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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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.

Dealing with Demons

I recently had an experience in my grimoire work that I thought I’d share here. Ever since the rise of demonolatry publications in the 1990s—especially those of the prolific S. Connolly, whose approaches I happen to appreciate quite a bit even if I don’t always follow them—the trend in spirit work, particularly with demons, and especially with the demons of the Lesser Key of Solomon (the Goetia), has been non-coercive.

Jason Miller, on his Strategic Sorcery blog, calls this the “be nice” approach; though, I prefer to think of it as transactional. In other words, I’m not being nice to the demons, I’m being businesslike. They’re not my friends; they’re my partners in some project. And as with any business partners, it doesn’t pay to be hostile and nasty, nor does it pay to be fawning and gushy. Rather, the ideal is “fair and firm.”

When you’re entering a transactional relationship with someone, whether a spirit or a incarnate human, you want “consideration” on both sides, which can be defined as “the benefit that each party gets or expects to get from the contractual deal” (https://bit.ly/2M5eV9s). If both parties are getting what they agree on, all that is required is performance, nothing more. This usually works very well. Still, just as in business, sometimes you get screwed. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

Everyone who runs a business of any kind knows that sometimes you will work with someone who either fails to perform or who misrepresents something. It’s part of life. In an ideal world, we’d all be honest and clear with each other about what we’ve done and what we’re able to do. But this world is far from ideal, and that includes the “spirit world,” which is also part of the world in which we live.

That said, especially when dealing with demons, you usually have to be strict about what you expect, even if the relationship is transactional. In my experience, the demons of the Goetia are largely reliable and, although they may act like you’re bothering them with your concerns, most of the time they actually enjoy working with magicians. A few, however, are nasty as hell, a few are pathological liars, and a few will only perform to the exact letter (and not the overall intent) of what you ask them to do, behaving more like stereotypical mischievous djinn.

Every magician will have a personal relationship with her spirits and so it’s hard to generalize about which ones will behave honorably and which will turn out to be screwballs and psychopaths. So it would be pointless for me to (further) blacken the reputation of certain demons who might turn out to be good partners for other practitioners.

But I will say this: identify and keep a list of the ones who do not perform, who seek to harm you in various ways, and who withhold information in bad faith. NEVER work with those spirits again. There are many others who can do future work. Much as with a human partner, they might fool you once and abuse your good nature. But if it happens a second time, the fault is yours for not learning your lesson.

Keep that list handy because sometimes, when a spirit thinks it’s clever, it will try to enter into another transaction with you, raising the stakes for another payoff not only from the agreed-upon exchange but also from the negative emotional fallout when you realize the same spirit screwed you over a second time. Avoid this.

I’m not saying not to work with demons. Sometimes, they are precisely the specialists you need for the problem you have. I’m saying do so carefully, wisely, and in a way informed by your own well-documented observations and experiences. Because anyone can be had. The point is to learn from your mistakes, dust yourself off, and become better.

Using Grimoires and their Spirits to Learn Magic

When it comes to old magical texts, you will know you are no longer a complete beginner when you can at least read a Renaissance grimoire* and determine a practical way of working with it. Spirits can also teach you how to do this. Here are three suggestions for developing a larger repertoire: 

1. Take the time to learn a modern grimoire, like those offered by the Gallery of Magick, Al Manning, or New Avatar Power (NAP) by Geoff Gray-Cobb.  They work!  And, in spite of their simplicity, they can serve as an introduction to this sometimes daunting field of occultism.  See if you can call up the “teaching spirit of the book,” sometimes referred to as the crossroads spirit or the “familiar of the text.”  In NAP, it’s called the “Magical Mentor,” but even the old grimoires have them (Clauneck or Scirlin in the Grimorium Verum, etc.).  Have this spirit teach you how to evoke a spirit from a more complex text.  For example, if you were working with the Magical Mentor, you might have it teach you how to call the demon, Marbuel from The Black Raven. The Raven is a relatively simple grimoire but harder than the modern texts and challenging for beginners because the method it offers takes a lot of knowledge for granted in the operator. Many books of magic are like that. Marbuel will then teach you more.  Do this multiple times as a way to magically deepen your knowledge and power.  It can be quite exciting to learn this way.

2. Get McGrath’s Practical Magickal Evocation. It’s a tiny book put out by Finbarr and can be found everywhere. One of the spirits given there is Maseriel, the tutelary demon of the book. He has “60 servants.” Each of these will teach you one valuable thing about philosophy, magic, or necromancy. But the trick is that you have to ask for this directly and you will have to do the evocation of Maseriel multiple times (which is his payment—you will discover). Write the 60 things (some long, some very short and obvious but still useful—and all personal to you) down in your magical journal. Those things (lessons) will continue to unfold in your life as teaching tools for a very long time. After these evocations, call Maseriel again and ask him for an improved method of working with another grimoire. I suggest you choose something just out of reach in terms of your skill level. If you are a relative beginner, you might want to choose The Grimoire of Honorius or Liber Armadel.**

3. Harder: get an utterly egregoric grimoire (i.e. one that is made up by some fake occultist but that takes on its own reality through use ***) like Evoking Eternity or The Devil’s Grimoire or The Gates of Dozak or The 13 Gates of the Necronomicon. It’s a good beginning-to-intermediate test to see if you can make those work, because they can, but more of the burden is on you to achieve subjective synthesis (i.e. suspended disbelief ****) and then push energy into those containers. Have one of the aforementioned spirits (or, if you prefer, one of the Shem angels from GoM’s 72 Angels of Magick) teach you how.

This is one of the classical ways a grimoire magician / necromancer would work—getting the spirits to teach the mysteries directly. It still can work that way. And you will find that your magic is a lot stronger when you have a spiritual teacher providing you with personalized instruction.  It certainly isn’t boring.

* You don’t need to be fluent in Vulgar Latin, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Hebrew, Greek, Sanskrit, Arabic, or any of the other grimoire languages (to say nothing of Enochian) if you have an English translation. However, by looking up key words, you will develop a deeper grimoire literacy, which will make you a better magician when spirits speak in those terms. You will also have the good insights that come from learning a new language in that context. A grimoire is a world in itself and a unique perspective on the world. It is not surprising that a language is that, too.

** Not to be confused with The Arbatel of Magic, which I consider to be a more dangerous grimoire with multiple blinds that need to be taken into account on multiple levels. Leave this one aside for a while.

*** Ultimately, this describes all grimoires, but some are more obviously egregoric than others.

**** This is a term coined by the late, controversial Dr. Lisiewski. The following is his definition from Ceremonial Magic & The Power of Evocation: “Axiom 3—A state of Subjective Synthesis is produced through the conscious study, understanding, comprehension, and acceptance of the theory of all elements that compose a given magical act. As a result of this synthesis, an integrated belief system is taken up in the Practitioner’s subconscious mind. This allows the individual to perform the magic and obtain the results desired from the magical act. Argument 3—I define this state of subjective synthesis as a mental process which leads to an integrated belief system. In this case, it is the Practitioner’s belief system in the power of magic and in how the magic works. This belief system is held in the part of the mind below the level of conscious perception, known as the subconscious (or unconscious) mind. These ordered set of beliefs are then used by the subconscious (or unconscious) mind during the magical act.” I take issue with Dr. Lisiewski’s “grimoire fundamentalist” approach, but this idea is very useful, imo. 

The Power of Evocation

Evocation itself is an earth-shattering experience
that often leaves the evoker in a unique frame of mind
after a successful conjuration. The first time a person
looks up and sees a spirit visibly looking back, a shift
in paradigm occurs that transforms the way the evoker
thinks and acts from that point on. In that moment
all the laws of reality that materialistic physics have
engrained on the developing mind tumble away and a
new way to look at the universe is revealed. It is these
experiences that characterize evocation and the proc-
ess leading up to it as a spiritual initiation – one likely
evolved from the cave, crypt, and crossroads rites of
the classical goes.

At The Crossroads

A More Nuanced Model of Magic

Imagine a tunnel running from your body to the magical result you desire.  Energy-information-spirit flows from the universe inside you down the tube toward the objective.  It also flows in the other direction, from the objective back into you and your inner universe.  This looks a lot like a discourse.  So it should come as no surprise that “conversation” is one model magicians have recently used to explain how magic gets done.

To a certain extent, the conversational model of magic is based on Frater UD’s legendary “Models of Magic” essay, in which he notes that “magic as a whole has always existed in many, coexisting models. What has changed, however, is the stress laid on one model or the other in the course of time.”  A very interesting stress comes to us through Speech Act Theory via the “chaos magick” of the 1980s: “Speech act theory considers language as a sort of action rather than a medium to convey and express” (https://bit.ly/2ueftVJ).  In other words, the act of speaking (and the act of magic) creates as it describes.  I communicate something to the universe, causing change, and it communicates something to me the same way.

This is nothing new: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Genesis 1:1).  Most religions and philosophies begin with an utterance.  But in western consensus culture, the popular mind is conditioned to overlook this.  People think only in terms of basic cause and effect (a crude syllogism): if I do X, then I get Y, where X is something that originates in my mind and Y is something brought into being in the world outside of me because of me acting on X.  This sounds a lot like early industrial reductive materialism, which assumes we are disconnected bodies colliding in space.  There is no oversoul in this view, which is probably why it’s something modern magicians have to overcome before their workings become effective.  The conversational model, on the other hand, can be far more nuanced and useful. 

Magic is as hard to define as love or truth.  It’s a concept that is highly mediated by cultural context and becomes concrete or abstract to the extent required in a given rhetorical situation.  For example, I might talk about magic in terms of Speech Act Theory, making it quite abstract and theoretical.  I might talk about it from the perspective of folklore, which will necessarily make it a lot more tangible (i.e. talking about magic as it exists in certain stories and legends).  I might even place it in an archaeological context, which would make it extremely concrete (i.e. these are the curse tablets, religious tools, or enchanted adornments used at a given place and time).  Unfortunately, Aleister Crowley’s usually half-quoted, highly abstract and permissive definition of magic has dominated Western esoteric traditions at least since 1913 when Liber ABA was made available, allowing “if X, then Y” assumptions to persist.

Crowley’s most often (incompletely) quoted definition of magic from Book 4—“MAGICK is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”—is too loose and vague if we want to look at the interaction that takes place in a magical process.  If we make his definition a little more complete (“MAGICK is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will. . . . Magick is the Science of understanding oneself and one’s conditions. It is the Art of applying that understanding in action.”), then we come a bit closer to the idea of conversation.  But we’re still working with an abstraction that’s so broad it allows all kinds of pervasive consensus-culture assumptions—for example, that magic is something you can “do” to the world the way you hammer a nail into a board.

Let’s go back to our simple conversational model of utterance and information exchange: energy-information-spirit goes out from the practitioner and comes into the practitioner during a working of magic.  Although it may seem that on one level we are doing something to the world (if X, then Y), it would be more accurate to say that we are guiding something in the world the way one guides a discussion to a certain subject or conclusion (I offer X.  The world offers Y.  X and Y change as a result—creation and description through utterance).

Applying this insight has everything to do with the practitioner relaxing her vice grip on results.  As I mention in my post about being a spirit-led conjure worker, “Beginning practitioners often mistakenly think that if they just concentrate hard enough, if they just WILL something into being, the world will respond.  This can work sometimes, but grabbing the world by the throat and shaking it more often results in nothing or even in the opposite coming to pass.”  This is another form of “lust of result,” getting in the way of one’s own magic by thinking that you have to move heaven and earth through by own power.  You don’t  Heaven and earth are always-already in motion; you simply have to guide that motion in the desired direction.

Relax, breathe, and be open to the direction spirit is taking in the world.  This means learning a reliable system of divination.  It means developing your psychic senses so that you can converse with spirits.  It means learning to summon the discarnate and intangible for the purposes of learning (for example, evoking Vassago using Paul Huson’s method in Mastering Witchcraft or the “Magical Mentor” from Gray-Cobb’s New Avatar Power or bringing forth a daemon from the Lesser Key of Solomon who “giveth good familiars”).  And it may also mean finding a patron deity who can initiate you into an energy-information-spirit paradigm of magical practice.

It sounds like a lot of work and a lot of uncertainty.  But that is the nature of this hidden art.  You need to have perseverance and openness and a sense that magic is in line with the momentum of  your True Will.  And you need to love talking to the world this way.  If you don’t—if you are primarily interested in “getting paid and getting laid,” by all means follow whatever spell book you’ve downloaded from the internet or come to a sorcerer-for-hire.  But unless you do the work to attain deeper understanding and personal gnosis, you will forever be wading in the shallow end of the pool.  So mote it be. 

“The Perfect and the Perfect are one Perfect and not two; nay, are none!” — Liber AL vel Legis I:45

DuQuette on Practicing Goetia “by the book.”

This month, I am giving private lessons in Goetic evocation.  Whenever I teach this (or, really, discuss it at any length with serious grimoire magicians), the question arises as to how strictly one should adhere to the methods given in the medieval grimoires.  Lon Milo DuQuette, in Aleister Crowley’s Illustrated Goetia, expresses my views exactly:

There exist today, Goetic magicians (both solitary practitioners and organized groups) who operate strictly ‘by the book.’ The Circle, the Triangle and all the diagrams are constructed exactly as illustrated in the Goetia. They recite (or most often read) the conjurations, constraints and curses exactly as written in the 1687 text. Ceremonies of some of these magicians are a thrill to behold and, without a doubt, the Art will forever be perpetuated in its classic form because of their dedicated labor.

It must be pointed out, however, that there is absolutely no necessity (nor particular advantage) to blindly conforming with the Conjuration scripts of the ancient texts. The Spirits are no more impressed if you say ‘thee’ and ‘thine’ than they are if you say ‘you’ and ‘yours.’ Aleister Crowley was aware of this and crafted several versions of his own conjurations. In fact, as we shall see later, in his own copy of the Goetia he simply hand copied the Second Key of the Enochian system. It is our opinion (and that of other Crowley scholars) that for personal Goetic conjurations Crowley most likely in his later years discarded the traditional conjurations and simply recited the First and Second Enochian Calls.

It is also our opinion that the most effective conjurations are of the magician’s own design. We encourage the reader, once the fundamentals of the system are thoroughly grasped, to create your own conjuration which, like your Temple, equipment, and procedures, is uniquely yours.