Occult Practices Within the Catholic Church

Peter Levenda
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Papal Magic Occult Practices Within the Catholic Church

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Papal Magic: Occult Practices Within the Catholic Church


Occult Practices Within the Catholic Church


HarperCollins e -books


Section I: Catholicism and the Occult 1

Sacerdotal Magic 17

The Black Mass 22

Priestly Authority Over Demons

and Angels 40

The Mason Who Would Be Pope 47

The OTO and Christianity 54

Italian Freemasons and the Vatican

Banking Scandal 61

The Most Diabolic of Grimoires 70



Catholicism and the Occult

The New Testament tells us a surprising thing, right at the beginning of the story of Christ (Matthew 1:18-2:12). It tells us that three wise men— Magi—followed a star to Bethlehem where they found the newborn Jesus. In order to do so, they had to first pay a courtesy visit to Herod, the governor of Palestine, who then ordered the massacre of all firstborn Jewish males in order to ensure he killed the newborn Jesus and thus prevent the young Messiah’s ever taking power.

The Massacre of the Innocents is not a story that is usually told at Christmas. We see the Magi—whom tradition has named Melchior, Balthazar, and Casper—bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and sometimes we are told that they are three “kings.” They could not be kings in the normal sense, as they did not travel with a large retinue but seemed to make the journey (from the “East”) with a few possessions and perhaps a few servants but nothing more. We are not told what kingdoms they represented. We are told very little, actually, and at the end of their visit to the manger they make their departure secretly, avoiding Herod and his intrigues.

These three kings are an anomaly in the story of Jesus. It only appears in the Gospel according to Matthew, and not in any of the other Gospels. There does not seem to be a precedent for this in other Jewish traditional literature, since these kings were obviously not Jewish but foreigners who came from a land to the east of Palestine; Persia, perhaps, or Babylon. That they followed a star is evidence of their ability in astronomy but also their belief in astrology, because for them the appearance of the Star in the East had meaning. Astronomers—like all scientists—do not deal in meaning, but in phenomena. Astrology—like the other occult sciences—is an attempt to assign meaning to phenomena.

While astrology may be considered divination and therefore something proscribed by Jewish tradition and law, there is evidence that the Jews did practice a form of astrology themselves. The Bible is full of references to “signs in the heavens,” which could mean anything from the appearance of comets to the more familiar conjunctions and oppositions of astrological lore. In either case, “signs in the heavens” indicates that the motions of the heavenly bodies were considered meaningful: messages to the denizens of the earth from spiritual forces capable of communicating with humans using the very broad canvas of the heavens themselves.

The Bible has other tales of the occult, sprinkled here and there throughout the Old and New Testaments, but usually with words of opprobrium. There is the famous tale of the Witch of Endor, who caused the ghost of Samuel to appear to King Saul on the eve of battle (Samuel 28:425). There is the injunction against the occult in the commandment: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live (Exodus 22:18). And there is Jesus himself raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1–44), and performing exorcisms and doing other miraculous things which, if they were performed by any person today, would be considered witchcraft, magic, or demonstrations of occult powers.

Thus, the Christian Scriptures attest the Church’s occult foundations. In the Gospel according to Luke we see Jesus saying, “Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you,” thus implying the power of His followers over all the spiritual realms (Luke 10:20). Before Jesus begins his ministry, Satan tempts him in the desert, demonstrating his power over the material worlds; and, in another episode, Jesus himself turns to St. Peter and tells him, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). Oddly, Catholic tradition has it that St. Peter was crucified upside down; today, the inverted cross has become a symbol of . . . Satanism.

While Catholic priests are believed to have spiritual power over ghosts and demons—every Catholic priest has been ordained first as an exorcist—the use of occult powers has usually been considered closed to the priesthood and to laypeople alike. The only ones using occultism and magic have been the heretics, the blasphemers, the so-called witches and sorcerers: people who are, by their very nature, believed to be on the side of the Adversary and opponents of the Church.

Indeed, in the eighteenth century, this general indictment of occultism, occult groups, and secret societies was extended to include the Freemasons. For centuries, it was forbidden for Catholics to join the Masons, and for good reason: during the heyday of the Order in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Freemasons were actively involved in efforts to curtail the Church’s secular power in Europe, from the Carbonari in Italy to the revolutionists in France . . . up to and including Masonic intrigues against British imperial power in India. Even as late as the 1970s, a Masonic lodge calling itself Propaganda Due or

P2 was at the heart of the Vatican banking scandal in Italy. P2 was also involved in anti-communist intrigues, including assassinations, in the rest of the world.

But was the Church itself entirely blameless when it came to conjuring demons, working magic, and casting spells? It is rumored that the largest collection of occult works in the world is to be found at the Vatican library. Are they there as curios, rare and valuable tomes to be consulted by Catholic scholars carefully vetted by the Holy See? Or did they once have a more . . . utilitarian . . . purpose?

Included in this book is one of the more infamous grimoires—or magical workbooks— known to three centuries of ceremonial magicians throughout the Western world. Considered by some to be the most demonic of all occult texts, its authorship is attributed to a Pope. While scholars contend that the Pope in question had nothing to do with it, they miss the most important point of the text: that it is a manual to be used by a Catholic priest. And therein lies a tale.

For the first three hundred years of Christianity, the Church met in secret. It is well known that Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire—the image of the followers of Christ being thrown to the lions in the Coliseum is familiar to every schoolchild. Thus, in order to worship in safety, these early Christians met at night in cemeteries and catacombs. Today, if we came across news of a religious cult meeting under those circumstances, we would immediately think of “satanism” or “devil worship” or even “witchcraft.”

In India, cults that met at night in cemeteries were known to be practitioners of Tantra: most particularly a form of Tantra outlawed by conservative Brahmins and that involved violating some of the basic precepts of Hindu religious law, including drinking alcohol, eating proscribed meat and grain . . . and sex with a partner to whom one is not married. To the pious Hindu, what was taking place in the cemeteries was tantamount to a “Black Mass,” as it would be understood by a Catholic: a reversal of values in acts of blasphemous ritual that was intended to act as a kind of “shock treatment,” causing the participants to see reality through different eyes. Sometimes, there was a political element to the Black Mass: a denial of the authority of the Catholic Church in matters both secular and sacred, which may or may not have had its analogue in the rites of Tantra. At other times the Black Mass itself was seen as an instrument of power, the ultimate magical act: an act of congress with dark powers through the manipulation of Catholic symbols and rituals towards other ends: like channeling nuclear energy away from peaceful uses and making a nuclear bomb.

Is there a tradition of occult practice among Catholic clergymen, or do the isolated documented instances of sorcerers and magicians within the Church’s hierarchy merely represent anomalies, random personalities and events that have nothing to do with Catholic belief or an underground cult within the Church? Of course, the Church would have us believe the latter: a few bad apples, like the convicted pedophile priests of the last few decades. But what if the practice of occultism could be traced far up the hierarchical ladder, to bishops, perhaps cardinals, and maybe even a Pope or two? What would that say about the nature of religion, religious institutions, spiritual vocations, and faith itself?

Indeed, what would it say about magic?

That there were many ecclesiastical personalities— some of them quite famous—who were also occultists is a fact known to historians but largely unrecognized outside academia. Bishop and Saint

Albertus Magnus (1193–1280), the mentor to St.

Thomas Aquinas, was an occultist, alchemist, and magician. Abbot Johannes Trithemius (1462– 1516), a famous occultist and head of the Abbey at Sponheim in Germany, can also be considered the father of modern cryptography: the science of code-making that he invented in order to keep his occult writings safe from prying eyes. He was a friend and correspondent of the famous magician Cornelius Agrippa (1486–1533), whose Three Books of Occult Philosophy are a classic in the literature.

And then there was Marshall Gilles de Raiz (1404?–1440). A French nobleman and military man, a once-pious follower of St. Joan of Arc into battle, he descended into black magic and madness, holding Black Masses at his castle in the French countryside and murdering and mutilating village children in his satanic rites in a desperate effort to unlock the secrets of the Philosopher’s Stone, some say, and thereby fend off bankruptcy . . . and assisted in all this by an apostate Catholic priest. He and his priest and another assistant were executed in 1440 after a lengthy trial in which the details of their hideous crimes were documented.

Is it so difficult to believe that Catholic priests and bishops may have been involved in occult practices? As one edition of the Grimoire of Pope Honorius reminds us, Jesus informed his followers that “what you seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven,” thus giving his Church enormous authority over the spiritual realm. If a priest has the power to cast out demons during the rite of exorcism, doesn’t that imply an equal ability to summon them? How many priests of the past two thousand years would have been able to resist the temptation? It is said that Father Urbain Grandier, the priest at the center of the famous case of demonic possession known as the Devils of Loudon, had signed a pact with the Devil himself. In fact, a copy of this pact exists, signed in Grandier’s blood, and has been reprinted in many books on satanism and demonolatry.

When Satan confronted Jesus in the desert, he offered him the world. Indeed, Satan is often acknowledged as the “lord of this world”: the world of material things, of the passions, of the nonspiritual. This is why Faust, in the famous legend, sells his soul to Mephistopheles for twenty-five years of youth and wealth: the things of this world in exchange for the one “thing” over which Satan has no dominion, the human soul.

In the famous Mass of St. Secaire—as detailed in Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough— peasants in the Gascon region of France would sometimes prevail upon a priest to kill a man through the offices of the Liturgy. A Mass would be said—backwards—in a ruined church or other desolate place, ending on the very stroke of midnight. A black Host would be used, triangular in shape, and other abominations would ensue. The person for whom this Mass was “celebrated” would slowly die of a withering-away disease.

Frazer also speaks of the Mass of the Holy Spirit, a Mass so powerful that God would grant any wish to those who had this Mass said for them. In the same breath, he speaks of the belief some French peasants have in the ability of priests to prevent storms and to exert other powers over nature.

Thus we have the popular belief that priests have some occult power. This power is transferred through the laying-on of hands in the ordination ceremony, which is itself considered an occult act. The phenomenon of chirothesy was a ritual performed by the Pope to heal the sick by the laying-on of hands. Actually, no fewer than three Popes were believed to have been involved in occult practices, including Silvester II (pontificate 999–1003), John XXI (1276–77), and Benedict XII (1334–42). Silvester II, as an example, had acquired several important astronomical treatises in Arabic and is reputed to have studied occult lore while still a young man in Seville, then under the control of the Caliphates. He was said to be in possession of a miraculous talking head, among other novelties.

The document we will examine here, however, is attributed to Pope Honorius III (1216– 27), a man of unquestioned faith and devotion to the Church and its principles. In fact, Honorius III was a tireless opponent of heresy and was instrumental in the repression of heretical movements such as the Cathars and Albigensians in the south of France, and a supporter of Simon de Montfort, the notorious scourge of heretics and military commander of the anti-Cathar crusade. Most commentators believe that attributing a sorcerer’s workbook to Honorius III is nothing more than a kind of sick joke at the Pope’s expense, perhaps the creation of a writer from the Languedoc who held Honorius III responsible for the excesses of his champion, Simon de Montfort, and the consequent loss of his lands and family at the hands of that vicious crusader; at best, the Grimoire of Pope Honorius III may only represent a confused association with another grimoire, the Sworn Book of Honorius, a book that may have been written at the time Pope Honorius III was alive (suggestions as to the book’s antiquity range from the twelfth to the fourteenth century). While Honorius III was a prolific author of theological texts, there is no evidence that he had anything to do with either grimoire, and yet . . .

The prologue to the Sworn Book states that the Church had gone on something of a crusade against the magicians, and that the magicians held a secret council to determine what to do and elected one Honorius as their leader. Honorius then compiled the Sworn Book from a compilation of other magical texts, but secured with a set of laws that the magicians would be forced to obey before they could use the material. Thus, the “Sworn” Book.