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.

Being right and getting even: it’s hard to be an emo Satanist in this day and age.

Here’s another good passage from Phil Hine’s Prime Chaos on the Will-to-Edginess one finds in self-designated Left Hand Path magical groups:

In a culture where the edges of present time are crumbling into the future at a rate that is often difficult to comprehend, the sense of connection to historical time is vague, to say the least. The contradictions of post-Capitalism have fragmented consensus reality to a point where alienation and powerlessness are endemic in our culture. Occultism offers an alternative: a sense of connection, perhaps, to historical time when the world was less complicated, where individuals were more in touch with their environment, and, (allegedly) had more personal control over their lives. The occult sub-genre holds up a mirror to Consensual Reality.

Occultists readily sneer at Slave-God religions and then piss themselves in ecstasy buying a genuine set of Aleister Crowley socks. There is much talk of the magician as a dangerous rebel or anarch of the soul by people who go on to legitimate their position by waving charters, certificates and copyrighted logos. I mean, who really gives a fart, other than those who will buy into anything which resembles even faintly ancient wisdom. This is often the position taken by so-called magicians who seek to elevate themselves (in the eyes of their peers) by claiming to evoke demons, summon Satan, or command entities such as the Great Old Ones from other dimensions.

These are the cries of the powerless and fatuous attempting to elevate themselves by claiming authority over forces which they imagine can be controlled by such as they. There does seem to be an attraction between would-be superman occultists and an exhaustive range of dark gods, dead gods, deep-fried gods. It seems to me that the would-be superman/satanist/mighty adept magician (delete as appropriate) is, underneath all the justifications, out for legitimisation of himself as outsiders as it’s easy to maintain such a view of yourself as the noble, doom-laden outsider, whilst at the same time being invisible and insignificant.

Lovecraft’s vision is that of the utter insignificance of humanity in the rolling darkness of the cosmos. I have usually found that those who profess to know this void, who call themselves Satanists, Supermen and Outsiders, are entangled in two virulent memes—BEING RIGHT and GETTING EVEN. Alas, apart from imagining themselves as the lords of De Sade’s Castle of Silling, or dreaming of power without responsibility found in some paperback tome with a Latin name, these self-avowed creatures of darkness never quite seem to manage any actualisation of their ‘will to power.’

William, S. Burroughs once commented that “anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death.” All too often, it seems that many people are content with vicarious thrills, attempting to own death by surrounding themselves with the icons of their heroes. Isn’t it a shame that most of those who cry that ‘Might is Right’ will never get the chance to stamp on the weak unless of course they cease to be ‘outsiders’ and join some institution which allows them to do so with impunity and government approval.

There are great practitioners who take the Left Hand Path very seriously as a way of spiritual development. But most seem engaged in an ill-conceived fashion experiment.

Broke Occult Masters and Other Poseurs

So many occult societies amount to nothing more than goth day at Disneyland.

It’s all well and good to claim that you have esoteric knowledge (or even that you have improved your life through a particular occult philosophy), but the proof is in what you have done all on your own, absent inheritance or a trust fund or a high-earning spouse. This is also a problem I have with YouTube witches going on about their practice and offering classes / e-books on various topics. I think to myself, that’s great but you are clearly a suburban housewife with sources of income that do not come from your occult work. So don’t tell me you’re a success because of your witchcraft. You’re a success because hubby works 60-80 hours a week at the firm. If you think you have a clever way of improving your lot, that’s good, but you have to practice it openly and not hide behind e-marketing facades. 

I think having a day job is an important aspect of being an occultist. It’s not a requirement. You can rely on money magic and gambling and all that and I believe make things work. But that’s not an easy life. In A Dark SongJoe Solomon, the antagonist of the story, is a real jerk. But to me that just resonates with the public occultists I’ve met who try to support themselves with their art. It makes you hard and bitter because it is so damn difficult. Sure, it can be done, but if you want to lead a posh suburban lifestyle, don’t think your money magic is going to be there like a steady income. It’s going to be up and down with no safety net forever.

The problem with many occult groups—from bullshitty prosperity new thought all the way to gravely serious initiatory stuff—is that you still have to put your pants on one leg at a time and go make a living. I believe Law of Attraction can help. I believe in most forms of occultism and magic, from the superficial to the scholarly. Magical things can definitely give you an advantage. But the material world makes its demands and we have to answer unless we want to live in a tunnel with the other Temple of the Vampire members who bought into that philosophy and mailed in their subscription payment.

I pick on the ToV a lot because I see them as the quintessentially hypocritical style-over-substance occult organization. It’s all well and good (and great marketing to a certain frustrated type of seeker) to say, “We believe in dayside mastery (i.e. getting your life and finances together) as well as nightside (occult) mastery.” But if you meet ToV members, and I know several former ones, you quickly see that they have developed a level of fake doubletalk about how great their lives are because of their mastery of dayside-nightside techniques. The reality is that they’re getting their egos fed from membership in the group and that is all. It is fundamentally important, for anyone looking to improve their lives through esoteric philosophies and groups, to look at the members carefully. They are the products of what their groups can create—if they have even benefited at all and not just misrepresented their privilege. All the fancy talk in the world will not change this fact. If the group was started by two guys in a trailer and they are now receiving a passive income from membership fees, think about that.

Being a True Believer

I like Sadhguru. He’s a very low-BS yogi. If you can’t bear to sit still for the 10 minute video (included below), I’ll give you his main idea in two sentences: we’re told to believe in certain things that have no connection to our lived experience. We should start with what we have experienced (even subjectively, in our UPG) and work from there. That’s a typical yoga perspective (work with the body first, then use that work to free the mind). But I think it’s good.

I find that even magicians, sometimes especially magicians, get rigid in their beliefs: I know the truth and the rest of you are doing it wrong. Sometimes, this comes from a profit motive (like saying, “My magic is the real shit and the rest of you are just playing—so pay me.”). Other times, this just comes from the sincere belief that there is One True Way (as I talk about here in “Everything is Worthless Except for my Own Occult System”).

We all believe things. We all have a subjective field of personal gnosis. But I think there is one reasonable belief we should all entertain: there is no one true way. Instead, we might benefit from realizing that on some level everyone takes Bruce Lee’s approach: absorb what is useful.

So I remind myself not to be rigid, to be open, to be flexible, and that just because I have tools that work doesn’t mean it can’t be done just as well without them or with different tools.