Gareth Knight on the history of A History of White Magic

Some time in 1977 the Managing Director of Mowbrays, a prestigious religious publishing house was looking in his shaving mirror one morning and was suddenly struck with the thought of publishing a History of White Magic. Goodness knows where that came from! Were inner plane friends of mine beaming psychical suggestions via the looking glass? Was he thus an unconscious medium?

Having embarked on this unconventional train of thought his first problem was to find somebody to write it. His search eventually came my way at the suggestion of my Anglican friend and mentor Anthony Duncan, via his friend and spiritual advisor, the Benedictine monk Dom Robert Petitpierre, both of whom had a reputation in ecclesiastical circles of knowing something about this bizarre subject.

I had reservations about this offer, having had unfortunate experiences in trying to deal with other conventional religious publishers and was still undecided when I began to receive a strong and persistent impression to consult the I Ching. I am not much given to divination, finding that my own intuition sees me well enough through most vicissitudes of life; however, so strong did these impressions become that I dusted off my copy of the I Ching and cast the oracle of yarrow stalks.

The result was the hexagram Ts’ui, “Gathering Together”, which has as its general interpretation: “Success. The king approaches his temple. It furthers one to see the great man. This brings success. Perseverance furthers.”

This was encouraging enough for me and so I went forth “to see the great man” and duly signed his contract!

A History of White Magic duly appeared in January 1979 and attracted more general interest than any of my other books so far. I was invited to talk about the book on BBC Radio 2, on Anglia TV and at a number of local radio stations. One clerical gentleman (who had not read the book) wrote to say how appalled he was at its publication by a respectable religious publishing house – but it was very well received in the esoteric field, and even compared to Dr Bronowski’s famous television serial The Ascent of Man.  I would not have put it in that class myself, but it had its influence and was translated into French and Greek and later had an American incarnation as Magic and the Western Mind.

Left: the original Mowbray edition

It now resurfaces in a new edition published by Skylight Press. And I hope it may continue to serve another lease of life as a means to approach intelligent laypersons who seek some kind of explanation of what magic is all about. In the esoteric world we tend to live in a kind of cultural ghetto and my aim in being given the opportunity to write this book was to use it as a chance explain that it is not necessarily a weird and offbeat flight from reason, but a way of looking at the world, and experiencing parts of it in greater depth, that had ever been with us. Indeed had once been regarded as a noble science and philosophy. And as a use of the high imagination as an aid to the evolution of consciousness, from the ancient Mystery Religions, through Alchemy, Renaissance Magic, the Rosicrucian Manifestos, Freemasonry and 19th century Magical Fraternities up to the modern age.

To quote from the Foreword to the first edition written by the distinguished poet and Blake and Yeats scholar Kathleen Raine: “Magic” is a word whose associations are both glamorous and sinister; Gareth Knight, well known to his readers as the most down-to-earth and pragmatic of magicians, by seeking to show what magic really is and to what body of thought it belongs, dissipates both these illusions. At the same time he shows how real is the world upon whose laws the operation of “magic” (and of prayer for that matter), depend. It is the world of “imagination”, consciousness itself, the secret “prima materia” of the alchemists.

Or as the Hermetic Journal was moved to review: It is obvious from the beginning that we have here a work revealing the author’s spiritual maturity, a work with a definite message and structure, rather than the piecemeal gathering of snippets of information which often is offered in books with this sort of title, by inferior authors with little occult understanding.

To check this out for yourself you can do no better than visit www.skylightpress.co.uk and purchase a copy for your own use and as a means of enlightenment for your inquisitive friends.

— Gareth Knight

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About Rebsie

Run the Daughter of the Soil gardening blog, and Cheltonia, a history of Cheltenham.
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