Juvenile Rites - The Child as Sacrifice, Seer and Sacerdote
By Anthony Roe
(Published at Beltane 2000)
"Rain, rain, go away, come again another day" is a folklore rhyme I remember chanting as a boy, but this rhyme has far more ancient antecedents. 'Little children', said the antiquarian Aubrey in 1687, 'have a custome when it rains to sing, or charme away the raine; thus they all joine in a chorus and sing thus, viz. "Raine, raine, goe away, come againe a Saturday." This use of Saturday is redolent with significance. Saturday is the day of Saturn, and anciently Saturn was the deity who ate his own children.
Aubrey's notion about the age of this custom is not unreasonable. Children in ancient Greece seem to have had similar practices. According to Strattis when a cloud obscured the sun they called out: "Come forth, beloved sun!". In ancient Egypt they used apotropaic rites each time the demon Apophis overshadowed the sun.
In England the call takes on many forms, though none can have had the plaintive cry of those children in the most ancient times, whose cries sought to stem the great flood sent by God himself, though their words have not survived. A Victorian erudite ecclesiastic in his spare time figured out when Noah's Flood began. In case you are curious, it was 25 th November 2348 BCE. The planetary aspects that day were favourable!
When Noah made his Ark there were not many people about, only Noah, his wife, their sons, their wives and children, but when the great flood came, the evil generation cast its own children into the springs, but to no avail; soon the waters covered the highest mountains. Even Canaan, Noah's grandson, died thinking he could live above the flood on a mountain. In those far off days before The Children Act the casting of the infants into the 'springs of waters' ranks as the first instance of child abuse. It is interesting to note that this heinous act was carried out in the context of religious devotion to a higher deity.
Religious infanticide, especially the killing of the first-born, is apparently in nearly all cases a substitutionary human sacrifice. Cases are recorded among the aborigines of Australia, the American Indian tribes, and in China, Africa and Russia. It is, however, best known historically to have been common among the peoples of the Eastern Meditteranean region and particularly among the Canaanites (Phoenicians), the Sepharvites, Moabites, Israelites, and Carthaginians. And in many instances the bodies of the children were burnt as sacrifices to the various tribal gods.
In some cases, as apparently in that of Abraham's sacrifice of his son Isaac, the child was killed before the body was burned, but Diodorus Siculus tells of the Carthaginian custom of placing the child in the huge hands of a great idol from which it slid off into the fire below. The god variously named Melkarth, Milcom, Moloch and Melech, with combined forms, was widely worshipped, even by the Israelites at times, for Solomon built an altar to Molech and Manasseh sacrificed his son, by making him "pass through the fire" as did King Ahaz . All through the 7th century BCE this practice flourished. It was suppressed by Isaiah but was revived by Johoiakim and persisted until the Babylonian captivity. Even in northern Babylonia the burning alive of infants, as a sacrifice to the Melech group of gods, spread, for "the Sepharvites burnt their children in fire to Adrammalech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim" (II Kings xvii, 31).
Excavations in the Canaanite levels of all the mounds explored by archaeologists have revealed jars in large numbers containing the bones of newborn infants, buried under the house corners and thresholds and beneath the floors of the sacred high places. With them were small jars formerly containing food and drink. The bones were not charred, and so the babes had not been sacrificed to Moloch, but probably to the mother goddess, the giver of children.
Sir James Fraser goes so far as to trace the origin of the Hebrew Passover directly to the sacrifice of first-born infants which he considers to have been an article of the ancient Semitic religion, and bases his argument on Exodus xiii, 2, 15; Micah vi, 7; and Numbers xviii, 15. It is evident from these passages that anciently these child sacrifices may have been made to Yahweh before they were, under Phoenician influence, made to Moloch.
The earliest instances on record of this barbarous practice, is the ancient sacrifice to Moloch, in which children were caused to pass through the fire to this sanguinary deity. Attempts have sometimes been made to explain away the expression which describes this inhuman rite as indicating something less than the sacrifice of children; but all doubt as to the real existence of such a practice among the Jews is removed by the plain statement of the prophet Jeremiah vii. 31, "And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart."
And again, in regard to the service of another false god, whose worship had been adopted by the Jews, the same prophet mentions, xix. 5, "They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I commanded them not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind." Both these quotations establish beyond a doubt that the Jews were chargeable, at least in the degenerate days of Manasseh, with offering human beings in sacrifice to the heathen idols. In all probability, however, this cruel rite had been learned from the Canaanites, as indeed appears very plainly from Ps. cvi. 37, 38, "Yea, they sacrificed their sons and daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood." The practice of this horrid ceremony is expressly forbidden under pain of death in the law of Moses, Lev. xx. 2, "Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Moloch, he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones."
Far from being limited to the Canaanites, human beings were offered in sacrifice by almost all the heathen nations in antiquity. Numberless are the ancient divinities who seem to have delighted in blood. The sacrifice of children, as we have seen, had its origin among the Canaanites and the Phoenicians. Colonies from these nations carried the practice to Cyprus, to Crete, to the coasts of the Aegean Sea, to Carthage, Sicily and Sardinia. From the Canaanites, also, doubtless, had the Moabites and Ammonites learned the custom. It existed among the Syrian worshippers of Adonis, among the Lydians towards the north, and among the Arabians towards the south. We find it among the ancient Scandinavians, and among the primitive races of Peru and of Mexico, as well as among the natives of Florida. Sacrifices of human beings were widely practiced in the area of the ancient Andean civilizations. No ceremony, private or public, was performed without a bloody sacrifice and offerings. The Chibcha kept children in temples and killed them when they reached puberty. Sacrifices by ablation of the heart was a characteristic feature. The Inca also sacrificed children and women in honour of their gods but not on a scale comparable to that of the Aztecs.
Moloch was the chief god of the Ammonites, to whom human sacrifices are alleged to have been offered. In various passages of the Law of Moses, the Israelites were forbidden to dedicate their children to this deity, by causing them to "pass through thre fire," an expression on the precise meaning of which is somewhat doubtful. Moloch, which signifies in Hebrew a king, is thought to have represented the sun. He was worshipped under the form of a calf or an ox. His image was hollow, and was provided with seven receptacles, in which were deposited the different offerings of the worshippers. Into the first was put an offering of fine flour; in the second an offering of turtle doves; into the third a sheep; into the fourth a ram; into the fifth a calf; into the sixth an ox; and into the seventh a child, which was consumed in the image.
The children were wont to be sacrificed to Moloch in a valley of the sons of Hinnom, which, on account of the sounds of the drums and cymbals by which the cries of the children were drowned, received also the name of the Vale of Tophet. It has been conjectured, and not without reason, that Saturn and Moloch were the same deity. The Jewish Rabbis assert the image of Moloch to have been made of brass, and to have been represented sitting on a brazen throne, adorned with a royal crown, having the head of a calf, and his arms extended to receive his youthful victims.
Another peculiarity in the worship of Moloch is termed the taking up of the tabernacle of Moloch, which was practised by carrying in procession images of the deity in tabernacles or portable tents, probably in imitation of the practice followed by the Israelites of carrying the tabernacle of Moses in their journeyings through the wilderness. It seems to have been also customary among the heathens to consecrate chariots and horses to Moloch. From certain passages of Scripture this god would seem to be identical with Baal. Moloch is also supposed to be the same with Adrammelech and Anammelech , gods of the Sepharvaim. He is sometimes called Milcom in the Old Testament.
Passing through the fire was an ancient heathen custom referred to in II Kings xvii. 17, "And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divinations and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger." The Rabbins, to palliate in some measure this sin, into which their ancestors fell, allege that the custom referred to was nothing more than the ancient heathen practice of passing between two fires, with the view thereby undergoing purification. This view of the matter, however, is completely disproved by various passages of Scripture, but particularly by Ezek. xvi. 20, 21, where it appears that the children were first slain, and then made to pass through the fire.
Some have explained the custom by referring to the description which Diodorus Siculus gives of the Carthaginian deity Cronus, or Saturn, as represented under the form of a brazen statue heated red hot, in the arms of which the child was laid, and fell down into the flaming furnace beneath. That it was a practice of the ancient heathens to pass through fire as a ceremony of initiation, appears evident from what Suidas says of the ancient Persians, that those who were to be initiated into the mysteries of Mithras were to undergo this process. Virgil also says, that the same practice was followed in the worship of Apollo by the Etrurians on Mount Socrate. Chrysostom blames, among other heathenish customs remaining in his time, the lighting two great fires and passing between them.
It is difficult to come to any definite conclusion as to the precise mode in which the ancient Hebrews made their children pass through the fire. Some suppose that either their parents or the priests led them between two fires; other, that they waved them above the flames, while the worshippers of Moloch danced round or leaped through the fire. The fire being an emblem of Moloch or the sun, perhaps this ceremony might be intended to denote that the children were thereby consecrated to that deity.
According to Mohammedan accounts, the Harranians in the Middle Ages annually sacrificed an infant, and, boiling down its flesh, baked it into cakes, of which only freeborn men were allowed to partake. But in regard to the secret mysteries of a forbidden religion, such as Syrian heathenism was in Arabian times, it is always doubtful how far we can trust a hostile narrator, who, even if he did not merely reproduce popular fictions, might easily take for a real human sacrifice what was only the mystic offering of a theanthropic animal. The new-born infant corresponds to the Arabian kid-goat, offered while its flesh was still like glue, and to the Hebrew piaculum of a sucking lamb.
Mere exposure on the soil of the sanctuary was perhaps the use in certain Arabian cults; but this, it is plain, could not suffice unless the sacred enclosure was an adytum forbidden to the foot of man. Hence at Duma the annual human victim is buried at the foot of the altar idol, and elsewhere, perhaps, the corpse is hung up between earth and heaven before the deity. Infanticide in Arabia was effected by burying the child alive. Porphyry tells us that in Old Arabia little girls were often buried alive by their fathers, apparently as sacrifices to a goddess. Diodorus, when he mentions the Carthaginian human sacrifices, suggests the probability that they preserve the memory of Cronus devouring his children; and the Phoenicians themselves appear, from the fragments of Philo Byblius, to have traced back the custom of sacrificing children to a precedent set by the God El, whom the Greeks identify with Cronus.
It is plain from various passages of the prophets, that the sacrifices of children among the Jews before captivity, which are commonly known as sacrifices to Moloch, were regarded by the worshippers as oblations to Jehovah, under the title of king, yet they were not presented at the temple, but consumed outside the town at Tophet in the ravine below the temple. From Isaiah it appears that Tophet means a pyre, such as is prepared for a king. The form Moloch (Septuagint), or rather Molech (Hebrew), is nothing but Melekh , 'king', read with the vowels of bosheth , 'shameful thing'.
The bones of sacrificed infants have been found under the Roman foundations of Canterbury, and in classical times child sacrifice was resorted to in nefarious occult practices. Writing his Epodes , Horace's pictures of Canadia deal with a more professional type of witch than we find in Theocritus or Virgil. She has become enamoured of the aged Varus, and prepares a charm with which to win his love. She first procures a young boy, and, despite his piteous cries for mercy, removes the bulla - the golden amulet worn in childhood - then, with hair streaming and garlanded with small snakes, she bids her attendants bring wild fig trees uprooted from the tombs, funeral cypresses, the eggs and feathers of a screech-owl smeared with the blood of a toad, herbs from Iolchos and Hiberia, and bones snatched from a hungry dog. All these are to be burnt in the witches' flames. Sagana, another witch, sprinkles the house with water from Avernus, while Veia, a third, scoops out of the ground a hole where the boy may be buried and die a slow and painful death. Food is to be placed in front of him, and changed two or three times a day, in order that, when he is dead, the marrow and liver may be removed, when they are dried, to make the love- philtre, so soon as his eye-balls have become glazed in death. Folia, a fourth witch, is said by Horace to have assisted in the rites, Folia who by her magic incantations can charm stars and moon down from the sky. Canadia, meantime, gnawing her long claw-like nails, invokes Night and Diana (Hecate's name on earth) to come to her aid, and bring Varus to her doors. But she breaks off in the middle to ask why her spells have failed.
Towards the end of the Middle Ages infants were slaughtered in infamous rites carried out by the French knight whose person was later fictionalised as that of Bluebeard. Gilles de Rais was born about 1404, very casually brought up by his grandfather and married off as soon as possible. At the impoverished court of Charles Vii, however, he was perhaps the richest courtier, and so great was his courage in battle that at the age of twenty-five he was created a Marshal of France. He was given charge of the bodyguard of Joan of Arc and accompanied her everywhere. He was also unusually handsome, and had in fact everything which anyone could ask of life. But, as so often, too many blessings proved his bane.
After the death of Joan of Arc he withdrew at the age of twenty-six to his castles of Tiffauges and Machecoul in Poitou, the coastal regions south of the Loire. Here he maintained a court as rich as any king. Despite his wealth he found himself running into debt. In desperation he took up alchemy, and in the hope of making gold invited to his castles every alchemist he could find. All of them failed. From every quarter of France and even from Italy alchemists and magicians were brought, and though none of them couild make gold two of them succeeded in convincing Gilles of the existence of the Devil and his power to appear on earth.
One sorcerer attempted to perform an evocation for Gilles and his cousin Gilles de Sille. The sorcerer ended with all the signs of a terrible beating by the Demon. Later the same thing happened to Francesco Prelati, a Florentine sorcerer of only twenty-five who was the intimate friend of Gilles.
Before the first of these conjurations Gilles had signed in his blood a deed promising to give the Devil whatever he wanted except his life and his soul. He was convinced by now that only the Devil could help him, and yet he always refused to pledge the Devil his soul, nor did he ever dare to perjure himself.
When conjurations failed Prelati announced that if Gilles would not surrender his soul he must instead commit the most heinous crimes in order to please the devil. And so it was that in all the countrysides, wherever he went, children began to disappear. How they were taken, and whether by him or by his accomplices, no one knew, but as the desolation spread around his castles and followed him on his journeys suspicion increased. Yet nobody dared to speak against him or to attack him; the king of France did not wish to attempt it, nor the Duke of Brittany. He was brought to justice by the bishop of Nantes, eight years after the death of Joan of Arc. He was led off to Nantes and imprisoned in the castle. For all his black magic he did not like to imperil his soul, and abandoned all pride and confessed everything in humility and repentance, asking the people to pray for him.
So shocked was the bishop at the revelations of this confession that he rose and veiled the face of the Christ which hung above the court president's chair. Not only had Gilles and Prelati slaughtered children to use their blood in alchemic experiments, but they had made offerings to the devil of the heart, eyes and hands of these children and had sought to produce the philosopher's stone by a mixture of 'generation' and bloodshed. Such methods were never characteristic of alchemy and indeed exceeded anything normally practised in black magic.
The number of children killed by Gilles de Rais was said to have been at least eight hundred, but far too numerous for an exact account. With his two accomplices Gilles was sentenced to be hanged and burnt, and the sentence was executed on the morning of 26th October 1440.
In later witchcraft untold numbers of babies were allegedly immolated before the goat-footed God. Very frequently an unbaptised infant was sacrificed, so contemporary writers affirm. Aside from hysteria, it is a matter of history that the black mass was celebrated by Mme de Montespan as a magical means to obtain the favour of the king. On that occasion an unchristened infant was sacrificed. There have been similar performances, but whether they had their origin in the imagination of heresy-hunters or in a secret pagan revolt against Christianity will probably never be known.
Other climes have seen cognate devotions. In the religion of the Batak of Sumatra, the Batak priest, datu , is initiated by a master. The master has the Indian named guru ; he attaches great importance to his magical staff, encrusted with ancestral figures and with a cavity containing magical substances. With the help of his staff, the guru protects the village and can bring rain. But making such a magical staff is extremely complicated; the process even involves the sacrifice of a child, who is killed with melted lead to drive out its soul and turn it into a spirit at the magician's behest.
Alongside this blood-letting of the innocent down the ages, the more profitable employment of children (by repetition of the experience) has been witnessed, as mediums in experiments of divination. I have previously detailed instances of this in ecclesiastical circles in an article about Abbot Sadyngton in 15th century England. Back in Ancient Egypt the following method of evoking a god in order to discover something unknown is recorded, translated by Lexa from a British Museum papyrus; it dates from the third century CE.
'Formula to be pronounced before the sun, before thou pronounce it over the boy, in order that what thou art about to do may succeed:
' "Great god Tabao, Basookham, Amo, Akhagharkhangraboonzanooni, Etsikmeto, Gathooba-sathoori-thmilaalo" (seven times).
'The day thou intendest to do this, thou shalt rise early from thy bed in the morning, earlier than on other days. In order that all that thou doest may succeed thou shalt purify thyself from all uncleaness and thou shalt recite this formula before the sun three or seven times: "Yo Tabao, Sokham-mwa, Okhokh-khau-boonasanaw, Anyesi, Eghompto, Gnetho, Sethouri, Thmila, Alnapokhri! Cause that any work that I undertake with my hands this day may succeed."
'Take a new lantern not yet painted with red lead; lay in it a clean lock of hair and fill it with the purest oil; place it in a shadowed place washed in water of saltpetre, and set it on a new brick.
'Bring in a boy and make him sit on another new brick so that his face is turned towards the lantern, and close his eyes.
Then say the preceding formula seven times, speaking downwards on to the head of the boy; then tell him to open his eyes, and ask him: "Dost thou see a light?" He will answer: "I see the light in the lantern flame." Shout nine times "Hewe!" Then ask him whatever thou willst, after having pronounced the formula which has already been said early in the morning before the sun.
'Do this in a room whose doorway faces east, turn the window of the lantern towards the door and the boy's face towards the lantern.
'Place thyself on the boy's left and recite the formula downwards onto his head, and strike his head with the second finger of thy right hand.'
The use of a boy as medium is thus tolerably ancient, and it was the regular practice of may later magicians when a medium was needed. We shall see that Cagliostro used it, and it still continues.
Divination being perhaps the most useful part of magic, was often used to discover things that had been lost. This following procedure for the discovery of a thief is given by Agrippa's pupil Wierus, but it may be found in other writers besides. 'Turn to the east and make a cross on the top of the crystal with olive oil, and under the cross write "Sancta Helena". Then let a chaste boy of legitimate birth, ten years old or thereabouts, take the crystal in his right hand. Behind his back thou shalt kneel on thy bended knees and thrice with the utmost reverence recite this oration: "I pray thee,
Holy lady Helen, mother of King Constantine, who didst discover the cross of our Lord jesus Christ, by that most sacred devotion and finding of the holy cross and by that most holy cross, and by the joy which thou hadst when thou didst find that most holy cross, and by the love which thou hadst for thy son King Constantine, and by all the blessings which thou enjoyest perpetually, that thou show me in this crystal whatever I seek and desire to know. Amen." And when the boy shall see an angel in the crystal thou shalt ask whatever thou wilt and the angel will answer. But this thou shalt do at sunrise, when the sun has just appeared and the air is clear and serene.'
It sometimes happens, however, that the boy chosen for the experiment has been accustomed to low society, and then he will not be able to see truly; and Wier adds that on one occasion when a bottle of water was being used as a crystal a bald man in a cloak could be seen going up and down in the neck of the bottle like a mote in a sunbeam, and this spectacle lasted for three hours - but the thief was not discovered.
In the sixteenth century, Benvenuto Cellini was a man whose professional work as a sculptor and goldsmith has made his name immortal, but it was only part of his activity. He also concerned himself with magic.
He consorted with a Sicilian priest, and invoked spirits with the idea of compelling the society of a Sicilian girl, Angelica, with whom he was enamoured. But the story cannot better be told than by translating it directly from Cellini's autobiography. As so often, a boy below the age of puberty was required for the operation. The tale in Cellini's own words ensues.
"The sorcerer told me that we must go another time and that, whatever I asked I should be satisfied, but he desired me to bring with me a young virgin boy. I took one of my shop-boys, who was about twelve years old, and I again invited Vincenzio Romoli; and I also brought to this affair a certain Agnolino Gaddi who was frequently a companion of ours.
"When we arrived once more at the appointed place the sorcerer made the same preparations as before, with the same and even more wonderful performances, and placed himself in the circle; this too he had made with even more wonderful care and more wonderful ceremonies. He gave to my friend Vincenzio the care of the perfumes and the fire, which Agnolino shared, then he put into my hand a pentacle and told me to turn it in the directions which he would indicate by nodding, and under the pentacle I stationed my little errand-boy. The sorcerer began to make those terrible invocations and to summon by name a great number of the demons which are in command of legions of other; and he called upon them by the virtue and power of the uncreated God who liveth for ever, with Hebrew words and a good number of Greek and Latin too; so that in a short space of time they filled the whole Colosseum, a hundred times more than they had filled it on the previous occasion.
Vincenzio was looking after the fire with the help of Agnolino and using a good quantity of precious perfumes. At the sorcerer's indication I again asked to be with Angelica. The sorcerer turned to me and said: "Do you hear that they have said that in the space of a month you shall be where she is?" And then again he added that he besought me to stand by him firmly, for the legions were a thousand times more numerous than those he had summoned and they were of the most dangerous kind,; and since they had settled the question I had asked we must try patiently to coax them to go away. On my other side the boy who was under the pentacle said in a terrified way that there were present a million of the fiercest men, and they were all threatening us; he said further that there had appeared four enormous giants, who were armed and showed signs of wishing to attack the circle. At this the sorcerer, who was shaking with fright, tried the best he could in a polite and gentle manner to dismiss them.
Vincenzio was shaking like a leaf. I, who felt as much fear as any of them, tried to show it less, and so gave them courage most amazingly; but I was certain that I was a dead man from the fear that I saw in the sorcerer himself. The boy had wedged his head between his knees, saying: "I will die like this, for we are all dead men." I said to him: "These creatures are all beneath us, and what you see is only the smoke and shadows, so raise your eyes." But when he had raised his eyes he said again: "The whole Colosseum is on fire and the fire is coming down on top of us." And again he put his hands to his face and said he was dead, and that he did not want to see any more. The sorcerer besought me not to forsake him, but to stand by him firmly, and to have them make a smell with the asafoetida quickly. As I said this I looked at Agnolino, who was so terrified that the pupils of his eyes were starting right out of his head and he was more than half dead; and I said to him: "Agnolino, on such occasions as this one should not be afraid; one should do something to be helpful; so put on quickly some of the asafoetida."
At the fearful stench the boy raised his head a little; and his fear being somewhat quieted he said that the demons had started to fly off at a furious rate. And thus we remained until the bells began to ring for morning prayer. The boy said then that there were only a few devils left, and they at a distance. When the sorcerer had finished the rest of his ceremonies, and disrobed and packed together a great bundle of books which he had brought, we all together stepped out of the circle with him, huddling one against the other, especially the boy, who had placed himself in the middle and taken the sorcerer by his coat and me by my cloak; and all the time that we were going homewards he kept saying that two of the demons which he had seen in the Colosseum were going along in front of us skipping about or running along now on the roofs and now on the ground. The sorcerer told us that of all the times he had entered a magic circle not once had such a remarkable adventure befallen him."
It is to be noted that the magician stipulated the presence of a little virgin lad, and Cellini, nothing loth, brought his young apprentice with him, a boy of twelve called Cenci, as we learn later: 'my small servant, who was exceptionally clever, bold, and very handsome in appearance'. The occult commentator, Butler, remarks that it will have been noticed that in this lively and (she believed) veracious account of the happenings in the Coliseum, the only partaker of the mysteries of magic who testified to seeing anything was Cenci. It is more likely she thinks that it was owing to the presence of the highly impressionable lad that the events occurred; and that the tradition of associating children with magical experiments probably arose because results such as the above are apt to be obtained when they are there. Visual imagination is much more vivid in childhood than in later years. And it was from Cenci that the panic spread throughout the circle; the magician himself was obviously affected by the terror-stricken boyish voice.
About the year 1780 CE no greater sensation could be caused in any salon than by the appearance of Count Cagliostro. In recent times theosophists have attempted to portray him as one of the great and wonderful masters of occultism. Like other magicians, Cagliostro led a wandering and uncertain life. His occupation in London had been with alchemy. It was at Mittau, Latvia, that he first seems to have practised occultism on any notable scale.
At Mittau the Count von Medem was intensely interested in magic, and so was his brother. Of his two daughters one was married to the Duke of Courland (as Latvia was then called) and the other, Elise von der Recke, became a close friend of Cagliostro, who accordingly had access to the highest society. It is now that he is first heard of holding séances in the old magical tradition, with a boy or girl below the age of puberty. The boy would be called a pupille and the girl a colombe . Whichever it was, the medium, having sat down and been anointed by Cagliostro, while he recited certain magic words, would be commanded to gaze into a glass vessel full of water, or sometimes into a crystal or a pool of oil held in the palm of the left hand.
Some of these séances were arranged beforehand with the medium, but others were not. The first séance at Mittau was certainly not arranged, but it was a great success. The details are given in the memoirs of the Countess von der Recke. The medium was a child of five, the son of the Marshal von Medem. He was anointed and told to gaze at some oil in the palm of his left hand. After praying and singing hymns, when the child was already sweating with agitation, Cagliostro asked the Marshal what he desired his son to see. The Marshal wished him to see his sister, and at once the boy declared that he saw her. He added presently that she was placing her hand on her heart, and then that she was kissing a brother who had just come home. The Marshal declared that this was impossible, so Cagliostro broke off the sitting and told him to make sure; it so turned out that the brother had just returned entirely unexpected, and just before seeing him his sister had had an attack of palpitation of the heart. It was this séance which first convinced Elise von der Recke of Cagliostro's clairvoyant powers.
Edward William Lane, translator of "The Thousand and One Nights", in his "Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians", written in Egypt during the years 1833-1835 CE, shows the survival of the ancient rites. He tells us: "A few days after my first arrival in this country, my curiosity was excited on the subject of magic by a circumstance related to me by Mr Salt, the Consul-general. Having had reason to believe that one of his servants was a thief, from the fact of several articles of property having been stolen from his house, he sent for a celebrated Maghrab'ee magician, with the view of intimidating them, and causing the guilty one (if any of them were guilty) to confess his crime. The magician came and said that he would cause the exact image of the person who had committed the thefts to appear to any youth not arrived at the age of puberty; and desired the master of the house to call in any boy whom he might choose. As several boys were then employed in the garden adjacent to the house, one of them was called for this purpose. In the palm of the boy's right hand, the magician drew, with a pen, a certain diagram, in the centre of which he poured a little ink. Into this ink, he desired the boy steadfastly to look. He then burned some incense, and several bits of paper inscribed with charms; and at the same time called for various objects to appear in the ink. The boy declared that he saw all these objects, and, last of all, the image of the guilty person; he described his stature, countenance, and dress; said that he knew him; and directly ran down into the garden, and apprehended one of the labourers, who, when brought before the master, immediately confessed that he was the thief.
"The above relation made me desirous of witnessing a similar performance during my first visit to this country; but not being acquainted with the name of the magician here alluded to, or his place of abode, I was unable to obtain any tidings of him. I learned, however, soon after my return to England, that he had become known to later travellers in Egypt; was residing in Cairo; and that he was called the sheikh 'Abd-El-Kadir El-Maghrab'ee. A few weeks after my second arrival in Egypt, my neighbour Osman, interpreter of the British consulate, brought him to see me; and I fixed a day for his visiting me, to give me a proof of the skill for which he is so much famed. He came at the time appointed, about two hours before noon; but seemed uneasy; frequently looking up at the sky, through the window; and remarked that the weather was unpropitious. The experiment was performed with three boys; one after another. With the first it was partly successful; but with the others, it completely failed. The magician said that he could do nothing more tht day; and that he would come in the evening of a subsequent day. He kept his appointment; and admitted that the time was favourable."
The magician wrote out a charm on a strip of paper. The object of the charm (which contains part of the 21st verse of the 50th chapter of the Koran) was to open the boy's eyes in a supernatural manner; to make his sight pierce into what is to us the invisible world: "And this is the removal. 'And we have removed from thee thy veil; and thy sight today is piercing.' Correct: correct." Also was prepared, by the magician's direction, some frankincense and coriander-seed (he generally required some benzoin to be added to these), and a chafing- dish with some live charcoal in it. Lane continues: "These were now brought into the room, together with the boy who was to be employed, about eight or nine years old. In reply to my enquiry respecting the description of persons who could see into the magic mirror of ink, the magician said that they were a boy not arrived at puberty, a virgin, a black female slave, and a pregnant woman.
"The chafing-dish was placed before him and the boy; and the latter was placed on a seat. The magician now desired my servant to put some frankincense and coriander-seed into the chafing-dish; then taking hold of the boy's right hand, he drew, in the palm of it, a magic square. (A type of the magic square of Saturn.) The figures which it contains are Arabic numerals. In the centre, he poured a little ink, and desired the boy to look into it, and tell him if he could see his face clearly. The magician, holding the boy's hand all the while, told him to continue looking intently into the ink; and not to raise his head.
"He then took one of the little strips of paper inscribed with the forms of invocation, and dropped it into the chafing-dish, upon the burning coals and perfumes, which had already filled the room with their smoke; and as he did this he commenced an indistinct muttering of words, which he continued during the whole process, excepting when he had to ask the boy a question, or to tell him what he was to say. The piece of paper containing the words of the Koran he placed inside the fore part of the boy's takeeyeh, or scull-cap. Upon interrogation the lad saw a series of seven flags: red, black, white, green, black, red and blue; and afterwards the figure of Lord Nelson. Several other persons were successfully called for; but the boy's descriptions of them were imperfect, though not altogether incorrect. He represented each object as appearing less distinct than the preceding one; as if his sight were gradually becoming dim: he was a minute, or more, before he could give any account of the persons he professed to see towards the close of the performance; and the magician said it was useless to proceed with him. Another boy was then brought in; and the magic square, etc., made in his hand; but he could see nothing. The magician said he was too old."
This question of age is the key to an understanding of the use of the child as victim and medium, and indeed as virgin priest. Occultists know the adage, 'the blood is the life'. In his "Magick in Theory and Practice", chapter xiv, 'Of the Bloody Sacrifice: and Matters Cognate', Crowley says: "For the highest spiritual working one must choose that victim which contains the greatest and purest force. A male child of perfect innocence and high intelligence is the most satisfactory and suitable victim." Though condemned for this passage, his language is symbolic, as is evidenced when he further says: " It is the sacrifice of oneself spiritually. And the intelligence and innocence of that male child are the perfect understanding of the magician, his one aim, without lust of result. And male he must be, because what he sacrifices is not the material blood, but his creative power."
Childhood symbolizes innocence, which is the state anterior to Original Sin and hence a paradisal state. We have seen with Lane that the experiments of divination often entirely failed; but when the boy employed was right in one case, he generally was so in all: when he gives, at first, an account altogether wrong, the magician usually dismisses him at once, saying that he is too old. Innocence is not there.
Children are spontaneous, unaggressive, self-contained, without forethought or afterthought said the Taoist Chuang Tzu. Hindu tradition employs the same symbolism and terms childhood balya , a state precisely analogous to that in the Christian parable of the Kingdom of Heaven, before the acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil.
The idea of childhood is a constant in Gospel teaching among a substantial proportion of Christian mystics. For example, St Theresa of Lisieux's 'little way' of the child recalls Christ's words: "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18: 3). Or: "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein". The innocence and imagination of childhood enable the child to walk between the worlds. In Christian tradition angels are often depicted as children as a sign of their innocence and purity. In the theurgic treatise The Pauline Art, the geniis appear like little children, delighting in hunting. And in the Almadel of Solomon the angels of the second altitude appear in the form of a young child, with clothes of satin in a rose red colour, having crowns of red gillyflowers upon their heads. In the third chora or altitude they appear in the form of little children dressed in green or silver clothes; and again in the fourth chora the angels appear in the form of little men or boys.
It is the possession of purity that gives children a priestly role. At the canzo ceremony of Haitian Voodoo, which marks the spiritual birth of the initiate, a little boy or girl are called in to baptize and name the one 'newly born', filling here the role of the Marassa, the demiurgic, or Divine Twins, as parents of the new members of the cult. This important step in initiation in fact embodies a type of initiation by fire. The children themselves assume the god forms of their ancestral spirits. Deren tells us that since the children of a single family are inevitably different in their development, the family deities are, as it were, divided up between them. One child will be claimed by the mother's deity, another by the father's god. The psychic inheritance of the child is a latent religious force. While physical heritage may show resemblance to one parent or the other, in infancy, the deities, including the dominant spirit, become manifest only with maturity and establish their special position at puberty. Hence the need to use the uncategorized virtue of the child when innocent, before as Lane records, 'he is too old'.
The Church used to have a tradition employing boy bishops. Remnants of folk tradition resound with elements of child virtue. The ancient Druids, or priests of the Celtic people of Britain, celebrated four great fire festivals every year. Beltane and All Hallows were the big days; then fertility rites were carried out. Giant frameworks of willow were built in the shape of a man, sacrifices of animals and sometimes even human beings were penned up inside them, and they were set afire. Later, in various parts of Europe, the wicker effigy was carried in procession as a figure of fun or replaced by young boys dressed in summer greenery who went from house to house collecting fuel for a bonfire. It was called the Beltane Fire. Ironically the cinders of Moloch reached even England's green and pleasant land.
In many parts of the world, Beltane fires are still lighted, danced around, and jumped over; children 'passing through the fire' as of old, though with less dire consequences.
In England the celebrations more often featured a maypole, although the dancing nowadays is usually by members of folklore societies, not simple peasants of former years, though I still did so at my junior school. The last state maypole to be formally erected, in London, was 130 feet high and took more than four hours to raise with block and tackle. It stood in the Strand for more than half a century, then was taken down in 1717 and sold; Sir Isaac Newton bought it as a support for his new telescope.