One thing apparent from The Key of Solomon the King, the edition compiled by S. Liddell MacGregor Mathers from various manuscript versions of the famous grimoire in the late 19th century and reproduced by Weiser Books, is that medieval Magick-Workers were way, way more serious than we tend to be about their experiments in the Magickal Arts. For instance, Book I: Chapter III, “Concerning the Arts” (p. 15) advises that, “Before commencing operations both the Master and his Disciples must abstain with great and thorough continence during the space of nine days from sensual pleasures and from vain and foolish conversation.” The idea that one should begin to prepare for a Ritual Working a full nine days prior might seem excessive to us (as might the idea that one should refrain from sex); not being able to indulge in “vain and foolish conversation” would probably discount any number of modern Occultists right off. (Ooh, ooh, catty Pagan: did I just say that?)
After guarding one’s behavior and operating with modesty for nine days, Book II: Chapter IV, “Concerning the Fasting, Care, and Things to be Observed” (p. 88) further directs the prospective Wizard to confine himself (or herself) to an “eating fasting diet” for three days before the Magickal Operation, taking nourishment of bread and water only, once a day. Then after nine days of celibacy and three of fasting, one is ready to prepare in earnest- by means of the Ritual Bath.
According to Book II: Chapter V, “Concerning the Baths, and How They are to be Arranged” (p. 90), “The Bath is necessary for all Magical and Necromantic Arts; wherefore, if thou wishest to perform any experiment or operation- thou shalt have warm water ready in some large vessel or tub in thy secret cabinet.” (The Key has explained prior that the Magick-Worker should maintain a private “cabinet” or “cell”: a secret, consecrated Magickal Room that only they enter or have access to; as we can judge from the language, medieval rooms were small.) As the Magician disrobes, they are to recite certain Psalms (the Key is very Christian-specific, the ultimate example of Christian-adapted Magick). One then performs the “Exorcism of the Water”: “I exorcise thee, O Creature of Water- that thou cast out from thee all the impurities and uncleannesses of the Spirits of the World of Phantasm, so that they may harm me not.”
One then performs the “Benediction of the Salt”: “The Blessing of the Father Almighty be upon this Creature of Salt, and let all malignity and hindrance be cast forth hencefrom, and let all good enter herein” One then baths in the ritual bath (with purifying herb of hyssop). ”Then thou shalt quit the Bath and clothe thyself in linen garments clean and white.”
Having thus ritualistically bathed “thyself with the exorcised water,” and clothed “thyself with the consecrated garment,” one should then “cense thyself, and surround thyself with [the] odours” of “perfumes and suffumigations.” Having done this-
“The which being done, thou shalt go unto the ordained place with thy Companions, and all things being prepared, thou shalt make the Circle with all other necessary ceremonies- Let the Master now give his commands unto his Disciples, and pursue the course of the Experiment, and work with all diligence to bring it unto perfection.”
If all of this sounds familiar- a Master working with Disciples; undergoing ritual preparations of “Exorcising” the elements of Evil (or as we might put it today, not wanting to be all medieval and Catholic- “Blessing and Purifying”); “fumigating” the air with incense; before performing the Ritual of Casting the Circle- it is because Gerald Gardner took the structure of medieval Ceremonial Magick and applied it to the surviving British Witchcraft which he claimed to have been initiated into, in the late 1930s. As this Witchcraft was an unformed, intuitive sort (pretty much what one would expect to find in an oral-culture folks’ tradition), Gardner fixed the apparatus of Ceremonial Magick to it- creating a form of Witchcraft that had never existed before. Essentially (it seems to me), Gardnerian Witchcraft and all Traditions or Rituals derived from it, or based upon it, count as a form of medieval Ceremonial Magick, with all sorts of people running around today very experienced in that which certain segments of medieval society devoted themselves to with vigor and gusto. (If Gardner had said that he had discovered a secret surviving Tradition of medieval Ceremonial Sorcery, there might not have been much controversy, later.)
But call it “Witchcraft’ he did, and I’m curious as to the “why” of that. The reason that one casts a Circle is to create Magickal Space for the Energy-Raising of the Witch’s Ritual- an element not found in the Key or other grimoires. This leaves the mystery of where- from whom- Gardner acquired understanding of Energy-Raising, being impressed enough by it to create a ritual-structure around it, promoting and passing it on as it had been passed to him. A mystery currently unanswered (and seldom addressed), but one whose solution would be most illuminating.