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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Jinn Summoning and Sorcery is Back

We’re having an interesting conversation about some new Jinn magic texts over on Studio Arcanis.  This post comes from that discussion, given that Jinn magic seems to be making a comeback.  I just read Corwin Hargrove’s Practical Jinn Magick: Rituals to Unleash the Power of the Fire Spirits.  And, though this post isn’t a proper review of that book, I liked it and want to mention it here.

Intrepid and curious magicians might want to investigate it.  That said, there are other worthwhile texts available that might give some foundation.  I’ve enjoyed Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar by Robert Liebling. It’s not a book of magic, but it’s definitely a book that feels magical, if that makes any sense. Another good one is Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of Jinn by Amira El-Zein. A smart magician could draw a lot of inspiration from these two alone.

As far as practical books are concerned (apart from Jinn Sorcery, which, like all Scarlet Imprint books, is beautiful first and useful second), two others immediately come to mind. There’s S. Ben Qayin’s Book of Smokeless Fire (which Hargrove indirectly dismisses) and which I haven’t read and am not interested in. Then there’s Baal Kadmon’s Jinn Magick: How to Bind the Jinn to do Your Bidding, which is the highly simplified approach Hargrove criticizes in his book. Hargrove doesn’t name Kadmon’s book directly, but he says:

You have to be careful with simplification. One author recently wrote a book that simplifies Jinn Magick to the point that, in my opinion, the magick isn’t there anymore. His ritual form does nothing more than call to the Jinn King, with no structurally sound opening framework, direction, protection or any allusions to named Jinn. It’s a book that could be seen as either useless or dangerous, and to an extent that depends on the person using it, but it’s an example of what I can find disappointing about the over-simplified approach. I hope that what you get here has more meat than his book, without the convolutions set out by some older systems.

The thing with Kadmon’s books is that they seem like beginner texts but you actually have to be fairly confident and experienced to make them work (like many Finbarr, Parker, and Starlight texts). I think this is what Hargrove means when he says using it “depends on the person,” but it seems like a low blow. He also takes a shot at Nineveh Shadrach, calling Magick That Works overrated. I am surprised Al-Toukhi also didn’t draw some insults, given that Red Magick has been one of the few relatively well-known Jinn magic books in the West. It’s clear that Hargrove consulted Red Magick or at least is aware of it because he lists the book in his bibliography.

I was disappointed that Hargrove criticized Kadmon and Shadrach because I’ve gotten a lot out of both of these authors. Moreover, Hargrove is a solid spellbook writer in the Gallery of Magick vein (even if he claims not to be part of that group) and really doesn’t need to disparage the competition. His work is good and can stand on its own.

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.

A Dark Song (2017)

 

The ending is corny and I don’t get the use of the Reiki symbols (I can make up a reason for their use in a particular scene of the movie, but that would just be me reading into it).  Otherwise, I have never seen a more realistic film about a complex magical ritual.  Amazing, actually.

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

Spirituality is not a question of intellectual property. No one owns it.

The image above was taken from the blog of an occultist I respect.  He didn’t write this, but he’s talking about it quite a bit.  In case you can’t read the text in the image, it is: “Dear NonNatives: Nothing is your spirit animal.  Not a person, place or thing.  Nothing is your spirit animal.  You do not get one.  Spirit animals derive from Anishinaabe and other tribes deeply held religious beliefs.”

This is why I have to wear masks to talk with some people about spirituality.  My appearance doesn’t conform to the “appropriate” stereotypes for the magic I do.  And yet it works for me.  I didn’t have to be “chosen.”  I chose myself and the world agreed.

As soon as you combine spirituality with ANYTHING (politics, race, national identity, sexuality, money, who gets to police whom about what, who gets to speak and what is allowed to be said, what someone says is real and true vs. what we must all believe is delusional and false if we expect to be considered good citizens), you’re taking something away from someone and giving it to yourself.  If you’re doing this as part of a consensual exchange, so be it.  If you’re doing this to someone without their consent, you’re enacting spiritual violence.

Stop that.

Granted, there are good politicalsocial, and economic arguments to be made about cultural appropriation.  Granted, it’s time for certain groups to take power back in political, social, and economic areas.  But please keep those political, social, and economic considerations off my altars.  My spirits don’t care.  They want offerings and interaction.  They want to work.  They don’t ask what color my skin is. 

And you know what?  I don’t care what color your skin is.  I’m open to everybody by default.  I don’t care where you were born or what you look like.  Come over to my house with that same degree of openness and we can sit down over some matcha tea or one of my cups of rocket fuel coffee and talk about philosophy all day long.  I’ll bet we have something to learn from each other that will make us both better people.  But come at me with hate in your heart and you will seriously regret the journey.  I promise you that.

Can a gay black African woman do Golden Dawn magic?  Are you kidding me?  Of course. 

Can a straight white European man do hoodoo?  Yes, indeed, he can.

Can a non-Native person have a spirit animal?  Who are you to say no?  Are you sitting on that non-Native’s altar?  If you are, what are you doing there?  Were you invited?  If you aren’t or you weren’t, please take your political, social, and economic concerns elsewhere and let the non-Native talk to her spirits. 

More non-Natives should be talking to spirit animals (and spirits in general).  I suspect that the more spirituality we have, the better things get.  Think about that.  It might make you a little less angry and a little more motivated to feed your loa.

If you want to do what I do and charge for spiritual work, be my guest.  If you want to express your concerns about post-colonialism and cultural appropriation, that’s a good thing, too.  Have at it.  But never assume you can tell people what kind of spirituality they “get” to have based on some aspect of their identity

In that, all you’re doing is revealing how politically, socially, or economically upset you are.  All you’re doing is trolling.  You’re not bringing more Spirit into the world that way.  Quite the contrary.  You’re burning bridges that should cross cultures and bring people closer. 

And, if that is the case, I feel sad for you.