Christianity’s Magical Heritage

Jesus MosaicThree men met us in the desert and said to the Lord Jesus, “What treatment is possible for the sick?”  And he says to them, “I have given olive oil and and have poured out myrrh for those who believe in the name of the Father and the Holy Spirit and the Son.”

Angels of the Lord ascended to mid-heaven, suffering from eye ailments and holding a sponge.  The Son of the Lord says to them, “Why have you ascended, O holy all-pure ones?”  “We have come up to receive healing, O Yao Sabbath, because you are powerful and strong.”   —Oxyrhynchus 1384, translated by Marvin Meyer, Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power

The texts above are from a 5th century papyrus fragment.  The actual origin of these legends is not known to me.  I share them because it adds a richness to the gospel stories that portray Jesus as a healer. In Oxyrhynchus 1384, he functions as a medicine man or shaman who uses natural elements to provide healing.  (The rest of the fragment contains healing potions for several ailments.) Could it be possible that not all of Jesus healings were instantaneous?  Perhaps he also possessed the knowledge of herbology and the like.  I would like to think so.

In his book Ancient Christian Magic, Marvin Meyer presents us with a collection of spells, amulets and the like that have been used by Christians from the first through the twelfth centuries.  Most of these spells are from the Coptic (ancient Egyptian) Church but I have no doubt that Christian magic has been practiced and continues to be practiced by at least a small group of the followers of Jesus since the very beginning.

Now I know that when Christians hear the word “magic” they tend to freak out a bit, since their usual reference is what they see in film and TV.  Not surprisingly, this is a horrible way to understand the true meaning of magic.  As I understand it, magic is the interworking of person energy, natural energy and Divine energy to produce the intended result.  Some call this prayer.  Others speak of working miracles or using the mind to harness the body’s ability to heal itself.  It’s really all the same thing!  It’s magic!

While we’re on the subject, did you know that in order to be considered a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, a miracle must have taken place through the intercession of that person. This miracle is usually a healing. This healing has to be instantaneous, permanent, and complete while also being scientifically unexplainable.  Yet, this same church warns that the use of supernatural powers is condemned “even if this were for the sake of restoring their health.”  Hmm.  It feels like we’re talking about the same thing, only using different terms to describe it.

Christians need to learn more about our magical heritage.  This is not something to be feared, it is a gift to be embraced.  If we use it well, we can become a positive force for healing in our world.

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About David Taliesin

My name is David Taliesin. I'm an writer, teacher and retreat leader who explores the connections between Christian and Pagan Spirituality. E-mail me with any personal comments you'd like to share and I will do my best to answer them. You can also contact me through my Facebook page
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