Letters to a Young Sorcerer #2: Start with Modern Grimoires Like New Avatar Power, New Ishtar Power, and The Mystic Grimoire

Dear Young Sorcerer,

You have asked me about where to begin in the world of grimoire magic (and whether you should even mess about with grimoires in the first place).  My best and most sincere response to this must be: the modern grimoires are doorways to great ability.  Look to them first.  That is what the second letter in this series of posts is about.

Above and beyond all others, The Miracle of New Avatar Power by Geof Gray-Cobb is one of the most asked about modern grimoires on my website and on Studio Arcanis, where I moderate.  Over time, I’ve responded to questions about it individually and in more general teaching posts here on Black Snake Conjure.  On Studio Arcanis, we even have a complete sub-forum dedicated to it.  We admire it that much—and for good reason.  But before I go into a new discussion, I’ll provide a brief summary of what I’ve already said about this material (with handy links). 

I’ve talked about the hybrid nature of New Avatar Power in the sense that it functions as an instructive (and powerfully effective) intersection of Kabbalistic, angelic, demonic, egregoric, planetary, and divinatory magic, embedded in the overheated language of 1970s pop-occultism. It is, in a very real sense, a complete (and quite subtle) education in evocation and ceremonial magic. And I believe it is far superior to its more recent imitators, as much as I like and will recommend those in this post as well.

I’ve also examined the deceptive veiled language of these modern grimoires. In “Willpower and Manipulation in the Art of Spiritual Evocation,” I noted that

Gray-Cobb and his 1970s pop-occult contemporaries were real magicians who hid their knowledge in silly, rinky-dink, sensational books. Whenever you’re reading Carl Nagel, M. McGrath, Al Manning, Oliver Bowes, etc., remember to look closely at their sensational language and goofy anecdotes. These are blinds. If you can read between the lines (as an old Rosicrucian motto taken from Proverbs 20:12 goes, those with hears to hear and eyes to see), you will have access to some powerful techniques.

And some of you wrote to me, asking why they would do something like this.  No one can say for sure, but, as a public writer on the occult, I believe these writers used clever “blinds” because what they were offering was (and is) very effective. 

They didn’t want to mislead sincere seekers, but they also didn’t want to be responsible for placing power in the hands of those who would misuse it.  So they wrote in such a way that only the most sincere and dedicated students would “decode” what they were saying and therefore get results from the techniques.  Make no mistake, the knowledge in these books, once you know how to read them, can be egregiously misused.  These aren’t texts dedicated to “harming none.”

I’ve covered ways to use these grimoires (and even older magical books) to learn better techniques of evocation and other forms of magic, citing the very old practice of magicians calling spirit teachers and learning directly from them instead of from human teachers or, more recently, how-to manuals. I’ve talked about how the “spirit book” or Liber Spiritum was traditionally a very key component in this process; although, many practitioners either don’t know about it, don’t understand how to use it, or don’t see a need for it today.

Lastly, I’ve discussed (mostly at Studio Arcanis in the “modern grimoires” forum) why and how the Gallery of Magick grimoires and the GoM’s imitators seem derivative of the work of Gray-Cobb, Al Manning, and Carl Nagel in particular. And yet most of the GoM texts are quite useful and well done in their own right, if a bit narrower and less flexible than, say, New Avatar Power or New Ishtar PowerAnd there’s still much more to say.  If you’ve read my linked posts and have taken a look at the relevant fora on Studio Arcanis, you’re already fairly informed about what these texts are and what they can do. 

However, I felt inspired to write more on the subject when I got a very interesting email that asked whether it would be a mistake to start with something like New Avatar Power when older “more traditional” magical books are so readily available—essentially whether the real power was in texts like the Grimorium Verum, the Grand Grimoire, Liber Juratus, or even the Papyri Graecae Magicae.

It’s a tremendous question because it’s impossible to answer to any degree of usefulness.  The question looks for power in the grimoires instead of in the practitioner, which is a serious, if common, mistake.  So my first answer was that any book of magic can be effectively worked if the magician knows what he is doing.  But leaving it at that is neither fun nor kind.  So I will rephrase the question: what is the value of (or is there a value in) working with modern grimoires as opposed to the hard (and rewarding) study of older magical books?

Obviously, if you’ve gotten this far with me, you know I think there is an immense value to be had in reading and using modern grimoires.  But I would caution the beginner not to see a dichotomy here just because the older grimoires were published centuries ago and these came out beginning in the North American pop-occult boom of the late 1960s. 

Modern grimoires are always, to some extent (and often very much), indebted to older traditions of grimoire magic.  They use the same classes and individual spirits; though, they may call such beings in different ways.  They often rely on mantra or visualization to do the work that more concrete magical accessories and icons did for centuries.  And they may be written with modern lifestyles in mind—i.e. they may have very robust techniques for drawing money, exerting influence, and finding favor with those in power and far less about “making women dance in the nude,” causing displays of poltergeist activity or light shows, and affecting crops.  If we consider the modern redistribution of population from rural to urban, this all makes sense.

Overall, the modern grimoires offer a doorway not only to powerful accessible magic but to the older traditions on which they are based.  A great example of this is the “Magical Mentor” in New Avatar Power, a familiar spirit you can call to help you in all things.  What many beginners don’t realize is that when they call this spirit, they are also getting a powerful tutor who can show them effective ways to unlock the Lesser Key of Solomon or The Black Raven.  Learn to see all the grimoire literature on a grand continuum and so many more doors will open to you. 

I strongly advise young sorcerers to internalize Aleister Crowley’s dictum: “invoke often and inflame thyself with prayer.”  I would also recommend evoking often, that is, calling spirits to appear before the practitioner, not only to exert influence in the world, but to acquire knowledge.  What better way to start this than with books written in the language of modern magicians and therefore more readily accessible?  Becoming conversant with modern grimoires will make you a proficient magician and it will also pave the way to the older texts as well.

Like anything, grimoire magic takes practice.  So if you are called to the magical life, start today. It is a very long but rewarding path.

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The Hybrid Nature of New Avatar Power

Recently, someone wrote to me asking for advice on how to be more effective with Geoffrey Gray-Cobb’s quasi-Kabalistic grimoire from the 1970s, entitled The Miracle of New Avatar Power.  I thought I would answer her by way of a blog post since I know there are a lot of people out there who are interested in using Gray-Cobb’s system.

Most readers of my blog know that I have a lot of respect for this grimoire. Moreover, in previous posts, I’ve argued that, in the great tradition of the western grimoire writing, Gray-Cobb has veiled his work behind a smokescreen of 70s pop-occultism.  Essentially, in order to make the system work, one needs to be able to read the overheated testimonials and grandiose prose while maintaining a receptivity to the useful magical insights and practical suggestions throughout.

Even if the practitioner can do this, however, there are two more hurdles to making the system effective: consistency and awareness of the hybrid nature of the workings.  Neither of these things is mentioned in Gray-Cobb’s text.

Consistency: the author does say that the chants and invocations should be repeated until results are achieved.  But he doesn’t give hard and fast rules about how often and how long the practitioner should stay with a given working.  

Often, newcomers to the system will wonder if they’re wasting their time.  Will it take 6 months?  8 months?  A year of daily repetition?  How can the practitioner know if she’s simply wasting her time on an unworkable system?Apart from the fact that this question haunts every beginner no matter what system is used, Gray-Cobb would probably recommend that the practitioner bring these concerns to her “Magical Mentor”–a minor spirit familiar used in the book as a magical companion and general metaphysical assistant.  And this would be good advice if the practitioner had taken the time to develop a relationship with this tutelary daemon.  Unfortunately, Gray-Cobb does not take pains to depict the Mentor as a magical troubleshooter.  Rather, he discusses what could be accomplished with such a companion (learning the future, picking lottery numbers, surveilling via the Astral Plane, etc.). As a way to address the problem of people wanting to use the chants and invocations without developing the Mentor, I suggest the triple time-frame that professional rootworkers often use when advising clients on how long it may be before results of a working manifest: 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months.  In 3 days, there should be a sign that things are happening; in 3 weeks there should be movement in the desired direction; and in 3 months there should be complete manifestation of the results. 

The first time I heard about this way of timing workings was when cat yronwode mentioned it on her Lucky Mojo forums.  But I have since noticed that there are a lot of practitioners, from witchcraft to ceremonial magic to hoodoo, who follow this framework. Naturally, the great benefit of this is that it solves the problem of consistency in NAP.  If you don’t see at least something by the 3rd day, that’s very telling.  If, by the 3rd week, you don’t see even the least bit of movement, you know you need to take some other approach.  Further, by limiting your expectations this way, you will feel able to maintain a consistent daily practice of the system within those boundaries.  There is nothing worse than the sense that you may be performing a non-working ritual ad infinitum, never knowing whether one more day could do it.

Of course, someone with an intuitive gift for the work might know long before this that things don’t feel right and suddenly realize that the invocation in question is not causing manifestation.  But not even the wisest sorcerers can always be completely keyed into the warp and woof of their magic.  It does work through mysterious channels.  Sometimes a rigid timeline is the answer! Hybridity: So what about when the NAP working doesn’t produce results.  Where’s the defect?  Beginners are often tempted to blame themselves and / or the system itself.  And there is something to be said for practitioner error and all the other ways a spell can  fail.  

However, there is one way that people don’t often think about with NAP–the fact that it is a spirit based system. It is not the sort of magic that people sometimes call “direct” or “blind” magic.  It is, in fact, a hybrid of evocation, Kabalah, and energy work.  The author took what he thought were the most effective aspects of all three sorts of magic and synthesized them in a single system.  This is one of it’s strengths and yet one of its deceptive complexities.  In short, the spirits named in every working might be commanded to produce a result, but this does not mean that they will. As in evocation, they will assess the spiritual authority of the practitioner (hence the modified Bornless invocation included in the text) and may or may not feel compelled or even willing to help.  Gray-Cobb wisely understood that, in most cases, through repetition of the chant in question and the Bornless invocation (cribbed and poetically condensed from Liber Samekh), the practitioner could eventually convince said spirits to go to work.  But this, again, comes back to the problem of consistency and will.  

If the practitioner begins to worry that she will be carrying on day after day with no results, her confidence and spiritual authority will diminish, making it less likely that the spirits will respond! As in Kabalah, the spirits are derived, in part, from the Sephiroth.  Some are djinni of the hours.  Some are extremely obscure intelligences.  Others are well-known Olympic spirits or demons.  This further complicates the issue because while the practitioner might get along very well with demons and Olympic entities, certain Angels might look at them askance and vice-versa.  And there is no way to discover how successful one will be other than by doing the work.

Lastly, as in various forms of energy work (think: chakras, meridians, etc.), the NAP Central Pillar Ritual is meant to purify and exalt the practitioner in an attempt to render her exponentially effective when calling on and commanding the entities associated with the chants and invocations.  This is excellent.  And Gray-Cobb’s rendition of the Middle Pillar and the Circulation of the Body of Light is simple and effective.  The problem here is that no two practitioners have the same energetic needs.  It may have taken me X years to fully open my energy centers, whereas it has only taken you Y months.  Again, there is no way to know without doing the work. With all of this in mind, if the beginner remains open and willing to internalize this system, it can work the miracles it claims to work.  It is not a one-shot grimoire.  

Rather, it is a highly nuanced synthesis of many different extremely powerful practices taken from Western esotericism by a master magician who dressed the system up in silly accoutrements.  I believe Gray-Cobb did this because he truly wanted to gift the world with a method that would improve people’s lives and increase their satisfaction; however, I also think he wanted to make sure that only sincere seekers were able to use it.  Part of the genius here is understanding the trickster nature of this excellent grimoire while apprenticing oneself to its praxis.

New Avatar Power: Nitika

In The Miracle of New Avatar Power, the occultist Geof Gray-Cobb draws from a number of magical traditions to formulate the workings of his grimoire.  And perhaps the heaviest influence on the book is the Judeo-Christian mystical tradition of Kabalah.  Many of the beings referenced and processes used are Kabalistic, even through their origin isn’t explicitly mentioned.  And so, despite the fact that a complete beginner can follow Gray-Cobb’s instructions and successfully work the system without looking much farther than the text at hand, the more experienced practitioner has the opportunity to work on a higher level as well.  Essentially, the NAP system provides an index to some of the more interesting discarnate entities in Western Hermeticism—entities who can be approached in sophisticated ways and with whom very useful relationships can be formed.

One of the more interesting (and obscure) entities is “Nitika,”described in Apollonius of Tyana’s Nuctameron as “a genius of precious stones … [who] presides over the 6th hour of the day.”  The Thelemapedia describes him (from Levi’s Transcendental Magic) as “one of the Jinn of the 12 Hours,” found on the Path of Yod.”  The Jinn of the Hours are not the most famous (which is to say, not the most described, concretized, or approachable)  spirits in grimoire magic. This may be what makes them so intriguing.  Compared to Belial or Haniel, for example, very little is known about them.  They haven’t been chronicled in apocryphal religious texts (like the Testament of Solomon); they do not have their own cults (like the Lovecraftian egregores); nor have they made appearances in 19th and 20th century popular culture ( like Lucifer or Lilith).  In fact, one can safely say that if they are thought of at all, it’s by ceremonial magi interested in magical timing and Kabalistic pathworking.

Apart from questions about how Gray-Cobb chose one of spirits in the first place,* one might ask whether it wouldn’t be more useful to invoke more defined entities.  For example, if one wanted money, wouldn’t the working stand to be more effective if the demon Mammon were involved?  If love, why not Hathor, Venus, Pan, or any number of other more clearly defined entities?  One reason might be that it’s precisely because obscure spirits like the Jinn of the Hours are not well known that they’re so effective—because they are effective.  The knowledgeable magi over at Evocation Magic have been experimenting with NAP for a few years now and it’s fair to say that if even some of the results posted there are accurate, Gray-Cobb’s system is terrifyingly, stunningly powerful.  It may be that forming a subjective synthesis with less-known entities forces the magician to take a more prominent role in the working.  As he imagines and therefore defines the entity for himself, more of his own essence goes into the shape of the work.  In other words, it is more powerful because it is more personal.

My recent experience with Nitika proved this out.  Lately, I’ve been short on cash.  The emotional fallout of the holiday season was bad enough.  But the collateral damage on my bank account left me with some hard decisions for the new year.  Like: do I live off reserve canned goods for a month (or two) and secure the rent or do I wing it as usual?  Instead of making such a call, I decided to follow in the footsteps of Crowley and simply assume that I could produce the necessary rent via magic.  If I failed, well, I’d deal with that when I had to.  Looking back, that sort of “magical” thinking seems reckless and stupid.  But part of leading the magical life is believing in your own abilities.

So I went forward and began performing the “Invocation for Money.”  My practice of NAP has remained fairly consistent over the years: NAP Power Ritual; Ritual for Opening of the Gates; Power Circulation Ritual; Power Fountain Ritual; Bornless Invocation; Main Invocation (where Nitika is invoked); and ending with the Seal of Dee Hay Thooth.  The first day of the Invocation, I located $20 that I didn’t know about.  The second day, I received a back paycheck from a freelance gig for $450.  With $470 more added to my bank account, I could afford utilities, rent, and basic groceries for January.  Amazing?  Certainly.  But not surprising.  The magic truly is real.

But I didn’t stop there.  Feeling curious about Nitika, I entered the Path of Yod via the Hermit tarot card and actually had a conversation with the spirit.  Without revealing the entire conversation, I will note that one way to thank him is not through the usual offerings of candles and incense.  Rather, one should inscribe his sigil and name on a piece of paper and sink it in a goblet of water, letting the water evaporate somewhat.
There are many secrets in Gray-Cobb’s text that a diligent magician might discover.  Moreover, using the text as a basis for more advanced work is perfectly legitimate and will repay the practitioner many times over.

* In his text, Gray-Cobb explains that over many years, he gradually “learned to apply the practical teachings of old mystics, psychics, and occultists” (12); though, I have it from a very respectable source that Gray-Cobb’s magical mentor (a kind of tutelary daimon one acquires while working the NAP system) led him to the spirit names associated with each of the workings.