, Thelemic Magical Collegium. Member of Ordo Typhonis since 2000 e.v. More articles and essays are posted at https://ordoastri.org/ and https://tantrika.co.uk/

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Witches Sabbath

The moment that men began to claim to be Gods, to personalise the creative power manifested through astral and elemental forces, was the moment that men ceased to be Gods. As soon as men claimed the power for themselves they had to create theologies of good and evil to explain the dichotomy of disruptive or immoral forces within the self.

Magick Circle, J.W. Waterhouse (1886)

The personalisation of the source of creative power took place simultaneously with the invention of monotheism. While polytheism allows the free flow of psychic force in all its expressions, the religions of the ‘one God’ restrict or curtail the psychosexual energy that informs nature and being.

The bread that people ate in the middle ages was frequently laced with ergot, which has powerful psychoactive properties. Ergot was so common in bread that until the 1850s it was believed to be a natural part of the rye plant, from which bread was made. Tales of Devil worship, often laced with elements of Jewish ritual practices, were used to terrify a mainly illiterate population into paying more money to the church. Add to that a little imaginative fantasy—doubtlessly helped along by the ergot—and it was only one small step to the Witches Sabbath, the dreadful orgy where naked women shamelessly cavort around a hideous phantasmal Devil.

Witchcraft reached its apotheosis with the infamous book written by the German Catholic Heinrich Kramer and published in 1486. The title of the book was Malleus Maleficarum, ‘The Hammer of the Witches’. Previous to the publication of that book, the Church was sceptical that such a thing as Witchcraft even existed. The real purpose of the book was to introduce punitive legislation to deal with the many heretics that had arisen by the 13th century, daring to question religious dogma. It was perhaps due to the egocentricities of the writer that the chosen victims for trial and prosecution were, according to Kramer, more often women than men. The bias is understandable if we consider that women had been demonised since at least the writing of the second biblical book of Genesis around 500–600 BCE.

Curiously, magick was certainly practiced extensively before the 15th century. There was a great deal of interest in Qabalah, the sorcery of evocation, and theurgic practices, some of which were not too different from what we do today and would term as Hermetic Magick. Those who practiced magick at that time were largely educated men and so of the nobility. The source books were written in classical or ecclesiastical Latin, and Greek. Thanks to Malleus Maleficarum, the notion of magick and sorcery was effectively transferred from educated men with libraries at their disposal to uneducated women. Ironically, nearly all those that were prosecuted for being witches would have been regular churchgoers; in those days, everyone was. People only began to fear magick and sorcery when it was put forward that anyone, even the poor and uneducated, could command infernal powers simply by devoting themselves to the love of the Devil. Witchcraft and the evil power of the Devil did not originate with Judaeo Christian theology as such. It originated with what was essentially a work of fiction composed by a German clergyman in the 15th century.

There is no good or evil force in the universe as such. The idea that humans might gain power from a supernatural being embodying cosmic evil is pure fantasy—there is no ‘dark force’ existing beyond our own imagining. Nonetheless, the idea that a person, whether educated or not, could obtain supernatural powers by simply getting on the side of Satan was, and still is, a very powerful one.[1] Malleus Maleficarum, which pretended to be the product of fact-finding research, was a bestseller in the 15th and 16th centuries. Various names were cited to lend the treatise authority. The result was that thousands of persons, the majority of them women, were tried, tortured horribly, and executed. The fear of the educated governing authorities happened to coincide with the fear and prejudice of an uneducated populace, and was blown out of all proportion by what seemed like credible evidence. Sadly, little has changed since then.

Vinum Sabbati

Vinum Sabbati is the Latin term for ‘Wine of the Sabbath’. Down the ages, people have tried to describe Vinum Sabbati as an actual physical substance, for example a special concoction laced with hallucinogenic drugs. There certainly were such concoctions all over Europe in the times of the classical Greeks, and some were highly skilled at producing them. Such drugs were not outlawed by the state until the 20th century.

It is the Astral Plane—visible to some, invisible to most—where the world of matter coalesces with the world of spirit. That is the true medium for the Vinum Sabbati. What then is the special ingredient that some have perceived as an elixir of the Gods, and others as a cocktail for devil worshippers? The ‘substance’ variously called the immortal stone, lapis philosophorum or miraculous medicine of the philosophers cannot be weighed and measured by the means of material scientism. From the point of view of Esoteric Thelema, the mysterious substance is the Khabs in the Khu. As declared by Aiwass in the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, I: 8,
The Khabs is in the Khu, not the Khu in the Khabs.
The seed-star of consciousness projection is in the astrosome or body of light. The world appears to us through that power. Truth is in the eye of the beholder. The lurid symbolism of medieval Witchcraft, fermented in the witches cauldron of fear-filled imagining, may be interpreted thus. Magick, sorcery and yoga, understood in the purest sense, is not to gain power in the world, which is a powerful illusion. Real magick serves the purpose of opening gateways to the infinite in the subtle fabric of the mind-stuff of the universe. Across the threshold, beyond the limits of ordinary human consciousness, there exist intelligences that dwarf the mind of man. The purpose of the Great Work has ever been to make contact with such intelligences.

The devils and demons that populate the grimoires of the occult, as well as many works of fiction, are masks veiling a truth that is an abomination to those who would control and enslave the terrestrial sphere: the human ego essentially has no existence from its own side. The phenomenal outpourings of the Tree of Knowledge veil the numinous source of all. The conceptual mind is merely a mask woven from the emptiness of the void, and which therefore obscures the true state of affairs, or Reality.


1. The idea of Satan as a ‘Prince of Darkness’ is itself a confounded one. According to the book of Matthew 4: 1–11, where the name appears, Satan is the name of an Angel of God, appointed by God to test Jesus. Satan is therefore comparable to the Egyptian Set, the Initiator through Trial and Ordeal.
© Oliver St. John 2015, 2018
This essay is part of the collection, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs.
Related posts:
Babalon Unveiled!

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