The History of the Sacred Circle
As many of you know through my writings and teachings over the years, I am not a Neo Pagan. I am a genuine witch who has retired from teaching metaphysical topics after some 30 years or so. I have attended hundreds of rituals, both public and private, over the years. And so I would like to share the following thoughts. Please keep in mind that I have no desire to offend anyone. I’m just sharing some personal observations.
How many times have you attended a public ritual and observed the primary attendants reading from a piece of paper as they called upon an otherworld entity? In some cases, it may be a protective spirit of some sort such as a Guardian, Watchtower, Quarter or what have you. Or it may be a calling of Deity itself. While many Neo Pagans may not be aware of the origin or source of practice that they are engaging in, it is actually an ancient form of magical practice.
And whether one is calling upon a protective spirit (Greek approach) or upon Deity (Egyptian approach) , one is engaging a technique known as “Voces magicae”.
The practice of using the Voces magicae (words of power) is found in many different ancient magical texts. For instance, it is mentioned in the Papryi Graecae Magicae, which is thought to have originated from an Egyptian tomb, though its exact origin is unknown. What is known is that the two most important tenets of this text are the practice of self-identification with deity and the use of voces magicae while performing magical rituals.
The practitioner is instructed to use "I am" in connection with a specific deity’s name to empower the spell. Language, and in particular, the art of naming, carried a substantial magical power according to the Egyptians. The Pyramid Texts (Old Kingdom) (which were devoted specifically to the Pharaohs) , the Coffin Texts (Middle Kingdom) (magical funerary spells which were extended to the layman) and the Book of the Dead (New Kingdom) (which instructed the deceased to pass through obstacles in the afterlife) all contain references to the art of voces magicae.
For instance, the Coffin Texts provide a guidebook for those who have passed through the veil to help them retain the level of magical knowledge they may already possess and how to gain even more magical knowledge after they have passed. Naming is an extremely important tenet of this experience. The Egyptians were of the mind that words, whether spoken or written were not just symbols, but were realities contained within them.
The ancient Greeks are also among those who believed that a transformation or union with the gods was possible as noted in the Eleusian and Dionysian mysteries. There are also references to the voces magicae in ancient Greek magical texts such as the “Ephesia grammata” which dates back to the 4th Century BCE. Greek practitioners of the magical arts subscribed to three different types of magic. They are the Goeteia or lower magic, the Mageia, which is general magic and Theourgia or higher magic. It was thought that through the use of Theourgia, that one instituted self-identification with deity and the use of voces magicae though this was accomplished by way of the soul rather than the physical self as it was with the Egyptians.
Voces magicae are also referred to in the Chaldean Oracles. According to the Chaldeans, the soul, in its descent to the body accumulated impure substances. Through theurgist ritual, the soul rises to encounter deity and thus is purified of the impure substances and in turn attains immortality. The voces magicae, according to the Greeks, invokes assistant spirits who will help the soul to ascend without fear of being diverted to Hades. And so the invocation of voces magicae was not intended to become as one with deity for the Greeks believed that only the soul could attain such a desired union.
I think that you can see the parallels in calling helpful spirits and the Neo pagan utilization in calling the quarters, watchtowers and so on. As a matter of record it should be noted that the Voces magicae, as with all forms of influential magical technique and sacred ritual, in time was expanded to achieve other desired outcomes. For instance it was later used to expel demons from those who were possessed by such entities. And it also became associated with many other magical workings unrelated to becoming as one with deity.
In many subsequent cultures, the Voces magicae is associated with various curses, amulets and spells. When researching Hebrew magic for instance, the Sefer Ha Razim (Treatise on Mysteries) might be a good place to research the use of the Voces magicae in the form of curses.
As an interesting side note, it is thought that the word” ABRACADABRA” is a transliteration of the voces magicae. Serenus Sammonicus first introduced this word in the De Medicina Praecepta, circa 2nd century CE. The word, ABACADABRA is derived from the Hebrew phrase abreq ad habra, meaning “hurl your thunderbolt even unto death”. However these are topics for another time.
The purpose of this article is to bring to light the original use and intent of the Voces magicae in the hopes that such awareness will bring passion and perhaps a deeper understanding of performing magically related ritual in modern times. Perhaps the next time that you are called upon to fill a part in the calling of a protective spirit for your Sacred Circle or as a HP and/or HPS to become as one with deity, know that what you are doing has its roots in antiquity and when done with passion and spiritual determination, that it is a real means of connecting with those otherworld beings that figure so prominently in rituals of all types and paths. Such powerful methods of ritual magic should not be taken lightly, though this seems to be the case so often these days.
If Neo paganism is to find the social maturity it seeks to validate itself in the eyes of the world, then serious consideration should be given to the techniques involved. As practitioners of the mystical arts, you have a personal responsibility to constantly strive to understand our spiritual selves and the means that we use to arrive at such a deep and personal understanding. To do any less, such as performing ritual in a perfunctory way without seeking such an understanding of the means involved is to demean and perhaps to undermine our efforts as a magical community. Or at the very least it deprives the individual the opportunity at spiritual growth, which is the cornerstone of modern pagan beliefs.