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.

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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.

Codex Whatever: Dark Fluff Occult Books and Personal Insignificance

The fact that there is a “dark fluff” genre of occult writing doesn’t surprise me.  Anyone who starts to look for meaning outside established channels of consensus culture encounters poorly written, poorly sourced occultnik marketing before long (sometimes immediately).  And it has forced most of us to carry on a lifelong search for better materials, more authoritative texts, and generally better sources—which does not automatically mean they must be more scholarly or academic. 

Rather, we tend to prize books that are responsibly and sincerely written according to the tradition in question.  This often means the author has done research to the best of his or her ability and access, but it could simply mean that the anecdotal parts of an occult text are framed as such and the speculation is carefully identified.

The quest for quality occult writing is particularly important to educated ceremonial magicians who care about the provenance and history of their grimoires and of the magical discourse still very much alive and well all over the world.  Like most of my articulate, reasonably sane, magically active associates, I am constantly seeking out new books.  It’s a side of the magical life I particularly enjoy—the research side, which has a magic all its own.

Two great examples of non-scholarly yet well-written and responsible occult texts might be THEE PSYCHICK BIBLE: Thee Apocryphal Scriptures ov Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Thee Third Mind ov Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Psychomagic: The Transformative Power of Shamanic Psychotherapy.  These two come immediately to mind because they are very explicit about what is unverified gnosis (UPG) and technique.  They set up a teaching dichotomy between anecdote and praxis to empower the reader in her own pursuits—not simply to aggrandize the experiences of the authors.

Unfortunately, for every Joseph Peterson, Jake Stratton-Kent, Jose Leitao, Peter Carroll, Ramsey Dukes, Daniel Harms, and Peter Mark Adams, there are a hundred pretenders, who seem to be writing occult literature simply because it amuses them or makes them feel special.  No one ever got rich off occult publishing.  So the question I’ve asked for years is: why pedal worthless or pirated or wholly fantastical occult books?  Why would someone take the time and effort to claim that they have an insight or that they are the inheritor of a tradition that either does not exist or that they have never encountered outside their own imaginations?

I still don’t have a good answer to this.  The best I can do is come to the sad conclusion that some people need to feel special and wise.  In terms of cynical e-commerce, I can understand groups or individuals trying to interest potential followers by self-publishing low-cost occult books that promote their spiritual systems.  That’s just another form of easily identifiable marketing.  But just as there was a massive surge in poorly written mass-market Wiccan / neopagan texts in the 1980s and early 1990s, there now seems to be a horrendous glut of “dark fluff” grimoires, especially self-published through Createspace and Lulu. 

Last year’s dark grimoires of ultimate power.

So what is “dark fluff”? 

As a sorcerer for hire and a long-time member of the Studio Arcanis community of advanced practitioners, I often get public and private questions that go like this: I just bought Codex Diabolicus Maximus by Mordred Darktoe and I want to use it to destroy my ex’s life.  Does it work?  There is so much wrong with such a question (even in more subtle incarnations like: I’m wondering what your experiences with Darktoe’s works have been . . . ).  It’s one step removed from “spell begging” (where a person who has not done his or her homework asks a more experienced practitioner for a freebie) and it doesn’t reflect well on the questioner regardless of whether or not destroying someone’s life happens to be right or wrong.

As a conjure worker, I’m no stranger to people revealing that their innermost desire is to seek small-minded revenge on someone for some perceived wrong.  Usually, the preferred punishment is far out of proportion to the crime, having to do with a breakup, an undeserved promotion, an insult, or even someone not paying enough attention.  People (maybe most people) feel powerless and insignificant in their lives.  And if they have some kind of latent magical sensitivity but not a lot of confidence, they will seek out a conjure worker to help them get emotional satisfaction on a cruel world.

I understand and I listen to such requests without passing moral judgment.  Part of my job is to bring the client’s motivations and feelings into the light of truth where we can intelligently face them together.  Only then can we fix the situation.  This is the unpublicized part of being a spiritual worker in one’s community (even if that community is online). 

But sometimes the person has so much resentment, feels so belittled by the world, that she wants the power to subjugate everyone and everything: more money, more sex, more power, more revenge, more dominance.  This person has such a wounded ego, feels so wronged by life that she’ll never get enough.  When this happens, she doesn’t come to a sorcerer for work.  She wants to be the sorcerer.  And she falls prey to “dark fluff” occult marketing that seems to speak directly to her overblown desires.

In her lust for power, she’s blinded to the reality that 90% of the information in such texts is bullshit that comes from previously published, often lesser known, bullshit.  And therein lies the problem.  She’s receiving a cascade of dark-themed occultnik bullshit; she really wants it to be real; and she’s soon frustrated that she isn’t seeing results.  That’s usually when she comes slinking around to ask me or someone like me what I think of it because she’s worried that she missed a crucial step (or, gasp, that it is, in fact, utter BS).

Sure, everyone worries that all occult things are fake.  But this is not the sort of anxiety and doubt I’m writing about here.  I’m writing about predatory marketing that magnetizes and preys on the desperate emotions of people who have come to equate power with the ability to harm—because they feel powerless and harmed.  Certainly, I believe that paying back is a virtue and I am in no way against doing dark magic for justice and remediation.  There is a time to bless and a time to curse.  Knowing which is which is part of being a practitioner.  However, having a good BS detector is also essential. 

So how do you spot “dark fluff”?

The first thing I’m going to suggest is that you know yourself.  Self-honesty is very difficult.  Realizing that you feel small and injured and that you want revenge on a cruel world is a strong first step.  You don’t need to go to a spiritual advisor to have this degree of honesty but sometimes it helps.  An insightful stranger can often tell you hard truths that you can’t bare to admit to yourself.

The second thing would be to read widely.  This may mean that sometimes you will purchase occult books that turn out to be part of the BS cascade I mention above.  We all waste our money and time on a well-presented stinker now and then.  And the painful experience of realizing an author is offering you nothing of value is something we’ve all felt.  It’s an important feeling because it sharpens up your sense of what is and is not useful.

The third thing would be to look at the marketing around the book.  Does it talk about a secret tradition that you’ve never heard of, even in online forums?  Does it promise grandiose things, like becoming a living god, torturing your enemies to death, enslaving others, or calling up demons from fancifully named planes or dimensions that have no basis in historical occult literature?  Does it sound like (or even use language directly from) roleplaying games?  Does is present an overdone gothic aesthetic?  Does it seem like it was written in the tradition of “acausal Satanism” (i.e. The Order of the Nine Angles, a group whose vague Gnosticism has made room for many ill-conceived darkly fluffy occult groups and marketing schemes)?  Does it source the works or mythos of HP Lovecraft as if they were real without at least framing them as egregoric or chaos-magical constructions?  Does the author have a pen name out of bad fantasy fiction like “Severus Blackthorne” or something pseudo-Semitic like “Hassan ben Azazel”?  Does the work rely heavily (and usually indirectly, without documentation) on the works of Kenneth Grant, especially The Nightside of Eden, tossing around well-known names like Set, Belial, Samael, Lilith, Lucifer, and  Hekate?  Or, at the other extreme, completely made up “demons” that no one has ever heard of?  Not everything here will indicate “dark fluff” but as soon as you see it, your detector should start beeping.

                                           Not you.

The bottom line.

It’s good to seek power.  It’s good to take revenge when justice is due.  It’s good to pay back in like degree.  It’s also good to do magic, to seek out mysterious realities, states of mind, and uncover secrets.  Consensus culture (especially in the west) would have us believe that the only medium for having breakthroughs is STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).  But we know this isn’t the case.

When we truly realize that there is far more occult power in a Delta blues song about going down to the crossroads than in Baltar Venomblade’s Book of the Eternal Abyss, we know we’re making progress.  When we understand that marketing itself is a kind of mental magic that snares all of us from time to time, we can forgive our uninformed purchases of shit occult books and learn to find the good ones that will actually inspire, inform, and guide us further down the path of wisdom and capacity.