When surveying the history of magic and religion, one finds more fakers, frauds and con men than real avatars simply because it’s easy for clever people to hoodwink the masses with magic and religion. And nothing has changed much, which is why fraudulent books like the Da Vinci Code, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and everything written about an imaginary Yaqui medicine man named Don Juan is utter bullshit.
Magic is real, however, and runs through us all naturally. I like to use sports as an example. When a basketball team makes a huddle, clasps their hands and utters a mantra after a countdown, they are participating in a ritual of harmonization designed to unify the team telepathically. The teams that are the most connected telepathically tend to win against teams with internal psychic issues of discord.
During the Scientific Revolution, many wise people applied the scientific method to the study of magic with interesting results, and no one more so than Giambattista della Porta, a playwright living in Naples circa 1600. When he was merely 15-years-old, della Porta published the comprehensive Magiae Naturalis (Natural Magic). For thousands of years, the study of mathematics, music and magic (they are related) was confined within secret societies. For example, to learn the secrets of Pythagoras, one first had to spend months in monk-like silence, meditating daily at sunrise and sunset, before the masters unveiled any secrets. After passing this vow of silence (not everyone could do it), one was admitted as a full-fledged initiate, and began the study of music and mathematics in earnest. The nice part about Pythagoras was he admitted women as equals, which was quite rare at the time. Freemasonry would not be so kind.
Since he was of noble birth and financially well-off, della Porta was able to travel through Europe at a relatively young age visiting libraries and universities. He went on a mission to garner secret information and expose it to the public. Unlike the many fraudulent magic books of the time, most of which promised the secret of turning lead to gold, or how to make love charms, or how to fly, or some other such imaginary magical powers, della Porta’s book concentrated on experiments he could replicate.
“There are two sorts of Magick,” he wrote. “The one is infamous and unhappy because it has to do with foul spirits, and consists of incantations and wicked curiosity, and this is called Sorcery, an art which all good and learned people detest. Neither is it able to yield a truth of reason or nature, but stands merely on fancies and imaginations, such as vanish presently away leaving nothing behind them, as Jamblicus writes in his book concerning the mysteries of the Egyptians. The other Magick is natural, which all excellent wise men do admit and embrace and worship with great applause.”
Large portions of Natural Magic concerned agriculture and animal breeding. The book explained how to graft trees to produce hybrid fruit. It also describes the effects of various herbs and their use as medicines. Della Porta studied photography, military history and distillation. Although greatly overshadowed by Galileo, he claimed to have constructed the first telescope. He tried to create a wireless telegraph system using magnets created by the same lodestone. Although it didn’t work, his concept of wireless communication was far ahead of its time.
In 1578, della Porta came to the attention of the Inquisition, which closed down his academy and forced him to study in secret, and he quickly became the most advanced cryptographer of his day. He also wrote over 20 plays, most of which were comedies, although only 17 have survived. Apparently, they hold up quite well although you never see productions of them anywhere.
While surveying the history of magic, people like della Porta and Paracelsus stand out as honest students of the occult, but their influence was never as great as the fakers who invented magical myths promising secret powers that don’t exist except in the imagination. It’s a formula that still works well today.