Modern magickal practice has steered away from the traditional methodologies of Greek, Egyptian and Roman theurgy mostly in favour of Hebrew and Kabbalistic attributions.
Even many popular gnostic disciplines are increasingly failing to recognize ancient Mediterranean Gods and Goddesses and the primary function that they had in organizing ancient society.
In his book ‘The Practical Art of Divine Magic’, Patrick Dunn PhD has sought to revive interest in these traditions.
However, as he is keen to point out in the introduction to his book, this does not entail digging up the old and dusty remains of a long-since dead deities.
The attitude with which I approach this book , then, is neither eclectic nor reconstructionist.It is post-modern.
The author identifies the roots of the Greco-Roman magickal philosophies as stemming from the thoughts and ideas of that greatest of all ancient thinkers, Pythagorus. From here he traces their effect through Aristotle and Plato.
As their ideas regarding deities as archetypal forms developed so they morphed into a more tangible magickal form – one we would describe as Neoplatonic at source but later developing into Hermeticism.
One might then have expected theurgy to have gone into decline once challenged by the new ideas of early Christianity but the author suggests that in some ways Theurgic practice was integrated into the newly emergent religion which effectively promoted it.
Dunn then traces such practices into magick through the works of late Christian Neoplatonists such as John Dee and Henry Agrippa.
A Metaphysical Structure
In the early stages of his book Dunn explores the nature of such concepts as time, space and matter. Within those constructs he places the human qualities of the psyche and soul.
He discusses the varying ideas regarding the soul as espoused by Aristotle and Plato as well as its function in bringing awareness to the psyche.
Into this mix the author introduces that thorny issue of our relationship to the divine as a basis of magickal practice.
Here the author is unequivocal in his assertion that the purpose of human life boils down to one very simple axiom – that
The purpose of human life is to join the gods in the great work of creation.
It is the unique set of skills, talents and dispositions that we have which determines how we carry out that task.
The Nature of the Gods
Throughout his book Dunn takes a very reductionist approach to the subject of divine magic one that entails stripping down each component of theurgy into its constituent parts.
Having asserted that the job of mankind is to work with the gods he then explores the various ideas related to the form and function of deities throughout Greco-Roman and Egyptian pantheons.
He reveals how such groupings of deities as the Ennead of Heliopolis emerged along with the twelve primary supernal forces of Greek mythology to formulate the Hermetic Planetary Gods -a system which is universally used today throughout many magickal disciplines.
In a following chapter Dunn catalogs the varying forms of symbolic identification we are offered by the gods when making contact with them. These, are universal in the form of accepted symbols but can also be personal to the magickian.
The gods are also seen to express themselves through a number of different aspects to material reality. One of these is that of time and parts of the diurnal period which are said to be governed by one planetary power or another.
Rituals and Tools
If the gods express themselves through symbol and time it figures that tools are freely avaiable for us to connect to their powers; mainly through disciplines such as prayer and ritual.
Sometimes supporting tools can be used to enhance the practice of devotional ceremony. These include libation and sacrifice, offerings and prayer.
Another form of contact with the gods that took on many different forms in Greece in particular is that of divination, scrying, trance and invocation. For the Greeks in particular the use of oracles was particularly important and significant in gauging the mood of the gods and the spirits that represented them.
External and Internal Forces
Ancient practice of divine magick saw the gods as forces that are essentially external to the magicickian – unless, of course, he or she, invokes them.
Later on his book, Dunn shifts his line of research to focus upon the inner forces of divine interference that can come to the aid of the magickian. He cites Aleister Crowley’ s concept of the existence of the Holy Guardian Angle – one which has somewhat morphed into a divine angelic overseer in the New Age movement.
Instead, Dunn identifies this inner being as the Daimon of the ancient Greek belief. Socrates, for example, was a great believer that he had a divine inner guardian who oversaw his life and offered advice and support at important times.
Agrippa, in the other had, argued that each of us has not only a good daimon, or genius, but an evil one as well.
As Dunn points out in his book, some, geniuses or daimons are also connected to places such as streams, rivers, trees and glades.
Theurgy and Thaumaturgy
The term theurgy literally means “god work” and reflects the practice of unifying the mind with the divine. Dunn describes this as ‘upward pointing’ magic.
Thaumaturgy, on the other hand means “miracle work” and denotes the opposing practice of “downward pointing” magick.
Whilst this is not such a popular approach to magickal the author explains that it offers a valuable opportunity to confront one’s own self and motivations – in Dunns experience, with regard to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
He advisees that to exercises this strand of divine magick the operative needs to examine their own goals, priorities and aspirations.
In the end the composite role of the art of divine magick is simply “To known thy self” and as the author summorizes in the closing of his book
…and that requires taking care of ourselves and aiming to make ourselves healthier, better, happier.
Our Review of ‘The Practical Art of Divine Magic’ by Patrick Dunn
Few magickians really understand the basic philosophical foundations upon which they practice their art preferring instead to follow the dictates of others who teach magickal principles but who also fail to fully appreciate the basics.
Patrick Dunn’s book traces the historical context for much that we take for granted in magickal practice and reveals – both in an enlightening and educated fashion, the basic principles behind modern occult practice.
The author presents his historical perspective on divine magic in a fascinating way. He includes practical exercises that the reader can follow but, it should be pointed out that this book is not a how to do it manual on magick but more a commentary on the subject.
To my mind it is the chapter on daimonology that makes this book most valuable as a read and the practices offered based on creating a great rapport with one’s inner genius is worthy of a book in its own right.
In the end I believe that this is a somewhat specialized book but one that lays down the fabric of theurmatalogical thinking in such a way that will help ground many in the modern occult movement into the roots of their system.
With its light touches and occasional humorous commentary ‘The Practical Art of Divine Magic’ by Patrick Dunn is a terrific read. In tandem with its powerful magickal insights and historical references it is a book to be savoured and enjoyed by anyone who is interested in magick as an art-form. Highly recommended!