AND THE ORIGINS OF MAGICAL,
175, 2017 July)
must have observed how loss of blood could produce physical weakness,
even death. It appears that very early in time they came to believe
that the force that gave life to humans was either a component of the
blood, or else it was some external force that was "absorbed" by the
blood and that when the blood was lost, the life-force departed from
the body and death followed.
Such beliefs are
mirrored in ancient tradition, "… the blood is the life" (Deuteronomy
12:23), "… the life of the flesh is in the blood," (Leviticus 17:11);
and "The Spirit being diffused and going through the veins, and
arteries, and blood, both moveth the living Creature, and after a
certain manner beareth it." (Corpus Hermetica, IV, 47). Many cultures
accepted the idea that humans had originally been created from blood;
thus, in Babylonian myth, humans were said to have been created from
the blood of Merodach, the son of Ea; similarly, according to the
Koran, man was created from "congealed blood" (Koran 96).
Because of its
association with the creation process and some supreme deity, blood was
increasingly perceived as a particularly "sacred" substance, and many
special restrictions evolved concerning the disposal of blood. It was
not to be ingested by humans, "But flesh with the life thereof, which
is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat." (Genesis 9:4) and, "Only be
sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou
mayest not eat the life with the flesh." (Deuteronomy 12: 23). Blood
was to be either returned to the creator, or poured upon the ground, "…
thou shalt pour it upon the earth as water." (Deuteronomy 12: 24).
cultures, sacrificial blood, especially human which was considered the
most potent, served as a means of returning the life-energy to the
various deities; indeed many, like the Incas and Mayans, believed the
deities would die if deprived of this nourishment, (Crawley, 1971, p.
13). Sacrificial blood was also perceived as a powerful "cleansing"
agent for baptism into a new faith, thus Mithraic baptism required
candidates to kneel below an altar upon which a bull was sacrificed. As
its throat was cut open they were drenched by the flow of living blood,
an act considered to wash them clean of their past sins and prepare
them to be accepted into the faith.
It was widely
accepted that most of the saviour deities had sacrificed their own
blood for humankind, and, by this means, provided their followers with
divine redemption and salvation; a new life, washed clean of sin. Many
religions use this concept allegorically, as for example in the words
of the Christian hymn, "There is power, power, wonder working power in
the blood of the Lamb."
other less brutal methods came to be substituted for human and animal
sacrifices; the vivifying energy of blood was replaced by liquids such
as water, beer, milk or wine, "… the blood of the grape" and thus the
"blood of the earth," a spiritual beverage that invigorates gods and
men. (Encyclopædia Britannica, vol. 26, p. 840)
To the ancients
blood was a fearsome substance filled with awesome energy, and many of
the restrictions regarding the shedding of blood were devised, not so
much for moral purposes but, to avoid the release of the powerful and
mysterious soul-power that blood contained (Robinson, 1971, p. 715).
Most fearsome of all was menstrual blood which, according to Pliny, was
so filled with noxious energy that it could sour new wine, and render
infertile crops and fruit trees exposed to it (Book VII, XV.); it was
even claimed that venomous snakes were born of the buried hair of
Greeks, e.g. Erasistratus and Galen perceived the body as an apparatus
that "distilled" the vital-spirit, (the pneuma) which flowed from the
heart to the brain, where the sanguine humour (blood) was added and it
was then distributed to the other organs, via the nervous system.
Certainly, by the time of Galen, (circa, 129 – 200 A.D.) it was widely
accepted that the blood was the real source of life, because it
contained the "vital-spirit". Later theorists only reinforced this
belief, and so we find that, even in the 1620's, at about the same time
that Harvey was providing a scientific explanation for the circulation
of blood, a colleague, Robert Fludd, was proposing the idea of a
universal, or "catholic" spirit, a force, he claimed, was emitted from
the sun to give life to all things. Acting like a miniature sun the
human heart. "…distributes the vital spirit to the rest of the body by
a process of circulatory currents, in the same way as the sun's
catholic spirit spreads across the earth. (Hellman, 2001. p. 9).
to "air" as, "…that spirit, which both the Greeks and ourselves call by
the same name, air." (Book II. IV). Air had long been thought to
be involved with the life-principle for not only did breathing cease
with death, but, although invisible, air, in the form of wind, had the
power to move even heavy objects, so it seemed logical that air, one of
the four elements, must contain some special "animating" or life giving
It was uncertain
as to whether this animating principle was the air itself, or something
within the air. Empodocles (504 to 443 BC), believed that the actual
essence of life was a form of "subtle fire" that was present in all
matter, including the air. Some, like Diogenes even claimed the soul
was composed of air, a substance described by Aristotle (1987) as, "…
the primordial principle from which all other things are derived, it is
cognitive; as finest in grain, it has the power to originate movement."
(Book 1, II)
creation myths the "breath of life" was the animator and sustainer of
life, and deities were frequently depicted as shaping inanimate
substances such as dust or clay into human form and then breathing life
(air) into them, i.e. "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from
the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man
became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7). This is a reference
to the Hebrew nph, (nephesh), either a life force, or an animating
spiritual-energy, related in particular to the concept of drawing
breath, or "to breathe."
We can find
further references that connect nephesh with the life principle; "… all
flesh in which is the breath of life…" (Genesis 6:17); "… two and two
of all flesh in which there was the breath of life." (Genesis 7:15). In
1 Kings we find a reference to the widow’s son who fell sick and died,
"…and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath (nephesh) left
in him"; (17:17). Despite his death, he was restored to life by Elijah,
"… the nephesh (life) of the child returned and he revived". (17:22)
and finally, in the Book of Job, we find, "In his hand is the life of
every living thing and the breath of all mankind." (12:10)
cultures believed that the blood vessels were filled with air; the
ancient Egyptians believed that humans were animated by the "breath of
life" (tjaw n ankh), a substance that entered the body either through
the right ear, (Nunn, 1996 p. 103), or through the nose, "As for the
breath which enters into the nose, it enters into the heart and the
lungs. It is they which give to the entire body." (Nunn, p. 55, quoting
from the Ebers papyrus)
For the Hindus
and Buddhists Prana, (Sanskrit, for "life force" or "breath of life",
Feuerstein, 1987), was a form of breath, a life-current, thought to
exist within the air. As one of the three substances that composed the
human body, it was perceived as a form of life-energy drawn into the
body with each breath.
To the Chinese,
this energy was known as Qi, or ch’, "vital or heavenly air" (Mainfort,
2004, p. 38) and was believed to originate in the sun. Chi was
perceived as a form of radiant energy, "… strong enough to blow the
tails of comets as if in a strong wind." (Teresi, 2002, p. 149)
this theme remain part of the Eastern culture; in Thailand a form of
alternative therapy is practised; known as Chi Nei Tsang II, this
therapy is based upon a theory of, "… "good Chi" and at least ten kinds
of bodily "wind" (flatus), including the "sick or evil wind."
discovered that blood, and not air, flowed through the veins and
arteries, his findings were generally ignored. Western medicine
continued to teach that the arteries were filled with air and spirit,
(Hellman, 2001, p. 7), a concept that was more acceptable to the
Christian Church. While this belief was finally discarded in the West
after 1628, when Harvey published his book De Motu Cordis, as Mainfort
(2004) observed, it remained an essential element of traditional
Chinese medicine (TCM) until around 1830 (p. 39)
medicine considered humans to have been created from a combination of
elemental substances, in TCM these were earth, fire, metal, water,
wood, in Ayurvedic, air, earth, ether, fire and water. These
beliefs remain the cornerstones of both TCM and Ayurvedic, the latter
still claiming that five elemental forces, (air, fire, water, earth and
space), combine in the body to form three harmoniously balanced pairs
of doshas, (the tridoshas, to convert five elements into three pairs
water is made a component of two of the doshas), and that mental or
physical illness was due to imbalances between the doshas.
appear to have influenced Hellenic medicine, for around 450 BCE
Empedocles proposed a somewhat similar concept involving a connection
between the "four" basic elements (air, fire, earth and water); and
four bodily humours. Like the Eastern model, it proposed that all
matter, including humans, had been created from these four basic
elements, with the characteristics of each individual being determined
by their own "unique balance" of these elements, with the predominant
element producing the primary characteristics of physical appearance
and behaviour of the individual, while the other elements played a
which dominated Western medical philosophy until the Middle Ages,
attributed all sickness and disease to imbalances, either a deficiency,
or a surplus of one or more humours, (elements), in the body. Although
the humoural theory was an attempt to explain life in a more secular
context, it was really only a variation of the vitalistic concept,
merely substituting vague elemental forces for a divine animating power
which the ancient Greeks referred to by a variety of terms, including
Arche, Apeiron, Nous or Pneuma.
Arche was the
original source, the "first principle" which, according to Thales of
Miletus, was water. His pupil Anaximander disagreed; arguing that
"contrary" elemental forces, particularly fire, could not emerge from
water, he proposed another alternative, a mysterious substance called
Apeiron, a "fifth element", a superlunerary substance, which, because
it had the inherent power to combine the opposite characteristics of
all things, was able to take on the properties, shape and substance of
all things, and to give life to the entire cosmos.
Nous was the
purest, most powerful substance in the cosmos, a form of natural
intelligence with knowledge of, and power over, all things. To
Anaxagoras it was the original intelligence that had first brought
order out of the primeval chaos and then implemented the processes
necessary to produce the existing cosmos.
The Logos, or
Pneuma, (literally, air, wind, spirit, or the "breath of life"), was
thought to be a universal animating substance; although a purely
spiritual force, it contained an innate ability to create all forms of
physical matter, and to shape and animate all forms of life.
First mentioned by Heraclitus it was embraced by the Stoics, and later
by the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who viewed it as s the
divine word of God that, when uttered, brought the world into being,
(c.f. Isaiah 55:11); it is also the substance referred to in John 1.
established a clear distinction between organic and inorganic
materials, both vitalistic and scientific theories of life became
increasingly concerned with organic (living) matter. However, this did
not result in the complete demise of the old traditional concepts, and
there remained an interest in such issues as the "inherent power"
within nature and living matter, and, in particular, how this
interacted with, and affected, the spiritual component of humans.
Renaissance onwards, Western medicine began to increasingly break free
of the old traditional methods; becoming more empirical it openly began
to challenge what had previously been accepted as untouchable "holy
writ". However, while the new approach began to sweep away many of the
old superstitious and counterfeit pseudo-scientific beliefs, they never
became completely extinct; rather they found refuge on the fringes of
medicine as alternative options, areas that appealed when orthodox
In addition many
of those on the fringe of medicine were ever eager to use contemporary
scientific discoveries to prop up their traditional or alternative
beliefs. Thus, we find that after William Gilbert published his book,
De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure, ("On
the Magnet and Magnetic Bodies, and on That Great Magnet the Earth"),
in1600, the "vital energy" component, which had formerly been perceived
as a divine, spiritual force, was increasingly represented by
alternative practitioners as magnetic energy, the newest wonder of that
mysterious; apart from its physical attraction of certain objects, some
even believed that it was able to exert an influence over living
objects, including human beings. Even more sensationally, it was
claimed by some like Jan van Helmont, (1580-1644), that certain
individuals were so filled with this potent magnetic energy that they
even had the power to forcibly discharge this "magnetic fluid" into
other humans, completely overwhelming their will. Such ideas were not
new; similar claims had been made about certain individuals, especially
witches and magicians, from ancient times.
were said to be able to use their sinister powers to manipulate
people, to harm them with the "evil eye", or to deprive them of
their "life-force" by "binding up" their sexual and procreative
abilities. With the advent of these new theories these ancient claims
were given a degree of "scientific" validity, the suggestion being
that, perhaps these individuals had actually possessed some form of
real power, one that was "magnetic" rather than magical.
influence on the spread of magnetic beliefs was Franz Anton Mesmer,
(1734-1815). A scientist, and a showman, he adopted many of Helmont’s
ideas, and was particularly influential in spreading these new ideas
throughout Europe. He believed that the entire universe was filled with
a mysterious magnetic force which he called ‘animal magnetism’; not
only were humans susceptible to the actions of this energy but that all
human illness was due to internal imbalances or blockages of this
By the mid 18th
century the advent of the Leyden jar, and a rotating friction machine
to create static electricity, had exposed the public to a new natural
phenomena, electricity, and very soon the concept of an electrically
based life-energy began to replace the former magnetic theory. In
1791, Galvani had published his book, De Viribus Electricitatis in Motu
Musculari Commentarius (On the effect of electricity on the motion of
muscles), in which he proposed that "animal electricity" was the vital
life-component, and that all animal bodies contained two forms of
electrical energy, "…positive in the nerves and negative in the
muscles" (Hellman, 2001, p. 24). He believed that it was the discharge
of positive electricity into the nerves that caused the muscles to move.
theories led to research into the use of electricity to move the limbs
of paralyzed patients, the concept was largely sidetracked by a horde
of quacksalvers who promoted electricity as a miraculous healing tool.
As Hellman (2001), observed,
rumour mills were filled with reports that electricity had been used to
cure an astonishing range of maladies, from constipation to paralysis,
from headaches to herpes." (p. 19).
As McCoy (2000)
reported, electrical gadgets of all shapes and forms proliferated to
such an extent that it became necessary for warnings to be issued that,
if over-used these machines could deplete one’s "vital energies"
producing all manner of diseases. (p. 56).
"scientific" approach of the latter part of the 19th century saw the
gradual passing of these former concepts and the "life-force" was
increasingly perceived as an electro-biological force. Nevertheless the
former ideas remained popular with writers such as Bulwer-Lytton, and
much of the popular fiction presented the idea that electricity could
be used to reanimate the dead, ("The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar",
by E. A. Poe), or even to create life, (Frankenstein by Mary Shelley).
The expansion of
European powers into Egypt and Asia in the 18th-19th produced an
increased interest in Eastern religious and philosophical concepts;
many of which were merged with preexisting Western mystical ideas, for
example, the concepts of Reincarnation and Karma.
had been part of ancient Greek philosophy, taught by Plato, Socrates
and Pythagoras and was also part of the Jewish kabalistic literature,
(gilgul or "cycles of life"), while the Eastern concept of karma had
many similarities to the Christian concept of predestination. One group
in particular, the Theosophists, wholeheartedly embraced many mystical
and traditional Hindu and Buddhist teachings, especially the concept of
a vital, life giving energy, prana.
theories proposed that the "vital energy" was a divine, heavenly, or
cosmic force. Very early in time the Sun and its rays had been
identified as its source and this continued to be accepted by many,
"…the vital force which emanates from the sun…" (Powell, 1925, p.
2). As Hall (1928) observed, solar worship "…was one of the earliest
and most natural forms of religious expression" (p. 49), the Sun being
revered by many primitive races, "…as the proxy of the Supreme Deity."
(p, 49). Indeed it appears that most religious beliefs were simply
variations of the solar theme of an eternally reborn sun-god, and
everywhere, humans acknowledged their dependence upon the sun. In
temples, past and present, the ubiquitous eternal flame burned as a
symbolic representation of the Sun’s eternal life giving energy.
The presence of
such a flame in the Jerusalem temple strongly suggests that, even
Judaism, was originally a solar religion, and that their concepts of
Yahweh originally evolved from the image of the life-giving energy of
Jewish myths indirectly refer to solar worship, e.g. Samson’s hair was
a representation of the rays of the sun, "Why did Samson (name derived
from Shemesh, the sun) lose all his strength when he lost his hair? "
(Carpenter, 1920, p. 27). Christianity too is based upon solar
myth, for, just as the Sun was thought to enter a vast subterranean
cavern each night, from whence it emerged the following morning, so too
Jesus, the "light of the world", was born in, and emerged, in his
glory, from a subterranean cave.
The concept of
the sun’s rays as the initiator and sustainer of human life led to a
belief that the body must possess certain means to "receive" this
energy and channel it into the body whence it would then flow freely
within the body. The idea of the subtle vital force (prana) and the
channels (nadis), along which it flows, are first mentioned in the
earliest Upanishads dating from circa 7th-8th century BCE. The
heart was said to be the centre of 72,000 nadis, and the place into
which the senses retreated during sleep, (in many ancient
civilisations, e.g. Egypt, Homeric Greece, the heart was also
considered to be the seat of waking consciousness).
In ancient Egypt
similar imaginary channels, known as metu, were believed to carry,
"…blood…air, mucus, urine, semen, disease-bearing entities and also
malign or benign spirits…" (Nunn, 1996, p. 44). In Ayurvedic
these channels are known as srotas, in Chinese Acupuncture, meridians.
Over time the
concept became increasingly more complex, with Ayurvedic evolving a
system of sixteen separate channels that existed on both a visible and
invisible level, even including one channel for the flow of
intelligence, and another for the flow of thoughts through the mind.
second century BCE, we find the first references to the Tantric
concepts of chakras and mantras, (spiritual channels created by words
or sounds). The chakras, (Sanskrit "wheels" or "circles"), were defined
as centres of energy, able to receive the various forms of normally
undetectable, non-physical forms of energy, especially prana, which was
claimed to enter the body through the Crown Chakra, (the seventh chakra
or Sahasra, located at the top of the head), and then to "flow" through
invisible "channels"- in a fashion similar to the flow of blood.
According to Krieger, (1997) the chakras are, "…of major importance at
the supraphysical level, where they act as the principal agents for
focusing energy to the physical body." (p. 58). As these various
Vitalistic concepts evolved in the various cultures, it gradually came
to be accepted that: -
a) Life would be
sustained only whilst this energy continued to flow within the
depended upon the unrestricted flow of this energy through the body; and
must be maintained in a constant state of "balance" neither too much
nor too little.
times, when negative health had been primarily attributed to divine
punishment, or the malicious influence of evil spirits, treatment had
been primarily of a religious character, prayers, incantations,
fumigations and herbs that were antagonistic to the evil spirits were
used to drive them out; however as more secular vitalistic theories
began to evolve, the emphasis changed towards developing treatment
regimes that would ensure an unrestricted flow of the life-energy.
culture developing their own unique methods, the result was a
proliferation of different forms of so-called "alternative" and
"complementary" vitalistic therapies.
Most of these
emphasize a holistic approach, using only "natural" principles and
medicines to maintain or restore a normal unrestricted flow of
life-energy, for, it is claimed, "artificial" drugs interfere with the
body’s natural energy potential and restrict the flow of this vital
It is commonly
claimed by many alternative therapists that natural, herbal medicines
do not contain chemicals! Such claims are completely ludicrous since
all substances, both organic and inorganic, contain chemicals; they are
either deliberate falsehoods, or products of the sheer ignorance of
alternative practitioners who seem to be often unaware that even
something as natural as an orange contains some one-hundred and forty
different chemical compounds.
therapies tend to deny, or at least ignore, the existence of such
things as disease and infections. They claim that what orthodox
medicine perceives as "disease" are merely indications of physical or
mental "disharmony" in the body; internal "imbalances" or "blockages"
to the natural energy flow, and that the particular location of the
"problem" is indicated by its effects upon whatever particular organ
lies directly adjacent to the "blockage." (Drury, 1981, p. 118)
unlike orthodox medicine, which treats a specific health disorder,
vitalistically based therapies use a variety of different techniques to
discover, and remove, the many possible causes of the interference with
the energy flow. As Stanway (1979) observed, these might be, "…chemical
(from faulty eating, drinking, breathing or elimination), mechanical
(spinal malalignment, muscular tension, stiff joints or bad posture) …
In general, most
alternative therapies use one of the following therapeutic approaches: -
The use of indirect treatments such as naturopathic, homeopathic or
herbal remedies that are said to encourage the body’s natural healing
Direct bioenergetic therapies, that claim to use life-energies to
restore a positive balance and revitalize the internal life-energy
balance, and so cure any dysfunction.
Within the scope
of the first category are those holistic therapies that direct
treatments to the whole organism, rather than to treating a specific
disorder. Of these, Naturopathy is possible the best known, with the
vitalistic concept of, "…the vis medicatrix naturae as its
philosophical linchpin." Bradley, 1999, p. 41). A form of holistic
therapy, it utilizes a variety of treatments such as therapeutic
counselling, prescribing plants, herbs and their extracts, programmes
of exercise, massage, manipulation of the joints and spine, and dietary
regimes that include fad diets, fasting, or the use of specially
developed nutritional types of food, treatments, all claimed to
stimulate the individual’s internal, self-healing process.
category primarily comprises those alternative forms of treatment which
are designed to manipulate those "…numerous forms of energy alien to
physics …" (Raso, 1995, p. 33). Generally referred to as
"bioenergetic" or bio-electromagnetic therapies, these are based upon
the alternative belief that the human body is actually "… a localized
dynamic interaction of several principal force fields that span a
spectrum of vitality, life-force and creative living energies."
(Krieger, 1997, p. 36).
In the past the
vital life-energy was often associated with the aura; said to be
discernible as a field of radiance surrounding the bodies of certain
individuals, in particular, those who were "chosen" or were
exceptionally holy. The aura was believed to be a manifestation of the
divine "glory" that so filled their body that it burst forth as a
radiant glow, and thus, in the example of the enlightened Moses, it was
said that, "…the skin of his face shone" (Exodus 34:29). There was a
long-standing belief that these "special" people had the ability to
heal by transferring some of this divine power into the sick, an act
that could overwhelm the evil spirits or negative forces that were
believed to cause disease and sickness. Although this had originally
been primarily a religious belief, gradually became more a tenet of
vitalism, and by the late Middle Ages was increasingly taking on a
pseudo-scientific perspective, so that by the 17th-18th centuries it
was being widely identified with magnetism and electricity, early
concepts of the "bioenergetic techniques" that were to become such a
major component of alternative therapies in the 20th century.
In the West one
leading proponent of the bioenergetic theories was the Theosophist C.W.
Leadbeater; he adopted a number of Hindu traditions, in particular the
belief that humans were composed of a number of separate bodies, the
visible physical body, and the "etheric double" (aura), which was,
"…not visible to ordinary sight… (p. 2). In traditional Hindu
lore the etheric double a vital component of human existence for it was
the part of the individual that it absorbed prana, the vital cosmic
energy that gave life to the body; for this reason it was known in
Hindu as, "Prânamâyakosha, or vehicle of Prâna"
(Powell, 1925, p. 3). This was said to act as a nexus between the
individual and the cosmos, conveying, "…undulations of thought and
feeling from the astral to the visible denser physical matter,
(Leadbeater, 1927, p. 3), and, without this ‘vital’ connection, "…the
ego could make no use of the cells of the brain." (p. 3).
claimed the invisible etheric double consisted of at least two "etheric
envelopes" or, fields of energy, around the body. While the Etheric
Double projected only about one centimeter from the body, the other
part, the Etheric or Health Aura, was between three and five
centimeters deep. Although invisible, according to those able to
perceive it, this field it was a pale violet-grey or blue-grey in
colour and faintly luminous, (Powell, 1925, p. 4).
bioenergetic techniques, which include Therapeutic Touch, Rei-ki, Auric
Massage, Pranic Healing, Qi Gong and other types of so-called "psychic"
healing therapy, generally refer to this Health Aura as the "human
energy field" (HEF) and claim it is composed of some of the universal
animating energy that "radiates" from the body, combined with specific
patterns of mental and physical energy that reflect the function and
operation of every body organ. Indeed, according to Kunz and Peper
(1995), our every thought and emotion are displayed as,
"…characteristic patterns of energy" (p. 214) within this HEF. The
bioenergetic healers claim that they have the "ability" to see the
colours and patterns within the HEF, and that any disturbances to these
patterns indicate problems to the health of the individual are clearly
visible as ominous dark patches. In this way, they claim, they can make
a fast and easy diagnosis of the health problem.
Healing too is
claimed to be easily performed by the use of bioenergetic techniques;
as Krieger (1993) observed,"When a person’s energies are out of
balance, the person becomes ill." (p. 46); thus since all illness is
caused by imbalances in the energy flow, it only requires the
therapist, (healer), to bioenergetically "rebalance" the patient’s
energies by transferring some of their own positive life-energy into
the patient’s HEF. The transferred energy enables the patient’s
depleted energy levels to be restored and rebalanced, and that this
process activates the patient’s own internal healing process, returning
them to full health.
This ability is
not restricted to a few, special people for, according to Krieger
(1986), everyone has the "ability" to transfer positive healing
life-energy into others; it is a "natural human potential" that we all
legacy of Vitalism is the large variety of erroneous beliefs and
counterfeit-scientific theories that it has engendered; these include: -
It is claimed that energy from our HEF is absorbed by our clothing, or
objects that we carry; psychics and clairvoyants, who claim to have
"extra-sensory" abilities, insist they can detect these residual traces
of life-energy on objects that we have touched. One particular form of
divination was that of the touchstone. A fortune-teller would give the
subject a special stone to hold in their hands for a short period of
time; after it was handed back the diviner claimed to be able to
perceive the life energy that had been transferred into the stone, and,
from that, could predict the individual’s future. A modern
variation of this fraud is to ask a gullible victim to hand over their
money so that the fraudster can either "read" the energy, or bless the
money, by instilling their own positive energy into the money, so that
the victim is guaranteed to have good luck in the future. At that
point, by using some form of distraction, the fraudster departs,
leaving the victim out of pocket.
If it is possible to believe in the existence of a positive life-force,
then it is possible to conceive the opposite, malevolent beings, that
attached individuals with negative energy. To the ancients these were
real physical forces that could be projected into a victim; as such
they were also thought able to be transferred out of the victim, either
to another person, an animal, or even into some object. Thus in
Mesopotamia the sick would place a loaf of bread on their head and
recite a sacred incantation three times; then, after wiping the loaf
over their entire body, (to absorb the evil influence), they would cast
the loaf at a dog. If the dog ate the loaf the evil would be
Throughout history, dogs and cats remained popular targets of this
practice, and as late as the 16th century there are references to
Scottish witches transferring human suffering and disease to cats and
dogs. It was also a common practice in Scotland to pass a cat over a
person suffering from fever, to absorb their illness. Ancient
rabbinical literature mentions the process known as pigeon therapy, in
which prayers were chanted over a person with jaundice, and then a
pigeon placed on their navel. It was believed that this act would
transfer the jaundice into the pigeon, then, when the bird was allowed
to fly away, the disease would disappear with the bird. According to
Chapter VII of The Magus, a 19th century grimoire, "So in the cholic,
if a live duck be applied to the belly, it takes away the pain, and the
duck dies." (p. 38). In similar vein we find in Mark 5: 11-13 the story
of how Jesussupposedly expelled an evil spirit from a "possessed" man
and transferred it into a herd of pigs.
The belief that negative energy could be transferred between humans and
animals can also be found in certain unusual employment requirements of
past ages. One such example was to be found amongst Falconers and
Cadgers. The Falconers, who were responsible for caring and training
the birds, and the Cadgers who carried a wooden frame known as a cadge,
on which the birds were carried in the field, were required to be men
of "chaste behaviour" since it was believed, men who frequented harlots
could transfer their "contagion" to the extremely valuable birds.
3. Life After Death –
Ghosts: In many cultures the life-energy, or spirit, was
considered to be a "divine" force, and, as such, able to survive
physical death, and even to return to Earth, to help or harm those left
behind. This was the basis of many ghost stories and such practices as
the propitiation of the dead and ancestor worship especially in China,
where relatives of the dead person went to a great deal of trouble to
ensure the deceased was happy in their grave. To this end they employed
Feng Shui doctors to locate the most suitable sites for the dead.
4. Life After Death –
Heaven, Resurrection and Reincarnation: The belief
that a part of the individual could survive death gave rise to many and
varied concepts of the afterlife. It must have made some degree of
sense to the ancients that, if the spirit survived death. it needed a
"dwelling place" where it could continue in its earthly role, It was
assumed the dead would need their tools and personal possessions,
a practice that appears to be at least 50,000 years old, dating
from when Neanderthals and Homo sapiens began burying their dead with
their everyday tools. This practice reached its ultimate level of
excessiveness amongst the Egyptian pharaohs.
Later the idea developed of a resurrection; some, like the Pharisees
even claiming that the body would rise from the grave in an actual
"physical" resurrection, an idea that was to influence the formation of
the resurrection myth of Jesus.
It appears that
a natural sense of justice and injustice greatly influenced the
perception of life after death, and many cultures depicted the
punishment meted out to sinners, and the rewards for the faithful, in
the afterlife. This necessitated the creation of another level of
after-death existence, an elaborately location where the faithful would
be able to enjoy an eternal life of pleasure, while those who had
sinned while alive were banished to another place, where they lived in
Since blood was believed to contain a form of "life-energy" it must
have appeared logical to assume that demons and malevolent spirits, who
were not really "alive" in the real sense of the word, would attack
humans to drink their blood so that they might obtain some of vital
life-giving "essence" and so gain for a short period of time an
artificially sustained form of life. Folklore is filled with these
creatures such as Lilith the first wife of Adam, the Horseleech of
Proverbs 30:15; the Lamia, Burcolakas, and Empusa of Greece, the Arabic
Algul, the European Incubi and Alfs, the Malaysian Penanggalan,
the Scottish Baobhan-Sith, the Rumanian Nosferat, and the fictional
6. Spontaneous Generation:
This was the belief that certain types of organisms could form
spontaneously, without the need of intermediate developmental processes
such as eggs, or offspring; It was believed that certain types of
rotting matter produced special gases, (miasmas), that contained a form
of life-energy and spontaneously produced life forms; this was also
believed to be the source of such diseases as Cholera and the Black
Death. In ancient times when the biological origins of insects, frogs,
and fishes were unknown, this was a widespread belief, e.g. Exodus
7:17, "... all the dust of the earth became gnats throughout the land
This concept received its greatest impetus from Aristotle who claimed
that shellfish, limpets, oysters, and fleas, were born spontaneously
from the mud of the sea-beds; that crabs developed from certain
shellfish, especially those with a curved form; Jellyfish were formed
spontaneously from sea-water; and that spiders were born from other
insects with a similar form and appearance. He claimed that some forms
of life, formed from morning dew, some from leaf mould, mud, or
decomposing manure, while mosquitoes came from earthworms, and ticks
from couch grass.
7. Philosopher’s Stone:
This was considered to be the receptacle within which resided the
original divine life-power. Like the Greek Apeiron it contained the
fundamental life-energy that was able to shape, or reshape
substances, and, so could transmute anything it came in contact
with, returning it to that most noble, and original substance, Gold.
8. The Elixir Vitæ
and the Fountain of Youth: Early Christians believed that,
having been given a pure and uncorrupted divine life-force, Adam and
Eve were destined to be immortal; however, this divine potential was
lost when they "sinned"; as a result, all humankind was destined to age
and die. However, some believed that if they could obtain an infusion
of the divine spirit, which, according to the Alchemists, was contained
within the Elixir Vitæ, they would be able to banish sickness,
aging and even death. Later this idea became incorporated into myths
and traveller’s tales of fabulous lands, where it was said this magical
liquid might be found in a natural spring. It was from such sources
that reports of the legendary Fountain of Youth originated; the magical
water that flowed from this fountain was said to be able to restore
youth to the aged and when drunk regularly, would ensure eternal life.
Preformationism: The belief that an infinitely minute human form was
present in every egg, or sperm, and that the act of conception merely
triggered a process that enabled it to grow into a human child.
Emboîtement: The belief that, at the moment of creation, God had
created an infinite number of embryos, and that, within each embryo
were innumerable other embryos all waiting their time to be brought
forth. (Hellman 1998, p. 68).
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