Black Magic by Michael A. Aquino

Michael Aquino was a Lt. Colonel in the US Army (now retired), as well as being a high-ranking member of the Church of Satan. These two facts have caused plenty of wild speculation among paranoid conspiracists about links between the government and Satanism; I will not indulge them here. Aquino left the Church of Satan in 1975, after a major disagreement with its founder Anton LaVey. He went on to form the Temple of Set, taking with him a portion of the Church’s priesthood who sympathised with his stance.

Aquino is interesting because he is what is known as a theistic Satanist (or Setian, as he would now call himself), where Satan/Set is viewed as more than a mere metaphor for rebellion. Theistic Satanists would seem to be in the minority today, but they are commonly misunderstood as being believers in the actual Satan of the Bible. In reality, they are no different from theists who see all religions as vaguely pointing to the same metaphysical reality. Words like “Set” are used to give substance to a reality that is ultimately beyond our understanding and must be intuited.

Black Magic was written in successive edits from 1975 to 2010. It was never published commercially, but reserved for new members of the Temple of Set. Due to it appearing in various forms on the internet, Aquino has now publicly released the definitive version for free download from his web site.

Early chapters of the book are mostly concerned with Temple-specific matters, such as identifying reasons why a person should or should not join, explaining the degree system of the Temple and the Egyptian connection.

Where the book really takes off for me is chapter 4, entitled “The Black Magical Theory of the Universe.” My own personal experience with psi phenomena leads me to believe that the fundamental nature of the universe is much weirder than materialistic science would give credence to, so I am always fascinated by bigger worldviews. The Temple divides the universe into two parts: the Objective Universe (OU), which is the world around you, and the Subjective Universe (SU), which is essentially the world inside your head, incorporating the OU filtered through your sense and brain, and also anything you imagine. In mundane existence, the OU affects the SU, and it doesn’t work the other way around. However, there exists what is called a Magical Link between your SU and the OU, which allows the SU to affect the OU.

Magic is divided into “Lesser Black Magic” and “Greater Black Magic.” The former is the use of obscure physical laws to affect another person’s SU; stage magic, for instance. The latter is something genuinely supra-mundane, achieved using ritual. Ritual is seen as a means of affecting one’s own SU to create the Magical Link. Ultimately, ritual is not a necessity, and is referred to as training wheels for magic. Medial Black Magic is non-ritualised magic.

The book also contains material on ethics, discussing various schools of ethics that have developed through philosophy. Of chief concern is the role of the Black Magician in the world, as an agent of productive change. The Temple of Set has completely moved away from the unfortunate stereotype that attaches itself to Satanism: the misconception by the would-be Satanist that he has found a philosophy that will allow him to justify his decadence and destructiveness. No such persons are welcome as members of the Temple of Set.

Aquino is an extremely clear and rational writer. There is no muddy water in his presentation. I’m not sure how much or how little I agree with his worldview, but I found this book to be a treasure trove of useful insights. It’s also not so intellectual that a lay reader can’t benefit.

The one piece of weak scholarship in the volume is Aquino’s conflation of the Hebrew “Satan” with the earlier Egyptian “Set-an.” This shows a complete lack of understanding of the origins of the Hebrew word, which is not even a name, but a common verb/noun, translated as “to oppose” in Numbers 22:22. It also needs to be understand that the Hebrew Satan is not the same as the later development of the Christian Satan. The original character was an angel in God’s service (see the Book of Job), not an adversary to God as he is depicted in Christianity.

Recommended reading for students of philosophy and metaphysics, as well as psychic and occult dabblers.