Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Underground Magic

Recently read 'Grimoires' by Owen Davies on the history of supposedly magical books. I found one passage of particular interest which I quote below. Hope the publishers won't mind - I do heartily recommend it as an academic study of a fascinating subject. It concerns the study of the 'Black Arts and Magic' in underground locations, in this case beneath Toledo [see pages 27-28]:

“…Italian monk Francesco Maria Guazzo, writing in the seventeenth century, recounted the cautionary tale legend of the friar and physician Blessed Giles (d.1265) of Santarém, Portugal. This vice-ridden scion of a rich family, while on his way to study at Paris, fell in with a demon in human disguise who persuaded him to visit a vast cavern in Toledo. Here he met demons and their worshippers and signed a pact with the Devil. For the next seven years he ‘deeply studied the Black Arts and Magic’ before eventually seeing the error of his ways. The legend of a cave in Toledo where magic had been practised for centuries, and where a powerful grimoire lay hidden, seems to have developed in the medieval period. One of the stories written by Don Juan Manuel, a fourteenth-century Spanish nobleman from the province of Toledo, who unusually becomes a pupil of a great magician of Toledo called don Yllán who has an underground library and workshop. The deacon eventually becomes Pope and ungratefully threatens to imprison his old master for practising sorcery.

The Toledo legend was developed and given further legitimacy in the seventeenth century by the historian Christóbal Lozano. He wrote a fantastical account of how during the Roman period there existed under the city a vast subterranean palace of Hercules where magic was studied and practised. This occult underground world collapsed and for centuries lay buried until, according to Lozano’s take on history, in 1543 the Archbishop of Toledo organized an excavation and found an altar decorated with bronze statues. A loud noise was heard when they entered and some of the party died of fright. The archbishop ordered that the entrance be sealed once more to prevent its evil manifestations from spreading. One source of the legend is the archaeological remnants of a short subterranean passage flanked by two Roman columns, which was probably intended to act as nothing more magical than a sewer or drain. Similar stories circulated regarding the city of Salamanca, where the second oldest university in Spain was founded in 1218. The earliest reference to a cave-school of magic there is from a French chronicle from the mid-fifteenth century. It is clear that Salamanca, by now considered the major centre of learning, was mistakenly or deliberately associated with the old Toledo legend. It proved enduring. The Jesuit theologian Martín del Rio (1558-1608), who studied at the university wrote,

‘I have read that, as a result of the Moorish occupation of Spain, the magical arts were virtually the only subjects being taught in Toledo, Seville and Salamanca. When I was living in Salamanca, I was shown a secret vault which had been blocked off with rubble on the orders of Queen Isabella. It was a place where forbidden knowledge was taught.’”

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