The phrase ‘real witches’ tends to conjure up gruesome images of Salem’s witch-hunts, but ‘real wizards’ tends to be greeted with more skepticism. After all, wizards run around in badly patterned hat-and-robe sets, with ridiculous beards and twinkling eyes. It’s a lot harder to believe they ever existed. But exist they did: here’s ten true-to-life wizards.
10) Nicholas Flamel
If you remember Harry Potter, Nicholas Flamel created the philosopher’s stone, and was well into his six hundreds when he and Albus Dumbledore became friends. Flamel was a real person, who picked up a reputation for alchemical know-how and magically gained riches in the centuries after his death in 1418. Seventeeth century accounts onward claim Flamel learned alchemy whilst traveling to Santiago de Compostela. The truth is somewhat different: Flamel may have dabbled in alchemy, but any occult powers are later attributions, and he and his wife, Perenelle’s, great wealth came partially from running two shops and from his wife, who had inherited plenty from her two previous husbands.
9) Hayyim Samuel Jacob Falk
Also known as the Baal Shem of London, Rabbi Hayyim Samuel Jacob Falk was born in 1708. He immigrated to London in the 1740s after being charged with sorcery in Germany and fled to avoid being burnt at the stake. In London, he gained the reputation as a mystic of impressive skill, reportedly able to move objects with his mind or fill a cellar with coal by a single incantation. It was claimed that he had saved London’s Great Synagogue from fire by inscribing a few words in Hebrew upon its pillars. He is also reported to have given a charmed ring to ensure succession to the throne to the Duke of Orleans, which eventually found its way to the Duke’s son, who became King Louis Philippe of France.
Paracelsus was born Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim in 1493, and was a quintessential renaissance man, knowledgeable in medicine, botany, alchemy and astrology. He’s credited with naming zinc, discovering (or at least clearly pointing out) the psychological roots of some illnesses. Like many of his age, he incorporated astrology into his medical practices, and also developed the magical alphabet known as the ‘Alphabet of the Magi’, which was used to invoke spirits of all stripes to aid in the healing process. He gained a reputation for magical healing, since he blatantly disproved of Galenic medicine (the dominant school of medical thought at the time), while successfully treating patients through other methods. His use of astrology and alchemy in medicine tied into his belief that for good health, man had to be in harmony with the natural world.
Born Gerard Encausse in 1865, Encausse took the name Papus for his occult writings and activities. A prolific occult writer, he published several magical books, as well as formed his own occult group, the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose-Croix in 1888, while participating in other esoteric societies, including the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He also found time to act as a bishop for the recently reformed Gnostic Church of France (which attempted to revive Catharism, a branch of Christianity destroyed during the Albigensian Crusade). However, his most impressive occult outings were in Russia, where he visited Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra multiple times in the early 1900s, as both physician and sorcerer. On one of these visits, he reportedly conjured the spirit of the Tsar’s father in 1905, who prophesied that Nicholas would be overthrown by revolutionaries- but that the prophecy could be held at bay as long as Papus lived. Papus died 141 days before Tsar Nicholas II’s forced abdication.
6) Hew Draper
Hew Draper was a Bristol innkeeper in 1500s, and was sent to the Tower of London after being accused of sorcery. In his defense, he claimed that he had once held an interest in magic, but had long since burnt his books. On the walls of the Salt Tower, previous prisoners scratched graffiti into the walls, and Hew decided to add his own mark. His addition to the walls was an intricate astrological diagram, complete with zodiac signs and signed with both his name and the date, May 30th, 1561. It certainly wouldn’t have helped his argument that he was not a sorcerer, but there’s no reports of his death in the tower- or anywhere else.
5) Cornelius Agrippa
Playwright Marlowe named Agrippa as the greatest magician of his time. He was a prolific writer, with his most famous work being De Occulta Philosophia Libra Tres (three books about occult philosophy), a three volume work describing a magical system involving natural magic (astrology and alchemy) and vocative magic (summoning spirits) tied together by neoplatonic ideals that stated all power came from the divine. His books included instructions for talismans that could achieve anything: from eliciting spiritual guidance to pest control. Agrippa spent a good portion of his life studying the occult and the thornier aspects of theology, which despite courting controversy, never seemed to result in outright persecution. Sometime between 1525 and 1533, however, Agrippa lost his faith in magic, renouncing it as a surefire ticket to hell, and ending his final book of occult philosophy with a stern warning against it. However, his reasons for this rejection remain murky, and open to debate even today.
4) John Dee
One of the most learned men of his day, John Dee’s areas of expertise ranged from navigation to divination. He saw little distinction between the intricacies of algebra and those of angelic summoning, believing both worked towards the same goal: the understanding of the ‘pure verities’, the divine forces underlying the physical world. He worked as a scientific and mystical adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. 1564 saw his publishing of Monas Heiroglyphica, a text about the glyph representing the unity of creation. By the 1580s, however, he had become dissatisfied with theoretical occult knowledge, and sought out a more direct means of communicating with the angels. In this period he met Edward Kelley (then under the name Edward Talbot), who acted as both a fellow sorcerer and a medium for the angels. The two traveled the continent, holding magical meetings with royalty, while continuing to transcribe their conferences with angels. The duo stayed together until 1587, when the “angels” told Edward that he and John needed to “share” their wives. After this, Dee returned to England- sans Kelley- and lived out the rest of his life as a warden at Christ’s College in Manchester.
3) Edward Kelley
John Dee’s accomplice is credited with being the driving force behind the creation of the magical alphabet of Enochian, and claimed to be able to speak with angels through a crystal ball. However, while Dee’s passion was for celestial conference, Kelley preferred alchemy, claiming to have discovered the Book of Dunstan in the 1580s, which held the secret of transmuting base metals to gold through the use of a strange red powder. Once he and Dee parted ways in 1589, he worked mainly as an alchemist on the continent. He was granted several estates by the Bohemian Count Vilem Rožmberk, and was knighted by King Rudolph II in 1590. However, King Rudolph II had him arrested in 1591, presumably for killing a man in a duel, but more likely to coerce him into making good on his promises to turn base metals into gold. He agreed and was released, and then was arrested again in 1595, after failing to follow through. He died due to complications from an escape attempt from Hněvín Castle in late 1597 or early 1598, where he was jailed until he could turn base metals into gold.
2) Eliphas Levi
Eliphas Levi is one of the preeminent names in Victorian ceremonial magic. His work, Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual, was a huge influence on societies like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and fellow occultists like Aleister Crowley. His dalliances with the supernatural began in 1853, through an acquaintance with author Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who introduced him to Rosicrucianism, a secret society that claimed to trace its origins back to medieval Germany. His work provided Victorian occultist societies with the three principles of magic: that the material universe is only a part of reality, that human willpower is a force capable of achieving feats both mundane and miraculous, and finally that a human reflects the universe on a microscopic level, the two are linked, and acting on one may affect the other. He also associated the pentacle with good and the inverted pentacle with evil, as well as gave tarot cards a place of prominence within Victorian occultist systems.
1) Aleister Crowley
One of the most infamous men of his time, denounced as “the wickedest man in the world”, Aleister Crowely was an occultist par excellence, and one who helped shape the image of the occultist in the mind of the modern world. He came to ceremonial magic through an interest in alchemy, and joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1898, where he quickly rose through the ranks. His libertine ways and bisexuality made him his fair share of enemies, and these feuds lead to him being a key player in the schism between the French and London branches of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which he would later more or less abandon in favor of travel and his own occult society. He founded the A∴A∴, a society based off the Thelemic practices and beliefs he’d designed (on the instructions of Aiwass, a messenger of the Egyptian god Horus, who informed him he was the prophet of the new age), in 1907, which put forth the supreme law “do what thou wilt”, and eventually settled in an abbey on the island of Sicily. Besides contacting spirits and ancient Egyptian gods, Crowley also experimented with past-life regression, recovering memories of his previous life as Eliphas Levi.