Roberts (2015 Congress)

Jason E. Roberts
(University of Texas – Austin)
“The Power of God’s Name and the Problem of God’s Favor:
A Diachronic Examination of the Tradition(s) of Solomonic Magic”

Abstract of Paper presented at the 2015 International Congress on Medieval Studies
Session on “Efficacious Words:  Spoken and Inscribed”
Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and the Societas Magica
Organized by Jason E. Roberts

2015 Congress Events Announced and 2015 Congress Events Accomplished

[Published on 29 March 2015]

The descriptor, Solomonic, at the simplest level, is a reference to the eponymous mythical source of a system of occult knowledge — a system of magic.  However, along with others, like Hermetic or Enochian, it might be more subtly understood as a set of principles around which pieces of occult knowledge is organized.  Thus, the fundamental difference between a piece of Solomonic magic and an analogous Hermetic practice might be the believed mechanism of efficacy – in other words, the philosophy of magic.  In the case of Solomonic magic, I suggest that the germ of that philosophy can be found in the biblical story of King Solomon (Kings 11:1–13) and in more developed form in the apocryphal Testament of Solomon (between the 1st and 5th centuries CE).  For the purposes of this study, and in an attempt at brevity somewhat similar to the Hermetic, “As above, so below,” I suggest the principle of Solomonic magic may be understood as the power of God’s name granted to those whom He favors.

Whereas the power of the name of God seems to remain relatively consistent among texts of Solomonic magic as a means to compel demons, the question of what is necessary to achieve God’s favor can vary drastically from one text to another.  The purpose of this paper, then, is to examine this variety among texts and to begin to map change over time from emphasis on the power of God’s name to the preoccupation with attaining and maintaining the favor necessary to wield it.  It is hypothesized that in each text, the author’s instructions for the magician’s self-preparation (achieving “the favor of God”) will reveal preoccupations with ritual purity, state of grace, and degree of faith that are consistent with the dominant religious and even confessional concerns of Judaism, Catholicism, and even early Protestantism from the time of the text’s composition.  Thus, it may be possible to speak of the relationship between the power of the Name in the oldest texts and the Catholic idea of grace as well as a mounting doubt about one’s worthiness and the efficacy of ritual to affect that amid the Protestant rhetoric of the Reformation.