In the cradle of science, every part of nature was the subject of a simple but profound and mysterious admiration and was placed under the special rule and protective outlook and guardianship of its own special presiding deity by man’s fantasy inclined to poetic view. The earth, the ocean, the rivers and streams, the stars, the winds, the mountains, the woods, etc. – they were all placed under a special supernatural power, each had its own God belonging to it. The illnesses that afflicted humanity every now and then, which, incidentally, were probably rarer in earlier times than in newer ones, were thought to be the product of malignant genii and dreams were thought of as the gift of good spirits; nervous crises related to a certain abnormal state of the organism were considered prophetic inspirations.
For this reason, the colorful mythology that embodies the religious beliefs of entire nations, later expanded, embellished and spread by the imagination of poets, but since then discredited and suppressed by the formation of a purer, “truer” religion and the gradual development of an associated “healthier” and more rational philosophy, starts from what is nevertheless found in many as habits, prejudices, customs and ceremonies well into the present day.
In the course of time, however, a spirit of meditative research combined with the contemplation of nature and philosophers with cultivated minds devised metaphysical systems which, however, for the most part were not yet founded on any substantial basis and which, intended only for persons with extraordinary mental power (acroatism; a teaching reserved exclusively for initiates), remained incomprehensible to the majority of people and thus worthless to them.
In the end Christianity triumphed over paganism and although with the popular acceptance of the new faith still a significant part of old paganism was connected, the human spirit was nevertheless liberated from the alleged bondage of many “erroneous conceptions”. Thank God a different view of natural phenomena and their causal connections began and led to conclusions that had freed themselves from the “errors” and “hallucinations” of “immature speculation.
Today’s scholars assume that science and civilization have their origins in the eastern continents, namely among the ancient Assyrians, Bactrians, Chaldeans, Babylonians, Egyptians, Hindus, Medes and Persians. In this context, it should be noted that among these primitive nations of the earth, the term magic was used both as a designation of physical and supernatural science and also encompassed today’s disciplines of philosophy, religion, theology, astronomy and medicine.
Those groups of people who devoted themselves to these studies and believed to have made the greatest progress in them were called “magii” (magicians, wise men, philosophers). They were the teachers of today’s physical and psychological sciences. They were teachers, priests and also prophets in the common people, and since knowledge of every kind was a rare possession in those early times, these “priest-philosophers” were always regarded with shy reverence by the largely uneducated and superstitious people, the latter believing that the higher knowledge and abilities of the former could only be acquired through constant intercourse and close association with certain supernatural beings. In this way, the early peoples of the East combined the study of nature with religion, and both were regarded as the exclusive “realm of magicians,” the priesthood, which had combined the knowledge thus acquired with their cult and religious ceremonies.
Accordingly, we must seek the origin of magic in the oldest traditional memories of the “primitive peoples” and in the first dawns of human civilization: Babylonia, Chaldea, Assyria, Bactria, Persia, Media, Egypt and India – the headquarters of the ancient magicians and consequently the earliest philosophy spread among mankind. Zarathustra, the Chaldean “star whisperers” and fortune tellers, the Egyptian priests and the Indian Brahmins, they all seem to have been the first owners and teachers of this mysterious science called magic. These groups of people were also in charge of the religious teachings, the worship services, the sacrifices and ceremonies of the people, the healing acts of the sick, and above all the preservation of the science sacred to them.
The assertion that knowledge is power, or at least the assertion that knowledge provides the most effective means for obtaining and maintaining control over the masses of the people, applies here in particular and probably for all time, but especially for the cradle of cultivated society, where scholarship, possession of knowledge and ignorance were separated by a greater divide and all science was generally attributed a supernatural origin.
Therefore, in these early times, magicians were considered by the people to be the revered owners of all science, more holy and more profane, and consequently, they stood in the highest esteem as mediators and arbitrators between heaven and earth, as interpreters of the divine will for the inhabitants of this “lower” world. Their social position in human society corresponded to the dignity of their sacred function. Either they themselves were princes and/or protectors of the land, or they were the indispensable counselors of the princes, as the writings of the Old Testament, the Apocrypha and other ancient written traditions teach us. As their duties were very meaningful and important, so too were their responsibilities enormous and stringent.
The qualities demanded of them, in addition to their knowledge and practical knowledge, were a strict love of truth and justice and a largely pure, highly unselfish character. A neglect of the duties transferred or the violation of one of these essential virtues resulted in the harshest punishment for those “criminals”, of which history has also preserved several significant examples.
According to what has been said so far, the word “magus” or “magician”, in its original meaning, means both a philosopher and a priest, an admirer and cultivator of all natural and moral knowledge. But since now, according to the first concepts of mankind, all science had, as it were, its origin in the “above”, was preserved and handed down by an immediate divine inspiration, power and wisdom, and from generation to generation as the special inheritance and property of the priesthood – the magician – the members of this holy caste were also regarded not only as special favorites and beneficiaries of heaven and as the hereditary servants of the popular religion, but also as the legislators, counselors and doctors of the people. In those days, medicine were also regarded as a secret and therefore as a part of the sacred science of magic. This is evident from the testimonies of several old writers as well as from the books of the Old and New Testaments.
Pliny for example derives medicine from magic by writing in his Hist. nat., Lib. XXX c.1 writes: “natam primum e medicina nemo dubiat magiam”. Plato also regards magic as the science dedicated to the service of religion. Apuleius, as well as several other writers, teach us that the word magus in the Persian language refers to a sacerdos (priest), and that a magus, in the proper sense, was regarded and venerated by the people as a privileged individual and maintained a connection with the gods. The magicians were the doctors as well as the priests of the people.
The combination of these two qualities remained in Europe long after the destruction of the ancient institutions of paganism. In France, for example, until a relatively new era, hospitals were exclusively under the supervision and administration of those clergymen. After the introduction of Christianity, magic and magicians degenerated in a sad way: The forced converts now accused the pagan priests of worshipping the devil, to whom they were to owe all their knowledge, power and abilities. From this time on, magic was branded and stamped as devilish and diabolical or simply dismissed as misdirected weirdoes – right up to the present day.