A Visit from Amiahzatan, Daemon of Tobacco and Smoke

 

A few years ago, I began an intense period of work with Brujo Negro’s Voodoo Sorcery Grimoire (VSG), aware of how controversial it was in terms of authenticity and provenance and yet caring less about those things than how the practices made me feel and what they seemed to produce.

Over time, I’d given myself permission to get romantic about magic, which is to say I’d come to emphasize what Wordsworth called in his Lyrical Ballads, the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”  I’d reached a point at which the way something felt was far more important to me than its historical or cultural authenticity.  And I am still travelling along that highly permissive magical path.

From the perspective of my practical work, a grimoire or a magical technique either is or is not effective, regardless of where it comes from, who wrote it, or when.  Its effectiveness usually depends on the sense of wonder it conveys, on the depth of feeling I can explore through it.  That is where I go to find true power, but I know it is not that way for every practitioner.

This verges on something like a classical chaos magic paradigm (if one can refer to an aspect of chaos magic as “classical” and keep a straight face), seeing belief as a means of attaining a numinous state.  Belief in the efficacy of a particular grimoire seems to be a tool that has just as much in common with the leap of faith a convert puts in his newly acquired religion.  Some subjective verities and insights have already emerged or at least resonated in the individual, but many have yet to be discovered.  And it’s up to the magician or new adherent to feel his way forward through the material.

For the convert, faith that her religion’s teachings are a valid and useful truth-finding process is a “means to an end” as if she were engaging in a chaos working—a practical way to experience a sought-after, highly personal, transcendent, magical moment.  Like a chaote seeking “gnosis,” one uses the spiritual techniques, symbols, and ideas to bring forth the “magical feeling,” which is where the “power and the glory” always reside.  It’s where demons and angels come calling, where the gates of the underworld swing wide, where the shades of the dead move and appear, and where deity speaks.

Having had more than a few experiences like this with Papa Legba through the work of the VSG, including an invitation to travel a long distance and begin formal study in one of his more traditional systems (an invitation for which I was appropriately grateful but chose not to take up), I felt deeply fascinated with the grimoire and knew it would take me to ever more powerful places if I kept using it.  It remains a treasured part of my work, integral to my magical life.

I should and do intend to write more posts about my VSG explorations.  But although this post involves the VSG, it is about a different and perhaps more general magical experience: the time in every magician’s work when a powerful spirit who has not been called arrives on the altar and introduces itself.

This will happen more than once, especially if you do a lot of necromancy and spirit evocation.  Things will sometimes follow you home from the graveyard or appear in your scrying apparatus, whether or not you’ve sealed the premises and taken other precautions to guard against close encounters.  Often these spirits will be messengers or simply just curious beings drawn to your inner light—something they enjoy and can see clearly.  Your wards and protections may not affect them because they mean you no harm and are therefore outside the scope and intention woven into those barriers.

There are spirits everywhere.  Just because you banish the area and set up metaphysical countermeasures doesn’t mean you are then operating in a metaphysical “clean room,” as some beginners assume when they get to the point where they can feel the force of their pentagram rituals and circle castings.  Banishing and cleansing are a lot more complicated and subtle than that, especially if you’re working in a spirit-based paradigm.  So, although my personal protections come in many different layers and styles, I am never surprised when a spirit taps me on the shoulder; though, this is not something that regularly happens.  If you are right with your ancestors, your guardian spirits, and your gods, you have nothing to fear from such visitations.

Some systems and practices leave you more open to this than others.  And it would be worthwhile for me to someday compare the various magical approaches I’ve studied in terms of the breadth of the perceptual fields they establish in the practitioner.  For now, it’s enough to say that long use of the VSG techniques has enhanced my ritual necromancy and hoodoo graveyard work to the point at which I have become extremely open to spirit communications.

I might be as open as a spirit medium, an openness that can prove to be far more dangerous and far less selective than necessary for most operative grimoire magic.  That said, I’m experienced and confident enough that I can handle hostile, destructive, or otherwise unwelcome intruders.  But I never expected a spirit from the “182 Current” to pay a visit.

Part of the beginning VSG work involves obtaining a human skull (like a less dedicated and permanent oboth or yiddeonim) as a doorway to the world of the dead.  Over time, one uses it similar to an advanced crystal ball—less as a window and more as an open spirit house, a magical construct, existing simultaneously on physical and non-physical planes, into which any spirit can be called, be communicated with, and be fed.

The story of how I obtained my skull for this work must remain private.  But I can state that it has served me well and has always functioned exactly as intended.  It has become one of my most useful magical tools.  Still, I’ve come to suspect that it is precisely because of its versatility and power that a strong spirit was able to step right into it unbidden.

This happened a few days ago when Amiahzatan, a tobacco and smoke daemon identified in Templum Falcis Cruentis’ Liber Falxifer, made himself known during my daily before-dawn magical work.  I felt him before I heard him, a heavy, almost leaden, gaze coming through the skull’s eye sockets.  I could feel its stare pushing into me.

Not recognizing the unique “signature” of this feeling, I asked it to identify itself and a voice came into my head: “Amiahzatan.”  The intense power behind that name was palpable, even through the medium of voiceless spirit communication.  We observed the proper courtesies and he offered to help me with certain creative aspects of my work in exchange for (very reasonable) specific offerings.  Intrigued, I assented and a pact was made.

Though I owned the Falxifer trilogy of grimoires, I had not ever seriously worked with them or even opened them in years.  And I should admit that I have been skeptical of the 182 / 218 Current, which originated in the anti-cosmic Satanism of the Misanthropic Luciferian Order and became the Temple of the Black Light.  To me, their inverted 2nd-century gnosticism and overheated dark-fluff kabbalah-Kenneth Grant mashup seemed more relevant to fans of the black metal band, Dissection, than serious occultists.  But I have to reconsider my previous judgements.  I can’t deny the powerful interaction I had with Amiahzatan, a spirit associated with Liber Falxifer’s folk magical component and the cult of Sigñor la Muerte, Lord of the Dead.

Perhaps my years of hoodoo and my work with the VSG (among other things) made it possible for me to form this connection without any sort of initiation into the 182 Current (or its complementary “chaosophic” anti-cosmic Current 218).  To be honest, I have not yet discovered an explanation and can only speculate at this point.  But I can say that I was not actively aware of the name, “Amiahzatan,” having read it, at most, once or twice in the book many years ago.  I have since done some online research as well as getting out the trilogy of Falxifer grimoires and starting to study them again.

In another magical twist, an old friend recently (and unexpectedly) gave me a copy of The Book of Sitra Achra, which he said he was instructed to do by Thoth, his patron deity.  I have known him long enough not to question that.  And, in my experience, one does not overlook such synchronicities.  The reader may also be amused to learn that the reeds outside my window have been visibly and unnaturally bending into an unmistakable “X,” which is a key symbol in the “Ablution Ritual” for the altar statue to Sigñor la Muerte (as the Master Qayin).  The symbol also carries a tremendous amount of meaning in my hoodoo work as the liminal crossroads where one meets the Black Man (or, in the VSG work, Papa Legba), who opens the roads.  Make of this what you will.  The point is that, contrary to my skeptical assumptions and expectations, an area of spirit magic has now opened to me in a way I haven’t expected and would not have otherwise pursued.  This is rare and I take it seriously.

That said, I do not know where this path will lead but, like a chaote or a novice believer, I am making that “leap of faith,” keeping an open mind and focusing on the subjective insights that have already emerged in my work.  I write this post not only to document the experience but also to recommend a similar approach in the reader’s magical studies.  Follow your sense of wonder and see what happens.  Anything is possible.

Advertisements

Conformist Culture and Magical Initiation

What is the System?

Here “the System” is used to describe the prevailing structure or organization of society or culture in general.  It is synonymous with “the social or cultural establishment,” as in: to work within the System instead of trying to change it.  Specifically, the System can be defined as a vehicle for “the set of values and beliefs people have about how the world (both nature and society) works as well as the norms of behavior derived from that set of values” (see Gorodnichenko and Roland 1).

Those within the System think with its mind, which is a function of conformist culture.  It stresses obedience to social norms according to the economic class into which a person is born.  If you are middle-class, you are handed middle-class values; the range of your acceptable life choices is middle-class; you earn a middle-class income; you have middle-class fears and desires.  The same holds true for upper-class and lower-class individuals.

The System can be said to create a false consciousness to the extent that it interposes itself between the individual and the endless variety of potential experiences in life, channeling and conditioning the individual’s perceptions and behavior as a means of control.  It is the ultimate panopticon, the ultimate command-and-control hierarchy.  The fundamental benefit of the System is that it organizes human experience and behavior to increase productivity and decrease instability in all areas of society.  But to do this, it must unjustly and violently (primarily as a matter of structural violence) interpolate people into its mechanisms from birth without giving them a chance to opt out.

However, an initiatory shock can cause an individual to question the class values and assumptions that make up the perceptual categories through which he or she has been conditioned to find and invent meaning.  An initiatory shock exposes the System as an artificial construct, a perspective that can be chosen or discarded.  One does not have to accept the class values and assumptions imposed at birth.  In fact, one does not have to make any choices to affirm any part of the System; though, the System will, like any social construct (discourse) seek to defend its existence, its status quo, by alienating and demonizing those who question its legitimacy and its version of reality. 

There is, more or less, a psychological struggle taking place in every person who chooses to think for him- or herself instead of with the mind of the System.  The struggle is grounded in messages of fear: get in line or you will be rejected and shamed.  Get in line or you will starve and suffer.  The fear that this creates in some people can be intense enough to (temporarily) keep even a questioning individual from abandoning his or her preordained role in the System.  If the person does not give in to this pressure, he or she enters into a relationship with the System characterized by having to live in a state of social alienation punctuated by continual attempts on the part of the System to reassimilate the individual.

One cannot exist in this state for very long, even if one has the emotional and financial resources to remain apart.  The instability of living in a state of radical alienation from society can result in mental illness, addiction, and even certain physical dangers that come with isolation.  One reaches the point where it is necessary to create a separate peace, what Hakim Bey, in the Temporary Autonomous Zone, calls a “pirate utopia.” 

The developmental trajectory from the first shock to existing in a pirate utopia is both initiatory and counter-initiatory.  It is initiatory in the sense that one is initiating oneself into one’s own miniature truth system—a system that contains an idiosyncratic set of values and assumptions that reflect the good life one has discovered and created for oneself through introspection and mindful action.  Some of these values and assumptions will coincide with those of the previous conformist System.  However, the initiate’s “pirate utopia” will not exist within or as a function of that.

It is counter-initiatory in the sense that once the person attains his or her “separate peace,” it is impossible to effectively reintegrate into conformist culture.  When one realizes that it is possible to exist and even thrive apart from the System, one becomes impervious to most fear-based assaults.  One has developed a set of eyes that see beyond System-authorized categories of meaning and prescribed fields of System-supporting endeavor.  One has grown in ways that prevent fitting back into the mold.

Having attained this state, one is also able to operate inside the System, entering and exiting at will.  One might be considered dangerous, but only to the extent that one is visible to the modes and instruments of enforcement the System uses to protect and perpetuate its existence.

Only two questions remain for the initiate at this point: (1) What do you want?  And (2) What do you need?  These questions are dependent on each other.  The initiate creates and maintains a “pirate utopia” that satisfies his needs.  From that foundation, he pursues his wants.  He actualizes his wants by building (conceptual or physical) structures in his utopian autonomous zone.  In the process, he discovers new desires.  He augments or rebuilds previous structures, while creating entirely new ones.  This is why schools of the Left Hand Path sometimes refer to such coming into being as the process of becoming more of what one already is

In order to answer the question, “What do you want?” one engages in a lot of illustrative self-work and non-linear perspective shifting (i.e. magic).  But the individual’s progress from initiatory shock to a separate peace (and beyond) is never smooth or simple.  Her preexisting roles within and connections to the System will result in many reversals and contradictions as she tries to develop an extra-System awareness and, by extension, a unique way of living in the world.

Parts of the System will eventually become aware of her and react aggressively to her burgeoning awareness, trying to intimidate and distract her back into a state of compliance.  But that sort of norming doesn’t work for long.  Once a mind becomes slightly free, it inevitably seeks greater freedom.  Once an individual breaks away from imposed control, it is impossible to authentically return to the previous state of subjection—no matter how much one may want to go back.

As mentioned earlier, fear and distraction are the two weapons used to keep original thinkers in line.  Not surprisingly, fear and distraction are co-dependent.  Remove one of them and the other will soon follow.  Therefore, it is essential that the initiate turn inward to find his or her idiosyncratic values and focus intensely on them.  If this is accomplished, the “consequences” communicated by the threatened System will have less impact and the System’s attempts to sidetrack the individual will be less effective.

The message that the individual needs the System and cannot make it outside the System’s boundaries will be frequent and inevitable.  This message may originate in the natural human tendency to fear the unknown but, whether it is intentional or instinctual, it is always false.  There may be safety in numbers from predators.  But the exceptional individual, who has learned to survive apart from the herd, becomes an apex predator in his own right.

Sometimes, when the System can’t scare or distract the individual into submission, it will attempt to conscript the person as a high-level agent, offering him or her a high status and the opportunity to be seen as a successful result of the system’s processes.  This is a seductive form of assimilation, which, while it seems to offer relief, still requires a deep-seated submission—the willingness to abandon self-development in exchange for a more exotic form of (distraction) sleep.

At this point, one faces and hopefully passes the final test, that of dedication to the singularity of oneself at the deepest level.  Having accomplished this, one essentially disappears from the awareness of the System and its subjects.  One has become sui generis to the extent that the perceptual categories of the System neither recognize nor describe his or her state of being.

Likewise, the wants and needs created as motivation for the inhabitants of the System are no longer relevant to the individual.  This is the “dynamic solipsism” of the completely idiosyncratic individual.  The person has “crossed the Abyss” in the sense that she no longer relates to culture in a conventional way.  And yet the basic personhood of the initiate remains intact.  He is who he has always been, only more so.

Because fear and distraction seem to get in the way of this development, the competent beginner learns to engage with the mundane aspects of her life in a way that changes them so that they serve her initiatory process.  Shortly after the first initiatory shock, the inexperienced magician evaluates the resources at her disposal—how she can meet her basic needs without capitulating to Systemic pressure. 

The more experienced practitioner takes a different approach.  After functioning in the way of the beginner for a time (and perhaps because of early attempts to repurpose the mundane) she reaches a point at which her basic needs are being met almost effortlessly.  Instead of changing the mundane so that it serves the initiatory, she learns to recognize the initiatory value of things in themselves.  She consequently operates on a much deeper, more profound level, moving through a magical landscape that gives more than it takes.  From then on, she may decide not to interact with the System at all, given that she completely trusts and dwells almost entirely within her subjective universe.  Any additional interactions with the System or its denizens will be entirely at her discretion. 

The emphasis and attention in one’s self-work can thereby shift away from the spectres of fear and distraction conjured by the System in favor of the personal, private, idiosyncratic system that is constantly under development.  The wise magician realizes that the punishments threatened by the System for non-compliance only exist for those submitting to its jurisdiction.  However, because the System contains humans but is not human (perhaps it is inhuman), it cannot conceive of anyone or anything existing beyond its authority.  It resembles a maniacal dictator commanding a distant mountain range to obey. 

Put another way, the System is more like an artificial intelligence than a living person.  It is capable of drawing complex conclusions within established parameters, but it is not original or spontaneous, such that it can design novel ways to reassimilate disaffected, disenfranchised, or otherwise alienated individuals beyond its preconceived boundaries.  Its tactics are always the same: intimidation, then distraction, then seduction.

 

The Ability to Choose

You get to choose, every day. It’s depressing when it feels like the world is choosing something for you, like you have no control over your life. But you do. You decide what has been, what is, what will be. Human life is startlingly short if we’re worried about whether we can retire on a million dollars, which is a stupid question. Right now is all we really have. How many times do we have to hear this before it sinks in and we make art? We get to tell ourselves what every “now” means. Why aren’t we telling ourselves more often that we’re amazing?

On Reversals of Fortune

We all experience them. The measure of your success is not how much is going well—whatever it is, it will change eventually for better or worse. It’s whether you endure those ups and downs without losing your mind. Nobody “wins.” Nobody gets out of here alive. The trick is to be able to stick around as long as possible and make the most of it all, make it mean something. And how you do that is completely your business.

Grimoire Insecurity: the Gift That Keeps on Giving

It’s lovely seeing posts from people who discovered Goetia last week and who have now, in their great experience and wisdom, embraced a grimoire purist attitude because anything else would be “ineffective” or “dangerous” or (gasp) “all in my head.” It’s equally wonderful to read smug responses to that from the opposite extreme: “I do it all in my astral temple, bro. I’m beyond tools and rules.” 

It seems to me that both of these extremes are similar and originate in insecurity. The first guy is terrified that he’s going to make a mistake. Maybe an even deeper underlying fear is that none of it is real and he’ll never know if he’s deluding himself unless he follows a strict rule set, which is the closest he believes he can come to an objective success-failure standard. 

The second guy is also afraid he’s going to make a mistake, but he believes following the grimoire purist approach is only for rich people with degrees in metallurgy and their own towers. Since he, like most people, got into magic because he wants things he doesn’t have (especially that tower), he circumvents his horrific doubts by making everything take place in his imagination.

There are many subtle gradations between these extremes, but stick around on magical forums (and on some of the ceremonial magic groups on FB) and you’ll notice the grimoire insecurity before long. It’s how Dr. Lisiewski and Steve Savedow marketed their Goetia methods. They sold a lot of books by exploiting the purist urge with horror stories from their own UPG (Savedow, in particular, reads like Book of Revelations fan fiction). There are also a bunch of Llewellyn and Weiser joksters who put books out in the other direction, some including a “Cicero method of magical tool creation,” but tending seriously towards the all-in-the-head approach.

I’m writing this not to say that purist approach or the all-in-the-head approach can’t work. What works for you may not work for someone else and there are some excellent purists who have a great, beautiful, grimoire practice. The opposite is probably also true, though harder to convincingly document because it’s so subjective (cf. “transvocation”).

But the insecurity, the angst, the defensiveness, the uncertainty is always easy to spot and that is what I’m inveighing against. It is often harder to keep an open mind, to say “maybe,” than it is to get red-faced and loud about your pet method of reassuring yourself that magic isn’t a waste of time.