Myth, History, Language, and Reality


The following is a rant I posted on twitter maybe a month ago. I wrote it through the day in transit and at work, so it might be a bit disjointed, but still valid.


As someone with a history degree, I can tell you there is a lot of history that is false, especially the farther back you go. But just because accepted historical narratives don’t fit your theories doesn’t mean the truth is being covered up.

Not every dog fart is a ghost, not every odd historical event is proof of a conspiracy.

One of the major problems with history is the Jericho problem. For a long time, and it still continues, historians/archeologists have been unwilling to date findings of human civilization earlier than the Wall of Jericho.

It hasn’t mattered the personal belief of people involved, but the University/museum/organization they work for. Disrupting Biblical narratives would have major social and financial repercussions for these groups.

How many organizations funded by Christians and cultural Christian would feel safe pointing out bullshit?

I actually studied Ancient Near East history, taught by a very devout Christian, and we even used the Tanakh / Old Testament as a historical document. But it was stressed that nothing before David could be proven, and much before him proven completely false.

After David it’s a fascinating text on the development of a unified identity and religion.

I don’t say this to be anti-Christian/Jewish, I’m certain all historical religious narratives are built on falsehoods somewhere. That doesn’t detract from their “deeper” realities.

A myth doesn’t have to be real to be true, but don’t let the myth interfere with the historical reality.

A great example of myths being important, but false and needing to be ignored historically would be the origins of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. This was actually a unit in my one course. The Twelve Tribes were united by their common ancestry, descendants of Jacob.

Jacob had two wives, between the two of them he had twelve sons (and one daughter who gets ignored cause, you know, woman). Each son managed to become a patriarch of a large tribe. You can divide the tribes between two geological features in ancient Israel.

One group of tribes lived in the lower land of Israel, and the other group lived more in the mountainous regions. Because of the limitations of the soil/climate the tribes in the lowlands raised cows, while the mountain tribes raised goats and sheep.

Jacob’s wives were Rachel and Leah. Rachel means ewe, or female sheep, and Leah means cow (in a colloquial sense, technically it means more like tired, but used like we might say dog-tired in English). If you guessed that Leah’s sons raised cows and Rachel’s raised goats, correct, have a cookie.

The myth was created to be symbolic, it was never meant as a literal history, the names alone make that clear. It doesn’t mean it’s not a very important myth, but when taken literally it has interfered by having historians trying to prove it, rather than investigate it. It was a myth that helped unite a disparate and often warring group, it’s a good and positive myth, it’s also not history.

Oddly (this is more observational supposition than researched datum) it seems like historically Christians have taken it more literally than Jewish people have (though there was a move towards more literal takes in the last 200 years).

In my class, there was a discussion about how Jewish people have been taking apart all of their holy stories, turning them inside out, and reinterpreting them pretty much since forever, but to Christians it is all INFALLIBLE AND UNQUESTIONABLE WORD OF GOD. Just look at the Talmud and the continually growing body of Jewish mythology, and commentary.

A Jewish friend of mine in university said she hated talking with Christians about Tanakh/Old Testament because A) They didn’t understand the cultural stuff (Judaism is a lot more than just Christianity without a Christ), and B) They took it way too literally, and she was from a fairly Orthodox sect too. When a Jewish woman who won’t wear pants in the 21st century says someone is taking the Old Testament too literally and seriously, that’s saying something.

I would suggest that at least part of this (and there are multiple reasons) is because the fact it’s obvious in Hebrew, but not translated. That detail is lost in translation and changes everything. Hence Christians (mostly not knowing Hebrew) would read it more like history than symbol. After all, someone familiar with contemporaneous Hebrew would know exactly what Rachel and Leah meant, but to English speakers, they’re just nice names for women.

Another interesting insight of symbolism via the names is Benjamin. While the tribes were divided between cows and goats, more seriously/importantly the tribes were of two (at the time) distinct groups the Tribes of Israel and Tribes of Judah.

(As a historical document, if you pull apart the Tanakh/Old Testament it’s interesting to see the back and force between Israel and Judah as enemies and united. It really is three texts, an Israelite text, Judean text, and a united text. If you know what you’re looking for you can really see the seams.)

They’re all called the Tribes of Israel now, but at the time they were distinct groups. The Tribes of Israel were to the north, and Judah to the south.

Relevant sidenote: Ancient Israelite directions viewed East as Up (like we do with North in the Northern Hemisphere). So Up was East, Down was West, Right was South and Left was North.

(This is actually something that appeared in several Near Eastern cultures, and even continued in some areas at least into the 8th century, possibly longer because it was relevant to the rise of Islam, but that’s where my research ended)

Of the Twelve Tribes there was the Tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was one of the tribes of Israel proper (as opposed to united with Judah). Ben means Son, Jamin (Yamim) means Right, and implied to mean “right hand.” Son of the right hand fits for his role in Jacob’s life, but…

If Jamin(Yamim) means right, which implies south as well…Guess where the tribe of the Son of the South lived? That’s right, the southernmost area controlled by the tribes of Israel. How lucky the Benjamin, Son of the South, just happened to live in the south, cause if Benjamin was up north it would be silly…

Which is again, not to in anyway discount from the myths, or the religions that draw from it, but myth isn’t history, but sadly when taken literally it interferes with history/archaeology as people try to fit reality to the myth, rather than investigate the reality of the myth.

Another great name as symbol comes from the New Testament. During Christ’s crucifixion Matthew originally (Greek, not English) referred to Pilate’s other prisoner as “Jesus Barabbas.” Some translations keep his first name, many drop it for just Barabbas though.

What a coincidence that Jesus Christ would be on trial beside Jesus Barabbas. Pilate asks who to release “Jesus Barabbas” or “Jesus Christ/Messiah.” Up until that point Jesus was pretty much always “of Nazarus” or “Son of Joseph.”

Christ means (loosely/contextually) anointed one, or saviour. Messiah, while it now means the same, originally more meant holy king. Several of leaders in the Tanakh were called messiahs, even non-Jewish ones. But that’s an aside really.

Bar is the Aramaic form of Ben, meaning Son of. Abbas mean God, more correctly “Father”. (Jesus even calls YHWH Abbas in the Garden) So Jesus Barabbas is “Jesus, Son of the Father.”

So if this event isn’t historical (which I’d say it isn’t) the trial isn’t between two men, but two perspectives on this man. Is he Jesus the Messiah or Son of the Father? Or plainly put Jesus a holy man, or Jesus the divine Son of YHWH. A holy man? Those were dime a dozen. To quote Pontius Pilate “You Jews produce messiahs by the sackful!” Okay, that’s from Jesus Christ Superstar, but it’s not incorrect. Holy men were a plenty and wandered the area. On the other hand the divine Son of YHWH? The prophesied one? That’s getting into blasphemy.

When viewing it as a trial between the Roman powers, the Jewish population, and two beliefs about the nature of Jesus it’s a completely different story, which is (in my opinion) far more interesting and meaningful than a literal trial and release of a prisoner.

(In case anyone thinks I’m being unfair or picky with data, I’ll freely admit that my belief in the historical Buddha isn’t on the most solid ground either, but it’s more acceptable to Buddhists that the Buddha is a mythic figure or example, than Jesus as myth is to many Christians.)

The creation of history is a fascinating and strange process, and we get things wrong sometimes, do the best we can with fragmented info, and sadly sometimes cover up what doesn’t seem to fit into the picture.

A great short book that reflects it well is The Motel of the Mysteries. Basic premise is the US falls (and the rest of the world presumably), and centuries later an archaeology team finds a motel and reconstructs American civilization from what they find.

The book is silly and funny…But not totally wrong. Especially their interpretation of tv’s and toilets. As a historian I find it more insightful and funny than wrong or insulting. We do the best we can, but that doesn’t always mean much.

Religion isn’t history. Religion is important to history. Religion can contain and influence history, but religion isn’t history, and it damages our understanding of our past and ourselves when we take it as history and ignore the facts.

My professor who specialized in Mesopotamian history once showed me a picture of an odd item and said “If historians don’t know what something is then it’s of religious importance… and this is of great religious importance.”


Iuratus: Christian Elements, the Depth of Knowledge, and Authorship and Audience- Conclusion- Works Cited


Start at the beginning

See the previous instalment in case you missed it

The faith and devotion of the practitioner are constantly referenced throughout the text. In the introduction it is said the book can only be given to a man “both Godly and faithful, whose Godly behavior had been tried for the space of a whole year.” He is to be not just a devout person, but observed and tested for a year to prove himself worthy. When actually performing the rituals the practitioner is to be clean, to fast, and pray with devotion. That he must be “very penitent and truly confessed of all his sins.” Very similar requests appear throughout the text. Anyone undertaking this practice must attend Mass and take communion daily for a period of at least a month, which indicates the level of faith and devotion the practitioner must have. Coming at it from another angle it is warned that undertaking parts of the ritual “for an evil purpose” would lead to “death unto him.” It makes a case for the notion that the practitioner truly must be, not just a Christian, but a devout and Godly practitioner, undertaking the rituals in the text for only the highest ideals.

The Christian nature of the text and practitioner is repeatedly highlighted by the idea of divine authority. From the introduction it is said that “it is not possible that a wicked and unclean man should work truely [sic] in this art, for men are not bound to spirits, but the spirits are constrained against their wills to answer men that are cleansed or clean, and to fulfill their requests.” This is internal justification through the practitioner’s own holiness, it is saying that for this to work the practitioner must be cleansed or holy, and that the art of this book cannot work for those who are not holy. It is not just a personal devotion that enables the practitioner to commune with angels and spirits; it is asserted that such an ability is through the grace of YHWH. The ritual prayers say that they are completed “through God’s help” or “through … [God’s] mediation” . These rituals are framed that it is through the power or permission of YHWH that they have any effect. Contrasted with the earlier notion that the text cannot successfully be used by pagans or Jews it further supports the idea that the text is meant to be used by a Christian, and is dependent on their Christian faith and devotion.

When considering the author and audience of Liber Iuratus Honorii it becomes clear that the most likely candidate for both is a member of the clergy. The practitioner is required to be very devout and pious, and the author is highly skilled in Latin, knowledgeable in Greek, Hebrew, very familiar with Church prayers, rituals, scriptures, and Christian writings. On its own this suggests a priest or another member of the church. Such education would be largely the domain of the clerics, the scribes, and the nobility, limiting potential authors and audiences. The depth and breadth of knowledge, along with the literacy and devotional requirements leave very few potential authors or readers, but a priest would be on the top of that list.
This isn’t as unlikely as it initially seems. Despite being linguistically inaccurate the practice of summoning spirits was regarded as necromancy, regardless of the purpose of the summoning, or the nature of the spirit. To repeat a question and answer of Richard Kieckhefer “Who were the necromancers? Both in legend and before the law it was clerics above all others who stood accused of necromancy.” He goes onto explain that “cleric” is a hard word to define, for it can include anyone who has any level of ordination which includes doorkeeper and acolyte. The training was not through a seminary, but more of an apprentice relationship with another priest. Sometimes their ordination was not about a holy calling, but a way of getting an education, and one of the lower orders of ordination was that of exorcist “and in the ordination ceremony he would receive a book of exorcisms as a symbol of his theoretical function.” They were given the book as a “symbol” of office; it wasn’t something they were trained in, but more something if needed they would turn to the text for. This is another peculiarity, as one might assume these rituals would require training, but the Liber Iuratus Honorii was also passed on at the time of the master’s death , meaning the practitioner also received no training in the use of the text. Kieckhefer suggests there was a “clerical underworld” which is not really defined in terms of structure (if any) or purpose (if any), but that to some extent there was a collection of priests who studied and practiced this type of conjuration. Considering the amount of knowledge displayed all throughout the formation of Liber Iuratus Honorii, and the proposed existence of the clerical underworld it is reasonable to assume that the author of Liber Iuratus Honorii was a priest.

Concluding Thoughts

The Christian identification of Liber Iuratus Honorii is evidence of a complex process of religious thought and religious exchange. Initial readings reveal seemingly contradicting ideas: summoning angels to stir up war, devotional prayers and confession to Jesus, condemning the pope as a puppet of demons. Yet each of these contradictions are a thread in a complex textual and ideological tapestry, evidence of Jewish Qabalah and Islamic conjurations, intensely devotional Christian worship, and anti-Church sentiments. Individually these threads conflict and confuse, but if the reader slows down and reads the text as a whole from a distance, than the picture begins to become clear. Liber Iuratus Honorii becomes hard to conceptualize as anything but a thoroughly Christian text, written in such a way that makes it inaccessible to the laity, but perfect for a priestly audience. Clerical in origin and Christian in nature, Liber Iuratus Honorii shows the detailed and complex currents of medieval Christianity through an unusual but devout text.

Works Cited (In order of reference)

Joseph H. Peterson trans. Liber Juratus Honorii, or the Sworn Book of Honorius. Esoteric Archives. (accessed February 25, 2013)

Robert Mathiesen. “A Thirteenth-Century Ritual to Attain the Beatific Vision from the Sworn Book of Honorius of Thebes.” in Conjuring Spirits: Texts and Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic. ed. Claire Fanger. (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998. 143-162.)

Richard Kieckhefer. “The Devil’s Contemplatives: The Liber Iuratus, the Liber Visionum and Christian Appropriation of Jewish Occultism.” in Conjuring Spirits: Texts and Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic. ed. Claire Fanger. (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998. 250-265.)

Katelyn Mesler. “The Liber Iuratus Honorii and the Christian Reception of Angel Magic.” in Invoking Angels: Theurgic Ideas and Practices, Thirteenth to Sixteenth Centuries. ed. Clair Fanger. (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012. 113-150.)

Owen Davies, Grimoires: A History of Magic Books (New York: Oxford Press, 2009)

Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, trans. James Freake, ed. Donald Tyson (Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications)

Clair Fanger. “Covenant and the Divine Name: Revisiting the Liber Iuratus and John of Morigny’s Liber Florum.” in Invoking Angels: Theurgic Ideas and Practices, Thirteenth to Sixteenth Centuries. ed. Clair Fanger. (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012. 192-216.),

Richard Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)

Philip T. Weller, trans., The Roman Ritual (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1964)

Iuratus: Christian Elements, the Depth of Knowledge, and Authorship and Audience Continued


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To reiterate and expand an earlier point, a variety of Christian texts are incorporated into or referenced by Liber Iuratus Honorii. A partial list drawn from Mesler’s work on the text includes: “passages from scripture, the baptismal rite, the preface for Easter, the Ave Maria, the Salve Regina, the Apostle’s Creed, the Pater Noster, the Sanctus, and the Creed of Athanasius” as well as Jerome’s letters and Pseudo-Augustine. It is obvious that Honorius is very well read in matters of Christianity, and educated in general. Mathiesen attests “the Sworn Book is clearly not a translation from Arabic, Hebrew or Greek, but an original composition in Latin by a person who was fully conversant with the liturgy and ritual of the Roman Catholic Church” and more than that “it is clear that the author had some knowledge of the liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church.” We are dealing with an author who knows Latin, Catholic and Greek Orthodox ritual, Greek, and at least some Hebrew. His knowledge is not just appropriated; it permeates the text in overt uses of prayers, to subtle references and even hidden messages. When the pope and his cardinals decided that books like Liber Iuratus Honorii had to be eliminated, Honorius said that a council of 811 “masters” came together to decide what should be done to preserve the tradition. The idea that there were 811 masters using texts like this seems odd, as well as the specificity of the number, but 811 is the numerological value of IAO (ΙΑΩ), a Greek name for God, the equivalent of the Hebrew YHWH. This, Mathiesen suggests, is a mirroring to the Council of Nicaea having 318 members, as that is the same numerological value as “the name of Jesus and his Cross.” The author is trying to validate the nature of the book as coming from God himself by having as many masters as the value of IAO. Knowing the Greek numerical value of a name though is not a matter of simple information or appropriation, but seems to show more understanding and a broader knowledge base as well as an ability and desire to integrate this knowledge into the text.

Having looked at the knowledge of the author, the character of the practitioner should be examined. The text itself recognizes that there are “three kinds of men that work this art: Jews, Christians, and pagans.” Honorius asserts that only Christians can use the rituals of this book properly. The pagans do not “constrain or bind” the spirits, and the spirits pretend to help the pagans but are in actuality deceiving them farther away from Christianity. The Jewish people are in the same predicament. The spirits will not obey them for they are not Christian, for they are not “signed with the sign of God…the cross” which is another way of saying they are not baptized . Even worse they are accused of not using the text for Divine vision, and are barred from entering Heaven for not recognizing Jesus. It seems unusual to condemn Jewish people more heavily than pagans, but perhaps the author is responding to the atmosphere of the time, or perhaps Honorius is trying to hide his connection with Judaism and Jewish sources evidenced earlier in the paper. It is made clear that only a devout Christian can make the rituals in the text work properly. Pagans and Jews can use it, but unsuccessfully. While the pagan usage of the rituals is left open, Jews are accused of using it not for Divine vision, but rather the other goals listed .

It is claimed that Christians would “only [work] truely [sic] to come to the vision of the Deity.” For the Christian the only purpose of the text is this “vision of the Deity” and all the other goals mentioned are to be taken as superfluous, though their inclusion is likely evidence of the attitudes and actions drawn from Honorius’s source text.

Iuratus: Christian Elements, the Depth of Knowledge, and Authorship and Audience


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See the last instalment in case you missed it

Christian Elements, the Depth of Knowledge, and Authorship and Audience

Though the Christian identity of the text is well supported at this point, the Christian elements should be examined to support this idea, and to further the argument that the author and audience of the text was not just Christian, but of the priestly orders, part of what Kieckhefer terms the “clerical underworld.”

In contrast to the adoption of Hebrew god names, the divinity in Liber Iuratus Honorii is referred to as the “Alpha and Omega,” “the father, son, and holy ghost,” and “the destroyer of death.” The references to the trinity and the Alpha and Omega mentioned in the Revelation of Saint John are both common naming conventions in Christianity, but the destroyer of death is a bit more obscure and is possibly a reference to 1 Corinthians that states “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” This part of the naming convention could possibly show the “sincerity” of the Christian nature of the text, as “destroyer of death” is a more obscure reference and shows a greater familiarity with the Bible than referring YHWH as the Alpha and Omega. Throughout the text common names and titles from Christianity are used repeatedly to refer to YHWH as well as the more uncommon names.

jur1[1]Another element of uncommon knowledge shows up in the ritual structures explained in the text. Part of the work on summoning the angels involves the creation of a complex seal. The creation of the seal includes a set of prayers to say over some blood which is used as ink in the process. The first prayer is the same as “The Blessing of Salt” used by Catholic priests to exorcise salt before putting it in holy water , only the word salt is replaced by blood. The prayer is currently contained in the Rituale Romanum –the ritual handbook of a Catholic priest– which was only standardized in the 17th century. (While predecessor texts have existed since the 15th century they tended to be more regional and temporary. ) After the compilation of the Rituale Romanum anyone who could read Latin and obtain a copy of the text could find “The Blessing of Salt.” Though the text currently sits at more than 700 pages it would be a lot to go through if they were not aware of what they were looking for. Liber Iuratus Honorii was written in the 13th or 14th century though, before these texts existed, at that time such prayers and rituals would have been part of the training of a priest, possibly part of an oral tradition. So the question is how would the author of Liber Iuratus Honorii know the prayer? It is possible they learned it from the local priest, or that it was something the laity might know, but it also opens up the possibly that the text was written by a priest, if not for a priest. Continuing this thread the format of the ritual for conjuration even has some loose similarities to the ritual of exorcism. In both cases the practitioner/exorcist is to attend confession and mass , then they move into prayers of adoration and beseeching divine aid in their task , which finally moves to include the calling of the spirits and commanding their obedience. One of the lower orders of the priestly hierarchy at that time was the exorcist, so the details and structures of the ritual of exorcism would be available to many lower priests . The blood used to consecrate the seal is the prayer said over salt for holy water, while the prayer used to consecrate the magic circle for the ritual is the same used by the priest to consecrate the host in communion. The ritual preparation includes finding a “wary and a faithful priest” who will perform mass and prayers for the practitioner all the while inserting prayers from Liber Iuratus Honorii into the mass service. While this could mean the practitioner himself, it could also be another priest who has the same interest. This builds the case that the author was a member of the clergy, or somehow familiar with their ritual structure and prayers. The requirement of another priest suggests that the author may not be alone in his interests.

Iuratus: Uncovering Christianity through the Internal Logic of Liber Iuratus Honorii Continued


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Another place this circumvention of Church authority occurs is in the promise of releasing three souls from purgatory. Again this was part of the classic authority of the Church; souls in purgatory could be eventually released (or released sooner) through the performances of masses in their name. In the final prayer of the first section of the text, just before the vision of the divine is granted there is a request to “breakest the brazen gates and deliveredst thy friends out of the dark places of hell.” Now here the text says hell, but before, and after this section it says purgatory. Regardless, freeing souls from hell or purgatory is quite a claim for an individual to make. Even the priests of the Church could not just release a soul from purgatory. It took continued prayers and rituals to gain that release, but Honorius claims this ritual can offer just such a release immediately.

Twice there is this circumvention of the Church authority, or the Church monopoly, through the personal forgiveness of sins and the release of souls in purgatory. Earlier in the ritual it is required for the practitioner to attend mass and confession, but by the end through prayer, devotion, and ritual they have become an authority of forgiveness unto themselves. Again I feel this should be framed not as a challenge to the Christian nature of the text, but more of a personal liberation and challenge to the structure and monopoly of the Church in such regards. The domain of forgiveness was that of the priests, so this text could be seen as a threat to that domain, or possibly an extension of the priestly authority and power which connects to the idea addressed later that the author was a priest himself.

The text can be conclusively identified as Christian based on the contents. The oaths that prevent the text from being wide spread, coupled with the danger of the text being discovered, suggest that the text’s contents are genuine as there is no need to hide or disguise a text that no one will read. There are also the elements that are contrary and inflammatory to the Church which would have been excluded in a non-Christian text in disguise. Since a non Christian text hiding in Christian imagery and language would strive to be palatable to the Christian masses as a safety precaution, it can be concluded from the statements challenging the Church’s authority and the threat and oaths that Liber Iuratus Honorii was written as a genuinely Christian text.

Iuratus: Uncovering Christianity through the Internal Logic of Liber Iuratus Honorii


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Last instalment in case you missed it

Uncovering Christianity through the Internal Logic of Liber Iuratus Honorii

Part of the challenge in understanding the Christian nature of Liber Iuratus Honorii is knowing what to take at face value and what may be a blind, something to throw an unwanted reader off track, such as hiding a non-Christian text in Christian imagery. To do this we must consider the text as falling into one of two major possibilities: either it is a highly unorthodox Christian text, or it is a non Christian text that uses Christian elements as a disguise to protect the owner in case someone managed to read the text. Remembering the church’s attitude toward magic, and the supposed judgement of the pope, it makes sense that a non-Christian magical text would pretend to be Christian in an attempt to protect the owner. Consider the name and nature of the text. It is called Iuratus or Sworn, because the book was to be held and received under an oath. According to the introduction, it is included in the oath that the text would only be passed on when the previous owner is dying, to a man who has been tested for a year and found holy. No copies can be made save for those passed on at the deathbed, the owner should die rather than betray the person who gave him the text, and if no worthy man is found, the text is to buried either by the owner while still alive or with him at the time of death. Considering the pope’s condemnation and “judging [practitioners] to death” it seems that between the oaths and the fear of execution anyone who owned a copy of Liber Iuratus Honorii regardless of its religious origin would be unlikely to share the text.

If this is assumed to be the case, then the inclusion of very specific Christian prayers —from priestly prayers like the Blessing of the Salt, to prayers more likely to be known to the laity like the Hail Mary, the Actiones nostras, the Athanasian Creed, and many others— would seem to be a sincere inclusion. If this was a non-Christian text, under the same oaths and restrictions there would still be the same threat of execution and thus need for secrecy, therefore there would be no need to reframe it in Christian contexts. If Liber Iuratus Honorii was really passed on at death, and under the oaths and threats, then it is not unreasonable to assume that the Christian elements are not there as a disguise, but are part of the system. If no one would ever read the text, save whom the owner approved of and passed the text to at death, then there is no need to disguise the text in Christian theology and language for protection. Under such conditions the Christian nature of Liber Iuratus Honorii would be genuine.

Continuing to look at the internal logic of the text, we must look at the framing narrative, which explains the supposed reasoning for the book being written down and oath bound. The text says the pope and his cardinals , having decided this art is of the Devil, must “pluck up and utterly to destroy this deadly root, and all the followers of this art.” The text has to be hidden and protected because the pope and the Church has decided it is evil. While this is not shocking nor inflammatory the author of Liber Iuratus Honorii continues to claim that “wicked spirits were gathered together, intending to send devils into the hearts of men… sowing hypocrise [sic] and envy, and rooting bishops and prelates in pride, even the pope himself and his cardinals” and this is what led them on this quest against books of magic and spirit conjuration. It was not because the texts were unholy, but because the pope and his cardinals have been coerced by demons, or “wicked spirits,” to this end. Returning to the idea that Christian prayers and symbolism were added to protect the owner if the book was ever accidentally discovered, as a palatable disguise, then the first paragraph would not accuse the pope of being under a demon’s influence and remove that palatable disguise. This again shows the sincerity of the Christian elements. If the text is oath bound and no one will read it there is no need to hide it in Christian terms, and if the Christian terms were a disguise they wouldn’t attack the pope, so it suggests that the text really was Christian.

There are other aspects of the text which support this reading of its internal logic. For instance, divine vision is the goal of the first book, yet several other effects happen in the course of the ritual, either as steps along the way or “side-effects” and one of them is the “forgiveness of sins.” One of the prayers used in the working itself says “this prayer aforesaid … doth obtain remission of sins” and later prayers continue to request and attest that “inward sins may be washed away.” At this time the Church was seen as the sole source of forgiveness, that through confession to a priest and their recommendations and blessings a sin could be washed away. Yet here the text is offering the practitioner the chance to do just that without the intervention of a priest. This should not be read as anti-Christian or non-Christian, but anti-Church as an establishment. The text is asserting the power of an individual to be forgiven through other means than the Church, even if it is a complex ritual. So while still Christian it does display some issues with the hierarchy and policies of the Church.

Iuratus: Analysis of Non-Christian Elements and Their Integration with Liber Iuratus Honorii Part III


See the initial post of the series

The last instalment in case you missed it

Non-Christian elements are not always as easy to locate as Hebrew, Greek, and Chaldaic names, or Islamic ritual pattern: they are sometimes subtle and easy to pass over. For instance, the text begins with a set of oaths (which will be addressed more later) indicating that if the book cannot be passed on to a suitable man it was to be buried to protect the practitioner and the person who gave him the text. When put into context this seems unusual. The context in this case is the dominance of Christianity and the criminalization of magic and witchcraft and loosely related ideas. Liber Iuratus Honorii was written at a time just preceding the witch trials of Europe, when charges of magic were common and dangerous. According to the introduction of the text, the pope and his cardinals have made statements condemning “the art” (as the practice of these rituals is called within the text) and “judging [practitioners] to death.” A text as “dangerous” to the owner as Liber Iuratus Honorii would be better off destroyed, in a fire for instance, since a buried text can be recovered or discovered which would go against the spirit of the oath. Burying the text could allow a practitioner to be discovered, or an unworthy person to find the text. If the text was really to be protected the only real method would be its destruction. While this might seem odd, interpreted from a Jewish perspective it makes sense as it is a Jewish tradition than any holy text, or text containing the name of God, cannot be destroyed. When a text is no longer useful or usable it is to be buried in a cemetery rather than destroyed in any other way. While there is not enough said about burying the text in Liber Iuratus Honorii to conclusively say it is borrowing the Jewish custom of burying texts with the name of God in it, it does seem to be a parallel especially when contrasted with the issues of burying a text for reasons of security and secrecy.

These non-Christian elements could be seen as detracting from the argument that Liber Iuratus Honorii is really a Christian text, but I think it is more useful to interpret them as supporting and supplementing the text. At this time there is no real parallel to the form of angel communication of Liber Iuratus Honorii in Christian mystic traditions. On the other hand a great deal of the Qabalah at the time was centered on divine communication (despite Honorius’s protest otherwise ) so it is reasonable that the author of Liber Iuratus Honorii would borrow and steal from that tradition. The gaps existing in Christian mysticism could be filled in with Jewish mysticism to make a complete system, in an analog to using frog DNA to complete the sequence of dinosaur DNA in Jurassic Park. Taking from Jewish and Islamic sources doesn’t detract from the Christian nature of the next, but instead is merely evidence of the author seeing an element lacking in his system and deciding to appropriate the elements from another in order to make a more complete and potentially functioning system.

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