The Mythology of Magic

A History of the Western Mystery Tradition to the Twentieth Century: The Mythology of Magic

by J. S. Kupperman

The Western Mystery Tradition (WMT) has a history which dates back thousands of years. It is, in reality, a conglomeration of religious, mystical, and magical traditions which gave, and continues to give, shape to the cultures of the Western world. The WMT is informed by traditions from countless cultures and countries; from the deserts of ancient Egypt to the snow capped mountains of Scotland and Norway. These traditions have been used by dark age magicians and Edwardian antiquarians, medieval knights and renaissance mathematicians to create and enrich their spiritual and magical lives. They have been studied by Rabbi and priest, philosopher and poet for longer than recorded human history.

These various practices and philosophies, which together make up the Western Mystery Tradition, have each been developed in specific times and places for specific reasons and peoples. As can be expected many of these paths differ greatly in their structures and religious mysteries from other traditions that grew up in neighboring countries. More surprising are the many similarities that can be found in the stories of vastly separated cultures. These similarities are more than superficial. They show, unexpectedly, a continuous stream of tradition. Similarities may not be so startling when comparing the Welsh Mabinogion and the Irish heroic cycles. It is much more astonishing that similarities can be found between the Welsh Mabinogion, the Irish heroic cycles and ancient Greek mythology.[1]

Throughout the numerous differences, variations, and obvious imitation that exists between the vast number of traditions which contribute to the WMT there is one thing that exists in all traditions. This omnipresent aspect which transcends doctrine, technique and liturgy is the one thing which binds the entire Western Mystery Tradition together. This key element is mythology.

Mythology, and the mysteries that are hidden within its stories, is, perhaps, the most important aspect of the WMT. It is from mythology that later dogma is created. It is from mythology that ritual, magical, mystical, and religion is created from. It is these sacred stories that the priesthood and the magicians use to teach their congregations and disciples.

Many books have been devoted to the study of individual cultures and their legends. Their influence on historic as well s modern cultures are well documented. However, little attention has been paid to the role of myth considering the whole of the WMT.

A mythic pattern can be traced through the thousands of years of mythology up to the modern era. This pattern is the mythic history of the WMT. Above all else, the Western Mystery Tradition is a creature of story and legend. Its greatest figures and occurrences are a rich blend of fact and story, science and mysticism. While the factual history, as much as it can ever be discerned, is of great importance for any student of the Mysteries, a study of the mythic history of the WMT is of equal importance.

This paper will be divided into two main sections.

In the first part a cohesive chronological myth of the Western Mystery Tradition will be developed in full, starting from creation and continuing through to the beginning of the 20th century. Out story will end at the advent of the last century because western culture has not yet had the opportunity to decide how people and events more current shall be considered historically and myth logically.

Due to the expansive nature of the WMT I will be selective as to which stories to include and which to exclude. Because of this, the history being created, much like “factual” history, will be somewhat subjective. A different writer would likely develop a somewhat different history than I will. In many cases the mythologies included will be used differently than their traditional context. This is because those sacred stories are being taken from their individual cultures and used as part of a larger more inclusive tradition.

The second section of this paper will be a breakdown of the various legends which are a part of the mythic history. This part of the paper will look at each section of the preceding myth and analyze its various aspects, giving historical and sociological backgrounds when necessary. Lastly, we will connect the seemingly disparate aspects of the mythic history as well as explain the mythology in general.


This is an authorized mirror of J S Kupperman's Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition.