Thursday, 6 January 2011

Magical battles: both ancient and modern



Inspired by watching Disney's Sorcerer's Apprentice last night and having recently completed reading the book and watching the DVD of "The Men Who Stare at Goats" - I started thinking about other magical conflicts and battles.

Ancient magical battle:
Last week’s Torah reading from Vaera in the Book of Shemot (Exodus) includes a magical battle. It occurs at the start of the ten plagues that herald the exodus of the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery.

See battle of the staves and plagues is described starting in Exodus Chapter 7, Verse 8.

Part of that narrative involves a magical battle involving staves turning in to snakes and back, as well as one snake swallowing the staves of the other adepts. There are also the first few plagues that the sorcerers and necromancers of Egypt could re-create. However they come undone during the plague of lice and are unable to reproduce any of the plagues that follow. See Exodus chapter 8, verses 14-15:
14. And the necromancers did likewise with their secret rites to bring out the lice, but they could not, and the lice were upon man and beast.
15. So the necromancers said to Pharaoh, "It is the finger of God," but Pharaoh's heart remained steadfast, and he did not hearken to them, as the Lord had spoken
An interesting idea that I once heard Rabbi Tatz present is that the ten plagues are in the reverse order of the ten sayings that are in the first chapter of Genesis. The Egyptians with their sorcerous might had attempted to overturn the order of nature and the plagues were a reversal of that process.

See the following Wikipedia link for more details on the ten utterances:
Rabbi Johanan taught that the ten utterances with which God created the world account for the rule taught in a Baraita cited by Rabbi Shimi that no fewer than ten verses of the Torah should be read in the synagogue. The ten verses represent God’s ten utterances. The Gemara explained that the ten utterances are indicated by the ten uses of “And [God] said” in Genesis 1. To the objection that these words appear only nine times in Genesis 1, the Gemara responded that the words “In the beginning” also count as a creative utterance.
So the second of the utterances is the creation of light. The second to last plague was darkness. The first “utterance” refers to the first cause, namely God. The last plague was the God manifesting in such a way that the thing that was considered holy in Egyptian society, namely the first born, was destroyed.

Modern magical battles:

In the past I’ve come across references to the “Magical Battle of Britain” mentioned in places such as Wikipedia and the Fortean Times.

More recently I came across battle reports in the Chaos Magic community as mentioned in these links:
If you know of any other sources that describe magical battles then please let me know by posting a comment. The topic of “Magical battles” may not make an appearance on the History channel, but it is certainly a topic I’d love to find out more about.